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The Daily Examen – May 28, 2017

Anxiety,
surrender,
success,
bathed in light,
exhaustion,
rest,
nourishment
inner conflict
sleep.

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What Do We Do While Waiting?

Below is the sermon I preached at Grace and St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Hamden, CT on May 28th, 2017, Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A. The texts were Acts 1:6-14, Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36, 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11, John 17:1-11

May the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.

Today is a strange day in the church calendar. It is the Sunday after Ascension Day. It is the Sunday before Pentecost. It is the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. It is the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It is a day to honor those who have fought and died for us; those who have fought and died for us in the fields of battle, and He who died for us on the Cross.

It seems there’s been a lot of dying in the news recently. The terrorists attack on concert-goers in Manchester, England, and on Christians in Minya, Egypt, and the stabbing deaths on a train in Portland, Oregon are reminders to us of the dangerous world we live in and the importance of those who have given their lives in wars around the world to protect our freedom and safety.

Ascension Day was Thursday, which we celebrate during our service today. We celebrate Jesus’ ascension as we hold onto the promise of Pentecost for next week, that God will send the Holy Spirit to us. Today marks the final week of the Easter Season together with the waiting for the season Pentecost. It is a time liturgy wonks argue about. Should the Pascal candle, celebrating Jesus presence here with us on earth after his resurrection be extinguished on Ascension day, or should it remain lit until Pentecost?

We are living through something similar here at Grace and St. Peters right now. We finished celebrating a beloved priest who has been with us for many years and has now left, and we are waiting for the arrival of our next priest. What should we be doing in this time of many unknowns?

It seems to capture a feeling many of us have right now; especially, those celebrating the birth of a new child, or the graduation of loved ones, the strange mixture of celebrating, mingled with the anticipation of what is to come next. We celebrate the birth of a child as we wait to see what she will grow up to be like. We celebrate graduations as we wait for the new graduates to head off to college or their first job. It raises the question, “What do we do while waiting?”

When I was in college, I was in the play “Waiting for Godot”, and part of the answer was, “we could do our exercises”. What are the exercises we should be doing right now, while we wait?

Today’s Gospel lesson gives us a hint: “Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Here we see the celebration of Jesus’ ascension, as well as hints about what is to come next, of Pentecost and eternal life. God is to be glorified, but in the midst of the pain and suffering around us like the attacks in Manchester England, in Minya, Egypt, and in Portland Oregon, as well as in our own turmoil and suffering, it can be hard to glorify God.

These are the exercises we need to be doing, becoming more grateful and thankful for what we have around us, in spite of current suffering. Glorifying God and showing appreciation to people around us in spite of current struggles.

I must confess, I’m not so great at giving God, or anyone, for that matter, the glory that is deserved. The liturgy, the prayer book, and related reminders help us a bit with giving God glory, but I really suck at expressing appreciation to those around me. There is so much suffering, complacency, and frankly, I’m just out of practice at giving God, and those around me, the thanks they are due.

The Epistle says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.”

The ordeals around us may not be particularly fiery; let us hope they aren’t. We all have ordeals in our lives which are very painful, but we’re not getting shot at for going to church or stabbed for protecting another person. We read the news and posts from friends online, and we hear so much more suffering. Personally, at times it feels really hard to rejoice, let alone rejoice in any sort of suffering and I certainly pray we don’t get to a place where we might be shot at for going to church.

A second thing that gets in the way of properly giving glory, showing gratefulness or thanksgiving, is our complacency, the tendency to take for granted all the wonderful things that are around us all the time. Every week day morning, I get up, eat my oatmeal, take a shower, and head off to work.

If you eat oatmeal pretty much every morning for breakfast, like I do, it is fairly easy to forget how wonderful it is to be able to have a nourishing breakfast every morning. It seems like just the same old oatmeal. But for too many people who are food insecure, a nice warm bowl of oatmeal each morning would be a great blessing.

Presiding Bishop Curry of the Episcopal Church, together with Presiding Bishop Eaton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has called us to fast on the 21st day of each month through the end of next year “because that is the day when 90% of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits run out for families”.

Bishop Curry says, “Perhaps we in the Episcopal Church, perhaps we in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, perhaps we who are Christians and people of faith and goodwill have come to the kingdom for such a time as this, to help our country make sure that no child goes to bed hungry.” It is a way to advocate for children that go hungry in America. It is a way to remember to be grateful.

The same applies to the daily shower. 783 million people in the world do not have access to clean water. 2.5 billion don’t have access to adequate sanitation. A warm daily shower is an incredible blessing. We should be thankful for access to clean water and adequate sanitation. We should be advocating to improve access to clean water and sanitation.

Likewise, having a good job to go to, and the means to get there is another wonderful blessing that it is so easy to take for granted, especially when work is challenging or tedious.

Personally, I am also particularly blessed to have a wife who is a wonderful cook. When we manage to find time to sit down to dinner together, I can be pretty sure that it is going to be a great meal. When it is a great meal, which is pretty much always, well, that’s expected, and I too easily forget to tell Kim what a wonderful meal it was.

Yet there is another reason I really suck at giving praise, whether it be to God, or to those who do wonderful things around me. It just isn’t the way I was brought up. It isn’t something I’m well practiced at. When I was a child, my father was a perfectionist. It felt like nothing I could do was ever good enough. It felt like I never got sufficient acclaim for my successes, so I never learned to give acclaim to others.

I know this is something I need to get a lot better at. Many of you are much better at it that I am, but I suspect we all could get a lot better at showing gratitude and being thankful. We should all practice being more thankful, showing more gratitude, not only for ourselves, but for those who could learn from our example.

What might it be like, if we were all more grateful, more thankful? The Epistle says a little bit about this, “the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you”. The Gospel adds to it with this: Jesus, speaking about the disciples who would see the Ascension, and, indeed about all of us, says, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

You know, when I hear people talking about “knowing God and Jesus Christ” it raises all kinds of concerns for me. It does seem like we all “know God” on some certain level. I know who the President of the United States is. He’s not a personal friend of mine, and there are plenty of things it seems we disagree on, but I know who he is. I suspect many people have similar relationships with God. Sure, they know of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. They might even make it to church regularly, but God might still feel like a bit of an abstract concept or a distant being, not a personal friend, but someone they disagree with.

At the other end of the spectrum, too often, I’ve heard people ask “Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” I have a lot of issues with this, too. It makes Jesus Christ sound like some sort of buddy, or BFF – best friend forever - which I don’t really have a big problem with in and of itself, but it often feels like it is used to separate the “cool kids who are Christian” from all of the other people who might not really be cool or Christian.

It also too often feels like takes away a little bit from the aspect of God as majestic, mysterious, transcendent; of God, the unknowable, surpassing human understanding; of Jesus Christ who died, rose again, and ascended in heaven.

So, what does it mean to know God, today, this Memorial Day Weekend, 2017, the beginning of Ramadan, the Sunday after the Ascension and before Pentecost?

There is an old saying that a good sermon should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Perhaps is a good way to look at the challenge of today’s lessons. Are you grieving? Know that God loves you, that amidst our pain and suffering God does in fact, bring hope and healing.

Do you have problems being grateful or thankful? A lot of us do. Let’s work on it together. Let’s do our exercises together. Let’s practice being aware of the simple blessings, even as simple as a nice bowl of oatmeal, or a warm shower. Let’s make an effort to show our thankfulness, not only to God, but also to those around us.

Is God a nice idea to you, but not someone you know, that you spend time with? Spend time in prayer, perhaps just quietly listening, waiting for God. Does your sense of God lack mystery and majesty? Spend time thinking about the Ascension.

Think about the end of today’s Psalm:

Ascribe power to God; his majesty is over Israel; his strength is in the skies. How wonderful is God in his holy places!

Today’s Gospel is part of a larger context. It is the longest prayer of Jesus in the Gospels; The “High Priestly Prayer”, part of the Farewell Discourse. The prayer ends with Jesus praying, “that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Jesus is praying for our oneness with one another and with God, a oneness that is both personal and profound, a oneness that helps us get past our pain, suffering, fear, complacency, or even lack of practice of showing love to God and one another. Let us pray this ourselves.

Ascribe power to God; his majesty is over Israel; his strength is in the skies. How wonderful is God in his holy places! the God of Israel giving strength and power to his people! Blessed be God!

Amen.

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The Daily Examen – May 27, 2017

Lord,
lead me to sit
more peacefully
next to blooming sea roses
looking out
over the quiet bay
in spite of all the
strife and turmoil.

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