Friday, December 20, 2013

Are You the One?

Matthew 11:2-11

Welcome to the Third Sunday of Advent – I was very relieved that we cancelled services last week.  I would have been worried sick about all of us out on that ice otherwise.  I am appreciative to the leadership of the parish who made that decision.

Today we get the third candle lit – the rose colored one.  Why do we have a rose colored candle?  Go google it – I dare you – you’ll see many different interpretations of why we have a rose colored candle.  Which one is right?  Exactly. 

The Gospel reading this weekend troubles me.  There’s something not quite right here – did you hear it?  John is asking Jesus who he is – “are you the one?”  Am I the only one lost here?  John is a cousin of sorts, they’ve known each other their whole lives. John baptized Jesus and heard the Voice say, “This is my Beloved Son.”  How can John wonder who Jesus is by the 11th chapter in Matthew?! Maybe it is because Jesus doesn’t do what John thinks he should – maybe it’s because Jesus doesn’t say what John thinks he should.  Jesus doesn’t fit the “Ideal” of what John thinks of in a Messiah.  John seems to want hellfire and brimstone – repentance – separation of the wheat from the tares – cleansing of the threshing floor – baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire – chopping down the worthless and throwing them into the fire.  That’s what John expects.  That’s not who Jesus is. 

We cannot blame John – we do the exact same thing.  I have a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon that I love – Calvin is sitting on a swing fuming after the bully has picked on him.  He says something like “God it sure would be easier to believe in you if you would smite someone every now and then!”  We all think that – every day if you’re like me. When will the wicked get their due?  When will justice be done?  Why are we STILL waiting for peace on earth, people’s hearts to be turned to good, neighbors to care about each other? In our darkest days – like these are now – we want fire and brimstone – the wheat and the chaff separated – the unrepentant chopped up and thrown into the fires of hell.  Am I the only one this appeals to?  There would be a great satisfaction in that!

And that is exactly where we are losing potential Christians.  People who have studied Jesus and Christianity admire Jesus because he is not that way.  They cannot understand how the church got to be so judgmental.  As human beings, we mess up Jesus’ message all the time when we draw lines in the sand about who is in or out – when we decided who “deserves” medical care, food stamps, Christmas gifts, help with rent or childcare.  We do it all. The. Time.

One of the explanations for the Rose candle is that we are halfway through Advent and we can celebrate that we have made it this far faithfully preparing for the coming of the Christ child, the second coming of God to this world, the birth of Jesus within ourselves.  Woo-hoo!  How faithful have you been?  I’m not doing so well yet – I still have Angel Tree children to buy for, I have not yet made my year-end donations, I have not gone out of my way to show Christ’s love to anyone yet this Advent.  Maybe that rose candle can motivate me to be more like Christ and think less like John this season.  Maybe I can be Christ-like to someone working late and under stress in this holiday season.  I pray that will be so – for me and for you –as we watch and wait.  I pray that Jesus will surprise us all this season as he comes among us again.  I pray that we will recognize him.  Amen.

Audio of the sermon is on the right sidebar PodBean Player.

Christ the King - Luke

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”C.S. Lewis

This last week, we have heard a lot about the other great man who died 50 years ago this last Friday – and for good reason.  Dallas and this area continues to struggle with having the death of John F Kennedy happen here in our backyards.  Unless you exclusively listen to Pandora and watch Netflix, you cannot help but to have heard bits and pieces about the JFK assassination.  It was interesting for me to hear – I wasn’t alive 50 years ago, so while it was poignant, I was not re-living any part of it. 

CS Lewis also died 50 years ago last Friday.  Most people know him as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia.  Those of us with Anglican roots know him as that and so much more.  The quote I started with is from Mere Christianity.  My favorite theory of the after-life comes from The Great Divorce.  He has influenced Anglican theology immeasurably and helped us all to deal with the dark side of faith with his writings on grief.  I have a whole bookshelf in my office devoted to his writings.

This weekend the last of this church year.  Next Sunday is Advent One – a whole new church year, a time of waiting and watching for a newborn savior, waiting and watching for the second coming of Christ, waiting and watching in the darkest and longest days of the year.  The gospel reading today seems about as far away from the manger as we can get, yet we are incredibly close – just one short season away.  This gospel reminds us of who Christ is for us: the one who prays forgiveness even at his own crucifixion, the one who invites us to join him in Paradise. 

Our Christian faith does not call us to merely remember, study and imitate Christ, as we might JFK or CS Lewis.  We are called to proclaim whom Christ is as our King, our Savior, who still moves among us, even as we wait, even as we pray for forgiveness.  For what do you need to be forgiven to be saved?

As you reflect on all you will give thanks for this next week, remember these words of an ancient hymn that Paul has recorded for us in his letter to the Colossians: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-- all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Be still then and know that He is God. 

Posted very late - audio is on the PodBean on the right sidebar.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Surely the Days are Coming

Proper 24C

            Pray always and do not lose heart.  I love how the author of Luke tells us right up front what this parable is about.  We are to be like the widow: persistent, pesky, pushy in our prayer life.  We are to persevere with our prayers no matter how unjust the judges of our world seem. 
            Some of these parables seem torn from the headlines – a man in power who is supposed to judge all for the common good, uphold the law who does not fear God or respect anyone else.  We have a hard time relating to such an official.  The judge in this parable is obviously not a stand-in for God, although I’ll bet he thinks he is.  We don’t know anyone like that these days. 
            Jesus and Jeremiah and Paul and our Psalmist – all today are pointing us to persistence, peskiness and pushiness in our thoughts and actions and prayers.  We are to pray always and not lose heart. 
  • Surely the days are coming when we will have elected officials who look out for the common good of all, not just their donors.
  • Surely the days are coming when the least and the lost and the last amongst us shall have food and shelter and healthcare.
  • Surely the days are coming when a person can work at a full-time job and actually earn enough to support a child.
  • Surely the days are coming when Unjust Corporations are held to a standard that respects the dignity of every human being.
  • Surely the days are coming when all churches will reach out and serve their neighborhoods better than they serve themselves.
  • Surely the days are coming…  What’s your prayer?  
Those are mine – for me, for my family, for my church, for my world right now. 

These are BIG hopes, BIG concerns and we are to pray and not lose heart.  As we talked about this last summer, prayer is mysterious - sometimes it changes God, sometimes it changes others, but always, always, always it changes us.  Prayer sometimes shows us a new way - opens a way we cannot even imagine yet - ways to be Christ's hands and feet in this world. 

Write yours down and pray them persistently for 5 minutes every day – be pesky, be pushy, dare to dream of your Ideal World in line with God’s World. Pray constantly and do not lose heart. AMEN.

Audio of this sermon can be heard using the PodBean Player on the sidebar.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Wed Fest: Headers of RGBP

This is my favorite photo of the headers on the RevGalBlogPal site.  There were soooo many contenders!  I loved the three backs of heads on the back patio of one of the BE events, all of the beloved faces listening to Carol Howard Merritt, Mary Thorpe blessing a pet, and the one of Liz dressed as an elf (I really want to know the back story to that one!).  This one wins for me though.

Why?  I have met Wil in person a couple of times, and I love reading her blog, fb posts and tweets.  That's not it though.  What I really love about this photo is her sense of presence in that space.  She is THERE - fully - a real pastoral and authoritative presence.  I aspire to this sort of presence on my best days - some days I can do it, other days, *ahem.*  This is a beautiful picture on many different levels, most of all because of Wil being Wil - Dr. Gafney, to us mere mortals.  She is awesome.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Who Is Your Lazarus?

Proper 21C

So as we turn our attention towards the Stewardship season quickly approaching, we get this: today’s gospel.  It’s one heck of a way to begin stewardship.  It actually looks like Stewardship Dream Sermon material – until you dig a bit deeper.  It’s not as simple as it looks at first glance (or as I suspect, many of us have heard it preached).   This is not a parable about those who do not give going to hell.  It is far more complex than that. It is not about after life, but it is about life itself.

One of the new changes in the liturgy is the new opening prayer – today we prayed about our thoughts, words and deeds – the stuff of every day, minute-to-minute life.  That’s where we will find fodder for the sermon today. 

There is a joke going around Facebook:

You see, I don’t believe the sin was in being rich, but rather in feeling better than – feeling privileged – even in the after life, the Rich man wants to command the ones he sees as lesser than he – “send Lazarus to give me a drink” “send Lazarus to tell my brothers” – it’s not that he was rich, it’s that he simply didn’t care.  He felt privileged, calloused, careless, and his voice proves it. 

There is a big problem in our society right now that has this same underlying problem of privilege.  It has been troubling me for some time.  I have a friend who is an Episcopal Priest in Philadelphia who encapsulated it – I’m going to read you an edited version of what she wrote just yesterday:

So I went to this Hare Krishna Radha-Krishna parade and festival today, mainly because I love Indian things and religious things and colorful things and this was all three wrapped into one. It was chaotic and noisy and joyous and before we knew it Mitch and I went from cooing over tiny Radhas and Krishnas and Hanumans being chased by their parents to joining in the group pulling the enormous chariots carrying shrines and pandits and statues by hand ropes down the Parkway. It was sunny and hot and transcendent and fun, and everyone was joining in the chanting and the pulling and the crowds of tourists and runners and random folks watching from the sidewalk quickly became a part of the parade. It is hard to explain now but it made me fight back tears because it just seemed like a big, crazy, jubilant exercise in God-inspired hospitality rolling down the parkway in clouds of incense and bell ringing, sucking in everyone in its wake. 
 Once we arrived at the festival ground, the chariots did a few laps of the circle in front of the Art Museum and roughly a thousand people (including me and Mitch) got in line for a Vegan lunch, which the Krishna Society was providing as a gift to the people of Philadelphia as a sort of prayer of thanksgiving to God. 
 Anyway, as we stand in line, admiring the sea of people milling around in front of the Art Museum, checking out informational booths and family activities and cultural displays, a voice comes over a loudspeaker and harangues all of us as idolators, and starts screaming about Baal and worshipping in the high places and Jesus coming to save us from Satan. People got quiet and tried to figure out what was going on, and there he was, in the middle of the crowd, standing on a concrete block with a few folks holding a PA system- the street preacher. There was a college fair of some sort going on nearby, so there were groups of 18-20 somethings mixing in the Krishna crowd and making up a majority of the folks in line in front of us, and the four young women who had been chatting away happily next to us sighed and rolled their eyes, because, ugh, Christians. 
 I was shaking with rage- this man wasn't just being rude- he was misrepresenting the faith that I've given my life to, making a mockery of the Gospel, using Jesus Christ as a weapon to bludgeon people who were offering food and drink to everyone, no restrictions, because they believe God is a good God, and he was claiming to speak for me. And by standing by silently, I was letting him. Here's the thing: this is how we are losing the battle for Christianity in the world. We are letting someone like this guy bully his way into being the voice of Christians everywhere. How do we fix this? Do we carry around our own megaphones? Yell out our stories of God's love, no exceptions, and how we are moved to live lives of compassion, charity, humility because of our faith in Jesus? Maybe. I really don't know. But we need to do something. Fast.  (The Reverend Mariclair Partee Carlson, Faceboook 9-28-13)

This idea of who is speaking for us as Christians – is troubling to me – others presume to define Christianity, and the loudest of those voices right now would have us walk right by Lazarus – not offer him food stamps or healthcare or mental health support.  They are voices that sound very privileged and callous and careless to me.  I’m not going to say they are not Christian – that’s between them and God – but I will say that they do not follow the same Jesus Christ that I work really hard to follow in my life.  The same Jesus Christ who tells us this parable in this Gospel today.

Our thoughts, words and actions need to move from being numb to other’s needs, feeling self-sufficient, and feeling privileged – to becoming more responsive to the needs of other’s, realizing that what we consider luck is actually grace, and that we are never too privileged to care for other human beings.   Moving from a stance of privilege to a stance of humility allows us to be more in tune with humanity and the God we see in each other’s faces. 

It is not a sin to be rich, and it is not a sin to be poor – however, it is a sin to not care for others around us.  It is not a virtue to be rich, and it is not a virtue to be poor, however, throughout time and history, God has always had a preference for the least, the lost and the last.  That’s a sobering thought: God prefers those we may feel are less than we are.

I have an exercise for you today – you know how I like to give homework. I am going to ask for your trust as you get comfortable in your pew.  I am going to ask you to close your eyes and I will ask you two questions, then we wil sit in silence for one minute.  Relax and close your eyes. So who is your Lazarus?  Who is the lost, lonely, poor, depressed, homeless, abused, addicted, sick, imprisoned person you walk past every day? ... I hope God has placed someone on your heart.  I hope as a community we can ponder which groups we walk past every day and pay no attention. 

We can imagine ourselves as the Rich Man, and sometimes even as Lazarus in a bad stretch, but here’s the truth: We are the 5 brothers in this story, and we have been warned.  Amen.

Audio of this sermon in the Podbean Player on the right sidebar.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Sermon 18C

At the 1030 service we will celebrate the Baptism of two new Christians.  They were introduced to the Sacrament of Baptism through a Godly Play story and have been anticipating this day for a while now.  This is not a typical Baptismal day by the BCP dates, but I think that may be to our advantage this weekend.   The BCP baptismal days fall on major feast days and we rightly consider those major feasts.  We don’t talk about Baptism as often as we could. 

Baptism is our foundational Sacrament – it makes a person a Christian – they are marked as Christ’s own forever and ever no matter what.  In this simple and free act, they achieve full initiation into the church. 

Last week I preached on the full inclusion of EVERYONE at the table – all are welcome, no matter what.  Here is the fine print though – All means All the Baptized when it comes to partaking of the Body and Blood.  All are welcome at the rail.  If you are baptized, you have been adopted by God and are an inheritor of the Kingdom of God.  Therefore, you may eat and drink of Christ’s body and blood to find strength and solace for whatever trials you face as you bear God’s Kingdom into the world. 

If you are not baptized, you are welcome to come to the rail for a Blessing. 

This was a huge debate last year as General Convention.  It was almost as big as the Blessing of Same Sex Unions debate.  Should we as a church make Baptism a foundation for Communion?  Baptism and Communion are the two Great Sacraments – should one hinge on the other?  There was passionate debate on both sides:
            Maybe the act of receiving Communion would nudge someone toward wanting to be baptized – draw them into Christ’s love in a whole new way
            Baptism has been understood as the foundational Sacrament for thousands of years in the church – it is not too much to ask to be able to fully enter into the church. 

So here’s my take on it.  Officially, if I know that you are unbaptized, I cannot offer you Communion, I can offer you a Blessing, which I will sincerely do – and I will pray for you.  I will answer all of your questions about Baptism and encourage your continuing discernment.  I will do everything in my power to convince you to be baptized – it’s a professional hazard!  But no matter what your decision, you are welcome here at St Martin.  You are welcome to come and question and argue and learn and debate – even if you are never baptized. 

In the lessons this weekend, we hear more about the foundational pieces of what it means to be a follower.  We have beautiful images (and scary) of God as Potter – molding us into vessels of Love; God as knitter  and weaver – knitting us together in our mother’s wombs.  We have Paul calling a Runaway Slave a Brother – because of his willingness to be baptized and become a Follower.  Onesimus is still a slave – which is a troubling piece of Christianity’s history – but he is to be considered equally as valuable as the other household members.  Jesus talks about radical loyalties – loyalty to Christ over and above all else: above family ties, above national ties.  There are a lot of churches that refuse to have the national flags in the worship space because it dishonors the flag: we are called to loyalty to Christ first and foremost; we are members of a higher Kingdom.  Christ urges us to consider all of these things – to count the cost before we make these foundational decisions. 

Baptism is a free Sacrament – we only have to give consent.  It seems easy and sweet.  Yet it calls us into a life of radical discipleship and following Christ over and above all things, even our own lives.  In just a minute, we are going to repeat the Baptismal Covenant in place of the Nicene Creed.  As you repeat these beliefs and vows, I pray that you will be drawn ever more deeply into the full love and worship of God as your foundation.  Amen.

Audio of this sermon is on the right sidebar PodBean Player.