Sermon on John 6:24-35

"I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

One of the things I have been doing since I graduated from seminary is to start reading some of the books that I didn’t have time to read in Seminary. One of these books is “Take this Bread” by Sara Miles. The book is a memoir of her radical conversion to Christianity. Sara grew up in a house where all faith and belief was regarded as insincere and pointless. Both of her parents were born to Christian missionaries and spent their childhoods in huts in Burma and tents in Baghdad. Eventually they returned to the U.S. and were stifled by the small town conservative churches they returned to. Her parents’ childhoods left them scarred and she writes that her parents had a “grudge” against Christianity. Consequently, as a child Sara thought that Sundays were for reading the paper, cooking elaborate meals and spending time with family.

As Sara grew up she became a journalist who reported on political unrest in Latin America. Consequently, she also became something a social activist too. Though it became it clear that she couldn’t make a living as a social activist or writer. So when she wasn’t traveling, she worked in a kitchen in New York prepping food in a noisy crowded kitchen. Sara’s love of food continued to grow in this atmosphere and she began to notice what an impact food had on her and those around her. She shares stories of moments in war-torn El Salvador when strangers offered her food. While working as a journalist in Latin America, Sara fell in love with another journalist and became pregnant. They moved back to the U.S. because they were concerned for the safety of their unborn child in such a violent atmosphere and so they moved to San Francisco. She continued to be a journalist and covered domestic politics and was particularly concerned with the AIDS crisis. All the while, Sara’s love affair with food continued to grow as she cooked for her own family. Her life was happy and moved in a comforting soothing way. And then it happened.

One early morning as her daughter slept, Sara walked into St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church. She has no idea why she went in, she had no reason to be there. She writes that she had no interest whatsoever in being a Christian, she merely went in as a spectator. She participated in the service and in the Eucharist. She accepted a piece of bread with the words “body of Christ” and some wine with the words “blood of Christ.” In this moment something “outrageous and terrifying happened” to her. She writes that: “Jesus happened to me.” Sara still can’t explain exactly what happened at her first communion but she felt like she had been “knocked over” or “stepped suddenly off a curb” and found herself weeping. As she left, she chalked up the experience to the beautiful music making her cry. But the word Jesus stuck with her and she wanted that bread again, even though she couldn’t think of why she did. She continued to go back each Sunday and was embarrassed that she couldn’t articulate the reason why. This pattern of going to church and crying through communion went on for some time. She was “struck by the raw physicality of that mystical meal” of communion. She was wading into the mystery.

Sara avows that she was an unlikely candidate for conversion to Christianity. She was a secular intellectual who was prone to skepticism and here she was feeling pulled toward Christianity. Her life was turned upside down and she felt lonely and destabilized among her secular friends and family. In this confusing time the only thing that kept her grounded were those pieces of bread she got every Sunday. She had found her sign from Jesus in the living bread. In this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus’ followers ask him for a sign saying: "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" These people need a sign to believe in Jesus. Their ancestors were given a sign that helped them know who to believe in and they want the same thing! And this is easy enough to understand. How many of us are waiting for signs?

I can’t tell you how many times I have asked for a sign from God. I have prayed for a sign that would help me choose a seminary, or to let me know that I was making the right choice about a job. If I am being honest, I often wish for more than a sign, I usually want a clear concise text message. I have yet to receive one. But I often get my answers in some form, though it may not be the form I expected. The answer will come in a conversation, or during a time of listening or in a moment where I just felt right. There is no manna raining down from heaven like in our reading from Exodus. And yet when Jesus responds to their question, he says that his Father gives them the true bread from heaven. This is the bread that Sara Miles stumbled upon that morning in San Francisco. This bread changed her whole life and gave her the sign she needed. Her whole conversion was centered on a piece of bread. This bread inspired Sara to do many new and different things. I plan on sharing about these new steps in her journey next week.

At the end of this morning’s reading Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life.” Interestingly, his followers don’t ask for further explanation (as I might have done), they just plead "Sir, give us this bread always." So perhaps understanding the Bread of Life isn’t as important as receiving it. Sara Miles did not understand the Bread of Life but she did receive it; and receiving it was enough to change her whole life. So perhaps receiving the Bread of Life through the Eucharist is enough for us today. Perhaps it is the sign we need to believe. Amen.

---The Rev'd Deacon Grace A. Pratt

Sermon on Mark 6:14-29 July 12, 2015

 Good Morning! I just wanted to thank everyone for my warm welcome this week. It is great to be here even if our Gospel reading this morning is a bit intimidating. But I am confident we can tackle it together!

The story of the death of John the Baptist is a famous narrative that has inspired lots of movies, art and even an opera. These famous recreations of the story focus on Herod’s daughter’s dance, Herod’s evil nature or even the actual head on the platter. So it can be difficult to shift through all the glamour and gore to find the good news of this passage. What good can be found in the story of a gruesome murder? But we will try.  In our reading Mark takes us to a flashback of the scene at Herod’s birthday banquet.

We don’t get too much background information on our characters but we know that Herod’s wife doesn’t like John because he has criticized her decision to marry her brother-in-law. In fact, she dislikes him so much that she wants to kill him. You might wonder how John lived so long if Herod’s wife wanted to kill him, but the situation is more complex. There is some degree of understanding between Herod and John. Mark tells us that Herod feared John, and knew that he was a righteous and holy man. Therefore Herod protected John. Mark goes on to tell us that Herod heard John speak often and enjoyed it, even though John’s words perplexed him. This information about Herod and John’s connection paints us a fuller picture. The scene is less black and white than it originally seemed. Herod in some ways actually likes John the Baptist and wants to protect him. Why then does Herod kill him?

And this is where I actually start to feel a little bad for Herod. He is caught in a web of complex personal and social relationships. He wants to please his spouse but if he pleases his spouse, he will kill a righteous and holy man. He wants to seem like a generous ruler to Galilean society but still seem powerful to the rest of his kingdom. He is taken aback by his daughter’s grotesque request and yet he wants to keep his word. And of course, he wants to follow his own beliefs and protect a man that he believes is some kind of prophet. Basically he is trying to please many different groups of people and still find a way to keep his own integrity. This is a position many of us can relate to. How many of us have to make decisions every day that affect different groups of people? And how often do we feel like no one is happy with a decision? Or do we feel like everyone is happy with our choice but our own conscience?

We are all faced with decisions every day, some smaller and some larger. We might be faced with decisions like these: How do we deal with our child who is having a tantrum in the grocery store? What is the best way to ask for time off from work for an important family event? Whom should we be friends with? Should we look at our classmate’s answer to a difficult question on a test? And on a larger scale, we might wonder whom should we vote for in a national election? Or if it is more important to reduce national debt or to add more governmental programs? Is it better to let foreign nations figure out their own issues or is it better to intervene? These are the kinds of decisions we face every day and this is why the line “But then an opportunity came” helps me find the grace in this passage.  Even though on the surface this “opportunity” likely refers to Herod’s wife’s chance to get revenge on John the Baptist, it also presents an “opportunity” for Herod to choose grace and stand up against a decision he knows is wrong, even at the risk of disappointing a loved one.  Because really every decision we make is an opportunity for grace.

We can choose to let grace in or to reject it. And this is what we learn from Herod’s choice. Herod had an opportunity to welcome grace into a situation and instead he rejected it. He chose to satisfy the group of people around him and not his own conscience.  This is something else we can all relate to. Have you ever made a decision where you felt like you caved to the social norm and didn’t follow what you knew to be right? I certainly have, in fact I do it all the time.            

When reflecting on times when I made decisions to please those around and did not follow my own moral compass, I thought most about times when I gossiped about others. Gossip is such an easy trap to fall into. Looking at my own life, I often use gossip to get closer to certain people. Complaining about those around us is a quick way to make a connection with someone else. And I often do this even though I know it is not the right thing to do.

But this is the gift of this Gospel reading! It calls on us to think about our decisions. If we frame every decision we make as a chance to let grace into our lives, then we might make different decisions. It is easy to make choices to please those around us, but as we learn from Herod’s choice, this is not always the right thing to do. Herod had an opportunity for grace but he decided against it. He decided to kill John the Baptist. So let’s learn from Herod’s mistake. Before we make a decision let’s ask if we are making our decision to protect ourselves or to build up the kingdom of God? Because personally I would rather build up the kingdom even if it means missing out on some really good gossip. Amen.

-- The Rev'd Grace Pratt

Hello Grace! July 5, 2015

Hello Grace! We are so glad you are here with us! Bring David and Arthur along any time.  We want to welcome them, too.

Grace, your desire to serve as a priest was awakened in you at a very early age.   As a child you attended All Saints Episcopal Church, Beverly Hills where your mom was soloist in the choir.  You sang in the children’s choir.  By the fourth grade you were pretty sure you wanted to be a priest.  Your family moved to Dallas where you attended St. Michael and All Angels. You got confirmed. You joined the youth program and went on annual mission trips with Habitat for Humanity.  You kept coming back every summer from Sewanee to help lead mission trips with St. Michael. 

After college you took a position at St. Luke’s in Darien CT where you organized the large Youth Ministry. You organized their confirmation program, recruited and trained teachers, built leadership teams of adults and youth, worked with them to plan youth led worship and annual mission trips for middle school and high school groups.  You taught one class each year yourself. 

In 2012, you began your formal Seminary training at Virginia Theological Seminary, and entered the ordination process through the Diocese of Virginia.  You worked for a year as an intern chaplain for K-5 grade at St. Stephens St. Agnes School.

On March 1, 2015 you wrote me a letter expressing your interest in the youth ministry position at St. Luke’s.  In May you accepted my offer to join us at St. Luke’s.  June 6 at the Falls Church Bishop Johnston ordained you as a deacon.  And now here you are. Prepared, Graduated, Ordained, Vested.

We are so glad you are finally here with us!

As a congregation we also have been preparing for this moment and for the work that lies ahead.  We are so grateful for the work of the Search Committee.  Cathy McPeek, Mike Tindle, Frank Morgan, Samantha Souza, Sally Hurme, and the Reverend Jonathan Bryan started this work back in December of 2014.  Together we designed a process to engage everyone in the congregation, to get us all to think about what we wanted a new assistant rector to do and who we wanted that person to be. 

Right from the start three main duties became clear and continued to be reinforced through our conversations with members of the congregation:

1.             Oversight of Journey to Adulthood program to ensure proper planning, guidance, support, and resources for the continuing success of this program of Youth formation.

2.             Leadership to ensure the success and enrichment of the children’s education ministry

3.             A priest to share the work of leading worship and providing pastoral care throughout the congregation.

The person we were looking for would have a strong spiritual foundation, an ability to connect with children and youth, experience and skills in organizing leadership teams, identifying achievable goals, building healthy relationships, and exploring and growing in relationship with God.

That vision didn’t come out of a vacuum.  St. Luke’s has always ministered to and with and among young people.  In 1929 St. Luke’s began as a non-denominational Sunday school and morphed into an Episcopal congregation led entirely for nearly a decade by high school students and seminarians.  Since 1940, 75 years ago this fall, St. Luke’s has been a church in the Diocese of Virginia.  Throughout those 75 years work with and for and among young people including our Day School, Scout Troop, Youth ministry, Sunday School, and outreach programs to help children (Afghans for Gaza, Adopt a Kindergartner, Eagles Wings Tutoring, organizing for youth recreation, summer canned food drive) have formed the signature ministries of this parish. So when the congregation articulated these qualities and purposes, they were reconfirming a purpose that has always been at the heart of who we are and what we do.

Cathy, Mike, Sally, Frank, Samantha, Jonathan and I reviewed many resumes and interviewed many well-qualified candidates. We all agreed that you are precisely the person we are looking for.   And by God’s grace, as you sifted through the various options available to you, you agreed that St. Luke’s was the congregation you were looking for.

We are so glad you are here with us!

Today’s gospel lesson reminds us of some enduring truths about the life and work we share as members of the church.

First and foremost, it all starts with Jesus and his proclamation of the kingdom of God.

From presiding Bishop elect Michael Curry, to Bishop of Virginia Shannon Johnston, to every priest, deacon and baptized member of the church, to every person in the communities in which we live and serve, every thing we are and everything we do begins, continues, and ends with Jesus and his kingdom.

That kingdom isn’t just a fantasy or a dream or a vision.  The kingdom of God is already among us, living and active.

Jesus is the living and reigning king of the kingdom, as he has been for over two thousand years, seated at the right hand of the Father, present in the hearts and minds and souls of his subjects through the Holy Spirit.  We may not see him, but we know him through his work, and we know that we would not be here without him, and could not continue apart from him.

Today’s collect reminds us that the entire mission and life of Jesus’ kingdom can be summed up in six words: Love God and love your neighbor.

And today’s gospel reminds us about some of the limits and the possibilities of this kingdom of divine love.

Love depends on trust, faith.  When Jesus went to Nazareth he brought the same power of divine love that he had been exercising throughout Galilee.  But many of the people in Nazareth didn’t believe, and so he couldn’t do the amazing work of love that he wanted to do among them.

That is as true for us as it was for them. No one can force trust from another person.  Not even God.  No one can trust merely as an act of will.  You can’t make yourself trust me.  You can’t make me trust you. 

If we do trust God and one another, and if we are true to God’s love, wonderful, powerful things can happen. But nothing wonderful can happen where people do not trust each other and trust in God.

And be sure of this.  Trust and love are not built upon or revealed through power or strength. Jesus shows and teaches exactly the opposite.   It is how we are treated when we are weakest, and how we treat the weakest among us, that prove trust and reveal love. 

So Jesus keeps going to the weak, the sick, the poor, the broken, the sinful, because it is among these that love has the greatest power. He never asks anyone for payment or tests their worthiness.  He forgives.  He gives in advance.  And then he let’s them decide what to do with the health, and forgiveness, and power he has given. 

Grace, in time you will find every form of weakness among us. Some are poor. Some are sick.  Some are grieving.  Some are broken by loss.  Some are lonely. Some are oppressed by sin.  Some are addicts.  Some are depressed.  Some are afraid.  Some lack a sense of purpose or meaning.  Some of us have rejected God at some point. But we have come back to hear the message of the gospel, that no matter how many times Jesus is rejected he keeps sending out his messengers: there is no final rejection from God.  And everyone of us knows something through our weakness about the power of God’s love that we could never have learned through our strength. 

In time we may share our various weakness with you, and you may share your weakness with us.  We are not expecting you to be perfect, or to make the kingdom come for us.  We are hoping to seek and reveal that kingdom with you, to share weakness, successes and failures, and to keep growing in trust and love of God and our neighbor.

 For now, know and trust that we are so glad you are here with us!

Dorothy Bowerfind's Sermon June 21

    The first reading from Samuel details the story of David and Goliath. It’s a tale we all know well: the underdog saves the day! We can find this storyline emulated in our fables, movies, books, in our imaginations, it’s everywhere! And it isn’t hard to see why. It’s awesome, as in, awe inspiring that a little runt, much like you and me, could take down this giant with only a small round pebble and the love of God. Just imagine! Here is this small, ruddy and handsome boy volunteering to go up against a warrior who has been training since his youth, 9 foot 9 inches, gleaming in his armor, with a spear whose head weighs 15 pounds on its own, and he’s extending a nice offer to kill David and enslave all of his people. Delightful.

    And yet, somehow, David knows that the Lord will be a refuge for the oppressed, and a refuge in times of trouble, just like we are told in Psalm 9. Even when no other man was willing to risk his life, David trusts that he is not risking his either, and that God not only wants to, but will help him, and that he will be victorious through God. That’s kind of great.

    Personally, if there were a vicious Paul Bunyan type offering to use me as a toothpick, I’d be out of there. I don’t think that I would have the courage, or really the faith, that it took for David to refuse the chain mail, and run at Goliath head on, trusting that that stone would hit his foe just right. I don’t really think I’m underdog hero material.

    For the most part, thank the Lord, we are not up against the Fee Fie Fo Fum of giant men or women. And I, at least, have never been faced with a spearhead that could be used for bicep curls. But we are all tested with adversity in all different ways. Through the grace and love of God, it is possible to conquer what seems impossible, because, or so I’ve been told, with God nothing is impossible.

    Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of feeling this myself, this impossibility made possible, and I’d like to share my own story of divine intervention:

    I am a high school graduate. I AM a high school graduate. I am a high school GRADUATE. Man is that weird. After walking the stage at the Patriot Center this Thursday, the 18th of June, with my class of 2015, I received an envelope, which contained my diploma, a record of my extensive community service work, my final report card, and a transcript detailing my high school successes. Behind the multitude of shiny gold and silver seals pasted on my diploma, and the careful calligraphic signatures, behind the 4.7 GPA I achieved this past year and my beautiful report card, behind all of that, you might find a record of my high school attendance. Here you might also find my shortcomings, and behind that, you find my very own giant enemy: this year, I only attended 100 days of school out of a possible 180 or so, most of which were half days. No big deal.

    Now, I wasn’t traveling, or interning. There were no exotic cruises or exciting jobs, and no, I wasn’t suffering from the debilitating and rampant senioritis, a paralyzing condition with symptoms that include cutting class and going to Starbucks during lunch. Instead, for the majority of my time off of school, I was doing POTS.

    POTS, or Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, is an Autonomic Nervous System disorder classified as a form of Dysautonomia. The Autonomic Nervous System is made up of your Sympathetic and Parasympathetic systems, which are in charge of the the bodily functions we don’t think about controlling, like heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, pupil constriction/dilation, kidney function, temperature control, etc, etc.

Some of my symptoms include very low blood pressure and volume, and I suffer both bradycardia, which is a slow heart rate (~40 bpm) and tachycardia, which is fast heart rate (~125 bpm). Because, through God, all things are possible. These are the main contributors to my fainting, which some of you have seen first hand during a super long Gospel reading a couple of years ago. I also have the joy of severe nausea, palpitations, tremors, poor concentration, fatigue, migraines, forgetfulness, tingling, vasoconstriction, and a ton of other symptoms I’d be happy to share with you all at a later time, when I am not so dizzy.

    POTS is also a perfect gateway for digestive problems and immune system disorders. Complications of the chronic illness can be debilitating and even life threatening, although doctors describe it as greatly reducing the quality rather than the quantity of life.

    So. This was my senior year of high school, and also my junior year, and more than likely a part of all of my years back to my first memory of “blacking out” in first grade. Past that, it’s hard to speculate, since POTS is also quite adept at stealing memories. We call it potsie brain.

    POTS can be idiopathic, meaning that it is it’s own disease, or it can be instigated by all sorts of things. I have friends who speculate genetics, but who knows? It’s origins are illusive, and there is a lot that the medical world still doesn’t know about this disease. It is a developing field. My mom always said I was a trend setter, after all.  

When I was a kid I was sick all of the time. And I’ve always been best friends with the school nurse. If anyone needs to contact my girl Cheryl Langford from West Potomac, I’ve got her number on speed dial. That’s not a joke. She’s great. If you bring her some mixed nuts, she’ll crochet you a hat. And she makes excellent ice packs.

Anyways, I was always a little sick. Every so often, my sucky immune system would get in the way of my fun. I was suspended from my duty as a Safety Patrol when I fainted while conducting traffic on crosswalk duty. My supervisor decided I was more of a hazard to myself and others than anything else. She was probably right.

This odd behavior continued for years, and the fainting was joined by the splitting headaches, extreme fatigue, cloudy memories, etc etc. But at this point, it all seemed like it could be a part of being an adolescent. We like to take naps, school gives us headaches, and who ever remembers to take out the trash? The doctors chalked it up to the teenage existence and migraines. They told me to take an Advil and push on, but that wasn’t really sufficient.

    Then, my sophomore year I was hit with the answer. I was, in fact, hit with a baseball bat that led to what turned out to be an answer. The bat gave me a pretty killer concussion that took me out for months, and that also severely exacerbated my other symptoms. My increased fainting led to more concussions and injuries in a short period of time. I have since bruised everything from my brain to my ribs to my toes and cheeks.

    I used to have bad vision problems as a child, too: colors, spots, and double vision. These somewhat harmless occurrences were also worsened, and exploded into full blown hallucinations: sparkles and fireworks, figures, and shadows. It was the most terrifying thing that I have ever experienced. I have watched children huddling in dark corners and choking on spiders, and I have seen and smelt blood coming from my shower head, washing me in rust. I would become paralyzed in fear, shut down, panic, I’d even stop talking! Which just about never happens, as most of you know.

    When it seemed that I was never going to get better, that there was no reasonable explanation, that no one could ever know what was happening, that maybe I was David, but there was NO GOD TO HELP ME, I was diagnosed with POTS. And I met my Goliath.

    So this is what it looks like. I don’t know, maybe it looks alright. I’ve always had relatively clear skin, and easy to style hair, I try to stay effervescent and lively, and I think I can be kind at least as much as I am cruel. I’m no 9 foot 9 monster with what I imagine was greasy hair, scar face, and broken nails, with a side of knuckle sandwich.

Okay, maybe it looks alright, but it feels like death.

And so this is also what an invisible illness looks like. Right now I am faking it to make it with a smile, but I am beyond dizzy, nauseated, and my head is pounding with my heart, which I’m sure isn't happy about all of this standing.

And the worst part, for me, is that there’s nothing that I can do to make it stop. I can sit down for a moment, but I can’t stay in bed forever. I used to do gymnastics, and dance, run, swim. I liked to act and go to parties, stay out late and eat junk, but right at this moment it all seems pretty impossible.

And then I have to remind myself that, supposedly, nothing is impossible with God. And I still don’t believe it all the time, until I think of David, and I’m like: that dude was supposed to die by all odds, and he became a king. And I remember, that I AM A HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE. Despite missing what amounts to almost an entire year, I did it. And I AM GOING TO COLLEGE. If you had told me that even the morning I was accepted to my first choice, St. John’s College in Annapolis, where I will be attending in the fall, I would have scoffed.

I don’t think I’ve identified which smooth stone is going to knock it out just yet, and I have no clue what I’m doing, but I trust God will help me out with that. I trust that He is my refuge, and that He has provided that refuge in all of you. So, before I step down, because I know the sermon is always too long, no matter what, I want to say thanks. Because for every morning that I couldn’t walk, or see, or hear, or feel, for every second I’ve lost in my memories, you have all made it that much easier to build new ones. Meredith Maple helped me stick out my last years as a sidelined gymnast, with much more pep than I ever could have managed alone. When I feel too dizzy to stand, Linda and Mike help me push through for a hug at the Peace. When I was ready to put music aside, to give up for the headaches, every child and parent and director in the Children’s Choir gave me a reason to love it again. All of you, whether it’s through Lorraine Hamilton’s smile, Tracey Navratil’s laugh, Martha Beckford’s jokes, or Joe Gillfillan’s love for pumpkins— everyone should gift that man with a Spookie in October, he loves them!— have touched me. And I haven’t named nearly enough of you, but I do hope you know what an impact you have made on me. Because every time I want to put the pebble down, to back away from the fight, St. Luke’s reminds me that I’m not standing alone— there was a whole people of Israel behind David when he went to battle it out with Goliath, and I know that there’s a whole family, a whole lot of you, behind me. So thank you for that.



Erika Larsen's Sermon June 7, 2015

                 For the past week, I have been helping the music teacher at Belle View Elementary School through the SHOUT program at West Potomac. SHOUT gives seniors the opportunity to get involved in the community and do service after taking all of our finals. I have worked with students of all ages and abilities, ranging from kindergarteners to 6th graders. In some classes, we have been teaching the students simple rhythms and have just been singing songs, but in more advanced classes, I’ve gotten to help teach the kids how to play recorders and even guitars. As a graduate from Belle View, this has been a fantastic opportunity to revisit previous teachers and remind myself of how easy life was when I was 6 years old. It has also allowed me to understand how our minds work as we age and how we make decisions.

When I was younger, my family and I only went to church on Easter and Christmas, but when I asked my parents what we believed, we talked about God and that I should learn for myself. My parents brought me to Sunday school every Sunday starting in 7th grade and I began to discover what I believe and how my relationship with God factors into that. Watching the elementary schoolers now and relating to how I was at that age, I’ve realized that we don’t think much before we act. I’ve seen 1st graders push one of their friends down or call each other a bad name, and then you see their faces change from enjoyment to fear and then remorse as they are punished and realize what they’ve done. At that age, we often don’t understand the consequences of our actions.

In 3rd grade, I had a teacher with extremely thick and curly red hair; this was also the year of the cicadas. My friends and I thought it would be a good idea to hang a bunch of the dead carcasses in her hair. Thinking back now, I realize that it probably wasn’t the best or most thoughtful idea, since she  didn’t like bugs much. Working with the children’s choir here at St. Luke’s, I have also seen how thought processes change over time. The short-attention-spanned musicians have so much potential and ability that shows through, but staying focused is always an issue. Goofing off during rehearsal takes away from practice time. As I am now going into music, I see that that decision has serious consequences; I have done the same thing during my rehearsals with the band or orchestra. When I don’t pay close enough attention during those rehearsals, I lose valuable information that I could’ve taken in, and that sometimes shows through during performances. These small actions have major consequences.

As my relationship with God developed, I began to think about my actions and the consequences before doing them; things as simple as speaking in everyday conversations to more complicated things such as where I wanted to go to college or what I wanted to do with my life. This has allowed me to really consider who is affected by my choices because these choices determine who I am as a person. This has also helped me see right versus wrong. Taking time to make decisions makes the implementation more rational and often less foolish.

God encourages us to think right, but also gives us free will which allows us to learn from our mistakes. In the Gospel, Jesus speaks to a crowd and they accuse him, but Jesus claims that their accusations aren’t logical. Jesus reminds us in the Old Testament of God’s ways which helps us to think clearly and know that God will never leave us or withdraw his support and he accentuates the importance of doing what is right.

After going through the youth program at St. Luke’s and traveling to Germany for our pilgrimage, I still don’t know exactly what I believe, but that can only come with time and experience. As I continue to explore the person I am and the person I want to be, I turn to God for help and direction and I have full faith that he will guide me in the way I am determined to go.

Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 17, 2015

This past week we celebrated the Ascension of our Lord. For forty days the risen Jesus remained with the disciples in Jerusalem, teaching them everything about him in the scriptures, eating and drinking with them as his friends, modeling the love that must characterize the life of the church. 

 On the 40th day after Easter, a Thursday, he led the disciples out of the city to a place where St. Luke tells us he was lifted up and a cloud hid him from their sight.

 The Ascension doesn’t get much attention from us.  But it is worth our full attention.

 One of the reasons we don’t celebrate the Ascension is that we don’t know what to say about where Jesus went. For those first disciples heaven seemed to be a place just beyond the clouds.  It was definitely strange, but perhaps they could accept the idea of heaven as a physical place in the clouds. But heaven for us is not a place like another planet.

I tend to think of heaven in terms of time rather than place.   The landscape of time, even just momentarily past or yet to come, is completely hidden from our intuition.   At best we can deduce time past from tell tale signs left behind, or imagine time future based on the continuity of motion that we experience in the present.  Heaven is simply where God is, in us through the Holy Spirit, and as near to us always as the previous and the next moment, deducible based on the witness of others and imaginable, but veiled to us.

The Ascension poses difficult questions about cosmology, but the main reason we don’t pay much attention to the Ascension is because it is all about losing, letting go, and taking up the work Jesus has given us to do, rather than relying on him to do it for us.

Our favorite moments: Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, All Saints, are all about getting something amazing from God, being united or re-united with God in some certain and reassuring way. But Ascension is about letting Jesus go and about learning to rely on what he taught us, to move beyond the joy of getting and into the joy of giving up ourselves for the love of the world just as he gave up himself.

Why did Jesus have to leave at all?  Why couldn’t he just stay, teaching successive generations of disciples, performing miracles to prove God to us over and over, being our constant model of Christian love so that we could never doubt or despair or fail?

Because if he stayed we would not do the all-important work of faith.  We may still choose not do the work of faith in his absence, but we will certainly not do it in his presence.  If Jesus had stayed we would keep trying to be close to him, to make him teach, heal, and prove God to us, and we would never make his joy complete, by becoming doers of his word, bearers of the beautiful fruit of faith, and love, and justice for the world.

Jesus leaves so that we will start doing the work of faith we will not do if he stays with us.  But it is so important to recognize that he does not leave us alone.  He leaves us with a community of witnesses, friends bound by the experience of his love for them and for the world. 

It is tremendously difficult work to keep faith and do justice and to live with loving kindness in a world that is inhospitable to love, and faith, and justice, a world that seems not to want or treasure these gifts.

We all wrestle with the difficulty of keeping the faith, of staying in community.   

But there is no doubt that the world desperately needs faith and the love of God, and that the most convincing witness is the witness of normal people whose lives have been transformed, and by whose efforts the lives of others are transformed through gathering together as a community of love and prayer.

We see the disciples begin to do this wonderful and difficult work in the reading from Acts.  Jesus is not there to select the apostle who will take the place of Judas and again complete their number.  So together Peter and the others discern first by setting an agreeable, reasonable standard: One who has accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us-- one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.

Then they select two who fulfill the standard.  Then they pray.  And then, in an acknowledgement that they cannot be certain, as an act of faith, they throw lots.

Jesus isn’t there, but they are figuring it out and learning to become the community of love and prayer that will have power to transform the world by bearing God’s love for the world.

Today we are close to the time when a dear friend and faithful companion will be leaving us, not in time so much as in place.  Jane has accompanied us in this place at nearly every Sunday and Festival service, Special liturgy, wedding, and funeral for over 33 years.  In three Sundays she will be gone, not forever, but from this place and from this work we have shared.

For 33 years Jane has given of herself.  She has taught us how to listen for the music of the soul that is the source of all the music of the church.  She has prayerfully selected hymns and service music that enhance the meaning of each liturgy.  She has led us into singing and making the gift of music for the world.

And of course she has shared herself with us, her joys and sorrows, her strength and weakness of faith, her pride in accomplishment and her humble imperfection. 

Above all, she has helped make worship beautiful for all of us and with all of us.  She has put mind, body and soul into making the music of the heart something we can feel and share and give to others. 

While we know how much Jane loves to make and share this music, we should never be deceived that she this work was easy and without sacrifice.  It is not only hard physical work to do what she does.  It is hard spiritual work.  Of course those of us who give our lives in service to the church get compensated, but that does not make faith and love and prayer any easier than for any one else. 

Jane has been offering her self up to God and for the world with the community of believers in precisely the way that Jesus was hoping and praying would happen as he prepared to take his leave of his disciples.  When Jane takes her leave of us in two weeks we will try to discern the next person who will help make worship beautiful for us and with us.  For that we will need prayer, and mutual love, and the help of God.

But for today and for the next two weeks we should give full attention to this leave taking and appreciate with heightened awareness and the gifts we have shared with faithful companion who has blessed us all with her gifts and talents, who has helped us boldly and wonderfully praise God, feel and know that it is more blessed to give than to receive, inspired us to live God’s praise and love not only with our lips but through giving up ourselves to his service and make music for the world which often seems not to want the gift of God’s love, but which needs it, and needs to be drawn up into it with us, and brought into full song, complete joy, as when organ, choir and congregation sound together.

The Good Shepherd 4 Easter April 26, 2015

Jesus’ sheep are drawn into the unity of love between the Father and Son. As Jesus keeps choosing to lay down his life out of love, we are called to lay down our lives out of love for him and one for another. A later passage from John reinforces the centrality of this choice to act and serve in love that characterizes our faith.

Sometime after the resurrection Jesus finds Peter with other disciples who have gone fishing on the Sea of Galilee.  He calls them from the shore to come have breakfast with him. After broiling some fish over a charcoal fire and sharing breakfast Jesus says to Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter replies, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He says to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus says to him, “Tend my sheep.” Jesus says to Peter the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

This threefold exchange around the charcoal fire reminds us of Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus around another charcoal fire in the courtyard of the high priest just three chapters earlier. 

In the earlier passage Peter behaves like the hired hand who abandons the sheep when the wolf attacks.  But strengthened by the knowledge of the risen Jesus, Peter will become the hired hand who does not run away.  As we see in today's reading from Acts, where he makes a good confession before Annas and Caiaphas, Peter will choose over and over to tend and feed Jesus’ sheep and face the worst the wolf can do in the assurance that he has been drawn into a love that abides from before time and for ever.

Many of us come to awareness of God’s love through the love of those faithful disciples who bring us to church when we are young.  Namely our parents.

One of my great-uncles wrote how when his mother was buried her 13 children gathered around her grave and sang the song she had sung over all their cradles and around all their beds when they were young.

Jesus, tender Shepherd, hear me; Bless thy little lamb tonight: Through the darkness be thou near me, Keep me safe till morning light.

Her children learned the love of the Good Shepherd through her constant tender care, her life laid down and taken up again for them day by day.

But her choice could never suffice for their choices. For the love of God to work its power in our lives and in our world we must keep choosing to lay down our lives and pick them up again in the love of the Good Shepherd.

The challenge to lay down our lives for each other is a costly and sometimes a fearful one.  We fear the loss of our lives, our identity.

This past week some members of the parish joined a hundred other members of the Diocese of VA in a dialogue about race and reconciliation.

Bishop Johnston told a story from when he was a young curate at the Episcopal Church in Selma Alabama.  In his hospital visitations he tended to the wife of Judge James Hare who issued the July 1964 injunction forbidding any gathering of three or more people under the sponsorship of civil rights organizations or leaders.  Judge Hare died bitter and angry that he had failed to stop the marches that helped to change everything about the world he lived in.  But his wife allowed herself to turn toward and accept the truth and love of the Good Shepherd ministered to her by the Church.  As she lay dying she told the young curate who would become our bishop words he repeated to us on Thursday night, “We were so certain we were right, but we were so wrong.”

Like Peter, Mrs Hare failed to bear witness to the truth that we are called to love all our neighbors as Christ loves us.  But others stood firm in the love of God and acted in costly love for the sheep. 

The Church is in the world to continually present the choice of the risen Christ.  The offer of grace, forgiveness is as fundamental to love as the courage to stand for justice.  The justice of God is powerful because the Good Shepherd bears the burden and the cost out of love.  The forgiveness of Christ is powerful because he laid down his life for them, and he continues to choose us whether we have accepted his love or not. The Church is God’s love in action, ever suffering for justice and ever ready to forgive.

How do we equip young people to make the choices of faith? Costly choices about who we are and how to live, choices not only about time and money and values and vocation, but so many choices about identity we never had to make when we were growing up, choices about racial, ethnic, gender, and even cyber identity?  

What do you want to be when you grow up is far more complicated than it was when I was a child.

I recall a conversation reported from a youth group meeting at another church. The youth were asked to say something about what God is calling you to do or be. One young woman, let's call her Sarah, a high school freshman, almost never said anything.  She rarely made eye contact in discussions, rarely participated, and seemed to prefer to have little social contact.  So it was surprising when she offered very boldly, I want to be a School teacher.  

Even more surprising, she lifted up her head, parted her hair from in front of her eyes, looked steadily around at the others in the group, and spoke in a strong self confident voice, without any hint of anger or reproach:

I want to be a school teacher because I hate school.  I’m fat, short, terrible hair, contacts, annoyingly smart.  I have been picked on every day of this school year.  I cry at least once every single day. 

Every teacher has said, you are too sensitive. Or don’t bother them and they won’t bother you. 

I am going to be a school teacher so that when I see that happen to one of my students I will be right there to keep what has been happening to me from happening to them.

Fortunately, before anyone else could respond, one of the other members of the group said, Oh, Sarah, that sounds terrible.  I would hate school too.  But, I’m glad you’re here.

Flipping that bad hair out of her eyes one more time, Sarah said, I know.  That’s why I come to church.  It’s different here.

Whether we receive the Shepherd’s love from our mother’s arms, or are spurred into it by the courageous witness of those who will not sit patiently while injustice continues, or are gently brought to repentance and change of heart by the patient pastoral witness of the church, or discover its blessing in faithfulness of friends who keep choosing to accept us as we are and support us in becoming better people, the Love of the Good Shepherd works and works and works on us from the inside out, until we know we are different.

We are different because we know the love of the Good Shepherd.  He gives us strength to make our choices and face our futures out of nothing better than his love.  And we do.

John 20:19-31 A sermon delivered by Lynda Hergenrather on April 12, 2015

John 20:19-31

Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew,
That I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.

Today is commonly referred to as “Low” Sunday. One school of thought holds that it’s so named because today’s liturgy pales in comparison to the high liturgical feast of Easter celebrated last week. Another school of thought suggests that the name reflects the traditional attendance figures for a day perceived by many to be an anticlimax. They see Easter Day as the noisy, joyful end to Lent and today as just another ordinary, run-of-the-mill Sunday. But anyone who looks at today in that light is flat out wrong. Liturgically speaking today is not the First Sunday after Easter. It is the Second Sunday of Easter. Easter is not an end; it is a beginning, it is the beginning of new life, a re-creation. The Church devotes seven Sundays to exploring the Easter message and its implications for the community of believers. Last week we celebrated the victory of life over death. In the remainder of the Easter season we examine what that victory means for the disciples and for us, what it means for the Easter people.

Today’s Gospel events begin on the Day of the Resurrection, on that very first Easter. Mary Magdalene went early that morning to the tomb and found the stone was rolled away. As she stood weeping outside the tomb, the risen Jesus came to her although she didn’t recognize him until he spoke. Our lesson picks up later that evening and finds the fearful disciples hiding behind closed doors. Jesus came to them in that room and only after he bestowed his peace upon them did they recognize him. He breathed his Holy Spirit upon them and sent them as God had sent him. But eight days later the disciples were back behind closed doors. So Jesus came to them again and again bestowed his peace upon them.

Jesus came to the disciples. He forgave them. He transformed them.

Jesus came to the disciples. In every post-resurrection appearance, Jesus came to the disciples wherever they were, to Mary Magdalene sobbing in the garden, to the disciples cowering behind closed doors. At what was probably the lowest point in their lives, crushed by despair, consumed by grief, and overwhelmed by doubt, Jesus sought them out. Even though they continually failed to recognize him, even though they continued to hide and probably didn’t even deserve a second visit, Jesus came to them again.

And so it is with us. When misery overwhelms hope, when faith dissolves to doubt, when fear replaces courage, when loneliness devours us, God finds us and comes to us wherever we are. We may not recognize him at first but he comes. God comes to us over and over. It may be in the kind deed of a stranger, in words of encouragement from a co-worker, in the embrace of a friend, or even in difficult words of tough love from our family. God comes to us.

Jesus forgave the disciples. He tried many times during his ministry to explain to them the fate that awaited him. He explained but they never really got it. In the end, they deserted and denied him, and even after hearing about the resurrection, they hid behind closed doors, presumably for fear of the Jews. When Jesus found them behind those doors that first evening and again the following week afraid, but perhaps also embarrassed by their many failures, too confused to believe or reluctant even to hope when he found them hiding, he didn’t argue with them, he didn’t criticize them. He forgave them. His first words to the disciples on both occasions were “Peace be with you.This was neither the peace of a casual greeting nor a wish. It was a healing gift, a restoration of their relationship with God; it was new life, Easter life.

And so it is with us. We’re just as human as the disciples and just as likely to hide behind closed doors. We hide because of fear, because of shame over our misdeeds or embarrassment at our failures. There are times when we’re wounded, sorrowful, or afraid, or even worse, have caused another to be so. At times we may be indifferent to the needy or contemptuous of those who are unable to afford a life style like ours. Perhaps we’re inclined to hurt with our words or not provide relief when we have the means to do so. Maybe our faith wavers frequently or even disappears entirely at times. Maybe we’re simply paralyzed by fear of failure. Each of us has our own special set of doors behind which we hide. But no matter how often we slip back behind those doors, God offers us peace, love, and mercy. God offers us the restoration of right relationships, new life, Easter life. God provides a community to enfold us and food to nourish us. God forgives us.

Jesus transformed the disciples. After forgiving them, in an act reminiscent of the original creation, Jesus breathed his spirit into the disciples in an act of new creation. He breathed his spirit into them and sent them out. It may have taken them several tries, but they came out, out from fear, failure, and doubt, out from behind closed doors and into the world. It was not an end, but a beginning. They were no longer disciples but apostles. They were no longer followers but active participants in Jesus’ mission.

And so it is with us. We have received his Holy Spirit and are sent out from behind our individual doors. We are to leave behind our fear, doubt, and embarrassment and begin a new life, a life filled with the hope of the resurrection, an Easter life. We are to become active participants in Jesus’ mission. We are not sent out to preach but to be, to be the stranger who provides a meal to the hungry or lodging to the homeless, to be the co-worker who offers words of encouragement, to be the friend who embraces, and to be the family member who musters the courage to speak words of tough love when necessary. We are sent out to be the people through whom God offers his love and mercy to the world as he offered to us. God transforms us. We are the Easter people and alleluia is our song.

Breathe on me, Breath of God, till I am wholly thine,
Till all this earthly part of me glows with thy fire divine.
Amen. 

Easter Day

"Almighty God, our source of life, you know our weakness and our fears. Help us to grasp your hand and to walk more readily in your ways." - Monsignor Dennis Clark

 It wouldn’t be right to criticize Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome for their fear and silence in reaction to their visit with the young man in the empty tomb. But we might ask why Mark ends his gospel with the very people who ought to have been thrilled to proclaim Alleluia he is Risen running away and hiding to terrified to say anything?

 The short answer of course is that these people are just like us. 

 You see by the time Mark wrote his gospel he knew that it had taken weeks and months for those first disciples to grasp the reality of the resurrection and to understand what it meant for them and for the world.  Mark had also seen those first disciples go to their own cruel deaths even as they witnessed to the risen Lord of all.  He knew that the fulfillment of Christ’s kingdom wasn’t going to be welcomed by open arms.  He knew the spread of the church, the living witness of the risen Lord was going to take place through people like me, and maybe people like you. 

 I am not a witness of Jesus’ actual death and resurrection as Peter and the others were.  I can grasp it only by faith.  I know what it is to be unsure, not only about the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, but about nearly everything in my life.  I know what a terrifying thing it is to realize that I really have to live by faith alone.  I can appreciate the fear that sent those first disciples running the other way.

 I am not a witness to the actual resurrection of Jesus, but I am a witness to the power of God to meet me in the darkness of uncertainty, in utter grief of unremitting loss, when nothing makes sense. 

 Peter tells us that after they had all run away, and when they were sequestered in fear and silence, the risen Jesus found them.  He gathered them again around his table.  He ate with them and drank with them and shared his word with them.  And they stopped running away.

 The truth of it all came clear to them.  Especially the truth that the cross was not a defeat. The cross is actually the most vivid and life changing display of God’s mercy and love that the world had ever known, that the world is likely ever to know.  And that by the power of the risen Christ, by coming together around his table, and learning from his word, and sharing his love and mercy one with another, they changed the end of the story, not only for themselves, but for everyone who finds themselves at such a place as the cross. 

 Last week I learned another example of precisely how this happens through the true story of a basketball team from a juvenile correction facility for felony offenders in Gainesville Texas.

 "One of the few perks at the facility - for very good behavior - is a chance to leave the prison a few times a year to play basketball. They play against private schools like Vanguard College Prep in Waco Texas. But wherever they go as the visiting team, their side of the gym has only a handful of fans at most. Before their recent match-up with Gainesville two Vanguard players announced they weren't going to play against a team with no fans.

 "`No one likes playing in an empty gym,' said one.

"`It doesn't seem right to play a team with no fans, regardless of the advantage it may give your own team,' said another.

 "So before their home game against Gainesville, the two Vanguard players asked their fans for a favor: To cheer for Gainesville instead.

"The Gainesville players had no idea what was happening. They walked onto the court to find their own signs of support, their own cheerleaders, even their own fan section. Half the crowd was assigned to cheer for Gainesville. But as the game went on, everybody started to cheer for Gainesville.

 "`Every time they scored the gym lit up with cheering and clapping and everyone was on their feet.'

 "`When I'm an old man I'll still be thinking about this,' said one Gainesville player.

 "`I think in a way this is how sports should be. It showed me the real impact that encouragement and support for anybody can make.'" STEVE HARTMANCBS NEWSFebruary 27, 2015,

 God knows we all need someone to believe in us. We all need someone who knows our mistakes and loves us anyway.   And God knows we are most likely to accept the gift of his encouragement and grace when we have nothing left to lose.  And this is precisely the purpose for which Christ brought us to the cross and rose on Easter Day, and the reason he pursued and found his friends after they had run away.  And the reason he continues to pursue us.  To teach us what to say and how to do his work in the world.

 We all find ourselves at a dead end sometimes. 

“Each one of us has stood — or will stand — at the foot of the Cross.  It might be associated with the illness or death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, a failure or some other profound personal crisis.  We all taste the agony of defeat and near despair.  We should never downplay the challenge of living by faith at these moments.” Paul Brian Campbell, SJ 

 But the Church is here, the living witness to the on going life and power of the risen Christ to meet us precisely at these moments to assure us that the cross is not a defeat, and that we are not defeated.  As those first disciples learned to change the end of the story by sharing their lives around his table and listening to his word, so we learn to use every defeat and loss as another opportunity to prove the living mercy and unending hope and love of our Lord. 

 Faith in the risen Christ is God’s gift to the church. And the church, when it is done running away from this gift, is God’s gift to the world.

 "May you receive his gift and live in his peace always. And when that day comes, may you give your spirit to him in the peace you have already known through many days. Amen." -- Monsignor Dennis Clark 

Good Friday

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 

 Profound theological meaning is buried away in these two verses, meaning that bears continuing fruit for our lives and for the church. 

 First of all John would have us understand that Jesus does not pass away.  He does not surrender life in order to avoid additional pain, or acknowledge any defeat.  Nor is his life taken from him.  Indeed, no power on earth or in heaven could wrestle the spirit from Jesus. He gave up his spirit a final free and generous act at the moment of his choosing, when it was finished. 

 To many this claim is absurd or at best tragic.  Clearly life was wrested from Jesus first by the under handed betrayal of Judas, then by unremitting perversion of the force of law including unwarranted arrest, false witnesses, prejudicial priests, an ignorant rabble, a cowardly judge, penultimately by soldiers who nail him to the cross, and finally by the mortal failure of his own bodily strength.

 In this view nothing is finished except another miscarriage of justice, unnecessary additional proof that death is the final judge.  A fact that serves as explanation enough for us to do unto others or leave undone as we will.

 Rejecting the tragic or absurdist positions, John shows Jesus in control, exercising power and making decisions, going so far as to encourage the armed guards after they fall down at his arrest, forbidding his disciples from interfering, confronting the high priest with his blind hypocrisy, contradicting Pilate’s misguided claim of authority saying, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above,” working even on the cross to make a new family between his own mother and the disciple that he loved, judging the moment when all is finished, then purposefully giving up his spirit.

 In John’s telling, the very tools of injustice wielded in darkness by powers of darkness sharpen the revelation of God’s purpose in Jesus for us.

 So, what does Jesus mean when he says, “It is finished?”  

 To begin to answer that question it helps to remember the beginning of John’s gospel is a reinterpretation of the Genesis creation story.  Genesis, as you may recall, tells us about the beginning of creation, not it’s perfection. God may be perfect, but the human beings made in  God’s are far from it.  Which is first made evident when Adam asks for Eve to complete him.   And becomes crystal clear when Adam and Eve fall to the serpent’s temptations.  Cain kills Abel.  And so on.  Humanity is flawed.  Nevertheless a loving God’s patient shepherds his people, preparing us in stages to desire and search and find the solution only God can give.

 Now also remember the sixth day of the Genesis creation story, which we call Friday, is the day God chose to make humankind.  It is no coincidence that Jesus says, It is finished, on a Friday.  Because what Jesus finishes and perfects on the cross is a truly fruitful human life lived in loving obedience and service of God.

 But there is more.

 As Adam was created to be the first of the human family, so Jesus is the first of the new human family.  On the cross Jesus finished the beginning of this new human family, gave up his spirit in order to share it with all of us, multiplying its power by giving us power to become children of God, God’s spirit dwelling in our hearts, a new birth not of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.    

 John shares a glimpse of that new family of God in the relationship Jesus makes between Mary and the disciple he loved.  He said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

 In the face of every power of darkness denying his any dignity, power, or purpose, the Lord of life calmly plants the seeds of the new human family of God that will flower out of the ground tilled and fertilized by his life giving blood. 

 So this is the message for us.  That where the world so often sees the end of the story, and judges life as failed, tragic, meaningless, absurd,  the children of God born of the spirit of Christ and fed by his body and blood look with open eyes and hearts for the opportunity to make new acts of divine love through the way we respect and care for and love one another, and especially for the least of those among us.

 We who are blessed to gather today as members of this ever-expanding family, know it is not for any perfection of our own that God loves us and calls us into life and dwells with us. 

 The love poured out on the cross is equally for Pilate, the soldiers, the priests, and all those who betrayed or denied him then, and for all of us when we fail him now.  

 It is not for us to boast that we are members of his Body, or to judge those who seem blind to God, but rather to praise and thank and pray to God for wisdom and courage to keep turning the great sorrow of the world into new opportunities loves redeeming work.

It is for this faith, this vision, and the blessings of these opportunities to serve and further the work of Christ that we call this Friday Good.

Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus.  The Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 22, 2015

 

Open our eyes, Lord,

we want to see Jesus,

to reach out and touch him,

and say that we love him.

Open our eyes, Lord,

and help us to listen.

Open our eyes, Lord,

we want to see Jesus.

Bob Cull

Lent draws to a close this week. One more week to focus on that personal work, The secret work of prayer, fasting, charity, and forgiveness, examining our selves and our relationships with God and one another, in order to live and walk more nearly as the people Jesus is calling and leading us to be.

 As we listen and try to follow in his footsteps more nearly, we find him drawing us together.

 St. Luke’s, like every parish church, is a nexus where our efforts at living intentional Christian lives brings us together, to coordinate and bring what we have found in the dark out into the light, public visible accessible to others.

 In the church we reveal that God is transforming us into a larger body, with eternal life and purpose, and we proclaim the risen Christ continues to work through us.  We are living members of his body, joined by the love we share for him, and the love he has written on our hearts. So when we want to see Jesus we have to look no farther than our hearts, our hands, and the work we are doing as his church.

This past week at St. Luke’s I saw Jesus working in countless ways through the ministries of this parish.

 A member of the Pastoral Care team sought persistently and found several members of the parish who can’t make it to church for one reason or another and she shared that face to face fellowship that is at the heart of everything God is doing in Jesus.

Jesus saved lives again this week at the VIC HOP through members of St. Luke’s who prepared and served a hot dinner took turns watching through the night so that 24 of our homeless neighbors could have a warm safe place to rest.

Through the generosity of St. Luke’s members Jesus fed the hungry at the Spaghetti Supper, which along with literally serving up a couple hundred meals, raised thousands of dollars for our local food bank.  

 And he provided financial and spiritual support to several struggling souls who came through our doors as they do every week, including one young mother who has never been able to forgive herself for mistakes made years before. Jesus does forgive, and his call went out to her as it does to all of us, to follow into the present free from the burdens of debilitating guilt.

Through members of our Stewardship of Creation team, Jesus studied all the ways we use energy in this building, and sought ways to reduce our use of carbon-based fuels, increase our use of renewable energy, especially solar power, and increase efficient use of the energy we do consume.  Because, of course, he cares for the whole creation, as he calls us to care for those who come after us.

Jesus gathered the hundred children of our Day School to Chapel last week as he does every week. They learned his Prayer, and thought about how calling God Our Father, means we are all his children, brothers and sisters one of another. 

And yesterday Jesus gathered, comforted and encouraged over 300 family and friends of an Ethiopian immigrant who died on March 2, at the age of 33, just six weeks after being diagnosed with liver cancer on January 24. Here they lit candles and told stories about this kind and generous brother in Christ who never lost faith in God and who encouraged his wife and four month old son to keep their faith, remembering that God never gives pain without purpose.  And to never forget that by his death he would always be with them.

In today’s gospel some Greeks come to the disciples and say, “We want to see Jesus.”  When Jesus hears this he knows that the hour has come for him to offer himself for the new life of the world. He says again what he has said before in other ways.  His death will be the beginning of new and unending life, not just for him, but also for all who will come into life in him.  And when we want to see Jesus now, we have to look no farther than the work we are doing as his church, the living members of his body, joined by the love we share for him, and the love he has written on our hearts.

Lent draws to a close this week. The season for examining our selves is drawing to a close.  Next week, beginning with Palm Sunday, we will give over all our attention to the mighty acts by which he conquered the world and brought true life and immortality to light and established his kingdom forever in the hearts of his people, a new covenant, a new an unending life of love, forgiveness, healing, and service through his body, our body, the Church.

Ash Wednesday

My parents received two beautiful long stemmed crystal toasting glasses at their wedding.  When I was growing up they kept one of them on display in the dining room.  At some point I noticed a picture from their wedding day showing each of them offering the other a sip from their matching goblets.  And I asked after the second one. 

 That’s when I learned that at about the age of two or three I became responsible for its destruction.  I have always felt a little bad that one of those beautiful glasses was broken, but I must admit I have never felt guilty for my part in it.  I couldn’t remember it and my parents always presented it as a funny story.  One of those things that happens and you move on, much more happy to have a son than to have a toasting goblet.

 When I was a boy about ten years old playing tag with a friend inside the house I bumped into a table and caused one of two matching vases to fall breaking a piece off.  I glued the broken piece back on and replaced the vase and always denied knowing anything about it.

 I have always felt bad about breaking the vase, and guilty and ashamed for lying about it.

 But the real issue is not at all about what I have done.  The real issue is about what kind of person I want to be, and what kind of things I will do.

 Psalm 51 is read as part of every Ash Wednesday service.  We might take a few moments to reflect on it and what it suggests about walking the way during Lent.

 The prayer book does not mention it but the Biblical version of the psalm includes an introductory statement:

A Psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

 Remember the story.

 King David had the legal right to do what he wanted with his subjects, just as the more powerful man has the right to take what he wanted from the weaker. 

 But Nathan didn’t challenge David’s right to act in these ways.  He confronted David on what kind of person he wanted to be before God.

 David’s idea of himself was deeply rooted in his relationship with God, his shepherd, who gave him courage and strength to defend the weak and stand up against the unrighteous.  At every turn David rejoiced in God his savior.  And David trusted in God as the sole guarantor of his legacy.

 When David recognized himself as the enemy against whom he had been battling all his life, he realized he was without a leg to stand on. There was no sacrifice he could make that would suffice. No power he could exercise even as king to make this right.

 In our parlance He needed a software upgrade.  Heck, he needed a whole new operating system.  And he knew that he couldn’t write it for himself.  After all, he had authored these system errors all on his own.

 At the same time David recognized something remarkable.  I can’t begin anew; but God can. Create in me a clean heart O Lord.  You renew a right spirit within me.

 Indeed, this is God’s whole purpose in Jesus.  To assure us that the kind of people we want to be is far more important than anything we have done. 

 When the ashes go on your forehead, you might think of it as a sign that your sins, and the old operating system that supported them, is as good as dead to him, like this dust.

 When you come up to receive the bread and wine, you might receive them as food to nourish the new heart and the new spirit.

 This Lent you might try to continue on this way, focusing more on the kind of person you want to be than on the things you have done wrong, and looking for ways to grow into your identity as a member of Christ’s Body, filled with the heart and Holy spirit of God.

 If you are like me, you won’t know exactly how to begin.  Jesus offers us three ways that have proved reliable. Pray.  To talk to God.  Ask God to show you the way. 

 Fast. To remember how hard it can be to let go of something as simple as chocolate, and how unimportant those things are to who you are.

 And it might help to do something charitable, give to someone else, and look for the many ways that God is reaching out to you with love.  And it will surely help to keep gathering with other members of the Body with whom we are walking the way together.

 Remembering and celebrating that God is far less concerned with where we have been than with where we are going.  Let your sins be dead to God.  In Christ we are a new creation. 

Second Sunday of Lent

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

 One of my favorite images of following Jesus comes from the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas.

 The carol is set on St. Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas, and a day traditionally designated for distributing alms to the poor as a witness and celebration of God’s incarnate love.

 Wenceslas lived in the 10th century in Bavaria, rudimentary and wintry in every way on every December 26th.

 Good King Wenceslas notices a poor beggar and asks his servant where the man lives.  Learning that the man lives three or four miles away in the woods, the King orders meat, wine, and logs and with his page heads out on a mission of mercy through the deepening snow on a cold and windy night. 

 The page grows weary and tells the King he can go no further.  To which the King replies, in the words composed by John Mason Neale,

 "Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly Thou shalt find the winter's rage freeze thy blood less coldly."  In his master's steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted; Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.”

 Of course the message of the carol is that as the page literally walked in the footsteps of his master, so Wenceslas walked in the footsteps of his master, our Lord Jesus Christ. 

 And all Christians learn to walk the actual way of Christ by gathering together and doing what Jesus actually did.  He gathered in synagogues on the Sabbath, so our Sunday gatherings are modeled after the pattern of worship in the synagogue. 

 He ordered his disciples to take up the cross and follow him.  We keep that cross raised in plain sight to remind us that as he died to conquer sin and rose to new and unending life, we have each followed him, we have each died to sin through baptism, and we have each been raised to keep following him in newness of life.

 Jesus took, blessed, broke, and shared bread and wine with his disciples,  commanding them to proclaim his death until he comes again.  So we gather around a table, use his same words, perform his same actions, and share bread and wine to proclaim his death and resurrection until he comes again.

 And when the bishop lays hands on you at confirmation you can know that there is a procession of actual hands and actual feet following back to the actual hands and feet of Jesus and his first apostles.  

 So, walking the Way is not just a metaphor for Christian life.  Christians literally walk in the way that Jesus walked just as that page walked in the very footsteps of Wenceslas. 

 We are rigorous about our faithfulness to the way because Jesus did not speak the word of God like a prophet. Jesus is the word of God made flesh, made human, the physical human presence of God.

 It always sounds strange to speak of God’s physical human presence.  No one ever sees or touches God.  But we are physically present with God all the time.  And the primary witness of the church is to Jesus as God made human being, human being made God. 

 St. Teresa of Avila puts the physical human presence of God like this: Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours.

 St. Teresa doesn’t mean that you, individually, are Christ’s body.  The pronouns we use in the Church are almost always plural.  Remember this when you say the confession and hear the absolution.  You are not confessing and receiving absolution for yourself alone, but as a member of a larger body.  Remember it when you receive Holy Communion.  When you receive Holy Communion you are not being fed as an individual alone, but as a member of a larger body.  Remember it when you go wherever it is that your feet take you.  You are not travelling alone, but as a member of a larger body.

 Of course each person makes personal choices about how to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Each disciple is drawn onto the way at a different time and place.  Take notice: as Jesus draws us each onto his way he is drawing us together.

 In today’s gospel, Jesus says you must lose your life to save your life.  One way I understand this is that as we follow Jesus we are drawn together into a common life, a life lived no longer for ourselves alone, but for the whole body, with Jesus as the head. 

 So when we follow in the footsteps of Jesus and feed the hungry, heal the sick, welcome and teach children, take God’s peace into places where God’s peace may not yet be fully realized, we are not doing this simply for others, nor are we doing it to prove ourselves worthy or good, we are doing it for the sake of our larger life in the one body we share in Christ.  Because if some part of the body is hungry, or sick, or ignorant, or at war, the whole body is in need of nourishment, health, wisdom, peace.

 These ideas are not new to Christianity. In the reading from Genesis we see that Abram and Sarai lose their lives, too.  They become new people, Abraham and Sarah, who together have a new capacity to live and bring forth life, real life in Isaac their first born son. And beyond Isaac their life continues into a life including a multitude of nations, even ours.

 Abraham and Sarah cannot be the physical parents of all the nations that call them Father and Mother.  But by joining in covenant with God, Abraham and Sarah died to that singular, mortal, barren life and joined in the multitudinous, eternal, creative life that continues by God’s grace in and through the lives of all who join the covenant.

 Just so, wherever your feet carry you, your feet carry Christ.   His greatest desire is to be actively present in you in all the places you go, amongst all the people you touch: at work with a colleague, on your commute with a fellow traveler, amongst your neighbors, in your home at table with your family, wherever. 

 Christ is also calling you into many places you have not yet walked through other members of the church.  Some of us must literally feed the hungry and bring good news to the poor, others must heal the sick, others strive vocally and actively for justice and peace, some visit the prisoner, others teach children, some welcome the stranger or befriend the lonely. 

 We do not each have to do everything. But we are all part of everything that is being done by Christ through us.  As Walt Whitman observed, and as the Lord has promised, We are large, we contain multitudes.

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Sermon for Fourth Sunday of Lent March 15, 2015

 Yesterday was Pi day.  3-14-15, the first five digits of the ration between the diameter and the circumference of a circle.  We celebrated with an ice cream pie made with an Oreo crust.  My wife Delea reported that there were no piecrusts to be found anywhere.  Which inspired her to use the Oreos.

 In a column about pi in yesterday’s Post Cornell University mathematics professor Tara Holm, writes that that pi has been calculated to over 12 trillion digits, at which point the computer doing the calculations ran out of space.  Then she notes that 16 digits are sufficient to ensure the correct orbit of the international space station and 39 digits allow calculation of the volume of the observable universe to the nearest atom. 

 It can be mathematically proved that the digits of pi will never end and never repeat.  There is no imaginable practical purpose to calculate pi to 12 trillion digits.  But there is something about human nature that seeks to know and understand better even what cannot be perfectly known.

 Each year the members of our confirmation class write their spiritual autobiography. 

 An autobiography in itself is a fairly simple task, not much more difficult than calculating pi to five or six digits.  As Luke began to tell the story of Jesus, you begin a little about your parents, and the story of your birth, siblings if you have them, the different places you lived, something memorable about growing up with these people in these places, what your most important talents and interests are and how they emerged, and a little about your current hopes and plans for the future. 

 A spiritual autobiography looks at these common human experiences and considers what role God plays in them.  Where God might be leading you in the future.

 How God works in our lives, and where God is leading us, like the ration of pi, can never be perfectly known.  But there is nothing more valuable to human life than the work of examining our lives and seeking out even approximate answers, working hypotheses, to these questions. 

 Faith isn’t just a gift we receive that miraculously transforms and saves us.  As the Apostle Paul tells us, faith helps us examine our lives for the way God has helped, guided, encouraged, and is preparing us for taking our next steps as free men and women.  

 The story in the book of Numbers sheds some interesting light on the way we learn to use faith to perceive God’s work in our lives.  Remember, the children of Israel lived all their lives in the darkness of slavery in Egypt.  Suddenly they were awakened and dragged into the full light of God in the desert.  As when a person has been in the dark a long time, and then is suddenly brought into full sunshine only to feel pain and confusion and a desire to get back into the dark, the children of Israel want to close their eyes and go back to Egypt rather than face the fearful challenges of living as free men and women.

 The fact that God uses poisonous snakes to bite and sometimes kill the bleary eyed, ignorant, fearful children of Israel disturbs us.  And if the story ended there it wouldn’t be worth telling.  But Israel’s children had already learned something by this time about how God works.  Some of them knew enough to go to Moses, and ask Moses to speak to God, and God did what God always does, and brought healing and goodness out of evil. 

 The point of the story isn’t just the healing.  It is the way they came to the healing, and the purpose for which God brought them into the desert, to learn to face our fears, not just their fear of the snakes, but our fear of not having enough, of not being enough to live true, righteous, free lives. And to learn to that God as was not trying to destroy them by bringing them out of Egypt, but trying to transform them into a free people who would rather fight for righteousness and die than return to Egypt.  And ultimately to learn that they could trust that in all things God was not seeking to destroy them but to lead them into larger life.  

 These are the lessons they learned by examining their experience over and over, and turning it into a grand story of salvation, the birth of a nation of free people living under God.

 Jesus uses the well-known image of the snake lifted up to remind Nicodemus that God leads people out of bondage and darkness into light.

 The point is something like this: "the world pierces us with experience.  And we take that experience and project it back into the world by the way we talk about our lives.  Which means there is a turning point within us that makes all the difference." (Eva Brann)  We make meaning out of snake bites and sunshine.  And we only discover the truth and meaning of our lives by examining our lives, by telling and re-telling the story of our lives, and by connecting our life to God’s life.

The work of self-examination, of searching for God in our lives, is central to Lent. 

Of course the young men and women in our confirmation class don’t have much to be afraid of when they examine their lives.  And maybe that is why it is such a good thing for them to start to examine their lives now, and to consider how God has been present, sometimes bothering them, sometimes guiding them, sometimes inspiring them to fight harder for what is true, and good, and just.

 But it is equally good for each of us to take some time to review our lives and consider how God has been with us from our mothers wombs to the time and place we are now.  And to lift our eyes to the cross which has one way or another been placed before us all our days.  And to remember that the light of Christ is available not to point out our flaws and sins, but to give us courage to keep trusting in God and to keep facing our fears and keep doing the work of fighting for righteousness in our selves and in our world rather than returning to darkness.

 

Who is Nathanael? A sermon delivered by Lynda Hergenrather, January 18, 2015

John 1:43-51 1 

 O blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in thee, for all are thine. Alleluia. Amen. 

Who is Nathanael? 

Today’s gospel relates the calls of Philip and Nathanael, the last of the four disciples whose call stories are recounted in the first chapter of John’s gospel. After Andrew and Peter, Jesus found Philip and Philip found Nathanael. Philip told him that he had found the one of whom Moses and the prophets wrote and he was Jesus of Nazareth. Nazareth? Really? Nazareth was a tiny village of 200-400 people near Nathanael’s own home town. It was economically dependent on the larger town of Sepphoris. It was insignificant. Nathanael was skeptical and scoffed openly at the thought that anything of value could come from Nazareth, especially not the Messiah. 

But Philip invited him to come and see for himself. And despite his doubt, his misgivings, Nathanael did come. As Nathanael neared, Jesus pronounced him an Israelite without guile. A surprised Nathanael asked “How do you know me?” and when Jesus replied that he had seen him under the fig tree before Philip called, Nathanael was astounded. Realizing that he was in the presence of an extraordinary individual, Nathanael confessed Jesus as the Son of God. It was an epiphany moment for Nathanael as he cast away those misgivings and moved out from under the darkness of the fig tree and into the light. But Jesus wasn’t finished with Nathanael. Discipleship isn’t a moment; it’s a process. Jesus told Nathanael that he would see greater things than this, the greatest being his life, death and resurrection. Then they set off to attend a wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. 

Save for a single passing reference during a post-resurrection appearance in the final chapter of John, this is the last we hear of Nathanael. Unlike the other three called to be disciples that day, Andrew, Peter, and Philip, Nathanael is not even mentioned in the other gospels and appears in no list of the twelve. 

The question of Nathanael’s identity has long plagued biblical scholars. Some have tried to equate him to other disciples, most especially Bartholomew. But given John’s penchant for symbolism, other scholars believe that Nathanael is a prototype for all disciples. Nathanael represents the countless host of nameless souls who confessed Jesus as Lord and invited others to come and see generation after generation until the body grew from the first handful of disciples to over two billion people today. As God accomplishes great things in unlikely places like Nazareth, God also accomplishes great things through unlikely people, through Nathanael and his successors. 

Who is Nathanael? 

Scripturally speaking, all Christians are saints and are set apart for the kingdom of God. Christians are made holy in Christ but are also called to be holy, to live into discipleship, to serve, to build up the body. One of my favorite holy days is the feast of All Saints, a day dedicated in honor of all the saints, known and unknown, named like Andrew, Peter, and Philip, and unnamed like all the successors of Nathanael. On All Saints Day we recognize that we are in communion, in fellowship with, are connected to all those faithful souls who have come before and on whose shoulders we now stand. On All Saints day I am in awe. 

Over a period of several days, after preparing the 12th edition of the Year in Pictures, which will be available at the Annual Meeting, I looked back through all 12 years, a total of 5,567 images of life at St. Luke’s. It was especially poignant to see in those images the faces of so many friends who are no longer with us. Many of them had been a part of St. Luke’s for 40, 50 or 60 years and had helped build St. Luke’s from the little Sunday School that met in the old Snowden school house to a beacon of Christian faith and life at the bend in Fort Hunt Road. They responded joyfully to God’s call. They invited others to come and see. They served on the vestry, at the altar, and as volunteer chaplains at Mount Vernon Hospital. They paid the bills, sang in the choir, taught the children, and welcomed newcomers. They delivered meals on wheels, crocheted afghans for the Episcopal hospital in Gaza, and collected food and clothing for United Community Ministries. They laughed and cried, prayed and played together. Now they rest from their labors. Their work is done. God has accomplished great things through unlikely people. Saints Mary Jane, Phil, and Roger, saints Catesby and Sylvia are Nathanael. Saints Peg, Marty, and Connie, saints Charlie and Mary are Nathanael. Saints Harry, Alice, and Drew, saints Fred, Kitty, and Gene are Nathanael. 

Who is Nathanael? 

Equally as poignant as seeing in those images the faces of those who have since joined the church triumphant was seeing the faces of our children and, in the space of several days, watching them age 12 years. The children who were mere moppets in 2003 are now either in college, have recently graduated, or are about to go. Many of them have been part of St. Luke’s for their entire life. They, too, have responded joyfully to God’s call. They, too, have served on the vestry and at the altar. They have also served barbeque and sold pumpkins, led the children’s choir, and been delegates to diocesan council. They have taught vacation bible school, walked to end hunger, and collected food for UCM. They have studied and made pilgrimages to faraway places. They may be young but they are committed, strong, and already accomplished. Our beloved St. Luke’s will one day be safe in their hands. God will accomplish great things through unlikely people. Saints Claire, Erika, and Dorothy, saints Meredith and Justin are Nathanael. Saints Maddie, Megan, and Evan, saints Erin and Jamie are Nathanael. Saints Becky, George, and Jennifer, saints Scott and Dean are Nathanael. 

Who is Nathanael? 

There is another group of people who appeared on those twelve CDs. It’s that large group of adults sandwiched between the departed saints and the ones who are coming along. It is you and I. We, too, have heard and have responded joyfully to God’s call. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before and bring our own dedication, effort, and talent to the building up of the body. We invite others to come and see. We serve on committees at the parish, regional, and diocesan level. We speak out for the disenfranchised, Rock for Hunger, and walk for Cystic Fibrosis research. We sponsor a Boy Scout troop, provide meals and chaperones for the hypothermia program, collect food for UCM, and still make those afghans. We mentor our children, welcome newcomers, provide transportation to church events, celebrate our birthdays, and are faithful stewards of our resources. 

Like the children in our pictures, we too have changed. We’re a little older now, a little thicker around the middle and a little thinner on the top. One day we’ll rest from our labors. We may rest but our work isn’t necessarily done. St. Luke’s has established an Endowment Fund. And unlike the Annual Fund which is depleted and replenished every year, unlike the Capital Fund which is depleted and replenished every few years, a gift to the Endowment Fund continues to work in perpetuity. The principal remains; only the interest can be spent. That interest will allow our children to accomplish things we can only dream about given current budget constraints and fund endeavors well beyond the more mundane items in our Annual and Capital Funds – scholarships, mission, outreach. The only limit is the vision and creativity of future vestries. Through the Endowment Fund, we can provide an extra boost when our children climb onto our shoulders. 

God is accomplishing great things through unlikely people. Saints Sue, Marie, and Tom, saints John and Ben are Nathanael. Saints Richard, Joe, and Terri, saints Rebecca and Tracy are Nathanael. Saints Lisa, Bob, and Charles, saints Judy, Don, Charity, and Michael are Nathanael. You and I are Nathanael. 

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, “Alleluia.” 

Amen. 

Proper 23 - October 12, 2014 Tuck Bowerfind

Tuck Bowerfind and Ketlen Solak at Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration, Shrine Mont, Orkney Springs, VA

Tuck Bowerfind and Ketlen Solak at Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration, Shrine Mont, Orkney Springs, VA

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

When I visit people who for one reason or another can’t make it to church they often ask me what is going on, what is new at St. Luke’s.

These days among other things, I might tell them sadly for all of us, Ketlen has accepted a call to a new church in Wilmington Delaware, and happily the yard is filled with pumpkins proclaiming joy, the Library is undergoing a long needed facelift, the Day School rooms are filled again with the songs and laughter of children, and the Pastoral Care ministry has recently been resurrected and reorganized.   

Many of course want to know more about what we are planning to recognize and thank Ketlen.  Many things are in the works on that front.  Look for an invitation to arrive tomorrow to a potluck banquet following church next Sunday.   And then, if possible, do your part by planning to attend, bringing something to share at the feast, and for heavens sake, don’t forget your wedding garment, which means prepare to celebrate by putting on the love and joy of Christ.

On that note you might do well to read and re-read today’s passage from Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

For the past nine years I don’t think we have ever seen Ketlen without the wedding garment of Christian joy and gentleness, focused intently on what is true, honorable, pure, pleasing, and worthy of praise.

Joy seems to come so easily to her, as though it is just part of her being.  But like all of us, Ketlen has to get dressed everyday before she can go to work.  She has to put on her wedding garment.

Which of course is the Holy Spirit of Christ. 

In the parable we read just now, one person who comes to the wedding feast for the king’s son is found without a wedding garment.  This fellow is speechless before the king.  He doesn’t seem to know what the king is talking about.  And the king banishes the unfortunate soul to the outer darkness.

The judgment that befalls the speechless man seems unkind, perhaps even cruel.

But the purpose of the parable is to to wake us up and help us ask how to keep from being people who have nothing to say before the king of heaven when he asks us what we are doing here with our lives.  The purpose of the parable is to focus us on the importance of the daily choice of living a Christian life, the wedding feast.

We might well remember that Jesus is telling this parable in the Temple in Jerusalem three days before his crucifixion. 

We might consider the connection between the slaves sent to call everyone to the wedding banquet and Jesus. 

Jesus himself is both the invitation of God, and the son to whose wedding feast we are invited.  It is there on the cross that Jesus seals the invitation forever and for everyone.  From the empty tomb he sends out his heralds and we are they in this generation.  And ascended to the right hand of God he presides over the ongoing feast of eternal life. 

And the main course of the feast is the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God.  All are forgiven.  All are invited to put off guilt and shame. Put off anger and hatred. Put off fear.  And put on the Spirit of Christ.  Come to the banquet.

I have to say I have met some of those who seem banished to the outer darkness.  People who have ignored the invitation to come to the feast, or who don’t seem to get it.   There isn’t any difference between them and those who have come to the feast. They aren’t worse people than those who respond and come.

The difference is not in them or in us.

The love of God does not change the circumstances of our lives.  It does not take away pain or sickness solve our problems and make us rich.

The difference is simply that we have taken God on at his word.  We have accepted the invitation.  We have accepted grace and put off shame, guilt, and fear. 

The love of God poured out on the cross is the source of eternal feast. God loves you.  And his love clothes you with surpassing beauty.  And that changes everything.

At the end of the parable Jesus says many are called, but few are chosen.   One way this has been interpreted is that while many call themselves Christian, not everyone really is living a Christian life.

Only those actually living a Christian life will actually celebrate the feast. 

Living a Christian life is simply clothing yourself with Christ every day.  We see that beauty in Ketlen, and in so many others around this room and throughout the many peoples of the world who answer the call and gather for the feast of eternal life.

So do it.  Do it now. Do it every day.  Along with the orange apron you put on to sell pumpkins, put on the apron of Christ and greet people as your friends and neighbors.  Along with your uniform for school or work, put on the uniform of Christ, and be prepared to focus on what is commendable and true in the lives and work of others.  If you are making a commitment to join the work of our new Pastoral Care ministry, put on the gentleness and care, the patience, encouragement and joy of Christ for those to whom you deliver flowers, or casseroles, or offer a ride to church.

Every day in whatever you are going out to do, put on the wedding garment, heck, put on the whole armor of God: remembering the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of faith, the shoes of peace, and the sword of love. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen here, and the God of peace will be with you.