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Sermons

Due to the fact that the clergy have different ways of preparing sermons, not all sermons will be found on this page. 

Pam Fahrner

January 6, 2024

Our readings tonight are filled with images that play out throughout the entire biblical story. Our language is filled with these symbols. There are “dark days” indeed; we are “kept in the dark”; we suffer “dark nights of the soul”. And sometimes something hidden is “brought to light”, or a light is shone on it, or maybe after a time of doubt and confusion you have one of those moments where suddenly “the lights go on” for you. For Buddhists, the moment of conversion is called “enlightenment”, and in our Christian tradition, especially in the Eastern churches, it has been called “illumination”. And of course, it is not lost upon us that Jesus is seen as a source of light for all of humanity.

The symbol of the star, so central to the story of the magi visiting the infant Jesus, is a symbol of a bright light that shines in the darkness of the night sky and draws strangers to the place of enlightenment, of epiphany. For us, light comes after the dark nights of the soul pass away. For us, light represents the new start presented to us each day as the sun arises. The prophesy from Isaiah develops the image at length after opening with the words, “Arise, shine; for your light has come.” Light has come to us, and for us, and now we are to shine, to reflect that light. In our modern day, remember the Beatles song “Here Comes the Sun, Da De Da Da”? I used to dance to that song, carrying my young son in my arms. It was a song for the moment, but a yearning of the ages.

The magi symbolize the divine promise given to Abraham for "all peoples on earth" in the first book of the Bible (Genesis), and John's vision of heaven with people from "every nation, tribe, people, and language" in the last book of the Bible (Revelation). The new king Jesus abolishes not only the barriers of nation, race and ethnicity. He also transcends the boundaries of gender, religion, economics and social stratification, for in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are one in Christ Jesus” ; the magi were only the tip of a very big iceberg. Epiphany was not a one-time event, but is a continuum. We are continually surprised and even disturbed as God’s ways and means are brought to light. Over and over we look for one thing, even cry out and plead for it, but we get another. In Jesus, hunted at birth and humiliated at death, God’s ways and means are shockingly brought to light. The Greek historian Herodotus says that the magi were a caste of priests from Persia who could interpret dreams. There are five dreams in Matthew's birth narrative, and four of them warn of the murderous intentions of king Herod and his sons who succeeded him. Early believers, who at first were all Jewish and who knew that they were the elect of God — the shocking idea that impure Gentiles were, from God's perspective, on equal footing with them was shocking and disturbing. This is Paul's point in this week's epistle. His ministry, he writes, is “for the sake of the Gentiles,” that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus”.

 

Herod could not have imagined the enormity of the magi’s role in this drama. The story of the pagan magi worshipping Jesus ends in carnage when king Herod slaughters innocent children in order to protect his rule. This is an old story, retold many times in our own day, in which political powers annihilate their opposition to protect their power; it's certainly not a fairy tale.

Meanwhile, Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus fled to pagan Egypt, after yet another dream, where they found asylum. That symbolic place of Israel's bondage became a place of protection. All these Herods did the opposite of the magi; they worked hard to make the subversive kingdom of Jesus subservient to the political power of the state. The Herods of the world fail when good men listen to their dreams, listen to their still small voices from within, and act with courage from the place deep within us all, the ground of our being, to enact ‘right’ and enable goodness in our world. But: If not for the magi paying attention to their dream…If not for the magi taking the time to look into the sky…If not for the magi’s courage in following their dreams and a distant star…If not for the magi paying attention to their instincts as they listened to Herod…If not for their courage as the magi dared take another road to their country…

 Can we see that this story which seems so distant, really is not so distant at all, but that it lives among us every day?

For God is still working. For yes, we still dream. We still yearn for truths just beyond our grasp. Tyrants still rage. And the story continues. And it is ours, yours and mine for we enter the story again and again.

So keep listening to your dreams. Keep our eyes and your hearts peeled for signs of hope and light and to follow where they lead.

To make the journey. To bear the gifts. And yes, to protect the innocent wherever, however we can.

I’m going to close with a poem written by Walter Bruggemann called: Epiphany

On Epiphany day,
    We are still the people walking.
    We are still people in the dark,
         and the darkness looms large around us,
         beset as we are by fear, anxiety, brutality, violence, loss —a dozen alienations that we cannot manage.

We are — we could be — people of your light.
    So we pray for the light of your glorious presence -as we wait for your appearing;
    we pray for the light of your wondrous grace -as we exhaust our coping capacity;
    we pray for your gift of newness that will override our weariness;
    we pray that we may see and know and hear and trust in your good rule.

That we may have energy, courage, and freedom to enact your rule through the demands of this day.
        We submit our day to you and to your rule, with deep joy and high hope. Amen.

Pam Fahrner
11/18/2023
Proper 28
Year A

 

It’s obvious right, that the slaveowner is God. Cause that was accepted back then, owning slaves. Everything I read on the web says that the slaveowner represents God. And all of the theologians I have encountered in my education and research seem to think this account makes sense only if interpreted this way. And the treasure given represents all of the blessings given to us by God, right? Until this morning, I was out on a limb all by myself with these theories. But I received a gift in my inbox! And the message of this parable is that we should trust enough to take risks and not live in fear, right? It’s all about what we do with what we have been given. Or is it? It seems pretty simple. So-maybe I should just go and sit down? For some of you, this would become your favorite and shortest sermon ever!

BUT, let’s take this story to our part of the world and imagine this story in a different context. The year is 1860 and this takes place in Louisiana. The crops produced are rice and cotton. The slaveowner is not God and not such a great guy and he actually did reap where he didn’t sow. He was a harsh man, gathering where he did not spread seed. His slaves did all the sowing and all the reaping, and he profited from their work. He clearly was not a compassionate man. What if the hero in this story is the one who had the courage to call it as he saw it? And even more of a stretch, what if being thrown into outer darkness (death presumably) was not a punishment, but a reward?  Maybe he was released from a life of slavery and cruelty? Maybe we wouldn’t fear death if we thought of it as a reward? Maybe this ‘plan’ of this slaveowner was some sort of game to him? Maybe he loved to see his slaves in fear and he enjoyed his position of power over the vulnerable? I don’t know. I know how we’re supposed to see this, but there are some aspects that don’t make sense to me. The poor sap didn’t lose anything. He just didn’t make a profit for his master. We could analyze this passage to death. What if the slaves were given this challenge in say, 2007 and those who gambled their master’s fortune lost it all? I cannot conclude examination of this passage without commenting briefly on it’s parallel passage from Luke. In this one, he is not identified as a slaveowner, but as a nobleman heading out to receive a kingdom. Interesting that the passage then says, “But his citizens hated him and sent an embassy after him, saying, “We do not want this man to reign over us.” Nothing more is said. The slaveowner or landowner was clearly a man of means and possessed power over these worker slaves. Even then, corruption, graft and greed built a society of haves and have-nots, powerful and powerless. There exists a gospel of the Nazaraeans that describes this story quite differently as well. In it, one of the slaves wasted his master’s money on harlots and flute-girls. Another multiplied his gains and the third hid the talent. According to this version, one was accepted, one was rebuked and one was shut up in prison. Which one is the real story? The Nazarian one makes the most sense.

The passage from Judges is incomplete as it stands as well. “I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.” How did she ‘give him into his hand’? She drafted a woman, unknown for the most part, named Jael, and she allowed him into her tent. She gave him warm milk, a warm blanket and urged him to rest. While he was asleep, she rammed a tent peg into his skull and killed him! She outsmarted the great evil general and the war was won. So what is the message here? Beware if women working together? What resulted was the case with all wars really, that battle was won with anger and resentment between the various peoples persisting for generations to come.

So, I have to ask, what is the message for us in all of this? It makes no sense to live in fear. We should recognize blessings given us by God and be grateful for them. My inbox gift this morning was an article from Diana Butler Bass in which she agrees with me! And her research was built upon the scholarship of another theologian Debi Thomas from Christian Century who built her theory on a book by William Herzog. So I wasn’t crazy after all-always good news! We all should call out wrong when we encounter it and summon our courage to speak with honesty to power. Right now, how can we best utilize the gifts given us by God? And of course, we need to be good stewards of the gifts given us by God. Are there areas in our lives where we need to speak up-speak out? Are there situations in which we have choices about going forward without fear, with confidence, trusting in God and the goodness and promises of God? Are there situations in which we may find resolution by exploring the idea of death as reward and not punishment? A major biblical battle was put to rest by the actions of a couple of women working together. How might we, working together, be able to forward justice in this complex world of ours? Or perhaps the message for us is that perhaps we need to just be open to seeing situations presented to us in new ways-open to unexpected messages? Our job, if you will, is to be mindful of God working in our lives. To be open to unexpected ways of seeing things. To be confident as children of God…And, in all ways, in all situations, at all times-lead with and go with love. My final words are from Diana Butler Bass, “And there you have it: The Parable of the Courageous Whistleblower. He told the truth. He’s cast out. He lost everything.

But Jesus loves outcasts and the poor. It is among them where the Kingdom can be found. In Jesus’ own words: “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Amen.
 

 

 

 

The Rev. Pam Fahrner

Proper 21

10/1/23

Exodus 12: 1-14   Matthew 18: 15-20

 

Oh brother! That was my first reaction when I looked up the readings for today. For me, it’s a little ironic too, in that I say I prefer passages that are not clear, that leave a little mystery to explore…so I dare not complain!

This week, we find Moses-the unwilling, but obedient Moses, leading Israelites out of Egypt on a journey to the promised land-a journey that would take 40 years! 40 years! These people were just that, people with dreams for themselves and hunger and thirst and no doubt painful feet and impatient hearts. No wonder they wanted to know if God was with them or not? Cause it sure didn’t seem like God would treat His people this way! God does come in and rescue them, Moses too, from dying in that forsaken desert. And if we’re patient, God rescues us too. But for them and for us, the journey is hard. Life is filled with ups and downs. But it’s natural for us to feel disillusioned and disappointed and just plain sad when those ‘downs’ are upon us. It’s a teeny bit like golf in that you get just enough good shots or blessings along the way to keep playing-to keep hoping………But I digress.

The more interesting reading is the gospel-the one in which Jesus seems to be saying it’s better to make a promise or agreement-even if you break it-than to have said no to the possibility in the first place. It does seem a bit convoluted after all. The cautious one was careful not to make promises he couldn’t keep…sounds pretty reasonable doesn’t it? I think the issue is one of attitude. And there is the lesson for us. Being willing to say yes-before weighing everything. It sounds like a poor way to do business, but again, God’s way, the way of Jesus Christ, the moral way rarely follows business norms. In a moral world, we would always say yes to doing the right thing-no matter the complications or even the possibility that we would fail. The idea is that you say YES to God. Yes to the opportunities. Yes to the possibilities. Yes-trusting that if we make the commitment, God will provide what we need. Then we figure out how we can best fulfill our agreement. If we fail, well, then we go back to God and ask forgiveness. But at least we were willing to give it a try. Yes to following the way of life and salvation as described and exemplified by Jesus Christ. Yes to a grateful appreciation of every gift given us. Yes to opportunities to love each other better, more fully, yes-even with abandonment, lavishly, extravagantly, radically, all-in. Yes-to love all of God’s children. And YES-even, perhaps most particularly-when it’s hard. Yes is to be our default position.

So I’m going to be honest with you here. This is the beginning of Stewardship season. Stewardship is more than money. It’s how we treat what and who we have been given. That includes the very sacred ground on which we stand. But we know what that also means…open our tightly clenched fists and be generous! To relate to this gospel reading, say yes with generous grateful hearts-even if ultimately something happens and we cannot fulfill our commitment. The attitude here is what matters. Pledging to a church-any church-means we are or want to be part of the community gathered in spirit for a common purpose (celebrating and remembering the joy of community and the ultimate sacrifice-born of love-given for us) and then, prepared with a strong foundation of spiritual purpose-go out and change the world! This is supposed to be a big part of our lives-not an afterthought. Stephen Wooley from the Country Parson put it this way, “The Christian life is a dynamic life of spiritual and material adventure, but it’s susceptible to the disease of complacency.  Attend church as often as conveniently possible, pledge an acceptable amount, volunteer to do churchy things as time permits, and call it sufficient.  The Revelation to John records that Jesus dictated a letter to the church in Laodicea observing that their expression of the faith was complacent, neither cold nor hot but lukewarm.  Be cold or be hot, he said, but lukewarm is worth nothing.” Recently, Jeff and I were back at my, for all intents and purposes, sending church in Virginia-for a memorial service of a dear friend. We are at All Saints in fact, because it reminded us of our beloved church in Virginia. We were reminded in waves of memories of when Jeff and I were reasonably new to church and church life. We’d both work and do all the things families do. We’d attend church every week, even when we were out of town, we’d find a church. Houseguests were invited to join us at church. After work, Mon-Thursday, we’d rapidly eat whatever dinner I could manage and we’d head off for 7 PM meetings at church. Fridays, we had dinner with friends from the church-every Friday. And Saturday mornings and sometimes Sunday afternoons were spent at FACETS-a local charity-delivering meals to folks down on their luck or planning the next Cursillo weekend. Saturday nights were sometimes Foyers (the same as our Supper Clubs) or Game Nights (pot-luck suppers with different board games set up in various rooms of our church host’s homes). And yes, we were gob-smacked when we were presented with a number that we should consider pledging that some formula had produced! Shocked at first, we entered the world of faithful giving and we never looked back. It was a wonderful time-flat out wonderful and alive with grace. We served meals to women in homeless shelters, attended prayer and praise sing-alongs…and those were amongst the happiest times of our lives. My soul was fed with love and grace in indescribable amounts. So-while we were funding, feeding and ministering to others, we ourselves were being fed-but with things more precious than gold. Perhaps heaven is that way-where people prioritize love and care above everything else. The kingdom of God. It was this that led me and several others, to lives within ordained ministry of the church.

 

This fall, All Saints is offering several sessions of Kerygma. It was in Kerygma classes many years ago that I learned that we needn’t wait to die to experience the Kingdom of God. For it can be lived right here on earth-right now-everywhere. All it takes is people willing to make this grand adventure a reality-to put aside the crazy non-fulfilling lives the world prescribes for us and live, LIVE God’s dream for us. But we’ve gotta open our hearts and minds to change and yes-if we want All Saints to be a place of mercy and grace and love, yes-we’ve gotta open our fists and wallets too. The real blessing in stewardship is not the nuts and bolts of what it can provide. The real blessing is the change possible within our hearts, souls and lives.  Presiding Bishop Curry wrote as he headed into surgery recently “By God’s self, God won’t. By ourselves, we can’t. But together with God, we can!” Say YES! You’ll never regret it. Amen.

The Rev. Pam Fahrner

September 9-10-2023  

Exodus 12: 1-14   Matthew 18: 15-20

 

When I am doing pastoral visits, I often begin prayers at a bedside with the words that ended our gospel for today/tonight. “Dear Lord, you have said, wherever there are 2 or more gathered in your name, you will be amongst them. Be with us now as we are so gathered….” By that definition, God is surely with us now as we gather each week. I must admit that I have mixed emotions about the instructions given in this same passage about reconciliation between church members-tell it to the church! I envision lines around the block with disgruntled people, unable to work out their differences and putting the problems in our laps! When you think about it though, our advice would always be the same, urging you to soften your hearts, listen to each other, try to understand the situation from the other’s point of view…and forgive-not to condone, but to free yourself from the burden of hate. These words have been used over and over as a model for an in-house judicial procedure for dealing with those whose behavior breaches the rules and expectations of the church community. At times, keeping things in-house has been used as an excuse for cover-ups-even in the Episcopal Church and we’ve deservedly been condemned for that, but what is mostly taken for granted is that this example by Jesus is intended to provide a model for structuring the practices of discipline and dealing with offenders, in both secular and religious communities world-wide.

In recent years, I find myself looking for the unexpected, surprises in scriptures and even in diocesan reports. I frequently ask “what surprised you or what stood out as different from your expectations?” The first thing that surprised me in our readings was the passage from the Old Testament itself. What is it doing here in Pentecost describing Passover? Why did the lectionary skip over all sorts of interesting events to get us to this particular passage in Exodus? This rather specific account lays only some of the foundation for the journey to the promised land for God’s people. Moses has been ramping up the pressure on that particular Pharaoh by bringing progressively bigger and bigger disasters down on the nation of Egypt in order to push the pharaoh to release the Hebrew slaves. We understand this because it is is exactly the sort of law and order that we use to this day. This has become normal human practice. If we want to bring about a change of policy in a foreign power, and they won’t bow to reason, then we resort to threats of force and gradually escalate the level of the force until they yield to our will. This usually works, although the complexity of the world and its disparate cultures make this difficult at best. It usually works, and because we are always sure that we are unquestionably right, we invoke the name of God to sanction our controlled use of force to bring about justice and freedom and peace. We are God’s agents after all, doing God’s will, and stories like this one from Exodus are used to justify our belief that this methodology which we are employing is God’s way.

Initially invited to Egypt, they (the Israelites) immigrated and settled. Think about this as I tell a story and see if you can’t see the parallels in our current world.At this particular moment in history, their numbers had grown and presented a threat to the Pharoah and his absolute power. So-over several years, the Pharoah through increasingly restrictive laws, made slaves of the immigrants. Our account begins as the kettle is about to explode. As we read accounts in the Bible, we tend to picture ourselves in a role in the scene. Since our Christian faith began as a branch of the Hebrew faith, we often see ourselves as the abused underdogs-the slaves, God’s people held down by increasing degrees of injustice. The ‘surprise bomb’ here my friends, is that we resemble much more closely the Egyptians. 

When I look around at our church, our non-representative sample of the United States, I see privilege. As far as I know, we are all non-indigenous Americans. Most of us came here in our own cars, a mode of transport forever out of reach of two thirds of the world’s population. We came from our homes which have plumbing, electricity and gas, heating for cold nights, and TBTG- air conditioning. We come wearing clothes we have selected from a vast assortment in our closets. Our households contain a plethora of electronic gadgets from robotic vacuums to computers with instant answers at the sound of our voices. And because we are so accustomed to this comfort, we believe that it is, somehow, our right. We have worked and earned wages, and out of those wages we have paid for our stuff. But what is the real cost of that stuff? Once we start asking these questions, our identity takes on a new perspective. The Sacred Ground course opened my eyes to concepts I learned in school, things I accepted as part of our history and hadn’t really thought about for years. Remember reading about Manifest Destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery? They take on new meanings when analyzed from a social justice perspective. 

So how does this all fit in with Exodus? With today? The Hebrews were invited by Pharaoh to live in Egypt. A later Pharaoh, who did not know them and felt threatened by their large families, forced them into slavery and gave them outrageous quotas to fill. As this did not adequately control them, Pharaoh developed a program of genocide directed against them. In last week’s reading, God heard the cries of the Israelites, and resolved to liberate them. We live here in America, a land taken by force from the original occupants who were then violently abused and subdued. The United Nations defines genocide as 1) Killing members of a group (check) 2) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group. (check) 3) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part. 4) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group. 5) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. White northern Europeans did all of these things and more. We shot them when they killed our cattle, or when they became too threatening. My own family I have learned not only kept slaves, but fought on the frontier against the ”savages”! We took their land, separated them from their ancestors and exiled them to reservations on worthless land. We stole children from their families and placed them in homes for orphans, demanded that they learn our language and our culture. We continue to cause immense social and health problems. Even now, native Americans have such severe health issues, often poverty-related, that the life expectancy of a native American is the lowest of any other group-Caucasians, people of color, Asians, or Latino. It is fair to describe our colonial history, and our society’s continuing treatment of native Americans as genocide. Although none of us are active agents in genocide, like the Egyptians in this story, we all benefit enormously from it. Slavery? Officially ended well over a century ago, it continues to wreak havoc in our communities. Our justice system, economic systems, educational systems and health systems are rigged against the marginalized amongst us.  

The good news is that God provided a way of protection for the Israelites AND a way of reconciliation for us in our New Testament passage. The ‘surprise bomb’ there is easy to miss. It comes when all else has failed and reconciliation appears to be impossible. What does Jesus say to do then? “Let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” He says to treat them as tax collectors and Gentiles. And what does he do with Gentiles and tax collectors?      

 

He invites them in to eat and socialize. He welcomes them too into the household of God. What happens after that? Well, we don’t know for sure. But it would seem that maybe over time, the tax collectors and Gentiles would reconcile as a natural process of familiarity. As they get to know each other, they would understand each other…and over time, their differences would just evaporate.

 

This is a great and generous gift that we, the powerful, have been given. God has given us a story of liberation in which we are invited to act, invited to participate and invited to learn. It is not just the Israelites’ story. Even the Egyptians are invited to engage. For in the end, all of us, Hebrew and Egyptian, native and colonial, oppressed and powerful, are invited to act against violence and exploitation. We are all invited to leave behind the oppressive ways we have known and walk towards a new way of life, life with love as the foundation and driving force. In our readings and research, we are given the gift of a new perspective and a refreshing way to leave our anger, bitterness, arrogance and privilege behind-ever moving toward the promise of new life lived with selflessness, generosity, innocence, wisdom and peace. Drawn together by love, the real ‘surprise bomb’ is that it was there all the time. In our ignorance and blindness, we just failed to see it! Amen.

 

 

 

 

The Rev. Katie Presley

All Saints Episcopal Church

Hilton Head Island, SC

August 27, 2023

[Ex. 1:8-2:10; Rom. 12:1-8; Matt. 16:13-20]

 

“Loving God, bless my mind to illuminate me with your wisdom; bless my lips to allow me to speak your word; and bless our hearts that we might live out the gospel. In the Name of the Holy One who Creates, Redeems, and Sustains, Amen.”

 

You’ve likely all heard the quote “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” It’s been attributed to many women, most famously Eleanor Roosevelt and women’s history pioneer Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Women, and people, who defy odds, subvert power systems, and resist oppression are history-makers indeed. Today’s Old Testament reading in Exodus recounts the origin story of Moses and often is remembered only as such. But more importantly, it is the story of women who certainly were not “well-behaved” as they recognized an oppressive power system and resisted in their own ways. Their Old Testament heroism is worth celebrating as a model for us Christians who are called to resist conforming to the powers of this world and instead be transformed by the true discipleship of following Jesus.

 

Pharoah commands Shiphrah and Puah, the two midwives to the Hebrew women, to kill any baby boy born. Because they fear God, they let the babies live and so Pharaoh goes another route. He expands his gruesome command to all the people - “If you see a boy born to the Hebrews, throw them in the river.” Moses’s birth mother succeeds in hiding her baby boy for a few months and then tenderly places him in a basket and puts him in the river, hoping beyond hope that something good will come of this. It is Pharaoh’s own daughter that resists her father’s unjust and oppressive command and has pity on the crying baby when she finds him floating in the river. After he is nursed and raised, Pharaoh’s daughter takes him in as her own son and he grows up in Pharaoh’s house - being formed in the Egyptian ways while still bearing his Hebrew ethnicity. This story focuses not on the boy Moses, but on the women who ensured his survival, the women who risked their own safety by going against Pharaoh’s oppressive power system. In their own ways, from their own contexts, they chose to do what was right rather than stand by and conform to injustice.

 

In Romans 12, the apostle Paul appeals to us to offer our whole selves to God. He says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect.” True discipleship means that we engage the world as those who seek what is good and acceptable to God, witnessing with our whole selves against injustice and advocating for anyone who is marginalized. Through our individual God-given gifts we work together for the common good, encouraging one another to recognize our gifts and offer them upon the altar of God’s grace. In doing so we become a transformed sacred community who resists oppression in all its forms as we share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus with the world around us.

 

Modern-day prophet, Martin Luther King, Jr. led a nonviolent movement that transformed the soul and the laws of the United States in the face of severe injustice. And while it's never been more clear that his work is not yet complete, his words are powerful reminders of God’s call to use our gifts for the work of justice. He writes, “Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” The time is always ripe to do right. Dr. King, like Shiphrah and Puah, like Pharaoh’s daughter, like Moses’s birth mother and sister, knew that we could not wait for someone else to do the work that God had called us to do. True discipleship is a process of transformation that pushes us onward to discover our gifts and then use those gifts for the work of God’s kingdom.

 

“But what if I don’t have any gifts?!” Or “What if my gifts aren’t good enough?!” Questions that we’ve all asked at one point or another - when self-doubt and self-criticism creep in as we succumb to the pressure to compare ourselves to other people. Trust me when I say that God needs exactly what you have to offer, for no one else can play your part in God’s redemptive story. Take Peter, for example. Today’s Gospel story makes Peter look like a hero, a leader, someone who “got it” when it came to understanding Jesus’s true nature. Let me remind you that this is the same Peter who tried to walk out to Jesus on the water in a storm and began to sink when he noticed the waves around him. The same Peter who fell asleep in one of Jesus’s most vulnerable moments. The same Peter who denied Jesus three times during his arrest and trial. This is the Peter Jesus declares he will give the keys of the kingdom to. Like a parent giving car keys to a newly-licensed 16-year-old, God entrusts this immature Peter to lead the early community of Jesus-followers knowing full well that there will be bumps along the road. Certainly Peter doesn’t always get it right. He isn’t always the hero who knows exactly who Jesus is. But he trusts in God’s faithfulness to use what he has to offer and make something good of it. For God relates to the church not as a coercive ruler but as a loving parent who entrusts to a fragile and immature child the power to do right and to do wrong, to be faithful and to drift away.

 

 

Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes we get it wrong. And yet God continues to call us to offer ourselves just as we are - flaws, failures, mistakes, all of it. Henri Nouwen, in his book The Wounded Healer challenges us to see our healed wounds as a place from which profound ministry and transformation takes place. Nothing is wasted in God’s kingdom. My dear friends, you have great gifts right now. Bring them to the table today. Be transformed by this generous meal of grace. Go out into the world emboldened with the gifts given by the Spirit to resist injustice in all its forms. For the time is ripe to do what is right.

 

 

 

Year A  Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 15

All Saints Parish, Hilton Head, SC 
Ven. Kerry J. Smith

8/20/2023 

 

In the name of Our Lord, Jesus of Nazareth!  Amen

 

“Listen and Understand: …”

 

Why is it that when we come across people who we don’t perceive to be like us, we assume the worst and ignore them, argue with them, berate them, hate them, or even hurt them?

 

I’m sure that this is a question that has crossed many of our minds in the last 10 or 15 years and even more frequently lately, as we watch or read the news.  So much anger and hate.  We may have even had relationships with friends terminated because of our disagreements, here in a country that has been successfully built on disagreements.  Hearing today’s Gospel reading, it is pretty obvious that this is not a new problem, just a natural tendency of human beings, going back to our beginnings.

 

For me, when I am trying to explain any Lectionary lesson, it helps to look at the perspective of the author, the intended audience and what happened in the verses before and after the designated reading, realizing, of course, that the lessons are not necessarily in chronological order.  I also check to see if anyone of the other Gospel writers had included the story and how they conveyed it. All of these stories of Jesus were recounted by word of mouth for 25 to 50 years before they were written down in the Gospels.

 

This story was recorded by both Mark and Matthew, and each version is a little different, based upon the intended audience.  Matthew’s target audience was other Jews and his theme was that Jesus was the Messiah who would deliver the Jews from the rule of the oppressive Romans. Mark’s message was intended for the Christians in Rome, to present the teachings and works of Jesus.  As you might guess, Mark’s recounting of the healing of the Canaanite girl is much gentler than Matthew’s.

 

I’m sharing this approach, before I explain the lesson, because both the research and description of what this lesson is intended to teach us have been unusually challenging for me.

 

Matthew chapter 15 begins with several Pharisees and Scribes coming from Jerusalem, most likely under the direction of the Jewish leaders, to check out what Jesus is teaching.  And, when they see his followers eating without washing their hands first, they challenge Jesus saying “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the Elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat.”  Washing your hands before you eat was not only good hygiene but was also a Jewish tradition which had started with the priests and been expanded to one of the 613 Jewish laws (called the Mitzvoth) which apply to all Jews.

 

Jesus responded by asking why the Jewish Elders break the Command of God for the sake of tradition, providing the specific example of not honoring their Fathers and Mothers. He quoted Isaiah saying: 

 

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain, their teachings are but rules taught by men.” 

and called the religious leaders hypocrites saying that they claimed to know a lot about God, but they didn’t really know God. Have we spent enough time trying to know God, through Jesus, and how God really expects us to treat each other and live our lives? It is not enough to know about religion, our denomination’s guidance on God, or even to study the Bible.  We need to really listen and work to understand what Jesus tries to teach us about God’s expectations for us here on earth, not 2000 years ago in Palestine, but today in the 21st century, in our culture and community at the real core is of which are two simple commandments “ Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself”.  Jesus doesn’t say, “love the neighbors who are like you, he says love all your neighbors.”  We don’t need to agree with them but we are all called to treat each other with respect and love.  I don’t see that happening much in our world today.  We need to pay attention to what is going on in our hearts and how it comes out of our mouths.  We become healthy spiritually by spending time with Jesus and following his example of how God expects us to think and behave.  That’s one reason why it is so important to learn how to communicate with God and Jesus through prayer on a regular basis, particularly when we are facing challenges and transitions in our lives. 

We spend  a lot of time trying to make our appearances attractive and trying to be physically healthy, but god knows what we are like on the inside.  

 

What does God see when looking deep inside of you?  Healthy thoughts and motives or just healthy food and healthy organs?

 

Jesus told his disciples to leave the pharisees alone because they were blind to God’s truth and anyone who followed them was also blind. The blind leading the blind!  So often, I see religious leaders placing more emphasis on ceremonial trivialities than on the real needs of their flocks and responding in accordance with religious tradition rather than in accordance with Jesus’s teachings.  They act as if you don’t follow their rituals and traditions you are unacceptable to God. One of the reasons I like serving at All Saints, even though I am significantly beyond retirement age, is that we tend to love and accept everyone the same despite their perspective on our denomination’s rituals and traditions.

 

Now comes the hard part. The second story in today’s Gospel lesson was hard for me because it seems to exemplify exactly what Jesus was talking about in the first part, but not necessarily in a positive manner. And as I looked at a variety of sources and commentaries on this lesson, the spin to make Jesus’ behavior look less negative got to be ridiculous, even to the point where one commentator stated that “if we could have only heard the tone of Jesus’ voice when he made some of these comments, we would see them in a more positive light.” I can’t imagine any tone of voice that would make someone calling another a “Dog” positive. 

 All of the Bibles I checked, titled verses 21-28 as something involving Jesus healing or driving the demons out of a girl.  However, for me, that’s not the real lesson here.  Maybe it’s because I am always looking at Jesus teaching and behaving as one of us, not necessarily divine and unlike us.  As I’ve said so many times, that’s how I learn how God wants me to behave.  I can’t be divine, at least as long as I live on this earth! Ask my wife. 

The effort to take the focus off Jesus’ response to the woman asking for help starts immediately when some commentators opine that Jesus made the 50 mile journey to Tyre just to exorcise this demon.  Really! In the reading, it shows that the possessed girl’s mother had to pursue Jesus relentlessly before he finally agreed to cure her daughter.  Our reading says that as Jesus arrived in the district of Tyre and Sidon, a Canaanite women from that region came out and started shouting “Have mercy on me Lord. Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 

Mark refers to the woman as a “Greek” because she speaks Greek.  Matthew calls her a “Canaanite woman” since the Canaanites are looked down upon by the Jews and considered to be enemies that they often referred to as “Dogs”. 

So how does Jesus respond to this woman’s request for mercy and help.  First he ignores it, as he often seems to ignore the initial requests for help from other women when he is traveling with his disciples. But when his disciples ask that he send this woman away because her shouting is annoying them, he doesn’t.  And then, when she continues shouting, asking for help, he stops and tells her that “ I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  Instead of rejecting her outright, he engaged her in meaningful conversation, expressing his reasoning, and he listened as she knelt  before him and begged again, saying “Lord help me”.  

Once again, he engaged her, expressing his perspective on the situation by saying “ It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” using a reference to the Canaanites that the other Jews present would relate to. Then, when the woman persisted with more reasoning, that “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table”  Jesus considered her arguments and healed her daughter.  

This is an example of the kind of discussions and considerations we should be having with others when we disagree.  Jesus reacts in a very human way at first, trying to decide if he should ignore this woman or not, then deciding to engage her and reason with her.  I like to think that although some of his references seemed somewhat degrading, his tone was gentle and he seemed engaged, but I wasn’t there. 

This woman provides us a great example of how we should behave when we have disagreements with others.  She was humble, patient, persevering, and clever, continuing to emphasize why her position was important to her.  She got what she needed and Jesus was recognized for performing another miracle.  Sounds like a win-win to me, although I am not sure that either mind was changed when the discussion was all over. 

So I ask you, 

1.    Are you truly open to Jesus’ guidance to love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself, realizing that everyone is your neighbor? 2.    Do you believe that even people who are different are as important in God’s eyes?

3.    When you feel challenged and conflicted by these questions do you pause and say “Help me Lord” and open yourself up to receive the guidance you need?

Amen

 

Sermon August 13, 2023

The Rev. Pam Fahrner

Petrified. Glossophobia-fear of public speaking. Thatwas me many years ago as I stepped up to the lectern to preach my very first sermon ever. Knees shaking, my mouth so dry that my tongue stuck to my cheeks, my body had reacted to the fear with a mandatory bathroom stop just before the service. There was no reason for the fear of course. It was a small group-only about probably 25 or so-all friendly, all pulling for me, since God knows, they didn’t want to be up there! Our vicar was out of town and I had agreed to lead Morning prayer. As long as I could just read everything I was okay. But then I asked if I had to do a homily…and of course, he said yes. There simply was no one else who could do it. I just had to put on my big-girl pants and do it!      This gospel reading was the scripture for that day. I titled it Sweet Surrender. The idea of sweet surrender came as the process by which we surrender our will-willingly-to that of God’s. The sweet part was the relief of leaning into God and letting God take control…an entity who loves us beyond measure having control over our lives. Yes, it is sweet to surrender our ideas, our stubbornness, our determination, our baggage, our vision of justice…to God. God encourages us to trust and to act with courage, discourages us from living in fear. It is sweet indeed when we learn to lean on God, to trust and step out-just as Peter had done. Of course, his undoing was his doubt…as sometimes is true for us as well. For most of us, this is much more difficult than we imagine. Our desire to control, our ideas and confidence in our ability to see just solutions is limited and     it drives us crazy. So crazy that we try nearly everything before we just give up and let God give us a hand. I’ve seen it in my life, but in so many others as the masks we all wear drop down-even for an instant. Ye of little faith indeed. Yet we ask that God’s will supercede ours every time we say the Lord’s Prayer. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But like many of the things we recite, we seldom stop and think. Imagine how much more serene our lives would be if we could learn to lean into this concept. David Lose explained this idea this way, “But all too often we note our modest success and assume we no longer need God, or at least forget how much a part of our lives God is and desires to be. Or perhaps we confuse safety and stability with abundant life. Either way, we may forget how much we depend on God. Until tragedy strikes in the form of illness and job loss or the end of a relationship or some grave mistake we’ve made, and suddenly our ongoing need for God becomes painfully clear.”

 

It's not much of a stretch to imagine that Joseph’s faith in God grew through the adversity he faced. Dysfunctional is a term thrown around currently describing less-than-ideal family circumstances and relationships. I doubt if many dysfunctional families approach the level of hatred that must have been on display in Joseph’s family. His brothers planned to kill him but decided to just sell him into slavery in Egypt and make a little money on the side. Sibling rivalry has been ever-present in the Bible from Caen and Abel forward. Treachery, greed and violence were also frequently depicted. But this hits home doesn’t it? The pain Joseph must have felt is palpable. This story has a happy ending…spoiler alert. Many years later, those same brothers came to Egypt seeking assistance when there had been a famine in their land. Joseph had, to put it mildly, landed on his feet and had prospered in exile. He was the official the brothers had to approach to seek assistance! When he recognized them, one would logically expect anger and an immediate expulsion of the sin filled brothers. But Joseph welcomed his brothers and reconciled with forgiveness and love as his guide. Perhaps he had learned, in those years and through those devastating experiences of rejection and hatred, to lean on God and let go of his anger, his hurt, his pain? Perhaps he learned to listen to his heart? Karoline Lewis described faith as living out of your heart. She urges her readers to live, love and lead with our hearts. Joseph graciously forgave his brothers-much like a switch in characters like the prodigal son, this time it was the son/brother in a position of power to accept and welcome or turn away. He made the loving choice, being a man of God. Perhaps somewhere along the way, he learned the joy and peace of sweet surrenders? Have we learned? Can we? Amen.

The Rev. Katie Presley

All Saints -  Hilton Head, SC

July 2nd and 3rd, 2023

Matthew 10:40-42

 

Title: A Generous Welcome to the Christ Among Us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Modern Last Supper” by Ross Boone (Atlanta-based artist; www.rawspoon.com)

 

Have you ever walked into a place that wasn’t quite what it was made out to be? Maybe you found yourselves in a group of people that touted themselves as one thing and it turned out that they were definitely not that. Or you joined a club in hopes that it might be a place to belong when really it was another exclusive group you had to fight your way into. Perhaps, like me, you walked into a church at one point in your life, seeking acceptance and community in a place where “all are welcome”, and found yourself instead pushed to the margins, forced to conform in order to belong, expected to sacrifice your individuality for the sake of maintaining the status quo. The old “bait and switch.” When churches begin to look more like exclusive social clubs rather than places of rest, hospitality, generosity, and welcome for all people - for all who bear the image of Christ within them - we begin to lose sight of the Gospel message. For there is certainly a cost to the kinds of exclusive behavior that too much of the church has tolerated for too long - instead of the reward that comes with a generous welcome.

Today’s reading from Matthew gets at the heart of this idea of generous welcome, and how such a welcome might be both bigger and smaller than we imagined. It concludes what is known as the “Missionary Discourse” in the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus calls the twelve disciples and instructs them on how they should go out into the region, spreading the Gospel message to those in need of many kinds of healing and offering warnings to them about those who might reject or harm them. To welcome a stranger is as huge as welcoming Christ and as small as offering a glass of cold water on a hot day. And given how miserably hot it’s been this week I think we can all imagine how a glass of cold water would feel!

In his book The Universal Christ, Francisican contemplative mystic Father Richard Rohr describes what he calls the “Christ Mystery” - it is the indwelling of the Divine Presence in everyone and everything since the beginning of time as we know it. It is me recognizing the Christ in you and you recognizing the Christ in me and all of us recognizing the Divine in the world around us. Generous welcome reminds us that when we welcome the stranger, we welcome none other than Christ.

When was the last time you looked into the eyes of a stranger or someone in need and thought to yourself, “Ah yes! This person is a bearer of the image of God!” I’m a bit ashamed to confess that for me it’s been quite a while. It’s easier to see the divine presence in my loyal dogs, or my kind wife, or someone who shares my values and viewpoints. More often than not I view the stranger with apathy at best and an inconvenience at worst - seeing them instead as someone who might put a wrinkle in my daily plan or interrupt my organized schedule. Joan Chittister, in her book The Rule of Benedict, tells us of a different, a more ancient way, “The Rabbis wrote, ‘hospitality is one form of worship. Come right in and disturb our perfect lifes. You are the Christ for us today.’”

So what of this reward? What if I told you the reward is in the flinging wide of our church doors, welcoming in stranger and friend alike, inviting diversity of thought and identity into our midst, rejoicing in the uniqueness of their piece of the image of God, experiencing the joy of heaven on earth. It’s easy to stand at the doors and protect our delicate social equilibrium, placing unspoken requirements on those who might come into our midst, even expecting them to conform to our way of being in the world. It’s much harder to step aside and be the messy church Jesus intended us to be - a group of people struggling to walk in the way of love amidst our differences and particularities. In a world divided by all kinds of things, may we be a people united in generous welcome of one another, of ourselves, and of the world outside our doors.

As a part of my seminary coursework I had the opportunity to preach many times. My favorite sermon-writing spot was this little coffee shop in East Atlanta called Taproom. It may have been my favorite because I could start with a latte in the morning and hours later when I was still there, passionately researching and writing and reading, I could switch to one of local draft beers they kept on a tap rotation - but I digress. Aside from being a great coffee shop with great local beer, Taproom also functioned as a sort of pop-up art gallery, displaying original art from local artists. During one of my preaching weeks I was sitting in Taproom and on the wall was a painting by Atlanta artist, Ross Boone, titled “Modern Last Supper.” Vaguely reminiscent of the famous Last Supper painting by Leonardo da Vinci, Boone’s painting is set in a fast food restaurant. Jesus is a homeless man offering a hamburger to a stray dog. Judas, the one who betrays Jesus, is represented by a well put-together megachurch pastor with a symbolically closed Bible. Among the homeless Jesus’s disciples are a prostitute, a skateboarder, a Middle Eastern mother and her child, a Haitian immigrant, an androgynous woman, a girl who has been abused, and a transgender man - the most unlikely characters dining at the table of Jesus in what would likely have been a really messy, really beautiful, and really rambunctious feast. These are the ones in our society who often get the last seat at our church tables, if they are even given a seat at all. Yet they are exactly who bear the image of God, who dine with Christ, who share in the kingdom feast full of love and generous welcome. This “Modern Last Supper” is a true reflection of the joy of heaven.  

 

Yale Divinity School Associate Dean, William Goettler, reminds us that “the real good news is for those who have in the past guarded the door. Jesus insists that although we might pretend otherwise, we are not the gatekeepers of the community of God. We can bear that job no longer. Our work is to welcome, to offer an embrace when embrace is invited, and to give a cup of cool water for a hot summer day. Our reward, Jesus says, will be full indeed.” May we be known as the church who flings wide our doors, who creates spaces of generous welcome and hospitality, who gives thanks for the image of God in all people, and where the outpouring of our worship is shown in how we love one another. May we allow our “perfect lives” to be disturbed by the unlikely Christ among us.

 

 

Sermon June 17/18, 2023

Pam Fahrner

I subscribe to a newsletter written by Diana Butler Bass. This past week, there was one titled “When Love Isn’t Quite Enough”-intriguing title, huh? In 2012, she wrote “Christianity After Religion” and I hung on every word, wanting to absorb her wisdom on the subject. To sum it up, she suggested that “the decline of religion in the United States might not really be an erosion of faith but was instead a transformation of faith akin to earlier Great Awakenings in American history-the old religious world is failing, but the Spirit is stirring anew.” She admitted to borrowing ideas from another author, William McLoughlin, a noted historian. In his view, there was indeed a great awakening, a spiritual revolution that began in the 60s and 70s. But he warned that it could well be sidelined or stopped entirely by a backlash. “There almost always arises a nativist or traditionalism movement within the culture that is an attempt by those with rigid personalities or with much at stake in the older order,” he wrote, to organize a backlash to “return to the ‘old-time religion,’ ‘the ways of our fathers,’ and ‘respect for the flag.’” McLoughlin insisted that backlash movements always scapegoat others (especially immigrants and those at the margins of society), and they work to maintain high levels of “chronic stress” among their adherents. Fear doesn’t start backlash political movements — fear fuels them. It was possible to turn history backward, Loughlin said, especially if some group re-asserts the authority of an “absolutist, sin-hating, death-dealing” God as its motivation. Theocratic political movements are nothing new, and they have succeeded in the past.” Wow.

So, her newsletter was but one vignette of experiences for me over the past few weeks. Let me bring into focus a couple of others. Sitting at a diocesan visioning meeting—thinking “why are not our doors thrown open by the throngs of people seeking spirituality, seeking meaning, seeking acceptance? It’s all right here, but we keep it hidden inside, like some secret. I loved how Denise worded it a couple of weeks ago. She said that Episcopalians are private about our faith. We fear offending or being too pushy. But we remain “private” even with our families and closest friends.

Another. I ran across a statement by environmental scientist Gus Speth, “I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy…and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation-and we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

And the last one. At a gathering of friends: half of us expressed frustration with life pattern-dissatisfaction with lack of meaningful use of time. One pushing herself to get out on the golf course, to walk, to the gym…to do anything to fill the time. Another trying out card games with different groups. No longer working, these individuals have time on their hands while concurrently having talents and experience to offer the world. Their lives lack meaning because they have chosen to spend their time doing meaningless things! Let me make it clear that there is no harm in having fun. But in order to live fulfilling lives, we must have some balance between indulgence and selflessness, balance between rest and work-even if volunteer. If we seek a spiritual connection to someone or something beyond ourselves, we must spend some time and effort cultivating that relationship.

So-let’s pull this all together. We have a fabulous church-dedicated to justice, inclusion, diversity, respect for unity not uniformity, open-ness, kindness and open to diverse views within the large tent of our faith. But few outside our tent know about it. At the same time, we are huddled in this tent together and loving each other through what life throws at us, most of society has no idea of who we are, what we believe, why we believe it or why we take time out of our week to go to church! How we do it, is our choice…and it’s a pretty good bet that none of us (me included) are going to put on our Sunday best clothes and go door-to-door selling our church or pushing people to do anything. But we could tell our stories. We could be more intentional in inviting our friends and neighbors to come and see-as Jesus did. Have we told our children and grandchildren why we go to church? Have we told them of the scars life has given us and how the church has brought us some relief for the pain? Have we shown them the way when life hands them challenges? Have we expressed or demonstrated the joy of community? Have we exemplified or better yet, invited them to participate in a ministry that is meaningful? We need to shout it from the rooftops my friends! Or our great grandchildren will have no idea about who God is or what that ancient faith tradition Christianity was all about.

It goes beyond the church after all. Our very planet-created by God-is in danger of extinction. There is no villain here. No one knew that oil reserves were limited, that coal would muck up our skies and water, that our cars and lifestyle-the industrial age-would do so much damage. But when we did learn about these things-well that’s when selfishness, greed and apathy began to pull us down. Really the only thing we can do now is to vote for people who will make the tough choices to save us all, those who will vote to sacrifice the almighty dollar (directly to reverse damage done and sacrifice some of our corporate profits)…in order to save us all…our children and grandchildren included, not only our planet itself, but save our very souls.

And my friends who want to lead meaningful lives? Those with shaky self-worth? I think we know the answer. All of us need to figure out how to establish and maintain a balance between living for others and taking care of ourselves. Sometimes we need a kick in the pants-from a true friend or two-to help us do what we need to do to change our lives to be meaningful and satisfying, lives that we can leave (when the time is right!) with no regrets. Love must be our answer — loving God, our neighbors, and our earthly home. But love is also accepting the call we were given-the Great Commission-to be part of the Jesus Movement, and committed to the full dignity and worth of everyone. And even our Great Commission doesn’t instruct us to push people. Instead it instructs us to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves and to leave if not welcomed.

Perhaps there is hope? Perhaps the great pendulum will swing back in the direction of decency, kindness, love, generosity, integrity, honesty, honor and the Great Awakening will resume-closer than ever to the dream of God. It really is up to us-to accept our part in the divine plan of our loving God. Or not. Amen.

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Year A Pentecost

The Rev. Pam Fahrner

 

 

Wind wind. One of the primal elements of creation. Wind, water, light, heat, earth, fire, energy-elements of creation-our earth and all living things. We all know the relief a gentle breeze can bring on a hot sultry humid day. It doesn’t take much-just the whisper and we are drawn like a moth to light. Of course, wind has another side-a dangerous destructive force, ripping apart all in its path. But ordinary wind has an important role in pollination, in repositioning plants. Wind can cause plants to break or grow strong shoots-strong enough to bend with the wind without breaking. In recent years, we’ve learned-the HARD WAY-that wind is a renewable resource-or at least we think it is unlimited and can be used as a power source surely less destructive than oil or coal reserves and less dangerous than nuclear power plants with their forever waste. It makes one wonder if we were not given by God all of the elements necessary for life in that original creation. Whether intelligent design or big bangs or whatever AI comes up with to explain how we all got here. The basic elements for life were provided for us by God. We just didn’t know it!

 

And here we are at the day of Pentecost. Seven weeks after Easter each year, Christians celebrate Pentecost. Along with Easter and Christmas, it is one of the three major Christian festivals. But its roots are in Judaism, for Pentecost was (and still is) a Jewish festival. Occurring 50 days after Passover it was a celebration for the spring harvest and recognized Moses trip up Mt. Sinai where he was given the ten commandments. In addition, the Spirit came upon the community with the sound of a "rushing wind" and with "tongues of fire" resting on each of them. In the Hebrew Bible, "wind" and "fire" are both associated with the presence of God. In Hebrew, the same word means both "wind" and "spirit," as in the creation story where the divine wind (or spirit) moves over the primordial waters (Genesis 1:2). Here we are again, back to the original creation story. But it also links to another story, another one from the Old Testament. The people of the earth once spoke a common language. Babel is the story of the fragmentation of humankind into separate and often hostile groups who do not understand each other. Babbel was a primitive story about a God who had had enough of people and their distortion and manipulation of His message. His punishment was that they could no longer understand each other. Pentecost is thus about the reversal of Babel. For the author of Luke-Acts, the coming of Jesus and his presence in the power of the Spirit inaugurated a new age in which the fragmentation of humanity was overcome.

 

But here we are now, living in a world in which the people might as well be speaking foreign languages-even in our own country. We don’t understand each other and we are divided, it seems like we are more divided than I remember in my lifetime. The world right now is very much like the world Jesus walked around in, the first century world where power struggles and taxes and complicated plots and corruption took place.  Does this not sound familiar? “The first century world, where the expected replacement for Emperor Tiberius in Rome was unexpectedly charged with treason and executed, and throughout the imperial world a new wave of conservatism took hold. ….So the unrest, the anxiety, the factionalism, the maneuvering, the leaks, the betrayals, even among the disciples, were occurring at an alarming rate. As they are now.”

It seems that we are in a state of polar opposition to the initial ministry of Jesus. We-the whole world-have been idolizing power and money as our gods. And is it any wonder that interest and participation in religion is waning across the globe? I’m telling you, we need the wind of Pentecost- the spirit of Christ to infuse us all anew! Pentecost that year with the infusion of the Holy Spirit, began a two thousand year spread of Christianity to every corner of the earth.  The Church began its journey to conquer the world with the Great Commissioning.

And here we are, then, muddling through times we could never have imagined, with leaders, some of who we do not trust, democracy itself called into question, every aspect of our lives called into question, and fears that are omnipresent. Into this swirling dervish of chaos, comes our celebration of the Spirit. “Out of the hearts of believers will come rivers of living water,” Jesus promises. And he invokes his peace upon them. His Peace. And if we can just stop. Be aware of the gifts the Holy Spirit already gave us. It will not stop our differences of opinion. It will never produce unity of thought. And, what kind of a world would it be if we didn’t have our differences? But this entire set of intertwined scriptures reminds us that even though we may feel we’re at a unique point in time, that human beings have never lived as Christ taught. But God has never abandoned us either.

We will be able, if we breathe deeply, to recognize in one another the Godchild within us all. If we can remind ourselves to see, to embrace the child of God within each of us, perhaps then it will be possible, for us to understand each other, despite the differences in the way we see this world, the differences in our expectations of the future, and even the differences in our hopes. Because we recognize that the God to whom we turn loves us all and has promised to be with us for all of eternity.

What does this mean for us? In this parish family? In this community? In our country? In our world? The reading may represent for us the winds of change-changing from an inward focus from a parish family to evangelism-spreading the word to the world around us. Now I know that evangelism and Episcopal style are not easily meshed. But try as we might, we really can’t get away from the great commission here. We too, have a role to play. We receive the Holy Spirit and thus are empowered to act. God’s breath created everything…and now Jesus breathed into us the spirit. They were to be God’s love in their world. We are to be God’s love in our world. So how do we go about this? Proactive, regular prayer is a place to start. Pray. It’s actually not our job alone to do this. We just need to get out of God’s way! And you don’t often hear this from the pulpit, it’s okay to plead with God. Okay to ask God to show you the way, to unblock your ears and eyes and hearts-so you can see a pathway ahead-even if the answer is in recognition of all we already possess. God is there and waits for our call. Look for unexpected perspectives and inexplicable “falling into place”. We were given in the beginning-all we need. God does indeed, work, through us, in mysterious ways. We were given in the beginning-all we need. Amen.

 

Year A Seventh Sunday After Easter Notes

The Rev. Kerry Smith

 

In the name of Our Lord, Jesus of Nazareth! Amen

Are you the person God created you to be? OR The person our world has molded you to be?

 

For me, this is the most important question we need to address before we can evaluate our lives and make any adjustments before they end. How do we want to be judged and remembered after our short test on this earth is over.

 

In my order, one of the responsibilities we vow to take on is to preach the Gospel. So when you go to an Episcopal Church with a Deacon, they almost always are the ones who read the Gospel during the service. Also for me, when I preach, I my sermon is normally based upon the Gospel.

But this week I have found the Peter’s first letter to provide much clearer guidance on living as our God would have us live.

 

Today’s passage from John’s Gospel is often referred to as “The High Priestly Prayer”. This prayer is focused on consecrating three different subjects: 1) Himself, 2) his disciples and 3) the Universal Christian Church.

 

Jesus prays that God will restore his glory, which was hidden during his earthly life, so that he can continue to lead humankind in building God’s community here on earth. His work on establishing God’s Kingdom here on earth was twofold. 1) to reveal the true nature and expectations of God to those willing and able to receive his teaching and 2) to bring deliverance to all of the people in the world. He completed the first, through training his disciples to carry on that revelation, but he needs to continue on in his divine state to bring deliverance to everyone who has not yet become a disciple.

 

Then, as shown in our Gospel reading for today, he prays for his disciples, including us, he acknowledges that God has been glorified and revealed through Jesus, and Jesus will be revealed

and glorified through his disciples sharing what God expects of us through his example and teaching. He wants to make sure that those who haven’t heard are still pursued and that his followers don’t feel abandoned after He rises to be with his Father. He prays also that they will guard against disunity and his church falling apart because of differences. That they will hold together continuing to be of ine heart and mind.

 

That’s great to hear, but when I walk out the door, I really don’t have any specific guidance in how I can help with what he is praying about in my daily life in the outside world.

 

However, Peter’s first letter, part of which was appointed as our Epistle reading for this Sunday has some very specific guidance on how to handle the tough part of life, and we all have tough times throughout our lives. This letter was written to Jewish Christians who were being exiled, tortured, imprisoned and murdered under the reign of the Emperor Nero as well as all Christians, including us today.

 

From verse 4:12 through 5:11Peter talks about the trials of Christians in the world and how we shouldn’t be surprised when life gets hard if we think about what Jesus had to suffer during his short adult life here on our earth. When we share in his suffering because we are trying to live as he taught us, we should rejoice that we are doing what God expects, despite the pain, stress or difficulty. He also points out in verses 4:15- 4:19 (which have been excluded by the lectionary developers) that if your pain is self-inflicted through ungodly behavior such as murder, robbery or other crimes, you can turn to him for peace and comfort, but there will be no ultimate relief until you have suffered the just consequences.

 

Chapter 5 which is often referred to as Exhortation to Elders provides specific guidance for all of us on how we need to support and treat the members of God’s community, particularly if we are in positions of leadership, authority or just comfortable enough to be able to help others meet their needs and deal with the challenges they face. [ One great example of unselfishly helping others in need was brought up in the prayers last night at the 5:00 service when one of the readers

announced that 20 years ago someone from our parish had helped a deaf 3 year old get a cochlear implant and that young lady just graduated from College. That’s the kind of help God expects of us] Unfortunately, for some reason that I haven’t been able to discern, the Lectionaires left out what I consider to be a major part of his guidance contained in Verses 5:1-5, so I am ging to share those verses to make our discussion cohesive.

 

5 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

5 In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud

but shows favor to the humble.”[a]

Proverbs 3:34 “He mocks proud mockers

but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.”

 

Peter starts off in a humble way addressing his audience as “fellow elders” establishing a level playing field right from the beginning even though he was there to witness Christ’s suffering and was sent out to teach. He encourages them to be Shepherds of the portion of God’s flock under their care no matter what position they have, leaders, pastors, heads of families or others who can influence the lives of any of God’s children. We are included among those he is addressing. He encourages us to watch over those in God’s flock not because we must, but because we are willing to be as God wants us to be, not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve. How many times in today’s society do we see people who claim to be helping others, but are really pursuing dishonest gain, financially, politically for recognition and power.

 

Setting standards, but not lording over people, being kind and realizing that each person has a separate journey and each is responsible for finding their own way. We shouldn’t act as if our way is the only way. We need top be humble, accepting and kind as we help others through their tough times.

 

We all go through tough times, and we often need help, even if it is just emotional support, although many of us aren’t willing to admit that need. An ordered predictable environment makes our daily lives seem smooth, but a disordered world tends to rob us of our peace of mind. Critical times lay a heavy stress on our personal lives. To survive through the our hard times we need strong inner resources, faith that God is there for us and steadying outer relationships to help us through.

 

How often when you are going through what you consider to be a really hard time do you stop and think about how hard it was for Jesus and what caused the hard time? When I think I am having a hard day, I often think about my friend John McCain and what he went through during his time in a Vietnam prison and refusing to be freed unless they freed his fellow prisoners. All those years of deprivation and torture. He can’t couldn’t even raise his arms high enough to comb his hair when he came home. No time I have ever thought was hard compared to what he went through, but he had faith and was disciplined. And Jesus had it even worse. They were after him from the time he started his ministry.

 

When you see someone going through a hard time, God expects you to help where you can, and not to judge. All flocks have sheep who stray, but when they are found they are taken care of and welcomed back. We have a responsibility to be shepherds, caring and watching over with out judgment.

 

So back to the initial question. Are you the person God created you to be or the person our world has molded you to be? Are you thde kind of leader/elder that Peter has described here? Do you use

your skills and resources to care for God’s flock, or are you more interested in achieving the standards of wealth, power and position that the world has taught you are the goal? Some food for thought as we finish this season of resurrection and new life.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

Second Sunday of Easter

April 16, 2023

Rev. Pam Fahrner

 

 

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Huddled in fear, this is a description of the first and second time the apostles had met in secret in the upper room or at least the two occasions when Jesus miraculously appeared with them. They probably barely remembered the first meeting-so in shock they must have been. Jesus-the resurrected form of the one last seen, bleeding, sweat and dirt-caked with that hideous crown of thorns put on his head to mock his royalty. They all took off when the rubber met the road and abandoned him, denied being one of his companions, headed for the hills or into hiding like the cowards that they were. And there he was again-in the flesh! 11 of the apostles had already seen him, had seen his wounded side, the wounds on his hands and feet. Only Thomas had not seen him before. And Thomas did what all the others had done on the first upper room meeting. He looked for proof because he couldn’t believe his eyes. Although that is what everyone talks about, Thomas’s skepticism, I’m not going to. For there was something much more remarkable that took place in that hidden room.

If I were one of the apostles, I‘d have reacted with shame and humiliation had I seen the resurrected Jesus Christ. Amazed as I would have been, my mind would have been dominated by my cowardice as I fled in fear and abandoned the one to whom I had promised loyalty. I had betrayed the trust given me by this man and my face would most likely have been red-hot with embarrassment. The tension must have been so high one could’ve cut it with a knife. But, when Jesus opened his mouth, the fear and shame dissipated into thin air! “Peace be with you,” he says. “This is a forgiveness that doesn’t pretend for a moment that nothing serious ever happened, but that says that even knowing and doubtless always remembering what happened, I relinquish any desire to see you made to pay, and I wish you deep and lasting and all-encompassing peace and wellbeing. The unimaginable, seemingly impossible extent of that forgiveness is the good news of the gospel. It is so difficult for us to comprehend that for 2000 years we have repeatedly kept trying to turn the message back into a normal religion that lays down the rules and guarantees that those who fall foul of them will be made to pay in the end. But this is the message of the gospel: God is always and unchangingly and forever exactly what we have seen in Jesus — outrageously, limitlessly, and gratuitously forgiving, beyond anything we could ever imagine ourselves being able to do” according to Nettleton, one of my favorite preachers. Peace be with you! Thanks be to God! The grace of God given without confession, without repentance, without penance, without consequence. That forgiveness was the good news in these passages and very good news for us all.

We say that we are sinners-all of us. But to face the one we betrayed face to face is a whole different animal than a vague statement that we aren’t perfect. The forgiveness that he demonstrated was one more example for us of how we are to live in harmony with each other. Even though we are grateful, mostly on some distant level, by the knowledge that our sins are forgiven by God, forgiveness in the living and immediate form is not so easy for us. I decided to take a look at the subject. I wanted to see what some of our famous theologians had to say. Let me begin with Nadia Bolz-Weber, the authentic, but very unusual pastor from our Lutheran Church, spoke about attending along with religious leaders from other denominations, a service of remembrance of 9-11. As part of the ecumenical service, they participated in an exercise in which they wrote prayers and laments on post-it type notes and they hung them from twine strung between 2 trees. She stopped when she read one that said, “I can’t forgive this. Can you?” She confessed that she finds forgiveness to be one of the trickier elements of the Christian faith since it can feel like forgiving something is the same as saying it’s okay. She spoke honestly and sincerely about the conflicting concepts, about fighting evil and about the feeling that vindication brings. She stated “There were times in my own life when I’ve been so hurt that I was sure retaliation would make me feel better. But inevitably, when I can’t harm the people who harmed me, I just end up harming the people who love me. So maybe retaliation or holding on to anger about the harm done to me doesn’t actually combat evil. Maybe it feeds it. It would seem that when we are sinned against, when someone else does us harm, we are in some way linked to that sin, connected to that mistreatment like a chain. And our anger, fear, or resentment doesn’t free us at all. It just keeps us chained.”

As I researched, there was a theme of bondage. But the bondage described was one self-imposed. The real long-lasting harm was done, not by the offender, but by the wronged party….in allowing the anger, hurt, resentment to hold the victim in chains UNTIL the victim had had enough. And strangely, as is often the case with Jesus, the answer comes in a strange and unexpected way. Victims hold the power, not the offender. Victims are in control of the situation and hold the power to end the hurt at will. In order for that to happen, they must be willing to let go. By releasing the reins, they gain freedom.

Theologian after theologian said the same thing, using slightly different words.


Peter Gomes argues that “forgiveness is the chief work of love. Jesus gave us that power, but we fail sometimes to exercise the power given us…even if that power heals us as it heals our relationships and restores love to our relationships. Ultimately, forgiveness is a gift that we’re given over and over again. If we fail to pass along that beautiful gift, we not only fail to pass along the gift of forgiveness, we fail to love as Christ taught us.” Bonhoeffer-“... forgive without counting—…, that is what it means to forgive—and precisely that is what grace is for you, that alone will make you free. You need not worry about your own rights, since they are already taken care of with God! This is what liberates us from forced relationships with others, for here we are liberated from ourselves; Only by recognizing in penitence God’s mercy for you will you yourself then also be capable of forgiveness. –Sue Monk Kidd in The Secret Life of Bees, “For myself, if someone has harmed me, I begin to think about them all the time and what I would like to do to them, expose them. They live rent free in my head and in essence become my higher power, my God. I do not want this person to be my God, my higher power. That is what brings me back to start the work of forgiveness. Yes, it is extremely hard work. Forgiveness is not forgetting. Archbishop Desmond Tutu “Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves so that we do not allow those persons to continue to harm us as we emotionally and mentally carry anger and resentments towards them like a sack of heavy rocks over our shoulders. When we cannot forgive, that heavy burden causes a part of us to be immobilized, to stop growing.” 

So where do our ideas about revenge, accountability come from? Walter Brueggmann offers an explanation of why we get it wrong-from the Old Testament.  He writes that forgiveness is made impossible when deeds have an unbreakable tight predictable connection to consequences with no way out. This is the law, and if you break it, this is what will happen to you. This is the basis of much right-wing religious preaching of “hell, fire, and damnation,” trying to frighten people into a moral life. 

Brueggmann believes that there is nothing, nothing that we can do for which God does not forgive us, and we are called to do the same. When we begin to lead a life of pardoning and newness, we start to see the world not through our grievances but through gratitude. It is a new life, a different life. We saw it in Nelson Mandela who forgave his guards of his 27 years of imprisonment as he walked out of prison. He told others who harbor resentments and grievances, “if I do not forgive them, I am still in prison.” Robert Capon believes that perhaps the only unpardonable sin is to withhold forgiveness from others.” Rabbi Kushner and Richard Rohr speak “Forgiveness is our only way to free ourselves from being entrapped in the past. God calls us to define ourselves by the present moment, not to define ourselves by what happened in the past.”

There is an incalculable cost to unforgiveness and we pay it for the rest of our lives-if we choose to hold onto anger and resentment. It only hurts US. Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into us and commissioned us to be His hands and feet in the world about us. We are called to follow His example of love and generosity of spirit. We are called to love our brothers and sisters-most particularly when it IS difficult. We are called to take the examples given us in His short public life and try our best to bring love and forgiveness to our hurting world. It is now, in this time post Easter, when we are called to begin His mission. May the Holy Spirit, given us at our baptism and given us through these imperfect, fumbling, stumbling 12 men be enough-enough to bring God’s grace and peace to all we encounter. And may doing so, break the chains that bind us. Amen. 

 

 

Second Sunday in Lent

March 5, 2023

Rev. Pam Fahrner

In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit:

Well, I’m not going to talk about being born again-been there and talked about it before! It’s a funny thing-religion. Strange indeed, for the basis of a faith to be belief in the unbelievable, reward based not upon good works, but upon grace…when we as humans, seek control. And then, when mankind clearly was not up to the task, God sent his only son to us. A sacrifice for us, un-asked for, but a sacrifice given and an obligation with which we live-for all of our lives. Strange. God sent his son with full knowledge that he would take on the mantle of humanity, necessitating some loss of divinity. Because of God’s choice, his son would experience what was like to be human, to feel pain, hurt, anger…and the joy that comes from relationship with other human beings. These readings do not say anything about death-only that God gave his son, so that the world and its people might be saved through his son.  The line prior says only that God so loved the world, again that he gave-so that we might not perish but have eternal life.

That said, our liturgy is filled with the idea of that Jesus died in order to buy us eternal life. Were the authors of our liturgy wrong? Or were they influenced-to the point of blindness- by the culture of the Old Testament, the culture of appeasing gods to gain favor or buy forgiveness? Expiation is “the act of making amends or reparation for guilt or wrongdoing”.  Propitiation is the act of appeasing or making well-disposed a deity, thus incurring divine favor or avoiding divine retribution. While some use the term interchangeably with expiation, others draw a sharp distinction between the two. And the remnants of these ideas echo through our faith. But-when you think about it, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense does it? Sounds a bit like the indulgences Luther protested against…the practice once common in the Catholic Church, sort of a barter system of money or property or things of value traded for favor with God, or political advantage or even buying monks time in personal prayer. It all comes from the old idea of atonement-“reparation or expiation for sin”. So are we talking about a sacrifice on the altar here? Is God’s willingness to offer his son like Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac? Burnt offerings to obtain blessings from God? Or appeasement to the devil? To me, that too, is an Old Testament way of thinking…a primitive way of making sense of the world, a belief  system of appeasing gods who have power over our lives. Really?

Much of the time, in religious studies, getting to the nugget of truth takes some digging! “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” What does make sense to me is this idea, the idea that Jesus Christ was sent to us SO THAT WE MIGHT BE SAVED THROUGH HIM. BUT PERHAPS HIS DYING DIDN’T SAVE US! RATHER, LIVING AS HE TAUGHT SAVES US! Living, loving the world and the people in it, saves us. Living as God taught us, saves us. Living as Jesus taught us, makes life worth living. “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.” John 3: 16. In a recent commentary, The Rev. Carl Gregg, pastor of a Church in Maryland makes the point that “the very first word in Greek is outos. In the vast majority of English Bibles, this word is translated as “so,” as in “God so loved the world.”   The problem is that many of us hear that “so” in the wrong way.  We hear it in terms of degree: “God didn’t just love the world; God loved the world a LOT.” But that’s not the way the original words meant. Another meaning of the English word “so” is the sense of “in this way” or “in this manner.”  He suggests that it is more helpful if we “Try to hear the “so” in that sense: “God so loved the world. God loved the world in this way. God so loved the world. God loved the world in this manner.”

But I’d still like to go deeper. I can get a flash of the type of love God feels for us when I imagine soldiers on a dangerous field somewhere with bombs exploding all around them. One of them realizes a pattern-where the mines have been laid out and the timing of their explosion pattern. He comes to the realization that his buddy, his comrade -in-arms is sitting right where the next one is due to go off. With no time to waste, the soldier with newly opened eyes to the extent of their danger, he goes for broke and throws himself on the exact location of the mine and yells for his buddy to run! The mine goes off and the buddy realizes that his life has been saved. The hero didn’t stop to weigh the consequences. Didn’t stop to judge his fellow soldier to figure out if the soldier was worth dying for. He saved his fellow countryman because he cared and could. As stated by theologian Cynthia Bourealt “It was not love stored up but love utterly poured out that opened the gates to the Kingdom of Heaven”. There are a million examples of course, parents, medical workers, everyday heroes running toward danger to help others. In often impulsive acts of courage or truth or valor or …just gorgeous beautiful love, we experience that kind of love in our lives. It is not an everyday thing, but it is a thing to behold. We can live our lives this way too-sacrificially, motivated by love. This is what God intended and hoped for when he sent his son to us-SO that we would learn how to love each other the same way. What/who do we care for and can help? What holds us back? What price do we pay by continuing to act according to the world’s standards? What beauty and heart-busting glory do we miss out on by not following our hearts? By trying to blend the world’s standards with our own religious beliefs and practices, we live lives of compromise, cheating ourselves out of living into uncompromised bliss of radical love for our fellow man, given lavishly without consideration of self-interest.

 

Some Christians have called John 3:16 “the Gospel in a nutshell,” but John 3:16 is not enough to form a fully mature Christian life. Look instead to passages such as Micah (which Denise preached upon a few weeks ago).  It says, “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does God require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Or Jesus’ own summary that all the law and the prophets hang on the two Greatest Commandments to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” and to “love your neighbor as yourself”. These slogans should never be for us the focus of our belief systems alone. Richard Rohr put it this way, “Authentic Christianity is not so much a belief system as a life-and-death system that shows us how to give away our life, how to give away our love, and eventually how to give away our death. Basically, how to give away—and in doing so, to connect with the world, with all other creatures, and with God.”  It is not enough to believe with our lips that salvation comes from doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God — and from loving God and neighbor.  We must live in such a manner every day.  May we learn to love the world in this way — as God so loves the world. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Ash Wednesday, 2023

Rev. Pam Fahrner

Wow. If anyone ever says that the scriptures do not tell it like it is, you can quote them something from the passages we’ve heard today! Matthew in particular, really lays it out and calls out hypocrisy in capital letters. It seems to me that the whole thing boils down to self-image. If you think you’re pretty hot stuff, watch out. If you and your life revolve around boosting others’ opinions of you, well-that’s a pretty shallow way to live. Today, Ash Wednesday, is all about recognizing that all we are and all we have and all possible to us is because God chose to give it to us. We did nothing, nor can ever hope to do anything to “earn” our good fortune. For us on this day of marking, it would be sinful for us to go around hoping people will notice and see how pious we are-wearing the cross on our foreheads as a sign that we are somehow better than those who have not been to church.

The idea of marking reminds me of the ways we have throughout history, marked those who sinned-an adulteress woman for example...as her accomplice walks free. Or people some deemed inferior in some way-like Jews in WWII-marked because they looked like everyone else…and a distinction had to have been made. In our world, we are marked in other ways too. A slovenly appearance, dirty or disheveled clothing marks us as poor or without a home or lower class. And of course, many are marked from the moment of birth-people of color or with distinguishing features, whether the slant of an eye or the broadness of a nose, they are marked as belonging to a group…and carry the baggage of association with them for their entire lives. How do markings affect us? If we were marked-not by choice and not for just a day once a year, how would being marked-for all to see-affect our image of ourselves? Would we feel shame? Humility? Anger? Defeat? I got the smallest taste of this in a church. I was attending a Catholic Church with my family on Christmas Eve. I was introduced as an Episcopal priest by my daughter-in-law to the priest. I went up for communion-which I have done many times over the years in Catholic churches (unknown to the priest) after he preached a sermon about inclusion and good will. It was Christmas, for God’s sake! He patronizingly put his hand on my shoulder and told me (as if I didn’t know) that our churches were not in communion with each other and therefore, he could not give me communion! He did not even offer to bless me. I knew when I went up there that there was a possibility he would do this, but I hoped he were a bigger man. But it was not anger I experienced, it was shame. In that instant, I felt what it must have felt for those divorced to be denied the sacraments. I knew what it must feel like to be told that you were not good enough to receive God’s grace if you loved someone of the same gender. I nearly cried because it felt so bad and I felt such pain for all the people marked by others’ cruelty and ignorance. I’ve never set foot in that church again. On this day at the very least, let us take some time to ponder what it feels like to be marked. Perhaps it may open our minds and hearts to see those hurt every day of their lives.

 

So yes, we will be marked today to remind us that we are blessed to be alive, blessed to be free, blessed to have choices, blessed to enjoy company along the way, blessed by skills and I could go on and on. Everything we have comes from God. So we really can’t go around patting ourselves on our backs or showing off. We may be able to fool those who don’t know us well, but we can’t fool God and chances are, we’re not really fooling anyone-even ourselves. So what are we then to do? Put on the cloak of humility, carry grace in our hearts and love toward every living thing, take time to notice and cherish the gifts given us absolutely free AND lastly, but most importantly, be GRATEFUL. AMEN.

 

 

 

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany

February 11, 2023

Rev. Pam Fahrner

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Well, now for some more cheery news! I keep trying to figure out how to work the Super Bowl into this! There’s no escaping it my friends.

 

I’ve often heard people speak harshly of sermons that don’t really speak to them, those that drift around the edges of real life, those that use pretty words and outline beautiful concepts, but are so distant from everyday life that they are not easily remembered-nor have they earned respect enough to be remembered. Today’s gospel does not allow much of high-fallooting talk. Rather the gospel calls out those present who talked-the-talk perhaps, but did not walk-the-walk! My friends, there is nothing new under the sun of people shooting off their mouths in false piety as their actions tell a different and much darker story. Do you all remember when Jimmy Carter admitted that he’d been guilty of adultery by being attracted to another woman while married to his wife Rosalynn? By that standard, we are all doomed, right? Not just on the issue of adultery, but surely we have all committed some of these other things at one time or another…swearing, anger, resentment or jealousy.  Or perhaps there is truly a saint among us! But it does not say that we are forever doomed, just that we need to be reconciled with those we have or would have liked to have harmed-even inadvertently. It is a cliff note version of the ten commandments, the RULES for life written on a tablet millenniums ago. In reality, sins, big or little hurt us and not just those we sin against. For we forever carry the burden of unforgiven sin. The action of forgiveness is an action taken to obtain freedom-for both parties. And usually when people speak from their hearts, forgiveness is easier than we imagine.  In our passages from the Old Testament, it sounds like we all have choices-easy to make-sin or not, death or life. ….But we all know it is not that simple, right? And let me take a moment to define the word sin. In a very broad sense, sin may be defined as anything one chooses (and that is key) that is clearly NOT in accord with God’s will or wishes for us. It is a conscious turning away from God and from the way of life outlined by Jesus Christ. A complicating factor is that we find ourselves sometimes between a rock and a hard place and discerning God’s will or wishes for us is not clear.

But this passage as you see, is actually much more about how to deal with sin rather than avoiding sin altogether. It is about reconciliation after sin has been committed. We recreate this scenario each week when we offer the peace to one another. It is done right before holy communion, specifically then because we are not to come to the Lord’s table with guilt or anger or any unreconciled issue on our hearts. From a practical standpoint, it must be a symbolic gesture. But the importance is clear for us all. We cannot live happy fulfilling lives while carrying the burden of sin on our backs. Eventually, it will catch up with us. I’m reminded of a movie I saw as a teenager. I know I have spoken of it before from this pulpit, The Portrait of Dorian Gray. In it there is a young, wealthy, handsome man-about-town-a bachelor living the good life. He makes a deal with the devil (can’t remember the details), but his sins show only on his portrait and he remains a handsome man. The young man lives his life of sin by living selfishly and destroying anyone-everyone in his way. The sins started out as small and insignificant but end up as major-mortal as the Catholics would say. The portrait was covered up when it began showing the signs of the man’s sin and remained so until the main character, aware of the compromises to his character, but not to the extent, became curious. He is revolted as a truly hideous man is shown in the portrait. To a much lesser extent, the same thing happens with us. A small decision-to cheat or lie (even to ourselves) becomes easier with time. Rationalizations come easy as we attempt to justify our actions. Few choices it seems, are black and white and there is frequently wiggle-room around the edges for corruption of our souls to creep in. No one escapes this world unscathed.

But it’s never too late or too hopeless…for us or for Dorian Gray. If my memory serves me, he amended his ways-as all old-fashioned movies did-and reconciled with those he had hurt-as best he could. We must do that too and ask forgiveness, accept forgiveness and grant forgiveness. The bottom line is that we all answer to God in the end. We cannot fool God and really, deep down within ourselves, we can’t fool ourselves. The choice of free will was given to us and the bottom line choice is pretty clear after all. Life or death. Peace or torment. We choose what, how and who we serve. We choose who we love and whether the focus of our lives is outward or inward (selfishness or selflessness). It is because of free will that we live in an incredibly complicated and divided world. Choosing to follow the example of Jesus is our choice.  Submitting to God’s judgement is a choice we do NOT have. We also have the choice of whether to be reconciled with those we have harmed. So-choose well my friends. Choose life and peace and love, generosity of spirit…and forgiveness …..to those whose choices have hurt us. We must do all we can to bring peace and love to this broken world. Let our ‘sharing of the peace’ be an example for us all sinners-as we gather to come to the Lord’s table for that reenactment of food and wine and fellowship. Let us come at peace with God, with each other and with ourselves. Amen.

 

 

Second Sunday After Epiphany

January 15, 2023

Rev. Denise Trogdon

"Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven," Amen.

 

  Why did you come to church today? Did you come to give thanks or to receive forgiveness? Maybe you wanted to hear the scriptures or beautiful music, or you simply wanted to slow down and let your soul catch up to you. Many come to church to be  surrounded by a faith family and nourished in the sacraments. No matter the reason, you have accepted Jesus' invitation to come and see and let the love of God be revealed to you, and through you. 

Come and See! It was the invitation Jesus gave to John and Andrew as he began to call disciples to ministry. So intrigued by this stranger who John the Baptist called, the "Lamb of God," they followed immediately. That phrase, loaded with meaning for observant Jews, hearken back to the lamb as a sacrifice for sin made upon the temple altar, and in scripture, the one who was given to Abraham in Issac's place. The lamb of God was a reconciling and atoning offering. When John the Baptist said, Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, it certainly caught the attention of those first century Jews.

Jesus' invitation was clear and simple, not intrusive but relational, come and see. It offered something far different than what we imagine evangelism to be. When Jesus asked, "What are you looking for?" he encouraged his new friends to consider their longing, and invited them into the mystery of relationship. Jesus is asking us today, what are you looking for? Are you longing for deeper meaning and purpose? Is something missing in your life?  Are you trying to fill a hole only Jesus will satisfy?

We too are invited to come and see. Each of us is called in baptism, and that call to relationship is persistent. It will trouble our sleep and whisper in our ears. It will grow dim and burn with urgency at times. It is the Lord calling us to life, to justice, to joy and  true peace. But we must look for the signs to see the unique manifestations of Christ in our world and follow the voice of truth as it is revealed to us. We can live day to day so mired in stress or anxiety or busyness that we become oblivious to Christ in our midst.

The season after the Epiphany is filled with stories of the manifestation of Christ as the light of the world and divine hope.

We hear of the magi drawn by the light of a star to the manger, the baptism of Jesus where God proclaims him as his beloved son, and the stories of Christ’s  healing ministry, beginning with his call of the disciples. After the chaos of the Christmas season is past, Epiphany sheds light on who Christ was and is and is to come.

It is fitting that we would celebrate modern manifestations of Christ’s light in the world; those who through actions great and small, further God’s vision of justice, reconciliation and peace. This weekend our nation honors the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Dr. King was a disciple in his time, with a vision of equality and justice for all people. Faith in God’s promises led him to work tirelessly for those who did not have a voice.  His actions of civil disobedience challenged a dominant and oppressive culture. King wrote in one speech, “I choose to live for and with those who find themselves seeing life as a long and desolate corridor with no exit signs. If it means suffering a little bit, I’m going that way. If it means sacrificing, I’m going that way. If it means dying for them, I’m going that way because I heard the voice saying: ‘do something for others.’ Our lives begin to end, the day we become silent about things that matter.” 

Martin was profoundly shaped by his upbringing in the Baptist church and the African American community. He learned the art of preaching at his father’s side, and used his skills of expression to teach the values of the social gospel. Martin studied with civil rights leader Howard Thurman, and his practice of nonviolent resistance was grounded in experiences in India with Gandhi and in the teachings of Jesus Christ. He was a voice of reconciliation in the midst of bitter division and offered forgiveness in the face of hatred. Martin believed that the culture of his day had lost its spiritual compass and had turned away from God’s vision. Neither the degradation of jail, nor threats to his life shook Martin's commitment to Christ's call to love. I wonder if Martin knew that he too was a lamb of God.

 In 1963 Martin Luther King gave a sermon in which he wrote these words: “In a sense every day is judgment day, and we, through our deeds and words, our silence and speech, are constantly writing in the Book of Life. Light has come into the world, and every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?” I pray that this will become our question and that each one of us will answer it with courage and commitment. Martin was faithful to his calling and Christ's light was manifest through his actions. God’s love shining through us could be the sign that invites another to come and see.

In this quiet season after the Epiphany and before we enter into Lent, let us sit with the questions, why have you come here today?  What are you looking for? As your soul catches up to you, see the many ways Christ's love is revealed to you and can be manifest through you. 

I will close with this poem by Teresa of Avila I have shared before, but it is particularly poignant in this season of signs of Christ in the world. “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” Amen.

 

 

First Sunday after the Epiphany

The Baptism of our Lord Year A RCL

Pam Fahrner

 

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Here we are-a brand new year. I feel somehow as if I’ve been thrown into it. It feels to me like the beginning of Advent was just a few weeks ago. Christmas was suddenly thrust upon us and we sort of jump over-as a culture-the savoring of Christmas only to focus on New Year’s celebrations, resolutions and putting everything away. Many of us are left vaguely frustrated that this important season wasn’t quite what we hoped for. Some focused on Advent disciplines, reading the daily meditations and taking the time to ponder BIG issues-like our existence here and allowing our imaginations to stray to the return of Christ. For those who were able to maintain this discipline, Christmas showed up at the door and found us unprepared. On Facebook, a friend posted a request to be nice to retail workers…as it is not their fault you waited until Mary’s water broke to shop! For others, our culture won out. Presents were carefully selected, wrapped and mailed. Cards went out on time. Houses were lovingly adorned with treasures brought forth each holiday season. We put on our glittery clothes and partied a bit. But for this group, it was all a bit shallow and lacked meaning-depth. For many and perhaps most of us-even clergy-that delicate balance was left an elusive goal rather than a reality realized. Those of us who celebrate the 12 days of Christmas and leave decorations up until Epiphany have JUST returned our homes to normal…just in time for Jesus’ baptism-as an adult yet! Is it any wonder we feel….discombobulated? But here we are, ready or not.

It's visible with every baptism isn’t it? The possibilities…this could be THE ONE or at the very least, we imagine unlimited potential with every child born. Of course, it isn’t really very likely that the second coming of Jesus would take place as a rerun of his birth. That’s already been done after all! But when we see babies, we see within them little bundles of possibilities. What difference will this child make? What/who will this child grow to be? How will the Holy Spirit-entering this child during this simple ceremony-manifest itself in this child’s life? Clearly Jesus thought it to be important enough to have John baptize him. There have been many discussions of course, about why Jesus made this choice. After all, Jesus had no sins to be washed away. But then, unless you are a believer in the concept of original sin-the idea that we all carry the sins of our ancestors-even back to Adam and Eve- little babies don’t have any sins to erase either. And of all beings on the planet, he didn’t need any holiness! We, on the other hand, can use all the holiness we can get. Per theologian David Lose, “Yes, Baptism washes away sin. Moreover, Holy Baptism promises ongoing forgiveness of sin and relationship with God. And this is both important and central to our understanding. But baptism also provides something more: a name – Beloved – and with that name, an identity – child of God, one to whom God is unfailingly committed. And that name and identity has never been more important.”

Many of us live our lives seeking meaning, seeking to make a difference, seeking the sacred, seeking holy ground on which to center ourselves. The very idea of living as one beloved by God makes a difference. Rohr’s book, Falling Upward, stated that we spend the first half of our lives figuring out who we are, putting our energy into educating ourselves, learning how we fit in, building our careers and forming families and bonds. During the second half, we realize just how powerless we are, how fatefully selfish, how flawed, how vulnerable, and how sweet life can be-just as it flows away from us-like the tide going out each day. The quest to figure out our value becomes more desperate as we age and as time runs down. This is when it does make a difference that we hold the Holy Spirit within us. Our lives, our very lives, have meaning and are in themselves holy/sacred when we realize that we are more-and always have been more-than cells stuck together in variations and combinations unique as the stars. Our spirits, the embodied holy spirit within us all gives us the power and desire to leave this fragile earth better than we found it. The holy spirit-all bound together with love-for God and for each other-is the omnipotent inside each of us. It is the force with which we all carry within us, the force which looks outward, seeking justice and kindness and satisfaction and honor and peace and joy….for all. It is that force, the combination of love and the holy spirit, given to us by God, that many of us seek our entire lives. Like most blessings from God, it was right there within us from the moment we were….BAPTIZED. In that moment, we became among those beloved by God. When the holy water touched our heads, we too were recognized by God as HIS own, His beloved. No matter how we may have failed at being part of perfect advent and Christmas, we come here together-as the people of God at All Saints Episcopal Church-to remember and refresh our own baptisms. And there is simply no better place to be, recognized as beloved by God. THANKS BE TO GOD. AMEN.

 

Pam Fahrner

First Sunday of Advent

Year A RCL

Isaiah 2:1-5, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44, Psalm 122

 

There’s just no getting around it-all of the threats in the readings today. Advice too for sure, but chuck full of not-so-thinly veiled threats. And I really don’t know folks-2000+ years of talking…where are we? Where are you? I’m kind of a tough-love kind of person. You can pretty up the language. You can tell yourself that we’ve got a loving judge-who never gives up on us. You can tell yourself that you will do better when you have more time, when you have more energy, when you are more inspired, when you are in a better spiritual place, when….At some point, accountability comes into the picture. At some point, we must be worthy of God’s love and mercy. We must be people-as God’s people-of integrity, honesty, honor. I know it’s confusing. Because there are those who would tell you that the price has all been paid for us by Jesus Christ. That Jesus’s sacrifice bought eternal salvation and that’s it. We’re home free. But it doesn’t make total sense to me. If that is the case, then why did Jesus teach about behavior at all? If we’re all justified by just believing, then what difference does it make if we go through life on this earth putting ourselves first? It sounds like manipulation to me, kind of like Constantine postponing his baptism until just before his death so his sins would be erased in the water. You see that way he could sin throughout his life all he wanted and possess the get-out-of-jail card of baptism-to be exercised just before his death. I’m sorry. It just doesn’t seem like it ought to work that way.

Everyone-or most of us anyway-love stories about second chances, new beginnings-you know-it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. Most of us would welcome a do-over or maybe even lots of do-overs! If only we’d known then what we know now…Our readings are filled with images of preparation, of warnings, of  works of darkness, but also some pretty great and inspiring images, “put on the armor of light; let us live honorably” and the enticing hope-filled promise, “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”Wouldn’t that be great?

So what are we to do with all of this? Are we to live in fear-knowing that our actions could never qualify us adequately for the reward of eternal life? I suspect most of us and really most around the world, fill our lives with just trying to live each day the best we can. Some days are glorious and fill us full of light and others? Not so much-dragged down by the massive problems the world presents. I guess the real question is how should we live instead of how do we live? Given that we are human and not divine, how do we live and act closer to that standard? And what would our lives look like if we did?

I follow Bishop Steven Charleston on Facebook-of all places. He is native American and carries within him the philosophy/theology embodied by folks who inhabited what-we-call OUR land long before us. In general, his tone is that of comfort and patience of urging all of us to trust God and not be burdened by the discouraging things we see in the world around us. Recently he posted: Ten Signs You Are On The Spiritual Path. Now presumably he meant the spiritual path heading in the direction toward the life and ways of God.  So-I’m going to share his 10 signs, but expand upon them a bit. (1) you laugh a lot more than you used to. It makes sense that we would demonstrate more cheer in general if we trusted God more and the works and machinations of men less. (2) you listen more than you speak. For us, relationships-with God and each other are really the only things which are important. By listening to each other, we learn all there is to love within each other-and that applies to listening to God too. (3) you don’t need to remember to pray. This is an interesting point. Prayer after all, is a conversation/communication with God. It needn’t be formal or beautifully worded. Remember, we were created in order to have relationship with God and each other. Conversation with those we love doesn’t have to be scheduled or disciplined. It comes as naturally as breathing.  (4) you may fear but you do not hate. Fear is a part of our warning systems and not in itself, bad. Hate however, born from fear, is harmful to us and of course, to those we hate. No good, no good, EVER comes from hate.  (5) you are grateful each day. We shouldn’t need to be reminded-on this Thanksgiving holiday weekend or ever, that we need to be intentionally aware of our blessings. With us in the west, we share the majority of the world’s gifts-natural and man-made. We in America have oceans on our east and west-borders which lend us protection just by their presence alone. We have friendly nations to our north and south with only one border with issues we need to resolve. (6) you feel in kinship with all living things. As a biology major originally, I learned early to appreciate the symbiotic relationships between all living things-not only human beings, but animals and plants-the absolutely beyond anything any of us could begin to imagine-way that we are all intertwined with each other. We have been late to the party of recognizing that our earth has not unlimited resources, but it is not yet too late to vote and act with integrity to protect this world for our descendants. (7) you are happy with enough not more. Well, this is a big one that I’ve addressed before, the concept of enough. How much do we need to be happy? How many houses, how fancy, how large? How many clothes do we need? How often do we need to go out for meals and recreation? How much do we use that country club membership? Could those resources be used for the benefit of others? You know this. (8 you depend on love. That’s really all there is, right? (9) you treat every person with respect. From genuine conversations-even brief-with wait staff or gardeners or essential workers-everyday tiny encounters-do we address them as valuable human beings? Does an encounter with us raise their spirits? It’s a chance. (10) you see things others do not seem to notice. It has a way of taking your breath away-when we step back for a moment and observe our lives, the grace and number of times we’ve been saved or graced or blessed. Maybe this advent, instead of resolutions or innovative new practices, we might consider just stopping in place for a while. We’ve been through a lot over the past few years and perhaps a pause could put us a bit further on our own spiritual paths toward God and a closer relationship with God. Maybe we just need to breathe and savor-not forever, but more often. Maybe we need to take ourselves out of this world and see what it would feel like to live in the kingdom of God. Let’s consider beginning with Bishop Charleston’s wise counsel. Amen.

 

 

Pam Fahrner

10-8-9-2022

Proper 23 Year C Luke 17: 11-19, @ Kings 5: 1-3, 7-15c

 

Good morning-afternoon! How are you?....Seriously, how are you? …I’ve got a hint at a better answer for you which I’ll share later. It’s good to be back with you all. As you can see, I’ve had some shoulder work and am now bionic-with a brand new shoulder joint. This is your lucky day…as I can’t write much with my right hand-so it means you will have a brief sermon. Your dreams have come true!

Actually, it’s pretty easy to zone in on the important things (at least in my opinion) about the passages. And they have a lot in common-more so than usual, right? Leprosy. Healing. Response. What I’d like to talk about just a little bit is the humanity demonstrated in these readings. It is accounts like these that make the bible more believable to me-real stories of real people with all of their imperfections on display. In our Old Testament reading, we have Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, afflicted with leprosy. A healing method has been promised to him, but he chooses to be offended because -in his mind at least, he is not shown enough respect by the prophet (Elisha). His pride gets in the way and he refused the healing method until his servants implore him to give it a try. Very interesting too, is the fact that they play upon his intellect, asking him if he wouldn’t be willing to do something difficult in order to be healed, but discarded Elisha’s suggestion. Manipulated into a “what have you got to lose?” position, he does as told and is healed. He then sings God’s praises. In our gospel lesson, both the humanity and divinity of Jesus are on display. His divinity is demonstrated by his ability to offer healing to the ten afflicted-merely by pronouncing it so. His humanity however I find more interesting-as he focuses not as much on the Samaritan who returns to give thanks, but on the 9 who don’t. Is it not ever-so-human of us to accept praise and quickly forget it, while holding on-seemingly forever, to even tiny slights? It costs us dearly, but we do it repeatably and we carry those slights as baggage. Worth noting is that the nine did nothing wrong, they did as they were instructed. But, with their choice, they eliminated the possibility of further blessing by their gratitude.

Meister Eckhart, once said that the only prayer necessary was “thank you God”. David Lose, a theologian I often seek out for wisdom said, “I’m grateful.” That was the regular response of a colleague and friend of mine of a few years past to my casual question, “How are you?” It took me by surprise. Not just the first or second time, but almost every time. Eventually, of course, I wasn’t so much surprised, as I was struck by the simplicity and power of this statement. It wasn’t the answer I expected. Indeed, we usually expect little more than “fine” or “pretty good” or maybe once and a while “great” when we ask this conversational placeholder, “How are you?” “I’m grateful.” My colleague chose her words with care. She wanted to make a point. That gratitude is not only a response to good fortune but also a choice we make”. I am FaceBook friends with a woman I knew at a church we attended many years ago. She posts-every week or so-her gratitude. She lays out with specificity the things for which she is grateful…and it never fails to get me thinking. An example of todays posting:

G*d, a sunny day, good food, family and friends, green and yellow and blue, marigolds and mushrooms, Ukraine remains free, wild blueberries, being relaxed and unscheduled, sound sleep, anchovies and mussels and crabs, sea anemones, new findings in astrophysics and astronomy, the Four Noble Truths, one day at a time, Andorra

 

Lose put it this way, “Because here’s the thing: gratitude, like all of our other options, becomes easier to choose as we practice it. Gratitude, like faith and hope and love and commitment, are not inborn traits that some have and others don’t, but rather gratitude is more like a muscle that can be strengthened over time. And as you practice giving thanks and more frequently share your gratitude, you not only grow in gratitude but create an example for others. More than that, you create a climate in which it is easier to be grateful and encourage those around you to see the blessings all around us.” So, how are you?.....I cannot close this section without acknowledging that sometimes this is more difficult. We face in our lives real time tragedies and challenges way beyond our wildest imaginations. In those times, it is a big order to rest in the laurels of our gratitude as we feel like we’re going under for the third time. So be it. God understands that too. In the complex world in which we live, it is sometimes a challenge to remember all of the good.

There is only one other thing I’d like to mention in regard to these readings. It is a fine point perhaps, but a distinction worth a bit of thought. “Your faith has made you well.” It begs the question, what is faith? As Kristen Leigh Mitchell puts it, “The Greek word used here is pistis. And it doesn’t mean belief, as in “I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God…”  It doesn’t mean adherence to a certain religion, as in “I belong to the Catholic faith.” The Gospels are not a set of theological treatises and doctrines about God or Jesus. They are a collection of stories. In particular, they are stories about trust. Pistis means “trust.”

For a very long time, those of us in religious circles have believed that faith came as a result of belief. And belief came as one was exposed to religious texts along with appropriate and accurate explanations (sermons)-descriptions of the culture, geography, customs in which these accounts took place. Those beliefs then could also-with some edification from properly ordained people-be applied to our lives. But trust is not a head thing. Trust is a heart thing-bought more often than not by experience or sensing something divine or sacred. Thus it cannot easily be explained or accepted by the mind in the traditional sense. It is a gut thing, a ground of being level of knowledge much more often attained by experience rather than a learned acquisition. “ Faith is the life that we choose to live into, when life seems impossible. Faith is placing the weight of your trust on the Goodness and the Lovingkindness at the center of all reality, regardless of your personal circumstances. Faith is what allows us to move even towards our own death, trusting in the crazy, radical promise of new Life in resurrection”, per Rev Mitchell. These 10 men, 11 if you count Naaman, put their trust in Elisha and in Jesus. Their willingness to do so set them free from their affliction. It makes me wonder-just a ponder here. What would happen to us if we trusted in God enough to believe that we are God’s beloved children, precious in his sight and worthy to be God’s heirs of God’s kingdom? Would we always live with grateful hearts?

So-how are you?.....You betcha! Amen.

Pam Fahrner

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

 

Everything hurts,

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,

As horror,

As heritage.

Even our children

Cannot be children,

Cannot be.

Everything hurts.

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.

Pam Fahrner

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.

Denise Trogdon

 

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. 

Denise Trogdon

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

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