Proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ

Sermon of the Month

Featured Sermon: The Rev. Canon Elizabeth Easton

Morning light at Grace Church, Chadron

Morning light at Grace Church, Chadron

The Rev. Canon Elizabeth Easton
Proper 6C – St. Mary’s, Bassett
June 17, 2016

 

This week, our Diocesan staff has been traveling along the Cowboy Trail—that now abandoned Chicago and Northwestern Railway Corridor stretching from around Chadron all the way to Norfolk.

 

We started out in Chadron, at beautiful little Grace Church, then visited Gordon, and Valentine, and took a swing up to the Rosebud Reservation to “supervise” our Diocesan youth hard at work on their yearly mission trip.

 

This annual journey, which we sometimes call the “Western Residency,” is a highlight of the year for us. Here, we get to spend a little more time in and around our churches in this part of the world than we usually do. We get to move at a slightly slower pace, explore a bit more, follow our curiosity down new roads. We eat very, very well. And we get a lot of work done—if you have a liberal definition of “work.”

 

The Nebraska Sandhills

The Nebraska Sandhills

This is a week for imagining and dreaming, praying and wrestling, with what God might be calling the Episcopal churches of Nebraska to be and do in this moment, and how we can serve our people best in the midst of that holy transformation. It’s incredibly rich and connecting, and we are just so grateful that our congregations along the way humor us and host us with such ridiculous abundance. Thank you.

 

Having spent the last few days in the Sandhills, there is no better way to mark this journey—for me, at least—than a rogation procession in the midst of such a beautiful place. As the four us have traveled in the truck these last several days, the Sandhills have become a powerful fifth person in our midst. This incredible landscape is unlike anywhere else on earth, and for those of us who don’t get to live within its splendor daily—those of us in the boring east—the vastness and beauty of this place is almost overwhelming.

 

 

 

The other night, we were driving from Gordon to Valentine, just as the sun was setting. It was only the second day of our journey, and already we were feeling the emotional whiplash of this kind of trip—the highs of beautiful liturgies and wholehearted laughter around a parish hall table; the more challenging lows of hard odds and hard truths spoken about towns that are shrinking and churches that are fighting to keep their doors open.

 

It’s hard work, and it’s humbling, and sometimes it will even break your heart.

 

Bishop Barker on his way to church

Bishop Barker on his way to church

So, we were driving to Valentine along Highway 20, and the sun had just set. The outlines of the hills were still glowing red on the horizon, but the sky was getting darker and filling up with stars. The moon was bright, and pretty full, and followed us along the passenger side the whole way. Near it, just to its left, a planet—which I later found out was Saturn—glowed brightly.

 

I found myself wondering, in the midst of all that vastness—the huge sky, the far away planets, the rolling, expansive hills, and all that water beneath them—what we might look like from God’s perspective. Set within the immensity of creation, where does God place us? What does God see?

 

 

 

The readings for tonight were actually appointed for last Sunday, so you’ve likely encountered them very recently. Most of us heard them in church before we understood exactly what had happened in Orlando that day, maybe before we’d even knew about it at all.

 

Feasting with the people of St. Michael and All Angels, O'Neill

Feasting with the people of St. Michael and All Angels, O’Neill

Here, we find a story about Jesus at a dinner party. Invited by a curious and maybe critical Pharisee, Jesus meets a woman there—we don’t know her name—who makes him welcome in a way that no one else would. She weeps at his feet, washing away the dust and grime from the day’s journey with her own tears, the source of which we don’t know exactly, but the abundance of which speaks to a deep well of emotion—of grief, or shame, or maybe gratitude, even joy.

 

She has with her an expensive jar of perfume, which she anoints him with. She uses her own hair to dry his feet, to soak up her tears and that anointment. She’s a mess, and she’s beautiful, and she’s doing something that no one else would dare do, in a way that is shocking, and strange, and deeply disturbing somehow.

 

What do we make of this woman? The others around the table are quick to dismiss her—to call her a sinner, and use that to discredit Jesus, who should know better than to let a woman like her touch him at all. Of course, Jesus isn’t buying it. He knows exactly who she is, and he welcomes her gift, as strange and gritty and imperfect as it is.

 

Sometimes I feel like I’m seated around that Pharisee’s dining table. Jesus is right there, I know it, but I’m not sure exactly how to serve him, welcome him, honor him.

 

Things around us feel tight these days, I think, like what we’ve come to rely on is scarce or even disappearing. Like there’s not enough to go around. Tension surrounding this political season is especially high, and we’re not sure how to talk about all of it with our neighbors or even our friends. The whole world is changing—who has power and who doesn’t, who has less power than they used to, who has more. The traditions that helped us feel safe, maybe, or at least comfortable, are being challenged, and so our grip gets tighter and tighter.

 

Baptism sacrament at Trinity, Norfolk

Baptism sacrament at Trinity, Norfolk

The story that we heard tonight reminds us that God loves our offerings. That when there is a choice to make, we are called to err on the side of generously loving—even when we are awkward, and imperfect, and aren’t really sure what we’re doing. Even when we’re afraid.

 

There’s something that Nebraska can tell the world about this particular way of serving Jesus, I think—this erring on the side of abundance that we read about today. Your diocesan staff talks about this all the time—wonders and marvels about it—and we’ve seen a ton of it on this trip. We are a diocese of small churches, for the most part. Small churches in small communities that are changing and shifting at a pace just a step ahead of the rest of the Church. And what we see, over and over again when we visit you, is a profuse, sometimes astounding, outpouring of generosity that I know God takes great delight in:

 

The feasts where we bring our very best to the potluck table—our cherished family dishes, our first fruits.

 

The altar that is painstakingly cared for; the worship carefully planned to the last detail so that the seven or ten or fifteen people we see every week will get to worship without distraction and with special reverence, and so that the stranger can join us and be astonished by beauty; just beauty.

 

The people that we love even though nobody says we have to—the people whose sharp edges can cut us, who can be very hard to love indeed, but are ours, and are cherished, and are known.

 

The times when we take big risks without counting the cost—trying something new, trying something that seems impossible, meeting and serving the broken and marginalized people all around us because they are Jesus, too.

 

Feasting with the people of St. Michael and All Angels, O'Neill

Feasting with the people of St. Michael and All Angels, O’Neill

God loves our offerings.

SO. The glowing hills, and the nearly full moon, and Saturn blazing in the night sky: In the midst of all of that, set so small within it, where does God place us? What does God see?

 

I think that part of the spirituality of Nebraska has to do with scale. We know how small we are. And we know how important small things are God’s creation. Seeds pushing their way through the earth. Drops of rain. The way that sunlight makes magic out of tiny green leaves. Our small churches, our small selves. Like the woman at Jesus’ feet in tonight’s reading, we bring all of ourselves to God—our tears and our jars of perfume—and we offer them with whole hearts, even when the rest of the world says that’s not worth it, that kind of generosity isn’t worth it. Especially then. We know that we either love abundantly or we do not. So, please know this: God loves your offering.

 

 

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Featured Sermon: Pentecost 4 – Fr. Jason Emerson

 

 

“Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.”

May only God’s word be spoken and may only God’s word be heard. Amen!

So, it’s an obvious fact that Jodie and I come from a spotted people and you’ve seen my twins who are so pale they are borderline transparent. Spoiler Alert: We are Irish! Needless to say, we are personally keeping two, maybe three, sunscreen companies in business. Indeed, sunscreen is a significant part of our lives in my household.

However, I noticed something the other day. I was at the store buying some really high SPF sunscreen. Y’all, I’m telling you, SPF 100 is almost like being inside. It’s great stuff. However, I noticed you can’t buy low SPF sunscreen anymore. I remember as a kid my sister using SPF 5 or 1, when she was trying to get a tan. Sometimes she would even forego the sunscreen all together and use baby oil. Thinking back on it, using baby oil is kind of like putting olive oil on chicken before you grill it. She was basically marinating herself. While it seemed like a great idea at the time, now a days, it just sounds like a great way to get skin cancer. We are way more concerned about skin cancer today; so much so, that consumers won’t buy low SPF Sunscreen. Hence, it isn’t available in stores anymore.

I told you this whole bit about sunscreen to illustrate that as a society we can learn. We can in fact grow in awareness and change as a culture. Our gospel passage points to an area where both society as a whole and the christian church in general needs to change. I am speaking of women’s safety. Make no bones about it, this woman walked into a situation that was extremely dangerous for her.

Now you might be thinking, “It was just a dinner party. What’s so dangerous about that? I’m sure there were several women in attendance.” No, remember this story takes place in a middle eastern country in what we call the first century. Women did not eat with men, did not speak to men in public, and definitely did not touch a man in public. It would have been totally acceptable for the host and the other men there to drag this woman by the hair out of the house, through the streets to the outskirts of town, and stone her to death–to throw rocks at her head until she died. And no one would have questioned him, no one would have criticized him for it, no one would have judged him wrong.
Except, Jesus!

Jesus not only accepts the woman and her offering of adoration, but shames the host by noting that he had failed at basic hospitality. This part of the world was and still is primarily desert. It was customary to offer guests water to clean their feet and hands before a meal because of the dust. The host had not done that. This is no minor faux pas, either. This isn’t showing up fashionably late. No, hospitality codes were a serious deal in that time and place. Furthermore, a pharisee, a religious leader fails to acknowledge what Jesus is, while this woman, a sinner, pays him great homage.

By Jesus accepting her offering, he saves her from almost certain death. Now we don’t live in that place or that time. We’ve progressed a bit, but we need only look at recent revelations at Baylor University and the sentencing in the Brock Turner rape case to know we’ve got a long way to go. To a significant and dangerous degree, women are still considered second-class citizens in this country.

More on that in a moment, but for now let’s remember God’s preference for the “other”. As we have seen the last few weeks, God chooses the outsiders, the downtrodden, the poor, the sick, the sinners, and even the enemies because they often have an easier time of recognizing God in their lives. They “get it”. On the other hand those of us who are the institution {raise hand}, as in me, and those of us in the religious establishment {gesture to include everyone in the room} often have a harder time trusting God–that is to say, to live by faith in Jesus instead of our own capabilities. So much so, we like the Pharisee, can fail to practice God’s radical inclusion and even simple hospitality.
As we have been talking about for the last couple of weeks, this dynamic of exclusion by the faithful is the theme of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Today we hear more from that letter where Paul eloquently establishes that justification does not come from works, justification cannot be earned. It is God’s work. God’s gracious free gift available to all.

Now, what does Paul mean by “justification?” This is a theological term that gets tossed around a lot; so let’s talk about it for a moment. Heidi Armstrong uses the analogy of a word processing program. When the software justifies the text, it aligns the words with the margins. Jesus aligns our lives, tidies up the margins if you will, brings us in line with God. This is God’s work. It is not something I can do to someone else and it is not something we can do for ourselves. As our brothers and sisters in the twelve step traditions teach us, we are powerless to our addictions, be they food, drink, drugs or even our negative emotions–we are powerless and need a higher power to heal us.
The woman in our Gospel passage is justified by Jesus and experiences that justification through her faith. Now, you might be thinking, “wait a second, didn’t she earn her justification, earn her salvation, by washing Jesus’ feet.” Not so fast, my friend, as Lee Corso would say. Jesus says, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.” HENCE, not because…She has experienced forgiveness so she shows great love. Her adoration of Jesus is a response to his acceptance of her, his salvation, his justifying her.

So what is our job? As people of faith, as people on the inside, what is our job? What is our response to justification in Christ Jesus supposed to be? Certainly on a societal level, we have to work not only for justice for women who are victims of crime, especially sexual assault of any sort, but we must also create a culture where women are completely safe everywhere at all times. And I believe my brothers and sisters that our society can change. Just as we have learned to use high SPF sunscreen surely we can learn to treat all women as equally human as men. Furthermore, I believe that we, people of faith, aren’t just called but are capable of bringing about that change.

Within the church, our job is similar and broader. Heidi Armstrong also points out the growing phenomenon of people’s unwillingness to come to church. Even when their lives are spiralling out of control because of sin people won’t come to church because of fear. People are afraid of being judged. They are fearful; not fearful of being physically harmed, rather emotionally harmed by the hypocritical judgement of the faithful.

Now my brother and sisters I know this is hard to hear, because I know you all to be deeply loving and caring people. I know you to be honest about your own brokenness and not judgemental of the brokenness of others. I know you to be real, to be genuine. Nonetheless, I know we can still be better at radical inclusion. Regardless of what we think about ourselves, we certainly aren’t immune to the cultural perception that church folks are cliquish and judgemental.

So, our job is to create a culture where we are known for who we include not who we exclude. We are called to create a space where all can come regardless of their sin and experience the love of God. We are called to get “out of the seats and into the streets” as Ron Dotzler likes to say, called to be radically welcoming, radically inclusive, radically abundant in expressing God’s love for others because we have experienced God’s love ourselves. We called to this work “not just in this house on this morning”, but every day and in every place.

My brothers and sisters, do not let the church be a place where sinners are afraid to approach God. Rather, be the church every day. Be the radically inclusive and overwhelmingly loving Church every single day. Be the safe place for a sinner to come to know God’s love and be justified by Jesus. Amen!

 

Father Jason Emerson, Church of the Resurrection

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Featured Sermon: Archdeacon Betsy Blake Bennett, Easter 6C

 

 

Easter 6C 2016: Do you want to be made well?
John 5:1-9

When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6)

Good morning! It was lovely this rainy morning to step into our newly repaired and painted sanctuary — the sort of delightful new thing that is in keeping with the Easter season.

This Sixth Sunday of Easter is Camp Sunday in our diocese, and we should hear more about that at announcement time. There’s something about spending time in the outdoors with new friends from across the diocese that makes the camp experience a consistent catalyst for spiritual growth in our children and teen-agers. And in harmony with the outdoor theme, today is also Rogation Sunday, the beginning of the traditional Rogation Days when we pray for a successful growing season and, as a sort of American update to the old English customs of Rogation, think about and pray about environmental stewardship.

For most of Omaha outside of our walls, though, this weekend is known more for the big Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting that brings lots of visitors here. One of the visitors this year, Dr. James Hansen, was here to advocate for a shareholders’ resolution on climate change. Dr. Hansen, a former climate scientist for NASA who is now a full-time climate advocate, also lectured at Creighton University Friday evening on the topic “Energy and Climate Change: How Can Justice Be Achieved for Young People?”

I’m pretty sure most of the people gathered at that lecture were unaware of the exquisite timing of having a leading climate scientist in our midst as we Episcopalians begin our annual observance of the Rogation Days, but it delighted me. In my work in environmental stewardship and environmental justice, I’m well aware of the very critical and uniquely challenging situation we are in with regards to climate change caused by global warming. Things are much more dire than people might guess from the disproportionately small amount of attention the news media and political establishment give climate change, and it’s tempting to be discouraged. But as a Christian, I’m also aware of the hope in which we live always, no matter what. Hearing Dr. Hansen talk about the problems we face and possible solutions, and being in the company of more than 700 people who were willing to spend their Friday evening thinking about these things, was both sobering and heartening.

One of the questions for Dr. Hansen at the end of his talk was from a woman who said that when she had told a couple of other people that she was planning to go to a lecture about climate change, their reaction had been one of what she described as “fatalism” — basically the idea that there’s nothing we can do about this big problem, so why bother? Her question for Dr. Hansen was focused on how we can combat this fatalism: how can we help people feel empowered rather than fatalistic. Being immersed in this morning’s Gospel lesson, I realized how this new question about climate change can be answered at least in part by this old story from John’s Gospel.

This story has a lot to say about why we so often fail to do the things that would make us — and our planet — well, that would make us healthy, whole, and holy. And this story also tells us something about hope, especially the kind of hope that empowers us to take on big challenges.

This story in John’s Gospel is unlike the other Gospel stories about Jesus healing people. In the other stories, someone seeks out Jesus. Think of the story that precedes this morning’s lesson in John’s Gospel: the healing of the son of the royal official. John tells us that when the official heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee, “he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.” Jesus says the word, and on his way home the royal official learns that his son’s fever has left him. Or think of the man whose friends lowered him through the roof of a house lying on his mat when they couldn’t get near the door to bring their friend to Jesus for healing. Or think of the woman whose years of hemorrhaging had made her such an outcast that she didn’t dare to think of speaking to Jesus. But even she approached Jesus, though not in his direct line of sight, sure that if she could just touch the cloak of his garment she would be made well. In today’s passage, though, the situation is reversed: Jesus approaches this man who had been ill in some way for 38 years and asks him, “Do you want to be made well?”

It may seem an odd question to ask someone who shows up every day at the place where people go in hope of being healed, but then the man gives an odd answer. Instead of a simple, “Yes, I want to be healed”, he gives an explanation of why he hasn’t been healed. Tradition said that an angel periodically stirred up or “troubled” the water in the pool. The belief was that at the moment when the water was stirred up, it had healing properties, and the first person in the pool when the water was stirred up would be healed. The man explains to Jesus that he has no one to put him into the pool when the water moves, and that by the time he can make his way to the pool on his own, someone else always steps down into the water ahead of him.

In offering an explanation rather than an answer, this man may be telling Jesus more about why he doesn’t expect to be healed than about whether he wants to be healed. Maybe he can’t even make sense of wanting something that seems unattainable.

The puzzling thing is that even though what this man has done for years hasn’t worked in the past and is unlikely to work in the future, he keeps on doing the same thing day after day after day.

Why does he do that? It could be that, inaccessible as the pool is to him, it’s still the most accessible means of healing he knows. Maybe he continues his vigil by the pool because it’s his only hope of any sort. Or maybe it isn’t hope at all that keeps him coming back for another day of the same thing; maybe the familiarity of even this discouraging routine holds some sort of comfort that keeps him from changing what he does. His answer to Jesus’s question does indeed sound like the answer of a fatalist as much as it does someone with hope. That may be because there isn’t that much difference between false hope and fatalism. False hope is simply the optimist’s way of being fatalistic. Both work on the assumption that nothing we can do or are doing will make any difference; both assume that our fate and our present choices are unrelated.

False hope is magical thinking, wishing that the familiar thing we keep doing that isn’t helping us at all might magically produce the results we want.

I recall some students from my teaching days who wouldn’t read the books or engage in class discussions all semester yet hoped — in this false sense of hope, I assure you — that they might pull a good grade out of the course at the end of the semester.

That’s false hope. Real hope is something very different. The hope that Jesus offers is always real hope. In this story, we, the hearers of the story, begin to see hope the moment Jesus notices the man and speaks to him.

The startling beauty of the story lies in what Jesus does next. Having heard the non-answer to the question about whether this man wants to be healed, Jesus says, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” Jesus answers the explanation by cutting to an unimagined alternative. Jesus does just what we celebrate throughout the Easter season: he shows us something new and unexpected, creating a way where there was no way, creating hope where there was no real hope.

The sort of hope that Jesus brings isn’t a passive false hope that somehow everything will turn out well without our changing anything; Jesus brings genuine hope that calls us to act by embracing the new thing that Jesus offers. Real hope can feel risky because it calls us to abandon something familiar in favor of something we haven’t even fully imagined.

“Stand up, take your mat and walk” would be a cruel thing to say unless we somehow know, as Jesus seems to in this case, that the person really does have the capacity to get up and walk. Jesus simply calls us to do what we can do. When we do have the capacity to do something different – whether we had that capacity all along or have through an encounter with Jesus experienced the beginning of healing that we ourselves have the power to accept and complete – then being told to get up and walk is exactly what we may need. When we have the capacity to make different choices, to choose health over sickness, wholeness over brokenness, holiness over sin, then Jesus calls us to get up and do something.

Individuals, parishes, communities, and all of us on God’s good green Earth get stuck more often than we might like. Often when we get stuck in a bad place we put our energy into reciting to ourselves and to others our explanation of why we can’t do anything else instead of putting our energy into the disciplined work of getting up and doing something new. We might dodge the question “Do you want to be made well?”, or we might express a vague desire for our own lives and our common life to be better — maybe we even dream of the assurance of a stable climate that can continue to support human civilization and diverse forms of life on our planet — but our inaction and our sometimes contrary actions answer the question “Do you want to be made well?” with a resounding “No”.

Do we want to be made well? That’s a big question for all of us. Because if we want to become healthy, whole, and holy in our own lives, in our parishes and communities, and in the biosphere that sustains life on this planet, if we tell Jesus we want to be made well, we are also telling Jesus that we are ready to make some changes. We are telling Jesus we are willing to imagine with him a way to live that differs from what we are doing now, and we are saying we are willing to risk getting up and getting to work doing something new. Jesus invites us into his creativity; Jesus invites us to be empowered to engage our creativity and find a way for all of God’s children to have a chance at healthy, whole, and holy lives.

The words of this morning’s Collect remind us that God’s promises “exceed all that we can desire”. May we have the grace and imagination to believe God’s promises and accept the real hope Jesus offers us; may we have the grace to abandon false hope and fatalism in favor of the full life Jesus offers us all. Amen.

Preached by Archdeacon Betsy Blake Bennett at Church of the Resurrection, Omaha, May 1, 2016

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Featured Sermon – When God Moves Into the Neighborhood

 

 

The first thing to say this morning is that it’s still Christmas. The feast of Christmas doesn’t just last for one day, but rather extends over a full twelve days. We’re called to celebrate each of those days like Christmas. The cycle of our liturgical seasons is designed to give us a chance to steep ourselves a little in the major events of our faith so that our lives begin to be shaped in even deeper ways by what God has done for us. So find some way, every day, for the next ten days, to celebrate, even if it’s just in tiny ways.

Every year on the first Sunday after Christmas, our gospel lesson is the opening passage of John’s gospel. There are three very different Christmas stories in the Bible: Luke’s is the one with the shepherds, Matthew’s is the one with the wise men, and John’s is like the art house film version: abstract, experimental, maybe even a little obtuse. In Greek, it is written as a poem, and like all good poetry, it rewards repeated readings, and is most rewarding when you grab just a nugget here and there to chew on for a while. So I would encourage you to take your bulletin with you and just revisit this through this week as you celebrate Christmas and just see what grabs you at different points.

There were two that stuck out for me in particular this week that I’ll say just a few things about this morning:

The first is really the punch line of the whole thing: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” Most of us basically hear this as a simple statement of the improbable doctrine that God became human in the person of Jesus. But there’s a lot more going on here than that.

A better translation of the phrase “dwelt among us” in Greek is the “pitched his tent among us.” It doesn’t have the same literary gravitas, but it’s linguistically more accurate. So this isn’t just a one-time event, but rather it’s an ongoing characteristic of God to become one of us. The sense here is that God hangs out with us, God moves into the neighborhood.[1]

At the first Christmas, God moved into the neighborhood of ancient Israel. Today, God is always moving into whatever our neighborhoods happen to be. God is constantly showing up as one of us. That means a big part of the life of faith is not just worshipping Jesus in here, but learning how to spot where Jesus is showing up out there.

And the other real nugget in this poem for me reminds us that whenever God moves into the neighborhood, it looks like light shining in darkness. The earlier punch line in the poem comes as “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

When God moves into the neighborhood, it looks like the light of staff and volunteers at the Yates community center working tirelessly to care for and support refugees as they begin to rebuild their lives after fleeing trauma that’s hard for us to imagine. When God moves into the neighborhood, it looks like young black leaders in Ferguson, or Baltimore, or wherever pointing out that the sin of racism continues to pervade our national life at every level. When God moves into the neighborhood, it looks like the voices of those who are calling our political leaders out on the hateful rhetoric of fear toward immigrants, and refugees, and even Muslim citizens of this country. When God moves into the neighborhood, it looks like a meal delivered to a family after a death, like a visit to a hospital bedside, like a marriage healed, or a petty grievance forgiven and let go. It’s happening everywhere, all the time, and we do this in here so that we can spot it, and join God out there in lighting the darkness.

Christmas is also a time when that particular interplay of light and darkness is most complexly mingled and the edges of both become most acute. For all the feasting and rejoicing, the time with family and the warm, sentimental scenes, this is also a time when we feel the absence of loss most bluntly, and the pangs of whatever grief we carry more sharply. In the midst of that, we have this nugget to carry with us this week: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not [will not] overcome it.”

Despite all that is dark in the world, despite all that is dark in our own lives, God is still moving into the neighborhood, light still shines in the darkness, and despite all logic, we are here, together with a few billion Christians around the world who are doing this same thing today, together with angels and archangels and all those lights who have sat in these pews since 1883, those lights who have sat around the table at our Christmas feasts. We are all gathered together in this moment, defying the darkness again, claiming God promise that it doesn’t get the last word. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Amen.

Dean Craig Loya

[1] This translation appears in Peterson, Eugene. The Message. NavPress: 2007. Carol Stream, IL

You can follow Dean Loya’s blog at http://fromthedean.com/

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Featured Sermon – Advent 3: Dean Craig Loya

Dean Craig Loya

Dean Craig Loya

Several years ago, a priest I know in another diocese had one of those small crises that pop up from time to time in churches. Several people approached him during an otherwise typical week with the shocking news that the parish children had been coloring in the prayer books! There followed lots of hand wringing among a group of parishioners, and then discussion at a staff meeting about what should be done. After several rounds of these conversations, my friend got up, walked out of the church office, down the street to the local toy store, and bought about fifty dollars worth of small etch-a-sketches to put in the back of the church for kids to play with while they sat in the service. So all the handwringing and discussing was easily solved with about ten minutes and fifty dollars. Seemingly big problem. Very simple solution.

That feels like the idea in today’s gospel lesson, too. If you thought John the Baptist was wild last week, this week shows us he was just getting warmed up. He shifts into a much higher homiletic gear and shouts at the congregation that has journeyed out into the wilderness: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” His message is essentially you have screwed up, your religious credentials aren’t going to save you, and God’s full wrath is about this far away.

The people are unfazed by his tantrum, they’re still right there with him, and they ask: “What then shall we do?” John’s response is shockingly simple. He basically says: “share what you have with people who need it, be honest, and don’t exploit others for your own gain.” All of that impending doom and destruction can be avoided if the people will essentially do the things we teach preschoolers to do.

But if you stop and think for a minute about what it would be like if everyone actually started doing the things we teach preschoolers to do: sharing what we have, being honest and straightforward, not using other people for our own ends—the world would be vastly different. What would it be like if in the midst of the deep divisions in our country, our political leaders just started doing those three things? What would it be like if we really acted like that in our offices and schools and homes, and even at church?

John the Baptist is so passionate and wild in his rant because the gospel of Jesus is about utterly upending the way the world normally works. The gospel of Jesus looks like revolution to a world that is comfortable where some have more than they could ever use, and others lie hungry and naked in the street. The gospel of Jesus looks like revolution to a world where it’s ok to scapegoat refugees who are fleeing unspeakable violence and danger. The gospel of Jesus looks like revolution to a world where it still seems ok to fear and exclude God’s beloved children because of the nation they come from, the language they speak, or the religion they practice. The gospel of Jesus looks like revolution when we passively sit by and do nothing while people are massacred every day in schools and offices and clinics. That’s why John is on such a revolutionary rampage.

But the really crazy thing for us is that our job in the midst of this is so unbelievably simple and ordinary: share what you have, be honest with each other, practice compassion and mercy instead of using other people as objects for our own gain.

These weeks I’ve been away from you have been full of news that is hard to make sense of: terror in Paris, shootings in Colorado and California, disturbing rhetoric and even outright attacks on Muslims and immigrants. None of us are really all that powerful in the grand scheme of things, and in the face of all of it, we can find ourselves asking, like the crowds in today’s gospel: what then shall we do?

Generously share what you have. Be honest and straightforward with others. Look at the people around you as sacred and beloved children of God, there for you to serve and love, rather than objects to be feared or used to build yourself up. We may not be able to change a geo-political reality where one country casts off hundreds of thousands of people, and others blame those same people for the very violence they are fleeing, but we all have our little corner of the garden to tend: in our families, in our schools, in our offices, in this city. We join Jesus’ revolution when we are extravagantly generous with what we have, when we are honest with each other, and where we honor our baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being. Big problems. Simple solutions we are called to.

I came across a 2010 article in Wired magazine this week that detailed a study that determined acts of kindness and generosity and compassion are literally contagious.[1] When we see generosity and compassion, we are hard wired to imitate them. That means the little acts we practice in our own little corners can, little by little, begin to infect the whole world with God’s peace and love.

If you’re wondering why the vestments today are pink, it’s because today is Gaudete Sunday. The word simply means rejoice in Latin, and in the midst of the darkness of the season, and the more penitential character of Advent, it’s a glimpse of light and joy springing up in the darkness.

That’s what all of us who follow Jesus, who claim to be part of his revolution, are called to be in the midst of our dark and fearful world: small points of light, springing up in the darkness.

In the midst of all that is dark and fearful and overwhelming in our world, I can’t think of any better wisdom than today’s reading from Phillipians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. . .Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Commit those thoughts to your memory. Write them down and stick them above your desk or on the dash of your car or wherever. Let them strengthen you in your own corner of the garden to be light in the midst of darkness, joy in the midst of sorrow, life in the midst of death. Amen.

Dean Craig Loya

 

[1] http://www.wired.com/2010/03/kindness-spreads/

 

You can follow Dean Loya’s blog at http://fromthedean.com/

 

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From the Bishop: Thanksgiving Sermon

Bishop J. Scott Barker

Bishop J. Scott Barker

(Bishop Barker delivered this Thanksgiving sermon at an ecumenical church gathering in DeWitt, Nebraska this past week on November 18th.)

Thanksgiving – “Do not worry” – Matthew 6:25-33

 

Hold Thou me Lord that I may uplift Thee. Amen.

Happy Thanksgiving my brothers and sisters.

My favorite holiday, bar none! I love the food. I love the football. As a pastor – I’ll tell you the truth – I love that of all the big holy days hardly anything is expected of me on Thanksgiving! Just figure out one heartfelt table blessing and we’re good to go!

What’s not to love about this All-American holiday?

I have so many memories associated with Thanksgiving. I’ll bet all of you do to.

– As a child my whole extended family lived in the same Nebraska town, and we gathered around an enormous feast at my parent’s house with every traditional thanksgiving food you could hope for … and all the zaniness you’d expect from the many assembled crazy cousins and tipsy uncles …

– As a young adult I travelled far away for college and seminary, and had neither the time or money to return to Nebraska at this time of year. I remember being welcomed into the homes of various friends over that stretch, and being both thankful for their kindness and a little sad about being away form the ones I loved most …

– I remember preaching once – about fifteen years ago – at an ecumenical Thanksgiving service just like this one. My brother had taken his own life just a couple of weeks before then, and I struggled – how I struggled – to find a way to give thanks during that hard season.

I can only imagine the many wonderful stories that all of you would share about this beautiful, holy time of year. I know I’m not the only one who loves Thanksgiving.

 

This afternoon’s Gospel passage is the one most closely associated with the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s interesting to me that of all the words of Jesus, these are the one’s that we always remember at this time every year:

 

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Jesus goes on to further unpack these ideas in what is one of the most beautiful and well-known passages from the Sermon on the Mount. And the key idea here – the phrase which is repeated no fewer than three times in this short Gospel passage, is exactly and precisely this: Do not worry.

Do not worry about what you will wear. Do not worry about what you will eat. Do not worry about what you will drink. Is our loving God not present and active? Can’t you count on God?

I’m not sure there is a more important hope and expectation articulated anywhere else in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. If we count up the times Jesus says, “Do not be afraid,” “Do not be anxious,” “Do not worry,” or “Fear not” we’ll quickly discover that it’s one of the most oft repeated phrases in the whole entire Bible …

That it is a teaching that lies right near the heart of the Holy Gospel.

 

Boy – do we need to hear our Savior offering this teaching here today. I’m not sure that in my lifetime I have ever seen or felt this country – and our churches – any more fearful and fretful than we seem to be right now.

The litany of things that cause us to be fearful is long and growing:

– We’re fearful about an uncertain economy – and the prospect of losing a job or being the one in charge when a farm or family business fails.

– We’re fearful for our small communities worried they will not be able to survive for another generation … that way of life is passing before our very eyes.

– We’re fearful of people from different cultures and customs … we’re untrustworthy of people with different religious beliefs than our own …

– We’re fearful about the power of government – either because it’s out of touch and asking too much … or because it’s out of touch and doing too little.

 

We’re worried about all kinds of smaller and daily stuff too: like our kids, and budgets and chores and relationships.

Right now we are a worrying people my brothers and sisters … and God knows, that worrying – that fear – does not bring out the best in us.

You probably remember that Thanksgiving was fixed as a national holiday right in the middle of the Civil War. There had been various statewide celebrations of thanks – especially around the harvest time – but it was President Lincoln who – at the urging of a wonderful activist by the name of Sarah Josepha Hale – finally made the thing official.

It happened in 1863 by way of a Presidential Proclamation, in which Lincoln said in part:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.

To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity … order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict …. the plough, the shuttle, the ship and the axe have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

 

I know this has been a year for many of you too!

2015 will be remembered in DeWitt as the year of the great flood … and the great hailstorm – all set against a backdrop of tensions at home and abroad that we read about in the paper and watch on TV and follow on line – and that make us nervous, and worrisome and scared.

But as followers of Jesus – as disciples of Christ – we have got to always remember and celebrate that fact of who we belong to … and what he accomplishes for us … and how we’re called to be his people in this here and now:

– We are a people who lift up hope – even in the face of challenges daunting and fearsome … for we know the miraculous power of God and the certainty that God accompanies us on every step of our earthly pilgrimages …

– We are a people who are bold to love and care – even when we have been betrayed or hurt or wronged in the most crippling way, because we too have been loved and forgiven … no matter how far we might have wandered from God’s embrace …

We are a people who do not fear … a people who are brave to shout “Alleluia” even in the face of death itself … because we know that in Christ the power of death has been defeated forever.

 

What is there to fear if Christ is at our side on every day and in every place we journey?

 

At the end of that first Thanksgiving proclamation, President Lincoln wrote:

It has seemed to me fit and proper to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

And I recommend that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, [we] do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers …

And fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it soon.

 

It is hard to love and serve when we are afraid. That’s the simple truth. It is impossible to do the work God has asked us to do – to respond to the call that Christ has placed on each and every one of our lives – if we live in fear.

This Thanksgiving, when you gather with the people you love and keep the traditions that make the day special for you and yours, remember the words of Jesus that have been so long remembered by the Church on this holy day …

Let us give thanks no only for the fruits of the harvest … for the blessings and freedoms we enjoy as citizens of this place …

But for the possibility of living a different kind of life altogether as brothers and sisters in Christ … as followers of Jesus: “Do not be afraid,” “Do not be anxious,” “Do not worry.”

 

Fear not!

Amen.

 

+ J.S. Barker

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Featured Sermon: Fr. Jason Emerson – Christ the King

christ-the-king“To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.”

 

May only God’s word be spoken, and may only God’s word be heard.  Amen!

 

In a little while, Tangle Blue, is going to sing our offertory music.  They’ll sing a song they wrote years ago called “I will not let you Go” The chorus is simple:

No matter what,
No Matter what may come,
No matter what may come I will not let you Go.

 

Joel and Aimee’ sing this to remind us–to remind us that God will not let us Go.  Because God has already acted.  Jesus is the king, and we can not be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

I thought of their song as I meditated on our Gospel passage today.  This dramatic scene between Jesus and Pilate is wrought with tension and unexpectedly hope.  First, let’s set the scene.  Jesus has been arrested, beaten, probably not given food or drink for hours.  Clothes ripped and torn, face bloody and bruised Jesus stands before Pilate the Roman governor of Israel.  Pilate, unlike Jesus, reeks of splendor and power.  Pilate is the physical manifestation of the Roman Empire. Armor gleaming, scarlet robes immaculate, plumage combed, pilate oozes dominance and control from his very pores.  With this overt power differential Jesus should be hopeless.  Yet, when Pilate asks if Jesus is a king, Jesus responds that Pilate can’t understand Jesus’ Kingship because it is not of this fallen violent world.  Jesus’ kingdom doesn’t work like Rome, if it worked like Rome his followers would be killing and dying to get him released.  So, Pilate can’t comprehend Jesus’ Kingship because Pilate has no frame of reference for a peace-able kingdom.  Instead Jesus just stands and simply says, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  Jesus is convinced and therefore speaks with legitimate hope because God’s kingdom is based on love not hate, peace and not violence.  Jesus is hopeful.  His trust and hope is so deep, so strong he refuses to do violence upon Pilate Jesus trusts God not himself for redemption.  There is hope here for us because of all the horrible things that we have done and do to Jesus, it is no worse than what Pilate is threatening to do to Jesus, it simply isn’t worse than crucifixion.  If Jesus can stand peacefully and hopefully in front of Pilate, then Jesus waits for us in hope as well.

Today is our pledge Sunday, the day we make commitments to God through the Church of the Resurrection.  More importantly than keeping the lights on, our building warm, and our staff paid, giving is a statement of Hope.  The powers that be out there in the fallen world can’t understand giving to God through a church.  The powers ask, “where’s the return on investment” what do you earn by giving?  Return on investment, however, isn’t the point.  Giving, in and of itself, is the point.  Giving is hopeful because it is an outward visible sign of trusting God instead of trusting money.  Giving is hopeful because it is an emphatic statement that Jesus is Lord not money.  Giving is hopeful because it means we expect God to act and increase our ministry, to increase our love, to increase our service and increase our welcome.

My brothers and sisters, I encourage you to make a commitment to give to God through the Church of the Resurrection for 2016.  Days are coming for us, and your gift helps make that possible.  More important than making a financial commitment today, make a hopeful commitment.  Stand in confidence and hope because God loves you.  The theologian Jurgen Moltmann reminds us today to have hope in God because God has hope in us.  Moltmann writes:

“But the ultimate reason for our hope is not to be found at all in what we want, wish for and wait for; the ultimate reason is that we are wanted and wished for and waited for…We are waited for as the prodigal son in the parable is waited for by his father. We are accepted and received, as a mother takes her children into her arms and comforts them. God is our last hope because we are God’s first love.”

My brothers and sisters, Christians are ridiculously hopeful.  Chief among them is my dad.  It is a marvel to watch this man who is approaching 80 and just coming out of a very challenging year remain, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu likes to say, Hopelessly Hopeful.  Last year my dad began to experience excruciating, debilitating, energy sapping pain in his neck shoulders and hips.  It took about six months before the doctors figured it out, and in that time my dad wasted away to about 120 pounds.  Yet some how, even when he is depressed, he is hopeful, ridiculously hopeful.

He is hopeful because he is a christian.  He believes deep in his heart that Jesus is his savior, Christ is his Lord, and to paraphrase the apostle Paul, whatever the pains of this word, they pale in comparison to the joys of the kingdom of God.

And so it is for Christians.  We are called to be hopeful.  We are called to expect God to act when things seem bleak because we remember the great stories of God acting in ancient Israel’s darkest moments of slavery in Egypt.  We remember the story of God calling to the exiles through the prophet Jeremiah to remember that God has plans for them, plans to prosper them and give them hope. And we remember God’s greatest act at horrific Golgatha, where God incarnate was crucified.  We remember that God did not wait around for us to get our act together.  We did not and need not have our ducks in a row for God to love us.  No, God loves us while we are still sinners.  God loves us so much not to wait rather he became one of us.  He suffered and and died because of us, so God could perform God’s mightiest act: forgiving us, loving us despite crucifying Jesus.  We are hopeful because we remember.

My brothers and sisters, like my dad this building is about 80 years old.  It has experienced excruciating pain in the last year.  But we who worship in this house of prayer, we who go forth to seek and serve Christ from this building, No Matter What we are to remain Hopelessly Hopeful.  We are to recognize Jesus waiting for us like the father of the prodigal son.  No Matter What we are to follow Jesus to seek and serve others.  We are to care for this neighborhood and our neighbors as a mother comforts her children.  No Matter What we are to welcome all that we encounter as we would welcome Christ himself.  Tall folks and shorts folks, black folks and white folks, latin folks and african folks, poor and rich, gay and straight, kind and cold-hearted, sinners and saints, we are called to tell everyone that No Matter What they are welcome here at this table, everything is gonna be alright at this table, and they are in the right place at this table.  My brothers and sisters, No Matter What…Hope.  No Matter What…Follow Jesus in service to others, and No Matter What…welcome all because Jesus welcomed you first. Amen!

 

– Fr. Jason Emerson
Church of the Resurrection, Omaha

 

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Bishop Barker’s 2015 Annual Council Eucharist Sermon

20151016_171841Annual Council 2015    Festival Eucharist

John 15:20 – 16:1          October 15, 2015

 

Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.

– John 15:20

 

In tonight’s Bible story, we hear a small portion of what’s come to be known as Jesus’ “farewell discourse.” We’re in John’s Gospel account, and Jesus is gathered at Passover time with his closest followers at what we call the Last Supper. The “farewell discourse” is Jesus’ last word to his disciples before his passion, crucifixion and death. This discourse comprises fully five chapters of John’s Gospel, and includes prayers for Jesus’ followers, ideas about how to live as men and women of faith and encouragement for hard times ahead.

In the midst of all this talking – so very many words… so very many ideas – Jesus gets up from the table and stops talking just once. In the middle of all this long night’s supper – and all this teaching and talking – Jesus does just one thing, and it’s a something that has been remembered for 2,000 years:

Jesus [John writes] knew the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.

 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, [said Jesus] for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

 

In the middle of all the teaching, all the talking, all the instruction Jesus gets up and he does this one thing to show them who they’re created to be, to show them how they are called to act if they would be his disciples. You must serve one another. You must offer yourself humbly and completely. Here is the master showing us how to live … and “no servant is greater than the master.”

I am daily amazed at the sacrifices you make – both for your churches and for the world outside your parish communities. You are the finest leaders I have every served with, and your devotion to the Church and her ministries is unmatched in all my experience. I see on each weekly visit – to our every Nebraska church – the amazing ways it in which you share your time, talent and treasure all three:

– Studying up on church finances and gamely participating in long, complicated meetings as members of church vestries, finance committees, and stewardship teams;

– Washing crystal, ironing fair linens, and precisely setting out the parish’s cherished sacred vessels as members of church altar guilds;

– Writing big checks – maybe the biggest check you write to any charity every week or month – just to keep the promise you made about your pledge … and to do your part to support the ministries of the church.

From mowing lawns, to balancing books, to making cheesy potato casseroles. From polishing silver, to counting money, to watching over the kids in the nursery. From driving to a Saturday meeting, to praying the Anglican rosary to writing a card of condolence …

The list goes on and on. All the work you do, all the ways you give. You all give from your best selves. You act from your truest beliefs. You share what you have in ways that pinch and challenge and in ways that make you sweat and worry. I’m amazed and humbled at the sacrifices you make. I really mean that. Your devotion to the places and the people that you call “church” is unmatched.

I think it’s important to say that as we’re differently abled and differently blessed, as we’re differently challenged and differently inspired so too we are called to offer very different gifts – to make very different sacrifices – as disciples of Jesus. It’s important not to judge one person’s offering against another. Jesus himself teaches over and over again that every little gift matters … that every small sacrifice has real impact. So the child welcomed in Jesus’ name is an entre into a relationship with God. And the widow’s tiny mite is the greatest offering placed before the altar. And the cup of cold water offered to a thirsty traveler paves the way to heaven. We have different abilities and different gifts to share. It’s all good!

Where I think we are challenged tonight – challenged both by Jesus and the saints we commemorate – not in the kind of gifts we offer but more perhaps in the spirit in which we offer them. Our challenge is not that we give the wrong things or necessarily that we do not give enough. Our challenge is rather a tendency to be self-satisfied and defensive about our giving, instead of offering our part with the kind of joy and abandon that is modeled by Jesus, when he throws off his garments and washes the feet of every one of his disciples at that supper so long ago. It’s that joyful and complete abandon to service and loving kindness that we’re still learning how to do.

Tonight we commemorate a great feast of our Church. We remember the early Anglican churchmen: Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer. These were bishops one and all, martyred when they were burned at the stake on the order of Queen Mary in 1555 and 1556. They were convicted for heresy … for their too Protestant beliefs in a time of Roman Catholic ascendancy in England.

They are often said to be unlikely martyrs. All three men were academics from Oxford and Cambridge who lived sheltered and privileged lives in many ways. In every case their greatest accomplishments have more to do with their scholarly achievements than some muscular articulation of Christian living. Latimer was a great preacher who got into trouble in part (if you can believe it!) because he delivered public sermons advocating for the translation of the Bible from Latin and Greek into English. Ridley the sacramental theologian, touched a deadly nerve when he wrote and talked about reforming church vestments and when he conflated the words “altar” and “table” in church use. Cranmer – of the three the one most caught up in the politics of the day – got into hot water by arguing that the Pope’s powers should be limited to those of any old bishop.

There is no record these men gave more generously from the incomes they earned as professors, college heads and bishops than other men of similar rank in their day. They are not remembered for special service to the poor and the outcast in their time, and in fact all lived lives of comparative luxury until their last hours on earth. They did not travel and expose themselves to peril in the wider world for the sake of spreading the Gospel and planting the Kingdom of God.

What they did manage was a quiet, dutiful and constant ministry of reading, writing, teaching and preaching with such determination and faith that God honored their gifts, and gave flower to the seeds they planted in frankly miraculous ways. They may have been unlikely martyrs but their executions changed the course of history. Latimer is especially remembered for the words he called out to his companion Ridley as the executioner kindled the flames:

Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man! [For] we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out!

And so it came to pass. The executions of Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer played an enormous part in opening up Church reform in England and so helped give birth to the Anglican (and Episcopal!) Church that we know and love to this day.

Almost 400 years later, Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote that, “When Christ calls us, he bids us come and die.” The chance you or I will be asked to surrender our physical lives for the sake of the Gospel is remote. But we are invited nonetheless to abandoned ourselves entirely to the worship and service of God in Christ. And the pattern for that life – the life of a disciple – is cruciform. Following Jesus is about taking up the cross. Following Jesus is about dying.

If that does NOT mean being burned at the stake, it does mean dying to the luxuries, the temptations, the heresies and the indulgences of this life that would keep us from being real disciples and the best version of the human beings God created and calls us to be …

 

Taking up the cross …

Means letting go of our egos. It means letting go of worldly cares and expectations about power and status. It means generously and joyfully sharing all the gifts with which God has blessed us. It means that when we give – whatever we give – we are called to give it joyfully, completely and without a hint or trace of selfishness, regret or doubt. We give because God first gave to us: our lives … the lives of ones we love … the small blessings of every day that we too often take for granted … and most of all, the gift of our salvation in Jesus.

Among the poetry Cranmer composed for our first Book of Common Prayer, are these sentences, which have meant so much to Anglicans down through the ages. I’m not sure there’s a more universally beloved prayer in that book, especially for Episcopalians of a certain age:

We do not presume to come to this thy table (o merciful lord) trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies: we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table: but thou art the same lord whose property is always to have mercy.

We are children of a loving, living and merciful God, who calls us to a life of discipleship marked by selfless and joyful giving of every sort … an expression of thanks and delight for the gifts, God first gave on our behalf.

You are cherished my brothers and sisters. You are beloved. I pray that you can let all that you offer in word and deed for the Church and for all God’s creation flow from that knowledge. Keep up the good work of living and loving in the name of the one who lived, loved and died for you first. Take up your cross. Follow Jesus.

 

Amen.

+ J.S. Barker

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Featured Sermon: Dean Craig Loya – Summer Camp

Dean Craig Loya

Dean Craig Loya

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, July 26, 2015

Most of you know that I spent this past week as a counselor at our diocesan youth summer camp. I’m committed to doing this every year, and it’s always exhausting and exhilarating in equal parts. It’s a mix of long days, short nights on uncomfortable beds, and the endless energy of kids from all over Nebraska between the ages of ten and eighteen. There is worship every day, small group time for kids, games like cabin Olympics and counselor hide and seek, and all the regular round of camp activities you’d find anywhere: sports, zip line, swimming, archery, crafts, and on and on. I think it’s one of the most important things we as a church can do. Every year, we form and renew one of the most loving, accepting, and holy communities I have ever been a part of. The bonds the kids form with each other become some of the most important that sustain them in their faith and life through all the challenges that growing up involves.

This year, we were at a new camp, and one of the most popular activities was something called “hammock village,” which is simply a large structure made of metal piping that has probably fifteen hammocks strung around a circle. It was one of about a dozen optional activities every day, and it was always full. You might think that more active pursuits like archery, or something called gaga ball–which is like dodge ball inside a wooden pen—would always be more appealing to these kids with endless energy than lying around in a hammock, but those hammocks always had people in them.

I think part of the reason they were always full is that the young people at camp, like all of us really, have very full lives. Most kids I know, like most adults I know, spend their lives running from one activity to the next. There are so many good options available to us, that we often stretch ourselves way too thin by pursuing every good activity that’s out there. In our culture, sitting and doing nothing is a rare thing. Idling and resting are often seen as self-indulgent luxuries. So I think at least part of hammock village’s popularity was the rare opportunity to do nothing but talk and daydream and even nap.

In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus and his disciples are moving at the frenetic pace of camp. Even though we’ve jumped gospels this week, Jesus and his disciples are really in the same position today as they were last week: the crowds are pressing in, and they can’t get a moment’s peace.

The main story here is simple enough. Jesus takes a few loaves of bread and some fish, and miraculously feeds five thousand people, with leftovers. Almost all of us have heard it before, and in fact it’s the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded in all four gospels.

But there’s a pre-requisite for this miracle that I hadn’t really noticed until I was literally lying in hammock village thinking about this sermon. Before the miracle happens, when Jesus and Phillip are discussing the problem, Jesus says to him: “make them sit down.” The crowd is massive, and they are all trying to manage their kids and make plans for the evening, and do all of the other things that made just getting through a day in the ancient world a huge project, and Jesus says the first thing is to just sit down. I’m acutely aware today of how hard it is to make sixty campers sit down, let alone a throng of five thousand people.

This story is told in every gospel because it communicates what is really the central message of all of scripture: God’s love always finds a way through our shortcomings. God’s abundance always fills up our scarcity. When we share what little we have with Jesus-like generosity, God always transforms what little we have into more than the world needs. But in order for this miracle of God’s love, and abundance, and generosity to happen, everyone first has to stop, cease all the frantic activity of managing every last thing in their lives, and sit down.

God’s goodness, God’s love, God’s comfort are always trying to find a way to us. Miracles of healing, and peace, and restored relationships are always waiting to bubble up from beneath the surface of our lives and our world. We are reminded today that we have to stop, and sit down often enough so that there’s room in our lives and spirits to receive them.

It’s why I’m always going on about the habit of praying for ten minutes every day. Just try spending ten minutes doing nothing else but letting God love you. Try spending just a morning, or an afternoon, or an evening each week with no plans and no schedule. Try giving up one commitment that isn’t feeding you and replacing with time to just soak in God’s love.

Part of the reason I think our diocesan camp is so important is because I’ve seen miracles happen there. Miracles of God’s love, and acceptance, and peace, and joy. They happen because even in the midst of all the energetic fun, camp creates a space for the kids to stop, and sit down.

The abundance of God’s love is waiting to fill up your spirit and your life. The first step in receiving it is to sit down. So stop, and sit down, and let God’s unbounded generosity take what little you think you have, and turn it into more than enough to feed a love-starved world. Amen.

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Featured Sermon: Archdeacon Betsy Blake Bennett

Archdeacon Betsy Blake Bennett

Archdeacon Betsy Blake Bennett

All In: Being the Church in Today’s World

 

Oscar Romero said in 1979:
 
To try to preach without referring to the history one preaches in is not to preach the gospel. Many would like a preaching so spiritualistic that it leaves sinners unbothered and does not term idolaters those who kneel before money and power. A preaching that says nothing of the sinful environment in which the gospel is reflected upon is not the gospel. 
 
This morning I had the delight of preaching at my parish, Church of the Resurrection in Omaha. I didn’t preach a creation care sermon per se, but I did preach on the Gospel passage. (Mark 3:20-35), and climate change is a huge piece of the history in which we preach now. (Notice the CO2 number for May on the graphic to the right.) If we turn from trying to hold onto the past to trying to follow Jesus in the present, we will find ourselves responding in significant ways to climate change and its effects.
 
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All In
A Homily on Mark 3:20-35
 
“When [Jesus’] family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”(Mark 3:21)
 
What must it have been like to be Mary, the Mother of Jesus!
 
This week began with the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the day we remember the expectant mother Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, who was herself miraculously expecting a baby. The Visitation is one of several days and seasons of the church calendar when we think about Mary.
 
We hear about and wonder about Mary the mother at Christmastime, when we tell the story of her going to Bethlehem on a donkey and then giving birth in a stable when she arrives. What was it like to be far from the comforts of home that night, giving birth, wondering at what the angel had told her and at the appearance of the shepherds? What did she feel as she snuggled her newborn baby?
 
We also think about Mary during Holy Week when we hear about her witnessing Jesus’ suffering and death. Mothers know that it is agonizing to know your children are in pain. How unbearable it must have been for Mary to watch her son beaten and humiliated and then hanging from the cross!
 
The Feast of the Visitation looks back at a happier occasion. Elizabeth exclaims “Blessed are you among women…” and Mary replies with the words that we know as the Magnificat:

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.
…and
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.
 
This, my friends, leads us to this morning’s Gospel lesson, this part of Mark’s Gospel where people are telling Jesus’ family “He has gone out of his mind.”  I wonder what Mary thought of these reports. Mark reports that Mary and Jesus’ brothers went and stood outside of where he was and sent to him. Maybe they wanted to talk with him and see if he really did seem to be losing his mind. Or maybe Mary remembered the vision she had during her pregnancy that evoked the words of the Magnificat, the vision of Jesus bringing down the powerful from their thrones, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich — who would usually get the best of everything — away empty. This is a vision of Jesus turning the world upside down and inside out. Maybe Mary wanted Jesus to come home because she knew the way prophets were treated. She knew that anyone preaching the kingdom of God risked being dismissed as crazy as best and being ostracized or even killed at worst. Jesus was doing things and saying things that made the people in power uneasy.
 
Where our translation says “He has gone out of his mind”, other translations say things like, “He has lost HIs senses” (NASB) or “He’s gone mad!” (Good News Translation). The King James Bible says a fairly restrained, “He is beside himself.” Similarly, The Message translation says, “They suspected he was getting carried away with himself.”
 
Whatever words we say, these sorts of words are used to dismiss someone who makes us uneasy. Ideas that challenge us, things that are new or different from what we are accustomed to, get dismissed as “crazy”, and we think the people who propose these uncomfortable ideas or actions have gotten a little too carried away.
 
Hearing people say such things about Jesus and his ministry, Jesus’ family goes out to restrain him. While we can understand why his family might want to restrain Jesus to protect him, as followers of Jesus, we certainly don’t approve of anyone — not even the Blessed Virgin Mary herself — trying to restrain Jesus from doing his ministry. And yet when we look at the Church as a whole, we see people who are supposed to be followers of Jesus trying to restrain the Church from continuing his work.
 
If we follow Jesus, who came to bring God’s kingdom, to bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly, if we are going to live our own lives and our lives together as a church community in our own parish and diocese and denomination in ways that turn all the injustices of the world upside down and inside out, we will be unusual. We will be what folks in this part of the country call “kind of different”. If we do it right, all in with our hearts on fire with love for Jesus, we won’t get carried away with ourselves, but we will get carried away with Jesus, and it will seem too extreme to some people, including some in powerful positions.
 
In recent lectionary weeks, we’ve read about Jesus sending the Holy Spirit to guide us, comfort us, and help us. This summer is a critical time for our parish and for the greater Episcopal Church. It’s proving to be a critical time for this neighborhood and this city as we try to figure out how to ensure all of our neighborhoods are safe places to live, work, and play. And this year is a critical time for our world, perhaps the last chance for the world’s leaders to set business as usual aside and get things figured out correctly to prevent catastrophic climate change.
 
In these critical times, let’s not dismiss the Holy Spirit when it leads us to do something that is new or unfamiliar or hard to understand. Let’s not immediately dismiss those who sound crazy or extreme to us but who might be speaking the Spirit’s words. And let’s especially not block the work of the Spirit by appealing to what the powers that be would like us Christians to look like and do. If all the world sees of Christians is our removing ourselves from the rest of the world for an hour, more or less, on Sunday mornings, if our purpose in coming to this holy table is “for solace only and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal” if we have church meetings and conventions where we worry about maintaining the status quo, Beelzebub, the personification of evil, rejoices because we are harmless to him. C.S. Lewis’s character old Screwtape himself couldn’t invent a better scenario than to have the church preoccupied with maintaining the status quo.
 
Those who truly follow Jesus will not try to hold back the work of the Holy Spirit because it makes us uneasy. We will be open to whatever allows the Spirit to turn things upside down and inside out until Jesus’ work of reconciliation, justice, and radical love is completed. It might look crazy to us, it might puzzle us, and it will sometimes be very difficult, requiring us to tap into wells of creativity and courage and love we didn’t know we had in us until the Spirit led us to them. But given a choice between some craziness — Spirit-led work rooted in Christ’s love and infused with passion and creativity — given a choice between supporting that sort of craziness and blocking the work of the Spirit, followers of Jesus have no choice but to walk where the Holy Spirit leads us.
 
As we prayed earlier, “O God…Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them.” And may God grant us wisdom, courage, love, and abundant joy as we find our way. Amen.
 
Archdeacon Betsy Blake Bennett

 

[TNE: You can follow Archdeacon Betsy’s blog at http://nebraskagreensprouts.blogspot.com]
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