Sunday, December 21, 2014

December 21 Sermon (Advent 4) #Mary

Father in heaven, by your grace the virgin mother of your incarnate Son was blessed in bearing him, but still more blessed in keeping your word: Grant us who honor the exaltation of her lowliness to follow the example of her devotion to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP)

As we near the end of our Advent Season, our time of preparation, this 4th Sunday of advent –we end with Mary, to whom the angel Gabriel came... "Greetings favored one. The Lord is with you." - she was at first perplexed by the visit – but it is Mary's yes to God, that allows God's reality to break into the world that Christmas long ago. Such faithfulness from a young lady, such devotion in one unexpected.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “God is not ashamed of human lowliness. He enters right into it. He chooses a human being to be his instrument and works his wonders where they are least expected.”
She calls herself, servant, handmaiden in an older translation. To many Christians around the world, she is the Theotokos, the God-bearer. In my childhood, I remember her statue prominently in my Grandmother’s house, and always with a votive candle before it.
For Barbara Brown Taylor, author, teacher and Episcopal priest, she keeps a small brass box on her dresser in front of two icons, one of Jesus and one of Mary. When people ask her to pray for them, she writes their name on a slip of paper and puts the paper in the box. Taylor writes in her book An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith that she has great confidence in entrusting her prayers to the Mother of Jesus:

"Mary is more like me than her son is, after all. Both of her parents were human. She was born and she died in the usual ways. What was unusual about her was her reliability. No matter what life pitched at her, Mary did not duck. She endured a difficult pregnancy to bear a singular child, whom she loved reliably through all the years of his controversial life. When her son was cut down, she was there. When it came time to prepare his body, she was there. When he was not in his tomb, she was there. As much as I hate to presume on her reliability, I know she will remember the people whose name I have placed in the brass box, even when I forget."
Mary's entire life was filled with moments God constantly calling her to be the reflection of his compassion, to be a source of persevering faith, to mirror in her motherhood of his Christ his loving providence for all his children. God asks that same "reliability" of all of us in the everyday living of our own Baptisms. Mary's experience is like our own.

Discerning God's will demands time and thoughtfulness. In God’s call to us, we have a great deal to process, to sort out, to make sense of. May we seek to possess Mary's "reliable" faith and trust so that we, too, may make God's presence known in our time and place, to be open to the presence of Gabriel "announcing" to us that the Lord is with us, that we have nothing to fear, that we have been called by God to "give birth" to his Son in our own time and place.

Her life becomes a beacon for us, a way to embrace the Spirit that God gives to each of us, and to bear it for the world. As Malcom Guite, priest and poet put it, “she is the prime God-Bearer, bearing for us in time the One who was begotten in eternity, and every Christian after her seeks to become in some small way a God-bearer, one whose ‘yes’ to God means that Christ is made alive and fruitful in the world through our flesh and our daily lives, is born and given to another.”

So as we ponder Mary’s “yes” and consider how we too say yes to God in our lives, hear Malcom’s poem on Mary:
You bore for me the One who came to bless
And bear for all and make the broken whole.
You heard His call and in your open ‘yes’
You spoke aloud for every living soul.
Oh gracious Lady, child of your own child,
Whose mother-love still calls the child in me,
Call me again, for I am lost, and wild
Waves surround me now. On this dark sea
Shine as a star and call me to the shore.
Open the door that all my sins would close
And hold me in your garden. Let me share
The prayer that folds the petals of the Rose.
Enfold me too in Love’s last mystery
And bring me to the One you bore for me.
May we journey with Mary, say yes to God and be enfolded this Christmas in Love’s last mystery that Mary may bring us to the One, she bore for all. Amen.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Prayers for Peshawar, Pakistan

Pakistani Taliban Attack on Peshawar School Leaves 145 Dead

Almighty God, giver of light and life, in whose hands are both the living and the dead: We offer to you our sorrow and confusion in the face of the cruel deaths of children and teachers in Peshawar, Pakistan. As you were present in the midst of the gunfire and chaos, so we trust you are present now with those who have died. Receive them into the arms of your mercy and cover them with your love. In your boundless compassion, console all who mourn, especially parents and family members, and give to us who carry on such a lively sense of your righteous will that we will not rest until every country is safe for all your children. All this we pray in sighs too deep for words and in the name of the lover and protector of our souls, Jesus Christ. Amen.

In a moment of silence let us remember the victims and their families.

God our refuge and strength: may we be so assured of your near presence, so confident of your love for all your children, so committed to your promise of life eternal and fullness of joy, that we may stand fast through our distress and continue to serve you and minister to your world, though our foundations be shaken and we be brought to the time of testing; we pray through Christ our Savior. Amen.

Challenging Violence

"Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
The challenge before us today is take these words to heart, from MLK, Jr. It seems here in the US we believe that violence is a positive force.  

Read this!

Torture, the Bible, and America's Faith in Violence by Derek Flood (12-16-2014)

He says (excerpt):
Violence in the world is a reality that we need to face. All too often we are presented with only two options: defend ourselves with violence, or we do nothing. Some Christians therefore advocate for the use of violence as a necessary means for bringing about the good. This is echoed by our politicians, and in our television shows and movies where we continually see violence portrayed as the means of fighting evil.

As a society we trust in violence. We think it keeps us safe — we think it makes us strong. It is therefore not enough to simply note the harm that comes from violence, or our moral repulsion to it. What is needed is for us to articulate how the way of Jesus and enemy-love could be realistically applied to real conflicts today, so as to work towards peace, safety, and restoration. We will need to demonstrate that there are viable nonviolent means of dealing with societal problems — ways that are not only effective, but in fact more effective than violence at resolving conflict and keeping us safe as a society.

From CIA torture to the deaths on the streets to what plays on our TVs/movies, we are awash in violence.  We need to begin to articulate a way of nonviolence and love that can truly deal with our problems.

Blue Christmas Service

From one of the readings...

Into This Silent Night (From Ann Weems, Kneeling in Bethlehem)
Into this silent night
As we make our weary way
We know not where;
Just when the night becomes it’s darkest
And we cannot see our path;
Just then is when the angels rush in,
Their hands full of stars.

Pastoral Prayers
God of Mercy, hear out prayer in this Advent Season for ourselves and our families who live with the painful memories of loss. We ask for strength for today, courage for tomorrow and peace for the past. As we gather here this afternoon to confront our pain in the midst of the world's celebration. Help us to know that you are present with us in all of our moods and feelings and seasons. Grant us a taste of the hope, peace, joy and love that you promise to all of your people through the gift of your son Jesus. We ask all these things in the name of you Christ who shares our life in joy and sorrow, death and new birth, despair and promise. Amen.

Comforting God, wrap us in your presence in this time of remembrance. With these candles, help us find your light, a light that will guide us day-by-day, step-by-step, as we try to live life fully and wholly. We cherish the special ways in which our loved ones have touched us. We thank you for the gift their lives have been to us. Now comfort us. Encourage us. Empower us. Amen.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sermon - Dec. 14 (Advent 3) #SandyHook

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The prayer I read is from our BCP for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which we commemorate on December 28. (On that day we remember the young children slaughtered by King Herod in Matthew’s account of Jesus’s birth when the magi fail to return to him.) It seemed fitting to remember the Holy Innocents on this the 2nd anniversary of the shootings in Sandy Hook. That feast day occurs in the midst of the 12 days of Christmas, it is a pause in the midst of our joy and revelry, to remember that when Jesus was born, it wasn’t just a happy, wonderful time, angels singing. Death, violence, and terror were there too, all around him. And the innocents suffered. I think of the poem "Into the Darkest Hour" by Madeleine L'Engle:
It was a time like this,
war & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss –
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was a time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight –
and yet the Prince of bliss came
into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! Wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.
In the darkest times it falls to us to have that stable in our hearts, to remember the light from God that shines. For God did not come to us, our Emmanuel, in the best of times, he came in the worst of times. He came in the darkness for people looking for the light. In this is our hope, that God’s son came into this world, in darkness, in the midst of violence and death, to bring abundant life.
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” ~ Desmond Tutu
This week I had a conversation with a friend on Facebook who lives in Newtown. We were discussing an article on how one woman struggled to tell her young son about the tragedy in Sandy Hook when they came to Monroe for the town’s reading of her book.

My friend said, it was “a luxury we didn't have here- a choice to tell it or not tell it. a choice to try to explain the unexplainable.... that our kids had spent hours in lock down, huddled in a corner, lost people they knew... and that some people said it didn't happen. there's no escape from the dark truth really except through it.”

We have to go through the darkness.

Even there, John the Baptist who is crying out in the wilderness to make straight the way of the Lord, is reminding us of the light. For even there, Christ is with us.

2 years later, the tragedy still seems unexplainable. How one child of God decided to murder his mom and go to an elementary school and kill 26 children and staff. It was such a day of darkness.

28 candles are lit around this Sanctuary, remembering the deaths that occurred two years ago.

Since that terrible December day, 227 have been killed by guns in our State. 63,169 in our nation. (That’s 3 towns of Monroe!)

I think of how many families have mourned the loss of a loved one due to such gun violence. The first reading for Holy Innocents Day from Jeremiah says to us: “Thus says the LORD: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”

So what do we do?  Hear the words again from our first reading from Isaiah, "The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn."  Through our baptism we are anointed with the Spirit to accomplish these things!

There is much to weep about. Such violence should not be so readily accepted in our society and yet since Sandy Hook, little has been done to truly address the violence which infects all parts of our society, the 95 shootings at schools, the CIA Report on torture and even a recent news story, I heard, about a convicted felon in West Virginia buying a gun online and using it to kill.

We have much to do to make this a better society.
 In the words of MLK Jr. “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives… Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys… The aftermath of the love method is reconciliation and creation of the beloved community. Physical force can repress, restrain, coerce, destroy, but it cannot create and organize anything permanent; only love can do that. Yes, love—which means understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill, even for one’s enemies—love is the solution.” —Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957
I would dare say it is the solution for our violence problem as it is to the race problem that MLK Jr. was bearing witness to in his day (and ours). Such love is expressed in the words of slain Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung, “Be nice to each other. It’s all that really matters.”

My brothers and sisters, we are children of the Light. As the old proverb says, It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. It is time for us to remember, to share and to be bold in love, to be that light in the midst of darkness, even if we are but one candle in the dark, for our world needs such hope & such care today.
“Be nice to each other. It’s all that really matters.”  Amen.

Remembering #SandyHook 12/14/12

Sandy Hook 12/14/12

2 injured, 28 killed. 

20 children
6 staff*
a mother, a son.

1. Charlotte Bacon (2/22/06)
2. Daniel Barden (9/25/05)
3. Rachel Davino (7/17/83)*
4. Olivia Engel (7/18/06)
5. Josephine Gay (12/11/05)
6. Ana M. Marquez-Greene (4/4/06)
7. Dylan Hockley (3/8/06)
8. Dawn Hocksprung (6/28/65)*
9. Madeleine F. Hsu (7/10/06)
10. Catherine V. Hubbard (6/8/06)
11. Chase Kowalski (10/31/05)
12. Jesse Lewis (6/30/06)
13. James Mattioli (3/22/06)
14. Grace McDonnell (11/04/05)
15. AnneMarie Murphy (07/25/60)*
16. Emilie Parker (5/12/06)
17. Jack Pinto (5/6/06)
18. Noah Pozner (11/20/06)
19. Caroline Previdi (9/7/06)
20. Jessica Rekos (5/10/06)
21. Avielle Richman (10/17/06)
22. Lauren Russeau (6/1982)*
23. Mary Sherlach (2/11/56)*
24. Victoria Soto (11/4/85)*
25. Benjamin Wheeler (9/12/06)
26. Allison N. Wyatt (7/3/06)
27. Nancy Lanza (52)
28. Adam Lanza (20)

O gracious and loving God, on this anniversary of the tragedy in Sandy Hook, we remember all the victims who lost their lives to hate. We remember the brave and courageous who rushed to the scene to help and those who have given comfort in the months afterward. We remember those who grieve loved ones lost, for the survivors and for all the anxiety and fear we had in those days. We also remember how we came together to support one another in a time of need. Have mercy, Lord, give us strength and peace to practice kindness in the midst of hate; make us courageous in compassion and in justice for all. Help us to know your steadfast love & hope, your presence that is as near as breath; rekindle in our hearts the hope of life that conquers death. This we ask in your son’s name, Jesus our Lord. Amen

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Remembering #SandyHook

It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. - old proverb

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. ~ Desmond Tutu

Useful reading...

The Slaughter of the Innocents of Sandy Hook (12/12/2014) by Nadia Bolz Weber

Why I Can't Tell My Son About Sandy Hook (12/09/2014) by Sarah Smiley

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.