Sermon Proper 6 Year C 6/13/20 – St. David’s Episcopal Church

Forgiveness is the acceptance of the unacceptable.
We struggle sometimes to accept God’s grace, love and forgiveness and the abundance that it is. This struggle is often rooted in the notion of being accepted by God. How can we who are imperfect be accepted by the one who is the ultimate concern of our hearts. Yet God has demonstrated our acceptance through the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. An early 20th century theologian Paul Tillich captures the essence of this struggle to accept God’s acceptance , “The courage to be, is the courage to accept oneself as acceptable, in spite of being unacceptable.” (Tillich 1952) “It is not the good or the wise or the pious who are entitled to the courage to accept acceptance, but those who are lacking in all these qualities and are aware of being unacceptable.” (Tillich 1952)

The woman who anointed Jesus feet as depicted in today’s gospel reading was aware of her being unacceptable, and yet had the courage to accept God’s acceptance. In the eyes of Simon and the people of the town in which she resided, she was considered outcast, a person of scorn, a person on the fringe of society. To them she was unacceptable. Jesus, on the other hand proclaimed that her sins had been forgiven and the so-called unaccepted one, was now identified as acceptable to God. Jesus told Simon, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven.”
Faith and Trust
Today’s gospel reading reminds us that Jesus in his ministry proclaimed forgivness, healed, and restored people of all sorts, all backgrounds, and all levels of faith. Simon, who was a Pharisee, was a follower of the law and as such, his life was spent in pursuit of righteousness. He wanted desperately to be accepted by God and for him, the means to that end, was the law. The pursuit was fruitless, because no matter how hard he tried, he still in some way, fell into a sinful pattern of self righteousness that led to failure, disappointment, and struggle to earn God’s acceptance. Simon’s piety, and his wisdom served as a constant reminder that he was imperfect and his struggle to attain perfection continued with disappointment. Relatively speaking, Simon believed that everyone else also fell short of his level of perfection, and of God’s acceptance, and his attitude was evident in his assessment of the woman anointing Jesus feet when he said, “This woman is a sinner!”
The woman, a person of reputation in the town, trusted that her acceptance, her forgiveness by God was not be earned, but was a gift that only had to be received. She trusted that there was nothing that she could do to earn it. She believed that when we acknowledge our weakness, our sin, God promises forgiven our sin. It was through her trust and belief in God’s promise of forgiveness, of God’s acceptance, that she received the assurance of peace. In realizing that she could do nothing to earn God’s grace, the gift of God, freed her to love. Her knowledge of the depth of her forgiveness resulted in the loving response to Jesus, the manifestation of God, the human reality of God’s grace incarnate, which led this woman to find the courage to crash Simon’s dinner party.
We are accepted by God and it is this truth, that requires our faith and trust. Faith in Christ leads us to respond in love. Tillich affirms this in his 1952 work the “Courage to Be.” He wrote, “We cannot love unless we have accepted forgiveness, and the deeper our experience of forgiveness is, the greater is our love.” (Tillich 1952) Paul Tillich
Loving Response
The woman in today’s gospel loved Jesus. She trusted that he was God’s presence with us, that he brought the good news of perfect love , and that he affirmed God’s acceptance and forgiveness. Her experience of forgiveness was so great, that her loving response was equally great. Jesus illustrated this depth of love through the parable of the two debtors. Both debtors owed a debt that they themselves could not repay, but even so, they were released from that debt. The one who knew the great depth of their own forgiveness, naturally responded to the creditor with greater love and gratitude.
However, Simon missed the point of the parable. In the woman, all he saw was a sinner in front of him who had the audacity to enter his home and touch the prophet he was trying to entertain. Simon failed to show even the slightest bit of love toward Jesus and Jesus did not hesitate to make him aware of it. “ Simon, I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.”
Simon saw her actions as a social outrage, but Jesus saw her gestures of love as a witness to her faith in God’s forgiveness. (pause) When we realize God’s depth of love for us, and when we trust in God’s promises, then our response becomes love towards God (p) and love towards others. The love expressed to others, this love which comes only from God, incarnated in our lives, has its roots in the Christian principle of radical hospitality.
The Latin root of the word hospitality is hospes, and it is the root word for the word hospital. Obviously, a hospital is not only a place for care and healing, but it is also a place of love in action. Hospitality is love enacted toward those who are on the edges of knowing God’s love, God’s peace, and the assurance of forgiveness.
Hospitality is lived out acceptance of the unacceptable.
In first century Palestine, hospitality was a matter of life and death. Honor was the greatest good which could be bestowed upon someone by a community. If you wanted to be an honorable person among honorable people, you had to be a good host. There was an understood relationship between the host and their guest. The host was required to extend protection to their guests against anything. The guest was required to praise the host and thus bring him/her honor among the community. All this was done in a particular way. The most obvious symbol of this host/guest relationship was through the action of offering water for the traveler to wash their feet.
Simon failed to extend this basic courtesy of hospitality. Where was the love? The woman on the other hand, let down her hair, washed his feet with her tears, anointed his feet with oil, and dried them with her hair. This was an act of self-giving for the sake of love. Even though she was in someone else’s house, she practiced a radical hospitality that extended beyond personal property and personal guests in the home, it included others with whom she encountered, wherever she might find them.
The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ when we bear witness to him wherever we may be, and when we carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world. We are called to be a radically hospitable people. We are to be willing to recognize the outcast as one who are in need. The least, the lost and the lonely are in need of knowing the acceptance, the forgiveness and the grace of God. Our hospitable gestures of love to those who seem to be outcasts, may be the only glimpse of God’s love they ever witness.
The single mom struggling to make a home for her child, the homeless woman or man who has no place to lay their head, the widow or widower struggling with loneliness and depression, the recently retired couple coming to grips with a major life transition, these are just a few who are on the edges of our community. They need God’s acceptance. How do we restore them to unity with God and the community of believers. (p) We love them. We let our knowledge of the abundant love of God flow through us in the loving gestures necessary to reveal Christ to them.
The Church is like a hospital in which those who are seeking healing, are really the healers. Those who need peace, let down their go their of fear in order to offer the kiss of peace. Those who need generosity, really are the ones who anoint others with the oil of generosity. Those who are desperate and lonely, really are the ones who wash away the tears of desperation and loneliness. We who have been forgive much, let us love much. Remember Jesus great teaching about radical hospitality, “When you do this to the least of these, you do it to me.”

"Hoist Sail" The deep waters are calling!

The Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21
“There came a sound like the rush of a violent wind”
Driving down the road the other day, I saw sitting in a marina, 20 – 30 beautiful sailboats. Just sitting there. I thought, this is not the use for which sailboats were intended. Sailboats are designed and built to ride high on the waves with sails unfurled catching the mighty winds. Sailboats are designed and built to carry people from one place to another and in the process, give people a rich, experience. Sailboats are vehicles that require a lot of work to keep them afloat. No one individual can sail a ship. It requires others who can tie off ropes at appropriate times, adjust the tension on the sails, and support each other in the quest to ride high on the winds.

The Holy Spirit came upon the church on the Day of Pentecost like the rush of a violent wind. Pneuma the greek for wind, spirit, or breath was poured out on the church that day. The breath of God breathing life into the church was the birth of the church. The mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and with each other in Christ. It takes many hands working together to accomplish God’s mission for the church. It takes the breath of God to accomplish God’s mission for the church. Without the breath of God, our mission becomes a vision of our own making. Without the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Voice of Truth enlightening our path, we are wondering aimlessly about.

The Church is like a ship carrying the people of God toward the mission of God. When we open our sails to receive the rush of the wind of the Holy Spirit, we are moved toward the mission of bringing others to the knowledge and love of God. It requires many hands to adjust the tension of the sails, to discern the movement of the Spirit. It requires gifts, spiritual gifts, to keep the beautiful ship on course. No one member of the church can accomplish the mission alone, but together we are called to work together. The wind of the Spirit of God can fill our sails and will guide us into all truth.

Like on the day of the birth of the Church, the Spirit came upon the people gathered, and the Spirit comes upon us today. Enlightening us, empowering us, calling us to do the work that each of us together have been called to do. We are not called to anchor in the marina, with sails tied up and riggings stowed away. The church is called to deep waters and high waves of an open sea where the Spirit blows and fills our sails, so that all may come to know Christ.

Graduation invitations, stamps, and the ministry of healing.

I had an interesting encounter in the post office yesterday. I was on my way home from Sewanee and I happened to be wearing clericals after serving in chapel that morning. I had my graduation invitations addressed and ready to mail, so I stopped at the local post office to get stamps.

In the lobby of the post office, I saw a woman who appeared to be a bit distraught. When our eyes met, she said to me, “You are obviously a ‘man of God’.” I smiled, and she asked me if I would pray for her because she had just been diagnosed with cancer. I asked her what her name was, and then asked if I could pray for her right there. She looked surprised and her eyes welled up and she said, “please.” We held hands in the lobby of that post office and prayed.

All of our circumstances are all fraught with unseen fears, tragedies, and challenges and it is when we are taken out of our selves, God allows us to be a part of the ministry of healing for others. Be ready and open to those times when, in the most unpredictable circumstances, God will call us to serve each other, to comfort each other, to pray with and for each other.

2010 LENT 4C St. David’s Episcopal Church 3/14/10

On any given night on American TV, you can find as many as 30 million folks watching the latest crime shows such as Law and Order, Law and Order SVU, Law and Order Criminal Intent, CSI Miami, CSI New York. The Navy is getting in on this trend with shows like NCIS. We are fascinated with these shows. Maybe we like them so much because of the intrigue, the mystery, or the drama. We don’t tune-in simply to watch the criminal activity itself, because on most of these shows, we may not even see this part. The plot of these shows is the dramatic interactions between the criminals and the cast of characters. These stories are really based on the broken relationships between individuals and co-workers, families, and like on one show recently, an entire town.

In this season of Lent, we spend a lot of time reflecting on the sin of broken relationships. We occasionally begin worship during Lent with the penitential order. In this service, the Decalogue (The Ten Commandments) is read, and the congregation responds, “Lord have mercy upon us.” How often have we heard these words, and really thought about them. The Ten Commandments are not merely laws that represent a system of spiritual crime and punishment, they serve a much deeper purpose. These commandments are God’s standards for living. Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments in Matthew’s gospel, “’Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” In this summary, we discover that loving God with all that we are, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, is at the very heart of the relational nature of God’s standards for living.

On a re-run of a recent crime show, an investment broker, who was not only abusive to his spouse, but also lost his brother-in-law’s retirement funds in a bad business deal. The plot of this particular show was that the spouse colluded with her brother-in-law to bring a fateful end to her husband. Through astute detective work and the dedication of a brilliant crime lab, the culprits were caught, and the show was over. Their crime was heinous and their punishment just, but the heart of this crime story, lie in the brokenness between the woman, her husband, and her brother. Sin is broken relationships with God and each other; an estrangement between people in relationship. God’s standard for living is so much more than merely a matter of Law and Order.

Our estrangement from God and from others, the chasm of brokenness in our relationships is rooted in our choices. Life is a series of choices so we are told; choices between living under God’s standards and living under our own. We can choose to live life loving God with all that we are and loving those around us as well as we do ourselves, or we can choose the alternatives.
When we make choices about our time and we choose what is important in our day, how often do we miss the opportunity to spend time with God in prayer. How often do our minds drift into worry and fear, and we fail to share that with God. Why are we surprised when we fill our lives with so many activities and such busyness, that there is no room for thoughts of God, adoration of God, love for God. A couple had been married for over 65 years, and they were being interviewed on a local TV station. They were asked about the secrets of a long and happy marriage. “How have you two done it,” they were asked. “It’s not always been easy,” said the woman. We both worked and it was hard with all the kids, but we made it a point, each day to spend time together. There were even occasions when we sat together and neither of us said anything, it was important for us to recognize that we were present together, and our thoughts were on each other.

The chasm, the estrangement, the sin in our relationships emerge because of our own decision to remain apart from the other, because something else takes the place of the other, or we refuse to allow the other space in our lives. God longs for us to be reconciled to Himself and to each other. We are created in the image of God, and it is in the life of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) that we see the image of perfect, relational love. Jesus prayed, “Father, that they may be one, as you and I are one.” It is in this love that God calls us to live, under God’s standards, restored, reconciled, and made new.

We can choose to live life loving our neighbors as well as we love ourselves or we can choose the alternatives. Hank was in his mid-seventies and he lived in rural Alabama near his two adult daughters. Hank had terminal cancer and his time was drawing close. He was receiving wonderful care from hospice and his days were for the most part, pain free and comfortable. His two daughters, Jean and Betty visited Hank each day, although they lived a great distance away from each other. “The girls,” as Hank called them, spent hours each day caring for him. Despite their dedication to their father, there was something unresolved between the two sisters. Hank knew that this rift was rooted in an event in their past and it had haunted the daughters for years. No one ever discussed it, but Hank longed to see this painful disagreement between his daughters resolved. He wanted to spend his last few days without the cloud of anger and resentment that hung over Jean and Betty. Unfortunately, they were never reconciled, and the opportunity for them to be a whole family was missed. Those last, precious few days of Hank’s life were lived, not knowing the joy of the restored relationship between his two girls.
Estrangement, sin, broken relationships are a result of humankind’s actions, choices, and decisions. In today’s gospel, the young son went to his father and asked for his inheritance. He might as well have considered his father already dead for that matter. He ran off to a foreign land and left the rest of the family, his older brother, behind. He might as well have considered that relationship dead too. After squandering all that he had been given, the younger son “came to his senses” and realized that he had created a gulf between himself, his father, and his brother. “I have sinned,” was what he pondered while starving in the pig trough. Maybe father will hire me back and at least I will have bread to eat, was his next thought.

As the son approached his home, the father, who had been sitting and waiting patiently for his son’s return, caught a glimpse of his son walking up the road. The father jumped up and ran to his son. The son, without hesitation said, “father I have sinned.” His dad did not chide him. He did not lecture him about the evil he had done, in fact, he never even mentioned what his son had done. He rather, publically acknowledged the son’s return to his place in the family. “Bring out the best robe, put a ring on his finger, put sandals on his feet, kill the fatted calf, my son was dead, but he is alive again!”
Reconciliation takes place only through the actions of God, and it begins with forgiveness. The father could have said, “sure boy, you’re forgiven, I’ll hire you, get to work with the rest of the crew.” Reconciliation is more than just mere forgiveness; it is the restoration of a relationship, which has been made new. The father in the parable of the prodigal sons is one of scripture’s most beautiful examples of the character of God. God out of love for creation came to us, endured our suffering, our broken relationships, and our pain. Even Christ’s own disciples abandoned him at one point. They rejected him and through that, even Christ suffered the pain of estrangement. But God’s love goes beyond our estrangement, and through God’s own initiative, we are assured that nothing stands between us and the love of God. Nothing in our past, nothing in our future, and not even death can stand between us, and the love of God. God is the loving One who waits patiently for the estranged ones to come home, and upon our return, God runs to us and celebrates in our new life together. We are made right with God by the life, death and resurrection of Christ. We are restored to a right relationship with God, not by our doing, but by what God has done. In this new life in Christ, we are offered, by the grace of God, the gift of sharing in God’s ministry of reconciliation, the ministry in which all things are made new.

It has been said that some people, who have experienced trauma of a car accident, or have endured and overcome a major illness, or have survived a natural disaster and lived to tell about it, go forward with a new lease on life. Nothing in their lives is ever the same after the event and life is thus seen from a new perspective. From the way they spend their time, to the way they treasure the relationships they share, to their dedication to the spiritual life, all for them is changed. All things are new. We don’t have to endure tragedies like these though in order to live life afresh, to live life anew, to go forward with a new lease on life. We who have experienced the homecoming in the family of God, we who have been embraced in the outstretched arms of Christ live a new life together with God and with our neighbors. We who have been reconciled to God are called to share in God’s ministry of reconciliation.

Two ushers from a small, rural parish were chatting one Sunday before worship and one said to the other, “I haven’t seen Miss Sally in a month or so, I wonder where she is?” The other said, “Rumor has it that she had a little falling out with someone about a month ago and she hasn’t been back since.” “What a shame,” said the other, “I really miss her … oh well.” The two continued shuffling bulletins and stacking visitor cards. Ella Jean, another member of the parish, overheard the two ushers chatting and all during worship, she thought about and prayed for Miss Sally. When Ella got home, she decided to send Miss Sally a card. She wrote, “Sally, I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. I miss your smiling face and your wonderful singing voice. Church just isn’t the same without you. I want you to know that I love you, and that I am praying for you.” Surprisingly, the next Sunday, Miss Sally showed up at church. She walked into the nave and spotted Ella sitting in her usual Sunday pew. Miss Sally walked up to Ella, she smiled and then sat down beside her. Sally, could not hold back the tears that were welling up in her eyes, and so she put her arms around Ella and said, “I am so sorry for what I said to you last month, please forgive me.” Ella replied, “I have missed you so much Sally. I love you and it is so good to see you back in your usual seat … welcome home my dear sister.” Through our new lives in Christ, lives lived spending time with God and striving to restore the brokenness in our relationships with each other, we are truly living into grace of the new life, the new life that we already have in and through Christ. In this Lenten season, it is Paul’s admonition to us, that rings so true … Be reconciled to God …. Be reconciled to each other.

Sermon: May 16 Easter 7C (St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church)

Acts 16:16-34 Paul and Silas in Prison

Wrestling with the circumstances, events, and transitions of life, is all a part of the rich narrative of God’s work of redemption in the world.

There was a married couple who after several years of deliberation, finally decided to leave their home and move to a new area of the country to pursue graduate studies. They both liquidated their retirement accounts and sold the home they loved and lived in for years. They packed it all up and moved far, far away. They struggled for three years, they faced enormous economic hardship, long hours of study, work, and prayer. There were times that anxiety and uncertainty kept them bound in a state of fear. It was a prison that was paralyzing. Somehow they overlooked the obvious presence and peace of God in the midst of the circumstances.

There were times when the stress was so great, that faith was a hard thing to come by. Many times they asked, “What were we thinking, why did we leave our home, our friends, our family, why are we having to endure these hardships? These questions never ceased to emerge especially in the difficult times? It would have been so easy to allow the circumstances to overshadow the grace of God that was all around them, present through the love of others. God was with them in the journey.

The difficult circumstances of our lives like that of Paul and Silas, can be very real prisons with bars and walls, barriers that bind us and hold us captive to our own fear and anxiety. These prisons prevent us from accepting the freedom in Christ.

Christ did not promise that the journey would be easy, but He promised to be with us

In today’s gospel, we hear about Paul and Silas’ experience in a Roman prison. They were in the real thing with walls, bars, and stocks on their legs. This was not a pleasant place to spend an evening. They were flogged, scorned and locked up and this was their reward for declaring the Good News of God in Christ. This was what faith and obedience brought them … ridicule, pain, and imprisonment. Is this the promises of God? We sometimes forget that Our Lord never promised us that our lives in Christ would be without pain, fear, or anxiety. But consider for a moment what Christ does promise.

“All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.” “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” And the greatest promise of all …. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

There is a teaching out there that encourages us to believe that our faith is only at its strongest, when all in life is going well. It’s easy to trust God when all around you is hunky dorey. It is when the “going gets tough,” that we struggle to rely on God’s grace. This is the time that we are drawn into the freedom in Christ, the love of Christ, the promises of Christ.

The Freedom we have in Christ resonates clearly out of the promise that God is with us in all of life’s circumstances, even unto death.

Living in the promises of God requires a deep trust, a particular mindset, a new attitude, a new-found reliance on the Great Lover of our lives. For some of us it is difficult to let go of our own desire to control our destinies. In our culture, we pull ourselves up from the depths, we are self-made men and women, we can do anything we set our mind to do. I am in charge, out front leading my own destiny. But our call is to walk WITH God, not in FRONT of God. Our freedom in Christ is an acknowledgment, a mind-change, a new attitude that God is with us in this journey. Through God’s presence with us, we are participating both individually and corporately in God’s redemption of the world. God in Christ is drawing humanity back unto Godself. God came to us in Christ. Christ suffered death. Christ understands our fear, our pain, our fragile nature. We serve a God whose love is faithful even unto death. It is that love that Christ overcame death through the resurrection.

For Paul and Silas in prison (beaten, shackled and locked away),the earthquake, the breaking of the chains, and the doors shaken ajar, stood as a dramatic epiphany that God was present. It was through Paul and Silas’ faith in the midst of prison, that the jailer came to understand salvation. The jailer who was in despair, considered killing himself over failing in his duty to maintain order in the prison. Even so, the faith of Paul and Silas was a part of this man’s restoration to relationship with God. This narrative may seem like an isolated incident that only involves a few people, but it stands as a testimony to us even today, that God is working to restore us to a loving relationship to himself.

Our Freedom in Christ manifests when we recognize that we can be at home with Christ in the peace and knowledge of the love of Christ.

Have you ever seen a caterpillar as it changes to a Chrysallis? A Chrysallis is a chamber in which the caterpillar encloses itself before the next phase of its transformation. A tightly bound cocoon of sorts can resemble a prison I guess. The caterpillar remains in this shell for some time and then at some point it emerges, re-born into a new creature. It is as if the cocoon were a place of incubation for resurrection. When we grow closer to a deeper commitment and love of Christ, when we face the reality of God’s presence in all the events of our lives, we come to know that nothing can stand between us and the love of God. What freedom that is! Nothing stands between us and God’s love. True freedom comes not when our tragedies, challenges, trials are magically removed from view, but when we recognize that the long journey with God is one in which we are being incubated for new life in Christ. Cole-Turner a UCC professor writes that “Believing….means becoming decisively aware that our small lives are swept up into a great drama, God’s story line. God is indeed reaching out to us in Jesus Christ, taking our lives into the gospel story of transformation and redemption” (Feasting on the Word). This is God’s grace.

Are you aware of God’s grace in everything around you? Does your Work, Home, your experience of creation, even the prisons of your life, the trials, the challenges, the pain, illuminate your path with God’s grace?

We all can identify with the concept of home. Home may be a house bought and paid for, it may be memories of a home in which you grew up, it may be an apartment where your stuff is located now, it may be a friend’s house in which you live only by that friend’s generosity and love. Home is a place of all that is familiar. It can be a place of peace, comfort, reassurance, security, re-birth, quiet, rest, and even affirmation. God calls us to such a place. God calls us to know He is with us. God whispers into our ear, “I love you, I’m right here, I love you.” Take rest in God’s loving presence, Find comfort in God’s promises, accept the security of God’s love for us, find re-birth, rejuvenation, quiet, rest, and affirmation in God’s embrace.

How? There’s no magic formula for that quest. But we are drawn to pray. In prayer, we can ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to God’s love? Just a simple phrase, nothing elaborate. It is something you can lean on at all occasions, in all circumstances, and in all places. Simple prayers can be something you grasp when anxiety runs high. “Lord have mercy.” “Jesus your are near!” “Holy, Holy, Holy.” “God, show me your love.” Simple prayers acknowledge that God is near, God cares, God loves you, God is with you. Simple prayers of awareness and love directed to God can help call you back home, and out of the fear of some of life’s circumstances. Will the circumstances change? Maybe, but the central notion is that prayer changes our minds and brings us closer and closer to Christ. We are drawn ever closer to a deeper Commitment and love of Christ. Prayer is like an earthquake that shakes the very essence of our souls and draws us out of the depths of the prisons of insecurity, anxiety, and fear, and lifts us to a great knowledge of the presence and love of God.