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Posted on Jun 3, 2018

Acceptance—homily for 3 June 2018

Acceptance

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Photo Credit: Leonard J Matthews Flickr via Compfight cc

June 3, Proper 4

1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20) & Psalm 139:1-5,12-17
2 Corinthians 4:5-12Mark 2:23—3:6

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

Our Children, Youth, and Family Minister, Kathy O’Donoghue and I have been listening to a new podcast recently.

It’s called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. They go chapter by chapter through all the Harry Potter books reading them not just as novels but “but as instructive and inspirational texts that will teach us about our own lives.” They do this by focusing on major themes like: commitment, love, loneliness, fear, generosity, betrayal, etc.

I want to stop right here, because I’m sure I’ve lost many of you. Some of you have never read Harry Potter, never want to read Harry Potter, and so you maybe silently rolled your eyes and started thinking about something else.

I’ve lost others of you because you’re already trying to surreptitiously check your podcast lists and making sure you’re subscribing to this, and just want me to stop talking so you can start listening to it…

I invite you all to come back…

What hooked me was in the first episode, when one of the hosts (who did go to divinity school) said. “I [grew] up in a non-religious household and never thought I would be sitting in a Bible study class learning how to understand this ancient text. [The bible] was interesting, but it never felt like it was mine. I didn’t love it.”

I’m going to stop there again…how many of you have had a similar experience with the Bible… interesting but not loving it…the bible is a difficult text. It’s not even a single text…it’s more like an entire library. [For a fun, and helpful guide, check out The Overview Bible]

“It never felt like it was mine.” I bet that resonates with a lot of us. The bible feels very distant a lot of times…thousands of years ago…contexts we don’t really understand….”The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” What does that mean?

Jesus makes this reference to something David did (he sort of gets it wrong by the way), and are we supposed to know what that’s all about?

It’s a difficult set of texts.

So the podcast host discovers in re-reading Harry Potter, that, “The same questions of love and fear and death and even resurrection that were showing up in the Bible class were showing up in the Harry Potter text. And the difference was that the Harry Potter books felt like they were mine. I could claim them in a way that I never feel like I could claim the Bible, because this was a text I had grown up with.”

Now I don’t know if we can make the bible feel like its ours in the same way that Harry Potter might be, or the Star Wars movies, or whatever your go to thing is (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) that really helps you make sense of the world.

We all have sacred/secular texts…our beloved books, and movies and TV shows…the albums…the songs…the plays…all of those words…the narratives that we go back to time and time again to help us make sense of a world that really doesn’t make sense.

And one of the wonderful things about this podcast is they show us how to take these secular texts seriously as more than just a great story, but as a kind of mythology that helps us learn what kind of people we want to be…what kind of people we’re being asked to be…how to respond to the really desperate needs of the world.

“Treating a text as sacred,” says one of the hosts, “is […] giving ourselves permission through rigorous practice to really see ourselves through the text,” and therefore it become intentionally instructive.

And it does require some rigorous practice…it requires some curiosity…and some willingness to be open to change. Part of the challenge and the fun of treating any text as sacred and applying a rigorous practice to the reading of it is learning new things.

So we have these readings this week. The story of Samuel’s call. Portions of this Psalm. Part of the second letter that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. And these episodes in the Gospels of Jesus doing things on the Sabbath that some people are not sure he should be doing.

What themes stand out?

The theme that really stood out for me this week was “acceptance,” particularly in the character of Eli. Every time I read this passage in Samuel, I often imagine the first part of it as sort of a Monty Python routine…”you called.” “No, go back to sleep.” I love how Eli, gradually comes to this awareness…after the third time “he perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.” Eli is perceptive…sometimes. He’s the one who hears Hannah, Samuel’s mother, praying for a child (Hannah is barren). Eli hears this prayer and perceives that God will fulfill it.  He’s not, however, able to control his two sons. And God warns him that both of his sons will die, and his house will be cut off. Eli knows this, which makes his final conversation with Samuel so poignant.

First, he has to help Samuel have the courage to reveal what God said to him. Remember, Eli is essentially the only father Samuel has ever known. Hannah had no children before Samuel. And in her prayer to God she swears that if God gives her a son, she will dedicate him as a Nazarite (a specially dedicated class of priests), and sure enough, almost immediately after Samuel is born she gives him to Eli to raise. Which is an incredible act of acceptance on Hannah’s part.

So God tells Samuel that, “Eli and his family are done.” But it is through Eli that Samuel learns not hide anything God has said, even when it’s bad news. Eli is teaching Samuel how to speak truth to power…truth to power in love…which he will continue to do for the rest of his life. It’s an important lesson for Samuel…it’s how he learns to be a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

And then there’s Eli’s final response: Imagine that you’ve just heard what Eli hears: “God is about to punish the house of Eli for ever.” I would probably immediately start bargaining….what about this…what if I did that…couldn’t we arrange…

But no. Even the first time Eli hears this, he remains silent, and with Samuel…having confirmed that it was God who spoke to him, Eli simply says, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”

Every week we pray the Lord’s prayer here. And we say the words: Your  kingdom come…your will be done.”

We pray that so easily…so nonchalantly…each week. How often do we let what that really means sink in? That’s what Eli says here. It’s what Jesus says in the Garden of Gethsemane… “take this cup away from me.” “I don’t want to do this… “yet not my will but yours be done.”

Wayne Muller, in his book on the Lord’s Prayer says, “This is the essence of prayer. The first part of prayer is the work we do each and every day, work with our hands and hearts to make the world safe and good, to heal those who are sick, to feed those who are hungry, to comfort those who are lonely, to create justice, to preserve the earth. Then, having brought our heart’s desire and our offerings to the table, we prepare ourselves to gratefully receive WHATEVER is given as a gift…The spiritual life is a life of surprises. We never get just the parts we want. When we are asked to accept something unexpected, when we are given something we had not sought or wanted, how do we meet it? Do we greet it with anger, frustration, impatience, (why are you doing those things on the Sabbath?) or do we welcome it as a gift, an opportunity to become more spacious, a dancing lesson from God?” (Muller, Wayne, The Lord’s Prayer: How We Find Heaven On Earth loc. 756, Kindle).

What are your sacred texts? The ones that teach you how to live and love, and be generous? And how can you apply some rigorous practice to them? So that God’s will might be done?

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Posted on May 20, 2018

50 Days Later—homily for Pentecost 2018

50 Days Later

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Photo Credit: Waiting For The Word Flickr via Compfight cc

May 20, Day of Pentecost:
Psalm 104:25-35,37;
Acts 2:1-11 or Exekiel 37:1-14Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-11John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

Fifty days ago we started with a group of disciples locked in a room, afraid to go out, terrified of what might happen next. Terrified because they had seen Jesus betrayed, and flogged, and executed. Terrified because they had all deserted him…denied him…and what if they come for us, too?

For fifty days we’ve gone back and forth in time…first learning of the resurrection from other witnesses…women who saw…something…men who wrote us letters about what they had seen and heard (1 John)…and then from the Risen Christ himself. We saw him come and stand among them…witnessed them touching him…eating with him…and saw how he “opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:41). And if this were a movie, it’s at this point where we might get a flashback montage…to things Jesus said before he died… “I am the Good Shepherd.” “I am the true vine.” “Abide in me… apart from me you can do nothing”… “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”… “As you, Father, have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world…”

We’ve also gotten some flash forwards…Peter, no longer terrified, but brazenly speaking to multitudes….to Israelites, and Gentiles, baptizing many…Phillip, no longer afraid in that upper room, but boldly heading towards Gaza, engaging with the Ethiopian Eunuch, baptizing him….The author of the first letter of John, written, probably around the year 100, probably from modern day Turkey or Syria…a long way from the center of our Easter story…proclaiming clearly what he has seen and heard…namely, that God is light and love and fully revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.

For fifty days we’ve lived with the disciples in this upper room, locked in this temporal dramatic tension…remembering the things Jesus said before he died, and seeing into the future of this irresistible force…ordinary, flawed people going out and doing and saying extraordinary things. You’ve all seen movies and tv shows that do this…keep one of the central plot points veiled until the end…Lost, This is Us, are two that use this technique a lot…they create tension by showing us before the event, and after the event, and make us wonder…what in the world happened?

What turned this group of deniers…these cowardly, cringing “no, not me…I don’t know him” bunch into this irresistible force?

What happened?

The short answer is: The Holy Spirit happened.

One of my favorite, short-lived TV shows was Joan of Arcadia. It only ran for two seasons back in 2003-2004. It was about a teenaged girl, Joan, who moves to the town of Arcadia with her family, and begins to be visited by God. God appears to her as ordinary people…a cute boy, an old lady, a young girl, a pizza delivery guy, a Nigerian doctor, a janitor…and tells her to do certain things…get a job, take an art class, make friends with certain people…never with much explanation…God’s purpose in the show seemed to be to get us to recognize and understand the interconnectedness of all things.

To some it seemed silly or sacrilegious, to me it seemed to be pretty close to how the Holy Spirit operates, after all, God visits Abraham disguised as three weary travelers. God worked through Peter, and a Pharisee named Paul, and an Ethiopian Eunuch, saints, apostles, and martyrs…Holy Women and Holy Men…And while I’ve never spoken with anyone claiming to be God, I have had a lot of experiences of God speaking to me through other people—in how they cared for me, challenged me, loved me…in how they have “opened my mind to understand the scriptures” in new and more faithful ways.

And that’s one other piece of this montage that has been playing these past fifty days…the reminders you’ve gotten from me and others about the traditions that have been kept aflame here—this ship of faith—the necessity of remaining attached to a nurturing community…the many shepherds that serve in place of and on behalf of the Good Shepherd…the powerful stories from our scriptures that challenge us to listen better and be more loving in our own world. God—the Holy Spirit—works through all of that… through all of this…through all of us to bring about God’s dream of a just, verdant, and reconciled world.

In the last scene of the final episode of Joan of Arcadia, Joan is talking with God, who at this point is a goth rocker dude. And she’s agonizing about the coming showdown with the “big bad” a guy named Ryan, who may be the devil, or he may be as God says, “just a connection…mostly neutral…a human and every human, by virtue of free will, has the choice of how to direct his actions for good or evil…The universe is kinetic…[and E]very day,” says God, “you have to make a choice. Make it better or worse. Most people do a little bit of both. And there are those powerful enough to overbalance the scales on either end.” What God wants Joan to do is provide a counterbalance.

She complains, “I can’t do this alone…I have no weapons…The other Joan had an army, I don’t have anything like that.” God looks past her shoulder, and the camera cuts to a shot of Joan’s friends—are a rag-tag bunch of misfits currently arguing and throwing wads of paper at each other…Joan looks, sighs and turns back to God, ”So basically, I’m on my own.” God smiles and says, “you have everything you need, Joan.” And walks off.

Fifty days ago we were sitting in a room afraid to go out. And if this were the end of the movie, the moment when The Event was revealed…the overlapping scenes of the things Jesus said and did before he died, and the things his disciples said and did immediately after THE Event and far into the future would coalesce and resolve into that first scene again. Reminding us that we’re still there…locked in, afraid and feeling pretty alone…and then the wind would start to blow, and fire begins to rain down…and the door would be flung open…

It’s scary out there…I know that. I know that there are very real fires and very strong…very ill-winds blowing. I know there’s like ten thousand things that need to be done. I know that at times it all seems utterly overwhelming. I know that most of you feel not unlike the disciples did… “I don’t know enough,” “I’m not faithful enough,” “I don’t pray enough, or do any of the spiritual things that I’m supposed to do…”

I don’t feel equipped or ready to go out there and be the change.

I know all that…I feel all of that, too.

But

Take a look around. Take a look at the people here with you. Take a look at this place…remember the history that lives here…the traditions that are tended and passed on here. The opportunities for true belonging, for growth and support…that thrive here. Take a look at the beauty, and harmony that can be seen and heard here. Take all of this in..and hear me say…with all of the pastoral authority God has entrusted me with and you have conferred upon me…

Take all of this in and hear me say: You have everything you need…

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Posted on May 13, 2018

Minority Reports—homily for 13 May 2018

Minority Reports

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Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985. Ruth and Naomi, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55328 [retrieved May 10, 2018]

May 13, Seventh Sunday of Easter:

Psalm 1
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
1 John 5:9-13John 17:6-19

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

It can be comforting to live in a black and white world. A world where good people are good, and do well, and thrive…and bad people get what’s coming to them. A world where you can tell who’s good and who’s bad by the color of their costumes. It’s a world that is often presented to us in advertising… “look at how successful those thin, attractive people are! They must be doing something right…I want to be like them.” Its a world that is presented to us in the Psalm today.

“Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked….They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; *everything they do shall prosper.”

But the wicked…”they are like chaff which the wind blows away…the way of the wicked is doomed.” (Psalm 1)

It can be comforting…this easy to understand world…It can be seductive…this very simple moral calculus—if I behave and do what’s right I will get good things…and if I don’t behave bad things will happen—“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5) Simple. Clear cut. You’re either in…or your out…walking in the ways of the Lord, or blown away like chaff…it’s super attractive…except that there’s the flip side to it as well…

Because what if I’m not doing well? What if I’m no longer young, and have never been thin, or attractive? What if I’m struggling to get by? How do I know if I’m in the club? What if people who look like me, or dress like me are not held up as role models but instead are constantly represented as “less-than,” “inferior,” “bad?,” or just, simply don’t exist at all? Does this simple moral calculus mean that it’s somehow my fault? Am I counted as part of the wicked just because I’m not any of the things that define what is successful, or righteous, or good in this particular culture?

Black and white might be a comforting way to look at the world—for some. It’s a tempting way to look at the world—for some. It’s not a realistic way to look at the world. Because our world is not black and white.

If only there were some stories…some counter narratives…that undermined…that subverted…this all-too-simple, and potentially damaging narrative…if only our scriptures only contained stories like that…

How many of you have spent time studying the genealogy of Jesus? It shows up in two places…Luke chapter 3, and Matthew chapter 1. Luke traces the genealogy all the way back to Adam. Matthew just goes back to Abraham. The two don’t exactly match up, and Matthew does some very interesting things that Luke doesn’t.

Luke’s list starts with Jesus and works back in time, listing only fathers—the paternal line. Matthew starts with Abraham and works forward in time and has some interesting additions: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah—the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar…Who’s Tamar? A woman. And not just any woman. Tamar is a gentile—probably a Canaanite who was not married to Judah. Tamar’s story never makes it into the lectionary because it’s PG-13 at best, and that’s maybe too bad because it’s a great—problematic—story that works as a counterpoint to this dominant narrative (See Genesis 38).

Tamar was married to Judah’s eldest son, but he died with no children. And as was the custom, she then married the next son. He died. The same with the next, so Judah got concerned and wouldn’t let her marry his youngest son. Which, in that culture, at that time, was an improper thing to do.

Then Judah goes to a festival, and Tamar (feeling wronged) disguises herself, and meets Judah on the road. Judah thinks she’s “a woman who works near festivals,” wants to “transact business with her.” She says, “what will you give me.” He says, “I’ll give you a lamb.” She says, “No, I want your staff and  “seal-cord” (sort of how you would sign your name).” He says, “fine.” They go off. She gets pregnant.

Months later, she’s showing and people say, “Judah, what’s up with your daughter-in-law? She’s been running around.” Judah says, “Take her out to be burned,” (terrible, I know). Tamar says, “Wait. I have proof of who the father is.” And pulls out Judah’s seal cord. So now everyone knows, that not only did Judah fail in his duty in not letting her marry his youngest son, he is responsible for her pregnancy. So, to his credit, when confronted with this he says, “She is more in the right than I.” She’s vindicated, and gives birth to twins (Perez and Zerah), one of whom is the ancestor of King David—and of Jesus.

Tamar is an outsider in every sense of the word. She’s an outsider making her way in a culture that is not her own. And she’s held up by Matthew—and later tradition—as someone who exhibits great faith, greater faith than the men around her.

A few lines later in the genealogy, Matthew mentions Salmon father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth. Two more women. Rahab might not be familiar, but Ruth should be. We’ll hear some of Ruth’s story later this year.

Rahab was also a Canaanite, and (according to her story in Joshua 2), but unlike Tamar, also worked in “the oldest profession,” who aided Joshua in the conquest of Canaan. In Jewish tradition she is held up as an exemplar of faith. But I’m sure the Canaanites (if any had been left to write a history) would have told a different story of her betrayal. The point isn’t to figure out if she was “good” or “bad” the point is that the inclusion of her story in this grand narrative raises questions, and complicates the story in instructive ways. She’s a stranger…trying to navigate her way in a dangerous world. And her presence serves as a constant reminder of the very troubling, and violent, history that we have all inherited.

Ruth’s story is actually closer to the “rags to riches” narrative that we’re familiar with (See the Book of Ruth). There’s a famine in Bethlehem so Naomi and her husband go to next door to Moab where their sons marry Moabite women. All the men die, and Naomi and her daughters-in-law are left penniless. Naomi tells both of them to return to their families in Moab, but Ruth refuses. Instead, she leaves her family, and the only homeland she’s ever known and comes with Naomi back to Bethlehem. Then the headline might read: “Poverty-Stricken Foreigner Finds Favor in the Eyes of a Prominent Rich Man.” (New Interpreters Study Bible. p 384). She’s gleaning in the field (picking up the leftovers) catches Boaz’s eye. Naomi and Ruth conspire to get her next to Boaz and…long story short…Boaz marries her and she becomes the great-grandmother of King David. 

Another outsider…another stranger…another story outside of and slightly askew from the dominant structure. The fact that she is constantly referred to as “Ruth the Moabite,” underscores this. Moab was “the wrong side of the tracks,” it was the neighboring country,  and everyone knew that nothing good came from Moab…to put it in terms that some of us might be more familiar with—Star Wars—calling her “Ruth, the Moabite,” is like saying “she’s a nobody, from Jakku.”

It’s true our scriptures are filled with voices that uphold the dominant narrative…that the good are rewarded…the wicked are punished…our ancestors who edited these texts put this Psalm first for a reason…it’s aspirational. But they also included minority voices…voices that question, and challenge, and move us to think and interact with our world in more nuanced ways. The most extended, comprehensive critique of this black and white narrative is the Book of Job. Job is also an outsider…from Uz…which again, is a little like saying, “if there is a bright center in the universe, Uz is the planet that it’s farthest from”… Job has no claim to being part of the “in crowd,” nevertheless,  he is “blameless, and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1) and yet, horrible things happen to him…and his whole story is an extended argument about how this could be. It’s never really resolved. But I don’t think the Bible was ever intended to be a rule book with cut and dried answers for all of life’s questions. It’s an invitation to enter into a conversation with God and one another about what really matters in life….How we can go about faithfully determining what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s challenging, and often perplexing, but it’s one of the best tools we have to prepare us for being sent out.

We are being sent out into the world…”we do not belong to the world”, as Jesus says, but we are still in the world. But this world we’re being sent into is not a black and white one. It’s not even grayscale…it’s multi-hued…it’s a riot of color and shades and tones…let us go into it with eyes and hearts open, listening for and telling the stories that need to be told.

Amen.

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Posted on May 7, 2018

Preparing to be sent out—sermon for 6 May 2018

Preparing to be sent out

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Book of Common Prayer, p. 855

May 6, Sixth Sunday of Easter:

Psalm 98
Acts 10:44-48
;  1 John 5:1-6John 15:9-17

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

Turn to page 855 of the BCP, An Outline of the Faith or Catechism

What is the Mission of the Church?

“The mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”

Ok. That’s pretty broad and all-encompassing, but then so is God.

Next question: How does the church pursue its mission?

Answer: “as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.”

The church pursues it’s mission as it prays and worships…so being here…participating in this service…no matter what that participation looks like—if you are here—you are carrying out the mission of the Church.

But the church also pursues its mission as it proclaims the Gospel…that one requires a bit more than just being here…but remember Gospel simply means “good news”…and remember that our baptismal promise is to proclaim the Gospel “by word and example”. We proclaim the Gospel as much by how we live, how we treat others, how we work together toward common goals as we do through the words we say. In other words, to paraphrase St. Francis, “preach the Gospel always, use words if necessary.” But the words are still important.

Being able to say, “I’m a Christian”…or it’s because I’m a Christian that I do X, or believe this…” That’s really important, and probably a lot scarier in this day and age, than just being a good person. It might require more courage.

The church pursues it’s mission as it prays and worships, as it proclaims the Gospel…and promotes justice, peace, and love. There you go…it’s about how we live in the world. How we live in God’s world as faithful people.

Next question.

Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?

Answer: The church carries out its mission “through the ministry of all its members.”

Through the ministry of all its members. That’s you…and me…and as our reading from Acts points out…All on whom the Holy Spirit descends…it’s foolish to think that God’s work can only be done by only a certain group of people.

The church carries out its mission “through the ministry of all its members.” Let’s talk about the laity (that’s you)—and a pro-tip about the way the BCP is written—things that are more important, or preferred come first. So if the direction says, “the people stand or kneel” it means standing is preferred. If it says “the people kneel or stand” it means kneeling is preferred. So, notice how the ministers of the church are laid out…”Who are the ministers of the Church? The ministers are “lay persons bishops, priests, and deacons.”

So what is your ministry? It’s to carry out the mission of the Church… “to represent Christ and his Church, to bear witness to him wherever they may be”…wherever you go, you are representatives of Christ… “and according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world;” So, based on the gifts given to you by the Holy Spirit—your natural skills and abilities, or even just the tasks that you are called into, you are to go out—as I try to remind you every week—to go out and do the work God has given you to do—be engaged in God’s mission of restoring and reconciling. Whether that is as a student, a teacher, a lawyer, a financial analyst, a doctor, a nurse, an administrator, a small business owner, a parent, a grand parent, a child, a sibling…whatever it is you do for the other 167 hours of the week…that’s the mission of the church.

What we do here…and what we do when we’re not here. I told you, it’s all encompassing.

The fifty days of Easter are drawing to a close. Thursday (the 10th) marks the Ascension…the day the risen Christ ascends to the Father…on Pentecost we receive the Spirit and are empowered to carry on his work. Jesus, today, is getting us ready for this. Today, he reminds us—just as Kathy did last week—to abide in him…to remain attached to him—like branches are attached to the vine—remain attached through worship, and prayer, and community…we can’t do this alone. Abide in his love. Remain in his love. Stay attached to his love. Live out his commandment, which is what? “love one another as he has loved us.” Abide in that…and live it out…carry it out to others.

“I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” The fruit of restoration, the fruit of reconciliation, the fruit of peace, justice, and love…the fruit of mission.

As Easter draws to a close, Jesus is preparing us to be sent out…to visibly be his followers in the world…and today we’ll have some practice. At the end of the service, all are invited to join in a Rogation Procession around the church…you can read about it in the bulletin…we’ll go out of the church and offer prayers for our neighbors, for our common life, and for all creation…which we are called to restore to unity with God and one another.

That’s one way we’ll practice. Another is a “listening project” The Mission and Outreach Committee, with the help of many others in the Parish and a team from Episcopal City Mission, are undertaking. Over the next few weeks, a group of about 14 of us will be going out and inviting 3 or 4 people one at a time into conversation about what “mission” means here at All Saints. How are we living out God’s mission in this time and place? The goal is to hear your stories, your passions, and your questions about mission and outreach, so that the Mission and Outreach Committee can be more responsive to the  work that matters most to you. So that we can understand where God is calling us as a community to be focused in the next several years. To listen for those places that are longing for reconciliation, and reconnection. We won’t be able to get to everyone before the Mission and Outreach retreat on June 9th. But I hope these types of conversations can and will continue.

We are being prepared to be sent out…every Sunday…it is an all-encompassing mission…but it’s not an impossible one…these commandments are not burdensome…and we have each other and a great cloud of witnesses—saints and apostles—to rely on. And we have Jesus, the great High Priest…the good shepherd…the Alpha and Omega…the one who is and is to come…our brother…our friend…

Abide in him…and love one another…and God’s mission will be fulfilled.

Amen.

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Posted on May 5, 2018

The Vine Abides-homily for 30 April 18, Easter 5, Rite 13

 

The Vine Abides

Kathleen O’Donoghue, Family Minister

Homily for April 30, Easter 5 and Rite 13

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

 John 15:1-8  ”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

This morning I have the honor of speaking to our Rite 13 youth…Charlotte, Riley, Lucas and Nora. This is their day when we celebrate a rite of passage of sorts. It’s not Confirmation, that will come later, but an acknowledgement that becoming a teenager, becoming 13, is a time that you need support and encouragement and nourishment of the spiritual kind. It can be a scary time, filled with exciting possibilities for the future, but still tethered by the roots of being dependent on parents, teachers, community and church to help point you in the right direction and support your growth.

Now even though these words are specifically for our four teens today, they’ve assured me it’s OK if you all listen in and think about your own spiritual growth too.

When I saw the gospel text for the day I had to smile. I know that Becky Taylor really loved these verses and structured church school last year around the verse, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” When one thinks about nurturing and support of the children and youth of All Saints, Becky immediately springs to mind, as she was such a faithful source of nourishment and tending of their spirits.

I also had to smile because this is also MY favorite image of God and God’s people. As a very young child, I read these words weekly, as they were carved into the wood surrounding the chancel at St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Dorchester. At 7 I didn’t know much about growing vines, but each week I tried and tried to understand what Jesus meant by “I am the vine and you are the branches”. It was in fact a kind of prayer or meditation that I engaged in for years and I can’t help but think it shaped me as a follower of Jesus.

Finally I had to smile because I really can’t think of a better gospel lesson for our Rite 13 youth and this celebration today. 13 year olds in particular are in this magical place when they, where you, imagine they are invincible, can plan to be and to have anything they would want in the world and most of all, feel they can accomplish all this on their own. I say this to you all today, thirteen year olds, because I of course used to be 13, (can you imagine?) and I thought exactly the same thing about my future, my life and my own ability to navigate the world without the help of those annoying adults who kept telling me what I needed. Anybody else have this experience when they were 13? Look around you for a moment and see in what good company you find your selves! If there were ONE SINGULAR THING I would wish for you, one thing you would learn as you become older teens and young adults, it is that YOU SHOULD NOT TRY TO GROW UP ALONE. Our culture encourages individualism and following our own paths and making a mark based on our capacity to be entertaining (YouTube videos) or to get as many “likes” as possible on our Instagram pictures. None of these things is BAD in and of itself, but you just need MORE than this. We ALL need more than this, to flourish, to grown, to produce fruit in our lives.

Mentioning “producing fruit” brings us back to the vine and the branches. Thinking about that picture, Jesus being the vine, the large supportive structure of the grape plant, and we being the branches, the off shoots of that vine, is exactly right. We depend on Jesus, the vine for our spiritual nourishment, for our support, for our community surrounding us as we will surround you during your time of blessing here today. Thinking we can bear spiritual fruit without the vine is simply a mistake. Have you ever seen fruit that has begun to grow but then fell off the tree or plant and is lying on the ground? What does it look like? Its growth has stopped, it is not ripe (think about a green strawberry or tomato), it wouldn’t taste good if you picked it up off the ground and bit into it. Fruit needs the continued nourishment and water and sun that staying attached to the vine provides.

Maybe this all sounds pretty obvious and what control does a strawberry have if it gets detached from a vine anyway? Well, this is the thing about Jesus. You and I know and I think those listening to him that day knew, Jesus isn’t really talking about grapes on a vine or strawberries on a plant. He says “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” AH HA! Once again Jesus catches them, Jesus catches US, by talking about something they understand in their own lives and then makes a CONNECTION to his own purpose of helping them get ready for his departure, start to tell the Good News of the Gospel in the early church and most importantly, remain nourished and cared for in the presence of the Holy Spirit, which will sustain them, feed them, help them to produce fruit in their lives. Do you get it?

YOU are the fruit of the vine! Your parents or grandparents or your guardians have raised you and cared for you throughout your life, all thirteen years of it, to help you become the best fruit you can be! Ripe and full of life and nourishment for the world. And now it’s coming to a time in your life that you will start to decide if you want to remain, to abide, in that place where you can continue to be nourished and tended to or if you think you’re good and you can take it from here. I wonder what effect that decision will have on your fruit?

I’d like to make sure you know I’m not saying your family, your church, your school has to do everything for you. That’s not nurturing, that’s suffocating!

Here is however what all of those, family, school, sports, music groups, theatre and to me very critically CHURCH, can continue to do for and with you as you continue to grow and flourish into your life.

  • First is CARING. We at All Saints LOVE YOU and your changing teenage self. We want you to participate in worship, have a sense that prayer is powerful and know you have people here to whom you can tell anything, ANYTHING, without fear of judgment or laughter.
  • Next is CONNECTION. The people here will be here for you all through your teen years and as you enter adulthood. When you feel that you are absolutely and utterly alone in the world, and you will feel that way, call or text someone you know at All Saints.
  • Maybe most importantly, we offer COMMUNITY to you. In the past we have celebrated your firsts, listened to you sing with Schola, watched you acolyte and cheered when you didn’t set anything on fire! We celebrate you today at 13 and as you develop and create your own way in the world and we’ll do the same at your Confirmation, at your Graduation, when you send updates from college, when you marry and have your own family. Does all that sound fake or that we can’t promise this? It’s what the church has been doing for years, decades, centuries, millennia. The Church continues to abide in Jesus (the vine) and it will continue to do so into the future, forever. We are your community, we will offer you nourishment (physical and spiritual as a matter of fact), tend to your hearts, pray for your sorrows and celebrate your joys. Abide in us here and abide in Jesus. V5 “I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me, you can do noting” v8, “My father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

Stay in your church community. Remain and develop connections with each other, older teens to show you the way and adults who have been through it all before.

Abide with Jesus. Go to him in prayer, ask for help, share your joys, grow and mature in your faith.

Take that fruitful faith and share it with others. With family, with friends and perhaps most importantly with the folks you don’t know, the desperate, the hungry, the lonely. Show them Jesus in all our interaction with them and help them to see that He is the vine and that they may also abide in him. Become his disciples.

Amen.

 

 

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Posted on Apr 11, 2018

Where was Thomas?—homily for 8 April 2018

Where was Thomas?

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By Caravaggio – http://www.christusrex.org/www2/art/images/carav10.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6804893

April 8, Second Sunday of Easter:

Psalm 133;
Acts 4:32-35;  1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

 

I wonder where Thomas was.
That first night…
John’s account says, “When it was evening on that day…(that day being Easter)…the day that Mary Magdalene returned with this incredible story of seeing Jesus…Alive.
(She thought he was the gardener, but still), she saw him and ran and told the others, “I have seen the Lord.”
And they do what? Go into hiding. All except Thomas
That evening they are locked in, and afraid.
But not Thomas.
He’s not there.
I wonder what he was doing?

John’s gospel account gives us a picture of Thomas as one of the boldest disciples.
Thomas is willing to go with Jesus back to Bethany near Jerusalem after they hear that Lazarus has died. Everyone else is terrified that returning will result in them all being stoned to death.
But not Thomas. He’s the one who says, “Let’s all go so we can die with him!” (John 11:16)

In the non-biblical stories…the tradition that grew up around Thomas, he was the apostle who ventured the farthest. Legend says that he set off through Syria, and Persia, and made it as far Kerla along the west coast of India, and established a number of churches among the Jewish diaspora there. He may have traveled into Indonesia.
There are other legends, recorded by Jesuit missionaries in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, told by tribes in Paraguay, that a holy man—“Father Thomas”—one of the apostles, had lived among them, preached the gospels and performed miracles.
So maybe on the evening of THAT day, Thomas was hiding out somewhere else…but give what little we know about him, that seems unlikely. Thomas never appears to be a cowering sort…he’s a hands-on kind of guy…a doer.
So what was he doing?
We don’t know—I have some theories—but all John says is that he’s not in the room with the rest of them.
And what about that doubting….he doesn’t appear to be someone who lets his doubts—his skepticism—or his fear get in the way of actually doing something.
But this one incident gets him this unfortunate nickname—“Doubting” Thomas.
But come on…
Would you believe that group?
These are the same people who just a couple of days ago fled…deserted Jesus…publicly denied knowing him…
and now Thomas is just supposed to trust them again?

Let’s think about this doubt for a minute….
We live in a world that is seems to be simultaneously absolutely incredulous (disbelieving) and utterly gullible.
We both refuse to believe in certain things…and we believe in all kinds of other things with very little evidence.
We live in a world where: Show me…Prove it…Pics or it didn’t happen…
Operate side by side with truthiness, and fake news, and outright lies that no amount of facts can combat.
Everyday we are awash in “see it for yourself” images…raw, unfiltered footage of every manner of good and evil.
And we also awash in photoshopped, staged, promotional propaganda.
We’re all doubters (or we should be)…doubt, as they say, is not the opposite of faith…certainty is the opposite of faith. We all need to have a good deal of discernment about what we will or won’t believe.
And here’s one reason scripture is so powerful and necessary in a world like ours…because all that input…your favorite news show…all your subreddits and twitter and facebook feeds, your Netflix queue and all your Amazon recommendations…they all work towards encouraging you to believe that the world really does work exactly the way you think it does. They are all about confirming the status quo…The gospel very, very rarely affirms the status quo. The Gospel is always a challenge to the way we think the world works. It is always there and ready with examples that run counter whatever the status quo is…and it’s important to have that.
But that doesn’t help us with where Thomas was.
There’s a long standing scholarly debate about whether the author of the fourth gospel is the same as the author of this letter we heard today. Maybe they were the same person…or maybe just from the same community…one thing they share in common is this insistence on “what we have heard, and what we have seen with our eyes.”
And do you remember what John’s letter says next? “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands.”
Now in the Gospel story, none of the other disciples touch Jesus…they see and rejoice…but apparently it’s not just Thomas who touches…”We declare what we have heard…and seen…and touched with our hands.” The resurrection is not just something to believe in…it’s something that can be touched…and felt…and known…not just intellectually, but known in a tactile…embodied…cellular way.
So here’s my theory…as to why Thomas wasn’t there that first night.
I like to imagine that he wasn’t there because he wasn’t afraid, and was out doing what Jesus had taught him to do…healing…reconciling…ministering…I like to think that he was the one bold enough to carry on with the mission even with the leader dead.
Maybe Thomas isn’t there because, as we can see, he doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty, so maybe he’s out continuing to care for those wounded by Rome’s brutality…bandaging the bloodied heads, the crushed hands, the bodies wounded by the violence endemic in society …
the hearts bruised by loss, twisted by fear…the spirits battered by the demands of trying desperately to keep up…or souls diminished by being unable to provide basic sustenance for their families.
In other words, maybe Thomas is out being an apostle…carrying out the hard, messy work of God’s mission…bringing reconciliation…pressing for peace…advocating for justice…embodying shalom…
Maybe…And maybe John, through this famous scene with Jesus is connecting the wounds of Christ, with the wounds of the world….
And reminding us…that following Jesus means something other than overcoming doubt and “believing six impossible things before breakfast” (Through the Looking Glass) it means getting your hands dirty…
It means being willing to reach out and touch the wounds that we inflict on each other…in order to bring healing…
It means risking your heart, and being willing to step into the messy, difficult, and scary places of hurt and grief that are always left in the wake of violence…in order to bring peace…

Maybe Thomas wasn’t there that night because he was out doing that….
And maybe he is here every year, on the Sunday after Easter to remind us that following Jesus means bringing your whole self…doubt and all…and standing with others in difficult situations…it means being willing to look at and touch the wounds we inflict on one another….it means going out to be with the vulnerable…to those places of greatest need and to proclaim, “peace”… It means going out and making those connection…those real…tangible connections…because that’s where we truly discover the reality of the resurrection, and where we proclaim “our Lord, and our God.”

Amen.

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