Help us, O Lord, to be masters of ourselves that we may become the servants of others. Take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, and take our hearts and set them on fire. Amen.
There once was a Mafia Godfather who found out that his bookkeeper had stolen ten million dollars from him. This bookkeeper was deaf, and it was considered an occupational benefit. The man got the job in the first place, since it was assumed that a deaf bookkeeper would not be able to hear anything that he'd ever have to testify about in court. When the Godfather went to shakedown the bookkeeper about his missing $10 million dollars, he brought along his attorney, who knew sign language. The Godfather asked the bookkeeper: "Where is the 10 million bucks you embezzled from me?" The attorney, using sign language, asked the bookkeeper where the 10 million dollars was hidden. The bookkeeper signed back: "I don't know what you are talking about." The attorney told the Godfather: "He says he doesn't know what you're talking about." That's when the Godfather pulled out a 9 mm pistol, put it to the bookkeeper's temple, cocked it, and said: "Ask him again!" The attorney signed to the underling: "He'll kill you for sure if you don't tell him!" The bookkeeper signed back: "OK! You win! The money is in a brown briefcase, buried behind the shed in my cousin Enzo's backyard in Queens!" The Godfather asked the attorney: "Well, what did he say?" The attorney replied: "He says you don't have the guts to pull the trigger.”
Because you and I are choosing creatures, we have many choices to make in life. We are free to choose to be truly ourselves, to be the people God intended for us to be --- independent, creative, responsible individuals. Yet, with that personal freedom, there is always a cost involved. In this morning’s gospel, Jesus spells out for his followers what it will cost if they choose to become one of his disciples. What he says, in effect, is that if you choose to follow me, your children will rise up against you, and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Yet, over and over again, Jesus says: “Have no fear of them;” “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” And so we struggle: do we stay the safe and easy course, or do we run the risk of discipleship and all that it entails? It is costly to choose, it is costly to be a disciple of the Lord Christ in any age. You and I, however, are called to follow, we are called to be his disciples, we are called to bear the cost. For that reason, I would like to reflect with you briefly this morning, in the context of our gospel, upon our struggle, upon our self-worth, and upon the cost.
One of the great figures in psychological circles in the last century was the late Frances Wickes. In the late 1920s she wrote a volume entitled The Inner World of Children, which soon became a classic in its field. Then, when she was 87 years old, this brilliant woman wrote another book with the title, The Inner World of Change. In this work, she describes how you and I simultaneously have two psychological pulls. On the one hand, we have a yearning, a dream, to become ourselves. On the other, we have an archetypal yearning to somehow return to a union with nature, with what she refers to as the "undemanding life of the unconscious."
If you look at the story of Adam and Eve in the very first book of our Holy Scriptures, you will quickly realize that it is a story about becoming conscious. Once Adam and Eve became conscious, they became self-conscious. They said, "We are naked." The Lord God went looking for them in the cool of the day, in this new estate, but they had lost that sense of oneness with nature, and they were hiding. And so husband and wife were thrown out of the Garden of Eden, and God put angels with swords of fire in front of the Garden so that they could not return. Ever since that time, you and I, and countless others along with us, have experienced that inner pull in opposite directions. We want to remain in that choosing, conscious state, and become who we were meant to be as completely as possible. Yet, there is a part of us that wants to return to that primordial condition, to that Garden state, where we are one with nature, where there is no turmoil. And so we are torn. Because we are conscious human beings, we are faced with countless choices in life, some far more costly than others. We are the choosing animals, and there are choices we must make every day. If we do not, we run the risk of falling back into the undemanding life of the unconscious. That is our struggle.
The Lord's Christ comes to us and calls us to be choice-makers in life; He inspires us to become the people we were meant to be as completely as possible. Sometimes, though, we wonder, when all is said and done, do our lives really count? How can you and I tell if our lives count to our society, to our generation, to our God? In other words, do we have some small measure of self-worth?
Bishop Wayne K. Clymer of the United Methodist Church tells of spending a summer in a clinical pastoral education program in a prestigious New England hospital. The program was much the same as the one in which I participated over 40 years ago in a state psychiatric institution in Connecticut as a chaplain intern. There was a clearly marked pecking order in the institution which ranged from the medical department heads, through the interns, registered nurses, nurses’ aides, to the cleaning women. One day Clymer and another chaplain intern in the program were standing in the hallway being introduced to staff members. They met a doctor, a nurse, and a nurses’ aide. Just inside the doorway was a girl washing dishes. No one bothered to introduce her. Clymer remembers turning toward her and saying, “I don’t believe I got your name.” She looked up through her thick glasses somewhat startled, but with a broad smile, and said, “Well, I guess I am somebody, too.” We all have moments like that when we wonder, does my life really matter? And if it does, who cares? Our self-worth quickly drops.
In this morning’s gospel, Jesus says to his disciples: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. Even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” In other words, he is saying that sometimes the value of what we do and who we are in life is known only to God. The material rewards that we too often expect for our blood, sweat, and tears, for our sacrifices, do not always appear. We do not necessarily receive a quid pro quo for all the things we accomplish in life. We need to remember, at times like these, that our self-worth comes not from what we or others can
see or touch. It comes instead from those attributes which are cultivated in the human heart and are known often only to God – attributes such as love, forgiveness, gentleness, patience, goodness, and mercy.
I remember being marooned many years ago one Sunday afternoon in a small north Jersey town as I waited for a train. With nothing to do except wander around the village, I walked into the only building that was open, which happened to be the lobby of the local post office. On its bulletin board was the familiar art gallery that decorates post office lobbies — pictures of people wanted for robbing the mails. Rewards were offered for their capture: five hundred dollars for some, a thousand dollars for others, and for one (evidently a grand duke of the profession), five thousand dollars. Each person had a price on his or her head. It struck me suddenly as I walked around that those pictures were a crude but real suggestion of the heart of the Christian gospel. Every person has a price on his or her head, a divine price tag, an infinite worth in the sight of God. But being decision-makers, having self-worth, also entails risk. Jesus said, “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in law.” Is that the kind of risk that you and I are willing to bear in order to follow in His footsteps? Author Scott Peck defines full maturity in a Christian context as being totally available - totally available to others and to God, and that, he says, is costly.
A story appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer a number of years ago about a young, 26-year old man from Northeast Philadelphia by the name of Justin Healy. Most days, Justin Healy is minimally conscious, and even his one good eye appears glazed. He does not speak. He gives few indications that he is aware of what is going on around him. A year and a half earlier, Justin fell from a roof he was repairing, breaking his skull and bruising his brain. Doctors are not sure whether he’ll ever be much better. That, however, does not matter to Justin’s fiancee, Megan Lester. Almost every day, Megan sits by Justin’s side at the Moss Rehabilitation Center gazing at his face, telling him stories, making sure his hair is combed and his mustache trimmed. Often she kisses his cheek, and rubs his arms. Rarely does the smile leave her face. Justin had one other previous accident a few years prior to this one, when he crashed his motorcycle and spent months in rehabilitation therapy. Megan said, “We were finally digging ourselves out of the hole the first accident had created for us, and were planning to get married, when it happened again.” When people act astonished at her decision to stay with Justin she replies "This is what you do for someone you love. He would do it for me.” To Justin, Megan says, “I know that you have far to go in your recovery, but I will be by your side every step of the way, and then for a long time after that.” Megan Lester lives the kind of commitment that Christian discipleship is all about. It is being totally available to someone else. It is risky; it is costly. But that is precisely what it takes to follow in the footsteps of the Lord's Christ.
So, this morning, as we struggle with that inner pull either to become ourselves as completely as possible, or to return to that primordial Garden of unconsciousness, we are reminded that we are the choosing people. It is our freedom of choice which allows us to become disciples of the Lord’s Christ.
Our sense of self-worth in this life comes about not through the material rewards we accumulate for ourselves or the achievements we earn, but rather through the attributes of life implanted deep within our hearts, attributes such as patience, love, kindness and forgiveness. Our lives do count, we are of value, in God's sight, always.
And finally, that sense of accomplishment, of worth, is never achieved without some cost, without some struggle. To be truly committed followers of this Jesus, the Christ, means that we must be totally available to others, and that is risky. As He himself comes to us as One who is totally available, so, too, must we become totally available to those who surround us in life and love, and to God. Then, and only then, will the Lord's Christ also say of us, "I will be by your side every step of the way, and then for a long time after that.” Amen.
Sermon by: The Rev. Philip W. Stowell
On this day we commemorate the last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples. In today’s gospel, St. John recalls how Jesus told those who sat at table with him:“I give you a new commandment: that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” In fact that new commandment, that mandatum novum, is what gives this day its name, Maundy Thursday.
The love about which Jesus spoke is rooted and grounded in humility, a humility which he demonstrated for his disciples just moments before by washing their feet. After which he said to them: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Therefore, I want to reflect with you briefly today on that greatest of all virtues, humility, of which someone once said:“Those who think they have it, don’t, and those who think they don’t have it, often do.” There was also the Dominican monk who once said that, “The Jesuits are known for their learning, and the Franciscans for their piety and good works, but when it comes to humility, we’re tops!” You and I are called to exercise that humility in the love that we show toward other people, following the commandment our Lord gave to us. True humility allows us to do what we have to do without recognition, to put our trust in God, and to be grateful for the things we have. It is on these three aspects of humility that I wish to focus today.
There was an interesting article in Life magazine sometime back. It was about Dan Dyer, a maintenance man for Roper Hospital in Charleston, SC. Until 1989 Dan had been responsible for the hospital heating and air conditioning system for eight years and yet the hospital staff for the most part were oblivious to Dan’s existence. Dan was usually out of sight in the boiler room or some such place, and his contribution to the healing of sick and hurting people just wasn’t all that obvious. In September of 1989, though, Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston. Electricity went out all over town. Roper Hospital was reduced to a system of backup generators, and for some reason the diesel pump for the generators was not pumping the needed fuel to them. That threatened to leave a large hospital and its intensive care unit, where patients depend on life-support systems, with no electricity. It was in the midst of that crisis that Dan Dyer made five trips out into a hurricane to hand-pump diesel fuel back to the small tank that fueled the generator. Every trip through the high-velocity winds, water, and crashing debris was a risk of his life to safeguard the lives of the patients in the hospital. After that night, nurses, the hospital administrator, and even the governor of the state knew who Dan was. Dan Dyer became a bit of a celebrity and was recognized from that point on as the man who keeps Roper Hospital running. Isn’t it somewhat ironic that for eight years Dan Dyer worked faithfully behinds the scenes without any thought of recognition for himself, and only when a crisis occurred was he thrust into the limelight?
Another mark of the humility that underlies the love which our Lord asks us to share with one another, is our trust that God is with us and behind us in all that we do. After Sundar Singh, an Indian Christian missionary who died in 1929, had completed a tour around the world, people asked him, Doesn’t it do harm, your getting so much honor?” The ascetic holy man’s answer was: “No.” He went on to say, “ [On that first Palm Sunday] the donkey went into Jerusalem, and they put garments on the ground before him. He was not proud. He knew that it was not done to honor him, but that it was for Jesus, who was sitting on his back. Likewise, when people honor me, I know that it is not me, but the Lord, who does the job.” When Communist forces invaded Vietnam in the 1950s, Hien Pham, like many Vietnamese Christians, was arrested and jailed for his beliefs. After his release from prison, Pham made plans to escape Vietnam. He secretly began building a boat. Fifty-three fellow Vietnamese made plans to escape with him One day, four Vietcong soldiers came to Pham’s house and confronted him. They heard he was planning an escape. Was it true? Of course, Hien Pham lied to them. If he had told the truth, the Vietcong might have killed him and arrested the other fifty-three participants. But after the soldiers left, Pham felt uneasy. Had God really wanted him to lie? Didn’t he trust that God would provide for him under any circumstances? Even though it made no logical sense, Pham believed that God wanted him to tell the truth, even at the risk of his own life. So, Pham resolved that if the Vietcong returned, he would trust God, he would confess his escape plans. Well, Pham finished building his boat, and his friends made the final plans for their daring escape. To their horror, the Vietcong soldiers returned and demanded to know if the escape rumors were true. Hoping against hope, Hien Pham confessed his plans to escape. Imagine Pham’s surprise when the soldiers replied, “Take us with you!” That evening, Hien Pham, his fifty-three friends, and four Vietcong soldiers made a daring escape under cover of night on a homemade boat. But that is not the end of the story! They sailed straight into a violent storm. Pham reports that they surely would have been lost, if not for the expert sailing skills of the four Vietcong soldiers. The escapees landed safely in Thailand. Eventually, Hien Pham emigrated to the United States, where he made a new life for himself. Hien Pham, in his humility, trusted in God, fully convinced that God is able to do what God has promised.
A final attribute of that humility to which Jesus calls us is a deep gratitude for all that we have been given. The famous American concert impresario, Sol Hurok, liked to say that Marian Anderson had not simply grown great, she had grown great simply. He said: “A number of years ago a reporter interviewed Marian and asked her to name the greatest moment in her life. I was in her dressing room at the time and was curious to hear the answer. I knew that she had many big moments to choose from. There was the night Toscanini told her that hers was the finest voice of the century. There was the private concert she gave at the White House for the Roosevelts and the King and Queen of England. She had received the $10,000 Bok Award as the person who had done the most for her home town of Philadelphia. To top it all, there was that Easter Day in Washington, D.,C. when she stood beneath the Lincoln Memorial and sang for a crowd of 75,000, which included Cabinet members, Supreme Court Justices, and most members of Congress.” Which of those big moments did she choose? “None of them,” said Hurok. “Miss Anderson told the reporter that the greatest moment of her life was the day she went home and told her mother she wouldn’t have to take in washing anymore.” We need to be grateful to God for all that we have been given, however small or insignificant that may seem.
In another place and at another time Jesus said, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Humility is the defining characteristic of the love which Jesus charged his disciples to share with one another when he said to them at the Last Supper: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” That commandment applies no less to us today than it did to those first disciples so long ago. We, therefore, need to express our humility: by doing whatever we do without any thought of attention or recognition; by trusting that God is with us and supporting us in all our undertakings and accomplishments; and finally by giving thanks to God for all that we have been given. The Lord’s Christ reminds us that if we truly show forth our love in this way, then everyone will know that we are his disciples. Amen.
From: Rev. Philip Stowell
The hymn “Sweet, Sweet Spirit” describes what it felt like at the convention. Thepresence of God was very palpable! The Bishop and all of her staff and aides worked hard to make sure the convention moved along smoothly. Everything seemed to be well coordinated.
The first section of the meeting had discussion groups made up of representatives of all of the churches participating in the convention. Each attendee was assigneda specific table and group. That allowed the delegates an opportunity to mix and learn more about what other churches in the diocese are doing in areas such as outreach. There are many interesting and wonderful things being done to serve shut ins and others in need.
The main speaker from Forward Day By Day, Steve Gunn, was fantastic! He encouraged us to study the Bible, learn about faith and go out and be disciples. He especially stressed studying the Bible. That is the base of our faith. The Canon to the Ordinary gave a very moving sermon. It too was focused on us being disciples and going out to spread God’s Word to the people by words and actions. It was so uplifting and brilliant that all of the attendees stood up and applauded.
There were many opportunities to mix with other “disciples” and learn from each other. It was a good experience. Bishop Reddall presented an excellent first convention!
This was my first convention. The two days were comprised of the spiritual, the motivational, the self affirming, business and for me a sense of pride in the Episcopal church and our diocese.
The three speaker, not only had thought provoking messages; but also were gifted public speakers and charismatic leaders. The table discussions, where we were grouped with convention goers from other congregations, were well organized and productive. Interesting ideas on how our diverse parishes implemented the theme of Walking with Jesus were discussed. The resolutions passed on the church’s relationship to the Native people of Arizona are closely aligned with our Chile Garden and its work with Native agriculture. The other resolution on establishing a designated day for gifts to Camp Genesis also has a tie to Transfiguration as the funds from our book ministry are designated for scholarships to Camp Genesis.I was impressed with the exhibits because I found people and organizations there that share my social justice passions and with whom I will connect in the future.
The direction of he diocese as articulated by Bishop Reddall made me proud to be a part of the Episcopal Community. The themes for the next three conventions Caring for God’s Creation, Evangelism, and Systemic Racism should be exciting. I encourage those of you who have never been to a convention to consider running as a delegate in the future.
The convention theme, Walk in Love, was certainly evident throughout the event: from resolutions for acknowledging how Native Americans have been treated and for recognizing them with prayer to the wonderful enthusiasm shown for two missions as they achieved parish status. I was impressed by the diversity of the diocese including Navajo, Hispanic, and Sudanese, and many female clergy. During our round table discussions I heard of many diverse outreach programs from churches of all sizes. For resolutions and canon changes all comments and discussions were positive. I was pleased to see how harmonious this group was.
Our new bishop, Jennifer Reddall, is very enthusiastic in leading a meeting and keeping things moving along, and she is bi-lingual speaking both English and Spanish.
But, I was most impressed with the Eucharist on Saturday morning. In a ballroom full of hundreds of people and with two large screens so that we could follow the service it was very impressive. Canon Anita Braden delivered an entertaining and moving sermon. We had prayers and music in Navajo Dine, Sudanese, Spanish, and English. With recorded music and hundreds of voices it was a great way to start our day.
I was blessed with the opportunity to experience this event.
Two workshops were held: Canons, Resolutions & Budget and Candidates Forum. Since I didn’t have a lot of notice, I wanted more info on voting items. I’m glad I went because there was not much discussion on the floor at the time of approval.
Basically, the discussions of Canons and Resolutions mirrored the material in the Episcopalian. A change to Canon 3 redefined the composition of the Standing Committee to take Deacons off the Lay side and put them in the Clergy side. This would allow for more Lay representation. Article 5 changed the description “priestly” ministry to ‘regular” ministry to clarify the previous canon change regarding Deacons. Both changes would put our Diocese more in line with the national church as well as other dioceses. Resolutions covered: Acknowledging and Praying for the People of the Land (per Native American Program Group) with an appendix suggesting prayers to be added to the standard forms in the prayer book, Camp Genesis Sunday on the 3rd Sunday in September, and Creating a task force on Parental Leave to apply to Diocesan Employees.
The Budget discussion was more interesting in that there was a major change in the line item regarding the Bishop’s compensation. Since we are dealing with two bishops this year, this item now reflects compensation only for Bishop Reddall. Also, 2 positions were added for Border Ministry and Creation Care. There was no longer a need for transition expenses so this was cut. I don’t remember details of other items enough to comment. This budget is balanced. We were also told that as of the Convention that Diocesan revenue is ahead of last year’s budget. After this session I got carried away in the exhibit hall so didn’t make it to the Candidate Forum.
Friday Business Meeting including Keynote and small group discussions.
Our speaker was the Rev. Scott Gunn, executive director of the Forward Movement who gave an excellent speech which covered: stages of spiritual growth, catalysts for this growth, and creating a culture of discipleship. He has another claim to fame as co-founder of Lent Madness in the Spring on Facebook. Every year a collection of saints and other notables are put together from Holy Women, Holy Men, the more obscure the better. Two candidates are voted on every day, with the winner announced at the end of Lent. I’ve tried to play but tend to fall behind after a few days because I don’t always see the posts (got to fix my feed I guess).
Table discussions: All attendees including visitors were assigned to groups of 8-10 people per table, with everyone from a different parish. Each table had a moderator who presented us with a set of questions (most of whom I don’t’ remember). The person who started each question would then pick the next person to speak until everyone had a chance to answer. First we introduced ourselves by name, parish, role, and principal languages used. One member of my table was from St Mark’s, another was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan whose language was Dinka. Others were from all over the state, mostly the Tucson area. We were asked to categorize our parish by environment. I said that Transfig was an ex-urb parish, more urban than rural, but otherwise just a “bedroom” community. We were asked what our parish did to reach out to the general community. I mentioned “A million meals for our neighbors” as well as the Chile farm and suggested that the attendees visit Bill’s booth in the exhibit hall. I wasn’t the only delegate to promote the Chile Farm. Bill said he was inundated after the discussions were over.
Saturday Eucharist and business meeting
The Eucharist was excellent; I was very impressed by the “preacher” our Canon to the Ordinary, the Rev. Canon Anita Braden, whose style could only be described as interactive, a style I really haven’t experienced in my own church experience.
Afterwards, the business meeting was started, very standard, except that Bishop Reddall really kept it moving. For voting items, we were given colored cards to vote yea or nay, much more clear than just raising hands. There was not much discussion on the items which had been covered in the pre-convention workshops, also saving a lot of time. All the changes, the resolutions and the budget were passed speedily. For the elections, a number of candidates were nominated from the floor because of the Standing Committee changes. Nominations were also made to the next General Convention. We voted, finished the morning business and went out to the patio for a sack lunch. We covered a few more business items after lunch and received the election results. Just a few more items, then we were dismissed. The next convention will be held at a nice resort outside of Tucson. Don’t remember the name.
I think the only rough patch was when Bishop Reddall was trying to get our attention, and I say this with amusement, no disrespect intended. At one point, she even tried a loud wolf whistle. In this diocese, the standard “The Lord be with you” works the best.
In conclusion, it was a wonderful experience, given that the socializing was the highlight. I know that this is one reason I go. Very tiring tho.
Canon Ray Dugan
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. These words from today’s Epistle to the Hebrews were originally attributed to Saint Paul; however, recent scholars attribute them to an unknown author, probably in Rome, at around the turn of the first Century. This author was telling us that despite the troubles of our present time, which as in every age of human existence, always appear greater than anything we have seen in the past, will be set right by a loving God in due time. However, Jesus tells his disciples and we are his disciples in this troubled age, that we are not to be afraid, but to be prepared for what comes with our lamps lit and ready for action no matter the hour of the day.
We marveled to hear of the courage of the security guard in Dayton who having gathered hundreds in the bar whose door he was securing, locked the door and courageously stood off the shooter facing him defying him to enter the premises. His defiant action in defense of the frightened victims he had accepted to protect was a marvelous example of what Jesus asks us all to be prepared to do.
We have all been shocked at the acts of violence and killing that seems to be accelerating at a frightening pace. Whether the cause is a consequence of increased calls for opposition to thousands seeking asylum from violence in their homelands of Central American and Africa, or neglect of mental health treatment of those suffering from drug misuse and mental illness or the lack of a more equitable level of pay for low income workers, our elected officials need to hear from us in calls for action to make this a better word and find political solution to the issues of our age. Be Ready!
Another issue that has served to alienate many seniors in our society from younger generations is the rapid pace of change in our world. We are doing a poor job of keeping up with and adjusting to these changes. Seniors must learn to respond to younger impatient drivers going 20 or so miles over the speed limit in cars that offer quick response time with voice commands and new control aids that didn’t exist when we got our learner’s permits. Younger drivers must also be ready to respond to slow drivers in the high-speed lanes or careless left-turning seniors. Blessed are the drivers whom the highway patrol finds alert when they come upon them Be Ready!
When I am asked my race, I sometimes respond that I am a member of the human race. When I am asked what my church is, I sometimes reply that I am an ecumaniac. I define an ecumaniac as one who loves all denominations and religions better than their own. I still prefer being an Episcopalian as long as the Episcopal, Church continues to expand our faith, belief and definitions of the Creator Master of the Universe in such a fashion as to be one who loves all of his (or her) creations. You know the Bible includes definitions of God that go beyond describing God as a male. Why can’t we, the human race, learn to be more inclusive? I simply hope that when the owner of the universe comes for me to take me to my heavenly home I will be ready to acknowledge God as my heavenly parent and won’t be too surprised to meet those who have preceded me into the after-life we describe as heaven.
I was reminded last week of the rapid pace with which our modern society has had to adjust to changes in our knowledge of the universe. I viewed a program in the Nova series on Channel 8. I was reminded that just two or three centuries ago, scientists believed that the earth was the center of a two-dimensional universe around which the sun, moon and planets orbited covered by a canopy of stars fixed in a dome above us. Just within the past century we have learned that our galaxy is only one of thousands of galaxies expanding from a central core that erupted in a big bang 13.8 billion years ago. The knowledge of an expanding universe is a consequence of vastly improved telescopes and space travel which has expanded our knowledge of the moon, Mars, the rings of Saturn and even passing comets.
Cosmology has had to make radical changes in the way we have come to think about not just our earth and the planets but our place in the universe that we as Christians believe God created. Astrophysicists have had to make radical changes in the way they think of things. We, theologians with Bachelor of Science degrees like I have, have likewise had to make radical changes in the ways in which we think and teach our children about God. I believe I have accommodated my faith in God to those changes. My knowledge and faith in God have expanded along with the universe. I always thought of God as an awesome God to have created the world in which we live. Now, I am called on to believe in God as a universal God that created this vast universe in which he has dwelled for over 13 billion years and yet who responds to every sparrow’s fall on this insignificant speck of dust we call our home. Wow! Can we be ready to respond to our heavenly Father who created the vast universe 13.8 billion years ago when we are called to respond to our summons to join our Lord and our loved one who have preceded us into that galaxy far away we call heaven? I believe I am so ready and will be happy to be welcomed by friends and loved one who are already members of that heavenly kingdom.
Do I believe that heaven is only populated with Episcopalians? Or are there also former creatures of other planets orbiting other stars in our Milky Way galaxy who have been visited by our Lord? I can imagine that in this vast universe in which our planet earth is but a mere speck of dust there may well be other creatures who have evolved sufficiently within the past 13 billion years to have recognized and acknowledged the presence of God in their midst? We are told in our scriptures that God loves his creation and cares for every living creature. I can hardly wait to see God’s heavenly Kingdom!
When I am asked what I think about the acts of violence that are occurring in our world today I answer that we must respond with acts of love and compassion to those in a world that hurts for them. If someone hits me on my cheek I am told by our Lord that we are to turn the other cheek. We are to love God, who sent his only begotten Son in order that all who live in God’s creation are to respect it, learning to love it as our Lord does, and to love others as God loves us.
Returning to our Epistle to the Hebrews, we are told: “By faith we understand that the worlds are prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” The author of Hebrews was, of course, not aware of the extent of “the worlds” that were prepared by the word of God. The extent of the visible universe in the 21st Century is clearly far more vast than he imagined. Are we prepared to recognize God’s presence in our world today and accept the commission that our Lord has given to us? Jesus is calling his disciples, that includes you and me, to be prepared to spread God’s love for his creation to a troubled world. We are to offer solace. Where there is confusion and blindness, we must provide clarity and vision. All the while we have available the tools at hand to repair a broken world. As St. Paul put it, we have faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. Love one another.
During the years 1976-1993 ABC carried the tv show Family Feud. This was a busy time in my life. I was the priest of a large parish in Davenport, Iowa and had little time to watch tv. But I did hear about the show and even watched a few episodes. The “Feud” pitted two families against each other to see who could name the most popular responses to a battery of survey questions that ABC had given to its tv audience. The goal of the game was to win cash prizes. There was nothing personal. However, when family feuds do get personal, people are often hurt, humbled and alienated.
I remember a disagreement I had with my grandpa, Pastor T.A. Holmes. Pastor Holmes did not like to be challenged by anyone much less a kid who was all of 10 years old. One day my father, Grandpa Holmes, my younger brother and I were riding together in a car in Houtzdale, Pennsylvania. A handsome Lincoln Continental passed us on the road. I made a comment about the Lincoln company that manufactured the car. Grandpa emphatically told me the Continental was not manufactured by Lincoln but by Ford. I disagreed. We drove past the Ford dealer and Grandpa commanded my father to “Stop!” He then proceeded to run into the show room and triumphantly returned saying, “It’s a Ford product, not a Lincoln product.” He was not going to lose an argument to his ten -year-old grandson. Yes, Grandpa was right. Lincoln was a division of Ford motors. But I was hurt by his triumphant attitude. That was over 66 years ago, and I’ve not forgotten.
Family feuds take center stage in all three of our lessons for this morning. Each has a different focus. I will look at each and share some examples of related family feuds that did not always end well. I’ll start with our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures from Genesis Chapter 45 when father and sons carry things too far but first an example from my life.
My dad was a very successful pastor with a parish of 1,500 parishioners. One day when my brother Paul and I along with our families were visiting him we engaged in a theological discussion. My brother and I are both ordained pastors, we got into a discussion with our dad centered on the issue of whether the Bible should be viewed as a metaphor or taken literally. My father believed the Bible to be factual including the story of Jonah being eaten by the whale. Paul and I disagreed. We began to vociferously advocate our positions. Our voices became more and more heated causing my mother to storm into the room saying, “Will you three please stop it. Quit this now and settle down!” I’m not sure where our discussion aka feud would have taken us. In truth the three of us were relishing our argument but to placate our mother we calmed down with no winner or loser.
Jacob, the father of all the tribes of Israel, so loved his youngest son Joseph that Joseph’s older siblings grew to hate him. Joseph was the kid with the coat of many colors if you remember. We all know the story. The elder brothers faked Joseph’s death and packed him off to Egypt as a slave. After years of ups and downs, Joseph became the most powerful man in Egypt after the Pharaoh himself. Drought and famine hit the world and Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to try and obtain food. The Egyptians under his leadership had stored food and their warehouses were full. When the brothers came to ask for food, Joseph recognized them immediately although they did not recognize him. Joseph could have taken vengeance on his brothers for what they had done to him. Joseph reveals himself and instead of anger he embraces all of his brothers. The wounds are healed. Joseph forgave his brother. Yes forgave.
Forgiveness is often the hardest thing to do when one is wronged. Joseph did not wait for his brothers to say “We are sorry.” Forgiveness, true forgiveness, does not expect another to grovel or even say, “I’m sorry.” Forgiveness has no caveats, no exceptions. Remember the words from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And also these words from scripture, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Forgive and move on.
The second story of a Family Feud is in Paul’s fist letter to the Corinthians when he speaks about Adam and Eve. Recall the tension that took place between these two when God came and calls after they had eaten the forbidden fruit. The following story might illustrate the conundrum the Divine faced at that moment. Years ago I held a wedding for a young couple. During one of our pre-nuptial sessions the bride and groom told me that the bride’s mom disapproved of their marriage and would not be in attendance for their nuptials. The wedding was scheduled to start at 4:30. The bride was beautiful; the groom was nervous; the one hundred guests were seated. At 4:20, ten minutes before the bride was to walk down the aisle, the phone rang in the church office. I answered. It was the bride’s mother. She had changed her mind. She wanted to come to the wedding. I asked the bride and groom, “Do we wait?” We all agreed yes. The mother of the bride was 10 to 20 minutes away from the church. I went to my wife, the organist, and said, “Keep playing!” She would know when to start playing the Wedding Processional when the mother walked down the aisle. The wedding began at 4:45. Mercy and compassion had prevailed. So, back to the Garden of Eden. God could have struck both Adam and Eve dead and started over. But instead he saved them.
In many of our corporate prayers the congregation responds with “Have mercy upon us.” Oh, how we depend on that mercy as descendants of Adam and Eve. It’s why Jesus was sent to Earth 2,000 years ago to create a pathway to eternal life thru him. It is his compassion, his mercy that saves us. Nothing we can do to deserve it. It is a gift to all humankind.
Quickly, I’ll move on to the gospel lesson. In Luke Chapter 6 Jesus talks bout the power and efficacy of love. I had my seminary year of internship in Bridgeport, Connecticut back in 1966-67. One of the most active members of this congregation of over 1,000 renounced his daughter and cut all ties with her when she married an African-American man. The mother continued to stay in contact with the newly weds but he would have none of the biracial marriage. For two years the family feud continued but then the first grandchild was born. His own flesh and blood. His wife shared with him all the stuff the new Grandma could about the child. Soon this angry and distraught father/grandfather relented and went to see the new baby. Guess what? He picked up his biracial grand baby and fell in love with him. He could not resist this adorable child. Reconciliation occurred. He was present at the baptism. Love can conquer all. That’s why Jesus said, “Love your enemies. Bless those who persecute you. Do good to those who hate you. Do not judge. Do not condemn. The measure you give will be the measure you get back.” A family feud such as that one I described disintegrated though the power of love.
A song I learned decades ago and have passed on to 50 years of Sunday School children is called, Love, Love, Love. Many of you may know it. It goes like this.
Love, love, love, that’s what it’s all about.
‘Cause God loves us as we love each other.
Mother, Father, Sister, Brother
Everybody sing and shout
‘cause that’s what it’s all about.
It’s about love, love, love.
It’s about love, love, love.
Yes, it’s all about love and mercy and forgiveness too. Family feuds? They will arise but we need to meet them with mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. It’s remarkable what that combination can do.
Sermon by Rev. Mark Holmer
Our guest preacher, Laura Adelia, has a blog. Her sermon is available there. https://thewanderingpriest.blog/
From your faces, I can see that you folks are as happy to be here as I am. Aren’t we all so blessed to be part of God’s creation? We know God’s GOT us. God’s got our backs, and God does everything RIGHT. And along with that, we have each other. We could, and maybe SHOULD, be dancing in the aisles! We’d like to hug the Lord our God, but we’ll just settle for hugging one another. The Holy Spirit hangs out in Churches, as well as in all creation, but I’m pretty sure -
Transfiguration is on the “A” list.
Did you catch that Collect? We pray that, “With God as our ruler and guide, we may so live our lives that as we pass through this life, we will not lose our lives in the world to come.” Is that amazing, or what? Not only does God so ordain creation that we are intended for eternal life, God provides us with the help we need to get TO that life. With God, it’s win-win for us, for all creation, if we just say YES to God.
Think that’s what we’re doing when we say ”AMEN”
Then, when we’re beginning to realize what a wonderful deal, if you will, God’s got going for us, we hear the Hebrew Scripture from Second Kings. What a story! We got Elisha the prophet, successor to Elijah, prophet extraordinaire, along with Elisha’s servant, and the fella’s are hanging out in Gilgal, a place in Ephraim, where there is a famine, taking a little break from the rather chancy business of prophesy, when one of the faithful from Baal-shalishah comes along, as he ought to do, in accordance with God’s command, dragging “food from the first fruits to the man of God.” Now Elisha’s a proper shepherd of God’s flock, and he tells his servant to “set the food before the people, and let THEM eat.”
Naturally there’s a crowd hanging out, just in case something glorious falls out of Elisha’s mouth, which WE know will happen, because that’s what God recruits prophets for, and all that waiting and listening has made the folks hungry, and this God knows, and has already solved that problem. God’s GOT this. But the servant is all, “How can I set this before the people; what ARE you thinking, this is a severe deficit in the necessary amount of food.” So Elisha repeats himself, “Give it to the people and let Them eat.” Then Elisha provides the irrefutable rationale: “for thus says the LORD, ‘they shall eat and have some left.’” Oh, yeah! Elisha knows, God’s GOT this! God’s not only gonna do what God’s gonna do, GOD IS GOING TO DO WHAT GOD SAYS GOD IS GOING TO DO. Just like the Psalm says, “…You give them their food in due season. You open wide Your hand and satisfy the needs of EVERY living creature. The LORD IS indeed righteous and loving in all His ways.” We’re not arguing with that, but sometimes we lose sight of what that means, for us, AND for the rest of creation.
Fortunately, GOD never loses sight of anything!
And our old friend Paul is well aware of this. Most of Paul’s writing is engaged equally in PRAISING God, and helping the early Christians understand what it means to be followers of Christ. The obvious thing is that Paul never shifts his focus from God as manifest in Christ. It becomes clear to us that our faithful focus on Chris t, is a recipe for the best kind of human life. In today’s Epistle, Paul prays that God will “strengthen our ‘inner being, our souls, our spirits, with power from the Holy Spirit, that we may ‘comprehend the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.’ Now, as we know “comprehend” can mean ‘understand.’ And it can also mean “include,”or” encompass.”
We want it both ways! Paul prays that we may both understand and encompass Christ’s Love. Now THERE’S equipping for ministry! With Christ’s love for creation, and our faithfulness to Christ, Paul states that God will accomplish ‘far more than we can ask or imagine.’ And we WANT to be a part of this! Of course we do.
In today’s Epistle, the passage from Ephesians, Paul urges us not to wait until WE feel strong and competent, but to start praying and jump in, because God’s GOT this, and God is willing to use us, too. All RIGHT!
Then there’s that wonderful Gospel story, parallel to the passage in Second Kings. Jesus is dealing with Elisha’s situation. Here’s the large, hungry crowd, eager to hear what Jesus has to say to them. We are THERE, we want to hear Jesus, too. And Philip, Jesus’ follower, plays the part of Elisha’s servant – complete with the momentary lapse in recollection of God’s promises. So, Jesus says to Philip, ’Bro, how are we going to buy food to feed this crew??’ That’s Philip’s cue. ‘ Six month’s wages wouldn’t buy that much food.’ But God has GOT this. Andrew says, ‘ There’s a little boy with 5 barley loaves and two fish – but how’s that going to help?’ Andrew and Philip’re like all of us, a little slow on the uptake. ‘Make them sit down,’ says Jesus; Who then asks a blessing on the food. Now Jesus is NOT into wasting food, so, when everyone is full and content, the left-overs are gathered, and an extra twelve baskets are available. Seeing this, needless to say, everyone gets excited, decides that Jesus is clearly the longed-for Messiah, and their job is to make Our Lord king, an objective with which Jesus wants no part. So Jesus makes Himself scarce, and the disciples hop in the boat and head to Capernaum. Evidently, a monsoon arises; we imagine the Holy Spirit saying, “So, Jesus, Buddy, Your homies are getting a wee mite nervous out there on the lake, due to a brief lapse in their realization of WHO they’re dealing with; and shortly, the poor terrified disciples are delighted to see Jesus strolling across the Sea of Galilee toward them. Jesus says, ‘Chill, guys, it’s Me,’ at which point everyone finds themselves safe on the land toward which they had been rowing.
See, with God, there really IS a happy ending.
Don’t we just love Scripture!?! When we can lay aside our awareness of cultural, historical, and linguistic differences, and HEAR what the Lord our God is saying to the people of God, and know that all the differences we concern ourselves over are truly irrelevant to the blessing inherent in the message for the people of God, then we realize that these ancient people are US; and that Scripture is OUR history, OUR story of God’s love and care for us, and God’s involvement with us.
We can live our lives knowing, and depending upon, the realization that God’s GOT this!
THANKS BE TO GOD! Written by Susan Smith-Allen
I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to conduct a wedding in Marseille, France on the Mediterranean. I had met the bride seven years ago in Cameroon. I
was helping my college roommate there for three months with her non-government organization, monitoring orphans scattered throughout seven villages to the north
of the city she lives in.
This bride, Elodie, a French student nurse, came to Cameroon to serve an internship in rural clinics. So she lived with us for a month there. Four years ago
she and her partner actually came to the U.S and share our Thanksgiving dinner with us. Suddenly, last winter I got an email from her asking if I would officiate at
her religious ceremony in France. Of course I said yes. When I was pondering what sort of homily I would give at the wedding, I
happened to be reading Brian McLaren’s book: The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to be Christian. In it I was deeply moved by his discussion of God’s love. It seemed a fitting center for
that homily, and it came to my mind again as I read the scripture lessons for this Sunday.
These were the words that so moved me:
1. You can’t learn to love people without being around actual people – including people who infuriate, exasperate, annoy, offend, frustrate,
encroach upon, resist, reject, and hurt you, thus tempting you not to love them.
2. You can’t learn the patience that love requires without experiencing delay and disappointment.
3. You can’t learn the kindness that love requires without rendering yourself vulnerable to unkindness.
4. You can’t learn the generosity that love requires outside the presence of heart-breaking and unquenchable need.
5. You can’t learn the peaceableness that love requires without being enmeshed in seemingly unresolvable conflict.
6. You can’t learn the humility that love requires without moments of acute humiliation.
7. You can’t learn the determination that love requires without opposition and frustration.
8. You can’t learn the endurance that love requires without experiencing unrelenting seduction to give up.
Now, hold those words about the radical nature of love God intends for us and consider the lessons this morning.
Jeremiah says: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture.” There is this persistent ethical thread throughout the Hebrew Bible. God
requires the community to be ruled with justice and righteousness, unity and love. In the previous chapter of Jeremiah we read that one manifestation of how well a
ruler is doing on this front is the treatment of the alien, orphan and widow. In this passage, we read that the leaders do not have the capacity for love here.
But God has compassion for this community of exiles.
For those alienated from their homes..
For those separated from their families...
For those taken away from all they knew.
God always reaches out in love to every exile, every dispossessed person.
Mark talks about the love Jesus has for his sheep. He heals many in his own land, in Galilee – and then, after a time away for prayer and re-centering, he and his
disciples cross the Sea of Galilee to Gennasarret. That’s Gentile country, you know. Immediately, he is called upon to heal – the foreigner, the alien, and the
stranger. He is confronted with the overwhelming need of “the other” and rises to the occasion. For most of his ministry we see him in the thick of the people,
among those in greatest need. I can relate. In Cameroon, while assisting some nursing students provide health assessments of children, we ran out of time while
there were still dozens of mothers and children waiting. “Oh please,” they said, “just see my child.” And, “please, I need one of those mosquito nets, too.” The
press of those in desperate need was heart breaking.
In both the OT reading and the Gospel there is this clear message: the exiles – the alien – the stranger – the orphan – are also God’s people. The Epistle reading
raises the question of those pesky Gentiles as well. We know that the early church was struggling with questions of who is in and who is out. The Jews who had
come to accept Jesus as the Messiah couldn’t figure out what to do with those Gentiles who wanted into their fellowship. How could someone who was not
circumcised possibly become an insider? How could one who didn’t share the story of the People of Israel even begin to understand what Jesus had done for the
Jews? But in the Kingdom of God, even those pesky Gentiles are be counted as in.
In Ephesians we read that Jesus made both groups into one. He broke down the dividing walls between them. Then there were no longer any strangers or aliens. It
is at the very core of our understanding as Christians that we should grow more and more into this radical kind of love that Jesus had for absolutely everyone. It is
a difficult journey. But one we MUST take. And that brings us right back to Brian McLaren’s discussion of love.
1 You can’t learn to love people without being around actual people – including people who infuriate, annoy, offend, and encroach upon us. We are called to surround ourselves – as Jesus did – with those who are the most difficult to love.
2 You can’t learn the kindness that love requires without rendering yourself vulnerable to unkindness. Now there’s a challenge for us – allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, even to possible unkindness.
3 You can’t learn the generosity that love requires outside the presence of heart-breaking and unquenchable need. Being in the midst of people with unquenchable need is not a comfortable place to be. We can feel pretty overwhelmed as – indeed – Jesus must have felt. It’s exactly why he had to take time away from the crowds.
4 You can’t learn the peaceableness that love requires without being enmeshed in seemingly unresolvable conflict. It’s one thing sitting in our comfortable world praying for peace. It’s altogether another thing to become immersed in resolvable conflict. But how else can we possibly learn of God’s peace – that passes all understanding.
5 You can’t learn the humility that love requires without moments of acute humiliation. We know of the acute humiliation Jesus suffered. How can we possibly understand it unless we, too, experience humiliation. Perhaps one of the dilemmas that we people of privilege share is that we don’t often experience humiliation.
6 You can’t learn the determination and endurance that love requires without opposition and frustration and an unrelenting desire to give up.
You see, the kind of love Jesus modeled – and wants us to learn – is a life long school. If God loved the exiles in Babylon then we need to be schooled in loving
the exiles in our midst. If God loved the Gentiles of the early church then we need to be schooled in how to love and include the strangers all around us. If Jesus
could go out – among those in greatest need, day after day after day – then we need to be schooled in that kind of endurance and determination.
It’s not an easy school to attend. We can drop out any time. We can settle back into the sofa cushions of God’s embracing love ..... or we can accept the challenge
and enroll in God’s school of love. When we flunk out, as we surely will, we can enroll again and again until we enter the everlasting kingdom of infinite love.
Oh, my Lord! Let the whole Church say Amen! Say it again. Say it one more time! Amen! I’m out of breath for ya. This is a blessed night. It is a blessed night. We gather this night. Many of us are Episcopalians. Many of us are from other Christian traditions and families. Many of us are people of good will of no particular denomination or stripe. Some of us are probably Republicans. And, some of us are probably Democrats. Some of us are probably independents. But all of us are children of God. All of us! All of us! And that’s what we celebrate this night. We come together as the children of God. Like that old song used to say when I was a kid,
Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in his sight.
All! All! All!
Allow me if you will then, to on your behalf thank all of those who have made this night possible. We thank you! We thank you! We thank you! And allow me also on your behalf to the thank the bishops and people of the Diocese of Texas. Thank you, Texas! Thank you, Texas! Thank you, Texas! Texas! Texas!
Well I’m in an awkward position because I have a feeling we are the only thing standing in the way of food. This is an unenviable position. So let me hasten to my text. From the New Testament, the Gospel of John, near the end of John’s gospel. In fact some scholars say chapter twenty ends the gospel. But if you look in your Bible, you’ll see there’s another chapter. And scholars have all sorts of theories about whether chapter twenty-one is an addition, an extension, or an appendix. I’m not a scholar. I’m a country preacher, and I know preachers, and you do too. I’ve got a feeling John finished his sermon in chapter twenty, the plane was landing, and he remembered somethin’ else. And took off and came around again. That’s what happened. So on his first landing, which is chapter twenty, he almost brings it to conclusion. And he does so with these words:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book. But these few are written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.
My brothers, my sisters, my siblings, God wants you to live. God wants us to live. God wants this world to live. God wants us to live! You can almost hear it in the text. John is tryin’ to land the plane, and he says there are many other things that I could’ve written, but these few things that I have written, in this whole Gospel of John, the stories of Jesus turning water into wine, the story of Jesus meeting old Nicodemus, the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman that Bishop was talkin’ about, by the well, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 folk, (ain’t she wonderful [referring to interpreter]?). All these stories, the story of Lazarus, the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, the story of him being raised from the dead, I could have told you more stories. This is Jesus Christ we’re talking about! This is not John Doe! This brother was incredible! I could be telling you stories all night, and you’d never get your barbecue! But these few stories I have told you so that you might come to believe. And believing means just trust. It doesn’t mean you understand. It doesn’t mean you got it figured it out. It means I’m just going to trust you. These have been written so that you might believe that Jesus really is, really is the Messiah, the Christ, the human face of God, the incarnation of God’s love in the life of a human person. Or as the Nicene Creed says:
God of God,
Light of Light,
Very God of very God
This is not John Doe we’re talking about! These have been written so that you might believe. That he really is the sign, the ultimate seal of how much God loves you. And this has been written so that you can have life. Life. Real life, not life you can barter for on E Bay. Real life! Life that the world did not give, and the world cannot take away. Life! Life! And in John’s gospel it’s incredible . . . I wanna make sure, how ya’ll doin’? I wanna make sure. We want to make sure everybody’s in. If you look at John’s gospel, the theme of life is woven from beginning to end. At the beginning of the gospel with that wonderful poetry,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. And the Word was God. In him was life.
And that life was the light of the world.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
This is life! Life with God! Life! And it goes on. I’m not making this up. It’s in the book. He says in the sixth chapter, “I am the bread of life.” In the fourth chapter, he says, “I am the waters of life.” In the third chapter, Jesus meets, he meets, he meets the first Episcopalians. It’s true! I am convinced that Nicodemus in the third chapter of John was the first Episcopalian. If you read the text carefully, it says that Nicodemus, who was a member of the Pharisees, probably a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the high court, he was a sort of an aristocrat, smellin’ like an Episcopalian to me! But even better than that, John’s gospel says, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. Only an Episcopalian would try to get close to Jesus when nobody was looking. That’s an Episcopalian! But Nicodemus was alright, ‘cause when push came to shove, Nicodemus defended Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin. And Nicodemus got with Joseph of Arimethea and made provision for the burial of Jesus. That’s also an Episcopalian. My reason for mentioning that, it was in the conversation with Nicodemus that Nicodemus said, “You know Lord, I want to know more about your teaching.” And Jesus said to him, “Nicodemus, don’t give me that jive. We’re not on Oprah Winfrey”. He said Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” In the Greek it can be translated, born again, born anew, or born from above. And the point, I think, the only reason to be born is so that you can live! God wants you to live! God wants us to have life, and God wants all of his children to have life! I could go on but I won’t.
It goes on in John’s gospel, he says, “I am resurrection and I am life”. He says in the fourteenth chapter, “I am the way, and the truth and the life”. In the tenth chapter, “I have come that you might have life.” And then at the end of the gospel, I’ve written all these things so that you might believe and have life! The whole point is life! Life abundant meant for each. Life for rich folk and life for poor folk. Life for Democrats and life for Republicans. Life for Independents! Life for Deputies! Life for Bishops! Life for everybody! Life! Life! Life! Life. Life. And the truth is it’s so easy to be deceived about what makes for real life. John’s gospel noticed that Jesus wasn’t talking about biology. Biology is important. ‘Cause you got to start somewhere. But that’s the basics. I mean the truth, is we are all human beings, and biologically that is who we are as human beings. But biologically, we are simply part of the animal world. We’re basically like that pigeon in the House of Deputies. I leaned over to President Jennings and said, “Madam President, ya’ll got a pigeon in this house.” But that’s basic biology. We’re part of the animal world. And I’m going to be careful here, because I know Bishop Katharine is in here somewhere and she’s a scientist. I don’t want to get out of my pay grade, but I think my eighth grade teacher taught us in living things that members of the animal world have certain characteristics, that among these are three: they breathe, they eat, and they make more of their own kind. Respiration, (sounds better in Spanish, I like that), respiration, consumption, and reproduction. They eat, they breathe, they make more of their own kind. My wife has two cats who can do that. Actually they’ve been to the vet they can do two out of the three. And that’s fine, but the truth is, life is more than that. Jesus said as much. Is not your life more valuable than even the sparrows? Those priceless creatures of God, you are of more value than the sparrows. You need clothes, but how much do you need? Consider the Lillies of the field. They grow, they spread. They toss. They turn, and even your heavenly Father takes care of them. And how much more valuable are you? I’ve come to show you life! Not just biological life! Not just existence! Not just surviving! Not just getting by! To have life! Life as I dreamed it!
Life as I intended! God wants you – are ya’ll with me? And the truth is, I’m convinced, that love is the key to life. I have a theory, and I know there’s some theologians in this room, I’m gonna be careful, but I’m convinced that the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is selfishness, and hatred is a derivative of selfishness. Yeah, I think we’re onto something here. See selfishness, or self-centeredness, or as the ancient mothers and fathers used to say that hubris, false pride, yeah, that false, self-centered pride that puts me in the center of the world, and you and God and everybody else on the periphery, that selfishness, it is the root of all evil. It is the source if every wrong. It is behind every bigotry. It is behind every injustice. It is the root cancer of every war. It is the source of every destruction. That selfishness destroys homes! It will destroy churches! It will destroy nations! And left untethered, it will destroy creation! Selfishness! Selfishness! Selfishness! Selfishness!
And love is the cure. I had to say that briefly at a wedding recently. I had to get it in in a little bit of time. I’m not going to go too much longer with you all either. But love is the Balm in Gilead. Love will heal the sin-sick soul. Love can lift us up when the gravity of selfishness will pull us down! Love can bind us together when selfishness will tear us apart. We actually have a television show which is the incarnation of selfishness. And actually there’s another word for selfishness, believe it or not. It’s called sin. That’s why we have Lent, a season to deal with sin. But love is the cure. We got a television show, and you know the one I’m talking about. It’s the television show Survivor. Now it’s just a television show, I know. But think about the premise of the show. The premise of Survivor is that you put all these people on a desert island, and the goal of their life, is to find life by getting everybody else kicked off the island. That’s a parable of selfishness! ‘Cause eventually selfishness gets everybody kicked off the island! And there’s nobody left but you! And you are incredibly boring by yourself!
But love brings us together. Love heals the wounds. Love can lift us up. Love is the source of setting us free, and it is the root source of life. In fact the truth is the only reason we’re here is because of love. Give me another minute or two. I mean stop and think about it for a moment. We Christians believe in God. We believe in one God, and yet we believe in God the Holy Trinity. Am I right about that? Please say that with more confidence, it really is true. We have one God and yet we know this one God in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. But we don’t have three gods, one God! We just know this one God in magnificent ways! We got ourselves a many splendored God! And God you see, the Holy Trinity is our tradition’s way of telling us that God can embrace individuality and multiplicity all at the same time! God is not worried about uniformity. God can have unity and diversity, not uniformity at the same time. Ya’ll hear what I’m gettin’ at now? The truth is God has in God’s self everything God that needs to be whole and to be fulfilled, and to be complete. St. Augustine of Hippo, no flaming liberal to be sure, Augustine of Hippo once said, that the Trinity means that God is a community of love in God’s self. And First John, chapter four, verse says, “Beloved let us love because love is from God, and those who love are born of God, and know God because God is love. God is love! God is love! And guess what, guess what, that’s the reason we’re here! God is the Trinity. God had all the company God needed in God’s self. Which means God did not need y’all! God did not need the world to be a headache. But love moves over and makes room and space for the other to be. Love says, let there be light! Love says, let there be a world! Love says, let there be Andy! Love says, let there be Byron! Love says let there be Deena! Love says let there be Hector! Love says let there be Jeff, well Jeff, let me think about it. Love, the reason we are here, the reason there is a world because God is love. We are here. We have life because of love. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you that you love one another.” And after he rose from the dead, he asked Simon Peter, “You want to follow me now?” It’s not about mechanical following. He says, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said, “Yeah Lord, you know I love you.” “I want you to take care of my sheep. Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Lord, I just got through sayin’ I love you. Yes I love you. You knew that.” “Then take care of my sheep!” He says, “Simon son of John, DO YOU LOVE ME? If you love me, you will overcome your self- centeredness, and another will take you by the hand, and may lead you to where you do not want to go. But it won’t be all about you any more. It will be about following me!” And then Jesus said, “Now follow me.” The key to following Jesus, the key to being his disciples, the key to life is love! Is love! Is love. It’s love.
Well, I’m going to stop now. I’m getting older now. That’s an understatement. But you know the older I get the more I am convinced that we waste a lot of time in life in stuff that does not give life. And some of that’s human, we’re human. And that’s okay I’m not puttin’ all that down. But at the end of the day, we’ve gotta live. We’ve got to live in a world where little children are not separated from their parents at our borders. We gotta live in that kind of world. And the work of love is to make a world with the possibility of life for all is real. That is the work of love. And I really believe that’s why I am a Christian, better yet why I’m a follower of Jesus. A very faulty one, by the way, but a follower nonetheless. But I am because I believe Jesus was right. The way to life is the way of love. Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbor. And while you’re at it, love yourself. That’s the key. Well, all this is predicated on a prior conviction, a conviction that (To audience and referring to interpreter: We do this all the time, you should have seen us in Honduras. We were even better.) It really is based on a conviction that God knows what God is talking about. Think about that for a second. Everything I’ve said, everything I’ve said is based on the conviction that Jesus knows what he’s talking about. That God knows what he’s talking about. If he doesn’t, then ya’ll might as well go eat barbecue right now!
I realized that years ago. I was a parish priest in Baltimore – Diocese of Maryland, there’s probably somebody around – and our youngest daughter was probably three years old, and my wife went off to teach school, and I think our oldest daughter went off with her, I can’t remember now. But they would go out and then I would take the young one to nursery school. (To audience and referring to interpreter: I don’t know what my sister said, but you all obviously enjoyed it.) Okay. So anyway, I’m there at home, I’m with Elizabeth and we were waiting a little while before we went off to school. And so I said, “Elizabeth I need you to go and put your raincoat on.” And she looks back at me, at three years old now, and here I am the rector of the rector of St. James Church, the third oldest African-American Church in the Episcopal Church. A historic church, the church that gave you Thurgood Marshall. Yeah! This is a serious church! Yeah! So here I am the rector of St. James and here’s this little three year old person. I said, “Elizabeth go put your rain coat on.” And she said, “Why?” I said, “Because it’s going to rain.” She ran to the window in the living room, and looked out the window and said, “But it’s not raining outside”. I said, “I know that, but it’s gonna rain later.” She said, “Mommy didn’t say it was gonna rain.” See you got to know the source of authority. I said, “I know Mommy didn’t say it was gonna rain, but Al Roker said it was gonna rain.” I tried to explain to her about weather forecasting, and I showed her the newspaper. And I finally said, “Why am I doing all this? Elizabeth just go and put your raincoat on!”
So we left the house and got in the car, and drove off to nursery school. And so I took her in school. And I came back out and I sat in the car. And I sat in the car. I said I can’t believe that little thing. She actually thought she knew better than I do. Here I am the rector of historic, St. James. Thurgood Marshall, Pauli Murray, they all came out of that church. Yeas! Here I am and she actually thought she knew more than I did. I spent more time in seminary than she’s even been on the earth. And she actually thought she knew more than I did! And it occurred to me that that must be what we look like to God! That’s what! And I have this fantasy of God putting his hands on his cosmic hips, and just saying, they are so cute! They think they know so much, but don’t they know that I was the one that called this world into being in the first place? Don’t they know that I created the vast expanse of interstellar space? Don’t they know that I told old Moses, go down Moses, way down in Egypt land, and you tell old Pharaoh, let my people go? Don’t they know that I’m the author of freedom? Don’t they know that I’m the creator of justice? Don’t they know that I’m the God of love! Don’t they know that I came down as Jesus to show them the way, to show them the way of love, to show them the way to life, to show them how to live together! Don’t they know how much I love them! How much.
My brothers, my sisters, my siblings, we have work to do. To stand for Christianity, a way of being Christian that looks like Jesus of Nazareth. A way of being Christian that is grounded and based on love. A way of being Christian that is not ashamed to be called people of love. So go from this place and be people of the way. Go from this place as people of Jesus. Go from this place as people of love! Go from this place and heal our lands! Go from this place and heal our world! Go from this place until justice rolls down! Go from this place until the nightmare is over! Go from this place until God’s dream is realized! Go from this place and help us live!
God love ya! God bless ya! And GO!