Monday, July 28, 2008

Sermon for Year A Proper 12

The kingdom of heaven is like…..

Jesus is busy telling parables again.

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast…
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field…
The kingdom of heave is like a merchant
in search of fine pearls…
The kingdom of heaven is like a net
thrown into the sea
that catches fish of every kind.

Seeds, yeast, a merchant, a net thrown into the sea.
All ordinary things.
Yet these ordinary things bring about the extraordinary.

That tiny little mustard seed
grows into a strong, tall tree--
a tree that becomes a sanctuary for others.

That simple yeast
transforms a few handfuls of tasteless flour
into a loaf of bread--
food to be shared with others.

That merchant looking for pearls
finds one,
but that one is more than enough.

The net cast into the sea
catches fish of every kind.
Some of what is caught it nourishing, good—
and some of what swims into the net is destructive.
Choices must be made.

The kingdom of heaven is like…

We as Americans
are not a people accustomed to kingdoms or kings
or any type of royalty
yet we pray these words in the Lord’s prayer:
Your kingdom come.

What are we asking for?
What are we hoping for?
What are we praying for?

Jesus gives us some clues in his parables.
The kingdom of heaven is hidden,
the kingdom of heaven buried,
the kingdom of heaven is in the depths of the sea.
Sometimes the kingdom of heaven is not right before our eyes—
Or it is and we just don’t look hard enough, seek deeply enough.
The kingdom of heaven has a distinctly unremarkable outward appearance,
yet it possesses amazing power to transform.

Take one ordinatry thing, combine it with another ordinary thing,
And suddenly, what you have is extraordinary.

You take some flour, some salt, some water, and a little teaspoon of yeast---
separately they are just some flour, some salt, some water,
some yeast—
But put them together,
stir them together,
give them a little time to rise to the occasion,
then add a little heat—
and you have—BREAD!
Now how does that happen!?!

You take a seed, some dirt, some water—
separately they are just a seed, some dirt, some water—
but put them together,
add a little sunshine
And you have---ZUCCHINI!!
Lots and lots of zucchini!!!
Separately ordinary.
Together extraordinatry.

That really is the story of the Church—
and why we need each one of us,
each ordinary one of us.

I have been keeping up with the events of the Lambeth Conference,
And I was reminded of the ordinary and the extraordinary this week.

Bishop Gene Robinson is the Bishop of New Hampshire.
He is a duly elected bishop by the canons of our Church
and he is dearly loved and respected by Episcopalians
in his Diocese of New Hampshire.

Gene Robinson is also an openly gay, non-celibate man
in a committed relationship.
A relationship which has lasted over 21 years.

As many of you know, Bishop Robinson’s sexuality has not set well
with some in our Anglican communion.
It has not set well with some in our own Episcopal Church.

Gene Robinson was not invited to attend the Lambeth Conference.
You can only attend if the Archbishop of Canterbury invites you.
Every other bishop in the United States was invited.
Imagine the pain of being left out.

Gene Robinson still traveled to Canterbury.
He wanted to be available for conversation for anyone
who wanted to meet and talk to him in person.

He has spent his mornings in prayer at a Franciscan retreat house.
He has been invited to preach at several churches
but he has not been included in any of the official Lambeth events.
Not only has he not been included,
he has very purposefully been excluded.

He has not been allowed to set foot in any place
where the other bishops are meeting or worshipping
or eating or socializing or praying.
On Thursday, all the bishops and their spouses were invited
to Buckingham Palace to have tea with the Queen.
Because officially the Queen is the head of the Church of England.
Quite an event as you can imagine!
Needless to say, Gene Robinson was not invited.

But he was not left alone in Canterbury.
Weeks ago Bishop Robinson had been contacted by the Cara Trust,
a philanthropic organization which for decades has provided
support and services for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Bishop Robinson was invited
to come and have tea with some of the clients of Cara Trust.
These clients are not limited to gay men—
HIV/AIDS affects heterosexuals, too—
men, women, and children,
black and white,
young and old,
rich and poor.
Gene Robinson accepted their invitation to tea.

By total coincidence,
the travel route for Gene Robinson from Canterbury
and through the jam-packed traffic of London
took him around Buckingham Palace
at the precise moment
the bishops and spouses
were streaming off their coaches
into the Palace for tea.

Gene Robinson drove past the Palace
and arrived at the small Methodist church hosting the tea
to which he was invited.
He was greeted with open arms by those living with HIV.

Like Bishop Robinson,
these are people
who know prejudice.

But Bishop Robinson, writing on his blog this week about this tea,
said this tea was not a time to mourn.
There were pots of hot tea on tableclothed card tables
and a table of delectable pastries.
It was indeed a party.

The kingdom of God is like a tea party…

I wonder where Jesus would be?
Streaming off a bus in fine clothes
to have tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace?

Or walking into a simple neighborhood church
to have tea set up on a simple card table,
with a group of excluded people=
who know the depth and loneliness
of suffering?

In all honesty,
I think we find Jesus in all places.
It is not the heart of Jesus to exclude anyone.
When Jesus says ALL people
Jesus means ALL people.

We must not despair
when that tiny mustard seed seems so small to our eyes.
The kingdom of God grows in its own time, in its own way.

We must decide what has real value for us in our lives.
what are our priorities, our choices in living our daily lives.
The pearl and the treasure are there—
but are easily overlooked
when we are overbooked.

That parable of the net and the fish with its apocalyptic interpretation?
Just a reminder
that we don’t
and we won’t live for ever.
Life will come to an end.
This is not a trial run.
But the kingdom of heaven is not about our reward after death.
Jesus calls his followers to co-create God’s kingdom right now,
on earth as it is in heaven.
God has promised to establish a reign of peace and justice on earth.
God IS working to bring about that kingdom.

Do not despair.
Do not give up on God or God’s kingdom.
Be patient.
Be hopeful.

Be the soil for the tiny seed.
Be the flour that welcomes the yeast.
Never stop searching for the treasure.
Celebrate when you realize you hold in your hand
the pearl of great price—
even if it is only for a fleeting moment.

Walk in the footsteps of Jesus.
Come in to the tea party where all are welcome.
Come up to this table and hold out your hands.
There is bread enough for everyone.
God is at work in the world.

The kingdom of heaven is now.
And everyone is invited.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sermon for Year A Proper 11

We are climbing….

Matthew’s gospel tells us the story of wheat and weeds
growing together.
Good and bad—growing so close together
that they truly inseparable.

Today in the reading in Genesis,
we hear the story of a weed.
Yes, Jacob.

Lest you go faint from hearing me refer to one of the patriarchs
of the church as a weed,
know that the Bible is full of weeds,
and God embraces and lifts up
even the weediest.

If you remember,
Jacob was born holding on to the heel
of his twin brother Esau.
From the beginning, Jacob wants to be first—
even first out of the womb.

Jacob—with the help of his mother Rebekah—
manipulates his brother
and steals a blessing that rightfully belongs to Esau.

Jacob is greedy.
He wants what he wants
and he wants it right now.

But then Jacob becomes afraid—
afraid of what his brother might do to him.
So Jacob flees.
There is a threat of trouble and harm,
so Jacob runs away.

He leaves Beer-sheba and travels far north toward Haran.
Night begins to fall.
Jacob is tired.
(Running away makes us tired.)

Jacob stops for the night.
He stretches out his weary body
and uses a stone for his pillow.

He falls asleep and he dreams.

He dreams of a ladder.
some say a staircase.
The Hebrew word has multiple translation possibilities.

Ladder, staircase….but regardless, the dream is the same.
Jacob sees the angels of God going up and coming down.
And God speaks directly to Jacob.

Here is this misfit, this questionable character,
this man who has little respect for his birth family,
and God says, “I am going to bless you and all your children.
God says, “I will not leave you.”
All those promises to a weed.

Jacob wakes up and says “Oh, my!”
“Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!”
Suddenly Jacob is able to see--perhaps for the first time--
beyond his own needs and desires.

Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.

And Jacob understands.
It is not just the ladder that goes to heaven,
It is this very day in this very place--
this day—this day that God has made—that is the real gateway to heaven.

Jacob realizes how blind he has been.

Sometimes, like Jacob,
when we get just that fleeting glimpse of heaven,
we are then able to embrace what is here on earth--right before our eyes--
as more precious.

Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.

That could be our theme song
when we suddenly realize that life cannot be lived in isolation,
that life is not just about us.
When we suddenly realize that God calls us over and over again
into community, into relationship.

It is interesting where this reading stops in today’s lectionary.
The three verses that follow
Tell us that just as God has promised Jacob,
Jacob in turn promises God:
Of all that you give me, I will surely give one-tenth to you.

God has already told Jacob he has the blessing.
Jacob doesn’t need to cut a deal with God.
But Jacob, for the first time in his life,
understands the grace and mercy of God
And he offers what he offers—one tenth of all I have—to God.
He offers it in thanksgiving.

Jacob gets it.
He understands and is grateful for God’s blessing.
And he promises to give back to God.

We call that a tithe in the church—to give 10 per cent.
Tithing is not something church administrators or vestries
or priests made up.
Tithing has deep, deep biblical roots.

As much as we hate talk about (or hear about) money in church,
the reality is our money is one of the chief sacraments of our lives.
It is an outward and visible sign
of what is really in our hearts.

It is almost a cliché but there is still powerful truth
when we say that if you really want to know what matters to us,
look at our checkbook, look at our credit card statements.
What we spend our money on
is what matters to us, what we value in our life.
You might also glance at our calendars—
how we spend our time and energy.

Yet God gives us a blessing without asking for our promises.
But Jacob offers God his own promise—
because Jacob is a changed man,
with a changed heart
and a life that is beginning to be transformed.

Whatever hardships lie ahead
(and if you already know the rest of Jacob’s story,
you know there are hardships aplenty ahead of him)--
but still,
Jacob chooses to live the rest of his life with gratitude,
in thanksgiving to God.

This dreamy and holy night at Bethel is not the end of Jacob’s story.

Jacob’s story is about his commitment here on earth.
He does not try to fall back asleep and dream of more angels.
He commits to living a life
that recognizes God is in this place, this earthly place.

Jacob is very clear on all he has done wrong in this world.
In his dream, God appears to tell Jacob how much he is loved.
In a way, the stairway to heaven
allows Jacob to look in the mirror
And see not a weed,
But the finest of wheat God can grow.

Henry David Thoreau wrote,
“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our head.”

He was right.
There are angels moving all around us.
The abundant blessing of God’s created world surrounds us.
Every morning we wake to a new day,
a day that offers us that gateway to heaven—
on earth as it is in heaven.

Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!

God is here.

What will we do with this day that the Lord has made?
How will we live in this holy place that is our “one wild and precious life”?
When will we really believe
in the immensity of God’s love for each one of us,
for every one of us?
What will we offer in thanksgiving?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sermon for Year A Proper 10

The Beloved Incompetent Farmer

Our gospel reading has two parts.
The first part has Jesus sitting on a beach.
which is teeming with crowds of people.
I imagine the crowds keep pushing in closer and closer to him
until he is almost pushed into the sea,
so finally Jesus just gets in a boat, sails a little off the shore,
and speaks to the crowds of people from there.

Jesus tells a story, a parable.
This is actually the first parable we find written down in the gospels.
The cool thing about a parable,
and certainly Jesus knows this,
is that there is not just one way to hear it or interpret it.
A parable is
mystery and meaning
wrapped into one intriguing package.
A parable is a story that makes you ask,
“What does that mean?”

You have to really listen,
really think,
to hear and think
with both your head and your heart..
calls Jesus.

And Jesus tells the story of a farmer—
who in all honesty
doesn't sound very competent--
a farmer who rather indiscriminately scatters his seed
all over the place.
Some of the seeds are quickly gobbled up by the birds.
Some seed just die in the heat of the sun,
Some seed just sit there because the ground is rocky and hard.
And yes, there are a few seed that take root,
and grow and thrive and flourish

How much those seeds produce seems as
random as the sowing of the seeds…
One hundred fold, sixty fold, thirty fold.
Pick a number.

You almost feel that the gospel might as well read:
Listen! A sower went out to sow
and did a rather terrible job with the sowing,
but there was still a harvest.

Then comes an explanation of the parable.
Most scholars don’t believe Jesus wrote or spoke that explanation--
because the whole point of a parable is to have the listeners
interpret the meaning of the parable.
It would be like putting the answer
to the NY Times Crossword puzzle
side by side with the puzzle itself.

What scholars believe is that someone came along later
and wrote this explanation--
the way they personally heard the parable.
It’s not that it’s a wrong interpretation,
It’s just that it’s only ONE interpretation.

But Jesus calls us to LISTEN.
We will each hear something different in this parable.

Perhaps the most important part of the entire parable is that first word--
complete with exclamation mark—

Few of us ever really do that well or often enough.
Jesus is trying to get everyone’s attention.
This is important he’s saying.

This parable is the story about a semi-incompetent farmer
going out and rather wildly and indiscriminately scattering seed
and still…
Things grow.
Plants produce.
The garden grows in spite of the sower.

So what is Jesus saying here?
Really, that’s for each of us to decide.

Am I the sower?
Or is God the sower?

Is my life one particular type of soil—
Or is my life all those places seeds fell?

Maybe Jesus is telling us that God does not expect perfection..

We don’t have to set up the perfect garden, neat little rows all marked out,
Or have the perfect church
or live the perfect life.

Maybe we don’t need that kind of perfection
in order for God to use us,
to grow the Church
or to grow our own spiritual lives.

God is used to rocky soil, to thorns, to a total mess.
God has had a lot of experience with total mess.
God never looks for perfection.
God just puts a hoe in our hand
and says how about you start doing a little work.
Give it a try.

God does expect that.
A sower went out to sow.
The sower didn’t frame his seed packets
and line them all up on the mantle to admire
or archive them in a scrapbook.
The sower went out.

When I was in Wales recently,
I heard a sermon preached at St. David’s Cathedral.
The priest was not an exceptional preacher—
not a perfect sower—
but some of his words have really stayed with me.

The preacher that evening was retiring.
This sermon was probably the last he would preach at the Cathedral.
So in many ways it was his final hurrah to proclaim the gospel.

Here’s what he said:
Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel.
And how might we do that?
Not by judging others, he said,
not by trying to convince others to believe as we believe,
but simply by telling our own faith story,
sharing what we believe
and our struggles to live into those beliefs.

We are called to proclaim the gospel.
How do we do that?
Simply tell others—start with your own family and friends—
most especially your children and your grandchildren
and your godchildren--
tell them why you are a Christian.
Do not waste your time or anyone else’s,
telling them why THEY
should be a Christian.

Just tell your story.

We need to name and claim our own soil.
Rocky, thorny, dirty or hydroponic—
What has made our own faith strong?
What gives us life?
What gives us hope?
What are the things that have opened our own eyes and hearts
to the holy, to the sacred?

I have been so blessed this week by Jane Blodgett’s family.
When someone we love dies,
The stories of their lives come back on us like waves.
Not tidal waves, but like a day when the waves just touch us gently.
We remember.
Re-member. That word means we put the pieces together. We see the whole.
Stories are powerful.
That’s why the Bible is full of them.
Tell your story.
Think about what you believe and how you try to live those beliefs.

Tom and I have one of those small dry erase boards
on the refrigerator in our house.
One morning as I drank my coffee,
I stood up and wrote on the board 5 things that I felt I truly believed--
for sure and for certain and without a doubt
in my heart and in my soul.
I wanted to write those beliefs without any fancy theological words,
and free of any religious clichés.

I did not think reciting the Nicene Creed to my three grandchildren
would help them understand why I am a Christian.

I asked myself,
what do I want my grandchildren to know about what I believe?

I want them to know this:

(1) I want them to know that I believe that God is real—and absolutely beyond anything I can imagine.

(2) I want them to know that yes, for me it is Jesus who rocks my world-- and I am grateful for that—every day. I myself could not ask for a better teacher or for anyone who could challenge me more than Jesus.

(3) I want them to know that what we do, how we treat people, matters a whole lot more than what we say,
even what we say we believe.

(4) I want them to know that I believe there is always hope. Always,
Without exception.

(5) And finatlly, I want them to know that I believe that love overcomes everything, absolutely everything,
and nothing will ever separate us from the love of God.

What will you write on your dry erase board?
What are the seeds that you are willing to step out and scatter everywhere and anywhere?
What is your story?

Listen! A sower went out to sow….

The sower did not hide his seeds.
The sower did not try to pretend
he knew everything about gardening.
The sower didn’t criticize the way anyone else was planting.
The sower just went out and scattered the seeds,
proclaimed the gospel here there and everywhere,
and trusted God would do the rest.

Let anyone with ears listen!

+ + +

Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!"
"Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."

Sermon for Jane Blodgett's Memorial Service

Sermon for Jane Blodgett’s Memorial Service
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Cathedral of All Souls, Asheville, NC
The Rev. Jeanne Finan

John 11:21-27
Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother, Lazarus, would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."

Heaven’s light forever shines

I am resurrection and I am life.
We hear it as the opening anthem for our burial service.
We hear these words again
in the reading from John’s gospel this morning.

Jesus says to Martha--
to Martha whose heart is broken--
I am the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,
And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.
Do you believe this?

And Martha replies,
Yes, Lord, I believe…

I have absolutely no doubt that if Jesus put that same question
to Elizabeth Jane Holt Blodgett,
Jane would answer without missing a beat,
Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah,
the Son of God,
the one coming into the world.

This morning we gather to remember,
to give thanks
and to celebrate Jane’s life.
Jane led a full and very active life.
The very fullness of her life
is part of the reason her sudden stroke and her subsequent death
came as such a shock to so many of us,
most especially to her family.

Gathering today to celebrate Jane’s life,
Is not a denial of the pain we feel because of Jane’s death.
Heartbreak is real.
And grieving is hard work that cannot be done overnight.

Yet on this day, in the midst of our feelings of grief and loss,
we come together to celebrate,
to offer thanks to God,
for Jane’s life among us.

Jane was full of life--
and full of faith.
She saw the world, to use a poet’s phrase,
as “charged with the grandeur of God.”

I remember not long ago working with Jane in our memorial garden
and I saw this scrawny looking little twig thing,
and as I was ready to pull it from the ground, I asked,
Jane, is this a weed?
And Jane said,
No! That’s a redbud tree.
Dig that up and take it home and plant it in your yard.

Jane could come into the church with a bucket stuffed full of daffodils,
cut from her own yard,
and it was just a matter of time
before those flowers were arranged so beautifully
that they absolutely
sang God’s praises.

Since I first met Jane—and Lewis—
they have always been synonymous for me with the outdoors--
flowers, birds, gardens, trails, hiking---

I don’t know that I have ever met two people
so at home in God’s creation.

Jane was not only a hiker,
but I saw a photograph yesterday
that showed Jane walking on stilts—
and she had this gigantic smile on her face!

If you knew Jane,
you know she would scamper up a ladder in a heartbeat--
change light bulbs, clean out gutters, hang Christmas greenery--
Jane had this absolutely fearless streak in her.

She was a strong woman with strong opinions.
And if she wanted something done,
she did not waste time waiting around for someone else to do it.

Jane believed in putting her faith to work
and she did that in so many ways—
both at church and in the community.
Here at All Souls and at St. John’s.
Jane had deep family roots here at the Cathedral.
Jane’s mother used to tell people
that she was the exact same age as All Souls.
Jane was baptized here, married here
and she and Lewis raised their 4 children here.
For the past 8 years we have been very blessed to have
Jane and Lewis worship with us at St. John’s.
Jane was active in our ECW, Bible studies, Sunday School,
and of course, worship.

In the community, over her lifetime, you could have found Jane
with the Boy scouts, the girl scouts, the Appalachian Trail,
the Mountain to Sea trail, the YMCA, Manna Food Bank, their neighborhood association,
….you get the idea.
Jane had a full life.

Jane was grateful for that full life.
She was especially grateful for her family—for her husband Lewis—
and for their children—
Lew, Lannie, Pete, Daphne—and Daphne’s husband Bruce—
I heard stories about each of you,
long before I met you.
And those two grandsons! Oh my!
Brandon and Bruce Alan.—
Jane did not keep it a secret
that both her grandsons were absolutely brilliant!

I heard stories about you from your mother, your grandmother—
and now you have in turn recently blessed me with stories about her:
the amazing cakes she would bake for your birthdays
(not to mention Jane baking Daphne’s wedding cake—
completely with a practice cake first—
and sewing her wedding dress and her own dress),
her relentless efforts
to make certain you were all excellent swimmers,
sending grandson Bruce Alan home with
10 loaves of banana bread
because she knew it was his favorite!

Jane had a full life—
because it was a shared life.

There is this beautifully carved wooden board
that hangs over the mantle at the Blodgett’s home—
Jane’s son-in-law Bruce described it so perfectly
when he said it is the “mantle over the mantle.”

These are the words inscribed upon that board:
Heaven’s light forever shines
Earth’s shadows fly.

That carving was a friend’s wedding gift to Jane and Lewis
when they were married 52 years ago.

Heaven’s light forever shines..
Jane is now fuly part of heaven’s light.
And it is that light--the love of God---
which illuminated this world from the beginning
and will illuminate this world until the very end.

Those we love are always with us.
That is the gift of resurrection.
Nothing can separate us from that Light, that Love,
Not even death.

Heaven’s light forever shines—
Earth’s shadows fly.

Sermon for the Burial Service of Dan Schmidt

Sermon for the Burial Service of Dan Schmidt
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Morris Funeral Home Chapel, Asheville, NC
The Reverend Jeanne Finan

John 14: 1-4

Jesus said: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s House there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.

We are here today not only to remember
but to truly celebrate the life of Dan Schmidt.
After talking with Dan’s three daughters—Becky, Carolyn and Cheryl—
and with his grandson Ben—
it is very clear that there is much to celebrate about Dan’s life.

First of all, I believe Dan knew that life—each day of it—was a gift.
An incredible amazing gift.

Dan had many impressive accomplishments—
A successful career as an engineer,
A second career working with his wife in their antiques store
Dan’s grandson Ben, summed it up well when he said,
“Dan was a really good man. He raised three wonderful daughters.”
Dan was also blessed with 51 years of sharing his life with Carolyn,
his late wife, the mother of those three wonderful daughters.

And his wife, those three daughters,
along with Mike, Larry and Nick—
the sons-in-law that later joined their family--
and grandson Ben--
they held Dan’s heart.
He loved his family
and they always came first.

We are here to also celebrate Dan’s generous spirit.
He never said no to someone in need—
even though perhaps a few times, so I am told,
no might have been the better answer.
Dan might have been the strong, silent type—
but his heart was wide with love.

Today is Dan’s 79th birthday.
How could we not celebrate his life today?

July 6---the day that Dan came into this world.
July 6—the day we are celebrating Dan’s life
And commend his body and soul into the arms of God.
How can we not celebrate?.

That does not mean it is not hard to lose someone we love.
It is very hard.
And those of you who sit here this afternoon with absolutely broken hearts,
have some hard work ahead of you.

That hard work is the work of grieving.
It takes time. It takes energy.
It also takes enormous trust.
Trusting that God does prepare a place for each one of us.
Trusting that Dan is at peace and in paradise.
Trusting that death does not have the final word.

That does not mean you will not miss him.
You will, indeed, miss that “big guy.”
You’ll miss his jokes, his sly sense of humor.
You’ll miss being able to call him and talk with him on the telephone.

Today we celebrate that Dan has left all pain and suffering behind now.
But he has not left you behind.

Those we love are always with us.
That is the gift of resurrection.
Just as God’s presence and Spirit are with us always,
the presence of those we have deeply loved also with us.

Every Sunday in the Episcopal church,
as part of the Eucharistic prayer,
we say these words:

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

That is the story of Jesus.
It is the story that tells us that death is not the end.
Because love does not die.

We can continue to celebrate Dan Schmidt’s well-lived life
by remembering that each day is a gift.
Each day we are given an opportunity that will never come again.
A chance to love God
with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind.
A chance to love one another.
A chance to believe in something bigger and wider
and deeper than ourselves.
A chance to discover heaven here on earth.

Jesus said: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me…. I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sermon for Year A Proper 9

Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens

We would walk up the street to the corner filling station.
That’s what we called it when I was a child—the “fillin’ station.”
My grandfather and I would walk side by side,
open up the screen door and step in.
There’d be other folks there—usually older men like my grandfather—
All catching up on the news in Wendell and Zebulon--
And they would greet us—
Hey there Ivan!
Or if they were younger men, they’d say Hey there, Mr. Ivan.
And then,
Well, hey little Jeannie! You’re growing like a sprout.
I was little back then—in age and size.
And to my grandparents’ friends I was always Jeannie.
They didn’t quite know what to do with you,
If they couldn’t add and “ie” or a “y” to the end of your name.
Timmy. Jeannie. Polly…..

Then my grandfather would reach his long arm
into the big square cooler box
and pull out an ice cold Nu-Grape Soda for me
and a Coca-Cola for himself—in one of those little short bottles.
Life was simple then.

It was summer and the living was easy.
I had an easy and truly blessed childhood.
We were not rich by any means,
but I never had to worry about basic needs.
I never had to worry that I was loved.
I had an abundance of people who loved me,
and an abundance of people who welcomed my love.
Life was good.

On Wednesday evening this week I left Asheville
to drive back to Valle Crucis.
I drive this road a lot.
Up the mountain, down the mountain.

When I get just past Linville,
I always call my husband Tom to let him know where I am
and to ask if I need to stop at the grocery store.

I had already pulled into the parking lot of the Lowe’s Food Store
and it was mobbed.
Seems like Watauga County was out in force
Getting a headstart on their holiday weekend grocery shopping
Cars were circling the lot like big metallic vultures
looking for an empty parking space to devour.

What a relief
when Tom told me he had already done the shopping.
Just come home.
Free to escape the madness and just keep going.
Come home.

Life, with all its responsibilities and demands, does not feel so simple
to us as we reach adulthood.
The past few weeks have been difficult.

My daughter and son in law are packing boxes,
soon to move back to Massachusetts.
It is a good move for them
but it is hard for me to see them leave.

A friend’s open heart surgery
did not go well.
The son of another friend arrived in town to celebrate her birthday
and died in his sleep the night before that celebration.
Our beloved Jane Blodgett
suffered a stroke three weeks ago
and died on Tuesday.

This is not about me. There are others of you
going through difficult times,--physically, emotionally, financially.
Some of these situations I know,
And some I probably do not know.
But I hold each one of you in this congregation by name
in my prayers every day.
Some days it is all I know to offer.

Today in Matthew’s gospel we have some instruction
and an invitation.
Jesus tells us that life is not going to be easy nor is it going to be fair.

Jesus shares that people criticized John the Baptist for the way he lived.
People didn’t like it that he wouldn’t eat or drink like they did.
People said John was possessed by a demon.

And then Jesus says,
So I came along, eating and drinking,
And people say I am a glutton and a drunkard,
that I keep company with the wrong kind of people.
Jesus tells us,
You’re going to have to toughen up
and not listen to everything people say.
Live your lives with wisdom and love.

Then Jesus offers one of the most generous, comforting invitations
in the entire Bible:

Come to me all you that are weary
and carrying heavy burdens
and I will give you rest.

All you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens…
I have a feeling that includes most—if not all--of us.

I read that and it makes me want to shout,

Oh yes Lord! Oh Yes!
You give me that rest, sweet Jesus!
I am coming right now
to lay my burden down.
Uh-huh! Right now.

Those heavy burdens we carry are different for each one of us—
For some it is illness,
For some it is grief
For some it is the loss of a job or no job found.

For some it is loneliness
For some it is a less than blessed childhood
or a less than blessed relationship.
For some it is responsibilities that seem too big and too many.

For some the burden is a secret
a secret they are too afraid or too ashamed to tell others.

Jesus invites us all—
to come
and to lay down our burdens
and to rest.
To rest both our bodies and our souls.

We need Sabbath time,
time for renewal and refreshment.
Many of you will take time for a vacation this summer.
We will miss you,
but taking time away is a good thing.

It may seem strange,
but another way we lay down are own heavy burdens,
is to help carry the heavy burdens of one another.
We yoke ourselves to God,
We yoke ourselves to one another,
and suddenly the heavy burden becomes lighter.

There is a wonderful article in a recent New Yorker magazine
about Holy Apostles’ Episcopal Church in Manhattan.
(The New Yorker, May 26, 2008, pp 56-65)

The article chronicles the church’s history,
a church that was founded in 1836
as a ministry to the children of immigrants—
squatters who had recently emigrated from England and Ireland
and were camped along the marshy shoreline
of the Hudson River.

Holy Apostles has had a rollercoaster history.
Growing, then shrinking.
Plenty of money, almost destitute.
Buildings falling apart, buildings repaired.

Today they are most known
for hosting the largest soup kitchen in New York City.
They serve an average of 1200 meals each day--
every single weekday, including holidays.

As a church, Holy Apostles is not large and not wealthy.
As a ministry in that Mahattan community, the church is enormous.
The soup kitchen has been going for 25 years
and has served more than six million meals to their guests.

That is what they call those who line up to be fed—“our guests.”

The soup kitchen never proselytizes or hands out religious literature.
There is no required attendance at worship or Bible study.
The volunteers from that parish just feed people.

When asked why they do this ministry,
one of the parishioners replied,

“Well, we do this because Jesus said to feed the hungry.
There’s no more to it than that.
Jesus said to take care of the poor and the hungry
and those in prison….”

She pauses and then adds,

“The bread and wine of the Eucharist
that we share with one another on Sunday”…
is what strengthens us and is our food,
so that we remember to share with our neighbors
the rest of the week.

We believe our job as Christians is to meet Jesus in the world.
We meet him, unnamed and unrecognized,
in the guests who come to the soup kitchen every day.”

Come to me all you that are weary
and carrying heavy burdens
and I will give you rest.

Come and we will give you something to eat.
Come and sit down and enjoy a meal as our guest.

The soup kitchen grew and needed more space than the parish hall.
The priest met with the vestry
and they unanimously voted to remove the pews from the church
and open it up as additional space for dining.
During the Sunday services, the congregation now uses folding chairs.
No one complains.

And who are we?
What burdens is this congregation willing to carry for others?
What has God called St. John’s to do?

Come and build a house for someone who needs a home.
Come and prepare gift bags for women who are fearfully moving
from prison into the world.
Come and fill a basket with canned goods
so some in our community will not go to bed hungry.
Come and share our parish hall with those suffering from addiction,
struggling to find their way.
Come and go to Panama and offer medical care and healing.
Come and sit with someone who is suffering or just plain lonely.


Come forward and hold out your hands at the altar rail,
to receive the food and drink
that gives us strength for the journey.
Come forward and hold out your hands
to receive the bread and wine
that transforms everything.

You know my grandfather did not just go to the fillin’ station
to drink a Coca-cola and eat a pack of nabs.
He went there to hear who in that community needed help.
Who was having trouble bringing in their crop of tobacco.
Who was sick.
Whose husband was drinking away the grocery money.
And when we made that walk back to my grandparents’ house,
my grandfather walked in the door
and told my grandmother what he had heard--
but almost before he had finished
my grandmother was on the phone,
talking to Preacher Barrum,
calling people at the church,
Miz Goldie, Mis Luna, Mr. Honeycutt…
Because there was work to do,
People in need,
Burdens to be shared.

Over and over we are invited to come.
We are invited to share the yoke of love with Christ,
to be refreshed, to be released from our heavy burdens
so that we might release others from theirs.

Come to me all you that are weary
and carrying heavy burdens
and I will give you rest.

+ + +

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Jesus said to the crowd, "To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
`We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.'
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, `He has a demon'; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, `Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."
At that time Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sermon for Year A Proper 8

Free to make choices

In the back of the Book of Common Prayer
there is a section titled “An Outline of Faith”
commonly called the Catechism.

It’s a section we don’t refer to very often
except during confirmation classes
or perhaps when our minds are wandering during worship
and we let our fingers do the walking through the nearest book at hand.

But in truth, the Catechism is an excellent place to go
when we are struggling with our faith
or as was my case this week,
struggling with a passage of scripture.

I will be honest and tell you that today’s reading in Genesis,
the story of Abraham going out to sacrifice—
to kill—his son Issac--
is a troubling one.

I have had more than one phone call
and multiple emails
from my clergy colleagues asking,
How are you going to preach about this!!???

This scripture is disturbing.
A father takes his son
and plans to kill him
because the father says that is what God is telling him to do.

If we read that in the NY Times instead of the Bible
we’d be right in line with everyone else to say
This Abraham fellow is nuts!
God does not tell us to go and kill our children.
Abraham needs to get some help!

Yet that is what we have in Genesis.
This passage of scripture disturbs me because I don’t think
we need any encouragement
to abuse children.
Far too much of that is already happening in our world today

And that is why I bring up the Catechism.

The very first section (you can turn to it on page 845 if you like)--
the very first section of the Catechism is about Human Nature.
Not about God.
Not about Jesus.
Not about the Holy Spirit.

But about Human Nature.
About us.

It affirms that we are part of God’s creation.
It affirms that we are all made in the image of God.
Those two things affirm that each and every one of us
is full of infinite possibility
to do wonderful things in this world.

The third thing affirmed in this section of the Catechism
is that we are free to make choices.
We are not puppets.
God does not pull our strings to make us do this or do that.
We are free to make choices.
As Episcopalians we do not believe
that we are just walking through a plan that has been mapped out for our lives.

We are free to make choices: to love or to hate,
to create or destroy,
to reason or to be unreasonable,
to live in harmony
or to create chaos in everything we touch.

We are free to make choices.
Each and every one of us.
Every day.

And the choices we make
powerfully affect our own life and the lives of others.

We are free to make a choice
on the tone of voice we use when we speak to others.
We are free to make a choice
on how we parent or grandparent.
We are free to make a choice
in taking time to pray or not.
We are free to make a choice
to tell the truth or to lie.
We are free to make a choice
to gossip behind people’s backs
or to cut that conversation off
as soon as it begins.
We are free to make choices.

And sometimes, my friends,
we make very, very good choices.
And sometimes, my friends,
we make very, very bad choices.

We tend to want to blame God
or somebody else for everything that doesn’t work to our benefit.
Someone very wise once said to me,
Remember, when you point your finger at someone,
There are three fingers pointing back at you.

In life there are some things that are not choices.
We don’t choose to be born into a family that is dysfunctional.
We don’t choose to have a certain disease.
We don’t choose to be hurt by prejudice or oppression.
But we do choose how we react and how we respond
to the myriad of situations
life brings our way.

Free to make choices.

Abraham believes God is testing him.
I think Abraham fails the test miserably.

God tells him to go and sacrifice his son Issac.
Abraham has a choice: he can say NO.
He can argue with God about sacrificing Issac
just as he argued with God a few chapters before
to save the righteous men amongst the Sodomites.

Yes, human sacrifice was part of the culture of that time.
But God has brought a new way, a new respect for life.
Abraham fails the test.
Abraham had the choice to say,
I will not do that.
My God does not ask for such a sacrifice.

I believe the answer God wants Abraham to offer is NO.
I will not sacrifice this gift you have given to Sarah and me.
I will not kill this child I love, this child you love.

But Abraham fails the test.
Abraham goes blindly to OBEY
yet God is calling for so much more.
God is calling Abraham to be guided by love—not obedience.

Yes, we are called to be obedient to God—
but we are also given the gift of reason
and killing a child is not reasonable.
It is not right.
It is not good.
In no way can that action
possibly reflect the love of God.

This is not a “tough love” choice for Abraham.
This is a choice to destroy what God has created.

It is interesting that from this point on in the book of Genesis,
God never speaks to Abraham again.
Nor does Issac, I might add.

I do not for a minute believe that God ever asks us
to act in ways that are cruel
or inhumane or even thoughtless
when it comes to the way we treat other human beings.

We make bad choices.
Sometimes we are fortunate and God rescues us
just as God rescues Issac on the mountain that day.
Sometimes we are almost miraculously rescued from a bad choice.

But sometimes, we and others suffer miserably from bad choices.

Our Catechism asks:
Why then do we live apart from God and out of harmony from creation?
From the beginning,
human beings have misused their freedom and made wrong choices.

Why do we not use our freedom as we should?
Because we rebel against God,
and we put ourselves in the place of God.

That is probably the biggest danger we face in our culture.
Putting ourselves in the place of God.
Putting our work, putting our money, putting our power, putting our fear,
in the place of God.

We think we are so smart, so wise, so advanced, so capable, so cool, so self-sufficient--
Why do we need God?
We can handle life just fine on our own.

We think we are so right.
We use our “rightness”
to diminish others that we see as “wrong”.
But ultimately our rightness diminishes our own humanity.

What help is there for us?
Our help is in God.

And the Catechism goes on
to tell us where and how we find that help.

And the scripture goes on
to tell us where and how we find that help in God.

And our lives go on
to show us where and how we find that help—over and over again.

We are free to make choices.
God’s dream is that we do not make those choices alone.

Our help is in God.