Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sermon; Epiphany 2A; John 1:29-42

Last week we participated in the baptisms of Leoni, Lila, and Dean. Last week we reaffirmed our own baptismal vows by promising to continue in worship, prayers, repentance, evangelism; in seeking Christ in all people, to strive for justice, and to respect the dignity of every human being. Last week we celebrated with two families as those three children were adopted into the household of God. And last week we saw the church at its best.

Today our gospel lesson follows what passes for Jesus' baptismal account in John; much like our liturgy today follows a baptism story in the life of this parish. As we move through this post-baptismal story, notice how much emphasis the gospel passage places on what is seen.

John declares that he saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove and alighting on Jesus. This vision is a confirmation of a message from God that he would see this event, to which John testifies that he did indeed see it.

The next day he sees Jesus walking by and he proclaims him to be the Lamb of God. Two of his disciples then go and follow Jesus, who turns and sees them.

He asks, “What are you looking for?” They in turn ask him, “Where are you staying?” He responds, “Come and see.” And they went and saw.

Andrew then goes and invites his brother to also come and see what they saw. Jesus looks at Simon and sees Peter.

There is a lot of seeing going on. This theme of seeing is especially appropriate here in this season of Epiphany.

The Feast of the Epiphany, or the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, is all about seeing. The wise men saw the star and followed it to Bethlehem and the house of Mary and Jesus. Upon entering the house they saw the child.

So here we are in this season of seeing with a gospel where seeing is a major theme. In this time of seeing, in this time of Epiphany and epiphanies, what do we see?

What do we see in the world around us?
I see a world that lives in fear and anger.
I see a world too quick to use violence.
I see a world where those in power strive to keep that power rather than help the powerless.
I see a world where minorities of every kind are punished for so-called moral failings.
I see a world where justice is based on the color of your skin or the size of your bank account.

What do we see in the Church, particularly in this specific part of the Church we call St. John's?
I see a community that is hopeful.
I see a place that strives for understanding.
I see a place where people use their position to reach out to others.
I see a place that recognizes we all fall short and help each other up.
I see a place that proclaims all are equal in the eyes of God and works to respect the dignity of every human being.

The Season of Epiphany is all about seeing the kingdom of God in the world as well as seeing the presence of Christ in our midst.

With the ever present difference between what we see in the world and what can be seen in the best of the Church, how can we go about doing this? As Episcopalians, I think we have an advantage because we are able to fall back on and continually reference our baptismal covenant.

Will you make worship and prayer a priority in your life?
Will you resist the evil of racism, sexism, misogyny, domestic violence, and sin of every kind?
Will you recognize that resisting evil may mean standing up, speaking out, and actively opposing evil when you see it played out in everything from swastikas painted on synagogues to “harmless” jokes told by a friend or co-worker?
Will you evangelize and, like Andrew, make the move to bring someone into this community?
Will you see Christ in all persons, Republican and Democrat, rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight, male and female?
Will you respect the dignity of every human being?

These are hard things to do. But we do them here first. We learn to see this place as a manifestation of the kingdom of God. And when we get good at seeing God present here and in each other, we can then go out and work to transform the world; because the world as I see it now needs our help.

Fifty-four years ago our country was also in turmoil. The sins of racism and white supremacy were visible everywhere. Fifty-four years ago a man stood up not far from here to proclaim a vision and dream he had seen. And although he was a Baptist, his dream could have come directly from our baptismal covenant. It was a dream that resisted evil. It was a vision where people loved their neighbor regardless of skin color. It was a dream and vision where justice prevailed and all people were respected for who they were.

Fifty-four years later we are still chasing that dream. Two thousand years later, we are still being asked to come and see for ourselves. And in both cases, we are still asked to invite people to join us and see the manifestation of God in the world.

John saw the Lamb of God.
Andrew saw the Messiah.
Jesus saw Simon for who he really was.
Martin Luther King, Jr. saw a vision of respect, dignity, and equality for all people.

In this Epiphany season, where do you see the kingdom of God in your life, in this church, and in the world?


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Second

Last week I received a message from a parishioner complaining about the bulletin format and how it can be fixed.

I dubbed that "The First," as in, the first complaint by a parishioner about something I had done.

Today I got the second complaint.

When I was on a site visit to another congregation they had what they called a "Letters to God" program where the children could "send" questions or comments and the priest or Christian Ed person would answer them.  I really liked the idea and was looking forward to either a) participating in it should I be called there, or b) beginning a similar program should I be called elsewhere.

I was obviously called elsewhere and I've been working with our youth director and another Sunday school teacher to get it up and running.  Considering I showed up just before Advent, it wasn't exactly number one on the priority list.  But this past week it was finished and I received the first four letters.

Two were love notes to God and two posed questions.  One was, "Hi!  Wassup?"  The other one asked, "Why do we have incense?"  It's the second one that I will address in church.

And today I got a phone call from a parishioner wanting to talk about this program because he doesn't agree with it.  To be fair, I'm not exactly sure what his concern is because he wanted to have a face-to-face meeting rather than over the phone; and he did tell me what the general topic of his concern was so that I wasn't blindsided.  So I set up an appointment with him for next week to talk about the Letters to God program.

I will listen.  And I will ask him why he has a problem with allowing theological inquiries from children.  And we will hopefully come to an understanding that this is an okay thing.  Really.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Sermon; Epiphany 1A; The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord

Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan.

Normally when I preach on this day I deal with theological issues revolving around this event. If we are baptized to cleanse us from sin, why did Jesus, who was sinless, need to be baptized? What does, or did, it mean for the Incarnate God to submit to a man at a river in the desert? Scripture says that the heavens were opened to Jesus, he saw the Spirit descending, and he heard the voice – was he the only one who had this experience or were there other witnesses? Or something else along those lines.

But today is different, because today we have an actual baptism to perform and celebrate. Which means that instead of any number of theological issues being the focus of the sermon, the focus is the actual baptism happening here. But even so, there are still theological issues to consider with a baptism.

The first, and biggest, and what I want to concentrate on is, “Why?” Why do we bother with baptism at all. In this age of welcoming all, or seeing God's grace given to all, why do we still participate in the rite of baptism?

The primary reason as I see it, and the first explanation for it in the Catechism is this: Holy Baptism is the Sacrament by which God adopts us and makes us members of Christ's body. Baptism gives us our official adoption paperwork. Through our baptism we become members of the family. Through our baptismal adoption we are bestowed with certain rights and responsibilities.

Through our baptism, we have the right to be educated about this thing we call Christianity. We have the right to be loved as we are and as we change and grow. We have the right to be treated equally, with the same dignity and respect we treat others. And through our baptism we have the right to a place at the table, to be fed with that spiritual nourishment that is the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Today we welcome Dean, and Leonie & Lila into our family, into this part of the body of Christ, and we are witnesses as those rights are bestowed upon him.

But through our baptism we also incur a set of responsibilities. We have a responsibility to seek out Christian education to further grow in our faith. We have a responsibility to turn away from sin, wickedness, and evil powers. We have a responsibility to follow Christ, first and foremost in our lives. We have a responsibility to love God, neighbor, and enemy, treating all with dignity and respect. We have a responsibility to pray, worship, and give on a regular basis for the spread of the kingdom of God.

Obviously Dean is too young to grasp or understand all this, and Leonie & Lila are on the cusp of understanding, which is why they have godparents to help them on that path. It is also why they have all of us, because we also have a responsibility to support them in their life in Christ.

Which brings me to a second issue, and that is this: Why do we baptize infants who are unable to make this decision themselves? This is the very reason many denominations will not recognize or validate infant baptisms – a person needs to be able to make their own mature commitment to follow Christ and not have it forced upon them as infants or small children.

But remember this: Baptism is that act by which we are adopted into the household of God and the body of Christ. We are adopted.

Over my life I have known several people who were adopted children. They belong to families not by blood or of the will of the flesh but by the will of the family. For which of us would say about a child in need of adoption, “Wait until they are old enough to make a mature decision as to which family they want to belong?” None of us would make that statement.

And it is by virtue of their adoption that they are bestowed with certain rights and responsibilities. They have the right to be loved as they are and as they change and grow. They have the right to be treated equally with the same dignity and respect as other family members. They have the right to be fed.

They also have responsibilities given to them as part of the family. They have chores to do. They need to work for the support of the family. They need to pull their own weight. They need to behave in certain ways.

So just like children adopted into earthly families have rights and responsibilities, children adopted into this heavenly family also have rights and responsibilities. And today we are bestowing those rights and responsibilities upon these children, Dean, Leonie, and Lila. Today we are standing with them, offering our love and support as we promise to help guide them through this thing we call Christianity.

Today we adopt these three children into this part of the family tree. Today we welcome them into the household of God. Today we give them their first taste of the heavenly banquet.

May the Lord bless them and keep them.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon them and be gracious to them.
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon them and grant them peace.


Thursday, January 05, 2017

The First

Well, it had to happen sometime.  Someone, and something, had to make the first official complaint of my tenure at SJP, and it came today.

A parishioner made a complaint via our website wanting to know who was responsible for the change in the Sunday bulletin.  Um ... that would be me.

The bulletins are apparently now too difficult to follow, things mixed up and missing, and information too hard to find.  In general, they want to go back to the "all-in-one" bulletin where everything .... EVERYTHING ... copies of all the hymns, copies of every word of every prayer in the BCP and whatever all else deemed necessary to function .... was printed out in the bulletin.

You know, not everything's supposed to be easy.

But I invited them into the office to go over it to help get them unconfused and more comfortable with the new format.  They are looking forward to coming in and showing me how it can be fixed.

Thank you for your input.  Have a good day.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

First Sunday after Christmas

Today is the First Sunday after Christmas.  It is also the 8th day of Christmas.  It is also the Feast of the Holy Name.  It is also the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ.

So many possibilities on which to preach -- which is why we had the service of Christmas Lessons and Carols.

We got to sing more Christmas music.  I didn't have to decide on a topic for a sermon.  And we all went home happy.

May you have a blessed Chrismastide.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Sermon; Christmas Eve 2016; Luke 2:1-20

Merry Christmas!

On this night we are made glad by the yearly festival of the only-begotten Son Jesus Christ. This holy night shines with the brightness of the true light. On this night we, like the shepherds before us, are confronted by an angel bringing good news of great joy, and witness a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest.” This is the night of the Incarnation, the night when God broke into our realm to be with us.

And we are afraid.

We are afraid of the true light that shines in the darkness and in the dark corners of our lives that we would rather keep dark.
We are afraid of being confronted by good news that threatens to overturn systems of our own making or that reveals how poorly we've managed God's creation.
We are afraid of coming into contact with the heavenly host as they sing, “Glory to God in the highest,” and wonder at how we have fallen short of giving God the glory due his name.
We are afraid of God, lying in a manger, helpless and at our mercy, and wonder if God will treat us the way we treat other vulnerable people in need.

We are afraid because, like a disobedient Adam in the garden, we are coming face to face with God.

But, like the shepherds before us, we are being given a message delivered by angels. That message, first and foremost, is this: Do Not Be Afraid.

Do not be afraid of the light that exposes the darkness; be thankful that the light of God removes all darkness from your life.
Do not be afraid that systems we made will be overturned; be thankful that God's system will prevail and that all creation will be made new.
Do not be afraid of falling short; be thankful that we get to join the heavenly chorus.
Do not be afraid of a helpless God lying in a manger; be thankful for a God who shows us what it's like to see the face of God incarnate in the face of others.

I suppose God could've chosen to come in a very different way. God could've chosen to come in power and glory, with the army of heaven behind him, setting the world ablaze and offering us no chance. That's what people, both then and now, expect.

Instead, God has done the unexpected. God has come to dwell with us in the form of a man, beginning his journey like we all do, tiny, vulnerable, and totally dependent on others. It is in this baby that, like the song says, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

All of this comes into our thoughts as we look into the face of the Christ child. For those of us who are parents, there is boundless hope in the face of a child. The future is wide open with nothing but great possibilities. But there are also a great many fears. Everything from, “What if I drop him,” to “What if she marries the wrong person,” and so many others. If we aren't careful, we can allow those fears to overtake us. But fear is easy.

This is why the message of the angels is, “Fear not.”

Do not be afraid of the light of God.
Do not be afraid to give more than you think wise.
Do not be afraid to love more than is safe.
Do not be afraid to sing with the angels.

How might we claim that fearlessness that the angels announce to the shepherds and to us? One way might be for us to think of God as our baby or our child. Thinking of God in this way might be a little unorthodox, but let me explain why it works.

When we have a baby, we work to provide a hopeful future for that child. How are we providing a hopeful future for the people of this parish and city in the name of God?

When we have a baby, we work to provide nourishment for its health and continued growth. How are we nourishing the people of this place in the name of God?

When we have a baby, we make sacrifices so it has what it needs. What sacrifices are we making for God in our lives today?

When we have a baby, its smile and laugh can light up a room and drive away all darkness. Can we see that same joy and light in our relationship with God?

And when we have a baby, we sing. We sing lullabies, we sing silly songs, we hum. Do we allow ourselves to sing out for God on a regular basis?

The Incarnation of God in human form is probably the most important miracle and event in our history. Having God come among us as an infant can open our eyes to a new way of seeing and relating to God.

And the only way we can do this, the only way we can be hopeful, be nourished, sacrifice, laugh, and sing is to be not afraid.

Be not afraid to let this child change your life.
Be not afraid to see God as a baby who needs you.

Merry Christmas!

Be not afraid.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Lack of Understanding

I am an administrator on the FB page of my new parish.  All that really means is that I have the ability to post things.

Like, for instance, last Sunday when it snowed, I got on the FB page and let people know about that, to plan accordingly, and be safe if you were driving in to church.

I received a call from a parishioner today informing me his wife had died (she was battling an illness and this was not unexpected, but still . . . ) earlier this morning.  I posted that information on our parish FB page.

Just got back from lunch and pulled up my internet tabs, and noticed this message on the FB page/tab:  "Congratulations!  Your post, 'Dear St. John's family, it is with sadness . . .' is performing better than 85 percent of all posts.  For $5 more you can boost this post to reach more people."

Methinks there's a general lack of understanding on the part of FB,