…with fear and great joy…

Sitting in an airport years ago I was waiting for our delayed flight to board and decided to take walk down the concourse.  As I got to an unoccupied gate area, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of brown above me. Looking up I saw a sparrow land on the inside ledge of the skylight in the ceiling.  Here was a sparrow on the inside of the terminal looking out.

The bird seemed somewhat at home – as if acclimated to life in the terminal. There was no furious beating of wings as if the bird were trying to get beyond the glass. No frantic sense of the bird having recently become captive.   As I watched it flew to the carpet to retrieve some sort of crumb or tidbit someone had dropped.  Another brief flight and it sat again on the window ledge above me looking out at the world beyond the glass. I had a sense of forlornness within me as I watched this scene unfold. There was something deeply disturbing about it.

I realized this wild bird had probably flown in through an open baggage door somewhere and unable to retrace her path had become trapped within the terminal. This trapped bird is not able to return to the world for which she was created. Instead she lives in this foreign, temperature controlled, world without grass, insects, separated by a barrier and able only to catch a glimpse of the natural world. Sitting on the ledge of the skylight I sense her deep desire to be where she was meant to be and her resignation at being where she was.

Why did this affect me so much? Perhaps because we are all trapped by circumstances and barriers in our life that prevents us from fully being part of the world for which we were created. But unlike the sparrow we may not even know we are living in an artificial world rather than in God’s kingdom for which we were created. We seem content to live in our artificial world of consumerism, power and status. We live in the engineered world of work and the mall, and only occasionally see, let alone long for, the world beyond the barrier. We, like the sparrow, no longer try to get to that real world – no longer try to find out way to where we really belong. To do those things that we were created to do.

The women going to the tomb that Easter morning before sunrise… when the first day of the week was beginning to dawn… had experienced the real world of the kingdom of God as Jesus had lived it. But with Jesus dead they thought they were back to life as it was before.  So Mary of Magdala, and the other Mary make their way, as Matthew phrases it. “to see” the tomb. This sounds to me a great deal like the sparrow looking through the window at life as it was supposed to be – but stuck looking out at it. Jesus was dead – the tomb contained the remains of the dream of the kingdom of God.

Matthew tells us that while they were there – there was something like an earthquake – they and the guards at the tomb were filled with fear. And the guards were like dead men – immobilized  – frozen in fear. They all experienced the ground shifting – just as Jesus had shifted the disciples understanding of themselves and the world.

The angel gives them the message not to fear – and then shows them and tells them Jesus is not there. They are to trust their experience.  Then the women are then sent to share the news with others.

What tells me we have a real human experience is that next phrase which says they left with fear and great joy. Great joy that their friend and master had somehow been made alive again. But that same news was also a cause of fear – for they did not understand how it was possible.

Then as they leave they meet Jesus – and after greeting them – he also tells them not to fear.  He gives reassurance that they don’t have to understand it to experience it. And again they are sent to share the news.

We have the Gospel summed up in this vignette. We are given the opportunity to experience what we may not understand, yet are assured that we don’t have to understand it, and are asked to share our experience with others.

But the church wasn’t out of Jerusalem before the emphasis shifted to understanding rather than the experience of the risen Christ.

The problem with the Easter story is that an empty tomb is not proof of resurrection. It is merely a sign – something that points us towards a greater reality. We are unable to fully understand it. Our logic asks how this can happen – how can this be?  The resurrection of Jesus is but one example of resurrection. They are myriads of example of small resurrections places where new life has emerged from what seemed dead and lifeless.. But we need to allow ourselves to see them and experience them rather than analyze them. Understanding won’t get us close to the reality of God’s world but to allow ourselves experience and name it will.

But how and where do we experience these bits of resurrection that we may not recognize or name?  Perhaps an illustration from my own life may provide some clues. I applied for and was hired for the job “I always wanted” Director of Communications for the largest Anglican diocese in North America.  Eighteen months later I was told my contract would not be renewed. Passive church-speak for “you’re fired.”  SoI ended up in a parish in Buffalo working on behalf of the poor and infirm to develop a food pantry, built housing for the handicapped; and worked with the Buffalo New Neediest Christmas Fund.  And in this forced return to parish work I found my way back to myself and to my God given purpose.

It was working at this parish that Nancy and I first met and worked together. And 7 years later we married.

Being fired was not life-giving, but what flowed from that because of the changes that brought to me have been very life giving and brought new life to me on several levels.

Don

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Hungers

I had one of those days this week where between morning appointments and my Japanese class, I didn’t have anything to eat between breakfast and dinner, so when I got home about 4, I was hungry.  I suspect many of you have experienced this kind of hunger – knowing that the body is ready for sustenance.  There is a naturalness to this hunger – we all experience it.

Hunger can be created, too.  Just walk past Schimpffs Confectionery… they have an exhaust fan which wafts the fragrance of their candy making outside… inviting us to desire their delicacies.  Flavors of cinnamon and chocolate and caramel…

Food is not the only object of hunger.  We are also aware of people who are said to be hungry for power, for love, for wealth, notoriety or influence.  In the process of satisfying these kinds of hungers it is possible to wreak havoc on others lives.

The reading from Genesis 2 shows clearly the effect of such a hunger. In this ancient story Adam & Eve are placed in a garden where their needs are supplied. They can eat of any tree, except the one in the center of the garden.  At first their hungers are satisfied both with the garden and their relationship with God with whom they walk in the cool of the evening.

But over time the one forbidden fruit creates in them a new hunger – for that which they can’t have – a hunger spurred on by the serpent. The false hunger of the forbidden works on us today as well. For example – when our boys were little I would occasionally tell them that they could do any activity they wanted but they were not to scratch their nose. Suddenly scratching their nose was the one thing they needed and wanted to do – that prohibition produced a hunger to do it.

But this is not the only hunger Genesis reveals. The serpent sows the seeds of another hunger in saying “when you eat of the fruit your eyes will be opened and you will be like God… knowing good and evil.”  This desire to be like God is a hunger that runs through the history of humankind. It is often misunderstood as a hunger for power, for immortality, for knowing all, controlling all.  God’s power comes not from great might, but from steadfast love.  The serpent lied to Eve, and in the process helped to manufacture a hunger.

What are our created hungers?  They can be seen is the hunger for the latest IPhone, the biggest & best house, the new car, the latest fashion trend…  The other night we saw a 60 Minutes news story about a guy who hungered for the adrenaline rush that comes with danger and thrills.  He reveled in skiing down a mountain and parachuting off a cliff.  His friend had died on one of their adventures.

These and other hungers are deep, and often never satisfied.  We want love, respect, power, wealth, to having a place or in society, to feel connected.  These hungers are not new – they are at the base of the temptations in the Gospel story.  Following Jesus’ baptism he was led into the wilderness – traditionally a place of danger, and struggle, where God can be met.  In the wilderness for forty days (bible speak for “a long time”), Jesus grappled with who he was and the path set before him.

We see in Jesus’ interplay with the devil those human hungers that Jesus had to face. In fact many interpret the story itself not as a historic event but as a summary of those temptations that would be there throughout Jesus’ ministry: temptation for ease, control, and power.

First turn there stones into bread – here the temptation is to use his power & position for himself.  Don’s grandfather once remarked on an acquaintance that “He started off to do good, but instead he did very well!”

The second test is symbolized by suggesting Jesus throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple. This is testing God by using the promise as a shortcut to fame and power.

And finally there was the offer of all the dominions of the world if Jesus would offer worship to the devil… the hitch was that in return for control of the world, he would need to abandon the essence of who and whose he was.

In each of these temptations Jesus quoted a passage from Deuteronomy, the so-called “fifth Gospel.”  One does not live by bread alone, but also by the word of God: hunger for God, Jesus tells the devil.  Do not put the Lord your God to the test: hunger for spiritual maturity.  Worship the Lord you God, and serve only him: hunger for right relationship.

In his time in the wilderness, Jesus was confronted with his hunger, both physical and spiritual.  He chose to keep God at the center of his life, rather than putting himself above God.

Lent, we are told, in the invitation during the Ash Wednesday service, is a time to prepare by a season of self-examination, fasting, and centering ourselves in God.  It is a time of retreat from the world to examine our lives and our choices.  It is a time to look at our hungers, to see if they are misplaced, and to right ourselves, or as the church uses the word, to repent (to turn to face God) so that we are in right relationship with God.

Over centuries the church has developed practices that assist us to examine our hungers and to use these practices to help shift the center of our life from ourselves to have God in the center, which provides us with the ability to withstand the trials, temptations and misplaced hungers of life that are all around us.

We have this period of 6 weeks offered to us yearly as an opportunity to focus on where we are in our spiritual journey and to take specific steps to move towards where we want to be. They are not necessarily dramatic changes or actions. But sequential steps that allow us to be centered more and more in God and less and less in self and ego.

And it is of this journey of centering ourselves in God that the mystic Julia of Norwich wrote: “He said not ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased’; but he said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.”

And the result of that is her most recognizable quote “And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceeding well.”

Nancy

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Faith & Politics

In a recent message to the clergy of the diocese Bishop Cate Waynick  shared her thoughts about  criticism of the church being motivated “by politics” in espousing actions and  to support or oppose governmental policies, issues.  She wrote:

“I want to be clear that I don’t believe there is anything inherently bad about politics.  We have political systems because we live in communities/States/Nation and need to have shared expectations about how our common life will be lived out. Truth be told, I have always been rather fascinated by political processes, and have actually enjoyed participating in these processes both in the secular world and in The Episcopal Church.

It’s when people start describing our motivations as ‘political’ that I want us to be careful.  We use political systems to register our desires and values, and to participate in making what we hope will be positive changes in our common life.
What I hope we do, as followers of Jesus, is allow ourselves to be guided and formed by the imperatives of our faith.  When we advocate for justice and engage in works of mercy it is because we understand that God has commanded that we do so, and we have committed ourselves to do so.

We do not refrain from degrading, insulting, demeaning language in order to be ‘politically correct.’ We refrain because we are followers of Jesus who know we are called to a ministry of reconciliation and to be witnesses to God’s love of all people.

Such categories as ‘political correctness’ or ‘political motivation’ are valid where people who have no other structure or underpinnings are concerned.  Our underpinning is the Gospel, and our structure is the framework of Jesus’ teaching and example, and our Baptismal Covenant.
I have to wonder whether, when the Roman Catholic Church stands firm in their advocacy against provision of birth control or abortion, anyone considers they are being ‘political.’  I suspect that they have been so clear that this is a religious imperative in their own minds that their actions are seen in that light by society in general.

I think it is entirely possible for us to be equally clear that justice for all persons, merciful response to human need, and respect for every person is considered among us to be a religious imperative of the first order.  So when we advocate in a variety of ways, including in our existing political processes, no one can accuse us of being motivated by anything other than religious commitment.

“… there can be honest disagreement among us about particular issues, and we must always guard against speaking in ways which seem to deny that reality.  The only way we can learn what it truly means to love each other as Jesus loves us is to refuse to walk away from each other in the midst of disagreement.

That we are all experiencing a level of uncertainty, angst, anxiety, or fear is undeniable,  but we are not without resources. We have each other. We have the networks we have established with others – both ecumenical and inter-faith, and we have the teachings and the spiritual disciplines which have sustained our forebears for millennia.

At every moment God is with us. At every moment the eternal reality of the Incarnation makes Christ present among us. At every moment our Savior is teaching, healing, challenging, and bestowing the gifts of the Spirit. At every moment Christ is commanding us to love with sacrificial love, sharing the sacred meal of his Body  and Blood, being betrayed, suffering, dying, and undergoing the attempted annihilation of God’s divine gifts to the world – and at every moment is rising to new life and making new life possible for all creation.

In times of high anxiety we must remember what we believe and who we are called to be. And as I said yesterday, when we find ourselves walking with those who have always had to live in fear, we may discover that great spiritual gifts come to us.  The experience of Jesus, Peter, James and John on the mount of Transfiguration did not move seamlessly to the resurrection. They had to travel first to Jerusalem, and all that dangerous journey meant for them.

Keep breathing. Keep praying your prayers. Remember that you, and every other person is beloved. And hold fast to each other.  You are amazing, gifted, and creative leaders and servants of the people of God. Be to each other and to the world around us the love God longs to share……

The Rt. Rev. Catherine Waynick is Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianpolis

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Lighting the shadows

What was the greatest (though some might argue worst) invention that changed human life?

Artificial light – whether oil lamps, candles, incandescent electric lights or LEDs… We can provide a means to see in the midst of the dark.

For thousands of years people had to stop activity for the night when it got dark and they could not see. The work day was determined by the amount of daylight. My garndfather, born in the 19th century on a farm in Western New York spoke of working “fron can’t see to can’t see!”

Over centuries the darkness of night became a metaphor for the unknown, the eerie, the power of mischief and evil… for ignorance and waywardness.

Thus the reading for Epiphany 3 from from Isaiah rejoices that people who formerly had darkness not have seen a great light – it has shined on them and brought joy.

The letter to the Corinthians is one we should be able to relate to given the past election and present political season.  This small struggling Christian community in Corinth was divided into factions, with disagreements, dissension and quarreling. Paul in his letter calls them to a new way of seeing – inviting them away from the shadows of partisanship into the light of Christ – by their baptism through which being baptized into Christ they have been given an agenda and proclamation that even now gives us the power of God to guide our choices and the will to continue and to endure.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, following his Baptism by John – Jesus remained in the south until Herod had John arrested. He then left for the Galilee which was out of Herod’s jurisdiction. Jesus made his home in Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Lake of Kenneserit or the lake of Tiberas). Here as in other places Matthew shows a fulfillment of the Old Testament through Jesus by using the quote from Isaiah to indicate the Jesus is the new light dawning in the darkness.

Jesus movesinto this freer more open environment to gather disciples and begin his mission of preaching and proclamation.  Matthew gives us the summary of Jesus proclamation –– “Repent – for the kingdom of God has come near you.”  Turn back to God, he tells people.  This proclamation indicates one does not find the kingdom of God in Jerusalem, or in heaven, or some distant place – the kingdom of God is near wherever you are. It is around us, it is within our sight, and within our grasp if only we recognize it. The kingdom of God is here for us to live into and create.

Jesus bring light into the murky world of religious thought of the day.  In those days if your life was drudgery, or pain, or illness or poverty – religious thought day said it was because God was not blessing you… in essence it is your fault.  Like the prosperity Gospel we are again hearing about in recent days – saying if you have wealth it is because God is blessing you. The only significant problem is that if one looks at Jesus’ life we do not see prosperity, wealth or any other signs of blessing that particular theological stance says is an indication of blessing.

Living into and creating the kingdom as Jesus presents it is a not a solitary enterprise. We cannot do it alone. We know that because Jesus newly moved to the Galilee begins to look for people to work with him in this effort. Who was Jesus looking for ? Not the ones the populace would have expected. Not the wealthy, not the religious elite? Definitely not those we might describe as self-made or people of influence.

Jesus walks the shore of the lake and invites the laboring professional fishermen. These men went fishing every day for as long as it took to being in a catch that would feed them, their families and if possible with some with which they could sell or barter with others. Recreational fishermen use a hook & line. But that is not an efficient way to fish professionally.  They used a drag net and sometimes a casting net we have reference to in the Matthew’s Gospel.

It seems likely to me that Jesus has seen them before and perhaps had spent time talking with them. This moment in which he asks them to follow makes more sense and does not seem so impetuous and hasty if they knew about him and what his mission was.  He comes along and asks them to follow him telling them they would “fish for people”.

Now what in creation does that mean?  I have heard it explained as they were to hook people, or bring them unwillingly into the kingdom; but that just does not fit! So I believe what is being said is that they have gifts and skills that will be valuable in this new work.

They had patience – to be able to wait for the right moment to throw the net, or haul in the drag net. They would need patience in their dealings with the crowds.

They had perseverance. They went out day after day even when they had no had success the day before; even in bad weather, even when they were tired and sore and discouraged.

They knew that you had to use the right bait. When dealing with different people – different concerns, questions or ideas that matter to them. They would need to be adaptable – to know what they needed to say in order to illustrate to them that the kingdom of God was indeed near.

They had courage. Galilee is a small lake and it is not very deep and is surrounded by tall hills they call mountains. A storm can come up off the hills quickly and the lake becomes rough on a moments notice. To be out on that lake in a small sailboat in the midst of storm required courage and keeping a level head.

So fishing for people, I believe,  meant using the gifts these fishermen already possessed to use in the service to spreading the Good News of God. Jesus shone a new light on who they were, what they could do, and the meaning it could have in their lives and the lives of others.

The question I ask that we ponder this week is “in what way is God calling you – me – each of us to use our gifts in new ways to bring light to the darkness & shadow places around us?”  And how can we help invite others to find that light that illumines our hearts & lives?

“On those who sat I the shadow of death on them light has shined…”

May we be bearers of the light!  

Don

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Water is LIFE

Water is important.

In Genesis the wind of God swept over the primordial waters

In Exodus Moses led the people through the waters of the Red Sea.

The prophet Elijah struck the water of the Jordan and spilt the waters

In psalm 29 we read – “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters… the Lord is upon the mighty waters…”

The recent confrontation at Standing Rock has reminded all us once again, no matter what side of that issue we are on, that water is life.

I suspect that there may be some who do not agree, and yet we know that one can die from lack of water much sooner than from a lack of food.

Many across the globe argue that access to clean, safe water is a human right.  But that is a contentious point in a world where water has become a commodity and vehicle of profit.  Currently in Flint Michigan, some towns in Pennsylvania, and even some cities in Indiana, problems with water supply are creating long term problems leading to disability and unhealthy.

Water is life

In Acts 10  Peter notes the Jesus ministry comes after his baptism . That baptism was a commissioning for his public ministry .

The Gospel according to Matthew shows us Jesus going to the Jordan to be baptized – a submersion in the water of a river that is small compared to the Ohio River (though it is about the same color).

Cousin John was preaching at the Jordan where the road from Jericho to Jerusalem crosses the Jordan. John in his preaching was exhorting  the travelers to Jerusalem to reclaim their heritage, their roots, by crossing the Jordan into the land – this land which had been promised to Abraham and to which Moses had led them.

John used the waters of the Jordan as a graphic reminder that the fore-bearers in faith had crossed that same river in order to receive God’s promise and had promised to be God’s people in the land. God had rescued them from slavery in Egypt and in return they promised to be God’s people. That act of John’s baptism was acknowledgement that they were inheritors of the promise and a symbol that they would repent – which literally means to turn around to the correct way of being God’s people in the world.

No wonder John was surprised that his cousin Jesus would come to partake of this ritual – Jesus was a teacher who was living the life of an observant son of the covenant. Jesus tells him it was to “fulfill all righteousness”  I see that to mean that Jesus doesn’t not ask others to do what he was not willing to do. Jesus used the symbolic power of water from which to emerge to begin his proclamation of the good news of  Emmanuel – God with us and accessible to us.

Water leads us to life…

Why do we love baptisms?

Yes, young children are cute, and because we welcome the newly baptized into a new life and relationship with us and with God.

But recall that most of us do not remember our own baptism – so I suspect it also becomes an act of remembrance of and by the community…

Which is also why from time to time we sprinkle the people of God with the water of baptism during the liturgy.

The same with making the sign of the cross – an act of personal piety – at the reading of the gospel and during prayers makes visible to us the sign of the cross made at our baptism  which is the sign of our also being well beloved children of God.

Water is new life.

Jesus’  actions did not end with baptism they began there.  The waters of baptism with Spirit of God alighting on him was the matrix from which his adult life as a teacher, healer and prophet emerged.

Commemorating the Feast of Jesus Baptism reminds us of our call personally and as a faith community to new life and new ways of living and acting. It reminds us that each of us is uniquely gifted for making our contribution to recreate the world as God created it to be.

This brings us back to Standing Rock. For a significant proportion of those who began the protests were native American Episcopalians from the missions on the Standing Rock Reservation. The Rev John Floberg their missioner has been there for almost 30 years. Our Presiding Bishop came to stand with them as Water protectors.  He went there to stand with them, to be a prophetic voice for the care of creation and the need to care for the earth. Hundreds if not thousands of others from religious communities, knowing the power of water, came to stand with them.

Water is life – both as creatures and creation

Both physically and spiritually

Both now and to the ages of ages

The voice of the Lord is upon the waters… the Lord is upon the mighty waters…”

And the water of baptism is mighty indeed!

Don

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The Work of Christmas

By Howard Thurman

When the song of the angels is stilled

When the star in the sky is gone

When the kings and princes are home

When the shepherds are back with their flock

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost

To heal the broken

To feed the hungry

To release the prisoner

To rebuild the nations

To bring peace among people

To make music in the heart

__________________________________

PS The work of Christmas continues through the New Year and each and every day of every year.

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For THOSE people?

img_4648_resizeIt was a time of discord, dissention, fracture and violence. Politics were brutal. Governing the land meant deals with the powerful; incompetent appointments of the well connected; and threats against the most vulnerable. Loyalty to an ideology meant more than seeking the common good. And at the center was one man.

Sounds recognizable doesn’t it? Yes, that was the Roman Empire just before and during the time of Jesus. Israel was under Roman control. Land taken from the people had been given to the powerful interests of the day. The Emperor ruled, appointed, directed and set the tone for the Empire.

The masses of people were steadily sinking deeper into poverty and the elites were getting more and more wealth. The populace was restless, discouraged, and sought someone who could save them. They looked for a Messiah – whom they wanted to be a political leader who could overturn the power of Rome.

It was into this context that angels appeared to shepherds out at work in a field. Now shepherds were not bad people… but it was a hard and nomadic job, one that did not allow much time off. It did not pay well and most people did not want to do it. It might be vaguely equivalent to migrant farm workers in our present day. Shepherds were marginalized, exploited, vilified, and yet were necessary to the economy.

So here is the first scandal of the Gospel story. God sends messengers to THOSE people… those shepherds, to announce good news. Not to the leaders of the temple in Jerusalem, or the local chapter of the Pharisees, nor the Levites – the priests. So WHY them? They were not good faithful Jews. They did not follow the dietary laws, and observe the Sabbath, holy days or the fine details of the torah and the Biblical laws. They were not considered totally respectable… Yet the messengers of God come to them!

If we read through the scriptures it becomes obvious to most of us that God has special regard for the marginalized, the poor, the refugee in the land, the widowed, the orphan, the disabled, the despised… Again and again we hear God’s prophets from centuries BC to the present telling God’s people to care for the poor, the orphan, aliens and widow.

These messengers of God appear and tells the shepherds ”I bring glad tidings of a great joy for all the people; to you is born this day…a savior who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

This special delivery message – a message of joy… is stated “to you…a Savior, the messiah was born.” Born for these shepherds… “and for all people…” Obviously God simply does not recognize the boundaries we humans put on our religion and our religious institutions.
God does things God’s way not ours. God does not operate a patronage system, doling out favors to those who have paid their tithes and followed the institutional rules. This joyous news of the angels is for all people – delivered to the shepherds who best symbolized the marginalized who needed good news then and now.

In every age and time there are many who need Good News; as well as those who need to be reminded that it is not our agenda or ideology that will lead us to the world as it was meant to be – for our world and society to be as they were created to be we must subscribe to God’s agenda for us and for all of God’s creation.

The birth of a baby is usually an occasion of joy. A new life is celebrated. The announcement of the birth in Bethlehem is called by the theological term Incarnation – meaning putting on flesh…

This announcement to shepherds allowed them to see this promised Good News embodied in this child. What allowed them to believe it because they could see it. Good News needs to be somehow embodied for most people to believe it is real.

The promise of the angels, the promise of Christmas – the promise of Jesus’ teachings, the cross and resurrection is a promise of Emmanuel – God With Us in whatever we are facing. A recent movie has one character saying “Everything works out well in the end. If it has not worked out well then it is not the end.” That is very much like the promise we have as those who follow Jesus.

The shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw what had been promised – the birth of Jesus. Yet on that night the promise did not come to its fulfillment. By the time of his death, Jesus has gathered a community of people, and started a movement. It consisted of people who pledged to continue to work towards Jesus’ shared vision of God’s intention for humanity and for creation. We gather tonight as part of the Episcopal branch of that Jesus Movement – deeply craving that Jesus vision might become a reality.

We who need good news have heard the proclamation of angels.
Will we, like the shepherds, go in heart and mind to Bethlehem to be reminded and inspired?
Will we renew our commitment to be the people of God and followers of the who we call the Prince of Peace.
Will we choose to embody and personally live out the Good News so we become the sign for others that the message of hope and compassion is real?
Will live in a way that resists the culture of empire and oppression of others?

Will we work and pray for the end of militarism, so that as Isaiah wrote “the boots of the tramping warriors and the garments soaked in blood may finally become fuel for the fire” as we live God’s new creation into being?

And the angel said – Do not be afraid;
For see – I am bringing you good news of a great joy
For all the people
to you is born this day in the city of David, a savior,
who is the messiah, the Lord…

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace, good will
to all God’s creatures and creation.

Don & Nancy

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Sunday of the Fulfillment

Sunday (Nov. 20) is the last Sunday of the church year. Unlike the societal calendar the church year begins with the first Sunday of Advent which in 2016 is Sunday November 27. We end the current church year with the focus on the completing of Jesus’ work among us. We see the work begun in Jesus throughout the New Testament and continued (often in fits and starts) by God’s people across the centuries since. There has been progress made but we are also painfully aware of the great gaps between what Jesus taught and what humanity has been able to accomplish in making it “on earth as it is in heaven…”

In the Anglican world this Sunday is often known as Christ the King – using the metaphor of Jesus as the king indicating that God’s will would be done on earth… Yet Nancy and I much prefer the Lutheran name – Sunday of the Fulfillment – the Sunday on which we look forward to the time when all will be as God created it to be.

The difference is significant. With Christ the King we seem to be handing the work back to Jesus saying “Here YOU do it!” The Sunday of the Fulfillment seems more like the Gospel in that Jesus’ followers are to finish the work that Jesus began.

The world has been rocked by the recent election. Our children as young adults give us a window into the shock and horror many of them feel at the results. The unexpected support for actions, policies and attitudes that seem so very much at odds with the Gospel we proclaim, has left many wondering. And one of the wonderments that has been voiced is “what do we do now?”

On this Sunday of the Fulfillment we are given an answer. If we want the world to be like God created it be, we need to get back to work. Our work is to proclaim and live out the Gospel values we find in Jesus life, ministry and teaching. If we want care for the vulnerable we need to find ways to care for and/or help support the very people scripture tells us are close to God’s heart: The sick, the poor, the marginalized, the widowed and orphans, and the alien in the land

We have been given the message – “Get back to work. It is not over and our work in the world is not done.” As individuals and as a community of faith our work continues. We can see clearly how important our work is if we take seriously what we pray in the prayer Jesus taught – that God’s will be followed by God’s values being lived out as our reality on earth.

This then leads to a question of discernment. Led by Jesus teachings, as we understand them, we might ask, “Of all the things that could be done, what task or piece of a task of care for God’s creatures and God’s creation, are we as individuals – and we as a parish uniquely – able or called to work on? What can we do to make this small corner of creation more as God created it to be? How can each of us – you and I, and our faith communities – be agents of change for God’s stated agenda – “on earth as it is heaven”?

Don

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Persistent & Continual

We sat watching the presidential debate on a recent Sunday evening with our youngest son & his girlfriend. It was a strange experience even though good questions were asked by capable journalists and concerned citizens. The strangeness for me was the number of times the content of the question was ignored and answers not given… But these moderators kept emphasizing and asking questions again and again. Eventually some answers eventually came forth… and less frequently small bits of clarity were gained. Their persistence paid off over the long run of that arduous process over the hour and a half.
In looking at the lectionary readings for October 16th I could not help but be reminded of the debate, and of political campaigns at all levels. Especially when we read the portion of the second letter to Timothy where Paul writes about people “with itching ears” looking to find people who” will turn them away from listening to the truth and help them wander into fantasy”. That sounds like the current political climate where for many candidates and their supporters opinions and innuendo replace facts. It is evidenced in so much so fact checking now being an important element in the political commentary. Facts, and especially scientific facts, don’t seem to matter as much. It is as if one doesn’t have to be bothered by facts, especially if one doesn’t happen to like the facts. Ignore the facts or deny them and one does not have to face questions one doesn’t like.
We keep hearing from people who are discouraged about the political process. They talk about their fears, their disappointments, and some even predict the destruction of parties, and a few fear for the nation. More than one person has threatened to go into exile if the person they support is not elected. And the thought has occurred more than once to us as well.
The reading from Jeremiah this week was written in a time there has been fear, destruction and exile. A time in which the people of God felt forsaken – even though God was with them. But rather than allow them to marinate in their misery the prophet Jeremiah shares a word of the Lord with these same people. It is time, he declares, to build and to plant. It is time for action, a time for renewal of life and rebuilding. God has made a new covenant with us all which is not written on tablets, or parchment. It is a covenant written within us, written on the hearts. A covenant with God’s people based in the life and on the values of God. And for we who follow Jesus this is especially revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus.
Reading the Gospel of Luke I again recalled the debate. Luke writes of Jesus telling about a judge who “neither feared God, nor had respect for the people”. This is another way of describing a person whose center is totally self. Someone who is entrapped in needing affirmation and whose ego pushes aside all other concerns. This judge is approached by a widow. In that culture a widow was one without wealth, power or influence. She demands justice but does not get it. Usually a person without wealth and power would just accept their fate from such an unjust judge. But this woman keeps demanding justice… again and again and again. After a while the judge grants justice simply so as not to be bothered.

Jesus uses this image, which was probably a familiar example of how the poor of his day and many of the poor and marginalized today experience the judicial system.

Here Jesus is saying if this judge who neither feared God nor respected people can provide relief will not a God who advocates for the poor listen, support and help those who ask?

But for me there is a further message. This widow gives us an example of Continual Prayer. Prayer that is focused and persistent.

Jesus, through the character of the widow, gives us a model of continual prayer. Continual prayer starts, stops, and starts again. It is the practice of returning to God day after day in prayer. Prayer that persists… Prayer that is not limited to words, nor does it bear the expectation that God will fix things.

So what changes when we pray? If we pray for the poor, for the sick, for those in need…do we expect that our words are like an order to a celestial Sears and Roebuck? We put in the order and eventually it gets delivered? That is not a good image of prayer. What changes the most in prayer is the one who is praying!

When any of us lift up the hungry in prayer, for example, it should make me aware of what I am or am not doing to help, or my prayer may show me what I could do. It may give me insight into how we might approach the causes of hunger and poverty in our town, our country and the world.

The widow shows us Continual Prayer is action that comes out of what we know that God values. One aspect of that action is continuing to be in conversation and reflection with God about the issues or concerns. The second aspect is discerning what we need to be doing to see changes that represent the scriptural values of radical hospitality, radical acceptance, forgiveness and boundless love for all God’s people – and most especially for the marginalized, the poor and the powerless.( Specifically in scriptural language: the widow, the alien in our land, the poor, the dispossessed and others who are different from us.)

Prayer is not just words to make us feel good or feel that we have done something… One of our favorite slogans about prayer is on the tee shirts worn by Exit 0 volunteers. “Don’t talk about it – BE about it.” That is continual and persistent prayer.

Driving to church on Sunday a breaking news story was of men arrested for plotting the bombing of a Muslin Somali Community on the day after the election, in the heartland of America. A planned attack on immigrants who moved to America get away from violence in their homeland is deeply disturbing and of itself invalidates the idea of Muslims as the source and threat of extremist views and tactics. Here we have our neighbors, (using Jesus definition of neighbor) who are being threatened by fellow citizens. What do we prayerfully plan to do about that?

In this election season, in any and every season, remember the new covenant written on our hearts. Do not succumb to discouragement and give up – do not give in to exile; or hopelessness. There ARE things we can do to create the justice we seek for ALL God people. But the widow did not get it on her first approach. And we must continue to caringly demand these things first of ourselves, and then of our courts, our political leaders, our police, our government and our citizens – for only then shall we see God’s will “done, on earth as in heaven.

Nancy & Don

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Doing with Less

The opening of the letter from Paul to his young protégé Timothy is instructive. Paul leaves no doubt in Timothy’s mind that Paul has a high regard & affection for him. This can be a reminder that each of us and all of us needs to receive affirmation – especially within this body of faith we call the church. Far too often we neglect to affirm the work and ministry of others and primarily speak to share concerns & criticism.
Paul too had his concerns and he reminds Timothy to reach for the resources of God’s grace that is already within him, though not of his creation or of his own doing. That grace is a gift from God. Paul speaks to his timidity (and to ours) when he next says God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power, of love and self discipline. We contemporary Christians seem to be timid in seizing the gifts we have been given in order to make a difference in the world and community around us. We are also quite timid in sharing our story of faith with others. Paul speaks through the centuries to remind us that we have been imbued with power to make a difference in the live of others. To do that we need to be disciplined in our use of that power in order to make certain we use it as intended for the common good.
Paul also speaks of the treasure we have been given thru the Christian faith. We have to recognize and to correctly utilize this treasure that has been entrusted to us. In truth Paul knows we cannot hope to do this all by ourselves – we need to rely on the Holy Spirit and receive support from the faith community.

In the Gospel of Luke someone has asked Jesus to increase the size/amount of their faith. The implication of this question is that size matters. If you have 8oz of faith you can only do a fraction of what you can do if you had the quart or gallon size faith. JESUS PUTS THAT NOTION TO REST.
My temptation in answering may well have been to suggest a few books to read, perhaps some spiritual practices to engage in or allocating time for meditation, prayer or scripture reading. These are not bad suggestions but advocating them in response to this particular request is buying into the stereotype that our goal as a Christian is to do faith body-building exercises to get our faith into shape for some sort of measurable faith competition. According to Jesus our primary goals are a right relationship with God, and to reach out to others – sharing the faith and the gifts we have right now.
Jesus sounds exasperated by this question. He responds – If you only have a small dot of faith you can do great things.
Part of our confusion is that we think of faith as belief. An intellectual assent to the tenets of belief. Perhaps even of being able to pass a theological quiz or religious test of some sort. Faith as Jesus presents it was trust and confidence in God and God’s promises. So Jesus is saying if we have even a minuscule amount of trust and confidence in God and the promises of God, we will be able to do great & wonderful things for other people. This is because we are not depending on ourselves, but trusting and depending on the power of God to work through us. If we have a small bit of trust that God can and will work through us we will be amazed at what can happen.
In the 1980’s I was in a parish in Buffalo. The parish had discerned the need for housing for disabled elders. There was a Federal Program – HUD 202 Housing. A competitive application process requiring the approval and support of the Senator. Our senior Senator was D’Amato – republican senator. Ours was a Democratic district of Buffalo. We prepared an over 200 page application each year for 4 years. Those in the know KNEW we would never get the funding. We only knew it was a needed facility and being too ignorant to give up, we kept at it – and we got the funding. We later found out it was through the request of a member of the Senator’s local staff who was impressed by our yearly efforts and who wanted to get this done… and the facility has celebrated more than 25 years of providing safe & affordable housing for the disabled.
We trusted in the leadings of a power beyond ourselves, If we had trusted in the local political pundits we would have never attempted it, or would have quit after 1 or 2 applications. If we had relied on our power to persuade a senator of the opposite political party as the district – those apartments still would not have been built.
When we put our trust in God’s leading and trustingly try to tap into the resources God gives us – we do things greater than we can imagine. When we encourage one another as members of the body of Christ and work together to make our communities more as God would have them to be important things begin to happen.
St. Paul’s is a smaller congregation. Since 2011 St Paul’s has been focused on doing what we can, for as many as we are able. The results may be seen in our continuing support of the CLM Food Pantry, Haven House and Exit 0. It is seen in the development of CLARK COUNTY CARES as a grassroots organization working to support those in recovery and those dealing with addiction. Through our members and clergy we provide leadership for Clark County CARES, CLM, and Haven House. Our benefit concerts support the work of essential community service organizations. As a small congregation, through our partnerships, we help get a lot done. More than we could have imagined 5 years ago.
Like Timothy, we may, at times get discouraged and need to encourage one another to persevere; and to value and share treasure we have been given.
We need to nurture our faith – our trust in God. To trust that the Holy Spirit is with us and will enable us to do even more things that God would have us do in this part of God’s world where we are called to be Christ’s hands and voice and heart serving God’s people.
Note also that we should not be overly prideful in doing what the Gospel commends and commands – since that is what God asks of us to do in response for the gift of love, and life, of grace and forgiveness. And in gratitude for the indwelling of the Spirit that upholds and guides us into newness of life.
Don

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