Ventolin side effects

Matthew 2:1-12

And now we come to what one commentator calls the “’Adults-Only’ Nativity Story,”[1] Matthew’s version of the birth of Jesus, the one without the census-taking, without the “no-room-at-the-inn” rejection, without the stable or the manger or the animals, without the angels or the shepherds, without the pondering in Mary’s heart.

Unlike Luke’s Gospel, in Matthew, we skip the birth narrative and go straight to the Epiphany, to the moment when wise men show up from the East, declaring that the child they seek is the King of the Jews.

We know this story. We’ve just heard the Gospel, just sung the song: The wise men (some say three) follow a star (some say for two years), until they find the Christ Child in a house (a house, mind you, not a stable) in Bethlehem (on this, Matthew and Luke agree). The visitors drop to their knees, offer gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (myrrh? The stuff you use to embalm a body???), and then leave, going home “by another road.”

But what if the story were told from a different perspective? What if, instead, we were to hear the story not of three wise men from the East, but of three wise women?

No, I’m not talking about that old joke about how the women would have asked for directions, gotten there sooner, made dinner and brought di-dis …[2]

I’m talking, instead, about a whole different approach to the Epiphanyt story, one that comes from retired Bishop Steven Charleston, a Choctaw and Native American bishop of The Episcopal Church:[3]

Three wise women set out to follow the star.

Each ended the journey and gave away her treasure along the way.

One dropped out when she was needed to heal the sick during a plague.

The second stayed behind to help prevent a war with her leadership.

The last remained in a great city to provide for the poor.

When the star left the heavens each awoke the next day to discover a gift placed beside her while she slept.

They never solved this mystery, but the meaning is clear:

They had arrived at their destination even though they had not completed their journey.

My friends, the Epiphany is not about the news that the Messiah has come into our lives. It is the story of what we are supposed to do with our lives.

For just as the Magi – two of them? Three of them? Heck, could have been 100 of them, as far as we know – came to make manifest to us the Good News that God is here for all the world, so we are to make that Good News manifest as well.

We are not here this morning to celebrate the arrival of Jesus in our lives.

We are here to celebrate what that arrival means in our lives.

We are here, my friends, to celebrate the revelation, the great “Aha!”, the epiphany that God came into the world, as one of us, to show us, in no uncertain terms, that God loves us.

And not just us not just those of us gathered here in this church … but all of us. The people we know. The people we don’t know. The people we love. And the people we could easily do without.

Brass tacks, my friend: Epiphany shows us the mission of our lives. The mission of living out God’s love with ALL of God’s beloved people.

I do not want us to leave this place this day thinking, “Epiphany – been there, done that, will do it again next year.”

Because Epiphany isn’t some one-day, one-off celebration that we do once a year and then forget until the next Jan. 6.

Epiphany is the revelation of God’s marching orders for our lives.

Marching orders that boil down to one thing, and one thing only:

Love.

Howard Thurman, the great theologian and civil rights leader, was speaking of this day when he wrote:

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among people,

To make music in the heart.[4]

This is the day, my friends, when we turn the joy, the celebration, the glory of Christmas, into the work of the rest of our lives.

Instead of focusing so intently on what we want – more money, more security, less fear, more stability … losing weight, or running that marathon … the Epiphany of our Lord asks us to focus on what God wants … for us, and for all of his beloved people.

And what God wants is for us to live in love, every moment of our lives, in every place, with every person … whether we like them or not.

Imagine … just imagine … what life would be like if we were like those women of whom Bishop Charleston speaks?

What would life be like if we stopped our hell-bent journeys that focus so much on getting ahead and getting what we want, in order to heal the sick?

What would life be like if we stopped to prevent a war?

Or to provide for the poor?

Imagine what life would be like if we spent our lives doing what Rev. Thurman said …

… finding the lost?

… healing the broken?

… feeding the hungry?

… releasing the prisoners?

… rebuilding the nations?

… bringing peace?

… making music?

In a few minutes, we will baptize little Zoe Rose DiBiase, daughter of Lexy Rouse. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if she were to grow up knowing that her whole life is centered in love? That God loves her from before time began to the ages of ages? And that all God wants her to do with her life is to love?

And so, for little Zoe this morning, and for all of us every day, let us listen to yet another great theologian, Mother Teresa, who has the best guidance I know of for how to live our lives:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.

            Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.

            Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.

            Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you.

            Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.

           Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.

            Be happy anyway.

The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.

           Do good anyway.

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

            Give the world your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.

            It was never between you and them anyway.[5]

It is Epiphany, my friends. The day when we receive our marching orders … orders to go into the world, and to love.

So …

Go!

Go on! Go love!

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January 2013, Year C, at St. Paul’s on the Hill, Winchester, Va.



[1] David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, “The ‘Adults-Only’ Nativity Story,” WorkingPreacher.org, http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=653.

[2] What would have happened if it had been three Wise Women instead of three Wise Men? They would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts. (Anonymous)

[3] The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, Choctaw, Daily Devotions.

[4] Howard Thurman, “Christmas Poem,” via Facebook.

[5] http://prayerfoundation.org/mother_teresa_do_it_anyway.htm

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Side effects of crestor

Luke 24:36b-38

Jesus doesn’t pull any punches, does he?

The Risen Lord, by He Qi

Here the disciples are, deep in shock and mourning because their Teacher, their Lord, the man they thought was their Savior, is dead … and two of their group are telling them this fantastical story about how they met the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus, and boom! There’s Jesus … right … in … front … of … them!

Good Lord, they thought they were seeing a ghost!

How can this be?!

They saw (although from a distance) Jesus die on the cross!

They saw (again, from a distance) Jesus’ body laid in a tomb!

They’ve been in hiding for three days – three days! – because they know the Romans are really good at rounding up “known associates” and hanging them on crosses, too – just to teach the rabble a little lesson, don’t you know …

And, boom!

There’s Jesus, standing right in front of them!

And how does he comfort them?

But telling them, in essence: Your turn!

You are the witnesses, he says, to all these extraordinary things that happened when I was with you.

And you are the witnesses to the fact that here I am with you now, raised from the dead.

I’m not a ghost, he says, not a dream.

I am risen!

And now it’s your turn …

So go on. Get out of here. Go tell the story.

You.

And you.

And you.

You are the witnesses.

And I, the Risen Lord, am counting on you.

• • •

I am confident this is not what the disciples wanted to hear.

When you get right down to it, they have never been the ones to do all the work, have they?

After all, Jesus performed the miracles.

Jesus preached.

Jesus taught.

Jesus healed.

And now he’s telling them it’s their turn?

Their turn to tell the story, to witness to all they had seen and heard and learned and experienced?

Their turn to perform miracles?

Their turn to preach?

To teach?

To heal?

Them?!?!?

• • •

For us sitting here, 2,000 years after the fact, this sounds like a no-brainer, I know.

It’s easy for us to say, “Yeah, c’mon, disciples, go do your job! Go tell the story!”

And it’s just as easy for us to say, “Well, we know they did, because if they hadn’t, we wouldn’t be sitting here today. So good job, disciples!”

It is easy for us to say all that, and to sit back with a bit of satisfaction and perhaps even some smugness.

“Yep, those disciples. Didn’t get it at first, but man, when the Risen Lord challenged them, they finally got it, finally did what Jesus told them to do. A bit slow out of the blocks at first, but after that, yep, they did a good job, don’t you think?”

And then, of course, we can walk away from all that.

Because the job is done, right?

It’s over with, right?

My friends, the good news is that indeed, the disciples did  get over their shock, they did tell the story, and as a result, we are here today.

Sounds like the end of the story, doesn’t it?

Alas, I am here today to tell you:

No it is not the end of the story.

It’s just the beginning.

Sir Winston Churchill

As Winston Churchill said at the end of the Battle of Britain, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is the end of the beginning.”

And at the end of the beginning, it is now our turn.

Our turn to be the witnesses.

Our turn to tell the story.

Our turn to perform the miracles – to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, proclaim the good news that God indeed does love us … to make the blind see and the deaf hear and the lame walk and the mute sing with joy!

Our turn to teach and preach and tell the story.

Make no mistake, my friends.

The Risen Lord is not just talking to the disciples 2,000 years ago.

He is talking … to us.

Because we are the witnesses.

Now I know that a lot of people these days – perhaps even some of us sitting right here today – are not interested in preaching and teaching about the Good News of God in Christ Jesus. We are not interested in going throughout the world and proclaiming, “Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!”

Not outside the doors of this church, at any rate.

But we really do not have a choice in this, do we?

Because Jesus, because the Risen Lord, the one we are here celebrating this very day, has given us our marching orders.

He is saying to us, right here, right now:

You are my witnesses.

So go on … go tell the story!

You.

And you.

And you!

• • •

Let’s do a little experiment.

Let’s figure out a way for you … for each of you … for each of us … to tell the story.

(Warning Number One: This is a little lesson in evangelism, which is part of mission, which is the very reason for which God created us. As Jesus said, “What are you afraid of?” It’s just a little evangelism …)

(Warning Number Two: I’ll tell you about that in a minute.)

Do you see these flowers here?

These are pansies.

Cute little things, aren’t they?

Harbingers of spring …

You see them all the time, all over the place.

Hardy little buggers, aren’t they?

I bet you did not know that in addition to being pretty, you can eat them.

Yes, you can.

You can pull the flowers right off the stem and eat them.

Mmmm, mmmm, good, as the commercial says.

(eat … eat … eat)

(Warning Number Two revisited: Before you go outside and starting pulling up flowers to eat, know this: You can’t eat most of them. Make sure you’re eating pansies, OK? Nothing else …)[1]

Now … if one of you were to call someone who is not at church today to witness the preacher standing in the pulpit eating pansies and told that someone that the preacher indeed did stand in the pulpit and eat pansies … do you think that person would believe you?

Most likely not.

I’m fairly certain this is not happening in a lot of churches this morning.

So if one of you were to call that one person and tell that person about what I’m doing, that person most likely would think you were doing nothing but telling a fantastical story.

You might even scare that person (who would be wondering, I assure you, not about me, but about you and your sanity).

Now, what if two of you were to tell the same story to the same person?

Do you think that person might believe two of you?

No?

Well, what if say, 10 of you were to tell the story … the exact … same … story?

That person might … or might not … believe you.

But … what if everyday here were to call that one person who is not here, and told the exact same story?

Would that person believe you then?

And what if all of you were to tell everyone you met … today, tomorrow, Tuesday, Wednesday … that your preacher stood in the pulpit and ate pansies?

Wouldn’t that be a great story to tell?

Wouldn’t that be a whole lot easier story to tell than just walking up to a friend (or heaven forfend, a stranger) and saying, “Listen, let me tell you about Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord”?

Wouldn’t you rather go up to a friend, or heaven forfend, a stranger, and say, “You’re never gonna believe what happened in church this morning? The preacher stood in the pulpit and ate pansies”? Doesn’t that make for a much easier story to tell?

Because then folks are going to ask you, “Where do you go to church?” And you can answer, “I go to St. Martin’s … you know, over on Jamestown road … right near the place that serves breakfast, lunch and antiques.”

And doesn’t it then give you the opening to tell the rest of the story?

I’m telling you:

Jesus doesn’t pull any punches.

The Risen Lord is standing right here in our midst, and telling us, in no uncertain terms:

You are my witnesses.

So go!

Go tell the story!

If that makes you nervous, fear not.

You can start by telling them about pansies in the pulpit first.

Heck, if you want, you can even eat some pansies yourself.

I guarantee you, people will listen.

So remember:

It’s our turn.

We are the witnesses.

And we’ve got one heck of a great story to tell.

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Easter, 22 April 2012, Year B, at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Williamsburg, Va.



[1] Yes, you can eat other flowers. I know this. But for the purposes of talking to folks in the pew in church, the warning is simple: If it’s not a pansy, do not eat it!

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Come and see

John 1:29-42

            The man was walking alongside the river late one night, trying to get from one place to the next, neither of them being home, but needing to keep going. It was a cold night, clear and crisp, with the stars shining brightly above him and the waters flowing smoothly beside him and the path laid out easily below him. Other people were walking that path beside the river with him, people also intent on getting from one place to the next, hoping that they could end their journeys for the day sooner rather than later, for no one likes to be out at night, especially when they were not at home.

And then the man heard the young men in the group ahead of him singing, singing songs loudly and joyfully (what, he thought, was there to be joyful about on this night, when it seemed so dark and life was getting more difficult with each rising of the sun?), praising God (which God? he wondered) and telling some sort of story with their songs (what story? he wanted to know).

The man continued to walk along, following these singers, feeling better for hearing them but not understanding why.

Finally, he asked the young men: Who are you singing about? What God are you praising? What is the meaning of this joyful music? What do you have to be happy about? (For the man was hearing these songs and asking these questions at the very end of a long and brutal war, a war in which his people suffered mightily at the hands of a greater and very oppressive enemy.)

And then the young men began to speak, to tell the story of another young man, from a place very far away in a land barely known to them. They told of how angels had appeared in the sky, singing, “Glory to God on high.” They told of how this one young man was God’s Anointed One, the Messiah, who would save their people, who healed the sick and gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, who made the lame not just walk but leap like deer, who raised people from the dead, who fed the hungry and who filled their hearts with joy … with love … and most of all, with hope. And they told him, “Whatever you are looking for, you will find it in this man from this faraway land.”

As the young men spoke, the man’s heart was filled with that love, and he began to feel the joy and for the first time in a very long time, he began to believe that he, too, would find hope in a world that for so very long had seemed so very hopeless.

Then he asked them, “Where are you staying?”

And they replied, “Come and see.”

So he went and he saw and he heard and he believed. All night long, they talked and sang and prayed, and before the sun came up on the new morning, the man who had been walking alongside the river on a very dark night believed. He had not seen the man who gave such promise to the world, he did not know the whole story, and yet … he knew enough, enough to believe. He continued to learn the story from the youths, and he went to church, and three years later, he was baptized, and seven years after that, he was confirmed, and then he, too, became an evangelist, he, too, became the one walking along the river, singing the songs, and one day, years later, he became a priest.

And now he is the one who tells the story and gives people hope, and he is the one who teaches and preaches and pastors and baptizes and marries and buries the people.

All because one night, one cold, crisp Christmas Eve night, in the deepest part of South Sudan, walking alongside the River Nile, he heard Christmas songs being sung and the Christmas story being told, and when the young men said to him, “Come and see,” he went and saw and he believed.

• • •

The group gathered on the dock by the Bay of Gonave in Haiti, looking across the 2-mile stretch of open water to the Isle of Gonave. They were going, some for the first time, to see the tiny church of St. Simon and St. Jude in a village precariously perched atop one of the island’s mountain ridges, a church that only a year before had been but a dream but now was ready to be consecrated.

Normally, the trip across the bay came via a two-hour ferry ride, but on this day, a non-governmental organization was loaning the use of a speedboat to take the group across. Forty minutes later, they landed on the island, a fairly desolate place smack dab in the craw of the western end of the island of Hispaniola, where in 1492, Christopher Columbus had sailed the ocean blue and landed, bringing Christianity with him.

Somewhere on the heights of Gonave was a tiny village, if it even could be called that, known as Platon Balai, a wind-swept place of rocks and scrub brush, with little fresh water, little arable land and a population of hardy souls who for years had wanted a church of their own but had no way to build one. Until a group of Christians arrived – some from Arkansas, some from Georgia. Over the years, a medical clinic had been built nearby. Then a school room. And now, finally, after intense story-telling followed by even more intense fund-raising followed by incredibly hard work, a church had been built, a real church, made of concrete blocks with a tin roof well secured to withstand the storms and hurricanes that routinely attacked Haiti.

All the people needed now was the Bishop of Haiti to come to consecrate St. Simon and St. Jude, the bishop to come and bless the place and the people, to celebrate a Eucharist and baptize and confirm.

So he came, this Bishop, who once had served as the priest on the island, caring for the few thousand hardy souls who lived there, planting parishes without church buildings, organizing the people, praying with them and for them. The bishop led the group of Americans over the water by speedboat, then across the island on sorry excuses for roads and paths in borrowed SUVs for two hours, and then on foot on a meandering path that cut back and forth through the brush and up the mountain for another hour until the donkeys that had been rented finally caught up, and then by donkey ride up the rest of the mountain for yet another hour.

“We go,” the bishop said, “where the people are. If we need to drive for two hours, then walk for an hour, then ride a donkey for another hour, that is what we do. We go,” he said, “to the people, and the church grows.”

At the summit, the group was greeted by 100 or so of the members of St. Simon and St. Jude, proudly showing off their new church, which they had built with their own hands, funded by churches – Episcopal, Presbyterian and Anglican – in Arkansas and Georgia. Those Americans had come to Haiti to meet the people, to listen to them. They had come and they had seen, and they had believed, and now, five years later, after multiple trips, after working hand in hand with the people of Gonave, they were here again, to see the fruits of their labors.

• • •

Come and see.

This is what Jesus said to the two disciples, Andrew and another, who were disciples of John the Baptizer, who had proclaimed Jesus as God’s Chosen One, as the Lamb of God, and who wanted to know where Jesus was staying.

Come and see.

If we want to live the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the same Gospel that called Andrew and then Simon and then the other disciples, and then the 3,000 and then Paul, and then the untold numbers who came after Paul, the same Gospel that eventually called those young men who sang as they walked along the river that Christmas Eve night in 1973, the same Gospel that called Father Paulo, the same Gospel that called the people of island of Gonave in Haiti, the same Gospel that called the people of Arkansas and Georgia  … if you want to live that Gospel, all of these people say to you: Come and see.

Come and see the Gospel as it lives in places where the people have nothing else, where war and oppression and famine and disease and nature itself claim their lives in untold numbers, where despite the hardship of their lives, the people believe. They believe in the man who came from a small village in a despised place, the man who walked the land as they walked the land, who came to them and lived with them and blessed them, even though the powers and principalities told them, day after day, that they were not blessed.

Come and see your brothers and sisters in Christ in Sudan and Haiti, who are related to you not by the blood of their birth but by the waters of their baptism, because it is only when you have seen, with your eyes and with your hearts and with your souls, the tragedies that are their lives that you can see, with your eyes, and with your hearts and with your souls, how alive they are in the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

For the Gospel is alive – in places like Sudan, now split into two countries, where the wars that raged for five decades continue to this day; in places like Haiti, where four hurricanes in five weeks in 2008 was just the way life was, where a devastating earthquake in 2010 took the lives of 300,000 people and displaced another 1 million people – one-tenth of the population, in 38 seconds.

Your siblings in Christ are beckoning you: Come and see the Gospel come alive in their parishes, their schools, their villages. Come and see the Gospel come alive in their church-run schools, where all the children are given the education that the state denies them, because they are poor or from the wrong tribe or speak another language.

Come and see the Gospel come alive in their church-run clinics, where every single person who comes in for treatment is treated with dignity, even if they cannot pay.

Come and see the Gospel come alive in their evangelism revivals, where they preach the love of God in Christ Jesus to all of the people and proclaim God’s peace, which passes all understanding, and God’s justice, which rolls down like waters, and God’s reconciliation, which brings about God’s kingdom on this earth.

Come and see the Gospel come alive when your brothers and sisters in Christ proclaim God’s hope, in lands where the powers that be long ago proclaimed that for the poor and the destitute, for the people from the wrong tribe or ethnicity, that there was no hope from generation to generation.

Your Sudani siblings in Christ and your Haitian siblings in Christ join together to beg you:

Come.

And see. And believe.

For the Gospel is alive and well in Sudan and in Haiti, and they want you to know this. They want you to know this because they believe that if you know this, if you see it, with your eyes and with your hearts and with your souls, then you will be, as they are, empowered by the Holy Spirit to do the greatest thing of all:

You, like they, will spread the love of God to all of God’s beloved children.

You, like they, will spread that love – that undefined yet powerful love – that captured Andrew and caused him to bring along Simon, who was to be called Cephas, which means Peter; the love that captured Paul and made him an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God; the love that on Christmas Eve 1973 captured your brother in Christ Paulo Ajang Thiel Lual; the love that captured the people on the island of Gonave in Haiti; the love that captured the people from Arkansas and Georgia, causing them to travel thousands of miles, by air, by water, by car, by foot, by donkey.

If this is what we do – if this is what we all do, spreading God’s love to those who are far off and those who are near, here in Newtown and there in Sudan and there in Haiti and everywhere in between – then we indeed will change the world, we indeed will bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.

Spreading God’s love, proclaiming God’s love, living God’s love … this is what we are called to do. It’s what they are striving and sometimes even dying to do in Sudan. It is what they are striving and sometimes even dying to do in Haiti.

Which is why they want you … to come … and see.

Amen.

Sermon preached at Newtown United Methodist Church, Newtown, Pa., 12 February 2012, Year B.


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We are the link …

John 14:6-15

          When Bonnie asked me to come here to preach on the Feast of St. Augustine, I started looking for stories about your patron saint. Most of stories I found are ones you already know, but there is one story that dates back to his youth, when his mother, Monica, wanted him to embrace the Christian faith in which he was raised and become a priest.

            Augustine, we all know, had other ideas.

            The official biographies, which I think you well know, tell the story of how he left home to teach rhetoric.

The unofficial biography apparently says – or so the story goes – that he told his mother he was leaving to get a loaf of bread … and went to Egypt instead.

But as Augustine learned – and as we know – no matter where you go, God is there.

No matter how far you run, God is there.

Because there is no place you can go, no place you can run where God is not.

Augustine learned that … he ran. But, as the saying goes, he couldn’t hide.

The same is true for us.

We may try to run, but we can never hide.

Because God is always there. And God is always there because God loves us.

There is no more powerful lesson on earth than that, is there? The lesson that God loves us?

There may be days when we doubt this is true, when we think that we are too much like Augustine was in his youth (which as you know was not a pretty picture).

But in spite of what we may think of ourselves, the good news is, God loves us – God still loves us – whether we are good or bad, whether we are high and mighty and lowly and poor … because none of that matters.

All that matters is that God … loves … us … that we are God’s beloved children.

And we know this because the Bible tells us so.

The Bible tells us that in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth … meaning, God was before we were, and God will be after we are.

Which means, quite simply, that we are not necessary to God.

God is necessary to us, yes. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here today.

But we are not necessary to God.

Which in turn means, quite simply, that God wanted us, that God desired us, that God loved us into being.

This is what God meant when God said, way back in the beginning, “Let us create humankind in our image, according to our likeness …” God’s image, God’s likeness, has nothing to do with the color of God’s skin (does God even have skin?) or God’s gender, or God’s height or weight (does God have any of those attributes?). God’s image, God’s likeness, is center in one thing only:

Love.

But God’s love, my friends, does not exist in a vacuum.

Yes, God loves me.

And yes, God loves you.

But because God loves me and because God loves you, God intends for us to love each other.

Since we each are beloved of God and since we each are created in love, God intends us to live in love.

With each other.

That’s called community.

And our mission in life, the very reason for which God created us, is to love the community.

Augustine, despite fighting God and fleeing God, learned this in his own life.

“What,” he asked, “does love look like? It has the hand to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That,” he said, “is what love looks like.”[1]

So in the words of one of the greatest theologians of our faith, in the words of your own patron saint, our very reason for existing is to take care of each other, to love one another.

That is our mission in life – loving those whom God loves … every moment of our lives.

It’s not an easy task, this mission that God gives us.

But we know we can do it.

We know we can do it because Jesus – the ultimate manifestation of God’s love for us – because Jesus said so.

Throughout his entire ministry … through his preaching and teaching, his feeding of the hungry and giving of water to the thirsty, his healing of the lame and returning of sight to the blind and hearing to deaf and speech to the mute, through every meal he ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, his every touch of the lepers, his every willingness to include the excluded, to love the unloved, to give hope to the hopeless … Jesus taught us what to do. He taught us how to live our lives on a mission from God.

And then, facing his own end, he bequeathed to us his great command:

Love one another as I have loved you.

With that love, he told us, we will do great things.

In fact, he said, our mere faith, in him will make us do the work that he did, and indeed, he said, we will do greater works than these!

Can you imagine that?

Can you imagine what it would be like to do greater work than Jesus himself did?

New Testament professor Jaime Clark-Soles heard those words and wrote, in great astonishment,

Those who are “left behind” when Jesus goes to the Father have [an] advantage beyond all telling of it. Because Jesus goes, they will get power they wouldn’t get otherwise. Instead of wannabes, they’ll be the real deal – they’ll be the Jesus in the world.[2]

 

You want to know what it means to be on a mission from God in the world?

Being on a mission from God means we get to be Jesus!

Well, OK. We don’t get to actually be Jesus. But we get to do that which Jesus did, only in a bigger way. Perhaps even in a better way.

So long as we understand: Everything we do is to come from God’s love for us, and God’s love for everyone else.

In 1969, Neil Diamond debuted a song called Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show. It’s a great song – it has a great beat (even though you can’t really dance to it) – not just because of the story of the traveling salvation show, but because of its theology.

Do you know this song? You don’t?

            (Sing) Brother Love,

            I said, Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show.

            Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies

            And everyone goes

            Cuz everyone knows

            ‘Bout Brother Love’s show …

            Hallelujah …

What’s amazing about this song, though, isn’t that chorus. It is that in the middle of the song, there’s a sermon. Now, if you look up the words online, you won’t find the words to the sermon. You’ll just see the word “sermon” printed in the middle of the lyrics.

But it’s the sermon that provides the power … the message … that we all need to hear, every single day:

This is what Brother Love preaches:

            Brothers! I said, Brothers!

Now you got yourself two good hands.

And when your brother is troubled

            You’ve got to reach out your one hand for him …

            Cuz that’s what it’s there for.

            And when your heart is troubled

            You got to reach out your other hand …

            Reach it out to the man up there …

            Cuz that’s what he’s there for.

 

            (Sing) Take my hand in yours

Walk with me this day

In my heart I know

I will never stray.[3]

Halle. Halle. Halle! Halle …!

 

We each have two good hands. And with those hands, we are called, as people on a mission from God, to always … always … reach those hands out to those who are troubled, who are in need, who need to be reminded of God’s love for them.

This is what it means to be a missionary, my friends. To reach out to others, while at the same time, holding on to God.

We are the link … everywhere we go, with everyone we meet.

Because wherever we go, God is there. And everyone we meet is a beloved child of God.

You want to be a missionary?

Reach your hands out …

That’s all there is to it.

Now, I’m a missionary. I spent four years as a missionary in Sudan, and one year serving in Haiti. And I know … I know … that many people are surprised to discover that The Episcopal Church even has missionaries. Even though we are The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America – that’s our official name, you know … quite impressive, isn’t it? – even though that is our formal name, people are surprised when they find out that I am, indeed, a missionary, and that I’ve been one for years.

Well, let me tell you something:

You are missionaries as well. And not just because you are Episcopalians.

No, you’re a missionary because God said so.

And your mission – if you choose to accept it – is to live in love and in community … to reach your hands out to those who are troubled … every moment of your lives.

Just last week, NPR interviewed Stephane Hessel, a former World War II French resistance fighter who narrowly escaped execution by the Nazis in two concentration camps. Hessel’s book, Time for Outrage, was published in the United States this week; in it, he argues that indifference is the worst possible attitude we can adopt.

 

If you want to be a real human being – a real woman, a real man [he says] – you cannot tolerate things which put you to indignation, to outrage. You must stand up. I always say to people, “Look around; look at what makes you unhappy, what makes you furious, and then engage yourself in some action.[4]

 

This is what Jesus was talking about – look at what makes you unhappy (the suffering of others, the needs of others, the desires of others to be loved) – and do something about it.

Our mission – which we accept every time we reaffirm our Baptismal Covenant – is to do something – something greater than the work Jesus himself did!

Just because it seems hard, just because the world tells us it can’t be done (we can’t possibly feed all the hungry in the world, despite the fact that we throw away more than enough food every day to feed every single starving person out there; we can’t possibly provide health care for all – even though that’s what Jesus did; we can’t possibly … we can’t possibly … we can’t … we can’t … we can’t …), doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference.

We start by reaching out our hands … one to the person in need … the other to God … and being the link between the two.

And when we doubt (which we will)?

We go back again to your own patron saint, to Augustine of Hippo, who once told his mother (or so the story goes) that he was going out for bread and never came back. He once wrote:

Hope has two beautiful daughters.

Their names are anger and courage;

anger at the way things are, and

courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.[5]

We never give up hope, and we pray to have the courage to live our lives on a mission from God, to be missionaries, living every moment of our lives in love and in community.

It’s why we were created.

(Sing) Take my hand in yours

Walk with me this day

In my heart I know

I will never stray.

Amen.

A sermon preached on the Feast of St. Augustine (translated), at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, Kinston, N.C., 25 September 2011.




[1] As quoted in Quote, Unquote, by Lloyd Cory, p. 197.

[2] Jaime Clark-Soles, Associate Professor of New Testament, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Teas, commentary for 20 April 2008, emphasis added, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=4/20/2008&tab=4

 

[3] Neil Diamond, Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show, on the eponymous album, UNI Records, 1969.

[4] Stephane Hessel, author of Time for Outrage, in NPR interview, http://www.npr.org/2011/09/22/140252484/wwii-survivor-stirs-literary-world-with-outrage

[5] As quoted in by Robert McAfee Brown in Spirituality and Liberation: Overcoming the Great Fallacy (Westminster John Knox Press, 1988), 136.

 

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The little things …

Amazon Kindle 3

1 Peter 2:2-10

A couple of weeks ago, I went on a rather convoluted trip covering six states in 60 hours. This is what I do: I’m a missionary who travels constantly to preach and teach and witness.

Halfway through my trip, I discovered that I somehow had managed to lose my Kindle.

Y’all know what a Kindle is, right? It’s the Amazon e-reader that literally changed my life as a missionary. It kept me sane and kept me company when I was alone, a stranger in a strange land.

I’m very partial to my Kindle. I have about 400 books on it, and it has traveled the world with me. Partway through my travels, I realized I had left my Kindle on the plane.

I tried valiantly to get it back, I really did: I called the airlines, I filed a report, I went to baggage claim (where I found someone else’s Kindle, but not mine), I called Amazon, I even posted a note on Facebook (you know, just in case) … to no avail.

But my Kindle didn’t show up. And didn’t show up …

So I ordered another one, and pretty much gave up on ever finding the one that was lost.

Imagine my surprise, then, when last Wednesday I received an email from a man saying that his son had found my Kindle on the plane and had tried but failed to connect with me on Facebook. That morning, the teen-ager asked his father: Can you find the owner? He did.

The father and I had a marvelous conversation, not just about the Kindle but about our families and my service as a missionary and what I do and what he does, and where I’ve been and where he wants to go. In the end, I sold the once-lost-now-found Kindle to him for a severe discount, telling him that the balance of its worth was my gift to them, because they not only found my Kindle, they took the time and made the effort to track me down.

Then, because I’m a social creature, I shared my good news on Facebook.

The responses were astounding! People from all over the country commented, all seeing such good news in this story. This is wonderful, they said. You all are blessed! they gushed. This is a soul-to-soul connection, they wrote. This is not a co-incidence, one opined, but a “God-incident.”

Now … I know this story really only affects a few of us, and in the grand scheme of life it means very little. But for those of us involved, it is an important story. Because out of my carelessness, a new connection, a “soul-to-soul” connection has been established.

One little thing has brought us together – a family in Cincinnati and me, a missionary who gallivants all over the country on a weekly basis.

This, my friends, is what the Apostle Peter is talking about in his Epistle this morning … he’s talking about the little things of life, the little things we do not because we have to do them, but because we belong to God.

When Peter writes that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy tribe (that’s a better translation from the Greek than

The Apostle Peter

“nation,”) God’s own people,” he’s not talking about us saving the world single-handedly.

Peter is talking about us saving the world one little thing at a time.

Remember … Peter is writing this letter to people who thought Jesus was coming back any second now – only Jesus hadn’t come back yet. So Peter is instructing the people how they are to live until that moment happens.

Does this sound familiar?

Doesn’t this sound rather like what we just went through yesterday, with the alleged Rapture that Harold Camping and his followers told us was going to happen at 6 o’clock last night?

Now you and I can laugh and make jokes about Mr. Camping and his predictions.

But in Peter’s day, Jesus’ followers were just as confident as Mr. Camping’s followers that the Risen Lord was due back at any second.

And since the Risen Lord hadn’t come back yet, Jesus’ followers were a bit confused, and rather anxious, and a tad uncertain how they were to live their lives.

So the Apostle told them:

You are a holy tribe … you are God’s own people. Your job, your mission, is to live your lives in holiness.

In every little thing.

We live holy lives when we love one another as God loves us. Every word we say – or don’t say … every gesture we make — or don’t make … everything in our lives is to reflect God’s wild, radical, inexplicable, eternal love for us.

I know this sounds rather simplistic. But the truth is, those little things we think aren’t all that important? The ones we may be tempted to think don’t really matter … especially in the greater scheme of life? They are important and they do matter.

Because those little things add up. Those little things are the mustard seeds that start out so very small and grow … and grow … and grow … into huge bushes. Trust me, you plant a mustard seed and it will grow so big so fast that you’ll be astonished. You think kudzu is bad? Try mustard. It’s one of the little things.

Face it, my friends: We live in a world that does not support us in our calling as God’s own people, a holy tribe. We live in a world that tells us we have to get ahead – and leave others behind. That tells us we have to spend, spend, spend, buy, buy, buy … so that we can die with the most toys. That whispers that it is OK to forget those in need … because those in need? They’re not us.

But we are God’s own people.  We are God’s holy tribe. And we are not called to live our lives as society tells us. Because we are, as Father Michael said in his sermon a few weeks ago, homo eucharisticus, thankful people whose mission is to live lives of thanksgiving.

And we do that one little thing at a time …

We live lives of love because we are created in love. Remember: God did not need to create us. We are not necessary to God! God is necessary to us, but we are not necessary to God! We know this is true, because God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so we cannot possibly be necessary to God. Which means that God wants us, that God desires us, that God loves us into being.

And since that is how God created us – in love — that is how we are to live our lives: In love.

This is our calling.

This is our mission.

This is what it means to be a holy tribe. To be God’s own people. To be homo eucharisticus.

And it doesn’t matter what the world has to say about this, what society tries to teach us!

Every moment of our lives, because we are God’s own, we are called, in every little thing, to live in the same wild, radical, inexplicable, eternal love for others that God has for us.

And we know what God’s incredible love looks like, don’t we? We know the way and the truth that lead us to life.

By caring for those in need. Mourning with those who are mourning. Rejoicing with those who are filled with joy. Feeding the hungry. Giving water to the thirsty. Making the blind see and the deaf hear and the mute sing and the lame leap for joy! By proclaiming the year of the Lord not once every fifty years, but every year!

We know how to do this and we can do this!

But … we can’t do this all at once! We can’t just wave our hands and cure the world of all its ills. Because we are not God!

But we are God’s holy people.

And as God’s holy people, we can cure the world one little thing at a time.

We can live our lives in love, every single moment of every single day in everything we do, big, little or anywhere in between.

We can take the time to greet the stranger … and let her know she is welcome. We can let that person who is in such a great hurry on I-65 pass us … without saying a bad word, without making a gesture we will regret. We can, as Robert Fulghum once famously wrote in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learn in Kindergarten: Hold hands crossing the street. Help little old ladies. Share your cookies. (You think sharing your cookies is not important? Let me tell you, I’ve lived in countries where we didn’t have enough to eat, and anyone who shared a cookie with you let you know that you deserved to live!)

We can hold this child Timothy Alexander, who was baptized this morning, and tell him, over and over again, that God loves him. That we love him.

We do not have to save the world all by ourselves.

That is God’s job.

Our job, our mission, is to save the world one little thing at a time.

You know … like returning my Kindle … even when you don’t have to.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta echoed Peter’s words when she said, “God does not demand that I be successful. God demands that I be faithful. When facing God,” she said, “results are not important. Faithfulness is ….”

In every little thing.

Mother Teresa even gives us guidance on how we are to live our holy lives:

‎”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.”

You want to live as God’s holy people? You want to show the world what it means to be homo eucharisticus, to be God’s holy tribe?

Do good.

Be honest.

Help those in need.

Give the world your best.

Every single day.

In every little thing.

And if I ever lose my Kindle again?

I’d appreciate it if you’d return it to me.

Amen.

Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Easter, 22 May 2011, Year A, at Christ Episcopal Church, Bowling Green, Kentucky.

 

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A man on a mission: ‘It is finished’

Good Friday 2011

“It is finished.”

If you had been standing at the foot of the cross and saw the man you called “Lord,” the man you believed was the Son of God, crucified and dying, what would you think those words meant?

If all of your hopes and dreams were pinned on this one man, the one you had followed throughout Palestine, the one you listened to so closely, the one you watched cure the sick and raise the dead … what would you think those words – “It is finished” – meant?

Would all your dreams be dying up on that cross with him? Would all your hopes die up there as well?

Mary stood at the foot of the cross – Mary, Jesus’ mother. Surely she thought this was the end of all her hopes and dreams, watching her child die.

Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene stood there. Surely they heard those words and thought, “It’s over.”

The beloved disciple stood there. He must have thought, with great heartbreak, “We were wrong.”

What would you have thought, if you had been at the foot of the cross that day 2,000 years ago, outside the gates of Jerusalem, when you heard Jesus say, “It is finished”?

(sing)

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

My brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Good Friday, 2,000 years after that day when Jesus died, we are standing at the foot of the cross.

I want you to pay no attention to the fact that we already know (or, we think we know) the rest of the story. Forget about Easter morning for a moment, and concentrate on what it is like to stand at the foot of the cross.

Stand there … with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene, and the Beloved Disciple …

Stand right next to them …

And think about what Jesus meant when he said, “It is finished.”

(sing)

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?


 

As you stand there, with all your hopes and dreams dying, remember:

This is John’s Gospel.

This is the way John tells the story.

Which means …

Which means …

There’s a different take that we have to examine on this particular Good Friday.

In Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels, we hear the wounded and suffering Jesus call out, “Eloi! Eloi! Lema sabachthani?” “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus promises paradise to the thief crucified with him, and then cries out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!”

But in John’s Gospel, Jesus simply says, “It is finished.”

This is no sigh of defeat. This is not a cry of despair.

This is Jesus as John saw him, Jesus a man on a mission from God, a man who knew, from the beginning, exactly who he was, and what he was doing, and why he was doing it.

In John’s Gospel, we see a triumphant Jesus hanging on the cross, doing exactly what he was called to do, clear-minded, with a single, driving vision of which he never lost sight, from which he never wavered.[1]

Nowhere in this Gospel do we hear any pleas for release, any prayers to “remove this cup.” Nowhere does Jesus doubt that this moment on the cross is exactly what God planned, exactly what he was supposed to be doing.

John’s telling of the arrest, torture and crucifixion of Jesus is confident … vibrant … even a bit sassy.

Remember, at the Last Supper, he said, “One of you will betray me.”

At the Garden where they came to arrest him, he identified himself as “I AM,” taking for himself the name of God.

Standing before the high priest and Pilate, he practically taunted them: “You say that I am.”

He gets no help carrying the cross to Golgotha.

On the cross itself, he takes care of last things: To his mother, he says, “Woman, this is your son.” To his disciple, he directs: “This is your

16th century icon

mother.”

After that, knowing that it was finished, he said, “I thirst” – in order to fulfill the Scripture.

He sucked the wine out of the sponge, then proclaimed, “It is finished.”

And then he bowed his head and breathed his last.

Do you hear anything of defeat here?

Any doubt?

Any hesitation?

No!

Because this is John’s Gospel, and in John’s Gospel, Jesus knows exactly what he is doing, every step of the way, every moment of the day.

“It is finished” is not a plea of defeat.

It’s Jesus cry of triumph!

(sing)

Were you there when they pierced him in the side?

Were you there when they pierced him in the side?

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when they pierced him in the side?

Now … understanding that in John’s Gospel, Jesus is a determined man on a mission from God … standing there at the foot of the cross with the women and the Beloved Disciple … now tell me, what exactly do you think Jesus meant when he said, “It is finished”?

Yes, Jesus died a terrible, painful, brutal, humiliating death. Do not lose sight of that.

But Jesus didn’t look at it that way – not in John’s Gospel.

For Jesus, “It is finished” is a statement of glory.[2]

As commentator David Lose writes,

“The great irony of John’s passion is that in Jesus we see God’s strength, majesty and might revealed amid the pain and humiliation of crucifixion. … John’s depiction of the Passion of our Lord reminds us that, ultimately, Jesus is Lord. Through him, God overcomes any and all obstacles – including death – in order to redeem and restore us.”[3]

Which means that when we hear Jesus say, “It is finished,” what he’s telling us, from that pain-filled place on the cross, is that his job is over.

He has shown us how to live – in love.

And he has given us a vision – the vision – on which we are called to focus, every moment of our lives.

Everything Jesus did, everything he said, everything he taught, every miracle he performed and prayer he prayed was done in the sure and certain knowledge that this is what God wanted done.

Just as Jesus never wavered, so we are not to waver.

(sing)

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Yes, we are called to witness the crucifixion this day, to wonder and cry.

And we should be filled with trembling. We should be trembling all over!

Because Jesus just turned the whole job over to us! He’s given us the whole shebang!

Everything he did? All that preaching and teaching and healing and bringing back to life?

He’s done with that.

Now it’s our turn.

Yes, we should be trembling right about now, because now …

… Now we are the ones who have to do what he did, we are the ones who have to take up our own crosses, we are the ones who have to die to all the things that get in the way of our lives in God!

Now we have to preach the Gospel, the Good News of God in Christ Jesus!

Now we have to teach the world how to live in unity and peace, instead of discord and war!

Now we have to heal the sick and bring life – new life – to all those who live in death! We are the ones who are to give hope to the hopeless, who are to love the unloved, who are to fulfill the dream of God.

So yes, we should be trembling right now, because Jesus just put all his work on our shoulders and in our hearts. And that frightening thought should make us tremble!

Robert Fulgham once famously said, “All I really needed to know I learned in kindergarten,” and in many ways, that is true.

But the reality is, everything we really need to know? We learned it all from Jesus.

That’s why Jesus was so triumphant on the cross.

That’s why Jesus said, “It is finished.”

Because his part – his earthly part of teaching us, of training us, of inspiring us? That’s done.

Crucifixion by Theophanes the Cretan

Jesus had a job to do and he did it.

Now, he’s given the job to us – and trusting us to do it.

So, yeah, we should be trembling – heck, we should be quaking in our boots right about now!

Because we have no more excuses.

Jesus was a man on a mission from God, and he wants us to go on that mission as well.

“It is finished”?

It means that from now on, we have to do the work that Jesus did, because Jesus has called us, because Jesus trusts us, because Jesus is counting on … us.

We are on a mission from God, my friends.

It’s not Jesus’ job any more. His part? It is finished. Over with. Done. Fini.

Now? Now it’s all up to us.

Amen.

Sermon for Good Friday, 22 April 2011, Year A, Trinity Episcopal Church, Arlington, Va.

[1] Professor David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., “Commentary on the Gospel,” Good Friday, 22 April 2011,

 

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Love and mission in Honduras

Episcopal News Service has a great article today by Lynette Wilson on Ministerios Nuestras Pequeñas Rosas, Our Little Roses, in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

Our Little Roses is a home for girls who have been abused, abandoned or orphaned. It is one of the best ministries I’ve ever seen – a refuge of love and care for those who are in such great need, most of all, to be loved. Diana Frade, the founder of OLR, is a friend of mine, and I’ve been privileged to visit and serve at Our Little Roses five times.

Twenty-five years ago, Diana started this ministry, as the article recounts, because she saw a need – for love – saw a way to meet that need, and made it happen. That’s mission. Diana and all those who have been involved in OLR are great role models for all of us, most of all because everything they have done, and everything they are doing, comes out of the bounty of their love.

From the ENS article:

Ministry empowers Honduran girls for life

[Episcopal News Service – San Pedro Sula, Honduras] Ministerios Nuestras Pequeñas Rosas began 25 years ago in a three-bedroom rental house in this gritty, factory town four hours from the capital, Tegucigalpa, because its founder, Diana Frade, recognized the need to educate and empower at-risk girls.

“I visited a boys’ home in Tegucigalpa, and could see the girls on the street,” said Frade, the founder, president and executive director of Ministerios Nuestras Pequeñas Roses, or Our Little Roses (OLR). “I thought, if the church is doing this for boys, why not for girls?”

Adhering to protocol, Frade introduced a resolution aimed at helping girls at a diocesan convention, but it failed – but she’d already promised judges (the court system manages child placement in Honduras) in Tegucigalpa a home for girls. So with $80,000 – part memorial gift, part matching grant – she rented a house and took in the first girl. By the end of the first year, there were 23 girls, a cook and two tias, or aunts, who at OLR handle the everyday needs, rearing and discipline of the girls living in the home, she said.

There are an estimated 200,000 orphaned children in Honduras, according to government statistics. Honduras, a Central America about the size of Tennessee, has a total population of about 8 million, close to 50 percent under the age of 18.

The first building, in Villa Florencia, was built in 1992 on property donated by the city’s mayor on two conditions, Frade said: OLR would be the legal name and listed on the legal documents, and the buildings would be designed in the style of San Pedro Sula. The home came first, and then came the infrastructure – water, sewer, electricity – and the neighborhood, she added.

Today, OLR covers 2.5 acres in Colonial Villa Florencia, five minutes from the central city, and includes Holy Family Bilingual School, serving the surrounding community; a residential home, where currently 56 girls, toddlers to teens, live together with their tias; and an off-site transition home for girls who have left the residential home and who are working and/or studying at a university. OLR Ministries also includes a medical clinic, a dental clinic staffed by Dr. Jensey Maldonado, who came to OLR with her sister when she was 9, and a recently completed mountain retreat and conference center, Our Lady of the Roses, in Santa Barbara, about an hour outside the city. ORL also has a Spanish-language school, offering instruction for students and housing on a weekly basis.

It was United Thank Offering, Episcopal Church Women and Daughters of the King who backed OLR from the beginning and it has been women, who recognize that “when you educate women you can change the future,” who have continued to support OLR, said Frade, who is married to the Rt. Rev. Leo Frade, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida.

“The women were so excited and got behind it,” she said. “This ministry is really quite unique, putting women and girls first; when you put women and girls first, you’re changing the generation to come.”

Click here to read the rest.

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Buy amoxil

Last weekend, I participated in the 92nd Council of the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, where I did a presentation on Haïti and how we can be involved in partnerships there.

The joy of learning in Haiti

At the presentation, I showed a movie I have made, Bondye di ou: Fè pa ou, m’a fè p’am (“God says to you: You do your part, I’ll do mine). It is a 12-minute video on the history of the Diocese of Haïti, and how that Diocese is leading the way in helping the nation recover from the devastating earthquake of 12 January 2010. It also describes the ways in which parishes, other institutions and organizations can become partners with the Diocese of Haïti, the largest diocese of The Episcopal Church.

The video is available for free for anyone who is interested in seeing it or using it themselves. Simply go to

http://gallery.me.com/merelaurens/100031

and you can see it, and if you want, you can download it and make DVD copies of your own.

Haiti video

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Do not lose hope – we shall have new life

Joel 2:23-32

On Friday afternoon, about 4 p.m., Immanuel Chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary burned down. Within minutes, the entire chapel was on fire. Within an hour, it was gone. By nightfall, the walls were all that remained standing – although the fire department warned that they could yet collapse.

The historic Great Commission window in the VTS chapel, before the fire.

Most of the windows, many given by graduating classes, are gone, from the great stained glass depiction behind the altar with the inscription Go Ye Into All the World and Preach the Gospel, which inspired thousands of worshippers and had its Robert E. Lee-look alike St. Peter, to the great Tiffany window of St. Paul testifying in chains. Some windows melted, some exploded. All that is left are jagged openings from which many of us watched water pour as the firefighters fought the two-alarm blaze. On Saturday, we learned that apparently, the six-toed Jesus at the back did survive after all.

The altar rail that was sent from Liberia in the late 1800s is gone, as is the altar table and the organ, which seemed to burn for hours.

Everything in the sacristy was destroyed, from the patens and chalices and old, time-worn prayerbooks to “Anna Baptist,” the baby doll that thousands of us used to learn how to baptize children.

Gone, too, is the pulpit, from which were spoken great soaring sermons meant to inspire us and not-so-great sermons given by preachers who were literally quaking in their boots, and which many of us thought would collapse a few years ago on Martin Luther King Jr. Day when Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina pounded and swayed and called us yet again to realize the dream not of Dr. King but of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Immanuel Chapel, the home in three-year cycles for thousands of seminarians for the past 129 years, the place that nurtured us and then sent us into the world to preach the Gospel, is no more.

This is a time for great mourning among the Seminary community. It is a time of great sadness.

But already, the community is giving thanks.

Thanks that no one was in the chapel at the time and thus no lives were lost. Thanks that none of the dozens of firefighters were injured. Thanks that none of the surrounding buildings were damaged. And yes, thanks that the great cross still towers above the ruins.

And already, it is a time for the community to dream.

To dream of the new chapel that will rise from those ashes. To dream of better access and better bathrooms. To dream of the unknown possibilities that make up those dreams, and that inspire us to new heights, not just of how to glorify God through our worship, but how to glorify God with our lives.

It is as though the prophet Joel were writing this morning just for those of us who loved that Chapel.

“Then afterward,” Joel wrote – meaning after the great calamity which in his day was famine brought on by an invasion, either of real locusts or of the locusts known as Babylonias –  “afterward,” the Lord says, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.”

VTS Chapel after the fire.

In other words, God says to us through the prophet Joel, despite the calamity of your life, do not lose hope.

In other words, God says, do not let the tragedy overcome you. Overcome the tragedy instead, because I the Lord am pouring out my Spirit upon you, because your young are prophesying and seeing visions, and your old are dreaming dreams.

Even in the midst of despair – over an economy that will not get its feet back under itself, over wars that are claiming thousands of lives, over injustice and oppression in Sudan and Congo and Zimbabwe, over enduring desperation and a sudden, deadly outbreak of cholera in Haïti, over hatred in the Middle East and oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, over stubborn unemployment and devastating housing foreclosures – even in the midst of all that can send us plummeting into the pit of despair, we are not to give up. We do not lose hope.

Because God’s spirit is pouring over us, and because we are prophesying and dreaming and seeing visions, and therefore, we shall overcome. We shall have new life. That is where God’s Spirit, which is being poured out abundantly over us, leads us: to new life.

But only if we live into those prophecies, those dreams, those visions.

My friends, let’s be plain here: This is our calling in life. To take the gifts God gives us in the Spirit – the prophecies, the dreams, the visions – and to make them happen.

We – who are the beloved children of God – we – who are created in God’s image of love and community – we – who are created to live in love and in community – we are the ones who are especially called to make God’s dreams for us come true.

This is not someone else’s call … it is not up to someone else to work on God’s behalf.

It is our call.

It is our mission.

It is, in fact, why we were created.

• • •

I need you to know that I am a missionary. For the last five years, I have served as your missionary in both Sudan and Haïti. I have been an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church, which means I represented you and the entire Episcopal Church wherever I went, whomever I served.

And because I am a missionary, mission is important to me. But I tend to define “mission” a bit differently than most people, because for me, mission is not simply about going into the world, it is not merely about doing things.

For me, “mission” is a way of being.

It is how we live our lives as beloved children of God.

“Mission” encompasses every aspect of our lives, every action we take, every word we speak, even the thoughts we think.

Our mission in life is the result of God creating us in God’s image, and declaring us the beloved.

You see, when God created the heavens and the earth and the birds of the air and the fishes of the sea and the animals of the land, God brought forth man and woman in God’s very own image. God did so not because God needed us, but because God wanted us. Remember, we are not necessary to God – and we know that, because God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so we can’t possibly be necessary to God. Which means that God loved us into being. So the image of God is that of love. And because we are Trinitarians, believing in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always together, never apart, God’s image is that of community.

So we are created in love and community to live in love and community.

The dance of the Trinity

All of which means that each of us is and all of us are God’s beloved children. I’m a beloved child of God. You are a beloved child of God. And you. And you. And you. And you. You are the beloved. We are the beloved.

Our mission, therefore, is to love. Not just the people and the things we like. Not just the people and the things we know. But all of God’s creation. As fully, as wildly, as radically, as inexplicably, as eternally as God loves us.

We want to make those prophecies and dreams and visions, the ones that come from God and are God’s gift to us … we want all those things to come true?

We have to start with love. And we have to always act as God’s beloved. And we have to always remember that everyone else also is God’s beloved.

If this is how we live our lives, if we always begin and end in love (no matter how hard that is), when tragedy and calamity hit, we will be fine. Not because we are immune – for we are not. But because we know how to move forward. We know that God loves us, and because God loves us, God gives us the prophecies, the dreams, the visions we need to continue bringing God’s love to the world.

God who loved us into being is pouring out God’s Spirit upon us. As the beloved, we have the prophecies, we are dreaming the dreams, we are seeing the visions.

Our job, our mission, is to bring those prophecies and dreams and visions to life. To make them happen. God doesn’t give us everything we need so that we can ignore it. God gives us everything we need so that God’s dream for us can come true.

That seminary chapel that burned down on Friday? The one where I was formed as a priest, where I learned to baptize (with dear Anna Baptist, that unregenerate baby doll), to celebrate and marry and bury people? It is gone now. But the love that built that place, the love that made it a holy place of God? That love remains. And because the love remains, the community will move forward.

We are God’s beloved.

Don’t ever forget that.

Amen.

A sermon preached on the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 25, 24 October 2010, Year C, at Grace Episcopal Church, Goochland, Va.

 

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Sometimes we are called to hate

Luke 14:26

It would be so much easier this morning if we were listening to Matthew’s Gospel, wouldn’t it? The Gospel where Jesus, pretty much in the same setting, says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”?

But we don’t have Matthew this morning, with its emphasis on love. No, we have Luke. And in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is not as gentle, not as nuanced, not as loving.

For in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

Whoever … does not hate …

At best, when we hear Jesus say this, we cringe. At worst, we ignore him. Because hate is not something that we associate with Jesus.

When I work with children and youth, I always stop them from using the word hate. You know how kids can be: I hate … broccoli. Or I hate my teacher … or that TV show … or that song. Kids use the word hate all the time. And when they do, I stop them. “You can’t use that word,” I tell them. “Jesus doesn’t tell us to hate things, so you can’t hate. You can despise. You can even severely despise. But you cannot hate. God did not create us to hate. God created us in love to love,” I tell them.

Which is true.

We are created in God’s image, and that image is, first of all, one of love. We know that because we are not necessary to God. God is necessary to us, but we are not necessary to God. And we know that because God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so therefore we simply cannot be necessary to God. So God must have created us because God wanted us, God desired us. Which means God created us out of God’s love for us.

Which is why we simply can’t go around hating things, hating ideas, hating people. It simply is not how or why we were created.

But then we come to Luke’s version of Jesus’ saying, where Jesus is not gentle, not nuanced, not loving.

Jesus has just finished dining with a leader of the Pharisees, has just finished instructing the people to take the lower seat at the table, to feed the poor, the lame, the blind, the sick. Now he turns his back on that town and begins traveling, with “a large crowd following him.” And suddenly he turns to them and out of the blue says:

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

What brought this on? Where did this come from?

Well, I’ll tell you: I think Jesus has had it.

I think he’s tired of explaining to people – high and low – what it means to be a disciple.

I think he’s tired of having large crowds follow him, without making any commitments.

I think Jesus knows that far too many people in the crowd were just along for the ride, wanting to see what would happen next with this young, itinerant rabbi from Nazareth who preached a radical message of God’s love and hospitality.

Remember, these are people who have been waiting for a Messiah for centuries. They wanted another David. They wanted Israel and Judah restored. They wanted the Romans out, their glory restored, their freedom back. Not that they were planning on doing anything about it. That’s simply what they wanted. So when Jesus showed up in their neighborhood, they followed him, just in case anything happened.

And I think, by this point in his ministry, Jesus has had it. He’s fed up with the freeloaders.

So he lays it on the line for them:

The only way to be my disciple is to hate everything else.

Now, to be clear, the way Luke uses the word hate is somewhat … slightly … different from the way we use that same word these days. And here I’m not talking about how some people use the word hate, like the kids in Youth groups do when they say they hate broccoli, or that TV show, or that song.

I’m talking about the kind of hate that is visceral, and emotional, and comes deep anger … the kind of hate that is the result of irrational fear … the kind of hate that nine years ago this Saturday flew into the Twin Towers in New York, slammed into the Pentagon, and brought down a plane in the Pennsylvania countryside, killing nearly 3,000 people … the kind of hate that tears apart the lives of people all over the world today: Israelis and Palestinians, Afghans and Taliban, Shi’a and Sunni Iraqis, Sudanese Arabs and Sudanese blacks … the kind of hate that is used to threaten people of faith here and around the world …

That is not the “hate” that Luke is describing in today’s Gospel. What Luke is talking is the disruption of the family in first-century terms. Hate here means disconnecting from everything that has previously defined a person: family, friends, genetics …  As one commentator describes it, when Jesus says to hate your family, he means to turn your back on the old ways of life, the old world as people in those days understood it, so that the new ways, the “new world of God,” can come into being.

So, you see, Jesus looked back and he saw all those hangers-on, all those free-loaders who were just along for the ride, who were following him to see what would happen next, but who would do nothing to make that next thing happen … he saw them, and he cut loose.

If you want to follow me, he said, be prepared. Following me is not easy. It comes with a cost. You want to be my disciple?You want to love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength? You’re going to have to give up something. In fact, you’re going to have to give up a lot. Your family – which doesn’t want you to follow me. Your friends – who’d really rather have you come out and play with them. Your place in society … perhaps your job … your home … 

Because nothing – nothing! Jesus says – can come between you and God.

That’s what it means to follow me.

Not just traipsing across the countryside, waiting to see what happens next. Not just showing up when I preach, or coming to me when your need is great and you want to be healed.

No. You want to be one of my disciples? Jesus says.

Put God first. Every moment. Every day. In everything you do.

Jesus is being very clear: We are not created to be freeloaders in our faith. We are not created to simply follow along, so that we can see what happens next.

We are created to make the next thing happen.

We who are created in God’s image, out of God’s love, are the ones who are called to love in return. To feed the hungry and care for those in need … not “God on high,” not the “other guy around the corner” but us. It is up to us to make the next thing happen through our love … like your food pantry yesterday … and the Stop Hunger Now program this coming Saturday … and the FISH clothing bank this whole month.

We are the ones who are called to see the world’s needs about us, and do something about it, to change it … like this discussion that you are having about the possibility of nursery school here for that 40 percent of the children in this county who never have a chance to go to preschool.

This is what it means to be a disciple of Christ: We have to turn our backs on everything old, everything that defines us by society’s limited and often self-serving standards, so that everything new, everything that is God, can come into being.

And the only way that is going to happen is if we refuse to be the hangers-on and the freeloaders, just along for the ride, and instead actively decide to put God first … in every moment and every part of our lives.

Jesus is stunningly clear: Discipleship is not easy. Discipleship is not cheap. Being a disciple means that we have to be brave and stand up for what God wants, regardless of what society tells us.

And it means that sometimes, yes, we are going to have to hate, just as Jesus said – not in the visceral, evil way that we encounter so much in today’s world, but in the back-turning, decision-making, world-changing, radical way of which Jesus speaks in Luke’s Gospel.

Because that is the only way we can change the world.

Amen.

A sermon preached on the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18, Year C, by The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley at Christ Church, Millwood, Va.

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