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. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Sermon 17C

This is the last of the sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer.  All that we have left is the doxology, the ending words of praise: “for thine is the Kingdom, and the Power and the Glory, forever and ever. Amen.”  We have other doxologies in other places in the liturgy also, especially prominent in the one we sing at the Offertory every week.

In every sermon, we also address the Gospel reading for the week - What is Jesus up to this week?  As I pondered that part, it seems to me that Jesus is letting us know who belongs - who is specifically invited - to the table.The poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind – All are children of God, all are beloved of God, and all have a place at the table.

Last week, I challenged you to listen to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech with new ears.  Now Jesus said "everyone" - but each generation has had to work to make the table a bit bigger - each generation is called to include Everyone - until everyone is there and has a seat.  Dr. King pointed out to us that not all were welcome yet - he inspires and challenges us, even to this day, to make sure everyone, no matter the skin tone they have, is included.

Even in this generation, the Episcopal Church continues to widen the circle and enlarge the table.  Last summer, we voted as a national church to include everyone, this time specifically saying that no matter your sexual orientation, you are welcome at this table to share your God-goven gifts and live out your ministry.  We believe that when Jesus said everyone, there are no exceptions.  That premise is central to who we are as Christians – especially Episcopalians.  We believe that God loves everyone without exceptions.  We believe that God calls males and females of all races and political stripes.  We believe that everyone here – and out there – has God-given gifts and God-given ministries, and we are here to support everyone in living out those gifts and ministries.  The church is the place where people can learn to live out their calling in the world.

The last thing that we need to talk about in the sermon today is the Texas Supreme Court ruling from Friday.  Conflict is not new to the Christian experience.  If you listened to the first reading today you heard that loud and clear.  Conflict is one of the things that can get in the way of living out our God-given calls.  We know this well – we have been living in a major conflict zone for many years now, but officially since 2008 – five long years.  This last Friday, we had an opinion from the Texas Supreme Court.  I will now read you the letter that Bp High has asked us to read in every service this weekend. 
            Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
            On August 30, 2013 the Texas Supreme Court issued an opinion that sent our case back to the lower court for reconsideration. While it is a disappointment not to have a definitive decision, as followers of Jesus Christ, we live in hope.
            Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori joins me in acknowledging our disappointment and urging all of us to be gentle with one another during this trying time, with the important goal of continuing our worship of God and our ministries in this community in as uninterrupted a manner as possible.
            Now I, other diocesan leaders, and our legal team, including representatives of the Church and its legal team, have to make decisions about our next steps.  For now, we all must don the mantle of patience and forbearance. I ask for your prayers and urge us all to stay focused on the saving gospel of Jesus Christ in the days ahead.
            I remain convinced that we are right in our affirmation that we are the    continuing Diocese of Fort Worth and that I am its bishop.  But in the wake of this opinion, as always, we remain committed to preaching that gospel as we celebrate the sacraments, care for those in need, and strive for justice and peace. When we began this litigation in 2009, we did so as heir and steward of the legacy of generations of faithful Episcopalians.
            Let us move forward together with grace and love, guided by the Holy Spirit.
            The Rt. Rev. Rayford B. High, Jr.
The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth

Part of this conflict involves who is welcome at the table – who has God-given gifts and ministries to share.  I hope you heard the part Bp High wrote about donning the mantle of patience and forbearance – this is still undone.  We still do not know what the outcome will be.  We are still wandering in the legal wilderness for a bit longer.  But as we wander, Bp High is calling us to keep preaching the Gospel, keep celebrating the Sacraments, keep inviting everyone to the table, and keep being the church.

As we wander, I find great comfort in “For it is God's Kingdom and God's power and God's glory forever and ever.” As Anglicans, we have been saying this since at least 1662 and it has not changed.  It is God’s Kingdom, God’s Power and God’s Glory – it is God’s Table.  We all have a place at it – we are all beloved - we are all welcome.  Amen.

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