Pentecost 8 July 15, 2018

There’s an awful lot of dancing in our lessons this morning!  David and the people dancing for joy as the Holy Ark is brought into Jerusalem.  Salome, called Herodias in Mark’s gospel, dancing for Herod and twisting his heart in foolish ways.

The gospel lesson is difficult, isn’t it?  It’s a snapshot of the relationship between Herod and John the Baptizer.  Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem, Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, had married his sister-in-law, his brother wife.  He was also her half-uncle. The Herods – Herod the Great and all of his sons – were part Jewish and lived according to Jewish Law when it suited them.  John the Baptizer condemned Herod Antipas for marrying his sister-in-law and half-niece, so John was arrested.  I love Mark’s description of their relationship: ‘Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him.  When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.’

If only Herod hadn’t thrown that dinner.  If only Salome had not danced.  If only Herod hadn’t made his foolish promise to give her whatever she wanted.  Perhaps Herod would have finally understood John.  Perhaps he would have joined John in the Jordan River.  Herod made a foolish promise and John the Baptizer lost his head.

And then Herod has such a guilty conscience that when he hears of all the healing that Jesus is doing, he’s convinced it’s John, come back to life.

Why does Mark put the story of John’s beheading right here in chapter 6?  What is Mark telling us?  What lesson ought we to learn from this passage?

Mark reminds of the deep cost of discipleship – John the Baptizer was doing everything exactly as he was supposed to.  He was calling people to repentance, he was baptizing in the river Jordan, he supported his cousin Jesus in his ministry.  John was doing everything right, he was a great disciple – Jesus says there is no disciple greater than John.  And yet…  John is thrown into prison and then beheaded.  Being a good disciple does not guarantee a long and happy life.  Being a good Christian does not guarantee good times.

Mark puts this story about the death of John in between the stories of sending the disciples out two by two and their return, which we’ll read about next week.  It’s a reminder to us, to all disciples that following Jesus is a costly endeavor.

There are those who say that if we are faithful to God, we will receive everything we ask for from God.  It’s the vending machine concept – we put in our faithfulness, our good works, and we get health and wealth from God.  It’s really an ancient idea – the gods require sacrifices from us in order to protect and defend us.

Relationship with God is something quite different.  Any Christian who tells you that Jesus wants you to be healthy, to make lots of money and to have an easy life, is telling you a lie.  That’s not how it works.  John the Baptizer did everything right and he was thrown in prison and then lost his life.  Jesus did everything right and he was crucified.  Why would we expect our lives to be remarkably different than John’s or Jesus’?

We are called to be disciples, we are called to follow Christ, not for what we can get from the relationship but because of what we have already received.  We have received God’s gracious love and acceptance.  We have received forgiveness for all the ways that we fall short.  We stand redeemed, made holy through Jesus Christ and his saving work for us.  We follow Christ because we know what we have received, because we are grateful, and because we want to be like Jesus.  We want to walk the way he walked, live the way he lived, love the way he loved.

Salome dances and John the Baptizer loses his head.  This is what it means to be a disciple.

Before you decide that being a disciple is all death and no fun, though, remember David dancing in our reading from Second Samuel.  Joyful exuberance is also part of being a disciple.  David and the people of Israel move their most sacred object – the Ark of the Covenant – that piece of furniture made for the Exodus journey.  The rod of Moses is kept in the Ark.  And the presence of God lives between the two cherubim that adorn the top of the Ark.   During Samuel’s time, the Ark resided in Baale-judah, which you may know by its other name: Kiriath-jearim.  Okay, it wasn’t kept in a large city, but Baale-judah was a safe place.  Once David has unified the country under his rule, he moves the Ark into his capital city, Jerusalem, with much joy, dancing and feasting.

Dancing and feasting with joy is also part of discipleship.  Every baptism, every confirmation, every marriage is a reason to dance and feast.  God is good.  God has blessed us.  In our dancing and our feasting we find hope and strength for the difficult days.

Every week, when we come to the rail for communion, we are feasting, too.  Not raisin cakes like David served – but the bread and the wine we share here is feast for the soul.  We gain strength for the week ahead of us and we are reminded that this feast is just a glimpse of the great feasts we’ll celebrate with all of our friends and family in the kingdom of heaven, just a glimpse of the life to come.

The life of a disciple is not always an easy life.  But I imagine that if we asked any of the Saints or Apostles or John the Baptizer they would tell us it’s worth it, it’s worth what it will cost us.  May we understand those things God wants us to do, and may we have the grace and power to faithfully accomplish them.  And may we find moments of joy as well.  Amen.

Posted on July 16, 2018 By Kristen

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost June 24, 2018

Have you ever found yourself in an impossible situation, one in which you tried very hard to do all the right things, and yet everything that could go wrong DID go wrong?  Remember those feelings?  I’ve been there, especially around health issues with family members – where I did everything I could for a good outcome and yet…  it seemed things still went horribly wrong.   I felt fear and despair and helpless and hopeless.

Maybe, like me, you can now look back on those times and see that God was at work in those moments, even though AT THE TIME it did not feel that way.

I think that’s what is happening in our readings for today – David and the Apostle Paul and Jesus’ disciples in that boat on the Sea of Galilee had all been doing what they’d been asked to do and yet…  things looked like they might end badly.

Maybe that’s how you’re feeling about what’s going on in the world around us right now – we may have done everything we could do to encourage our government to address immigration issues through the years.  We may have done everything we could to elect officials who would address the issue fairly, with compassion as well as justice – yet here we find ourselves, a country that snatches children from their parents with no apparent plan in place to track those children or reunite them with their parents.  How can this be?  Who have we become?  How do we now stop what is happening?  How do we work for justice and demand, insist, require our elected officials to take care of the children?

I can only imagine how David felt.  He had just lopped off the head of Israel’s worst enemy and won the victory.  He returns to his king and Saul is very glad for David’s triumph.  So glad that Saul makes him a member of his household and Saul’s son, Jonathan, loves him.  David is given more authority in battle and wins victories and Saul becomes jealous and tries to kill him – twice in our passage for today and more times than that before the story ends.  David knows that the prophet Samuel has anointed him.  He knows that God’s Spirit rests on him.  He knows that he’s intended to replace Saul as king one day.  He is trying to do everything correctly.  And his life is now in danger.  What is he supposed to do?

Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth – at least it’s the second letter in our Bible, but according to scholars, this ‘second’ letter might be the third or fourth actual letter Paul wrote to them (and in fact, the book of Second Corinthians might itself be several letters combined) – in this letter, Paul references someone who has spoken out against him and his work.  In our passage for today we get hints of the division.  Paul defends his work with them and for them.  And then Paul says to the people, “We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return– I speak as to children– open wide your hearts also.”

The disciples have done as Jesus asked and taken him in their boat.  Jesus falls asleep as they travel.  And then the storm blows up.  Jesus scolds the disciples after he calms the wind and the waves that threatened their boat.  “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?” Jesus asks.

They were afraid because it was a fearful situation.  They were out on the Sea of Galilee, a large lake known for its fickle winds and unexpected storms.  Peter and Andrew, James and John, were experienced fishermen on the Sea of Galilee.  It must have been some storm for the disciples to be thrown into such a panic.

What do we do when all we’ve done isn’t enough to keep the world from falling apart?  What should David have done?  Or Paul?  Or those disciples?

As annoying as it might have been for Jesus to be woken up from his sleep – I think the disciples did exactly the right thing!  They called on Jesus for help.  It’s one of the things we ought to do as well.  We ought to call out for God’s help when we’re stuck.

What we don’t read completely in our Old Testament passage or in Paul’s letter is how these two men stayed faithful to the call God had placed on their lives, in spite of the danger they faced or the despair they might have felt.  David stays as faithful as he can to Saul, in spite of being the target of his jealousy and rage.  David will stay faithful even though Saul tries to kill him on multiple occasions.  Eventually Saul and Jonathan will die in battle and David will become the king.  And he will be heartbroken at their deaths.

Paul stays faithful to his call to work with the gentile community in the name of Jesus throughout his life.  He will end up in prison in Rome for his work  – he wrote his letter to the Philippian church from there.  Tradition says that his life ended in martyrdom in Rome.  I know that he wrote to the Roman church that they ought to obey the government, but he only followed that injunction when the government’s wishes aligned with God’s call on his life…

The disciples stayed faithful to Jesus and his call to preach the gospel and teach and baptize – it’s the reason we’re here today.  The disciples were faithful, in spite of their fear and despair, and the Christian church is their legacy.

And so we ought to be faithful to the call God has given us – generally and specifically.  Love God and love our neighbors as ourselves covers a lot of ground.  Loving God and loving our neighbors is our general call, it’s the last commandment Jesus gave the disciples before his death.  Love.  Our lives ought to be defined by love.  Our work ought to be defined by love – even when we are discouraged and fearful and feel hopeless and helpless.  Love is more powerful than hate, than fear, more powerful than hopelessness.  Love might look weak but is stronger than other power on earth.

Our work, even in this parlous time, is to cry out for God’s help and then find some loving action to help set the world right.  I know that what each of us might have to offer may seem way too small for the task.  But if each of us provides just one drop in the bucket of love, eventually with all of us working together, the bucket will overflow into the world.  If you doubt that – remember that the same twelve disciples Jesus chides for their fear are the same twelve who oversaw the organization of the faith we continue to follow these two thousand years later.  God is at work in our world.  God uses us to spread God’s love to the world.  God will change the world through us.  But only if we share our love.  May we be faithful.  Amen.

 

 

 

Posted on July 2, 2018 By Kristen

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost June 17, 2018

Two years ago, the sewer line of my 1929 home began to fail. We had to have it, and the lead water line into the house, replaced. Which meant that the front of the house was completely dug up and a massive maple tree removed – because, of course, the maple tree was two feet from where the water & sewer lines had been placed…

This year, finally, we got to start replacing and adding to the trees in the front yard – so in early May we planted a magnolia tree, a dogwood, and a redbud tree. We watered and waited and watered and waited and two of the trees look great! But the magnolia tree never got past the bud stage and so this last week, we pulled it up and took it back to the nursery. They were great and the woman who took care of us said, ‘Well, we do our best. Sometimes the trees come out of dormancy and sometimes they don’t. You never know.’ You never know. I’ve thought about that as I read our lessons for today. You never know what’s going to happen.

The parables of Jesus are tricky. Parables, at their most basic, are analogies – the kingdom of God is like… But the parables of Jesus aren’t necessarily meant to make everything clear to their hearers. Jesus’ parables often require additional explanation, which the gospels tell us that Jesus gave to his disciples privately. And even then, even when we’ve read the explanations, there are still lots of questions around the edges.

When Jesus tells his disciples the first parable we read today, he’s already just told the parable of the sower – you remember that parable about some seed falling on rocky ground and some seed eaten by birds and some seed falling on good ground and producing grain. Jesus gave the explanation of that parable – but we don’t have the explanations for the two we read today.

What can we learn from these parables? What is it that the Spirit wants to teach us?

I find hope in these two stories. I think all farmers and gardeners are hopeful people because, as Jesus says in the parable, once you’ve planted the seed or gotten the tree into the ground, we sleep and rise night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, but we don’t know how until the plant bursts through the soil or until we see the evidence of new growth as the buds become leaves.

Hope may be one of the lessons that Jesus was teaching his disciples – the kingdom of God grows from small beginnings, from seeds planted that find their own way through death into life again. We do not control the process – it happens because of us, sometimes, and sometimes, in spite of us. And once the seed is buried in the ground, not only do we not control what’s going on – we can’t see how the thing is growing or IF it IS growing. The seed is in the dark and so are we.

If I could choose a phrase that encapsulates what I know of the Kingdom of God it would be the phrase ‘You never know.’ You never know how things are going to turn out. You never know how God is going to work in a situation. You never know what is going on in someone else’s head or heart. You never know what God can do to turn an awful situation into a situation full of grace. You never know.

We might never know how one small act of kindness, one smile, one generous act might change the course of someone’s life. We might never know how one small thoughtless act changes someone’s life. We might never know. The kinds of seeds we plant are important – I hope that we are always working towards planting kindness and generosity and all the good fruit of the spirit, so that the same kind of good fruit keeps getting reproduced.

I know that church attendance is on the decline, generally, across denominations, across the US. We are becoming a more secular nation with less time for religious activities. More and more Americans consider themselves ‘spiritual but not religious.’ What does that mean for the future of the church in America? If attendance never grows back to what it was, if the youth group and Sunday School never regain their previous size – will that be alright? Will Christianity die?Will it mean that we have failed? We never know how God is at work, you never know what the seeds are doing below the surface.

I think Jesus was being a bit ironic when he tells the disciples that the kingdom of God is like the greatest of all… shrubs. Particularly because the local comparison for something large and tall was the cedar tree of Lebanon. Lebanon was well known for its cedar trees – it is still the
national symbol of Lebanon and there is a cedar tree on its flag. Lebanese cedars grow straight to 130 ft high. David’s palace and Solomon’s palace were built with cedar trees from Lebanon. So if Jesus had wanted to make an analogy the people would recognize as something truly great – he could have said that the kingdom of God is like a small pine nut that when planted grows into a Lebanese cedar tree, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.

But Jesus chose to talk about a large shrub. Why? Was he saying that we shouldn’t expect to be the largest organization around? Was he trying to tell us that providing SOME shelter to a few birds is more important than providing the MOST shelter for the most birds? We may never know. We CAN let go of the idea that we need to have the largest church in DeWitt or the biggest youth ministry in the diocese – we were not meant to grow into a huge cedar tree. We’re really doing God’s work when we plant the seeds and don’t worry about size.

We may never know all that God will do with the seeds we plant. We really have no control over the process. We are called to plant the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience,kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The seeds of love and care that we plant will find their growth in God and we can rest assured that God will take care of things as God sees fit. We are farmers and gardeners and we have hope. Will we see the results of the seeds we plant? Will our work grow into a large shrub? You never know. Amen.

Posted on June 21, 2018 By Kristen

Third Sunday after Pentecost June 10, 2018

June 6th was the anniversary of D-Day, the landing of the Allied Troups at Normandy Beach in 1944.  You might have heard, as I have, about a book (newly in paperback) the hails some of the heros of that day – although many of the names are lost to history, called The Dead and Those About to Die, by John C. McManus.  What I found most interesting about the interview of the author were the stories of those who improvised, who found themselves unable to perform the tasks they’d been assigned, because the landing off of Omaha did not go as planned and the soldiers had to wade to the beach, tossing off equipment as they went, or because they were under such unexpectedly heavy fire.  The situation was not what they’d planned, not what they’d practiced, and yet, these men found a way to save others, to save the work they’d been given, to eventually even save the day.  The circumstances were not under their control and they found ways to adjust.

The stories reminded me that much of our lives are spent in circumstances not under our control and we are always struggling to adjust – to adjust our expectations of ourselves and others, to adjust our goals in more attainable directions, to adjust our attitudes when we don’t get what we want.

I wish that I could tell you that while life outside the walls of the church is unpredictable with circumstances we can’t control – at least in our walk with God, everything always works out just the way we expect.  But we all know that’s not true either.  And our lessons for today just happen to show it, too.  So where is God when things don’t go as planned?  What are we supposed to do?  How do we adjust our lives accordingly?

Samuel spent his life leading the spiritual and political lives of the people of Israel.  He’d seen God’s judgment of the Chief Priest Eli and his sons – seen how their misbehavior resulted in their loss of leadership and the loss of their lives.  In our passage for today it seems that Samuel is facing a similar judgment from the people – but God tells Samuel that it’s not Samuel the people are rejecting, but God is the one being rejected.  Give them their king is God’s response.  Warn them what having a king will be like, but see that they get what they’re asking for.  And so they do – they get their king, Saul.

Samuel obeys God’s voice – he anoints Saul as king.  It’s not what Samuel wanted, it’s not what he had planned, but circumstances were beyond his control and he had to adjust.  Having a king in Israel was not always a good thing – Saul doesn’t always do what he’s supposed to do and the people suffer for it.  But having a king in Israel wasn’t always a bad thing either –  King David united the people and brought some years of peace after a period of bloodshed and war.  And Jesus was born into the tribe of the great King David.

No matter what the circumstances bring, God is able to use those circumstances for good.  We might not always see it or want to believe it, but God takes the long view and in the long view, things will eventually go God’s way.  “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice…” is how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it.

In our Gospel passage, Jesus seems, to friends and family, to be out of control.  Our reading doesn’t give us much background – here are the verses from the beginning of chapter 3 of Mark, just before our passage begins:  read from The Message  Mark 3:7-12

Jesus is at the beginning of his ministry.  It’s not neat and organized.  No one seems to know what’s going on.  I can imagine that his mother, Mary, even though she knew that her son was something more than just her son, did not expect his life to turn out this way.  And I imagine that she expected quite a bit more respect from her eldest, beloved son.  The disciples, those early chosen twelve, may have wondered what they’d gotten themselves into – Jesus surrounded by crazy crowds and then disavowing his own flesh and blood.  The whole scene may not have been what Jesus expected either.

God was at work, even in the midst of the chaos.  People were healed, faith grew stronger, the disciples learned from Jesus, and even the family of Jesus got over whatever hurts and slights they felt.  Mary stayed with Jesus throughout his life and at the cross the Apostle John was given the charge to take care of her for Jesus’ sake.  Jesus’ brother James became the leader of the church in Jerusalem and lost his life for the sake of the gospel.

God is at work, even in the midst of OUR chaos, in the middle of our circumstances, whether things are going well or going very far off track.  How do we adjust?  By breathing.  By abiding in God’s love and letting go of our own plans and expectations.  While we have dreams for ourselves, God has dreams for us, too.  And almost universally, God’s dreams for us are larger than our own.  If we keep believing, if we keep trusting, if we abide in God, we may get a glimpse of all the good God intends to do with us and through us.

I’ll end with a prayer from Julian of Norwich:

I know that at times I will be troubled.

I know that at times I will be belaboured.

I know that at times I will be disquieted.

But I believe that I will not be overcome.

Amen.

 

 

Posted on June 13, 2018 By Kristen

Trinity Sunday May 27, 2018

Only in the church does 1+1+1=1.  It’s not that we’re not good at math – it’s just that words fail when we try to wrap them around mystery!  Theologians through the centuries have tried to make rational sense of this mysterious, eternal truth.  How is it that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are ONE God?  How do we reconcile Christ’s command to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit with the monotheism of the Old Testament?  All across the United States and around the world, Anglican ministers will get up to preach today and try to explain this mystery that is at the core of our faith.

A number of years ago my brother in law, Tim,  hosted a family reunion at his home outside of Seattle, Washington.  We had a wonderful time reconnecting and telling stories on each other.  One night, Tim took us into Seattle to a dinner theater called Teatro Zinzanni.  The food was great and the atmosphere was one of a circus – only without animals.  There were jugglers and clowns, magicians and singers.  A lot of food and cutlery was thrown and caught and one member of the ‘audience’ ended up with an uncooked whole chicken on his head – but that’s another story…

One act that took my breath away was an act by what I thought were a couple of clowns, one dressed as a man, the other as a woman.  What began as a funny chase scene ended up as an acrobatic performance on a trapeze swing.  One clown ran up a ladder and onto the swing to escape the other clown, who of course followed her up the ladder and then knocked the ladder over so that the two of them were hanging onto each other and the swing.  As the two grappled to stay both on the swing and get away from each other, they began an acrobatic dance that was beautiful and amazing.  Their movements were perfectly timed, they moved around and over and through each other with precision.  I was aware of how much they needed to trust each other to be there so that neither would fall.  I knew there were two acrobats, but at times it was hard to tell where one clown ended and the other began.  It was a spectacular performance.  One acrobatic display with two consummate acrobats – without the acrobats, the performance would not exist and without the performance, I would not have recognized the clowns as acrobats.  Each, the performance and the acrobats, constituted each.

This is the imagery I find most helpful in thinking of the Trinity – diversity in unity – three dancers moving joyously in an eternal dance of love.  This image comes from John of Damascus, an 8th century theologian.  He, too, was struggling to make rational sense of the Trinity and to honor the Nicene Creed’s statements  “We believe in one God, the Father almighty…  We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ…  We believe in the Holy Spirit…”  Three persons in one unity.

The word John of Damascus settled on to describe the Trinity is ‘perichoresis.’  This Greek word means ‘cyclical movement’ or ‘reciprocity’ – other theologians have said that this circularity  speaks of a dance and dancers.   John gives us this image of movement within the Trinity that captures the unity without taking away from the individual members.  And because the definition of God is love, the cyclical movement, the reciprocity found in the Trinity is love.

The Trinity, this eternal dance, with its divine dancers continually giving themselves to each other in love and perfectly receiving each other’s love, opens itself in love by creating the world.  The Spirit of God sweeps through the chaos in Genesis and brings light and life to the world.  The eternal dance invites humankind to join it, but, not being perfect, we stumble and fall and come to believe that the dance is too difficult for us, maybe even impossible.  God gives the Law to Moses and the people of Israel – a pattern of dance steps to help us learn the rhythm of the dance, but we struggle to comprehend and find the dance steps a burden rather than a joy.

And just at the point where we’ve given up hope, one of the dancers takes on human form, is born and lives as one of us, to teach us how to dance; to forgive us of our stumbling and encourage us to love each other and God, just as the dancers love each other and love us.  And to show the depth of their love for us, to help us understand that we can be forgiven no matter how badly we stumble, to show us that our stumbling cannot destroy the dance, Jesus is crucified, dies, is buried, and God raises him from the dead.  The dance of love is a dance of life and nothing can overcome it.  All that is life is contained and kept in God’s dance of love.

The central teaching of Christianity is that Jesus came to teach us the steps of the dance again.  That God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit invite us to join God in the dance of love.  It is an invitation, we are not coerced, we decide whether to join or not.

For our part, to join the dance, we have to learn how to live as Jesus lived.  We become disciples of Christ, giving up our own dance-making, and following his footsteps, learning his ways, seeking his forgiveness when we stumble and get off track.  The Holy Spirit encourages us to keep at it, nudges us when we stumble, give us the courage to try again and works through us to remind the world of the dance and invite others into it.

One last thought – dancing is hard work.  Our Presiding Bishop has been all over television the past two weeks talking about God and God’s love for us and how we ought to love God and each other – you might have seen him a couple of times here or there…  “If it’s not about love,” he says, “it’s not about God.”   That sounds so nice, but it’s really difficult to live out.   I spent last week in Washington, D.C., at a preaching conference with the lofty title of ‘Preaching and Politics.’  Do you know how hard it is to think about preaching lovingly when the gospel confronts our political lives?  Love our neighbors?  Even those we disagree with?  Even when their vew of Christianity is so far from what I consider love?  I was reminded of Dr. Meeks’ words at the Ministry Fair and how she said she struggled with the idea that God loves everyone – even those folk we’d rather not include in our heaven!

Dancers who make it look easy and effortless have spent hours and years practicing to make it LOOK effortless.  It takes dedication and hard work to dance well.  The same is true of the Christian life.  It takes a lifetime of dedication and hard work, of trying to get the steps right and falling and being forgiven and trying again.  Those who make it look easy have been working at the dance a long time.

May we have the courage to join the Trinitarian dance of love and the strength of Holy Spirit to keep on practicing until we reach perfection.  Amen.

Posted on May 30, 2018 By Kristen

Easter 7 May 13, 2018

Here we are, at the seventh Sunday in the season of Easter – at the pivot point of the Christian Church.  Forty days after the Resurrection, last Thursday in our calendar, Jesus leaves the disciples for the last time and ascends into heaven.  Fifty days after the Resurrection, next Sunday, is Pentecost.  Next Sunday we’ll celebrate the moment when the Holy Spirit roars through the disciples and births the church.  But today?  Today we find ourselves in that pregnant moment between the Ascension of Jesus and the descent of the Spirit…  a liminal moment in Christianity – one foot in what was and one foot in what will be.  Perhaps that a good description of where our church is at this moment, too – one foot in what was and one foot in what will be.

The disciples that gathered together after the Ascension probably had the words of Jesus echoing in their ears.  They would remember that final meal they shared before the crucifixion – a portion of which is in our Gospel lesson for today.  They would remember all the things that Jesus taught them after the resurrection, his explanations of the Hebrew scriptures and why he had to die.  And they would remember his last words to them – that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

I imagine that they could not imagine how they would be witnesses for Jesus to the ends of the earth.  But they got themselves ready, anyway.  The disciples had numbered twelve when Jesus first called them – one disciple of each of the twelve tribes of Israel.  The twelve disciples represented ALL of the house of Israel.  As Peter and the others contemplated how they would fulfill Jesus’ words to be his witnesses, they realized that they were one short of full representation.

Jesus hadn’t told them they needed to choose another disciple.  Jesus didn’t tell them how they could discern who should be the next disciple.  But Peter and the others felt that in order to prepare to be the witnesses, they needed to add to their number one more ‘official’ disciple.  They came up with some criteria they thought appropriate – they wanted to add a disciple who had been with them from the baptism of John through the ascension.  This person would have heard everything, seen everything that the twelve had heard and seen.  There were two among them who fit the criteria – each equally appropriate for the work.  Then the people prayed for God’s wisdom and leadership and then!  Then they drew straws.  They cast lots to see whom the Lord had chosen.

What can we learn from the disciples as we move through our liminal time, as we move forward into the future to which God is calling us?

The disciples kept meeting together, they kept praying together, they kept thinking about the things that Jesus had told them.  That’s a good practice for us as well – we can keep meeting together, keep praying for each other, for our parish, for the future, we can keep thinking about the things the Jesus has told us.

The disciples prepared themselves to take on the calling that Jesus had left them – the call to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.  They did not know specifically what God had in mind for them.  They didn’t know exactly how they would become witnesses to the whole world.  They didn’t know they would turn the world upside down.  Jesus told them that they would be his witnesses and so they prepared themselves to do just that.

We have the same call – EVERY disciple of Jesus has the call to be a witness.  We have heard and seen how Jesus changes lives, how Jesus has changed us.  We have heard and seen how much God loves us, how much God loves the world.  We have heard and seen how much God longs for relationship with us and how, through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, God broke down the walls that separate us.  We are all witnesses and we have all been called to share what we know with the world.

Like those early disciples, we are todo what we can to prepare ourselves to live out the call God has placed on us – even though we may not know the specifics about what God has in mind.  We meet, we pray, we think about what we can do, what we ought to do, in order to live into our call.

Yesterday, we had our diocesan Ministry Fair, where people from all over the diocese share the work they are doing and how they are living out God’s call.  It’s difficult and important work, work that lasts a lifetime for each of us, this process of figuring out exactly what it is that God is calling us into as individuals, as a parish, and as a church.  The world is changing and we must change, too.

How do we figure out what comes next, as the Celebration of the Arts reaches its 50th year?  Who are we as a parish?  Why does God need us here in DeWitt?  What gift of God’s love are we to share with our neighborhood?

How do we figure out exactly what comes next for each of us?  What have we been doing that we don’t need to do anymore?  What new work might we take on?  What does the world need that we have to give?

How do we discern, figure out, come to agreement on any of these questions?

Here is where I think we have to remember what Jesus tells all of his disciples in his last conversation and prayer before his death:  Jesus prays that we will be one as he and the father are one.  However we go about choosing one program over another or one outreach project over another or one worship style over another, the important thing is that we choose together in ways that bring us closer together.

The particulars of St. David’s future, the particulars of our individual futures, are in God’s hands and we do not yet know the details any more than those disciples, between the Ascension and Pentecost, knew the details of what God had in store.  We know that our futures are secure, that God will work out God’s purposes in God’s way in God’s time.  Jesus prayed that as we move forward, as we discern together, as we cast lots for the next thing we ought to do, we will be one, one gathered Body of Christ witnessing to God’s love and power to redeem and transform.  May it be so.  Amen.

 

 

Posted on May 16, 2018 By Kristen

Easter 6 May 6, 2018

 

Our Gospel reading for today follows right after last week’s reading – where Jesus tells the disciples that he is the vine and we are the branches, that we’re supposed to abide in him as he abides in us.  We’re supposed to keep breathing and just be.  And this week, again, we hear Jesus say that we should abide – abide in his love.  If we abide in his love, we will keep his command.  And the command that Jesus gives us?  To love one another.

A command to love is a little bit like getting into a fight with your brother and having your mom work out a reconciliation by commanding each of you:  Say you are sorry.  Which, of course, we do.  But we may not actually be sorry.  We do it because if we don’t, we will be in bigger trouble with mom.  And even if we don’t mean it when we say it, eventually we will mean it and the relationship will be restored.

Love one another, Jesus says.  And we nod our heads and say, ‘yes, yes, we love each other.’  Sometimes, most of the time, once in awhile, we really DO love our neighbors, love one another, unconditionally and completely.

We all want St. David’s to flourish – and not just because it’s a beautiful building in a wonderful setting.  We want St. David’s to flourish because each of us, at one time or another, has felt the presence and the love of God in this place.  We know that God is here.  And we want to be here, too.  We want to feel the presence of God, to feel that God loves us unconditionally and completely.

There have been other moments, too.  Moments when we saw the face of Jesus, when we felt God’s love, through the people that have worshiped here with us.  In spite of the difficult patches, St. David’s has been a place of grace and love.

The reason that we want St. David’s to flourish is grounded in love – God’s love for us, our love for God, the love we have for each other.  We need this place of love.  And we want others to feel God’s love, too.  We want the parish to grow in numbers.  We want the world to know that God loves them, we want them to find St. David’s a haven of grace and love.  We want others to experience the transformation that comes from relationship with God the Three in One, the transformation that comes from a living relationship with Jesus.

Love is the reason that we exist.  Love is the reason that St. David’s exists.  Love is the ground from which all of our ideas about fellowship and worship and membership and mission and discipleship and fund raising grow.  Love is our bottom line.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating:  God tends to surprise.  We don’t know what God has in mind for us or for our parish.  We ought to expect the unexpected.  When Jesus ascended into heaven, the angel that appeared at his going told the disciples that they would be witnesses ‘in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’  When the disciples heard the words of the angel, I’m sure they thought they were being sent to the Jews in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.  They are quite surprised when the Holy Spirit clearly touches the lives of gentiles.  In today’s reading from Acts, Peter follows God’s lead and preaches to Cornelius, his family and friends – they were God fearing, yes, but they were God fearing gentiles.  Peter begins to understand what God is up to and so he baptizes the gentiles on whom the Spirit has fallen.  And when Peter goes back to Jerusalem, he has to answer to his critics – ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’  Peter has to explain: God isn’t working in the way that they expected.  God accepted the gentiles – the Spirit fell on them.  It wasn’t Peter’s idea.  God did it.  God tends to surprise.

We must hold on to both of these things as we look to the future.  Love is the ground of all that we do, the bottom line for all of our planning.  And as much as we pray and plan and begin to work, we will hold OUR ideas of St. David’s future lightly, because we know God tends to surprise.

What is God going to do with us over the next few years?  Who can say?  It will be grounded in love and we will probably be surprised by the whole thing!

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire.  Amen.

 

 

Posted on May 10, 2018 By Kristen

Fifth Sunday of Easter – April 29, 2018

What do we do when the world turns upside-down?  Where do we find stability in the midst of change?  Who do we turn to when nothing makes sense?

It’s happened to all of us, to each of us – life is moving along its familiar roads and then something unexpected happens.  Things fall apart. The world changes and we find ourselves lost. What then?

While in seminary, my children were young and prone to ear infections and always seemed to get sick at the most difficult times of my school year.  A fellow seminarian gave me a three word phrase of advice I’ve held onto ever since: Just keep breathing.

That is great advice – just keep breathing.  Just be – let everything else go and just be, just abide, the word our gospel uses.  Keep breathing. Remember that you abide in God.

There is another phrase that comes from our Gospel reading, about how it is not all up to us.  “Apart from me you can do nothing,” Jesus says.

Just keep breathing.  It’s not all up to us.  We are part of something much larger, with power we cannot imagine or control.

Jesus gives his disciples this wonderful image of being a branch attached to a vine.  Yes, there will be pruning. Yes, pruning will be difficult. But we are attached to a life-giving vine and God’s life flows into and through us.  We can let go of the expectation that it is up to us to keep the world going, up to us to control everything that happens outside the church or inside the church.  We are not in control. We are branches that find our life in the vine. Apart from the vine, we can do nothing.

Imagine that you are Philip, the deacon who has gone to Samaria after the stoning of the deacon Stephen.  The Apostles, the twelve, have stayed in Jerusalem to organize the newly-born church. But since Stephen’s stoning, the deacons have scattered into the countryside.  As they go, they begin to tell others about Jesus and his death and resurrection, they begin to tell the stories of what has happened to them because of the Messiah. Philip, working in Samaria, preaches the gospel and heals the sick.  Many people come to faith and are baptized and when the disciples in Jerusalem hear what’s going on, they make a visit to Philip and witness the good work he is doing through the power of God.

And then, just when you think you know what your calling is and where you’re supposed to be working, you find yourself on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, where our reading from Acts begins this morning…

Keep breathing.  It’s not all up to you, Philip.

Philip comes upon the Eunuch from Ethiopia, reading the prophet Isaiah’s work.  And Philip gets another opportunity to tell about, and bear witness to his faith journey.

The next thing that happens, since Philip can’t stay there, on the road in the wilderness, is that Philip gets carried off to some place new.

Just keep breathing.  It’s not all up to us.

Just before his ascension into heaven, Jesus told the disciples that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit and “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Jesus isn’t specific about how this transformation of the world would occur – probably because he knew if he’d told the disciples what was going to happen, they’d have run away. I would have run away.

The gospel of Jesus spreads, not because the disciples made a plan and systematically assigned apostles and deacons and disciples to neighborhoods and cities and countries in some orderly way.  No. That is not the way it happened. The gospel spreads because there was trouble. There was persecution. There was difficulty. The deacons scattered because Stephen was stoned to death and it wasn’t safe for them to stay in Jerusalem.

In every place they landed, the disciples simply gave testimony to how God was at work in their lives.  They did whatever good work landed at their feet. If someone asked for help, they gave help. When someone asked why they helped, they spoke of their gratitude to God and the way their lives had changed because of Jesus.  Their testimony gave hope and others believed in Jesus because of them. People were baptized. New groups of disciples were formed. The church grew. Out of persecution, out of trouble, out of great difficulty the gospel spread.  The branches were pruned and brought forth much fruit as a result.

What do we do when the world turns upside-down?  Where do we find stability in the midst of change?  Who do we turn to when nothing makes sense?

We, too, are disciples.  We are branches that can do nothing except through our attachment to the vine.  We endure pruning. If we keep breathing, keep abiding, if we let go of the idea that we have to keep everything under control, we will find that God will take care of the details.  All will be well – not the same as it was before, but all will be well. If we let go of the reins, let God take control of our lives, we will find that God uses us to change the world.  All we are asked to do is help those who need help, and if asked why we help, speak about what God has done in our lives. We don’t need to be theologians or Bible experts, we don’t need to be great orators.  We just have to tell of our spiritual journey and who God is for us. God will give us the words and God will do the rest.

What do we do when the world turns upside-down?  Let go. Let go of control. Abide in the vine and let God do God’s work in and through us.  Remember, it’s not all up to us. Just keep abiding Just keep breathing. Amen.

Posted on May 3, 2018 By tnancollas

Easter 4 – April 22, 2018

The fourth Sunday in Easter is known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ because the readings are about sheep and shepherds.  We’ve just read Psalm 23, where David says ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ and John chapter 10, where Jesus says, ‘I am the good shepherd.’  

The people of Israel in the Old Testament were often called sheep by the prophets – and the leaders were often called ‘bad’ shepherds of the people.  Jesus contrasts himself with the leaders in the temple, calling himself the ‘Good’ shepherd. I always think that this is both good and bad news for us…  Good news because Jesus IS the one with strength and wisdom, with the knowledge to lead us whereever it is we are going. And bad news because we are reminded that we are indeed sheep.

Shepherding is not as common an occupation as it once was – and surely not as popular or as well known as it was in Jesus’ day.  So, what do we know about sheep?

Sheep are high maintenance animals.  Yes, their wool is maybe the best idea God ever had and they are tasty.  But sheep are high maintenance. They get lost easily and can easily lose their footing in fast water or even when they fall asleep.  That same wonderful wool that makes such lovely sweaters and warm clothes gives sheep an unusual center of gravity. When sleeping or resting, sheep have to keep their hooves on the ground.  If they don’t, they’ll roll over onto their backs with their legs in the air. And then they can panic and struggle to get back on their feet – which builds up gasses in their stomach and can kill them in a matter of hours if the sun is hot.

Sheep are high maintenance animals.  They are easily frightened. When one sheep in the herd is startled, all the sheep startle.  When they’re startled, they panic, expecting the worst. And then they run – without a plan, directionless, amok.

Sheep tend to graze the same patch of land over and over, even when the grass has been eaten.  Sheep would prefer to eat the grass down to the roots than move to a new, greener field. And the shepherds have to be careful when bringing the sheep to water.  Again, because of their beautiful wool, it’s important that the sheep drink from still water. Sheep easily lose their footing in flowing water and their wool gives them buoyancy so that once afloat, they have a hard time regaining their footing.  They are easily swept away in the current.

Does any of this sound like us?  Sheep are high maintenance and a good shepherd must always be quick to take care of whatever dangers arise.

The shepherd constantly counts the sheep to ensure that no one has wandered off and gotten into trouble.  When the sheep get frightened and want to run away, the shepherd knows how to calm them down. Every shepherd has his or her own particular call or noise that they make as they walk along, leading the sheep.  The sound of the shepherd’s voice leads the sheep from one place to another. The sound of the shepherd’s voice can calm them down when they’re frightened. When several flocks graze the same field or water at the same place, the sheep know the voice of their shepherd and when it’s time for the flocks to separate and move on, the flocks separate by following the call of their own shepherd.

Jesus is our good shepherd.  He is the one with the wisdom and strength, the knowledge and understanding needed to help us through our wilderness.  We cannot see what’s ahead of us. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow or next week or next month or next year. Yesterday I attended the funeral of my colleague and friend, The Rev. Adrian Amaya.  He died last Sunday of cancer at 51 years of age. He leaves a wife and two boys in high school. This was not what he had planned. This was not what he thought his future held. We never know how long we have here in this life.  We have no idea what the future of this parish looks like. How long will we be here? How will we all survive?

I don’t know.  You don’t know.  The Bishop doesn’t know.  No one knows. The good news is that we do not have to know.  Knowing probably wouldn’t change things anyway – we rarely do what we know we’re supposed to do – that’s why we don’t eat right, don’t get enough exercise, don’t keep to our budgets…  we are sheep!

We don’t know and we don’t need to know what will happen to us and our world tomorrow or the next day or the next.  What we DO need to know is the voice of our shepherd. Do we recognize the voice of Jesus? Do we listen to his call?  Do we follow where he leads?

What could be easier?  Listen to the call of Jesus and follow!  It WOULD be easy if we were more like dogs – obedient, faithful, smart, and quick to respond to the master’s call…  But we are more like sheep – easily distracted, easily frightened, prone to wander away and also prone to stay in places that no longer feed us, simply because those places are familiar to us.

Our challenge, our responsibility, our command is to follow the voice of Jesus, wherever it leads us.  Only the good shepherd knows the way through this wilderness. Only the good shepherd can provide the safety and the new pools of fresh water and the fields of green grass that we need.  May God grant us the courage and the faithfulness to follow where Jesus, our good shepherd, is leading us. Amen.

Posted on April 26, 2018 By tnancollas

Easter 3 April 15, 2018

What fears lurk around the edges of your heart?  What doubts do you harbor?

The disciples, in our Gospel lesson today from Luke, are gathered together, listening to the two travelers who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus and who had come back to announce that they recognized Jesus when he broke bread with them.  What an incredible story they were listening to, when in the middle of discussing the thing, Jesus appears with them.

It’s not clear whether the disciples believed the story of the travellers, but whether they did or did not believe – Jesus showed up.

Now imagine we are gathered with the disciples.  Do we believe?  Do we put any weight on the story?  After all, we saw the crucifixion.  We know Jesus died and was buried.  We know where his tomb is located.  We know that the man we gave our lives up for, the man we followed day after day, expecting to follow him to the end, lost his life in a cruel and unaccountable way so many years before we expected him to die.  What do we believe?  Was any of it real?  What are we supposed to do now?  What are we supposed to believe about these random stories of Jesus randomly showing up?  Our fears and doubts about this whole ‘following Jesus’ thing leave us lost and confused.

And then Jesus shows up – out of the blue.

And seems surprised that we are startled and terrified.  Of course we are terrified and startled.  Jesus is dead.  But here he is, standing right in front of us.  How can that be?  What does it mean?  What are we supposed to believe?

It doesn’t make any sense, but Jesus was really real, standing there in the midst of his disciples.  I can’t explain how it could be true – but then, I can’t explain how cell phones work or how birds know where to fly when winter comes on or how it is we fall in love…  These things happen; I just can’t explain them.

What I DO know is that God is faithful.  God shows up just when we need to believe, just when we’ve lost all hope, just when our fears and doubts have left us startled and terrified.  Somehow God provides just what we need, just when we need it.  Unexpectedly.  Startlingly.  Sometimes terrifying us.

As we think about the future of St. David’s, about the changes we face in the next few years – what are our fears and doubts?  What are we afraid of losing?  What are we afraid will happen?

And in our own personal lives – what are we afraid of? What doubts haunt?

We can be just as sure that Jesus will show up among us as he did on that Easter day so many years ago.  God is faithful.  We will have what we need, just when we need it.  Our work is to keep on doing what we already know to do.  So we will keep on breaking bread together, expecting to meet Jesus in our midst.

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work.  Amen.

 

 

 

Posted on April 18, 2018 By Kristen