Sermons

Sermon for Chapel on the Green, Mother’s Day, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2017

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, or Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

Happy Mother’s Day. I was undecided about whether to talk about Mother’s day today. It is a hard day for many of us. My mother died in a car accident during Hurricane Sandy four and a half years ago. Friends of mine have struggled to become mothers or have lost their children. Mother’s day is hard for many of us. Yet the ideal of motherhood, of unconditional love, is something we hear about in the lessons today.

In today’s Gospel lesson, we here the phrase, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places”. It’s a lovely thought, but what does this say to us, here, today? Usually, when people talk about this, they are talking about some future time, a time when Jesus returns. Jesus goes on to say, “I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” Yeah, it’s a lovely thought, but for some of us, hearing that “things will be better sometime in the future” can feel pretty empty.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places”. What does this really have to say to us, here, today? What does this say to those of us who have been dwelling on a friend’s couch, a park bench, or under a bridge? What does it say to those of us who are living with turmoil and strife?

Perhaps we can get some ideas about this by thinking about what Jesus says a little later on: “so that where I am, there you may be also.” How much of the time do we really feel that we are where Jesus is? What does that feel like anyway? Later on, Jesus says, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”. Do we feel this sort of closeness with God?

Again, when we are living with turmoil and strife, God often doesn’t feel that close. When we are distracted by all that is going on around us. God doesn’t often feel that close.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places”. Even when God doesn’t feel that close, the invitation remains. We are invited to dwell with God. We are invited to let our minds dwell on God’s loving kindness towards us.

The Psalm is a good example of how we can accept this invitation. “In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge”. A refuge is a special type of dwelling. It is a place of safety, of shelter from danger. We all face dangers daily. Beside physical dangers, we face the danger of being distracted by all that is around us. We face the danger of forgetting that what really makes us safe is God. We face the danger of forgetting what it is like to dwell in God.

So, what is it like to dwell in God? This isn’t something we tend to think or talk about much these days. Perhaps some of it is when we look to people who seem to dwell in God, they seem somehow different from the rest of us.

Look at St. Stephen, the first Christian Martyr. His love for God appears unconditional. Even as Stephen gets killed he prays, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”. Really? I don’t want to be a martyr. I have a hard enough time asking the God forgive someone who has simply been unkind to me. St. Stephen seems to do more than I could ever dream of. Yet in old Christian texts, you find people talking about how they want to become martyrs for Christ, to win the martyr’s crown of gold.

So, what is it like to dwell in God? God just doesn’t seem to be a big part of many people’s lives these days. It’s sad really, because dwelling with God can be wonderful. Feeling God’s peace, love, and joy can be wonderful.

Recently, I heard a great poem by Raymond Carver:

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Dwelling in God is to feel oneself beloved. It is feeling too few of us feel very often. It is a feeling all of us long for. So let me pause for a moment for each of you to hear this. Listen closely. You are beloved. You are special. God created you to do something very special. You are beloved. You are special. God created you to do something very special.

What are we created to do? Mother Theresa says, “We have been created in order to love and to be loved.”

This ability to love those around us, even when they might seem unlovable is something truly amazing. It is how we dwell in God. In the Gospel lesson, Jesus tells us, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these”

Greater works than the works of Jesus? That seems really hard to imagine, but it is part of the promise Jesus makes to us. The works Jesus did were based on him showing God’s love to us. He showed that love to us in healing those around him. He showed that love to us by feeding those around him. He showed that love to us by accepting those around him.

But that area around him was limited. He was just one person, after all. He didn’t have the modern means of travel or communications that we have. We are called to do the works he did around us, to feed, to heal, to love. And part of what can make our works greater is our ability to do these works, not only in Israel, but here in New Haven, here in Connecticut, across the country and around the globe.

True, we may not love as perfectly as Jesus loved us. We may not ever heal a leper or raise a person from the dead, but the vastness of this ability to love is truly amazing if we allow ourselves to love, and if we allow ourselves to be loved.

And this presents another challenge, not only must we choose to love, we must choose to let others love us. The song Desperado comes to mind.

Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?
Come down from your fences, open the gate
It may be rainin', but there's a rainbow above you
You better let somebody love you (let somebody love you)
You better let somebody love you before it's too late

Can we let those around us love us, in spite of our own brokenness? In spite of having been told, too often, that we are not good enough? Can we let Jesus love us, in spite of our own brokenness? In spite of knowing all the things we’ve done wrong in the past?
“You better let somebody love you.”

Perhaps this helps better understand the verse we started with. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places”. We can enter the dwelling place of the heart of Jesus. We can let Jesus love us and we need to respond with love. We can let God change our hearts to also be dwelling places of love. We can hold those around us in our hearts and allow those around us to hold us in their hearts. We can let somebody love us.

Because God does love us. There are people around us that love us. And even though it might not always feel that way, we can know, that along with Raymond Carver, we are beloved on the earth.

God loves you. It isn’t just a nice phrase to say to try and cheer someone up. It is a way of life we are all called to. God loves you. I love you. Now go forth and love one another, even as God has loved us. Amen.

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Speaking What The Lord Commands

Last Sunday, Amanda left us with the question: what does Jesus’ challenge to the status quo mean for us today? a status quo where some people do not have the same opportunities to enjoy God’s creation as others do, because of the family they were born into, the job they have, their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or many other things that the powers of this world use to disadvantage others.

This week’s lesson provides us an opportunity to explore this more deeply, on a personal level. When we look at systemic racism, sexism, and all the other forms of oppression, it is easy to feel overwhelmed, to feel as if we can’t make a difference, to say with Jeremiah, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy”. Perhaps, to bring this a little closer to our own lives, we can replace the word ‘boy’ with whatever describes our lack of confidence, our feelings of inadequacy or being disempowered.

The Lord doesn’t buy it. The Lord responds,

"Do not say, 'I am only a boy';
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,

True, we are not called to the same calling as Jeremiah, but we are called to show God’s love to our neighbors. It reminds me of an old quote from Maggie Kuhn, often seen on bumper stickers today, “Speak your mind even if your voice shakes”.

As a writer, how we put words together is very important to me. It is important for me to think about the words we use regularly, words we often don’t think enough about.

How do we communicate that it is time to sit down and listen to the sermon? Amanda uses a simple gesture. Paul talks about seeking to speak now in the name of the Living God. How often do we stop and think about what it means to talk of God as a Living God. God’s not just a concept, or something that created the world and then sat back to see what happens. God is a Living God who can put The Lord’s words in our mouths.

Others like to emphasize the inclusive aspect of God being a Living God, speaking in terms of what God does, creator, redeemer, and sustainer, instead of using words that might make it harder for some of us to relate to God because issues in our own lives, words like Father, Son, or Ghost.

I like to use the words of Psalm 19 like I did this morning. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, o Lord, my strength and my redeemer. I remember when I was running for political office, and that verse came to mind. Would that all politicians would say Psalm 19 verse 14 to themselves before they speak.

Others like to ask for God’s inspiration with the words, “Come Holy Spirit”.

Come, Holy Spirit – What makes you want to speak up? What inspires your words?

It is easy to think that Jeremiah was different. He had a special calling in a special time. He was called to proclaim great words. What does that have to do with us today? In asking this, we are, perhaps being more like Jeremiah than we would like to admit. “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am not like Jeremiah”, or “I don’t have important things to say.”

We do have important things to say, and today, as much as any day, we need God’s love proclaimed. Before the Gospel, we sang,

Be thou our great deliverer still,
thou Lord of life and death;
restore and quicken, soothe and bless,
with thine almighty breath:

We need God to be our great deliverer still. We also need to let God restore, quicken, soothe and bless through us. Too often, we don’t recognizing the importance of the words we say or hear. “How are you?” “I care”. “You matter”. “Have a nice day”. “You’re beautiful”. “Peace”. “God loves you”. These simple words are key to empowering the disempowered, to helping end the status quo of oppression that Amanda spoke about last week, to restore, quicken, soothe and bless.

Robert Kennedy spoke about a “ripple of hope”

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, …:”

and here, I’d add “or simply says a kind word”.

“he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

With this as a starting point, let us approach the Gospel lesson for today. When I read stories in the Bible, I like to ask myself, who am I in this story. Often, I am simply the observer. I am watching this great preacher whom I’ve heard so much about heal someone and then get drawn into a power struggle with an opponent playing Gotcha politics.

The leader of the synagogue, instead of seeing something wonderful that has happened, accuses Jesus of not playing by the rules. He engages Jesus in Gotcha politics, and we sit back, watch, and look for favorite person to deliver a stunning rebuke. If you’re following any discussions about the U.S. Presidential election this year, and especially if you’ve participated in such discussions on Facebook, this may sound very familiar, but I also suspect that many of these words may not always be acceptable in the Lord’s sight.

If someone were healed from eighteen years of suffering, I suspect most of us would be elated, unless of course, it triggered our own feelings of inadequacy. Why couldn’t I have performed the healing? What was it like for the leader of the synagogue to have this itinerant preacher show up and address an issue that has been there for eighteen years, and probably seemed unsolvable to many?

Perhaps, we are more like the woman getting healed. What did she do? The lesson starts off with

And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment."

Notice, that unlike a different woman Jesus healed, we don’t find this one saying, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed”. This woman just shows up. I wonder if she even thought that healing was possible. She just showed up, day after day, year after year, with perhaps no hope of being healed, and then one day, unexpectedly Jesus came and healed her. Sometimes, just showing up is what we need to do and our ailments will be unexpectedly healed.

Also notice that this woman had a very visible infirmity. “She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over” In the story of the other woman that Jesus healed, we read “He turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’… Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.” Her infirmities were not obvious. The brokenness of those around us are also not often obvious. There are invisible disabilities. We are often unaware of the chronic illness and chronic pain around us. There is mental illness. Nearly one in five people in America suffer from mental illness. This doesn’t even include the daily struggles each of us face, the griefs so many of us carry. The odds are that you, or someone sitting near you right now is struggling. There is a lot of healing to be done.

Perhaps, sometimes, we can even be a little bit like Jesus, bringing unexpected healing. The feast of St. Clare of Assisi was a few weeks ago and various people were sharing a great quote from her,

“We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God´s compassionate love for others.”

We are called to become vessels of God’s compassionate love for others, to be more Christ like, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to heal those who have been suffering for a long time, perhaps with very simple words of healing that the Lord gives us, words like, “How are you?” “I care”. “You matter”. “Have a nice day”. “You’re beautiful”. “Peace”. “God loves you”.

The story in the Gospel illustrates that every day is a day to show God’s love, to heal people, to set them free from bondage. It seems like too often in these current times, we only look for healing, or look to heal others on Sunday, one day out of seven, which is probably worse than what the leader of the synagogue was suggesting of looking for healing on six days out of the week.

How do we stand with Jesus challenging a status quo where some people do not have the same opportunities to enjoy God’s creation as others do? We do it by letting God give us words of love to those around us. We do it by letting God give us the courage to speak, even when our voice is shaking.

After the sermon, we will pray for all people, we will confess that we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves, we will share the peace. We will sing about coming in joy to meet our Lord. We will celebrate the Eucharist. At the end of the service, we will sing “O for a thousand tongues to sing”

My gracious Master and my God,
assist me to proclaim
and spread through all the earth abroad
the honors of thy Name.

Let our voices be part of those thousand voices.

He speaks, and listening to his voice,
new life the dead receive;
the mournful broken hearts rejoice,
the humble poor believe.

May our voices be those that the Lord speaks through, bringing words of hope and healing.

We will then be dismissed with the words “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord”.

These words, like the other words we’ve been talking about, are not just simple words that we say to mark the conclusion the service. These words relate directly back to Jeremiah.

"Do not say, 'I am only a boy';
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,

As we go in peace to love and serve the Lord, may seek to show God’s love to all around us, every day.

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Pray Without Ceasing

Our Rector at Grace and St. Peter's is out on maternity leave, and various members of the congregation are filling in as guest preachers. Today was my turn. For my text, I used the Gospel lesson of the day, Luke 11:1-13, where Jesus give the disciples The Lord's Prayer. Below is the sermon I preached.

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