September 27, 2015 The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 21B | “Discovering Gratitude” The Rev. Gabriel LamazaresSeptember 28, 2015
It’s Stewardship Sunday, that Sunday in the year when we traditionally launch our stewardship campaign for the coming calendar year, to reflect on where we’ve been, where we are, and map out our commitments of time, money, and attention for the coming year.
Preachers on the Sunday complain that the lectionary is not always cooperative with this focus. I was tempted to be among them today! But the truth is that, in my heart of hearts, I am convinced that, understood holistically, every sermon is about stewardship. Let me explain.
Human beings began long ago to become aware of all the ways in which we receive from sources known and unknown and spend what we are given. All day long, I eat food that I did not grow or harvest or transport or even prepare. I walk on roads and sidewalks that I did not lay down and do not maintain with my own two hands. I live and work in buildings I did not build and that I do not own. I wear clothes that I did not spin or sew. I listen and am moved by music I did not make.
Even more fundamentally, I speak a language I learned from others, I read because someone taught me to read, I have rights because someone cared enough to struggle for them, I profess and endeavor to live a faith that I have received handed down from countless hands, known and unknown. Even my body is a legacy of others: my very cells and genetic material given to me by my parents, my growth and health in food and clean water and health care year after year after year. The sun continues to put forth unimaginable amounts of pure energy that keeps our planet alive for free. As we follow the thread, we begin to wonder about existence itself, and its graced presence rather than absence. We didn’t have to be here. Why us? Why now?
This radical interdependency, what philosophers call contingency, is not a temporary state, it is our permanent address. As followers of Jesus, we speak about this by saying that we are constantly dependent on the love of God, that everything we have received ultimately comes from God, that God is our origin and our destiny.
How are we to live then? How are we to spend the days and years, the hours of consciousness, the power of attention, the force of love, the calories and dollars and breaths and heartbeats, the steps and words and thoughts and minutes? Given how much we have received, how can we possibly repay?
The debt is absurdly huge, but once we discover gratitude, we must do something. That something is stewardship. Understanding how much we are given moment by moment, we are moved to give back, to give forward, to employ what we’ve been given in the light of the gratitude.
In the church, stewardship is one of our core spiritual practices, derived from our understanding of God and creation, fall and redemption, reckoning and destiny. It is the core of ethics: given what we know, what we believe, what we have experienced, what we hope for, how shall we live, that is, how shall we spend our time, money, effort, talent, attention, vision?
Of course, this contingency means that we’ve been born in a particular place, at a particular time in history, embedded in a particular culture, to a particular family. All of these will affect how we think about stewardship and giving. For instance, I am part of that age segment of Americans who culture analysts call Generation X. We are just now between about 33 and 53 years old, the smaller generation between the many Baby Boomers that preceded us and the Millennials who follow. The demographers say we are smaller because we were born in a time of social upheaval in the 60s and 70s. As we were being born, social movements like the civil rights movement and the women’s movement were reshaping the culture. Assassinations, riots, Vietnam, the Pill, and the legalization of abortion, Watergate, and the 70s oil crisis were the news when we were infants. No-fault divorce became possible in many jurisdictions and our parents divorced at much higher rates than in the past. And we also came to adulthood in a time of great change and threat: the AIDS epidemic shaped our dating lives, we watched the Cold War end seemingly from one day to the next, we grew up with cable TV and began using computers on a daily basis to do our work.
The culture mavens say that these experiences make us, on the whole, more cynical, less trusting of institutions, more pragmatic than idealistic. They say it may make us a bit snarky, that we don’t like to be categorized, that we are wary of attempts to pitch advertising messages at us. They say we don’t like to give for the maintenance of institutions, that we would rather give for tangible efforts, for programs and philanthropy we can see, hear, touch. That may be true, I suppose, if you think we can just be lumped like that(!).
Today’s readings urge us to avoid getting too proprietary about what God is doing in the world. In both the Gospel and the reading from Numbers, we are reminded that all of those who do God’s will or are enlivened by God’s living Spirit (whether they are ‘us’ or ‘them’) are part of God’s plan. We will never have the whole picture. That is an appealing message for Gen Xers: we know that God is working as much through the Church as through non-profit organizations and crowd-rise initiatives. That’s why we like to spread our giving around a bit.
But why, then, do I give to St. Luke’s? I give because I love who we are. I give because this community and our efforts to worship and serve have served as a haven of refuge for hundreds of people for more than a century. I am glad that St. Luke’s to be a beacon of God’s love during the AIDS epidemic and other crises and struggles. And I want to St. Luke’s to be here, healthy and nimble and effective, in the years and decades to come.
The amazing work of so many on the implementation of our strategic plan has done a great deal to secure the coming years. Our windfall and the long-term funding streams generated by our new property relationships will serve this parish for decades to come. But it helps to remember that the windfall is dedicated, as it should be, to catching up on deferred maintenance and making capital improvements in the near term, like building a community center, that will enable us to continue doing ministry in this place long into the future. Our day-to-day expenses are wisely still funded primarily by rental income and your pledges and donations, which represent about a quarter of our yearly operating budget.
But at the end of the day, this cynical Gen X-er gives because I have to do something to give thanks for all I have received and am receiving, moment by moment. I give because I will leave this world without any of these material things I glibly call my own, including my own body and breath, and I want some portion of all that I have been given for now to build a future that echoes and responds to and expresses God’s love for this sad, enraging, gorgeous, surprising, awe-inspiring world. And I especially want some portion of that stewarded bounty to build up the stones and beams and words and deeds of this beloved community, St. Luke in the Fields, by the grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Once we discover gratitude, how shall we live?
September 20, 2015 Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost | “The Teaspoon Brigade” The Rev. Caroline StaceySeptember 28, 2015
September 20, 2015 “The Teaspoon Brigade”: Proper 20, Year B
(Readings, RCL: Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37)
Today we receive a glimpse into the personal ambitions of the disciples. It is a very human picture. They argue about who is “the greatest”. What does that mean? Who has done the most good works? Who is closest to Jesus? It might be that they are placing odds on each other (“Is Peter or James the greatest”?). But more likely, they each think they have a case for the highest honor themselves. I can almost hear them shsssssh-ing each other as Jesus walks up to them and asks what they have been arguing about. They are silent. They know that their argument has been embarrassingly small-minded. They are enmeshed in their own needs for recognition. And their reference point for “greatness” is individualistic and competitive.
Jesus offers a powerful illustration in trying to heal the disciples from their bondage to competition and addiction to comparison. Jesus draws a child into their circle. Jesus honors a child in a culture which did not honor children as we try to do. The least and last are first with God. Jesus upends the sting and shame of being “less than” in this world. Often this passage is interpreted as being about the importance of welcoming children into the center of our community. And yes, children are front and center in God’s concerns. It is essential for us at St. Luke’s to welcome children. We know that our children are not only the church of tomorrow; they are the church of today. And we also know that one day, all our well-being will be in their hands.
Yet there is more for us to reflect on here. I am sure I cannot be the only one to struggle with the usual interpretation of this text. There is this odd dynamic that can be set up in our faith life whereby we may think that if we make ourselves last and least, most the servant of all, most trusting and open to others, that is how we get to be first. But it is still about our ambition to be first! It's competitive servanthood, competitive humility. It is another form of works righteousness.
Have you seen the British comedy “Rev” about a vicar in inner-city London? There is an Archdeacon who is really…obnoxious! In one episode the Archdeacon is sitting in the back of a car reflecting on how humble he is. It is hilarious. “Yes”, he says to himself, as he sits in the back of his car having just visited a really depressed parish priest --- “yes”, thinks the Archdeacon: “I really do humility very well”.
We can see the irony here. But what about us?
One of my oldest American friends is a lay woman in a different denomination. Decades ago, when I was still in seminary, I was visiting her over Christmas break. Over lunch one day, I was talking about some theological issue we were learning about in seminary and trying to decide which point of view I held about whatever doctrine it was. I don’t even remember now. But I remember well what my truth-speaking friend said next: “You are preoccupied with where you’re at. You can’t be that way if you want to be in ministry. You have to be preoccupied with where others are at”. She nailed it. It’s not about whether we are first, last or in-between, more or less right. God puts the us first – the whole of humanity - first, in Jesus. That’s the important thing.
I wonder if Jesus takes the whole notion of human first and last, and where we’re ranked as individuals, and rubs it off the board. In bringing the child into the center of the circle, he undermines our ranking system. He talks about "first and last" because that is where the disciples are at and to surface our issue, all essentially to say - don't worry about how others are doing or about rating yourself. Our rankings have little meaning in God’s kingdom. Just get on with something useful. Grace covers the rest.
What could the disciples have spent their walk discussing?
“Who is the greatest” is not the greatest question! But the life of faith is all about questions…the biggest possible questions of meaning and service. These can feel overwhelming. It’s not surprising we want to make faith questions more manageable (“who’s doing the best?”). Take the refugee crisis. Who among us is not moved and overwhelmed by the sea of human need flowing north into Europe? I wonder if you are thinking as I am that maybe this is just a foretaste of what will happen once climate change really gets going. Huge blocks of people, millions and millions, will migrate to places that are still habitable, where there is enough water. Who doesn’t feel small and powerless and ineffective in the face of these realities? We ask: how can we possibly help?
The late folksinger and activist Pete Seeger spoke at a Diocesan clergy conference several years ago. He told us his parable of the "teaspoon brigades”, which I have shared once before but it bears re-telling. Imagine a big seesaw. Seeger says: One end of the seesaw is on the ground because it has a big basket half full of rocks in it [I think of that as the solid rock of privilege and comfort]. The other end of the seesaw is up in the air because it's got a basket one quarter full of sand. Some of us have teaspoons, says Seeger, and we are trying to fill it up. Most people are scoffing at us. They say, "People like you have been trying for thousands of years, but the sand is leaking out of that basket as fast as you are putting it in." Our answer is that we are getting more people with teaspoons every day. And we believe that one of these days or years -- who knows -- that basket of sand is going to be so full that you are going to see that whole seesaw going zoop! in the other direction. Then people are going to say, "How did it happen so suddenly?" And we answer, "Us and our little teaspoons over thousands of years."
We are wielding our teaspoons at St. Luke’s. Some of our teaspoons right now are: the contributions we make to the refugee relief fund of the Diocese. Collecting food and toiletries each week for those in need. The vestry’s donation towards the UN Gift Box exhibition at the Cathedral on human trafficking. Our Saturday outreach programs. Our Episcopal charities grant of $30,000 to the Diocese earlier this year for parish ministries throughout the diocese, which are happening right now. Many, many teaspoons, and they’re all important. Every teaspoon matters.
Jesus is “the greatest”. We are members of the teaspoon brigade.
Listen to the sermon
September 6, 2015 The 15th Sunday After Pentecost Proper 18 | "The Syro-Phoenician Woman” The Rev. Gabriel LamazaresSeptember 8, 2015
“It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.”
Is anyone else as shocked at hearing these words in Jesus' mouth as I am? When has he ever turned away someone in need? When has he ever said to anyone, “You are not worthy of my attention?” This story is unusual in the Gospel, make no mistake. But it belongs to one of the earliest strata of Christian writing. This story, in its present form, is in our earliest copies of the Gospel according to Mark, which is itself the oldest Gospel, scholars tell us, likely written around fifty years after Jesus' death and resurrection. The writer of the Gospel chose this story as essential to the story of Jesus. Why?
Let's set the scene. Jesus is in Gentile territory, beyond Galilee in the region of Sidon and Tyre in what is Lebanon today. He is hiding out: from the crowds? From the authorities? It's hard to say, but it's clear that he and the twelve felt the need to lay low. Into this burrow of retreat, a woman comes. She is alone. She is a Gentile. And she has a daughter at home who is possessed by a demon. That's all we are told about her. We don't know if she's poor or rich. We don't know if she has gods at home or in the temples to whom she has begged for intervention. What we know is that she is alone in a culture where it is unusual to see women traveling by themselves, especially to visit men. And we know that she is not Jewish. It is on this detail that the story turns.
She is other. Do you see? She doesn't talk right. She has an accent. She eats weird things. Her name is strange in their mouths, if she even has one. Think of the barriers keeping her from coming into that circle! But she doesn't care. She's not there for herself. She's there for her little daughter. And she will have healing for her if it's there to be had.
Jesus denies her! (who is this man?!) And for good measure, he insults her by likening her and her kind to dogs. Forget our contemporary love-affair with our companion animals. In the ancient world, dogs lived on the edges of households and villages, scavenging for food. What Jesus says is not nice. It's just not.
She alone in all the healing stories is denied on the first try. Now, there are those commentators throughout the centuries who cannot bear to have Jesus be this bigoted, this insulting. And their protests confirm that what Jesus said was not nice. But they attribute to him foreknowledge and the intent to test the woman's faith. I don't buy it. How many times does he just ask a petitioner, “Do you believe? Do you want to be healed?” I think Jesus was fully human, like us, so he didn’t know everything about the world, about God, about himself or his mission from the very beginning. He had to learn like all of us.
BUT SHE WINS. Against all odds. She is the only one in the Gospels who bests Jesus the great debater in an argument. She is brilliant! As an example of a retort from a position with less power, her response is masterful. Notice she does not refute him! She does not say, “You are wrong, sir. I am a human being. How dare you?” Though she had every right to do so.
Instead, she accepts his insult but turns it on its head: “even the dogs eat the crumbs from the children's table.” It doesn't matter what you call me. My daughter is in trouble. You can take whatever you want from me, my honor, my pride. Do what you like, just help her.
I am greatly astonished at the remarkable serendipity that brings the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman before us this week as the Syrian refugee crisis reaches epic proportions and Europe struggles to respond to the thousands that are crossing the borders of the European Union seeking asylum. It is estimated that there are four million Syrian refugees seeking asylum and safety from their civil war. The neighboring countries of Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey are overwhelmed.
Both stories evoke similar themes. They are both about insiders and outsiders, about strangers in need, about children and those who are seen as less-than-children, about a banquet table and the crumbs that fall from its bounty.
I cannot tell nations what to do about the problems caused by chaotic migrations. That is the realm of politicians and policy analysts and legislators. The task of regulating and making room for orderly immigration will last at least throughout our lifetimes, especially as the developing world falls further behind and climate change begins to affect us all.
But I can tell them what Jesus did when a foreigner appeared on his doorstep asking for help. And I can, I must, tell all of us that we are asked to do the same. Every ounce of our moral aspirations points us towards actions like those of countless citizens who approached the great column of humanity walking towards the Austrian border with blankets and clothing, with food and water and diapers. That is the true north of all we aspire to be, as much in Europe of the twenty-first century as in Europe after the Second World War as on the southern border of the United States.
Jesus fully realized, in his encounter with this Syro-Phoenician woman, that this kingdom of peace and justice whose coming he proclaimed was not just for the few, but for all, that the world would one day be covered with God’s justice as the waters cover the sea.
As today’s psalmist sang, “the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous, the Lord cares for the stranger; he sustains the orphan and the widow.”
If we are to be God’s people in the world, we must re-double our efforts to follow suit and urge our governments to do the same.
August 30, 2015 The 14th Sunday After Pentecost Proper 16 | "Doers of the Word" The Rev. Emily Phillips LloydAugust 31, 2015
Doers and not hearers of the word…
In our second lesson from James, the theological lesson presented is straight forward. A myriad of clichés come to mind…Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk… or more crassly “Put your money where your mouth is” or for the theologically inclined “practice what you preach.” James is reminding all of us to be doers of the word and not merely hearers. It is not good enough to sit around and think about living the Christian faith, you have to get out there and live it.
Rereading James again this week, I was reminded again of how little folks change. In the age of the selfie and the selfie stick, when people post pictures of themselves everywhere all the time, the idea of not knowing what you look like is truly foreign. James tells us that those who hear the word and do nothing are like someone who looks in the mirror and then instantly forgets what they see. In our image driven culture, that is almost impossible to imagine. People are always aware of what they look like. Yet to hear the Word and not put it into action is like one who doesn’t remember.
What does this spiritual forgetfulness look like? How do we recognize it in ourselves? There are times when all of us are more hearer than doer. James gives solid advice. We will know we are on the right path when we are quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. When we set aside the moral filth of selfishness to help others. When we put aside out our wants to help a neighbor… the widow and orphan.
So how can we become doers… and who are our widows and orphans here at St. Luke’s in 2015. We are fortunate in this place to have a proud history of doing. Outreach and social justice are at the very heart of this congregation identity. Care for our own widows and the orphans whether they be underachieving elementary school students, elderly folks living with HIV/AIDS or homeless LGBTQ youth is central to life here at St. Luke’s. Yet even we need to remain vigilant about our commitment to continue to love our neighbors.
Since I arrived here 9 months ago, I have had the honor and challenge of working along side you all to help our outreach programs expand and grow. It has been an exciting time of renewal and renovation. I am intensely proud and grateful for the countless hours of staff and volunteer time that has been devoted to the loving care of our extended community. We as a parish are so much more than just Sunday morning. We are also Saturday night. Our three main Outreach programs, The Go Project, People Living with AIDS dinner and The Church: Art, Acceptance and a place to be Yourself are all at this moment in an important place in their history and development. All three are undergoing change and need your prayers, love and support and we move together to expand our impact in our community.
St. Luke’s Go, our Saturday morning tutoring program for underperforming low income children, has just this past week signed a formal agreement to be a host site for the Go Project. With the help from the folks at the Go Project starting in January, we will be able to offer year-round tutoring and educational support for 4 classes of 16 students. This is a 150% increase in the number of students helped. The program has three main components, Go School, a classroom learning and tutoring program similar to our existing program which will run 22 Saturdays a year, Go Summer, a five week, 9-5 day camp during the summer and Go Families, an integrated program for helping families with educators, social workers, and counselors. Each classroom will have a certified teacher and volunteer tutors on hand to offer individual attention. Support will extend past the student to the family with help offered in English, Spanish and Mandarin. This is an exciting step for all us here at St. Luke’s. I look forward to sharing in the week and month ahead more about this exciting expansion and how you had help us support our new students!
Our People Living with AIDs dinner is also in a time of change. As many of you know, the PLWA was founded in 1987 as a response to the AIDS epidemic. Since I arrived here, I have heard the most touching stories about the early years of this program. Beautiful gourmet dinners, china, white table cloths were all loving prepared by parishioners looking to help support friends and loved ones during this devastating period. Over the years, with the advancement in medication and care, HIV has become a chronic disease. The need, scope and presentation of the PLWA dinner has changed. These days we average about 36 clients on any given Saturday. Most of them have been coming to the dinner for a long time. It is a time of socialization and camaraderie. During the summer, due to construction, we have moved the PLWA dinner to Laughlin Hall. With the smaller space, the meals have become more intimate with parishioner volunteering to serve. I am so grateful to the folks who have volunteered to help welcome and serve this summer. Going forward, the outreach committee is looking at different options for the future of this program. We would love to expand our support of these folks or the scope of the program. It is our hope in the weeks ahead to have a presentation and parish wide discussion on how St. Luke’s want to support people living with HIV/AIDs in 2015. Please look for announcement about a time and location for these meetings.
And last but certainly not least our LGBTQ youth program, loving named by the kids, The Church is also under going its own transformation. After over a decade as program director, Jenna Tine, resigned at the end of the programmatic year in June. After a summer of transition and a scaled back version of the program in Laughlin Hall, I am excited to announce that we have a new program director for the fall. Giorgio Handman, a licensed social worker comes to us from Streetwise. His first Saturday was two weeks ago; he is already off to a terrific start. I was amazing and thrilled by how many of our kids knew him already. He is creative, kind and a wonderfully calming presence. We are so lucky to have him joining us and leading the team. Starting on September 12, the programs will be running on all cylinders. I am happy to share that arts therapy, legal aid clinic, std testing and our pop up clothing shop are all ready to go for the fall kick off. Again, I was impressed and inspired by the parishioners who helped with the transition. It is all of you that make these acts of Christian witness possible.
Which brings me back to James, St. Luke’s is the perfect place to practice being doers and not just hearers of the word. There are opportunities all around us for outreach and mission involvement. Consider this your personal invitation. Ask me about outreach. Ask me how you can help. I am happy to have coffee with each and every one of you and figure out how you can help. That is a lot of caffeine but seriously…We do so much but the need is even greater. We need all sorts of gifts. Time, talent and treasure are all useful. Everyone has something they can give. Maybe you have advice or a expert skill you could share with our youth? Maybe you could serve a meal? Maybe you have some clothes sitting in the back of your closet that would be perfect for our pop up shop? Giorgio just shared with me on Thursday that we need toiletries and small denomination gift cards. I think it would be great if we collected a whole bunch of toiletries ( travel size or hotel size) and then our Sunday School kids could package them into kits and make cards. This is something we all can and need to do together. As James writes, “every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above.” What will your gift be?
August 23, 2015 Proper 16, Year B “Waging Peace”: Proper 16, Year B
The Rev. Caroline Stacey
(Readings, RCL: Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18; Psalm 34; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69)
Theologian Walter Wink wrote three remarkable books – sometimes called the “Powers Trilogy” - about the principalities and powers that we about in hear today’s reading from Ephesians. Wink looks deeply at what the biblical writers mean by the powers, and today’s passage from Ephesians is central. Wink sees the principalities and powers as the spiritual core of institutions and systems, at work through the people in the systems but greater than the sum of individual parts. The Powers are created good - and for good - but have fallen into idolatrous self-serving rather than serving God and neighbor. For example, law is given for the well-being and order of society, but can be corrupted by other motivations and purposes. At the heart of the fallenness of systems and institutions, Wink believes, is a system of domination, a structure of oppression. This system of domination uses violence of many kinds to maintain control and the status quo. Some of these forms of control include what we name as racism, sexism, ageism. They are legion and include structural poverty. To dismantle systems of domination, Wink says we must pay attention to both the material structures and the spiritual powers behind them. Both aspects are critical.
Wink says: “Violence is the ethos of our times…Violence is the spirituality of the modern world. … Violence is so successful as a myth precisely because it does not seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be what works. The threat of violence, it is believed, is alone able to deter aggressors….We learned to trust the Bomb to grant us peace” (Engaging the Powers). Wink gets very political. But so do the principalities and powers. They are not just spiritual theories. And violence is not just jihad, Ferguson, 9/11. Principalities and powers are the animus behind hate speech. The enemy is not the flesh and blood of men and women, the enemy is the fear that drives the rage that drives the violence. Wink’s point is: we can be surrounded and enveloped in forces that we barely understand that are in us and through us, and like the air we breathe, invisible yet permeating everything. Killing people never kills an idea that motivates them – whether it is a motivation of love or hate - which is one way we know that Ephesians is right. The real struggle is beyond flesh and blood alone. It is with principalities and powers.
Henri Nouwen, a very different kind of spiritual writer to Walter Wink, has suggested (in Creative Ministry) that teaching and the American educational system has become a violent process: that it is competitive, one-dimensional and alienating. And I ask anyone who has worked in corporate America for any length of time whether it is more often than not a violent (ruthless) system that uses people up and spits them out in service to a bottom line of productivity and profit. Some people who work in an intensely competitive environment can thrive in it ….until they don’t. Until their spirit, mind and body are exhausted and their soul says: enough. I cannot do this any more.
When I return to New York City after spending time elsewhere, I am always profoundly struck by the violence, the petty hostilities, of so many of the interactions of daily life. In the stores, in the streets. People are often aggressive, rude and hostile; we feel we have to be on our guard and watching our back. Folks use attack as the surest means of defense in this intensely urban environment, frequently out of fear. Basic civility and mutual respect can go out the window. There can be a real fragility to community life here.
In our relationships at home and work, “violence” is every time we treat another person as an object. Violence is every time we don’t really listen to someone because really, they are just a piece in our personal jigsaw, not a person as complicated and wonderful and multi-faceted as we are. Violence is when we really don’t “see” other people. They are not really real to us. Violence is choosing not to help another person even though in fact we could, right at that moment. A culture of violence and competition fosters isolation. We forget that we are not isolated atoms but part of a community.
The church is the new community Jesus’ creates to practice non-violence as a way of being. The letter to the Ephesians takes the biggest division the ancient Hebrews know – the great divide between Jews and non-Jews – and says the seemingly irrevocable division is bridged and reconciled by Christ’s life, death and Resurrection. The Cross is the foundation of the new community called church. And because of this foundation, violence and competition and exclusion are no longer the governing ethos of relationship.
Ephesians suggests we need help with putting this into practice in real life, and so the writer uses the imagery of spiritual weapons to wage peace. The writer says that we are in a battle to disarm violence. The only weapon of attack in today’s list is in fact the sword of the gospel – the word of God. The rest of the armor is defensive.
If you are like me, on any given day you may have your own little internal committee at work. We have our own internal debate going on about which approaches to use in difficult situations. There are voices of compassion and kindness; and there are voices of survival and voices of fear and what if... For me, it is a daily choice whether to wage peace, as I suspect it may be for you too in your daily life.
Over the past few months, as the most visible representative of St. Luke’s in the neighborhood, I have been on occasion blind-sided by fierce hostility in the street. It makes no difference whether I am in clericals or jeans, grocery shopping, walking the dog, taking out the trash, going to the parish house for a meeting, going to celebrate Mass, or returning home. If someone hates the construction project they lay into St. Luke’s and sometimes lay into me personally. You would think that after a while, I would get used to this. But the truth is, whenever it happens, I arrive at my destination rattled and sometimes with my heart pounding at the sheer force of their anger. And also feeling frustrated because my efforts at reasonable conversation have proven useless with some folks. Take the shield of faith… says Ephesians. This advice has become for me like what I know of the 12-step programs: one day at a time. After an internal tussle, I decide: Today, I will not return evil for evil. Today I will exercise peace-full speech. Today I will take one day at a time and not let my mind run ahead with what ifs and fears of what life will be like if community hostility escalates. Take the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. These folks are not evil. The hate speech comes through them, it has a foothold in their heart because they are afraid and enraged about many things beyond their control. Fear of change, feeling powerless, other things going on in their lives…whatever it may be. And really, haven’t we all felt some version of those things?
Non-violent, non-coercive relationship is Jesus’ vision for the church. Church is a household where no-one throws anyone under the bus. Church is a community where people do not believe the worst about others without evidence. It is a community where people do not say nasty things about others in the community or outside it, and we don’t traffic in gossip. It is a community where even when there is disagreement, the love of people one for another is real and dependable. It is a community where compassion wins over competition, and inclusion is valued over perfection. It is a community where we can ask for help and support, and receive it. It is a community where today we will persevere in prayer. Today we will trust in the ultimate principality and power - which is God’s love - that is stronger than any forces of hate and fear in this world or the next. Today we will wage God’s peace. Today we will choose to act from love rather than fear.
August 16, 2015 The 12th Sunday After Pentecost | "Jonathan Myrick Daniels: A Lesson For 2015" The Rev. Emily Phillips LloydAugust 17, 2015
The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr once said, “ One of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire life was done by Jonathan Myrick Daniels.” August 20th marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Jonathan Daniels. In the days and weeks leading up to the anniversary, I found myself following on Facebook and Twitter as colleagues and friends from all over the country joined together on pilgrimage to Alabama to commemorate the life and death of this 20th century civil rights activist and martyr. From a distance, I joined them in praying for peace, healing and racial justice in this country. The juxtaposition between this anniversary of death and the current state of race relations in the country is stark and reminds all of us of the work that is ours to do.
Jonathan Myrick Daniels was born in Keene, New Hampshire, in 1939. He was shot and killed by a former deputy sheriff in Hayneville, Alabama, August 14, 1965. According to the Episcopal Church’s Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Lives of Saints,
From high school in Keene to graduate school at Harvard, Jonathan wrestled with the meaning of life and death and vocation. Attracted to medicine, the ordained ministry, law and writing, he found himself close to a loss of faith when his search was resolved by a profound conversion on Easter Day 1962 at the Church of the Advent in Boston. Jonathan then entered the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In March 1965, the televised appeal of Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Selma to secure for all citizens the right to vote drew Jonathan to a time and place where the nation’s racism and the Episcopal Church’s share in that inheritance were exposed.1
Taking a leave of absence from seminary, Jonathan journeyed to Selma sponsored by the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity. According to his biographers, on August 14, Daniels participated in picketing white only stores in Fort Deposit and was arrested along with other protesters. The protesters were transferred by garbage truck to the Hayneville jail. The conditions in the jail were appalling. Crammed together in tiny cells, the group spent six days in the jail without air conditioning or sanitary facilities. In the hot August weather, the cells were not equipped with showers and the prisoners were not allowed to wash.2 Daniels led the group in hymn singing and prayers. Unexpectedly released on August 20th, Jonathan and his companions were immediately targeted. Aware that they were in danger, four of them walked to a small store. As sixteen-year-old Ruby Sales, a African American civil rights activist, reached the door to the store, Tom Coleman appeared with a shot gun and began yelling at her. Jonathan pushed her down to one side to shield her from the unexpected threats. As a result, he was killed instantly by a blast from the 12-gauge shotgun. A Roman Catholic priest, Father Richard F. Morrisroe grabbed activist Joyce Bailey and ran with her. Coleman shot Morrisroe, severely wounding him in the lower back, and then stopped firing.
In the trial that followed, Coleman was charged with manslaughter. Coleman pled self-defense claiming that Daniels and Morrisroe had threatened him with a knife and a gun. In this largely African American town, Colman was tried and acquitted by an all-white jury.3
In our Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus continues explaining his seemly unusual command to eat his flesh and drink his blood. This rich and deeply incarnational language is at the heart of our faith and profoundly informs our understanding of the sacrament of Eucharist. The last lines of the passage are haunting. “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” This question of life and death and what it means to live eternally in Christ are directly addressed in some of Jonathan final writings. He wrote, “The doctrine of the creeds, the enacted faith of the sacraments, were the essential preconditions of the experience itself. The faith with which I went to Selma has not changed: it has grown … I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and resurrection … with them, the black men and white men, with all life, in him whose Name is above all the names that the races and nations shout … We are indelibly and unspeakably one.”
Surely this is what it means to abide in Christ. Even in death, Jonathan lives abundantly. His is a story that should not be forgotten. It should be told and retold. In 1965, the murder of an educated, white seminarian protecting an African American teenage girl, sent shock waves through communities of all colors across the nation. The result was mobilized change. In 2015, I can hardly turn on my computer or television without seeing the viral videos of race related death, rioting and protest. We know the names… Trayvon, Michael, Eric, Sandra, Cynthia, Susie, Ethel, Clementa, Tywanza, Daniel, Sharonda, Myra, Depayne. We know the places, Ferguson, Charleston, Baltimore, New York. And we know as Christians we are called to love our neighbor and to seek justice. It is not good enough to pretend that it will all work itself out without our help. What we do and say matters. How we live matters. We must work harder for justice in all areas of our lives. We must ask ourselves. How are we part of the problem and what can we do to change it? What do we have to give up? Jesus gives up everything… even his own flesh and blood. Jonathan gave up his life. What will we do?
1Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints. Church Publishing. (2010) https://liturgyandmusic.wordpress.com/2010/08/14/august-14-jonathan-myrick-daniels-seminarian-and-martyr-1965/
2Outside Agitator: Jon Daniels and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL (2000).
Records of the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity, The Archives of the Episcopal Church, AR1998.117, AR1998.122, AR1999.014, and UP007.
Papers of the Reverend Canon Henri Alexandre Stines, The Archives of the Episcopal Church, AR2005.079.
August 9, 2015 The 11th Sunday After Pentecost Proper 14B | "Be What You See And Receive What You Are" The Rev. Deacon Posey KrakowskyAugust 12, 2015
I want to tell you a story about two men named Carlos and Roby. Perhaps you read about them in the NY Times magazine article by Jon Mooallem on July 23rd. Carlos and Roby have an amazing job - they spend their days helping out newly released prison inmates. Apparently, the first 24 hours after leaving jail are crucial in determining if someone will be able to adjust to life on the outside. Even the smallest incident can shatter their confidence. When you’ve been locked up for 15 or 20 years, the world outside is fast paced and bewildering.
Mooallem writes: “Often, the psychological turbulence of those first days or weeks is so debilitating that recently incarcerated people can’t even navigate public transportation; they’re too frightened of crowds, too intimidated or mystified by the transit cards that have replaced cash and tokens.”
Carlos and Roby know how difficult it is to adjust, because they are ex-cons themselves. They were hired by a non-profit called ARC -- Anti-Recidivism Coalition -- to pick up newly released prisoners and spend the first day with them - helping them to buy clothes, understand cell phones, and order a meal in a restaurant. Their work makes an enormous difference, giving that essential first dose of confidence to the newly freed men. Even something as simple as a car remote is baffling to someone who entered prison in the 1990s. Was it really that recently that we stopped using actual car keys? Apparently, it was.
One of the many things that caught my attention when I was reading this story was the mens’ relationship to food - and to bread in particular. The article begins with Carlos and Roby waiting in a car in the parking lot of the Donovan Correctional Facility at 6 AM, longing for breakfast. Roby is hungry - he says he wants biscuits and gravy. The two men laugh when they catch themselves thinking they can’t have that particular breakfast because “Monday isn’t biscuits and gravy day.” They have to remind themselves that they are free men now — they can choose to eat whatever they want. Even though they have both been out of prison for several years, they still know the weekly prison menu by heart. The routine of life on the inside has ingrained it so deeply in their bodies that they literally cannot forget. Monday is pancake day. If they were still on the inside, biscuits and gravy would have to wait until tomorrow.
The flip side of this particular moment of their day comes several hours later when they take newly released Dale Hammock to a Denny’s for lunch. Hammock orders a Lumberjack Grand Slam - thrilled that he has navigated the incredibly complicated menu. But his confidence melts when the waiter asks him what kind of bread: White, wheat or sourdough?” Wait, there are bread choices too? Hammock has been taken out of his routine; the ingrained habit of meals he knows from prison. He no longer knows how to respond to so much freedom.
The gospel text today speaks of Jesus as the Bread of Life - this is the 3rd of 5 Sundays in which we hear parts of the Bread of Life discourse from John. The story of Carlos and Roby gives us insight into what this Bread of Life means. In their encounters with newly released prisoners, these two men embody many of the messages that John was trying to convey. This bread of life is both literal and spiritual. It is the literal bread that is found in ordinary encounters with others -- in breaking bread with strangers and friends. It is also the literal bread of the eucharist -- that which we see broken at the fraction and we partake of when we gather around the altar. But it is also the spiritual bread we discover when we ARE the Body of Christ, helping and serving one another -- bringing life giving hope to those who need it. When we eat the bread at the eucharist, we are learning with our bodies how to enter into a life of service — how to love one another as God loves us. Just as Carlos and Roby came to know with their very bodies that Monday was pancake day, so too does our practice of the eucharist inform our very bodies of who we are, beloved ones of God.
BE WHAT YOU SEE, AND RECEIVE WHAT YOU ARE.
Those are the words of St. Augustine in the 4th century, preaching about the Eucharist.
BE WHAT YOU SEE: Carlos and Roby practice exactly that. In their compassion and empathy for the newly released, these two men behave like Jesus. They share their knowledge with kindness. They don’t lecture or overload their charges with information. Instead they spend the day with them, giving the gift of their calm presence, time and energy, moving slowly through what are, to most of us, ordinary interactions with the busy world of 21st century life in America. They feed these men. They take them to Target to buy some clothes and basic toiletries. They help them learn to use a cell phone. They talk to them about what skills they might have and how that could translate into work.
Matthew 25:35 -36 says: “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Are Carlos and Roby Christians? The article doesn’t say. But does it even matter?
Our text today says: “And they shall all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” Whatever their religious affiliation, Carlos and Roby are acting as the Body of Christ.
RECEIVE WHAT YOU ARE: Carlos and Roby are also a living embodiment of the Bread of Life. These two men bring ALL OF THEMSELVES to these encounters. They don’t hide who they are - they don’t cover up their own brokenness when they meet the other. Carlos and Roby are ex cons themselves -- indeed, it is their very brokenness that makes them uniquely suited to helping the recently incarcerated. By being their complete, broken and authentic selves, they are saying that who they are has value. And that they value and respect others as well. When we approach the table, we receive what we are, because it is in our imperfection and brokenness that we are beloved by God. When we come to this table, we are participating in the Body of Christ by acknowledging every aspect of our being. And we are learning, every time we celebrate the Mass, to love ourselves and one another as we are loved by God. So that when we leave, we may go forth and share that love, as Jesus has commanded us to do.
August 2, 2015 The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost Proper 13B | "Manna from Heaven" The Rev. Caroline StaceyAugust 7, 2015
When I was returning home this week from visiting family in the UK, I had one of those archetypal flight experiences that eventually happens to anyone who ever travels by plane. There was a mechanical problem delaying boarding by 2½ hours. Then we got on the plane and were ready for take off and they discovered that the temperature control wasn’t working. So we sat there with our seat belts fastened as the engineers tried everything -- for four and a half more hours. By now, over six hours had passed since our 2pm take off time. And as you can imagine, people started complaining mightily. The captain’s announcements did not help. Well, folks, we’re not having much success here. The plane has blown up two new computer inserts so we are trying to understand why. But please be patient and we will get back to you. That was the announcement that set off alarm bells for some people. I don’t want to stay on a plane that has gone nowhere for 6½ hours. Especially not if it blows up computers. This isn’t safe. You cannot keep me here against my will. Etc etc. You can imagine. The airline staff were the target of passenger frustration.
Finally they cancelled the flight officially. They rebooked all of us on next day flights. And they put us up in a very nice airport hotel and fed us dinner and breakfast. The airline staff were actually wonderful. The hardest thing was, they really didn’t know what would happen. It is hard when outcomes are not predictable. Not having control is one of the hardest things in life, and yet we come up against that all the time in our lives - in ways great and small…from cancelled flights to cancer. It’s all frustrating and it can get very scary.
We hear a story from Exodus today that is about uncertainty and fear, and God. There is a whole nation of refugees fleeing Egypt, and in the desert. Food is scarce. The people are hungry and start to idealize their conditions as slaves. At least there was a predictable food supply and shelter - security about basic needs being met. Now there is not. And so in their unhappiness they target the leadership - Moses and Aaron - because the Israelites cannot see how this situation can possibly be part of their faith journey. Wilderness and God’s provision don’t seem to fit together. How is this suffering and uncertainty part of God’s calling?
And so the Israelites grumble. Loudly. In verses 5-8, which are omitted, Moses predicts that God will feed them and yet still the people don’t recognize it when it happens. What is it?, they say. Manna has no literal translation, the closest is “whatchamacallit”. They haven’t seen anything like that before. Once they figure out it is food, they gather it up to store it – just in case no more is forthcoming. Moses tells them – it won’t keep. This is literally daily bread. (Give us this day our daily bread is at the heart of our Lord’s Prayer, and this is its source). The people don’t believe or trust Moses and they hoard whatchamacallit overnight and it rots. The exception to this prohibition against storing up extra is when God allows them to gather double on the day before the Sabbath so that on the Sabbath, they can rest. God even provides for their Sabbath rest (Ex. 16:22f)!
Later we are told: The house of Israel named in manna, it was like coriander seed, white, and it tasted like wafers in honey (Ex.16:31). So not too nasty a taste, then. Manna becomes their staple for generations – all the time the journey to Canaan. And of course, they get sick of manna all the time. In Numbers 11, they complain: There is nothing but this manna to look at… Oh how we miss the fish and the cucumbers and leeks and the garlic of Egypt. Numbers chapter 11 is an alternative telling of the same story - says that manna tasted like rich cream (Num11:8) and notes various ways to prepare manna in response to the Israelites’ complaints about the limited menu. I suspect that even if God created the manna to taste like something different every day, the Israelites would still find something to complain about! This is all so human. I wonder if we recognize ourselves here? The grass is always greener. The truth is, like the Israelites, we are restless and dissatisfied by nature, and gratitude and acceptance can be a struggle for all of us. We may have times of gratitude where we feel God’s blessing but there are also times of wilderness and comparison when feeling thankful doesn’t seem possible.
The biggest lesson for the Israelites as I read it, is something all of us work on – trust in God. It’s not about the manna, though they need that. It is about learning that God loves them and will care for them. Even in their darkest night, God is with them. There will be enough. Psalm 78 puts it wonderfully: [God] provided for them food enough (Ps. 78:25)
In today’s gospel, Jesus links the miracle he has just performed – the feeding of the 5000 - with the manna in the wilderness. Jesus says it is not about the loaves and fishes. It is not even about the Manna. The real food God gives is the true bread - Jesus. This true bread is what we are given in the Eucharist, but it lives in us long after we have digested the Bread. This spiritual food – this connection to God - stays with us, even when we are in the wilderness.
The food that satisfies is growing in trust through our trials that somehow God will provide. Growing in peace with being human and therefore not always being in control. The spiritual food that sustains us as we go through life’s ups and downs that God is with us through all of it and nothing that we go through is useless or irrelevant in our journey with God.
One of the most counter-cultural messages of the gospel is that there is enough of everything. For all those times and days and places where we think there is not enough, Jesus says - there was, there is and there always will be.
Jesus never promises that we will not ever get sick, or die, or experience pain and suffering; that is not the "enough" God promises. What God promises is that whatever dry deserts we go through, there will always be some kind of food and water. In obvious ways, sometimes that help and sustenance will come through others; sometimes we will be God’s provision for others. But at an even deeper level, God himself provides. As a friend of mine used to say: God doesn’t leave people high and dry. Jesus reminds us in the Eucharist that there will always be food here for us, and that God always makes room for us at this Table, even when we show up unannounced, or unprepared, or empty-handed. Even if this is our first time in church for years, even if we haven't prayed for years, even if we have no intention of doing anything more but taking what is on offer, none of this is a problem with the Lord. God feeds everyone, no questions asked, no pre-conditions set and God rejoices that we are here today.
All God asks is that when we find food that satisfies our souls and living water, we share it with others. We have to share it because it is not ours to hoard and keep to ourselves. In fact, like the manna, if we keep our gifts to ourselves in some sense, they rot. Gifts that we don’t share, in some very real sense go bad on us. And unlike so much of our human experience, divine resources are not part of a zero sum economy. Divine love only increases as we share it, like the loaves and fishes. And as we share what we have received, our own faith multiplies as well.
July 26, 2015 The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost Proper 12B|"Kingdom Mathematics" The Rev. Gabriel LamazaresJuly 28, 2015
The story of the feeding of the five thousand is one of a few that appears, in slightly different forms, in all four Gospels. Its multiple attestation is a testament to its ubiquity and foundational nature as one of the core stories of Jesus’ ministry and the signs he performed. However, this is the only time in the three-year cycle of Sunday readings that we hear the version from the Gospel according to John.
As we look closely at the whole story, they key points of the narrative arc are the ones we’re familiar with. Have you ever seen the story-boards that are sometimes used by animators and screen-writers to lay out their work? It would be easy to story-board this chunk of narrative.
Frame 1: Jesus and the disciples surrounded by thousands of people out in the country. The main thrust of this frame is the sheer magnitude of the crowds. This is no small gathering. There are whole towns and villages, then and now, that don’t have five thousand men, not counting women and children. I know we’re New Yorkers and not easily impressed by numbers of people (sometimes it feels as if there are 5000 people on my subway car), but this was a ton of people. An overwhelming number of people. And they’re hungry and far from town.
Frame 2: Jesus tells the disciples, “We need to feed these people.” The look of the faces of the disciples must be something akin to terror, eyes wide open, mouths open, perhaps with those little “impact lines” you see in comics radiating from their heads. The substance of their protest and disbelief is relatively unimportant. They are reasonable folk and they are seriously starting to wonder if Jesus has lost his senses.
Frame 3: The assessment of resources. The center of this frame is the boy and his five loaves and two little fishes (the Greek form is a diminutive). John adds the detail that these are barley loaves, the food of the poor. Maybe what the boy has in his hands is five dinner rolls and a plate of tapas. The boy is always nameless, but he always has the same meager lunch. As listeners, it is obvious that the gulf between what is on hand and what is needed vast.
Frame 4: Jesus giving thanks for this meager lunch and breaking the loaves to begin distributing them. The Spanish word that always comes to my mind is repartir. If we look at the roots of the word literally, it means to ‘break again.’ In typical use, it means something like ‘distribute,’ but has an unmistakable sense of splitting up and giving away. A related word that is even more appropriate is compartir, to ‘break with,’ which is the best word for ‘share.’ Maybe a caption is appropriate on this frame, from the Psalms: “You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature.”
Frame 5: The twelve baskets of leftovers with the crowds satisfied, like the Israelites were satisfied by manna, or like the hundred people fed by Elisha during a famine. There is obviously much more left over (after everyone eats!) than there was to begin with.
This is the mathematics of the Reign of God. Great need + laughably meager resources + thanksgiving + sharing = satisfaction and surplus “far more than we can ask or imagine,” in the words of Ephesians or what is commonly called a miracle. This math always seems insane as we do ciphers in our heads in the midst of fear and scarcity. But it is a testament to God’s providence how often and in what gracious variety it has worked out in circumstance after circumstance throughout the history of Jesus’s followers doing the same.
This is the mathematics of the Reign of God. I have seen it work in obvious ways, like at Parish Life events or in Outreach efforts. I have seen it happen at potlucks and gatherings and celebrations. I have seen it happen in the kitchens and dining rooms of people with very little.
And I have seen it work in less obvious ways, when people meet in times of sorrow or strife to look over a need or wound that seems endless and bring what they have to the table with gratitude and a willingness to share. It happens in hospital rooms and on the street, in the rooms where Twelve Step groups meet and in schools, at summer camps and in prayer groups.
I admit it sometimes seems like a cruel fairy tale, at least to me. Of course, people go hungry in this world. Of course, there are needs that none of us can adequately address. But this confidence in the workings of God’s providence is one of the places our faith is tested. We are urged again and again to trust in God. The feeding of the five thousand is a grand performance art piece demonstrating what Jesus taught: “Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet our Heavenly Father feeds them.”
Like children in a classroom practicing our multiplication tables, we practice this math over and over again in the Eucharist each week. In the breaking of bread and in the prayers, we enact this mathematics of grace, until it becomes second nature: Great need + laughably meager resources + thanksgiving + sharing = satisfaction and surplus “far more than we can ask or imagine.”
Thanks be to God.