Sunday, August 10, 2014

Invited into the Storm

Sermon 14A – Matthew 14:22-33
St Alban’s in the Theater, Arlington, TX

Sometimes when I am scheduled to preach, I look at the Gospel reading and think, “Oh Yay! I know this story!” but then as the week goes on, I realize that maybe I know the story a little too well. I start to feel as though everything I know about it has already been said by far better preachers than I am. I realize that you all may have heard sermons on this Gospel reading so many times that you could probably preach it yourselves. It can look quite hopeless by Wednesday, if I haven’t decided on a direction yet. So this week took a different turn. I do not know you all well as a group, but I think – I hope – that I know you well enough to preach this sermon. It was begging to be preached more specifically than I would usually do in a Supply situation, but I hope what it spoke to me this week will be helpful to you.

This is a common story in our Gospels. So common in fact, that this is the second time that the author of Matthew tells a version of it. The first version had Jesus asleep on the boat when the storm blew in, frightened disciples, Jesus showing command over the storm, “peace be still” & “oh you of little faith,” and the disciples ending up confused, “what kind of man is this?” 

In Mark and John’s versions, Jesus walks on water, but not Peter. John’s has a freaky magical ending, and Mark’s ends with the disciples being confused with hardened hearts. Weird, right?! There is no version of this story in Luke – maybe he though Matthew overdid it?

And then there is today’s version.  Jesus makes them leave after the Feeding of the 5,000 – pushes them onto the boat. Then he goes to pray – alone – that must be important because it’s there twice – all alone. Later, he walks  across the water to catch up with the boat that is now out in the middle, being tossed about with no sign of stars under the cloud cover so they can get their bearings. Many are fisherman by trade, so I assume they were not frightened yet, but surely they were very tired. They are not afraid until they think they see a ghost – but Jesus assures them that he is not a ghost. This is where Peter comes in – this is the only story with Peter so I feel like what we are to learn may hinge on this. Let’s look at this part closer.

Peter makes a curious statement “If it is you, command me to come to you” and Jesus says “Come.”  Curiouser and Curiouser as our friend Sheldon would say. “if it is you” – how many times have you prayed that? I know I have prayed that a lot! Mine usually sounds something more like “God, if this is your will – if this is how you want to be to go” “If this is you…” right? Surely I’m not the only one. This is the hard work of discernment friends. What is God calling us to do; is this what Jesus would do? 

And then: “Come.” Come on into the stormy water, come into the buffeting waves, walk toward me in the rough seas, come on into the fierce headwind. Jesus – my sweet, fair, lovely, always looking out for me savior, says “Come.” The Jesus of my immature Christian life would’ve said, “Stay on the safe ship with your friends. Stay where it’s dryer, and warmer. Stay where it’s safe.” As I mature in my faith, I recognize this Jesus more and more – the one who says “Come. It’s not always going to be easy. It’s not always going to be comfortable, but my burden is easy and my yoke is light. Yes, there is a burden and a yoke. Yes there is a storm, and cold water, and a strong wind and rough seas. Come into the storm where you will find discomfort.” 

If you remember, because I know you have heard this before, Matthew was written to a devout Jewish community. A community who already believed in God, but was not yet sure about who this Jesus guy was. The whole Gospel of Matthew is story after story of proving who Jesus is. Now here’s a tricky part. In Matthew’s time of writing, the Christian church was under great persecution. It was not safe to be a Christian. Still isn’t – let’s keep Iraqi & Syrian Christians high on our prayer list. Those Christians were being killed then also. So Matthew writes this story – he’s the only one to write this version with Peter that has Jesus calling Peter – the Rock of the Church – into the storm. This story has many audiences: the disciples in the boat, the people reading it in times of persecution, and us here today. How do we see this story?  Are there any faithful Christians here undergoing hardship? Hmmmm.

“Oh you of little faith.” After wrestling and praying with this Gospel this last week, I hear that statement said with great love – great admiration. The hand is outstretched, the love shines in his eyes as he says “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt? Here I am. I am with you always – even in – maybe especially in the storms.” And in THIS version – the only one like this – the disciples say, “Truly you are the Son of God.” 

You are a community weathering a storm. The seas are rough, the wind is strong and bites.  I know you are a faithful community, discerning God’s will as well as any of us can. I know you are looking for where God is moving – looking for Jesus to walk by in the rough water. And I know that you are mature enough to know that this is temporary. You will find a faithful leader who will climb in this boat with you and help navigate to the next place God is calling you. You are trying to follow Jesus – and you are, simply by being here. You are a witness to God’s love and justice. You are God’s Beloved People. It’s been a tough summer, but you are still here. What is next, oh you of little faith? Will you stay confused and harden your hearts as in Mark and the other story in Matthew, will you wish for a magical ending like John gets? I hope not.

You are faithful disciples. You will continue to worship Jesus, look for God working here in Arlington, and listen for the wind of the Holy Spirit. You are in the midst of the storm, and I pray that when it has calmed, you will not doubt God’s faithfulness to you and you will offer praise for God’s outstretched hand as you are weathering this storm. Amen.

 Hopefully this will post as an audio file on the right sidebar Podbean Player

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wheat and Weeds - Proper 11, Year A

“Search me out O God and know my heart… Lead me in the way that is everlasting”

I love our readings for the day – so much encouragement and comfort offered here today for those with ears to listen. This is the second week in a row where we have Jesus telling a parable and then explaining the parable very clearly.  Technically, we probably don’t even need a sermon on these days – you don’t need a further interpretation. So instead I will offer up some reflection as I see how this parable could affect us in different layers – a time for figuring out how this impacts us – here – today.

At our first, most personal layer, we can think about how we groan inwardly every time we realize that something we did with the best of intentions backfires.  Maybe we gave or accepted a piece of jewelry as a sign of affection or commitment, only to find out later that it had not been mined ethically.  Maybe our favorite place to shop has been tarnished for us because of their human right’s record. We would like to be able to shop for food grown locally, but maybe there has not been enough rain, or what we need is not available.

In another layer, at a community level, we struggle with taking care of others while balancing the city or county or state budget.  There are no clear-cut solutions. Trying to judge worthiness might have us mistake the bus of refugee children for the bus of YMCA children. We struggle at the church level with Those Other Christians who embarrass us by being too ___________ happy, clap, out of touch, judgmental, to inclusive - you fill in the blank.

As a country – one more level – we seem to have this exact same struggle over and over – how to be a good ally and whom to support in conflicts. Within my lifetime I can think of several times that the weapons we gifted a couse were either used against us later or against an ally of ours.  How long O Lord? It’s no longer surprising when it happens, yet we keep doing it.

Jesus says that the field is the world – not just us – not just here – not just now. This is a Universal: a situation faced by every person, every community, every country, every day, every year. Ahhhhhh – there are the words of comfort. It would be so easy to be paralyzed and afraid to do anything at all because of the shadow-sides of every thing and every decision, yet Jesus helps us through it by taking it out of our hands.  Just last week, I travelled with our diocesan youth to EYE in Philadelphia. On one of the days we toured the historic sites in Philly – church and national historic sites – and then had cheese steak sandwiches and a dance party at the Museum of Art. It was awesome watching the youth dance – so much energy! They looked like a flock of birds or a school of fish – all moving together to the beat of the music.  After we all got home, an online petition started about how the music had been inappropriate.  It had all been top 40 radio versions, but some of the adult sponsors felt as though an apology should be offered because of the themes of the music. *Sigh* If I was an organizer of that event, such a petition might make me want to never plan something like that again, even though I’m pretty sure it was a highlight for most of the youth gathered.  And that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be addressed, but maybe I and the other adult sponsors should offer to step up and help vet the playlist, not criticize the effort afterwards and demand a public apology.

It is not for us to worry about. It is not our concern. We are to do the good that we know to do – to love God with all our hearts and minds and love our neighbors as ourselves.  As Dory sings in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” Sometimes we might find ourselves in a moral pickle, but we are just keep growing. Remember who else Jesus is addressing here: Peter the Denier, Judas the Traitor, Thomas the Doubter, James and John the Social Climbers.  Jesus knew how complicated it would be for us. He knew the each one of us will fall short – maybe even daily.  He loves us anyway – he knows our hearts and our good intentions - he will take care of the winnowing so that we won’t have to. He gives us himself for nourishment to grow: wine and bread – and bids us to eat and flourish – Thanks be to God! Amen.

Preached at the Episcopal Church in Wichita Falls. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

That We may be Made a Holy Temple to You

Good Morning!

“That we may be made a holy temple to you…” We’re not asking for much today are we? Our Scripture lessons today certainly lend themselves to further examination and discussion on how we believe ourselves to be following in the footsteps of the apostles and the prophets, and building on our chief cornerstone: Jesus Christ as we attempt to become those holy temples.

Our first reading was from Jeremiah – we have the prophet Jeremiah and the prophet Hananaiah having a debate in the temple. Hananaiah keeps telling the people, “don’t worry – it’s all right – it’s all going to be just fine!” Jeremiah says, “yep, you’re right. Eventually it’s all going to be just fine, but not before we are all taken in the Babylonian exile.” Jeremiah knows that he may not live to see the time when “It’s all right.”  Jeremiah knows that God’s timeline is not ours – and he is warning all the people gathered there that being God’s people does not guarantee them an easy life.

We have a celebratory song – assuring God we are the ones who worship and rejoice and walk in faithfulness.  Hmmmm – that might make us chosen also – what was that Jeremiah just said?

Then we have our reading from Romans. Here we are even more than chosen – we are slaves to the living God. If we do not choose slavery to God, then we are choosing slavery to sin and death. Choose wisely.  Present yourself to God as an instrument of righteousness – a weapon of justice is another translation of that. How could it look to be a weapon if justice, being obedient from a heart changed by our relationship to a living God?

Then we get to Matthew and our on-going conversation with the text. A few weeks ago, Jesus gave power and authority to the disciples – go and baptize – teach – make disciples in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Last week, Jesus assured those same disciples that what he was asking is not easy – he assures them of persecution and troubles.  He says he came “not to bring peace but to bring a sword” – is this starting to sound familiar yet?  Jeremiah assures the people listening that things will not be all pretty and perfect and peaceful – there will be persecution. Paul calls us to be weapons of justice.  I sense a theme here in the lectionary… what are we then called to do? We are to give a cup of cold water to the little ones in the name of God.  Being a weapon of justice sounds much more exciting than handing out water, don’t you think? But isn’t that just like Jesus?  Here’s what I need you to do – and here’s how simple it is. Love your neighbor as yourself, receive a prophet, welcome a righteous person, give a cup of cool water – be my sword of justice for the little ones.

So that’s our next task – who are the little ones?  Could be anyone really – anyone we would consider as “other.”  I’ll bet for every person here, there might be a different little one that God places on your heart.  For me this week, it has been the unaccompanied minors coming into Texas from South America.  God has shown them to me over and over – through Facebook, radio interviews, TV spots, letters from a bishop and the TEC, and then yesterday: we will have 2000 of them in and around Dallas.  As near as I can tell, Catholic Charities is the righteous one to be recognized here.  They have been doing this work long before I even knew it was an issue.  In 2012 there were 13K of these kids coming into the US, last year there were 25K. This year the projection is for 70-90K children travelling without parents from South America through Mexico to our borders. I plan to start looking for the ways I can give a cool cup of water to these children or to those who are caring for these little ones.  I know it won’t be easy, but I will be a weapon of justice somehow.  How about you?  Who does God place on your heart?  How can you receive the righteous and offer cool cups of water? 

Let’s look again at our collect of the day: it is one of the collects that really does collect our hopes and dreams as we seek to be God’s water bearers: Almighty God. You have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sermon Series, Good Shepherd and Mother's Day

Do you hear that calliope music playing?  Is it just me?  This weekend, there is a lot to juggle in this sermon: Scripture (as always), the sermon series, Mother’s Day, and endings.

In our readings this weekend, we have the pastoral images of Jesus as shepherd – the one who calls us each by name – who calls to each one of us to hear and follow him wherever he may lead us.

In the Acts reading, we have the report of the earliest church – the birth of a new thing as people heard and followed the voice and teachings of Jesus leading them to create a Christian community in the world, breaking bread often together. 

The breaking of the bread is the focus of our sermon series this week.  We use bread and wine, as we believe Jesus did at that very first Eucharist which we celebrated on Maundy Thursday evening.  “This is my body – do this in remembrance of me.” “This is my blood, do this in remembrance of me.”

How many different elements are there on the altar?  Is it only bread and wine?  Is it only body and blood?  Is it all four – or only two? Which two? 

We are Episcopalians, so I’ll bet if I stopped and took a straw poll right now, we would have all kinds of answers.  And that’s how we like it. You and I do not have to believe the exact same way about what happens during our Eucharistic prayer.  Our Prayer Book leaves a wide breadth of meaning for this great mystery.  Basically there are four ways to believe about what happens:
            Transubstantiation is the most extreme on one end.  This tends to be the Roman Catholic view: the wine and bread become the body and blood. Two elements continue as Two elements totally transformed. 
            Consubstantiation is almost-but-not-quite the same idea.  Luther proposed that the wine and bread are not completely transformed, but that in a mysterious way Christ is in the bread and wine as promised.  Two elements become Four.
            Real Presence is the belief Wesley held – that somehow when we share bread and wine and prayers, Christ is present with us and among us, but not necessarily in the elements. Two elements stand as Four here also.
            Remembrance is the most protestant belief that we do the act of Eucharist as a symbolic remembrance of Christ’s actions past and present in our lives. Two elements remain Two elements.

Depending on how and what we believe, affects how we proceed.  With the belief that the elements become the body and blood, then we treat those elements as special after the prayers have been said. Body and blood are treated differently than bread and wine.  We do that here and in every Episcopal Church I have served.  Look at page 873 in your BCP.  These are the Articles of Religion that guide our thinking about who we are and what we do as an Episcopal Church.  Article XXVIII – 28 for those of y’all who don’t speak Roman – states that “Transubstantiation…cannot be proved by Holy Writ…[&]…is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture…hath given occasion to many superstitions.”  It goes on pointedly to note that “the Sacrament of the Lord’s supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up or worshipped.”

Hmmmmm. So I guess that as a church, we officially believe in consubstantiation?  We do reserve the elements in a special place and treat them differently after the Eucharistic prayer.  Now I have other friends who are ministers in other denominations, who also believe in consubstantiation, who do not reserve or treat the elements any differently afterwards.  They will say, “If Jesus is smart enough to get himself into the elements, he’s smart enough to get himself back out.”  So even within these broad categories of belief, there are different practices.  None is wrong. 

Even the way we deliver the elements vary: paten and chalice, rip and dip, tear and share, shot glasses on a hubcap.  If you have been to different churches, I’ll bet you have participated in all of these ways. We are all doing our best to “Do this in remembrance of Me.” None is wrong.

What do you believe?  The Episcopal Church allows you to settle in somewhere with your own theory of what is happening here.  As Mike said last week in the sermon about the Eucharistic prayers, read them – each says something different about what is happening.  Each one of the 6 full prayers has a different stance about how we celebrate and remember.

This is my last weekend to preach here among you.  I will be out of town next weekend, and then I will celebrate on May 25 at the 1030 service and at all three services on my last weekend, May 31-June 1. I am already doing the work of remembering and celebrating the work and worship time we have had together here over the last five years.  I entered this space as a newly minted Seminary graduate and I leave as a slightly seasoned Episcopal Priest.  I was ordained in this space twice. You all have mothered me in the most loving way over the last five years – raising me up and now sending me off.  This church and each of you will always be beloved to me and I will continue to give thanks to God for you as I listen and follow our Good Shepherd out through the gate from this place. Amen.

Audio  of this sermon can be heard on the PodBean Player on the right column.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sermon Series and Lazarus

This sermon will appear in the PodBean sidebar - I did not write a manuscript for this one.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sermon Series and the Woman at the Well

Preaching and teaching, teaching and preaching… we try to do these one at a time, most of the time, but it is impossible to keep it all completely separate.  Then sometimes we throw it all in together in a sermon series like this one and intentionally preach and teach, teach and preach, all a jumble!

In the instructed eucharist sermon series, this weekend we are looking at the Lessons, Psalm and Gospel.  It’s usually about 10 minutes in our total worship time – the First Lesson, the Psalm, the Second Lesson and the Gospel.  It is our most ancient piece of the liturgy when you think back to our spiritual ancestors gathering in the Temple or Synagogue to hear the reading and exposition of Scripture. We have examples of Jesus doing just that in his time on earth.

In our tradition, we follow a fixed three-year lectionary – one in which all of the readings hang together somehow. Ideally, the readings should connect to the Gospel and the Psalm should connect to the readings. Some weeks, the fun is in trying to figure out how J  Other weeks, it all weaves a beautiful tapestry of epistles, poetry and story.

The first reading is usually from the Hebrew Testament – except in the Easter season, when we will have readings from the Acts of the Apostles. 

The Psalms we hear in the Episcopal Church have an interesting background.  Coverdale composed them in 1539 when he translated the psalms from the Latin, which had been translated from the Greek, which had been translated from the Hebrew – got that?  Those same psalms have now been revised for the translation troubles, but are still mostly Coverdale’s because they are rhythmic and set in poetical, metrical lines – very conducive to corporate reading and singing.  You will not find the Psalms that we use for worship in any Bible – but the Lutherans liked them so much, they have started using them also (according to Marion Hatchett).  The psalms are read in unison, antiphonally (back and forth), responsively (one set response repeated), and sometimes chanted. Here at SMitF, it is the reader’s choice as to how we read and hear the psalm each week. 

The second reading is from one of Paul’s writings, or those attributed to him.  He is actually the earliest New Testament writer, so we always hear from him, except during Easter when we get readings from Revelation. 

An interesting side note: the responses after the reading have different origins.  The “Here ends the reading” is from our Scottish friends from 1662.  The “Thanks be to God” is from our Roman Catholic friends from medieval times. 

The Gospel is the last reading.  It holds a place of honor as always being a reading about Jesus, usually containing Jesus’ actual words as well as we think we know them.  In the late 4th century, people began to stand for the Gospel reading.  In the 7th century, acolytes with lights started formal processions, some with incense.  Highly ornate books began to be carried in procession, which signified Christ as the Word dwelling among us.  In the 9th century, people began making the sign of the cross at the Gospel reading.  The sequence hymn started out as always being a Psalm with an Alleluia chorus, but has now evolved into a hymn that references the Gospel text. 

Most weeks the sermon will be based on the Gospel reading, and in fact, some Bishops insist on it.  I love that we are part of a progressive church that always looks for new ways into the Gospel readings and has many different ways of interpretation.  For example, in today’s Gospel, we hear the story of the Woman at the Well -  every tree years – right on schedule.  For the sermon, there are a million and one ways to look at it, here are a few:
            Face Value – a woman meets and talks with Jesus and is changed
            In contrast to the Nicodemus story from last week – an upstanding member of society who visits under the cover of darkness and leaves confused, vs a marginalized powerless member of society who meets Jesus in the hot sun of high noon and understands Jesus’ message and teaching.
            First Mission Trip of Jesus – he feels a Holy imperative to go through Samaria and converts people as he travels through.
            Literary device – woman meets man at well, think Jacob and Rachel (Bride and Bridegroom connections).  The five husbands we find so scandalous are actually representative of the five occupiers of the land of Samaria over the centuries of their estrangement with the Jewish people.  Jesus has the longest, most theological conversation in this reading.  This woman becomes for us an example of how to evangelize by showing us the power of telling our own conversion stories: “This is how Jesus changed my life.”

And this is where it turns to preaching: what do we learn from this story? I believe we learn a way to evangelize - a model to embody.  What would happen if we all went out from here and said, "I met this guy and he changed my life!  Here is what Jesus has done in my life.  He knows me and he loves me and you need to come see!"  The woman has questions still, just as we all do, but she becomes an evangelist by telling her story. 

Are you thirsty yet?  Our readings, and lessons and Gospel should always answer some questions in our lives, but always leave us thirsty for more.  Amen.

Audio of the sermon found on the right sidebar in the PodBean player.