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Sermon Archive 2009



1/16/2011 -- Emily Guthrie -- to be posted

posted Jan 23, 2011, 3:24 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Jan 23, 2011, 3:26 PM by Terry Brady ]


12/20/2009 - The Rev. Susan N. Blue - Advent IV

posted May 21, 2010, 6:53 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:53 PM by Terry Brady ]

“…blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled…” (Luke 1:45)


“A young girl listened attentively as her big sister told her a bedtime story:

Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who had a golden ball. One day the ball fell into a well. However, an ugly frog came along and retrieved it for her. The beautiful princess was so grateful to the frog that she took it with her to her room in the palace. During the night the ugly frog turned into a handsome prince. At this point in the story, the little girl began to look very skeptical. ‘What’s wrong?’ her sister asked. ‘Don’t you believe the story?’ The little girl answered: ‘No! I don’t believe it, and I don’t think the Princess’s mother believed it either!’”
(Copied)


This little story points to the dilemma faced by Mary, a young woman who was probably no older than 13. To recap the prologue to our story this morning: Mary was visited by an angel of the Lord who told her that she would conceive a son by the Holy Spirit who to be named Jesus and would be the son of God. The angel went on to tell her that her relative, Elizabeth, an older woman who was said to be barren, was in her sixth month of pregnancy. Mary’s response was: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” As a young, unmarried, pregnant woman her future was in great doubt. Despite that, she accepted her circumstances and immediately went to visit Elizabeth. Elizabeth was probably no less a pariah in that society. For the Hebrews immortality was achieved through land and progeny. Without the latter the future was bleak. When one adds to this the fact that, at that time, women were simply pieces of property, her response was astonishing.
The angel’s promise was affirmed when Mary went to see Elizabeth, and, when Mary greeted her, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped. Elizabeth then affirmed Mary’s blessedness. Mary’s response was the powerful “Magnificat.” When studied that lovely passage is not some soft, downy proclamation, but one of intensity that, in hindsight, reflects the reality of Jesus’ life.
The faith that Mary illustrated then and in the years to come, is an awesome model for each of us as we await the coming of the Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. Further, just as Mary bore the infant, we are in relationship to Jesus when we allow the power of God to enter into our hearts and souls. This is not easy for, as Sandy pointed out last week, we are fraught with anxieties and concerns. To allow God to enter in, to make ourselves vulnerable and wholly trusting is no easy task. There is, however, no other way to receive Him.
We are faced with a dilemma – our charge, like that of Mary, is to do God’s will. Jesus made it pretty clear as to what that means…to love God with our heart, soul and mind and to love one another as ourselves. That implies action, reaching out, showing in our lives what we profess in our worship and in our words. However, that activity has its inception in the silence and prayer of our own hearts. It is nearly impossible to have one without the other. For some of us, contemplation and prayer is natural – whereas for others activity is more the norm. As Christians, however, we are to have both…they flow from one another.
Like Mary, we are to seek out those who will support and understand us, just as we are called to do the same for others. Once again, our faith is not rooted in individualism, but is a collaborative effort of the entire body. Each of us has different gifts, gifts that are essential to our dual purpose of prayer and activity. We could not have fed 18,000 meals at Charlie’s Place, provided 80 turkey dinners or presents for 233 people without the prayers, activity and support of one another. Elizabeth’s presence gave Mary the wisdom and understanding that enabled her to return to her home and to face her betrothed, Joseph. One can imagine that, because God assured him in a dream that Mary was a virgin, that Joseph was the easy one! Can you imagine what the community thought? It must have been much like the little girl’s assessment of the response of princess’s mother.
As we wait, once again, for the coming of the Christ into our lives, let us pray and make ourselves vulnerable as a community and as individuals. Let us open our hearts to this wondrous miracle so that on Christmas we may experience the incredible joy of the presence of Christ within us and around us. AMEN

12/13/2009 - Alexander Webb - Advent III

posted May 21, 2010, 6:52 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:53 PM by Terry Brady ]

In the name of the One, Holy, and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

I have some worrying news to report: the days are getting shorter. There were thirty-five fewer seconds of daylight yesterday than there were on Friday, and today we will lose another thirty seconds. I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if we continue to lose thirty or thirty-five seconds each day, we will not see the sun again after the end of 2012.

Are you worried?

More news: the seas are rising, and they’re rising fast. Sea level at Washington Navy Yard was 2.7 feet higher at 5:30 this morning than it was only six hours earlier. I am sorry to be the bearer of more bad news, but if the seas continue to rise this much every six hours, the U.S. Capitol Building will be completely submerged by the end of January.

Are you worried?

No, you’re not worried. You know that the seasons will change and that the tides will ebb, there’s no need to worry. Be at peace, Chicken Little, be at peace.

Paul’s message in today’s New Testament lesson is similar: Be at peace, Philippians, be at peace.

The church at Philippi is only a dozen years old at the time of Paul’s writing, and they’re already struggling. Internal conflicts are tearing the church apart from within, while critics and evildoers are simultaneously tearing it apart from without. Things probably seemed pretty grim in Philippi, yet Paul’s counsel gets right to the heart of the matter:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

That’s beautiful, but it must have seemed ridiculous. Do not worry about anything? What an outlandish request.

The Philippian church is teetering on the brink of disaster, and Paul doesn’t want them to worry about anything? You can imagine their reaction. Here at St. Margaret’s, we’re in a much better position than the Philippians were, but even we would find it hard to believe someone who told us not to worry about anything.

We haven’t met our fundraising goal for next year, the building preservation fund is down, and transitions in our clergy team leave doubt where once we seemed to enjoy certainty. There’s a war on, our economic rebound is quixotic at best, and partisan politics are at their worst. How could we not be worried?

In Advent, preachers are supposed to invite their congregations to spend four weeks in quiet contemplation on the beautiful complexity of the incarnation. But, I have never been very good at quiet or contemplation. My Advent is almost always characterized by pre-Christmas fervor, year-end business, and the holiday trifecta of cleaning, baking, and wrapping. I work harder, and faster, and longer, but more work generates more anxiety. My feeble attempt to remedy my fear makes me worry all the more.

Paul advocates an entirely different approach. To the Philippians, he says: God is the only remedy for your anxiety. Paul asks the Philippians to have faith, deep and abiding faith.

Some two millennia later, Paul’s message still rings true. In the midst of overwhelming anxiety, Paul asks us to turn to God. Offer your anxiety to God, says Paul, and trust that your fears will be replaced by a peace that can neither be described nor understood. Right here, right now, Paul asks us to learn faith when all we know is fear.

Impossible, you say? Consider again the seasons and the tides: We all believe that the seasons and the tides will change, but often we forget just how audacious that claim really is. Our planet is careening through space at an average annual speed of about thirty kilometers a second, and we have absolute faith that an invisible force will turn it back towards the sun, exactly eight days from today. The Atlantic Ocean is advancing with such speed that the naked eye can mark its progress, but we have absolute faith that an entirely different invisible force will draw the sea back before any damage is done.

Daylight is waning and the seas are rising, but we’re not worried. Our personal observations point to imminent disaster, yet somehow we have learned to supplant fear with faith. We have faith that invisible, interplanetary forces will keep us safe, and Paul asks us to have that same level of faith in the invisible, omnipotent God who set those forces in motion.

Faith and prayer are the only paths to peace, and peace is a remarkable thing. Once we have made peace with the changing of the seasons, we can begin to celebrate them rather than fear them. And, I believe, once we have made peace with the changes and cycles of this mortal life, we can begin to celebrate them for the adventure that they are.

We worry about our livelihoods: our work, our homes, our children. But, year after year, our jobs evolve, our locations change, and our children grow. We keep moving forward, and God keeps providing.

We worry about our church: its mission, its staff, its budget. But, year after year, challenges come and go, people come and people go, money comes and money goes. The church keeps moving forward, and God keeps providing.

To all these things, and so many more, Paul says: “Do not worry about anything…”

The house will get clean, the cookies will get baked, and the packages will get wrapped. And, even if one or two items do happen to fall from our checklist, Christ will still appear in the manger on Christmas morning.

When we come to realize that changing is part of living, and that peace comes from having faith in God amidst those changes, we begin to look at our lives differently, and our anxiety abates.

Later today, we will celebrate the ministry of my friend and senior colleague, Caron Gwynn. Caron has been a great gift to me in these last eighteen months, but today she takes her leave from us so that she can prepare to lead her own congregation in Maryland. This is quite a step for her and it’s quite a step for us. Anxiety looms on both sides, the days are short, and the tides are high, but God remains ever faithful.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

1 Raymond Brown. Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Pages 484 and 487-488.

11/26/2009 - The Rev. Susan N. Blue - Thanksgiving Day

posted May 21, 2010, 6:46 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:46 PM by Terry Brady ]

“…Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what shall you put on…” (Mt. 6:25)

There is no question that this is precisely the Gospel that I both needed to hear and dreaded hearing this morning. My return visit to NYC to learn the fate of my foot has just been scheduled for next Wednesday. To say that I am both anxious and frightened is a colossal understatement. The dictionary definition of anxiety is:

“…distress or uneasiness of mind caused by apprehension of danger or misfortune; or, psychologically, the state of apprehension and psychic tension found in most forms of mental disorder.”

I am not sure which definition is more applicable to me this day! Clearly anxiety is unhealthy, yet we feel it regarding our children, our health, our safety, our money, our education, our future, and, ultimately, our death. The results of anxiety run the gamut and can be mental, emotional and physical.

This is Thanksgiving Day, the day when we are called to give thanks to God for the multitude of gifts we have been given. Thanksgiving can be considered the polar opposite of anxiety. Anxiety is fear-driven, whereas thanksgiving is characterized by acceptance. Anxiety is future oriented, whereas thanksgiving is focused in the past and the present. Anxiety produces tension and apprehension, whereas thanksgiving results in trust, calm and peace. Anxiety longs for what it doesn’t have and is filled with need, whereas thanksgiving accepts what it has and is filled with joy and celebration in the now.

Matthew locates this passage in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has just challenged his listeners to give alms and to pray in secret, not seeking the approbation of others. Further, he cautions against storing up treasures on earth saying: “You cannot serve God and wealth.” Jesus is making it abundantly clear that our challenge is to trust God in all things.

We are called to thank God for all that we have and have had…the material things of food, clothing, shelter, education as well as for family, friends and co-workers. However, thanksgiving to God must be larger than this. None of the above can define our total existence. No people or things can fill us completely. People let us down, and material things can disappear. In the end we are challenged to confront ourselves, our aloneness, for we are born alone and we die alone. But…in that aloneness…there is God…loving us abundantly and banishing anxiety and fear. That love was with us before our birth and will abide with us after our death. That love was made flesh, visible and tangible, in the gift of Jesus Christ and guarantees God’s heavenly presence with us during our most difficult times.
If we focus on that love, if we feel it and let it fill us up and feed us, our anxieties will be driven away, and we can delight in the ability to offer genuine thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is at the heart of the Christian faith…a giving of thanks not only in words and silent prayer, but also in our generosity and love for others.
Shortly we shall celebrate the Holy Eucharist, named for “eucharista” that means “thanksgiving.” The heart of the Eucharist is the Great Thanksgiving when we lift up our hearts to God.
Let us offer our thanksgivings today to the God who created us, loves us and gives us to one another. Let us be newly bound in relationship in this most Holy Meal and find that we are newly energized to care for the people in the world around us. AMEN

11/15/2009 - Tom Head - St. Margaret's Day

posted May 21, 2010, 6:44 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:45 PM by Terry Brady ]

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. Amen.

There’s nothing like being asked to preach to give one a new appreciation for those of us like Caron and Sandy and Susan who do it often. This is the third time in the past ten years or so I’ve been asked to speak from this pulpit, and it doesn’t get easier or less intimidating.

I was heartened when I saw today’s gospel reading, the parable of the sheep and the goats, which seems almost to have been written for St. Margret’s and for St. Margaret’s Day. One of the things that we all love about St. Margaret’s is that our parish takes very seriously its obligation to care for those less fortunate than ourselves. Through Charlie’s Place alone, Tom Goss tells us in the Magpie this month, we have served 19, 673 meals this year to the hungry. We are organizing ourselves to provide Thanksgiving dinner for the families of 80 students at Marie Reed School. We are buying Christmas presents for 50 families at Mary’s Center. I think it’s safe to say that few parishes of our size can match us in the area of outreach.

This parable talks about a great separation of nations that will occur at the end of time. When that separation occurs, we like to think that our deeds of mercy and kindness will put us pretty firmly in the “sheep” category, on the right hand of the throne of the Son of Man. It seems pretty clear. Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, give clothes to those who need them, visit the sick and those in prison, and we will take our place in the kingdom prepared for us since the foundation of the world. Fail to do these things, and we are cursed, spending eternity in the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

But I soon realized that this parable is really not that simple, Jesus’ parables often defy easy explanation, and this one is possibly more complex than most. The sermons and commentaries on this parable seem to fall into two categories. The first group starts by staying that in order to understand this parable, we need to understand more about the role of sheep and goats in first-century Palestine. My own acquaintance with sheep and goats has been largely at the dinner table in the form of roasts, so I’ll pass on the opportunity to comment on the pastoral economy of Jesus’ time.

The second category of commentary seems to be devoted to saying that Jesus didn’t really mean what he appears to say here. This is a scripture passage that is particularly troubling for our evangelical brothers and sisters. It seems to imply—well, it doesn’t seem to imply, it states pretty baldly—that in the final analysis, we will be judged and rewarded on the basis of our good works. It’s not our faith or our church attendance or our beliefs that count. The idea of justification by faith alone is central to the entire Protestant reformation, and this passage stands as a troubling contradiction to that doctrine.

So let’s look at the text of the passage a little more closely. Because the passage is known as the parable of the sheep and the goats, we often fail to notice that there are three, not just two groups of people involved. There are the sheep, there are the goats, and there are those referred to as “the least of these, my brothers.” We are accustomed to thinking of the “least of these” as representing all of suffering humanity, but it’s possible, at least, that Jesus had a more specific group in mind.

Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is told that his mother and brothers are outside, wanting to speak to him. Jesus replied: "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." Matthew 12:46-50

It’s possible in this parable, then, that the King is judging the nations not on the basis of their care for all of suffering humanity, but that the brothers referred to are the disciples—that the King is judging the nations on the basis of how they have treated his followers, not how they have treated everyone who suffers.
It is interesting too that the group referred to as “these my brothers” does not seem to be part of either the sheep or the goats. They are a separate group that does not seem to be subject to judgment. This would seem to me to lend credence to the idea that Jesus had a smaller group in mind here than all of suffering humanity.
So this remains a question about the parable: Are the nations going to be judged according to how they treated the poor and the hungry, or are they going to be judged according to how they treated Jesus’ followers? It’s difficult to say with any certainty.

Another interesting detail in this parable is that both the sheep and the goats seem genuinely surprised at the outcome of the judgment. It’s a little bit more understandable that the goats would be puzzled. They have lived their lives without exercising mercy, either because they didn’t know they were supposed to or because they just neglected to do it—they have left undone those things that they ought to have done. But the righteous are equally surprised. The righteous say: 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' They have done these good deeds without being aware that they will be judged by them. The good deeds done by the sheep seem not to have been done for the sake of doing good deeds. They seem to be a natural and indelible part of who the sheep are.
It’s hard, finally, to say what this parable means. Who are the nations? Who are the sheep? Who are the goats? Who are “the least of these my brothers”? What does it mean that the sheep and the goats do good deeds or fail to do good deeds without knowing it? Its meaning is certainly more complex than “Do good deeds and you’ll go to heaven.”

But, it seems to me, there are certain things we can say about this parable with fair amount of certainty. Like every other single story in the Bible, we must try, if we are to avoid proof-texting, to read it in the entire context of the gospel. It is certainly true that concern for the poor is one of the cornerstones of our faith. It’s a theme that runs consistently through the Bible. The passage from Isaiah that we heard this morning is a good example from the Hebrew Scriptures. I haven’t done this count myself, but I’ve read that one in sixteen verses in the Bible is about poverty. In the first three Gospels, the number is one of every nine verses. The question of sex, which parts of our church seem to be obsessed with, doesn’t get nearly as much attention. I think it’s safe to say that concern for the poor is a cornerstone of our faith.

I think another thing that it’s safe to say is that we can’t save up our good deeds with the intention of eventually buying our way into heaven. Our faith is not like a retirement account that we make contributions to with the expectation that we will eventually be able to live out our eternal lives in some celestial Sunshine Acres.
I saw an interesting review of a new book in last week’s New York Times Book Review. The book, by a political science professor at New York University named Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, is called The Predictioner’s Game, and the subtitle is Using the Logic of Brazen Self-Interest to See and Shape the Future. His theory is that it’s possible to predict the future by assuming that people will act in what they perceive to be their own self-interest. Mother Teresa went about doing good deeds. She did them because she expected an eternal reward in heaven. I’m quoting here: “It makes sense,” Bueno de Mesquita writes, “to pay the price of sacrifice for the short, finite time of a life span if the consequence is a reward that goes on for infinity in heaven. In fact, isn’t that exactly the explanation many of us give for the actions of suicide bombers, dying in their own prideful eyes as martyrs who will be rewarded for all eternity in heaven?” Mother Teresa—suicide bombers—morally equivalent because both are sacrificing themselves for the sake of spending eternity in heaven. It’s a ghastly perversion of our Christian faith.

One of the saints of our church is the late Verna Dozier, who spoke several times here at St. Margaret’s before her death in 2006. In her book The Dream of God, she quotes from T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral: The last temptation is the greatest treason: 
To do the right deed for the wrong reason. Jesus did good deeds, Miss Dozier points out. He fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, healed the sick, but his motivation was compassion, identification with their suffering.
Perhaps the complexities of this parable are a way of keeping us from absolutizing good deeds, as Jesus refuses to absolutize them.

The sheep and the goats are asked no questions about what they believe. The only thing that counts is what they have done.

“The important question to ask,” Verna Dozier tells us, “is not ‘What do you believe?’ but ‘What difference does it make that you believe?’ Does the world come nearer to the dream of God because of what you believe?” Belief must lead to action
We remember St. Margaret today because of her good deeds and acts of mercy, but it is important to remember that Turgot, her biographer, treated her charity and her prayerfulness in the same chapter. One was part and parcel of the other:
“To prayer and fasting, she joined the gifts of mercy. For what could be more compassionate than her heart? What more gentle to the needy? Not only would she give her goods to the poor, but if she could, she would have freely given herself.”
Margaret had a selfless devotion to the faith and an integration of faith and life that most of us can only aspire to. Her good deeds were acts of worship, spiritual acts growing from the compassion that was part of her faith.

I am very proud to be a part of this community and its commitment to social justice. I think that when we next read the parable of the sheep and the goats, we can be certain that we are not among the goats—we do feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the needy. But are we among the sheep? I think we’re getting there, but that the condition of sheep-dom something we must continue to aspire to. My prayer for St. Margaret’s is that we will continue to grow into our role as sheep, that we become a flock with faith so deep and so consuming that our outreach will be an act of worship, that will be no need for separate pages on our web site that describe our worship and our outreach. They will be the same thing, growing out of our commitment to following the Good Shepherd.

It’s a difficult commitment, but, as the prophet Isaiah assures us, God will smile on our efforts:
if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

11 The LORD will guide you always; the Lord will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land 
and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

Amen.

11/1/2009 - Alexander "Sandy" Webb, Seminarian - All Saint's Day

posted May 21, 2010, 6:44 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:44 PM by Terry Brady ]

In the Name of the One, Holy, and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

This weekend contains two important feasts of our church calendar; two important dates in our common life. Today is the Feast of All Saints, but yesterday was the parish Rummage Sale.

The Rummage Sale is a venerable tradition at St. Margaret’s, stretching back well over fifty years. Thousands of hours are invested in the sale every year, and thousands of people have participated over the years. Names like Bea Aitchison and Mabel Cook may have slipped from common memory, but in the sixties and seventies, they were the characters that defined the Sale. As today’s rummagers, we stand on their shoulders. We carry on their legacy. We build on their foundation.

You can get almost anything you could want at the Rummage Sale. Where else can five dollars buy you a stuffed snake, a floppy hat, and a pair of hockey mitts to complete your ensemble?

Indeed, you can get almost anything you could want at the Rummage Sale, and you can see almost anyone. We help single parents refresh their children’s wardrobe. We help Dupont Circle socialites assemble the perfect Halloween costume. And, we even help seminarians spice up their Sunday sermons.

Like our merchandise, our customers come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. They come with different interests, needs, and objectives. Yet, imagination unites them all.

Imagination is critical. Rummagers imagine that this traditional building is something of a Moroccan souq, a bustling marketplace filled to the brim with goods of every conceivable variety. Rummagers then imagine new possibilities for the vast array of pre-owned items on display.

In short, rummagers look at what is and imagine what will be.

Today’s lesson from the Book of Revelation is all about imagining what will be. In Revelation, God speaks to a man traditionally known as St. John the Divine, and tells him about the end of time. God says that before the end of time, there will be a period of great tribulation, involving battles in both heaven and earth. However, in the end, God and the saints will emerge victorious.

Our lesson for today is the climax of the Revelation story. After twenty chapters of warfare and violence, St. John the Divine sees a new heaven and a new earth emerging. His entire reality passes away, and the holy city, God’s own city, the New Jerusalem, descends from the sky. Everything is made new, and the voice of God rings out with some of the most comforting and poetic words in the whole corpus of Holy Scripture:

See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more...

Jerusalem becomes God’s sermon illustration because Jerusalem has been besieged with inescapable violence since the days of King David. In Revelation, as the prophet Isaiah foretold, God cries unto Jerusalem: Your warfare has ended, and the glory of the Lord will be revealed. Everything is being made new. Everything will be peace.

Can you imagine? Can you imagine dwelling personally with God, alongside the saints in every generation, as citizens of a Jerusalem in which there is no heartache, no death, no pain? Can you imagine?

For many of us, this New Jerusalem of which God speaks is simply unimaginable. We can imagine that a sanctuary is a marketplace. We can imagine new uses for old stuff. But, we cannot conceive of the fellowship, unity, and faith of which God speaks.

Yet, I wonder why it is so easy for us to imagine what we will do with our rummage, and so hard to imagine what God will do with our world. Why is it entirely possible to believe that we can make a Halloween costume out of junk, but entirely impossible to believe that God can restore creation?

For me, the difference has everything to do with faith. When I imagine the possibilities for my rummage, I do so with full reliance on my strengths and abilities. When I imagine the possibilities for creation, I must rely on God’s strengths and abilities. When it comes to rummage, I limit myself to imagining that which I know I can make happen. When I imagine the New Jerusalem, I have to trust that God can make it happen.

Having faith in myself is a lot easier than having faith in God. Yet, when I start looking at the things I have done, I often begin to realize that I owe a debt of gratitude to many, many others. You see, in the Church, we never start from nothing. We are always carrying on the work of the saints who went before us. We start where our predecessors stopped and push forward one more step.

Today, we carry a torch once carried by Bea Aitchison and Mabel Cook. And, some day someone will carry it for us. Some day, our names will be added to the All Saints’ Day list, our work on earth will be complete, but the work of this parish, the work of the Church universal, will continue unabated.

The Rummage Sale, like the Church itself, belongs just as much to our predecessors and our successors as it does to us, and this is the spirit of All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ is our day to celebrate our goodly heritage and to imagine the day when all of God’s saints from every generation will be eternally reunited with God and with each other in that heavenly city; that New Jerusalem, in which there is no pain, no tears, no death.

When I have trouble imagining the New Jerusalem, I start looking for glimpses of it in the world around me. I almost always feel its presence at funerals, at weddings, and at baptisms. I see the New Jerusalem at the Rummage Sale, at Charlie’s Place, and in Sunday services. When the Church is gathered in faith and celebration, it becomes so much easier to imagine that day when all of God’s saints will be gathered together, when we will all sing God’s praises in perfect harmony, when we will love each other as God first loved us.

All Saints’ is our day to imagine. All Saints’ is our day to remember that God speaks with no doubt, no hesitation, no conditionality. The New Jerusalem is real, and we need only believe. We need only imagine.

Amen.

1 The preacher is grateful to Katharine Pagan and Maude Katzenbach for providing these names and memories.
2 For further information on Revelation, consult the following volume, which is widely considered to be accessible and authoritative: Craig R. Koester. Revelation and the End of All Things. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing, 2001.
3 Paraphrase: Isaiah 40:2, Isaiah 40:5

10/25/2009 - The Rev. Susan N. Blue - The Twenty-first Sunday After Pentecost

posted May 21, 2010, 6:43 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:43 PM by Terry Brady ]

This story from Mark is the last healing by Jesus prior to his entry into Jerusalem for the final time. It is distinct in that the name of the healed person is used – Bartimaeus or Son of Timaeus. Further, Bartimaeus recognizes, in some instinctive way, that Jesus is the awaited One, the son of David. As Jesus leaves Jericho he is surrounded by a crowd, one that perhaps is anticipating that a conflict with the Roman authorities is imminent. One suspects that their way was lined by beggars, hoping to profit by the large number of people. It is, therefore, remarkable that Bartimaeus dares to call out to Jesus by name asking for pity. Despite the shushing of the crowd, he calls out even louder. It is also amazing that Jesus can hear his cry.
Jesus then calls blind Bartimaeus to him, and, with that, the crowd parts and enables his passage. The blind man throws off his cloak, a treasured possession that not only kept him warm but also served to be a repository for the coins tossed his way. Jesus, with compassion, asks what he wants, Bartimaeus asks for his sight, and he is immediately cured. Bartimaeus then follows Jesus.
What a contrast to the rich young man who was so blinded by his possessions that he could not put them away to follow Jesus! It is also a profound contrast to the disciples, James and John, who asked for power and position rather than the faith and understanding that they needed.
It is no surprise that this healing is a metaphor for all who would follow Jesus Christ. Every person has ways in which they are blind or burdened. Most of us, at some point in our lives ask for Jesus to have pity on us. We ask when we are desperately ill, terribly frightened, extremely sad, or in any way very needy. Many of us have cried out from the edge of the crowd for pity and a healing of our burdens. For some, the darkness in our lives is well known to others, whereas some live in secret darkness. In either case, Jesus knows what we need, loves us, and will be there for us.
Jesus calls us to him with compassion, and we are called to empty ourselves, to cast off our cloaks of protection, and to move toward him empty-handed, asking only his healing. To empty one’s self is no easy task. We have to look internally, to let go of anger, fear, resentment and anxiety. We need to examine all that which blocks us from embracing the love of God. It means letting go of the need for power, possessions and self-righteousness. It means to set aside many of the values so highly regarded in the world.
We are often more like the disciples than the blind beggar. We are slow to “get it” and reluctant to embrace God with blind faith, trusting that putting ourselves in God’s hands will relieve that which burdens us.
The story continues with, after he is healed, Bartimaeus following Jesus. He has gained new life and recognizes that life source. Again, this is a metaphor for the disciples and for all Christians. If we are to follow Jesus we must see others through the lens of compassion, with the heart, not just the mind. There was so little time that day, for the beggar and for the disciples. It was Bartimaeus’ only chance for healing and a vivid example for the disciples of what they were to do were they to truly follow Christ.
Through this story we are called to a self-emptying and a harsh self-evaluation as we examine what we truly need. We are then to trust, to have faith, that we are loved, valued and will be cured…just as we are, in all of our nakedness. The time is short…we do not live forever…and our call is to act now before it is too late.
Bishop Fred Borsch has said that “…we act as though we are in charge. We look for God in liturgy, intellect, the institution of the Church, in the creeds and in Holy Scripture. However, our relationship with God doesn’t happen through our own efforts. We nee to let go, to wait, to be quiet, vulnerable and naked, despite the dark and the cold.” (Copied)
Many years ago John Newton fled his creditors and joined the Merchant Marines. He continued his pattern of gambling and drinking, however, and became more and more in debt. One night he fell overboard, too drunk to even grab the life preserver thrown to him. Finally, he was shot with a harpoon and dragged aboard the ship. As he recovered his eyes were opened, and he began to experience a religious conversion. In his own words, familiar to all of us, he penned:

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear
And Grace my fear relieved
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.”
(John Newton -- Copied)

AMEN

10/4/2009 - The Rev. Susan N. Blue - The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost / St. Francis Day

posted May 21, 2010, 6:42 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:43 PM by Terry Brady ]

When I looked at the Gospel for today and its contrast to St. Francis and the Blessing of Pets I wished that John Berry was still the Director of the National Zoo. However, underneath it all, there is one prevailing theme…that of stewardship and responsibility. In creation we believe that God gave humankind stewardship of the earth, of the creatures of the earth, of our children and, ultimately, of one another. I find it frightening that our earth, our creatures, our children and we are all endangered and threatened by generations of ignorance and unwillingness to address the incredible gift and responsibility we have been given.
Global warming is no longer a debatable issue; it simply is! Not only are our exotic creatures endangered, but one only needs to pick up the newspaper to see pictures of abused dogs, cats left to fend for themselves, a plan to perhaps kill all the deer in Rock Creek Park rather than using humane methods of sterilization, and general inhumane use of animals for commercial purposes. We were given the earth and the earth’s creatures to care for, and we haven’t done a very creditable job! We are to take our charge seriously and to challenge the powers that be whenever we see abuse, cruelty or neglect. We no longer have the luxury of turning away.
In Mark’s Gospel for today, Jesus spoke sternly to the disciples when they would have turned the children away from Jesus’ touch. His words were: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs.” He then held and blessed them. What a contrast to the position of children in the first century! They were considered to be less valuable than slaves. They were the most marginal of all human beings then and, one wonders, if in some places they are not still today. The Roman Polanski crime is not singular; there are children who are sex slaves in all parts of the world. We read of children being physically and psychologically abused – even murdered – by the very persons charged to protect and care for them. Whenever we see abuse, cruelty or neglect of God’s children we are to challenge the powers that be. We are to see that they are protected, educated, fed, housed, clothed and given adequate health care. We no longer have the luxury of looking away. This is our role as Christians and as stewards of the Kingdom of God.
We are also given responsibility for one another as adults, and it is to one facet of this issue that Jesus is speaking when he talks about divorce. In the first century males were the only persons with power. Men were persons and women were objects. The entire Bible was written from that perspective – both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Hence, it is no more productive to find twenty-first century answers in the Bible regarding the relationship between men and women, to proof-text if you will, than it is justify sleeping with one’s brother’s widow, Leverite Marriage, to murder one’s enemies, or to stone someone caught in adultery. There were two schools of thought in first century Judaism regarding divorce. Hillel contended that a man could put a wife aside for any reason; Shamai believed that could only happen for adultery. Further, only a man could institute divorce and, if he didn’t give the woman a bill of divorcement, she would never be able to remarry. If one adds in the factor that it was almost a thousand years later that polygamy was outlawed, we have a very complicated situation.
Jesus never had much patience with the technicality of the law. He challenged it around the dietary rules, the keeping of the Sabbath and the caring for the outcast. He had little patience for the legal intricacies of this debate and simply referred back to Deuteronomy and the Law of Moses. He contended that divorce occurred because of “hardness of heart.” In other words, Jesus reframed the argument from a legal one to a moral issue.
Jesus taught that God wants freedom and wholeness for everyone, not just the few. He also understood that we are all sinners; that we are all flawed and fail to do what we are called to do. Broken relationships are but one area where some of us err. How many of us always turn the other cheek, give not only our cloak but our coat to the needy, always reach out to the outcast, love the unlovable and forgive freely and constantly. All humankind is fallen; divorce is a metaphor for that failure. In divorce, the relationship is sundered and the charge to be one flesh is not followed. Sin is understood to be that which breaks or hinders our relationship with God, with others and with ourselves. All of us fall short.
However, there is good news! We do not have to wallow in our inadequacy. God is all-loving, all-forgiving and totally merciful. No matter how far we have fallen away, we are welcomed, as Jesus did the children, with open arms and blessing. Like the father of the Prodigal, God races to meet us with great joy when we return and ask forgiveness. God wants life for us, not death. Anyone who has been divorced or is a child of divorce understands that it, too, is a death.
Our charge, then, is to accept God’s forgiveness and to demonstrate in our lives new ways of being. God sees us as we are, not as we ought to be, and therein lies new life. Yes we were created for relationship with God, with one another, and with the earth and all of its creatures. Yes, we fail; but God does not! When we are lost, God seeks us out relentlessly and welcomes us home – freely, delightedly, and foolishly! God knows us through and through in all of our willful sinfulness, and loves us all the same. AMEN

9/27/2009 - The Rev. Caron A. Gwynn - The 17th Sunday After Pentecost

posted May 21, 2010, 6:42 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:42 PM by Terry Brady ]

“Come to hear the Word, Come to do the Word, Come to experience Comfort. Come to experience Challenge. Come to find Cost. Come to find joy. Come to find Humility. Come to find Community. Come to find Church. Come to find God.” (Katharine Hawker, Synthesis 1997, 9/28/97)

In the one holy and undivided Trinity. Amen.

When I completed my undergraduate studies at Towson State University with a degree in community health education, I wanted something different from a ‘9-5’ job. VISTA (Volunteers In Service to America) was my answer. I became a volunteer in Columbus, Ohio at the Federal Summer Food Service program. I was a grass roots community organizer and an advocate for thousands of hungry people who lived in the city. My job was to expand the summer feeding programs to ensure that children participating in school meal programs would have access to the community summer programs. There were thousands of children in Columbus living in poverty.

At the Federal Food Service program, It was apparent that the office staff was unable to identify eligible community locations to serve as food distribution sites. The director welcomed me, even though I was an outsider. I took on the task of researching and locating the sites. The director of the program agreed to process the sites I was able to identify. We both wanted to help the children get their meals because we knew that for some of those children, that breakfast would be the only meal they would possibly have all day.

The point I want to make is that I did not have to be an employee of the organization to get the food to the children. Perhaps the director’s non-proactive approach to the distribution issue would have been fine if there had been marketing and advertisements informing the community about the food program. My approach was to use aggressive marketing strategies to inform and access the eligible community sites, which included personal contact.

That summer, the program served an additional 3,500 children through six new sites that had joined the program through the efforts of an outsider – a volunteer. The food program had also been in jeopardy of being cut and labeled ‘under utilized’ if the funds had gone unused. The director had accepted me - even though I was an outsider - to expand his outreach to the community. We had different approaches but we shared a common mission to eradicate hunger in the city. Incidentally, according to the Capitol Area Food Bank in DC, there are approximately 200,000 children at risk of going hungry and the children’s poverty rate is 48.2% compared with 36.4 % nationally.

Mark’s Gospel today proclaims that not only the insiders - the 12 disciples – but also the outsiders as well have helped to expand the boundaries of the new kingdom of God. This is the mission of Jesus for all people - not a select few. John out of jealousy informs Jesus that someone not in their group was successfully performing exorcisms in his name. John and some of the disciples had tried to stop him. They had been very upset about the matter and thought Jesus would be. How dare anyone attempt healing in the name of Jesus who was not, as John says, “one of us!”

Jesus, however, was not at all upset in hearing this news. I think he was glad. Jesus warns the disciples not to stop any of these individuals because “Whoever is not against us, is for us.” The outsider was doing the work of God. The outsider’s work made him equal to the disciples. The disciples thought of themselves as ‘the in crowd’ who had exclusive ties to Jesus. God’s reign is not exclusive. God’s reign is for the world. Moreover, we know others of different faiths who, nevertheless, believe in the one God of us all.

Jesus says that, "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” You may recall that there were some stumbling block issues among the early church apostles in the Book of Acts. Case in point, Peter and Paul fall out over the issue of taking the Gospel to the Gentiles. Paul advocates for it and Peter is totally against the idea. Peter is not convinced until the Holy Spirit, in a dream, calls him to go to the home of Cornelius, a Gentile. Peter wakes up, finds the house, and shares the Gospel with all in that house. Before Peter leaves, amazingly Peter baptizes everyone in the Gentile’s house. God opens Peter’s eyes to evangelize among the Gentiles as he has been within his own Jewish community.

At some point in our lives, we all have experienced some form of exclusiveness. The Good News is that God is inclusive. The Gospel is inclusive. There are no boundaries of exclusion. Mark’s Gospel calls everyone to “taste and see” the transformative power and love of God. The Gospel calls us to see the wonder of Christ beyond ourselves in the world. The Gospel calls us to be filled with the salt of Christ as we work, pray, and share together in the mission of the Church. We are called to offer cups of water and bread to quench the hunger and thirst of our brothers and sisters in the world as we remember that the heaven of God is a rainbow of the human race.

Let us pray a prayer written by Mother Teresa:

Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance everywhere we go. Flood our souls with your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly that our lives may be a radiance of yours…Let us thus praise you in the way you love best by shinning on those around us. Let us preach you with out preaching, not by words but by our example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we do, the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to you. (To Preach without Preaching,” Synthesis1994, p.2)
Amen.

9/20/2009 - The Rev. Susan N. Blue - The Sixteenth Sunday of Pentecost

posted May 21, 2010, 6:41 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:42 PM by Terry Brady ]

“Jesus said: Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all…”
(Mark 9:35)

When my son, Laird, was six he became very ill and was hospitalized. The child in the bed next to him had a badly infected leg. In the two weeks Laird was in that room that child never had a visitor. One day I arrived and found Laird’s fever raging, the air conditioning broken, and orders from the doctor for no aspirin (this was before Tylenol) as his hemorrhaging had increased. He was flushed and still; his eyes were glassy. I held him and asked how he felt. He replied: “I am fine, Mom, but Jimmy isn’t doing well – no one has come to see him and he is so sick and sad. Jimmy’s parents, for whatever reason, had denied the seriousness of his illness, and couldn’t bear to see him. This isn’t an unusual occurrence, just a heart-breaking one. While Laird was in surgery the next day I went to the chapel and bargained with God. I pointed out his concern for Jimmy (as if God didn’t know) and painted him as a paragon who would change the world. Needless to say, Laird lived, and, for awhile it looked like he would be the best educated waiter in New York City. He’s a good guy, but no paragon!
Neither the denial of Jimmy’s parents nor my outrageous bargaining with God is particularly unusual phenomena in the human condition. All of us have myriad defense and avoidance mechanisms whereby we deny that which we do not want to see, know or hear. These responses are often unconscious and a way to avoid the things that terrify us most.
All of us, too, have great concern with how we fit into this world, into the larger scheme of things. None of us wants to feel second-rate, we desire prestige, position and power in order to feel safe and valued. The greater our sense of insecurity the more we need these three things of the world. We find comfort in hierarchy – it gives order to our lives and let’s us know who is in charge and what our responsibilities are. It is out of this that prejudice emerges. We need to feel better than others in order to feel valued. As a result, discrimination exists between rich and poor, black and white, Anglo and Hispanic, male and female, adults and children, those of different gender identities and the intelligent and the slow. We tend to predicate our value not upon who we are in God’s eyes, but who we are in the eyes of the world.
The human condition was little different in the first century. Prestige and personal power were every bit as important as they are now. The disciples arguing about who would be first in the Kingdom would have not been an unusual debate. They were followers of a powerful man and assumed some of that power for themselves.
They were on the road to Jerusalem, and Jesus was using the remaining time to try to prepare them for the inevitable, his crucifixion. This idea was so horrifying that they were unable to understand and were so fearful that they could not even ask Jesus about it. They were clearly in denial. It is not that Jesus was not clear – he emphasized the cross, not the resurrection, and promised that it would happen. He was telling them that he would die a most degrading death; that he would give up everything for the world. What a contrast to the disciples’ response! They were in such denial that they could not share their fear, and did not even offer Jesus any consolation. Even more shocking, they bickered among themselves about who would be greatest in the Kingdom. What a contrast – Jesus told them of his upcoming act of total unselfishness, and they responded with total self-concern.
Surprisingly, Jesus did not rebuke them, but responded with patience and love as he continued to teach about the Kingdom. This response was particularly poignant given the very short time remaining before his death.
At that time children were perhaps the most marginalized people in the first century world. Over sixty percent of children died before they were sixteen! Jesus took the disciples aside and taught them by words and actions. The first were to be last, and they were to be servants of all. No power and prestige for them! He then took a child in his arms and held him, an action that indicated love and caring for the least among them. He then said: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:37) In other words, they were to live, teach and preach according to God’s standards not those of the world.
Jesus says exactly the same thing to each one of us. We are to reach out to the marginalized in our society – to care for all alike, and to be particularly responsive to those in greatest need. We are to share Jesus’ special concern for the poor and outcast. We are called as Christians to work to bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth. We are called to live according to God’s standards, not those of the world. That is our charge and our great delight. AMEN

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