Zofran uses

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine asked on Facebook what we would say if we had to Tweet the Good News of God in Christ Jesus on Easter morning.[1]

You all know what Twitter is, right? It’s that instant messaging service in which you can say whatever you want in 140 characters or less, including spaces and punctuation.

I have to be honest: I have not been a fan of Twitter. I find it to be terribly narcissistic, that most of what goes out to the world is useless, vainglorious nattering.

But Twitter now has a place in our lives. Look at the role it has played in the Arab Spring … in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon and Syria. More than 26 million Americans alone use Twitter … tens of millions more people use it around the world, and tens and tens of millions more people follow it without every posting a thing.

Which means that if we can come up with a really, really, really great Tweet on Easter, we could reach tens of millions. And if our Tweet is really, really, really, really great, we can reach maybe even hundreds of millions of people!

All we have to do is figure out what to say about the Risen Lord in 140 characters or less … including spaces and punctuation.

So here’s our challenge on this Easter morning:

What should we say?

How should we announce the greatness of this day?

The Women arriving at the Tomb, by He Qi.

Should we edit Peter down and say, “Jesus Christ is Lord of all, raised from the dead on day three. He is ordained by God as judge of all. All who believe receive forgiveness”? (That’s 138 characters, by the way.)

Meh … too complex.

Perhaps we could turn to the Psalmist: “The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! The right hand of the Lord is exalted! This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”? (That’s 139 characters.) But … that’s not quite clear, is it? And it is very triumphalist. So this won’t work either.

Now we could quote Paul, the apostle who never met Jesus in the flesh, only the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus. His Tweet could read: “You have been raised with Christ. Set your minds on things above where Christ is. For you have died, your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Ha! That one is exactly 140 characters!)

Um … I’m thinking this isn’t the good news we were looking for.

So what about quoting the Risen Lord himself? “Jesus says: Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Ninety-five characters – pretty concise.) Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell people that Christ is risen, does it?

There’s the message from the angel: “Do not be afraid. He is not here. He has been raised.” That’s fairly straight-forward, and it only takes 53 characters.

It is Good News, but is it enough? Does it really convey what we want it to convey? Is it enough to convince people that this is the Good News of their lives? I don’t think so.

So even though we know what the Gospel, the Good News of God in Christ Jesus, is and what it means, we still don’t have a message to Tweet that is good news for our readers.

And we do want to convey good news, because this is our job. We don’t just get the Good News this morning … we have to give it as well. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, on the day he died for us, “It is finished.” He was saying that his work on this earth was done, and now he was turning it over to us.

Make no mistake: This is our job. We have to spread the Good News to a world that does  not know the Good News is even there! There’s a whole world out there that hasn’t quite gotten the message. For far too many people, this day isn’t about resurrection. It’s about Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies!

But Jesus gave us this job, and we’d better get working.

So tell you what.

Let’s roll up our sleeves, and let’s build a Tweet together.

Let’s figure out how to share with the whole world the Good News we receive on this holiest day of our lives.

We can start with the words of the ancient song, the Exsultet, which can only be sung on Easter.

The Empty Tomb, by He Qi.

 

(chant)

Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels,

And let your trumpets shout salvation

For the victory of our mighty king.

Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth,

Bright with a glorious splendor,

For darkness has been vanquish’d by our eternal King.

Rejoice and be glad now, Mother Church,

And let your holy courts, in radiant light,

Resound with the praises of your people.

That’s a pretty good message, don’t you think?

A little long, though … it kind of blows the 140-character limit.

So let’s reduce it down.

Let’s just make the first part of our Tweet say, “Rejoice!” That’s eight characters – still plenty of room to work with.

But to be effective, we have to be clear why we’re rejoicing.

What is it that makes us so happy on this holy day?

Is it the knowledge that Jesus died for us? For each of us? Personally?

Yes. But what does that mean?

That God loves us, perhaps?

That is why Jesus died for us, you know – because he loved us.

So I think that might be the next part of the message.

God loves you.

That’s another 14 characters, so we’re still in good shape.

But even though that message has been repeated many times before, there are still some people who don’t quite believe that God loves them. Some people don’t believe Jesus died for them, and others say, “Yeah, OK, he died for us, but how does that prove that God loves us?”

Well, we have that answer, don’t we? It’s pretty simple, actually:

Jesus’ tomb is empty.

(chant)

This is the night,

When Christ broke the bonds of death and hell,

And rose victorious from the grave.

The women went to the tomb on the third day so they could anoint Jesus’ body, but he wasn’t there. He was gone. It was the angel who told them the God’s-honest truth: He has been raised from the dead – just like he told you.

In that rising, my friends, God proves his love for us by not just defeating but by annihilating the one thing we fear the most: death itself.

Jesus loved us so much he died for us – for each one of us, right here.

God loves us so much he destroys death for us – for each one of us, right here.

So let’s make that the next part of our Tweet:

The tomb is empty! Jesus Christ, who died for us, is risen!

That takes us up to 83 characters. Meaning, we still have some room to get more of our message across.

So let’s explain some more why this is all Good News.

(chant)

Easter Morning, by He Qi.

 

This is the night,

When all who believe in Christ

Are delivered from the gloom of sin,

And are restored to grace and holiness of life.

How blessed is this night,

When earth and heaven are joined,

And man is reconciled to God.

And there you have it.

The gloom of sin, which leads to death – emotionally, spiritually and physically – has been lifted. Our lives, which sometimes can seem so empty, so pointless, so difficult, so draining, are restored to grace and we are made holy again.

Any separation from God that we may have experienced in our lives is over and done with. We have been reconciled to God. Our relationship has been put to right, we have been brought together, our accounts have been squared. We are reunited with God, and all our differences have been patched up and resolved.

By dying for us, Jesus wiped the slate clean.

By raising Jesus from the dead, God keeps that slate clean … forever.

And that is Good News indeed. Why, it’s such Good News that I think we ought to praise the Lord for it.

So let’s put an “Alleluia!” in our Tweet. We’ve got the room.

And look! We still have some room left.

He Is Risen, by He Qi.

So let’s go back to where we started. Let’s put in another “Rejoice!

Put it all together, and I think we just might have our Tweet. I think we are ready to proclaim to all the world what makes us so very happy on this Easter morning.

Rejoice! God loves you! The tomb is empty! Jesus Christ, who died for us, is risen! All of us are reconciled to God! Alleluia! Rejoice!

And we did it in 135 characters, thank you very much! I think my friend on Facebook would be pleased.

Yeah.

We have Good News to share this morning:

God loves us, and we can prove it. The tomb is empty, Christ is Risen. Alleluia!

And you can Tweet that!

Amen.

Easter sermon, preached at Trinity Episcopal Church, Arlington, Va., 24 April 2011, Year A.

 

[1] The Rev. Mark Delcuze, Rector, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Beverly Farms, Mass., “Tweeting the Resurrection,” 13 April 2011, https://www.facebook.com/mark.delcuze?sk=notes

 

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Keynote address for the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia’s Millennial Development Goals Day 2011

One of the reasons I believe I was asked to be your presenter this morning is not just that I served as an Appointed Missionary in Haiti, nor that I served as an Appointed Missionary in Sudan … but because I have lived at the other end of the MDGs, the Millennial Development Goals, that I have seen the power and the hope that come from these goals, and that I can stand here, as a witness to tell you:

It is good.

It is good … that we gather here this morning to learn more about the MDGs, to spend time together discerning how we can help meet these goals, to network with each other so that our efforts are not overlapping or duplicated.

It is good … that we are listening to God’s call to us, through Moses and the Law and the Prophets, through God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, whom we follow.

It is good … that we center ourselves in this call, and discern how we are to live our lives through that call, not just until 2015 (which the United Nations set as an initial deadline when it developed this program), but for all of our lives.

Yes, indeed, my friends, it is good that we are here this morning, listening to God’s call to us.

Before we go any farther, I want to show you a movie on the MDGs, an overview, if you will, with all the statistics you will ever need to know. Afterward, I want to take some of your questions and see if together we can answer them, so that all of us have a common understanding of the goals and of what we as a community of God’s beloved children are attempting to accomplish. If someone could turn off the lights, please?

(Show Achieving the Millennial Development Goals – movie on YouTube)

Now, let’s spend some time on this idea that the Millennial Development Goals are God’s call to us.

To understand this better, let’s go back to the beginning, back to before there was a need for these goals, back to when God first called us.

In the beginning, after God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them – the birds of the air and the fish of the sea and the cattles of the land – God created humanity. God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness;” … So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them.”

Theologically, this means that being created in God’s image is the imperative behind our involvement in the MDGs, for to be created in God’s image is to be created first in the image of love, and what are the MDGs if not a visible sign of God’s love for all of us? We know that the first image of God is love because we are not necessary to God. God is necessary to us but we are necessary to God, for God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so we cannot possibly be necessary to God. Which means that God wanted us, that God desired us into being, that God loved us into being. So the first image in which we are created is one of love.

Because we are Christians, the second image of God in which we are created is one of community, for God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit never act independently of each other. In our reading of the Scriptures, all three persons of the Trinity are present from before the beginning, and they always work together. Which means that we are created in that image, the one of community, as well.

So what it all boils down to is this:

God created us in love and community to live in love and community.

And does that not sound exactly like the MDGs?

Isn’t living in love and community exactly what the MDGs hope to accomplish?

If you spend any time at all in the Scriptures, you will see that God indeed intends us to fulfill everything that the MDGs call for:

End poverty and hunger? How often does God call us to care for the needy, to not reap to the very edges of our fields, or gather the gleanings of our harvests, but instead shall leave them for the poor and for the alien? (Lev. 23:22)

Universal education? Does not God say that we are to put these words of God’s in our hearts and souls, that we are to teach them to our children, talking about them when we are at home and when we are away, when we lie down and when we rise? (Deuteronomy 11:18)

Gender equality? I know … there are many who would claim that the Bible says nothing about women being equal, but those who say that seem to ignore the fact that when God created humankind in the first chapter of Genesis, God created them, man and woman, in God’s image. I can’t give you a better example of all people being created equal than that.

Health care for both mothers and children, and combating HIV/AIDS? These are calls for basic health care for all people, especially for those who are considered the least of our brothers and sisters. God is clear that we are to care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger in our midst – in essence, to care for those whom society has deemed lesser. And hard as it is for us to hear this, in much of the world, women, children and those infected with HIV/AIDS are considered to be either lesser creatures or outcasts. Isaiah told us, and Jesus repeated it to us, in case we weren’t quite clear on the concept, that we are to give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and voice to the mute, that we are to make the lame leap for joy and yes, we are to raise the dead. Clearly God wants us to perform miracles … health care for mothers and children and those infected with HIV/AIDS in many countries – including our own, by the way? – that’s a miracle in and of itself.

Sustaining the environment? Did not God tell us to fill the earth and subdue it, and to have dominion over it and over all of God’s creatures, and does not dominion really mean not that we are to lay waste to creation or harm God’s creatures, but rather that we are to be good stewards of creation?

And finally, global partnerships. Is this not what it means to live – truly live – into the image of God in which we are created? To live in love and community?

Author and theologian Frederick Buechner, in his book Wishful Thinking, wrote:

We have it in us to be Christs to each other and maybe in some unimaginable way to God too—that’s what we have to tell finally. We have it in us to work miracles of love and healing as well as to have them worked upon us. We have it in us to bless with him and forgive with him and heal with him and once in a while maybe even to grieve with some measure of some grief at another’s pain and to rejoice with some measure of his rejoicing at another’s joy almost as if it were our own. And who knows but that in the end, by God’s mercy, the two stories will converge for good and all, and though we would never have had the courage or the faith or the wit to die for him any more than we have ever managed to live for him very well either, his story will come true in us at last. (p. 89)

We are called – and we are capable – of working miracles of love and healing in this world. We have it in us to bless each other, those whom we know and those whom we have never met and will never meet.

But that’s part of the problem, isn’t it?

The fact that we don’t know the people we are asked to help?

The fact that we probably never will meet them?

Never mind the fact that this whole MDG thing is so darned huge – so overwhelming – that it’s hard to wrap our hearts and minds and arms around it. (Face it: We are talking about changing the entire world here … the MDGs are probably the boldest vision ever set forth by the United Nations, by the 181 nations taking part in the program, which means that basically, this program is humongous.)

Sometimes, it’s hard to keep the momentum going on a project like this because we don’t know the people. We don’t know their names. We don’t know their stories. And because we don’t know their names or stories, there is a tendency to let our brothers and sisters in Christ, who are related to us not by the blood of their birth but by the waters of their baptism, to let all of God’s beloved children, slip onto the back burner of our lives. Without names, without stories, it’s hard to connect.

And if we can’t connect, we certainly can’t live as fully as possible into the image of God, can we?

One of the main questions we have to answer, not just today but every day of our lives, is how we are going to help make God’s dream – which theologian Verna Dozier identified as “a good creation of a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky” – how are we going to make that come to fruition if we don’t know with whom we are walking under those friendly skies?

For many of us, these goals are, as I said, just too darned big. We want to take part … we want to make an impact … but … but … how? We’re just a few people (in the greater scheme of things) and there is so much need … what are we to do?

The best way to approach the needs of the world is to forget that these are the needs of the entire world, to stop thinking we need to save the world (that’s already been done, my friends, 2,000 years ago, outside the gates of Jerusalem) and to concentrate on what we can do, individually and corporately.

Remember, our mission is to live in love and community.

So let’s figure out how to do that … how to live in love in the community we have been given.

We are called to approach caring for all of God’s beloved children – no matter where they are, no matter their tribe or color or race or language or gender or faith – with the advice of Mother Teresa (a woman who knew something about taking on seemingly impossible tasks) ringing in our ears:

The good you do today (she said) may be forgotten tomorrow.

Do good anyway.

Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable.

Be honest and transparent anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.

Build anyway.

People who really want help may attack you if you help them.

Help them anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt.

Give the world your best anyway.

In other words, do not worry about saving the world — that’s already been done, 2,000 years ago, on a Friday afternoon, about 3 o’clock, outside the gates of Jerusalem. Worry only about doing your part to live in love and in community, for that is how God created you.

A life well lived is not a life of complete and total success my friends. It is, rather, a life of trying. A life of falling down and getting back up. It is, most of all, a life of loving.

The MDGs? They’re not so much about success as they are about love. About loving others whom we do not know and might never meet, about building up community, about re-orienting the world away from power and dominion to love.

So how do we do this? How do we handle this monster task, with all its frustrations?

Listen to the late Rev. Peter J. Gomes, the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church of Harvard University, who preached:

The question should not be, “What would Jesus do?” but rather, more dangerously, “What would Jesus have me to do?” The onus is not on Jesus but on us, for Jesus did not come to ask semidivine human beings to do impossible things. He came to ask human beings to live up to their full humanity; he wants us to live into the full implication of our human gifts, and that is far more demanding.

God is not asking us to do impossible things.

God is asking us to do the simple things: To live in love and in community – which is why we are created! This is our mission in life. The MDGs? Those are just one path among many that we can take as we strive to do that which Jesus asks us to do.

We cannot, in our short time together today, answer all the questions, raise all the money or solve all the problems that the MDGs face.

What we can do together this day, however, is meet some people. We can meet each other, and we can meet people who are on the receiving end of the MDG work we do.

In other words, let’s make the MDGs personal.

Instead of approaching them as this humongous set of ideas and instructions that no one, not even a government, can fully embrace, let’s approach this the way God does. Let’s look at the situation through God’s eyes.

Let’s look at the people.

(Show movie, Not Strangers, But Friends – link to the movie)

(Narration to accompany the movie:)

The people you are see here are my friends – and through me they are your friends … in Sudan, in Haiti, in Honduras. They are people who have benefited from your generosity.

I want you to know:

Every time you go a fund-raiser for the MDGs, however you do it and for whatever goal you have chosen, you are not raising money for a stranger. You are raising this money

for a friend.

The people you see in this movie? I have lived with them. I have broken bread with them. We have worshipped together. We have laughed together. We have cried together. They are my family. And because I know them, and you know me, you know them as well.

Some of these students? They receive their education through your generosity … through your support of various organizations and churches. Some of these children attend schools sponsored by UNICEF. Some of them receive food from the World Food Program. Many of them have received help directly from your parishes.

These women? Many of them received help from parishes in this diocese, including for a microfinance project. And your support of health clinics.

Every time you give in a way that is connected to the MDGs, you help these people and so many others just like them.

These are not strangers.

These are your friends.

(End narration.)

I want to be crystal clear about one thing:

God is calling us to live in love.

God is calling us to live in community.

God, who called us into being because God wanted us, desired us, calls us to live in “ a good creation of a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky.” A

And the only way we are going to be able to do this is if we all decide that God is right, that God knows what God is doing, and that it is possible to make sure that the hungry are fed and the thirsty given water and the sick have medicine and that our children are educated and HIV/AIDS is finally, finally, finally at least controlled until it can be wiped out … that we remember that God made each and every one of us, that God called each of us into being, that we are all members of God’s beloved community, which means that we are all equal, and that we will thrive only when we all work together, and finally, that we show respect to God for the wondrous things that he has made, including this fragile earth, our island home.

In Washington, D.C., between the end of the Memorial Bridge and Arlington Cemetery, there is a memorial to the Seabees, the U.S. Naval Construction Battalions, who build things under fire and in horrific conditions because that is what they do: they build.

At the base of the memorial, you will find this motto:

With willing hearts and skillful hands, the difficult we do at once;

the impossible takes a bit longer.

My friends, God has given us the skills we need to do everything that God has ever asked of us. Nothing is impossible with God, and God makes sure that in the end, nothing will be impossible for us.

We have the gift of faith.

We have the gift of courage.

We have the gifts of foresight … and planning … and imagination.

The MDGs are difficult – no doubt about it.

Impossible? So what? That just takes a little longer.

Amen.

• • •

Millennial Development Goals Day Keynote Address, 19 March 2011, The Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Waynesboro, Va.

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Provera side effects

Matthew 17:1-9

Icon of the Transfiguration by Andrei Rublev (1405), now located in the Moscow Annunciation Cathedral

When Peter and James and John went up the mountain with Jesus that long-ago-but-memorable day, they literally had no idea what was about to happen.

 

They thought they were going to pray. After all, that’s what Jesus regularly did, and so for them, this was just another day following their teacher and Lord.

But, really: They had no idea what was in store.

Up they go, and boom! Jesus is transfigured right in front of them! His face shines like the sun, his clothes are dazzling white, and right there stand Moses and Elijah, chatting with Jesus!

You know that was a surprise. You know this was not on their agenda for the day. (Take a walk with Jesus? Check. Climb the mountain? Check. See Jesus transfigured? Huh?)

But the surprises didn’t stop there.

Because just as Peter in his great excitement was babbling away – “Lord, this is great! Let me make three little houses for you …” (perhaps to fix Jesus, Moses and Elijah in that moment?), just as he was reacting as only Peter could react, God spoke.

Now remember:

In the Hebrew Scriptures, God speaks to people all the time.

But in the New Testament, in the Gospels, God only speaks a few times (one of them being up on that mountain, when God interrupts Peter to proclaim Jesus as God’s son, the beloved, with whom God is most pleased).

In the Hebrew Scriptures, God commands all the time (often on a mountain – remember Moses and the 10 Commandments?)

But in the New Testament, God only commands once.[1]

Only one time – right here, right on the mountaintop – does God issue a commandment:

Akouete![2] Listen to him!

Like the commandments of old, this is not a suggestion. This is not God saying, “Hey, you know, when you’ve got a moment, I’d really like it if you’d pay attention … but only if you want to.”

This is not God throwing a hissy fit like a little kid who’s trying to win an argument on the playground and whining: Listen to me!

This is God in all of God’s glory – remember Jesus’ shining face and dazzling clothes? Remember Moses? Remember Elijah? This is God on high booming out (because you know God wasn’t namby-pamby here):

Akouete! Listen to him!

Not “Listen to me,” but “Listen to him.

If ever you have wondered whether Jesus was the real thing … if ever you wondered – and many have – whether perhaps we got it all wrong, that perhaps Jesus is more of a prophet and less the Son of God … now’s the time to pay attention.

Because right now, in this moment, on this mountaintop, God is making it crystal clear:

This is my son.

He is my beloved.

And you had better for darned tootin’ listen to him!

• • •

For the last eight years, the non-profit organization StoryCorps has been collecting the stories of Americans “of all backgrounds and beliefs.”[3] The stories are great; I listen to them on NPR’s Morning Edition every Friday. But to me, what’s more important than the stories themselves is the idea behind StoryCorps:

Listening, StoryCorps proclaims, is an act of love.

Listening … is … an act … of love.

That’s important for us to remember, because, you see, we are created in love. Remember, we are not necessary to God. God is necessary to us, but we are not necessary to God, because God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so we cannot possibly be necessary to God. So God must have wanted us. God must have desired us into being. God must have loved us into being. So we were created in love.

And this command, Akouete? Listen to him?

This command is our blueprint for how we are to live in the image of God in which we are created. It is our blueprint for how we are to love.

I have something to tell you ... will you listen?

If we want to be faithful servants of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, if we really want to live our lives as God would have us live them, we … need … to … listen … to … Jesus.

Listening is how we love.

When we listen, we are loving God.

When we listen, we are loving our neighbors as ourselves.

When we listen, we are loving our neighbors as Jesus loves us.

The great 20th-century theologian Paul Tillich once proclaimed that “The first duty of love is to listen.”[4] That duty comes from God’s direct command, not through prophets and apostles, but from God on high to the actual witnesses – Peter and James and John, who heard God speak to them, who heard God say to them, Akouete!

And now, today, on this last Sunday of Epiphany, with Lent beginning in just three days, God is speaking to us.

God is commanding us: Akouete! Listen to him!

And if we are wise, if we are caring, if we are faithful, we will listen.

For when we listen and are wise, we can see what is happening around us, and figure out what God wants us to do about it.

When we listen and are caring, we can build the relationships God is calling us to build, with God’s beloved children.

When we listen and are faithful, then … and only then … can we follow in Jesus’ footsteps.

What it all boils down to is this:

Listening is an act of love … so listen up!

We already know what Jesus wants us to do … because he’s already told us. But sometimes, we need to listen again, because sometimes, once is not enough.

So what is it that Jesus wants us to do?

Feed the hungry. Give water to the thirsty. Make the blind see … the deaf hear … the mute speak … the lame leap for joy.

When we listen to Jesus, what do we hear him saying to us?

Live lives of love.

Live lives of wild … radical … inexplicable  … never-ending … love.

This is our mission in life, my friends. This is why God created us: to go into the world and love … just as God loves us … wildly, radically, inexplicably, eternally.

But … we say … but … this is hard! How are we supposed to love like this? We don’t know what to do? (And yes, all of us say this, all the time … because loving like this really is hard and we really do need a set of directions, we really want to see a blueprint before we begin.)

The good news is, God already has told us what to do and how we are to do it. God has already given us the directions and shown us the blueprint.

Step one: We listen.

As a missionary – I served for five years overseas on your behalf (all Appointed Missionaries represent the entire Episcopal Church, not just our own dioceses, which means that I was your missionary) – I can tell you that listening is key to serving.

Listening is how we learn of other's needs, desires, joys and sorrows.

Wherever I have served, particularly as a missionary – in Kenya, Sudan, Haiti, Honduras, Appalachia or Pine Ridge, in homeless shelters and food pantries, with poor, inner city residents and rich suburbanites – I have learned that when I listen to the people of God, I hear the voice of God. I hear Jesus’ commandment to love.

And this call I hear?

It’s not just mine. It’s a call to all of us – because all of us are God’s missionaries in God’s very good creation.

How many of you are Episcopalians? Did you know that the legal name of our Church is the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of The Episcopal Church of the United States of America? That we made that change in 1821? And that we made that change in our name because we determined then that we were going to a Church that went out into the world and preached the Gospel, and if necessary (as St. Francis is reputed to have said) using words? Which means that all of us here are missionaries.

So all of us are sent forth into God’s world, not to speak, not to tell others what to do, not to be so all-fired certain that we are right and everyone else is … well, they’re just delusional!

No!

God tells us: Akouete! Listen to him!

Listen to Jesus as he tells us: Love your enemy. Tend the sick. Visit the prisoners. Bring joy to the sorrowful. Give courage to the fearful.  Feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty and sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and voice to the mute and dancing to the lame!

Jesus has told us … in no uncertain terms … what he wants us to do. Jesus wants us to love!

And the first act, the first duty of love is to listen.

Not just to the people we love, not just to the people we know. No! We need to listen to each and every one of God’s beloved children, because God doesn’t discriminate. In God’s very good creation, there are no us’s and them’s. In God’s very good creation, no one gets voted off the island!

Only when we take the time to listen to God’s beloved children, only then do we hear their joys and sorrows, their dreams and disappointments, and their hopes and their desperate desire to know that they are loved, that they are the beloved.

Make no mistake, my friends:

God is speaking to us. God is on this mountaintop with us, right here, right now, and God is telling us – in every way possible – that our call is to love.

So listen up!

Amen.

A sermon preached on the Last Sunday of Epiphany, 6 March 2010, Year A, at St. Stephen’s, New Hartford, NY, and St. John’s, Whitesboro, NY.



[1] Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at Crossmarks Christian Resources, Matthew 17:1-9, Transfiguration of our Lord, Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A,  http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/matt17x1.htm.

[2] Ibid.

[4] Paul Tillich, German-born American Protestant theologian (1886-1965), in a story about Tillich, as quoted in O Magazine, February 2004.

 

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Metformin mechanism of action

Matthew 5:21-37

“You have heard that it was said … but I say to you …”

Welcome to Let’s-Get-Legal Sunday.

At least, that’s what it sounds like, doesn’t it?

Jesus is still preaching his magnificent Sermon on the Mount, that marvelous sermon in which he blesses those who have been labeled outcasts, and challenges the people to be God’s salt and light in the world.

And suddenly, he goes all legal on us and jacks up the intensity of an already detailed, already limiting, already very, very serious Law … that’s “Law” with a capital “L.”

“You have heard that it was said,” Jesus says, discussing murder, adultery and swearing falsely. (And just to let you know, Jesus stays on this legal kick for another week, so don’t think you’ve heard the last of this.) Then, Jesus continues, “but I say to you …” And he lays down a whole new interpretation of the Law-with-a-capital-L, one that is much stricter than anything anyone has ever heard before.

Murder is wrong, he says, quoting the Law. But so is treating people badly, thus elevating being angry at or insulting someone to new heights.

Adultery is wrong, he says. But so is even thinking less-than-pure thoughts about another person, he tells us. And if any part of our body causes us to sin, he adds, tear it out or cut it off (even though if you do that, according to the Law-with-a-capital-L, you can’t get into heaven, because you can’t be deformed!).

Swearing falsely – telling lies in legal situations – is wrong, he says. But now, under this new interpretation of the Law, all swearing – all taking of oaths – is wrong!

What’s going on here? How did Jesus go from been blessing people and healing them and preaching the Good News of Salvation to making most Pharisees and Sadducees, whose lives are wrapped up in fulfilling the law – every jot and tittle of it – look like legal wimps?

This is not the Jesus most of us want. We want the gentle Jesus. We want the healing Jesus. We want the Jesus who raises us from the dead.

We do not want the Jesus who tells us that we who are trying to follow the already difficult Law, are not doing enough, that even our thoughts fall short of God’s laws for us.

• • •

There’s a new TV show on the USA network called “Fairly Legal,” in which a young lawyer becomes a mediator, using her skills at negotiation to solve problems that normally would end up in the courtroom. In one of the teasers for the show, the main character is seen talking on the phone, saying something like, “The law! The law! The law! What is it with you people and the law?!”

And of course, in the course of 42 or so minutes, this young woman manages to negotiate her way to miracles.

The young man, a college student on scholarship, who is going to jail for his involvement in a car crash? She gets him off. (Turns out he didn’t cause the accident after all.)

The two drivers on the edge of a knock-down, drag-out fight in the streets of San Francisco? She gets them to apologize for each other.

The aging but still powerful father who can’t recognize that his son is a good man, ready to take over the family business? She achieves reconciliation and a major reorganization of that family business … all in 42 minutes.

If you watch the show, you think to yourself: Yeah, right. That’s not going to happen. It would take a miracle …!

And yet … isn’t that what Jesus does? Take impossible situations and do miracles?

That’s what Jesus is doing in this morning’s Gospel … he’s taking impossible situations and making miracles out of them.

Jesus is trying to show us that the Law-with-a-capital-L does not exist for itself – but for us.

Meaning: The Law is not about how to live your life within legal constraints.

The Law, Jesus is telling us, is there to help us live together in relationship – with God and with each other. (Can’t you just hear Jesus saying, right about now, “The Law! The Law! The Law! What is it with you people and the Law?!”)

The late Verna Dozier, an incredible lay theologian of the Church, taught that God’s desire, God’s dream for us, is that we become “a good creation of a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky.”[1]

Dozier is using the word “friend” the same way Jesus did in John’s Gospel, when he said, “I no longer call you my slaves but my friends.” “Friend” is a theological term for Dozier.

And the only way we can become that good creation of friendly folk beneath that friendly sky is if we go beyond the Law – to love.

God’s true desire for us is not that we fulfill the Law.

God’s true desire for us is that we love.

For you see, we are created in God’s image, and that image my friends, is first and foremost one of love. We know this to be

true, because we know, without a doubt, that we are not necessary to God. God is necessary to us, we believe, but we are not necessary to God, because God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so God does not need us to exist in God’s very good creation.

Since we are not necessary, God had to have wanted us, God desired us into being, God loved us into being.

Michelangelo's Creation of Man

So we were created – each of us – in love.

And because we are Trinitarians, because we believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We believe in the community of the Trinitarian God.

Which means that we who were created in God’s very image of love were also created in God’s very image of community.

Which means … which means … that we are created in love and in community to live in love and community.

In the end, as it was in the beginning, we are created by love to love.

So when Jesus is upping the ante on the Law – when he’s giving an even harsher interpretation of the Law than anyone had previously heard – he isn’t turning into an über-Pharisee.

He’s reminding us, once again, that the Law was created to help us live as God’s beloved with and for God’s beloved.

He’s asking us, once again, to remember – every moment of our lives – that God loves us, and (and this is hard for some of us to hear some days) God loves everyone else just as much.

Professor David Lose of Luther Seminary in Minnesota tells us that:

Jesus intensifies the Law – not to force us to take it more seriously … but instead to push us to imagine what it would actually be like to live in a world where we honor each other as persons who are truly blessed and beloved of God. It’s not enough, Jesus says, to avoid murder (or adultery or anything else that is against the Law); you also have to treat each other with respect, not letting yourself fly off the handle in anger because that … demeans and diminishes God’s children.[2]

Fulfilling the Law – especially the Law on steroids[3] that Jesus proclaims today – is not about how closely you can toe the legal line for the sake of toeing the legal line.

That’s not enough, in Jesus’ mind. Jesus is calling us, as Professor Lose says, “to envision life in God’s kingdom as constituted not by obeying laws but rather by holding the welfare of our neighbors close to our hearts while trusting that they are doing the same for us.”[4]

Now that’s a tall order, isn’t it? Not only to care for our neighbors’ welfare, but trusting that they are doing the same for us?

When you think about it, that’s an even taller order than fulfilling the Law-on-steroids that we thought we were dealing with when we heard this morning’s Gospel.

Because it means that we have to put others first, and sometimes those others? The ones we are supposed to love? We don’t like them so much. And when we don’t like our neighbors, it’s easy not to love them. When we are afraid of them, it’s easy not to love them. When we don’t know them, it’s easy not to love them, or even care for them. And when we hate our neighbors – then it’s really easy not to love them.

But in God’s very good creation, in God’s friendly creation, whether we like someone, whether we are afraid of someone, whether we know someone, whether we hate someone – it’s not important.

Not in God’s eyes.

Because in God’s eyes, we are all beloved. The truth of the matter is that God loves each of us. God loves you … and you … … and you … … and you … … and you … … and you … … and you …

And because God loves each of you – because God loves each of us – God is asking us to love each other. To remember that the Law is there to help us love each other. That every moment of every day of our lives, we are called, first, last and always, to love.

Jesus is not on some kick this morning to elevate the Law to the point that none of us can achieve it.

Jesus is telling us, that yes, actually, we can fulfill the Law, every jot and tittle of it.

If – and only if – we remember to love.

I want to share with you with a prayer I found this week, the author of whom is unknown, but who nevertheless speaks wise words the echo Jesus’ preaching and that will send us out into the world … in love:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.

Watch your words, for they become actions.

Watch your actions, for they become habits.

Watch your habits, for they become character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

Amen.

————————

A sermon preached on the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany, 13 February 2011, Year A, at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church, Leesburg, Va.

————————-

[1] Verna Dozier, The Dream of God: A Call to Return. (Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 1988), p. 125.

[2] David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, on http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=452 with my addition.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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Haiti, get up!

The Fourth Sunday of Easter, 25 April 2010, Year C, St. Jacques le Juste, Petion Ville, Haiti

Today’s reading from the Book of Acts is actually a parable about Haiti. It is a parable that speaks of who we are and what is happening in Haiti right now. I know that might not make sense, but bear with me and you will see: The story of Tabitha is our story.

In Acts, we are told the story of a disciple of Jesus named Tabitha, a woman who did many good works and who cared for those in need. Tabitha took ill, and then she died. As was the tradition in her culture, she had to be buried before sundown. So her family took her body, washed it, laid it out on a table, and then they sent for Peter, who was nearby. Come quickly, they said. Tabitha has died.

Peter came, made everyone leave the room, prayed over Tabitha and then said to her, “Tabitha, get up!”

And she did. She opened her eyes, saw Peter and got up. Because of her resurrection, we are told, many people believed in the Lord.

This story is a parable our own lives right here and right now because it is so similar to everything going on in Haiti. The earthquake came; many died; more were injured. The world saw this and said, “Ah, Haiti is dead.” Many in the world rushed here to help; others gave generously. But still, there was the thought, a thought sometimes said aloud, that Haiti was dead.

I know this. Bishop Duracin has me working in both the United States and Haiti, so I hear what is being said and I read what is being written. There are many who believe that Haiti cannot recover from this tragedy. There are some who say that Haiti should become a commonwealth of the United States. That the government of Haiti should be removed. That the constitution should be rewritten. There are those who claim that Haitians cannot direct the recovery, that “they” know better what needs to happen, that “they” should be in charge.

These people – they don’t know Haiti. They don’t know Haitians.

Because what they are saying is not true! Haiti is not dead!

It is not dead because Haiti and its people are listening to God, to the Good Shepherd who knows them each by name, and whose voice they know. Haitians are paying attention to the one voice that is calling to them.

And what is God, what is the Good Shepherd, saying to us here?

“Haiti, get up!”

“Get up!”

• • •

Three weeks ago, the Diocese of Haiti held its Synod, the Synod that had been delayed by the earthquake of Jan. 12.  Many of us went – priests, deacons, lay delegates – and at the Synod, we were given a message by Bishop Duracin:

“Haiti, Leve Kanpe Pou Ou Mache!

“Haiti, Stand Up and Walk!”

Haiti, get up!

And we are getting up and we will get up, because we do listen to the voice of God. Haiti is one of the most God-fearing countries I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been in a lot of countries. Haitians are Christians. They know God. They love God.

So when God says to us here in Haiti, “Get up!”  that’s what we need to do.

Get up!

No matter how hard it seems, no matter the difficulties we encounter.

And yes, there are difficulties.

The Psalmist this morning speaks of walking through the valley of death.  That is certainly true here right now. Just look out the door. Look at your own homes, at your own lives. Every single person in this room has lost someone, many of you have lost many people, more of you have lost your homes. You are walking through the valley of death.

But the Psalmist also is clear: We have no need to fear evil, because God is with us.

God is the one who is calling us, who is telling us to get up.

God, the Good Shepherd, the one we all know by name, the one whose voice we have heard before and are hearing now and will hear forever, is speaking to us right now.

Haiti is not dead.

Haiti is alive, and its people are alive, and its faith is alive.

Those of you who are here to help Haiti are here because you, too, hear God calling to you: Get up! God says.

That is our mission now: Not just to get up ourselves, but to help Haiti get up. The Church is leading the way, but we can only do so if we listen to the voice we know best, the voice of the one who loves us.

Get up!

Get up!

Get up!

Amen.

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‘No more of this!’

Palm Sunday in Haiti:

Coming back to Haiti once again, I can already see some of the changes that are taking place. More rubble is being removed, more streets are open, more people are out on those streets trying to reconstruct their lives.

But I can also see what is NOT changing: Collapsed buildings still predominate, some with the bodies of our people entombed forever. The Tent Cities are still here, and with the rains now upon us, and still very little sanitation, the risk for disease is increasing constantly. Our children are not yet back in school, because it’s too dangerous. There is still not enough food, or clean water. Lord knows people are trying — the churches, aid organizations, the government — but it’s not enough. And after a while, “not enough” is simply hard to understand, hard to see, hard to live with.

pastedGraphic.pdf

Our Palm Sunday services at St. James the Just were beautiful. We had many visitors at our English service this morning, from all over the world. Despite the lack of a bulletin — the printer isn’t working, alas — we still managed to do the service with holiness, especially when we sang together. Some of our first-timers have gorgeous voices, and the harmonies were marvelous. I preached, using a line from my friend Meredith’s sermon: “No more of this!” That’s what Jesus said when one of his disciples cut off a servant’s ear in a misguided effort to defend Jesus. I wasn’t slated to preach, and pastedGraphic_1.pdffound out only about two minutes before the service. But my friend’s sermon, especially that focus on “No more of this!” kept ringing in my head and heart. So I preached about what Bishop Duracin keeps saying: This is our new creation here in Haiti. No more of the old ways of doing things! No more going hungry because we don’t have enough food, or money to buy it. No more dirty water to drink, because the water system doesn’t work. No more premature deaths because of a lack of medicine! Jesus didn’t die to leave us in the same old life, I said. He died to give us new life — so no more of this! Since so many of our visitors are aid workers, who have moved far from their homes to come help Haiti, I told them that this was their new life, too: That that is the purpose of Holy Week and Good Friday and Easter itself. No more, I shouted!

And then some of the same old life crept right back in. This afternoon, at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church up the mountain, the Ste. Trinite Philharmonic Orchestra gave a Requiem Concert for the members of the Music School and Orchestra, and friends of both, who died in the earthquake. pastedGraphic_2.pdfOne of my colleagues, the Rev. Randall Chabot-Stahls, who helps lead the English service at Ste. Trinite, was sitting next to me when he discovered the name of one of his friends who had died on Jan. 12. Randall had been trying to reach his friend, but hadn’t gotten through. His tears lent a special poignancy to an already poignant service. I, too, discovered the name of one more person whom I had not seen, but for whom I held out hope.

Such is life in Haiti now. You keep hoping that people from whom you have not heard have simply lost their phones and don’t know your number. You keep hoping to hear good news. But then the same old kicks in, and you find out the bad news, and you have to figure out how to go forward, how to mourn, how to tell your story and then live with it. It is only the hope we have in the Resurrection that keeps people going here … there’s nothing else but that hope.

And that’s what the concert gave so many of us today, hope. Hundreds attended, and all of us drew strength from the beautiful music, from hearing the Orchestra perform and the Petits Chanteurs sing. We listened to Faure and Bach, to De Lalande and Mozart, to Dickens Princivil’s soaring “Transitions.” We listened and wept and smiled and applauded and in the end realized: No more of the old ways! We have new life, and that new life will sustain us, despite all the difficulties that we still face in Haiti.

As we move through Holy Week in this hard place, we are holding on to the hope that we have in Christ, the hope of the new life that we face, and that we have. As long as we keep that hope in front of us, we can say, with all the power of our lives, No more!

I ask your continued prayers for the people of this place, so that we can draw strength from your strength.

Blessings and peace,

Lauren

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