Monday, December 17, 2012

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent, Joy Sunday

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:4-7)

In John’s gospel, in his final hours with the disciples, Jesus reminds them that joy is the culmination of life in God:

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:11)

Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn…you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. (John 16:20)

Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete. (John 16:24)

Jesus succinctly instructs what Paul so eloquently counsels.

Today, the third Sunday in Advent, is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday.  Latin for Rejoice Sunday.  A reminder that we rejoice in waiting for God just as we will rejoice in greeting God. 

And yet, on Friday with sighs too deep for words we, with God, bore witness – again – to unspeakable acts and incomprehensible grief.  And the words of scripture, of Jesus, seem impossible this idea of pain being transformed to joy.

Perhaps some of you know the name Kate Braestrup.  Braestrup is a chaplain in the state of Maine to the Warden Service, the agency that polices roughly 17 million acres of wild land.  As their chaplain Braestrup accompanies game wardens to accidents and on search-and-rescue operations in the Maine woods.  In her first book, Here if You Need Me she shares poignant and moving stories of her ministry.  But she begins by telling her readers how it is she came into that line of work.

Her husband and the father of their 4-children was the one with the calling.  As a career state trooper he was towards the end of his seminary studies about to become a full-time Unitarian Universalist minister when he was killed on the job, in a car accident. 

Braestrup describes in detail the story of that day, remembering the fact that after she returned home from the scene of the accident, numb – her doorbell rang and the friend that was staying with her went to answer it. 
There on the doorstep was a young man “clad in a spiffy dark suit” holding out a pamphlet. “Have you heard the Good News?” he asked.  To which her friend instantly and rightly responded by closing the door. A few minutes later, the doorbell rang again. This time it was an elderly neighbor, pot holders on her hands clutching a pan of brownies, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Eventually, writes Braestrup, I was able to name the truth that was present in that dark time – “I did know good news.  I knew it through those who came to clean my house, do my laundry and care for my children.  I knew it through the embraces and listening ears that assured me that I would not be abandoned to do the labor of mourning alone. I knew it through a neighbor standing on the front stoop with her brownies and her tears: she was the Good News.”

A year later she found herself enrolling in the Bangor Theological Seminary.  And as I said, she is now the chaplain to the law enforcement and game wardens of her community.  She is the one they call when someone riding a snowmobile crashes into a tree; when someone decides to go skating on a beautiful moonlit night and falls through the ice and drowns; when a child or an elderly relative is missing or lost in the vast woods.

In an interview I heard her give[i] she said that as she gets older her theology gets simpler.  She keeps coming back to simple Good News - God is love.  Because how she sees God, how she knows God, is in the small and particular loving actions of the people in the dramas and tragedies to which she ministers.  She sees God in that.  She sees God when she sees love in community. 

And Braestrup speaks of the deep joy she experiences in finding God in this way, again and again.  Rejoicing, through her tears, in this God who is made known by helping others, supporting others; through the small miracles that happen every day when a heart is grateful and love is restored.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 

Paul’s words, Let your gentleness be known, remind us that we are the assurance.  We are the ones who manifest the truth – the Lord is near.

Yesterday I listened to an interview with Rabbi Shaul Praver of Temple Adath Israel in Newtown, Conn[ii].  He was on the scene.  A member of his congregation lost a child.  When asked, “Rabbi you know the question, why do these things happen, will be asked of you.  How will you respond?”

Rabbi Praver replied, “I don’t know the answer to that.  I never try to present a theological answer to that.  I think that it’s more important to have compassion, humanity and hold someone’s hand and hug them and cry with them.  I never liked theological answers to things like that personally, so I don’t try to solve it like a math equation.”

Faith, love, hope, joy - these are not conveyed with words either.  They cannot be explained like a math equation.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 

We have a baptism today!  We rejoice with Claire and Jason, with their family and friends that Emmaline is joyfully brought into the body of Christ.  What a gift to celebrate together.

Rejoice in the Lord!  We have a new priest!  We rejoiced with Josh on Thursday and we continue that celebration today.  The celebration of expectation of the gifts that will emerge from our mutual ministry.

The Lord is near – so pray.  Pray.  Pray.  And listen.  Take a few moments each day and listen for the stirring of God’s joyful song in your heart – and for how God is asking you to share that song, that good news.

Rejoice - Give thanks.  Give thanks for every simple and small gift you experience today!  Family, friends, food.  The opportunity to pray, sing, visit with neighbors and strangers. 

Rejoice and sing!  We will gather at 5:30pm today, rain or shine to make a joyful noise in our corner of the earth.  Join us!

It is right, good and a joyful thing always and everywhere to give thanks to the Lord!  Be a bearer of good news today – and in the days ahead.  Practice your compassion and gentleness.  Be a witness to humanity’s goodness.  Help God’s love be made complete in you and in the world.

And hold fast to what is too often a fleeting awareness of what a precious gift the joy of simple actions and gratitude brings. 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be made known to everyone.  The Lord is near…And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen. 

The Rev. Arianne R. Weeks

[i] “On Being with Krista Tippet” Public Radio International.
[ii] Morning Edition, NPR 12/15/12

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church

There has been much press about the historic GC of our church this past week.  If you would like to read a balanced summary of the work of this year's Convention, please read the "Wrap-Up" written by Matthew Davies of Episcopal News Service. 

In my sermon this morning I referenced the "vitriolic" piece written by Jay Akasie in the Wall Street Journal.  If you would like to read a point-by-point factual response, please read Scott Gun's post on his blog "Seven whole days."

On our Diocesan website you will find summary news and opinions from our delegates.

At Good Shepherd, we look forward to discussing how the work of General Convention impacts the life of our faith community in a Shepherd's Forum come this fall.  And we give thanks and pray - Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20,21

Peace - Arianne+

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

July 8, 2012, Proper 9
Mark 6:1-13

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“Resolve to live in the kingdom where God lives within you and you live within God. That is the kingdom of freedom. That is God’s kingdom, the world of grace.”

A quote, not mine, but I'll let you know whose before I'm through.  But a great quote - resolve to live in the kingdom of God.  It says choose. That says make a decision. That says - God's kingdom is already - out there - in here - and we choose to see, to be that world of grace.

I would imagine - and hope - that everyone here saw some clear kingdom of God ways happening over the course of this last week.  There is something that always happens with us - when we suffer and struggle through some shared disaster - like a derecho - or tornado - or wildfires - or whatever - so many people reach out - come together - share and help each other.

Think back over this past week - is there one?  Is there a image or person that comes right to mind - and you could say - that's it - that was a kingdom of God, grace-filled moment.

I saw it in neighbors checking on neighbors.  I read about it in the Baltimore Sun - stories of people bringing food, bringing generators - just helping in whatever small ways they could.  My husband saw it at a rental car company.  A woman came in - furious, irate -  and I'm sure she had her reasons - but as my husband said - it went overboard, she was just cruel to the agent at the counter.  And when she left - another customer said - I would gladly be a witness for you so that your supervisor knows you did the best you could - and is it ok if I just give you a hug?  The tears brimming the agent's eyes answered - yes.

But I did see it and feel it and pray it with many of you last week!  As we gathered in the courtyard at 8am - the serving room at 10am.  Despite heat and humidity, no A/C or lights - we came together to worship - to give thanks - and to welcome Josh to this fold.   You see - that's it.  Those are all the ways - all of relational actions that make for community - that is resolving to live in the kingdom of God!

Some of you may be aware that this week marks the 77th annual General Convention of the Episcopal Church.   General Convention - not a person, but a community - is the ultimate authority in our denomination.    Held once every three years delegates from all the dioceses - priests, deacons and laity - come together to work in committees - consider resolutions - argue, debate - agree, disagree, vote - yay or nay - all that good Roberts Rules of Order stuff.  I'm not going to take this time to go through all the topics and the outcomes - that will be a topic for adult ed in the fall - but - the Committee on Evangelism this year has a hot topic.  Resolution C040 - or Open Table.

Sponsored by the Diocese of Eastern Oregon - the resolution concerns whether or not the Episcopal Church should formally change its practice and “invite all, regardless of age, denomination, or baptism to the altar for Holy Communion.” One side of the argument is the need for unconditional and radical hospitality. The other side argues this proposal diminishes the sacrament of baptism in the name of a fuzzy inclusivity.

The Rev. Dion Thompson - who many of you will remember as he presided here last January when we did a pulpit swap - he is one of our delegates.  And after Friday's standing-room only hearing on the issue, this is what he blogged on our diocese's website:

"Scripture was no help. Both sides quoted Jesus. Tradition? That only raised questions about what the Early Church did and why.  The only point agreed upon was this: There is power in the Eucharist, sacred, holy power that brings tears to our eyes as it works upon our wounded, yearning souls. This power is beyond our understanding. We know it exists. How it works is a divine mystery." (

You see - sometimes we Episcopalians -- we take some flack for being "wishy-washy." Sometimes we're described with a label that sends chills down my spine - "Catholic-lite."  Are we catholic - yes.  Are we Protestant - yes!  Are there two sacraments - yes.  Are there seven sacraments - yes!  Because while we hold that certain beliefs are truth -

As in the truth that Jesus Christ is the incarnate Son of God who lived, died and rose for us and forgiveness of our sins....

...we also hold that truths aren’t always black and white, yes or no.  Indeed, discerning truth is a lifelong practice!  Practiced with a living document we call scripture.  Engaged within a living community of people with differing points of view.  And most importantly - prayed - together in common worship using a book of common prayer.   Scripture, reason and tradition help us wrestle with questions - knowing that truth - like the kingdom of God - is a path - not an answer. 

This morning we hear Jesus sending his disciples out on a path.  A path summed up in the well-known phrase - preach the gospel, use words if necessary.  Don't take anything with you, Jesus says.  Because it is in seeing the disciples poverty that people will see their utter and complete reliance on God.  Accept hospitality. If it is offered, be gracious.  If it is not - don't make a fuss - shake the dust off your feet and move on.

And proclaim that God's kingdom is now.  Proclaim it by healing and curing the sick.  Proclaim it by saying repent!  In other words - by telling people that they are forgiven and that the Lord, the God of hosts, is with you - now and always! 

In other words - go out and love God and love your neighbor.  Resolve to create the kingdom of God.   

Another quote - “The way to faith is the way of faith”  Statements, concepts, doctrines and dogmas – whatever we write down on paper or pass at a convention does not – ultimately – convey what it is we say we believe. 

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? 

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? 

Those are the difficult and powerful baptismal promises that we will be making or renewing this morning with Madisyn and Whitney and their families.  Baptism marks the beginning of that journey. A lifetime of practicing what we say we believe.

And you never know what's going to happen on that journey!  I hope some of you have already met Adam and Stephanie - proud parents of Madisyn.  Stephanie is Christian - Adam is Jewish.    When they started coming to Good Shepherd and we met to talk about Madisyn's baptism - wow - did I get excited about the world of grace moment being presented to this community!  And through prayer, clergy consults and discernment - we are doing a new thing.  New for me - and according to the vestry - new for Good Shepherd. 

In the Presentation and Examination of the candidates Adam will be charged with a specific question - just as all of us are charged with doing all in our power to support those being baptized - Adam will be charged with teaching his child about Jesus' Jewish identity, faith and heritage.  That, I believe is the way of faith seeing the opportunities life presents in figuring out what loving God and loving neighbor looks like.  Trying new things in community - new ways of being church that support and encourage anyone who comes to our door and has the desire to grow in God. 

My opening quote - "Resolve to live in the kingdom of God" - that is from Bawa Muhalyaddeen, a Sufi master.  "The way to faith is the way of faith" - that's the Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel.  Our world is as diverse as it is rich in wisdom and teaching; in experiences and events; and most importantly, in relationships and people, all of which can support us in our life in Christ.  The question is - are we - with God's help - resolved to living it?  Amen.

The Rev. Arianne R. Weeks