The ROTA for January 2015 is available on the calendar page by clicking here.

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The ROTA for December 2014 is now available on the calendar page.

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Sermon
Proper 17, Year A

Bring forth in us the fruit of good works…

How does God talk with you? What does it take to get your attention, to make you stop and listen, to hear? Some people are really good at discerning God all the time. Others, like me, not so much. Too often God needs a 2 x 4, that’s something like the burning bush that is not consumed for Moses. God hears our needs, observes our misery and our joys – God is always present in our life. We don’t always notice it.
In this story from the Hebrew scripture, God is asking Moses to help the people in captivity, to lead them “to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Remember that Moses has fled from his posh position in Pharaoh’s court to become a shepherd in a land far away. As a young man, the adopted son of the daughter of Pharaoh, he learns he is an Israelite and that his siblings and mother are slaves. A few days later he tries to help some of the slaves that are being harassed and ends up killing one of the Egyptian taskmasters. So he runs away – far away. Now God is calling him to go back to Pharaoh and bring his people out of Egypt.
This morning we hear the first of many conversations that Moses will have with God as he attempts to get out of doing this task, and then as he is trying to accomplish the task. Moses doesn’t really have a relationship with the people he is supposed to help. He doesn’t know their names or anything about their lives – he didn’t live with them. Moses does know God. Moses listens to what God wants him to do, and then, reluctantly at first, he tries to do the work that God has given him to do. Moses chooses to serve the Lord, to do good works.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he is encouraging the Christians to listen to the word of God. Society is tough for those people; Christians are persecuted. They are a strange minority religion in a city with many different religions. God sends Paul to give them counsel on how to live a life of good works in a culture that values earthly power and riches. The list of things that Paul encourages them to do, we are encouraged to do today. It is not an easy list. “Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good, love one another…rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer…extend hospitality to strangers…bless those who persecute you…live in harmony with one another…do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly…do not pay anyone evil for evil…if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink…” So which of those things is hard for you to do? What has God been calling you to do?
Jesus is preparing his disciples for what is to come. It’s not a pretty picture, and it’s not the victory that those who have been following him envisioned. They expect that the messiah will triumph over all who oppress the Israelites (much like Moses who leads the people out of slavery to a good land – their own land) and that they will have peace in a land of milk and honey. Jesus sets them straight. The victory is going to be eternal life overcoming death. Our part is to let go of our love of life as society may dictate as successful and live a life that God dictates as successful. Serve the Lord by bearing fruit of good works.
What has God been calling you to do? That might be the wrong question. What is God doing in the community and how can we be part of God’s work? The emphasis is that God is working whether we choose to do anything or not. God does call us, continually. It’s just not always to do something comfortable. In his last Friday reflection, Bishop David suggested that it may be better stewardship to replace our church lawns with gardens. Can you imagine our neighbors’ reaction if we did that – planted lots of tomatoes, beans, carrots, corn, squash? I was talking with the Bishop about this and how I imagined we would get word from the neighborhood association in short order. We talked about how our church should be a reminder – even an irritant – to our neighbors. Our church should be about raising social issues to the attention of the affluent whether they are sitting in the pews or living in the blocks around us. We’re not a social club; we are called to work with God.
Many of you are involved with groups that are already doing this work. We need to hear from you. How are you helping do God’s work in our community? Are there ways that others can get involved, too? Last Sunday I talked about the Community Partnership for Families and the different programs they are developing with recently released prisoners. Some of us got involved with their backpack project. I know that we have parishioners who are members of the Assistance League, coach youth sports, volunteer for Hospice, and other organizations who are working with God in our community. It’s time to let the rest of us know what you are doing.
I am going to put up a large poster in the back…a Fruits of Good Works. There will be pens available. List your name and the work that you do. If you have a picture you can post, please put it up there. We need to see some of the outreach that is being done by members of St. Anne’s. God is working here in Stockton and we have been called to follow. God promises “for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” We can do this – together.

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Rev. Anne Smith

a

June 8, 2014: Day of Pentecost, Year A

Text: Acts 2:1-21, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, John 20:19-23


 

Among the lesser-known Jewish holidays is Shavuot. The day of Shavuot marks seven weeks since Passover each year; Shavuot means “weeks”, and the English translation of the name for this Holy Day is the Feast of Weeks.

 

In the ancient Jewish tradition Shavuot was a feast of obligation—it was the time to bring the first fruits of the harvest to the Temple to be a thanksgiving offering to God.

 

But in Jesus’s day a shift was taking place, and Shavuot gained significance as a memorial of the covenant God had made with humankind, ultimately symbolized by the giving of the law, or Torah, to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

 

Even as the meaning of the day has shifted, it has always represented a significant occasion for acknowledging and giving thanks for what God has provided.

 

The most common name for this day is actually from the Greek. Seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot makes the celebration fall on the 50th day, and so the Greek word for “fiftieth” became its name: Pentecost.

 

Pentecost, a holy day for Jews from every nation to gather in Jerusalem and offer thanks to God, remembering God’s goodness and love toward them and their commitment to serve God in return.

 

And one year long ago, there amid the Jews renewing their commitment to the divine covenant, a gathering of the disciples of Jesus issued an invitation for people to turn to God in a brand new way. A sound like rushing wind rose up, and tongues of fire came to rest on the disciples, and they spoke. Into a crowd of Jews from every corner of the empire, the disciples spoke languages they could scarcely have named before, and foreigners caught the familiar cadences of home in speech plainly sensible to them though it came from the mouths of a few yokels from that provincial backwater, Galilee.

 

There on that day the Holy Spirit was poured out and people’s hearts were set ablaze. They heard a message of God’s saving power, a power made real in the person of Jesus.

 

Here amid a cacophony of different languages this morning we too hear this message, emerging in clear, sensible speech. The Spirit comes and we hear the message of God’s power at work from the beginning of time and even now.

 

We hear the song of the Psalmist recall the movement of the Holy Spirit in creation, the wisdom with which God made all things, the variety present everywhere we look! Creation is God’s delight, and the Holy Spirit is the very breath of life.

 

We hear the words of the prophet Joel, as he speaks of the Holy Spirit being poured out on all flesh, bringing forth new life in the midst of death, saving not just the chosen ones of Israel but people of all nations, to God’s greater glory.

 

We hear Jesus himself offering shalom, a word of peace and well-being, as he sends his followers into the world as he himself had been sent by God. He breathes on his friends and the Spirit comes and fills them with power, the surprising power of offering forgiveness and accountability.

 

Those who receive the Holy Spirit as Jesus offers it here are given the power to release the sins of any or retain the sins of any. Friends, this is the power to break the world open, to give freedom to captives and to bring justice to the oppressed.

 

Do you remember how Jesus practiced forgiveness? Jesus went into places where sin cast people’s lives into darkness and shadow, and he brought them healing and release. Those who suffered from blindness, paralysis, fever, bleeding, leprosy, and disease received the healing of their bodies; those who suffered analogous ailments of heart, mind, and soul received blessed release. Jesus offered forgiveness that restored suffering people to wholeness and connection with God.

 

But Jesus retained the sins of some. Everywhere Jesus went, he challenged the lies that held power over people’s lives. When Jesus found the tellers of lies, he confronted them with the truth. Jesus held them accountable for their sin, the sin of leading people away from God. When the Pharisees burdened the Jewish people with lies about what God required of them, Jesus held them accountable. When anyone in power dismissed another person as less than worthy for any reason—gender, status, age, ethnicity—Jesus exposed the lie. He affirmed the dignity and value of all people, but he held anyone accountable who propagated the lie that some are less-than, the lie that some are unbeloved.

 

Jesus gave his friends the Spirit and the power to forgive, and we have received these gifts too. In baptism, we invite the Holy Spirit to reside in us, and what potential is ours because of it! The Spirit comes and expectations break apart, and the immovable breaks free. Forgiveness, release, and new life become possible. The Spirit is poured into every believer, every servant of God, and we have such gifts to offer because of it. This body of God-loving, sin-forgiving, healing-bringing, lie-exposing faithful people, still learning ourselves to walk by grace, gets to spread the love of God and the forgiveness that frees us into every corner of the world.

 

Like the Jews gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost the year of that first Easter we come to this day to give thanks to God and acknowledge all that God has provided, and to be reminded of the covenant we have made with God. We renew our baptismal vows, the promises we make about how we will live our life in Christ. And I pray that we also see the continuous outpouring of the Holy Spirit and that we will receive anew our commission to bring light and love and forgiveness and justice into the world.

 

Amen.

 

 

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Sermon
4th Sunday of Advent

Today we get to talk about Joseph. Joseph was an amazing man. We are told that he was righteous, a just man, a good person. Why does Matthew talk about Joseph in his birth narrative, but not talk about Mary? Recall Matthew was writing to Christian Jews in conflict with other Jews and that his purpose was establishing that Jesus was the Jewish messiah. It makes sense that he makes use of OT prophecy to prove his point. The messiah would come from David’s line and be born of a virgin. Matthew first traces Joseph’s lineage to establish that indeed, this child is from David’s line. Then there’s establishing how, given the culture in that day and age, any man would put up with a pregnant, virgin bride.

Social customs were different in those times. A normal man would have rejected Mary and she would have been stoned to death for committing adultery. Not to mention the generations of shame her family would suffer. In those days, unlike our society, the betrothed couple may not even have known each other. “Since marriages were political, economic, religious, and kinship arrangements between families, they were often arranged long before the actual age of marriage, and thus betrothal could extend over a considerable period of time.” (Malina and Rorhbaugh).

We know Mary was a young woman – probably 13 or 14, but what about Joseph? Was he a young man, or, as some commentaries suggest, was he an older man possibly a widower? It seems more plausible that Joseph was in his late 20’s or early 30’s. He may or may not have been married before. There is a certain maturity implied with his solution to save Mary (and her family) from shame by “resolving to divorce her quietly.”

Faced with the dilemma of being betrothed to a girl who is pregnant and knowing it’s not his child, Joseph does not react quickly. He is really thinking this through. If he denounces Mary, then she dies. If he marries her, he suffers the shame of “having relations” with his betrothed prior to the “marriage”. Premarital sex was looked down upon – and could have grave consequences for Joseph as well as Mary. He could go through the marriage and then quickly and quietly divorce her before she has the baby. I read one commentary that suggested Joseph thought that by divorcing Mary, the real father of the child could claim Mary and the child. So Joseph has decided on a course of action that will have the least consequences for everyone involved – until an angel of the Lord speaks to him.

Joseph did as he was told. He had decided on a course of action, but was open to change when he got direction from God. There have been several times in my life when I have pondered what to do. When my own actions didn’t work, I would finally ask God. It took prayer, a time of quiet, and sometimes advice from a friend to be able to honestly state ‘God, whatever you need me to do’? For example, when it became clear to me that I needed to move from where I was an assistant priest to a position as vicar or rector. I began with an interview with the Diocesan Deployment officer, and then began applying for appropriate openings within the Bay Area. After almost two years and not even getting close to being hired, I finally asked God to send me where I was suppose to be – even if that meant moving to another state. Not long after that a colleague forwarded me an e-mail from a Fr. Mark Hall in Stockton who was looking for someone to come a day or two a week to help him with pastoral care. God wasn’t calling me to go far – just to Stockton. I will confess that when I truly turned a problem over and follow God’s direction, it is good.

Those of you who have had a problem or dilemma in your life and asked for guidance – did you receive direction from God? If the guidance from God was different from your decided course of action, did you change? Joseph was a righteous man, he knew the scriptures, he believed in God, and he had faith. He was willing to change his course of action, and do what he was told to do rather than what he wanted to do.

Do you have a situation like Joseph? Is there a relationship that you are struggling with – whether it’s a family member, a neighbor, a coworker? Have you taken the time to think about what would be best for them? It’s rare to get a direct answer from God – either in a dream or through the voice of an angel. Most of the time we have to rely on that small voice within us, a random thought or solution that comes in the unguarded moment. We may even have to take the first step in faith, testing to see if obstacles block our path or if doors just seem to open.

This is the time of year to specifically look at our life – to take inventory as it were – of how close we are to walking the path that those righteous ones like Joseph walked. It’s a time to make adjustments, to make changes.
We are of Christ’s line. At our baptism, we were sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own for ever. As children of God, we are responsible to act righteously and justly towards each other and ourselves. Each week we gather at the table to commemorate our heritage. We partake of the one bread and the one cup with the resolution to be like Joseph, to be the person that God made us to be.
Amen.

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Mark Your Calendar For December 6th at 7:30

Click Here For More Information

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October is anti-bullying month, but why have a special day for LGBT teens?  Straight teens have committed suicide to escape the bullying.  I think back to the widow.  She had God on her side.  There were many passages in scripture that commanded the community to take care of the widow.  While she didn’t have any power compared to the judge; she did have societal justice on her side.

For LGBT teens who are bullied for being who God created them to be, there is no justice.  Imagine being told by your church that you are an outcast because you are gay or lesbian, that God can’t possibly love you.  And if your family has rejected you, what resource do you have?  This type of bullying is implicitly accepted by parts of society – there is no justice on earth.  That’s why it is important to remember and to support Spirit Day.  We pray along with our brothers and sisters that the bullying will cease, that God will open minds and hearts to see the children of God.  We pray by wearing purple on the third Thursday of October every year until the bullying ceases.  We pray for justice for all.  And God will hear and answer our prayers – eventually.

This is a day when I am called to preach about stewardship.  What a wonderful reminder that stewardship is about being responsible for all of God’s creation.  Paul gives some instruction on how to do that.  “Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.  Always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.”

Be like the widow.  Be persistent in the pursuit of justice for victims of bullying and especially for LGBT victims of bullying.  Be like the widow.  Continue to pray for that which is right and just.  Be like the widow.  Have faith that our persistent actions will result in justice on earth.   AMEN.

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In the gospel story, our characters are from two ends of the social spectrum.  “The judge is the epitome of power — bound by neither jury decisions nor courts of appeal — and the widow is the epitome of powerlessness. Widows are symbols of vulnerability in both Testaments.  “A widow could not inherit her husband’s estate.  Widows were dependent on the compassion of the community” (Raymond Bailey, 429).  Because of their vulnerability, the scriptures demand protection for widows.  This widow is persistent.  While the judge cares nothing for God or man, he recognizes that this woman can create problems for him.  So the judge grants her request.”  (SermonWriter, Dick Donovan)

Today we observe Spirit Sunday.  Spirit Day is the third Thursday in October, and this year is was on October 17.  Millions wear purple on Spirit Day as a sign of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth and to speak out against the bullying they endure.  According to the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network’s 2011 National School Climate Survey, 63.5% of LGBT students reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, 43.9% because of their gender expression.  GLSEN also reported that 81.9% of LGBT students report being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation, and 27.1% because of their gender expression.

Spirit Day was started in 2010 by high school student Brittany McMillan as a response to the young people who had taken their own lives. Observed annually, individuals, schools, organizations, corporations, media professionals and celebrities wear purple, which symbolizes spirit on the rainbow flag.  Getting involved is easy — participants are asked to simply “go purple” as we work to create a world in which LGBT teens are celebrated and accepted for who they are.

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Our Gospel lesson (18:1-8) continues to address the issues of faith in difficult times, and reassures the disciples that God hears their prayers.  It calls us to maintain hope through the darkest of days.  It promises that God “will quickly grant justice” (v. 8).  It tells us that discipleship is not an easy road, but reminds us that God will vindicate faithful disciples.  The parable raises a question:  Is the purpose of prayer only to bring our hearts into line with God’s will or does it also change God’s mind?

There is no question that persistent prayer — continuing communion with God — reshapes our hearts to God’s original design.  Once this happens, clogged channels are cleared to receive God’s mercies.  Of course, we prefer prayer to grant what we ask as we ask it — and quickly.  We expect physicians to give instant relief.  We expect motion pictures to inspire instant joy or sorrow.  We expect technology to provide instant communication.  We expect the stock market to bestow instant wealth.” (Sermonwriter, Dick Donovan)

God does not promise instant answers to prayer.  God, who loves us, will answer our prayers in the way that is best for us.  This can bring up difficult questions on our part.  Is God punishing me for my sins?  Does God really love me?  Is God trying to teach me a lesson in this suffering?  Two important things to remember: God loves us and is present with us in times of suffering; and we are all given free-will and sometimes decisions of others or prior generations affect our lives negatively.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 18: 1-8

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

 

“This week’s Gospel lesson has close ties to the scriptures that precede it (17:20-37) and follow it (18:9-14; 19:11-27).  There are also close parallels to 11:5-13.  The church of Luke’s day is experiencing persecution and they are longing for the Parousia (Second Coming), which they expect to vindicate them and to end their suffering.  However, the Parousia seems long overdue, and disciples are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain their faith.

 

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