Monday, January 15, 2018

sermon at Emmanuel, Mercer Island, January 14, 2018

Last Sunday, Sabeth, in her sermon, got us started into the Epiphany season
            by defining the word itself as manifesting, shining forth.
Each Sunday during the season we hear in the Gospel reading
            examples of how Jesus manifested himself as the Light of the world.
We start with a star shining over the baby Jesus,
            and we end the season with the Transfiguration,
                        in which Jesus manifests a literal blinding white brilliance of light.

But first, today, consider for a moment the Old Testament reading.
It is the call of Samuel – and note this: the child didn’t get to decide his course.
            It was chosen for him.
Samuel was called to be a servant of God, a prophet to convey God’s message:
            first to Eli, the priest,
            then to Saul chosen as the first king,
            and later to David, the man after God’s own heart.
God called Samuel to be God’s servant and prophet.

We may think that we have chosen to be here this morning.
We usually are operating under the illusion of our own autonomy.
We are here because we are drawn here by God through Jesus.
John 12:32 – “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all people to myself.”

Like Samuel, we are put in the holy place,
            Samuel with the tabernacle where the Arc of the Covenant was kept,
                        and in the company of the priest.
Under that holy influence he was then open to hearing God’s call.

We also here are in a holy place,
            the reserve sacrament, the consecrated bread and wine,
                        in the tabernacle of the Ambry with the perpetual light
                        to indicate the Holy Presence.
When we come here week by week, we are put under the influence
            of holy words, of taking into our hands holy things,
                        of taking into ourselves the Body and Blood of Jesus.
We, like Samuel, are in a vulnerable place in which we may hear God’s call.

Hold that thought, and we now turn to the Gospel reading.

John’s Gospel account of the calling of the first disciples
            is far different from the Synoptic Gospel accounts:
                        accounts of Jesus calling Peter and Andrew, James and John,
            which you will get next Sunday from the Gospel of Mark.
In the Gospel reading for today we are coming in at the middle of a story.
It starts with two disciples of John the Baptist.
            John points to Jesus and says, “Behold the Lamb of God,”
and they head off after him
            drawn by their curiosity or whatever – they are drawn to him.
Jesus asks them what they seek.
            They want to know where he is coming from, what he is about,
            and he says to them, “Come and see.”
After spending a short time with him, mere hours,
            they are irresistibly drawn in.
They have been called.

Andrew, one of the two, goes and gets his brother Peter.
Then Philip gets called directly by Jesus.
Philip tells Nathaniel,
            and Nathaniel has his encounter with Jesus.

Each of them had their own title for Jesus, what the saw in Jesus –
            Messiah, Christ, Prophet, Son of God, King of Israel.
We are led to believe that these are their Epiphanies of Jesus,
            using that common usage of the word, meaning insight.

But, as Sabeth said in her sermon last week,
            the meaning of the word Epiphany is a shining forth,
                        a manifestation, a light of revelation.

Jesus doesn’t respond to any of those titles they give him.
Instead he presents to Nathaniel a whole new image and concept of himself,
                        a new way of manifesting God,
            a connecting point, between earth and heaven, as a ladder,
                        between the created, physical environment we live in
                        and the divine Presence of God.
Jesus reveals himself as “axis mundi,” the point where it all comes together,
            where God and humanity are joined in perfect union,
            where others can then access God through Jesus.
That is the Epiphany moment in this Sunday’s readings;
                        that is the Epiphany.

The Eastern Orthodox Church made much of that ladder.
Their chief theologian, their equivalent of Thomas Aquinas,
            St. John Climacus wrote The Ladder of Perfection,
                        Jesus as the perfection of union with God
                        giving us access to that same perfection of union,
                                    in which our humanity reaches its fulfillment.

You see, Jesus had a different title for himself
than what everyone was trying to peg on him: his self designation was Son of Man,
            son of human being,
            one who has inherited humanity by birth
                        and then manifests what it means to be fully human.

And this puts those first called by him on the line – and all the rest of us too,
            because we are all human beings.
The purpose of discipleship is to fulfill this human being,
            and to become/live into/be
                        the manifestation, the epiphany, the shining forth of God.

What does fulfilling our humanity look like?
            It is to realize, like Jesus, a perfect self offering to the Creator.
That is fulfilling discipleship –
            like Jesus, to become a living sacrifice.
Then the followers of Jesus become a light to the nations, the Light of the world.

I think of my own calling
                                    which led me to the priesthood.
My parents brought my sister and me to church every Sunday.
I was placed under the influence of the Holy –
            in terms of the Sacraments and liturgy
            and             a stained glass window above the altar
                                    depicting Matthew, chapter 25,
“Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.”

The window illustrated the acts of mercy done for those in need
            according to the parable Jesus was telling:
                        feeding the hungry,
                        giving something to drink to the thirsty,
                        welcoming the alien,
                        clothing the naked,
                        visiting the sick and those in prison.
And in the center of the window illustrating meeting the needs of the thirsty             was a feminine figure with a chalice – a holy influence on my childhood.

At age 16 I had my Samuel experience of being called.
Like Samuel I found it confusing at first.
            (You remember, Samuel thought Eli was calling him.)
My confusion was that the call I was experiencing
                        was like a call to the priesthood,
            but this was 1963 and I was female, not male.
It would be 14 years before the Church caught up with the Holy Spirit
            and opened the way for women’s ordination.

The call of God is irresistible.
We have much less of a choice in the matter than we think.
You are not here by accident.
Everyone is potentially a candidate for a discipleship calling
            that can produce a servant useful for being a light to the world.
There is one key ingredient to calling
            and to comprehending the Epiphany,
                        to fulfilling the shining forth of God in our humanity.
That is the Holy Spirit.

Those first called by Jesus, who were drawn irresistibly to him,
            followed him throughout all he said and did,
                        went through profound loss and confusion at the Crucifixion,
            and then went through profound confusion and joy at the Resurrection.
But they didn’t fully get it until the Day of Pentecost,
            when the Resurrection Presence of Jesus
became an extension of Epiphany
            from the fulfilled humanity of Jesus
            into the Apostles and all those called from then on –
the grace of God working in us to realize our potential as human beings.

Gives cosmic scope to the expression, “be all that you can be.”

But the point is, it is the Holy Spirit at work in us,
                        not our own self-generated efforts,
            that makes it possible,
and thank God,
            because without that we certainly have not left a historical record
                        of humanity manifesting God for the most part.

The calling is too important to leave all up to our own efforts.
            God has seen to it, has provided for what is need.
If you dare, ask for the Holy Spirit to be active in your life,
            and see what happens.

You are called, if you are open to hear it, to be a light bearer,
            to be like Jesus, each in our own unique ways,
for the sake of the world and to the glory of God.

Think about it.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sermon at Emmanuel, Mercer Island, November 19, 2017

Many of the parables of Jesus are about what the Kingdom of God is like,
            especially in the Gospel of Matthew.

“The Kingdom of Heaven,” said Jesus, “is like…”
            like seed scattered willy nilly and then producing way more abundantly
                        than can reasonably be expected,
            like a tiny mustard seed growing and expanding
                        until it is a tree big enough to house the birds of the air,
            like leaven kneaded into THREE measures of flour
                        and the dough expands and expands and expands.

The economy of the Kingdom of Heaven is exemplified by absurd abundance.

So today’s parable, is it about the expansive abundance of the Kingdom of God?
            Well, not really. 
Many instead have viewed it as a parable about stewardship.

But, if we were to stop looking at this parable of Jesus
            as a story about being good stewards of what is given us,
and if, instead, we were to read the parable literally,
            we might be shocked,
            we might come to some very different ideas about the parable,
            and we might find ourselves confronted by a strange paradox –
                        strange, because this parable comes from the lips of Jesus.

We know the story, but do we really know it.

This is one of the kingdom of heaven parables,
            and it follows immediately after the parable we heard last week
                                    about the ten bridesmaids and the tardy groom.

This time Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is as if
            a man leaving home delivers his goods over to his slaves.
He gives varying amounts to each of the three.
Two of them go out and do just what he apparently would want them to do:
            they make that capital grow,
            they double the man’s fortune,
            they are significantly successful commercially.
They know the art of the deal, how to do business.
The whole world admires that sort of entrepreneurial acumen.
But the third slave won’t engage in that game.
And he has the audacity to tell the master to his face
            that he is a harsh man, taking what others worked on,
sort of like what I saw in the Yakima Valley where I served congregations:
            owners letting the ICE agents come into their fruit packing plant
            and sweep up undocumented workers
                        right before payday.
So the third slave hands back to the master what he had been given,
            what he hadn’t engaged with, what he refused to be complicit with.

So the master takes back the single talent
            and hands it over
            to the one who made the biggest gains with his investment.
Smart move.  Use that servant to make even bigger profits.

“For to all those who have, more will be given, …
but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”
            Isn’t that true!             It’s the way of the world.
And then the slave that was worthless to him and his investment enterprises
            he has him tossed out  --  into outer darkness.

You know, sometimes Jesus told not so nice stories to get his point across.

Cast into outer darkness, total darkness, oppressive and hellish darkness.

It is not by accident
that the next verses that follow in this 25th chapter of Matthew
            is the Kingdom of Heaven parable in which Jesus says,
“Inasmuch as you did this unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.”
                                                And you will hear that parable in full next Sunday.

Slave #3 in today’s parable doesn’t just get fired;
            he gets disposed of.
Now he is homeless, hungry, jobless and without resources,
                        outside the protection of the economy of his culture.

Just the sort of person that Jesus identifies with.
            Just the sort of person Jesus ministers to.
                        Just the sort of person that fits the description of the Beatitudes.

Slave as he was, he would not copy his master’s economic strategies,
            right down to usury, collecting interest
                                     – which the Torah technically forbids.
This slave, fearful as he was about his owner,
            stood up to him and would not play his game –
                        and suffered for it.

On the night before he was betrayed our Lord Jesus took bread,
            and when he had given thanks,
            he took it and gave it to his disciples,
            and said,
                        “Take, eat; this is my body.”
Likewise after supper he took the cup
            and gave it to his disciples, and said,
                        “This is my blood of the new covenant.
                        [Drink this.]
                        I will not drink again of this cup until I drink it at the banquet
                                    in my Father’s kingdom.”

And then they went out into the darkness -- to Gethsemane
            where they couldn’t even keep watch, couldn’t stay awake,
                        while Jesus had his last few minutes left
                                    in which he could pray and prepare himself
for being cast out into outer darkness –
for betrayal
            for arrest and contrived trial and physical torture and execution.

Because he had so infuriated the civil leadership and religious leadership,
            that they feared a loss of control that would bring to an end
                        the stability, such as it was,
            of their economic, political and religious establishments.

But the love that is behind the blood, behind this fullest of self offering,
            is inescapably embracing.

This parable about the talents
            is a story designed to provoke awareness of our spiritual dereliction. 

The way this world works,
            the world in which we live and have jobs
            and make investments for retirement,
places value on the bottom line of the budget report.

When does Jesus get to be recognized as the bottom line?
                                    the bottom line in our lives?

The gospels continually tell us of how Jesus offers us another way of being,
            the way of self offering.
Jesus looked at all the suffering of our human condition
            and addressed that in the offering of himself fully,
                        in the healing – physical healings, and liberation of the soul,
                        in feeding multitudes,
                        in his teachings,
            but most of all in giving his life blood in a voluntary death
                        so that his Presence as Holy Spirit
                                                            could live in as many as would receive him.

So that we too could become living offerings.

Do you not realize that in baptismal union in Jesus,
            we can be a human offering which becomes a God offering?!

I want to get down to the core dynamics of our Christian faith.

Jesus offered and continues to offer anyone who has ears to hear
            a path of spiritual revolution about our orientation of self.

This is so contrary to the world culture that we are very familiar with.
This culture that we live in is a culture of desperation.
                        Think about it.            Isn’t that true.            A culture of desperation.
We are trying to solve our problems by maintaining and protecting
            some sort of sustainability, like sustaining free market capitalism;
            We try to solve our problems by protecting our own self interests.
In general that is the culture we live in.
            And I might say that sustainability will eventually fail.

Jesus is outside of that agenda.
            Any who refer to themselves as Christians need to acknowledge that.
So what do we do?            Isn’t that the usual question?            What do I do now?

Find out who Jesus is, who Jesus is in your own experience of him.
Love him more than all these things in their lure from the world culture.

It’s not in figuring out what to do, but in discovering who he is.
If you find that out, and express that in your living and in your dying,
            then you will act out of love and compassion
                                                                                    without self interest.
That’s how one becomes a useful disciple.

I will end with on verse from the epistle reading for today: the Apostle Paul wrote,
“God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation
through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us,

so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.”

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Sermon at Emmanuel, Mercer Island, September 3, 2017

In the last couple of weeks we barely got to revel
            in the wonderful natural display of the total solar eclipse
            before we were on to the next crisis – Hurricane Harvey.
And we have been so absorbed in the flooding
                        beyond anything we have seen before,
            that we might have missed the even greater flood devastation
                                                happening simultaneously
                        in India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
In those three countries the human death toll is over 1,200,
            and half the country of Bangladesh has been underwater.

Aside from the natural disasters, we have also been witnessing political upheavals
            that also are crises on various different issues,
                        such as racism, terrorism and threat of thermal nuclear war.
I’m not going into all that right now;
                        I’m just noting how we are personally affected by these stresses.

How do we live in the midst of it all?
How do we live our faith as Christians when that name Christian gets politicized?
What is an authentic way to be a follower of Jesus?
            These are the questions we can ask ourselves and reflect on
                        in the light of the scripture readings for today,
three very good and significant passages we really should to pay attention to.

The passage from Exodus 3 is one of the most important in the Old Testament,
                        the Jewish scriptures,
            and relates directly to the Gospel reading for today,
                        and I’ll tell you how.
This is the story of Moses and the bush that was burning, but not burning up.
That bush was an angel, a messenger from God, to get Moses’ attention,
            so that he could learn something incredibly important about
                        who God is:
not a name, but simply put, “I AM,” Life, being, consciousness.

Moses is given a significant prophetic action to carry out –
            deliver the Children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt,
but that deliverance is for the sake of God who is their Life.

In the Gospel reading, verse 25 Jesus says,
            For those who want to save their life will lose it,
            and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Let’s look for a moment at our opening hymn for today,
in particular verse three.  We sang:
            To all life thou givest, to both great and small;
            In all life thou livest, the true life of all;
            We blossom and flourish, like leaves on the tree,
            Then wither and perish, but not changeth thee.

God lives in all life, - that verse says – or rather all life lives in God.

When we sing these words, we may be focusing on the eternal nature of God,
            but what the words are also saying is that all life is lived in God’s life.

You and I are expressions of the One Life,
            unique and individual yet also only a part of that One Life.
Those who engage in the spiritual practice of meditation get a sense of that.

And this One Life, God’s Life, is the true life of all of us.
What we identify as ourselves is what we see
            blossoming and flourishing and withering and dying, as the hymn says.
But what does not change is the true life,
            what we can find when we lose the life we have been identifying with.

Matthew 16:25
            For those who want to save their life will lose it,
            and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

And then verse 27:
            For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father,             and then he will reward each one according to their praxis.

That is the literal translation.  The Greek word is praxis
            which means practice, action, deeds, behavior, the model of action.

The reward is going to those who lose their life for the sake of Jesus,
            in other words, his disciples.
Praxis is fundamental to discipleship.
We are baptized into Jesus and what we then do flows out of New Life.
It requires that we leave all behind, right down to our own self identification,
            how we define ourselves.
Because when we lose that,
            then we can find our true self, who we really are.

To put it more baldy
            when we come to know who we are in Jesus, in relationship with him,
                        then we can be equipped to be real disciples in action.

Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has spoken of the need for the Church
            to express itself as a Jesus Movement,
and the response has been to be enthusiastic about Matthew 25 ministry.
            You remember that: 
                        “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the lease of these,
                        you have done it unto me.”

But in the “Jesus Movement” the key word is Jesus.
If you don’t begin with relationship with Jesus,
            then you are just running a social justice program
not a real Jesus Movement.

It is so easy to push by Jesus and just get down to work.

And Romans 12 is a great action plan for addressing this crisis
            or any crisis, and all the needs we see around us.

Let love be genuine;
            hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;
            love one another with mutual affection; …
            be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
            Contribute to the needs of the saints;
            extend hospitality to strangers.
            Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. …
            Live in harmony with one another; …
            Do not repay anyone evil for evil,
            but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. …
            Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

There it all is – a whole plan of action, a moral standard, a Christian life style.

You should tear out this page from the liturgy booklet
            and take it home and put it on the refrigerator door
            or tape it to the bathroom mirror
            or on the inside of the front door so that every time you go out
                        you can see these words and remember to take them with you
                        in your behavior, your action, your praxis.

But we have got to understand that this is not just a morality
            for us to try to live out from our own effort.

Romans 12 is a prescription for life in the Christian community,
            the life style of a Christian community,
and the first verse in this reading sets the parameters for all that follows:
            Love must be genuine, authentic.
                        The Greek word here for genuine means literally not hypocritical.
And the word for love here is agaph,
            the love which is beyond all other forms of love,
                        love which surpasses family love,
                        godly love, as in “God is love.”
Love that makes no distinction, does not objectify, but unites with the other.
It is like the true life one finds when the imagined self is no longer clung to,
                                                                                                            but let go of, lost.
Let love be genuine,
and then everything else that follows in Romans 12 will be possible.
Because love that is genuine comes as a gift from Jesus
            to enable us for effective discipleship.
“We love, because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

Now back to the Gospel reading: Verse 28, Jesus said,
            Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death
            before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.

 …To see the Son of man coming in his kingdom,
            and that kingdom is expressed as resurrection.
The reward for those disciples is in seeing the resurrected Jesus,
            and resurrection then leads to the empowerment of the disciples
                                                on the day of Pentecost
to become apostles, to be witnesses of Jesus – that’s the original Jesus Movement.

If we are to be a witness in the world of a Jesus Movement,
            it must be by our seeing kingdom come in Jesus
                        through the power of the resurrection,
by which we then are empowered in God’s love and life.

In a short while I will be issuing an altar call for all of you to come forward
            in order to be empowered for action/for praxis in the world.
You will recognize the altar call when you hear the words,
                        The Gifts of God for the People of God,
            for those gifts are gifts of God’s Life in you.
Discern the Body and Blood of Jesus being placed in your hands,
            and what that reality can do in you.

Then you can pray,
“Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.”