Sermons

Larger Life

posted Feb 22, 2016, 6:49 AM by Saint Andrew

Lent 2C

Luke 13.31-35

Herod’s threats are feeble for Jesus standing outside Jerusalem -- that beautiful and imposing city at the heart of all things religious and political.  For most people Herod was a paranoid and ruthless ruler who thought nothing of murdering his wife or his sons or any number of critics for his own protection or gain.

When Herod hears rumors of the birth of a rival king, he tries to deceive the magi, then orders the mass murder of all male infants under the age of two.  You know that story.  You also know the one about his murdering John the Baptist at the whim of his daughter or more precisely the vengefulness of his wife.

We often make the mistake of hearing the gospels and the life of Christ as only a religious story when it is so much more.  New Testament scripture and the life of Christ is unequivocally political.  There was a deep hostility between Jesus and the powers and politics of his day.

Gary Wills says Jesus threatened the political powers of his day not because he wanted what they had but because "he undercut its pretensions and claims to supremacy."  So while politicians in our own country claim they are on the side of God, or that God is on their side then they really are ignorant of the fact that of how frequently Jesus challenged politics and politicians’ of his own day.  And that if we live the life he lived then we challenge the politics and politicians’ self-importance and claims to authority of our day as well.   

I went to see my spiritual director this week.  Sr. Francis Therese is in her 80s, she’s about the size of my thumb and I’ve been seeing her for almost 20 years.  This week she told me she was reading a biography of Donald Trump by Michael D’Antonio.  And she said, ever so gently and directly, as she so often does, “…it clearly explains his pathological narcissism.”  And I thought, preach it sister.  You and Pope Francis:  preach it please.

I know it may be early but in the light of the political climate we’re living in today let’s fast forward to Jesus’ arrest that we’ll hear about later in Lent.  We hear this account as a religious story, but it was a political face off.

Jesus is dragged before Pontius Pilate for three reasons as the gospel of Luke sees it, all were political: He is subverting out nation, he is opposing payment of taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.  (Luke 23:1–2)

Pilate meets the angry mob outside, and then interrogates Jesus one-on-one back inside. "Are you the king of the Jews?"  "My kingdom is not of this world," Jesus replied. "My kingdom is from another place."  "You are a king, then!" mocked Pilate.  "Yes, you are right in saying that I am a king."  Pilate has his soldiers’ beat, flog, and humiliate Jesus with purple robes and a crown of thorns appropriate for a man who thinks he has power: "Hail, O king of the Jews!"  Back outside, the mob does not let up on Pilate threatening him with treason too: "If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar."  And Pilate finds himself caught like a mouse in a cage.  There he is between angry lynch mob and his obligation to serve the emperor.

He caves in: "Here is your king. Shall I crucify your king?"  "We have no king but Caesar!"  And there it is.  The people who once trusted and followed a larger message, a bigger picture, Jesus’ invitation to live a larger life, cave in to the political status quo.  Only Caesar matters.  Only Caesar is our king.

And we cave in too when we buy in to politics or any politician’s power or pretentions and fail to see that our faith invites us to a larger life.

All our lessons today tell us that however important politics may be, we are called to see a larger picture – like the one we see in our study of Acts of the Apostles about forming an alternative community.  “Sounds like socialism,” some of us have said.  Call it whatever you want.  We cave in to labeling anything out of fear when the alternative community Jesus lived and calls us to live cares for those in need and makes certain that the basic needs of all are met.  Basic needs: like a roof over your head, food to eat, health care, education, meaningful work and basic human dignity.

All our lessons today tell us that however important politics are, we are called to see the larger picture and live a larger life.

Paul reminds us in the epistle this week, that while we live in this world "our citizenship is in heaven." 

God shows Abram the stars in the heavens and makes a covenant with him, promising land and offspring and we are those stars, we are the offspring of Abram.  Yet there is always a sense that we are aliens and strangers in this world.  Jesus said his kingdom is not of the world.

Political threats are feeble for Jesus standing outside Jerusalem -- that beautiful and imposing city at the heart of all things religious and political.  What he cares about is us -- the descendants of Abram who so often choose to reject God and the things of God -- just like Jerusalem would ultimately reject Jesus.  And yet Jesus has a firm resolve to face what lies ahead.  He has the same fierce devotion of a loving mother for her children. Jesus longs to gather all her children, as a hen gathers her brood.  Only a deep, stubborn, foolish love can speak like this, only a love that is willing to give all, to risk all.

            There are stories of farmyard fires -- and those cleaning up who have found a dead hen scorched and blackened, perfectly petrified and when they move her they find beneath her are live chicks that were sheltered under her body.  The hen has literally given her life to save the chicks.  That is what our God does for us; that is Jesus’ longing we hear in today’s gospel. 

            We do engage in the world and in the politics of our own day, but we do not lose sight of the larger picture that our faith offers.  A way of life that cares for the needs of all, and trusts in the love and mercy and self-sacrifice of God.  Jesus goes on his way, undeterred, accomplishing his call.  And we go with him. We go with him living his life of love and mercy and self-sacrifice.  We go with him.

 

Amen.

M. Phillips +

No Nationalities, No Boundaries, No Boarders

posted Feb 1, 2016, 10:43 AM by Saint Andrew   [ updated Feb 1, 2016, 10:59 AM ]

Epiphany IV, Luke 4.21-30, I Corinthians 13.1-13

This homily was preached extemporaneously  

Dostoevsky’s Father Zossima once said, “Love in reality is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”  All the lessons today illustrate that: Jeremiah’s prophetic call to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and the plant; Paul’s reflection on love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Our gospel story today gives us a core Christian paradigm: proclamation, crucifixion, resurrection.  Jesus proclaims the truth, the people try to kill him, Jesus passes through their rage and violence.

Today we hear the second half of this story from Luke – the harder part.

Last week we were told Jesus was in Nazareth, went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, opened the scroll of Isaiah to read, “The Spirit of the Lord in upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…”  All eyes in the Synagogue were fixed on him.  All spoke well of him.  It was a transfiguration moment.  It was as if the people thought Jesus was speaking as if they were special.  And then the shift occurs.  Far from being special, Jesus reminds them that no prophet is accepted in his hometown.  He reminds them of the prophet Elijah who could help none of his own people in the time of famine except a foreign widow from Sidon.  Jesus reminds them of the prophet Elisha who could not heal any of his own people stricken with leprosy, but only Naaman, a soldier of the enemy army.  (It would be like Jesus coming to the U.S. in the midst of a flu pandemic and the only ones receptive to his healing are Muslim immigrants.)

The reality is harsh and dreadful: prophets are called to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. 

Jesus reminds the people of Nazareth that God blesses foreigners, even those they consider their enemies; that God’s love and mercy is not reserved just for them.  The people are enraged.

But you know things haven’t changed much.  When we speak up for foreigners today, when we speak on behalf of refugees or Muslims or immigrants people will call us unpatriotic, even subversive.

Humans have a tendency to draw lines, to shut others out, to shun the other.  But God doesn’t.  God’s love and mercy knows no nationalities, no boundaries, no boarders.

This is radical stuff.  It’s likely to get you killed.

Prophets speak the truth and are often on the receiving end of hatred, violence and outrage.  After 9/11 Denise Yarbrough, a UCC pastor, coauthored an op ed article with a local Muslim imam calling for peace in the middle east.  Yarbrough was shocked by the hate mail she received excoriating her for working with a Muslim, calling her stupid or deluded for thinking Muslims are human beings.  But this kind of rage is not uncommon.  The people of Nazareth were so enraged by the truth Jesus spoke that they tried to kill him.

I think this gospel story warns us that every time we ignore the other or refuse to accept people different from us or people we think unacceptable we are trying to kill the Risen Christ in our midst.

Every time we fail l to be conscientious of the needs of our neighbors, considerate of the needs of the whole human race we push Jesus dangerously near the cliff.

 Jesus calls us to be followers not admirers.

We are the Church.  We are the body of Christ in our world now.  We are called to carry on Jesus’ prophetic ministry in how we live, how we vote, how we engage with our neighbor.

When we fail this calling God doesn’t punish us, God does not reject us; he simply passes through the midst of us and go away.  God will leave us and go on to where he is heard.

God will simply leave us.

If we want to be followers of Jesus and not merely admirers we need to take an honest look at ourselves.

Jesus wants for us

faith that speaks the truth,

hope that does not disappoint,

love that bears all things.

 

                                                                                                            M. Phillips +

Alice E. von Storch Worman

posted Jan 31, 2016, 9:32 AM by Saint Andrew   [ updated Feb 1, 2016, 10:55 AM ]

Mary Ellen, Carol, and Meg, the passage from Isaiah you heard Jennifer read is for you:  God comforts those who mourn, he gives us a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.  You may not feel like it today but you are oaks of righteousness because you are Alice’s daughters and children of God.

When I first arrived at St. Andrew I thought how elegant you are, all three of you.  You all have a version of the von Storch nose and you wear it beautifully.  All of you will continue to display God’s glory because you are Alice’s daughters. 

Shortly after beginning here as the Interim Rector Alice invited me for a walk at Holden Arboretum – no surprise there.  She was ninety three, and the two of us walked for hours wading through knee high snow.  I learned quickly that Alice LOVED to talk, LOVED a good story and she regaled me with stories of growing up in Yonkers, her extended family, going to Barnard and Mount Union College.  She talked and waded through snow, trudging along and then she’d stop.   She’d stop at a location at Holden where she’d experienced the holy, a thin place where she sensed God’s presence in the past.  She stood completely still, completely quite to take in the place.  Then she’d move on through the snow, entertaining me tales about entering the Women’s Army Corp, going to Union Theological Seminary, studying with a famous theologian by the name of Paul Tillich. 

It was the bicycling and hiking and her experiences after the war that led to a spiritual awakening and her studying at Union.  And then she’d stop again: stock still ( another th

in place for her)  and we’d listen to the wind in the pines or the dark-eyed Junco’s song.  Then she was off again: marching on through the snow as if it was the most important task of the day.  Alice told me about the early days with Bill and the girls, establishing St. Andrew, the enormous work of building and caring for this congregation.  She talked about losing a child, about Barbara and what a special bond she felt she had with her.  She talked about Bill, their marriage, her grief.  She talked about loving life and continuing its adventure for almost thirty more years.      

And then we sat in Holden’s visitor center drank hot tea and talked more.  She loved all of you, her family.  She loved spending time with you.  Her prayer – expressed at our Wednesday morning healing Eucharist or privately - was primarily the prayer of gratitude.  But it was also the prayer of struggle due to ageing, the slow physical diminishment that comes to all of us. Through most of her long life Alice lived so completely in her body, you know she depended on it.  Her body was the means of her experience of living: hiking, learning, skiing, reading, rappelling cliffs, engaging with people, travel, listening to music.  The light in her eyes burned bright for years.  By the time I met her that light was diming.  When I thought of Alice I often thought of Eli and how scripture tells us the lamp of his eye was growing dim.  But I also often think of the Syrophoenician woman when I think of Alice: no faint spirit, she.  Like the Syrophoenician woman Alice was one of deep faith, strength and wit, a light that burned bright with truth.  I’d thought about reading that passage of Christ’s encounter with the Syrophoenician woman as the gospel for today.  But Alice would not have approved and so a sanctioned passage from John’s gospel was chosen, an elegant but often overlooked passage:  “… I will lose nothing of all that God has given me, but raise it up on the last day…”  There is the hope that Alice trusted.

Since Christmas I’ve found myself praying with the image of the risen figure of Christ.  Strange to have that image in my mind when the church is giving us Jesus the newborn babe and we’re singing hymns of Mary and Joseph.  But I’ve found that constant companion that image of Christ who appears, doors locked and windows closed, and there he is standing before us, showing us his wounded hands, his wounded side.  And I realize that God’s self-disclosure comes to us in so many incarnations.  It comes to us as a newborn child, with newborn, translucent perfection and it comes to us as a life fully lived and worn, even wounded.  God’s self-disclosure invites our own in all its perfection and imperfection.  

And then Mary Ellen and Meg shared with me a beautiful letter Alice wrote to her children and grandchildren some time ago.  She left it out for them to find. It was a way for Alice, as she said, “to share the events and deeper impressions that have affected my life.”  I want to share a portion of it with all of you because it speaks to what we’re all feeling today.

I have felt deep grief and this is the hardest to write about.  The loss of a loved one, especially a child is indescribable.  I am writing about Barbara’s sudden death but also your dad’s.  A piece of you dies with them.  Anguish becomes not just a word from the dictionary but a real physical presence within you, tearing your insides out.  It can be overcome but it takes time.  We grieved but were determined not to let it destroy us – our marriage, our family.  Others depended on us, too and it would be unconscionable to add to their grief.  We had to be thankful for the wonderful times we had together.  Without those times we would have missed so much of our lives.  And our faith in God got us through.  I believe that I will be with them both in some other place or dimension which we call heaven – that there they are with all those who have gone before in the presence of Christ.  They are part of our lives in a different way.  We are different because they were here among us.  There is still sorrow and from time to time I still weep, but it has changed.  I don’t want the gap in my life filled.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian wrote:  “Nothing can make up for the absence of someone who we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute:  we must simply hold out and see it through.  That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation, for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bonds between us.  It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap:  God doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary, keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.”

And there is was - the significance of Christ risen from the dead, as we all will be one day – the significance of his first appearances when he displays his human wounds, the gaps, the holes in his body?  No shame, no cover up.  Jesus isn’t resurrected as a shining transfigured godhead, but a human body worn by living.  Perfect imperfection.

I hope we can all hold on to that wisdom.  Follow the wisdom Alice found there and through Bonhoeffer.  Don’t fill the gaps, the wounds, the holes we may feel in our own lives.  Gaps or wounds created by grief, or sin, or loss, or regret.  Don’t try to fill them.  Let them be.  God doesn’t fill them, but keeps them empty and so helps us to keep alive our communion all the more.

            Thank you Alice for being who you are, for your self-disclosure, for giving us Christ’s light and love. 

 

M. Phillips+

Interim Rector

 

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