Monday, July 06, 2015

Morning Weirdness

We had a parishioner who took a bad fall while on a boat cruise around Lake Tahoe.  He broke eight ribs, lacerated his liver and spleen and punctured his lung.  He was eventually transported to Reno for care.  Luckily his internal injuries were not overly serious, nor did they require surgery.  But he did spend about a week in ICU, then another four days in a regular room before coming home.

While he was there I contacted the priest at Trinity Episcopal Church.  He is an interim, as the parish has called a new rector who begins in August.  But this guy was great, made several visits, brought out Communion, and was available as needed.  His name is John Seville.

Yesterday the injured, and healing, parishioner and wife were back at church.  Our quilting group made him a healing quilt and we presented it to him at the 8 a.m. service.  We also had several visitors at that service, one of whom happened to be a vacationing priest named . . . John Saville.

And then this morning after Morning Prayer, I had a guy come into my office to say that he had talked with another Episcopal priest about  helping with a bus ticket home.  I told him I would work on figuring it all out and to come back at 11.  Thirty seconds later he came back into the office to say, "Oh, I forgot to tell you that I have a court hearing scheduled for 1, but I'll probably get off for time served."

Um . . . okay.

So how is your Monday going?

Sunday, July 05, 2015

The Dictionary as Holy Writ

Every Sunday between the 8 and 10 services I do an adult ed piece, usually a bible study of some kind.  Last week we finished up our jaunt through Revelation.

I didn't have anything in line to tackle next, so I spent time reviewing the more prominent actions at GC15.  We talked about some of the liturgical changes that have been authorized (beginning a study of revising the BCP), the addressing of alcohol and substance abuse within TEC, and the two marriage resolutions.

We talked about the resolution authorizing liturgies for same-sex weddings and what that would look like.  I told them that the new rites weren't about creating "special rites" for same sex weddings as much as they were about creating liturgies that could be used by all couples seeking to get married.

Then I talked about the resolution about the canon that changed the definition of marriage as between two people and how that will align the canon with the marriage liturgies and the legality of marriage equality in the U.S.

One of my perpetually offended parishioners then said, "Oh . . . so now they are changing the dictionary, too."

Another of my parishioners pointed out that the dictionary is always changing to reflect how society uses words. 

I was very glad that he did that and not me.

Sermon; Proper 9B; Mark 6:1-13

Sermon
Proper 9B
Mark 6:1-13

How do you hear the word of God?  Where do you see the work of God being done in the world?

This is the overall theme of today's gospel passage – hearing and seeing God at work.  To date the people have heard the word of God preached in controversies, parables and conversations.  The word has been heard in a variety of locations and formats.

Likewise, people have seen the work of God in the healing of demoniacs and other diseased people, the restoring of life to a girl and the calming of the sea.  God's work has been seen in a variety of locations and styles.

The Gospel of Mark moves at a brisk pace.  The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Buckle up, here we go.  John appears.  Jesus arrives, is baptized and immediately driven into the wilderness.  He calls disciples, teaches and heals.  He is immediately doing one thing or another and he is preaching that the kingdom of God is at hand.

In this fast-paced gospel, we can easily fall into the mistake of thinking that everything Jesus did was immediately successful.  In reading Mark, we can get the idea that, immediately after calling a few disciples, Jesus begins trending on social media sites.  It can sound like everything is going great, his evangelism methods are bringing people in by the hundreds, if not thousands, and the only people who dislike him are those threatened by a loss of power and control.

Not so fast.  Today's passage puts Jesus back in his hometown, where he does not get the Jimmy Stewart “Local Boy Makes Good” welcome.  Instead of things immediately happening, things slow down considerably.

Jesus arrives in his hometown where he begins to preach.  The people want to know where he got his education and authority, and then immediately (my words, not Mark's) dismiss him.

Why was that?  Why did they dismiss Jesus out of hand?  The short answer is because they were unwilling to see Jesus as anyone or anything other than who they believed him to be.  And whether they saw him as the local kid who had gotten too big for his britches, or the local kid who they had known for all those years, they were tied to seeing Jesus only for who they thought he was.  They could not believe Jesus was anyone other than who they said he was.

That unbelief allowed Jesus to do exactly what was expected of him – nothing.  The people of his town couldn't hear Jesus say anything they didn't already know.  The people of his town couldn't see Jesus do anything they weren't expecting.

This incident begs the question:  Who are the people in our lives who we can't hear God speaking through because we think we know what they have to say?  Who are the people in our lives who we can't see God working through because we think we know them?

Following this hometown incident, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples on an evangelism mission.  They healed the sick, cast out demons and preached repentance.  As an aside, this is one of the places where we get the traditional use of healing oil.

Why this change in tactic here?  Why did Jesus stop going to places and send his disciples out instead?  There are probably several reasons.

First, it could be that Jesus was exhibiting good leadership.  He himself had gone about the towns and villages doing the very same thing, while the disciples followed.  Now he was giving them the chance to practice what they had been watching.  Nobody learns to ride a bike by watching a youtube video, but they might get some helpful pointers.  So Jesus was giving them the opportunity to get on and ride the bike themselves.  He was letting them preach and heal.

Second, Jesus was human.  Maybe after this incident he was a little depressed.  Maybe he thought, “You know what . . . why don't I send out the disciples and see if they can do it any better.”  And when they came back, he heard their stories and got excited again.

Finally, maybe he thought it was time for a change.  It's been said that an expert is someone who lives more than 50 miles away.  Maybe he thought his message was becoming stale, so he decided to mix it up a little by sending out twelve guys with different styles and abilities.

As we move through this Season after Pentecost and Mark's quick-moving gospel, let's slow down for a minute and ask some questions.

How do you hear the word of God?  Where do you see the work of God being done?

Is it possible that people have stopped listening and looking for Jesus because they think they know who he is, or what the message might be?

If that is the case, are you willing to be sent out to proclaim the good news in a way that might cause people to hear and see?  Because really, that's the next step of discipleship.

So, as we consider our own discipleship this season and how we might grow and change, let us remember the words of our dismissal:  Go forth.

Amen.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Burning Churches

Four predominantly black churches were burned at the end of June, following the mass execution of nine members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.  The Episcopal cathedral in St. Louis has established a fund to help rebuild those churches.  If you would like to donate to this cause, here is the full text of their effort, along with the address of the cathedral:
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At the end of June, four predominantly black churches were burned down by arsonists in a clear attempt to strike a blow at the heart of the black community. As fellow children of God, we stand with our sisters and brothers to help them rebuild these buildings -- which are not just houses of worship but centers of ministry for their community.

To that end,  the Rebuild the Churches Fund has been established to collect donations from all over the world for the rebuilding of these churches. We have set an initial goal of $25,000. All money received will be divided equally among these congregations:

Glover Grove Baptist Church, Warrenville, SC

College Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church, Knoxville, TN

Briar Creek Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC

God's Power Church of Christ, Macon, GA

If other black churches are burned or previous fires are deemed to be arson, they will be added to the distribution list.

The fund is being managed and funds will be disbursed by Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal) in St. Louis. All contributions are tax deductible.

Those wishing to give can also make a check out to Christ Church Cathedral with "Rebuild the Churches Fund" in the memo line and send it to:

Rebuild the Churches
c/o Christ Church Cathedral
1210 Locust Street
St. Louis, MO 63103

Communities of all faiths are invited to hold special offerings as a sign of interfaith solidarity against racism and with our sisters and brothers of faith.
==============================================================

And if you want to see their website, and/or donate electronically, you can do so here.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Interruptions

When you preach a sermon on the holiness of interruptions, you apparently spend all week being interrupted.

Some interruptions are "normal," i.e. people needing visits or assistance with fuel, shelter or something along those lines.

Some interruptions are not normal, such as the elder woman and younger woman who came in asking for help in securing a sponsor for the younger woman so that she could remain in this country longer than her 2-month visa allows.

Younger Woman is from South Africa.  Father deserted the mother during pregnancy.  Mother eventually abandoned YW on Grandmother's doorstep.  Grandmother died.  YW came to U.S. to live with her aunt, and was given a 2-month visa.

This job is never normal.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sermon; 5 Pentecost/Proper 8B; Mark 5:21-43

Last week I said that Mark's gospel contains several thematic blocks.  So far we have encountered blocks of controversies, parables and miracles.  We are still in the miracle block.  We have been shown Jesus' authority over the natural world with the calming of the sea.  We missed his authority over the spiritual world with his sending Legion, the unclean spirit, into the herd of swine.  And today we are shown his authority over both the physical body and death.

To keep you current on his itinerary, last week Jesus went from the west side of the Sea of Galilee to the east side.  It was during that trip that the storm arose, and it was on the east side that he healed the demoniac.  Today we hear that he has crossed back to the west side, where he is once again in familiar territory, as evidenced by the great crowds.  And, as Mark likes to do, we get two stories for the price of one.

A leader of the synagogue, Jairus by name, comes pleading to Jesus to heal his deathly ill daughter.  Jesus agrees, but on the way, and as the crowd presses in on him, an unnamed woman reaches out and touches his robes, hoping to herself be healed of her 12-year bleeding.  After touching Jesus and after being healed, she disappears into the crowd.  Jesus stops to figure out who touched him and, finally, she steps forward to say it was her.  While Jesus is delayed, the little girl dies.  Jesus continues to Jairus' house where, after sending almost everyone outside, he raises her from the dead.

There is more than the usual plots and subplots going on here.  We've got a deathly ill 12-year old girl.  We've got a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years.  We have a named man and an unnamed woman.  We have Jesus treating the woman with dignity and respect.  We have the woman being healed without Jesus' knowledge.  We have Jesus raising a dead girl back to life.  We have proof that not all synagogue leaders were against Jesus.

Which of these do you think is the most important story-line of today's gospel, and why?  Or maybe there's a story-line I haven't mentioned that you think is most important.  Why do you think that?

I think there are a couple of things in this gospel story that probably get overlooked but are vitally important to our own discipleship.  The first is the woman in the crowd who comes to Jesus for healing; but I don't think it's the actual healing, I think it's the fact she was in the crowd.

She has been bleeding for twelve years.  She has spent her life savings looking for a cure.  And now there's this guy Jesus coming through town who has the reputation as a healer.  She wants to be healed of her infirmity.  She wants to draw near to Jesus, but she also wants to remain anonymous.

I think this is representative of a lot of Christians today.  We want to draw near to Christ.  We want to be healed of our infirmities.  We want to be touched by Jesus, or, at least, we want to get close enough to touch the hem of his cloak.  We want all that, and we want it to happen within one to two hours on a Sunday so we can go home and get back to our normal lives.

I also think this is part of the draw of larger churches.  I’ve had people tell me that one of the reasons they attend Church of the Fill in the Blank is because they can go, blend in with the crowd, and go home without being asked to serve on any committees, teach Sunday school or sign up for coffee hour.  People simply want to blend in, content to look for what Jesus can do for them, without taking on additional responsibilities.  This, by the way, can also happen in small churches.

But Jesus has a way of taking us out of the crowd.  He would not let her get her “daily dose of Jesus” and then go home.  He searched the crowds until she came forward, acknowledging that she was the one who received healing from him.

As disciples, we are called to make known the love of God and the Good News as found in Christ.  As disciples, we are called to stand out in a crowd, and stand up, and say, “This is what Jesus did for me.”  But that is not always easy.  It's not easy to move from anonymity to having a public presence.  It's not easy to proclaim the Good News of Christ in a crowd.

Oftentimes, for me at least, when I am called upon to proclaim the gospel publicly, when I am called upon to stand out in a crowd, I do so like the woman, with fear and trembling.  I wonder if this is not the case with many Christians, a fear of going public with their faith.

If that is the case, if you are afraid to move from anonymity to being known, or if you are afraid of what the crowd might think, look to this woman.  Yes, she was afraid, but when she stood up in front of God and everybody and said, “I did it,” she wasn't excluded, but welcomed as a member of the family.

The other important point that might get missed is the story itself.  Not the part of Jairus pleading for his daughter's life, or the healing of the woman, or the raising of Jairus' daughter, but the story.

The story is about Jesus being called to a home to heal a deathly ill girl and then being interrupted to heal another woman.  That interruption allows the girl to die before Jesus gets there.  Jairus planned to get Jesus back to his house ASAP.  Jesus planned on going with him to check in on the girl.  But then this woman showed up.  As the old saying goes, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

How many times are we interrupted, either by our children, unexpected office visits, phone calls, or any number of other things?  My business card should read, “Rector – Interrupt at will.”

But what's important is how we handle those interruptions.  Do we look to dispatch the interrupter as soon as possible, or do we choose to deal with them as if they were on our schedule all along?  More importantly, can we see interruptions as a place of grace and opportunity to express God's loving presence?

As we look to grow as disciples during this season of Ordinary Time, these are two areas in which we could probably look to improve.  We need to get better at sharing our story of what Jesus has done for us, and we could probably get better at seeing interruptions not as annoyances but as possible grace-filled moments.

I will leave you with this:  How might the story of proclaiming the Good News of Christ in the midst of a crowd, and the story of a holy interruption, challenge you and help you to grow as a disciple?

Amen.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Results

The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops has elected, and the House of Deputies has confirmed that election, the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina, as the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

I am elated with this decision, and I'm looking forward to the next nine years under his leadership.

May God bless his ministry.

Full story here.