Category: Sermons

A greater righteousness


Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

16 February 2020

St. David’s Episcopal Church

DeWitt, NY

Dan Handschy

Epiphany 6A (RCL)

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Psalm 119:1-8

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Matthew 5:21-37

     The Gospel reading last week ended with Jesus telling us that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, we would never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  We were left wondering what such a righteousness might look like.  Today, we have our answer.

     It was a standard rabbinic form of argument to list what other rabbis had said about a topic, and then conclude, “But I say to you.”  Rabbi so-and-so said.  Rabbi such-and-such said.  But I say.  What is remarkable in this passage is that Jesus isn’t listing what some other rabbi said.  He is quoting Torah, the text that rabbis interpret, and then adds, “But I say to you.”  That’s really bold.

     And then he ups the ante.  You have heard it said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder.”  But I say to you that anyone who is angry at a brother or sister is liable to punishment.  How many of us have committed murder?  Not very many.  How many of us have been angry?  Every last one of us.  Yikes!  So, what are we supposed to do?  Jesus gives us the answer:  if you are making your offering, and remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar, and first go be reconciled, and then come make your sacrifice.

     Sounds do-able, right?  Imagine you’ve just walked two days from Galilee to Jerusalem, leading your lamb for sacrifice.  Now, you’re going to walk four days round trip before sacrificing.  But notice what happens.  The restriction against murder is reasonably enforceable.  The restriction against anger is not.  But anger tears up the community that is going to eat the meal made by the sacrifice.  Jesus insists that the community be reconciled.

     That’s why the Peace comes where it does in the liturgy.  We are about to make our offering, so we confess our sins against God and our neighbor.  The absolution takes care of the sins against God.  The Peace reconciles us with our neighbor.

     The saying about divorce is also likely to make a number of us uncomfortable.  We live in very different circumstances that Jesus did.  His prohibition of divorce was meant to be a protection for women; divorced women had little standing in his world.  One of the rabbis who debated divorce allowed a man to divorce his wife for burning his dinner.  But Jesus takes things even a step further in the saying about adultery.

     In the ancient world only a married woman could commit adultery.  If she had sex with anyone other than her husband, she invaded his rights to know her children were his.  And the man involved was committing adultery against the husband.  But Jesus says, anyone who looks at a woman with lust in his heart has already committed adultery with her.  Poor Jimmy Carter – he never lived that down.  But notice what happens here; it is the man who commits adultery, without the involvement of the woman!

     Again, Jesus turns the focus back onto life lived in community.  Adultery, as he found it, was reasonably enforceable.  It involved the violation of the husband’s property rights.  But Jesus refocuses the rule onto how we treat one another.  No one is to be treated as an object.  Everyone, even women, count in this new society.

     That is perhaps what the writer of Deuteronomy meant by saying that God was setting before us life and death, blessings and curses.  We tend to see the law as a code of things we shouldn’t do, with consequences for doing them.  Murder brings punishment.  But the intent of the law was to establish a livable society.  Since we can’t legislate what people think, we set consequences for bad acts.

     But if what holds a society together is only the fear of consequences of bad acts, society will fall apart.  There has to be some value in living together.  God’s commandments aren’t just “thou shalt not.”  We misunderstand the law if we make it into that.  So, Jesus radicalizes the law, and turns it into something that none of us can live.  No one can live without being angry.  None of us can live without, sometime or other, thinking of others and a means to our ends, as objects for our use.  No society has ever existed without divorce.

     That’s not the point.  The point is to show us that we cannot, on our own, create a livable society.  That requires grace, and grace is not something we can demand.  It can only be freely given and received.  I think that’s what is happening to our social fabric right now.  Many of us are coming to believe that the things society gives us are ours by right.

     In my ethics classes, I used to ask the students what a right is.  The Declaration of Independence says that God has endowed us with certain inalienable rights:  life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  What does that mean.  The only possible definition of a right is an enforceable claim we can make against others.  That’s why American case law is based almost exclusively on suing one another.  That’s our way of determining what is an enforceable claim.

     But what an awful way to live – to be going to law suit against one another all the time.  Jesus radicalizes the law to show that none of us can live without grace.  The things community gives us are not ours by right, but by grace.  Think of the huge shift this would make in our way of thinking.  It would make us grateful for everything we have, and make us want it for others.

     Every time I come back from Africa, I am grateful beyond measure for running, drinkable water.  It astonishes me that I can turn on the tap, fill a glass, and drink it.  What grace.  Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could do that?  Shouldn’t we want that, rather than allowing companies to have water for free, so they can put it in plastic bottles and sell it back to us?  Thinking about the law as restrictions on behavior makes us think, “What can I get away with?”  Thinking about grace makes us think, “What can I do for others?”  That seems to me the much happier way to live.

Third Sunday in Lent March 24, 2019

I didn’t preach on the shootings in New Zealand last week, so I was going to say something about it this week as it seems to fit with our Gospel lesson.  Haven’t we all been trying to make sense of that tragedy, trying to discern the reasons why it happened?  Just as the people around Jesus in Luke’s Gospel were discussing the folks whose blood was mingled with their sacrifices by Pilate’s actions.  We’re all trying to figure out why tragedies happen.  Perhaps you also heard about the Senator in New Zealand who got egged for suggesting that the fault lay with the people who were killed.  “The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place,” said Fraser Anning.

It is a human thing to try and understand why bad things happen – to try to bring some order to a chaotic world or to help us feel safe.  We want to know cause and effect so that we can avoid the bad or somehow prevent it from happening to us.  There are all sorts of rules we give our children and loved ones to keep them safe.  Don’t cross the street without an adult.  Look both ways before you step out.  Don’t go for a run after dark.  Don’t drive through that neighborhood.  Don’t travel to that place.  We hope to discover the secret sauce that will protect us.  If we just do ‘x’, ‘y’ will never happen to us.

It is also a human thing to blame the victim for the evil that has happened to them.  If it’s the victim’s fault that the tragedy happened, then we’re probably safe.  If it’s the victim’s fault, then that lets us off the hook for not helping or not preventing or not stopping the bad actors.  She shouldn’t have been drinking…  the Muslim ‘fanatics’ should have been prevented from migrating to our country…  he was never going to amount to much anyway…  OR in the 1st century mindset:  they were terrible sinners and so God punished them.

Blaming the victims might make us feel better, but it falls short of how we ought to live as followers of Jesus. 

Life is full of difficulty – no one is immune.  To be human, to be born into this world, means that some things will go wonderfully well and some things will be awful.  Our world is full of illness, natural disasters, broken bodies, broken promises, mistakes and missteps, evil intentions and evil deeds.  And our world is full of life and love, full of incredible beauty, promises kept, honor and courageous actions, kindnesses and honesty.

As much as we would like to believe that only good things happen to good people, that only good things ought to happen to us, the truth is that difficulty is as much a part of our daily existence as all the goodness we experience.  Bad things happen.  Bad things happen to us, too.

Our lessons for today have some suggestions on how we ought to think about the trouble in the world.  First, let’s notice that Moses is called to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt because GOD SEES what has happened to them.  “The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt,” God says to Moses. 

God sees what’s going on.  God knows the pain and struggle.  God knows the evil that has been done.  And God is calling us to join in doing something about it.

The people around Jesus were discussing the tragedies of their day – Galileans murdered while making their sacrifices in the Temple and eighteen people killed when part of the tower of Siloam fell down on them.  Jesus challenges them not to think that the people who died were somehow deserving of what happened.  They weren’t any more or less evil than his listeners.  Jesus tells them that they need to repent, they need to be ready, because the same fate awaits them. Don’t blame the victims for Pilate’s actions or the bad architecture of the tower. 

The second thing we can notice is that blaming the victims for the evil that befalls them reveals our lack of compassion.  What if, instead of blaming the vicitms, we saw ourselves in the lives of those who suffer.  What if we allowed ourselves to imagine how it feels to be them?  And what if we reached out in compassion and love?  An example of this also comes from New Zealand this week.  We saw pictures of the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, in a hijab, mourning with the members of the mosques that were attacked.  There were pictures of New Zealanders who, on Friday, joined hands and stood outside mosques around the country to ensure that their friends and neighbors would feel safe at prayer. 

God sees what happens and has compassion.  We see what happens and we have compassion.  It’s another way of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Finally, that parable about the fig tree…  What does it mean when the evil befalls us?  Does it mean that God is angry with us?  Does it mean that we’ve done something wrong?  Was the tree bad because it wasn’t producing? 

Sometimes we do reap what we’ve sown.  If we’ve been less than kind, if we lie or cheat or steal, if we do not act with compassion when we see folks in trouble, then, yes, we may very well suffer for our own bad acts.

But I don’t think that’s what the parable is about.  Jesus has just said that God wasn’t punishing the Galileans who died because they were notorious sinners.  Jesus is less concerned about finding the cause of our calamities and much more concerned about growing our love and compassion for each other.  The tree isn’t bearing fruit.  The tree needs some tending to encourage growth – pruning and fertilizing.  That’s not punishment – that’s caring and loving.

When evil befalls us, when bad things happen, we have to decide how we will handle it.  We have to decide whether we will get stuck in that place and stop growing OR whether we will let the Spirit tend our hearts, prune out what we don’t need, feed our souls, so that we can begin to grow again.  Our compassion and love will allow us to empathize with those going through difficult times as well – we remember how it feels so we stand with others who suffer.

Bad stuff happens. God sees what’s going on.  God has compassion and calls us to have compassion as well.  Bad stuff happens to us. God sees and has compassion for us.  The bad stuff can prepare us for ministry and help form us into a people of love and compassion.  May we have soft hearts to respond to God’s call with ‘yes’ and become the loving and compassionate people God created us to be.  Amen.

Posted on March 28, 2019 By Kristen

Lent 2 March 17, 2019

During this season of Lent, as we examine our lives, we may find ourselves in places we’d rather not be.  Where do we find hope? 

This time of year always reminds me of our family trip to the Gulf Coast in 2007.   It was at the beginning of Lent that we spent the week in Biloxi, MS, and I worked with Camp Coast Cares, an Episcopal – Lutheran Katrina relief agency for three days.  We saw first hand the destruction of that hurricane and how much remained to be done a year and a half after.  On Friday of that week, we drove over to New Orleans.  There, neighborhood after neighborhood stood abandoned.  Nothing appeared to be happening, no cleanup even begun.

Where do we find hope?  How do we make sense of the mess that natural disasters or our life situations give us?  What can we learn from today’s lessons about God and our journey through Lent?

Abraham, or Abram as he’s still known in our reading from Genesis, has already picked up and moved away from his hometown, family and friends in Ur of Chaldea.  He’s followed God into a new place where God promised to give him land and a family as numerous as the stars in the heavens.  Abraham obeyed, followed God.  But Abraham remains childless in our reading.  And every day he and his wife Sara get older and less likely to have children.  When God appears and makes the promise of children once again we can understand Abraham’s doubt.  Abraham makes his complaint to God and God makes a covenant with him in the style of the times.

There are a couple of things to notice in this reading.  Abraham is not afraid of making his complaint to God.  He isn’t afraid of appearing doubtful.  We don’t have to worry about doubt either.  God knew Abraham, knew the promises that had been made, knew that the promises had yet to be fulfilled.  God wasn’t surprised by Abraham’s complaint.  What I like in this passage is that when God gives Abraham reassurance of the promise of children, Abraham’s doubts are relieved, Abraham believes, and God ‘reckons’ Abraham’s belief as righteousness.  God knows we need reassurances at times.  God knows that what we see in front of us is not always what we hope for.  God doesn’t think badly of us when we doubt – God reassures. 

I am sure that there were difficult times in this parish’s past.  You found yourselves in a place you had not wanted and weren’t sure you would move on from.  You were like Abram – following God into a new land and then not seeing the promises you thought God would fulfill.  There may have been doubt, and anger, and confusion.  But you were faithful and you continued to follow.  Every parish in our diocese, indeed, every parish and church has gone through moments when it seemed all was lost.  Every parish has gone through transitions they did not want to go through.  We can make our complaints to God.  God will hear us and reassure us, just as God did with Abraham.  And in time, God’s promises were fulfilled.

In our gospel lesson, Jesus shrugs off Herod’s threat.  I’ll be here today, and tomorrow and the next day, if he wants to come get me.  But he won’t.  I’m going to keep on working until it’s time to go to Jerusalem, Jesus says.

Again, there are a couple of things to notice in this reading.  Jesus isn’t concerned about Herod coming to get him, to stop his work.  He’s not going to worry about tomorrow’s evil today.  He’s just going to keep on working today and tomorrow and the work will be finished when He gets done with it.  A lesson we ought to carry with us as well.  We don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  God will take care of it, whatever it is.  In the meantime, our task is to keep on doing the work we’ve been given to do.  This is how a parish moves through difficult times – you just keep doing what you know you are supposed to do – keep giving, keep praying, keep figuring things out, planning for the future. 

These important points help us find hope, no matter what our present circumstance – voicing our complaints and fears, trusting that God will take care of our concerns, and keeping on keeping on. 

When we doubt – the One we turn to is the One who can reassure.  Doubting God isn’t the problem – doubting God and not going to God with our doubts is.  When we go to God with our problems, concerns, doubts, whatever, we give our relationship with God a chance to deepen.  When we turn to God, we are given the chance to see our situation the way God sees it – and that usually includes taking a long view of things.  God sees not only our present circumstance, but God will remind us of what has been and encourage us in what will be.

It takes all three views to move into the future – an understanding of where we are now, a remembrance of the past and a vision for the future.  This was brought home to me working in the gulf.  On Tuesday of our work week, I took a drive around Pass Christian with a group that included a woman who had owned a home in the community.  Where we saw empty lots and shells of houses, she saw and described to us what had been – antebellum homes, restaurants and shopping centers, churches.  Where her heart broke for what was, and some of us were discouraged by the current devastation, those with vision, those who were builders, imagined a future that would embrace and build on what was and what remained salvageable.

Abraham believes in God’s long view and God counts that as righteousness.  God will make things happen that fulfill the promises God has made.  Abraham is required to believe and, like Jesus in the gospel, to keep on doing what he knows he’s called to do.  Jesus also trusted God’s long view.  Jesus knew he had work to do and that God would take care of the future just as God had been with him in the past.

During this season of Lent, as we examine our lives, we may find ourselves in places we’d rather not be.  Where do we find hope?  How do we make sense of the messes in our lives?  By remembering Abraham and Jesus.  By turning to God with our doubts and broken promises and taking a look at God’s long view.  God knows us, knows our past, has a vision for our future – knows what we have been and who we were created to become.  By going to God with our doubts and hurts and fears, God is able to strengthen and reassure us.  And then by just keeping on keeping on, we follow in Jesus’ faithful steps.  God will take care of the future, with whatever good or evil is to come.  Ultimately, we are safe in God’s kingdom.  In the meantime, we’re called to do the work we’ve been given to do, trusting that God will bring it all to right.  May we all be faithful.  Amen.

Posted on March 25, 2019 By Kristen

Lent I March 10, 2019

‘Lead us not into temptation…’ That familiar phrase from the traditional version of the Lord’s Prayer is one we say at least once a week, if not more often.  Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit and tempted by the devil our passage from Luke says – was he thinking of his wilderness experience when he taught the disciples his prayer?  Lead us not into temptation.

Our wilderness walk through Lent, our forty days of introspection and examination will always lead us into temptation, too.  Most days lead us into temptation even without the season of Lent, but at least during these forty days we ought to be more acutely aware of where our temptations lie and how we are handling them.

Because we are broken, because we are imperfect and our parents were imperfect, because we live in a world that is imperfect and broken, temptation surrounds us.  We aren’t all tempted by the same things – we are each usually tempted in the places we are most broken. 

If I am an alcoholic, alcohol is always a temptation.  If I’m not, alcohol holds no power over me.  If I was not loved as a child, I’ll look for love in all the wrong places.  If I wasn’t raised with healthy personal boundaries, if I was abused, I won’t know how to have healthy boundaries and abuse will tempt me.  It is in our broken places that we are most vulnerable and temptation will find its hold on us.

Where are those places in us?  Lent gives us the chance to examine those places where we continually fall down, where we continually do those things we do that we ought not to do, and fail to do those things we ought.  As we examine those dark nooks and crannies of the soul, it’s important to remember that those wounds, those vulnerable places need extra care and proper attention and love.

The Spirit has led Jesus into the wilderness, where Satan tempts him.  Where is Jesus vulnerable? What are his temptations?  And what can we learn about temptation (and resisting it) from his experience?

Jesus is on a fast, preparing for his ministry among us, knowing that his ministry will be a struggle.  He knows that the way ahead of him includes wandering from place to place with people who won’t really understand what he has to teach them.  He knows that he will have no home, that his friends will betray him, that he will suffer a painful death.  He knows that he is completely dependent on God to see him through all the challenges he’s about to face.  He is alone.  He is hungry.

How does Satan test Jesus?  By offering substitutes in those places where Jesus is vulnerable – his hunger, his loneliness, his need to trust God completely. 

Satan suggests that Jesus has the power to meet his physical needs in any way he chooses.  Satan urges Jesus to turn the stone into bread – and does it with a dig at the ego.  ‘If you ARE the Son of God…” Jesus IS hungry and he IS the Son of God.  The temptation is both physical and psychological. 

When Jesus doesn’t fall for that, Satan pushes harder – into the loneliness and misunderstanding that will be part of the ministry Jesus is taking on.  Say the word and you’ll be popular and important and powerful.  The world will be your oyster if you worship me, Satan suggests.

And finally, Satan pushes into the faith Jesus has that God will sustain him.  Prove that God will take care of you, put God to the test, jump off this place and let the angels catch you… 

Jesus is able to withstand all that Satan tempts him with.  How?  The singer/songwriter Rich Mullins says that Jesus did it by ‘quoting Deuteronomy to the Devil.’  Jesus responds to each temptation with a verse from Deuteronomy – he looks to Scripture for strength and guidance.  He refuses to set aside his future in order to change his current circumstance.  Jesus keeps his focus on God.  He doesn’t deny that the temptation offered looks good or claim that he’s not interested.  But he also doesn’t turn his focus from waiting on God to supply what he needs in the right way at the right time.

Each of us is tempted to do what is harmful to ourselves or to our relationships with God and those we love.  Each of us is tempted to ‘fix’ the broken places, our vulnerable places, in unhealthy and harmful ways.  Each of us can face down our temptations in the ways that Jesus faced his down.

Are you lonely?  Addicted?  Fearful?  Do you feel insignificant, overlooked, unloved, or small?  Search out scripture that speaks to your brokenness and then let those verses be your comfort, your strength, and your guide.  You are a beloved child of God.  There is nothing so awful in us or done to us that it can’t be faced with God by our side.  Search out others who can help you find healthy ways to heal the broken vulnerable places – support groups, therapists, trusted friends, a priest.  We are beloved children of God.  There is nothing so awful in us or done to us that can’t be faced with God by our side.

Take time this Lent – take time to think about and pray about those places where you know you are vulnerable. 

Ask God to help you discover your vulnerable places and then seek healthy ways of caring for those places.  We ought not sacrifice ourselves and our relationships by feeding our hungers inappropriately.  Like Jesus, we can learn to trust that God will walk with us through our present circumstance, that it will be all right; our future is secure.  Like Jesus, we ought not take our focus off of waiting on God to supply what we need – even though turning aside and giving in to temptation might feel good for the moment.

What tempts you?  What is the deeper hunger that your temptations mask?  How might we allow God to meet that deeper need, touch that deeper wound?  We are beloved children of God and with God all things are possible.  May we make these forty days a time of tender examination of our vulnerabilities and forty days of leaning on God for strength and guidance in avoiding temptation.  Amen.

Posted on March 14, 2019 By Kristen

Last Sunday after Epiphany March 3, 2019

What an odd thing to happen to Peter, James and John.   They follow Jesus up to the mountaintop and Jesus starts to shine.  Peter, James and John catch a glimpse of glory.

The three will need this vision of Jesus in all his glory to get them through the next part of their journey with Jesus.  A glimpse of glory, an inkling of the love and power of God, gives us hope when times are difficult.

When was the last time you were surprised by a glimpse of glory?  When was the last time you were confronted by the love of God or knocked down by the power of God?

These are not moments we can create.  These moments come to us when we don’t expect them. 

In 2008, we had neighbors who were going through an awful time.  The family included Mother, Father and only daughter, 18 yrs old.  Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer while Dad was battling a cancer for which they’d now done all they could.  His doctors weren’t clear on how much time he had left.  And their only daughter had just begun her first year of college.

A good friend of mine helped rally friends to bring food and watch out for them through those difficult days.  Now, Jane’s not sure that she believes in God, although she goes to church every Sunday and helps lead her church’s youth group.  But she decided that she would organize a prayer circle for the neighbors.  She doesn’t actually believe in prayer BUT she believes in sending positive thoughts and in the power of positive thinking.  She makes me smile.

So she invited a bunch of people – some who believe in God, some who don’t, some Jewish friends, some Christian – an Episcopal priest (not me, I couldn’t make it) – and some friends who are Moonies.  She didn’t know if anyone would come and she wasn’t sure what they would do if they did come to the prayer circle.

She wasn’t sure what would happen but what she did not at all expect was a glimpse of glory, an inkling of the love of God.  Fourteen people attended the prayer circle, bringng food and a guitar and prayers from their traditions, old hymns and ‘Cum ba yah.’  They prayed, they sang, and they thought positive thoughts.  They shared their hopes and wishes for the family.  They surrounded the family with love.  And they recognized they had entered sacred space – they felt the presence of the Holy.  It just all came together, she told me.  I don’t know how it happened.  I just know it happened.  They entered holy ground.

A few years ago, I visited with a parishioner who was dying of cancer.  I knew that my visit was probably the last time I’d see her.  What I didn’t expect in my visit was a glimpse of glory…  The woman knew that her time was short.  She was tired and in some pain.  And she was shiny – almost translucent – especially when we talked about what was about to happen to her in death.  ‘I’m so excited to see what comes next,’ she told me.  She was entering God’s glory and she was already beginning to glow.  I knew I was on holy ground, there in her hospital room.

Moses went up the mountain to meet with God.  In our reading from Exodus it says that when Moses went up on the mount and met with God his face would shine when he returned to the people.  He had to wear a veil because his face was so bright it bothered them.  He would take off the veil to go meet with God and then put it back on after he had explained to the Israelites what God had told him.  Moses shone because he had met with God – he’d had a glimpse of the love and power of God, a glimpse of glory.

Peter and James and John went up on the mountain with Jesus and Jesus’ face shone with the love and power of God, with the glory of God.  Peter tried to respond in the moment, but once God started to speak the disciples were terrified.  Matthew’s gospel says that they fell to the ground.  They had entered sacred space.  There was nothing they could do or say – they could only bear witness to the moment.  They didn’t understand what happened, they just knew it had happened.

I suspect that each of us can remember a moment when we knew we were on holy ground – a moment or a place where we experienced a glimpse of grace, a glimpse of the love and power of God.  Remember those moments.  Hold on to them.

We are about to enter the season of Lent – a wandering in the wilderness with Jesus in preparation for the glory of Easter.

But in a sense, this parish might already feel like you’ve entered the wilderness.  At our Annual Meeting we discussed the challenges we face in 2019.  We have many questions but very few answers as yet.  Wandering in the wilderness – yup, we’re familiar!

At least we know that the season of Lent is only forty days.  Our wanderings as a parish might take a bit longer.

I think Peter, James and John were given the privilege of witnessing the transfiguration so that they would not lose hope on their journey – wandering through those last days with Jesus, witnessing his betrayal, his trial, his crucifixion and burial.  Trying to make sense of the death and resurrection of Jesus and how to go on without him after the ascension.  Whatever else happened – they had had a glimpse of the love and power of God.  Peter never forgot.  We never forget those moments.

As we move through this season of wandering – through Lent, through the process of living into our future – let those transforming moments of grace carry you through.  Remember what your eyes have seen and your ears have heard.  God loves us.  God will never leave us.  God will be with us every step of the way on our journey.  God has dreams for us.  It will be all right.  May we find the boldness the Apostle Paul speaks of so that WE are transformed into the likeness of Christ from one degree of glory to another.  Amen.

Posted on March 7, 2019 By Kristen

Seventh Sunday after Epiphany February 24, 2019

What a week we’ve had – so much difficult news with difficult questions for us…  The Jussie Smollett case in Chicago, where an actor apparently staged his own beat down.  The news that the Labor Secretary, Alex Acosta, mishandled a sex trafficking case when he was a prosecutor in Miami.  The Roman Catholic Church meeting to discuss sexual abuse by their clerics.  The tragic accident on 690 involving Coach Boeheim.  I’m sure there was some good news this week, but it mostly just hurt my heart.

The question I have had for most of this last week, as I listened to the news reports, is: What would justice look like in this situation?

That question – what would justice look like – was rolling around in my head as I thought about our lessons for today.  Joseph meeting his brothers and revealing his identity and Jesus continuing his ‘sermon on the plain’ and telling us to forgive, to pray for those who abuse us, to love our enemies.  Really Jesus? 

Doesn’t he realize that rogues and rascals will seize on these words and tell us that real Christians would forgive and forget and allow the abuse to stand?  That real Christians should not hold the rogues and rascals accountable because we aren’t supposed to judge?  That we should do good to those who stand with their boots on our necks because that’s what Jesus said to do?  Can we imagine that the stories we’ve heard this week will all turn out the way that Joseph’s did, that his brother’s selling of Joseph as a slave will turn out to be their salvation many years down the road and that the ending will bring tears of joy?

Bad things happen to each of us.  We’ve all experienced bad luck, bad timing, lost causes.  We’ve also experienced those moments when other people have caused us harm – sometimes unintentionally and sometimes with intent.  How do we respond?  What does justice look like for us?

I would be completely at a loss over Jesus’ words in our passage for today if I didn’t know the rest of the story, the other words and actions from Jesus.  It’s true that Jesus doesn’t resist when they come for him in the garden – he puts into action the words he preaches in today’s sermon.  And yet…  He really lives into the statement that we are to treat others the way we would like to be treated. 

So Jesus takes the side of the poor and the hungry, the sorrowful and all those folks on the margins.  In the beginning of his sermon he says that those folks will be blessed and have their needs met.  He condemns the religious authorities for their hypocrisy and the heavy burdens they lay on people.  Jesus calls them ‘whitewashed tombs’ in the gospel of Matthew, saying that on the outside they look beautiful, but inside ‘they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.’  He has compassion on the crowds who follow and those brought to him with illnesses and spends his time feeding and healing.

Another way of describing the life of Jesus is to say that he lives out the meaning of love.  He has overwhelming compassion for those who have need and righteous condemnation for the powerful that harm the weak.

Jesus asks us to live our lives with love – putting ourselves into the shoes of the other and responding accordingly.  ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ 

What would justice look like?  For those with power who abuse – Jesus condemns and so should we.  We should work to prevent those with power from continuing their abuse.  And at the same time, we must find compassion for the abused and the abuser.  We hold accountable AND we love. 

We have to figure out what it means to live out love in each situation we encounter.  We have to figure out how to love and hold accountable the rogues and rascals who use and abuse.  We have to figure out how to forgive and love those who harm unintentionally.  We have to figure out how to love ourselves when we fail to live up to our own standards and how to make our actions right with those we have harmed.  Compassion and accountability.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.  Live out God’s love.  There are no easy answers here.  The questions are difficult and the answers more so.  We cannot live out love on our own – we need the Holy Spirit’s guidance and strength.  We have to be deeply rooted in God’s love for us so that we can show that same love to the world around us.

O Lord, send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which we cannot live as true disciples.  Amen. 

Posted on February 28, 2019 By Kristen

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany February 10, 2019

The man Isaiah encounters God in a vision and is called to be a prophet.

The Apostle Paul reminds the church in Corinth that he encountered Jesus – on the road to Damascus – and received a call to travel the world, teaching about Christ and helping Gentiles and Jews figure out what God was calling the church to become.

Three tired fishermen, Peter, James and John, cleaning up after a long night of catching nothing, meet up with Jesus and receive their call to become fishers of people.

Where and when have you encountered God?  To what has God called you?

God meets each of us, calls us by name and then calls us out of ourselves into the work of the kingdom.  Salvation’s goal isn’t just about our eternal souls.  Saying ‘yes’ to God means becoming a disciple and getting busy building God’s kingdom on earth.

What is your call?  What is my call?  What is our joint call?  What is it that God wants us to do here, in DeWitt, with our gifts and talents, to build the kingdom?

Frederick Buechner has said that our vocation (which is another word for ‘call’), our vocation is the place where our great joy meets the world’s great need.

Paul, in his former life as Saul, was both a Jew and a Roman Citizen – he could move freely within both worlds.  He was trained as a Pharisee – he knew God’s Law thoroughly.  And he was trained in Rhetoric, the Greek discipline that involved logic and persuasive speech.  Can you imagine a better person as a missionary of Christianity to the Gentile, Roman world?  Can you imagine a better person to help the church figure out what pieces of Judaism were essential to Christianity?  Could there have been a better person to help figure out how Christians, Jew & Gentile, ought to live together in witness to the world?  Paul embodied the challenges the early church faced.  Paul’s great joy in thinking about and explaining what God was up to in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, to both Jews and Gentiles, met the newly born church’s great need.  Much of the New Testament was written by Paul as letters to churches he started or helped to oversee – Romans, First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, First Thessalonians, Philemon.

Peter, James and John were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, also known as the Sea of Gennesaret in our gospel reading for today.  Their fathers were fishermen, they were raised alongside the Sea, James and John still working with their father when Jesus comes along.

I can hear the hesitation in Peter’s voice when Jesus tells him to go back out and catch some fish – he’s worked all night and caught nothing, ‘Yet if you say so…”  Remember – Jesus was a landlubber.  What did he know of fishing?  Go out into the deep water he tells them – sure, like that wasn’t what Peter had just spent the night doing!  Yet if you say so…

Peter, James and John got a hint of what Jesus intended to do with them and through them, if they followed Jesus into becoming fishers of people…  Peter reluctantly goes back out into the deep water and sends his nets over the side.  And somehow, even though everyone knows that fishing is better at night, and even though Peter had just fished the same waters and had caught nothing, somehow the nets were full and overflowing and he had to call for help to pull the nets in.  And then, there were so many fish it almost swamped the boat!  They were now overflowing where just a few short hours ago, on their own, experienced as they were, they’d caught nothing.

That’s the thing about God’s call on our lives.  Where we have skill, where we have education and practical experience, where we have talent, God can take what we have and use it to make so much more than we can imagine.

Our calls might come in any of the ways the calls came in our lessons for today – sometimes we get a vision of what God intends, like Isaiah.  Sometimes God knocks us down, flat out, in order to get our attention and get the message across, as God did with Saul who became Paul. 

Sometimes our call comes just at the point where what we’ve been doing isn’t quite working, as was true for Peter, James and John.  If those men had had a successful night of fishing, there would have been no reason for them to go back out and fish again.  But because it appeared that what they’d been doing wasn’t working, they were just a little bit open to what might happen if they followed Jesus’ advice…

Sometimes God speaks to us through coincidence – I know I’ve told you of the woman we interviewed for the Commission on Ministry in the Diocese of New York – the one who had had the feeling God was calling her into some new work.  Driving in her car, praying over this strange tug on her heart, she glanced up at a billboard that said ‘Thinking about the Priesthood?’  She told us that she had to pull her car over and laughed and cried.  It was an ad for the Catholic church but it changed HER life.  She’s now an Episcopal priest.

We need to remember, when God calls us, that God sees beyond our current situations, beyond our current ability.  Jesus saw the fish that the fishermen couldn’t find.  And Jesus saw within the fishermen things they did not see within themselves.  God had bigger dreams for them than they could have imagined there by the Sea of Gennesaret.  God saw Saul on his way to harrass the new church, saw his ability and potential and through the grace of God Saul became a new man, Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles.

God sees the opportunity and the need of our world better than we can discern.  And God sees within us more than we can in ourselves.  God has bigger dreams for us than we can imagine right now.

Just as Jesus told Peter not to be afraid, Jesus says the same to us.  We do not have to be afraid of stepping into our call.  God will take what we offer and use it to change the world, to build the kingdom.  We do have to leave our nets and follow.  We have to let go of whatever it is that we hold onto, whatever it is that brings us security, if it is part of the old life.  When we’re following our call, leaving our nets behind, our security is found in God alone.  Just as God provided fish in the old life, God will provide what we need now, in this new life. 

God needs us to become the people we’ve been created to be – because God works in and through us to build the kingdom.  God cannot work without us.  Imagine our faith without Peter, James, John, or the other disciples.  Imagine the church without the letters of Paul.  The hands and feet God uses to change the world are our hands and feet. The theologian Dorothee Soelle has written a poem entitled, “Dream me, God”

It’s not you who should solve my problems, God,
But I yours, God of the asylum-seekers.
It’s not you who should feed the hungry,
But I who should protect your children
From the terror of the banks and armies.
It’s not you who should make room for the refugees,
But I who should receive you,
Hardly hidden God of the desolate.

You dreamed me, God,
Practicing walking upright
And learning to kneel down
More beautiful than I am now,
Happier than I dare to be
Freer than our country allows.

Don’t stop dreaming me, God.
I don’t want to stop remembering
That I am your tree,
Planted by the streams
of living water.

What are the dreams God has for us, the future God needs us to create?  What is the work God needs us to do in this place at this time?  In her book, ‘Theology for Skeptics,’ Soelle writes, “God dreams us, and we should not let God dream alone.”  Amen.

Posted on February 13, 2019 By Kristen

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