Saturday, October 22, 2016

23rd Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 25C

23rd Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 25C October 23, 2016 Once upon a time, a bishop is traveling with some pilgrims on a fishing boat from one place to another. He overhears the fishermen talking about a nearby island where three old hermits live a Spartan existence focused on seeking "salvation for their souls." The bishop is curious about these hermits and wants to go see them, but the captain attempts to dissuade him by saying "the old men are not worth your pains. I have heard say that they are foolish old fellows, who understand nothing, and never speak a word." But the bishop insists, and the Captain steers the ship toward the island and the bishop subsequently sets off in a rowboat to visit where he is met ashore by the three hermits. The bishop informs the hermits that he has heard of them and of their seeking salvation. He inquires how they are seeking salvation and serving God, but the hermits say they do not know how, only that they pray, simply: "Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us." The bishop tells them that they still have much to learn about the faith, and so he begins to teach them about the major church doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. And he also insists that they must learn how to properly pray. He tells them that he will teach them "not a way of my own, but the way in which God in the Holy Scriptures has commanded all men to pray to Him" and he attempts to teach them the Lord's Prayer, but the simple hermits blunder and cannot remember the words—which compels the bishop to repeat the lesson late into the night. After many hours of frustration with their ignorance, the Bishop is finally satisfied that they had memorized the prayer, and he departs from the island leaving the hermits with the firm instruction to pray as he has taught them. The bishop then returns by the rowboat to the fisherman's vessel anchored offshore to continue his voyage. But after he climbs on board, the bishop notices that their vessel is being followed—at first thinking a boat was behind them but soon realizing that the three hermits had been running across the surface of the water "as though it were dry land." The hermits catch up to the vessel as the captain stops the boat, and inform the bishop: "We have forgotten your teaching, servant of God. As long as we kept repeating it we remembered, but when we stopped saying it for a time, a word dropped out, and now it has all gone to pieces. We can remember nothing of it. Teach us again." The bishop is humbled and replies to the hermits: "Your own prayer will reach the Lord, men of God. It is not for me to teach you. Pray for us sinners." After which the hermits turn around and walk back to their island. This parable (of the 3 Hermits by Leo Tolstoy) is much like our gospel reading for today. Luke sets the stage for us in saying that Jesus identifies two key problems with his listeners which result in his telling of this particular parable: they trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt. So he tells them the story of the two men praying in the temple. One does everything that he is supposed to do and considers himself righteous for it while looking down on his neighbor. The other man is a cheat and a crook, who makes his living by taking advantage of his own countrymen in a foreign-occupied country. He makes no confession, only standing before God saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Jesus concludes the parable by saying that “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” In this parable, Jesus is saying that knowing ourselves, knowing who we are, admitting our short-comings, admitting or sins is more important than being “good” or righteous. And in order to know ourselves, we must spend at least a little time being self-reflective, asking questions that help us to know ourselves better and understand the world around us differently. That is the true work of a person of faith, and how we continue to be transformed into the image and likeness of Christ. When we come across someone that we instantly dislike, self-reflection and knowing ourselves means asking the question, “What is it about this person that I see that reminds me of a part of myself that I don’t like?” And then intentionally trying to offer a kinder look both at the other person and at that part of ourselves we don’t like. I heard a poet speak this week in a podcast and I was struck when she said that the harsh voice of judgement and criticism that we use on people outside ourselves is usually the same voice that we use on ourselves. But faithful self-reflection invites us to examine our own hearts with a kinder lens, coming from a place of curiosity rather than fear. And when we do that, our kindness is often transferred to those outside ourselves who we otherwise might judge and condemn. Today we kick off our annual giving campaign. Our theme for this year is “We are St. Columb’s” and over the next few weeks, you will be hearing stories from our members of how each of them has been transformed through their life here at St. Columb’s. I encourage you, over the coming weeks, to reflect in your own life, on at least one moment when you have been transformed, become more self-aware, become more like Christ or seen someone differently, because of your life here at St. Columb’s. And then another aspect of self-reflection that I invite you to during this season is to examine how you spend your money. Just a few chapters earlier in Luke’s gospel, Jesus says to his disciples “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” One way of being self-reflective about “where your heart is” is to examine how you spend your money. If you look at your online bank account, your bank statement, or your check book, what do those things say about how you spend your money and therefore where you heart is? After you examine that, does the reality align with where you hope your heart is? If not, then why not? And where does your giving to St. Columb’s fit into all of that? Is your giving to God through St. Columb’s representative of the gratitude that you feel for the way that you have been transformed by your involvement here? In closing, I want to remind each and every one of you that each of us belongs to God. Every person God has made is cherished by God. We don’t have to do anything different or be anything different for God to love us, and God loves our neighbors just as much as God loves us. May we have the courage to examine our own hearts and to allow God to transform us to be found more and more in the image and likeness of Christ—who God has created us to be.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

21st Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 23C

21st Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 23C October 9, 2016 We have a spiritual practice in our family that we just started in the last year. We call it “the three things.” I started doing it with our children after I heard an interview with the singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer on the program On Being, and she shared it as being one of her own spiritual practices. At night time, when the children are settled in their beds and preparing for sleep, I ask them to tell me three things that they are grateful for on that particular day. They are usually some of the most mundane things of their everyday lives, but as Newcomer says, the voicing of these things for which we are grateful sends us off to sleep from a place of wholeness and thanksgiving. And the curious thing is that it is only seldom that the children struggle to think of three things and only three things. Usually, the recitation of the things for which they are thankful snowballs until it is like one of those cartoon snowballs rolling down a mountain and getting bigger and bigger on its way down. It’s often hard to limit ourselves to only three. And they usually ask me what my three things are, and we discover that often they remind me of something of which I am grateful which I have forgotten over the course of the day and vice versa. It has become an integral part of our nighttime routine, and I think it is because it is about acknowledging the sacred in the midst of the ordinary and giving thanks for it. In our gospel reading for today, we see a story that is unique to Luke’s gospel, where Jesus is walking through an in-between place (between Galilee and Samaria) and he encounters 10 lepers who call out to him “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Lepers in that culture were segregated from society because of the contagion of their disease, and so they are essential folks who have been shunned by society who are walking around with horrible disfigurement and parts of their bodies which can no longer feel anything. And Jesus heals them all, no questions asked, telling them to go and show themselves to the priests, which would then allow them to be reintegrated into society. And the writer of Luke tells us that on their way to the priests, they are made well. And upon realizing this miraculous healing, one leper turns back, praises God, returns to Jesus and falls at his feet and thanks him. Jesus observes that only the Samaritan has returned to give praise to God (even though the other 9 are doing exactly as he instructed them to do), and then he gives the Samaritan former-leper a second blessing saying, “Get up and go on your way. Your faith has made you well.” This passage in Luke’s gospel follows right on the heels of last week’s passage about faith, which follows right on the heels of Jesus teaching his disciples about the challenges of discipleship. And its placement is not accidental. Luke is reminding his listeners and us that praising God and expressing gratitude is an important component of discipleship. And it’s also no accident that the word that our reading translates as “has made you well” (when Jesus tells the leper to go his faith has made him well) can also be translated as “saves”. So Jesus is also saying to the leper: Go in peace, your faith, your praise of God and your act of thanksgiving, your recognition of the way God has healed you and acted in your life has saved you. In his book Reflections on the Psalms, C. S. Lewis observed the connection between gratitude and well being. He writes, “I noticed how the humblest and at the same time most balanced minds praised most: while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least. Praise always seems to be inner health made audible.” So how do we feel gratitude when we are in the midst of trials and tribulations? How do we express gratitude to God and each other if we are struggling, if we just don’t feel grateful? This gospel reading reminds us that even in the middle of nowhere, even in the in-between times, God shows up, and God heals us if we ask for it. It also reminds us that gratitude is so much more than a feeling. It is a key practice of discipleship. Just like how we practice faith (by showing up and being who God is calling us to be) even if we don’t feel like our faith is enough (or particularly faithful), we can practice gratitude by paying attention to the ways God is working in our lives and in our world, we can look for and name the ways that the most holy moments show up in the midst of the most ordinary, and then we can name that and give thanks. That is practicing gratitude. That, my friends, is discipleship. Our church has had some struggles lately. I wonder how we might all be changed, healed, if we were just a little more attentive to practicing gratitude? What would this church be like, if, every time we walk through these doors, every single one of us took a minute and named three things for which we were grateful here in our common life? What would our lives be like if the last thing we did every day was to practice gratitude by naming three things, encounters, people, moments, ideas…for which we are grateful this day? I’d like to challenge us all to take on these practices of gratitude in this in between time in the life of our church. In this practice of discipleship, might our practicing of gratitude, our outward praise to God for the good things of our life make our inner lives more healthy? It really couldn’t hurt….