Monday, August 27, 2018

Abide


Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
August 26, 2018

16 Proper B

          Several months ago, we had a technology meltdown in the church office.  For some unknown reason, the phone and internet were out and our computers were not working.  Kathy Garber, our parish administrator, put in a call to our tech support and we spent the morning cleaning out old file drawers.  We found lots of treasures that morning, including a service bulletin from the dedication of this church on January 18, 1995.  From the bulletin, I can tell that the music was spectacular.  The processional hymn was “Lift High the Cross,” which was elected this parish’s number one favorite hymn in our voting this summer.  The prayers were deeply moving.  The baptismal font, lectern, and pulpit were dedicated and the altar was consecrated.  There were five communion hymns, so I’m guessing the church was packed.  I can only imagine how glorious the celebration was as this beautiful space was offered to God.

          This morning, we hear about the glorious dedication of another place of worship, the temple in Jerusalem.  The year was likely around 960 BC.  Solomon has built this temple as a house for God.  The temple is large and ornate-a fitting home for the God who led the people out of slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the Promised Land.  We watch as the priests of the temple place the Ark of the Covenant in the inner sanctuary, the most holy place in the Temple.  The Ark of the Covenant contained the tablets on which the 10 commandments were written and were thought to contain the very presence of God.  Once the priests come out of the inner sanctuary, the whole temple fills with a cloud as the glory of God fills the temple. A pillar of cloud led the Israelites through the wilderness and protected them as they entered the promised land.  That cloud signified the presence of God with them.  Now that same cloud fills the Temple.  Finally, Solomon prays that God will hear the prayers of all people who pray in the Temple, so that all people might know God and fear God.

But even in the midst of the dedication of this great temple, Solomon asks "But will God indeed dwell on the earth?  Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house I have built."  Even as Solomon dedicates the elaborate, ornate Temple, he knows that God will not actually live there.  The God who has wandered with God's people is not likely to be confined in a temple.

But will God indeed dwell on the earth?  John's gospel, from which we hear this morning, tells us that, in Jesus, the very God who wandered through the wilderness with God's people and led them into the Promised Land has chosen to dwell among us, wander with us, if you will, on earth.  The gospel begins with the words "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God."  A few verses later we are told that "the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, full of grace and truth."  This morning, we hear Jesus say "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them."  The Word has not only become flesh, the Word invites us to abide or dwell in him and he in us.  And many of his disciples understandably say "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?"

On the day this church was consecrated, the Sr. Warden, who, according to the service bulletin was Gretchen Green, prayed this prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, make this a temple of your presence and a house of prayer.  Be always near us when we seek you in this place. Draw us to you, when we come alone and when we come with others, to find comfort and wisdom, to be supported and strengthened, to rejoice and give thanks.  May it be here, Lord Christ, that we are made one with you and with one another, so that our lives are sustained and sanctified for your service.”  We come to this holy place to seek comfort and wisdom, for support and strength, and to rejoice and give thanks.  We do this so that our lives are sustained and sanctified for Jesus’ service.  And Jesus is to be found in the world around us, wandering among all people and in all places.  So we are called to take that comfort, strength, joy and gratitude out into the world.  We live together as a people of faith here, so that we know how to live as people of faith in the world.  We encounter Jesus in the bread and wine here, which teaches us to recognize and experience Jesus where ever we break bread.  In this holy place, we learn how to abide in Jesus and let Jesus abide in us.  When the disciples say, "This teaching is difficult, who can accept it?" Jesus doesn't say "No, it's not."  He says, "Does this offend you?"  Abiding in Jesus is hard, because abiding in Jesus demands that we see the world as Jesus sees and follow where Jesus goes.  The gospels tell us that Jesus went, not just to the synagogue, but to the cities, villages, and remote places where people were sick, hungry, or in any need or trouble. 

          Jesus answers Solomon's question "But will God indeed dwell on earth?" with the words "Abide in me and I in you."  We respond to Jesus' promise to abide in us and his call to abide in him with the words of our baptismal covenant as we promise to seek and serve Christ in all people, to work for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human person.  These promises are difficult but holy work, requiring God’s comfort and wisdom, support and strength, along with much joy and gratitude.  But through that work, nourished in this place, the world will experience our belief that Jesus is the holy one of God.  
                                                                                      Amen.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Living


Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
August 19, 2018

15 Proper B

           “Live Like You Were Dying” is a great country song written and sung by Tim McGraw.  The song has a lively tune and a compelling message.  A friend has received some scary test results and McGraw asks “How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news?  Man, what’d you do?”  The friend’s answer is that he “went skydiving, rocky mountain climbing, loved deeper, lived sweeter, and gave forgiveness that he’d been denying.”  Then, in the song, the friend says to McGraw “Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.”  The song urges us to take our mortality seriously and make a bucket list so we can squeeze every possible bit out of life before we no longer have the opportunity.

          This morning, we hear Jesus say “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”  Then Jesus says “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” Those words call to mind Jesus’ words at the last supper where Jesus took a loaf of bread, broke it and said “Take, eat.  This is my body.”  Then Jesus took a cup of wine and said “Drink from it, all of you.  For this is my blood of the covenant poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  We hear these words every week as the bread and wine are blessed in the Eucharist.  In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as Jesus nears the end of his earthly life, Jesus gives the disciples this bread, this meal, as a way to both remember Jesus and be connected with him after he is gone.  The focus of the meal is on Jesus’ upcoming death.

Today, however, we hear from John’s gospel, and John tells the story differently.  In John's gospel, there is no meal involved on the night Jesus is arrested. Instead, as Jesus gathers with his disciples that last night, he washes their feet.   The passages we have heard over the last four weeks about the bread of life all come in early in John's gospel, right after the feeding of the 5000, not at the end of his life.  In the middle of Jesus' life, after he has fed the multitudes with a few loaves and fish, Jesus says "I am the living bread that came down from heaven."  In the middle of Jesus’ life, he says “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

          In the 7 verses of our gospel reading this morning, the word "life" or "living" occurs 8 times.  "I am the living bread." "Whoever eats of this bread will live forever." “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”  In another few chapters, Jesus will say “I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.”  And in yet another few chapters, Jesus will say “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”   With all due respect to Tim McGraw, in John’s gospel, Jesus is not calling us to live like we are dying.  Jesus does not give us a bucket list of things we need to accomplish before we die.  Jesus calls us to live like we are fully alive, abiding in the life Jesus has given us.

          What does living like we are fully alive look like if there is no bucket list involved?  The reading from Ephesians gives us part of the answer to that question.  The writer exhorts us to “be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  When we live like we are fully alive, we live as grateful people and we see the world as grateful people.  Our lives and our actions are shaped by that gratitude.

          The second part of the answer comes, in a round about way, from our reading from I Kings.  On the surface, the reading gives us the impression that David and Solomon have been wonderful examples of the faithful life.  We hear God say that David kept God’s statutes and commandments, and God is so pleased with Solomon that God asks Solomon what God can give Solomon.  When Solomon asks for wisdom, God throws in riches and honor as well.  Surely, David and Solomon must be models of faithful life.

          But, what about David and Bathsheba?  And what about Solomon’s sacrifices at the high places?   What about Solomon’s marriage alliance with Pharaoh, King of Egypt, which happens in the two verses immediately prior to our story this morning. Has God forgotten about all of this decidedly unfaithful behavior?

          And this is the second point about living as people who are fully alive.  God clearly loves David and Solomon despite their mistakes.  And the two men love God. People who live like they are fully alive can do that because they know they are loved unconditionally by God, even when they make grievous mistakes, and in turn, they love God unconditionally.    Their lives are defined by God’s love for them and their love for God, not the sum total of their successes minus their failures.

          This morning, we baptize Piper Josephine Althouse.  Baptism is the sacrament by which we are joined with Christ in Christ’s death and resurrection, assuring us of eternal life.  In baptism, we are given our identity as people who are loved by God, regardless and forever.  Through the baptismal covenant, baptism calls us to shape our lives in gratitude for God’s gift of life.  Both Jesus and baptism call us to live, not like we are dying, but like we are fully alive. Forever.                                                                     
 Amen.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Bread


Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
August 5, 2018

13 Proper B

          To celebrate my grandmother’s 80th birthday, my dad threw a family reunion.   Our family wasn’t large.  My grandmother had two sons, my dad and his brother, both of whom were married and had three children. Some of the grandchildren were married but none of us had children of our own yet.  So, by the time we added a few other relatives, about 15 of us gathered at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock to celebrate the birthday.  We had a wonderful time reuniting with relatives we had not seen in years, telling stories, enjoying a wonderful dinner, laughing ourselves silly, and in general feeling like one big happy family.  Our grandmother soaked up the love and attention.  Whae all left the next day wanting more, wanting to have another reunion, wanting to have the same experience all over again, and wanting that same feeling of being nourished beyond the food.

          I think the people in this morning’s gospel lesson may have experienced something similar.  Last week, we heard the story of the feeding of the 5000, which immediately precedes today’s gospel reading.  In that story, a little boy offers his lunch of 5 barley loaves and 2 fish, and Jesus turns that small offering into a meal that fed thousands.  The people will be talking about this experience for years.  My guess is that there was much excited chatter as the people saw what Jesus had done, and people who came as strangers left as friends.  Perhaps people shared stories about previous encounters with Jesus and wondered what Jesus might do next.  In my imagination at least, the people left with the sense of unity that comes from a shared meal. 

So this morning the people have followed Jesus across the sea wanting more.  They would like another miracle.  They may want that feeling of community that is created when something extraordinary happens.  Perhaps they just want to be with Jesus.  The people are looking for something to fill their hunger and their thirst, the longing in their lives, and they hope another meal of bread and fish will do that.

Jesus is not interested in recreating the Feeding of the 5000 to satisfy a hunger that will only reappear over and over again.  Jesus tells the crowds that he is the Bread of Life and that whoever comes to him will never be hungry and whoever believes in him will never thirst.  How can that be? Jesus is not talking about physical hunger and thirst, which cannot be permanently satisfied.  Jesus is talking our deep spiritual hunger, which often gets mistaken for physical hunger.  Jesus wants to give us that sense of unity with him and with each other which comes from having our spiritual appetite satisfied so that we are not driven by our physical appetites.

          I wonder if the little boy who offered his bread and fish is the one person in the story of the feeding of the 5000 who recognized Jesus as the Bread of Life.  The little boy must have known something of Jesus, otherwise offering his small bit of lunch would have been a waste among so many people.  In our story from 2 Samuel this morning, David forgets that God is the source of the bread that satisfies forever and we are reminded of what happens when we are driven by our physical appetites.  Last week, we heard the story of David and Bathsheba, in which David has an affair with Bathsheba, who is married to Uriah, who is off at battle.  When David finds out that Bathsheba is pregnant, he tries to manipulate the situation so that Uriah appears to be the father.  But Uriah is far too ethical a person to sleep with his wife when his soldiers are out in the field.  So, in order to protect himself, David has Uriah deliberately killed in battle, then takes Bathsheba as his own wife.  This morning, we hear God's fury and God's hurt.  David's actions will have consequences that will extend for generations to come and David will be publicly shamed before all Israel.  What David thought he did in isolation to satisfy his own desires ends up having consequences that will hurt many.  David has forgotten that the deep hunger inside us can only be satisfied by God.  He has sought to satisfy that hunger himself, with disastrous consequences.

On the other hand, the little boy who shared his lunch lived much more in keeping with the reading from Ephesians.  The writer of Ephesians begs us to live "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."  The writer goes on to say "But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love."  The Bread of Life nourishes us to be that body, which is hard work, as we put our individual desires and needs aside and use our gifts for the greater good. 

          Jesus calls us to believe that he is the Bread of Life who satisfies our deepest hunger and greatest thirst.  Jesus also calls us to live out that belief.  If we believe that Jesus is the one who satisfies our hunger, we can more easily live with humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love.  If we believe that Jesus is the one who satisfies our thirst, we, like the little boy who offered his lunch, can know God’s abundance and can live with glad and generous hearts.  When we know Jesus as the Bread of Life, our question is transformed from “What can Jesus do for me?” to “What can Jesus do with me?”
                                                                                      Amen.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Home


Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
July 22, 2018

11 Proper B

          When I was growing up, my grandmother lived in the same house she lived in when my mother was born in 1932.  My grandfather died when I was just two years old, so I never really knew him, other than through photographs and stories.  My sister and I loved going to the house where Mom grew up, looking through her old high school photo albums, and playing with the children of Mom’s childhood friends.  Mom grew up in the small town of Headland, Alabama where everyone knows everyone else and their business.  When we would go to visit in the summer, everyone from the tellers at the bank to the cashiers at the grocery store knew who we were.  We were Ann Slocomb’s children and Mildred Slocomb’s grandchildren.  Even though we did not live in Headland, the small community felt like home.  We felt connected there and loved by people we did not even know, simply because we were Ann’s daughters and Mildred’s granddaughters.  Between staying with our grandmother in the house where Mom was raised, to being known everywhere we went by people we did not know, the notion of “home” became much more than simply a dwelling place.  “Home” became an experience of belonging and of identity.  We felt at home in Headland, Alabama.

          This morning, we find David settled in at home, enjoying his house and taking a rest from all his enemies around him.  Sitting in his lovely house of cedar, David realizes that while he has a lovely home, God is living in a tent.  David should not have a nicer dwelling place than God has.  So, David decides to build God a house.  That is the way Scripture tells the story.  But personally, I think David is tired from all his work defeating his enemies and working to create a united Kingdom.  David remembers well all the times that God has moved among the people, led them in battle, and taken them to new places.  David is worn out, and figures that if he builds God a house to live in, God will have to stay put for a while, and David can take a break!  But that is just my version of the story.

Whatever David's motives, God is not flattered by David's generous offer.  God reminds David that God is a God on the go.  Rather than David building a house for God, God will build a house for David, on whose throne God will establish a kingdom forever.  This house will not be a made of cedar, but of the offspring of David.

David's offspring do rule Jerusalem for about 400 years. But even before that kingship ends with the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C., prophets believed that God's promise to David would be fulfilled through the gift of a Messiah.  As Christians, we believe that the promise made to David this morning is fulfilled in the person of Jesus.

When we catch up with Jesus today, we find him out among the people.  The Messiah, the anointed one of God, is not found in a house, but out in the villages, cities and farms, teaching and healing all those who came to him.  This is the same Messiah who, in Matthew and Luke's gospels, says "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."  And in the same gospels, when told that his mother and brothers have arrived to see him, Jesus says "My mother and brother are those who hear the word of God and do it."  Whatever Jesus' idea of home might be, it does not seem to involve his family or a house.  As the one we believe to be the promised house of David, built by God, Jesus does not stay put any more than God does.  Jesus is clearly the Son of the God who is on the move!

So what might "home" mean for us as Christians?  The writer of Ephesians says "So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God."

Much in the same way that gospel logic proclaims that the last are first and the first are last, the rich are poor and the poor are rich, and the insiders are outsiders and the outsiders are insiders, I wonder if gospel logic tells us that for followers of Jesus, home is not about where we live, but where God lives.  As Christians, we believe that Jesus is Emmanuel-God with us.  Christians are no longer aliens or strangers, or in other words we are no longer not-at-home, because together we are a dwelling place for God. What makes home is God dwelling in us-God with us.  We come to this place, this wonderful, beautiful building, to be fed and nurtured, but not to live.  The number one vote getting hymn at Christ Church is “Lift High the Cross,” which I understand was the theme and the theme hymn of the campaign to build the beautiful church/this lovely space some 25 or so years ago.  We come to Christ Church, our spiritual home, to be fed and sent out into the villages, cities, and farms, or their equivalent in our own lives.  In September, we will have a unique opportunity to be sent out and experience God’s home in the world.  On September 9, we are invited to participate in First Serve with First Congregational Church as well as people of other denominations and faiths, along with the residents of two economically challenged neighborhoods in Akron, to help repair homes and revitalize neighborhoods.  We will not be outsiders coming in to fix something for someone else, but we will be fellow travelers coming in to connect with people we have not met yet, our brothers and sisters as God’s children, and to help.  My experience is that as we help people with their homes and neighborhoods, we will experience a sense of home and neighborhood with them.  Our home is where God is, and Scripture tells us that God is out among the people.  Home happens for us where ever we are because we are all members of the household of God and members of Jesus family. Home happens when we hear the word of God and do it.  Home happens when we go where God goes, and God is on the move.

                                                  Amen.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Word Made Flesh


Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
July 15, 2018

Christmas in July

          Until I started seminary about 25 years ago, I was mostly stay-at-home mom to our two sons.   I had done a little teaching here and there, and a lot of volunteer work, but for the most part my life had revolved around Slocomb and Caldwell.  So, my entry into the world of commuting to school an hour away from home four days a week and taking a full load of courses was a rather jarring transition.   A friend of mine at church-who I considered to be an older woman at the time but she was probably all of 60-said this to me one day just before school started: “I am going to bring dinner to your house one night a week every week this year.”   She stated this as a fact, not a question, and I knew her well enough not to argue, because arguing would have been a waste of breath.  Every Thursday night for an entire year, Anita brought a home cooked meal to our house.  One week the meal might be meatloaf and mashed potatoes, made from scratch.  Another week, we might have homemade lasagna, or a casserole, or any number of hot nourishing meals.  Every week for 52 weeks until we moved to Chicago for me to finish school, Anita nourished our bodies and souls with her food, kindness, and outrageous generosity.

          What, you might reasonably ask, do Anita’s meals have to do with Christmas in July?  Christmas in July reminds us that the Christ Child is born in our midst, the Word becomes flesh, not just when we have cleared space on our calendar, purchased or made gifts and wrapped them, decorated our homes if we are so inclined, and have Christmas dinner ready to pop in the oven.  The Christmas story tells us that the Christ Child was born in a common stable, where a manger was used for his bed, to parents who were about the ordinary and probably annoying work of taking care of bureaucratic red tape, and the ordinary became holy.  The Christ child is born in our midst, the Word becomes flesh, in the midst of our ordinary lives, in surprising ways, when we least expect Jesus to show up.  Anita’s meals were, for me, a surprising and grace-filled expression of the Word made flesh, the ordinary made holy as she extended lavish kindness to my family and myself.

          I sometimes wonder if we hear the words of the angel to the shepherds differently in July than we do in December. The angel says to the shepherds "Do not be afraid." And the shepherds swallow their fear and leave their flocks to find the Christ Child lying in the manger. In December, when it is cold outside and not only the church but all of downtown Hudson is decorated, I hear those words and feel comfort and hope at coming to this place and greeting the Christ Child here. In December, we do offer gifts of baby food for the baby Jesus and hungry babies in Summit County.  So our focus is not entirely on greeting the Christ Child here, but on Christmas Eve, at least for me, the focus is on the Christ child being born in my own heart and greeting him in this place so that I can swallow my fear and go into the world to serve Christ there.

On Christmas in July, I hear the words of the angel to the shepherd differently. I hear the angel say to the shepherds-"Do not be afraid. The Christ Child is not here in the fields where you are comfortable and know what you are doing. The Christ Child is in Bethlehem, where you are not comfortable and you do not know what you are doing. Swallow your fear and go there."   The shepherds believe the angel, leave the sheep to their own devices, and venture into unknown territory without so much as a map much less a GPS to guide them as they look for a newborn baby in the midst of the city of Bethlehem.  The shepherds have certainly swallowed their fear!

Christmas in July, which I cheerfully admit is weird and uncomfortable, reminds us that the manger is not just here, where we greet the Christ Child and are comfortable and know what we are doing. The manger is equally in those places where we are less comfortable and less likely to know what we are doing, such as places where children do not have such basic items of clothing as socks and underwear, or where people live lives completely different from ours, or hold different values, or are marginalized because of race, or gender, or education or income or any number of other reasons and places where people face challenges we cannot begin to imagine. Christmas in July takes us out of our comfort zones, reminding us both that the Christ child is found in unexpected places and that we are called to be the Word made flesh for others at all times and in all places.  Christmas in July reminds us that Jesus often shows up where we least expect him, and that sometimes we have to swallow our fear to find him.

                                                                                     Amen.


Monday, July 9, 2018

Hometown


Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
July 8, 2018

9 Proper B

          I met my husband's Aunt Joy when she was 95 years old.  Two of her six children had brought her to Springfield, Ohio where we lived at the time, for a mini family reunion.  Aunt Joy was fiercely independent, utterly delightful, deeply inquisitive about her faith, and I adored her instantly.  We corresponded off and on for the next few years, usually by phone.  I got to visit her once in Richmond, Virginia where she lived, which was a total blessing.

When Aunt Joy was 98 years old, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.   She had emergency surgery after which she had to relearn how to make her arms and hands work, and how to stand again.  We talked on the phone a little more often then, and sometimes we were even able to Skype and see each other.  One day she told me with a real sense of accomplishment that she had been able to stand several times that day.  She marveled at the ability of the physical therapist to hoist her out of the chair, and she told me that she had to hang on to the therapist for dear life.  But she had stood up, even if briefly, and she felt like a new person.

Her problem, she told me, was that she was having trouble hanging on to Jesus.   In fact, she said, she was having trouble finding Jesus at all, much less hanging on to him.  We talked about this and then we wondered together about whether Jesus might be present in the physical therapist she had held on to so tightly so she could stand up.  Or perhaps Jesus was present in her children, at least one of whom was with her around the clock.  Or perhaps Jesus was present in the oncologist that Aunt Joy adored and was probably younger than some of Aunt Joy's grandchildren.  We said good-bye that night without any clear resolution to her concern about being able to hang on to Jesus, but her deeply inquisitive mind had engaged the question on a new level.

This morning, the folks in Jesus’ hometown are astonished that this carpenter, this son of Mary and Joseph, is able to teach in the synagogue much less do amazing deeds of power.  The people could not believe that the person before them, teaching with authority and power, and doing miraculous deeds, could possibly be the kid who grew up in their neighborhood, played with their children, and had a mom and dad and brothers and sisters who were their friends.  This guy should be a normal hometown human being just like them.  Jesus’ wisdom was taken for arrogance, and his ability to heal was likely seen as some kind of magic.  The people could not see Jesus for who he was and so nothing, or very little, happened, as we are told that Jesus was only able to lay his hands on a few people and cure them.

This morning, we also hear the story in which David is anointed king over Israel.   Several weeks ago, we heard God send Saul to see Jesse the Bethlehemite, because God had chosen a king for the Israelites from among Jesse’s sons.  Saul was introduced to all of Jesse’s sons, likely from the eldest and most eligible to be king, to the younger ones, and none was the one God had chosen as king.  God had chosen the youngest son, David.  God was acting in the lives of God’s people, right under their noses, in a way they could not see because who would think God would chose the youngest, smallest of all the sons?

We often talk about finding God at work in the world around us, and remind ourselves that God does not just work within our lives here at church.  We look for the places where God is at work in the neighborhood, or the community, or in the world.  We see God at work in rescue workers in times of disaster, in people willing to speak boldly on issues of justice and peace, in researchers finding cures for disease, and in so many other places.  Today, we are reminded to open our eyes to the places where Jesus is at work right under our noses, doing amazing and marvelous things in our lives and the lives of those we love.  We are called to see Jesus at work in such ordinary, every day places that he might be easy to miss.  Christmas in July is not until next Sunday, and I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but the truth of the incarnation is both that Jesus was born in an ordinary stable 2000 years ago, and Jesus is present in the ordinary stables of our lives now, working in ways we least expect and we most need.   When we can see Jesus at work in ordinary hometown people, what happens can be quite extraordinary.
                                                                             Amen.  

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Stones


Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
June 24, 2018

7 Proper B

When I was a child, our grandfather would take us down to the pond near his house and teach us how to skip stones across the water.  First, we had to choose a stone that was the right size, fairly flat, and as smooth as possible.  Then he showed us how to use the correct angle and the perfect spin to send the stone skipping across the water.  At first, we could only get the stones to skip once or twice before sinking.  But with some practice, we could get three or four skips across the water.  Our goal was always to get the stone to the other side of the pond, but that never happened. 

We hear about another stone this morning.  This stone was a small stone cast by a small boy at a great foe.  Clearly, David had to have the ability to choose the right stone, the ability to aim accurately, and the strength to land the stone in the right place.  Perhaps David had honed his slingshot skills while protecting his sheep from the lions and bears.  David tells Saul that he has killed lions and bears, and declares his trust that the God who saved him from the lion and the bear would also save him from the great Philistine.  David’s confidence in his own skills and in the God who had kept him safe in the past gave him the courage to take on Goliath.

Courage is perhaps understandably lacking in the disciples this morning.  The disciples and Jesus are crossing the lake when a great windstorm produces such huge waves that the disciples are afraid the boat will be swamped, and they will all drown.  Jesus is asleep in the boat, apparently unconcerned about the impending disaster. The disciples wake Jesus up and say "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" Jesus wakes up and says to the wind and waves "Peace, be still." And the wind and waves calm. Then Jesus says to the disciples "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" And the disciples say to each other "Who is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?"

I find it interesting that Jesus says "Why are you afraid?" rather than  "There is nothing to be afraid of." The difference is huge. The storm is truly fierce.  Drowning is a real possibility.  There is clearly something to fear. The question is why the disciples fear.

The disciples are professional fishermen when Jesus calls them. They have spent a lot of time on the water. At this point, they are probably much better at catching fish than they are at being disciples. So, in theory at least, they have the skills to read the wind and waves and know how to handle this situation, or, better yet avoid the danger in the first place. But in their fear, they forget.  Unlike David, who uses his skills and his trust in God to give him the courage to face a fearsome situation, the disciples forget their skills and do not realize that they are with Jesus, who has power over the wind and waves.  The disciples are paralyzed by their fear and can do nothing in the face of great adversity.

David summoned his skill, his courage, and his trust in God to confront Goliath.  His skill happened to be with a stone and a slingshot.  This week, we have seen other kinds of stones thrown.  We have heard verbal stones thrown with judgement and rancor against people whose views are different from our own, and seen stones cast in a terrible ways against people whose backgrounds or life situations we cannot begin to imagine.  Courage is required to tackle the difficult challenges that face our country with some measure of grace.  The issue of immigration, as with the issue of gun control and other divisive issues, are very complicated issues with no clear or simple solution.  We can easily feel as small as David before Goliath-like issues, or as unable to deal with those issue as the disciples were to deal with the storm.  

However, in the reading from 2 Corinthians, Paul gives us the stones we are to use in the face of such great challenges. Paul wrote of his own challenges of “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger” which he met with the stones of “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God.”  These are the stones God has given to use as we work to solve the challenges we face, whether personal challenges, global challenges, or anything in between.  These are the stones we are called to practice skipping across the water over and over again, until our skills are perfected.  These are the stones we have been given to use as we practice keeping our baptismal promise to seek and serve Christ in all people, to work for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being.  David used his well practiced skills, and his trust in the God who had always kept him safe to give him the courage to do what seemed impossible.  God calls us to our well practiced skills, and our trust in God, so that we have the courage to be the people God calls us to be as we face the daunting challenges of our day.

                                                                             Amen.