Sunday, May 24, 2015

Breathing in the Spirit

Ezekiel 37:1-14;  Psalm 104: 25-35,37
Acts 2:1-21;   John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Sermon for Pentecost Sunday, 5/24/15

Twice in my life when I’ve been made distinctly aware my own breathing, and my complete dependence on it.

When I was around 8, we lived in Nashville, TN in a condo complex – similar to one of those in the May Chapel area.  During the school year I made my way to the bus stop running down a fairly sloped hill to the lower side walk and heading to the corner.  One morning in early spring, a bit chilly with dew covering the ground.  And as I rushed down that slope, both my feet slide right out from under me.  Up they went, and down I went – splat on my back.  And I stared at the clouds in a beautiful blue sky and for what felt like the longest of seconds – because I could not take a breath.

A slow creeping fear filled my body and I thought – I can’t breathe – and almost simultaneously – gulp – inhale I indeed did.  And then I burst into tears, it was terrifying.  My mom later told me, oh you got the wind knocked out of you. That’s all.

That’s all?  I thought.  I felt like I had grown ages with wisdom through this experiential knowledge of not being able to breathe.  Like inched closer, in some vague way, to what it must be like to die.

And then two years ago, I attended a conference in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  The conference was in mid-May.  The southwest in early summer – I was psyched.  Packed all my shorts, t-shirts and flip flops.  I probably should have looked at a map (I’m really bad with geography). and checked  For as I sat on the shuttle bus taking us from the airport to the conference center, winding our way – up and up – I looked at all the snow on the ground and the snow falling – I thought – oh yeah, Rocky mountains, high elevation, later learning 8k feet to be exact.  And while it was much colder than I was prepared for – what was worse, much worse was that I couldn’t breathe.  We were staying in the main conference part of the center – it’s a YMCA actually, Estes Park, Colorado if you know it – and the dining hall was in an adjacent building, probably about an eighth of a mile away up a slight incline.

The first time I walked up there, with a friend – I sat right down and put my head between my legs saying, I want my mom.  Because that was the most succinct phrase I could utter that expressed how helpless I felt.  This time the wind hadn’t been knocked out of me because I couldn’t catch my breath.  And it made me feel sick and headachy and very out of sorts.  For the remainder of the conference – it was a whole week – I was driven back and forth to that dining hall – which also made me feel – well, pathetic.

I never adjusted and I couldn’t wait to get on that mountain.  But when I got home – I went running – and wow – felt like a superhero – like I had no idea how much oxygen the good state of Maryland has to share.

And not too long after that I visited a parishioner who is homebound and on oxygen 24/7 – and again I believed I had inched closer to a vague awareness, in some small way, of what that must be like.

Pentecost is about breath.  The breath of God that fills a room filled with terrified disciples – infusing them with the Holy Spirit.  The breath of God – that ignites a fire in their hearts so they can speak the good news of God in every language available.  And the breath of God, described in an odd and prophetic vision from Ezekiel.  The prophet is sent into a land that has been decimated and is filled with the bones of a defeated army and civilians.  Ezekiel was one of the deported inhabitants of Jerusalem when Babylonians razed their city.  And God tells him to go back, be present to the desolation and breathe.

I did some research on breathing this week and learned that on average we take about 12k breaths a day.  And if we aren’t doing anything that exerts too much energy, our bodies need us to breathe about 4-6x/minute.  Those 4-6 breaths per minute would enable us to 99% of our energy.  But, most of us take about 16-20 breaths/minute and access only about 10-20% of the energy available to us.  That’s more work for less.  That’s energy we don’t use and we never get back.

When I discovered this – I said, well I’m gonna try it.  So I got out my phone, tapped stopwatch and “start” – the moment I saw the ticking seconds, I panicked. 1,2,3 – and thought 4-6 breaths isn’t nearly enough for a whole minute.  But, calming myself, I made it in 5.  And then I tried it again.  I sat up straight, put my feet on the ground – pressed “start” – and breathed deeply in and slowly out – and guess what – I did it in 3.  And felt calm and relaxed – and prayerful.  Let’s try that shall we?

Don’t you feel that change?  Don’t you feel that awareness, more connected?  You know how we say Yahweh, and you know how that comes from the Hebrew letters – YHWH – which is pronounced – Yod-Heh-Vah-Heh.  Ancient Hebrew scholars said that was one reason why the name of Lord should not be pronounced – indeed was not pronounceable – is because the name of God is our very breath itself.
In the beginning, the earth was a formless void and the wind of God swept over it (Gen 1:1).  God breathed creation into being.

And then God took the dust of the earth, formed it – breathed into it – creating us (1:30).

What is the first thing we need a baby to do when it is born?  What is the last thing we do before we die?

You might say then, when we enter this world and leave this world, when we get the wind knocked out of us or we can’t catch our breath – it is the very name of God – Yod-Heh-Vah-Heh that is on our lips.

I think so many of us want to know the Holy Spirit in that way.  The elusive peace, inner quiet and connection to God received through prayer and contemplation.  And if we do, it is as simple as allowing the breath of God to fill our whole being.

Takes patience and intention though. And the busyness and stress of our lives is probably why we take 16 breaths a minute instead of 4!  We breathe up high – we breathe shallow, not deep.  And our minds race incessantly – so of course our hearts follow suit.  When I took 3 breaths a minute – I had to choose to focus.

Before we got to the wild breath of Pentecost, Jesus went on and on instructing the disciples to abide in God.  Abide in me as I abide in the Father.  Abide in me and ask for whatever you wish. Abide in my words and my words abide in you.  Abide in my love.

It certainly seems to me Jesus is saying we need to prepare for the Spirit of Truth – the Holy Spirit – the Advocate – the Paraclete – by first abiding in God.  Could we practice abiding in God by simply recognizing the gift of life that each breath brings?  Or is it only when we can’t catch our breath – when our wind gets knocked out of us – literally and metaphorically – that we are made aware of our gifts?  Might we invite a deeper connection with the Holy Spirit by intentionally and daily connecting with the breath that God has breathed into us?

Breathe upon these bones, God tells Ezekiel.  God’s spirit is the very thing that propels us – energizes us – God’s spirit is all about lifting us up.

So, as we invite the spirit of Pentecost into our lives, I wonder…do we have the patience to take 4-6 slow, deep breaths, a few times a day – allowing the gratitude of life to fill our hearts?  Allowing the Holy Spirit to propel us to be present and breathe life into places of desolation the world would rather forget?

As we prayed in our psalm this morning –
God sends forth the spirit so that we are created.  And God sends us that Holy Spirit so that we might renew the face of our earth.  Amen.

The Rev. Arianne R. Weeks

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Where are We in God's Story?

Feast of Ascension (transferred)
2015 Annual Meeting

Acts 1:1-11
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24:44-53

This morning we come together and celebrate the Feast of the Ascension.  Ascension to God being the final sign to those disciples that truly, this Jesus is God’s son.  It marks the end of one story and the beginning of another.  And interestingly enough, we just heard the story twice, from two different books, told in two different ways.

From our reading in Acts: “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning” (1:1) Let’s start there,  “In the first book” – what’s the first book?  Josh, can’t answer.  Luke – the gospel of Luke.  We are pretty sure that the same author wrote both books and there are several reasons why, but an obvious clue is in how they both begin.

Luke 1, verse 1, “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us….I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.”

Theophilus – theo, means God – philia means friend.  Friend of God.  Now perhaps the author was writing this for a particular person named Theophilus – but probably not.  More likely, given the style of the times, is that it is a term of endearment towards the reader.  Oh, you want to hear the story of Jesus – well, you must be a friend of God.  Theophilus is you – and me. 

When you think about it, it is a story, more so than a person that we follow.  I never met Jesus.  I don’t think any of you have.  We believe in the truths of the stories. Stories like we heard today that point towards something we can’t describe any other way.

So why don’t all the stories harmonize? Why would the same author tell the same story twice and in two different way?  In Acts – the Ascension takes place 40 days after the resurrection.  In Luke – Jesus ascends maybe three days later – a little while after they’ve been to the empty tomb.  Why don’t the stories add up?

Well a little something about the author of Luke-Acts that I think is important for us to know.  He clearly believed in the power of a good story.  Because the people he wrote the gospel for, those early gentile followers of Christ, needed one. Most of Luke’s audience, we think, weren’t Jewish.  They did not know the story of God that fills the whole of the Hebrew Bible.

And lots of those stories doesn’t add up either. Adam and Eve – the garden, stories of Creation – and there isn’t one version, but 2
Noah and the flood and rainbow – great story – made into a movie – and is there one version?  Nope – there’s 2!

And the list goes on – Abraham and Sarah – Moses – burning bushes – calf idols – tablets on mountains – Elijah, Elisha – Solomon, Bathsheba, David, Samuel, Ruth – on and on and on.  Story after story of people and persons – doing what?  Making sense of their experience in the context of a relationship with God.

And of course you know that all the stories in the Old Testament – and the New for that matter – are what you could call revisionist history.   Written after the fact – sometimes presented as eyewitness accounts – but written after the fact.   I don’t mean it in a negative way – I mean – its narrative theology.  It’s trying to articulate and share the truth of God through how we interpret individual human experiences and through generations of social movement.

The author of Luke-Acts knew the new experiences of Jesus’ followers needed to find their truth in an ongoing narrative.  Which is why no gospel has better stories than Luke.  How was Christ born in Luke?  Doesn’t just appear like in Mark or John – but there are angels and shepherds – there is Mary’s cousin Elizabeth who she runs to greet and they hug and sing – there is Simeon, Elizabeth’s husband, who is rendered speechless in the temple when he doubts, Zechariah, Anna – so many more characters and sub plots. You see any movie, watch any pageant – it’s based on Luke’s version because it conveys the most human drama of Jesus’ story.

So it’s not all that surprising that Luke dramatically portrays the Ascension twice.  In Luke it’s the end of Jesus’ story which leads to the beginning of ours.  But why aren’t the facts of the stories the same – wouldn’t that help our belief in something as fantastical as a person being lifted into the heavens?

Who would you say makes the greatest documentaries – the greatest stories of our more recent history?  Ken Burns.  Civil War, Baseball, Lincoln, The Dust Bowl, The Roosevelts.  He’s has defined the genre for our time as to how we tell the story of our history.  Why are his films so good? 

Ken Burns says, good stories, one that speak truth, don’t add up.  1 and 1 equaling two, that’s not a story, it’s a fact.  A genuine story about 1 and 1 equaling 3
Love, God, reason – whatever you call it – the whole of the story is greater than the sum of the facts.
Abraham Lincoln wins the Civil War, and decides to go to the theater – that’s a good story.

When Thomas Jefferson says – We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal – he owned 100 human beings and never saw the contradiction, never say the hypocrisy, never saw fit in his lifetime to free any one of them – that’s a good story.  Good people who are flawed, villains who aren’t entirely bad - that’s a good story.

Truth, Burns said, is a byproduct of the best of our stories.   And yet – there are many different kinds of truths.  (Ken Burns: On Story,

In one version of today’s story – Jesus ascends 40 days after the resurrection.  In the other – 3 days later.  Both numbers have significance that you know and I don’t need to explain (or ask me later).  The story needs to connect to the Old and the New – because the truth of the story is that Jesus is literally God.  Did he literally ascend?  Does that matter?  In your life experience – have you come to faith because 1 and 1 equal 2? Or because of those times when something totally unexpected happens and you find that 1 and 1 equal 3?

So here’s my report – we’ve had another good year at Good Shepherd.  When you read and hear about what we’ve done – and where we are – we are engaged with creating a sanctuary for God and God’s people – many of us are committed to working towards systemic change around poverty and trying to deepen relationships in our community.  We offer classes and Christian education for young and old alike.  We walk with people through baptisms and funerals and joys and sorrows of all kinds.  We pray.  We know how to put on a great party – and enjoy getting together to eat, drink and be merry.

But the story of our times is that church as we traditionally think of it, is being called to change.  The latest Pew Research study of this week has ( – that we’ve heard about in headline after headline with the news that people continue to leave the church in droves, especially the millennials among us. 

Even while we are a country where 70% of us say we are Christian.  Clearly then, we are a country of Christians who do not go to a church.  And I think that’s because traditional church is no longer what people want.
We don’t want institutional hierarchy to tell us how to behave and what doctrine to believe.  We want the truths in stories, our stories. And we want to be belong to communities where we can tell our story.  Where we can hear the stories of others – and find the truths that resonate between us.

Let me talk about how this specifically played out for me this year.  Maybe some of you – I imagine many of you – knew that this year the vestry and I were considering a change to our Sunday worship schedule.  I was – and stress was – of the strong belief that changing when we worship on Sundays might bring the suburban families that surround us flocking through our doors.

But mostly I thought, maybe finally we as a community can stop having a conversation that has been going on since long before I came: which service schedule is the “best” one, the “right” one.  

So after a year of meetings, conversations and discernment it finally dawned on me, “There is no best one!  There is no right one! And actually changing our service schedule right now does not resonate with scripture story truth.”

Listen to what the disciples as Jesus as he ascends, after all this time with him, they are still fixated on knowing the “right” answer, the fix to their problems, “Jesus, please tell us, when is the time when the kingdom will be restored? (Acts 1:6)” When is the time the problems will be fixed?  And Jesus, surely dumbfounded that they are still so focused on quick fixes – replies, stop asking that question!

Simply changing the times we worship on Sunday we will not restore us to perfection. All it will do is ensure we spend more time debating what the “best” service schedule is. And most of our answers are based on our own personal preferences, what works best for me and my family.  Which is fair enough, its how we make most of our decisions. 

But my friends, faith communities that focus on those questions are exactly the places that people not going to church label “religious, but not spiritual.”  And spiritual is what people today are longing for.

Before Jesus ascended he tells us – spend all our time spreading the good news (Lk 24:47).  Which is the truth at the heart of every single story of scripture.  Every single story of scripture can be boiled down to a story of forgiveness and restoration.
Individuals are forgiven and restored to wholeness within themselves and within communities.  And that is what people are longing to hear.  Those are the stories people are longing to tell.  All the spiritual but not religious – which is the fastest rising label in our very Christian country – want to connect their spirit with the spirit of truth!  We find the truth in our stories.  We are called to create community that makes space for that to happen.

The Rev. John Grainger, 2nd rector of this community preached that The Church of the Good Shepherd can never confuse the busyness of being church with being and sharing the story of Christ outside our walls.  (A. Machen, A Big Little Church on a Hill, 2000) That is what we are called to do.  That is our mission and our reason for being.  That is what enables each of us to draw ever closer to the grace of God that we are blessed with each and every day. 

So – as a community that is always looking forward – that is always following a Savior who did things that didn’t add up.  So let’s have committees and meetings and ministries that focus on the truth of the story. Let’s find more ways to look at our own holy narratives – share the forgiveness and restoration that we’ve experienced in our lives with one another.  And let’s invite people to be a part of our story.  Amen.

The Rev. Arianne R. Weeks, Rector

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Church that Shows Our Scars

The Sixth Sunday After Easter, Year B
The Rev. Joshua Rodriguez-Hobbs
Acts 10:44-48

I spent this past weekend at the Two-Hundred and Thirty-First Annual Convention of the Diocese of Maryland. Diocesan Convention is important, but whenever I mentioned to any of you last week that I was going to convention, you all said the same thing: "I'm sorry." I can understand why convention has the reputation it does. When the whole diocese gets together at events like Convention, we like to make ourselves feel important. We pull out the pomp and circumstance and Robert’s Rules of Order, and we pass resolutions in an attempt to make ourselves feel relevant. Statistically, fewer and fewer people come to Episcopal churches—or any churches, for that matter—each year, but you wouldn’t know that at a diocesan convention, because we are so busy saying very important things using proper parliamentary procedure. It’s a collective exercise in refusing to be be vulnerable or face hard realities.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on diocesan convention, though, because our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning is about a time when Peter refused to be vulnerable. Now you wouldn’t know that from the reading, because the lectionary only gives us five verses of a story that takes an entire chapter of Acts to tell. It starts like this: an angel appears to a man named Cornelius and tells him to send messengers to a man named Peter, who will come and preach the Gospel to him. This is unusual, because Cornelius is a Roman centurion, a gentile. Up until this point, Peter and the other apostles have only preached to other Jews. But Cornelius sends messengers to Peter.

Right before the messengers arrive, Peter has a vision where a voice from heaven tells him to kill and eat some non-kosher animals. Peter refuses, because he has kept kosher his entire life, and in keeping kosher, he dedicates his life to serving God. The voice tells him not to call unclean what God has made clean, but Peter refuses two more times before Cornelius’ messengers arrive. When they do show up, Peter invites them into the house and is a gracious host. He’s happy to be a host, because it means that he’s in charge.He agrees to go with these men to meet Cornelius. But when he gets to Cornelius’ house, Peter suddenly has second thoughts about being a guest. He tells Cornelius, “You know, I really shouldn’t be here.” He’s right—observant Jews weren’t supposed to go into gentiles’ houses and eat gentiles’ food. But Peter suddenly remembers the vision, and he laughs and says, “But God has told me not to call you unclean.” With a little prompting, Peter begins to preach to Cornelius and Cornelius’ family and friends, beginning his sermon, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” However, the rest of the sermon is about how Jesus came to preach good news to the  children of Israel, and the children of Israel alone. Peter doesn’t ever say that gentiles are acceptable to God.

This, for the record, is where our reading finally begins. The Holy Spirit interrupts Peter’s sermon and falls upon Cornelius and his family and friends, who begin to prophesy and speak in tongues, just like the apostles did on the Day of Pentecost. Peter has to admit that God finds gentiles acceptable, which he’s said plenty of times already, but doesn’t seem to have really believed. So Cornelius and his family are baptized, and Peter finally agrees to be their guest. He gives up control and accepts hospitality, rather than giving it.

For Peter, just like for us, being vulnerable is hard. It’s threatening. Personal confession, it is so much easier for me to offer to pray for you, than to have you offer to pray for me. That would require me to be vulnerable, to be ministered to, rather than to minister. That would upset the stable boundaries that I depend on, boundaries that are demonstrated and enforced by the collar I wear every day. But guess what? God didn’t make those boundaries. We did. God isn’t the one who cares about those boundaries. God wants us to be vulnerable, open to the new things that Holy Spirit is doing among us.

For all we attempted at convention to focus on our own importance as a diocese, rather than being honest and vulnerable, moments of vulnerability crept in. This year, the Rev. Becca Stevens delivered the keynote address to the Convention. Becca is the founder of Magdalene House and Thistle Farms, an amazing ministry based in Nashville, Tennessee that provides housing, training, and jobs for women who have been victims of human trafficking and struggle with addiction. Becca gave this wonderful keynote address, and afterword took questions from the floor. I always groan when questions come from the floor at Convention, because they’re rarely questions; they’re attempts to prove how much smarter the speaker is than everyone else. But this year, a delegate stood up and asked “Do you have resources in California?” He went on to admit that his daughter who lived in California was in active addiction and living on the streets. It was a moment of profound vulnerability, the kind you don’t often see in church. Bishop Sutton stopped everything and lead us in prayer for this man and his daughter, remembering them by name before God. As I look back on this past weekend, that was the moment when we were most truly what the church is called to be. It wasn’t when we debated resolutions. It was when we recognized the gift of vulnerability that was given to us, and met a beloved child of God in the midst of real need.

As wonderful as it is when the church ministers to the vulnerable, I think what’s even more necessary is for us, as a church, to be vulnerable. In our story from Acts, we are not Cornelius. We are Peter, the safe religious insider who is sure he has all the answers. But he doesn’t. We don’t. Only God has all of the answers, and we aren’t God.

What would it cost us to be vulnerable? What would it cost us to become a community where we all can admit our flaws? What would it cost us to respond to one another with grace in the face of imperfection? What would it cost us to lay aside our obsessions with perfection?

Make no mistake, it will cost us something. It cost Peter something to become vulnerable. He had to lay aside his old certainties to follow the Holy Spirit. We will too. But in the face of the need that exists in our city, in our world, what else can we do?

Even after his resurrection, Christ still bears the scars of the crucifixion. Why do we believe that we, who follow Jesus, have to hide ours?


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Christians are Called to Get At the Roots

Fifth Sunday in Easter
Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:24-30
1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

Jesus said, I am the vine, you are the branches…abide in me, and my words abide in you.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.  John 15:5ff

The well-known theologian Karl Barth of the early 20th century said this – The Christian who wants to know God in their lives simply has one thing to do each day, read the bible and read the newspaper.

Personally I prefer doing that when the news is at a distance.  When the gospel imperative to love neighbor as self refers more to neighbors far away – than neighbors 15 minutes south by car.  Because as the religious authorities who explained to Pontius Pilate why Jesus should be killed said – the gospel he’s proclaiming stirs the people up!  Jesus came proclaiming a new economy, God’s economy that decried the status quo, made people uncomfortable, and stirred things up!  Jesus wanted people to change their lives, change the world – bring in the reign of God.  And 2,000 years later the message is only relevant if we continue to get stirred up when we hear the words of scripture as we hear the news of our world.

I was on a plane yesterday because I’ve been at Camp Allen outside of Houston, Texas for a church conference.  Invite, Welcome, Connect – basically about the thing we have a lot of conferences about these days – how to grow the church.  Anyway, coming home on the plane I watched the CBS Evening News on my phone.  The lead story was yesterday’s protests in Baltimore.  Protests expected to be a repeat of Monday but instead were peaceful.  The newscaster said it was almost celebratory because the city had charged the officers who arrested Freddie Gray.  The feeling being then that we’d reached some kind of resolution – at least for the time being.  The news likes resolutions for the time being.

At my conference, Bishop Andy Doyle of the Diocese of Texas, opened his key note with a quote from Henry Melville, not the author but an 19th century Anglican priest:

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”

What’s life-changing and uncomfortable about the good news of Christ is that Jesus asks us, those who follow him to see the effects and then grapple with the causes.

We just prayed the words of our psalmist – the poor shall eat and be satisfied for Kingship belongs to the Lord.  That’s not true in Baltimore, or in Texas, or cities and rural communities throughout our country.  Perhaps fibers connect us to one another – but we believe we are branches connected to a vine.  What’s challenging and liberating for the Christian is to examine and prune those things in our lives and in our hearts and minds that keep us from seeing and tackling the root causes of cultures of criminality that lead to cultures of police brutality.

Jesus says, abide in me…as I abide in you.  Jesus doesn’t say – abide in me, or else your cut off!  Jesus doesn’t say – abide in me and if you don’t get it right all the time, I’m done with you.  No.  Jesus says – abide in me, for I already abide in you.  Jesus is here – with us – right now – resurrected life – to like Philip in our story from Acts – encouraging us to cast out fear and go down that wilderness road.

When I was around 10 both my parents worked in Manhattan and we lived on Long Island – the north shore of Long Island which is NY speak for a place very much like Ruxton.  I loved days when I got to go into work with them – go into the city, stop at the deli for breakfast, tall office buildings, fancy office phones (I’ve always loved an office – such order!)  And I always got to stay up late because we never left the city until after 6 or even 7pm.

One night we were getting on the Long Island Expressway (LIE) via the Triborough Bridge – and I had a Jesus inspired epiphany.  “Mom, Dad – I know how we can solve the homeless problem in the city!”  (The New York of the 80s was very different than the New York of today)  How about all the homeless people simply line up on the bridge, and everyone driving home can simply pick up one or two people with them.  They’ll come home with them, get dinner, spend the night, and then in the morning – they can just get a ride back into the city!”  Perfect, I thought!  And note my cultural conditioning at 10 was assuming everyone had a house like us, big enough to accommodate unexpected hospitality.
My parents smiled, I guess, I was in the backseat – that’s a nice idea, Arianne.

The older I get – the longer I’m a mom – the more I am struck by the similarities of why Jesus said, blessed are the children.  Kid logic works in God’s kingdom.

Jesus says, I am the vine and you are the branches if you will keep my commandments you will abide in my love.  What is the commandment – simply this - love one another as I have loved you.  We call this Agape Love – the all-inclusive neighbor love we celebrate in the feast at that altar.  Yesterday Bishop Doyle in his keynote basically told us – we can’t!  We can’t house the homeless, as Jesus would – we’re not there yet. And we, Christians today, use the impossibility that confronts us to keep ourselves from entering into relationship.  We do Agape Love at a distance. I love my neighbor – over there.  Yeah, I love you – just stay over there – don’t come into my world, don’t turn my life upside down.

So what is the love we can get to – you all already know there are 4 kinds of love referred to in the gospels. If Jesus commands us to love, what’s the love we can actually practice that will cut away the assumptions, and cultural conditionings, and fears that fill all our hearts?

Philia - friendship love? Jesus talks about that – no one has greater love than this but to lay down one’s life for their friends.  The problem with that though is that we don’t choose friends like Jesus did.  Jesus befriended anyone who wanted to be his friend – the sinners, the tax collectors, the prostitutes.  That’s not how I make friends.  My way has been – hey, I like you!  Yeah, we have similar interests – hey, you don’t threaten me – sure great – let’s be friends!  I’m joking, kind of.  I choose my friends – I’d do almost anything for them – that close circle of people – but that’s it – it’s a close and closed circle.  The way you and I do friendship – it’s exclusive – it’s not everyone.

Well – what about eros love – that’s in the bible.  Yeah….no.  First of all we don’t talk about eros love in church ok – maybe, maybe in premarital counseling.  But eros love – that’s really exclusive – and if it isn’t well – that’s a whole ‘nother problem – and I’m not going to talk about it today.

So friendship (philia) love – exclusive – eros love – very exclusive – agape love – its what we’re called to – but – as we prayed in our opening collect we know that love needs to be perfected in us if we were to really and truly follow.  But there is the fourth kind of love Paul describes to help Christian communities – affection (storges in Greek) – love one another with mutual affection he says in Romans (12:10).  It is the love whereby you approach and treat every human being with mutuality and respect.  It’s what Philip is doing in the story we hear from Acts.

What might that mean for us – as a community that prays to live the way, the truth and the life?  As a community blessed with resources and means and networks of mutual support?  What would life-changing love practices of affection look like for us?

Well – we’d have Blue Jean Sunday here.  It’s great we strengthen our relationships working on our beautiful campus.  But could we take Blue Jean Sunday downtown?  Down a wilderness road to other places our care is needed?

What would it look like here?  We’d collect spaghetti sauce and food for Assistance Center of Towson Churches (ACTC) – that’s good, but my friend’s that is “at a distance love!” What if more of us spent time at ACTC – meeting the mothers and fathers and children who are served by that center.  We’d listen and get to know the people who use ACTC.  And we’d maybe even get stirred up to address the causes that bring them there.

We do this when we go to Habitat in Sandtown or Govins, Paul’s Place in Pigtown – when we go down wilderness roads of Baltimore to be in relationship with the faces of poverty, the children in poverty in communities that are bereft of so many of the resources we have. One by one, group by group, committee by committee, we can do that.  We are called to do that.  It’s terrifying because it’s life changing.  It’s challenging to face the enormous disparities in economies and education north and south of Gittings Avenue – but we believe we abide in God!  We believe God’s love casts out fear.  The simple steps of mutual affection move hearts towards making real our psalmist prayer - that the poor would eat and be satisfied.  Every week we pray, And now father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do – Jesus left this work of love to us.

We are the branches.  Jesus is the vine.  God is the root – deep down in the ground of eternal time.  What seems impossible for us is never impossible for God.  From this morning’s epistle - “Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.  The commandment we have from him is this – those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

We are called to read the bible and read the newspaper – and get at the roots of what our problems are.  Stir the people up – and do the life changing and liberating work of making real the resurrected Christ we say we believe in and say we follow into the wilderness roads of our time – here and now.

The Rev. Arianne R. Weeks