A sermon preached on the fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Year C, RCL)
at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Del Mar
In the sound of music the Von Trapp children are taught that the true display of love is obedience. Neat and tidy, acting perfectly on command. A whistle from father, a clap of his hand is all that is needed for the children to snap into line and into the father’s perceived circle of love. What kind of love was that? I’m sure the children did love their father but under such strict and tight control was the pure, complete and faithful love of the children really allowed to grow?
God is not like Baron Von Trapp. I dare say that God is wiser. For he knows that true love can only be received when it is completely given out of free choice without any coercion and only when it is given deep from within the heart. But we are human, we are tempted by the world, by the promise of power, of status or the fantasy of any of a million of other temptations. God has given us free choice, so that we are truly free to choose and to love him. But far too often we use that freedom of choice unwisely.
In order to experience true love you must be prepared to be hurt by the consequences arising from the freedom to choose. And when that happens true love must bear the pain. Today God is weeping. As the funerals for the victims of last Sunday’s mascara at the Latin night in the pulse gay nightclub in Orlando begin to take place God is weeping and we weep with him.
Sometime in my training during the last three years someone said to me that as I got more experienced as a preacher that I would build up a library of sermons and at times I would be able to pull out an old sermon and recycle it for a new time. I’m sure that he meant a sermon on the trinity, one of our most favorite topics to preach on, but this week I was horrified when I was preparing the message for today. I remembered that I preached a year ago this weekend at St. Paul’s Manor. The Sunday after the shooting in the Charleston AM and E church. The reality that a week after my ordination I already had a stock sermon on mass shootings was devastating.
There has been too many shootings, too many times that we have been horrified, whether it be little children at Sandy Hook, youngsters at the movies in Colorado, worshipers a church in Charleston, or a young gay couple dancing in what should have been a safe place in Orlando, Florida.
As I got home from church last Sunday I saw an interview with a mother, Christine, desperate to find news of her son. Christopher Leinonen had been dancing at the nightclub with his boyfriend Juan Guerrero and was missing. His terrified and heartbroken mum pleaded for information and begged, for an end to deaths by assault weapons, for an end to hatred, for an end to violence. Both Christopher and Juan were later confirmed as victims of the shooting. Both were killed out of hatred. That hated has no place in our faith. Today, more than ever before we need to love deep enough and freely enough to stand and be counted. There is no room in our faith for hatred of others.
Paul writing to the Galatians in our epistle today says “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” And that promise lives on today. There is no longer black or white, young or old, republican or democrat, gay or straight. For all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
One of the things that I love so much about St. Peter’s is our prayer life. We are a parish that is active in prayer. God hears our prayer, but that is not enough. We need to understand and be open to be transformed through prayer. In prayer we invite the incarnate Christ into our lives and once he enters into our lives we are called to follow him. And every time we pray we are inviting anew Christ to be active in our lives. Prayer without action is incomplete. We offer our prayers to God, he hears and he calls us to action. In our free choice we can respond to that call to action or we can choose not to. Today I challenge us all, each and every one of us to choose action.
In our Gospel reading, a man is possessed by demons. So often when we read this story we look to the man, possessed by demons, as someone else. As the other. But maybe that possessed man is you or me. We don’t like to use the demon word. It reminds us of spirits, of things unknown, of evil. But when we think and study more about demons we realize that they all have some common characteristics. They take a person over, they drive that person away from society and away from those who love them, they cause a person to do things that they would not normally do. We have many modern day demons. Addiction, greed, self-promotion, hatred of others, selfishness, the list goes on. I would guess that if we honestly examine ourselves we all have demons that control us, that drive us away, that break our relationship with God.
But let’s remember the rest of today’s Gospel. Those demons recognized Jesus as God. Jesus did not shy away from talking to the demons. He took action and drove the demons out of the man. And through Christ, because of prayer we are called to action, we are called to face up to the demons in our life and in our world.
We are that demon possessed man. We have as much need to shout out to the Lord as he did. And when we engage with the Lord we can overcome our demons. It may not be instant, as was the case in the gospel reading, and it may not resolve itself in the way that we expected or even wanted, but we must place our trust in God.
Our society is also that demon possessed man, and the world in which we live in has need to also shout out to the Lord.
Are you ready, to bow down in prayer to the Lord, and being transformed by prayer, to take action?
What would Jesus do? Did Jesus just pray for the man possessed by demons? No, I’m sure he prayed but then he was moved to action.
God is weeping, the Holy Spirit is weeping and Jesus is weeping. The Holy Trinity is standing united as one with Orlando.
As people of faith, I pray that we offer our unconditional and free love to God. That we weep with him, that we fall down on our knees and pray. But in the giving of free love we will be transformed and called to action.
I pray that we recognize the demons in our own lives, not least the demons that hate others or stand silently by as others hate the world.
What would Jesus do? I don’t have an absolute guarantee of an answer, but from every example he taught us during his life here on earth he would not just stand by and let hatred rule the day.
Today we weep with God. Today we continue to deeply pray. Let us give our love freely to God, and in doing so be transformed by the power of his incarnation in the world and in ourselves and take action. Then we will be closer to making that mothers plea, for an end to gun violence and to an end to hatred, a reality in a world that is begging for love.
Christopher, Juan and 47 others died because of hatred. At this very moment people on this earth are living in fear, are being persecuted and are being killed as a result of hatred and violence. Hatred of the color of their skin, of their sex, of their origin, of their faith and of because of who they love. There is no room in our faith for hatred or violence. There is room for prayer. But in that prayer we are transformed and we are called to act.
Weep with God, pray to God, act for God.
A sermon preached on the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C, RCL)
at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Del Mar
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
I want to share with you a story that our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry gave at his installation last year. I need to take you back to 1940’s, to a time when our armed services were still segregated, a time before Rosa Parks sat down at the front of a bus, a time when Martin Luther King was still in seminary, a time when it normal to treat black people differently. A young black couple we dating. The female attended an episcopal church, her boyfriend a different denomination. On this particular Sunday they decided to worship together at the Episcopal Church. This happened to be a Sunday when the Holy Eucharist was being celebrated, this was pre-1979, and when it came time to receive communion the girlfriend went up to the alter rail. The boyfriend decided to stay in his seat. He watched as his girlfriend knelt next to white ladies on either side of her, something that he was not used to seeing. She received the bread, and then to the boyfriend something amazing and unheard of happened. His African-American girlfriend received the wine from the same chalice that was being used for everyone one else. The same chalice that the white congregants were drinking from. He was amazed that such inclusive was being practiced. At that moment he decided to become a member of the Episcopal Church, the couple married and later had a son. That son, was our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry.
Now when I tell you this story it may be hard for us to fully understand just how significant it was for a black woman to drink from a shared chalice with white men and women. But it was. I am sure that when that church first introduced the practice that the white men and women of the congregation would have been uneasy. I am convinced that the rector would have been challenged and sure that there would have been people, good people, who thought that he was committing some ungodly act. But that rector and the leadership of that church practiced dangerous love. They responded to the call of the gospel and of our scriptures to go out and work the love of Christ into the world.
That’s nice, we have learnt from it, that was back then.
I have a friend, who is a retired pastor, who ministered to people dying from HIV related illnesses in the early days of the AIDS crisis. Not many people supported him, many people found it easier to condemn and judge the dying than offer the hand of Christ’s dangerous love.
Our world is full of fear of those of other faiths. We are too willing to let the horrific actions of a few, taint our vision of millions of loving, good and honest Muslim brothers and sisters.
We live in a society where people still ask, do black lives matter?
Do we learn? Do we engage with those who society pushes to the margins? Do we actively go out and practice dangerous love? Yes we do, just look at the ministries that we have here at St. Peter’s. Helping Hands, Joy to the World Kinder Garden to name just a few. But as we gather our gifts for growth, as we celebrate 75 years worshiping here at St. Peter’s how will we practice and engage in dangerous love as we move forward?
In the Gospel reading that we have just heard Jesus is in his home town. Last week, our Gospel reading came from the same setting and we saw how pleased the people were to have Jesus with them. No doubt they were proud that the local boy had done good, no doubt they wanted to keep Jesus to themselves. But then we come to today’s reading. Jesus reminds them that no prophet was accepted in their home town. Sitting in the synagogue, that holy place, Jesus tells those people who love him that this was not the place where he needs to practice his ministry. I think that he meant this with all of his heart and said it forcefully. So much so that he not only upset those around him but he whipped them up into a frenzy so that they drove him not only out of the synagogue but also out of his hometown, running for his life.
Do not misunderstand me. The church is important. It is here that we come together as community, it is here that we come to be nourished by sharing in a Holy meal, it is here that we come to learn, to be energized, to be transformed. I like to think of the Church as a pair of lungs. Critical to all that we do. Every breath of air that we breathe in rushes through the lungs but then, and this my friends is important, that air is exhaled out back into the world. And so it is the same for us a Christians. We are drawn into the church, we are transformed by all that we do here but then we must return into the world. The breath of Christ, the breath of our faith the breath of you and me.
And so we go out into the world to love. How nice that the people who put together the lectionary then give us the passage from second Corinthians about love. Love is patient, love is kind, love is never envious or boastful or arrogant or rude…. You know how it goes. We use this passage so often. We look at it and so often we see a beautiful rose. It’s nice, it’s comforting, it’s all about love. Yes, but there is also another way of reading it. As we celebrate our first 75 years, as we build on the gifts for growth that God has given to us, as we look to the future. I invite you to consider the passage again but this time consider dangerous love.
Love is patient, dangerous love is often practiced before the world we live in is ready for it. When we look at the world around us, at the margins of our society and around the corner of our street, our interactions of love may be seen as revolutionary. We need to trust that we are acting in God’s time. We do not like waiting and often it is uncomfortable whilst we wait.
Love is kind, when you have a moment this week stop and think about what kindness actually is. Where in our lives is there room to offer an act of kindness to someone else? No doubt the world will carry on if we simply walk on by, but how much better our world would be if we put ourselves out and offered acts of kindness.
Love is never envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. When we practice Christ driven dangerous love we will find ourselves in uncomfortable places and it will be easy to wish for an easier path. But we are not called to spend our whole lives as Christians sitting comfortably, we are called to go out into the world and be like Christ. There are times when we will want to shout about the good that we are doing and sometimes if it helps the cause we need to do that, but our true recognition comes from God. God sees all things and knows all things and that is our reward.
I could go on. I pray that the next time that we hear this beautiful reading that we will hear the call to practice love, even when that love takes us to dangerous places. Jesus knew that he had to take his ministry out from his hometown into the world, he knew that the love that he practiced would be dangerous. Are you ready to follow him? 75 years worshiping in this place, many years ahead of us. We need to continue to go and show God’s love. And if we truly want to follow Christ, let us never be afraid to practice a bit of dangerous love.
Each week Pam and I have been leading the afternoon service at St. Paul’s Manor as part of our theological field placement. We alternate between officiating and delivering the homily. This week it was my turn to give the homily. I had a nice homily planned based on David and Goliath and then on Wednesday the tragic events surrounding the shooting of nine African-American people attending a bible study in Charleston, South Carolina stopped me in my tracks. I felt uncomfortable with the homily I had written and felt called to talk about the events. Late Saturday night I sat down and started over, writing from the heart.
Homily given at St. Paul’s Manor, San Diego, Sunday 21st June 2015
Proper 7 RCL Year B
1 Samuel 17: 32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41
Across the nation today, many pastors, ministers and preachers will be trying to make sense of another mass loss of life that occurred in the week before. In Charleston, South Carolina this week, nine lives were taken from members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church who were attending a bible study. Emanuel is a historic church that was and is known for its activism and work for making the local community, the church and our nation a better place. From all that we know, from what the police have reported and from what survivors have told us, this is a hate crime. An act of hatred, hatred of African-American people.
We have been in this position before.
We have struggled to find the right words too many times.
Bishop Mathes in his letter to the people of the diocese this week wrote
“African-Americans in this country are in poverty because of racism. African-Americans are disproportionately in prison (our modern slavery) because of racism. African-Americans are being killed because of racism. Look at the statistics. Look at the history.“
As Christians we must do something. We must act to transform the lives of our brothers and sisters who are suffering due to racism.
For those of us who use the Baptismal Covenant as part of our faith we promise “to respect the dignity of every human being,” If we are to mean what we promise than we must act.
Many of us are stricken by fear. Fear that as individuals we cannot do anything. Fear that we are a little shepherd boy with no armor sent to battle the massive giant who is protected by a thick and glorious suit of armor. But that fear should not hold us back.
The lectionary today gives us the story of David and Goliath. David was indeed that little shepherd boy but he was also the shepherd boy who had faith in God.
But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears;………. The LORD, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the LORD be with you!”
We know how the rest of the reading goes. Goliath baits David, and David uses the tools he had from his everyday life and defeated the giant against everyone’s expectations. David had faith, faith to overcome his fear. I’m sure that he was scared, who would not be. But he had seen how the Lord had protected him before and he had the faith that the Lord his God would protect him in the task ahead.
Compare that to the disciples in our Gospel reading. They were full of fear, fear that the great windstorm that was crashing waves over and into the boat would sink the ship. In their fear, they ran to the Lord and woke him up. The Lord said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He then questioned the disciples “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
How much better that we be like David the Shepherd boy than the disciples? But if we can’t then let us learn from the disciples, that even in our greatest fear Jesus will not let us down.
So we come back to our need to act. Our need to do something to break down racism in our country. I do not have a perfect answer for you. However we must look at the gun laws in our country. There have been too many deaths to let things stay as they are. We must do everything that we can to turn our social justice rhetoric and activism into concrete actions that allow our African-American brothers and sisters to live a life that is equal to all people of this nation.
How do we do that? What can we do? You and me? We can support all of those things I just said but there is something else that we can do. Importantly we have the power of forgiveness and love to fight racism and injustice whenever we see it.
You may say to me that showing love and forgiveness to a person who is being racist to whatever extent is extremely hard, if not impossible, it is indeed like sending David out to fight Goliath. I know it is hard and something that many people will struggle with, but I want to share with you one of the most powerful images from this past week.
At Dylann Roof’s court bond hearing on Friday, relatives of his victims were allowed to address him via a video link. Nadine Collier, a daughter of Ethel Lance, one of Roof’s victims, said the following to him at the hearing.
“I just want everybody to know, to you, I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again, I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me, you hurt a lot of people. But God forgives you, and I forgive you.”
The story of David and Goliath was retold this week.
We can make a difference if we confront racism whenever we come across it.
We confront, we forgive and we show Christ’s love.
I know that it is hard, especially when we are hurting and the pain caused by someone else is as raw as the pain people are feeling now. But as Christians we are called to act.
We confront, we forgive and we show Christ’s love.
Today the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church reopened and continued the hard work of doing something. The name Emanuel means “God is with us”.
My prayer for us today is that as brothers and sisters in Christ that we will act to break down racism in our time. As brothers and sisters in Christ that we will raise up those who have been downtrodden. As brothers and sisters in Christ that we will act in faith starting with sharing the gospel of love and forgiveness to all, respecting the dignity of every human being.
Earlier this week I had lunch with a good friend who is also a fellow blogger (see his blog – Karl’s Questions here). After checking in with each other the topic of conversation turned to my summer field placement at ECS. Before long we got talking about our attitudes toward the homeless, people with mental illness and people with addictions. During my time at ECS, whether it be at the ACCORD DUI program or at the Downtown Safe Haven transitional housing facility, I have been spending time with people who are suffering from homelessness, mental illness and addictions. As I get to know folk at ECS I am learning more about their lives and as I do so it is much easier to see the person within rather than the presenting issue. The more time I spend the deeper each relationship grows and the more I see brothers and sisters in Christ who are struggling with life and their ability to cope.
I find myself challenging myself: when a homeless person or someone battling an illness wanders into the back of the church do I see a person or a cause? If I am being brutally honest, many a time in the past I have seen the issue/cause and not the full human being. If you ask yourself that same question and strip yourself down to full honesty how would you answer the question?
I believe that an important part of my calling is to fulfill a promise that we make whenever we reaffirm the Baptismal Covenant:
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
My field placement is teaching me that I can only fulfill this promise when I walk along side my neighbor and accept them for all that they are. This is the model that Jesus gave us when he called Zacchaeus down from the tree:
He (Jesus) entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 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.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 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.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Luke 19:1-10.
Jesus did the unthinkable, he broke the rules in order to be inclusive to all, and to everyone who accepted his call he gives salvation. Jesus called the sinner by name and insisted to stay at his house.
I pray that I continue to learn to look beyond the issue, to see a human instead of a cause. Because an issue or cause is something that we ‘give to’ or ‘solve’. A fellow human is someone who we love and in our love, Christ is manifested.
Next time I am asked if I will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself. I hope I can say with conviction
I will with God’s help.