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Posted on Feb 19, 2017

#resist—Sermon for 19 February 2017

#resist

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February 19, Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

Psalm 119:33-40
Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23; Matthew 5:38-48

Draft text of the homily, please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

There’s a word that’s been popping up in my media feed a lot lately. It’s also word that also appears in today’s Gospel.

Anyone know what it is?

Resist.

I’ve seen various admonitions to “resist” in the past several months…I have to admit my favorite has been the homage to Carrie Fisher. Just after she passed away I started seeing pictures of her on posters and t-shirts as Princess Leia with the phrase “A woman’s place is in the resistance.”

This word, “resist” shows up on Jesus’ lips today. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.”

I have to admit this is one of those phrases in the gospels that caught me up short…this whole passage, in fact, is difficult and troubling…It follows from the Beatitudes…and contains all that we heard last week and again this week. This whole list of “you have heard it said…one thing…but I say…something else.” And often that “something else” is hard to hear. And it might make us wonder…Does he really mean all this? Or is he just being hyperbolic?

“You have heard it said don’t murder…but I say if you’re angry you’re liable to judgement”…

“You have heard it said, don’t commit adultery..but I say if you even look at another with lust you’ve committed adultery in your heart.

“You’ve heard it said don’t swear falsely…but I say… don’t make vows at all to anyone but God.

And then there’s today…”you have heard it said an eye for an eye…but I say don’t resist an evil doer.” Does he really mean all this? Well, I think we have to proceed on the assumption that, yes, he really does mean exactly what he says. That we are to live, not in ways that are easy or necessarily comfortable but in ways that are honest, and just, and true to the values of the Beatitudes.

But then he goes on to describe all these actions that look and sound to me very much like they came straight out of the “non-violent resistance” playbook of Gandhi or Martin Luther King.

Every example he lays out can be read as a form of non-violent resistance. Being struck on the right cheek, scholars point out, presumes a back-handed slap. Offering the “other cheek” is not returning the violence in kind—not retaliating, but neither is it just abjectly taking it. [Jewish Annotated New Testament, p. 12].

Being sued for one cloak and giving up your only other cloak as well…in effect stripping yourself naked is also not retaliatory, but still reveals the unjustness—and the shame—of the situation.

Going the extra mile is not simply overdoing it…Soldiers were only allowed to conscript people to carry gear for one mile…going the second is a form of non-violent resistance…like the second slap, or the second cloak, this second mile is a way of highlighting some injustice, and responding with strength but without a similar kind of violence. Much like sitting in a “white’s only” section of a bus, or a lunch counter, or marching to the sea to collect salt, or across a bridge to register to vote. All these…as far as I can see…are acts of resistance.

And yet, he says… “do not resist an evil doer.” So…I have to wonder what does this mean?

The Greek word used is anthístēmi which means to take a complete stand against…a 180 degree contrary position. It was used in military terminology to indicate taking a firm stance against.

Could this be what Jesus is warning us against? Entrenching ourselves in our opposition? Becoming the exact opposite of whatever it is that you oppose…that you’re resisting…only results in becoming what we oppose.

As usual, Jesus is showing us a different way…a way through rather than a way against. And he does so by referring back to the core of the law…the essential and non-negotiable value that he is the living embodiment of…love.

We prayed this morning, “O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love.” Love not just for self. Love not just for tribe. Love not just for community, or country…but love for God and the world…love for self and for neighbor…love for friends and for enemies. Love for the sake of love.

Last week, the New York Times ran an article asking a variety of people what they meant when they used the word “resist,” today. My favorite response came from a 30 year old Rabbi in North Carolina named Dusty Klass. She responded by saying:

“For me, to resist means resisting the temptation to assume, to decide who a person is before spending time with him or her. Resist writing other people’s stories for them. Resist the urge to hide, to click over to something else when that difficult truth pops up on your screen. Resist the opportunity to just keep walking, to avoid eye contact. And more than anything, resist the ease of just being angry — dig down past that anger, toward the pain.” 

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? … And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” Love your neighbors AND love your enemies, and pray for all…especially those who persecute you. Jesus never says that love is the easy way, or the comfortable way. Love isn’t the easy way…. it’s the only way.

Don’t resist an evil by becoming evil. Don’t resist what is hurtful by returning the hurt—by becoming what is hateful…don’t become so firmly entrenched in your own story that you start dictating what other people should or shouldn’t think, or do, or support…

Instead, stand firmly on the foundation that we have been given. The foundation of God’s love revealed through Jesus Christ. And draw from that the strength that only God—that only love—can give. The strength to stand firm and with vulnerability…the strength to offer yourself humbly in the the service of others…the strength to not merely remember, but to actively proclaim with all of our lives that love is the way…the only way…”the true bond of peace and of all virtue,” and without it whatever we do is worth nothing.

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Posted on Feb 12, 2017

Sermon for Absalom Jones 12 February 2017

Talking about race

Regrettably, the Evensong scheduled for February 12 celebrating the Feast of Absalom Jones was canceled due to a snow storm. Below is the text of the homily Richard had prepared to preach.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absalom_Jones

Absalom Jones, Priest 1818

February 13

Draft text of the homily, please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

 

In Harrodsburg, Kentucky…population 8,340…about an hour southwest of Lexington on the corner of Short and Chiles Streets stands St. Phillips Episcopal Church. It was built in 1860…and one of the first ministries it engaged in was tending the wounded during the battle of Perryville. A local legend has it that on the day following the battle in October 1862, one of the Confederate commanders, Leonidas Polk…who was both a Confederate General and an Episcopal Bishop, retreated with his troops to Harrodsburg (a pro-Confederate town in a Union controlled area) where he saw the church’s doors open. He entered and asked that the bell be tolled, and then he prayed for men on both sides, “friend and foe” alike. There is a large historical marker outside the church commemorating this event.

St. Phillips’ is also a neo-gothic building, like All Saints, but modeled more like a small country church, but the pulpit and altar are in the same relationship. When you stand in the pulpit at St. Phillips, you notice an odd architectural feature—running down the side of the building, is a small raised gallery, separated from the rest of the congregation and only one seat wide. It’s is raised and marked off by a railing. It’s part of the architecture, but nevertheless it stands out as odd. When I asked what it was for, there was some shifting and uncomfortable glances, and finally a muttered response… “that’s the former slave gallery…you know…where the slaves would have to sit.”

St. Phillips might have some uncommon stories and distinctive architecture, but it is not really unique in the Episcopal Church. It is full good, faithful people with hearts for the Gospel and for mission. They have an amazing feeding program that serves about 200 meals each month. They are an almost entirely white congregation, with a complex history…just like most of the rest of the Episcopal Church.

And it’s telling that the story about Bishop General Polk praying is commemorated by a historical marker out front of the church, and retold on the parish website, but the lingering reality—the palpable ghost—of a slave gallery, is only mentioned in embarrassed side conversations. In many ways it is a microcosm for how we (and by we I mean white people like me) continue to deal (and not deal) with race. Praising some of our good reconciliation work, while ignoring or diminishing the fact that we continue to just pick around the edges of the really hard work of actually confronting our own history, and dismantling the racist structures we continue to live with and in.

I feel this tension within myself as I stand here tonight. What do I, a white man, in a predominantly white congregation have to say about Absalom Jones? Maybe I should have invited one of my (few) African-American colleagues to preach? But then isn’t that just asking a person of color to preach about race, so I don’t have to? Speaking about race and racism is uncomfortable, and it’s something I as a white person don’t do nearly enough. Partly out of fear…I don’t want to appropriate Absalom Jones for my own purposes, not do I want to say or do anything racist. And yet…I know that there are times when…out of fear, or ignorance, or simply out of the white privilege that covers me like a protective cloak wherever I go…there are times when I speak and act in ways that are deeply hurtful to my siblings of color (or neglect to speak or act, which can be equally hurtful). And so I decided that I needed to preach tonight…about Absalom Jones and about race in America. I hope that by doing so, I can do justice to and walk humbly with God and this saint of the church.

Absalom Jones was born into slavery in 1746, in Delaware. At sixteen his family was sold off and separated. Absalom was taken by himself to Philadelphia where he was put to work in a shop, but was allowed to attend an all-black night school (previously he had taught himself how to read). He married an enslaved woman in 1770 and saved enough to buy freedom for both of them, by 1784. He served as a lay preacher for the black members of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philly. He was a dynamic preacher, and an great evangelist, and the black membership grew.

One Sunday in November 1786, the vestry decided, without warning, to segregate the growing black congregation to an upstairs gallery. When Jones and others arrived at church, ushers attempted to move them from the main floor to the balcony. Insulted and indignant Jones and the others got up and walked out of the church as a body.

The next year he, along with Richard Allen, formed the Free African Society which cared for the sick during a yellow fever epidemic. From this emerged the African Church, which voted to separate from the Methodist church and align itself with the Episcopal church, with Jones as their leader. The African Church was received into the Episcopal Church on October 17, 1794 by Bishop William White. It became St. Thomas African Episcopal. In its first year, St. Thomas grew to over 500 members. The next year Bishop White ordained Jones a deacon, and in 1804 a priest. Making Absalom Jones the first priest of African descent in the Episcopal Church. He died Feb. 13, 1818. [HWHM, p 220]

170 years after the white members of St. George’s attempted to segregate the black members to the balcony, and 100 years after St. Phillips had built and begun to use their segregated black gallery, Martin Luther King Jr. noted that “the most segregated hour in Christian America is 11:00 on Sunday Morning.” It still is. Now there are a host of reasons for this, and we at All Saints do not intentionally practice segregation…the sign out front proclaims “All are welcome” and that is true.

But given the state of our world 230 since that Sunday in November when Christians attempted to segregate Jones and other blacks within their white community, we have to ask seriously, how far have we actually come? If we are to truly live into this commandment that Jesus issues tonight—and every night for the last two thousand years…the commandment that we are perpetually far too selective about enacting—that we love one another as he has loved us…that we love our neighbor as ourselves…if that we are to be true to that call, and that commandment, then we cannot simply be satisfied with honoring a handful of black people during the shortest month of the year and hoping that racial relations will simply get better.

As long as we continue to put historical markers up about reconciling generals, while at the same time only reluctantly looking at the reality of the impact of slavery…the reality of Jim Crow…of segregation…and dismissing or ignoring the ongoing reality of white privilege and white supremacy, then race relations will not get better and we will never fulfill Jesus’ commandment. This is our work to do.

In the recent documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” (which I strongly encourage everyone to see), author James Baldwin says, “the history of Black people in America, IS the history of America. And it’s not a pretty picture.” The history of Absalom Jones, and Bishop White, and Bishop Polk, the history of slavery and emancipation, the history of Civil Rights and mass incarceration, the history of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the history of blacks and latina/os and Asians, and Native Americans is our history. And we must see it clearly and courageously. Of course we need to work with our siblings of color, but we cannot expect them to do our work for us. It’s our job to understand how white privilege and white supremacy works…It’s our job to do the work of repenting from the sin of racism. No one can do that for us.

I admit, it is frightening to look, with eyes wide open, at the past and the present of race. And I know many of you have begun and continue to do work around dismantling racism. I thank you for your courage, and encourage you to please continue. There are many opportunities for you to learn about and get involved in diversity and anti-racism work. Province One, the New England province of diocese in the Episcopal Church is hosting on online event on how to implement General Convention Resolution 182 which “urges the Church to enter into dialogue, listening exercises, strategic partnerships, and internal analysis to address systemic racial disparities and injustice in the Church and the wider culture.” That online event is Tuesday February 21 and there is information about it on the board in the cloister and on the table in back of the church. There is also an anti-racism training at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul the weekend of March 10 and 11th. 

I am currently taking an online course through everyday feminism on Healing from Toxic Whiteness. It’s a ten week course that can be done at your own pace. If anyone is interested in joining me, please let me know. I’m sure there are many other opportunities that you may know about, and if you can recommend any, please share them with me.

There is no quick fix to repenting from the sin of racism. It’s hard, and scary, and it takes focused, intentional, and ongoing work…work done individually and communally. But because we strive to follow Christ, and Christ’s command to love one another, and because racism is a sin…we have no choice but to do this work…to repent and to keep repenting until all God’s children are free.

I’m grateful that you are here tonight. I’m grateful to Chris and the choir. I hope that celebrating the feast of Absalom Jones might give us white people the courage to continue this work that God has given us to do, and our world so desperately needs us to do. With that in mind, let us pray again the collect for Absalom Jones saying together:

Set us free, O heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that, honoring the steadfast courage of thy servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which thou hast given us in thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Posted on Feb 5, 2017

Salt and Light—sermon by Sarah Brock, 5 February 2017

Salt and Light

Epiphany 5A 2/5/2017
All Saints, Brookline

Isaiah 58.1-9a

Psalm 112.1-9 I Corinthians 2.1-12 Matthew 5.13-20

Salt and Light

“If salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” At first glance, this question reminds me of a Zen koan. A seemingly impossible riddle that just might bring me greater enlightenment if I consider it long enough. I mean, how can salt lose its taste in the first place. None of this makes any sense!

And, with all of the variety of spices in the culture around him, why on earth would Jesus choose something as ordinary as salt to compare his followers; to compare us?

Salt, though we tend to take it for granted now, was actually highly valued in Jesus day. In fact, salt was often used as currency. The Roman word for salt, sal, is the origin of the word salary as it made up part of a soldier’s paycheck. Salt was routinely traded ounce for ounce with gold. It was also what determined the seating at a table- the most privileged places being the ones closest to the salt. So, when Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth,” he’s saying you have immense value.

Though we may have lost this sense of salt’s worth, we certainly still appreciate its many diverse uses. Salt preserves, heals wounds, brings out flavors, and deices roadways. Yet, distinct as each of these applications may be, they all have one thing in common: the necessity of contact. Salt is of little use if it simply remains in its shaker.

Similarly, a lamp cannot serve its purpose if hidden under a bushel basket. Light has little effect if it doesn’t come into contact with darkness. And, it’s often at this point of contact that light is most beautiful and holy. The first few moments at dawn when brilliant color begins to chase away the dark of night. The dancing flames of a fire glowing in the hearth. The soft light streaming through stained glass in a dim sanctuary. And, as we well know, there is plenty of darkness in this world. Within us, as well as around us.

It’s in the holiness of our connection with others that our own light shines into the world. It’s in the holiness of contact with loved ones and strangers that we flavor the earth.

You are the salt of the earth. You heal, purify, enhance what is already there. You are the light of the world. You shine before others, glorify God.
We are in community to enhance, to heal, to shine, to point to God.

And yet, there are times when this feels impossible and exhausting and hopeless. Times when it feels like ‘this little light of mine’ isn’t doing much good. Times when our own value feels as diminished as that of salt.

I still can’t say that I understand how salt can lose it’s saltiness. But, I have experienced the frustration of a clogged salt shaker. Shaking harder and harder to no avail. Cleaning out the tiny holes and adding rice to keep the remaining salt from clumping together.

When your outlook is bleak, the key to restoring your saltiness is to find something to unclog your salt shaker. Perhaps, easier said than done. This is why we cultivate spiritual practices- the rice mixed in the salt that helps keep it from sticking together and clogging the shaker.

Whether it’s a prayer before mealtime, a physical activity like running, creative work like crafting, gathering for worship, or one of the millions of other ways of praying in community or alone, the spiritual habits we develop sustain us when we become bland.

One of my early experiences of monasticism was a retreat to the Community of the Transfiguration in Cincinnati as a part of one of my seminary classes. There was one conversation in particular that framed this visit for me. A classmate asked one of the sisters, don’t you ever get tired of praying so many times a day? Is it ever hard to focus on the psalms you’re reading? The sister quietly looked at us with a ‘well, duh’ sort of expression, before responding that of course it’s hard to focus some days. But, she explained, that is why they pray together as a community. So that when you feel tired, angry, or unfocused your sisters bear you up and carry you along. It’s connection to each other and to God that sustains the sisters through periods of weariness. It’s connection to each other and to God that sustains us when we lose our flavor. Salt needs contact to be salty.

What do you do to unclog your salt shaker? Who helps to keep you salty?

Light also needs contact in order to grow and spread. It’s easy to feel as though your own light doesn’t burn as brightly as someone next to you. Perhaps you feel less spiritual or less powerful or less influential than others you witness. But, you never know who your seemingly small light will touch. Or what small bit of darkness you can brighten for someone else. Again, it’s by cultivating practices that draw us closer to God and to our community that our “light shall break forth like the dawn” as we heard in Isaiah.

How do you invite God’s light to shine through you? Who helps you keep your light uncovered?

If you don’t have answers to these questions, or even if you do, there is one more property of salt that I find significant.

As someone who has spent a lifetime of summers at the beach, playing in the ocean waves, I’ve taken in a lot of ocean water. So, I can tell you with complete confidence that salt makes you thirsty. And, when you consume a lot of salt, repeated mouthfuls of ocean for example, it’s the kind of thirst that makes it really hard to think about anything else until it is quenched. It is with such a thirst that we most avidly seek God. And, I’ve found, that just as a mouthful of ocean water drives me to quench my physical thirst, a community of salty people drives me to quench the resultant spiritual thirst. It’s the saltiness of a friend or spiritual leader or author or even sometimes a stranger that spurs my own desire and motivation to seek God. In turn, helping to unclog my own salt shaker; providing the strength to shine my light before others.

You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.

Stay thirsty, be salty, shine your light into the darkness.

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Posted on Jan 29, 2017

Starting with why—sermon for 29 January 2017

Starting with why

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 Mar Elias Educational Institutions (MEEI), Ibillin, Galilee, Israel. The Beatitudes in different languages are written on the steps. Photo Credit: hoyasmeg Flickr via Compfight cc

January 29, Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany:

Psalm 15;
Micah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12

Draft text of the homily, please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

 

Simon Sinek is a marketing consultant and popular speaker…his 2009 Ted talk is still listed as the third most popular Ted Talk of all time…undoubtedly some of you have seen it…It’s on How great leaders inspire action, and it focuses on his core concept of “Starting with Why.”

His argument is that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Why you do something, he argues, is vastly more important in terms of motivating others than the product or the program that you are trying to interest them in.

In his Ted Talk he uses the example of Apple computers…most marketing would have Apple’s pitch be: “”We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. Want to buy one?” “Meh.” 

What Apple marketing does instead, he says, is flip this around and start with: “we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?” There’s a different emotional pitch to that.

Ok. Despite the fact that I am preaching this from an iPad, this isn’t an Apple marketing pitch. But since I saw this talk a number of years ago, I’ve been thinking about this in terms of church. What is it that we’re trying to do? Where are we going? Who is coming with us, and why? Why. What is our “why?”

I find it a provocative question. When we talk about Christian formation, and mission and evangelism and stewardship…those are the “what we do…” But the why is embedded within it. What if we started with “why?” Why do we want our kids to have a rich faith formation program? Why are we involved in outreach to MANNA, and pilgrimages to City Reach and El Hogar? Why is music and communal singing so important? Why are we trying to be more welcoming, and more explicit about the many ways we practice our faith?

I also find it a very biblical one because Jesus actually starts with “why.” He doesn’t start with a 12 point plan to bring the realm of God on earth. He says, “it’s here.” “Repent—turn around—pay attention.” He goes up to the top of the mountain, sits down and starts…Blessed are the poor in spirit…blessed are the meek…blessed are those who mourn…blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.”

Well, in one version he goes up on top of a mountain. In another he starts with a bold pronouncement in the synagogue, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor….release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The context changes…but the message is the same, the realm of God is here…the goodness of God, the mercy of God, the justice and peace—the Shalom—of God can be seen in the land of the living. Because God is with us. Follow me and we’ll help others see that too.

That’s why.  The values of the Beatitudes are the core truth, and the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the clearest, and sharpest lens we have for seeing and acting on that truth…the truth of the love of God. That’s what we’re about.

Sinek says:  “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it, and what you do simply serves as the proof of what you believe.” Or as Jesus would say, “by their fruits you shall know them…”

The Beatitudes, and these words from Micah (O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”), and Paul (“For [some] demand signs and [others] desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified”), are our core values…our “why” … and maybe we could add the words from the Psalms as well…”no guile upon our tongues, not heaping contempt upon anyone, but speaking truth from the heart.”

These are the values that are non-negotiable…they are why we do what we do. When we lose sight of that—and we often do because we are humans and the church is a human institution—when we lose sight of that, we can easily start to follow other paths and other gods…

We can also lose sight of them because the world very often claims the exact opposite to be true…in every conceivable way, through every medium we are so oversaturated with…the world proclaims (and makes a very compelling case), that the poor just get poorer, the meek get trampled on, and those who hunger and thirst for food, water and righteousness just keep getting hungrier…and the church is destined to slip further and further into irrelevance.

Not succumbing to that means we need ways of remembering those core values…and we need practices and patterns in our lives that can interrupt the incessant drumbeat that separates the world into merely winners or losers. We need places to be re-centered in our core values and where we are strengthened to go back out into the world able to see and witness to the goodness of God in the land of the living.

How do we do that? What are those patterns, and where are those spaces? Jesus’ life and ministry offers a pattern. It’s a pattern that has been used and recommended and passed down for thousands of years. It functions like a breath, like a infinity loop, or a moebius strip, that draws us ever deeper into the heart of God. It’s the pattern of formation and mission…the pattern of contemplation and action, the pattern of retreat and engagement. It’s an iterative and ongoing process…like breathing.

We are drawn in and learn about these core values, the stories of the bible, the stories of our faith, and then we go out and try to live that out, in our jobs, in our parenting, in our caretaking, in our volunteering. And out there we see a lot of things…some of it looks like God at work, but a lot of it doesn’t…so we come back and share what we’ve seen, we question, we discuss, we sing, we learn about prayer and other spiritual practices that will sustain us in our daily lives—practices that will be “strength for the journey”—we’re fed, and we go back out. Day by day, week by week, year by year.

If we get stuck in one part of that cycle bad things happen…if we get stuck in the action/mission part…we burn out, we become cynical…if we get stuck in the contemplation/formation part…we become completely ineffective, truly irrelevant, and easily ignored. If we are not intentional about our practice we quickly lose sight of the core values and the world starts to look very dark.

We need both…rich, vibrant, life-giving practices (both individual…those you do regularly on your own, and communal…those you do regularly with others), and we need to have experiences of coming into contact with an “other.”

Right after the service, we’ll all head downstairs for a community lunch…everyone is invited…and we’ll have our annual meeting. In the annual report that was sent out through the email this week, and is available in hardcopy downstairs, you’ll be able to see the many, many ways we have of working both sides of that infinity loop…the formation we offer for children, youth, families, the prayer retreats, and book groups, the small group ministries we are forming.

You can read about the outreach opportunities we have: the Brookline Food Pantry, the MANNA lunch programs, the pilgrimages to City Reach, and El Hogar, and others…you can read about how we are sharing the treasure of our building by hosting numerous twelve step groups, arts groups, choirs, the Corner Co-Op and the Korean Evergreen Church…you’ll be reminded, yet again, of what a vibrant, spiritual center All Saints is for so many. And I hope that you are as energized and excited about all of that as I am. But I also hope that through it all you can see, and feel, and know the core values we hold…the truth that we proclaim and strive to live out every day…that the poor are blessed…the meek are blessed…the merciful…the peacemakers…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed…and it is Christ Jesus who helps us see that. That it is Christ Jesus who teaches us how to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

That is it God’s love…God’s all encompassing, creative love…revealed through the light of Christ…that’s why we do everything we do.

Amen.

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Posted on Jan 22, 2017

See me…sermon for 01.22.17 Epiphany 3

See me…

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Photo Credit: id-iom Flickr via Compfight cc

January 22, Third Sunday after the Epiphany:

Psalm 27:1, 5-13 Isaiah 9:1-4 ; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

Draft text of the homily, please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

 

This is not the way it usually happens.

A solitary figure walks alone by the shore. He is a stranger—an unfamiliar silhouette in a foreign landscape. He doesn’t appear to be looking for anything, he merely walks.  But suddenly he sees something. Two fishermen, working at their craft. Throwing nets, hauling them in. He sees…something. He calls out.

This is not the way it usually happens.

They are hard at work, practicing the craft their fathers taught them. The craft passed down from their fathers, and their fathers before them. Passed down through generations. They are going through the old, familiar motions, over and over again. Hauling, gathering, throwing over and over. So familiar are the movements that they could do it with their eyes closed, they move in sync, not a word needed between them. It’s a day like a thousand thousand other days before and since. Days when the routine of work goes on and on…but suddenly they hear a voice. They turn and look. They see…something.

This is not the way it usually happens.

The call of the master and the disciple usually works like this…the student goes in search of a master, and asks to be taken on…often with a series of tests…Luke seeking out Yoda is an archetypical example.

Last week we heard another archetypical narrative…one master pointing out another, and the disciples following. John the baptizer stands for several days saying “Look, here is the Lamb of God”…he’s the one I’ve been talking about.” And finally Andrew goes, and sees and then brings his brother Peter.

But this story—Matthew’s story—is out of frame. It breaks the expected pattern…it is not the students, it is the master who sees and calls. It’s the disciples who hear, and respond. It signals that something different is happening, it reveals a different way of seeing and being seen.

It’s not the way it usually happens, but then again it always happens this way…when God calls. When God sees that something…and calls…and we are interrupted in our routines…and turn aside and look. And see.

What was it that they saw in him? This stranger making mysterious promises of “fishing for people?” What was it that made them drop everything…leave everything and follow?

What did they see in him?

Even more perplexing: what was it that he saw in them?

I wonder about this. Because he must have seen many other fishermen, and other tradespeople as well. Capernaum in the first century had maybe 1,500 people living in it. He might have passed by hundreds before he saw Peter and Andrew, and maybe several hundred more before he saw James and John. What was it about them? What did he see in them?

What does he see in us?

It’s hard to imagine isn’t it? Hard to imagine what God sees in these rough-hewn fishermen. Harder still, possibly, to imagine what God sees in us…who have been called in our time to do God’s work…to proclaim Good News. It’s hard, because we can’t see ourselves as God sees us…or, we rarely do…We tend to see ourselves as the world sees us. As our culture, and our society, and our families see us. As our insecurities and our need…the gremlins of our psyche…see us.

We see how well everyone else is doing, and wonder why we aren’t so lucky. Or we see that we’re really doing better than many others and feel bad about it. We see ourselves in completely skewed ways, as either utterly insignificant or the center of the universe…often both at the same time—little specks of dust that the world revolves around. And since we can’t exactly have the experience of seeing ourselves as God sees us, the closest we often get is the experience of seeing God see us. Really seeing us. Not seeing our awfulness or awesomeness but seeing all of us. The whole picture: what we have been, what we are, and what we will be…simultaneously…just as Jesus standing there sees Peter the fisherman, blundering, too eager, the one who will deny him and the rock upon whom the early church is built.

I think that’s what happened. I think Peter and Andrew, and John and James saw Jesus (God) see them, and that changed everything. Another word for this experience is “judgment.” When we know—when we see and understand—that God sees the totality of who and what we are…sees what we can and can’t be…and loves us…and calls us to “Come and see.” When that happens, we stand in judgement.

And something else happens. It’s not explicit in the text, but it must have happened, because it always happens like this. When he saw them; when he made a judgement about them, and called. They heard, and they turned.

Interrupted in their deeply familiar routines, they stopped. They looked up from their nets, and they turned around…which is the definition of his call to “repent!” Repent means, “Turn around!” The kingdom of God…the realm of God’s justice and peace is here. Now. Look. Come and see.

They turned and saw and nothing was ever the same.

We need to have those experiences of being interrupted, turning, and seeing. “You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.” Your face, Lord, will I seek.” That’s a beautiful line…from today’s Psalm. This is what our journey is largely about…continually seeking God’s face, seeking the experience of seeing God see us…being seen and loved by God. And next week I’ll have more to say about how we can go about having those experiences. Seeking God’s face is largely what we’re about. But the lectionary cuts off what I think is an even more important line. 

It get’s translated various ways, but my favorite is this: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.”

The goodness of the Lord, even here…even today…amidst all the challenges we face. I am confident that I shall see the goodness of God in the land of the living.

Maybe that’s what he saw in them…their faith. The faith to hold on to that knowledge that they would see the goodness of God—that they could see the goodness of God—not in some far distant time and place…not in some fantastic dreamscape…but here. Now. In this world. In this broken, hurting, glorious, desperately beautiful world. Here. Among them. Among us. Repent. For the realm of God is here.

Amen.

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Posted on Jan 8, 2017

One step at a time-sermon for 8 January 2017

One step at a time

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Tintoretto, Baptism of Christ (detail) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

January 8, First Sunday after the Epiphany: Baptism of Our Lord

Psalm 29;
Isaiah 42:1-9; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17

Draft text of the homily, please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

 

I was looking forward to hearing the bishop preach today, but as you undoubtedly have all heard, he came down quite ill while on a vacation to London and had to reschedule. {Update}

But this found me wondering what preach about, and then one morning as I sat in prayer Pastor Jack reminded me of a story.

Most of you have been introduced to Pastor Jack. He’s a truckstop preacher out west. He travels the highways and byways of middle America pastoring the destitute and the downtrodden, the diffident and the doubtful. He’s a trickster, and true believer…he’s part people that I’ve known, and part people that I’ve only heard about, and part an imagined and hoped for better angel of all our natures.

At any rate, Jack appeared to me in my prayer and reminded me of a baptism story—it’s also the story of how he became a truck stop preacher. See, that wasn’t what he set out to do. At first he was a regular pastor/priest/minister…whatever you want to call him, at a mainstream parish, in a medium sized town along the front range of the Rockies. He’d been there for several years, preaching, pastoring, bringing people to Jesus. But all that changed one Saturday morning when a man showed up with a two big boxes of bagels—“miracle bagels” Jack used to call them.

Jack didn’t recognize him as a regular member of the 12 step group that met at the church early on Saturday mornings, but he figured he must be part of that group, because just about the time they were ending their meeting, this guy appears in the door of Jack’s office with these boxes, saying, ‘These are leftovers. I figured you could use ‘em…you know…take ‘em somewhere or something.’ And gives Jack the boxes and then just disappears.

Well, Jack’s thinking, “what am I gonna do with this many bagels? They’ll be stale by tomorrow. I don’t want to take them home.” So, grumbling, he started to haul them out to the dumpster, but just as he’s getting ready to pitch them in, he hears a voice say, “Shelter.”

A new shelter had recently opened in town, hosting a fair number of migrant families he had heard, but he hadn’t been there. But he figured this was as good a time as any, so he put the bagels in the car and drove over.

When he got there there were no lights on. He walked up and knocked on the door, and…the way he tells it…”the door creaks open and this little hand reached out, grabbed the box and snatched it inside.”

It turned out there were several people there, mostly women and children, and the power had been out for almost 24 hours. And they were out of food. “They acted like those bagels were manna from heaven.”

Jack was convinced that God knew those bagels had to get to that shelter that morning, and so had choreographed this whole roundabout relay… “The Holy Spirit’s a heck of a dancer” he’d say.

But the “miracle bagels” were just the beginning of the day’s transformations.

While at the shelter someone told Jack about a sick relative over across the state line and would Jack please go see her.

Jack said, “Now I never do stuff like that, but, well, I agreed to go.” The visit was pleasant, but not terribly eventful. But on his way back, Jack was hungry and pulled into a truck stop to eat. And that’s where he met Mitch.

Mitch was a ranch hand and thought of himself as “a hard case.” In truth he was a poet at heart, but when he met Jack he was wrestling with both angels and demons.

So Jack falls into conversation with Mitch, as they’re sitting at the counter eating biscuits and gravy. Before long, Mitch finds out that Jack’s a preacher and says, “Come on. You don’t believe all that stuff, do ya?”

Jack says, “I sure do.” And proceeds to tell Mitch the story of the miracle bagels.

Mitch isn’t buying it, but he stays with it, hangs in, keeps asking questions…sometimes baiting Jack, sometimes really curious. And Jack finds that he’s talking about God, and Jesus and the Bible in ways he never has before. And then something happens.

Jack said, “I’m telling him about God’s love and forgiveness…and I’m trying to explain to him, like Paul does in Romans, that nothing can separate us from the love of God…and I see his eyes darken…and he stops me and says… “What about sin?”

Jack says, “I start telling him how Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and God doesn’t love us because we’re good, God loves us because God is good…God loves us even if we’re broken…maybe especially when we’re we’re broken.”

Mitch just stares at him. And finally says…”No. I’ve done too many bad things.”

Jack says. “Don’t matter, God loves you.”

“Nope.”

Jack doesn’t say anything just looks at him with those liquid blue eyes of his, like two pools of clear water.

Mitch says, “No. You don’t know. I done a lot a stuff I shouldn’t’a done. God don’t love me. God can’t love me.”

Jack just looks at him and says, “Yes. God does love you.”

They started at each other a long time and then Mitch sat back and said…”well that’s the craziest thing I ever heard.”

It’s probably the craziest thing any of us will ever hear.

That God loves us even with, and maybe even because of, our weaknesses…our brokenness.

And what’s even crazier is that God uses weak, broken people like us to further God realm of justice and peace. And all we have to do is trust that love and act on it. act in faith.

Jack used to say: “None of us know where we’re going when we start this journey. But you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, following Jesus best you can…and you’ll end up alright.”

Those people Isaiah is writing to today can’t imagine what God is telling them…they’re still trapped under the boot of their imperial rulers…they’re miles away from their homeland…they’re imprisoned themselves and God tells them…you will bring the prisoners out…They’re still in the darkness of exile and God says “you will be a light to the nations.”

How? One step at a time. With God’s help.

Peter, a humble fisherman and faithful Jew, could not have imagined that he would be standing face to face with a Roman Centurion about to baptize him and his whole household…but there he stands.

How? Step by step.

Jack never figured that a box of bagels would take him on a journey that would reveal his true calling…as a truck stop preacher.

Growing up along the front range of Colorado, I could not have imagined that my journey would take me here…But it was four years ago this Sunday that I first stood among you as your priest and rector. I could never have anticipated the gifts and blessings I’ve received because I acted in faith and responded to God’s call and your call, and it is my deepest hope that you’ve all have likewise been blessed by acting in faith and calling and welcoming me and my family into this community. It is a profound joy to be ministering in community with you.

In just a few minutes it’ll be time to welcome Maxwell into the Christian community of faith through the sacrament of baptism. Baptism is an act of faith…it’s the first step into a larger world. Who knows where life will lead Maxwell? His parents and godparents…and his grandparents…all have hopes and dreams for him, but none of us knows for sure. None of us knows what this new year, or the next or the next will bring. But “if you just keep following Jesus you’ll end up alright.”

And so we will take that next step. We’ll do what we can do…we’ll do all that we can do.  We will act in faith. And pledge to support Maxwell, and his mom and dad, and one another in putting one foot in front of the other, day by day, and following Jesus. And we’ll do this because God loves us…as crazy as that may sound.

I said this was a baptism story, and it is…because it wasn’t just Jack’s journey that changed that day. Years later, Mitch stood looking into the ocean of Jack’s eyes, that now reflected a baptismal font. Mitch was nervous and just before he bent over the font to be baptized himself, he whispered, to Jack, “I’m not sure I can do this.” Jack put a big arm around him and said, “Sure you can, with God’s help, after all, it’s just the first step.”

Amen.

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