Better Angels

Sermon for Sunday, November 6, 2016 || All Saints C || Luke 6:20-31

What are the two things your grandparents told you never to talk about? Politics and religion. Well, today I’m going to break that rule. Don’t worry: I’m not going to talk about specific partisan issues or endorse candidates. Rather, I’m going to speak to a common misunderstanding about the intersection of politics and religion in America; then I’m going to talk about Jesus, who was a pretty polarizing political figure in his own right; and then we’ll finish up with some stirring words from Abraham Lincoln. Continue reading “Better Angels”

Not Even Death (May 23, 2013)

…Opening To…

We limit not the truth of God to our poor reach of mind,
To notions of our day and place, crude, partial, and confined;
No, let a new and better hope within our hearts be stirred;
The Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his word. (George Rawson)

…Listening In…

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39; context)

…Filling Up…

I find hope and peace in the words that make up the next verses from my old guitar case. They also happen to be one of the selections suggested for funeral services. These are Paul’s soaring words about the love of God that show the infinite and eternal lengths to which God goes to remain in relationship with us.

Nothing – not even death – can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Think about that statement for just a minute. We might survive because we metabolize nutrients and breath air and replenish our water supplies. But we live because of the love of God. The love of God is the foundation of existence; it is the thing from which we cannot and will not be separated. Not even dying will separate us from that love because life happens with so much grander scope than death could ever hope for.

This is the truth that we discover in Christ’s resurrection. This is the truth that lives in our guts and ripples along with tremors of grief when a loved one dies. This is the truth that is the salt in our tears. This is the truth that mingles with our sadness and leavens it with a hidden hope that God’s love will enfold the grieving as that has already enfolded the deceased. That’s why we read these verses at funerals. They speak of true reality. And they speak good news.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you are in the midst of all life, both our dim life on earth and our bright life in heaven. Help me to open a space for grief to reside and then allow you to fill it with your presence. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, grateful for the opportunity to reflect on your word and looking forward to discovering its impact on my life.

A Prayer Sandwich (February 1, 2013)

…Opening To…

We say we read to “escape.” …A book so excites our imagination that we “consume” it… What would it feel like to consume the sacred book? Or to be consumed by it? To eat it, chew it, swallow it, digest it, to make it a part of you? (Roger Ferlo)

…Listening In…

Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. (Romans 12:11-12; context)

…Filling Up…

The fifth thing you should do when you read the Bible is pray before you do it and after you do it. This is the model we have in church. In the Episcopal Church experience (my faith background), the four lessons from the Bible happen near the beginning of the service. But before we read scripture, we pray for God to cleanse our hearts. Then we praise God in song. Then we “collect” the theme for the day in a special prayer right before the lessons.

Afterward the lessons (and the sermon), we recite the Creed, the church’s historic affirmation of faith, which is really another prayer in disguise. Then we pray the prayers of the people, in which we pray for our own needs and for those of others. The four lessons form the meat in a prayer sandwich.

In our own Bible study or that which we do in a group, following this example is a good idea. Reading the Bible is a prayerful experience, and so bookending the reading with dedicated prayers makes sense.

Begin your reading with a prayer of openness: ask God to encounter you in a surprising way during your reading. Ask God to show you something you’ve never noticed about the text or about yourself. End your reading with a prayer of thanksgiving: give gratitude to God for being with you all the time and especially when you engage the text. Thank God for God’s presence in your life, remembering that you are in God’s presence always. Reading the Bible helps us hold on to this fundamental truth of our existence.

…Praying For…

Dear God, I am in your presence all the time. Open me to receive your word in ways I might not expect. Thank you for being with me when I read the Bible. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, gladdened by the prospect of meeting you in the Bible.

Things that have Always Been (November 20, 2012)

…Opening To…

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice. (Meister Eckhart)

…Listening In…

First of all, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because the news about your faithfulness is being spread throughout the whole world. I serve God in my spirit by preaching the good news about God’s Son, and God is my witness that I continually mention you in all my prayers. (Romans 1:8-10; context)

…Filling Up…

There are so many things for which to give thanks: my discovery that I do, in fact, like sweet potatoes; the new album from a favorite band; the first ice on the edges of the pond. I have given thanks for each of these things over the last couple of days, and each has been something new – a change from an earlier condition or a recent addition to the world at large.

Now, I don’t know about you, but for me giving thanks for new things or for things that have recently changed takes up most of my gratitude time. The new things jump out at us. They vie for our attention. The things that have always been there, however, remain in the background, quietly making our lives comfortable or joyful or meaningful. Because the things that have always been don’t call attention to themselves, we fail to give thanks to God for them as often as we should.

Today, think of something that you can’t remember doing without: it can be as basic as breath or your dog’s earnest affection. It can be the simple fact that you’ve always had clean clothes in your drawers or a hot meal on the table. Think of something you’ve never given thanks for because it has silently endured throughout your life, never calling attention to itself and never failing to make your life better. Until today, you’ve never realized it was an eligible candidate for thanksgiving, so today give thanks to God for it.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you are the source of things that endure, the creator of old things and new things; help me to notice the things in my life that have always been there making my life better and to give thanks for them. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, eager to look for your blessing in my life and eager to be a reason that others give thanks to you.

The Promise (November 9, 2012)

…Opening To…

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer… I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me… Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. (Frank Herbert, Dune)

…Listening In…

You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15; context)

…Filling Up…

The more fear that we have, the more we deprive ourselves of fear’s antidote. That antidote is trust. When we were children, we faced our fears because we trusted our parents’ advice. We believed that they would not lead us astray, and they didn’t. The darkness did not frighten us to death. The monsters did not pounce.

So how come we have so much trouble trusting in God? How come fear tends to trump trust more often than not? I think the answer is this. Trust takes energy. While fear creeps along, keeping us from action, trust derives from the kind of sustained relationship, which establishes and nourishes faithfulness. God always keeps God’s promises. God is always trustworthy. The trouble is we have to trust that God is trustworthy. We have to practice the faith that God has given us in order to maintain our ability to trust in God.

And fear constantly diverts this ability. But when we practice trust, when we believe that God’s keeps God’s promises, we can face our fears, we can keep at bay the gnawing dread of deprivation. Our grown-up fears may be concrete and relentless. But I am convinced that they are no match for the power of trusting in God.

Over this weekend, I invite you to take some time to be silent and to turn your thoughts inward. What do you fear? What kind of deprivation is at the root of that fear? And how will practicing trusting God help you face that fear? In your reflection, remember this good news. When Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid,” he is not just giving a command. He is giving a promise that when we face our fears, we will not be alone. When we face our fears, they will pass through us, and when they are gone, only God, holding us in the palm of God’s hand, will remain.

…Praying For…

Dear God, the only reason I know there is something called “trust” is because you are trustworthy. Help me to practice trusting you so that I can ward off fear. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you God, ready to face my fears with the knowledge that you are with me.

“H” is for Hope (March 2, 2012)

…Opening To…

Now let us all with one accord, in company with ages past, keep vigil with our heavenly Lord in his temptation and his fast. (Gregory the Great, from The Hymnal 1982)

…Listening In…

Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness combined with our faith. we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5; context)

…Filling Up…

This Lent, we are exploring our faith by running through the alphabet. Today, “H” is for hope. First things first: hoping and wishing are two different things, though we tend to use the words interchangeably. “I hope it snows tomorrow” really means “I’m wishing for a snow day.” But the kind of hope we are talking about where following Christ is concerned is quite a bit bigger than simply “wishing.”

A wish is single, solitary thing. You wish for something to happen (or not happen). Hope, on the other hand, is the framework that supports the act of wishing. Hope is the expectation that the bounds of possibility are far wider than we can perceive. Hope is the act of trust taken out of the present and projected into the future.

The Outline of the Faith in the back of the Book of Common Prayer defines Christian hope in this way: “The Christian hope is to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God’s purpose for the world.” Confidence here is another word for trust. When we trust, we make ourselves vulnerable. But hope gives us the courage to keep on trusting. Hope does this by wrestling vulnerability into a little box on the corner of the shelf. When trust shines out in our lives undimmed by things like vulnerability, we can invite God to cultivate within us that expectation about the bounds of possibility. We limited humans might perceive boundaries. But hope tells us that in God, the boundaries are so much more expansive than our perception allows us to see.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you are the source of all hope. Help me to trust you in the present so that I can rest assured in the hope that you fulfill all your promises. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, nourished by your Spirit and willing to open up a larger space within for you to dwell.