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


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Proper 6C, To Go in Peace

Readings appointed for today can be found here

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4 Jars, 2 Sinners, 1 Command

Three alabaster jars. Actually, there are four alabaster jars and four women in four Gospels. In three of the Gospels, Matthew and Mark, the woman is a prophet and her act of loving service will be told in remembrance of her.  The focal point in these narratives is the prophetic action and the love of the women. In neither Mark or Matthew, Mark being the earliest written, is the woman described as being sinful.

There is also a woman with an alabaster jar in the Gospel of John, and likewise an emphasis on the woman’s anointing being a for-shadowing of Jesus’ death. In John, the woman with the Alabaster jar of nard is named Mary and is the sister of Lazarus.  

Held up against these other narratives, Luke is unique in this description of the woman with the alabaster jar as a sinner. There is a sinful woman who is forgiven in the Gospel of John, but she appears at a separate point in the story and she has no alabaster jar.

So, two Gospels, John and Luke, with sinful women who are forgiven. But, are you following me? There is a major difference. In John the command to the woman is “go and sin no more” in Luke, it is “go in peace”. So the part of this narrative that is unique to Luke, with no other appearance in the Gospels is this command to “Go in peace”

Go in peace… as I read and spoke these words I found myself considering a moment of peace in my own life…

I remember the day that I decided that I was going to say “yes” to the call of priesthood.  I was 23 and living in a studio apartment on Lake Ave. in Cleveland. I had been out late the night before, Lona’s 25th birthday party actually, and arrived home in the wee small hours. So exhausted and in no mood to drag myself to church, where I was scheduled to chalice, I was sitting in an ugly brown chair in my living room and trying to get up the energy to head out. And, as I sat, I was suddenly filled with a peculiar sense of peace. And, in that moment I knew that I was going to do this.

A confidence in the path I was on, a path that was by no means certain and which had seemed challenging to follow on the best of days. 

I’ve always wondered about that moment. About that peace. And, this past week while I was reading a book about Christian discernment, I came across a passage that described this feeling as one of “confidence at a very deep level [that] indicates that we are moving in the right direction”. (Grounded in God, 28) And, with that language affirming that my experience of confidence was not without precedent…I turned to the Book of Common Prayer and the prayer of quiet confidence,

“O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.” (BCP 829)

Peace as a defining quality of the God whom we serve. Peace in that still moment of communion where all is right and good and we are ourselves, just as we are, and God is God and we are made whole.

Go in peace.

in the passage we hear today, this is the bidding, the dismissal, that the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet receives following her absolution for sin. Having chosen for herself to adopt this position of servitude and adoration, she is forgiven and sent out with peace.

And, I imagine that peace was imbued with that gift of quiet confidence. The sense that “all will be well and all will be well and all matter of things shall be well”, as Julian of Norwich uttered in her famous prayer of calm.  In entering into this place of calm and certainty it strikes me that the passage does not indicate the nature of the woman’s sin, but it is emphatic about about the nature of her love.

So, despite the efforts of scriptural revisionists to tell us otherwise, nowhere in scripture does it say that this woman was a prostitute—and just to be clear, since I want you to be clear on this, no where in scripture are we offered ANY indication that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute.  What she has done ceases to matter in the face of the transformation she has undergone. This is ultimately, not about sin, it is about transformation—her transformation and that of the community that refused to see her and her full humanity.

And, with that, the continuation of the narrative “he went through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God” takes on a sense that this good news is one of peace and newness of life to those who have been broken by the structures and strictures of the social and political landscape. 

It is no wonder then that this movement was provided for by the women of the community—Mary, Joanne, Chuza, Susanna—I feel certain that they could see, in Jesus, a future in which their full humanity would be recognized.  We’ve been hearing portions of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, a letter written specifically to endorse the call to follow Christ as one being meant for all of God’s children.

In Frederick Buechner’s commentary on the passage we heard today in Galatians "And how long was the whole great circus to last? Paul said, why, until we all become human beings at last, until we all 'come to maturity,' as he put it; and then, since there had been only one really human being since the world began, until we all make it to where we're like him, he said - 'to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' (Ephesians 4:13). Christs to each other, Christs to God. All of us. Finally. It was just as easy, and just as hard, as that."

This idea that in Christ, in Jesus, we are called to see each as fully human must have seemed and been experienced as a radical and welcome departure from the norm for these women—and in particular for the woman found weeping over Jesus’ feet. The ignored, disparaged, fearful and exploited people of the world have long grasped upon this liberating idea that what Christ offers is recognition of the belovedness of every man, woman and child in creation—regardless of what the world might say of those self same individuals. 

What would our world be like? What would our newsfeed, our newspapers, our twitter accounts look like, if we could hold to this core understanding of shared and full humanity? If the way of the world was one grounded in the peace of God. What if the bidding to go in peace was one embodied, embraced and offered to our children and all those they, and we, will encounter? I can begin to imagine, and it is this imagining to which I will strive.

Next week in the passage from the Galatians (part of this series we are hearing on the letter) we will hear the famous passage, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.”

This is not an if, it is a truth. We belong to Christ and in this there is perfect freedom. But, our freedom is compromised, if we, like Simon cannot bid our brothers and sisters that same peace. 

Go in peace, Jesus says to the wounded. Go in peace. This phrase becomes a liturgical action—and one of immense power. Think on this, what does this mean for us in the here and now. Because, we will say these words, we will declare peace to those who here have sought forgiveness of sin. We will greet each other with these words and declare it so. Peace, at the shaking of a hand, peace at the quick embrace. Peace. This is not our peace, but the peace of God we share…and this is holy. This is not coffee hour or hospitality time—this is a moment of radical welcome and reconciliation. 

In this moment, we are invited to truly see each other and declare God’s love to all those we encounter. In this moment, we set aside all hurts or offenses and that all too human tendency to objectify our kindreds here on earth. In this moment, we are invited to say yes to God’s invitation to a different way going forward.

Go in peace, and, in that moment of peace, be filled with the quiet confidence that the way we are taking is the right way and the way to which we are called by the God who calls us to peace.  Amen.




Suffer some so that others might suffer less?

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