Monthly Archives: June 2017

Drive Fast and Take Chances: A Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7A)

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

drive-fast-and-take-chances-2One 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:
Disciple
Christian
The Baptized

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.cornerstone

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.

AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sermon: Easter 7A

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.

AMEN

 

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