Sunday, August 30, 2015

August 30: Sermon Addendum (a few more thoughts about the Gospel)…

Jesus said, “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.”

I recently watched the movie, The Giver, based on the book by Lois Lowry (my daughter Hannah had to read this book for 6th grade (her summer reading project!)). I was struck by the ending sequence below and how it coincided with Jesus and his words about our hearts.

This is from the movie The Giver:
The Giver - You should stop this.

Chief Elder - Stop what? If you don't want to see it, sit with the other Elders. Close your eyes.

The Giver - Her name was Rosemary. She was my daughter. I loved her.

Chief Elder - Precision of language!

The Giver - Ha, ha. Could not be more precise. Do you know what that's like? To love someone? I do. I cried. Don't you sorrow? Love, song, dance. Oh, real joy.

Chief Elder - Then you should know better than anyone. You have seen children starve. You have seen people stand on each others' necks. Just for the view. You know what it feels like when men blow each other up.

The Giver - Yes.

Chief Elder - All for a simple lie?

The Giver - I do, I do.

Chief Elder - And yes, and yes. You and Jonas want to... open that door again. Bring all that back?

The Giver - If you could see the possibilities of life.

Chief Elder - Why?

The Giver - Of love. With love comes faith with comes hope!

Chief Elder - Love is just a passion that can turn. And with turn we have contempt and murder.

The Giver - You could choose better.

Chief Elder - People are weak. People are selfish. And if people have the freedom to choose they choose wrong. Every single time....

The Giver - We are living in a life of shadows. Of echoes of faint distant whispers of what was once made real!
It was supposed to be Utopia, but without love?

When Jesus talks about our hearts, he is telling us we have a choice, will it be the seat of love or will be it the place of evil intentions. There are such great possibilities of life, but will we love?

I disagree with the Chief Elder and we must let people choose love, they might just surprise you…

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.” --Thomas Merton, in a letter to Dorothy Day

Sermon: August 30

Help us Lord:
to live in your light, to act in your might, to think in your wisdom, to walk in your kingdom,
to abide in your love, now and always. Amen. (David Adam)

Cruelty has a Human Heart
And Jealousy a Human Face
Terror the Human Form Divine
And Secrecy, the Human Dress
(A Divine Image by William Blake)
We awoke on Wednesday to a news story of cruelty. Two journalists lost to angry man with a gun, live on the air, and broadcast with malice in social media. It is a story that is way too familiar for us. Cruelty, jealousy, terror and lives cut short by the evil of violence. For cruelty has a human heart.

Such a description of our heart connects with what Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark this morning.
Jesus said, “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
When confronted by some about the disciple’s actions, Jesus does not look to the outward rituals of purity, nor the boundaries of community, Jesus points to the heart as the seat of our morality, the seat of our purity, the seat that if not right with God can defile or corrupt us.

He takes the argument and confrontation over a ritual tradition to the next level: defilement is not about what goes into the body or even how we wash it...it is what comes out of our body, it is our actions in word and deed that come from our hearts.

The list he utters includes obvious things life theft, murder, adultery. All in the 10 Commandments. But Jesus includes other less obvious things like deceit, envy, slander, pride and folly.

Jesus calls all these actions evil, they not only corrupt us but they also destroy the love we have for God and our neighbor. These actions are self-centered, self-absorbed, self-focused with no connection to the harm of the social fabric of our lives. For when it comes to purity or defilement, it is all about our heart & what comes out of it, and Jesus wants us to have a change of heart, a heart that is with him & his love. For if we don’t, cruelty will reign and lives will be destroyed.
Many years ago, a great warrior abandoned his life of war and destruction and became a monk, happily living a quiet life serving his brothers and the poor and sick of the villages around the monastery.

One day, an arrogant warrior rode through the village. He terrorized the villagers with his threats and demands. He soon made his way to the monastery where he recognized the monk from their adventures years before. The reckless warrior did everything he could to provoke his old adversary into a fight: the boor threw rocks, shouted insults, smashing parts of the poor monastery. But the monk would not respond. By dusk, the warrior finally grew tired of the game; he defiantly spat on the monastery door and rode off.

Some of the villagers who had been brutalized by the warrior, asked the monk why he did not confront the intruder.

"If someone offers you a gift and you do not accept it, to whom does the gift belong?" the old monk asked. "He who offered it," they replied.

"The same is true for anger, envy and ridicule," the monk explained. "When they are not accepted, they forever belong to the one who holds on to them." [Adapted from the Moral Stories website.]
One of the most difficult challenges of being a disciple of Jesus is not to let such cruelty, jealousy, terror diminish us, not to let such anger or vengeance displace the things of God in the sacred place of our hearts but to let God's presence transform the evil that we have encountered into compassion and forgiveness. The violence of Good Friday is transformed & redeemed by Easter…

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.
(The Divine Image by William Blake)
I recently heard an NPR story about the Basque town of Galdakao in Spain. There sits a refrigerator surrounded by a tidy little fence so that it is not mistaken for an abandoned appliance. If you have some food, you can leave it inside this communal refrigerator, if you need some food, help yourself. Instead of throwing leftover food away in the garbage bin, local residents and restaurants can leave them in the “solidarity fridge” to be shared. "The idea for a Solidarity Fridge started with the economic crisis — these images of people searching dumpsters for food — the indignity of it. That's what got me thinking about how much food we waste," said Alvaro Saiz, who helped bring the idea to his town. (Galdakao, Spain has a population of about 30,000.)
I found hope in that story, and I love the idea of a communal fridge!

Two stories this week, one of cruelty and one of mercy. In the end, each day, we need to choose, to follow Jesus and believe in mercy, love and pity. I think of Nelson Mandela, who in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, recounts how he was able to survive prison by finding the spark of humanity in the guards:
"I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there was mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of our guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough for me to keep going. Man's goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished."
As Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark, the kind of human beings we are begins in the values of the heart, the place where God dwells inside of us - but the evil we are capable of, the hurt we inflict, the degrading of the world also begins within us as well. May we open our hearts and listen to the Spirit of God speaking in that sacred space within every heart, calling us to understanding instead of judgment, forgiveness instead of vengeance, respect instead of ridicule, reconciliation instead of division. For in such a place where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell, there God is dwelling too. Amen.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Misuse of Religious Freedom

In June, I wrote about the Problem with "Religious Freedom."  It seems that this issue will not go away (see here: Citing religious freedom, Kentucky clerk asks Supreme Court to intervene in gay marriage case).  I am re-blogging my post because I think we are misusing the idea of religious freedom.
“I would say there is a distinction between private property that is purely private and private property that is privately owned but publicly used, publicly supported, publicly sustained. I think there is a great difference between the two…I don’t think anybody should have the right to just come in my house that I may privately own and not leave if I wanted them to leave. I think that that is a private right that we should certainly protect on the basis of the first amendment of the Constitution.

But now if I turn my house into a store—if I turn it into a department store, if I turn it into a lunch counter, or anything like that—then I have certain obligations to the public beyond my particular whims….If a business is in the public market, then it cannot deny access, if it is in the public market, it cannot deny access to this public market. And I think the same thing applies here. It is one thing to say that an individual owns a private piece of property and another thing to say that this property is now a private enterprise where it is actually dependent on the public for its very survival.

And this is why we feel very strong about this, that a man should not have the right to say that on the basis of color or religion one cannot use a lunch counter that is open to everybody else in other racial groups but not to these particular people. He has an obligation to the public….I don’t think America will ever rise to its full maturity until all over this country we say that anybody who’s in a public business cannot deny anybody on the basis of race or color access to that business. He should not have the freedom to choose his customers on the basis of race or religion.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. (1961)
These words spoken by Dr. King in 1961 were addressing the issue of race in America, but the same religious arguments used against the civil rights movement are the same arguments used to discriminate against same sex couples.

We need to remember that the federal RFRA law of 1993 was bipartisan & has been successfully used to protect a wide range of people – Native Americans, Sikhs, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others – in the free exercise of their religious convictions.

Too often though, religious freedom = freedom to discriminate.

http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article22949817.html
I met the love of my life more than 40 years ago in Raleigh. Thomas is a lifelong North Carolinian. I was a recent transplant from Vermont. We are both legally blind, and soon after we met, we moved to Winston-Salem to work for the Industries of the Blind. Our friendship blossomed into love, and in 1976, Thomas proposed. I very happily said yes.
Soon after, we went to our local courthouse to receive a civil marriage license from one of the magistrates there, so we could commit our lives to each through a legal union. I was so excited. People always say your wedding day is supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life, and I was expecting mine to be exactly that.
But when we walked into that government office together, we were told that the magistrate on duty wouldn’t give us a marriage license. I was flabbergasted. We had planned everything, we had all our paperwork and we were legally eligible to get married.
So why wouldn’t he marry us? The reason, it turned out, was because Thomas is African-American, and I am white. The magistrate told us that marrying an interracial couple went against his religious beliefs. Our happy day quickly turned into a nightmare.
Ah yes, rugged individualism supersedes the common good.  Every time.

 North Carolina & Michigan (of many) hold the dubious honor of rehashing our past:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/11/north-carolina-gay-marriage_n_7561886.html

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/michigan-law-lets-adoption-agencies-decline-referrals-31696102

The problem I have with these stories is that by allowing such religious deference, it does away with equal protection of the laws for those who might be LGBT, or of another faith (Jews, Muslims, etc.), divorced, not married...and allows discrimination to occur behind a facade of protecting Christian religion.

We have lost sight of the common good...
JOHN THE EVANGELIST: Master, what is holiness? Is it just to keep the Commandments and say the right prayers, and do the right things, and pay the proper dues, as the priests tell us? Or is it something quite different? The preaching of John the Baptist has troubled our hearts, and the great prophets have terrified us with their thunderings against sin. We are disheartened, because nothing we do seems to be any good, and the righteous God is so great and terrible and far away. How can we rise so far above ourselves? What sort of heroic thing is holiness?
JESUS: The priests are right, and the prophets are right too. I haven't come to take away the Law, but to show you how to keep it. This is holiness-to love, and be ruled by love; for love can do no wrong.
JOHN THE EVANGELIST: As simple as all that?
JESUS: SO simple that a child can understand it. So simple that only children really can understand it.
ANDREW: But what has all this to do with the coming of the Kingdom?
JESUS: It is the Kingdom. Wherever there is love, there is the Kingdom of God.
~ Dorothy Sayers (1943 from The Man to be Born King)
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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sermon II: August 23

Sermon given at the Chapel on the Green - 2 PM.

In the Name of God…

Many among his disciples heard this and said, “This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow.” After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: “Do you also want to leave?” Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go?”

For us gathered here, this is the question of why we come here. There are others places to get food or to hang out. But here, right here, Jesus is with us. He calls to each of us. To whom would we go? But his teaching, his life, his love, are not always easy to emulate. He challenges us. Calls to our very souls.

This year we are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Jonathan Myrick Daniels. He was born in New Hampshire in 1939, studied at Virginia Military Institute (VMI) & Harvard University. He enrolled at Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge, in the fall of 1963.

In March 1965 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, gave his famous call to students, clergy and others to join him in Selma, Alabama, for a march to the state capital in Montgomery. During Evening Prayer at the chapel at ETS, Jon Daniels decided that he ought to go. He wrote:
"My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." I had come to Evening Prayer as usual that evening, and as usual I was singing the Magnificat with the special love and reverence I have always felt for Mary's glad song. "He hath showed strength with his arm." As the lovely hymn of the God-bearer continued, I found myself peculiarly alert, suddenly straining toward the decisive, luminous, Spirit-filled "moment"… Then it came. "He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things." I knew then that I must go to Selma. The Virgin's song was to grow more and more dear in the weeks ahead.”
He traveled with others to Selma; but after the march, he and a friend decided that they must stay longer. Jon devoted many of his Sundays in Selma in an effort to integrate the local Episcopal church. He spent much of his time helping African Americans sign up to vote and to find the resources available to them.

On August 13, Jon and others went to the town of Fort Deposit to join in picketing three local businesses. They were arrested and held in the county jail in Hayneville for six days until they were released. Stokey Carmichael was one of Jon’s cellmates. After their release on August 20, four of them walked over to a local store to purchase a soda, and were met at the door by a deputy sheriff with a shotgun who told them to leave or be shot (in much more colorful language). When he aimed the gun at Ruby Sales, Jon pushed her out of the way and took the blast of the shotgun himself. He was killed instantly. Not long before he died, he wrote this:
“I lost fear when I began to know in my Bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord's death and Resurrection, that in the only sense that really matters I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God.”
Jonathan heard the call, and he gave his life for that call. It is Jesus who calls you and me, in the same way, to live into his life and words, and there we will find real life, eternal life. He is the Holy One of God. May we hear the words of Jesus for each of us today & live out his call, his love in our lives. Amen. 

Sermon: August 23

Sermon given at MCC Sunday morning at 9 AM.

Help us Lord:
to live in your light
to act in your might
to think in your wisdom
to walk in your kingdom
to abide in your love. Amen. (David Adam)

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" and many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go?”

"Lord, to whom can we go?”

On Twitter this week there was a hashtag that people were using. A Twitter hashtag is simply a keyword phrase with a pound sign (#) in front of it. The phrase that was trending was #ThingsJesusNeverSaid.

There were some good tweets being offered, of things Jesus never said. I also added one:

“Your life will be easy. And you will make lots of money. If you follow me.”

As we heard in the Gospel this morning, the life and teaching of Jesus was tough. It challenged his followers. Many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with Jesus. But there were those who continued to walk with him, like St. Peter, “You have the words of eternal life.”

In every time, there are those who have found in the words of Jesus eternal life even as following him challenged their very lives.

I think of Clarence Jordan and his wife Florence who read what Jesus asked of his followers, and they were determined not to walk away and to live as faithfully as Jesus asked.

So in 1942, the Jordans along with Martin and Mable England, bought a 440-acre farm, in Americus, Georgia, that they named Koinonia Farm (Koinonia is greek for our understanding of community & fellowship). Their idea was to create a Christian community on that farm for reconciliation between races (esp. blacks & whites) and between rich and poor. The farm’s purpose was to teach agriculture to poor rural farmers and to demonstrate brotherhood and peace through community and they did this by working with local African-American families and inviting some to live with them. It was "a demonstration plot for the kingdom of God."

The community that farmed together had whites and African Americans sharing work & meals together. For many in the nearby community, such a community was seen as a threat. They suffered property damage, shootings and bombings. The Jordans and Koinonians were thrown out of the local Baptist church they attended, and crosses were burned on the Farm by the KKK.

The Americus community decided it no longer wanted Koinonia Farms in the area, and every local business began to boycott the farm. The Farm survived the boycott largely due to Clarence’s writings and a mail order pecan business. It also became the spiritual birthplace of what we know today as Habitat for Humanity, when it began to look at ways to help the poor build their own homes.

Clarence Jordan once said that what he hoped to achieve in life was “to have been faithful.” In that he and the community excelled, they did the hard work, followed the teachings of Jesus.

Today, the Nuba Mountain valley in South Sudan is a war zone. Every day Sudanese government forces bomb the region as part of a scorched-earth strategy to defeat the armed rebellion based there.

More than a half-million civilians live in the Nuba; one of their refuges is the 435-bed Mother of Mercy Hospital. Dr. Tom Catena is the only doctor at the hospital, on call 24/7. Besides delivering babies and removing appendixes, Dr. Tom (as he is known) practice includes prying out shrapnel from women's flesh and amputating the limbs of children. He does all of this off the electric grid, without running water, a telephone or so much as an X-ray machine, while under the constant threat of bombing. The hospital is surrounded by foxholes in which patients and staff crouch when military aircraft approach.

Dr. Tom, a volunteer with the Catholic Medical Mission Board, continues his exhausting work despite the fact that most world leaders and humanitarians have pretty much abandoned the people of the Nuba Mountains. What drives him, he says, is his faith. "I've been given benefits from the day I was born. A loving family. A great education. So I see it as an obligation, as a Christian and as a human being, to help."

The people of the Nuba valley - Christian and Muslim - pray that Dr. Tom never dies. One Muslim tribal chief offers this unusual tribute. "He's Jesus Christ," the chief believes, explaining that Jesus healed the sick, made the blind see and helped the lame walk - and that is what Dr. Tom does every day.

Dr. Tom has served in Africa for the past 15 years & says that in spite of the hardship, he is exactly where he wants to be. [The New York Times, June 27, 2015; TIME, April 16, 2015.]
Dr. Tom's dedication to the forgotten people of Sudan is inspired by the hope and optimism that is the heart of today's Gospel. Like the Jordans and the families of the Koinonia Farm, that hope is to be faithful to Jesus’ call, to be his disciples.

Many find his teaching difficult and they are unable to follow & emulate Jesus in their lives.

"Lord, to whom can we go?” – Will we answer like St. Peter – “You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

May our faith in the Gospel of Jesus continue to inspire us to the demanding work of compassion, reconciliation and justice, even when the bombs fall, even as others fall away - may we hear the words of Jesus for each of us today & live out his call, his love in our lives. Amen.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Words of Martyr Jonathan Myrick Daniels





"One of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry was performed by Jonathan Daniels" ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. 

 "Jonathan Daniels was a White student who was studying at theological seminary. And he like many White students who were conscious of the responsibility came to see of what help he could be in advancing the cause of humanity. Well Jonathan and I got to know each other quite a bit, after our first discussion and he began to see it, we began to discuss it. We'd meet quite often in Selma. And whenever I was there he would seek me out to spend time together. I had a lot of appreciation for him. He was different from the regular activists that came. He tried to analyze your problems a little bit deeper and he too were more interested in lasting solutions rather than the temporary ones. We got to like each other..." ~ STOKELY CARMICHAEL




These are a few of the words of JMD:


"My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." I had come to Evening Prayer as usual that evening, and as usual I was singing the Magnificat with the special love and reverence I have always felt for Mary's glad song. "He hath showed strength with his arm." As the lovely hymn of the God-bearer continued, I found myself peculiarly alert, suddenly straining toward the decisive, luminous, Spirit-filled "moment" that would, in retrospect, remind me of others--particularly one at Easter three years ago. Then it came. "He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things." I knew then that I must go to Selma. The Virgin's song was to grow more and more dear in the weeks ahead.
 and...
After a week-long, rain-soaked vigil, we still stood face to Face with the Selma police. I stood, for a change, in the front rank, ankle-deep in an enormous puddle. To my immediate right were high school students, for the most part, and further to the right were a swarm of clergymen. My end of the line surged forward at one point, led by a militant Episcopal priest whose temper (as usual) was at combustion-point. Thus I found myself only inches from a young policeman. The air crackled with tension and open hostility. Emma Jean, a sophomore in the Negro high school, called my name from behind. I reached back for her hand to bring her up to the front rank, but she did not see. Again she asked me to come back. My determination had become infectiously savage, and I insisted that she come forward--I would not retreat! Again I reached for her hand and pulled her forward. The young policeman spoke: "You're dragging her through the puddle. You ought to be ashamed for treating a girl like that." Flushing--I had forgotten the puddle--I snarled something at him about whose-fault-it-really-was, that managed to be both defensive and self-righteous. We matched baleful glances and then both looked away. And then came a moment of shattering internal quiet, in which I felt shame, indeed, and a kind of reluctant love for the young policeman. I apologized to Emma Jean. And then it occurred to me to apologize to Him and to thank him. Though he looked away in contempt--I was not altogether sure I blamed him--I had received a blessing I would not forget. Before long the kids were singing, "I love ---." One of my friends asked [the young policeman] for his name. His name was Charlie. When we sang for him, he blushed and then smiled in a truly sacramental mixture of embarrassment and pleasure and shyness. Soon the young policeman looked relaxed, we all lit cigarettes (in a couple of instances, from a common match, and small groups of kids and policemen clustered to joke or talk cautiously about the situation. It was thus a shock later to look across the rank at the clergymen and their opposites, who glared across a still unbroken "Wall" in what appeared to be silent hatred. Had I been freely arranging the order for Evening Prayer that night, I think I might have followed the General Confession directly with the General Thanksgiving--or perhaps the Te Deum. 
 and...
I lost fear in the black belt when I began to know in my Bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord's death and Resurrection, that in the only sense that really matters I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God. I began to lose self-righteousness when I discovered the extent to which my behavior was motivated by worldly desires and by the self-seeking messianism of Yankee deliverance! The point is simply, of course, that one's motives are usually mixed, and one had better know it.
As Judy and I said the daily offices day by day, we became More and more aware of the living reality of the invisible "communion of saints"--of the beloved community in Cambridge who were saying the offices too, of the ones gathered around a near-distant throne in heaven--who blend with theirs our faltering songs of prayer and praise. With them, with black men and white men, with all of life, in Him Whose Name is above all the names that the races and nations shout, whose Name is Itself the Song Which fulfills and "ends" all songs, we are indelibly, unspeakably One.