Sunday, June 10, 2018
Here we are, my last sermon with you.
I remember back to my first sermon with you
back in December of 2007.
It’s been a good time here together with you. I really mean it.
I have loved being here with you.
Over the years I have participated with you in joyful baptisms,
I have watched children grow up and become young adults,
and that has been an absolute delight.
I have walked with a number of you through illnesses, surgeries,
stints of being in rehab and physical therapy,
and Hunt and I have presided over the burial office
of way too many parishioners,
being there with you in the grief, but also with the love and consolation
of our Lord Jesus present to encourage faith.
Over the years I have also continuously encouraged us all
to be ever engaged in faith formation and education,
and we have had some great Sunday morning adult forums, speakers,
Lenten series, women’s gatherings, retreat opportunities,
and, of course, I can’t leave out mentioning meditation.
With my other hat of the Community of the Lamb
I have offered here at Emmanuel meditation seminars,
the basic 12 week course
and numerous subsequent courses and series
on a whole variety of topics relating scripture to meditation,
often times attended by those beyond this congregation.
But you, Emmanuel, have been the host in providing this space.
I leave behind two ongoing groups of meditators
who are clear that they can continue without my presence.
That lets me know that I have done my job well.
You folks have also opened your doors to letting my Hindu friends
use the facilities on occasion
and even had a great fund raising dinner for my sabbatical,
so that I could take a generous donation check to Amma in India
for her humanitarian projects there.
Which is amazing because you were also good natured about my
“cabaret act” as we had some fun together that evening.
I have had a lot of fun with you all, which I treasure in my heart.
I have also shared a lot of tears with many of you,
which I also treasure in my heart.
It is in the tears and the laughter as it says in Kate Wolfe’s song,
“Give Yourself to Love”
It is in the tears and the laughter
that we are most intimate and experience the love.
As an aside, it’s worth going back and checking out that song from the 80’s
that’s been an earworm with me this last week.
And it makes my heart extremely glad to know that just recently
the Outreach Committee in your name
just gave the Jubilee Center at St. Matthew/San Mateo in Auburn
a wonderfully generous donation
for the very vital ministry they do
especially in the areas of immigration advocacy and domestic violence intervention.
So thank you very much for that show of support,
and I do hope that you will continue this connection with the Jubilee Center.
Thank you for the privilege and joy that it has been for me
in the work of mutual ministry in this faith community.
So now I must say some words to you,
a message from my heart, words I would like you to remember me by.
Jesus did that with his disciples the night before he died.
Each of the Gospels devote special chapters to that final conversation.
John’s Gospel gives it Chapters 13 through17, five whole chapters.
There it starts off with the New Commandment.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another.
Just as I have love you, so you love one another.”
That commandment was not just for those disciples there with him at the time,
but it quickly became the distinguishing mark of all followers of Jesus after that.
We are called to love –
that New Commandment that Jesus gave his disciples
on the night of violence when he was then betrayed
and taken and tortured and handed over for execution.
If that is what he asked of us
at that incredibly tense and challenging moment in his own life, how can we not take his words without absolute seriousness?
So how are we doing with that?
Looking at the Church as a whole,
not just this congregation or denomination,
but the whole enterprise, the whole institution,
it looks like we’re dying.
In the eyes of the general society we are becoming irrelevant.
And so the Presiding Bishop for the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry,
has been calling us to a renewal in the Jesus Movement.
That’s important for bringing us back to the realization
that Jesus has to be at the center of the life and ministry of the Church.
Because if it’s all just our own efforts,
we can’t put the world right in the politics of things.
Too often the Church has fallen into the same trap as the people of Israel did
in the reading from I Samuel 8
when they came to Samuel and asked him to get them a king
so that they could be like all the other nations.
Give us the powerful ruler who will govern us and go out before us
and fight our battles.
But it’s not a political answer or making the best deals or by wielding power.
Our society lives in that space
and people suffer as a result:
the weak, the powerless, the alien, the marginalized,
women and children,
all get exploited, taken advantage of,
while those at the top, the ones with the power,
secure their power and wealth for themselves.
But Jesus was not a king, not a political presence,
even though some have addressed him as a king,
even though some have politicized his words,
and used their faith beliefs as a rationale for judgment and moral exclusiveness.
A king is so different from the liberating, healing power of Love
that a Crucified Savior brings.
No Jesus is out of his mind.
That’s what they said about him in the Gospel reading for today.
He’s crazy. That’s how this society, this culture would characterize him.
Say he’s crazy and you can discredit that whole love one another thing.
That’s a familiar tactic used over the ages.
Call your opponent a liar, discredit their work.
And the culture we live in today has such a pervasive effect on us
that we unconsciously start to accept the whole political thing
that led the people of Israel to say to Samuel give us a king,
and reject God as their Sovereign Creator.
So I say to you today that here is what our problem as a faith community is:
It is our lack of yielding to the intimacy and awareness of the Presence of Jesus
that is killing us off.
If we were to let down our guard
and our tight grip on a belief in a merit based morality,
and instead take our suffering in all its many forms to Jesus
there would be a huge break through in the spiritual potency of the Church.
We would experience the stunning intimacy of Love in the Presence of Jesus
and we would discover how to love one another
with authenticity and genuine intention.
And that would rock the world.
Crazy – The Cross of Jesus is a mass pardon. – Crazy.
It stands between us and the condition of suffering in the world.
One might think Jesus was crazy to attempt that – saving the whole world –
but then he went farther and in one huge Resurrection appearance,
there is then the Holy Spirit, the Resurrection Spirit and Presence of Jesus
put on us,
into which we were baptized
which provides in us a continuous process of sanctification
provided in that space of the Cross, which we call salvation.
This is the experience accessible to all in the Church,
accessible through spiritual practice
spiritual practice such as prayer, meditation, the liturgy and sacraments, reading and hearing the scriptures,
breaking bread together, forgiving one another.
That being in the Presence of Jesus Love
is what liberates us to freely love others.
This is not the way of a king or any other type of political leader.
They called Jesus crazy, out of his mind.
And he didn’t do a thing to deny that.
He looked at those sitting around him and said,
“These are my mother and my brothers and sisters.”
Those doing the will of God,
those yielding to experiencing that Divine Presence
as it was coming to them through Jesus at that moment.
Brothers and sisters in the same craziness as Jesus.
And mother also, in whom the divine seed is planted and grows
and is born and comes forth into the world. Crazy.
Matthew chapter 25, the story Jesus told
about when the king would come and separate the sheep and the goats,
you know the one:
“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?
And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you,
or naked and gave you clothing?
And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
And the answer, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”
Jesus tells us in this story that these are the people he identifies with.
Crazy the world would say. Those people?! Those losers?!
Just look at how our society treats the homeless poor,
the aliens seeking refuge and asylum at our borders,
those needing to access health care and the incarcerated.
But I have seen that those people, the ones in need,
are those who get it about Love. That’s where Jesus is, really.
Our presiding bishop, Michael Curry, has referred to the followers of Jesus
as crazy Christians. He even wrote a book with that as the title.
This way of Love in the heart of Jesus is craziness to the world
that will call it names and call what is good evil and of the devil
and seek to discount, discredit, ignore and push it aside.
But when you experience being loved by Jesus then you can get crazy too
in that life-giving, liberating way for others.
That’s what I want to say to you,
what I have said in one way or another over and over again,
what I first said to you and last say to you now.
It’s crazy but Jesus is the Love of my life.
Don’t be afraid to get close to that Love, to get close to Jesus.
Give up resisting, give up the merit based theology and
and accept the fact that you are just as much in need of a free gift of Love as anyone else.
Let yourself be loved by Jesus, and go crazy in that good way with him.
Monday, January 15, 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
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,
“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.
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 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.”