Friday, January 27 2023
The Spirit of the Beatitudes
“The feast of Epiphany invites us to listen to the voice of God and step forth on a spiritual pilgrimage; to enter a new secular year forgetting all that lies behind and ignoring all that seems reasonable today; to trust in the possibility of God’s dream…” (John H. Westerhoff III, A Pilgrim People)
We continue our epiphany journey - pilgrims listening to and learning more about God, as God is revealed to us through Jesus. What does the Kingdom of God look like and how can we grow more fully into Easter people. Before Easter, however, we must make our way through the darkness of Lent. Growth is never easy. Our pilgrimage path may not be clear or straight. You may remember experiencing physical growing pains as a child. But even as adults, we are being called to step out of our comfort zones – out of safety to trust that God’s plan through Jesus is one in which we as individuals become blessed. We do not do this alone. We are called to grow into Christ’s likeness within this blessed community – to pay attention for God’s activity in and around us, making it possible to reveal the present reality of God’s Kingdom to others in our midst.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus chose to preach his longest sermon on a mountain top? Moses also ascended a mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. Those commandments were about creating social order in our world – important and necessary. The eight Beatitudes, however, bring us to a different level of consciousness revealing the idea of grace. How to grow in humility as we seek to become a blessing to others. Who IS this Jesus. What IS His kingdom all about? Important enough to preach from the mountaintop – not just to his recently called disciples, but to all within hearing. We remember mountaintop experiences.
All of us have been called by Christ – or we wouldn’t even worship together in this beautiful and hospitable community called St. John’s. But as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians, while none of us is perfect, God does call each of us, imperfect as we are to point us in the direction of Christ crucified. Skill and wisdom that seem so important to the world do not get us into the Kingdom – simple faith does. Christ is the one who has made us acceptable to God.
The Beatitudes open for us a vision of the Kingdom of God that moves beyond the 10 commandments. They are counterintuitive to the ways we operate in the world. We have been called to be humble and faithful. As we pay attention to and follow Jesus more closely we too will go beyond the letter of the law to its more profound spirit to develop the habit of thinking, acting, and loving like Jesus. We will forgive one another, give up our own need for power and control and make space for all peoples. When it seems impossible, be reminded that all things are possible with God. May you be blessed!
“Sometimes I need only to stand where I am to be blessed.” (Mary Oliver)
Peace as we journey together!
Saturday, January 21 2023
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian (Isaiah 9:2-4).
Fr. Dan preached last week on the season of Epiphany, The season is not a time for complacency between Christmas and Lent. Jesus calls the disciples out of their comfort zone into the Kingdom of God. In this week’s Gospel Jesus says. “Follow me.” Fr. Dan reminded us that Jesus will draw us out through the beatitudes to places that we may not want to go. There is no better example (in my opinion) of this than this week’s Gospel. Jesus says, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Jesus asks us to turn from idolatry and selfish desires and follow the path of teaching, healing, and proclaiming the Good News.
As we prepare for our annual meeting on February 5th after the 10:00 service, let us think about how we might follow Jesus Christ in 2023. We have been listening to women’s voices for the past eight weeks. Will God raise up a woman to be our next warden? Will God raise up a deacon in our congregation? What new ministries lay before us? If we refurbish the kitchen, will there be volunteers to help our breakfast committee and will we make meals again for the homeless? Who will represent us in the movement for creation care in Huntington and who will speak up against hate in our town? Will our Thrift Shop continue to flourish? The answer from our Baptismal Covenant is, “I will with God’s help.”
Last week Fr. Dan asked, “What kind of God do you want?” This week I ask the question, “Will you follow Jesus even if he draws you out where we can never return?” Fleming Rutledge asks us to look for God in his Word. The world has become a dark place. Lots of folks see the cross as foolishness. We are a parish in an ever secular, fast moving, polarized, and violent world. Yet there is a small, still voice that asks, “Give us grace, Oh Lord, to answer readily the call.” At St. John’s, we can witness to our faith by coming to church, worshiping and praising God, caring for God’s creation, striving for justice, and being sent out to the community to love and serve Christ. Please be confident that God has the strength to bring us to the Kingdom, that place where heaven and earth intersect, if we will only allow ourselves to see the light of Christ and be drawn out to where we can never return.
"Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return" (Annie Dillard).
In Christ's Love,
Friday, January 13 2023
Martin Luther King, who we celebrate this weekend, helped a whole generation see where the ways of heaven begin to get an unlikely foothold on this earth. He helped us remember that walking with Jesus means working for justice--revealing in our midst already a world where love reigns, a realm of God's shalom--of wholeness--where nothing's broken and no one's missing, where a table is spread and all are welcome. We are called, just as the disciples and Martin Luther King Jr. were called to point to the living truth that through living the Gospel, in the love of Jesus Christ, we can overcome hatred, racism, sexism, homophobia and greed. We are called to go out into the world and shine the light of Christ to the world. We need to be confident that the path that Christ chose is the path that we are to follow. We need to see that the path of greed in our culture is eroding our souls and leading to a long term distortion of our values. Only in the light of God’s love can we change our path. By giving of ourselves for the sake of the poor, we can deepen our faith and point to Jesus Christ.
Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus Christ. Who was and is and will forever be, the Son of God. John points to Jesus and says, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! ...and John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, `He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God."
The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi,” "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah.” God, John, and the disciples all point to Jesus and exclaim, “this is the Son of God, the Messiah.” The Epiphany season begins with the appearing or manifestation of Jesus Christ. I pray that each of you will have a deepening faith and that you can point to the manifestation of Jesus Christ among us.
In 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, the issue of the day was forced segregation on city buses. Pastors gathered at a local Baptist Church--strategizing. Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white person and moving to the back of the bus. They tossed a few ideas around, but couldn’t settle on a single strategy until a young pastor volunteered to lead a boycott and civil disobedience against the culture in power. This culture gave white people a better seat on the city bus and segregated everything from the school to the drinking fountains. Martin Luther King Jr. was not a perfect person, but when he accepted his marching orders to a path of truth, he radically changed this country. He was called by God to lead the people of this nation to a new place and it wouldn’t come without a cost. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “It's alright to talk about streets flowing with milk and honey, but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can't eat three square meals a day. It's all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God's preacher must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.” King knew that his words might lead to his death and yet his words have led to a better life for millions of African Americans. He glorified God through his words and actions. His boundary crossing, self-giving love is exactly what Jesus was talking about. How do you manifest Jesus Christ through your action?
In Christ’s love,
Friday, January 06 2023
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
This Sunday, our church celebrates The Baptism of our Lord. Lectionary-wise, this is kind of a strange jump for us; the last time we checked in with our infant Lord, we had just celebrated the eight days following his birth. So we had the infant birth, circumcision, the three wise men who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And so, naturally (that was sarcasm), we jump over a quarter of a century later to Jesus, in his mid/late twenties. I must say, to me, this really makes no sense.
Many, if not most of us, were baptized as infants. A majority of us in church this Sunday will not remember the baptismal promises that were made, as they were made on our behalf by god parents. As some of you may know, my sister gave birth to a beautiful baby girl just days before Christmas and as a Christmas gift, I was gifted a Christmas ornament with a picture of the movie title screen from The Godfather. As I mentally pieced together my gift, I was moved to tears and in awe of my gift, as this brought me so much joy and bliss. As I look at my new niece Hazel, I am reminded of the importance of bringing this child into the faith.
Many of us take for granted the gift of baptism in our lives. Some view baptism as membership into the Christian club. It’s how we sign up for donation envelopes and get onto the Parish Register where we can receive weekly emails, like this one. Some are afraid of baptism for this reality - and I proclaim: this is not the meaning of baptism!
Baptism is one of two sacraments handed down to us through scripture, by Jesus. The other sacramental rites in our Book of Common Prayer are important: Reconciliation, Confirmation, Marriage, Anointing of the Sick, Ordination; but the two that Jesus teaches us firsthand by his actions are Holy Communion (which we celebrate each Sunday), and Baptism (that we hear in our scriptures this Sunday morning).
Jesus showed us by his example at the River Jordan with his cousin, John, that this was a new rite that in fact initiated Jesus’ public ministry. It was the proclamation in thought, and word, and deed, that Jesus belonged to God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. We may explain away the connection with baptism to Jesus’ birth narrative because of our modern-day practice of baptizing infants. Another way to look at baptism is within the parallel of how a child looks at the world with awe and openness, is in fact the way God wants to have a relationship with us - with the faith and openness of a child.
Children are quite remarkable in that way - they trust what is told to them. Why do they have any reason to doubt? I challenge us all this week, as we prepare to hear about baptism this Sunday, may we have the faith of the littlest members of our community, whom Deacon Claire gives our dismissal with on Sundays at our 10:00 am Eucharist. As adults, it is challenging to imagine the heavens opening up and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove. I believe children can see this much more clearly with their imaginations and unconditional trust in the Divine, as God has known them since God knit them together in their mothers’ womb.
God calls us to new life in Him, through Jesus Christ and through baptism. Do we have the same openness to relationship with Jesus as adults, that infants do for new life? How do we get back to having the faith of children? How do we dwell there? How can we proclaim in thought and word and deed that we belong to God?
Your sibling in Christ,