Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sermon for the Feast of All Saints 2010

Singing songs of sunbeams and saints

I recently read an article by a man named Dave Hurlbert,
who, like me, grew up in the Baptist Church.
Dave writes:
When I was a six-year-old Southern Baptist,
I loved singing “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam.”

I, like Dave, remember singing that song as a little child
in the basement Sunday School classrooms
At Central Baptist Church--
feeling like I was the best and brightest sunbeam ever!
There was not a doubt in my body
how much Jesus wanted me for a sunbeam.

As I got older that sunbeam brightness got a bit tarnished
and at times I felt more like the Nirvana version of that song,
“Jesus DOESN’T want ME for a sunbeam!”

But by the grace of God, the journey continued,
And as an adult I discovered the Episcopal Church
and became an Episcopalian.
I don’t know if I still felt that Jesus wanted me as a sunbeam,
but I sure felt that I was wanted and welcomed as an Episcopalian!
I had found my home.

I quickly learned that the hymns we sing in my Episcopal home,
especially if we stick with the 1982 Hymnal,
the hymns are beautiful, pious, sophisticated, profound hymns—
but not too much along the line of Jesus wants me as a sunbeam!

But there is one (at least one) exception.
That’s hymn 293---I sing a song of the saints of God.

I remember so well the first time I heard this hymn.
I was still fairly new to the Episcopal Church.

Along comes All Saints Sunday
and suddenly we are singing …
And one was a doctor and one was a queen,
And one was a shepherdess on the green….
And one was slain by a fierce wild beast!

I loved it. The words to this hymn made me smile!
And the tune was downright perky!
How on earth did this hymn get into our Episcopal hymnal!

Here is what I learned:

This hymn was written by a woman, a British woman,
named Lesbia Scott.
She wrote this hymn in 1929--
She was married to a priest
and she wrote a number of children’s hymns
and published them in a little book
called Everyday Hymns for Children.

But interestingly, this particular hymn
is much more popular here in the States than in Britain.
The research I did said that this hymn
is “particularly loved by Episcopalians.”

Now this hymn was in the 1940 Hymnal
but they were going to remove it
when they published the 1982 Hymnal.
The reason for its removal?
The Committee said it lacked “theological profundity.”

But when word of this began to circulate
there was a letter writing campaign like they had never seen before!
Episcopalians across the country wanted this hymn to stay in their hymnal.
And so it has.

I love this hymn because it reminds me, all of us,
that ordinary people,
going about their ordinary lives,
striving to love God and love one another,
can be true saints of God.
I think this is what Jesus is trying to tell his disciples
in his sermon on the plain in Luke’s gospel today.

It is possible to be one of God’s saints.
Being a saint is not about being perfect,
or perpetually pious;
Being a saint is not about checking off a long list
of holy accomplishments.

Being a saint is about making some choices
on how we choose to live our daily lives,
how we choose to treat other people.

Being a saint is coming to understand
that wealth and power and prestige
can be more woe than blessing
unless we are extremely cautious.

Being a saint is about loving our enemies.
Doing good to those who hate us.
Praying for those we know are not praying for us.
Treating other people the way we want people to treat us.

Is this easy?
Oh my, no!
But Jesus seems to believe it is possible.

Being a saint is about learning to live an upside down life,
Very much like Jesus lived an upside down life.

The world teaches us to get everything we can—the sooner the better.
More money, more power, more control, more revenge.
More, more, more.

But Jesus says,
Dear saints of God, live a life that is upside down from the world.
Don’t grab and grasp. Let go.
Let go of your power, your money, your resentments, your fears.
Less, less, less.
Saints seem content with less of everything.
Less of everything except love.
Unconditional and abundant love is the mark of every saint.

It is not easy to love unconditionally but it is possible.
It is possible simply because
God has already given unconditional love to each one of us.
It sometimes takes us a while to notice but it is there
and has always been there.

Unconditional love was planted in our hearts,
tucked away in our brains, infused into our very marrow
before we were even born.
We have never been without God’s love.

In 2003 an internet survey was run by
asking people to vote on what hymn would they want
on their desert island if they could only have one hymn.

Which one hymn would you want on your desert island?

I sing a song of the saints of God came in at number 14.
With all the hundreds and hundreds of possible hymn choices,
it is not too shabby to come in at number 14!

There can be no doubt that we love this hymn—
we long to be one of God’s saints!

They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still,
The world is bright with joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus’ will

You can meet them in school, or in lanes or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too.

For the saints of God are just folk like me—and just folk like you!
Going out into the world
to be sunbeams!

Sermon for Year C Creation 4

The one who puts the pink clouds in the sky

Statistics show that 76% of Americans
identify themselves as Christians.
And 41% of Americans report that they attend church regularly.

However, several other major studies show
that people actually don’t tell the truth
about how often they attend church.
(Or maybe it just feels to them
that they attend more often than they do!)

The reality is that only about 21% really attend church regularly now—
with “regularly” being defined by the studies as at least once a week.

At our recent clergy conference we were given the statistics
that only 1/3 of the population in the United States
now attends church regularly—
but that study defined “regularly” as
meaning at least twice a month.

This means that 2/3 of the country is at this moment:
(a) still asleep
(b) not asleep but still in their pajamas
(c) sitting at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts or Cracker Barrel
with coffee and a newspaper
(d) some place else other than in the pews, sometimes at work even.

I bring this up for two reasons.
The first reason is
the world has changed a lot
since Jesus told the parable we hear this morning.
The Temple is no longer our common denominator.

The second reason is
the world hasn’t changed much at all.
since Jesus told the parable we hear this morning.
We all come to church with different needs
and different attitudes.

Parables are teaching stories.
Jesus engages his listeners with a story
but he wants those listeners
to realize or learn something
bigger and more important than the story itself.
Usually he wants us
to learn something about ourselves.

The parable we hear in Luke’s gospel is this:
It takes place in the Temple, the Church.
We have two people in this parable.

First, we have a Pharisee.
I imagine the Pharisee
is definitely part of the 21% of the population
in church every week.

The Pharisee is over-the-top disciplined—he tells us this himself--
he does without food or drink—
he fasts-- twice a week!

The Pharisee tithes—gives 1/10 of his income to the Church.
Let me tell you,
stewardship committees and church treasurers all over the globe
pray for more Pharisees like this in the Church!

But there is another edge to the Pharisee—
he is critical and judgmental.
His joy is that he is not like other people.

The thanksgiving the Pharisee offers is
Thank you, God, that I am not like THOSE people.

The Pharisee comes to the Temple
not to praise God, not to be transformed,
but to give himself a holy pat on the back—
and to give a little verbal kick in the pants
to those who don’t measure up to his standards.

We need to be careful
what we bring with us through the door into the Temple.
We also need to be careful
that we do not say
Thank you God that I am not like this Pharisee!

One of the key sentences in this parable is this:
“The Pharisee, standing by himself….”
Standing by himself.

That’s where mean-spirited criticism usually put us—
ultimately standing by ourself. Alone.

You see these attitudes,
such as this Pharisee has developed--
and unfortunately passed on to some in the Church today--
these attitudes are at least partially responsible
for why some people choose
NOT to be part of a church.

Some people choose to stay away from church
because they believe the only people in churches
are judgmental holier-than=thou Pharisees.

Some people choose to stay away from church
because they do not want to become like the Pharisee.

But the Pharisee is not the only person in this parable.

We also have the tax collector.
Maybe NOT part of the weekly crowd at the Temple—
but maybe he is.

The tax collector may be standing up physically
but his heart is on its knees.

The tax collector did not come to the Temple to criticize any one.
He came to the Temple to look inside his own heart, his own soul,
and the only sinner he saw that day
was himself.
And he begged God’s mercy.

The tax collector is filled with shame --and pain.
The parable says, he was “standing far off.”

God has no desire for us to stand alone or to stand far off.
God longs for us to stand together,
To stand as a worshipping, caring community.

We as children of God,
we who do worship weekly
or monthly or even occasionally,
we need to spread the word that our pews--
at least in this church—
are broad and wide and long.
We need to continually seek ways to say and live into,

We need to welcome the Pharisees.
We need to welcome the tax collectors
We need to welcome everyone in between.
We need to remember that we are welcome, too.
With our questions, with our doubts, with our fears, with our joys.
Because God’s love is abundant.
There is more than enough to go around—
around and around and around.

We need to do more than just say, “Y’all come.
We need to go out into the world and invite people to come into the Church.
To come into the Church
with all your fears and doubts and skeptism and deep beliefs—
and let’s travel this journey together.

I don’t want to make your Episcopal barometers go haywire--
In case you are thinking I am about to send you out to Pack Square
or the Ingles parking lot with a sign
that says “Repent! The end is near!”

Evangelism to me is how D.T. Niles defined it:
“Evangelism is about one beggar telling another beggar
where to find bread.”

The world needs this good news.
Our community needs this good news.
Evangelism is about inviting a neighbor or a friend
to come to church with you one Sunday.

We need to go out into the world
and let people know that the Church is big and diverse!
And God’s heart is bigger than we can ask or imagine.

There is room for everyone.
There is room for the Pharisees who think they know it all,
and there is room for the tax collectors who weep
because they feel they know nothing at all.

Church at its very best
is a community of people who will welcome you and love you
and pray with you and pray for you.
And expect you to go and do likewise.

It is up to us
to change the way the world sees the church.
It is up to us
to change the statistics.

A few weeks ago, a preschool teacher
who teaches in a rather affluent pre-school
connected to a large University--
shared this story with me.

Listen in on this conversation of a group of 4-year olds:

Child 1: My birthday is the day before Jesus’ birthday.

Child 2: (Looking around the room) Who is Jesus?

Child 1: You know—Jesus!

Child 2: Jesus who?

Child 1: Jesus---THE Jesus—the Son of God!

Child 2: Who is God?

Child 3: (very excited) God is a light!

Child 4: (shaking her finger)
God knows everything you do—every thing!

Child 5: (joining in) God hears everything you say—every thing!

Child 2: Like Santa Claus?

Child 3: God is a light.

Child 6: (quietly) If you are really, really good,
God will put a pink cloud in the sky.
Just for you.

Child 2: Who is God? Who is Jesus?

My friends, we fool ourselves if we think the world today,
or even our neighbors,
know about God or Jesus or the Church.

We ourselves are all still learning, exploring, asking questions,
sometimes rejoicing, sometimes struggling.

We fool ourselves if we think that everyone knows
that there are churches that allow questions,
churches that really do welcome all God’s people.

We are the only ones who can go out into the world
and make that message of WELCOME ring true.
We are the only ones with the magic words, “Come with ME to church.”
Come with ME.

Come with me
and get to know the one who loves you no matter what.
Come with me
and get to know
the one who has a sky full of pink clouds.

Sermon for Year C Creation 3

Do not lose heart

Many of us, along with people all over the world,
were glued to our televisions this week
as the 33 miners in Chile were rescued.
Rescued after 69 days of captivity beneath the earth.
They all made it out of the mine alive.

Their persistence,
their ability to work together,
their understanding of the need
to allow their foreman to organize them into groups.
and structure their day—
and then to follow that structure obediently and faithfully—
all these things were part of what helped them survive.

Their day began with prayer.
That fact is often hurried over or ignored by the media
but it is true.
Every day under the earth--
not knowing if they would ever see their families again,
not knowing if they would ever
feel the sun and the wind upon their faces again,
not knowing
if they would ever sleep in a comfortable bed,
not knowing if they would live or die,
every day began with prayer.

As many of the miners were brought up to freedom and safety,
they immediately,
immediately knelt in prayer,
they showed and spoke expressions of gratitude to God.

I kept thinking of these Chilean miners
as I pondered and prayed with Luke’s gospel this week:
Pray always and do not lose heart.

It is easy to lose heart.
It is easy to become discouraged.
Much of life happens to us without much regard
to what we have done or earned.

We can work really hard
and still it may be a struggle to earn a living, to pay our bills.
We can try our best
and still people will complain about us,
criticize even our most heart felt efforts—
usually behind our backs.
We can eat right and exercise
and still we are sometimes struck by disease or accident.

Losing heart is almost what we should expect to happen.

Yet Jesus explicitly says DO NOT lose heart.

But he only says that after
he says PRAY ALWAYS.
This is the advice he gives his beloved disciples.
Pray always and do not lose heart.

I spent three days this week at our fall Clergy Conference.
Almost 70 of us gathered to learn from our speaker Mary MacGregor
more about spiritual gifts,
especially the gift of leadership.

We also had two lengthy conversations with our bishop
about what we think is going well in the diocese
and what we feel needs to change,
what we feel we can do better.
So we listened and learned and talked
and shared breakfast, lunch and dinner.

And we also prayed together. We sang together. We worshipped together.
We shared Holy Eucharist together.

We are a diverse group of clergy.
As diverse as the congregations in our diocese.

We don’t always agree, we don’t always see issues the same,
We have different visions and different needs—
both personal and in our parishes.

But there is one thing we know:
as different as we may be,
we are always be willing to pray together.
We are always willing to try to talk to one another.
At worship, we will sing out loudly--
even if someone has chosen our least favorite hymn—
or worse yet,
a hymn we have never heard!

There is nothing about ordination
that makes clergy the sharpest crayons in the box--
but we do know that praying together is important.

All of us, clergy and laypeople alike,
teeter on the edge of losing heart at times.
Some of us, on occasion, have fallen off that edge.

But there is a way back,
There is a way home.

Pray always.

Jesus would not have told this parable
if he did not understand how difficult it is to not lose heart.
Jesus would not have told this parable
if he thought it was always easy to pray.

But the truth is
Jesus DID tell his disciples this parable.
And Jesus tells us the same.

Even when things are horrid, no good, disappointing, heartbreaking—
even when the world and those in it
seem as unfair and grouchy and mean-spirited and hateful
as the judge in Luke’s gospel today,
do not give up.
Especially do not give up on prayer.

There is a story told about Mother Teresa.
She went to visit Edward Bennett Williams,
a rather legendary trial attorney—
who also at one time had owned both the Baltimore Orioles
and the Washington Redskins.
Needless to say Williams was a powerful man and a wealthy man.
Mother Teresa made an appointment to speak with Williams
to ask him for money for her hospice for AIDS victims.
Williams had a small charitable foundation.

Williams had already decided—saintly Mother Teresa or not—
he was not making a donation.
AIDS was not one of his causes.
He told his partner they would meet her, be polite but then say no.

Mother Teresa arrived.
She had the appearance of a tiny little bird of a woman.
She sat down on the other side of this enormous mahogany desk
And made her appeal.
Williams said, ‘We are very moved by your work and by your appeal,
But our answer is no.

Mother Teresa said, “Let us pray.”
Williams looked at his partner—
Then they all bowed their heads and Mother Teresa prayed.
After the prayer,
Mother Teresa repeated—word for word—her appeal for the AIDS hospice.

Williams politely—very politely—said no.
Mother Teresa then said, “Let us pray.”
Williams said, “All right! All right! “
And pulled his checkbook out of his desk drawer.

Maybe that is what Jesus is telling us.
Pray like Mother Teresa.
When nothing else seems to be working,
Do not give up. Do not despair. Do not lose heart.

One of my favorite programs on NPR is THE WRITER’S ALMANAC
with Garrison Keillor.
As a lover of poetry
and a fan of Garrison Keillor,
what’s there not to like?!!

One of the poems I heard recently is this one, titled “The Thing Is”, by Ellen Bass. Here is part of her poem:

to love life, to love it even

when you have no stomach for it

and everything you've held dear

crumbles like burnt paper in your hands…
you think, How can a body withstand this?

Then you hold life like a face

between your palms, a plain face,

no charming smile, no violet eyes,

and you say, yes, I will take you

I will love you, again.

That is what I believe prayer does for us.
It allows us to take this blessing of life,
this blessing of all that God has created,
and hold it between our palms,

And no matter how disheartened or hurting or discouraged we may feel,
prayer can bring us back to the Center.
Prayer gives us the strength to again say yes, yes,
to God.

I will take you, God.
I will love you, again, God.

You see, God never stops loving us.
Prayer helps us remember that.
Prayer helps us to learn to love as God loves.

Do not lose heart.
Pray always.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Pray always and do not lose heart.”

Sermon for Year C Creation 2


Think for a minute.
Do you owe someone, anyone a thank you?
Did someone have you over for dinner or treat you to lunch
or bring you a donut on a grey, rainy morning?
Did someone wash the dishes when it wasn’t their turn?
Did someone come over, give up their morning
to meet the furnace repair man
so you could attend a workshop?
Did your neighbor feed your dog when you were out of town?
Are you up to date with all your thank yous---
Or do you find yourself—like I do--
making a mental list of excuses—

I was all out of thank you cards.
I got swamped at work.
I think they already know I’m thankful.
I was tired.
I went out of town.
They went out of town.
I forgot.

The truth is
It is so much easier to remember what we need
and what we want
than to remember to give thanks
for all that we HAVE received.

It is difficult to cultivate a 24/7 attitude of gratitude.
It is rare to live a life of thanks-giving.
We pray, pray, pray for what we want, what we need,
and then when our prayers are answered,
we are done, and off we go—until the next thing we want or need.

Today’s gospel is the story of 10 people in desperate need.
Ten lepers whose deepest desire was to be healed.
There was no cure, no treatment for leprosy in the first century.

The ten lepers see Jesus enter a village
And they are desperate enough
to gingerly approach Jesus and, from a distance,
beg for his mercy.
He is their last resort.

Jesus does not disappoint them.
They were all made clean. They were all healed of their leprosy.
And off they went.

Only ONE turns back and says thank you.
Only ONE remembers to thank God for his blessing,
his healing, his being made whole .
Only one.
ONE out of ten.

But, for a moment, let me make some excuses for the other nine.
The nine did exactly what Jesus told them to do—
“Go and show yourself to the priests.”
Go, Jesus said.
And off they went.

In order to be accepted back into the daily life of a community,
a priest had to authorize that you were cured,
that you were clean.
(You can check out the book of Leviticus if you want more on that!)

Can you imagine being healed of leprosy—
suddenly realizing you could go home again?
You could see your family, hug your children,
shop in the marketplace!
It really should not surprise us at all
that only ONE thought to stop,
turn around and say thank you.

And yet…
and yet…
couldn’t they stop for ONE minute and say thank you
for this immense gift they had just received?

We all take a lot for granted.
We take our blessings for granted.
We take God for granted.

It is one of the reasons here at St. John’s
that we celebrate the Creation Season.
The eight weeks before Advent,
We remember the blessings of God’s created world.

We remember that with gift comes responsibility—
our stewardship,
for this “fragile earth our island home.”

I was up early on Friday morning
and when I stood outside and looked up at the dark sky,
it was scattered with stars!

The beauty took my breath away.
How easily I could have stood outside and just complained
about the chill in the air,
or lamenting that I had to get up so early….
but what a waste that would have been!
To miss thanking God for the stars in the heaven!

I have learned this week
that we must be thankful with more than words for creation.
Our thanks must also be in action, in caring for creation.

This week I heard Bill McKibben speak at Warren Wilson College.
If you don’t know Bill McKibben,
he is an environmentalist and writer.
He is part of an international campaign,
Of which many faith traditions are a part,
To reduce carbon emissions.
350 is the number that is the safe UPPER limit of carbon dioxide
in the atmosphere.
If we go above 350 we are in a state of climate crisis.

We are already at 390—
and we essentially zoomed up to that number
in the last 30 years.

Global warming is a rather charged political issue
but we, as people of faith,
need to hear it with our theological ears.
We are named by God to be the stewards of all God has created.

What would God have us do
as those who are called
to tend and care for this created world.?
Ignore it?
Hurry and go on our way?

Bill McKibben has been paying attention to his responsibility since 1984;
I have not.
Many of us have not.

As I listened to Bill McKibben speak I had a number of thoughts:
First of all, I thought about how much I take for granted.
I take for granted the beauty of the created world.
I take for granted all the many comforts I have—
many of them at the expense of the created world.
I take for granted that I will always have food to eat,
water to drink, gas for my car.

I take for granted that our trees will always turn glorious colors in autumn.
That I will always get to make my annual trek to Salter Path
and walk along the beach and wade in the Sound
and go out for great seafood at The Crab Shack.
I take for granted that God’s beautiful, perfectly created world
will go on and on and on. Forever and ever.

Bill McKibben made me aware that this “forever” is not likely,
if we continue on our current reckless path.

As I listened to Bill McKibben,
and as I read his latest book titled EAARTH,
I felt like I was hearing the voice of a prophet.
And it was not exactly a voice I welcomed.

I believe God still sends prophetic voices into our midst—
but we,
just like the people of ancient times
who rejected Jeremiah--and Amos and Hosea—
and the other prophets,
we don’t like what prophets have to say.
(The song on the jukebox back in those days would have been
“Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be prophets”!)

Nobody likes a prophet.

We don’t want to hear or believe that we might be messing things up,
that we might be behaving badly,
that our greed and self-serving ways may prove disastrous—
not just disastrous for us, but disastrous for others,
especially for generations to come.

We don’t want to hear or believe
that our actions—or lack of actions—are NOT pleasing to God.

Abraham Joshua Heschel writes in his book The Prophets:

Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony,
a voice to the plundered poor,
to the profane riches of the world….
God is raging in the prophet's words. (The Prophets Ch. 1)

God is raging writes Heschel.
God is raging and almost speechless at how we can be so ungrateful,
how we can take so much for granted.

(As Episcopalians, we don’t much care for the RAGING God.)

But God is not raging because God wishes to destroy US.
God is raging
because we are the destructive ones.
And we are so blind to our own actions—
Actions so often based on our needs and wants,
not on our thanks-givings.

God has truly given us everything.
A magnificently created world.
A true garden of Eden with animals and plants,
with food and water, with everything!
We take so much for granted.

Remember that ONE leper who remembered to say thank you?
He was on his way,
just like the other nine,
but then,
then he remembered.

He remembered that it was God who had made him well.
It was God who had rescued him from the darkness.
It was God who had healed him.
It was God who had given him life again.

The tenth leper turns around
walks back and falls on his face before Jesus.

We can go on our way,
Barreling through creation
Or we can stop,
Look around at all we have been given in creation,
And remember God.

We can become better stewards—
Not just through words but through action.

Yes, we may be just ONE in ten.
We may feel like a lone voice crying out in the wilderness,
speaking up FOR the wilderness,
FOR a suffering planet and suffering peoples.

We may be just ONE.
who is courageous enough and thankful enough
to take being a good steward of God’s creation seriously.

There is a saying, often attributed to Helen Keller,
simply because she used it so often,
But the saying was actually written
by her good friend Dr. Edward Everett Hale:

I am only one,

But still I am one.

I cannot do everything,

But still I can do something;

And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

What can we do?
Read the creation story in Genesis.
Read Bill McKibben’s books.
Go to to get a scientific viewpoint about global warming.
Plant a tree.
Ride a bike.
Take a hike.
Turn your thermostat down a few degrees this winter.
On occasion fall on your knees and give thanks.

Look around and see God’s creation
Make note of how good, how very good this creation is.
Give thanks and
accept the mantle of being God’s steward for this planet.

Maybe you are only ONE
but being ONE in ten
is so much better than being NONE in ten.

ONE is so much better than NONE.
Just ask Jesus.

Sermon for Year C Proper 21

Gates and Chasms

There was a rich man…
There was a poor man…

On this day when we are turning in our raffle ticket sales,
offering our pledge cards,
this is a difficult gospel.

Jesus is so clear in this story.
The rich man has had everything.
The rich man has taken it all for granted.
The rich man has lived as if he believed
he himself earned all these blessings.

Until he dies.
Until he dies and finds himself in Hades being tormented.
Until he dies and is face to face with Abraham.

The rich man is shocked.
Who is standing next to Abraham but Lazarus!
Yes, the very same poor, covered-with-sores Lazarus.
The very same man
the rich man used to treat like a dog—or worse.

The rich man winds up in Hades. Being tortured.
The poor man winds up in heaven. Surrounded by angels.

Abraham tells the rich man that, at last,
the great chasm has been fixed.
That great chasm that separates the rich from the poor
here in this earthly world—
yet in the kingdom of God, the poor are no longer the outcast.
The poor no longer reside outside the gate.
The poor no longer suffer and starve and have to beg.

Justice has come.
God has welcomed the poor and said,
Come! Stand here. Right beside me.

This is not how the rich man thought it would work out.
Or maybe the rich man hadn’t really given much thought
to how it would work out in the end.
When we live lives of comfort and abundance
we don’t really imagine not having
the same comfort and abundance—for ever.

Lazarus—and it is not a coincidence that the poor man is named by Jesus—
and the rich man is not.
This indicates to us that the rich man had so little contact with God,
that God did not even know his name.
Who needs God when you have wealth?
Who needs God when you have comfort and abundance?

The name Lazarus==translated from the Hebrew Eleazar—
means “God is my help”

God is all and everything Lazarus the poor man has.
The poor sometimes have a much deeper relationship with God
simply because they know what it is to be in need.

It is significant that Lazarus sits at the gate of the rich man.
He doesn’t sit on the other side of a high stone wall.
He sits at a gate.
Jesus is trying to tell us in this parable
that at any point
the rich man could have come and opened the gate
to Lazarus.
At any time, the rich man could have opened the gate
and welcomed Lazarus to eat at his table,
drink from his well,
have his sores bandaged and cared for.

But the rich man was too busy admiring himself in his purple and fine linen.
The rich man was too full from all his feasting.
Every day the rich man had a choice to go and fling wide that gate—
or even open it a tiny crack.
But he never did.

Lazarus sat there on the other side of the gate,
patiently waiting for any crumb that might be offered.
“Then he died” says the story.
Did he die from starvation?
Did he die because his wounds and sores would not heal, got infected?
Did he die from loneliness, depression?

Even when the rich man arrives in Hades
he still thinks he is the boss.
“Send Lazarus
to dip the tip of his finger in the water and cool my tongue.”

Even burning in hell,
the rich man looks at Lazarus and sees not a fellow human being
but a slave, a servant,
someone to order around, to use
for his own benefit.

Abraham has no words of comfort for the rich man.
Abraham takes a decidedly realistic point of view
And knows that no warning will do any good
For those who ignore God’s word.

This parable points to the future—
“neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

The rich, the comfortable think they have all the answers.

We too are separated by gates and chasms.
Who sits on the other side?

Undocumented workers.
People of different races, different religions.
Women who are paid significantly less than their male counterparts==
for exactly the same work.
People who are homeless.
The mentally ill. The disabled.
People we don’t agree with. People we think are wrong.

We each have to look at the gates we have that separate us from others.
God gives us choices, free will.
We can just keep going in and out of our gates,
never paying attention who is sitting on the outside,
or we can open our eyes
and see.
We can choose to open the gates,
Just as we can choose to keep them padlocked.
We choose.
We can prop the gate open
and welcome our brothers and sisters to join us at the feast.
It takes courage to leave a gate open.
Who knows who might come in?

If we are really brave we can even take the gate right off the hinges.
We can risk living in community.
We can talk to each other instead of ignoring each other.
We can talk WITH each other instead of ABOUT each other.

As we open the gates to others,
The gate between us and God swings open
wider and wider and wider.

As we open the gates to others,
Our hearts become more generous
and our lives become more vulnerable.

Is it terrifying
to risk letting go of the security of comfort and abundance
and always being “on top” in this earthly world
to open the gate and share what we have been given?
Indeed it is.

But Jesus tells this parable to show us the way.
Jesus tells this story so that we can let go of our “rich man” persona
and God can come to know us and call us by name.

Writer Anne Lamott says,
we only need two prayers.
Help me. Help me. Help me.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Lazarus understands.
Jesus wants us to understand, too.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sermon for Year C Proper 19

The Lost and Found Box

Where my husband works, at the Valle Crucis Conference Center,
they host many groups.
Some come for one overnight,
others stay multiple nights.
Young people come, older people come, all ages, all genders,
many faith traditions and even some business groups.

As at many places,
they have a lost and found box at the Conference Center.
People leave things behind.
We lose things.

I sent Tom an email this week and asked if he would give me a list
of all the things in his lost and found box on this one particular day.

Here’s the report:

Assorted books and notebooks
Bible in a black leather carrying case
Assorted pillows
Child’s stuffed cat (I believe it is a toy stuffed cat—not a real one!!)
Child’s stuffed fairy horse
Black belt
Printed scarf
Pair of black leather sandals—size 15
Empty suitcase (not sure what they packed in to go home!)
Camera chargers
Reading glasses
A knit hat
A Woman’s blouse

And the number one left behind item—
there are about 20 of these in the lost and found box at this time--
—cell phone chargers!

Sometimes people call when they leave something behind.
Some people will even pay to have it shipped to them.
But most people—
either they don’t know they lost the item,
or they can’t think WHERE and WHEN hey lost the item
or they don’t care.
Sometimes things are lost and never found.

Many of you have probably heard of—
or even kept—
a gratitude journal.
A journal where at the end of the day,
you write down 3 or 4 things that you are grateful for,
trying to think back over the day,
remembering the little blessings that we often forget.

As I read our gospel lesson for this week—
parables of lost sheep, lost coins—
as I thought about the piercing significance of this September 11th date--
I thought about what it would be to keep a “lost” journal.
Things I have lost.

Physical losses--
Losing our keys,
Losing one earring of our favorite pair,
Losing the elusive matching sock that goes into the dryer
and never come out,
Losing the ability to do push ups
(not sure I ever really found that one!)

Emotional losses—
Losing a friend,
losing our job,
losing our memory.

Landmark losses—
Having our house burn down,
Losing someone who was the love of our life,
Losing our innocence…

That would not be a very uplifting journal—things we have lost.
Yet those lost things always ride with us,
Sometimes out of mind,
but never really out of heart.

It is an interesting juxtaposition--
this gospel coinciding with September 11.
A day of loss—
not just for Americans,
but truly for the whole world.

Sometimes when the world or our own life is in pieces,
the truth is
we don’t have the energy or the heart or the faith
to go and look, to search.

We feel overwhelmed by the harsh reality
of knowing that time can never be rewound.
Life will never go back to what it once was.
Loss often changes everything.

Jesus’ parables today call us to trust that God is looking for us
and God will find us.

The message of today’s gospel
is how much God cares about those who are lost.
The message of today’s gospel
is that God never stops looking for us.
The message of today’s gospel
is that God’s deepest longing
is that we will be found. Each one of us.

A sheep is about as common a creature as one could find in Jesus’ day.
Sheep were not exotic animals.
Jesus does not tell us a parable about someone in Palestine
in search of a kangaroo.
Just another sheep. Just another common creature. Lost.

And goodness!
If you have ever had anything to do with sheep,
you know they wander away in a heartbeat.
That blade of grass on the other side of the fence?
It does indeed look better to a sheep’s eye
and they wiggle their way
through the barbed wire or the brambles
and then that blade of grass
leads to another blade of grass
leads to another
to another, to…
and then they look up…
and realize
they have wandered away from both flock and shepherd.
They are lost.
Some of us know too well what it is to be a wandering, lost sheep.

What an amazing parable to teach us that all the sheep matter.
ALL the sheep matter.
No one is common or insignificant to God.
God keeps calling. God keeps searching.
God is not the kind of shepherd who gives up.
Not the kind of shepherd who gets fed up and says “This just isn’t worth it!”

Lost coins.
Coins are about as inanimate as we can imagine inanimacy!
We might care if we lost a twenty-dollar bill,
but a penny?!!
Though I remember my mother
always keeping an eye out for lost pennies along the sidewalk,
or in a parking lot.
She would shriek with joy
as she bent over to pick up what she always dubbed
her “ lucky penny”.

She didn’t need those pennies to pay bills
or for any practical reason—
she just felt drawn to always keep an eye out
for the wayward coin.

God’s eye is like that too. Always on the lookout for the wayward coin.
If we listen carefully we might hear God shout with joy
when one of his “lucky pennies” shows up.
Lost coins—
dropped without care or concern or acknowledgement.
There are people like that too.
God is anxious to pick us up,
dust us off, and delight that we are found.

Today’s gospel is not about you.
It is not about me.
It is all about God.

Jesus is teaching us about the nature of God, the way of God.

Yes, we get lost. We go lost.
We wander away—sometimes on purpose, sometimes accidentally.

We need to understand that God is always looking for us.
We need to understand that God is both patient and persistent.

Imagine God walking around with a gigantic, enormous lost and found box.
The sweet lambs and the black sheep.
The lucky pennies and the bounced checks.
All sorts, all kinds, all conditions.
Here we are.
All tumbled together in God’s box of the beloved.

God loves us all. Every single one of us.
Lost and found.

No one is forgotten.
No one.

That may not be our way
But that is the way of God.

That is the good news.
That is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sermon for Year C Proper 18

Jesus Groupies

We lived in Memphis, Tennessee at the time.
Our son Jody was in high school
and when he heard the Grateful Dead were coming to Memphis,
he really, really, really
wanted tickets to that concert.
He and a friend went and stood in line for hours to get their tickets—
But by the time they got to the ticket window,
the concert was sold out.

My husband Tom’s youngest brother Henry
was already living in Los Angeles where he still lives today.
Henry had a high powered, fast-lane position with a big marketing firm
with lots of impressive clients.
Somehow he had a connection
with the rock and roll band The Grateful Dead.

Tom called his brother Henry with a long-shot hope
that maybe—MAYBE--
Henry could get Jody two tickets for the Memphis concert.
And Henry came through.
Our son was thrilled.

Except on the weekend of the concert,
Jody got sick.
The kind of virus that you know you are in no way leaving the house.
And the friend who was supposed to go with him—same virus.

So my husband Tom decided
that WE should go to The Grateful Dead concert.

Now I had listened to Grateful Dead’s music back when I was in college—
Everybody listened to their music in the 1970’s!
I liked their music
but I wasn’t too sure I wanted to go
to this sold out late night concert.
But since Tom really wanted to go, I said yes—
plus that way the tickets would not go to waste---
and we’d have an answer when Henry called and asked,
“So how was the concert?”

Then I realized the concert was on the same night
that theologian and writer Marcus Borg
was to speak at our church.

But, once again, Tom had the perfect solution.
Our church, Calvary Episcopal, was right downtown,
just a few blocks away from the Pyramid,
where the Grateful Dead concert would be held.

Marcus Borg was speaking at 7 pm.
The concert did not begin until 9 pm.
We could hear Marcus Borg and then just walk over to the concert.
What could I say?

Now if you are not familiar with Marcus Borg
he is one of the theologians in a group
known as “the Jesus Seminar.”
One of the activities undertaken by this group of Bible scholars
has been to consider and actively discuss
everything accredited to Jesus in the gospels.
Based on their academic knowledge,
they then vote in one of three ways—
YES, I believe Jesus really did say that –OR--
MAYBE Jesus could have said that –OR--
NO, I don’t think Jesus really said that.
This group of scholars has done a lot more than this
but that is what you always hear in the media.

Anyway, Marcus Borg’s lecture that night was excellent.
His lecture was about what life
was probably like in the time when Jesus lived
and what it was like to follow Jesus at that time.

He talked about the crowds following Jesus.
He pointed out that at a certain point,
there is little doubt that Jesus had become well-known enough--
(Trust me, word of mouth can travel faster than the internet
at times—even today!!)—
at a certain point
there were probably some people following Jesus
just because it had become the thing to do.

Undoubtedly not everyone who traveled with Jesus was a believer
or understood what Jesus was teaching.
We know that even Jesus’ own closest disciples
sometimes did not understand what he was saying.
Jesus comments on this more than once.

In fact, there were probably some people
who were traveling along with the Jesus crowd
who had not even heard Jesus speak. Not ever.
They just—as the saying goes—went along with the crowd.

So in today’s gospel,
it is important to note this first sentence—
“Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus….”
This is the group that Jesus is addressing in today’s gospel.

You have to wonder how large the crowd was—or how small it was—
AFTER he finished speaking.
Because essentially this is what he said:
“You want to be my disciple?
Let me tell you what that means.
You are going to have to learn to hate your family,
to give up all you own, all your possessions,
and to be ready for a brutally ugly death.”

Not exactly the Dale Carnegie how to win friends and influence people
sort of conversation, is it?

Jesus wants people to really think through
what it means to be his follower.
He wants people to be aware of what the consequences might be.

Jesus is not saying that our families do not matter
or that we should ignore our families in the name of God.
Jesus is not saying that possessions are evil—
In Luke’s gospel he says nothing
about selling all we have and giving it to the poor.
He simply points out that sometimes there comes a need
to travel lightly.

Jesus is just realistically saying
being a follower, being fully committed to God,
is a difficult journey and a dangerous journey.
I just finished reading the book BETWEEN TWO WORLDS
by Roxana Saberi.
Roxana Saberi is an Iranian-American journalist,
who was forced from her home by four men
and secretly detained in Iran’s notorious Evin prison in 2009.
To neighbors and family alike
she was there one day and gone the next.

This 31 year old young woman was falsely accused of espionage.
She was accused of being a spy for the CIA.
She was eventually freed--
thanks to the intervention of our government and others
and also her very determined parents--
but those four months living in harsh prison conditions,
knowing that at any moment she could be executed,
changed everything about her life.

Interestingly enough, when she believes she has lost everything—
her family, her friends, her possessions, her vocation--
when she accepts that her fate may be
to spend the rest of her life in prison—or even to lose her life--
she surprisingly finds her faith deepened and strengthened.
She also finds that she is stronger than she ever imagined.

Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and he knows
that immense strength is needed for this journey he has undertaken.

This is why he tells the crowd
they need to be very mindful and very cautious
about being a follower of his.

Now back to Marcus Borg and the Grateful Dead.
After Tom and I left the church that night
we began walking towards the concert venue.
The size of the crowds, the number of people, was overwhelming.

I finally understood what it was to be a “groupie.”
These people crowding the sidewalks around the Pyramid
were not just fans of the group The Grateful Dead—
they seemed to be fans of being part of the group itself.
They were groupies of the group of groupies.

There were people camped out all around the Pyramid downtown.
Some were in brightly painted school buses.
A few seemed to be staying in tents.
Some seemed to be just wandering aimlessly about, rather lost.
Some were cooking their supper—yes, over open fires—
right there in downtown Memphis.

Some had laid out blankets on the ground
and were selling beads and tie dye t-shirts and…
well, let’s just say “herbs.”
There was Grateful Dead music booming from boom boxes.
There were people singing and dancing and laughing.

I felt like I was walking through a bustling first century marketplace
After all, we had just left Marcus Borg with his images
of the large crowds following Jesus.
Suddenly I felt like I really understood—
I saw it, I got it.

Some people were following because their hearts called them to follow--
they could do nothing else even if they had wanted to.
Some people were following
because anything was better than staying at home.
Some people were following because they were looking for something,
and maybe, maybe this was it.
Some people were following out of deep and abiding love.
And some people were just along for the ride, along for the song.

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus.

I sometimes wonder who I am in this crowd following Jesus.
Some days I think I can really say I am a follower of Jesus.
Other days, it feels like I am just going along with the crowd.

Can we really be the disciples we are called to be?
Can we understand how much we are loved by God?
Can we let go of all the things that get in the way?

Being a true disciple of Jesus is costly--
it is not just a good-time ride with Uncle John’s band.

But even if we aren’t perfect disciples,
maybe there is still something to being a “groupie” for Jesus.
Maybe we are transformed in some ways
by just showing up over and over and over for worship.
Maybe we are changed by just letting the gospel
wash over us and into us like a well-loved song—
even when we don’t fully understand what is being taught,
even when we aren’t really sure we are a believer
much less a follower.

Maybe one day we wake up in our worldly prison
and surprisingly find that our faith has deepened,
our hearts have been transformed
and everything
about how we live our lives changes.

Every Grateful Dead concert closes with the same song.
It is this same song they sing after Compline at Camp Henry:

Lay down, dear children,
Lay down and take your rest.
Won’t you lay your head
upon your Savior’s breast?
I love you so
but Jesus loves you the best.
And I bid you
Good night,
Good night,
Good night.

The concert closes. The worship ends.
The crowds are sent out into the world.

Maybe being a Jesus groupie is just coming to know we are loved.
No matter what.
No matter where.
No matter when.

Sermon for Tom Warren's Burial Service

Life is Short

There is a blessing that we use sometimes
at the end of our Sunday worship service.
It goes like this:

Life is short.
And we do not have much time
to gladden the hearts
of those who travel with us.
So be quick to love
and make haste to be kind…

Over and over again
Jesus tells us there are really only two things we need to know,
Two things we need to do:
Love God. Love one another.

I only knew Tom Warren for three years.
I realize that is a much, much, much shorter time
than so many of you knew Tom.

But it did not take long
to discover that Tom Warren understood what Jesus was saying:
Love God. Love one another.
Everything I saw in Tom—
in both Tom and his beloved wife Ann —
spoke volumes that he—they—
understood and understand
what love is all about.

You see love is not frivolous.
Love is not a nice-to-do if you have the time.
Love is the heart of the gospel.
Love is the mandate—love is the very thing Jesus commands us to do.
Love needs to be at the heart of our lives---every day, every moment.

Imagine how the world might change
if every word spoken, if every action taken was infused with love.

What better place to start than in our own lives.

Be quick to love.
Make haste to be kind.

I believe that Tom Warren was indeed a man who was quick to love.
And I have absolutely no doubt
that he was a man who made haste to be kind.

Even in the midst of Alzheimer’s Disease,
a disease so cruel that it can rob you of your whole being,
Tom was never robbed of his love or his kindness.

I can still see him chuckling when Ann told a story about their lives.
I can still see him in the bright red blazer coming into church.
I can still see him struggling his hardest to move from wheelchair to car seat
with Ann as his loving coach.
Often when we are reduced
to some of the most difficult situations of our lives
the heart of whom we really are shines forth.

Now I am sure that his family, especially Ann, could tell us of a few times
when Tom needed to up his dose of love and kindness—
but don’t we all have those times?
Don’t we all depend on those who love us to remind us?

Tom was a true man of God—
and a true man of God is one who knows how to love
and does not hesitate to be kind.

We heard in our gospel reading,
Jesus saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
To Tom’s family I say,
hold on to those words.
I do not believe that Jesus was saying do not grieve, do not cry,
do not acknowledge the depth of your pain.
Jesus knew about losing people he loved.
Jesus knew about pain and suffering.
Do not let your hearts be troubled—
Because I am right here beside you.
Every step of the way.

Tom has joined those others
that we still love but see no longer.
I will miss him. You will miss him even more.
You will probably miss him every single day for the rest of your lives.

When Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,”
He is letting us know that Tom is just fine.
Tom is great, in fact.
Tom has found his way to truth and life that has no end.

But here we are.
We are still here.
How do we survive such loss?
Love God. Love one another.
Look to God and to one another for comfort and care.
Live each day to its fullest because indeed,
no matter the length of our life,
Life IS short.

Make haste to be kind.
To one another.
To family and friends but also to strangers.
Love and kindness open the door
so that we might see the face of Jesus in every one we meet.
And they in turn see likewise.

Love does conquer all things.
Faith, hope and love—
the greatest of these—indeed—the greatest of these is love.
Tom Warren’s life was a testament to that kind of great love.

Life is short.
And we do not have much time
to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us.
So be quick to love
And make haste to be kind…

And the blessing of God who loves you
be upon you this day
and ever more.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sermon for Year C Proper 14

Resting in the Peace of God

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be

So begins a poem by Wendell Berry.
A poem titled The Peace of Wild Things.

Funny thing is,
when I was trying to remember this poem,
I remembered the title as being
The FEAR of Wild Things—
which probably tells you a lot about how I feel
about wild things.

Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid, little flock.
It is a command
but a very, very tender command.

We hear it in our gospel reading today
but we have heard it before and we will hear it again and again and again in scripture.
Do not be afraid.
Fear not.

After the sermon and the Creed and the Prayers of the People
and the Confession and the Absolution,
we come to the time in our worship service
where I come to the center
in front of the altar,
and I say to you,
The peace of the Lord be with you.

And you say back to me,
And also with you.
And then I respond to you, saying,
Let us offer one another a sign of God’s peace.

This is not just a howdy-do and how’s the weather time and greeting.
It’s not a mini-coffee hour social time—
we greet one another in the name of God,
we reach out to one another with the heart of Jesus,
the mind of Christ.

When we greet each other,
with a handshake, with a hug,
with the words, “God’s peace”
or the “The peace of the Lord”
We are reminding one another,
Do not be afraid.

We do not keep God’s peace to ourselves.
We shake hands and hug and give God’s peace to others.
We give away
the peace of the Lord.
That is part of our work as the little flock, as Jesus calls us.

What more precious gift could we offer to one another
in a world that hangs thick
with despair and fear at times.
Do not be afraid.

There is a line from another poem,
one by Robert Frost,
that opens with its title line,
I have been acquainted with the night.

I have been acquainted with the night.
We have all known darkness in our life.
We have all shivered with fear at one time or another.
We have all felt overwhelmed by despair.
For some of us
it feels as if fear and despair and darkness own us.

What Jesus comes to tell us in the gospel reading today
is simply this:
Do not be afraid.
Fear is not God’s dream for us.

God’s dream
is to give us everything.
God’s dream is to give us the whole kit and kaboodle of the kingdom.
Imagine that!

Jesus wants us to be dressed for action,
to be ready to receive what is offered to us.
He tries to tell us
how to make space for the kingdom in our lives,
where to find the oil that will keep our lamps burning bright.

Some of his advice we do not particularly want to hear:
Sell your possessions.
Give alms.
Where your treasure it,
there your heart will be also.

All Jesus is trying to teach us
is how to live
without being overwhelmed by despair and fear.

All Jesus is trying to teach us
is that possessions—
those things, that stuff—
the big stuff
like money, cars, houses, pensions--
can crumble and disappear
before our very eyes.
And the little stuff-
our Smartphones, designer purses, cute shoes,
our grande no fat-no foam latte--
may delight momentarily
but sooner or later wear out and are empty.

God wants us to have the real thing.
(And I’m not talking Coca-Cola!)

Part of our foolishness and our self-deception
is believing that worldly stuff can conquer fear .

Sometimes we even invite and allow thieves
to come live in our house—
these thieves come in many shapes and sizes--
alcohol, food, drugs,
work, shopping, lying, hoarding,violence—
we believe these thieves will protect us, give us peace.
But at best, these thieves numb us to our real feelings.
At worst, they can kill us
And kill the relationships that matter most to us.
These thieves separate us from God and one another.

Jesus could have said,
Don’t be so stupid, little flock.
But instead—and it’s important to remember his gentleness here,
Instead, he said,
Do not be afraid, little flock.

Do not be afraid
to let go of things that do not bring you peace.
Do not be afraid
to travel lightly in this world.
Do not be afraid
to be part of a little flock
that will be there to bleat and baah and make a ruckus
when you wander away
and will leap with joy
when you find your way home again.
Do not be afraid to face your fears.
Do not be afraid
because God is with you.
God loves you.
God dreams for you the everything.

I do not think it is a coincidence
That so many people ask for Psalm 23
be read at their burial service.
I want to close with two versions of the 23rd Psalm.

The first is from the Bay Psalm Book.
This was the first book printed in North America,
printed in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Psalms in the Bay Psalm book
are metrical translations into English.

The second is a version written by Bobby McFerrin.
Remember Bobby Mc Ferrin—Don’t worry, be happy?

Listen to the two versions of this psalm as you hold in your hearts
the line from today’s gospel:
Do not be afraid little flock.

Psalm 23
(from The Bay Psalm Book)

The Lord to me a shepherd is
want therefore shall not I:
He in the folds of tender grass,
doth cause me down to lie:
To waters calm me gently leads
restore my soul doth he:
He doth in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake lead me.
Yea, though in valley of death’s shade
I walk, none ill I’ll fear:
Because thou art with me, thy rod,
and staff my comfort are.
For me a table thou hast spread,
in presence of my foes:
Thou dost anoint my head with oil,
my cup it overflows.
Goodness and mercy surely shall
all my days follow me:
And in the Lord’s house I shall dwell
so long as days shall be. Amen.

This next version of Psalm 23 is from Bobby McFerrin.
He offers us a feminine image of God.
As you listen, remember Jesus’ words: Do not be afraid, little flock.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I have all I need,

She makes me lie down in green meadows,

Beside the still waters, She will lead.

She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs, 

She leads me in a path of good things,

And fills my heart with songs.

Even though I walk, through a dark and dreary land,

There is nothing that can shake me,

She has said She won't forsake me,

I'm in her hand.

She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes,

She anoints my head with oil, 

And my cup overflows.

Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me,

All the days of my life,

And I will live in her house,

Forever, forever and ever.

Glory be to our Mother, and Daughter,

And to the Holy of Holies,

As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,

World, without end.

Sermon for Year C Proper 15

Settling up

Think back.
Think back to Christmas Eve.
We were here in this church,
and the lights were turned way down.
We held our little candles in the dark
and we sang:
Silent night, holy night…
Sleep in heavenly peace,

Today’s gospel is certainly not one of heavenly peace!
It’s as if Jesus has turned the spotlight on us,
and all we hear ringing in our ears is “You hypocrits!”
Jesus is shouting,
I came to bring fire to the earth
And how I wish
it was already kindled.

What happened to sweet baby Jesus?
What did we do?
In today’s gospel, it sounds like Jesus wants to torch us all!!

But wait!
Jesus is not talking about hellfire and damnation.
Jesus is referring to what his friend and cousin John the Baptizer said,
predicting that one would come
who would baptize not with just water,
but with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Remember the day of Pentecost?
When the Holy Spirit arrives
and flames shoot out the top of the disciples’ heads?
Just take a look at the painting hanging over our retable!
Do you see the fire?

Jesus does not want to throw us in a burning fire pit.
He’s just wondering what happen to our flames?
Where’s the Spirit now?

Jesus came to kindle love, to set our hearts on fire
with the love of God and the love for one another.

This is the fire that Jesus sees lacking, missing, absent.
To be absolutely blunt
Jesus is disappointed in the disciples—and in us.

Because instead of love,
Jesus looks out over the world, over his disciples,
and what he sees is conflict.

Not love-- but hatred and division.
Even over issues of religion.
This was not God’s hope, not God’s dream.

We take the gift of unconditional love
and we feed it into the shredder
like it’s junk mail.

In today’s gospel Jesus is asking us,
What on earth do your think you are doing?
Conflict and division abound.

Listen to some of these headlines and stories
from The New York Times this week:

Hospitals are battlegrounds of discontent
…patients or their relatives attacked more than 5,500 medical workers [in one year]

…[NY Mets baseball player]Francisco Rodriguez was charged with third-degree assault early Thursday morning after assaulting his father-in-law at Citi Field..

…Her parents began having screaming arguments, complete with shattering glassware.

…Bloody protests in Kashmir have led India to one of its most serious internal crises and signal the failure of decades of Indian efforts to win peace in the region.

That’s just a taste of the conflict on the national and world scene.
Many of us also know too well
what conflict in a family looks like, sounds like, feels like.
Conflict at work, conflict at school.
Conflict with our neighbor.

Jesus knew that loving one another was not going to be easy.
Jesus knew that there would be divisions and there would be disagreements.

But Jesus also knows we received the power
to work these things out.
Remember Pentecost?
Remember the Holy Spirit?
It landed on us, too!

It is much more difficult to face and work through a conflict,
a disagreement,
than to just punch someone, or write a nasty letter,
or to just walk away and avoid someone.

We are often willing to talk ad infinitum with everyone around us--
EXCEPT the person that we are criticizing, judging, raging against.
We’re on fire alright—but not with love.

Jesus tells us in this gospel passage what to do:
what to do before things get so out of control:
Make an effort.

Make an effort—those are Jesus’ exact words—
Make an effort to settle the case.

We can’t settle things if we don’t talk to one another.
We can’t settle things if we don’t listen to one another.

I have recently discovered
that you can turn on the television
almost any time of day or night
and find a courtroom reality show on some channel—
Judge Judy or Joe Brown or People’s Court.

These shows are everywhere.
And if you watch them
you quickly see how ridiculous most conflicts are.

People don’t talk to one another.
People don’t listen to one another.
People certainly haven’t even crossed the threshold of loving one another.
People certainly made no effort to take Jesus’ advice and try
to settle things before they arrive in the courtroom.

They take someone’s clothes and throw them into the yard or out a window.
They key someone’s car or slash their tires.
They take someone to court over a frivolous incident.

It never seems to cross their minds that they could be wrong,
and the other person could be right.
It never seems to cross their minds
that there are ways to settle disagreements
without someone having to be the loser.

I think Jesus is trying to teach his disciples something
that we still need to learn.
It is absolutely impossible to be on fire with the love of God
if our daily practice is to throw a bucket of cold water—
or worse—
on our neighbor.

in the world.
in the community.
in the church.
In the family
In our soul.

Conflict only breeds more conflict.

Not a pretty picture.
No wonder Jesus is so fed up at the moment.
I think Jesus also knew that real love is a difficult journey.

The letter to the Hebrews says,
Let us run with perseverance
the race that is set before us.
It doesn’t take perseverance to run an easy race, a short race.

We have to want to love God so much
that we don’t give up on trying to love other people.

What does it mean to really love?

There is a children’s book called The Velveteen Rabbit
by Margery Williams.
Some of you may know it.
It is the story of a cloth—a velveteen—rabbit.
The rabbit asks another stuffed animal, “What is real?”

The other stuffed animal, the Skin Horse, replies,
“When you are loved,
really loved, for a long time,
then you are real..
it’s not how you are made…
it’s a thing that happens to you…
it takes a long time…”

God really loves us
and God will keep loving us for a long time.
We are called to that same long term love.
God deeply desires for us to grow in love with one another.

This type of “real love” requires us, as the psalmist wrote,
“to behold and tend this vine.”

Tom and I tried a new form of gardening this year.
We have not weeded our garden at all.
That’s right.
We have not pulled one single weed.

We decided to that if we don’t care how the garden looks,
then weeding doesn’t matter.
The vegetables will grow
just as the weeds grow.
And there will be plenty of produce,
Plenty of “good fruit.”

What we have learned this summer is this:
We were wrong!!
Very, very wrong!!

If we don’t care enough to tend our gardens,
the weeds will choke out the good plants.

Weeds will suck up all the energy
that could be producing all that is good to eat.

This is what Jesus was trying to warn his disciples about.
Don’t let the weeds choke out what really matters.
Don’t let your harsh words and conflicts and divisions
choke out the love and grace that has been given to you--
and is so eager to grow---
but only if you tend it.

Love takes much more perseverance,
much more creativity,
much more patient-kindling of the fire
than abandoning ourselves
to the fast-growing weeds
of conflict and division.

Dorothy Day said,
“I really only love God
as much as I love the person
I love the least."

We can walk away and slam the door
or we can offer our neighbor a key.
We can build walls
or we can build bridges.
We can join the criticizers and complainers
or we can join the joyful cloud of witnesses.
Conflict or communion?

You may have read the book
Or seen the movie that is recently out in theatres—
Eat. Pray. Love.

This is what Jesus is asking us to do.
Not to re-enact the story in that book or movie
but the title is a fine guide to how we can make the effort
to settle our divisions and our disagreements.
Eat. Pray. Love.

Come to this table and share the feast.
At God’s table
we receive food for the journey,
sustenance for running the race with perseverance.

Prayer opens us in ways that are hard to believe
and impossible to understand.
Prayer is not a means of controlling the world,
prayer changes and transforms us.

Love God. Love one another.
Be prepared for the long haul.
Leave this place and go out into the world and love.
Give love away abundantly.

We have been given the power, given the fire.
We can choose to torch the world and one another—
or we can choose to use that fire to spread the good news
and to share the light of Christ.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sermon for Year C Proper 13

No Bigger Barns Needed

The first summer Tom and I ever planted a garden
we planted about three long—I mean really long---rows
of zucchini.
We thought you only got one zucchini from each plant.

Needless to say by the end of the summer
we had A LOT of zucchini—
some about the size of small submarines!
If you want to understand abundance,
plant zucchini!

Now even novice gardeners don’t think of building newer, bigger barns
to house all their zucchini--
but we also don’t live in a country
that knows famine—
at least not in our lifetime.

I think this is important to understand
lest we be too judgmental
of the man who thinks he needs to build bigger barns
to house his abundance of crops.

This man has no doubt seen crops fail and people starve.
He doesn’t want that to happen to him.

Yes, we know this story as the parable of the rich fool.
And indeed, he is rich
and Jesus is quick to point out his foolishness.
But he is not a bad man.
He no doubt worked hard to produce these crops.

What Jesus wants us to understand from this parable
is that what we really need,
what we really long for,
what will make us truly happy has nothing to do with bigger barns.
Jesus is reminding us that life is short and unpredictable.
Keeping the abundance all to ourselves
will not lengthen our lives or make us happy.

It is easy to hear the parable and think “Oh, that man is so greedy!
I can’t believe he isn’t going to share.
How foolish to even think about tearing down his barns
just to build bigger ones!”

It is much more difficult to see our own greed and foolishness.
Our own “looking for love in all the wrong places.”

But parables are never about other people—
parables are always about us.
When Jesus starts in on a parable,
the hair on our arms should stand up and prickle,
because the truth is,
Jesus is saying,
Let me hold up this mirror right in front of your face.
Oh, Look! It’s you in this story!

Most of us have at least flirted with
the enticing prospect of winning the lottery
or being named the new American Idol--
suddenly having more money
than we know what to do with!

Our 21st century barns are not the type to hold extra grain—
our barn expansions are bigger houses, newer cars,
the latest toys and technology,
a rock-solid pension plan--
everything that money can buy!

It makes us extremely nervous and fearful
when we think we might not have enough—
for now or for the future.

That same anxiety and fear about the future
is probably what prompted the man to approach Jesus
and ask him to settle a dispute over an inheritance.
He wanted more. He wanted to feel secure.

Jesus doesn’t step into that triangle of family dispute
but instead tells a story—a parable—to try to help the man
(and us)
see the danger of caring so much about material possessions.

I don’t think Jesus is saying that material things are all bad.
We do live in a material world
and in a sense we are all, as Madonna pointed out,
material girls—and boys!

Some of the best work we do,
as individuals and as the church,
is outreach done to improve the material lives
of people in need—
to build and repair houses,
to provide food and clothing.
to purchase medical supplies
for those hit by disaster.
There are very real material needs in our community and in the world.
Material needs that are not one bit frivolous.

But the way we worry and fret over material things—
especially our own material things--
often distracts us from what really matters.

Sit across from a doctor who tells you or someone you love
that you have stage IV cancer,
and I imagine the last thing on your mind
will be what kind of car you drive,
or whether you should upgrade your mobile smartphone
or even your 401(k).

I think as Christians this is a very familiar message:
we are called to live believing in God’s abundance
not scarcity.
And we are called to give and to share accordingly.

Yet it is a struggle.
A daily struggle.

We tend to think of people like Bill Gates and Donald Trump
and Lady Gaga as the “rich” ones.
I’m not rich.
And then Jesus holds up that mirror.

The mirror asks hard questions.

Was having breakfast this morning a choice for you?
Were you able to get the needed loan to buy a car?
Do you have cable tv? Internet? TIVO?
Do you have clean and safe water to drink?
Do we have so much food that we let mold grow on the leftovers—
you know that bowl that got pushed to the back of the refrigerator—
and then hold our nose as we dump it out?

I remember my first week at seminary.
There was a garbage can just outside the door
where we put our lunch trays and dishes to be washed.
There was a student from Tanzania
who stood at that garbage can weeping that first week.
When asked what was wrong,
he replied,
“There is enough food being thrown away
to feed my entire village.”

Indeed we are rich.

Tom and I recently saw the movie “Winter’s Bone.”
If you are a lover of movies,
I highly recommend it though I will warn you that it is hard to watch.
It was a powerful reminder to me
that there are families right now, in our own communities,
who are hungry,
who live daily with the reality of violence,
who do not have enough
and no one seems to really notice.

In one scene the little boy asks his older sister—
knowing that their neighbors have just killed a deer and have meat—
“Couldn’t we just ask them to give us some?”

The sister replies, “No. You don’t ask for what should be offered.”

I have thought a lot about that line.
When I first heard it I thought it was just the older sister’s pride speaking.
And probably that is part of it.

But I think there is a powerful spiritual truth to that statement.
Why should she have to ask?
When there is plenty—why are we—the neighbors—not offering?
Are we so completely blinded by our overflowing barns?

The Greek word is pleonexia—it translates literally as
“the yearning to have more.”

The yearning to have more.
Pleonexia sounds nicer than greed, doesn’t it?
But it is really the same beast.
It is a beast we know too well.
We are too often dissatisfied with the manna of enough;
we yearn for the more and the more and the more.

This may be the way of the world,
but it is clearly not the way of God.

Why must we be asked to be generous?
Why must we be prodded to share?
Shouldn’t we just do that automatically as people of God?

We fool ourselves in believing
that if we can just get enough money in the bank
and food on our shelves
and possessions in our houses
then we will be safe.
THEN we can be generous.
THEN we can give.

Jesus tells this parable to remind us that it is always later than we think.

The way to real life is to give our lives away,
to offer before we are asked,
to share all we have, all we are.
to put aside our rich and foolish ways.

Bigger barns are not needed..
Only bigger hearts.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sermon Year C Proper 12

Sermon for Year C Proper 12
July 25, 2010
Trinity Episcopal Church, Chocowinity, NC
The Rev. Jeanne Finan

Ask, Search, Knock

Many months ago, Sonny Browne,
your beloved rector and my beloved friend,
called and asked me if I might want to supply for him
while he was on sabbatical.

Sonny, I replied,
I would love to help you in any way I can,
but I have my own parish—St. John’s in Asheville.

Sonny said, I know that --
but I just thought I would call.
I just thought I would ask.
I thought perhaps you and Tom (my husband)
might like to come and enjoy a week in beautiful Chocowinity.

Most of you know Sonny well enough
that you know it is difficult to say no to him.
He has such a nice way of asking.
And who could refuse an invitation like that?
Who would not want to leave the high cool mountains of North Carolina
in late July,
come east across the state--
to where the heat index is predicted to be 110 degrees today!

The truth is--it’s been hot in Asheville too!
The truth is Chocowinity is a lovely place
and you, the people of Trinity, are as lovely as Sonny told me.

Thank you for the invitation to join you today.
Unfortunately, my husband was unable to join me.
He is the director of the Valle Crucis Conference Center—
just as you have Trinity Center in this diocese
we have Valle Crucis (which is Latin for “Vale of the Cross”)
as our Episcopal Conference Center in Western NC.

Tom sends you his greetings and an invitation
that for your next parish retreat you should come to the mountains!

Our gospel reading for this Sunday has the disciples asking Jesus:
Lord, teach us to pray.

Teach us to pray.
Prayer is so important, so vital to our lives as people of God.

Theologian and scholar C. S. Lewis wrote:

I pray because I can’t help myself.
I pray because I’m helpless.
I pray because the need flows out of me all the time—
waking and sleeping.
It doesn’t change God—it changes me.

When the disciples plead, “Teach us to pray,”
Jesus responds by teaching them what we now call
“The Lord’s Prayer”:

“Okay,” says Jesus,
“try this…
when you pray, say..
Father, hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come…

Jesus is giving them the words to get them started--
much as we might say,
..turn to page 364
in the Book of Common Prayer.
When we are without words, for whatever reason,
words are given.

But Jesus also knows the disciples are not just asking for words.
Jesus knows their real longing is for a deeper relationship with God,
a connectedness that seems missing.

In a way they are saying,
You know Jesus, we must not be doing this prayer thing right
because it seems like God isn’t hearing us.
So many of our prayers just don’t get answered.

Ask and it will be given you.
Search and you will find.
Knock and the door will be opened for you.

This does not always seem to play out in our lives.

What about that pony I prayed for when I was 7 years old?
What about my friend who died
when everyone I know was praying for her to live?
God, didn’t you hear us asking?

What about that job that just doesn’t seem to be appearing?
What about true love? What about a bigger bank account?
Where are they?
God, haven’t you seen us looking?

Oh, we knock. We knock and knock and knock.
But we are not going to hang around on your front porch all day, God-
waiting for you to come and answer the door.
We’re busy too you know!
God, maybe you can just get on Facebook--
and we can be friends that way.

Where are you?
Why do you not hear my prayers?

I think God might say
Why do you think I do not hear?
Why do you think I do not care?
Why do you think I do not love you?

Somewhere along the way
we got sidetracked into believing that we could boss God around,
set the agenda, get our way, put God on our time schedule,
and do it through prayer.
Our little token offering to God so we can get what we want.

But prayer is not a means, as one writer put it,
of ringing up God like some cosmic bellboy.

Jesus is trying to teach his disciples
that prayer is connecting with God
from the deepest part of our being—
from the center of our souls—
and learning not only to speak from that center
but to listen from that center place.

Writer Anne Lamott says we only really need two prayers:
The first prayer is Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
The second prayer is Help me! Help me! Help me!

I like those two prayers. They are honest and direct.
Prayer is about being brutally honest and open.
Prayer is sharing with One
who cares more about us than we can ask or imagine.
Prayer is not about getting our way or our wishes.

Prayer is about speaking from our heart—
our deepest desires, our darkest fears and our most illuminated hopes.
The truth is
God already knows all these things.
Prayer is offering it all to God.

Prayer is about the asking, the searching, the knocking.
It’s in the process, the practice of prayer
that is when we come to feel God’s presence,
to know God’s love.

Sonny and I have a mutual friend
also from our days together at Virginia Theological Seminary.
Her name is Glenda McQueen and she is from Panama.

After we graduated, Glenda returned to Panama,
was ordained to the priesthood
and was assigned by her Bishop
to serve 4 parishes
in the somewhat remote but very beautiful province
of Boca del Toro.

One of these parishes is on an island
and the only way to get there was is take a taxi—
a taxi that comes in the form of a canoe.

Her first Sunday morning serving
Glenda did the early morning service at one of her churches
and then raced down to catch the canoe taxi
out to the island for her next service of the day.

But the canoe
had already left.
She was very distressed.
She knew she was going to be very late
by the time the taxi traveled across the water,
dropped his passengers on the island,
came back across the water,
picked her up,
and then went back over to the island.

She sat there worrying and fretting and feeling terrible.
Her fear was that people would give up on her
and leave and go home.

Finally—finally-- the canoe appeared.
She climbed in.
She was so anxious by this point
that she had to truly resist
grabbing the paddle right out of the boatman’s hands.

No need to tell the boatman to “step on it”—
because a canoe can go only so fast.

Plus she had a strong sense
that the church would already be empty
by the time she arrived—
almost 2 hours late.
Not a very good beginning for her first Sunday.

But when she arrived,
the church was full.
No one had left.
Everyone had waited.
They had gone ahead and had their refreshments
and social time--—their “coffee hour”---
before the service.

When she arrived,
no one tapped their watch,
not one person said, “You’re late!”

No one was angry or disappointed with her.
Quite the opposite.

They were happy to see her.
They embraced her.
brought her something cool to drink.

When she began to apologize they stopped her.
It’s fine, they said.
We knew you would come.
We knew you would come.

Imagine if we approached our prayers with that spirit of grace.

Lord, teach us to pray…
Teach us
to say our prayers.
to pray from our hearts.
to ask and search and knock—
and to not always be watching the clock or the calendar.

Teach us to empty ourselves of anger and disappointment and skepticism
and let our hearts be filled only
with love.

Help us to resist
trying to grab the paddles
or hurry the boatman.

Teach us to pray with hearts that say
I know you will come.
I know you will come, God.
I know you will come.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sermon for Year C Proper 10

In the Ditch

Today’s gospel is probably the best known of all of Jesus’ parables.
We call it the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Even for those who are not Christians or a churchgoers,
this story is a familiar one.

Interestingly, the reading we hear today is not just the parable.
The reading starts with a lawyer asking Jesus a question.
It’s a question that we all might want to ask Jesus if we were to meet him

So Jesus, what is life really about?
What do I need to do
to be saved,
to go to heaven,
to live a good and holy life?
What is really important?
What should my priorities be?

Jesus doesn’t answer immediately.
He turns the table
and asks the lawyer a question.

One midrash story says that someone once asked Jesus,
“Why do you always answer a question with another question?”
And Jesus responded, “Why not?”

So in good rabbinical tradition,
Jesus asks the lawyer,
“What do you think?
You know the law.
What do you read there?”

And the lawyer responds,
“Well, the law says,
‘You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your mind;
and your neighbor as yourself.’

“Bingo!” says Jesus.
“You got it right.
Now just do it. Go and do likewise.”

“Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait!” says the lawyer.
“WHO is my neighbor?”

Who is my neighbor?
That is really the question in this gospel reading today.
It is a question we struggle with still.
Who qualifies to be loved?
How far do my responsibilities go to my neighbor?

But once again,
Jesus does not give an answer.
This time Jesus tells a story.
A parable.

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…”

Jerusalem sits on the highest elevation in Palestine.
Jericho is down by the Dead Sea at the lowest place on this planet.
The road between the two was quite dangerous,
Narrow, winding, with desert on both sides.
It was an easy place for robbers to hide and then attack someone,
rob them, and slip back off into the desert.

None of Jesus’ listeners would have been surprised
to hear that someone got robbed
on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.

Then along comes a priest.
This was not an Episcopal priest.
This was a Priest from the Temple.
This was someone who held a very high and powerful position.
The priest sees the man—stripped, half-dead, lying by the side of the road.
The priest does not stop.
He passes by.
He does not even cross the road to see about the man.
He just keeps going.

Then along comes a Levite.
Levites also served in the Temple.
They weren’t as high up as the Priest
But they had important responsibilities.
The Levite sees the man
And he too passes by.

The Priest—symbol of all that was religious—passes by.
The Levite—symbol of a high position in society—passes by.

Then along comes a Samaritan.
To understand Samaritans in first century Palestine
is to know that they were considered “half-breeds.”
It was not so much about place or geography,
as about race and culture and religion.
When a Jewish person married a non-Jewish person,
their children were labeled Samaritans.

Samaritans were ostracized.
They were shunned.
Samaritans were not the kind of people
you wanted to associate with in that day and time.

Yet who is it that stops to help?
Who is it that bandages the wounds?
Who is it that puts the injured man on his own animal,
Takes him to an inn, and pays for it all out of his own pocket?

The Priest? Nope.
The Levite? No.

The Samaritan? Yes.

The fact that it was a Samaritan who stopped to help,
The fact that it was the Samaritan who saw the man in the ditch
As his neighbor—
These were, indeed, shocking facts—
not just to the lawyer
but to anyone listening that day to this parable.

Even today it is a shocking story.

Who is our neighbor?
Who are we to love as much as we love ourselves?
Are we really called to love people we see in the ditch?

This gospel was the gospel reading of the first sermon I ever preached.
I was doing my chaplaincy at Wake Forest University Medical Center
In the summer of 2001,
And we had a chapel service twice a week.
I was on the schedule to preach.

So as I begin to work on my sermon
I asked my husband Tom,
“Who are you in this story?”

And he immediately responded—I’m the man in the ditch.
I was stunned.
What? I asked.
I’m the guy in the ditch.

Now you see, I had always seen myself as the Good Samaritan.
The person who would stop and help.
The person who would go out of the way
To offer compassion, mercy.

But my husband made a powerful point.
Until we can see ourselves as the person in the ditch,
the person who is shunned, and ostracized
and essentially shut out from society,
we are probably not going to be able to truly offer compassion, mercy,
to others.

Years ago our son Jody and his wife Natalie decided—
this was long before they had children—
that they wanted to live in Hawaii.
Not just visit Hawaii, but live there.

So they moved.
They did not really have enough financial resources
for a major move like that,
but they had hope and confidence and they were young.
That was a good thing because they also did not have jobs
When they moved.

They both have extensive work experience in outdoor leadership programs,
working in camps and leading backpacks, teaching horseback riding, and such.

They assumed that getting a job of that sort would be easy in Hawaii.
So after many dead ends and money running out,
they both got jobs in a restaurant--
our son cooking and our daughter-in-law waitressing.
It was an eye-opening experience for both of them,
living and working in Hawaii.

In one phone conversation with our son,
he was very distressed
at the way some of the native Hawaiians
treated him and Natalie.

“I’ve never done anything to them, Mom.
They throw rocks at us when we ride by on our bikes.
They call us ‘haole’.
(which is really just a Hawaiian word that means “white person”—
though it can certainly be said in a tone of voice
that makes it an insult).

Our son continued,
“The Hawaiians I work with at the restaurant
do not want to be our friends—they make it very clear.
They hardly speak to us.
They think I have taken a job away from someone
who deserves it more.
We’re hard workers. We’re nice people.
But they don’t care.”

It was painful to listen to my adult son experiencing prejudice first hand,
experiencing racism.
That is a very uncommon experience for any of us with white skin.

But I also felt that in the long run,
it could be a good experience.
Until we are the ones in the ditch,
it is really hard to understand why loving our neighbor really matters.

If we really open our eyes,
we will see that much of the world lies half-dead on the road.

We have our many comforts, our good life—
And this parable today calls us to look at all our abundance
And blessings and to ask ourselves,

Who is my neighbor?
What am I called to do?
What am I called to give?
How am I called to love?

Love God. I think that is the easy part.
Love our neighbor.
That is much more challenging.
But it is the challenge we are called to face.
It is the road we are called to cross.

Jesus is giving a heavy message to us this morning—
If a Samaritan can cross the road and have pity,
have mercy, have compassion,
Why can’t you?
Why can’t we?