Friday, October 15, 2010

The Exiled

Parts of this sermon were strongly influenced by a sermon written by the Rev. Richard Fairchild. My prayers of thanksgiving for his work and willingness to share his talents with the world go up to God this day. Amen

Jesus was walking toward Jerusalem. On his final journey there that would end on the cross. He was near the border to Samaria when ten lepers call out to him. These people had a disease that was the equivalent of AIDS in the early ‘80’s, if you are old enough to remember the fear of AIDS at that time. These people were under a sentence of death. Leprosy was so feared that the victims of this disease were total outcasts.

By the rules of their society, rules created by a fear of contamination, lepers were forced away from society except with other lepers, and when they encountered healthy people, they rang bells that said to others, “keep away – I am lethal!”
Until very recently, people who had leprosy, what we now call Hansen’s disease, were treated as the living dead: shunned, avoided, feared, they were believed to be unclean, as men and women of the greatest misfortune (if not guilty of huge sins) as people beyond help and not worthy of notice except, perhaps a little charity.

As Jesus entered a village these lepers approached him and called from a distance: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” They must have cried out with a sense of futility, for so few people even acknowledged their presence. Jesus did something unusual for him. Rather than saying, “be healed” – “stand up” – “take up your bed and walk”, Jesus responded to their cry by saying “go and show yourselves to the priests.” Now Jesus was referring to Leviticus chapter fourteen, which specifies what a priest is to do with a leper who happens to get healed. If cured, the leper could gain readmission to the temple, and to the rest of society, if he was ritually purified and certified as “clean” by a priest.

Yet, despite the unusual response of Jesus, they turn and go, and as they walk down the path towards the priest in the village, they are healed. The Greek word translated “healed” in verses14 and 17 is a word that literally means cleansed or cured.

As we know, one of the ten, a Samaritan man, realizing he had been made clean, turned back and praising God with a loud voice he came to Jesus and prostrated himself: he fell on his knees and his face before Jesus’ feet, and thanked him. And Jesus looked down on him and said to his disciples:

“Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And then he said to the man: ‘Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well.’”

The word for “well” used here in the Greek can mean cured or healed, but it also means to be made whole or to be saved. My Friends, Jesus’ point is that it is faith that makes us whole. In this story, we have the opportunity to see faith in a different light than we might normally see it. We have the opportunity to see faith as something that leads us to a life that is more than just being well: it is what leads us to wholeness. Through this story we can see that faith is nothing more difficult, nothing more profound than remembering what God has done and giving thanks to him for it.

What, after all, is the difference between the nine lepers who are made clean and the tenth leper who is not only made clean, but also made whole? Just this one: of all the healed lepers, the Samaritan, realizes real resurrection. He alone comes back to say “Thanks”. He realizes that his healing comes from God, through Jesus, and that God has put him in a relationship with Jesus and that relationship alone has made him whole and alive again.

Both last Sunday and today, our reading from Jeremiah has focused on the people who were exiled: taken into Babylon when Israel was conquered. The people torn from their homes and their way of life, are similar to the lepers in our gospel. And there are people here in Central Texas who have been made to feel like exiles. There are many more around the country, and I believe that God is calling us to love them, to let them know that He loves them, just like we are told God loves all of Her creation.

There is something going on in our country that is being almost shouted from the rooftops. I think we’ve finally realized that we are drowning in incivility. People’s rudeness toward others covers the spectrum, with everything from road rage to employee abuse, to people taking their anger out on strangers. But what has really caught my attention, and most probably yours, if you put any focus at all on the news, is the increasing numbers of teen suicides as a result of bullying. Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death among college-age students (after auto deaths) in the United States, with some 1,100 deaths a year. In yesterday’s paper I read about four high school kids in one Ohio town who killed themselves during the last year: one was a girl named Sladjana, whose family recently immigrated from Croatia, and she was ridiculed for her accent and unusual name. She hung herself. Another girl was gay, and another was teased mercilessly because she had a learning disability. Eric, a boy from the same town wasn’t gay, but the school bullies decided that he was because he liked to dress differently. He shot himself in the head.

You may have heard about the death of five teens that took their own lives in the month of September. Raymond Chase, 19; Seth Welsh, 13; Asher Brown, 13, here in Texas; and Billy Lucas, 15, in Indiana, all committed suicide after being bullied and harassed about their sexual orientation. And, just a little over a week ago, Tyler Clementi, 18, of New Jersey. He did it because he didn’t know how to live with what was done to him. A brilliant musician, Tyler was a freshman in college. He had an amazing future in front of him but, in torment over his roommates “outing” him by broadcasting a video of his sexual encounter with another man, Tyler threw himself off a bridge.

Honesty and openness about sexuality is difficult at any age. For teenagers, it can be simply paralyzing, an almost impossible subject to discuss with parents or other adults. Kids don’t know what to do, or how to protect themselves, and harassment is devastating to fragile, emerging personalities.

But bullying isn’t just about sexual orientation. It is a tragic and deadly trend in our schools that students are not being held accountable for their disrespect of others. In Bob Lively’s Faith column, also in yesterday’s Austin paper, he quoted theologian Richard Rohr, saying that though our human problems are for the most part psychological, the solution for those problems is mainly spiritual. It is so obvious to those of us who know and follow the Lord Jesus Christ that our world is hurting so much because we are not following his command to love one another and to treat each other as we would like to be treated.

In our baptismal covenant, we say that seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
our neighbor as ourselves. We say we will strive for justice and peace among all people, and will respect the dignity of every person. As followers of Christ it is our place to step up in protecting those who are being harassed, and to try and show bullies a better, more compassionate way to be.

As the lepers were shunned and shut out of society, so are many of our children being shunned and shut out, or even worse. One of the many reasons I love my job is because I have the privilege of knowing the youth of St. Paul’s. I cherish each and every one of you, and you can pass the word to any and all of your friends and acquaintances. It doesn’t matter to me what the trouble is: anyone, any time, can feel free to come talk to me about anything in confidence– there will be no judgment given, only caring concern, and thoughtful support. There is nothing you can tell me that will shock me – and with love and God’s help, we can find a way to make things better.

The good news is that we can do something about this. Each of us has a responsibility to be present in the lives of our youth, offering them reminders of their belovedness as members of the Body of Christ, and giving them the support they need to thrive. As Jesus pointed out in the Gospel today, as we love and care for one another, and as we give thanks to God for his grace given to us, we have the opportunity to become whole. That it is through God’s loving grace, manifested through His people, that we all find healing and wholeness from the hurtful things of this world. And as one helps another, and that one loves another and helps them, the world can be changed. Amen, and amen.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What a FABULOUS Weekend!

Oh, my, I feel like my prayers have been least for this past two days. St. Paul's had a yard sale on Saturday, and most of the church pitched in to organize things on Friday evening, and then came back to help with the sale. It was a real community effort just like we've been praying for, and everyone seemed to have a great time (and we made some good money to further along our plans for our 25th anniversary celebration too!).

Then, including the young ones in the nursery during worship, we had 52 people at church! And most of them stayed for Sunday school and our usual potluck lunch that we have on "First" Sundays (the first Sunday of every month). It was so good to study God's word together, and then visit while we ate and cleaned up the church.

Then, there was just time enough to run to the store to buy treats for the animals for our 2:00 PM St. Francis' Blessing of the Animals (as I promised and almost forgot to get). This was so that every pet that was brought by their person or people to the blessing service could enjoy refreshments just like the people did. We had 18 people, 12 dogs and 1 cat, including the two precious dogs from the Pflugerville Animal Shelter who are patiently waiting for someone to adopt them. One was an older female pit bull mix who was simply sweet and loving. The other was a young black and white terrier who, from a standing still stance, jumped almost 3' off the ground! And he did it over and over again, every time anyone paid him the slightest attention. If you are thinking of adopting a dog, get yourself to the PAS in a hurry -- these sweeties won't last long!

I'm not sure how much money we raised for the shelter, but there was enough dog and cat food to help them out for a few days anyway, and it was a real blessing to have animal control officer, Michael, with us again for the second year. It has been an amazing few days -- full of love and laughter and church family. We are so very blessed to have each other!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Where to begin....?

The pilgrimage to Malawi was life-changing. I'm not sure how exactly, yet...I'm still processing it all. Such beautiful, joyous people -- joyous in the Lord, even when they are lacking any creature comforts, and live as our early ancestors did, with dirt floors and no water or electricity, and no toys for the children except balls made from plastic bags tied around with string. It made evident how very spoiled we are here in the States.

It all seems to relate to our Gospel reading for next Sunday, Luke 14:25 - 33: How much are we willing to give to be a follower of Christ? Are we willing to pay the price to follow Jesus? What is first in our lives? He tells his "many followers" that there is great cost in choosing him. He tells them that they must weigh the cost and choose. Have we truly chosen, or are we among those many followers who aren't really following Him -- simply walking along and listening, saying we believe and are followers, but not truly choosing to live the Christian life? What is most important in our lives?

It seems to me that we here, in a place that has every creature comfort imaginable, have become so attached to those things which give us comfort, or mindlessness, (read that as bleeping out on television, being a "workaholic", depending upon alcohol or drugs, watching sports or playing video games) that we have forgotten what could -- and yes, should, be the most important focus of our lives.

Why is it that we don't focus more on the one thing that truly can bring us the most joy that it is possible to experience? Is it because we have become so jaded with the "entertainment" or "busyness of work" that we can't allow ourselves to just sit and be with God? Is it because we have spent so little time with Her that it's uncomfortable to be in silence, doing nothing but paying attention to Him?

Yes, Jesus was telling the truth when He told those many followers that they needed to count the cost of following Him. Yes, we may lose friends and acquaintances, if they are just with us to play, and see what they can get from the relationship. If they are attached for selfish, or frivolous reasons. For what Jesus is saying is that if we are truly to follow Him, all that we have -- all that we possess in this life -- must become unimportant to us in comparison to our love for God. Somehow it seems that we should lose some "friends" or even family, if we choose to love God first. It seems obvious when I think about it, that when our priorities are in the proper order, our reality changes: we become immersed in God, and many other things fall away -- and there is a parting of the ways because we no longer relate to people in the same way we did when we were caught up in the trappings of the material world.

The most amazing thing is, that when we truly let go and release our attachment to all these things that we "love" on this Earthly plane, and focus on God as the source and destination of the only true love, we find ourselves complete -- lacking nothing -- and living in total joy.

This is what I experienced in Malawi, and what I experience in my own life when I allow myself to be still in the presence of God. It changes things. It is what makes life have meaning. What I don't comprehend is why I have such difficulty remaining aware of Him. It is the most glorious experience of my life, and yet I get caught in the mundane, and forget to focus on Her. It seems so hard in this place, back in everyday life. Perhaps this is why I had such a hard time leaving Malawi: Out there in the bush, working with the orphans and widows, God was so palpably evident...It was all I wanted to do for the rest of my life...

And then I realized that I can do more from here than I could ever do being there. That doesn't mean that I don't want to go again, and focus on certain things that I only got a glimpse of on this whirlwind trip to see so many different projects that are making a difference. But this is home, and it's where I belong.

In our Gospel for Sunday Jesus says we must hate our families, and I have trouble with that. Not only do I love my family and need to be with them; I also love my parishioners, and know that we are doing good work, growing in our love of God together. Although he literally used that word, hate, perhaps he was using it in a quantitative sense, that we should love God so much more. I don't know. I firmly believe that God is love and wants us to reflect that love throughout our lives to everyone -- perhaps Jesus was talking about attachment. There are so many opportunities to share the love of God, now matter where we are -- it seems to me to be a matter of putting God first.

I will not let go of my love of the land and the people of Malawi. They have taught me many great lessons: lessons of priorities, lessons of focus, lessons of love. Love in the deepest sense. Love that comes from deep within a relationship with God, which pours out to the entire Earth and all the people in it. For God loves all of His creation, and what I believe She wants each one of us to be is a conduit of Her love to all those we meet, and that happens no matter what continent we are on, or where we are on our journey.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Heading into the bush

It is just a few days until I get on a big "bird" and fly to the other side of the chaplain of a group of seven, including me, to experience pilgrimage in the country of Malawi. Don't know where it is? Well, Google a map of Africa and look southeast. Where we are going (in the southern part of the country) is completely surrounded by Mozambique, which is just north of South Africa. It is one of the poorest, most destitute countries of the world, plagued by AIDS and therefore, there are many orphans.
The Diocese of Texas signed a concordant agreement with the Diocese of Southern Malawi in January -- we are now "Sister" dioceses. We go to meet our brothers and sisters in Christ, to rejoice with them in the love of Christ, and to see how we might help them with worldly needs while they teach us how to love. You see, from what I know about the Malawian people, they don't have a bunch of "stuff" as we do here in the States, but they are overflowing with the love Christ calls us to live in. I think that they know more than we about real living.
I may be unable to post while I'm there -- I don't know what access I will have to wifi and the web, but know that my thoughts and prayers are with you all while I am across the world.
When their bishop, the Right Rev. Bishop James Tengatenga came to St. Paul's a few months ago, one of my parishioners asked him, "What will Judith do when she is in Malawi?" Bishop James replied, "Well, I hope she encounters God there." I, too, hope to encounter God among these beautiful, loving people. Please pray for our group while we are there. We all believe God is calling us to this place, and will help us realize how He wants us to be family together.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Have you time to make a call?

July 4th: Proper 9 -- Year C

II Kings 5:1-14, Psalm 30, Galatians 6:1-16, Luke 10:1-11,16-20

What I gleaned from this Old Testament story of the healing of Naaman is something I believe is very important for all of us to hear. I think we usually tend to either sit around waiting for God to call us to do something dramatic, something out of the ordinary…or we’re so afraid that He might call us to do something that’s going to disrupt our lives, that we don’t listen for His call.

What the story of Naaman is telling us is that God usually calls us to do something simple, something that’s easy. What God most particularly asks most of us to do is a gentle healing of our lives and the lives of others through a simple change of attitude, a change of heart. These are both of the Old Testament lessons today. Rejoice, for God is with us and loves us, and…open your minds and hearts to be ready to do the little things, in simplicity.

Our Epistle reading from Galatians is about “Karma” – that Hindu and Buddhist word for the idea that, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” If you are selfish, you’ll get selfish people surrounding you. Ignore the presence of God around you, don’t pay attention to spreading His love around, and your life will pretty well be overgrown with weeds, with problems that are difficult to clean out of your life. But if you let God’s love grow in you and you share that caring love with those you encounter in your daily life, your life will bloom. Bear one another’s burdens and the burdens will be lighter for all of us.

Paul tells us to plant things of the Spirit within ourselves, and in those we meet, and what we will reap will be the joys of heaven. He writes that we are to do whatever we can for the good of everyone whenever we have the opportunity. And he reminds us of what our attitude should be when he says, “May I never boast of anything, except the cross of Christ.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. He goes on to tell his followers (and that’s us as well as those people he spoke to so long ago). He goes on to say that we don’t need any special preparation for doing his will. Simply go your way, and when you are with others, share God’s peace, help them however you can, tell them that God is near them, and your name will be written in heaven. Sometimes, God calls people to make dramatic changes in their lives, and to undergo huge sacrifices for the faith, but most of the time, God wants us to do His will right where we are, in the little things of life. Sometimes we don’t even realize that it is God’s urging that is moving us in new directions.

I have a story about some new friends that Lewis and I made on our trip. Timir Banerjee and his wife Elaine happened to sit with us at dinner the first night of the tour. They live in Louisville, Kentucky, where they are both active in their faith. Elaine is a nurse who is doing additional graduate work, and is interested in integrating spiritual aspects of life into the healing process. Timir is a retired neurosurgeon who has in the last few years begun teaching 5th grade three mornings a week. He came to the United States several decades ago from India to practice medicine and improve his life: he is a naturalized American citizen. This story is one that Dr. Banerjee told us over dinner.

He started out by saying what an amazing country the United States is, how in this country things can happen that would never happen anywhere else. And he shared with us the story of Dennis.

The year was 1978, and Dennis was a 32-year old patient of Timir’s. Dennis had a debilitating lung condition that kept him from living on his own, or providing for himself. He spent lots of time in the hospital to undergo oxygen intubations for his condition. In consultation with Dennis’s mother, Timir found out that it didn’t matter to her whether Dennis was in the hospital or at home, she couldn’t rest. She never got a good night’s sleep due to her worry that Dennis would become unable to breathe, and would die with no one to help him.

When Dr. Banerjee discovered how distraught Dennis’s mother was, he couldn’t let the problem continue. He picked up the phone and called the headquarters of AT&T and asked to speak with the president of the company. He didn’t even know the man’s name, but he did know that at that time, AT&T owned Bell Laboratories, and he thought maybe they could help in some way. Timir actually got through to the top man, and he explained the problem. (You see, at this time there were some monitors built for pediatric use to alert nurses if a child had difficulties, but no monitors that alerted someone if an adult patient’s breath stopped.)

The President of AT&T told Dr. Banerjee that he didn’t believe he’d ever had a more important problem to solve, and he would be in touch as soon as he could. Just a day or two later, Timir received a call telling him that two engineers from Boeing were flying in from Seattle and they’d be in KY in a few days to get to work. These men came in and developed the medical monitor that results in an alarm if a patient stops breathing.

Dr. Banerjee, the hospital, Dennis, nor any of their insurance companies, were ever charged even a penny for the work that went into the development of the monitor. These men did what needed to be done because they wanted to help someone they didn’t even know. Timir told us that this type of thing is what makes us different, and why he wanted to be a citizen of this country. Timir explained that he wanted to be a part of a place where a relative nobody could ask for help from a powerful person just by picking up the phone.

Timir grew up in the Brahmin caste, the highest and most powerful level of India’s caste system. Here there is no caste system: each person is equally valued, be they a major corporate executive, or someone without a job or home. We have been taught from early childhood that all people have value, each person in the world has equal value with every other person: there are no untouchables here. Our forefathers founded this country on this basic principle that Christ teaches.

Timir has done some other dramatic and unusual interventions to help people since he became an American citizen. Shortly after the shootings in Columbine, CO, he formed a non-profit organization named SPAVA, an acronym for the Society for the Prevention of Aggressiveness and Violence among Adolescents. Their mission statement says they exist to produce a nonviolent society by being mentors and role models for our youth. Last year, as a fundraising and public relations effort for the charity, Timir walked all the way across the country.

The message I got from all that Timir told us is that he believes what our forefathers wrote about equality and liberty, and he believes what he’s read in his Bible about caring for one another. These gave him the courage, or maybe simply the belief that we are all able and called to make a difference, so he does it. All it took to prevent Dennis’s death, and his Mom’s sleepless nights, was a phone call, and Timir made it. God calls all of us to take those steps: to make that phone call. Timir thought he came to the U.S. to practice medicine and have a better life. But because he saw a need and took the brief minutes necessary to make the call, thousands of lives have been saved, and will continue to be saved.

God calls us all to be open to love and to care for all of those we encounter. May each and every one of us, this day and every day, give thanks that we have been put in this place where we have the freedom to be conduits for God’s love flowing into the world. May we remain aware that no matter how young or how old, rich or poor, educated or not, we are able and capable of making a difference in the world around us, and this is what God calls all of us to do. Amen.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sinners! Sinners everywhere!

Here is my sermon for today: 6/13

Proper 6, Year C

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15, Psalm, 32, Galatians 2:15-21, Luke 7:36;-39

Sinners…I see sinners…everywhere I look, within and without the church, in every Bible story I studied all week long, nothing but sinners! Now why do you think that’s so? Well, I got to thinking about all these stories of sinners, and it became obvious – everyone sins. Everyone but Jesus, that is. We can delude ourselves and start ticking off lists of all the wonderful things we do, and how we don’t cuss, and we remember to pray, and how much we love all the people we know, but I’m here to tell you, we all sin.

Some of us know how we personally sin, and many of us don’t. Sometimes it’s really hard to look at ourselves objectively and see where we are falling short. Some of us are aware that we get really angry with loved ones at times, and we don’t control it. Others of us have road rage. Sometimes we might mutter, “Stupid” under our breath when thinking of a coworker. Some of us don’t control our drinking, and it causes great strife within the family. And others of us get caught in looking at the negative side of things, and yet don’t realize that this too can be a sin. Sins abound around and within us.

So, it only makes sense that on occasion the Lectionary would focus on this pervading aspect of life, that every one of us experiences. Let’s look at these scriptures for today.

First we have the ancient tale of King David, and how, though he had hundreds of wives and concubines – an entire harem of beautiful women at his beck and call – he saw Bathsheba on her rooftop across the way from his palace, and he coveted her, the wife of his general, Uriah. We aren’t told how Bathsheba felt about the situation, but David, as a powerful king, could not be denied no matter what he wanted. Uriah was away, fighting battles for King David, and David is busy impregnating Uriah’s wife.

You probably know the story. How David sent for Uriah to come from the battlefield in hopes that he would be with his wife while at home in Jerusalem, and return to the battlefield, only to believe later that the child was his. But Uriah was an excellent soldier who would not leave his troops even while they were on R&R – he did not go home to see Bathsheba.

So David plotted to have Uriah sent into the most dangerous part of the battle, using his enemies to take care of his problem. Uriah was killed in battle and, after the proper period of mourning, Bathsheba was called to David and he made her another of his wives.

God sent Nathan to challenge David, to point out to him how he had flaunted the laws of God. And David didn’t even recognize himself in Nathan’s story. When David said that the rich man who had stolen the lamb from the poor man should be killed, Nathan replied, “You are the man!” David’s anger suddenly turned to great remorse. He realized his sin, and repented. He still had consequences to face because of what he had done, but his relationship with God was restored.

In our Gospel reading, we heard of someone so much like we tend to be. The Pharisee, Simon, was so sure that he recognized all the sinners around him, though his sin of judging others never entered his mind. He knew that the woman who followed Jesus into the house was not worthy to even enter his door, and yet there she was, crying over Jesus’ feet, drying them with her hair and anointing them with ointment. Simon was interested in who Jesus was and what he had to say, but he didn’t care enough for his guest to even make sure that what was considered common courtesy was extended to him: no one, not even the lowliest servant, came to offer him the opportunity to wash after coming in from the dusty roadways.

Yet when this unnamed female fell down at Jesus’ feet and cared for him, crying over her sins, Simon could only judge and wonder if Jesus really was a prophet, for surely no prophet would let a woman like that touch him! "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him-- that she is a sinner."

Jesus is quick to respond to Simon’s unspoken thought: "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

You see, Simon believed in the letter of the law, not the heart and meaning behind the law itself. He never considered or looked at why God laid down the rules: that they might be for healing and for love, rather than simply arbitrary laws to follow with no reason. Jesus was asking Simon to look deeper, beyond what he’d accepted as law…to look deeper to find the love God was trying to embody in his creation.

There are people outside of these walls who do not understand what we’re doing here. There are quite a few who say that churches are full of hypocrites. That we talk a good game about love and compassion, and then we go our merry ways, treating others just like every other cheat and swindler who plots to do evil. What those people haven’t understood (and it’s probably our fault because we haven’t told them) is that church is not a club for the angelic high choir whose members have it all figured out. Church is a hospital for sinners. It’s a place we come to hold up before our eyes the very best examples of how we wish we were. This place is for healing, and for forgiving, over and over again. We all sin, every day.

Oh, excuse me. There may be some here who don’t know the definition of “sin” and here I’ve been using the term all this time. The Encarta Dictionary defines sin as: “an act, a thought, or behavior that goes against the law or teachings of a particular religion, especially when the person who commits it is aware of this.” The second meaning is ”something that offends a moral or ethical principle.” Looking further, Jesus himself told us how we are supposed to live when someone asked him, “What is the greatest commandment?” He replied, “To love God with all your heart and soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.”

Anytime we aren’t living fully out of that place of love, we are sinning. Oh my word! It’s nigh to impossible to live in that love all the time, isn’t it? Jesus didn’t think so. It’s the only thing we are about in this place: reminding ourselves that we are sinners, attempting to grow more loving. Being aware of when we fall short of that love is the most important thing. For when we are aware of our shortcomings, we begin to change, and become more like Christ. When I suddenly realize that I have not been living in a Christ-like place, that I’ve been crabby and short and mean, immediately, contrition and confession pop into my mind. I turn to those I’ve been rude toward and ask for their forgiveness, and ask for God’s forgiveness also. And I repent: I turn around my actions and face God – becoming more loving once again,

This is what we are called to do. We, like all, have gone astray, and our repentance is what God asks of us. To turn our faces into His love, and to carry that love with us, as much as we possibly can. And to continue our striving to become the pure love God desires us to become. When we ask forgiveness, our Lord does forgive. Then we too, can sing with the psalmist, as we read today: “Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away!” I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin. Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord, shout for joy, all who are true of heart.” Sinners, rejoice in the forgiveness and love of the Lord! Amen.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Summer of Love

In San Francisco back in the 1960's, there was a certain summer that was called the "Summer of Love." In many ways, that place and time was simply a big, long party for the young people who indulged themselves in all sorts of hedonistic behavior. Though I cannot condone those aspects of that summer, I have also heard stories that vaguely remind me of the early church: stories of people who took in strangers and cared for them, people who shared their food with those who had none.

In the Christian life, all seasons, the entire year through, are designated as times of love. Jesus calls his people to love one another, no matter the place, time or situation. Summer in particular is a hard time for many of the poor here in Pflugerville. The breakfast and lunch programs available for children in the schools suddenly end with the summer break from classes. The Storehouse, our local food pantry, has an influx of people requesting more food because the children are home full time and the cupboards are bare. Remember our commitment to serve those in need. Bring your gifts of non-perishable foods, most especially canned meats and dry grains (rice and beans) for the storehouse.

Our community has many hurting people and they are praying for help. Your hands are God's hands, moving in the world to care for all God's people. Let's make this Pflugerville's Summer of Love by providing for the needs of the people of our town. May God bless you as you serve him through serving His people!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Don't Worry, Be Happy

I've been thinking about peace. In last Sunday's gospel, Jesus kept giving the disciples his peace. And one of the few things that never changes in a Eucharist liturgy is all the people giving each other God's peace. Wow! If we could just sit with that long enough, and be aware of God intensely enough, we really could have that peace that wipes away anxiety and worry. God does take care of us, and God wants us to enfold in our being that peace which passes understanding. Sounds almost like a Bobby McLaren moment...You know, "Don't worry -- be happy." Maybe that's my new mantra.....

Friday, March 12, 2010

Oh, Dear Ones,
My heart is so heavy -- it is truly broken. St. Paul's has lost a most precious member of our family. Rose Binyi was just 44, wife of Michael Kilongson, both of them Sudanese immigrants, both of them citizens of the U.S.
Jude (7) and Edward (3) are their children, and Rose was pregnant with their third. On her way home from working a double shift, with streets wet with rain, and on a very curvy road, Rose lost control of her car, and she and her unborn child are now with God in heaven.
Michael lost his job in high tech over a year ago, and he has been caring for the boys and attempting to start his own healthcare business while Rose held down two jobs. Our dear Lord is the only one who knows how the three of them will continue on. St. Paul's is determined to pull together and provide whatever they need, as we are able. There is also a strong Sudanese immigrant community and they have really rallied around to help.
It seems odd to go online at my blog and ask for assistance, but this is bigger than any of us individually. If you have the wherewithal to do so, please send your check to: St. Paul's Episcopal Church, P. O. Box 28, Pflugerville, TX 78691 -- and mark the check to the Kilongson fund. It will be a charitable contribution. We will use the funds to pay for the funeral and various other expenses to care for the boys until we can find employment for Michael and affordable day care for Edward. God bless you each and everyone!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

1st Sunday in Lent: God has blessed us, Sinners tho' we be

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Romans 10-8b-13
Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, just like all of us, was tempted. He was tempted to selfishly use his God-given power to relieve his own hunger and break his fast, rather than keeping to the discipline he had set for himself. He was tempted to grab earthly power and let his all too human ego take first place, tempted to become the earthly ruler that the Jews expected to come and rescue them from the Romans. He was even tempted to show off supernatural powers by seeming to take flight, and calling the angels to set him down gently on the hallowed ground outside the temple. Though it isn’t mentioned in the scriptures, I imagine that like any other thirty-year-old man, one who is torn by thoughts of being selfish, powerful and egotistical, he was also tempted by lust.

Does that sound sacrilegious to you? It’s important that we remember that while Jesus was fully divine, he was also fully human. He fully experienced every human emotion and trial that we experience, tempted and torn by the actions of others as well as his own inner feelings and desires, just like us. And yet, we are told that he was without sin. He chose God, and his relationship with God rather than succumbing to temptation. Would that we were like him!

However, we are not. We all fall short of the glory that he exemplified in his life here on Earth. We are tempted daily, whether by envy, or sloth, gluttony or selfishness, impatience, right on up to uncontrolled anger, and yes, lust, perhaps even adultery. Blaming others for our own mistakes, even if only in our thoughts. Being self-righteous and thinking we are better than other people. Not having a heart of forgiveness when others hurt us.

Our headlines for this week show us good examples of how temptation to sin can get out of control. Tiger Woods said it perfectly. He had worked so hard all his life to be the best, that he felt he deserved to enjoy all the temptations of life. And they are so easy to find. I am sure he never meant to hurt anyone…but he didn’t think, and he forgot God and his vows, and he hurt a lot of people, including himself.

Joe Stack appeared to be a normal, regular everyday sort of guy according to his acquaintances. But he held grudges he never mentioned to anyone, until it all boiled out of control on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. We don’t yet know, but I think perhaps he had deep-seated mental problems, rather than simply being tempted into sin. However, that’s how his illness played itself out: he sinned against hundreds of people, most especially the one he killed and those he injured and traumatized, as well as those he supposedly loved, his family.

Those are big, headline types of sin, but our scriptures tell us that sin is sin, and shouldn’t be graded according to how dramatic or well known it is. Sin is quite simply anything, thought or action, that separates us from God: anything that takes us away or removes us from relationship with God. If you are like me, you experience sin in your life on a daily basis. I know I am frequently aware that I have done or said something that has turned my back to God, and I must turn around again, for that’s what the word “repentance” means, to “turn around” and live moving toward God. It is a like being a soldier on guard, trying to be aware of every movement away from Him. There is no way to accomplish it, for we simply are not capable of being perfect.

And yet we are so blessed, in that God sent Jesus to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to Him. In our reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, we hear the glorious news that our sins no longer condemn us: "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

No matter how tough the times are for you right now, whether you’ve lost your job or your household is in chaos, there is no question that we are blessed. We have been given an amazing heritage through our faith, and through the lives of our ancestors, those who went before us and brought us to this country where we can worship and live in freedom. Our immigrant members know first hand how supremely blessed even the poorest of the poor are here in the U.S. How wonderful it is to live in a place where there is relative peace in our neighborhoods, and we have the ability to work and have shelter, food, and medical care. It truly is a land of milk and honey that we have inherited.

In our lesson from Deuteronomy today, we are told one of the ways we are to honor God and to thank Him for our blessings. We are to bring the first fruits of our labors to Him. Now I sincerely hope you don’t want to string me up for mentioning this subject again, but the scriptures brought it up: I’m merely following the lectionary. Among the things that blesses us most is our church community. We are extended family, and care for one another, and for the larger community around us. We come together to worship, and to learn about God, and to further his kingdom on Earth.

How are we to do that if St. Paul’s has to close its doors? Where will we meet if we can’t pay the electric bill? We’ve done some pretty amazing things in the last few years, mainly because we were able to find grant money, and a few people who were willing to help us anonymously so that we could build the new additions to our church. Those people and foundations who helped us were not members of this church, but they had faith in us that we were doing good work for God and his people. But now we’ve got a problem: quite a few of our members are not financially supporting us.

God asks each of us to give of our time, our talents and our money to further the work of the church. The church needs and expects all of those things from its members. If you have not turned in a pledge card, do so. And don’t leave the money part blank. Determine that you will find $5 or $10 dollars a week to give St. Paul’s, even if it means skipping a meal…you remember that fasting thing? It won’t disturb you greatly to try that out every once in a while. Depend on God to protect and guide you. And as the Psalmist wrote, “you shall say to the Lord, ‘You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God in whom I put my trust.’ Because you have made the Lord your refuge, and the most high your habitation…He shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.”

All of us are sinners, but we have been given an Advocate with the Father, His only Son, and he has sent the Holy Spirit, to guide and guard our ways. Let us praise God with all our being, giving ourselves and all our lives to Him in awesome gratitude for all He has given us! Amen.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Miracles of Wine and Spirit

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

I Corinthians 12:1-11
John 2:1-11

It always made me wonder: why did Jesus make so much wine? I mean, 6 huge pots that held 20 to 30 gallons each? That’s a prodigious amount of wine. Well, I’m going to explain why they needed so much. Marriage at the time of Jesus wasn’t a religious celebration so much as it was a contract between two families, with the prospective groom paying the bride’s father for the bride at the betrothal. The contract, or ketubah, was signed and given to the prospective bride, setting out the financial arrangements and terms of maintenance of the marriage. The wedding took place as soon after the engagement as the groom could prepare a home for the bride.
The actual wedding was a procession of the groom and his friends to the bride’s home, where they met the bride and her friends and family, and then everyone returned to the groom’s house to party, and I mean party. Jewish wedding feasts of that time went on for a full seven days! The bride and groom would go into seclusion during part of the time, but the guests continued to party and feast for the whole week. So, lots of wine would be expected and necessary. So much for the trivia, let’s take a close look at this exchange between Jesus and his mother.
To remind you of the sequence of things, Jesus had gone to the Jordan River and been baptized by John, at which time God announced from the heavens that Jesus was His son, in whom He was well pleased. The Gospel of John doesn’t mention Jesus’ temptation in the desert, but has him beginning to gather his apostles the very next day. And today’s reading begins, “on the third day” – so in John, this first recorded miracle occurs just two days after Jesus’ baptism. No wonder our Lord didn’t feel ready!
Theologians through the ages have argued back and forth over things we aren’t told in the Bible: Did Jesus know he was the Son of God while he was growing up? Could he and did he perform miracles as a child? Or was it at his baptism that it came fully upon him what he was and what he was called to do? From our story it seems as though Mary is telling her son to make more wine for the wedding, but if we didn’t know the story and were merely eavesdropping on this scene, it’s possible that we might expect Jesus’ next action to be to tell the servants to come with him to the wine shop to help carry the amphoras of wine back to the party. But by what he does, I believe his mother knew him well, and had no doubt of what he could accomplish.
Even though he says he isn’t ready, Mary expects her son to mind her request, and like any good Jewish son, he listens to his mother. As he performs his first miracle, it seems to be almost against his will. Jesus, like any of us human beings when called to a great and unusual task, tried to put it off, to say, not yet, not now, not me. Isn’t that what we most often do, when we are challenged to do something that is beyond our comfort zone, a bigger task than we’ve ever attempted before? Or something totally new and different that seems difficult? No, you don’t really mean me, do you? Oh, no, that’s a job for someone else, or maybe a committee needs to take this one on, not me.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians which Karen read to us earlier, Paul teaches them, and us, about spiritual gifts. He says that there are different types of gifts, and service, and activities in the kingdom of God, the Holy Spirit brings all these gifts; it is God who gives these abilities, and He gives every one of His children spiritual gifts for the common good. Every one: that’s you, and you, and you, and me. We are all given gifts, and we are to use them to serve God and our fellow man by doing different activities that our gifts suit us for to grow the kingdom.
In this particular passage, Paul speaks of the gifts of the Spirit: Some of us are given the ability to speak wisely and give good, Godly advice to those around them. Others can share their knowledge and have a natural talent for teaching; some people are endowed with great faith, and their quiet trust can be an example to us all. There are those here who have the gift of healing: who have a healing touch and a comforting way, and believe it or not, there is most likely at least one person here who could perform miracles, if they believed they could.
Prophecy is one we frequently misunderstand: it is not telling fortunes or foreseeing the future, it’s speaking the truth – telling people what is going on in the here and now that we might not realize or notice. It’s calling people out to be their best selves, and it is a great and fearsome gift, one that is not easily accepted, as we know by reading about the prophets in the Bible: people rarely want to hear the truth about themselves.
Paul speaks of discernment of spirits, and I found this explanation in the writings of the Rev. Murray Spackman: “The dictionary defines “discernment” as being able to see clearly, to distinguish, discriminate, to see or understand differences; to have clarity of mental insight. When this word is linked with “spirits” some may begin to think we are getting a bit spooky, but stick with me. Discernment of spirits then, is the ability, the God given gift, of being able to distinguish in a given situation, whether there are human, divine or demonic forces, spirits or powers at work. Discernment of spirits can operate from the very ordinary to the very spooky, but we need to be aware of the full range.
St. Paul, writing to the church in Thessalonica says – “”Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of the prophets, but test everything…” This is a good sound principle for the Church – test everything! Don’t just take at face value everything that is said or proposed, or spoken, even if a person claims to have a word from God. Check it out: test it! Someone will make a statement and it may sound fairly good and correct, but sometimes, how it is said, or the exact content of the statement, or the implications of what is said will cause a disquiet within one or some of those who hear it. That person may not be able to put their finger on exactly WHAT it is that gives them this disquiet and unease, but they will know that it doesn’t seem right. That is the gift of discernment of spirits at work. It is interesting that often those who are generally very quiet verbally are given this gift, and it is tremendously beneficial for the church. So, if you are one of those people who often sit quietly in meetings and don’t say much, but within your spirit you feel at some point a strong impression, either for good or of disquiet, then I encourage you to exercise your gift and share that feeling or impression. It may well be an important warning or signal for the church. So the gift of discernment of spirits, at its simplest level, can help us to discern when something is motivated by God’s spirit or else motivated by our own human spirit, and as we know, our wisdom doesn’t always follow God’s wisdom.”
Now the gift of tongues is one we Episcopalians know almost nothing about. And some Pentecostal churches that insist you aren’t saved unless you have this gift don’t seem to know much about it either. It is my understanding that the gift of tongues is something like the language of angels, and usually has a strong message for the church. Most often, the person speaking in tongues has no understanding of what the meaning of their utterance is: it is just gibberish to them. The way we know that it’s more than just noise is that someone truly speaking in tongues is always accompanied by another person who has been given the gift of interpreting what is being said. I’ve never seen this happen, but St. Paul says that the Holy Spirit activates these gifts just as surely as the Spirit activates all the others, just as the Spirit chooses.
Scripture tells us that we all are given gifts of the Spirit, and some of us even have the gift of doing miracles! All of these gifts are miraculous in their own way, and when God gives us something, we are to acknowledge it and use it to his glory and for the furthering of his kingdom on Earth.
God calls us. Sometimes He calls us through our friends. Perhaps he will call you through your children, or something you are asked to do here. Maybe you younger ones will be called through your Mother or your Father. Maybe we’ll argue, like Jesus did to Mary—“What do we have to do with this? It’s not my time.” Maybe you’ll say no for years. No, you don’t really mean me, do you? Oh, no, that’s a job for someone else. I know I said no for years, and kept doing the easy stuff, hoping God would say it was enough. But He kept at me until I gave in, gave myself to him completely and said yes. The funny thing is, though my life is different than I thought it would be, I’m happier and more full of joy than I ever knew it was possible to be. I didn’t have to give up anything that really mattered to me; I didn’t even have to really change at all. All that I did was surrender my life to Him, and let Him lead me, and oh, what an amazingly wonderful ride this past five years has been! I call you, on behalf of our Lord God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of Life, come! Give your life over to Him, and open your hearts to whatever gifts He has for you. My friends, you have a glorious life ahead of you! Say yes, say yes…Yes, Lord….Come, Lord Jesus…Amen.