Love’s Overflowing (for Jason and Ben)

Beach pic
Grateful to be invited to preach by the present rector of All Souls, the Rev. Jadon Hartsuff, the following is a homily offered at the marriage of Ben Hutchens and Jason Gottschalk on August 5, 2017 at All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church in Washington, DC. 

One day last week, I was walking down the sidewalk in front of my church, thinking deep thoughts.  All of a sudden, “whack!” I was drenched.  A huge fan of water had smacked me in the face as the sprinkler made its rotation in the church garden. Its timing could not have been funnier because at that exact moment, I had been thinking about St. Bonaventure’s image for God:  God as “Fountain Fullness.”

As Fountain Fullness, God is energy, and movement, and power, always in flow.  God the Father empties into the Son, who gives through the Spirit, who flows back into the Father.  Endless movement, self-diffusive, giving, sharing, and overflowing. It’s all a little like this day.

If we don’t already feel it, before the end of this service, we all might feel a little bit wet—(not because it’s so humid outside and Jason and Ben insisted on getting married in August) but because of the overflowing Fountain Fullness of God in this place.  We get it through the music.  We get it through the scriptures.  And we get it through Ben and Jason.

We knew there would be music, and there’s music even behind the words that don’t have music.  When we heard the reading from Song of Solomon, who else could hear the setting by René Clausen? I missed most of the Colossians reading because I was singing Lee Hoiby’s “Let this mind be in you,” based on similar words.  Likewise, as the Gospel was read, as I was humming Tallis’s “If ye love me,” which is based on the Gospel of John just one chapter earlier.

But what goes out of bounds, overflows beyond expression is the Mass setting.  Mozart was outsized everywhere he went, and so it only makes sense that for a wedding like this, there would be music that is big, bold, and full.

The great 20th century Reformed theologian Karl Barth used to begin his day listening to Mozart. “It may be,” he wrote, “that when the angels go about their task of praising God, they play only Bach. I am sure, however, that when they are together en famille, they play Mozart and that then too our dear Lord listens with special pleasure.”[1]  Barth loved that Mozart praises God and gives thanks for creation, but doesn’t try to settle inconsistencies in creation or answer all the great questions of the universe.  Instead, Mozart describes the world as it is—the muddiness and the messiness; both the maddening and the mundane.

“What occurs in Mozart,” Barth wrote, “is rather a glorious upsetting of the balance, a turning in which the light rises and the shadows fall, though without disappearing, in which joy overtakes sorrow without extinguishing it, in which the Yea rings louder than the ever-present Nay…”[2]  God reminds us through Mozart of God’s Fountain Fullness that includes the better and the worse, the richer and the poorer, sickness and health—flooding all of life with God’s loving presence.

The Fountain Fullness of God seeps through the scriptures.  It’s amazing we’re allowed to read Song of Solomon in church, but the reason we’re allowed is probably because so few people actually read the whole book and know the context.  It’s about love out-of-bounds.  It’s about passionate, erotic love between two people who are unmarried, perhaps of different races (certainly different cultures), and of different ages.  Jewish and Christian scholars who get embarrassed about the incarnational aspects of Song of Solomon suggest that it’s all really an elaborate allegory for Christ’s love for us, his Church.  Well that may be, but few people I know have a prayer life with their God that is that HOT.

The Gospel itself overflows the bounds of traditional thinking as Christ says once again, “Keeping the law, following the commandments, going through life as though checking off a list of moral do’s and don’ts is completely missing the point.” “This is my commandment,” he says, “that you love one another as I have loved you.”  That means being willing to serve others.  It means honoring the child, the outcast, the sinner, and the ones society has decided are expendable.  Loving one another as Christ has loved us means sacrificing for others, giving up things, giving up time, and giving up self.

God’s overflowing, Fountain Fullness is evident in today’s music, and it flows through today’s scriptures, but finally, it shows itself particularly in the love of Jason and Ben, a love in which God invites us to witness, support, and uphold; through which God blesses us, nourishes us, and quenches a bit of our thirst for God’s love.

We represent people from every aspect of Ben and Jason’s life.  Perhaps some of us know one of them better than the other, but in each we have known God’s presence, God’s strength, God’s laughter, God’s pain, and God’s beauty.  All of that only increases today.  God’s Fountain Fullness flows mightily through their lives and into ours.  Sometimes it buoys us.  Sometimes it soothes.  And, it must be said, that there are probably one or two people who, because of religious upbringing or other limitation, are taken by surprise by the strong love of a couple.  Love between two men splashes them in the face, and it stings like water in the eyes. But they’ll get it one day.  God’s love moves through eventually, like a tidal wave, like a tsunami, like an ocean that will not be stopped.

Many of you know that the marriage service for same gender couples in the Episcopal Church is based more upon the Sacrament of Baptism than it is upon the old marriage rites of the church.  We are freed from rituals of property exchange and the preservation of a family line at all costs. No longer is one person given to another like a sack of potatoes.  No longer is one simply to obey the other.  And no longer is the church attempting to limit the flow of God’s love. But “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.” (Song of Solomon 8:7)

In the waters of Baptism we die with Christ to sin and we are raised with him to new life. In the sacramental rite of Christian Marriage, the two streams are brought together and made more in God that their love might continue to overflow, to refresh, and encourage love in others.

I close with a dog story.  In my neighborhood there is a park with an enclosed dog run.  Inside the fenced area, the dogs love to play and smell each other and run around.  One of the dog owners usually checks the water bowls, so that hot, tired dogs will take time out to drink.  Well, the other day, I let our dog April run wild and I filled the two metal bowls with water. No sooner had I done so, that Toby, a little black lab, come directly over and using both paws, dogpaddled the water out of the bowls until they were dry.  Delighted with himself, Toby then ran off to join the other dogs.  I put more water in, and guess what?  Toby noticed me out of the corner of his eye, came back and again, enjoyed every second of splashing all the water out of the bowls.  We kept our game going for a few more times, and then I gave up.  Toby understood water is to be shared, to be flung around, to be used for joy and fun and to get others wet.

Ben and Jason, keep splashing the waters of your love.  Make a joyful splash this day and always, so that all who encounter you will be drenched in God’s deep and never-ending love.

[1] Karl Barth, “A Letter of Thanks to Mozart,” in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1986), 23.

[2] Karl Barth, “Mozart’s Freedom,” in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1986), 55-56).

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

Kingdom Come

child king

A sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 30, 2017.  The lectionary readings are 1 Kings 3:5-12Psalm 119:129-136Romans 8:26-39, and Matthew 13:31-33,44-52

Listen to the sermon HERE.

Last weekend, Prince George—the future king of England—celebrated his third birthday, and new, official photographs were released.  As cute as the little boy is, I have to say that my favorite photo is the one that shows him with the family dog, Lupo.  (Lupo, you may know, is a beautiful, black English Cocker Spaniel.  His name comes from the Latin “lupus” for wolf, and is partly a joke for a sweet dog, and also a reference to Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge’s grandmother, whose last name was Lupton.  Lupo’s mother was named Ella, and Lupo will be six years old just in time for Christmas, if you’re interest.  But I digress.)

Especially in the United States, we often have conflicted feelings about royals. I have friends who are slightly more British than the Queen, and they follow every move of the royal family and can recite genealogies and lines of succession.  I have other friends and family who find the whole idea of hereditary privilege and aristocracy completely disgusting, and would happily sing along with the song by Lorde, “… we’ll never be royals /It don’t run in our blood/ That kind of lux just ain’t for us.”

Given diverse views of royals and royalty, how, then, do we hear royal language in scripture? Especially today, how do we hear that word, “kingdom.”  “The Kingdom of God is like… what?”  How would you complete the sentence?

It can be a problematic idea. Not only does a word like “kingdom” conjure up a lot of different images, but it suggests there is a “king” somewhere, and if we’re not careful, it limits God to be one gender. Some suggest other terms might be better:  the “reign of God,” or “God’s commonwealth,” or perhaps even, “God’s Holy Realm.”  But there are problems with each, aren’t there?

You’ll notice that I tend to use the word, “kingdom,” more often than not.  But I do so, remembering that all words are symbols and, as such, they always point to something beyond what they describe. Scripture helps us think about kings and kingdoms in different ways, because confuses the symbols and complicates the images.

The Hebrew Scriptures are of several minds about kings and kingdoms. Especially in 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Samuel, one can tease out a voice that is very suspicious about Israel even having a king.  At the same time, there’s a competing voice in those same scriptures that prays for a king and understands the king to be God’s representative among the people.

In today’s first lesson, King Solomon re-defines kingship. God appears to Solomon in a dream and promises to give him whatever he asks for. Anything he wants. A traditional king—a patriarchal king, a hierarchical king, a king interested only in perpetuating power and the status quo—might ask for a huge army, or vast wealth, or a new weapon to obliterate the enemy.

But King Solomon prays for Wisdom, for Sophia—the wisdom unique to God that the scripture pictures in female terms, as running through the city like a woman in search of a lover. This is the sort of king Solomon is. His is a kingship that is based on wisdom. And wisdom has a tendency to undermine a conventional, traditional understanding of kingship.

In the line of King David, in the line of King Solomon, Jesus personifies this kind of wisdom.  The followers of Jesus understand this and comment on it when Jesus rides into Jerusalem and he is praised, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”  But Jesus redefines any possible succession to the throne.

When Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, he talks in terms that complete re-define, completely re-orient, completely re-picture any earthly idea of Kingdom. And so, the kingdom of God is pictured as a place where children are welcome. It is a kingdom where the poor have a place of honor. It is a kingdom where the persecuted are blessed. And this new kingdom, Jesus says, is already at hand.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus gives us five images for the kingdom.

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. A tiny, tiny mustard seed that can grow into a large bush or tree. Everything it needs to grow is contained in that little seed, invisible to the eye, but thorough known to God. And it is the seed’s nature to grow. It can’t help but grow because that is what it does.

The kingdom of God is like leaven that a woman works into the dough. It is worked in quietly, mysteriously, almost without noticing anything special. Until the dough is covered and left alone for a while. Before you know it, it has doubled in size.

The kingdom of God is like hidden treasure in a field. One stumbles upon it. Others might be looking elsewhere for treasure, or perhaps they’re too busy doing other things. But you—you find the treasure. And so you take special care to cover it up, while doing everything you need to do to make sure that you purchase the field and make it your own.

The kingdom of God is like a pearl of extraordinary value. Like the treasure in the field, the pearl is of such value that it re-orients everything else. Finding the pearl, priorities change and shift and allow for this one, very best, most precious thing. That’s what the kingdom of God is like, Jesus says. Augustine talked about the ordering of our loves—putting what’s most important on the very top, which then puts into proper place everything else.

The kingdom of God is like great net that is cast into the ocean and gathers all kinds of fish. Some good, some bad, some a few in-between. But the time of the kingdom is to be all together in the net. At the end of time, God will sort out which is of value. For now, we live together.

And so we have various images for what a kingdom looks like and how a kingdom begins and grows and continues.

How might we imagine God’s kingdom among us?  How is God calling us to participate? In other words, “What is the pearl of great price for you? In what way can you be leaven?

Or are we called also to rethink and reimagine the kingdom of God?  Perhaps the kingdom of God like a tweet that causes a flashmob, or a revolution for good. Or maybe the kingdom of God begins with one person’s asking for a summer program of some kind, and then we have something like last Wednesday’s Prayer and Pie, with 21 people gathered together.  (And yes, there will be one more this summer, the last Wednesday night in August.) Or maybe you share a bit of my vision, that the kingdom of God includes a now empty gymnasium sitting on East 88th Street, looking to be used… The kingdom of God looks like the programs of Holy Trinity Neighborhood Center, growing and expanding and including more of our new neighbors.  And the kingdom of God looks like more people finding this incredibly space to pray with us and grow with us and help us see God’s doings in our midst.

The kingdom of God can be found in every direction, but some of its characteristics can be found in the mustard seed, and the leaven and the pearl of great price.

One aspect of the kingdom is that it unfolds on its own time table. It cannot be fully planned, strategized or outlined. We have some good mustard seeds. We have some good, sneaky, faithful leaven in our midst. And we have those who have stumbled upon Holy Trinity and have recognized it not as the one and only place to hear God’s love, but as a treasure, a real treasure in the field. Priorities shift. Schedules are adjusted. Loves are ordered anew.

We’ve got an incredible foundation, but I would challenge us all to do at least three things in order to live more faithfully and fully into the kingdom of God.

We need more kingdom praying. Prayer is our lifeblood. The first thing is to ask for your prayers. One of you mentioned some time ago, “we talk about growth and wanting to grow” but are we praying for it? I am, I told her. But I want all of us to be praying for the growth of God’s kingdom everywhere, but especially at Holy Trinity.

We need more kingdom talking. So much goes on in our building and around us that we keep to ourselves.  From the office, we’re doing everything we can to communicate with a newsletter, working towards a new web site, we have sermon podcasts, and great signs—but we need to jump start all of this with “holy talking.”  Tell your friends and neighbors. Invite them. And reach out to other members to let them know they are missed when they’re not here, and also that they are missing a lot of the kingdom, when they’re away.

And finally, we need more kingdom living. What is your role at Holy Trinity? What is your place? Do you simply keep a spot on the pews from being dusty, or do you do more? Do you pray for the church? Do you volunteer for the church? Are you willing to help with a program for children, or dream about more faithful stewardship of our space?  Can you get your colleagues, your workplace, or company to help in some way? Do you fold flyers? Do you simply straighten up the pews or pick up trash? What do you do to contribute to the growth of the kingdom of God from Holy Trinity?

During this summer of deep growth and blooming outside, may God bless us with deep growth on the inside as well, as we grow more faithfully into the Kingdom of God on earth and in heaven.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

Sabbath Time

resting

A sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, July 9, 2017.  The lectionary readings are Zechariah 9:9-12Psalm 145:8-15Romans 7:15-25a, and Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Listen to the sermon HERE.

Not long ago I stopped by a hospital on a Saturday to see a parishioner.  Like most people, I had a list of things I wanted to get done that day—some important, some not so much, but at the top of it was checking on this parishioner.  And so, I got the hospital, found out she was on the 6th floor, and “wa-lah!”, the elevator opened.

I pressed 6, but the elevator stopped on the 2nd floor. The doors opened and no one got on.  Then the elevator stopped at the second floor and the same thing happened.  I smiled as I realized that it’s Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, and I had gotten on the special Shabbat Elevator.  The Sabbath Elevator stops automatically at each floor, thus allowing an observant Orthodox Jew to avoid pressing the buttons, violating a Sabbath law restricting operating electrical switches.

Years ago, when I first encountered a Sabbath Elevator, I had a different reaction.  I found it annoying and I remember being judgmental about why someone would possibly bother keeping such minute laws and regulations concerning religious life.

But I’ve changed my attitude about such things. I was glad for the “local” elevator—it allowed me to slow, catch my breath, say a prayer before I carried all my energy into a hospital room, and be present with God.

In today’s Gospel we have some famous words, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus offers us rest. But do we really want it? Most of us work hard at what we do. We have been raised to work hard. Our culture enshrines this busyness and activity. Multi-tasking is thought to be a virtue. The more one does, the more one is.

For some time a few years ago I kept a fairly busy schedule or working two jobs, going to school, volunteering—you know—the kind of lifestyle that many of us live. When people would realize all I was doing, the common reaction was one of praise—wow, we just don’t know how you do it all. It was only rarely, and then usually by a person of deep Christian faith—that someone would look at me dead in the eye, and say, is this good for you? Is this good for your soul? Are you sleeping? Are you eating properly? Are you making and sustaining relationships? Are you keeping Sabbath? Are you praying? Are you resting?

Jesus offers rest, but I don’t think it’s simply the kind “plopping in a sofa” rest at the end of  a long day. Instead, I think he’s talking about the kind of rest that comes at the end of a struggle. It’s a kind of rest that happens when we realize that the world does not really depend upon me after all. It’s the kind of rest that comes by putting our trust, our faith, our hope, our decision, our joys our pains, our very life, in the hands of Jesus.

Though we don’t use it that often any more in the Christian tradition, we, too, are called to take Sabbath. For us, this is the word for this resting-in-Christ. Sabbath. Sabbath is time out, time put aside, down-time, quiet-time, whatever you might want to call it. Sabbath time is hallowed time, time made holy, and it doesn’t matter much how we spend it, as long as there is some bit of time where we stop striving to be perfect, when we stop caring whether we pray correctly or not, when we try less to please God than simply to get to know him.

Jesus offers us rest. He offers us rest in prayer and meditation. Eastern religious traditions have often been better at teaching meditation, and many a Christian has found Sabbath in yoga, in meditation, in simply sitting. If you meet the risen Christ coming down the road, receive his rest.

Jesus offers us rest through our worship. In worship we rest in the prayers of those who have gone before us. They have battled over which words to use, which images to explore, which days to hallow, and so we can rest in some of their decisions and simply let the tradition wash over us. Not every word will speak to me. Some will offend. Some will startle. Some will soothe. But taken together, worship is a time when we don’t have to work so hard, but can be at rest with God.

Finally, but perhaps even more frequently, Jesus offers us rest in one another. This involves allowing others close. It involves allowing others to be a part of our lives. It might mean asking others to pray for us, asking other to run an errand, allowing others to help us in some way. In this parish, sometimes it means telling the rector, vestry or parish office what’s going on in your life, and understanding that few of us are very good at reading minds. The rest of Christ sometimes comes to us in the form of resting in the arms of another person or community.

Teresa of Avila, was a 16th century Spanish saint and mystic who was a very busy lady. What I most like about Teresa is her common sense. She struggled with the force of her own personality, her own abilities and talents, the voices of the world that tried to tell her what to do. And yet she put absolute faith in Jesus and followed him. It was this faith that empowered her to found or reform 17 convents all over Spain. She traveled in a donkey-pulled wagon with a dislocated shoulder, with arthritis, with all kinds of physical maladies, and yet she did what she perceived to be God’s will.

At one point, Teresa reflected on “obedience.” She says that obedience is like when there’s some difficult matter to be sorted out. The two sides cannot agree on a solution, and so they take their problem to a trusted third party, to have it resolved. Teresa says that in obedience, we take to God the things within ourselves that are at war with each other. We lift them up to God as though these things are our sacrifice upon the altar, and we trust God to decide for us. This is obedience. This is surrender. This is joyful rest. Teresa wrote,

Let nothing trouble you,
let nothing scare you,
All is fleeting,
God alone is unchanging,
Patience
Everything obtains.
The one who possesses
God lacks nothing at all.
God alone suffices.

Our Prayer Book also captures this Rest of Christ in the collect for confidence, when it leads us to pray,

O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of your Spirit, lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, p. 832)

This holiday week is almost gone, but in what remains, and throughout the summer, I pray that we might come to know the rest that Christ offers us—rest in the one who calls us to put all our faith, all our life in him.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

A Cup of Water with the Heart of Christ

Water tableA sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, July 2, 2017.  The lectionary readings are Jeremiah 28:5-9
Psalm 89:1-4,15-18Romans 6:12-23, and Matthew 10:40-42

Listen to the sermon HERE.

Last week, a number of us from Holy Trinity joined others from the Diocese of New York to participate in the LGBT Pride March.  We carried our banner that says “Room for Everyone,” and we were met with cheers and waves the whole way of the march.  Even though it wasn’t as hot as in some years, we were grateful to pass several churches where volunteers were waiting for us. At First Presbyterian, Ascension Episcopal, and Marble Collegiate, volunteers greeted us in the street with cups of water. It was a simple but profound gesture of hospitality.

I don’t know about the history of this water ministry at the Church of Ascension or Marble Collegiate, but I remember in the 1980s when First Presbyterian offered its “water table” and some people in the church did not like it.  Remember this was the 1980s.  A common reaction to AIDS was a combination of ignorance and fear.  And many in that church (as with many others) were very much still recovering from a lifetime of bad theology and narrow biblical interpretation.  Some felt that even to offer water was, in some sense, a gesture of support for those marching.  Others simply took out their bibles, pointed to Matthew 10 and said, “This is what God’s love looks like.” and it can send a multitude of signals.

Offering a cup of water can seem like a small, even tiny, or insignificant thing.  Today’s scriptures talk about small things, little things—like offering water, showing hospitality, and looking out for those Jesus refers to as “the little ones.”

When Jesus refers to “the little ones,” he’s not looking down on anyone.  “Little” should not be heard as a pejorative or a criticism.  It’s not meant to be a put down, but instead, “the little ones” are the ones on the outside, the ones trying to get on their feet, aiming to stand up for themselves, and elbow into a little space so that they, too, can join others at the banquet of God’s love.

In our first reading, Jeremiah is on the side of the “little ones.” The first reading is a part of a longer story that involves Jeremiah and another prophet, a rival prophet named Hananiah. The looming threat is the Babylonian Empire. Jeremiah predicts doom and gloom; Hananiah predicts peace and prosperity. Jeremiah is following the longer tradition of prophets, suggesting that if the people of Judah had been more faithful to God, if they had been less self-consumed and thought about others, if they had remembered God’s commandments and kept faith with God, then God would save them. And they would not be in such a mess.

Jeremiah describes how bad things have gotten:

They have become great and rich, they have grown fat and sleek. They know no bounds in deeds of wickedness; they judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, …they do not defend the rights of the needy. (Jeremiah calls it like he sees it.)

Hananiah, on the other hand, preaches peace. All is well and all shall be well, he says. Don’t worry, things are getting better on their own—you don’t need to change, you don’t need to do a thing—God is coming to you with peace and blessing.

Hananiah offers big words. He gives big ideas and big promises. Comparatively, Jeremiah’s words are insignificant. Jeremiah and his words are regarded as small things, inconsequential, unimportant.

But small things are sometimes the most important. It is sometimes the smallest thing that, in the end, matters the most. Think of Moses who sees a flicker of flame on a bush. He stops to look, and it blazes into the Word of God, and that Word changes his life for ever. Think of the children of Israel, who before the Passover are told to make a small mark over the doorpost of each house—a small mark of blood, but a small mark that saves them and their children. Think of David, the smallest of his clan, who eventually becomes the greatest king in the land; and the pattern repeats itself again and again. Small things are important.

The Gospel today also talks about the importance of small things. Jesus says, “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple– truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” Jesus has been talking about what it means to be a disciple, about how the disciples should go about their ministry—what they will encounter and how they should respond. The “little ones” should not be ignored or mistreated. These “little ones,” as Jesus calls them, should be shown hospitality, they should be regarded with charity, and a hope that good might come to these little ones. But who are these “little ones” Jesus is talking about?

The “little ones” are mentioned elsewhere. Especially in chapter 18 of Matthew’s Gospel, when the disciples ask Jesus who the greatest among them might be, Jesus places a child in front of them and says, “become like these children.” Whoever humbles the self like a little child will come to know the kingdom of God. But then he cautions them, saying, “But woe to the one who causes one of these little ones who believes in me to stumble.” The “little ones” here refers both to the children and to those who are young in their faith, to those who have a childlike heart and a childlike trust; a childlike love of God and other people.

Certainly, the children are among the “little ones.” Children in the ancient Near East were often viewed as less than human. They were thought to have little or no value until they could work, until they could produce, until they could add value to the family or clan. But Jesus points to the value of every life, even when it is the small, as-yet-very-much-lived life of a child.

The disciples and young believers are also among the little ones. Jesus shows tremendous patience with his disciples as they struggle to understand what he’s teaching. Scripture shows the disciples missing the point or jumping to the wrong conclusion again and again.

But in addition to children, the disciples and those who are spiritually young, I think Jesus follows the other prophets in expanding the notion of little ones beyond just those who have a childlike faith. When Jesus encourages his hearers to offer a cup of water, to look out of the little ones, I think he’s also saying something about our own role in looking out for others.

The scriptures ask us today, “who are the little ones in our midst?” Are we willing, are we able, to offer the little ones in our midst, the encouragement, the nourishment, the “cup of water” they need?

We can ask ourselves who the “little ones” are in our midst.

Certainly there are children.  If you come by Holy Trinity on a weekday during the school year, you’ll hear the laughter and excitement of the Merricat’s Castle School.  That school grew out of Holy Trinity, and we’re proud of that history.  But is it enough for us, as a church, to simply ride on the coattails of Merricat’s and call that enough for the children in our neighborhood?  Families continue to move in our area, and even though they may only live here for a few years before moving elsewhere, we need to ask what it would look like for us to “offer a cup of water” to the literal “little ones” in our midst.  Perhaps Sunday morning is not the most convenient or logical time for those with children to look for programs or fellowship.  But we must do more to pray and think about our hospitality of families and children in our neighborhood.

As we’ve seen, the “little ones” Jesus says to look out for are not always little.  Almost every Sunday we have young adults who visit Holy Trinity.  Some return and some are simply ducking in and ducking out.  While we should never heap expectations on visitors, are we doing enough to welcome? Can we do more.

In addition to children and young people, we have a number of people who are “young in the faith.”  They are new to the Christian faith or new to the Episcopal Church. While we offer occasional classes here and there, but do we do anywhere near what we might in terms of encouraging and nurturing those “little ones”?

And finally there are some older “little ones” among us—parishioners and neighbors who have lived in this neighborhood for years and some who have just arrived.  Some are here temporarily and others are hoping they’ll be able to continue affording to live here.  What would it look like for us more fully to “offer a cup of cold water?”

Jesus says that our welcome of the “little ones” is related to our welcome of him. If we receive Christ, if we invite Jesus into our lives, then that welcome extends to those whom Jesus calls his children, his own little ones.

As we look toward the celebration of Independence Day, there is always a temptation to wave the flag in celebration of triumph and success. And while there is much to celebrate and give thanks for, there are still too many who are left out.

In the back of the Prayer Book there’s a Thanksgiving for National Life that ends with words that might guide both our parish and our country. The prayer concludes:

Help us, O Lord, to finish the good work here begun. Strengthen our efforts to blot out ignorance and prejudice, and to abolish poverty and crime. And hasten the day when all our people, with many voices in one united chorus, will glorify your holy Name. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 839)

May God strengthen us to be faithful in following the risen Christ. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

Crossing Out Fear

Jeremiah by Michelangelo_Buonarroti_027A sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 25, 2017.  The lectionary readings are Jeremiah 20:7-13Psalm 69: 8-11, (12-17), 18-20Romans 6:1b-11, and Matthew 10:24-39

Listen to the sermon HERE.

The other day I saw a little girl who was wearing a headband made up of Guatemalan “worry dolls.” You may have seen these little figures—they’re tiny, usually less than an inch tall, and often they come 5 or 6 little figures in one small box or bag. The idea is that before going to bed at night, you tell a worry or fear to each of the little dolls, then put them back in their place. Then you’ll be able to sleep better.

I looked at the little girl with the headband and I wondered what she might possibly have to worry about? What would she be telling her worry dolls?

But then, I guess we have worries and fears, no matter what age. A child might worry about a pet, or a friend, or a parent or grandparent. A teenager worries about what other people think, about grades and appearance, about keeping up with expectations and progressing toward the future. And adults have new fears and worries every day—if it’s not increasing rent, debt, or turmoil at work, it might be issues around aging, or taking care of a relative, or any number of things. We notice how economic trends are often based on fear, and we know all too well how politics can be motivated around fear.  We live in fearful times, but when we look at the record of faith, other people, too have wrestled with fear.

The reading we heard from Jeremiah was filled with fear, though it doesn’t come right out and use that word. Jeremiah feels like he’s been made a fool of. He feels like God has set him up and left him looking like an idiot. He’s hurt and he’s angry at God, but he’s also deeply, deeply, deeply in love with God. He fears that God might have turned away. He fears that people will get the best of him, that what people say at their most cynical, might actually be true. They whisper the worst: “Terror is all around! Let’s get him while he’s down, he’s been criticizing us and saying it’s from God. But God is ignoring him and has left him all alone.”  Jeremiah worries this might be true.

In this section of scripture, I think we have a long period of time condensed. This complicated love triangle between Jeremiah and God and the people was probably played out over a much longer time. Built up over a long time, Jeremiah’s fears don’t go away immediately. They don’t simply vanish with a few wise words from a friend, the latest book, the perfect prayer, or even the most elaborate religious ritual.

Instead, fear is slowly eroded by faith, by faith that might even feel like blind trust, at times.  Fear fades sometimes through putting one’s trust outside oneself—in others, and in one’s higher power (whether that be some notion of God, or a sense of community, or perhaps even just in one friend upon whom one can really trust.)

Jeremiah eventually moves through his fear to a faith that can feel the strength of God.  And so he sings; he praises; he feels the deliverance and salvation of God.

In today’s Gospel Jesus warns the disciples about the times ahead when they will feel like Jeremiah—when they’ll feel misunderstood and forgotten, passed over even by God. Just as Jeremiah was rejected by his people, the disciples of Jesus are going to come into conflict.  Sometimes that conflict will be with strangers, and sometimes it will be with family and loved ones.

Here, Jesus is not offering justification for arguing with family.  He’s not trying to makes us feel better about disagreements or fights among family where there needs to be confession and forgiveness.  And he’s not encouraging us to make problems or to use religion to belittle or to distance. But Jesus is suggesting that sometimes in relationships, in families, in churches, in denominations, in religious communions— taking up one’s cross can lead into conflict. But Jesus shows us how “taking up our cross” – when it is a cross of love and self-sacrifice – helps move through fear.

It’s often pointed out that the cross has both a vertical and horizontal axis. The vertical one connects us with God. It reminds us that sometimes when the fear sets in, the way to deal with it comes from deep within, as God reinforces some secret reserve within us that we perhaps didn’t even know we had. We can carry fear straight to God and allow God to work on it.

But then there’s also the horizontal axis of the cross, the stretching out, the reaching out. That involves the Body of Christ, the church, one another. The part of the cross that stretches out involves all of those who God sends our way. We become the Body of Christ for one another through simple acts of kindness and remembrance (like sending a note, or agreeing to pray for someone) or through more dramatic ways of showing solidarity, friendship and love.

The cross stretches through the life of this parish. People call each other. People care for each other.  People look out for each other. When people are afraid of tangible things than can be addressed, we connect with Health Advocates for Older People, or Search and Care, or another community organization that helps us confront fear by breaking it down into small problems to be addressed and solved.

The storms and tornadoes over the last few days reminded me of a story from a few years ago.  You may recall the tragedy of a tornado ripping through a Boy Scout camp in Iowa.  Four boys were killed when a chimney they were hiding under collapsed in the storm, but all the other kids made it through.  Their story recounts how as the storms and winds were picking up around the camp, the scouts went about their preparations, just like they had practiced. There had to have been almost unimaginable fear. I’m sure they were terrified. But several of the boys did what they could to lessen the fears of others. One 14-year-old, Zack Jessen, yelled for his friends to duck under the table. He covered the head of another boy with his own body, and those boys were saved.

Fear is funny that way—when we share it, when we share in it, it lessens. It doesn’t always go away completely. And sometimes bad things still happen. But holding the hand of another, praying together, serving together—is love—the kind of love that “casts out all fear.”

Overcoming fear is a big part of the spirit of this last Sunday in June, when close to 2 million people will be watching, marching, and participating in numerous ways in this year’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride parade.  Many of the people marching are doing so only after spending years overcoming their fear.  Many of those watching will still be negotiating fear—fear of being fired for being gay, fear of losing friends, fear of losing family, fear of violence.  Many people of faith will also be in the parade today as a reminder and invitation that God’s love can cast out all fear. As the well-known meal program with the so-appropriate name reminds us, “God’s love delivers.”  It delivers every time.

Sometimes when we are afraid, the only thing we can do is to say our prayers, sort of duck for cover, and wait on God to show himself. We live into that vertical dimension of the cross. But at other times, we live into the horizontal direction. We can lean on each other, we can call on each other, and we can be the Body of Christ to one another. We can be like the disciples were to one another—to share support and strength and nurture and love.

Thanks be to God that, in the words of 1 John, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18)

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

The Right Kind of Christian Pride

Image 6-24-17 at 7.42 AMThe other week, our church’s Facebook page invited parishioners and friends to join with others from the Diocese of New York for this Sunday’s parade demonstrating support for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Community.  The event is commonly referred to as the “Pride March.”  A priest I know tried to be clever by posting a response to our invitation, suggesting that there was something odd about having a parade “celebrating one of the seven deadly sins.”  While his comment was unhelpful and showed a real pastoral ignorance, it also underscored for me just how easy it is for the Church to silence, shove aside, and ignore groups of people by suggesting that they are sinful whenever they assert their humanity.

The heart of our faith involves our knowing and celebrating that we are made in God’s image, we are redeemed by Christ’s Incarnation and sacrifice, and we are renewed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  We should be proud to be Christians.

Of course, pride in the extreme can be a problem. Whenever it becomes a “love of one’s own excellence” pride can blind us to the needs of others and to the reality of our own humanity.  But just as humility sometimes is misunderstood as silence and letting others walk all over us, pride is sometimes too quickly seen as negative.

True humility and Christian pride come together in faithful discipleship.  When Jesus called the little children to himself, don’t you suppose they felt an appropriate pride?  When Jesus said to the many on the mount, “blessed are you…” , don’t you imagine them just about bursting with pride?  And as Jesus welcomed women, and outcasts, and those who had been thrown down and out by society, don’t you think they might have felt pride for the first time in their lives?

In St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians there is a masterful speech to the puffed up, self-congratulatory, egomaniacal in his midst.  He uses irony to say, “You want boasting?  I’ll show you boasting…” And then Paul lets loose.  He maked fun of the various things people boast about, the roots of their pride.  He concludes, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Cor. 11).

When we boast of weakness, we show solidarity with the poor, the children, the aged, the sick, the outcast, the misunderstood… and that’s Christian pride.  Through such pride, we can grow to understand ourselves to be accepted by God as good, blessed, and capable of great holiness. Through vulnerable confidence, Christ brings us to an appropriate place of prideful humility, a kind of “pride-ility,” if you will.  Paul echoes the earlier words of Jeremiah the prophet who hears God say, “Let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the LORD: I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight” (Jer. 9:24).

I invite you to join me and others this Sunday in celebrating LGBT Pride.  Marching as a priest in a clerical collar, under the banner of my church and diocese, I will be encouraging others to come to know Jesus Christ as God’s humility and humanity among us—and that makes me very proud, indeed.

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

Corpus Christi

bread
A sermon for the Sunday commemorating the Holy Eucharist, The Body and Blood of Christ: Corpus Christi.  The lectionary readings are Deuteronomy 8:2-3, Psalm 34, 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, 16-17, and John 6:47-58.

Listen to the sermon HERE

The other day I was making plans to meet a parishioner for coffee.  We agreed that we’d meet at the coffee shop, “Le Pain Quotidien.”  Just as I thought our plans were set and before hanging up the phone, my friend added, “Ok, see you on Second Ave.”  I quickly called him back.  “Second Avenue?  I thought we were meeting on Lexington.”  We both looked online, realized the confusion, and settled our meeting place.  We laughed as we saw the massive opportunity for missing each other—we could have met on 1st Avenue, Fifth Avenue, or at any of the other many locations of that restaurant.  “Pain Quotidien,” is of course French for “Daily Bread.”

The irony was not lost of me that I encounter “Pain Quotidian” or Daily Bread every day and pass right by.  But if that’s true for my walking by the restaurant chain, it’s even truer for the Daily Bread provided by God in other ways.  I don’t always notice.  I’m not always grateful.

We pray for daily bread whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer, and on this Sunday when we meditate on the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion, the Eucharist) we can explore how the Sacrament of Communion is also an answer to our prayer for the bread that sustains— not just for today, but for tomorrow, and the next day as well.

The Old Testament Lesson for today recalls the time when the Israelites had been wandering in the wilderness, they became tired and irritable, and God fed them with manna. In the words of the psalmist, “[God] rained down manna upon them to eat and gave them grain from heaven. So mortals ate the bread of angels; he provided for them food enough.” (Psalm 78:24-25).

But the manna was only for the day. It was daily manna and needed to be consumed or it would spoil. If they left it out it became wormy. If it remained in the sun, it melted. This is because the manna was food, but it was more than food. Manna was meant to be consumed with faith. It took faith to rely upon the Lord to lead through the wilderness. It took faith to go to sleep each night trusting that there would be manna for the morrow. Perhaps it’s from that old, ancient story that the prayer began to be formed that would pray for daily manna, or daily bread.

Biblical scholars sometimes point out that the Greek in Lord’s Prayer actually conveys this sense of praying for the bread for tomorrow. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, reflects on this in a meditation as he writes

Rivers of ink have been spilt over the exact meaning of “give us this day our daily bread”, because the word that’s used in the Greek is a very, very strange one that you hardly find anywhere else.

It probably means daily, it probably means the stuff we need to survive, but at least some people in the early church understood it to mean the bread we want for tomorrow or even the bread of tomorrow; “give us today tomorrow’s bread”.

And they’ve thought that might mean give us now a taste of the bread we shall eat in the Kingdom of God. Give us a foretaste of that great banquet and celebration where the universe is drawn together by Christ in the presence of God the Father.

And so that connects for a lot of Christians with Holy Communion. Of course, because Holy Communion is, at one level, bread for today, it’s very much our daily bread, it’s the food we need to keep going; but it’s also a foretaste of the bread of heaven, a foretaste of enjoying the presence of Jesus in heaven at his table at his banquet, as the gospels put it. Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “The one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that [one] may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, they will live for ever.”

By taking into ourselves the Body of Christ, we become one with Jesus and the Father through the Holy Spirit. Communion happens to us. Communion overtakes us. Communion is God moving toward us and inviting us closer. Communion is our reaching out toward one another and even reaching beyond the church into the world.

Communion happens all the time and all over the place.  We invite others to meet Christ at the altar when we worship.  But we also invite others to experience Christ offered himself and receiving all who come, in other ways, as well—on Tuesdays with the senior lunch, on Saturdays with the community dinner, most nights of the week in the shelter.  We offer “Bread for Tomorrow” through the simplicity of our hospitality, allowing strangers and neighbors alike to rest in the garden and perhaps learn something of the God who comes to us in the “beauty of holiness.” But whether we offer literal food, or spiritual food, the food of friendship, support, encouragement, or prayer– We move with invitation, inviting others to “taste and see that the Lord is good, happy are they who trust in him!” (Psalm 34:8)

Sometimes the bread for which we pray and long for is less tangible than food and drink, or even a sacrament.  Sometimes we hunger and thirst for love, companionship, health, work, peace… all these hopes can be like something for which we have a taste but are a long way away from.  The ancient Israelites prayed for the bread that would feed their bodies, but also the bread that would feed their souls and their ambitions and their loves.  The friends and followers of Jesus understood his presence as feeding them, but they also prayed for the bread of tomorrow as they longed for his presence in prayer and the Holy Spirit. And we do the same, filled with confidence that just as surely as God satisfied those before us, God fills us with what we need.

Bread for today is a gift. Bread for tomorrow is a promise. We are called to live with hope and with faith for whatever tomorrow brings.  The Holy Eucharist allows us to practice receiving God, apprehending God, noticing God, hearing God, and feeling God moving in us and around us.

Jesus promises, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” May we grow in the faith and love of Christ, especially as we encounter him in the Holy Eucharist.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

 

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

Trinity Sunday

holy-trinity-icon-smOn Trinity Sunday, June 11, 2017, The Church of the Holy Trinity offered one worship service so that everyone could be together for the visitation of the Rt. Rev. Mary D. Glasspool, Assistant Bishop of New York.  The music included gifts of our Sunday Evening Contemporary musicians as well as our Holy Trinity Choir.

Bishop Glasspool presided and preached.  The bishop also confirmed five, received one, and reaffirmed the faith of two parishioners. After a reception with the congregation, the bishop had lunch with the vestry at the rectory.

Listen to the entire worship service HERE.

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

Being Pentecostal

Keith Haring GraphicA sermon for the Day of Pentecost, June 4, 2017.  The lectionary readings are Acts 2:1-21Psalm 104:25-35, 371 Corinthians 12:3b-13, and John 20:19-23

Listen to the sermon HERE.

When I was in high school, there were two girls in our classes who always wore long skirts. Their hair was very long—it seemed like they never cut it, but either wore it tied back, or fastened in a bun of some kind. They never wore makeup, and everyone knew (or my friends, at least knew) that Lisa and Lori were from a Pentecostal family. For a while, I thought that these two girls and their families were what Pentecostal looked like. Until I became friends with Rachel.

Rachel’s father was a Pentecostal minister, but Rachel wore makeup, was a cheerleader at high school, and her whole family seemed like most other people, except that their church was a called a Church of God, and their belief was that one is baptized by water, but one is also baptized by the Holy Spirit, and that second baptism causes one to speak in tongues. Others are given the gift of interpreting tongues. And so, knowing Rachel and her family, who were very modern but also spoke in tongues—I thought they were what Pentecostals looked like.

That word, Pentecostal, has to do with the Day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate today. The “pente” of Pentecost is just like the “pente” of Pentagon. It means five. And Pentecost is the day that is fifty days after Easter. Originally, this coincided with the Jewish feast of weeks, or Shavuot. As we heard in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, that fiftieth day after Easter was when the Holy Spirit appeared to the disciples in a strange and dramatic way. They were overcome by something, and they were changed.

The Acts passage says that the apostles received a gift of tongues, that each one could hear others speaking in a language that made sense to each. And while that is no small thing, there are other places in scripture that talk about the gifts of the spirit. The spiritual gifts go far beyond the ability to speak in tongues or understand another’s tongue. Pentecostalism is the religious movement that highlights the gifts of the Spirit, but especially the gift of tongues, and arose especially in the late 19th century, as a movement of evangelical revival in Great Britain and in the United States. Pentecostals are the people who participate in this movement, like my friends I mentioned in the beginning of this sermon.

But there are other spiritual gifts. In his First letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul describes a fuller picture. There are varieties of gifts [ Paul says] but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

As I’ve grown in my own faith, and especially as I’ve grown in my own experience of the Church and Christians who populate the Church, I’ve changed my mind about what a Pentecostal looks like.

As I reflect on MY experience of the Holy Spirit in the Church, I see what Paul is talking about. There are those with gifts of tongues, but I have been witness to that gift being manifest through languages that others don’t understand. Instead, I think of the teacher I know who is able to put complex thought into simple language, so that it can be understood. I think of the person who always has just the right word of grace to speak—which brings peace, brings healing, and brings hope. I think of the person who can speak the truth in the midst of cloudy gibberish, like the Word of God we hear about in scripture “Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

When I hear Paul’s description of spiritual gifts, I think of those who work for the “common good,” as Paul puts it. And there are those who participate in miracles—not just miracles of healing (and they do happen– sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly).

Being Pentecostal looks like a lot of us….
Trinity Cares
Volunteers in HTNC
Music program
People who pray for others…

On this day, we celebrate the coming of God’s Holy Spirit in surprising and startling ways. The spirit stirs and sings. The spirit crashes and calms. The spirit tears down what is old, or broken, or dead in order to make room for new life:for energy, hope, and resurrection. Let us be open to God’s Holy Spirit and let us be faithful Pentecostals.

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment

Inviting the Spirit

Fiery Heart

A homily for Evensong on the Eve of Pentecost, June 3, 2017.  The readings are Exodus 19:1-8, 16-20 and 1 Peter 2:2-10.

Listen to the homily HERE.

The late comedian and actor Robin Williams was also an Episcopalian and during the height of the David Letterman show and the nightly listing of the “top ten things” for this or that, Robin Williams compiled a list he called, “The Top Ten Reasons to be an Episcopalian.”  On his list, number 6 says simply “Pew aerobics.”  We sit, we stand, we kneel.

There is a lot of up and down.

To some extent our “pew aerobics” are intended to go along with our words and our intentions.  The Book of Common Prayer is very careful to suggest postures, not to control people in worship, but because of the idea that posture can promote or encourage particular feelings.

God’s people stand for joy, in full gratitude that God has blessed us to such an extent as to be born in the world as one of us, to become incarnate, and to honor the material world.

We sometimes kneel when we’re sorry—for ourselves or for others.  We kneel when we feel small and need to ask for care or guidance or direction.

And we sit to listen or to be in community.  Sometimes we sit when we’re worn out and don’t have the energy or physical ability to do anything else.

So there’s a lot of up and down to our posture, just as there’s a lot of up and down in our lives—times to celebrate and times to despair.

The up and down nature of things also pertains to God, as people have tried to get their minds around God.  Almost every religion somehow imagines the divinity as being “up” and the opposite of divinity as being “down.”

Our first reading from scripture includes this idea in a way that many of us have probably felt.  Moses meets God in the mountains.  High up, with a perspective that can see miles away, with the air a little thinner and cleaner.  High on a mountain, one can surely meet God.

The Church has just celebrated the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in which we have heard stories, prayed prayers, and sung music about Christ going “up.” And in fact, the anthem the choir sings in just a few minutes underscores this point.

And yet, even as the anthem quotes Psalm 47, “God is gone up with a triumphant shout,” the anthem continues by reminding us of other psalms, especially Psalm 24:, “Life up your heads, O gates, and let the King of Glory in.”

In the anthem, as in our worship, as in our lives, there’s a tension between locating God—that Higher Power, that Source of All Being, that “something” that is BEYOND, while at the same time, being somehow “WITHIN.”

In the Christian tradition, we hear Jesus say again and again in the Gospels, “Don’t look for the kingdom of God over there, or far away.  The Kingdom of God (God’s fullest presence) is already among you.  Look within yourself.  Look at your neighbor.

We gather on the Eve of Pentecost, that day in which the early followers of Jesus saw and felt God’s Spirit in a radically new way. Pentecost brings many messages and, in fact, we have a whole season of Sundays to reflect on what it means that the full Spirit of God lives among us and within us, but especially around the Day of Pentecost, I think it’s helpful to recall that the Spirit of God comes whenever called.

God’s Spirit may not show up exactly the way we imagine—we’ll hear tomorrow how those early followers of Jesus were blown away by the Spirit’s presence—it was nothing like what they were expecting.  But God comes when invited, when called, when invoked.

The Second reading from scripture that we heard comes from St. Peter who tries to remind his audience (and us) that we are God’s beloved.  God has created each one of us not as lifeless rocks to be thrown away or ignored, but as “living stones,” spiritual bodies—in God’s eyes capable, precious, and beautiful.

The Gifts of the Spirit are ours for the asking.  God is ours for the asking. Perhaps we ask with words. Perhaps we ask with our bodies.  Perhaps we ask in silence.  Perhaps we ask with music.

At the end of our Evensong this afternoon, we’ll sing the wonderful old hymn, “Come down, O Love divine.”  The familiar tune is by Ralph Vaughan Williams but the words are by Richard Frederick Littledale, who was an Anglican priest who was deeply affected by the English Pre-Raphaelites.  He joined many in idealizing much of the medieval Church and piety and loved the words of the Bianca da Siena, a 14th century Italian mystic.  “Come down, O Love Divine,” invites God into our hearts, to comfort, to burn away whatever is extra or needs to go, and to warm our hearts so that a flame of love can burn within us.

Though the images of God’s being up or down might help us to think about our own place in creation, and gain a new perspective, may we always remember that God is neither up or down, in or out, but always and everywhere as close as our breath—if only we ask.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment