Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Waking Up in Advent

Readings for the First Sunday in Advent

Click on video to listen to the sermon



At the age of 25 I had earned a BA in Biology with a concentration in Pre-medicine and a Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School. I had traveled, studied and worked hard. Yet I humbly found myself sitting on the couch my first day home after graduation with a type A personality, and nowhere to go and not a clue what I wanted to do. I was advised to just start making phone calls.

One of those calls lead to a conversation about potentially becoming a priest which I of course responded with “maybe but not now.” I was so unsure of what I wanted to do and the prospect of going back to school again right after graduating seemed daunting.

So, I continued to do my due diligence exploring my options. I taught for a few years and did some hostess work at a restaurant. I was a career specialist helping people find work while behind close doors I was the one fighting to figure out and really accept my own calling. Eventually I couldn’t fight it any longer and through many ups and downs I stand before you today an Episcopal Priest.

I share this with you today to show that sometimes we have to be patient in figuring things out and it’s not always easy or perfect or compliant with societal expectations to have this done at this time, to be at a particular stage in your career by specific age or to be married or to own a home or to retire or to move into an assisted living facility. The list goes on and on.

But what I realized was while we are being patient we have to continue to work and progress until our calling is revealed at any stage of life. The disciples weren’t given the time of the second coming. They were left in the dark but continued the path that Jesus had set them on to do the Lord's work.

While the patience and effort that I put forth during my path to the priesthood and many others have put towards their careers isn’t anywhere near as inspiring as the disciples, it does show that even now, everyone has the capability of diligence and patience to keep moving forward while in the middle of the not knowing.

And that is the advice Jesus is giving his disciples today--to keep moving forward by keeping awake and being ready. We will never know when he will return, even Jesus says he doesn’t know the exact day or time he will come again--only God is privy to that information.

But Jesus encourages us to take advantage of this time of waiting. To use this time to be patient with ourselves to figure out where God is calling us to when it comes to jobs, relationships, purpose, travel, retiring, finances, moving, etc. The waiting period is really the listening time--the time we attempt to listen in our lives where God is calling and saying, “hey, over here time to go or time for change.” It took me quite of few years to listen but it is interesting where we end up when we do.

It is in this time of waiting that we have to stay patient with ourselves and with God. Jesus even gives us the story today of the people knowing the flood was about to come but still they didn’t listen by not using the waiting period as a time of preparation for safety and survival. Knowing that the Lord is coming, how do we make sure we listen?

Well, it falls under this call for preparation, where we move forward each day by “keeping awake” as Jesus commands of us in Matthew. What does this look like to keep awake and be ready? We are now in the season of Advent, a time dedicate to wait for the birth of Christ, and to be ready in this waiting for Jesus is by inviting God into the preparation. By reflecting on the ways we are spiritually alert and awake.

To be awake and to see on our journey of life, we need light, and that is why Paul tells the Romans to put on the armor of light. The armor of light is our call to live lives that honor and glorify God through the hope, peace, love and joy that we have in Jesus Christ. The hope we have in Christ’s coming again is the light that we are blessed to have in our lives. That is what we need to keep awake for in this time of waiting.

Staying awake and waiting when we are tired is not easy. We live in an age where waiting is not really acceptable and avoided. There are even apps on our phones to alleviate it. I’m an avid Starbucks customer. When I say avid I mean that the drive thru Starbucks near my house knows my name and order--grande non-fat, flat white with two Splenda. But now they have a feature where you can order your coffee without waiting in line.

But as frustrating as waiting can be, some of the lines I have waited in at Starbucks have been when I’ve met the most interesting people and have had the most beautiful experiences.

While waiting one day, a man saw my theology reading and asked what I was studying. I told him I was in seminary and he looked at me and said, “don’t let the intellect get in the way of the spirit.” When I turned away and then immediately looked back he was gone. I like to think he was a little angel reminding me to not get caught up in having to be this perfect biblical scholar and allowing the spirit to move in me.

Finally, I was waiting in the line at Starbucks once again and ran into a girl I went to college with who was in my chemistry classes freshman year.  One Saturday night I saw her in the library and she was telling me about how she was hiding out from her abusive boyfriend. It had been raining horribly and she was soaked to the bone. While she was hiding out in the common room of our dorm I remember giving her one of my favorite t-shirts to wear. When I saw her Starbucks 10 years later and I got to see how well she was doing, and she asked if I would be there for a little while. Since I make every Starbucks my personal office space I reassured her I would be there. So, about 30 minutes later she reappears with a gift bag and in it was the t-shirt that I let her borrow all those years ago. She kept it just in case she ever saw me again.

It’s not about the t-shirt or the coffee but that in the waiting we are awaken to the beauty and love of God. When we are patient and watchful we get to see the Kingdom here on earth through the light of others. This advent season as we light the Advent Wreath each week may we be reminded to embody the hope, love, peace and joy that each candle represents as we keep moving forward as we wait and bring light to our world. Amen.

The Rev. Jessica E. Sexton













Food is Full of Memories

Readings for Thanksgiving, November 24th


Click on video to listen to sermon


Recently I watched the film the Hundred-Foot Journey, and the main character Hassan talks about cooking with his mother who passed away and  how the smells of certain foods remind him of her. He said that “food is memories.” Food is full of memories, especially on this Thanksgiving Holiday; some are good and some are not as wonderful. But food is full of memories for each of us.

One of my favorite memories of food was a thanksgiving about 15 years ago now. I have been going to my Aunt Beth’s house for Thanksgiving for the last thirty years. And my Aunt is an excellent cook and takes pride in her thanksgiving meal—getting a fresh thirty pound bird, making homemade stuffing and my favorite, sauerkraut and Kielbasa—so good.

Now, there have been many thanksgivings but the most memorable year was when my aunt was busy preparing the stuffing and was chopping away and in the midst of her preparation she accidentally cut the tip of her finger off.  We don’t know how but she lost it in the stuffing.

My poor aunt was in so much pain from the cut and the whole family was in pain over not having edible stuffing at Thanksgiving. Years later we still laugh about how no one was brave enough to eat the stuffing that year just in case it was contaminated since my aunt did not have enough time that day to prepare a new batch plus go to patient first.

Yes, that was a memorable thanksgiving but what I love about that year is that even though the stuffing perished (literally); the love and work that went into making that meal and the love of our family and friends that gathered to eat it--that is what is remembered.

That might not have been the best thanksgiving meal but it is full of memories that still endure. Food gathers us into a community--on this holiday it might be with a community friends or family or maybe alone but celebrating the holiday as a country unites into a greater community. Food gathers us.  

Food is what gathers the crowd in the gospel today.  This crowd is familiar. This crowd of about 5,000 men that were previously fed by Jesus with five loaves of bread and two fish traveled together across the sea to find Jesus for more food. 

It is not the miracle of feeding so many with so little that captivates these men but the potential of being fed to their fill once again. Jesus knows that they are physically hungry but he senses their desperation for something else too—they are seeking something they are even unsure of or don’t know how to describe.

That is why Jesus does not shame them or reprimand them for traveling to see him for more to eat. Because he knows that they did not just cross an entire sea for more bread and fish. That what they are seeking is beyond physical hunger and Jesus would be able to recognize this because he knew what it meant to be hungry—he spent 40 days in the desert with nothing to eat. He knows that earthly food will not be enough to sustain these men or subside their hunger for something greater.

So Jesus says to them, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

This is not about shaming or reprimanding or dismissing their physical hunger—on the contrary. He meets these men where they are— both physically and spiritually. Jesus knows the desperation it took for them to work to get there. “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.”

Jesus is pushing the crowd to expect more—not more bread or more physical food but to expect more and to seek more out of their relationship with God and also out of themselves so that they will experience peace for eternity. He’s challenging them yet guiding them on how to live a life filled with food that endures. What does this look like for this crowd and also for us? Piety? Faithfulness? Trust? Belief? All of the above?

Jesus us tells the crowd to Work for this food— to work is to believe in Jesus Christ and to believe is to trust that God—who sent his son to die on the cross for our sins because of a wonderous love for us, to trust that God is ever present in our lives and in the moments of desperate hunger. The work of believing and trusting in Jesus involves us filling our lives with food that supports and feeds that belief and trust in Christ.

Jesus says work for the food that endures for eternal life—work for healthy relationships that support and encourages our relationship with God and our faith life, work for time in prayer that can provide calm and self-reflection, work for food that gives us confidence and peace to share the Good News of Christ in the world.

Work for food that feeds our relationship with God that allows us to trust, believe, to hope and to remember. Because that is the relationship that endures forever.

Food is memories and Food is what gathers us together. It is what gathers us today—to partake in the holy meal at God’s table. It is how we remember the love and sacrifice given and made by Christ. It is through our participation in the Eucharist that signifies our work of trusting and believing in Jesus. Jesus says today, “I am the Bread of Life.”  I will fulfill all your hunger. “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven.”  That is the food we believe and trust in because the bread of life sustains and never perishes.

Food is filled with our memories but it also filled with hope and love for our continual relationship with one another and with God. And as we gather around many tables today and eat meals prepared by those we love let us give thanks for the hope we have been given in the bread of life by Christ and the opportunity to work for food that does endure and sustain and gives meaning to this life. Amen.


 The Rev. Jessica E. Sexton


Sunday, November 20, 2016

We Can't All Get Along

Sunday's Gospel, Luke 23:33-43





So this morning is what we call the last Sunday in Ordinary Time.  We are now out of the ordinary – onto something new – and never before (in my time of saying that) has that liturgical delineation so paralleled our secular reality.

We remember the death of Christ, as we turn to prepare for the birth of Jesus.  The waiting and watching time of Advent. And perhaps the church’s wisdom in this is to remind us of just how incredible it is that God would choose to be born, knowing how that would be received.  

This day is also known as Christ the King.  And we hear that title confessed by several characters in the gospel – but they do so mockingly.  There is no reverence of Jesus when calling him king – only derision.  Like the devil at the beginning of Jesus ministry – who says, if you are God’s son, throw yourself from the pinnacle so the angels will catch you – the people echo that temptation this morning – if you are the King of King and Lord of Lords – prove it.

Jesus will prove it of course, but not in the way any would expect.  But in a way that is always – a most astounding mystery.  The hymn we just sang points to it – what wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul.

We believe the entire redemption of the world – the cosmos – happens through Christ on the cross.  But sometimes what is even more incredible – and harder to take in – is that my redemption, my liberation, my forgiveness – was part of that too.  What wondrous love – for me?

How does Jesus not hate on that cross?  How does he not judge and condemn his persecutors?  It’s not as if Jesus was a nice guy his whole life – floating through the towns and villages like some sort of stereotypical hippie type saying can’t we all just get along.  Jesus got mad at the Pharisees and all the ways they thought they were better than. Jesus got frustrated with disciples who argued over who was the greatest more than seeking the least and the lost.  Jesus got so angry at the economic practices of the temple that he stormed in and overturned the tables.

So what better time for Jesus to get angry than on that cross.  Adoring crowds long gone - abandoned by his followers – having to listen to obnoxious hecklers jeer while he’s being tortured to death.  Think about that, think about what you’d do, what you’d consider reasonable in this extreme situation.  Jesus was a human being – how does he not lose it? Most of us lose it over far less.

(Speaking of which) This coming week is Thanksgiving.  You know what’s great about Thanksgiving – spending quality time with family.  You know what’s not-so-great about Thanksgiving – spending quality time with family.  This past week – I talked to some people who had changed their plans – to avoid arguments.  Because in this extra-ordinary time - the ways in which people disagree with one another is really intense.

There are many voices encouraging us right now – in our families, as neighbors with each other – to get better at listening and speaking.  Speaking in ways that name our truth – without mocking or negating the truth of another.  Listening in ways that let us acknowledge someone else’s perspective without an argument – or worse - violence.  How do we get better at that kind of listening and speaking? Instead of getting baited – instead of getting angry?

When Jesus gets angry – it’s always true righteous anger.  Like the prophets before him – he loses it over issues of justice.  The poor who are exploited, the marginalized who are mocked and excluded, the people who profess belief with their lips – but don’t live those beliefs.  He doesn’t get angry here – because that’s not what’s happening.

This is God putting Godself right at the crossing of where all our brokenness meets God’s wondrous love.  On the cross we see compassion subsume all our sin.

So if we want God’s ways to be our ways – I think an important question is - Do you believe you and I – and everyone else – has the capacity to tap into that kind of love, that compassion ourselves?  Yes.  The answer is yes – even if you don’t believe it – God says yes.  We are children of God – made in the image of God – in whom we live and move and have our being – so all the goodness of God we ever need is available to us right in here. But we have to get at it – sometimes we really have to dig for it – and we certainly need to practice and nurture that goodness.

A few weeks ago I led a class on self-compassion.  Compassion is something we all get.  Although sometimes we confuse sympathy or pity with compassion.  Compassion is when Jesus gets to the tomb of Lazarus and weeps.  Jesus feels the depth of loss that Martha and Mary feel.  He doesn’t pat them on the shoulder and say, “There, there – at least he went quickly.”  He feels with them.

I hear Jesus feel with when he says – Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.  I hear Christ bearing the pain of the hatred in the peoples’ hearts.  The pain of his disciples’ disappointment.  The pain God feels with us when our hopes have been dashed.

To feel with others in this way is hard – and requires us to practice “feeling with” with ourselves. Self-compassion has a simple definition – in your moment of suffering, whatever it is, are you treating yourself as you would treat someone you really care about.  Think about the last time you did something wrong, or forgot something, made a mistake, big or small – was the first thing you said to yourself something like – wow Arianne that was really hard, but it’s ok, mistakes happen, part of the human experience.  Or was it more along the lines of – I am such an idiot!  Having taught this concept in a variety of groups I can tell you the majority – teacher included – are familiar with the latter.

It’s easy and acceptable – and for some of us it’s how we were raised – to go straight to the seat of judgment when it comes to our own failings.  So it makes sense – we’d do the same with others, especially people we don’t agree with.  Self-compassion isn’t feeling sorry for yourself – or wallowing in self-pity.  It’s choosing self-kindness over self-judgment.  It’s choosing to remember we’re human and broken, just like everyone else.  So we don’t need to isolate ourselves – thinking we’re the problem we’re trying to solve.  And it’s staying mindful – acknowledging our painful feelings, knowing they too shall pass.  Feelings aren’t facts – they’re feelings.

Self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.  I see Jesus practice all three in his life before this moment.  Through a life of connection and prayer. In the way in which he lets himself be human, in grief, in frustration, in joy – and in his ability to be present, mindful in anxiety-provoking, argumentative and painful situations.
 
So much so that he isn’t baited by the hecklers and he can turn in his dying to an unrepentant thief – who asks to be remembered – and speak love - truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise.

The wondrous love God shares for us through Christ – God gives to us through Christ.  If we want to live in a world where we respect the dignity of every human being – which requires deep compassion made visible in our listening and speaking – then we have to be that compassion.  Sometimes it’s about doing – often the better part Jesus reminds us – is to pay attention and practice how we be.

Be still and know God – the nugget of wisdom in our psalm surrounded by versus of calamity and destruction.  That compassionate way of being – like most of our God-given innate abilities – have to be relearned, nurtured and practiced.  And practice is what lived faith is all about.

So as we leave ordinary time – let us pray the words of Paul – may all of us be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s wondrous love – knowing we are prepared to endure everything with patience – while joyfully giving thanks to God – who through the cross of compassion forgives all of us – equipping us to share in the inheritance of all the saints in the light.  Amen.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Will you testify?

The readings for this week.

Click on video to listen to the sermon



One afternoon last spring I found myself outside the National Cathedral in D.C. I needed a change of liturgical scenery while in seminary, and decided to make the trip. I stood there gazing upward—minutes passed by and I could not look away despite some of the construction taking place on the one side of the building.  I don’t know if it was the beautiful stained glass that peaked out from the curves and gothic design of the massive structure…or that I was overwhelmed by it’s sheer size. I just stood there in awe of it’s beauty but also it’s power—the power of it’s size, the manpower it took to build it and the power it represented as a beacon of faithful light in the midst of a bustling city.

For those in Jerusalem the temple held the same physical power and faithful refuge. Those standing with Jesus gazed up at the Temple’s massive structure in awe—amazed by the beautiful stones and the gifts that it held to honor God. The temple was so big in Jerusalem that it is said to have held 400,000 people in the outer court during the festival times of the year. The overwhelming size and beauty of the temple was to reflect their honoring of the one and only God.

And Jesus does not refute its magnificence. However, for Jesus, he warns that the beauty of these stones would not withhold the dysfunction and pain of the world.  That the weight of the world’s problems would one day push them down but would leave only the people to make sense of the ruin. The people, the body of Christ, are what remain when all the buildings fall.  The beauty of those stones will never surpass the beauty of God’s people and the beauty that Christ sees in all of us—even when we don’t.

That is why Jesus’ warning about the aftermath of the Temple’s destruction is not about immediate devastation but what the Body of Christ would face throughout time. Jesus’ warning of division, instability, war, natural disasters is to name what we as followers of Christ would encounter—that we would not be exempt from experiencing these things because of the greatness of a temple or building. And today, we are living in the warnings of Jesus where there is division over race, gender, religion, economics, etc.

We are in the aftermath of a divisive campaign year that left many angry and hurt on many sides. What do we do? As the body of Christ where do we go from here? As God’s people, how do we live in this divide and encounter the divisions?

The gospel answers this question by not just focusing on destruction this week but what we are to do when we are in the ruins. When we are surrounded by the beautiful stones and need to pick them up. Jesus says, “do not be terrified…this will give you the opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”

What do we do now as Christians? Christ says…that the destruction, the difficult times that we are challenged with, either individually or as a community, are the opportunities to testify—to share and show the love of God. No matter what political affiliation-- we have the responsibility as Christians first and foremost to be an example of God’s love and kindness in the world.

How do we share the love of God during a time of division? Professor and Liturgist, James Farwell states that we are to “Feed the poor. Speak the truth. Protect the vulnerable. Proclaim grace. Keep working.”

We are to keep working on living out our baptismal promises that we repeated again last week when Jeffrey and Emily were baptized. We promised to continue to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. We promised to love those who are our neighbor, who may be different from us.

Showing the love of God may not be easy when we are up against unkind words, or just plain disagree on anything, but love through kindness is what truly brings about positive change. And that is what I hope for in this world and that is what Christ called us to when he says to testify.  

And as we keep working, we also promised to continue to strive for justice and peace among all people, and continue to respect the dignity of every human being. We are to strive for justice by standing up against racism, sexism, homophobia, and the disregard of humanity. We are challenged with this responsibility. 

A priest from Connecticut was so disturbed by the increase of hate crimes this week that she wrote a letter to LGBTQ teens and young adults who fear being victim of one of these crimes based on their sexual orientation. But her letter to them of their value is a reminder to every one of our responsibility we have as Christians to live into the call to love and respect the dignity of all of God’s people, but it also a reminder of our love by God as well.

She wrote: God loves you. I love you. There are many of us who love you. And we love you regardless of who you love, what color your skin is, what part of the world you come from, what name you use for God, what gender you are, or who you want to be when you grow up. We love you if you or your parents are undocumented — whether you can dance, or cook, or sing — or not. We love you if you are funny, or serious, a Trekkie, or a jock. There is a place for you in this world, and in this country, if you are nerdy, goth-y, shy, college educated — or not. God loves you — and made you just the way that you are.

To testify, is to show love like this. To make all God’s children—the body of Christ—know they are loved like this even when the world—neighbors, family, media challenge us with judgment, hate and intolerance. Which is why our baptismal promises guide us on how to love one another.

However, I must say that showing love through feeding the poor, speaking the truth, protecting the vulnerable, and proclaiming grace—this work of testifying it does not come without fear, discouragement, uncertainty and anxiety. For many right now, the fear and anxiety is very real for what may come. But Jesus promises us that despite the division and messiness of the world, that we are surrounded by god with this promise “not a hair of your head will perish.” We as Christians have a great responsibility to live into our baptismal promises but also a call to trust that God will be with us in our testifying. God will be with us in doing the work Christ has called us to do.

And we are doing that work here at Good Shepherd. Loaves and Fishes yesterday made hundreds sandwiches to hand out in this cold weather. The micro-loan program is giving hope and chance to people with dreams of doing good work in the world. Our Daily Bread team serves our Baltimore Community by making food once a month and the Paul’s Place team that delivers food from Graul’s. Our partnership with St. Luke’s on Carey Street with Camp Imagination that gives kids a safe and creative place to dream and have fun. To Cherubs music that teaches love through the joy of learning music. There are many more things that we as a church are working on and if I forgot one I apologize. This is the good work, the testifying that Christ calls us to in today’s gospel---feed the poor, speak the truth, protect the vulnerable, and proclaim grace.

Because when we testify, we bring the hope of the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ—who died on the cross and rose again—we have hope in the resurrection and hope in eternal life with Christ. And with all the divides we exist in on this earth may we be comforted that we have good news to share in the love and redemption that we find through the resurrection.

Where there is hatred and misunderstanding we will be the love and light in the world. Let us keep working on living out Christ’s call for hope, love and faith especially amongst the rubble of division. Because as it says in the second letter to the Thessalonians, “Brothers and Sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” Amen.

The Rev. Jessica E. Sexton



Sources:
http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1853
https://medium.com/@revmarissa/an-open-letter-to-lgbtq-youth-and-young-adults-after-the-election-fd5f448a3ba4#.3ydeho245 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Called to be Saints!


"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 
"Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. 
"Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. (Luke 6)

To listen to the sermon click the image





Blessed are you, Jesus says—again and again—blessed are you.  Those words can be hard to hear. Hard to really let them sink in and believe in our innate blessedness.  I almost think it’s easier to take in the words of judgment – and we come away from this gospel with “woe to you” ringing in our ears.

The Sermon on the Mount is a prayer for the community of saints – a description of those most human experiences where we find God.  The ways in which we connect with those things – tangible, intangible– realities where we come to see what really matters.  I certainly do not mean or want to idealize poverty or grief – those aren’t states of being we should want for ourselves or anyone else.  However, as Jesus displayed – arms stretched wide - at the end of his life – it is when we have let everything go – that we grasp the answer to a very important question – as the poet Mary Oliver frames it –

 “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (Summer Day)

Every life is precious.  And everyone is a saint.

This is something I’ve shared before – but I think its worth repeating on All Saints Day – when we are to lift up and remember our capacity for holiness (which something much bigger than just doing good – our divinity within).  Thomas Merton – contemplative monk, author, peace activist – started off as Episcopalian but, switched teams.  Before he became a monk and priest he was living in New York City trying to figure out what to do with his one wild and precious life – and walking with his friend (Thomas Merton Seven Storey Mountain)

His friend asked, “What do you want to be anyway?”

Thomas replied, I want to be Thomas Merton, well-known author - I don’t know – I guess what I want is to be a good Catholic.”
“What do you mean a good Catholic?  What you should say, Thomas, what you should say is that you want to be a saint.”
A saint! Thomas replied, “How do you expect me to become a saint!”
“By wanting to.  All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one.  Don’t you believe that God will make you what God created you to be, if you will consent to let God do it?  All you have to do is desire it.”

That sounds too good to be true - that all we need is desire, all God needs is our consent?  Those blessings we hear Jesus proclaim this morning –they do not sound easy – nor do they sound like ways of being we would want to consent to.  We hear Jesus say that the kingdom of heaven is in all we want to avoid – poverty, sorrow, hunger, persecution.  And we hear those “woe to you” and we can relate to that.  It’s easier to feel unworthy - like we’re not doing enough – and the benchmarks are to high. Easier than having the crazy and courageous audacity to believe we are saints?

Well, Jesus isn’t telling us the answers to an entrance exam.  He is describing the kingdom of God that exists then and right now.  Even though we often hear them this way, his phrases are not conditional clauses.  Jesus does not say “whoever is pure in heart, then they will know the kingdom.”  Or, “If, one is merciful, then they will be blessed.”  Jesus pronounces blessing on what already is. Those hard things are already there – outside our world – and inside this world (point).  Once again it’s a way of seeing – seeing around us – and seeing ourselves.

Jesus is giving us permission to acknowledge our brokenness – the ways in which we cannot be perfect (for only God has that wholeness).  Last week we heard Jesus say – I came to seek the lost.  It is only in recognizing where we are lost that we let God in.  And letting God in – is really all a saint has to do.

It’s so great we have baptisms today.  At a baptism we grow the community of saints by naming the blessedness of these children.  And for us adults – children remind us of who we are.  As the writer of 1st John says - See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. Beloved, we are God's children now. (1 John 3).

Children don’t shun their dependence like we adults do.  Of course as get older there are responsibilities we take on – there are others who depend on us.  But the minute we believe we have ultimate control over our lives – and can orchestrate the world around us – we have replaced God.   Woe is me, in those moments, indeed.

When I was doing my chaplaincy at Beth Israel in New York city – this is when you are assigned floors of a hospital, different wings – and you wander randomly into stranger’s rooms to see if they want to talk or pray – and then you spend the bulk of your time reflecting on how all your own stuff – gets in the way of just being present to other people.  I will confess to you – on more than one occasion I hid out in the medical library.

So one afternoon – I wandered into a young woman’s room.  She wasn’t a child – but she was barely a young adult – around 18.  She was very ill.  She was very used to being in hospitals.  She had just been accepted into a veterinary program at UCLA and she was thrilled – and she knew she was never going to go.  She had 6 brothers and sisters.  She was a Christian.  We talked for a long time.  I don’t remember anything either one of us said.  What I do remember was that – she radiated something beautiful.  I remember never before feeling like I was in the presence of such genuine hospitality.  I remember leaving her room – thinking I’ve just been given some amazing gift, but what?

And I remember leaving the hospital a little later – and here’s the part where I hope you don’t think I’m crazy – onto a crowded city sidewalk at the end of the day – and seeing that quality in everyone around me.  Seeing beauty in humanity – dare I say – seeing the community of saints and how we are inextricably interconnected with one another – and that somehow – is of God.

And then a few years later – reading Thomas Merton – he talked about a very similar experience.  Thirty years after that conversation with his friend - now that he’d been a monk – but realizing solitude wasn’t the be all, end all of a holy life – that the holiness is all around us – all the time.  And standing on a street corner – Fourth and Walnut in Kentucky, having just run an errand – he wrote –

“Suddenly I saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes.  If only they could all see themselves as they really are.  If only we could see each other that way all the time.  But it cannot be explained.  There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” (Thomas Merton Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)

I don’t share the story of my encounter with this woman to compare myself to a named saint in the church – I share it because I know many of you have those moments too.  When you – as Paul writes this morning – are able to see with the eyes of your heart enlightened.  Maybe it was when you were gazing at your child.  Maybe it was when you were in conversation with a stranger – or with the friend you could never live without.  Maybe it was when you were serving – or being served – or weeping – or laughing.  Or doing what you have been called to do with your one, wild and precious life!  All of us have these divine moments of holiness where we see a glimpse of ultimate reality.  When we are able to see the saints among us – walking around – shining like the sun.

God brings us into relationship with saints all the time.  In our children – in our families – with those we love – and with those we don’t even really know.  If we believe God blessed all humanity through Christ – then all we need to do is consent to God – desire to see with the eyes of our hearts enlightened.

For we prayed our belief this morning that God knit this community together – so it can only be a shining, miraculous and marvelous work in God’s eyes.  God will help us see – the saints among us – and the saints we are.

So may we all consent to letting Jesus Christ’s words sink in this morning - Blessed are you – blessed are you – blessed are you.  Amen.


Called to be Saints!


"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 
"Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. 
"Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. (Luke 6)

To listen to the sermon click the image





Blessed are you, Jesus says—again and again—blessed are you.  Those words can be hard to hear. Hard to really let them sink in and believe in our innate blessedness.  I almost think it’s easier to take in the words of judgment – and we come away from this gospel with “woe to you” ringing in our ears.

The Sermon on the Mount is a prayer for the community of saints – a description of those most human experiences where we find God.  The ways in which we connect with those things – tangible, intangible– realities where we come to see what really matters.  I certainly do not mean or want to idealize poverty or grief – those aren’t states of being we should want for ourselves or anyone else.  However, as Jesus displayed – arms stretched wide - at the end of his life – it is when we have let everything go – that we grasp the answer to a very important question – as the poet Mary Oliver frames it –

 “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (Summer Day)

Every life is precious.  And everyone is a saint.

This is something I’ve shared before – but I think its worth repeating on All Saints Day – when we are to lift up and remember our capacity for holiness (which something much bigger than just doing good – our divinity within).  Thomas Merton – contemplative monk, author, peace activist – started off as Episcopalian but, switched teams.  Before he became a monk and priest he was living in New York City trying to figure out what to do with his one wild and precious life – and walking with his friend (Thomas Merton Seven Storey Mountain)

His friend asked, “What do you want to be anyway?”

Thomas replied, I want to be Thomas Merton, well-known author - I don’t know – I guess what I want is to be a good Catholic.”
“What do you mean a good Catholic?  What you should say, Thomas, what you should say is that you want to be a saint.”
A saint! Thomas replied, “How do you expect me to become a saint!”
“By wanting to.  All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one.  Don’t you believe that God will make you what God created you to be, if you will consent to let God do it?  All you have to do is desire it.”

That sounds too good to be true - that all we need is desire, all God needs is our consent?  Those blessings we hear Jesus proclaim this morning –they do not sound easy – nor do they sound like ways of being we would want to consent to.  We hear Jesus say that the kingdom of heaven is in all we want to avoid – poverty, sorrow, hunger, persecution.  And we hear those “woe to you” and we can relate to that.  It’s easier to feel unworthy - like we’re not doing enough – and the benchmarks are to high. Easier than having the crazy and courageous audacity to believe we are saints?

Well, Jesus isn’t telling us the answers to an entrance exam.  He is describing the kingdom of God that exists then and right now.  Even though we often hear them this way, his phrases are not conditional clauses.  Jesus does not say “whoever is pure in heart, then they will know the kingdom.”  Or, “If, one is merciful, then they will be blessed.”  Jesus pronounces blessing on what already is. Those hard things are already there – outside our world – and inside this world (point).  Once again it’s a way of seeing – seeing around us – and seeing ourselves.

Jesus is giving us permission to acknowledge our brokenness – the ways in which we cannot be perfect (for only God has that wholeness).  Last week we heard Jesus say – I came to seek the lost.  It is only in recognizing where we are lost that we let God in.  And letting God in – is really all a saint has to do.

It’s so great we have baptisms today.  At a baptism we grow the community of saints by naming the blessedness of these children.  And for us adults – children remind us of who we are.  As the writer of 1st John says - See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. Beloved, we are God's children now. (1 John 3).

Children don’t shun their dependence like we adults do.  Of course as get older there are responsibilities we take on – there are others who depend on us.  But the minute we believe we have ultimate control over our lives – and can orchestrate the world around us – we have replaced God.   Woe is me, in those moments, indeed.

When I was doing my chaplaincy at Beth Israel in New York city – this is when you are assigned floors of a hospital, different wings – and you wander randomly into stranger’s rooms to see if they want to talk or pray – and then you spend the bulk of your time reflecting on how all your own stuff – gets in the way of just being present to other people.  I will confess to you – on more than one occasion I hid out in the medical library.

So one afternoon – I wandered into a young woman’s room.  She wasn’t a child – but she was barely a young adult – around 18.  She was very ill.  She was very used to being in hospitals.  She had just been accepted into a veterinary program at UCLA and she was thrilled – and she knew she was never going to go.  She had 6 brothers and sisters.  She was a Christian.  We talked for a long time.  I don’t remember anything either one of us said.  What I do remember was that – she radiated something beautiful.  I remember never before feeling like I was in the presence of such genuine hospitality.  I remember leaving her room – thinking I’ve just been given some amazing gift, but what?

And I remember leaving the hospital a little later – and here’s the part where I hope you don’t think I’m crazy – onto a crowded city sidewalk at the end of the day – and seeing that quality in everyone around me.  Seeing beauty in humanity – dare I say – seeing the community of saints and how we are inextricably interconnected with one another – and that somehow – is of God.

And then a few years later – reading Thomas Merton – he talked about a very similar experience.  Thirty years after that conversation with his friend - now that he’d been a monk – but realizing solitude wasn’t the be all, end all of a holy life – that the holiness is all around us – all the time.  And standing on a street corner – Fourth and Walnut in Kentucky, having just run an errand – he wrote –

“Suddenly I saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes.  If only they could all see themselves as they really are.  If only we could see each other that way all the time.  But it cannot be explained.  There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” (Thomas Merton Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)

I don’t share the story of my encounter with this woman to compare myself to a named saint in the church – I share it because I know many of you have those moments too.  When you – as Paul writes this morning – are able to see with the eyes of your heart enlightened.  Maybe it was when you were gazing at your child.  Maybe it was when you were in conversation with a stranger – or with the friend you could never live without.  Maybe it was when you were serving – or being served – or weeping – or laughing.  Or doing what you have been called to do with your one, wild and precious life!  All of us have these divine moments of holiness where we see a glimpse of ultimate reality.  When we are able to see the saints among us – walking around – shining like the sun.

God brings us into relationship with saints all the time.  In our children – in our families – with those we love – and with those we don’t even really know.  If we believe God blessed all humanity through Christ – then all we need to do is consent to God – desire to see with the eyes of our hearts enlightened.

For we prayed our belief this morning that God knit this community together – so it can only be a shining, miraculous and marvelous work in God’s eyes.  God will help us see – the saints among us – and the saints we are.

So may we all consent to letting Jesus Christ’s words sink in this morning - Blessed are you – blessed are you – blessed are you.  Amen.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Struggling with our Conscience

Gospel for Sunday, 10/30/16

"Today salvation has come to this house."

Jesus says that salvation has come to Zacchaeus’ house – because Zacchaeus is also a son of Abraham.  I don’t know about you – but that cause and effect doesn’t make much sense to me right off the bat.  And as someone who would really like hear the voice of God whisper in my ear – today salvation has come to this house – the lack of a clear connection irks me.

Maybe that is selfish – wanting such divine acknowledgment that everything is good.  But I’ve been reading this week that assurance is something a whole lot of us are longing for.  Perhaps you too have come across the news item somewhere in your perusing that our collective anxiety this election season is at an all-time high.  The American Psychological Association reports that upwards of 52% of all Americans are coping with high levels of stress brought on by this election.  Therapists report that the issues that have emerged of late – national security, secrecy, terrorism, hacking threats, gun rights and sexual assault – trigger our deepest fears and anxieties.  We’re all worried.

I imagine that my being in this pulpit and even referencing the election has some of you worried – uh oh – I do not want to hear a political sermon this morning.

Guess what – I don’t want to preach one.  I want to know that today salvation has come to this house.

We need to see and know salvation in the midst of our own and our collective anxieties around the fast approaching date of November eighth – because this is where you and I live.  We live in a real world – with real challenges and problems – and real possibilities, real hope.  And there is something we are supposed to see in our time and place that points us to the reality of God here and now.  And points us to the reality of God on November 9th and beyond.

Our story begins with the phrase – Jesus entered Jericho.  Just a few sentences prior to that – Luke’s gospel reads – As Jesus approached Jericho.  And as he did a blind beggar was sitting by the road, begging.  The beggar hears the crowd – senses the commotion and asks what’s going on.  Someone tells him – Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.  So he shouts out – Jesus, Son of David – have mercy on me.  The crowd tells him to be quiet – but he gets louder and shouts again.  Jesus stops – it reads he stood still – and then orders the man be brought to him.

Jesus asks the beggar – what do you want me to do for you? Lord, let me see again.  Done. Receive your sight, your faith has saved you.  And all the people – when they saw it – praised God. (Lk 18:35ff)

The beggar is blind.  Yet he already possesses the ability to perceive the power of God’s mercy in his life.  All the people around him who can see – are unaware of God’s immediate presence until Jesus proves it – with this miraculous healing.  The beggar trusts before he can see.  The people don’t trust until they’ve seen some proof.  Where is your faith – where is our faith – on that spectrum?

Then – Jesus enters Jericho – and again we meet someone who cannot see.  Well, Zacchaeus can see – he’s just a little vertically challenged.  But just like the shouting beggar – he isn’t going to let a challenge stop him.  And like the shouting beggar – he isn’t bothered, nor does he seem to care, what others think of him.  Zacchaeus isn’t just a tax collector – he is a chief tax collector – he is a wealthy man, a feared man.  He is not the sort of man who would scamper up a tree like a child, just to see a wandering Jewish prophet.

All we can do is imagine the backstory that propels him.  Perhaps he stood at the banks of the Jordan way back in chapter 3 – when John the Baptist was declaring repent, repent and prepare the way of the Lord. Because the tax collectors are one of the first in line to get baptized and ask – what are we supposed to do?   How do we prepare? And John replies – don’t collect more than you are owed – stop exhorting people.

Perhaps Zacchaeus was there and heard that – and it aligned with something inside him.  Perhaps his conscious was already struggling with the accepted practices of his colleagues and friends that just didn’t sit right with him.  And this invitation was what he needed to hear.  To be told that he could turn that struggle into a practice to make a way for God in his life.  Then he saw what he could do.

In point of fact our English is a poor translation in this passage – we mess up the tense of the verb.  When Zacchaeus meets Jesus he tells him something he is already doing – it is not future tense as in "I will" but present in the sense of "I do and I will continue."  Lord, half my possessions I give to the poor, Zacchaeus says.  Like the beggar he already saw Jesus as the Son of David – why else would he climb up that tree?  He was living his belief and bearing fruit – as John the Baptist had suggested – giving some of his wealth to those who needed it. Maybe that too is why the people grumble. The people grumble that Jesus would acknowledge – let alone go to the house – of a tax collector because they don’t see Zacchaeus.  They see the label – a tax collector.

I think the people would rather hate Zacchaeus – then actually see him. It's easier sometimes to hold onto blind assumptions and put people in a categories – then to see a person, the person of Zacchaeus and how he is trying in his way to prepare a way for God in his life.

Do you all remember when Pope Francis visited DC last year?  He gave an incredible address to Congress – that I would suggest is worth rereading this week.  In it he reminded us of a promise we make or renew at every baptism – “All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for human dignity.”  He goes on to define politics as an “expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life.”

And in his remarks – the pope directly addressed many of the same issues that are causing such anxiety just a year later – however – he encouraged and reminded that the remedy is to “reject a mindset of hostility” and recognize our need to “constantly relate to others.”

When speaking of those who we categorize as refugees or immigrants – people who flee their homes in search of a better life for themselves and their families – the pope said, “we must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories…We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays, to discard whatever proves troublesome.”


That is what we see Jesus do this morning – and over the course of his short time on earth.  He sees people as people – and not problems or lost causes.   And then invites other people to see in that same way.  And when that happens – that moment of seeing and being seen – salvation is there.

A colleague of mine was quoted in an article this week saying – I don’t preach political sermons – I preach the gospel of Jesus Christ – which happens to be very political.

This election will come and go – but all the challenges will still be here.  It’s good to remember that all the outreach we do as a church is as much about helping others as it is for giving us opportunities to recognize our need to see others, to hear their stories.  That is one way in which we see that salvation has come to this house.  It is one way we confront the anxieties and challenges of our time.  It is how we practice allowing God to transform our hearts – through the human family, as Jesus did – to have our sight renewed.

And do you remember what Pope Francis did after that address?  Instead of attending the luncheon with all the politicians and important people – he went to an outreach center – a place much like Our Daily Bread or Paul’s Place – to eat and hear and see.


We hear Jesus say this morning that the Son of Man - Jesus aligns himself with humanity – came to seek and save the lost.  We are encouraged in the midst of our anxieties to seek the one who prayed daily, broke bread with strangers and continuously put one foot in front of the other – making his way through Jericho and the next place – seeing and talking to fellow human beings, sharing a meal together and getting to know their story.

And then naming the presence of God that is always there, if only we will see it – that is all it takes for salvation to come to a house – because we too, are children of Abraham and Sarah.  We too can choose our words – our works – and our lives to reflect those things that we see as the very real ways of God’s saving grace and abundant love.  Amen.