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Have Yourself A Cosmic Christmas

December 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Merry Christmas everyone!  Tonight I bring you greetings from a host of sisters and brothers in Christ who could not be here but wish to extend their best wishes, prayers and love as well.  We are truly blessed by them and on this wonderful night we can respond in kind through our own thoughts and prayers.

You know, so much happens in the space of a year that when we pause to collect our thoughts and look back at where we were 12 months ago – (and I’m not just talking about our church but our personal lives as well) how we arrived at where we currently are on this Christmas might have been hard to imagine back then.  It might have been nice to have a prophet convey a message to us about it as did Isaiah.  But then I think about that and I’m not sure how that would work out.  Think of how we would react if a modern day prophet had foretold us of the events that would soon shake and shape our world into the condition it’s in now.  What an amazing story we would have listened to as the future was presented to us.  Depending on our individual views, some might have called the prophet odd, some might have ignored him, some might have suggested a good therapist, and as an afterthought some might have even waited to tell the rest of us “They told you so.”  Yet here we are, a year later celebrating the birth of our LORD at the Christmas Vigil – announcing with the psalmist “The LORD is King; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of the isles be glad.” We have spent the previous four weeks during Advent preparing for this day singing together “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel”   We are here, seated on this glorious night listening to how the angels met the shepherds and rejoiced singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”  And we continue to read Luke’s narration telling us, how after hearing the story of the shepherds, Mary; “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

As I read over and over the words “Rejoice” I was reminded of another time not long ago where we shouted a different tone of “Rejoice”!  That was nine months ago as we walked through Holy Week together with mixed emotions.  After singing the Exultet at the lighting of the Easter Candle I repeatedly made known in my brief homily at the Easter Vigil how it was essential that we were to rejoice in the goodness that was already ours, regardless of what the world looked like to us.  We were caught in a time when we were forced to look at ourselves and realize that if we were to celebrate a birth at the end of a year, a resurrection was needed in our own community.  It’s a paradox as old as time that in order for something to die; something must be born, yet for something to be born, something has to die.  It’s about returning to life over and over.

And returning to life is what you did!  As we gather together on this Christmas Eve, it is quite evident that there is more than one birth to be celebrated tonight.  We come to celebrate the birth of Jesus and honor Him with hymns of praise and prayers of thanksgiving while coming together in Holy Communion as a parish – a bit more confident than we were nine months ago.  It’s a celebration of a rebirth into a new era in the history of our church.  A rebirth where, back in the spring, we collectively gathered our questions, our fears, our hopes and our hearts; and realized that if we want to move forward we must evolve.  And evolve we did!  But there’s one thing about evolving – and we must not become complacent with this – it’s an action that never ends.  For Christ never stops evolving and neither must we.

The Christ of evolution is different than the Christ that most of us think of.  It is not the baby Jesus and not the man Jesus but the Christ that Jesus became and the Christ that lives in each of us.  It is the source of our being, which we need to cultivate, grow and actually live.  During the season of Advent we looked for times of solitude, resting in peace and silence to help nurture us from within.  We looked for quiet times to prepare for the coming of Christ, but if we look for that coming of Christ under our tree or on the mantel in the crèche we put out for Christmas, we’ll miss the point of this every time.  To quote Canon Babcock during one of his off-the-cuff homilies at our Wednesday Holy Eucharist; “We aren’t using Advent for the preparation of the coming of Jesus, that’s history, it’s already happened.  We’re using Advent for the preparation of the rebirth of Christ within ourselves.”  So that is why we work so hard for this day.  It’s the promise of the second coming and the promise we make to God in our baptismal covenant to make Christ alive in every action in our daily lives.   If we look at tonight as just another birth celebration – even with all the energy and love we put into it – we lose the purpose of the event the rest of the year and next year we’re still in the same place, just one year older.  Far too often we get in ruts or become comfortable where we are and so we sit back and think that we’re rolling right along when in fact what we’re really doing is falling behind.   We become static and Christ appears static to us.  Everything passes us by and the rest of the universe goes on evolving without us.

I find it interesting that the Jewish Tanak begins the first chapter of Genesis “In the beginning when God began to create…”  Creation is not a one-time event and to stay evolving means we are also responsible for creating the world we live in.  The entire universe; all the stars, planets, galaxies and nebulas and all the other things we stand in awe of while looking at the night sky are moving and expanding, even stars are born and they create planets and then eventually die off.  All this from having been shot out in the explosion of the big bang we call God’s beginning of creation by making order out of chaos and creating something from nothing.  Just as we are moving through our galaxy, Christ is moving within and around us and we must move in life with Christ, ever changing, ever adapting, working peacefully with every person on earth; always looking for new ways to better ourselves and our community.   Our relationship with Christ is our relationship with the world.  The Franciscan Nun Ilia Delio puts it this way; “Because we humans are in evolution we must see Christ in evolution as well- Christ’s humanity is our humanity, Christ’s life is our life … To live in Christ is to live in community; to bear Christ in one’s life is to become a source of healing love for the sake of community.”

In order for us to continue to evolve in the same fashion as the last nine months that gave us this rebirth, we must never stop moving forward.  We must keep moving with the same Christ that St. Paul talks about when he calls it the Christ in which we “live and move and have OUR being.”  There is nothing static about our lives in Christ.  To paraphrase the reading from Titus; the grace of Christ is not something we have gained through any special act or deed, but a gift from God we receive and are given at every moment of every day. Father John and Father Tom and I can tell you that we hear and see good things happening here among us.  We are entering this new era here and it is not merely a coincidence that we’ve arrived at this place on Christmas Day, in the same amount of time it takes to give birth.  It took a great deal of honest reflection and committed people to achieve what we’ve done but keep in mind the work is never done.  God doesn’t stop creating, Christ doesn’t stop moving, the Holy Spirit doesn’t stop guiding; it’s up to us to look at this newborn Christ within us and ask where we are to go next.  Whether the answer is from within our own self or from the entire family of sisters and brothers in Christ, when the actions are finished for this leg of our journey there will be another path to take from there.  Today the world sings praises and celebrates the birth of Jesus.  Let us pray with thanksgiving that as we join them in song and praise, we again REJOICE … because Christ is also alive and reborn within us … and with Mary we can reflect on all the joyful things that have been said and done in our lives, and treasure them in our own hearts as well, never forgetting to love and live in Christ not just on this Christmas Day, but every day of every year.  Merry Christmas and God bless us everyone!  Amen.

Deacon Pete

Citations:  RCL year A; Christmas Day II

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Say Yes this Advent

November 28, 2013 Leave a comment

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The birds were hanging out around my feeders early this morning. Our dogs had decided to allow me to sleep a bit longer than usual and so it surprised me to look out on the deck and notice a Blue Jay staring at me from the deck railing. Another motion caught my eye from the red twig dogwood which was a downy woodpecker examining the branches for food. Then another movement under a pine tree revealed a red belly woodpecker. My senses slowly began to wake up and get attuned to my surroundings as a variety of birds came into focus. There were doves, cardinals, finches, titmice, chickadees, sparrows and a few others that escaped before I could identify them, darting quickly in and out from my view. Some landed on the ground beneath the feeders while others chased each other in out of the bushes and shrubs, all with the one intention of finding food. I began to wonder how many other things I’ve missed in the past simply because I’d not taken the time to stop and look.
We miss a great deal in life by not taking the time to look around at our surroundings and notice what is in front of our eyes. Some will focus on beauty; some will see only pain. Some will pull away from the immediate scene and gaze out at the distant hills and clouds. How many will notice everything that is around them? Our entire lives can play out like this one scene: Tending to focus on the thing that’s going on with us, forgetting about or ignoring the rest of the world as she turns and takes care of her business. Our energy and time gets consumed by this one event. As we approach Advent, let’s see if we can enlarge our view of the environment. What can be done to see as much of this huge tapestry of life as possible as it plays in front of our eyes day in and day out? When Mary said “Yes” to God, she was agreeing to open herself up to an unimaginable history changing experience. We don’t expect to change any history other than our own with the work done for our souls, but we can work to see any number of new happenings right in front of us if we, too, can say “Yes” to God. Let us greet this season of Advent with our eyes, mind, and heart wide open so that our experience of waiting for the newborn Christ gives us a larger view of the world than we would normally expect. Amen.

Deacon Pete

99 Sheep and a Wedding Headband

September 15, 2013 Leave a comment

The Gospel in today’s lectionary tells the tale of Jesus once again being scorned for eating with sinners.  It’s here we find Jesus doing what Jesus does; he’s making his way through the towns, sitting down with the common people, talking about his Father.  Luke calls these common people “sinners” here, and customarily includes “tax collectors” among the group.  It’s been said these sinners were pretty much anyone who was uneducated.  They didn’t follow all of the rules because they didn’t know about them.  They were cast in positions below the priests and business people of the towns. The tax collectors are included with the sinners because they made their living off of other people’s income, often being accused of taking more than the going tax rate dictated.  So here we have Jesus, who has been teaching in the synagogue, healing the sick, and gathering quite a following, sitting around with people who, in other people’s eyes, don’t coincide with his standing in the community.  I’ve often thought it possible that the Pharisees and scribes were becoming jealous of his notoriety.  Whatever the case, someone who taught on the Sabbath would surely not lower themselves to hang out and eat with the likes of street people.   As the one who is always completely aware of his surroundings, Jesus hears the grumbling.  And as is his style, he gives them a parable; this one with two parts.

If ever there was an example of the perfect leader, the epitome of excellence in the field of being in charge, this parable has it covered.  Every time I hear about the person who loses one of his one hundred sheep and goes off looking for it, leaving the other 99 in the wilderness, I’m more drawn to what might happen to the 99 left behind than whether or not the one that is lost is found.  Look at it from this perspective.  How many of you have ever felt the uneasiness of leaving a large number of youth unsupervised while you attend to something else?  I’ve encountered that in both coaching and scouting.  I know there are teachers and scout leaders in here who can confirm what that feels like.  Perhaps that is why my mind goes there.  It takes a great deal of trust – and a bit more than a large amount of prayer – to have enough faith to make a decision that involves leaving large groups on their own.  That’s what draws me to this parable.  Not the action of the leader, but the reaction of the group.   The story not only says a lot about the group, it speaks volumes about the leadership.   Not only are they left alone without supervision, they are left alone in the wilderness.  Yet not one runs off.  If there are any class clowns in the bunch, they’ll be showing off for the others.  Some of the loners might stick to the edge of the crowd.  A bully might even try pushing some of the smaller members to the brink.  But they all stick together.  Maybe it’s something about the feeling of family.  Whatever it is, there is cohesiveness within the group and a united front that keeps them together.  Let’s hold on to that thought for a minute as we look at the second part of the parable.

We know that times can be hard and every dime counts.  And a silver coin, no matter what day or age, is something to be concerned about.  But when you start calling in the neighbors, turn on all the lights and move the furniture around to sweep the floor, it says this is not just about hard times.  Something is a bit more valuable than we think.  Scripture doesn’t always explain every detail, just what is necessary for the reader of the times to understand.  If we lived in that age, or had a Jewish heritage, we’d know that a bride’s dowry includes a headband made of ten pieces of silver.  It’s the equivalent of today’s wedding ring.  So yes, it would be a big deal if a piece of the wedding band was missing.  Who wouldn’t want to tear the house apart searching for it?

So after these two pieces of the parable are told, we now have a lost sheep with 99 others left in the wilderness – and a lost coin from a wedding headband that in its own right makes the rest of the coins worthless.  How can we weigh in our situation with either part of this parable?  Well, we can talk about how we are working together for a common goal; our experience and lessons learned from the past, combined with some very good teachers, is being placed in the limelight as we go through the process of searching for our next rector.  We can talk about doing what is necessary to save someone that is lost or has gone astray.  We do this every time we help someone through one of our outreach programs – the results might not be evident to us now but the effects of helping those in need can be deep and long lasting.  And we can talk about how barriers we create such as working classes and education levels don’t matter and we need to eliminate these barriers from our lives.  We do this every time we greet a newcomer that walks through the doors of this church and welcome them back with a personal note and thank you card.

But doing these things doesn’t mean we stop once we’ve achieved a portion of them.  The biggest and best is yet to come.  Will we ever be finished with the process?  Probably not.  There will always be some portion of something that is missing from our lives.  There will always be a need to work together to make something complete.  What we can’t forget is what we are instructed to do each time we succeed in this process.  After the lost sheep was found, the neighbors were called to celebrate the joy!  And when the bride had finally found the lost coin from her headband, everyone rejoiced!  They celebrated and gathered the community together.  So often we miss this.  So often we keep right on going with life and not stop to acknowledge the advances we’ve made when it comes to our spiritual achievements.  We throw parties for children graduating from kindergarten but barely make enough time for coffee and cake after a baptism.  We don’t think twice about what we’ll spend on a sweatshirt or hat when our favorite sports team wins a championship, yet balk at the cost of necklace or ring when we are confirmed or received into the church.  According to St. Luke, nothing is worth celebrating more than one person’s return to the church.  We need to stop, give thanks, and rejoice in these moments.  A few weeks ago I mentioned that we need to start the healing process and come together in community.  I mentioned how we need to reach out to each other in good times and bad.  We have begun our journey forward and we are making strides.  Yesterday we had five of our parishioners attend the required training for Visiting Eucharistic Ministers and when we receive their licenses we’re going to celebrate, give thanks, and rejoice.  Rejoice that these people have heard the call to tend to the ill and homebound of our parish.   And as we continue to grow in other areas that have vacancies such as Sunday School Teachers, we’ll continue to reach out to more, and we will continue to give thanks and rejoice.  Rejoice!

Deacon Pete Gdula

Scripture ref:  RCL Year C, Proper 19

A Community of Healing

August 25, 2013 Leave a comment

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There is a much bigger picture to today’s Gospel than the obvious question and answer to “why did you work on the Sabbath?”  We’ve read this piece of scripture and others like it numerous times and here we find it facing us once again.  So while we know how the story ends, let’s go back to the beginning.  Sometimes if we place ourselves as characters in the reading we can gather some other information.

Imagine a world where while you were traveling on foot, the only things you ever saw were on the ground right below you.  The sky is forever out of your view.  Perhaps you may catch a glimpse of the sun or the moon on the horizon from time to time, but in the mountain country that would be rare, as would be seeing the constellations and the night sky lit up with a billion stars.  You can hear the sounds of animals and you feel the wind, cold, and heat upon you. There is no scenic vista to look out over.  The dirt, grasses, and entire landscape is limited to whatever is directly in front of your eyes that are aimed just slightly ahead of your feet.  You have no idea how high it is to the tops of the trees, nor have you understood and experienced the awe of watching an eagle soar in the blue skies of the heavens.  The only home you know is under your feet.  But you know it well.  Perhaps like someone who cannot see at all, your other senses are finely tuned to help identify your surroundings.

Such is the life that is led by the unnamed woman in today’s Gospel.  For eighteen years most of the world she was familiar with was the one I just described.  Bent over, looking down, and probably relying on a staff of some sort that would provide enough stability to keep her from falling over.  Luke doesn’t tell us much about how she came to be this way, other than a generalized explanation of “a spirit”.  Some bible translations use the word “Satan” instead of “spirit.”  Doing so takes my memory back to the book of Job where Satan was the accuser and accomplice with God.  It seems the lack of further comment in the passage makes the reason less important.   Regardless of whether he means some sort of demon, or simply an illness that caused it, the focus shifts to the act of healing.

This is a rare moment in the Gospels where Jesus is not asked to heal.   The woman is present, and in the midst of the crowd in the Synagogue on the Sabbath to pray.  Nobody points her out as needing a cure.  Nobody carries her in on a stretcher or lowers her through the thatch roof to Jesus as we’ve read in other chapters of the Gospels.  She doesn’t fight 3through the crowd to touch his garment or climb up a fig tree hoping for a simple glimpse of him.  She is simply there like all the others, doing what she needs to be doing.  Her affliction is noticeable to everyone but she has done her best to avoid making a scene of herself.  After all, she is in a house of worship.  But through her entering and exiting week after week, it becomes evident that she is one of those ignored by society.  Those who pass her by on the streets ignore her bent body because most likely she won’t be seeing the faces that step from side to side and around her.  This is an ugly reaction, pretending not to notice someone in trouble.  The woman is probably numb to it after eighteen years; her emotions are callused from a silent ostracizing by the community.  Some of us have been in her shoes, but I’m guessing at least a few of us have been the observer of a situation like this at least once in our lives.

How many homeless people have we passed by on the sidewalks of our large cities, or even our local cities and towns and ignored their presence?  We pass by them, but with our heads turned aside so we don’t encounter that uneasy moment of eye to eye contact.  I would hope we at least offer up a silent prayer for them.  Better yet, to offer a warm smile and hello.  Jesus was fully aware of his surroundings in every way, particularly with those he referred to as “the least of these.”  Can you imagine him standing in the synagogue, preaching or reading to the crowd, stop in mid verse and say, “Woman, yes, you, come over here with me.” And then when she finally makes her way over to him he says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”  What does it take to move you into action such as he does?  Could we break away from our agendas and schedules long enough to at least acknowledge that there is someone hurting along our paths almost everywhere we go?  Can we be confident enough in our prayers to know how much they would help the situation?  Will we make a gesture that tells them they are somebody, a part of humanity, not just a body in the way of our stroll down the sidewalk? Jesus takes that chance and he does so completely aware that he is standing in the middle of a Sabbath service in a synagogue.  There’s a saying I think comes from the Franciscan order (correct me if I’m wrong) that says; “You must never break a rule unless you know the reason the rule was made in the first place.  Once you understand the ‘why’ you can break as many as you need.”  Jesus understands the why.  He understands that we need a day of the week for rest and re-creation.  He also knows that there is more right than wrong in breaking this law.  The church leaders, callus in their own schooling and self-righteousness, call it a sin; Jesus tells the leader that not taking action and not healing was the real sin.   In Mark’s Gospel we hear him say “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” What seems to be a radical disregard for authority and legalism is in truth, an act of common sense and necessity.

There is one more part to this healing process that cannot go unnoticed.  Before she is completely healed and can stand upright he lays his hands on her.  There are other healings such as the Centurion’s servant who was healed without even seeing Jesus.  He even raised Lazarus from the dead without walking into the tomb.  It’s important to make note of this because the healing takes place not in private and not by request, but in a public arena without prior intent.  They are in a crowd and the unnamed woman has been singled out.  He tells her she is healed, but she does not respond until he lays his hands on her.  The touch that Jesus uses not only anoints and heals, but symbolically welcomes her as a member of this community.  It is the touch of inclusion.  It says “You are not a loner, but one like the rest of us, come and join us, you are fully capable of enjoying all that is offered here.”

Some of us have reason to look for healing in this community.  There are people who feel they’ve been wronged and there are those who feel others have been wronged.  Some steps have been made toward this healing, but as a community we’ve acknowledged there is more that we need to do in order to bring us up to a healthier parish than we’ve been in recent times.  I can assure you, your leaders are taking appropriate action to move forward in a direction that addresses all of our issues.  But as we see in today’s Gospel, we can talk amongst ourselves and with each other forever; but all of the words in the world may not be enough to complete the process.  We’ll need to put that symbolic act of a healing touch into action.  Let us begin this next phase of transition today.  As we share God’s Peace with each other from now on and forward, I ask you to share your healing touch with those around you.  Can we do this?  As we respond in our baptismal convenient, we will “with God’s help.”  Amen.

Scripture Reference:  RCL, Year C, Proper 16, Luke 13:10-17

Distractions and the Better Part

July 21, 2013 Leave a comment

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Luke’s gospel story of Martha and Mary contains a variety of issues to choose from when trying to get the heart of what Jesus is saying.  There are a number of interpretations for this passage of scripture, so for beginners let’s look at several items of interest that can be argued.

First of all, there is nothing wrong with what Martha is doing.  Going about her assigned duties in the preparation or cleaning up after a meal is something we all do, and I’ll get back to that in a bit.  Secondly, there is not a polarization between Mary and Martha.  By this I mean the sisters have a very good relationship between themselves; the only other reference to them comes from John’s gospel where they mourn for Lazarus who has died.  Some believe there is a notion that this is strictly a gender issue dealing with allowing women to study and learn with the men.  But let’s now look at some other points and see where they will take us.

Most of us have been in the situation of hosting a dinner or party.  Being a good host or hostess requires us to do many tasks at once.  It is probably the best (and original) honest to goodness definition of what we today call multi-tasking.  Greet people at the door, prepare the meal, offer drinks and a seat, chase the dogs off the couch so there IS a place to sit, clean up spills, set the table, serve the guests, and chase the dogs out from under the table; this is only a partial list of things that sometimes involves just one person during the course of an evening with company.  Even with two people there is always the possibility of forgetting something.  We can easily relate to Martha who, by the way is probably the home owner.  The opening line says she welcomed Jesus into HER home.  When we invite people into our homes we can so often become wrapped up in what the chores are that we lose sight of the hospitality side of things.  We can even go as far as seeming to ignore the friends we welcome.  So we are not to assume or misinterpret that Jesus is telling Martha to stop what she’s doing, the chores can wait, or that Mary is doing the only thing necessary.  He says she is doing the “better part”; the word “part” being essential here.  Listening to the words of Jesus is essential and foremost, but He reminds us that He is the most important part of the hole, not the sole attention of our acts.  If that were the case nobody would ever get anything done because we’d all be sitting around listening to each other talk about Jesus.  We can identify with this situation in our church life.  We would lose focus of where all of our energy is to be spent if we are looking at who we are serving or leading and what the end result is for them, the actions take over and we begin to make the program our idol.  Each of our programs then becomes the center of attention and the person or persons we start out to help become a by-product of the system.  There should always be a focus no matter how many things are on our agenda.  At our most recent diocesan convention, there was a resolution to begin each meeting – regardless of what it is – with the question “What actions will we be taking during our meeting here that effects the poor?”  When we sit back and think about that it puts things in a different perspective than jumping right into reports and figures and assignments.

Jesus puts it this way.  He says “Martha, you are distracted by many things.”  The only thing to do is keep his teaching and words in front of our actions.  When we take our eyes and ears off of the sacred, necessary chores become dull and bothersome.  It’s as if our way of doing things have been reversed, or turned upside down where we’ve somehow placed the better part at the bottom of our “to-do” list.   A perfect example of this would be the story of Brother Lawrence.  Brother Lawrence lived in France during the seventeenth century.  He grew up poor and so at the proper age he joined the military where he knew he’d always have food and shelter.  One day he was resting under what appeared to be the lifeless limbs of a tree in winter.  It was one of those instances that place an indelible mark on your soul.  In a vision he recognized his own seemingly dead life could be awakened if he only sought to bring God into his own life.  Shortly after he was injured, eventually had to quit the army, and so joined a monastery in Paris.  Having no great skills outside of being a foot soldier, Brother Lawrence was placed in the kitchen to wash the pots and pans and clean the floors.  He immediately set himself to work praising God for giving him this job, and soon even the filthiest of chores became a delight for him as he was able to find God in the presence of it.  He knew that every act, regardless of how mundane, could be a medium for God’s love, and he dedicated every act of his with these words; “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great a tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”  This, I believe, is what Jesus is telling Martha to do.  Do things for the love of God.  Embrace all that we do as an act of prayer.  If we could do this in just a portion of our lives imagine how much peace we would find and how much aggravation we would avoid.  For years I personally viewed St. Paul’s conviction to “pray without ceasing” as something unattainable for the ordinary people we are.  That was while I was being like Martha, and allowing the multi-tasking to distract me.  But the less I allowed things to distract me, the more I could then focus on keeping God and the body of Christ as the head of my household, and the easier some things became.  The challenges don’t vanish into thin air, the same things come along in life as they always did, but by keeping Christ first and reacting in faith that God is with you, somehow makes things easier to get through.

Finally, you know I’ve mentioned a few other times how I’m learning so much from Luke’s gospels on how his words were intentionally written for the “least of these.”  Not only does he have Jesus intentionally praising women for wanting to learn, he places Mary in a position to listen attentively, something that mostly men would be doing in that era.  And of course he also has brought his teaching out of the synagogue into public squares and now brings it into a humble home showing that there is no place that God’s word does not belong.  So as we go about our normal business for the day, as we head out of our houses this week to go to work or play or whatever our plans are, let us not forget that our first action should be keeping God as the better part of the day.   Let us not get distracted by the clutter, or the clanging of pots and pans, or the blare of the neighbors TV, or the barking of dogs chasing the cat back upstairs where they think he belongs.  Let us pray first for the guidance and presence of our Lord in all of our actions and reactions and ask for help in remembering to do whatever is the “better part.”  Amen

Luke 10:38-42

Forgiving Grace

June 16, 2013 1 comment

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I’m pretty much on the fence when it comes to using the saying “What Would Jesus Do?”  We may also add “What Would Jesus Say” to the mix of these slogans.  They are designed to make us stop and think about the actions we take in life’s challenges.  Some argue we don’t know what Jesus would do because he never encountered some of the situations that occur in our modern world.   Still others hold the question relevant and adaptable to any and all situations.  Take for instance the story of a family who had two young children in the house.  One evening after supper Mom heard the two boys arguing in the kitchen.  She went in to find out what the commotion was all about and as she got closer she heard the younger one say, “but you had the last piece of chocolate cake last week!  It’s my turn and I should get the last piece of this one!”  And the older brother was saying “I’m the oldest, so I get what I want!”  Mom entered the room and says, “Boys, what do we do when we start arguing about things?  Don’t we ask ourselves ‘what would Jesus do?”  Well, the older brother stops and drops his head in apparent guilt, and the younger one says, “Jesus would say “here, you have the last piece of cake.”  Mom said, “Very good, now work it out between the two of you without fighting.”  She turned and walked out of the room with a smile thinking she had finally gotten through to her sons when she hears the older brother say “Okay, I’ll let you feel important, you be Jesus!”

That scenario may not be exactly like the story in today’s Gospel, but what it does is start the conversation of how we decide who in society is relevant and who isn’t.  Obviously, in the joke, the older brother maintains that his age gives him a status that places him above anything the younger one might think, even the option of taking turns.  What we have with Luke’s story is someone who is recognized as an authoritative figure in society; a Pharisee who expects his position in the community to give him an excuse for neglecting certain customs and courtesies.  He was a poor host and a prejudiced one at that.  The Pharisee has lost sight of the big picture.  He is so drawn into keeping the laws he has lost his compassion for humanity.  He fails to see God’s unending Grace and forgiveness being poured out to all regardless of wealth or status.  The focus is on Jesus allowing a sinner to fuss over him.  He doesn’t care that she is tending to the needs of his guest that he had neglected to provide for him.  Instead of noticing the good that is being done, all the attention is drawn to what could be wrong with the woman’s actions.

How often do we recognize this situation in the world around us?  We can become so concerned about who others are, what they have, what they don’t have, or what they are doing, that we lose sight of the bigger picture; or more importantly, lose sight of the real nature of how we are supposed to live with each other.  God’s grace was flowing abundantly and freely with the forgiveness that Jesus was giving to this caring soul yet few knew it.  The host was so full of himself he failed to offer the common courtesies of the times; a welcoming kiss, a bowl to wash up in, and a towel to dry off.  Simple things, of course, but it took a common person from the streets to notice this and willingly and compassionately do for the host what he himself failed to do.  We know the love that Jesus gives, so maybe you can imagine beginning there in person, being able to provide for his personal needs and having that love given directly back to you?  Love so deep the tears of joy could not be held back.  So many tears you wouldn’t need water.  Perhaps it would be in this moment that we see God’s grace in both the simple and complex issues in our lives.  Apparently this is nothing new.  We see examples of it throughout 4,000 years of recorded history.  We see it in our first reading with David’s want of another man’s wife.  Again it appears as a Pharisee’s jealousy over Jesus’s attention to a sinner.  And we find it in today’s world in a modern day greed that disregards all the beatitudes and the tenth commandment (you shall not covet … anything).  It may be difficult at times to grasp what it takes to see the big picture, to be fully human and see God’s grace given without distinction of class or culture.  That’s what the Gospels do.  That’s what the Good News is.  That’s what Jesus is teaching us:  How to be fully human.  The laws and commandments are there to guide us and provide everyone the foundation and framework to care for each other, but He says “Don’t stop there.  Don’t stay in the box.”  Boxes are restrictive and confining.  The host of this dinner, Simon, who knows the laws, has put all his energy into living by the law, putting everything into a tiny, neat box.  How unfortunate for the many people around him who could use his help?  And how unfortunate for him that he doesn’t recognize this gift that he can’t see?

He has taken the law to the point of making it his idol and has forgotten how to be human.  He segregates, judges and divides people based on their obedience to a code instead of their spirit and ability to be transformed.   Jesus sees beyond the structure, removes the barrier and sees the person in their true human nature.  He knows that we make mistakes.  For the text to mention that this woman was a sinner means whatever she had done, it was done with the public’s knowledge.  Everyone knew about it.  But it doesn’t keep her from recognizing who was in her midst.  We are also shown that Jesus recognizes when someone is genuinely sorry and he knows we are capable of making those mistakes more than once.  He knows this because he knows the world and knows temptation because he, too, is human as well as divine.   I recently had a discussion where we were talking about how hard it is not to confine God to our expectations where we say “this is what God is and this is how we are supposed to worship.”  That method is perfectly fine for starting out in life because we need structure and discipline to form us, and it takes practice to make sure we don’t keep falling back into bad habits.  But growth doesn’t happen when we resign ourselves to placing people in categories by our own errant judgments.  We ignore the human and put people in their places based on what side of the street – or river – they live on, where they got their degree or whether or not they have one, and even how they pronounce words or use words that don’t really exist like some of yinz do.

Personally, the more I read and reflect on the Gospel of Luke, the more it becomes central to the decisions I make in my life and the more I refer to it as a model of how to take the Good News out into the world.  Mainly, I’m drawn to Luke’s Gospel because of its inclusiveness and ability to bring the most neglected people into the picture.  He allows those on the fringes of society that are generally left out of so many important texts; the poor, the sick, the children, and the women to assume the actual roles they play in society.  I also believe there is a connection between those who are a part of our parish and the naming of our church as St. Luke’s.  I always tell the other deacons I know in and outside of our diocese how you make my job easy.  A big part of the work of a deacon is to take the gospel into the world and identify the needs of the people, taking those needs back to the church and moving the people towards those needs.   I’m overwhelmed at times by the number of you who have come to me, letting me know who needs help and attention.  The church and the community are much better because of it.  Perhaps that’s why I like this particular reading and how it adds the beginning of chapter eight to the end of it.  Luke doesn’t present a Jesus that does one kind thing for someone and goes back to being on top with the “in crowd.”  He starts at the bottom, with those who have been declared the least, and spreads his good news upward.  He prepares the way by showing the world that the way to salvation is not through laws and good deeds but through forgiveness, love, and grace.  His followers don’t stop with twelve men.  He gets support from women he has healed like Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and others who have been called sinners.  What was once denied to many by a few is now free to all from one.  Still today, as we follow Him we are also blessed by the grace received through it.  The love continues on.  The forgiveness never ends.  The grace never stops.  Amen.

RCL Proper 6 (Luke 7:36-8:3)

Spirit and Character (and hope)

May 26, 2013 1 comment

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How striking the words that Jesus starts out with! “I still have many things to say to you but you cannot bear them now.” He tells his friends this because if he told them the truth they wouldn’t believe him, nor would they understand certain things about God and Spirit. With each passing day He made reference to God as his father, yet even that seemed difficult for them to grasp. Many mysteries of the world would have been revealed to them if they could somehow break away from the routine thought patterns of their minds. But at the same time, they came to him with hopes, dreams and a faith that defied rational thinking. Day after day they followed him and listened to his words. He eagerly and lovingly accepted the crowds that begged to be healed, taking time away only to eat, sleep, and of course – pray. They may not have understood the how or why of this healing but none of it seemed to matter to the followers – as long as they could touch his garments they knew the possibility of a new life was at hand. And Jesus recognized this need for a personal relationship – all the while knowing that his absence would be quite hard for them to bear. For him to leave without instructions would be near abandonment to those who expected their messiah to be a living hero and free them once and for all. They were to hear all the truth at another time in another way. A way in which God the Son could continue guiding and loving them even after he was gone from their sight; a way in which we can still today can access all the truth without hearing the words.

Yes, even in our own time, we find it difficult to bear the real meaning behind the words we hear or miss the opportunity to make a connection with what we read or hear. I have a personal story about that which might serve as a good example that goes along with today’s reading from Paul. It illustrates this fairly well. Some of you may have heard me tell it, some not, and I hope it bears repeating on this day. Three years ago while I was working at my internship, Sheri happened to become ill and we were in one of rooms of the emergency department at the hospital. Now it also happened to be that I was preaching that upcoming Sunday and was reading the lessons to see where my sermon would be going. As I sat next to the bed, I opened up my Bible to the marked passage and was reading – quite intensely to be sure – when I glanced over and thought about how much pain she was in at the time. I glanced back at the text and continued. The next thing I know I’m reading the line about suffering… and about how it leads to endurance… and how that leads to character… and then hope… and then I became filled with the Holy Spirit, or so I thought, and thinking that this was all in some cosmic order of events; me… her… the reading… everything seemed to fit together… I said; “Listen to this! Here’s an answer and reason for what you’re going through!” Well, she glanced up at me in what appeared to be thankfulness for maybe finding a cure. “Here it is, right here in this week’s readings for my sermon!” And I began reciting the passage from Paul of what suffering led to and after I was done I said; “See? All of this pain and suffering you’re going through?!? It all leads to character and hope!! So you have nothing to worry about!” —– It was at that moment I learned a huge lesson in bedside manners concerning pastoral care. She gave me a look only a spouse could understand and said “I don’t want character and hope; I want this pain to go away!!!”

Yes, I then also understood how many times we think we have an answer – or the answer – and jump into something without first discerning the situation or praying for the right solution. It was not that I had lousy intentions with my zealous reaction; it was that I was not ready to bear the words. I, too, was hearing through my own mind from my own will and my own emotions – and not from a place where I could discern all the truth that the passage was telling me. Oh, the Holy Spirit was present there, that’s for sure, right there in the written words. Had I maybe not been so attached to the situation I may have found that the passage was meant for me. That as I struggled and sympathized with her pain, the situation would help form me into being better with hospital visits. It might just help me recognize the hope that I need to have for others.

When our knee-jerk human reaction is the desire to find a cure or an answer or a quick way to relieve someone from pain it can – as I learned – be more of a setback than advancement toward our cause. Instead of first seeking guidance and waiting to be faithfully confident in knowing the truth, we plunge into waters of unknown depth. Where did these words and my actions come from that led me to do the things I did and react that way? Were these actions and words that first came to mind and out of my mouth the result of patient listening to all the truth from the Holy Spirit or were they of my own will? How can we be sure? Where does the guidance and comfort come from? God? Yes, God. From that part of God who is our Father and Creator? From Jesus? Jesus did say that He would give us whatever we asked for in His name, and we know that Jesus was God in human flesh, but we’re also told Jesus ascended into heaven, too, so it’s not his physical presence that we meet. So what is it? Here, revealed, is the relationship of the Holy Spirit, being one with God the Father and Creator; and one with Jesus the Son of God, fully human, fully divine. Here is where one becomes three. It’s here in these last two or three weeks of the Easter Season where we are told we have nothing to fear even though Jesus is no longer walking among us. For what we have now – is what we have always had – it’s that part of God, that “person” that was from the beginning, that was breathed from the lips of God to bring us into life. It’s that Spirit that moves like the wind; we don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. It’s that part of God that Jesus commands to lead us and trust in while we are on this journey together on earth. Our Advocate: The breath of God: The comforter…

In this period of the life of our church, I have witnessed how St. Luke’s has been listening to guidance of the Holy Spirit. Not only have we dealt with our internal matters in a prayerful and spirit-led way, but not one of our ministries to those outside these walls who need our help has been left unattended. We are alive with the Holy Spirit and She has kept us focused and strong.
Speaking of strong, this is also Memorial Day weekend – the time we spend honoring those who gave their lives during times of war in service to our country. There is something to be said about a person who stands up for his or her beliefs to the point of being willing to die for them. And that’s what this holiday is about. It started out being called “Decoration Day” because the graves of the fallen soldiers were to be marked with decorations of flowers. Today it has become to many a time of reflection, thanksgiving and a prayerful memorial. One of my favorite memorials is a song by Edwin McCain called “Prayer to St. Peter.” It’s a song about where we find souls lost in the conflict of war, and how they should be treated in heaven. Here is a portion of it: “Let them in, Peter. For they are very tired. Give them couches where the angels sleep. And light those fires. Let them wake up whole again… to brand new dawns. Fired by the sun. Not wartime’s bloody guns. May their peace be deep. Remember where their broken bodies lie. God knows how young they were. To have to die.” Likewise, may our peace be deep as we continue our journey together in prayer, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

scripture references: Romans 5:1-5 and the Gospel of John 16:12-15