Over the last several years it has been a tradition here in East Greenwich that the rector of St. Luke’s offers an invocation during the town’s Veterans Day Parade. This year, the rector was away at a conference, so I was asked to give the invocation. So this past Saturday, I strolled down main street to Town Hall to watch the parade and give the invocation. Despite the bitter cold there was an excellent turn out. I was struck by the dedication and service of so many throughout our town to create a special day for all Veterans. Check out some photos of the day over at East Greenwich News. Below is a copy of my invocation. Let us continue to pray for those who have served, those who continue to serve, and that all of us may work for justice and peace for all people so that one day wars might cease in all the world.
Photo taken by Elizabeth McNamara of East Greenwich News
Let us pray:
O God, the author of peace, we come before you this day to offer our humble gratitude for all those who have answered the call to serve our nation in the Armed Forces.
We come before you this day to offer our prayers for all those who have fought the good fight and paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. We pray for those who have returned home, whose spirits and bodied are scarred by war, whose nights are haunted by memories too painful for the light of day. We pray for those who have returned home to find themselves neglected and forgotten. Open our hearts that our remembrance and gratitude for them may not be confined to one celebration, one day a year.
This, and every day, may we remember and give thanks for the dedicated service of our home-town heroes who marched on the front lines, who sailed the stormy waters, who flew in the dangerous skies. Let us offer our gratitude for those who served on military bases, staffed our embassies, and guarded our leaders; who worked in factories, classrooms, offices, kitchens, hospitals, and all other outposts of service.
As we celebrate and honor all those who have served, let us also remember those who continue to serve. Those who are stationed in places near and far. Those who do not know when they will see their loved ones again. Those who stand in harms way. Those who stand ready to give their lives for the cause of liberty, freedom, and justice. May our prayer for them always be their safe return home.
As we offer our thanks to all those who have served our nation, we ask that you instill in every person a sense of restlessness at injustice. That no person may rest until all people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. Make us a nation that always strives for the freedom and peace of all people. Give us a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; that one-day we may know wars to cease in all the world. That one day, all of your creation may live in that perfect peace that only you can give. Guide all the people of this land that we may do justice, and love mercy, and walk in the ways of truth.
All of this we pray in your loving, liberating, and life-giving name. AMEN
The following reflection on Blessed Martin, Bishop of Tours, was written for the November 12th edition of the St. Luke’s Weekly. I’ve had some good response to it from parishioners so I thought I would share it here as well.
Today, November 11, the Church celebrates the feast day of one of my favorite saints: St. Martin of Tours. Blessed Martin was born about the year 330 at Sabaria, the modern Szombathely in Hungary. He spent a great deal of time in his early years in Rome and would complete a term of service in the Roman army. Martin is probably most remembered for two things his cloak and a goose.
In the year 372, Martin was elected Bishop of Tours an office he did not desire. As a way of trying to avoid his election, Martin hid in a barn. As legend has it, when the crowds searched the barn looking for him, a goose went over to where he was hiding and started honking thus giving away his position. The goose has thus been a symbol of Martin and there was even a medieval custom of eating goose on Martinmas (the Feast of St. Martin) as a way of honoring Blessed Martin’s memory. As fun as this legend of Martin and the Goose is, it is far from the most important part of Martin’s story. Martin’s legacy is truly understood and symbolized by his cloak.
While Martin was a catechumen (a person learning the faith and preparing for baptism) a beggar approached him asking for alms in the name of Christ. In that moment, Martin took his sword and cut away part of his military cloak and gave it to the beggar. The next night, Jesus appeared to Martin, clothed in Martin’s military cloak and said, “Martin, a simple catechumen, covered me with this garment.”
Martin took that which symbolized his power and authority, that which symbolized the power, authority, and military might of the Roman Empire and used it for the relief of one poor beggar. He broke from power of the empire to serve those in most in need and found that in doing that he was serving Christ himself.
Shortly after his baptism Martin left the army, took on a life with very strict religious practice, and strived always to live into the servant ministry of Christ: caring for the hungry, the homeless, the stranger, and anyone in need.
This is why I love Blessed Martin. Here is a man who had a significant amount of power and privilege and he gave it up to be a servant of God and a follower of Jesus Christ. Martin embodied in a powerful way the things we commit ourselves to in baptism; the things we are called by the Gospel mandate to follow. For me, Blessed Martin is a reminder of what some have called the movement of Christian resistance. The movement of Christians to resist the powers of this world, and align ourselves with the powers of God that always strive for justice and peace. You may have noticed a small silver metal pinned to my suit jacket each week, that is my Martin medal. It is an outward reminder to me that I have chosen to be a follower of Jesus and that requires me to live my life according the mandates of the gospel. While it is never an easy road, I know that witnesses and saints like Martin will guide me along the way.
As our world is increasingly filled with division, hatred, violence, and all sorts of vitriol, it seems to me that it needs more folks like Martin. More folks to stand on the side of justice and peace. More folks to stand asking the oppressive forces of darkness in this world. More folks to stand on the side of the love of God. More folks to cut their cloaks in half and care for the poor. May we evermore strive to be like Martin as we seek to follow the God who is all about compassion, kindness, grace, forgiveness, and relationship. Saint Martin, pray for us.
Below is my sermon from this past Sunday at St. Luke’s East Greenwich. We are using track two, and the lessons can be found here. I preached this sermon without notes, but there is a video recording of it. As always your feedback and comments are encouraged and welcome.
Below is a copy and recording of my sermon from The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord (August 6, 2017), preached at St. Luke’s East Greenwich. You can find the lessons here. As always your comments and reflections are welcome.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration, one of my favorite feasts in the life of the Church.
This feast we celebrate today is so important to me because it is all about two things that are the core of my faith and my personhood – identity and integrity.
On this the feast of the Transfiguration something is revealed to us about the identity and integrity of Jesus, and of ourselves. And I truly believe that if we open ourselves fully to what is celebrated on this day,
we might just find not only God, but ourselves transfigured.
Today’s Gospel passage finds us on the mountain.
Just as in real estate, location is everything in Scripture.
Mountaintops are known, and symbolic of, places where God is revealed.
So when we hear: “Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray,” that is a clue to us that something incredibly important is about to happen.
God is about to reveal God’s self in some miraculous way.
In this Gospel passage, in this mountaintop moment, God is making sure that the core of the disciples – Peter and John and James – have no doubt about the fullness of Jesus’ identity. In the verses leading up to todays’ passage from Luke, there are a series of stories and events that attempt to communicate to the disciples the divine nature of Jesus. Time and time again the disciples just do not get it. They keep trying to force Jesus into their idea of who the messiah should be and how the messiah should act.
As an aside, it needs to be noted that throughout Luke’s Gospel, the female disciples absolutely get it, but the gender division of Luke’s narrative is another sermon for another time.
As we approach this mountain top encounter there are three key elements that speak to the identity and integrity of Jesus.
First, Jesus takes these three disciples up the mountain to pray.
Now this might be an obvious statement,
but I am going to go ahead and say it anyway; for Jesus prayer is incredibly important.
Repeatedly throughout Luke’s narrative we witness how Jesus is empowered by prayer.
Through prayer Jesus opens himself to receive the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Through prayer Jesus chooses the apostles.
Through prayer Jesus is able to maintain his integrity through abuse.
Through prayer Jesus is strengthened to confront the oppressive structures of the empire.
And it is through prayer
that the disciples would be able to do all these things and more, if they could simply get out of their own way and truly accept the presence of God in their lives.
At this point in the Gospel, the disciples do not have this prayer thing down. It will be another two chapters until they ask Jesus to teach them to pray.
Even though they still have not received their formal training in prayer, God still uses the empowering nature of prayer to be a time when the disciples – and all of us – are able to come into proximity with the Divine.
It is in the setting of prayer that the true identity of Jesus is revealed.
The second key element of this transfiguration event is the appearance of two prophets.
In this prayerful moment, when Jesus is transformed and his clothes become dazzling white he does not appear alone. The appearance of Moses and Elijah is an indicator that the mission of God, in the person of Jesus, is a continuation of the work that God had already begun in the prophets of the Hebrew Bible.
This makes clear that the Jewish identity of the disciples, and what later generations will call Christian identity, do connect. This is a sign that for us as Christians, that the words spoken through the prophets have been realized in the person of Jesus. That is why of all the prophets, it is Moses and Elijah who appear.
Moses is the reminder of the past.
Moses was the person empowered by God, to lead God’s chosen people out of bondage and slavery into freedom.
Elijah, in Jewish thought, in connected to the end times.
Elijah is the one who will one day turn people’s hearts back to the covenant.
Jesus’ transfiguration is placed between those who represent the beginning and the end. The conversation the three of them have makes clear the fullness of Jesus’ mission: that Jesus is ended to Jerusalem to accomplish his mission.
Just a few verses beyond today’s Gospel passage, Luke will tell the reader that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus will begin that long journey to the cross.
Thus by standing next to Moses it is made clear to us that that just as Moses was the one who led the people Israel out of bondage and slavery in Egypt, Jesus will be the one to lead all of humanity out of the bondage and slavery of sin.
And by standing next to Elijah, the one who will bring people back to the covenant that God made with the ancestors, Jesus will be the one to usher us back to the very presences of God in the end of time.
Now if all that was not enough for this revelation of the glory of God, there is one final moment that makes Jesus’ divine nature explicitly clear:
Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
For the second time we read God claiming Jesus as God’s Son.
Several chapters earlier, at Jesus’ Baptism, we read that God speaks from heaven and says to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
during the Transfiguration of our Lord,
God once again speaks, and this time, tells us that Jesus is God’s Beloved.
And God does not just speak to the disciples confirming Jesus’ identity,
God commands the disciples – and each one of us – to Listen to Jesus!
No longer can there be any doubt.
This teacher, this rabbi they have been following is the divine Son of God. This teacher will not only lead us out of temporal slavery, but he will break down the door of hell redeem every soul for all of eternity and usher us into that heavenly city – the New Jerusalem.
In this moment, we receive a vision to carry with us down the mountain.
In the Transfiguration, we get a glimpse of the unimaginable reality of God’s grace, glory, and love for all of humanity.
But what happens when the appearance and revelation of God – ends?
What happens when we come off the mountain?
When Jesus, Peter, John, and James come down the mountain they met a man whose only son was possessed by a demon.
The man says to Jesus, “I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”
Jesus chastises those around him,
rebukes the demon,
and the boy is healed.
As soon as Peter, John, and James come off the mountain they find transfiguration in every day life.
That healing encounter is where identity and integrity meet in the realities of the Transfiguration.
On the mountaintop Jesus’ identity is revealed. Once they are down in the valley the disciples witness the fullness of Jesus’ integrity. They see the honest and true reality that the mission of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is to restore all of the created order to the way God intended creation to be from the very beginning:
In the imagine of God
By witnessing the intersection of Jesus’ identity and integrity we are forced to see Jesus differently – to understand Jesus differently.
This teacher the disciples have been following around is not going to be some great and powerful military leader –
releasing the people of God from oppression through violence and destruction.
This transfigured Christ is going to humbly heal humanity and redeem us all
While we glimpse the glory of God in the transfiguration moment on the mountaintop, we will not fully see the glory of God until we stand at the foot of the Cross.
And if we are going to understand Jesus in this new way, we must also understand our relationship with Jesus and our call as disciples in new ways.
We are called to remove from ourselves all the darkness the world has placed upon us, so that our light might shine forth. We are no longer are to understand our ministries and callings through our own desires, but instead take on the meekness and humility of Christ.
We must, through prayer, open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit that we may be empowered to truly and completely listen to the commands of Jesus.
Now there is one more piece about coming down from the mountain that allows us to fully take on this new reality of our discipleship.
Think back for a moment to our Old Testament lesson from Exodus.
After coming down from Mount Sinai
After having an incredibly intimate encounter with God,
that according to other parts of scripture should have killed Moses
Moses’s face was shining.
After encountering the holy, Moses was visibly changed.
Now I could preach two more sermons just on this passage from Exodus, I’m not going to, but I could.
However there is one thing I do not want to miss today.
This transformation was so startling that Moses started wearing a veil to not scare those in his community. But every time Moses went and spoke to God, Moses would remove his veil.
That for us is the final key to understanding our identity and integrity as followers of Jesus.
We may from time to time, find ourselves placing veils over our faces to not scare those around us, to not cause trouble, or for any other reason.
But when we come to this place,
When we come to hear the word of God
When we come to see God face to face
When we come to hold God in the palms of our hands in the Sacrament of the Eucharist
We no longer have any reason to fear or hide our faces.
We can remove every mask,
We can remove absolutely everything that we put up to hide the light that shines from our faces.
If we are to truly be disciples then we must live into the fullness of our identity with all integrity in front of God, and one another.
On this feast of the Transfiguration may we give thanks for the divine revelation of God on all the mountaintops past, present, and yet to come.
May we come to know something more of the identity and integrity of God.
But most importantly may God reveal to us something of our own identity and integrity that we too might be transfigured.
Music inspires movement. When there are no words to raise the spirit in despair, music lifts us to new heights.
When all seems lost, music can restore us to hope and return us to our center.
Throughout the entirety of human history, humanity has turned to music to propel it forward. From our own historical moment all the way back to the song God spoke to usher the world into being – music has moved us.
Songs have the ability to express the hopes and aspirations of social movements. Just try to think of a movement that does not have a playlist. Music is the source of inspiration and power for liberation. No wonder that in the midst of the despair and anguish of exile God would offer the people of Israel hope through song.
The passage from Isaiah we have heard tonight is known as the First Servant Song. It is the first of four times throughout these latter chapters of Isaiah that we hear about the servant of God in very particular ways. In this introductory song we hear God describe the servant and then issue the servant a charge – God gives the servant purpose.
The Lord calls out and says,
I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
The purpose of the Servant is to be an instrument, to implement the vision of God, to faithfully and diligently work to make the justice of God reign on earth.
The purpose of the Servant is to take up the fast that the Lord has chosen, the fast that is proclaimed just a few chapters ahead: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free. To share bread with the hungry, to house the homeless, to clothe the naked, to let the light break forth and shatter the darkness.
What an unbelievable and seemingly impossible task – to make God’s reality, humanity’s reality. How could the servant possibly do this?
For over a century, biblical scholars and preachers have debated who exactly this servant is. Is the prophet writing about a particular person, or is the prophet describing all of Israel? Is the prophet prophesying for the long awaited messiah – the one we will come to know as Jesus? Or is the prophet doing something else?
Frankly, and with all due respect to those preaching and scholarly giants, I think we miss the point of the servant songs when we focus so much on the true identity of the servant. Because by focusing on the identity of the servant, we are claiming that the servant is someone other than ourselves. We are claiming that this work is for someone else, from some faraway place, from a long, long time ago.
You see the practices that the prophet Isaiah called the people of Israel to cherish captured Jesus’ imagination and they ought to capture ours as well. Israel, the chosen people of God, received from the prophet Isaiah what the Church received from Christ, and that is what we the Church must testify to the world – the revelation that the God who creates is a just God who restores sight to the blind, freedom to the captives, and gives strength to those who serve.
We the followers of Jesus, taken from every family, language, people, and nation; taken from across every boundary, every line of division, every category of humanity have been set apart to be servants of God. To restore sight to the blind; to set the captive free; to use our freedom in the maintenance of justice in our communities and in our world.
What, my friends, have we gotten ourselves into?
It would be easy for us to say that the world today is too divided, too hateful, that relationships are too broken for this servant work to become reality. All you have to do is turn on the news, open a newspaper, login to Facebook and scroll past the cat videos to see just how divided we are. It seems as if fear, hatred, and judgment rule the day. It seems the walls and barriers around us are just too strong for us to set the captives free. The world has just changed too much from the time of Isaiah for us to take on this servant work. Things must have been easier back then.
While this might be easy for us to say, or a convenient excuse to use, we would be wrong in doing so. Things were not easier for the people of Israel. Their world was not less complicated than ours. This servant song we hear tonight was given to the people of Israel while they were in exile.
They had been cast out of their homeland
gripped with fear and anxiety
left to wonder if they would ever make it home.
And the reality is that not everyone would.
How easy it would have been for the people of Israel to give up on the work of the Servant. To say this is just too hard. To say that hope is lost.
But that is not what they did. They, through toil and struggle, hung on to that hope – trusting that somehow, someway, God would prevail. They would be restored. They would receive salvation. So they kept on singing.
The word given to us by God
The word prophesied by Isaiah
The word championed by Jesus
The word put forth in a song
Is a word that scares the world, because it offers a new reality.
Walter Brueggemann, biblical scholar and theologian, once wrote, “Every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist. It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing alternative futures to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.”
You choristers, you congregation here gathered, are those artists. It is our job, despite the pressures from society, to keep imagination alive. To never forget the words that we have sung this night, the words that scare the world: “The Lord looseth men out of prison; the Lord giveth sight to the blind. The Lord helpeth them that are fallen; the Lord careth for the righteous. The Lord careth for the strangers; he defendeth the fatherless and widow,” “He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away. He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel, as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.”
That is the imagination,
the song we must keep alive.
This is the servant work we must embody.
We hear from Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel that if we take on the work of the servant, the work of the prophet, the work of the righteous; if we carry on the ministry established by Jesus then we will receive our reward. But claiming this work, singing this song, will not be easy
We hear Jesus say:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father . . . whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me . . . whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Jesus is warning us that there is a great cost to this life of discipleship. That his followers will be persecuted, that households and families will be divided, that followers of Jesus will be asked to give their lives for the sake of the Gospel.
In this warning, in these startling words, Jesus is offering to those listening to him then – and to us today – a life altering invitation
An invitation to follow
to persevere with Christ through hardship and division
to preach the Gospel message at all times
to give up everything the world tells us is important in order that we might truly and finally learn what is means to live.
To fully live into the intentions God has for us from the beginning.
2To be servants of God, to be lights to the world, to set the captive free.
To never stop singing.
The exile of the people of Israel is not the end of their story.
The death of Jesus on the Cross is not the end of his story.
Our present day of division and strife does not have to be the end of our story.
For in the cross we have a sign that all things are have been, are being, and will always be made new. There is always hope for restoration.
The miracle of the cross is that death itself dies
That we have been redeemed
That we can keep on singing.
Through the miraculous grace of God, through that never stopping, never giving up, always and forever love of God the people of Israel returned home, Jesus was raised from the dead, and we are claimed as servants of God.
Therefore it is our responsibility to claim the servant song as our own.
It is our responsibility to share in the peace of Christ.
It is our responsibility to make no peace with oppression.
It is our responsibility as artists to keep God’s imagination alive, to never give up hope.
It is our responsibility to sing.
This past Sunday (16 July) I preached my first sermon at my curacy parish, St. Luke’s East Greenwich. We are using track two, and for the summer, the preacher gets to choose if we use the Old Testament Lesson or the New Testament Epistle. For this week, I chose to go with the passage from Isaiah. The lesson from Isaiah and the rest of the scriptural texts for the week can be found here. For this sermon I decided to go back to preaching without a manuscript or notes. It has been a while since I’ve done this on a Sunday, and I think it turned out pretty well (a few spots I wasn’t totally happy with, but that’s the way it goes with this sort of thing).
So here it is, the video of my first sermon as Curate of St. Luke’s. Take a look and let me know what you think. As always comments welcome.
One of the joys of being a newly ordained curate, is that everything is new. Today was one of those days I got to do something really new; not just something new at St. Luke’s.
For the first time I led a committal service at a cemetery. I had never met the family before. They are not parishioners of my parish. This was one of those times that the local funeral home called looking for help, and I was tagged to jump in.
The night before the committal I was feeling pretty laid back about it. I even scoffed when a friend, and clergy colleague, referred to my big day, thinking it was really no big deal: “It’s a page and a half, how big a deal could it be.” I’m glad he warned me otherwise. I’m thankful I was wrong.
I took my friend’s words to heart, and spent a period of time prior to the committal in prayer at home – the benefit of the cemetery being down the hill from my house. I felt calm, relaxed, and ready for whatever I was about to walk into. I arrived at the cemetery, and was greeted but the funeral director. An amazing and delightful woman whom I had met very briefly just a few days before. Her calming and warm presence, with just the right amount of humor, was exactly what I needed to calm the butterflies in my stomach.
As I got in her car to drive to through the cemetery to the place of burial our conversation came to an end, and I began to pray. I could see the cremains and American flag resting on the backseat of her car. We arrived. She insisted on helping me out of the car, which I was thankful for as cassock, surplice, and tippet were a lot to manage. How embarrassing it would have been if I tripped on my vestments getting out of the car – I mean, no one wants to be that curate.
We walked up the little hill to the family plot. For the first time I was able to see the whole family gathered. His daughter and his step-children. His grandchildren. His brother. His name was already on the tombstone, shared with his wife who died five years ago. As the service men their to conduct military honors (without the guns) marched into place, I could feel the Spirit swirling amongst us. We were indeed standing on holy ground.
Trying not to be drowned out by the noise of the highway, or the birds singing away, I began the anthem, “Everyone the Father gives to me will come to me; I will never turn away anyone who believes in me . . .” My focus was at an all time high. I was struck by the power of those words. I mustered the pastoral strength and authority bestowed upon me in an attempt to not let my voice shake: To be calm and steady in my words.
I reach out and grabbed a handful of earth. I poured it, in the shape of a cross, on the cremains. “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother Stewart . . .” I was holding holy ground, I was pouring holy ground, my hand was covered in holy ground.
As I turned the page in my prayer book I watched as the earth fall from my hands onto the page and roll into the center of the book. It was the first time I’ve gotten my prayer book dirty.
After we finished the prayers for the committal, taps was played, the flag was presented, I spent time with the family. First the step-son, then the daughter, then the brother. People always say you remember your first. I will never forgot Stewart’s brother. He came up to me, “Thank you so much Father for being here. I am his brother,” and with tears in his eyes and a cracking voice he continued, “I am going to be okay.” Before I could say a word he walked away.
After sometime standing in the family plot, Stewart’s family made their way to the cars. The funeral director and I stayed behind.
When everything was finished my new friend, the funeral director, drove me back to the car handed me a couple of envelopes and drove away. I took off my vestments, got into the car, and noticed that there was still earth on my hands. I opened my prayer book to page 501 and took a moment to take it all in. To gaze upon the earth on my hand and in my prayer book. I began to wonder about how many more times I will get my prayer book dirty in cemeteries like this. I began to wonder about all the names I will place into the prayers. I began to wonder about all the holy ground I will stand upon.
As I drove away I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratitude for the opportunity to be in that place with those people on this day filled with joy and sadness – as the step-son described it. Gratitude for the vocation God has laid upon me that allows me to serve the world in this particular way.
I am sure I will having plenty of opportunities to get my prayer book dirty over these next fifty year (God willing), but I will always remember – and give thanks for – this first time I got my prayer book dirty.
Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord; And let light perpetual shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Below is the sermon I preached yesterday (25 June 2017) at The Church of the Redeemer. It was a powerful day at the Redeemer as we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the laying and blessing of the corner stone, and it was also my last Sunday at the Redeemer. The lessons can be found here, we used track 2. You can listen to the recording over on the parish website, or click on the link below.
DRIVE FAST AND TAKE CHANCES
One of my favorite memories of my late Aunt Kim was the way she used to send us forth from her house after a visit. Now, some people might be inclined to say “Be safe,” “drive carefully,” or “call me when you get home,” but not Kim. As we descended the steps from their front porch, she would stand with my uncle and cousins waving goodbye. And just as we were about to enter the car she would yell, “drive fast and take chances.”
I have always found great joy an amusement in this saying. But over the last two months, I have begun to think a bit differently about it. It seems to me this is more than just a quirky dismissal from my godmother, but rather a charge for discipleship.
Drive fast is not about recklessness, it is about urgency. It is about knowing that you have to get to your destination with a sense of intense determination. It is a call to move with haste and not delay from the journey that has been set before you.
Take chances, then, is not about getting ourselves into foolish situations, it is about letting go of fear so that you can make bold proclamations in word and deed. It is about standing up for truth and justice. It is a willingness to be counter-cultural for the sake of what is meet and right.
As I look at our lessons today – at Jeremiah, Romans, and Matthew
As I think about the historic occasion we celebrate in our parish life – the 100th anniversary of the laying and blessing of the corner stone.
As I think about my final Sunday here with all of you.
I cannot help but think that at the center of it all is that phrase: Drive fast and take chances.
In the book of Jeremiah, we encounter a prophet in the midst of turmoil: a prophet who is lamenting his prophetic mission. God has placed upon Jeremiah the task of proclaiming to the people of Jerusalem that their city will be destroyed. Jeremiah expresses deep grief and anger for this call, and that is exactly what we hear this morning.
Now these words from Jeremiah are not the words of some mental breakdown, or existential crisis. These are words of his tradition. They are an expression that finds its place rooted in the psalms. Jeremiah has been influenced by the tradition, he has been immersed in it, and therefore cries out in that familiar language. So he offers his lament.
You can almost feel Jeremiah’s anguish at the beginning of today’s lesson:
O LORD, you have enticed me, and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed.
Lord you have lured me in, it is as if Jeremiah is saying. There is something almost seductive in the way the Lord calls Jeremiah.
And because of that call, Jeremiah has become the laughing stock of his community. Proclaiming that message, proclaiming that the great city of Jerusalem will be destroyed is certainly not winning Jeremiah any popularity contests. But Jeremiah has no choice. He does not take on the mantle of prophet because it seems like a glamorous way of life. He does it because he cannot not prophesy.
If Jeremiah refuses to speak then a burning fire is kindled inside of him – a fire so hot that he cannot hold it – a fire so hot that it will incinerate all his bones.
And because of this in the midst of his anger and grief, in the midst of his pain and anguish, he cannot help but trust in God. Jeremiah trusts that God will indeed protect him, protect him like a dread warrior, and therefore has no choice but to worship God and go on prophesying. For Jeremiah there is great urgency and intensity in his prophetic witness.
What if we allowed ourselves to channel that same prophetic intensity?
What if we allowed ourselves to be so overcome by the word God has placed on our hearts, by the vocations that God has laid before us that if we did not act upon them, if we do not proclaim them, then an intense fire would be kindled in each of us – a fire so intense that we could not bear to keep it in?
What would Hope Street look like if we lived with that same prophetic intensity as Jeremiah?
If despite any anger or grief, any pain or anguish we went on glorifying God?
Singing to the Lord
Praising the Lord
Proclaiming the words that have been revealed to us.
Living fully into our identity.
But what is this word . . . what is this identity that God has laid upon us.
The Word is Jesus.
The identity is:
Paul in his letter to the Romans is unequivocal about what that identity means:
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Being the Baptized means living in a completely new way. Baptism is not just some rite of passage, or familial obligation. When we are baptized our very being changes – we are united with Christ in a particular and intimate way. When we are lifted out of the waters of baptism we share in the death, and resurrection of Jesus. We are empowered with a new identity and if we fully embrace that identity it will have implications for every aspect of our lives.
As baptized people we are called to share in the life and ministry of Jesus. That means it is our responsibility to teach, to preach, to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked. It is our responsibility to build relationships in our community through such ventures as the East Side Community Alliance. It is our responsibility to support the work of Camp Street Ministry. It is our responsibility to continue working to break down the systematic oppression of racism that plagues our neighborhood.
Being the baptized is a great responsibility. But through the gift of the Holy Spirit we have been empowered to take risks: to make bold proclamations in word and deed. For Jesus is clear, that we will do greater things if we truly believe.
Baptism places before us a road of discipleship that ultimately leads to the cross. But through the grace, mercy, and loving-kindness of God we can trust that God will protect and care for us. We can trust that this life is not a burden, but a journey to the most glorious way of living imaginable.
So be not afraid.
Let go of the anger and grief, the pain and anguish for we are alive in Christ.
But let’s be real. There is plenty to fear on the Christian journey.
Once again this week we hear some pretty startling words from Jesus:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother . . . and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Despite what we might think at first glance, Jesus is not against family. But Jesus is making a profoundly clear statement as to where our loyalty should lie.
We are to love God above all else. We are to serve God about all else.
We are to follow God above all else.
And sometimes that is going to lead to conflict. Sometimes that is going to mean we will have to reject expectations from our families and friends. It is not an uncommon story to hear family ties and ties of friendship being strained and broken because one person answered the call to follow Jesus.
In the midst of this warning, Jesus also offers words of comfort. Jesus knows exactly what he is asking us to do. Those who sacrifice for the sake of Christ will ultimately be rewarded – those who lose their life will find it. Those who give everything up to answer the call of Jesus will find the path to glorious and abundant life.
By virtue of our relationship with God we are the beloved of God and thus will be cared for by God: So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Knowing the risks. Knowing the cost. Jesus still asks us to follow. Jesus still invites us to claim our identity as disciples, as Christians, as the Baptized.
It is that invitation that allows us to proclaim with boldness, to shout from the housetops that which was whispered to us, to declare in the light that which was spoken in the dark.
It is that invitation that allows us to drive fast and take chances.
And that my friends, is exactly what the Church of the Redeemer has been doing for the last 100 years.
100 years ago, the people of the Redeemer understood the urgency of the being followers of Jesus. They listened to the call from their Bishop. They prayed together. And they decided to get up and go. To leave the place they had known and come to a new neighborhood. 100 years ago the people of the Redeemer proclaimed with boldness that they were not afraid to take risks for the sake of spreading the Gospel. And ever sense then, this community has been striving to fulfill that call – to live fully into the identity as disciples of Jesus.
It was with a sense of determination that this place – was set apart to be a temple of the Most High God. To be a place that would continually offer prayers and praise to the Most Holy Name of God. From the very beginning of the Church of the Redeemer at 655 Hope Street that life of prayer has been carried out with integrity and dedication to our Anglican tradition and heritage.
This is a place that has been profoundly blessed by the grace of God. This place has been filled with the Holy Spirit in ways that surpass almost every other that I have experienced. But most importantly this is a place – this is a community – that is unabashed in sharing that grace with those whom we have been called to serve.
This place has been a refuge for the broken and hurting. This place has been a haven for those society places at the margins. In this place there is truly a place at the table for each and every person who dares to enter the doors. That is the legacy that was built upon the cornerstone 100 years ago.
Today as we mark this important anniversary we have the responsibility to continue to build upon the foundation, which previous generations have laid. We must continue this legacy for the next 100 years, and we do that by laying new foundations. Foundations that further embed this community within the fabric of our wider neighborhood.
Foundations laid at Camp Street.
Foundations laid at the East Side Community Alliance.
Foundations laid with the emerging choir program.
Foundations that will serve as a tangible witness to the reconciling love of God that has inspired this community for the last century.
As members of the Baptized gathered here on Hope Street a great trust and responsibility has been laid upon us. So act with urgency to proclaim with boldness the love of God in your words and deeds. Let go of fear so that you might be able to take risks to spread the Gospel and follow Jesus on the road of discipleship.
Dear friends of the Church of the Redeemer. It has been my joy and privilege to be among you for these last few years. You have enriched and blessed my life in ways you will never know. So today I say to you that quirky dismissal my godmother said to me: drive fast and take chance.
So I’ve been a little slack in keeping up here. My hope is to change that, and to start writing more here than just sermons. In the meantime, I’m playing catch up. Below is a sermon preached at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer, on Easter 7 (28 May 2017). The readings can be found here, and you can listen to it below or over on the parish website.
About a year ago, I heard a story about the Ascension that captured my imagination.
Legend has it, that this was a story told by one of the desert fathers. No one really knows where the story comes from, but some say that St. Anthony told it to St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory of Nyssa told it to Sts. Basil and Gregory Nazianzus as they sat around the campfire. I do not know the facts behind this story, but I know it to be true. Following in their footsteps, I want to tell you an Ascension campfire story:
As Jesus began to rise, John just could not bear it. He reached up into the cloud and grabbed a hold of Jesus’ right leg, refusing to let go! To make matters worse, when Mary saw John’s plan, she too, jumped up, and grabbed hold of Jesus’ other leg. His glorious exit ruined, Jesus looked up into heaven and called out, “Okay, Father . . . now what?”
A voice came out of the clouds, deep and loud like the rumbling of thunder in the distance. “Ascend!” the voice said.
So Jesus continued to rise through the air, dangling John and Mary behind him. Of course, the other disciples could not bear to be left behind either, so they too jumped on board, and within moments there was this pyramid of people hanging in mid-air. Then, before anyone really knew what to do next, all kinds of people were appearing out of nowhere – friends and neighbors from around Galilee, people who had heard Jesus’ stories, people whom he had healed, people whom he had fed. They, too, refused to be left behind, so they made a grab for the last pair of ankles they could see and hung on for dear life. Above all of this scuffling and scrambling the voice of God kept calling out, “Ascend!”
But then suddenly, from the bottom of the pyramid, there came the piping voice of a small child.
“Wait!” he shrilled, “I’ve lost my dog! Wait for me.” But Jesus couldn’t wait. The little boy wasn’t going to be left behind, and he was determined that his dog was coming with him. So, still holding on with one hand, he grabbed hold of a tree with the other, and held on with all his might. For a moment, the whole pyramid stopped dead in the air, but Jesus could not stop. The ascension had begun, and God was pulling Jesus back up to heaven.
It looked as if the tree would uproot itself, but then the tree held on, and it started to pull the ground up with it. The soil itself started moving up into the sky. And hundreds of miles away, where the soil met the oceans, the oceans held on. And where the oceans met the shores, the shores held on. All of it held on. As Jesus ascended into heaven, he pulled all of creation – everything that ever was, everything that is, everything that will ever be – Jesus pulled it into heaven with him.
This story, at least for me, expresses a deep and profound truth of Christian theology in a rather playful way. The vivid imagery of this campfire tale allows the fullness of our incarnational theology to come to life and be accessible in new ways.
In the Ascension, that miraculous event we hear about in today’s lesson from Acts, the incarnation cycle is complete.
The Word we heard proclaimed in the Prologue to John’s Gospel on Christmas Day;
the Word that was made flesh;
the Word that came into the world so that all who received him, who believed in his name, could become children of God;
the Word that God gave to humanity, out of love that is so profound it is indescribable, so that we might inherit eternal life;
has in fact redeemed us.
The ascension is so important to our salvation history because that “which is not assumed is not redeemed” to quote St. Gregory of Nazianzus.
Jesus takes the fullness of our humanity and ascends into heaven, thus elevating our sinful nature to the place it was intended to be from the beginning of creation. For when Jesus ascended into heaven, humanity became divine.
This is one of, if not the, most important tenants of our Christian theology and identity. St. Athanasius, whom many of you have heard me talk about before, is the Early Church theologian who first articulated this understanding of incarnation theology. Here is what Blessed Athanasius wrote:
He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God. He manifested Himself by means of a body in order that we might perceive the Mind of the unseen Father. He endured shame from men that we might inherit immortality. He Himself was unhurt by this, for He is impassable and incorruptible; but by His own impassability He kept and healed the suffering men on whose account He thus endured.
Not only does the divine become human so that the human can become divine, but Jesus takes on our humanity that we might be able to see and know God. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Through the Word becoming flesh, we can see the unseeable, we can touch the untouchable, we can know the unknowable. As we hear Jesus say in today’s Gospel lesson: “and this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
To know God,
to be in relationship with God,
to see, and hear, and touch God in the person of Jesus,
is to have eternal life.
Throughout the entirety of John’s Gospel, eternal life is not just something acquired in the end of days – it is not simply an eschatological reality.
For John, eternal life is available in the here and now.
Right here, on Hope Street, in this very place, we have within our grasp eternal life. In this place we come to encounter God.
We come to learn and know God through the person of Jesus.
As we grow together as a community, as people of faith, we come to know God, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom God has sent.
In those moments,
in that intimate relationship with God
we experience eternal life.
All of that is made possible, because God sent his Son into the world.
Because divinity took on humanity.
Because Jesus made God known to us in word, deed, and Sacrament.
Because Jesus died on the Cross, rose on the third day, appeared to his disciples for 40 days, and then ascended into heaven.
Because that which is assumed is in fact redeemed.
No wonder the disciples gazed with awe into heaven as they watched Jesus ascend.
As the disciples were gazing toward heaven, watching Jesus ascend, “suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?’”
Take a moment and imagine what it must have been like to be one of the disciples on that day.
You’ve just watched your teacher, your friend, your God rise into the clouds.
I do not know about you, but if I were there on that day and two random people asked me, “why do you stand looking up towards heaven?” I might have a rather sarcastic response.
While this dramatic encounter has inspired artists through the centuries, I find the end of the passage far more interesting and important:
When they entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers (Acts 1:13-14).
After witnessing the ascension the disciples, and the other followers of Jesus, went off and prayed together. This is the life of the disciples during this in-between period – during this time between the Ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. This is the formation of the first congregation in Jerusalem.
This group gathered in the room upstairs is our role model for what it means to be Church. Gathered in that room were real human beings, with names, identities, histories, and hopes – with fears, anxieties, and uncertainties. They followed Jesus as far as they could; then they waited for the coming of the Spirit as Jesus promised.
We too are a community of real human beings, with names, identities, histories and hopes. We come with fears, anxieties, and uncertainties. We strive every day to follow Jesus as far as we can, and when we can go no further we wait for the Holy Spirit to inspire and strengthen us that we might continue to fulfill our call as followers of Jesus. As we wait for the Spirit to descend into our lives we gather and we pray.
That is the gift of this in-between time. We are given the space to pause.
To gather as a community, to pray together, that we might listen for the Spirit of God in our lives and in this community. Through this prayer and discernment we prepare to act when the time comes.
There will be time for us to act – to go out and turn the known world upside down. But, we do not need to rush to get there – the time is coming – Pentecost will be here before we know it. We can stop, and sometimes we should stop, to gather together and pray.
What we learn from the disciples, what we can trust from the promises of Jesus, is that waiting in anticipation is not a bad thing. We can trust that God will do something in our midst. God will work in and through us to achieve God’s purposes on earth. We can trust that the Church – that all of us who make up the hands and feet of Christ in the world – will be empowered by the spirit to work and witness for the kingdom of God.
But for now, in this in-between time, we gather as a community to devote ourselves to prayer and contemplation.
We come in this posture of anticipatory prayer that we might know God more fully.
We gather together so that we might experience eternal life now.
Below is my sermon from Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday), preached at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer. The lessons can be found here. The recording can be listened to below. As always, comments and feedback welcome.
Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.