Worship‎ > ‎Sermon Archive‎ > ‎

Sermons 2010-April 2012


April 22, 2012

posted Apr 26, 2012, 7:35 AM by Parish Administrator   [ updated Sep 7, 2012, 7:20 AM by Terry Brady ]

Easter 3
Rev. Kimberly Lucas preaching
Click here to listen

March 11, 2012

posted Mar 14, 2012, 10:55 AM by Linda Heaney   [ updated Mar 14, 2012, 12:26 PM by Terry Brady ]

Third Sunday in Lent
Rev. Kimberly Lucas
Click here to listen.

December 4, 2011 - Second Sunday in Advent - Graham Segroves

posted Feb 9, 2012, 5:20 PM by Terry Brady   [ updated Feb 9, 2012, 5:20 PM ]

Good morning!  Peace be with you.  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always pleasing to you, Lord God.

Here I am!  But who am I, and what am I doing dressed like this?  No, the boiler isn’t broken again. No — I’m wearing this for my encounter with the wilderness with you this morning.

Who am I?  Fine question indeed.  I used to think I knew an easy answer to that question.  I thought it was clear as day, plain to see, obvious and evident.  I used to think I knew what mattered most to me, what I valued, what my priorities were; I used to think I had a fulfilling career in the federal government, a stable church life and home life, and a bright future of ever-increasing abundance.  I used to know myself, my role in the world, and how it all fit together.  I have been grateful for all these blessings.

Until earlier this year, when I began to realize that I didn’t know or feel those things so confidently anymore.   What used to make sense no longer made the same kind of sense.  I wasn’t rejecting all those things, exactly; it’s just that the parts of my life that once felt familiar and comforting suddenly became strange and unsettling.  I found myself surrounded by a lot of questions that were thick as the trees of a forest. I found myself living my life as if I had stumbled into a vast wilderness, and I was disoriented.

Yes, a wilderness.  Now, I happen to like natural wilderness, but for most of us the wilderness is not usually our destination of choice, whether we are talking about a true place of wild natural surroundings or a state of mind, like the wilderness I am in right now.  It’s not someplace we typically enjoy spending time, especially if we aren’t sure how long we’re visiting.  We want to hurry up and get through the wilderness so we can arrive somewhere civilized – and no longer feel lost!

The internal wilderness I am exploring right now – today even! – is unique to me, but I suspect it holds something in common with some of the wilderness that you have experienced.  Maybe you gave yours the name of “mid-life crisis” or “empty nest syndrome” or “spiritual awakening” or “baby blues.”  I believe that these experiences have something in common.  It’s that we lose something we had been taking for granted and now find precious.  We must grieve that loss, which is something we as human beings are not wired to do so well.  What makes that harder is that often we cannot yet see the new birth or beginnings of what we will become.

Many of us grew up with fairy tales in which the wilderness was a scary place to be, filled with wolves and witches and evil lurking in expectation of some naïve fool to come wandering through the forest and get gobbled up.  And we certainly don’t want to be that fool! We believe we have to endure the wilderness, survive the wilderness, conquer the wilderness.

And so, we put on our protective gear, stuff our backpacks full of what we think are necessities, and brace ourselves as we march out into that disorienting wild. But how can we truly prepare? The wilderness is impossible to predict.  Perhaps all we truly need is a bit of faith in our ability to respond and in the blessings we carry with us in life by grace of God.

In November I journeyed to Colorado for a week long retreat of sorts.  I spent a week in a cozy lodge with a view of the mountains and a fireplace, a kitchen, and wi-fi (my modern need).  I was there in the mountains all alone because I wanted to be more silent than I usually am.  I hoped that the time alone would permit me to take a fresh perspective on the changes that I have felt taking hold deep inside me.  I was there to allow myself to slow down and feel the great fear of not knowing – not knowing where I’m headed, what I’m made for, what I’m called to do, what I’m good at, and what my value may be.  To say it simply, I was there because I wanted to listen for the voice of God.

In the scripture appointed for today we hear the prophet Isaiah, who wrote at a time when his people had been forced into a different kind of wilderness, an exile.  He says a voice cried out:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.  Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” – Isaiah 40:3-5

In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.  In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord. What could this mean?  How could Isaiah’s experience of exile relate to our modern-day experiences of wilderness?

Images of the wilderness abound in the Bible. It is often a place where the voice of God is encountered or faith is clarified.  Some of the stories will be familiar to you: Moses on Mt. Sinai, Jesus tempted by the devil.  For the

Scripture tells us that the wilderness is not only where we have been lost and have experienced temptation, but also the place where people have received God’s messages throughout time.  I believe that may be because when we are lost in a wilderness, we are forced to admit that we do not have control, and that allows us to open up and listen for other ideas or signs.

Could the wilderness be a place where God would speak to me?  To you?  To all of us?  And how can we “prepare the way of the Lord” in the midst of our wilderness?  How can we identify God in our lives at precisely those times when we feel most unprepared, most frightened, most lost?

I am reminded of the words of last week’s taizé chant “How can the Christ child be born in me until I am as willing as Mary, as open to whatever comes?”

Indeed for me, preparing the way of the Lord in my life means accepting the loss of my past self, rather than scrambling to shore up a failing reality.  And that is frightening.  Then I can open myself to the possibility of receiving a new calling.

I am grateful that poet W.H. Auden wrote advice for me:

We would rather be ruined than changed,
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.
[-- From the Epilogue to “The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue”, contained in Collected Poems, edited by Edward Mendelson, p. 530]

In this season of Advent, we are all of us in a bit of a wilderness.  We are in darkness, awaiting the light of the birth of Christ.  We are in between rectors.  We are in between economic boom and bust.  Some of us are between stages of our life.

As we prepare the way of the Lord within ourselves, how can we also support our neighbors, friends, members of this parish who are disoriented by the wilderness they are experiencing?  When God spoke to Moses, Moses was in what was called a “tent of witness.”  I think of a tent as a space that shelters from the elements, while also increasing intimacy for those inside.  How can this parish community serve as a “tent of witness” for those of us who are listening for the message of God?

At the end of this season of Advent, whether the calendar season or the season of our individual lives, who will we become when we find Christ in our lives?  Who will I become?  Who will you become?

Will we endure this winter darkness like a bear in hibernation, emerging leaner and hungrier but with the same outlook on the spring?  Or will we submit to this darkness like a caterpillar to the cocoon, emerging transformed in body and spirit?

Let us pray.

O God of wisdom and light,
You have filled the wilderness with your presence for people throughout time;
Grant us abundant courage to encounter the fearsome, wild forces of change we cannot control, howling like a winter wind at the doors of our souls
So that we may prepare your way within our selves, among our neighbors, and across our world.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who as a human being knew the wilderness as he knew you.
Amen.

December 18, 2011 - Fourth Sunday in Advent - Janice Hicks

posted Dec 19, 2011, 10:03 AM by Linda Heaney   [ updated Dec 19, 2011, 10:05 AM by Terry Brady ]

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.

“Breathe on us breath of God, Fill us with life anew, That we may love what Thou dost love, And do what Thou wouldst do.” (from the hymn In the name of God, our Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life.)  Amen.

You guys may not know this, but whenever we women go for an x-ray, the technician asks “is there any chance you could be pregnant?” Every time I’m asked that, the story of today’s gospel goes through my mind. I’m a scientist and I take questions literally. Thinking of Mary’s predicament - “Well, there’s some slight chance, I guess.”

Once a friend told me that when she was a little girl, she used to pray to God that no miracle would occur to her. What seems poignant to me is the image of my friend as the little girl with enough faith to pray earnestly to God for something, yet at the same time having very human doubts, pulling back from REALLY wanting a STARRING role (like Mary’s) that will change EVERYTHING.

I. I am no scholar of Mary, but I’ve heard that today’s gospel is one of the most luminous passages about her in the Bible. Between our services today, our children will enact this story for us as part of the much anticipated St. Margarets nativity play! What does today’s story of angels and lowly handmaids and immaculate conception mean for us?

God gets Mary’s attention through a miracle - the vision of the angel Gabriel. Despite the fear that that experience must have evoked in this young woman, Mary manages to hang on and to have the wherewithal to respond with great faith - “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” She echoes many in the Bible who responded in a similar way - “Samuel ran to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me." (1 Samuel 3:5) In Isaiah - “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)

To me today’s story asks the question – when do we say “Here am I Lord?” Is our faith just a thread that holds us together when things get rough? Or is it something we live out every day in every act that we do? How much would it take for us to do this? What would God have to do to us to get our attention to the point where we would do this?

I’m reminded of the song by Joan Osborne where she asks a question about how receptive we are to letting God in – “If God had a face what would it look like, and would you want to see, if seeing meant that you would have to believe in things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints and all the prophets?”

II. Mary, as brave as she must have been, must have also felt so alone at times, even with Joseph and Elizabeth and a few other understanding souls around. Here she was, a teenager, impoverished, pregnant, having had a vision of an angel. Who would believe her? If it happened to you, do you think people would believe you? Recall Anne-Marie’s sermon last year at this time, when she was at this pulpit and her cell phone rang, and she picked it up and it was Joseph… trying to explain the situation with Mary. And we could all see how ludicrous it sounded, in the context of normal day-to-day life, including Joseph’s dream from which he became convinced that Mary’s conception was by the Holy Spirit.

We can relate to Mary and Joseph being in a predicament that sets them apart from others and finds them alone, for example, when they first arrive at the nativity scene and there is no room for them and they are pushed aside to the manger.

Each week we pray “for the sick… and those who are alone.” What does it mean, in this crowded city where we are all so interdependent, in this day of the internet and facebook and twitter and cell phones, to be alone?

I always think, well, I live alone, many of us here live alone, are we praying for us? But I don’t feel alone. I recently learned in a management training that there is a metric for involvement, and I learned that I am pretty much off the charts on that one. Ah so that explains it. I do get involved in things and maybe that’s why I don’t feel alone. Recall Lucy’s advice to Charlie Brown in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”: “Charlie Brown: Actually, Lucy, my trouble is Christmas. I just don't understand it. Instead of feeling happy, I feel sort of let down.
Lucy: You need involvement. You'll need to get involved in some real Christmas project. How would you like to be the director of our Christmas play?” (hats off to Jenny et al.) or we could say, “how would you like to bring some food for coffee hour?”

My mom who has severe Alzheimer’s sometimes appears to me to be alone. She is often tapping her feet, humming a tune, sometimes she will break out in song, in her own world. I have no idea what she is experiencing, but most of the time she seems content. It has been a very long road – 18 years and along the way there has been much time for grieving. By now, we feel grateful for each day with Mom – being able to still hear her laugh (she has the same good sense of humor) and being able to still hold her hand. She doesn’t pull away when I brush her hair or give her a hug, even though she doesn’t recognize me as her daughter. One time she turned away from me and with classic comic timing, said aloud, “Why is she calling me Mom?” (I had to laugh!) Mom comments on clouds, on colors that strike her as beautiful, even if it is just a coffee cup sitting in front of her. She is my Zen teacher – from time to time she senses the Divine in the most ordinary experiences of daily life.

Mom lives in a place called “Stella Maris” which translated means “star of the sea” and has come to mean “a female protector or guiding spirit at sea.” It is a title sometimes given to the Virgin Mary. It seems a propos to Mom’s situation – and to us all really – to have a guide like Mary when we are figuratively lost at sea.

Mom does not seem lonely, although by our standards, her condition might seem to be the epitome of alone-ness. I don’t see her as alone. She loves still, and she is loved, and while the disease is disastrous, one can take from the experience that reduced to our essentials, love is all you need.

Who then is alone? Is “alone” or “loneliness” just a feeling? We all feel lonely sometimes. It can be particularly hard around the holidays, when there are high expectations for joyfulness that we may not readily feel, and when we ache for those who are gone whose Christmas memories are dear to us. We all have our Charlie Brown moments during the holidays.

III.Sharon Salzberg a Buddhist teacher leads a meditation that grounds one in connectedness. It starts with noticing one instance of unconditional connection to another – for some a partner, a family member, a teacher; for some, their dog. After expanding out relationships with people, the next step is to look at the things in our lives – for example our food – who grew it, who harvested it, who transported it, who sold it to us, who made the wrapping, who did the research on the wrapping, who made the grocery bag, who takes care of getting rid of the trash, and on and on. We may realize how interdependent we are even if we are alone. We are woven into a vast fabric, a vast net. One hymn says “one family with a billion names.” We are social creatures, woven with the Holy Spirit, and we hearken back to our first mother Mary. No matter who our mother is, we are all connected through the love expressed through Mary for her son.

Feeling the connection may be how Mary got through the incredible experiences with Jesus. Later in her life, she sees her firstborn turned over to soldiers and witnesses his brutal death. Mary becomes one of the faithful, as it says in Acts Chapter 1, assembling in rooms where they “joined in continuous prayer,” waiting for Jesus’s miraculous return. In a book “Spiritual Writings on Mary,” Mary Ford-Grabowsky writes, “Praying with the incipient spiritual community that will become the church, Mary exhibits unconditional openness and receptivity to the Divine, as she did in her youth when she said yes to becoming the mother of Christ.”

In the end, Mary (and we) may be lonely, but we are not alone, she (and we) are with the community of the faithful. Before He dies on the cross Jesus says to his mother, “ Woman this is your son” meaning the disciple John. And to John He said, “ This is your mother.” And, as it says in John chapter 19, from that moment, the disciple made a place for her in his home. Such a touching and loving example of what we mean by community.

Let us pray:  May we like John make a place for Mary in our home. May we like Mary receive God’s breath upon us, and be filled by God with life anew. And may we, each in our own way, experience Mary’s “unconditional openness and receptivity to the Divine.”


November 13, 2011 -- St. Margaret's - Anne-Marie Jeffery

posted Nov 13, 2011, 3:40 PM by ajeffery@stmargaretsdc.org   [ updated Nov 13, 2011, 3:44 PM by Terry Brady ]

Give it all away

Deuteronomy 15:7-11

Singing to the tune ‘I’ve grown accustomed to her face’

I’ve grown accustomed to this place

And how you make my day begin

Your highs and your lows,

your ups and downs.

are second nature to me now,

like breathing out and breathing in.

Because I’m accustomed to this place.

 

That was a snippet of a song from one of my favorite musicals, My Fair Lady, with a little adaptation. It sums up well how at home I have felt in this place in a short time. I truly have become accustomed to this wonderful place called St. Margaret’s and I love you dearly. A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a friend of mine after work at Maddy’s down the street from here, and after dinner, as we walked up the street and I looked up at St Margaret’s all lit up in the evening and said to my friend, “You know, this place has been good for me.”

 

I really meant that and it is very much due to the welcome you gave me right from the beginning. This is something I mentioned to your new rector, Kym.  I told her that you are a congregation that is good at welcoming and making many - including a “a priest-type” person feel at home very quickly. 

 

I came to you knowing that our time would be short and that I was to prepare you for your next rector.  I hope I have helped to prepare you for what is next and I know you have prepared me in so many wonderful ways for my next steps.  Often people ask me what being an interim is like. How do you serve a congregation for a short time and leave? It is a challenging proposition – enter a congregation, get to know them, love and care for them, help them figure out where they want to go next and then let them go.

Let them go. Do everything you can to make sure this congregation you have come to love and their new rector head off into a bright future.  Give it all away.

 

I learnt fairly early on when I became more involved in this ‘ministry with Christ’ experience that giving it all away is part of the package. In my twenties when I returned to church after some time away and got involved, I quickly fell in love with being an acolyte.  Somehow, in a matter of months I became acolyte master – they saw me coming. I loved being an acolyte.  There was something about leading worship that drew me in.  I remember one Sunday when I had not served in several weeks and I missed it terribly. One of our young people about 13 years old burst through the door about 10 min before the service began.  He thought he had been scheduled and was late.  

He wasn’t on the schedule and I had been looking forward to serving, but there was a moment when I realized that I needed to give it all away. This young man needed to be an acolyte that morning and so I got him robed and went to sit in the congregation – a little disappointed but with the feeling I had done the right thing.

 

It is easy to hold on to our ministries whether it is at church or elsewhere.  Whether we are ordained or lay, there is much that we do because of who we are as people of faith whether it is the atmosphere we create at work or our leadership of a committee - church or otherwise or helping feed the hungry. We find ways to do good and we work hard to make a ministry that we are passionate about happen. But at times we come to a place when we need to let go of our ministry. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t have to hand over everything or let others take over all the time, but sometimes we are called to give it all away.

 

Margaret Queen of Scotland gave it all away. In fact she was a little crazy about it.

When she walked or rode out in public, crowds of poor people flocked to her.  When she had given out all she had brought with her for the needy, she would ask her attendants and the rich who accompanied her, to give their garments and anything else they had with them.  You had to be careful if you travelled with Margaret of Scotland. It was also her custom to bring three hundred poor people into the royal hall and to wait on them and serve them with food and drink. I find it so interesting that a similar program – Charlie’s Place, breakfast and services for the poor - exists at the church that claims her as their patron saint.

 

Not all of us are called to give in the way that St Margaret did, but we are called to give.  We give in different ways each and every day over our lives. We give when we reach out to other people and give a friendly smile. We give away our time whether it is to a charity or our children. When our children leave home we give them away to the world. We give our lives to our work and to our chosen ministries. We give when we are open to the changes that life demands of us in church, at home and at work. In our parish community, we give when we let the new person try his or her idea and we give when a fellow parishioner leaves –understanding that sometimes people need to leave our faith community because they feel called elsewhere.

 

There will be many opportunities for all of us to give it all away in these next few months. It will happen as I leave and we release one another from our relationship as interim rector and congregation, and as you all live into this next period of time. It will happen as you welcome your new rector and in the engagement and development of your mission as a faith community which may differ from where you have been before. I pray that we all will be open to the ways that we are being called to give our ministry away. 

 

As, our Old Testament reading for St. Margaret’s Day says, “Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.” Whether it is to our needy neighbors or our fellow parishioners, we are called to be willing to give it all away, that is to hold with an equally light hand our possessions and our ministries.  St. Margaret reminds us that we are to remember all that we have comes from God including, and perhaps most especially, our callings in ministry. 


My beloved friends keep me in your prayers. I will keep you in mine.  God has been with us in our journey this past year. God has prepared us all for the times where we have and will burst out into the world as the wonderful people of God who have been nurtured by the community of St. Margaret’s. Let us be the people who are open to give it all away so that the Spirit of God can come down and make God’s presence known in this world.

October 30, 2011 -- 20th Sunday after Pentecost - Anne-Marie Jeffery

posted Nov 13, 2011, 3:38 PM by ajeffery@stmargaretsdc.org   [ updated Nov 13, 2011, 3:42 PM by Terry Brady ]

Being attentive to your authority

Matthew 23:1-12

How many of you have had the following words said to you,” Because I said so.”  I’m not going to ask how many of you have said these words. I have talked to many parents who promised themselves that they would never say them only to hear those very words coming out of their mouths.  It is the place we go when it has been a long day and our children have been asking why endlessly.  For many of us, getting to ‘Because I said so’ happens in the most stressful of times.  

In our passage today, Jesus is in the most stressful of times and I wonder if one more question was asked of him, he might not respond –because I said so.  Today’s passage comes after a series of attacks by the Pharisees who have asked question after question in an attempt to entrap him.  For weeks now we have listened to Jesus challenged by the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the chief priests, the Herodians, and the elders.   Jesus has replied to their sticky questions with questions and parables.  They have asked about John the Baptist, authority, paying taxes to the Roman Empire, and the greatest commandment in the law.  Each time the Pharisees and chief priests listen to Jesus’ responses, are threatened and plot again how to get rid of this Jesus man who is calling them out to be more faithful.  

To top it all, all these readings we have heard have taken place in one day while Jesus was in the temple the week before Jesus’ crucifixion.  So if Jesus is sounding a stressed and angry, he has reason to be.  The religious leaders who have been questioning him endlessly do not seem to have heard or understood anything of what he has been teaching and now Jesus launches into a tirade against the Pharisees.

One must note that when the gospel of Matthew was written, the Christians were in competition with the Pharisees - the only surviving Jewish group after the destruction temple in 70 CE so what is a brief scene in the Gospel of Mark becomes a lengthy discourse as the writer of Matthew tries to shore up a struggling community of Christians.  While Jesus tells the people to follow the teachings of the Pharisees, he says not to do what they do - criticizing not their teaching but their doing of that teaching.   The Pharisees are the interpreters of the law and have placed special demands on the people. These demands are “not burdens that flow from the text of the law, but burdens that arise from their own specialized interpretation of the law.”   Jesus also criticizes how the Pharisees enjoy the attention of being seen as the holy people who make their phylacteries – boxes worn on the head with a piece of scripture inside -  very large with long fringes so they could be noticed.  For the Pharisees, their position is more about being seen and using their authority in interpreting the law to control the lives of the people.   

Now it is easy at this point to start thinking of all the people we know who fit into this description.   I know as a clergy person that I have been less than kind when describing colleagues who seem to find it necessary to wear their clergy collar to every possible function even a casual event.   I am even more critical of ministers who use their position to tell people what to do.  I have heard stories of pastors who tell their parishioners who God wants them to vote for However, before we go too far down that road, it is probably best to listen to Jesus’ criticism to the Pharisees looking at ourselves and our lives rather than others.   

What Jesus is describing is a very human tendency to misuse whatever power and authority we might have or let the trappings and benefits of our position become the most important thing for us. How many of us as older siblings when left in charge of our sisters and brothers found ways to torture them rather than providing the usual care that one would expect of a baby sitter?  How often do we let whether we got invited to that important White House party or asked to speak a at a work function bother us for days on end? The power and trappings that come with authority are not bad, but the temptation to misuse them or let them become too important in our lives has a way of sneaking in to our lives especially when we are under stress.  It is like getting the point of telling our children ‘because I said so’ because it has been too long a day and they have been particularly difficult.  We all get there at times.   We are human.  The challenge is to be attentive to that tendency.  

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is one of the people who continually demonstrates to me how one can be attentive in living into a position of authority and power. The first time I met him he was coming to speak at the graduation at my seminary.  I was not graduating and was an usher of sorts who stood in the entry way upstairs to guide people down to the auditorium.  Archbishop Tutu and his entourage came in.  They were running late and the people around him were very anxious to move him quickly to where he needed to be, but he stopped and greeted everyone in the entry way - the janitor, the ushers and anyone else standing around including me.   To him, we were important too - not just the graduates and other dignitaries waiting for him.  I remember that event and several others have described him as doing the same thing in similar situations. 

Many of us of carry some sort of authority in our lives where we can tell people what to do or advise people.  With that authority comes the very human tendency to abuse that privilege -whether it is at home or at work.   As people of faith, whether ordained or lay, we have a certain authority, not strong in this day and age, but I do find that when people are in pain or trouble, they will turn to the person of faith and ask for prayer or advice and in that moment we have power in our response.  We can say you’d better start going to church every Sunday or we can pray with them and tell them God loves them.  

As members of this church called St. Margaret’s, we carry authority.   We know where the bathrooms are and what’s available at coffee hour.  We know the flow of the service, our customs in going up for communion and which book to look in when there is a wrong hymn in the bulletin.   We have experience with being Episcopalian and living in the St Margaret’s community.  When a new person comes through the door, in our attentiveness, we can help him or her navigate a world which is familiar to us.    Our authority and power comes with the ability to do good.  Jesus was telling those around him that they would have authority and was teaching them how to use it or rather how not to use it.   

The question Jesus challenges the people with is the same one God asks of us this day: What will you do with the teachings and the authority you have been given?   Think about this question.  How do you use the authority God has given to you by the power of the Holy Spirit?   How will you be attentive to that authority?  As it says at the end of our second reading from First Thessalonians, which to me sounds like a prayer, “We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God's word, which is also at work in you believers.”    God’s word is at work in us.  Let us use what have been given for the glory of God.  

October 23, 2011 -- 19th Sunday after Pentecost - Anne-Marie Jeffery

posted Oct 29, 2011, 5:00 PM by ajeffery@stmargaretsdc.org   [ updated Oct 29, 2011, 5:01 PM by Terry Brady ]

Transition in faithfulness

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

In seminary, one of the exercises we would engage in from time to time was theological reflection. Theological reflection is a structured way of asking where God is in our lives. I believe it is a big part of EFM – Education for ministry, a Christian formation course that we offer at St. Margaret's and that many of you have taken. There are many ways to engage in theological reflection, but one way goes something like this - you reflect on a situation in your life, and  think about a piece of scripture that reminds you of your situation or in which you see connections to your life. Then you reflect on how God was acting in the scripture and might be acting in your life.

Dear friends, this week's Old Testament lesson offers the opportunity for much theological reflection because it is about transition and all of us are in a whole lot of transition – you as you prepare to welcome a new rector and me as I prepare for my call as the rector for another church. In the Old Testament lesson, we hear about the end of an era – one that has been going on for 120 years - from when Moses was born and hidden in the rushes to protect him from being killed, to him being raised by Pharaoh's daughter, to God calling him in his old age to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, and then to wandering in the desert 40 years with a people who at times thought it would have been better to never have come at all. And now Moses' time is at an end. He will not to go to the Promised Land, but God shows it to him before he dies.

Now before I go any further, I want us to be careful not to take this theological reflection too literally.  I am not comparing myself to Moses and I'm not comparing you to Moses.  What I want to focus on is the theme of transition. What was it like for the people who for forty years had followed Moses and who had hoped and dreamed about a new life in the Promised Land to not have him with them?

Here they were on the brink of the fulfillment of a promise and Moses must go even though he was healthy. Yet God has not left them wanting.  Joshua will now lead them – Joshua is full of the spirit of wisdom and Moses has laid hands on him. Joshua will now be the one to walk with them in the next phase of their journey.  

 Joshua has been prepared for his role of leading the Israelites into the next stage of their journey.  If you go back through the book of Exodus you will see that Joshua is Moses' right hand. At times, he accompanies Moses up the mountain. He is described as Moses' minister. When Moses would speak with God in the tent of meeting where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, Joshua would remain there after Moses had left – trusted to be in the holiest of places.  Joshua brings a faithfulness with him and a faithfulness to the    journey so when Moses dies and the people have completed their period of mourning, they follow Joshua.

 You the people of St. Margaret's have been in transition for a good bit of time - not 40 years, but it has been almost 2 years.  It began when Susan Blue, your rector, announced her retirement.  It will continue because even when the new rector is announced and even after you have researched the person on the internet, until the person comes and you all get to know one another, and start to figure out your future, this time of transition will continue.  And remember that transition is a special time which requires a lot of us.

One of the other parts of the transition from Moses to Joshua that I want to look at and find wonderful is the tenderness and care that God shows Moses. Even though Moses is not allowed to go to the Promised Land because God was angry, that anger is past.God takes Moses up the mountain and shows the extent of the land he has brought the people too - Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain-- that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees-- as far as Zoar. This is the Promised Land that Moses has helped lead the people too. Moses dies at the Lord's command and is buried. One commentary suggests that Moses' grave cannot be found     because God buried him – a final act of care.

If we meet transition with faithfulness and are open to God's mercy, grace will abound.  It is tricky, because it is much easier to let fear or anxiety take over – what will happen?  What will this next rector be like? Will our future be good? These were the same questions the Israelites were asking.  They knew Moses and Moses had led them through thick and thin. Would Joshua be up to leading them into this next very important stage of their journey? What would happen when times got tough?

We know what happens.  They mourn Moses and then Joshua becomes their leader. Joshua leads the people into the Promised Land and Israel becomes a great nation. Like the Israelites, we are invited to trust that God is calling us to be with the new rector of St. Margaret’s or in my case the people of a new parish, who have been prepared to be with us and whom we have been prepared to be with. Just as God had been preparing Joshua, God is preparing all of us.  God has prepared a great leader for this place and is inviting you all into a time of great mission and ministry. If we go forward with faithfulness, and trust in God's amazing mercy and care that accompanies us, then all will be well.  Go forth my friends trusting in the power of God to lead all of us into an exciting future.


October 9th 2011 -- 17th Sunday after Pentecost -- Anne-Marie Jeffery

posted Oct 9, 2011, 6:05 PM by ajeffery@stmargaretsdc.org   [ updated Oct 9, 2011, 6:05 PM by Terry Brady ]

The Ordering of our Loves                                                                   Anne-Marie Jeffery

Exodus 32:1-14                                                                                               October 9, 2011

When I was 12, I remember a time when I had a crush on someone and would spend a lot of time day dreaming about going off into the sunset with that person.  There was just one problem … well but there were many problems including that the person had no idea about how I felt, and that I was 12. However, the problem that I just couldn’t get over was that my father was travelling and had promised he would bring me roller skates. I couldn’t go anywhere until he came back with them.  Clearly the love of my life had some serious competition.

The ordering of the loves is something we work on most of our lives. It is a challenging task as we juggle work, family, friends, money and our desire for material things. As Christians, we include God in that order and the question we ask is how we put love of God first in our lives?  It is a difficult question answering this “how” and our answers are as individual as we are. For me, loving God means being in relationship with God and working to keep that relationship first in my life.   

In our Old Testament Lesson, the Israelites are working on their relationship with God. They have had to put great trust in God.  After all, it is God who has called them out of Egypt to wander in the desert to go to the Promised Land.  Thankfully they have had Moses as a leader who has helped them with their relationship with God, who has brought messages from God and who has intervened on their behalf, but now he has gone – disappeared up the mountain.  They are having a hard time trusting in the presence and   love of God.   Where is this God anyway?   They need something tangible and they pressure Aaron to give them something to hold on to. He asks for their jewelry and makes them a golden calf to worship.   

These days our need for something tangible is different and yet very much the same.   I don’t think you would be at all impressed if I asked you to bring your gold to church and made a golden calf for you.   That wouldn’t do it for us, but we find those tangible things of the world to turn to when it seems God is too far away, too mysterious or unavailable to depend on.   

One of the things many of us turn to is money. I know I start to feel more secure when my saving account grows. The truth is that most of us are dependent on money.  Money keeps a roof over our heads and food on the table and that is important. The trouble happens when money becomes our be all and end all and we forget where our true strength and security is. We forget that the things of this world will pass away.   Our bodies change and the strength we had at 18 is no longer there.  The business suit we loved so much gets small or a little out of style and we bring it to the rummage sale.  As Sam Lloyd, the former dean of the National Cathedral said in a workshop, when we die, we have to give it all away.   We can’t take our money with us.   

Part of our work as Christians is to learn to give our money away and to hold that need for material things more loosely so that nothing gets in the way of our relationship with God.   This means that as a church community along with teaching about prayer, study, participating in worship and the sacraments, and standing up for justice and respecting the other, we teach about giving away our money.   Jesus spent a lot of time talking about money. Giving away our money is a spiritual practice because how we take care of our money affects our relationship with God. Giving our money away helps us to learn to trust in God, to trust in something beyond ourselves.   

In the church, we teach that a tithe – 10% of our income – is the traditional Christian response to giving.  The tithe is too little for some, and too much for others.  Like other spiritual disciplines, getting to a tithe takes time. You wouldn’t expect to have the deepest, most mature prayer life right away. You would expect to develop it over time – learning about the different types of prayer, observing the practices of others and being discovering the prayer practice that brings you closer to God. In the same way, our giving develops over time and happens with practice. Our call is to practice and give something - whether it is 1%, 5%, or 10%.

How much we give is a discussion we have with God and notice I’m not saying to give only to the church. We are called to give away some of our financial resources and that can be to the church or elsewhere.  However, the former dean also said, “Our best dollars go to urgent mission. The church is a good place to give your money and that to give to the church is to give twice. Church not only does mission, but teaches people to be grateful and generous.” Giving is part of our spiritual life together. I’m surprised it doesn’t say something about it in our baptismal vows.  Perhaps it is included in that first promise which mentions continuing in the apostles’ teaching.  As the community of St. Margaret’s we mention giving in our mission statement in the last sentence - We give thanks for God's many blessings and pledge to share our gifts.   Giving of our money is part of growing our relationship with God and our life together as a community of faith. 

This morning, Jacob Lewis, brother of Vivian, officially joins our community of St. Margaret’s and the Body of Christ today in his baptism – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace that has already begun.  He will be marked as Christ own forever. We will teach him how to pray, how to worship, how to study, how to turn to God again and again, how to respect and fight for his fellow human beings and we will also teach him how to give because all of these things are part of the Christian life and part of how we are in relationship with God.  

As we approach Consecration Sunday, where you will decide what you will give next year to the work of this community, pray.  Just as you may ask God to help you have stronger faith, ask God to be with you in your decision to give so that your giving is a response to God’s love and your love for God.    Pray that we all order our loves so that our relationship with God  is first in our lives that we may truly be God’s people who help to bring God’s generosity into this world.   

October 2nd -- Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost -- Anne-Marie Jeffery

posted Oct 9, 2011, 6:02 PM by ajeffery@stmargaretsdc.org   [ updated Oct 9, 2011, 6:30 PM by Terry Brady ]

Look for what is ‘out of whack’                                                            Anne-Marie Jeffery

Matthew 21:33-46                                                                                           October 2, 2011

Listen to another parable (pause) that has something to do with a vineyard. If a parable with a vineyard seems familiar, it should be.  This is the third week in a row that the gospel has had a story about a vineyard. Two weeks ago the story was about the owner who paid all the workers a day’s wage even though some had worked only an hour. Last week, the parable was about a father who asked his sons to work in his vineyard.  One said no but ended up going.  The other said yes but never showed up. This week’s parable with a vineyard has a very different tone from the other two.  It is violent and shocking. People die.

The owner of the vineyard has gone to another country and rented out his vineyard. The tenants of the vineyard will not pay their rent. The owner sends servant after servant to collect the rent and the tenants beat some and kill some.  Finally the owner sends his son thinking they will surely respect his son and the tenants kill the son with the strange thinking that they can get the son’s inheritance.  In what universe could the tenants be living in where they would think that killing the owner’s son would end well for them?  Their thinking is completely ‘out of whack’ when it comes to respect for life and the basic decency one expects from one’s fellow human beings.

I find the story easier to take when I remember that is a parable - a story with a teaching.  This is a familiar teaching, one that is repeated over and over in Biblical history. God sends messenger after messenger and the people do not listen.  It is a theme that we hear in just about every Eucharistic prayer that we use. As it says in Prayer C, “Again and again you called us to return.  Through prophets and sages you revealed your righteous law.” 

Somehow we human beings have a knack of getting off track, heading away from the love for God and one another that we are called to. Often we get way off track and come close to the “out of whack” thinking that the tenants demonstrate in the parable.  We live in a world where children take their lives because of being bullied. We throw food away while in other countries thousands starve. In the DMV, as we call this metropolitan area, people shoot each other sometimes over the most trivial of matters.  Some days it seems the world is going crazy. It is easy to blame others and say – it the parent’s fault. It’s the politician’s fault or the people who show violence on TV’s  fault. The truth we are all part of the system because we are in it. Just being around the “out of whack” thinking of this world can change us.

At the end of last week, I took a road trip and on the way out going up I95, I found myself startled at the drivers who would come up behind me wanting me to move over and then just as I started to move over, they would pass me on the right. On the way back, I was a little less startled. I was driving faster and although I didn’t pass on the right I found myself finding it all a little more normal. I had been reoriented the ways of I95.

How do we live in this world and not let the “out of whack” thinking take us over in the same way that I got reoriented on I-95?  How do we start to turn the tide back to the ways of God where we love and respect all people, where we care for the creatures of the  earth and this planet where we make our home? It takes awareness. It takes prayer. It takes being around people who are working to live with God’s ways first in their lives – like we try to do here at St. Margaret’s

On this day when we celebrate St. Francis and have the blessing of the animals, I realize that animals aren’t as susceptible to the “out of whack” thinking we humans get caught up with and perhaps being around them can help us fight the orientation of our thinking away from God’s ways.

When I was growing up, if my sister and I started arguing, our dog Charlie would jump on us and bark. Charlie knew that fighting in the pack aka family was not good. When I get home from work, my dog, Neve, is very happy to see me.  In fact I get almost the same amount of enthusiasm every day that I get if I have been away for a few days. In that moment, I know I am loved and his greeting will just about always change my mood if I have had a bad day.

With cats ... well they have their own way of showing their love. How many of you cat owners have been ignored by your cat when you have been away for a few days? They know that you were gone and you were missed.  Sometimes it is our pet’s antics that make us laugh and distract us from the troubles of the day. Emily, our assistant priest, has some particularly interesting stories about her cats. I love the one where her family came home to find yarn trailing down the stairs through the kitchen and then into the living room around the sofa several times and then back up the stairs. They were in hysterics when they saw the scene.

Even turtles can change your life. My first pets were two small red eared turtles when I was five, Mell and Pell. I don’t think they knew who I was, but I remember learning to care for them and for the first time being responsible for another living thing and loving them.

Sharing our lives with our pets can be one of the ways that we re-orient ourselves to what is important – making sure that we love and respect each other and the creation around us.  Whether you have a pet or not, all you have to do is to stop and look around and see the good gifts that God has given us whether it is the birds flying overhead or the majestic trees that grace our land.  Look for those gifts. Remember God’s amazing and enduring love.  Let that love take root in you and erase that “out of whack” thinking that is so prevalent in our world.

September 18 2011 -- 14th Sunday after Pentecost -- Janice Hicks

posted Sep 19, 2011, 1:12 PM by ajeffery@stmargaretsdc.org   [ updated Sep 19, 2011, 1:14 PM by Terry Brady ]

14th Sunday after Pentecost

September 18, 2011

Janice Hicks

 

Matthew 20:1-16

When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.  Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them received the usual daily wage.  And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying “These last worked only one hour and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”  But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong…”

 

In the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  Amen.

 

 

I.

What is it about this story that irks us? Gets under our skin, with indignation, scorn even.  I’ve been working in this vineyard all day – since before sunrise!  It has been so blazing hot!  My back hurts!

And these guys come along at 5 o’clock and work 1 lousy hour and get paid the same as me!  That is so unfair!  There must be a law!  Equal pay for equal work – something like that.  I’m going to my bargaining unit!

Who are these guys?  Who do they think they are!  Are they from around here?  Who are these latecomers?  Latecomers to the vineyard!  Latecomers to the church?  Latecomers to God’s Kingdom?

Are they immigrants?  Are they undocumented workers?  Are they people of a different color than us?  People that speak a different language?  Are they women?  Are they gay?

 

 

II

Who do you identify with in this parable?  I asked a few friends – well adjusted ones with a few years of therapy under their belt (good self-esteem) – and invariably, we identify with the long, hard-working grape pickers.  Why is that?  I even had an actual grape picking job – back in my 20’s when I was backpacking around France – and I actually got paid MORE than I was expecting!  Due to my bad French, I understood that I was working for room and board.  But when I left after 2 weeks of work in the beautiful autumn sun of southern France, the vineyard owner handed me a roll of Francs, about $80 US. I was thrilled!  A bonus!  Kept me going a few more weeks in Europe!  It was a great feeling! 

 

Maybe we are the latecomer.  We were travelling, and just got into town, and we heard this landowner needed more bodies in the field.  When grapes are ripe, they have to be harvested promptly, before any rain comes that could cause mold. So we signed right up! And dove right in!  Good thing too, because with our extra help, we finished the job before the storm, before all the fruit went bad on the vine. 

 

Maybe latecomers help finish the job.  Maybe we can’t do it without the latecomers.  Maybe that’s why the landowner is generous with the latecomers.  And it doesn’t take away from what the others have already done with their 12 hour days.

 

 

III

It’s so human for us to compare our lots to each other and to succomb to jealousy.  The good fortune of others seems to lessen our own situation.  Darn! Why is that?  But - my life is between me and God.  How you live your life is between you and God.  I should not really concern myself with your business with God, nor you with mine.  We should not fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to each other – who worked longer or harder.  Who got this or that.  Who has an easier or a harder time.  Whose burdens are lighter or heavier.  Your working only 1 hour to my 12 doesn’t take away the value of my 12.  Too often we get into each other’s business and waste time there. 

 

Legal immigrants get angry when they see undocumented immigrants.  Why?  Does it make them less legal?

Opponents of gay marriage get angry that gay marriage will take away from their marriages.  How exactly does that work? 

 

All gifts come from God whether they are for you or for me.    All gifts are cause for rejoicing.  The Buddhist nun Pema Chodron says to take our joy from the success of others.  In this way, our joy will be limitless.

 

 

IV

How many times have we gotten the good end of God’s bargain?  Too many to count.  Where by any accounting we are due 1 hour’s worth, we get 12.  We don’t stop and complain and get indignant – about a spectacular sunset, about a new job, a new baby in our community, the opportunity of a great trip. The beauty of flowers.  The stars, the favorable conditions on earth of light and air, water and soil.  Our rich history, the diversity of people, our religions, cathedrals, our science.   The mysteries to contemplate.  The basic goodness of people.  We drink it in!  God’s illogical, non-legalistic, no-accounting-for – bonus!  Generosity! 

 

Wouldn’t you say that in every moment of our lives –even the tough ones - we are so generously overpaid?  It so speaks of God’s love for us – by this, as Rumi says, we are ground sweet as sugar.  Coming from this place of abundance, we are much more able to give others the benefit of the doubt.  We avoid making quick assumptions about others (that are too often wrong.)  Those latecomers are not so bad.  To them we can whisper, without resentment, “friend.”

 

 

 

 

V

This parable says to me we don’t always have to be so perfect, so diligent, so hardworking.  God will still love us.  It was a huge breakthrough for me at a turning point in my life to realize that nothing I could do would make God love me more.  I have heard that key message from this pulpit for many years.  It didn’t matter if I wrote a book or scaled a mountain in Nepal.  If I raised a family or taught or became a missionary.  You don’t have to work all day to get accepted into God’s kingdom.  It’s not a matter of how much you work, how much you accomplish.  Just love, and get in.

 

 

VI

“The first will be last and last will be first.”  Today’s parable speaks to many dualities – us and them, early and late, fair and unfair, first and last.  Many stories in the Bible are paradoxical.   This story about the vineyard workers has shades of the Prodigal Son story.  The good son works for his father for many years, yet it is the philandering son who gets the big party and welcome when he returns home.   Today’s parable also has what seems like a reversal to us – the latecomers get paid for a full day’s work, and the early-birds get the same wage.  Using our values, these outcomes don’t add up.  But, as the commentaries say, this is not a story about economics.  One of the commentaries said, “God is a lousy accountant.” 

 

I think Jesus is trying to shake us up here to get a glimpse of the bigger picture.  You either come to God’s Kingdom or not.  You can arrive early or late – but the important thing is to arrive.  There is no part-time kingdom.  God’s kingdom is not a timeshare.  You can’t split it in any way that seems “fair.”  God will not have shared custody.  It’s all or nothing.   There’s a party going on there.  You can come if you want to – but either way, the party will go on. 

 

 

From the hymn: 

What love is this? What love is this

That from eternity,

Before I had done right or wrong,

Had made its choice of me?

 

 

Amen.

 

1-10 of 57