Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sermon for Year B Proper 27


On Tuesday, Election Day,
I stopped in at Starbucks 
for my usual Grande-Black-nothing-in-it-at all cup of coffee.
When I paid for my coffee
the Barista gave me--free--a red, white and blue bracelet
with a pewter bead on it that says, “indivisible.”

The word “indivisible” means “unable to be divided or separated.”
A very good word for election day.

Also a very good word for us as the Church, as Christians.
We sometimes worry too much
about our differences
and not enough about what binds us together, 
unites us.

There is a actually a great deal of theological discussion these days
about “non-dualism”--
to see God as the Holy One
and us as part of the Holy One
with the emphasis being on ONE.
Unified. Indivisible.

Not them or us.
Not I’m right and you’re wrong.
Not God in heaven and me on earth
But all as holy and all as one and all as together.

In Mark’s gospel today
Jesus is teaching once more.

He tells his listeners to watch out.

Don’t get all uppity and think you are something special
and that you deserve special privileges.

Just because you might have a position of power or authority,
don’t be too impressed with yourselves
and don’t walk around swinging your privilege like a scepter.
Then Jesus tells the story of the poor widow.
The widow who comes to the synagogue
and gives two copper coins.
Jesus even tells us the cash value of those coins--
“worth a penny”.
Not worth much then, not worth much now.

But Jesus keeps going.
What he says next must have shocked 
those who were listening.

“The truth is that this poor widow 
gave more to the collection 
than all the others put together. 
All the others gave what they’ll never miss; 
she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—
she gave her all.” (Eugene Peterson's THE MESSAGE)

Having just spent the past three days at our Diocesan Convention,
with four other dedicated people from this congregation,
some of our conversation was about giving.
Not just about our tithe to the Diocese,
but about what do we want to give of ourselves
and of our parishes
to move forward the mission of God’s church?

I want to share with you something I recently learned
while reading Peter Block’s book Stewardship.
It’s about the historical background of stewardship.

Stewardship means to hold something in trust for another.
Historically, stewardship was a means of protecting a kingdom
    whose rightful heirs were away,
or more often, were too young to govern--
the underage king.

For us, the “underage king” is the next generation.
We care about the environment, about Creation
not only because of ourselves,
but because of the “underage king”--the next generation.

We need to care about the Church in that same way.
God entrusts us with the church
so that we can hold it, 
we can be good stewards of the church,
for the next generation that is to come.
Just like the church has been held in stewardship for us
through many generations.

This concept also gives you a clue
of why so often we have those long list of names,
those geneologies,
in the Bible.
It is not just a matter of naming who fathered who.
It is showing us that through the ages
these are the people that were the stewards 
of what we inherit now.

So at the heart of stewardship is 
our choosing to serve.
To serve future generations over self-interest.

This is what infuriated Jesus about the scribes 
and the way the synagogue was being run.
The scribes cared about themselves--
they did not care about God’s church,
they did not care about future generations,
they didn’t even care about the people 
that were around them right then in time.

The scribes are not stewards.
The scribes are “grabbers”--
they grab the best seats for themselves,
they grab what doesn’t belong to them,
they greedily grab and grab and grab.
The scribes are not about service,
they are all about self-interest.

Their behavior did not sit well with Jesus.
Their behavior probably did not sit well 
with a lot of others either
but most people were too afraid to speak out
against those in power.

So did the poor widow give her two cents
because she was afraid not to give?
Because she was afraid of the people in power?
After all,
the widow is giving to an institution run by people
Jesus has just condemned.

The widow is giving to the very people
who “devour widows’ houses.”

Is Jesus pleased with the widow
or is he condemning her for being so foolish?

The widow gives to a corrupt and destructive institution,
run by people who care little if at all for her well-being.
Her money will not help serve future generations;
her money will only feed the gluttony of a few.

But on the other hand,
the poor widow is a model of true generosity.
She is willing to give her all 
because of her love for and her trust in God.

She has no illusion that money will keep her safe
or even make her happy.
She is a woman without fear.
She trusts completely in God.

The poor widow does not judge.
She gives.
She gives without checking the four-star charity rating
and determining if the institution is worthy of her gift.
She doesn’t give because she loves the synagogue, the Church.
She gives because she loves God.
She is willing to give her all for God.

Through her generosity, through her trust in God,
this woman is completely free.
Does she live in a world of corruption and greed?
But she, in her letting-go, is free.

The question for each of us is this:
to what are you willing to give your all?

To what are you willing to give your all?
What about YOU?
What will you give 
because of your overwhelming love for God, 
for one another,
for the world?

Will you give your all to create beautiful art?
To write poems? To help others sing with joy?

Will you give your all
to take on the tasks that no one else seems to want to do?
Will you give your all to make others laugh
or to be there with others, to sit with them in their pain and tears?

Will you give your all to work for peace and justice?
Will you give your all as parents or as grandparents?

The way we give our all is as diverse and varied 
as we are as human beings.

We are all called to service.
Service over self-interest.

We are all given gifts.
We may think our gifts are insignificant.
Indeed, others may think our gifts are insignificant.
Hardly worth two cents!

But Jesus thinks otherwise.
Jesus thinks that when we offer what we have been given
and generously give it away to the world---
yes, the ungodly and corrupt world--
when we choose to love God 
with generous hearts and minds and spirits--
when we do not cling or fear
but live and give and serve with love 
then we are good stewards.

We care for the generations to come.
We care for the generation that is now.
We care for our neighbor.
We care for ourselves.
We cast fear aside and join together all things.

That is the good news of Jesus Christ.

...the poppies grow

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
 Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

This poem is by Lt. Colonel John McCrae.
He was a soldier, a physician and a poet
during World War I.

Today, November 11th, our church, 
along with other churches throughout the world,
will ring our church bell 11 times at 11 AM.
This ringing of the bells
was at the request of an organization called
Veterans for Peace.

As you may know,
November 11th is Veterans Day.
What you may not know is that 
this day only became Veterans Day in 1954.

Before that it was known as Armistice Day.
November 11th was the day 
when what we now call World War I ended
On this day in 1918 the fighting stopped, the guns were laid down
and the  “war to end all wars” ended.

Over 29,000,000 soldiers were killed or wounded in that war.

On November 11, 1918
bells rang out across the world to celebrate that the guns had gone silent.
Congress declared Armistice Day a national holiday 
“to be dedicated to the cause of world peace.”

Sadly, peace did not last very long.
As we know, other wars have followed.

If anyone knows the horrors of war and the priceless value of peace
it is veterans.
It is these men and women
and the families of those men and women 
who offer everything they have.

For many of us, 
being willing to lay down our lives for what we believe
is a concept beyond our understanding.

Some may argue that violence and war
are not the way 
to bring about a lasting peace.

Some may argue that violence and war
are not following the path of Jesus Christ,
the Prince of Peace.

These are good and profound arguments.

But we must be careful
lest we look like the scribes in long robes--
reaping all the benefits from the sacrifices others are making 
so that our lives might be comfortable and safe--
while devouring what others give.

Whatever our position on war or peace,
we must always be mindful of those 
who have been willing to give everything.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sermon for Year B Feast of All Saints


I recently read this Yiddish folktale:
An old man sat outside the walls of a great city.

When travelers approached, they would ask the old man,
“What kind of people live in this city?”
The old man would answer,
“What kind of people live in the place where you came from?”
If the travelers answered,
“Only bad people live in the place where we came from,”
the old man would reply,
“Continue on; you will find only bad people here.”

But if the travelers answered,
“Good people live in the place where we came from,”
then the old man would say,
“Enter, for here too, you will find only good people.”1

I love this story.
I think it says a great deal
about how we see the world
and how we live in the world.
Do we look around and see saints?
Or do we look around and see sinners?
It is a question we each must answer for ourselves.

But even for those who see the world through sin-thick glasses,
there are still usually a few people that they, too,
will lift up as saints.

Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints.
It is one of the major feast days of our tradition.

Today is also the day
we will inter the ashes of George Doellgast
in the Memorial Garden here at St. John’s.
I think if you read the insert in your bulletin
you will see why George is, indeed, one of God’s saints.

Our opening collect today says,
we are “knit together” in one communion.
We are knit together.
That’s true you know.
Even for those we love but see no longer,
    they are still so connected to us.
No dropped stitches.

Do you know about our Prayer Shawl ministry here at St. John’s?
It is what you see here in front of our altar today.
These shawls are knitted--knit together--
and while they are being knitted,
the knitter prays.
And when they come to me,
I pray.
And when they are ready to go out into the world,
to wrap themselves around someone who is sick,
or suffering or hurting in whatever way,
I bless the shawl and off it goes.
The love and prayers and blessing in each shawl
    offers something tangible that says,
“Indeed! We are knit-together--
not just in yarn--but in our lives, in our spirits.”

We ARE knit together.
As the prophet Isaiah says,
God will wipe away the tears from all faces.
How does that happen?
Does some giant hand come swooping down
out of the clouds with a gigantic hanky to wipe our tears?
(At least I have never seen that.)

But I have seen many of you wipe away the tears
of someone you know is hurting and heart-broken.
Because we are knit-together.

The saints of God are knit-together
and it is a beautiful sight to behold.
Just like these beautiful prayer shawls.
Just like the beautiful flowers on the retable.

Just like the beautiful life George Doellgast lived
and continues to live in the memories of those
who loved him so.
Who still love him so.

Our gospel reading today is the story of Jesus
bringing Lazarus back to life.
It is a story of Jesus coming and freeing
Mary and Martha from despair.
The stone is taken away
and Lazarus is raised from the dead.

Raising someone from the dead seems impossible.
But  we weren’t there.
We don’t know what really happened.

But we have all been here in this world
when someone we love has died.
I have never seen Jesus show up as a man in sandals
and a long robe or a greeting that says,
“Hey there! My name is Jesus, Son of God...”

But I have seen Jesus show up.
Jesus shows up in the faces and hearts
and hands of those who are knit together.
This where we see the glory of God.

In the communion of saints that still live
and still love
that still care and care for one another.

The scripture tells us that when Jesus arrives
he is greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.

This is the teaching for us.
When we are greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved
it is time to move stones and to unbind those who are in despair,
those who have suffered loss, those who barely have the will to go on.

It is because we are knit-together
that we are disturbed and deeply moved by the suffering of others.
We don’t even have to be there in person--
   we can hear about it, or read about or see it on television
   and we are disturbed, concerned, and hopefully, moved to action.

After the storm Sandy
A friend of mine in NYC was without electricity or water.
A few days later power was restored to their block.
They had lights and water.
So they decided to have a party.
Not to celebrate their own good fortune
   but to try to use their good fortune to move some stones for others.

This is the invitation they sent to friends and members of their church:

All are welcome tonight to come by for dinner. ..we are calling this a "come shower/do some laundry/wash dishes/fill up buckets/[charge your cell phone /bring any food and drink you want to share and we will have a chance to gather for We also have a guest bedroom available...All are welcome anytime, and dinner will be around 6:30. Additionally, I continue to pray constantly for you all. May we all have the comfort of God's Peace.

They posted a beautiful photo of their two year old son
stirring up a bowl of brownie batter.
Regardless of our age, young or old,
we care about one another.
We want to be part of God's party.
We who are knit-together.

We who are knit-together
are here on this earth at this time
to care about one another,
to love one another.

We are knit-together in one communion.
It is precisely why we share a common cup,
why bread is broken and placed into our hands.
Broken--because we all,
at some time or many times in our lives,
are broken.

But we are put back together in community
and in communion.

We don’t celebrate the Eucharist by ourselves.
We come forward together to the table,
just as God’s saints have done for generations.
And they are all right here with us,
kneeling and standing beside us,
every time we reach out our hands.

We are put back together
through our communion with God and with each other.
We are knit-together.

We are knit-together
so that our eyes will see the saint that lives in each of us,
so that our hearts will forgive the sinner that lives in each of us,
so that our lives, our actions in this world,
just might really create a new heaven and a new earth.

Because sooner or later,
we all reach the end.
Our own time of sainthood.
We all reach the point when we have to say,
“It is done!”

It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega,
the beginning and the end.
It is done.

The beginning and the end are knit-together.
We are knit together with all the saints of God
and my, oh my!
What a beautiful sight to behold!  AMEN.

The Yiddish folk tale was found at this site: Wisdom Story 126,