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