Third Sunday after the Epiphany January 27, 2019

Who are we?  Why are we here?  What are we doing about it?  These are my favorite discernment questions – but they’re also the questions that the people of Israel had to consider  as they heard the scripture read in our Nehemiah passage, they are the questions the church in Corinth had to struggle with, and they are questions that Jesus was answering through his Isaiah reading in Luke’s gospel.

The book of Nehemiah tells the story of the people of Israel as they come back from exile in Babylonia.  Cyrus the Great and then Artexerxes command that the people of Israel return to their homeland and rebuild their country.  Ezra is the first to return and he oversees the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem and reinstitutes Temple worship.  Nehemiah is charged with rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem – the ancient fortification of a city on a hill.  Nehemiah’s job is completed and in chapter eight, which we’re reading today, the people are gathered for a service of the Word of God. 

Ezra reads from the Law of Moses, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  These books tell the story of God’s dealings with humankind in general and with the nation of Israel in particular.  When Ezra reads the Law of Moses, he is reading the people’s story, he’s retelling their history, their triumphs and failures, their dependence on God and God’s care and provision for them.  Ezra reads the laws which the people were bound to follow.  Nehemiah, now the governor, tells the people not to weep and mourn over their story, but to feast and give thanks – ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength,’ he says. They were forgiven their transgressions and empowered to begin a new life within Jerusalem’s walls.  They heard their story read, they heard the answers to the questions Who are we? And Why are we here?  And then they had to decide what they intended to do.

Paul reminds us in his first letter to the Corinthians that everyone, each of us, has been gifted by the Holy Spirit for the work to which we’ve been called.  Paul spends a lot of time on the topic in this letter because apparently there was fighting within the church over who’s gifts were the most important.  So Paul likens the church to Christ’s body, where each member is necessary, no one more important than any other, but each member needed for the work of the body to be complete.

The work of the body varies from time to time, but always works to bring God’s kingdom to earth.  And whatever the work might be, God ensures that the body has the gifts it needs to complete the work that’s been given. 

I think that’s important to say again – God gives us all that we need to do the work we’ve been given to do.  There is a lot of new work for the parish to do in 2019.   We are on the edge of a  new era for this parish, as we say good-bye to the Celebration of the Arts as we’ve known it and ponder what comes next.  As we work out the answers to who we are and why we’re here, God will make sure that we have all we need to do what we’re called to do.

In our reading from Luke’s gospel, Jesus has just come back from his 40 day temptation in the wilderness and he goes to the synagogue and reads this passage from Isaiah.  He’s had time to think through his own answers to the questions of who he was and what God’s call on his life would be.  His reading from Isaiah was his own mission statement – the purpose and work of his ministry:  to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, bring sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free.

God’s kingdom is a place of good news, where captives are released, where the blind see and the oppressed go free, where God’s favor is declared.  We do not need to worry or feel overwhelmed by what lies ahead.  If we are doing God’s work, God will supply all that we need.  We do not have to do everything – but everyone will have something to do.  Why are we here?  What are we going to do about it? 

In the same way that the members of this parish saw the need for a church in Dewitt, back in the 60’s, in the same way that members had the vision to build this parish building and then add on as the need arose, in the same way, we’ll be able to do all that we need to do.  When we can’t see what to do, we will pray and trust that God will provide us with new sight.  God will provide the talent and gifts necessary.  Like the people of  Israel in our reading from Nehemiah, we have been forgiven for our shortcomings and empowered to begin life anew. God’s joy will be our strength.

How will we grow the Kingdom of God in DeWitt?  What are the needs of our community that we, with God’s help, can meet?  What gifts will each of us be called to exercise this year, so that St. David’s will discern the answers to our questions:  Who are we?  Why are we here?  What are we doing about it?  May our listening for God’s voice begin anew.  Amen.

Posted on February 6, 2019 By Kristen

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany February 3, 2019

Love, love love.  The greatest of these is love, Paul says.  We’re talking about love and we’re talking about God’s calling of Jeremiah as a prophet and the calling of Jesus into his ministry and how the folks in his hometown felt about it. 

If you’ve ever been to a wedding in an Episcopal Church, or almost any church wedding anywhere, you’ve probably heard at least part of I Corinthians Chapter 13.  It’s known as the ‘love chapter.’  It’s a wonderful reading to use at weddings but the context of the chapter is somewhat different than marriage.  Last week we read the portion of chapter 12 that just precedes our reading for today.  If you remember, Paul had been listing all the various gifts given to members in the church and comparing the church to the body of Christ.  He’s tried to help the church in Corinth let go of the competition about who has what gift and which gifts are better than others.  The members had a hierarchy of gifts and were all working to ‘get’ the gifts they felt were most important. 

Paul closed chapter twelve with these words:  “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.  Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers?  Do all work miracles?  Do all possess gifts of healing?  Do all speak in tongues?  Do all interpret?  But strive for the greater gifts.  And I will show you a still more excellent way…”  And then Paul begins our reading for today – “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…” 

THE most important gift we each possess is love.  THE most necessary gift for the body of Christ is for us to love one another and love the world.  Everything else, really and truly, will take care of itself.  Love, love, love.  Faith, hope, and love, but the greatest is love.  Jesus told us that the most important commands are for us to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.  If we have love, we have everything.

Of course, each of us has been gifted to serve the world and the church.  And God wants us to use our gifts to build the kingdom.  Jeremiah receives his call in the Old Testament reading for today.  Jeremiah is not ready to accept his call – he’s afraid of what God is asking of him and tries to put God off by claiming to be just a child.  “Ah, Lord God!  Truly I do not know how to speak,” he says.  God reassures Jeremiah, just as God reassures us when we are afraid of claiming God’s call, “I am with you.”  We have nothing to fear – we’re doing God’s work and God will supply what we need to get the work accomplished.  God touched the mouth of Jeremiah and gave him the words to speak.  God will touch us giving us just what we need.

Jesus is convinced of his call to ministry, but the people of his hometown are less convinced.  “Is not this Joseph’s son?” the people ask when Jesus amazes them with his teaching in the Synagogue.  Meaning, perhaps, where did he get his education?  With which Rabbi did Jesus study?  Joseph was a carpenter and Jesus wasn’t trained as a Rabbi’s son.  The unasked question is:  Who does Jesus think he is?  And when Jesus reminds the people that God chooses whom God chooses, without regard to who people are or their standing in the community; when Jesus reminds them of the widow of Zarephath and Naaman of Syria, the people are ready to throw him off a cliff.  How dare he remind them of the gentiles God chose…

God will call whom God will call to do whatever work God wants done.  We don’t always see what God is doing.  And we don’t always understand what we do see.  The most important gift we need to exercise is love.  If we love, we’ll have patience to wait on God and see what God is going to do.  If we love, we’ll have the patience to wait for understanding before we speak and act.

Today’s lessons are an important grounding for the work that will be done here in 2019.  The Celebration of the Arts will end this May – with the expectation that St. David’s will always be involved in the arts somehow.  This ending will bring up strong feelings.  The Celebration has been one of the definitive activities of this parish.  Who you will be cannot be separated from who you have been.  Hopes unrealized and fears of the future will come up.  We will need to love each other in order to work through all of it.  We began our conversation about the future at the Annual Meeting last week.  We’ll meet again at the end of March or beginning of April, as a parish, to continue that discussion.  Bring your hopes and dreams and fears and a large dose of love.

Let there be no doubt that God is involved in your process and that God will lead you all the way as you move into your future.  God loves us.  God loves you.  God loves me.  And God wants us to love each other and the world as God loves us all.  Love, love, love.

May God give us the grace to respond to his call, individually and as a parish, the strength and courage to live into it, and enough love to make it a good and joyful thing.  Amen.

Posted on February 6, 2019 By Kristen

First Sunday after the Epiphany January 13, 2019

My family joined the Episcopal church after my two sons were born.  And since we were Baptists and Baptists don’t baptize babies, my boys hadn’t yet been baptized when we joined the Episcopal church.  They were about six and eight years old when they were baptized at St. Mary’s in Scarborough, New York.  As we talked about what the priest would say and do and what they would say and do, my youngest, Dan, became intrigued by the words the priest would say as he anointed Dan’s head with oil:  You are sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.  He began to ask us to make the mark of the cross on his forehead and say the words as he was put to bed.  You are sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.  These are words of promise and hope.

The baptism of Jesus is traditionally celebrated on the First Sunday after the Epiphany, so we read Luke’s account for our Gospel lesson this morning.  Baptism began as a ritual practice of bathing as a mark of change, a symbol of purification.  Jewish synagogues today still have a ritual basin or bath – a place set apart for washing people as a rite of purification or joining the Jewish faith.  John’s baptism in the River Jordan was a rite of purification for the people who wanted to change their lives, it was a way to symbolically wash off the old life, with its struggle and disappointment and sin, in order to rise washed clean and ready to begin again.

We’ve lost the sense of what that must have been like – in our Episcopal churches we most often have small baptismal founts that don’t allow for immersion baptisms – we wash the foreheads of our baptizees, sprinkling water three times in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  In other protestant churches, which have baptismal tanks like large scale bathtubs as part of the furniture at the altar, people go down into the water and come up fresh and clean – just like what John the Baptizer and Jesus did by the River Jordan – washing away the old life, coming up to new life and a fresh beginning.

In our churches today we recognize that two things happen at baptism – or at least happen at an adult’s baptism.  In baptism, we are choosing God.  The new life we rise to at baptism is our commitment to follow Christ and his example of loving God and others.  AND baptism also represents God’s commitment to us – we receive God’s Spirit to guide us in how we ought to live.  The priest anoints us with oil and tells us that we are ‘sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.’  God makes a commitment to us – the voice that descends with the dove and says that we are beloved, that God is pleased with us, delighted with us.  If we were baptized as children, before we were old enough to understand or to take on our side of the commitment, then I suggest that infant baptism commits God to the child and the child’s parents to raising the child as one of God’s beloved.  Confirmation is the rite where the baptized child makes the choice to commit to God, completing the circle of commitment, if you will.

Most of us in this room have been baptized.  We’ve been washed in the water.  We’ve risen to new life in Christ, blessed with God’s commitment, given the Holy Spirit to strengthen and enable our commitment to God.  How are we doing with our side of the equation?  Do we love God as we ought?  Do we follow as we ought?  Do we love others as we ought?  Instead of the Nicene Creed, we’ll be reaffirming our baptismal vows this morning.  As we read the words, think about your life – are you living out your promises?

We all fall short of where we ought to be.  The good news is that God never falls short on God’s promise to us – we are beloved no matter what.  We are sealed with the Holy Spirit.  We are marked as Christ’s own forever.  God doesn’t change no matter how well we do or how far short we fall.

The baptismal font is full of water today.  So I suggest that on your way to communion or on your way back from communion or after the service – stop by the font.  Dip your hand in the water and make the sign of the cross over yourself – large or small.  Remind yourself that you are God’s beloved, you’ve been sealed with the Holy Spirit, you are marked as Christ’s own for ever.  And let us recommit ourselves to living out our vows to love God, to love our neighbors, to seek and serve Christ in everyone we meet.

Baptism is part of the love song God sings over us – the same one who said in the book of Isaiah:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God,

the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

We are God’s beloved.  We are sealed with the Holy Spirit.  We are marked as Christ’s own forever.  May we know God’s truth deep down into our bones and live out of that truth with joy.  Amen.

Posted on January 17, 2019 By Kristen

Feast of the Epiphany January 6, 2019

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany – unusual because although this is a yearly occurrence, the Feast of the Epiphany doesn’t usually fall on a Sunday.  And it’s only on this day, January 6th, the Feast Day, that we get to read the story of the wise men from the East and their visit to the Christ Child.  Today is the Feast Day when we celebrate the fact that Christ came into the world to be the Light of God’s love for EVERYONE – even those outside of Jerusalem, outside of Israel, outside of those who know the Nicene Creed and all the proper times and places for sitting and kneeling and standing in church.

At St. David’s, we light the Pascal candle every Sunday to remind us that Christ is the Light of the World for everyone; to remember that each of us follows some light, some star, some voice to find our way to life and love.

We are all part of the sacred story.  We are the people on whom the light has dawned, God’s magnificent ‘AHA’ epiphany to the world.  God loves us.  God wants to live with us.  God loves you.  God wants to live with you.  God wants to be the guiding light of our lives, the meaning maker, the One who breathes light into our darkness and confusion.  “Where is the child?” the magi ask.  We’ve seen the star, we’ve come all this way, and we won’t stop until we meet him face to face.

Whether we know it or not, whether we want it to be true or not, every single person on the face of the earth is on a journey towards that child.  If we are wise, like the magi, we will make it the work of our lives to figure out which star we ought to be following, which light, which voice is true.  We will search and follow the light to its resting place.

Over the course of the next few weeks we’ll read other stories of people who realize they need to follow God in a new way or see the Light of Christ in a new way.  Next week we’ll read of Isaiah’s call into ministry and of the baptism of Jesus, where John the Baptizer learns to see Jesus in a new way.  We’ll read of the miracle of water changing into wine and how that changes the disciples view of who Jesus is, how the people of his hometown in Nazareth have a hard time seeing Jesus for who he is and, of course, we will end the Epiphany Season with the Transfiguration, when Peter, James and John get a radically new vision of the One they’re set on following.

Who are you following?  Where do you find your North Star, your guiding light, that one voice that tells you the truth, even when the truth hurts, but always with love?

The Magi left the lives they’d had to follow a star that called them away from everything familiar into the unknown.  They made the journey from their home in the East (and the East may have meant Iran or India or anywhere in between – we aren’t sure) over mountains and through the valleys into a foreign country, to meet Jesus face to face.  I don’t know how far you or I will travel before we come face to face with Christ.  I don’t know how many mountains we’ll need to climb or how many valleys we’ll have to slog through.  If the Magi’s story is anything like ours, we can be sure that the star will lead us truly and that at the end of it all, it will be worth it.  We will meet the child, the Light of God’s love.

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now only by faith, to your presence, where we will see your glory face to face.  Amen.

Posted on January 10, 2019 By Kristen

Christmas 2018

In this week’s New York Times OpEd section, Peter Wehner has written a piece called, “The Uncommon Power of Grace.”  It’s a wonderful article – read it if you get the chance!  Grace has been defined as “unmerited favor.”  Wehner’s contention is that the unmerited favor of God arrived on Christmas in the form of Jesus and with it we are all blessed.  In our best moments, we pass along the grace we have received.  He writes, “…when we see grace in action – whether in acts of extravagant, indiscriminate love, in radical self-giving, or in showing equanimity in the face of death – it can move us unlike anything else.”

The babe in the manger is God’s grace given to us.

Most babies feel like grace – so vulnerable and beautiful – a wondrous gift who looks just like us but so much more fragile and perfect.  I’m sure Jesus felt like grace to Mary and Joseph in those first few hours after his birth.

But there is more to this particular baby than meets the eye.  Jesus will be the embodiment of God’s love and acceptance – Immanuel, God with us, God for us – to remind us that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love.  Jesus will be accused of spending too much time with rough people – with prostitutes and drunks, tax collectors and notorious sinners.  His disciples will be accused of not being pious enough, of not following the religious codes religiously.  If we listen closely we will realize that it is not our perfection, not our adherence to a set of beliefs or practices, that makes God’s love and grace available to us.  It is God’s radical self-giving that makes grace available.

Jesus, as grace, is a giver of extravagant, indiscriminate love.  Love that is bestowed, not because we deserve it, but simply because we are, because we exist.  Jesus is the light of God’s presence, born into our world because we are so often lost in the dark, hopelessly trying to make sense of the chaos of our world and the chaos in our lives.  God’s grace and love, in the person of Jesus, meets us where we are, shines a light into our lives, leads us out, forgives us of our failings, supports us in our grief, and gives us hope for the future.

In response to Wehner’s article, Aelwyd (forgive my pronunciation, it’s Welsh and I’m not…) writes:

“Grace is beauty in action: the elegance of kindness; the strength of compassion; the courage of forgiveness.  Grace is the desire to ennoble those who have been shredded by life, and whose lives are lived in the shadows.

Grace is the unobtrusive response to need, the hand that touches the wound, the quiet ‘I am here’ to those who may never have known what it is like to be listened to; to be heard.  Grace flows through every moment of the startling, achingly beautiful realization of what it means to be alive, its potential, and its vulnerability.  I try to live by Grace, and in Grace I hope to die.”

May we, like Aelwyd, try to live by grace.  May we allow ourselves to be so filled by the grace of the Christ Child that grace overflows and spills out of us into the world.  Amen.

Posted on January 2, 2019 By Kristen

Advent 3 December 16, 2018

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people…  I love that end to the Gospel reading.  With many other exhortations like, “You brood of vipers” John proclaimed the good news.  Why would anyone consider John’s words good news???

This gospel follows on from last week’s gospel lesson in Luke chapter 3.  John the Baptizer is out by the river Jordan, calling people to repentance and baptism.  A clergy friend of mine decided that the outdoor blow up figures of Santa or Snoopy or snow globes just don’t capture the spirit of Advent.  He wants to design a John the Baptizer outdoor figure, with ratty, crazy hair, disheveled beard matted with honey and bugs, arms raised in exhortation.  That, he says, is a true symbol for this season.  Repent, the kingdom of God is coming.  Prepare for the coming of judgment.  Don’t think that because you are a child of Abraham you’ll be alright…

Not exactly our picture of Christmas preparation.  We prefer baby Jesus in the manger with clean animals and angels and shepherds.  We prefer a children’s pageant, rather than John’s call for justice.  Isn’t this week supposed to be about the candle of hope?  That’s why it’s rose this week, rather than purple or blue.

John offers a vision of the kingdom of God that has God’s love and God’s justice at the center.  That’s why his message, although difficult to hear, is also a message of hope and exactly what we really long for at Christmas.

We long for a silent and holy night.  We long for peace and good will among all people.  We want the hungry fed, we want the homeless sheltered, we want illness and disease done away with.  We are uncomfortable with the hate speech we hear and the violence that hate engenders.  We want to live in a just society where all people are welcomed and no one is an outcast.

John says that we have a responsibility to live into that kingdom now.  The good news is that the kingdom of God, the world that we long for is coming.  More difficult to hear, from this wild man, is that the kingdom of God comes through us.  Not from outside into us, but from inside us out into the world.

We have been given so much.  We have warm homes, we have several changes of clothes and enough food.  If you’re like me, you spend most of this month running around making and buying wonderful things to give to the people you love most in the world.

John tells us that we have been given good things – not to indulge ourselves and those we love, but to share with others who don’t have what we have.  He tells those with two coats to give one away, to share their food, not to extort or cheat others.  John preached that we bring peace and justice into the world through our actions.

John’s exhortations are right in line with the commands of Jesus:  Love God, love your neighbors as you love yourselves.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Because of the terror and war in the world, we are hearing a barrage of language, including from some good Christian people, that we ought not trust the strangers and refugees, that we ought to fence in our borders and keep ‘those people’ out.  And maybe we should even carry a gun so we can shoot them before they shoot us.

Hate speech, warring language, the demonization of certain groups of people who are ‘not like us’ – it’s understandable that our anxiety about the future will produce such things.  BUT.  We are not called to be anxious or fearful.  We are called to be Easter People, loving people, gentle people, as Paul writes to the Philippian church…  living examples that all are welcome in God’s kingdom – there are no outcasts, no strangers.  We are called to love and care for all of God’s children, to work for justice and peace, to spread the good news of God’s compassion and care for each one we meet, regardless of who they are, regardless of their feelings towards us.  Do unto other as you would have them do to you – NOT as they have done to you…  NOT before they do to you.  We are to treat others as we want to be treated, the way God has treated us.  Graciously.  Kindly.  Lovingly.

Are we ready for this good news?  The kingdom of God is coming.  We are either helping to usher it in or we are getting in the way.  One day we will meet God face to face.  Peace and justice will reign.  Are we ready?

Our collect says it well – Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us – because it is only through God’s power to love us that we find the power and strength to love others.  May we heed John’s words and live as flames of love shining into the darkness of hate and despair.  Amen.

Posted on December 20, 2018 By Kristen

Advent 2 December 9, 2018

This week, Advent 2, and next week as well, the main character in the gospel is John the Baptizer, that odd forerunner of his cousin Jesus.  It was John’s task to fulfill the prophecies about preparing the way for the Messiah – Isaiah spoke of it and we hear the echo of Isaiah in our reading from the book of Baruch, “For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.”

In place of the psalm in today’s readings, we have the Song of Zechariah – a song about John the Baptizer by his father.  You remember that Zechariah is a Levite, a member of the tribe of Israel that served in the Temple in Jerusalem.  And each year, one priest was to go into the Holy of Holies and perform certain rituals.  When it was Zechariah’s turn, he met an angel in the Holy of Holies who told him his wife would bear a child.  This was incredible news to Zechariah, because he and Elizabeth, his wife, had longed for children but had none.  They were getting older and it seemed that what the angel said was impossible.  Zechariah was told that the child would be the forerunner of Messiah.  When Zechariah expressed his doubt, he lost his voice and he didn’t regain his speech until John was born.

The Song of Zechariah is this father’s song over his impossibly newborn son:

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give people knowledge of salvation *
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

It must have been an odd life for John – he must have been told the story of his own birth, as well as the story of his cousin, Jesus.  John is set apart for God’s work from his birth and he goes into the wilderness around the Jordan River, living on locusts and wild honey, the Gospel of Matthew says, until God shows him his life’s work.

John’s work is to call people to repentance and as a sign of their repentance, John baptizes them in the River Jordan.  Washing their old life away, the people rise to live anew.

What can John’s ministry teach us?  What does it mean that the mountains are brought low and the valleys raised up, that the crooked places are made straight and the rough places smooth?

In a way, God is leveling the playing field through John’s ministry.  Rather than some being naughty and some nice, we are reminded that each of us is a mix of both light and dark, good and bad.  We are all made in the image of God and each of us chooses our own way rather than God’s way much too often.  In God’s kingdom, the high and mighty are no more righteous than the lowly, the good church people no closer to God than those who never darken our doors.  We all stand convicted of not measuring up to God’s expectations.

But before we feel lost, before the hopelessness of our situation sets in – we also see that in leveling the field, God has made it easier for us to meet God down by the river, easier to repent and begin anew.  No high mountains to climb in order to reach God.  No valleys to drag ourselves out of – in bringing the mountains low and raising the valleys, God is making it easier for us to reach the kingdom, the place where Messiah is born.

Bringing the mountains low, raising the valleys, making the crooked straight and smoothing the rough places are also descriptions of the work God does in us, through the Holy Spirit, after we’ve made our way to the river and been baptized.  The self-righteousness that puffs us up is brought low.  The valleys of despair we fall into are raised up – if God is our end and loves us without measure, what do we have to fear?

Our crooked places are straightened out, our rough places are smoothed – both of which might feel painful when we experience them…  Physical therapy on crooked places hurts but is highly effective.  And abrasive sand paper or steel wool is what a master carpenter uses to smooth the rough places.

John’s ministry is good news.  God is coming near; we’ve got to get ready.  God will make it easy for us to come, and once we come to God, our lives will change forever.

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Come soon, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Posted on December 13, 2018 By Kristen

Advent I December 2, 2018

Here we are at the beginning of a new church year, it’s Advent – our time of waiting patiently to see what God will do.  Advent may be the most difficult time in the church calendar – in part because our culture begins the Christmas season almost before Halloween is over.  Christmas decorations and Christmas carols – all are on the shelves and blasting on the speaker system in the grocery store as soon as the Halloween candy is sold.

But in the church, we refrain from Christmas until December 24th.  We practice restraint, we leave the church plain, we don’t sing Christmas carols, we WAIT for the coming of Jesus. If the world could wait thousands of years for the first advent of Christ, we ought to be able to wait the four weeks through the season of Advent.  Patience is not only a virtue; it’s a discipline and one of the gifts of the Spirit.  So we wait for Christ’s coming and we begin our wait with the season of Advent.

We wait because Advent reminds us that even in our instant gratification world, not everything comes immediately.  We wait through Advent because we’re still waiting for peace on earth.  We wait through Advent because the refugees have yet to find a new home.  We wait through Advent because there is not yet silence in the night – a time when the guns of war and terror have ended.  We wait because the world is not yet what it ought to be and we are not yet who WE ought to be.

This week we concentrate our waiting minds on the second coming of Christ.  Jesus told his disciples that when they saw the signs they should ‘lift up’ their heads, because their redemption was drawing near.  The redemption of the world will be a wonderful sight – and we hold out hope, still.

There is a feeling that the changes we are experiencing all around us mark the end of the world as we know it.  This presidency, the level of political turmoil we see, the deep divides we see between those who have and those who have not, between Republicans and Democrats – all these and more portend the end of the world as we know it.  The talking heads on television and the radio and the internet all do their best to raise our fear about what’s coming next.  It’s the end of the world.  It’s the zombie apochalypse.  America is lost, the Democrats are lost, the Republicans are lost…  We are about to become a socialist state, a communist state, a police state, a place where everyone just does whatever they want or nothing at all will ever get done…

When Jesus warns his disciples to keep awake and aware of what’s going on in the world, when he tells them to watch the fig tree and look for the signs, it’s not meant to bring fear – it’s about hope.

Do we really want to keep the world as we know it?

Do we want to stay at war in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Syria, possibly in Yemen?  Do we want to continue seeing our military stationed at our Southern border?  Do we want to see the middle class continue to shrink, to see more of people go hungry, become victims of violence, lose their homes and flee their countries?  Do we want to continue to see the people we love get sick and die?  What would be so awful about exchanging this world, for God’s kingdom, God’s country?  Exchanging this place for a place where no one goes hungry, no one gets sick, no one is homeless or orphaned or a stranger.

Sisters and brothers, we need not fear the future.  The final end of the world as we know it, with ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ is a good thing.  We don’t need to drown our sorrows or wrap ourselves in worry – our redemption is coming.

We don’t need to fear the near future, either, even if it’s not the final end of the world as we know it.  In fact, as Christians we are called to be always working for the end of the world as we know it.  We are called to care for the widows and orphans and strangers in our midst.  We’re called to feed the hungry and clothe the needy, to take care of the sick and visit the prisoners.  Jesus asks his disciples to work for the kingdom’s coming right here, right now – Jesus asks us to work for the end of the world as we know it.  Waging peace instead of war.  Making sure there is food and shelter for all instead of just for those who can afford it.  Caring for the sick and the destitute rather than turning a blind eye.

You are already doing this work.  Collecting food for the food pantry, making sandwiches to give away at the Samaritan Center, purchasing a gift for a child you’ve never met through the Giving Tree – these are ways of working for God’s kingdom and the end of the world as we know it.  Even the changes we’re experiencing as our congregation grows older and smaller is a way of changing the world as we know it.  And although change always brings anxiety, it’s also the chance for us to ask God how we might be serve the Kingdom now, in this place, with the resources we have.

The world as we know it is a far cry from the world as it ought to be, a far cry from the kingdom of God.  But we should never lose hope.  God is always at work, bringing life out of death, bringing the new out of the ashes of the old.

The prophet Jeremiah lived during the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem.  He lived IN Jerusalem and he spent his time warning the king about what he ought to do and what he ought not to do.  The times were desperate and Nebuchadnezzar would eventually destroy Jerusalem and the entire kingdom of Israel.  But even in those awful times, Jeremiah had a vision of hope for the people, a message of restoration and the reestablishment of the Davidic kingdom.  ‘In those days and at that time,’ God said through Jeremiah, ‘I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David…’

Even when it seemed that David’s line was cut off for good, God tells the people that new life can be expected from the stump they thought was dead.  Messiah would come from Jesse’s line, from the stump of David’s family tree.

God always brings life out of the ashes, God always brings resurrection just when we think we’re finally dead and gone.  Our job is to work for the end of the world as we know it, not fearful of the end, but rejoicing, because the end of the world as we know it means the kingdom of God will arrive and Christ will return.  Justice and peace will reign, all needs shall be met, death and dying will be no more and we will know the love God has for us without hesitation or qualification.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Bring the end of the world as we now know it.  Amen.

Posted on December 6, 2018 By Kristen

Christ the King Sunday November 25, 2018

Today is ‘Christ the King’ Sunday, the last Sunday after Pentecost, the last Sunday in the church year.  Next week our new year begins, at least as far as the church calendar is concerned, with Advent I.  Our lessons today are aimed at the pivot point – on the one hand looking back at the story of David’s line, at the story of Jesus in the moment before everything changes, and on the other hand, looking forward to the day when we will all see Christ the King and all the tribes of the earth will wail, according to Revelation.  Looking back, looking forward.  What do we learn from these lessons?  What hope can we find?

I’m struck by Pilate’s question to Jesus:  What have you done?  The question is a challenge to Jesus – he wouldn’t be standing before Pilate if he hadn’t done something to make someone very angry.  Yet, it’s an honest question – Pilate really doesn’t know what Jesus has done because Jesus hadn’t done anything wrong that any of his accusers could agree upon.  What have you done?

The disciples thought they knew what Jesus was doing.  The disciples thought that God was reestablishing the throne of David through Jesus.  They expected to see Jesus assert his authority, overthrow the Romans and take his place on David’s throne in the Holy City Jerusalem.  They expected to reign with him, serving their King in places of honor, fulfilling the promises David claimed in our reading from Second Samuel.

What God had planned was larger than the Holy City of Jerusalem, larger than the throne of David in the Kingdom of Israel.  What God had planned was bigger than the disciples, bigger than Pilate, larger than the Roman Empire.  God’s plan called for Jesus to give his life, every last breath, so that the whole world would know, so that you and I would know that nothing can separate us from God’s love.  God’s plan allowed Jesus to die so that God could raise him up again, proving that nothing – not our sin, not our power, not even the power of death, nothing – can withstand God’s power of life and love.

There’s no way that Jesus could truly answer Pilate’s question, ‘What have you done?’  Jesus could only say that he had come to testify to the truth and that everyone who belongs to the truth listens to his words.  What have you done?  I’ve come to bring abundant life, Jesus said in another place.  What have you done?  I’ve come to be the bread of life, the great shepherd, the vine that brings life to the branches.  What have you done?  I have come to be Emmanuel, God with humans, on the side of us humans.

How could Pilate understand what Jesus had done, what Jesus was about to do?  Not even his closest companions understood what Jesus had done and was about to do.  Jesus was facing his death.  He was about to be buried for three days.  And then he was about to be resurrected, spending 50 more days explaining to his disciples what had just happened to him, happened to them.  He was about to return to his Father and take his place at God’s right hand.  He was about to become King of all those who willingly follow and the King of all at the end of time.

God’s kingdom is unlike any of our own, unlike any kingdom on Earth.  We have the choice to join the kingdom of God or not.  We have the choice to follow the King or not follow.  So the question comes to us, ‘What have we done?’  What choice have we made?  Have we chosen to be followers?  Are we living up to our calling?

As disciples, as followers of Christ the King, we are called to spread the good news that God loves us all and wants relationship with us.  I expect that, like me, you are always both following and not following our King.  On our best days, our actions, our words show God’s love to the world.  And yet…

These days we seem to be faltering – it’s a struggle to live a life of love when there is so much going on that we disagree with and so many people shouting at us and at each other.  Folks on both sides of almost any issue claim to be Christian, claim to be followers of Jesus.  Where is God in this mess?  What does God want us to do?

God’s love calls us to live in love.  Regardless of what others might think of us, we’re called to be loving.  Regardless of whether we agree or disagree with someone, we’re called to be loving towards them.  Regardless of how we’re treated, we’re called to be loving.   Regardless of the issue, we are called to stand on the side of love.  The question to ask about every issue is, “What would be the most loving thing to do?”  Immigration – what would be the most loving thing to do?  The war in Yemen – what would be the most loving thing to do?  Poverty – what would be the most loving thing to do?  If the position we take on any issue isn’t loving, we ought not claim that it is God’s position…  As our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry always says, “if it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”

God’s love is the mirror that shows us who and what we are, the mirror that convicts us when we fail.  And God’s love forgives our failures and empowers us to love again.   As we give ourselves to God and God’s love, God works in and through us more and more to make God’s love known.  We don’t have to have all the answers.  We don’t have to be perfect.  And we don’t have to fear for our futures – we are Easter People, after all.  We believe that our loving God will hold on to us no matter what the future brings.  What is required of us is that we love each other as God loves each of us.

At the end of time, when we’re asked, ‘What have you done?’ may we be able to answer that we’ve loved as best we could.  At this pivot point between the old year and the new, let us recommit ourselves to Christ’s kingdom.  May we live this new year fearlessly in God’s love.  Amen.

Posted on November 28, 2018 By Kristen

Pentecost 26 November 18, 2018

It’s difficult to hear Jesus’ words at the end of our Gospel lesson, isn’t it?  It sounds apocalyptic AND like our news reports right now…  Wars and rumors of wars.  Nation rising against nation.  A growing famine in Yemen.  Fires that leave communities burned out, with too many deaths and so many missing…  We feel the birthpangs but don’t know what is coming into the world!

We must never forget that we are Easter people in a Good Friday world – and so for us, every ending has within it a new beginning.  We believe in resurrection.  We can’t help it.  In every beginning we know there is an end and in every ending we know there is new life.

In our gospel lesson, Jesus and the disciples take a good look at the Temple in Jerusalem.  This isn’t just any building.  This is Herod’s rebuilding of the Temple that Solomon had built.  Herod had some bad feelings to work off, he needed to make amends to God and to the Jews, so he built a magnificent building.  The disciples were impressed and probably interested in hearing what Jesus might say about Herod the Great– a great builder of buildings, but a cruel, cruel man.

Jesus tells his followers that none of the buildings will stand the test of time.  And then when they ask further, he tells them that things are going to get worse – nation rising against nation, wars and rumors of wars, earthquake and famine – the end of the world as they know it.  Yet Jesus finishes this warning by saying, ‘This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.’  This is but the beginning of new life out of the death of the old.

We Christians are creatures of habit, just like all human beings.  We like the familiar, especially in church, especially around our worship, because it’s in our liturgical practice, in our routine, that we’ve met God.  When the world is changing all around us, we want to enter these doors and hear the familiar words and remember that God is present here.

But we are at the beginning of the end.  We feel the birthpangs.  It used to be that small communities and towns were the backbone of America.  It used to be, at least for a time in our history, that if we built a church and opened the doors, it would fill up.  Church was the center of social life.  There wasn’t enough room for the children’s program, for Sunday School.  We expanded, added classrooms and teachers.

But the world is changing.  Our small towns are dying out.  Industry isn’t what it used to be.  Church isn’t the center of our social lives – not like it used to be.  WE open our doors, but people don’t just flock in.  Children have sports on Sunday mornings, families have other responsibilities.  People travel, have second homes, spend time with grandchildren.   It’s just not the same.  It’s the beginning of the end.  It’s not clear what will happen to the church – not just ours, but to churches across our denomination and our country.

It’s also the beginning – there is something new being born but we can’t yet see what that new thing is.  We are in the birthpangs – one foot in the old and one foot in the new – unable to hold onto the past and a bit fearful of the future.

What can we do?  We can heed the instruction from Hebrews: let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.  Scholars are not entirely sure who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews nor are they sure to whom the letter was written – except that they are Jewish Christians.  What’s interesting to me is that the letter was probably written between 60 and 95 CE or AD.  And that’s interesting because the writer spends a lot of time explaining why we Christians don’t need to make Temple sacrifices – Jesus, our high priest, has taken care of that for us.

We know that Herod’s Temple, the one that the disciples admired, that Jesus says will not remain forever, was destroyed by the Romans about 70 CE or AD.  So Hebrews was perhaps written as a response to that destruction.  It was the beginning of the end for everyone who had made Temple worship the center of their lives – both Jews and Christians.  New ways had to be created for worship to go forward.  In the ending – a new beginning.  Jews and Christians around the world found new ways to worship God and faithful living has continued to this day.

Here we are, near the end of the liturgical year, near the end of the calendar year.  We’re entering the holiday season – and for many people, this year will not be the same as last year.  For some of us, people we love will be missing.  For some of us, new members have joined our family gatherings.  Some of us will end the year healthier than last year.  Some of us will end the year with a new diagnosis, a new health concern.  Some of us will find new jobs in the coming year.  Some of us will retire.

Whatever our losses or gains, whatever our joys or our sorrows, we are facing the beginning of the end and we have nothing to fear.  These are just the birthpangs of the new world being born.  God is in our beginnings and God is in our endings, watching over the details, making sure that nothing and no one is lost.

So let’s provoke one another – not with our anxieties or our fears – but with love and good deeds.  Let us look with compassion on each other and on the world around us.  And may our compassion and love inspire – provoke – us to acts of kindness and generosity.  Endings and beginnings can be terribly frightening – but we are Easter people.  We know that with every death there is new life and God in the midst of it all.  We have no need to fear the beginning of the end or any ending at all. We are Easter people in a Good Friday world – and so for us, every ending has within it a new beginning.  We believe in resurrection.  We can’t help it.  In every beginning we know there is an end and in every ending we know there is new life.  The One who promised this is faithful.  Amen.

 

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Posted on November 27, 2018 By Kristen