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August 13, 2017, 10th Sunday after Pentecost YR A

August 13, 2017, 10th Sunday after Pentecost YR  A
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33
The Rev. Anne Abdy

 

I love this story of Peter. Peter who always opens his mouth and inserts his foot. The Peter who Jesus rebukes. The Peter who denies Christ three times and was reminded of this fact when the cock crows.  The same Peter whose name is “the Rock” and upon whom the church was built. This is the same Peter who climbs out of the boat into the rough swells of the Sea of Galilee.

The basic theme for this scripture is obvious. It is about faith. The kind of faith that one can walk on water. Who in their right mind can do that! I know I cannot. I have tried. I never got off the bottom of the bunny slope after two days of private instruction at an Special Olympics Adaptive Skiing camp. I would have done better sitting in the tethered bullet racing down the slopes. I never was able to fully stand up when I attempted to water ski. I might be able to do paddle boarding but I never was able to stand up on a surfboard either. The likelihood that I will be able to walk on water is probably zilch.

I have yet to see the movie The Shack[1] and I know there is a wonderful scene where Jesus and Mack race against each other across the lake. In the book, this scene begins like this:

They are standing on the dock together looking over the lake.

“After you,” he said with a mock flourish and bow.

“You’re kidding, right?” sputtered Mack. “I thought we were going for a walk, not a swim.”

“We are. I just thought going across the lake would take less time than going around it.” . . . Mack walked to the edge of the dock and looked down. The water lapped only about a foot below where he stood but it might as well have been a hundred feet. The distance looked enormous. To dive in would have been easy, he had done that a thousand times, but how do you step off a dock onto water? . . .

“Only about a foot, it looks to me,” laughed Jesus, placing his hand on Mack’s shoulder. It was all he needed and Mack stepped off the dock.  . . . The Landing was softer than he had thought it would be. . . . .Walking on water with Jesus seemed the most natural way to cross a lake, and Mack was grinning from ear to ear just thinking about what he was doing.”

There are so many layers in that simple act of jumping off the edge onto the water. For Peter there is the safety of the boat, albeit the boat was probably taking on water and not safe anyway. He and the disciples probably would have died in the boat. The boat which was a place of safety versus walking on water in rough seas but was a real unsafe and sure death act.

Here Jesus teaches that discipleship is living life on the edge. By staying in the boat the disciples are not engaged in the high adventure of discipleship. They are passively engaged and are scared. The Catechism suggests that Christian hope is: “living in confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God’s purpose for the world.” (BCP, 861) It is that fullness of life that places disciples lives on the edge. Extreme discipleship is about getting your feet wet. It is messy at times, and yes, fear can paralyze us. But we are called to step out in faith. Faith is believing in something sight unseen. We are to answer that call.

I want to break down this story line by line starting with: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” The first thought that came to my mind was “You’d better be careful what you wish for.” But Peter rises to the occasion and responds to the call. Peter had to get out of the boat. If he didn’t, he would have egg on his face, and truly he is so impulsive that probably all he thought about was saving his own life believing that the boat was truly going to sink. When the Lord offers you a gift you have the choice to accept the gift.

“So he got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came to Jesus.” Peter was not filled with fear when he started walking. He was filled with faith. He kept his eyes on the prize. He looked at Jesus. The story never tells us that he touched Jesus like a kid playing tag, no, he just “came to Jesus.” Was he a foot away? Two feet? An inch? We will never know. Peter was obedient and he answered the call. We are called to be obedient in our life of discipleship.

“Lord, if it is you…” Here Peter demonstrates his faith. His believes and recognizes Jesus. Before this sentence everyone thought there was a ghost standing on the water. Kinda like a mirage in the desert. But a mirage is an ocular illusion caused by atmospheric conditions. Jesus is not an illusion.

In that moment, Jesus is very real to Peter. By engaging in acts of faith and as we walk into the unknown we get to know God.

“But, when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord help me.’” Peter got distracted. It just takes a second. He took his eyes off the prize. We are to keep looking at Jesus.

Jesus reaches down and caught him, then says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt.” Fear gripped him. Often we are held hostage by our own comfort zone and our own thoughts. Life is scary but in order to experience the fullness of life, we must confront the fear head on. Did you know that the statement “fear not” appears 366 times in the Bible so when fear is paralyzing know that Jesus is nearby everyday of the year, plus one. Jesus is always near even in the worst of times.

“When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.” Stepping out in faith does not mean we will not have fear or troubled waters, but instead we are accompanied by the re-assurance that Jesus is near and there to help. Jesus calms the storm. He can calm our storms too, if we will only let him.

I want to end with this story on faith and why this young man believes in Jesus.[2]

He is from Sri Lanka and when in college he challenged his friends and teachers about their Christian beliefs.

He writes: “I knew plenty of Christians. In fact, I read the Bible often, just so I could argue with Christians. I wanted to know what they believed so I could break down their reasons for believing.”

In time this young man life takes a turn for the worse and he sits in the library one night believing that the solution to his problems is suicide. He continues, “As I sat there thinking of the best way to kill myself, I heard a voice say, “Have you ever asked me for help?” I looked around and couldn’t see anyone. I thought I was going crazy. Then I heard the voice say, “I’m Jesus, and I’m right here next to you.”

“Suddenly I felt God urging me to go see my biophysics professor. That’s right, the same guy I’d been arguing with all year. I walked across campus to the science building and found him working in his office. As I walked in, he said, “I’m so glad you’re here. God has put you on my heart and I’ve been hoping you’d come and talk to me.” We talked a long time.”

“But after my conversion, I felt humbled by God’s power to change me. I wanted people to see Jesus in my life, not me or my accomplishments. I was almost grateful for my struggles, because I knew God was using them to keep me humble and focused on him. So why do I believe in Jesus? Because he’s real. It was Jesus who saved me.”

Jesus is real. He is not a ghost. So in the days and months ahead do the following: Accept Jesus’ gift. Be obedient and answer the call. Get to know God.

Don’t be distracted. Know that Jesus is always near. Jesus will calm our storms of life. Have faith and keep your eyes on the prize.

[1]              William P. Young, The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity (Newbury Park, CA: Windblown Media, 2007), 140, 141, 142, and 143.

 

[2]              Shamitha “Sam” Yaoa, “Why I Believe in Jesus: What Makes Jesus Different?,” Christianity Today, 1, accessed August 11, 2017, http://www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/truelifestories/interestingpeople/why-i-believe-in-jesus.html?

 

August 6, 2017, Transfiguration YR A

August 8, 2017, The Feast of the Transfiguration Year A
Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36
The Rev. Anne Abdy

 

“Didn’t we celebrate this before like sometime in Epiphany?” was the question that Gay posed me as she was preparing the bulletins for this week about three weeks ago. “Yeah, I remember it was the last Sunday after the Epiphany,” I responded. “We did. That’s weird. I’ve never noticed this before.”I know that anytime the Episcopal Lectionary presents the day colored in white it is a principle Holy Day. Then I remembered my liturgics professor saying, “If a principle Feast falls on Sunday, then that is a Holy Day and it trumps the regular Sunday seasonal color and readings.” Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration, and you know we Episcopalians are all about celebrating holy days. That is why you did not hear the beloved story of Jesus breaking bread and fishes for the five thousand.

Holy Women, Holy Men[1] contains all the collects and scriptures for all the saints, holy days, and everyone else that we celebrate. It is a good two inches thick and summarized the scriptures providing an elementary explanation that this feast is held in high esteem by the Eastern Churches as a fore-telling of the resurrection and ascension of Christ. This feast did not make it to the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar till the Reformation and was include in the 1892 Revision of the BCP in the American Church.

The Feast of the Transfiguration was just a local unofficial feast that was adopted before AD 1000. The Orthodox churches believe that this is not only a feast in honor of Jesus, but a feast honoring the Holy Trinity because God speaks, Jesus talks with Moses and Elijah about his departure or exodus, and the Holy Spirit is represented by the cloud. This story is found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and the Second Letter of Peter where all the details described are strikingly similar.

The reading of this passage on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, focuses on the divinity of Christ, while August 6th is the actual feast day for this principle Holy Day. Today the story focus is on Jesus’ visit on a mountain top knowing that the law and the prophets will point him to despair and eventually death. The word “exodus” can symbolize the Moses’ experience with the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Or a departure or going away as in the ascension. Or it can serve to mean death as in “when I am no longer here.”

I remember my first summer at Flathead Lake in Northwest Montana just south of Glacier Park. It was also my first summer of monsoon mid-afternoon thunderstorms. The booming thunder reverberated through the valley floor keeping me up at night. I remember being banished to the “T” dock by the other lifeguards because my hair stood on end from the static electricity.  This is what I imagine the disciples experienced. You and I would probably would say that they saw ghosts; they would say that they were indeed visited by the persons of Moses and Elijah. I imagine that this experience was very bewildering for the disciples.

Jesus goes up a mountain and has this experience knowing that he will have to go down the mountain to fulfill God’s promise to his people. This mountain top story reminds me of my ordination to the priesthood. The music, you, friends from all my walks of life stood with me even when my family wasn’t physically present. It was an exceptional day. It was a holy day.

But another mountain top experience was my Cursillo weekend where I came to understand what it meant to be a disciple of this man called Jesus. I learned what spiritual aids were and how Anglican rosary beads could help me engage in prayer. I realized that a rule of life could help me on my own journey in life. The valley experience happened in the weeks following when I received a letter from my mother refusing to speak to me should I call home because I would not resign my job and moved to South Carolina. It is a long story but this is Christian journey.

We live in the valley much of the time, but we also have those mountain top experiences where we are truly open to God’s glory and God’s love for us because we are fortified by that love. And even in the pain of the valley, there is growth and understanding, although it maybe is not so clear or maybe it is murky, but in hindsight there is clarity. Mountain top experiences allow us to be more open to God’s glory, and the more we are open, the more we are able to see the pain in the world and the God’s role for us in creation.

But even though mountain tops and valleys go naturally together, Christians also live on the plateaus. Not every believer needs the peaks and valleys. I know when I am moving through life on automatic pilot I am living on the plateau. I don’t notice God in creation, the small miracle of a parking space, or the feeling of gratitude for air conditioning. But I have a knowing and I am at peace. I just know that I am cruising right along with a life is good and all is well kind of attitude. It is in times like this that I have to be more intentional about my spiritual practice. But it is also in times like these that I imagine Jesus is walking alongside me. Both of us walk silently along.

However, it is in the valleys that I believe Jesus has a tight firm grip on my hand and before long, he is carrying me. The best way to express that feeling of being unknowingly held is through the famous poem by Mary Stevenson. It is called “Footprints in the Sand”[2] and I want to end by reading it to you.

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there were one set of footprints.

This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints.

So I said to the Lord. “You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, you have not been there for me?

The Lord replied, “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when I carried you.”

On this Feast of The Transfiguration, let’s open our hearts to God’s opportunities in life and then go do God’s work on earth as it is made known by the Spirit.

On this Feast of the Transfiguration, let’s silently walk alongside Jesus, then feel ourselves being lifted and carried through the dark days of our lives.

On this Feast of the Transfiguration, know that this Holy Day is the other version of the story of the Risen Lord made known in our lives.

[1]            Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (New York: Church Pub. Inc., 2010), 508-509.

[2]              http://www.footprints-inthe-sand.com/index.php?page=Poem/Poem.php

July 30, 2017, 8th Sunday after Pentecost YR A

July 30, 2017, 8th Sunday after Pentecost YR A
Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105:1-11, 45b; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
The Rev. Anne Abdy

 

In seminary when you did not have any inspiration or insight when it came to writing a sermon, the expression that was used was “I have nothing.” In fact, our preaching professor preached on nothing. No lightning bolts from heaven to inspire him. No words from the Scriptures that jumped out at him. His opening line was “I have nothing” and he had fifteen minutes of nothing to say. That sermon was one of the best that I have heard yet. I kinda feel the same way this week. This is a third week of parables. What was it about these parables that the farmers, shepherds, townsfolk, and children did not understand? After all, as a first century story-teller Jesus used all the tricks of the trade: everyday items, everyday problems and celebrations, including what some believed were magic tricks to persuade the vulnerable to join is his movement.

I have nothing. I don’t have any more gardening stories and have already suggested that God’s Kingdom is illustrated in these parables with the metaphors of sowers, seeds, birds, thorns, and yes, even in the weeds because good triumphs over evil. This week we have seeds and birds, yeast and bread, hidden treasure, searching for fine pearls, and good and bad fish.

Matthew in writing his Gospel is concerned about rooting the new deep within the old, and allowing the old to come to a fresh and exciting expression in the new. How does he do this? He tells Jesus stories. Jesus brings with him the history and wisdom of the old things found in the ancient stories and in the hopes of Israel merging it with the new Good News. Remember Jesus is a Jew and he is well versed in all things Jewish, especially the contents of the Torah. At age twelve he astounded the rabbis in the temple. So as I looked a little closer, I found the common thread in the phrase: “the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus and his Kingdom are meant to startle us. Bring us back into reality. Maybe readjust ourselves to the new normal.

At the hospital I teach numerous skills and one focuses on the use of ice. The idea is that when you are in distress placing your face in a bowl of ice water or holding an ice cube has a jarring effect bringing an individual back to present moment. To the here and now. It is the notion of truly “snapping out of it” as you’d see in old movies where one individual slaps another hysterical individual. Another way of thinking of this experience is as an automatic “STOP!” switch.

These five parables are that “STOP!” switch. Jesus gets the attention of those who are following him and he gets the attention of us. It is as if Jesus attempts to shock his followers with not one parable in one sitting but with five parables to teach us how to live as Christians in this new world. Jesus shocks us to believe that the Kingdom of God is here on earth.

The first and overarching point that Jesus makes is distinguishing those who are with him from those who are not with him. We know this because at the end of this passage there are references to the end of the age following by Jesus asking: “Have you understood all this?” Remember, he is living in a time of Roman occupation and oppression. People are afraid of changing their ways. Jesus is advocating a very new and radical way of interacting that is different from the old traditions. He became (and I think always intended to be) friends with the poor, the weak, the tax collector, the despised, and the sinner—and so must we.

So what do these five parables symbolize? The first parable about the mustard seed is most often associated with the power of Almighty God to do wondrous works in our lives. That one of the smallest seeds of all will provide shelter to the birds of the air.  It provides protection to life itself.  That protection towards another is often seen in the animal world.

I love stories about animals because I learn so much from them. Animals make me stop and ponder what I might do in a similar situation. Before I put my lights out I troll Facebook looking for “happy” stories. Many times I stop at elephant stories. In one video a baby elephant is upside down with legs in the air stuck in a water trough. The mother is increasingly anxious and more so because a pride of lions are now circling. She trumpets and runs in the direction of the lions but her mind is always on the welfare of her baby stuck defenseless in the trough. Then the camera pans out and the viewer sees another elephant family running to the aid of the distressed baby and anxious mother. As the scene unfolds, the mature elephants create a perimeter keeping the lions at bay, while the matriarch elephant wraps her trunk around the baby’s front right leg pulling the baby into an upright sitting position. Then gently but forcefully she uses her tusks and trunk to push the baby onto all fours and out of the trough. Now that is love and protection for one’s neighbor when the stakes are high! What is the status of care and protection for one another in today’s world?

The next parable is of the yeast mixed with flour to make leaven bread. Jesus  suggests that if you take the Gospel seriously, then choosing to be a child of the Kingdom of God is not easy. The gospel of this Kingdom is not a pleasant idea or experience. You will have to knead the flour and yeast together, and then to experience the gifts of God, this dough has to be baked on a glowing hot fire to become bread—to become something beautiful and yummy to eat. Growing up in Walvis Bay as a youngster, Mrs. Jensen lived around the corner from the rectory and knew my brother and I liked her homemade bread. I have no idea what her recipe was or how long the dough took to knead or bake, but the end result had us running to the Jensen’s back door. It was pure joy for us and I imagine for Mrs. Jensen too. With delight Mrs. Jensen watched us come through the door, pull back the wooden chairs at her kitchen table, and scoff down the gift of a single slice of warm buttery bread with a thick layer of peanut butter spread on top. My brother and I reaped the benefits of a bread dough kneaded together. Our enthusiasm for eating the first slice should equal the enthusiasm we have for our work in God’s Kingdom.

The third parable is about finding treasure hidden in a field and selling that treasure for a larger field. Fields play an important part in ancient times and to this story. The wheat stalks that fell during the harvest around the corners and edges of fields by Torah law were dedicated to the poor and hungry for them to make their own bread. The owner of the field sells the smaller field to buy a larger field knowing he will not only increase his yield of grain but there is more of the harvest available to feed others. In our modern 21st century world Pay-If-You-Can Restaurants, such as the one owned by Jon Bon Jovi and his wife, offer an alternative to food banks and create a normalized dining experience for those who are hungry. My first experience of this unique dining was eating at a similar restaurant in Berkley, California. The menu has no prices. You pay what you believe you think the meal costs. Incredibly these restaurants are not only “making it” in the difficult hospitality business but more and more restaurants are popping up like these, some with a twist. Some restaurant owners offer breakfast and lunch to paying patrons but the profits go towards providing free dinners to those literally living on the corners and edges of our towns and cities. What other creative ways could we feed the hungry?

The next to last parable is of the person who seeks out and finds the largest pearl and then turns around to sell all his processions to buy the same field because the huge pearl or treasure is there for the taking if you own the field. This parable reminds me of the gold rush days in the west or the expansion of gold and diamond mines in Southern Africa. The famous diamond mining company, De Beers “purchased mining rights to more than 3,000 square miles of the Namibian seafloor in 1991. So far, it has explored only 3 percent of that area [resulting] in more than 90 percent of Namibia’s diamond-related revenue.”[1]

This parable is the first of the two parables “separating” the good from the evil. The second apocalyptic and last parable is the parable of the good and bad fish. The bad fish are discard and thrown back into the sea. Only the good fish are to be saved and eaten. This parable can also be interpreted as the children of God are the pearl, the precious stone or jewel.

I  leave you with one last story. The story goes that there was “a man who had been on the outs with the church ever since his adolescent days. The church, he said, was too concerned about the rules, so he left and said he was finished with it. His father worked on him, begging him to give the church another chance, and finally the man agreed that he would. He got up the nerve one Sunday and wandered into a church. The congregation was in the middle of the prayer of confession. “We have done those things which we ought not to have done and we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and there is no health in us.” The man heard that and smiled to himself. “Good!” he said. “This sounds like my kind of crowd.”

Living here on earth in the Kingdom is not easy. Christianity is not easy.  Tom Wright, a noted New Testament scholar, suggests that these five parables challenge Christians in two ways: understanding and action. He writes, “Understanding without action is sterile; action without understanding is exhausting and useless.”[2]  In his accompanying reflection he suggests that we should contemplate how we today in our thinking, in our speaking, in our living, bring both our rootedness in the old and in tradition, into the light of day through the use of stories bearing the new and fresh fruit of Christian action in the Kingdom of heaven.

What new stories would you tell your family and friends about God’s Kingdom on earth? If you were St. Matthew and had to write a modern parable, what story would you write?

[1]   Kevin Sieff, “A New Frontier for Diamond Mining: The Ocean,” Washington Post, July 1, 2017, accessed July 28, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/a-new-frontier-for diamond-mining-the-ocean/2017/07/01/a04d5fbe-0e40-4508-894d-b3456a28f24c_story.htmlutm_term=.983658a3a1e2.

[2]   N. T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, 2nd ed., New Testament for Everyone (London: SPCK,

2004), 179.

July 23, 2017, 7th Sunday after Pentecost YR A

July 23, 2017, 7th Sunday after Pentecost YR A
Genesis 28:10-19a; Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
The Rev. Anne Abdy

 

How many of you are gardeners? Or just love to be outside planting a vegetable garden? Now I admit, I am not a green thumb. I confess that I have killed a cactus. I remember visiting an souvenir store somewhere in Arizona and brought back to college with me a cactus in a small pot. I was forewarned about not over watering it. I grew up in a dessert and I have a little understanding of succulents so I guess I didn’t take that warning to heart. But I don’t recall watering it  to much at all, yet it died. Maybe I forgot to talk to it. That plant has probably been the last indoor plant that I have had. Now don’t get me wrong. In fact, I love the beauty of plants and flowers. They do brighten one’s day. Often I’ll just walk into a florist to get a blast of scents and smell overload as I open the door. I will then wander around and after a while leave.

Yet as a kid, I remember growing beans between two sheets of cotton and being fascinated with the process as tiny roots sprouted. Then shortly thereafter came the stem and maybe a leaf or two. It seemed about this time we then transferred it to a bowl from the plate and the miracle of life continued. All that mystery between two sheets of cotton.

This is one of five parables where Jesus is setting the stage of his ministry and keeping and pretty secretive about it. He really is not disclosing to those around him, who he truly is—he is the Son of God. As we well know, Jesus picks those ordinary everyday items that the plain folks of his day understood and used them to illustrate the points that he was attempting to make.

So here we are talking about seeds, weeds, and harvest. Last week the Parable of the Sower was about the growth of the Kingdom using the role of the seed. The meaning of the seed does not change. This week, Jesus adds evil—the weeds—to the story of the God’s Kingdom on earth to illustrate how evil impacts the world. In verse 25, we read “But while everyone was asleep…,” that suggests something happens when we are sleeping. The evil one is at work and does not stick around because he knows and relies upon the good and Godly people to do his work.

The most extraordinary statement of the parable is the order the farmer gives his servants when he tells them to do nothing. “What farmer or gardener will leave the weeds in the ground till harvest?” Every avid gardener that I know is always pulling weeds, except me . . . I’d pull the flower. He tells them, “Leave them! Don’t pull up the weeds.” That is so contrary to human nature and very unusual. So, his hearers had a point when they objected.

How many times have we heard world leaders say, “Let’s root out the evil?” In African countries it is not uncommon for the church to speak out about corruption, lack of government services, and then for those church leaders to become targeted with death threats or exile because they are opposing that country’s president. My neighbor in Sewanee was the retired bishop of the diocese of Southern Malawi who experienced just that. Should he return home, he could be shot dead.

But even on our shores we are not immune from evil. After 9/11 President Bush vowed to leave no stone unturned in order to bring those who brought terrorism to our shores to justice. The War on Terror has lasted 15 years and has expanded from Afghanistan to across the Middle East. During my research on evil powers I came across this fact which astounded me. The Centre for Research on Globalization[1] in 2015 identified that since 1776 the United States of America has only had 21years of peace. In most of these conflicts, America was on the offense. No wonder America is thought of as the enemy!

Now before I go much further, I need to pause here to explain the type of evil weed that we are dealing with. I consulted with a colleague who helped me understand the Greek and Latin for the word weed. The Greek word is “zizania” but the Latin word is “lolium”. There is a species of weed called “lolum termulentum” which does look like a mature stalk of wheat. It is more commonly known as poison darnel, darnel ryegrass, or cockle.  This species of weed can easily be infected with a fungus which if eaten can be fatal.

So, it makes sense to me for the servants to want to take out the weeds. But the greater point that Jesus is making is that not only is poison co-mingled with a life-giving grain as in our parable, but evil is co-mingled in the real life of our everyday world. Evil co-exists with good and Godly people.

My point is not to either agree or disagree with national security issues, my point is to say that evil is cunning. Remember the Genesis story of Adam and Eve story.  The woman said, ‘The serpent tricked me, and I ate.’ (Gen. 3:13). Evil wants the servants in the parable to take out the weeds literally knowing that it would destroy the harvest. It also wants others to do the dirty work because that dirty work can cause more harm evidenced by the countless civilian and military lives destroyed by war. Plus, the enemy thrives off negative energy. A simple illustration is ISIS. Their recruitment videos use the negative reporting of the Western perspective that this group is evil and needs to be wiped from the face of the earth to persuade the vulnerable to join their club.

Jesus by suggesting that nothing is to be done with the weeds is preaching on tolerance and on the principle of forgiveness as it relates to living as a disciple and a participant in the Jesus movement. He uses the wheat and weeds as the example of how God expects the Children of God to live and act. We are to forgive others, just as Jesus did at the cross with the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Lk. 23:34)

Knowing that Christians are to actively forgive others who have wrong them, the interpretation and explanation of this parable goes further. Every preacher reflecting on this passage also needs to deal with theological explanations Jesus offers in the last verses of this reading. Jesus explains who the different characters are but the escatological explanation begins in the second half of verse 39. It reads: “the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.”

Jesus explains that the Kingdom will reign but only the good and Godly Jesus followers will enter the Kingdom of God. Good triumphs over evil. The Savior arrives to destroy evil and promises entry into heaven for those people living with no sin.

In the darkness of the night the enemy came and planted weeds while the good and Godly people slept. We can sleep with assurance because Jesus is awake in our hearts. He has revealed himself to us and now he is doing so to the simple farmers and town folk around him. He encourages them to repeat of sin, and to be born again through salvation so that he can be that living presence in their lives, just as he is alive in our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls.

It is the practice of Christianity to repent of our sins and reconcile with God. We do this each week at the Confession of Sins. In corporate worship, we come together to listen to the Word, pray for others, confess our sins, and then united together as we step forwards to receive communion. For many centuries, however, if two Christians came to church and could not exchange the peace in good faith with each another because of a disagreement, they did not receive communion. Only after dialogue and an expression of sincere forgiveness affirmed by the exchange of peace to re-establish order in body, mind, and spirit, would the brethren be allowed at the altar.

So the bottom line from this parable is this: God does not expect us to be a pacifists in the face of evil. God expects Christians to speak up and to be heard. After all the servants did. But God also expects us to be patient and to tolerate the waiting because at the end of time the all powerful and mighty God will prevail.

The harvest will be plentiful because the weeds will be separated from the wheat.

[1]    http://www.globalresearch.ca/america-has-been-at-war-93-of-the-time-222-out-of-239-years-since-1776/5565946

 

July 16, 2017, 6th Sunday after Pentecost YR A

July 16, 2017, 6th Sunday after Pentecost YR A
The Rev. Anne Abdy
Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

 

In the Gospel today, we have a farmer sowing his field with seeds. I imagine the different seeds reactions to being tossed off to the side by the farmer’s right hand as follows.

“Ouch! What was that about?” the seed said looking up at the farmer tossing his friends around the footpath. “Wait! Don’t leave me here! I’ll get eaten. Darn, here come the birds,” she says to the figure paying no attention to her. “No break for a simple seed,” the seed thought as it was gulped down by a crow following the farmer on his daily task for an easy dinner.

Another seed chimed in, “Hey, what ya doing? How would you like to be tossed aside! At least I can grow a little root in this hard ground,” the seed thought as she wiggled into the dry soil and began to sprout a root in the coolness of the evening light. Awaking the next morning, she thought to herself, “It is going to be a great day because I will grow a tall trunk and lots of little leaves. Plus, I will have a great root system to suck up all the water I want.” Little did she know that the harsh sun rays beating down upon her would cause her to whither and die.

“Whoa! Wait! NO! Don’t throw me in there! Not the thorns. Please, no! I will die a sure death there.” And the seed did as the thorns slowly advanced choking her to death.

“Oh, man, this is yummy soil!” said the seed landing in the fertile soil. “It tastes and feels so good as I wiggle down. I want to grow deep roots and big leaves,” the seed said aloud as it settled into the lush soil.

And then we have a pair of twins fighting over birthright in the Old Testament lesson. The first, the legitimate heir and owner of the birthright, the second, conspiring with his beloved mother to steal the birthright. Both can do no wrong in either parent’s eyes.

I imagine their interaction goes something like this as Esau approaches the hot fire with a pot of lentil stew cooking over it.

“Give me some stew, brother, for I am starved. I haven’t eaten all day while I have been hunting.”

“Nah, not until you give me your birthright. I will trade you some stew for it. ”

“What? My birthright?” and Esau ponders for quick second, answering Jacob saying, “Okay, what is the good of having a birthright if I die of starvation right here! Right now! Hand it over.!”

“Swear it! Swear it! Cross your heart and hope to die! Swear it and I will give you the stew.” In four simple sentences Esau traded away his rights as the firstborn.

Paul in the New Testament reading writes to the Roman Christians urging them to not focus on themselves with worries about persecution and living in a society with many pagan influences but instead to focus on God. In the letter he reminds these fledgling Christians that God sent his Son to die and suffer on the cross for the sins of the world. So when they obsess over the possibility of denouncing their faith upon death, or obsess on the deterioration of society but never do anything about it, then that is a problem. He encourages them to trust God’s action within them, and only then will they find that not only is God’s Spirit in them, but will find that this is a breathing and living God that will sustain them through trials and tribulations to freedom.

How do these three readings relate? There is pain. Pain that stops growth, the pain of betrayal of birthright, the perceived pain of persecution, and the pain of temptation. And all these scenarios present situations of crisis. Of times when difficult decisions need to be made. In situations when a crisis occurs, remember that the crisis is just a moment in time. Albeit, right now in our political climate, it has been a long moment of eight years as Congress is at a gridlock.

In crisis moments you have two options. The first is to not make the situation worse, and the second, is to engage in radical acceptance. Both situations require just sitting and riding each wave of emotion as they come. And as you sit with the uncomfortable feelings, maybe you will choose to dig deep within and ponder why? Why now? What is different in this moment versus a moment an hour ago, versus four days ago. When we pause and engage in that reflection, there comes a time when we are set free from the bonds of pain. For example, the physical pain of sciatica may never go away but it may become more tolerable as we breath through the pain like a women with labor pains.

As we sit with the pain, we grow. We learn things about ourselves. The Rev. Robert Horine, wrote a collection of short stories about his ministry. In one story, he writes about a young boy named Scott born on Veteran’s Day. He is always in the town’s parade on his birthday as his father is the town’s only WWII veteran. For many years this boy thought the parade was for him. Robert Horine writes, “Sometimes it takes quite a while and a jolting experience or two before we find out where we stand in the order of things. Where we think we are, or where we’d like to be, is usually at the center of creation, with all things made, if not by us, at least for us. . . .[When] trying to make our lives “mine” we lose all.”[1]

Sometimes we have to let God do the work and let those sprouts bubble to the top and burst through the grains of soil just like the seeds did that were scattered in the fertile soil, and yes, even those seeds scattered in the hard soil.  And also the seeds the birds ate. Those bird droppings probably allowed for new growth elsewhere. Those seeds lived too. And so, as believers and because Christ is in us and we are in him, we are all called to be sowers of the faith. As my preaching professor put it, ““We are not soil, called to be fertile, we are sowers, called to sow with abandon. When applying this “key” to the mustard seed and the seed growing automatically, we imagine ourselves having the expansive potential of the mustard grain, and often growing in spite of ourselves.”[2] Our reach as Christians should reach beyond ourselves.

A simple example is the prayer that I said last week for Jeb Harper and eloquently reflected upon by Chet who sent me an email. It read:

“Dear Anne+, I must say that I have never seen such a combination of fun and compassion as when you stepped off the chancel, bent down, and offered a prayer of healing for a foot, witnessed as it was by a dozen or so children of various ages who surrounded the foot including (of course) its owner.  Given the range of ages among the children, I wondered what each experienced in witness to the prayer.  To each their own on that, but may it prove to be a seed planted in their hearts for future reference on human relations through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. AMEN.”

We don’t know how are actions are going to affect others. Jacob had no idea that from his action he would produce the descendants that will result in a lowly virgin girl to given birth to our Savior some 4000 years later.  One could argue that because of his action, he was a cornerstone sower for salvation’s gift here on earth as the Son of God is made man. This is God’s action fulfilling a sovereign promise.

But we have to start with ourselves first before we can go out into the world. God wants us to grow.  Paul talks about this growth in faith using the analogy of human development from childish acts to mature adult faith (1 Cor. 12:11). This growth requires self-examination. It requires sitting with the pain or maybe even praying through the pain. Richard Rohr in his blog titled “Contemplation gives Power to the People” suggests that “contemplation addresses the root, the underlying place where illusion and ego are generated. It touches the unconscious, where most of our wounds and need for healing lie.”[3]

So take the time this week to sit, to ponder, and to pray asking God to reveal his growth edge for you.  And as God reveals his purpose for you, then go, and reach out beyond yourself because we don’t know who will take the message and inwardly digest the radical love of Jesus Christ.

Be a sower! Plant that seed! Spread the Love!

 

[1]          Robert B. Horine, Stories, Tales and a Few Small Lies of a Country Parson (Cincinnati, Ohio: Forward Movement Pub., 2001), 143.

[2]          William F. Brosend, Conversations with Scripture: The Parables, Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pub., 2006), 33.

[3]          Richard Rohr, “Rebuilding on a Contemplative Foundation: Contemplation Gives Power to the People,” Center for Action and Contemplation (blog), July 13, 2015, accessed July 13, 2017, https://cac.org/contemplation-gives-power-people-2017-07-13/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2017-07-15%20DM&utm_content=2017-07-15%20DM+CID_9b2cb1e232eb8494da7c070aa1946c05&utm_source=Campaign%20Monitor%20Google%20Analytics&utm_ter.

 

 

July 9, 2017, 5th Sunday after Pentecost YR A

July 9, 2017, 5th Sunday after Pentecost, Pr.  9, YR A
The Rev. Anne Abdy
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45:11-18; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

 

Frances Vander Velde writes: “Second from the top of the list of the important decisions in life is that of choosing a marriage partner. The choice of choosing to serve the Lord comes first.”[1]

My grandmother lived an adventurous life. She was married in Butte, Montana in 1924 and then followed my grandfather to Peru where he went ahead to work in the copper mines. Family lore states that she had the option of staying in the Montana surrounded by all those things familiar to a young adult woman in a mining camp, and reportedly Butte was a roaring frontier town. But she chose to leave. She, like Abraham’s Sarah, and now Rebekah, was headstrong and she lived life to the fullest savoring each moment with laughter, gratitude, and grace. She bore five children in different mining towns across the world.

That’s what I imagine Rebekah to be like. This young twenty something looking to loosen the apron strings of her family. She is given the chance to determine her fate and there is no hesitation with three words, “I will go.” And with that she follows the servant to Negev. I imagine that a journey of about 600 miles from Haran in Syria was not easy. We are told the camels are loaded with gifts, probably the dowry to be given to Abraham. But I am sure that the camels were also loaded with the supplies to spend a month crossing the desert. This is much like what my grandmother did. She took a trawler down the Western United States to Peru and then crossed the mountains by donkey with Indians who guided her to the copper mining camp. I can’t imagine that her crossing was an easy one for her either.

But there is something in common with both ladies. They were energetic, kind, hospitable, industrious and decisive. We know this because Rebekah runs back to the family compound, feeds and waters the camels, arranges a banquet, and seems to wear the pants in the family. The guys are purely the passive hosts.

My grandmother was the backbone to her and my grandfather’s 50 year marriage. Both women married for love, although in biblical times, it was an arranged marriage. I like to think that God just happened to throw in a beautiful woman for Isaac to marry, one that he would not only marry out of custom to keep the legacy going, but that he would indeed fall in love with.

What do all three characters, the servant, Rebekah, and my grandmother have in common? Their stories are not only love stories but they are stories of individuals with great faith. All three stepped out in faith and were rewarded. I think as Christians we are in danger to easily to grow out of faith. We can also fall into a casual relationship in all things about religion, church, and maybe even questioning one’s faith. But we can also be spiritually energized. Admittedly, we can be in all of these phases on our faith journey.

I find that the times that I am most alive spiritually are the times when I have stepped out in faith. Into the unknown and allowed myself to experience the fear, the exhilaration, and relief, and all the while knowing that all will be well. While the journey may not always be easy and fun, I know there will be an end point—and at that end point I will be rewarded.

But nothing prepared me for my experiences in Southern Africa where I had to step out in faith and rely on strangers to help me along. There were many incidences where only God could have orchestrated and be the Over-seerer by putting the puzzle pieces together.

My one suitcase was left behind with a church family who offered to drive the case five hours to the capital city of Windhoek and deliver it to the Cathedral so my host in Windhoek could pick it up. It just so happened that they intended to visit their daughter the weekend I flew into Windhoek. The money saved from not having to pay for extra luggage allowed me to give more funds to a kindergarten started by Anglican nuns not far from the mission station.

Or a family friend that I had not see in over thirty years and she thought she would never see an Abdy again. On a whim, I called to let her know I was in town, and I visited with her for four hours. My host’s home was one house away from shuttle business operated by the same shuttle company that picked me up at the airport an hour earlier. The owner of the business graciously drove me from his home across town to visit my friend free of charge.

Or while visiting my old high school I bumped into the chaplain who whispered in my ear, “The present and future chaplains of Herschel” without knowing that the principal had offered me a job once I finished seminary and was ordained. Obviously I have not accepted his offer yet, but I might!

One cannot live by faith alone, and it is the servant who prepares, prays, and then praises God. He prepares for the trip, he prays, and then he praises God for delivering to him just the right person to be Isaac’s bride.

We are not told whether Rebekah does this nor do I know if my grandmother did these acts, but I suspect that they did because they are women of faith. They both certainly prepared for long journeys, demonstrated their faith in their response to their call to leave all that was familiar, and probably praised God upon arriving at their journey’s end.

We are called to prepare for our journeys in life, pray for a specific prayer, such as safe travels, and are to praise the Lord in all that we do. In order to walk through difficult journeys and even not so difficult journeys, Paul encourages us to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thess. 5:16-18) The Benedictines call this type of prayer: “Ora et Labora” or Pray and Work.

I know as I anticipate new journeys or life decisions, I cannot be idle. When I have life decisions to make, at some point I have to engage those same three P’s—preparation, prayer, and praise. For instance, this past Spring I decided I could let myself fall into the trap of the heighten anxiety at work as we waded through some 220 days waiting to know whether the Junction City Hospital would remain open and the fate of our jobs. As I watched colleagues leave, I chose to engage in a job search. I felt the need to become an educated job seeker knowing that at least if I had to move fast and find other employment, I could. That preparation process directed my energy into positive avenues. Somehow during the process, I am able to stay present to what needs to be done and my faith was strengthened. As a result, I was energized and more willing to look for the God’s presence in my life.

All through the process, I engaged in prayer and discernment. I brought God into my process. I talked to friends, family, and my spiritual director. This gathering of information is prayer. The times that I have used this process, the answer becomes abundantly clear and I know what to do.

Then, I praise God. Paul writing to the Thessalonians tells us that we are to “in all things give thanks” (I Thess. 5:18). I get to sit back and watch God put the puzzle pieces together. Most of the time this process goes very smoothly with no hiccups but that is not always the case. I have to bear in mind, it’s God’s plan that is being put together not mine. I generally feel a sense of peace about the decision and there is a knowing that this decision is the right decision no matter how hard it was to make a that decision.

I remember when I was starting the diocesan part of the ordination process. I was invited to meet with the diocesan Commission on Ministry and was  basically on the hot seat for 48 hours. There were meet and greets, meals, and interviews. In one of the interviews, I remember answering a question like this. I explained that I was a scuba diver and I felt that I was standing on the edge of the boat ready to jump into the water not knowing what was down below. But I knew that just as I had a buddy who would descend to the depths with me, I would have Jesus as a partner who would help me transverse across whatever obstacles I would face. The urge to jump in the water on faith was real. The relief and joy that I felt when I was told that the commission agreed to elevate me to postulant allowing me to then consider a formal seminary education, cannot be described. My life changed as I used preparation, prayer, and praise—and so will yours.

So I ask you: What zone is your faith meter in? The danger zone, the casual level, or are you spiritually alive? Are you ready to energize your spiritual life and take the plunge—that leap of faith—into uncertainty to see what happens? Are you willing to be that person at work who will take a project in a different direction because you know the outcome will be better. Are you willing to take our ministry programs to the next level, in time, in talent, and in giving?

If you do use the three P’s, your life will change?

 

[1]              Frances Vander Velde, Women of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 1983), 45.

 

July 2, 2017, 4th Sunday after Pentecost YR A

July 2, 2017, 4th Sunday after Pentecost YR A
The Rev. Anne Abdy
Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

“. . . for now I know that you fear God . . .” (Gen. 22:12)

You cannot get any better than the stories of Abraham.
Can you imagine the fireworks that took place when Isaac came running into camp after being away from his mother for about six days. He whispers into her ear, “Dad almost killed me!” I can hear Sarah confronting Abraham at the edge of the camp standing broad shouldered and with her arms crossed over her chest and her feet firmly planted in the sand.
“You did what! With what! And to what!”
Shocked, and before Abraham could explain, out spills, “You took our only son on a three day road-trip, climbed a mountain, built an altar, and about killed him as the sacrifice!”
Wagging her finger at him she says, “No sir, no, no, no! No, you’re not sleeping in this camp tonight! I don’t care what you say!” She turns around leaving him and his servants staring dumbfounded at her retreating body.
I would not want to be the family therapist assigned to this case. Can you imagine that meeting with each person sitting in their own chair and not all cozy on the couch wishing they were not there!
Isaac is still fuming at dad for wanting to kill him and thinking, “My own father is a maniac!” Sarah has not talked to Abraham in days and is sitting there with her blood boiling thinking, “How foolish of him to take my only son, our heir. His heir! What in the world was he thinking? Oh, he wasn’t thinking!”
And then there’s poor Abraham who is quite put out when all he did was follow God’s orders. He’s playing defense justifying his thinking by saying to himself, “I just followed what God told me to do!” There are so many layers to this story.
Clearly Sarah is a very strong willed and powerful woman. I say this because the last two weeks of Old Testament readings have all focused on her.
First, she mocked God by laughing when told she was to bear a child. A pretty bold response, I think. Then last week, filled with jealously because she saw the two children playing, she approached Abraham saying: “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” (Gen. 21:10)
And then to have God confirm and affirm Sarah by telling Abraham to banish Ishmael and Hager from the camp.
Now this week, who knows if Abraham even told Sarah what he was up to especially since God was the one who told him to do it. Is this a story of an abusive God, a misguided Abraham, religious violence at its worst? Or is it a story of faith and obedience? It could be all of the above, but I like to think that Abraham is being tested.
In verse one we read: “After these things God tested Abraham” (22:1). And what do “these things” include? God’s call to Abraham to go to the land of Egypt which he has never seen.
He disguises Sarah as his sister on the account of her beauty fearing that pharaoh may want to take her hand in marriage. In plain sight, he lies (Gen 12:1). Next, God’s promise to Abraham that he will be the father of a great nation but it is only after the long years of Sarah’s barrenness. He caves and sleeps with Hagar. Abraham has failed twice.
Another obvious layer to this story is the theme of trust. Abraham trusts that God will provide and he puts all his faith into knowing that God has another plan. His only response to God is “Here I am.”
There is no objection. And then he is silent other than to tell his servants to stay with the donkey, and he responds to Isaac with the same words. I imagine he goes about his business in preparation for the journey knowing that his story is bookended by his past history—Ishmael and his future legacy—Isaac. You can tell that he is still struggling with the idea of sacrificing Isaac because he tells his servants “the boy and I will go over there” and then places the woodpile “on his son Isaac.” He is attempting to create distance so he can do the unthinkable.
Then there’s Isaac who at first probably thought this was going to be a great adventure. A bonding moment with dad in the wilderness. He doesn’t say much but is probably confused because there is no sacrificial lamb. He only speaks up to ask about it and is told, “God will provide.”
Somewhere along that long journey in silence as the two walk side by side, Abraham shifted to trusting God’s plan because as soon as he responds to Isaac with the words “God will provide”, Isaac takes on that trust. He does not question further. He does not object. It is as if Isaac is seeing God’s plan through the faith of his father.
The most interesting character in this story is God. God’s role raises a number of questions for me. Was it always God’s intention, as the omnipresent God we know, to have Abraham stretch out his arm with knife in hand in preparation to slit Isaac’s throat, and go only thus far? Did God intend all along to have Abraham “just present” Isaac as the sacrifice? I think so. Why? God saw that the sacrifice was completed in Abraham’s mind because it would only have taken another second to finish the act and he had to intervene.
Or does the character of God raise the question of obedience and trust mixed with a sense of vulnerability? God stops Abraham saying, “See over there. There is a ram. Use it. For now I know you hear God.” (Gen. 22:12)
“Now I know.” Three tiny words that are lost in the reading. At least it was for me till I read and then reread the story again this week.
Was this God feeling vulnerable? Did God doubt that Abraham could pass this third test? What would have happened if Abraham objected at the onset? How would the promised great nation come about?
These words, “Now I know”, suggest that there was a passing of “new knowledge” between the two. God learned something new. He learned that Abraham gets it. God now knows that he can trust Abraham just as Abraham knows he can trust God.
I don’t know which of the two scenarios is correct: The presentation of a sacrificial Isaac or the new knowledge gained? But what I do know is that God gives back to Abraham Isaac’s life just as Jesus brought us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life in Body and Blood of Jesus Christ as we read in the Eucharistic Prayer B.
Isaac was offered up for sacrifice by his father; whereas Jesus was both the offering and the sacrifice given by his Father for us. And because of that one reason, this story relates today.
But there are other reasons too.

  • God wants his people to trust him. Abraham trusted and eventually he was given an heir. And it is from this heir from which Jesus hails.
  • God calls us into obedience when we take on more responsibilities, make difficult decisions, or to change our ways. These test make you feel very lonely. No matter how lonely you may feel when you have a difficult decision to make, you are not alone because you know Abraham was alone with his decision too.
  • And sometimes, we have to step out and obey God, all by ourselves, without our friends and family because only we can do what needs to be done. Abraham had to force himself to do something no one would have allowed him to do if anyone else had known about it!

 

Jack Lane writing about the significance of this story said it best.
“What, then, did Abraham’s sacrifice of his and Sarah’s only-begotten son Isaac, on a deserted mountaintop dozens of centuries ago, have to do with us today, in the [21st] century? What significance did a pile of rocks, and an old man, and a knife, have in the fulfillment of God’s plan in each of our lives?
Just about everything!”[1]
 

[1]            Jack M. Lane, “The Sacrifice of Abraham and Isaac Part 2: The Significance of the Sacrifice,” Living the Way, accessed June29, 2017, http://livingtheway.org/abraham2.html.

June 25, 2017, 3rd Sunday after Pentecost YR A

June 25, 2017, 3rd Sunday of Pentecost YR A
The Rev. Anne Abdy
Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

 

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” (Mt. 10: 26-27)

 

This week’s gospel reading instructs the disciple how to be a follower of Jesus. Matthew’s passage can be a bit convoluted and confusing but the basic concept that Jesus is teaching is this: Don’t be intimidated. Stand steadfast in your faith. Proclaim the gospel whenever the opportunity presents.

 

In 2012 I was living in Gold Beach and working for Curry County Mental Health. It was during the summer months that my boss reviewed the new budget and noticed a discrepancy.  One of the departments that offered a particularly important service to the community had an unusually large influx of funds. Further investigation by my boss revealed that the Director of County Programming was diverting funds from the mental health budget to this other department. My boss recognized this as a major error because she knew from previous years that department had operated in the red. So in a supervisory meeting with a co-worker present she confronted her boss. He in turn threatened her and this colleague with termination of employment if they told anyone.

 

This is a prime example of what Christ expects us to do. We are to reveal the secret that is made in the dark. Before long the whole mental health department was willing to walk off the job—and did we ever get the attention of the State. Jesus wants us to stand up to unjust practices and to point them out. After all, he threw the money-changers out of the temple and he violated the Sabbath law by performing miracles and doing what is common sense by righting a wrong.

 

We are to give light to the unknown. In these times, it is difficult to stand secure in one’s faith and point out evil. That is when I draw strength from the apostles, the disciples, and the martyrs. For many there are repercussions when you point out evil or whistle-blow on your boss. Just this past week voices were heard across the country demanding that Republicans reveal their version of the Health Care Bill as it was crafted in the back drawing rooms of Congress. The news showed demonstrators taking a stand and voicing their concerns.

 

Tom Long, a prolific writer, preacher, and professor at Chandler School of Theology in Atlanta, provides these words of wisdom which also ring true when engaged in Christian social justice:

 

“First, the Holy Spirit will surely be present and will never abandon us. Second, we will come to recognize that our suffering is not wasted, but is a testimony to faith. Third, even in the midst of our hardship, we will know that nothing can eradicate the gospel or destroy God’s loving and watchful care over the faithful.” His last point, which I paraphrase, suggests that being faithful helps make decisions more clear and focused which can disrupt the loved ones around you.[1]

 

We certainly understand his first point. We know that as Christians the Holy Spirit is given to us. It is just up to us to take and use her nudges to empower us. And in recent weeks we certainly have heard loud and clear the “I will not abandon you” theme emanating from the Gospels of Matthew and John.

 

In regards to the second point, Christians may feel that their faith is being tested, but I find at least for me I am not so much being tested, but a subtle readjustment is happening to which I am resisting because undergoing change is not fun! As soon as I move out of the way and relinquish control, God works wonders in my life. Have you seen the simple line diagram where a person is walking a straight path to God believing that their plan is simple and straight forward? Then the next picture frame shows God’s plan—a plan of peaks and valleys. Being Christian is not easy. Our plans, as good as they may be, are not God’s plans. Yet we have to be obedient to the Spirit’s call within us.

 

In regards to the third point where there is nothing that can destroy the gospel and message of God’s love. In the Daily Office of Morning Prayer, we say the Collect for Peace. Our plea to God is to have him “defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries.”[2] The evidence of Christians holding tightly onto the Message is seen throughout history through the acts of kindness as the church responds to the needs of others.

 

On Thursday, Roman Catholic Bishop, Thomas Paprocki, from Illinois provided guidelines for the offering of sacraments to the LGBTQ community in his diocese. These guidelines will curb the community from receiving Holy Communion because they have not repented of their sin, but here is the zinger. He continued: “Unless they have given some signs of repentance before their death, deceased persons who had lived openly in a same-sex marriage giving public scandal to the faithful are to be deprived of ecclesiastical funeral rites.”[3] My seminary friend, the Rev. R. J. Powell responded to this article by commenting in a Face Book post:  “We would be honored to walk and pray with you through the good times and the most difficult and intimate.” God’s love always wins.

 

The last point about family dynamics is difficult to understand. The Holy Spirit convicts us and empowers us to act or say the difficult truth. Many times, this may result in pinning one family member against another. I have always wondered how agnostics make it through the tough times in life without a God in their lives. Then I met another seminary friend whose mother and older sister are Episcopal priests, and her father and herself for many years were non-believers. Her response was, “Anne, you surround yourself with those you love and who support you. Sometimes it is still family.” She has since finished a Masters of Arts in Religion and married an Episcopal priest. We are to stand true to our convictions and allow God to do the changing in other’s hearts.

 

One last story I think illustrates these points. It is a true story and I believe I have all the facts correct. In the late 1980s Archbishop Desmond Tutu was preaching at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town during the uprising against the Nationalist Party. The police dressed in riot gear entered with the intention of arresting the him then and there—even if it were mid-sentence as he spoke. The police surrounded the congregation in the nave. Desmond Tutu looked up, paused, invited the police force to sit and he then went on preaching. Holy Communion was administered and there was joyful singing and dancing as the congregation streamed out of the church into the streets behind the police whose objective was foiled. This act of standing up to evil reportedly was the turning point for the resistance and led to the abolishment of Apartheid and the dismantling of the government.

 

Jesus in this text assures all Christians that we are empowered to approach the cross in a new way. Because we belong to the Body of Christ, Jesus’ life and ministry reminds us that the cross cannot be viewed as acceptance of injustice and misery. We have to engage Christian action. My willingness to lose my job was Christian action. The protesters’ action in Washington D. C. was Christian action. Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s action in cathedral that day, was Christian action in the face of evil.

 

In the words of William Goettler, “the cross is a sign of the realm of God that is to come, a strength that can be known by those who are obedient to the call of Jesus Christ in their lives. Those who live by the light of faith challenge the evil powers of this world with the certainty of believers, knowing that the way of God will prevail against every hurt and every challenge.”[4]

 

So, go out into the world “to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

[1]            William Goettler, “Matthew 10:24-39 Pastoral Perspective” in David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Eds., Feasting On the Word, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008-2011), 164-168.

[2]   BCP, 99.

[3]            Robert Shine, June 22, 2017, comment on “Bishop: Pastors Must Deny Funerals to Catholics in Same-Gender Marriages,” in New Ways Minstry Bondings 2.0 Blog, June 22, 2017, accessed June 22, 2017, https://newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/22/bishop-pastors-must-deny-funerals-to-catholics-in-same-gender-marriages/.

 

[4]            Goettler, 168.

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.