Friday, June 15, 2018

Examen


 "How do you tend to recognize God's presence in your day?"

Also known as the Examination of Consciousness, the Examen is a practice of questions which leads to seeing God in the details of our lives. Most people know of the Examen from the Catholic Jesuit tradition, popularized by Ignatius of Loyola. There are many different formats or ways of using an examen practice to deepen our spiritual lives. The focus in each one stays on the details of our daily lives and how and what affects our spiritual lives.

In most examen practices, a time is set apart at the end of the day to reflect on where God was in the daily activities. By going through the different activities and looking at our bodily responses or where we saw God or writing down the words which exemplify the activities, we start to see patterns emerge which show us where God is at work. For many, questions of gratitude about our daily lives can be very helpful in long term spiritual growth.

Many people think the examen practice needs to be rigorous and difficult. However, the examen can even be fun. One way of doing an examen practice for yourself, or perhaps your children, is to play a game of I Spy: the I Spy God edition. Where have you spied God in your life today? What points to God's presence?

Friday, June 8, 2018

Rule of Life


"A rule for life is a simple statement of the regular rhythms we choose in order to present our bodies to God as our "spiritual act of worship" (Romans 12:1). Each rule, or rhythm, is a way we partner with God for the transformation only he can bring." (p. 36 Spiritual Disciplines Handbook)

Many of us have heard of the Rule of Saint Benedict or the Franciscan Rule of Life. These Rules were written by monks for monks as a way of structuring and ordering the common life of the monastery. However, having a rule of life goes all the way back to the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Acts 2:42 says, "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." The earliest followers of Jesus thought that every Christian should follow these four ways of living: learning the teachings, being a part of the community, sharing in Communion, and praying together. Ever since then, Christians have been developing their own rules of life and rules of living for their communities.

Having a rule of life can be a very enriching practice. One way to try out a rule of life is to set a time limit on it, such as: "I will pray for ten minutes every morning for 40 days." Then when the 40 days are over you can look back on the rule and your relationship to it and see if it is really a good rule for your life. Not everyone's rules of life are the same. Night owls probably wouldn't like the early morning yoga and meditation practice of a morning lark. Whereas the morning lark might not be able to handle saying Compline every night at 11 pm. Part of the flexibility of a rule of life is that it fits your life and allows you to connect with God. What is in your rule of life?


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Accountability

ten minutes a day
six days: an hour
sixty thousand days
one hundred sixty five years

but double it
twenty minutes, three days
thirty thousand days
eighty two years

a lifetime of work
being an expert
day in and day out
being responsible for change

3/15/17
(They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. This is the math if you try to become an expert only spending 10 minutes a day. It would take 165 years to work up the hours needed.)

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Pray


pray for peace
in the midst of conflict
pray for clarity
in the midst of chaos
pray for charity
in the midst of consumerism
pray for kindness
in the midst of terrorism

pray Sweet Jesus
when we cannot
pray O Holy Spirit
when we forget
pray Creating Father
through to our bones

5/30/17

Sabbath


"Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns." Exodus 20:8-10

The fourth commandment reminds us to rest. Rest!? You might think? Who has time to rest? In the American culture at this time, rest is not a priority. Rest is for the weak. And we are all the strong who can keep going forever!

I hope you realize I'm being facetious. Rest is extremely important to our health and happiness as human beings. God created us to need and desire rest, in multiple ways. Not only do we require physical rest in sleep, but we also require mental and emotional rest in order to stay healthy. Many people experience stress and burn out because they do not allow themselves to rest enough. Being well rested allows us to work in our strengths and do the work we need to do.

The Jewish practice of sabbath starts in the evening the day before. This puts the whole next day in the right framework in order to rest. "Sabbath is God's way of saying, "Stop. Notice your limits. Don't burn out."" (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, 42) When even God rested in the story of creation, we know that we too need to rest in order to reach our full potential. We belong to the kingdom of God and in the kingdom of God there are no clocks, no task masters, no to do lists. Sabbath, and resting, are spiritual practices preparing us for our lives in the fullness of the kingdom of God.

Think about what it might mean to take a full day to rest with God. What would you need to let go of in order to rest? What are the consequences of not resting? Think about how you can find and plan a sabbath this week.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Trinity Sunday


Trinity Sunday tends to be a day for an opaque sermon.
I acknowledge and claim that. 
However, I have no plans on trying and failing to explain the Trinity to you today.
God is one in three and I believe that.
And many of you have sat through many confusing sermons on the subject.
So today I am going to speak about a different confusing topic
just to mix it up a little.

I'm going to talk about the passage from Isaiah today
and our struggle as sinners AND beloved children of God
to speak out against evil in this world.

This passage from Isaiah 
is usually known as Isaiah's call story,
though it is not the first passage from the book of Isaiah.
However, what is actually happening in this passage
is Isaiah getting spiritually ready
to get involved in
and fight the spiritual forces of wickedness 
going on in the world around him.

See, at the time Isaiah had this experience of God,
the Northern Kingdom of Israel 
and the Southern Kingdom of Judah had already split up.
King Uzziah was king of the Southern Kingdom of Judah
and was a fairly faithful king under the influence of the prophet Zechariah.
Unfortunately, towards the end of his reign 
he tried to do something in the temple that only the priests were allowed to do,
got caught, and apparently got leprosy,
and handed the power over to his son.
Sadly, his son and his grandson were not faithful to God.
Have you ever heard of Ahaz?
Well, anyway, the Syrians and the Northern Kingdom of Israel
went to war against the Southern Kingdom of Judah,
and to save himself and the Kingdom,
King Ahaz of Judah went to the Assyrians to get help,
but the price was becoming a vassal of the Assyrians. 
This vision we hear today from Isaiah,
is his introduction as to why 
he tries to intervene in the war and what Ahaz is doing.

If we kept on reading in Isaiah,
we would read in the next couple of chapters 
what he does to get involved in the war
and what he says to try to talk Ahaz out of the war.

What we see in this passage from Isaiah is his struggle and his calling.
Isaiah sees the coming and beginning war as part of the work of evil in the world.
Understandably so,
A war would mean destruction of people and land and food
none of which could really be spared at that point.
He struggles with the idea of getting involved though,
even more understandably,
because  he is one man against powers far greater than himself.

Many of us have felt this struggle,
how can we get involved in some of the larger issues in our world,
coming up against institutions and people with far greater power,
will any difference be made?

Isaiah feels his position in the world, both as a sinner, a man of unclean lips,
and as a beloved of God, for he has seen the Lord of hosts.
He is caught between knowing himself as a sinner and a beloved child of God.
As a sinner, how can he go up against the spiritual forces of wickedness
when he is not perfect?
Yet, as a man of God, a prophet,
how can he not speak out against the evil going on in the world?
Caught in between,
Isaiah struggles.
Thankfully, he has this vision.
Isaiah is forgiven and cleansed of his sin.
And then Isaiah is called,
to go back into the world and to speak up.
That's part of the foreshadowing done with the live coal touching his lips,
Isaiah will be given something to say,
he will be called upon to speak to the world.
Once he knows that his sins are forgiven,
he readily answers God's call.
The Lord speaks, saying,
"Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"
Isaiah immediately answers,
"Here I am; send me!"

We struggle with our place in the world too.
We know ourselves to be sinners,
and yet, we also know ourselves to be beloved children of God.
We get caught in the middle too.
We can see and know the strength of the spiritual forces of wickedness in the world.
Evil happens all around us,
in small and large ways everyday.
Yet how can we stand up against it?
How can we speak out against greater power than us?

When we are baptized, at least in the Episcopal Church,
and we have had two baptisms this month, so this will sound familiar to you,
we, or our parents and godparents, renounce
"Satan and all the spiritual forces
of wickedness that rebel against God."
We renounce
"the evil powers of this world
which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God."
From our beginnings in the body of Christ,
we are called,
like Isaiah,
to speak out against, to act out against,
the evil going on in our world,
which is not an easy thing to do.
Certainly not everyone thinks of themselves in a spiritual fight or battle 
always, or even ever.
However, we all know the feeling 
when the institutional or spiritual or psychological forces 
roll over us like big steam rollers. 
Flattening us like cartoon characters.
We all know what it is like to feel
like it is no use for us to get involved. 

Thankfully, we are not alone.
We are called, along with Isaiah,
to speak out against the forces of evil in this world
and thankfully, we do not do so alone.
We go together, as the body of Christ,
with brothers and sisters throughout the world.
We know that since God calls us 
God will be with us.
Jesus will be with us.
The Holy Spirit will be with us.

Isaiah was not alone,
he went out into the world
to speak against King Ahaz,
who royally messed things up for Judah,
and God went with him.
Every time Isaiah confronted King Ahaz,
God was there with him,
the Lord provided Isaiah with what to say
and the power to back up his words.
Isaiah spoke against others too,
not just King Ahaz, 
who were not following the ways of God,
and always God went with him. 

We have been cleansed of our sins and forgiven,
not quite exactly the way Isaiah was,
at least, not that I have heard,
but we have been cleansed of our sins and forgiven 
in the waters of baptism,
in the weekly confession and absolution,
and we stand before God,
who calls to us to speak out against evil in our lives,
both big and small.
Knowing that no matter where we go
with God's message of love and redemption,
God goes with us.
Supporting us and giving us the grace and strength
to speak out against the powers 
because it is through God's power and strength,
that we speak
and God will always go with us.

Amen. 


Thursday, May 24, 2018

Praise

How can I praise your stability
in the midst of high anxiety
when the only truth to frame
is that you won't leave me alone
when despite my repeated warnings
of stormy seas and high winds
you row out determined
to keep the world together
when the only care
despite the lashing rain of tears
is that we remain forever
stubborn as a rock they say
stubborn as a rock I grin
the grey cliff withstands the stormy sea
until it falls into its arms

(5/26/17)

Spiritual Disciplines


Spiritual disciplines? What are those?
A good question for anyone in the Christian faith and life. Many people, when they take a moment to think of spiritual disciples, think of things like prayer, bible reading or study, and going to church. While those are good spiritual disciplines, those are not the only ones out there. Far from it! In seminary one of my professors gave me a book which outlines 62 different spiritual disciplines: their practices, their functions, and their strengths and weaknesses. Sixty two different practices! That is a lot of different ways to connect to God!

"Spiritual practices don't give us "spiritual brownie points" or help us "work the system" for a passing grade from God. They simply put us in a place where we can begin to notice God and respond to his word to us." (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook p. 19) Spiritual practices help us connect our desire for God in our lives with the work that God is doing in our lives. While there are lots of books out there which outline different practices, ways of connecting to God are not limited to 62 or 100 or even 1000. There are thousands of ways in which we can connect to God in our daily lives. However, throughout the summer, I will be talking about some spiritual practices to try out. Maybe you do some of these things already, perhaps you've never thought of them as spiritual disciplines, maybe they will all be new to you. See what fits your life and desire for God in your life.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Pentecost Sermon


I want you to take a look at your hand. 
Right or left, it doesn't matter.
Every day our hands do impressive amounts of work.
They influence our experience of the world.
Look at your fingers.
You probably don't think about them often.
They are very similar in nature to each other,
yet each is different. 
Each is unique from the others.
Even our fingers have diversity!
Each of our fingers have different purposes and gifts. 
The fact that our thumbs are at an angle and move slightly differently than the other fingers... opposable thumbs! 
What a gift our thumbs are in our daily lives!
(Especially when you consider animals without opposable thumbs,
we have all seen those internet memes.)
We may look at our hands and think they are all the same. 
In fact, we have diversity right in our hands.

The word diversity really means a range of different things.
Not that it has a range of different meanings,
it quite literally means, "a range of different things."
Having a collection be diverse means that there are different things in the collection.
So speaking about diversity in the context of people 
requires two things: community and different gifts.

This is where we go to the passage from Acts,
the bedrock of Pentecost.
The passage starts with the community.
"The disciples were all together in one place." 
Here we have a collection of people, already diverse in nature.
Tax collectors, fisherman, carpenters,
all gathered together in a room because of the same glue.
Its quite obvious that the only reason the disciples ever managed to stay together
was because of Jesus. 
Together, this little community of men,
has an amazing experience.
A rush of wind and tongues of fire,
a change of heart and feeling of presence,
and a sudden new knowledge filling each of them. 

Diversity is one of the first gifts the Holy Spirit ever gives to the church, 
simply by giving the disciples the ability to speak different languages.
When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples that day of Pentecost,
it didn't tell the disciples to go only 
to the Aramaic speaking good Jews to spread the good news of Jesus.
No, the Holy Spirit gave the disciples new languages,
the gift of speaking to people wholly different from them.
With the gifts of the Holy Spirit there were going to be
Egyptian followers of Jesus
and Parthian followers of Jesus
and Mesopotamian followers of Jesus.
People from all over the known world
who didn't all have the same background or the same ideas.
The Holy Spirit came and made the disciples more diverse,
even than they had been before.

I love the fact that someone thinks this rush of speaking in languages from Jews
is because of wine.
As if having some wine could give us the ability to speak a new language.
The work of the Holy Spirit in this way 
was so new, 
so amazing, 
so profound,
no good excuses could be made to justify the event away.
Someone in the crowd tried to blame it on wine,
but we all know that was simply out of fear.
You can see the bystanders trying to push the idea away,
out of fear, out of wanting to stay away from the unknown.

Unfortunately, for many the gift of diversity looks like a threat. 
The unknown quality of people being different from one another leads to fear. 
Thankfully, this fear can be overcome.
Recognizing and accepting diversity does put us outside of our comfort zones. 
It is the work of the Holy Spirit,
and God doesn't call us to be comfortable.
In a world increasing separating into groups of like minded people who do not play well with people or groups who are differently minded, 
the world lacks the grace of living into our gifts as diverse people.

However, everyone is different in this world. 
Everyone deserves the dignity and respect which we each crave for ourselves. 
Everyone is different and has different gifts. 
One of the greatest gifts we can give another person
is acknowledging them for as uniquely themselves. 
It is only by working together, 
using all the gifts which we bring to the table, 
can we really ever accomplish anything. 
The world is worth working with other people who are extremely different than us. 
Not everyone can speak Spanish or German or Hindi or Swahili, 
but the Holy Spirit has given us the gifts that we need in order to work together.

Many people feel that the church is, and has always been,
a place for people who all think, feel, believe, and look the same.
You have to be and act and speak in a particular way in order to be a part of the church.
Unfortunately, there are many parts of the church in which this is true.
There are rules governing what you can wear, what you can eat or drink,
who you can talk to, and so forth.

By no means am I advocating a standard of lawlessness or anarchy,
there are standards for being a follower of Jesus
however none of them are based on what clothing you wear
or what you can eat or drink.
In fact, Jesus would probably have broken any and all rules
given to him by the religious authorities of his own church
in order to be involved and part of the lives of the people who needed him.

Diversity is a strength, not one of the church's greatest strengths,
though thankfully one that we are more and more recognizing the need for.
Here in this community, we have a range of diversity
Episcopalians, Lutherans, a few Catholics,
we have people who speak languages other than English,
we have people who are differently abled,
we have people who can program electronic devices,
and people who stay as far away from such devices as they can,
and all these diversities make for a better community.

We come together today to join our diverse hands
to be together as a community with different gifts
experiencing the Holy Spirit in this time and in this place,
so that when we go out into the world 
we can meet God at work through the Holy Spirit
in all the diverse places and people we experience.
God sends us out to find ourselves and Him
in all the beautiful diversities of His creation.

Amen. 


Thursday, May 17, 2018

Singing


we are
sounds without words
haunting melody
it curls around the mind
changing mood, imagination
what I know as home
became deeper
sunk in memories
subconscious amniotic fluid
the voiceless cry
of a lone viola
stringing through the wind
my heart provides
accompaniment beneath

(3/7/17)

Pentecost Reflection



"O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen." (BCP 227)

Pentecost was a huge change in the life of the community of Jesus followers. The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and changed everything. It opened up the way of Jesus to new people, through the disciples being able to speak new languages. It opened up questions about the place of the Holy Spirit in people's lives with sweeping changes in how the community of Jesus followers saw themselves. It lead the disciples into truths they had never faced before.

I love how the prayer for Pentecost above asks that we can rejoice in the 'holy comfort' of the Holy Spirit. Most times when people experience the workings of the Holy Spirit it is in a new and uncomfortable way. The Holy Spirit sweeps into our lives and turns them upside down. Yet, there is something comforting about the presence of the Holy Spirit, even as it is changing our lives. The presence of the Holy Spirit allows us to know that God is with us and that what is happening is for our much greater good.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Prayer


There is a phrase in the global church community
which can be said in many different ways.
Almost like the southern, "Bless your heart"
which can be everything from a prayer to a derogatory comment,
the phrase, "I'll pray for you"
can be used in both good and bad ways.
Sometimes it is said in a way that is demeaning,
or makes you wonder if that person will actually pray for you.
However, it can also provide great comfort,
allowing people to know that they are not alone and that someone else cares about them
and loves them enough to pray for them.
Prayer for another is a powerful tool in the Christian community tool box.
Prayer for another is an action of the love of God in us.

Naturally, when we talk about prayer,
we have to recognize that there are different types of prayer.
We pray for ourselves,
we pray in order to communicate with God, and have God communicate with us,
we pray for others specifically in intercessory prayer,
and we pray on behalf of the world.

In the gospel passage for today,
we see Jesus in the midst of prayer,
showing multiple different kinds and uses of prayer.

Chapter 17 of the gospel of John is solely Jesus praying.
He prays for a whole chapter,
While sitting in the garden of Gethsemane
between the Last Supper and his arrest.
Jesus prays fervently to God.
The story says that he was alone during this time period
yet, in the gospel of John,
we have the text of his prayer,
written down for all of us to read and hear.
Jesus probably told his disciples about his prayer afterwards.

The whole chapter-long prayer can be broken up into three parts:
Jesus praying for himself
Jesus praying for his disciples
Jesus praying for the world.

In the first six verses, Jesus prays for himself.
He knows what is coming at this point and he wishes that it didn't have to happen.
However, Jesus is obedient to God and acknowledges that he was sent to do God's will
and God's will he will do.
He prays that God will be glorified through him and that he can join God in glory.
Jesus loves God and thus prays to God. 
In some ways, because Jesus is part of God, 
Jesus' prayers are a self-giving love to and of God.

In the portion of the chapter we heard Deacon Dave read this morning,
Jesus prays for his disciples.
He prays that they are protected,
that they know the truth about God,
that they are one together in love,
and that they go forth into the world to share their witness.
Because Jesus loves his disciples,
he prays for them, over and over again. 
He acts out his love for them in his prayers for them,
putting love into action. 

In the last portion of the chapter,
Jesus prays for the world,
including us.
He prays for all those who will believe in him because of the testament of his disciples,
which ends up being us at this time.
He prays for unity and that love will be shared throughout the world
through all those who believe in him.
Jesus puts his love of us into action in prayer as well.
Through the love of God, inside of him,
he can pray for people he loves throughout time and space.

Jesus sets us a wonderful example in John of how to pray
for ourselves,
for each other,
and for the world.
Jesus shows us how to put the love of God given to us
into action through prayer.

One of the hallmarks of a truly Christian community is their prayer for each other.
Thankfully this is not a new idea for you all here at St. John's.
I know well the prayers you have for each other,
through week day Morning Prayer and the rotation of the congregation prayed for daily,
through the number of Daughters of the King messages I receive daily,
praying for community members here, in Grace Lutheran, and in the wider Franklin community.
Prayer is embedded in this community as a way of sharing the love of God
and putting faith into action.
Practically anyone can see the love you have for each other 
in the service and prayer you give each other. 

As another example, the Book of Common Prayer
highlights this desire for prayer in the community in the service of baptism.
Not only do we vow in the Baptismal Covenant to continue in the tradition of prayer,
but we also pray for the person about to receive baptism immediately before they are baptized. 
Even before they become an official member of the body of Christ in baptism,
the community is already praying for them. 
Today, as we baptize Judson (at the 10 am service),
we acknowledge him as part of the community 
and start
what will be lifelong prayers for him
in this community. 
We act out the love of God for him, through us,
through our prayers for him and the love we show him.

When it comes to community prayers,
I have taken on my own practices of praying for this community.
Each week I move through our membership, praying for a family or couple or individual 
and sending them a card to let them know I am praying for them.
Some of you have probably already know this, having received a card already,
while some of you are still on my list for the future. 
Every prayer request which comes in,
either the DOK email chain, or into the church office, or spoken to me personally,
goes onto my personal prayer list, prayed each day in Morning Prayer.
No need to wonder, when I say I'll pray for you,
I pray for you.
And even sometimes when you don't ask or I don't say it,
I even pray for you then. 
God has poured a lot of love into me, 
and I pour it out in service of the church, 
loving you all and praying for you all. 

Prayer is part of the glue of Christian community. 
One Episcopal theologian who wrote about prayer was Leonel Mitchell.
He wrote a book called Praying Shapes Believing, 
a theological commentary on the Book of Common Prayer. 
In the book he sets out the basic idea 
that how we pray is really what shapes our beliefs.
He also talks about how the reverse is true,
what we believe affects how we pray. 
If we only ever pray for certain people or certain situations,
then even if we started with believing that God cares about other people,
we start to believe that God only cares about those types of people or situations which we pray about. 
He also says that the act of praying,
especially with repetition,
cements ideas in our hearts and minds in ways mere memorization cannot do. 
Putting our faith into action through prayer 
helps us to experience and understand the love of God 
in ways we might not otherwise be able to do.

While prayer isn't always easy,
it is an action worth all the love and commitment we can put into it.
I am grateful to have landed in a community so strong in prayer
and my hope is that we will continue,
so that everyone in Franklin might know us
because of our love and prayer for each other.

Amen. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Sorry

stated simply
a turn of phrase
an old cliche
for those who care
with conscious bare
apologizing for others' sins
daunting to change
ignorant to mend
a peace offering
when all you have in exchange
is vulnerability
making its way
from eyes to eyes

(5/28/17)

Vision


"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’" (Revelation 21:1-4)

In the book of Revelation, John shares what he sees in a vision for the coming of the kingdom of heaven. The full vision of what he sets out is at times terrifying and at times comforting. In chapter 21, the coming of the holy city of Jerusalem shares the comforting image of God coming to make his permanent home among humanity, and there will be no more death or pain or crying.

Unfortunately, the kingdom of heaven as John envisions it is not where we live today. Our world is full of death and pain and crying. We are surrounded by suffering, our own and our neighbors'. However, this does not stop us from continuing to live into and work towards the vision of the kingdom of heaven. As Jesus followers, we are called to look forward, to see the vision of the kingdom of God, and to work towards making that vision a reality in our own lives.

As a community, we haven't spent much time thinking about the future, we have been worried about the present. Thankfully, with St. John's and Grace together, we are in a healthy place to stop worrying about the present and start thinking about the future. Who are we called to become? How are we faithfully walking towards the kingdom of heaven? In the next year we are going to be having more events and studies focusing on seeing the vision of the kingdom of heaven. I hope you'll join in on the work of envision the future of God's kingdom here in Franklin.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Sixth Sunday of Easter


Have you ever known a person who was so staunch in their position about something
that only an act of God would make them change their mind,
and perhaps not even that?

Change, especially change of the heart,
is not easy.

For example, 
The position of the early church was that:
The Holy Spirit is at work in those who are baptized.
And the understanding was that the Holy Spirit was
ONLY
at work in those who are baptized.

(Unfortunately, though this position has changed, 
many people still believe this way.)

People who were baptized and went to church were the special ones.
The one who knew God and could interact with God.
No one else could get near God,
no one else was working with the Holy Spirit.
If you wanted to access God,
you had to go find God in a church.
Many changes have happened throughout the centuries
the world of the first century church was extremely different than the world of the twenty first century church
yet, we still have the tendency to want to control God
and specify where God can be at work in the world.

I mean, God couldn't possibly be involved with all those other people,
could God?
We aren't going to find the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of ... them...
You know, the poor, the unchurched, the criminals,
the ones hanging out watching the news on Sunday mornings in their pajamas...

Yes.
Most emphatically, yes.

Case and point:
Peter was one of the twelve disciples,
he was one of the big shots of the early church.
(So much so, the Roman Catholic Church have put their claim on him as the first Pope.)
And Peter believed that the mission of Jesus
was to the Jewish people,
Gentiles need not apply.

Yet some other big shots of the early church,
namely Paul 
felt that Jesus' Good News
was for everyone, 
including the Gentiles.
So it was an issue...
Gentiles... in the church!
Good God!

Exactly.
Thankfully for us, who all started as Gentiles,
the originally mostly Jewish church community started to welcome Gentiles,
without making them become Jewish first.

It happened in this way:
There was a centurion named Cornelius.
A Roman soldier living in Caesarea.
A Gentile.

There wasn't a church in Caesarea at this point in the story
there wasn't a community following the ways of Jesus in Caesarea.

However, Cornelius is visited by an angel in a vision
and told to send for Peter to visit him.
So Cornelius sends some of his men to Joppa, by the seaside,
to find Peter and convince Peter to visit Cornelius.
While Cornelius' men were on their way,
Peter has his own vision from God,
in which he is told, 
"What God has made clean,
you must not call profane."

(Some of you will remember this story from reading through Acts with the Good Book Club
or talking about it in Adult Formation.)

Anyway, Cornelius' men convince Peter to go with them back to Cornelius.
When they get to Caesarea, they find that Cornelius
has called together a bunch of his friends and family to hear Peter speak.
(There's nothing like being invited to an event and then being called on to speak.)
Peter tells the group in front of him about Jesus and the Good News.
And the crowd of people believe him.
The Holy Spirit comes upon them and they start praising God and speaking in tongues.
Peter is amazed.

He then asks a good question, one that he had never thought about before.
Who can stop the work of God?
"Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?"
It was a moment of a change of heart for Peter.
One that changed the community of followers of Jesus forever.
Who are we to stop the work of God in someone else,
even if they are not like us?

Even the apostles and believers back in Judea,
when Peter goes home,
end up questioning Peter as to why he accepted
and met and ate and drank and prayed with Cornelius and his men.
Peter has to give a verbatim, a step by step narrative of everything that happened,
before they could accept that God might be at work,
even in the Gentiles.

In this passage, we see a very important Christian story.
We see one of the many changes in heart and mind
which happen because of the Good New of Jesus.
Peter had been in the camp of people who thought that only
good Jewish people could become Jesus followers.
Yet, because of an act of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit,
Peter becomes one of the first apostles to baptize Gentiles into the community.

Later on in the story of Acts, when Paul and Barnabas come to Jerusalem,
they are called out by some other members of the community for accepting Gentiles.
Peter stands up alongside them in accepting Gentiles who have become followers of Jesus.
He argues that since the Holy Spirit had been given to them,
just as it has been given to the Jewish followers, 
they were true followers of Jesus.

The sign of the Holy Spirit in these stories was speaking in tongues and praising God.
Two good signs.
There are also many other signs of the Holy Spirit in someone's life.
Last week, I spoke about one of the fruits of the Spirit,
the outward and visible signs of something going on deep inside of us,
God's grace at work in our hearts.
There are the traditional signs, and then there are the signs more likely to be noticed today,
community service, engaging in biblical study, getting involved in the ministries of the church.
No matter what the sign,
they all signify the same thing,
the workings of the Holy Spirit upon us.
Even when the people engaging in the signs of the Holy Spirit,
are not the people we expect.

The understanding today is that the Holy Spirit is always at work in a person's life
BEFORE they are baptized,
especially for those who receive baptism later in life,
otherwise they would not seek baptism at all.

The Collect of the Day makes this connection to baptism and this idea of the Holy Spirit in our lives very clear.
It says, "Pour into our hearts" 
and y'all already know, 
you can't fill an already full cup.
When we are full of ourselves, there is no space for the workings of the Holy Spirit
there is no space for the fruits of the Spirit to grow within us.

When we pour water over the head of Logan today,
we already know that God has poured into her heart, 
the grace and love of God,
the Holy Spirit,
already.
We have seen the signs in her life here at St. John's,
volunteering with Shepherd's Green Community Food Pantry.
The Holy Spirit has already been at work in her life,
and we celebrate her life and gift today.

Today, as we go out in the world
Jesus sends us out to find
where the Holy Spirit is ALREADY at work,
to support the Holy Spirit,
to help the Holy Spirit,
to encourage the work of the Spirit,
wherever and whenever 
we find her.

Amen.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Care


the wires above us
connecting caring
flung carelessly into the sky
disgracing heaven
from pole to pole in the maze that signifies relationship
causation and effect
forgotten out of sight

what is the most efficient labyrinth of wire
of energy connecting love and light
drawn on insufficient funds
but tying us together

5/23/17

Stewardship



But wait! Its not Stewardship season yet! Why are you talking about Stewardship now? Yes, typically the Stewardship season is in the fall in the church, but really, Stewardship is a year long process of discernment and giving. The call to good stewardship asks much deeper questions than how much money we are giving to the church. The call to good stewardship also encompasses how we are using our time, our talents, and all our resources, not just our money, in the service of God. Discernment in stewardship is asking these questions, are we using all our resources to their full ability in the work of God? Are we giving our time or our energy in the place where it is used in the best way? Do we have gifts we aren't using which can be shared to fulfill a need in our community?

Good stewardship practices work all through the year. Different seasons have different needs and require different resources. While we are putting together our Stewardship Committee for this  year's official stewardship campaign in the fall, it is also a good time to take a good look at our resources, both communal and personal, and see if we are using them to their abilities. Do we have room we could share? Do we have gifts we could share with the community? What needs do we see that we could fill? The call to good stewardship doesn't only happen in October, the call for good stewardship happens all year long.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Fruit of Patience


I can't wait for the summer fruit to arrive.
Rich juicy strawberries
perfectly crunchy grapes with cool refreshing insides
peaches with tangy sweet juice running down my fingers
tomatoes redder than the new fire hydrants
blueberries to stain my fingers
ripe wild raspberries
Today Jesus gives us a parable with very summery imagery.
We aren't quite there yet,
and with the snow flakes of this morning,
we have to continue waiting,
patiently and impatiently.

This morning's imagery gives us a view into how Jesus sees
our relationship to God.
God is the vine-grower, Jesus is the vine, we are the branches.
We are called to bear fruit, through the help of Jesus and God.
Jesus intends us to see ourselves as part of this metaphor,
to see ourselves as part of the process of the kingdom of God.
We are the branches, reaching out into the world,
bearing good fruit for God
and spreading the bountiful gifts that God gives
through the fruits that we bear. 

This passage from John comes from the teachings of Jesus during the night of the Passover meal, 
his last meal with his disciples.
I can imagine Jesus, 
staring at his disciples and the vestiges of the meal they had eaten. 
After washing their feet and blessing the bread and wine,
I can see his eyes touching on the cup of wine before him and using the wine as inspiration for a metaphor to help them understand the truth of their relationship.
"I am the vine, you are the branches."
This evocative imagery happens right before 
Jesus tells his disciples his commandment to love one another. 
His love flows through them,
as water flows through the roots, to the vine, to the branches to bear fruit, 
the miracle of turning water into fruit,
we embody the miracle of turning love into blessings.

One of the many great aspects of this metaphor
tells us of God's great patience.
A vine-grower had to be a patient person. 
Grape vines don't immediately start producing fruit, 
it can be up to three years before you get a real harvest of any sort. 
What is not producing fruit right away, 
doesn't mean it won't produce fruit in the long term.
Jesus says that the branches not bearing fruit will be cut away
but there is a lot of judgement call going on there 
on the part of the vine-grower
because not every branch produces fruit at the same rate or time.

Also, of course, pruning is an important part of taking care of a fruit bearing plant,
especially at the beginning of the season. 
Pruning is a cutting back, but good pruning is a cutting back 
which happens right before the vine grows and becomes very fruitful.
Many people see cutting back as a bad thing,
but in gardening, pruning is a good cutting back,
in order to produce more fruit.

Naturally though, bearing fruit is not an immediate process. 
Bearing fruit is a long process of growing, budding, flowering, and growing the fruit.
Bearing fruit means that there will come a day for pruning before more fruit is grown. 
The process of life and dormancy, pruning and growing is in constant motion,
and so are our lives in Christ.

Jesus says he is the vine and we are the branches, 
and the branches and the vines are part of each other. 
We are an outpouring of Christ and Christ is within us. 
As Christians we cannot do anything without Christ. 
From the moment we are baptized to the moment we die, 
everything we do is done with Christ by our sides.

Here at St. John's we are in a year of planting. 
We are not quite at the stage of bearing fruit. 
Though we have seen some fruit start to grow.
Planting requires patience. 
Like the vine grower, we must wait and see 
what and how the planting will grow.

Whether we will be starting new programs, building up our spiritual depth
or growing our community,
bearing fruit is a long process.
This process is not in line with the instant gratification aspect of our current culture.
Patience is not a virtue in secular society anymore.
Yet, patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit,
at least by Paul's understanding written out in Galatians,
when God is working in us, we produce the fruits of 
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I don't know how many times I have heard people 
talk about these fruits of the Spirit
and despair of every having any of them.
I don't know about you,
but patience and self-control
were not things I was inherently born with.
I have to work so hard to be patient
or in certain circumstances,
to control myself and my tongue.
The fruits of the Spirit
are long ripening fruits.
Like citrus fruits, which can take months to ripen,
the fruits we grow in God,
can take months or even years to grow.

This is so counter cultural in our world. 
Nowadays, people want things now, or even yesterday.
The world has learned how to quickly make many different things, 
including trying to rush connections between people
yet, many of the fruits of our instant gratification society are cheap,
not made to last, not fully grown, or given the necessary care. 
You can't rush people into having a good connection,
no matter how many times you go through speed dating
or other such events.
Thankfully, the example Jesus gives us in this rich passage,
shows how God does give all the love and care needed
to grow rich ripe delicious fruit
in us and in the world. 

When we are the branches to Jesus' vine,
when God is our vine-grower,
we know we have the love of God flowing through us.
We know that what we bear,
whether through our actions, our relationships,
or even our creations,
will be graced with the goodness of God. 

When you create something out of love, 
either for the art form, for the medium, or for the intended recipient, 
the goodness of God flows through you.

This a flow is akin to growing plants,
where nutrients flow from the roots to the stalk to the branches to the leaves...
God flows through us and allows 
what starts as a small seed
to grow into a teeming mass of interweaving life.

As water and nutrients flow through the vine to the branches
giving the raw materials to create and bear fruit
God sends the Holy Spirit
sends love, assurance, and inspiration
through Jesus into us
in order for us to bear fruit,
to bring to life the kingdom of God
here and in the future. 

Amen.