Monthly Archives: September 2016

Sermon: The Eve of St. Michael and All Angels

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The following sermon was preached at the Wednesday night Eucharist at my sponsoring parish – The Church of the Redeemer.  This past Wednesday (9/28/16) we kept the Eve of St Michael and All Angels. You can find the lessons here, and listen to a recording of the sermon below.  

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Radical Lives of Proclamation: Sermon #1

This semester I am taking a new preaching course at YDS titled : REL 830 – Radical Lives of pauliProclamation with new YDS professor Dr. Donyelle McCray.  As part of our work we have to preach two sermons in class that have been inspired by someone we have studied the week we preach or the week before. Yesterday (Thursday, 22 September 2016) I offered my first sermon of the semester, and I took my inspiration from Pauli Murray.  Below you can find a copy of the manuscript as well as a recording of the sermon.  For my scriptural text, I used the Gospel for Proper 21C (Luke 16:19-31).

Assignment Description: Two 10-minute homilies. Allow the visionary assigned for the week or previous week to inspire your approach to hermeneutics, form, delivery, or shape your spiritual preparation process. Plan to discuss the visionary’s influence in class after you preach. Complete the sermon self-evaluation (available on ClassesV2) within one week of delivering your sermon.

Inspiration: In reading Murray’s sermons I found that she would often incorporate language of the Book of Common Prayer, and so I allowed myself to access the language of the Prayer Book that has filled my spirit.  She also preaches in a very calm and deliberate manner, hence the manuscript and the attempt to mirror that in my voice.  Murray also used the voices of others to highlight her preaching.  In thinking about this text, I looked to my own experiences and communities as to how I would find someone so spoke to me in these lessons.  

Final word: I realize that using Jonathan Myrick Daniels in this sermon sets up a bit of a “white hero” complex. That was not at all my intention, and having given this sermon in a racially diverse class, I recognize the pros and cons of this approach.  As a 26 year-old white seminarian, like Daniels, I took him as my image because it was one that fit my context and experience.  Murray preached from her experience, and community – and Daniels is my attempt to do the same.  

Before us today we have one of the lesser-known parables of Jesus. The familiarity, or lack thereof, of this parable is probably okay with the average, contemporary, American preacher. This parable is hard and if we are paying attention it should make us, at the very least, uncomfortable.

We hear of Lazarus, poor man Lazarus, who longs for a modicum of relief – who longs for just a simple crumb from the rich man’s table. Jesus tells us that Lazarus’ station in life is so low that even the dogs lick his wounds and sores. All this while the rich man basks in the lavishness and sumptuousness of life.

The day comes when both men die, and in that moment the great reversal begins.

Scripture tells us that when Lazarus dies, he is “carried away by the angels to be with Abraham;” he is carried away by the company of heaven, to enjoy rest eternal with God. And the rich man, well he died and was buried. He however, is not carried, lifted, or even dragged into the heavenly kingdom; no, the rich man goes to Hades to be tormented for eternity. To live in such anguish and agony that he wishes the dogs licked his wounds and sores.

Here is where the great reversal comes to its climax. The rich man looks up from his torment and sees for the first time Lazarus who stands by Abraham’s side.

While the rich man sees Lazarus, he does not truly see him, because the rich man still wants to use Lazarus as an object – he still understands Lazarus to be subservient to him. The rich man does not beg, “Lazarus, please come help me,” he begs, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.” Scripture makes clear that for this rich man, Lazarus – the beloved child of God resting in Abraham’s bosom – is no more than a delivery system.

Abraham makes clear, there will be no relief for this rich man. He had his chance on earth and now must suffer the consequences.

This parable narrates the very reversal of fortune that we find promised at the beginning of Luke’s narrative, “he has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (BCP, 91). While we may love, while I love, to sing these words of the Magnificat during Evensong; we are far less eager to sing these words into our world.

Jonathan Myrick Daniels is one of the first saints of the Church that I fell in love with. As a rising freshman in high school, I first learned of Daniels while at my Diocesan Summer Camp. The session I was at was invited to make a pilgrimage to the Elmwood neighborhood of Providence, Rhode Island, on August 14th – the feast day of Daniels. We, a bunch of white, mostly middle-class and higher teenagers, were invited to join the procession through this mostly non-white, economically challenged, violence ridden neighborhood. In many ways this procession, this prayer vigil, was a sort of racial reconciliation version of the Stations of the Cross. We walked this neighbor and prayed for peace, we shouted for justice, we cried for mercy, as we sang, “we’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion; we’re marching upward to Zion; the beautiful city of God.” We marched to give witness to the person laying at the gate. We marched so that all people may one day rest in the bosom of Abraham.

It was in those days that I learned Daniel’s story. I will never forget hearing Ruby Sales talk about the man who saved her life – the man who saw her.

On August 14th, Daniels, Sales, and their companions were unexpectedly released from jail, and they walked to a local corner store to get something to drink. As the teenaged Sales reached for the door the owner appeared with a gun and started yelling and cursing at her. Recognizing the danger, Daniels pushed Sales out of the way thus shielding her from the blast of the 12-gauge shotgun. Daniels died that day, because he sang the words of the Magnificat into the world.

Jonathan Myrick Daniels was a seminarian who left the comforts of Cambridge, Massachusetts to march with that great prophet Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma. Daniels answered King’s call because he had been convicted by the great reversal promised in Luke. Daniels died because he saw the invisible suffering of Lazarus, the invisible suffering of people of color made visible.

Whenever I hear the story of Lazarus at the gate, I cannot help but think of Daniels the 26 year-old seminarian who willingly gave his life because he saw the invisible suffering turn visible. Today, this connection is all the more powerful as I stand before you as a 26 year-old seminarian.

It seems to me the story of Lazarus laying at the gate could just as easily be the story of Terence Crutcher, or Keith Scott, or Sandra Bland, or Ty Underwood, or the countless black men, women, and transgender people who are murdered each and every year. And if they are Lazarus, what does that make us? What does that make me?

No matter how much he begs, there is no relief for the rich man, neither will there be help for his family. Abraham says to the rich man, and this is the phrase that concludes this pericope from Luke, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even is someone rises from the dead.” I do not know about you but that makes me more uncomfortable, more nervous, than anything else.

The rich man and his family have missed the mark, they out of luck, there is no hope for them. As we, particularly those of us who are white, look out on the bodies laying at our gates and in our streets we must also wonder where is our hope? Is there still time to make things right? For Terence Crutcher, Keith Scott, and the unknown people who will die to today, the answer is no.

But, we are still here. We have not died, and we have not been buried. There is still time for us to be convicted by the promised reversal of fortunes.

We live within political and economic systems that feed upon the sufferings of others, all the while keeping those sufferings invisible. The call of Christ is to refuse the blindness that plagues our world and darkens our hearts. We must not call out to Abraham. We must call out to Lazarus. We must learn the names of the people laying at our gates and in the streets.

There is still time for us, for we have seen a person raised from the dead and we have witnessed the glory and majesty of death being destroyed forever. Just as Christ broke down the gates of hell, we must break down the gates of our hearts, the gates of our political systems, and the actual gates we put up to keep “those people” out. We like Jonathan Myrick Daniels must sing the great promise of reversal – the great promise of mercy, justice, love, and compassion – into the world. For if we do this, then we will see old things passing away and new things coming into being. Then the invisible will be made visible.  Then there will be hope.

Let us pray:

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

 

AMEN

 

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Senior Sermon: Holy Cross Day

There is a great tradition at Berkeley Divinity School of the senior sermon.  Each senior is assigned a Wednesday night to preach at our community Eucharist (the principle celebration of the Eucharist for our community).  Last night (9/14/16) I had the opportunity to offer my senior sermon.  I was particularly excited to be invited to preach on Holy Cross day as it is the feast of title for my sponsoring parish.  I’m still processing the experience, and am still a little surprised at just how nervous I was.  Anyway, below is the audio recording of my sermon and a photograph of my outline.  How weird that my senior sermon is already done.  Here is a link to the readings for Holy Cross Day. 

 

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

(Collect for Holy Cross Day)

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A Theological Self-Portrait

The following is my theological self-portrait.  This was completed for an assignment for REL 830 – Radical Lives of Proclamation with Dr. Donyelle McCray at Yale Divinity School Fall 2016.  Here are the parameters of the assignment (taken from the course syllabus): 

Theological Self-Portrait.  Consider the following questions:

1. Describe your spirituality.  What are your spiritual practices, if any?
2. Who is God and how is God known?
3. What are human beings and what are the aims of human life?

The questions are designed to probe your theological framework and provide a foundation for rich conversation in the course.  Provide your answers in 6 double-spaced pages of prose, drawing on poetry, scripture, or images for illustrative purposes if desired.  Plan to summarize your response for the class in 6-7 minutes. 

For my presentation, I decided to create a cartoon to outline my answers for the class.  The pages of the cartoon are included throughout this post. 

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I am an Anglican. This statement is not a half-hearted, I’ve-got-to-be-something-so-I-might-as-well-be-Anglican sort of statement.   I am an Anglican through and through to the very core of my being. As I reflect on my own theological portrait, I cannot help but answer these questions through Canterbury colored glassed.

It is incredibly common today; at least in the social locations I inhabit, to hear individuals describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.” These are two concepts that I believe do not have to be at odds with each other, and thus I would – using this moniker – identity as spiritual and religious. I consider myself a spiritual person, and the foundation of that spirituality was crafted by my religious heritage. This is best exemplified in the ways I live into this identity.

img_3958I pray, meditate, draw, participate in communities, and seek guidance from two different spiritual directors. These are practices that are often embraced by those that inhabit the “spiritual but not religious” world; but for me they are deeply rooted in religious practice. In my particular expression of these practices, they are grounded by the most important thing that Anglicans do – participate in and celebrate the Eucharist.

St. Augustine, in sermon 272, writes, “Become what you see, and receive what you are.”[1] In this sermon on the Eucharist, Augustine is encouraging those in his care to be transformed by the bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Christ. By gazing upon these sacred elements, by receiving them, the communicant is transformed, strengthened, and renewed to be the Body and Blood of Christ in the world. The bedrock of my personal experience and theology is the Eucharist. My religious experience is the embodiment of Augustine’s words. Through the regular reception of the Most Blessed Sacrament, I have been strengthened and transformed to be the Body and Blood of Christ in the world around me.

It is this transformation that my prayer life centers around. My personal prayer often begins with the question, “how am I being called to be Christ’s Body and Blood in the world?” I use cartooning as a way to debrief and reflect upon experiences and encounters I have had being and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the world around me. In spiritual direction I share, reflect, and wrestle with my vocation to the Priesthood and my call to equip those in my care to go out and be the Sacrament for the world. As I gather in community – here at Berkeley and my parish community – to pray the Daily Office and share in the Eucharist, I am witness to the brilliant and inspiring ways the children of God have been moved to act.

There is one phrase that permeates Anglican theology that encapsulates all of this for me. “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi,” which colloquially translates to “as we pray, so we believe.” I also like to add Lex Vivendi, making the whole phrase, “as we pray, so we believe, so we live.” Through worship, through celebrations of the Holy Eucharist, we are transformed to believe that we are in fact the Body of Christ, and if we truly believe that we can no longer go on living the ways we always have – our lives must be transformed into action.

All of this is predicated on encountering God, and striving to be in better relationship with
God. But describing God, at least for me, is an incredibly difficult thing to do. First, I am instantly drawn to my love of Patristics and the Early Church. Who is God? God is three in one and one in three, “neither confounding the Persons, not dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, or the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.” [2] But, I am probably one of only a handful of people that enjoys quoting the Creed of Saint Athanasius to describe who God is.   If I’m not into quoting an historical creed, I might try drawing a picture to how that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but the Father is not the Son nor is the Father the Holy Spirit, the Son is not Holy Spirit nor is the Son the Father, likewise the Holy Spirit is not the Father nor is the Holy Spirit the Son. But that too seems to fail to capture the evangelistic imagination outside of a particular subset of people. So when patristic theology does not cut it, I turn to poetry.img_3959

It is no surprise to anyone who knows me that when I grow up I want to be George Herbert. His poetry is the first that comes to mind to describe God. In “The Call” Herbert writes, “Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life . . . Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength . . . Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart.”[3] Who is God? God is way, truth, life, light, feast, strength, joy, love, and heart. In “Love (III)” Herbert writes of God as the one who issues the most profound of invitations, “Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back . . . You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat: So I did sit and eat.”[4] Herbert’s poems have also been transformed into hymnody that continue to describe and pronounce who God is. David Charles Walker’s tune General Seminary comes alive when paired with Herbert’s words, “King of glory, King of peace.” While not a Herbert poem, I would be remiss if I did not draw to mind one of my favorite hymns. Henry Williams Baker’s paraphrase of Psalm 23 “The King of love my shepherd is.” Instead of creating and crafting new words for God, new answers to the question “Who is God,” I choose to add my voice to words well prayed and sung through the centuries.

Just as there are numerous and innumerable ways to describe God so are there innumerable ways to know and encounter God. We know God through fellowship with one another, through the gift of community, through love, restoration, and reconciliation. However, given my Sacramental Anglican leanings, the foremost way I know God is through the Eucharist. And, it is Luke that helps me illustration the importance of the Eucharist in knowing God.

Since I was in junior high school, I have been captured by the story of the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). My first memory of hearing this story was when I was in middle school at a Roman Catholic junior/senior high school. I was working with the school chaplain to constitute a junior high campus ministry program to serve as a feeder into the robust high school campus ministry program (known as Acts 17). I will never forget hearing Brother Nelson, in his English accent, reading me this story slowly and deliberately. I found myself shocked that these two traveling on the road had no clue that this mysterious stranger was Jesus. As the story continued my shock turned to anger, until that anger turned to tears when Brother Nelson said, “When he [Jesus] was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him and he vanished from their sight” (Luke 24: 30-31, NRSV). My budding Sacramental nature was solidified in that moment as Jesus became known in the breaking of the bread.

“What is man that you should be mindful of him” (Psalm 8:5, BCP)? The nature of humanity is a complicated and messy thing going by the way it is lived into in the present day, and I do not think I believe this simply because I watch Criminal Minds a little too often. We are a sinful people, and have fallen short of the glory of God. However, that is not how we were created to be.

img_3961One of the gifts of being an Anglican is the Book of Common Prayer. One of the least explored parts of the Prayer Book is the Catechism. Luckily the Catechism provides, in a helpful Q and A format, the answers to life’s difficult questions. In the Catechism we read, “Q. What are we by nature? A. We are part of God’s creation, made in the image of God.”[5] But, “Q. What does it mean to be created in the image of God? A. It means that we are free to make choices: to love, to create, to reason, and to live in harmony with creation and with God.”[6] Human beings are the very image and likeness of God, created to do all the things that God does: love, create, reason, and live in harmony.

The phrase, “human beings are made in the image of God” is incredibly important to my understanding of the world. The phrase is not “human beings that look, think, and act like me are made in the image of God;” the phrase is not, “human beings that are not them are the image of God;” the phrase is “human beings are made in the image of God.” The image of God is only revealed when all of humanity is seen, valued, and heard. It is to this end that the mission of the Church takes shape.

Turning once again to the Catechism we discover the answer to the question of the mission of the Church: “Q. What is the mission of the Church? A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”[7] This is, as far as I am concerned, the aim of humanity: It is to recognize our fallen status, to acknowledge how those in positions of power and privilege have gained at the expense of others and how systems have been created with the purpose of keep particular groups of people disadvantaged, and to work tirelessly to shatter walls, ceilings, boundaries, and all that holds us captive and separates us from God and each other. The mission of the Church, the aim of humanity, will only be completed when all people as seen, honored, and loved as the beloved children of God that they are. The aim of humanity will be completed when all people gather together and experience that radical and transforming love of God. The mission of the Church will be completed when all people are able to break bread together as means of nourishing their body, mind, and soul; for as that bread breaks, the kingdom of God will break into our lives and transform the world.

[1] Elisabeth Beattie, “Behold What You Are; Become What You Receive.,” The Church of St Mary Magdalene, March 18, 2015, accessed September 07, 2016, http://www.stmarymagdalene.ca/behold-what-you-are/.

[2] The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church According to the Use of The Episcopal Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 864.

[3] George Herbert, George Herbert: The Country Parson, The Temple, ed. John Wall N., Jr., The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), 281.

[4] Ibid., 316.

[5] The Book of Common Prayer, 845.

[6] Ibid., 845.

[7] Ibid., 855.

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