Saturday, February 4, 2017
Change, an Invitation to Life: Salt and Light (Reflections on the Sermon on the M...: Salt and Light (Reflections on the Sermon on the Mount) Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, h...
Salt and Light
(Reflections on the Sermon on the Mount)
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-15)
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not say to his disciples, “you will become salt and light. Instead, Jesus proclaims, “you are already salt and light.” The disciples are those things because Jesus has called them and they have responded. And we, because we have been called by Jesus to be his disciples and have also responded to that call, are also salt and light.
We too are called by Jesus to let our light shine among all people. We do this by the good works we perform in Jesus’ name which build up God’s Kingdom on Earth. The Prophet we call Second Isaiah gives us a vision of what a life of salt and light looks like as he proclaims God’s message to the people of Judah in the sixth century B.C.
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, here I am. (Isaiah 58:6-9)
What might Isaiah’s vision look like in twenty-first century America? I share three examples from my life experience which I hope will lead you to reflect on your life as a
disciple and as light and salt in the world.
A long, long time ago, when I was just out of college, I served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. Two of my many friends in the small mountain town also served in the Peace Corps. Merry worked in Women’s Health and birth control, and Paul helped to organize an Agricultural Co-Operative, fostering team work, better agricultural skills and maximization of profits for subsistence farmers in our area. Through these two friends and my own work as a Forester and Teacher at the National Forestry School I learned to see the world through different eyes, and hopefully was able to be salt and light to some of God’s Children.
Living in New Orleans in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s I was part of an Episcopal Church coalition which provided meals to the homeless on the one day a week that was covered by no other organization. After we served the meal we ate with those whom we served. It was not easy. Their daily lives were so different from ours. After lunch they would head back out onto the streets, or go to the public library to hang out, or to a fast food restaurant where it was warm. I would head out to pick up my son and go to the gym with him, or go watch his soccer games. No, it was not easy, but it was important. I learned a great deal about other people, and just as important, I learned even more about myself and my pre-conceived ideas about what life was and is and should be.
Last, but not least, I am privileged and blessed to be the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Albertville, Alabama where I see the Light of Christ in these people every day as we worship together, provide food in the form of beans and rice to over 100 families every month, prepare Blessings in a Backpack for hungry children in our local schools, and care for each other as we provide food, clothing, shelter, and transportation when needs arise in our own church community,
Take a moment and look at your own lives see where God is using you as the light and salt that you already are. God will bless you and you will be a blessing.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Christian Unity in the Midst of a Divided Society
Apparently St. Paul had heard rumors from “Chloe’s people” that there were some quarrels within the Christian Community in Corinth. Based on these stories, he writes them a letter of “encouragement.”
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and same purpose.(1 Cor. 1:10)
It seems they had been arguing about whose baptism was better and perhaps more valid:
What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? (1Cor 1:12-13)
Paul ends by reminding us that, “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”(1 Cor. 1:18) I see this as a reminder to all of us, then and now that our power comes from God and not from any human being, and that we are to “pick up our cross and follow Jesus.”
And yes, there are divisions in the church, certainly divisions over whose baptism is better or more valid: how much water should we use, how deep should it be, do we baptize infants, adults or both. Oh, and by the way, “my church is better than your church.”
But, the biggest divisions in the church relate to “how we interpret the scripture, and how we see the World and politics. Any reflection on our faith must include the world and politics. The world and politics, how we interact with all other human beings in the world, are the reasons God sent Jesus into the world in the first place. If this were not the case we would all have been created as spirits living in eternal bliss with God.
Therefore, as faithful Christians, as the People St. Paul calls brothers and sisters, we must, for Christ’s sake, reflect on the inauguration of the forty-fifth President of the United States. But, as Paul also implies, we must do this through the Lens of the Cross.
I believe this is what Paul means when he says, “now I appeal to you brothers and sisters by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” And that purpose is not that we think alike or act alike or even believe alike, but that we proclaim the gospel of Jesus to the world.
With this in mind, I share my reflections on the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States. On Friday, January 20, many of us watched the inauguration with tears in our eyes. Some tears were tears of joy for the new direction of our country. Some were tears of fear and sorrow for the new direction of our country. Both sets of tears are legitament and important. As the body of Christ united by the Cross we do not magically understand another person’s beliefs or opinions. That in some cases may even be impossible-But-because of the Cross that unites us and unites Heaven and Earth; we are called by God to try.
All of us have very strong feelings about what we believe and why we believe it. Our beliefs are part of who we are. I may never understand why some of you are so excited about President Trump and his plans, but I am willing to listen. Some of you may never understand why I and others are so afraid of what he might do to our nation and the world. I hope you will listen to us as well.
I believe that Jesus and Paul would want us to talk and listen to one another without calling each other horrible names and without questioning one another’s legitimacy as a Christian or even as a human being.
It breaks my heart to hear and see people proclaim their faith in and love for Jesus in one breath and in the next breath say or write the most unchristian things about those who disagree with them. It also breaks my heart to know the things I want to say and sometimes do say to others.
The truth is, I know I am correct! The truth is, you know you are correct. The real truth is, “to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” It is seeing the world and others through the lens of the Cross.
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Change, an Invitation to Life: Slow Down, Take a Breath, Keep Awake: Slow Down, Take a Breath, Keep Awake Some Reflections on Advent One of my very favorite times of the year is the season of Advent: th...
Slow Down, Take a Breath, Keep Awake
Some Reflections on Advent
One of my very favorite times of the year is the season of Advent: the four weeks prior to the Nativity of our Lord (Christmas Day). It is so important and life giving to me because our lives have become so hectic. We are busy with family and friends and jobs and community responsibilities. The world tells us that we need to shop, shop, shop: it will be good for the economy and it will make is very, very happy. In fact, it just makes me very, very tired.
On the other hand, the Church in its wisdom has set aside this time of year as an opportunity to slow down, to breathe slowly, to prepare for God’s gifts of peace, joy and love, to be ready to receive the presence of God in Jesus.
During Advent we prepare for the coming of Jesus in so many ways. We, the people of God, usually think about the coming of Jesus as a baby to be born in a manger. Advent is that and so much more. The first coming we prepare for is the coming of Jesus at the end of time, to bring us all into that final and eternal relationship with God the creator and source of life. We are reminded by scripture that as we prepare for this second coming that we “do not know when that time will be. . .therefore, keep awake,” so that we might be ready when He comes suddenly.”(Mark 13:24-37)
As we move into the second and third weeks of Advent we are invited to prepare for the coming of Jesus as an adult, to prepare for his baptism in the wilderness by John the Baptist, when God proclaims Jesus as his beloved Son sent into the world to establish a path that will bring us back into a right relationship with God and all the human race. We are not yet ready for “Sweet Baby Jesus,” for the joyful songs and carols. We first are called to prepare for an Adult Christ sent by God to proclaim Good News to the poor, to heal the sick, to release humans from all the chains: physical, emotional and spiritual, which prevent us from receiving the blessings that God has in store for all of us. This adult Jesus, finally, is the one who reminds us that we will do all he has done and more, because God will send us the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us into all truth. He also reminds us “to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our minds, and with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” (Mark 13:29-31)
Finally, as we draw closer to the last Sunday before Christmas, we begin to get an inkling of the possibility of the birth of a baby. We run headlong into St. Luke’s story of God’s Shocking message given to a young, probably teenage, Mary by the Angel Gabriel that she was to become the Mother of our Lord. The Angel informs Mary that ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you and you shall conceive a child who* will be holy and he will be called Son of God. “(Mark 1:35)
The “Baby Jesus” still has not been born, but we, like his mother Mary, now have a few days to contemplate and meditate about the “marvelous acts of God:” time to reflect on all of God’s gifts of creation, of family, of communities to live in and love in and serve in. And as we prepare for the coming of the Lord into the world, our hearts are opened to receive God’s blessings and God’s invitation to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 305)
“O come, o come Emmanuel!”
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
One Christian’s Reflections on The Election and Healing
This has been a stressful week for most Americans as well as many people from around the world. Many of us are devastated by the results of the election and others are overjoyed. This is true in our churches as well as in the community and nation as a whole. So how do we as Christians in a divided nation deal with our own emotions, how do we become part of the solution and not part of the problem? How do we become healers and not haters?
First we pray. We pray for our nation, we pray for our leaders, we pray for the guidance, wisdom, courage and peace of the Holy Spirit. We pray for our enemies and our opponents and we pray that God will help us to understand and listen to those with whom we disagree and will help them to listen to and understand us. I am convinced that every member of our congregation voted based on their faith in God and their comment to our baptismal vows to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. And yet, and yet, we did not all vote for the same person. How do we make sense of this? We talk and we listen. We do not simply wait for our turn to speak, but we truly listen to one another.
Then we turn to The Bible for guidance, for the reminder that no earthly leader is our ultimate authority, that God is above all earthly leaders; that “our help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.”(Psalm 121)
(Isaiah 12:2-6) Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and he will be my Savior. Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation. And on that day you shall say, Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name.
When Jesus spoke to his disciples about the destruction of the temple, they asked him: "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" and he responded, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!' and, `The time is near!' Do not go after them.”(Luke 21:5-19)
History is a constant struggle between good and evil and sometimes it is difficult to know which is which. Things get better then worse, worse then better and God is with us through both the downs and the ups. Our task, our calling as Christians today, is to show patience and endurance. As Jesus tells us, “through endurance we will gain our lives.”(Luke 21:19)
We Christians are called today to reflect on this election and all that lead up to it, not in light of who won or who lost, of who is right and who is wrong, or even whether we have witnessed the new heaven and the new Earth, or the end times, but in light of our relationship to God and to each other, based on our prayer, scriptures, and baptismal vows. In how we treat one another, we as God’s people must be the leaders, not the followers. If we do not set the standard and commit to “Do to others as you would have them do to you"(Luke 6:31), no one else will.
So, let’s reflect on our neighbor’s feelings as well as our own feelings: feelings of joy, jubilation, depression, sadness, anger and loss. The President, President Elect and Secretary Clinton all showed tremendous class last Tuesday and Wednesday. Unfortunately some of their supporters did not. There was destruction of property and disruption of traffic, bulling in schools and “encouragement” for racial, ethnic and religious minorities to leave the country. Again, if God’s people do not set a healing tone for our conversation and common life, no one will.
How do we do this, how do we become the presence of God in the world? First, we respect the decisions of others, even if we do not understand why they made those decisions, and we ask them to respect our decisions even if they cannot understand why we made them. Next, we think before we speak and act: “will what I say and do build bridges that unite or walls that separate. And we especially think before we type or repost anything. And we fact check, fact check, fact check!
Going forward, we pray, we immerse ourselves in scripture and worship and we continue to be informed about our world and our leaders through a variety of sources, not just those that re-affirm our pre-conceived ideas.
Then we support our President-Elect and all our elected leaders, but we do not follow them blindly. Who the president is does not change what Christians do. We continue to work for justice, freedom and peace and against discrimination and oppression of all kinds. And above all we follow our Savior, Jesus Christ as we “love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
As a Christian and a Preacher called to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel in good times and bad, the past two weeks have been a challenge. Two Black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed by police officers, one in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and the other in a Minneapolis suburb. Then before we as a nation could come to grips with these tragedies, five police officers in Dallas, Texas, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith and Lorne Ahrens, were killed by a sniper near the end of a peaceful demonstration by the group “Black Lives Matter.”
We also know that there were others in America who died violently last week in situations which did not make the national news and which were less politically charged. These losses of life were no less important to the loved ones of those who died or to we as a people.
How do we who are followers of Jesus, “the wonderful counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace,” respond to these actions and the divisions the either cause or point out in our nation?
I want to begin looking for an answer by looking at the Gospel which was read at Christ Episcopal Church in Albertville, Alabama, and many other churches this past Sunday.
We read in Luke 10:25-37, that a lawyer stood to test Jesus, and asked him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” We know the story, Jesus asks him what is written in the law, and he responds, “you shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your strength and all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” When the lawyer tries to justify himself by asking, “who is my neighbor,” Jesus tells him and the crowd the story of the ‘Good Samaritan.”
He then asks the man, “who then was the neighbor to the man who fell among thieves?” To this he responds, “the one who showed him mercy.” Jesus then challenges him to “Go and do likewise.” So this is my beginning: as Jesus People, as Christians, we begin with scripture and we open our hearts to that scripture together. This is not the starting place for all people today. Often we begin by choosing sides. We either choose the police, or we choose “Black Lives Matter.” I believe Jesus would choose both, just like he choose Samaritans lives matter and lawyers lives matter.
As many others are doing I have been watching Dallas, Texas to see if there are lessons we can learn from them. I have seen police and civilians of all races embracing one another and supporting one another. I have read of Sergeant Ed Trevino, a member of the “Heroes, Cops and Kids Community Campaign work to build better relationships between police and civilians by sharing concerns and listening to one another. His advice to all of us: “communicate and make sure you have all facts before deciding who is right and who is wrong.”
Dallas has strengthened my belief that we are all in this together: police and civilians, black, white, yellow, brown, Christian, Moslem and Jew. If not, we are in deep trouble. As Sergeant Trevino says, “the vast majority of people out there are good people and we have to band together rather than divide.
Our world is not simple, there are competing philosophies and ideas and it is important to hear the words of others and try to understand where they are coming from just as it is important for them to hear and try to understand us. Will this be easy? No. Can we with our human wisdom and knowledge alone solve the problems of violence and division? Probably not, but if we build our foundation on the solid rock that is our God and on the foundation of the Prince of Peace, than there is truly hope that we as human beings will find the “peace that passes all understanding.”
“Which one was neighbor to the man who fell among thieves?” “The one who showed him Mercy.”
“Go and do likewise!”