Sunday, January 18, 2015

Epiphany 2B sermon

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany—Year B January 18, 2015 My heart is very full today, on this 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany. It is my last day here with you, and it is also our patronal feast day, the Confession of St. Peter (which is transferred to tomorrow because it falls on a Sunday this year). It is strangely appropriate, that, as we say goodbye to one another, our propers for the day and the very life of St. Peter invite and encourage us to think about call. We see it in the story of young Samuel, who hears the call of God but has to learn who and what he is experiencing through the wisdom of the older (and flawed) Eli. We see it in today’s gospel reading, when Peter and Andrew and Philip and Nathaniel leave their whole entire lives behind to accept Jesus’s invitation to “Come and See.” As we all celebrate our life here together today and mark the ending of our formal relationship (but certainly not the bonds of our common affection that will go with us into the future), we also are all in this position where we are leaving something behind in order to accept Jesus’s invitation to “Come and See”. In his blog post this week, Parker Palmer shares a poem that I think gets right to the heart of what call is and what it means to follow Jesus’s call in our lives and in our church. It’s a poem about the "thread" that runs through our lives — a thread that can guide us if we hold onto it: The Way It Is by William Stafford There's a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn't change. People wonder about what you are pursuing. You have to explain about the thread. But it is hard for others to see. While you hold it you can't get lost. Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die; and you suffer and get old. Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding. You don't ever let go of the thread. Here is what Parker Palmer has to say about this thread. “Holding on doesn't make life any easier, but it can keep us from getting lost in the dark woods that swallow us up every now and then. Knowing we can find our way home with that thread in hand, we're more likely to explore the darkness and learn what it has to teach us. [He continues]From time to time, I lose track of the thread of my life. I lose it when I succumb to my own fears, or to other people's expectations, or to the non-stop circus of distractions we call the modern world. So I need to take time to ponder a few questions, which is what I've been doing this week: » As I look back on my life, what's the thread that has given me a sense of meaning and purpose? How can I name or picture it in a way that will keep me more aware of it? » Once I've reclaimed my lost thread and have it firmly in hand, what darkness do I need to enter and explore? For example, what fears do I need to face into and walk through to keep them from shutting me down? » In what kinds of situations do I most often let go of the thread? How can I avoid those situations, or go into them better prepared to deal with their risks?”i Listening for the call of God in our lives, finding and holding onto that thread, is the way that we “find our way home.” It is a process that begins at our birth, and it finds clarity in our baptism, when we are accepting God’s claiming of us as God’s beloved. That thread is the love song that God sings to us through scripture, tradition, and our faith communities, and while we hold onto it, we cannot get lost. Be mindful of this, and treat each other with kindness and generosity in the days to come because you need each other to hear the call of Jesus for your lives and for this church. As I was cleaning out my office this week, I discovered a page of prayers and scripture that I had saved. It was from the back of an old Forward Day by Day, and the editor’s note spoke about how he had chosen these prayers for those going through transitions. It seems appropriate to leave you today with a prayer about our calling from our church father, Basil the Great (330-379). Let us pray. O Lord our God, teach us to ask for the right blessings. Guide the vessel of our life toward yourself, the tranquil haven of all storm-tossed souls. Show us the course we should take. Renew a willing spirit within us. Let your Spirit curb our wayward senses and guide and enable us to our true good, to keep your laws and in all our deeds always to rejoice in your glorious and gladdening presence. For yours is the glory and praise of all your saints for ever and ever. Amen. i.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

First Sunday after the Epiphany--The Baptism of our Lord

1st Sunday after the Epiphany-Yr B January 11, 2015 I recently read a review of a book titled Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. It was written in 2011 by a woman named Sherry Turkle, who is a professor from MIT and an internet scholar. In her book, Turkle shares research and her experiences as a mother and a friend. She quotes children and adults who hesitate to use the phone because it seems awkward and intrusive; it is much easier, they say, to dash off a text or an email. At the same time, Turkle points out, because of the convenience, people expect an immediate response. She describes the anxiety of teenagers when they do not get an immediate reply to their text messages. One girl talks about needing her cell phone for ‘emergencies;’ it turns out what she means by ‘emergency’ is having a feeling without being able to share it. In her research, Turkle has discovered that people today report feeling simultaneously more connected and lonelier than ever before. We look to social media and to others to find affirmation, and while we may garner hundreds of “likes” on Facebook, we still hunger for something deeper, something more. Today we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. It is the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry, and it is also the hint of that something more that we hunger for. As Jesus comes up dripping out of the water, God speaks to him saying, “You are my beloved son. With you I am well pleased.” These words are intimately loving, poignantly powerful. In and through his baptism, Jesus is being claimed by God as God’s beloved. This isn’t just the affirmation that we try to glut ourselves with in our modern lives. Because to get affirmation, we often have to change ourselves to fit in, to be acceptable to our peer group. What Jesus receives from God in his baptism is real and true acceptance—of all that he is and all that he will be. Wrapped in these words of acceptance are the blessings of identity, worth, and unwavering regard for Jesus from the Creator of the Universe. So Jesus’s baptism isn’t just the beginning of his public ministry, it informs every single thing that he does from that point on. When he heals the sick, feeds the hungry, casts out the unclean spirits, it is out of this place of acceptance by God. And his actions toward those whom he encounters convey this radical acceptance of them from God, too.i Back several years ago, Bishop Gray started preaching and teaching about the importance of baptism, and as a part of that, he developed a liturgical piece to go along with it. He’s done it at Council before (some of you may have experience there); I believe he’s even done it here. He takes a bowl of water and invites people to come to the altar rail and he makes the sign of the cross on their foreheads with the water and says to each person, “Remember your baptism.” I have always found this to be powerful, to feel the water once again on my forehead, and what I heard him saying to me in that is the echo of God’s call to each of us in our baptism: “You are my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” In and through our baptism, God offers us God’s unwavering acceptance of all that we are, all that we will be. It is poingnant, powerful, and profound, and it is so important that we remember, not just for ourselves but for those whom we live with, at home, at church, at work, in the world, even on social media. We are baptized, as Paul reminds the community in Ephesus into Jesus Christ, something so much greater than ourselves and our own belonging in God. It is important to remember, as that water touches our heads, that just as we are God’s beloved, so is the person kneeling next to us, even when we disagree with them or don’t even like them. This is our call as Christians—to remember our own belovedness and to follow Jesus in living that out in the world, sharing the good news of their belovedness with all whom we encounter and offering that gift of healing and acceptance. So today, we are going to remember. After this homily, we will renew our baptismal vows, the promises we make to be in relationship with God our beloved and to live that acceptance out in the world. I will invite you to come to the altar rail, where I will anoint you with holy water, an outward and visible sign to you that you are God’s beloved, accepted and loved by God. We will be fed with the body of Christ at God’s table, reminded that we belong, not just to God, but to each other, and we will go out into the world to share that love and acceptance. In closing, I share with you a blessing written by the artist and poet Jan Richardson. Beginning with Beloved A Blessing Begin here: Beloved. Is there any other word needs saying, any other blessing could compare with this name, this knowing? Beloved. Comes like a mercy to the ear that has never heard it. Comes like a river to the body that has never seen such grace. Beloved. Comes holy to the heart aching to be new. Comes healing to the soul wanting to begin again. Beloved. Keep saying it and though it may sound strange at first, watch how it becomes part of you, how it becomes you, as if you never could have known yourself anything else, as if you could ever have been other than this: Beloved.ii (Words at the anointing: You are God’s beloved. With you God is well pleased.) i. These ideas about acceptance versus affirmation were informed and inspired by the blog post written by David Lose at ii.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2nd Sunday after Christmas

2nd Sunday after Christmas January 4, 2015 I want you to take a moment and think about all that has been left out of this week’s gospel story. Our passage recounts, very matter-of-factly, what Christians call “the flight into Egypt” of the Holy Family, Joseph, Mary, and the young Jesus, just after the wise men have departed. An angel comes to Joseph in a dream and tells him to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt because King Herod is coming for them. They settle in Egypt, and Joseph has another dream where the angel tells him it is time to go back home, but Joseph decides to settle in a slightly different place—Nazareth—because he is afraid to go back to Judea. What is missing from this story that we all know accompanies journeys, new beginnings, changes (sudden or otherwise), and heading off into the unknown? It is the uncertainty. The story makes it sound like Joseph just woke up from his dream and loaded everyone up and headed to Egypt, but we know differently, don’t we? This story intersects vividly with our own stories this week. As I begin to take my leave from you, the most prevailing emotion that I have encountered in both you and me is uncertainty. What is going to happen to us? Who will be our priest? Where will we live? Will I be able to sell my house? What will it be like? Just as we have come over the threshold of a new year, we all stand on the threshold of a new journey. And thresholds are both exciting and difficult, challenging and exhilarating. I read a blog post by Parker Palmer this week that has to do with crossing thresholds and living with questions and uncertainty. It has been of great help to me in living with my own questions, anxiety, and uncertainty, and so I share it with you in the hopes it will help you as well. Five Questions for Crossing the Threshold by Parker J. Palmer "This “New Year” thing is a curious fiction, isn’t it? The planet on which we’ve hitched a ride has been wheeling through space a lot longer than 2,014 years. And the hoopla we make at midnight on December 31st is a tad over the top for one more tick of the clock. But this annual ritual allows us to imagine that maybe, just maybe, we're on the threshold of something new and better — and some of our imaginings might come true, depending on what we do. Here’s a small poem that’s large with wise guidance for threshold-crossing: We look with uncertainty by Anne Hillman We look with uncertainty beyond the old choices for clear-cut answers to a softer, more permeable aliveness which is every moment at the brink of death; for something new is being born in us if we but let it. We stand at a new doorway, awaiting that which comes… daring to be human creatures, vulnerable to the beauty of existence. Learning to love. I’m going to pass on making New Year’s resolutions this time around. Instead, I’ll take Rilke’s famous advice about “living the questions,” and carry into the New Year a few of the wonderings Hillman’s poem evokes in me: • How can I let go of my need for fixed answers in favor of aliveness? • What is my next challenge in daring to be human? • How can I open myself to the beauty of nature and human nature? • Who or what do I need to learn to love next? And next? And next? • What is the new creation that wants to be born in and through me? We look with uncertainty to the year ahead. But if we wrap our lives around life-giving questions — and live our way into their answers a bit more every day — the better world we want and need is more likely to come into being." i May God gives us the faith and the courage to dwell for a season with our questions, our uncertainty: “for something new is being born in us if we but let it. We stand at a new doorway, awaiting that which comes… daring to be human creatures, vulnerable to the beauty of existence. Learning to love.” i.

Christmas Eve 2014

Christmas Eve 2014 There is another gospel that can be read for Christmas eve, but I’ve never been brave enough to supplant the beloved story from Luke (fearing to create the St. Peter’s Christmas eve riot). And yet, this other gospel reading is the one that speaks to my heart this Christmas, so with you having already heard the treasured favorite, let me share with you the alternative: John 1:1-14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. I am struck by the images of the light and the dark that this gospel gives us, a reality that is actually much more present and a part of our experience than the bucolic scene of a stable-born baby and shepherds in the fields visited by blinding celestial beings. While the traditional Christmas story from Luke touches us because of its familiarity, its connection with innocence, the Christmas story from John is a mysterious kind of challenge. We know this light and dark of which John speaks. We see it in others and in ourselves. Jesus came as the light that shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness is still around. It even sometimes seems to triumph, to squash out the light. That’s why we so desperately need Christmas. Not for the presents or the parties or the food or the family or the carols. We need Christmas because it is a reminder that no matter how it seems, the light continues to shine in the darkness and the darkness does not, cannot, will not overcome it. Christmas also comes around every year with a mysterious invitation, to “make of ourselves the light.” The Quaker writer Parker Palmer writes about this in a blog post where he shares a poem written by the poet Mary Oliver. Palmer challenges us to “be the light for another.” Let me share with you Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Buddha’s Last Instruction” and Palmer’s reflection on it. The Buddha's Last Instruction by Mary Oliver "Make of yourself a light" said the Buddha, before he died. I think of this every morning as the east begins to tear off its many clouds of darkness, to send up the first signal—a white fan streaked with pink and violet, even green. An old man, he lay down between two sala trees, and he might have said anything, knowing it was his final hour. The light burns upward, it thickens and settles over the fields. Around him, the villagers gathered and stretched forward to listen. Even before the sun itself hangs, disattached, in the blue air, I am touched everywhere by its ocean of yellow waves. No doubt he thought of everything that had happened in his difficult life. And then I feel the sun itself as it blazes over the hills, like a million flowers on fire— clearly I'm not needed, yet I feel myself turning into something of inexplicable value. Slowly, beneath the branches, he raised his head. He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd. Parker Palmer reflects, “We are the frightened crowd the Buddha looked into as he drew his last breath. We are the people who need to be light for one another. There are many kinds of light. There's the light that allows people lost in the dark to find their way home. There's the light of compassion that comforts everything it touches. There's the light of truth-telling about ourselves that allows us to see what we are doing — or allowing — that has helped bring this darkness upon us. There's the light that shows us the way forward toward a better world. There's the light of courage to walk that path no matter who says "Stop!" No one of us can provide all of the light we need. But every one of us can shed some kind of light. Every day we can ask ourselves, "What kind of light can I provide today?"i As we celebrate Christmas this night and beyond, giving thanks for Jesus Christ, the one true light that shines in the darkness, which the darkness cannot overcome, may we all have the awareness to try to reflect just a little of that light for someone else, and may we ask ourselves, each and every day, “What kind of light can I provide today?” i.