Sunday, November 29, 2020

Sermon; Advent 1B; Mark 13:24-37


Happy New Year!

As Dcn. Sue pointed out last week, today is the beginning of the Church year. This is a time of new beginnings and fresh starts. This is the time that we in the Church eagerly await the coming of the Messiah. The key word being, “wait.” For we can't be too eager for his arrival lest we be like the five foolish bridesmaids who were not prepared to wait long. So wait we must.

Waiting is the theme of Advent. In the liturgical cycle of the Church year, while the world is already pushing Christmas (one radio stations has been playing Christmas music since November 1), we wait for the Christmas season to properly arrive. Today's gospel passage has many references to waiting: waiting for the end of days, waiting for the arrival of summer, waiting for the return of the master.

But within this time of waiting is also a time of activity. We prepare for summer by watching the fig tree. We prepare for the end of days by being alert. We prepare for the return of the master by doing the work assigned to us. Advent is about waitng, but it is also about keeping awake and keeping alert.

We are in the season of waiting, and not just because it's Advent.

In my Wednesday Word last week I pointed out that coronatide – this season of the coronavirus – was like Advent in that it was forcing us to wait. We are waiting for a vaccine. We are waiting to shake hands again. We are waiting to hug our friends again. We are waiting to not worry about forgetting our masks. We are waiting to gather again. We are waiting to sing again.

Remember, though, Advent isn't simply a season of waiting, it's also a season of keeping awake, keeping alert, and making preparations. There's a difference between simply waiting and actively waiting.

We heard this several weeks ago with the parable of the five foolish and five wise bridesmaids. Five were foolish because all they did was wait, and they were caught off guard when the bridegroom arrive. Five were wise because they took an active role in the waiting and made preparations during that time of waiting by having extra oil. Expecting parents do the same thing. We don't just wait for the baby to arrive before doing anything. We move into an active period of waiting. Bassinets, cribs, rockers, and other furniture gets purchased; as do clothes, diapers, and other supplies. Rooms may be painted or decorated.

In this waiting there is activity. In this waiting there is preparation.

This is what we traditionally do during Advent – we wait and we prepare. We wait for Christmas while making our preparations, both in the Church and in our personal lives. At home maybe we work on Christmas lists, put up and decorate trees, bring out Christmas villages, and work on sending cards. Or maybe we do something else to prepare for the holidays. At church we change the hangings, bring out the creche set, and begin thinking about the coming of the Messiah, both at the Incarnation and at his future coming.

This year, though, is so beyond normal we may wonder where to begin. After all, part of the beauty of the holidays is sending time with family and friends. For some of us, decorating and preparing for the holidays will only serve to remind us of what we've lost this year. For others, it will be a way to return some sense of normalcy to our lives.

So here we are in this season of Advent, waiting and preparing. We are also in a season of coronatide, waiting for the season of COVID to come to an end. This year, this coronatide Advent, has taken on a whole new meaning because of this.

This year we must recognize the difference between a longed-for normalcy and where we are now. Because if we wait and prepare for a return to normalcy, a return to how things have always been, we aren't really preparing at all – we are only waiting. And in that sense we would be just like the five foolish bridesmaids who were waiting for things as they expect them to be.

In this season of coronatide Advent let us wait and prepare for that of which we are unsure. Like the five wise bridesmaids were prepared for the uncertainty of an unknown arrival, we too must be prepared for an uncertain future.

We can wait all we want for a vaccine, or to shake hands, or hug, or gather, or sing. But all of those may still be a long ways off. The challenge we face is this: how do we actively wait in the meantime? How do we wait for the return of those things while preparing to do the work of the Church in the meantime?

This season of coronatide Advent isn't calling for us to sit and wait. Instead it is calling for us to keep awake and to keep alert.

This can be a time for us to think creatively about how to live into our mission of worshiping, welcoming, serving, and encouraging. Because right now there are not right answers, there is only the wrong answer of sitting and waiting.

This truly is a time of new beginnings and fresh starts. This is the time of active waiting. I don't know where we will end up, but I will work with you to ensure that we are awake, alert, and prepared for whatever comes our way and whenever that may be.

This is Advent. Let us wait, but let us not be idle.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Sermon; 23 Pentecost/Proper 27A; Matthew 25:1-13


We are approaching the end. We're approaching the end of our liturgical season as we only have, after today, one more Sunday of green, and then a Sunday of white, and then we are into the new year of Advent. So we are approaching the end of our liturgical year. Jesus, in our scriptures, is approaching the end of his time on earth. And if you've been following along with us and remember what I talked about before, all of these past several stories that we've heard from Jesus have taken place during Holy Week.

He is in Jerusalem and if you read in Matthew 25, there are a couple more parables after this, and one of the things Jesus tells his disciples is that in two days the Son of Man will be arrested and handed over. So chronologically, as far as scripture is concerned, Jesus is coming to the end of his days on earth as he only has a couple more left.

We are coming to the end of all of this. Last week's parable, and I'd be surprised if anyone remembered the parable from then because there was none as we celebrated the Feast of All Saints and renewed our baptismal vows, was also an Advent parable. They are termed Advent parables because they deal with the end of days, the end time, and the return of God. And in the bible there are a few more Advent parables coming up.

Today's parable is the second of four Advent parables that Jesus gives at the end of his days here on earth.

In these four Advent parables, and I just want to point out that were are in sort of a min-Advent, we have these parables talking about the end of time and looking forward to the coming of the Messiah so pay attention and keep awake. And it just so happens that in the Eastern Orthodox church the Advent season begins next Sunday. A little earlier, but also longer. than our season. So we are getting ready. We are getting ready for Advent. We are getting ready for the end of days. We are getting ready for the time of keeping awake and keeping watch.

In these four Advent parables, today's is probably the most famous. This is probably the one that most people know. Jesus tells this parable about ten bridesmaids, or ten young women, or ten virgins, who are gathered to wait for the bridegroom and five are wise and five are foolish. The five wise women were wise only because they brought extra oil. And then all ten fall asleep while waiting for the bridegroom to arrive. At midnight there was a cry that the bridegroom has arrived, so wake up and come into the party. It's now that the five foolish women realize they don't have enough oil, so they ask the other five to share what they have. The wise reply that there won't be enough for everyone and tell them to go down to the dealer and buy oil for themselves.

But while they're gone the bridegroom comes and the five wise women go into the party with the him and the door is locked. By the time the five foolish women come back, it's too late, they've been shut out. So they bang on the door asking to be let in, “Lord! Lord! Let us in!” But he replies, “I don't know you, go away.”

What's going on here, in this parable of the five wise and five foolish women?

It's been pointed out that this is really an allegory, where each piece of the story stands for something else. The bridegroom represents Jesus, the Son of Man, who is expected to arrive but delayed. The wedding feast is the heavenly banquet that we look forward to and that Holy Communion symbolizes. The women represent people – either in the church or other followers – doing the best they can to follow and wait for the Messiah. And the oil has often been attributed as representing good works. And you see that in a variety of places. Jesus says, “No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel.” And there are other places where oil represents good works.

But that allegory begins to break down. Notice that all ten women had lamps of oil. All ten were apt to do good works. And also notice that all ten women fell asleep. All ten were waiting, but they all fell asleep – both foolish and wise. Had the bridegroom showed up on time, all ten would have entered into the banquet feast. Nobody would have been locked out.

So . . . . Jesus says, “Keep awake, for you know not the time or the hour.”

The problem, though, is that we can't do good works all the time. We can stay awake all the time. We need to sleep. That's a physical part of who we are. Deacon Sue, who works for a certain company, now works third shift – from 10 pm to 7 am, and then comes here to serve. But after service, she's going home to sleep. What happens if Jesus comes while she's sleeping? Does she miss out?

All of us need sleep. Both the wise and foolish had to do that. So you can lay the blame on the guy who was late.

This parable has often been used, at least I've heard it this way, as a hell and damnation parable. That is, if you aren't always doing good works, if you don't always have your lamps filled with oil, if you aren't continually working for Jesus, you're going to miss out. Pay attention, and don't miss out. You need to continually work, because if you aren't working, you will get locked out of the heavenly banquet and Jesus will tell you, “I don't know you.” So stay awake. Pay attention. Stay alert. And do good woks for God. But the problem is that we need to sleep.

So rather than being a hell and damnation parable, or rather than blaming the five foolish women for not having enough oil, or rather than laying the blame on the guy, I want to point out that this story is really about our need to be willing to wait.

And now, more than ever, I think, we need to be willing to wait. We, in America anyway, have developed a culture of right now. There was a time when, if you needed to communicate with somebody, you wrote on a piece of paper and mailed it, and then you waited a week or longer for them to get it, and even longer for them to respond. It was a little slower. We all remember the election of 1948 with Truman holding up the newspaper that said, “Dewey Wins!”

And then we developed the fax machine. I remember when my office got a fax for the first time and I could send documents to another office within a few minutes. And then we got cell phones and smart phones and everything is right now. But we need to learn to wait.

In this past election, regardless of how you voted, we have hopefully been retaught on how to wait. I was listening to a podcast last night and the woman was talking about the 2016 election and she was refreshing her news feed every two minutes to see who won. But regardless of whether new information came, or whether she turned it off and waited until morning, the results would be the same. We need to learn to wait.

I worked a football game on Friday – my second and probably my last as COVID is making a comeback and canceling games. But during halftime we were talking about the election. And one of my crew-mates said, “I don't get it. Dancing with the Stars can count 100,000 votes in two minutes and know who wins, but we have to wait 3-4 days to find out who won the presidential election.” We need to learn to slow down and wait.

And this is a good lesson for us as we enter into Advent in a few weeks. Because the push for Christmas is already here. The outside world has already started on Christmas sales and decorations. But we have to go through Advent before we can get to Christmas. We have to learn to wait.

So the five foolish women weren't foolish because they didn't have enough oil. They were foolish because they wanted the bridegroom to arrive when they expected and weren't prepared to wait. God works on God's time.

Yes there are things we need to do to push through to move sooner rather than later. Equal rights for women. Making sure that spousal abuse ends. Making sure society changes to create a more perfect union. But we must also learn to have patience and trust God and be prepared as best we can.

It's okay to go to sleep. It's okay to take a rest. But just practice patience and be ready for God when God comes on his time. And when God does come, we can say, “I was ready.”


Monday, November 02, 2020

Sermon; All Saints Day, Year A

Four years ago on All Saints' Sunday I stood here – well THERE (pointing to the crossing from the pulpit) actually – and said it was good to be here. My family and I had completed our cross-country move and this was our first Sunday together. And it is still good to be here among the people of this parish (and beyond) as we celebrate the Feast of All Saints.

On this day we remember those people whose life, labor, and witness to the world exemplified what it means to be the Church. We remember those people who sacrificed much, some to the point of physical torture and death, to proclaim the Good News of Christ. Today we remember people like Peter, Paul, Bartholomew, Polycarp, Justin, Ignatius, Athanasius, Augustine, Benedict, Brigid, Catherine, Clare, Constance, Perpetua, Stephen, Theresa, and so many others I can't name. Some were persecuted, some were martyred, some did great things for the life of the Church, and all of them were faithful to the calling of Christ.

But also included in the list of saints are people like Jerome who fought with clergy and was “seldom pleasant.” Or Pope Pius V who passed and enforced anti-Jewish laws. Or Mary of Egypt who was described as . . . um . . . a very busy woman. Or Cyril of Alexandria who had his own clerical special forces that violently attacked anyone who opposed him. And there are plenty of other badly behaving saints. These people were less-than-saintly. But as the preface to Lesser Feasts and Fasts states, “In the saints we are not dealing primarily with absolutes of perfection but human lives . . . .It should encourage us to realize that the saints, like us, are first and foremost redeemed sinners.”

So on this day we remember the saints of the Church, those people who, despite their failings, are honored for their heroic commitment to Christ and who have borne witness to their faith, sometimes at the cost of their lives.

On this day we also remember loved ones who have entered into glory before us. We remember those who were read at the beginning of the service today. I also remember people like Bobby, George, Sheila, Frank, Paul, and Lucille. And we remember that for them, and eventually for us, life is changed, not ended.

But today isn't only about remembering those saints and souls who have gone before. It's also about remembering and commemorating those people who by their faithful and godly living are examples to us. I remember people like Frank, Jeff, Tripp, Polly, Janis, Joan, Dan, Joani, and so many others who I have looked up to and admire. Their faith in Christ, and their life in the church, is an inspiration to many people and are lives I hope to emulate.

All Saints' Day is the day we remember and give thanks for all of this. We remember and give thanks for those in ages past, in our past, in our present, and in the yet-to-come, because all of these make up that great cloud of witnesses. Our Eucharist and liturgy reflect this every Sunday, but today it is more appropriate and more special. Today when we join our voices with angels, archangels, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and with all the company of heaven, our worship is that much more significant. It is good to be here on such a day as this.

And on top of all that, on top of remembering and commemorating the saints and souls of the past, on top of paying tribute to those people who are inspirations to us by their faithful and godly living, this day is also about us. This day is about us because each one of us is an example of faithful and godly living to someone else, whether we know it or not.

That thought, or realization, that we are all saintly examples to someone, might prompt a question – What can we do to ensure that we continue to be examples of faithful living? Is there some kind of guidebook that can help ensure we live lives worthy of being called “saint?” Or, if not actually saint, at least a faithful follower of Christ? Well, as a matter of fact . . .

In a few moments we will participate in the renewal of baptismal vows. In that portion of the service you will be asked if you believe in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Following those three questions you will be asked a series of other questions laying out what it means to live a faithful and godly life dedicated to Christ. These are not a series of suggestions. These are not a series of statements based on how you feel at the time. This is the outline of how we are to live as Christian people every day of our lives.

Will you attend worship services regularly and pray daily?

Will you resist evil, repent and make restitution when you sin?

Will you evangelize?

Will you see the face of Christ in all people?

Will you respect the dignity of every human being?

These are hard things to do. They are so hard, in fact, that I believe we need to be reminded on a regular basis of just what it was that we promised at out baptism. Being a Christian is hard work; and if we are doing it right, it's the most counter-cultural thing we can do.

When we renew our baptismal vows here in a few minutes, notice something very important – you are not alone. Yours is not the only voice speaking. So not only are you not alone, but you are also being supported by many other faithful and godly people doing their best to live out their lives in fulfillment of the gospel.

Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. Today we remember and commemorate those heroes and saints of old, many of whom gave their lives for the faith. Today we also remember and commemorate all the faithful departed who lived faithful and godly lives, some who are known to us and many more known only to God. Today we renew our vows and take our place alongside those holy men and holy women, promising to be the face, voice, and light of Christ to our world.

Today is All Saints. Today we are reminded of what it means to live as Christians in this world. Today we revel in the knowledge that we surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses and are part of the whole host of heaven.

Today we remember that it is good to be here as part of this gathering of witnesses. And today we remember that we, too, are saints of God.


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Sermon; 21 Pentecost/Proper 25A; Deut. 34:1-12, Matt. 22:34-46

Today's first lesson comes from the final chapter of Deuteronomy and records the death of Moses. In the first part of this passage we hear that the Lord showed Moses all the land the Israelites were to inherit, but we also hear that the Lord has forbidden Moses to enter that Promised Land and he died never crossing over into it from the wilderness. If you were paying attention to the reading, you may be wondering why the Lord forbade Moses from entering the Promised Land.

It stems from an incident back in Numbers 20 when God told Moses to command a rock to yield water (because the Israelites were yet again complaining that they had no water and were going to die in the wilderness). Instead of doing that, Moses berated the Israelites, and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out and the Israelites were satisfied, but Moses did not do as God had commanded. Granted, it's a little thing – speaking to the rock versus striking the rock – and the Israelites still had their thirst quenched, but it was contrary to how God asked Moses to act. Add to that how Moses berated the people and God made the decision to not let Moses cross over into the Promised Land.

In today's gospel Jesus is again facing tests from various authorities bent on silencing him. Remember that, contextually, we are in Holy Week and are working our way to his arrest and Passion. Today's test comes from a lawyer of the Pharisees. “Teacher,” he says, “which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

Six hundred thirteen commandments in the law and this guy wants to know which is the greatest. There are some that are obviously greater than others, and some that are obviously lesser than others, but to pick one as the greatest? That opens you up for an argument.

Jesus answers, “The greatest commandment in the law is this, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

What do these two passages from Deuteronomy and Matthew have in common? Not much, really. But I read something last week that got me thinking that they might be more closely related than we originally think.

Episcopal priest Jay Sidebotham, former illustrator for Schoolhouse Rock and current illustrator for those big church calendars and other things, writes a weekly piece called Monday Matters. In his latest article he quoted RC priest, Franciscan, and spiritual author Richard Rohr: “People more easily define themselves by what they are against, by what they hate, by who else is wrong, instead of by what they believe in and whom they love.”

Our words and actions and how we use them have consequences. Our words define who we are and who we are for or against. In Moses' case, he was faced with yet another uprising and it would appear his patience had run out. God told him what he needed to do for water, but he used other words and other actions. He was defining himself by what he was against – the rebellious Israelites – more than what he believed in and loved – God.

Likewise, over the past several weeks we've been hearing parables of Jesus pointed at political/religious leaders and those leaders coming together to trap him and, hopefully, silence him. Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees, groups normally opposed to each other, have found a common enemy in Jesus. They are defining themselves by who they are against rather than by what they believe and whom they love.

In these two stories notice that both Moses and the Pharisees have separated themselves from the other. Moses separated himself from the rebellious Israelites. The Pharisees separated themselves from Jesus. By focusing on what separates us, on what we are against, and on what we hate, we lose the ability to come together. We lose the ability to find unity. We lose the ability to be part of one body.

Within the law are commandments that both separate and unite. Besides looking to trap Jesus in a legal argument about the importance of a particular commandment, there may have been an underlying issue: Is it more important to use the law to separate or to unite? Jesus' response is to Love God, Love Neighbor. Everything proceeds from those two commandments (as one Rabbi is recorded as saying, “Everything else is just commentary.”). But those two laws are focused on uniting people: they unite us to God and they unite us to our neighbor.

These two stories – the words and actions of Moses that resulted in him being separated from his people and the Promised Land, and the words and actions of Pharisees separating themselves from a man who was trying to unite people to God and others – are important for us to hear today. In our daily lives, in our political choices, in our dealings with family, friends, and strangers, we have a choice as to which words and actions we will use.

Don't misunderstand me – its important to know what you are against. The question to consider though is whether or not we can first articulate what we believe in and whom we love. As John says in one of his letters, you can't hate your neighbor and claim to love God. That's coming at it from the wrong direction.

If we love God and love neighbor, then we will necessarily be opposed to those things which don't meet that standard. But we begin with love, not hate. We begin by saying, “I love my neighbor, that's why I don't tolerate hate speech . . . I love my neighbor, that's why I advocate for equality . . . I love my neighbor, that's why I work to end systemic racism.”

And the list goes on. But that list should always begin with, “I love God, I love my neighbor.”

Because if we can't, don't, or won't, then we just might find ourselves like Moses and end up being separated from our people, or we might discover that we have been working against Jesus.

Our words and actions have consequences. Let's make sure we begin on the side of love.


Sermon; 20 Pentecost/Proper 24A; Matthew 22:15-22

If you've looked at your calendar recently you will have noticed that we are rapidly approaching the end of the church year. Deacon Sue pointed out to me recently that we only have three green Sundays left, since All Saints' and Christ the King are white. And if you've been paying attention to the gospel lessons, you will have noticed that we are coming to the end of the story there as well.

Over the past few Sundays we've heard Jesus tell parables about a man having two sons and telling his listeners that tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the kingdom of heaven ahead of the religious people; about a landowner kicking out the tenants in favor of those who would do his will; and about a king throwing a wedding banquet but needing to invite people off the street because the original invitees would not come.

The overall context of these stories is that they all take place during what has come to be known as Holy Week. Jesus is in Jerusalem having rode in on a donkey and being welcomed by the people as “The one who comes in the name of the Lord.” And things are beginning to heat up between Jesus and his adversaries.

While in Jerusalem, Jesus has overturned tables in the temple and, as I said, told politically pointed parables to the religious leaders about who and what God is looking for. Those leaders have had enough of being the focus of Jesus' stories and have now begun looking for ways to take him down. As part of their plan, those leaders, the Pharisees, team up with a group we know only as the Herodians.

We don't know much about this group – this is the only time in Matthew they are mentioned, and they are only mentioned twice in Mark. What we do know comes from their name: Herodians. That name implies they were a politically religious party who supported King Herod, the puppet totalitarian propped up by Rome.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, were decidedly not pro-Roman, but they were pro-Jew (obviously) and they were willing to look the other way, or even collaborate with Rome, when the situation dictated as long as they were left alone to practice their religion.

So we now have a situation where the pro-Roman Herodians are teaming up with the Roman-compromising Pharisees in order to put a stop to the rabble-rousing, trouble-making Jesus. Both groups see Jesus as a troublemaker because he has at times, and most recently during this Passover season, called the religious leaders to task for not caring about God's people or twisting God's law to suit themselves. He's a troublemaker because he has challenged the religious and political systems of the day. He's a troublemaker because he has preached about raising up the lowly. He's a troublemaker because he has worked to level the playing field. And for those in positions of power and authority, those were troublesome actions.

And so the question: Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Embedded in that question are these religious questions: Are you pro-government or pro-people? Are you pro-Rome or pro-Jew?

The answer? “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperors, and to God the things that are Gods.”

In one respect this is an easy answer to a “gotcha” question. Who owns the coins? The emperor. Who owns everything else? God. Then give to each based on that.

But when we examine his answer more deeply, we are not given the leisure to compartmentalize things so easily.

“Show me a coin,” says Jesus. A coin is produced, but we don't know from where. Commentators tend to think that one of the Pharisees or Herodians pulled it out of their pocket or purse. And therein lies the clue that this isn't just about taxes, this is a question with very deep religious undertones.

If the Pharisees and Herodians were so concerned about the legality (religious allowance) of paying taxes to the emperor, then why were they carrying idols to other gods in their pockets? A Roman coin was stamped with the image of the emperor and the slogan, “Tiberius Caesar, Son of Divine Augustus.” In effect, the Pharisees and Herodians were carrying coins in clear defiance of the first two Commandments: You shall have no other gods but me; You shall not make any idols.

The fact that these people were carrying around idols to false gods only proved that they were willing to be deceptive and hypocritical when faced with an outside threat. It also proved that they were willing to play partisan politics in an effort to remain in power and eliminate anyone who opposed them.

In other words, they would rather bow to false gods, compromise their faith in the name of power, and work to eliminate a man who threatened them, all in exchange for retaining power and control.

Jesus was a threat because he proclaimed God's justice (What does the Lord require? To do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with the Lord.) Jesus was a threat because he advocated for welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked (I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was hungry and you fed me. I was naked and you clothed me.). Jesus was a threat because he forgave people their sins and welcomed tax collectors and prostitutes into the kingdom of heaven as full and equal partners.

Jesus gives a complicated answer to a complicated question. We cannot simply compartmentalize our lives into the secular and religious, or the holy and profane. We live in both realms. We pay taxes to the government. And even though we may personally proclaim to be pacifists, some of those taxes go toward the military machine. We ourselves have been made in the image of God and we carry the mark of divinity within us. Everything of ours is Gods. But we must still make our way in this world. We must, therefore, give to Caesar that which is Caesars and to God that which is Gods. But this is no easy division.

What Jesus is reminding the Pharisees and Herodians of, and what Jesus is challenging us to consider, is this: The issue isn't about paying taxes, the issue is about whom we shall serve.

As Jesus said earlier, you can't serve two masters. The Pharisees and Herodians had made their choice. We have yet to make ours. We are approaching the end and the choice is before us: Will we surrender ourselves to Caesar in the name of power and control, or will we surrender ourselves to God in the name of service and self-giving love?


Sunday, October 04, 2020

Sermon; 18 Pentecost/Proper 22A; Feast of St. Francis

Today, October 4, is the Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi. According to the rules of the BCP, Sundays take precedence over any feast day that falls on a Sunday except for Christmas, Holy Name, Epiphany, the Presentation, Transfiguration, and All Saints'. That doesn't mean, though, that we can't add other prayers or insert other aspect into the service. And it doesn't mean that I have to preach a sermon based on the scripture readings of the day; which is a good thing because none of today's readings are particularly suited to the feast of Francis.

So on this Feast of Saint Francis, what can we learn from him? And especially in this time of stress, of pandemics and quarantines, of financial uncertainty and social unrest, what can we learn from a man who renounced his family's wealth for a life of poverty, a life devoted to the marginalized, and a life reveling in God's creation? The answer, as you might expect, is, “A lot.”

His biography in Lesser Feasts and Fasts has this line: Of all the saints, Francis is the most popular and admired, but probably the least imitated. We tend to equate Francis with his love of creation or preaching the gospel to the birds, while overlooking his ministry and compassion to the sick and poor. We have a tendency to only focus on one aspect of a person's life, especially if that one aspect is easy and lovable. With Francis, that one aspect is animals.

But on this day I'm going to say that that's okay. On this day I'm going to focus on that aspect of Saint Francis that we all love – and that is Francis, patron saint of animals.

Today is, by my count, the 218th day of March. Or maybe it's the 32nd Sunday in Lent. Or maybe it's whatever day you call it. The point is that this has been a long, hard season for us. We are living with uncertainty. Our stress levels are through he roof, and they seem to constantly fluctuate. Two weeks ago our Canon to the Ordinary reported testing positive for COVID. Among other things he suggested having a plan in place “should you, a parishioner, or a family member test positive.”

I spent much of last week wondering what we will do should I get a call on Monday or Tuesday from a parishioner saying they tested positive. We obviously have a contact protocol, that's why we keep a reservation list and Joelene and Sherry are posted at the doors. But what then? I get tested. Dcn. Sue gets tested. Mark gets tested. What happens if we test positive? Do we have backup? Can someone else lead morning Prayer? What about live-streaming? It's one thing after another. And that was somewhat stressful to think about in and of itself. The dominoes Just. Keep. Falling.

And what about you? How are all of you doing right now? Some of you have what seems like a life of nothing but Zoom meetings. Some of you are trying to parent, home school, work, and adult through all of this. Some of you are teachers trying to figure out what's best for your students. Some remain at home, limiting outside contact to a bare minimum. Some are willing to take some risk and shop, dine, or attend church in person. There's no one right answer for how we are coping.

What does all of this have to do with Saint Francis?

Just this: that in all things Francis was able to find joy and he was able to delight in all of creation. Hymn 400, which is our final hymn today and is based on Francis' “Canticle of Brother Sun,” reflects that joy and delight. Add to that his traditional love for animals and we have someone who can be an example to us in these times.

Our pets don't know there's a pandemic. Our pets may pick up on our stress. And our pets may provide some relief – whether that's a happy greeting at the front door or comic relief as they do something ridiculous.

We have two cats who basically tolerate each other. They have each staked out their territory in the house – Ria has taken control of the upstairs and sun room, while Lula controls the living room and downstairs family room. The dining room, where we keep their food and water, has become an official Neutral Zone, where, apparently, only one at a time is allowed.

But every day when I go home for lunch they are both at the door to greet me – and they they say, “Oh, it's you,” and walk away. Lula likes to lay up against me when I'm stretched out on the recliner, and then she will desert me when Joelene comes down and climb up around her neck. Ria will lay with us in bed until Joelene quits reading. She'll also try to jump up again at 2:30, 3, 3:45, 4 . . . They are both annoying as all get out, but they make life a little less, or maybe a little more . . . . I don't know what. But they add to it, whatever it is.

And all your pets do the same thing. Lovable or annoying, there's a reason we feed and water them, clean up after them, care for and love them. They are a part of God's creation that we can enjoy in a time when it may be difficult to find joy. Whether they are our lovable companions or we are their tolerated but devoted staff, we (most often) take delight in them and find joy with them.

This is the gift we can take from Francis – that even in difficult times there is joy and delight to be found in God's creation. These animals of ours, these pets we care for, tolerate, and love, these are a part of God's creation that can bring us a sense of joy and peace when everything around us seems to be falling apart.

So on this day when we remember Saint Francis of Assisi, let us remember his devotion to those on the margins and his love for all creation. Let us find joy and delight in our pets, and let us find comfort and solace from a head in our lap, from a body taking up too much space on the couch, or from one who wants to be underfoot because they just want to be near. And in their eyes, in their purrs, in their howls, with their shedding and slobbering, let us bless all these creatures of our God and King. And may we remember that, despite it all, life is beautiful.


Sunday, September 27, 2020

Sermon; Proper 21A; Philippians 2:1-13


At our diocesan convention two weeks ago Resolution 2020-06 was brought up for a vote. The title of the resolution is, “Racial Restitution and Reconciliation.” In short, this resolution created a reparations fund with an initial investment of $1,000,000, created a separate oversight committee, urged all congregations and affiliated schools to prayerfully consider committing a percentage of their endowment to the fund, and urged the Diocesan Council to foster reconciliation and restitution opportunities.

As I pointed out in my Wednesday Word last week, it is well past time that we do more than talk about the problems slavery and systemic racism have created, and high time we begin doing something about it. And while this in no way makes up for past abuses, that was never its intention. The intention of this resolution is to make new beginnings, to live into God's justice in the here and now, and to set up a systemic solution to a systemic problem.

One of the things we need to come to terms with is how slavery and systemic racism have created an environment of white privilege that many of us don't even see because it has become so embedded in our lives. Giving up some of that privilege, giving up some of our control, giving up some of our wealth, will be difficult for some people to do. As I said last week, for those of us who have always been privileged, equality can feel like oppression.

We are now being asked to let go of some of our wealth for the benefit of others. We are being asked to relinquish some of our privilege, humbling ourselves so that others may be raised up. We are now being asked to stop focusing solely on our own interests and begin focusing on the interests of others.

It is these actions, these attitudes, and these behaviors that we are being asked to take on, not only by this diocesan resolution, but by Saint Paul himself.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”

For those of us in positions of privilege, this can be a hard thing. After all, selfish ambition is how we climb the corporate ladder. It's how we move up in the world. But it's a hard thing to do to put ourselves in lesser positions. It's hard for us to watch others advance and be genuinely/honestly happy for them. But at some point we need to be willing to not be ambitious, to take a back seat, so that others who have not experienced improvement or upward mobility can do so.

As a for instance, it's a fact that larger parishes in the Episcopal church tend to overwhelmingly call white male priests as their rector. One of the ways the church is addressing this is by no longer requiring photos on clergy profiles. It's not perfect, but it is a first step toward eliminating systemic racism.

But being humble and regarding others as better than ourselves is only the first step in the process.

“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

So often in our own lives and in the history of our country we have looked to our own interests at the expense of others. Slavery obviously put the interests of the landowners over and above the interests of their slaves. Real estate redlining put the interests of white homeowners/home buyers over and above the interests of black homeowners/home buyers. Advancing the interests of whites led to relegating Native Americans to the worst locations. The interests of the white majority led to dumps, industrial sites, wastewater treatment centers, and other undesirable things to be located in or near black neighborhoods.

We need to begin looking to the interests of minorities who have been marginalized and exploited for the sake of the interests of the white majority. It's time for us to begin answering the question, “If I don't want to be treated that way, what makes it okay to treat minorities that way?”

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” That is, Jesus didn't regard his position as inherently better than others, but made himself equal to others. He was obedient to God by recognizing that all people were created in his image, and that no one is better or more exalted than another. He understood that in order to make the kingdom of God a reality on earth as it is in heaven, we need to love others as we love ourselves.

And this brings me back to Resolution 2020-06. This resolution established an initial fund of $1,000,000 to go toward the work of reparations and restitution, and it asks churches to prayerfully consider how they can contribute to that fund. My interpretation of this is that we here at Saint John's look to establish an ongoing donation to this fund, not just a one-time gift. As I said, it's a systemic solution to a systemic problem, and that requires ongoing funding.

As we begin to seriously address this issue and look to participate in the act of reparations, we need to seriously begin following Paul's admonition from Philippians.

Now is the time to let go of our privilege and begin seeing the marginalized as better than ourselves. Now is the time to begin using our wealth not strictly to maintain our position of privilege and superiority but to freely distribute it for the interests of others. Now is the time to have the same mind that was in Christ, not using our wealth and privilege to exploit others but in an effort to elevate others to full equality.

As we move forward in this process, let us be less concerned with how we are being negatively affected and more concerned with how we are allowing others to live with dignity and respect as we strive for God's justice in what is too often an unjust world.