Pentecost Sermon, 2012

May 27, 2012

Pentecost Sunday

May 27, 2012

Acts 2: 1-21

I speak to you in the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

In our own native language, in our own native tongue.

Words. Dialect.  Accent.  Intonation.  Words. 

You may have already picked up on the fact that I am not from around here.  My accent gives it away every time I open up my mouth.  I am the daughter of the low country in South Carolina, where rice and gravy is a staple at all family gatherings.  Where, I am pretty certain, the heat of the day and evening is so powerful, it causes us to speak slower- it is do dang hot to talk any faster.   I am the niece of the Blue Ridge Mountains where the ancient whispers of the woods curves its way around my words.  Where Yall is an acceptable plural form of you.  Although I do not speak a different language, I do speak in a different tongue. 

On this Holy day, the birthday of the church, Pentecost, a day of new ministry, we gather together in this one place and I can’t help but anticipate, even long for the sound of rushing wind bursting through the doors, filling this space up, lighting us all up with the Holy Spirit. I also can’t help but imagine how those who experienced the first Pentecost must have felt in the heat of the moment. 

 

The confusion, the wonder, the awe of being a part of what must have felt like riding the inside of a tornado or perhaps a roller coaster-while never leaving their seat.  Think about it for a moment- what if you turned to your neighbor and saw a flame dancing above their heads.  In one bold and unpredictable moment, the Holy Spirit made itself known to the crowd that was gathered and they were affected and transformed. 

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the language barrier was broken and all who were present were able to listen, hear and speak- in a common language- a language that sounded familiar to each of them, each in their own native tongue, a language that sounded like home, that resonated with the learning and teachings they experienced as children, a language expressing a common vision, and experiencing the mystery and wonder of faith in action, God’s deeds of power.  It makes sense that they were perplexed and amazed.  They didn’t have Google or Wikipedia to run to and do further research.  They were just there, wrapped up in the experience.  They weren’t drunk.  They weren’t stoned.  They were experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit and it… was… amazing.  It is… amazing. 

 Not many moments like that happen today. Even if they did, our nature of wanting to explain everything in terms that make events easy to understand would require us to use scientific research and explanations to uncover the root of the phenomenon.  We like to make sense of the things that make us feel uncomfortable, that challenge our comfort zones, that call us to be transformed in a date in time we didn’t have marked on our calendars.

 

 

But I am willing to bet that if given a moment to think, to reflect, to ponder, each person in this room has had an experience with the Holy Spirit speaking to us in a different way, being revealed to us in a language not our own but we understood it as if it were our native tongue.

The Council for Research Excellence released a study back in 2009 that showed average adults spend about 8 hours a day in front of a screen.  A computer, IPad, Television- just to name a few examples.  We are bombarded with images, click of a button access to anything and everything we could ever want to know about, read about- instantly.  But when was the last time one was moved, affected, perplexed- as the passage from Acts reads, by an experience with the Holy Spirit?  Kind of hard to get that through a modem, a LCD screen- even one that has High Definition and 3-D capability.  When was the last time a click of a button opened your ears to hear, your heart to listen, your life to be affected and changed? 

 I had an experience like that.  This experience took me by surprise, shook me to my core, opened my eyes and allowed me to experience the Holy Spirit in a new and different way. In 2006 I attended a dance performance – I typically don’t do much attending of dance performances- I much prefer concerts but I won tickets through a drawing at work.

 We made an evening of it with dinner before the show and a promise of a good glass of wine afterwards at our favorite wine bar.  We took our seats, I devoured the playbill in the minutes leading up to the lights dimming, the doors were closed- we were all gathered in one room.  We were lawyers, IT specialists, doctors, teachers, tourists, waiters and retirees, a wide assortment of people gathered for this performance.

  We came from many different homelands and either called Asheville our current home or a place we were visiting along the way.  As the dancers took the stage they began to tell a story about addressing the concerns of today’s middle and working class.  The performance was speaking about our families, feelings, and lives in a web of need, support and desire in a language I was not familiar with or able to speak- through the power of movement, using movement as metaphor.  But I got it.  I understood. 

 The very blood rushing through my body was resonating with the powerful story.  The room didn’t fill up with a rush of wind, but my spirit felt it just the same.  I was in awe, perplexed even by the experience.

God’s deeds of power- the topic of conversation offered in that one room in Jerusalem after the rush of wind and the flames of fire appeared, can be seen in the world around us, can be interpreted by those we sit next to in the chairs and pews, and can be experienced outside of this one room- in nature, in the galleries, in museums, in classrooms, in the car going from here to there from there to home, in our prayer lives, in the quiet and stillness of the morning- God’s power, through the Holy Spirit doesn’t have to be experienced in a rush of wind or in tongues of fire.  But the story gets our attention.  The story is actually pretty cool because in addition to the experience of wind and fire, different people from different places who normally and naturally speak different languages, were united by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Last October I was at the Philadelphia Museum of Art specifically for the exhibit Rembrandt and The Face of Jesus.  Our tour began and we moved through each of the rooms listening to the voice on the audio device telling us about each of the pieces of art. 

There was a moment when I looked around the room and surveyed the various groups of people who made up this particular congregation on that Friday afternoon.  There were nuns, international guests, people local to the Philadelphia area and people like me who had traveled the day before in order to witness this special exhibit. 

If given the opportunity to talk with one another, chances are we would discover that some of us spoke different languages than others.  Our accents would have sounded differently, our values may be different from one another, we all had different spiritual gifts to offer the world and we would probably disagree on what toppings to order on our pizza.  That being said we were all drawn to this exhibit, these beautiful works of art that told the story of Jesus and Jesus’s ministry- and for 2 hours, we all spoke and understood the same language.  In our native language, in our native tongue, the artist set us on fire through his gift of capturing the spirit on canvas and telling us that story. 

 The Holy Spirit enters in various and unexpected ways. In bold ways.  In subtle ways.  In ways we don’t even detect until years later.  And when we are open to experiencing the Holy Spirit, we are transformed, we are changed and we are reminded again and again of God’s deeds of power in the world around us- and in our own lives-  each in our native language, in our native tongue.

Amen.

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Sermon for 04-22-2012

Field Education appreciation

Ephesians 4: 11-16

 

When I was 16, I had one of those moments that just stay with you, that hangs in your mind and in your heart and in your soul like the finishing note of a beautiful piece of music.  It was one of those moments that leaves a thumbprint within the core of one’s being.

 

I grew up in Summerville, SC and my family and I were present for an event that still haunts me to this day- Hurricane Hugo.  Everything you may have seen on television brought to you by the media was true- and there was so… much… more.   I lived 25 miles away from the coast so we escaped the threat of water and tidal surge.  Wind, hurricane force winds, rattling the drafty windows of the only home I had really known kept us awake throughout the darkest hours.  Right before the eye passed over our town, we took a direct hit to our roof.  An ancient Pine tree- top was resting, dangling, through our roof and into our attic.

 

My home town has a nickname- Summerville in the Pines due to all the tall and stately pine trees that grew up in my back yard, in the backyards of my neighbors and friends, along the streets of our town.  On the morning after the hurricane, most of the pines that had stood tall for many generations were now inches away from the roof of our houses, piercing the roofs, laying across cars and across yards, stacked like firewood- a real living and breathing obstacle course.

 

What would normally take a few minutes to walk on a “normal” day now took 20 minutes on this most abnormal day.  Over and under was required to negotiate a walk to the middle of our street where we met, neighbor to neighbor, face to face, in the middle of our deepest confusion, anxiety and gratitude that whatever damage had happened to our physical homes and our emotional psyche, our lives had been spared injury and death- which was quite a miracle when one surveyed the scene of my neighborhood.

After the initial shock slid off of our shoulders we began to move into a period of figuring out what to do.  Chainsaws, wood chippers, lopping shears were found and the sound of gasoline powered generators and chainsaws filled the air of that late summer/early autumn morning.

Across the street lived Ms. Jines, a nurse, a grandmother, a widow and the only African American woman who lived near my home.  I grew up going over to house from time to time to see if she had any sweets or goodies she wanted to share with a child who had yet to learn any social graces.  On this particular morning, I was filled with despair, frustration, disbelief and I found Ms. Jines kneeling in her flower garden weeding.  Weeding.  There were tall pine trees toppled all around, people feeling quite anxious and here sat Ms. Jines weeding her flowers.  I asked, “What are you doing, Ms. Jines?”

To which she replied -and in her words- she changed my life forever, “Ginny, I’m doing what I can.”  I’m doing what I can.

In that one moment the spiritual gift of teaching that Ms. Jines possessed was shared with me and stirred and encouraged my own taproot of spiritual journey to break through new ground and gain an understanding that sometimes, small actions, assessing the situation and seeing where you fit in and what you can do can and does make an impression on the people you encounter, the people we encounter along the way.  I was 16, a teenager who felt my safety and my security shaken to the core, blown about like a leaf in the wind thanks to Hurricane Hugo- Ms. Jines stilled the tempest within me through her honesty, her humility, her ability to see the chaos and find a peace that passed all understanding and she offered that to me in her words, “I’m doing what I can.”

Nobody is born knowing fully who they are and what they can do.  We live a life of trying and failing, trying and succeeding, trying and being inspired to learn and do more, to offer more.  Through this life long learning process we discover what it is that we can do.  And what we can do, what we can offer back to others in service just happens to be the spiritual gifts God has given us.  These spiritual gifts then shape and form who we are, who we are becoming and how we will engage the world.

But we don’t learn this on our own.  We don’t figure this out all by ourselves.  We grow and become by being in relationship with others and in relationship with God, seeking and serving Christ in all persons, striving to be Christ to one another.  No, my brothers and sisters, we don’t figure out how to engage the world in a bubble, in isolation.  We, through the grace of God, have been given an opportunity to learn in many and various settings and for the seminarians at VTS, we have been given an opportunity to do what we can through our work in our field education parishes.

As a former Human Resources manager and a training and development specialist, I really wish there was a manual and a handbook that taught us how to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers and pastors.  A simple check off list to figure out which one of these we were and a step by step action plan on how to be that to and for the world.  I don’t think I am asking for too much.  But we don’t get that luxury.  Instead, we get to figure out what it looks like for each of us and then we show up and do what we can.

 

For those gathered here today who have helped shape and form us as future leaders in the church, you have been our mentors; you are the ones we have been given an opportunity to apprentice.  You are the ones who have helped us discover if we are prophets, apostles, evangelists, teachers and pastors.  You are the ones who have helped teach us how to build up the body of Christ, you are the ones who have helped equip us for the ministry that God has called each of us to.   We couldn’t be who we are without you.  Lay ministers, priests, deacons, parish lay committee members, each of you has shaped us, has helped to build us up in love, has equipped us for the next step of our journey.

 

Our human language does not have a word that holds the love, appreciation, gratitude and gratefulness that is resonating in our hearts and souls when we consider who you are to us and what you have offered to us, in our journey, in our formation, in who we are becoming.  Yet each of you showed up, taught us, counseled us, gave us feedback, gave us encouragement- you all did what you could, you all weeded us in the midst or our journey, in the midst of our papers, classes, CPE, colloquy, exams, readings, chapel assignments, you still showed up, you have done what you can.  And we will carry that with us in our hearts and souls, in our work, in our relationships, in our prayer lives and I pray that we will each pay it forward by being present to others, helping form and shape others in their own spiritual journeys by showing up and doing what we can.  And we will do that by speaking the truth in love, growing up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promoting the body’s growth in building itself up in love.  We are each doing what we can. Amen.

Easter 3, 2012

May 13, 2012

Luke gospel 24: 36-47 for St. Thomas, DuPont Circle

3rd Sunday of Easter

Jesus was no stranger to the disciples and the apostles.  The disciples and apostles spent a better part of 3 years walking with this man, learning from him, sleeping in houses with him, sharing meals, hopping on boats to get away from the crowds with him, baptizing, healing- They were an intimate band of brothers and sisters traveling the road together.  How is it, then, that the disciples were startled when they saw Jesus this time?  To the point that Jesus had to say, “Look!  I’m not a ghost.  Come, touch me- see, I am real.  Its me, guys.”

I mean I get it.  Since Jesus was resurrected on the 3rd day, he had done a great deal of just showing up at random times, mostly inconvenient times while the disciples were in the middle of something else and then Bam!  Jesus pops up and says something odd or weird like- here, touch my wounds (Ewww) , or Hey, what are you talking about.  Whose death are you talking about (as if Jesus didn’t already know)?

Or here- Peace be with you.  Peace be with you.

Who shows up saying that?  Out of nowhere- Who?

Jesus.  Jesus does.  And Jesus doesn’t stop there.

The story moves from Jesus greeting them with Peace be with you, to lingering in the doubt and disbelief to doing the one thing this group had done a great deal of together- sharing a meal.  Food.  When food is introduced into a situation, the tension tends to lessen a little- at least in this circumstance.  Let’s think about this for a moment.  This is an act of hospitality requested by Jesus, putting the relationship into a context of “remember your manners.  Didn’t I teach you better?  Let’s share a meal.  Let’s sit down together.  Snap out of it and remember who I am, remember who you are and remember I said I would be with you always.  Well… here I am.  I’m here  I’m hungry.

Let’s back it up a little.  How did we get to this point?  What was happening right before Jesus showed up?

Right before Jesus showed up and scared the Bejesus out of the disciples:

Jesus had appeared to the women at the tomb (Mary and Mary).  Jesus told the women to go tell the others “I’m here.  I’m back.  Jesus appeared to the disciples in the locked room, not once but twice- the second time a repeat performance offered just for Thomas (As Becky said last week in her sermon, Jesus meets us in our need, along the way and this 2nd appearance in the upstairs room is an excellent example of how much Jesus is willing to make himself known to us.)  Jesus just finished walking with a couple of people on the road to Emmaus and during that time he revealed, through working through all the prophets and interpret things about himself in the scripture.  Jesus revealed himself.  It wasn’t until he shared a meal, an act of hospitality with those two traveling companions that they recognized who Jesus was and in that same moment, Jesus disappeared.  The two traveling companions decided right then and there to walk back towards Jerusalem, 7 miles away- where things were still dangerous, where there was mayhem in the wake of Jesus’s death and disappearance.  People were nervous and the discontent was tangible in the air, thick, you could cut the tension with a knife.  Nobody felt safe.  That’s why the disciples were locked away in the upstairs room.  They were afraid for their lives, their safety.  So the two traveling companions return to Jerusalem saying that Jesus has risen, made himself known to them in the breaking of the bread.  In fact, if we were to back up today’s Gospel by 2 verses this is what we would hear:

34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Action!  This is where today’s gospel picks up.

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself.

The four things that Jesus did continuously with the disciples all through the duration of Jesus’s life and ministry were:

He challenged them

He ate with them

He taught them

He charged them

 

Even in this one post resurrection interaction, Jesus offers challenges, eating with them and teaching them.  Just like old times.  But it isn’t the old times.  Jesus has come to visit again because now is the time for the disciples, the ones who have experienced the resurrected Christ, the resurrected Messiah, Jesus, in the flesh, after the 3rd day- and for every other soul sitting in this room who has, at some point, experienced the risen Christ within their own spiritual journey,  Now is the time for us to go and do what it is that Jesus asks us to do.

The timing of this passage couldn’t be more on time- more in alignment with where we are.

We are two weeks into the Easter season.  The pomp and celebration of Easter Sunday is a faded memory.  The bubble and fizz of the champagne has stopped tickling our noses.  We have done the celebrating and we have moved on.

And I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Jesus didn’t visit with the disciples afterwards.  Would they have stayed in that locked room upstairs forever?  Will we stay in this upper room forgetting that we have a responsibility to the Risen Christ?  Would they have gone back to their boats, their nets, their skill trade, their job and missed the opportunity to live into the true calling of their own life, the calling that was nurtured and developed while in relationship with Christ prior to his death and resurrection?

 

And today- even in our own “upper room”, even in the middle of our own calendars, life events, questions about journey, direction, calling, concerns about how am I going to do everything that is piled up on my plate, when is my vacation? Even in the middle of  “I hope I get that job”, I wonder if my heart will ever heal, How am I going to manage the move that is coming- even in the middle of our lives and what ifs, Jesus continues to show up, his presence is offered to us in the breaking and sharing of the bread and wine, we are challenged in our prayers of the people, the Nicene Creed, we are taught in the scriptures and we are fed- in the Holy Supper and we are charged with the understanding to go and do likewise.  In fact, looking back at today’s gospel, we see exactly what it is that Christ asked his disciples to do- and that includes you and that includes me.  Jesus said, “  “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things”

Beginning from Jerusalem.

Guess where the disciples are when they heard this from Jesus- Go ahead, guess.  In Jerusalem.

Now is the time.  Now is the time to begin to take on the responsibility of the calling, the fulfilling of the promise to continue in the teachings of Jesus, to go out and remind people that Jesus has died, was buried and has been raised- and those who die with Jesus rise with Jesus and the gift of repentance and forgiveness is available to all.  Repentance and forgiveness- repent and be forgiven-that is available to everyone- We just have to believe. We just have to listen. We just have to open up our hearts and minds and allow our lives to be affected, changed, challenged, fed and charged.  We just have to be willing to let Jesus offer his peace to us.  We just have to be willing to be a participant in that peace by offering it to others.  We just have to be broken, broken open, humbled, in the middle of our own lives and journey, in the middle of our own calendars and realize that we can’t do this on our own, that we need our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, our pew mates, our family, our family of choice and when we realize that we need that- that we need them, then we need to let them be Christ to us, be Christ for us, feed us, teach us, challenge us, charge us, and remind us of who we are and whose we are.  And these people are going to show up in our lives out of the blue, at inconvenient times- times when the very last person we want to see is Christ in the heart of our friend, partner, spouse, sibling- and they are going to say, “Don’t be afraid.  Be at peace.  I haven’t gone anywhere.  You are not alone.  Share a meal with me, let’s grow in faith together, let me feed you let me nourish you and strengthen you to the point  that you feel strong enough to go out and feed others.  And when you go out to feed others, you are going to show up at inconvenient times, say some weird stuff like, “Really, I’m not a ghost, Be at peace.  Lets pray together, share a meal together- right here in the middle of your life, in the middle of your confusion, in the middle of your deepest hurt and darkest hour.  I am here with you.

 

If the Apostles and disciples hadn’t heeded the call and gone out to spread the good word, to spread the life and teachings of Christ to those in Jerusalem and from Jerusalem to Galilee, Rome and Asia, to the ends of the world-  we wouldn’t be gathered here today.  We would have missed out on this beautiful Sunday at St. Thomas.  And now I am asking, after you have been challenged, taught and fed that you also answer the charge and call to go in peace to Love and Serve the Lord- today, right after this service, don’t miss out on this opportunity to go and show up in an inconvenient time to someone and offer to them the Peace of Christ through your presence and through the gifts God has given you.

Go.  Do.  Share.  Love.  Be loved.

 

Amen.

Good Shepherd Sermon

04-29-2012

 

I did some research to see if the concept of shepherd, the vocation of a shepherd still existed in this world today- this got to have it now, got to have everything at the push of a button, highly technical oriented world- can a shepherd still exist among the monitors and the touch pads.  I went to the primary source for my quest- Google.  I googled shepherd job description and in less than 1/5 of a second, 1,540,000 hits came back.  Online articles, documents, archives, entries, descriptions pop up to answer my query, “Do shepherds still exist today?” Or have we, as a community, a people moved on and left behind those who would never dream of leaving behind one of their flock. 

 

There is an amazing job description in John’s gospel.  What is required, what that shepherd is willing to do. 

 

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

 

I want to tell you a story about my interaction with the good shepherd.  And I want to do this not as a swan song, but as a way to let you all know a little bit more about me and about who you are to me in this journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first time I met the good shepherd and heard him call me by name, I was four years old.  I was raised going to church every Sunday and my parents would spend the first part of Sunday morning wrangling and wiggling me into the Sunday dress.  But on a Sunday afternoon, playing in my room, I heard the voice of the good shepherd calling me.  It wasn’t an audible voice, it wasn’t the voice that one hears when you speak, it didn’t speak as a human speaks.  But it was a recognition in my soul and it was for the first time in the life that I have had, my soul and heart perked up and heard my name being whispered by the good shepherd.

 

I have an active imagination- always have.  And when I was four and on this particular Sunday afternoon, I constructed a safe pathway of books on my carpet.  In my head, the carpet was a molten lava pit and the books were safe stones for my feet to rest on as I made my way from the door to my bed.  As I was building and reconstructing the foot path of books, I felt this overwhelming sense to put a radio up to my ear and when I did this, I heard, or felt, God speak to me by name, call me by name- I felt it in the very blood flowing through my tiny four year old body and I was both scared and awed at the same time.  In the 35 years since this moment in my life, I have walked many different roads, encountered many different obstacles, and I have told this story in many different voices trying to make sense of that afternoon.   What I keep coming back to, though, is that God has many voices, many different ways of calling us, we just have to be in a place where we are ready and willing and able to hear that call.  At four years old, playing in my room, engaging my imagination- I guess was as good a time as any to listen and hear the good shepherd. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Along the line of life and what happens as people grow up I too strayed like a lost sheep.  Along the way, even in straying, I still heard my name, my heart being called by the good shepherd.  I heard it in my relationship with my piano teacher, Roy Scoggins, affirming in me the gift of music that I had been given.  I heard it in the voice of a priest who listened to me as I struggled in dealing with human sexuality and God and trying to reconcile those two parts of me at the age of 18, and I heard the voice of the good shepherd in my spiritual director when I was 25 that now was not the time to begin the discernment process for seminary, but to begin the process of dealing with the hurts and wounds I had, the scars I had, the mistrust I had when it came to mother church.  My spiritual director prayed with me, prayed to God for healing, for a chance to reconcile, for a chance to come home to the love of God, to remember that I am loved completely for no other reason than I am a child of God.  I could not begin the discernment process until I was able to work through the pain, the disappointment, the lack of satisfaction of hired hands and begin to hear the voice of the good shepherd calling me and that now was the time to discern where God was calling me in my life.

 

There were hired hands along the way who placated, who were surface level mentors but when I needed something deeper when I needed something more honest and true, real and harder to offer, those hired hands took off, punched out, went home for the day.  It is not that those hired hands didn’t have it in them to be the good shepherd, to be the voice of the good shepherd but they weren’t in a place in their own lives to allow the good shepherd to work through them.  They didn’t have the gifts, the skills or knowledge- at least, not at that time.  Perhaps their hearts and souls and minds weren’t tuned to the voice of the good shepherd, to recognize that voice when it spoke or to be in a place that allowed the time and space for the voice of the good shepherd to be heard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the hired hands fed me and they entertained me and they walked with me for a little while and checked in on me from time to time.  There is a distinct difference between the voice of the good shepherd and the voice of the hired hand.  I believe we sometimes forget our active roles, our responsibility within our baptismal covenant, within our commitment to one another through the Holy Supper that we are also equipping ourselves to be the voice of the good shepherd when called to be.  

 

When we listen and hear the voice of the good shepherd calling us to be that voice for others in the world, we agree to a life of deeper and greater responsibility- to our family, to our friends, to our neighbors and to the neighbors we have yet to meet.  We live in a space of the both/and- that our learning hasn’t stopped, that our growing hasn’t stopped to the point where we can be the good shepherd all the time and not need to hear our own names being whispered, spoken and called. We, at once are listening to and for the voice of the good shepherd, calling to us, guiding us, loving us, gathering us to him or herself and at the same time, we are using our own voice to call out to others, to keep watch, to protect, to love.

 

And like a sheep, I can be extremely stubborn.  In fact, I believe we all can be extremely stubborn.  I can be extremely ill tempered.  And like a sheep I can have my own plan and not want to do as the good shepherd asks and not follow in the direction that the good shepherd asks us to walk in.  But the difference between the good shepherd and the hired hand is that the hired hand goes home, doesn’t think about- maybe cracks open a beer or watches the news, relaxes. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The good shepherd, on the other hand, doesn’t stop coming after us, up to the point of death, through death to resurrection, the good shepherd stills calls to us today and there is nothing that we can do that would anger the good shepherd to the point that would make the good shepherd say, “I’m out!  I have had enough.  I am leaving you behind.”  And I know this from personal experience, yall.  I pulled every trick I knew to anger the good shepherd to the point of the good shepherd quitting, giving up on me.  To my surprise, sometimes to my dismay, when I would turn around, I would see that the good shepherd was still there in the form of a priest, or a friend, or a family member, or in the form of enough space, time quiet and prayer- still coming after me with nothing but love, patience, guidance.  Reaching out to me and for me, calling me back to him or her.  Reminding me that I am a child of God and I am deeply loved, even when I don’t want to be, even when I feel like I don’t deserve it, even when the very last thing I want is to be is found, I realize that the very deepest need within my heart and soul is to be found and brought back into the fold, into the loving embrace of our good shepherd. 

 

You, the people of St. Philips, have been the voice of the Good Shepherd; not only to me but also to so many people you encounter each day.  Continue to listen for the good shepherd as he or she calls your name, remember that the voice can come from an unlikely source and that when we run away, stray, wander, get lost, we are never too far gone, too unclean, too unlovable in the eyes of our good shepherd. 

 

Amen.

Good Shepherd Sermon

04-29-2012

 

I did some research to see if the concept of shepherd, the vocation of a shepherd still existed in this world today- this got to have it now, got to have everything at the push of a button, highly technical oriented world- can a shepherd still exist among the monitors and the touch pads.  I went to the primary source for my quest- Google.  I googled shepherd job description and in less than 1/5 of a second, 1,540,000 hits came back.  Online articles, documents, archives, entries, descriptions pop up to answer my query, “Do shepherds still exist today?” Or have we, as a community, a people moved on and left behind those who would never dream of leaving behind one of their flock. 

 

There is an amazing job description in John’s gospel.  What is required, what that shepherd is willing to do. 

 

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

 

I want to tell you a story about my interaction with the good shepherd.  And I want to do this not as a swan song, but as a way to let you all know a little bit more about me and about who you are to me in this journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first time I met the good shepherd and heard him call me by name, I was four years old.  I was raised going to church every Sunday and my parents would spend the first part of Sunday morning wrangling and wiggling me into the Sunday dress.  But on a Sunday afternoon, playing in my room, I heard the voice of the good shepherd calling me.  It wasn’t an audible voice, it wasn’t the voice that one hears when you speak, it didn’t speak as a human speaks.  But it was a recognition in my soul and it was for the first time in the life that I have had, my soul and heart perked up and heard my name being whispered by the good shepherd.

 

I have an active imagination- always have.  And when I was four and on this particular Sunday afternoon, I constructed a safe pathway of books on my carpet.  In my head, the carpet was a molten lava pit and the books were safe stones for my feet to rest on as I made my way from the door to my bed.  As I was building and reconstructing the foot path of books, I felt this overwhelming sense to put a radio up to my ear and when I did this, I heard, or felt, God speak to me by name, call me by name- I felt it in the very blood flowing through my tiny four year old body and I was both scared and awed at the same time.  In the 35 years since this moment in my life, I have walked many different roads, encountered many different obstacles, and I have told this story in many different voices trying to make sense of that afternoon.   What I keep coming back to, though, is that God has many voices, many different ways of calling us, we just have to be in a place where we are ready and willing and able to hear that call.  At four years old, playing in my room, engaging my imagination- I guess was as good a time as any to listen and hear the good shepherd. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Along the line of life and what happens as people grow up I too strayed like a lost sheep.  Along the way, even in straying, I still heard my name, my heart being called by the good shepherd.  I heard it in my relationship with my piano teacher, Roy Scoggins, affirming in me the gift of music that I had been given.  I heard it in the voice of a priest who listened to me as I struggled in dealing with human sexuality and God and trying to reconcile those two parts of me at the age of 18, and I heard the voice of the good shepherd in my spiritual director when I was 25 that now was not the time to begin the discernment process for seminary, but to begin the process of dealing with the hurts and wounds I had, the scars I had, the mistrust I had when it came to mother church.  My spiritual director prayed with me, prayed to God for healing, for a chance to reconcile, for a chance to come home to the love of God, to remember that I am loved completely for no other reason than I am a child of God.  I could not begin the discernment process until I was able to work through the pain, the disappointment, the lack of satisfaction of hired hands and begin to hear the voice of the good shepherd calling me and that now was the time to discern where God was calling me in my life.

 

There were hired hands along the way who placated, who were surface level mentors but when I needed something deeper when I needed something more honest and true, real and harder to offer, those hired hands took off, punched out, went home for the day.  It is not that those hired hands didn’t have it in them to be the good shepherd, to be the voice of the good shepherd but they weren’t in a place in their own lives to allow the good shepherd to work through them.  They didn’t have the gifts, the skills or knowledge- at least, not at that time.  Perhaps their hearts and souls and minds weren’t tuned to the voice of the good shepherd, to recognize that voice when it spoke or to be in a place that allowed the time and space for the voice of the good shepherd to be heard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the hired hands fed me and they entertained me and they walked with me for a little while and checked in on me from time to time.  There is a distinct difference between the voice of the good shepherd and the voice of the hired hand.  I believe we sometimes forget our active roles, our responsibility within our baptismal covenant, within our commitment to one another through the Holy Supper that we are also equipping ourselves to be the voice of the good shepherd when called to be.  

 

When we listen and hear the voice of the good shepherd calling us to be that voice for others in the world, we agree to a life of deeper and greater responsibility- to our family, to our friends, to our neighbors and to the neighbors we have yet to meet.  We live in a space of the both/and- that our learning hasn’t stopped, that our growing hasn’t stopped to the point where we can be the good shepherd all the time and not need to hear our own names being whispered, spoken and called. We, at once are listening to and for the voice of the good shepherd, calling to us, guiding us, loving us, gathering us to him or herself and at the same time, we are using our own voice to call out to others, to keep watch, to protect, to love.

 

And like a sheep, I can be extremely stubborn.  In fact, I believe we all can be extremely stubborn.  I can be extremely ill tempered.  And like a sheep I can have my own plan and not want to do as the good shepherd asks and not follow in the direction that the good shepherd asks us to walk in.  But the difference between the good shepherd and the hired hand is that the hired hand goes home, doesn’t think about- maybe cracks open a beer or watches the news, relaxes. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The good shepherd, on the other hand, doesn’t stop coming after us, up to the point of death, through death to resurrection, the good shepherd stills calls to us today and there is nothing that we can do that would anger the good shepherd to the point that would make the good shepherd say, “I’m out!  I have had enough.  I am leaving you behind.”  And I know this from personal experience, yall.  I pulled every trick I knew to anger the good shepherd to the point of the good shepherd quitting, giving up on me.  To my surprise, sometimes to my dismay, when I would turn around, I would see that the good shepherd was still there in the form of a priest, or a friend, or a family member, or in the form of enough space, time quiet and prayer- still coming after me with nothing but love, patience, guidance.  Reaching out to me and for me, calling me back to him or her.  Reminding me that I am a child of God and I am deeply loved, even when I don’t want to be, even when I feel like I don’t deserve it, even when the very last thing I want is to be is found, I realize that the very deepest need within my heart and soul is to be found and brought back into the fold, into the loving embrace of our good shepherd. 

 

You, the people of St. Philips, have been the voice of the Good Shepherd; not only to me but also to so many people you encounter each day.  Continue to listen for the good shepherd as he or she calls your name, remember that the voice can come from an unlikely source and that when we run away, stray, wander, get lost, we are never too far gone, too unclean, too unlovable in the eyes of our good shepherd. 

 

Amen.

Easter 6, 2012

May 13, 2012

Easter 6
05-13-2012
John 15: 9-15

I speak to you in the name of one God, father, son and Holy Spirit.

I want to share with you all a true story that I believe really exemplifies today’s Gospel. Since today is also Mother’s day, I wanted to tell you this story as a way honoring the power of a parent’s love.

2“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

In 1993, in a town in Minnesota, life for one woman and one man changed forever. There was a party in the small town where people were gathered, music was playing on the radio, there was some drinking, some dancing, some laughter and like it happens sometimes when people gather, an argument broke out. The argument escalated and in the blink of an eye, one person was shot and one person was holding a gun. What they were arguing about doesn’t matter. The hope for reconciliation between the two ended when the victim took his last breath. The young man holding the gun, with the ringing of the gunshot still echoing in his ears, began to see just how quickly his life was taking a turn for the worse. His friends stepped away from him, the cops showed up, he was arrested and the family, the mother of the victim was notified. Mary Johnson, a teacher’s aid, a mother in her forties received a call letting her know that her child, her only child, her son, had been murdered. His name was Laramiun Byrd, 20 years old, cut down while celebrating life by a young 16- year old boy named Oshea Israel. Three people’s lives changed in a split second. One dies, one goes to jail and the other tries to figure out what life is like for a woman whose only child, only son dies. Is she no longer a mother? She will never be a grandmother. In her grief and in her sorrow, she feels very little love for Oshea, the shooter. She says, “I saw him as an animal. He deserved to be in a cage. My son is gone. I want justice.” Oshea, even though he was only 16 years old, was tried as an adult and was sentenced to 25 and ½ years in prison.
Oshea goes off to prison, Mary picks up the pieces and the one thing that connects these two individuals together is Laramiun, Mary’s son.

16You did not choose me but I chose you.

The weight of sorrow, the weight of grief, the weight of longing to cradle and hold her son, to watch him mature into the man he was destined to be caused Mary to pray. In her prayers she began to feel a desire to meet Oshea, to visit him in prison and to see if forgiveness was possible. Mary, when asked about the beginning of this relationship replied, “Grief will eat you alive- just like cancer. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to meet him, as it was I was looking for a way to relieve this pain. It will eat you from the inside out. It’s not about that other person, me forgiving him does not diminish what he’s done. Yes, he murdered my son – but the forgiveness is for me. It’s for me.” Mary, through her love of God, in her desire to seek and find forgiveness, has an ongoing relationship with Oshea. After the initial meeting, Mary came to visit Oshea about once a month. Oshea served 17 years of his sentence. He was released in early 2010 and was invited by Mary’s landlord, to move into the apartment next door to Mary.

9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
Think about that for just a moment. It wasn’t so much that a son died and a killer went off to jail and then to prison. It wasn’t so much that the victim’s mother forgave the actions of the killer in the privacy of her own home and within her own life. She actively sought her son’s killer out to see if forgiveness was possible. The love that Mary felt from God, the example of love Jesus showed and taught, knowing that in receiving love we are asked, even required to offer love, Mary allowed the Holy Spirit to lead her to a place of being willing to trust the Holy Spirit, to abide in love she has been shown by offering that love to the one person on this planet she never would have dreamt of loving. God has loved me, Mary said, therefore I must try to love Oshea. They cultivated a relationship and when released from prison, they became neighbors. Not just in a Christian sense, but physically, locality, right next door. Think about that for a moment. You lose a loved one, a member of your family, a child and the killer moves in right… next… door. And this was a result of a relationship you felt called to have, led to have based in forgiveness and in Christian love.

Yes, lives have been changed. Laramiun is gone and Mary knows a sadness and a grief that many parents will never have to know- the pain that comes from burying a child. Oshea is a murderer, a convict, a man with a record. These things are permanent. These labels will be a part of each of their lives forever. But the love that Jesus showed us and that God offers to us through the presence of Christ in our lives and is a gift of the Holy Spirit, can be a powerful experience that causes us to behave and live in a way that we normally wouldn’t. When given the opportunity, when we abide in God’s love, we will be changed and transformed through the powerful love of God.

And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.

Oshea works during the day and attends college at night. He volunteers as a keynote speaker and gospel singer where he shares his story of being forgiven, of being loved. Oshea has said, “A conversation can take you a long way.” This man’s life has been changed, forever, by the power of love that fueled a desire to forgive. Through this relationship between a grieving mother and a son’s killer, more good has come to light. Oshea’s mother met Mary Johnson and they have come to regard one another as sisters. An understanding of the power of love, abiding in that love, letting the love guide hearts and souls into action has led to the creation of a group called From Death to Life which works to bring together families impacted by the tragedy of homicide together for healing and forgiveness and leading the entire community towards reconciliation, healing and peace. Bearing fruit. Being the branch, allowing God to work through you, letting God love you, abiding in that love, using the spiritual gifts that God has blessed you with through the Holy Spirit- bearing fruit.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

This is the tripping stone within this particular text. I can’t help but wonder if there is anyone I love enough to lay down my life for. As I have mentioned before, I kind of like being alive. I do my best work when I’m breathing. When I am functioning as a human being, living in this world. Perhaps one way of reading this part of the passage is to understand that God showed us the greatest love in God’s son, Jesus Christ. God loved the world so much that Jesus, God’s only son, offered himself as the perfect sacrifice, the unblemished lamb, the one who lived with us yet without sin. We, no matter how much we don’t like to think about it, are people who sin. We have “missed the mark” and when we sin, we fall away from God. I’m not saying this to make anyone feel guilty, I am saying that in our humanness, in our brokenness, in our sinfulness, God still seeks us out and longs for us to be in right relationship with God. We cannot stand in as the perfect sacrifice because no one is perfect. What we can do is look at ourselves, examine our lives, reflect on the decisions we have made and the consequences of those choices and be truly honest with how things are going in our lives and where we want to be better, be different, be in right relationship with God and with those in our community, our friends, our families. And then, we lay down the items, behaviors, habits, beliefs, values, practices that cause us to be far from God and far from our friends and we let the love of God, the love of our friends and families, the love of the people we are forgiven by and the love of those we have forgiven- we let that love change our lives forever.

That is what Mary Johnson did. And from changing her life forever, she changed Oshea’s life. And because Oshea allowed his life to be changed, he is out in the community changing the lives of those he encounters. Mary and Oshea’s mother are in the business of changing lives- and this is all possible because Mary felt the need to answer the love of God by showing love, receiving the love of God by giving love, and in order to remember her son, to love her son, her dead son, she needed to love the son of another.

I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

My brothers and sisters, this world is too beautiful and too dangerous a place for anything less than love. May God take your mind and think through it, your hands and feet and work through them, your eyes and see through them and may God take your hearts and set them on fire with love!

Happy Mother’s day.
Amen.