Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sermon Advent 3 (Dec 16)

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors at that time.
And I will save the lame and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you;

These beautiful lines from Zephaniah, one of the minor prophets of the OT, talks about the restoration of Israel after they had been attacked and dispersed by other peoples over the centuries. God would bring his people home. God would save them.

Such a depiction of God would have been missing from the Slave Bible.

A new exhibit at a Washington, D.C., museum features an abridged version of the KJV Bible. It sheds light on how Christian missionaries converted enslaved Africans to Christianity by teaching them the Gospel... except the parts about freedom, equality and resistance.

According to NPR, Parts of the Holy Bible, Selected For the Use of the Negro Slaves, in the British West-India Islands, is on display at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., and is one of only three known copies of this abridged version. Printed in 1807, the text of the Bible was used by missionaries from England to convert slaves to Christianity. The censored version removed 90 percent of the Old Testament and 50 percent of the New Testament. (from the Root)

Verses that reinforced the institution of slavery were kept. "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ." (Ephesians 6:5)

Others including Thomas Jefferson have remade the Bible to fit their beliefs. The problem with such selection, is we make the Bible into our image, forcing it to be something it was not intended to be. For such censoring, I believe makes us miss what are important lessons for us today.

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

John the Baptist’s harsh rhetoric still challenges us today. No one likes to be called a brood of vipers and I wonder how many people would cut his words out from tehri bible (I wonder if it was in the slave bible.). John is not just insulting us, he is trying to get our attention.

Bear fruits worthy of repentance.

The fruit he is talking about is our lives. What fruit do we bear in our lives?

One pastor remembers the fruits of his Grandma:

As far as I know, Grandpa never discovered the secret my grandmother and I shared. Every Saturday she and I whisked into town in her faded blue Ford Torino. As I pushed our cart up and down the aisles of the Red & White, she carefully selected food in duplicate—two boxes of cereal, two jars of peanut butter, two bags of flour—until our cart looked like an abstract rendering of Noah’s ark with its produce and nonperishable food items arranged two by two.

Then we’d check out (an achingly slow process involving a hefty stack of coupons), load the car with heavy paper grocery bags, and drive straight to the town’s food bank, where my grandmother would donate exactly half of everything she’d just purchased. She bought my silence each week with a small candy bar, which was not immune to her rule: one chocolate treat for me, one for the food bank.

I never asked my grandmother whether our weekly grocery run was a direct response to Luke 3. “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none,” and “whoever has food must do likewise.”

“What shall we do?” ask the crowds, tax collectors, and soldiers in this passage. We are more inclined to ask, “Isn’t it perfectly rational, even necessary, to hang on to a fleece pullover for the fall, a down coat for winter, and a lightweight rain jacket for spring?” By situating ourselves in a radically different place and time from John, we think we can wiggle our way out of his demands for ethical living.

The question at the heart of this text—“What shall we do?”—differs significantly from “What shall we believe?” or even “What shall we prayerfully discern as our role in mission?” It differs more still from the question that, if we are honest, we know we have asked: “How shall we interpret John’s words in such a way that we may maintain our comfort while our neighbors suffer?” John’s response is clear. Repentance has to do with ethics, with action, with the Holy Spirit’s compelling us to be God’s hands and feet in the world—with attention to the needs of others rather than preoccupation with our own salvation.

By the world’s measure, my understanding of John’s preaching is more nuanced than my grandmother’s. But no advanced degree in theology will ever come close to her faith. “What shall we do?” the people ask the prophet. Sometimes we like to pretend the answer is complicated. Sometimes it really is. But buying two bags of flour and giving one away is a good start. (Christian Century)

The pastor’s grandmother grasped the Gospel in a simple and yet direct way. She bore that fruit that John talked about. "What then should we do?"

Share.

I think of an economics professor who was traveling through a village in his native country. Famine had devastated the region. He met a woman who struggled to provide for her family by weaving bamboo stools. Her work was excellent, but no bank would ever lend her money to buy materials. The professor gave the woman and several of her struggling neighbors $27 from his own pocket as a "loan." He never thought any more about it — until the borrowers repaid the money in full, and on time.

So the professor began making other loans to groups of villagers. Some used the money — often as little as $20 — to buy another cow or a sewing machine or to expand their rice patties or mustard fields. Most of the borrowers were women.

In 1976, he formalized his loan-making arrangement as the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Grameen operates on the principle of trust rather than financial capacity: that the poor can be as creditworthy as the rich.

Since its founding, Grameen Bank has lent out around $6 billion to some 6.6 million borrowers who have paid back 98.5% of their loans.

In 2006, the professor who lent $27 to a poor weaver some 30 years ago prior was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Dr. Mohammed Yunas and Grameen Bank.

Doctor Yunas' ultimate goal: that "one day our grandchil­dren will have go to museums to see what poverty was like."

“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” We are called to do likewise. It is to care for our neighbor by living a simple, ethical and moral life.

No matter how we cut it, the ethical calling is clear. To follow Jesus, is to hear the demands of John, for he is not interested in our hesitation. He wants action.

Be it from the crowds, the traitorous tax collectors, or the Roman soldiers.

And from you and me.

Bear fruits worthy of repentance.

Share.

Be humble and kind.

Live and rejoice.

Amen.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

December 14...

We remember...






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 

 
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 and years afterward. We remember those who continue to 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.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Advent on the Green Sermon Notes

Given at Chapel on the Green in New Haven on Dec. 9 @ 2 pm.

John the Baptist (repentance & Preparation) & St. Nicholas (wonder worker & gift giver)

“so devoted to serving God that the Spirit coursed through their lives unchecked, touching with grace all those they encountered”

Someone you may not have noticed is waiting,
longing for healing, for justice, for hope.
You only mean to be passing by,
but they see you.
And even if they don't know they are asking,
they are asking.

“Are you the one?”

Not necessarily the Messiah, but perhaps like the messengers of old
one to bring hope,
to be a light in the darkness.
There may be someone in some kind of prison
looking for some kind of encouragement,
someone longing for healing or appreciation or forgiveness.
Will you be the one, or should they wait for another?
There may be people of color who see a white person
and assume racism, until they see otherwise.
There may be a non-conforming person
who assumes you will judge them
unless you clearly don't.
Will you be the one to shine light in their darkness,
or are they to wait for another?

Sit still in the grace of God.
Let the light that is dawning for the world
dawn in you.
Let that light grow and radiate.
Bear it with you through the day.
You will meet someone who seeks grace,
who longs for a sign of hope.
And for them
you will be the one.
(Steve Garnaas-Holmes)

Today, this Advent, for those looking, may you and I be the one. Amen.

Advent 2 Sermon (Dec. 9)

Praise and honor to you living God for John the Baptist, and for all those voices crying in the wilderness who prepare your way. May we listen when a prophet speaks your word and as the Spirit guides us to follow and obey what you have called us to do. Amen.

You sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation.
The messengers. Prophets of old. Speak to us across the centuries. Malachi tells us that God is sending messengers to help prepare the way of the Lord.

They are sent by God to help prepare the way of love. The way of hope. The way of redemption from the sins that hold us back, that break our relationship with God and with one another. These prophets invite us into repentance for not following the way that God has given to us.

And by inviting, I mean they holler at us. They break through our barriers, convention, all that settles us into the status quo, that we like. We encounter John the Baptist in the Gospel of Luke.

Every Advent our Gospel readings center on this strange, austere, humorless character John the Baptist. The John of the Gospel is no one’s idea of Christmas joy: subsisting on locusts and wild honey, clad in camel hair, haunting a wild river bank. In the larger culture, he has become a non figure, forgotten, in our rush to Christmas. If it were not for churches and our readings on these Sundays in Advent, we would forget him entirely too.

In one way, John did his job as the forerunner, he announced the messiah, he gave a baptism of repentance and he stepped out of the way… he followed his calling and it eventually led to his death at the hands of King Herod.

The spirit set him on fire for his work and he did it. Advent is a reminder that although his work was finished, ours is not. We are called to repentance in our lives today, to forsake our sins and what leads us away from God, and to prepare for God by following the way of love in our lives.

300 years after John the Baptist, in a small corner of what today we call Turkey, Nicholas, Bishop of Myra ministered to his people, preparing the ground there. “Saint Nicholas, through his miracles and wonder-working, symbolizes all that is good in giving and in learning how to receive” but he also embodies the spirit that also lived in John the Baptist & he too would be imprisoned for a time for his work. (Rosenthal)
Naomi Starkey, in her book Pilgrims to the Manger says, “Saint Nicholas is remembered now because of the generous spirit he embodied, but, rather than simply linking him with seasonal giving, we can reflect on him as an example of one so devoted to serving God that the Spirit coursed through his life unchecked, touching with grace all those he encountered.”

The spirit of God set him on fire; coursed through his life unchecked, touching with grace all those he encountered. Nicholas followed the path that John the Baptist helped make smooth, preparing the way for our Lord. We in our own time are called to live in such a way…

Tomorrow, on December 10, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded in Oslo, Norway. The recipients are not world leaders or internationally recognized authorities in law or economics or science or philanthropy. The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize will be shared by a 63-year-old physician working in Africa and a 25-year-old survivor of sexual violence.

Dr. Denis Mukwege is gynecologist who has seen the damage from Congo’s brutal civil war play out in the bodies of women. In 1999, he opened a hospital that specializes in treating the victims of sexual violence and rape: the Panzai Hospital treats thousands of women each year. More than five million have been killed in the Congo, where militia groups frequently target civilians. At the risk of his life and that of his family, Dr. Mukwege continues to operate his struggling hospital, with little electricity and never enough medical supplies, and campaigns relentlessly to call attention to the plight of his innocent patients. Dr. Mukwege was in the operating room when he was told that he won the Nobel.

When the Islamic State overran her homeland in Northern Iraq in 2014, Nadia Murad was abducted along with thousands of other women and girls from the Yazidi minority. Nadia Murad was sold into sexual slavery. She managed to escape — but rather than remain silent and anonymous as her culture dictates, Ms. Murad has openly and courageously told her story, calling the world to act on behalf of millions of women and girls who have been sexually brutalized by war. She has spoken before the United Nations Security Council, the British Parliament, and the U.S. House of Representatives — but while other Iraqi survivors testified before the same bodies with faces covered so as not to be identified on television, Nadia Murad insisted on showing her face. She is considered an icon in the villages of her homeland. She finds her work of public activism exhausting but “I will go back to my life when women in captivity go back to their lives, when my community has a place, when I see people accountable for their crimes.” As she writes in her autobiography The Last Girl, “I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine.”

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize casts a spotlight on two regions in the world where women have paid a devastating price for years of armed conflict. In their courage and perseverance, Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege are nothing less than prophets in the spirit of the great prophets of Scripture, in the spirit of John the Baptist’s heralding of the Christ, in the miracles and hope of St. Nicholas, in the spirit of the prophets of our own time who have given their lives for the sake of what is right and just.

In Baptism, God has called all of us to be his prophets: to proclaim repentance and reconciliation here and now, to prepare the way of love along our own Jordan Rivers. We are his messengers now, and as one pastor reminds us:

Someone you may not have noticed is waiting,
longing for healing, for justice, for hope.
You only mean to be passing by,
but they see you.
And even if they don't know what they are asking,
they are asking.

“Are you the one?”

Are you the messenger to bring hope,
to be a light in the darkness.
Helping prepare the way.

There may be someone in some kind of prison
looking for some kind of encouragement,
someone longing for healing or appreciation or forgiveness.
Will you be the one, or should they wait for another?

There may be people of color who see a white person
and assume racism, until they see otherwise.
There may be a non-conforming person
who assumes you will judge them
unless you clearly don't.
Will you be the one to shine light in their darkness,
or are they to wait for another?

Sit still in the grace of God.
Let the light that is dawning for the world
dawn in you.
Let that light grow and radiate.
Bear it with you through the day.
You will meet someone who seeks grace,
who longs for a sign of hope.
And for them
you will be the one.
(adapted from Steve Garnaas-Holmes)

May we be like the prophets of old, sitting in the grace of God, letting that light grow, that we may be so devoted to serving God that the Spirit courses through our lives, touching with grace all those we will encounter. May we be the one. Amen.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Advent Worship: Opening Silence


My friends, we have confidence that we can enter the holy of holies by means of Jesus, through a new and living way that he opened up for us through his body. Therefore, let us draw near with a genuine heart with the certainty that our faith gives us, since our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10)

And let us take a moment of silence to quiet our hearts and minds so we can offer up to God what is sitting on our souls this morning.

Silence.

Prayer:

Loving God, you have led us to this place, not to shield us from heartache and the pain of human life, but to heal us and inspire us, to gently redirect us, till we see the world as you do and love it with your love. Amen.

(from Iona Abbey Worship Book)

Sermon: December 2 (Advent I)

Lord Jesus Christ, we await your coming, we wait filled with hope, knowing your light will shine in the present darkness. We wait anticipating your peace, believing that one day it will fill our world. We wait embracing your love, May we reach out to share it with our neighbors. We wait with joy, Bubbling up in us as we anticipate your coming. Lord we wait, come soon and fill us with your life. Amen. (adapted from Christine Sine)

Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Our collect this morning for this first Sunday of Advent reminds us that by God’s love & grace, we are invited on a journey from darkness into light and that we have a role to play in that journey as we cast away the works of darkness in our lives, in what we experience every day and put on the armor of light & love given to us by God through our faith in Jesus.

Author & Episcopal priest, the Rev. Fleming Rutledge says, “Every year, Advent begins in the dark. The uniqueness of Advent is that it really forces us more than any other season, even more than Lent, to look deeply into what is wrong in the world, and why the best-laid plans don’t work out the way we meant them to, and why our greatest hopes are so often confounded, and why things happen the way they do, and why sometimes it is so difficult to see where God is acting.” (Read it here and here.)

This season of Advent asks us to look deeply at ourselves and our world, to see where we can bring light to what is wrong. And maybe the first step for us is to find God already here…

In his book Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life, Rabbi Harold Kushner recalls an incident from his undergraduate days at Columbia. He had signed up for an evening class taught by the renowned Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel. One evening, Prof. Heschel entered the classroom at the Jewish Theological Seminary and said to the students:

“Something miraculous just happened as I was walking up Broadway on the way to class.” That got the class’ attention and they listened to hear what miraculous event might have happened. The rabbi continued: “Something miraculous happened. The sun set, and of all the people on Broadway, nobody noticed it except a handful of observant Jews who got the message that it was time for the evening prayer.”

Rabbi Kushner writes: “The miracle to which Heschel was calling our attention to was not that something strikingly unusual had occurred, but precisely that something utterly ordinary had occurred. A faith system attuned to the natural world celebrates the orderliness that makes our lives livable: sunrise and sunset, the change of seasons, water boiling at a particular temperature. He was urging those of us who had come to take sunsets for granted to reclaim that sense of wonder, lest we live our lives in too narrow an emotional range . . . Religion is born in a sense of wonder.”

In darkness, Advent is here to guide us back to our senses & to wonder. When too often we are full of anxiety in the rush to the holidays, overwhelmed by the sadness in our world, those devastated by wild fires, who have lost jobs, those rebuilding from hurricanes and terrorist attacks, those who have fallen ill, those who are mourning, we can lose our wonder & sight of God. Jesus knows about the times we are living in, because they are not unlike his own experience living under Roman occupation, of a people who lived in darkness.

Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

Even with this, Jesus tells us not to fear. “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

Our time is not to cower and fear and be overcome with the present, but to stand up, for our salvation is close by. Even still, we need to be ready says Jesus.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.”

Like the wise words from Rabbis Heschel & Kushner, we are being called to live in the now, in the ordinary, to find God and God’s blessings right around us, in sunset, in sharing the light with each other. We are called to live by faith.

From poverty in Pakistan to prosperity in America, Kazi Mannan who owns Sakina Halal Grill, located just blocks away from the White House continues his mother’s tradition of helping others. After years of working small jobs, he opened his own restaurant in 2013, Kazi upheld his mother’s teachings by using her recipes in the kitchen and he welcomed those in need.

On the opening day in Oct. 2013, Kazi walked to a nearby park and invited dozens of homeless individuals to his restaurant. In just five years, those first dozen customers turned into thousands.

“My mother, I really greatly appreciate how she taught us in our upbringing to thank God, that was the attitude,” said Kazi. When cooking dinner, Kazi’s mother, Sakina, would send her children to deliver some food to their neighbors in Pakistan, even though their supply was extremely limited. “That was her way of worshipping God,” said Kazi.

For anyone who questions why he would give away so much, Kazi has a message: “No matter what power you have, what job you have. If you just think about other humans… lay on your back and think about how God wanted us to love each other.”

“If you want to worship God, you have to show kindness to his creation,” said Kazi. “He created us to treat each other with kindness and love… worship is not just you isolate yourself in the temple, mosque, church where you just sit and do worship. Worship is a lot of action that you do in your life.” (https://twitter.com/wfaa/status/1065681459044917249)

Cast away the darkness from your life. Put on the armor of light and share the love. Live in wonder. Find blessings in sunsets. Remember your mothers & help the homeless. Such signs of our God urge us to look deeper, to see beyond ourselves and our needs and expectations, to be thankful for our lives and keep alert for God around us. In the signs of the good we give and receive, we stand to behold God’s Spirit of humility and wisdom, transforming our lives in the hope and peace of Advent. May this season of Advent help us recapture a sense of wonder & behold the miracle of God’s love in both the gifts of this good earth and in all of creation — and in one another. May our lives reflect God’s light into a dark world. Amen.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

World AIDS Day


"Every year on December 1, Episcopalians and Lutherans join with people around the world to commemorate World AIDS Day. This day serves as a time to remember those whose lives were forever changed because of HIV and AIDS. It also offers an opportunity to recommit ourselves to building God’s Kingdom by working to bring the AIDS pandemic to an end. World AIDS Day invites us to live with the joy that is to come by continuing to lift up the vision of a new life free of HIV and AIDS." ~ The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church and The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (2014)
Merciful God, we remember before you all who are sick this day, and especially all persons with aids or hiv infection. Give them courage to live with their disease. Help them to face and overcome their fears. Be with them when they are alone or rejected. Comfort them when they are discouraged. And touch them with your healing Spirit that they may find and possess eternal life, now and forever. Amen.

Oh Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, whose Name alone under heaven is given for health and salvation, enlighten those researchers, scientists, and technicians who seek a cure for aids and its related conditions; be present with them in their perplexity and, at last, prosper their efforts with such success that those who were without hope may rejoice and those who were considered dead may be raised up; who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.