Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Compassion & Chesed

I got this image off of a UMC website because it reminds us that when we work with, do ministry or help out the poor, those in need, both near and far, we are doing ministry with, not ministry for!
It is an important distinction because if we are doing something FOR another person, we can, and often do it without connecting WITH them as persons. From Holy Scripture, we are called to be compassionate, because God is compassionate.


When Jesus meets the widow at Nain (Gospel of Luke 7), Jesus is moved with compassion - he opens his heart to feel her sorrow and connect with it.  The word compassion literally means "to suffer with."  Compassion not only changes the person we feel for but changes us as well.  We are called by Jesus to recognize and reach out to those whom the world consciously and unconsciously dismiss as unimportant and marginal, the others, and welcome them into our midst as God's own. 
As Meister Eckhart famously preached that "whatever God does, the first outburst is always compassion." In the Hebrew Scriptures, such compassion is linked to a Hebrew word, translated as chesed. 

Chesed rsj

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word chesed (or hesed) means loving-kindness or love.  “A statement by Rabbi Simlai in the Talmud claims that ‘The Torah begins with chesed and ends with chesed.’ This may be understood to mean that ‘the entire Torah is characterized by chesed,’ i.e. it sets forth a vision of the ideal life whose goals are behavior characterized by mercy and compassion.”

It is God who from the beginning gave us love, gave us chesed, who asks of us in our actions to give such chesed, to live such compassion & loving kindness with others, especially with those in need.

As we approach Thanksgiving, let us give thanks to God for all that God has given to us, and play our part in this world.  Offering compassion, offering chesed, to a hurting world.

Bishop Sengulane Visit

Bishop Dinis Sengulane & Helena Valói
visit November 1 -3, 2014
Saturday, November 1, 2014

6 PM – Dinner in honor of Bishop Sengulane and his wife Helena
(Mozambican dinner, with photos and conversation around the visit of Ann & Rev. Kurt to Mozambique in Feb/March)

All Saints Sunday, November 2, 2014

8 AM – Holy Eucharist I
10:15 AM – Holy Baptism & Eucharist II
Festive Coffee Hour follows
12 Noon – Pot Luck Luncheon with a Bible Study by the Bishop

Monday, November 3, 2014

Bishop Sengulane and Helena Valoi taken to JFK
to catch their flight to Johannesburg/Maputo

Sermon: October 19

“Life is what we make of it always has been, always will be.” (Grandma Moses, 1951, American Folk Artist)
On the streets of Bridgeport, yesterday, hundreds of youth and adults took part in the Big Day of Serving, to make the lives of those living in Bridgeport, a little bit better, a day of reaching out in love and action to our neighbors. The group from St. Peter’s & my wife’s church in Easton, helped clean at a residential site at the YMCA in Bridgeport, cleaned up trash and leaves at Wood Park, and then finished at the International Institute of CT with some more cleaning both inside and out and some outdoor painting.

At one of our stops, a local business owner bought us water to drink.

At every stop, people thanked us. We had a police officer from Bridgeport who kept tabs on us and checked in all day.

At the end, it felt good, the help we were able to offer. Scattered throughout that city, there were many more people doing the same type of good work in the community.
“Life is what we make of it.”
Last night we gathered in our parish hall, at our annual beer tasting, a time of feasting and merriment. Larry from Glen Ro shared with us his about dad who is in the ICU at Bridgeport Hospital. And we surrounded him with love and hope, as we ate wonderful food and drank great beer, as we celebrated life in its beauty in our lives, with laughter and joy.

I think of the words of Grandma Moses from her life history, “I have written my life in small sketches, a little today, a little yesterday, as I have thought of it, as I remember all the things from childhood on through the years, good ones, and unpleasant ones, that is how they come out and that is how we have to take them. I look back on my life like a good day's work, it was done and I am satisfied with it. I was happy and contented, I knew nothing better and made the best out of what life offered. And life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.” (1951)

There were always be challenges to our lives, but making the best out of what life offered is what we do to live life to the fullest. Even Jesus had to do this.

What at the temple, they asked Jesus, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" Aware of their malice, Jesus said to them, "Whose head is on this coin, and whose title?" They answered, "The emperor's." Then he said to them, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” (KJV)

Jesus moves the conversation of paying taxes to the emperor from what the Herodians and Pharisees wanted to hear, a trap that Jesus couldn’t escape, to a deeper level of truth. Yes, give to the emperor that which is the emperor's, it’s his picture on the coin, give it back to the emperor. And give to God that which is God's.

In his response, Jesus is not saying, "give to the Emperor those things that are the Emperor's, and the rest to God." Nor is Jesus saying, "give to the Emperor the worldly things and give to God the spiritual things."

These statements would put Caesar equal to God. We may give our money back to the government, to the Emperor in the form of taxes, we pay bills with it, we spend it, we save it. But the almighty dollar isn’t almighty, and it belongs to God just as assuredly as we do.
“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”
For God created everything that is & by God’s will they were created and have their being. Everything is part of God’s creation. We are made in the image of God. So the answer that Jesus gives, remind us that we owe God everything, & we owe God our lives: how we live them, how we give them away, it’s all important.

So the right question to ask, as Bishop Andy Doyle puts it is, “If all things are God's, how does God want me to use everything?”

Be a talent for creating great food, or signing, or fixing things around here, or reaching out to mentor a child, or to invent, it should make us ponder and think about how God would have me help others with what I have been given. Another way of putting it: How do I as a steward of God's stuff in my life, understand and enact the kingdom of God through what I do with them?

“Life is what we make of it always has been, always will be.”

There are emperors in our lives that demand many things of us. Be that at our workplaces, be they the government, even friends, there are many things in our lives that act like Caesar and demand of us our time, talent and even treasure. Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s…

But we are not to see in those places and those people the true control of our lives, and make them our God. We need not make fortresses to protect what we have done and then give only small offerings to God who has created all things and brings life into the world. Render unto God the things that are God’s…

What Jesus has done these past few weeks in the parables and again today, is to remind us that God invites us into a sacred relationship with the gardener, with the vineyard owner, with the host of the great banquet, the holy one who is God, the Creator of life. And we are given the privilege of serving as stewards for all the gifts so freely given to us, for life is what we make of it.

So how are we honoring that gift today? How are we making our lives into what God wants of us? Amen.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sermon: October 12

You get an invitation. Maybe it’s big and beautiful, like an invitation to a wedding. Maybe it’s a simple online evite to a friend’s birthday party. You check your calendar. You write it down and you RSVP.

But what if the invitation was for something much, much bigger? After his encounters with those in authority in Jerusalem, Jesus tells another parable about the Kingdom of Heaven.

A King is throwing a Wedding banquet for his son. It is a great big party and he sends slaves out to gather the invited guests. But they do not come. Again slaves are sent, but these invited guests made light of the invitation; they ignored it, went back to work, beat some slaves, killed others. The King is enraged and destroys the city that houses the unworthy guests.

And then he sends his slaves to invite everyone they meet, the good and the bad! And the banquet hall is filled. During the banquet, the King notices someone without the proper attire. How did you get in here? The man was speechless. So the King had him thrown out.

Jesus ends by saying, for many are called, but few are chosen. Or maybe another way of saying that, many are called, but few follow through…

Jesus tells this parable after using two other parables against the powers that be that did not listen to John the Baptist, that refuse to listen to Jesus. In this parable from Matthew, Jesus confronts them once again, noting they had been called to the banquet but refused. When the honored guests fail to live into the gift from God, God sends out the prophets to gather everyone and the invitation is extended to everyone to come to the bountiful banquet. Those that heard these parables in Jesus day and in the days when it was retold to the community of Matthew’s gospel, would have heard it through their own filters, that God was calling them to the banquet, for those in authority, the powerful, refused to go.

Now, I want us to hear the parable, not as if we are hearing Jesus talk about it way back when to someone else. What if Jesus gave his parable today? What if he was looking at us today? This version of the parable was written by Clarence Jordan in Georgia in the 1960s…
Jesus continued the conversation by speaking to them with Comparisons. “The God Movement is like a governor who gave a big dinner for his party chairman. He told his secretaries to invite the prominent dignitaries, but they refused to accept. So he told his secretaries to try again. ‘Tell them,’ he said: ‘”The banquet is all arranged - the steer has been butchered and the hogs barbecued. Y’all come on to the dinner.” ‘But they couldn’t have cared less. One left to go out to his farm; another went to his store, The rest of them taunted and insulted the secretaries. At that, the governor had a duck fit, and ordered the names of the scoundrels to be struck from the list of his friends. Then he said to his secretaries, ‘Plans for the banquet are all made, but the people I invited aren’t fit to come. So go to the various precincts, and whoever you find there, invite them to the banquet.’ Well, they went to the precincts and brought in everybody they could find, good and bad. The banquet hall was filled with guests, and the governor went in to greet them, There he saw a guy sitting at the table who looked and smelled like he had just come in from his farm. The governor said to him, ‘Hey, buddy, how did you get in here, looking and smelling like that?’ He just clammed up. Then the governor said to the waiters. ‘Tie the bum up and throw him in the back alley.’ Outside there’ll be yelling and screaming, for the big ones were invited but the little ones got in.” (Cotton Patch Gospel: Matthew 22)
Notice in the parable, who finally gets invited? Everyone they could find; the good and the bad. It went from the chosen few to the many! The little ones got in! The banquet is set, the invitation has come; are we too busy, are we the ones who don’t get it or are we the ones who follow through and come as invited?
Fifteen years ago, Jane Knuth, a math teacher and mom, began volunteering at a thrift shop in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She approached the work with a hard-charging determination to "fix the world" - but over the years, the experience changed her. The poor and desperate she has been able to help have deepened her own faith and brought her to a new understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

Jane Knuth has collected stories of her experiences in a book Thrift Store Saints: Meeting Jesus 25c at a Time. Thrift Store Saints includes some two dozen stories about the volunteers and patrons of the St. Vincent's thrift shop. The Kalamazoo thrift store sells everything from furniture and clothing to basic household items, but also offers financial assistance, referral services - and prayerful and emotional support - to the needy and the lost.

Rather than viewing society's poor as problems to be solved, Jane and her colleagues see them each in a completely different light: as saints who can lead us straight to the heart of Christ. Jane Knuth writes:

"From all appearances, it looks as if we are running a thrift store at St. Vincent de Paul. At our meetings we frequently get into discussions about how to better run the store. Should we raise our prices? Give away less? Not accept so many donations? Lock our dumpster? Move to a better retail location? All these issues would come up with any resale shop. Eventually, it occurs to us that our purpose is not to run the most profitable, shrewd, efficient, riff-raff-free store in town. Our purpose is to help the poor and to change our way of thinking and being. It only looks as though we run a store. The store is just our cover...

"I still keep looking for the 'deserving poor' - the innocent ones who are blatant victims of injustice and hard luck. I want to help them and no one else. From what I can see, apart from children, most poor people's situations seem to stem from a mixture of uncontrollable circumstances, luck, and their own decisions. Same as my own situation. Do I deserve everything I have? Am I somehow more moral, smarter, or a harder worker than poor people? Sometimes I am, most times I'm not. Do poor people deserve their daily struggle for existence? Are they immoral, stupid, and lazy? Sometimes they are, most times they aren't."
No one deserves the banquet, but both the good and the bad are invited to attend and to live into that gift. In today's Gospel, Jesus articulates the vision of the Kingdom: a banquet at which all are respected and honored for who they are and the goodness they bring with them; a banquet that might be found in the classroom, the clinic, the playground, the home or a thrift store.

If we are to be truly faithful to the parable, the compassion of God must transform our heart's perspective, enabling us to see beyond stereotypes, economic distinctions, religion or class, to recognize that the hall is filled with children of God, worthy of respect, love and compassion. We must be willing both to give joyfully what we have and to accept humbly what others bring to the banquet, to live that gift in our lives.
As St. Paul put it in his letter: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”
The invitation is there and you name is on it – will you open it & accept it? Will you come to the banquet and live into that gift that is yours by grace? Amen.

Sermon - St Francis

“God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”
Martin Luther penned those words some 500 years ago. 400 years before Martin Luther, a man named Giovanni took this understanding outside and saw the hand of God everywhere in creation.

He was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone around 1181. Known as Francesco, as he was nicknamed by his father, was born into a wealthy Italian family, he was a wild youth and even had a brief & unsuccessful career as a soldier, as he tried to find his way in the world. But one day, in a dilapidated Church, Francis had a conversion experience –
“Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins."
When he heard the call to rebuild the church in San Damiano, it was as if a great weight was lifted from his shoulders. He gave up the wealth he grew up with, the privileges he had, and the expectations that went along with it. He gave it all up, to live a very simple life. One his father would never understand and he devoted his life to God. He led a simple life –fixing the Church wherever he went – caring for those in need, preaching the Gospel wherever he went.

Francis' deep love of God overflowed into love for all God's creation—expressed not only in his tender care of lepers, in his unsuccessful attempt to negotiate peace between Muslims and Christians during the fifth Crusade, & in his care of a town agitated by a wolf but also in his prayers of thanksgiving for creation, his sermons preached to animals, & his insistence that all creatures are brothers & sisters under God.

He understood that we have relationships within creation. As his biographer put it (on) p. 13 & 14 of the book Earth Friendly.

Those relationships were not to be exploited; they were not to be used for personal gain and then tossed aside. He thought wildflowers as important as the crops of the garden. Such understanding of balance, of connection to creation, is how farmers used to understand the land. Francis shows us that such relationships need to be cherished. As a contemporary author puts it, p. 15 & 16 of Earth Friendly.

He saw creation as a gift and through such openness to creation he called the sun, brother, the moon, sister; and he even called death, sister, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Francis wrote his Canticle of the Sun or Canticle of the Creatures after an illness in San Damiano. It identifies the elements of creation as sisters and brothers to us, and calls upon creation to join us as we praise God.

(Perhaps the best-known version in English is the hymn "All Creatures of Our God and King" which contains a paraphrase of Saint Francis' song by William H. Draper (1855–1933). Draper set the words to the 17th-century German hymn tune "Lasst Uns Erfreuen", for use at a children's choir festival some time between 1899 and 1919. (from Wikipedia))

His Canticle is remarkable for it sees the inherent harmony in God’s creation; that creation was made to work together, as brother and sister to one another, and to all of us who inhabit the earth. But as St. Francis always did, he returns to look at his brothers and sisters of earth.

“We praise You, Lord, for those who pardon, for love of You bear sickness and trial. Blessed are those who endure in peace, by You Most High, they will be crowned.” He upholds those who struggle. For those who offer pardon and those who find peace.
“While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.”
(Words of Francis of Assisi) May we live into that peace, fully in our hearts and loving all of God’s creation – and see the gift of creation, see the Good news all around us and in the pets that are in our care. Amen.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Doubt as a Sign of Faith

A few weeks ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury said about doubt,
"Yes. I do. In lots of different ways really. It's a very good question. That means I've got to think about what I'm going to say. Yes I do...I love the Psalms, if you look at Psalm 88, that's full of doubt."
For some, it seemed like blasphemy.  For most, myself included, it was an honest response.

Read this article:

I found it to be a good article and quite refreshing.  She is right.  Doubt is a sign of faith.

(The opposite of faith is not doubt but fear.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September 28 Sermon

By what authority are you doing these things?
Hundreds of students marched Thursday in the fifth day of demonstrations against the Jefferson County school board, which oversees the second-largest school district in Colorado. Protests began last Friday after members of the board called for a review of the new Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum to see whether it promotes "respect for authority" or encourages "civil disorder, social strife or disregard for the law." By Thursday, the protests had grown to include nearly 1,000 students from Columbine, Lakewood, Bear Creek and Dakota Ridge high schools. [Huffington Post]
By what authority are you doing these things?
Legions of demonstrators frustrated by international inaction on global warming descended on New York City on Sunday, marching through the heart of Manhattan with a message of alarm for world leaders set to gather this week at the United Nations for a summit meeting on climate change. Coursing through Midtown, from Columbus Circle to Times Square and the Far West Side, the People’s Climate March was a spectacle even for a city known for doing things big, and it was joined, in solidarity, by demonstrations on Sunday across the globe, from Paris to Papua New Guinea. [NY Times]
By what authority are you doing these things?
Hundreds of children joined students demanding greater democracy for Hong Kong on Friday, capping a week-long campaign that has seen a large cut-out depicting the territory's leader as the devil paraded through the city and calls for him to resign. Secondary school pupils launched a one-day class boycott, supporting the university and college students who began their own class boycott on Monday with a rally that drew about 13,000. [Reuters]
By what authority are you doing these things?
When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?"
It is the question that is often asked by those in power, when people rise up, when they speak up, when they protest and refuse to follow along.

Jesus pushed the envelope. He taught in the temple. He healed on the Sabbath. Gentile or Jew. Male or Female. Rich or poor. No one fell outside his love. And it provoked a reaction from those in power.

By what authority are you doing these things? After Jesus asks them a question, he turns the tables on them & tells them a parable…
"What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, `Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' He answered, `I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, `I go, sir'; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him."
The tax collectors and the prostitutes will go in the front of the line into the Kingdom of God. The chief priests and elders, the religiously righteous, will head to the back. It is not what we expect, but Jesus points out the truth in his parable, the ones deemed dirty, the sinners, they listened to the message, they heard John and believed. The righteous ones, did not listen, failed to follow through with their yes, they didn’t change their minds or their hearts.

It is Jesus who is protesting. He is walking the line. He is carrying the banner. Do we see it? For Jesus will not be confined to our ideological boxes nor will he be left only in the Church to be found each week. He is outside. Waiting for us. In the midst of our lives. In the darkness and in the light. His life laid bare before us, his authority through what he said and he did.

Will you follow me? Will you listen? Will you go out as I have asked?

In the early 1960s, when the racial struggle was white-hot, an interracial retreat was held at a Benedictine monastery, Subiaco Abbey in Arkansas. One participant was a recent college graduate at work in voter registration in the Mississippi delta area of eastern Arkansas. He was asked, "Isn't that dangerous work you're doing? We hear the reports of hatred and violence."

"It's true," he said. "The hatred is vicious, and the punishment is violent.’ "Have you ever been hurt yourself?" The young college grad replied: ""Yes, I've been spit on, beaten with fists, with pipes, with chains and left a bloody mess." "But you're pretty big," the brothers said. "Weren't you able to protect yourself sometimes, to fight back?"

"Yes," he said. "At first I did fight back. I made some of them sorry they had attacked me. But then I realized that by fighting back I wasn't getting anywhere. The hatred coming at me in those fists and clubs was bouncing right off me back into the air, and it could just continue to spread like electricity. I decided I would not fight back. I would let my body absorb that hatred, so that some of it would die in my body and not bounce back into the world. I now see that my job in the midst of that evil is to make my body a grave for hate." The monks were deeply moved by the young man's story. "We were all shaken by what this young man said," one brother recalls. "But what he was describing was the Gospel of Jesus." [From "The Good Fight: How Christians suffer, died and rise with Jesus," by Abbot Jerome Kodell, O.S.B., America, April 25, 2011.]
Jesus’ parable of the two sons places the will of God in the middle of our busy, complicated everyday lives. All authority we need was given to us at Baptism, to live our lives as followers of Jesus. But to do that, we must say Yes and follow through. For as St. Paul reminds us, “it is God who is at work in us.”

Compassion, forgiveness and mercy are only words until our actions give full expression to those values in our relationships with others; our identifying ourselves as Christians and calling ourselves disciples of Jesus mean nothing until our lives express such Gospel values.

The words of the Gospel must be lived; Jesus’ teachings on justice, reconciliation and love must be the light that guides us, the path we walk, the prayers we work to make a reality in our lives. Discipleship begins within our hearts, where we realize that Christ is present there and in the lives of others and then honoring that presence through meaningful acts of compassion and charity in the world. Amen.