Monday, October 25, 2010

Sermon, Millinocket and Comments on Convention

I drove Izzie up to Millinocket on Wednesday afternoon, so I could drive down to Diocesan Convention and have her there for the Sunday service. It is over three hours driving each way and I wasn't willing to drive home from Convention Saturday night and have to leave at 5:30 in the morning to celebrate. I will let Izzie tell you about her experiences.  Convention was great.  It was nice having most everybody in the same place rather than having to drive from all over town.  The food was good.  And, even though there were 17 resolutions, we managed to get through them all and ended up finishing on time.  It is wonderful having our work bracketed by the Liturgy of the Word, at the beginning and the Liturgy of the Table at the end.

Me and the Jr. Warden, Feast of St. Andrew 2006.  We were piped into the church that morning.
My sermon at St. Andrew's, Millinocket October 24, 2010.  A congregation I served as an interim a while back.
Psalm 84 which has the verse "How lovely is your dwelling place, oh Lord of Hosts" was, I think, written with St. Andrew's in mind. You have no idea how many people I have told of your beautiful church and it is so nice to be back with you. It doesn't seem as though it's been over three years since I've celebrated at your altar.  God has blessed you with Fr. Bob's ministry among you for this time.
At convention, the bishop spoke about how we needed to change to thrive as church.  Notice I said thrive, not survive.  In the Press Herald this morning a columnist said Mainer's were not good at adaptive change, they preferred evolutionary change. I know You have survived many things, from your priest’s  sudden death, to the impacts on your numbers with the mill closures, and now with your current priest’s decision to leave at the end of the year.  Surviving is good, but thriving is better. That's what adaptive change is about.
So how do we move from surviving to thriving.  A lot of it has to do with blessings. The blessings we receive from God and one another and the blessings we give to others.
The Pharisee in today's gospel is acting in a way that curses rather than blesses. He says: "God, I thank you that I am not like other people, thieves, rogues, adulterers or even like this tax collector." what a way to pray to God! And its not just God who hears. People who look down their noses at others for whatever reason make the recipient of their scorn feel badly. That's what curses do.  Sometimes the people scorned feel so bad, like the rash of young people bullied so relentlessly they took their own lives.  
Most of the time though even though our curses may seem milder, they can hurt just as much. Like the mother who tells her daughter, "it's a good thing you're bright, because you certainly aren't pretty." Or the uncle who thinks teasing is funny, but it often makes the nephew feel inadequate. I think it is when we cannot accept ourselves for who we truly are, that we lay our own imperfections on others. The tax collector knew who he was and offered himself to God, just as he was.  He knew that God's mercy is wider than the sea and that God welcomes all of us sinners.
So how do we move from the way of curses to the way of blessing?  There is some help in the title of convention. It was: "there’s a wideness in God's mercy." That is a blessing for all of us!  And all of us need blessings; from a mother's first kiss on her baby's cheek, to the holding of the hand of an aging parent on their dying day.  We humans thrive with blessings. Sure, some of them are formal ones that pronounce God's blessing on a newly married couple, or on all of you as you leave this place on a Sunday morning, but we are called as Christians to bless each other on our way, every day, and in lots of tiny and not so tiny ways.
I wrote some notes during the bishops address at convention that might help St Andrew’s as you think about your future in ways that could bless you, and your town of Millinocket and I recommend that you take home a copy of his address to read and discuss.
  • Preserve mission not church—church is more than buildings it is the people and if we are not a mission oriented church we will not thrive.  Our mission to the local community and to the greater world is necessary to thrive.  It is a blessing.
  • Need to collaborate and share—many churches in Maine are declining in attendance and creative ways of collaboration and sharing will need to be thought through and tried.  Imagine sharing as a blessing rather than a burden.
  • Ministry sites for a regional church—not every church needs to do every thing.  Giving to the church through the things you are passionate about is a blessing.
  • Move from mine to ours—imagine viewing ministry done here as part of the greater ministry of the Diocese of Maine.  What a blessing that could be.
  • Adapt while maintaining episcopal way of worship—the “we’ve always done it that way” mentality doesn’t help adaptive change. Creative ways of worship, while keeping to the prayerbook are not mutually exclusive, they are blessings.
  • Priest should be into Christian formation and education, rather than administration—imagine what blessings to individual congregations would come out of that thought.  More people with an understanding of what it means to be an Episcopalian and a Christian means more people for the mission of the church.
  • Mutual ministers of the good news rather than consumers— In the hymn, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,” it states if our love were but more faithful we would take him at his word and God’s blessings would spread out into a world that sorely needs blessings.
  • Beacons of love in a hurting world—that’s a phrase I just loved. Again in the hymn it tells us that God's justice is kind, in fact it “is most wonderfully kind.”  A blessing from God to us and from us to the world.  Becoming beacons of love in the midst of injustice, hate, distrust and fear is part of our mission.
So take a copy of the bishop’s address, read it, discuss it, because what is in there is important to St. Andrew’s and to its future. 
I am closing with the blessing used at the end of convention Eucharist.
Life is short,
And we do not have much time
to gladden the hearts of those who make the journey with us. swift to love, and make haste to be kind.
And the blessing of God,
who made us,
who loves us,
who travels with us
be with you now and forever.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Sermon

Photo by Brian: This is how Izzie and I travel
I was asked to supply last Sunday at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Bridgton.  It's a lovely new church with very friendly people.  They even put up with Izzie during coffee hour, although she seemed content to stay in the car during the service.  Izzie was delighted to find that they were serving some cheese.  Driving there takes about two hours so that meant leaving our place about 6:30 for a 9 am service. Here's what I told them in my sermon:

“Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”  This week of wonderful news about the rescued 33 miners in Chile, has touched a lot of hearts and praying a lot has been part of this story.  I’m sure that some of them did lose heart during the 17 days in that rock prison, until they were found alive, and we will hear the stories in the weeks to come, but it is clear that faith in God, faith in each other, and faith that they were being searched for helped them through those dark days.
But this parable that Jesus told is more than just praying always.  It is a parable about justice, both human justice and God’s justice.  Justice for people like the widow, who along with orphans and the stranger were to be cared for, not taken advantage of.
I think children have an innate sense of what justice is.  I remember my daughter around the age of 5 or 6 when we went to see a re-run of Disney’s Cinderella at the local theatre.  The scene when after the animals had made her a beautiful ball gown, the nasty step sisters tore it to shreds.  My daughter yelled at the top her lungs, “that’s not fair!”. Of course it wasn’t.  I remember saying that the world is not always fair.  Almost forty years later, I know the world isn’t always fair, in fact, I see more and more injustice rather than less.
What would you have done if you were in the sandals of the widow.  If you were told that no one cares about justice any more and that you would have to fight it out by yourself with your neighbor.  Just by taking on the widow’s case, she won.  In Jesus’ first century Eastern Mediterranean country, taking someone to justice was a serious matter of honor.  In modern street speak, the widow “dissed” her opponent just by having the matter heard.  She had enough faith to believe that God was on her side and that keet her going.
Perseverance is important in faith and in society.  If we take part in the justice system in our country we need faith and persistence.  It's not easy and it costs money. A person needs to be tough and determined to get through the justice system.  You really do need to believe that God works for a just society because the whole system is not only cumbersome, but the wheels of justice run slowly. 
And if you are one of the brave people who work to change an unjust society, faith and perseverance are two qualities you will sorely need.  Entrenched positions are really hard to shift.  Economic advantage or privilege and a network of injustice is hard to penetrate.  And people usually have mixed motives, wanting the change, but not wanting to change themselves.  I’m reminded of the speech the President of Chile made about changing the contract with the miners to make the mines more safe and thinking how difficult that is likely to be.  The mine they were working in produces gold and copper.  And in a contest between money and safety, safety doesn’t always win.
Even when we try to solve conflicts in our families, faith and perseverance are needed,  Broken relationships are hard to mend and people don’t like admitting they might have been wrong.  And if we think God has a quick fix for the wrongs of the world, think again.  Look at the cross.  God knows that Justice, Truth and Reconciliation are costly.  But in the parable, Jesus makes it very clear that God is on the side of justice and God does care.
The judge in this story has no respect for God or humanity.  What a contrast this is to the God of mercy and justice who needs our hands and minds and hearts to bring about God’s kingdom on this earth.  That will certainly take persistence and faith.
Notice that at no time have I talked about justice as retaliation or vengeance.  So often on the TV news we listen to people whose family members have been killed speak in their grief about outcomes that sound more like vengeance than justice.  I don’t know how I would react in such a situation, but I wonder if our justice system could do with a bit less of vengeance and more of God’s justice, which is about fairness and truth.  

Today's gospel is story that challenges us and encourages us.  And not only us, this challenge and encouragement was needed by those in the early church who heard Luke’s gospel.  After all Christ had not yet come back in glory to usher in the kingdom where peace and justice and truth would be the norm.  In the scheme of Luke's gospel, this parable is told to the disciples as they were on their way to Jerusalem with all its conflicts and the shadow of the cross looming. They needed encouragement to stay the course.  Of course, we know the story doesn’t end with the cross; there is the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit to sustain us. I don't know if you heard that many of those miners spoke of their rescue as a resurrection.  How their future will play out will depend on their listening to the Spirit working in their new lives.
Pete Seger wrote a folk song, called "If I had a hammer."  The hammer is the hammer of justice, hammering in the morning and in the evening all over the world.  Justice in that folk song hammers out danger and warning and love.  God’s will for everyone is for justice: the sorting out of what is good and true in our world, it requires our cooperation and our faith in God and each other.  After all the prophet told us to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.”