Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sermon: Easter 7 (Memorial Day)

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.

With the Ascension of Jesus, Jesus ascends to heaven, he no longer is with the disciples on earth. No longer with them to instruct and guide them, his ministry (his Good News!) has become their ministry, their news to tell, for the Spirit of God rested upon the Disciples to help them for they are now called to be God’s little helpers in creation, to do what God has called them to do.

The late Fred Rogers - Mister Rogers to five generations of young TV viewers - told this story of his own childhood in his 2002 book The Mister Rogers Parenting Book:

'When I was a boy I would see scary things in the news, and my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's comforting words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world."

Bless Mrs. Rogers for such inspired advice! Sure enough, in any bad news, little Fred was always able to find someone - a firefighter, an ambulance driver, a doctor or nurse, someone just passing by - trying to help. In the many tragedies of our own day - humankind has stood in awe of the extraordinary bravery and the inspiring generosity of men and women who put their own lives on the line to bring healing and to begin the long process of rebuilding lives devastated by war, famine and disaster. They are full of the Spirit, the Advocate in our midst; their work is the work God entrusted to his Son and that his Son now entrusts to us.

Who are the helpers on this Memorial Day weekend, those who proudly served, I think of…

Private First Class Desmond T. Doss (wife Dorothy) - sources: wikipedia, people.com

· awarded the Medal of Honor – Oct 12, 1945 (President Truman)
· only conscientious objector to receive the award in WW II
· raised in Lynchburg, Virginia & his mother raised him in the Seventh-day Adventist Church – his faith elements: Sabbath-keeping, nonviolence, and vegetarian.
· After Pearl Harbor, enlisted, but refused to carry a weapon, wanted to help in other ways
· Suffered much for his conscientious objection (physical/psychological abuse, threats)
· Assigned as a medic to 2nd Platoon, B Company, 1st Battalion, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division
· At the Battle of Okinawa (his 3rd major battle) – saved at least 75 soldiers at the Maeda Escapement (Hacksaw Ridge)
· Facing heavy machine gun and artillery fire, Doss repeatedly ran alone into the kill zone, carrying wounded soldiers to the edge of the cliff and singlehandedly lowering them down to safety below. Each time he saved a man’s life, Doss prayed out loud, “Lord, please help me get one more.”
· Doss was wounded himself 4 times in Okinawa before finally being evacuated. His wounds prevented him from being a carpenter stateside, as he had hoped.
· He died in 2006. He has one son - Desmond Jr. says he does recall asking his father a personal question about that night. “What on Earth were you thinking?” he says with a laugh. “And I never really got the answer I was looking for.” Desmond Jr remembers wanting to ask, “Did he not understand that it’s not right to stand up in the middle of a hail fire of bullets?”
· From the medal of honor citation “Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions, Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.”
· He lived his faith – he was God’s helper on Okinawa – saving one soldier’s life at a time.

Lady of the Lamp – Nurse Florence Nightingale sources: - pbs.org, lentmadness.org

Florence Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy, in 1820 to a wealthy British family. Despite this background, Nightingale heard a call from God in 1837 to serve and care for others. She was expected to marry well, have children, and carry on the family legacy. Instead, she answered the call she heard from God and would became the founder of modern nursing practice.

In 1855, she organized and trained a group of nurses to help the soldiers injured during the Crimean War. Appalled by the primitive hospital facilities, the lack of beds, bandages, and bathing facilities, all wrapped into a decidedly filthy, vermin-ridden environment, Nightingale wrote, “the British high command had succeeded in creating the nearest thing to hell on earth.” Initially, her nurses were not allowed to see the suffering soldiers and, instead, ordered to clean the hospital floors. As the casualties mounted and the physicians became overwhelmed, Nightingale’s nurses were finally enlisted to help. (link)

Nightingale is said to have reduced the mortality rate during the war from 42 percent to 2 percent by addressing hand washing, water contamination, and sterilization of surgical materials by using the newly developed mathematical methods of statistics to prove that such interventions made a difference. She used data to back up her methods!

“How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.” – She once said. And her life is that of one who would not live under such fear. Her love and care for others is what mattered.

She became known as the Lady of the Lamp (poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) because of her late evening rounds visiting the wounded soldiers. When the war ended and she returned home to London, she was lauded as a national hero and showered with awards and medals including a jewel from Queen Victoria. (link)

May the Spirit of God inspire us and animate us to take on the humble, compassionate role of God’s helpers in our world, like PFC Doss & Nurse Nightingale, to those whose lives have been torn and broken and without hope, that the love of God might shine down on all through what we say and do, that in the words of Mr Rogers – people may be “comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world.”

May we be counted among God’s helpers. Amen.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

An American Triduum - 3 American Feasts with Prayer

I love the idea 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 & our lives as Americans: 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



O God of love and mercy, receive our thanks this day for the men and women who have given their lives in service to our country. Help us to honor them in our work for peace & justice, that people in our country and across the globe may live abundant lives freed from the threat of fear, violence, & war. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen. (Rev. Susan Russell)

Almighty and everlasting God, in whom all souls live now and evermore, the God not of the dead but of the living: We bless thee for all those who have faithfully lived and died in the service of their country. As we ever hold them in grateful remembrance, do thou in thy love and mercy let light perpetual shine upon them, and bring us all at last into thine eternal kingdom of peace; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

As we pause to lift our hearts and minds in prayer, let us be mindful of those who have laid down their lives in the service of their country. 0 God, we ask your strength, that we might dedicate ourselves to perfecting your kingdom of peace and justice among nations. Let us give thanks for the many blessings of freedom which we possess, purchased at the cost of many lives and sacrifices. Fill us with courage to fulfill our tasks and in no way break faith with the fallen. We commend these fallen to your mercy and ask that you give them eternal rest. This we ask and pray in your name. Amen. (From Refuge and Strength- Prayers for the Military and their Families, Theodore W, Edwards, Jr. Church Publishing, 2008)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Fast, Pray, Advocate (Love)


From the Episcopal Church:

When does the fast begin? We will begin a three-day fast on Sunday, May 21. We will continue by fasting for one day a month—the 21st of each month—through the close of the 115th Congress at the end of 2018. We fast on the 21st of the month because that is the day when 90% of SNAP benefits run out for families.

Whose fast is this? Make it your own. We hope that many faith communities and other organizations will promote the fast. Different organizations are welcome to promote it among their communities in their own ways. Bread for the World will serve as a facilitation hub for creating resources and sharing ideas and happenings. We hope you will keep the focus on protecting programs to help hungry people struggling with poverty and that you will encourage a monthly fast on the 21st.

Who will be the public face of the fast? You are the face of the fast! Several leaders have already committed themselves to the fast, including David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World; Jim Wallis, convener of Sojourners; Lawrence Reddick, presiding bishop of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; and Tony Hall, executive director emeritus of the Alliance to End Hunger. We expect many other leaders at the national and community levels to step forward to be the face of the fast as well.

How do we fast? We are calling for prayer, fasting, and advocacy. Fasting is an effort to clear our bodies, our hearts, and our minds from the distractions around us so that we may draw closer to God. Fasting from food is one option that many will choose. But we invite people to take on the discipline of self-denial, which will help them rely more fully on God. Some may fast from technology, social media, or television.

These days of fasting should also be days of advocacy to oppose cuts to public programs that help hungry people living in poverty. Individuals or congregations who participate in the fast could also write letters to Congress or make financial offerings to support advocacy on days of fasting. Support for a candidate for public office can also be a form of advocacy.

Are there symbols for the fast? We invite people to wear burlap to represent the sackcloth worn by the Jewish people in their time of lamentation. It might be a strip around the wrist. Pastors might wear a stole made of burlap on Sunday morning.

Learn more here:

http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2017/05/18/episcopal-elca-presiding-bishops-issue-joint-statement-calling-for-prayer-fasting-for-hunger-awareness/

http://bread.org/call-to-prayer-fasting-advocacy

http://bread.org/blog/call-such-time

Sermon: Easter 6

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.

It was the custom in an African tribe that, when a boy reached a certain age, his elders would send him out into the world beyond the village to bring back something of value to share with the tribe. In this rite of passage, boys would return with all kinds of treasures and wonders: brilliant kente textiles, luminous gem stones and rare ivory carvings, beautiful tanned leather and pelts.

One year, as the returning young travelers showed off their treasures to the elders, one boy stood off to the side. He had brought back no trinket or object. When it was his turn, the elders asked the boy, "What is the most valuable thing you have found on your journey?"

The boy replied, "The thing of value I have discovered cannot be held in the hand."

"Why not? Is it too big or too delicate to hold?"

"It can be big or small, delicate or strong."

"Well, then, where is it?" asked the elders.

"It is here," the boy said, touching a finger to the side of his head. "In our brains. You see, I found on my journey that the most valuable thing in the world is an idea because you must believe in it and work very hard to bring it to life." [Original source unknown. Adapted from Bits & Pieces.]

In the Gospel, Jesus calls his disciples to bring to life the "idea" of his Good News: what they had experienced on the journey with him, what they had seen and heard. To that end, Jesus promises the coming of another "Advocate," the Spirit of God that inspires us and animates us to make for the perfect union of Jesus' words and our works - to bring to life the idea of God in our midst.

Bringing the Gospel, the idea of God in Jesus to life is what St. Paul does, in our 1st reading today, for he speaks to the inhabitants of Athens from the Areopagus. Using their own place of worship, he connects them with the faith that he has been called to tell them about.

“As I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…`In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, `For we too are his offspring.' Since we are God's offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

Paul connects their worship with Jesus, for the one they worship is not to be found living in shrines made by human hands, they are to find the one who was raised by God from the dead. Not in gold, silver or stone, but God who became one of us in Jesus. That is our heritage today, a faith passed on to us to keep the story, the idea of God come down to us in Jesus, to continue the story by our words and actions today. And the power of the Spirit, as promised, is with us in such ministry.

There is a French film called Of God and Men, which recounts the true story of a small monastery of Trappist monks in a mountain village of Algeria in the 1990s. In the gruesome violence of the Algerian civil war, the community of nine monks was an oasis of peace and compassion in the midst of the horror around them. The monks lived humbly, simply and happily among their Muslim neighbors, keeping their garden and bees, offering hospitality in their guest house and medical care to all who came to their small clinic.

They did not try to convert any of their Muslim neighbors to their faith; the simple generosity of their lives was a bridge between Christianity and Islam. As the violence escalated, the government urged the monks to abandon the abbey. The monks anguished over what to do.

A Muslim villager asked one of the monks if they were going to leave. A brother shrugged, "We're like birds on a branch. We don't know if we'll leave." But a woman of the village pleaded: "No, we are the birds. You are the branch. If you go, we'll lose our footing."

They never left. Sadly, seven of the nine monks were kidnapped by an armed militia group. They died either at the hands of the militia group or accidently by an Algerian army attack against the rebels.

But their lives were filled with the Spirit of God, giving life to their faith, of God in Jesus Christ.

In the peace and blessing engendered in their simple lives, the Trappist monks of Tibhirine became the branch of God's love for both their Muslim and Christian neighbors. They were a sign of the Spirit of God speaking in all that is just and right, in every word of compassion, in the simplest and most unheralded acts of reconciliation and peace.

The Spirit promised by Jesus to his followers "advocates" for what is good, right and just, despite our skepticism, rejection and blindness to the things of God in our world. May the Advocate guide us in whatever opportunities we all have to be branches of hope and healing for those desperately seeking a place of peace, in shelters of sustenance, hospitality and care.

And I invite you to do 2 specific things, like last week’s invitation to be stone catchers and not stone throwers, we have two opportunities to be led by the Spirit this week:

(1) This week I invite you to pray “Thy Kingdom Come” – from Ascension Day (Thursday) to Pentecost (June 4) These 11 days, Thy Kingdom Come, is a campaign initiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, seeks to refocus Christians worldwide around the world on the early disciples’ example, like St. Paul in Athens. Archbishop Welby wants people to know “what it means to follow Christ and what an amazing journey that takes you on.” Let us pray the prayer…

https://www.thykingdomcome.global/

(2) Today I also invite you to consider the Presiding Bishops of EC & ELCA call to join with Christians around the USA to pray, fast, and advocate for programs that help the least among us, those struggling with poverty and hunger. “At the invitation of Bread for the World, we join with ecumenical partners and pledge to lead our congregations and ministries in fasting, prayer and advocacy, recognizing the need to engage our hearts, bodies, and communities together to combat poverty. As the call to prayer articulates,

‘We fast to fortify our advocacy in solidarity with families who are struggling with hunger. We fast to be in solidarity with neighbors who suffer famine, who have been displaced, and who are vulnerable to conflict and climate change. We fast with immigrants who are trying to make a better future for their families and now face the risk of deportation. We fast in solidarity with families on SNAP, who often run out of food & benefits by the 21st of each month.’”

The call is for each of us to fast on the 21st of each month through December 2018 – and to pray & advocate for those who have no voice. Join with me and let us pray on BCP p. 826.

http://bread.org/call-to-prayer-fasting-advocacy

Amen.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

#pledge2pray #thykingdomcome


Join the global wave of prayer: May 25 - June 4

The Prayer for Thy Kingdom Come

Read the prayer which thousands of people across the world will be praying during Thy Kingdom Come, and which will be at the heart of every event.

Almighty God,
your ascended Son has sent us into the world
to preach the good news of your kingdom:
inspire us with your Spirit
and fill our hearts with the fire of your love,
that all who hear your Word
may be drawn to you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

Go here to learn more:

https://www.thykingdomcome.global/

Thy Kingdom Come is a global prayer movement, which invites Christians around the world to pray between Ascension and Pentecost for more people to come to know Jesus Christ. What started out as an invitation from the Archbishops’ of Canterbury and York in 2016 to the Church of England has grown into an international and ecumenical call to prayer. The hope is that:
  • people will commit to pray with God’s world-wide family - as a church, individually or as a family;

  • churches will hold prayer events, such as 24-7 prayer, prayer stations and prayer walks, across the UK and in other parts of the world;

  • people will be empowered through prayer by the Holy Spirit, finding new confidence to be witnesses for Jesus Christ.
“In praying 'Thy Kingdom Come' we all commit to playing our part in the renewal of the nations and the transformation of communities." ~ Archbishop Justin Welby

http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2017/05/18/episcopal-churchs-sense-of-prayer-aids-thy-kingdom-come-campaign/

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sermon: Easter 5 (Handout)

Will you be a stone thrower or stone catcher?
“There is no such thing as being a Christian and not being a stone catcher.”
~ Byron Stevenson

Acts 7: 51-60
[(Deacon) Stephen proclaimed,] “You stubborn people! In your thoughts and hearing, you are like those who have had no part in God’s covenant! You continuously set yourself against the Holy Spirit, just like your ancestors did. 52 Was there a single prophet your ancestors didn’t harass? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the righteous one, and you’ve betrayed and murdered him! 53 You received the Law given by angels, but you haven’t kept it.”

54 Once the council members heard these words, they were enraged and began to grind their teeth at Stephen. 55 But Stephen, enabled by the Holy Spirit, stared into heaven and saw God’s majesty and Jesus standing at God’s right side. 56 He exclaimed, “Look! I can see heaven on display and the Human One standing at God’s right side!” 57 At this, they shrieked and covered their ears. Together, they charged at him, 58 threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul. 59 As they battered him with stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, accept my life!” 60 Falling to his knees, he shouted, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them!” Then he died.

John 8: 1-11
And Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he returned to the temple. All the people gathered around him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The legal experts and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. Placing her in the center of the group, 4 they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. 5 In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone women like this. What do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, because they wanted a reason to bring an accusation against him. Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger.

7 They continued to question him, so he stood up and replied, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” 8 Bending down again, he wrote on the ground. 9 Those who heard him went away, one by one, beginning with the elders. Finally, only Jesus and the woman were left in the middle of the crowd.

10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?”

11 She said, “No one, sir.” Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.”

“Churches must choose. We can be stone throwers or stone catchers. Or, after the manner of Saul of Tarsus, we can hold the coats for those who throw the stones in the mistaken belief that this absolves us of responsibility...”- Byron Stevenson
For more: http://eji.org/videos/bryan-stevenson-ted-talk