A Reflection for 6/10/18 Pentecost 3B

house not made

(An “unpreached” sermon for 6/10/18)

Genesis 3:8-15; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35

Sacred Associations

Growing up, I watched many television shows about all kinds of families.  For instance do you remember the “Brady Bunch” a comedy about a widow and widower who bring six children together under the same house.  “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” was a comedy about a wealthy nuclear family that takes in a street-wise cousin, in hopes of offering him a better life.  “All in the Family” was a comedic drama about a family who was wrestling with the social and political issues of the Vietnam War, Watergate, and social changes of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  All of these dramas represented the ever-changing nature of family today. Families have changed quite a bit over the last twenty years.

Webster defines “Family” as “the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children.”  However, families are very complex in the 21stcentury, and they can be described in many ways: Nuclear Family, single-parent family, Extended Family, Childless Family, Step Family, and Grandparent Family, and the one some of us may have a more intimate understanding with, the Dysfunctional Family.   In Jesus’ time, the Nuclear Family (consisting of two parents and children) was most likely the norm.

In Jesus’ world, families were sacred associations, and they represented the most precious relational connections a human could have with another. Family represented the most dedicated commitments, loyalties, and obligatory connections one might have in that era.  In today’s gospel reading, Jesus was speaking about these familial associations among people.  In a dialogue with a particular crowd one day,  Jesus redefined the idea of family, and in so doing, I believe he offers us some insights into our understanding of the Body of Christ, the church, the family of God.

Church Family

When I was a kid in Sunday school, our teacher taught us a cute, little poem, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.”  This exercise was a way to teach children about the idea of church in late 20thcentury America. I would argue, the idea of church, or the Body of Christ, as merely a building was not what Jesus ever literally envisioned. The church is not a building, but a band of people who are knit together in Christ.  In a unique way, the church is a family, and the head of that family is Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Webster also defines family as “a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation.” (1) The church is a group of people who have been washed by the waters of baptism, who have made promises to live a life based on the “Way of Jesus,” and who work together to bring about God’s Kingdom in the midst of the community into which, it has been planted. The church is more than denomination, dogma, ritual, mission statements, and even buildings.  The church is a group of people on a mission.

St. Monica’s is a sacred group of people who in this day and age, exist as a beautiful, diverse, quirky, “wild and wooly” association of deep, intimate connections of people, the world has ever known.  Nonetheless, being a Christian, a member of this family, requires us to live into a new way of being.  It can be frightening for some of us to make new commitments to groups, but to truly follow Jesus, and to be a part of this family, it may require us to let go of other ties, other associations, or other things, agendas, or ideas that might separate us from the family of God.

A New Kind of Family

Jesus makes it clear that birth, affinity, co-residence, or even secular law does not define his family.   We hear in today’s gospel that “A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

In a way, you might think that Jesus was rejecting his Mother Mary and his other family members through this dialogue with crowd.  His words can sound a bit terse and distasteful to us, because we might think our Lord was rejecting the woman who bore him, the woman whose heart would break, when he took his last breath on the cross. That is not what Jesus is doing here.  In actuality, I think Jesus is widening the circle of family, and opening the door for all of us.  In other words, Jesus was saying that participation in the most intimate human connection with him, we follow him.

“Whoever does the will of God is my family.” Jesus is re-defining a new kind of family.  We are no longer children of God by some genealogy (my parents were Christian) or membership card (I’m a cradle Episcopalian).  This new kind of family is defined by how we live the “Way of Jesus.” We are a part of God’s family when we, who are recipients of grace, love, mercy, and peace, actually live the way of grace, love, mercy, and peace.   The challenging part of this association is that we can become something else, when we stop living the Way of Jesus.  In other words, the church is susceptible to division, when we lose sight of our purpose, and when that happens our witness of God’s love is shattered.

Family Purpose

Jesus said, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” Sometimes even families can be divided, and when that happens, the ties that bind break, and the sacred unit of association in which, we find our deepest human connections, unravels.  We see divisions among organizations, associations, political parties, and yes, we even have divided churches today.

Petty issues, personal agendas, misunderstandings, and even inappropriate behavior among Christians can divide the family of God. I believe we are more susceptible to division, when we fail to communicate clearly with one another, when we fail to hear our sister and brother’s concerns and anxiety, when we reject the needs of the community for our own needs, when we participate in triangulation and gossip, and when we forget the whole purpose of our association in the first place.

In the Acts of the Apostles, the writer captures in simple words, the purpose and nature of gatherings of the church.  He wrote: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42 NRSV)  We gather as a community to be devoted to the teaching of God’s word.  We gather to learn, grow and be transformed through the study of scripture.  We gather for fellowship with other Christians, so that through our common life, we might grow, support, love, and encourage one another.  We gather to share communion, to participate in the sacred meal of the Eucharist, being filled with the Body and Blood of Christ, so we might be the Body of Christ in the world.  We gather to pray, to have Holy Conversation with God.

We are a family because we are and do these things together in Christ.  As a family we may have our quirky disagreements.  We may have our little spats.  We may even be a little dysfunctional sometimes, but we are the family of God, because we live as the family of God.  Yes, the church is building, program, liturgy, tradition, and fellowship, but we are so much more.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “We have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” My sisters and brothers, we are so much more than the edifice in which, we gather each week.  We are the family of God, knit together by cords of love that although susceptible to unravel, will remain bound strong and unyielding, if we remain focused on Christ and his mission of love through us.

(1) https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/family

Aichele, George. “Jesus’ Uncanny ‘Family Scene’.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, vol. 74, June 1999, pp. 29-49.

SERMON 6/3/18 – Pentecost 2B Proper 4 – St. Monica’s Episcopal Church

Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Psalm 81:1-10; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6

Vacations, Rest, and Social Media: Oh My!

            Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. A year ago, while training at Maxwell AFB, AL, I completed a time-management exercise, in which I tracked everything I did for a week.  The exercise itself was cumbersome, but I learned something about my life I have not forgotten.  I work way too many hours, I study less than I want to study, I spend too much time on social media (Facebook especially), and I never take enough time to just be with God in prayer, to just rest and observe creation, to enjoy my family, and to exercise.  I am sure many of us are like that.  Our culture encourages that kind of unbalanced life where we can live out our  “Never Stop,” “Win at everything” attitude.  Even movies depict the restless, constantly moving, “get her done” way of life.

One of my favorite movies is “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”  It is about the classic summer vacation for a typical Mid-Western family.  The movie’s theme song, “Holiday Road” by Lindsay Buckingham is one known to many of us, and when you hear those first few bars of the music and the words, “I found out long ago, it’s a long way down, to holiday road,” you are in for a mindless comedic treat.  In the movie, the Dad, is a bit obsessive and compulsive, which leads him to pre-plan every last detail of a cross-country trip to the fairy tale theme park “Wally World.”

Despite the Dad’s well laid out plans, and never a moment to stop kind of schedule (even at the Grand Canyon), nothing goes their way.  Like many of us, this family needed some rest and down time, they needed to relax and “fill up their cup,” they needed some family time to talk and reconnect, but they just could not pull it off.  There were too many activities planned, too many giant balls of string to see, too many Old West towns to explore, and too many unplanned tragedies to experience. The movie “Vacation” is an ironic, but realistic version of “never stop” American life, displayed in its fullness of slapstick comedy.

The “never stop” attitude infiltrates our daily lives, and if we let it, it will steal the time we set aside for rest and relaxation.  We need to have some down time, I mean real down time.  We need to rest, be, and re-fill our cup of grace.  We need a Sabbath.  Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.”  We do not have to take a vacation, in order to re-focus on God and to refresh and relax. We can find balance every single week, by taking a day of rest where there is no agenda, no demands, and there is space created in life, for just listening, praying, and being with God.

Sabbath: A personal and communal event

            AuthorJudith Shulevitz participated in an interview with the Atlanticabout her book, The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time.  The author talks about what a radical notion Sabbath was in ancient times, and how far flung an idea it is today.  She said this about communal Sabbath,  “Everyone, not just the upper classes, not just the priests and doctors and elites and the king have the right to rest in a regular way one day a week. (Sabbath) was so radically progressive that it even mandated that you had to give your animals the day off.” (1)  In Jewish tradition, taking a day for rest, relaxation, restoration, and re-creation was mandated by God’s law.  It was a day when the entire community did something or rather they did nothing, together.

I grew up in a time when one day a week, all stores, gas stations, businesses, and almost everyone closed up shop for one day. God forbid if you mowed your lawn, or did housework, or did anything on Sunday other than go to church, play outside, prepare lunch, watch football, or take a nap.  Those days may be gone, or are at least they are few and far between for we 21stcentury Americans.  What would happen if the entire nation stopped for a day and just did nothing?  Our society would probably collapse, or would it.  We all need to find some balance in our lives.  We all need to take some time to rest and have some fun together.  I bet the divisions in our country would crumble if we stopped long enough to get to know one another again.  I bet if families took picnics together and neighbors spent time talking and getting to know one another, things would be different. We all would be healthier and happier if we restored balance to our lives and took some time to rest and listen and be.

St. Benedict, through his ‘Rule of Life’ “envisioned a balanced life of prayer and work as the ideal.”(2)  The Rule of Benedict is a balanced way of life for lay people as well as monks and nuns.  Benedictines spend time in prayer, so they might discover why they are working, and they spend time in work, so that good order and harmony might prevail in everyday life. “Benedictines are not consumed by work, nor do they spend so much time in prayer that responsibilities are neglected.” (2)

In her book, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily,  Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister writes, “All must be given its due, but only its due. There should be something of everything and not too much of anything.” (2)  We Americans need to follow Chittister’s wise counsel and find some balance in our lives. We need to balance work, rest, prayer, and re-creation.  Re-creation is doing something that brings joy, peace, and restoration to both the individual, as well as for all of creation. We need to stop for a while, but stopping is uncomfortable.  The quiet restlessness is so outside our norms and to do it, takes commitment to stop and rest.

Again, Shulevitz says that Sabbath “gives you permission to stop.” She said, “I myself am very obsessive-compulsive. I have a very hard time stopping, and I need social pressure and moral reinforcement to feel okay stopping. There’s something to be said for having the world stop around you.” (1) Sabbath gives us time to stop and focus on God and not the pursuit of stuff, but even Sabbath observance can become a compulsion.  It certainly was for the religious leaders of Jesus’ time.

Observing or Violating a Sabbath

“One Sabbath Jesus and his disciples were going through the grain fields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.”  Why were they picking grain?  Well, part of the tradition of Israel was that landowners were allowed to harvest all of their crops, except for the edges and corners. Those were left to the poor to glean. Also, any crops that fell to the ground were left for the poor to eat. So, Jesus and his disciples were hungry on the Sabbath, and they were poor, and they were following the law, which allowed them to pick the grain to eat, but their actions came into conflict with another law about Sabbath.   By the way, Jesus also got in trouble with the Pharisees because he healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. In both cases Jesus’ priorities (eating and caring for another person) came in conflict with another law.

You see, the arguments Jesus had with the religious system of the time about the Sabbath was not about him saying a holy observance of the Sabbath did not matter.  It does matter!  Jesus was arguing for the Sabbath, but his case was that Sabbath is a call for us to re-align our priorities.  In other words, there are times when some things take priority in life, and I would argue that Jesus teaches us a deeper meaning of Sabbath.  Eating takes priority.  Caring for our neighbors takes priority.  Resting and refreshing takes priority.  Jesus tells us that our priorities must be aligned, and we must have balance in order to be whole. We must have rest to be whole.  Jesus’ whole argument about observing Sabbath is really a case for what Sabbath is all about, which is “There is a time to work, a time to pray, a time to eat, a time to re-create, and a time to heal.”  Anytime we are out of balance or rather, whenever one facet of our life wars against another, we are not living fully into the people God has called us to be.

Trusting in, Resting in, Surrendering to God

In our 21stCentury culture we are encouraged, even prodded to work, work, work!  We are never encouraged to stop.  A popular television commercial tells us, “Never stop looking, learning, searching, discovering, advancing, innovating, and creating. Be restless, strive, so the things we all treasure can thrive.”   Sabbath is not about striving.  Actually, we humans thrive when our priorities are aligned and we serve someone other than achievement and wealth, because those things will pass away.  If all we do until we join the blessed company of saints is work, and never set aside time in our day, week, month and year to find the answer to our infinite longing in God, then we will turn to consumption.  In the end, stuff will be all we have, which by the way, we cannot take that with us.

My favorite verse of scripture, which we heard today is, “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Cor. 4:7)  My friends, we are fragile vessels created to be filled with God’s grace, so that we might pour out that grace to others.  If we work too much and don’t take time to be re-filled with grace, our ministries are ineffective.  In other words, as clay jars of God’s grace, “You cannot pour from an empty cup.”

My sisters and brothers, this next week, start being committed to rest in God at least for a 24 hour period. Start small if you must and try it for a couple of hours. Take a short vacation from life at least one day a week with no agenda, no demands, and no busy-ness.  Enjoy some real recreation or re-creation and come back renewed, refreshed, and re-born.  Sit on your lanai and watch the local wildlife, go to the beach and listen to the surf, find a nice chair in your home and practice silent prayer, turn off the television, social media, and all the noise and enjoy the silence.  It is in the silence where we hear the voice of God. Take a weekly holy mini vacation and you will notice God’s grace abundantly flows.  Take a Sabbath this week, or better yet, take a holy trip down God’s “holiday road.”

REFERENCES

(1) https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/05/judith-shulevitz-on-the-radical-idea-of-the-sabbath/56689/

(2) http://www.e-benedictine.com/abouttherule/

SERMON – TRINITY SUNDAY 5/27/18 St. Monica’s

Isaiah 6:1-8; Canticle 13; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

 The Mystery of the Trinity

Today is Trinity Sunday and I know for many of my colleagues, it is one of the more difficult Sundays to preach.  Trying to explain the Trinity is more difficult than trying to explain the vast and expansive nature of the universe. There is still so much mystery about our universe and even today, science is exploring concepts like “Dark Matter,” “multiverses,” and theories of expanding vs. contracting universe. So, how then can even fathom the mystery of the Trinitarian God that brought into existence all we survey?  To try and understand the mystery of the Trinity, it requires our intellect and our heart.  Let me give you an example.

I had a flight student that was an amazing intellectual person.  He was an engineer by trade.  He dreamed of flying from place to place for his business in order to save time and avoid the long lines at the airport.  He understood all of the aircraft systems, the FAA regulations (there are so many), and he grasped the theoretical physics of how an aircraft can fly.  However, he did not have a deep connection to aviation, and as a matter of fact, he really did not enjoy getting up in the air at all. The emotional draw of aviation never happened for him.  Intellectually he understood it all and could quote all the regulations, but his desire to fly was a practical endeavor, and the joy of flying was never a part of his pursuit.  Unfortunately, his intellectual exercise in concepts prevented him from actually learning, or even gaining the motivation to learn how to manipulate the controls. My star pupil never soloed, never earned his pilot’s license, and never became an aviation-loving pilot.

Exploring theology intellectually, especially the doctrine of the Trinity requires us to explore concepts, theories, and yes, even the heresies.   So please, don’t get me wrong, I believe critical thinking is essential to our faith, but if our exploration ends there, we miss what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  We overlook the relational nature of our faith.  We miss the point. Faith it is all about the head, and the heart.

Facts, Figures, and Heresies, oh my!

In seminary, I wrote a paper on the Doctrine of the Trinity, which was supposed to be written in such a way, that I could teach the concept in a classroom setting.  I researched many theologians, quoted the many Trinitarian Heresies, and offered a feeble, yet educated concept of the Trinitarian doctrine.  I have no idea how, but I got an A on that paper. There are two important things I learned from that assignment over ten years.

First, we have been wrestling with the mystery of the Trinity from the earliest days of our faith. The language we use to speak of the inner life of God has its origins with Tertullian, a 2nd/3rdcentury Christian apologist.  “Tertullian invented the word “Trinity” (Latin: Trinitas)” which he used to attempt an explanation of the God who is one, and yet mysteriously and relationally is also three (1).  He like us used imperfect human language to explain Trinitarian theology, a concept born out of experiencing God’s revelation within time and space.

While researching for this paper, I found this statement by 20thcentury theologian Karl Rahner, “God communicates Himself to humanity as He really is in the divine life.” Imagine that the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the inner life of God, is a holy and divine relationship of love, communicated through creation, through Jesus’ acts of self-giving love, and through the ongoing movement of God in the world.  God’s action in time and space stems from a love that is inherent in God’s relational nature.  Theologians have wrestled with this concept of “Three persons, one God,” and the idea continues to baffle all of us, but I want to offer you something that might give you a little glimpse into what I am talking about when I speak of God’s inner life.

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Inside your bulletin is a color print of an icon written in the 15thcentury by Andrei Rublev. Iconography has a rich history in our Christian tradition, and icons remain more than ordinary paintings.  Icons are works of art that draw us into a story through the imagery, metaphor, and symbolism depicted by the artist.  Rublev’s icon is full of symbolism and has been interpreted as an icon of the Holy Trinity.(3)

Take a closer look at the icon for a moment.  Some scholars say the person on the left represents God the Father, the middle – God the Son, and the right – God the Holy Spirit.  You may notice that the characters’ body positions create a circle, and the circle is a Christian symbol portraying eternal nature of God.  Notice that the features of the three faces are all the same, implying the oneness or same substance of three persons.  Notice how two characters are leaning toward the one on the left, who in turn is leaning toward them in loving gesture.

Finally notice how the prominent colors of the garments show up in all three characters, but your eyes may be drawn to the color of middle character’s garments, the one blessing the cup and who some theologians say represents God the Son.  In his garment, the blue symbolizes divinity, the brown color represents earth, his humanity, and the gold speaks of kingship of God.  So, we have the circle, the three characters in loving gesture, the same face on each, the same colors in each garment, and the symbolism of the Eucharistic cup.  Now, Rublev’s icon is in no way a full and complete depiction of the doctrine of the Trinity.  Using it today, I may have even edged close to a heresy or two in my explanation, but the icon provides our hearts and minds an image of the Trinity that we might grasp hold of.

As icons are supposed to do, we get a glimpse into God’s inner life of love through Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is God’s inner life presented to creation through the actions, work, and creative nature of God.  God’s inner life of love pours out into the world in love.   Did you happen to notice one very important feature of the icon?  Look closely.  Do you notice that there is an open spot at the table? That is where we come in.

Faith: From Belief to Heart to Hands

Bishop Michael Curry, recently preached these words and I quote, “Ultimately, the source of love is God himself: the source of all of our lives. There’s an old medieval poem that says: ‘where true love is found, God himself is there.” (2)  Additionally, ancient theologian Augustine of Hippo wrote, “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek Him the greatest adventure; to find Him, the greatest human achievement.”

At the table of God’s inner life of love, the source of love, Rublev painted something captivating.  To complete the circle, someone must be seated at the table with God.  In other words, “there is a seat at the table reserved just for you.”  God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit invites each one of us, through this life of discipleship to take our place in the inner love and life of God.  Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  We are called to be re-born by the Spirit and to enter into perfect love with God and each other.  We are invited to be at the table of love, to be transformed, and to love as God loves.

Re-birth or spiritual transformation is not merely a mental exercise. Spiritual transformation is not merely learning all the doctrines and creeds and never taking your place at the table of God’s life.  Love is not merely our claim, “Yes, I believe all that,” and that is it.   Spiritual transformation takes us from belief, which is absolutely the beginning point, but then we must be moved to experience being loved and loving others. Bishop Curry preached this about love, “There is something right about it. And there’s a reason for it. The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of love, and our lives were meant – and are meant to be lived in that love. That’s why we are here.”(2)  My sisters and brothers, we are here to be loved, and to love.

God invites us to believe in him yes, but God invites us to be loved by Him and to love Him, and to bring the assembly of the beloved to others.  The Trinitarian life of love requires us to believe, to receive grace, but to not sit back merely enlightened and educated, and watch from the sidelines and cheer Jesus on as he feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, heals the sick, or walks up the hill of Golgotha.  Following Jesus means taking our place at the table of God’s inner life of love, and taking our place in mission, by coming along side him and doing what he does. Re-birth means being loved and loving others, and that my friends will require the changing of our minds and yes, our hearts.  Being transformed by God’s grace, being loved and loving others, requires us to allow God, to change us, and to invite us into the divine, transformative life of God. It means allowing love to change how we live, and love, each and every day of our lives.

REFERENCES

(1) Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology, An Introduction, Fourth ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 249

(2) https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/05/20/612798691/bishop-michael-currys-royal-wedding-sermon-full-text-of-the-power-of-love

(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_(Andrei_Rublev

SERMON – Pentecost 5/19/18 St. Monica’s Naples FL

mentor-coach-768x511Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-27John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Mentor, Teachers, Advocates, and Guides

Have you ever had that teacher, coach, mentor, or friend in your life, the one who saw gifts in you that you did not see in yourself? Have you ever had that someone who looked past the rough and rugged exterior and saw the beauty and potential within?  I have had the gift of mentors like that.  My first flight instructor, my youth minister, my friend Curt, a priest friend named Becky, my Region Chaplain, and yes, my wife Terri, and so many more have been mentors to me.  What would we do without the wisdom, encouragement, empowerment, and drive of those mentors, coaches, and friends?

Many of us would be like the first disciples after their Lord had ascended, and before the first Day of Pentecost.  We may have been like them, spending our lives locked in a room, fearful, uncertain and discouraged.  Could you imagine what went through those early disciples’ minds in that room for those days?  Maybe they pondered, “Well, he’s gone, let’s go back to fishing, or return to our neat, protected, and normal lives.”  Maybe they thought, “We are just poor fishermen, and there is only a few of us, and we can barely keep food on the table, oh, woe is me.”  Scripture does not say this was what happened, but it would not surprise me.

When folks find themselves in difficult or new situations, it is not unusual to begin speaking the language of despondency, but it is in those times, and in all of life, we must realize that we all have an incredible mentor, teacher, advocate and friend.  We Christians have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit.  God’s Spirit reaches into the depths of our struggles and despair and lifts us up, God’s Spirit enlivens our joy and gives hope, and God’s Spirit sets the church on the path of mission in the world then, today, and tomorrow.  The Holy Spirit, God’s active presence in the church then, and today, moved that small band of misfits from fear to action, from complacency to engagement, and from despondency to a tongues of fire, violent wind rushing new life and mission that literally changed and changes the world.  That same Spirit is moving in us today.

Today is the Feast Day of Pentecost!  Pentecost “literally means “fiftieth” and signifies the celebration of the number of days which divides it from the last festival of Passover. We commemorate that day with the church decorated in red, and the vestments we clergy wear are red, and many of you today have donned your red to help us remember the vision of “tongues of fire” that fell upon the apostles nearly 2000 years ago on the Day of Pentecost.  In a single moment with the sound of rushing wind and the imagery of flaming, divided tongues, the miraculous, life-changing, demonstration of God’s great work of salvation had come to a pivotal point, and while Jesus had left and the disciples were all alone, God’s Spirit rushed in on the scene. 

The Spirit of God is always Moving  

The Spirit moved and breathed as she always does, like a forcible, violent wind or breath, the Spirit filled the house in which the disciples abided.  The same Spirit that brooded over the waters of creation, the same Spirit that breathed into the dry bones and brought new life, the same Spirit that was active in the Incarnation, that same Spirit was now present and active in this new little community.  The Spirit was as she always is, pushing forward the new life brought forth in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Then as a sign of the new age, a vision emerged.  A world separated by languages, culture, and division was now being restored in the power of the Spirit coming down on this little community. The imagery of “tongues of fire” represents the divine origin of the Spirit, the divine intervention in the speaking and declaring God’s Deeds of Power.  “The divine glory (was) received passively and yet (was) experienced directly, in a manner that is apparent to others. Wind, breath, and language; these are the works of the Spirit in that historical event, that event which, is still manifested in and through the Church today.

Pentecost – 20thCentury

Let me give you an example of how the Spirit works today, or at least, how she moved in one particular instance about twenty-seven years ago.  First, a local priest felt nudges to start having conversations with others about establishing a mission church, to serve a nearby emerging village.  Three years later, that little band of church planters held their first worship service in their new parish hall.   The Spirit breathed and moved calling us to mission, and the people responded, “We will with God’s help.”

Eight years later, new classrooms were added to the existing structure, and four years after that a new chapel was constructed.  The Spirit breathed and moved calling us to mission, and the people responded, “We will with God’s help.”     Four years after that a new space was added and the property expanded for mission. That little community has over its lifetime received and responded to the Spirit’s call, and throughout her history, she has grown and took on new projects.  She has lived into the story of God’s abundance, God’s amazing, outlandish, out of the box call to go and proclaim the Good News.  The Spirit breathed and moved calling us to mission, and the people responded, “We will with God’s help.”

By the way, that history I just shared, if you are not already aware, is the story of St. Monica’s Episcopal Church.  The Spirit that inspired that young church has not left her abandoned, but inspires us in fresh ways through expanding local mission projects, and revived ministries supporting the life of the church.

Just think about it, the same Spirit that brooded over the waters of creation, the same Spirit the prophet Joel mentioned that breathed into the dry bones and brought new life, that same Spirit that was active in the Incarnation, that same Spirit present and active in Jerusalem 2000 years ago on the Day of Pentecost, is the very same Spirit active in the early 1990’s here in Naples with this church, and she is still active today however, the people must respond.   We must regain our rushing fierce wind, tongues of fire bold spirit, so we might move from fear to action, from complacency to engagement, and from despondency to a tongues of fire, ferocious wind rushing new life and mission that literally will change us, and our neighborhood.

Despite the events of Pentecost, there were some naysayers who would not believe God was acting in this group.  They negatively retorted, “They are full of wine,” and like the cynics of old, if we are not careful, we too can get bogged down in disbelief and fear.   Trusting God and relying on God is deeply embedded in the history of St. Monica’s. Bold proclamation is in our DNA. We have a history here in which, God’s Spirit has guided us boldly, and so we might proclaim possibility, vision, and dreams.  Our DNA rejects scarcity, discouragement, and fear.

Pentecost Now and into the Future

We move boldly in mission because have a guide, mentor, coach, and advocate that sees more in us than we see in ourselves.  God is not the God of the tomb, a symbol of death, which would hinder us, stop us, or keeps us from moving forward.  God turns despondency and complacency upside down, because death is not the end.  God is the God of possibilities, and we are people of amazing possibilities.   The same Spirit who on that first Pentecost breathed new life into that first Christian community, is the same Spirit that breathed new life into a group of people with a dream for a mission in this village, and that same Spirit is breathing new life into us today.  The Spirit is calling us to a new vision, a new life, and a new focus.

For you see, the Spirit sees gifts in us that we cannot see in ourselves.  The Spirit looks beyond our rough exterior, our former miscalculations and mistakes, and she sees in us, great possibilities.  Nonetheless, we cannot become too self-assured, and too self-confident that we try to do this work through our own human effort.  We cannot carry this load of mission with only a few select individuals or one or two exclusive groups.

We have to rely on the fact that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness . . .  and that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” If we trust God’s Spirit to lead us, we can we achieve that which, God has in store for us.  The Spirit may push, nudge and guide us out of the familiar and into the unknown, but never forget that we are never alone.  God is with us, guiding us, empowering us, and giving us all we need to do the work we have been called to do.

How do I know? God declares, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” We must pray for a new vision and we must dream a new dream.   All along the way, we have the ultimate coach, the gentle mentor, the strong advocate, and an amazing friend.  We have God’s Spirit, guiding us all along the way.  The Spirit moves and breathes, calling us to continue Jesus mission, and the people respond, “We will with God’s help.”

 

1 http://www.festalpulpit.com/6.html

 

Sunday 5-6-18, St. Monica’s Naples, “Feast of Our Patron Saint, Monica”

Jesus and his friendsJohn 16:20-42; Acts 10:44-48;Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

Friendship in 21stcentury

         Jesus said, “I have called you friends.” I Googled the top 50 songs about friends the other day, which I will not name all fifty, but I will share just a few.  See how many of these songs, your have heard before:  Queen, “You’re my Best Friend,” The Beatles, “With a Little Help from my friends,” Andrew Gold, “Thank you for Being my Friend” (Golden Girls Theme), Bill Withers, “Lean on Me,” and my favorite by James Taylor, “You’ve Got a Friend.”  If you were to look at the lyrics of each of these songs, you will get a pretty good idea about friendship in postmodern times, but do the words of these songs capture what Jesus meant?

Today, I think we may be losing the whole idea of friendship, especially the level of friendship Jesus desires for us with him, and with each other.   Here is an example.  According to Facebook, I have over 1,000 “friends.” I am not bragging, but most of the people I am “friends” with on Facebook are people I have merely only met before.  The idea that all 1004 are my real friends, or are people in my life that even meet the friend standard of some of those wonderful ballads I just named is just not possible.

According to a 2016 Huffington Post article, “Science says we can really only have five close friends at a time.” (3) The researcher says, “we are only capable of having a finite number of people in our social sphere — 150 to be exact — due to the size of our brains. The closest emotional layer — the one we consider to hold the most meaning and connection — contains approximately five individuals, according to Dunbar.”(3)

We may think social media makes it possible for us to have an unending group of so-called friends, but that holds no water.  Our capacity the kind of intimate, committed, close friendship Jesus desires for us may seem according to science, to be impossible for we mere humans, but Jesus to have that kind of relationship with us all IS possible.

Jesus said, “I have called you friends.” That means all of us are friends of Jesus; close, intimate, connected, and transforming friends.  So, who are your true friends, and how are you transforming your friends’ lives?  What does it mean to be a part of “Jesus and His Friends?”

True Friend or Flatterer (Frank talk) 

         Have you ever had the so-called friend who “butters you up,” “blows smoke,” or simply stated, gives you nothing but insincere flattery?  Jesus said, “The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father.”  A real friend does not need give insincere flattery of puffed up feedback.  A real friend shares with you what you need to hear, and no always what you want to hear. When I worked for Sears back in the early 90’s, we went through a difficult and lengthy corporate culture shift. One of the core values we shared during those times was a new commitment to giving “straight talk.”  Before the transition, the company had a long-held culture in which, people never spoke truth with love and care about problems, and Sears struggled to break out of its old stuck ways. Systems no longer worked, employee relationship problems were never addressed, and strategies never had solid planning and financial underpinnings.   Finally when people began speaking truth in love, or as we called it “straight talk,” many of the operational and personnel problems were addressed, and a new culture of cooperation emerged.

Theologian Gail O’Day wrote, in first century Greco-Roman culture, “To be someone’s friend was to speak frankly and honestly to them and to hold nothing back.” (1) Jesus was all about straight talk with his disciples and the religious system of his time.  He told Peter when he tried to deter him from the cross, “Get thee behind me Satan.”  He also told him to “feed his sheep” after he had to ask him three times if he loved him. Jesus challenged his disciples about their trust in him, “O You of Little Faith.

I believe we need that kind of “straight talk” and loving frankness in the church today. We need to lovingly remove our masks of so-called good Christian culture, and be real with one another, and have a closeness that allows us to share, what we often might not want to hear, but what we need to hear, all for our own good, and the good of the community.  Friends need a little straight talk but also, we need to walk the talk.

Friends: Following Jesus’ commandments

         Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Gail O’Day wrote, “Friendship is not simply an abstract social and moral virtue; it achieves its real worth when it is modeled and embodied in practice.” (1) Jesus taught us the simplest of commands, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And Love your neighbor as yourself.” That kind of love transcends oneself. Jesus explains that loving God and neighbor describes how we should be willing to lay down our lives for our friends.

I know I would risk my life for my wife and daughter, my mother and siblings, but would I risk my life for others?  I sure hope I would when the moment comes, but maybe Jesus means something even more simple than sacrificing our life for someone.  Maybe Jesus is telling us that laying down our life means, setting aside our own agenda, our own desires and wants, for what may very well be the best thing for our friend, for our community, and for God’s will.

O’Day also wrote, “Friendship moves a person from being a private individual to a member of a social group based on something beyond kinship.” (1)  “Jesus and His Friends” move outside ourselves and follow the life giving, sacrificial approach to following God’s will. According to the Urban Dictionary, “A friend is someone who would sacrifice their life and happiness for you. A friend is someone who will come with you when you have to do boring things like watch badrecitals, go to stuffy parties, or wait in boring lobbies.” (2) Simply said, “Jesus and His friends” make time for cultivating the connection of love between the other, even if it means setting aside our own desires, needs, and wants. 

Friendship:  Monica and A Toy Story

“Jesus and His Friends” must walk the talk.  We can find examples of that kind of friendship throughout the history of the church.   We could not ask for a better Patron Saint, Monica whom we commemorate today.  She was the Mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest theologians of the church. Her life was dedicated to her son’s secular success in life, but despite her own desires, she eventually committed herself to seeing him become a person of faith and a convert to Christianity.  I am so glad she did because Augustine’s writings and theological work have become the basis of our understanding of the faith today.

Thanks to his mother’s friendship, straight talk, and acts of love we have a deeper understanding of God today.  “Monica is the saint of married women, abuse victims, alcoholics, alcoholism, difficult marriages, disappointing children, homemakers, housewives, mothers, victims of adultery, victims of unfaithfulness, victims of verbal abuse, widows and wives.”

St. Monica’s Episcopal Church is a haven, a respite, a spiritual home for all of us who have endured such terrible trials and troubles in life.  Monica is an example of what it means to be a part of the tribe of “Jesus and His Friends.”

“Jesus and His Friends” speak frankly and say what a friend needs to hear, but may not want to hear.  We lay down our own agendas and well-being, so that God’s will, and the good of the other comes first.  We center our lives on God’s mission of love. In a world where friendship has become distorted, and racking up friends on a social media site has become a badge of false connectedness and community, we need to recapture a simpler understanding of friendship in Christ.  Jesus said, “I have called you friends.”

Have you ever heard the song “You’ve Gotta Friend in Me,” the theme song of the movie “Toy Story?”  I found an incredible version on YouTube the other day.  The song is sung by a three-year-old named Claire and her Dad.  I think the lyrics of this song, might give us with a simple picture of the kind of friendship Jesus is talking about.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mzhk2aheNfI

 

The song goes like this:

You’ve got a friend in me
When the road looks rough ahead
And you’re miles and miles
From your nice warm bed
You just remember what your old pal said
Boy, you’ve got a friend in me

 

You’ve got a friend in me
You got troubles, I’ve got ’em too
There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you
We stick together and see it through
Cause you’ve got a friend in me

 

Some other folks might be
A little bit smarter than I am
Bigger and stronger too
Maybe
But none of them will ever love you The way I do
It’s me and you, boy, you’ve got a friend in me.

 

And as the years go by
Our friendship will never die
You’re gonna see it’s our destiny
You’ve got a friend in me, You’ve Got a friend in me.

 

 

 

 

REFERENCES

(1) O’Day, Gail R. “Jesus as Friend in the Gospel of John.” Interpretation, vol. 58, no. 2, Apr. 2004, pp. 144-157.

(2) https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=friends

(3) https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/dunbar-layers-friendship-study_us_5728d4c5e4b016f37893ac14

(4) “You’ve Gotta Friend in Me” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukD8zj6ngVY

SERMON 4/29/18 Easter 5B St. Monica’s

lemon thymeActs 8:26-40; Psalm 22:24-30; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

Abiding

I enjoy spending time with the love of my life Terri. Sometimes, just being able to just sit on the sofa together, not saying anything to one another, we are able to know that our love abides in the moment. In that moment there is a gift of being together, breathing the same air, sharing the same space, enjoying the presence of each other’s company.

Abiding has nothing to do with doing. Abiding has nothing to do about place or even conversation. Abiding with Christ is about being present with him in the moment, wherever we are. Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

The vine metaphor Jesus uses reminds us that we must be intimately connected to Jesus and it is through that connectedness, that we are able to bear fruit in our lives. Now as branches of the Jesus vine, our call as Christians requires more than mere connectedness. We are called to bear fruit. We are called to convert the nutrients of God’s love into blossoms of beauty others can see. Fruit bearing though often requires a little pruning.

We Episcopalians could us a little pruning. We find it hard to bear the fruit, which Jesus requires of us. The fruit Jesus is talking about is the fruit of our very lives, our witness to God’s love in our lives. We should be so moved by our abiding love in Christ, that we just have to share the Good News with others. For some of us though, talking to friends, family or co-workers about our faith can be a frightening experience, but sometimes it’s easier than we think, if we allow the Master Gardner to prune away our fears and reluctance.

Pruning for Growth

In my windowsill garden in our old house in Ellenton, I had a nice planter of lemon thyme. Those tiny leaves, the fruit of that plant were a delicious herbal addition to any dish I prepared. A few months ago, Terri and I had to be away from home for several days, and when we returned, only a small section of my Lemon Thyme still had beautiful green tasty leaves. The rest had died.

I watered it, added fertilizer, but the thing just wouldn’t spring back. Finally, I gave up hope of bringing it back and so, I cut out all of the dead branches, and left the only a few tiny leaves of green. Soon, in a few days I noticed something miraculous happening. New growth emerged and in a week or so, I had a growing plant of tasty, herbalicious lemon thyme once again.

At one point, I had so much Lemon Thyme that I had to share it with some friends. You know, the best part of having an abundance of anything is the joy of having so much of it that you just have to share it with other people.

Just think though, I would not have had that abundant herb if I had not pruned away the dry and ineffective parts, and sometimes God has to prune us a little like that. God has to clip away our fears and uncertainties that stand in the way of our growth, our mission, and our primary vocation as Christians; to share the Good News of God’s love with others with whom we abide.

Why Fruit is Important

Last Friday, I took a walk down the hall to check in with one of the preschool classrooms. As I came close to their door, I noticed that all the little ones were readying themselves to leave the room. The teacher stopped me and said, “Father Eric, the children were coming to see you, and they have something for St. Monica’s.” One little beautiful child came up to me and handed me one of our blue cups, filled to the brim with coins. The Teacher said, “she has emptied her piggy bank and put half of it in the blue cup for St. Monica’s.” The little girl with an incredible smile handed me the cup, and as I took it, I almost cried. She said, “I will bring the other half later.”

What an incredible example of how her connection to St. Monica’s has changed that precious little girl’s life. What an example of how we as a community through our sharing of Good News and abiding in love with others, brings others to know Christ’s love. Sometimes the fruit we bear emerges in ways we cannot imagine.

“But Eric, that sharing Good News thing is just not for me. I cannot do that,” you might say. What if I told you that your ability to share Good News really has nothing to do with being a professional evangelist? Our ability to share good news is simply being willing to take a chance to offer an invitation, and we leave the rest up to God. Here is an example.

Philip the Evangelist

We heard the story in the Acts of the Apostles how the Spirit called Phillip out of his comfort zone and sent him on an evangelistic mission, all for the spiritual transformation of one person; a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. Philip had no idea why he was sent to this guy, but he went. He had no thought about bringing the man to conversion, but it happened. He did not run up to the chariot and say, “Let me tell you about Jesus,” but eventually the Ethiopian did become a disciple. Sometimes, the simplest of interactions are the ones that bring someone to hear the Good news of God’s grace. Sharing Good News is our primary vocation as Christians.

I was asked the other day how we might invite the families of one of participants in our outreach ministries to worship with us. I said, “Simply ask them if they have a spiritual home or a home church. If they say no, then merely say, “You always have a spiritual home at St. Monica’s, and you will find a caring community to support and love you and your family.”   Sharing God’s Good news my friends is as simple as that, and an invitation is all it takes. Want proof? Did you know that there are 32 million members of the Ethiopian Orthodox church alive and active today? I have to believe that maybe that the encounter between Philip and the court official had something to do with all that. Sometimes we bear fruit and the results are not apparent at that time.

Trust God’s Spirit

So what does Lemon Thyme have to do with vines, branches, bearing fruit and evangelism? You know, just a few snips of those delicious green succulent leaves of Lemon Thyme, really do add savory and herbal notes to the flavor of any dish.   Well, sharing a little time and abiding love with someone else, and offering an invitation to be in community, could be the simple words that changes and flavors the lives of someone, in ways we cannot even fathom.

Would you please give this a try? The next time you are with friends, and if as you chat, the topic of conversation becomes about troubles, fears, doubts, worries, joy, peace, religion, church, or faith, offer your friends an invitation to accompany you to St. Monica’s. Ask, “would you like to check out this awesome group of people with me sometime, and then, I’ll treat you to lunch or dinner afterward.” Then, just see what happens. You may be surprised.

So, what do you think? Is evangelism really possible in the Episcopal Church? I think yes. Sharing a little of your time to share the Good News of God’s love is really pretty simple, but it may take us out of our comfort zone. Being an evangelist is not as hard as it seems, but it means we have to take a chance, share our story of transformation, and maybe, it means giving away just a little bit of something we have an abundance of – God’s grace, mercy, and love. All of us are called to be evangelists and it really is easy, but to do so, we have to give away, just a little abiding love and maybe, just a little time.

 

 

(1) Wilson, Stan. “On the Vine.” The Christian Century, vol. 123, no. 9, 02 May 2006, p. 19.

SERMON 4/22/18 Easter 4B St. Monica’s Naples

breakfast-club1_zpsgbiyiqiwActs 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

Sheep Behavior         

The early followers of Jesus wrestled with understanding who Jesus was, who they were as an emerging community, and they struggled with WHOSE they were. Jesus used a zoological metaphor about the Good shepherd and the vocation of shepherding, to explain. Sheep and shepherding seem disconnected from our neat and tidy suburbanite lives. You do not see many shepherds and sheep here in hot, humid, Southwest Florida, but raising sheep was a vital occupation in 1st century Palestine. It was hard work, and the shepherd’s life was constantly at risk from the threat of wolves and bandits. Good shepherds knew the risk and yet, spent long months moving their herds from cool streams to lush grazing plains, and to the safety of the home pen. Good shepherds literally laid down their lives for their sheep, even though sheep can be peculiar animals that have some interesting behavioral characteristics.

For instance, sheep instinctively flock together, follow a leader, and socially they can be either sweet and gentle as lambs, or crabby and dangerous as rams. Sheep will band together in large groups for protection from predators, and they crave social contact. Sheep must maintain visual contact with other sheep to prevent stress, and to avoid becoming highly agitated if separated from the rest of the flock. Sheep follow a leader and when one sheep moves the rest will follow, even if it is not a good idea. This instinct is so strong that it caused “400 sheep in 2006 in eastern Turkey to jump off a cliff, because one of the sheep tried to cross ravine, and the rest of the flock followed.” (1)

Lastly, lambs (baby sheep) and rams (adults) are as different as night and day. Lambs are very active, playful, and curious and they love to climb. Rams on the other hand, can be very aggressive and have been known to cause serious injuries to people. Never turn your back on a ram, or you may pay the price. Now, you do understand that I am describing sheep here, and I am not even trying to make a connection between sheep and good church folk. (wink, wink).

The Good Shepherd

Jesus used this metaphor to explain to his followers (then and now) that human behavior can be like sheep behavior. We band together for companionship and mutual support, we naturally follow a leader or leaders, and we crave social interaction. That whole lamb vs. ram part though, I will leave that up to your own imagination. But as for me, I know I am mostly a gentle little lamb, but if I do not get enough sleep, enough food, some aviation time, or date night each week with my wife, I can be like a Dodge Truck; Ram tough.

The hearers of this metaphor about sheep and the Good Shepherd understood what Jesus was talking about, because sheep herding was familiar to everyone. What we need to hear in the story is this, “we Christians need one another” and we need Jesus! We have to rely on one another, and we need to come together, to mutually care for one another and to strengthen our faith journeys.

We also need to hear in Jesus’ metaphor that we have to rely on the Good Shepherd to lead us each day. Otherwise we have a tendency to fall back on our natural instincts to stray and leave the flock behind, becoming either like “indifferent, playful Lambs, or like angry, self-interested rams.” If we fall into either of these extremes in Christian community, we are blocked from spiritual growth, through the shepherding care and leadership of Jesus and the love and care we need to have for one another.

Love one another

            “We ought to lay down our lives for one another.” That statement from John in his letter stands in defiance; to the way life celebrated in our culture today. The idea of serving the greater good, or risking one’s own safety for someone else’s may be a thing of a bygone era. Business and politics and life in general today is all about “dog eat dog,” “negotiate the best deal at all costs,” and only “the fittest survive.”

Our whole economic system is based on unfettered competition. Whatever happened to, “let’s do what is best for the world,” “let’s care for those who cannot care for themselves,” and “what you do for the least of these, you do for me.” In other words, what happened to “love one another?” Laying down our lives for each other requires us to release positions of power, influence, and acquisition to pursue what is best for the whole community, but fear causes us to resist that call.

Stan Wilson in a Christian Century article wrote, “I suspect that not only do we fear the future, we also fear each other. We are afraid that somebody will try to take advantage of us, afraid that we will have to expose ourselves at our most intimate, private level. ”(2) Jesus turns that concept upside down, and explains that we need to be like sheep, who flock together, trust one another, and most importantly, trust the Good Shepherd.

Sheep scatter and go rogue. Sometimes folks in the flock go astray and go their own way. We Christians cannot be Christians in isolation. We need intimacy, connectedness, and community to thrive. Healthy community requires that we become vulnerable to one another, letting our guard down some and yes, removing our masks of power and society status and thus, laying down our lives for one another. “But Eric, vulnerability is weakness,” you may say.

Brene’ Brown, PhD/LCSW author, speaker, and researcher of vulnerability and shame, writes in one of her books, “In our culture we associate vulnerability with emotions we want to avoid such as fear, shame, and uncertainty. Yet we too often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, and love.”

Our common life must be one in which, we trust the Good Shepherd to guide us, and we trust our sisters and brothers whom we need, and with whom we must lay down our lives, in order for real love to emerge. We need to let down the walls, get real with one another, be a little vulnerable, and allow love to emerge among us. We need to know WHO we are and WHOSE we are.

The Breakfast Club

In 1984, I first watched the blockbuster movie “The Breakfast Club” and it changed me. It was a film about five very different teenagers who because of bad behavior spent a whole Saturday in high school detention. Their discipline assignment was to write a 1000 word essay about “who they think they are.”

This unlikely gathering of dissimilar teens start out the day, trying to endure the next nine hours together, maintaining their distance from one another and promising not to allow the boundaries between them to crumble. But as they day progressed, and as they allowed themselves to be open, honest, and vulnerable to one another, they began to share more of their lives with each other. As you can imagine something amazing happened.

These teens became an unexpected community, a band of friends, or as the movie called them, “The Breakfast Club.” Their bogus masks, their made up identities, and their stoic personas fell away. These five unlikely teens became friends one day in an unlikely place, when through their vulnerability and unexpected love, their lives were changed forever. They found their common connection and community emerged.

When we the Body of Christ begin to understand that we are the flock of the Good Shepherd, when we understand our common connection in Our Lord Jesus Christ, community grows authentically, and nothing can get in the way of our mutual love. We must never forget WHO we are, and WHOSE we are.

Jesus calls us to be more than a mere gathering of friends, or a social club, or even a “Breakfast Club.” He gathers us into his loving arms as a community of love and transformation, a family who welcome change and experience new life. From that transformed group, Jesus sends us out those doors, as a lighthouse for other sheep that are not yet a part of this flock.

My sisters and brothers, we are not just poor little lambs, who have lost their way, scattered and tumbling off the cliffs of fear. We are followers of Jesus, a community of love and grace, and we follow the one leader, the one Lord, the God in flesh who loves us and who reminds us in all circumstances of life, “I am the Good Shepherd and I lay down my life for my sheep.” Are we willing to lay aside our masks of fear and distrust, so that like Our Shepherd, lay down our lives for one another?

 

REFERENCES

1 http://www.sheep101.info/201/behavior.html

2 Wilson, Stan. “Ties That Bind.” The Christian Century, vol. 123, no. 9, 02 May 2006, p. 18.

3 Long, Kimberly Bracken. “The Shepherd Jesus.” Journal for Preachers, vol. 29, no. 3, 2006, pp. 51-54

SERMON 4/15/18 Easter 3B

whatifActs 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48

Hope in the midst of troubles, disappointments, and fear

Since Easter Sunday, we have been exploring Jesus’ resurrection and the events of the aftermath of that event. We have been studying faith and hope in the midst of troubles, disappointments, and fear, and we have tried to connect it all to our world today. I think now is the perfect time for us to spend some time focusing of faith in the midst of fear and anxiety. Have you been watching the news lately? Violence, scandal, trade wars, a new time of war, attacks, and shootings abound around us.   We need some resurrection hope right now. We live in an unbelievably volatile time my friends, and fear and negativity is invading our peace and sense of security. When the headlines are so negative, when fear and uncertainty are near, where do we find hope? In God’s promises, God’s presence, and God’s peace. 

         Wikipedia describes hope as “an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes, with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.” Today’s gospel is set in the context of hope reignited. Today’s reading is a re-telling of John’s version of the story of Jesus with the disciples in the locked room post resurrection that we heard last week. This version of the story takes place after Jesus appeared to two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, where something incredible happened.

After an invitation to dine with these two weary travelers, Luke records, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.” Before these two disciples had encountered the post-resurrection Savior, they were dismayed, disappointed, lost, and untethered. Their Lord had been crucified and all hope seemed lost, but Jesus showed up and opened their eyes to hope. Then, through that hope and transformed assurance, they discovered their renewed vocational calling, which was to go and tell the story.

My Desire or God’s Desire

Now if you have ever been a part of any human organization, you will have experienced disappointment, just like Jesus’ early followers. Even in the church, we can become paralyzed to inaction and complacency, especially when unexpected things happen, when our comfortable places are tipped over, or when we become disappointed when things happen we do not understand, cannot control, or are outside our own desires. Like those early disciples who had great expectations of Jesus after the crucifixion happened, when they discovered his mission did not include the role of mighty ruler and over thrower of the Romans, and that he would be killed, they lost hope.

Negativity, fearfulness, uncertainty emerges in our disappointments. Despondency can be a syndrome in the church, and it can paralyze us from the calling God has in store for us. For example, when we encounter change that we don’t like, or something new happens, or when God bursts in unexpectedly, we might react with, “we’ve never done that before,” or “I’m not going to budge on this one,” or “this change will not stand,” or “why can’t it be like it used to be.” Maybe those are the times we should practice discernment and prayer. Maybe we should seek God through prayer and question our own motives asking, “Is my response or are my actions now, more about me seeking God’s desire or am I seeking my own desire?

The truth is “God is always making things new!” Thus, we must be willing for God to open our hearts and eyes, to change our mindset, and to transform our default responses. We need to move from, “we are not enough” or “we do not have the resources” or “we need more space.” We need to live in hopeful expectation. We need to dream big again and we need to invite God to give us a HUGE dream! Our conviction needs to move from “we are not enough” to “What if?” “What if” is a powerfully simple phrase, and it has the power to release in us, God’s renewed creativity and hope in which, we can expect the unexpected. We may even be able to expect a miracle or two.

Faith – Miracles

Webster’s online dictionary describes “Miracles” as an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment. Last Sunday, I gathered with some very incredibly well prepared Christian young men from St. Monica’s, who will be confirmed by Bishop Howe next Sunday. Thank you Antoinetta, Mary, and Scott for your fine work preparing these young adults. I gave these young men an opportunity to ask me some tough faith questions and try and “stump the priest.” There were some really tough questions like, “If you were not a Christian, what religion would you follow?” But one awesome young man asked me a very profound and insightful question. He asked, “Fr. Eric, do you believe in miracles?” I first gave him the seminary non-committal answer which was “the early church’s experience of Jesus ministry included miraculous acts by Our Lord, and billions of Christians over the centuries have held these acts in high regard and considered them to be true.”

Then I thought about the question, searched deep in my soul, and I cut through the theological rhetoric and I offered this heartfelt answer, “In my own life, I have experienced things I cannot explain, and somehow through that mystery, I believe God was guiding and directing me and those around me.” I have seen people experience healing, I have seen people experience incredible circumstances, and I have prayed with people who have experienced new life in all things. Yes, I believe in miracles. You see, when we live in the mystery of God’s “What if,” the possibility of God bursting forth in our lives is real. It is then that Christian community discovers our true vocation, our purpose, and our mission.

Vocational Witness

Theologian Sarah Henrich once wrote, “Followers are made into witnesses who will have the power they need to understand and to teach, to speak of what they have seen and what they have learned, to share with others what God has been up to in Jesus: the keeping of God’s promise to be God of all people and bring God’s own reign into reality for us.”(1) In 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NRSV) we hear Paul’s encouragement to that early community, ”But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” I believe that when God leads us and we practice discerning listening, all things are possible, and we will find our vocation, our mission, our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Discipleship means believing that God’s desire for God’s people is to gather to be formed, spiritually fed, and prepared for service and then, to be sent out into the world as witnesses of the grace, through our local mission and through our daily lives. However, if we merely rely on our own initiative, ideas, plans, and vision, we will be limited in our mission and we will never reach the potential God has before us. If we rely on God’s spirit, we can accomplish anything that God calls us to do. We cannot do any of this ministry, without God’s leading and God’s support.

 A New Day and New Adventure

My sisters and brothers, I believe God is calling St. Monica’s to a new day, a renewed way of life, a renewed vocation, and God has in store for us a future we cannot fully fathom today. So, “What if” God is calling us to gather together in new ways of fellowship and fun where we can support one another. “What if” God is inviting us to even more ways of service and local mission in which, we continue to feed those in need, where our current mission expands even more to provide for the destitute, where we can continue to help families in our midst who cannot care for themselves. “What if” God is calling us to renew and expand our Christian formation programs to grow our faith together for all ages.

What if God is already creating an exciting welcoming program that will help our new friends become active and engaged sisters and brothers. What if God is renewing our call to be a church for all ages and a place of spiritual healing for all people regardless of ethnicity, culture, gender, orientation, or creed. What if God is inspiring each one of you, to find your own personal ministry call in the midst of all this new life God is bursting forth in our midst.

The two disciples on the Road with Jesus eyes were opened and they recognized him. Jesus does not abandon us in the mission before us, he walks the journey with us, and we must travel with Jesus seeking his leading, as we walk the road God has in store for us, we must do so with hope and expectation.

Erin Hansen wrote this beautiful poem of hope 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 us, as we begin this new journey 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 is calling us to a new day, we can no longer ask, “what if we fall.” We must have hope and expect miraculous new adventures, expect the unexpected, and expect Christ to burst forth on the scene with us. Our question from this day forward must be, “what if, with God’s help, we fly!”

(1) Henrich, Sarah S. “Between Text and Sermon: Luke 24:36 53.” Interpretation, vol. 68, no. 4, Oct. 2014, pp. 431-434.