Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Day Sermon Story

I used this in place of the Elijah story for my Christmas Day Sermon...

It was time for the annual Nativity pageant put on by the children of the church. The manger was located in front of the altar steps. Mary was there in a blue mantel and Joseph in a cotton beard. The wise men were there with a handful of shepherds, and of course, in the midst of them all was the Christ Child, lying on the straw. The nativity story was read by the pastor with carols sung at the appropriate places, and all went like clockwork until it came time for the arrival of the angels - a "heavenly host" of the children of the congregation dressed in white and scattered throughout the pews with their parents.

At the right moment the angels were supposed to come forward and gather around the manger to sing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men," and that is just what they did - except there were so many angels that there was a fair amount of crowding and jockeying for position. One angel, about nine years old who was smaller than most of the other angels, ended up so far out on the fringes of things that not even by craning her neck and standing on tiptoe could she see what was going on. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men," they all sang on cue, and then in the momentary pause that followed, the small girl electrified the entire church by crying out in a voice shrill with irritation and frustration and enormous sadness at having her view blocked, "Let Jesus show!"

The wise pastor decided to end the pageant right there. "Let Jesus show!" the child-angel had cried out, and while the congregation sat in stunned silence, the good father offered a quick final prayer and blessing, and everybody filed out of church with those unforgettable words ringing in their ears. [From Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons by Frederick Buechner.]

May the little angel's cry be our prayer in the year ahead: "Let Jesus show!" in our homes and work places and schools; "Let Jesus show!" in our compassion, forgiveness, joy & hope in our lives.

May we not "lose" Jesus in the many demands on our time; may we not "hide" Jesus when the difficult decisions have to be made; may we not "pack" Jesus away until next Christmas, but may the "Word made flesh" make his dwelling place among us here, now and always, illuminating every one of our days with his wisdom and grace.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Day Sermon

Jesus, the Light of the World, as we celebrate your birth . . . . may we begin to see the world in the light of the understanding you give us. As you chose the lowly, the outcasts, and the poor to receive the greatest news the world had ever known, so may we worship you in meekness of heart. May we also remember our brothers and sisters less fortunate than ourselves in this season of giving. Amen.

Let us think about the Christmas spirit, about taking the birth of the messiah to our hearts…

It was Christmas Eve at New York’s famed Riverside Church. The Christmas pageant was on and had come to the point where the innkeeper was to say that there was no room at the inn for Joseph and Mary pregnant with Jesus.

The part seemed perfect for Tim, an earnest and faithful member of the congregation who had Down Syndrome. Only one line to memorize, and he had practiced it again and again with his parents and with the pageant director. He seemed to have mastered it.

So there was Tim standing at the altar, a bathrobe over his clothes, as Mary and Joseph made their way down the center aisle. They approached him, said their lines, and waited for his reply.

“There’s no room at the inn,” Tim boomed out, just as rehearsed. But then, as Mary and Joseph turned to travel further, Tim suddenly yelled, “Wait!” Mary and Joseph turned back, startled. “You can stay at my house,” Tim called.

Thinking quickly, the minister went to the pulpit and said, “Amen!”

The congregation repeated the Amen – and both the pageant and the planned sermon came to an unexpected but perfect completion with the singing of Joy to the World. [From Short Sermons on the Run by Walter J. Burghardt.]

Tim’s “twist” to the Christmas pageant underscored the true miracle of Christmas: in the Child of Bethlehem, God makes his dwelling here and now, in our homes and in our hearts.

In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, Joseph is challenged by God to accept the child under the most difficult of circumstances and, responding out of his sense of compassion and faith, says yes.

God challenges our hearts “to prepare him room,” to make a place for the Child of Bethlehem to transform our hearts and homes in his peace and hope.

God with us…

Now this is not a Christmas story per say but I think it is full of the Christmas spirit…

A North Carolina judge sentenced a Green Beret veteran to spend a night in jail. Judge Lou Olivera, a Gulf War veteran, is a district court judge over the Veterans Treatment Court in Cumberland County, North Carolina. He had to sentence Green Beret Joe Serna to one night in jail for a probation violation.

Serna, a recipient of three Purple Hearts, is retired from the military and is having a hard time adjusting back to life after experiencing the battle of war in Afghanistan. Through his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, he turned to alcohol to help him deal with the issues he was having mentally.

But as Serna entered the jail cell, the painful memories of losing companions began to flood his mind and he felt this would be the longest night of his life. Anxiety gripped him and flashbacks began to play in his mind as the door closed behind him.

His scariest moment was when he was riding with three other soldiers along a creek when the road gave way, and the vehicle plunged into the water. The truck started filling with water and “all hope was lost.”

Serna was trapped and unable to move, the water rose all the way up to his chin where it finally stopped. He was the only one saved that day. “I was the sole survivor,” he recalled with tears in his eyes.

Without telling Serna what he planned to do, Judge Olivera drove him to the jail and asked the jail administrator if he could spend the night with Serna. The administrator had never heard of such a thing. But when he remembered his own story and all he had gone through, he couldn’t just let him spend the night alone.

As Serna’s mind began to go to the dark place of being trapped in the vehicle and losing his buddies, the jail cell door opened and he saw the judge’s smiling face. “When he came in, I knew everything was going to be okay,” recalled Serna.

They spent the night talking about their families, lives, and service. The judge knew Serna needed to face the consequence for his actions, but he also knew he didn’t want him to go it alone. [Liftable]

Go it alone. No. God is with us.

Indeed God is with us when we embody his love… for as Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian, educator, and civil rights leader, put in “Now the Work of Christmas Begins”

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

Merry Christmas! Amen.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve Sermons

Everyone has a place at Christmas…

5 pm children's sermon is based on the story of the Crippled Lamb, by Max Lucado.

10 PM is below...

Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved son
With Mary holy we should pray,
To God with love this Christmas Day
In Bethlehem upon that morn,
There was a blessed Messiah born. Amen. (Wexford Carol)

“Crowds of Americans rioting in the streets. Two opposing groups shout loudly, vying to have their messages heard and heeded. The groups meet. Confrontation ensues. Fistfights break out. Church windows are smashed. What are these rioters fighting about? Christmas. One group favors celebrating Christmas, the other opposes all Christmas observances. This isn't an imaginary event, it is history. It happened in Boston on Christmas day in 1706.” (from Paul Flesher)

The anti-Christmas group consisted largely of Congregationalists, Baptists, and Presbyterians, while the pro-Christmas group comprised mostly of Episcopalians. This didn’t happen just once in Boston. This would happen elsewhere as that new tradition began in the new USA.

“On Christmas Eve 1806, two decades after St. Peter’s RC church was built in Lower Manhattan of NYC, the building was surrounded by Protestants incensed at a celebration going on inside — a religious observance then viewed by some in the United States as an exercise in “popish superstition,” more commonly referred to as Christmas. Protesters tried to disrupt the service. In the melee that ensued, dozens were injured, and a policeman was killed.” (from NY Times)

The War on Christmas started long ago, and is still being fought by some today.

And yet, it seems to me, we spend too much worrying about it, rather than taking the message of this most Holy Night to heart. Whether others are celebrating as we wish they would, its really upon us, to heed the message and live it from our hearts into our daily lives. God challenges our hearts “to prepare him room,” to make a place for the Child of Bethlehem to transform our hearts and homes.

A rabbi prayed to the great prophet Elijah.
"Where," the rabbi asked, "shall I find the Messiah?"
"At the gate of the city," the prophet replied.
"But how shall I recognize him?"
"He sits among the lepers."
"Among the lepers!" the rabbi cried. "What is he doing there?"
"He changes their bandages," Elijah replied. "He changes their bandages, one by one."
[Rabbi Laurence Kushner.]

That is the true mystery of Christmas: that God became one of us, lived among us and came to birth through our moments of joy, grief, despair, anger and fear. Here, in the Christ Child, the sacred is not some abstract concept of theological theory: the love of God takes on a human face, the Word of God becomes human, takes on our flesh in the child Jesus, enabling us to transform our hearts in that love and re-create our world in that Word of love, compassion & hope.

The challenge of Christmas is to continue to make that love incarnate in our own lives and in the lives of those we love, to know the messiah is at work healing in our world, and wants us to join him. And he did not wait until we were ready…

First Coming by Madeleine L’Engle

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.

He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
he came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
(from The Ordering of Love: The New and Collected Poems of Madeleine L’Engle.)


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Sermon - December 18 (Advent 4)

O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

When it comes to Christmas, we think of Mary & Jesus, the animals in the stable, the angels singing overhead, the shepherds who will come leaving their sheep, the magi bringing gifts and then there is Joseph. Joseph is always there but he does seem at times to be a side character, not as important as the others. I think of a Nativity Icon, that captures all the different stories of Christmas and there Joseph sits in the corner of the icon, with his head resting in his hands wondering what has happened…

And yet as father, his love and his presence directly influenced Jesus as he grew up.

He taught his young son how to follow the grain of a piece of olive wood, how to plane it, how to square it and join it firmly to another piece of wood to build a table or chair or, later, a house; he also taught him patience, kindness and justice, and the value of earning a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work in order to put bread on the table.

Joseph, to paraphrase Gerard Manley Hopkins, “lives in 10,000 places”: the man who rises at 2 A.M. to plow deserted snow-clogged roads; the nurse who works the night shift and then a day shift; the cop who walks the lonely beat; the mother with the autistic daughter or paralyzed son; the office worker biting his lip at some slight or racial insensitivity subtly directed at him because he, too, has to put bread on his family’s table.

Joseph lives in the sales rep with photos of his wife and kids hanging on the wall inside his cubicle, telling a customer that, as much as he’d like to sell him another car, the customer can still get another couple of years out of the one he’s got. Joseph lives in the teacher who gives hours of her time to help the struggling student. Joseph lives in the clerk, the cop, the secretary, the contractor who approaches the people they encounter with kindness and respect because they, too, share the God-like work of putting bread on their family’s table.

The invisible, almost anonymous Joseph: chosen by God to provide for his Son, to watch over him, to teach him, to shape him, to protect and love him and the boy’s mother. [Adapted from Awake My Soul: Contemporary Catholics on Traditional Devotions by Paul Mariani.]

In today’s Gospel — Matthew’s version of Jesus’ birth — Christmas depends on Joseph, whose life has been turned upside by the angel’s news, who had to say yes to the news. Joseph accepts the angel’s words and made the boy his own, not as a matter of biology, but as a matter of love and compassion, of trust and faith in God. God’s birth in our midst depends on human partners — Mary & Joseph, you & me — willing to put aside our fears and dare to hope that God is with us, guiding us forward.

The Gospel of Matthew reminds us of the importance of Joseph, for Jesus is named by the angel to Joseph in a dream. Dreams play important roles in the lives of so many characters in the bible.

For Joseph, when he heard the angel speak to him in that dream, he had a decision to make. Joseph was engaged to be married to Mary. He found out she was pregnant. He knew it wasn’t his. What was he to do?

He could throw her out, and make a huge stink and let everyone know about the child conceived out of wedlock. He could get the people to ostracize her, maybe even stone her to death. But Joseph was a righteous man, and he decided to dismiss her quietly, a generous and merciful act. But in that dream an angel of the Lord appears to him and everything changes

It is a startling dream and it must have shook his soul, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit, and you will name him Jesus and he will save his people from their sins.”

Joseph had set his mind on leaving her. He could have said no to the angel. But Joseph does not, he listens, he takes Mary as his wife. And Jesus is born. And all will change because of this child. The words of Isaiah ring in our ears: “The young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” and “he will refuse the evil and choose the good.”

Joseph sets an example for us: The willingness to change one’s mind when confronted by God’s word and God’s spirit. The courage in the midst of fear to follow God’s way even if one does not know where it may lead. In the words of W. H. Auden:

To choose what is difficult all one’s days
As if it were easy, that is faith.
Joseph, praise.

In the Christmas story of Matthew - we see the Spirit of God at work, transforming heartache and misery into birth and blessing.

That same Spirit calls us to be about the work of bringing God to birth in our own houses and stables, to our own Bethlehems and Nazareths, even if the way is difficult. Christmas calls from us "something wonderful": the grace of God that enables us to experience the same transformation that Joseph underwent in the Gospel of Matthew’s story. He is not part of the story we should forget. And we need to honor & praise his role.

In this season and in every season, may we imitate the compassion and faith of Joseph: to seek understanding and acceptance within our families even at the cost of our own expectations and hopes, to be sources of affirmation and support for our friends, spouses and children. To say yes when God calls to us through our dreams. Amen.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

December 14 #SandyHook

On December 14, we stop & remember the terrible tragedy that took place in Sandy Hook...

It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. - old proverb

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

Read these thoughtful reflections:

For Roxane Gay: Notes from a Forgiving Heart

Standing at the Edge of the Rain (A Sandy Hook reflection)

The President’s Devotional: What Obama ‘Did In Secret’ In Newtown (EXCERPT)

The Slaughter of the Innocents of Sandy Hook

Why I Can't Tell My Son About Sandy Hook

After Newtown shooting, mourning parents enter into the lonely quiet

And pray:

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.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry Christmas Message 2016

From Isaiah Chapter 9:

For unto us a child is born,
unto us a Son is given;
and the government shall be upon His shoulder;
and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

These words of Isaiah are often seen as words that foretell and foreshadow the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary. The truth is, these words befit Him because this child changed the world. This child changes lives. This child changes us.

I remember when our oldest daughter was a baby. My wife and I were young. We were footloose and fancy-free. It was just the two of us newlyweds, so if we wanted to go out to eat dinner, we went out to eat dinner. If we decided to go to a movie at the last minute, we just went. We actually felt like we had money back then. And we did have a little bit of discretionary income. We could pretty much do what we wanted to do, within reason, and we didn't have to think too much about the consequences or impact of a spontaneous decision and what we had to do to make that happen.

And then, all of a sudden, this little, innocent human being, a little child, came into our lives, and literally gained control over our entire world. Before we could do anything else we had to think about, “Who’s going to keep the baby?” or “Is this a good time for us to go without the baby?” We soon learned that we were not in control of our lives anymore. Even our sleeping patterns became very different. We would stay awake when the baby was awake and we went to sleep when the baby went to sleep. Literally this child began to control our lives and the child didn’t even know she was doing it. And then we had a second one she did the exact same thing. And I’ve since learned that that’s what babies do. When they arrive they take over! And their parents begin to develop their lives around this child. To mold their entire lives around this precious needy baby.

Isaiah wrote, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given . . . and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” This child who was born of Mary changes everything. This child born in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes changes how we live. This child born to the sound of angels singing Gloria in excelcis Deo -- this child to whom the wise ones came from afar bearing gifts --- this child, changed the way the entire world works.

And this Jesus, born into a world torn by strife and hatred and division and pain and poverty, this child is born anew wherever men and women say, “I’ll follow Him. I’ll follow Him as my Savior. I’ll follow Him as my Lord.”

When this child grew up, He said His reason for coming, again quoting Isaiah, from the 61st chapter, he said,

The spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach Good News to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty all those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

This child, when He grew up, came to show us the way to live lives of love, lives of compassion, lives of goodness, lives of kindness, lives of justice. This child came to show us how to change the world. So this Christmas, make room for him to change us. This Christmas help us change the world. And make a new commitment, to go out from this day, to let this Christmas Day, be the first day of a new world.

God bless you. God keep you. Have a blessed Christmas. A Happy New Year. And go on out and change the world!

The Presiding Bishop’s video message is here

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sermon December 11 - Advent 3

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.

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he”

John the Baptist had his ministry & Jesus praised his ministry of baptism for the forgiveness of sins in the river Jordan. He had disciples too, and they must have taken part in his ministry, helping with those baptisms. He did his work, because he felt God had led him to do it and he must have known that his opposition to the powerful elite, King Herod & the Romans, and to religious leaders too, Pharisees & Sadducees, would bring trouble. And it did. He was thrown into prison to quiet his work, and he knew he would be executed. And yet, he continues to look to see how God is acting in the world and sends his disciples out. Because maybe, just maybe his cousin Jesus is also following God’s call…

John’s disciples asked Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

Fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, Jesus lays out the signs of the Messiah, a ministry to the least, the forgotten in the society. As one author in 2007 put it:

“Whom did you expect? A King who is easily observed and readily identified by his royal garb and his flock of attendants? One whose image is plastered on political posters and carried by the mass media? Those with eyes to see have missed him. But the blind receive their sight.

Whom did you expect? A Messiah borne on the shoulders of excited crowds? One whose very presence would command respect? Those with able bodies and minds go about their business. But the lame walk.

Whom did you expect? A leader who would deploy legions of angels to carry out the work of the Lord? One who would deal with the anxieties of the elite? But he reaches out to untouchables. And lepers are cleansed.

Whom did you expect? A Christ whose teachings would be so sublime and obvious that all could easily understand? Those with perfect ears do not catch the message. But the deaf hear.

Whom did you expect? A prince who would bring instant happiness? One who would not dirty his hands with the mortuary business? But the dead are raised.

Whom did you expect? A politician who would realize that the world’s power is in the hands of the wealthy? One whose attractiveness would get him invitations to all the right places? But the poor have the Good News preached to them.

Whom did you expect? A baptizer of the status quo? One whose life and message would avoid scandals? But blessed are those who take no offense at Jesus.” (from Synthesis)

Whom did John expect? Whom do we expect?

Literally, Jesus says, Blessed are those who are not scandalized by me… How do we fulfill this?

If we follow him, his scandal is our scandal, but so too are the expectations of ministry and our connection to those in need for we can’t run away from Jesus work, for his ministry has become our own.

As one pastor put it:

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 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)

John while in prison, has sent disciples to ask Jesus if he is the one. Jesus tells them to go & tell John what you see and hear: “the broken people who have been made whole; the crosses that have become the means to new hope and resurrection; the stories of those who refuse to yield to darkness and find forgiveness and peace in the light of God. And those who find no offense in it all.” May we be the one whose lives tell John - and everyone that we encounter - that God is in our midst in every act of love, in every healing of a heart or spirit broken, on every bridge built over the chasm of hatred and violence.” (Jay Cormier)

Today, for those looking, may we be the one. Amen.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


from the Book of Common Prayer:

35. For the Poor and the Neglected

Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you
all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us
to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick,
and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those
who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow
into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for
our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

36. For the Oppressed

Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this
land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as
their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to
eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those
who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law
and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of
us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

How do we love after the election?

This election has sometimes brought out the worst in our collective humanity but I don't think it needs to be so.  There have been some articles to get us to think about this:

Thinking about love, let me offer this:

"It is not enough for love to be shared: it must be shared freely. That is to say it must be given, not merely taken. Unselfish love that is poured out upon a selfish object does not bring perfect happiness: not because love requires a return or a reward for loving, but because it rests in the happiness of the beloved. And if the one loved receives love selfishly, the lover is not satisfied. He sees that his love has failed to make the beloved happy. It has not awakened his capacity for unselfish love.”

“Hence the paradox that unselfish love cannot rest perfectly except in a love that is perfectly reciprocated: because it knows that the only true peace is found in selfless love. Selfless love consents to be loved selflessly for the sake of the beloved. In so doing, it perfects itself.”

“The gift of love is the gift of the power and the capacity to love, and, therefore, to give love with full effect is also to receive it. So, love can only be kept by being given away, and it can only be given perfectly when it is also received.”

“Clean, unselfish love does not live on what it gets but on what it gives. It increases by pouring itself out for others, grows by self-sacrifice and becomes mighty by throwing itself away.

“We are obliged to love one another. We are not strictly bound to 'like' one another. Love governs the will: 'liking' is a matter of sense and sensibility. Nevertheless, if we really love others it will not be too hard to like them also.

If we wait for some people to become agreeable or attractive before we begin to love them, we will never begin. If we are content to give them a cold impersonal 'charity' that is merely a matter of obligation, we will not trouble to understand them or to sympathize with them at all. And in that case we will not really love them, because love implies an efficacious will not only to do good to others exteriorly but also to find some good in them to which we can respond.”
― Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island (excerpt)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry Sermon at Convention

The second day of the Annual Convention of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut (ECCT) was a Sunday morning celebration of the Holy Eucharist with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry delivering the sermon. It was held Nov. 20 at the Hartford Convention Center with more than 1600 attending.

Isaiah 51:1 - Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord.
Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.

Standing with Standing Rock

Even as the owners of the pipeline appeal the decision to hold up construction of the pipeline, our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry offered these words:

This morning, the sun ascended over the Great Plains of our nation, and hope truly dawned anew.

After months of courageously and peacefully working to prevent the laying of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which posed potential danger to the water supply of the people of the Sioux Nation and transgressed their sacred burial grounds, the water protectors on Standing Rock have won a notable victory. Yesterday afternoon, the US Army Corps of Engineers announced their decision to deny an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline’s construction across the sacred land and water of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and this long-awaited announcement is cause for joyful celebration and thanks.

On behalf of the Episcopal Church, I offer my gratitude to President Barack Obama and his Administration for championing the rights of the indigenous peoples of the United States. We applaud the decision by the US Army Corps of Engineers to deny the pipeline permit under Lake Oahe. I personally offer thanks to all those who have worked to amplify the voices of the people at Standing Rock, calling our attention to historic wrongs and injustices, and urging us all to consider a new vision for how we might love God, love each other, and love the earth.

I am grateful and humbled by the water protectors of Standing Rock, whose faithful witness serves as an example of moral courage, spiritual integrity, and genuine concern for the entire human family and God's creation. I am equally appreciative of the sacrifice and example of the military veterans, interfaith clergy, and trauma chaplains who accompanied the water protectors during critical moments of the struggle, many of whom have pledged to remain as long as the water protectors are present.

Our whole Church should offer special thanksgiving to Father John Flosberg of the Diocese of North Dakota, who so effectively organized Episcopalians and other people of faith in this effort, and to clergy and lay people who committed themselves to standing with the water protectors – both physically and in spirit.

Even as many of us celebrate this historic announcement, we must look to the mighty tasks that lay ahead. In the next eighteen months, the US Army Corps of Engineers will conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment and explore alternative routes for the Dakota Access Pipeline. We ask that the assessment involve extensive consultation with affected populations, and that any plan going forward honor treaty obligations with the Standing Rock Sioux. We will also urge the current and incoming presidential administration to launch a thorough Department of Justice investigation into the use of brutal force by law enforcement on Standing Rock.

Our work is not over, and the Episcopal Church has a critical role to play in ensuring a just and humane outcome is fully realized.

We recognize that this struggle for the protection of water and of the basic human rights of indigenous people is one moment in a wider movement for social and environmental justice. May we in this way bear true witness to the words of the holy prophet Micah, who said:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

Sermon December 4 (Advent 2)

Almighty God, as your blessed Son Jesus Christ first came to seek and to save the lost; so may he come again to find in us the completion of his redeeming work; for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever. Amen.

It is great having you all sit so close; it works to hear John the Baptist’s words:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham…”

John is not mincing words. On the fringe of society, at a river at the edge of the wilderness, John is baptizing & preaching. The religious authorities and maybe Rome too are watching him closely. I suspect that they feared his message and his popularity. And he knows this.

He challenges them and us to consider our lives and to show the real meaning of our lives by how we live them out, bear good fruit, fruit of repentance & hope. Certainly as John the Baptist preached on the edge of a river, calling people to repent from sin, he did this so people’s lives could be changed, that they would mark a new direction, out of the water would come a new life.

Advent is such a time for us, a call to change direction in our lives, to maintain balance when the holiday season can be too much hustle and bustle, too much buying, too much of well, everything. What Advent calls us to do as we await with patience the coming of God into our midst, is to remember that what is most important is the good fruit of our lives. How we live even in the midst of tragedy and violence.

For the past six years, Syria has been torn apart by a lethal combination of civil war and tribal hostilities. To outsiders, there seems to be only villains and refugees.

But there are heroes. Enter the White Helmets: ordinary Syrians - teachers, tailors, builders, doctors - who didn't flee the country and didn't take up arms; instead, they return day after day to the scene of some of the worst carnage on the planet. Known by the distinctive headgear they wear, the White Helmets sift through the rubble of Aleppo looking for survivors. They treat the wounded, work tirelessly to repair and maintain water and electricity, seek to re-unite families separated by the bombings and occupations, and bury the dead.

The White Helmets grew out of a disparate set of local groups scattered throughout Syria. They number more than 3,000 volunteers in rebel-held areas across the country. They are all civilians - the White Helmets' code of conduct forbids their taking up arms. Members are trained in how to search collapsed buildings, how to put out fires, how to handle unexploded bombs, what to do in a chemical attack. Even militants who had fought in the armed rebellion have laid aside their weapons to join the White Helmets.

Since the White Helmets organized in early 2013, White Helmet units have saved and rescued 60,000 of their fellow Syrians. One hundred forty-one White Helmets have been killed while serving.

A war defined by impossible choices and implacable hatreds has also produced a model of heroism that reflects the best of humanity: ordinary people who rush in to help after every attack and bombing that devastates their neighbors and homeland. Their credo is a single verse from the Quran: "Whoever saves one life, saves humanity." [TIME Magazine, October 17, 2016.]

A prophet is "one who proclaims" - and those who don the White Helmets are "prophets" in the truest sense of the word. In their selfless, dangerous work, the ordinary Syrians who wear the White Helmets "proclaim" the justice and mercy of God in the devastation of their homeland, offering hope in the midst of violence and death.

In our own commitment to the moral and ethical principles that are of God, we can be no less prophets of God's love and mercy in the Jordan banks of our homes, businesses and schools. John the Baptist is no one’s idea of Christmas joy: subsisting on locusts and wild honey, clad in camel hair, haunting a wild river bank. We happily take on the role of Santa or Kris Kringle, but no way do we see ourselves as John the Baptist. To hear, John the Baptist calling us to repent, to not gorge ourselves in a Christmas that began weeks ago, but instead bear that good fruit, to become like John in our lives right now.

But that is exactly who Advent calls us to be. In our own baptisms we promised to become Baptizers along our own Jordan Rivers. So let’s take on the work of the “Baptizer” this Christmas; let’s become heralds like John of the Good News as we go about our holiday preparations:

May we give the gifts of “comfort” and joy to a people weary and worn. . . may every kindness and generosity we extend this Christmas mirror Christ’s presence in our midst, who brings us such love into our lives . . . may we joyfully take on the hard work of creating a highway through the rugged lands of estrangement and alienation, to be ministers of reconciliation, as we too strive to bear fruits worthof repentance in our time . . . and may the gifts and greetings and hospitality we extend proclaim the good news that God’s compassion has dawned, that love has come down for us.

Every Advent, John the Baptizer calls us to embrace the meaning of our own baptisms: compassion, repentance, forgiveness, justice, selflessness. This Christmas, let us take up John’s Advent work: to straighten the crooked roads of our lives, to transform ‘deserts’ barren of love into places of welcome and reconciliation, to gather up the lost and forgotten, to proclaim the coming of God’s Christ in our midst. Amen.