Sermons

Sermons (35)

 

If someone asked you to summarize the teachings of Jesus, what verses in the Bible would you turn to? Would you start with Matthew’s gospel where it says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Or perhaps you might reach into John’s gospel where it says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

We have a less well-known but equally important reading which comes to us from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. This entire passage that we read today is a summary of all the blessings that God has bestowed upon us and all that Jesus has done for us. Commentators might say that in these verses, Paul has covered a great deal about Christian Theology.

Allow me to paraphrase from a commentary by the Rev Scott Hoezee. In this lesson, Paul wrote about each of the persons of the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. He wrote about the fact that God has chosen us to be God’s people. He described the redemption we receive through Jesus Christ. Paul told us that we are saved by grace. He mentioned the doctrines of creation and providence.  Paul wrote about the end of the world. He spoke of faith and sanctification. And Paul proclaimed the gospel as the center of our faith. Hoezee wrote “It’s all here.  Of course, each topic could be fleshed out, but by the time you finished fleshing them out, what you would have would be close to a complete seminary curriculum.” By the way, the original Greek was written in just one sentence so if you have trouble connecting with all that was said in these fourteen verses do not feel alone.

Today, I want to take on two ideas that are mentioned in Paul’s letter. The first is the overwhelming work of God and in particular the overwhelming work of Jesus in the world. The second is that Jesus Christ gives us truth. I want to explore what that might mean to us.

Oftentimes, when we read Scripture, we hear about actions that we should be committed to. Love your neighbor. Care for the sick and those in prison. Obey the Ten Commandments. Pray to God. But this part of Ephesians has no words about what we are to do. It is all about what God has done for us. God has chosen us and called us to follow Christ. God designated us to be holy people. God decided to adopt us as God’s children. God forgives all the wrong that we have done. Jesus Christ called us to follow him. Jesus gave himself for us. Jesus explained to us about the wisdom of God. And the inheritance we receive from God leads to redemption and a promise of joining God in heaven.

If you find yourself coming to Transfiguration today and you feel like you need a break, you’re in the right place. For today, let us be lifted up by all the gifts that God has given us.

One of my favorite God given gifts is that we are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Most of you remember that we receive the seal of the Holy Spirit when we are baptized. The seal is an indication that we belong to God. In baptism it is a sign that we belong to Christ. The seal of the Holy Spirit comes to us all the time-not just in baptism. We are God’s children when we are born and the seal of baptism is just another time when God once again marks us as God’s own. We are chosen as God’s adopted children.

The Holy Spirit does more than mark us as Christ’s. The Holy Spirit remains with us.   The Holy Spirit guides us and leads us to do God’s will. It is a presence that can help us anytime and anywhere.

The Holy Spirit and the words of Jesus give us our spiritual direction. We often call that receiving the wisdom of God. Another word that we can use is the truth. It is Jesus who provides us with the truth, the gospel of your salvation.

The truth is a difficult thing to find these days. I find it difficult to know the truth when I listen to the various perspectives of people in the news. We have many tough issues that must be resolved and the feelings run strong on both side. It seems that everyone points to certain facts, the truth as they understand it, to support whatever position they might take. There does not seem to be a likely answer to many of our most pressing challenges.

But when it comes to our faith and to our relationship with God, we turn to Jesus for the truth. The disciples turned to Jesus for the truth. In Luke’s gospel it says, “‘Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth.”

In John’s gospel, Jesus said to his followers, “‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Also in John “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

We also look to the Holy Spirit for truth. Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. The truth is right there for us, a gift of Jesus, a gift of the Holy Spirit. Everyone of our readings today refers to the truth.

Amos, the prophet, was a shepherd who proclaimed the truth to the divided countries of the Jewish people. Amos came from the Southern Kingdom of Judah to the Northern Kingdom of Israel and he predicted destruction because the leaders were mistreating the poor and wallowing in their riches. It was a difficult message because Jeroboam’s reign was a time of economic and political prosperity. Not surprisingly, the king and the head priest did not want to hear what he had to say. In fact, Amos was asked to leave the country for his words. It took a while but Amos’ prediction came true. The Northern Kingdom was taken over by the Assyrians some thirty years after Amos made his prediction.

The Psalm places truth with God’s mercy and connects truth to our relationship with God when it says that righteousness and peace shall come together. When we seek the truth from God, we will find peace and receive God’s mercy.

And in the gospel, John was killed because he told the truth. He told Herod that it was unlawful for him to have married his brother’s wife, Herodias. She became so angry that she plotted against John and eventually found a way to have him killed.

Amos and John chose to confront leaders with the truth. Both of them suffered for what they said. I don’t think our search for the truth is as dangerous as it was for Amos and John. We look for God’s truth in Scripture. We look to the words of Jesus for our truth. We look to the Holy Spirit in prayer for the truth. Our search for truth may be for our own benefit or we may be called to speak the truth to others.

Today, I wish that you would bask in the blessings of God that were shared by Paul. We often think about what Jesus told us to do. “Go and make disciples of all nations” for example. But today, I would hope that you would hear the word of Jesus and hear him saying to you “Come.” For the first words that he said were “Come and follow me” (paraphrase from Charles Heimsatt Sermons on the Inner Life).

Let us come to Jesus for the truth. The truth is that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is our redeemer. Jesus forgave us of our sins. Jesus promised that he would save a place for his followers.

We may be called to share the truth that we learn from Jesus with others. We may be called to declare the truth to people who do not want to hear it. I would say those are worries for another day. Today, I just want to accept the grace that we receive from God and the opportunity to share those blessings with everyone in our spiritual community. Amen.

Sermon July 8, 2018

A pastor gave a message on evangelism and one family thought they had better do something to witness to Jesus. So they invited their neighbors to dinner the following Friday night. When it came to the meal, the believers were keen to show their neighbors that they upheld Christian standards in their home. So the mother asked her 5-year-old son to say grace. Little Johnny was a bit shy. “I don’t know what to say.” There was an awkward pause, followed by a reassuring smile from the boy’s mother. “Well darling,” she said, “Just say what Daddy said at breakfast this morning.” Obediently, the boy repeated, “Oh God, we’ve got those bad people coming to dinner tonight.” That’s probably not a good way to share the good news of Jesus and a good reason to be cautious as you listen to this sermon.

We often cringe when we hear the word evangelism. It has so many negative connotations. Evangelists are usually hard working, dedicated and well meaning individuals. And yet our minds often turn to examples of people who do evangelism in a way that we don’t appreciate. So, for example, our minds may turn to television evangelists that we think are disingenuous when they ask for money from their followers. I think of Jesse Duplantis, a televangelist. It was reported in the Washington post that Duplantis has asked for donations of $54 million from his flock so that he can purchase a Falcon 7X private plane that will allow him to fly non stop throughout the world. This plane would be the fourth one in his fleet of private aircraft. I know that I am not supposed to be judgmental, but that seems excessive to me.

You might think about people who go door to door seeking to evangelize people. Most of these people do their best but perhaps we do not want someone to convert us in this way.  Your thoughts might turn to someone who stands in the streets and cries out that we need to repent and return to the Lord. Or you may even think of the European powers who colonized many countries and sent missionaries to convert the people to their religion. Despite these examples of evangelism, you and I are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus. I am sure I make some of you nervous when I talk about it. But, evangelism does not have to be such a difficult task. Much of it has to do with simply behaving like Christians and sharing the story of Jesus.

Today’s gospel lesson is about evangelism. There may be some clues about how we might approach the subject. Jesus went to his hometown of Nazareth and tried to help the people but had little success. The people who knew him when he was a child were unable to understand how he could be so wise and so powerful. He was a carpenter and the brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon. So they rejected him and his teachings.   

Then, Jesus directed his apostles to go out and evangelize others in the world. Their job was difficult for he sent them out without food or money. They were totally reliant on the charity of those they met for their survival. Perhaps Jesus thought their lack of wealth and their need for food and a place to stay would help them share the gospel. They came to visit people just as they were. That may be the key to how evangelism really works. I say we just need to be who we are. It might be as simply as giving a stuffed animal to someone in hospice or helping a non-profit in need.  

Jesus sent his disciples out with a partner. Having a partner must have given them someone to talk with on the journey, someone who could provide encouragement when it seemed like things weren’t working and someone who might be able to say things to others in a way that the first person may not. So much good can come from partnerships. Perhaps it is a good idea for us to consider partners in our evangelism efforts.

I believe that Jesus was humble in all of his ministries. He met people were they were. Often he answered their questions and responded to their needs.   Paul wrote that God had given him a thorn, a reminder that God was in charge and that he should not be too proud. In all that we do, let us be humble.

Jesus sought to heal people. Let us try to heal people as well. Jesus told us to love one another. When the Christian Church first started to form, many people decided to join. In his book The Early Church, Henry Chadwick writes, “The practical application of charity was probably the most potent single cause of Christian success. The pagan comment ‘see how these Christians love one another’ (reported by Tertullian) was not irony. Christian charity expressed itself in care for the poor, for widows and orphans, in visits to brethren in prison, and social action in time of calamity like famine, earthquake, pestilence, or war.”

When Jesus went to Nazareth, he was rejected. When Jesus sent out his apostles, he told them to be prepared for rejection. Shake the dust off your feet he said and move on. If you invite someone to join us please do not worry if they say no.

Are there things we might avoid in our evangelism efforts? A religious writer and public speaker named Tony Kris begins his evangelism talks by asking folks to list the lies that Christians tell when trying to evangelize. People quickly come up with examples. Let me give you two. Kris would say “We lie when we don't acknowledge our doubts within the drama of faith”. Kris offers his own doubts, “Where did evil come from? Why did God put this whole human story into motion when it has caused so much pain?”

A second is “We lie when we pretend that the Bible doesn't say some really nasty things when in fact it does”. In Psalm 137 there is a verse that says "Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks”. I usually try to skip over that verse. Tony would say we need to own the whole Bible not just the parts we like.

Our presiding bishop continually asks us to focus on the love of Jesus. On Tuesday, a few of us gathered to watch Bishop Michael Curry discuss ways to use the sermon at the Royal Wedding in our daily life. That Royal wedding sermon was about the message of love. He spoke about God’s love for us and the love of Jesus who gave himself as a sacrifice for us. 

Bishop Curry often speaks about the Jesus Movement. He would say that we should share the story of Jesus with others. The story is not about the church as an institution, it is about the love of Jesus and the actions and teachings of Jesus. Our job is to live our lives as much like Jesus as we can. We are at our best when Jesus is at the center of our lives.

In his sermon at the beginning of the General Convention on Thursday, Bishop Curry continued this encouragement. He mentioned that for centuries monastics have used a guide called a rule of life to help them follow Jesus. Curry suggested that we identify our path as a rule of love. He hopes that we would pick up our own rule of love and use it to practice our faith.

I would suggest that evangelism is not so much about what we say but how we act. It is not about going to other people and telling them that they need to change. Instead, we should think about evangelism as an invitation to join a community that is seeking to follow Jesus. Come and see we might say. I wasn’t told that the Episcopal Church is the best way to be a Christian. My invitation was not judgmental. An invitation is about joining a community that admits everyone is sinful, all of us are trying to find our way. We ask people to join us along our journey. We say that we follow Jesus in the Episcopal way, understanding that there may be other ways. We speak of the love that Jesus has for us and the love that he offers to all.

Evangelism for me is about being yourself, not trying to be or do what others might do. Evangelism starts and ends with being centered in Jesus and to contemplate what Jesus did and what Jesus taught us.   Evangelism is sharing how the love of God has affected our lives. Only then can our invitation to another be sincere and helpful. Amen.

 

Sermon July 1, 2018

The latest issue to divide our nation is that of immigration. The feelings about this issue run deep on both sides. Some people are worried for their safety, they are concerned about dangerous gang members entering the country and they are worried about the amount of drugs that cross into the United States. Many of these people wish that everyone followed the laws of the United States and that no one would enter the country illegally. On the other hand there are people who wish that we cared for the stranger, people who worry about children and their safety and wish that we could help the people of Central America who are facing danger and hardship. I have visited several Central American countries. I have been a tourist in Mexico and Costa Rica where I saw many people living in great poverty but I never felt close to them. I have visited Honduras twice as part of a mission to the children and staff of El Hogar, the Episcopal school which this congregation has supported. In Honduras, I experienced poverty up close and personal. I visited the home of a lady who struggled to make ends meet. She made tortillas over a wood fire outside of her one room house. I know that parents make painful choices when they send their children to El Hogar because they will no longer have children to sell their goods on the street. We were told to be very careful because the streets were not safe. We learned that one former student had been killed because he joined a gang and was gunned down by the opposing gang. We went to El Salvador with one of our seminary professors who had family members living there. I once again experienced the harsh realities of poverty in that country, especially among the native people. I became aware of the number of gangs who threaten folks with either helping the gang or loosing their life. Many of the people crossing our borders are here because the alternative is death if they return to their homeland and don’t comply with the gangs. I also came to understand the beauty and the happiness, the hope, the gentleness and the loving kindness of so many people who live in those two countries. Given my own experience, I would say that the vast majority of people living in Central America are faithful Christians. They are humble and hard working and they wish to live safe and healthy lives just as we do. Everyone here is welcome to their own opinion. I myself would prefer a more friendly position on immigration. I am OK with closing our borders to illegal immigration but I would wish that we would allow people to file for asylum because I think they are legitimately in danger and deserve the chance to find safety. I support citizenship for dreamers. I don’t agree with separating immigrant families. But I am not here to change anyone’s mind. Whichever side of this controversy you support is fine for me. My responsibility is to speak about scripture and to speak about what Jesus taught us. So, we study scripture to find God in our life today to see if scripture fits our current issue. This week, scripture speaks specifically to the compassion of God. By extension, I believe we are called to have compassion for others. Scripture speaks to God’s gift of life and I think we too are called to give the gift of life. As a church community, we perform many outreach functions, seeking to help our neighbors in need. There is plenty to do for people living right here in this neighborhood. Many need food, clothing, and shelter. If you decided that your calling is just for those in Arizona right now, that is fine because there is so much to do. Still, I think by his word and his example, Jesus reached out with compassion to people who were outside of his Jewish community and people who had been shunned from society. The reading from Lamentations says it clearly, “Although God causes grief, God will have compassion according to the abundance of God’s steadfast love; for God does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.” Yes, God has compassion for us. In the gospel, Jesus had compassion for Jairus. After all, Jairus interrupted the teachings of Jesus and Jesus allowed that. Jesus went immediately to heal his daughter. It is one example of Jesus’ compassion. Jesus also had compassion for the woman. The woman was an outcast, she was depressed from her constant bleeding. She was poor from paying the doctors, and she was afraid that she might be noticed and forced to leave the crowd. According to Mosaic laws, the woman was not supposed to interact with other people. Her bleeding made her ritually impure. But she took a chance. She had faith that just touching Jesus’s clothing would make a difference. When the woman touched Jesus, healing occurred instantly. Jesus knew that someone had been healed because the energy flowed from him. When they spoke, he had compassion. He didn’t say, you cannot touch me. Rather he said, “your faith has made you well.” I say we wish to be touched by Jesus, to be held by Jesus. Touching is an important word for us today because we have been told that the immigrant children who have been taken from their parents were well cared for but the workers were not allowed to touch them. I understand that there may be a concern about whether the children will be harmed by any of the workers. But touching is important for children. Touching changes us. The woman’s story has special meaning to me because of my nose bleeds. I sure want to be touched by Jesus and healed. I also want to focus on the message of life that comes to us today. In Wisdom, we are told that God did not make death but rather God created us in God’s own image. God wanted us for life. Jesus gave the gift of life as well. He gave the woman a new life, free from bleeding and free from her life as an outcast. And he gave the young girl a renewed life, life from death, life with her family and life to grow into God’s love. In doing so, he overcame the laughter of those who believed that he could not bring her back. He showed the nay sayers that God can do anything. He confirmed that we should have faith and ask God for what we need. All of us have times when we struggle and need God’s help. All of us have had difficult times of sickness or poverty or loneliness. We have lost loved ones. Jesus is the one who brings us back to life. How do compassion and life giving fit into the immigration story? Well, whether we wish for open or closed borders, we can still have compassion. Let us have compassion on the children and parents who are separated from one another. Let us have compassion on those who seek asylum from dangerous living conditions. Let us have compassion on those who have walked thousands of miles to find a new life. Compassion doesn’t mean we let people do whatever they want. Rather it means trying to find a way to care for these people even if we turn them away. At the very end of the 2nd Corinthians passage, we are reminded that both the rich and the poor have something to give. Paul believed that people should have sufficient wealth not only to satisfy their own needs but also to share the excess with others who should reciprocate. I have read that the poor are more generous than the rich. In Honduras, I heard stories about poor people giving food and clothing to those even poorer. We sat with a child who saved some of his lunch for his brother. Perhaps when we show compassion to others by sharing what we have, we will receive something of value in return. I am trying to find a way that I can be more helpful in this immigration challenge rather than just sitting back and judging the work of others. I hope that you will do the same. I hope that we can find a way as a country to use compassion and life giving in a way that helps us find solutions to the complex issues of immigration. I would hope that we would find a way to deal with immigration by being strong and caring at the same time. I hope we can find a way to deal with this issue in such a way that we find safety and health for all. May God bless us on this difficult task. Amen.

June 17 2018

This past week, I had three personal interactions with people dealing with depression. And in the public space, we heard about two people who committed suicide. The first was Kate Spade. She and her husband started a business that changed the look of women’s fashion. My daughter prefers Kate Spade purses and carries the latest Kate Spade handbag with her everywhere she goes. Kate Spade was only 55 years old when she died. She left behind a daughter who is thirteen years old and other family members. Anthony Bourdain was the host of a popular television series called Parts Unknown. It was certainly about finding unusual kinds of foods and international cuisine but I think it was really about meeting people, learning about cultures. He helped us connect with people we don’t know. Anthony Bourdain leaves behind a family including a daughter. By all of our normal measures, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were successful. Both had lots of money, they were famous people, they lived a good life and they made our lives better. Most of us probably thought of them as happy people, but instead they struggled with depression and sadness. These two figures are not the only famous ones. Actor Robin Williams, Football player Junior Seau, and author Ernest Hemingway also killed themselves. Perhaps you have had a personal experience with suicide. I had an uncle who killed himself. In the last five years, I have known 3 people, all quite young who either killed themselves on purpose or accidentally overdosed on drugs. My niece’s brother-in-law died just last week from an overdose. Although I never contemplated suicide, I did have bouts of depression many years ago. Suicide and depression are difficult topics to discuss. Yet, I believe that it is important for us to discuss because I want to encourage those who are depressed to reach out to organizations and people that can help them. I also want all in this community to do everything we can to help those who are depressed. I encourage you to investigate suicide. It is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. The Center for Disease Control reports that the suicide rate has increased by nearly 30 per cent since 1999. Depression is something that can be caused by a physical issue. It can also be caused by circumstances, the loss of a loved one, a physical ailment that keeps the person from living their life in a way that they consider normal, perhaps the loss of a job or a divorce. Combinations of these factor simply make depression more likely. In our church service Steve Dingle spoke about his perspectives on depression and suicide. Steve is a psychiatrist who has worked in that profession for about thirty years. Here are some things I heard from Steve during our service. The large majority of people who have tried to commit suicide have never sought treatment for depression. This makes it very difficult for professionals or others to know whom they should help. It makes it difficult to determine who is at risk. A key part of depression is loneliness. Steve would encourage us to look for people who are withdrawing from others, who may no longer feel that they are a part of society. These people may be potential candidates for suicide. Thank you, Steve. Depression may be a side effect of prescription drugs. Over 200 prescription drugs list suicide and depression as a potential side effect including painkillers, blood pressure medicine and heart medication. The potential may increase when several drugs are taken together. When depression becomes so strong that the individual reaches a point of hopelessness or loneliness it may cause that person to feel that taking their own life is the only way out of their situation. If you ever feel this way, I encourage you to reach out for help. I am not an expert on depression or suicide, but I am willing to listen and to see if there is a way that I can assist you. You may also choose to reach out to another person in our congregation and ask for their help. I encourage you to have some phone numbers available to you. The Maricopa crisis service hotline is 800-631-1314. The national suicide prevention hotline at 800-273-8255. Our faith is an important place for us to return when we are depressed. Today, we heard that we “walk by faith and not by sight”. Our faith helps us maintain our equilibrium. Faith helps us to stay focused on what we should be doing and where we are going. As a child, I was taught that suicide was a sin. One of the commandments says Thou shalt not kill. Some denominations think that suicide violates that commandment. After many years, I am not so sure. While I wish that people did not commit suicide, I understand people who are in so much pain that living offers no real alternative. We also should remember that humans are not the judge. God is the only one that can see inside of an individual, understand their motivations and determine what judgment should be applied. Our faith is there to help us when we struggle. God will help us when we are depressed. I often use an app called the Daily Office from Mission Saint Clare. It includes music along with the words and scriptural passages of that service. I find great solace in a hymn that was written many years ago which is based on the words of Psalm 86. It is often part of the Mission St. Clare office. Allow me to paraphrase: Lord I humbly turn to you. Please hear my words. Save me, O Lord for I have no help, nor hope except from you alone. Lord, please send me your relieving gladness to my soul which has so much sadness. I seek to free my soul from the bonds of this earth and fly up with eagerness to be with you. God is there for you even if no one else is. That is what I hear in this hymn. Psalm 23 is another place to turn. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me. You will also find great comfort in the Book of Job. God is able to make things happen in our lives. In today’s reading from Ezekiel we hear about God’s power, “All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord. I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree;” If God can make high the low tree then God can lift us out of our depression and make us whole. And we should not rely too much on wealth or fame or other temptations of the earth for God can bring down the high tree. In today’s lesson from 2nd Corinthians, I find words of hope in our hopelessness. “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” When we are feeling alone, let us turn to Jesus. For Jesus came to earth for everyone of us. Jesus sacrificed himself for us. Jesus wants to see us healed from ever sort of problem that we face. Jesus will encourage us to continue our journey and stand beside us as we go. And Jesus is the great healer for all that troubles us. In the ninth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, there are several stories about healing. The centurion’s daughter was returned to life and the bleeding woman simply touched the cloak of Jesus and was healed. Two blind men were healed and a man who couldn’t speak was healed. Near the end of the chapter we are told “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness”. And we learn that Jesus had great compassion on all of the people. If Jesus had compassion on those he met along the road, doesn’t he also have compassion on you and me? I believe that Jesus wants us to be healed from all of our sicknesses. As a faith community, we are called to help those who are sick and suffering. Today, I remind you that we are called to care for those who are depressed or alone. I ask each of you to look out for others, to reach out to them and help us to make sure that no one is alone. I am so thankful to the ladies who are seeking to grow our ministry to those who need help. We get to know others better when we give them rides and offer companionship. We lift the spirits of others when we offer food. I hope that you will join in this ministry. Whether you add your name to this group or not, I hope that you will have compassion on others around you, that you will seek out someone who is alone or in need of a companion. I hope that you will help someone who struggles with the symptoms of depression. Whatever our situation, let us be firm in our faith, for in our faith God will give us the wisdom and strength to deal with all the things that trouble us and others. Amen.

June 10 2018

I recently heard some older people complain about the younger generation. They said the younger generation does not work as hard as they did. The younger generation doesn’t take financial responsibility. The younger generation does not behave as they should. The younger generation relies too much on their parents. That last complaint got a lot of press recently when the parents of a 30 year old took their son to court and had him evicted from their house. The son had lived in the house for eight years as an adult and despite several efforts to get him to leave, the son was still there. A judge agreed with them and the son was forced to move out. Some would suggest that this is an example that millennials are unable to live independently. In 2001, Time Magazine wrote, “They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They have few heroes, no anthems, no style to call their own. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial.” I remember similar things being said about my generation when I was in college. Older people at that time complained about young men having long hair. They complained about hippies and communes. They complained about the peace movement. Complaints about the younger generation have existed forever. In the 4th century BC, Aristotle wrote that “(Young people) think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it.” Parents frequently complain about the excuses that their children give when something goes wrong. My brother started it. He looked at me funny. It wasn’t me, it was the dog that did it. Blaming our problems on someone else or giving excuses isn’t new either. Today, I ask you to ponder times that you might have made excuses for your bad behavior, most especially I would ask you to think about times that you have made excuses for your sins, for your failure to follow God’s will. Excuses have been given since the beginning of humankind. In our first reading, Adam and Eve gave excuses to God for their behavior. The first sign from Adam of his sin is that he tried to hide from God. He told God that he was hiding because he was naked. Of course, God already knew that. God knew that Adam had eaten the forbidden fruit. But let us listen to the excuses that both Adam and Eve had for their behavior. The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” Neither Adam nor Eve was responsible for what had happened. I know that people keep secrets as a way to surprise another person. But often, hiding something that we have done is a sign that we have committed a wrongdoing, we have sinned. If you ever find yourself hiding an act from someone, then you should at least question yourself, ask yourself why. Am I ashamed of what I have done? Am I concerned that the outcome would be bad if other people found out what I had done? And how about excuses. Do we ever give ourselves a free pass for our sins? We may blame another person for our own actions. Or we may blame our sins on some uncontrollable situation. Someone gave me this book titled “Get over yourself; God’s here!” By Kate Moorehead. In the introduction priest Kate reminds us of all the excuses we give. For example, some people talk about their issues. In today’s culture, it is acceptable to say, I have issues rather than to say I have done something wrong. Another word we use is mistakes. I just made a mistake as if we did something we really didn’t mean to do. If it is a sin we have committed wouldn’t it be better to say, I screwed up rather than to say I made a mistake. Mistake implies that we didn’t do it on purpose. Some people speak about an addiction as if it is something that cannot be controlled or dealt with. In my time the most famous excuse for a sin is the one Flip Wilson made popular, “The devil made me do it”. I am here to suggest that admitting we have sinned is the best first step towards dealing with that sin. I don’t care if all you do is say to yourself, I committed a sin and I was wrong. Of course, you may choose to say something to a person that you have wronged and offer an apology. In the Episcopal tradition, we confess our sins in community, jointly saying the confession each Sunday and receiving an absolution from the priest. The risk that we run when we confess our sins together is that we may not identify our specific sin to ourselves. We may just say God, I am sorry for what I have done wrong. While that is good, it may not help us to deal clearly with a sin that we have committed over and over again. By the way, you always have the option of going to a priest for a private confession. Several times, I have had people come to me for a private meeting to share a specific sin and ask for God’s forgives for that sin and to seek God’s help in changing their behavior. It really isn’t as hard as you might think. Today, I ask you to identify your sin by that name not with some excuse. Adam and Eve were punished for their sin. Not only were they banished from the Garden of Eden but they were also told they would experience pain, suffering and their work would be difficult. It would be hard for them to scratch out a living on the hard soil. It is possible that God will punish us for our sins. That may be reason enough for us to stay on the straight and narrow, to stay away from those sins that haunt us. But an even better reason for us to admit to our sins and to commit to stop those sins is the benefit of living in God’s grace. Do you remember that Adam hid from God after he had eaten from the forbidden fruit. Our sins can be something that causes us shame. It may cause us to hide from God or even to hide what we do from other people. Wouldn’t life be so much better if we find a way to live in God’s love, to live in the light instead of in the darkness? There is good news in the rest of our scripture readings for today. It is found in the forgiveness that God is always prepared to offer us. Forgiveness is found in the Psalm. The Psalmist wrote that we call out to God from the depths of our failure, from our grief at what we have done and from our wish to be reunited with God. And God responds. We say, “For there is forgiveness with you”. In another verse we hear that “for with the Lord there is mercy; With him there is plenteous redemption, and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.” Not only do we know of God’s forgiveness but we have a foreshadowing of the coming of Jesus, the one who redeemed us from all of our sins. Isn’t that the best of reason to forgo our sins, to admit to our faults and to strive to live all of our lives in Jesus. For we know that God loves us and we know that Jesus loves us and came to redeem us for our sins. Adam was ashamed and hid from God. Both Adam and Eve tried to place the blame for their choices on someone else. As we listen to their story, we realize that not much has changed. There is a little bit of Adam and Eve in all of us. Instead of being ashamed, let us turn our faces to God and say, God I am sorry for my wrongs. God, lift me up and take me from this dark place. In the reading from Corinthians we hear that good news in another way, “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” God is working in us and for us all the time. All we need is to accept God’s work in us, to let that love and grace come in. Amen.

June 3 2018

If you are or were in a teaching profession, you might be familiar with the concept of the syllabus creep, or syllabus bloat. For those unfamiliar with it, a syllabus is the document that tells you what you can expect in the college or technical course you are taking. “Syllabus creep” or syllabus bloat is the term teachers and professors use to describe the tendency of a syllabus to get longer over time because you might feel like you have to address problems from previous semesters. It’s the desire to cut down on fifty students (no really, fifty) asking you the same question. A couple of years ago when I started teaching a sociology course at ASU, I looked at the syllabus of a colleague who taught the same course. I thought it looked huge, but I also quickly realized the syllabus was the result of years of issues popping up in his class. I adopted his course policies wholesale. Except for one major difference. One recent figure I saw is that profs spend around 28% of their time answering emails. A lot of those emails are things that are answered somewhere in the syllabus or the course material. I toyed around with an idea from a professor at Salem College who would only respond to emails from students requesting an in-person conversation. But I got cold feet on something so drastic, even if the reported results of that policy were amazing. Instead, I told my students that if they emailed me after 5pm, they should not expect a response before 9am the next business day. There was no complicated decision tree for when to email me; just an expectation about when students could and could not expect a response from me. I don’t have enough information to tell if it changed my students’ habits, but it did change mine. It felt like I had given myself permission to be with my family even if I had seen the email from a student. I had given myself permission to leave my phone and my laptop in another room. Folks who work in a number of fields can tell us that technology has changed our work habits. As a culture, we are already working the jobs that years ago, two or three other people would have been hired to do. One university official at ASU I know absorbed the work of three people in his department when they left their jobs. Email and smartphones and other technologies further blur the lines between time at work and time at home. And even if some of us are able to stave off the personal push to “sacrifice in the name of accomplishing the goal” or coworkers may not, and so they may resent our “tuning-out” or we risk the reputation of one who is “uncommitted.” As Rabbi Arthur Waskow puts it, “Most Americans today work longer, harder, and more according to someone else’s schedule than they did 30 years ago. We have less time to raise our children, share neighborhood concerns, or develop our spiritual life…this life situation crosses what we usually see as class lines: single mothers who are working at minimum wages for fast food chains and holding on by their fingernails to a second job to make ends meet feel desperately overworked; and so do wealthy brain surgeons.” Further, in this culture of convenience in which we can order something from Amazon and have it at my door within two hours, we do not often think of what it takes other human beings in order to make that happen. I think about that when I’m ordering an Uber or a Lyft at 3 in the morning to get to the airport, and I talk to the driver about his kids at home, asleep—the the other job he works. I think about it when the most persistently difficult part of my job as a campus chaplain seems to be getting more than seven students in a room at the same time. Often, it is not an issue of willingness on their part; it’s an issue of time and aligning schedules as they go between their two to three jobs each, in addition to their course schedule, ongoing resume-building projects, unpaid internships, and appointments to sell their plasma for rent money. And while news outlets are telling us that millennials are killing off industries by the dozens—mostly because they have less purchasing power due to stagnant wages—or when it is bemoaned that they are not willing to work beyond what they are getting paid for to signal their “commitment”—when it’s more accurate to say that they are not willing to be exploited by companies with no reciprocal notion of loyalty, I’m reminding them that I’ve never heard a person near death say that they wish they had taken more hours away from their family for work. Welcome to the new realities of campus ministry. Jesus said, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” I want to go back to the reading from Deuteronomy, and I want to leave us with two lines of consideration: the first is a social pondering, and the second will be a question about one’s personal practice of Sabbath. So, let’s go back to our first reading. there is something quite important to notice here: “You shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day. This is known as the third of the ten commandments, and what is so fascinating is that here it appears to be a hinge between the commandments that deal with our relationship to God and our relationship to others. In essence, God is saying that because the Israelites knew the experience of slavery in Egypt, the working according to someone else’s schedule and the inability of worship according to God, God will not allow the Israelites to treat others that way. Everyone gets the Sabbath off. The Israelites could not even require of their own slaves or the immigrants among them to keep commerce going in their stead, hence closing off the possibility of an exploitative work practice. In other words, the Sabbath is not simply to make the worship of God possible; it’s a regulation of our treatment of others. We now live in a society that, due to our multiculturalism, does not take a common time of breath or rest. In the age of 24 hour stores, a gig economy where folks have to hustle for a living, a sleepless internet and marketplace, and parental anxiety over making sure their kids stay on track for free college through over-programming their lives, we are sorely lacking in a time to collectively take a pause. While I’m not a fan of enforcing religious laws over a populace that may believe differently, it’s worth recognizing that we’re missing something that once existed to our benefit. And I wonder what the implications would be on considering how a faith community, willing to live simply one day a week, would make a difference on the work and life of others. What if we were as committed to our neighbor’s time of rest as we were to sating our desire for convenience? Now, I’m not interested in telling you how to rest—that you need a day every week that you do nothing. As much as I’d find that to be an ideal for everyone, I need to admit that I’ve been particularly bad about that. But I want to ask you to consider something. I’ve noticed that this frenetic pace of modern life and a general sense of unhappiness with the over-work we experience has a positively toxic side effect. We tend to feel alienated from—and joyless in—our work. As a result of that, many of the ways we take off our time is numbing rather than resting. There is a difference between that which numbs us from our life and that which rejuvenates us. How have you seen that difference? Sabbath is not simply time off to recuperate so that we may increase our value as an economic producer. So, how do you tell the difference between what is deadening you from what gives you life? Recognizing that difference and moving toward the life-giving will move you closer to the orbit of God. Recognizing the difference may help you drop the habits that keep you in a unrestful stasis—perhaps dropping the habits that leave you feeling guilty afterward. May your discernment of your rest this summer be life-giving—and may you guard your life-giving leisure. Preacher: Robert Berra

May 27 2018

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen. Good morning everyone! How wonderful it is to be back here with you at Church of the Transfiguration! It’s been awhile! And I know that as you drank your morning coffee, you were contemplating the sacred mysteries of the Trinity, being that today is Trinity Sunday. But hey, did you know that the number three is a sacred number? Trinities & sacred threes were actually around long before Christianity. In fact, Trinities & sacred three’s go back to ancient cultures & prehistoric religions! It’s true! Much like how ancient people celebrated winter solstice before the holiday was absorbed by Christianity & became Christmas, (celebrated three days after winter solstice by the way), the Trinity / sacred threes have been around a very long time! So, what is it about the number “3”? Notice the number three is everywhere! Just look at this weekend, it’s a 3 day weekend, it’s Trinity Sunday, & in Isaiah’s scripture reading for today we have Seraphs flying around singing “Holy, Holy, Holy”! And although the number 3 is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, we see patterns of the number 3 in many places. Examples? In Genesis there are the 3 Patriarchs; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. And the story of Abraham & Sarah being visited by 3 men who were really 3 angels. This story is depicted in the famous Russian icon “Troitza” (Trinity). And let’s not forget the story of Jonah, who spent 3 days in the belly of a whale. And, we see the number 3 is also the number of the Resurrection, where Jesus rose on the 3rd day. Trinities & sacred threes not only exist in religion, but many cultures, in the arts, music, mythology, and yes, even in mathematics & the sciences! Can you think of any? Celtic art – Celtic art has many designs based on three. spiral Greek mythology – 3 Furies, the 3 Fates, and 3 main gods; Zeus (land), Hades (underworld), & Poseidon (the sea). Eastern religions – Hinduism has the Trimurti; Brahma the creator, Vishnu the sustainer, and Shiva the destroyer, the three top gods that keep the universe going thru endless cycles of life, death & rebirth. In health, wellness & spirituality – “body, mind & spirit”! mindbodyspirit The Sciences – 3 dimensions of space, 3 states of matter; solid, liquid & gas, 3 types of electrical charges; positive, negative & neutral, and atoms have 3 particles, the proton, electron & neutron! And DNA is one of the 3 major macromolecules necessary for life! Math – 3 sides to a triangle, the most stable of geometric shapes. Number 3 is big in Cartoon image of Pi symbolthe Golden Ratio, the Fibonacci sequence, exponential power of 3, cubed. Pi is 3.14. Storytelling – The 3 Musketeers, the 3 Little Pigs…3 Blind Mice, Three Billy goats Gruff, The Good, the Bad & the Ugly! Time – perception of time is described in threes as well, yesterday, today, tomorrow. Beginning, middle, end. Birth, life, death. Symbolically – 3 is a sacred number in many ancient rTriple moon goddesseligions. Symbolically it is similar to the number 7, which means wholeness, completeness. 3 is considered a “perfect” number, the unifier of dualities! Ancient religions – Rule of Three, also known as the law of return. It basically states that whatever energy a person puts out into the world, whether it be positive or negative, it will come back to you threefold. Three is a sacred number in many religions. Triple Moon Goddess, maiden, mother, crone. Music – There are triplets, 3 beats per one beat. Western music tends to be very 4/4 tripletswith a straight ahead beat & rhythm. But in many other cultures, many rhythms are based on three, such as the triplet. It gives a very “circular” feel. And Nikola Tesla, the genius inventor who designed the alternating current (AC) electrical system said “If you want to know the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”20603-Nikola-Tesla-Quote-If-you-want-to-find-the-secrets-of-the-universe.jpg As we can see, the concept of a Trinity & the triadic nature of the divine & sacred threes have been part of our psyche for thousands of years! Are all these things about the number 3 just a coincidence? It does makes you wonder!! One really interesting take on the Trinity / sacred number 3 this is from Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault. She explores this deeply in her book The Holy Trinity & the Law of Three; Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity. She observes that in our modern day Western world we tend to think & view things dualistically in “twos”, such as in opposites, not so much in “threes”. Can you think of a few dualistic thinking examples? “Good vs. evil”, “light / darkness, “two sides to every story”, “this, or that”, “yes or no”, “you are with us or against us”, “democrat or republican”, “liberal / conservative”, etc. There is no middle ground in dualistic thinking, and there tends to be no movement, no flow forward. It’s just “this, or that”! And that is that!! Thus, dualistic thinking can be very stagnating & very divisive, not only politically but also spiritually. It can lead to feeling stuck in a spiritual dead-zone. In fact, if you have been feeling spiritually “stuck” lately, you are not alone! But just look what happens when we integrate a third perspective into the picture… A third force (or idea, or entity, or person) can help eliminate being stuck in the gridlock of dualistic “either-or” thinking. It can lead to something totally new! Synthesis! Thus, three is a unifier of dualities! It is much more holistic (whole). Viewed from the Law of Three, the Trinity in essence is about process. Flow. Growth. Awakening. Transformation. Being that I have been a musician, I tend to think of threes as a triplet, like a circle in time. Musical triplets bring a circular flowing rhythm & groove to music. Like a galloping horse, it has a lot of wonderful energy & feels circular or cyclical, but at the same time feels like it moves us forward! The Gospel story for today is a great example of the difference between thinking dualistically (in 2’s) and holistically (in 3’s). Much like our mainstream modern western world, Nicodemus displays dualistic thinking, very literal & linear. He doesn’t understand Jesus’ teaching on how anyone can be “born again” when they are older. Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus on the other hand thinks much more in metaphors & more holistically..in three’s. Not at all black and white or “either / or”. He tells Nicodemus, “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit… You must be born from above. The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” What is Jesus talking about? He is talking about spiritual awakening! So, if you have been feeling stuck spiritually, try thinking, praying & visualizing in different ways. I know, easier said than done. Let go & let the Spirit flow. The wind blows where it will. Don’t try to control it. Let it flow! If your image of the Trinity is a triangle, try praying & meditating on it as a circle of light instead. You may be amazed where it takes you! Let us pray… Almighty and everlaTroitsasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen! [NOTE: The above was a sermon given at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration,Mesa, AZ May 27, 2018 by the Rev. Laura Adelia]

May 20, 2018

It’s Pentecost. Happy Birthday, Church! Since we are a liturgical church, with our liturgy and worship organized around the events of Jesus’ life, and our lectionary selections deliberately chosen to set a traditional and historical paradigm for our celebration of Christ’s life, we can say, ‘of course it’s Pentecost’ because the liturgical year is part of our worship. But if we allow ourselves to get comfortable in our liturgical cycle, and congratulate ourselves on our (generally) well-chosen readings, we may miss the call our Lord extends to us. Now, granted, there are Propers for some weeks that may leave us wondering what the folks who formulate the lectionary were smoking, but we usually draw inspiration and guidance from our readings. If we’re stuck, then sometimes, the Collect will provide clarification. But if not, just maybe, the obscurity is meant to lead us further into Scripture, and maybe, conversation with one another. Not at all a bad outcome. But in this Season of Easter we have just come through, we can clearly see the joyous possibilities to which we have been brought. The readings for today encapsulate this journey! Last Sunday, Deacon Dan spoke to all of us about God’s call on each of our lives. Our Deacon spoke eloquently about what our God expects of us – lives of love and service to God, through love for, and service to, all of God’s creation, especially our sisters and brothers. Transfiguration is truly amazing at this kind of love and service. That’s a good thing. We take very seriously Jesus’ admonition in 1 John, that we can scarcely claim to love God, Whom we cannot see; if we turn away from those sisters and brothers we do see, or from those of whose existence we are at least aware. Now, even when we have an objective, we humans can, and sometimes do, bog ourselves down in conversation over Who, Where, What, and How we make that love and service happen. So we pray that when we like sheep start to go astray in that manner, the Holy Spirit is standing by with a VERY loud wake up call. Perhaps that’s part of what we do for one another; and perhaps we can extend our prayer to the Holy Spirit that we may have the grace to hear God’s call on our lives, however it comes to us. In the reading from ACTS which we heard this morning, Peter astounds us. We all love Peter. He is US. The fisherman we meet in the Gospels often doesn’t know what to say, let alone what to do. But that never keeps him silent, and Jesus is very patient with Peter. Even after Peter denies Christ three times, Jesus states forgiveness three times. Peter finally gets a little cranky with the three times our hero Jesus asks if Peter loves Him, but his answers are always affirmative. And our Lord says “Feed My sheep,” “Tend My sheep,” “Feed My sheep.” Here again, Jesus makes clear our instructions on how to live. And we see that God’s love for US is a “No Matter What” kind of love. Peter is US. Then, on Pentecost morning, when Jerusalem is full of all sorts of people from all sorts of places, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate promised by Christ, descends upon the disciples. We are NOT surprised when those gathered around begin to accuse the disciples of drunkenness, because after all, do we humans not often ridicule what we do not understand? Do we not fear what we do not know? No, we are not surprised at the crowd, but when our beloved Peter, who so often appears clueless, speaks up to defend the disciples, we ARE surprised. Peter is a devout Jew, and he does know his Scripture. Quoting the prophet Joel, his defence of Jesus’ Disciples is wonderful. And we recall that after the Resurrection Peter has boldly critiqued the Temple Establishment – “This Jesus, Whom YOU guys crucified. . .” Peter is given the words he needs in the moment he needs them. Peter is enabled by God to do what God calls him to do. Peter ultimately speaks and writes glorious theology. Look what God does. We LIKE Peter. He IS us. In Peter we see hope for what God will do with us! In the passage from Romans we are reminded that human history has always been painful. We have no trouble relating to the groans of all creation for redemption. One newscast, a little television, a little conversation with our friends and neighbours, and we KNOW through reading Scripture that we humans are still pretty much doing business at the same old stand. And STILL the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Still our hope is in God. Because in today’s Gospel, Jesus promises us all the help and support we could ever need, if we heed God’s call to us. Just like Peter and all the followers of Christ. And thus we understand what the Lord our God asks and expects of us. We know that God does love us amazingly, and we respond to God’s love with love for God and all God’s creation, all the days of our lives, hopefully. We know that God can and WILL use each of us, clueless or not, whatever our supposed weakness. We know What, we know Why, and we know How and When. If we think we don’t, we just need to ask. So, Happy Birthday, Church! THANKS BE TO GOD! Preacher: Susan Smith-Allen

Today’s gospel is rich in meaning. It is often referred to as “Jesus Prays for his Disciples.” Personally, I wish that the next verse had been included in our reading. That verses says, “do not ask for these only,(meaning the disciples) but also for those who come after who will believe in me through their word.” Those coming after, are you and me. Jesus is praying for us.
 
Twenty-nine years ago in November I became a deacon. To reach this goal I had to study for four years at my own expense for a job that didn't pay. Yet I did this gladly as I knew that this was my calling. The word Deacon comes from the Greek and means one who serves. Long before my ordination and the right to the title of Deacon I was a deacon, just as long before I was married I was in love with Betsy.
 
I grew up in Philadelphia. My parents, siblings and grandparents all lived in a small house with only one bathroom. I grew up in the Catholic Church. Growing up I learned that we are all called to be Christ to one another. We are called to break down barriers, to reach out and to serve.
 
The Hymn “Anthem”  speaks of this as we sing

 We Are Called, We Are Chosen.
We are promised to tomorrow,
while we are for him today.
We are sign, we are wonder.
We are sower, we are seed.
We are harvest, we are hunger.
We are question, we are creed.

I have learned over the years that most of us prefer to live in boxes we create for ourselves. We believe these boxes provide us with safety, that they can protect us; but that is illusion I learned that lesson again this year. I was near death and during that time I was struck by the fact that we take millions of things for granted each day. Last Sunday as I listened to Fr Bob’s sermon I looked out the window and saw a lone bird on a wire. The bird became a symbol to me of our freedom. Our ability to make choices. Choices that can demonstrate our commitment to the belief that we are Christ to one another.

In our baptism we are anointed and we pledge to resist evil, to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves and to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being. It is hard to keep these vows if we are locked in a box of our own making. However, if we remember that we are children of God and that as such we are Christ’s siblings and that God has given us the freedom to make choices then how can we do less than strive to live up to these vows every day and to also thank God for all that he has given us. We need to work each day to be the person God knows we can be.
 
In formation for the Diaconate we learned that every Gospel reading is a call to action. We have the freedom to serve others. We have God’s love. We need to leave our boxes behind and serve others. The service does not always need to be grandiose.  We might serve by acts of kindness, by helping our neighbors, by being more aware and looking around to see what needs to be done. It might be calling a fellow parishioner, volunteering in a prison, teaching a class, visiting someone in the hospital. The gesture might not seem like much to us but it would be a big deal to those who are in need.
 
In my final interview with the bishop before my ordination,  he asked me what if I were kept from taking the final step because something had been discovered in my past that prohibited my ordination. The answer was easy. It would not matter because a deacon is a person who serves and regardless of the formality I would always serve God. I am reminded of this today, my last day as a formal deacon, because even though I am retiring I am not quitting. I will continue to serve God. 
 
I want to take this opportunity to thank my wife Betsy. She has stood by me through good times and bad. She did not desert me in the days when I drank. She has supported me in my work. Thank you. Betsy. I also want to thank Fr. Bob and all of you here at Transfiguration. As I said, I may be retiring but I am not leaving. My call to action has merely changed.

 

May 6, 2018

I want to share a funny story that happened at our house last week. It probably doesn’t connect with anything in today’s lessons. Last Saturday, I bought muffins for our vestry retreat. There were four muffins left over and I brought them home. I suggested to Jan that I might take them to church on Sunday for coffee hour. I was surprised that Jan didn’t want them to go anywhere. She wanted the muffins to stay in our house. I didn’t pick up on her strong statement very well. You see, we never have muffins at our house for breakfast and Jan chooses to eat things that don’t have carbohydrates, so I didn’t understand how important it was for her that we keep the muffins for her to eat. So, on Sunday, silly me once again suggested that I might take some of the muffins to church. Jan said, something like, “Why do you keep trying to give away my muffins?” I learned that while she doesn’t usually eat muffins, she really likes them and wanted these muffins to stay in the house. I agreed. Before we left for church, Jan took great care to put a note on the muffins that they had to stay in the microwave so that our daughter’s dog wouldn’t eat them. Unfortunately, our son-in-law left the muffins out by mistake after warming the baby’s milk in the microwave and they were eaten by the dog. Jan didn’t get her muffins and I didn’t take any muffins to church. Jan and I had a good laugh about that outcome. I thought to myself that God must have decided that if we are going to disagree about what is going to happen to the muffins, then neither of us will get them. Or maybe this was such a small thing that God didn’t really decide to do anything about the muffins. I do know, however, that God wants us to treat each other with love and to remember that we are all children of God. In the epistle for today, there is a verse about how we treat children of God. It goes like this, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” I like the way the Contemporary English version of the Bible says it, “If we love and obey God, we know we will love God’s children.” Let’s spend this time remembering all the different ways we are God’s children and what it means to love and obey God. It seems appropriate to do that this Sunday, family Sunday, when we are especially reminded of our children. There are so many references in Scripture to help us realize that we are all children of God. One of my favorites is this verse from Galatians 3:26 and 27: “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” It is through our baptism that Jesus has chosen us as children of God. I also like this quote from 1 John 3:1 “See what amazing love the Father has given us! Because of it, we are called children of God. And that’s what we really are!” In Romans 8:14: we are told that “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Scripture is clear that everyone one of us is a child of God. We have been adopted as God’s children through God’s love. Jesus made sure that we are children of God through his life and work and sacrifice. As we live in the spirit and ask the Spirit to guide us we continue to live as God’s children. The acceptance that we are God’s children can actually be overwhelming. We sing about it in songs taught to young people like All God’s Children of the World. We write about it. Here is what Maya Angelou once said, “I believed that there was a God because I was told it by my grandmother and later by other adults. But when I found that I knew not only that there was God but that I was a child of God, when I understood that, when I comprehended that, more than that, when I internalized that, ingested that, I became courageous.” As we follow in Maya Angelou’s footsteps, we too become courageous. We live in God’s love and we share that love with others. Knowing that we are God’s children lifts us up but today’s lesson is about how we respond. The reading from 1 John encourages us to love God and to follow God’s commandments. I sometimes wonder if it is easier to love God than to obey the commandments. But that is a silly idea. The truth is we show our love by doing what God commanded us to do. And the model we have for doing God’s will is Jesus. In the gospel today, Jesus spoke of following God’s commandments and abiding in God’s love. The word abiding isn’t used much anymore. I think abiding has a sense of continuity to it. Synonyms include enduring and everlasting and permanent. Abiding in God’s love is a commitment that we make for our entire life. Abiding means accepting the gift we have been given. In particular, it is about the gift Jesus gave us in his death and resurrection. It is about the water and the blood that came from Jesus when the soldiers pierced him in the side. It is the gift of life that Jesus gave for us. It is the promise of everlasting life. That is why we choose to abide, to choose an everlasting love. This week, I once again felt a strong connection between our epistle and our gospel reading. The gospel speaks of following the commandments of God. It speaks of the love of Jesus and the love of God. The epistle has similar words about God’s love. These two scriptural texts seem to be perfectly paired with each other. Last week, we learned that when we love one another God lives in us. This week it says that when we love God, we love one another. It sounds as if these are two opposite theologies. But it is as if love leads us in all directions. Loving others means God is in us. Loving others, the children of God, means that we love God. It is like a circle of love lifting us up and bringing us close to God and each other. Jesus spoke of another gift. It is the freedom to live as his friend. We are no longer servants, he said, but rather his friends. Our friendship means that we are no longer bogged down by sin. We follow God’s word because we have been taught by Jesus. We understand the truth that is found in Jesus. Of course our friendship doesn’t make us equal to Jesus. It instead makes us able to live our lives in joy and thanksgiving. We often think about following God’s commandments as if it were a hardship. We have to set our mind to it and have a grim determination to see it through. Jesus never saw it that way. When we abide in God’s love, it makes things easier. Our life is no longer difficult or a chore. The commandments are no longer burdensome we are told. Jesus thought of following God’s commandments as something he did with joy. I believe Jesus thought that when he asked the disciples to follow God’s commandments, he expected that they would do so with joy. It certainly gave them a sense of fulfillment, a knowing that they were doing the right thing. We seek that sense of fulfillment as well. We too want to bask in God’s love. That is why Jesus spoke of his own joy and why he wishes for us to share in that joy. It is the joy that is found in obeying God’s wishes for us. Our theme throughout this Easter season has been about God’s love. We understand the gift that has been given to us and we accept that gift which brings us comfort and strength. We understand how Jesus wants us to live and we do so with joy. Most especially we are joyful because we share our love with God’s children. Today, I think about the young people that we encounter, the real children who need our help and support and love. I am thankful that people have worked hard to make a difference for the young people in this state through increased funding for our school systems. I am thankful for the gifts we give to those who need it the most, the backpack program that feeds hungry children. All the while, I remember that everyone here is a child of God, a person who needs our love and support whether they are a newborn or the most mature person in this congregation. Let us cross those barriers that divide us, cross the barriers of age or race or gender and accept and share in the love that we all have as children of God. Amen.
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