Sunday, January 17, 2016

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany Year C

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany-Year C January 17, 2016 One of my diocesan responsibilities is to serve on the Presbyter’s Discernment Committee, which is a sub-committee of the Commission on Ministry, who exists to advise the Bishop in different matters of ministry. Last week, the members of the Presbyter’s Discernment committee gathered at Gray Center, and we met with a group of people who had all been through their parish discernment committees because they were discerning a call to the priesthood. I’ve had the privilege of doing this difficult and rewarding work for a number of years now, but this year was the first year that we had several people who were discerning a call to the bi-vocational priesthood. In years past, we have been able to identify what are the gifts of people being called to the priesthood. We want people who are comfortable being in front of other people, some administrative/organizational skills, maybe a little dash of charisma…..But then when we started talking and thinking about the bi-vocational priesthood, a new development in the life of our diocese, we were stumped. We didn’t know what kind of gifts we were looking for because it is a brand new thing, and none of us really knows what it looks like yet. But what we found is that as we interviewed people, we began to discover their own unique giftedness, and we began to imagine how those gifts might fill a need in the church. And then this week, I was privileged to sit with the Bishop as he told the folks whether or not they would get to proceed on toward ordination, and I was given the task of lifting up to each of them the giftedness that we discovered in them (whether they be called to ordained ministry or not). It was a beautiful and life-giving opportunity for me to hold up a mirror and show folks their own giftedness. Our culture lifts up particular gifts and in that lifting up, it shows what that culture values most. An academic culture lifts up intelligence as giftedness. Some business cultures lift up ruthlessness as a gift. Others value charisma. Families do this too. Some value athletic ability; others value kindness. Different groups seek out different types of “giftedness” that they think will support the values of that particular group. But Paul is saying something very different in our epistle for today. He is saying that, in the church at Corinth, which has been arguing about whether or not there is a hierarchy of gifts, and in the Christian church in general, every single person who is baptized is gifted. Every person who has been baptized and who confesses Jesus as Lord, has been brought to that point through the gift of the Holy Spirit. And each person has also been given unique spiritual gifts that are to be used for the good of the whole community, and all the gifts have been equally activated by the grace of God and are equally valued and valuable to the church. On this weekend of our annual parish meeting, this passage offers us an invitation to ask ourselves what are the gifts that are valued in the life of this parish? One that I have encountered is involvement through fellowship. Another is a generosity of spirit to one another. But here’s the flip side of that question. What are gifts that this parish doesn’t always recognize, can’t always see, doesn’t particularly value? What are the gifts of those among us that we might be overlooking because they are not what we expect? And how might we begin to seek out those gifts that don’t look like what we expect but are equally valued and given by God and to be used for the good of this community? We have a responsibility as individuals, through our baptismal covenant, to offer the gifts that God has given us, and we have a responsibility to seek out those gifts in others in our community and invite them to share them. So I invite you to think about these questions this week: “What gifts have been given you by the Holy Spirit that could be used more fully for the common good? Are you offering them already, and if not, why not? Is there a gift or a potential in someone else that you have noticed that you might be able to call attention to and nurture?

Monday, January 11, 2016

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

The First Sunday after the Epiphany—Year C January 10, 2016 When I was a teenager, one of my younger brothers got a rock tumbler for some Christmas. I had never encountered a rock tumbler before, so I followed the process curiously. My brother added some broken old dull rocks into the compact machine. He added water and some sort of abrasive grit. He plugged it into the wall in the formal living room—the remotest part of the house. He turned it on, and he left it running in there for an entire month. If I was very quiet, I could hear the sound of the machine running and the rocks tumbling from my room. When the month was over, my brother opened the machine and retrieved the rocks, and I was amazed to behold how those broken, old, dull rocks had been transformed into shiny, beautiful polished rocks whose unique character was much more evident. I think about that rock tumbler all the time because I think it is a useful image for what happens in Christian community. Whether it is through the community of church, of households or families, circles of friends or even work communities, we are like those broken old rocks thrown together into a tight space and left to tumble against each other--mixed with a bunch of grit--and knocking off all the sharp edges. It is not an especially comfortable process, but it is effective when the Holy Spirit is in the mix. In our baptism, we make promises to live our lives a certain way. We fall short of those again and again and again, but instead of giving up, we renew our promises (both when new people are being baptized and at other times of the year, like today, when our prayer book encourages us to do so.) Being in that rock tumbler with one another is really hard and sometimes discouraging, and so it is important for us to remember why we do this uncomfortable difficult work and to remember that we really are all in this together. But that is not the end of the good news this Sunday. There is another very important part. When Jesus emerges from the water of his baptism, after all those who were there also had been baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon him…like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Our baptisms and the renewal of our baptisms all find their meaning in Jesus’s own baptism. God has also claimed each one of us, each and every one of you, as God’s beloved, with whom God is well pleased. We are God’s beloved even when we are old, dull-colored, broken and jagged rocks, thrown together in the rock tumbler; and we are God’s beloved when we are smoothed and polished through our common life together. No matter what, you are God’s beloved. No matter what, the person whom you find to be most infuriating and difficult (in the rock tumbler of Christian community) is God’s beloved. The person who posts the obnoxious things on Facebook is God's beloved. The one whose bumper stickers you don't agree with is God's beloved. The family member who you just can't forgive is God's beloved. The person here in this church who just rubs up against you the wrong way is God's beloved. We accept this about ourselves and each other every time we renew our baptismal vows (which is why we need to do it so frequently)--promising to seek and serve Christ in all persons and love our neighbors as ourselves; promising to respect the dignity of every human being--and we accept this about ourselves every time we celebrate Eucharist. This past week, I was able to be a participant in a Eucharist (with no preaching or sacramental responsibilities which is a rare gift for us). The celebrant, the Very Rev. Billie Abram, told us that she regularly makes retreat at the monastic community of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, MA, an Episcopal monastery. And Billie told us that in their Eucharistic celebrations, the brothers have added a line that may be included in the next prayer book revision. When the celebrant holds up the consecrated bread and wine in the Eucharist, he says “Behold what you are; become what you receive.” In and through our baptism, we are accepting God’s claim on and of us as God’s beloved. In and through our baptism, we are becoming the body and blood of Christ in this world. In and through our weekly celebrations of Eucharist, we are becoming more and more of what we already are; being transformed more and more into what we have already received—those made worthy of being called God’s beloved. “Behold what you are; become what you receive.”