Due to the fact that the clergy have different ways of preparing sermons, not all sermons will be found on this page.
July 16-17, 2022
Amos 8: 1-12, Psalm 52, Colossians 1:15-28, Luke 10:38-42
I am the middle child of three sisters. Far apart in age, we have little in common. But I was born, resented as an intrusion upon my older sister’s perfect life as an only child. Some of our early years, we had to share a bedroom-a nightmare for us both. I don’t remember a lot, but what I do remember is not that of a nurturing older sister loving her little sister. Far from it. So traumatized was I that I didn’t want any girl children-no more females for me! I grew up to be a people pleaser. I know all middle children are supposed to be, but in my case, it is a little extreme. In the case of Mary and Martha, I’d strive to do both. But to tell you the truth, I think we tend to make too much of this account. All of us need to be both really. We all try to reach some kind of balance that makes sense-between work and play, between companionship and solitude, between exercise and rest-all things in moderation. To me the real problem was not who was doing the work but complaining to a guest and asking him to intervene. Instead of speaking to Mary directly, Martha attempted to triangulate-to get Jesus to convince Mary of her wrongdoing. That was not good hospitality-but no one talks about that. Barbara Brown Taylor, who usually cuts to the chase, pondered that Martha may have been an introvert-happy in the kitchen-not having to keep up a conversation. Mary was the extrovert-even though I think/surmise she was listening for the most part. Some commentators claim that this dispute-woman against woman-is some plot to keep women focused on rivalry, allowing themselves to be manipulated. I don’t know. It’s hard for me to have a big conversation about who did the dishes when there are bigger issues out there!
The really interesting thing this week comes in (the reading we did not hear,) the Old Testament-Amos. (You don’t need however to hear it to get the message.) Nathan Nettleton, an Australian clergyman I like, put it this way, “My formative Christian years, in my late teens and twenties, were spent in what were often known as the radical discipleship churches, or the social justice churches. As a result, it became a basic tenet of my faith that God’s major agenda was bringing about justice. God was … thus angered by the existence of injustice and oppression in the world… And this passage was especially relevant because it was not just about slavery or some other primitive form of abuse that we like to think are no longer an issue…about the systemic injustice of our economic system and the ways that advertising, trade and credit further impoverish the poor and line the pockets of the rich. Without any significant change to the practices described, you can switch the terminology for expressions we are more familiar with, and it comes out like this:
Listen to me, you who wipe your feet on those in need;
you who destroy the poor for your own gain.
You resent religious holidays because they interrupt your wheeling and dealing;
you demand twenty-four hour, seven-day trading so that you can rip people off without ceasing.
Your advertising is all deceit and delusion; you rig the odds and the interest rates.
You lure the poor into crippling debt until you own them — body and soul —
and then charge them again for owing you money.”
Anyone who thinks the Bible is tame or outdated, is just plain wrong! Not much has changed, has it? The Bible is full of passages like this. Passages dealing with the ethics of wealth and poverty outnumber those on sexual morality at about 100 to one. Again, per Nettleton, “It is impossible to read the Bible with an open mind and not conclude that political, economic and personal injustice offend and anger God, and that God wants to rid the world of all such injustices.” The ferocity of the language gives us a clue as to God’s fierce desire for relationship with us. The language is like that of a lover, crushed when deceived or rejected by a lover. You can feel the pain and the longing concurrently. Nettleton pointed it out, “There is something in the white-hot anger, in the impassioned fury of God’s language here that seems to belong to another agenda altogether. There is a sense of loss of control, loss of reason; a sense of wild hot-headed rage that screams and threatens and sometimes does things that are crazy and irrational and almost suicidal. It is not the sort of disposition I associate with the great champions of the quest for justice: the Nelson Mandelas or the Martin Luther Kings. They nearly always seem to manage to be so admirably dignified and measured and consistent.” The reading concludes with, and I quote “The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land: not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.” The threat of severing communication, the absence of the word of God is a far bigger threat, however. It comes after the screaming and threatening is over. It comes as God’s last chance at control.
I was taken aback by our Presiding Bishop’s address at the National Convention this past week. He stated his fear for our country, his fear for our democracy, his fear for our people and his fear that the way of love will not likely come to fruition if things continue on this current path. I too, share those concerns. What will it take to get our attention? Will it be too late? Or will our eyes open wide to what’s happening around us, our ears hear the cries of those who look at our Constitution and Bill of Rights as impossible dreams? Will we turn around-just ever so slightly-and see things from a different prospective-one of innovation and joy as we work together to save our planet as we save our beloved people? Will we realize as a human family that we share far more than what divides us, that we love the same things, want the same things for those we love and-really-for all of God’s children? Has the pendulum we all talk about finally reached its peak? Imagine the joy of seeing people put away their cell phones and tablets to talk to each other. Imagine-it’s not impossible-our cities and slums-the bad sides of towns cleaned up. Imagine libraries with programs for children, learning to love to read. Imagine churches filled with people yearning for love and not judgment, generous, joyful giving instead of fulfilling an “obligation”. Imagine our police officers respected and respectful of the citizens they are paid to protect-regardless of the color of their skin or where they came from. Imagine a country making room for those willing to work and live in peace with adequately funded immigration courts to make illegal immigration unnecessary. Imagine we all knew our history as a country and as a church and we decided to make sure something like that would never happen again.
I want those still small voices to continue to tickle our imaginations and make us just crazy enough to believe that these things could come true. Are you with me? Amen.
Hymn For The Hurting
by Amanda Gorman
Our hearts shadowed and strange,
Minds made muddied and mute.
We carry tragedy, terrifying and true.
And yet none of it is new;
We knew it as home,
Even our children
Cannot be children,
It’s a hard time to be alive,
And even harder to stay that way.
We’re burdened to live out these days,
While at the same time, blessed to outlive them.
This alarm is how we know
We must be altered —
That we must differ or die,
That we must triumph or try.
Thus while hate cannot be terminated,
It can be transformed
Into a love that lets us live.
May we not just grieve, but give:
May we not just ache, but act;
May our signed right to bear arms
Never blind our sight from shared harm;
May we choose our children over chaos.
May another innocent never be lost.
Maybe everything hurts,
Our hearts shadowed & strange.
But only when everything hurts
May everything change.
May 7-8, 2022
ASEC Easter 4 Year C Acts 9: 36-43, Revelation 7:9-17, John 10: 22-30, Psalm 23
The images are so beautiful, so calming, so reassuring, aren’t they? Being led by a loving shepherd to a place of beauty, by gentle streams-not to mention the omnipresence of a shepherd protecting us for life on this earth and beyond. We can all get behind that, right? But there’s a little more to the picture. When we hear these accounts, it is natural to take a part-to imagine who we are in the story. I don’t know about you, but I very easily slip into the role of the sheep and gratefully accept the protection offered. Last week however, as I listened to Denise’s sermon, another role caught my attention. She quoted Jesus saying in effect, “If you want to be my followers, feed my sheep, tend my lambs etc.” In the scenario she and Jesus laid out, we are not the sheep, but the shepherd! In the absence of the risen Christ, we have to do the work! We are the ones with the enormous task of making this sorry world into the kingdom of God on earth! So instead of being the recipients of all this grace, we are the ones who are supposed to be doling it out, radically and lavishly pouring blessing upon blessing upon God’s children, our siblings. Since we’ve had over 2000 years to figure this out, I must say that we haven’t been very successful. Denise said it so nicely last week. But I’m here to tell you (and me by the way!) that we need to do better! Covid has made us lazy. Far easier to stay home, we have become too accustomed to being good to ourselves as we have all-too-easily been overwhelmed at the size and depth of the world’s problems. The complexity causes us to throw up our arms and head to our knees to pray that God or Jesus or someone younger or someone smarter or someone more dedicated or someone…other than us…would do what needs to be done.
Talking about love is really nice, but I’m pretty sure God or Jesus or a really good friend would tell us that love in action is what counts. So how do we do better? First, we all need to get off our couches! What do you care about? What bothers you most about the state of our world? Our country? Our community? Our faith community? I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard the lament, “Oh, why doesn’t someone do something about….fill in the blanks or someone ought to make sure this or that doesn’t happen…or does happen. Who is someone? There is no shortage of causes. On an international level, there is the survival of our planet. We can vote for people who will take seriously the risks we face and shepherd, i.e., protect our planet for our children. Wanna feed God’s children? Support ERD or the Tsunami Fund (building housing and lives for children orphaned by AIDS) or if you want, Rev. Nietert’ s fund raising efforts so a very dedicated and determined woman in Africa can provide clean water and education to her small community. Have you contributed to relief efforts for the people of Ukraine? Putin has unknowingly done us a favor by giving us, no matter what side of the isle, a cause we can get behind. It’s fair to say that we all, or most of us anyway, love our country and respect and value democracy. We’ve seen what communism and autocracy look like all over the world. Have we spent time, effort and money-not to mention voting-for people who share our values?
Closer to home, have we taken the time to learn about inequity in our country? When we know better, we do better. But only when we actually DO something! If you want all children conceived to be born, you’d better be prepared to feed them, educate them, take care of their medical needs and give them a chance at positive and productive lives. Want to make sure governments do not make decisions affecting women and their unborn children? Vote for people who share your values and make sure elected officials KNOW your values. In our country, we mustn’t be afraid to know the truth. Once we know, we can make a difference. We have a social justice ministry at All Saints. Do you know who they are and what they do? We have tons of ministries to assist in bringing God’s message of grace to our parish and the community. All our ministries depend upon volunteers…or they simply cease to exist. Before covid, we had 7 monthly worship services in senior care centers on the island and in Bluffton. We now have 2- because of a lack of volunteers. No one had time or interest for a once-a-month commitment. Our altar guild and flower guild are short on members- which means that those who are part of the team have to volunteer more often. Beautiful flowers from our altar are delivered to the ill, recovering, or isolated. Who does these deliveries? Volunteers of course. Impressed with the quality of your welcome to All Saints? Volunteers make that happen. Unhappy with your welcome? Volunteers could make the difference. Want All Saints to be a major force for good in the low country? Have you made a substantial financial commitment to All Saints or do you contribute to the offertory plate a nominal amount? Particularly if you cannot participate actively by volunteering, participate actively by contributing generously.
You get my gist here, but ….perhaps you don’t-really. I will admit that this sounds like a big ask. It really does. Because I’m talking about lives lived- all the way. All the way into caring for others, all the way into healing others, all the way into feeding others, all the way into being a community energized by purposes greater than ourselves. Imagine what we would look like if we were really living as a beloved community! But I’m not talking about a stewardship campaign here, not even talking about benefitting our parish community. What I’m talking about is the upside-down logic expressed by Jesus. The more you treasure something, the more radically we are to give it away! And it comes back to us exponentially! We cannot out-shepherd God-for the more we give of ourselves, the more we get in the form of true joy, peace and satisfaction. If we could just try to put our talents and energies into shepherding others. Put aside our self-centered focus and live as Jesus taught us and voila, we’d be happier, contented, and nourished souls with clear purpose and a sense of accomplishment. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose. We’d be so alive in our mission; we could FEEL the energy!
Don’t walk out the door today unchanged/unaffected. Jesus said it millenniums ago and I’m saying it today. This is a win-win-for the shepherds and the sheep. (Jesus wouldn’t have said it exactly as I have!) …Heal the sick, gather the lost, feed the hungry (for food or justice). Find those who have been left behind and give them a hand up. Shepherding isn’t simple! But the rewards are simply astounding-for us and for our sheep. Amen.
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
One of the most sacred tasks of the priesthood is to walk alongside people in their final hours. If you have ever been at the bedside of one whose time is short, you know that there is urgency in the conversation and candor takes precedence. While these moments can be filled with gravitas, they also contain great tenderness. Time is eternal in those hours and nothing else matters but pure presence. God, whose very nature implies unity, creates us for connection. When we authentically connect with another, we know that we are in the presence of the Holy. As God’s love flows in and through us, a community of connection builds, one relationship at a time.
The gospel reading is taken from what is called Jesus’ farewell discourse. We backtrack for a moment to hear the words Jesus imparted to his disciples on the night before his crucifixion. At the edge of his own grave, Jesus spoke with fervor. Preparing the disciples for the days ahead, Jesus knew their lives depended upon staying connected to God and to each other.
Laying aside the way he often taught in parables and paradox, this night, he spoke directly. He said to his friends, "Little children, I am with you only a little longer. I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples." What were they to do when they could no longer see their Lord's physical presence? Take the love Jesus showed them, into the world. The disciples were to build the Christian community upon the love of God and neighbor.
Jesus did not talk about the importance of the Bible or creeds. These became crucial to later generations as they fought wars over power and orthodoxy. But the one thing paramount to Jesus seemed to get lost as the early Christian community tried to establish itself. They fought amongst themselves around issues of doctrine and who to include. We hear in the Acts lesson Peter sharply criticized for breaking bread with gentiles, who were considered unclean. But Peter gave testimony to the church leaders about a vision he received while praying, that showed him what he thought to be unclean, God had made clean. He was told to go and bring God's love to all. Then he asked a profound question, Who am I that I could hinder God? Peter's story opened the way for the spread of the gospel.
In our time, we often miss what was most important to Jesus. We fuss about church budgets and average Sunday attendance and repairing the roof. Are we limiting what God has in store for us and others? Do we put up roadblocks to the gospel amidst the unlovely? If we are more focused on right belief and who is in or out than loving God's children, then we have missed the mark. We might ask ourselves: Who am I to hinder God? The commandment Jesus gave us is not about what we believe but what we do. The world is watching. Do they know we are Christ followers by what we do?
Henri Nowen wrote this meditation about love: "Often we speak about love as if it is a feeling. But if we wait for a feeling of love before loving, we may never learn to love well. The feeling of love is beautiful and life-giving, but our loving cannot be based in that feeling. To love is to think, speak, and act according to the spiritual knowledge that we are infinitely loved by God and called to make that love visible in this world. When we “do” love, even if others are not able to respond with love, we will discover that our feelings catch up with our acts." Our faith community will leave a legacy for future generations- the question is- what will it be?
In 2007, Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon accepted the invitation to give what traditionally the school called “The Last Lecture.” This was an opportunity for outgoing professors to impart to their students wisdom and guidance. Just months after Randy took on this challenge he learned he had months to live. With humor and grace he distilled his reflections into an hour powerpoint presentation, filled with anecdotes from his life and simple but poignant advice. Over 400 people attended this lecture and it eventually became a best- selling book. Here were some of his parting thoughts:
Find the best in everybody. Just keep waiting. Everybody has a good side, it will come out.
Be willing to apologize. Proper apologies have three parts: 1) What I did was wrong. 2) I’m sorry that I hurt you. 3) How do I make it better? It’s the third part that people tend to forget.
You can’t get there alone. People have to help you. Show gratitude. Help others.
Find your passion and follow it. You will not find passion in things or in money. Your passion must come from the things that fill you from the inside. No matter what you do, that passion will be grounded in people and relationships you have.
As we consider our priorities as a church, we would do well to consider what we leave to future generations. If these were our final hours, what would we want to impart to them? Do we reflect the love and mission given to us in Christ's commandment? In the end, it's never about how much you produced, but how God's love flowed in and through you to the world.
On this fifth Sunday in Easter, as we celebrate our Risen Lord, may we always look for places in life where love is hard to come by, and be that love that Christ so abundantly has given us. Big things happen in the small acts of love for one another. And when we are at our final hour our love for Jesus and each other will bring us into the nearer presence of the Holy and show us the way home. Amen.
Lent 2 Courage
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Courage. What makes a King out of a slave? Courage.
What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage.
What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage. What makes the Sphinx the 7th Wonder? Courage.
What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage.
What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the "ape" in ape-ricot? Whatta they got that I ain't got?
(choir) Courage! You can say that again!
This is one of my favorite speeches taken from the beloved movie The Wizard of Oz. I must have watched it 100 times as a child. I was so fascinated by the characters who seemed to be so unaware that the very thing they sought, was right there within them. It was the attribute we could see in them from the start. The cowardly lion wore his emotions on his sleeve, cared so passionately, that he was willing to risk it all for his friends.
Courage. It is one of those words so misunderstood. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart. In her talk,"The Call to Courage," author Brene Brown, said most of us grew up believing that courage was a valuable strength and vulnerability was a shameful weakness. While vulnerability can evoke feelings we might want to avoid, it also moves us to more authenticity and compassion. Brown suggests there is no courage without vulnerability, putting one's heart on the line.
Today's readings are all about this vulnerable courage. In the book of Genesis, Abram is called by God to leave his home and all he knows, to travel to a foreign land, where God will make him a father of many nations. We hear Abram's struggle to understand God's promise to give him descendants, when he remained childless at a very old age. God said, Look toward heaven and count the stars, so shall your descendants be. And on that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram: to your descendants I give this land." Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. To trust in what he could not understand and to move forward, took great courage and faith. Acknowledging Abram's anxiety and doubt, God honored Abram's questions with a promise. Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.
Likewise in the Gospel, Jesus moves towards danger with courage and vulnerability despite the Pharisee's warnings. Now much water has gone under the bridge since last week. Once Jesus came out of the wilderness, he began his ministry of preaching and teaching. In his journey towards Jerusalem, Jesus followed up John the Baptist’s message of repentance with the good news of God’s unfailing love for all. He challenged his followers to turn away from evil and to trust in God's saving grace.
As word of Jesus' healing miracles and compassion for the outcast spread, those in power became more and more threatened. Herod Antipas who sought to spread Roman rule among the Jews, began his murderous plot, first with the beheading of John the Baptist, and then to destroy the rebel Jesus. Jesus spoke in tones of disappointment and heartbreak to the people of Jerusalem who had turned away from their ancestral faith. "Jerusalem, Jerusalem the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"
Barbara Brown Taylor, one of my favorite preachers, wrote a meditation on this passage and suggests that the image of a hen, not a roaring lion, does not inspire much confidence in the face of a hungry fox. No wonder, she says, some of the chicks decide to go with the fox. Barbara writes, “Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first. Which he does, as it turns out. He slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakes them they scatter. She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her wings spread, breast exposed without a single chick beneath her." It breaks her heart but it doesn’t change her love for them. This most vulnerable posture-arms extended, breast exposed, is how Christ stands for us. His heart broken open for us becomes our saving embrace.
Jesus demonstrates this posture of courageous vulnerability essential to the Christan life: a heart open to the needs of others, willing to risk it all for his friends. This peculiar strength will be interpreted by some as powerlessness. Yet, if we believe in God's promise to be with us, and in us, and to be our shield, we can face even the greatest challenges. God does not promise this life to be without hardship, but to go with us on the journey.
I can't help but reflect upon the courageous and vulnerable people of Ukraine at this time, under the threat of war and suffering. Those who stay behind to fight for their freedom, and those who must leave all they hold dear to protect their loved ones; I pray God's protective wings shield them and bring them strength. May their broken hearts be filled with God's love to help them endure.
Today's scriptures inspire us to ask some difficult questions. Have we taken the risk of a broken heart for God, broken open to receive God's promises? Could we leave all that we know to follow the cross? In the face of danger, would we stand for one another as God stands for us?
God asks each one of us to make the spiritual journey, to find within ourselves the very thing we seek, the courage, vulnerability and love of God that will sustain us and shield us in this transitory life. Courage, putting our hearts on the line for love and in the process finding God within us. May God bless us, preserve us and stand for us as we open our hearts and seek to do God’s work in the world. Amen