Sermon

Proper 28, Year A

          This is another gospel that is difficult for me to understand, let alone try to tell it as good news to you.  Matthew has a theme, last week with the maidens and their oil lamps, this week servants and talents, and next week the separation of the sheep and the goats.  There was an earlier ‘kingdom of God is like’ where a king throws a banquet for his son and those invited do not come.  The ending to all these parables is that someone is left out or thrown out in the darkness where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 

          Our challenge is that Matthew’s audience was different than those of us listening to his words today.  Matthew writes, primarily, to Jewish Christians who are struggling both with the delay in Jesus’ return, the parousia (pair-oo-see-ah), and the Jewish population surrounding them.  They have differentiated themselves from their Jewish family and are not sure how to embrace the Gentile Christians.  It seems the end time has come – the temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed, and yet Christ has not returned as they expected he would.  As time went on Christians began to focus more on how to act than on preparing for the arrival of the son of man in the near future. 

          Looking at the gospel in the terms of what it meant to Matthew’s audience may give us ideas as to how this is good news for us today.  The ‘talent’ in the gospel story is a huge sum of money.  Five talents today would be around 4 million dollars.  It is only important to know that it was a great amount of wealth to leave with a servant. 

      “In the Parable of the Talents, the master showed great trust by leaving so much money in the care of three servants.  The FIRST servant honored that trust by using the master’s money wisely.  Likewise the SECOND servant.  Those two servants respected the master. They knew what he wanted, and did their best to give it to him.  The THIRD servant, though, acted quite differently.  (Perhaps) he acted differently because he felt differently toward the master. 

      He didn’t respect the master.  He didn’t love the master.  He feared the master.  He thought of the master as a hard man, even though the master has been generous to all three servants.  This third servant didn’t care what the master wanted, so he didn’t try to do what the master wanted.  The third servant cared only about himself –– his own life.  So instead of using the master’s money wisely, he buried it in the ground.  In the culture of that time, he would not be held responsible for the sum if he buried it and it became lost.  Because he didn’t want the responsibility, he just hid it away.  But it didn’t work.  The master left the money to be used.  He expected his servants to DO SOMETHING –– to make the world a little better place –– to make someone happy –– to put the money to work. “ (Sermonwriter, Dick Donovan)

God gives us gifts, abilities that we call talent.  We are expected to use those gifts.  When they are used, they multiply, and spread the goodness of God’s kingdom.  When we hide them, ignore them, or choose to not do anything (like burying them away), we do lose them.  They remain unused or worse fade away to nothing.  God asks that we use the talents that have been bestowed upon us.  

I tend to picture God as a merciful, loving, forgiving, creator.  To see a judgmental, condemning God is difficult for me.  That third servant pictures a God that is indeed unmerciful, unloving and most definitely unforgiving.  Fear of the consequences of losing what God has entrusted to him leaves him one option – to hide it all away.  Would God care if we try to use our talents and end up losing them?  I don’t think so. 

It seems that God is most upset and hurt when we turn away and hide – only because God knows that in the end we will be hurt by our own actions.    

How you respond to God by either boldly using your gifts/talents or hiding them away will indicate the way you envision God.  Are you the beloved child of a loving, merciful, caring, forgiving God?  Or are you the servant of a Master “who is harsh, reaping where he does not sow, and gathering where he did not scatter seed”?  Paul tells us that we are “children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness…God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”   

 Over the next week, reflect on three things: What has God given you?  What are you doing with those gifts?  What should you be doing?  Next week’s gospel will outline how we are to use our God given gifts/talents.  It is a special Sunday, Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday in the season after Pentecost.  It is the last Sunday in our church year.  We can continue this conversation next week…

Sermon

 

Proper 27, Year A

 

 

 

          How many choices have you made in your life, and how many choices has life made for you?  It feels that way sometimes; we don’t get to choose.  Life happens and we find ourselves dealing with it.  There is seemingly so much beyond our control that we hold on to the things that are familiar, comfortable or stable – until someone or something comes along and messes with our life.  Perhaps that’s why religion survives.  We need the hope that all will be well. 

 

          The Israelites have made it to the land that God had promised them.  They have been on a journey for years and almost nothing is the same.  Sure they have something to eat and water to drink, but they still longed for the ‘good ole days of slavery in Egypt’.  But now, they have settled in their new land and they are asked to make a choice – a choice for how they will live out their lives.  Joshua gathers the tribes and says, “choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods our ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living, …or serve the LORD.”  It is an important decision because if they choose to follow God, their LORD, then they can’t change their mind later without paying the consequences. The God of the Israelites was a vengeful and jealous God, and yet the people choose to follow the one God, to forsake all those other gods.  They make their choice publically in front of the assembly so as to be held accountable.  They choose to stay with the God that has protected them and done great works in their sight. 

 

          This morning Jesus tells another parable about the kingdom of heaven.  This one has to do with 10 maidens and their lamps.  Five bring extra oil – just in case.  Five do not.  Well, the bridegroom is delayed and all ten lamps are low on oil.  The five that brought the extra oil are present when the bridegroom comes and get into the wedding feast.  The others are late because they had to run to the market to get more oil and get locked out.  Culturally, at that time, “the bridegroom has gone to the home of the bride to determine and sign the marriage contract with the bride’s father and then he will return with the bride to his home (or that of his father).  Since negotiations about the terms of the marriage contract could get involved, perhaps the groom’s delay should not be considered unusual.  At the return with his bride, the wedding feast could begin at the bridegroom’s household.  The ten maidens await the groom’s return with his bride.”  (Sacra Pagina, Matthew, page 349).

 

Hard to say what choices were made by the maidens that led some to get extra oil and some to not bring any.  Did some choose to go have manicures/pedicures in preparation for the banquet and then not have time to get to the market?  We can identify with this scenario.  We’ve overscheduled our day so that we don’t have time to pick up something at the market or we are late for a meeting or we miss our child’s event?  And we’ve done it more than once!  That’s one lesson to take from the story.  Don’t get so involved with doing, that you forget to take care of living.

 

Jesus was speaking in parable using events from everyday life.   The people listening to Matthew’s gospel would understand that he is the bridegroom and that the “maidens become positive and negative models on how to act in view of the Son of Man’s delayed arrival.”  (Sacra Pagina, Matthew, page 350).  This parable reiterates the need to be prepared, to be ready, “because you do not know the day or the hour.”  Another lesson to take from this parable is not so much about judgment or the character of God as about being ready for the kingdom of heaven and what the time of Jesus’ return will be like.

 

There are two ways of looking at the “end time”.  One is called cataclysmic, and the other is the continuum.  The people to whom Matthew was writing lived with a belief of a cataclysmic eschatology.  The Son of Man would suddenly return and if you weren’t prepared, you got left out, like the foolish maidens at the wedding banquet.  My preference is the continuum, that the end time comes with the reign of God.  All people on earth will work together and bring about the reign of God.  We are all ready, because it can’t happen unless the whole earth is one family.  It rather goes along with the vision of a loving, merciful, God.  It also makes our job harder.  We not only have to get our own lives in order, we need to help and support each other.  In this way, we need to use the resources we receive to help bring about the reign of God (heaven on earth).  That is the lesson to take from the readings today.  For the people in Matthew’s day, they thought Jesus was coming at any time and had to be prepared.  For us, so much time has passed; it is a matter of continuing to work more than being prepared. 

 

We gather our pledge intentions this morning.  The money is used to continue our work in bringing about the kingdom of God here in our community.  I pray that we share our gifts and talents with each other and with those in need, believing that God will continue to provide for us. We, as Christians, have promised to serve the LORD.  Let us follow the role model of the wise maidens and be prepared to do this work.   AMEN.

 

Sermon

Proper 25, Year A

          The collect asks God to increase in us the gifts of faith, hope and charity; make us love what you command.   In the time of Jesus, God’s commands were numerous – over 600 rules for the Jewish person to heed.  How difficult to keep all the laws, and yet the Pharisees and Sadducees and the chief priests and the elders of the temple did it.  They kept the letter of the law, but not necessarily the heart of the law.  So this morning they are still trying to trap Jesus with a test.  What is the greatest law?

          Who knows what they expected him to say.  Instead he gives us the commandment, the law that we try to live by today…”love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” is part 1 and the part 2 is to “love your neighbor as yourself”.  I’m thinking that they are impressed with his answer – not that they like it, but he sure had a good answer.  Jesus returns the favor and asks them a question, a question they cannot answer and it ends the game.  “From that day no one dared to ask him anymore questions.”  Can you love what God has commanded? 

          The theme for the Diocesan Convention was ‘travel light…leaving baggage behind.’  We spent heard about baggage from Bishop David and why it’s necessary to leave it behind.  Baggage can be things –possessions we can’t give up; possessions we love more than God or our neighbors.  Baggage can be relationships that have hurt us and hinder us from moving forward – like a diocese that has been isolated and abused.  Baggage can be ideas or habits that we’ve had for so long, we aren’t able to hear or see what new things God is doing in our community. 

Bishop David demonstrated with an amusing visual on Friday evening.  He left the Renewal of Baptismal Vows service at the peace.  When he returned he had traded his cope and miter for a fishing vest, waders, sunglasses and a hat.  He talked about when he first began fly fishing he got all the equipment and clothing so that he could fit in with other fly fishermen.  Then he proceeded to show us what he wears when he goes fly fishing.  He removed the heavy 39 pocket vest filled with all the gear.  He removed the waist high waders.  He was left in a pair of shorts, his clergy shirt, and he slipped on a pair of sandals.  Okay, I’m sure that he wears a t-shirt instead of his purple clergy shirt, but we got the idea.  Baggage needs to be set aside.  It weighs us down and hinders our ability to act.

          This reminded me of an experience I had at a women’s cursillo many years ago.  I’ve told this story before.  We were half way through the weekend and were doing an exercise of washing each other’s hands.  One woman sat at her table and sobbed.  She couldn’t have her hands washed.  Now understand she is one of the those people who are so positive, generous and loving to others that they make your day brighter just by being with them.  It took several minutes, but she was able to share her thoughts with us.  She carried so much baggage that she literally felt like she was holding it all in big shopping bags.  She couldn’t open her hands to let someone wash them because she would drop all her bags, and so she could only clench her hands shut.  Yes, she eventually was able to open her hands and place them in the basin of water, but we had no idea that she felt that way or that she carried such burdens.  We could see the joy that came from setting that baggage down.

          If we are holding on to baggage, we need to spend our time and energy focused on it – holding it, carrying it.  We can’t focus on God or on the people around us, our neighbors.  We can’t keep God’s commandment to love God with all we have and to love ourselves and our neighbor.  That is why Jesus tells those who will listen that those are the greatest commandments and all the laws are encompassed by them.  Putting God first helps us to let go of baggage.  What helps you remember to put God first?

          Our meditation this morning uses the example of making the sign of the cross.  The cross is a symbol many Christians use to help them remember to put God first, but something else may be more relevant or helpful for you.  Prayer beads, an icon, the Lord’s Prayer, a butterfly, a rainbow – whatever works for you. 

This week, think about what helps you focus on God being present.  What baggage would you like to give up?   What do you need to give up?  What do we as the community of St. Anne’s carry as baggage?  I invite you to mentally bring that baggage to the altar at the Eucharist and set it down.  Leave your baggage and open your hands to receive Christ.  Then you will be able to go out with love to put God first.   AMEN.

Sermon

Proper 18, Year A

 

Do this for the remembrance of me…

Note:  This is a Children’s sermon, and there are props and dialogue which will not be recorded in this sermon because it hasn’t happened yet.

 

For those who are not here in person, this is the set-up.  I bring out a small table and a large bag.  The children are invited to come forward.  I begin to pull things out of the bag and set them on the table.  Some wrapped boxes…toy plastic flutes…some party hats…a pan with something baked in it…a package of candles.  Put some candles in the cake (that’s what is in the pan).  

Ask the children if they know what all of this might be for.   A birthday party?  Yes!  Do we all have birthdays?  Do you celebrate your birthday with most of these things?  Would you have a party with cake and candles, hats, presents and maybe toys to share?  We commemorate (remember in a special way) our birthday.  In the Hebrew scripture this morning we hear a story about the first commemoration of the Passover.

Moses and Pharaoh have been arguing about letting the people of Israel go from slavery in Egypt.  God has sent plagues to make Pharaoh and the Egyptians miserable so that he will let the Israelites leave.  The tenth plague is coming – “about midnight, the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die”, from Pharaoh to the slave to the livestock.  God tells Moses to have the people prepare, and put the blood of the lamb around their door.  When God comes through in the night, God will “pass over” the homes marked with blood and no plague shall destroy the firstborn of that house.  Further, God says, “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you.  You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord…”  And it happened just like God said.  To this day our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate the Passover feast in the spring remembering how God saved the people that night and how God has saved the people many times before and after.  To the children: Now if you will have a seat in the front or you may return to your parents if you wish.

As Christians, we don’t celebrate Passover.  The last time Jesus was in Jerusalem and celebrating the Passover meal in a room with his friends, he changed the commemoration.  He did something new.  “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat: This is my body.’  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’”  (Matthew 26:26-28) 

Does that sound familiar?  That is our Christian Passover.  Every Sunday we remember how Jesus has given us life.  We celebrate the eucharist as a commemoration of what Jesus did.  He gave himself to heal the world.  Our part is to remember his gift and to try every day to love each other. 

God is always present.  Usually we need God the most when we are alone.  How can you remember that God is always with you?  For many Christians, the cross is a way to remember that God is present all the time.  I know that some of you have crosses you wear that have special meaning – maybe they were a special gift or a birthday present.  This morning, I have a cross that I invite you to take.  It’s one that can be stuck above your bed, or on the dash of your car, or on the door of your locker; somewhere you can see it to remind you that God is there.  When you need to talk to God, you can.  Put it where you might need a reminder to feel God’s presence in your day.              AMEN.

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.

Sermon

Proper 15, Year A

Have mercy on us Lord…

For those who have been to an Episcopal general convention or EYE 2014 (in person or through You Tube broadcast), you have had the experience of hearing the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry preach.  When the Bishop gets up to preach, you settle in because he is going to speak for a while – a long while in Episcopal terms.  But he is going to come at you with energy and passion.

(Describe the experience at EYE in Philadelphia – one word “go”)

          The word this morning is mercy.  It runs through our lessons and our hymn selections at the 10 o’clock service.  Now I thought that the reading from Genesis, the end of the Joseph story, was about forgiveness, which is different than mercy.  But Joseph plays two roles; publically he is a ruler in Egypt and controls who gets food and how much in these years of wide spread famine.  Privately, he is the little brother that was sold into slavery by his siblings.  Okay, Joseph does have his fun when he accuses them as spies and has them put in prison for a few days.  He orders one brother to remain in prison while the others go back to Canaan, with full sacks of grain, and to prove they are not spies, to bring his brother Benjamin back with them to Egypt.  As a ruler, Joseph shows mercy to his brothers; as a sibling, he shows forgiveness.

What is mercy?  What does it mean?  Checking the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, “Mercy is an attribute of both God and the good human being.  Hebrew uses several words for “mercy,” of which the most frequent is hesed, which mean loving-kindness, mercy, love, loyalty, and faithfulness.  Another Hebrew word and the Greek word for mercy in the New Testament refer to the emotion aroused by contact with undeserved suffering, that is, compassion and a deeply felt love for a fellow human being…grace is also another word used to mean mercy…Divine and human mercy are closely associated with justice and righteousness because all refer to behavior appropriate to a relationship…Jesus shows mercy to the needy…” Mercy is an attribute, showing compassion for someone suffering undeservedly.  Joseph as a ruler is providing grain to all the people who are suffering the famine, even those who are not from Egypt, because the whole area will suffer from the seven year famine.  Joseph recognizes that God has turned their actions – selling their brother into slavery – as a way to save the famiy; “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.”  In Egypt the Israelites will have a place to live and work and multiply; without it Israel’s (Jacob’s) family would perish.  Mercy, compassion for the underserved suffering.

The Gospel for this morning has an interesting and uncharacteristic story of Jesus encountering someone asking for help and his ignoring them.  We left out reading the optional story this morning of the encounter with the Pharisees where they challenge Jesus about dietary laws.  He tells the disciples that it is not what goes into a person that defiles them, but it is what comes out of a person’s mouth via their heart that defiles them.  Some time passes as they walk 25 or 30 miles over the next couple days.  Jesus must be contemplating the recent events.  A Canaanite woman comes to their group and shouts for help and mercy.  Jesus ignores her.  Then the disciples ask him to send her away; they too assume that he will help her and send her on her way.  But he tells them that he was only sent to help the house of Israel, but he has healed outcasts and Gentiles before.  His refusal to help her, even when she comes and kneels before him begging for help, isn’t what we expect.

Jesus dismisses her with “it’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  The woman replies, “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table”.  You can almost see his face break into a little smile as he tells her that her request is granted.  The woman notices that Jesus used the word, not for stray dogs that wander the streets, but for household pets.  Pets are not outsiders but insiders.  The pets do get to lie under the table and eat scraps that fall or are tossed to them.  This foreign woman asked Jesus for mercy, the same mercy Jesus had asked the Pharisees to show.

We can have fun speculating on why Jesus acted the way he did with this woman.   Has he decided that he must give all his time and energy to his own people?  That he needs to really concentrate on helping the religious leaders to ‘see’ what God originally planned for Israel and how they may have erred?  Is it the human behavior of frustration and tired of dealing with those who just don’t get it?  Did he know that her faith was strong and that this would be a good learning exercise for his disciples and for us?

Yes, for us.  Because we are challenged daily to be merciful.  At times, showing mercy to someone we love is not the same as being nice.  The phrase ‘tough love’ comes to mind.  When our behavior is enabling or co-dependent, we are not being compassionate to one we care about.  We are not showing mercy and love because it is not a behavior appropriate to our relationship.  It is hard to change.  We, like Jesus in the gospel, are challenged to be merciful with the stranger.  One afternoon, a man pulled into the office parking lot in an old car and he looked – well – scruffy.  My first thought was ‘What now?’  But as he came to the door, I smiled and said hello.  He needed help with an address – that’s all.  He was looking for 1032 Lincoln at which point I knew he was probably looking for Lincoln Street.  But it began a very short conversation and my attitude was changed; he was not a stranger, he was a father looking for a son who was dying…so he could say good-bye.

Lord, grant me the grace to get past the ‘what now’ and be open to hearing the request for mercy.  Let your wisdom guide my responses, and may I strive to be merciful in my encounters.  AMEN.

Sermon

Lent 2, Year A 2014

There are so many stories in the news this past week that are continuing sagas.  The Malaysian airliner just disappearing off the radar.  What is happening on the Google barge?  But the one that caught my attention was echoed by an op-ed piece in the paper Friday morning – “Template for how not to raise a child” by Ruben Navarrette.  He referred to the story of Rachel Canning suing her parents for support – as she deems it – not necessarily as we would define it.  I thought about how she is looking for her parents to give so she can receive; how Rachel is not taking responsibility for or paying the price for her own needs and desires.

Made me think about parents and children.  My dad taught me unconditional love, but that didn’t mean he didn’t let us fail.  It meant that he was there to help us when we asked, to affirm that trying our best was all he needed to be proud of us, and to let us know that he always loved us even when we messed up and had to face the consequences.  I’ve tried to be that kind of parent to my daughters.

If we take a look at the God of the Old Testament, we get a God who would be obeyed or else.  God’s covenant with the people in the Old Testament was that they would faithfully obey God’s commands and God would deliver the blessing of a land of their own and innumerable offspring.  God would give to the people what they needed to prosper.  It’s no wonder that people today can’t identify with a God to be feared.  If you had a parent like that, you don’t want to have anything to do with God or church.

As Christians we put our faith in the loving God.  The one who’s covenant was to give his son to redeem creation once and for all.  A God who waits patiently for us to turn back when we wander off and forget to stay in touch.  Nicodemus didn’t quite know about that God.  He was familiar with the concrete God of acts and consequence.  He couldn’t understand a God that could love him so completely that God would send the only son to save us and not condemn the world.

I used these lessons yesterday morning for the baptism of an infant, Malia Villanueva.  I talked to those gathered about the concept of being born again.  Yes, we are born through the Holy Spirit at our baptism, but it struck me that we are born again every time we make a major life change.

It’s a new life when we get our driver’s license and savor independence, which comes with increased responsibility.  It’s a new life when we first leave home and have to support ourselves.  It’s a new life when we get married or find our life partner.  It’s a new life when we become a parent.  It’s a new life when we become a grandparent.  We are the same person and we are not the same.  Growth should happen at each of these stages.  We learn to be responsible for ourselves, for our relationships, for someone who depends on us.  More maturity is required to successfully fulfill each of these roles.  Knowing that we are loved unconditionally by God, assures us that we can learn from our mistakes without fear of never getting another chance.  That’s how much God loves us.

So what does God ask of us?  Simply, to do the work that helps to heal our hurting world.  As a community which stage are we in – teen, just starting to support ourselves, ready to take care of each other, ready to expand the family?  I think we’re getting close.  We need individuals volunteering to participate in at least one ministry and we need to be involved in activities that are taking place (like the First Friday concerts) to build our own sense of community.  Are we ready to go out and do that work?

Almost.  It will happen because the Holy Spirit is active within this congregation.  We have been born again, through our baptism in the spirit, and anointed as Christ’s own forever.  We know that God promises good things to those who believe, who have faith.  God was willing to give his son for the healing of the creation, so we who believe can receive eternal life.  And the son willing gave his life so that we might receive that promise.

What are we willing to do?  Can we continue to grow in this faith together until we are able to go out into the community and do God’s work?  This week take time and consider these questions.  We don’t have to make any decisions right away.  We just have to try to be a little better each day.   AMEN.

Sermon

Epiphany 5, Year A

Technology can be a wonderful thing.  I remember as a young adult easily learning about computers.  Actually, I took the first ‘computer’ programming class that was offered atSierraJunior College.  Back then we wrote simple programs a line at a time on punch cards which were fed into the ‘computer’ and an answer or data was produced.  What we really learned was how to ‘debug’ our own work.  How far things have come in just over 40 years…

40 years, are you kidding?  The 21st century is about instantaneous results.  The changes have been astounding.  Kids have little concept about ‘waiting’.  I wonder if a drawback to all this technology is the need for quick results.  Problem solved – on to the next task.  In our quest to take care of problems – in schools, business, home and church – do we focus on the symptoms, mistaking them for ‘the problem’ – cure the symptom and forget about taking time to find out what’s really happening.  For example, when you come down with a cold, you take medication to alleviate the symptoms of the cold; fever, stuffy nose, sore throat, sneezing, coughing – but do we try to minimize our exposure to viruses, that cause of the symptoms, or do we practice a lifestyle that will build our immune system which will also minimize viral infection?  Given how much we spend on cold medications it appears that it’s easier to take a couple pills or a tablespoon of liquid medication.

In the Old Testament reading, Isaiah is called to address the problem of false religious observance.  This morning we hear about ‘fasting’ as one of the symptoms.  The root problem is people who observe spiritual disciplines for selfish reasons (to gain God’s blessings) while ignoring the hunger, poverty, homelessness, and nakedness of those in need.  The problem is that the people are looking for God to provide for their needs because they have followed the law.  The people think that they have been faithful.  They imagine that their fasting and Sabbath-keeping have pleased God.

The people have stated their complaint –– God has ignored their fasting.  Now God states his complaint –– as an act of repentance or devotion, their fasting is fatally flawed.  They have not fasted to honor God, but have instead fasted for selfish reasons.  They have assumed that God would reward their fasting, so they fasted to earn the reward.  Their purpose was not to give devotion to God but to gain a blessing from God.  Their fasting, therefore, was exactly the opposite of genuine fasting.  Rather than an act of self-denial, it was a self-centered grasping for reward.  Their fasting was not an act of humility but of pride.  What they are about to learn is that God considers them to have been majoring in minors –– to have been faithfully keeping the lesser parts of the law while neglecting “the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith”.

            God’s response is to describe the fast that comes from true devotion that grows naturally out of love for God.  People who love God will worship him for the sake of honoring rather than manipulating him.  And if we love God, we will also love those whom God loves –– our neighbors.  This is a far grander vision than fasting or sackcloth and ashes.  It demands a great deal more of God’s people than they have understood until this moment.  It is easy to go without food for a day or to dress in humble attire –– especially if we think that we will receive a blessing from God for doing so. It is much more difficult to remedy injustice –– to give freedom to those whom we have oppressed –– to break yokes that bind people to servitude.  That love for God and neighbor will be manifested by taking concrete steps to care for those in need.  The reward of this right relationship with God is that “our light shall break forth like the dawn, your healing shall spring up quickly…you shall cry for help, and God will say, Here I am.”

Being in relationship with God calls us to look at our own lives, to honestly compare what we do with what we are called to do.  To not necessarily come up with a quick solution or ignore issues that may not seem to affect us directly.  Literacy, high school drop-out rates, gang violence, poverty, unemployment – there may be relatively quick remedies for the symptoms, but God calls us to look for the root problem.  I’m guessing it’s big and complicated.  It may well involve us making sacrifices for the good of our community.

Could it be that we are being called to spend some of our time and talent with those suffering social injustice?  To give up time spent with our own family or our own leisure?  Most definitely it will be monetary.  There’s no way around it, whether directly or indirectly we will need to ‘pay’.  Perhaps one of us will need to get involved politically…the solutions won’t be easy or cheap.

As a community we can figure this out.  Jesus points out that we are the salt of the earth; the light of the world.  We are called to be, to do.  Some say they can’t ‘do’ anything physical, and it is true.  But you are still the salt and the light by your examples of leadership and caring that you give to us.  And you still have a task that you can do – pray.  In fact, we all can and need to pray – to ask God for help.  Prayer is strong and it is needed as much, or more, today that ever.

So our work is not done.  We are called to let our light shine out, to continue our good works through the power of the Spirit we have received from God.    AMEN.

  Sermon

 The Presentation, Year A

Most of the time when we hear February 2, we think of Groundhog Day.  According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then spring will come early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and the winter weather will continue for six more weeks.  And if the winter has already been long and dreary, we pray that there will be no shadow and that winter will soon be coming to an end.  Not so this year.  It seems that winter ended for us over a month ago.

As Christians we should know that February 2 is the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Templeor The Presentation if you use Episcopal “church speak”.  So this is a teaching opportunity.  Why don’t we have this celebration every year?  Pull out those Books of Common Prayer and turn to page 16.  Under #2, we have the instructions for Sundays and the three additional feast days (it refers to page 15 when in line 1-2 “In addition to the dated days listed above) that can be celebrated on a Sunday.  Note that the second one is The Presentation.  So only when February 2, the set day for The Presentation, falls on Sunday would most of us even think about it.  I recommend to you that you give pages 15 through 18 a read this week.
There are rules about what we can do, when, and I have learned the hard way to be very careful about breaking them.  (Can tell the story about Evelyn and the Holy Innocents.)  Lesson learned.

What is The Presentation about?  As we are told in the gospel this morning, it is prescribed for in the Law of Moses.  “According to Lev 12:2-5, the purification after childbirth applies only to the woman (in this case Mary).  She is to offer a year-old lamb and either a turtledove or pigeon, but if she is poor she can make the offering as described by Luke (Lev. 12:8).  Luke takes this opportunity to point out that the parents are among the poor of the land.”  (Sacra Pagina, Luke, page 54).  The other part is the presenting or “dedication of the firstborn son to God in memory of the Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt, when the firstborn sons of the Egyptians died and those of Israel were spared.”  (Holy Women, Holy Men, February 2).  There must have been many mothers and firstborn sons being presented at the temple inJerusalem that day.

It becomes special because Simeon recognizes that this child is the Messiah.  Simeon is led by the Holy Spirit to the temple…to this child!  While Jesus was recognized by the shepherds at his birth, Simeon presents Jesus as the Messiah to the community.  Simeon acts as oracle, to letIsraelknow for the first time that the prophecies have been fulfilled in this child.  The Song of Simeon, or the Nunc dimittis, is said at the close of Compline and as a Canticle can be used between the lessons of Morning or Evening Prayer.  His words of praise give us hope, because we recognize that Christ is “the Savior for all the world to see, a light to enlighten the nations”.

“When Mary placed her small son into the arms of Simeon, it was the meeting of the Old and New Dispensations.  The old sacrifices, the burnt offerings and oblations, were done away; a new and perfect offering had come into the temple, God had provided himself a lamb for the burnt-offering, his only son.”  (Holy Women, Holy Men, February 2).

In the letter to the Hebrews, the writer emphasizes that Jesus was fully human in order to be exactly like his brother and sisters, not for his sake, but so that we would be able to trust him.  “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”  (2:18).  This is the part that is important for us today.

 How many of us find comfort in someone saying “I know what you are going through,” when we know they’ve never been in our shoes?  We can find an amount of comfort in their caring, their sympathy, but our true comfort comes from someone who can relate to our circumstances because they have experienced them.  And if there is no one else around us who has been through the same trials, Jesus has.  Jesus is with us, beside us, experiencing the pain again with us.  There is our comfort, our assurance that we don’t suffer alone.  It’s what makes us followers of Christ, the promise that Jesus was and is our brother, the one who willingly gave his life to redeem us all.  We can trust in him because he was one of us.

Maybe next February 2, you will think first about it being The Presentation and second about it being Groundhog Day.  The lifting of the child by Simeon in the temple is infinitely more important to our lives than the groundhog being lifted up by the mayor of Punxsutawney.  AMEN.

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 inStocktonwho 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 toStockton.  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.        

Sermon

 Proper 24, Year C

 “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.  ThechurchofLuke’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.

 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.

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.

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.

Sermon

Proper 19, Year C

 It’s really hard to make an argument for a loving, forgiving God when we read the Old Testament lesson this morning.  God sure is patient with us.  God must love us very much.  Even the behavior of the Israelites in the desert didn’t cause God to abandon them.  Although it seems clear that God was really pissed and ready to punish them, Moses reminds God of the promises and God relents.  God must love us very much.

          In the Gospel this morning Jesus again has to remind the people how much God loves us.  The Pharisees and scribes were really upset with Jesus’s behavior.  In Luke Jesus actually tells three stories, the two we just heard and then the one about the prodigal son.  All to emphasize how much God cares about us.  One sheep out of one hundred, one coin out of ten, one son out of two.  Our rejoicing at finding what was lost doesn’t compare to the rejoicing of God and the heavenly hosts every time God sees your smiling face.

          Have you experienced finding something that you thought was lost?  Remember how it feels when you first realize that “something or someone” is missing?  The little bit of annoyance can turn to panic as the search lengthens.  When the object of the search is found there is relief and joy.  So where is your safe place?  You know the one place where you put something that you will be able to find it when you need it in the future?  Experience has made me much better at designating a ‘safe place’ for documents.  I, like the woman in the gospel, have spent many hours going through the whole house looking for an important document, that I know I put in a safe place.  And when I finally found that important document, there was not the same rejoicing.  Duh…I wouldn’t want everyone to know how careless/stupid I’d been.  But every so often, something gets lost.

          My most recent experience was the mystery of my car keys.  I was at my hairdresser in Dublin.  After we were finished, I went to my car and quickly discovered that my keys were not in my purse.   Now I know how things can hide in a woman’s purse, so I went back into the salon and proceeded to search carefully through all the pockets, and check the places I had been.   I asked the receptionist if anyone had turned in a car key and fob.  Soon several of the ladies in the salon were helping me by searching garbage cans and towel bins.  I checked the parking lot.  No keys.  And they were not in plain sight in the car or the ignition either.

          Well, I called AAA thinking maybe I’d accidentally tossed them in the compartment with my sunglasses when I’d arrived.  That seemed plausible.  AAA arrived, unlocked the car, but no keys, anywhere – compartments, under front seats, in the back – no where.  Oh and the alarm would go off every time we opened the door.  Now what?  I called Dave and asked him to bring me the extra set of car keys, which he did.  I don’t know what kind of grumbling he did on his way over to Dublin on a Tuesday afternoon that was over 100 degrees in a truck with manual transmission and no AC.  Little did he know when he promised for better or worse…   No, I never did find those keys.

          As inconvenient as it is to misplace ‘something’, it is worse if ‘someone’ is lost.  Whether you’ve experienced ‘losing’ a family member or have listened – as I have – with a friend or parishioner who has lost someone, there is no comparison to a coin or document.  And those who have to deal with a loved one gripped with addiction and that lost (like the story of the prodigal son) can be devastating, but the joy of their return to wholeness is indeed the joy of all heaven rejoicing at the lost being found.  Finding one that you love who has been lost…God feels that way about us all the time.

It has been twelve years since ‘the’ September, 11.  The meaning of that date changed from just another day to a day of death and destruction.  Years ago, I read an article that talked about how “when the unimaginable happened, most of us retreated into the sanctuary of our homes and families until it seemed safe to stick our heads out again.  That retreat, when it felt like the world was completely upside down, had many repercussions.”  The phrase “when it felt like the world was completely upside down” caught my attention.  I thought about the Pharisees and scribes.  Jesus is an unimaginable event to them.  His behavior was turning their world upside down.  Things a good Jew was not suppose to do – he did!  It seems as if they were retreating more into their “safe place”, the law.  It seems that security for them was expanding the space between included and excluded.  They want to get rid of the person who has turned their world upside down.

What is the gospel message today?  That all are loved by God.  Paul’s letter to Timothy tells us “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”.  Me…you…and everyone else.  The Israelites had the prophets to guide them; we have Christ Jesus.  And Jesus is telling us to come out, be in the world.  Things are changing, the lines between them and us are being erased by Christ.  We are reminded this morning that God rejoices in all beings – even those that we would want to exclude.

As sinners, we are the ones who are lost.  We are the ones that Christ will find, lift up and bring to safety, over and over again.  That safety is found in the realization that God rejoices in our being.  But we, too, can reach out to each other, to lift up those who are lost.

Today we are asked to step out of our “safe places” and live in the world.  For a day, can you put yourself in the other person’s shoes?  Can you just simply rejoice and be glad along with God and the heavenly host when someone is found?  To God we all are precious.  AMEN.

_____________________________________________ 

Sermon

Proper 18, Year C

This morning’s sermons are going to be about the letter to Philemon.  If you would like to hear about the OT and gospel – that will be the homily this evening at the 6 o’clock service.

Onesimus is special to me because I was introduced to him by someone who was very special.  Dean Shirley Woods taught our adult bible study on Sunday mornings at St. Clare’s for many years.  She was a remarkable woman.  A natural teacher, a lover of languages, a writer, someone who spoke the truth in love, even when the truth might hurt.  We can read about her life in the publication “Modern Profiles of an Ancient Faith” published for the Diocese of California’s 150th Anniversary.  But I remember her as someone who opened the scriptures through her weekly classes.  And she gave us permission to wonder…wonder about the people that are mentioned in our bible…the regular, everyday people – like Onesimus.

She spent the last years of her life writing a novel about the slave of Philemon.  It was published in 2002, but never hit the best-seller list.  I have my copy in a box with my other seminary books in a shed in San Ramon – still unread.  But I know from her conversation that she used the knowledge of the culture of that time and place to tell the story of this man, Onesimus, of his life as a slave of Philemon, as he escapes, his encounter with Paul, and his conversion to ‘the Way’, which is known to us today as Christianity.  He brings this letter from Paul to his earthly master – Philemon.  I imagine that Dean Shirley spent many hours contemplating what life must have been like for Onesimus and the thoughts that would have gone through his head as he makes his journey.  As with any author, there is no doubt something of herself in the work.

Paul’s letter to Philemon is not the shortest book of the bible; the 2nd and 3rd letters of John are even shorter, but neither of those letters is included in our Revised Common Lectionary.  Philemon is the only book of the bible that is read in its entirety on a Sunday – a fact I’m sure was appreciated by our readers this morning.  (These are the kind of things that Dean Shirley would have shared with us.)

This letter is not written in Paul’s usual style.  His language is more deferential and indirect.  Also we have to fill-in “the rest of the story”, unlike those who were hearing the letter read to them at the time it was written.  “In the 5th century, BC and later, Colossae was an important center.  By the late 1st century BC, it is listed among a smaller group of towns.  (It had been a rich metropolis that was on the decline.)  A severe earthquake in 60 or 61 AD may have accelerated its decline as an important city of the Roman Empire.  A christian community, perhaps founded by Epaphras, existed there in the mid-first century A.D.”  (HaperCollins Bible Dictionary, Colossae)

Philemon, we can infer from Paul’s letter, was a successful businessman and leader of the Christian community in Colossae.  Paul carefully appeals to him to do the right thing.  After acknowledging that Paul could “just command him to do his duty”, he appeals to Philemon to do what is right because of his love of Christ.  Oh, and consider that the one that was useless to you has been a great help to me in prison – as I know you would have been if you were here.  And whatever wrong Onesimus has done to Philemon, Paul says “charge that to my account.”  Paul, who has suffered beatings and imprisonment and deprivations for the love of Christ and is a model for his fellow believers – tells him “charge it to my account.”  In this letter is good news for us today.

“Here in this letter we are shown the Christian doctrine of forgiveness in action.  As Christians, we are to forgive those who have injured us, to be prepared to be reconciled with our enemies. In our quarrels with others, we often suppose ourselves to be mostly or entirely in the right (as we may guess that Philemon did in his quarrel with Onesimus).  It is possible that God, or even a impartial human observer, might evaluate the matter differently.  But never mind that.  Let it be granted, for the sake of argument, that we are entirely the injured party, and that our opponent is without mitigation or excuse.  Paul says to us, as he did to Philemon, not, “Your opponent does not owe you as much as you think he does,” but rather, “Whatever he owes you, put it down to my account.”

This would be impressive enough if it were only Paul who said it.  But in fact he is passing on to us, both in word and deed, that which he has received from his Master.  Paul was moved to undertake a life of danger and hardship, spreading the Good News about Christ, was moved to give his whole life to Christ, because he knew that Christ had given His life for Paul. And Paul’s words to Philemon are simply an echo of Christ’s words to each of us.  ”If your brother has injured you, if you feel that he owes you anything, put it down to My account — charge it off against what you owe Me.”  And Christ in His turn has earned the right to say that to us, because He once stood before Pontius Pilate and, being accused, made no reply in His own defense, choosing rather to say, “Whatever wrong anyone has committed, whatever debt or penalty incurred, put it down to My account.””  (James E. Kiefer, Biographical Sketches, justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/103.html‎)  

As we move through this life, we encounter teachers in many forms.  The best ones will be models/reminders of the good news that we are brothers and sisters of Christ.  We who have been useless, have been made useful.  We won’t necessarily have an easy life, and we may experience more than our share of suffering, but we are promised that all will be well.  AMEN.

Sermon

Proper 17, Luke 14:1, 7-14

Did you wonder what was left out of the story this morning?  What happens in verses 2-6?  Jesus has continued on his journey and is in another town.  They’ve heard about him, though and the things he’s been doing.  It’s another Sabbath and he is invited to have dinner at the home of one of the Pharisees.  They’re keeping their eyes on him.  As they make their way to the home, there is a man with dropsy, a condition of severe fluid retention.  Jesus asks the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath or not?”  They keep silent, so Jesus cures the man, then he reiterates that they would help their child or their animal even if it is the sabbath.  And then they go into the home.

Jesus watches the people jockeying for position at the banquet.  We can safely infer that those sitting nearest the host are the most honored.  It’s not any different today.  Have you walked into a banquet hall – perhaps at a wedding or a company function – with open seating?  Long ago I figured out that it is more advantageous to sit away from the front.  Sitting at the front tables means being on your best behavior – where’s the fun in that?  You need to pay careful attention to the speaker and what is going on.  (Maybe that’s why people don’t want to sit in the front pews.)  There’s a special spotlight of sorts on those “honored” guests, which spills over to those sitting near them.  For the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders sitting “up front” was a symbol of success.  Today we have our own symbols of success.

At different stages in our lives, the symbols of success change.  But if we ask those with wisdom, those who have lived six decades or more, they might say: family, friends, adequate living space and cash, sense of accomplishment, ability to take the time and do things.  Spend some time thinking about what symbols represent success for you at this time in your life.

What do you know about Labor Day?  “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.  Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From these, a movement developed to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887.  By 1894, 30 states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families.  This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day.  Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.”  (US Department of Labor, the History of Labor Day.)

This morning we should mention the spiritual aspects of the labor movement.  The unions did help those workers who were being treated unfairly.  Labor laws that we take for granted have not always existed.

A minimum wage and a limit to the hours and days of work without additional compensation.  The group was able to have an impact and make changes that were impossible for an individual.  Unions were begun to take care of the welfare of those who did the work, those who did not have the power to do it themselves.  And they have been successful, but there are still laborers that need help.  Being a follower of Jesus reminds us that we need to pay attention and do what we can to help those laborers.

Jesus defines success as simply use the gifts you have been given to make the world a better place.  Take care of those less fortunate than you.  If worldly success comes with that, good for you  – just don’t get the two confused.  Worldly success does not guarantee happiness or eternal life.  We need to listen to the wisdom of our seniors about true success…

This notion is reiterated in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews.  It gives us the action steps we need to follow to be successful as Jesus defines success. Show hospitality to strangers; remember those who are in prison or trouble.  Invite those less fortunate or that you don’t really know to eat with you.

We do so many things to help those who cannot repay us.  You may not be aware of all the groups that use our facility.  There are five different groups to help people live without addictions that meet at St. Anne’s.  The Boy Scouts have been meeting here for years.  We open our Parish Hall on Tuesday and Thursdays to Visions in Education – a tutoring service for those high school students that are part of a charter school or doing independent study.  The Church of St. Charbel meets three Saturday evenings a month for worship in our church.  By having a place to worship, they are forming a community and raising funds to be able to build their own worship space.  As a part of this church community you are showing hospitality to some groups that cannot repay you.  All in all, St. Anne’s is doing a good job showing hospitality to our community.

Each week we are invited to share a meal with Christ.  All are invited, to come to the rail and share equally.  We are the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind, and God feeds us.  We can never fully repay God for the gift of grace that has been so abundantly given us, yet we are always invited.  We can follow the example and reach out to those around us knowing we will be paid with a much greater reward than our effort has earned.  This week I ask you to consider what you might do to show hospitality to those who are “poor, crippled, lame or blind” – literally or figuratively.  Consider how you might help a stranger.  Do a good deed.

At the Eucharist come…eat.  Then go and show the same hospitality to others.   Amen.

Sermon

Proper 16, Year C

The words of Isaiah this morning are from “Third Isaiah”.  “The Book of Isaiah is a composite work, the product of several different prophets who ministered at different periods in the history ofIsrael.”  (HarperCollins Study Bible, Introduction to Isaiah)  In a nutshell, First Isaiah predicts the downfall of the kingdom of Judah and the scattering of the people; Second Isaiah brings a message of hope and deliverance to the people living in exile and predicting their return to Judah; Third Isaiah speaks to the people that have returned and the prophet urges them to stay true to God in spite of the harshness of life they have as returnees to Judah.  Third Isaiah reiterates the promise of Second Isaiah that those who stay true to God will receive the riches promised eternal joy and prosperity.

So the words written for the Israelites in early 500 BCE, “if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted…if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the Lord” (verses 10a, 13-14) seem to be twisted around by the time Jesus is teaching.

This morning as Jesus is teaching he notices a woman who has been crippled for, we are told, eighteen years.  He lays hands on her and she is released from the bondage that has held her captive for eighteen years.  He was satisfying the needs of the afflicted, but the leader of the synagogue is indignant because he has “cured” on the sabbath.  Now laying hands on someone does not sound like work to us today, but in obeying the letter of the law, it was.  There was a disconnect at times between the strict adherence to the law and the intent of the law.

Last week, Jesus spoke about not bringing peace, but bringing division.  His mission was to bring change, and a good example of that is in the gospel for today.  You untie your animals and lead them to water on the sabbath.   Why not free a person from their afflictions on the sabbath?  The group is divided between the leaders who have been put to shame and the people who rejoice at the works of his hand.  This is the third time that Jesus has created a sabbath controversy teaching in the synagogue.

Today, as we sit comfortably in our pews, we need to honestly confront what is holding us in bondage.  What has you all tied up?  There are physical ailments, like the woman in the story this morning, that may be easy to see, but not so simple to heal.  There are emotional bonds that tie us in ways we may not even realize, but they have an effect on our relationships and our ability to function.  There are changes in our life that paralyze us.  The world is full of violence and natural disasters.  So what can we do?

We are in the difficult place of called to be a helper to the afflicted and being one of the afflicted.  Many times we are able to help someone because they are bound by the same affliction that we experience.  Reaching out to help others in need helps us to reduce our own bondage.  That is one reason we come together in community.  We gather on Sunday to get the support and healing we need to go out and work in the world for another week.  We are called to help each other loose those bonds which keep us from being whole.  And thank God, that Jesus has made it perfectly acceptable to do that any time and any place, even on Sunday in church.

This week be mindful of those around you.  Be a light in the darkness.  Do the small things that just might make a difference in the life of someone suffering from an affliction.  It can be as easy as just looking and seeing that person as a child of God.        AMEN.

Sermon

 Proper 15, August 18, 2013

          Was there a time when you felt that you had to go through something very difficult and painful to get something good?  I think about being pregnant, which isn’t too bad at first, but going through labor to give birth is difficult and painful.  The results are definitely worth the discomfort.  Maybe you’ve had a colonoscopy – the prep is terrible, but the peace of mind knowing you are healthy is worth it.  Surgery is another time when people go through much pain and discomfort to be able to be restored to health, to be able to do activities that they used to do and that brought them joy.  Or how about moving?  There’s moving into your first place and there is moving after you’ve lived in the same home for 30+ years.  Getting the house ready for sale, downsizing your belongings, packing and then unpacking!

          In our gospel this morning, Jesus is “expressing his longing for closure.  In verse 50a, he mentions the baptism with which he must be baptized — a veiled reference to his death.  In verse 50b, he mentions the stress that he is under until his baptism/death is completed.  This reference in 49b then appears to be a longing to face the crucifixion and to move through it to the victory of the empty tomb.  His crucifixion will be terrible, but the anticipation of it is terrible too.  He longs to get it behind him.”  (SermonWriter, Dick Donovan)  It can be true of the situations that we’ve already cited – pregnancy, medical tests, surgery – things that the anticipation is awful and we long for it to be over.

           Not everyone will be able to identify with these particular situations, but I’m sure that we all have had a time when we just wanted something to be over.  We have experienced change in some form and maybe we’ve had to suffer through anticipating the change and eventually getting use to the new situation.  Miracles of miracles, once in a while the change is actually good!

           Jesus points out that he has not come to bring peace, but division.  That is not a really comforting thought.  Jesus was sent to bring change.  “Jesus came into this world to establish thekingdom ofGod.  He came to transform the world, and that kind of transformation does not come easily.  Many who are first in this world will be last in thekingdom ofGod (13:30), and cannot be expected to accept this reversal without a fight.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus comforts the afflicted (those without power) and afflicts the comfortable (those in power).   Throughout his ministry, Jesus experiences conflict that will culminate on the cross.”  (SermonWriter, Dick Donovan)

            How many times have you experienced change bringing peace?  Most of the time, there is division and in some cases for some people there may never be peace.  It even happens in churches.  Recall the joke about “How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb?’’  The answers range from “Change?” or “My grandmother donated that light bulb, you can’t change it.”  In fact if you don’t think there could be division within the church, try suggesting that next time we paint the church we should paint it off-white and just leave the trim red!  Change is difficult, but change to help move us toward thekingdomofGodis necessary for growth, for life.

           Talk to the people who have moved from their temporary church homes back to churches that have been returned to our diocese.  The congregations inTurlock- St. Francis; Ridgecrest – St. Michael’s; Bakersfield – St. Paul’s; and Sonora – St. James.  The Episcopalians returning to those churches after almost six years are dealing with decisions about what to keep and what to give away.  They have a new worship space and the ability to change how they worship.  They also have the ability to change and define the work of the congregation given the new space.  How will they change to serve their community?

           That’s our question, too.  Our office and classroom buildings are OLD!  They are functional because we have become use to them, but are they able to help us serve our surrounding community to the best of our ability?  I think we are called to do more than provide a safe, affordable meeting place for all the groups that meet here.  We have the frightening and exciting opportunity to change – to grow – to bring a bit more of thekingdomofGodright here.

            What will it look like?  How much will we change?  The only thing I know for sure is that the church and parish hall will remain essentially the same.  The new building or buildings will be defined by what type of ministry we feel God is calling us to do.  In the reading from Jeremiah, God is speaking.  God is near by, not far away.  God tells those prophets “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully.”  We are the people of God and we are the prophets today.  Go and dream. Talk with God.  And then let us come together and listen to what God is calling St. Anne’s to do.  AMEN.

Sermon

Proper 14, Year C

 Grant us Lord, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right…

The letter to the Hebrews starts with faith.  This faith in God is what makes Abraham righteous in God’s eyes.  It says that by faith our ancestors received approval.  If you’ve read the Old Testament, you too might take exception to that statement by the writer of Hebrews.  Many times those generations of Abraham forgot their faith and trusted in either earthly power or other gods.  The prophets expressed to the people the anger of God at their actions.

The key to their salvation is re-turning to God.  Like a parent who invites the child to come and sit, let’s talk about this behavior that is not acceptable.  The fact that God, who is completely disgusted with these people and their empty rituals, would consider a remedy is a tribute to God’s love and grace.  No matter how bad their behavior, God still loves them and seeks to give them everything.  Unfortunately, we forget that we can have -and that God yearns for us to have – these face-to-face conversations.  We can express to God the emotions that we are feeling:  anger, hurt, fear, grief, as well as joy, peace, wonder, thankfulness and love.

Take Abraham, he speaks directly to God about his frustration, shame, and even his unbelief at the promise.  Abraham and Sarah have been obedient to God; their “faith” gave them the courage to leave wealth and comfort and familiarity for the promise of an inheritance, even if that faith wavers at times.  Abraham at the end of the conversation believes the Lord.  Does God want anything different from us today?

Not really.  God wants to give us the kingdom.  In the gospel, Jesus in talking with his disciples echoes the phrase that God uses with Abram “Do not be afraid.”  Following our lesson from last week about the rich man who stores up his treasure on earth and forgets God and how that doesn’t go so well, Jesus is reassuring his disciples that all their earthly needs will be taken care of.  That they should not worry, but instead to work for the kingdom of God and their needs will be met.  Then he goes on to tell them this morning how they should act.

Jesus tells us to get prepared.  Give up the wealth, comfort and familiarity of the earthly things that keep us from doing God’s work here.  To trade what we have now for a promise of treasure in heaven – forever.  God knows that we must start now, today, because we just don’t know how much time we have.  This lesson is abundantly clear as we can hear and read each day about accidents that take lives – car, train, airplane, bus, and natural disasters such as floods and fires.

Think about being prepared for a natural disaster.  How many of us have put together a disaster preparedness kit?  The kit needed to include water, non perishable food, blankets, first aid supplies, flashlights and batteries, a radio – things that would be needed to help us survive the first few days following the disaster.  Our diocese has required each congregation to complete a Disaster Preparedness form – I have been remiss in completing this requirement.  It’s difficult to imagine that St. Anne’s will be affected by some disaster – but that’s just it – we don’t know.

I was in the 1989 San Francisco earthquake.  Literally.  At the time I worked as assistant controller for a hotel in downtown San Francisco.  The controller was at Candlestick, so I stayed at work and we did whatever was necessary that first 24 hours.  Even going through that, I didn’t put together a ‘kit’ after it was all over.  The farther we move from an event or from a natural disaster zone, the less likely we are to be prepared.

We, as people of God, should act like we are living smack dab on top of the crossing of two major, imminently active, fault lines.  The kingdom of God is that close.  What does our ‘kit’ need to look like?

Christ calls us to prepare for his kingdom by being generous to people in need.  Not every needy person is poor — there are other kinds of needs besides money.  There are lonely people who need someone to talk to.  There are kids who need someone to coach their team and there are kids that need someone to teach or mentor them.  There are elderly people who need a ride to the doctor or to go shopping.  There are single parents who could use someone to help with their children now and then.

Getting ready doesn’t mean stocking up with things from the store.  Being prepared means opening our hearts – be willing to do good.  Those small acts of kindness are the sacrifices that please God.  They are expressions of the devotion of our hearts and obedient service.  This week begin to prepare your ‘kit’.  Examine your hearts and be willing to do good.  AMEN.

Sermon

Proper 13, Year C

 

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.

 

Scenario #1

          This is from a children’s sermon several years ago.  Let’s play a game.  I’ll give you a scenario and ask you a question.  I’m going to give you a couple minutes to just think about your answer, or if you prefer you can grab a pen from the pew and jot notes on your bulletin.

   “Sit back, relax.  You’re at home and someone knocks on your door.  It’s a delivery person with a letter for you.  You open it and in it there is a cashier’s check in your name for $5,000,000.  It’s real and it is yours.  You sit down and begin to think about what you can do with all this money…”  (after some time)

Scenario #2

Ask for volunteers to demonstrate the game of abundance.  Looking for someone who likes stuffed animals…  Looking for someone who loves books…

One person (or myself) starts to give ‘things’ to one person.  Keep giving things until they can’t hold any more and either look for another solution or drop everything.  The object is to see if the receiver begins to share the things with others or tries to find a way to hold more or just starts dropping some to keep others.

          Okay, were there any surprises?  How do you feel when you contemplate having an extra 5 mil?  Would you change where you live?  What you drive?  Where did God fall on the list?  Was God on the list?  Since the beginning of time, man has given the first fruits back to God.  Period. In good years and bad years and not only out of abundance.

The man in today’s gospel story was getting too much produce from his fields.  He got so much that he couldn’t hold everything in his barn.  What else could he have done with the extra food?  What did he decide to do?

The man was very happy because he had so much food that now he could just relax and eat all he wanted.  But God laughs at him.  Man, you are going to die tonight, and who is going to enjoy all your food?  If the man knew he was going to die shortly, would he have done something different with his food?  What is Jesus trying to tell us about the “things” we have?    Jesus tells his friends later that they shouldn’t worry about what we’re going to eat or wear, because God knows that we need those things and will take care of us, or have someone else take care of us.  We just need to love God and try to be like Jesus.  Paul says in the letter he wrote to the Colossians that we are new and that Christ is in us.  Paul tells us to put our mind on heavenly things.  What should we do when we have more than we can use? (pause)

Is wealth bad?  That’s the question that comes to me when I read this type of lesson.  God doesn’t say we can’t have things.  Is wanting to have nice things contra to what God wants for me?  I think we need to be aware of how our possessions affect our thinking and being.  Even the commentaries that I read stress that this passage is not about having earthly things.  It’s about how we view our earthly possessions and our relationship to them that matters.  The story this morning is a reminder that the “fool leaves God out of the reckoning.”

          The other thought that struck me as I was preparing the abundance exercise, is that the lesson works for when we are having troubles heaped on us.  Suppose you aren’t receiving blessing after blessing, but trial after trial.  Do you try to manage them all yourself, holding them close?  Do you find a bigger place to store them in?  Do you share them with God or with others?  In either case, blessing or trial, the abundance is best shared.

This week I have another exercise for you.  Take a look at what you have.  Give away what you don’t or can’t use to someone who can.  Kids, you can do this too!  If you already have your earthly possessions in proper order, you might think about your time.  Remember the rich man was going to sit back, relax, eat, drink, and be merry.  Not that we don’t need to take time to sit and relax, to recharge our bodies and spirits, but there can be an excess there too.  Volunteers with time are always needed.

Perhaps the most important thing is to “put to death whatever in you is earthly – Paul cautions us to get rid of anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language.”  These are not things to pass on, but to destroy, because if we keep them, they slowly destroy us.  We are new beings in Christ and therefore children of God.  As followers of Christ we do not store up treasure for ourselves; we are rich towards each other and God.  Amen.

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Proper 9, Year C

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

O God grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection…

 

            The picture on the front of the children’s lesson for today has a confidently smiling Jesus waving good-bye to one of the seventy.  There is a look of apprehension on the face of the man as he looks back to the safety of the place where Jesus is standing.  Actually, I think it might be terror, but then I’m prone to see in the picture what I would feel if it was me.

Jesus, the apostles, and a crowd of disciples are journeying throughSamariaon their way toJerusalem.  Last Sunday we heard what happened as Jesus came to a village and they refused him hospitality; they went on to another village.  Several men ask to follow Jesus, but they all have earthly business to attend to prior to making the journey.  We heard last week how difficult the path of following Jesus was – it would be almost impossible to do alone, but we have each other and the Holy Spirit to help us on our journey.

The seventy are sent as emissaries to the cities and villages on the path that Jesus is taking toJerusalem.  It takes a long time to make this trip.  There are lots of opportunities for Jesus to teach his followers and prepare them for the time when he will no longer be there beside them, physically.  They are to take nothing with them, and will depend on those who hear their message for food and shelter.  The only tools they seem to have are the gifts they’ve been given – to heal the sick and proclaim “that thekingdomofGodhas come near.”  Talk about a lesson in humility.  They aren’t even allowed to smite those that reject them.

Paul builds on this theme in the portion of the letter to the Galatians that we heard this morning.  “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”  In verse 4, which we didn’t hear today, Paul instructs them, “All must test their own work…”  Hmmm, how would we do if we looked at the past week; what work did we do and what can we expect to reap from what we have sown?  Did we do more sowing to our own good, or did we do some sowing to the Spirit?  Was the mission for the seventy to sow to their own flesh or to the Spirit?

Jesus seems to give them every advantage to insure that their sowing is only to the Spirit.  Take nothing of your own on this journey and be content with what you are given.  No one will know if the bag you own is Gucci or Target – it’s been left at home.  No one will know if your sandals are Birkenstock or flip flops – you’re not wearing them.  The formula will be the same each time for all of you: extend your peace, if it is received, then stay and work.  Don’t go from house to house making a big deal of yourself.  Stay in one place and accept the hospitality given to you.  Even when you are rejected, you do not hurl down an insult more than shaking the dust of the place off your feet, and you give them the good news that thekingdom ofGod has come near.  The people of that town still have an opportunity to repent and be in relationship with their brothers and sisters.

Can you picture yourself being appointed to go on this trip?  What would be the hardest thing to leave behind?  Picture yourselves dressed all identically, being sent out by twos to travel through downtownStocktoninto southeastStockton.  Instead of walking into a village, you walk into a housing project or a tent city of the homeless.  Think about that…(pause) would you be able to eat what they had to share?  Could you listen to their stories and touch them?

A couple lifetimes ago, when I worked for a hotel in SF, the hotel association prepared holiday baskets for people in need.  We were sent out in twos to deliver the boxes full of groceries to the poor in the city.  I volunteered to help.

We were instructed to dress in jeans, sweatshirt, and tennis shoes and to leave everything but car keys back at the office.  The reactions from the families we visited were overwhelmingly positive.  I think there was only one person who instructed us to just leave the box on the table and go.  It felt strange at the time, but on reflection there could have been reasons for their reaction.  There were others who invited us in, offered us something to drink, and one person even insisted that we take a plate of cookies they had baked especially as a thank-you.  There were times entering buildings that I was scared, but it was like we got a free pass because we were delivering food.  At the end of the day, we, like those seventy, returned with joy!  We all had experiences to share.  The peace that we took on behalf of others was received and returned ten-fold.

Now I’m not recommending that we do that.  But I do recommend that you look for opportunities to deliver gifts, whether they are backpacks with school supplies, or meals, or to volunteer at a food bank or food kitchen.   While it won’t have the drama of walking into a project South of Market, it will have the same reward of sowing to the Spirit.

The lesson we can take with us this morning, is the same one that the seventy experienced.  Leave yourself behind and go to carry out the command to love one another.  “As for those who follow this rule – peace be upon them.”  We can do this because we have a promise: the kingdom of God is near.  God is going before us, and beside us.  And when praise and thanks are heaped upon us because we have dared to answer the call and follow Christ, we can rejoice with each other.  But not because we have done any great work, we rejoice that our names are written in heaven.  There is no better reward.    Amen.

 

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Sermon

Trinity, Year C

Glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The trinity.  A concept which separates Christian churches from other faiths.  A concept that was so important that learned men struggled to put it into words – they fought bitter battles over the make-up of creator, redeemer and sustainer.  It stemmed from the arguments that established that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine.  Fully man and fully God.  You can see why it wasn’t going to be simple.  But in order to define our belief, our doctrine, in order to differentiate it from other existing religions, the bishops in the 4th and 5th centuries had to be able to state that Jesus of Nazareth, a man who suffered as we suffer, was also Jesus the Christ, the anointed one, the messiah, the Son of God.  And then as we hear in our readings this morning, there is one more being – the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit was also with God during creation, from the beginning.  Wisdom literature refers to the Spirit as she.  There was a book that was very popular several years ago, “The Shack”, which has an interesting take on the trinity.  The Spirit is feminine, Jesus is male, and God…well let’s just say the character was not depicted as an old, white guy.  It is an interesting book, but it doesn’t explain the doctrine of the Trinity.

The best I can do is give examples of what it is like, so we might just catch a glimpse of the concept.  Like the concept of God, it really can’t be defined or quantified because we are only human and don’t have the correct language or understanding.  This is something that we accept.  Trinity, three beings in one person.

Examples that have been used are the three leaf clover or taking three colors of play-do and braiding them into one piece.  The play-do model is very visual.  The one that helps me is from science – two hydrogen atoms bonded with an oxygen atom.  This molecule is the same substance, but can take three different forms – solid, liquid, gas – as ice, as water, as steam.  Very different in appearance and properties, but it remains the same molecule.

Why do we need this Trinity today?  How does God as Father, as Son and as Holy Spirit help us in our lives?  That’s what you need to answer for yourself, based on your life experience.  I was shocked to learn that for some people the language God the Father was repulsive.  It was calmly explained to me that if you had been abused, abandoned, mistreated by your father, than the church telling you “God the Father, is love”, would send you running away.  Ohhh.  But to that same person, God might be accessible through Jesus who is like our brother, or through the Holy Spirit, a feminine being that lives in all creation.

We have one God, and at given points in our lives, we may need to view God in different ways.  Sometimes God as creator (Father) is more comforting.  At others God as redeemer (Son) is helpful.  And sometimes God as sustainer (Holy Spirit) is what we need.  There are special times in our lives when we need the strength of all three forms.

This morning at the 10:00 service, we get to be witnesses to Zyann                as he joins the Christian family through the sacrament of baptism.  Do we literally receive the spirit at baptism or is the spirit already within?  The spirit was present in the beginning of creation and I think all creation carries a bit of that spirit.  If the spirit is already present, how can we receive that spirit which is already present?  Perhaps our ‘receiving’ is the acknowledgment, our saying yes, to the spirit that is already present within us.  The sacrament of baptism by water is the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace, the Holy Spirit.  On Zyann’s behalf, we acknowledge and welcome the Holy Spirit to “sustain him, give him an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and love God, and the gift of joy and wonder in all creation.”  It will be up to Zyann whether he chooses to make this same affirmation on his own later in life.

He will need God as Father and as Brother and as Holy Spirit at times in his life just as we do.  Through the grace of God, they are available to him as they are available to us and to every part of creation.  Paul tells the Romans, “we boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us…”  That would be difficult to accept if we did not have the grace of God, the Trinity, to be with us, to comfort us, to guide us…but we do and we can say “Glory to you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.”   AMEN.

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Sermon

Pentecost, Year C

O God, you teach the hearts of your faithful children by sending to us the light of the Holy Spirit…

Today is the birth of the church as we know it. I hope that in celebrating that we don’t forget that worship of ‘God’ had been around for thousands of years before that day of Pentecost. Our first church buildings were synagogues and temples, then crypts and people’s living rooms. This is a much nicer place than the locked room of the first Pentecost.
Last week, I had a meeting with two children whose mother expressed their interest in being baptized. After introductions, I asked if they had any questions. The nine year old asked, “What is baptism?” So I launched into my long response, remembering after the fact to try to put the meaning into 9 year old language. But it got me thinking. Baptism is our initiation into the Christian family of God. We are symbolically drowned in the water and raised to new life in the name of God, the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Then with a special chrism or oil, we are “sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”
We receive the Holy Spirit at baptism. Being in the world and being who we are, we can easily forget that we are filled with the Holy Spirit. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is a way to remind us, as we are reminded at every Baptism that the Holy Spirit has been with us, is with us, and will be with us our whole life. Although, the dramatic way the spirit lands on each person as tongues of flame is rather exciting.
There is another part with baptism that tends to be forgotten; it is that we all are ministers. “The offices of pastoral leadership are conferred for the first time in ordination, but the priesthood comes to every Christian in baptism.
Laos, the word from which we get laity, in the biblical sense, is a priestly term for a priestly person.” (EfM, Year 4, Chapter 32) In the early church all the baptized participated equally in ministering to the community. When Emperor Constantine made Christianity a legal religion, the church exploded. It became necessary to create order through hierarchy. Over the next centuries the role of the laity was diminished to a point of observer. The reformation restructured hierarchies, but the role of the laity developed slowly.
Our 1979 Book of Common Prayer states, “The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him where they may be, and according to the gifts given to them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world, and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the church.” (BCP, page 855) I was formed in a mission and a parish where the laity were very active in the life, worship and governance of the church. I did not find that same level of involvement here in the Diocese of San Joaquin. My mission at St. Anne’s is to raise the laity to partnership with clergy, to encourage lay leadership and to make the laity responsible and accountable for the health and spiritual growth of our community. It is going to take some time and effort on our part.
Gone are the times when only clergy can lead prayers or say grace at gatherings. Who says the blessing at your table when there is not a clergy person present? Many lay people are better at leading prayer or saying grace than I or any number of clergy. Some of you are better at teaching or facilitating classes and discussions that most clergy. Some of you are gifted in heading committees. Some are gifted with open hearts and listening skills for pastoral care. Some are gifted with organizational skills. Some are quiet doers. Some are gifted with the ability to promote change. Some know when to say “No”. Some know when to give up leadership and become a follower. None of us has all the skills or gifts, but together we make one powerful minister for God in our world. And we need you to step up and use your gifts.
We need a new way to minister to our families. We need a leader or two for the youth, a.k.a. youth group. We need an Altar Guild director, one who understands the theology of the Episcopal Church, is organized, can work with people and is familiar with technology. We need someone to wash the coffee hour linens and the kitchen towels (every other week). We need a few more coffee hour hosts. We could use two or three more Eucharistic Ministers at the 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. services. We need Eucharistic Visitors, those who take communion out to church members who are ill and can’t come to church, for one or two Sundays a month. If you are not able to do these tasks, please pray with me that God will send us the people we need.
This morning, I have a little something to help remind you of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit which has now been stirred up within you. It’s a pin with “tongues of flame”. Put it somewhere where you can see it on a daily basis – the refrigerator, a mirror, in the car…
As you come forward to God’s table this morning, receive the body and blood of Christ and be reminded that you are a minister in Christ’s church. Know that you are strengthened by the Holy Spirit to use your gifts in ministering to the community and to the world. AMEN.

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The Lessons:

Acts (9:36-43)

Psalm 23

Revelation (7:9-17)

The Gospel:

John (10:22-30)

Sermon

Easter 4, Year C

 

Grant that when we hear the one who calls us each by name, we will listen and follow.

 

            In the wake of the events that happened in Boston this week, this Sunday, occasionally referred to as “Good Shepherd” Sunday, is very appropriate.  When really bad things happen, it is even more important that we listen for the voice of Jesus, our shepherd.  While it would be easy to jump to conclusions and blame “those” people, terrorists … Muslims … foreigners …we as followers of Christ must be open to the truth and not make assumptions.  On Friday morning, I head someone say, “That’s why we shouldn’t let ‘those’ people into our country”, and my heart ached.  Why sound so fanatical?  I know that’s not what Jesus would have said, nor is it what Jesus would call us to believe.  And yet, it happens to nice, logical people, Christian people.

          Those who know me, know that I was raised on baseball and specifically the SF Giants.  We raised our daughters to love baseball.  And I can witness this same type of fanaticism in them.  One daughter dislikes the Yankees and Dodgers so much, that if at the end of the season, the Giants needed the Dodgers or Yankees to win a game so that the Giants could make post season play – she could not bring herself to root for either of those teams.  She would rather have the Giants “lose” than to root for the Yankees or the Dodgers.  Why not?  I don’t understand; it’s just not logical to me.

          It is emotional.  With the events in Boston, or even back on Sept. 11, 2001, emotions are running high because of fear, sadness, confusion, the randomness of the acts – it could happen here.  At these times we want control of what happens; we want the familiar.   And what we say and do may not make sense – like that person in the office.  Our lessons this morning contain the message that we need in times of fear and loss of control.

The reading from Revelation and the Psalm are ones commonly read at a funeral or a memorial service.  They bring comfort to those who are grieving because they assure us that those we love are being well cared for by the Lord.  We trust that what we have been told is true, the Lord will lead them to a better place – “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more, for the Lamb will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  And when our time comes, the Lord will do the same for each of us.

The Gospel lesson is more of a challenge.  Jesus is talking with some Jews and tells them “you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.”  Ouch.  Is Jesus really condemning all those who do not believe in him?

John’s gospel is different from the synoptic gospels.  It is suggested, that “a group of like-minded Christians began within Judaism but was expelled from the synagogue and exposed to the wider world.  Within that wider world the early Christians whose experiences produced this gospel had to come to a clear understanding of who Jesus Christ was, what he meant for them, and how they should live their lives in response to the challenge of Jesus.  It is widely accepted that this particular story of Jesus, and the language used to tell it, belong to the end of the first century.”  (Sacra Pagina, John)  The Christian experience of “John” is one of the church dealing with their separation from Judaism and their survival among a myriad of religions and religious practices.

John’s gospel records the Jesus-story of a community in transition.  No longer able to live their new faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God within the world in which Christianity came to birth, the Johannine Christians took their story of Jesus into a new world.  They are surrounded by many different religions as well as many competing Christian sects. Of course they will hold on to their story.  They will need to hear that Jesus makes a distinction between those who are his flock and those who are not.  My sheep hear my voice.  I know them and they follow me.  It has to be concrete.  You are in or you are out.  They believe that they are right and all those others are wrong.  I realize that we have to use this lens for filtering some of what we read in John’s gospel.

So like the fanatical baseball fan who bleeds their team colors and would never dream of rooting for the ‘dreaded rival’, the John gospel is about Jesus being the shepherd, the way, the truth.  For Christians this is true.  But there are others in relationship with God who are not Christian.  They are also loved as children of God.  Today, when Jesus says “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep”, it’s not an issue of Christian versus Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, etc.  We need to look at our own hearts.  Have we forgotten Christ in our thoughts or our words or our deeds?  Not literally that we don’t believe in Christ, but that we have not lived our lives as those who profess to be Christ followers.  Have we succumbed to an earthly fear over which we have no control?

The gospel of John taken in the framework of a fanatic for Jesus gives us a new way to read it.  We should also be fanatics for Jesus – after all we have chosen to follow Christ.  But we also have the responsibility to live in harmony with others.  Revelation stated that “there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.  All tribes, peoples and languages…   AMEN.

 

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Sermon

Lent 2, Year C

February 24, 2013

 

Lament: noun.  passionate expression of grief; song or poem of mourning or sorrow; verb.  express or feel grief for or about; regret.

Abram laments a legitimate heir, “You have given me no offspring and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”  Paul laments the lost ones whose minds are set on earthly things instead of on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus laments for Jerusalem.  Definitely a theme for the lessons.

Abram has returned victorious from battle and is blessed by King Melchizedek.  God makes a covenant with Abram promising a great reward.  Abram essentially says, so what.  The heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus.  Eliezer could be the chief steward.  It’s conceivable that Abram is exaggerating for emphasis – Eliezer is not necessarily his legal heir.  But the fact does remain that he has not fathered any children and he’s in his seventies.  This is serious.  In the Book of Numbers, Chapter 27, inheritance order is outlined as follows:  “Say to the Israelites, ‘If a man dies and leaves no son, turn his inheritance over to his daughter.  If he has no daughter, give his inheritance to his brothers.  If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father’s brothers.  If his father had no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan, that he may possess it. This is to be a legal requirement for the Israelites, as the LORD commanded Moses.’ “   Abram is making a personal lament.

Jesus is lamenting for a nation.  Perhaps Jesus uses Jerusalem as a metaphor for the people who live as those who cannot receive the word of God, whose minds are set on earthly things.  And yet, Jesus longs to bring them all to safety, “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”  The Pharisees set the stage by trying to get Jesus to give up, go away, hide.  But for the people “Jesus will ‘go forward’ to Jerusalem because it is his prophetic destiny to die there (as we already know) and no human plot can hinder that happening.”

What would our community lament if St. Anne’s was not here tomorrow?  Well, we’ve had Pub Night, so that won’t be missed for a while.  Some of you might be thinking – why would anyone miss this church, we don’t contribute to the community.  We don’t do any outreach.  This is a chance for me to reiterate that indeed St. Anne’s is important to many people in the community of Stockton.  If we weren’t here tomorrow, the following groups would miss our presence:  Mondays – 2 different A/A meetings; Tuesday – Visions in Education, O/A meeting, Al Anon meeting, and once a month Ladies Investment Group and Stockton Pacific Rotary Board; Wednesday – Food Addicts meeting and Boy Scouts; Thursday – O/A meeting, an A/A meeting, the Spanish Group, Visions in Education and Tai-chi; Friday – Tai Chi, Debtor’s Anonymous and an A/A group; Saturday – O/A and St. Charbel Maronite community.  Outreach?  Yes, we do that.

And you.  What is your lament?   What causes you grief?  What do you regret?  Was it anything that you could have prevented?  Some of you may lament the loss of a loved one; a spouse, a child, a parent or even an animal companion.  Some may lament the loss of a job or financial security, a loss of health, a loss of home…when we answer God’s promise with a “so what”?

In such moments, Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem is instructive. It tells us that God’s love is undiminished. It tells us that God is rooting for us. It tells us that God’s help is available to us. It also tells us that God gives us freedom to choose between good and evil, and with the freedom comes accountability.

Are we willing to receive shelter under the wings of the Almighty?  We cherish shelter when the chips are down–when our world is coming unglued.  At times like that, we kneel and pray for help.  When things are good or stable, we go where we want to go and do what we want to do–and resent suggestions that we should do otherwise.  When we move to the shelter under the wings – to accepting God’s love – we accept the covenant God makes with us.

God reassured Abram.  Your own offspring will be your heir; your descendants will be as many as the stars in the sky.  Abram asks God for a sign.  He is given a task, specific instructions to bring a heifer, a female goat, etc. as a sacrifice.  He did exactly as he was told and received the assurance that all God promised him would come to pass.  Then Abram moves from lamenting to the shelter of God’s promise.

Healthy people don’t stay in the lament.  It’s a place we all must pass through but by our relationship as children of God, we cannot stay there.  God has already given us the sign of promise.  THE sign is Jesus.  Jesus is calling to us, come.  With tenderness and infinite patience, Jesus waits for us to come to that safe place under his wings.

Christ calls us–his disciples, his church–to become prophets–to proclaim God’s word.  God calls us to hear God’s word for our lives personally–and to obey God’s word. Then God calls us to proclaim God’s word for our community–and for our nation. God calls us to love as he loves and to care as he cares. He calls us to call the brood to his protective wings.

This week, think about your lament.  What are you holding on to?  What can’t you give up?  What do you regret?  What does your heart long for?  Write a note to God and end with a thanksgiving that the invitation to gather all the children together is eternal.  There’s no curfew, no expiration date, the door is open and the light has been left on. AMEN

 

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Epiphany 3, Year C

Luke 4:14-21

January 27, 2013

When the Vestry was getting to know each other Friday evening, we were sorted into two teams.  Picking of teams can be done many ways.  There is the literal ‘picking of teams’ where inevitably someone will be the last picked – not much fun.  Names can be drawn at random.  The method used by our Senior Warden was the count off method.  One, two, one, two, one, two – pretty fair.  All the ones are on a team and all the twos were on a team.  But then someone asked how they would know who was on their team because we were all sitting around a large table.  The answer was quickly offered – shirts and skins.  That was pretty funny because in a coed crowd of middle aged people it just wasn’t going to happen.

There was another sorting process in a class in Seminary, that wasn’t so funny.  We were breaking into groups of 3-4.  First the class divided into male and female.  Then the female group decided that those under 40 would be a group.  That left about 8 of us in the female, over 40, and we were having a tough time coming up with how to break up the group – until someone said ‘those who have children’ and those who don’t.  That worked!  As we started to separate one of my classmates got really upset and began to cry.  Turns out that while not having children wasn’t a big deal to the rest of her group, it was a big deal to her.  She had always wanted to have children but was not able to.  She felt we had been cruel in even suggesting the distinction.  She did not want to be part of the “I can’t have children” club.  You can’t tell by looking at a person what clubs they belong too and which memberships are difficult to bear.  You only know after you’ve brought up the difference.

The people of Israel are returning to Jerusalem – a place of their own, the place of their ancestors.  And it is new to most of them.  They have been in exile – scattered throughout Babylonia.  By birth they are part of a club.  It’s time to return to living life according to the laws of Moses, whether they want to or not.

What we need to understand, is that it has been a long time since the people have lived in Jerusalem, and to most of them this is a way of life that they have only heard about through stories.  On this day before the festival month that today is known at Rosh Hashanah, Ezra reads from a spot where all the people, even ritually defiled persons, could be present.  “Ezra, brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding.”  Immediately, I was wondering who are the people that can’t hear with understanding.  What kind of club weren’t they part of?  I thought about people we might call developmentally challenged or maybe they were foreigners, non-Jews.  Well, the notes say that ‘those who could hear with understanding’ meant ‘older children’, teenagers in our lingo.  So those who couldn’t understand were presumably kids.  There were pauses during the reading of the law so that it could be translated and that all would be able to understand.  In that understanding, they are becoming part of the club – the club of the people of God.

Jesus has begun his ministry in Galilee and eventually gets back to Nazareth, his home town.  He stands up to read in the synagogue like he has done many times before as a young man and is handed the scroll of Isaiah.  This part is unique to Luke’s gospel – the other gospel versions of the story don’t go into this much detail.  “This Isaiah citation defines the character of Jesus’ ministry.  He will announce good news to those who are poor, blind, in captivity, and oppressed.  Luke portrays Jesus’ liberating work in terms of personal exorcisms, healings and the teaching of the people.  The radical character of this mission is specified above all by its being offered to and accepted by those who were the outcasts of the people.”  (Sacra Pagina, Luke)          How many of us are part of that club?

We come to Paul’s letter to the people of Corinth.  Last week, he was telling them about gifts of the spirit.  This morning Paul is taking that a bit further and letting us know that all gifts are important to the Church – and that they are equally important.  (You get the idea that maybe some people then were looking down at other members in the community.)  Together we make up a whole body.  Even our blemishes are parts of the body.  And though we might want to deny that we are part of the body, we can’t.  “If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.”  Through baptism we are part of this body, this family of Christ.  “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

No doubt we all belong to many different clubs.  There are no external markings to identify which clubs we have membership in, and it’s not necessary that we share with each other all of our club memberships.  Suffice it to say that we are all members of God’s creation.  We are a part of this family of Christ and our family is part of the larger family of God.  Being members of the ‘no’ kids club does not make us less (or more) than those who have children.  Being members of the club of those who suffer depression does not make us inferior (or superior) to those who suffer physical challenges.  Being members of any club just makes us human.  The thing we have in common is membership in one or more clubs.

Spend some time this week thinking about how these clubs affect the way you look at and interact with the world?  AMEN.

 

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Advent 4, Year C

Sermon

January 13, 2013

Giver of all gifts, prepare us for the greatest gift…

 

Can you identify with totally trusting God?  Have you ever let God guide your next step completely?  When you are undecided about what to do next and prayed for guidance, did you really let God have control?  Even knowing that God loves us and knows us, we still have trouble letting God guide us.  I have to get pretty frustrated trying to make my life work before I can turn to God and ask for help.  Has that ever happened to you?

I had been working part time as an associate priest in the Diocese of California, applying for different open rector positions for over a year.  I knew it was time for me to have my “own church” so to speak, but it just wasn’t happening, and didn’t look like it would happen in the Bay Area for many reasons.  So finally, I asked God – send me where ever you need me to be – even if it means that I need to leave California.  Two months later I was forwarded an e-mail from Fr. Mark Hall who was looking for some part-time help at St. Anne’s in Stockton.  Nothing is impossible with God.

If we back up a little in the gospel story, Mary had just a few days before been visited by Gabriel, an angel sent by God.  Gabriel tells her she has been chosen by God to be the one to give birth to a child that will be called Son of the Most High, and the Son of God.  Mary must have been very skeptical – this was all really strange talk, and it was very dangerous.  Gabriel gives her a sign.  “Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  Mary gives her consent to God’s plan.  She knows the Torah and has heard about God’s promises of deliverance by a Savior.

Going to visit her relative, Elizabeth, accomplishes a couple things.  She can check out what the angel has told her – Elizabeth is with child – and Elizabeth confirms the angel’s words.  She reassures Mary with these words “and blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”  So Mary says – Yes!  Everything is going to be okay!  Mary’s response is known as the Magnificat, we sang it just a few minutes ago.  I doubt that she has any idea of what is in store for her or for her child, but she is able to receive the gift God has given her.  God will save me, and all future generations will recall this time and they too will receive good things from God.

Mary’s song is for us too.  “God’s mercy is on those who praise him from generation to generation…he has exalted the lowly and filled the hungry with good things.”  Listen to your soul; let the song of praise and thanksgiving spread from it through your whole being.  Stay open, be vulnerable and ready to receive God’s gifts for you.  How?  How do we stay open?  How can we be ready?  Mary says, “My soul magnifies (which means declares the greatness of) the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.  So our soul can continually bless and rejoice in God, but how do we get our conscious mind and actions to do the same?  If we set aside time each day for quiet prayer or reading scripture, that’s a start.  If we can take everyday, repetitive chores and do them for the glory of God, that’s another way.  Making a commitment, having the intention to pray and give glory to God at all times throughout the day, would insure that our actions and words are praise worthy.

I don’t know about you, but I am so easily distracted by the world around me.  So many things call for our attention.  It’s so easy to forget, to lose track, be influenced by the wrong people or thoughts.  It would help to have something to remind us.  Something tangible that would call our minds back to giving thanks and praise to God.  Some people carry prayer beads in their pocket or have a prayer bracelet.  Maybe it’s a tattoo, a symbol or sign that would help you refocus on God.  Some people wear a cross, and I remember one person telling me that they didn’t wear it so others could see, but they wore it inside next to their heart where they could feel it.

Another idea is looking for Christ in each other – hmmm.  Our souls have no problem magnifying the Lord.  If we look for Christ in the people we meet, in ourselves when we look in the mirror, we can be continually reminded to praise and give glory to God.  Sundays, as we gather together is a great time to practice.  At the exchange of the Peace, look in each other’s face, see Christ looking at you and smiling.  Practice as you stand in those lines at the check out counter, or wending your way through the stores.  Practice at work on your co-workers, your boss, or those pesky customers.  Look for Christ in your neighbors and those family members you only see at the holidays.

Advent has helped us prepare for God’s greatest gift – the baby Jesus.  As another year begins, we need to celebrate the gifts and the work that God has given us to do.  We use our gifts to help each other, to do something to heal our world.  We know that we are doing the work of God, our particular ministry, when we get more enjoyment and energy out of the activity than it takes from us.  In those quiet moments between bowl games this week, think about what you do at St. Anne’s – does it still bring you joy?  Is God calling you to some new ministry or confirming what you have been doing?  Trust that with God nothing is impossible.     AMEN.

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Advent 4, Year C

Sermon

December 23, 2012

 

Giver of all gifts, prepare us for the greatest gift…

 

Can you identify with totally trusting God?  Have you ever let God guide your next step completely?  When you are undecided about what to do next and prayed for guidance, did you really let God have control?  Even knowing that God loves us and knows us, we still have trouble letting God guide us.  I have to get pretty frustrated trying to make my life work before I can turn to God and ask for help.  Has that ever happened to you?

I had been working part time as an associate priest in the Diocese of California, applying for different open rector positions for over a year.  I knew it was time for me to have my “own church” so to speak, but it just wasn’t happening, and didn’t look like it would happen in the Bay Area for many reasons.  So finally, I asked God – send me where ever you need me to be – even if it means that I need to leave California.  Two months later I was forwarded an e-mail from Fr. Mark Hall who was looking for some part-time help at St. Anne’s in Stockton.  Nothing is impossible with God.

If we back up a little in the gospel story, Mary had just a few days before been visited by Gabriel, an angel sent by God.  Gabriel tells her she has been chosen by God to be the one to give birth to a child that will be called Son of the Most High, and the Son of God.  Mary must have been very skeptical – this was all really strange talk, and it was very dangerous.  Gabriel gives her a sign.  “Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  Mary gives her consent to God’s plan.  She knows the Torah and has heard about God’s promises of deliverance by a Savior.

Going to visit her relative, Elizabeth, accomplishes a couple things.  She can check out what the angel has told her – Elizabeth is with child – and Elizabeth confirms the angel’s words.  She reassures Mary with these words “and blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”  So Mary says – Yes!  Everything is going to be okay!  Mary’s response is known as the Magnificat, we sang it just a few minutes ago.  I doubt that she has any idea of what is in store for her or for her child, but she is able to receive the gift God has given her.  God will save me, and all future generations will recall this time and they too will receive good things from God.

Mary’s song is for us too.  “God’s mercy is on those who praise him from generation to generation…he has exalted the lowly and filled the hungry with good things.”  Listen to your soul; let the song of praise and thanksgiving spread from it through your whole being.  Stay open, be vulnerable and ready to receive God’s gifts for you.  How?  How do we stay open?  How can we be ready?  Mary says, “My soul magnifies (which means declares the greatness of) the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.  So our soul can continually bless and rejoice in God, but how do we get our conscious mind and actions to do the same?  If we set aside time each day for quiet prayer or reading scripture, that’s a start.  If we can take everyday, repetitive chores and do them for the glory of God, that’s another way.  Making a commitment, having the intention to pray and give glory to God at all times throughout the day, would insure that our actions and words are praise worthy.

I don’t know about you, but I am so easily distracted by the world around me.  So many things call for our attention.  It’s so easy to forget, to lose track, be influenced by the wrong people or thoughts.  It would help to have something to remind us.  Something tangible that would call our minds back to giving thanks and praise to God.  Some people carry prayer beads in their pocket or have a prayer bracelet.  Maybe it’s a tattoo, a symbol or sign that would help you refocus on God.  Some people wear a cross, and I remember one person telling me that they didn’t wear it so others could see, but they wore it inside next to their heart where they could feel it.

Another idea is looking for Christ in each other – hmmm.  Our souls have no problem magnifying the Lord.  If we look for Christ in the people we meet, in ourselves when we look in the mirror, we can be continually reminded to praise and give glory to God.  Sundays, as we gather together is a great time to practice.  At the exchange of the Peace, look in each other’s face, see Christ looking at you and smiling.  Practice as you stand in those lines at the check out counter, or wending your way through the stores.  Practice at work on your co-workers, your boss, or those pesky customers.  Look for Christ in your neighbors and those family members you only see at the holidays.

Advent has helped us prepare for God’s greatest gift – the baby Jesus.  As another year begins, we need to celebrate the gifts and the work that God has given us to do.  We use our gifts to help each other, to do something to heal our world.  We know that we are doing the work of God, our particular ministry, when we get more enjoyment and energy out of the activity than it takes from us.  In those quiet moments between bowl games this week, think about what you do at St. Anne’s – does it still bring you joy?  Is God calling you to some new ministry or confirming what you have been doing?  Trust that with God nothing is impossible.     AMEN.

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