Sunday, August 31, 2014

#RallyRevGals Blog Contest

For those seeking a sermon here, keep scrolling. You will find them below this post with audio on the right sidebar.
I am a member of the RevGalBlogPal blog ring, and I have been for about 8 years now. I had an anonymous blog before this one that sustained me through seminary. It has been deleted, after being printed and archived.  This post is a challenge and contest from RevGals!
Here is the set-up: Have a case of the Augusts? Not ready for the program year to start? Thinking about how you can’t save the world, or even your little corner of it? RevGals can’t fix it all either, but we can give you a reason to post to your blog!
The #RallyRevGals Blog Contest will run from Tuesday, August 18, to Sunday, August 31.
To be eligible:
  1. be a member of our webring,* check!
  2. write a blog post about a woman who has been a positive influence on your ministry (whether or not she is/was a pastor), see the rest of this post!
  3. use the tag/hashtag #RallyRevGals in your subject line as well as categories or tags on your blog,
  4. share the link in the comments on the blog post on RGBP, in the comments on the accompanying Facebook group post, or on Twitter (be sure to use the hashtag so we can find your blog post). I hope to do all three - I'm feeling ambitious!
Everyone who participates will be entered in a random drawing for three prizes from our Cafe Press store. *fingers crossed* 
So here is my entry:
I have been thinking about women who have been a positive influence on my ministry and I cannot name just one. I am blessed to be able to name several. In fact there have been so many, that I have been reluctant to post because I am afraid I will forget someone.  I will give it a shot though - the coffee mugs are so enticing!
In my early life, my mother and grandmother were important to the development of my spiritual life that eventually led to my sensing and then later following my call to ministry. I had a female Sunday School teacher in high school that I remember well because she was honest and frank with our "girl's only" class about what it meant to grow up as a Christian female. We had her and each other because it was not allowed for her to teach young men over the age of 12 in that church.  I don't agree with that polity at all as an adult, but I loved our class of all young women. 
Later, once I became an Episcopalian, I felt the call to ministry that I had dismissed earlier in life in that denomination. I entered the ordination process and seminary. God gave me a woman to pray for me, hold me dear, and give me advice throughout those years (and even through today). Beryl is now a RevGal who travels on the Big Events. She was my minister when I needed someone with spiritual maturity to help me sort though a situation. One of my biggest thrills was being able to bless her marriage to a lovely man the day after I was ordained a priest. They gifted me with a white set of vestments. Every time I don that set, I feel wrapped in love and prayers. I once had a particularly difficult meeting that she was holding in prayer and I will never forget her advice to me: "When you enter the room, choose your chair wisely. Look for the one Christ is already occupying. Sit with confidence. When you speak, allow his words to whisper in your ear first. Know that he is there with you, speaking to you and holding you gently." That advice still holds true for tough meetings and tough days. 
My ordination process was rough - and I have now learned that so was everyone else's.  The RevGalBlogPal ring became a group of women and men who understood the soul-piercing disappointment to be told, "We do not discern that you have a call to ordained ministry." They listened to the heartbreak and anger. They told me their stories, in the comments on my blog and in flesh on the Big Events. I found a group of people who had been in my shoes and made it through. Mary Beth was the person who introduced me to his incredible group, and I am ever thankful for her (and for many reasons beyond that). Martha is the RGBP fearless leader and a pastor to me.
There have been several priests who are women who have been formational to me in everyday life: Martha, Kai, Gail, Natalie, Virginia, & Mo. They have helped me sort out the politics and the day-to-day busy-ness of being a woman/wife/mom in ministry. They are each wonderful and instructive as they embody their own ministries. 
Last but never least, are the women I now serve alongside. These are the women with which I occasionally have lunch, or long conversations over the phone, or check-in intentionally over Facebook: ClayOla, Mary, Genevieve, Katie, Monna, Heather, Amy, & June. These are the women who I hope to see when I go to conferences or continuing education events or whose churches I spend the night at when traveling on mission trips. 
I know there are other women who have been positive influences on my ministry. Elaine is one - a seminary professor. These others are not named but are certainly a blessing to me. 

Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me

Preached at St Alban's in the Theatre, Arlington

Take up your cross and follow me. We are still in Matthew's Gospel. Matthew is still trying to convince the Jewish people that the man, Jesus, was the Messiah they were hoping for. And today that man says "Take you your cross and follow me." But how?

In an amazing twist of the lectionary, Paul addresses just that. I have a friend who says that this writing by Paul reminds her of a mom on the first day of school, "Did you remember your permission slip?  Your lunch money is in the account. Here's the paperwork for picture. Make good choices!" It does sort of have that same feel for us in this transitional season. Listen to another translation of this:
            Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it.
            Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to what is good.
            Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
            Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame.
            Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant.
            Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.
            Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
            Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath.
            Laugh with your happy friends when they are happy; share tears when they are down.
            Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up.
            Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.
            Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everybody.
            Don’t insist in getting even; that’s not for you to do.
            “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
            Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he is     thirsty, get him a drink.  Your generosity will surprise him with goodness.
            Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

That translation is from The Message by Eugene Peterson. I have been drawn to it for other Bible study lately and it has really been speaking to me. There’s something about the language that feels more challenging to me:
            Love from the center of who you are.
            Practice playing second fiddle.
            Keep yourself fueled and aflame.
            Be inventive in your hospitality.
            Bless your enemies – no cursing under your breath.
            Go buy your enemy lunch – bring your enemy a drink.

These are nourishing words for us in this weekend of transitions. These are the words we will remember as we set up new routines and complete new tasks. This is the very best reminder we could have to get us ready for the newness and yet the familiar in this next cycle of life.  Labor Day means no more summer, right? No more 100-degree days? Fall – Autumn – is coming, right?!

This weekend always seems like a bridge in my life: the official end of summer vacation, if not the weather, and school starting up. It’s a new season every year in our house, especially with kids. Now that my youngest is in high school and the oldest in college, I am even beginning to see the end of that season as well.  There are many different life stages here, but none of us can escape the change of season – school zones affect our routines and habits – as they should – and traffic patterns change. Those of you who live here in Arlington will see less daily traffic around Six Flags, but more around Cowboy Stadium – none of us escapes the seasonal differences. This weekend there are a lot of people spending the three-day holiday out and about, but next weekend they will be back here – settled in for Fall. I like these cycles. I like the rhythms of life, even though sometimes they feel scary or melancholy, I always know another season will come along.

You all are in a cycle of transition here. Soon you will call an Interim and then a Priest-in-Charge. There will be some scary moments, some melancholy moments and< I sincerely pray, some hopeful moments. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Look to Paul and Christ as you faithfully enter this season in the life of this community. 

“Take up your cross and follow me." I know you all have a Daughters of the King chapter here. Those of us who are Daughters have taken a vow that is written on the crosses we wear all the time: take up your cross and follow me. Part of taking up that cross includes time spent every day in reading Scripture, following a daily devotion, looking for ways to serve others. This is our Gospel lesson as Daughters.

May we all be blessed as we settle into this new season. May we remember these teaching from Paul and this command from Christ. May we always get the best of evil by doing good. Amen.

Audio for the sermon will be on the right sidebar Podbean Player.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Invited into the Storm

Sermon 14A – Matthew 14:22-33
St Alban’s in the Theater, Arlington, TX

Sometimes when I am scheduled to preach, I look at the Gospel reading and think, “Oh Yay! I know this story!” but then as the week goes on, I realize that maybe I know the story a little too well. I start to feel as though everything I know about it has already been said by far better preachers than I am. I realize that you all may have heard sermons on this Gospel reading so many times that you could probably preach it yourselves. It can look quite hopeless by Wednesday, if I haven’t decided on a direction yet. So this week took a different turn. I do not know you all well as a group, but I think – I hope – that I know you well enough to preach this sermon. It was begging to be preached more specifically than I would usually do in a Supply situation, but I hope what it spoke to me this week will be helpful to you.

This is a common story in our Gospels. So common in fact, that this is the second time that the author of Matthew tells a version of it. The first version had Jesus asleep on the boat when the storm blew in, frightened disciples, Jesus showing command over the storm, “peace be still” & “oh you of little faith,” and the disciples ending up confused, “what kind of man is this?” 

In Mark and John’s versions, Jesus walks on water, but not Peter. John’s has a freaky magical ending, and Mark’s ends with the disciples being confused with hardened hearts. Weird, right?! There is no version of this story in Luke – maybe he though Matthew overdid it?

And then there is today’s version.  Jesus makes them leave after the Feeding of the 5,000 – pushes them onto the boat. Then he goes to pray – alone – that must be important because it’s there twice – all alone. Later, he walks  across the water to catch up with the boat that is now out in the middle, being tossed about with no sign of stars under the cloud cover so they can get their bearings. Many are fisherman by trade, so I assume they were not frightened yet, but surely they were very tired. They are not afraid until they think they see a ghost – but Jesus assures them that he is not a ghost. This is where Peter comes in – this is the only story with Peter so I feel like what we are to learn may hinge on this. Let’s look at this part closer.

Peter makes a curious statement “If it is you, command me to come to you” and Jesus says “Come.”  Curiouser and Curiouser as our friend Sheldon would say. “if it is you” – how many times have you prayed that? I know I have prayed that a lot! Mine usually sounds something more like “God, if this is your will – if this is how you want to be to go” “If this is you…” right? Surely I’m not the only one. This is the hard work of discernment friends. What is God calling us to do; is this what Jesus would do? 

And then: “Come.” Come on into the stormy water, come into the buffeting waves, walk toward me in the rough seas, come on into the fierce headwind. Jesus – my sweet, fair, lovely, always looking out for me savior, says “Come.” The Jesus of my immature Christian life would’ve said, “Stay on the safe ship with your friends. Stay where it’s dryer, and warmer. Stay where it’s safe.” As I mature in my faith, I recognize this Jesus more and more – the one who says “Come. It’s not always going to be easy. It’s not always going to be comfortable, but my burden is easy and my yoke is light. Yes, there is a burden and a yoke. Yes there is a storm, and cold water, and a strong wind and rough seas. Come into the storm where you will find discomfort.” 

If you remember, because I know you have heard this before, Matthew was written to a devout Jewish community. A community who already believed in God, but was not yet sure about who this Jesus guy was. The whole Gospel of Matthew is story after story of proving who Jesus is. Now here’s a tricky part. In Matthew’s time of writing, the Christian church was under great persecution. It was not safe to be a Christian. Still isn’t – let’s keep Iraqi & Syrian Christians high on our prayer list. Those Christians were being killed then also. So Matthew writes this story – he’s the only one to write this version with Peter that has Jesus calling Peter – the Rock of the Church – into the storm. This story has many audiences: the disciples in the boat, the people reading it in times of persecution, and us here today. How do we see this story?  Are there any faithful Christians here undergoing hardship? Hmmmm.

“Oh you of little faith.” After wrestling and praying with this Gospel this last week, I hear that statement said with great love – great admiration. The hand is outstretched, the love shines in his eyes as he says “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt? Here I am. I am with you always – even in – maybe especially in the storms.” And in THIS version – the only one like this – the disciples say, “Truly you are the Son of God.” 

You are a community weathering a storm. The seas are rough, the wind is strong and bites.  I know you are a faithful community, discerning God’s will as well as any of us can. I know you are looking for where God is moving – looking for Jesus to walk by in the rough water. And I know that you are mature enough to know that this is temporary. You will find a faithful leader who will climb in this boat with you and help navigate to the next place God is calling you. You are trying to follow Jesus – and you are, simply by being here. You are a witness to God’s love and justice. You are God’s Beloved People. It’s been a tough summer, but you are still here. What is next, oh you of little faith? Will you stay confused and harden your hearts as in Mark and the other story in Matthew, will you wish for a magical ending like John gets? I hope not.

You are faithful disciples. You will continue to worship Jesus, look for God working here in Arlington, and listen for the wind of the Holy Spirit. You are in the midst of the storm, and I pray that when it has calmed, you will not doubt God’s faithfulness to you and you will offer praise for God’s outstretched hand as you are weathering this storm. Amen.

 Hopefully this will post as an audio file on the right sidebar Podbean Player

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wheat and Weeds - Proper 11, Year A

“Search me out O God and know my heart… Lead me in the way that is everlasting”

I love our readings for the day – so much encouragement and comfort offered here today for those with ears to listen. This is the second week in a row where we have Jesus telling a parable and then explaining the parable very clearly.  Technically, we probably don’t even need a sermon on these days – you don’t need a further interpretation. So instead I will offer up some reflection as I see how this parable could affect us in different layers – a time for figuring out how this impacts us – here – today.

At our first, most personal layer, we can think about how we groan inwardly every time we realize that something we did with the best of intentions backfires.  Maybe we gave or accepted a piece of jewelry as a sign of affection or commitment, only to find out later that it had not been mined ethically.  Maybe our favorite place to shop has been tarnished for us because of their human right’s record. We would like to be able to shop for food grown locally, but maybe there has not been enough rain, or what we need is not available.

In another layer, at a community level, we struggle with taking care of others while balancing the city or county or state budget.  There are no clear-cut solutions. Trying to judge worthiness might have us mistake the bus of refugee children for the bus of YMCA children. We struggle at the church level with Those Other Christians who embarrass us by being too ___________ happy, clap, out of touch, judgmental, to inclusive - you fill in the blank.

As a country – one more level – we seem to have this exact same struggle over and over – how to be a good ally and whom to support in conflicts. Within my lifetime I can think of several times that the weapons we gifted a couse were either used against us later or against an ally of ours.  How long O Lord? It’s no longer surprising when it happens, yet we keep doing it.

Jesus says that the field is the world – not just us – not just here – not just now. This is a Universal: a situation faced by every person, every community, every country, every day, every year. Ahhhhhh – there are the words of comfort. It would be so easy to be paralyzed and afraid to do anything at all because of the shadow-sides of every thing and every decision, yet Jesus helps us through it by taking it out of our hands.  Just last week, I travelled with our diocesan youth to EYE in Philadelphia. On one of the days we toured the historic sites in Philly – church and national historic sites – and then had cheese steak sandwiches and a dance party at the Museum of Art. It was awesome watching the youth dance – so much energy! They looked like a flock of birds or a school of fish – all moving together to the beat of the music.  After we all got home, an online petition started about how the music had been inappropriate.  It had all been top 40 radio versions, but some of the adult sponsors felt as though an apology should be offered because of the themes of the music. *Sigh* If I was an organizer of that event, such a petition might make me want to never plan something like that again, even though I’m pretty sure it was a highlight for most of the youth gathered.  And that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be addressed, but maybe I and the other adult sponsors should offer to step up and help vet the playlist, not criticize the effort afterwards and demand a public apology.

It is not for us to worry about. It is not our concern. We are to do the good that we know to do – to love God with all our hearts and minds and love our neighbors as ourselves.  As Dory sings in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” Sometimes we might find ourselves in a moral pickle, but we are just keep growing. Remember who else Jesus is addressing here: Peter the Denier, Judas the Traitor, Thomas the Doubter, James and John the Social Climbers.  Jesus knew how complicated it would be for us. He knew the each one of us will fall short – maybe even daily.  He loves us anyway – he knows our hearts and our good intentions - he will take care of the winnowing so that we won’t have to. He gives us himself for nourishment to grow: wine and bread – and bids us to eat and flourish – Thanks be to God! Amen.

Preached at the Episcopal Church in Wichita Falls. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

That We may be Made a Holy Temple to You

Good Morning!

“That we may be made a holy temple to you…” We’re not asking for much today are we? Our Scripture lessons today certainly lend themselves to further examination and discussion on how we believe ourselves to be following in the footsteps of the apostles and the prophets, and building on our chief cornerstone: Jesus Christ as we attempt to become those holy temples.

Our first reading was from Jeremiah – we have the prophet Jeremiah and the prophet Hananaiah having a debate in the temple. Hananaiah keeps telling the people, “don’t worry – it’s all right – it’s all going to be just fine!” Jeremiah says, “yep, you’re right. Eventually it’s all going to be just fine, but not before we are all taken in the Babylonian exile.” Jeremiah knows that he may not live to see the time when “It’s all right.”  Jeremiah knows that God’s timeline is not ours – and he is warning all the people gathered there that being God’s people does not guarantee them an easy life.

We have a celebratory song – assuring God we are the ones who worship and rejoice and walk in faithfulness.  Hmmmm – that might make us chosen also – what was that Jeremiah just said?

Then we have our reading from Romans. Here we are even more than chosen – we are slaves to the living God. If we do not choose slavery to God, then we are choosing slavery to sin and death. Choose wisely.  Present yourself to God as an instrument of righteousness – a weapon of justice is another translation of that. How could it look to be a weapon if justice, being obedient from a heart changed by our relationship to a living God?

Then we get to Matthew and our on-going conversation with the text. A few weeks ago, Jesus gave power and authority to the disciples – go and baptize – teach – make disciples in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Last week, Jesus assured those same disciples that what he was asking is not easy – he assures them of persecution and troubles.  He says he came “not to bring peace but to bring a sword” – is this starting to sound familiar yet?  Jeremiah assures the people listening that things will not be all pretty and perfect and peaceful – there will be persecution. Paul calls us to be weapons of justice.  I sense a theme here in the lectionary… what are we then called to do? We are to give a cup of cold water to the little ones in the name of God.  Being a weapon of justice sounds much more exciting than handing out water, don’t you think? But isn’t that just like Jesus?  Here’s what I need you to do – and here’s how simple it is. Love your neighbor as yourself, receive a prophet, welcome a righteous person, give a cup of cool water – be my sword of justice for the little ones.

So that’s our next task – who are the little ones?  Could be anyone really – anyone we would consider as “other.”  I’ll bet for every person here, there might be a different little one that God places on your heart.  For me this week, it has been the unaccompanied minors coming into Texas from South America.  God has shown them to me over and over – through Facebook, radio interviews, TV spots, letters from a bishop and the TEC, and then yesterday: we will have 2000 of them in and around Dallas.  As near as I can tell, Catholic Charities is the righteous one to be recognized here.  They have been doing this work long before I even knew it was an issue.  In 2012 there were 13K of these kids coming into the US, last year there were 25K. This year the projection is for 70-90K children travelling without parents from South America through Mexico to our borders. I plan to start looking for the ways I can give a cool cup of water to these children or to those who are caring for these little ones.  I know it won’t be easy, but I will be a weapon of justice somehow.  How about you?  Who does God place on your heart?  How can you receive the righteous and offer cool cups of water? 

Let’s look again at our collect of the day: it is one of the collects that really does collect our hopes and dreams as we seek to be God’s water bearers: Almighty God. You have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.