Sunday, July 3, 2016

One Foundation

The texts for Proper 9 are found here

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On All Saints’s Sunday, in the year 2003, I had the privilege of attending the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson. Held in an arena, the stadium seats were full and there was a palpable sense of joy and excitement, tempered by fear.

Underneath his new robes, Bishop Robinson wore a bullet proof vest. And, each and every one of the 4000 people seated in the arena had passed through metal detectors and had their belonging searched prior to entering the building. So yes, there was joy, but there was also anxiety.

And yet, as the mighty swell of the organ began, a deep inhale could be heard as 4000 people sang, in unison and in full voice, the Church’s One Foundation. And the procession began and there was no turning back from this moment and Gene Robinson entered, along with 40 of his fellow Bishops, as well as banner bearers, Eucharistic ministers, choir—a veritable multitude singing and marching in defiant and joyful proclamation that we, as a church, would not be afraid and go forward into the new life to which God has called us.

1. The church's one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is his new creation
by water and the Word.

Fear did not win that day. Love did and we became a new creation. And, I am drawn to this memory, this moment as I consider the Gospel this day.

You will go “as a lamb to the wolves”, the Gospel proclaims.

And, they went and I am sure that they were afraid. I am sure that they must have felt at a loss, no purse by their side, no cloak, no staff whose staccato tap alongside their footsteps would have strengthened them on their way.

I imagine that they must have felt vulnerable, strangely naked and exposed—if not literally, then metaphorically. Naked to the scrutiny of those who would hear their testimony, exposed to the shaming of a culture in which their empty hands would have been seen as a sign of greater failings.

Vulnerable as they walked, vulnerable as they proclaimed, vulnerable in their hunger, vulnerable in their reliance on the hospitality of others, vulnerable as they wept, vulnerable as they prostrated themselves before the Lord.

Vulnerable, as those who have no desire to become a martyr offered themselves in places and ways in which martyrdom may well have been, and sometimes was, the outcome of their witness and their testimony to the way of God in the world.

As a lamb to wolves.

Yet, the funny thing about those lambs. There are far more lambs than there are wolves. And facing the wolves, the sheep circle about heads facing outward so that they can see anything that might be coming at them. The lambs, ushered to the middle, and protected by the strength of the herd.

Bishop Robinson did not enter that arena alone—100s flanked him and 4,000 encircled him. The disciples did not go out alone. Sent in twos and moreso as the 70. Shoulder to shoulder, their footsteps fell in unison along the dusty road.

A testimony to the strength of the body when the body is more than the one--we who are many are one body, for we all share in the one bread.

Lambs can face the wolves when they are part of the herd.

When I was little I loved to watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. And, I could have told you at a very young age, that predators rely on their ability to separate out the vulnerable from the herd in order to kill. And, so I would hold my breath, and my heart would ache as the wolves worked their way in between the lambs and the herd.

And, like those lambs, the church itself can be destroyed when she falls prey to those forces of division in the world. It is striking to me that the lectionary offers these texts with their emphasis on unity in this season after the Pentecost—and as I consider this, I consider that the Pentecost sending relies on our ability to engage in ministry together. To go together, to sing together, to pray together.

And this bring me back to the arena where the 4000 sang, “The Church’s One Foundation”.

If you are unfamiliar with that hymn, whose opening lines I quoted earlier in the sermon, its theme is one of the inevitability of God’s unification of all creation through the inbreaking of peace and the manifestation of Christian unity in the face of those forces which would divide us.

2. Elect from every nation,
yet one o'er all the earth;
her charter of salvation,
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with every grace endued.

We need each other. That’s the message of the Gospel today. That is the message of this letter to the Galatians. That’s the message of this passage from 2nd Kings in which healing can only be achieved through reaching out to the outsider.

We need each other.

In a reflection on the consecration of Gene Robinson, the Reverend Jim Payne, wrote words that seem particularly fitting in this time rife with national and international divisions. Paraphrased

“Let us celebrate Gene Robinson's consecration and the advance in acceptance in the human family.  In our celebration let us also remember [those who] struggle to find God's presence even in this challenge for them.  Let us remember that in times of growth we too are challenged and struggle.  Let us remember them in love and pray for them, that they know God in the place of Chaos.  Chaos is where creation is created anew each moment.  When our hackles are raised and our tempers are high let us remember that those who anger us are our neighbor and even if they do something contrary to our direct experience of God to pray for them.  In our prayers let us do so for their sake and not for our comfort, for we are all on the journey together.”

We are on the journey together. Go.

Amen.



Sunday, June 19, 2016

Renounce and Sanctify--Another Sermon in the Aftermath of Massacre)

The readings for today can be found here

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Renounce and Sanctify


The service of baptism in the Episcopal Church includes what is known as the “examination” during which the individual being baptized (or parents and godparents on behalf of an infant or child being baptized) answers a series of questions, the first three of these are as follows:

Question
Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces
of wickedness that rebel against God?
Answer
I renounce them.


Question
Do you renounce the evil powers of this world
which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
Answer
I renounce them.


Question
Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you
from the love of God?
Answer
I renounce them.




And, each and every time I engage in baptismal preparations with a family we get to this portion of the service and I explain that the first three of these questions are about what we are turning away from in baptism. And, that, as a church and as human beings we need language in order to attempt to understand very abstract concepts. And, so, the language about Satan is representative of this specific need—a need to be able to put a name to those things in the world which destroy and pervert the loving intention of our Creator and the unity of all people. 

So, we name evil Satan. And, there is power in having a name for evil. That’s part of what is going on in today’s Gospel—Jesus’ request for the demon’s name is a demonstration of power over this evil force. In the cultural context of the Gospel, knowing the name for the evil is power over the evil. 

Evil answers to many, many names.

 And, to know the name of the evil is to have power over it. 

Unnamed, evil thrives in the shadows and grows in strength. Eventually, the evil emerges, strengthened by the complacency of silence.  In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape advises his nephew Wormwood

“I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves.”

Evil does not want to be seen.

But, part of naming the evil is seeing the evil. This requires confrontation and truth-telling. This requires strength. This requires looking closely into the things and the people we’d rather not see, and to ask challenging questions, of the structures and systems which have created a climate in which evil can grow unchallenged and unhindered. So by naming those evils, with names like, "complacency"; "racism"; and "homophobia", we begin the process by which those evils are overthrown. 

I see you, you have no power over me. And, in answer to the questions that have been posed—you are renounced! 

The answer to these questions about Satan and those forces which divide and destroy us is a public renunciation.  To renounce in this way is to refuse to recognize these powers, to refuse to support them, to literally turn away and cast aside. And having been named and without a willing audience to participate in the perpetration of evil, the evil consumes itself…

“the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank and was drowned”.

While this passage reflects a context in which the destruction of the swine is meant as a critique of Roman order in the region (and hence a particularly powerful political act in which an oppressive and feared government is challenged), it also demonstrates an understanding that evil can and will destroy itself when faced with true seeing. 

I renounce them.

I renounce them.

I renounce them.

Uttered three times, the renouncing becomes a sanctification of sorts. And, to sanctify is to make whole and holy. To sanctify is to claim something for God. To sanctify is to transform.

And renouncing becomes healing and from the place of renouncing we commit ourselves to the wholeness of God’s love.

Question
Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your
Savior?
Answer
I do.


Question
Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
Answer
I do.

Having named evil, seen it, renounced it…we turn to a way of freely given grace and love and we answer, I do.

In the sermons I preach about baptism I usually emphasize the future commitment of the individual and the community—the “we will” about how we will strive to be moving forward. This is one of two places in the prayer book where the phrase “I do” appears. And, it is a statement of truth for the here and the now. I do trust Christ’s strength and love. I do turn to this new way.

I do.

And, in this trust, in this turning we are gifted strength…and in times like this I need strength. I need to know that I am not alone. I need to know that all of you stand with me.  And, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we all need these things. And, not only do we need them, all those who are hurting in this world need the same thing—there is a reason that God’s response to the despairing and afraid Elijah is to feed him—to strengthen him for the next part of his story. 

So, I hope today we will receive the gift of food, the gift of strength in the face of the evil that would rather we curl up under the broom tree and die. Those forces of evil need to know that we will not stand for it, we see them and name them and renounce them. This is our covenant, our promise to God and the world that we will allow nothing, no one, no law, no act to define us apart from the love and grace of God for all of humanity. 

And so I wish to encourage us all to draw upon this strength and be made brave by the freely given gift of grace and love.  I call upon us to see in the Gospel that continued and named truth that there is evil AND evil will lose! 

So, let’s be brave and continue to renounce evil, continue to name it and proclaim a different way. We cannot afford to tolerate those forces which deny the full humanity of all of God’s creatures because those are the very forces which destroy the creatures of God.

And so, in the aftermath of yet another massacre, are we brave enough to publically renounce evil, to point to those places where it cowers and proclaim love and light? Are we willing to make public the commitment we’ve made to God and another way?

A way of Christ, the way that calls us to to honor the dignity of every human being and seek and serve Christ in all persons. Amen. 

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For remembrance in prayer and for inspiration to justice.  

Stanley Almodovar III, 23
Amanda Alvear, 25
Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
Antonio Davon Brown, 29
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25
Luis Daniel Conde, 39
Cory James Connell, 21
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22
Paul Terrell Henry, 41
Frank Hernandez, 27
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25
Kimberly Morris, 37
Akyra Monet Murray, 18
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan, 24
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33
Martin Benitez Torres, 33
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
Luis S. Vielma, 22
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 
And, because Jesus asks us to pray for those who persecute...
Omar Mateen