Friday, March 30, 2012
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Sermon, Lent 5, March 25, 2012
The Reverend Lois Keen
Grace Episcopal Church
From The Episcopal Church web site, Archive, Latino/Hispanic Ministries, Sermones que Iluminan.
Quinto Domingo de Cuaresma Jeremías 31,31-34
Salmo 51, 11-16
Hebreos 5, 5-10
"¡Dame, oh Dios, un corazón limpio, crea en mí un espíritu nuevo!"
Durante las últimas cuatro semanas de esta Cuaresma hemos estado preparando nuestros corazones para lograr un corazón limpio y un espíritu renovado. A veces, hemos estado a punto de lograrlo; en otras ocasiones, hemos fallado miserablemente. Hemos fallado porque no es fácil cambiar de rumbo de vida sin un esfuerzo apoyado por la gracia de lo alto.
Con las mejores disposiciones, oímos la voz del profeta Jeremías que, desde un lejano pasado, nos anuncia que nosotros solos no podemos crear un corazón limpio, ni renovar el espíritu dentro de nuestro ser. Es el Señor Dios quien afirmó que iba a establecer un pacto nuevo con su pueblo, en el cual hubiera una Ley nueva y una relación con Dios nueva, que se inscribiría en los corazones. "Meteré mi Ley en su pecho, la escribiré en su corazón, yo seré su Dios y ellos serán mi pueblo" (Jr 29, 33).
Será lo equivalente a una nueva creación. Lo fundamental de esa creación nueva de Dios radica en que somos conscientes de quiénes somos, de dónde venimos, y a quién le pertenecemos. Según ese pacto, anunciado por Jeremías, tendríamos idea clara de quién es Dios y quiénes somos nosotros. Esa relación nueva nos mostraría una manera de vivir diferente, bajo la ley de Dios, amparados por un amor divino que sobrepasa todo entendimiento.
Sería un tipo de "huella" que identificaría todo nuestro ser. Así como un patito o un polluelo, nada más nacer sigue fielmente a su mamá porque hay algo en su interior que se lo dicta. Según el pacto nuevo todos sabrían que: "Yo seré su Dios y ellos serán mi pueblo".
Al leer esto, podríamos pensar: ¿Cómo sería una sociedad así? ¿Sería posible que dejáramos de idolatrar a nuestro mundo: trabajo, estado de vida, familia, propiedades? ¿Sería posible que sólo Dios fuera nuestro Dios, y nosotros su pueblo? Teniendo en cuenta que somos rebeldes y desobedientes, ¿qué tendría que cambiar para que nosotros fuéramos el pueblo perdonado que pertenece a Dios? Tendríamos que cambiar radicalmente. ¡Qué triste si nuestro actuar durante esta Cuaresma se opone a pedirle a Dios un corazón limpio y un espíritu renovado!
Tal vez actuemos movidos por la curiosidad como los griegos que se acercaron a Felipe y le dijeron: "Queremos ver a Jesús". La fama de Jesús tenía que haberse extendido por el mundo griego para que unos filósofos se sintieran picados por la curiosidad de ver a Jesús.
Felipe y Andrés comunicaron a Jesús que alguien quería verle. Jesús, como si no hubiera oído, siguió hablando de su próxima muerte. Al principio, tal actitud pudiera parecer un tanto desorientadora, pero en el fondo nos revela algo profundo. En primer lugar, desear ver a Jesús supone ya un acuciante en el corazón. Por ello, después de la entrevista no se permanecerá indiferente. Segundo, ver a Jesús no debe ser sólo motivo de curiosidad, sino de estar espoleado por preguntas de grave responsabilidad. Esto es lo que implica ver a Jesús: implica escuchar su palabra hasta conocerle. En otras palabras, implica seguirle hasta dar la vida si es necesario.
Estar en relación con Dios, tener un corazón limpio, tener un espíritu renovado, es tanto como querer ver a Jesús y quedar por él transformado.
Conocer a Jesús es decir con fe "que se haga su voluntad". Eso es lo que implica el pacto nuevo. Esa es la única relación que va a crear en nosotros un corazón limpio y un espíritu renovado. Dicho con otras palabras, es un llamado a morir para vivir. Un vivir totalmente diferente. No de este mundo. Hoy es el último domingo de Cuaresma, que Dios nos dé la gracia de ver a Jesús de una manera nueva, y el valor para abrir nuestros labios y proclamar que de la muerte viene la vida verdadera.
“Create in us clean hearts, O God, and renew a right spirit within us.”
The English version of this sermon is not a direct translation but my paraphrase of the Spanish in order for it to be in my voice.
In our various ways, we all try to prepare to receive a new heart and a renewed spirit within ourselves, especially during Lent. Sometimes we feel we are making progress. Other times we are certain we have failed miserably. It is not easy to change ourselves without the grace of God. And allowing the grace of God to change us means giving up control of how and into what we will be transformed.
Still, the prophet Jeremiah reminds us it is God alone who does this, who says “I will put my law in your chest, and write it in your heart.” It is God who establishes a new covenant, God who puts the law into our hearts, God who creates a new relationship between us and God.
This new relationship is like a new creation. The essence of this new creation is that we become aware of who we are in God, where we come from, and to whom we belong. In this new relationship we will live differently than we do now. The law written in our heart, the renew spirit in which putting love of God and love of neighbor as the basis for everything we do, will be like a fingerprint, identifying our whole being as God’s possession.
With a clean heart and a renewed spirit, we will be like baby ducklings who imprint on their mother and by instinct follow her around. Under the new covenant everyone will know that God will be their God, and they shall be God’s people.
You might ask how the world will be different under the new covenant. It’s hard to say, since no entire people has given themselves over to God to do this. So ask yourself what truly good things in this world have become idols to you? To us? Work, quality of life, property, sports, March Madness? An idol is something we put ahead of God’s will, on purpose or unconsciously. Even the Bible, or the Book of Common Prayer, or Church or family can become idols, if our use of or participation in them becomes about us and what we want, and not about God as the one and only focus of all life. We are no less stiff necked, stubborn or rebelious than the Hebrew people in the desert after escaping from Egypt. We get anxious when God seems absent and we go about, making golden calves.
Can we let God remake us? How radically would our lives change? I wonder what radical changes would be made in this world that needs those changes so badly. We may actually be living in opposition to God unless we can at least want to want to be willing to let God give us clean hearts and a renewed spirit. Our only hope, in this case, is that all people are forgiven; all people belong to God, and so do we, even though all we may have are good intentions to have God transform and renew us and our lives.
Some Greeks come to Philip and say to him, “We want to see Jesus.” Maybe they are only asking out of curiousity. Jesus’s fame has spread to the Greek speakers and it would not be unusual for the philosophers among them to be curious about him.
Whatever reasons the Greek speakers have for asking to meet Jesus, Philip and Andrew deliver the message that some people are asking for him. And how does Jesus answer?
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it...Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.”
Jesus goes on as though he hasn’t even heard Andrew and Philip. Instead, he simply continues with his gospel. This seems strange, and yet it reveals something profound for us.
We and the Greeks are curious about Jesus. We and the Greeks want to follow him. He is already pressing on our hearts. So, if we and the Greeks do get an interview with Jesus, we will not be indifferent to what he says.
And what he says tells us we must not ask to see Jesus only out of curiousity. Hearing Jesus is to be known by Jesus. And to follow him means to go where he is going, and he is going to his death.
To ask God to give us a new heart and a renewed spirit is to ask to follow Jesus, even unto death, the death of all in us that keeps us from being seed that bears fruit. To ask to meet Jesus is to ask to be transformed.
Jesus knows where he is going and the consequences, and still he says to God, “Your will be done, not mine”. This is the implication of the covenant God has made with us. We are called to die in order to live. For some of us it means to live differently. For all of us it implies living in this world but not of this world.
Next week begins Holy Week. We will walk with Jesus through the last days of his life. May I not be simply a curious spectator or a bystander. May we all be given the grace to see Jesus’s last days in a new way. May we be given the spirit to understand the great mystery of the good news of Jesus Christ, that death is the true life.
Friday, March 23, 2012
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Sunday, March 18, 2012
March 18, 2012, Lent 4
Grace Episcopal Church
The Reverend Lois Keen
Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21
From the Gospel of Luke: “Jesus…was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…He ate nothing at all…and he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone” ‘ “ (Luke 4:1-4)
It’s July 16, 1054 A.D. We are in Constantinople. The people are gathered in Hagia Sophia Cathedral for worship. Suddenly, the floor rings with the boots of intruders. They are westerners from Rome. They stand before the altar and babble something in Latin, then they throw a document on the altar and, as they leave, they shout, in Latin,
“Videat Deus et judicet and walk out.
“Videat Deus et judicet”; “God sees and judges”. These are the words of excommunication. Pope Leo IX of Rome has sent his envoys to deliver his excommunication of Cerularius, the new patriarch of Constantinople, and with him all his followers. Leo has excommunicated the entire Eastern half of Christendom.
Four days later Cerularius, returns the favor. He excommunicates Pope Leo IX and all his followers, the entire Western half of Christendom.
Thus begins the Great Schism between the Christians of the West and the Christians of the East, Rome and Constantinople and, it seems, never the twain shall meet.
There were lots of things in contention between eastern and western Christians – married clergy yes or no, reverence for the saints, days of fasting and whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son – the belief in the West - or only from the Father – the belief in the East (please note which side we are on, east or west, when we say the Creed today). These were just a few of the disagreements, but we had been one church for 1,000 years and we managed, even with our quarrels, to stay together.
Then came the straw that broke the camels back: bread.
The Eastern Christians used leavened bread – wheat bread made with yeast or other leavening. The Western Christians used unleavened bread. The East said we’d been using leavened bread from the beginning so leavened is the right kind of bread for the Eucharist. The West pronounced that the right bread for the Eucharist was one that was different from the bread we eat every day, and besides, an unleavened, round wafer is purer than real bread. Neither East nor West was willing to let go on this matter. And so they excommunicated one another and the schism continues to this day.
Clearly, Satan has been hard at work since he tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread.
It is interesting to note that, from the time of the 1552 BCP, which marked the Reformation in England, the Anglican church used real, leavened bread, but not as a sign of unity with the Eastern churches, rather to discourage people from worshipping Jesus in the bread. This changed in the 19th c, when some of the anti-catholic strictness was loosened. Today we Anglicans can use either kind of bread.
However, the war of bread is not over yet. Satan is still at it. Today it’s over whether or not to provide non-wheat, gluten-free bread for those with celiac disease. I am glad to say this congregation provides gluten-free bread for those who need it. However, the argument is that because the bread in Jesus’s day, the bread of the last supper, and the bread for the whole history of Christianity has been made from wheat, no other kind of bread can be used for the Eucharist.
The irony is that, in the feeding of the 5,000 according to St. John, the bread was barley loaves, the food of the poor! And in the Hebrew scriptures, the bread that came down from heaven to feed the people as they wandered in the wilderness after escaping Egypt was called “manna”, which means, “What is it?” for it certainly was not bread from any kind of grain at all.
And so, our wars about what kind of bread, leavened or unleavened, wheat or not, become a nonsense, for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. I vote for barley bread, the food of the poor, but what do I know, except that Satan is always there in the niggling details. But, remember, “One does not live by bread alone.”
“Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread…”
Give us THIS bread. The bread we have been given is Jesus himself. He is the true bread. This bread is not leavened or unleavened, not wheat, barley, manna, or gluten-free. This bread is the Love of God.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” This is the bread from heaven, the love of God in his Son Jesus, the Christ. It is immaterial what kind of bread we put in our mouths at the Eucharist. We eat that bread to actually put in our bodies a bit of the love of God for us and all people, and as a sign that we are all, living, dead, and yet to be born, one in Christ’s love, whether we love one another or not.
“As grain, once scattered on the hillsides, is in this broken bread made one…” (hymn 302, Hymnal 1972) Jesus, this true bread makes us one.
Yet, the Body of Christ continues to fracture along lines of what kind of bread to use, who is saved and who is damned, who is in and who is out, which beliefs are correct and which are heresy. Jesus, at his last supper, according to John, commanded that we love one another as he loves us. “By this,” he says, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. But we can’t seem to love one another.
And this is a problem, because Christianity now has a credibility issue. The Church is created and sustained out of God’s reconciling, restorative love for all creation. But we can’t even reconcile with one another. And the world really needs that reconciling, self-giving love right now.
At the risk of being thought to be preaching politics, I think it’s safe to say we all know that something is wrong with us in this country. Incivility, partisanship, self-centeredness, greed, isolationism, and demonizing those with whom we disagree are being raised to art forms. There is a place for Christian communities in the midst of this, not for the sake of saving dying churches but for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of the Lord of love, who commanded us to love all people, not just one another, even to love our enemies. Can we do it?
With the help of God, we can, but bread is useless until it is broken so it can be eaten, and we have to be willing to be broken, to open our minds and hearts and see and hear how God is drawing us to a new way of being community, a community that heals, reconciles, gives itself away, and opens itself to be shaped by others not like us.
This church hosted a magnificent sign of the kingdom of the love of God made real and visible on the Monday before Thanksgiving when we hosted the community Thanksgiving service. Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Christians who disagree on doctrine, all worshipped together in English, Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew, and Punjabi. This is what we Christian communities can be ALL the time – visible signs of the love of God for all people, broken open and used as the food of love.
Whether or not we can keep buildings or clergy or even our way of being church, we Christians of all beliefs and persuasions must examine ourselves as individuals. Hold before God those things within ourselves that contribute to separation from one another as people in the world – all our phobias, all our isms – and ask God to take them away. Then we need to find a way to form communities like that Thanksgiving service, communities of unconditional, radical love, signs of God’s love, signs of the reign of God. People cannot live by bread alone. We, the people, need to love God by loving one another, and we need to be loved by God, through people we least expect to love us.
“As grain, once scattered on the hillsides, was in this broken bread made one.” Jesus is the true bread that gives life to the world. Evermore give us this bread, Holy God, and make us your love.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Sermon, March 11, 2012
Grace Episcopal Church
The Reverend Lois Keen
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ “
Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ “ Luke 4:9-12
It’s been a busy two weeks for Jesus, according to John’s gospel. John the Baptizer tells people that Jesus is the one for whom all Israel has been waiting. The next day John declares Jesus to be the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. The day after that – notice that John is very specific about time here – John points out Jesus, saying, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” and two of John’s disciples immediately turn from John and begin to follow Jesus. One of these is Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He goes and gets his brother and brings him to Jesus.
The next day they go with Jesus to Galilee. Jesus tells Philip to follow him. Philip finds Nathanael and brings him along to follow Jesus. “On the third day,” John the Evangelist writes, “there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.”
You may know the rest of that story. The wine is running out. Mary, Jesus’s mother, tells him to do something about it and Jesus says it’s not his time to show himself yet. Mary knows better, and tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells him to do. So Jesus changes water into wine, and John writes, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
After this they go to Capernaum with Mary, Jesus’s brothers, and the disciples, and “they remain there a few days.”
Now it is the Passover. All Jews who can will go to Jerusalem to the temple to celebrate, to offer their sacrifices. The temple makes it easy for them: the outer courts are a marketplace for buying suitable sacrificial animals and such. And since worldly Roman money is too unholy, it will pollute the sacrificial animals that are bought with it, so the temple has arranged for money changers, who will launder your filthy, pagan Roman money for pure, holy temple coins, at a price, of course.
Here Jesus performs the second of what John the Evangelist calls “signs” rather than miracles – signs that point to Jesus being the Messiah. Jesus sees the market atmosphere in the temple, the buying and selling, the exchanging of coins for a price the poor can hardly afford, but have to pay in order to make even their poor sacrifices of a dove, and Jesus is angry. He makes a whip of cords and drives out the money changers, the merchants, and even the animals meant for sacrifice. He overturns the money tables and scatters the coins – which, of course, I imagine, anyone, even the poor, might just now be scrabbling to gather up for the next time they have to buy a sacrificial animal – and the disciples remember a line from Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
This is not the anger of a temper tantrum. Jesus knows that the next day it will be business as usual in the temple. He does this sign, which we call the cleansing of the temple, as if to say, “I know what you have done with the religion that was supposed to bring people closer to God, my Father. You have turned it into a business. Don’t think for a moment God doesn’t see what you are doing!”
In the gospels of Luke and Matthew, Satan taunts Jesus to prove he is the Messiah by jumping from a pinnacle of the temple. “Surely the angels will come and catch you, if you really are the Messiah!.”
Today, in the temple, the ones with the greatest stake in the temple as marketplace play the role of Satan as they demand Jesus’s warrant, his credentials for doing this thing. “What sign can you show us for doing this?”, they say.
And Jesus says there will be no other sign. They have already seen the sign. Do not put the Lord God to the test.
John is using a little irony here. He wrote his gospel after the Temple of stone and mortar was actually destroyed by the Romans. The temple was leveled. Nothing is left but part of the wall that supports the temple mount. The temple itself has never been rebuilt.
The temple has become a marketplace because it has to be one. People can’t be carrying sacrificial animals around so the temple sells them. But there’s a bonus for the temple. They refuse to accept the common coinage and insist only temple coins be used for the people’s purchases, and these come at an additional cost, a profit that goes to the temple.
For John the Evangelist, then, Jesus becomes the temple. Access to God costs the worshiper nothing. It only costs one life. That of Jesus himself. The stone temple will be destroyed and no one will be able to raise it again. But the temple that is Jesus’s body is another matter.
Jesus says, “Destroy this temple,” meaning his body, “and in three days I will raise it up.” His death will be the only sign they shall receive, and the angels will not save him from dying. Instead, God will raise him from the dead. When the stone temple is destroyed, it will be for good. When the temple of Jesus’s body is destroyed, it will be resurrected, to live and continue forever.
“Do not tempt the Lord your God.”
“Mortal pride and earthly glory, sword and crown betray our trust; though with care and toil we build them, tower and temple fall to dust. But God’s power, hour by hour, is my temple and my tower.”
(Hymn 665, The Hymnal 1982, The Episcopal Church. Words: A Supplement to the New Version of the Psalms, 1698, alt.; para. of Psalm 130.)
Where is God? Where to you expect to meet God? In a temple? A Church?
The Jews expected that God lived in the temple, and that they could meet and even commune with God through the sacrifices they bought to be offered in the temple in Jerusalem. Where do you expect to meet God?
Where do you expect to participate with God in Jesus’s ongoing work?
In John’s gospel Jesus finds his vocation, the work he is to do with God, from his cousin John the Baptizer, from the people who attach themselves to him as disciples, through his mother who pushes him to show himself, to demonstrate with the sign of water turned to wine that he works with the power of God. And today Jesus demonstrates his vocation as the temple of God, a vocation that will lead to trial, execution, death and resurrection.
Where do you expect to participate with God in Jesus’s ongoing work? What is your vocation? Where do you find and exercise your vocation?
These are the questions today’s gospel is pressing us to answer. In John’s gospel Jesus knows who he is in God. Do you know who you are in God?
If you are having trouble answering these questions, that’s not surprising. Over the centuries the Church has been confused as the place to meet God, the place to participate with God’s work, the place for vocations that come from God.
Meanwhile, the church has forgotten to equip you, the saints, to recognize that it is in your common life outside these walls that you meet God. It is in your common life outside Church that you find your vocation. It is out there that you participate with God in Jesus’s ongoing work, in the ordinariness of everyday existence – doing the laundry, eating a meal, grading school papers, drawing blood samples, making appointments for people at the doctor’s office, selling hardware, teaching music, managing a city office – all, all ordinary activities of the lives of people everywhere, Christian or not, and yet these are the arena of Jesus’s work for God, through you.
So, does that mean that at work, in the home, at play, at the grocery store, at the movies you are supposed to become a soapbox preacher, telling people about the Good News of Jesus Christ? No. Unless that is truly your vocation. Your vocation, is that which you love doing, which stretches you and challenges you, in which you find delight and frustration, probably in equal amounts, and in which you occasionally catch glimpses of the beauty that is God.
Your vocation may not be your work or your profession. But your vocation is certainly there, in your every day, ordinary life, not in the church. If vocation were only in church, you would be here gladly every minute of every day. Few are called to do that. For good reason.
The reason is that God is out there in the whole world. The work of maintaining the place where the people of God can be refreshed for the coming week, and taught and supported in their vocations in the world often keeps those with the vocation to the temple, the institutional church, out of the world for most of the time.
But not you. You are exactly where you are supposed to be. Out there. Living. Working. Retired. Active. Real. And every bit as dedicated by God to do Jesus’s work in the world, which is, simply, to know who you are as God’s possession and to live your life in that knowledge.
When I was a little girl there was a man who lived with his wife in the house behind ours. He was a music therapist in the Veteran’s Hospital. But to me he was Uncle Teddy. He taught me how to play the piano. He encouraged me to sing. He wrote down the little songs I made up. But mostly he taught me love of something outside myself – the love of and passion for music. This was his vocation – love and passion for and in and with music. He also made his living at it, which was fortunate for him. But his profession was not his vocation, which was love.
What is your vocation? How are you already participating with God in Jesus’s ongoing multifaceted work in the world? How can the church help you to answer these questions?
"The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows his handiwork.
One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.
Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard,
Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
and their message to the ends of the world.
Let the words of [our] mouth[s] and the meditation of [our]
heart[s] be acceptable in your sight, *
O LORD, [our] strength and [our] redeemer."
(Psalm 19:1-4, 14)