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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.