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June 18, 2017, Proper 6, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost YR A

June 18, 2017, 2nd Sunday of Pentecost YR A
The Rev. Anne Abdy
Genesis 18:1-15; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8

 

I have in my living room two icons. The larger of the two is the Icon for the Feast of Pentecost showing the disciples with tongues of fire above their foreheads and Christ sitting in the middle assuring them that they will not be alone. The second icon depicts the Holy Family riding a donkey and hurriedly traveling towards Egypt as Mary and Joseph escape Bethlehem and Herod’s massacre of the Holy Innocents. Both icons relate and provide tension to a third famous icon, Abraham’s Hospitality to the Three Visitors—the story we read in today’s Old Testament Lesson.

 

How? Well, the icon depicting Pentecost is the beginning of the Church. In Matthew, Jesus commands the disciples to go out into the world but don’t be surprised if you do not get a warm reception. Luke’s Gospel of the Great Commission depicts a kinder story where the disciples are welcomed into the homes of strangers. The greater story here is that the church is to be a welcoming safe place for strangers. Churches through the ages have been places of safety to weary travelers fleeing oppressive regimes just as the Holy Family found safety, ironically in a country full of strangers.

 

The term sanctuary state, sanctuary city, sanctuary church has unfortunately become something of a popular buzz word of late because of the refugee and immigration crisis. Our own Mayor, proclaimed Eugene to be a sanctuary city. So how does a church take care of the tired, the weak, the widowed, and the orphaned, and engage in the care of others? We are to provide hospitality.

 

Abraham entertains three guests. They are angels or messengers of God.  This story is a fulfilling of a promise made by God for Abraham to become a patriarch of a large nation. And, it is also an annunciation a story about Sarah who laughs almost mockingly at God’s intent knowing that she is well passed child-bearing age. In the next chapters, we will read of how God turns the painful laughter of disbelief into joyful laughter of a promise fulfilled as Isaac is born. Abraham welcomes these angelic beings to the table by washing their feet and feeding them.

 

So what does it mean to extend hospitality? One source, the Benedictine Rule of Life created in 529, explains that Saint Benedict expected many different people to arrive at his monastery. He also expected his brothers to treat these sojourners as guests. This monastic rule for hospitality reads:

 

“As soon as anyone knocks, or a poor man calls out, he [the porter] replies, ‘Thanks be to God’ or ‘Your blessing, please’; then, with all the gentleness that comes from the fear of God, he provides a prompt answer with the warmth of love” (vv. 3-4).”[1]

 

In 2006, I was the beneficiary of the hospitality given me by the Roman religious order of the Queen of Angels at Mount Angel. I had enrolled in a two year Spiritual Direction course and was welcomed into their conference center and guest space, into their community chapel, and able to walk the grounds with freedom. I was also welcomed into their dining room for numerous meals. I learned much about their hospitality including being able to take communion. All of these welcoming acts, were acts of love—unconditional love.

 

But the rule does not stop with the notion of loving thy neighbor. It continues to offer advice to us about the treatment of the traveler.

 

“Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received…” (53.15). Hospitality is provided not only in the form of food (“the abbot’s table must always be with guests and travelers” [56.1]), but lodging as well, since St. Benedict, speaking of the guest-house, says that “adequate bedding should be available there” (53.22)”[2]

 

Taking in the families at Shelter Week and the homeless during the cold winter months as part of the Egan Warming Center Program illustrates how Resurrection is a welcoming parish. Hospitality is not new to us.

 

But here’s a twist, what does it mean for you and I to experience hospitality? In every celebration of Holy Communion we experience the hospitality of God given in the bread and the wine of the Body and Blood of Christ. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote about this kind of hospitality in his text, Being Christian:

 

“For Christians, to share in the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, means to live as people who know that they are guests—that they have been welcomed and that they are wanted. It is, perhaps, the most simple thing that we can say about Holy Communion, yet it is still supremely worth saying. In Holy Communion, Jesus Christ tells us that he wants our company.”[3]

Jesus invites us to partake at the table, in the pew, at the bedside, in the living room, and even in a prison cell. In the words of the Eucharistic Prayer, he says: “Take eat: This is my Body, which is given for you” and “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant.”[4] That’s why I so value communion which is the essence of my call to the priesthood. That I have the privilege to stand in the place of Jesus by being the vessel by which he invites us to share in the eating and drinking of his body and blood—we become Jesus’ guests the moment we reach out with our hands to accept the bread.

 

Just as Jesus is there to invite us to the table, we are able to invite him to the table too. Remember, Zacchaeus who is vertically challenged so he climbs a tree to see Jesus? Jesus approaches and looks up at him asking him: “Aren’t you going to ask me into your home?” We get to not only feed at the table, we can and should invite Jesus into our home…our bodies at each sacred meal. Archbishop Williams further explains this relationship with Christ this way: “His [Jesus’] welcome gives us the  courage to open up to him. And so the flow of giving and receiving, of welcome and acceptance, moves backwards and forwards without a break.”[5]

 

Jesus broke bread before the resurrection and after the resurrection with the disciples. It is a celebration that has taken place whenever and where ever Christians have gathered together. Jesus makes the connection with God, the Father, at Gethsemane, with the disciples in the Upper Room at the Last Supper, and then in the final act where he is given over to the Roman and Jewish authorities. God, the Father, does not rescue his Son. By not rescuing Jesus, God, the Father, becomes the Giver—and that act of giving is witnessed in each Communion in the calling down of the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

 

By reaching out my hand to accept the bread and drink the wine, I need to remember that my neighbor to my left and right have also accepted this invitation. In doing so, I get to see Christ in them and in others. By accepting this invitation to be Jesus’ guest, community is built.

 

So what can we do here at Resurrection to build community. In the Tune-up newsletter this week, there was a notice about Parish Conversations that will take place. We will have an opportunity to be in community and to share what it means to be a member of this community that forms the Parish of Resurrection.

 

It means remembering to set a place-setting for the unknown guest at a meal in the parish hall. That place-setting is for the honored guest. I remember visiting with a friend in tattered clothing eating cake at my ordination reception downstairs. Who ever invited him in, thank you! This is a wonderful invitation of hospitality and to have the Christ in him present with us at a joyous occasion!

 

That holy invitation is there. It is always there, we just need to use it. I wonder if we made a good faith effort to invite the Christ seen in a neighbor, a traveler, or a refugee into this sacred space by honoring what we say at communion: “This is God’s table, all are welcome,” then all of God’s children searching for that Holy Feast would find a home in this religious community? I wonder, then, if all our churches would be filled?

 

In the words of the Benedictine Rule on Hospitality:

“If we could come to think of all people as our guests, our world would be a very

different place.”

 

[1]             Raverty, Aaron, OSB. “Hospitality in the Benedictine Monastic Tradition.” Revista Interdisciplinar da Mobilidade Humana [Brasília]Ano XX N° 38 (Jan./Jun. 2012):251–255.

[2]   Ibid.

[3]             Rowan Williams, Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 41.

[4]   BCP, 362-363.

[5]   Williams, 43.

June 11, 2017, Holy Trinity YR A

Sunday, June 11, 2017, Holy Trinity Year A
The Rev. Anne Abdy
Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

 

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

 

I don’t claim to be a theologian and I never will claim to be a theologian. In fact, while in one of my theology classes I accidentally blurted out, “I hate this class” to the horror of my classmates after I had raised my hand to ask a question and the professor called on me. Talk about awkward! While I recognize as a priest I need to be familiar with the concepts of Christology (the study of Christ), Eschatology (the doctrine of last things or end times), or Predestination to name a few topics studied by theologians, I relate to all things firmly planted in the earth. Trinity Sunday is all about theology and the persons of God, and has been debated for centuries. For example, the Nicene Creed was created in AD 325 at First Council of Nicaea, revised at the Councils held in Constantinople (AD 375), Ephesus (AD 431), Chalcedon (AD 451), and there continues to be discussion today.

 

For me, the number three is a number that I hold very close to my heart. I am a triplet and while my brother and sister did not survive but a few days, it was my father who anointed me placing me in God Almighty’s hands. I believe that because of God’s grace and favor that I survived and I am here today.  So for me the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are important figures to me.

 

Understanding the Trinity can be hugely complicated by competing theologies, doctrines, and traditions. Then, there’s me, who likes to keep it simple. But I do believe that to understand anything concept in life one needs to wrestle with the topic, almost metaphorically like Jacob wrestled with the Angel. Sometimes, when we do this, we learn things about ourselves, but we also open up ourselves to learn more about the topic. So maybe the best way for me to explain the Trinity is to look at various perspectives.

 

MORE THAN ONE PERSON:        Is God one person or more than one person? In Genesis 1:26 we heard God say, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” A little later in chapter three,  we read, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:22) The use of the plural pronoun does not conclusively confirm the three persons, but this is the use of the collective “we”. One needs to remember that when reading the Bible we are interpreting ancient literature with a modern lens.

 

GENDER:

Christianity for Dummies (Trinity Chapter)[1] suggests looking at the pronouns that explain the Trinity for clues as to how God describes himself? Or is it herself? Or is it neither? Clearly in the New Testament, Jesus refers to himself as the “Son” and God as the “Father,” and visa versa. Remember, at Jesus’ baptism, a voice from the heavens says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt. 3:17) The Spirit, “pneuma”, in Greek ends in the neuter noun. In Hebrew, it word is “rūaḥ”. It is a feminine noun. In Latin, the common language of the church for centuries, the word for Spirit is masculine. In the Book of Wisdom, Wisdom is referred to as the divine Sophia (female.)

 

While I might believe in a father-figure God, a male-Jesus and the warm fuzzy feeling or inner voice being the Spirit, we all have to latch onto what works for you. Can God be a Mother-figure? For many who have been raised in an abusive household or are living in an abusive relationship, father figure deities cannot be easily attached to. So, maybe God is a Mother figure.

 

ROLE:

Most catechesis classes teach the triangle diagram of the Trinity. In the middle of the triangle is God. Each triangle point is God. The apex is God the Father. The base angles are God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Here the relationships between the different members of the Trinity are explained.

 

UNITY:

Another model to explain the Trinity is the “Father gives the Son and the Son gives himself. Father and Son give the Spirit and the Spirit enables the work of both.”[2] This model demonstrates the members utility of stewardship of each person of God. This respect for each member demonstrates the empowering nature of unity between the three members. Think of a flashlight. The flashlight is God, the Father; the switch and battery are God, the Son; and then the beam is God, the Holy Spirit.

 

DESCRIPTORS:

The preaching aid, The Living Pulpit[3] suggests looking at the different descriptors of the members of the Trinity throughout the Bible. In other words, how does God describe God? In scripture, we find references that God is imagined as a judge, midwife, dew, gardener, rock, fortress, deliverer, daddy, father, comforting mother, good shepherd, lion, leopard, and even a mother bear. I relate to the God who represents love, Jesus is God’s Beloved, and the Holy Spirit is the Lover.

 

CULTURAL IMAGES:

Amongst different cultures, the members of the Trinity are viewed differently. Was Jesus a white man? Visiting the mission station when I was in Africa and looking at the stations of the cross on the wall, I noticed Jesus was a black man. A dark black skinned man. That was the first time I’d seen a non-white Jesus. I wonder what Native American or Hispanic kids dream Jesus to look like? A light brown tone skin color?

 

All cultures believe in a God that mimics their own culture. I say this because if my experience is only with Anglo middle class white people – then I am more likely to latch onto a white Jesus, especially if all the children picture books paint him as that. Remember, there is no reference in the Bible as to his appearance. Most scholars believe that Jesus would have been similar in appearance to those living Middle East, because he is referred to as a Galilean Israelite.

 

The novel and movie, The Shack, by William P. Young has a wonderful description of the persons of God. I’d like to read those passages to you.

 

Mack has arrived at the shack.

 

“Mack decided to bang loudly and see what happened, but just as he raised his fist to do so, the door flew open, and he was looking directly into the face of a large beaming African-American woman.

Instinctively he jumped back, but he was too slow, With speed that belied her size, she crossed the distance between them and engulfed him in her arms, lifting him clear off his feet and spinning him around like a little child. And all the while she was shouting his name–”Mackenzie Allen Phillips”–with the ardor of someone seeing a long-lost and deeply-loved relative. She finally put him back on earth and, with her hands on his shoulders, pushed him back as if to get a good look at him.

“Mack, look at you!” she fairly exploded. “Here you are so grown up. I have really been looking forward to seeing you face to face. It is so wonderful to have you here with us. My, my, my how I love you!” And with that she wrapped herself around him again.”[4]

 

“The large black woman gathered his coat and he handed her the gun, which she took from him with two fingers as if it was contaminated. Just as she turned to enter the cabin, a small, distinctively Asian woman emerged from behind her. “Here, let me take those,” her voice sang. Obviously, she had not meant the coat or gun, but something else. He stiffened as he felt something sweep gently across his cheek. Without moving, he looked down and could see that she was busy with a fragile crystal bottle and a small brush, like those he had seen Nan and Kate use for makeup, gently removing something from his face.

Before he could ask, she smiled and whispered, “Mackenzie, we all have things we value enough to collect, don’t we?” . . . “I collect tears.”[5]

 

“He then glanced past her and noticed that a third person had emerged from the cabin, this one a man. He appeared Middle Eastern and was dressed like a laborer, complete with tool belt and gloves. He stood easily, leaning against the door jamb with arms crossed in front of him, wearing jeans covered in wood dust and a plaid shirt with sleeves rolled just above the elbows, revealing well muscled forearms. His features were pleasant enough, but he was not particularly handsome—not a man who would stick out in a crowd. But his eyes and smile lit up his face and Mack found it difficult to look away.”[6]

 

“Mack stepped back again, feeling a bit overwhelmed. “Are there more of you?” he asked a little hoarsely.

The three looked at one another and laughed. Mack couldn’t help but smile. “No, Mackenzie,” chuckled the black woman. “We is all that you get, and believe me, we’re more than enough.”[7]

 

What I am suggesting is that you need to choose how you can best relate to the three persons of God. And you may not be there yet. Maybe the masculine nomenclature doesn’t work for you. That’s why I love The Shack and so appreciate the author for making God a bustling Southern Black woman. She wraps Mack in LOVE and I think that is the point.

 

And, that’s the beauty of the Episcopal Church too. We say at the Apostles Creed and at the Nicene Creed that we believe in “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, . . .”, and it is okay that I believe, while others may not today. The Episcopal Church expects and allows us to wrestle with this. Maybe that why we have Trinity Sunday in our Lectionary each year.

 

You get to decide.

 

“For we know that the Son who redeemed us is God “made flesh” for us; we know that the Spirit who meets us now is God present to us; and we know that the Father who sends the Son and the Spirit is God almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”[8]

 

If there is any take-a-way, know this: God is Love. Jesus is Love. The Spirit loves you too. This Triune God is a God of love.

[1]            Richard Wagner, Christianity for Dummies, –for Dummies (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Pub., 2004), 134.

[2]            David H. C. Read, “God In Action,” The Living Pulpit 8, no. 2 (April – June 1999): 43.

[3]             Elizabeth Rankin Geitz, “The Trinity: The Lover, the Beloved and the Love,” The Living Pulpit 8, no. 2 (April – June 1999): 40.

[4]            William P. Young, The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity (Newbury Park, CA: Windblown Media, 2007), 82.

[5]            Young, 84.

[6]             Ibid., 84.

[7]   Ibid., 85.

[8]           David H. C. Read, “God In Action,” The Living Pulpit 8, no. 2 (April – June 1999): 43.

June 4, 2017, The Day of Pentecost YR A

June 4, 2017, The Day of Pentecost YR A
The Rev. Anne Abdy
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23

 

I have a question for you. If you feel comfortable, please raise your hand if you are a life-long Episcopalian or Anglican? I ask because as I suspect many of you have chosen to adopt the Episcopal Church as your home church from other denominations, or maybe no denomination. This exercise illustrates exactly what happened on that first Pentecost so long ago. The church is made up of many parts. Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christian, Anglican, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, the Anabaptists, Quakers, Mennonites, and the list can go on and on as all meet the needs of the people throughout the ages.

I am a cradle Anglican or Episcopalian and had never experienced any other faith tradition prior to arriving in the United States as a seventeen year old. Curious about other faiths, and not having to attend “dad’s church”, I chose to attend different denominations, but I made sure I attended the local 8 am Episcopal Service first. My church shopping expedition really was an exercise in looking for the right fit for me.

One Sunday a friend invited me to attend her church. A small non-denominational church in the Southwestern Missouri. She had a vehicle so I met her at her dorm after my I returned from my early Mass. Now, the first red flag or clue that I should have figure out was this. This church was not in town. It was a good half-hour drive in the countryside tucked between rolling corn fields. Upon our arrival two other cars were parked underneath the shade of some trees. This is clue #2. The sanctuary was about half of this holy space of which a third was taken up by a set of drums, guitars, key board, sound system, and music stands. Clue #3. Upon the start of the service, my friend left me sitting in the pew and took her place in the band to play the flute. Clue #4. Something was very different about this little church. Apart from the preacher, band members, and my friend, I was one of six congregates sitting in the pews. That did not bother me so much because the service an hour earlier had the same attendance. Out of the blue, two members behind me started spouting words of what was clearly two different languages. I found out later it is called speaking in tongues. But what really had me running for the exit was the interpretation in English of what was said! Boy did I wish I knew how to drive because I was about to flee confirming in my mind what my father had cautioned me to not do. And that was to not join a religious sect. I had just never attended a service quite like this before. So I imagine that my experience was similar to what the disciples experienced as they “began to speak in other languages” (Acts 2:4). We had a taste of this holy chaos this morning.

All Christians receive the Holy Spirit at baptism and we reaffirm our commitment to this faith on this Holy Day.  As a result, a disciple follows someone’s belief or value system. An Apostle is a messenger who is sent out to deliver that message. So why is this distinction important? The gift of the Holy Spirit has empowered the disciples. This empowerment, is the Greek word “Metanoia” meaning change, thus the disciples, now Apostles, become the messengers spreading the Good News across the world. Now that is change!

Richard Rohr describes this idea of change in his blog titled “The Spirituality of Change.” He cites one of the eight core principles of his community’s practice: “We do not think ourselves into a new way of living, but we live ourselves into a new way of thinking.”[1] In other words, actions change us. We are a new person in Christ.

So not only do the disciples receive this new power, they come to understand two more very important concepts. Up to now, followers of Jesus had only ever been Jews. They come to realized that this new way of life, soon to be called Christianity, was to be offered to the Gentiles too. I believe that Jesus always intended to offer this movement, this radical living, to all. He did not get bogged down in doctrine or church politics. He taught the apostles well and the church flourished. Because the Apostles were sent out into the world so long ago, this Jesus Movement (as our Presiding Bishop likes to call it) has become a church for all people, in all places, and at all times.

A few minutes from now we will reaffirm our Baptismal Vows by answering the question: “Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?” Margaret Aymer, a professor at The Lutheran Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, has a wonderful description of Pentecost. It is: “The Holy Spirit proves not to be a quiet, heavenly dove, but rather a violent force that blows the church into being”[2] (Acts 2:41-47). The Apostles did not straight-jacket the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the Book of Acts, we are told how the Spirit works.[3] She invites us into ministry (Acts 13:2). The words we speak are not our own words, but God’s Spirit speaking through us (Acts 4:7-12).  She opens and closes doors for opportunities to preach the Gospel (Acts 8: 26-29). She transfers missionaries from one place to another (Acts 8: 39-40). She creates miracles (Acts 5:9-10). The Holy Spirit guides the church and she guides individuals too (Acts 15:28).

If this band of Apostles can be inspired to create the church Jesus imagined, what can we do to grow the church? We look in the ordinary places of life. Is it in the office place? At ball games? A small group gathering? We can grow the church! She will always prevail because when “structures are used for the inclusion of some and exclusion of others, the Spirit is able to make possible the inclusion of the formally excluded.”[4] And we are here at Resurrection we have seen new faces, but we need to do more.

We are to listen for her voice for “we are living through a time in which there are so many challenges in our world, a time in which the fearless prophetic voice of the church is desperately needed.”[5] We are to talk with those she is calling us to walk along side of.

We do not need to fear these interactions because the Spirit draws us into common life of those she draws near. From First Corinthians 12:7 we read “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” We are all given gifts of the Holy Spirit, it is important that we are to discern what they are, and then we are to use them.

She invites us change. To experience metanoia. Then we are to take her on the road just as Jesus taught and  preached on the dusty roads of Palestine and Israel. In Afrikaans there is a word that perfectly describes the food one takes when on a long journey. It is “padkos” meaning “road food.”

All through the ages from the first Pentecost to today, the Good News of Jesus Christ has and is the Holy padkos. It is the Spirit, however, that inspires Christians to act, to talk, to perform miracles, to listen, and to be present to, to serve, and to love in the world what is right in from of us.

The Holy Spirit invites us to change. Take her on a road-trip and see what happens.

Happy Pentecost everyone!

 

[1]                                      Richard Rohr, “Spirituality of Change,” Center for Action and Contemplation, Monday, May 29, 2017, www.meditations@cac.org.

[2]             Margaret Aymer, “Commentary on Acts 21-21,” The Working Preacher, accessed May 29, 2017, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3282.

[3]             Bishop Youannis, “Missionary Work of the Apostles,” Wisconsin Coptic, accessed May 29, 2017, http://wiscopts.net/spiritual-library/221?start=1.

[4]                                      Samuel Cruz, “Commentary On John 20: 19-23,” The Working Preacher, accessed May 29, 2017, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3269.

[5]   Samuel Cruz, “Commentary On John 20: 19-23,” The Working Preacher, accessed May 29,

2017, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3269.

May 28, 2017, 7th Sunday of Easter YR A

May 28, 2017, 7th Sunday of Easter YR A
The Rev. Anne Abdy
Acts 2:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

 

Today is the last Sunday of Easter. Forty-three days of the Easter Season have come and gone. I can only imagine the roller coaster of emotions the disciples have felt since Easter morning. Starting on the day of the resurrection with the awe and confusion of seeing Jesus in person when he reveals himself to the women. Then he shows himself in the breaking of bread after a long day’s walk to Emmaus, and in the Upper Room where Thomas is told to touch his wounds—and Thomas believes. In the past weeks, Jesus continues to talk to them about his plan to ascended to his Father in heaven. Ascension Day was last Thursday. Now what?

 

The last forty-three days must have been a real terrorizing time for the early Christians because they thought they would be next. The Romans didn’t accept Christianity as a religion until Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. Till then they were persecuted, and as we heard a couple of weeks ago, Saint Stephen was martyred three years after the death of Jesus. This was a dangerous time. As a Christian the likelihood of living your full lifespan was not a guarantee.

 

Personally, it feels as if I am living in the first century when I look at the world today. Global violence,  numerous wars, and hatred. We are living in a time of self-destruction, distrust, and fear. I found this alarming statistic.[1] In 2011, 122,000 Black and Latino teenage boys were stopped by the New York City Police Department. At that time, there were only 177,000 teenage boys of those ethnic backgrounds living in New York City. This means that these men were not just walking around wondering if they will be pulled over—they wondered when. When would they be stopped, frisked, possibly cuffed and hauled off to stand in front of a camera for a mug shot. That’s living in fear. That is the kind of fear that will keep you off the streets. I suspect that’s the kind of fear that the disciples felt.

 

All my extended family on my mother’s side have lived in Southern Africa at some point in their lives. This story is family lore but I am assured that it indeed did take place. In Northern Namibia there is a huge game reserve named Etosha. It is essentially a dried up lake and in the dry season it becomes a salt pan. Back in the early sixties, and pretty much the same today, there are very few paved roads that cross this parched land. Traffic was scarce and you had to register your car so that  you could be identified if something happened. At the time, my parents were living at the Odibo Mission Station and my aunt and uncle together with their oldest daughter lived in Tsumeb.  The only paved main road through the reserve connected the two towns.

 

On this particular day, the family was driving through the reserve when the station wagon blew a flat tire.  Everyone piled out while Uncle Richard unloaded the trunk of the car to get to the jack and proceeded to change the damaged tire. No one was really paying much attention to my cousin, Judy. They were all focused on providing advice to my uncle. Judy was about three years old and, like any toddler, she was curious.

 

My cousin’s attention was drawn to the side of the road, and it was only after the family heard her say these words, “Here kitty, kitty! Here kitty, kitty!” that they looked up from what they are doing. Startled, my aunt walked over to her, followed her pointing arm and not more than twenty-five yards from the disabled car sat a pride of lions watching the scene unfold. Now there is a common saying in Africa that provides sound advice when you are on safari. It is: “Whatever you do, don’t run!” My aunt did exactly that. She calmly picked up my cousin, announced in a low voice to the family that they are being watched, at which time all the adults piled back into the car while they waited for my uncle to finish the job.

 

Whatever you do, don’t run! could be exactly what the disciples and early Christians are learning to do now that Jesus has ascended to the right hand of his Father.  Their leader is gone. He will not return in human form again. They learn that they need to be very intentional in their actions so as to not draw the attention of the authorities. Huddled together in the Upper Room they are steadfast in their devotion to God in their prayer; for they are in community. It is from this fledgling community that they draw strength, support, and restoration knowing that they will be fine. They are a community of faith.

 

I experienced a wonderful example of this type of community this past Friday. I took the day off from work to be in the office to be accessible to any concerns Gay had as up to now we’ve only communicated via email. As I drove into the parking lot there were a half-dozen cars parked under the shade of the trees. My initial thought was “Wow, the contemplative prayer and the Morning Prayer group really has taken off. GREAT!” followed by a note to self, “Don’t enter the sanctuary, and if you do, be quiet!” I opened Fr. Brent’s office and unpacked my computer and set it up. A little while later I heard lots of laughter and a single voice louder than the others wafting up from downstairs. Realizing that the Contemplation Prayer folks are not a rowdy bunch, I was curious. I went downstairs to find out that the joyful noise was a group of about a dozen parishioners engaged in Tia Chi. This is community in action. Intentional full-body prayer gaining muscle strength and range of motion, and restoration with the support of others.

 

Throughout Jesus’s earthly ministry he prepared the disciples to live without him. They know that they are to support one another and they know that God, the Father will support them. We know this because in the tail end of this final discourse in John’s Gospel, we, the church, eavesdrop on the intimate conversation that Jesus has with his Father.  Jesus knows his mission here on earth is ending and his death is immanent. In these final words, he turns this community over to his Father referencing the fledgling community in the third person. Jesus provides us with a model—we as a community need to not only support each other in love and care for one another, but we are to turn our worries, concerns, frustrations with worldly decisions over to God.

 

In a time when First Century Christianity seems oddly familiar to today with the meaningless murder of the Egyptian Coptic Christians on a pilgrimage on Friday and the reverse Robin Hood decision-making of Federal and State budgets, the needs of local communities are lost and overlooked. Christians today, and I think more so than ever before, are doing much of what government is unable to do.   The Book of Acts of the Apostles calls Christians to be witnesses in the world. At Resurrection, I believe we are very good at this. Our Ministry Faire was an wonderful witness of our parish life. We minister and care for the souls of those who are down on their luck because we are called to be an active witness to the story of the risen Jesus. John’s Gospel reading today, however, also calls Christians to be a witnesses to the intimacy between Jesus and God. In our lives today we need to have a healthy balance between the tasks of Christian work and contemplating the Christian walk. We need both.

 

Like the First Century Christian community, we will be alright. We will make it through the weeks and months ahead as we move to Pentecost and the long season of Ordinary Time. We will survive the struggles and sufferings that we have to bare to continue to serve others. We will survive because our  hearts will be filled with gratefulness and thanksgiving. We will listen to the Shepherd’s voice in the form of the Advocate that Jesus promises to send. We will lean on Him because we know God has not abandoned us. We will survive because we know God has called us to participate in his Kingdom here on earth. We will survive because we live in loving and caring community.

[1]          Cameron Russell, “Looks aren’t everything. Believe me, I’m a model” (lecture, Mid-Atlantic TED Talk, City), accessed May 19, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ks1FEtWlzTU.

May 21, 2017, 6th Sunday of Easter YR A

May 21, 2017, 6th Sunday of Easter YR A
The Rev. Anne Abdy
Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

 

When I was a kid growing up in Namibia it was a time of carefree play, of being with family, of walking the streets or riding my bike unescorted to school. In the early seventies, there was no television so playing cards and board games was the order of the day. Monopoly tournaments went on for days. There was story time in the evenings, playing in dry river beds and sleep overs with friends on weekends.

Home entertainment was very different back then than today. Watching a movie was more like a production than just sliding a disk into the open mouth of the DVD player. It was a block party of neighbors and friends. One person was assigned to operate the film projector making sure that the film was threaded through to the wheel on the front end of the projector. Another person would jimmy up a sheet on the wall with masking tape while the rest of us kids waited for the hot popcorn to arrive.

But the best part of the week was the Saturday matinée movie at the single large screen theater across town. It was the show that all the kids in town went to. When you have two hundred or so kids unsupervised in a dark space for about two hours, a lot went on. Now I am not suggesting that any hanky-panky took place, but there was just good old fashion fun. Fun, like throwing popcorn at your neighbor below you, or talking throughout the movie without being hushed, or seat swapping, or running around in front of the screen and up the aisle.

So how does growing up in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries match with the first century Scriptures we read in the lessons today? Idolatry. In the Bible, idolatry is defined as any intentional obsession which takes your mind off God and Paul was very concerned about the use of this practice. As much as six verses earlier, Paul is described as “very distressed” (Acts 17:16) as he wandered through the cobbled streets of Athens.

He came to the attention of the city folk because they noticed a stranger snooping around the Parthenon. Then he is seen arguing with the Jews in the synagogue and in the marketplace with pretty much anyone who would listen to him. This morning’s reading from Acts begins with Paul addressing the Aeropagus Council. I like to think that the Athenians were learned people and wanted to hear his point of view.

Here Paul cleverly argues against the use of idols by doing three things. He sets up his argument by front loading it with compliments. He acknowledges the citizens’ desire to be an educated city-state. That they would want to engage in the leisurely reading of philosophy, the arts, and culture. Athens, is much like Eugene, it is a city of learning. Individuals are wrestling with the big questions of life. So Paul compliments the city on their openness to be well read. He is hospitable.

Then Paul acknowledges the city’s need to worship many Gods. Athens was one of the major commercial centers along trade routes east and west both on land and by boat. So naturally, the Athenians wanted to be a gracious City-State, would not only worship their own numerous gods, but would want to honor other gods too, including the offering of an altar with the inscription “to an unknown god.” (Act 17:23)

Lastly, Paul uses this moment to engage in evangelism as only Paul can. Maybe it was the Holy Spirit speaking through him and his teaching keeps him out of jail.

Now, some learned folks today will say “Idolatry is not just a pagan issue. It is not just an Old Testament or Jewish issue. It is a human issue.”[1] Liraz Margalit, a Christian writer, suggests that the use of electronic devices, various versions of video games, and the need to be “in touch” twenty-four seven as being a source of idol worship.[2] She also determined that screen devices are at least detrimental to children today.[3] Additionally she suggested that the good intentions of flat screen devices as educational tools are no longer helpful and that this technology has slowly crept into our lives.[4] Writing an article for the magazine, Life, Patrick Mabilog suggested that technology is taking over our lives with programmed robots and appliances[5], and with more and more people are looking at tiny screens rather than looking up and talking with each other.

In an article published in the Insider in 2016 the following statistics were offered: “The US Department of Health and Human Services “estimates that American children spend a whopping seven hours a day in front of electronic media, and other statistics say that kids as young as two years old are regularly playing iPad games and have playroom toys that involve touch screens.”[6] While I am not here to debate the good and bad practices of the multi-media mega-technology complex, parenting styles, or even the educational system, I just know that my childhood was more innocent and I got to experience lots of stuff, like eating dirt from the sand box, or swinging upside down from a jungle gym. It was just another time.

I am not even going to address how as adults we are slaves to the time piece. We hurry from place to place. We take extra work home or we inhale our food. All of which things I am guilty of. Those same Christian writers could very well suggest that the fast pace of the business and working world of the twenty-first century is another form of idolatry.[7] Or the fact that most of the proposed Federal budget is designated for defense spending while cuts are made to those who are in most need of those scarce funds.

The act of idol worship is about putting everything and anything before God. That is what Paul is upset about. He understands culture so he finds it curious that there is an altar to an “unknown god.” Maybe the Athenians did know about our God, the God of the Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac.

Because of this knowledge, Paul preaches on the resurrected Christ and the God who cares for his people. He reminds the Athenians that they can put their trust in this God. There is no need for multiple gods. One God—that’s it.

Paul introduces the Athenians to the concept of radical exclusivity. This is a God that we don’t want to push away and this is a God that will allow you to sleep at night.

I came across this story that I think illustrates the point that Paul is making.

A farmer owned land along the Atlantic seacoast and had    difficulty hiring help because the help dreaded the hurricanes that came through wreaking havoc on the buildings and crops. Finally, a short, thin man, well past middle age, approached the farmer.

“Are you a good farm hand?” the farmer asked him.
“Well, I can sleep when the wind blows,” answered the little man.
Although puzzled by this answer, the farmer, desperate for help, hired him. The man worked well around the farm, busy from dawn to dusk, and the farmer felt satisfied with the man’s work.
Then one night the wind howled loudly in from offshore. Jumping out of bed, the farmer grabbed a lantern and rushed next door to the hired hand’s sleeping quarters. He shook the man and yelled,

“Get up! A storm is coming! Tie things down before they blow away!”

The man rolled over in bed and said firmly,

“No sir. I told you, I can sleep when the wind blows.”

The farmer hurried outside to prepare the property for the storm. To his amazement, he discovered that all of the haystacks had been covered with tarps.

The cows were in the barn, the chickens were in the coops, and the doors were barred. The shutters were tightly secured. Everything was tied down. Nothing could blow away. In that moment the farmer then understood what his hired hand meant, and he returned to bed to also sleep while the wind blew.

 

Paul tells the people of Athens that only one God can help you weather the storms of life. Not this or that God. Only one God, and that God is my God, the God that lives in us and we in him. We might make the same prophetic statement today. Our focus in the twenty-first century is so scattered and distracted, and we are bombarded by so many external demands which takes our focus off Him, our God. Life today is difficult and it is easy to put God on the back burner with intellectualizing statements and book knowledge.

 

Our God is a God who wants to be alive in us.

Our God wants to awaken our desire for Him.

Our God promises to protect and care for us.

This is another Easter message.

 

So what to do? Use the acronym FROG:  F-R-O-G. Fully Rely On God so that you can sleep securely weathering the storms of life.

 

[1]           Ed Stetzer, “Idolatry Is Alive Today: Why Modern Church Leaders Still Fight An Old Battle,” Christianity Today, October 8, 2014, accessed May 18, 2017, http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/october/idolatry-is-alive-today-why-modern-church-leaders-still-fig.html.

[2]           Liraz Margalit, “Tykes And Tablets: Is Too Much Screen Tim Damaging Your Child’s Brain?,” Insider, March 3, 2016, accessed May 18, 2017, Insiderhttps://thenextweb.com/insider/2016/03/21/tykes-tablets-much-screen-time-damaging-childs-brain/#.tnw_b3UiaWF3.

[3]           Ibid.

[4]           Ibid.

[5]            Patrick Mabilog, “Putting God First: 5 Modern-Day Idols We’re In Danger Of Letting Take Over Our Lives,” Life, May 23, 2016, https://www.christiantoday.com/article/5.modern.day.idols.that.are.taking.over.our.lives/84609.htm

[6]           Margalit, Ibid.

[7]            Mabilog, Ibid.

 

May 22, 2017, Rogation YR A

May 22, 2017, Rogation, Year A
The Rev. Anne Abdy
James 4:7-11, Psalm 147:1-13, John 12:23-26

 

Today is the first of three days described as Rogation Days.[1] The celebration of Rogation Days is a mystery to many in the Episcopal Church. But these days of fasting have an interesting history and the readings bear this out.

Western Christianity prescribed days of prayer and fasting as a means of intercession for a good harvest. The “Major Rogation” day (April 25) landed on the pagan observance of “Robigalia” where worshipers walked the cornfields to pray for the perseverance of the fields from mildew. The lessor Rogation Days (the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday preceding The Feast of the Ascension) were ordered by St. Mamertus of Vienne (c. 470) when his diocese was troubled by volcanic eruptions. Processions were banned in 1549 but allowed during the reign of Elizabeth I. The observance of these days are first found in the 1662 BCP and were ordered to be “Days of Fasting and Abstinence.” In the more recent history, the Rogation observance has moved beyond prayers for fruitful seasons, to include prayers for being a good steward of God’s creation and prayers for those who labor in commerce and industry.[2]

There are two common themes among the collects and the readings for this day. They are trust and the act of waiting or servitude during the long seasons ahead. There is waiting for the smallest seed to blossom into a greater plant that will yield food and nourishment for others. This is true for Christians too.  We are to wait upon the Lord. His plan is always better than our own. I had a Spiritual Director who once told me, “Anne, control is not one of the spiritual gifts.” The Epistle tells us that we are to wait and humble ourselves before the Lord. Abundance will be the reward for “You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.”(Det. 8: 10)

My father loved living in Africa. He went to visit family in England for 6 months back in the 1950’s but returned 3 months early because he missed the continent and it’s people. So moving to the United States in 1986 was not an easily-made decision. He knew that he would have to start from scratch. Although he was the top candidate for the Search Committee at Holy Apostles, this church did interview the other 9 candidates but those men and women were not a “good match.” By the time they had finished with the ninth interview, my father had arrived in South Carolina and his bishop told him to head over to Barnwell. The Lord awarded him for his faithfulness and trust that all will be well. This tiny parish and town embraced him and our family as they welcomed us in.

Rogation days are opportunities for us to learn to wait upon the Lord. To listen to that small voice. To hear the Lord speak. And, like the earth waiting to burst forth with all it’s bounty, we are rewarded because Jesus ascends to the Father to make a place for us and for us to live in everlasting life.

[1]    Information on Rogation Days taken from F L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), 1193.

[2]    Collects for Rogation Days, BCP, 258-259.

May 14, 2017, 5th Sunday of Easter YR A

May 14, 2017
5th Sunday of Easter Year A
The Rev. Anne Abdy
Scripture:  Acts 7: 55-60; Psalm 31: 1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2: 2-10; John 14: 1-14

 

How about the readings today, folks! What were the members of the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Worship thinking! This is Mother’s Day. The Good Shepherd Sunday readings would have been a better fit on the day we celebrate all of God’s “mother” creatures, whether two-legged and four-legged ones or great and small. After reading these scriptures I began to wander what were the readings for Father’s Day. Actually, those lessons are a lot more palatable. I looked.

 

Seriously though. Stephen getting stoned. Philip is not convinced that Jesus is the Son of God despite living at least three years with him and being a constant companion. Then you have the letter from First Peter where we are reminded of our royal priesthood and the expectations for a holy nation set apart from pagan worship as God’s own people to proclaim the mighty acts of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. What is a preacher to do? And how on earth does any of it relate to mothers, motherhood, and sisterhood?

 

On my first pass at these scriptures, I thought about talking about Apostle Stephen’s martyrdom plus add some stories about my experiences of Apartheid South Africa because at the heart of his story is humanity’s dark side alive and well. Then I remembered it was Mother’s Day and death, destruction, oppression, and terror didn’t feel like super warm fuzzy topics that one could cuddle up with on a Sunday morning! Plus, some parishioners have come to me to ask me not to preach on politics. As I alluded to a couple of weeks ago, preachers preach on the Scriptures and living in the early days of the first century Christianity was not an easy task, and that is true of today. This passage about Stephen’s stoning, is especially hard to listen to because that is a reality of so many in the Middle East and across the world who experience brutal executions in 2017! Some would even say the same for the United States and the use of capital punishment by lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment. There is even talk of bringing back firing squads and the electric chair! This is 2017 people, 2017! One would think that as a Western Society we would be better informed. Earlier in April I visited with Bishop Michael and parishioners from across the valley to discuss the Palestine and Israeli conflict. I remember saying, “This may be Pollyanna-ish, but can’t we all just get along?” Building walls in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip or anywhere else is not going to solve the problem. Isn’t peace, love, and the care of the poor, widowed, and sick the path of Christian social justice?  Can’t we all just get along?

 

So with my political rant out of the way, I am going to talk about Stephen. He was a Hellenistic Jew and “full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” (Acts 6:3). He was not one of the original twelve, but one of seven elected by the apostles to help relieve the burden of “serving tables and caring for the widows.” (Acts 6:1). By his election, he and the other men were the first to do the Christian work and ministry of deacons. The Book of Acts notes that he did more than just wait tables, he preached, and he performed miracles. It is the latter action that led him into conflict with the authorities who accused him of blasphemy. Stephen was not put on trial, but instead an inflamed crowd dragged him out to the city limits and stoned him. These are harsh, harsh words to hear on Mother’s day. The death of a man. Someone’s husband, son, brother, and uncle. The silver lining in this tale is that this event is a pivotal point in the history of Christianity. Scared, the apostles fled and Christianity spread across the ancient Mediterranean lands.

 

In the moment, of what would be terror for you and me, Stephen looks to the skies and sees Jesus sitting to the right of the Father,  just as Jesus had predicted in the gospel saying, “I go to prepare a place for you.” (John14: 2). Stephen’s words expressed in his last breath are not words of fear, but words of comfort. And that’s the message of this passage and the readings today. We are to be comforted knowing that Jesus is going to leave and prepare a place for us at the table. This is also part of the Easter Good News.

 

Chapter fourteen of John’s Gospel is the beginning of the farewell discourse. This discourse spans across three chapters. The themes are “I will not leave you orphaned” (John 14:1-31), “Abide in my love” (John 15:1-17), “I have chosen you out of the world” (John 15:18-16:4a), and “It is to your advantage that I go away” (John 16:4b-33). The themes are messages of hope, love, and companionship. Jesus says: “I will always be at your side. You may not see me, but I am there.”

 

I remember a time when in college when I felt truly alone. That feeling of aloneness was so deep and dark that I thought no one cared about me. It was that kind of loneliness that could drive one to suicide. It was 1986 and a time when South Africa was in the middle of a bloody resistance against the Apartheid white supremacist government. Lots of lives were martyred for the cause. I was talking with my dorm counselor when the evening news came on.

 

The first story was about a riot in downtown Cape Town. As I watch the advancing throng of people, I zero-ed in on a red Toyota Corolla’s license plate. The car was moving ever so slowly ahead of the tank shooting out water to disperse the rock throwing crowd. It read CT 094-572. It was my father’s car. I found out much later that my father was fine. But in that moment of realization, and for the first time in my life, I felt totally alone. Yet, somewhere deep down within me, I knew I was not alone. Despite more dark days to come I knew He had not abandoned me. Largely because of this experience, Jesus became a much larger presence in my life and is my constant companion.

 

Jesus will not abandon us. This is the Easter Story. We cannot do the work of God without Jesus.  “Without the way there is no going [out into the world.] Without the truth there is no knowing. Without the life there is no living.”[1] One place to find life is at communion.  We are fed through Jesus’ body and blood which become our spiritual nourishment strengthening and increasing the gift of the supernatural life within us. So we become united with Christ and we are no longer alone because he lives in us and we live in him. It was at communion during those dark lonely desperate months feeling lost and confused that I experienced Christ. I was fed and nurtured.

 

We can take comfort in the fact that He is preparing the way for us at the right hand of God. This is the reason for the Ascension. And we can take comfort that we are freed from all sin because of Christ’s victory over evil at the Resurrection.  We can take comfort that the Saints and our loved ones are, and we in the future, will be united with Him in heaven. Just as God was made man in Jesus, we live into that Christian hope contained in the promise that we will dwell through Him in God. God, the Creator of All, always takes care of his children.

 

We know that this Holy God has chosen not to be our God without us—now that is love! God the Creator of All promises to love us and to make room for us, to know us and for us to be known by Him. God’s love never ends.

 

On this day, a day that for some is a day of thanksgiving and gratitude for their mothers, but it is also a day of great sadness and maybe anger because of difficult relationships and lost dreams. On this day and every day may you be comforted knowing that you are not abandoned, that you can abide in God’s love knowing that he chose you, and most importantly, knowing that Jesus went ahead to prepare a home for you of everlasting life in Him.

[1]            Charles Edward Miller, Sunday Preaching: Brief Homilies for the Sundays of the Three Cycles (New York: Alba House, 1997), 50.

 

May 7, 2017, 4th Sunday of Easter YR A

May 7, 2017
4th Sunday of Easter YR A         Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10; Psalm 23
The Rev. Anne Abdy

 

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday.  So why the title “Good Shepherd Sunday?” We are never really told and I am pretty sure this was more church politics at the revision of the lectionary. The powers that be deemed it appropriate that parts of John chapter ten should be read on this Sunday each year in the lectionary cycle.

 

It is the Collect that strikes me as probably the most beautiful expression of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. “O God, whose Son, Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Just beautiful! It reminds me of a serene looking Jesus with long flowing shoulder length hair bursting out from a dark background with his eyes looking upwards. That’s the image of Jesus I had growing up. Or maybe the one where Jesus is carrying a lamb on his shoulders surrounded by the sheep at his feet. This painting almost has a Pied Piper feel to it. Regardless of how you imagine Jesus, he is the Good Shepherd.

 

We know that Jesus used everyday examples to illustrate and highlight his teaching. I imagine that he is sitting at a well just on the outskirts of town surrounded by town folk. In fact, if you read chapter nine and the beginning of chapter ten together, Jesus is still talking to the same crowd after he healed the Blind Man. (Lent 4)  He is surround by children, women, the young and the old. The infirm and the needy. All are attending to his voice with a listening ear, including the Pharisees. Jesus knows his words and parables are misunderstood, and now more than ever so after restoring the Blind Man’s sight. I imagine Jesus glances over to the nearby hillside, and BINGO the light bulb goes on! Let’s use SHEEP! Everyone here knows how sheep operate. And there you have it…the Story of the Good Shepherd which is obviously so good it takes up a full chapter in the Gospel of John with forty-two verses. In today’s readings, Jesus first paints himself as the gate and then upgrades himself to the gate-keeper, the Protector. Thus, the back story to the verse: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”(John 14: 6)

 

While I have never herded sheep, I have herded goats. My parents returned to the mission station when my brother and I were young. Culturally little Ovambo boys and girls herd goats. So, off we went each morning, letting the goats out of the pen to roam in the shrubbery nearby and gathered them back up in the late afternoon. I am sure we not were very good at it, but I do remember it was a lot of fun! Goats, however, are nothing like sheep. Sheep are more like dogs, at least they come at the sound of your voice, whereas goats, who are more like cats, take a message and wander off.

 

Jesus uses the thief image because he wants to warn the people that there are false prophets and teachings in the world. He warns his followers to not believe the false news because the thieves and bandits are not up to any good. They are not to be trusted and will miss-guide you. The gate-keeper is there to protect the sheep from dangers and keep the sheep securely in the pen.

 

Last Sunday afternoon I was invited to an “intimate” affair at the Student Athlete Academic Center. This is the bright new shiny “space-age” glass looking building. It was the annual CrossTraining fund- raiser for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and their guest speakers were three local Olympians. As it was my first time on campus, I was fortunate that I found parking, so I did not have to pray to God to make that happen, but I was not familiar with the building so I turned to a young student to pointed me in the right direction.

 

As you approach the building you begin to realize that there are no door handles attached to any doors. I must say that the couple ahead of me was quite confused and I was amused watching this scene. The man reached for the door, then began to feel the door looking for the spot where if you punch the door just right to let it pop open. All the while, a young man, obviously a student athlete, was positioned nicely inside of the building frantically gesturing to the couple and pointing towards the wheelchair accessible button behind them and four feet in front of the glass door. I haven’t quite figured out why he wasn’t on the outside of the building! Gate-keepers are always on the outside. For the Blind Man, the gate-keeper opened the gate and welcomed him into the fold.

 

How do you befriended the gate-keeper? It is all in the name. The gate-keeper ensures that all who enter are known to him and only him. Remember Isaiah prophesied: “Thus says the Lord, ‘I have called you by name. You are mine.’” (Is. 43:1)

 

My friend, Don, was raising money for the AIDS unit at a local hospital in Southern California. He decided a nice chunk of change could help the cause from Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company. So he called the company wanting to speak to the CEO. No answer. He called again. No answer. Everyday he called and before long he had befriended the CEO’s secretary. It took some more calls to convince Betty Jean that his cause was indeed legitimate. Like a good employee, she put him off, but with each passing day he wore her down. Finally, on whim he called, she answered and put Don right through. That day Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company donated a pocket-full of change.

 

Sheep know the voice of their Shepherd as their names are called one-by-one. The shepherds of Palestine will lead their flock rather than herd them from behind with dogs like we see in videos of the British Sheep Trials. Yes, sheep are motivate in life by their need for food; however, it is finding their shepherd that becomes a matter of life and death. Lost sheep are dead sheep so they will always run towards the shepherd’s voice, their protector. There are many different breeds of sheep. The brown and black lambs transform into sheep with thick white colored wool. We are also transformed when we hear Jesus’ voice.

 

Sheep are obnoxious and bossy. We, humans, have a shadow side too. Sometimes, we are not aware of it, and a gentle reminder by the Protector can prevent horrible things from happening.

 

I think the following best describes this interaction, I related to it, so I hope you do too.

 

Me:                             Jesus, can I ask You a question?

Jesus:                          Sure.

Me:                             Promise you won’t get mad.

Jesus:                          I promise.

Me:                             Why did you let so much stuff happen to me today?

Jesus:                          What do you mean?

Me:                             Well, I woke up late.

Jesus:                          Yes.

Me:                             My car took forever to start.

Jesus:                          Okay.

Me:                             At lunch they made my sandwich wrong and I had to wait.

Jesus:                          Hmm.

Me:                             And on top of it all, when I got home I just wanted to soak my feet in my                                                       new foot massager and relax. But it wouldn’t work!!! Nothing went right today!                                          Why did you do that?

Jesus:                         Let me see, the death angel was at your bed this morning and I had to send one of                             my Angels to battle him for your life. I let you sleep through that.

Me (humbled):           Oh!

Jesus:                          I didn’t let your car start because there was a drunk driver on your route that                                            would have hit you if you were on the road.

Me (ashamed):

Jesus:                          The first person who made your sandwich today was sick and I didn’t want you                                             to catch what they have, I knew you couldn’t afford to miss work.

Me (embarrassed):     Okay.

Jesus:                          Oh, and that foot massager, it had a short that was going to throw all of the                                       power in your house tonight. I didn’t think you wanted to be in the dark.

Me:                             I’m sorry, Jesus.

Jesus:                          Don’t be sorry, just learn to trust Me . . . in all things, the good and the bad. And                                        don’t doubt that my plan for your day is always better than your plan.

Me:                             I won’t Jesus. And oh, thank you for everything today.

Jesus:                          You’re welcome child. It was just another day being your Jesus and I love                                         looking after My Children.

 

The bottom line is this:  Listen for Jesus’ voice. Run from Strangers. Stay together, and pray.

This Eastertide, “Dear Lord, let us be sheep.”

April 30, 2017 3rd Sunday of Easter YR A

April 30, 2017
3rd Sunday of Easter YR A
The Rev. Anne Abdy

 

In seminary, we were told by our preaching professor that as priests we are to preach on the gospel, as in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. That was where the Good News was found. In the vows that I stated before the bishop, I said I would “proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ”[1] and at the giving of the Bible to me, the bishop commissioned me saying, “Receive this Bible as a sign of the authority given you to preach the Word of God . . .”[2]. Proclaiming the gospel is one of the tasks of a priest but Sewanee’s Hebrew professor every now and then would remind the class that there is a lot of good preaching material in the thirty-nine books that make up the Old Testament.

 

It was tempting to preach on the disciples’ epiphany at the breaking of the bread as beautifully illustrated by Mike Van on the front of your bulletin. But I am not. The words “give thanks” bubbled to the top of my thoughts this week probably spurred on by Bishop Michael’s Easter message to the diocese reflecting on his need to remember to give thanks for all that is good in life as we live in a world that can seem out-of-sorts with some days being more chaotic than others.

 

Feeling out-of-sorts is how I imagine the two disciples felt walking to Emmaus that day. They have heard rumors that Jesus is risen but how can that be. All they know is what they have been told. The women have said, “He is risen. He is alive.” Then out of no where, Jesus shows up and walks part of the journey with them. That experience alone can make you feel bewildered and out-of-sorts. Life can feel, as the British might say, really topsy-turvey.

 

I find that the psalms are always a good starting place to find hope when my world turns upside down. And that is true in the words of the psalmist today. Psalm 116 provides hope but more importantly it is also a song of thanksgiving.  Unfortunately the lectionary does not permit us to read all the verses, however, verse 3 tells us that the psalmist experienced a near death experience. The scriptures do not say what happened, but we read: “The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol [meaning hell] laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.” (vs. 3) In those missed verses (vs. 4-9) the psalmist expresses joy and gratefulness as heard in verse 8: “For you have delivered my soul from death.” We do know that it was serious and he survived!

 

I suspect that you may have experienced something similar. The times that I have been feverish just moving or putting my feet on the ground drains the energy from me. All I want to do is sleep. I have no appetite. I don’t even watch TV because I don’t have the power to concentrate. In those moments, sometimes I feel that I am at death’s door as I wait for the fever to break. Clearly the writer experienced something that brought him to his knees and close to the brink of death.

 

Not long ago I read a story of a man and his dog. Joe, we’ll call him that because I cannot remember his real name, was hospitalized for five weeks due to the flu and nearly did not survive. When he finally was allowed to leave the hospital and returned home, he rejoiced at being able to sleep in his own bed and eat the foods that he wanted. You know how that feels, right? Well, upon arriving home, his best friend, his beloved dog would not come near him. The dog did not recognize him because he had lost so much weight, and in the dog’s mind, he was not the same man. His human was a stranger.

 

For our friend this was devastating. He had survived a horrendous experience and now rather than rejoicing at his new found love for life, he is heartbroken as he sat on the bench attempting to convince the dog he hasn’t changed and is still his buddy’s human. What should he do?

 

This past week I had the opportunity to attend the clergy spring conference at the Oregon Garden near Silverton. Our guest speaker was Sister Simone Campbell and I think she had an answer. Among her many words of wisdom, she said, “The challenge is to let our hearts be broken open. Until we have our hearts broken open, we don’t have room for everyone.”[3] This resonated with me and with this story. For Joe, like the psalmist, both were being challenged to break open their hearts. The psalmist with a cry to the Lord, and Joe, with hopes of reuniting with his dog.

 

The psalmist reminds us that not only has he suffered but somewhere in the midst of the suffering, he continues to believe. His faith never wavers, it could have, but he stay steadfast almost clinging to the knowledge that the Lord is near. Likewise Joe knows somewhere deep inside that his dog will remember him, if only the dog will step closer.

 

The psalmist knows that with faith comes hope. That hope that only the Lord can provide. The kind of hope that helps one survive the unimaginable and you push through the unbearable to the other side. It’s that kind of hope that you know changes everything. He writes, the Lord “inclined his ear to me” (vs. 2) and he “saved me” (vs. 6). He is grateful to be alive. To see another day. To experience the fullness of life once again. We’ve all been there when the fever breaks and we begin to feel well again.

 

Sister Simone also suggested that “Out of that broken heartedness new things start to happen.”[4] From that open heart bursts forth gratefulness. An alleluia-like thanksgiving with arms up in the air and praising God kind of moment. In that moment, clarity shows who the true Deliverer is. It is those moments such as at packed Ducks or Beavers Football home games that you have prayed, “Dear God, find me a parking space near the entrance of the building in the pouring rain” and God does! Your response, “Thank you, Jesus!”

 

This kind of thanksgiving opens the heart to joy. The ability to experience real joy. The kind of joy that Joe and his dog felt when his dog gained his trust. All it took was one sniff. With nose to skin the dog sniffs, and instantly the tail wags and the dog becomes ecstatic and overjoyed as his whole body shakes with excitement as he reunites with his owner climbing into his lap. Followed shortly thereafter with a face full of doggie kisses and running circles around the bench always to return to his human for some pats, kisses, and the giving of wet doggie smooches. The joy is overflowing.

 

So how might we place thanksgiving at the center of our lives as a spiritual practice this Easter season?

 

Well, the psalmist gives us the magic formula.

 

First, be reflective (vs. 1-6). This Easter season reflect on all that is good in your life, in this parish, in this  community, and in this world. Be intentional. Set some time aside to just reflect. Take note of the renewal taking hold.

 

Second, celebrate God’s goodness because he delivered you from suffering (vs. 7-9). For example, offer thanks for God goodness getting you through the craziness of the day and to the friend who waited for you out of the goodness of her heart knowing that you were running late. Rather than starting the apology of “I am so sorry. . .” start with “Thank you for waiting for me.” WOW! That just turns the conversation around. It feels good to be thanked and the person receiving the thanks, is affirmed. But even better, if you are doing the thanking then you are not invalidate. I wonder what would happen to our relationships if we all started our conversations with a “Thank you!”

 

Third, make a commitment to rededicate yourself to the devotion of God (vs. 10-14). Bring that faith and hope together. Do something that helps you draw nearer to God. Maybe it is simply waking in the morning and before climbing out of bed say: “Thank you for bringing me in safety to this new day. Direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose this day.”[5]

 

Then lastly, tell someone (vs. 15-17). For it is in the retelling of the story that we connect with our community. The psalmist may have given a public sacrifice but the act of telling and doing becomes a tool for evangelism. The telling brings the community together as the stories gather and become a shared witness to the power of the risen Lord living amongst us. Story-telling is how God is made real in our lives.

 

So go and be reflective, celebrate God’s goodness, rededicate your devotion to God, and then go tell someone. Go and give thanks.

 

[1]   BCP., 531
[2]   Ibid., 534
[3]            Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, “Discipleship Leadership”, Spring Clergy Conference, Episcopal Diocese of Oregon, (lecture, Oregon Garden, Silverton, OR, April 25, 2017).
[4]   Campbell, Ibid
[5]   Modified from the Collect found “In the Morning” from the Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families, BCP. 137.

April 23, 2017, 2nd Sunday of Easter YR A

Year A, Easter 2
April 23, 2017
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!  The Lord is Risen indeed.  Alleluia!

          Happy Easter everyone!  We are one week into the Fifty Days of Easter.  At Forty Days is the Ascension of our Lord, the commemoration of His rising on the clouds in glory to the right hand of God, and on the 50th day is the Feast of the Pentecost, (pente– five, fifty), our memory of the Holy Spirit entering the world in a very particular way and imbuing the church with her love and light. We have fifty days to bask in the light of the resurrection, to imagine and remember the presence of Jesus in that space between His death and His return to the heart of God.

We are getting started on a really high note.  This was the best Holy Week into Easter that I have ever experienced.  The worship team here at Resurrection really outdid themselves.  The physical space, the table was set perfectly.  (Well, besides the Paschal candle, but we figured that out, mostly gracefully).  The readings were clear.  The altar was attended to with the requisite solemnity.  The music… the music was just stunning, it carried us all the way through.  And most importantly, you all were here.  Your energy carried us through: somber when somber is what it needed to be; joyous when joy was what was called for.  And all of those children… Have you ever seen such a thing?  17 little ones in the nursery!  That must have violated some code.  Another thirty in here and up in the choristers.  It’s the church happening right before our eyes.   Thank you one and all for what you brought and laid before the foot of God last week.  A religious cycle like the one we just passed through, the opportunity to participate in, to practice, to have an actual religious experience, because that was possible to have had last week, a lot of us did have one… that’s the kind of thing that can make a believer out of someone.

Our gospel today is about the apostle St. Thomas the Twin, or more popularly, Doubting Thomas.  Now Thomas, he gets a bad wrap.  He was not alone in having his doubts, he was just the one who expressed it individually.  Mary Magadalene didn’t know what was going on as she wept, peering into the empty tomb.  She didn’t recognize Jesus when He appeared.  The whole group of the apostles, they had abandoned Jesus when He was arrested in the Garden, and even after Mary had told them that she had seen Jesus, they huddled in fear behind locked doors.  Even a week after they had seen Him, they hid behind locked doors.  But there is Thomas.  He was away when Jesus first appeared and he did not believe them.  “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Believing… That can really seem the heart of the Christian project, to be a believer.  “A Bible Believing Church.”  You see signs like that in front of some churches.  I could agree to that, that believing is the heart, or at least the starting point for being Christian, but to a large extent, that would really depend on what you mean by “believe.”

I get more complaints, questions, I hear more doubts about the word “believe” than any other part of the Christian thing.  What does it mean when we say “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”?  I hear more discomfort with the Creeds, and having to say “I believe” than I do about the word sin, or salvation, or the whole process of saying “God of all mercy, we confess that we have sinned against you…”  No, believing, that is harder for a lot of us, it relies on faith, on things that can’t be “proven” as can be in a lot of other aspects of our experience.  Belief, religious belief is a matter of faith, of acceptance of the empirically unprovable.  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  Jesus doesn’t call you blessed if the path you are on is an easy one!

Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, writes beautifully and convincingly about this matter of believing, in particular in how we contemplate our faith in the Nicene and Apostles Creeds.  We’ve talked about this before. “We believe in one God… We believe in one Lord… We believe in the Holy Spirit…”  How does the Archbishop frame that?  He talks of it in terms of trust, of faith, as in having the full faith and confidence, the full trust and confidence in God.  I trust in God.  I have faith that God is these things.  Or as our Buddhist brothers and sisters say of the Buddha, the Dhammha and the Sangha, I take refuge in God.  In the ever loving arms of God I will find my rest.  That’s faith.  That’s believing.

What did Thomas believe (or not believe)?  When the disciples told him that Jesus had appeared, what did Thomas hold out for until proven?  That Jesus was risen?  I suppose.  That the prophesy was true, that it was happening as Jesus had said it would?  That is possible.  That his friends weren’t the knuckleheads they sometimes appeared to be?  Entirely likely.  But the heart of what Thomas confessed (that is the technical term for expressing belief), what Thomas believed was that Jesus was indeed “My Lord and my God!”  It is the most definitive confession in the whole of the New Testament, Thomas’ confession that Jesus Christ was God.

Belief, in its every day usage, is a product of the mind.  It is assent to a truth, a factual kind of truth.  Or it is assent to an opinion.  “I believe that x  is right or y  is wrong.”  It is based on the same category of experience as empirical knowledge.  It is cognitive. Faith, however, has very little to do with thinking or brain power.  Faith is about feeling, knowing in beyond words kinds of ways.  Faith is the product of the spirit.

The author Rea Nolan Martin writes, “The mind interferes in the process of faith more than it contributes to it. To have faith in the worst of times will no doubt require us to silence, or at least quiet, the mind. Faith is what happens when our beliefs run aground. The spirit can be buoyed by our beliefs, but can also be brought down by them when they prove inadequate, as they most certainly will at some point in the journey. Even the beliefs humans have held most closely have come and gone over the course of a lifetime or a millennium. Think of Galileo.”

I struggle on the frontier between belief and faith.  These are pre-modern stories being read by post-modern people. Trying to make ourselves “believe” things that we can’t honestly believe is dissonant for many of us.  Maybe more dissonant than it should be; our opinions are precious to many of us in the educated classes, precious unto idolatrous sometimes, but we do know the world in different ways than our ancestors did and that makes belief and faith hard to parse out sometimes.

For me, the piece of the puzzle that allowed me to finally and fully embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ was discovering Marcus Borg’s post-critical naiveté, a concept best summed up in the statement, “I don’t know if it happened this way, but I know this story is true.”  And I’ll tell you, as I let faith take the lead, as I became most concerned with the nature of God, my experience of God and my relationship with God, as I let my spirit be my guide more than my frontal cortex, as my prayer took the lead over my education, I have found that not only has my faith increased in depth and quality, but my beliefs have as well.  I have found that the parts of the story that I had trouble believing, cognitively assenting to, like walking on the water, like feeding the 5000, like touching the holes on Jesus’ risen body, don’t trouble me so much.  More and more, in fact, I feel like the father of the boy with a spirit in St Mark’s gospel.  Remember him?  The disciples could not cast out the spirit, but Jesus does.  Then the father responds, “I believe, help my unbelief.”   My faith is strong.  My beliefs are catching up.  You don’t need to believe the whole story in order to have faith in it.  How I wish someone had told me that a very long time ago.

Well, it is getting to be that time.  By two o’clock today, my family and I will be on our way.  This sabbatical will last three and a half months.  With the generous support of the Eli Lily Foundation’s Clergy Renewal Program, we head out for a few of weeks vacation in Eastern Oregon, hence the boots.  We’ll relax in hot springs and on horse back, before coming back to the ranch in Jasper where I’ll spend half my time with the family on home-school and farm projects and half my time in a campsite up in the hills, on retreat, praying a lot and working on a writing project, a novel or thereabouts.  Hopefully it will be better than the last one.  I am incredibly grateful to all of you for the chance to have this time away.  Thank you.  I promise I will make good use of the time and will come back renewed and refreshed as we continue to make the road by walking it.

It think it will be good for you all, too.  I’m a bit much, sometimes.  You all could use a break, a breather.  Mo. Anne is going to do great.  She knows what she is doing and she trusts you: trust her.  Sandi and Patty and the whole vestry and staff… they know what they are doing, too.  It will be good for our leadership to stretch to take on responsibilities that usually lay on me.  Please, over these next months, if you are asked to help, to chip in, to volunteer, please do.  Your fellow congregants are taking on a lot and they will need you help.  Thank you for giving it.

I will be gone in body, but not in spirit.  You all will be constantly in my prayers.  Please hold me and my family in yours.  God bless you. AMEN.