Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sermon for Year A Proper 13


It was my first trip to Machuca.
Machuca is a village on the top of a mountain in rural Panama.
At that time the only way to get to the village was up a dirt road
that resembled a washed out, dried up, deeply rutted river bed.

Into the back of a truck our group went
and bummmmmmmppppppity bump bump
up to the village we traveled.

We were in Panama on a mission trip.
We had gone to help the people of Panama.
We were working at the Episcopal camp in Santa Clara,
building several ranchos—a pavilion like structure
whose roofs are made of pencas, a type of palm leaf.

Being that none of us Americans had much penca experience,
our good Episcopal friends in Panama
had brought in some men from the village of Machuca to help us—
and we needed lots of help!

Most of the men spoke no English.
Many of us spoke no Spanish.
There were a few in the group—thanks be to God—who did speak Spanish
and we were quite dependent on these translators.
But you also learn
that much can be said without any words.
Smiles and laughter,
working and sharing meals together,
playing and praying together—
are the bridges built over language barriers.

At the end of our week working at the camp,
our new friends wanted to take us to their village,
to meet their families.

So down the road and up the mountain we traveled.

When we arrived at Machuca,
we met their families.
Shy smiles all around and then we were told to follow
and we walked through fields of tall grass
until we came to a rancho
where a large iron pot
was bubbling over an open fire.

These kind women of the village
had just that morning killed chickens
and prepared a traditional Panamanian soup, sancocho.

There were few chairs—
so most of us found a log or a spot on the ground to sit
and we were served.

You see we thought we had gone to Panama to serve.
We did not expect to BE served.

We thought we had gone to Panama to help.
In our wealth and comfort,
we were blind to seeing that we were the ones who needed help.

The women in the village of Machuca understood
and knew what it is to do more than “talk” Jesus—they lived “Jesus:”

YOU give them something to eat.
That is what we hear Jesus say to his disciples in the gospel today.

Everyone is tired. The day has been long.
The crowds have been enormous.
And the disciples are ready to call it a night.
Jesus, you need to send these crowds away
so they may go into the villages
and buy food for themselves.

And Jesus responds, YOU give them something to eat.

We are constantly being called by God
to get involved, to work together WITH God.

I need you to take your prayer book and turn to page 304—
The Baptismal Covenant.
This is the heart of who we are as Episcopalians, as children of God.

The subtitle under the Baptismal Covenant
could easily read: YOU give them something to eat.
Our baptismal covenant echoes this same call, this same command.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

We do not respond—"You do that God. You can take care of that, Jesus."
We respond—I WILL—with God’s help.
I WILL teach Sunday School,
I WILL host a coffee hour, I will volunteer at Bele Chere,
I will weed the Memorial Garden, I will serve on the Altar Guild,
I will commit to being here for Eucharist every week,
I WILL say my prayers every day.
I will, with God’s help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil and whenever you fall into sin,
repent and return to the Lord?

We do not respond—"Well, it’s not my fault."
We do not respond—"I’m not the one who needs to say I’m sorry."
We respond—I WILL, with God’s help.
I will turn my life around. I WILL, with God's help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
When we were in the village of Machuca,
our words were pretty useless to one another.
But oh my!
What the people of that village proclaimed to us by their example!
The good news of God in Christ was all around us.
in every ladle of soup. In every smile.
I WILL, with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
We do not respond by picking and choosing the people we want as our neighbor.

The command is clear—ALL persons, loving ALL persons.
We don't submit our list of the people we choose as our neighbors.
We respond by saying,
I WILL,with God’s help.
I will seek and serve Christ in ALL persons.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
Our Baptismal covenant makes it crystal clear what is expected us.
YOU strive for justice.
YOU strive for peace.
YOU respect the dignity of EVERY human being.
It matters not that we are on shaky ground in some of these areas in the secular world.
We are children of God and
we respond by saying,
I WILL, with God’s help.

One of the people in our mission group named it right when he said,
as we walked through Machuca,
“I have never seen such material poverty in my entire life—
and I have never met people who are so rich in God.”

When the disciples go to Jesus and ask him to send the people away,
they are acting out of their poverty,
their own fear of scarcity and limited resources.

Jesus says to them—and to us—open your eyes
to the abundance that God has given you.

If we live into our baptismal covenant
there is more than enough.
Enough fish and loaves,
enough justice, enough goodness, enough peace, enough time,
enough love.
There is enough, there is plenty--
if we resist our hoarding, if we turn our backs on selfishness,
if we learn to be generous.
You give them something to eat because there is more than enough.
That kettle of sancocho—that chicken soup—is absolutely bottomless.

We need to take a closer look at our own kettles,
our own basket of gifts that God has so generously given to us.
Do we need it all?
Where is the joy in abundance
if we have nothing to share? Nothing to give away?

We too often want God to wave a magic wand
and make the world and our life perfect?
You do it, God.
You’re God, after all.

But God says over and over and over—
Throughout time, throughout history,
Throughout our own lives—
I WILL help you
but YOU give them something to eat.
YOU do something.
YOU take a risk every now and then.

Our default response to everything in life needs to be,
I WILL—with God’s help.

Why do we send people away hungry or lonely?
Why do we not have teachers for our children’s Christian formation?
Why do we not the time or resources or the interest to live into our Baptismal Covenant?
Perhaps all we can see are two little fish and five little loaves of bread
and we are so afraid there just isn't enough.

There is a large church in northern Virginia
that was embarking upon a multi-million dollar capital campaign,
a building campaign.
A small group of people within that large church spoke up and said,
“If we are going to raise several million dollars to serve ourselves,
we think we should raise a matching amount
to serve those in need,
for outreach ministries in our community
and in the world.”
Preposterous! said the congregation.
Ridiculous! said the clergy.
We can’t raise that kind of money from our congregation.
We’re large but we’re not that large!
We’re generous but we’re not that generous!

And yet those words of Jesus echoed—YOU give them something to eat!
It took some wrestling but the congregation decided—
WE WILL, with God’s help!
And they did.
There were loaves and fishes enough
for all to be fed and to be fed well.

How might we see new and abundant ways
to proclaim by word and example
the good news of God in Christ?
What are we willing to risk to seek and serve Christ in all people?

There are times when we are like Jesus—
we want to get in our own little boat and sail away
to a quiet, undemanding deserted place.
And yes! We all need Sabbath time.

But the purpose of Sabbath,
is to renew us to be able to respond with joy,
“I WILL, with God’s help.”

I had a friend, Barbara, and whenever you went to Barbara for a favor
she always said, YES!
Before you even told her what you needed,
her response was always YES!
I once asked her why she said YES before she knew what I was going to ask her to do
and she responded,
"You are my beloved friend
and if there is something you need,
I want to say YES!"
(Oh, how I miss Barbara!)

God says YES to us in so many ways.
God longs for us to say YES to those who need us.

What is God calling you to do? What is God calling me to do?
What is God calling St. John’s to do—-right now?

Even if we can’t answer that question—we can start—
we can start by praying—I WILL, with God’s help.
I WILL, with God’s help.
I WILL, with God’s help.

Pray and trust that God will show us the needs
and the ways to say YES to those needs.

Pray and remember the words that Jesus says to his disciples:
YOU give them something to eat.
give them something to eat.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sermon for Year A Proper 12

The kingdom of heaven is like…

As many of you know I have been on vacation this past week.
The most exotic place we traveled
was to Greensboro for a wedding.

The rest of the time we were at home in Valle Crucis
enjoying time with our daughter and her husband
and our absolutely charming little granddaughter, Penelope, who is now 14 months old.

I feel like I just spent a week
in the kingdom of heaven.
Being with those you love can do that.

Jesus is speaking in parables again.
trying to teach us about the kingdom of heaven—

The kingdom of heaven is like…
like a mustard seed…
like yeast…
like a treasure hidden in a field..
like a merchant in search of fine pearls..

The kingdom of heaven is like…
like a net thrown into the sea catching fish of every kind..

We don’t know if the writer of Matthew’s gospel
collected these diverse kingdom of heaven images
over a period of time --

Or if Jesus said them all at one time, in one teaching session,
hoping that at least one of these images
would make sense
to those who listened.

But regardless,
three things about the kingdom of heaven
grab my attention in the gospel today:

(1) The kingdom of heaven often starts very small.
(2) Treasure the moments
when the holy breaks through, and
(3) God welcomes everyone. Absolutely everyone.

The kingdom of heaven often starts very small.

The kingdom of heaven can often be seen in a small child.
Our 14 month granddaughter says thank you constantly.
Give her a cheerio and she says thank you.
Throw her a kiss and she says thank you.
Put a little pinecone in her hand and she says thank you.

I was absolutely humbled
by this tiny little person’s ability
to live in constant gratitude.

One small thank you can change everything.
Even coming from us big people—
Small thank yous build on one another.

The kingdom of heaven starts small—
one man Jesus
preaching in one small corner of the world
has grown far and wide and deep.
We have come a long way from Jerusalem.

Jesus started small but he started.
Twelve disciples.
Look how that small group has grown.

The kingdom of heaven can be seen in small churches.
Small churches like St. John’s make a difference.
We need to remember this and celebrate this
and be empowered by this.

I know that Harry Potter is all the movie rage right now,
but think back
and some of you may remember the character Yoda
from the Star Wars movies.
In one scene, Yoda says to Luke Skywalker,
Do or do not. There is no try.

Do or do not. There is no try.
Those are kingdom of heaven words.

Jesus is essentially saying this same thing to us in this parable.
A tiny seed or a tablespoon of yeast
may look so small that it appears to be worth nothing—
but we have flowers on the altar because a seed
did not “try”—it did!
We have bread for communion
because the yeast did not try—it did!

The same is asked of us.
The same is believed of us.
Jesus tells us
that even if we start small
the kingdom of heaven will grow large.
Jesus tells us that even if we start small
our efforts will be like leaven--
we will have bread enough to feed the multitudes.

The second thing I hear in these parables today is this:
Treasure the moments in your life
when the holy breaks through.

So often, too often,
we take for granted all we are given.
We are surrounded by treasure and pearls of great value
but sometimes we miss that.
Sometimes we are so busy wanting what we do not have,
that we miss all that we do have.

Sometimes we are so busy planning for the future
or lamenting the past
that we fail to realize the kingdom moments
that surround us right now.

We struggle to believe what Jesus repeatedly tries to teach:
WE are God’s treasure.
WE are God’s pearls of great price.
WE are God’s beloved children.

God’s love is always here, always with us—
but we do not always notice.

But when we do,
when these holy moments happen,
we need to pay attention
and truly see these moments as a treasure.

Sometimes the birth of a baby,
or an illness or even a death
makes us aware of the holy.

Sometimes it is a line in a poem or the lyric of a song
which becomes unexpectedly illuminated for us.

Maybe someone shares a story that surprisingly moves us to tears
or we walk in the doors of a church
firmly convinced that organized religion
is not our cup of tea and then…and then..

Suddenly we see the holy
and we see that it is everywhere
and in everything and everyone.

The light breaks through the everyday fog of our lives
and we know we have found the treasure
we were seeking all along.

And we know we want to hold on to this treasure for dear life—for our life.

And finally, the third thing I heard in Matthew’s gospel:
God’s net is very, very large.

The final parable in Matthew’s gospel today
tells us that the kingdom of heaven
is like a net thrown into the sea
and that net catches all sorts of fish.

We cannot be afraid to cast our nets widely and deeply.
We cannot be afraid to open the doors of our churches
and welcome everyone who wants to come in
and everyone who just randomly wanders in.

Everyone is welcome. EVERYONE.
The job of sorting is not our work to do.
According to Matthew’s gospel,
that work will be done later-- by the angels—not by us.

So these are the three things I hear today in the gospel:

(1) The kingdom of heaven often starts very small.
(2) Treasure the moments
when the holy breaks through.
(3) God welcomes everyone. Absolutely everyone

Parables are stories that let those of us who have ears hear.
(That means all of us!)
We undoubtedly hear different things at different times
because we are different people
at different points in our lives.

What did YOU hear today in these parables?
What is the kingdom of heaven like for you
at this moment
in your life?

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Little Duck

I shared an excerpt of this poem long ago with my friend Donna. Today she sent me the entire poem.

The Little Duck
by Donald C. Babcock

Now we are ready to look at something pretty special.
It is a duck riding the ocean a hundred feet beyond the surf.
No, it isn’t a gull.

A gull always has a raucous touch about him.
This is some sort of duck, and he cuddles in the swells.
He isn’t cold, and he is thinking things over.

There is a great heaving in the Atlantic,
And he is a part of it.
He looks a little like a mandarin,

Or the Lord Buddha meditating under the Bo tree
But he has hardly enough above the eyes to be a philosopher.
He has poise, however, which is what philosophers must have.

He can rest while the Atlantic heaves, because he rests in the Atlantic.

Probably he doesn’t know how large the ocean is.
And neither do you.
But he realizes it.

And what does he do, I ask you. He sits down in it.
He reposes in the immediate as if it were infinity – which it is.
That is religion, and the duck has it.

He has made himself a part of the boundless,
by easing himself into it just where it touches him.
I like the little duck.

He doesn’t know much.
But he has religion.

Published in The New Yorker Magazine, October 4, 1947

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What helps you see clearly?

What helps you see clearly? I was recently asked this question (via a blogpost by Mahan Siler--see link). Good question. My discipline of centering prayer is probably the most helpful practice I have for seeing clearly. Please don't believe for a minute that I am an expert at centering prayer and always have a deeply holy experience each day. I am guilty 100 times over of what the Buddhists call "monkey mind"--my mind hops and jumps and tumbles all over the place in those twenty to thirty minutes of intentional silence in the morning. But I show up. I set my phone timer with its little gong chime and I sit. In silence. In peace. Centering prayer helps me to stop and turn the world and worries away from my doorstep for a brief respite. Mahan uses the image (from Ronald Heifetz) of leaving the dance floor and going up onto the balcony. There are many ways to get to the balcony (and many situations that need that balcony perspective), but centering prayer is one of my stairways to the balcony and to seeing more clearly, to feeling more deeply the presence of God.

So what helps YOU see clearly?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Earnest Graham's Bible Comics

There is a link to my friend Earnest Graham's blog here on my blog but I wanted to especially point out these great Bible comics he is doing for the Gospel readings right now. He's being really generous in letting folks use them in multiple ways. Check out his other work, too.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I was wandering around Accent on Books on Merrimon Avenue in Asheville (an awesome independent bookstore that is just perfect for indoor wandering) and I had this gift card from CREDO just sitting on alert in my wallet. The truth is I don't NEED any more books. I don't think I will live long enough to read all the ones currently on my bookshelves (not to mention all the ones on the shelves at the Black Mountain Library) But....NEED and WANT are not kissing cousins. So there is this book by Adam Thomas--DIGITAL DISCIPLE: REAL CHRISTIANITY IN A VIRTUAL WORLD and I picked it up. I liked the cover (I have bought a lot of books because I like the cover--hats off to fine graphic design); I liked that it wasn't too long (133 pages)--I am all about short books for the summer months--plus I knew I had two library books on my desk at home; I discovered he had graduated from Virginia Theological Seminary (me, too!); and in reading a few paragraphs I quickly discovered Adam Thomas is funny! So yep! I bought DIGITAL DISCIPLE and just finished reading it today and definitely recommend it. It's a good read with good insights into the Tech world of today. He is self-revealing and almost painfully honest about the good, the bad and the ugly of technology. I agree with Adam Thomas that technology offers diverse new ways to communicate and reach new audiences--but the Tech also provides new ways to isolate ourselves. Balance. The age old spiritual quest. It's interesting to me that he ends the book with his suggestions for staying spiritually centered using two quite ancient spiritual practices--the Ignatian Examen and Lectio Divina. DIGITAL DISCIPLE's outlook is full of refreshing hope for the Church and Adam Thomas gets extra points for his very entertaining footnotes.

Sermon for Year A Proper 9

Sermon for Pentecost 3 Proper 9
July 3, 2011
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Asheville, NC
The Rev. Jeanne Finan

Yoked together in love

“Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses
yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse
of you teeming shore.
Send these,
the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

These words are from a poem titled “The New Colossus”
written by Emma Lazarus.

This poem might have been long forgotten
except these words were engraved on a bronze plaque
and placed inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
These words greet those who visit that Statue
that rises so prominently in the New York City harbor.

Even if you have never been there in person,
we all know what the Statue of Liberty looks like—
and that is not only true for Americans.
She is a very recognizable lady
for people throughout the world.

The Statue of Liberty was given as a gift of friendship--
a gift from France to the United States.
But its meaning and symbolism
has stretched far beyond what was initially imagined.

The United States has a history of welcoming immigrants--
welcoming those who long for freedom,
welcoming those who believe in possibility.

"Immigrant" has become a rather negative and politically charged word
In today's vocabulary.

We need to remember and continue to claim
the words of Emma Lazarus' poem.
Give me your tired…she writes.

This poem echoes what we hear in Matthew’s gospel this morning.
Jesus says:

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

Most of us love this message- we welcome the comfort of it.

This verse from Matthew is on the sign that welcomes you to the hermitages
at the Valle Crucis Conference Center.
Welcoming those who are weary and have come away for a time of retreat,
for rest and renewal.

I imagine most of us, even if we have never taken time for retreat,
know what it is to feel weary at times.
We understand the need and the desire
to lay our burdens down—
to take a time for rest.
At least on occasion, at least for awhile.

Jesus goes on to say,
My yoke is easy and my burden is light.

As I prayed with those words this week,
I thought,
Really, Jesus?!!???

I mean,
I know your story Jesus.
How can you say this?
My yoke is easy and my burden is light

Jesus’ yoke was not easy
nor was his burden light.
Was it?

Isn’t he talking about the cross—crucifixion--death?
Do we want to be yoked to that?

Jesus was not exactly Mr.Congeniality in hIs day and time.
People hated him. Despised him. Wanted to kill him.
They did kill him.
He was framed and then he was crucified.

How can Jesus say, My yoke is easy and my burden is light..?

Yet one thing Jesus is not is a “pollyanna.”
He had a pretty realistic view of the world and of people.

Look at the first part of this gospel passage.
We quickly notice that Jesus is not a happy camper.
He is frustrated.
He is frustrated because these people around him are never satisfied.
(Hmmm…I’m sure he would NEVER think that about us, right?)

Jesus describes how people reacted to John the Baptizer—
they accused him of having a demon--
because John lived a sparse and simple life—
neither eating nor drinking.

Then along I come, Jesus says, and I AM eating and drinking,
and I am accused of being a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners!
(Okay, so maybe that last part is true!)

This is rather like Jesus saying,
“What’s wrong with you people!!??
Are you never happy??”

Jesus is frustrated that people are so tied up,
so bound by their pettiness, their complaining,
their judging of others, so often unfairly.

But then—almost in mid-sentence, he changes.
Something turns his oh-so-human mind and heart.

Suddenly he seems to pay attention to a deeper feeling,
to what really matters.
Jesus calms down and becomes aware of his true feelings.
Life is not perfect.
Human beings are not perfect
but imperfection is no barrier for love.

Suddenly it turns for Jesus--as it does on occasion for us--
we are filled with love and the world is bright with hope and beauty.

So much so that Jesus invites us—come, give your burdens, to me--
Because I can handle them.

Jesus no longer looks at those around him with irritation or disappointment
but simply with pure love.

There is a story about the monk Thomas Merton.
One day he drives into nearby Louisville, Kentucky
(the city closest to his monastery of Gethsemane).
He parks his truck, gets out and looks around.
He looks around at all the people busily going about their day
and suddenly a feeling of pure bliss washes over him.
Completely unexpected.
But for that moment he knows that he is truly a part of all these people
And they are truly a part of him.
He is overcome with the feeling that he loves--truly loves--
all these people--every single one of them.
He is powerfully aware that love is the yoke we share.

Jesus wants us to take his yoke upon us--
a yoke of love and of peace.

You know I have heard that when animals are yoked together
they often put an older more experienced animal
beside a younger, less experienced animal.
The old one acts as a mentor, a role model.
Let me show you how we do this.
Let me show you how we work together.
Jesus offers us to share his yoke so that we might learn,
So that we might let go of our burdens--
the burdens of complaining and criticizing and judging--
the burdens of fear and anxiety and hopelessness.

Those words engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty
are not a message for tourists.
Those words are not a happy-go-lucky-so-glad-you-could-cruise-by greeting
Those words are written for those who have risked everything
for a different life, a better life.

My great-grandparents and my grandfather
arrived at Ellis Island,
coming to this country from Ireland.
They were immigrants.

Much of their story I do not know.
but I know they risked a long and hard journey
for the hope of a better life.

That is what Jesus asks of us:
Risk everything.
The journey will indeed be long and difficult at times
but the only way to make it through
is to yoke ourselves to love and kindness.

Take my yoke upon you,
And learn from me;
For I am gentle and humble in heart
And you will find rest for your souls.

We need to learn to give love away at every turn--
especially to those the world considers “wretched refuse,”
to the homeless and the poor and the suffering
and to those people no one seems to wants.

God wants and love us all.

Jesus says the same: Come to me ALL of you…

By yoking ourselves to the one who is love incarnate,
we too—all of us—
can learn love and humility, gentleness and kindness—

And then indeed,
we will find rest for our souls.

Sermon for the Baptism of Benjamin Henry Robertson

Using the Lectionary readings for Trinity Sunday)
Saturday, June 18, 2011
The Chapel of the Transfiguration
Kanuga Conference Center, North Carolina
The Rev. Jeanne Finan

The Baptism of Benjamin Henry Robertson

We are here today to celebrate
and to baptize Benjamin Henry Robertson.

Matthew’s gospel tells us what to do: …
..[baptize] them in the name of the Father
and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

We will do just that in a few minutes.
We will baptize Henry.

And I do mean “WE”
Yes, I am the Celebrant today—
but Henry will be baptized by so much more
and by so many more than just me.

Because God seldom works solo.
The theology of the Trinity gives us a hint of that--
God the three in one, the one in three.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
God loves a community!!

Henry will be baptized in the name of the Trinity
and will officially
become part of the Christian community today.

Every one of you—every one of us—
regardless of whether you are here today
as a passionate believer or as one who questions
or even doubts—
regardless, we are gathered here today
as part of the body of Christ
who brings Henry to this font.

Who is this body of Christ gathered here today?

Certainly Anna and Ellen and Ben,
Definitely Henry’s grandparents and godparents—
all the rest of the family--
friends from many places.
All those saints who have gone before us.
All those who have sang and worshipped
and prayed here in this chapel.
Henry comes to the waters of baptism
to join the Christian community throughout the ages--
to be marked as others have been before him--
marked as Christ’s own forever.

We are all bound together with Henry.
Baptism does that.
Love does that.

Our readings this morning speak of great love.
A love that made God want to bring all things into being.

In the beginning God created…
God created heavens and earth,
day and evening
strawberries and bananas and macaroni and cheese.
Birds and aardvarks and golden retrievers
and every living creature.
And God created Benjamin Henry Robertson.

Did I mention that God doesn’t like to work solo?

I do believe we all know that Ben and Ellen got to be partners
in God’s great love that created Henry.

We are here today because we, too, are called
to be part of Henry’s baptism.
We too are called to be part of all that happens
in Henry’s life from this day forward.

We are called to be present around this font
and to be present with Henry as he grows
into all that God dreams him to be.

We are here for Henry
and to reflect seriously upon the promises made at baptism.

What will our lives show Henry about resisting evil?
What will our stories tell Henry
about fellowship and friendship,
about loving God and loving our neighbor?

What will our lives teach Henry about striving for justice,
about respecting the dignity of every human being?

Words are wonderful, beautiful creations.
I am a great lover of words.

But the Word of God is the word we are called to live,
not just talk about.
Henry will be watching.
Henry will be paying attention.
Henry will notice how we live.

We don’t get to come to a baptism as a spectator
any more than Henry is a spectator today.

Great love brought us here to this font today.
Baptism is a response to the unconditional love God offers us.
Baptism is saying YES!

Love makes us do crazy, wonderful, holy things.

Great love brought Henry to these waters of baptism today
and great love will send Henry out into the world.

Our call is to travel this journey WITH Henry—
with our presence
and with our prayers.

So let’s begin this wonderful journey together!
Let’s baptize Benjamin Henry Robertson!

Sermon for Easter Sunday 2011

(oops! Sorry, got the Easter Sunday sermon posted after some later ones.)

Sermon for Year A Easter Sunday
April 24, 2011
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Asheville, NC
The Rev. Jeanne Finan

The Glory of Everything

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother
as they were setting the table for breakfast.

“Out to the hoghouse,” replied Mrs. Arable.
“Some pigs were born last night.”

“I don’t see why he needs an ax,” continued Fern, who was only eight.

“Well,” said her mother, “one of the pigs is a runt.
It’s very small and weak, and it will never amount to anything.
So your father has decided to do away with it.”

“Do away with it,” shrieked Fern. You mean kill it?
Just because it’s smaller than the others?”

So begins
E. B. White’s beloved children’s classic, Charlotte’s Web.

It is a story about a little girl named Fern who saves the life of a very small and very lucky pig named Wilbur.

It is also the story of Charlotte,
the beautiful, resourceful gray spider
who lives with Wilbur in the barn
and becomes his best friend.

Surrounded by his barnyard pals and cheered by Fern’s visits,
optimistic little Wilbur enjoys each new day—until….

…until one of the grumpy and rather arrogant old sheep
tells Wilbur what farmers do to pigs---
AKA where we get ham and bacon and pork chops!

Wilbur is horrified.

But his spider friend Charlotte comes up with a clever way
to save Wilbur from this horrible fate.
It is not the little girl Fern or the farmer but a common, everyday spider
who saves Wilbur.

Sadly, Wilbur cannot protect Charlotte
from her own death.
Charlotte comes to the natural end of her life as a spider—
but not before she has laid her eggs
in a carefully crafted egg sac.

And Wilbur guards that egg sac—
knowing that what looks to most
like a piece of insignificant fluff
holds new life.

does not have the final word.

And that is what this day—this Easter day—is all about.
Death does not have the final word.

This is the day we shout for joy: Alleluia! Christ is risen!

We call it resurrection—the rising again to life.

And isn’t it interesting—
that the person who sees Jesus first--
risen from the tomb—
is a woman,

At best, a very every day sort of woman—
at worst, a woman with a rather sordid history-
yet she is the one--
Mary Magdalene—who is the first to see
the risen Christ.

The first to see is not a high religious or governmental authority.
Not Pilate nor Caiphas.
Not even one of the named disciples.
Not even Peter or John,
though they rushed to the tomb
when Mary Magdalene ran to tell them
the stone had been moved away
from the tomb’s entrance.

The disciples look around, see nothing, and they leave.

Mary Magdalene is the one who stays.
She has no idea what has happened.
Who could have rolled away the stone?
How can the tomb be empty?
She does not understand
But she does not leave.

This village woman who turned to Jesus
To help her get her life together,
Mary Magdalene stays.

And then there appears this man who asks,
Why are you weeping?

She is not sure at first
what or whom she is seeing.
The light of early morning is very dim.
Her heart is still in pieces from what has happened.

But then she hears a voice.
And she knows.
She knows exactly who calls her name.
She knows that as mysterious and rationally unexplainable as it may be,
she knows that voice.
And she knows that life
has the victory over death.

When Mary runs again to the disciples,
She does not say,
I think I may have seen Jesus.
She does not say,
You know, fellas, it may sound crazy but…
She ANNOUNCES to the disciples—
She is sure and she is certain—
I have seen the Lord.

We will never know—at least not in this world—
what Mary Magdalene really saw that morning.
But there is something so real,
almost bone-chilling real,
about the way this encounter is told in the gospels.

I had a professor—a New Testament scholoar-- once say,
“I can not doubt the resurrection in the gospel.
For if it was a story they wanted to make up,
just to prove a point,
just to promote Christianity,
they never,
never in a million years,
they never
would have had a woman
be the first to see the risen Christ.”

“As mysterious and strange as this resurrection account is,” he said,
“I can only believe it is true
and they could tell it no other way but this—
with Mary Magdalene
and being the one to go and tell the others.

“Whatever happened that morning,
it had to be a God thing.”

It is so important that we do not try to contain the resurrection
in a small and tidy box.
There was nothing tidy about any part of the life of Jesus.

Resurrection can never be limited to this one biblical event.
It is not just about Jesus.
Even the disciples knew that.

Resurrection—happens in so many ways in our lives.

Resurrection is about hope being born from the ashes.
Resurrection is about a friend
showing up to be the glue
when our lives are falling apart.

Resurrection is about a little church in Haw Creek
taking a leap of faith and courage
to knock out it’s old windows
and let the light shine in
and let the love shine out.

Resurrection is about looking for doors that open
when we feel confined to a life that is too small.

Resurrection is a God thing.
And we are all invited.
Women, men, children, pigs, spiders—all God’s creatures.

You see at the end of Charlotte’s Web
the egg sac breaks open—
and new life appears.
Charlotte’s children—hundreds of them come floating out of that egg sac—
on little gossamer parachutes.
And the love that Charlotte nurtured lives on in the world.

Resurrection is about all
that lives on after we die.

“Mr. Zuckerman took fine care of Wilbur all the rest of his days,
and the pig was often visited by friends and admirers,
for nobody ever forgot
the year of his triumph and the miracle of the web.

Life in the barn was very good—night and day, winter and summer,
spring and fall, dull days and bright days.
It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur,
this warm delicious cellar,
the garrulous geese,
the changing seasons,
the heat of the sun,
the passage of swallows,
the nearness of rats,
the sameness of sheep,
the love of spiders,
the smell of manure,
and the glory of everything.

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte.”

is about turning our hearts to the glory of everything—
but never forgetting
those who helped us
make that turn.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Sermon for Year A Easter 7

Sermon for Year A Easter 7
June 5, 2011
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Asheville, NC
The Rev. Jeanne Finan

It’s in the bag!

When I was in seminary—back when I knew everything—
I said to myself,
I will NEVER start a sermon by telling a joke.
But then you get out of seminary
and discover yourself doing A LOT of things
you said you would never do.

So here’s my joke.

There was a young lion in the jungle
who thought a lot of himself and his power.
One day he was out walking and he saw a hyena so he leaped over a bush
and landed right in front of the hyena and roared and said:
“I’m KING of the jungle. WHO are you?”
The hyena was terrified and ran away as fast as he could.

The young lion continued strutting
through the forest and he sees a zebra.
He leaps from behind a tree and lands right in front of the zebra.
“I’m KING of the jungle. WHO are you?”
The zebra is off and running as fast as she can run.

On through the jungle continues the young lion.
He sees a little monkey, sitting alone on the jungle floor.
He leaps toward the monkey and roars and says,
“I’m KING of the jungle. WHO are you?”

The little monkey just looks up at the lion and says,
“I’ve been sick.”

Sometimes we have to be reminded
that we are NOT the king of the jungle!!

Do not think that I missed the irony
of coming back sick after attending the CREDO conference—
a conference that focuses on wellness—
spiritual, physical, emotional, vocational
and financial wellness.
The conference was a stunning experience;
Being sick?
Not so stunning!

When I left the doctor’s office last week
I had so many medications and instruction sheets
they had to give me a little brown paper sack
to carry them in.

I momentarily flashed back to being a child
and visiting my grandparents in Wendell, NC.
My grandfather would give me a nickel
and I would run down the block to a little corner store—
Mr. Joseph’s—
and I could fill a little paper sack with penny candy for that nickel.

You know my heart still says I am still a little kid,
so excited to have that little sack of candy—
But sometimes my body says,
Oh honey! You ain’t no little kid any more.
Just look inside that bag!

But thanks be to God for the time and place we live
when we are blessed to have wise doctors
and caring, intelligent nurses
and medicines that can heal us and help us.
I pray and hope this kind of medical care will one day be available
to everyone in this country and around the world.

I am very, very mindful
that even in sickness, I am blessed.

And what a blessing it is
to be back home at St. John’s with all of you!
Thank you for all you did in my absence.
You ARE the church, remember?
And thank you for all you do in my presence as well--
Keep up the good work!

Indeed, I am back—
and Jesus has left.

That’s right—didn’t you hear that in the reading from Acts?
He was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.
The Ascension.
We officially celebrated the Ascension this past Thursday
But our lectionary tells us about it once again on this Sunday—
Just in case we hadn’t noticed that Jesus is gone.

Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again.
You can’t come again unless you have left.
Jesus is really gone.

And yet—it is not the gone part—
not the Jesus is up there in the clouds part—
upon which we are called to dwell.

Right after Jesus is taken out of their sight,
the disciples receive this message,
“Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”

Do you sometimes find yourselves doing that?
Praying and looking UP?

But the message for us is don’t look up. Look around.

The disciples are told they will no longer see
the physical body they know as Jesus
but they are not left alone,
they are not left without comfort.

I am no longer in the world, says Jesus,
But YOU are in the world.
So love one another.
Protect one another. Help one another.

Orphans and widows—I leave in your capable care, says Jesus.
Those wandering in the wilderness—
I trust that together you will find your way.

There’s not one word from Jesus
That tells us that we are embarking on an easy journey.

In fact if we listen to first Peter, we hear:
Keep alert. Discipline yourselves.
Like a roaring lion, your adversary the devil prowls around,
Looking for someone to devour.
(see I told you my joke was tied to scripture!)

This is not an easy journey
But it is a journey filled with hope.

That is so how I felt at the CREDO conference I attended.
39 priests and deacons from the Episcopal Church --
from all over the country.

Parish priests and hospital chaplains.
Small churches, huge churches.
Clergy working with the privileged and affluent
and clergy working on Indian reservations and in the inner city.

I met two women who were among the first women ordained
in the Episcopal Church.
You must have a paying job before you can be ordained to the priesthood.
One of these women had to go to Canada to get her first job.
The other was only ordained because her home parish
Hired her as an associate for $ 5 per hour for 10 hours a week.
That was all they could afford.
But it was enough to get her ordained.
That was 31 years ago.
She is still doing ministry—still focusing on the hopeful promises—
in a church that should be ashamed for the way it treated her.

Yet I am convinced that the church is a place of hope
Not because of the clergy—
because we clergy tend to be more of the “looking up” people—
but filled with hopeful promises
because of people like you--the laity—
You are the looking around people--
you really are the hands and the feet of the church.

We all need to be people who take the WORD of God
and transform it into the WORK of God in our own lives
and in our communities.
Don’t look up—look around.

Jesus tells us that the journey will be filled with challenges
but that God will be with us and give us the strength we need.
God will provide the paper bag that will help us hold it all together.

Inside the paper bag
we hold joy and sorrow, good times and miserable times,
sweet candy and bitter medicine.
Sometimes this mixed bag just seems too heavy to carry.

But if we open our eyes we will see time and time again,
God shows up to help.

If we spend all our time looking up,
we might miss the help that is sent to us.
But if we look around,
we will see the many, many faces that God wears in our world.

Look around and give thanks for those who walk beside us
when the times are tough,
Look around and feast your eyes
on those brothers and sisters who are with us in our suffering
as well as our celebrations.
Look around and pay attention where God is calling you to reach out.

Take a careful look inside the little paper sack
that God has placed in our care—

Hope is so sweet.
Hope may be just the medicine we need in times like these.
Look around.

Sermon for Easter 4

Sermon for Year A Easter 4
Good Shepherd Sunday
May 15, 2011
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Asheville, NC
The Rev. Jeanne Finan

I hear the voice…

You probably already get the theme for this Sunday…
in the opening collect we hear “Jesus is the good shepherd”
our psalm is Psalm 23—the Lord is my shepherd…
1 Peter talks about going astray like sheep…
and the gospel talks about sheep and shepherds as well.
Yes, you may have guessed—
today is known as GOOD SHEPHERD Sunday.

I imagine there are a lot of sheep sermons that will be preached today.
And I am not one to stray from that theme or tradition--
but first I want to tell you a story about pigs.
Yes, pigs!
And it is a true story.
It happened over in Cove Creek which is not too far down the road
from Valle Crucis where I live part of the week.

There is a farmer over in Cove Creek who raises pigs.
He doesn’t raise them in pens—he lets them run around in a big field.
When he goes to feed his pigs,
there is a bell right by the trough.
Sort of like a small version of our church bell out front.

He carries the buckets of their food—yes, it really is call “pig slop”—
and rings the bell and the pigs come running.
Just as our church bell tells the whole neighborhood,
it is time to come to worship—
This farmer’s bell tells the pigs
it is time to come to eat!
Pigs are smart!
Most of us are pretty smart
when it comes to finding food!
We, like all God’s creatures, are highly motivated for that activity!

So all was going well with the farmer and his pigs.
Until one cold winter day,
the farmer goes to pull the rope to ring the bell,
and the rope is missing.
Rotted away?
Who knows?

But here is the farmer
with his buckets of slop
and there are the pigs at the way far side of the field.
And they don’t see the farmer—or their food.

So the farmer picks up a stick from the ground
and hits it along the wooden fence rail.
The pigs look up when they hear the sound
and then they see the farmer pouring their breakfast into the trough
and here they come! Running!

So the farmer just doesn’t worry about replacing the rope to the bell.
When he comes to feed the pigs,
he just picks up a stick and starts hitting the fence….
Rap-rap-rap-rap—and here come the pigs.

And this works great all winter long.
But then…
here comes spring.
And here come all the woodpeckers
Who start tap tap tap tap all through the woods--
and the poor pigs are about running themselves to death
every time they hear a woodpecker!

The farmer fixed a new rope back on his bell.

Why am I telling you this story about pigs on Good Shepherd Sunday?

Because I don’t think it matters if we are sheep or pigs or people,
we need to learn to listen.

The pigs were listening,
listening for the one they knew would take care of them.
Feed them.

But then they started to listen to those who were calling them astray--
those false prophet woodpeckers!
Those woodpeckers
who couldn’t provide a bucket of slops if they tried!

And that is what we are taught in today’s gospel lesson.
But listen carefully.
Listen for the voice of the one who knows your real name
and loves you because and in spite of who you are.

Listening is not easy.
Some of us
like to talk more than we like to listen.
This can get us into trouble on occasion.

The other challenge we face
is that there are a multitude of voices
calling our names every day, competing for our attention.

Voices that call our names and tell us we need to buy this
and we need to own that.
Voices that tell us we aren’t good enough or pretty enough
or smart enough or rich enough.

Those are the voices of the thieves and the bandits
we hear about in the gospel of John.
Those are the voices that want to rob us
of all that God’s goodness and mercy
and steal our lives away from us.

Jesus says, “Don’t listen to those who would destroy you.”

We have to learn to listen carefully
for the voice of the One who really love us,
for the voice of the One who truly want only the best for us.
For the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Because God wants us to have life
and to have it abundantly.

There are so many images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
There is a lovely drawing in the Weinhauer chapel
that a friend loaned to me.
A shepherd tenderly holding, hugging a lamb.

But recently I found another image of a shepherd that is so unlike
anything I have ever seen.
It is a photograph in Greg Mortensen’s book STONES INTO SCHOOLS
of a shepherd in Afghanistan.
The shepherd is walking along—following after his flock
and under his arm
he has a lamb.
Not cradled. Not tenderly cuddled.
He holds this lamb as if
He has just picked it up
and holds it tightly under his arm as if to say,
You were going the wrong way.
I am tired of you getting lost all the time.
How about you just stop wandering away.
Cut it out!

I love that as an image of Jesus—
Jesus who sometimes just gets tired of us mishaving.
Sometimes we need Jesus just to pick us up
and abruptly turn us around.
It’s not always pleasant or gentle when it happens,
but on occasion it just may be our salvation.

The Good Shepherd is not always tender or gentle or sweet.
Shepherds carry these shepherd’s crooks for a reason!
They reach out that crook and grab the sheep around the neck.

Think about that when Bishop Taylor comes in October
and processes down the aisle with his crozier—
which is just a glorified shepherd’s crook!

Sometimes we all need to just be picked up and walked away with,
As we hear Jesus speaking the truth in love and saying,
“I have just about had enough of your behavior.”

We can save ourselves from more jerks of the shepherd’s crook
if we learn to be better listeners.

We are called to listen.
To listen for our shepherd.

Sheep really can tell the difference between THEIR shepherd’s voice
and that of another.
Sheep know
who their shepherd is.

Stephen Plummer,
who died from cancer in 2005 when he was only 60 years old,
was the first Episcopal bishop of Navajoland.
A friend of his tells the story
of Bishop Plummer practicing his sermons by preaching to his sheep
when he was first ordained.

The sheep would stand absolutely still, staring at him,
Listening to his voice.
Because they recognized his voice.
Because they knew that this was the voice
of the one who cared for them.
They stayed near to him because they trusted him,
They knew they were safe.

We learn to recognize the voice of the one who is our Shepherd
by carefully and deeply listening.
Listening to scripture, listening to those who teach,
listening to the voice we hear in the silence of our own prayers.

There are so many voices out there in the world.
There are so many voices competing with one another.
There are indeed voices that will lead us away from the Shepherd
who loves us more than we can ask or imagine.

At times we may wander away,
even be gone for a period of years
or decades.

The amazing thing about shepherds
is they really do go looking for lost sheep.
The amazing thing about shepherds
is they don’t give up hope
of finding the ones who have wandered away.

The sheepfold is not surrounded by a high stone wall.
There is a gate.
And standing at that gate
is the One who loves us,
the One who calls us by name,
the One who welcomes everyone of us
to come inside,
to come home.

hello again

It has been quite awhile since I posted on this blog. I got rather weary of posting my sermons so I stopped. That's the advantage of being the blogger--you can choose to blog or not to blog. Some sabbath time away from listening to and reading my own voice has made me realize that this blog is useful as a place to post sermons. So I will be posting a few recent ones now that I am back!