Tuesday, July 17, 2018

God’s Reluctant Prophets

Throughout our lives, most of us have talked about and been asked about and tested about what jobs or careers we would like to pursue or should pursue. We have been guided toward or away from many different career fields: professions such as doctor, lawyer, merchant, engineer, factory worker and farmer. One career I have never seen on the list is that of Prophet. This is likely due to the fact that we have seen prophets in our lives and throughout history and we have seen what people, even well meaning people, do to them. A look at some Biblical prophets will help us to understand this reluctance as well is the importance of the “prophetic profession.”

When the Eighth Century B.C. Prophet, Isaiah, finds himself in the presence of God and the Holy Angels, he proclaims, ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’ The seraph touched his mouth with a live coal from the altar and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’  Isaiah continues, ‘I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ “And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’” (Isaiah 6:5-9)

Amos, a contemporary of Isaiah, and another reluctant Prophet, is minding his own business as a “herdsman and a tender of sycamore trees,” when God finds him by a wall and calls him and sends him to, Jeroboam, the King of Israel to inform him that God is not pleased with his treatment of those who live under his rule. For his trouble, Amos is run out of town by Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, the “King’s Priest.” (Amos 7:7-15)

Isaiah felt unworthy, Amos didn’t want to go, but our next prophet, John the Baptizer, suffers the ultimate fate that befalls so many of the most powerful prophets in every age. John was violently put to death by Herod, the King of Judah for proclaiming the Good News of God’s Kingdom amidst the Kingdoms of this world. John offended the King’s wife, who, by conspiring with her daughter convinced Herod to have John beheaded.

Jesus, who we Christians believe is our Lord and Savior picked up John’s mantle and moved it forward by proclaiming by word and action “The first commandment is this: Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”(Mark 12:29-31) As Jesus continued his prophetic ministry, proclaiming God’s love to all and the coming of “God’s Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven,” the leaders of the Earthly Kingdoms, both secular and religious, found him to be a problem and conspired to put him to death.

No wonder so few people pursue a career as a prophet; but thanks be to God, there are those among us, who, led by the Holy Spirit, accept the call and the task. May God give us the courage to accept that call to proclaim not only a new heaven, but a new Earth.

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” and I said, 'here am I; send me!'" (Isaiah 6:8-9)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

There has been a Prophet among Us

When God calls people to be prophets, they seldom become the most popular persons in the neighborhood. Prophets have been, are, and likely will continue to be misunderstood. At times they are threatened, slandered and even killed for their trouble. So, join me on a journey to look at some of God’s prophets, ancient and modern.

God calls the Sixth Century B.C. Prophet, Ezekiel, and sends him out: “The Lord said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ Whether they hear or refuse to hear. . .they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.” (Ezekiel 2:1-5)

The Eighth Century B.C. Prophet, Amos, was sent by God to Israel to speak against the increased disparity between the very wealthy and the very poor. His major themes were social justice, God’s omnipotence and divine judgment. He criticized the king and was “advised” by the Head Priest, Amaziah, to leave town just as quickly as he had arrived. John the Baptist, the first New Testament prophet, preached the baptism for the forgiveness of sins, baptized those who came to him, and prepared the way for Jesus and his message of love and forgiveness. For his efforts, John was beheaded by King Herod.

And then Jesus shows up, who, in addition to being proclaimed, Son of God and Messiah was, I believe, a prophet as well. When Jesus first started preaching and healing he went to his hometown to share God’s Good News. He was met with astonishment, skepticism and concerns.

"On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him." (Mark 6:1-13)

Since, because of their unbelief Jesus could do no deeds of power there, he sent the disciples out in pairs to proclaim and heal: “If they refuse to hear you. . .shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” I suspect the people to whom they went also knew that “there had been prophets among them. The Disciples proclaimed that all should repent, they cast out demons, anointed with oil many who were sick, and cured them.” (Mark 6:11-12)

After looking at some of the prophets of the past as well as Jesus, what is the place of Prophesy in the Church today? I firmly believe that God sends Prophets to be the Conscience of our Earthly Kingdoms, to be the conscience of our leaders and of we the people. As humans we all want our own way and those with power usually get it. Apparently, God does not like this: “they shall know there has been a Prophet among them;” St. Paul, “God’s Power is made perfect in my weakness;” and, of course, Jesus in his hometown.

When the people reject the prophet, the prophet goes elsewhere and takes the power of God with him or her, and along with the power of God, they take the healing and the Good News of God.

Truly, being a prophet can require much suffering and rejection. Prophets tend to be misunderstood by people of their own time and place because they are always calling people to see beyond that time and place. As an example, Martin Luther King, Jr. is almost universally loved and quoted today by people of all walks of life and political persuasions. However, when he was alive and working for Civil Rights and against the war in Southeast Asia, he was continually investigated by the FBI and was called a communist and many other names by many, many people.

Prophets expand our vision by calling us out of complacency with injustice. They reorient us to the liberating will of God.

Who are some of the prophets in the world today? I give you three and invite you to add your own: Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist who, as a teenager worked for female education, was wounded by the Taiban, and became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize; The Most Reverend Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church who preaches about love, everywhere he goes, from the Royal Wedding in England to the Poor Peoples March in Washington D.C. He is not always appreciated as much for his love of the poor as for the Royal Family; finally, Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama to work with Death Row Inmates who do not have the resources to appeal their convictions, many of which are unjust and in error. He and Equal Justice Initiative also work to defend the most desperate and in need people in our society: the poor, racial minorities and young people tried as adults. He initiated the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which honors the almost 4000 African Americans lynched between 1877 and 1950. He and his organization have been subject to many bomb threats and death threats over the past 20 years.

I leave you with three questions: Who do you think of as prophets today? How might God be calling you to proclaim God’s Good News? How might God be calling you to be a prophet?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Why are You Afraid, have you still no Faith

After a hard day of preaching and teaching Jesus takes his disciples away from the crowds to the other side of the lake for some rest and relaxation. On the way a huge storm arises with lots of wind and rain and the disciples fear for their lives. They wake Jesus up, ask him to save them and he rebukes the wind and the sea, ‘peace be still.’ Jesus then questions his closest followers, ‘Why are you afraid?’ Have you still no faith?’ (Mark 4:35-41)

We all face storms in life: some storms are literal and physical, like the storm on the Sea of Galilee, and others are spiritual or mental or relational. Whatever the source of the storm we face, we often believe, as the disciples did, that Jesus has forgotten us. We, like the disciples, need to hear again the words of Jesus: “Why are you afraid, have you still no faith?”

In  April, 2010 a major tornado came through Albertville,  doing tremendous damage and affecting all of us at Christ Church either directly or indirectly by the destruction of our original Church building. It was a numbing blow to our community as those who were here at the time worked to salvage all that they could before tearing down the beloved old structure to begin rebuilding the holy space we now gather in to worship God and from which we leave to serve our community in the name of Jesus Christ. Prayer, teamwork and Christian Community took away our fear and renewed our faith.

In hopes that others will see a way to journey from fear to hope in their lives, I share a personal storm through which fear and depression replaced hope and faith in my life. Several years ago I resigned (before I could be fired) from my job as pastor of a large Episcopal Congregation. Not only was I “too liberal” for the congregation, but I had fired two employees who I still believe needed to be fired, but I did not do it properly, nor did I have the political capital to do so.

I had a severe emotional break down and our assistant Bishop sent me immediately to a psychiatrist the Diocese had on retainer. What does that say about the life of pastors and the church? I saw him during the remainder of my time in that city. The psychiatrist put me on anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants and I continued to see him weekly until we left the state. I continued my therapy when we moved to Alabama and I have continued the use of appropriate medication. This therapy and medication truly saved my life.

I know many people, for many reasons, are afraid to see a therapist or to use anti-depressants, but I encourage you, out of my experience, to take advantage of mental health care as a gift from God and to treat mental illness and issues as you would any physical disease or condition that can adversely affect your life.

Yes, we all have or will have storms in our lives: tornadoes, hurricanes, accidents, unexpected deaths. There will be divorces and job losses, alienation from family and friends, loss of physical abilities, and even loss of faith. When these things happen we need the faith of Jesus, not the fear of the disciples. Fear leads to death and destruction and faith leads to life. And I am not just referring to individual faith, as important as that is, but to the faith of the church. In the Christian Community, when my faith is weak, your strong faith will carry me. When your faith is weak, my faith will carry you and when all of our faith is weak and fear is creeping in, we find our faith again in the Word and Sacraments of the Church as we come together as the body of Christ in the world.

A secular (or perhaps not so secular) song, You’ll  Never Walk Alone, by Rogers and Hammerstein from the 1945 musical, Carrousel, proclaims faith and hope and life to us all.

"When you walk through a storm Hold your head up high and don't be afraid of the dark.
At the end of the storm is a golden sky and the sweet silver song of a lark.

Walk on through the wind, Walk on through the rain, Tho' your dreams be tossed and blown. 
Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart and you'll never walk alone, you’ll never walk alone."

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Father’s Day & Taking Children from their Parents

A portion of a Sermon Preached on, June 17, 2018

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, & minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.(Book of Common Prayer, page 230)

Today is Father’s Day, a good day to reflect on how we as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and a Nation care for children. A good place to begin is to look at the Bible and see some of what Jesus, Paul and the Prophets have to say about how we care for people generally, and then apply these lessons to children in particular.

In these challenging times, Christians and all people of good will have differing opinions about many issues, including immigration, both legal and illegal. Hopefully we can find some consensus on how we care for children and sometimes use children as a tool for achieving our policy goals as a nation or a political party. Whether in a divorce situation or a political situation, I believe that children should never be tools, should never be the means to an end.

I believe it is time for us, who are followers of Jesus, to spend a lot more time digging deeply into the scriptures in order to better understand the nuances, subtleties and context so that we might better follow the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and do what He did.

Jesus sets the standard for our treatment of children. “Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” (Matthew 19:13-14)

With this as our foundation let’s look at Paul’s Letter to the Church in Rome, a letter under much discussion this week by those who know the scriptures as well as those who do not. Portions of Chapter 13 were used to justify actions, but they make little sense when taken out of context with the whole book. Therefore, I want to broaden the picture and include all of Romans Chapter 12 and 13 to give us a better understanding of St. Paul’s message.

Paul doChapter 12: I appeal to you therefore, brothers & sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy & acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable & perfect. 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same functin,5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and  individually we are members one of another. . .
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ 20No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Chapter 13: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.5Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. 7Pay to all what is due to them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. 8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the lawes not make it easy for us and ultimately comes down on the side of the Jesus’ command to love one another as the fulfillment of all the law. I do not believe that Paul believed that the Roman leaders were chosen by God. Remember that Paul was executed for disobeying Roman law. It may well be that Paul was attempting to help Christians avoid persecution by the law.

I close with Jesus’ first Sermon: “When Jesus came to Nazareth he went to synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. 18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:16-21)

Today let us remember our children and the gift from God they are to us! Let’s remember what we would do if they were subject to rape and murder, the lengths to which we would go to keep them safe and fed and what we will do if someone tries to rip them out of our arms.  Then let’s pray for all parents everywhere, that God and God’s people will help them protect their children.

Let’s pray for all children everywhere that God and God’s people will protect them from any who would do them harm.

As members of the Jesus movement, it is time for us to immerse ourselves in the scriptures, and pray to be bathed in the Holy Spirit as that same Spirit leads and guides us into all Truth! May we with God’s help strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Reflections On The Holy Trinity

Throughout human history people have attempted to explain their experience of God. God is known throughout the world and across different religions by many names: God, Lord, Yahweh, Allah, Jehovah, Great Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, and many others.  

On Trinity Sunday, we who are Christians celebrate our understanding of God as three individual persons of one substance. So, what in the world are we doing, what are we trying to say?

Before seeking an answer, I offer a (very) brief history of the doctrine of the Trinity. After Constantine become emperor of Rome and made Christianity the chosen religion, not necessarily a good move, he looked for ways to unify the empire and one way was to have the church agree on its basic understanding of who God is. So, in 325 C.E. he called a council of Bishops in Nicaea and asked them to formulate an understanding of who Jesus is as both human and divine, and how God the Creator, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit related and were all one God. The Bishops complied, what else could they do, and formulated the first part of what we call the Nicene Creed. Forty-nine years later at the Council of Constantinople, the bishops met again to finalize the creed in its present form. This council primarily addressed the Trinity and the co-equal relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This Creed, I believe, does not necessarily define God as God is, but it does give us a way to try and explain our experience of God. We experience God in creation and the beauty and the power of that creation. We experience God as a loving presence, and those of us who are Christians experience that loving presence as Jesus. We also believe that God is Spirit, and that as Spirit is present in our lives and in our world at all times.

Those of us who are “people of the Book,” also have our Scriptures to guide us on our journey to understand our experiences of God and the Holy in our lives. The eighth century B.C. prophet, Isaiah had an experience in the temple that changed his life and through him, the course of history.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on
 the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:1-8)

This kind of experience with God can, at times, only be expressed in song or poetry, because we have no words within ourselves to describe the experience:

Canticle 13: A Song of Praise, Book of Common Prayer

         Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers; you are worthy of praise; glory to you.

Glory to you for the radiance of your holy Name; we will praise you and highly exalt you 
for ever.
Glory to you in the splendor of your temple; on the throne of your majesty, glory to you.
Glory to you, seated between the Cherubim; we will praise you and highly exalt you for
Glory to you, beholding the depths; in the high vault of heaven, glory to you.
Glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

St. Paul tells us in Romans 8:12-17 that we need not fear, because we have received the spirit of adoption and that when we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—

As brothers and sisters with Christ we can hear and understand Jesus words to Nicodemus (recorded in John 3:1-17) that we are born of the spirit as well as of the flesh and that as such we are called to share Jesus message with the world:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

So finally, God the Trinity is about relationship, the interrelationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the Triune God’s relationship with us and our relationship with God and the World.

May our response be that of Isaiah: “here I am; send me!”


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Love, Joy, Fruit and Baptism

We read in the first letter of John (4:7-21) that “there is no fear in love, but that perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” As we read in the Gospel of John, 15:9-17, Jesus continues the theme of love over fear as God’s plan for our lives and for our world.

"As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, abide in my love. If you keep my Father’s commandments, you will abide in my love as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

Jesus goes on to remind the disciples, and through them, us, “that we did not choose him, but he chose us and appointed us to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” He gave us these commands so that we might love one another and so that in loving one another our joy would be complete.

Jesus did not give us this good news to hoard, but to share with all of God’s people. Luke, writing in the Acts of the Apostles continues this theme of sharing the Good News.

"While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ." (Acts 10:44-48)

Our commandment from God is to love, to experience joy, to bear much fruit, to baptize and to REPEAT. The love of God is like ripples on a lake: it comes from the Father to the Son and through the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son to us, and from us to all those we meet and through them to the whole world.

Some verses from Ripple (The Grateful Dead, 1970) show us how the message of God flows through us encompassing all that is as it flows out into the whole world.

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine, and my tunes were played on the harp 
unstrung, would you hear my voice come through the music, would you hold it near as
it were your own?

It's a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken, perhaps they're better left unsung.
I don't know, don't really care Let there be songs to fill the air.
Ripple in still water, when there is no pebble tossed, nor wind to blow.

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty, if your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain that was not made by the hands of men.

You who choose to lead must follow. . . If I knew the way I would take you home.

Ripple in still water, when there is no pebble tossed, nor wind to blow.

May we, like Jesus, bear much fruit, and may the love of God flow out through us!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

I Will Pour Out My Spirit

Before his Ascension, Jesus made a promise to his disciples, which I believe is a promise to us as well. “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait there for the promise of the Father. This is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." (From Acts 1:1-11)

Last Sunday was the Feast of Pentecost, the day we Christians celebrate the fulfillment of that promise. Luke continues the story in the Book of Acts like this:

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (From Acts 2:1-21)

Luke goes on to explain that there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem and that each of them heard in their own language the disciples proclaiming the marvelous acts of God. Many in the crowd were amazed and astonished at what this might mean, but there were others, there always are, who sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’" What a great opening for Peter to proclaim the Gospel and share with them the good news of God’s continuing presence in the world through the Holy Spirit.

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

Peter explains that God’s spirit is given to all people: old and young, male and female, friend and stranger. And we who receive God’s Holy Spirit will see not only what is, but we will have visions and dreams of what can be when we proclaim the good news of God’s Kingdom and prophesy about the justice and peace that accompanies that Kingdom.

In 2004, Desmond Tutu, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town in South Africa, wrote a book entitled God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for our Time. In this book Bishop Tutu proclaims that “God Believes in us, God loves us as we are, and that God loves our enemies.” When we are filled with the Holy Spirit of which Peter speaks, we receive faith and courage to do God’s will on Earth and we become part of God’s dream. Our part of God’s dream is to “love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbor as our self.   

God’s Dream is that we love God, love our neighbor and love ourselves.