Category Archives: Category

SERMON 9/6/20 Labor Day Service – Diocese of Oklahoma

Ezekiel 33:7-11; Psalm 119:33-40; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

            “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.”  Have you noticed how maybe this scripture should be a part of the user agreement for all social media accounts?  It seems like today our divisions seem to fueled by this mindset instead. “If another person sins against you, tell everyone except that person, post it on your Facebook page, and never sit down and talk to them about it.”   Matthew 18 is the earliest and best model for the church to use, when we are dealing with any type of conflict, unfortunate misunderstandings, or little squabbles.  If you think that conflict does not happen in church, just wait around a little bit and it please know, it will happen.  

            However, healthy and helpful conflict is not a bad thing.  Opposing ideas presented in a loving way can move people and organizations forward is a fact of life.  As a matter of fact, it is the conflict between your tires and road that helped you travel down the road today.  However, no matter our age or situation, we all at some time, have in the past, or maybe are right now, or will in the future, enabled unhealthy conflict to hurt someone, or you have been hurt by someone else.  Even the best of friends disagrees and we mishandle disagreements.  Our own saintly superheroes the Apostle Paul and Barnabas had a little tiff and “they had such a sharp disagreement (so heated) that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left.”

            We are human and fragile, because we are fallible creatures and like our favorite saints or superheroes, we succumb to the sin of strife and unhealthy conflict.   Many of us have experienced the community life of church in many different places.  I am sure you or someone you know has been on the receiving end of a conversation like this, “Hey, I have to tell you what so and so is saying about you.”  Maybe the conversation was more like this one, “Can you believe that Bill would do something like that to me,” or “have you heard the latest rumor about so and so?”  Conflict, strife, and dissension is normal, but the problem we have is unhealthy conflict devolves into undermining our Lord’s command to “love our neighbor.” When that happens, people get hurt and we risk losing our grace-filled witness in the world. 

Gospel Witnesses

            Our holy mission as the church is to proclaim to the world our loving bond with God, and by our shared baptismal identity in Christ, we proclaim our mutual love, peace and support for each other.  The way of the Body of Christ is different from the way of the world, because we are called to invite and restore folks back to the flock; we are set apart so we can be about the business of reconciliation.  

            Do you remember the story of the young man who took his inheritance and left his family behind. He squandered it all and found himself broken, alone, and living in a feed trough with the pigs.  He decided to come home, hoping for a job as a hired hand, but upon his arrival he was surprised at the welcome her received. He expected a trial and judgment for his failures, but that was not to be on that day.  His father received the young man, not with condemnation, but with open arms and a party thrown in his honor.  This story is our story of God’s reconciling love in action. This story is what Jesus means when he commands us to find the lost sheep and bring them home.  

Steps to Biblical Conflict Resolution

            Forgiving, making amends, and restoring is complex, but Jesus gives us some sound and simple advice on how to go about it.  First, he recommends when we hurt one another that we take the initiative to talk about it one on one.  This step avoids the unhealthy human drama associated with spreading rumors, backbiting, and the behind-the-back sin of tearing each other down.  Now, if that move does not work, Jesus suggests we go return to the person who caused the hurt, but this time bring a friend along. Partnering with another brother or is sister to deal with a third party sometimes can become unhealthy triangulation, by which we might go to a third person and say, “do you know what so and so did to me?” No, this model is a move to bring a sister or brother along with you, and one who lovingly works with both parties to try to heal the broken relationship. It is kind of like spiritual mediation, but without all the attorney’s fees.  

            Now, if that does not work, Jesus offers us third option, which is to bring this before the church.  In other words, Jesus suggests that we bring someone in authority into the conversation. Notice that is not the first thing Our Lord recommends when we have disagreements, but only after we have tried to work it out together, and only then should we consider going to this step.  

Gentiles and Tax Collectors

            Then, when all else fails and we have exhausted all other options, we are admonished to “treat the offender like Gentiles and Tax Collectors.”  Some folks hear this and might say, “Oh I like that one, let’s start there and post this on the Gentiles and Tax Collector’s Group page.”  In other words, people think Jesus is telling us to say,  “I did my best, I tried everything, and I just couldn’t get them to see my side of the story, so I’m writing them off my list.”  

            Hang on there a minute and listen closely to what Our Lord is really saying.  Ask yourself, how did Jesus treat those old Gentiles and Tax Collectors?  Let’s see, He showed favor to a Centurion soldier, he healed a Gentile woman whose daughter was possessed, and he healed a Gentile demonic in Gennesaret.  That doesn’t sound like “writing someone off” to me.   

            What about those old crooked tax collectors?  Let’s see Matthew was at his tax booth and Jesus invited himself to go to his Matthew’s house for dinner.  Now that was a scandal fit for social media!  That doesn’t sound like he “wrote Matthew off.”   By the way, today’s Gospel we heard today was the one recorded according to a faithful, forgiven, and restored Tax Collector; Matthew. 

            This little phrase, “treat them like Gentiles and tax collectors sounds more like a little twist on words. Jesus was not advocating for mistreatment; he was promoting an attitude of “don’t give up on them.”  Treating those hardheaded folks like Gentiles and tax Collectors (those who refuse to reconcile), is not a permission slip to write someone off, nor is it a mandate to remain in an abusive situation either.  

Keys to Reconciliation

            Some broken relationships may never be reconciled, at least not in our lifetime.  However, writing folks is just not something we do  s followers of the one who never abandoned any of the sheep.  Jesus never gave up hope of the possibility of reconciliation with those on the outskirts of the community nor should we.  To restore our sisters and brothers who have fallen away, requires God’s grace of course, but it requires our obedience to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”  This reconciliation work is thorny and complex.  It is not a ministry of sentimental words of temporary forgiveness, and then go right back to the rumor mill.  It is difficult work, but its work we must do, and it is work that requires honesty, humility, courage, and gentleness.  

            Open and direct loving honesty is vital to reconciliation because it requires us to set our egos aside when we hurt one another.  We must be willing to take a risk and be authentic and vulnerable in order to participate in God’s desire to restore relationships when broken.   Humility is crucial because it requires putting away our desire for power over one another, in order to participate in God’s desire to restore relationships when broken.  

            Courage is needed as well, because it may require us to go to someone who has hurt us, and reveal our painful emotions.  If an abusive or unhealthy relationship is the case, we may just have “let go and let God,” in order to participate in God’s desire to restore relationships when broken. Gentleness is fundamental because it may require us to put on Christ’s meekness even in the face of persecution, so that we might love those who may not love us. 

            The ministry of reconciliation is essentially the mission of God, and it is essential for the church and our common life together.  If we are to remain a lighthouse of love and restoration in the world, if we are to fulfill this mission of grace given to us by God, we must love and restore each other when we fall.  We must recognize that we all are broken and we all will fail each other at some time.  All of us.  No one was perfect except Our Lord Jesus Christ.  So, the drama of common life is messy, it is complex, but it is also joyful, enriching, Spirit-filled, and it is the life to which have been given.  It is the life we live together as one family.  In these uncertain and complex days, I believe our prayer should be that God will give each of us a new opportunity, to be strengthened by the Spirit, so that we can have open our arms of love.  Maybe we too can offer the same kind of welcome that the Prodigal one received, who just like us had to admit the he was a lost sheep of the flock.

SERMON 8-23-20 Pentecost 12A St. Luke’s Chickasha, OK

Isaiah 51:1-6; Psalm 138; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

In today’s Gospel reading, we hear about some of the folks who followed Jesus around, you know the ones who witnessed the miracles, who heard the sermons, and listened in on his sparring with Pharisees and scribes. Today they are asked a very importantquestion from their Master. Jesus asks, “who do you say that I am?” Now, Peter did not hesitate to answer, and with over-zealous glee, immediately shouts, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Sometimes when Peter sounds off so quickly, have you ever just wished you could have been there, and whispered in his ear, “Now brother, don’t speak too quickly, because you know that your exuberance is going to get you in trouble a little later in the story.”  Peter, the disciple who claimed he trusted Jesus, when things got tough, or when he faced a new challenge,seems to always lose heart and lose faith. Peter had a hard time following through.   When he walked on the water with Jesus and the waves started to toss around him on the sea, or when the soldiers were carrying the Master away to his trial and crucifixion, or when three times accused of being a disciple, Peter turned coat and ran.  Peter really was not ready to back up his exuberant words with actions. 

Good old Peter; I am so glad he was an apostle, because with a follower like him, I too believe that I can be a faithful Jesus follower.  He was always the first to proclaim, but likewise, the first to hesitate and the first to fail.  Peter’s story is probably the story of most of us disciples.  Quick words and clumsy actions; great intentions and run-of-the-mill responses, may be the nature of following Jesus.  

Worship

For me, I have to admit that I fail as a disciple more times than I like, but I am so glad that God’s grace is abundant and overflowing. I am so glad that when we fall down along this walk of discipleship, God is quick to forgive, and ready to receive us back. So, how do we respond to that kind of grace? Our response is to offer to God a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Unfortunately, sometimes, our responseto God’s love (like our brother Peter) is just mere words. Another later Apostle, one who like his counterpart, failed in his attempts to follow Jesus too. Today though he tells us how we are to respond to God’s grace.

Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  Worship can be confused with a worship service.  What makes worship different from merely saying the prayers, singing the hymns, and receiving the sacrament, is our hearts.  Worship is not mere liturgical calisthenics, but it is an ourpouring of our heart to God. 

Webster’s defines worship as, “extravagant respect or admiration for, or devotion to, an object ofdivine affection.” Our worship to God is our way of answering the question posed to Peter today, “Who do you say that I am?” If you were asked whether “in your everyday life, Jesus is number one and the one to whom you offer respect, admiration, or devotion, then the answer is right there in front of you, and your heart will make it clear.

Trusting Jesus; Lord of my Life

“Who do you say that I am,” Jesus asked. Peter responded, “you are the Son of God.”  Listen closely to his words.  The answer Peter gave may sound a little non-committal and slightly impersonal.  What if Peter’s response would have been different?  What if his words were more like Thomas’ post-resurrection proclamation, in which Thomas called Jesus, “My Lord and My God,” a statement that is based on trust and reliance and intimacy?  Thomas, with clarity and purpose, declared his intimate connection to the Master, and did not just identify Jesus’ public persona.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. A woman in the Wal Mart parking lot was asked by a friend, “who is that man standing over there near your car?” She responded, “that is my male civil partner with whom I share a common domicile.” That sounds like a legalistic statement of fact. There is no emotional connection or relational references made between the woman and the man. Let’s try that again. A woman is asked, “who is that man standing over there near your car?” She responds, “That is my dearly beloved husband, whom I love with all my heart, and for whom, I would risk my life!” Do you see the difference? The second response is personal, committed, and from the words, you sense that there is deep intimacy shared between these two people. Trust, reliance, and love shared between two people.

Moments of Change

My sisters and brothers, life’s circumstances are ever-changing.  We know that now in 2020 that life today is just not what it was a few months ago. Nonetheless, we can trust Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, even in times of uncertainty and grief.  In just a few weeks, your beloved priest Mother Lin will be moving on to a new chapter in her life, and St. Luke’s will be moving on to a new chapter in your lives. Even now, when things are uncertain and the future is not quite clear, I encourage you to trust God’s assurance of his presence, grace, and peace.   

In this time of change, you my sisters and brothers can live in the trust and peace knowing that God will not abandon you, nor will God forsake you. Imagine today that Jesus is walking beside you in the days to come. When you feel like you are in despair, he notices, stops for a moment, places his arm around you and asks, “Do you trust me, because you know I am with you.” Then he smiles and just like he did with theearly apostles, asks you to consider, “My child, who do you say that I am.”

SERMON 8/9/20 Pentecost 10A St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, Oklahoma City, OK

1 Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 85:8-13;  Romans 10:5-15;  Matthew 14:22-33

 Caught in a Storm

“Lord save me!”  In today’s Gospel reading, we hear the miraculous account of the time Jesus’ disciples were crossing a body of water in a small boat and out in the middle of a terrible storm.  Suddenly, as the storm begins to achieve its full strength and fear fills their hearts, a figure is seen, walking on the water.  The group misidentified the figure, thinking that they were seeing an unknown spirit, a ghost per se.  Then bold, brazen, overconfident Peter takes a chance, and with the power of a little faith, or arrogance says, “If it is you Lord, command me to come out there with you.”  Then Peter gets out of the boat and starts literally treading water, that is until the water gets rough.

One interesting point about this story is that it represents how we many of us deal with our own storms; our own fears. The story shows us how we struggle to trust God in ominous times, and how sometimes we will step out in faith in the middle of the chaos, only to find ourselves still in the storm sinking in despair.  Despite being first-hand witnesses to Jesus’ miraculous feeding of 5000+ people, and all the other miracles of healing enacted by Our Lord, most of the disciples were paralyzed by fear in the midst of a squall.  Peter on the other hand was like us, who step out and trust, but when the waves still crash around us, we lose faith and believe we can do it all alone.

Do you live in fear today and want to cry out, “Lord are you really are here with us in this stormy pandemic? If so, I will walk with you in this storm!”  Then the waves start to crash and with every evening newscast, every Zoom meeting, and the ever-present face covering we all wear, we realize the entire planet is in the midst of a storm.  Fear sets in and then despair, paralyzed struggling to face the day.  “Save me, Jesus,” Peter cried.  The Lord did just that and pulled him from the depths of despair.  Beverly Gaventa in her Christian Century article Doubt and Fear writes, “Not only does Jesus have the power to control the turbulent waters and even to walk on them, but he can bestow that power on others and rescue those in distress.” (3) These crashing waves and clapping thunder crashes is just noise that challenges us to take courage, to be willing with great caution and mitigating protective measures, to step out in faith again, to step out and walk toward Our Lord.  We need to face this storm, trust God is with us, and reject paralyzing fear.   At some point, our faith needs to lead us to realize who, in this situation, is really in control.

Takeoffs and Landings – Moments of Terror

Psychology Today describes fear as “a vital response to physical and emotional danger that has been pivotal throughout evolution. If people didn’t feel fear, they wouldn’t be able to protect themselves from legitimate threats—which often had life-or-death consequences in the ancestral world.”(1) Fear is a natural emotional, physical, and psychological reaction to a threat, which results in actions that facilitate our ability to survive.

As an FAA Flight Instructor, I have been teaching people to fly airplanes for nearly 20 years.  Some student’s fear of flying, especially during certain training maneuvers can bring moments of sheer terror.  Sometimes a student forgets their training, they freeze up, and with little time for reaction, the instructor has to take the controls in order to save the aircraft and occupants.

When I teach someone to fly, there is a sacred safety rule we follow. When the student is of control and needs some help, I merely call out, “I have the controls.”  The student responds, “You have the controls.”  And just to be certain there is a clear understanding who is flying the craft, I repeat, “I have the controls.” This rule is non-negotiable, because a misunderstanding at that moment, can result in a life or death choice.  Fear of flying can keep you on your toes and facilitate reactions that can save your life.  Fear of flying can also paralyze you and keep you from reaching your dreams.

Corona Anxiety

Fear can move us forward and cause us to make survival choices.  Fear though, when experienced without hope, without being grounded in love, with an overconfidence of self-sufficiency, without recognizing that God really is in control, it can lead not to survival, but death.  Like learning to fly, when fear strikes, when we face ominous times, there comes a time when we need to let go and let God take the controls.

Life is so different now, and what has been comfortable and normal seems to be a fleeting memory.  We long for interaction beyond the video screens that we live behind today.  We long for a hug, a handshake, a dinner out, a movie, an extended hand to receive bread and wine, body and blood.  We may ask, “Where is our hope in the future?” We may even find ourselves in “doubt, a sense of loneliness, as well as fear of failure before God, (which seems to be) left to fester and grow into a difficult form of unfaith. (2). We are in a new kind of storm and like the apostles that came before us, we too cry “out in fear.” But just like them, “Jesus speaks to us like he spoke to his first disciples in the middle of their storm, and says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

With Jesus’ comforting words of hope, he is not offering some sentimental encouragement, “don’t be afraid, just take heart.” Just be happy is certainly not helpful in the midst of a global pandemic, but maybe what he is saying to us really is what we all need right now.  Maybe we need to accept that right now, we are not in charge and we are not in control.  Maybe we need to admit that we are afraid and then, know that our fear is not a failure, but it is a part of the nature of being a follower of Jesus. Like Peter, we all cycle between bold hubris and cowering denial, but neither reaction is a sign of our inability, to be lifted from the depths by our loving Lord, Emmanuel, who is with us in all things.

Even now, when fear grips us all, when life is not what it was only a few months ago, we need to be drawn now more than ever, to trust the true Son of God.  Even in the midst of all the noise, where the wind, the chaos, and uncertain fear threatens us each and every day, we still need to trust God.  We can with assurance know that nothing comes between us and the love and God, not even this tempest all around us, not even death.  “All will be well, and all will be well,” said Julian of Norwich.  “All will be well,” even for we people “of little faith.” The Psalmist also offers us encouragement now when we need to he hear it most, but we must listen to, ” what the Lord God is saying, * for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him.”  Maybe it is time for us to turn off the noise for a few minutes today, and listen then closely, so we might hear what Jesus is trying to say to us right now, “Don’t be afraid.  It’s ok, I have the controls.”

REFERENCES

(1) https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/smashing-the-brainblocks/201511/7-things-you-need-know-about-fear

(2) Raj, A. R.Victor, et al. “Homiletical Helps on LW Series C–Old Testament.” Concordia Journal, vol. 33, no. 2, Apr. 2007, pp. 185–212.

(3) Gaventa, Beverly Roberts. “Doubt and Fear.” The Christian Century, vol. 110, no. 21, July 1993, p. 709.

SERMON 6/14/20 Pentecost 2A Proper 6 6/14/20 St. Monica’s Episcopal Church

https://youtu.be/PE0w1Sszqng

Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7); Psalm 116:1, 10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

Jesus sends you Out

In today’s Gospel, we hear, “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go.”  Three times in these instructions, Jesus said for us to “Go!” We must never forget that Jesus sends out disciples.  We say each week in the Nicene Creed, “I believe in one Holy, Catholic, and APOSTOLIC church.”  Well, that is what Apostolic means, “to be sent out.”  In today’s gospel, Jesus sent out the twelve on a mission road trip.  He said, “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”  

Even today, Jesus send us out to proclaim, cure, and restore, but he sends us out without a reliance on our own selves.  He sends us out trusting in and relying only on God.  Jesus said, “You received without payment; give without payment. [Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.” We are called to rely on God alone.

See, we are mission people, sent out to continue Jesus’ ministry, but we need to keep working, trusting in and relying on God alone.  We sometimes think we cannot move, unless we have the right resources already in place, the right plan already completely figured ou,t or if we have the right perfect leader up front.  The truth is, “we already have the leader of our lives, leading the way; Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  And he calls us to take a risk, to trust him, and to move forward in mission asking, “What if?”

What if ….

Over two years ago, after Terri and I first arrived at St. Monica’s, I preached a sermon that included a question of hope, of anticipation, and of challenge.  I asked this congregation, “What if?”  I said, “The truth is “God is always making things new!” I challenged you to be “willing for God to open your hearts and eyes, to change your mindset, and to transform your default responses, to no longer believing that “you are not enough” or “you do not have the resources” or “you need more space.” 

I challenged you to “live in hopeful expectation, to dream big again and to invite God to give you all a HUGE dream! I told you that “’What if’ is a powerfully simple phrase, and it has the power to release in you, God’s renewed creativity and hope in which, you can expect the unexpected. You may even be able to expect a miracle or two.”

On that day, I believe God was placing a vision in your hearts for a renewed day and a renewed spirit of faithful service and action.  God did not abandon you then, and you faithfully lived into a new day.  You were faithful and at peace, not because of a new priest who came to you from the diocesan office, but because you all were willing to trust God, to take a chance, and to dream again.  Now is the time to begin dreaming once again, and to begin asking the most important question before you in this time of transition, “What if?”

What if becomes What we do!

You see, when you dream big and listen to God’s Spirit guiding you, “What if,” becomes “What you do,” and “How you do mission.”  In that same sermon, I asked you all a lot of “What if’s,” and over the last two years you answered the call and with God’s help, you are doing mission and ministry in new ways, with more people leading those efforts, and more people growing in a deeper love and commitment to Jesus Christ.

On that day two years ago, I asked you, “What if God is already creating an exciting welcoming program that will help our new friends become active and engaged sisters and brothers.”  You did just that.  You created a team of Greeters whose smiles and hospitality welcomed and had a part in bringing over 80 new parishioners to St. Monica’s.  You installed upgraded live stream technology in the sanctuary that expanded your reach to more people through YouTube and social media.  You hosted six quarterly “Circle of Friends” gatherings, where we had over 65 people attend and who eventually decided to make St. Monica’s their spiritual home.  At the 2019 annual Bishop’s visitation, you had four receptions, six confirmations, and one reaffirmation of Baptismal vows.  Last year we baptized four children and welcomed new young families into your family.  At St. Monica’s you are a people that can take a “What if,” and it becomes a “What you do,” and “How you do mission.”

On that day two years ago, I asked you, “What if” God is calling you to renew and expand your Christian formation programs to grow your faith together for all ages. You did just that! You developed multiple Adult Christian formation classes on Sundays, Thursday evenings, and Friday mornings.  You developed a Youth Sunday school team consisting of over 12 adult leaders.  You called an Interim Youth Minister who revitalized your Youth Program and taught you how to create a program and support a new leader, whom you will call soon.  You offered seasonal Quiet Day retreats, and challenged yourselves to learn more about the faith, our tradition, and how to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  At St. Monica’s you are a people that can take a “What if,” and it becomes a “What you do,” and “How you do mission.”

On that day two years ago, I asked you, “’What if’ God is calling us to gather together in new ways of fellowship and fun where we can support one another.”  You did just that! Youheard the call to dream and you did have some fun!  You shared a few fun potluck dinners.  You enjoyed a minor league baseball game together.  You shared an impromptu beach outing where over twenty of you shared food and a beautiful sunset.   You had over 300 folks attend two annual Trunk or Treat events at St. Monica’s where kids and families had fun, shared your hospitality, and came to know how wonderful you are as a family.  You shared two amazing Stewardship Dinners where you had fun, ate fabulous food, and spent time fellowshipping together.  At St. Monica’s you are a people that can take a “What if,” and it becomes a “What you do,” and “How you do mission.”

On that day two years ago, I asked you, “What if” God is inviting you to even more ways of service and local mission in which, you continue to feed those in need, where your current mission expands even more to provide for the destitute, where you can continue to help families in your midst who cannot care for themselves.” You did just that! You created a new local mission team who partnered with Meals of Hope and with as many as ten ministers from the parish, you provided nutritious food for one of your local neighborhoods.  You continued to support Baby Basics and distributed diapers to economically challenged families in your neighborhood.  You sent ministers to Immokalee to support the Guadalupe Soup Kitchen and provide food for many struggling families.  You created a new mission with New Horizons and through their use of our facilities, and with your own gifts of mentorship and support, children in your local neighborhood are now able to be tutored, so they can overcome the sin of systematic racism and social injustice.  At St. Monica’s you are a people that can take a “What if,” and it becomes a “What you do,” and “How you do mission.”

A New Day and New Adventure

My sisters and brothers, you are once again in a period of leadership transition, but that should not deter you from the mission call God has given you. Jesus is telling you to “Go,” to “Go Out.” I said it two years ago, and I say it again today, “I believe God is calling St. Monica’s to a new day now, a renewed way of life now, a renewed vocation now, and God has in store for you a future you cannot fully fathom today.  Nonetheless, I can see it, because I believe God is leading you in ways in which, you should be excited, even in the midst of this change.  

I shared with you in that sermon two years ago, a beautiful poem of hope written by Erin Hansen, based on an imaginary dialogue between a Mamma bird and her baby, who was about to jump out of the nest again. It is an encouragement for all of you, as you continue on this new chapter of mission with God. Erin wrote, “There is freedom waiting for you on the breezes of the sky, and you ask, “What if I fall?” Oh, but my darling, “What if you fly?” 

St. Monica’s, God has been, is now, and will always call you to live into a new day of mission and ministry. As you answer that call, you can no longer ask, “what if we fall.” Youmust live in hope and expect miraculous new adventures, expect the unexpected, and expect Christ to burst forth on the scene with you. Your mission question from this day forward must always be, “What if, with God’s help, you fly!”

SERMON 6/4/20 Trinity Sunday Pentecost 2A, St. Monica’s Episcopal Church

Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

Diversity and Unity

My sisters and brothers, I must say that I am greatly concerned, because we seem to be moving to a point in the history of our world, unlike that we have seen for many decades.  I am afraid we all should be concerned, and we can no longer sit on the sidelines and watch helplessly.  We have witnessed images on television that have been both confusing, appalling, and divisive.  We have seen violence imparted on our own people, by our own people, and often fueled by political opportunism, racism, hatred, anger, and frustration.  What began as peaceful protests by God’s people, who were speaking out against the atrocities of a hate-filled murder of an innocent man of color, have become something else.

We have seen these peaceful demonstrations becoma an opportunity for looting and destruction, but even more surprising, they have become an opportunity for political scheming.  As Episcopalians, we have had one of our own church and sacred scriptures used as a prop to manipulate and continue the message of violence and division all of which, stand in juxtaposition to Our Lord’s message of peace, reconciliation, and loving our neighbor.   What have we become?

Our nation was founded on a simple motto, “E Pluribus Unum” or out of many, one.  Think about that phrase for a moment.  Out of many diverse communities, neighborhoods, cultures, languages, races, and differences, this country has stood for the human hope that we might become one, together, unified to stand as a beacon of hope for the world.  We are not unified by a common race, language, or even a common ideology, other than the ideals that we all are created equal and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  We are a nation of diversity brought together in unity, but that union is only holding on by a thread.  We need to come together and re-focus our hope on Christ and on the truth that only Our Lord can be our hope in times like these.

Our brother Paul wrote to a little church in Corinth, ” Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”  We would do well to listen to his exhortation my sisters and brothers.  We would do well to put things in order, to put aside our differences, and to seek the community of love that is found in the inner life of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 Community of Love

Within our Trinitarian understanding of the very life of God, we find a truth that there is the possibility of diversity within unity, because we see it lived out within the God-head itself.  The diversity of mission and person (Father Creator, Son Redeemer, and Holy Spirit Sustainer) are together loving each other and loving us as one.  We would do well to see how that same community of love is possible even today in our nation, in our state, county, city, and within the church.

Even God’s creation itself is a tapestry of diverse creatures living in harmony and all for the common life we share.  We as a people should embrace the real possibility and hope that even today, when we are struggling to be one, our distinctions are our strengths, our differences are our appeal, and our differing viewpoints become our hope.  However, we must respect the diversity, we must honor the dignity of every human being, and we must seek justice for all and not just for some who wield the power of the day.  Our Lord and Savior demonstrated that real power comes not from might and fist and weapon and armor.  Real power comes from a willingness to die for a friend, to stand naked and afraid before those who would destroy you and stand up for what you believe is truth.

The True Master of Our Lives

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  On the cross, Jesus did not succumb to the human desire to say, “Look at me,” or to resort to retaliation, destruction, or the call to try and quieten those, with whom his mission came in conflict.

Jesus could have left the cross, brought down destruction on the religious system that convicted him.  He could have undermined the political Roman system of injustice and established his reign, but he did not.  No, Our Lord demonstrated the real power of love by remaining faithful to his mission, and by remaining vulnerable to love, and by forgiving us for our hatred and violence.         Jesus said, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.”  Jesus showed us real power, by showing us what it means to follow him, his teachings, and the sacred story of reconciling love that we find in those Holy Scriptures, often used for unholy purposes. Jesus is the only true Master of Our Lives, the true leader of our efforts and the mission of the church, and if we fail to look to him as our guide, our work will be unholy, and our mission will fail, our nation will fail, and the church will lose its way.

Mission

Over the last two years, I have reminded this community that we have a mission to do, and it is a mission given to us by Our Lord Jesus Christ.  Our marching orders have been and always will be this, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”  Making disciples is so much more than impeccable liturgy and music, wonderful programs of Christian education and Sunday School, the best parish life fellowship events, or even the most helpful Local Mission and Outreach efforts.  Making disciples means that we must be transformed by the message of holy love given to us and lived out for us by Jesus Christ.  We must be transformed by the message of love in Jesus Christ, so that even as we stand at the precipice of change in our nation, we Christians will be willing to carry that message of hope to the world. We must be so transformed by the message of love in Jesus Christ, that we will move forward believing there is always hope, there is always a light to guide us, and there is always God’s call that in the darkness of circumstances, a new day is possible.

We must believe and we must live in that hope in our daily lives.  We must work tirelessly, so that we might make it possible for all of God’s creation; all of the diversity of people, to live in unity in Christ.  So, sisters and brothers, when all around us looks bleak and all seems hopeless, I call each of you to pray for peace, pray for reconciliation, and pray for that new day, which God promises will come, and is just over the horizon.  I call each of you to pray, but please do more than just pray, I call you to actively get busy and work for justice, work for reconciliation, and work for peace. Hold our leaders responsible, call them to account, demand justice, and speak out against the atrocities being waged against not only a select group, but against all of us, because we all are God’s children; we are diversity in unity.

SERMON 5/31/20 FEAST OF PENTECOST, St. Monica’s Episcopal Church

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23

The Mission of Advocacy and Action

The news on television is difficult to watch these days.  Our country is being ravaged by a terrible Pandemic right now, and many people are losing their lives, and their livelihood.  Yet, there is another horrid virus that permeates our world, and it has been around for centuries.  This plague threatens to destroy our democracy, our common humanity, and our identity as children of God. I am talking about the social pandemic of racial violence and hatred. This virus is often found in our hearts hidden away, and which often manifests itself in subtle ways, with symptoms we barely recognize. Other time, the infection becomes a complete outbreak and we observe epicenters of indifference, hatred, and violent destruction.

Last month, a young Black Man, Ahmaud Arbery was innocently jogging in a local neighborhood, and he lost his life to this terrible disease of hate, violence and racism blatantly enacted by two flagrant carriers of the disease.  If that were not enough, still have emblazoned in our mind are the images of the video of the tragic death of George Floyd, a young black man, who died unnecessarily, at the hands of abuse by a law enforcement officer.  When will this end?  What is the vaccine that will cure this disease of hatred?  Why do we hate God’s children, our own sisters and brothers?

This outbreak is a greater threat than any health-related tragedy we face today.  There is a treatment though, and it is called God’s love, and I believe we find the first responders for this outbreak right in the church.  Our country needs the church’s witness of love, and our country needs the church to become the advocates for all of God’s people, because yes, no one should live in the fear of walking down the street.  Church, you have a mission before you, because the world, our country, your city, and your neighborhood need to see Christs’ amazing grace in you.    Church, you have a mission that began two thousand years ago behind locked doors of fear, when the Spirit came upon us, and were sent out to love and advocate and change the world of hatred and victimization.  Today my friends in Christ, you can never forget your purpose as God’s people.

Successful Church/Small Church

Fifteen years ago, I was part of a church that forgot its purpose.  That little community had dreams of building a new sanctuary.  The initial plans were incredible, but the money needed to complete the project never came to fruition.  The church was growing, the people were faithful, the local mission efforts were expanding, and God was stirring up spiritual renewal in incredible ways.  Despite the lack of funding for the project, they built a grand edifice anyway, and took on a ton of debt.  Before long things started to fall apart.  The building became the focus of everything, and this little church forgot her mission of love completely.  She lost her identity and struggled for many years thereafter.

Some churches think they are only effective because of their talents, their unique traits, their incredible assets, or their own individual history of so-called success.  Some churches have a big new building, a big Christian staff, a professional fine priest, and all the money they need.  Other churches suffer from religious covetness.  They see their big brother and sister communities down the street and say, “Wow, if we could only be like them.”  The concept of “bigger is better” is built into American culture.  We believe that our size and programs and building are all a reflection of our spiritual success, as if the church is a mere purveyors of religious goods and services.

That consumeristic approach to faith permeates the church today.  We covet others’ sanctuary, organ, parking lot, or leadership and we believe, if we had a bigger building, bigger budget, and bigglier everything, somehow we will have arrived, and now we are a REAL church.   That concept, my friends is a misguided notion of church, and it is a distortion of Christ’s mission lived out through the church.

Diversity of Gifts for mission

            In Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, he told that startup congregation, and he is telling us, that God has uniquely brought us together as a congregation, and God has given us specific gifts for ministry.  God has gifted us for a purpose and we really need to stop trying to be something we are not.  Paul is encouraging us to accept as individuals and the church corporate, that despite what gifts others around us possess, we are gifted uniquely for a particular mission call that no one else can do.

Paul wrote, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  He said some have the gifts of wisdom, others knowledge, some faith, a group with healing, some can do miracles, a few have the discernment of spirits, and a few possess the gift of tongues or language.  Paul reminds us that “All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”  God has uniquely called St. Monica’s at this particular time and in this particular era, for a mission that you must be open to discern. You are ready and prepared for the next chapter.

In our diocese there are 77 churches.  Only a few are larger than this parish, and St. Monica’s is ranked # 15 out of 77 in giving and attendance.  Be careful about that ranking thing though, because when you evaluate your effectiveness in mission, based on a number alone, you tend to forget who you are and why you are here.  The most unique congregations and I must say, the most effective congregations in this diocese are just like St. Monica’s.  They are uniquely gifted for mission, and those gifts are needed for mission differently in each neighborhood, town, village and city.

Churches get into trouble when they try to be something God has not gifted them to be or do.  Christians get into trouble as well, when they try to be something they are not gifted and called to be and do.  When God’s people misguided, try and enact gifts that have not been given them by the Holy Spirit, they become inauthentic and find themselves unable to serve faithfully.  A life of faithful serve though, surprises us especially when our God-given calls shift and change from time-to-time.   God, when we least expect it, often calls us to do something bewildering and unforeseen, but you can be assured God always calls us to love.

Discernment of the Spirit’s leading is essential. 

            Have you heard the old adage, “If you want to make God laugh, make a plan?”  Two years ago, I thought Terri and I would be on diocesan staff for years to come, but God laughed and started nudging us to discern a return to parish ministry.  At the time, I wondered why would God take us from a perfectly good ministry that I loved, and move us back to serving in a particular parish?  However, we listened faithfully to those nudges that we heard from others being guided by the Holy Spirit, and it was only because of our openness to faithful listening that moved us to consider coming to St. Monica’s in the first place.

And here we are after two years, realizing that God called us to bring our gifts of administration, finance, organization, pastoral care, and leadership development to this parish when it needed it most.  God called us at the right time, for the right circumstances, and for the right community who needed our gifts at the right moment, for the right circumstances, even when we did not even see it clearly at that time.

If we had not been faithful to the practice of discernment and holy listening, if we had not been willing to answer a particular call on our lives at that particular time, then we would have failed to practice prayerful obedience to the Holy Spirit’s leading.  We would have not been with you for the two years when it seemed you needed us most and obviously, we needed you most.  See how God’s perfect will works?That same practice of Holy Listening and prayerful consideration of the Spirit’s nudges, although it seems strange and not at the utmost opportune time, leads Terri and I onto a new path of loving service as the Canon to the Ordinary in Oklahoma.

My sisters and brothers of St. Monica’s, you need to be open to the surprising and often unforeseen nudges and leading of the Spirit, as you enter a time of transition and discernment.  You need to practice Holy Listening and prayer as you begin the process of discerning the holy call of your next spiritual leader. Remember, you will not be hiring a priest, as if they are some spiritual purveyor of spiritual goods and services.  You will be listening to God’s call on the next man or woman who has been ordained to be with you in times of celebration, times of pain, and times of uncertainty and even death.  You may find this hard to believe, but if you believe God has a purpose for this community, then you can trust that God has already chosen your next leader, it is merely up to you to listen, pray, and discern who that person might be. Choose wisely and do so, with God leading the way.

 

God’s Spirit is the power that fuels the engine of Christian community.

            Today we heard about a little band of spiritual apprentices, you know, the first apostles, who went from being poor fishermen and the “not so elites of culture,” and became the movers and shakers of the Jesus movement, which is 2+ billion strong today.  Just remember, that they were not effective in growing the church, because they were the “best of the best” and they thought they “had this plan worked out,” nor because they were professional Christian consultants.  They effectively accomplished the mission God gave them, because they recognized the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they listened to the Spirit of God leading them, and they remained faithful in service and evangelism.

Many of you have been successful in your own careers and sometimes you have a difficult time depending on and trusting God.  It is difficult to release our hold on the idea that “I can stand on my own two feet” and trust that “God’s got this.”  Right now, I encourage you to lower the anxiety level you may feel about this transition.  Please trust God, trust your bishop, and trust the incredible vestry leadership you have in place, who are already well on their way to faithful, prayer, discernment, and holy listening, because you have a purpose, a mission, and job to do.  This neighborhood needs the unique gifts you have as a community of faith, to show others the amazing grace, God’s reconciliatory love, and the forgiveness and restoration found in Christ.  Sisters and brothers do not get distracted and do not remain in fear and anxiety like that motley crew of ragtag fishermen, zealots, and tax collectors, who gathered behind closed doors in fear and anxiety, caused by the incredible circumstances of their day.

Never forget, that when we are afraid, Our Lord Jesus shows up in the midst of tragedy and fear and says to us, like he did on that first Pentecost, “Peace be with you.”  Right now, Jesus is telling St. Monica’s, “Folks you have a job to do in this world, so relax, trust me, listen to the Spirit lead you, stay faithful and support the church’s mission.” Jesus is telling you, “Please know that I got this.” My sisters and brothers, as you enter this new exciting chapter in this parish’s long history of faithful mission, as you continue to stand in the midst of tragic times like these in broken and hurting world, as you stand up for others as a witness of Christ’s amazing grace, I remind you of Jesus’ comforting words, which are simply these, “Peace be with you.”

 

SERMON 5/24/20 Easter 7A St. Monica’s Episcopal Church, Naples, FL

Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36; 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

Movie Sequels and Television Cliffhangers

As a kid, one of my favorite television re-runs to watch in the afternoons was the 1960’s version of Batman and Robin starring Adam West and Burt Ward.  In each episode, the two “Caped Crusaders” faced a new villain, who toward the end of the show, captured the two heroes and placed them in a death trap involving either a saw, a laser beam or some other outlandish weapon of torture.   The show always ended with Batman and Robin on the brink of their demise and we the viewers were left, with the anxiety of not knowing until the next week, how and if our heroes would escape.

Entertainment writers utilize a production style called the “cliffhanger,” used to keep us on the edge of our seats, keep us interested, and to heighten the desire to hear the rest of the story. The “cliffhanger” was most prominently used in the old TV drama “Dallas” in the early 1980’s, and you might have joined the millions of fans who spent an entire summer wandering, “Who shot JR.”  Many of our favorite binge-worthy television series thrive because of the weekly cliffhanger plots.

Movie writers use this style as well, and they keep the story going through cliffhangers that lead to the next “movie sequel.”  Terri and I watched Star Wars “The Last Jedi” a few nights ago, and we could not wait to watch its sequel “The Rise of Skywalker” the next night.   If you have seen these movies, you will recall that at the end of the last movie, Rey, the orphaned Jedi warrior buried the late Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia’s lightsabers on some remote planet.  She also in an interesting twist in the same scene, mysteriously took the last name Skywalker as her own.  Hang on Star Wars fans, because a sequel will be out soon to keep the drama of the Last Jedi going and many of we fans will wait impatiently for that movie to arrive. So, you may ask, “Fr. Eric, what do cliffhangers and movie sequels have to do with the Ascension?” What if Jesus’ Ascension is a spiritual cliffhanger or a discipleship sequel of sorts?

The Ascension – Spiritual Cliffhanger and Discipleship Sequel

In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear, “As they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” Sadly, the church does not spend a great deal of time teaching about the ascension, but each week this important event in the life of the church has a special place in our liturgy, especially in the Nicene Creed when we say, “he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”

Theologian Gregory Shaw once wrote, the ascension reveals Christ’s “divinity, but more importantly . . . the ascension of Christ also signaled the beginning of a messianic kingdom and the empowerment of Christ’s followers, by virtue of their identification with him through the rite of baptism.” (1)

The Ascension of Christ is important for us as Christians for a couple of reasons.  First, it serves as a visible sign that humanity is by Jesus’ life, ministry, death, resurrection and his ascension, fully accepted by God.  Jesus said, “that they may be one as you and I are one.”  Through Christ’s ascension, humanity is taken into heaven and into the inner life of God.  Imagine the mystery of the resurrected body of Christ integrated with the inner life of the Trinity; humanity and divinity united.  “That they may be one as we are one.”

The Ascension of Christ also serves as a reminder that the story of salvation continues beyond this particular event.  The Ascension is the hinge point between Jesus’ resurrection, and the narrative of the ongoing ministry of Christ through the ministry of the church, and through the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Ascension is the “cliffhanger,” that dramatic moment in the story that tells us that there is a sequel in the ongoing story of salvation.  The Ascension of Christ tell us that there is much more to come, and more importantly, we the church play a major part in that ongoing drama.

 

Ascension and Mission

In the Gospel according to John, Jesus said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all (men) to myself.” (John 12:32)   Jesus sends out his baptized followers into the world to continue his ministry of reconciliation, restoration, and grace, which means that Jesus also sends us out with the same commission.  He sends us out with the presence of the Holy Spirit, who empowers and strengthens us to do that which we have been called to do.

The Ascension is not the end of the story of Jesus’ ministry, but it is the beginning of the ongoing drama that challenges us, to anticipate and engage in the sequel, the next chapter of how others will come to know Christ and his reconciliation and restoration.   Jesus commissions us, the Church, and our calling is to go and create the sequel, by telling the story as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.  The Book of Common prayer tells us that the Holy Spirit is, “God at work in the world and in the Church even now.” (2). As disciples of Jesus today, we are allowed and invited to the write the sequel, with the help of a holy comforter and director; the Holy Spirit.

Get Moving

After the Ascension, the disciples were standing looking up into the sky and two white robed men (we believe to be Angels) said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”   It is as if these messengers were telling the apostles, “Ok, let’s get moving here, there is work to be done, this is not the end of the story, now you all are up on stage, and it’s your turn.”  The apostle’s awe, amazement and reluctance to get on with their ministry in that moment, may be difficult for us to understand.

It would be like you just finished watching “Rise of Skywalker” and although you are intrigued by the ending of the movie you say, well the story ended here and that is that.  However, you forget that the story has not ended, because you are left wondering about the significance of the buried lightsabers.  You know that there is more to the story to come and so, you wait for the next movie.

The Ascension for Jesus followers is not merely a sign that the story has come to an end and we just sit around, doing nothing, waiting for Jesus to return.  The Ascension tells us that there is work to be done and Jesus gives us our marching orders.  Today, the church is called to move forward in the mission to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.  We work now, to bring about the Kingdom of God, now.  Yes, we are to look forward with anticipation to the Kingdom to come, but we must work now, to bring it into the present day and age.    We wait and yet, we work.  We hope, and yet we minister.

How do we do move forward in anticipation and working in the kingdom? I found on someone’s Facebook wall the other day, these words, “Good Morning, This Is God!  I will be Handling all Your Problems Today. I Will Not Need Your Help — So Have a Good Day.  I Love You.”  Trusting that God’s got this, that God has all our problems in hand, and that God will handle it all, also reminds us that the story is not over, and the sequel of the salvation story is already showing on the movie screen of our lives.

Jesus said, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” Even today, when this community stands at the “cliffhanger” of change, you can rest in the assurance that the Spirit will guide you, that the Spirit will lead you, and that the Spirit will strengthen you for the mission of love and service, in the next sequel you are writing right now.  Your mission sequel is to remain as one, working together to bring all the players into the drama, so they might come to the knowledge and love of Christ.  So, grab your popcorn and Junior Mints, the lights are darkening, the previews are over, and the sequel is playing on the big screen.  Now is the time to move your gaze from the skies and take up your part in the mission of bringing about the Kingdom of God emerging all around you. This is your mission now, and it will be your mission in the decades to come.

REFERENCES

(1) Oxford Companion to the Bible, Oxford University Press, Gregory Shaw, New York,p. 61

(2) The Book of Common Prayer p. 852

(3) ibid