Sunday, July 21, 2013

9th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 11C

9th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 11C July 21, 2013 Someone recently wrote, “I think that one of the great reasons the church is declining during our day is that most of our people have a hard time connecting what we do at church with what we do the rest of the week. Their faith practices on Sunday are nice, perhaps even comfortable, but they don’t inform their daily decisions at work, home, or school. In short, they don’t find their faith particularly useful.”i. In that same vein….in a reflection on the reading for Amos today, the Methodist Bishop William Willimon asks the question, “What would Amos preach to us today?” and he writes about a friend of his who teaches theology at Oxford University. Willimon writes that his friend likes to open his theology class by asking his students, “With what is theology concerned?” “The students typically answer, ‘God,’ or ‘Religion,’ or ‘Spiritual things.’ He corrects their misapprehension. ‘No, Christian theology is concerned with everything!’ There are presumably religions that are concerned exclusively with personal, private happiness, with individual morality, but neither Judaism nor Christianity is one of those religions. In Judaism and Christianity, God not only creates the world but continues to interact with it and to take care of everything in it. This God makes no distinction between ‘religious’ concerns and ‘secular, nonreligious concerns.’ This God is concerned with everything.” Today’s reading from Amos reminds us that “worship of the God of Israel and of the church is not limited to Sunday. Worship continues in what we do at the office on Monday and continues throughout the week. This God does not want just our ‘heart or our ‘soul.’ This God wants all of us.”ii Amos is about the work of afflicting the comfortable, about showing them how they have left behind God’s teachings because, no matter how faithful they are, they are taking advantage of the poor, rather than caring for them, which has always been a priority for God and an important aspect of being God’s people. His harsh proclamations can be a reminder to us that what we do matters. How we make our money and spend our money matters. How we spend our time also matters, not just in our own relationship with God but in terms of how God has connected all of us through Jesus Christ, who is the “visible image of the invisible God.” A modern day form of this indictment comes from a writer named Barbara Ehrenreich in her book, _Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America_. She writes that in her work as a waitress, “The worst [patrons], for some reason, are the Visible Christians—like the ten-person table, all jolly and sanctified after Sunday night service, who run me mercilessly and then leave me a $1 on a $92 bill.”iii And then there is Martha in today’s story from Luke’s gospel, Martha who is doing exactly the right thing in terms of Jewish culture and faith, offering hospitality to the one who has come under her roof. And yet she is worried and distracted and ultimately jealous about her sister’s inactivity. Martha is doing exactly what she is supposed to do, but she is not finding the joy in the ministry or the offering of her time and labor. And it is because she has forgotten that she is valued and loved-not because of what she is doing but because of who she is. It is true that what we do matters in this world and in our relationship with God. It matters how we make and spend our money; it matters how we spend our time and our attention because all of those things impact our relationship with God and with others—which are the most important part, truly the needful thing. But no matter how you spend your money, no matter how much you give or don’t give to the church or to the poor; no matter how you spend your time—whether it’s going to church every Sunday or only once in a blue moon, whether it is spending all your time helping out at Feed My Sheep or whether it is spending all your free time playing games on your computer, God is not going to love you any more or any less than God already does. That is the one “one needful thing” the better part that Mary is able to remember and choose and that Martha is not. But when you realize this, that God is not going to love you more or less than God already does, there is a freedom and a gratitude that comes with this, and we want to spend our lives and our money and our time in ways that are in keeping with God’s values and not our own. In closing, I leave with the words from the SSJE meditation by -Br. Geoffrey Tristram titled: Compassion from Jul 12, 2013: Compassion: “When we know ourselves to be judged with love and forgiven, restored and set free, the words, “I was hungry and you gave me no food. I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,” do not fill us with fear about the final judgment, but break our hearts with compassion.”iv i.David Lose. ii.Willimon, William. Feasting on the Word. Ed. Bartlett and Brown Taylor. Homiletical Perspective. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010, p 246-248. iii.Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001, p 36.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

8th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 10C (a teaching on the laity)

Pentecost 8—Proper 10C July 14, 2013 Today is the last in a series of four homilies that Scott and I have preached on the ministers or the four orders of the church. We’ve used the catechism in the back of the Book of Common Prayer as a guide for these homilies, and it is important again to mention that the order we have saved for last is actually the one that the Prayer Book positions as first, and therefore, most important. It is the laity, from the Greek word laos for people. Turn to page 855, and let’s look again at what the catechism has to say: Q. Who are the ministers of the Church? A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons. Q. What is the ministry of the laity? A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church. Q. What is the duty of all Christians? A. The duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God. It is easy to forget that one of the most memorable of Jesus’s parables begins with a timeless question that could easily be asked by any one of us today: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The story then moves from that question, on to another question—‘who is my neighbor?” But notice, the story from Luke and the parable answer neither of those questions. In fact the story and the parable show us how we are missing the point when we ask those questions—what must I do to inherit eternal life, and who is my neighbor. Here is what another writer wrote about this passage from Luke’s gospel that gets at the heart of this misunderstanding that affects so much of our life of faith. He writes, “This is where the lawyer in our Gospel lesson didn’t get it. The ‘way to inherit eternal life’ is not formulaic. It is a way of life that lives into eternity now. It is living our lives with the knowledge that everything is spiritual, and so our whole lives are spiritual expressions of our love for God (with all that we are and all that we have)…Jesus’s parabolic Samaritan doesn’t ask who his neighbor is; he lives into being a neighbor to all, especially to the one in need.”i. Eternal life is now; it is already happening. The Bible and our Prayer Book give us the tools for how we can live into it more fully and completely. It tells us that the way of eternal life is found in “bear[ing] witness to [Christ] wherever [you] may be; and, according to the gifts given [you], to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take [your] place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.” Notice, again here, the order. The church is listed as last and your work in the world is listed as first; so which one is more important? Here’s another way of thinking about it. How does your faith connect to the life you live outside the doors of this church? A small group from our church went to a conference a few weeks ago. It is the Bishop’s Annual Stewardship Summit or BASS, and the speaker was the Rt Rev. Greg Rickel, Bishop of Olympia. Bishop Rickel told us that he has a theory that the church should be like an airport. Nobody goes to an airport to stay. They go there; they hang out for a while, and then the leave, to either go home or get to where they are going. Rickel says the church should be like this, too. Another priest from that same diocese posited that the goal of the church is to gather people together, to create a space where we can all be transformed, and then to send everyone out into the world to do their ministry. I realized just this week that there is a disconnect in my own life and ministry at times. It is so easy to slip into the thinking that eternal life is something we have to work to inherit as opposed to something we are already given, that we just have to seek to discover. I was on staff at Camp Bratton Green this past week, with a whole host of third and fourth graders. I love this age group of kids, because they really get into camp. Many of them are experiencing it for the first time. The downside of this is that many of them often get homesick, understandably so, since this is the first extended time that many of them have been away from their families. This year, we had several girls in our cabin who got very homesick the first night, and the counselors were trying to talk to them and do all the stuff they had taught us about in staff training on how to deal with homesickness. But it just wasn’t working. And because homesickness can be contagious, it looked like we were about to have an epidemic on our hands. So they came to me as a last resort. I tried talking to the different kids, tried to keep them busy, until I also was stuck. And then it occurred to me. You just might have a particular gift that could be of use in this situation. So I told each of the girls, “You know, I’m a priest. So why don’t I say a prayer for you, and then I will give you a blessing, because that’s something that priests can do.” So I prayed with each of them, and I made the sign of the cross gently on their foreheads and offered them God’s blessing, and each and every one of them went on to bed. For me, in that moment, I tasted eternal life, when I was able to use my gifts in the world to help someone else. But, you know, it almost didn’t even occur to me. And I think that is our biggest impediment to discovering eternal life. It is not paying attention—to our own lives and our own gifts, how God might be calling us to use them, and also not paying attention to the needs and lives of others. Beginning this fall, this parish is going to offer some opportunities to help you in that endeavor, helping you to claim your work as your vocation, helping you to discover what your gifts are and to also discover how God is calling you to live more fully into your calling as God’s people—“bear[ing] witness to [Christ] wherever [you] may be; and, according to the gifts given [you], to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take [your] place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.” It is no accident that every week, our deacon, whose role is to be the embodiment of the ministry of servant hood and whose job it is to connect us to the needs of the world outside our church doors, leads the dismissal for our worship. The dismissal is the call to service in the world. It is the challenge to go out into the world, and find and claim eternal life, to discover it in what you are already doing. It is about claiming your life and your calling and your ministry to others as holy. In closing, let us pray (this is a collect: For the Mission of the Church BCP p 816): Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. i.From Steward’s Stirrings by The Rev. Canon Lance Ousley, Diocese of Olympia.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

7th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 9C--Teaching on the Priesthood

7th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 9C July 7, 2013 It was the summer of 1996. I was entering my junior year in college and had not yet declared a major because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had thought I might go to law school (it’s ok, you can laugh at that, it’s funny!), but that just didn’t seem to be the right fit. One day, I was sitting on the window seat in my parents’ kitchen and talking to my mom about the vocational difficulties I was having, and she said to me, “Have you ever thought about being a priest?” I was stunned. Not because I hadn’t thought about it, but because I had. But I hadn’t told anyone, because I just wasn’t sure. But when she asked me that question, it was as if I could actually start really considering it, because someone else had seen that in me. But still I was nowhere near sure. That summer I entered a semester long program of study abroad through Rhodes and Sewanee, and so I set a goal for myself that I would spend much of that time in prayer and reflection, and I would come back with an answer—am I called to be a priest or not. It was an incredible semester! We spent 8 weeks in England, and we tramped around all the old monastery ruins, so many thin places where so many prayers have been offered and the veil between this world and the next seems to be non-existent. We learned about our fathers and mothers in the faith, and I was steeped in English and European history, art, religion, and culture. And still I kept praying, “God, please, let me know if you are calling me to be a priest.” I was still so very uncertain. Then one day, we had an extracurricular assignment in a church outside of Florence overlooking the city. It was a very simple church, and my college roommate and I went in and sat and started working on our assignment. As we worked quietly, a woman soloist came in and started rehearsing; she was singing Ave Maria, and I found myself praying my same old prayer, “God, please, let me know if you are calling me to be a priest.” And then suddenly, unexpectedly, a voice, that was as familiar as my own and also not, spoke in my soul and said, “Faith is not knowing but doing.” When I came back to myself, I knew, right or wrong, I was going to pursue the priesthood because what I understood that one sentence to mean-- “faith is not knowing but doing”--is that we are called to act, even when we are uncertain, and we are called to trust that God will pick us up if we fall. So eventually, I spent three years in seminary, where they trained me in many useful and not-so-useful things. They tried to equip me with tools for my ministry as a priest. I learned the basic definitions. For example, open your prayer books to page 855. Remember from last week, “Who are the ministers of the church?” The ministers of the church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.” Now look on 856. “What is the ministry of a priest of presbyter?” “The ministry of a priest is to represent Christ and his church, particularly as pastor to the people; to share with the bishop in the overseeing of the Church; to proclaim the Gospel; to administer the sacraments; and to bless and declare pardon in the name of God.” Flip back to 855 again, and notice that under laity, bishop, priest, and deacon, we all have the same foundation. We ALL are called to represent Christ and his church in different ways. Seminary also taught me that the order that the Book of Common Prayer lists things is very important to pay attention to. Look at how they list the four orders of the church. What’s the first and therefore, most important? The Laity. More on that next week! They taught me the importance of scripture in the Episcopal Church. In fact, it is so important to us that in all three ordination services, the deacon, priest, and/or bishop make a public statement to the gathered congregation (and then sign it) saying (BCP 526), “I do solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church.” (Come to my Inquirer’s class, and I’ll unpack that a little more for you.) Seminary also taught me that while some of our mor Protestant brothers and sisters were formed with the mantra Sola Scriptura or “Scripture alone” that is not the Anglican or Episcopal way. Rather we are formed and shaped by a concept articulated by Richard Hooker in the 16th century that we call the 3 legged stool, and the legs are scripture, tradition, and reason. All three are essential to the other in our faith, and it is why I have taken the time to teach you all about the four orders of the church—because it is an essential part of the tradition that we have inherited and also a key component of our identity, in ways that make us different from other traditions but that do go all the way back to the early days of Christianity. Seminary also taught me about language, how the Greek word, presbyteros, means “elder,” and it is found in the New Testament (e.g. 1 Peter 5:1-4); our word “priest” is a later term that comes from the shortened Anglo-Saxon contraction of this word presybteros. But there are also things about the priesthood that I didn’t learn about in seminary. They are the things that you all have taught me, that I would never have dreamed about when I accepted God’s call in that simple church outside of Florence those many years ago. You have taught me about the sacramental life, about how when offer something simple and humble to God, God will bless it and make it holy, and give it back much richer and fuller than it was to begin with. You have taught me the deep value and difficulty of being vulnerable. I see it in you every Sunday when you come to the communion rail, and some days it is all I can do not to weep, because it is so deeply holy; and you have called it forth from me—not the least of which in climbing into this pulpit week after week and opening a small window into my soul. It comes when we love each other, and when we break each others’ hearts, which we do from time to time. We see this vulnerability as essential in Jesus’s instructions to the 70 he is sending out in today’s gospel reading. He challenges them to go out and proclaim the gospel, to take nothing with them, to rely on others’ hospitality, and to seek out and use the resources that are available. (note here about discretionary giving last week?) So in closing, let me just take this opportunity to thank you for calling me to be your priest, those almost four years ago. Thank you for the ways that you continue to shape and form me in my ministry and for the ways that you allow me to walk with you as we all seek to live more deeply into our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is truly my deep joy to be your priest. Let us pray. (BCP 528). O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.