Friday, February 21, 2014
Funeral homily--Canter Chase Gerardine February 21, 2014 There are just no words for the loss of this child—Canter Chase Gerardine. There are no words that can articulate the sudden absence of all that hope, all that joy, all that anticipation, promise, and expectation. There are no words for the sadness, the sorrow, the loss, and the emptiness. There are no words for the unanswered questions. There are just no words. We gather together today, Jordan and Becca, with you, around you, and our presence and our prayers and our music testify to the mystery that is life and death and the love that is woven in and through it all. We gather with you today to hope for you when perhaps you cannot, to carry you along on the wings of our belief, when perhaps you do not. And what is our hope? What is our belief that we are willing to give our lives to and to stand in this sad place along side you for? It is that the single, unique person that is Canter Chase Gerardine is loved and cherished by the God who created him, and it is that he is at home with God, even now. Our hope, our belief is that someday we will feast with Canter at God’s heavenly banquet, a great big party where we will be reunited with all whom we love who have gone before. Our hope, our belief is that because of who Jesus is, how he lived, how he gave his life away in death, we trust that death is not the end but a change, the entry into new and eternal life in the heart of all love and belonging that is God. Our hope, our belief, even on this sad day, is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ; it is in Easter morning; it is in an empty tomb, that all show, once and for all, that God’s love is stronger than broken dreams and unfulfilled expectations. God’s love is stronger than our helplessness and our grief. Our hope is in the resurrection that shows us, once and for all, that God’s love is stronger than anything, even death. Someone once wrote, “Our Lord has written the promise of Resurrection, not in books alone, but in ever leaf in springtime.”i So Becca and Jordan, may you look at the new leaves, at the spring that is coming, and remember how God gives us resurrection. May you know that every morsel of food, every hug, every card and phone call and visit from those who love you are also reminders of God’s resurrection, working in and through us—working in and through our love and our hope. We love you and we are with you. God loves you and God is with you. Even when there are just no words. i. attributed to Martin Luther
Sunday, February 16, 2014
The 6th Sunday after the Epiphany- Year A February 16, 2014 I have a vivid memory of the picture that accompanies this story from Deuteronomy in the picture bible that my parents read to us when we were growing up. The story tells of how Moses is told by God that he cannot accompany the children of Israel into the promised land. He has led them for such a long time, all through the wilderness, and now at last they have arrived at the edge, and Moses is telling them goodbye, giving them a few last instructions and teachings before they go forward into their future without him. “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob." I was always both enthralled and troubled by the picture that accompanies this story in our picture bible because it shows Moses, with his back to the viewer—huddled in grayish, sepia toned wrappings on the edge of a cliff—beyond which we can see him watching the brightly colored children of Israel headed away from him toward a land that is clearly paradise—lush, green lands with waterfalls. I know now what I didn’t know as a child; this picture of Moses in my picture bible is the picture of heartbreak. Which makes Moses’s words even more powerful, if you think about it. It is generally pretty easy to choose life, love God, love each other, when everything seems to be going our way. But what about when it is not? What does it mean to choose life, choose blessings, when we are well and truly heart-broken? What does it mean to choose life, to choose blessings in the midst of disappointments, broken relationships, and even anger? In the portion from the Sermon on the Mount that is today’s gospel reading, Jesus is continuing to teach his disciples about discipleship, and he has something to say about how we choose life and blessings in the midst of hardship. Jesus tells us that we choose life and blessings when we make relationships with others our utmost priority. He uses hyperbole to show us that God cares about our relationships, and that God’s law is merely a tool that is used to help us deepen the bonds of our human affection and to grow in relationship with each other (and in that with God). Another writer gets to the heart of this by asking, “What if God cares that we keep the law for our sake—not for God’s sake?” Because for Jesus, in this particular passage, it is all about how we treat one another. And he is telling his disciples, he is telling us, that it is not enough to just follow the letter of the commandments. We are called beyond that, to following the spirit of them. It is not enough to refrain from murder, he tells us. We should also treat people with respect and that means not speaking hateful words. It is not enough to avoid physically committing adultery, he tells us. We should also not objectify other persons by seeing them as a means to satisfy our physical desires by lusting after them. It is not enough to follow the letter of the law regarding divorce, he tells us. We should not treat people as disposable and should make sure that the most vulnerable people (in that society—women and children) are provided for. It is not enough to keep ourselves from swearing falsely or lying to others, he tells us. We should speak truthfully in all our dealings so that we don’t need to make oaths at all. For Jesus, this is what it means for us to choose life, to choose blessings. So how might we do this, this very morning? How might we choose life, choose blessings, even in the midst of some very real disappointments and broken relationships and heartbreak? First, I invite you to take a moment and call to mind one relationship in your life right now that is the most important to you, the most healthy and whole and life giving, the relationship that sustains you the most regularly right now. Think about what it is that makes it such a good relationship, why it is important to you, and then give thanks to God for that person (or creature) and that relationship that you share. If you want, jot it down on a scrap piece of paper. Second, I invite you to take another moment and call to mind a relationship that is important to you but that has suffered some damage. You don’t need to try to figure out who’s to blame for the hurt but rather hold that person and relationship in prayer. (It may even be God, and that’s ok too). I invite you to offer to God your heartbreak and your disappointment and that damaged relationship as an invitation to God for God’s help and healing. I invite you to reflect upon what action you might take to move that relationship to greater health. You can jot that down on that same piece of paper also. If you choose to do so, as the table is being set for Eucharist, you may come forward and lay those two relationships and your prayers with them on God’s altar and offer them to God in thanksgiving and petition. No one will read your papers. In this way, we are invited to choose life, to choose blessing. Even in the midst of heartbreak. I follow a blog called the Painted Prayerbook. It is the blog of an artist and poet and United Methodist elder named Jan Richardson. This past fall, Jan’s husband Gary died suddenly after a routine surgery, and she has posted a couple of beautiful and real and heart-breaking posts as she lives in her own heart-break for this season. Just the other day, she posted a blessing that I want to share with you in closing today that gets to the heart of how we choose life, how we choose blessings, how we choose to continue to love, even in the midst of broken relationships, disappointment, and heartbreak. It is called “A blessing for the Broken-hearted.” There is no remedy for love but to love more. – Henry David Thoreau Let us agree for now that we will not say the breaking makes us stronger or that it is better to have this pain than to have done without this love. Let us promise we will not tell ourselves time will heal the wound when every day our waking opens it anew. Perhaps for now it can be enough to simply marvel at the mystery of how a heart so broken can go on beating, as if it were made for precisely this— as if it knows the only cure for love is more of it as if it sees the heart’s sole remedy for breaking is to love still as if it trusts that its own stubborn and persistent pulse is the rhythm of a blessing we cannot begin to fathom but will save us nonetheless. The parts of this sermon about the gospel were heavily inspired by David Loses's reflection on his blog: workingpreacher.org
Sunday, February 9, 2014
5th Sunday after the Epiphany-Year A February 9, 2014 “And God said, ‘If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noon day.’” God’s people have returned from exile. They have come home again to find much is changed. The temple remains in ruins, but they have reverted to some of their old forms of worship (both helpful and not so helpful). Our reading from Isaiah today, which is from the portion that scholars call 3rd Isaiah—written after the return from exile in Babylon, not by Isaiah but in the school of Isaiah—shows God as the main character talking to the people. The people are focused heavily on their worship and especially on their fasting. In that culture, fasting is a way of trying to influence the deity to act on your behalf or to show favor upon a particular people. So Israel is preoccupied with seeking God’s favor through their worship and their fasting. But there is a problem which the prophet is pointing out to them. They are too concerned with the outward trappings, with making things look right, with trying to get God to notice them. The more that Israel has become self-conscious about its improved worship life, the less it has remained open to God’s vision for the community. While they are engaging in pious rituals, they are oppressing their own workers and becoming embroiled in quarrels and fights. God, through the prophet, is reminding the people that works of devotion, fasting, and worship are meaningless if they are divorced from acts of justice and righteousness. True worship should lead a people into enacting God’s compassion. And what are the acts of justice and righteousness and compassion to which God is calling them? “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly….Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.” And Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Jesus is talking to his disciples about discipleship. He is articulating the answer to two fundamental questions that each of us wrestles with from time to time: “Who are we? And what are we to do?” My brothers and sisters, we are the light of the world. You are the light of the world. Each of us and all of us together are called to let our lights so shine that others may see our good works and give glory to God for them. We are called to share our bread with the hungry and to bring the homeless poor into our house; when we see the naked to cover them. When we do these things, Isaiah says, it is almost like a prescription. When we focus on helping others, in doing justice instead of focusing on ourselves and our own worship, then God’s light will shine for us and in us and through us in the darkness. This is who we are. This is what we are to do. Just in the last couple of months, we have learned that Feed My Sheep, our feeding program which we support here in downtown Gulfport, is no longer serving food on Saturdays. They feed people Monday through Friday (and we volunteer every other Monday to help serve there. If you’re interested in doing this, see Scott Williams). The downtown churches take turns on Sundays and prepare sack lunches so that these folks will have at least one meal on Sunday; our Sunday is always the 2nd Sunday. Our deacon, Scott Williams, who’s very calling it is to challenge us, to connect us to the needs of the world, to goad us and prod us, to rile us up and to encourage us, has a plan for us to start offering breakfast here one Saturday every month, so that our brothers and sisters who are hungry will have at least one meal on a Saturday. In fact, he and the members of the Outreach committee started doing this yesterday. Will there be some logistical pieces for us to continue to work out? Possibly. Is it going to be a challenge for some of us to open up our beautiful buildings to some of those who are the most lost in our society? Most definitely. Does this work, this calling make us uncomfortable. Absolutely. And yet, my brothers and sisters, this is who we are. This is what we are called to do. Listen to this story. “One year during Holy Week, a few Christians from well-endowed congregations in a major metropolitan area spent the night with homeless friends on the street. They were looking for the suffering Christ in the lives of those who spend their days and nights suffering from hunger, disease, and rejection. It was a chilly night, and rain rolled in close to midnight. Looking for shelter, the handful of travelers felt fortunate to come upon a church holding an all-night prayer vigil. The leader of the group was a pastor of one of the most respected churches in the city. As she stepped through the outer doors of the church, a security guard stopped her. She explained that she and the rest of their group were Christians. They had no place to stay and were wet and miserable, and would like to rest and pray. Enticed by the lighted warmth of the sanctuary, she had forgotten that her wet, matted hair and disheveled clothing left her looking just like another homeless person from the street. The security guard was friendly, but explained in brutal honesty, ‘I was hired to keep homeless people like you out.’ As the dejected group made their way back into the misery of the night, they knew they had found their suffering Christ, locked out of the church.”i After I wrote this sermon, I had a powerful encounter along these lines. I was here on Friday night conducting a wedding rehearsal. As we were winding down, a man who looked to be homeless wandered through our front doors. I walked up to him and introduced myself, and he told me that his name is Tim. He said to me, "As you can probably tell, I'm homeless. I often sleep in the parking garage over there. I've always wanted to see the inside of this church. It looks so beautiful from the outside. But every time I try the doors, it is locked." I told him when services are held and invited him to join us, and then I wrote the information down for him so he could remember. Much to my surprise, he showed up at our 8:00 service this morning, and as we worshiped, I saw him looking around at our beautiful space in wonder and delight. We are those people to whom Isaiah is preaching, those who are very comfortable with our worship of God in our beautiful space. We are those people who want God to show us God’s favor; we are those who get so caught up in the appearance of things that sometimes we forget the call of God to be transformed in worship that we might be the salt and light, that we might work to meet the needs of the world and to promote God’s justice and righteousness. We are called beyond our own worship of God to enact God’s compassion, to be the hands and feet and heart of God in this particular place. And what are the acts of justice and righteousness to which God is calling us? “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly….Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.” And Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” May God give us the courage to follow where he has led the way through Jesus Christ, who humbled himself that we might see and know the glory and the light of God’s love and enact God’s compassion in a needy world. i. Feasting on the Word ed. Bartlett and Taylor. Year A Vol 1. Pastoral Perspective by Andrew Foster Connors. Westminster John Knox: Louisville, 2010. P 318.