Sermons and Messages

Blind Bart, Who Was Not Always Blind – 23rd Sunday After Pentecost

Blind Bart, Who Was Not Always Blind – 23rd Sunday After Pentecost 150 150 admin

A sermon planned to be preached by the Rev. Joanna Leiserson at Christ Episcopal Church in Dayton, Ohio on Saturday-Sunday, October 27-28, 2018.

Job 42:1-6, 10-16; Psalm 34:1-22; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

 

I buried one of my cats recently. Poor Stuart. I picked him up a few years ago from a foster home because he looked and acted so sweet. But he had a lot of issues. He was an obese, bulimic cat with stressed-induced asthma who threw up every other day and wouldn’t use the litter box half the time. Every time we talked about him, we would say, “Poor Stuart.”

But I don’t think that Stuart thought of himself as “poor Stuart.” You would think that any creature with the medical problems he had would be a nasty sort—I think about the old story about the man who got scolded at work, then he came home and yelled at his wife, who yelled at her child, who turned around and kicked the dog—or cat, in this case.

But this cat didn’t kick back. Despite the kick that genetics and nature had dealt to Stuart, he was a beautiful cat. He was gentle and sweet. We labeled him “poor Stuart,” but that wasn’t the real Stuart. The real Stuart should have been called “sweet Stuart.”

Which bring me to Blind Bartimaeus. Poor Bartimaeus. It may not be fair to compare cats and humans, though Mark Twain did once, when he said, “If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.” But I think of Stuart when I hear the story of the one we call Blind Bartimaeus.

The funny thing is, though we know of him for all time as Blind Bart, it seems that he was not always blind. He asks Jesus, “My teacher, let me see again.” So it looks like he once had his eyesight. Somehow during his life—and it may have been only last year, who knows?—he lost his sight and been reduced to being a beggar because he couldn’t make a living all by himself. His own community deserted him the moment he got disabled.

At this moment of encounter with Jesus, he is blind. And when Jesus restores his sight, he is unblind. But still we label him as Blind Bartimaeus, as if that’s all he was, is, and ever will be (world without end. Amen.). But in fact, that’s not the real Bartimaeus. The real Bartimaeus has a real name, and has been exiled to the streets because he happens to be blind. When Jesus heals him, he not only restores his eyesight. He restores him to his community. That was the importance of Jesus’ healing ministry, to restore those who are ill to their community from which they were exiled because of their illness, whether that illness be leprosy, blindness, lameness, or demons.

Today’s readings, and Israel’s history, are all about restoration, restoring to wholeness, restoring to community. Job’s fortune is restored to him, A people are restored to Israel, eyesight is restored to a blind man, and community is restored to that same man, who is an outcast. God restores what they had before. God restores what was taken away from them, by accident or illness, or by deliberate intent through force, conquest, or social norms. When God restores, people can become their true selves rather than their poor selves or their blind selves.    What God knows, and what we are still trying to learn, is that true humanity is lived in community. People are meant to live in community, in communion with one another. That’s why ostracism, or exile, is such a devastating punishment—to be denied that community. A community that makes a practice of putting people like Blind Bart into exile because of his blindness rather than caring for them is a broken community. And a community that exiles whole peoples is a broken community.

Jesus came to us to restore us—to restore our community, and to restore us to God. To welcome all the Blind Barts and welcome them back into the family of God living in harmony with one another—with one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

We don’t usually think of the Blind Barts much—the outsiders, the people who are marginalized, and the ones with labels. So I wonder, who are the Blind Barts among us now? Where are the places of exile to which we send them? How do we label them in order to keep them forever in their place? Blind Bart? Poor Stuart? Homeless Harry? Ex-sex offender Sam? How do these labels that we assign to people still shape us? For it is in our labeling that we can put Bart out in the streets by diminishing his condition. Homeless equals worthless. Unemployed equals lazy.  Appallingly today, people have even put their revulsion into action. The shootings of African Americans in the Kentucky Kroger, the mail bombs sent to political opponents, and horrifyingly, the massacre of worshippers in the synagogue in Pittsburg, all show us what our labels can do to people.

By these labels we place whole peoples into an exile of poverty and hopelessness, or put them in danger of their life. Whether or not Bart became blind by accident or birth, he became exiled not by God, but by us his community and by the norms that excluded him and counted him as worthless. We may exile, but God always restores. God restores us to our real selves, the true community in which all people are valued and respected. The true community in which all people, blind or not, rich or poor, white or Native American or African American or Muslim or purple, are brought together in peace and respect and in wholeness and healing.

And then I think of the one holy Church, God’s beloved community. I really believe that the Church has existed for so long because it is centered, not on our individual selves, but on community. The community of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—gave us a model of a relationship of persons who are different and yet one. And we are rooted in a holy and life-giving community, exemplified by our baptism as one Body—Christ’s Body the Church. Community, not individualism, is our calling card.

God’s Table Manners – 16th Sunday After Pentecost

God’s Table Manners – 16th Sunday After Pentecost 150 150 admin

"God's Table Manners" by the Rev. Joanna Leiserson. September 9, 2018

Posted by Christ Episcopal Church, Dayton on Sunday, September 9, 2018

9-9-18 Sermon

Saying Goodbye – 14th Sunday After Pentecost

Saying Goodbye – 14th Sunday After Pentecost 150 150 admin

"Saying Goodbye," our final service with The Rev. John Paddock, August 26, 2018.

Posted by Christ Episcopal Church, Dayton on Sunday, August 26, 2018

12th Sunday After Pentecost

12th Sunday After Pentecost 150 150 admin

Posted by Christ Episcopal Church, Dayton on Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sing a New Song – 11th Sunday after Pentecost

Sing a New Song – 11th Sunday after Pentecost 150 150 admin

"Sing a New Song," by The Rev. Bob Dwight, August 5, 2018.

Posted by Christ Episcopal Church, Dayton on Sunday, August 5, 2018

Fish and Bread – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 12B

Fish and Bread – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 12B 150 150 admin

King Herod the Great, whom we know as the wicked ruler at the time of the birth of Jesus, had several sons. One of them, Herod Antipas, was Tetrarch of Galilee from 4 B.C.E. until 39 C.E. He was the local designated ruler of Galilee during the entire life of Jesus, and he served under three different Roman Emperors.

Antipas first capitol city was centrally located in Sepphoris (SEF-uh-ris) on a hill that overlooked the surroundings fertile countryside of Galilee where grain, olives, and grapes were grown in abundance. Sepphoris was just a few miles from Jesus’ childhood home of Nazareth.

During Antipas’ reign, more and more of the small farmers and peasants were impoverished as the Tetrarch’s clients and patrons tool the surplus crops. Antipas then shipped the produce as patronage to Rome through the new, state-of-the-art port of Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast. Through a system of debts and foreclosure, many were forced off their land into abject poverty and survived only by selling themselves into slavery.

This is familiar in the modern world where powerful corporations drive small farmers into bankruptcy (capitalism), or where collectivization confiscates privately held farms (communism). It’s all about the powerful versus the powerless. The results are the same.

In the year 14,  a new Caesar came into power. In order to curry favor with his new Emperor, Antipas built a new capitol city in the middle of the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. He named the city after Emperor Tiberias and he even re-named the lake – The Sea of Tiberias.

By the early 20’s of the first century, Antipas began to exploit the lake in the same way that he’d done with the farmland. He created his own fishing fleet and exacted stiff tribute from small, independent fishermen. He and his patrons took control of the fish markets and only they could process and ship to Rome dried fish, salted fish, and the fish sauce that the Romans loved so much.

The old fishing towns and villages began to wither. Magdella – home of Jesus disciple Mary – had been the most important fishing center on the lake just before the advent of Tiberias, which was just a few miles to the south.

“And so it came to pass that it was precisely along the shores of the Sea of Galilee – from Tiberias through Magdala and Capernaum to Bethsaida…” that the heavy-handed oppressiveness of Rome began to be felt – in the hometowns not just of Mary Magdalene, but of Peter, Philip, Andrew, James and John, all fishermen. And it was just at that time that the prophet from the oppressed breadbasket area of Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth, appeared in the lake region and began to gather followers.

“But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.” (Our translation says that he “cured the sick,” but the Greek literally means that “He served the weak…especially those of the lowest social status.”) This was not your average crowd of folk from all walks of life. These were the people on the margins – the bottom of the human food chain – displaced fishermen, net makers, boat-builders, and their starving wives and children.

Jesus had compassion on the 5000 men, plus women and children, and he served them. His heart ached for them for they were his people…his brothers and sisters.

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves. “

Isn’t that the way the world treats the folk in the bottom? Get them out of our sight. Send them away. Let them eat cake. Let them take care of themselves. Just tell them to get jobs.

I’m just re-reading the history of the Native Americans, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. It’s the story of the oppression, and in many cases the elimination, of native peoples. None other than Adolph Hitler studied the history of the United States’ treatment of Indians and the reservation system as a model for his concentration camps.

The disciples’ answer, the world’s answer, is absolutely ridiculous. Can you imagine 5000-10,000 hungry people walking into downtown Dayton to buy dinner – even if they had the money? Let alone thousands of hungry people descending on a few decrepit fishing villages with no money at all? Ridiculous?

Jesus said to them, “They need not to go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves of and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.”

The Empire/the current arrangement of the world says, “Send them away.” Jesus’solution, “Give them something to eat.”

Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.

The language here is Eucharistic language of take, bless, break, and give. Jesus took the loaves and fishes that the disciples had, he blessed it, broke it, and the disciples distributed it…and a miracle occurred. It was enough…and there was food left over.

New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan has written:

Antipas had multiplied the loaves in the valleys around Sepphoris (SEF-uh-ris), and he now intended to multiply the fishes in the waters around Tiberias – and for the kingdom of Rome. But a magnificently parabolic counter-story tells us how Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes – for the kingdom of God.

The Kingdom movement of Jesus intends to non-violently take back the lake and the land for God.

The Gospel writers were convinced that this story of the multiplication of loaves and fishes was so central to the meaning of Jesus’ life and ministry that it’s repeated seven times in the four Gospels.

And that’s exactly why every Sunday we take, bless, break, and give bread – affirming once again the counter-story. The real miracle here is not about what happened to the loaves and fish – or even the bread and the wine. The miracle is what happens to the disciples of Jesus who are converted from “Send them away” to “Give them something to eat.” The altar bread and wine become bread for the world as we disciples are converted again and again and again.

The reality is that God’s world, God’s land and God’s seas have enough to provide for the feeding and care of all of God’s people. The problems of famine in the horn of Africa and the empty food banks across America and the growing divide between the wealthy and the poor is not that there isn’t enough food or other resources…but that too many disciples haven’t yet been converted! Too many are still saying “Send them away,” and not enough of us are looking around for what we have and putting our heads together to figure out how to get it to those in need.

And there’s still another thing that Jesus teaches here about a world reclaimed from Caesar for God. Not only is there enough bread, fish, wine to go around in God’s economy…but that the food is taken, blessed, broken and given from a common resource (five loaves/two fish). Or even more explicitly in the Last Supper and the Eucharist: there is a common loaf/ a common cup/ a common wealth/ a common good. We do not have before us individual loaves and separate glasses of wine. Life in God’s kingdom is about sharing together from the one bread/the one cup.

I look at what is going on / not going on in Washington / in Columbus / in the Miami Valley / in political parties / the White House. It is all about scoring points, winning, gaining, increasing power…and greed…always greed.

Go into all the world and preach the Gospel,“” said Jesus. We’ve got a lot of preaching to do! It’s not preaching from the pulpit. It’s preaching in our homes, among our children, in the workplace, the neighborhood, and even in the voting booth. Preach!

In the name of Jesus, preach!

Amen.

 

Where is the Dwelling Place of God? – 8 Pentecost/Proper 11

Where is the Dwelling Place of God? – 8 Pentecost/Proper 11 150 150 admin

About 3,000 years ago, give or take a few decades, the great king David established his capital city in Jerusalem.

The prophet Nathan, speaking for God, told David: “Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.”

Actually, the idea of God living in a tent was a wonderful innovation on the part of the Hebrew people. Prior to that the gods were understood to be to be gods of a particular place. God of a field or a mountain, a vineyard, or a river.

It was often believed that it was the people’s job to make the God of that place happy; and in return, the god would make the crops abundant, the fish plentiful, the grapes bounteous. In the case of a mountain that was a volcano, pleasing the god meant that there would be no eruption.

So people would pray, offer libations (that is, they would pour some of their wine on the ground for the god of that place), give food, some even went so far as offer human sacrifice. The Hebrews offered animal sacrifices and cooked the meat thinking that God enjoyed the aroma. They burned incense for the same reason.

The Ark of the Covenant – described in the book of Exodus-was a large chest that supposedly contained the tablets of the 10 commandments, manna from heaven which was the bread-like food that the Israelites ate in the Wilderness, and Aaron’s rod. The Tent of Meeting (or tabernacle) was set up at the end of each journey to shelter the Ark of the Covenant.

The great new idea the Hebrews gave to the world was that God wasn’t only a God of one place- but God went with his people wherever they went. The Ark was PORTABLE! It had rings on the sides – long poles slipped through the rings served as handles – and a number of really strong people would carry it from place to place.

Now back to the story. David had made Jerusalem the capital. He thought it’d be a really good idea to build a house/a temple/into which they could put the Ark and everybody could come into Jerusalem when they wanted to visit God. And that’s exactly what David’s son, Solomon, did after his dad had died.

But the Hebrew people continued to have a debate about the dwelling of the place of God. Was it in a fixed temple in Jerusalem or with the people? Today’s text has both points of view, reflecting that debate. David is told not to build a Temple since God travels with the people. But later on, David is told that it will be alright for David;s son, Solomon, to build a Temple.

Many people still think that God lives in the church building… we call our churches houses of God. Fixed places. The Episcopalian God lives here, the Baptist God over on Monument Ave., the Presbyterian God farther up First Street. And in our case we have an altar that looks an awful lot like a big ole wooden chest that’s our equivalent of the Ark of the Covenant that we’ve installed in a prominent place in our building.

But St. Paul says that if we’re thinking like that, then we don’t understand that what God was doing in Jesus was a new thing. Just like the Hebrew idea that God could be portable on a wood box, Jesus went a step further.

The dwelling place of God is not in a mountain or river or field.

The dwelling place of God isn’t in a portable piece of furniture.

The dwelling place of God isn’t even in a building-Temple/Parish church/Synagogue/or Mosque.

The dwelling place of God is in us. 

I hear people say, sometimes, that they feel a great distance between themselves and God. But you know what? God is with them all the time. It’s like we are (each one of us) a walking Temple of Spirit of God.

I’m nearsighted. That’s why I wear glasses. But i don’t really need glasses to read or to see things close up. In fact, sometimes I can see things up close better without my glasses than I can with them on. So I do this. On more than one occasion, I’ve looked up from a book and said to my wife, “Honey, have you seen my glasses?” (Of course, she just looks at me like she’s wondering if it’s time to take me for a memory test.)

When I think that my glasses are lost, are at a distance from me, that’s a lot like how many of us think of God – far away – when, in fact, he’s right there all the time.

Of course, the theologians talk about the transcendence of God… meaning that God is far beyond us and God is everywhere – even beyond space and time. That’s true. But the same theologians talk about the immanence of God… meaning that God is close and present. That’s what I’ve been reflecting on this morning, because I think that’s the part we tend to forget.

So just a reminder, we’ve thrown in an extra Christmas here in the middle of our summer, Christmas in July. The other name for Christ is The Feast of the Incarnation, The Feast of In-The-Flesh. When God, the ground of Being, chose to be especially present he became one of us, a human being. But we don’t just stop there.

We go on to affirm that every human being made in the image of God – containing within us the capacity to love – has God within.

God is love.

 

Why College Should Be Free – Summer Intern Current Events Reflection 2

Why College Should Be Free – Summer Intern Current Events Reflection 2 150 150 admin

 

A college education has become a necessity in today’s society. Students throughout the country are concentrating on their academics and are endeavoring to receive perfect grades in order to receive a good enough scholarship to attend college. Financing each student’s education has become difficult in today’s economy. College can seem like a financial burden to many people in America. Thus, many students, teachers, and people wonder if free college tuition should be granted. Tuition should be provided and funded by the U.S. government because it will help students focus more on their future and help innovate the world into something much better.


Free college tuition should be given to students because it will assist students to concentrate on their studies. Most college students usually have part-time jobs and are full-time students. They have to rely on their job, as much as their academics, to be able to pay for all necessary books and classes that they are required to take. These jobs take time away from the student’s study time. If free college tuition was given, students would have more time to educate themselves, plus be well rested instead of being tired from time consuming jobs. Their main focus  wouldn’t have to be about money or time at all. They would be prepared for their classes and not worry about their own financial situation or other issues regarding their personal education.

There are students from underprivileged families that work hard in school and deserve the opportunity for a college education. Some students who get exceptional grades in school don’t have enough money to continue their education.  A lack of money should not stop a student from completing their education, but mostly their dream to become whatever they want to be. In addition, if free college tuition was given, a number of students would be motivated to work harder and try in school to get accepted into colleges. There would be a large increase in student grades and this would encourage our entire education system to dedicate themselves to make numerous intelligent and college prepared students. Free college tuition is a suitable circumstance that would not only reassure our country’s devoted students, but also assist them and their current economic situation.


The government would be investing their money for a worthy cause. The government would not be wasting their money, but spending it for our future. The money being funded would help educate our country. Many people will have more chances to get into school and have their education paid for to become doctors, lawyers, nurses, and for many other professions. Most students would finish their college education and this will eventually pay off because our country will have many intelligent, knowledgeable workers. The money invested in college tuition would have many decisive effects that could be the start of an improved American country.


To reiterate, education is a very important factor in our country. Students should be eligible to receive free college tuition for a plethora of reasons. Free college tuition will have many positive effects on our student’s studies and help with their financial situation. Our country’s government will be investing in our future leaders, doctors, and educators who will make our country a better place to live. This is a plan that should be incorporated. It would be a transcendent decision that would give many opportunities to millions of our country’s outstanding and striving students.

https://www.trade-schools.net/articles/should-college-be-free.asp


The views and opinions expressed in this reflection piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Christ Episcopal Church, Dayton. In an effort to encourage analysis of current events, inventory personal values, reflect on individual growth, and exercise self expression, we have asked our summer YouthWorks intern to write a weekly reflection on current events to be shared on Christ Church’s website and social media. This not only benefits our intern, Kennedy, but also benefits us all by hearing the perspective of one our local young people and looking at the world through a new lens.

Climate: Care for Our Common Home – 8th Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 10B

Climate: Care for Our Common Home – 8th Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 10B 150 150 admin

"Climate: Care for Our Common Home" by The Rev. John Paddock, July 15, 2018.

Posted by Christ Episcopal Church, Dayton on Sunday, July 15, 2018

Care for Our Common Home,” is the title of Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, which was issued several years ago.

Of course, there was immediate criticism of the Pope for getting involved in economics and science—he was told that he should stick to theology. Numerous politicians and pundits chimed in. Jeb Bush quipped. “I do not take economic advice from the Pope.”

On the one hand, it is a false dichotomy to attempt to separate thinking about God from the rest of life. And it’s disingenuous that many of these same politicians and pundits invoke the name of God and quote Scripture to shore up their own favorite causes, passions, political calculations, and fund-raising. They do it when it meets their needs, but they don’t like it when a preacher—the Pope’s a preacher, you know—they don’t like it when a preacher disagrees with them.

What the critics seem to miss is that Francis frames global climate change and environmental concerns as “theological and moral” issues. Yes, there are economic, social, scientific, and political implications. But what the papal encyclical does is to re-frame the question.

Climate is a theological issue. As the Psalmist says in our text for today, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, * the world and all who dwell therein.” (PS. 24:1)

Climate is a moral issue. The poor suffer the most from improper care of the environment—even though they have contributed the least to climate change. As our biblical scholars and theologians have insisted, Christianity has a preferential option for the poor—meaning that the weak and vulnerable take priority in our concern and action. And certainly, future generations are placed at grave risk if we fail to act significantly and in a timely way.

So our starting place in thinking about the environment is theological and moral.

The Bible opens with stories of creation—God’s creation. The universe is brought into being by the word of God. People are created and placed, where? In a beautiful garden. Everything they need is there. All they have to do is to leave that one tree alone. But they wouldn’t leave their hands off of it. And they ruined life in the garden. What a powerful metaphor.

In fact, the broad scope of biblical history can be read in terms of gardens and vineyards—gardens and vineyards obtained and lost. Abraham lived in the Tigris/Euphrates valley—the lush cradle of civilization. He left for a Promised Land.

Joseph led his people to the fertile farms and vineyards of the Nile delta to escape famine. Four-hundred years later Moses led them out of slavery in Egypt to roam the Wilderness of Sinai. Joshua led them into the Land of Milk and Honey. On and on it went—land obtained and land lost—exile and return.

Jesus frequently told stories of gardens and vineyards. Listen to this one from the 12th Chapter of Mark.

‘A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watch-tower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, “They will respect my son.”But those tenants said to one another, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. (Mark 12:1-8)

On the one hand it’s a parable about Jesus being killed by usurpers of God’s power and authority. But on the other hand it’s a story about us and about our relationship to God and to God’s vineyard. God created our world asking only that we care for one another and for the earth, and to return our love and worship and praise. But like the wicked tenants, we’ve done a pretty lousy job. Even worse than the tenants in the story, we’ve not only refused to return what is due to God, we’ve made a horrible mess—we’ve spoiled the vineyard.

Theologian Matthew Fox has written:

“When we resist something by denying it, the condition worsens. Climate change is a perfect example. There are still those who deny its existence even as ocean levels rise due to melting glaciers. That’s why we have to address denial. (The Christian mystic) Meister Eckhart says that ‘God is the denial of denial.’ Until we let go of denial, the creative, joyous energy of the Divine cannot flow.”

We parents of Deaf children know that when a Deaf person closes her eyes, she effectively cuts off almost all communication from the outside. With a distinct advantage over hearing children who must just pretend they don’t hear, she can prevent any new information from penetrating her world.

Jesus was always trying to get deniers to open their ears to hear and their eyes to see.

The Psalmist also anticipated the deniers when he referred to those who “pledged themselves to falsehood” and have “sworn by what is a fraud.” (PS. 24:4) The sad thing is that they have diverted too much time and energy away from seeking solutions—or in theological terms—redemption and healing of the earth.

What I most appreciate about the Pope’s encyclical, is that it calls the world to begin to think about the care of our common home in terms of our relationship to God and to each other. We are part of the creation. If we can continue to devalue the creation, we devalue humanity itself.

I was pleased to hear that our General Convention (which met in San Antonio from July 5-13) made creation care one of the chief priorities for the Episcopal Church.

Become an environmental advocate and activist, calling for industry, business, government, faith communities, civic organizations—all God’s people—to make better choices for the redemption of the world. Numerous organizations exist to promote activism and advocacy. Interfaith Power and Light is one of those to which the Episcopal Church belongs and supports.

And finally, pray. The power of prayer is that when we practice it regularly and fervently, we start to become more like what we pray for, and we join our hearts, hands, and voices with God’s. Let us make God’s garden to be, once again, a place of beauty, health, and wholeness—for after all, it is our common home.

Amen.

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 9B

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 9B 150 150 admin

"You Are a Moral Agent," by The Rev. John Paddock, July 8, 2018.

Posted by Christ Episcopal Church, Dayton on Sunday, July 8, 2018

The other day I picked up a little volume that is a history of First Methodist Church in Lawrence, Kansas, where my great-great Grandfather was pastor for a time. He had the improbable name of George Washington Paddock. Born in 1823 in Vienna, New York, he married Sophronia Sheldon. In 1857 they went to Kansas during that turbulent time where they were working to keep Kansas as a free state. George was a circuit-rider, who had churches in Baldwin City, Wyandot, Kansas City, Leavenworth, and Lawrence. The state was referred to at the time as bloody Kansas, as northern and southern bands of raiders killed one another. The most famous of these was John Brown, but others were even more deadly.

Their most tragic experience during those years was one August morning in 1863, while they were stationed in Lawrence, an abolitionist stronghold, when Quantrell’s Raiders struck the town and shot down in cold blood one hundred and eighty men. My great-great grandfather barely escaped with his life.

In his diary, George W. Paddock described a typical Sunday morning. As his congregation sang, prayed, and listened to a sermon, armed lookouts were posted on the roof to give the alarm in the event that a band of raiders from Missouri should appear, hoping to catch a bunch of northern sympathizers, all gathered in one place. As he stood in the pulpit, there was a gun-belt and pistol strapped around his waist and a loaded rifle leaned against the pulpit close at hand.

I thought of that image of my ancestor when I read a Reuters News article recently under the headline:

In some U.S. churches, guns are the answer to a prayer

The Sunday service was winding down, but before it ended, Bishop Ira Combs led the congregation of 300 at the Greater Bible Way Temple in prayer. The shootings that killed people in South Carolina and Texas and elsewhere could not happen here, he reassured his flock. As he preached, Combs was flanked by a man on each side of the pulpit, each armed with handguns beneath their suit coats. Other members of the church’s security team were scattered among the crowd.

Charles Ellis is pastor of the Greater Grace Temple, a Pentecostal megachurch in Detroit with 6,000 members. Ellis’ church has a trained, armed, 25-man security force, nicknamed “The Ministers of Defense.”

Without any intention of critiquing George W. Paddock who lived in another time in history, and with no desire to criticize Bishop Combs and Charles Ellis, who live and work in another place and who may have information to which I’m not privy, I do want to raise some questions? I want to know

  • What makes one strong?
  • What keeps us safe?
  • How can we be protected?

Can we have enough guns to keep us safe? Can we accumulate enough wealth or security alarms, gadgets or defense forces to ensure us against injury or death?

I don’t think so. Oh, we can be prudent: get our vaccinations, take our flu shots, eat healthy foods, drive defensively, say our prayers . . . .  But as we all know so well, there are no guarantees.

St. Paul wrestled with these same questions. He had what he called a “thorn in his flesh.” There has been a lot of speculation through the centuries as to what that was–whether it was spiritual, psychological, or physical. Some of the more popular theories about the thorn include temptation, a chronic eye problem, malaria, migraines, epilepsy, arthritis, or a speech impediment. Some even say that the thorn refers to a person, such as Alexander the coppersmith, who (according to 2nd Timothy) did Paul “a great deal of harm” (2 Timothy 4:14). Although no one can say for certain what the thorn was, it really bothered Paul. He wrote:

Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7b-10)

“Power is made perfect in weakness.”

What a contrast to the message of the world where power is equated with things external to us like pistols and money and high fences. But the teaching of our faith is that power arises out of our weakness. True power is moral power, power within, power dwelling in us.

  • It’s the kind of power you see in people, bravely and non-violently, facing into the charge of police dogs and the spray of fire hoses.
  • It’s the internal strength of a lone man facing down a tank in Tiananmen Square.
  • It’s the witness of Mahatmas Gandhi’s fasting that brought the British Empire to its knees.
  • It is none other than the power of the cross.

St. Paul explained it to the Philippians:

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

   did not regard equality with God

   as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

   taking the form of a slave,

   being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

   he humbled himself

   and became obedient to the point of death—

   even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:4-8)

The cross is the worst that police power, military power, empire power can do . . . kill, maim, destroy. Beyond that these forms of power are empty. They have no power. But the obedience of the weak, the victims, those with moral courage and the power of God behind them are revealed as the truly powerful . . . the kind of power that lives beyond death and grave . . . resurrection power.

Although we cannot control our security and our well-being, we do have moral agency. By that I mean that we have choices. Or in theological terms, we have free will.

Paul says that his thorn in the flesh was given him from a messenger of Satan. The rabbis teach that angels are messengers of God who have no free will. They just do God’s will. And God’s sends two angels when we face a moral choice. One angel on each shoulder, whispering in our ears—one whispering for us to do the right, the moral, thing—the other encouraging us to do the wrong or the evil thing. Both angels are sent by God because we have free will to choose the good or the bad. If we didn’t know about the bad choice, then we wouldn’t truly have free will.

A well-known native American story makes the same point.

An old man told his grandson, “My son, there is a battle between two

wolves inside us all.”

“One is Evil, It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies and

ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, humility, kindness, empathy

and truth.”

The boy thought about it and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”

The old man replied, “The one you feed.”

We choose to feed the Good wolf with what the world often sees as weakness: peace, love, kindness, empathy, truth.

But we know that “Power is made perfect in weakness by the grace of God.” So it’s not weakness at all. It’s the only kind of power that endures: cross power.

Amen.

A Matter of Fair Balance – Sixth Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost/Proper 8B

A Matter of Fair Balance – Sixth Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost/Proper 8B 150 150 admin

"A Question of Fair Balance," by The Rev. John Paddock, July 1, 2018.

Posted by Christ Episcopal Church, Dayton on Sunday, July 1, 2018

I invite you think with me about the relationship between religious faith and our country. We’re gathered here in church on a Sunday morning, as we contemplate and anticipate the Fourth of July celebration this coming Wednesday.

Of course, when things are going along rather smoothly, questions about God and country might not even come up. But when we have the Attorney General of the United States quoting St. Paul to justify splitting up families and incarcerating infants, toddlers, and children, then lots of questions emerge. What is the relationship between religion and the state?

These are not just questions for The United States—they’re being asked and wrestled with around the globe, where some predominantly Muslim countries are being encouraged to substitute Sharia law for the law of the state. And in other places, where there are clashes between religious groups, which religious laws should predominate—if any at all?

Back here at home there are widely varying interpretations of Christianity. If we decide in favor of Christian guidance for the laws that govern our common life, which interpretations should prevail? Fundamentalism? Mainline liberal Christianity? Roman Catholic social teaching? Or Mormonism? And within each of these groupings, we find wide varieties and variances. For example, Lutherans and Episcopalians can’t even agree on the wording and numbering of the Ten Commandments – not to mention that the commandments started off as Hebrew Laws; there’s nothing particularly “Christian” about them. Do we simply take a vote on each issue that might arise and follow the rule of the majority? And what about the losers of any such votes? Do they have any rights or recourse?

I don’t propose to solve these very difficult questions in a short sermon. What I would like to suggest that there are some considerations to keep in mind as we contemplate these matters—some values, if you will, that our faith brings to the table as we contemplate the relationship between civic and religious life.

I take as a starting point some words of St. Paul to the Corinthians. He was asking them to give generously to an offering that would go for the relief of the Saints in Jerusalem who were experiencing a famine. He said that “ . . . it is a question of a fair balance . . . . “ He was referring to the fact that the Corinthians were rather well off while their sisters and brothers in Palestine were living in poverty. The concept of “Fair Balance” is a biblical value that St. Paul calls isotes, meaning equity or evenhandedness. It’s not that everyone has the same, but rather that everyone has enough: enough food, enough clothing, shelter, security, opportunity and so on.

Another form of fair balance involves justice. I think of the image of Lady Justice—blind-folded, to suggest that the administration of justice should be without prejudice or bias. She’s holding a scale, indicating that justice is to be dealt out evenly to all. Justice is obviously a prominent biblical theme. Amos’ famous declaration: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Or Micah:  

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?

So the law, and the administration of justice, is to be mitigated with kindness and mercy. No one expresses it better than William Shakespeare:

The quality of mercy is not strained;

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown:

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, . . .

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That, in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy.

Another thing is that Micah reminds us to be humble. “Walk humbly with your God.” There’s nothing more dangerous than absolute certainty. No nation, no people, no state, no laws are perfect, and we Christians realize that we’ve been wrong before. We were wrong that the earth was flat, that the sun revolved around the earth, that we were created in perfection, that the Crusades were right and just. Many good Christians (some of them Anglicans even) wrote a Constitution with slavery enshrined in it. Just because something is the law does not automatically make it right. Some of us in this room can remember the battles against Jim Crow and legal discrimination—and there are some powerful forms of injustice embedded in our laws to this day. Humility and the concomitant value of “hesitation to be too certain of our righteousness” are important and useful in community life.

Another value featured prominently in both the Old and New Testaments is hospitality—hospitality to the foreigner, the stranger, the alien. The Torah regularly reminded the Hebrews that they were once slaves and strangers in Egypt and so they were to be vigilant to welcome those who would sojourn among them. And Jesus was clear that those who welcomed the stranger welcomed him: welcomed the very image and being of God.  

A definition of democracy I learned in Junior High School was this: “Democracy is the rule of the majority with respect for the rights of the minority.” There may well be far better and more accurate definitions—but the idea that “respect for the rights of the minority” should never be lost. When that pillar of democracy wobbles, the whole structure is in danger of collapse into some form of totalitarianism. I don’t think that it was an accident that when we American Episcopalians last revised The Book of Common Prayer, we made one plank of the baptismal covenant the promise to respect the dignity of every human being.

And so we Christians, as we ponder our country, bring to our pondering these values.

  • Fair balance, equity, even-handedness, and enough for everyone
  • Justice seasoned by kindness and mercy
  • Humility and hesitancy to be too confident in our own righteousness
  • Hospitality, especially for the other and the stranger
  • And respect for the rights and the dignity of every human being.

The question of whether we should be a Christian, Muslim, Jewish or other religious state should be an obvious “NO.” The state should never be the monitor nor the enforcer of religious doctrine or orthodoxy. At her best our country will exhibit those values that are commonly held by all of the world’s great religions—and even by many non-believers who are ethical people of good will.

As we approach our national day of Independence this Fourth of July, I’m reminded of the words of the old folk singer Utah Phillips who used to say, “Love of country always; love of government when it deserves it.” And I might add, “An insistence that we live up to our most deeply held values that have long defined us as people of freedom.

Amen.

I Really Care, Do You? – Summer Intern Current Events Reflection 1

I Really Care, Do You? – Summer Intern Current Events Reflection 1 150 150 admin

I really care, do you?

The topic of immigration in America has been a very recurrent issue lately. As many of you may know, Trump’s new immigration policy consists of separating immigrant families from one another. While the parents are being prosecuted, children are being put into cage-like shelters. The idea of children being separated from their families at the border is unethical and inhumane. There are many other ways to possibly decrease the rate of immigration into the US, but this route appears to be drastic and extreme. If the US cannot control immigrants from crossing the border, they should try to do so from a different approach. The US needs to figure out what force is pushing immigrants away from their countries and figure out how to fix these issues without tearing up families while in the process. Millions of dollars are spent on shelters and cages for immigrants, instead of those dollars being invested into effective and right-minded policies. Instead of treating people from other countries as animals, they should be trying to help these poverty stricken communities so that there is no need to migrate somewhere else. It is clear that not all immigrants come to America for good reasons. There are still issues such as drugs, trafficking and more than can be important factors of why immigration policies should be strict. However, these issues can be handled differently. Instead of trying to compete with other countries, the least we can do is deal with immigration in a humane manner. Many forget that immigrants are human as well which causes them to become desensitized to such cruel changes in the US Immigration policy. How can someone care so much about women and children but support such cruel policies? I believe Melania has answered this question for all of us. They really don’t care! But the question is, do you?

-Kennedy, 15

YouthWorks Summer Intern at Christ Episcopal Church


The views and opinions expressed in this reflection piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Christ Episcopal Church, Dayton. In an effort to encourage analysis of current events, inventory personal values, reflect on individual growth, and exercise self expression, we have asked our summer YouthWorks intern to write a weekly reflection on current events to be shared on Christ Church’s website and social media. This not only benefits our intern, Kennedy, but also benefits us all by hearing the perspective of one our local young people and looking at the world through a new lens.

CHAOS! – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost / Proper 7B

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"Chaos!" a sermon by The Rev. John Paddock, June 25, 2018.

Posted by Christ Episcopal Church, Dayton on Sunday, June 24, 2018

It’s a frightful thing to be caught in a storm. On Tuesday afternoon I was in the office when we were all caught off-guard by a sudden clap of thunder that shook the building. I glanced outside where it was very dark; the wind picked up in an instant. The skies opened up and the rain was so heavy and the blowing so strong that the water was rolling sideways. I saw a woman’s umbrella blown from her hand as she struggled to stay on her feet before ducking into the parking garage across the street.

I thought of that scene as I read the Gospel story of the windstorm that blew up on the sea of Galilee. The disciples were in a boat with Jesus and other boats were with them as well. A storm at sea can be more frightening than a land storm, because there’s the additional threat of the raging waters, roiling seas, and pounding waves. The boat containing the disciples and Jesus was being swamped—and there was no nearby garage to duck into. The disciples thought they were dying. They woke Jesus up and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?’

Although we don’t live on or near the sea, the sense of looming threat and chaos all around us is part of the human condition. Whether it be a natural occurrence like a tornado or violent storm, socio-political developments within or among nations, or the onset of disease—there are deep threats to our sense of calm, order, and well-being.

From the earliest times there was an understanding—a faith, if you will—that God is the only one who stands between us and the chaos.

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

So begins the ancient tale of the creation whereby God brought order out of the chaos—”the formless void and darkness that covered the face of the deep.” There was a word from God that initiated and brought about creation. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” So in this Markan story about the storm at sea, there’s a similar word spoken. “He rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.”

Jesus was seen, almost from the beginning of the Christian Era, as one with the Father. Mark has the disciples ask a rhetorical question: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

From early on, Christian art and architecture represented the church as a ship with a cross on its mast—a ship that navigated the storms of human existence. Our church buildings often have ceilings shaped somewhat like a ship’s hull, including the wood cribbing, where our upside down churchly ships sail on the seas of heaven.

And, of course we sing:

Eternal Father, strong to save,

whose arm hath bound the restless wave,

who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep

its own appointed limits keep:

O hear us when we cry to thee

for those in peril on the sea.

That’s all well and good. Indeed, we seek to beseech the Almighty to intervene between us and the chaos of life. But let’s not lose sight of another aspect of this story, which it would be easy to do. And that is that the proximate cause of the disciples’ jeopardy on the sea is that they are in that boat with Jesus. In Mark’s Gospel, it’s only in chapter 3 that Jesus completes the calling of his disciples. Here in chapter 4, Jesus has been preaching, teaching, and gathering crowds who have followed him on the journey across the sea.

They’re in danger, because they are following Jesus! To be his people, speaking his truth, witnessing to the gospel of justice and peace is often to place oneself in the way of danger and to be subject to the chaos of the world. Sometimes we’re called to place ourselves and our lives on the line – to stand with the weak and the persecuted – because that’s where Jesus is – that’s the boat in which he’s sailing and we have taken up the call to get on-board with him.

William Alexander Percy, penned this poem in 1924. It’s in our Hymnal as Hymn #661, and captures the thought so well:

They cast their nets in Galilee
Just off the hills of brown.
Such happy simple fisher-folk
Before the Lord came down.

Contented peaceful fishermen
Before they ever knew
The peace of God That fill’d their hearts 
Brimful and broke them too.

Young John who trimmed the flapping sail,
Homeless, in Patmos died.
Peter, who hauled the teeming net,
Head-down was crucified.

The peace of God, it is no peace,
But strife closed in the sod,
Yet, brothers (and sisters), pray for but one thing–
The marvelous peace of God.

Take up your cross and follow me,” he said. “Follow me.”

Amen.

I Never Get It Right – 4th Sunday after Pentecost / Proper 6B

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"I Never Get It Right!" June 17 sermon by The Rev. John Paddock.

Posted by Christ Episcopal Church, Dayton on Sunday, June 17, 2018

A young lady came to the church office the other day asking for the pastor.  I owned up the fact that I was the pastor. Before we were all the way into the office, she began her refrain: “I never get it right,” she said. “I never get it right.” And then she launched in to her tale about how everything she tries comes to a bad end. “It’s never right. I never get it right!

Part of her problem is that she’s been sold a bill of goods by some prosperity gospel preachers that if she gives them her money, prays in a certain way, and behaves according to a strict code of conduct, that she’ll climb right out of poverty and start living the American dream. As it is, she’s living in a shelter; every effort she makes seems to come to naught; and she’s feeling terrible . . . convinced that she’s not only going to hell someday but is living it right now.

Wouldn’t it be great if it was that simple—that living our lives was like following a tried and trusted recipe? A cup of this, a teaspoon of that, a quarter pound of something else and then bake at a certain temperature for a specified period of time—and out comes a perfect life?

I’m guessing that we would all like to have a workable plan, a recipe, a path to follow that leads around the pitfalls of our existence. We’d like to think that we have life figured out. But as we all know—at least those of us who’ve been around for awhile and have been paying attention, it doesn’t work out that way. Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, had it exactly right: “The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.”

Life is a mystery, much like a parable. Some parables, like that of the mustard seed, don’t make a lot of sense on one level. Turns out that mustard seeds aren’t the smallest of all seeds. David might have been a youth, the youngest of all his siblings, but he was no slouch when it came to being a warrior.

Part of the struggle of faith is that it is parabolic . . . not spelled out, often  unclear, and always with a sense of “Well, here’s the story. Now you figure it out.”

When the sons of Jesse came, Samuel looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the LORD.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16.6-7)

Tom Erich, a writer and blogger tells of his own experience:

I came out of my youth thinking I could learn anything. Then I met ice skating.

A friend named Pat taught me how to skate forward. Under her patient tutelage, I learned to turn one direction and do a hockey stop on one side. But turning the other direction eluded me, as did stopping on the other side and the utter mystery of skating backward. So much for playing ice hockey.

The list of things I didn’t understand grew and grew, until now it’s beyond counting. I don’t feel negatively about things I fail to understand. I just don’t get them. How do people climb the vertical faces of cliffs? How can people remain in confined spaces without panicking? How can an artist draw a face and have it look like a face?

Most confounding, of course, are other people. How do people who quote the Bible to justify hatred and cruelty sleep at night? How can people beat their partners, abuse their children, bully classmates, shout violent words against strangers? By the same token, how can targets of abuse become decent people, as many do? How do people keep showing up for work when they get no respect and minimal pay? How do soldiers and first responders move toward danger?

And perhaps most confusing, how does God stand us? God set in motion something glorious, and we are trashing it. God showed us how to love and how to sacrifice for others, and we turn away. God gave us bread, and we demanded gold. I don’t understand how God can continue to believe in humanity.

The answer, as it says in 1 Samuel, is that “the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” God must see the brokenness that causes us to be so cruel and unrepentant. God sees the wounds that drive us into our bunkers. God sees the goodness just waiting for an opening. God sees the need for love, the as-yet-untapped font of kindness. God sees our character, even as the world rejects our ugliness. God sees our desire to serve, even as the world preys on our naivete.

I’ve learned that it’s important to see the things I don’t understand – to try to sense the mystery that God sees.

On this Father’s Day, there are probably many of us Fathers who are very aware that we often got it wrong. We found ourselves in situations where there were no road maps, recipes, or directions—whether it was changing a diaper the first few times, trying to figure out a way of doing math that didn’t even exist when we were in school, or attempting to soothe a mostly adult child’s broken heart. The proper words and templates didn’t or don’t always exist.

But we love as best we can, we advise with hope that it will work, we tutor even when we’re not certain—because, in some cases it needs to be done and we’re the only ones at hand. We pray that God looks at our hearts and our children and spouses overlook or ignore our failures, and that everyone of us has had enough glimpses of, if not outright success, that we don’t have to ever tell ourselves that we never got it right.

So happy Father’s Day to those to whom it applies. Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and all other days that call attention to family—remind us to be humble, grateful, and so glad that there are those who love us in spite of ourselves. May your day be blessed.

Amen.

 

Lord of the Flies – Third Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 5B

Lord of the Flies – Third Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 5B 150 150 admin

"Lord of the Flies", June 10th sermon by The Rev. John Paddock.

Posted by Christ Episcopal Church, Dayton on Monday, June 11, 2018

Let me do a quick check here to see how many of you have heard of the unforgivable sin? Can I have a show of hands?

This text has been used to scare and frighten people over the centuries. In some cases it has caused great harm-providing justification for cruelty, ostracism, and even the death penalty.

It comes to us from the passage that is our Gospel reading for today, St. Mark wrote in the early 70’s of the first century, some forty years or so after Jesus. The Romans, following a Jewish revolution, had destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple.k Many of the leaders of the Jews were either killed or exiled. Judaism was necessarily changing rapidly from a Temple and Priest centered religion to one that was more compatible with a dispersed people-a religion focused on synagogues and festivals observed at home and rabbis (who were teachers, not priests). (For any of you who might like to explore this newer form of Judaism, let me commend to you the Jewish Cultural Festival that our neighbors are celebrating at Temple Israel this afternoon. They asked me to invite you for food, fun, games, and even short classes.)

During the first century transition in Judaism, there were rising tensions between leaders of the synagogues and those Jews who were beginning to call themselves Christians. There were many reasons for that, nut one of them was that the Jesus followers were welcoming Gentiles-people who were never Jews to begin with.

Mark describes a time when some scribes arrived form Jerusalem when Jesus and his disciples were in Galilee. Jesus had been healing and casting out demons-which was probably a first century way of describing the healing of mental illnesses. Some people thought Jesus was out of his mind, including some in his own family. Into this turmoil come the scribes who said:

He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.

Baal was one of the old Philistine gods, meaning “Lord.” Beelzebul, or Beelzebub as he was sometimes called, literally means, “Lord of the Flies.” William Golding took this as the title of his 1954 novel in which the head of a pig is raised up on a pole to signify a totem-a totem swarmed by flies.

Now that’s not a very nice thing to say about anyone, let alone the son of God, that he’s capable of only being Lord of the flies, or Lord of the demons, or Satan who is opposed to God.

St. Mark, writing in the midst of the tensions and responding to these scribes, says:

‘Truly, I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemes they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin”-for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

I doubt that Jesus ever said that. i think that it was Mark, writing many years later, who put these words in Jesus’ mouth in order to condemn the Jewish critics-critics who were saying bad things about the Christians nearly a half century after the time of Jesus.

Why do I say that? Because the Jesus we usually encounter was all about forgiveness of sins of all sorts-including forgiving the very people who mocked and crucified him:

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what to do.” —words uttered from the cross.

What Mark did is understandable. People do it all the time. Someone with whom we disagree, we condemn them. Children learn on the playground to call people bad names. When we grow up, we have adult bad names. “You folks are guilty of an unforgivable sin; you’re the sons of perdition; you’re lost and condemned forever! So there!”

Rather than state our case clearly and argue for it and simply disagree, we attempt to discredit the other by painting them with a label: communist, Nazi, terrorist, unpatriotic, traitor, devil, purveyor of fake news, or as we heard yesterday of the Canadian Prime Minister, “very dishonest and weak.”

Now let’s look at this another way. What is it that we might take away from Mark? What kind of behavior is Mark trying to discourage? Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Saying that God is Satan. That which is of God is evil. “Jesus is Lord of the flies.” Or putting great moral evil or natural catastrophe on the divine will. Saying that things like a hurricane is God’s payback for some supposed moral failing, or an act of terror was God’s punishment for this or that or the other thing.

We Christians are challenged by this text to hold off on the name-calling, judgementalism, and mis-labeling. We’re invited, instead, to a generosity of spirit toward those with whom we disagree, who have a different point of view, who are unlike us.

Hatred is not a Christian virtue. Love is what we’re called to display to the world. We’re even asked to love our enemies.

St. Paul told us that love is patient and love is kind.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love gives up life itself if that is required to keep from losing anyone. God is love. But there are limits. Not limits on treating others lovingly, but limits on certain behaviors like bullying, abuse, slavery-taking advantage of folk just because we can.

So sometimes love is fierce-fierce love is that kind of love that sits down at a segregated lunch counter. It’s not violent, but it’s intense and severe. It’s the energy and motivation to confront injustice. Fierce is beyond anger. Anger is often about past injustice. Fierce is the single-minded pursuit of a just future. Think of Martin Luther King, Jr. or the Old Testament prophets or Jesus as he sets his face toward Jerusalem.

Fierce may well be the face of love in our time.

Amen.

Lord of the Flies – Third Sunday after Pentecost

Lord of the Flies – Third Sunday after Pentecost 150 150 admin

Sermon 6-10-18

You can watch the entire sermon on our Facebook page by clicking here.

Sabbath: A Day Off from The Rat Race – Second Sunday after Pentecost / Proper 4B

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"Sabbath: A Day Off From The Rat Race" by The Rev. John Paddock, Sunday June 3.

Posted by Christ Episcopal Church, Dayton on Sunday, June 3, 2018

Tom Long, writing in The Christian Century, shared the following reflection on sabbath keeping in his youth.

My fore-bearers were Scots Presbyterians and fierce sabbath rule keepers. My grandmother cooked her lavish sabbath feasts on Saturdays, so the stove would not be lit and no work done on the holy day. No sports, no games, no frivolities were allowed on Sunday-only worship, rest, and Bible study. (Although there’s a nice family story of a strictly observant relative who spent his sabbath resting in his backyard, where he could easily overhear the radio broadcast of the Cubs baseball game coming through the window of a non-observant neighbor.)

Mark 2:23-28 presents a famous dispute about the sabbath between Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees have caught Jesus’ disciples plucking grain out on the holy day, and they confront Jesus about this alleged infraction of the law. As is often the case with pronouncement stories, the point is the pronouncement, and the tale itself has a bit of a contrived feel-I find it hard to imagine even Jesus’ stoutest opponents lurking superstitiously in the wheat field, spying on the disciples between the stalks. But it hardly matters; what’s of interest is Jesus’ statement: “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.”

As a teenager I welcomed this saying, which I heard as the meaning that all the blue-nose Presbyterian rules were off. The sabbath was made for me, and that meant I was free to indulge the day with all the movies, football, dances, and whatever else my heart desired.

I have since learned that Jesus had something deeper in mind. His goal was not to annihilate the sabbath, but to restore it to its true purposes. The sabbath is about participating in and anticipating God’s rest and God’s justice for all. These are the gifts from God that make life human and full, wand it is in this sense that “the sabbath was made for humankind.”

So my fore-bearers were a little shortsighted in their rules and strict sabbath codes-they got the notes but not the music-but they were in their own way on the right track. The sabbath is a way of life, a way of training one’s attention, that leads to the life that really is life. Deep in its disciplines is the goal of clearing away life’s clutter and focusing on what truly matters.

In our exploration of these texts about sabbath keeping, I want to explore several levels of meaning. Tom Long suggests that part of the meaning of Sabbath is justice. The sabbath commandment from Exodus 20 reads like this:

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work-you,your son, or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Did you catch it? Everybody gets a day off from the rat race-from having to work for a living, to make ends meet, to tend the bottom line, to achieve and to succeed. Not just the householder or the males or the adults-but everybody: women, children, servants, aliens, even the livestock. On the sabbath, for this one day out of every seven, there is equality. God’s rest is for everyone.

To say that the sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath is to also highlight the humanitarian intent of the law. The argument wasn’t foreign to Judaism. Emergencies should always take precedence over rules. The rabbis were very clear about this. In fact, Jewish New Testament scholar from Vanderbilt University, Amy Jill Levine, says that many Christian scholars misinterpret the Good Samaritan story when they suggest that the reason the religious people-the priest and the scribe-passed by the touch blood or death and, therefore, render themselves impure. No…human need always took precedence over the purity code and the sabbath practices.

The final line in the first story about eating the grain on the sabbath is often missed. Verse 2:28, “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the sabbath.” Son of Man is used in scripture in both Old and New Testaments to refer to the Messiah, the Anointed one, the one sent form God for the redemption of the world. Jesus is claiming that his authority cannot be anything other than the authority of God. Therefore, he cannot violate the sabbath rules. In fact, he gets to set the rules.

The second story in today’s gospel reading says that Jesus went into the synagogue on the sabbath, and there was a man there with a withered hand. There were also some Pharisees in the crowded synagogue who were lying in wait in order to catch Jesus doing something wrong-something illegal. “They watched him,” the text says, “to see whether he would cure the man on the sabbath so that they might accuse him.”

“Jesus forced the issue by calling the man out from the crowd and challenged his opponents to state the truth about the sabbath law.”
(Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent.”)

“Silence in this instance is evidence of a plot. Jesus frames the question in a way that reveals the ulterior motives at work: to do harm, to kill. Anyone who truly cares about the Law will agree with Jesus. The strong emotional reaction on Jesus’ part-anger and sadness at the people’s hardheartedness-highlights the extent to which Jesus’ opponents have cut themselves off from any possibility of accepting Jesus’ word. (New Interpreters Bible, Vol 8, p. 559)

So who were these Pharisees?

They were wealthy aristocrats who were friends and retainers of Herod Antipas. Most observant Pharisees would have had nothing to do with the lax and undisciplined Herodians, but the Pharisees in this story were apparently more opposed to Jesus than they were to King Herod Antipas, for we’re told that they “immediately conspired with the Herodians against them, how to destroy him.”

But to get back to the point, within Judaism, even within the most strict and conservative groups, there was nothing wrong with doing good and healing on the sabbath. What is going on here is a prior intent to kill Jesus, ignore his teaching, destroy his movement of love. Motivated by their fear and hatred, they were willing to let suffering continue and even conspire to murder. That’s why Mark says that “Jesus looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart.” In their self-righteousness, they became cruel.

Sabbath is a weekly reminder that we are God’s children and agents of his kingdom of love. Sabbath is meant to refresh the heart,to keep our hearts warm and soft, to widen our horizons.

So make love your goal. Nurture it, feed it by weekly worship, prayer, fellowship, hearing and sharing stories of faith, connecting to the world beyond. To use Tom Lang’s analogy, play the notes and hear the music, “The sabbath is a way of life, a way of training one’s attention, that leads to the life that really is life.”

 

Sabbath: A Day Off From The Rat Race – Second Sunday after Pentecost

Sabbath: A Day Off From The Rat Race – Second Sunday after Pentecost 150 150 admin

Sermon 6-3-18

You can watch the entire sermon on our Facebook page by clicking here.

John 3:16 Is Not A Slogan – Trinity Sunday

John 3:16 Is Not A Slogan – Trinity Sunday 150 150 admin

“John 3:16 is not a slogan.” – Trinity Sunday

“John 3:16 is not a slogan.” – Trinity Sunday 150 150 admin

“John 3:16 is not a slogan.”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

It’s one of the best-known verses in the Christian scriptures. Even Episcopalians, who famously don’t memorize biblical texts, even we can often quote it.

I’m mindful of football players who print John 3:16 in the black shade under their eyes; or the fans who hold up their homemade signs with the book, chapter and verse as the video cam scans the stadium crowd. Jewelry, tee shirts, yard signs, and billboards are emblazoned with “John 3:16” as if the name and numbers speak for themselves, and convey a potent message that evangelizes and converts on sight.

John 3:16 is not a slogan. It’s not intended to be a catchy phrase, a jingle, a mantra, or a refrain. It’s a passage form the third chapter of the Gospel of John that’s part of an entire conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus is identified as a leader of the Jews, but he comes to Jesus in the night.

One of john’s recurring themes is the contrast between light and dark. When Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness, he aligns himself with the dark side: the ignorant, unenlightened, the folk who just don’t get it. (The opening verses of the Gospel refer to Jesus as the “light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Judas operates in the dark. The soldiers and temple police come to arrest Jesus in the dark of night.)

Nicodemus seems to acknowledge that Jesus is God. And he seems to want to understand what Jesus is about.

Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’

Do you see? Nicodemus doesn’t get it. Jesus is using a metaphor and Nicodemus is a literalist. Jesus speaks of being born again as a whole new experience of God-but poor Nicodemus is stuck on how to enter again into his mother’s womb.

John goes on to speak of Jesus as like the healing serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness. He was referring to that strange little story in the Book of Numbers. The Israelites, wandering about in the wilderness, start to gripe about God and Moses having led them out of Egypt. There wasn’t enough water to their liking. They referred tot he manna form heaven as “this miserable food.”

So God sent poisonous snakes from among the people. Those who were bit, died. When the people repented, God had Moses make a bronze snake to mount on a pole. When folk were bitten, they would look at the snake on the pole and would live.

Then Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Commenting on this story, Jack Spong has written:

John sees Jesus symbolically as the serpent lifted up on his cross, drawing the venom out of human life, restoring wholeness. It is a powerful image….At the climax of (this) gospel Jesus will be enthroned, not on a throne of gold reflecting earthly power or even a throne of bronze as was the serpent, but on a throne of wood fashioned into a cross, an instrument of execution through which he will reflect a new humanity. That will be the doorway into a new consciousness, a new oneness with all that God is, a doorway into that which is eternal.

So much of what passes as Christianity in America is reduced to slogans, to four spiritual laws-, to displaying the 10 Commandments and crèche scenes in public, to having a certain set of laws on the books (usually having to do with sex), and refraining from being so inclusive as to wish someone “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” Christianity certainly is more than being able to fire scripture bullets like John 3:16 at a television audience.

Jesus calls to a higher loyalty…loyalty to the God who is love.

Ours is a faith that invites us into experiences of God that include a cross – a self-giving and a humility that is willing to let go even of life for the sake of the other.

Ours is a faith that affirms God’s love for the world; that eschews condemnation; that is open to the possibly that God may be experienced in suffering, pain, poverty…on a wooden cross…not on a throne of gold.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Everyone who believes in him (belief, not simply an intellectual affirmation, but a willingness to enter into and be transformed by the experience of the Holy.)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

The goal is life, not death, life lived in the footsteps of Jesus. It’s not a slogan, but a daily commitment to live as Jesus lived. Only then do we discover eternity as an experience and not a place. It is the realm of God.

Amen.

Sad, Tired and Angry: A Prayer in the Face of Gun Violence

Sad, Tired and Angry: A Prayer in the Face of Gun Violence 150 150 admin

By: James Martin, S.J. a Jesuit priest, and author. Found at: https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2017/10/02/sad-tired-and-angry-prayer-face-gun-violence 

Grape Vines and Jesus — Fifth Sunday of Easter

Grape Vines and Jesus — Fifth Sunday of Easter 150 150 admin

Grape Vines & Jesus, by The Rev. John Paddock. Sunday, April 29, 2018. You can read the entire semon on our website!

Posted by Christ Episcopal Church, Dayton on Thursday, May 3, 2018

Grape Vines and Jesus

Jesus said: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.”         –John 15:1-2

I’ve driven by vineyards in the lake country of Ohio, Pennsylvania, western New York and near the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Perhaps some of you are familiar with wine country in California, France, or elsewhere.

But did you know that grapevine branches that are more than two years old don’t produce fruit? They just add excess weight and contribute nothing. So they have to be pruned away.

Another fact is that before pruning, an average grapevine may have 200 to 300 buds, which are capable of producing fruit. If the vines are left un-pruned, the number of grape clusters would exceed the capacity of the vine to support them. The vine would be unable to ripen the large crop and the weight would damage the vine. Since most vines can handle only 40 to 50 buds, they must be pruned back a lot in order to be fruitful.

The point of the metaphor of the vine is that its purpose is to be fruitful. The Father is the vinegrower, Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. When we stop producing, we’re like old, dead branches that might as well be pruned away and thrown into the fire.

Of course, every parable and metaphor can be carried too far. This isn’t a condemnation of older Christians who’ve been around for a couple of years or more. And neither is it a teaching about the fires of hell. It’s an affirmation that the Church exists to produce the fruit of the reign of God by abiding in Jesus.

And what is this fruit of the vine? It is love. The author of the First Epistle of John affirmed that “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” (1 John 4:16) And St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, proclaimed: “Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

This isn’t the Hollywood kind of love where people “hook up” for a night or a season. It is, the Greek of the New Testament, agape: self-giving, other-concerned, other-focused love. It doesn’t condemn or exclude or draw boundaries. It’s the love embodied, incarnated in Jesus as he emptied himself on the cross. Agape is Divine love, love of God, love of neighbor, love of self, and even love of our enemies.

This is the kind of love that an exhausted mother exhibits when she nurses her baby at 3 a.m., changes dirty diapers, cleans up after a child with stomach flu, or responds to the gown child’s relationship crises. It’s the love of an adult child who carefully and patiently tends to the needs of an elderly parent who can no longer remember his child’s name. It’s the love that drives people out of the comfort of their homes to care for their next-door neighbor or the neighbor across the city, or even across the globe.

This agape isn’t found exclusively among Christians. It’s a part of the Divine breath that god breathed into humanity. It’s found among people of various faith traditions and no traditions. But it is stark and jarring when it’s absent…as the epistle writer observed:

Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God who they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.   –1 John 4:20-21

Recent studies indicate that many youth and young adults do not believe that Christians are very loving…in fact, some day “hateful.” Christianity, as practiced by some, can indeed by quite negative–defined by what or whom they’re against–who they would exclude, who they would condemn to lives of poverty and even death.

At the end of the day, people are watching us to see if our faith makes a difference for the good. They ask, “Is there love?”

There are powerful images for the church in the New Testament. In addition to the vine and branches, there are metaphors of the Body of Christ and the ecclesia or assembly of disciples. But what they all have in common is a focus on what holds us together. All are welcome–whether born into the faith or grafted in–we’re held together by our bonds and connections to Jesus–by Christ’s embracing love.

One of the things that keeps me connected and inspired is to see these bonds being acted out on a regular basis

  • The deep love with which people say goodbye to and bury their loved ones–in the confidence that they are always connected within the larger life of God.
  • The agape that welcomes young children as they are grafted into a family of their own by adoption.
  • The commitment to regularly feed the hungry and welcome the stranger–in the faith that we are all children of the one God–brothers and sisters all.
  • The audacity of a chaplain to pray that legislators adopt a bill that treats everyone fairly. In the secular world that may be reason for dismissal. But in the church it should be cause for celebration–for loyalty to the holy vine.

When we come to holy table to take into ourselves the bread and the fruit of the vine, it’s an outward and visible sign that we are part of Christ and Christ is part of us. May you walk in that love, abide in that love, and be that love for others.

Amen.

A Sermon on Doubt — Second Sunday of Easter

A Sermon on Doubt — Second Sunday of Easter 150 150 admin

Doubt.You can read the sermon on our website: http://daytonchristepiscopal.com/a-sermon-on-doubt-second-sunday-of-easter/

Posted by Christ Episcopal Church, Dayton on Sunday, April 8, 2018

Doubting Thomas. You all know the story. We just heard it read once again. The heart of the matter was that the other disciples had encountered Jesus on Easter evening. They had evidence that Thomas didn’t have. And so he was skeptical.

I recently participated in a focus group that was considering proposals for changes in our homeless system here in Montgomery County. In one exercise we were asked to divide the proposals into three categories: I approve, I’m conflicted, I disapprove.

I imagine that Thomas was in that middle category: conflicted. His friends believed in the resurrection and seemed to be enthusiastic about it. But resurrection? I imagine Thomas’ interior dialogue going like this. “I’m devastated by Jesus’ death. I desperately want to believe that he’s alive. I want to trust my friends’ testimony. But this kind of thing just doesn’t happen in normal experience. Maybe the others are deluding themselves. Perhaps they buried their sorrow in too much wine. I just can’t bring myself to go there without farther evidence.”

The people who scare me the most in this life are those who are absolutely certain. I think that you may know what I mean. We encounter folk like that in almost every walk of life and in every arena: true believers. Among some in the Christian world, it’s expressed in the mantra: The Bible says it. I believe it. And that settles it.

The world is flat and was made in six days, and Eve talked to a snake who talked back, and there was this Tree, and God is Up and is a He, and boys are better than girls, and sex is only for baby-making, and there will be Pie in the Sky Bye and Bye. And so the blessing Thomas gets for having doubts is turned, by some, into a kind of curse against those who raise their hands at the end of the lecture, because they still aren’t completely convinced.

I’ve lived much of my life with doubt. To say that the Bible says something doesn’t fully settle the matter for me. I find myself asking questions like:

  • Does the Bible really say that? What does the Hebrew and Greek say?
  • Are there other explanations?
  • When was it written?
  • Who wrote that text, in what context, and with what agenda?
  • Has it always been interpreted that way, or have there been other perspectives?

As a boy and a young man I thought that I had things figured out. But then I started discovering that certain people weren’t quite as bad as I thought. Discovered in myself mixed motives. Realized that some of my heroes had clay feet. Ideals like freedom of speech, capitalism, and democracy have both upsides and downsides.

For the longest time I said the creeds with fingers figuratively crossed behind my back, because they contained words or phrases that stuck in my throat. There were times that I thought that I was a fraud for being a priest and questioning some tenet of the faith.

I’ve come to learn that this is a particularly Anglican sensibility. We’re true to our British roots, muddling through as they say. Even to this day the British are hard pressed to be clear about whether they want to be part of the continent of Europe or not. They like to look at all sides of a question.

And you know what? Because I’ve doubted myself, I’ve never wanted to excommunicate, shun, or banish anyone else – with the rare exception of those who were so certain that they were willing to throw others off the bus for disagreeing or differing with them.

Doubters save us from Nazism.

Doubters prevent us from engaging in genocide.

Doubters mitigate racism.

After posting the topic of DOUBT on the Church sign this week, there have been a number of inquiries, questions, and conversations about it. Tom Ioanes shared with me a TED talk on the subject. Psychologist and Middle East reporter Lesley Hazelton delivered a talk entitled Believers and Doubters in which she called for a new appreciation for doubt and questioning as the foundation of faith and an end to fundamentalism of all kinds.[1]

Hazelton points out that the prophet Muhammad was convinced that his first encounter with God was either an hallucination or evidence that he was possessed by an evil spirit. He was overwhelmed not by conviction—but doubt. In fact, Hazelton insists that doubt, rather than the opposite of faith is actually essential to faith. Faith arises out of struggle. Mohammad struggled to understand his experience. Jacob wrestled with the angel. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness striving with satan. Thomas strove with himself for a week—and out of that struggle he knew exactly what questions needed be answered in order to come to faith.

What is often mistaken for faith is fanaticism, an absolute conviction that those who believe like we do possess the truth with a capital “T”. “Without doubt, what is left is absolute heartless conviction.” Others, who do not accept our truth are then disposable as infidels, from the Latin, meaning “faithless”. It was applied by Christian Crusaders to Muslims and more recently, by Muslim extremists to Christians, Jews, and even fellow Muslims who disagree with them. In fact, says Hazelton, fundamentalists of all stripes are the infidels, the faithless, because they have no questions, only answers. It’s the perfect antidote to thought and struggle: certainty.

Real faith has no easy answers. It’s difficult, because it requires an ongoing questioning of what we think we know. It goes hand in hand with doubt.

This understanding is why many of the more certain churches grow and have large campuses and numbers. It’s why many of us in the mainline of Christianity are witnessing declining membership and, in part, why, sadly, we will participate in the closing of another Episcopal Church this afternoon up the street at St. Andrew’s.

Of course, there are many other factors at play which are beyond the scope of this reflection. But be encouraged to know, as you struggle with what to believe and question certain affirmations, that you are being faithful. You are faithful to the traditions of the world’s great religions and to our own Anglican and Christian heritage. As cracks may appear in your faith from time to time, they are allowing an opening for the Holy Spirit. As our United Church of Christ friends say, “Do not put a period where God has only placed a comma.”

[1] Leslie Hazelton’s Ted Talk was delivered Nov. 22, 2013, and  can be viewed at this link. https://www.npr.org/2013/11/22/245951995/is-doubt-essential-to-faith

 

Email Trouble?

Email Trouble? 150 150 admin

We are aware that a large number of parishioners are not receiving emails from the church, such as The Broadcast and Prayer Requests. We currently utilize an email service provider, Constant Contact, that makes it easy for us to create custom content that can be sent to a large number of subscribers. One common problem of using an email service provider is that your provider (ex: Gmail, Yahoo, AOL) thinks our emails are marketing promotions or junk and automatically sorts them into folders like ‘Promotions’, ‘Social’ or ‘Junk’ without you realizing it.

 

To be sure that you receive email communication from the church, here are a few steps you can take:

  • Add our email address to your Safe Sender List / Contacts

Adding our email address to your Safe Sender List / Contacts (christdaytonoffice@nullgmail.com) will greatly increase the likelihood that you will properly receive our emails to your Primary Inbox.      Click the link below for Constant Contact’s instructions on adding Christ Episcopal Church to your Safe Sender list

http://knowledgebase.constantcontact.com/articles/KnowledgeBase/5873-adding-email-addresses-to-a-safe-sender-list?lang=en_US

  • Move our emails to your Primary Inbox

You may find that our emails are automatically being filtered and sorted into other folders like ‘Promotions’, ‘Social’ or ‘Junk’. By searching for our emails, you may find what folder they are ultimately being delivered to; make a point to check those folders periodically to see if our emails end up there. If you see our emails in those folders, move them to your Primary Inbox–over time, your email provider will learn those emails are important to you and will send them to your Primary Inbox instead.

  • Change your Inbox Settings

Gmail, specifically, sorts your emails into three categories: Primary, Social and Promotions. They do this to help keep your emails organized for you and make it easier to find what you’re looking for. For example, emails from your sister would likely go to Primary; emails from Facebook or LinkedIn would go to Social; emails from Kohls or Groupon would go to Promotions. As previously noted, emails from the church may be automatically filtered into Social or Promotions instead of Primary. If you prefer to have your emails categorized as such, be sure to check those folders for our emails and move them over to Primary as outlined above. If you prefer to have all of your emails in your Primary Inbox, go to the Options menu and select ‘Configure Inbox’ then un-check Social and Promotions, save.

  • Create a Filter

Most email providers allow you to create custom filters, so incoming emails from certain addresses or containing certain words will be filtered into the folder you prefer. You will likely find this under ‘Settings’. If you choose to create a filter, put christdaytonoffice@nullgmail.com in the field: From, and Christ Episcopal Church in the field: Has the words -or- Include the words . Then choose the category or label you would like our emails filtered to, such as ‘Personal’ or ‘Primary’ or ‘Church’.

 

If you have tried any of the above and continue to have difficulty receiving or locating our emails, please contact the Parish Administrator by phone at (937) 223-2239 or email at christdaytonjoyce@nullgmail.com

 

Christ the King, Sermon 11/26/17

Christ the King, Sermon 11/26/17 150 150 admin

Christ Episcopal Church

Dayton, Ohio

Last Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 29a

November 26, 2017

 

 

This is the last Sunday of the Church Year. We begin each year by celebrating the coming of the Prince of Peace and we conclude today with the Feast of Christ the King.

 

The Gospel is taken from the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, which is a story about the last judgment. The King is sitting on his heavenly throne and all peoples and nations of the earth are gathered before him. Like a shepherd, the king begins to separate the sheep and the goats. The sheep are placed to the right of the King, while the goats go to the left. (That’s not a political metaphor.)

 

The sheep are told that they’re blessed and will inherit the kingdom of God: “ . . . for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

 

The goats are cursed and told to depart for the fiery place reserved for the devil and his angels . . . because they did not feed, did not share a drink, didn’t welcome, did not clothe — take care of – or visit him when he was in prison.

 

Neither the sheep nor the goats have any idea of when they responded to — or didn’t respond to — the king’s need. Both sheep and goats ask: “When was it that we saw you hungry or naked or thirsty?” “We don’t remember ever seeing you, O great King, in any of those dire circumstances?”

 

And the King answers them with those memorable words, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it – or didn’t do it – to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it – or didn’t do it — to me.”

 

Just when we think we may have this religion business figured out, Jesus tells a story like this. Here are all the nations and peoples of the earth gathered in front of the great Judgment Seat of the King of Heaven . . . all the people, not just the Christians, not just the Israelites, but everyone else, too: imagine Mexicans, Egyptians, Kenyans, Koreans . . . all the people and nations.

 

And folk are being divvied up for eternity – not on account of their interpretation of Scripture, not on account of what they’ve done for church or synagogue or mosque, not even on the basis of their beliefs about the divinity of Jesus. No! The criterion for the great divide is how they’ve treated their neighbors – especially the vulnerable ones.

 

Neither group is aware of when they’ve met or served the King. There’s no calculation here, no sense that if I visit this guy in prison or volunteer at the food pantry that I’ll go to heaven. It’s all based on how humane one is, without cunning, without calculation, without guile.

 

In biblical literature this type of story is known as an apocalyptic story – that is, it’s supposedly about the end of time, the end of history, the end of the world. But although these stories purport to be prophecies of the end, the authors actually used them as vehicles for talking about the present.

 

The behaviors that are raised up by Jesus as critical in the present aren’t spectacular. They’re simple, everyday tasks that one can do to make the life of another more comfortable, more whole, and more endurable. These tasks represent the values of Jesus: that how we take care of one another in the human family is eternally significant.

 

The vision of Christ the King calls to mind a majestic figure – draped in the finest robes, sitting on a golden throne, wearing a jeweled crown of gold. But let’s not forget that the Jesus of history – the real Jesus – had a crown of thorns, and that his throne was a cross on which he hung and died. He was thirsty, and they gave him vinegar. He was naked, and they cast lots for his clothing.

 

Which raises the question about what it means to possess power. On the one hand the king separates sheep and goats. He hands out rewards and punishments. But Jesus gives us a lesson in how to wield power in a very different way—another way to be king. God’s power is not in military might—not in bombs, violence, and guns. His kingship isn’t a Game of Thrones kind of royalty.

 

Ironically, his power comes from a willingness to give up traditional forms of power by reigning from a cross. It’s a moral power where might does not make right—but right makes right. It’s the kind of power that non-violence wields in the face of violence. There is strength in being weak and vulnerable—showing up the violent as ultimately powerless.

 

We are facing a crisis of morality in this land. Symptoms of that crisis are the revelations in recent weeks of the abuse of power: in entertainment, government, politics, education. It has certainly occurred in the church—it happens in all walks of life and among folk all along the political spectrum. I’m talking about the abuse of women and children.

 

It is also the immorality that is willing to throw others under the bus. Deporting people who have no home to return to or a mom who is the primary care giver of a Down’s Syndrome son; abusing prisoners in the Montgomery County Jail; exposing folk to poisoned air and toxic water because it’s good for some distant investor’s bottom line; and on and on and on.

 

Today we bring two beautiful little girls into our community of faith—the Christian Church. We baptize them in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If there is one thing that I hope their parents, families, and faith community bequeath to them it is that they see the divine presence in every other human being and understand that God’s great creation is sacred. If they can have that kind of vision, then they will use whatever power they will one day have to do right: loving their neighbors as themselves and being stewards of the earth—knowing that this is Jesus’ claim upon their lives.

 

May God grant them and us the ability to embrace the other. And may what breaks the heart of Jesus, break their and our hearts as well.

 

Amen.

The Cross as the Revelation of Jesus

The Cross as the Revelation of Jesus 150 150 admin

 

Fifth Sunday in Lent – Year B

March 18, 2018

Next Sunday is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. We will remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his Last Supper with the disciples, his arrest, trial, and death on a cross.

According to the gospels, Jesus saw the end coming and he spoke about it a number of times. Today’s account from John 12:20-33 is an example.

The scene is just after the Palm Procession into the city which was filled with visitors from many different places who had travelled to celebrate the coming Passover. Some Greeks approached Philip and said: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

Then a surprising thing happened. Jesus doesn’t take the Greeks over to the corner bagel shop for a quiet, private conversation. He speaks to the whole crowd. We begin to understand that the request, “We wish to see Jesus,” is really a metaphor for, “We want to understand, to comprehend, to grasp what this person is all about.”

And what does he talk about? Death and the cross.

23Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Then he goes on to say:

32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

The cross. We have crosses in our churches. We wear them as jewelry on silver and gold chains. But do we comprehend the power of the cross of Jesus? Do we understand, like Jesus was saying to the Greeks, if you truly wish to see, to understand me, then consider the cross.

Two stories I want to share with you.  The first is from Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson’s award winning account of his work as a young attorney dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, and those trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system.

Herbert Richardson was on death row. All of his appeals exhausted, he asked to meet with Bryan Stevenson a half-hour before his execution. I read from the text.

“It’s been a very strange day, Bryan, really strange. Most people who feel fine don’t get to think all day about this being their last day alive with certainty that they will be killed. It’s different than being in Vietnam . . . much stranger.”

He nodded at all the officers who were milling about nervously. “It’s been strange for them, too.”

“All day long people have been asking me, ‘What can I do to help you?’ When I woke up this morning, they kept coming to me, ‘Can we get you some breakfast?’ At midday they came to me, ‘Can we get you some lunch?’ All day long, ‘What can we do to help you?’ This evening, ‘What do you want for your meal, how can we help you?’ ‘Do you need stamps for your letters?’ ‘Do you want coffee?’ ‘Can we get you the phone?’ ‘How can we help you?’”

Herbert sighed and looked away.

“It’s been so strange, Bryan. More people have asked me in the last fourteen hours of my life than ever asked in the years I was coming up.” He looked at me, and his face twisted in confusion.

I gave Herbert one last long hug, but I was thinking about what he’d said. I thought of all the evidence that the court had never reviewed about his childhood. I was thinking about all of the trauma and difficulty that had followed him home from Vietnam. I couldn’t help but ask myself, Where were these people when he really needed them? Where were all of these helpful people when Herbert was three and his mother died? Where were they when he was seven and trying to recover from physical abuse? Where were they when he was a young teen struggling with drugs and alcohol? Where were they when he returned from Vietnam traumatized and disabled?

I saw the cassette tape recorder that had been set up in the hallway and watched an officer bring over the tape (that Herbert had requested to be played as he walked to the death chamber). The sad strains of “The Old Rugged Cross” began to play as they pulled Herbert away from me.”[1]

We wish to see Jesus.

William Willimon is a professor of theology at Duke University Divinity School. He recently shared the following story.

Right after I finished seminary, I was forced to take a quarter of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). That’s when a budding pastor is assigned to some clinical situation in a chaplaincy position. You work under the supervision of some experienced chaplain who guides you in ministry to those in need.

My first day, I was assigned as chaplain to a woman who was in the last stages of lung cancer. I entered her hospital room with a cheery, “Good morning!”

She cursed me and told me she didn’t want any blankety-blank-blank chaplain hanging around her. I left.

Then the head nurse told me, “She’s addicted to cigarettes. That’s how she got in this fix. She’s not allowed to smoke by herself. If you go back and tell her that you are willing to sit with her while she sucks on those cancer sticks, she will let you stay.”

I gulped but did just that. She let me stay, and I sat there watching her inhale the smoke that was causing her death. Between her gasps, she told me that she had been raised as a Catholic, but she despised the church and hadn’t been in a Catholic church in years.

In the subsequent weeks (I visited her and watched her smoke at least twice a day), she told me about her childhood. Her cancer seemed a sad way for her rather sad life to end. Repeatedly she told me about her anger at the church. No friends or family ever visited her, so far as I know. Each day she became weaker as the cancer made it more difficult for her to breathe.

Then one day, between gasps, she asked, “Can you get me a crucifix?”

“Er, uh, I guess so. I’m a Protestant, but I’m sure I can find a way to get you a crucifix. Why do you want a crucifix?” I asked.

“None of your damn business,” she gasped.

I got her a crucifix on a string of rosary beads and presented it to her. She took it without comment. In all my succeeding visits, I found her clutching that crucifix to her chest as her chest heaved up and down in labored breathing.

On the next to the last day before she slipped into a coma, she said to me unexpectedly, “You know”—gasp—“why I want this?” Gasp.

“I would really like to know,” I said.

“He, he has been there,” she said, lifting the tiny figure of Christ on the cross. “He’s been there. He knows.” Gasp. “There’s nothin’ that they done to me,” gasp, “that they didn’t do,” gasp, “to him. He knows.”

She died two days later with Christ on the cross clutched in her hands. I said that she asked me to go find her a crucifix. I think it’s more accurate for me to say that Christ on the cross, Christ the crucified, found her. [2]

Jesus said: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

It is so.

 

 

 

 

[1] Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, 2014, Spiegel and Grau: New York, p. 89.

[2] William Willamon, Ministry Matters: Pulpit Resource, found online at http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/8662/march-18-2018-the-magnetic-cross

Step Up Instead of Give Up for Lent 2018

Step Up Instead of Give Up for Lent 2018 150 150 admin

Joining with The Living Beatitudes Community for Lenten Suppers/Study

Tuesday, February 13, 6 pm, Pancake Supper and Lenten Focus Presentation and Discussion

Tuesday, February 20, 6 pm, Soup and Bread followed by short video and discussion

Wednesday, March 14, 6 pm, Soup and Bread followed by short video and discussion

Lent has always been a time to reflect, a time to challenge oneself. Traditional observances included “giving something up” during Lent, fasting at specific times, and observances that focused one’s efforts on personal piety. But newer theologies and enhanced awareness of the world at large have provided a framework for the Christian that now emphasizes radical interdependence. We see more clearly that our life choices affect us as well as other. We are no longer fed by a religious story of otherworldliness, but more by that of engagement in the world. Our actions as Christians, then, arise from our life experiences, and lead outward in service to others.

This lent we are focusing on Stepping Up to the challenge of a new spiritual practice, that of learning how to listen for the sake of building solidarity. Progressive Christianity Uniting states it this way: “Either because of unfamiliarity or unease, we remain separate from the suffering in our wider communities. So if we are called neither to cut ourselves off nor to act as divine rescuers, where does that leave us? The middle path, the narrow way, is one of solidarity. This means that we support the work of those directly affected by oppression, but as partners we take our guidance from those closest to the situation.”

Step up to growing in listening and learning from others in your community who are experiencing mistreatment and injustice. What are they asking for? How can you and the church support the work they are already doing? Listen to them.

Step up to seeing those marginalized by our society as your neighbor. How do your life choices contribute to the marginalization? Can you change anything in your life because of this? Step up to give up the myth that nothing can change.

If you plan to attend, we will need a head count to prepare for the meals. Please sign up on the sheet in the parish hall or call (937-223-2239) or email christdaytonoffice@nullgmail.com

Christ the King Sermon 11/26/17

Christ the King Sermon 11/26/17 150 150 admin

Christ Episcopal Church

Dayton, Ohio

Last Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 29a

November 26, 2017

 

 

This is the last Sunday of the Church Year. We begin each year by celebrating the coming of the Prince of Peace and we conclude today with the Feast of Christ the King.

 

The Gospel is taken from the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, which is a story about the last judgment. The King is sitting on his heavenly throne and all peoples and nations of the earth are gathered before him. Like a shepherd, the king begins to separate the sheep and the goats. The sheep are placed to the right of the King, while the goats go to the left. (That’s not a political metaphor.)

 

The sheep are told that they’re blessed and will inherit the kingdom of God: “ . . . for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

 

The goats are cursed and told to depart for the fiery place reserved for the devil and his angels . . . because they did not feed, did not share a drink, didn’t welcome, did not clothe — take care of – or visit him when he was in prison.

 

Neither the sheep nor the goats have any idea of when they responded to — or didn’t respond to — the king’s need. Both sheep and goats ask: “When was it that we saw you hungry or naked or thirsty?” “We don’t remember ever seeing you, O great King, in any of those dire circumstances?”

 

And the King answers them with those memorable words, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it – or didn’t do it – to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it – or didn’t do it — to me.”

 

Just when we think we may have this religion business figured out, Jesus tells a story like this. Here are all the nations and peoples of the earth gathered in front of the great Judgment Seat of the King of Heaven . . . all the people, not just the Christians, not just the Israelites, but everyone else, too: imagine Mexicans, Egyptians, Kenyans, Koreans . . . all the people and nations.

 

And folk are being divvied up for eternity – not on account of their interpretation of Scripture, not on account of what they’ve done for church or synagogue or mosque, not even on the basis of their beliefs about the divinity of Jesus. No! The criterion for the great divide is how they’ve treated their neighbors – especially the vulnerable ones.

 

Neither group is aware of when they’ve met or served the King. There’s no calculation here, no sense that if I visit this guy in prison or volunteer at the food pantry that I’ll go to heaven. It’s all based on how humane one is, without cunning, without calculation, without guile.

 

In biblical literature this type of story is known as an apocalyptic story – that is, it’s supposedly about the end of time, the end of history, the end of the world. But although these stories purport to be prophecies of the end, the authors actually used them as vehicles for talking about the present.

 

The behaviors that are raised up by Jesus as critical in the present aren’t spectacular. They’re simple, everyday tasks that one can do to make the life of another more comfortable, more whole, and more endurable. These tasks represent the values of Jesus: that how we take care of one another in the human family is eternally significant.

 

The vision of Christ the King calls to mind a majestic figure – draped in the finest robes, sitting on a golden throne, wearing a jeweled crown of gold. But let’s not forget that the Jesus of history – the real Jesus – had a crown of thorns, and that his throne was a cross on which he hung and died. He was thirsty, and they gave him vinegar. He was naked, and they cast lots for his clothing.

 

Which raises the question about what it means to possess power. On the one hand the king separates sheep and goats. He hands out rewards and punishments. But Jesus gives us a lesson in how to wield power in a very different way—another way to be king. God’s power is not in military might—not in bombs, violence, and guns. His kingship isn’t a Game of Thrones kind of royalty.

 

Ironically, his power comes from a willingness to give up traditional forms of power by reigning from a cross. It’s a moral power where might does not make right—but right makes right. It’s the kind of power that non-violence wields in the face of violence. There is strength in being weak and vulnerable—showing up the violent as ultimately powerless.

 

We are facing a crisis of morality in this land. Symptoms of that crisis are the revelations in recent weeks of the abuse of power: in entertainment, government, politics, education. It has certainly occurred in the church—it happens in all walks of life and among folk all along the political spectrum. I’m talking about the abuse of women and children.

 

It is also the immorality that is willing to throw others under the bus. Deporting people who have no home to return to or a mom who is the primary care giver of a Down’s Syndrome son; abusing prisoners in the Montgomery County Jail; exposing folk to poisoned air and toxic water because it’s good for some distant investor’s bottom line; and on and on and on.

 

Today we bring two beautiful little girls into our community of faith—the Christian Church. We baptize them in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If there is one thing that I hope their parents, families, and faith community bequeath to them it is that they see the divine presence in every other human being and understand that God’s great creation is sacred. If they can have that kind of vision, then they will use whatever power they will one day have to do right: loving their neighbors as themselves and being stewards of the earth—knowing that this is Jesus’ claim upon their lives.

 

May God grant them and us the ability to embrace the other. And may what breaks the heart of Jesus, break their and our hearts as well.

 

Amen.

Changing Lives at the Shelters

Changing Lives at the Shelters 150 150 admin

Gary Kuziensky’s Message on Sunday, October 29

Waffle Shop is just a couple of weeks away – for those of you who have worked at Waffle Shop – you will remember that Tom Schaffer, after the prayers,  says – I have it on good authority that any moment now Jesus is going to be coming through our front door. Tom doesn’t say Jesus might be coming through our door, but Jesus is coming through our door. There is a big difference between might and is.

A number of years ago, we were conducting a Lenten program that began with silent meditation in the Chapel, followed by a dinner in the Parish Hall, and then followed by Bible study. I was in the Chapel when Dave Bane our former rector called me out to ask a favor. He said he had really messed up – there was this homeless man who had nowhere to sleep for the night. So Dave said he gave him a voucher to stay at the Day’s Inn that used to be on First Street – but Dave said, I forgot to invite the man for dinner.  Dave asked me to go down to the Day’s Inn, find the man – I did not know his name – and invite him to dinner – the reason being, Dave said, that it might be “Him”! My theology then was not everyone was Jesus, but every once-in-awhile someone would show up in a disguise, usually a poor person, to see how we would respond. So I went to the Day’s Inn, found the man and invited someone who might be Jesus to dinner and he accepted. Oh by the way, the man I invited to dinner, his name was Gary.

Barbara Brown Taylor has become one of my favorite authors – I like the way she thinks and how she expresses herself in her books. In her book, Gospel Medicine, talks about the Ascension of Jesus and what we should be doing since Jesus left the planet over 1900 years ago – she says: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” That is what the two men in white robes said to the disciples on the mount called Olivet just outside of Jerusalem. Luke calls them men in white robes, so as not to scare anyone, but you can bet your last nickel that they were angels—angels sent to remind God’s friends that if they wanted to see him again, it was no use looking up. Better they should look around instead, at each other, at the world, at the ordinary people in their ordinary lives, because that was where they were most likely to find him—not the way they used to know him, but the new way, not in his own body but in their bodies, the risen, the ascended Lord who was no longer anywhere on earth so that he could be everywhere instead.” She goes on to say, “It was almost as if he had not ascended but exploded, so that all the holiness that was once concentrated in him alone flew everywhere, flew far and wide, so that the seeds of heaven were sown in all the fields of the earth.”

A few days ago, I got an email from my college classmate, Jack Ridl, who used the word Namaste. I did not recognize the word, so I looked it up. The gesture Namaste is used as a formal greeting among Hindus in South and South East Asia. It is used as both a greeting and a farewell. It is a Sanskrit word and it means, I bow to the Divine in you.   The gesture Namaste represents the belief that God resides within each of us and we should therefore show respect for the other person. For us Christians, it means that if God is within each of us, Jesus is there too along with the Holy Spirit. So now I have moved from someone who might be Jesus to someone who is Jesus – that is a game changer and a life changer. Now I am no longer walking down First Street to invite someone who might be Jesus to dinner, but inviting someone who is Jesus to dinner.

Matthew 25: verses 35 and 36, are at the heart of St Vincent de Paul’s homeless shelter ministry – “For I was hungry and you gave me food (we partner with St Vincent in providing meals), I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink (Kroger is partnering with us in providing drinks), I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Joan Franks from our church volunteers on a regular basis to support the many welcoming  activities) , I was naked and you gave me clothing.” The staff and volunteers at St Vincent de Paul look for Jesus as homeless women, men, and children pass through their doors. They provide assistance, shelter, and hope. This video is a testimony of what happens when people acknowledge the Christ in each other – it is truly a life changing experience for us and for them.

Called by Name

Called by Name 150 150 admin

Sermon at Christ Church on September 3, 2017

“Get behind me, Satan! You’re a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Pretty harsh words to Peter, lead disciple—equating him with Satan. You may remember that earlier, just after his baptism, Jesus went out into the wilderness for 40 days where Satan tempted him to perform miracles and to worship him and not God. We might think of the baptism as God calling Jesus to mission—and the temptations were Satan’s attempts to divert Jesus from that mission. In that sense, then, Peter was taking on Satan’s role.

Jesus was talking with his disciples and told them that he planned to go to Jerusalem where he would suffer and be killed. This wasn’t something they wanted to hear—and definitely not the outcome that they’d been imagining. So “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ Then he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’” Peter was attempting to divert Jesus from his divine calling and mission.

There’s another call story in Exodus—an account of a burning bush that was not consumed. Moses saw this sight while shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep in the land of Midian. It’s a familiar and beautiful scene where God’s angel calls to him, “Moses, Moses!” And Moses replies, “Here I am.”

Then God tells Moses that he has heard the cries of his people in Egypt and has observed their suffering. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” A moment before, Moses was responding to God, “Here I am.” But now that he understands what he’s being called to do, he starts to think of several different reasons why he shouldn’t do it. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Why, I don’t even know your name. Whom should I tell Pharaoh and the Hebrews has sent me? I AM WHO I AM. Tell them I AM has sent you.

Here am I. Who am I? I AM WHO I AM. There’s an entire word study to be done in these few verses on the verb “to be,” and how it is the name of God. But that’s for another time.

For now, let’s focus on being called by God to a divine mission. As we just observed, Moses readily agreed, only to start backing away when he realized just how difficult a task it was. Each time he objected (I don’t know your name; I’m not very articulate), God had an answer. And so Moses responded to the call. He went down into Egypt land, and told ole Pharaoh to let his people go. Eventually he led his people in their Exodus from slavery, out of the land of oppression. And Jesus, likewise, responded to his call to go down to Jerusalem, overcoming Peter’s (Satan’s) efforts to derail him from challenging the priests and scribes of the Temple and the governor of the Roman state in Palestine.

The call is from God. And God calls each one of us by name.

You don’t remember being called by name? Maybe you were too young. Or maybe you didn’t understand that the occasion was just as significant as Moses’ at the burning bush or Jesus as he rose out the baptismal waters of the Jordan River. But a call it was when someone said your name “(Jane, Patricia, Greg, Anthony), I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

And what is your calling? The specifics will vary depending upon the time, the context, ability, and the opportunities presented. But the general terms of the call are these.

  • Trust in God the Father.
  • Trust in God the Son.
  • Trust in God the Holy Spirit.
  • Continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.
  • Persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.
  • Proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.
  • Seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.
  • Strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

Never underestimate the brutality and devastation that existed in the times of Moses and Jesus—some man-made and some natural disasters and plagues. But even against that backdrop, the calling is the same. Stand up for what is right, what is just. Speak out God’s truth. Be loving and humane. Resist evil. Strive for peace.

These past weeks and months have been horrendous as we’ve witnessed renewed and overt expressions of racism from some government officials to the Ku Klux Klan, from Brightbart news to White Nationalists and neo-nazis. There have been disastrous monsoons in Asia and Hurricane Harvey in Texas. There has been a renewed call from the Southern Baptists that in the name of Jesus we should discriminate against LGBTQ people. Resist evil. Find ways and forums to say, “NO, we will not discriminate against our brothers and sisters!”

Foreigners and immigrants are disparaged and the drumbeat of fear mongers is regularly heard in our land. Remember our call to love our neighbors as ourselves.

This is Labor Day weekend. This week we heard that the Wells Fargo banking scandal was almost twice as large as previously reported. Worse: when employees reported illegal activities to the bank’s ethics department, they were fired and blackballed from ever finding other jobs in the financial services industry. Slavery comes in many forms; one of which is to keep quiet about wrongdoing or lose your livelihood and put your family at risk.

We remember especially those who labor under duress, who work hard at low-paying jobs, who seek meaningful work but cannot find it, whose jobs have ceased to exist or have moved away, those who are forced to compromise their values in order to have an income, the 50% of working Americans who live paycheck to paycheck—just one storm, one illness, one government shutdown away from financial disaster.

We’ve had a sign out front all summer, created and placed there, to remind us that “We’re all in the same boat together.” Part of our call from God is to never forget that we are all children of the one God. When we lose sight of that, like the Texas congressmen and senators who voted against relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy, then it may take an “Act of God” to wake us up to a larger reality.

Woody Guthrie was the troubadour of the labor movement in the twentieth century. Among his best-known tunes is an unofficial national anthem that we all learned in school or from groups like Peter, Paul, and Mary.

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

Positive, upbeat, hand-clapping Americana. Then there are the last two verses that rarely make it into most songbooks or performances.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Is this land, this earth, this fragile island home (as one of our Eucharistic Prayers says) for just a few, for the benefit of a few, or is it created by God for all God’s people? Black and brown, yellow and white? You have been called by name to affirm the humanity and dignity of all, to resist evil and hate, strive for justice and peace. This is our baptismal call. As Moses went to confront Pharaoh and Jesus turned his head toward Jerusalem, so are we to heed the call of God. It is our purpose—our reason for being. Amen.

Lay Eucharistic Visitors

Lay Eucharistic Visitors 150 150 admin

Our Lay Eucharistic Visitors (LEV’s) take the sacrament of the bread and the wine to people who cannot be with us for regular worship: shut-ins at home, folk in hospitals, people in nursing care and hospice. I recently received the following message about a visit to a member of our church who lives in a nursing home.

“Today’s visit was proof of the healing power of the Eucharistic community–as if I needed proof! The person I visited was quite glum when I arrived–and I said she looked tired and sad. She shook her head and affirmed the hunches I offered. I told her about seeing people she knew earlier in the week, and her eyes lit up and she smiled. She was able to say the confession with me–that was a surprise!  I chose Ps. 16:5-11 as a reading during the service, sharing that it was what I was praying in a difficult moment in my life.

Again her eyes grew large and again her attention to that bit of news showed on her face.  She was really present throughout the visit–and even her coloring changed from pale to a bit rosy by the time I left.

It is a humbling experience to realize how this brief encounter, which I facilitate, is so valuable and healing.”

If you feel called to share the sacrament of Holy Eucharist with members of our community who cannot make it to regularly scheduled services, please contact The Rev. LindaMay Watkins who will assist you. LindaMay Watkins can be reached at deaconchristchurch@nullgmail.com, or at (513) 314-0857.

Hurricane Relief and Football

Hurricane Relief and Football 150 150 admin

The devastation from Hurricane Harvey in Texas continues as I write this on the twelfth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (August 29). Flooding is now moving into Louisiana. You can help by contributing to Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD). ERD sends funds directly to affected dioceses and Episcopal congregations. They also provide much needed expertise and personnel in disaster relief. Many people from Christ Church participated in ERD efforts in hands-on relief in New Orleans following Katrina. Please consider a generous gift to ERD by going to this link: http://www.episcopalrelief.org/what-you-can-do/give/donate-now/individual-donation.

Our bishop has given us two tickets to the Ohio State vs. Michigan State football game on November 11. The gift of the tickets is to raise money for mission. Those who make a gift to ERD online will receive an acknowledgement email. If you forward that email to erdharvey@nullgmail.com, your name will be entered into a hat for a drawing on Sunday, October 15. The winner will receive both tickets. This is open to anyone, so please encourage friends and family from beyond the Christ Church community to contribute to ERD and forward the acknowledgement to erdharvey@nullgmail.com. Have them include their names and contact information.

Exodus: Walking in the Wilderness

Exodus: Walking in the Wilderness 150 150 admin

 

 

Sermon preached on August 27 at Christ Church, Dayton

For some months now our Bishop, Thomas Breidenthal, has been encouraging all of us in the Diocese of Southern Ohio to join together in what he is calling “A Big Read.” By reading and studying the same material over the next seven months, people from across the diocese will be engaging in a kind of communal activity. In addition to reading, there will be two one-day convocations (in September and April) as well as our Diocesan Convention where we’ll be discussing The Book of Exodus.

There is also a suggested schedule of readings for each week of The Big Read, material for Adult Forums, blogs, and commentaries. All of these are featured on the website for the Diocese of Southern Ohio. For anyone who does not have access to the web—or is technically challenged—we can print out some of the resources. Please just ask.

The kickoff for The Big Read is today, because we begin a nine-week series of lectionary selections from The Book of Exodus.

Exodus is about the birth of the nation of Israel. Gilgamesh in Babylon, and Romulus and Remus in Rome are examples of the foundation stories in other societies. In Genesis we were introduced to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel and a host of others who represented the matriarchs and patriarchs, the ancestral tribes. In Exodus we witness the formation of a national identity as the tribes escape from Egypt, wander in the Wilderness, begin to formulate laws and worship practices that will define them as a people. In fact, the rest of the Torah and the books that follow in the history section of the Old Testament are a continuation of these same themes that arise in Exodus.

The great prophets of Israel continually refer back to the Exodus period as the time when the essentials of Israel’s identity emerged—not unlike the ways that some people in our land refer back to the founders to find clarity about American identity and mission.

The Book of Genesis ended with Jacob’s son Joseph serving as Pharaoh’s right-hand man, administrator of Egypt’s vast food stores that had been put aside against a coming famine. The famine began and Joseph brought his extended family from Palestine to Egypt where they would be shielded from starvation.

Exodus begins when, we’re told, “a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Actually, it was at least several hundred years later, and a new and different dynasty of Pharaohs had arisen. Over those centuries the Hebrews had flourished and multiplied. According to one account, those who escaped Egypt through the Red Sea numbered 600,000 men, plus women and children. So we are talking about well over a million people altogether.

The new king was afraid of this vast number of foreigners in his land. So he “set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor to build supply cities for Pharaoh. But they continued to flourish and multiply, “so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.” They became ruthless, imposing more and more harsh labor and tasks.

Finally “the King of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him . . . .’” But the midwives refused and they lied to Pharaoh with a tale about how the Hebrew women were so vigorous that they gave birth before the midwives could arrive.

Then came the directive to the Egyptians that they throw all the male Hebrew children into the Nile to be drowned. Of course, this sets us up for the story of the birth of Moses and how he survived with the connivance of his mother, sister, and Pharaoh’s daughter.

These stories were so formative and powerful for the Jewish people that when more than a millennium later a young woman gave birth in the little town of Bethlehem, some early Jewish Christians told the story against the backdrop of Exodus: a child was born to be God’s anointed. When the evil king Herod heard the news, he tried to kill him by ordering the deaths of all the young male children. The baby Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary, fled into Egypt, only to return some years later after Herod’s death. So the new Moses also came up out of Egypt. Moses the lawgiver on the mountain of Sinai; Jesus, in his sermon on the mount, reinterpreted the law. Exodus becomes a template which we can lay alongside subsequent experience in order to discover its meaning.

In our Exodus passage this morning, please note that the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, are named. Pharaoh, the powerful king of all Egypt, is not named.

John Goldingay, an Old Testament scholar, wrote the following in his commentary on this passage:

“Telling us the midwives’ names makes them real people; not just anonymous functionaries. They are people who revere God. Exodus knows them by name; we know them by name; God knows them by name. We’ll later discover the names of Moses’ parents and his sister. They are real people. It is less important for the representatives of the Egyptian court to be so. Not naming them suggests that they are subordinate to the story. . . . The Old Testament has a different scale of values; it is not Pharaoh and his daughter who count. Pharaoh is someone the newspapers think is important and powerful, yet he can be defeated by three or four women.”[1]

Our Bishop acknowledges the same phenomena we have all observed in recent decades, that the role and place of mainline religion and institutions have diminished in our society. New kings, new values have emerged, that don’t know the old ways.  There are a plethora of new spiritual associations. The rise of social media have provided millions with virtual friendships and community that were once experienced in neighborhood faith communities. For some, the reaction has been a tighter grasp on what they call the fundamentals. Fundamentalisms have emerged in almost all of the world religions.

Others have simply left their faith traditions and communities. Some have called them the “nones”—n-o-n-e-s, not n-u-n-s—the box they check when surveyed about their religious preferences; or what Bishop Spong has called “the Church alumni association.”

Still others, like you and me, are wrestling with questions about how to go forward when the landscape has changed. What do we do in this new environment? We’ve left the settled ways—as difficult as they might have been in Egypt. Now we wander in an unknown wilderness without familiar landmarks or maps. Is there a Promised Land in our future? What is it and what will it look like? How do we live in the meantime? These are the questions of Exodus.

So I invite you to walk this Exodus journey with our ancestors in faith, seeking their wisdom, their insight, and the light of God. I invite you to walk this Exodus journey with your fellow Episcopalians in Southern Ohio, seeking their wisdom, their insight, and the light of God. And walk this Exodus journey sharing your wisdom, your insight, and the light of God. May we continue to walk this way together.

In the name of God: our Creator, Redeemer, and Guide. Amen.

 

[1] Exodus and Leviticus for Everyone, John Goldingay, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville: 2010, p. 10

Reflecting on Hatred: No Equivalency

Reflecting on Hatred: No Equivalency 150 150 admin

In reference to events in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend, I have heard a number of people suggest that there is fault on both sides and that there is some sort of equivalency between the groups that clashed. While it is true that there is fault on all sides, the argument about equivalency is patently false. The following “fact check” by the New York Times appeared on Tuesday, August 15:

“(In the past 25 years) White nationalists; militia movements; anti-Muslim attackers; I.R.S. building and abortion clinic bombers; and other right-wing groups were responsible for 12 times as many fatalities and 36 times as many injuries as communists; socialists; animal rights and environmental activists; anti-white- and Black Lives Matter-inspired attackers; and other left-wing groups.

Of the nearly 1,500 individuals in a University of Maryland study of radicalization from 1948 to 2013, 43 percent espoused far-right ideologies, compared to 21 percent for the far left. Far-right individuals were more likely to commit violence against people, while those on the far left were more likely to commit property damage.”

Violence is never to be endorsed. But let’s be clear about where the bulk of the violence is coming from and not be blinded by the equivalence rhetoric. The white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups are promoting hatred of Blacks, Jews, Moslems, immigrants and others—challenging their right to exist. That hatred is opposed and denounced by the resistors as immoral. Most of this resistance is motivated by love and respect for the very same people the other side rejects. Love does not equal hate. There is NO MORAL EQUIVALENCY here.

In our Episcopal Church we remember people whose lives were exemplary in some fashion. This past Monday, August 14, we recalled Jonathan Myrick Daniels, killed by a shotgun wielded by a racist as he pushed a teenage girl out of the way of her attacker. Daniels and his small group were in Alabama working for equality and voter rights at the behest of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time of his death, Daniels was a seminarian who felt deeply called to witness to the equality we all share as children of God.

When I realized that the church was asking us to recall Jonathan’s life and death just two days after Charlottesville, I knew that it was not just a random coincidence but another God-thing. The real moral witness of King and Gandhi and Daniels and all of the others who resisted hatred was the non-violent nature of that resistance. In the face of violence, they gave not into hate, but to love even for their persecutors.

Jesus instructed his followers to put down the sword. Even from the cross he asked God’s forgiveness for those who were killing him. I call upon all people of faith and goodwill to stand with the great cloud of witness who over the millennia have non-violently resisted hatred and oppression. Take the moral high ground. Resist, but do not hate. Stand for righteousness, but do not strike back. And pray for those whose hatred corrodes their souls.

–The Rev. Dr. John Paddock

Sermon for July 2, 2017

Sermon for July 2, 2017 150 150 admin

In Christian circles our first reading this morning is misnamed as the “Sacrifice of Isaac.” But Isaac was not sacrificed. Abraham’s hand was stayed. In fact, we’ll never know whether Abraham would have killed his son had the angel not intervened. The rabbis refer to this text as “The binding of Isaac.” It’s a story regarding obedience and freedom. I want you to hold onto that image of being bound or loosed, restrained or free.

In the Gospel text today, Matthew reminds us that welcoming the other, binding our lives to those of the prophets, the righteous, even the thirsty has consequences for us in the realm of God. “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple– truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”[1]

In addition to the biblical readings, there is that other foundational text that is (or should be) on the minds of many this weekend. It begins: “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another . . . .” The document goes on to make the case for and to declare independence of the American colonies from Great Britain.

It’s most remembered lines are certainly these: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Although liturgical-calendar-purists might want to insist that this is the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, in this land and in this context, it is the Sunday of the 4th of July Holiday—Independence Day. The theme of freedom permeates all of these texts from Genesis, Matthew and The Declaration of Independence.

For some, freedom has to do with no restraint. One is able to do or be whatever one should choose without limitation. But reality intervenes. Many of us don’t have the skills or capacities for unlimited choice. I’ve never had the vocal chords to be a good singer, the muscles and agility to be a professional athlete, nor the grace to be a dancer. There are natural limits placed upon our freedom.

Other limits exist as well. When two people commit themselves to each other they discover new freedom when they “forsake all others.”

Our ancestors in faith help us to understand that spiritual and moral freedom result from obedience. When the children of Israel escaped their bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt, they shifted their allegiance to Yahweh—to the God who had brought them out of slavery into freedom. Their new freedom was immediately curtailed by the covenant that replaced their forced obedience to Pharaoh. The covenant begins with these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”

And then it goes on to set other limits and prescribe behavior:

You shall not make for yourself an idol.

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.

Honor your father and your mother.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet.[2]

 

St. Paul and the Gospel authors affirm that to experience freedom in Christ we must submit to Christ’s law and follow in his footsteps.

Political freedom also brings with it a discipline, a covenant. The founders of this country understood that freedom from King George III did not mean freedom without restraint—it did not mean anarchy. Political freedom required commitment to a new discipline and a new political creed. They bound themselves to one another with a Constitution and a Bill of Rights . . . in order to move toward a more perfect union where everyone might have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

True freedom requires sacrifice—the giving up—the limiting of my freedom for the benefit of others. “Bear one another’s burdens,” Paul said. Jesus put the same thought this way: “He who would gain his life must lose it, and he who would give his life for my sake will find it.”[3]

So in the strange mathematics of freedom, the more I’m willing to share some of my life and my liberty and my happiness—the more there is for everyone. We know this to be true in our national experience as we have ended slavery and Jim Crow, as we have included women and added to our shores people from many lands and cultures. Freedom expands and freedom can contract—but it’s never a zero-sum equation.

In every era there are new battles to fight, more sacrifices to make, more people to be included. Beware the spirits of Pharaoh, Caesar, and King George that still walk the earth.

There are some today who want to define freedom without regard for the welfare and freedom of others. They have lost a sense of the common good. They don’t understand the calculus that the fewer people are free, the less free I am. And the corollary, the more we’re willing to share, to sacrifice, the more freedom there is to go around.

  • So some would reduce healthcare, education, even food for poor children.
  • They would discriminate against others, because they don’t have proper papers.
  • One prominent talk show host advocated that instead of providing them nutritious lunches, we should teach poor children to dive in dumpsters for their food.
  • We’re still reeling from the financial shenanigans of a few that have imperiled the global economy.
  • We have made super citizens of wealthy corporations to the detriment of hard working folk who’ve lost their livelihoods.
  • All the while the powerful posture, tweet, distract, devise slogans and scheme to keep or obtain even more power and wealth.

What motivated the break from England was a long list of grievances—many of which are stated right in the Declaration of Independence. At heart, what aggrieved the founders the most was that the Commonwealth presided over by King George III in 1776 did not promote common wealth and did not work for the common good. The interests of private wealth and gain like those of the East India Company took precedence over real people.

The common good is a value that needs to be re-injected into our national dialogue. The common good understands that

We are all equal in the sight of God;

that freedom is God’s desire for all of God’s children.

Freedom’s struggle is on-going . . .

Freedom is not so much independent as interdependent, and it comes with a cost. We Christians should grasp this intuitively, understanding as we do that only as we die to ourselves are we truly free.

This little creed was one of the earliest Christian affirmations of faith in the middle of the first century. We do well to remember and act upon it. It’s embodied in the 2nd Chapter of the Epistle to the Phillipians:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
   but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.[4]

[1] Matthew 10:42

[2] See Exodus 20:2-17 for full text.

[3] Luke 9:24

[4] Philippians 2:3-8

Exclusion and Inclusion

Exclusion and Inclusion 150 150 admin

Is it alright to include some and to exclude others?

One answer comes to us from The Westminster Confession:

The only redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ. Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved; Much less can men, not professing the Christian religion, be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they ever so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature (general revelation), and the laws of the religion they do profess. And, to assert and maintain that they may, is very pernicious, and is to be detested.[1]

When a religious group is convinced that they, and they alone, possess and understand the whole truth, and that they are compelled to give this truth to others who may resist it, then you have a formula to justify cruelty, torture, and warfare . . . whatever the brand of religion, whether it comes in the form of a Crusade against the Infidels, a Holy Inquisition against heretics, or suicide bombing.

The favorite text used by Christian missionaries as they spread around the globe to save the nations from perdition was a verse from today’s Gospel in which Jesus is quoted as having said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jack Spong has written that this text

. . . became the basis for the ultimate assertion that Christians alone control the doorway into God. If you do not come to God through Christ, you cannot get there. It was a powerful claim wrapped inside a text that has been the source of enormous pain to many people. It is still quoted in Christian circles to justify religious bigotry and even religious persecution.” For that reason Bishop Spong included John 14:6 in his book, The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love.[2]

What is not to be forgotten is that the verse (John 14:6) is part of a Gospel that begins with this affirmation: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life,* and the life was the light of all people.”[3]

Far from being an exclusive text, in John’s understanding, to say that “No one comes to the Father” except through Christ is to affirm that all are included in the reign of God because all people were created by the Christ who was with the Father in the beginning and is the light of all people.

Martin Thielen is a pastor who has written about his friend Danny.

When I first met Danny, he said, “Preacher, you need to know that I’m an atheist. I don’t believe the Bible. I don’t like organized religion. And I can’t stand self-righteous, judgmental Christians.” I liked him right away!

In spite of Danny’s avowed atheism and my devout Christian beliefs, we became close friends. Over the next year Danny and I engaged in numerous conversations about faith. During that time Danny softened his stance on atheism. One day he announced with a laugh, “I’ve decided to upgrade from an atheist to an agnostic.”

Several months later Danny said, “I’ve had an epiphany. I realize that I don’t reject Christianity. Instead, I reject the way that intolerant Christians package Christianity.” A few weeks after that conversation, Danny said, “Martin, you’ve just about convinced me on this religion stuff. So I want to know–what’s the least I can believe and still be a Christian?”[4]

“What’s the Least You Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?” is the title of Martin Thielen’s book. In it he explores a number of propositions that are commonly understood as being significant or required beliefs of Christian faith.

  • God causes cancer, car wrecks and other catastrophes
  • Good Christians don’t doubt
  • True Christians can’t believe in evolution
  • Woman can’t be preachers and must submit to men
  • God cares about saving souls but not saving trees
  • Bad people will be “left behind” and then fry in hell
  • Jews and Muslims won’t make it to heaven
  • Everything in the Bible should be taken literally
  • God loves straight people but not gay people
  • It’s OK for Christians to be judgmental and obnoxious[5]

There are many who would include these things in the canon of required beliefs. But they are not.

They’re a sideshow that gives all of Christianity a bad name. When media focus on fringe groups protesting funerals of those killed in war, draw attention to the burning of Korans in the name of God, proclaim hate or fear in the name of Jesus—the name of Jesus is diminished.

In fact, of all the doctrines and formulations of faith, the only one that seems to stand out as bedrock—is the Incarnation. From it, the other doctrines evolve. The reason it’s so central to Christian faith is that it affirms that—when God became human and dwelt among us—the entire human race became holy, sacred—and there are no longer insiders and outsiders, elect and un-elect, saved and damned.

The Incarnation affirms the dream of God that we are all part of one another in community, and that we need to care for one another, and to work for a society and world that is fashioned for the common good—the good of all our brothers and sisters.

This is Mother’s Day weekend. Here at Christ Church we’re also focusing on Fair Trade. There’s a strong connection. Many of the people who benefit from Fair Trade are women and mothers. Too often they and their children are victims of local and international economic forces that impoverish and victimize them.

A sacrament of the church is coffee. Some have said that coffee hour is the true sacrament since that’s where people often most deeply connect.

We buy Fair Trade coffee. There’s special display in the front hallway about Fair Trade. Christ Church has been recognized as the first Fair Trade congregation in the state of Ohio.

Fair Trade calls upon us to be conscious of who makes and produces the things that we buy. None of us can be perfect at this. But we’re called to ask the question. Who made it? Who benefits? Are the mothers of the world and their children exploited or benefited?

When we affirm and live this abundant, overflowing love as the essential heart of Christianity, even when it may cost us more,  then the Danny’s of the world will be drawn to learn more and even desire to be part of the Dream of God.

Amen

[1] From the Westminster Confession, framed after the Reformation by Presbyterians in 1646

[2] p. 233.

[3] John 1:1-4 (NRSV)

[4] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/martin-thielen/whats-the-least-you-can-b_b_811353.html  accessed at 8:40 a.m. on 5/21/11.

 

[5] Ibid.

AWE

AWE 150 150 admin

 

Fourth Sunday of Easter–May 7, 2017

Many of us have been amazed recently by a picture of earth taken through Saturn’s rings. It was captured by a camera aboard the Cassini Spacecraft. It shows several very large rings and two distant pinpricks of light in a black background. Those pricks of light are earth and her moon.

Other images from the Hubble space telescope boggle the mind with their incredible beauty, vast distances, and light that has travelled for billions of years.

Last October there was an announcement from astronomers who now believe that instead of only 200 billion galaxies (that’s galaxies, not solar systems) – instead of only 200 billion galaxies there are ten times that many: 2 trillion galaxies in the universe. Our own Milky Way is but one of them.

Of course, we can look much closer to home to see the complexity and beauty of trees and birds, flowers and human kind.  As the springtime takes us outdoors, we enjoy, once again, the sights, smells, and sounds of God’s amazing creation first hand.

I’m talking about the experience of “awe.” St. Luke wrote about the first years of the church following the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Christians were awed, he says.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. (Acts 2:42-43)

Awe is not generally listed as one of the requirements for the spiritual life. It’s not among the cardinal virtues nor it mentioned in the baptismal covenant. Micah’s well-known and oft-quoted summary is silent about awe:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Awe is not in the Ten Commandments nor is it mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount. Although a good argument could be made that Jesus was referring to it when he said in Matthew 6: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:28-29)

Awe is defined as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder.” Synonyms are wonder, admiration, reverence, amazement, astonishment, dread, and fear. The commonly used “awesome” in reference to a TV show or a fast food snack doesn’t begin to hold a candle to a vision of the universe or the complexities of the atom.

What drew me to think about awe was this part of the Acts text:

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. (Acts 2:44-47)

What motivates one to give up possessions, property, and wealth for the common good– shedding privilege, prerogatives, and power for the welfare of others? Even giving up Life itself? What drew Moses, the disciples, Jesus, St. Francis, Mother Teresa and all the other saints to a point that they would leave a life that they knew and the comforts that they had in order to walk another way?

I’m convinced that it was an experience of awe. Isn’t that what the passage says? “Awe came upon everyone.”

For Moses it was a burning bush that wasn’t consumed, and he knew that he stood on holy ground. Saul of Tarsus saw a blinding light and was knocked off his horse. The experiences are many and vary widely. That’s why awe isn’t in any list of requirements nor a plank in a covenant.

But awe is a pre-cursor to faith . . . an experience or set of experiences that convince one that there’s a mystery that is above, beyond, beneath all human knowing and comprehension. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel calls it “radical amazement.” Call it divinity, the ground of being, the holy other, Love—but there arises a conviction that there is a More which we can only revere in amazement. Only then, can we sit loose to our own welfare and devote ourselves to the welfare of the other. Only then can we begin to loosen our grip and seek to follow and obey that which is More.

St Paul recounts the Christ hymn that comes from the earliest Christians. They understood that the human Jesus himself knew the awesome and humbling experience of standing in the presence of His Creator.

   Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
   who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
   but emptied himself,
taking the form of a servant,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
   he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

As we look back at Earth from the perspective of Saturn, see ourselves among the trillions of galaxies, reflect on our narrow range of concerns in comparison to the powerful energy of the tiny atom—we can only bow in reverence. Because we know that we are in a holy place.

With lives filled with screens and phones and virtual realities—take time away to look up, pay attention to God’s creation with all your senses, and be radically amazed. Let an Alleluia escape your lips.

Alleluia, Christ is risen.

Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia.

 

 

 

 

 

Sanctuary

Sanctuary 150 150 admin

Sermon preached at Christ Church on January 29, 2017

8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ 11Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labour. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labour. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16‘When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him . . . 17But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live . . . . 22Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every boy that is born to the Hebrews* you shall throw into the Nile. (From Exodus, Chapter 1)

_________

2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men* from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,* and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah* was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd* my people Israel.” ’

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men* and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,* until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped,* they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ 14Then Joseph* got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt,

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men,* he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.* 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’ (From Matthew, Chapter 2)

 

By the mid-1800s, thousands of slaves had poured into free states via networks like the Underground Railroad. Following increased pressure from Southern politicians, Congress passed a revised Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. This new law forcibly compelled citizens to assist in the capture of runaway slaves. It also denied slaves the right to a jury trial and increased the penalty for interfering with the rendition process to $1000 and six months in jail. In order to ensure the statute was enforced, the 1850 law also placed control of individual cases in the hands of federal commissioners. These agents were paid more for returning a suspected slave than for freeing them, leading many to argue the law was biased in favor of Southern slaveholders. (From Wikipedia on The Fugitive Slave Act)

In response, the abolitionists increased their zeal for ending slavery and all the unjust laws that attended it. More and more people signed on to the underground railroad and joined in the resistance.

______________________

The full-fledged civil war erupted in El Salvador in the late 1970’s and lasted for more than 12 years. Extreme violence came from both sides. It also included the deliberate terrorizing and targeting of civilians by death squads, the recruitment of child soldiers, and other violations of human rights, mostly by the military. An unknown number of people disappeared during the conflict, and the UN reports that more than 75,000 were killed. The United States contributed to the conflict by providing large amounts of military aid to the government of El Salvador during the Carter and Reagan administrations.

The United Nations has estimated that the guerrillas were responsible for 5% of the murders of civilians during the civil war, while approximately 85% of all killings of civilians were committed by the Salvadoran military and death squads.

In February 1980 Archbishop Óscar Romero published an open letter to US President Jimmy Carter in which he pleaded with him to suspend the United States’ ongoing program of military aid to the Salvadoran regime. He advised Carter that “Political power is in the hands of the armed forces. They know only how to repress the people and defend the interests of the Salvadoran oligarchy.” Romero warned that US support would only “sharpen the injustice and repression against the organizations of the people which repeatedly have been struggling to gain respect for their fundamental human rights.” On 24 March 1980, the Archbishop was assassinated while celebrating mass, the day after he called upon Salvadoran soldiers and security force members to not follow their orders to kill Salvadoran civilians. He was murdered by a member of the one of the US supported death squads. (From Wikipedia on The Salvadoran Civil War)

Refugees escaped the violence by running away—heading north to Canada where they were welcomed. But they first had to cross the United States where, if caught, they’d were returned to El Salvador into the hands of government forces. It was a death sentence. So there arose a new underground railroad—a series of churches, faith communities and people of good will who had a passion for justice—who provided sanctuary and transportation—helping thousands to reach Canada safely.

Shortly after moving to Maine in 1980, I met The Rev. Henry Byrd and his wife Hildegarde (affectionately known as Hildy). Henry and Hildy established St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, in Mars Hill, Maine, as a way station on the underground railroad. Every week, sometimes several times a week, late model sedans filled with gray-haired elderly women would pull away from St. Anne’s, to drive to New Brunswick, Canada, less than a mile away, for shopping trips where the exchange and tax rates were more favorable. It wasn’t unusual for people from Mars Hill to shop in Canada. But the St. Anne’s ladies’ trunks were filled with Salvadoran refugees. This was their parish outreach ministry.

 __________

Pharaoh’s, Kings, Congresses, and Presidents issue decrees, executive orders, and laws. But when some of those are in conflict with the moral and ethical teachings of faith—people of faith are cast into a dilemma: obey the dictates of the law of the land or follow their consciences and engage in civil disobedience.

Early Christians often faced this dilemma: worship Caesar or Jesus. Stand with the vulnerable or give into the power of the legions. Some paid with their lives—we call them martyrs which means witnesses: those who bore witness to the faith—just as Jesus did as he stood in fierce silence before Pilate.

Jesus knew that his followers might be confronted with difficult choices, so he taught them to prepare for those times—holding before them dreams of God’s justice and compassion: that they might be a sanctuary and place of safety.

So he taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who morn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (From Matthew, Chapter 5)

__________

The church is a sanctuary. In the words of the popular hymn:

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary

Pure and holy, tried and true

With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living

Sanctuary for you.

Amen.

Gone Fishin’

Gone Fishin’ 150 150 admin

 

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

January 22, 2017

 

 

Many of you come to church today with heavy hearts. Others hopeful and optimistic with the inauguration of a new president. Hardly anyone I’ve talked with recently is neutral.

Numerous debates have raged throughout the recent campaign, election, transition, inaugural activities, and protests.  One of those arguments has been the question of prayer. Should we pray for the president of the United States? Some teachers and public theologians have suggested that we should not—because to do so would either endorse the president’s agenda or unduly involve the church in crossing the line between church and state.

Let me engage in a little teaching about prayer.

  • In prayer, we bring our joys, our concerns, our fears and share them with God. This involves the whole range of human experience, thoughts, and emotions. It includes our conscious thoughts and our subconscious ones as well. As St Paul wrote: ‘The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”[1]
  • Prayer isn’t just about the good things in our lives or about those we love and agree with. Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’” [2]
  • Another thing I want to emphasize—when we pray for someone—friend or foe—we’re asking Providence to guide them, care for them, but we are not endorsing any program, platform, or policy with which we may disagree or even oppose. Jesus’ own example is that he prayed for his Father to forgave the Romans who crucified him, but he never approved the mission of Rome.

We Anglicans have always prayed for kings and queens—and after the American Revolution—for our presidents.

This is the prayer in The Book of Common Prayer. Page 820: For the President of the United States and all in Civil Authority. Using the contemporary language, please join me as we pray it together. Page 820.

Let us pray.

O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We
commend this nation to your merciful care, that, being guided
by your Providence, we may dwell secure in your peace. Grant
to the President of the United States, the Governor of this
State, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength

to know and to do your will. Fill them with the
love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful
of their calling to serve this people in your fear; through Jesus
Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

_________________________________________

Now let’s expand our vision. No lesser person than Abraham Lincoln warned us against what Elton Trueblood called an idolatrous patriotism.[3] Lincoln was committed to two things: preserving the Union and ending slavery. He recognized that ending slavery could destroy the Union. There were many voices, even in the North, as the Civil War dragged on, who wanted him to drop his demand for emancipation. “Save the Union at all costs,” they insisted. Idolatrous patriotism: love of country beyond all other concerns, making country the end rather than a vehicle to an even higher calling. So Lincoln lived in this tension, this paradox of two goods that seemed, at times, to be in conflict with each other.

All love of country, all commitment to this land and this nation is subordinate to a greater calling.  It’s about the kingdom or the realm of God. Yes, we are citizens and we take that seriously. We strive to be the best patriots we can be. But we also have a higher calling to be followers of Jesus. As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, continuously reminds the church, “We are Jesus’ People.”

According to the Gospel reading for today, when Jesus began his public ministry, he proclaimed: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.” And immediately he went out to the Sea of Galilee and called disciples, the first citizens of his kingdom: Simon (called Peter), Andrew, James, and John. They were all fishermen, they loved the sea of Galilee. They were proud of their boats and their nets and their skill. They loved their trade. What did it take for Jesus to convince them and join themselves to his kingdom, to become his disciples? What was it that led them to leave it all behind and become Jesus” People?

We’re often taught that the Christian call is to give up what we love, rather than to do what we love but in a larger way: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” We don’t have to give up our patriotism—our love of liberty, justice, and democracy—but respond to Jesus call to expand that love to include

  • the whole of his creation,
  • the entirety of his earth,
  • the common good of all humanity.

Imagine the scene. Simon and Andrew’s boat, resting alongside of James and John’s boat, pulled way up on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, far from the water’s edge. And a sign on each boat with the simple words: Gone Fishin’.

Gone Fishin’ in a larger lake and for a more valuable catch.

 

[1] Romans 8:26-27

[2] Matthew 5:43-48

[3] Elton Trueblood, Abraham Lincoln: Lessons in Spiritual Leadership, Harper Collins: New York, 1973, p. 157.

Indivisable

Indivisable 150 150 admin

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard on the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth…I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness…See the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.”                                                                                                               Isaiah 42:1-4a, 6b-7, 9

In this passage from Isaiah that is brimming over with significance for this day and this hour, the prophet describes the qualities that characterize the divinely inspired servant of God.

Among the attributes the true servant displays are these: he will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard on the street—which is to say that the voice of the genuine servant of God will be gentle and soft-spoken without a hint of bluster, bravado, or fear mongering.

A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench—this suggests that the true servant will be tender-hearted and long-suffering.

The servant will faithfully bring forth justice—he will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth—we might interpret this to mean that the servant of God will be tireless and unswerving in bringing comfort and relief to those languishing in darkness and despair.

How different our public discourse would be if it was more governed by these qualities!

So I invite you to let Isaiah’s portrait of the servant in whom God delights hover in the background as we consider the state of our nation.

The Helena Street bridge is currently closed while it undergoes a structural make-over.

If you were in the habit of driving across the bridge or traveling past it on your way up Riverside, you may have noticed on the northwest corner of the bridge right above the concrete seat for pedestrians an inscription consisting of the date “1925”, presumably the date the bridge first opened to traffic.

You may have also noticed next to this inscription a whimsical piece of snail-like filigree that must have been the stonemason’s finishing touch and that let you know that a human had been at work there.

In all likelihood, these remnants of yesteryear have already fallen victim to the jackhammer and demolition crew.

But think about it—this bridge has carried traffic back and forth for nearly a hundred years—this sturdy survivor is a tribute to the dedication and craftsmanship of the original bridge builder.

Although this project pre-dated the Great Depression by a few years, it was a kind of precursor to all those durable structures that were conceived and underwritten by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s.

I grew up in a family of Republicans.

There was only one relative who was a Democrat and he was regarded with some suspicion.

It was rare in our family circle to hear anything complimentary about President Roosevelt or his wife Eleanor.

But as the nation recovered from the Depression, I remember hearing the adults around me expressing grudging approval for Roosevelt’s back to work program that had given employment to millions of destitute citizens including Dust Bowl refugees and those dependent on bread lines for their meager daily provisions.

Here was this patrician president articulating the panic and desperation that gripped the nation—he said that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Roosevelt offered an unvarnished, unflinching account of the state of the nation—he spoke of “one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.”

After this stark assessment, he proposed a daring remedy.

In March 1935 Roosevelt signed an executive order creating the Works Progress Administration.

In defense of this legislation, he said, “Today we re-consecrate our country to long cherished ideals in a suddenly changed civilization. In every land there are always at work forces that drive men apart and forces that draw men together. In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up or else we all go down, as one people.”

In its eight year history, the WPA employed 8.5 million people and built or improved 103 golf courses, 953 airport landing fields, 2,500 hospitals, 2,500 sports stadiums, 3,000 schools, 8,192 parks, 12,800 playgrounds, 124,031 bridges, 125,110 public buildings, and 651,087 miles of highways and roads.

In addition, the WPA hired artists, writers, musicians, and photographers to travel the length and breadth of this country to bring some semblance of entertainment and culture to a demoralized public and to remind citizens in rural, out of the way places they were not forgotten.

For many Americans, the concerts performed by the WPA’s 238 orchestras and bands were their first chance to hear live music.

And many of the structures built by the WPA have stood the test of time and still serve a useful purpose like the cabins and recreational facilities at Watoga State Park in West Virginia where my wife’s family has often vacationed.

And whatever the merits and demerits of President Roosevelt’s administration, he was able to convince many disheartened Americans that we’re all in this together.

There have been those occasions in our history when our dear republic seemed to be on the verge of coming apart at the seams—never more so than when citizens took up arms against each other in the bloody ordeal of the Civil War.

The historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has said that Abraham Lincoln’s whole philosophy “was not to waste precious energies of recrimination about the past.”

Lincoln’s towering strength was evident in his selecting for his cabinet those who had vigorously opposed him.

Goodwin suggests that Lincoln’s genius consisted of his magnanimous tolerance of dissent while at the same time never wavering in his determination to save the union.

It could be said that Lincoln came to prominence at the very time when his particular strengths were most needed for the preservation of our national identity.

So the aura of despair that swept across this land during the Civil War and the Great Depression was greatly alleviated by the emergence of new, inspired voices that calmed the roiling waters, voices that no one could have predicted.

Now we have just come through a bitterly contested, seemingly endless election campaign.

The level of animosity and rancor that dominated the campaign exposed  major fault lines in our society that startled many of us.

Maybe we didn’t realize how many of our fellow citizens felt that the train of progress had moved on while they were left at the station wringing their hands.

Many of us were unaware that the prevailing mood of a large swath of the population was a simmering stew of resentment and desperation.

Many of us who were shocked by the results have been suffering bouts of extreme apprehension and alarm about how the after-effects of this election might play out.

Contrary to the Pledge of Allegiance, it’s hard to see how in the near term the political prospects for our country can be anything but extreme divisiveness.

And so it is that the last verse from that passage of Isaiah we have just heard has an uncanny resonance in this political season.

“See the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.”

In this text we are assured that new things are springing forth even though we cannot yet see them.

New things are springing forth that have not yet appeared on the horizon, new things that will offer us the possibility of health and healing at every level of our existence—personal, social, and political.

This doesn’t mean that some version of utopia will be delivered at our doorstep.

What it does mean is that new things are springing forth that can fortify and enlighten us and give us new hope for ourselves, our neighbor, and our nation.

The prophet Isaiah urges us to be primed and ready for the new to come among us.

We are called to wait with expectancy and hopefulness for those new things, those seedlings, that are springing forth but which we cannot yet see.

We are called to trust in the help that has not yet arrived.

We’re not talking about new things that are glittering and fashionable that turn out to be shallow and short-lived.

We’re talking about new things that will raise us up out of the doldrums, rejuvenate us, and replace our heaviness of spirit with freshness, buoyancy, and passion.

We’re talking about new things suddenly appearing that can fill us with gratitude for the simplest pleasures—like the young man who was getting used to a new prosthetic arm who was overjoyed to discover that he could feel a breeze on that new arm.

We’re talking about new things springing forth that can awaken in us a fervent desire to be neighborly, kind, courteous—the kind of courtesy that does not go out of fashion—the kind of courtesy shown to me by a fellow shopper at the grocery store when I asked her if she knew where the Bisquick was and she immediately left her cart, briskly walked to another aisle, and announced with pleasure, “Here it is!”

We’re talking about new things springing forth that can help us and a majority of the citizens of this country rediscover those old American virtues of gratitude, generosity, and hospitality.

And what a good and necessary thing this is—because I’m persuaded that the only effective counter-measure to our country’s divisiveness and cynicism is a sustained groundswell of extreme gratitude and extreme hospitality.

A woman named Dani Schulkin contributed this vignette to the New York Times.

“Dear Diary: It happened less than 40 hours after the Paris attacks and, at the time, I was still nervous about taking the subway. ‘The wheels on the bus go round and round,’ murmured a little girl sitting next to me on the train. She was dutifully practicing her nursery school songs, much to the amusement of the entire subway car. It was your standard New York City mix of people, languages, accents, and smells. But we were all mesmerized by a little girl innocently practicing her ABC’s. Then she started to sing a classic: ‘If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands….clap! clap!’ Without hesitation, we—the random New York City subway car passengers—all joined in for the chorus, dutifully clapping and stomping at the behest of our conductor. She was so tickled she almost cried. But she giggled her way to the finale: ‘If you’re happy and you know it and you really want to show it/If you’re happy and you know it, shout ‘Hurray.’” And we bellowed, ‘Hurray!’ As she exited, we eyed each other awkwardly with smiles still plastered on our faces. Though our leader was lost, our moment of solidarity lingered.”

Yes, if we keep our eyes and ears open to what’s going on around us, perhaps we can discern the first fruits of our coming together, the first signs of the mending of our social fabric, the first indications that we are beginning to reclaim that venerable and worthy truth—that we are one nation indivisible, the United States of America. Amen.

The Rev. Robert Dwight

Christ Episcopal Church

2 Epiphany

Dayton, Ohio

1/8/2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trouble in Paradise

Trouble in Paradise 150 150 admin

 

November 13, 2016

Every Tuesday morning I’m asked by the Parish Administrator for the title of the coming Sunday’s sermon. Last Tuesday was no exception. I looked at the scriptures assigned for this morning about dismantling of the holy temple and decided that Trouble in Paradise sounded appropriate. Little did I know!

So here we are on the 26th Sunday after Pentecost, or the Sunday next before Waffle Shop, or the First Sunday in the Era of Trump – take your pick.

In his Preface to a book on the thought of Paul Tillich, F. Forrester Church wrote the following: “Religion is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die. Accordingly, all of us are religious, to one degree or another. We struggle, some of us intensively, some only when the roof falls in, to make whatever sense we can of life and death.”[1]

The “roof falling in” seems to be an apt metaphor for what happened this past Tuesday. I contend that it’s equally appropriate for everyone across the political spectrum. Life as we’ve known it is changed—and will be changed—in ways that we cannot yet fathom. But change it will. The world, for better or for worse, is in disarray.

It’s not unlike the ancient story from Luke’s Gospel about the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. Purportedly, the story comes to us in the form of a prediction of a future event—a prophecy: “The days will come,” Jesus says, “when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

But the reality was that the Temple had been previously destroyed, the roof had fallen, the walls caved in, and the city of Jerusalem had been razed and burned. All four of the Gospels were written only after these events had already occurred . . . and the late first century Christians were being thrown out of the synagogues and persecuted by the Romans. In their view the apocalypse had occurred.

It was a good time to abandon the faith. Or if not abandon it, to hunker down and try to escape notice. Fear filled many because of the changes happening in the world of the late first century.

Luke’s admonition? “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” Stay the course, fight the good fight. Bear witness to the faith that is in you.

Whether real or imagined, many people are now afraid of what is happening and what might be coming. The man who is now our president elect and some of his supporters (and I hasten to add, not all of his supporters) have given many people significant reason to be afraid: women, Hispanics, Moslems, LGBTQ folk, Blacks, refugees and other vulnerable people.

When Luke wrote his Gospel, the Temple was already destroyed and Jerusalem was in ruins. He wasn’t writing to prevent those things from happening. That was a done deal. But rather, the gospel was asking, “Now what?”

How do people of faith respond? What do we do going forward? How do we behave when the verities of our everyday lives are shaken and the social contract may be cancelled? We have seen the collapse of Christendom over the past decades. We have experienced the diminishment of the Church as institution. And now the national commitments and policies that many have counted upon as trust, are teetering.

The election is over and I don’t want or need to revisit it. But I do want to invite us all to reflect on what we do now?

Paul Tillich, the public theologian of the mid-twentieth century, reflecting on the great challenges, anxieties and questions that people ask, wrote, “The religious answer has always the character of in spite of.”[2]

In spite of . . . what has happened or may happen . . . let us vow to stay the course, fight the good fight, bear witness to the faith.

In our tradition, the Baptismal Covenant is regarded as the normative statement of what it means to follow Jesus. When we make that covenant we agree that in the name of God

  • we will continue in Christian fellowship,
  • resist evil and repent of any evil we may be doing,
  • proclaim the Gospel,
  • serve Christ in all persons,
  • strive for justice and peace,
  • and respect the dignity of every human being.

The important thing, of course, is not to just think these things as good thoughts, wear safety pins,  crosses or bracelets . . . The much more difficult work of following Jesus is the  doing of these things.

  • Do not participate in hate speech or allow hateful remarks to go unchallenged.
  • Intervene or call or help if you witness abusive behavior.
  • Confront Islamophobia, misogyny, racism, homophobia.
  • Join with other people of goodwill to insist on public policies that enhance the common good and protect the most vulnerable.
  • Be green and work for actions to protect God’s fragile creation.

The stones of the Temple and Polis may be collapsing.

But Luke’s admonition? “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” Stay the course, fight the good fight. Bear witness to the faith that is in you.

May the people of God say, “Amen.”

 

 

[1] F. Forrester Church, Preface to The Essential Tillich: University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1999, p. xvi

[2] Paul Tillich, Invocation: The Lost Dimension in Religion, reprinted in The Essential Tillich, (see footnote 1 above), p. 8

Are Zombies Real? Zacchaeus and Grace

Are Zombies Real? Zacchaeus and Grace 150 150 admin

 

There’s a Halloween story that comes from the early 16th Century. The year was 1517. It was on Halloween, All Hallows Eve, the day before the feast of All Saints’ Day that Martin Luther posted his 95 theses for debate in his course on the Epistle to the Romans.

Luther, a professor of New Testament at the University of Wittenberg and an Augustinian monk, was a tortured soul. He was overwhelmed with guilt for even the most minor of infractions. He would daily go to confession and then subject himself to extensive religious exercises and physical torture in order to be exorcised of his shame. Even then, he never felt clean, never righteous or worthy of the love of God.

In preparation for teaching a class on the Epistle to the Romans, however, Luther, read in his Bible, Romans 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to his grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” It was a revelation. Instead of having to earn God’s love by living a perfect life, Luther came to see that we are saved by grace. Salvation is a gift, not a reward.

As he looked around the church of his day, he saw a religion, founded on grace, that had been turned into one filled with requirements (what he called “works of the law”) requirements to be met before one could stand before or even be loved by God.

Although many factors and forces led to the Protestant Reformation, history points to that October 31st in 1517, as the date that it all began. And that’s why we observe today as Reformation Sunday. It is observed in many places on the last Sunday of October. I was pleased to hear that Pope Francis will soon be travelling to Sweden to join in a celebration of worldwide Lutheranism. He is calling upon Roman Catholics to re-evaluate the Reformation.

I recently came across a piece written by Kyle Childress, a Texas pastor who has just co-authored a book with Rod Kennedy, former pastor of First Baptist Church here in Dayton. Childress shared the following story that seems so appropriate for the Halloween season.

During a haircut my barber asked me, “Do you believe that zombies are real?” I said, “What?” not sure if I had heard her correctly. She asked again, “Do you believe that zombies are real?” Realizing that it was a serious question, I said, “No. Zombies are in movies, books, TV shows, and games. But they’re not real.”

She said, “My preacher says that zombies are real. He preaches that the devil reinvigorates dead bodies and that’s where zombies come from.”

Trying to avoid public criticism of another preacher I said, “Where in the Bible does he get this?”

She shot back, “Well, I don’t know where he gets it. All I know is that he says we’d better get our guns ready because zombies are real.”

“Where do you go to church?” I asked.

“I go to the Cowboy Church outside the loop. You know, you can see the rodeo arena out back.”

“How many people attend on Sunday mornings to hear that zombies are real?

She said, “Oh, we usually have somewhere around 400 on Sunday morning, with most staying around Sunday afternoon for pot-luck dinner. We have roping, barrel-racing, and other rodeo events after that.”

I didn’t know whether to cry, cuss, or pray for mercy. Every Sunday I preach well-prepared, biblical sermons to a congregation of 80-100 people, while across town 400 people dress up as cowboys and pack a church to hear that zombies are real and go rodeo afterwards.

Someone asked me the other day if I thought I was depressed; I thought about this barbershop conversation. I responded that the question is not whether I’m depressed. The question is why am I not depressed?[1]

Are zombies real? Well, no. I’m with Kyle Childress if you’re thinking about the fictional beings of horror movies, television, and popular paperback fiction.

But there are Walking Dead . . . not those who have physically died but people who’ve              suffered a moral death, a death to compassion, a death to their own humanity. Zacchaeus was one of those walking dead. He was a tax collector.

In the first century Roman Empire, the Roman occupiers appointed local, indigenous people to collect their taxes. Zacchaeus would collect the percentage that the empire insisted was due to Caesar, and then he would add onto the tax bill an additional amount to support himself. This was all enforced by the Roman legions and bureaucracy. Failure to pay could result in confiscation of one’s property, one’s harvest and flocks and herds. Punishment could include arrest, even death—depending upon the whim of the particular enforcers. This was all done without due process—only Roman citizens had a right to a trial. And residents of Palestine were not Roman citizens.

Needless to say, tax collectors were despised by their fellow Jews as, at best, collaborators with the hated Romans and, at worst, out and out thieves and traitors. Zacchaeus was one of the latter.

He was a “chief tax collector” – a very wealthy man. And in the eyes of his countrymen, he was an “egregious” sinner, the Walking Dead: dead to compassion, dead to the suffering of his victims, dead to a moral life.

Jesus was walking through Jericho one day causing a stir. Curious about who this Jesus was, Zacchaeus, short of stature, climbed a tree in order to see over the crowd. When Jesus saw Zacchaeus, he called for him to come down, “. . . for I must stay at your house today.”

And the soul of Zacchaeus was raised from the dead! Having encountered the One in whom the Love of God was so apparent, who did not despise or condemn him, Zacchaeus opened the eyes of his heart to see the poor and the victims of his greed, to make restitution. Jesus welcomed him into his embrace with a reminder that he, too, was a child of Abraham. Jesus also gave a gentle reminder to his critics who were upset that he would have anything to do with the tax collector, “Remember that I came to seek out and to save the lost.” Grace . . . a free and unearned gift.

Are you a works of the law, earn your way into heaven, guilt-ridden Christian like Martin Luther? Do you beat yourself down with shame? Do you second-guess yourself as if you are flawed beyond repair? Do you require that others be held accountable for every misdeed or mistake? Then meet the Martin Luther on Halloween, 1517, for he’s now singing a new song about Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.

Are you a Zombie? Walking dead in your own shoes . . . morally, compassionately, emotionally dead? Have you given up on abundant life as an impossible dream? Are you so jaded that you’re convinced that all is lost, everything is beyond repair, so just do the best you can for yourself? Then let me introduce you to Zacchaeus, and invite you to, in your walking deadness to climb a figurative sycamore tree, look over the crowd, and see Jesus. What’s the commotion? Why are people gathering around him? What’s the buzz?

Jesus says, “I want to come to your house tonight, to have dinner with you, to be with the lost, dead, unloved, empty. I, the one in whom the Living God is most clearly reflected, am here for you. I want you. I love you. Grace is my name.”

[1] Kyle Childress in Will Campbell, Preacher Man by Kyle Childress and Rodney Wallace Kennedy, Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon, 1916, p. 8

The Long Game

The Long Game 150 150 admin

 

The other news story this week was the announcement that Bob Dylan won this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. Now regardless of the debate over the quality of Dylan’s singing ability, there should be little controversy about his literary work. His best known song is Blowin’ in the Wind. It’s been included in Roman Catholic and Protestant liturgies and hymnody for decades.

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind..[1]

I hear echoes of today’s Gospel in the lyrics.

“Yes, and how many ears must one man have, Before he can hear people cry?”

How many times must a widow cry out, Before her pleas will be heard?

For people of faith the cry of pain, the cry for recognition, is clearly heard in one of the earliest justice stories in the Bible.

The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.[2]

It all begins with a cry. The Hebrew slaves didn’t have to meet any requirements: no orthodoxy tests, no legal standards or benchmarks. They simply “groaned under their slavery, and cried out.” In six short words the entire Exodus tradition from slavery to freedom was set in motion. “And God took notice of them.”

The prophets were about taking notice, seeing injustice, hearing cries of pain. God hears those cries. But there’s something that rings untrue about the conclusion to the parable of the widow and the unjust judge.

And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.[3]

How quickly is quickly? Too often we experience long delays from the utterance of a cry and the granting of relief. We pray for healing, for peace, for leaders who take seriously the threats to our environment. We pray for many things that God appears to delay in answering or doesn’t appear to answer at all. And if I sometimes experience frustration in my relatively secure and sheltered life, I wonder what it must be like to be Haitian, a family in Alepo, or among the 65.3 million refugees in the world. Has God grown deaf?

The introduction to this parable challenges whether this is a story about God. It suggests that it’s about us. The text says, “Jesus told the disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

Debie Thomas, a writer for The Christian Century, recently wrote:

“What does it mean to ‘lose heart’? The words that come to my mind include weariness, resignation, numbness, and despair. When I lose heart, I lose my sense of focus and direction. My spiritual GPS goes haywire, the world turns a murky gray, and all roads lead to nowhere.

“In sharp contrast, the widow in Jesus’ parable is the very picture of purposefulness and precision. She knows her need, she knows its urgency, and she knows exactly where to go and whom to ask in order to get her need met. If anything, the daily business of getting up, getting dressed, heading over to the judge’s house or workplace, banging on his door, and talking his ear off until he listens clarifies her own sense of who she is and what she’s about.”[4]

This story and the reading from Second Timothy invites us to remember that we are in for the Long Game. 2 Timothy tells us to “be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.”[5] The temptation is to hang in there for a short while, and in our impatience, to drop away, to give up.

We forget that at the end of his ministry, Jesus had 11 disciples and all them ran away. John’s Gospel has the disciple John at the foot of the cross, but the other three gospels do not. So let’s just say that at the end, Jesus had no disciples or, at best, one.

It’s God’s church, not ours. It will survive in whatever form God wills. Faith is about persistence. We’re called to be faithful, not successful, in whatever ways the world defines success.

Faithful in prayer.

Faithful in persistence.

Faithful in crying out.

Faithful in listening for the cries of others.

And confident that the Holy Spirit, God’s Holy Wind, is always blowing.

 

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, The answer is blowin’ the wind.

 

[1] Lyrics and music by Bob Dylan, 1962.

[2] Exodus 2:23b-25 (NRSV)

[3] Luke 18:7-8 (NRSV)

[4] The Christian Century, September 28, 2016, p 21.

[5] 2 Timothy 4:2b

9/11

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It was my Senior year of high school. Stockholm, Sweden, where I was an exchange student. One of my classmates invited me to his family’s Friday night dinner. When I told my host parents what I was planning, they became very upset and tried to talk me out of going. . . . It was the first time that I had personally seen the ugly face of anti-Semitism. I was told, “His people killed Jesus.” My classmate’s sin: he was Jewish.

And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Fast-forward a year to my first year in college. My roommate was Henry Marshall, an African-American. First week there, I was approached by a group of upper classmen whose self-appointed task was to haze freshmen. They wanted me to assist them by luring Henry down to the football stadium late at night where – just as a joke – they would jump out of the dark wearing pointed white hoods. I refused. So they came into our dorm room late one night, threatened me, grabbed Henry, took him down behind the stadium and beat him. Several other beatings were recorded on campus that fall. All were people of color. Their sin? They didn’t look like us.

And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Tracey Lind, Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, describes the work of a downtown priest and pastor in this way: “I carry the keys to unlock and open the church doors so that the stranger passing by may enter. I preach the word of God so that those who listen may know the good news of God’s justice, love, and mercy for all creation. I stand at God’s table and make Christ known in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine so that God’s hungry people may be fed. And I pronounce God’s blessing upon those who seek it so that they may experience the gift of God’s creative love.”

“It would be very easy to exclude people: to make some people feel welcome and others not, to feed some and turn others away, to bless some and curse others. Like any human being charged with such a daunting task and awesome responsibility, I run that risk each and every day.”

“Whenever I am tempted to lock up God’s house, to gate God’s table, or to refuse God’s blessing, I am confronted with the question.” (Interrupted by God, p. 15)

It is the question raised by by Jesus whenever he encountered the temptation to bar the door and say . . . we have enough in here already. For Jesus is always saying to those who will listen . . . but there’s at least one more out there who’s still lost . . . one more sheep . . . one more pearl . . . one more precious one who’s not yet seated at the table and eating the food of the kingdom.

And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Barbara Grafton, a New York priest, tells this story:

It is some years ago now: a Friday afternoon, busy as usual, full of the interruptions that form the major part of a parish priest’s life — our parishes pay us to be interrupted, my friend Philip says, and I think he may have something there. The phone rang and it was for “the pastor” — someone I didn’t know, and probably someone who wanted money: professional mendicants often call churches late on Friday afternoons.

But it was not a mendicant. It was a young woman, calling from somewhere upstate. She and her partner had moved up there from the Bronx last year, she said, and they had found a church they liked. They loved going to church together: my caller had grown up going to church with the beloved grandmother who raised her, and it meant a lot to her to have church in her new life. The people were friendly and the pastor was friendly. For several months they attended services, made friends, helped out with various projects in the church. They looked forward to Sunday mornings. The pastor was a good preacher, and they liked the music. They could imagine themselves making a permanent spiritual home there, and they wanted a spiritual home.

And so they made an appointment with the pastor to talk with him about joining his church. They came to his study on the appointed evening, and he received them kindly. He would be delighted to receive them into his congregation, he said. He had a question, though: he knew that they shared an address but had different last names. They were not—how should he put it—living in a lesbian relationship, were they?

Well, yes, we are, one of the women said. Nothing had ever been said, but wasn’t it sort of obvious? And people had been so friendly with them, at the church picnic, and at the yardwork day. Nobody had ever questioned them about their living arrangements.

The pastor’s demeanor was still kind. In that case, he said with real regret in his voice, I’m afraid I can’t accept you as members of our church. You are living in a state of sin. I’m sorry.

The two young women never returned to that church, of course. They were humiliated to think that the people who had been so friendly and kind to them would not have received them at all had they known who they really were. A state of sin, the pastor they so admired had said. It had been hard for each of them, growing up, to come to terms with their sexuality. Other kids had been cruel to each of them in school sometimes, and that cruelty had stung like a lash. It had been hard telling their families; there were still family members who did not know. But at the little country church, it had seemed that an unconditional welcome in Christ had been offered to them unconditionally. But no. There were strings. They were not acceptable to God.

Her partner was bitter. Who needs church, anyway, she said angrily. Bunch of hypocrites. But my caller remembered the comfort of her church at home, remembered her grandmother’s faith, remembered the white Bible she had been given as a girl, the very one she carried to church now. She remembered safety and love and learning about holiness. And she found our number in the telephone directory and called me late on a Friday afternoon, wanting to know if there was a church that could find the two of them in its understanding of salvation.

She said that she was a Baptist. I told her a little about the Episcopal Church. . . .

Then, in a quiet voice, “But — are you saved?”

And I heard in her voice the weight of a thousand sermons about Hell, about the wrath of God. I heard the voices of a thousand thousand good and kind people, convinced that they served a God who decreed a fiery Hell for many, whose invitation into heaven depended primarily on our having a careful and correct belief system and a scrupulous record where certain rules are concerned. I knew that my caller understood being saved to involve a specific moment in which grace came, the hour and minute and second of which was known and remembered, I was saved at 11:17 the morning of April 27 when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Personal Savior, and before that moment I was not saved and would have gone to Hell if I had died.

All of these thoughts took just a moment. She was still waiting for an answer to her question. “But, are you saved?”

And, late on a Friday afternoon, full of sins I knew about and of other sins I had not yet understood, the pastor of a churchful of people who were sinners, too; full, also, of the stunning awareness that the grace of God was flooding my little office at that very moment, shining, pooling its light on the floor, invincible, bigger than any sin I had or anyone else had ever had, lifting everything, I knew the answer. Are you saved? Yes, I told her. Yes, we are.

And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Today’s date is one that “lives in infamy”, to paraphrase FDR’s reference to Dec. 7, 1941, the bombing of Pearl Harbor. 9/11. Every year at this time the news is filled with recollections of what happened that day with a laser focus on New York’s twin towers, the Pentagon, the high jacked planes, and first responders. But we largely fail to comprehend that the damage to the peoples of the earth unleashed that day is still growing and expanding exponentially. A half-million Syrians alone have died. The wounded and displaced are many more than that. The death toll in other parts of the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia, and America continues to mount daily—far out-distancing the nearly 3,000 deaths on 9/11 itself.

But even with all that misery and death, there’s a greater tragedy that has worked its way into our psyches. And that is the fear, suspicion and distrust with which we regard one another. We’ve been successfully terrorized!

This afternoon we’re going to try to nudge the ship of fear and distrust onto a new course with a Peace Heroes walk. We have no illusions that that this or other walks around the world will do it alone. It takes each of us, everyday, to accomplish that work.

Now peace heroes are not just the famous and well known. A peace hero is often an everyday person who accepts risk and succeeds in making the world a less violent and more just place. If I can be one, so can you. Just refuse to be terrorized. Cast aside fear. Reject suspicion. Trust the other.

Can’t that be dangerous, you might ask? Certainly. Jesus got crucified for it. But for me, I’d rather be in the company of Jesus than to live in the well of hatred and fear—forever separated from my sisters and brothers.

May one day the murmerers say of us: These women and these men receive sinners and eat with them. We may discover that what we had thought was sin is not. And that our mighty righteousness is often no more than blindness to our own brokenness.

Take the risk. Be a peace hero!

 

 

 

A Better Country

A Better Country 150 150 admin

 

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 14C – August 7, 2016

 

The title for this sermon is A Better Country. I take it from the letter to the Hebrews. The author of this New Testament epistle, referring to Abraham and other faithful ancestors, wrote

They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country. . . .[1]

My thesis is that the past – nostalgia for a time gone by – is a trap that closes us off to new hope and new possibility.

Abraham left his homeland to follow the call of God. Although he travelled through the land of milk and honey, he never possessed it. And although he experienced much hardship, he never looked back—never wanting to return to the land of his youth. The same was true for Moses who led his people toward the Promised Land—but never reached it himself. Some may have longed for a return to the fleshpots of Egypt, but not Moses.

This eleventh chapter of Hebrews begins with the affirmation that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”[2] So faith has a strong element of the future in it—not a return to an older country nor to a former time. Faith is about “things hope for and not yet seen.”

I think of this often when folk suggest that they want to go back to an older version of The Book of Common Prayer, and to a time when the altar faced the wall and the people stared at the priest’s back. They want to go back to a time when the Sunday School was packed and the church was filled with worshippers.

The columnist Ross Douthat makes a living insisting that his own Roman Catholic Church began to lose it’s way with the reforms of Vatican II—reforms like using contemporary languages rather than Latin. His solution? Go back to the way things were: to eating fish on Fridays, private confession, and holy days of obligation. If Roman Catholics don’t go back to the old ways, says Douthat, then they might as well go all the way to the apostate Episcopal Church with our women priests and acceptance of gay marriage.

Most cultures and religions have foundation stories and myths that shape our understanding of who we are and what we’re about. One of those stories for Jews and Christians is the creation myth in the Book of Genesis.

Something that you will not learn from biblical literalists – nor from a visit to the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky – is that the creation stories are cultural myths that point to truth but are not history—nor will you be told that there are two stories of creation in the first two chapters of Genesis.

I will be happy to talk about the two creation stories and their mythological nature with any one who would like to do that. But for this morning I want to think about them as foundation stories that help us to reflect upon who we are as human beings.

In much of orthodox Christian thinking we’re told that human beings were created in perfection and that we blew it. Created in the image of God, we quickly rebelled. God gave only one command in the garden of Eden and that was to not eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. You know the story. Adam and Eve broke the command and ate of the fruit. And as punishment, they were thrown out of the garden to struggle and make their way in the wider world. It’s a literal interpretation that treats the story as history

The perfect couple were created and placed in a garden of perfection. Eating of the fruit was, according to St. Augustine, the original sin. We have all inherited the sin of Adam. The goal of human striving is to be redeemed and returned to our original perfection in the perfect garden, which we call heaven.

Isn’t that the foundation story that we’ve all heard?

You may be surprised to discover that the rabbis over the centuries have interpreted this story in a very different way. And since it was their story first, it deserves a hearing.

Several years ago, Rabbi Bernard Barsky lectured here at Christ Church on the creation stories, which he dubbed the Call of Adam.

The Rabbi pointed out that the Big Bang would have brought an explosion of light. Low and behold, the first thing that God created in the Genesis account was light. Although there was light in the beginning, there were no eyes to perceive that light. Eyes were far in the future and, at the time, were only a potential.

Barsky said:

The call of God is the potency of light to call for the organs of light; the potency of justice to call forth the development of conscience; the potency of love to call forth organs of compassion. The call of God is in the darkness in front of us, shaping in us the moral organs, which can hear it. The call of God is the intrusion of the out there and the not yet into the here and now. It is the encompassing that longs for incarnation. It is the tug of the future tense of what could be and what should be.

Adam represents the birth of desire and the discovery of the world. In Adam we’re not dealing with an individual man who disobeys his master but with the myth of human beginnings. In Adam (the name literally translates as mankind) we’re asking what it is in the nature of Adam that draws him toward his destiny. It is the longing, the hunger, the desire to gain knowledge of good and evil, to explore the world. It is our capacity to seek and discover and become that is the nature given by God in creation. Being thrown out of the garden is like being thrown out of the nest—sent out into the wider world to seek our destiny.

So goes an important rabbinical understanding of our foundational creation stories.

Traditional Christian theology suggests that we need to go back to our original perfection. A secular version of that is that we need to return to a time when things were good in America. One man pressed a woman about when that was. She said 1957. That would have been the era of Father Knows Best, the nuclear arms race, Jim Crow, and the highest marginal tax rate was over 90%.

Evolutionary biology suggests that we have not yet become what we will be. If perfection were to exist—it is ahead of us and not behind. We are transitional beings between what was and what will be.

So whether is it in politics or religion, seeking some idyllic past is a denial of who we are and who we’re called to become. The present can be frightful, uncertain, painful and unstable. But as people of faith—or people who would like to have faith—the way is forward – not back – yearning for a better country – as yet only a potential. Our destiny is in the future.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

[1] Hebrews 11:13b-16a

[2] Hebrews 11:1

Faith and the Public Square

Faith and the Public Square 150 150 admin

The Rev. Robert Dwight                                                                                                                                                       Pentecost 11                                                                                                                                                                              7/31/16

 

“And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’”                                                                                                                                                          Luke 12:15

 

What is the basis of our security?

I’m not thinking here of our individual sense of security as it pertains to our finances, health, and whatever assets and resources we rely on for our comfort and ease of mind.

No, what I’m concerned with today is our national security, our security as Americans.

What I’m concerned with this morning is this question—what can we do as citizens, individually and collectively, to enhance and preserve the health and vigor of our democracy?

Or to put it another way, how can we as people of faith contribute a certain quality of justice and mercy to the ongoing political conversation in the public square?

Think of the public square as all those settings in which political convictions are expressed, discussed, and argued about.

So the public square can be any place in which we and our fellow citizens gather and give voice to our most heart-felt concerns about the state of our nation.

Now I for one count it an enormous privilege to be a citizen of this imperfect, fragile, precious democracy.

What a conspicuous blessing it is to be able to freely criticize and make jokes about all our elected officials including the President without facing the threat of imprisonment or worse.

But democracy is a vulnerable organism that must be carefully tended and cultivated.

And so we should register alarm that during this electoral season the public square has suffered considerable mistreatment and abuse.

In recent months we have witnessed the emergence of a very disturbing pattern of inflammatory speech in which a candidate has made preposterous, unsubstantiated claims for his own prowess and has dismissed his opponents as ridiculous and contemptible.

The most alarming thing about this corrosive corruption of public speech is that hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens have found this crude vilification of other candidates wildly appealing.

To witness throngs of angry, disaffected Americans jumping on this bandwagon is worrying and disheartening to say the least.

As one of our nation’s founders said, the preservation of democracy requires untiring vigilance.

Democracy is continually under threat from the extreme right, the extreme left, and the large swath of the population we might refer to as the apathetic middle.

Some of us are old enough to remember in the 1950s the far right exploits of Senator Joseph McCarthy when he convened the House Un-American Activities Committee and mercilessly interrogated those whom he suspected of having Communist Party leanings, many of whom turned out be blameless individuals who had served this country well and were patriotic to the core.

It was said of McCarthy that he sniffed a communist under every bush—there was the memorable occasion when the Senator was harshly accusing someone of being a fellow traveler in spite of a lack of incriminating evidence, and an opposing attorney blurted out, “Sir, have you no decency?”

At the other end of the spectrum, the Weather Underground Organization was an example of the militant left run amok—this was a group of rabid young idealists in the 1960s who came to believe that the most viable means of ending the Viet Nam War and achieving a new society was through the use of deadly force and armed insurrection—their tactics backfired when the bombs they were preparing in a house in Greenwich Village blew up causing several fatalities among their ranks and signaling the beginning of the end of their violent misadventures.

Throughout the history of our republic, there have arisen various fringe groups with authoritarian, anti-democratic agendas that have caused a flurry of excitement among a certain group of disenchanted citizens.

Pockets of our population have sometimes been seduced by demagogues promising the moon—but time and again these uprisings have been defused and disarmed by a stronger, more dominant, more sensible version of democracy.

Of course, we know that the vitality and dynamism of the public square depend on passionate, even bruising argument and debate.

Nothing is more beneficial to our democracy than rigorous, free-wheeling debate about what our elected representatives are doing and not doing.

And the more we’re informed about the intricacies of what’s at stake, the more we’re in a position to be persuasive.

But what hinders the functioning of the public square more than anything is speech that expresses scorn and contempt for one’s opponents.

I remember attending a swearing-in ceremony for new citizens in which Judge Michael Merz exhorted these new Americans to defend anyone who in their presence was the victim of hate speech.

So, yes, let us not allow hate speech to go unchallenged—but at the same time let us be aware, as our Baptismal vows remind us, that even the perpetrator of hate speech bears the imprint, however disguised and camouflaged, of Divine splendor.

Of course, it is always helpful for us to be mindful of our own flawed political perspective and judgment—that we ourselves are perpetually prone to being captive to self-interest.

Now I don’t have any grand schemes for rehabilitating the public square.

All I have to offer are a few modest proposals.

First of all, I beseech you not to abandon the public square.

I implore you not to withdraw and become disengaged from the tumultuous conversation now roiling the waters of our public square.

I urge you not to withhold your voice and convictions from the ongoing conversation.

So at the risk of sounding hopelessly naïve and unrealistic, let me suggest a partial, very unsensational remedy for mending and repairing the public square.

Here’s the prescription I’m recommending—for each of us, whenever possible, to indiscriminately disseminate goodwill to friends, neighbors, strangers, and adversaries.

Because it seems to me that every private act pf goodwill and generosity is a political act because it serves as a small but meaningful corrective to the tone of bombastic arrogance that in recent months has dominated our political discourse.

I’m convinced that every gesture of courtesy, thoughtfulness, and kindness ripples beyond itself and is passed on from one person to another until it is magnified a thousand fold and at least ever so slightly alters the climate of the public square.

In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul gives us an inventory of the gifts of the Spirit—he includes the following—joy, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness—and we might add other qualities that are gifts of the Spirit, namely awe, gratitude, humility, and humor.

Paul suggests that we are called to let these qualities grow and bloom in us so that they become the predominant face and features with which we meet the world.

To greet our neighbors in the public square imbued with Spirit-driven kindness and generosity—what a bracing, healthful contrast to the politics of rancor and resentment!

Bringing goodwill and civility to the public square might mean absolutely respecting a political opponent’s right to exist and express her views—it might mean patiently listening without contempt to her story of how she came to acquire these particular beliefs that seem to be so at odds with our own.

We belong to a prophetic tradition that ardently insists that we are members one of another—that our well-being and the well-being of our neighbor are intertwined whether that neighbor is congenial to us or antagonistic.

And you might say that wherever we go we carry with us a portable version of the public square.

Our private lives and the public square overlap.

Stephen L. Carter is a law professor at Yale—when he was a boy in the mid-1960s, his family moved to Washington D.C.—they were the first African Americans to move into the almost exclusively white neighborhood of Cleveland Park.

He remembers that he and his family felt acutely isolated and bereft in their new surroundings.

Late one morning Stephen and his siblings were sitting on the porch feeling displaced and miserable when a white woman named Sara Kestenbaum suddenly appeared with a huge plate of sandwiches to welcome the family to the neighborhood.

Mr. Carter indicates that this one hospitable gesture instantly swept away his family’s perception that they were unwanted aliens and conferred on them in one fell-swoop the new identity of full-fledged neighbors.

The other day at the grocery store I ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen for a while.

She had just come from an appointment with her cardiologist who happens to be a Muslim who was raised in Pakistan—she has been seeing this doctor for several years and has developed great respect for his medical judgment and courteous manner.

She described him as personable, soft-spoken, and extremely competent with just a trace of an accent.

After they had finished discussing my friend’s medical issues and she was getting ready to leave, she was suddenly moved to ask him in the wake of the ghastly events in Orlando, “How are you and your family? Do you feel safe? Are you all right?”

She said he stood stock-still, looked at her, and after a few moments of silence he said to her, “I did not expect you to ask that question.”

And then he said, “True religion comes from the heart—it’s what fills us with the desire to take care of one another.”

My friend said, “That’s how you take such good care of my heart.”

And then as the doctor moved toward the door, he turned and said to her, “You have made my day!”

Now admittedly, these moments of connection, even multiplied exponentially, are no substitute for the hard, strenuous work of hammering out enlightened legislation and converting political beliefs into useful policies and programs.

But I’m convinced that every incident of graciousness and goodwill in which a neighbor or stranger is greeted, comforted, and encouraged becomes a highly-charged particle that enters the blood stream of the public realm and contributes at least a little to the strengthening of civility in the public square.

And I think nothing is more crucial for the security of America than a climate of civility which allows us to debate and disagree but without contempt. Amen.

 

 

Thinking about Orlando

Thinking about Orlando 150 150 admin

 

The Psalmist said it so well:

Why are you so full of heaviness O my soul? * and why are you so Disquieted within me?[1]

Well, here we are again. We keep adding to our lexicon of code words that speak of tragedy, violence, hatred, sudden death, terror: Oklahoma City, 9/11, Columbine, Nickel Mines, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Charleston, San Bernadino, Colorado Springs, Paris, Brussels, Bagdad, Kabul, Nairobi and so on. And now to that list we add Orlando. Here-to-for, the name brought to mind Disney World’s Epcot Center and the Magic Kingdom. From this time forward Orlando will also evoke the Pulse Night Club and a night of horror.

IMG_1334 (1)Let me say right up front that there are no easy words of comfort to take away the sting of death. We are here this morning, grieving, grieving right along with people across this nation and around the world—grieving for the dead and injured in Orlando—but also for our world and what seems like a growing spate of shootings and bombings, an epidemic which we have little ability to prevent. We are engaged in warfare that doesn’t end.

Elijah lived in a time like that. Israel in the eighth century BCE was a place of lawlessness, violence, and greed. In today’s reading we find Elijah running from the forces of the evil Queen Jezebel. In despair, he sat down in the shade of a solitary broom tree, nothing more than a desert shrub, and asked God to let him die. But God provided him with food and water. Elijah continued to run away, all the way to the Sinai Desert to Horeb, the mountain of God. And there he hid in a cave.

But God found him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Come on out and stand at the entrance of the cave, for I am about to pass by. Then there was a tornado, an earthquake, and great fire—but God was in none of them. Following these mighty events there was a great silence in which the still, small voice of God spoke to him again—asking the same question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah explained that he was alone, the powerful were after him, and so he was hiding. Then God, not accepting his excuses, sent him back to engage. Elijah’s prophetic work was not finished.

And neither is ours. The church is an alternate reality to the ways of the world. Called to proclaim God’s realm, God’s values, God’s way of being in the world—we dare not run away to some figurative cave and pretend that there’s nothing bad out there. Despite the tempests, earthquakes, and fires—God’s still, small voice calls us to witness to another, a better, way, the way of life.

The Gospel reading assigned for today is about another man who was very much alone . . . cut off from society, family, and friends. The ancients thought that he was possessed by a demon. The Gospels are filled with stories of healings and exorcisms—so many that at times they don’t give us any details. At one point Mark wrote, “And (Jesus) went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”[2]

But in this story we’re provided a great deal of detail. Jesus actually has left Jewish territory and entered a Gentile region. One clue is that they owned pigs—something that would never happen in a Jewish village.

The man in question is called the Gerasene Demoniac. He lived among the tombs in the cemetery outside of the village. He was naked. In Luke’s telling of this story, we learn other details. “Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.”[3]

He was clearly mentally ill. His family and friends had tried to restrain him with shackles and chains to prevent him from hurting himself, but he broke them in pieces. As happens so often with mental illness, social isolation occurs. Sometimes that’s a result of paranoia on the part of the person. At other times it’s a reaction by people who are afraid and who shun those they don’t understand and make them uncomfortable. Nonetheless, it seems that the man’s people and community had given up on him.

When Jesus healed the demoniac, we’re told that he was clothed and in his right mind. He was instructed to return to his home and to share the story of his healing. What’s clear is that his period of isolation was past, and along with his mental health, his relationships were restored as well.

Professor Greg Carey points out that

“The connection between mental illness and social disruption works in both directions. When things are wrong with society, psychological problems increase and intensify. Our current malaise has produced an astonishing increase in reports of mental illness. Depression increased from 6.6 percent of the population in 2001 and 2002 to 9 percent in 2010. Social scientists around the world observe the link between social oppression and mental illness. In short, mental illness leads to social problems, while social distress contributes to mental illness.”[4]

Now let’s consider the demon.

“At first, it seems that the man was possessed by one, albeit really bad, demon…. But when Jesus demands the demon’s name, the response is chilling: “Legion”; for many demons had entered him.”[5] From this point on, there’s no confusion. We’re dealing with a host of demons.”[6]

Jesus cast out the demons, and at their request, he sent them into the herd of swine that were feeding on the hillside. Then the swine rushed down the steep hill and drowned in the sea. According to Mark, there were 2,000 pigs who died that day. Luke just says that it was a large herd.

But as New Testament professor Carey points out, “In the ancient world, “Legion” had one and only one meaning. Legion was the basic unit of the Roman army, comprising up to 6,000 soldiers.”[7]

The Legion that occupied Palestine, during the time that the Gospels were written, The 10th Roman Legion, had as its emblem, a boar or pig.

“It seems our story is making a social and political point to go along with the point that Jesus delivers individuals from demonic oppression. Legion, pigs and the sea: What would any faithful Jew desire more than to see those Gentile (pigs) Romans (Legion) chased back where they came from (the sea)? Indeed, lots of biblical and ancient Jewish imagery depicts the Romans as coming up from the sea (see Revelation 13 for a famous example) and envisions their being driven back into the sea. Jesus, it seems, frees people not only from their individual afflictions but also from social and communal exploitation.”[8]

There is one other group in this story — a group deeply unhappy with the healing of the demoniac. Some people saw his liberation as disruptive and upsetting. Freeing people from their systemic oppression doesn’t profit everyone: the owners of the swine, for example.

“We see this today in widespread anti-immigrant rhetoric, and we observe it when governments deprive minorities of access to the voting booth. The story of the Gerasene demoniac reveals that Jesus’ liberating power bears implications for individuals, for those who love and support them, and for the broader human community.” [9]

So just as we cannot hide away in a cave with Elijah, so God calls us to take up the cause of healing in a world of social disruption, mental illness, violence. Sometimes that ministry is pastoral and one-on-one – hugging, consoling, crying with the bereaved. But at other times it is to a prophetic ministry – calling out the oppressors, standing with the victims of injustice – calling the powerful and the decision makers to account.

If we try to hide or keep silent, if we try to avoid conflict and controversy, it’s quite likely that a still, small voice – the voice of God – will whisper, “What are you doing here? I’ve still got work for you to do. We have my kingdom to complete – here on earth as it is in heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Psalm 42:14

[2] Mark 1:39

[3] Mark 5:5

[4] Greg Carey, What Did Exorcism Mean to Jesus?, Blog post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-carey/mark-5-1-20-exorcism-and-community_b_1628605.html, Accessed on 6/18/16

[5] Luke 8:30

[6] Carey, op. cit.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

National Gun Violence Awareness Day: June 2

National Gun Violence Awareness Day: June 2 150 150 admin

Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a group of more than 60 Episcopal bishops (including Bishop Tom Breidenthal) that advocates for background checks on all gun purchases and other violence prevention measures, is urging all Episcopalians and friends to consider wearing orange on June 2 as a sign of their commitment to reducing gun violence in their communities.

“Poll after poll demonstrates that some 85% of Americans, including large majorities of gun owners and member of the National Rifle Association, favor background checks on all gun purchases, yet Congress won’t act,” said the Rt. Rev. Mark Backwith of the Diocese of Newark, who convenes Bishops Unoted in collaboration with Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut and Eugene T. Sutton of Maryland. “We need to take every opportunity to illustrate just how widespread the support for this simple legislation really is.”

For more information, follow this link.

The Marketplace Is A False God

The Marketplace Is A False God 150 150 admin

Sermon for the 7th Sunday of Easter May 8, 2016

There is a presidential primary this coming Tuesday in West Virginia where one of the historic economic drivers is coal. Coal mining, coal processing, chemical plants, coal trains, and all the businesses that are dependent upon coal companies and their employees—they are all concerned about regulation of the coal industry that might diminish the use of coal.

My maternal grandfather was a coal miner in West Virginia. After learning civil engineering in the Navy during the First World War, he landed a job with the Cannelton Coal Company just outside of Montgomery. He and my grandmother lived and raised their family in a company-owned house, were paid in company printed script, which could only be spent in company-owned stores. As a mining engineer, he traced the seams of coal and directed the miners to where and how deep to dig. He was frequently in the mines where tunnel collapses and explosions were part of the cost of doing business.

The coal marketplace is being called into question as we learn about the effects of burning high sulphur coal in our power plants. One need only look at the sea of choking humanity in places like Beijing to know the concern. Here in Dayton as we have some of the highest rates of child respiratory problems in the US. Some say that it’s just part of the cost of doing business.

Twenty-five years ago I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail through the White Mountains of New Hampshire. One evening after supper at the Lake of the Clouds Hut near the peak of Mt. Washington, a resident science instructor warned us against drinking water from what appeared to be a pristine mountain lake. It was so polluted from Ohio Valley coal-burning power plant emissions, carried there by the prevailing winds, that the Lake was acidic. He demonstrated by making a battery from lake water that powered a light bulb.

So what does coal have to do with faith? Nothing and everything: nothing in the sense that coal is rarely mentioned in the Bible—everything, in that God’s grandest desires are that we be free of anything that enslaves us and that we worship only God.

One of the earliest revelations of God was that he wanted us to be free. The people of God were enslaved in Egypt under Pharaoh. God sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to let his people go and led them out of slavery into freedom. Slaves are a form of cheap labor. Some are caught up in formal systems of slavery while others are trapped by geography, education, economic conditions, drugs, underwater mortgages and so on.

Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes an event that took place in Philippi near the middle of the first Century of the Common Era.

“One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you* a way of salvation.’ She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place before the authorities.”

Paul and his companions were thrown into prison, because they had interfered with the girl’s owner’s ability to make money off of her fortune-telling. Her slavery and her demon-possession were the cost of doing business.

Later in the Book of Acts, Paul again caused a great disturbance. “A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”

Jesus said that we can worship God or mammon. Mammon means money. We cannot worship both at the same time. It’s like trying to serve two masters simultaneously. Which one do we obey when the values of one are directly opposite the values of the other? God wants us to be free. God wants us to worship him. But we cannot do either if we’re putting all our energy into serving Pharaoh, the coal company, the demon, the goddess, the marketplace.

Today is Mother’s Day. Motherhood ideally has to do with love, mercy, nurture, caregiving. It is a selfless endeavor as anyone knows who has had to change a foul diaper at 3 am or clean a crib for a toddler with the stomach flu. Clothes washing, dirty dishes, house cleaning, cooking, shopping—and as many mothers know in this economy—after a full day’s work in the marketplace, these tasks still await.

I was surprised to discover that the founder of Mother’s Day in the United States was right there with St. Paul as a “disturber of the peace.” The modern holiday of Mother’s Day was first celebrated in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother at St Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. Her campaign to make “Mother’s Day” a recognized holiday in the United States began in 1905, the year her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, died. Ann Jarvis had been a peace activist who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides during the Civil War, and created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues. Anna Jarvis wanted to honor her mother by continuing the work she started and to set aside a day to honor all mothers, because she believed that they were “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world”. In 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation designating Mother’s Day, held on the second Sunday in May, as a national holiday to honor mothers.

Although Jarvis was successful in founding Mother’s Day, she became resentful of the commercialization of the holiday. By the early 1920s, Hallmark Cards and other companies had started selling Mother’s Day cards. “Hallmark Holiday” is now used to describe a holiday that is perceived to exist primarily for commercial purposes, rather than to commemorate a traditionally or historically significant event. (We’ll talk about Christmas in December.) Jarvis believed that the companies had misinterpreted and exploited the idea of Mother’s Day, and that the emphasis of the holiday was on sentiment, not profit. As a result, she organized boycotts of Mother’s Day. Jarvis argued that people should appreciate and honor their mothers through handwritten letters expressing their love and gratitude, instead of buying gifts and pre-made cards. She protested at a candy makers’ convention in Philadelphia in 1923, and at a meeting of American War Mothers in 1925. By this time, carnations had become associated with Mother’s Day, and the selling of carnations by the American War Mothers to raise money angered Jarvis, who was arrested for disturbing the peace.

Anna Jarvis would be shocked to discover how far away from carnations and greeting cards we have come in the monetizing of Mother’s Day.

The farthest thing from my mind this morning is to try to make anyone feel badly about having spent some money to celebrate his or her mother. What I do want to encourage you to do is explore and name those forces, principalities, powers, economic systems that continuously try to re-enslave us, exploit our labor, demand our devotion, and leave us empty. Even after escaping from Egypt, many of the Israelites could still hear Pharaoh’s siren song calling them to return. Pharaoh’s name today is consumerism.

God’s answer to Pharaoh is two-fold. Have no other gods. Serve God/not money. And keep holy the Sabbath. Take a day off from the rat race. Worship the creator, tell your mom or other friends and relatives how much you love them and what they mean to you, plant a flower, make a card, play some music, and dance. For that’s what God’s people do when they are free. After emerging from the Red Sea, entering into freedom, Moses’ sister, Miriam, danced.

“Dance, dance, wherever you may be, I am the lord of the dance, said he. And I lead you all, wherever you may be. And I lead you all in the dance, said he.”

Easter Untamed

Easter Untamed 150 150 admin

 

Out of curiosity the other day, I read all four gospel accounts of the first Easter morning. I read them in the order in which they were written.

Mark has just 8 verses in which he says that several women found the tomb open with a young man sitting there who told them that Jesus had been raised; despite being directed to tell the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee, “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Matthew has 12 verses with more detail. The young man in the tomb had the same message. But in Matthew’s telling, Jesus met the women as they were leaving the garden and told them that he would meet his followers in Galilee.

Luke also has 12 verses about Easter morning, but he adds a second young man in the tomb. There’s nothing about a future meeting in Galilee. The women went back and told the disciples that the young men said that Jesus had risen. The disciples dismissed it as an idle tale, and didn’t believe them. Peter went to the tomb to check it out for himself and found it empty. Then he just went home.

John (as we just heard) has 18 verses. In his telling, only Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty and ran to tell Peter and John who both ran to the tomb. John believed that Jesus had risen. Peter seemed skeptical. Then both of them just went home. Mary, who had followed them, waited outside until they’d left. She looked in and saw two angels, who asked, “Why are you crying?” She said, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve laid him.” Then she turned around and there was Jesus whom she mistook for the gardener. When she asked him where he’d taken the body, Jesus said, “Mary!” She then recognized him. He then instructed her to tell the disciples that he was ascending to God. So Mary did what he asked and said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

Mark’s Gospel was probably written around 40 years after these events while the last Gospel may have been penned nearly 90 years the first Easter. I don’t want to belabor the point, but it’s interesting that the farther away in time each gospel writer got, the more elaborate the story became. That’s fully in keeping with what we know about human behavior as each author tries to embellish the story to make it more compelling. It’s same phenomenon that has the fish that got away grow in size with each re-telling.

Another observation. There are some things missing in all these accounts of the Easter story. There’s absolutely no mention of colored eggs, chocolate crosses, Easter bunnies, or jellybeans. There isn’t a single “Alleluia” or a “triumphant glorious day.”

I fear that over the centuries we Christians have sanitized and domesticated Easter to the point that the power of the original is almost unrecognizable. Now don’t get me wrong. I love our music and Easter traditions, the Easter finery, flowers and jelly beans (especially licorice jelly beans).

But I have to ask myself if, in our ways of thinking about and celebrating Easter, we might be missing something important . . . something critical that’s masked or buried beneath colored plastic grass. Have we domesticated Easter because the untamed version is just too much, too difficult, too frightening?

Some years ago one of my friends told me that he had given up cigarettes for Lent. The only problem, he said, was that in his craving for a cigarette, Easter that year became, for him, a carton of Marlboros. Is it possible that for us our Easter celebration becomes something that it isn’t – a substitute for the real thing?

An alternative scripture text for Easter is from Isaiah, the same prophet who gave us the beautiful language quoted in the lyrics of Handel’s Messiah. Isaiah reminds us that what God is about is nothing less than the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, where “The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.”[1]

What former things? Isaiah paints a picture of a Good Friday kind of world where people—men, women, and children—are strung up on crosses of greed, violence, hardness of heart, injustice, and oppression. God’s new heaven and new earth does away with these former things and replaces them with a new people—an Easter people—a people committed to join God in making all things new. When we become members of the body of Christ, when we sign on to be part of this new heaven and earth, then we agree to join in Jesus’ work.

Today we welcome Rob, RJ, and Parker as they join in this work through the Sacrament of Baptism. In a few minutes we shall all reaffirm the covenant—the agreement—we make with God about the nature of the Easter work.

  • Will you “continue” in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? This is not a one time event, but commitment to a lifetime of connection and learning and worship.
  • Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? To be God’s Easter people is to turn away from being stuck in our past and to live into God’s merciful future.
  • Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? By how we speak and how we behave, we agree to become the new creation that God is bringing into being.
  • Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? You see, baptism is not just about our individual salvation. God’s Easter project is so much greater than that. It is about the making of a whole new heaven and earth.
  • Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? We seek justice and peace and dignity not just for certain kinds of human beings—not just Christians even—but every human being.

Being Easter people is so much more than putting on our Easter bling, singing some great hymns, and going off to Easter dinner. In the real Easter the old death dealing ways are to be put aside right along with Simon Peter’s sword.

In all the Gospel accounts there is plenty of doubt, uncertainty, and confusion about what exactly happened. Despite the claims that “He is risen,” there’s no sense of triumph or great joy. Mark has no resurrection appearance, while the other gospels have differing descriptions about where, when, and to whom Jesus appeared.

But there is a deep conviction that began on that first Easter morning and spread over the known world within a few decades—a conviction that something has fundamentally changed. The fearful, cowering, timid disciples began to speak boldly. They became apostles of the new Creation that God is bringing into being. And they invited people to live into this new resurrection reality.

In a prayer attributed to St. Francis, the old and new creations are contrasted in this way.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let us sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is discord, union;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.[2]

–The Rev. John Paddock

[1] Isaiah 65:17 NRSV

[2] Book of Common Prayer 1979, p. 833

Palm Sunday Sermon

Palm Sunday Sermon 150 150 admin

“As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’”                                                                                                                                                 Luke 19:36-38

Some years ago I came across a book on preaching entitled, “Be Brief About it!”

The author’s contention was that most sermons could benefit from being pruned and shortened, a kind of surgical procedure that the author felt most hearers would appreciate.

And I’m wondering if the author’s plea for shorter homilies was partly inspired by the Palm Sunday liturgy with its lengthy readings.

At any rate, I’m aware that today I need to say what I have to say with a minimum of flourishes and be done with it.

We might think of Palm Sunday as the festival of hope.

We are told that the crowd accompanying Jesus on the road to Jerusalem was in a state of rapturous, euphoric hopefulness.

Jesus’ proclamation of a new kingdom had produced in his followers an ecstatic sense of new hope about the future.

But, as we know, their Palm Sunday hope turned out to be short-lived.

Their Palm Sunday hope was demolished by the disaster of Good Friday.

Every shred of hope they had entertained was decimated by Good Friday.

Easter signifies the sudden, wondrous, shocking birth of new hope that arose out of the debris and wreckage of Good Friday.

So let Palm Sunday stand for all those high hopes we have entertained that have proven to be to be nothing more than tinsel in the wind.

So let Palm Sunday represent all those hopes, noble and otherwise, that have been dashed, that have gotten derailed, that have not panned out, that have been no match for harsh reality, that have gone down the drain.

And let Easter Sunday stand for those memorable moments when, after our hope has collapsed and failed us, when hope has been lost and we are languishing in a despairing frame of mind, suddenly out of the blue some unforeseen, unexpected occurrence shakes us out of our gloom, reshuffles the deck, and before we know it, new hope, strength, and courage are coursing through our veins.

Easter hope is very different from ordinary hope such as hoping our kid gets a scholarship for college or hoping that we win the office basketball pool —Easter hope has an altogether different thrust.

The best description of Easter hope I can think of are these familiar words lifted from our post-communion prayer—“O God, send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.”

Easter hope is the hope that we will be given the strength and courage to love whatever neighbor is near us with gladness.

What a tall, impossible order!

It’s supposed to be hard; it’s supposed to be strenuous; it’s supposed to take all that we have to give.

So how is it that our sense of hope is renewed and refurbished?

How does it happen that our mood of hopelessness is dispelled and we are suddenly invigorated with new hope, strength, and courage?

Of course, there’s no formula for how this happens.

Renewal of hope comes to us in a thousand and one ways—through someone’s perfectly timed comment, through a letter from an old acquaintance who we thought had forgotten us, from a book that lands in our lap that perfectly describes our condition, through a sudden realization of how often we have relied on a little help from our friends and the kindness of strangers, through someone’s act of stunning generosity that makes us aware that we are indeed members one of another, through art and music that minister to our souls, through an overheard conversation in a coffee house, through hearing the quick and lively word in a place like this, a word that that contains the promise of new hope after our old hope has died, through a movie or a play—however it comes, the renewal of our hope is always a moment of unmerited grace.

One of my seminary professors used to say that the gospel is constantly being preached around us wherever we are, in movies, symphony halls, beer gardens, theater productions, etc.—and then with a little smile he added, “You might even hear it in church!”

A new play by Stephen Karam called “The Humans” has just opened on Broadway.

It’s a one act drama about a family getting together for a Thanksgiving dinner.

The setting is a rather spare, split-level apartment in New York City’s Chinatown which 26 year old Brigit and her older boy friend Richard have just rented.

The lower level is a windowless basement—the upper level has windows that look out on a courtyard strewn with cigarette butts.

Brigit and Richard feel fortunate to have found an affordable apartment in a city where rental costs have gone through the roof.

Brigit’s parents, Eric and Deirdre, who are in their early 60s, have driven over from Scranton, Pennsylvania for the day.

They have brought with them Eric’s 79 year old mother Momo who’s suffering from severe dementia and is confined to a wheelchair—Momo’s speech mostly consists of nonsensical muttering.

The other member of the family is Brigit’s 36 year old sister Aimee who’s employed at a law firm.

This family, like most families, is a study in conflicting emotions—endearment and resentment, affection and alienation, filial devotion and unresolved tensions.

They kid each other a lot—and the humor can be both healthful and hurtful.

Laughter often rings out as when Deirdre spies a large bug on the floor and lets out a scream—Brigit hollers from downstairs, “Mom, it’s just an American cockroach—they’re huge, okay—don’t get so upset”—Deirdre says, “A cockroach the size of a mouse is upsetting!”

Hovering over the gathering is a sense of unease and dread as family members struggle to cope with forces beyond their control—but there is an underlying family solidarity—they commiserate and celebrate together.

As things unfold, the fault lines of the various characters are gradually exposed.

Aimee has ulcerative colitis that has forced her to miss lots of work—she has been notified that because her billable hours are less than expected, she’s no longer on the partner track—in addition, her longtime female companion has opted out of the relationship and Aimee is dreading the prospect of facing the holidays without her partner.

Brigit is an aspiring composer who hasn’t been able to land an internship at a school of music and has been trying to work off her mountain of student debt by bartending at two places—the professor she was counting on for an enthusiastic recommendation wrote a letter for her but it was more critical than complimentary.

At one point Brigid brags on her dad for having held down a handyman and maintenance job at a Catholic high school for 28 years—she says proudly, “They created a whole new position for him—it’s a big job, it’s a Triple-A school, he handles all the phys-ed classes and manages the weight room—the kids love him.”

Later on Eric jolts his daughters when he informs them the school has terminated him because of an incident with a woman teacher which also made him ineligible for a pension—he has not been sleeping and has been bothered by a recurrent nightmare—he has been working at WalMart—he and Deirdre are Momo’s full time caregivers.

Deirdre has been with the same company for forty years—although she’s an office manager, she’s answerable to two young guys who are making five times as much.

As these characters fuss and reassure each other, as they criticize and defend each other, it becomes evident that each of these family members has known first-hand the wrenching disappointment of having one’s most cherished Palm Sunday hopes crack, crumble, and fall apart.

Although Aimee and Brigid were raised Catholic, they have drifted away from the church of their youth which has greatly concerned their parents.

Their dad Eric chides them when he says, “You guys put your faith in juice cleansing and yoga but you won’t try church.”

But there are also signs in this family of new Easter hope emerging.

The two most conspicuous bearers of Easter hope in this play are Deirdre and, ironically, the dementia stricken Momo.

Deirdre has brought some housewarming gifts—Brigid unwraps one of the presents and says, “Ah, a Virgin Mary statue—thank you, I’ll absolutely keep this in a drawer somewhere.

Deirdre says, “I know you guys don’t believe—but I feel better knowing you have it”—she puts the statue in her purse.

When Aimee asks about Aunt Mary, Deirdre says, “She’s hanging in there, God love her…they got this contraption now to help load her into the pool…she’s had both knees replaced….I drive her to her physical therapy.”

Deirdre goes on to ask, “Did I e-mail you that Kay Hoban has ovarian cancer?—I’ve been taking her to treatments ‘cause her and her brother, they don’t speak anymore….that’s a whole mess but she’s being tough.”

Brigid interrupts, “Mom, you’re talking with your mouth full.”

Deirdre ignores her and goes on, “I started volunteering—Father Quinn told me that right in Scranton there’s a whole community of refugees from Bhutan.”

Brigid interrupts again, “Let me guess, Saint Deirdre is coming to the rescue.”

Deirdre says, “Be quiet—you have no idea—the people have nothing—they’re all just looking to learn English, to find work—we think we got nothing, but man.”

Erik interjects, “She’s threatening to invite all the Bhutanese in Scranton over for caroling”—Deirdre says, “Oh that’s not a threat, honey, that’s happening.”

Later on Aimee says, “Mom’s latest e-mail forward, oh man…..”

Brigid picks up the theme: “She forwarded a Scientific American article about how…nothing’s solid, when you’re touching a table, you’re really feeling its molecules bouncing against—we’re not even solid, we’re what….electrons pushing back against everything.”

Aimee says, “Electrons, yeah….it also had vague religious overtones, there was a poem at the bottom in about ten fonts about how we already are a part of everything.”

Later Deirdre says, “That e-mail about us being electrons, that wasn’t religious—it was from a science website, I want you to feel a connection to….something bigger than you.”

It has been part of their Thanksgiving tradition to play an e-mail message from Momo which she recorded before her ability to communicate had deteriorated.

Somehow this time it had an even greater impact than usual. She is the bearer of Easter hope.

Deirdre reads the message.

“Dear Aimee and Brigid. I was clumsy around you both today and felt confused. I couldn’t remember your names and felt bad about that. It’s strange, slowly becoming someone I don’t know. But while I am still here, I want to say: don’t worry about me once I drift off for good. I’m not scared. If anything, I wish I could’ve have known that most of the stuff I did spend my life worrying about wasn’t so bad. Maybe it’s because this disease has me forgetting about the worst stuff, but right now I’m feeling nothing about this life was worth getting so worked up. Not even dancing at weddings. Dancing at weddings always scared the crap out of me, but now it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. This is taking me forever to type. Consider this my fond farewell. Erin go bragh. Dance more than I did. Drink less than I did. Go to church. Be good to everyone you love. I love you more than you’ll ever know.”

Just before Deirdre walks out the door and gets in the car, she takes one last look around, ponders the situation, then quietly removes the Virgin Mary statue from her purse and places it in the windowsill.

O God, give us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart. Amen.

The Rev. Robert Dwight

 

 

 

 

 

Bishops Issue A Word to the Church

Bishops Issue A Word to the Church 150 150 admin

“We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”

March 15, 2016

The House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church, meeting in retreat, unanimously approved the following Word To The Church.

A Word to the Church

Holy Week 2016

“We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”

On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the weak and the blameless to protect their own status and power. On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, revealing not only their injustice but also unmasking the lie that might makes right.

In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.

In this moment, we resemble God’s children wandering in the wilderness. We, like they, are struggling to find our way. They turned from following God and worshiped a golden calf constructed from their own wealth. The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege. We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else.

We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.

The Episcopal Church House of Bishops met in retreat March 11 – 15 at Camp Allen Conference Center in Navasota, TX.

Christ Church Is a Member of the United Nations Global Compact

Christ Church Is a Member of the United Nations Global Compact 150 150 admin

In 2015 Christ Church became a member of the United Nations Global Compact. We embrace, support, and commit to enact within our sphere of influence the core values in the areas of human rights, labour standards, the environment, and anti-corruption. The Ten Principles within the core values are listed below. For more information, please contact the rector or follow the link above.

Human Rights

Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and

Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.

Labour

Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;

Principle 4: the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour;

Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labour; and

Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

Environment

Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;

Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and

Principle 9: encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.

Anti-Corruption

Principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.

Being One Body Is Hard

Being One Body Is Hard 150 150 admin

The body was broken. Everything seemed to be falling apart. Former friends were fighting with one another. Factionalism was rampant as varies parties fought with each other over control and refused to compromise. What some considered to be immoral, others praised as righteous and just. Much of the dissention was fueled by religious disagreements about which group was being true to the tradition. Arguments abounded over sources of authority, what was factual and or merely personal opinion. Some wealthy folk apparently tried to use their money to influence others and sway the outcome, while some utilized their eloquence to do the same.

To what am I referring? What broken body do I have in mind?

  • The Middle East?
  • The European Union?
  • The U.S. Congress?
  • The United States?
  • The Democratic Party?
  • The Republican Party?
  • The Anglican Communion?
  • NFL Playoffs?

A case could be made for each of these. Illustrations are many. But those aren’t the bodies that I have in mind. The body I’m thinking about is the Church in Corinth in the middle of the first century. Saint Paul had lived and worked in Corinth for nearly a year and a half to found and build up the church. Then he went back across the Aegean Sea (to what is modern-day Turkey) to do the same in the city of Ephesus.

At the time, Corinth was a thriving Greek Mediterranean port city—one of the great crossroads of commerce, ideas, and cultures where Greeks, Romans, and Eastern peoples came together.

Sometime after Paul left Corinth, he got word that things weren’t going so well back in Corinth—and that became the occasion for writing several letters that have come down to us in the form of two Epistles: First and Second Corinthians.

The most famous and well-known chapter in these letters is First Corinthians 13, which concludes with the memorable words: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” This chapter is most often read at weddings—I’d venture to guess about 90% of the weddings in which I’ve participated. But what many people don’t know or have forgotten is that this “love poem,” along with the rest of the Corinthian correspondence, was penned in the middle of a big ole, nasty, church fight.

Paul was trying to deal with the divisions and disorders in the Corinthian community church. He even named some of the factions: there were those who claimed that they belonged to Paul, or Cephas, or Apollos, or even Jesus.

Just prior to chapter 13 (which, by the way, will be our epistle reading for next week), just before the love poem is this portion of chapter 12 that’s our lectionary text for today. Paul teaching about the nature of the church uses the metaphor of the body.

We’ve already had it read to us, so I’m just going to repeat a few highlights:

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13. . . . we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

21The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’

God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.

As beautiful as it sounds and as ideal as it is, this is difficult. A trying teaching. In practical application, being one body is hard. It’s tough to stay connected, to be in relationship with difficult and disagreeable people.

This is an especially hard saying for Americans. There’s that pioneer spirit; everyone for him or herself; rugged individualism and all that it entails. All this talk of being one body flies in the face of what many hold as primary values.

If get my feelings hurt, then I want to get back at somebody, to make them suffer because I’ve suffered. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

It’s hard to be loving and kind and gracious while trying to uphold policies and principles to which you are deeply committed.

It’s easier to break off and go our own way, to distance ourselves, to say, in effect, “We’re not the same body anymore. I’m done with you.”

I think of Dave Brat, the Tea Party lawmaker from Virginia, who recently said, “Democrats shouldn’t cite the Bible, because conservatives own the entire (Christian) tradition.”

How do I love a guy like that?

How do I love an African Anglican Bishop who advocates criminalizing homosexuals and putting them to death?

How do I love my relatives who live in an armed compound?

In a sermon this week, our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry reminded the congregation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Ten Commandments for participants in the 1963 Birmingham protests. Remember, this was the year of the killing of four Sunday School girls in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, It was the year of Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor who directed the use of fire hoses and police attack dogs against protestors that included children.

Each participant in the Birmingham protests was required to abide by Dr. King’s “Ten Commandments.”

  1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
  2. Remember always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation—not victory.
  3. Walk and talk in the manner of love, forGod is love.
  4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
  5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
  6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
  8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
  9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
  10. Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration.

The movement, of course, is the Jesus Movement. And that’s why the first commandment, before you march, is “Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.”

Sometimes our faith demands things of us that are just hard. Sell what you have and give to the poor. Forgive, how many times ?  . . . 70 times 7. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Take up your cross and follow me.

Paul’s solution: We must remember that this isn’t about us—it’s about God. “ . . . no dissension within the body—may the members have the same care for one another . . . because it’s about Christ’s body, not mine, not your’s, but Christ’s.

But it’s still hard. That’s why we need to meditate on Jesus and why we need each other.

Amen.

From the Rector

From the Rector 150 150 admin

From the Rector . . .

You may be hearing some more news about the Anglican Communion. The Primates of the 38 Provinces of the Anglican Communion are gathered for a weeklong meeting at Canterbury Cathedral in England with the head of the Communion who is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. The “Primates” are the head bishops of the Provinces. Our new Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, is representing us who are members of The Episcopal Church.

Here is a brief summary of the news from that meeting.

(Episcopal News Service) A majority of Anglican primates Jan. 14 asked that the Episcopal Church, for a period of three years, “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”

Expressing their unanimous desire to walk together, the primates said that their call comes in response to the decision by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention last June to change canonical language that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman and authorize two new marriage rites with language allowing them to be used by same-sex or opposite-sex couples. (end)

Although it comes as “news” and may live for a day or so in the news cycle if something more newsworthy doesn’t take its place, this really is old “news”. The Primates of the global south tend to be evangelicals and biblical literalists. They haven’t been in serious communion with us for more than a decade for our women bishops and now for ordination and marriage of homosexuals. It is sad but not news.

Second, the proclamations from the Primates do not in any way impact our mission and ministry. Last Friday we were privileged to host a conversation sponsored by the Dayton Peace Museum on Welcome Dayton, which is the effort to welcome and resettle refugees. Mayor Nan Whaley was the keynoter. This Friday Christ Church is the site for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast. CityHeart is welcoming and assisting poor and homeless people every weekday. Hungry people are being fed through the Episcopal Food Pantry and hot meals served in the homeless shelters, people are counseled and visited and prayed with, God is glorified in worship and hungry souls are fed with the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation.

That was true yesterday and will be true tomorrow despite Primatial declarations.

 

Christmas Sermon

Christmas Sermon admin

Isn’t it great to sing the Christmas carols? They bring joy and peace and a sense that, if but for a moment, all is right with the world. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been known to throw a carol or two into a summer service here at Christ Church. Christmas in July. When it’s been too long since the previous Christmas and too many months until the next, and we need some joy and peace, a Silent Night, an O Little Town of Bethlehem, or a Joy to the World is just what the doctor ordered. Balm for the soul.

Christmas caroling with people young and old, in homes and nursing homes, as we did once again this past Sunday night, lightens the mood of one and all.

I love the words of the carols, but these especially from O Holy Night speak to my spirit.

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

As I recently wrote in a Christmas letter, “The lyrics capture the wonder of divinity infusing human life and shinning out into the world—even in the darkest of times. They also touch upon some of our greatest desires for love, peace, freedom, and joy.

However, before I become too sappy—wrapped in sentimentality—in the background is the knowledge that the world is seriously askew – something’s fundamentally wrong. As a friend has written:

“This is the confusion I carry with me into these pivotal days when Advent turns to Christmas, the music gets better, churches go all out, families gather, and the delight of children becomes the sign of God’s love. Is Christmas just a one-day break in our captivity to fear and hatred? Or are we truly welcoming the one who said, “Don’t be afraid,” and “Love your neighbor”?”[1]

Sadly, there are many for whom there’s little love and peace, who experience oppression and sorrow on a daily basis. While we gather here to sing the carols and perhaps catch a glimpse of a brighter world, we need to make another move as well. That is, to allow the Spirit of the child of Bethlehem to enter into our hearts and souls and minds so that we can bring his love and peace to those who know it not.

Confounding the expectations of many, when God determined to come into the world, he did not enter with legions and military might. He came as an infant—a vulnerable infant—much like those small children whose bodies wash up on Mediterranean beaches—victims of forces that care not a wit for them—forces of geo-politics, and the might of armies, militias and terrorists. The babies are but a sampling of the misery of hundreds of thousands of refugees in camps and stretched along migration routes.

Here at home powerful voices are calling for banning all Moslem brothers and sisters from entering the country, carpet-bombing people, and “let’s kill all their family members just because we can.”

Jesus is no stranger to the same powerful forces: no place to lay his head (displaced from his home by a decree from the Roman Caesar) and a refugee in Egypt (fleeing King Herod who was willing to kill all the infants of Bethlehem in an effort to end the life of just one holy child of God)—never understanding that all infants are holy. Jesus birth was announced not in the halls of the powerful and wealthy, but to poor shepherds who tended the flocks of the powerful and wealthy.

My wife, Ann, and I have been frequently asked by our children, “What do you want for Christmas?” Our common response is “World peace.” Frustrated, knowing they can’t fulfill that wish, they ask, “What else?” Lowering our sites a little we say, “How about peace in the house?” The latest response to that is “What do you want for Christmas that can come wrapped in a box?”

But therein, I think, lies the key to Christmas. I like stuff that comes in boxes, and I like to give things wrapped in boxes. But the true gifts, the gifts that bring light into the world, are not the things that we demand or even receive. I want a whole lot of things like world peace, peace at home, more civility and caring for all of God’s creatures, and for the earth. I want hatred to disappear and fear to flee. I want less greed.

I want those things, but I doubt that I’ll receive them.

But do you know what? I can give them as gifts to others.

I can be more peaceful and refuse to foster divisions and hatred. I can be more patient and try to bring light to those who live in and with darkness. I can be kind and civil. I can do my part to care for God’s earth and to live as best I can without fear of my brothers and sisters—regardless of their religion or lack thereof. I can be more generous with my time and talent and treasure.

Sister Joan Chittister, one of America’s leading spiritual voices, has written:

…That is the kind of peace—disarmed, foreign to hate, and receiving of the other—that was born in the manger we remember at Christmas time. That is the kind of Christmas peace we must ourselves seek to be. Then ‘Merry Christmas’ will really mean something.[2]

I wish for you this Christmas and throughout the New Year much love, deep peace, great freedom, abundant joy – and a carol in your heart that sounds each and every day for all around to hear. It’s an act of resistance, a carol of hope, and a work of love. Sing it loudly!

Merry Christmas!

Amen.

[1] Tom Ehrich, On A Journey blog for December 24, 2015: The Actual Fire of Christmas, http://us2.campaignarchive2.com/?u=280c8a3a560d5fa7931fe38ba&id=68faaad11f&e=72736cea70 (accessed 10 am on 12/24/15)

[2] Joan Chittister

Christmas Schedule

Christmas Schedule 150 150 admin

December 24: Christmas Eve

7:00 p.m.     Music Preludes

7:30 p.m.     Festival Holy Eucharist with Choir

9:00 p,m,     Wassail Bowl Feast in the Parish Hall

 

December 25: Christmas Day

10:30 a.m.     Quiet Holy Eucharist (no music)

 

December 26: Saturday

5:00 p,m,     Holy Eucharist

 

December 26: Sunday after Christmas Day

8:00 a.m.     Holy Eucharist

10:30 a.m.     Holy Eucharist and Poem Read

 

Church Office Schedule:

December 24 & 25     Office closed

December 28, 29, 30 limited hours due to staff vacations and pastoral calls: If you need to get into the church during this tme all ahead 223-2239.

December 31 & January 1: Office closed

January 4:     Resume regular hours

 

 

What Then Should We Do?

What Then Should We Do? 150 150 admin

The preacher shouted! The preacher roared! The preacher threatened! The preacher called them names!

You’re nothing but a bunch of poison snakes. Why even these rocks are better than you. You’re like rotted trees bearing spoiled fruit. Go to hell and burn.

That’s what the preacher said, isn’t it? That’s what I heard John the Baptist say to the crowds coming down the hill from Jerusalem. They came to hear the wild and crazy man rant down by the riverside. And rant he did.

At one point when he paused to catch his breath, someone shouted back: “So what do you want? What should we do?” (No one says what they were thinking he’d say, but I can imagine them thinking that he’d tell them to go to the temple, pay tithes, make sacrifices, go on retreat, enter a monastery—you get my drift: do something really religious.) But no, the preacher told them to do some things that aren’t often thought to be religious.

  • If you have an extra coat, share it with someone who doesn’t have one.
  • If you’ve got food, share it, too.
  • If you collect taxes, don’t take any more than prescribed in order to pad your own pockets.
  • Soldiers, don’t extort money by making false threats and accusations and then blackmail the accused. Just live off your pay.

Then the preacher connects this behavior with baptism. It’s really interesting how baptism is coupled with love, compassion, and honesty.

Baptism is what we call a sacrament. A sacrament is an ou