Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Vision

Last week or so ago, the parents of a bride whose wedding was called off gave the reception to 200 homeless people in Atlanta. 200 homeless women, men, and children were fed a banquet like none other through the teamwork of the mother and father of the bride and Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless, an international organization with deep roots in Georgia.
What an amazing gift to be able to share,
for both the bride-not-to-be and the homeless to be fed on that day.
Her parents are wonderful examples of people changing the world through their vision and their action.

Jeremiah and Baruch from our first lesson today also make wonderful role models of people who are faithful to their vision and in their actions, despite their situations.
Jeremiah is imprisoned
in a city under siege
by a powerful foreign army.
Things are not looking good for the fate of Jerusalem or Jeremiah.
Yet, God gives him a vision of the future which does not end in destruction. Jeremiah is entrusted with a vision of the future
and he believes in it.
But God's calling for Jeremiah does not end with belief in the vision, Jeremiah is called to exercise his belief. Jeremiah must show his belief through his actions, despite the discouraging situations of siege and imprisonment. So when his cousin Hanamel offers him the chance to buy some land outside he city, Jeremiah takes it. Jeremiah knows that all is not lost, Jeremiah has a vision of the land in the future, and he charges Baruch, his scribe, to help him hold the deeds for this land, to help him hold onto the vision in which the land will be fruitful and useful once again in a very physical way.

In a similar way, we have been entrusted with the vision of God's kingdom that Jesus preached and taught in the gospels. In a similar way, we have been invited to exercise our belief in that vision with physical acts in this world. Figuring out how we can participate in that vision is part of the role of being a good steward of the vision. For each of us, this participation will be different and it takes real discernment through prayer, discussion, challenge, and trial and error to learn the best and most fulfilling way which each of us can participate in that vision.

The gospel lesson today challenges how we have been striving for the vision of God's kingdom on earth.
It purposefully leaves the ending open,
waiting for our response to the story.
What will we do? Will we be like the rich man?
Will we be one of the rich man's brothers, ignoring the voices of the prophets?

This is how Jesus invites us into the story and invites us to envision a different future. However, once we have a new vision, we need to move towards that vision. Like the rich man's brothers, we are still in this world, trying to figure out the best way to live in the world with faith.
But we do not always find it easy to follow the directions we are given. The world calls us to gather things, phones, computers, cars, hair products, clothing, to ourselves and wants us to make sure we have the latest update, so that we have the best phone, computer, car that we could possibly have. But the prophets call us to strive for the betterment of the poor, the hungry, and the needy. Despite having Jesus come to us and knowing that he has died and has risen from the dead, we still are hesitant about integrating the vision of the kingdom of God into our lives.
It takes guts.
It takes courage to be,
courage to be hurt or turned away.
It takes courage to step out in faith, to yearn for a vision which we cannot always see clearly.
It takes faith and trust,
faith that the vision is true and trust that what we are doing to follow that vision is actually helping that vision.

The gifts that we share in giving money to the church is not the only action we do in order to stay faithful to the vision of God's kingdom with which we have been charged. Every week members serve the community by reading to the children in the Reading Room. Every week we confess our sins and are reminded of the forgiveness that God has already given us. Every week we celebrate the Eucharist, recalling Christ's presence among us in the here and now, remembering the love that God has shown us.

And all of this sharing costs us.
It does.
We could all be having breakfast in bed on Sunday mornings instead. We could all be kayaking at Nickajack lake in the fresh morning air. Striving for the God's kingdom will cost you time, it will cost you money, it will cost you your ease. But recognizing the cost of all your decisions for God shouldn't be negative. This gives us a reason to realize and examine our priorities.
Jesus started nothing less than a revolution
and we are part of it.
We are called to frame our priorities with the vision of God's kingdom in mind.

This revolution is not only about Thankful Memorial,
it is not only about the East Tennessee Diocese,
its not only about the Episcopal Church of the USA,
its about the whole world.

We are called to share this vision, with and without words, throughout the world. How you do that yourself is up to you.
The possibilities are endless.
Perhaps you will pay for someone else's coffee tomorrow morning. Perhaps you will buy some extra cans of vegetables at the grocery store and give them to the food bank. Perhaps you will start a conversation with a friend about your vision of the world. This church community does offer ways for you to get involved, but so does this city, and I hope that Thankful is not the only place in which you strive for God's kingdom on earth each week.

I cannot imagine all the wondrous things this community can do in movement toward the vision. I hope that you will use your imagination and your stick-to-it-iveness in service of Jesus' revolution.
I cannot wait to hear from yall all the ways you are already and will in the future strive for God's kingdom.
I am excited for the future.






Monday, October 28, 2013

Our Call from God

I have my phone up here with me today. I’m expecting a call from God shortly…
Brinnnggg, Bringgggg, Brinnngggg
Oh! Yes, here it is.
Hello?
Yes… uh huh… Yes, Lord, I can do that.
Thank you! Have a nice day.

Wouldn’t that be so nice, if God just called us up, told us what we should do, and then we could go on our way? Yea, but God doesn’t work that way. Jeremiah shares how God called him to a life of God’s service. Not exactly an easy phone call, a bit more awe inspiring and intimidating. Jeremiah is a small boy, with a large awesome God. Thankfully Jeremiah shares with us his discernment of his call to life in God, even his protest. Jeremiah protests by saying “Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy,” even before he knows what God is calling him to do exactly. We do that sometimes, afraid of what might be coming, we protest before we even know what we are being called to do. Like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof whose calling was to be a faithful Jew in Russia in 1905 despite the cultural situation, we know that when God calls, the mission will not always be easy. Tevye cries out to God, “I know. I know. We are your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t you choose someone else?” Jeremiah is afraid of what God is asking him to do. But just because Jeremiah protests that he is too young, God does not let him off the hook. It is no wonder that God has to reassure Jeremiah that God will be with him once Jeremiah finds out that his call is “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” That does not sound like an easy task. It’s no wonder that Jeremiah is going to need God to be with him and to deliver him. Jeremiah knows very well that the young are not always listened to, especially when a young person is calling for change. Most humans know the pain that can come along with change and sometimes we become afraid of change even before it happens. We here at Thankful have been living through changes in the community in the last few years and it hasn’t been easy. Some of us are still grieving the losses and recovering.
But despite all these issues, Jeremiah accepted God’s call and spoke to the people of Israel in the midst of their troubles. God speaks to us in the midst of our troubles. Sometimes the best time to be able to hear what God has to say is in our times of troubles and confusion. These are the times when we look for help, for direction, for guidance. God will give us the help and direction we need, but we need to listen and pray to understand. God doesn’t make direct phone calls.
God does not only call Jeremiah this morning, Jesus makes a few calls too. He is in the synagogue, teaching and calling the congregation to repentance and life in God. That’s when this poor, bent over woman comes in. She too is called, called to new life in God. After 18 years, 18 years each of 365 days, of 24 hours and 60 minutes and 60 seconds, after 567,648,000 seconds of being under a spirit of Satan’s control, Jesus calls her to a new life in God by healing her. (And you thought the 720 seconds of my sermon was long.) What better day to celebrate a new life and calling than on the Sabbath? It’s no surprise that after 567,648,000 seconds with Satan, her first act without was to praise God.
But the best calling Jesus gives in the Gospel story this morning is to the leader and people after they protest: a call to real life in God by remembering the reason for the Sabbath. They are concerned about a Sabbath rule which says only work necessary for survival can be done on the Sabbath, the day of rest. Certainly we can understand if they got caught up in figuring out what work was only necessary for survival and not following the true purpose of the day, spending time with God, praying and listening to God. We can’t know for certain if that is what happened, but we all need time to think about the big picture of how God is calling us to live. My call story started with a feeling, deep down inside of my ten year old self, a feeling which told me that I am called to live a simple life of love and action within God’s world. This feeling pushes me to find a way to live in God’s kingdom even while on earth, which involves loving, caring, sharing, and encouraging my neighbors to live in God’s kingdom, and even though I have this feeling, I still need time to listen to God to see how I can live out my calling. I don’t know where that call will take me, but I know that I am in God’s hands. Jeremiah did not know where his calling would take him, but he knew that God would be with him. The bent over woman did not know what would happen when she walked into that synagogue that day, but she felt the calling to live with God and followed where it lead her. It is our turn, to listen to God, to hear the words of our calling, to see how each of us can follow our calling to live with God.

For we have no higher calling than life in Christ, life with God, life through the Spirit. We have “no higher calling than this: to be channels of God’s love and healing and salvation to every human being and to the whole of God’s creation.” (Br. David Vryhof, SSJE) This is the same calling of God that Hebrews reminds us of, if we follow the voice from heaven, God who consumes us with love and sets our hearts on fire will be with us as we follow our callings in the life of God. While discerning our calls is not as easy as a phone call, having to listen and pray means a deeper relationship with God and a better understanding of how God is with us throughout our callings.  

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Faith In the Midst of Chaos

Thursday September 19, 2013
Theodore of Tarsus

Malachi 2:5-7
Psalm 71:18-23
2 Timothy 2:1-5, 10
Matthew 8:23-27

"True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in integrity and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of The Lord of hosts."

Don't we all wish that such things could be said of all our priests, including someday all of us on the path to become priests? Don't we wish that all our priests were teachers of true wisdom, role models of integrity and uprightness, true messengers from God?

I wish it was so. It is an ambitious goal. Instead, my life right now looks more like the lives of the disciples in the boat on that stormy day in Matthew's gospel. Afraid, covered in the mess of life, calling out for help from anyone, especially God.

Thankfully, Jesus does not leave the disciples hanging. Jesus addresses the situation in two radical ways. Jesus addresses the disciples first and then he addresses the storm. Both are acts worth pondering.

Why are you afraid, you of little faith?

For years this question has seemed to me to be an accusation. Jesus accuses the disciples of not having enough faith.
It seems to say,
you should not be afraid.
If you had more faith, you would believe that you will make it through your present trials.
Because you are afraid, you have fallen short.

And it's easy to see the story this way because this is not the only time the disciples are convicted of not having enough faith. Many times when they stand convicted, the disciples become defensive, but this time we are not told what the disciples had to say for themselves. One can imagine that they probably thought the reason for their fear was rather obvious, but in the gospels Jesus does not seem to ask rhetorical questions. He asks questions to open our eyes to something new.

And in thinking about Jesus' question this year, I heard it a bit differently.

Why are you afraid, you of little faith?

This time, I heard it as a reminder. A reminder that having faith means you do not need to be afraid. A reminder that faith starts little, like a mustard seed, and with love and hope, grows. A reminder that God is on our side, even against forces so far beyond our control. While there are no stories in the New Testament of the disciples calming storms, there are stories of the disciples healing people and casting out demons with their 'little' faith.

It seems that a little faith can go a long way.

Theodore of Tarsus is one person who must have had a little bit of faith. He went in faith, from growing up in a small city in Asia Minor, to his studies in Antioch, Constantinople, and Rome. And although he had never been to the British Isles, he went in faith to assume the bishops throne at Canterbury when he was 66 years old (in the 7th century no less). For twenty two years then, he was an active Archbishop, building a school, teaching and writing, calling multiple synods, one of which settled the debate about the date of the celebration of Easter, pulling the divided people of the land together in unity, even intervening and stopping a war. Theodore was bold in his faith and we can still feel the effects of his faith today. He was bold because he was willing to go where God called him, into the unknown storms of a new homeland, and in his old age, relying on God to sustain him.

With a little faith we too can be bold in this world. With a little faith, we can work towards the goals Malachi gives us of walking with integrity and wisdom. With a little faith, we can preach and teach truth. With a little faith, we can live into the fullness of the kingdom of God here on earth. With a little faith we can boldly believe that we can love one in times of conflict, we can talk to people in Franklin County jail, we can pack groceries for the Community Action Committee, we can give money for Santa on the Mountain for children. All with just a little faith.

I have one warning for you about calling out to God in faith though. When you call out to God to come to your aid, you should expect great things, but not always the in the same way as you imagine. The disciples called out to Jesus to save them, but they obviously did not expect the response of raw power that they saw. Matthew tells us that they were amazed and questioned what they experienced. While I can only wonder what kind of aid they were expecting, I know that they experienced just a little part of the awesomeness of God through Jesus' calming of the storm. 


So, have faith, even if just a little bit, and be bold. Call out to God and expect great things. God can handle the chaos.

Daily Death

This sermon was given in August during a seminary orientation Eucharist on the feast day of Jeremy Taylor.


Make us,” O God, “like your servant Jeremy Taylor, deeply aware of the shortness and uncertainty of human life.” I actually take enjoyment of sharing good news of death with you all during this first week here. Death was a fond friend of Jeremy Taylor’s, at least, his legacy of books, writings, and collections of prayers point to his ever searching want and wisdom to work towards a holy death in Christ. The collect of the day reminds us to be deeply aware of the shortness and uncertainty of our lives, I am sure many of you feel this uncertainty right now. Paul in Romans points to the reality that if we are living in Christ, then our death will be in Christ, Christ is ruler over both the dead and the living, we cannot stray away from God. The Gospel of John points beyond all human death to eternal life in Christ. He reminds us that God loves each of us, so much so that God wants us all to live eternally with her. But as humans, the only way for us to have eternal life is to die.

I came to seminary straight out of college, at the ripe old age of 22. I have learned of death slowly, in the passing of plants, pets, eventually, some of my great grandparents and grandparents, tragic passings of my fellow high school and college students. But one of the many things I have learned here at seminary is that death does not only come with the ending of life. Death is fond of all of us and is with us every day. Everyday, a part of our selves die, especially as we learn new things and grow in new ways.

My hope is that you are excited and eager to learn and grow. But I hope that you also realize that parts of you are dying each day and it is necessary to be in mourning. You will mourn the loss of your community, your church, your job in your own way. The deaths you experience may seem to come all at once, or piecemeal, but they are unavoidable and different for each of us. I ask that you be kind to yourself and to everyone else here because we are all in various stages of dying, mourning, and being reborn. It is a hard and painful path to follow, but success is not your goal. Christ is your goal, every day you need to die and be born again in Christ, and while we do not know the path that will take us to Christ right now, we know with the Psalmist that God will show us the path of life.

In this midst of all the pain of dying and rising I want you to remember two things. The first, that like a seed that has fallen on good soil, parts of you need to die so that the rich nutrients of the soil around you can nourish you and help you to grow into the wondrous creature God has created you to be. And second, that I have and will continue to pray for you as you are reborn in Christ. As Episcopalians I hope you will return in your times of pain to the Prayer Book and find the prayer for those who mourn and wrap its promise of love and strength around you.


May you go with God in strength, in courage, in knowledge of the shortness and uncertainty of your life. Go with God prepared to die, for only in death can you rise to eternal life in Christ. 

Welcome!


"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace." Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Hopefully the sermons and reflections on this blog will be timely and in their season. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments! I look forward to seeing and hearing your responses. :)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Tongues and Prophets and Love

This is actually a sermon with a video on the my YouTube channel.


Speak in tongues

Did you find that as edifying as I did? I am guessing not.

In the last few days, we have been listening to Paul make a point to the church in Corinth about having a community rather than an individual focus. Paul wishes the members of the church to do what is edifying and strengthening to the whole church. As much as the Corinthians and many of us want to do what is cool and will make us look good, such as speaking in tongues or having the coolest Twitter feed, what the church really needs is good prophecy. Someone who can speak truth to the church and isn't afraid of the consequences. Paul makes the point that good prophecy doesn't just instruct and build up the community, but it also reaches out to visitors, guests, those among us who are unsure of this way of life called Christianity. Episcopalians are not usually known for their good preaching or prophecy, but we can start changing that so that we are known as people who speak the truth.

Jeremiah is a good example for us in this respect. Jeremiah is so bold! Did you catch his impressive trick this morning? He tells King Zedekiah, king of Jerusalem, that his little plot to rebel against the Babylonians isn't going to work. That God will hand over Zedekiah and Jerusalem to the Babylonians, yet he then asks Zedekiah to keep him out of prison and to give him food security! And Zedekiah agrees. God was really watching out for Jeremiah.

God will watch out for us too. Even when we prophesy peace to those who want war, even when we prophesy love to those who are hurt and want retribution. We are called to love one another, but that doesn't always mean that we will be kind to one another. We are called to love another thoughtfully, using our resources to find the way we can best serve and care for the persons before us. Many times human beings fight, not because they have a real issue with someone else but because they are not being taken care of in the way that they need. Because they are not feeling loved. Many times our enemies are our enemies, not because of what they believe, but because of how they have responded to us or reacted to us. We make judgements about them before we even know why. We are called to love our enemies. Of all the people in the world that need our love the most, it is our enemies. It takes boldness to act on that love and share it. But it builds the community and it spreads the truth.


This is my prophesy: Thus says the Lord, love one another as I have loved you.