Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pentecost sermon--Baptism letter Year B

A letter to Charlie and Lottie Thompson on the occasion of their baptisms. Dear Charlie and Lottie, Today is the Feast day of Pentecost; the day when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus and to the church. Today is a wonderful day to be baptized, because today we a remembering who you (and we) already are—beloved children of God who have been called out to do God’s work in this world. And today we are also remembering and celebrating the Holy Spirit. We do this with birthday cake and red balloons (and cake and balloons are awesome things), but the gift of the Holy Spirit is so much more! The word that is translated as Holy Spirit in the gospel reading for today is paraclete. This is often translated as “comforter,” and it’s a lovely thought, isn’t it? Because dear Charlie and Lottie, there will be times in your life when you need the comfort of God’s Holy Spirit; times when you grow weary of doing what is right; times when you feel so heartbroken that you think that you cannot go on. In those times, God’s Holy Spirit will be with you, praying to God within you “with sighs too deep for words,” comforting, aiding, and assisting. But this is not the only work of the Holy Spirit. We see this in our readings for today—the Holy Spirit comes as a rush of deafening wind and tongues of fire. She drives the disciples out into the streets to proclaim the challenging news that this Jesus who the crowd had put to death is alive through the power of God. And the crowds are understandably bewildered and astonished. It is the same Holy Spirit who drives the disciples to testify to the good news of God in Christ, spreading them out across the whole world and leading them into challenges, persecution, and sometimes even death. So yes, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to comfort us. But is also her work to stir us up, to drive us out of our comfortable places, to push us beyond our pre-supposed limits, to send us out into the world the make disciples of all people. Pentecost is the day that we remember that Jesus does not command us to go out and build churches, take care of old buildings, and devote ourselves to crumbling institutions. No, Jesus commands us: “go and make disciples” and “when you care for the least of these you are caring for me” and “love one another as I have loved you.” “And this kind of work is inherently disruptive, difficult, and at times even dangerous. And so Jesus sends the Paraclete, the one who comes along side us to encourage, equip, strengthen, provoke and, yes, at times to comfort us so that we can get out there and do it all again.” “We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as the answer to a problem, but what if the Spirit’s work is to create for us a new problem: that we have a story to tell, mercy to share, love to spread, and we just can’t rest until we’ve done so?” Today, we will renew our baptismal covenant along with you, Charlie and Lottie, so that we may remember the truth of all this as well. And we promise to walk with you along this way and expect you to do the same for us. We will help you remember that it is not the work of the church to be comforted; that is why “the Spirit’s power shakes the church of God”—to stir us up and to send us out into the world to share the good news of God’s love and mercy and redemption through Jesus Christ; and to make disciples of all people. Your sister in Christ, Melanie+ **Some of the ideas and the wording and phrasing of this sermon were inspired by

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Ordination to the Priesthood-- Sarah Moses

Sarah Moses ordination to the priesthood May 2, 2015 When I was about to be ordained, I was given this stole. It belonged to my paternal grandfather, a United Methodist elder who died before I went to seminary. This was the last stole the family had left of Pop’s (having already given away all his vestments and library), and it was clearly in a state of disrepair. My grandmother and my aunt apologized as they gave it to me, saying they hoped it could be cleaned or restored so that I could wear it. And I put it in a box in the top of a closet and forgot about it, regretful that I didn’t have a better token of his long, faithful ministry to carry with me into my bright, shiny new one. That was 11 years ago. Today is the first time that I have ever worn my grandfather’s stole. What changed, you may wonder? I’ve been reading a book these past couple of weeks. It’s by Episcopal priest and scholar William Countryman and it’s called, Living on the Border of the Holy: Renewing the Priesthood of All. In this book, Countryman writes about the priesthood of all believers, including both the lay and the ordained in his consideration, and he writes about how all of us are called to live our lives “on the border of the holy.” I want to share with you a couple of paragraphs that Countryman has written. “What, then, is priestly ministry? It is the ministry that introduces us to arcane—hidden things, secrets. In one sense, priestly ministry is the most ordinary thing imaginable. All our lives, we are repeatedly in the position of finding, revealing, explaining, and teaching—or conversely, of being led, taught, and illuminated. Everyone is the priest of a mystery that someone else does not know: how to construct a budget, how to maneuver through the politics of the workplace, how to roast a turkey, how to win the affections of the boy or girl to whom one is attracted. The experience is so common that much of the time, we do not notice it at all. We are all constantly serving others as priests of mysteries known to us and not to them. And we are constantly being served by those who know what we do not. “Some human work is priestly in a very obvious way: teaching, parenting, mentoring, coaching, the performing arts, the arts of statecraft….Other tasks involve a voyage into the unknown in order to bring back news for priestly use. Prayer is like this…Scientific research….so is the work of creative artists and all serious thinkers. But even in the most daily of our daily routines, the process of priestly service never ceases…We are constantly standing alongside someone else, giving or receiving some new understanding of the world before us…To be human means to be engaged in priestly discourse—the unveiling of secrets.” When I think of my own priestly ministry, I think most about the times that the Holy has been revealed to me—through scripture, through prayer, through the sacraments, but also through my husband and children and through glimpses into the lives and stories of others, both inside and outside of the churches I have served. We are all called to this—the paying attention to, being open to the revelation of the Holy in our lives and then sharing that with others, teaching them. That is what we mean when we talk about the priesthood of all believers. That is what we are called to in and through our baptism. We, ordained priests, do this paying attention, being open to the Holy and then sharing and teaching about it in a very specific way, by 1. Doing this more publicly than most people and 2. In and through the sacraments. But none of us does this alone. We all do this priestly work in and through community, something that you, Sarah, have known and understood and experienced for a long time already. We see this in the gospel reading for today—where Jesus is commissioning and empowering his disciples in Matthew’s gospel to be sent out as laborers into God’s harvest. (I can’t help but think about the equivalent of this passage in Luke’s gospel, where Jesus sends out the 70 two by two. None of us is sent out alone. We all have companions on the way.) And that’s why I’m wearing this old, stained, and a little bit tattered stole of my grandfather’s today. It’s because of the way that, over the last 11 years, when I have most needed to hear it, my Dad has told me stories of Pop and his ministry—of the church that was so poor they had to pay him with turnip greens, of the time he testified in court and got the upper hand over the opposing attorney through his salty wit, times when he was successful and effective and thriving, and times when he was faithful, failing, and heartbroken. I wear this stole today in honor and memory and thanksgiving of other priests who have befriended me and taught me, and I wear this stole today in honor and memory and thanksgiving of the lay people who have shared with me and taught me about the holy in and through their lives. We all need to remember this, but you, especially, Sarah need to remember this, as you blaze the trail and help write the script for what it means to be a bi-vocational priest in this diocese and in this (slightly-tattered, old) church in a rapidly changing world. It may, at times be lonely work, and so I encourage you to remember: we are with you—sharing, teaching, learning, and receiving. Always.

7th Sunday after Easter

Easter 7B May 17, 2015 There are lots of things going on in the life of the church today. Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the St. Mary’s Chapter of the Daughters of the King here at St. Columb’s. The DOK is an order for women in the Episcopal church and their mission is to be “the extension of Christ's Kingdom through Prayer, Service and Evangelism”. Today is also the 7th Sunday after Easter. What’s so special about the 7th Sunday after Easter, you may wonder? The 7th Sunday of Easter is a sort of liturgical no-man’s land. We celebrated the Feast of the Ascension—when Jesus is lifted bodily up to heaven away from the disciples—this past Thursday. And today, even though we have a glimpse of Jesus in the gospel reading, we are very aware of his absence as we await the fulfillment of his last promise—the gift of the Holy Spirit. And what better way to wait, than with our gospel reading for today! There are some grace-filled times in the life of every preacher when the lectionary crafters and the themes of the day conspire to throw a nice, easy slow pitch. Today, as we are celebrating 50 years of the ministry of prayer of the Daughters of the King in this place, we see Jesus in the upper room with his disciples as he tries to prepare them for his departure/crucifixion. And what is he doing? He’s praying to God on behalf of his disciples and closest friends. There are three parts to Jesus’s prayer that bear mentioning this morning. 1. Jesus acknowledges before God and all of us that the world can be a difficult place. “This life is at turns beautiful and difficult, wonderful and painful.” 2. Christianity does not provide an escape from life’s difficulties, but rather offers support to flourish amid them. We hear this in Jesus’s poignant clarification: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them…” His prayer and his promise isn’t that his followers be exempt from struggles. Rather it is the assurance that we are not and will not ever be alone in our struggles. 3. We are here for a purpose: to care for this world God loves so much and to participate in God’s fulfillment of all creation.i This Last Supper section in the gospel of John constitutes a transition in which responsibility for God’s mission in the world is passing from Jesus to the disciples and on to us. And the wisdom of this prayer for us is this: it reminds us that people of faith, followers of Jesus neither retreat from the world nor give in to the pressures of the world. To say that we “do not belong to the world” is to say that the world’s claims and values do not shape our essential identity, faith, value, and mission. And it also means that we are called to stay connected to the world that God loves, that God has created and to be a part of the fulfillment of God’s creation. One way that we do this is in and through prayer. In and through prayer, we are offering ourselves and others to God for hallowing, for setting apart, for being made holy. The word that is translated as “sanctify” in Jesus’s request: “sanctify them in your truth” is the same word that is translated as hallowed in the phrase “hallowed by thy name” in the Lord’s prayer. But you know, praying that takes a great deal of courage. Because when we offer our lives and the lives of those we love to God and ask God to hallow them, then we lose all semblance of control over it all. Because God will take it all and transform it in ways that we could never ask for or even imagine. And if you really think about it, that is terrifying. But the thing is, Jesus has shown us in his prayer, in his presence, in his life, that God is faithful and God is trustworthy. Jesus has shown us that God loves us and that God loves creation, and that God longs to be in relationship with all of it, all of us. I was sitting in on the morning meeting of the DOK last week. We have two groups (a morning and an evening group) and they each meet once a month to pray together, to go over prayer concerns, and to be spiritually nourished. As they went through the prayer list and the many names and cares and burdens represented by those names (and a few thanksgivings as well), I was struck by just how many prayers have been said by the women of this order in and for this place over the last 50 years. I give thanks for their ministry, for their example, and for their faithfulness. I want to close us with a prayer today. It is a prayer that is a paraphrase of the gospel reading for today by seminary dean and preacher David Lose. Let us pray. “Dear God, whose love knows no ending, we know this life is beautiful and difficult and sometimes both at the same time. We do not ask that you take us out of this world, but that you support and protect us while we are in it. We pray that you would set us apart in the truth we have heard here, that your love is for everyone, and we ask that you would send us out from this place to be a witness in word and deed to your grace, goodness and love. May we hear your voice calling us at home and at work, at school, in our social settings, and all places we gather, that we may always feel and share your love. We ask this in the name of Jesus, the one set apart and made holy for us." Amen.ii i. ii. ibid.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Easter 5B

Easter 5B May 3, 2015 When I was a child, we would make frequent trips back and forth between Jackson to Vicksburg to visit my grandparents who live there. I loved to look out the car window and watch as the beautiful, green colored hills rolled by. I can remember being enthralled by the foliage that grew all over those hills and thinking that it was so beautiful, both because of the way that it looked but also because it signaled that we were getting closer to seeing people who I loved to spend time with. Fast forward to my adulthood, when I learned what that green-leafed foliage on the hills outside of Vicksburg really was. I encountered it up close and personal in the rectory yard in McComb as it sneakily sought to take over my camellia bushes and entire flower beds. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? Kudzu! So I have this weird kind of love/hate relationship with the stuff. And one of the interesting things about kudzu that I found is that the vines would grow incredibly long. As I was pulling one part of the vine off my bushes, I would discover that that single vine was stretched all the way to the other end of the flower bed, entwined with many other plants along the way. It’s also incredibly tenacious, holding onto other plants with a kind of super-strength. Truly, kudzu is the Incredible Hulk of the plant world. In today’s gospel reading, as he is preparing his disciples for his departure, Jesus says to them, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” And I can’t help but think of kudzu when he says this: how even though bad things are coming and are going to happen to all of them, Jesus is making them a promise that he will hold onto them tenaciously; how we as the body of Christ are all inextricably connected with other parts that may be way down at the other end of the flower bed. I had an encounter with this truth a few years ago through Camp Bratton Green, our diocesan camp for young people in Central Mississippi. I had been to Bratton Green for one session as a child (5th grade), and it had been a pretty good camp experience, but I had not felt particularly plugged in to the life there. I had definitely felt like there were insiders and outsiders, and I was one of the outsiders. So I never went back, until I had just graduated from high school and decided I wanted to be a counselor. I was accepted to be on the staff of a priest I had never met, a man named Duncan M. Gray, III. And I made up my mind that as a counselor, I would actively work to make sure that every single one of the girls in my cabin felt a profound sense of belonging. I had a great week at camp that week, and it opened up a new sense of belonging for me in the life of that place. Fast forward ten years, and I had just come back to the diocese from seminary, and I was fulfilling my required two years of service on staff at Camp Bratton Green. On my first day there, one of the permanent staff (the college age kids who run the camp for the entire summer) came up to me, and she reintroduced herself and told me that I had been her camp counselor for her first session ever at Camp Bratton Green. She told me of how that beginning and that sense of belonging had opened the door for her for many happy summers spent out at Bratton Green and how she had come to be on permanent staff to help foster that sense of belonging in the children coming after her. Jesus says, “I am the vine, and you are the branches.” We have no way of knowing how our gifts and our offerings may affect and enrich the life of a member of the vine in another part of the flower bed. And in working with young people, especially, we never know how God will take and use the gifts that we freely offer and how God will multiply those small humble gifts into a radical abundance. But today, we are given the opportunity to do just that. Our entire diocese is marking today as Gray Center Sunday, when we remember and acknowledge the important role that Gray Center and Camp Bratton Green play in the formation of people as followers of Jesus Christ in Mississippi. No other place in this diocese has taught as many young people the beautiful truth of what it means to abide in God, to be a part of the long, snaky, interconnected vine that is life in and through the body of Jesus Christ. Today, we give thanks for that ministry, and we have the opportunity to give money to support all those important ministries that fall under the auspices of Gray Center. If you are able to give thanks for Gray Center and Camp Bratton Green in this way, then you can put cash in the offering plate today (or use one of our new offering envelopes and designate on the front for Gray Center), and it will go directly to Gray Center, or you can make a check to the church and put Gray Center Sunday on the memo line. We have no way of knowing how God will take and use that offering which we make in the life of the children of this diocese and beyond, in the life of Camp Bratton Green, in the life of Gray Center and all who go there for nourishment and retreat, and in the life of this community; but I believe that our small offering will be transformed by God into a radical abundance that will be beyond our wildest imaginings. Kind of like kudzu.