Monday, September 26, 2016

Sermon: September 25

Almighty God; you give seed for us to sow, and bread for us to eat; make us thankful for what we have received; make us rich to do those generous things which supply your people’s needs; so all the world may give you thanks and glory. Amen. (New Zealand Prayer Book)

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has been speaking to us about discipleship (about how we follow him) these past few weeks, much of it centered around our wealth & possessions. A quick summary:

Three weeks ago: “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

Two weeks ago: “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Last week: “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

And today, as if to summarize what we have been hearing, Jesus tells us the parable of the rich man who lived sumptuously and poor Lazarus lying forgotten at the gate. Both die. Lazarus the poor man goes to heaven. The rich men to hell. Warnings from Moses & the prophets… like our first reading from Amos who condemns those who lounge around in their security and their riches & fail to grieve and help those who are in ruin.

1 Timothy goes a step further for us, “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it… but those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith…”

Wealth, possessions, power, status, these in and of themselves are not evil. But it is the love of money, the love of possessions, or status or wealth that leads us away from Jesus & from life, it’s what he has been talking about these past few weeks. We need to love people not things, and not let those things get in the way… But if we come away from all of this thinking Jesus is not talking to us because we are not wealthy, then we need to hear his words in a different way. Here is a reflection from the Boston Globe:

She was quiet and painfully shy, overwhelmed by the more outgoing personalities of the family she married into years before. She was devoted to her husband; at family gatherings, she stuck to her husband's side, stroking the family dog, as the nieces and nephews buzzed around them. Her conversations were little more than, "Hi, good to see you. How are you?" She always baked for family gatherings - but except for the tarts and cookies, she barely registered.

She and her husband lived only a few neighborhoods away. When they sent birthday and holiday presents, they received thank-you notes when the recipients could easily have walked over. One Christmas she knitted sweaters that quickly found their way to the bottom of closets. She and her husband gave generously. The family responded minimally. Not that they were mean or inconsiderate. Just busy with their lives.

Her husband died first. She continued to live in the house nearby, but without his connection, she saw the family less and less. One niece had grown fond of her; the rest drifted away as they grew up, went to school, got married and had children of their own. When she died, rather suddenly, the niece took it upon herself to pack up the house. At a Sunday family dinner, she came with mementos: photos, paintings, small pieces of furniture. She also brought a large stuffed envelope. She poured its contents on a table: their thank-you notes. She had saved them. We often realize too late what we mean to one another. [Inspired by the essay "A small token, a memento" by Elissa Ely, The Boston Globe, October 2, 2010.]

Jesus' story about Lazarus and the rich man seems to belong to another time and place, far away from our own - but the fact is that there are many Lazaruses at our own gates whom we too often overlook or dismiss. Lazarus may be sitting at the desk right next to us at work; sitting near us at the senior center; in the stands with us as a sporting event. Lazarus may even be sitting at our own dinner table.

Today's Gospel challenges us to remove the blinders of self-centeredness from our eyes and hearts to see God in our very midst: the poor, the forgotten, the isolated, the marginalized, the quiet one; to realize the dignity of every human being as created in the image of God; to possess the humility that enables us to embrace one another as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God.

“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” 

St. Mother Teresa and we have a responsibility to help relieve such poverty. Sometimes life changes for us & an opportunity arises:

20 years ago, Marley Kaplan was an investment banker whose job disappeared when her firm dissolved. In the course of her job search, she saw an ad for a part-time job as an executive director of a nonprofit organization. The pay: $25,000 a year - a steep cut from her six-figure salary. But, after too many 14-hour-days in a field she no longer found interesting, Marley was looking for a new direction. She applied for the nonprofit job, went through a series of interviews, and was hired.

Marley Kaplan became the president of the Chess-in-the-Schools Foundation. She had no experience in working in nonprofits - she didn't even play chess. But the foundation was impressed by her enthusiasm and organizational experience.

Under Marley's leadership, the New York city foundation teaches chess to 20,000 children in poor urban neighborhoods each year. In addition to chess instruction, the program offers its young players tutoring, SAT preparation and college counseling. The budget has grown from $200,000 to $3 million a year; almost a half a million children have been taught how to play chess, under the theory that the game helps them develop basic analytical skills that lead to academic success.

While taking the job has seriously affected her own bank account and meant major changes in life style, Marley Kaplan is thrilled with her work. "Every time I see the kids, it is overwhelming to me that what we give them will change their lives. And these kids deserve it." [The New York Times, November 12, 2009.]
What we give our money to and how we use our resources of time/talent/treasure are the real indicators of what we truly believe, of the values we consider most important and want to pass on. To possess money and wealth is not wrong - the moral question is how we use that wealth. In Jesus' parable today, the rich man is condemned not because he is wealthy but because he remains unmoved and unaffected by the suffering at his very door, a lack of awareness& lack of action.

Christ calls us to realize that our lasting legacy as his disciples is not in what we accumulate but in what we give to make our world a happier, healthier place for the Lazarus at our gates. Whether we can teach a child how to play chess, whether we know how to comfort and listen and console, whether we can help out a soup kitchen or a tutoring program, or reach out to a quiet family member, we reveal the compassion and hope of God's kingdom in our midst. Amen.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sermon: September 18

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.

“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms -- greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge -- has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed -- you mark my words -- will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much.”

Those words were uttered by Gordon Gekko, the character Michael Douglas portrayed in the move in Wall Street (1987).

But is greed good? The prayer I began this sermon with from our BCP for Labor Day I think balances work in the right way: the work we do is 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…”

Too often we have seen companies so intent on the bottom line, on their profit, that such greed became their creed. They forget the common good, a proper return for their labor and for other workers. Such blind greed is their undoing. We saw it with Enron and Lehman Brothers.

We have seen it lately with drug makers & their life saving drugs. Martin Shkreli, a former hedge fund manager and CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, bought a drug called Daraprim used by cancer and AIDS patients and raised its price by 5,000% overnight. Mylan, the company that sells EpiPens, has driven up its price by more than $500 since 2009. All to make more profit.

For many, greed is seen as a good thing & at first glance, the parable that Jesus tells seems to say that blessed are the embezzlers. Is Jesus implying greed is good?

Jesus' hearers would have heard his parable through their culture and economics of their time. One New Testament scholar (Kenneth Bailey, Poet and Peasant, Through Peasant Eyes) offers this interpretation:

The steward in the story has been fired for embezzling the funds he has been hired to manage. He does not protest his firing - he could see it coming. Although he is fired, he is not punished. He is not required to pay back what he has taken. He is not jailed. He realizes he works for a master who expects obedience but also shows unusual mercy and generosity. Jesus' listeners would not miss either of these facts.

So the steward risks everything on mercy. If he fails, he will certainly go to jail. If he succeeds, he will be a hero in the community. Working fast, before word of his firing gets out, he sets about reducing the debts of the master's clients. They assume the reductions are legitimate, that the master has ordered them, that the steward has talked the master into acting with such magnanimity. And that's exactly what the steward wants them to think.

When the master realizes what has happened, he has two choices. He can go back to the debtors and tell them that it was all a mistake, a scheme cooked up by the fired manager. That would anger the debtors and all but destroy whatever trust and good will existed between the two parties. Or the master could say nothing, accept the gratitude of his debtors and let the rascal manager enjoy his popularity. The master opts to be the "hero" the steward has set him up to be.

The steward knew his master was generous and merciful - remember that he didn't punish him or throw him in jail, as he could have. The steward risks everything on the master's generous nature. And it saves him. [From "Gospel rascals" by Eugene Peterson, The Christian Century, October 7, 2008.]

In this interpretation the steward is praised by Jesus for his managing the wealth of his master as a means for creating good will and extending mercy. His scheme challenged his master to be merciful, to do right by those in his debt. Another way of looking at the parable: By not jailing him or forcing him to repay what he stole, the steward might have seen this as a moment of grace, an opportunity to change his own life and act justly and responsibly. Jesus appeals to the children of light to use our wealth as a means for establishing God's Kingdom of justice and mercy, to use what we have to provide for the common good.

And the last line from today’s reading should remind us, who we serve & what Jesus expects of us. “You cannot serve God and wealth.” There is no wriggle room here. Greed is not good. Mercy is. How from your wealth do you extend mercy and love? How do you serve God? Here’s a story from the Boston Globe…

Rachel is a heroine in the hospital's oncology department. Rachel is a wig-maker. But she is more than that. As one of her clients writes, "she is a one-person support group, combining her styling skills with the background of a therapist, the intimacy of a close friend, and the understanding of a sister."

When she graduated from cosmetology school, Rachel had no interest in a marquee salon downtown. Her aunt's battle with Hodgkin's disease led her to this work. Twenty-four years later, she is a seasoned hairstylist and the guru of hair loss. A woman diagnosed with breast cancer remembers her first meeting with Rachel:

"It was clear that she was the lifesaver I'd cling to during this ordeal, because she knew exactly what to say and when to hug - and because she was deft with a box of tissues, which appeared as if by magic when the first tears fell."

Rachel worked with her to find a wig and a style that would look and feel natural. Then came the question about the woman's baldness-to-come: Should she shave it off or watch it go gradually? With the gentle wisdom and understanding that came from 24 years of these conversations, Rachel offered a number of suggestions and options. Then Rachel got to the point: "So much of your experience with cancer is out of your control. A lot of women like to take control where they can. You can decide when you'll lose your hair, instead of letting the cancer treatment decide for you."

A few weeks later, the woman returned and asked Rachel to shave her beautiful dark locks. Rachel sat her down in her chair and turned her away from the mirror. Rachel worked gently and quickly. When she had finished, the woman writes, "Rachel twirled me around to face the mirror and somehow, in the same motion, she wrapped her arms around me from behind and placed her chin on the back of my chair. We were practically cheek-to-cheek. I stared. The tissues again appeared. Rae was silent for as long as I needed. It was over. Rae had virtually lifted and carried me up the first gruesome step of my recovery." [From "My wig specialist" by Susan Sloane, The Boston Sunday Globe Magazine, June 19, 2016.]

A hairdresser devotes her skills to helping women clear the first emotionally wrenching hurdles in their recoveries from breast cancer. In his parable of the dishonest steward, Jesus challenges us: Should not the same skill and cleverness we use to create dishonest wealth be used to make possible the things of God?

Rachel's skills as a beautician become a vehicle for extending mercy & compassion, understanding and hope to women undergoing a traumatic time in their lives; she invests the wealth she possesses to create possibilities for a better life for others. Our faith should challenge us to be as eager and as ingenious for the sake of God's reign, to be as ready and willing to use our time, talent & treasure to create God's Kingdom of justice and peace as we are to secure our own security and happiness.

May we remember that our lives are connected with each other & with God and by God’s grace & mercy live accordingly. Amen.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Loving, Liberating, and Life-giving

We’ve been talking for a little over a year now about being the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, and somebody recently said to me, “As a bishop, why don’t you paint us a picture, give us a picture of the Jesus Movement so that we can see it?”

When the Gospel is about to be read, the congregation stands up. Something is going on. And then more than that, as the Gospel moment is approaching, a deacon, if there is a deacon in the particular church, a person who has been ordained to be at the intersection of the church and the world, is asked to read or chant the Gospel. And they come down sometimes with the Gospel book held high. And there’s music and the congregation is singing as the Gospel of Jesus, the teachings, the life and the spirit of Jesus enter, in a sense, the room, through the reading of the Gospel. And then, on top of that, everyone in the room turns and reorients from wherever they are, they turn, they reorient themselves, facing the place of the Gospel, and stand for the reading of the Gospel. For hearing the teachings of Jesus. That Gospel moment, the Church has become The Jesus Movement. With life reoriented around the teachings of Jesus and around his very spirit. Teachings and a spirit that embody the love of God in our lives and in this world.

A way of love that seeks the good and the well-being of the other before the self’s own unenlightened interest. A way of love that is not self-centered, but other-directed. A way of love grounded in compassion and goodness and justice and forgiveness. It is that way of love that is the way of Jesus. And that way of love that can set us all free.

Someone once said, “When you look at Jesus, you see one who is loving, one who is liberating, and one who is life-giving.” And that is what the way of Jesus is about. And that is the Movement of Jesus. A community of people committed to living the way of Jesus, loving, liberating, and life-giving, and committed to going into the world to help this world become one that is loving, liberating, and life-giving.

Jesus once said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria . . . “, 42nd Street and 3rd Avenue, you will be my witnesses, witnesses to a way that is loving, liberating, and life-giving. And that my friends, can change this world.

  • Putting Jesus at the Center
  • Loving
  • Liberating
  • Life Giving
  • Relationships With God
  • Evangelism
  • Relationships With Each Other
  • Reconciliation
  • And With All God’s Creation
  • Environmental Stewardship
  • The Jesus Movement

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Prayers for the 15th anniversary of 9/11

(and prayers for the days after...)

O gracious and loving God, on this 15th anniversary of the terror attacks on 9/11, we lift up our nation in prayer. We remember all the victims who lost their lives to hate on that day and the weeks and years to come. We remember the brave and courageous who rushed to the scene to help, to those who came to search through rubble, who cut through steel and debris. We remember those who grieve loved ones lost 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 not seek revenge nor turn our hurt to hate, but 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.

O compassionate God, whose loving care extends to all the world, we remember this day your children of many nations and many faiths whose lives were cut short by the fierce flames of anger and hatred. Console those who continue to suffer and grieve, and give them comfort and hope as they look to the future. Out of what we have endured, give us the grace to examine our relationships with those who perceive us as the enemy, and show our leaders the way to use our power to serve the common good of all for the healing of the nations. This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord, who, in reconciling love, was lifted up from the earth that he might draw all things to himself. Amen.

O Almighty God, who brings good out of evil and turns even the wrath of your children towards your promised peace: Hear our prayers this day as we remember those of many nations and differing faiths
whose lives were cut short by the fierce flames of anger and hatred. Hasten the time when the menace of war shall be removed. Cleanse both us and those perceived to be our enemies of all hatred and distrust. Pour out the spirit of peace on all the rulers of our world that we may be brought through strife to the lasting peace of the kingdom of your Son; Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Election Season Prayers

Prayers for our journey to November 8:

39. For those who Influence Public Opinion

Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

24. For an Election

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States and of our various communities in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

28. In Times of Conflict

O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sermon: 15th Anniversary of 9/11

Lord, take me where You want me to go, let me meet who You want me to meet, tell me what You want me to say, and keep me out of Your way. Amen.

That prayer was a favorite of Fr. Mychal Judge. Father Mike was a chaplain of the Fire Department of New York City beginning in 1992 and he rushed to the scene of the 15 years ago. He was recognized as the first official victim of the 9/11 attacks.

1 of 2,977 who died that day. But we know the toll from that terrible day affected so many others.

Earlier this year, I was reading about those who died in 2015, when I came across a picture I hadn’t seen since 2001. It was a picture of “the dust lady” - Marcy Borders, who became known as the “dust lady” from a defining picture of her covered in ash and grime taken on Sept. 11. Ms. Borders was an employee of Bank of America in 2001, and was working on the 81st floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center on the day of the terrorist attacks.

In the chaos of that day, Marcy retreated to a crowded stairwell where she was chased by a cloud of smoke and dust. “Every time I inhaled, my mouth filled up with it, I was choking,” she said. “I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I was just saying to myself and saying out loud that I didn’t want to die.”

She was eventually led downstairs and into a neighboring building by another person, where her iconic picture was taken by a photographer. A resident of Bayonne, N.J., she struggled after 9/11 with depression and drug addiction, She died of stomach cancer in 2015. She was 42. (NY Times)

“Borders got out of the building, but she never escaped the terror or the dust.”

On that morning 2 men arrived at the ticket counter late for American Airlines Flight 77 out of Dulles International Airport. This was before the days of the TSA & our security today. At the time, the man working at the counter, Vaughn Allex, followed procedure & checked them through.

Those two men were among the five hijackers who crashed that flight into the Pentagon — "I didn't know what I had done," Allex recalls, He didn't find out until the next day what had happened. "I came to work and people wouldn't look at me in the eye." Officials handed him the manifest for the flight. "I just stared at it for a second and then I looked up, 'I did it, didn't I?' "

He had checked in a retiree's family on that flight. He had checked in a student group, their parents, their teachers. "And they were gone. They were just all gone."

Once it became clear what had happened, Allex says people stopped talking to him. He began to think that he was to blame for everything that had happened on Sept. 11. That perhaps he could have changed it, if only he'd done something differently.

Weeks and even months passed like this, when sometimes even a simple mention of Sept. 11 could trigger a brutal wave of guilt. Once, when a customer told him her husband had been killed on that day, what he misheard instead was, "You killed my husband on Sept. 11."

Allex says he's never been able to fully move past the memory. He says it remains with him always in some form or another. But with time, he has managed to start talking about it. "I feel like in some ways I've — I really have come out of a shadow over the last 15 years," he says, "and I'm — I'm back in the light now." (Story Corps, NPR)

9/11 still effects so many people. Terror and dust and shadow. Guilt and sorrow.

But in the midst of such tragedy, I think of the story we heard today from Jesus, Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.'

And did not people rush to the scene looking for the one in the dust and the rubble. Rescue crews, steel & construction workers. Were there not people who helped lead others to safety on that day…

At the National September 11 Memorial Museum, there is a red bandana, belonging to 24-year-old Welles Crowther. Welles was an equities trader who worked on the 104th floor of the South Tower. After the planes hit and smoke overwhelmed the building, Welles put his experience as a volunteer firefighter to work. He put his trademark red bandanna over his nose and mouth and found the stairs leading out of the tower, and then began helping hundreds of people make their way out of the doomed building. Welles himself never made it out.

Months later, in news accounts of the final minutes in the tower, survivors recounted the story of the young man with the red bandanna who led them to safety. His mother Alison knew immediately that it was her happy, generous son Welles - who had carried a red handkerchief with him since he was a boy. The family gave his red handkerchief to the museum. And from this day forward, all who visit the 9/11 Museum will have a chance to know the sacrifice of a young man who - like so many that day - gave his life so others might live.

At the museum's dedication ceremony, Alison took the stage to say that she and her husband "could not be more proud" of their son. "Welles believed that we are all connected as one human family," she said. "This is the true legacy of September 11."

That is the legacy. Fr Mike, Marcy, Vaughn, Wells and so many others. We are all connected as one human family. On this 15th anniversary, may we remember not the terror and hate, nor give into fear and spite but recall the love and community and bond that brought us all together.

For we all have our work to do, to seek out the lost sheep, to bring every one out of the shadows and dust, and into the glorious light. Amen.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Jesus Statue Returns to St. Peter's

On September 7 (through September 15), a life-sized sculpture of a homeless Jesus will return to the front of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, as a public witness of St. Peter’s commitment to remember and love all of our neighbors. The sculpture, by Canadian sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz, was inspired by the parable Jesus told to his followers near the end of the Gospel of Matthew. Schmalz titled his sculpture, "Whatsoever You Do."
“This sculpture is a visual representation of charity. We should see Christ in the poor and the hungry. We should see our acts of kindness to them as kindness to Him. It is inspired by the Gospel of Matthew 25:40.” (from Schmalz’s website) He describes his sculptures “as being visual prayers.”
The sculpture is a poignant reminder of God’s invitation to see Jesus in everyone we encounter.  At the same time, the statue invites us to recall our shared humanity with the homeless we worshipped alongside at Chapel on the Green in New Haven, the hungry we feed through the Monroe Food Pantry, our participation in the Bridgeport Deanery feeding programs, and those strangers in Monroe whose need we do not yet know.  At the very heart of all these ministries, is our willingness to embrace everyone as a child of God.
The statue has been traveling throughout the Episcopal Church in Connecticut; it had a brief stay at Camp Washington and will be displayed in over a dozen churches throughout the year. Please do take a few minutes to come by the church to sit with Jesus, who beckons us with sadness and hope as a powerful reminder of our ministry to love our neighbors as ourselves.
To learn more:
Video by the artist concerning the “Whatsoever You Do” sculpture:
The artist’s webpage:
"‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “Then he will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’”
(from Matthew 25: 37-40 - Common English Bible (CEB))

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sermon: September 4

Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus was not a capitalist. In fact, Jesus didn’t really own anything. He relied on friends, the hospitality of strangers. He said he had no place to lay his head, no home of his own. What he did call us to do was to follow him and seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness.

I suspect he would find our craving for things, our lust for power, privilege, success, & wealth to be idolatrous. That we too often seek first our wants and desires before anything else, often forgetting the needs of others.

“None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

These are not easy words. All Possessions? But we need our possessions, or we think we do. The words of farmer and author who has wrestled with the words of Jesus, Kentuckian Wendell Berry, is useful, he writes,

“My reading of the Gospels, comforting and clarifying and instructive as they frequently are, deeply moving or exhilarating as they frequently are, has caused me to understand them also as a burden, sometimes raising the hardest of personal questions, sometimes bewildering, sometimes contradictory, sometimes apparently outrageous in their demands.”

And today’s words from Jesus are indeed outrageous in their demands, asking of us a seemingly impossible task, asking of each of us, the hardest of personal questions about our lives & how we follow him.

Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

So give up all your possessions. Hate your family and friends. Yikes! Is this what we signed up for? But Jesus didn’t hate, he offered love and compassion. He engaged people, he didn’t hide, so what is Jesus saying to us?

As we think about Jesus’ words, his outrageous demand about discipleship says something profoundly more about discipleship than really hating others. Jesus wants us to see what may be holding us back from our journey with him. He even tells two parables that talk about planning for that journey (building tower, king & army).

It may be that others, or ourselves, or our possessions that get in the way of following him. (In his society, family obligations certainly could.) What Jesus is really asking of us, for those who follow him, is to give up everything, both people and things that comes between us and God.

But, as Abbott Andrew puts it, “if parents, children, spouses, friends, or fellow members of a community help us draw closer to God, we don’t have to give them up. The same would go for material possessions. Even Benedictine monks have to use things in this world in order to live so we can’t give up having anything at all. The trick is to use things in such a way that the work and recreation we do with them draws us closer to God rather than farther away. We could phrase this approach by saying that the problem is not possessions but possessiveness.” (from his blog)

We certainly can think of extreme cases, like hoarders who can’t let anything go, and things pile up in their homes, or abusive relationships, where being possessive of the other is often violent either physically or emotionally or both.

But we don’t have to go to the extremes for our lives to reflect such possessiveness in smaller ways. Things we hold on to. Ways we act that shows us grasping on to things and people in unhealthy ways.

But Jesus would rather we let it go, to hold with open hands rather than clenched fists, for love to be our guiding principal in our lives as his disciples and not possessiveness of people, things or even our ideologies.

For me one of the most beautiful and striking practices of letting go, of detachment, and working against possessiveness, & seeking out the divine, is the Tibetan Buddhist practice of creating the intricate colored sand mandalas that a team of monks work on. A reflection of this practice, from Sister Joan Chittister:

“The creation of a mandala, the representation of the world in divine form, perfectly balanced, precisely designed, is meant to re-consecrate the earth and heal its inhabitants. But it is more than a picture. Sand painting is an intricate process. It requires millions of pieces of sand to make a mandala five by five feet square. It requires a team of monks working anywhere from days to weeks, depending on the size of the mandala, to create this floor plan of the sacred mansion that is life. It requires the interplay of vivid colors and ancient symbols.

The monks bend over the piece for hours on end, dropping one grain of sand after another into intricate symbolic patterns. The purpose is to call the community to meditation and awareness of something larger than their own small world. But the process itself, as laborious, as precise, as artistic, as stunningly powerful as it is, is not really the message.

When the mandala is finally finished, however long it takes for the monks to deal in this divine geometry of the heavens, they pray over it — and then they destroy it. They sweep it up, every last grain of sand and give handfuls of it away to those who participate in the closing ceremony as a final memory of sublime possibility. Then they throw the rest of the sand into the nearest living stream to be swept into the ocean to bless the whole world. And that’s it. It’s gone. In an instant, after all that artistry, all that work, it’s over.

They destroy it. Why? Because the underlying message of the mandala ceremony is that nothing is permanent. Nothing. All things are in flux, it says, beautiful but ephemeral, moving but temporary, a plateau but not a summit. All things are called to balance and enlightenment and the fulfillment of the Divine image in them, yes, but in flux. Always in flux.

There is nothing in the meaning of the mandala that denies or undermines the Christian story or its message, of course. But there is something shockingly profound to hear it coming from a wisdom written on the other side of the world. It gives a new note to an ancient truth. It strengthens the ties of humanity a world away.” (Huffington Post)

We need to, like those Buddhist Monks do, let go of things, sweep them away especially those things that get in our way of seeking the divine, of knowing our creator and the ground of our being. Possessiveness is not our calling as Christians. But to love God, first and second, to love our neighbors as ourselves.

“Jesus did not act in the way others expected him to act. He did not say the things they expected to hear. Shall we, then, his followers, live as the world lives, act as the world acts, strive for the things the world tells us to strive for, at the expense of our poorer brothers and sisters here and throughout the world?” ~ Br. David Vryhof, Society of St. John the Evangelist

May we let go of our possessiveness and seek out our God, in order to enable the seeds of God's love to grow and come to fruition in our time and in our lives. Amen.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Labor Day: The end of our American Triduum

This weekend is the unofficial end of summer and our American Triduum.

It is also good to remember that our lives are connected to one another!

A Prayer for 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.(from the Book of Common Prayer, p. 261)