Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Christ the King WED 2018 Purpose

Christ the King WED, 28 November 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 

Ephesians 1:3-14 
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. 

Luke 19:1-10 
1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” 

Why are we here? Why are you here? That is the question, no matter what Hamlet says. We have lots of answers and responses to that question. We as a church have an answer to that. You may have an answer to that. I may, too. 

Jesus had an answer to that, and he had to fight constantly to avoid mission creep, that tugging by people often with the best of intentions to take what is and add to it. “Could we just…” and then fill in the blank. Knowing what one is here to do, and what it will take and making it happen is a hard and lifelong journey. 

From the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer: 
...the universe is good, that it is the work of a single loving God who creates, sustains, and directs it.  Q. What does this mean about our place in the universe? A. It means that the world belongs to its creator; and that we are called to enjoy it and to care for it in accordance with God's purposes. Q. What does this mean about human life? A. It means that all people are worthy of respect and honor, because all are created in the image of God, and all can respond to the love of God. 

Zaccheus knew his place. He was a swindler and a cheat. He knew he was despised, but he had heard about how this teacher offered something different, something new. Even the despised were allowed into the presence of this new teacher, teaching with a different authority. So he climbed the Sycamore tree, just to catch a glimpse. That is all he wanted, all he hoped for or could expect. 

Then the unthinkable happened. The wee little man who knew better than to risk asking people to be nice to him was singled out, was recognized, and given an opportunity to be in on this new thing. The teacher said: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” And through that event, transformation was possible. 

You see, we are Zaccheus, too. Where we fall short, when we try to put ourselves higher up, when we separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters, when we go home alone, Jesus meets us wherever we are, however we are, and lifts us up. From today’s Ephesians reading: “[God] chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” 

Why are you here, Jesus? “[I] came to seek out and to save the lost.” Singular in his focus, he let nothing deter or distract him. He came to find you. He came to find me… “to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us.” 

There is a reason why we call a humble carpenter king. He who wrote no book, who led no army, who was buried in a borrowed tomb, there is a reason why after 2,000 years we are still amazed by grace.  

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Year B Proper 28 2018 And Be Thankful

Year B Proper 28, 28 November 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“And Be Thankful” 
Collect: Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of ev erlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.  Mark 13:1-8 As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”  When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.” 

From Song of Hannah (I Samuel 2) 
“My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you;  there is no Rock like our God.  
We have spent a lot of time this fall looking at our theme: Called to Peace. And be Thankful. It has been explicit and implicit in our teaching, preaching, and some of our events. Today, I want to stay there, but for the first time I want to focus on the second half of that phrase. And be Thankful.

We chose this theme looking at the worry, frustration, and division your pastoral leadership felt was coursing through our societal veins. We wanted to do a reboot. We wanted a mulligan on how we were approaching things.

A phrase I repeat so often, and have needed to say ad infinitum recently is from my Pastoral Care class in seminary, “Hurting people hurt people.” We lash out. We make poor choices when we are hurting.

All families have their stories that reach the mythic level. I have told you before about the trip we took to Germany just before I was priested. Now my youngest was only 6, and the concept of popping her ears was beyond her ability and comprehension. We tried gum. We tried massaging just below her ears to unclog her pounding Eustachian tubes. As we were descending from our flight back across the Atlantic, she started really hurting. She was crying, and it was only getting worse. As we were descending over Long Island coming into JFK we descended below the clouds and the blizzard was apparent. Winds were rocking the jumbo jet. People were tense. Stephanie and Sojo were in front of us, and Selah and I were behind. We had two seats and two seats by the windows. And Sojo was letting everyone know she was not happy. At one point, after severe duress she cried out to my wife, “Don’t just sit there, DO SOMETHING!” And when Stephanie tried, she screamed, “Stop touching me!” This went back and forth for about 2 or 3 minutes. You could tell people felt so sorry for her, and more than a few worked hard to contain their chuckles. With the worry of the weather, and a poor, hurting, screaming child we all needed to let off some of the tension. Obviously in pain, she was giving such contradictory commands. It got so bad I had to lean into Selah and say, “Let’s pretend we are not with them.” 

Often we hear, “Don’t Just Stand There, Do Something!” But there are times and places when we need the opposite, “Don’t Just DO SOMETHING, Stand There.” Gather your mind. Collect yourself and your thoughts before you barge in. 

I have quoted this before, but it contains such truth I say it again. This is Father Richard Rohr: All healthy religion shows you what to do with your pain. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it. If your religion is not showing you how to transform your pain, it is junk religion. It is no surprise that a crucified man became the central symbol of Christianity. 

And all that being said, it takes us to where we are today in our Gospel. 

Jesus and the disciples were walking out of the glorious Temple. They were astounded at the work of their hands. They were giving themselves and their people a celebratory pat on the back. But Jesus saw other. They looked and saw strength and glory. Jesus was pre-grieving about what he saw was to come. Toppled towers and broken stones. What they were putting their trust in was temporary. They saw solidity. Jesus saw the ephemeral. 
Where do you put your hope? Where do you put your trust? 
[Singing] O God our help in ages past, our hopes for years to come, 
A shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home. 

Where do we look for hope. How do we transform the pain of this world, before we transmit it. The world is screaming: “Don’t just sit there, DO SOMETHING!” And simultaneously, “STOP TOUCHING ME!” We are not some hurting six-year-old. We are supposed to be the grown-ups, but we deliver those contradictory commands just like my hurting little girl. And as tense as these times are, it is just not funny. I cannot even chuckle. 

If you ask Episcopalians, or in my limited experience I have found, that if people know ANY Collect, they know this week’s: Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. I cannot tell you how many people I know say this is the best Collect. It is definitely the most memorable. It gives us something to do, and it tells us why to do it. 

Scripture: Hear, Read, Mark, Learn, and Inwardly Digest so we can have the Hope found in You, God. 

When the world seems hopeless, crazy, and dark, we are given the light of the one who was there in the beginning, is here now, and will be with us forever. Jesus promised his disciples that the way ahead was not going to be all roses and sunshine. Dark days were ahead. Would they lose faith? Would they let go of the hope they had found in his way of loving God and neighbor? Will we? 

Think of all the bad things that have happened in the last few months. Hurricanes Florence and Michael, Fires all over the West (especially California), mass shootings, earthquakes, wars, societal and international upheaval. So much I cannot keep track. Stop the world, I want to get off. Jesus said that these are the birthpangs. We might use the phrase, “It is always darkest before the dawn.” 

But then I remember, that is why we are here. We are here to give hope to the hopeless, to proclaim release to the captive, and good news to the poor. We are here to RE-MEMBER. Do not forget what that words really means. We think to bring it again to mind. But it really is, what are we to bring to mind. We are to remember what it is we are connected to, to Re-Member, to Re-Connect with God and one another. 

If you think about it, that is what we do here every week, as we read Scripture, as we receive the Eucharist, as we Pass the Peace. We join again, we re-member with God and each other. And it is a beautiful thing. 

This year I have been rereading the Bible. I am going back and re-membering where we have come from and where we should be going. I am actually reading, marking, learning (and re-learning), and inwardly digesting what it is to love God and be loved by God. And I am given the Hope, the One who started “this good work in me is faithful to complete it.” Philippians 1:6 And the One who started it all, the Alpha, is the same One who will cross every T and dot every I, and will put the period on the sentence, the Omega.  
So that is why in the living of these days we look to this One, the Author and Finisher of our Faith. Hebrews 12:2 We look at the story of how he calls us, refines us, and enables us to find ourselves in our relationship with the everliving, everlasting, everloving God. 

When the world screams and cries in hurting contradictory ways, may our response be to model and preach Peace and Thankfulness, we can go a long way to making both real. May we remind them, love them, and sit with them and let them know that one day we will land. One day this will all be over, and our hope will remain. We tell a Narrative that is “the better story.” We proclaim a hope we hopefully live. As Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems on the same level of thinking that created them.” This is still so true. May we reframe, and step up. May we proclaim peace and model it. May we be thankful, and encourage it. May we be a city set on a hill. May we be lamp on a lampstand in the darkness. May we be the Salt of the earth. 

This week we set aside for family and feasting, for rejoicing and being thankful. When you pause this week, lifting up your Thanks, remember the hope that you have, the hope that you live, the hope for even the darkest of days. 

May we have the Hope of one hopeless, poor Hannah we read about in Samuel today. Barren. Berated. Bereft. But still she sang: 

“My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. 
“There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you;  there is no Rock like our God. 

This Thanksgiving, may our song rise like Hannah’s, may we without reservation declare:  

[Singing] O God our help in ages past, our hopes for years to come,  A shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.  

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Year B Proper 27 2018 All In- Stewardship Sunday

Year B Proper 27, 11 November 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“All In” Ingathering Sunday and Veteran’s Day 
Collect: O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen  Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 Hebrews 9:24-28 Mark 12:38-44 As Jesus taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”  He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” 
This week we had a fun and fascinating conversation during our Wednesday Book Club time discussing Watership Down. The main character, Hazel, is the Chief Rabbit of the warren on Watership Down, and repeatedly I have discussed his approach to leadership is one many reasons I love this book. I mirror, or try anyway, to lead like he did, and one class member made note of the unique requirements of leading a church. And it is a funny business. Faith Communities are really strange. No one requires you to be here. No one makes you show up, give, volunteer, or participate. But day in and day out, you choose to be a part. You choose to be here. You choose to give. As the leader, one of many but a requisite one in how we do church as Episcopalians, I have to hold some of the flock back from where they would like to charge ahead, and cajole some along who want to return to previous ways of doing things. I have to get buy-in with new approaches and ideas, and I need to make sure that people feel loved, heard, and appreciated. 
It is a strange and funny business being a priest. If this were a job, I would be a fool. But that is why it is seen as a calling. I am a priest because it is who I am, because it is what I love and it is what gets me out of bed every morning. I thank God every day I have opportunity to be your priest. But at the same time, you pay me so that I have the ability to care for those in my charge and care, my wife and my children [sidenote: I am in my wife’s mutual and equal charge and care, as well] , and for me to have the opportunity to support the work here through my offerings to this and other ministries that I support. 
And that is what is so beautiful about what we do together as this church. We are given the opportunity to be in on the work of God, together with one another and with GOD. How humbling. How powerful. In fact, that is the only way that Jesus’ statements in today’s Gospel makes any sense whatsoever. 
We see very rich people putting in vast amounts of money. And then a poor widow comes along with her two mites, the equivalent of a penny, and Jesus says that is greater than the other gifts. Now we have a few ways to see this.  
  1. 1. Jesus was really bad at math. How many times should I forgive someone Jesus? Seven times? Nope. Seventy times Seven. It could be like when a mom asked her toddler if she was old. The toddler said, “Yup.” She then asked, “How old do you think I am.” The toddler responded, “Really old, like Eleven.” Jesus, though, unlike the toddler has a frame of reference. So giving Jesus the benefit of the doubt, let us let go of the “bad at math” theory. Two mites is hardly greater than anything except 1 mite, mathwise that is.  
  1. 2. Jesus is looking at the percentage approach. This woman gave 100%. The others may have given, 1%, 2%, or even 10%. But 100 is greater than 1, 2, or 10. So was he talking about percentages? I don’t think so, and here is why. If Jesus is talking about percentages of wealth, then it still comes down to us being better or greater than someone else. And I do not see Jesus ever doing that, not even here. If it came down to percentages, then we could set a number and be done. In fact, the biblical percentage is 10%. But I think Jesus is going for something greater. You can still tithe (give 10%) and be a rotten stinker and feel you have done your “duty.” 
  1. 3. So then what does it comes down to? For me it is this. This woman brought her whole self. She did not leave or hold anything back from God. She was “all in” to use a modern phrase.  
Last year I said this at Stewardship time, and I say it again. God does not need your money. God does not want your money. God wants your heart. It really is the only thing that you have when all is said and done.  
Christ, He requires still, wheresoe’er He comes, To feed, or lodge, to have the best of rooms: Give Him the choice; grant Him the nobler part Of all the house: the best of all’s the heart. - Robert Herrick 
In Romans [12:1-2], Paul encourages the Church in Rome with this: 
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. 
It was not just this widow. God calls us to be all in as well. On Monday night when we had our Community worship service, Kerra English, the Pastor to Ashland Presbyterian, quoted from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. His version of these two verses make it really come to life. Romans 12:1-2 from The Message: 
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. 
We are talking here not of the transactional economics of this world, you do this, you get that, tit-for-tat. God’s economy, the God-onomics of Grace, are so different. God already has everything. God can do anything. What God enables and wants is for us to go “all in” and live that “abundant life” that Jesus promises in John [10:10b]. When we live, breathe, act, and dream through abundance we have all we need and more. With Jesus’ way of looking at things through abundance, we can stop “keeping score.” We can let go of the idea of Winners and Losers, and things being “not fair.” It enables us to do the impossible, all those crazy, radical things that Jesus called us to do. 
Love your enemies. 
Do good to those that hate you.  
Bless those that curse you. 
Let the meek inherit the earth. 
When you do it to those considered the Least, you know, the rejected and rotten, the forgotten and the losers, you have done it unto Jesus.  
If we do not live in that abundance that can only come from God then none of these Jesus things make any sense. The bottom line will never be able to work that out. It takes a whole new way of looking at things to make sense of what Jesus is saying here. That is why the widow’s mite is possible to be greater. 
If you think about how irrational and unreasonable our faith is when we look at it from worldly standards, it is so confusing. One of my college friends asked me while at the University of Richmond why I would waste my life going into the ministry. It made no sense to him. It still doesn’t. When one does not hear the call of God none of this makes any sense. 
I was reminded of that recently when I heard about a modern day Good Samaritan. We all know that phrase, “Good Samaritan,” but we have become immune to what it means. It means somebody of whom you have no expectation of good or kindness does the miraculous good and kind thing. It happened two weeks ago in Pittsburgh. This is from Ari Mahler [Facebook Post, Nov 3, 2018, 5:38 pm]. 
“I am the Jewish nurse. 
Yes, that Jewish nurse. The same one that people are talking about in the Pittsburgh shooting that left 11 dead. The trauma nurse in the ER that cared for Robert Bowers who yelled, ‘Death to all Jews,’ as he was wheeled into the hospital. The Jewish nurse who ran into a room to save his life. 

To be honest, I’m nervous about sharing this. I just know I feel alone right now, and the irony of the world talking about me doesn’t seem fair without the chance to speak for myself. 
When I was a kid, being labeled ‘The Jewish (anything)’, undoubtedly had derogatory connotations attached to it. That’s why it feels so awkward to me that people suddenly look at it as an endearing term. As an adult, deflecting my religion by saying ‘I’m not that religious,’ makes it easier for people to accept I’m Jewish – especially when I tell them my father is a rabbi. ‘I’m not that religious,’ is like saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not that Jewish, therefore, I’m not so different than you,’ and like clockwork, people don’t look at me as awkwardly as they did a few seconds beforehand. 

I experienced anti-Semitism a lot as a kid. It’s hard for me to say if it was always a product of genuine hatred, or if kids with their own problems found a reason to single me out from others. Sure, there were a few Jewish kids at my school, but no one else had a father who was a Rabbi. I found drawings on desks of my family being marched into gas chambers, swastikas drawn on my locker, and notes shoved inside of it saying, ‘Die Jew. Love, Hitler.’ It was a different time back then, where bullying was not monitored like it is now. I was weak, too. Rather than tell anyone, I hid behind fear. Telling on the people who did this would only lead to consequences far worse. 

Regardless, the fact that this shooting took place doesn’t shock me. To be honest, it’s only a matter of time before the next one happens. History refutes hope that things will change. My heart yearns for change, but today’s climate doesn’t foster nurturing, tolerance, or civility. Even before this shooting took place, there’s no real evidence supporting otherwise. The FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center note that Jews only account for two percent of the U.S. population, yet 60% of all religious hate crimes are committed against them. I don’t know why people hate us so much, but the underbelly of anti-Semitism seems to be thriving. 

So now, here I am, The Jewish Nurse that cared for Robert Bowers. I’ve watched them talk about me on CNN, Fox News, Anderson Cooper, PBS, and the local news stations. I’ve read articles mentioning me in the NY Times and the Washington Post. The fact that I did my job, a job which requires compassion and empathy over everything, is newsworthy to people because I’m Jewish. Even more so because my dad’s a Rabbi. 

To be honest, I didn’t see evil when I looked into Robert Bower’s eyes. I saw something else. I can’t go into details of our interactions because of HIPAA. I can tell you that as his nurse, or anyone’s nurse, my care is given through kindness, my actions are measured with empathy, and regardless of the person you may be when you’re not in my care, each breath you take is more beautiful than the last when you’re lying on my stretcher. This was the same Robert Bowers that just committed mass homicide. The Robert Bowers who instilled panic in my heart worrying that my parents were two of his 11 victims less than an hour before his arrival. 

I’m sure he had no idea I was Jewish. Why thank a Jewish nurse, when 15 minutes beforehand, you’d shoot me in the head with no remorse? I didn’t say a word to him about my religion. I chose not to say anything to him the entire time. I wanted him to feel compassion. I chose to show him empathy. I felt that the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong. Besides, if he finds out I’m Jewish, does it really matter? The better question is, what does it mean to you? 

Love. That’s why I did it. Love as an action is more powerful than words, and love in the face of evil gives others hope. It demonstrates humanity. It reaffirms why we’re all here. The meaning of life is to give meaning to life, and love is the ultimate force that connects all living beings. I could care less what Robert Bowers thinks, but you, the person reading this, love is the only message I wish instill in you. If my actions mean anything, love means everything. 

Respectfully, Ari Mahler, RN.” 

Matthew 22:36-40 Someone once asked Jesus: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” [Jesus] said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” 
Like Ari, who let go of his fears to live his love of God by loving others, we see someone who in the moment was all in. Even in the worst of moments. 
Like the widow, we see someone who let go of the fears of the needs of the world to embrace what she held most dear, God. 
Love God with all you’ve got, and your neighbor as much as yourself, and you have got your bases covered.  
Like Ari and the widow, we are only given this one precious, fragile life. Think on it even more when we remember those who risked their lives for our freedoms, and even more those who gave their one, precious, fragile life for us. So, where are you gonna place the chips you have been given? In a word, are you All In?