Sunday, January 26, 2014

Epiphany 3A--sermon for Annual Parish Meeting

Epiphany 3A—Annual Parish Meeting January 26, 2013 Sometimes, when I sit down to read the lessons for the coming Sunday for the first time the week before, I think that the crafters of the lectionary are having a little joke on me. This week’s lessons about the divisions in the Corinthian church and the calling of the first four disciples by Jesus in Matthew’s gospel have much to offer us as we gather today as one parish, in one service, to do the work of our annual meeting. And strangely enough, these two very different perspectives on discipleship—one of division and one of call—have two major things in common which speak to us where we are right now as a parish. I preached last week about how Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians is a reminder to us that there has always been conflict in the life of the church, in the body of the followers of Jesus ever since we were first called together. Paul highlights that conflict this week in talking about how different factions have popped up in the church in Corinth. He writes, “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” Paul is clearly distressed by the reported conflict, and he urges them to deal with their quarrels and disputes in a meaningful and constructive way, and he reminds them of their unity in their common mission in proclaiming the gospel, pointing them toward the cross. In an unusually similar way, the gospel reading for today, which tells of the calling of Jesus to Peter, Andrew, James and John to leave their posts and their nets where they are fishing and to follow him to become “fishers for people,” points to how following the call of Jesus, being united in proclaiming the gospel can cause disruptions in our lives. This calling of Jesus created an incredible disruption in the lives of those men and in the lives of those families. (It even caused disruption in the life of Jesus, himself.) Just think of poor Zebedee, who is left with the nets and boats, as his sons leave him behind to follow Jesus. My friend, Patrick Skutch who is the rector at Christ Church in the Bay, had an interesting observation about all of this that really spoke to me about where I am in my own life and calling and where we find ourselves in the life of this parish. He writes, “…In the Scriptures, disruption seems to be one of the symptoms of God's call. Think of Moses (who had made quite a comfortable life for himself), or any of the prophets, or of Andrew and John and Simon Peter. The Kingdom of God, which Jesus proclaimed, was itself disruptive, disruptive of world views, religious assumptions, and the special interests of the ruling powers. The disruptions in our own life (some of them bewildering and incredibly painful) are not themselves necessarily God's doing (God does not, in my view, arrange suffering and pain for God's creatures), but they may be sign posts or the raw material through which God's call might emerge. Disruption does not necessarily mean calling, but call is almost always disruptive.” So are we all destined for uncomfortable lives filled with disagreements, conflict and disruptions? How is it we are called to our individual faith and following of Jesus and how is it that we are called as a people to be followers of Jesus and proclaimers of the good news? This past Wednesday, Richard Rohr wrote a daily meditation titled, “Unity, not Uniformity”, which I think gets to the heart of this issue of how we are called to follow Jesus as individuals and as his body the church. He writes, “Many teachers have made the central but oft-missed point that unity is not the same as uniformity. Unity, in fact, is the reconciliation of differences, and those differences must be maintained—and yet overcome! You must actually distinguish things and separate them before you can spiritually unite them, usually at cost to yourself (Ephesians 2:14-16). If only we had made that simple clarification, so many problems—and overemphasized, separate identities—could have moved to a much higher level of love and service. Paul already made this universal principle very clear in several of his letters. For example, ‘There are a variety of gifts, but it is always the same Spirit. There are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord, working in all sorts of different ways in different people. It is the same God working in all of them’” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). My brothers and sisters, Jesus calls John and Andrew and Peter and James to use what they already know, what they are already doing—being fishermen, catching fish---in a new and different way (catching people), in a sacrificial way, that does, in fact, disrupt their lives, but will lead them to see the face of God in the Risen Christ. He calls them to be disrupted for a time that they might be transformed! Paul reminds us that the surest way to proclaim the gospel is to use our different and varied gifts that God has already given us, and to offer them sacrificially, where it may make us a little uncomfortable, may disrupt us a little, but offer them to the glory of God. Now, what does this mean? I recently read a story about a 4 year old boy who gave his whole family Christmas gifts this past Christmas. His mother wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about what they child might be giving, but she was happy to keep him occupied wrapping the presents for a good 30 minutes. When Christmas morning arrived, the little boy handed out his four packages, which were very messily wrapped, and his mother was astonished as she watched her family open the child’s gifts. To his mother, the child gave his pair of scissors because he had heard her say that she had lost her pair and needed to buy another. To his father, the child gave a box with his favorite super hero on it so his father would have a special place to put his wallet where he wouldn’t always be misplacing it. To his younger brother the child gave a book off his own bookshelf with the brother’s favorite TV character. The boy’s mother was amazed that her child had given sacrificially out of what he already had, and that he had given things that were truly needed by the others in his family. This is how Jesus calls the disciples to give in this week’s gospel. It is how he calls us to give. How often do we give out of what’s convenient, what is left-over? When is the last time that you could say that you gave sacrificially? When was the last time that you gave something that was really and truly needed? There are countless examples of people in this parish who are doing just this…Dave Wilson, who is a licensed marriage and family counselor who is offering his new therapy ministry here at St. Peter’s; Suzi Wilson, who makes her living as a web designer and administrator, and who has designed a beautiful new website for St. Peter’s and will administrate it for us as a part of her gift to the church. Trace Cates, who is a professional baker, is going to help bake the bread for our newcomer welcome bags and maybe even make us homemade communion bread. Joy Jennings , who accepted my request and has written the prayers of the people for today and for the rest of this season after the Epiphany (and maybe beyond). For Reedie McCaughan and Judy Owenby who are our like the shoemaker’s elves of St. Peter’s in that they knit beautiful and comforting baby blankets and prayer blankets and shawls that then just appear in the cupboard back there. And so many more, too many to name you all…who freely offer your gifts, who walk into my office and say, “I’d like to do this”…and countless untold others who readily answer the call when asked. This is what unites us—in the midst of our diversity. It is that fact that we have all been called by Jesus to use what God has given us to proclaim the good news of God’s love in this place. This is what we are going to focus on this year. This is the truly the mission of the church. My single goal this year is to say yes to your gifts as often as I can. If enough of us give out of this place of sacrifice, giving what we are already doing, but offering it in a new and different way, then we will continue to flourish and thrive. “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” “And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

Sunday, January 19, 2014

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany Year A

The 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany Year A January 19, 2014 If we ever longed to return to the golden days of the early church, when all churches were at peace and in perfect unity, Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth quickly disabuses us of that na├»ve notion. In fact, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians has much to teach us today about how to deal with conflict in the church. In today’s epistle reading, we see the opening part of the letter where Paul uses the traditional opening format of his time to set the tone and to begin to address the fighting he has learned about in the community at Corinth. He has heard from Chloe’s people that they have divided up into factions; he has received a report of their acceptance of sexual immorality; and he has received a letter detailing problems of communal life. Despite his having spent 18 months with them, teaching the Corinthians about how to form a Christian community of diverse people, even Paul’s own authority is being called into question at this point in the life of the church. So at this point in the letter, the beginning, Paul is getting geared up to roll up his sleeves and let them have it. But this introduction to the letter sets the tone for how he is going to go about addressing the differences that can be most instructive to us. First, he opens with his own credentials: “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God….” But then he quickly follows up with their own identity: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” Note that Paul never refers to a saint in the singular. He never talks about a saint as an individual Christian. He always talks about saints plural, saints communal. We are saints in a common vocation, a shared gift; united together in the fact that we all are called by God. And he reminds the church at Corinth that they are not an isolated cell of followers of Jesus. They are connected, in and through their calling, to all followers of Jesus Christ in every place and time. He then goes on to offer thanksgiving for them, and he roots that thanksgiving in the fact that God has already bestowed upon them grace, given them everything that they need. No amount of division or discord or disunity can undermine this work of God that God has already been doing and God continues to work through them. They are a diverse group of people who have been brought together in and through God’s call, and it is God’s call that unifies and unites them-- much like we see happening in the gospel reading for today. We see a sort of magnetism that happens between Jesus and Andrew and the other disciple. And it is so powerful that all Jesus has to say is “Come and see” and a process of discipleship begins that will change the world. Andrew goes to his brother Peter and says, “You have got to come see this,” and their lives are transformed irrevocably from that point on. They become knit together, joined with others who have also been called by Jesus to follow the way of discipleship. So what does all this mean for us? I thought perhaps the best way I could communicate that to you today is to write you an introduction to a letter, much like what we have from Paul today. So here goes: Melanie, called to be a priest of Christ Jesus by the will of God and with support of God’s church and our brother Scott, To the church of God that is found in St. Peter’s by-the-Sea, Gulfport, to those who have been called here by Jesus in a variety of ways, called to be saints together and united with all those around the world and throughout time who also call on the name of God. Grace and peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God for you always because of the grace that God has given you in Christ Jesus. You have been given so many gifts to you all together by God, and I see the fruits of these gifts at work every single day in our life together. I am thankful that God has given you a spirit that is reflective of the space in which we worship together: open, light, welcoming to all. I am thankful that God has given you the gift of hospitality—of making things beautiful and inviting. I am thankful that God has given you the gift of creativity, that we might be co-creators with God in creating new ideas, new things. I am thankful that God has given you the gift of generosity of spirit, most especially in the face of an identified need. These gifts have been given by God not to individuals but to us all together as a whole. And the gifts that God has given you are and will always be more than enough to do what God calls you to do. Everything you need to be St. Peter’s has already been given to you by God, and no amount of conflict or discord or individual or small group discontent can diminish the gifts that have been given to this body as a whole by God, nor can it diminish the ministry to which God has called us as a whole. I am also thankful for you because you help me live and grow into my own vocation as a priest—loving people in ways that I would have never imagined, dealing with challenges that I would have never anticipated, dwelling in the holy places and in the ordinary ones and seeing God there with you. We, like the church in Corinth and like any other church that has come since and will come, are not perfect. We have our problems. And yet, as the philosopher Erasmus wrote to Martin Luther about his decision to stay with the Roman Catholic church in the midst of the Reformation: “Therefore, I will put up with this church until I see a better one..and it will have to put up with me, until I become better.”1 My brothers and sisters, above all, I give thanks to God that our unity is found in Jesus Christ and in his common call. Our unity is found in the acceptance of the invitation to “Come and see,” which orients our lives beyond our own self-interests and desires toward God, the body of Christ, and something so much richer and fuller and deeper than our own little lives. A unity that is grounded in that common call will not be undermined by our divisions or conflicts or heartbreaks. May God give us the grace to live more fully into this call together this year—a call to exist not so much for ourselves but for others. May God strengthen us to that end so that we might live more fully into this fellowship with Jesus Christ to which we have been called. 1.as quoted by Dan Clendin in his essay for this Sunday on his blog Journey with Jesus.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

1st Sunday after Epiphany--The Baptism of our Lord

1st Sunday after Epiphany Year A—Baptism of our Lord January 12, 2014 This past week, I was privileged to do some of the most challenging and the most rewarding work that I get to do at the diocesan level. I participated in the Commission on Ministry’s discernment committee for people who are discerning a call to the priesthood. The discernment committee, which is a close-knit group with a very high level of trust and relationship, met with the aspirants over the course of 24 hours and spent time listening to their stories and the bits of their lives that they shared with us. I was asked to preach at the opening Eucharist on Tuesday morning, and we used the readings for Epiphany, that we heard here last Sunday. I shared with the group one of my favorite Epiphany-themed poems—T.S. Eliot’s “The Journey of the Magi” which is a poem in which the Magi-narrator talks about the difficulties of the journey they faced in following the star: “A cold coming we had of it, [he begins] Just the worst time of year For a journey, and such a long journey… The Magi-narrator goes on to talk about the difficulties of the journey, the memories—both beautiful and bitter-sweet of all the times they spent at their summer palaces—of the people they have left behind… At the end [he continues] we preferred to travel all night, Sleeping in snatches With the voices singing in our ears saying That this was all folly.” He continues by saying that what they actually found at the end of the journey was “(you might say) satisfactory.” But the closing stanza is what really speaks to me. “All this was a long time ago, I remember, And I would do it again but set down This set down This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a birth, certainly We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us like Death, our death. We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, With an alien people clutching their gods. I should be glad of another death.” Today on this First Sunday after the Epiphany, we celebrate the baptism of our Lord. Matthew is very clear that Jesus’s baptism is the beginning or the birth of his public ministry, but Jesus’s baptism is also the beginning or the birth of his path toward his death. When we baptize people, we lift up this reality that we are baptizing them into Jesus’s death and his resurrection. We say, “We thank you, Father, for the water of baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.” In our baptism and over and over again in the renewal of our baptismal vows, we remember the connectedness of birth and death, and we are mindful of how they often look quite similar. In some ways we see this connectedness at work in the life of the parish—in what feels like death of old familiar ways, of expectations and how birth of something completely new is coming out of that. It is true that death is terrifying, a hard and bitter agony, and yet, there is so much more waiting on the other side of it. We see this in our spiritual lives and in our lives in general if we take the time to look and examine—how death often looks like birth and birth often looks like death. My family stands at this cross-roads as my husband prepares to move to Hawaii for a three-four month interim at St. George’s Honolulu. It is the birth of something new and exciting vocationally for him which we all support and give thanks for. But is also the death of something very comfortable and familiar, at least for the time being, as the children and I will continue our lives here. Many of you I have talked to are dealing with this spiritually as well. It is in the restlessness you feel in your souls, a call by God that something may need to die in order for there to be new life, new birth. I invite you all to take some time this week to reflect prayerfully on this. What in your life, in your soul is happening that teeters on the fine line between birth and death? How might God be calling you to let go of that which is dying so that you can embrace the new life that comes with birth? How might it be that the birth of something deeper actually feels like a death? Have you given yourself the time and the space to acknowledge and to grieve that death? This is what happens to us in the waters of our baptism. This is what can happen to us every time we renew our baptism covenant—this surrendering to death so that we may discover birth; this looking for birth which leads us to death. Remember this today as we once again reaffirm the promises we have made. Say them with an invitation to God and an openness that welcomes both death and birth. All this was a long time ago, I remember, And I would do it again but set down This set down This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a birth, certainly We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us like Death, our death. We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, With an alien people clutching their gods. I should be glad of another death.”

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Epiphany 2014 sermon for Presbyter's Discernment Committee of the COM and Aspirants

Epiphany—transferred Presbyter’s Discernment Committee Eucharist, Gray Center January 7, 2014 A cold coming we had of it, Just the worst time of year For a journey, and such a long journey… So begins T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Journey of the Magi,” but the words ring true for us here this morning. The Magi-narrator goes on to talk about the difficulties of the journey, the memories—both beautiful and bitter-sweet of all the times they spent at their summer palaces—of the people they have left behind… “At the end [he continues] we preferred to travel all night, Sleeping in snatches With the voices singing in our ears saying That this was all folly.” He then goes on to tell what they finally find—a temperate valley…three threes low on the sky “and arriving at evening , not a moment too soon finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.” He concludes, “All this was a long time ago, I remember, And I would do it again but set down This set down This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a birth, certainly We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us like Death, our death. We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, With an alien people clutching their gods. I should be glad of another death.” This poem speaks to me of the work of discernment that we do over the course of our lifetimes. We search and we listen for God’s call on our journey, in and through our prayers, in and through our community. Sometimes we hear and know it with such clarity that it is unmistakably a birth. But much of the time it is an uncovering, a gradual revelation, a stripping away of our own expectations. Much of the time, it is difficult to tell the difference between birth and death in God’s call to us. Much of the time—it is both. What do you think that means? I invite you to close your eyes and reflect on your life, your call. How has God’s call seemed to you like a birth? How has it seemed like a death? What is the hard and bitter agony in heeding God’s call? How is it all—birth, death, and call—all one in the same? How is it that the kings go home to an alien people? What has been your experience of that? “All this was a long time ago, I remember, And I would do it again but set down This set down This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a birth, certainly We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us like Death, our death. We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, With an alien people clutching their gods. I should be glad of another death.”