Seeing Things Differently

July 19, 2020
7th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 11

Genesis 28:10-19
Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Do you like to do puzzles? Jim and I have done a lot of puzzles this year; normally it’s just a winter activity but in this long winter of our discontent that doesn’t appear to have a glorious summer coming, it’s one of the ways we’ve kept ourselves entertained at home.

Our typical methodology is to sort through and pull out all the edge pieces and then sort the remaining pieces by color or pattern. But this last puzzle we did didn’t have name large sections of specific color or pattern, so after completing the edge we just divided the pieces among the trays we work from and got busy.

There was this one piece that was quite distinctive and in my mind I saw part of a shirt with buttons on it and I thought it would be easy to place. I looked and looked and looked at the picture and could not figure out where it went. There were little figures all over the puzzle and none of them were wearing a bright blue shirt with brown buttons. So I put it in Jim’s tray.
Some time later, he picked it up this particular piece and put it right where it belonged without even looking at the picture! It wasn’t a part of a shirt after all and what I saw as buttons were nail heads. I couldn’t see it for what it really was.

Sometimes we need to see from another perspective to get the true picture. That’s why Jesus tells parables – to give us another perspective, to help us see and hear our circumstances differently or in a new way.

Last week in our Gospel reading, Jesus tells a parable about scattering seeds on different types of soil. The message of that parable isn’t that we are to be stingy with our seeds or even to be with careful where they land, but to scatter the seeds of God’s love abundantly without concern of where they land and to till our own soul’s soil so that the seeds that land on us can grow to abundance so we have more to scatter.

This week, Jesus again puts before the crowd another parable involving seeds and sowing. But this time, instead of being the sower or the soil, we are the seeds.

Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like someone – notice he doesn’t compare the kingdom to a place but to people, that’s an important detail – the kingdom of heaven is like someone who sows good seed in a field and when no one was looking, an enemy sneaks in and sows weeds. The two types of plants grow together and when they get mature enough so that it is apparent some are weeds, the servants come in and question the Master – don’t you know what you are doing? they ask.

Without listening to the Master’s plan or thinking through the consequences, they offer up their own plan to fix it: we’ll just rip out the weeds. And the Master tells them “no, trust me, I’ve got this”. The Master knows that the servants’ exclusionary plan would cause so much more harm to the good plants than leaving the weeds in place.

When we lose sight of God’s love and seek to root out those we don’t approve of, we are sowing violence not compassion.
As God’s children, the people who are God’s kingdom, our purpose isn’t to separate the wheat and the weeds, but to sow the seeds of God’s love abundantly. When we attempt to damage the “weeds” we do more harm to our own souls that we do to whomever we label as “them”.
Jesus talks a lot about seeds, some say it’s because he lived in an agrarian society, which I’m sure is part of it, but I can’t think of a better metaphor for the continual newness of life Jesus calls us to. For a seed to bear fruit, it must die, it must cease being a seed and become a plant so that it can bear the fruit it was created to bear.

For us to live as kingdom people, we must continually let go of our inclination to say to God, “I’ve got a better plan than yours”. We must let go of our own ego and live for God’s glory.
We must learn to see the world from a kingdom perspective. We must have ears to hear God say “trust me, I’ve got this” and with God’s help live into our created purpose of spreading the abundance of God’s love in all that we think, say, and do.

God always and only wants the best life for us, the life God created us for. A life grown in the fertile soil of love and hope and peace, a life that bears the fruit of the Spirit, even in the midst of a pandemic and social unrest and financial strife – ESPECIALLY in the midst of a pandemic and social unrest and financial strife.

We cannot let the weeds in this world distract us from sowing God’s love. I couldn’t see the puzzle piece for what it really was but Jim saw it easily. Sometimes we all need help to see as Jesus teaches us to see, to hear as Jesus teaches us to hear. Parables help us get a different perspective, to hear and see things differently.

Jesus “puts before us” many things in parables. He tells the story and then leaves it to us to hear the message. It’s our choice. Parables are glimpses of the fullness of God’s Kingdom, not just intended to prepare us for the “end of the age” but to give us a model for our life here and now as the Kingdom of God already at hand.

And when the suffering of this day seems more than we can bear, we have the words of St. Paul to remind us that the glory of God’s kingdom is revealed in and through us as we strive with God’s help to live on earth as it is in heaven.

Let anyone with ears listen. Amen.

Independence Day

July 5, 2020
5th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 9

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45:11-18
Romans 7:15-25
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Yesterday we celebrated The United States’ day of Independence. It is the day we recognize the birth of this nation and our independence from the British Crown. Our nation’s founders chose to separate ourselves from one group of people in order to unite as a different group of people.

It took a special type of people, coming together to separate from what they had always known. To have the courage to say “we want a different life than what our parents and grandparents and great great great grandparents had.” These people stood up against the world they knew to learn and live a new life together.

To live this independent new life, they bound themselves together as a united people, concluding the Declaration with these words: ‘And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

This group of courageous and innovative individuals knew they needed each other to live this new and wonderful life they wanted. They chose, in their way and their time, to intentionally work for the greater good. Their idea of independence as a nation was not about individualism but rather interdependence. They fought for freedom from the British Crown, not from their collective responsibility toward the greater good and each other.

And yet, over the past 244 years, it seems that the idea of independence in this country has become individualized. But this is nothing new and unique to this country or this time.

People groups and nations throughout history, regardless of how and when they came together in the first place, have struggled against the human inclination to self-ness rather than other-ness.

Throughout history, God’s people have, over and over again, sought their own individual gain instead of intentionally working and living in unity for the greater good of all. Throughout our faith history, God’s people have decided to choose what is right in their own eyes rather than live as God teaches and calls us to live.

In our collect today, we are reminded that God taught us to keep all God’s commandments by loving God and our neighbor.

Sometimes, a lot of the time, loving our neighbor is hard and we don’t want to, so we intentionally or unintentionally, consciously or unconsciously declare ourselves independent from this mandate. We individualize our faith so that “it’s between God and me” to separate ourselves from being accountable to others and living in community as our faith is taught throughout our holy scriptures.

We try to rewrite the Gospel message of Jesus to make it about individual salvation rather than the collective redemption of all of God’s creation. Again, this is nothing new to our “generation”. People have been declaring their independence from God’s plan since Adam and Eve.

In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus is talking to a crowd about John the Baptizer and the promised signs of God. John had come to prepare the way and proclaim the promised time had come and Jesus has been preaching and teaching and healing and people are still asking “are you the one.”

Jesus tells the crowd, you’ve been told what to expect by the prophets so why, now that you’ve seen what you were told to expect, can you not accept it for what it is?

And Jesus compares their inability to accept what it right in front of them to a group of spoiled children who pout and whine because they aren’t getting their way.

We are still that generation. Choosing to live as if we were really independent individuals rather than accept the reality of our interconnected life grounded in God’s love.

I came across this quote from Julia Butterfly Hill this week and although it isn’t from scripture, it is truly Biblical:
“Love is not about froufrou New Age-ism. It’s about a way of living and honoring the interconnectedness of life and accepting our responsibility and our power to change the world for the better.”

So, just what do we mean when we talk about love as God intends us to understand love?

Love is “other focused” not self serving.
Love is looking beyond ourself and seeing the greater good of all.
Love is living in the knowledge that we are all interconnected and that every single thing we think, say, and do has an impact on others, whether we can see that impact or not.
Love is accepting our collective responsibility for the greater good and each other.

Jesus ends his sermon with, “Come to me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” Come to me, he says, all who have been fighting against what I’ve shown you, fighting against God’s live-giving, liberating, love. Let go of the fight and accept the grace and forgiveness and compassion that I offer freely to everyone.

Hear Jesus say, “Let go of the burden of trying to do it on your own and live as I designed and created you to live – in loving, covenantal relationship with me and each other.” This is the Gospel message, the good news for all, true freedom.

Together, grounded in God’s interconnecting love, with God’s help we can work together against the injustices and division in our country. We are only truly free when we are devoted to God with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection, following Jesus in the freedom to live the life God created us to live in God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Scattering Seeds

July 12, 2020
6th Sunday After Pentecost; Proper 10

Genesis 25:19-34
Psalm 119:105-112
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

My grandad was a story teller.  Not just the kind of person who tells stories to reminisce but the kind who told stories to teach or make a point.  We all knew that when we asked a questions chances were the answer was going to be far more than we really wanted.  And yet we always went to him with our questions about anything and everything.

I miss his stories. His stories shaped us and made us stretch our minds and helped us grow and be better people.  Grandaddy told us stories because he loved us so much he wanted to help us be our best possible self.  He was an amazing man.  

So, when I read the stories of folks asking Jesus questions, I know how they feel when his answers aren’t straight forward or what they wanted to hear.

Jesus has been teaching and preaching in the towns and villages around the see of Galilee.

The people long to hear his words, they seek him out continuously.  They know he has something life changing and even though they’ve seen the signs and heard his words, many still question who he is, not because they doubt him but because they don’t want to accept God’s way of doing things over their own way.  

And so he tells them many things in parables.  

Jesus tells them stories because he wants them to have so much more than just pat answers to recite.  Jesus tells many things in parables because he wants to change our way of thinking, our way of seeing the world around us. He wants to change our hearts so that we see everything as part of God’s kingdom.  

Jesus tells us stories because he loves us and wants to help us be our best possible self. 

For the crowd Jesus is speaking to, many of them would have gardens or even large fields in which they grew crops.  Planting seeds meant carefully plowed rows and carefully managed seeds because there would have been a limited supply of seeds.  The condition of the soil in which they planted their precious seeds was of utmost importance because only good soil produced bountiful crops.  

And Jesus tells them a story of abundant and reckless seed scattering by a sower who didn’t seem at all concerned with the type of soil on which the seeds landed.  Many of those who heard this story would have been shocked by the perceived wastefulness of the sower.  They wouldn’t have the ability to see it any other way.  They did not have the ears to listen to the true meaning of the story.  They didn’t want to be changed.  

To understand this parable, we have to put ourselves in two places at once – as the seed sower and as the soil receiving the seeds.  

We preachers learn early on in our career that the words we so passionately craft for each week will only occasionally land on ears ready for the growth of those particular words.  And when we reach out to our mentors and spiritual guides in times of discouragement, we remind each other of this parable.  We remind each other that our job is to scatter the seeds of God’s love by preaching God’s Word in abundance without worry of where they land. The results are not up to us.  We can only cultivate our own soil and invite others to and model for them how do the same.  

But it isn’t just the preachers’ job to scatter seeds. This parable is about all of us.

When we choose to follow Jesus we all take on the responsibility of being a sower for God’s kingdom.  We are to scatter with abundance the seeds of God’s love, not worrying about whether anyone is worthy or able to receive it.  We aren’t to fret about whether we will run out of seeds because there is no limit to God’s love, the more we sow the more we have to sow.  And we can’t give up because we don’t see results. 

We can’t get hung up on where the seeds land.  The only soil we can cultivate to be good and healthy soil that will bring forth abundant fruit is our own soil, our own hearts.  And the way to prepare ourselves for the seeds of God’s love is to be intentional in our relationship with God, learning to live in our faith in all the we think, say, and do.  

We will never run out of seeds because the more love we share the more love we have to share, and scattering the seeds of God’s love help improve our own soul’s soil.  

When Jesus explains this parable, he never says be cautious about where you scatter seeds. He talks only about the many types of soil on which the seeds could possibly land.  Those with ears to hear will be the ones whose hearts are open to growth and change, those who are willing to learn to see the world through the lens of God’s kingdom. 

In the bit of this chapter of Matthew that we skipped over in our reading, Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah who said that people won’t be able to see Jesus for who he is because their hearts have grown dull and they have shut their eyes.  

True understanding of God’s path and plan requires us to understand with our hearts and turn toward God, to seek out and discover the image of God at our very core. This is what gives us the eyes to see and the ears to hear the true message of the Gospel.  It is a life-long journey following Jesus being both the sower and the soil.  

Jesus never told anyone “you’re good as you are, you’ve got it all figured out.” Ours is an active and moving faith of following Jesus. It takes daily work to keep the soil of our souls receptive to the seeds of God’s love so that we have abundant seeds to sow.  

Keep coming to Jesus and let the stories he tells shape and change and transform you through the abundance of God’s love for all of us.  And together with God’s help we will grow into who God created and calls us to be. Amen. 

Faithful Obedience

June 28, 2020
4th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 8

Genesis 22:1-14
Psalm 13
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

Today’s lesson from Genesis is perhaps the most difficult story for us to accept in all of scripture. We work hard to explain it in a way that excuses God’s behavior or else we just label God as “mean” or “angry”.  

I think because we look at the entire Abraham saga – it spans a fourth of the book of Genesis – in bits and pieces we lose sight of the true meaning of the story.  The Saga of Abraham is a story of God’s faithfulness regardless of our own human failings. It is a story of God’s deepest desire for us to have the best life we are created to live with God.  

The text begins, “After these things …” a clue that we have to look at what comes next in light of what has come before. Our holy scriptures weren’t preserved to give us a checklist of right and wrong answers in short snippets but to teach us how to live our life by the lives of those who have walked with God.  It is a whole story in which we are still living.  

God had entered into a covenantal relationship with Abraham: Earlier in this story, we are told “Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.””

Abraham does as God says, he leaves home to settle an unknown land.  Years pass, Abraham and his family survive a famine, cause a ruckus in Egypt as Abraham in order to save his own skin pretends Sarah is his sister and loans her out to Pharaoh, and they return to Canaan and get into a land dispute with his nephew Lot. 

And through all of this God tells Abraham, I will make your offspring outnumber the stars and the grains of sand.  And Abraham names one of his trusted servants as his heir instead of waiting on God.  So God reminds Abraham again of his promise. 

Time marches on and Abraham and Sarah still have no children.  And so Sarah tells Abraham to have a child with her slave. And still God does not dissolve the Covenant with Abraham.

And When God does fulfill his promise and Isaac is born, Sarah decides that God’s blessing, which was from the beginning intended to be shared with all nations, needs to be contained within her own family and Abraham agrees to cast Hagar and Ismael out.  

We talked last week about how God took this terrible situation and redeemed it by giving Hagar and Ishmael their share of the blessing always intended for everyone, despite Abraham and Sarah’s actions.  

And, so, after these things, God tests Abraham.  

We often paint this statement in a way that makes God look mean or vindictive.  We don’t think God ‘should’ test people’s faithfulness. We want to ignore Abraham’s unfaithfulness and put it all on God.  

But the point of God’s testing isn’t so God can learn who we are, God knows who we are, knows the very hairs of our head, knows us better than we know ourselves.  God tests so we can learn who we are and therefore grow in relationship with God.  

God tests so that we will ask ourselves the questions: Where do my loyalties lie?  Am I truly following God’s plan or doing things for my own gain? Am I being faithfully obedient to the God who is always faithful?  

God’s test of Abraham is a terrifying one, no doubt.  But the stakes are high, Abraham has accepted the responsibility of being the patriarch of all of God’s blessings spread throughout the world and history.  And Abraham hasn’t shown much faithfulness to God’s plan.  

The Hebrew word we translate to “test” means “in order to humble you.”  

The most difficult thing for most of us to accept is that God is God, the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth and of all things seen and unseen.  We say these words week in and week out but when it comes to living out the true belief that God’s way is better than our way, we tend to be more like Abraham and Sarah than we care to admit.  

When it comes to giving God the authority to test anyone in order to teach that individual something about themselves, we’d rather label that as God being mean instead of seeing it as an instruction to help with spiritual growth and development.  

Making the choice to follow Jesus comes with the responsibility to live in God’s plan not just with it in the margins somewhere, but in the center, at the foundation, of our life; to work with God in covenantal relationship, trusting in God’s faithfulness and living in faithful obedience to God’s way of doing things.  

God’s way of doing things isn’t complicated – it isn’t always easy, rarely is it easy, but it isn’t complicated.  God’s way is the way of Love.  Not the sentimental idea of always feeling warm and fuzzy but an active way of living focused on the well-beings of others.

It is a life lived in questions such as “is what I’m doing for my own gain and benefit or for the greater good of others?  Am I seeking God’s blessing for my own gain or to share it with others?”  

If Abraham had been obediently and humbly walking with God, he wouldn’t have put Sarah in danger with the Pharaoh to save his own skin, he wouldn’t have accepted Sarah’s plan to have a child with Hagar, and he definitely wouldn’t have banished Hagar and Ishmael in order to save his entire inheritance for Isaac.  

So after these things God tested Abraham. God needed Abraham to learn that it really was in him to live in faithful obedience to God, with God’s help.  

God’s plan would not have allowed Isaac to die, just as God intervened when Abraham and Sarah’s plan very likely could have been the death of Hagar and Ishmael.  

God’s plan always leads to life, the eternal life in loving and obedient relationship with our Creator that begins when we make the choice to follow Jesus and welcome the awareness of God’s presence in all that we think, do, and say.  

Jesus says that when we welcome him, we welcome God.  And with our acceptance of God comes responsibility, and blessing beyond measure so that we can can live our best life possible sharing God’s blessing of Love, more abundant than the stars in the sky, with others.  Amen.  

Expectations

June 21, 2020
3rd Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 7

Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Romans 6:1-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Have you ever stepped into a situation where you thought you knew what was going on only to find out the hard way it was nothing like what you had expected?  I mean, besides the year 2020?

Perhaps you started a new job and it was nothing like the job description that prompted you to apply in the first place.  Perhaps you met someone new and found out they weren’t at all like the first impression they presented.  Perhaps you had planned the perfect family vacation and nothing went according to that plan.  Or perhaps as a teen or young adult, you had your whole life planned out and things just haven’t happened as you thought they would.  

That all really does describe 2020 doesn’t it?  

Even when we make the choice to follow Jesus and do all of our due diligence to discern God’s will for us, sometime – a lot of the time – things just don’t go as we expect.  I often wonder if movies and TV are responsible for this?  We sit down to watch an encapsulated story with a prewritten script and standard plot line of harmony, discord, journey, resolution, and happily ever after.    But that’s not real life, is it?

Life, despite what Shakespeare tells us, isn’t a play, at least not a fully scripted one.  We have stage directions but we are living in perpetual improv (don’t tell the Calvinists).  We can’t predict exactly what will happen in any situation.  We can’t predetermine other peoples behavior or responses.  Often times, we can’t even predict our own.   

My brilliant husband often tells me, when I’m stressed or shocked or surprised by what has happened, “if you don’t have expectations, you won’t be disappointed.”  At first I took that to mean that we couldn’t “hope” or “believe” that we were doing the right thing, that I was just supposed to lay idly by while life happened around me.  

But I’ve come to learn it means that we can’t predict what others do, even if we think we know ourselves and them very, very well.  

Instead of fighting against the situation in which we find ourselves, life is much less stressful if we accept our situation and do our best with God’s help to be the best we can be in it.  We will still have preconceived expectations, that’s just human, but we learn to recognize them for what they are and let them go when they aren’t fulfilled. 

Our Old Testament story shows the conflict that can – and does – arise when we fight against a situation that isn’t going according to our own expectations. God had promised Abraham and Sarah a child and this didn’t happen according to Sarah’s timeframe so she took matters into her own hands. Her lack of trust in God’s plan created a situation in which Hagar and Ishmael are rejected and abandoned. 

And still God steps in and redeems this terrible situation and rescues Hagar and Ishmael. 

Even when we create a situation that diminishes the value of other human beings, God’s grace is bigger than our mistakes.  This is where our hope lies, why when things don’t turn out as we wanted them to, we shouldn’t be disappointed or angry or sad.  We look for the good that God can make out of every situation and ask God to show us how we can participate in the goodness.

Our gospel lesson today could very well be Jesus preaching a sermon on this story about Abraham and Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael.  

Jesus gives us a lesson on what it is is to live IN our faith and not just with it.  

Every human being is the most precious thing to God.  Regardless of how we try to live our life apart from God or even limit God to just pieces of our life, God knows even the very hairs of our head.  In the confidence of God’s unconditional love, we have nothing to fear, even in moments of crisis or conflict, even when things don’t go as we expect.  

Jesus is a realist. He’s not going to paint some false picture to draw us in unprepared. Jesus wants us to know full well what following him will be like.  He invites us into God’s family – and all are invited, really – and knows that when we accept the invitation to grow into disciples, that there will be conflict.  As disciples following Jesus, our way of living and seeing the world is to be different from the world.  

And when we live Jesus’ way of truth and unconditional love, some people won’t like it because it challenges their status quo and ego.  

Sometimes these people who don’t like it are our closest relatives, our family, and our friends. 

But Jesus assures us that it is the best life we can live, the life we were all created to live. If we can let go of the life we think we should be living, the life the world tells us to expect or that we are entitled to or deserve, and live the life God has in store for us, we will be fully alive as God intends us to be. 

Following Jesus and trusting God’s way isn’t naive or simplistic. It isn’t sitting idly by and letting the world happen around you.  

Following Jesus is the most difficult thing we will ever do as human beings on this planet:  

-The absolute most difficult because it means that we will be working against the powers of this world that promote self-centeredness rather than love and justice.  

-The absolute most difficult because it means that we have to stand up and face conflict from a place of peace and grace instead of anger or retaliation.  

-The absolute most difficult because it means that often others won’t understand and will turn against us rather that choose to walk this path of faith with us.  

Following Jesus is the best life we can live, confident in God’s unconditional love, regardless of the situation we may find ourselves.  It is life grounded in the sure and certain hope that God is always faithful to us even when we lose faith and try to write our own script.  

We may not have a script for 2020 or any other time in our life, but we do have excellent stage directions and the teacher whose greatest desire is that together we grow and mature to be like him, children of God, grounded in God’s kingdom as we navigate the conflicts of this world without fear of being alone or abandoned.   

This year hasn’t been what anyone expected or planned. In all of the uncertainty, conflict, and pain, the only thing we can know for certain is that God is with us, asking “what troubles you” and saying “do not be afraid, I have heard you and I am with you always.” Amen.   

Normal

June 14, 2020
2nd Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6

Genesis 18:1-15
Psalm 116:1, 10-1
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35 – 10:8

Today begins in the church calendar what we call ordinary time, not “mundane” or “blah” ordinary but the “order of things” ordinary, the regular rhythm in which we live our lives every day.  The order which God created as he spoke the universe into being, with planets in their courses, the sun and the moon marking our days and seasons and years.  What we like to call “normal”.  

In this long season between Pentecost and Advent, we walk with Jesus and the disciples through our weekly readings, learning from their ordinary, normal days so that our days can be shaped by theirs.  

Our ordinary days have changed dramatically. Almost 3 months ago to the day, on March 15, I stood before you and said in order to do our part in slowing the spread of COVID19, we were going to suspend in-person worship for a time.  

Our work places, to do their part, sent us home to work or changed the way we worked.  

Stores and restaurants and gathering places closed their doors for a time.  

The only way to slow this terrible virus was to work together to stay apart.  The best way to protect the most vulnerable in our city was to stay away from them. 

That time grew longer and longer as the number of people infected increased every day.  And we wondered if what we were doing was actually working. 

And then the number started to dip down showing our efforts were not in vain.  As businesses and our workplaces have begun to reopen we have all been asked to continue to work together, with physical distancing and face masks to continue to protect each other and our community from the virus.  

We have been reminded – if we’ve been willing to have eyes to see and ears to hear – a life lesson we’ve lost through the generations of this country: Every action of “I” has an impact the “us” whether we can see that impact or not.

For so many in our country the “normal” has become to look out only for ourselves, to do our own thing, to worry about only ‘me’ and what I need, and to be blind to how our behavior impacts others.

This false ideal of the individual has been revealed to us in the dramatic increase in the number of people being infected in Midland and around this state and country these past two weeks with the reopening of our communities, and also in the veil being pulled away from the systemic racism in this land through the marches and protests as people raise their voices against “the normal” and demand true equity for every human being.  

The old normal is broken in so many ways. We cannot go back either at an individual level or as a city or nation.  We can be better.  God calls us to be better.  Jesus teaches us to be better. 

As we begin our annual journey through ordinary time in church, we have this miraculous opportunity to reshape, with God’s help, what our “normal” looks like.  We can be who God is calling us to be, who Jesus teaches us to be.    

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus is teaching and healing and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom and when he sees the crowds, he has compassion for them.

Compassion is that emotion which allows us to see the suffering and hurt of others and moves us to do something to alleviate that pain and suffering.  Compassion isn’t a passive emotion.  It requires action.  

Jesus knows that to alleviate the suffering and hurt in this world requires all of us to work together and so instead of just doing it all himself, he commissions the disciples to do this work.  

Jesus tells his disciples to ask the Lord to send out harvesters … and then he answers their prayer by sending them out to do the work he has been doing. When we pray for God to move mountains, sometimes God hands us the shovel.  

And then Jesus tells them a curious thing, something often twisted in meaning to reinforce our tendency as the church to exclude others.  

Jesus tells them to start with the lost sheep of Israel.  

Jesus isn’t being exclusionary here, he’s being realistic. Jesus knows the human condition well enough to understand that often, when we choose to change for the better, the most difficult place to proclaim that good news is within our own families and communities, the people who know our “normal” as their normal.  

Jesus is telling the disciples to start proclaiming God’s love right where they are, to their families and in their own communities. Later he’ll tell them to branch out, we’ll get to that story later this summer.

From the beginning, God promised Abraham that his descendants would outnumber the stars, SO THAT they would be a blessing to all the nations of the world.  God’s blessing has never been for a single group of people but for everyone.  Somewhere along the way the House of Israel had lost that point and so Jesus sends the disciples to teach their own who God had called them to be all along.  

Somewhere along the way, we as Americans decided that individualism was a better deal than living for the greater good of all.  Collectively as a nation, we’ve lost the ability to see each other with compassion as Jesus sees us.  

And in the midst of all the pain and suffering in our country, God is calling us to be who Jesus has been teaching us to be all along – the body of Christ commissioned 

to spread God’s love, 

to see the image of God in everyone, 

to help alleviate the pain and suffering in the world, 

starting right here where we live.  

When we follow Jesus, the work of sharing God’s love in this world is the “normal” of our ordinary days. 

Striving for justice and peace and respecting the dignity of every human being is our normal.  

Seeking the well-being of others is our normal.  

Being other focused rather than self-centered is our normal.  

Proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom in all that we think, say, and do is our normal.

I don’t think I’ve given y’all any homework since we’ve been gathering via the internet so we’re long over due, wouldn’t you say?  For this coming week, take the collect for today – it’s on page 230 of the BCP – and pray it at least once a day, more if you can, and then be willing to be the answer to that prayer with God’s help within your own family and our community. 

Together we will be better, we can with God’s help make the world better, as we walk the normal, ordinary path of following Jesus on the Way of Love.  Amen.

In Whose Image?

June 7, 2020; Trinity Sunday

Genesis 1:1 – 2:1
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

Today is a day most every preacher gets a little nervous about.  In the church calendar, the Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday. And I’m supposed to offer words that help us all understand the biggest mystery in the entire universe.  

Neither the writer of Genesis nor the writer of the Gospel according to Matthew had the penned doctrine of the Trinity we have today.  What we are reading this morning, and the whole of scripture were used as reflection points for the community of early believers, our faith ancestors, as they sought how these holy writings could – and should – shape their daily life.  

When these ancient writings that have become our holy scriptures were first written, writing materials were scarce, the ability to write wasn’t common, and so the words chosen to reveal God’s story through a written language were selected with care. We gather clues from the words, and draw meanings from the intentional placement of the stories. 

There is nothing in all of our scripture that explains the Holy Trinity, just that it IS.  There are bits and pieces from which theologians and apologists have attempted to pull exacting detail so that we can all “get it right.”  And our understanding of the Trinity is important.

God used language to create, speaking everything into being. We all use language to understand and express our own thoughts.

So, yes, we need to look precisely at the language of the scripture, but we shouldn’t let ourselves get distracted by the debate over the details so that we forget that the real point and purpose is to allow the language of scripture to shape who God calls us to be as we follow Jesus and live in God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven.  

In our lessons today, we go back to the very beginning of creation, a story told generation after generation to remind us all that we are an intentional part of something so much bigger than ourselves. 

God created our world out of nothingness and gave the world the ability to propagate – the story tells us that God said, “let the water bring forth swarms of creatures and the earth bring forth vegetation and living creatures”.

And on the final day of work, God speaks differently – instead of saying “let there be” God says “Let Us”. God moves from creating outside of the divine self (not that that makes the earth any less holy, mind you) to direct address and action within the plural divine self.

“Let us make humankind in our own image, according to our likeness.”

After creating the creatures of the sky and sea, God blesses them and says in general, “be fruitful and multiply.”  

After creating human beings, God blesses us and says directly to us, “be fruitful and multiply.”  

From the very beginning, God intended a direct relationship with human beings.  From the very beginning, every human being has the image of God, at our very core.

So, just what is the image of God?  What does it mean for us to be in God’s image?  And what does it mean that God speaks of God in the plural?  We all know that one+one+one cannot equal one.  And yet it does.  It’s divine mystery.

The persons of God, which in the words of Jesus we are given are ‘Father’, ‘Son’, and ‘Holy Spirit’, are distinct with specific roles and actions, and are also unified and one.  This understanding of the Trinity gives us an example of the ultimate community – distinct beings living and moving together as one for the greater good of all.  

Created in this image, humans are most fully human in “us” and “we” more than we could ever be in “I” and “me”.  When we are baptized in the name of the Trinity, we are reminded of this community in which we are created and into which we are reborn.  We are an intentional part of something so much greater than ourselves.  

When Jesus commissions us to make disciples, baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to teach those who come after us all that Jesus has commanded us, he isn’t telling us to lose ourselves in theoretical debate but is giving us very practical instructions for how to live our daily life, participating with God in the redemption of this world.

The Great Commission, the words of Jesus that Matthew gives us in our reading today, decidedly eliminates all ideas of our faith being individualized or private and clearly tells us we are, each and every one of us, a distinct part of a unified and inseparable divine community whose purpose is to share and teach God’s love in all that we do.  

The theology of the Trinity isn’t something for the ivory towers of seminaries but a practical instruction for our every day, lived in the awareness of God at all times and in all people.  

The theology of the Trinity and our creation in this divine image is the antithesis of the division and anger and hatred that is so rampant in our world. 

When asked which of the commandments are the greatest, Jesus answers, “to Love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourselves”.  Again – three distinct acts that are together unified and unifying.  We cannot love God and hate our neighbor.  We cannot love our neighbor without also loving God because each of our neighbors is a necessary piece of the full image of God.  And when we live in the love God designed us for we will love ourselves as God created us to be.  

The protests and marches and demonstrations going on all around our country these past two weeks were launched by the specific event of the death of George Floyd but they are the result of decades and centuries of people having lost the theology of the trinity and decided they could determine the value of of groups of people based on the color of their skin. These protests are the results of a faith that became individualized and lost the trinitarian theology of a community of people unified by the power of Divine Love.  

Don’t let yourselves get distracted by debating the details to determine which side is “right” and which is “wrong”. See the hurt and anger and hate and chose to counter it with trinitarian love. 

Reveal the image of God in you by looking for the image of God in everyone.

When we stand with those who’ve been told “you don’t matter” we are, with God’s help, re-membering the image of God and the Divine community of Love. 

The theology of the Trinity, how one+one+one=ONE, isn’t some esoteric conversation beyond our understanding. It is the divine mystery into which we are all created to live, it is the very core of who we are. It IS critical that we quote “get it right” because it is the very foundation of how we live as Jesus’ Followers. 

Living the theology of the trinity is how we, with God’s help, change the world to be on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen. 

Redeemed

May 31, 2020
Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 3
1 Corinthians 12:3-13
John 20:19-23

As we rolled into week 11 of doing all we can to help stop the spread of COVID19 it was impossible to imagine the world could get any heavier.  But it did. The death of George Floyd at the hand of a police officer, as well as the recent deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery sparked a powder keg that’s long been building pressure. 

The anger being expressed in our world feels like defeat from the church’s perspective, and I found myself asking, “What good has coming to this building week after week done us?” 

Bishop Stephen Charleston, retired Episcopal bishop of Alaska and former dean of Episcopal Divinity School, said this, “One man dies in the street, pleading for his life, and overnight those streets erupt in anger at the injustice, not only for that dreadful moment, but for a lifetime of oppression. One hundred thousand die from a virus, all innocent victims of a heartless disease, but a balance of color sows more die from one community than others. Racism breads death, either visibly for all the world to see, or silently, hidden beneath the statistics and the excuses.  May the Spirit empower us to face this reality and not turn away: racisms is as virulent as Covid-19, infecting people who seem to have no outward symptoms, until behavior reveals their disease. The vaccine for racism is injustice, the cure is equality, and the prevention is love.”

Today is Pentecost, the day we celebrate our commission as The Church – God’s chosen way of being visible in this world, the body of all who follow Jesus in the Way of Love.  Today we are celebrating the culmination of all that Jesus teaches us.  And I don’t much feel like celebrating.  Do you?  

And yet, God reminds me that it is more important now than ever.  The world needs us to show who God calls us to be – 

a people of love and compassion, 

a people of equality and justice, 

a people of forgiveness and grace.  

Because Jesus didn’t come from God to give us a get out of eternal jail free card for when we die.  

He came to teach us a better way to live right now where we are in the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  

He came to show us how to live relationally rather than transactionally.  

He came to show us how to walk with God in the way of Love.

Pentecost is the day we celebrate our invitation to participate with God in the redemption of this world – 

to work with Jesus to re-set us on the course that God intends by showing the world how to find God in all things and in every circumstance and in every human being, by showing the world God’s love. 

We participate in this redemption of the world by speaking love into situations of hate, seeking justice in unjust systems.

And by acknowledging our own complicity in the systems of this world that seek to reduce the value of some lives by inflating the value of others.  

God came to us as Jesus and breathed into us the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to bring the justice and peace and love of the Heavenly Kingdom to earth. 

We don’t fight hate by taking sides.  

We fight hate by loving.  

We fight hate by speaking against hateful acts and refusing to hate back.  

We fight hate with compassion, not ignoring harmful and damaging behavior but by holding everyone accountable to the same degree as we would hold ourselves accountable for our own behavior, no more no less.  

We fight hate by seeing everyone as God sees and loves us all.

We fight hate with the knowledge that every single human life is more valuable than any thing.

We fight hate by realizing that the way the world has done things for thousands of years hasn’t stopped people from hating each other and deciding to try Jesus’ way of love instead.  

We fight hate by letting go of our individualized way of living and living for the greater good of all.  Re-membering ourselves as the body of Christ, interconnected and interdependent from the very core of our being.  

The Church isn’t in competition with the systems of the world and The Church wasn’t commissioned to hide out from the world.  WE as the church are to live in and among the systems of this world to show a better way, to show THE WAY of love is more powerful than every other way of being.  

In his book “Thank you for being Late” Thomas Friedman asks his rabbi a question about the presence of God. 

The rabbi answers, “unless we bear witness to God’s presence by our own good deeds, God is not present. Unless we behave as though God were running things, God isn’t running things. 

We are responsible for making God’s presence manifest by what we do, by the choices we make. 

The rabbi continues: God celebrates a universe with such human freedom because [God] knows that the only way [God] is truly manifest in the world is not if [God] intervenes but if we all choose sanctity and morality in an environment where we are free to choose anything. (Pg339)

The world feels heavy, and with God’s help, we can all work to make it better – to make it the dream that God intends rather than the nightmare it often is (Bp Michael Curry).  

From the midst of our pain and anguish, we can see things from a different perspective.  God is with us and we must reveal the God of love to the hurting world, because that will ease our pain, too.  

So, on this birthday of the church, I am so very grateful for the opportunity for all of us to see who we are as The Church, not from within our buildings but from without – a church dispersed in this world to show and share God’s love because that is the whole point and purpose of our gathering – to be equipped and empowered to GO and BE The Church in all that we think, do, and say.  This challenging time isn’t defeat, it’s a gift of the greatest opportunity possible to spread God’s love.  

It’s a time to live into our baptism covenant.  

In your book of common prayer, turn with me to page 304, to the Baptism Covenant. If you don’t have it, your response to each of the following questions is “I will, with God’s help.”  

Celebrant 
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? 

People
I will, with God’s help. 

Celebrant 
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? 

People
I will, with God’s help. 

Celebrant 
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? 

People
I will, with God’s help. 

Celebrant 
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? 

People
I will, with God’s help. 

Celebrant 
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? 

People
I will, with God’s help.

So let’s Celebrate our birth as the church – one body of people, unified by the power of the Holy Spirit, Created by the God of Love, following the one who redeems us all as we walk the Way of Love.  Hear Jesus say, “peace be with you.  As the Father sends me, so I send you.”  May the Spirit empower us all to face the reality of our world and do our work to make it better.  Amen.  

Again, y’all. Again.

Originally posted September 1, 2019, the day after the shootings in Odessa, Texas.

Again, y’all.  Again.  

And I don’t want to preach  or write or do anything today.  I want to be sad.  And angry.  I want to hug all of you and remind you how infinitely valuable each of us are in God’s eyes.  I want hear your fears  and speak mine and feel the pain together.  I want to remind all of us that we are in this life together, that everything we think, say, and do affects everyone and everything else.  

I want all of the anger and hate to stop.  I want love to be our modus operandi, the love that God has for all people, a love of grace and compassion and forgiveness.

In the darkness forged by anger and hate we all need to shine this divine Love.  Loving each other better today than we did yesterday and even better tomorrow that we do today is the only cure for the evil in this land.  

The world tells us that certain people are more important than others.  

Jesus tells us that all of God’s children are infinitely valuable.

The world tells us that our individual wants and desires are more important than anything else.  

Jesus tells us that our relationships and the way we love is the only truly important thing.

The world tells us that when we are afraid we should pull into ourself and shut out the scary people.

Jesus tells us “do not be afraid, I am with you.  Go and love your neighbor.”  

We cannot pull into ourselves in our fear.  We must throw our doors open wide in love and we must strive to always love better.    

And, so, I invite you to pay attention.  Pay attention to the times you use labels to describe people.  

Pay attention to the times when you get aggravated because you have to wait on someone who is just trying to get through their day as you are.  

Pay attention to the times when you think that you deserve something someone else has.

Pay attention to the times when you think someone else doesn’t deserve what they have.  

Pay attention to the times when you let anger displace love, 

when you let frustration displace compassion, 

when you let hurry or convenience displace grace.  

These are the moments to ask God to help us love better, to love as he loves.  And together with God’s help we will make it on earth as it is in heaven.

Love IS the solution to the anger and hatred of this world.  Together with God’s help we can love enough to change this world from “the nightmare it is to the dream God intends.”