Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sermon for Christmas Eve Midnight Mass 2009


They’re back.

They show up on occasion at other times of year
but every year on Christmas eve—
Here they are.

Those shepherds.
Keeping watch over their flocks.

Those shepherds
who are probably just barely awake
(after all much of shepherding is inherently boring).

They are rather like firemen.
They have to show up for that midnight shift IN CASE something happens,
In case there is a fire—
the firemen needs to be ready to spring into action.
In case there is a hungry wolf out for a midnight snack,
the shepherds need to be ready to spring into action.

They are there in case help is needed.
Just in case.

But those shepherds did not sign up to be the first to hear the good news
of God shattering the darkness
and coming into the world as a human baby.
The good news of Jesus Christ.
Why on earth would that news
be first revealed to shepherds in the middle of the night?
What was God thinking
sending big news like this to marginal people like those shepherds?

This is probably the last things those shepherds
expected in the middle of the night.
An angel appearing in a field?
An angel coming to them ?

What is God thinking?
What is God thinking when angels are sent to us?

Angels come in so many shapes and sizes, forms and formats.
They seldom announce or introduce themselves –
We don’t get a message on Facebook that says,
There’s an angel that has asked to be your friend.
Confirm or ignore?

Angels often just appear out of nowhere,
show up and stand right before us.

If you notice in the scripture of Luke’s gospel—
no where does the angel say,
Hello shepherds. I am angel. Sent here from God.

The angel just says, Do not be afraid.
The angel just says,
I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.

For all the people.
We are so afraid
to believe in this good news of great joy.
We are so afraid
of being disappointed or na├»ve or foolish—or a religious fanatic.
We are so afraid
to trust and believe that God would really send us any kind of angel.
We think so little of ourselves
that we cannot conceive that God might want us—me! You!—
to know the great joy of this good news.

We need an angel to come to all of us and say,
Do not be afraid of angels.
Do not be afraid of good news.
Do not be afraid of great joy.
It can happen!

Angels point the way for us.
Angels show up when we have lost our power and sit in darkness--
they turn on the lights.

Angels appear in many forms and formats.
As humans, as animals, as a line in a song or a character in a film,
as we gaze at a painting or stand on top of a mountain
or hold the hand of someone who is dying.

Do not be afraid.
The news is good.
The joy is great.
And the good news and great joy are for ALL the people.
All the people.
Do not be afraid.

This week I heard a poem on Garrison Keillor’s radio program
The Writer’s Almanac.
It is a poem by Anne Porter
Her poem titled Susanna.
Here is the poem:

Nobody in the hospital
Could tell the age
Of this old woman who
Was called Susanna.

I knew she spoke some English
And that she was an immigrant
Out of a little country
Trampled by armies.

Because she had no visitors
I would stop by to see her
But she was always sleeping.

All I could do
Was to get out her comb
And carefully untangle
The tangles of her hair

One day I was beside her
When she woke up
Opening small dark eyes
Of a surprising clearness.

She looked at me and said
You want to know the truth?
I answered Yes.

She said it is something that
My mother told me

There’s not a single inch
Of our whole body
That the Lord does not love

She then went back to sleep.

That is Anne Porter’s poem “Susanna”.

There’s not a single inch
Of our whole body
That the Lord does not love.

There are parts of our bodies and parts of our lives and parts of our world
that we do not love.
But it is so different for God.

God’s love is so immense, so encompassing,
that God loves every single inch of us and of the world.

Tonight we celebrate the birth of a baby
A baby who comes into the world
to remind us that there are only two things—
two things-- that matter in life:
Loving God
and loving one another.

We fret and worry about so many things,
when only two things matter.
Loving God.
Loving one another.

.Oh this holy night—
this night of Christ’s mass—Christmas,
we are called to go out into the world—
to go tell it on the mountain--
and to say,
Do not be afraid.

Hope is born into the world.
Love is here to show us the way.
Love for every inch of us,
for every one of us.

Good news of great joy for all the people.
Merry Christmas!

Sermon for Year C Christmas 1

Deck the Halls

As Episcopalians we wait out the four weeks of advent
without once singing “Joy to the World”---
at least not in church!

We wait.
We wait and then on Christmas eve
we burst into “those old familiar carols” with joy and gusto!

We wait.
But the good news is that when Christmas comes—
It stays for awhile.
Today we celebrate the first Sunday after Christmas.
Next week we’ll celebrate the second Sunday after Christmas.

We get to ponder and reflect upon the Christ child coming into the world
For several weeks.
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
So we hear in John’s gospel today.

In the reading from Isaiah we hear
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my whole being shall exult in my God.”

Our psalm today begins,
“Hallelujah! How good it is to sing praises to our God!”
The psalm ends with a Hallelujah too!
(Not a one of us in this Saturday evening congregation
can hear HALLELUJAH! without thinking
of our friend Neil Monroe, right?!!!)
He is our HALLELUJAH man!

One song we seldom—maybe never—sing in church is “Deck the Halls”.
It doesn’t have any specific baby Jesus references—
or even Christian references.
I wanted to use this carol as the heart of my sermon today
because the last line:
Sing we joyous all together
Heedless of the wind and weather.

I am not sure we have been heedless of the wind and weather,
But we certainly understand how wind and weather
affects our worship schedule!

But back to DECK THE HALLS….
when I did a little research
I found that it is a Welsh dance tune.
It was actually traditionally sung on New Year’s Eve.
(That made me feel it was also quite appropriate
for this evening’s service—
with New Year’s eve only 4 days away)
Carolers would dance in a circle around a harpist.

Now those of us that went on the Wales pilgrimage in 2008
remember well Llio a magnificent harpist
who played for us one evening
at the Royal Goat Hotel in Beddgelert.

Where we now sing fa la la la—
that was actually the harpist’s part.
Deck the halls with boughs of holly, sang the dancing singers--
And the harp would sing back fa la la la la
la la la la.

This Welsh carol—known as NOS GALAN (which means NEW YEAR)—became a Christmas carol in the late part of the 19th century,
the Victorian period when Christmas was re-invented in a sense.

So here we are in the season of Christmas.
It is truly a time of joy and rejoicing and happiness—
And when we hear those words—fa la la la la—
It’s almost as if someone was making up words—
Plucking out some little notes of joy!

The words to the carol don’t matter.
Because the Word has been made flesh and come into our world--
and nothing will ever be the same.


What matters is that we sing joyfully and loudly.
What matters is that we toss away our inhibitions
And do a little dance of joy—
(don’t be alarmed—I am not going to make you dance here—
but when you get back home—rejoice! Dance!
Sing out your fa la la las and dance with joy and delight.

Back to those last lines—
Sing we joyous all together
Heedless of the wind and weather.

For awhile there
it looked like we wouldn’t be having any Christmas services.
That we were going to be snowed out, frozen out.
We managed to have both services on Christmas eve
But Christmas morning was too icy, the roads too dangerous—
So the service was cancelled.

I have never had to cancel a service before—
It was disappointing.
But it was also okay.
Because even when we cannot come together in the same physical place,
we are still bound together by God.
Sing we joyous all together, heedless of the wind and weather.

Christmas is the season of great joy.
Hope has come to live in the world
and that hope promises never to leave us.
Wherever we may be
Christ is never cancelled!

Fa la la la la la la!

(Source for history of the Deck the Halls: The Penguin Book of Carols, edited by Ian Bradley)


Deck the halls with boughs of holly
‘Tis the season to be jolly
Don we now our gay apparel
Troll the ancient Yule-tide carol.

See the blazing Yule before us,
Strike the harp and join the chorus,
Follow me in merry measure,
While I tell of Yule-tide treasure.

Fast away the old year passes,
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses,
Sing we joyous all together,
Heedless of the wind and weather.

Christmas Eve 2009--5 pm service


Life is always a rich and steady time
when you are waiting for something to happen or to hatch.

So writes E.B. White in his children’s book, Charlotte's Web

Life is always a rich and steady time
when you are waiting for something to happen or to hatch.

That in many ways describes the season of Advent.

But look—all 4 candles on the Advent wreath are burning bright—and now the white candle in the middle is also burning bright.

The white candle is the Christ candle.
It is Christmas Eve.
This is the night we celebrate God coming into the world as a baby.
A human baby named Jesus.
A baby that changed the world—
and if we are open to that baby,
will change us.

Tonight is a wonderful night to ponder
how God has come into our own world, our own lives--
and keeps on coming.

Some of you may have seen the special
on television Sunday evening
about the Christmas decorating at the White House.
(And I thought greening a church was a big task!)

I was astounded to find out that
all the decorating at the White House
is done by volunteers.
That is true here at St. John’s as well.

Each year the White House, usually the First Lady,
selects a theme for the decorations.
This year’s theme is: Rejoice. Reflect. Renew.


Hold those words in your heart as you leave this place tonight.
Rejoice. Reflect. Renew.

What has God done in your life this year
that calls you to rejoice?
Think of your many blessings,
And don’t wait for everything to line up just perfectly—
Give thanks and rejoice!

What has God done in your life this year
that has challenged you?
Think of those challenges and rather than be discouraged,
How have those challenges made you stronger?
How have those challenges
brought you to your knees at times?
How have those challenges led you to discover a new path?

Jesus comes into the world as a human being
to offer us hope for our own human being-ness.
Jesus comes to renew in us
all that good and hopeful and possible.

Ponder what is good.
Cling to everything
that offers you hope.
Believe that the impossible
can and will be made possible.


Something has happened.
Something has hatched.
Advent is over.
Christmas is here.
For me.
For you.
For the whole world

Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas!

Sermon for Year C Advent 3

The Advent Journey

It was cold,
and the wind made it bitterly cold.
It wasn’t so bad living on the streets,
especially if you could get away from the crowds,
especially if you could find a nice neighborhood,
like Haw Creek.

You could usually find a garage door left open
or even an unlocked tool shed.
You learned to sleep in spurts
and to wake up before dawn
so you could disappear.
She didn’t want to scare anyone
and she certainly didn’t want to deal with the police.

But it was so cold.
As she walked by the church—
St. John’s Episco—Epsico—something Church—
She wondered what that word meant—Episcopalian.
She didn’t know that word.
But she liked to stand out at the edge of the yard
and look at the stained glass window.
The blues and the yellows and the little bits of orange and red—
She loved the way it was lighted at night.

But it was so cold tonight.
She looked around and didn’t see anyone.
“I’ll just try the door,” she thought.
“ Maybe…maybe it might be unlocked.”
So she picked up her big black plastic bag
and slipped up through the shadows to the bright red double doors.

She looked around once more—no one in sight—
so gently, ever so gently she pulled on the door.

And it opened.
It opened!
She could feel warm air touching her face—
Ah! It felt sooo good!
she walked through the door
and quietly into the church with her black plastic sack.

The church was dark—except for the exit lights over the doorways,
and a little red candle up near the front of the church.
And that glowing stained glass window.
Oh! How she loved that window.

Was the door left unlocked on purpose, she wondered?
Or was it just an accident? Did someone forget to lock the door?
A lucky accident, for me she thought.

She moved into the church.
It was so peaceful.
Quiet. Safe.
“Holy. Holy. Holy”, she said in a soft voice.

She used to go to church.
But that was a long time ago.
Most people wouldn’t welcome her into a church these days—
not with the way she looked.

Besides, she was pretty sure they wouldn’t let her bring her bag inside--
and she didn’t go anywhere without that bag.

She sat her bag down and walked up to the front of the church.
She walked up to the altar and stood there.
Then she noticed the painting on the back wall of the church.

“What on earth…??” she wondered.
Didn’t look like any painting she had ever seen in a church before.
That painting.
“Looks like my life,” she said out loud.
“Looks like my thrown in the briar patch wilderness life.”

Everything was so clean and nice.
She didn’t have many encounters with clean and nice these days.
She peeked in the doors up near the altar
and found just what she was hoping
…ah! A bathroom!
What a luxury!
She made use of it immediately,
And then, after washing her hands,
she took a paper towel and carefully cleaned
and wiped dry the sink.

She walked down the dark little hallway
and saw all the pretty church dresses—
oh, they probably had another name--some fancy church word—
but they looked like little dresses to her.
She liked how the little dresses looked hanging there
so neatly in a row,
like they were all waiting in expectation
of what would come next.

She walked back into the church
and returned to where she had sat her sack down on the floor.
Friday night.
She wondered if church people came to work on Saturday morning.
She knew she would need to be up and out early—just in case.

She sat down in one of the rocking chairs.
How about that!
A church with comfortable chairs—she liked that.
and she liked the bright colors in the rug at her feet, too.
Her life didn’t have many bright colors these days.
Dirt and grime and darkness.
Those were her colors.

She opened her bag and peered inside.
All still there.
Good, she thought.
The bag was filled with shoes.
Yes, shoes.
She loved shoes.
You couldn’t have too many shoes.
The bag was heavy to carry around but she liked her bag full of shoes.

She never could figure out
why you would sometimes find a shoe
all by itself in the middle of the road,
or one shoe sitting all alone on a park bench.
But she never liked to see a shoe left behind.
So she adopted one shoe after another until she had a sack full.
All my lost little shoes.

She closed the bag and started to happily rock and rock and rock.

She had planned to go and stretch out on one of the pews,
but before she knew it she was asleep sitting in the rocking chair.
She had just rocked herself right to sleep.
Right there in that holy church.

+ + +

It was early Saturday morning when she pulled into the parking lot.
She was a brand new member of the altar guild
And this would be her first time setting up for the service
by herself.
She was a little nervous
So she wanted to get their early to give herself plenty of time.
Let’s see…it was 10 am and the service was at 5 pm
Yes, that should be PLENTY of time!

She grabbed her keys and went over to the church and unlocked the door.
When she pulled on the handle the door was locked.
Hmmm…she thought.
That’s strange.
She realized that when she had turned her key,
she had locked the door, not unlocked it.
The door must have already been unlocked she thought—
Oh well. It happens.
It wasn’t the first time someone had forgot to lock the door.
(Gee! I hope it wasn’t me she thought!)

She entered the narthex
and there in the middle of the floor was a big black plastic bag.
An empty bag.
What on earth?
Why would someone leave a plastic bag here in the middle of the floor?

She picked it up, folded it and laid it on the table.
She walked into the church---
and then she saw them.

Down the aisle, all around the altar.
Shoes of all colors and shapes and sizes.
How did this happen?
Where did all these shoes come from?

Stepping around and over the scattered shoes
She walked up to the altar.
There in the center of the altar was a paper towel
with something written on it.

It was difficult to read. What did it say?
She held it up to the light.

These were the words on the paper towel.
Thank you, Mr. St. John.
Thank you for being a place for all souls.
Even me.

She read the note again.
Did it say SOULS or SOLES?
She then burst out laughing.
All those shoes—must have made her read it S-o-l-e-s—like shoe soles!

She didn’t know who had left the shoes.
She didn’t even really know if the person who left the shoes
intended the pun on the word “souls,”
but she liked the image.

As she worked to set the altar for the Eucharist,
She kept thinking about shoes.

We’re rather like shoes, she thought.

God doesn’t care if we are open-toed or closed,
high-heeled or flat,
name-brand or bargain basement,
loafers or sneakers.

God doesn’t care about our shape or size or color.
It doesn’t even matter what roads
we have traveled to get to this place.
God just always seem glad we show up.

What matters is that we have found our way
and know that God has opened the door
and welcomed us in.
What matters is that we get re-souled/re-soled here at church,
to go out into the world again,
to continue our journey,
to keep walking—or running!
To give thanks and to keep asking God the question
the crowds asked John the Baptizer
“What then should we do?”

Where do you need us in the world, God?
What doors do you need us to unlock?
What souls do you need us to welcome into your church?

Where do you need us to cry aloud for those who are hungry and cold?
When do you need us to rejoice and sing your praises?

Stir up your power in our lives, O Lord,
so that we might proclaim the good news
not just by TELLING your story,
but by LIVING your story.

Thank you for welcoming all souls into your holy sanctuary.
Thank you for welcoming even me.
Even me.

This story was inspired by another story about a shoe maker and souls/soles by Doug Sloan, titled A CHRISTMAS PARABLE. You can read Doug’s story on the Network of Biblical Storytellers website.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2009

Here Am I, Send Me

Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday.
We celebrate the binding together of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Some might prefer Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.
Whatever language rings true for us,
The message is the same:
this three in one and one in three,
dances together, inseparable.
Priest and writer Herbert O’Driscoll
calls it “the reality, power and ceaseless working”
of God in the world.

Today in our diocese we also celebrate Seminarian Sunday.
The Bishop has asked that our loose plate offering today
Go to a fund that will help our seminarians
with the expenses of their studies.
A good cause.
And one that fits quite nicely with our readings this morning.

All the scripture readings today
remind us of God’s continuing work in the world.
In Isaiah we have a powerful and beautiful vision
of what it is to be called by God.
In Paul’s letter we are told that if we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit
we will be freed from our self-centeredness
And discover what it is to really live.
In John’s Gospel we meet Nicodemus—
an intellectual,
a man with many questions—
and a man with deep spiritual hunger.
Jesus is not afraid of questions—
especially from those who are struggling
to find their way in the dark.

It is easy to think that God only uses some of us.
Only some are called to the priesthood.
Only some are intellectuals struggling with theology.
Only some are worthy of God’s call.
God only wants and needs some of us.

Wrong. So wrong.
God needs all of us.

Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?
And I said, “Here I am, send me!”

Here I am. Send me.

Those are the words God longs to hear us say.

I want to tell you a true story that I read in the magazine Christianity Today:

Marion Mill was born in a fairy tale royal palace in Hungary.
Her first spoon was sold gold. Truly. Solid gold.

Her parents sent her to school in Vienna
Where she became an actress.
There she met and fell in love
with a young medical student named Otto.

Otto and Marion married and moved to Hollywood, California.
Otto began to dabble in movies.

He became so interested in movies
that he gave up his medical practice.
Otto went on to become a very famous movie director.
Otto Preminger.

Marion's beauty, her wit, and her irresistible charm
brought her everything. All her heart’s desires.
In Europe, New York and
Hollywood she became a famous international hostess.

But there was a problem.
Marion could not handle the fast life of Hollywood.
Her life became a storm of alcohol, drugs and numerous affairs.
Her life and her lifestyle sank into complete chaos,
even by Hollywood standards.
Otto Preminger finally divorced Marion.
She had several other unsuccessful marriages.
She tried to take her own life three times—unsuccessfully.
Finally she moved back to Vienna.

There at a party she met another doctor,
a doctor named Albert Schweitzer,
the well-known medical doctor,
musician, philosopher, theologian
and missionary.

Schweitzer was home on leave from his hospital
in Lambarene, Africa.

Marion was so fascinated by Schweitzer,
that she asked him if she could talk to him alone,
and he said yes.

For almost six months, every week,
she met with Dr. Albert Schweitzer.
At the end of that time he was going to go back to Africa,
and Marion begged him to let her go with him.

Schweitzer surprised everyone by agreeing.
Marion, the young princess, who was born in a palace,
Marion who had royally messed up a marriage
and a life of fame and privilege,
went to live in a little village
in Lambarene, Africa.

She spent much of the rest of her life
emptying bed pans
and tearing up sheets to make bandages
caring for on those
who were the poorest and most unprivileged.
She also raised money to support Schweitzer’s work in Africa.

Marion Mill Preminger grew up a spoiled, self-centered little girl
and became an equally spoiled self-centered woman.

But just as Nicodemus went in the night to Jesus
to try to understand what it means to be “born again,”
to have a life in God.
So Marion Preminger went to Albert Schweitzer,
to try to understand
what it was that gives life meaning.

She wrote her autobiography.
I love the title of it---All I Want is Everything.

When she died, Time Magazine quoted from her autobiography these words:

"Albert Schweitzer says there are two kinds of people.
There are the helpers, and the non-helpers.
I thank God He allowed me to become a helper,
and in helping, I found

Helpers and non-helpers.
We choose.

God has a standing invitation open to all of us— to each one of us—
to come and be a part of God’s work in the world.

We make many excuses—
I’m too old, I’m too young,
I’m too poor, I’m too busy,
I’m too sick, I’m too unappreciated…
many, many excuses.

But excuses are just another way
of saying that we choose to be a non-helper.
We choose to say NO to God’s invitation.

We choose.

We all cannot go to Africa as a missionary.
Or even as a missionary’s helper.
But all it takes is one brief glance around us in the world
to find something we can do.
If not in the wide world,
in our community or in our church or in our school,
in our workplace or in our own family.

We can make a difference—
IF we are willing.
IF we are willing to say YES,
and join in the immense, diverse and amazing work of God.

Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?
Here I am.
Send me.

Send me.
Send me.

Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost 2009

Everywhere we look

Today we celebrate the feast of Pentecost.
I think you might have had a slight clue
that this was not your ordinary Sunday.
Red streamers fly outside the church.
Brightly colored balloons decorate the inside of the church.
Today is a party—a celebration.
The birth day of the Church.

Doves and red streamers followed the choir in the procession.
Our music—WOW!
Our wonderful music has a distinct liveliness to it this morning.

There is fire—red candles—ablaze in the windows.
The final day for our Paschal Candle.
The Holy Spirit burns brightly and steadily,
shining light into all the dark places.

There is this new painting by Penelope Carscaddon
with its vivid colors.
You can see the flames of fire, the spirit descending
upon three figures
and even though we see only the backs of their heads
adorned in their bright and colorful turbans--
it is easy to imagine their faces—
transfixed, transformed, joyful.

Or maybe those three figures in the painting
are the Father, Son and Holy Spirit--
and they have just ignited this marvelous celebration
and are just watching it all happen, unfold.

That is the magnificent thing about art—
it invites our imaginations,
Art kindles its own fire within us.

Look up! There is a wild assortment of wildness flying over head today—
Bats and doves and wild geese and a red bird—
all symbols of the Spirit.
And there is wind (cue ceiling fans) rushing through.

And you! Look at all of you!
You are a beautiful sea of red today.
You are wearing doves upon your shoulder.

Everywhere we look today—this Feast Day of Pentecost—
there are signs and symbols of the Holy Spirit.
Today we can visibly “see” the Spirit.
We are surrounded by an abundance of reminders.
The Holy Spirit is everywhere,
all the time,
in every place.

Today it is so easy to see the Spirit.
But this is not always true.
Sometimes we struggle to see the Spirit.
To see God acting in the world,
in our lives.

Tom and I watched an interesting film this week called “Frozen River.”
It is worth renting on DVD—but be aware,
It is not a happy, snappy feel-good sort of film.

The film takes place in the days before Christmas
in a snowy town
on the border between New York State and Quebec, Canada.
There is Mohawk reservation on both sides of the border.

This film is the story of two women, two families—one white, one Mohawk.
They seemingly have nothing in common.

But they are both faced with desperate circumstances.
Their lives are barely held together as they try to survive
on minimum wage as single mothers.

Lila Littlewolf is the Mohawk mother. Her husband is dead.
Lila works—sometimes-- at the bingo parlor on the reservation.

Ray Eddy, the white mother, works at the Yankee Dollar Store
but even though she has faithfully worked there for two years
She can’t get full time hours much less benefits.

Ray Eddy’s husband is a compulsive gambler.
He has wiped out their bank account and left on a bus for Atlantic City.
When Ray Eddy tries to reassure her oldest son that “your father is a good man”—
The son looks at her and bluntly says,
“Mom. He robbed us. He took all our money.
He left us a week before Christmas.”
Left with nothing.

Both women live in trailers that are barely livable housing.
Their lives are cold—inside and out.
Their realities are harsh.
Where is the Holy Spirit in their lives?

You see there is temptation.
The lure of fast money--
if you are willing to make the treacherous drive
across the frozen St. Lawrence River---
not on a bridge or a road
but driving on the frozen river itself--
across the border from New York into Quebec---
and smuggle in illegal immigrants
in the trunk of your car.
Who would ever consider such a treacherous journey?
Who would ever take such a risk?
People who are desperate to support their families.

Ray Eddy has a car with a big trunk
and Lila knows the smuggling contacts.

But as they transverse the frozen river a thawing begins to happen.
Not just of the St. Lawrence--
but of the frozen river of their own lives.
The love they have for their children begins to bind them together—
in ways even they cannot see at first.
Even though these women have made some terrible choices,
the Spirit works to bring healing out of hurt,
good out of bad,
joy out of tragedy.
Rent the film.

Our lives, too, are often like frozen rivers.
We fear vulnerability.
We fear trusting one another.
We fear trusting God.
We surround our lives and our souls
with a nice thick layer of ice so no one can come in.

Not even God.
Or so we think.

But things happen in life.
Grace happens.
The Holy Spirit has a way of finding even the hairline crack in our ice.
Love—God’s true fire--begins to melt the ice.
From the outside and from the inside.
The ice is changed to water, living water.

Today—the Feast of Pentecost—reminds us
that the Holy Spirit is everywhere.

Our children and youth have created these wild flying things to remind us.
Sometimes the Spirit arrives like a dove.
The dove that descended upon Jesus at his baptism.
The dove reminds us that we are God’s beloved,
That God could have chosen otherwise,
That others may tell us God chooses otherwise,
But the truth is this:
God is love and that we are deeply loved by God.
Every single one of us.

Now the wild goose is a Celtic symbol for the Holy Spirit.
Most of us have at least a little experience with wild geese—
They come flapping and honking and land upon your pond,
In your life,
That is the Holy Spirit, noisily arriving,
right when you never expected.
A wild goose takes over.

A friend in Scotland told me that an American once commented to him
That the image of the Holy Spirit as a wild goose
would not work in America.
When he asked why,
She explained that people sometimes shoot at wild geese,
That wild geese are considered by many as a pest.

Ah! But that’s perfect he exclaimed.
(Not the shooting part—the pest part!)
The Holy Spirit is a pest, too!
The Spirit will indeed pester you
until you can’t eat or sleep or do anything but pay attention.
That little pest—the Spirit-- has a big way of getting your attention.

Then there’s the bat.
Bats were used as symbols of the Holy Spirit by certain medieval painters.
The bat swoops in and that swoop—especially in the dark of night—
is often the flight pattern of the Spirit.
Just when we think there is no hope,
just when we think we will be left in darkness forever---woosh!
The Holy Spirit—in perhaps just a small quick swoop—
changes everything.

Then there is the red bird, the cardinal.
Such an ordinary bird.
Many of us see it every day sitting on a tree branch, pecking in the grass.
The Spirit works in our lives in ordinary everyday ways,too.
Tiny little ways that are right before our eyes every single day.

Remember these symbols.
Remember that the Spirit is a-blaze in your life.
Remember that the Spirit is alive with color and meaning in our world.

When we leave and go home today
We will leave most of these symbols behind.

We may not have a dove with red streamers tied to our car bumper.
We may not find our house filled with red balloons.
We may go to work on Monday and find that our co-workers
Are not wearing bright, colorful turbans.
We may not hear “We are marching in the light of God”
when we turn on the car radio.

But it doesn’t matter what the eyes see or what the ears hear.
If we look and listen with our hearts
We will discover the deeper truth.
We will find the Spirit is alive and well
and at work in the world and in our own lives.

Sometimes we miss that.
We miss it because the Spirit acts in God’s time,
not ours.
The Spirit works in God’s ways,
not ours.

We don’t much like that
because we can’t control it.
We can’t schedule an appointment with the Holy Spirit
in our Blackberry or iPhone
or even on our wall calendar.
3 to 3:45—Holy Spirit
Nope. That is not the way it works.

But it’s not because the Holy Spirit refuses to keep an appointment—
it’s because the Spirit is always present.
No appointment necessary.
Walk-ins welcome

God is everywhere.
Always present.
Always moving to thaw the frozen river.

One more thing—
Today at the end of the service
for this Feast day of Pentecost—
when I say to you
Alleluia! Alleluia! Let us give thanks for the power of the Spirit!
It is fine to respond,
in your usual way,
Thanks be to God! Alleluia! Alleluia!

But then--for this Feast Day—
as you head over to the Parish Hall for our festive lunch--
it is fine to honk loudly like a wild goose
or to swoop like a bat
or chirp like a cardinal
or even coo like a dove.
Whatever it takes,
whatever it takes to remember—
to remember
the power of the Holy Spirit!

Sermon for Year B Easter 7

Matthias is Us

We stand in an in-between time today.
It has been weeks since Mary Magdalene and the other disciples
discovered the empty tomb.
Jesus has been crucified, suffered death and resurrected.
And now Jesus is gone.
Ascended into heaven scripture tells us.
Seated at the right hand of the Father we say in the creed.

However we read it
the fact is
Jesus no longer is of this world.
He has promised to send help and comfort—and advocate.
We will hear that story next weekend with Pentecost.

But for now---the disciples are on their own.
They are no longer hiding behind locked doors.
They are speaking and acting and sharing the good news.

But the event we hear about in the Acts of the Apostles today
Is not really a public event.
Peter is speaking to a small crowd of believers—about 120 we are told.
That is almost double the size of our congregation here at St. John’s.

Peter wants to bring healing.
The betrayal by their friend Judas
and his suicide that followed
rests heavy on their hearts—
and on their ministry.

So Peter who always likes to fix things
Wants to “replace” Judas so to speak,
To fill his “slot”,
To restore make the circle of leaders to twelve people.

Perhaps because Jesus chose 12 leaders—
it is a way to honor his memory.
Perhaps because the number 12 reminds the apostles of their linkage
to the 12 tribes of Israel,
to their history, their roots as a chosen people of God.
Perhaps is simply a way to have a fresh start—
to begin again and go forward.

Two men are proposed for the one position.
There is Joseph called Barsabbas
(not to be confused with the criminal Barrabbas)—
So they tell us it is Barsabbas who was also known as Justus.
And then there is Matthias.

They have a very simple election procedure.
They pray and then they cast lots, essentially throw a dice to choose.

The lot falls on Matthias
And he joins the circle of apostles as the new 12th member.

We know nothing about either of these two men, Justus and Matthias,
who were proposed, nominated.

Even Matthias, who was selected, is a mystery to us today.
After these verses in Acts,
There is not one other word about Matthias in scripture.
Not one word, not one deed, nothing.
Matthias the one selected is as unknown as Justus who was not selected.

What we do know is that the other apostles set up some criteria
for whom could be proposed.

Both of these people—Justus and Matthias---
have been with the group from its earliest days—
from the baptism of John until the day of Jesus’ ascension.
Both of these people were witnesses to the resurrection.
Both of these people have been through the joy of knowing Jesus personally
and the horror of his trial and death.
And then joy again when Jesus was resurrected and came back among them.

We can infer that both Justus and Matthias were faithful people,
steadfast, willing to stick around
through the good, the bad and the ugly.
We can infer that they are both people of hope.

Matthias is chosen to complete the circle of 12.
But after that Matthias remains somewhat invisible.
We don’t know what he did, what he said, how he lived or how he died.
We just know he was a faithful man.
The other 11 apostles would say he was a faithful man chosen by God.

I have been thinking about Matthias all this week.
I have been away on a retreat with a small group of friends
that I have known for almost 10 years.
We began our seminary studies together in the year 2000.
We became part of a study group
which evolved into a prayer group.
We met at least once a week for our three years in seminary.
We talk once a month on a conference call
and we go away on retreat together once a year.
We love one another
And we hold one another accountable in our spiritual lives
and in our priesthood.

On the retreat we pray, we worship, we do Bible study,
we share our spiritual journeys—
our personal journeys
and our priestly journeys.

We are a diverse group in age and geography
and we serve God in a variety of ways—
as parish priests, as missioners,
as staff of the National Episcopal Church,
as supply clergy.
I think we are good people
and we are doing good work in the church. At least we are trying.
None of us are famous.
There is—at least not yet—no Desmond Tutu or Kathryn Jefferts-Schori
or Julian of Norwich or St. John among us.
We are all very ordinary people.

Faithful—in love with God and in love with Jesus
and very much in love with the people we serve among and with—
but unlikely to be remembered in the written history of the church.
We are Matthiases.

I don’t want to discount anyone’s possibility of religious fame,
but most of you, most of us,
can resonate deeply with Justus and Matthias.

When Jesus prays to God in John’s gospel today
he gives thanks for those God gave to him to love and to serve—
They were yours and you gave them to me
and they have kept your word.

We live in a world that is often obsessed with fame and success and stardom.
But what we hear in the gospel
is thanksgiving for those faithful witnesses
that we bump into every day—
thanksgiving for those that go out into the world day after day
and do their best, try their hardest to keep God’s word--
to live a faithful and holy life—
not just within the walls of their parish,
but within the walls of the world.

On the table here at the chancel step
is our parish register.
Every person who is baptized, confirmed, transfers their membership,
is married, or buried
here at St. John’s--
their names are written in the parish register.
I like that.
I certainly didn’t invent the Parish Register
—keeping this register is part of the canon laws
of the Episcopal church—
but I really like it.
This books holds the faithful cloud of witnesses
that have worshipped here, served here, struggled here,
prayed here,
and done all the tasks that you and I do now—
the preaching, the teaching, the cleaning,
the mowing, the cooking, the singing,
the worrying over and hoping for the future,
the loving one another--

All the faithful Matthiases of St. John’s in Haw Creek,
here in the city of Asheville,
their names are here.

Many of us might look at this book of names and recognize very few.
Many of us might look through the parish register
and be flooded with memories of the saints of God—
those we love but see no longer.

I like that our name is written in the register of a church.
It may be our one and only bookmarked place in the history of God’s people
but it is a very fine one.
Our names are written down
to indicate that we tried our best—right here in this world—
to be a faithful witness of God’s love.

God knows us each by name.
Each one of us matters to God.
No matter how long it takes us to figure that out.
Whether we have been carried in these doors as an infant
or whether we found our way here as a seasoned adult.

God has been waiting.
God has been calling us by name
since we were formed in the womb.

God does not call us to be famous or successful or wealthy.
Sometimes that does happen in the course of one’s life.
Sometimes it does not.
Our achievements in the world
are not what God looks upon.
God looks upon our hearts.

God sent Jesus into the world
to show us what love looks like in human form.
Just in case we might need a visual aid…

For all our many imperfections,
we are still God’s holy people.
We are loved
We are called to love others.

We are invited to join the great cloud of witnesses
whose names are not only written in this parish register
But more importantly and most profoundly
Those names—our names—
are written on the very heart of God.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sermon for Year B Easter 3

Have you anything here to eat?

My parents died some years ago and their house,
my childhood home has long been sold.
But in an instant,
my mind can quick travel back to the kitchen in that house,
and I see my brother or my sister or me
or all three of us
standing there, as children or teenagers,
refrigerator door wide open,
peering in and shouting to our mother,
“Is there anything here to eat?”

Almost the same question Jesus asks his disciples.
Have you anything to eat?

we expect a different question.
After all, this is the Christ, the Messiah.
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Now Christ is standing here saying,
“I’m hungry.
Have you anything here to eat?”

It’s so strange. It’s so real.

And the wonderful thing is--
this man, this Jesus
who has fed so many—thousands upon thousands—
now comes and says to his disciples,
it is your turn,
to do the feeding.

And feed him his friends do.
A piece of broiled fish.
And he takes it and he eats it in their presence.

This is no ghost.
This is no dream.
This is their friend, their rabbi—
and they are indeed witnesses.

Imagine how frightened the disciples were that day.
They are hiding together,
locked in a room.
They are terrified that the authorities are on their way to arrest them.
They are distraught because their leader is dead.
The emotions are thick, dense—
grief, guilt, anxiety, fear, distrust, terror.
Plus they are also hearing these stories that some have actually seen Jesus.
So add confusion to the feelings in that room.

Then suddenly-- with absolutely no warning--
Jesus is right there.
They are startled and terrified.
That part we understand--
the startled and terrified part when Jesus—
who is dead—
suddenly is standing right there,
right there in the room with them.

Now this is a story that is difficult to understand and accept
with any rational mind.
Jesus has come back in such a clearly human form.
And he’s eating.
It doesn’t make sense.

The body of Christ is so tangible.
They can touch Jesus.
They can see Jesus.
They can hear Jesus speaking: “Peace be with you.”

Jesus does not launch into a explanation
about the what, where and how of resurrection
nor does he provide an itinerary
of where he has been since Good Friday.

Jesus’ appearance says,
“I am alive and will continue to be alive—
through you.”

Just when everyone thought the journey was over,
they begin to understand that the journey is just beginning.
God still has something to say.
God still plans to be at work in the world.

Sometimes we too come upon a time in our lives
when we think the journey is over.
We may have lost someone we love
or lost our job
or lost our health
or our savings
or our home
or a friend.
We think there is no way out of the locked room.

That is never true.
The journey is never over.

Jesus appears to us over and over in real life.
Jesus usually shows up without any warning.
And we like the disciples often to do not recognize his presence among us—
or it takes us awhile.

Jesus does not come as a wispy, misty ghost.
A ghost does not have flesh and bones.
Jesus shows up—
usually in the most unexpected places
at the most unexpected times.

Sometimes we need to open our eyes
so that we might recognize the face of Jesus,
God’s presence among us.
This story in Luke’s gospel asks us to believe
that Jesus will show up again—and again and again.
As Jesus says to the disciples,
“Why do doubts arise in your hearts?”

And then sometimes we need to open our hearts,
get out of our chairs or the pews,
move our feet
and carry Jesus out into the world.

This is one of the gifts of the church—
to be the flesh and bones of Jesus together in the world.
Your hip bone is connected to my leg bone
and my leg bone is connected to your foot bone
and together we are off and running.

We are the ones who are called
to offer food and drink to those who are hungry and thirsty.
We are the ones who are called
to wrap our arms around those who are lonely or suffering.
We are the ones who are called
to walk humbly, to do justice and to offer kindness.

We are the ones who are called
to bow our heads and reach out our hands
and receive what we all hunger for so deeply—
Communion with God,
Communion with one another.

A piece of bread, a sip of wine, a bite of broiled fish.
the physical substance is not what matters.
It is the mystery behind and within the substance.
Our hunger for God binds us together.
Our own hunger reminds us that we are the flesh and bones

God feeds us at this rail
so that we might go out into the world and feed others.

Sometimes that food is 300 pounds of canned goods
stacked in the corner of the church
ready to go to Manna Food Bank next week.

Sometimes the food we offer
is showing up in a time of despair or frustration or fear—
be that in our family life
or in our work life
or in our community life—
and being the one who brings “peace” to the table, to others,
that day.

Being the one who eases the fear
or diffuses the anger
or pushes the darkness aside.

To be a witness does not mean we have to climb upon a little soap box
and talk about God day in and day out

To be a witness is to love God
with all our soul and all our might and all our heart
and to take that love out into the world every single day
in our completely ordinary
and absolutely extraordinary lives.

To be a witness is to love God
with all our soul and all our might and all our heart
and when we encounter those who are hungry
invite them to come and be fed,
to come and join
the “flesh and bones” work of God
that happens right here.

Have you anything to eat?
Oh yes.
Oh yes.
Oh yes.

Sermon for Year B Easter Day

John 20:1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.


Body language says a lot.

If this is how Lent looks---
(hand on forehead looking like a repentant sinner)--
And this is how Holy Week looks—
(palms folded together and eyes closed in prayer)
Then this is how Easter looks---
(put on snazzy sunglasses and shout with joy!)

It’s true!
Easter is a party, a feast, a celebration.
What joy and what delight that we have all come together this happy morning!
Now I have to change back to my regular glasses
So I can see my sermon text—
Or you will have just heard the shortest Easter sermon on record—
And surely,
NONE of you would want a short sermon on Easter!

We have four well-known narrative accounts of the life of Jesus.
We call them gospels—
The word gospel meaning “good news”
The good news—the gospel—of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Each of our gospel writers
offers us a very different take
on what happened on that first Easter morning.

Last night at the the Great Vigil of Easter we heard Mark’s version:
3 women come to the tomb and find a young man
dressed all in white who tells them that Jesus has been raised and commands them to go and tell the disciples.
But the women are afraid and they run home and they tell no one.
At least not right away.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus was laid in a tomb
and that the chief priests and the Pharisees took a regiment of soldiers
and had the tomb securely sealed with an enormous stone.
But at dawn, when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary—two women—
go to the tomb,
there is a great earthquake
and an angel—dressed in dazzling white-- comes
and rolls back the stone
and tells them that Jesus has been raised.

In Luke’s gospel
it is again women—quite a large group of them—
who come to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus
But they find the stone already rolled away.
Two men in dazzling clothes tell them Jesus has been raised
and the women go and tell the disciples
but no one believes them.
“An idle tale” the men call their story.

So the details in Matthew, Mark and Luke are different—
As they would be if you compared any of our stories
about the same event—
but the similarities are also there.

In all four gospels it is the women
who are the first witnesses to the resurrection.
In all four gospels
an enormous stone was inexplainably
rolled away from the door of the tomb.
In three of the four gospels
someone or someones dressed in dazzling white robes
give the news:
Jesus is not here.
Jesus has been raised.

But in one of the four gospels--
the gospel of John
which we heard this morning—
there is a significant difference.

Yes, it is a woman who arrives at the tomb first.
Mary Magdalene. But she comes alone.
But when she finds the stone rolled away,
she does not enter the tomb but
immediately goes to get Peter and another disciple.

And the disciples come and enter the tomb and yes,
they confirm that the body of Jesus is not there.
The linen wrappings and the cloth that covered Jesus’ face
have been left behind—but nothing else.
Jesus is not there.
Then the disciples leave and go back home.

But Mary Magdalene stays.
Mary Magdalene weeps.
They have taken away my Lord,
and I do not know where they have laid him.

This is what she tells two angels dressed in dazzling white
when they ask her why she is crying.

But then it is Jesus who is there
and he speaks to Mary—
Only he is standing behind her,
her back is to him and she can’t see him.
Mary Magdalene thinks he is the gardener—

…until Jesus calls her by name, “Mary.”
Then she knows.

Then she turns and sees him---clearly.
I have seen the Lord she exclaims.
And she goes and tells anyone who will listen.

Isn’t that our story, too?
So often we look off in a direction that we think has all the answers.
Or we think there are no answers.
Our faces and are hearts
are often turned away from what is truest and most real for us.
Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places.

But I have another gospel story to tell you this morning.
And it may be one you have never heard.
Because this is the gospel—the good news—
According to St. John, Haw Creek.

You see it wasn’t just the women who went to the tomb on Easter morning.
It was the women
And the men and the teenagers and the children
And even the babies and puppies and the cats.
I hear there was even one duck there!
Everyone shows up at the tomb on Easter morning.

Because everyone is welcome.
Everyone is invited.
Everyone belongs.

So they all show up at the tomb
And guess what?
That’s right.
That enormous stone?
It’s gone.
Someone said they were sure they passed when they driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway early this morning.
There was this huge boulder,
Sitting in the middle of a field
And it had never been there before.
Strange things happen in the early dawn of Easter morning.

So they come to the tomb
And the stone has been rolled away.
And step by step they approach the entrance to the tomb.
And someone has a flashlight with them
(probably the Junior Warden)
And they pull it out of their pocket
And they shine the light into the darkness of the tomb.
And then suddenly everyone pulls out their flashlights—
You see—these people from St. John’s Haw Creek
Are very ready.
And they shine their lights into the tomb.
Jesus is not there.
Jesus has been raised.

Just like the stories in the other gospels.

BUT---suddenly they hear this strange strange sound—
it sounds sort of like this (make a fluttering noise)
And then they see them.

Hundreds of butterflies.
Thousands of butterfiies.
Every color, every size, every kind.
And they are flying out of the tomb.
Flying into the world

And it looks like a few of those butterflies
decided to make their Easter home
here at St. John’s, Haw Creek.

You see the butterfly is a magnificent image of resurrection.
A lowly earth bound caterpillar retreats into a cocoon
And the caterpillar appears to die.

If you have ever seen a cocoon—
it looks absolutely dead, lifeless.
But from the cocoon—from its own little tomb—
emerges this beautiful, vibrant butterfly—
no longer bound to the earth—
but free and released it
to go out into the world.

And that is where we pick up the gospel according to St. John, Haw Creek.

Today is Easter morning.
Jesus is no longer held captive in a tomb.
And neither are we.

Our invitation is the same as Mary Magdalene’s and the disciples.
To go and tell anyone and everyone who has ears to listen.
To share the good news,
to share our own stories--
of how we too have been lost--
and even when we thought it was over and ended--
someone came looking for us
and called us by name
and nothing was ever again the same.

And all we had to do
was turn around.

Easter is a feast.
Easter is a party.
Easter is not what joy looks like—
Easter is what joy IS!

Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed.

Sermon for Year B Easter Vigil

Mark 16:1-8
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Jesus. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Who will roll the stone away?

As soon as they could get there,
as soon as they could take their spices
and go to anoint Jesus’ body,
the women—Mary Magdalene,
Mary the mother of James and Salome—
head out at daybreak to go to the tomb.

It is only once they are on their way there
that one of them begins to think rationally
and asks,

Hey! Wait a minute!
Who will roll the stone away for us?
We won’t even be able to get to the body.

Yes, there are three of them—
but the stone that was placed at the opening of the tomb
is enormous and heavy--
the purpose being to seal the entrance
and to keep the body of Jesus safe.

Who will roll the stone away?

But even their worries
about the practicalities of moving that stone
does not slow them down.
They keep going.
When they arrive at the tomb,
they are stunned.
There is absolutely nothing blocking the entrance.

When they looked up—
they saw that the stone—
which was very large—
had already been rolled back.

They are frightened.
Who did this?
Who could have arrived before us?
Who rolled away this enormous stone?

Yet even their fears
do not slow them down.
They enter the cool darkness of the tomb,
but they find no body to anoint.
Jesus is not there.
Or is he?

There IS a young man there—
dressed in white robes—
who knows before they say one word
that they are looking for Jesus.
He is not here.
He has been raised.
Tell the disciples Jesus will meet them in Galilee.
Oh and by the way, don’t be afraid!

Don’t be afraid?!??!!
You can almost imagine these three women
backing out of the tomb,
their eyes wide with fear,
moving away from this young man
and the light that seems to surround him.
Then once outside—
turning and running as fast as they can,
back to the safety of their homes.

Mark’s gospel tells us that they tell no one.
Who would have believed them?
They could not believe it themselves at that moment.

We don’t know how long it took
but we do know
the story eventually was told.

Eventually those women did speak, did tell others.
How else could the writer of Mark’s gospel
have written down what happened that morning?

And now here we are.
Almost 2000 years later.
The story has made its way to our ears, to our lives.

You see killing Jesus was a terrible mistake.
Not just because of all the good he did in the world.
Not just because of what he taught and how he lived.
Not just because he was willing to take on the darkness of the world
and face death.
Not just because he was the incarnation of love.
Not just because he was an innocent man.

Theologian Walter Wink suggests that illing Jesus was a foolish mistake.
It was like trying to get rid of a dandelion
by plucking up the seed-head and blowing on it —

And the good news of Jesus Christ
began to spread, began to grow,
it hopped over fences and traveled over oceans
and moved through centuries.

Oh, the women might have been afraid,
they might have told no one at first.
But God works in mysterious ways.
Have no doubt that those women found their voices
and told their story.

And now the story has passed to us.
To you and to me.

The love of God is not something to keep hidden away in a dark tomb.
In the life he lived and in the death he died,
Jesus rolled away the stone for US.

The sun has been shattered.
But the sun has been shattered into a million fragments of light.

We are called to go and tell the story.
to spread the good news.

There are long versions of the story,
And there are short versions of the story.
And we each have our own version
of how this story has transformed our life.

But the story we have to tell this night,
this beautiful, glorious Easter Eve,
the story is this:

The stone has been rolled away.

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed.



Sermon for Year B Maundy Thursday

A glass of milk

Frederick Buechner writes in his book Listening to Your Life:

"If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter
and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party.
The world says, Mind your own business,
and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business. The world says, Follow the wisest course and be a success,
and Jesus says, Follow me and be crucified.
The world says, Drive carefully---the life you save may be your own--- and Jesus says, Whoever would save his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

The world says, Law and order,
and Jesus says, Love.
The world says, Get,
and Jesus says, Give.

In terms of the world's sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot,
and anybody who thinks we can follow him
without being a little crazy too
is laboring less under a cross
than under a delusion."

The world says…
Jesus says…
Tonight--this Maundy Thursday--is the last time
the disciples will be able to listen directly
to what Jesus says.

When I worked in children’s museums
we had a phrase we used that guided our design and program work.:

I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand.

I don’t think Jesus had ever been to a children’s museum,
but I do think he uses this same wisdom
throughout his ministry
including on this holy night with his disciples.

The word Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum
and it means “mandate” or “commandment”.
Tonight is the night when Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment,
a new covenant.
Love one another
Just as I have loved you.

Love one another by serving—
wash each other’s feet.,
take care of each other,
take care of those who have no one to take care of them.

Love one another by offering all you have and all you are—
For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup…
Do this
In remembrance of me.
To remember the love we share
To remember the God we share
To remember the world we share.

Jesus was not just a talking head.
Jesus constantly and tirelessly was doing.
Healing. Listening. Feeding.
Washing feet.

And Jesus always sends the disciples out to go and do likewise.
Heal. Listen. Feed.
Wash feet.

Jesus wants them to live their faith.
Jesus wants us to live our faith.

There is a place and time to expound upon theology and doctrine,
but what the world needs more and needs right now
is a full and abundant showing and showering of love.

Annie Lehmann is the author of a book titled
The Accidental Teacher: Life Lessons from My Silent Son.
Her son Jonah is autistic.
When he was only 3 years old
Annie and her husband were told
that Jonah’s autism was “untreatable.”

But Annie and her husband were also young and energetic and hopeful.
They made Jonah the focus of their lives—
They felt if they could make every experience a teaching session,
every communication exchange a lesson—
they would be able to bridge the developmental gap
for their son.

Because Jonah loved food
Annie shares that whenever she went to the grocery store
with her young son she would point out colors (red apple)
and shapes (round cookie).

But Jonah always turned away from their teaching efforts.
They tried vitamins, restricted diets, communication boards,
sensory integration therapy, they tried everything.
But for Jonah each hope they had
was followed by disappointment.

Annie writes,
“We might as well have been chasing butterflies with a torn net.”

Finally—finally after Jonah was in his teens—
and Annie and the rest of the family were worn out and frustrated— finally they decided to let go of their checklist of goals
They decided to let Jonah enjoy the things he enjoyed
without their projected expectations of accomplishment.

This loving mother recalls how Jonah as a little boy
had a low tolerance for reading but he liked it
when she would sing books to him.
Once she sang the story of Cinderella,
As Jonah rolled about on the floor,
seemingly oblivious to the story.

Still, his mother felt she needed to involve her son in the story
so she left a sentence for him to complete…

“The clock struck 12,” she sang off key,
“And Cinderella ran down the palace steps,
leaving behind a glass….”

Jonah continued rolling on the floor
as his mother waited for him to say the word “slipper.”

And at last he completed the sentence for his mother: “…of milk.”

Leaving behind a glass of milk.

Annie Lehman says she never hears the story of Cinderella
without seeing a glass tumbler filled with milk
sitting on the palace steps.

“Jonah turned 25 last fall,” his mother writes,
“and when I look at him
I can’t help wondering
if the past years weren’t some heaven-directed scheme
meant to humble us
and teach us the value of acceptance.
that we couldn’t change him
has changed us.”

The world expected a Messiah that was so different than Jesus.

Even his very own disciples expected him to any day now,
start acting like that king of kings they expected.
Even today
We sometimes try to make Jesus “fit” into our world,
Our ways of doing things.

But Jesus always offers a glass of milk and not a glass slipper.
And Jesus calls us to act and to offer and give and to do.
To do everything in remembrance of him.

To love one another.
To take the bread and the wine and know that God is with us. Always.
To share all that we have and all that we are.
To humble ourselves
and wash the dust and dirt off the feet of the world.

We may not be able to change the world
but we ourselves will be changed.
By him and with him and in him…
we are transformed.
All through the power of love.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sermon for Year B Palm Sunday

Surrounded by the Gospel

Palm Sunday is a day of contradictions.
We start with the liturgy of the palms.
The palms are blessed and hosannas are shouted
as we process into the church.
All glory laud and honor we sing.

Jesus—the king—riding on a colt,
other gospels say a donkey.
A donkey? A colt?
Should not a king enter Jerusalem on a mighty steed?
Such a strange juxtaposition.

And then the passion play.
Passion meaning suffering.
And play?—nothing playful about this story.
It is deeply, movingly serious.
And painful.

It is a story of great suffering,
of loneliness,
of pain and humility.
It is a story of undeserved death.
Jesus is killed because people are afraid of him.

Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week.

We have sat in this church through these weeks of Lent
surrounded by this story we hear today.

Along the walls of our church hang 14 stations of the cross.
These are not for decoration.
You, like I, may appreciate their artistic value,
but that is not why they are here.
That is not why the artist painted them
or gifted them to this parish.

These stations are so that we might remember.
These stations are so that we might remember the suffering—
not only the suffering of Jesus
but the suffering that surrounds us still.

We live in a community, in a world,
surrounded by this story we hear today.

People are suffering.
People are hungry.
People have lost their jobs and fallen from the weight upon their back.
People have lost their health and their wealth
and many feel stripped of their dignity.

People we love have died.
Have been laid in the tomb.
And our hearts break
for those we love but see no longer.

I truly believe that the purpose of the church is to spread the gospel—
the good news of Jesus Christ.
And there is good news—
we will celebrate that wonderful, joy-filled good news
one week from today.

But we make that good news shabby
if we fail to recognize the pain and the suffering and the death
and the darkness
that is still part of our world, our own lives.

Stations of the Cross.
They are not just part of a journey in Jerusalem.
They are not just an ancient liturgy.
We walk these stations every day.
Open your eyes to the world around you.
In your family.
At your office.
On the streets.
We live in a hurting, suffering world.

Look at our community
People are hungry.
People are lonely.
People are marginalized.
People are afraid.

We live in the passion play.

And what are we going to do about it?
We claim we are going to follow Jesus.
Let’s do that.
Let’s help one another do just that.

When we are baptized into Christ
we make a covenant.
And a covenant is not just what God will do for us—
a covenant is an agreement of what we will do for God as well.

Even when we are baptized as infants
those who love us most in the world
bind us with the words of that baptismal covenant.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will, with God’s help.

Imagine how different this story—this Passion play—
would have been
if Pilate or the crowd had looked upon Jesus as a neighbor—
not a threat.
Imagine how our world might change today
if we look at every person and see the face of Christ,
see someone who longs to be loved
just as we long to be loved.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people
and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.

Imagine how different our world, our community can be
if we really listen
and hear the word ALL as meaning ALL,
as EVERY meaning EVERY.
If we treated every human being—
yes, even the ones we don’t like,
even the people we fear,
even the ones we think don’t deserve
Imagine if we respected the dignity of every human being?

Imagine if justice and peace were at the top of our agendas
both corporately and individually?
Oh, how the world might be a different place!
On earth as in heaven.
We are charged with helping make that happen.
I will,
with God’s help.

When we are baptized into Christ we make a covenant—
and we are marked as Christ’s own forever.
That cross that is marked on our forehead?
You can’t erase it.
We are marked as Christ’s own forever.

Living into our baptismal covenant.
is an enormous task—
but it is the cornerstone for living the gospel.
It is at the heart of following Jesus.

We begin our walk into Holy Week today.
It is why we leave the church in silence.
I will not wait at the door to greet you or bid you goodbye.
There is no coffee hour or social time
or meetings after today’s service.

We have much to think about.
Much to ponder in our hearts.

The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
What are we going to do about it?
What are we going to do about in our own lives
and in the life of this parish?
What are we going to do about it?
That is the question to ponder for Holy Week.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sermon for Year B Lent 5

…the swift and varied changes of the world…

The swift and varied changes of the world.
That is what we hear in the collect today.

I don’t know about you
but for me the last few weeks have indeed been swift and varied.
My days and weeks have been intense and busy.

I laughed when I noticed that I had written at the bottom of March
on my calendar:
“Keep this month free of commitments.”
The reality is
my March calendar has overflowed with appointments and meetings
and due dates.
You can hardly see the white of the calendar page beneath the ink!

Keep this month free of commitments.
Well, it was a worthy goal when I wrote it there a few months earlier
when I dreamed of a peaceful, quiet Lent.

The swift and varied changes of the world
often change our plans, fill our calendars,
shift us in other directions.

It seems evident in today’s gospel—
and as we near Holy Week—
that Jesus knows that his own life is shifting
and death is approaching.

Yet he does not speak of his death with gloom and doom.
He says, Hang around. It’s all going to turn out okay.
You’re going to see.
There is beauty even in the brokenness.
Often it is in brokenness
that we recognize the face of God most clearly.

This week I got a glimpse of beauty in brokenness.
I was invited to come and do a monthly Eucharist
at an area rehab facility and nursing home.

I was happy to say yes to this some weeks ago
but when it rolled around on my calendar this week
it felt like one more thing
on my long and always growing “to do” list.

Yet--yet I know that one day it may be me
waiting for a priest to come and bring the bread and wine
of the Eucharist.
That likely reality does not escape me.
This was not an event on my calendar
that I even considered canceling.

Nine of us gathered in a small sun room.
The altar was a wooden bridge table.
There were no candles, no artwork, no fair linen, no vestments.
Just a very plain but lovely sitting room.
There was a certain peace amongst the circle of wheelchairs round the table.

I spread the corporal I had brought on the table
and set up the paten with wafers
and the chalice with wine.
I had brought all these things with me.
I kissed the cross on my purple stole and placed it around my neck.

I looked around the room.
People in wheelchairs.
Caretakers sitting or standing beside them holding their hands
or gently patting their arms.
Someone said to me,
Thank you so much for coming.
Thank you so much for coming.

I already knew then—at the very beginning of our worship together—
that it was I who needed to give thanks
for the gift of sharing communion
with this group of God’s gathered people.

We began the service.
Now there is one thing about being an Episcopalian:
there are certain words that are indeed written on our hearts.

When someone says, “The Lord be with you.”
We immediately respond, “And also with you.”

I have said that phrase—what? A thousand times?
Ten thousand times?

Yet on this day,
when this little gathered group of God’s people
And also with you,
I realized there was absolutely nothing rote about that response.

I realized that just as I had brought God to God’s people that morning,
God’s people had also brought God to me.
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.

We may forget many things as we age
but the Lord’s prayer usually
stays with us.
The prayer that we are bold to say,
is not forgotten.
More words that are written on our hearts
and offer comfort beyond our rational understanding.

When we reached that point in the service,
even those who had said not one word,
prayed loudly,
prayed with all their heart and all their soul
and all their strength.

A small band of God’s people,
gathered together to pray and share the bread and the wine,
the body and blood of Christ,
the symbol of ultimate brokenness, fraction.
And ultimately healing and wholeness.

As we prayed the post communion prayer,
a woman in a wheelchair rolled to the wooden card table—
our altar-- and laid a crumpled white envelope on the corner.
She said, “My gift.”

She was not really speaking to me.
She was speaking to God.
“My gift.”

One of the attendants, told me after the service,
that when the woman with the envelope heard a few weeks ago
that a priest was coming to offer communion,
she began saving her money.

“ She did not want to come to church without having a gift to offer.
She wanted to have something to give you
because you were giving to her by coming here today.”

Later I would open the envelope
and find a one dollar bill and 12 quarters.

This is what Jesus means when he says he will be glorified.
No theology, no creed, no liturgy could possibly glorify God more
than what we give from our hearts.
It is not about money.
It can be--
but giving from our heart comes in many shapes and sizes.
We give when we bring in cans of food for Manna Food Bank.
We give when we listen to someone who is lonely.
We give when we send a card to remember someone’s birthday.
We give when we show up for a work day
and trim trees or spread mulch or wash windows.
We give when we shatter darkness by making someone laugh.
We give when we help build a house for someone who has no home.
The ways we can give are without limit.

We must ponder in our own hearts
what we have to offer to God.

Our gifts today may be very different than what we offered yesterday
and again may change in what we have to offer tomorrow.
We all face the swift and varied changes of the world,
Reflected in our own changing lives.

Jesus says, Now my soul is troubled.
And what should I say—
“Father, save me from this hour?
No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”

We work hard in life to protect ourselves from illness and hardship.
And there is nothing wrong with that.
But we must work equally hard to continually open our hearts to God— regardless--
in glad times and sad times
to love God and love one another,
to trust that God is with us in every hour—
hours that are breezily easy
and hours that are terribly hard--
to willingly offer what we have to give.

The woman with the envelope
did not offer her gift in thanksgiving to me--
her thanksgiving was to God.

We might look at her life
and only see a wheelchair, blindness, helplessness—
her life has no doubt been through some changes
that she, like you and me, would never willingly choose.

But sometimes it is through our hurt and brokenness,
our total helplessness--
when we find ourselves at the foot of the cross--
that we recognize the presence of God in our lives.

That presence is offered to each of us every week in the bread and the wine.
Come and receive this gift.

In a world too often broken by unshared bread
there is always bread and wine enough for everyone
at God’s table.
Come and receive.
I invite each and every one of you: come and receive.

Come and remember what God has written on our hearts--
that we are loved no matter what,
that we are always and forever God’s beloved children.

A crumpled envelope
placed on the edge of a wooden card table speaks volumes
about what it means to love God
and to truly believe that you are loved.
Our gifts are both given and received to the glory of God.

Jesus says,
And I,
when lifted up from the earth
will draw all people to myself.

All people.
God longs to draw us close and closer and closer.

We never travel alone.
Never are we alone on our journey.

Through any and all
the swift and varied changes of the world.
God is with us.

Sermon for Year B Lent 4

For God so loved the world….

We have all seen the signs.
They are held up at baseball games,
at rock concerts,
even on street corners.

The signs simply say:
JOHN 3:16.

John 3:16.
That is part of our gospel reading this morning.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son…

For God so loved the world.
It is easy to forget how much God loves the world,
how much God loves each and every one of us.

We give it lip service.
We sing our childhood song—Jesus loves me this I KNOW.
But do we really and truly know that?
Do we live our lives reflecting the belief in that boundless love?

A friend sent me a story this week.
It is about a night long, long ago
when the stars began to fall from the sky.
The villagers were surprised to see the stars streaking across the sky.
They panicked.
They assumed the world was coming to an end.

They ran in circles weeping and crying,
“The sky is falling, the sky is falling. The world is ending.”

Then one of the villagers remembered the wise elders
who lived outside the village.

They hurried to the older couple for an answer to what was happening.
“Look!” they shouted, “the stars are falling into the earth.
What will happen to us?”

The wise ones had been observing the changing sky for some time.
They looked up and then paused a few moments
and asked the villagers to gaze up at the sky one more time.

“Look at the sky,” they whispered,
“Look at the stars that are falling.
But now,
Stop for a moment and look again.

This time look at all the stars that are not falling.
This time look at all the stars that remain shining in the heavens.”

Lent is such a time.
A time to look at the heavens.

We note the stars that are falling—
the things that shake our world and rock our souls
and scare us.
We think of the rough places in our lives we long to make smooth,
the obstacles we ourselves have placed in our paths,
our own blindness,
the stars that continue to fall from the sky.

But today, this midway point in Lent—
it is also good to look at the stars that remain in the heavens.
Shining. Always there.
The stars that help us find our way,
the stars that serve to help us navigate through our daily lives,
those stars that shine and light our path,
even when---especially when—the night is the darkest.

Those stars are seldom abstract concepts.
Those stars often have names—
the names of our friends, someone in our family,
someone who is not in our family
but feels more like family than family.

Those stars are held in the sky but the one who so loves the world.

In our reading from Numbers,
the Israelites are in an angry snit.
They are weary from their journey and
they have lost their way
and they are fed up.

They are at a point like the villagers in the story--,
running around, complaining, grumbling, freaking out,
speaking against God
because God is not following their script.
Life is hard and rough and they are tired of it.
All they can see are the stars that are falling.

Maybe God sends the snakes
as a way of reminding them
that there really is real suffering in the world—
but not having the food they want to eat for lunch--
is not real suffering.

God has been feeding them all along
just as God feeds us.
Remember, manna? Remember our daily bread?

But the Israelites are much like many of us—spoiled, demanding,
picky eaters. Picky about life in general.

The Israelites have forgotten
that God has already
(1) rescued them from slavery,
(2) brought them out of Egypt
(3) provided leader
and (4) is leading them to the land that has been promised.

Our memories are often short as well.
We spend a lot of time complaining about the trivial,
the few stars that are falling while forgetting
to look up at the stars that remain steady and bright—
always there,
in the night sky.

But those snakes!
Now those are not trivial.

A recent Harris poll on “What We Are Afraid Of”
reports that 36 % of all adults in the United States
list snakes as their number one fear.
Ophidiophobia is the official name for this fear.

Not only were the Israelites afraid of the snakes--
the snakes were biting them, killing them.

There is a message here.
When we only give out our own venom, our own poisonous thoughts--
our complaining, our ungratefulness, our self-centeredness—
that same poison will likely return to us—
and may just kill us.
And that in no way is God’s dream for us.

It is no accident that this reading from Numbers
is paired with Psalm 107 today:

Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,
And he saved them from their distress;
He sent out his word
and delivered them from destruction

The Hebrew word for a poisonous serpent is seraph—
it literally means “fiery”.
And yes, there are times in our lives we are in so much pain—
physical, mental, emotional--
it feels as if we are walking through fire.

God never denies that there is real pain and suffering in the world.
Yet God always points the Israelites—and us-- to a way of healing.

Remember that the word seraph is also the root word for seraphim—
a type of angel that appears throughout scripture.—
and angel who brings good news and great joy
especially to those who are afraid.

A fiery angel that is sent to us
when our world seems all fire.

God’s love is that enormous.
For God so loved the world…

Jesus comes into the world
to show us what that immense love looks like
in human form.

It is not just a gift—
it is a call to us to take on that form,
to live in Christ and to let Christ live in us.

For God so loved the world…

The scripture does not say,
for God so loved the Israelites,
For God so loved the United States--
No, it says,
For God so loved the WORLD.

The whole world.
Every star in the sky
those falling and those holding steady.
And all of us standing here below.

God’s love is here.
From the beginning
to the end.

And all that is in between.
And all that is in between.