Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sermon: January 22

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A New Day has dawned… The Inauguration has taken place but I am not talking about what happened in Washington DC on Friday, with our 45th President.

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus began his ministry. He begins calling the disciples. He is inaugurating a new way of living. This Gospel story is the story of an Inauguration. Not an inauguration of a new person in power, but an inauguration for those who will follow the call into God’s life and love as disciples of Jesus.

Following him is no small thing. He is calling them away from their families, their livelihood. They are sacrificing much to follow Jesus. And we hear their names… Simon Peter & Andrew, James & John, sons of Zebedee. He called the fishermen to come fish for people…

They left their nets, boats and family and joined his ministry. His ministry of healing, teaching, and preaching about the Reign of God that has come near. Repent & Be ready. It is a revolution. A revolution of healing & reconciliation in a time of brokenness and power imbalance in a land occupied by Rome, that longed for hope, for a messiah.

He left Nazareth, after John’s arrest by the authorities, and at the shores of the Sea of Galilee, gathers disciples and there it all begins…

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” (Matthew)

What a moment in history that must have been.

“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned.” (Isaiah & Matthew – helps frame Jesus work)

The Gospel story is the story of an Inauguration, of darkness turning to light and those who came to follow Jesus in the years afterwards were brought into his ministry by the Holy Spirit.

But that doesn’t mean it always worked right. We humans are fallible creatures and boy we are so easily swayed into factions and partisans. That is not only true of today but back in that first century too.

In Paul’s 1st Letter to the Christians living in Corinth, He says “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you…”

Now the church has always struggled to maintain such agreement, part of our human nature to discuss and disagree, but we can get very divided when we lose sight of our purpose in Jesus, and think we know best. We can easily be lead to quarrel

“Each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.””

Sigh. It has been from our beginnings to divide ourselves up. In Paul’s case, by those who baptized. Our days, we do it through our labels – Conservative or Liberal, Republican or Democrat – we do it by saying some our heretics and we are not.

But for us who follow Jesus. Such division must not be our identity or our purpose.

“Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? … For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

The cross is the power of God. It is salvation. It is life. And it is our purpose as beautifully stated in one of our morning prayers: Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love…

This Gospel story is the story of an Inauguration. Not an inauguration of a new person in power, but an inauguration for those who will follow the call into God’s life and love as disciples of Jesus, who stretched out his arms on the cross for everyone, who calls us to reach forth our hands in love.

It will not be easy. It will require sacrifice on our part. But in it all, through our baptism, the Spirit of God will be with us. Even if we do not know what to expect.

Let me end with a favorite prayer by Thomas Merton that might help us consider this inauguration of discipleship and our part in following Jesus.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Problem of Truth & Fake News - How we are to Live

All this talk about fake news and what is truth versus lies has got me thinking about William Stringfellow's work "An Ethic for Christians & other Aliens in a Strange Land."

In it he tackles this very question in Chapter 4.  A good round up of this is here:

http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2014/01/an-ethic-for-christians-and-other_27.html

The implications for how we live is here:

http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2014/01/an-ethic-for-christians-and-other_30.html

Read the book for it is as relevant today as it was written in 1973.

Prayers for the Marchers

As my beautiful wife & daughter Norah marches at a sister march in Stamford, CT, I am reminded of the thousands who march across the US...

"We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families - recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.

The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us - immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault - and our communities are hurting and scared. We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear." (https://www.womensmarch.com/mission/)

These are some prayers for us to use as we stand together...

O HOLY GOD, you love righteousness and hate iniquity: Strengthen, we pray, the hands of all who strive for justice throughout the world, and, seeing that all human beings are your offspring, move us to share the pain of those who are oppressed, and to promote the dignity and freedom of every person; through Jesus Christ the Liberator, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

O RIGHTEOUS GOD, you sent your Christ to establish the reign of justice, on earth as in heaven: Prosper every effort to root out arrogance, intolerance, and prejudice, and to eliminate all forms of discrimination, degradation, and oppression; through him who died at the oppressors' hands, Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
NURTURE US, O LOVING GOD, in the dignity and worth you give to all your creatures. Keep us in the discipline you command, that we may respect the diversity and richness of your creation; that we may honor the persons who come to us; that we may refuse to use or to be used as objects of selfish gratification; and that we may work for equity and justice for all people; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Other Prayers for the Journey:

O God our Father, whose Son forgave his enemies while he was suffering shame and death: Strengthen those who suffer for the sake of conscience; when they are accused, save them from speaking in hate; when they are rejected, save them from bitterness; when they are imprisoned, save them from despair; and to us your servants, give grace to respect their witness and to discern the truth, that our society may be cleansed and strengthened. This we ask for the sake of Jesus Christ, our merciful and righteous Judge. Amen.

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart and especially the hearts of the people of this land, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

(information on the posters here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2017/01/20/the-artist-who-created-the-obama-hope-posters-is-back-with-a-new-art-this-inauguration/ ) 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inaugural Prayer (from 1933)



A prayer for the Inauguration of the President, offered by ZeBarney Phillips, Episcopal priest and Chaplain of the Senate, in 1933.
March 4, 1933

Eternal God and Heavenly Father, before whose face the generations rise and pass away, who through all the ages hast led Thy children with the fire and cloud; hearken to our prayer and turn the heart of every citizen of the Republic unto Thee in this fateful hour of our own and the world’s great need. Bestow Thy choicest blessings upon these Thy servants , who under Thee have been called to be President and Vice-President of the United States. Give unto them the grace of true humility, the heart that knows no guile, the courage born of innocency of life, the gentle patience of the Christ, and, above all, the spirit of love that believes and hopes and endures, that they may be true leaders of Thy people.

Bless every Member of the Congress and all others in authority, that they may be a glorious company, the flower of men, to serve a model for this mighty world and to be the fair beginning of a time when, with every root of bitterness cast out, the good work of all shall be the goal of each. Let Thy blessing rest upon the retiring President, Vice-President, and Members if the Congress, to whom we pay our loving tribute. Bring the nations of the world, through an ever-increasing sense of fellowship, into one great family; hasten the time when war shall be no more, and may we never be content with any peace save that of Him who won His peace by making the world’s His own, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

From: An American Prayer Book, Morehouse Publishing, 2008

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity


The week between the Confession of St. Peter (Jan. 18) & the Conversion of St. Paul (Jan. 25) is called the week for prayer for Christian Unity.

Day 1, One Has Died For All (2 Corinthians 5:14)

Scripture
  • Isaiah 53:4-12, He gave his life as an atoning sacrifice.
  • Psalm 118:1,14-29, God did not abandon me to death.
  • 1 John 2:1-2, Christ died for all.
  • John 15:13-17, Giving his life for his friends.
Meditation

When Paul was converted to Christ he came to a radical new understanding: one person has died for all. Jesus did not just die for his own people, nor merely for those who sympathized with his teachings. He died for all people, past, present and future. Faithful to the Gospel, many Christians down the centuries have laid down their lives for their friends. One such person was the Franciscan Maximilian Kolbe, OFM Conv., who was imprisoned in the concentration camp at Auschwitz and who in 1941 willingly gave up his life so that a fellow prisoner could live.

Because Jesus died for all, all have died with him (2 Corinthians 5:14). In dying with Christ our old way of life becomes a thing of the past and we enter into a new form of existence: abundant life — a life in which we can experience comfort, trust and forgiveness, even today — a life which continues to have meaning even after death. This new life is life in God.

Having come to this realization, Paul felt compelled by the love of Christ to preach the Good News of reconciliation with God. Christian churches share in this same commission of proclaiming the Gospel message. We need to ask ourselves how we can proclaim this gospel of reconciliation in view of our divisions.

Prayer

God our Father, in Jesus you gave us the one who died for all. He lived our life and died our death. You accepted his sacrifice and raised him to new life with you. Grant that we, who have died with him, may be made one by the Holy Spirit and live in the abundance of your divine presence now and for ever. Amen.

Winter Bible Study

Our Winter Bible Study is the Acts of the Apostles.

Watch this wonderful video to introduce you to this great book!

The first half of the Book of Acts Ch. 1-12 explained with illustrations
 
Want to see more?  Website: http://www.jointhebibleproject.com
 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sermon: January 15

Jesus, Lamb of God: have mercy on us.
Jesus, bearer of our sins: have mercy on us.
Jesus, redeemer of the world: Give us your peace. Amen.

Last week was the feast of the baptism of Jesus and now for the rest of the story… (as Paul Harvey used to say)

The other Gospels tell of his temptation in the wilderness. But the Gospel of John, which we heard today, wants to explore more the interaction of John & Jesus and the longing for the messiah in those days.

After the baptism of Jesus, there was a hopeful expectation of what was to come. John knew it and so too would his disciples, God incarnate was in their very midst.

“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

John the Baptist twice proclaims Jesus as the Lamb of God. The second time, two of John’s disciples go & follow Jesus. They want to know where Jesus is staying, they want to hear his words, they want to see the Son of God, they have that hope in the messiah, the one they had been waiting for… And Jesus tells them to come and see.

Come and see. It is an invitation to come follow him, to come see what he will say and do. It is a significant beginning for the disciples, a simple invitation and they follow him. And our patron, Peter is named by Jesus in this moment. Come and see and they are changed.

It reminds me of a beautiful poem written in the 13th century by Rumi a Persian philosopher, Sufi theologian, poet, & teacher. A poetic invitation…

Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of living, it doesn't matter
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come even if you have broken your vow a thousand times,
Come, yet again, come, come.
(As quoted in Rumi and His Sufi Path of Love (2007))
Rumi’s poetic invitation, is what Jesus says to the disciples, what he says to us… whoever you are. Come sinner and saint. Come wanderer and worshiper. Come again. Come and see…

But sometimes we don’t see.

There was once a poor rabbi who lived in the city of Krakow. He, his wife and four children lived on the street of the Lost Angel, in the last hovel on the street.

Every night, it seemed, the poor rabbi would dream of great riches. But one night the dream was exceptionally vivid. He dreamt that underneath a bridge in the city of Warsaw a treasure was buried. When he awoke that morning, he excitedly told his wife and children about his dream. He decided to see if there was something to his dream; he packed a bag of food and extra clothing and set off for the long journey to Warsaw to find that bridge and perhaps discover a great treasure.

After many long days he finally arrived in Warsaw. He found the bridge, exactly as he saw it in his dream - except for one thing: There was a guard on the bridge, a sentinel who paced back and forth at the entrance.

The poor rabbi, exhausted from his journey, fell asleep in the bushes near the bridge. Sometime later he was awakened by the guard. "You, what are doing here?" The rabbi struggled to stand up. A simple, honest man incapable of lying, the rabbi explained, "I had a dream that underneath this bridge there is a treasure. I have traveled many long miles to find it."

The guard put down his weapon. "That is very strange," the guard said. "Just last night I had a dream. I dreamt that in the city of Krakow, on the street of the Lost Angel, in the last hovel on that street, where lives a rabbi and his wife and four small children, there is buried behind the fireplace a treasure. Tonight I leave for Krakow to find that treasure." [As told in Stories of Faith by John Shea.]

John the Baptist’s words "behold the Lamb of God" is an invitation to look in our midst, to see and hear the compassion of God in our lives, to uncover and lift up God's grace that goes largely unnoticed in the course of our days. We often find ourselves rushing through our lives, too busy and too distracted by our search for wealth and our dreams of riches, we often overlook the great treasure already in our midst. The real treasure of our lives in all its joy and fulfillment; in our "dreams" of what we do not have, we overlook the reality of what we already do have, and the old rabbi realizes this. His treasure was at home, his family.

The treasure of Jesus, the Messiah is among us in every act of selflessness, every act of reconciliation, every act of love and mercy. In his book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, Dr. Martin Luther King recalls the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1955, King and his fellow ministers in Montgomery, Alabama, organized a boycott of the city's bus system, following the arrest of Rosa Parks for defying the law by refusing to give up her seat for a white rider. The young minister immediately became the object of threats and harassment.

Late one night, after his wife and children had gone to sleep, the phone rang. "Listen, [ugly epithet]," the angry caller warned, "we've taken all we want from you; before next week you'll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery."

King could not sleep that night. The call had shaken him deeply. He began to walk the floor, trying "to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. The words I spoke to God are still vivid in my memory:

Here I am taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I've come to the point where I can't face it alone.

"At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: Stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever. Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything."

In one of the darkest hours in his life, Martin Luther King stopped to behold God in his midst; he lifted up his fears and terror to the Spirit of God and came to a new understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, of what his baptism called him to do: to testify, as John the Baptist does in today's Gospel, to the truth of God's compassion and justice in our world. Through our baptism, we take on that same challenge: to stand up for what is right, to testify to God's presence in our midst, to take our place alongside the poor, the rejected and the forgotten - with the certain hope and assurance that the Spirit of God remains upon us.

May we behold, with the eyes of faith and the spirit of hope, for we are not a caravan of despair, the Lamb of God is among us, come & see, here and now & then go proclaim that truth with your life. Amen.