Saturday, January 17, 2015

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany

"Brooklyn Museum - Nathaniel Under the Fig Tree (Nathanaël sous le figuier) - James Tissot - overall" by James Tissot - Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2008, 00.159.59_PS2.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Christ Church, Gardiner
Second Sunday after Epiphany
1Samuel 3:1-10
Psalm 139:1-5
John 1:43-51

In our Old Testament reading this morning we learn how God called Samuel as a young boy.  His words, “Speak, for your servant is listening”, and Samuel’s trust in his teacher, Eli, show us a heart and mind open to God’s calling. If we read the whole of the passage, we would learn that Samuel was reluctant to tell Eli what God had said because it involved Eli’s sons, who blasphemed God and Eli did nothing about it.  Eli insisted on knowing what was said and after hearing, responded “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him”  Samuel grew up “And all of Israel from Dan to Beer-sheeba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.”

We are so very used to hearing that Jesus called people that we have no idea how unusual it is for a Rabbi, a teacher, to call someone to be his disciple. The usual way was for a student to pick his teacher. But that is what Jesus does at the start of his ministry. He calls Andrew and Peter and James and John away from their livelihoods as fishermen, and called them to become fishers of people. He called Philip, who in turn, found Nathanael.  When Jesus saw Nathanael coming he said “He is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” 

It can be pretty risky for us to live without deceit. I know I can remember times when I didn’t correct someone about myself, because what they said sounded so much nicer than reality. Even though we like to think of ourselves as honest people, we fool ourselves into thinking that our white lies, or silences or evasions are needed either to soothe our egos or our self-esteem or to protect our positions in the community or sometimes to protect others. But mostly it’s about us.

If you go on-line and read about news of the Episcopal Church, you might know that an instance of this living with deceit has come to a head these past two weeks for the Assisting Bishop of Maryland.  She was driving and texting while intoxicated and killed a bicyclist.  To make matters worse, she left the scene of the accident only to return within the hour.  She had a DUI before she was considered for bishop, and although the search committee knew of it, the bishop, herself, did not make that known to the people of the diocese during her walkabouts.  So it is not known whether at the time she was elected she was working her program and really was in recovery.  Of course the internet has been buzzing with speculation about her and some very nasty things are said.   She was arrested and is out on bail and in a recovery program while awaiting civil trial. She has been put on leave and Ecclesiastical Court proceedings loom in the horizon.  Not coming clean has its consequences.

Maine, on the other hand, called a bishop who openly acknowledged that she had an alcohol problem; had been sober for years and worked in the Diocese of Chicago. She talked about it openly, wrote a book about alcoholism and never in her ten years with us was this an issue.  She is so well respected in the church that three dioceses have asked her to step in either as interim bishop or assisting bishop since her retirement.

Now drinking in the Episcopal Church is an issue. It affects seminarians, deacons, priests and bishops as well as lay people. It does not mean that everyone who has a drink is an alcoholic, far from it.  But our church does tolerate a culture of drinking. We all know the jokes about “Whiskeypalians” or “whenever four Episcopalians get together, there’s always a fifth.” I mentioned these two bishops to help us understand how hiding our flaws and blinding ourselves to who we really are, get in the way of our hearing God’s call to us. In our psalm God knows our innermost selves and calls us to wholeness and to mission.

The Iona Community has a hymn called The Summons, it goes:

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

Will you love the "you" you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you've found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In Your company I'll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus I'll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

The fourth stanza is so apt for today.  “Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?” Hiding our dark secrets from ourselves, from our neighbors and from God are the result of fear.  One of the real problems with any addiction is our denial that we are addicted.  We fear that people will not love us if they find out who we really are and sometimes that does happen.  There is so much fear that people do tend to lash out at someone they thought was so wonderful, has feet of lead.  It is faith that helps us, flawed humans to reshape the world around us. It is opening up our dark spaces to God’s light and living in truth that helps us turn and follow our Lord. It is following our unique calls in the company of the one who calls us that helps us to “move and live and grow” and never be the same.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Second Advent 2014

I want to thank Jay Jay E. Johnson for the ideas in this very brief homily. Christ Curch, Gardiner decided to do an Advent Lessons and Carols yesterday, and I struggled to find a short message to move us from the lessons and gospel of the day into Eucharist. This is what I came up with:
Prophets tell us the truth about the present. They are not predicting some distant future. John the Baptist, whom the Orthodox call the Forerunner, is speaking truth to people who are coming to him for baptism and it is this speaking truth that infuriates so many. That is what cost him his head. But truth telling is one of Advent's invitations. An invitation to listen to prophetic truth tellers. But it is about more than just listening. It is about action. Prophets insist that we choose where and to what we give our allegiance. We can choose to stay with the things we know; the things that are familiar and comfortable. Or we can choose to turn to the things that God is bringing about; turn toward the things we don't know. And that can be scary. This choice, what John calls repentance, means risking the comfortable and safe we know, for an unknown future. A future where we who have been baptized with water and the Holy Spirit will find God waiting. 
Let us pray: "Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen."
The service went well and it took just an hour and 10 minutes. One of their goals is to NOT have the service last and hour and a half.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Blogging Again

I can't believe it's been over two years since I've posted anything, but now that I will be preaching regularly, I intend (as a minimum) to post my sermons.  I will be serving Christ Church, Gardiner as half-time priest-in-charge, probably for about a year.  I expect that Neo will post as well.  He had such a great time his first Sunday there.  He sat in the pews with parishioners and really enjoyed the coffee hour.  He had two laps to choose from in the vestry meeting.

First Sunday in Advent, Year B
November 20, 2014
Christ Church Gardiner

The sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
- Mark 13.24

It is the start of a new church year. The first Sunday in Advent.  A time of waiting in the darkness for the birth of the one who is called the light of the world.  A time of anticipation.  So why at this time of year when we are so looking forward to Christmas, do we get such gloom and doom about the end of the world. And what is this about staying awake. It seems as though our lectionary gives us readings about endings when we are talking about beginnings. The beginning of a new church year, the beginning of the life of Jesus, the beginning a relationship between you and me.

The beginning of the universe,according to scientists, was with a big bang and the release of huge amounts of energy.  Then quarks and all kinds of strange sub-atomic particles formed from this energy and joined together and coalesced to form stars and then galaxies all moving out from that center bang and some many billions of years later we humans stand here on this earth and on a cold winter night look up and marvel at the night sky and maybe even marvel at the One who created it all.  Who used stardust to create us. 

In a small, recent part of those billions of years, we humans, made-in-the-image-of-God people,  are reminded that it will all end.  Sometimes this reminder is called a little Apocalypse or sometimes, the Second Coming. Jesus tells this to his disciples at the Mount of Olives.  He is telling about the time when he will return again; a time he thinks might be within their lifetimes, but he doesnt really know. Its about the end of the world. It could be tomorrow, or after our star, the sun, dies out and our earthly home turns cold and can no longer sustain life, but Jesus says to stay awake for whenever it is.

Some people talk about three comings.  The first is the one we celebrate on Christmas day when God took human form and lived among us and theres the one in our gospel that speaks of the end when: “…in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.But there is a middle coming,  that Jesus also speaks of, not in todays gospel, but when he speaks of Gods kingdom.  He tells us the kingdom is already here, not fully, but it is here. There is a beginning and an end, but there is also a now. In fact, for us, it is all now.Yes, we know, our world is broken.  It is full of endings, a loved one dies, people get divorced, a young black man gets shot, people fight over television sets in Black Friday sales, a young man runs over his mother and kills her, terrorists kill innocent people, people struggle to put food on the table or heat their homes and sometimes their dreams for their children die, people give up trying and turn to drugs including alcohol. But nowis also full of beginnings. Children are born, more people get healthcare, people of different faiths struggle to work together; people who love each other, no matter their gender, marry;  We are called to keep awake and look for Christ in the darkness, to look for Christ in all we meet.

I discovered an artist and poet this week.  Her name is Jan Richardson. 

Blessing When the World is Ending
Look, the world
is always ending
the sun has come
crashing down.
it has gone
completely dark.
it has ended
with the gun
the knife
the fist.
it has ended
with the slammed door
the shattered hope.
it has ended
with the utter quiet
that follows the news
from the phone
the television
the hospital room.
it has ended
with a tenderness
that will break
your heart.
But, listen,
this blessing means
to be anything
but morose.
It has not come
to cause despair.
It is simply here
because there is nothing
a blessing
is better suited for
than an ending,
nothing that cries out more
for a blessing
than when a world
is falling apart.
This blessing
will not fix you
will not mend you
will not give you
false comfort;
it will not talk to you
about one door opening
when another one closes.
It will simply
sit itself beside you
among the shards
and gently turn your face
toward the direction
from which the light
will come,
gathering itself
about you
as the world begins
Jan Richardson © Jan Richardson.

We are called to keep awake to the blessings of this life: to the beginnings. The hope and light of Jesus is present in Gods church, this church: Christ Church, Gardiner.  Christ Church has been gathered up in prayer by all the people, who throughout the years, have lifted up to God,  their hopes, their fears, their conflicts and their faith.  This church is a place of expectation, of waiting for the kingdom that is now. Waiting for blessings that are now.  Waiting for healing that is now; for forgiveness that is now, for reconciliation that is now.  The urgency in the gospel is not that the world is about to end, but the urgency is to keep awake in the now to bring about the kingdom beginning now.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Climate Change Video: Can We Really Do It?

I didn't wake up grumpy this morning.  The air is clear and cool.  Perfect for a Fall day.  I didn't watch more than 5 minutes of Morning Joe: I just cannot deal with politics today.  However, this video made me both happy and grumpy.  I love the Symphony of Science stuff.  This new one is on climate change threw me into a bit of despair, though.  It isn't science that can "do it," it is political will and there isn't much of that around these days.  See what you think.

If we as Christians are to care for creation, then people of faith and people of science need to find common cause to make the "we can do it" possible.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth

Jean Leon Gerome Ferris [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
While in seminary I did an intern year at Christ Church, the Anglican Church in Vienna, Austria. Fourth of July was on a Sunday that year and I got to plan the music for the service, which was from the BCP. One of the hymns was this one, sung to the tune Finlandia. I first heard it at an ANZAC day service where the ambassadors from Australia, New Zealand and Turkey placed wreaths at the foot of the altar. It was appropriate for an international community and an important reminder for all of us here in the United States on this very special holiday.

This is my song, Oh God of all the nations, 
A song of peace for lands afar and mine. 
This is my home, the country where my heart is; 
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine. 
But other hearts in other lands are beating, 
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine. 

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean, 
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine. 
But other lands have sunlight too and clover, 
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine. 
Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations, 
A song of peace for their land and for mine. 

May truth and freedom come to every nation; 
May peace abound where strife has raged so long;
That each may seek to love and build together, 
A world united, righting every wrong; 
A world united in its love for freedom, 
Proclaiming peace together in one song. 

This is my prayer, O Lord of all earth's kingdoms: 
Thy kingdom come; on earth thy will be done. 
Let Christ be lifted up till all shall serve him, 
And hearts united learn to live as one. 
O hear my prayer, thou God of all the nations; 
Myself I give thee, let thy will be done.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Abiding Love

Yesterday I drove the 75 miles to Skowhegan, Maine to celebrate the Eucharist with a small but lively congregation.  In honor of Mother's Day, I used Robert Munch's "Love You Forever" as part of my sermon.  Sheila McGraw's illustrations are quite wonderful with the cover showing a two-year-old with a very satisfied smile on his face, sitting next to a toilet strewing toilet paper everywhere. For those who do not know the book, it's about a mother who sings as she rocks her son back and forth:
I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always;
As long as I'm living
my baby you'll be.
We hear how the boy grows and grows and still the mother manages to rock him and sing the song to him (she always makes sure he is asleep by peeking up over the side of his bed).  It is not all sweetness and light—the boy drives her "CRAZY;" she wants "to sell him to the zoo;" and feels like she "is in a zoo."  But she continues to find ways to rock him and sing to him until at the end of her life he does the same for her and then to his new born daughter.

I used the story to talk about God's abiding love for us and how God is a Mothering-Father.  It is important to acknowledge all those in our lives who have mothered us: some of whom were men and others women; some were related to us by blood and others by love. God's abiding love is always there, even when we are not aware of it.  We, who are nurtured by such love, are to pass it on. I ended by saying it is this abiding love that we, as Christians, have to offer to the world.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Beautiful Bar Harbor

I had the privilege yesterday of presiding at St. Saviour's in Bar Harbor.  They are a gracious group and it is wonderful to drive up US 1 through Camden and Searsport and across the Penobscot Narrows through Ellsworth and on to Mount Desert Island.  The skies were a pale blue and the ocean deep blue.

Reading the Jewish Study Bible last week gave me new perspectives on the Ten Commandments in Exodus.  Putting some of those together with Godly Play's "The Ten Best Things" and a mild rant on the incivility and greed running rampant in our country these days were the gist of my sermon.  One of the things that struck me was that the attribute for God translated in the NRSV as "jealous" is translated as "impassioned" in the Jewish Study Bible.  Much more understandable to my post-modern mind.

It really was hard to get up to do the early service since I was so concerned I wouldn't wake up and Miss Isabelle was restless until midnight, but we both did just fine.  Coming back I stopped at the Whale's Tooth Pub on Linconville Beach for lunch.  The parking lot was pretty empty when I was finished and Izzie was sound asleep in the car.  It was a much needed break as I was beginning to get sleepy. We got home safe and sound.  I took a nap only to be awakened by the sun in my eyes in the late afternoon.  Izzie  slept quietly through the night.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sermon-All Saint's San Francisco

There is some recycled material here, but it was wonderful to be able to preach at the church that sponsored me for the diaconate and then the priesthood and to see familiar and new faces.  I also got to accomplish one of the aims of the Society of Ordained Scientists, that is, "To offer to God in our ordained role the work of science and technology in the exploration and stewardship of creation."  The quotations are from Swimme and Tucker's book.
 "Wherever the interstellar clouds of the two galaxies collide, they do not freely move past each other without interruption but, rather, suffer a damaging collision. High relative velocities cause ram pressures at the surface of contact between the interacting interstellar clouds. This pressure, in turn, produces material densities sufficiently extreme as to trigger star formation through gravitational collapse. The hot blue stars in this image are evidence of this star formation."
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Photo ID: GL-2002-001105


There are three reasons I am in California:  first to inter my friend David's ashes in the columbarium, which we did yesterday; second to see my children and some friends; and thirdly to go to Tucson on my home to Maine for a retreat/meeting of the North American Chapter of the Society of Ordained Scientists.  I've watched a lot of news programs and commentators in motels on my stops across the country with Izzie.  The voices get pretty strident and I find myself driving long distances with no radio or iPod music, so I can enjoy the silence and listen to the memories in my head.

Today’s readings made me pay attention to the use of the word “voice” and the presence of the Holy Spirit:  God’s voice as power and God’s Holy Spirit as life giver or the one who spurs us to action. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth” is such a simple statement for some very complex processes. Scientists sometimes refer to this beginning of space-time as the “Big Bang.” In the book "Journey of the Universe" by Brian Thomas Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker, the authors instead the start of our universe as “the great exhalation.” That’s another way to describe the forces of expansion (from the big bang) and attraction (gravity), to remind us that the universe is "shaped by these two opposing and creative dynamics" and that we who are alive are also shaped by processes of expansion and contraction such as breathing and the beating of our hearts.

Just like in our Psalm, the voice of God is powerful and majestic, controlling all of nature but I can't help but  wonder what the "great exhalation" sounded like.  Big Bang doesn't really have the elegance or the awe or the wonder that the term "great exhalation" does.  Could it really be a great shout of joy and love and unimaginable power that started all that we know and began time and space? And if the Holy Spirit is inspiration, then we have the breathing in and out of the universe in both exhalation and inspiration.

Thinking about God breathing out the universe is reflected in the prolog to John’s Gospel "In the beginning was the Word." as well as the beginning of Genesis that we heard today “God said let there be....”  And God didn't just separate the light from darkness there was much more creating going on. After the initial "bang" particles began to collide and interact; sometimes bonding, sometimes separating.  The formation of increasingly complex communities, started with elementary particles and seems to be the way of the universe. In order for bonding to occur, the particles have to give up part of their mass and release it as energy.  "Even from the first moments, our universe moved toward creating relationships.....This bonding is at the heart of matter."

Forming a complex community is what churches are all about. Becoming part of a complex community is what baptism is all about. It’s not just this one place, All Saints’, but it is about becoming a part of the whole Body of Christ. In Maine, I’ve spent time trying to help some small parishes figure out new ways of being church. Part of that is helping them think about what it would mean when churches are willing to give up something, and what kind of energy could be released that will benefit both the churches and the communities in which they exist.  What kind of new relationships can be formed?

Because there is the relationship part of bonding too. It seems as though God created the whole universe, not just us, in God's image.  If bonding is at the heart of matter, then bonding or relationship has a lot to do with how we related to God and how God relates to us. I would like to think that relationships or bonding are as critical to the nature of God as to the nature of the universe God created and giving up a bit of mass to create energy is part of this.

So far I’ve used images to describe the universe and ourselves as breathing lung, an expanding heart, and a system that becomes increasingly complex. There is another image that can apply and that is of a developing seed. The process is complex, but orderly: first roots, then leaves. The universe started out focusing on building nuclei, then it stopped and other processes began. “The astonishing fact is that if the universe had continued building nuclei all the way up to iron, for example, iron nuclei would have predominated for all time.” But what happened instead was when all the light nuclei were formed the conditions for building the nuclei changed. And this stopping and changing happened again and again over the fourteen billion years it took to get to us. As with seeds developing one process stopped so something new could take over. Something that would eventually become living, breathing creatures to could contemplate the awesome complexity that the mind of God is holding in existence.

God’s power is manifest in the Holy Spirit received after Paul laid his hands on some disciples in Ephesus. And we see God’s power in our gospel when we again hear the voice and see the action of the Holy Spirit. “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

How many times have we said of a baby “he or she is the spitting image of .....” Well we are the spitting image of the voice that said “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” God is not just well pleased with his Son with a capital S, he is well pleased with all his sons and daughters. Just as God proclaimed the first day good, he proclaimed the creating of humankind good as well.

As think about the renewal of our baptismal covenant this morning, I challenge you to remember that it is our voices bonding with voices of Christians around the globe, that allows for the creative work of the Holy Spirit to start something new. The Holy Spirit, the Creator and the Son are all bound together in a relationship dance and because of their relationship, we are bound in our baptism to God and to each other.