Benediction Online

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Waiting in Hopefulness
Matthew 25:1-13

This sermon followed a skit in which members of a church finance committee fight about the budget until a phone call brings news that someone has died and left an inheritance which provides for everything they need.
The skit ended;
Well pastor, who was it who died? Anyone we know?
The pastor replied: "I certainly hope so. His name was Jesus."

Jesus has died and risen again and in the process left us everything this church will ever need. Is that true? I wonder.

To date God has provided for all our needs financially through the generosity of every member and others who have been blessed by our ministry. Today is our pledge ingathering Sunday, the day when we offer to God our promises and our hopes of what we can give next year. From these promises the vestry will construct a budget which we hope and pray will be realistic. Pledge income is only part of our income; we are also blessed by the Abundance Shop, by gifts in the Sunday morning collection and by fundraising events.

God has supplied our needs and will continue to do so. It has not always been the way we hoped or expected. Sometimes miracles have occurred. But sometimes it feels as though we are working so hard, but God is not granting us the fruits of our labors in the way we would wish. I suspect that’s how the bridesmaids felt. They were full of hopefulness. They had put on their wedding clothes, made with care and loving attention to detail, they had taken their lamps and gone with joy and hope to meet the bridegroom. But he didn’t come and he didn’t come and he didn’t come.

This week’s election was one of hopefulness for many people. The issues galvanized folk in a way we hadn’t seen for forty years, and many hopes and dreams hung in the balance. Not everyone rejoiced at the results. There are many who did not see the outcomes for which they had hoped and worked. Like the bridesmaids whose oil ran out, their hopes were dashed.

But that’s where the analogy ends. This isn’t a parable about waiting a long time and then getting what you want versus not getting what you want. This is a parable about preparation. It’s about doing your homework and waiting patiently and hopefully.

In her address to the diocese yesterday, Bishop Mary said that there is no way we can keep up with the rapid changes in our world. Instead of trying to stay abreast of the latest technology, the latest information, our job is to cultivate spiritual depth, to go deeply into God so that from that place of stillness we can sustain not only ourselves but our community as well.

As people live longer, many of us will experience severe physical or mental limitation. I have noticed that while this is not easy for anyone, those who have developed spiritual discipline, those who have cultivated a deep relationship with the divine, are able to greet the deprivations of old age with much greater equanimity and calm. Waiting until we’re older to develop a life-giving relationship with God, a sustaining spiritual practice, is like the bridesmaids who ran out of oil. They didn’t have enough oil because they had not prepared.

That deep relationship is made possible because of Jesus’ work. His life death and resurrection enable us to have oil in our lamps that never runs out. But we are not just the passive recipients. We have to tend the wick. By our intention, by our faithfulness, by our holy habits and our spiritual work we open ourselves to receiving the fullness of God’s grace. Our faithful practice enables us to stay full of hopefulness even when things don’t go the way we want them to.

The people of St Benedict’s know much about faithfulness, and hopefulness. We know that all we need is provided in Jesus and that our response to that generousity is to give generously ourselves, to provide the buildings and the programs and the hospitality through which God can reach out to a world in need.

It is through continuing to be faithful to the God who has called us, even when it seems that the kindom is too long coming, it is through giving generously of all that we have been given, it is through developing a deep inner alignment with the divine, it is in pouring ourselves out in service that we prepare ourselves, in faith and hopefulness to greet God whenever and whenever she reveals herself.

And God who is faithful and whose love is wildly extravagant, will not let us down.

The Law of Love
The Rev. Donna Ross

There’s more in Leviticus than we ever knew! In his summary of the law, Jesus refers to a passage from Leviticus, a passage which would have been much more familiar to the Pharisees than it is to us:

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
You shall not render an unjust judgment... with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people,
and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin...
You shall not... take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people,
but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.. (Lev. 19:1,15-18)

(Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christian churches made these verses from Leviticus 19 as familiar to our culture as Leviticus 18, which is always quoted by fundamentalists when arguing about homosexuals?)

Jesus takes these words from Leviticus and adds them to the Shema, a commandment memorized and taken to heart by every member of Israel, child and adult, male and female. The Shema is the heart of Judaism. It is Israel’s Law of Love: in the Shema God calls us to move from self-love to loving God with all our being: Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deut. 6:5)

When Jesus combines the two commandments, they become his Summary of the Law: We are called to love beyond ourselves – we are to turn our hearts and minds, our hands and all our gifts and talents, to serve both God and neighbor.

Later, at his last supper, Jesus would state the law of love in another way: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13)

The early Christians were known for their love. Christians were known not for their worship, nor their biblical knowledge, nor their insight or wisdom, nor for their sanctity or moral uprightness. They were not known for their eloquent or convincing preaching; or their buildings or their budgets. Christians were known for their love.

Justin Martyr (c 125) wrote: “They walk in all humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them. And they love one another. They despise not the widow and grieve not the orphan. Those that have distribute liberally to those who have not. If they see a stranger, they bring him under their roof, and rejoice over him as if he were their own brother: for they call themselves brethren not after the flesh, but after the Spirit of God; and when one of their poor passes away from the world, and any of them see him, then he provides for his burial according to his ability. And if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs... And if there is among them someone that is poor and needy, and they have not an abundance of necessities, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with necessary food.”

Tertullian (c 200) wrote of “the astonishing love” witnessed in Christians for all those who had need: they would support the poor, and even pay for their burials. They would take in orphans. They would care for the elderly and the home-confined. They provided for those who suffered shipwreck, and took care of those sickened in epidemics. They sent money to those who had been banished to islands or mines for the sake of Christ.

And lest we think that early Christians, like Justin Martyr and Tertullian, were simply idealizing the Christian Way, we should hear the words of the Emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363), who hated the Christians and wanted to restore the pagan religions of the old empire. But Julian wrote of the Christians: “The godless Galileans fed not only their poor, but ours also.”

If I had to summarize my Christian faith in one sentence, it would be this: Love is at the heart of the universe, Love is the way to live, and Jesus shows us the way to love.

That God loves his creation and his people is a theme that winds its way through the Hebrew Scriptures from Exodus to Malachi. That Jesus demonstrated how to love – through his life, through his suffering, through his death – and through his teaching. (Remember the Father in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son?) is the theme that winds its way through the New Testament. That Jesus expects us to share the love God gives us is also a theme of the Christian Scriptures. In just a few short weeks, we’ll hear the great parable of the Sheep and the Goats, and in that story we’ll hear people ask the King, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you food, or thirsty and give you something to drink, a stranger and welcomed you, sick or in prison and visited you?” And the King will say, “When you did this for my brothers and sisters, you did it for me.”

Love is the way to follow Jesus. This love is not an emotion, but an action; this love is not a feeling, but doing. If we simply listened to Leviticus, reinforced by Jesus:

In our family life, we are called to forgive
In our neighborhoods, we are forbidden to hold grudges
In our politics, we are called to tell the truth, not half-truths that amount to slander
In the world, we are called to stop thinking only of ourselves

If someone writing about Christians today, if someone wanted to describe what today’s Christians are like, would they say (as Justin Martyr wrote in the second century) “See how they love?”
If Christians today have not earned the name of Love, how could we change ourselves?

The Book of Common Prayer shows us how to live a life of love. This is the Way of Love lived by Jesus; it is the Way of Love lived by the first Christians; it is still the way for us – to be so clothed in Jesus’ Spirit that we are made able to love his world:

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (BCP p. 101)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Sermon for:     All Saints Day [Nov 2, 2008]

Season:           St. Benedict’s, Los Osos, CA



From the Letter to the Church at Ephesus:


            "Now, in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He is our Peace..In His flesh He has made (all) into one...reconciling (all) to God, in one Body, through the cross. So then, you are no longer strangers or aliens, but you are citizens with the saints, and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. In Him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in Whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God."


Every year we give ourselves a party, a party that includes us, all who have gone before, and all who will follow us. Our celebration of the Feast of All Saints is a rejoicing that you and I are fellow citizens with all those who have walked the Gospel path before us  -  from Stephen the Deacon to the last who passed on among us. We claim our place in the Communion of Saints  -  not with a bunch of perfect goody, goodies, but with a bunch of fallible human beings who opened their hearts to the transforming power of God’s grace.


            Being disciples of Jesus is not easy! Nor, despite the somewhat sanitized picture we tend to have of the great saints and their great deeds, was it easy for them. They, like us, were human, and we all share propensities both for Good and for evil. Polycarp and Benedict and Thomas Gallaudet and Sojourner Truth and Martin Luther King were flawed human beings, capable of great courage and love as well as human weakness. We are no different. In our humanness, we can speak carelessly, act thoughtlessly; we can judge each other harshly or in ignorance; we can disappoint each other. It is all too easy for us to forget why God has brought us together. Yet each one of us, by virtue of our baptism, has been drawn here to come into an intimate relationship with our God. As promised, Christ’s yoke is easy, and His burden light.


We Present-Day "Saints" – the Mormons don’t have a patent on the name -  seek to live according to a vision, because we know that "without vision, the people perish". What is that vision? It is this:


·         that we are deeply, deeply beloved.

·         that the God Who makes us whole and free has made our flesh Her home.  

·         that in listening to Jesus, His teachings, His values, and by letting go of false priorities, we will find joy and fierce energy and freedom for the living of our lives, by loving Self and others as God loves us.

·         that in service to others we will find our true Selves, and true greatness. Jesus said, "those who seek their lives will lose them, but those who give their lives for My sake and the Gospel will find them".

·         that by Truth-seeking and repentance, we will by Grace live our humanity in a Christ-like way.


The Beatitudes are always the Gospel reading for this Feast. They hold the heart of what, in the end, makes any of us a member of the Communion of Saints. On this All Saints Day, let’s take a few moments to meditate on them (the text is from The Message, by Dr. Eugene Peterson’s)


·         "You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and God’s rule.

·         "You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

·         "You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.

·         "You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.

·         "You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'care-full,' you find yourselves cared for.

·         "You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

·         "You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.

·         "You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom. Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. {I had an experience of this on Tuesday


Do you know the song Earthen Vessels? [ Behold a treasure / not made of gold / in earthern vessels, wealth untold / One treasure only / the Lord, the Christ / in earthen vessels ] The Beatitudes are a basic map for finding the treasure “not made of gold” which we hold in earthen vessels. They are the path to wholeness and authentic humanity. We are earthen vessels filled with the compassion, justice, mercy, and peace which defines the Holy One, and defines us as Christ-filled beings. Rightly, the First Letter of John says: “What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! … we're called children of God! That's who we really are” …..  What our baptism calls us to become more deeply every day.


The Beatitudes are the path to sainthood that so many have sought to walk. As Ecclesiasticus (44) reminds us, some were great and famous; of some there is no memory. Today we honour them, give thanks for them, especially those living and dead who have inspired us. We count ourselves among them as we stream towards the throne of God, made worthy to stand before God, scrubbed clean by the blood of the Lamb.


Our psalm [34] for today best expresses both our goal and our hope:


I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with his praise. 2 I live and breathe God  4 God met me more than halfway, he freed me from my anxious fears. 5 Look at him; give him your warmest smile. Never hide your feelings from him.8 Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see— how good God is. Blessed are you who run to him. 9 Worship God if you want the best; worship opens doors to all [God’s] goodness.


As the hymn says (293): For the saints of God are just folk like me / And I mean to be one too.