Sunday, July 22, 2018

Year B Proper 11 Plan A & Plan Be [Open]

Year B Proper 11, 22 July 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“Plan A & Plan Be [Open]” 
Collect: Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for everAmen. 

2 Samuel 7:1-14a Ephesians 2:11-22 Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.  When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. 

None of us, no not one of us knows what tomorrow may bring. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus promises us this, along with the repeated admonition to not worry. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” [Matthew 6:34] 

We make plans, to give our lives a semblance of control. And plans are good, do not hear me saying otherwise. But God has a way of showing us alternate paths, and it is up to us to be in a position to a) hear it, and b) a willingness to respond. 

When I was in college, I was different in a lot of ways. Much more conservative, much more controlling, and boy, did I have plans. Lots and lots of plans. In college, I was part of a state-wide college organization, and in my sophomore year I applied to be the state-wide president. In years past this had always gone to a Senior (I was applying to do it as a Junior). When I came before the Vetting Committee, I was asked if I was aware of the precedent. I said yes, and that I had little expectation of getting the presidency this year. I was just being honest in my goals and desired trajectory and wanted them to consider me for the best position to prepare me for the next year. Shockingly, that worked, and they gave me a very visible and well-situated position for the potential future role. I was pleased. God had other ideas. 

About a month after this, a job description came out for a summer missionary position in Hamburg, West Germany, when there was a West Germany. This was 1988, for the service from May-December of 1989. As I went down the list of the requirements for the position I noticed a repeated pattern. Former Camp Counselor, check. Former Youth Minister, check. Conversational in German, check. Ability to live on the economy on their own in Germany, check. [I had been an exchange student.] Willingness and ability to take a semester off, check. Over and over again, what it came down to was that this was me. Truly. I did not know of anyone else who could fill the job, much less do the varied things expected and required.  

And that is when I had a choice. Do I follow my plans I had and had worked hard to accomplish? My ego was saying yes. Or do I follow the nudging of the Spirit, and see if I were the one God was calling to this role in Germany. I wrestled with it for about a week. But I decided to see where this would take me. I applied. In fact, I was the only person who applied. The job description was so singular I think it would not have been filled if I had not done it. So I was called to be the Youth and Singles Minister at Hamburg International Baptist Church from May to December of 1989. There was no experience more transformative and life-changing than those 8 months in my life. I think of how different my life would have been if I stayed home, and followed my “plan.” I thank God that my plans were ruined. 

In fact, if you want to hear God laugh, tell God your plans, or so an old joke goes. It is true, for us, as it was true for Jesus that day. He saw how tired his staff was. He felt, I am sure, the exhaustion, too. But Life got in the way, as Life tends to do. 

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with some folks who were asking what it was like to be a priest, and I said that it was a calling, and if I got half of what I had planned done every day I was pretty successful. They looked at me surprised, but I am in the “people business” and people show up when they show up and have different needs and necessary responses. In talking with Robert this week he observed how active and busy the office is every day. I love it that way. 

Jesus and his disciples could not even get away to eat, or so the Scripture tells us. And yet, even though they were planning a good day off, his heart went out, and Jesus “had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” 

That is where the Holy Spirit comes in, I believe. That little prompter that tells us, “Go for it! Let go of the plan, that fiction of control, and trust the invitation to something higher and better…” 

Jesus heard that call. That day, his compassion led him to respond to that call, guiding others along that way.  There is, I believe, a movement of the Holy Spirit in our Church, and there are some promptings that excite me, and I am glad to follow their lead. 

There are some new priorities in our Church, the Episcopal Church that is. I think they have always been there, but Presiding Bishop Curry is leading us to claim it and live out our being the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement. 

He broke it out in three priorities recently at the General Convention in Austin. He calls us all to be a part of the Jesus Movement by Loving with God, by Liberating with Each Other, and by Life-Giving with Creation. Loving with God we would call Evangelism. Liberating with Each Other we would call Reconciliation. Life-Giving with Creation we would call Care of Creation. That is the what, so easy to name. But like with much of life, how? HOW do we do that, making these our priorities and marching orders? This is where the Way of Love was brought out at the General Convention. [Video link:] 

The Way of Love is broken down into a Seven Step process. They all make sense, and goes with so much I have said in the 10 months I have been with you. 

The first step is a turn, a conversion, a repent, a change of direction. 
1. TURN: Pause, listen, and choose to follow Jesus 

With that first step, discipleship is a must. We must learn from our master and Lord.  
2. LEARN: Reflect on Scripture each day, especially on Jesus’ life and teachings. 

We have Turned, and Learned, but how do we stay connected with the One who calls us?  
3. PRAY: Dwell intentionally with God each day 

But there is more to connecting with God alone, we must do so with others. We are not meant to walk this path alone.  
4. WORSHIP: Gather in community weekly to thank, praise, and dwell with God 

We do not get fed to get full or fat, we have been blessed so that we can give. 
5. BLESS: Share faith and unselfishly give and serve  

As we grow, and become accustomed and accomplished at Blessing, then we are called to go further and invite more in. 
6. GO: Cross boundaries, listen deeply and live like Jesus 

And like all good lists of Seven, we end on a Sabbath. We are not meant to work ourselves to death. We are expected, just like Jesus did and called his disciples to do, to take a break and rest fully in the knowledge that God is in Control. 
7. REST: Receive the gift of God’s grace, peace, and restoration 

We are called to walk the way of Love, just as Jesus modeled and taught. Sometimes life breaks in, and we are needed to respond. We do this out of the promptings and urgings of God, and in God’s power and to God’s glory. 

As we intentionally walk the Way of Love, we will see the Holy Spirit showing up in our lives more and more. Being open and attentive has a way of doing that. And if you follow the model spelled out here, we will “attempt great things for God and we can expect great things from God.” [See William Carey if you are unfamiliar with that quote.] 

If you want to hear God laugh, tell God your plans. This sounds so harsh. But God is not, I believe, laughing at us in a derisive way. God is laughing because we sell ourselves, and God and God's intentions, so short. God’s plans are bigger, bolder, and better than anything we could come up with. But were we to know what God has in store, many of us would run and hide. Like Jonah. Like me.  

I did not want my life changed, I did not want my worldview adjusted. Had I known the pain and discomfort of being clay in God’s hands I doubt I would have stepped out in faith, but I am here with you today because of the Good Work that God was faithful to complete in me 30 years ago. Thanks be to God. 
Plan and work like God is giving us 100 years to accomplish God’s work, and live in such a way that if God calls you home tomorrow you would be ready to go. That constant tension of Now and Later has been a struggle in the Church since Christ was here with us. But God is not done with any of us yet, and the future, our future is bright as we walk the Way of Love together.  
So, have your Plan A. That is good. But also be willing to follow Plan B, which should really be Plan Be [Open]. You never know where the road will take you when you walk the Way of Love. Amen. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Year B Proper 10 2018 Whatcha Gonna Do?

Year B Proper 10, 15 July 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
Whatcha Gonna Do?” 

Collect: O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. 
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 Mark 6:14-29 King Herod heard of Jesus and his disciples, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”  For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. 

Good morning. I left a week ago from Church, running straight to Shrine Mont. We arrived home around 4 yesterday afternoon. The roller coaster in-between was Family Camp. Ben and Annie Campbell, who if you know them you probably know them from Richmond Hill, were our keynote speakers for the adults. One thing that really resonated with me was when Ben said, “If you really want to know Jesus, look at what he did more than what he said.” Through that, he walked us most of the week, we get to see the real religion of Jesus. And think about it, as followers of Christ, which would he want? Would he want to follow where he goes and do as he does? Or would he want us worshiping him? Do we want the religion OF Jesus, or a religion ABOUT Jesus? 

Over and over Jesus says, “Come, follow me.” And I think we worship Christ best in doing what he did, instead of celebrating what he said. While what he said is wonderful, and affects what we do, let’s get busy. Let’s be about what he was about, showing the world the Love of God. 

We all know, actions speak louder than words. Every one of us. We even write it into our plays and musicals. Eliza’s “Show Me” from My Fair Lady, or the classic “Do You Love Me?” from Fiddler on the Roof, where the main character Tevye asks his wife Golde if she loves him.  
DO YOU LOVE ME? from Fiddler on the Roof 
Tevye: Do you love me? 
Golde: Do I what? 
Tevye: Do you love me? 
Golde: Do I love you? 
With our daughters getting married and this trouble in the town, 
You're upset. You want out. 
Go inside. Go lie down. 
Maybe it's indigestion. 
Tevye: Golde, I'm asking you a question. Do you love me? 
Golde: You're a fool! 
Tevye: I know. But do you love me? 
Golde: Do I love you? 
For twenty-five years, I've washed your clothes, 
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house,  
Given you children, milked the cow. 
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now? 
Tevye: The first time I met you was on our wedding day. I was scared. 
Golde: I was shy. 
Tevye: I was nervous. 
Golde: So was I. 
Tevye: But my father and my mother said we'd learn to love each other. 
So, now I'm asking, Golde... 
Do you love me? 
Golde: I'm your wife! 
Tevye: I know. But do you love me? 
Golde: Do I love him? 
For twenty-five years, I've lived with him, 
Fought with him, starved with him. 
For twenty-five years, my bed is his. 
If that's not love, what is? 
Tevye: Then you love me? 
Golde: I suppose I do. 
Tevye: And I suppose I love you, too. 
Together: It doesn't change a thing, but even so, 
After twenty-five years, it's nice to know. 
Songwriters: Berry Gordy Jr / Berry / Jr Gordy 
Do You Love Me? lyrics © Bock Ip LLC, Imagem U.S. LLC, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group 

In today’s Gospel, what brought Jesus to Herod’s attention is WHAT HE DID. A preacher without action is no threat. Listen again to today’s words:  
King Herod heard of Jesus and his disciples, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised. 

If you want to get somebody’s attention, DO SOMETHING. That is what attracts attention. Even our collect for the day, O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them… Today we pray about DOING! 
 When we follow Christ, and do what he would do in our shoes, we faithfully accomplish what St. Paul urged of us: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (I Cor. 12:27) 

We are Christ’s hands and feet, Christ’s elbows and knees, Christ’s spleen and kidneys, we do what Christ would do in our shoes. And we show our love of Christ, and that we are followers through our actions. Jesus even promises us (in John 14:12): Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…  

That is what we have been given to do. Now there are cycles and seasons, and purposes and reasons. Ben Campbell partly told the story of how he and other key leaders were pivotal in getting the GRTC’s bus routes redone with Bus Rapid Transit beginning in the city. My daughters and I rode just a few weeks ago. It was great. And even fun. But we are not the ones for whom it is a necessity. For many in greater Richmond, there is no way for them to get to where the full-time jobs with benefits are without public transportation. Without a full-time job with benefits, it is almost impossible for someone to get financially stable enough to get a reliable car, to get a day off when your kids get sick, to save up so one can eventually retire and live out their lives without overwhelming worry or working themselves to death. I have heard from many that ministers should not be actively involved in worrying others with public transportation, but justice has always been a part of the God’s proclamations, and this is a justice issue. I have heard so many complain about what it is doing to Broad Street, but every time I have to change lanes I say a little thank you that we are working toward a greater good for all our sakes. I do not have time to get into it today, but my friend Ben teaches and preaches and lobbies and plans and holds to task the powers that be. Like I said, a preacher without action is no threat. Ben, and John the baptizer, are threats. 

In today’s Gospel, John the baptizer was calling Herod to task, and it cost him a dear price. His neck. I am glad Ben was able to keep his. 
Another way we do what Jesus did, is to live in the moment. When he was somewhere, he tried to be there. When the woman touched his garment, he stopped and looked for her, because he had “felt the power go out of him.” (Luke 8:43-48)  

 David, in our Old Testament reading, chose to lead his people in worship as they brought the ark into Jerusalem. He danced and worshiped and humiliated Saul’s daughter. It was not becoming, I assume she thought. Whatever she took offense at, “She despised him in her heart.”  

 Sometimes when we are about the Lord’s work, we will be despised. By Saul’s daughter, or Herod’s wife, by people for whom they cannot fathom our actions, or for whom they assume that we are as duplicitous as they are. 

But in the economy and purposes of God, there is a reason and a season for everything. 
Ecclesiastes 3  
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 
2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 
5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 
8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. 
9 What gain have the workers from their toil? 
10 I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. 
11a He has made everything suitable for its time 

As we prayed today, may God hear our prayer and help us faithfully do God’s bidding in our lives and the time that has been given us. Let us not lose sight of why we do what we do. But that still begs the question, whatcha gonna do?