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Luke 1:39-55

In those days, two women came together in a small town in the hill country of Judea.

The one woman, who was so much older, we know was righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. We also know that for many years, she was barren, and that she was getting on in years.

Of the other woman, who was so very young, we know very little. We know only that she was young. That she was single. And that she was engaged to be married.

And we know that both women were pregnant, each expecting their first child.

Mary and Elizabeth rejoice (courtesy of Worship Sounds Music Blog, http://worshipsounds.wordpress.com)

The older woman knew that this child was a blessing from God, for to be barren in her culture meant to live in disgrace. And this child was, after all, promised to her by an angel of the Lord who had appeared to her husband.

The younger woman, not much more than a child herself really, also knew that her pregnancy was a blessing, for hadn’t that same angel appeared to her as well, and told her so?

But both women also knew that these pregnancies brought danger to them.

For the older woman, the danger lay in her age. She was indeed getting on in age, and to bear her first child when she was so old was precarious at best. So she remained in seclusion for the first five months, taking extreme care that nothing happened to her baby.

For the younger woman, the danger lay not in her age, but in her status. For she indeed was unmarried, and to be pregnant and single in those days exposed her to punishment, punishment which in the very least could include being “set aside,” rejected by her betrothed, and if taken to the extreme could mean being stoned to death according to the laws of her religion.

And yet … both women, when they came together in that small village in the hill country of Judea, rejoiced.

Because they had been chosen by the Lord.

Them.

Ordinary people.

Living ordinary lives.

Chosen to do extraordinary things.

On behalf of the Lord.

Part of what we celebrate in this season of Advent, and of what we will celebrate tomorrow night and Tuesday morning on Christmas Day, is that in order to achieve God’s miracles, God chose ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things.

Elizabeth, the older woman, and Mary, the younger woman, couldn’t have been more ordinary if you tried.

They were two simple women, one married, one single. In their society, they had few rights. They couldn’t own property. They couldn’t testify in court. They weren’t allowed to make their own decisions.

And yet … God chose them.

God sent an angel – the angel Gabriel, who stands in the presence of the Lord – to give them the good news that they, the ones society said were less than equal, the ones who considered themselves to be completely ordinary, had been chosen by God to achieve the extraordinary.

God chose ordinary old Elizabeth to be the mother of the last prophet of the Old Testament (Newsweek, December 2003), John, who would be called the Baptist. John, who would be great in the sight of the Lord. John, who would turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. John, who would make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

And God chose ordinary young Mary to be the mother of God’s only begotten Son, Jesus, who would be called the Messiah. Jesus, who is the embodiment of the New Testament, who is the New Covenant that God makes with his people. Jesus, who gives God’s people new life and life eternal.

Two ordinary women, chosen by God, to achieve extraordinary things.

When most of us think about Elizabeth and Mary, lo, these two thousand years after the fact, we tend to think of them as special, as extraordinary women. Elizabeth is indeed a saint of the church, and Mary is, of course, the Blessed Virgin.

But when God came calling, in the form of the Angel Gabriel (in Elizabeth’s case, to her husband Zechariah), they weren’t yet saints, they weren’t yet blessed. They were just two women, going about their daily lives, trying to be righteous before the Lord.

Which is pretty much the same situation in which we find ourselves, when we find God calling in our lives. We, like Elizabeth and Mary, are, for the most part, pretty much ordinary people, living pretty much ordinary lives. Yes, we are special in the eyes of The Lord, each and every one of us a beloved child of God. God loves us as our mothers do – equally, none more, none less than anyone else.

We are, whether we like to admit it, ordinary people. Just like Elizabeth and Mary.

And yet … just as God called them, God calls us.

Ordinary people.

To do extraordinary things.

God calls us – through Elizabeth’s son, John who is called the Baptist – to prepare the way of the Lord, to make straight a path in the wilderness.

God calls us – through Mary’s son, Jesus who is the Messiah – to love our neighbors as ourselves, to heal the sick, to include the marginalized, to live radical lives driven by hope, filled with love, consumed with mercy.

God calls us – through Mary’s son, Jesus who is the Messiah – to do justice, no matter how hard that might be; to love kindness – even to the strangers among us; and to walk humbly with our God – not in God’s place, not pretending to be God, but with God.

We, who are rather ordinary people living rather ordinary lives, are called, just as Elizabeth and Mary were called.

By God

To do extraordinary things.

Will we answer that call?

Will we, like Elizabeth and Mary, have the courage to say “Yes,” even when we know that saying “Yes” could be as dangerous to us as it was dangerous to them, knowing that saying “Yes” might very well get us into trouble?

And will we, like Elizabeth and Mary, not only say “Yes,” will we rejoice in doing so? Will we magnify the Lord for looking with favor on the lowliness of his servants?

Will we bless the Mighty One for doing great things for us, and proclaim his name to be holy?

Because the fact of the matter is, we are called.

Not because we’re special.

But because we are ordinary.

Just like all those other ordinary people God called throughout the ages.

You see, whenever God wants to do something extraordinary in God’s good creation, God turns to ordinary people. Throughout history, God has asked ordinary people to do the extraordinary on his behalf: Noah. Abram and Sarai. Jacob. David. Debra. Elijah. Susannah. Isaiah. Jonah. Jeremiah. Obadiah. Ezekiel. Elizabeth. Mary.

And oh, my, were these ordinary people. Noah? Who was he, other than a carpenter – and apparently could build a boat. Abram? He was so concerned with saving his own skin he lied – twice! – about his wife! Jacob? He was a double-dealing liar! Gideon? He was so unimpressed with the visit by the angel that he made the angel prove – repeatedly – that he indeed was from God! Jeremiah? He spent his entire prophetic ministry complaining to God: “I don’t like these people! I don’t want to do this!” Jonah? He objected to God sending him to Ninevah so much that he ended up in the belly of the whale – and then ended up in Ninevah anyway! David? He was stinky shepherd! OK – he was tall and ruddy and handsome. But he stank!

All of them were ordinary people. Called by God. To do the extraordinary. On God’s behalf.

There was nothing terribly special about those people before they were called.

We remember them only because they answered God’s call.

There’s nothing terribly special about us, either.

We will be remembered only if we, like those who have gone before us, answer that call.

So that God’s extraordinary acts can be achieved.

In these holy seasons of Advent and Christmas, are we ready to say “Yes” so that we, too, can do extraordinary things on God’s behalf?

So that we can bring about God’s justice, God’s mercy, God’s love, God’s hope in this world?

God is calling.

How will we answer?

Amen.

Sermon preached at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Staunton, Va., on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C, 23 December, 2012.

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Dear NRA, Part II:

Oh, my … I am so disappointed in you, the leadership of the National Rifle Association.

I. Am. SO. Disappointed.

The NRA's Wayne LaPierre at Friday's news conference. (Photo via NBCNews.com)

You had a chance to take the lead in making this country a safer place.

You had a chance to say, “Yes, there are reasonable limits to be had.”

You had a chance to say, “Yes, we agree … private ownership of weapons created solely to kill other human beings do not belong in the hands of private citizens. And no, there is no reason for private citizens to have large-capacity magazines.”

You had a chance to do so much.

Instead, you sent out Wayne LaPierre, who blamed everyone and everything but the culprits – those who think that every gun is a good gun – and who called for a cop in every school – and then had the audacity to ask the federal government to pay for that.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Mr. LaPierre said at your news conference on Friday morning in Washington.

Laws that established gun-free schools zones have, your man said, told “every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.”

Your man claimed that “20,000 other laws have failed,” so why pass any more? (Talk about giving up … or is that a diversion to keep us from doing the right thing …?)

And oh, it’s all the fault of the media, the movies, the video games … (as if you, the NRA, doesn’t support the ownership of these weapons that glorify death and destruction) …

That’s the best you can do?!?!

As the leading organization for guns and gun safety, the best you can do is dig in your heels and pretend that you’ve done nothing wrong? And that there’s nothing good you can do

May I say, again, how disappointed I am in you?

Please do not tell me, once again, that “guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Well, no duh, nimrod!

I’m well aware that guns don’t load themselves, point themselves, pull the triggers themselves. I know people do that.

I also know that having guns around people who are upset, who are arguing, who are depressed, who suffer from mental illness, makes it far more likely that someone will be shot.

That is, after all, what happened at Columbine High School. At Virginia Tech. In Tucson. And that may be the reason that 28 people lost their lives in Newtown, CT.

Someone who really should never have been near a gun got a gun – and a spit-load of ammunition, and large-capacity magazines – and shattered the lives of so many. No, he didn’t buy them. His mother did. And then Adam Lanza killed her. With her own weapon(s). Do you not see that this in and of itself is a good reason for people not to own these guns? Don’t you see this?????

Radio 104.1 WMRQ

Do you not see, NRA, why so many of us have had it? Why so many of us are saying, “Please help us stop this violence”?

We don’t want an OK Corral set up at every single school. We don’t want the next disturbed person to decide that shooting up a school with police protection would be a pretty cool way to prove that cops can’t stop bullets any better than 6-year-olds, and that shooting up a school protected by cops will make the shooter’s name live in infamy.

What we want is some sanity.

What we want is some safety.

We want it to be harder to get a gun license than it is to get a driver’s license. (I mean, really … there are no tests necessary to get a license to own an item that’s sole purpose is to take a life, human or otherwise?)

We want mandated instruction … you know, just like for driver’s licenses.

We want every loophole closed. And no grandfathering of guns already owned.

BAN those bloody assault weapons! BAN the large-capacity magazines! REQUIRE safety courses! REQUIRE testing before licensing!

And hear me clearly, NRA:

I AM NOT SAYING AMERICANS CANNOT HAVE GUNS.

So don’t you dare come out and attack me as a lily-livered liberal who hates guns!

Do. Not. Go. There.

I want sanity. I want safety.

I want there to be fewer places to buy guns than there are McDonald’s or Starbucks.

I want a sane approach to gun ownership.

And I want assault weapons gone.

Period.

Hunting rifles? Fine.

Guns used for target shooting? Fine.

Shotguns? Fine.

But why …why … does anyone need a 9mm handgun? Or a weapon developed for the military? Why?

Oh, my dear NRA:

I had such high hopes for you.

But since you are choosing to ignore the calls for sanity in gun laws, we will move forward without you. We will not give in to your bullying and your threats. We will not attempt to accommodate you.

We will, instead, do what God is calling us to do: To care for each other. To look at what the community needs. To set aside our desires for the good of all of God’s children.

I do hope that at some point – preferably sooner rather than later – you join us in this effort.

Really.

There is so much good that we can do together.

As Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said at the National Religious Leaders Press Conference in Remembrance of the Newtown tragedy: “The indiscriminate distribution of guns is an offense against God and humanity. Our gun-flooded, violence-prone society has turned weapons into idols. And the appropriate religious response to idolatry is sustained moral outrage.”

Which, whether you like it or not, we are going to show – moral outrgage, I mean – until we win this fight.

As The Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, said on Friday, on the One-Week Anniversary of the Newtown Massacre, commemorated at the Washington National Cathedral, “It is only natural to wonder in our worst moments whether God has abandoned us. Yet the more compelling spiritual question isn’t where God was last Friday morning, but rather, where we were. For God has no body on earth but ours.”

That’s what you don’t seem to get, NRA. We are God’s body on this earth.

And we have had enough.

 

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Dear NRA …

Dear NRA:

I know that these last days have been difficult for you as an association, and as one of the most powerful lobbies in this country. I know you do not support the actions of Adam Lanza, and that all of you who work for the NRA, and all of your members, are in mourning for the loss of 20 children, six teachers, Adam Lanza’s mother, and even Adam himself.

But you have not said a thing since Friday last. Not one word. No condemnation. No grieving. No shock. No horror. (Updated: The NRA released a short statement mere minutes ago … read it below. The NRA is promising to offer “meaningful contributions  to help make sure this never happens again.” Details will be released on Friday. Until then, my suggestions stand.)

I get it – anything you say could be misconstrued. Defending the right to own weapons would make you look like cads at best.

And you are under attack right now. Even some of your strongest supporters are saying this gun culture has gone too far.

So staying silent may seem like your only option right now.

But it’s not.

I have another.

I am wondering, and dreaming, and praying, that you – the National Rifle Association – take all of the goodness of your work and apply it to protecting our communities.

I am wondering what it would look like if you – the National Rifle Association, which teaches, I believe, more gun safety classes than any other organization in the country – if you were to take the lead in changing our gun culture.

What if you were the ones who said, “No one needs an automatic weapon. No one needs an extra-large capacity magazine. No one should find it easier to get a gun than it is to get a driver’s license. No one should be able to buy as many guns as they want, when they want”?

What if you were to lead the campaign in this country to get at least some of hundreds of millions of guns off our streets? What if you were the ones to buy back these weapons, and then destroy them?

What if you were the ones to take all your lobbying money and power, and push – really, really hard – to reinstate the ban on assault rifles?

What if you were the ones who called for stricter licensing, for testing, for mandatory waiting periods, for limits on purchases, and for a special tax on ammunition (even if it’s not for all the ammunition, so that hunters in particular would not be taxed)?

What if, instead of standing by silently, apparently in the hopes that no one will think about you right now, you were the ones to lead a campaign entitled something like, “Enough!” or “No more!” – and were to offer to work with police departments to make sure that licensing and testing took place? (You could even be the testers and licensers – talk about privatizing government work!)?

What if you were the ones to put your considerable weight behind measures that guarantee the right to own weapons, but not the right to own anything you damned well want, right now, even if what you want was created solely to kill human beings?

What if you were the ones to step up safety campaigns? Call for more usage of gun locks? Call for the end of sales of cop-killing bullets? Said that weapons like the AR-15, the Bushmaster, which were created for the military, properly belonged only in the hands of the military and law enforcement agencies?

What if you were the ones who stopped saying, “Nothing can be done.” “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” “The Second Amendment guarantees the rights of citizens to bear guns.” “We need more guns in schools … and churches … and stores … so we can protect ourselves.” “We need to arm principals and school-teachers.” etc., etc., and instead were to say, “There is something that can be done, and we, the NRA, are going to put our full power and might behind getting that done.”?

And what if you were the ones who, instead of going after members of Congress for not supporting all your stances, were to support those who want what is best for the safety of our country?

Wouldn’t that all be astonishing? And wouldn’t all of that do more to honor the victims not only of Newtown, CT, but of every place in which gun violence has ripped communities apart?

Heck, if you were to do all that, I would become a member!

And I’d tell all my friends to become members as well.

Because then you would be one very fine organization, demonstrating your concerns for the community ever so much better than you do right now.

Are you listening?

Sincerely,

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley

(A concerned and grieving citizen who so much wants this world to be a better – and safer – place to live.)

• • •

Tuesday afternoon’s statement from the NRA:

“The National Rifle Association of America is made up of four million moms and dads, sons and daughters – and we were shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown.

“Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting.

“The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.

“The NRA is planning to hold a major news conference in the Washington, DC area on Friday, December 21.

“Details will be released to the media at the appropriate time.”

 

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Gaudete Sunday at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Staunton, Va., 16 December 2012.

Today, my friends, is Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent on which we are called to rejoice in the Lord.

Radio 104.1 WMRQ

The Prophet Zephaniah tells us to rejoice and exult with all our hearts, for the Lord has taken away the judgments against us.

The Prophet Isaiah tells us to ring out our joy, for surely it is God who saves us … to sing the praises of the Lord for he has done great things, and this is known in all the world.

The Apostle Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice, for the Lord is near, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

And yet …

We come to church this morning, on Gaudete Sunday, with heavy hearts, scared, grieving, and crying out, “How long, O Lord, how long … before all the killing stops?”

We come to church this morning, on Rejoicing Sunday, not knowing how to rejoice, because we are still weeping.

I tell you, the only way we can rejoice this day is if we listen to John the Baptist, who tells us exactly what we need to do to move from fear to courage, from sadness to joy, from weeping to laughter.

John, who has just accused all those who come to him for baptism of being a brood of vipers, tells the people: “You want to make the world a better place? It’s not rocket science!” (OK, he didn’t say just like that) “In fact, it’s pretty darned easy. Share what you have … don’t be greedy … don’t be mean.”

In fact, if you fast forward 2,000 years, you hear the exact same advice from Robert Fulghum, who wrote the seminal book, All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Do you know that book?

His lessons are simple:

•Share your cookies.

•Hold hands crossing the street.

•Be kind to little old ladies.

As I said, it is not rocket science.

And yet, this morning, it is hard, isn’t is?

Because on Tuesday, we had shootings in Oregon.

On Thursday, we had a young man threaten to shoot his fellow students and blow up a school in Oklahoma – thankfully, a fellow student told the school counselor, and on Friday, that boy with a murderous rage was arrested before he could act.

Sandy Hook Elementary School evacuation. (c) Shannon Hicks, Newtown Bee.

On Friday, we had the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School – with 20 children, six teachers and school administrators, the shooter’s mother and the shooter himself killed.

Last night in Newport Beach, California, we had a man fire 50 shots at a mall – thankfully, only into the air and down into the ground. No one was injured, thanks be to God. But the man, who apparently was seeking attention, got the full attention of the police and is now in custody.

And that is just this week.

As we mourn for Newtown, Connecticut, we also mourn for the victims of other shootings we remember:  Columbine; Kentucky; Scotland; the Netherlands; Kansas; Virginia Tech; California; Germany; Minnesota; Florida; Illinois; Texas; Brazil; Alabama; Indiana; Ohio; Iowa; Richmond; Georgia; Arkansas;[1] … alas, the list goes on and on …

We mourn those whose lives were lost, those who lost loved ones; those who were injured; those who have been traumatized …

And we wonder, “What will it take to stop this madness?”

The Sufi tell a story:

Past the seeker, as he prayed, came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them, the holy one went down into deep prayer and cried, “Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?”

And out of the long silence, God said, “I did do something about them. I made you.”[2]

And that, my friends, is exactly what we need to hear this morning. For we are the ones who can make the madness stop. We, who were created in the very image of God, over whom God rejoiced after creating us, proclaiming that at last, creation was very good, we who have been given dominion over the earth (better understood as “stewardship” of creation), we are the ones who are called to be partners with God in caring for God’s creation.

We are the ones upon whom God depends to care for those in need, to love, to create peace and live peace …

Because the Sufis are right: God did do something about all the evil in the world. God created us.

Pakistanis children - many of whom live in fear of violence in their own lives - hold a candlelight vigil for the victims in Newtown.

So … on this Gaudete Sunday, when the prophets reiterate God’s promises to us, and assure us that God saves us, when the Apostle tells us to rejoice …. this is the day we need to make the commitment to do whatever it takes to model God’s love, to live God’s love, every moment of our lives.

We live in a country, my friends, in which there are more places to buy guns than there are Starbucks. We live in a country with 311 million people and a reported 281 million registered guns.[3] 281 million registered guns. We live in a country in which it is easier for me to buy a gun than it is for me to buy a car. Or get a driver’s license. Or buy a house.

I don’t know what kind of conversation we need to have in this country, but the time is now — it is NOW — for us to stand up and say, “Enough! We have had enough!” We cannot afford to wait until all the mourning is done – for it will never be done. We should not wait until all the memorial services and funerals are over – for they never end for the families and loved ones.

Now is the time for us to listen to John the Baptist, who tells us to share what we have, to not be greedy, to be satisfied with our honest wages, to not be mean.

Now is the time for us to listen to Robert Fulghum, who tells us to share our cookies, to hold hands while crossing the street, to be kind to little old ladies.

We are in Advent. We are waiting for the Second Coming of Christ

I can tell you: I do not believe the Risen Lord will come again as long as we refuse to live as God created us to live, in love and community. I do not believe that as long as we celebrate our individual rights to the point that our communities are ravaged by violence and death, that God is willing to come back again.

Yes, there is suffering in the world.

But God created us to do something about it!

We can rejoice – as long as we are willing to do the things that need to be done. To love – and live – kindness. To do justice. And to walk humbly with our God.

Now is the time for us to step up and do our part …

This is not someone else’s job …

It is ours.

So perhaps as we move through these last nine days of Advent, perhaps we can figure out – and begin doing – what it is that God has called us to do.

• • •

Charlotte Bacon, 6

Daniel Barden, 7

Olivia Engel, 6

Josephine Gay, 7

Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6

Dylan Hockley, 6

Madeleine F. Hsu, 6

Catherine V. Hubbard, 6

Chase Kowalski, 7

Jesse Lewis, 6

James Mattioli, 6

Grace McDonnell, 7

Emilie Parker, 6

Jack Pinto, 6

Noah Pozner, 6

Caroline Previdi, 6

Jessica Rekos, 6

Avielle Richman, 6

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

Allison N. Wyatt, 6

Rachel DaVino, 29

Dawn Hochsprung, 47

Anne Marie Murphy, 52

Lauren Rosseau, 30

Mary Sherlach, 56

Victoria Soto, 27

Nancy Lanza, 47

Adam Lanza, 20

Now is the time … as faith-filled lovers of God … to say, “Enough. Is. Enough.” And to act to make that come true.

Those children? Those teachers? That principal?

They are counting on us.

Just as God is counting on us …

to do something.

We can start by sharing our cookies, holding hands while crossing the street, being kind to little old ladies.

It is not rocket science.

It is what we were created to do.

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Advent, Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Staunton, Va., 16 December 2012, in the aftermath of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Conn.


[1] http://left.wikia.com/wiki/School_Shooting_Timeline

[2] Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning (New York: Bantam Books, 1993, Kindle edition), Kindle location 1549.

[3] NBC News reports, Friday, 14 December 2012.

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Sigh.

For some reason, the bigwigs in Washington Do. Not. Seem. To. Get. It.

They are concerned with scoring points, with making sure “their” side “wins,” with “defeating” the other side.

What they are not concerned about is the American people. You know … us. The folks whom the bigwigs are supposed to serve.

Actually, it's NOT the economy, stupid!

We, it seems, are not part of any equation for solving the financial crisis confronting this country.

Well, “we” as in, those of us who are in the middle class or the lower class, or who, alas, actually live in poverty.

If we were part of the equation, then some of these dingbat ideas under discussion in Washington would never have seen the light of day.

I’m talking about the idea of extending the retirement age – again. Only white, privilege males who receive the best health care in the world would think this is a good idea.

The rest of us? The ones who work in factories or stores, who physically labor, who are the grunts of the work force? Who spend our time outside in all the elements? Who climb up and down ladders, or tote heavy items, or deliver things that have been ordered online?

Please. Our bodies break down a whole heck of lot earlier and easier than do the ones of so-called leaders who work, yes, but do not labor.

Every sane study shows that upper-income white males with marvelous health care indeed can retire later. But the rest of us? Get real. (See Ezra Klein’s column in The Washington Post on Nov. 21. He does a great job of explaining this.)

And this is why I’m sighing right now.

Because those in charge seem to be forgetting that they are in charge for one reason:

To advance the common weal of all the people.

In 1992, Bill Clinton’s campaign used the mantra, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

This year, that mantra needs to be changed.

It needs to say, “It’s the people, stupid!”

As in, PAY ATTENTION TO US!!

The economy can’t get better as long as too many of us are (a) out of work or (b) working in jobs that simply do not pay enough.

And please don’t talk to me about this silly idea that increasing taxes on the rich will hurt the economy. Because that is Not. True.

The richest among us have received extraordinary tax breaks for the last decade … a decade in which they have grown much, much (did I mention much?) richer, while unemployment has grown and wages have fallen.

So … tell me again how giving the rich yet another tax break is going to help the economy?

And if it isn’t going to help the economy, how, pray tell, is it going to help the people of this country?

And if it doesn’t help the people of this country, then, I can assure you, it is not for the common good, and therefore should not be done.

I know that we are headed for a so-called “fiscal cliff” and that I am supposed to be quaking in my boots over this.

Well, I’m not.

You know why?

Because if nothing else, going over that cliff will at least serve as a wake-up call to the folks in charge. Heck, it might even get them to do something about the state of the economy, to help those in need, and to get going on doing the work that needs to be done, for our people and for our country.

I know, I know:

IF we go over that cliff, the middle-class will be hit, immediately, with a tax increase on average of $2,000 per year. In simpler terms, that means an additional $5.50 per day for each of us.

Ouch.

          But it also means that the richest people will have to pay more as well, which means that there will be more money in the budget.

Yes, drastic cuts are supposed to happen as well.

But that’s Congress’ fault, because Congress has failed to act, because Congress has been focused too much on “winning” political games and not enough on doing its actual job.

I also know that what Congress hath wrought, Congress can un-wrought as well.

It was Congress that mandated these stupid, across-the-board cuts.

So Congress can un-mandate those same cuts.

But only if Congress decides to be sane, to quit posturing and to take care of the real business of this country, which is not, as Calvin Coolidge once proclaimed, “business,” but the welfare – the common weal – of the American people.

One more thing:

Those so-called “entitlements”? The ones that conservatives like to attack with abandon, even as they and their family members collect them?

Leave them the hell alone.

No, wait.

Reform them.

In sane ways.

Social Security? It would be solvent for decades if we collected FICA on incomes above $110,000, the current cap for taxation. Really? We only tax up to $110,000? That’s totally insane, you know, from an economic standpoint. It means that the people who pay the most are the ones who can afford it the least, while those who can afford it the most pay the least.

In what economic universe does that even remotely make sense?

Medicare? Stop the insane talk about increasing the retirement age. See the argument above – only upper-class people can afford to do this, and they don’t need Medicare anyway. So they certainly are not the people to be making this decision.

Medicaid? Someone really wants to cut this? Are they, too, insane? Who in their right mind wants to ensure that sick people stay sick? In what economic model does that make sense?

Never mind the nonsense about cutting assistance to those most in need. Those ideas? They need to be named for what they are: Punishment on those who are in need, who are less fortunate, who don’t have a leg up, who can’t get a leg up.

Every sane study out there says that the better we care for our people, the better off we will be as a country.

Bingo! I say we need to catch each other ... that's what community is all about.

And those wacky ideas on closing loopholes and removing tax deductions? Be careful what you ask for, is all I can say. Let’s take just one of those deductions, the one for charitable giving: End that one and boom! Charities are in deep kimchi. I’m sure all those homeless people, and needy people, and any other people receiving help via charities would be fine with having their help cut in order to magically “balance” the budget on their backs.

So you know what I say?

I say, Go ahead. Let’s jump off the danged fiscal cliff. Let’s do so with joy and abandon.

I’m willing to suck it up and pay $5.50 day – if it means that (a) the whole community is being helped, and (b) the people who can afford this a whole lot more than me kick in their fair share as well. (And no, having a rich person pay the same amount as me Does. Not. Count.)

I am not going to like paying $5.50 a day – and frankly, it’s going to be a stretch to do so (I’m not exactly middle class right now). But dang it! If that’s what it will take to ensure that the least among us are cared for, that our government is focused on all the people, that the community will be built up, that the safety nets will be strengthened … well, yeah. I’m in.

Are you?

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Go ahead: Buy. Hope. Prepare. It’s Advent!

OK, here’s the thing:

Come Sunday, we will be in the season of Advent. The season of waiting. The season of preparing. The season of hope.

One of the biggest complaints you hear in the Church is that society in general tends to skip over Advent and move right to Christmas, that Black Friday is more important than anything the Church has to offer, that somehow, we’re taking the “Christ” out of Christmas.

And yeah, in some ways, we probably are.

But I am wondering, right now, if in condemning those who focus on Christmas in Advent, we are missing the point.

If you and your significant other were to be expecting a baby on Christmas Day, wouldn’t you be preparing?

Wouldn’t you be out there, rushing around to get the last-minute supplies?

And go to the baby showers?

And paint the room?

And lay in the food?

And buy, buy, buy, buy?

Wouldn’t you?

So … if it’s OK to do that for your baby, why isn’t it OK to do for God’s baby?

I mean, yeah, some people do miss the meaning of Christmas, and it does become a thing about buying for the sake of buying, and partying for the sake of partying.

But even then, are they really missing the point? Aren’t they focused, at least in some little way, on relationships?

Because isn’t that what all this frenzy is about, in this season of Advent? Aren’t we going nuts because of relationships?

I mean, what if the presents we are buying are the ones that people actually need?

Or what if the presents are the kind that help others – you know, the gift cards that help bring clean water to the thirsty, and food to the hungry, and clothing to the naked?

And what if, in attending those parties, we are celebrating relationships? Community?

And what if, in going to see family for the holidays, we are doing the same thing?

So, here’s the thing:

Be careful what you wish for.

Telling people they can’t celebrate Christmas in Advent means that in reality, we are telling people they can’t prepare.

And last time I checked, that’s what Advent is all about: preparing.

After all, isn’t that what John the Baptist kept crying: Prepare ye the way of the Lord!?

So forgive me if I’ve reached the age when I feel it’s OK to get a bit worked up about Christmas. When I say I’m going to a “Christmas” party, and not an “Advent” party. When I let slip with a “Merry Christmas” on occasion.

And forgive me for getting excited about the fact that there’s a BABY coming!

And forgive me for spending a lot of time thinking about what gift I’m going to get for each of my loved ones. I put a lot of thought into this, and a lot of work as well. Will the gifts I give be the biggest and the bestest? Hardly. But they will be thoughtful, and they will be loving, and I will enjoy giving them, and pray that my loved ones will enjoy receiving them.

So go ahead. Go a little nuts if you must in this season of Advent. Because remember: You are preparing.

If you really want to know what Advent is all about, look at this video, Advent in 2 Minutes.

And then remember: Advent? It’s about preparing. And hope.

So go on … go prepare. And hope some, too.

That’s the spirit.

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Dear Congress: For God’s sake and ours, please, just do it!

Dear Members of Congress:

It is time to get back to work.

The election is over.

Many of you won, some of you lost.

It doesn’t matter. You are still the 112th Congress, and you still have a spit-load of work to do.

So go do it.

Now.

For God’s sake, and for our sake, please, just go do it!

I know you’re tired. I know you’ve been working your butts off getting re-elected, that you’ve been traveling a lot, that your throats are sore and your heads are probably pounding, and that your body is, quite simply, ready to quit

So take a few days off — but ONLY a few.

Then come back to DC and do the work we actually elected you to do.

Yes, Thanksgiving is coming, and you traditionally take a long time off for that, and yes, this is a lame-duck Congress, and yes, you really want to rest right now.

But the rest of the country is working – hard – either at jobs or at trying to get a job. The rest of us don’t get to take a break. We don’t get to pass the buck, and neither should you.

Because of your recalcitrance, mixed in with some of the same from the President (who got re-elected, so deal with it), you have managed to pass the buck on darned near everything. Through your intransigence, we are now facing a man-made (and yes, I chose that word deliberately) fiscal “cliff” that is completely your own fault. You don’t want to make hard decisions, you don’t want to compromise your so-called values, you don’t want to look weak.

Blah, blah, blah.

We the people have spoken, and we have not spoken for more gridlock caused by people who cannot, for the life of them, learn to play well together in the sandbox, much less share their toys.

Well, guess what, gentlemen and gentlewomen?

They aren’t your toys. They’re ours.

And we the people demand that you use them well, for the greater good of the American people and the world.

We demand that you pass a jobs bill that indeed will indeed put us back to work. It’s not a hard thing to do, so please: Just do it.

We demand that you pass a budget bill that is not filled with special perks, also known as “pork.” We’re on a diet, folks – we don’t need the extra fat. Face reality: You are going to have to mix tax increases with cuts. You cannot come remotely close to a decent budget – never mind a balanced one – on the backs of the poorest and the neediest.

The automatic cuts? The automatic rise in tax rates for all? The looming limit on the debt? FIX them! Stop messing around and just do it!

Remember: You did not win a mandate for business as usual. You are in Congress now – and many of you will continue in your jobs – because we, the people, need you to work on our behalf. So pass a danged budget that is sane and fair, that raises money from those who can afford to give more, and cares for those of us, the forty-SIX percent (that’s the accurate number) who need help.

No more posturing, no more whining, no more fantasies about trickle-down economics. Face reality, and do the right thing. For God’s sake and for our sake, just do it.

And lest you think that is all you need to do: Wait. There’s more!

We demand that you, Congress, step up and pass a bill that will stop this obscene spending on election campaigns. Billions were spent on this election, in great part because of the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is, as I said, obscene. Just think of what we could have done with that money. Think of the people we could have fed; the teachers, firefighters and cops we could have hired; the medical care we could have provided; the infrastructure we could have repaired; the homeless who could have had shelter.

Think about what could have been – and then hang your heads in shame.

So the next time you see a person begging for food, the next time you see a person sleeping on the street, the next time you actually meet a person in need – ask that person for forgiveness, for you, my dear members of Congress, could have done something about this.

And you didn’t.

While you’re back at work, remember: We women in this country? We do not want you messing around with our bodies. No way. No how. So stop your assaults on us. Stop trying to pass moral laws that are, at best, immoral. Get your hands off our bodies. Now.

We demand that you finally, finally, take a realistic look at climate change, and do something about it! I know, I know: Some of you live in a fantasy world in which you believe you can deny reality. If you are in any way confused about what climate change looks like, call Chris Christie. Or Cory Booker. Or Michael Bloomberg. Ask them to take you on your very own personal tour of devastation.

Then, get real about what is happening to our world, and do something about it. Just do it.

In the House, we the people demand that you stop passing stupid – I really can’t think of another word to use here that would be more accurate – bills to rescind the Affordable Health Care Act, that try to impose inane economic policies, that target women and their bodies, yadda, yadda, yadda. Yeah, we know you want to show off your conservative credentials. But the fact is, every time you pass one of these stupid bills, you look like a child taunting the loser of a game: Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah! We won and you lost! For God’s sake, could you possibly act like grown-ups? The fact that the country has spoken should tell you: Stop screwing around. Just do it.

And to the members of the Senate, one of the most exclusive clubs in the world: You, gentlemen and gentlewomen, need to read the Constitution again. Nowhere does it say that a majority is not a majority, that to merely have a bill considered takes 60 votes. This is balderdash and a childish game. So stop it. You have a chance, right now, to finally demonstrate to the people who elected you that you are grown-ups. So end this stupid practice right now and get to work. Just do it!

We have a lot of work to do in this country. We need to get out of a war, care for our veterans, find housing for millions, jobs for millions more, and make sure all those people have health care. Our infrastructure needs urgent help. The people of New York and New Jersey are in dire straits. Our children need better education.

We the people are damned tired of the war between the have’s and the have-not’s. We are fed up with posturing. We are not stupid – we understand economics a whole lot better than many of you do, apparently. We are willing to sacrifice together for the common good. We want to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, proclaim jubilee for the poorest. We want to be a community!

And we can’t – not while you’re lolly-gagging around and posturing like puffed-up little Napoleons.

So listen to us, dear members of Congress:

For God’s sake and for our sake, please: Just do it!

 

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Completed any miracles lately?

On All Saints Sunday, Jesus is clearly asking us to finish the miracle he began in bringing Lazarus back from death.

So the question I have for each of us is this:

Completed any miracles lately?

The video of my sermon at St. Matthew’s, Sterling, Va., is below.

 

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Church’s work in Haiti continues

Our brothers and sisters in Christ in Haiti still need our help. Rebuilding a devastated country – one devastated by political shenanigans and hurricanes long before the 2010 earthquake struck – takes time, prayer and the will to continue despite the long odds. 

Please, continue to pray for Haiti: Almighty God and heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being, send your Holy Spirit upon the people of Haiti, that they may know your love, feel your support, revel in your joy. Send your Spirit upon all those who continue to work in Haiti, rebuilding the lives of its people, so that they may be faithful servants who listen without dictating, who work in community and not as solo artists, who care first and foremost for your beloved children, and not for their own glory. Bring health to the people of Haiti, who put all their trust in you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

The latest news from The Episcopal Church Center:

Holy Trinity Cathedral, three weeks after the earthquake.

[October 2, 2012] With the third anniversary of the devastating earthquake which destroyed Haiti mere months away, the Episcopal Church continues its emphasis on assisting the church’s largest and fastest-growing diocese.

“It is a great gift and privilege for us to be able to work with the people of Haiti,” commented Bishop Stacy Sauls, Episcopal Church Chief Operating Officer.  “I never fail to be inspired by them and their indomitable sense of hope.  The problems and issues Haiti faces would absolutely devastate many.  The people of Haiti continue to face their challenges with faith and spiritual strength that calls forth a like response in all of us.”

The January 12, 2010 earthquake destroyed much of the Caribbean island country and cost many lives. Leveled were churches and diocesan facilities, including Holy Trinity Cathedral with its priceless murals in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

General Convention 2012 named the focused effort for the Diocese of Haiti as one of the priorities for the Church.

The newly reorganized Development Office of the Episcopal Church is coordinating all the fundraising efforts for the rebuilding of the Diocese of Haiti.  This follows the conclusion of the first phase of the project by Episcopal Church Foundation.

“We are thankful to the Episcopal Church Foundation for its grassroots campaign,” Bishop Sauls said.  “The baton has passed to the Development Office, which has been maintaining regular consultation with the diocese on how and where to help, looking at a wide variety of infrastructure needs.”

Bishop Duracin with President Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, three weeks after the earthquake.

To that end, an Episcopal Church team soon will visit Haiti to engage with diocesan leaders and officials. “This mission trip will include a thorough assessment and fact-finding to determine what steps will be taken in the short- and long-term for this all-encompassing project,” Bishop Sauls said.

Currently, Bishop Sauls and his staff are working diligently on a final agreement with an architect for the cathedral complex. He is also planning to lead a pilgrimage to Haiti in early 2013.

And, as another facet of the Church’s work with Haiti, the Church Center is now the home in a rental agreement with Le Consulat General de la Republique d’Haiti and the Haitian Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

For information on how individuals, congregations, dioceses and groups can help the rebuilding of Haiti, contact Kim Moore at kmoore@episcopalchurch.org

To learn more:  http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/rebuild-our-church-haiti
The Episcopal Churchwww.episcopalchurch.org
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On the web:
The Episcopal Church’s work in Haiti continues
http://www.episcopalchurch.org/notice/episcopal-church%E2%80%99s-work-haiti-continues


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It’s not a competition

Mark 9:30-37

Who is the greatest Christian you have ever known?

Who is the best Christian you can think of?

I want you to take a moment, and think about that.

Get that name or a picture of that person in your brain … everybody have somebody?

Are you as good a Christian as that person?

Do you measure up to the person that you have locked in your brain?

           Ken Follett wrote a book two decades ago called The Pillars of the Earth. In this book, which is a novel of the building of cathedrals in England, there is a stonemason who has an idea on how to build a cathedral. He’s pretty confident that he knows how to build what we now call flying buttresses, but he’s not certain that he can do it as well as they are doing it in France.

So he goes to the abbot, and he says to the abbot, who is a wise man, “Do I have to be the best there ever was? What if my gift isn’t as good as someone else’s?”

The abbot looks at him and says, “You don’t have to be the best there ever was. You have to be the best that you can be.”

My friends, you don’t have to be as good a Christian as that saint I’m confident you each thought of.

You have to be as good a saint as you can be.

Because if you are doing the best that you can do, at any given moment … if in any given moment, you give your best, and it’s pretty darned good, God will look at you and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

And if the best you have to give is really pretty bad, but it’s still the best you have to give, at that given moment? God will look at you and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Because you tried.

You don’t have to be the best Christian there ever was to walk the earth.

You have to be as good as you can be, in that given moment.

• • •

Jesus is walking along, teaching his disciples, explaining to them a little more of what he has already told them – that he is going to have to go up to Jerusalem, he’s going to be arrested, he’s going to be tried, he’s going to be beaten, he’s going to be executed, and on the third day, he will be raised from the dead.

Now, he’s just gotten done telling them this. And Peter – gosh, good beloved Peter, who gets it and never gets it, in the exact same moment, Peter, who is so good at this, says, “No, no, Lord! You can’t go and do this.”

Jesus has just finished saying to him, “Get behind me, Satan, you’re thinking of earthly things instead of heavenly things.” Now he’s walking along, teaching his disciples, they get to Capernaum, they go into a house, and Jesus says to them, “So, what were you all talking about behind my back?”

They don’t want to tell Jesus, because you know what they were talking about behind his back?

“I’m better than you!”

“Oh, no, I’m a better Christian than you are,” – OK, they weren’t using the word Christian in those days, they were saying, “Oh, no, no, I’m a better disciple than you are. I want to sit at the right hand of God.” “No, no, me!”

They were like a bunch of squabbling little kids!

They’re fighting behind Jesus’ back. They’re not concentrating on being the best they could be in any given moment, they’re concentrating on who is going to get the glory!

And Jesus says to them, “No, no, no. You don’t get it. It’s not a competition!”

Being a follower of Jesus is not a competition!

Trust me, my friends, if you are keeping score, God’s going to have something to say to you. When you get to the pearly gates, the first thing God is going to do is rip up your scorecard!

Because being a Christian is not about being better than anybody else at it. It’s about you reaching deep inside yourself, and being the best that you can be at any given moment.

As I said, some days, those efforts are going to be glorious, and God is going to smile upon you … and some days, those efforts are going to stink, and God is going to smile upon you.

Because you tried.

You don’t have to be the best there ever was.

Following Jesus in not a competition. (He Qi's "The Risen Christ")

You have to be the best that you can be.

Mahatma Gandhi once, when talking about Christianity, said that he thought Christianity was a marvelous religion; it was a really great religion. And that the tenets of Christianity were incredible! The problem was, he said, he’d never really met anybody who lived them. He’d never really met a good Christian.

And that’s what our problem is.

We get so wrapped up, sometimes, in competing with each other that we forget that it’s not a competition.

Being a good Christian is not about topping the guy next door or the guy down the street. We are not better than the Methodists down Braddock Road. We’re not. The good news is, they’re not any better than we are! It’s kind of a draw.

It is about how we can live our lives faithfully every moment of our lives.

• • •

How many of you have stood in a checkout line at the grocery store, where there’s a little old lady … who’s taking forever to get her checkbook out … I’m not talking about writing the check, I’m talking about when everything has been rung up and she hasn’t gotten the bloody checkbook out yet … and you’re standing in line, and the Redskins are coming on in, oh, 22 minutes, and it’s going to take you 18 minutes to get home … if this lady will get out of your way! Right? And you can feel the tension rising … and while she’s looking for her checkbook, she’s having a little chat with the lady who’s checking her out, and saying, “Oh, I can’t find this.” We’ve all been through this situation, and the tension is rising, and your blood pressure is going up, and you really are getting mad …

Has it dawned on anybody, that for this woman, this is the most human contact she is going to have in any given day? And she is stretching it out … because this is her human contact? Because when she goes home, there’s nobody who is going to call her, and nobody who is going to visit her?

Would it kill us as Christians to reach out and have a conversation with the woman, to greet her?

That’s what it means to be a Christian.

I’m not talking about the big, bad stuff that could happen to you.

I’m not talking about going out and being the best there ever was.

I’m not talking about you going and changing the world all at once.

And I for darned certain am not talking about you saving the world. That’s been done. About 3 o’clock in the afternoon, outside the gates of Jerusalem. It was a Friday, 2,000 years ago. The world’s already been saved, folks. It’s not on our shoulders.

All Jesus asks us to do … is to be faithful … every moment of our lives.

When we’re driving on 495 … and it’s rush hour … we sin more in our cars than we sin anywhere else in our lives! I am convinced of it! (Except at 11 o’clock on Saturday mornings, when we’re all listening to Wait, wait! Don’t tell me! and we’re driving along the road, laughing like hyenas, because it is so funny.) The rest of the time, on 495, during rush hour, we are all getting … tense … and we’re saying bad words, and we’re calling people bad names … right? Everybody has done this? I cannot be the only person …

Take that time, right then and there, to stop and think, Is this what God really wants me to do? Is this what it means to follow Jesus? To call people names?

            I got really upset one day, when I was zipping home from this neck of the woods. I now live over in Falls Church, so the best thing to do is to go down 236, get on 495 North, zip around 495 North to 66 East, get off at 66 East, go one exit, to 7, and then I’m a mile and a half from home. Right? Piece of cake. Easy-peasy, 18 minutes, 20 minutes in normal traffic.

All of the sudden, the exit comes up – and you know, they’ve redone the exits for 66, east and west, off of 495 – and I have to slam on my brakes, because no traffic is moving. We start inching our way and inching our way, and I’m thinking to myself, “All right, hold it together. As soon as you get to 66 East, these are all people who want to get on 66 West.”

Well, I go to get on 66 East, and what happens but there’s a cop car, and he has blocked the entrance. The reason we are all slowed down is not that 66 West is slow, it’s that all of us, all three lanes of us who have been trying to get on 66 East and 66 West together, were now going west.

I ended up having to get on 66 West, and go farther out than where I had started, to get off the highway, to zip around, to get on the highway to go back.

I … was … livid!

I was such a bad person that day! I was so upset. I really was.

There was nothing on the news about this. There was nothing to tell us what was going on, no signs, no nothing.

I kept fuming, “Couldn’t you tell us about this?”

Well, when I finally get on 66 East, and I go blitzing past the exit I should have taken earlier, almost an hour before, I saw a really bad traffic accident.

They had to do an airlift to take someone to the hospital …

… and I felt awful.

I had been so concerned for myself that I had not once thought that maybe, just maybe, there had been an accident, and that someone’s life was in the balance.

In all that time driving, I never once thought about being the best that I could be – because all I cared about was me.

My friends, trust me, this was not a moment when God smiled upon me and said, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

But if … if … each of us were to think about offering our best, especially in those times when we don’t want to offer our best, the world would be a far better place.

It would be such a good place that we could change the world.

As long as we remember: This is not a competition.

We don’t have to be the best there ever was.

We simply have to be the best that we can be …

Every single moment of our lives.

Amen.

 

Sermon preached on the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20, at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Burke, Va., on 23 September 2012.

 

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