Thursday, May 30, 2019

Prayer 2314: Ascension Day


Blessed Jesus, we praise you
and lift our hearts to be filled by your Spirit.
May we be ever-joyful witnesses of your truth
and embody your wisdom and healing
in the world always.
May we know you as our companion,
our brother, our teacher, our guide,
our Savior who dwells in us, and we in you.

Holy One of Blessing,
God of Mercy and Faithfulness,
sustain us by your grace
and grant strength and comfort
to all those in anxiety or pain,
we humbly pray,
resting in the assurance of your care.

Peace be upon us,
and upon all for who we pray.

Amen.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Prayer, day 2313


Holy God, we give thanks to You
for your gracious mercy upon us,
and for the beauty of loving hearts in the world.

We thank You for steadfast and faithful friends,
whose love and support strengthens us each day.
We thank You for the glory of your creation,
which inspires us to love and care for this Earth.
We thank You for your angels
who bend over us at sleep or at work or at play.

Kindle our hearts and minds with a holy fire
to serve and worship You with all that we have.
Soothe the pains and sorrows of those who mourn today.
Accept the whispered supplications of your people, O Holy One,
and scatter the blessings of your love and tenderness
upon those we now name.

Amen.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Prayer 2312


Almighty One, we praise You:
your hand has rested upon us during the night,
and even in our waking moments
our hearts turn to you, O God.

Blessed Savior,
You are our companion and guide.
Awaken within us
a spirit of justice and fellowship with the oppressed.
Awaken within us
a spirit of integrity and holiness
as we live by your ethic of reconciling love for all.
Awaken within us
a spirit of wisdom and compassion
for those who seek You through us.

Merciful God,
we ask your strong arm of protection
to be placed over all in danger from storms,
storms within or storms without,
and grant your peace to all whose hope is in You.
Hear the whispered prayers of your people
as they rise to You on wings of hope,
especially as we pray for these beloveds.

Amen.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Prayer, day 2311: for Memorial Day




For Memorial Day 

Most Precious Jesus,
we rise to give you praise,
and lay our thanksgivings at your feet.
Breathe upon us, Breath of God:
renew our hearts and spirits
that we may love as little children love,
in joy and wonder. 

Help us honor those
who have fought overseas or at home
for the freedoms we now enjoy,
and who longed for peace. 
Help us remember our call
to defend the oppressed,
the impoverished,
the marginalized,
and the weak. 
Strengthen us, O Almighty God,
to stand against those
at home or abroad
who espouse violence, hatred, inequality, or tyranny. 

Lord, you know the inmost secrets of our hearts:
comfort all who mourn.
O Gracious Spirit,
illumine our hearts with your truth and glory,
and lift up those we now name.

Amen.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Called to Witness: Sermon for the Feast of the Ascension, 2019



A German Shepherd, A Collie, and a Siamese cat appeared before God sitting on his throne near the gate of heaven.

“Welcome, my beautiful friends,” said God. “Before I welcome you in, I have a question for each of you so I can know where to place you near my throne.”


The three companions sat down. The dogs’ tails thumped on the ground. The cat began licking its paw and grooming its smoky ears.

God addressed the German Shepherd first. “Tell me, German Shepherd Dog, what do you believe?”

The German Shepherd immediately replied, “Ja--I Believe in Discipline, Training, and in the Protection of my master.”

“You ARE the Good Shepherd—well done,” said God. “You may sit at my left hand.”

Then God turned to the Collie. “Tell me, O Collie, what YOU believe.”

The Collie sat up a little straighter. “Och- I believe in the Love, Comfort, and Loyalty to me Mistress.”

“Excellent, my bonnie lass,’ God responded. “You may sit at my right hand.”

God then turned to the Siamese cat, still grooming its ears with its paw. “And you, O Cat of Siam, tell me—what do you believe?”

“I believe,” the cat said in measured tones, examining its paw carefully, “that YOU are sitting in my seat.”

Today we hear the story of Jesus’s ascension into heaven following his resurrection, where, according to the Nicene Creed, we are told that he sits at the right hand of God. That means that the Collie and the Cat will have to move over.

Biblical scholars believe that the same person who wrote the Gospel we call Luke also wrote the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. So it is interesting that today, as we celebrated Jesus’s Ascension, we have as our gospel the closing verses of Luke and the opening verses of Acts—and that they both recount the same event. Luke’s gospel closes with Jesus opening the apostles’ minds to the meaning and fulfillment of the scriptures, his final blessing upon them, and, in the midst of that blessing, his ascension to heaven.


We then hear Acts begin with the same event—but with some different details. The one that jumps out at me is the two angels appearing after Jesus has ascended. They bring the apostles back to earth, so to speak, with a forthright question: “Why are you standing around, staring up at heaven?”

Jesus promises the apostles the power of the Holy Spirit, and then he ascends into heaven, and that’s often where we get distracted. Right there with the apostles, we tend to focus on the image of Jesus flying up into heaven rather than think about what that leave-taking means. 


Seriously....
It’s a scene that has been depicted in art thousands of times over the centuries, by everyone from Donatello (the sculptor, not the teenage mutant ninja turtle) to Salvador Dali, in icons, and paintings, and reliefs and stained-glass windows. One of the weirdest ways to depict the scene shows only Christ’s feet dangling at the top edge of the scene, as if he were doing an Olympic high dive in the wrong direction.

But even the angels who suddenly appear at that moment remind us that focusing on looking upward is pointless, a hindrance to getting about the holy charge that Christ has placed upon us of witnessing to his truth in the world. It’s an awesome responsibility and an honor. It's a sign of how very much Jesus loves us that’s every bit as breathtaking as his laying down his life for us on the cross. Jesus loves us so much that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he commissions each and every one of his followers to carry on his holy work of redemption, reconciliation, and healing into the world: to carry him and bear his image within ourselves for the sake of the world.

It’s so easy, I know, to look to heaven to solve all of our problems. But there is a reason why the author of Luke tells this story again in Acts, but with this different emphasis. The Gospels are about Jesus’s ministry on Earth. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles is about the apostles and disciples taking up their own ministry, which is the birth of the Church. Jesus’s ascension is NOT about Jesus abandoning us to go back to heaven.

The story told in Acts is meant to build up our courage so that we may joyfully take up the mission he loves us enough to entrust to us: to take up our call not as observers but as disciples; to actively proclaim Jesus’s gospel of love and reconciliation in the world.

It’s about hearing that question directed at us: “Why are you standing there, looking up at heaven?”

This is a question posed in love and in encouragement. With Jesus’s ascension, WE are Christ’s Body in the world. It is up to us to literally embody Jesus’s gospel in our lives, our attitudes, our words, and our actions.

Being a Christian is NOT a spectator sport. Being a Christian calls us to not only transform OUR own lives, but to make visible to the world the possibility of its transformation and restoration. Being a Christian is a social and political act, and act of hope, bravery, and enduring willingness to see the potential and the beauty within this Earth and within every inhabitant of it.
 
Jesus’s reminder in Acts that, again, his kingdom is not about worldly power is a vital one. Too often worldly power is about coercion, about oppression of one group for the sake of another—that certainly was true in Jesus’ time. 

Instead, the Kingdom of Christ is about us taking up our work—all of us, lay or ordained, young or old, building the Beloved Community. Christ’s kingdom is about the power of love and reconciliation to draw all the world closer to God. It’s about living into God’s dream of eternal life, beginning right here and now, and about sharing the life and love with everyone. It’s about looking upon the world with the eyes of love—no exceptions.

We are not called just to watch and wonder. We are called to witness, and to love, not bully, as we do it. And it’s at this point that we remember that, in the life of faith, to be a witness is not just to be one who says what they have seen, but one who helps embody the truth they hold so that others can see it too. That’s how faith is handed down, generation through generation—that we, through the lives we live, lives transformed by Christ and his gospel, help others see God’s loving hand still active in their own lives and in the world.

Jesus spoke to the apostles about being witnesses, but speaks to us today too—we worship a risen, living Savior, and the Holy Spirit is seeking to move over us like she moved over the waters of creation, making all things new. We are given the honor of aiding this holy work of renewal and and reconciliation, of forgiveness and compassion.

Jesus speaks to all of us right here: “You will be my witnesses in St. Louis; you will be my witnesses in Missouri; you will be my witnesses in the hearts and the minds of all your neighbors, and to the ends of the earth.”

What if we lived our lives as if we were the only representation of Jesus that others could know?

Because, often, we are.

Jesus’s ascension into heaven is not an end, but a beginning. It enables the true beginning of the Church being called to its mission to BE Christ’s body in the world. The life of Christians is not inwardly focused but outwardly directed, and Jesus loves and honors us enough to entrust this holy work into our hands.

The ascension of Christ into heaven does not mean that Christ is gone, or that Christ is remote, sitting enthroned in heaven and now aloof from our earthly concerns. Christ does not ever cease being incarnate, fully human as well as fully God. Yet his earthly ministry at the Ascension is translated into an act of true faith and trust in us as his followers. As the incarnate Son of God, Jesus reminds us all of the divine image that rests within us, and all that he teaches us is meant to call us into living into the beauty of that image, to remember God’s ongoing acts of creation within us.


The gift of the Ascension is the gift of true discipleship. It’s the gift of living into the image of God planted within us. It’s the gift of Christ placing the yoke squarely upon our shoulders--in proclaiming the life-giving gospel, in healing the sick and the sick-at-heart, in revealing God’s love visibly and tangibly in the world, through who we are and what we do as Christ’s representatives.

As Christians, we can’t spend our lives worrying about where we will sit near God in heaven. Eternal life begins now, and heaven can be beneath our feet if we are willing to take up our tasks as partners and friends of God in the reconciliation and salvation of the world for the sake of the world. We can’t just stand around gazing upward to heaven- we've got things to do.

And we don’t need to, anyway. Christ is right here, within the hearts and spirits of those who seek to do his will in actions and words and attitudes both great and small. By his earthly example, Jesus modeled for us the human embodiment of God's love and mercy that we all can emulate, even to our enemies, to those who set themselves against us.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, at his ascension Jesus empowers us to be a testimony to justice and peace, not passively but actively. Through this precious gospel, Jesus call to us to band together in the name of love, amity, and charity.

Take heart, Beloveds: Jesus, our Shepherd and Savior, is not gone. He abides in us and invites us to abide with him. He calls us to share in his priesthood by proclaiming mercy, reconciliation, and love throughout the world by our words and our deeds, and to serve the oppressed and the outcast for the glory of God. Let us begin.

Amen.

Preached at the 505 on May 25, and at the 8:00 and 10:15 Eucharists on May 26, at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville.

Readings:
Acts 1-11
Psalm 93
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24:44-53

Prayer, day 2310: For the Feast of the Ascension


Blessed Lord Jesus,
you are our Shepherd and Savior:
remember all those for whom
you lived and died and rose again.
Help us to spread your message
of love, service, sanctity, and compassion
throughout the world
by our words and our deeds.
Help us to be a testimony to justice and peace,
and bind us together
in the name of love, amity, and charity.
Send the Holy Spirit to empower us
to serve the weak and outcast
and to make disciples of all who seek you.
Through your example,
let us unfailingly act with love and mercy
 even to those who set themselves against us.
Let us always be witnesses to your truth,
and servants of your truth.
Lifting our eyes to heaven,
where you are enthroned in glory,
we lift our prayers and petitions before You, Lord Christ,
especially for those we now name.

Amen.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Prayer 2309


Almighty God,
we arise to praise You giving thanks
for your watch over us in the night.
Blessed Savior, may we rejoice as you send us out
to carry the gospel wherever we go,
living out your healing presence in our lives
for the sake of the world.
Help us to set our course
upon the Way of Reconciliation and Hope, O God,
sustained by your grace and mercy in every moment.
Spirit of Peace,
move over us and propel us forward
that your truth may spread wide in our wake.
We ask your blessing, O God,
on all whose hope is in You,
especially those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Prayer 2308


We praise You, O Living Word of God,
who healed with just a word;
We praise You, O Wisdom from on high,
whose call to us resounds with love and tenderness.

Holy One, may we center our minds
that we can see your imprint throughout the world,
and respond with awe and wonder,
revived in our determination to serve you in love
and to care for your creation.

Let us remember that we are knit together
by your love for us,
and deal gently with those we meet,
seeing your beloved face, O Christ,
in each other.

Spirit of God, stir up within us
faith and hope enough
to walk in love always,
scattering blessings in our wake
in the name of Jesus.
Spread wide the tent of your mercy, O God,
and draw beneath it all those
who turn to you as we pray.

Amen.

Prayer 2307

Photo by Chris Jenkins of the Jefferson City tornado that hit on May 23, 2019.

Let us raise our hearts to our Creator,
who is making the heavens and the Earth.
Let us sing praise to our Savior,
whose mercy endures forever,
and sustains the weary with unfailing compassion.

Your creating energy, O God, is awesome in its power:
we worship You and give you glory!
God is our refuge and our shelter,
our steadfast companion in times of trouble or danger.
We turn to you in trust, Holy One,
for You abide with us even in the midst of the storm.
Place your hand of protection
over all who are in danger,
over all who seek the lost or injured,
we humbly pray.

Guide the hands and the hearts
of doctors, nurses, and first responders,
of clergy and chaplains,
as they seek to comfort and heal the injured and the traumatized.

Blessed Jesus, you know our cares and concerns:
gather under your sheltering wing
all those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Prayer 2306


Lord, we bow before You
awash in your grace.

Let the light of your mercy guide us, Fairest Jesus,
and burnish us
that we may reflect your compassion into the world.

Make us lovers of wisdom, O Spirit of Truth,
willing to work for true peace and security for all.

Holy One, gather into your embrace
all those whose hope is in You,
especially those for who we pray.

Amen.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Prayer, day 2305: In conversation with Psalm 52 (Faith in the storm)


As the sun rises into the sky
on the songs of sparrows,
let me think on God, and praise God's Name.

Blessings upon you, Eternal One:
You are my rock,
my refuge to keep me safe above the raging storm.
Even when the heat of turmoil and trial swirls about me,
You, O God, are cooling water,
and my ever-present help.
You dry my anxious tears,
and comfort the mourning;
I find my home in your tender embrace.

Your love, O Savior, forever will I sing,
and I will sing to You even in the darkest hour.
You refresh my soul, Lord Christ,
and knit my tattered heart together again.
You draw to me the solace of friendship,
the prayers of friends to lift me up and ease my burdens.

May I stand upright before You, O Holy One,
and this day grow deeper in charity, faith, and hope.
Turn the eyes of my heart outward, O God,
that I may sing anew your grace in your community.
Blessed Jesus, take us by the hand,
and grant your blessing upon those we remember before you.

Amen.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Prayer 2204: With love inscribed upon us


Lord, we are your children:
accept our prayers and praises
as we lift them before you.

Spirit of Life and Light,
move over our hearts and our souls
as you moved over the waters of creation.
Blessed Jesus,
trace a message of love upon us with your fingertips,
inscribe upon us the gospel of love,
that all who sees us know the beauty of You.

May we let your love heal us,
may we relax into the embrace of your Eternal Compassion,
grateful and content like a child sleeping
on her mother’s shoulder.

Protect all those in the path of storms,
those that rampage within and without,
and gather beneath your sheltering wing
all those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Known By Our Love- Sermon for Easter 5C


On May 31, 2019, the Church will observe the 85th anniversary of the Barmen Declaration
In case you are not familiar with it, this was a document written by German Protestant theologians, including Karl Barth, protesting the take-over of the German Evangelical Church by Hitler’s Nazi supporters in 1933.The Barmen Declaration clearly and scripturally laid out the reasons for their dissent against the creation of what history now knows as the “Reichskirche.” 


The Barmen Declaration denounced several false doctrines being promoted in the Reichskirches, such as

“We reject the false doctrine that there could be areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ but to other lords, areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.”

“We reject the false doctrine that the Church could have permission to hand over the form of its message and of its order to whatever it itself might wish or to the vicissitudes of the prevailing ideological and political convictions of the day.” (1)


The Declaration also insisted on the separate spheres of Church and State—a separation which the Reichskirche clearly violated, making the German Church an arm of the German Nazi state. It denounces idolatry—such as including Hitler’s Mein Kampf as a sacred text alongside scripture, and hanging the Nazi Swastika flags and banners within the church by the altar, which actually happened. 

The Church, they insisted, belongs to Christ, not to countries or other human allegiances that often fail to follow Jesus’s Way of Love. 

Many of the pastors involved, including Martin Niemoller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, would go on to form an alternative, underground Church called the Confessing Church- and several of them, including Paul Schneider, Bonhoeffer, and Niemoller, would end up in concentration camps. Niemoller would later become known for this statement, which I kept hanging in my classroom when I was a teacher:


First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak for me.(2)

Niemoller had started out supporting the rise of Hitler, but eventually realized that hatred and anti-semitism were wrong. He spent the rest of his life after the war especially atoning for some of his attitudes before his change of heart.


Bonhoeffer's statue as a modern saint at Westminster Abbey
Bonhoeffer himself wrote a book, titled in English The Cost of Discipleship, which was an application of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. In one of its most famous passages, he talked about “cheap grace” versus “costly grace.” Of course, grace is a gift given to us freely by God—part of God’s love for us. But that gift of grace elicits a response from us in making us not just fans of Jesus but disciples of Jesus. Bonhoeffer wrote:


Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate…. 
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.
It is costly because it costs a person their life, and it is grace because it gives a person the only true life…Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.” (3)

Bonhoeffer chose to return to Germany from America to be with his people during this terrible regime. Even though a pacifist, he even joined in a plot to assassinate Hitler. For this he was arrested and place in various prison and concentration camps. He would eventually lay down his life for his friends and for his countrymen, executed at the personal order of Himmler on April 9, 1945, a mere 29 days before Germany’s surrender. Even as the end of the Reich was near, with Soviet troops advancing from the East and British and American troops from the South and the West, Hitler made sure this man of God died before he did.

I was thinking about Bonhoeffer, and Niemoller, and the Barmen Declaration as I considered the context and the message of our gospel passage today. Let me help set the scene: the acrid scent of betrayal is in the air. Jesus has just eaten a meal with his disciples, his last one with them. He has broken bread—the literal meaning of the word “companion,” with all the apostles—including Judas, and Judas has just departed to go betray Jesus into the hands of those who considered him an enemy. 



Jesus reacts to his betrayer by first feeding him, by breaking bread with him, by still loving him as a “com-panion.” If Jesus can feed his betrayer, how can we not feed the hungry and care for the poor and desperate among us?

Later in John 15:12-14, he gives two concrete examples of what the love he is commanding us to have looks like: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” In other words, self-sacrifice and obedience.

After Judas leaves, Jesus could have said many things. It’s vital to emphasize this: He chose to talk about love.

And he talked about the requirement he was laying on his followers to love not as a hazy romantic feeling or with asterisks or codicils or amendments, but directly. We have to remember that Jesus’s commandment to love is given as the net of betrayal gathers under him—and yet he still urges us to love. That context is vital to our understanding of this command as a beautiful discipline rather than as an empty platitude.

As Biblical scholar Karoline Lewis puts it,


Jesus’ command in John follows the presence of evil and the departure of Judas. This is exactly when we need to be reminded to choose love -- when evil seems to be having its way. When those we thought were close, we thought we could trust, abandon us. When the actions and words of others clearly come from hate and suspicion and prejudice. Choose love….(4)


This is the heart of the Christian message, and yet I certainly know that I shy from the implications of this at the same time. Jesus can do it, but can I? It just seems too hard to give up all our notions of primacy and judgment and easier to draw lines around ourselves as us and set anyone outside the line as “them,” as the “other.” Certainly we all struggle with this, or more likely, try to whittle this commandment down to something comfortable and manageable… and, in the words of Bonhoeffer, cheap.

When I was a kid going to Methodist Church camp in Oklahoma, we were taught what was then a brand-new song by a priest names Peter Scholtes, one that has now become a classic. It went like this:


We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord;
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord;
And we pray that all unity will one day be restored.
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love. (5)



That song came to mind as I was reading our lectionary readings for this coming Sunday. In our gospel, one of the verses that most stays with me each time I read it is this one:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."—John 13:34-35

The passage we read from John’s gospel this week that contains this commandment occurs just after Judas has gone from companionship to betrayal, and has departed to turn Jesus over to arrest and eventual execution. The echoes of Judas’s footsteps haven’t even silenced, and yet Jesus gives us the greatest commandment: to love one another.

We know it’s really not new. Here is the kernel and root of the Christian message—and if you don’t believe me, consider the fact that the command “love one another” appears 14 times hereafter in the New Testament. And we hear the first of those fourteen repetitions right here in today’s gospel. Here is John’s version of that teaching, set in a different context— and John makes it one of the last commands Jesus will relate before his arrest and crucifixion.

Again, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

How do we define “one another?” Does this mean we must love
Only our families and friends?
Only our fellow members of this parish?
Of this diocese?
Of the Episcopal Church?
Only other Christians?
Only other Americans?
Only those who think like us?
Only those who look like us?
Only humans?
Only those who are blameless?
Only those who seem to be trying to improve themselves?
Even those who are our enemies, or wish us ill?
Even those who annoy us or frustrate us?
Even those who have wronged us?

Maybe—just maybe—it means all of the above.

It sounds hard. That’s why practice is the key to this kind of love.

What if we committed to loving each other—no exceptions? It might be the start of a revolution.  



Jesus, who loves us enough to hand himself over to evil for us, is calling us to rise above our instincts and our mutual suspicion and try to love each other. This kind of radical acceptance and love is what was described in John’s vision—the vision echoed in our reading from the end of the book of Revelation. This is the kind of radical acceptance and love we receive not through our own merits but through grace from God.

This is the action Jesus sets apart as the sign of discipleship in his teachings. When we love each other, we truly live as God commands us to live, fully and radically alive. And they—the world— will know we are Christians by our love.

Amen.

Readings:
Acts 11:1-8
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

Citations/Resources:
(1) The Barmen Declaration, at https://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/barmen.htm
(2)Martin Niemoller, "First They Came," at https://www.hmd.org.uk/resource/first-they-came-by-pastor-martin-niemoller/
(3) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (Nachfolge, or "Following"), 1937, pp. 45-49.
(4) The Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis, "Resurrection is Love," April 16, 2016 at The Craft of Preaching at https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4607
(5) Peter Scholtes, "They'll Know We Are Christians," at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQyLHi_X83s