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Archive for August, 2014

Pass the Palms, Please

August 7, 2014 Leave a comment
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Avoiding the Ruts

August 7, 2014 Leave a comment
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Don’t forget the Ascension

August 7, 2014 Leave a comment
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Seeds and Weeds

August 1, 2014 Leave a comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGood morning to you all and welcome to St. Luke’s. Today I bring you greetings from the newly appointed Arch Deacon for Deacons of the diocese, the Venerable Jane Miron, whose home church is St. Thomas in Lancaster. We are here on back to back Sundays talking about seeds and weeds. Similar stories, yet different intentions. Last week we briefly touched on the Gospel focusing on God being the sower. It wasn’t so much where the scattered seeds grew as much as we knew that the word must be spread in every corner of the world. Today we’re given a parable with a question as to who the cast of characters are. In this one, the sower is the Son of Man. Keeping that in mind, let’s not get the two parables mixed up. And let’s not allow the difference in who the sower is to keep us from getting to the heart of the meaning behind them. As long as we know we have two different parables, with two different meanings, we’ll be okay.

Rather than compare them side by side, we can first establish that we know how in last week’s Gospel a main point is “where” the seeds are sown. The seeds represent the spreading of the word of God. God’s word is sown everywhere, giving all the chance – no matter how slim – to grow and mature. Today’s Gospel differs because rather than the seeds representing God’s word, the seeds represent His disciples. We can broaden that representation and say that the seeds represent the entire church, all of us being members, all of us being the carriers who take that Word into the world and do some sowing of our own. But in the midst of us who call ourselves disciples and as the text says “children of the kingdom”, there’s another seed going about trying to cause trouble. The “children of the evil one” also walks among us with their own agenda.

This is a point many people shy away from these days and I’m going to lay it all out here once and done and then move on. I’m talking about the existence of evil in the world. Maybe it’s because the concept of evil and satan has been hijacked by certain believers who use it most harmfully as a means of igniting fear and guilt in people to coerce them into going to church: “Watch out, or the devil will get you! He’s hiding behind that corner, waiting for you to slip up and then he’ll grab you and haul you away!” Even more unfortunate that that sort of evangelizing also tries to get you to see God as the chief punisher of the world, who, instead of having his loving and caring eye on the sparrow, has his eye on you with a big pen marking down your every mistake. I’m not one who thinks the latter way is how Jesus came to have so many disciples and followers. I’ve always been taught and teach that the Gospel – the Good News – is about bringing others into the kingdom of God by our words, ways, and actions. Yet I won’t sit back and deny what is written time and time again in the New Testament that, yes, satan has taken on a different role since he was written about in the book of Job. But the fact that he is presented in our Gospels and Epistles shouldn’t be ignored by us or anyone who won’t acknowledge he exists outside of our scriptures then or now. To me, it is only our job to understand that according to the gospels evil does exist in the world; but understanding something exists and allowing that understanding to take control of your life are two different things. The key to how we operate around the situation is in how we treat this matter of good and evil. Not that we look at every person to our left or right and wonder who belongs to whom, but that we focus every aspect of our lives on the words and actions of the Son of Man. That is the difference between those of us who live in the kingdom of God, those who live in fear of the kingdom of God, and those who live in the kingdom of everything else on earth.

Speaking of the kingdom, so often we hear the words “the kingdom of heaven is…” or “the kingdom of God is like…” and then we are presented with a view of the common things in life that most everyone can relate to. Jesus spoke in parables for a reason. The reason was to allow people to see that what he and the prophets of old were talking about, was not to be found in some big theological seminary where scholars met to debate the substance of being. The words and experiences Jesus used were those used and met by everyone in day to day conversations. You didn’t – and still don’t – need a Masters of Divinity to be able to participate in and be a part of the realization of the kingdom of God on earth: As it IS in heaven. And yet we continue to miss what is right in front of us as the real kingdom.

I’ll get back to that in a minute but first let me say this; nowhere in my wildest dreams did I ever think my final sermon to you would include so much about evil. Maybe as Flip Wilson would say “the devil made me do it!” But it does give me the opportunity to give you my take on this, and further underscore my views and beliefs about the kingdom of God. So if we are, as the text says, “children of the kingdom” then surely we can see the things that have been intended for us to see. Why would we be heirs to such a thing and not be aware of what it is we are receiving? It’s like what I talked about in my sermon on the Ascension of Jesus when I talked about celebrating the day of Pentecost; how we are celebrating the fact that the day actually occurred, some two thousand years ago! The Holy Spirit IS with us and so is the kingdom of God! Right here right now! We can stop waiting. It’s like we’re standing on the platform of a subway station. The train marked “Kingdom of God” keeps moving around and around on its route, and we keep standing on the platform saying “yep, there it is! Yep, there it goes.” We need to take that big step, get on board, and let it take us wherever it goes. There’s no other way to understand the kingdom unless we’re all in and all on board.

A final word as we come back to talk about the wheat and the weeds. One of the weeds farmers the world over have to deal with is called Bearded Darnel. It’s a weed that looks exactly like wheat until it starts to bear seed. When it ripens, the seed of the plant is poisonous and deadly. Jesus proves again his mastery of the parable by using weeds and wheat. As I said, he uses things that are commonly known to his audiences. It may take some thinking and research for those of us who aren’t farmers or gardeners to relate entirely to the story. But when we add the part about the weed being toxic, it makes more sense. In the normal process of growing; whether it be our faith or our bodies, there are disciples of all kinds roaming about, all looking the same, all acting the same. Some may seem a bit different here and there and some of the things that come out of the mouths of a few may have a tendency to go against the grain (so to speak). We know in our hearts that the direction they are trying to lead us is wrong, and the first thing we want to do is cut them off in their tracks. Imprison them. Kill them off. But God says “No.” That is not our job to do. We may be children of the kingdom of God but Jesus lets us know we aren’t the ones who have the responsibility or the authority to make the call that deals them their fate. It reminds me of a cartoon I see frequently every time a war breaks out and people are asking “how can we tell who the enemy is? And someone yells out “kill them all and let God sort them out.” That doesn’t quite fit the bill of what the Gospels tell us to do, does it?

As difficult and opposing it is to some of us, the way of the Gospel is not to eradicate everything that goes against the norm or appears to be different. Wary and alert? Yes. Annihilating everything that moves in the wrong direction? No. Because in doing the wrong thing we inevitably don’t allow God’s work to be finished. We’re told to wait … allow the disciples, the seeds and weeds to bear fruit … and then it will be shown who belongs to the kingdom of God and who doesn’t. Besides, there’s always that chance of turning someone in the direction of God’s kingdom. God’s ways always take care of things in the end. As we’ve seen over and over in the Old Testament it may take generations for that to happen, but, we will see Truth prevail in the final hour.

We have our job cut out for us. We must maintain our identity in this world where so much looks alike, where the wrong things can easily be mistaken for good, and where so much is at stake in keeping the Gospel of Jesus alive in today’s world. We’ve taken our Baptismal Vows and renew them time and time again where we promise: To realize that we ARE children of the kingdom of God and we ARE to spread the Gospel, the Good News, to everyone, even if it’s merely through our actions. So let’s open our eyes and being the children of the kingdom that we are, see that kingdom surrounding us with all its goodness here on earth as it IS in heaven. Amen

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How Shall We Welcome?

August 1, 2014 Leave a comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m sure there are a few of us around here who do this one thing when we’re travelling about the state or country, as you enter into every city, town, and hamlet you come across. You look for that rectangular white and blue sign with the Episcopal shield that says, “The Episcopal Church welcomes you.” Then when you find it you slow down to see if you can read the fine print that informs us of the name of the church and its location. Once that is all done, we confidently send them a prayerful pat on the back for having done their job in letting travelers know they are welcome in their church.   And for the time being, at least, we can all rest assured that yet another Episcopal church is doing it right. Unless you have the experience Sheri and I had one Sunday morning while we were on vacation. As we entered the town, there was the sign, perhaps a bit more rusted than most. We found the church and began to look for the red doors by which to enter when we saw a woman walking in the same direction as us. The door was found and upon entering there was a certain feeling that was missing. It was as if the ten or so people who were already seated had melted into the pews, unaware of the two strangers who had just walked in.

Now neither of us were expecting a fan fare, but even in the rarest of occasions in this area where people are sparsely scattered throughout the sanctuary, if a stranger walks in they are greeted by someone. And once a seat is found, I notice the hospitality kick in as those around them turn and welcome them with a friendly smile, a hello, and maybe even a handshake. But nobody – I hope – will be made to feel like they are part of the furniture and not noticed: Not on their arrival, and certainly not on their departure! So the service went on. At the dismissal we headed for the back of the church and actually had to catch someone’s attention to ask if there was a coffee hour. They directed us to the kitchen where a tray of cookies and a coffee pot had been set out and if it weren’t for my questions about the building and the history of it, they would have been out the door prior to that.

Did I mention that there were maybe ten or a dozen people there? I began to think I understood why. Every conversation I tried to start with one of them all seemed to gravitate towards their love of the building and how they were so blessed to have it all paid for and a dowry to continue its upkeep. The church had become their idol. As long as they could come and sit by themselves once a week in the confines of this beautiful church, listen to its enormous pipe organ and gaze into the stained glass windows; that was “church” for them. It was as if today’s Gospel message was lost under the many layers of paint and stain that covered the walls and woodwork. I often think back on that day and wonder what would have happened if that were my first experience with the Episcopal Church. Would I have gone back to see if that was just an off Sunday? Would I have looked for another denomination or even another Episcopal Church in a nearby community? My guess is that I’d have probably not have acted as Sheri and I did when we first walked into St. Luke’s. We were in search of a place to call home and found it here. It wasn’t the first red door we walked through in the area but it was the one just right for us. We were welcomed at the others, but as one visitor recently told me “you could feel that the Holy Spirit was alive and moving through even the walls of this place.”

True, being at the door and welcoming others into your home is one form of hospitality. But there is another form of hospitality that we as Christians are called to bring to life. We find it in today’s Gospel that concludes Jesus’s discourse on how a Christian should treat others in the world; and if we look in between what we hear from Matthew and what we may actually do in our communities, we just might find ourselves sighing over the size of the gap between them.

Three verses are all we’re given today. But in just three verses we hear the word “welcome” five times. The only other text I know of where we hear one word repeated that many times in so few lines is Dr. Seuss’s “Hop on Pop”! And yes, I did say this was the conclusion of the discourse. If you recall last week, Fr. Chris was saddled with the challenge of preaching in the front lines where so many local, national and world events pry us from our channels of faith and try to lead us into the divisions that Jesus said would result from us following his teachings. Since last week’s verses of this Gospel are the build up to today’s ending, allow me to condense what was discussed last week. We heard that contrary to what we often think, Jesus declares that he didn’t come to bring peace. He came to divide. And as we listened further we were presented with a current event that seemed to be doing the very thing Jesus said he’d do: divide people amongst themselves.

This is a very tough reach for many of us, to set our social, cultural, philosophical and yes, even political ideals and beliefs aside in order to see what the real need is in these situations. It can be difficult for sure, to see through what we hear on the news and what the talking heads on TV are telling us as how others say we should react. But when the smoke clears and the last pundit is still standing, will the basic needs of the situation have been met? The situation is harder yet when children are the issue. Through no fault of their own other than maybe being born where they were, they are caught up in a mess that they don’t want or deserve. How are we as Christians supposed to act and react in response to a situation that truly does scream for a bit more effort than giving a cold drink to the least of these? I don’t know what God’s will is for this or anything else, even though many times during the day I pray for that will to be done, but I do know that if we’re genuine in our compassion for doing what Jesus asks us to do for the least of these, we’re given the promise of a grace that will help us endure whatever the cost of that compassion. If ever there is a time to pour out love without condition – it is when the cost of withholding that love is to lose a child.

We face the possibility of a similar, although less dramatic case here at St. Luke’s involving children. For some time we’ve been putting off acknowledging that we could face the danger of having our children under the supervision of untrained and unqualified leaders. This is not to say that the leaders themselves are under scrutiny, but the fact that they may not be aware of certain procedures and policies within the Episcopal Church and our diocese does exist. This framed certificate hangs back in the admin room that says we are a “Safe” church, meaning that at the time it was given, every person here who was involved with the care of children had the proper training and certificates. Very shortly, that will no longer be the case. And that poses a danger to our children. We could very well have swept it under the rug and said “we’ll take care of it sooner or later, let’s just concentrate on programs.” But thanks to the genuine compassion and love for children that our leadership has, we are taking care of matters up front. If you didn’t get the email or call from Father Chris with the specifics of what is happening with our children and youth ministries, please see us after dismissal. Trust that this decision may not be popular to some, but when we strip away the layers and get down to the real matter, what matters most is not that we are popular, but that our children, your children, are being given the safest, loving environment they need and deserve and are shown they are loved.

Love is given to us freely, but when we give love away freely we must not always expect to have love returned to us. Sometimes when love is given freely without condition the result is crucifixion. Let’s not kid ourselves into hiding in the false security of thinking that every time we do something with honest compassion we’ll bask in the glow of sunshine as a return. But let us also remember that after crucifixion there is and will be a resurrection. And the life after resurrection is what we live for. Yes, loss is not something we expect to find after being filled with compassion to be welcoming to everyone without exception. Nor can you imagine how giving freely of your love might one day become sorrow. And it becomes even harder when you must leave the place that welcomed you so dearly from the beginning.

Thursday night I informed the vestry and Father Chris that after meeting with Bishop Gepert earlier in the week, the decision was made for me to end my time here at St. Luke’s. Sheri and my last day with you will be July 27th.   All we ask is that you welcome every person that comes through that door with the same conviction that Hazel Brown showed us when we walked through it 8 years ago. You just may find that among all the angels you unknowingly welcome, a future deacon of yours may just be the next stranger that walks through those red doors. You’ve loved us without condition. We hope we gave the same love back to you.

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Ascending into the heavens… for the glory of God.

August 1, 2014 Leave a comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEarlier in the week I was writing my article for the Sentinel on this same subject, the Ascension, and it was difficult to keep it to a few paragraphs. I wanted to go on and on but had to cut it short. How much can one person comprehend from today’s lessons? We have Jesus promising an advocate, the Holy Spirit, to fall upon each of them and be their guide for the future. We have Jesus rising up into the sky as he departs from his friends.   Then we have Peter admonishing a group of disciples; probably for being afraid of the tortures they’ve begun to bear in the name of Christ, telling them to take it all for the glory of God who now holds them in the power of His hands. And finally we have Jesus asking God to glorify him so he may glorify God.

            But let us not forget we also have our present lives. If I may steal a little quote from someone, probably from more than one person, we are an “Ascension Church”. We have been resurrected through changes that were beyond our own doing, and now we’ve been drawn into the “in-between” stages of our wonderful community of St. Luke’s. Having to deal with being “in-between” can make us restless and anxious to move on. We may want to hurry things and be on our way. But we must remind ourselves that that type of thinking might have been why we got ourselves where we are in the first place. There are some things in life that can be taken for granted and won’t hurt us like what flavor of ice cream should I buy for dessert. But this isn’t one of those things. Jesus’s call to us and the instructions he gives us on the day of his ascension finally take hold on the disciples and they begin to understand. And I know we are praying that we all understand as well.

What happened right after the resurrection is a different story. At that point in time the disciples still didn’t understand what it was they were to do. It wouldn’t be for another 40 days – that recurring bible number – that the eleven, along with their friends and families would grasp it all. Right after Jesus resurrected from the dead, visited every one of his disciples, and even after appearing in the room with the locked doors where he convinced Thomas of who he was, even after all of the reports of Jesus’s visits, what does Peter do? He goes fishing. Not a bad idea to do myself either, I think, being a life-long angler. “See any walking dead people today Deacon? Sure did! I think I’ll go fishing and clear my head awhile.” But not only does he go! Most of the other 11 join in and go with him! I imagine today it would be like taking three or four pontoon boats out on Raystown Lake and tying them together. Everyone walking gingerly about. Trying to make another cast and see what they catch. And then off in the distance on the shore we see another figure that looks like … Jesus! Again! This time he’s over on the shore with a charcoal grill and a cooler of your favorite drink yelling, “Come on over and join me for breakfast!”

Imagine now their lives go on seeing him again and again for days, weeks. The fishing gets better and better. Eventually the disciples are paying more attention to Jesus then they have before but something is different. They seem to be grasping things a little differently now. Sure, they ask over and over to have Jesus show them this father he keeps talking about. Perhaps this is a real lesson on patience; for all of them. But all of a sudden, one day, things change drastically. There they are, once again all together on a hillside. Someone says, “Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus announces that the date or the hour is not known, however when he gets to his Father he will send them the Holy Spirit who will guide them in the days to follow. And then we encounter that magnificent scene that has been replicated and recreated time and time again on stained glass and greater than life size paintings. Many artists have worked on it and some still do. Jesus floating in mid-air amongst the clouds with an angel on each side and the crowd standing around dazed and amazed at what they see!

This is the point that has contemporary biblical historians and theologians like Crossan, Berg, and Spong, finding it inconceivable and beyond reason that anyone could just disappear into the sky. So they deny that the Ascension ever happened and simply forget about it. And then I have to ask them, how much of what has gone on previously in the written life of Jesus does sound reasonable? Yet they have now have another obstacle to deal with. How then do you go about with the rest of Luke’s account in the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul, both written within about the same time period; all of them collaborating on the same theme. By the way, I don’t see any of the other evangelists finding a way to write Jesus out of the story line. They must have just given up. Except for John. He finishes his gospel saying that if everything were written that Jesus did there would be more volumes than we’d ever know. Sneaky!

What can we learn from this Ascension and the next ten days then? And what, besides the celebration of Pentecost next week (wear red), does this teach us? For starters, it teaches us that Jesus didn’t just disappear. You can believe the written account of him being raised up. You can imagine within the context of metaphysics that he was taken into the cosmos as the mystics see it. Or you may imagine him transcending this ordinary earth into a real heaven and becoming one with God as we’re told in the creeds and our catechisms. Then let us look again at how the disciples reacted to his leaving them here as opposed to his first leaving them at the crucifixion. At that time they were scared and all but for one that we know of, ran off to hide. Here – as their teacher goes to wherever, we find them confident and trusting in their Lord, making their way – not afraid and fearful for their lives – but with a countenance not seen before – making their way back to the upper room to be together and to pray.

If we are – and I am sure we are – an Ascension Church, we should really understand the idea of coming together and praying. That’s not just one concept; coming together and praying are two parts to the equation. First: We come together. —- I’m very happy that during this time of waiting we have Father Chris and Jeanne with us. Some seemed to think we were going to have someone around to fill the gaps while we called our next rector. I kept telling everyone; “no, we’re getting a trained interim who will help us discover who we were, who we are, and where we are going.” THAT is being played out in sessions like we’ll have — (after our service this morning) (had prior to this service). Fr. Chris is guiding us through a process we need to go through. He and Jeanne have richly blessed us with their presence and work here. He’s already helped us discover a great deal about the reality of where we are when it comes to our financial status. There is a great deal more to go through and so we must come together! We are an Ascension Church. We must come together.

Second: we pray. I’ve heard many thoughts on how and why we pray. I won’t go into the many ways and means of prayer right now, other than to say that when two or three or five or fifty are gathered together in Jesus’s name we KNOW that God is in the midst of us, and we KNOW that the Holy Spirit will give us answers to guide us just as Jesus promised. — The opportunities to pray in this parish are endless. We do pray!

And Third: we listen for the Holy Spirit to guide us through our lives in everything we do; everything we think; and everything we ask. You see the day of Pentecost came to us two thousand years ago… the Holy Spirit is with us! We can stop waiting for that part to hit us. But as a church, as a parish, as a community, and as individuals which is what each of the original disciples were … we are an Ascension Church. And as St. Luke tells us, it was well worth every second of the coming together and all of their prayers, because when the day of Pentecost came to them, it was a time of great celebration!! We can do this. We can grow out of this time of waiting and we will see us prosper in the future … but … there is a but … you’ve heard me say it over and over: We must come together through the process, giving prayers of thanksgiving for what we have been given… and prayers for guidance as to where to go from here. We have all the tools we need to make it through our Ascension time of waiting. Let’s use them wisely, with love, and give the glory to God! Amen.