Sunday, May 29, 2016

Proper 4 Sermon (May 27) - Memorial Day for Kids

In today’s Gospel story, Jesus heals a centurion’s slave. A centurion was a soldier in the days of Jesus. When Jesus learned about the centurion, Jesus was amazed by the faith he had.

The centurion sent friends to Jesus to say, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed…” When Jesus heard this he said, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith..."

Today we remember the faithful soldier of Jesus day, who had faith in Jesus that he could heal his servant (and Jesus did!). We are called to do the same, to believe in Jesus & to trust in his healing in our lives…

And today is the perfect day to do this, because….

Memorial Day – when we honor and remember the men and women who faithfully served this country and died in that service in one of our wars.

The holiday got started as Decoration Day on May 30, 1868, when General John Logan declared the day an occasion to decorate the graves of Civil War soldiers. Twenty years later, the name was changed to Memorial Day.

On May 11, 1950, Congress passed a resolution requesting that the President issue a proclamation calling on Americans to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace and designating a period on that day when the people of the United States might unite in prayer. (President Eisenhower did & this proclamation has taken place ever since)

May 30, 2016, is a day of prayer for permanent peace, and at 11:00 a.m. of that day as a time during which people may unite in prayer and to observe the National Moment of Remembrance beginning at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day.

President Nixon declared Memorial Day a federal holiday in 1971. Memorial Day is now observed on the last Monday of May.

It is customary to mark Memorial Day weekend by visiting graveyards and war monuments. We have our parade today at 2 PM and do you know where the parade ends? At our war monuments at the Green. There is a ceremony held there at the conclusion of the parade to commemorate those who died in those wars and who came from our town of Monroe.

Let us pray for peace…

O God, you desire to enfold both heaven and earth in a single peace; Let the design of your great love lighten upon the waste of our angers and sorrows; and give peace to your church, peace among nations, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Follow up with the adults…
I was recently looking at pictures from Iwo Jima – a battle of the pacific near the end of WW II.

One picture from the many that Joe Rosenthal of the AP took (he is best known for the picture of U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raising the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima) caught my eye.

The photo shows U.S. Marines receiving communion from a Marine chaplain on Iwo Jima, the largest of the Japanese Volcano Islands, on March 3, 1945.

In the midst of war, of death, of fighting to take a strategic island, the picture shows faithful soldiers taking communion from a chaplain.

The picture seems appropriate for today…

· When we remember a faithful soldier from the days of Jesus
· When we remember the faithful soldiers who died for this country
· When we take communion and remember Jesus gifts to us

Today let us thank God for what God has given into our lives as we take communion and like that centurion said long ago, may we say faithfully today:

O Lord, I am not worthy to receive you under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed. Amen.

Proper 4 Sermon (May 29) - 8 AM

O Lord, I am not worthy to receive you under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed. Amen.

An eight-year-old returned home from playing baseball. From the look on his face, it was clear that it had not been a good afternoon. His dad asked what was wrong.

"I was traded today," he said sadly. "Well, that's not so bad," his dad said, as upbeat as he could manage. "The pro players get traded all the time."

"I know," his dejected son said. "But I got traded for a glove!"

We live in a world today where people are seen through the prism of metrics and statistics and market shares; whose only value is in their production or buying power or abilities. We Christians can be caught up in this too and be quick to label people in broad terms based on their nationality, race, culture, gender, ability or religion.

But today's readings challenge us to look beyond such labels and values and traits, to see individual human beings, men and women and children made in the image of God and to remember that our faith doesn’t lie with numbers or categories but with our God, who created the whole world & everything & everyone in it.

"The LORD indeed is God; the LORD indeed is God."

These words were spoken by the crowd in our first reading after they witnessed an extraordinary sight and their hearts turned back to God. Elijah challenged the people to follow the Lord their God, the God of their Ancestors and not Ba’al. But they stood silent, only after they witnessed the fire consuming sacrifice, did they return to their belief in God.

Like those Israelites, we must decide who we give our faith too. And there a lot of Ba’als out there, seeking our allegiance, our faith. These imposters of God will readily take our sacrifice and our commitment, they seemingly give us what we want, but in the end, we know it’s not right and we remained unfulfilled by what we receive from them, and so often these Ba’als see us and others as mere human resources, who can be quickly discarded.

Elijah the Prophet was sent to help the Israelites understand their faith and their journey with God, to make the right decision & live a faithful life. St. Paul was sent to help the first Christians understand their faith and their journey and to continue what they had been taught.

“Am I now seeking human approval, or God's approval?” Paul asked. “Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

St. Paul reminds the Galatians and us, that our faith isn’t about pleasing people & seeking their approval, but following that call, the Spirit of God in our lives, to do good, to bring love and healing to the world. Sometimes we are shown that faith by people we would never even guess would have such faith, people we judge too easily.

In Capernaum, Jesus is asked by a Centurion to heal a slave he valued highly (or was very important to him (that he loved)), and Jesus does just that… On the surface, the healing doesn’t seem so extraordinary, that’s what Jesus does, he heals people… BUT, We should notice from this Gospel story: a Centurion (Gentile) asks a Jew, a Centurion (an occupying soldier) asks one of the occupied for help, he understands his authority and he understands Jesus authority, and in the end, he humbly begs Jesus not to come, because he is not worthy and Jesus word alone will heal the servant. Jesus was amazed by all this, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."

Some who knew the centurion testified to his faith and generosity by how he helped build a synagogue. The centurion is the other in Israel in the time of Jesus, same as the lepers, outside the faith. And Jesus praises his faith, heals his servant, and reminds us that faith comes even from the other in our midst, a hated enemy, a non-believer…

So maybe, from what Jesus did, we should worry less about how that faith is expressed by others & focus instead on meeting one another by reaching forth our hands in love.

In a world, where the Ba’als seek our life & faith & our market share, where people are judged as human resources or not, our challenge is to choose the good, and not worship or fear those gods, but instead live out of that God given faith that is inside you and me, that is set ablaze by God’s spirit, that we may remake our world with the hope & love we have.

May God open our hearts and spirits to see every human being as mirroring the grace of God and afford them the dignity that is all of ours by being created in our triune God’s likeness and image. Our faith compels us to live it in our hands, in our bodies, to honor God’s holy name. So people will know Jesus by what we do: a faith that is made by the Spirit of God and the choices that we each make, that shows forth his love in our lives. Amen.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

An American Triduum - 3 American Feasts with Prayer

I am playing with the notion of three days of prayer centered around 3 American Feast Days (this is often called a triduum). I think about the three Feast Days of America that are centered on summer: Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day. These are appropriate prayers for each of these occasions (from the BCP):

Memorial Day

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead; We give you thanks for all your servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our country. Grant to them your mercy and the light of your presence, that the good work which you have begun in them may be perfected; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Independence Day

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the  earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Labor Day

Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Memorial Day Prayers

From the Book of Common Prayer
For the Nation
Almighty God, giver of all good things: We thank you for the natural majesty and beauty of this land. They restore us, though we often destroy them.
Heal us.

We thank you for the great resources of this nation. They make us rich, though we often exploit them.
Forgive us.

We thank you for the men and women who have made this country strong. They are models for us, though we often fall short of them.
Inspire us.

We thank you for the torch of liberty which has been lit in this land. It has drawn people from every nation, though we have often hidden from its light.
Enlighten us.

We thank you for the faith we have inherited in all its rich variety. It sustains our life, though we have been faithless again and again.
Renew us.

Help us, O Lord, to finish the good work here begun. Strengthen our efforts to blot out ignorance and prejudice, and to abolish poverty and crime. And hasten the day when all our people, with many voices in one united chorus, will glorify your holy Name. Amen.

For Heroic Service
O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For those in the Armed Forces of our Country
Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Trinity Sermon (May 22)

Thanks be to the Father
I arise today
He gives me light
He guides my way
Thanks be to the Savior
I arise today
He gives me love
He hears me pray
Thanks be to the Spirit
I arise today
He gives me life
With me to stay. Amen.

This ‘Rising Prayer’ by David Adam, a priest and author, uses the Celtic tradition & its emphasis on each person of the Holy Trinity: Father/light, Savior/love, Spirit/life.

Christians since our founding have tried to symbolize our Trinitarian faith in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We think about St. Patrick and his use of a shamrock to describe this faith to the people of Ireland. A Triquetra or Trinity knot is used as a religious symbol adapted from ancient Celtic images by Christians for the Trinity. Last year, I talked about the shield of the trinity, which is a traditional Christian symbol which articulates the doctrine of the Trinity from the first part of the Athanasian Creed.

In the year 1410, a Russian monk and iconographer named Andrei Rublev painted his most famous icon: the Holy Trinity.

“The icon (“image” in Greek) is central to Orthodox spirituality. It finds its place in liturgy and in personal devotion. An icon is two dimensional and despite being an image of someone it is not a physical portrait. Western art, especially since the Renaissance, has sought to represent figures or events so that the viewer might better imagine them. A western crucifix seeks to enable us to imagine what Golgotha was like. Icons seek to provide immediate access to the spiritual and the divine unmediated by the human, historical imagination. For iconographers, writing an icon is a spiritual exercise.” (Holy Women & Men)

Rublev would write his icon to honor the Russian saint Sergius, and to follow his example and thought that the Russian people “would conquer 'the devouring hatred of the world by the contemplation of the Holy Trinity.’" (Henri Nouwen) The Trinity was seen and felt to be a unifying force in a world so filled with hate and fear.

But the story, as told by the late priest and author Henri Nouwen, isn’t just about the writing of a famous icon, but about an understanding and an invitation to join the Trinity, the House of Love.

Nouwen writes, “Long ago in Russia, there were many attacks made on a small town, and in a monastery the monks got very nervous and could no longer concentrate on their prayers because of all the violent conflicts throughout the town. The abbot called his icon painter, Rublev, to paint an icon to help the monks remain prayerful in the midst of restlessness, trouble, and anxiety. Rublev painted an icon based on the visit of the three angels to Abraham in Genesis 18, seated around a table of hospitality.

In the icon, the figure in the center points with two fingers to the chalice and inclines toward the figure on the left, who offers a blessing. A third figure on the right points to a rectangular opening on the front of the table through which the viewer is invited to enter and participate in the spiritual actions. Together, the three figures form a mysterious circle of movement in perfect proportion. So when the monks prayed with the icon and focused on that circle of hospitality, love, and intimacy, they realized that they did not have to be afraid. When they allowed themselves to be part of the community formed by the three figures and let themselves be drawn into that circle of safety and love, they were able to pray and not lose heart.”

Nouwen goes on to say, “Andrei Rublev painted this icon not only to share the fruits of his own meditation on the mystery of the Holy Trinity but also to offer his fellow monks a way to keep their hearts centered in God while living in the midst of political unrest. The more we look at this holy image with the eyes of faith, the more we come to realize that it is painted not as a lovely decoration for a convent church, nor as a helpful explanation of a difficult doctrine, but as a holy place to enter and stay within. As we place ourselves in front of the icon in prayer, we come to experience a gentle invitation to participate in the intimate conversation that is taking place among the three divine angels and to join them around the table.”
God is always inviting us to join in the holy conversation. To see this invitation to God’s House of Love. It is only when we accept such an invitation, when we dare to put ourselves there in the midst of prayer, worship, meditation that we can feel our very souls being transformed.

But to do this, we must turn away from the house of fear.

Again in Nouwen’s words: “Hardly a day passes in our lives without our experience of inner or outer fears, anxieties, apprehensions and preoccupations. These dark powers have pervaded every part of our world to such a degree that we can never fully escape them. A network of anxious questions, which begins to guide many, if not most, of our daily decisions.

Still it is possible not to belong to these powers, not to build our dwelling place among them, but to choose the house of love as our home. This choice is made not just once and for all but by living a spiritual life, praying at all times and thus breathing God’s breath. Through the spiritual life we gradually move from the house of fear to the house of love.”
As disciples of Jesus, the practices of prayer, worship, study & service help ground us in the spiritual life that leads us to that house of love.

To live into the house of love which Nouwen describes as “the place where we can think, speak, and act in the way of God – not in the way of a fear-filled world. From this house the voice of love keeps calling out: ‘Do not be afraid...come and follow me...see where I live...go out and preach the good news....the kingdom of God is close at hand...’

Violence, Fear, and hatred are as much a part of our lives today as it was in the days of Andrei Rublev. His icon stands as a testament to our faith in God, in the Holy Trinity, in calling us to the place of love, where fear and hatred no longer can rule over us. Again in Nouwen’s words:

“The house of the Lord is the house of love for all people. There is a circle of safety, intimacy, and hospitality in the house of love. In that house we can slowly let go of our fear and learn to trust. In that house we can find freedom, community, and joy. Peacemaking is possible when we live in the house of love. Justice can be practiced where we live in the house of love. Ministry is effective when we live in the house of love. There we can be, and move, and trust, and love in freedom and without fear.”
May this holy place and our homes and our very own hearts rest in the Holy Trinity, the house of love.

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sources:
Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons by Henri J. M. Nouwen (Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria Press, 1987)

From Fear To Love by Henri Nouwen
(online: https://thevalueofsparrows.com/2013/11/23/saturday-reading-from-fear-to-love-by-henri-nouwen/ )

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pentecost Sermon (May 15)

O Holy Spirit, giver of light and life; Impart to us thoughts higher than our own thoughts and prayers better than our own prayers and powers better than our own powers, that we may spend and be spent in the ways of goodness and love, after the perfect image of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. (Eric Milner-White 1884– 1963)

Traveling to the ECW Luncheon, I saw a Billboard on I-84 outside of Waterbury…

It asked, Are you going to heaven (which had a nice picture of clouds and a blue sky) or hell (picture of dark flames)? It had a scripture verse, of course, from the Gospel of John, and also a phone number… I always find such billboards unhelpful because fear is the worst motivator for faith. Jesus came so that we might have abundant life, not so we worry about some heavenly checklist or test to see if we can get in to heaven and avoid hell.

At that 1st Pentecost we heard in the Acts of the Apostles this morning, when the Spirit came down upon the disciples, it gave them the ability to speak so all could hear the Good News in their own language… It was all about sharing the Good News, not threatening people with hell…

Some thought the disciples drunk, are they speaking gibberish?

No, God gave the Spirit to the disciples to proclaim the Good News to the ends of the earth and on that day in a symphony of voices, they spoke in many languages so that all those gathered in Jerusalem could hear it in their own mother language, the Good News of Jesus and that salvation has come to all the peoples for all who believe because the Spirit of God has been poured out…

No threats. No damnation. But truth and love and hope…

This is Pentecost, the day we celebrate that the Holy Spirit came and rested upon the disciples so they could go and proclaim the Good News and live out their ministry that they were called to do and do even greater things as Jesus said, for the Spirit will be with them and they will know it.

Pentecost is the opposite of what happened at the Tower of Babel, a story from Genesis. The Tower of Babel is a symbol of the confusion of languages, of people being unable to communicate with one another. In Pentecost, the Good News is communicated, to all those present so that everyone could understand in their own language.

God who created us all, wanted everyone to hear the Good News in Jesus. And the Spirit came down, and the disciples proclaimed and many who heard it, were baptized.

It is that Spirit that Paul in his letter to the Romans talks about, a spirit of adoption.

“All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.”

Reflecting on this passage, Abbot Andrew of St Gregory’s Abbey, understands it this way,

“What the image of adoption tells us about God is that God chooses us. God chooses that we should be and then God chooses us to inherit the kingdom prepared for us. God adopts us and makes us heirs of God’s full inheritance. The emphasis is on intentionality. God’s love for us is not some vague instinct that happens automatically the way the human heart beats automatically. Rather, God invites each and every one of us individually to become God’s chosen child. God’s intentional love for us is most clearly stated in that oft-quoted verse in John’s Gospel: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16)

God chooses us. Invites us. Gives the Spirit to us. And God does it out of love. It is grace and not something we have earned. And in that Spirit is the truth that is embodied in the life and witness of Jesus. And the truth did not end with Jesus, it is the Holy Spirit poured out on all those who now bear the Spirit of Truth for the common good.

Jesus said, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth."

Max is an eighth-grader at St. Louis Priory School in St. Louis, Missouri. Shortly after the tensions in nearby Ferguson last year, Max asked his mom if he and his brother could drive down to Ferguson to help with the cleanup. She decided not to send them into an active riot zone.

Still, Max and his brother felt they needed to do something, so they went online and looked up a list of the businesses that had been damaged. They found the name of one of the owners and called her. She hung up on them. So they drove to her house. For three and a half hours, they sat in her living room and listened to her anger. The bottom line: Unless they had $20,000, there wasn't much they could do. So Max went home and started an online petition, and eight days later, they had raised $20,608. And Maria Flores rebuilt her business.

When Max and his brother saw injustice, they didn't lash out in anger. They didn't choose a side. They listened - they listened carefully. They reached out with their hearts, they created a partnership - and the answer spoke [for] itself. [From "Listening in Ferguson: It's not all black and white" by J. Augustine Wetta, O.S.B., America, March 9, 2015.]

The real miracle of Pentecost is that people were able to hear without confusion: the Spirit of God overcame the barriers of language and perception, opening not only people's minds but their hearts to hear the Gospel of the Risen Christ. That same Spirit of God enables us to listen to the voice of God in the context of God's love and compassion, enabling us to hear what God actually speaks and not what we want or hope or wish to hear.

As on Pentecost, God's Spirit continues to speak in the love of the Beatitudes, in the forgiveness of the prodigal's father, in the generosity of the Good Samaritan, in the hope of the resurrection, and the joy of the apostles. The gift of Pentecost faith enables us, as it enabled Max and his brother, to hear the voice of God speaking in the midst of the anger and fear, the pain and despair and busyness of one another's lives, and invites us to embrace the life and love of God in the Spirit & share it with others. Amen.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Links from the Sermon

Thinking about the issue of freedom, read this:

http://www.episcopalcafe.com/yearning-to-breath-free/

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”


Thinking about Harriet Tubman, read more:

http://www.biography.com/people/harriet-tubman-9511430
 

Thinking about our Biblical Heroines, read these:

http://www.lindsayhardinfreeman.com/the-last-word-from-a-scrappy-young-girl/

Healing is the name of the game in the New Testament. And nowhere is that theme better captured than by the spirit of the last female to speak in the Bible, otherwise known as the fortune-telling girl (Acts 16:16-19).

Who exactly was she? Most people haven’t heard of her. Her name was never mentioned in scripture, she was a slave, and Luke, the physician, says she was demon-possessed. Talk about the lowest of the low, especially in tough biblical times.


http://www.lindsayhardinfreeman.com/books-2/bible-women-all-their-words-and-why-they-matter/

Finally…a book that documents and explores the words and life story of every woman in the Bible who spoke. Meticulously researched, lovingly narrated, and award-winning, Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter invites readers to walk alongside their spiritual grandmothers and great-grandmothers, exploring all their words and contributions to biblical and world history.