Monday, February 26, 2018
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
February 25, 2018
2 Lent B
My grandmother’s kitchen table was a large booth built right into the end of her equally large kitchen. One long side of the table had chairs, but the two short ends and the other long side were booth seating. Altogether, the table would easily seat 10-12 people, but unless you were lucky enough to score one of the chairs on the open side of the table, once you were seated there was only one way out without everyone having to move. That way out was to scoot under the table. As children, my sister and I were always at the very back of the booth, and while, theoretically, we could have asked to be excused when we finished eating and crawled out from under the table, we never did. There was way too much fascinating conversation to hear. All the gossip that was fit to speak in the small, sleepy town of Headland, Alabama was shared around that table, and we had no intention of missing one word. Stories of death, divorce, errant children, run-ins with the law, and difficult spouses were just too good to miss. And, because we were in the south, all of the stories ended basically the same way. “Bless her heart. She has such a cross to bear.”
Over the past week and a half, the news has been filled with stories about people with crosses to bear that are infinitely more tragic than anything I heard around my grandmother’s table. We have heard stories of families burying their loved ones in Parkland, Florida, survivors trying to make sense and make a difference, and the kidnapping of school girls in Nigeria. Add those stories and so many more to the stories of our own loved ones who struggle with loss, or illness, or heartbreak, and Jesus’ words to his disciples this morning are not very comforting. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Do we really have to hoist our burdens and those of the world onto our shoulders to be followers of Jesus? I want to follow the Jesus who said “Come to me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will refresh you.”
Jesus has just told the disciples that he must undergo great suffering, be rejected and killed, and on the third day, rise again. Peter, understanding only the part about suffering, rejection, and death, rebukes Jesus for even thinking such thoughts. Jesus replies “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Peter had set his mind only the bad news about suffering and death. Peter has not heard God’s outrageous promise that after three days, Jesus will rise again.
Only after Jesus has predicted his suffering, death, AND resurrection does Jesus say to the disciples “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Jesus explains what that means by saying “For those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will save it.” Jesus wants his followers to take up Jesus’ own cross, not the sum total of the world’s burdens. On Ash Wednesday, we were marked with a cross that is the symbol of our own mortality and dependence on God. That cross imitates the cross made on our foreheads in baptism where we were sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. In baptism, the cross of Christ becomes our cross. Jesus is telling us that to be his follower requires something of us. What is required is to deny ourselves, pick up the cross of Christ, and go where Jesus leads.
In the reading from Genesis, we hear another outrageous promise. God promise is that Abraham, who is 99 years old and has no children, will be the ancestor of many nations. How, exactly, is God going to create abundant new life from Abraham and his elderly wife Sarah when they have not been able to have children? God’s outrageous promise is God’s promise to keep, but the promise requires a great deal of Abraham and Sarah. The book of Genesis tells us that God’s promise will test their faith and their relationships many times over the remainder of their lives as they partner with God to bring about this multitude of nations and follow where God leads.
When we focus on human things, as Peter did this morning and as Abraham and Sarah do at various points in their story, we see only the impossibility of God’s promise, if we are able to hear God’s promise at all. Peter could not hear Jesus say “and on the third day rise again,” and there are points in Abraham and Sarah’s story when they cannot believe God’s promise of descendants. When we focus on human things, all we see is death and destruction and we fail to see where we are called to pick up the cross of Christ and follow Jesus. But when we focus on divine things, on the outrageous promise to create life where all evidence points to death, we can be part of God’s outrageous promise.
In baptism, we allow ourselves to be claimed by God’s outrageous promise of life. Just as God’s outrageous promise required something of Abraham and Sarah, and Peter and the disciples, God’s outrageous promise requires something of us. That something is to live like people who believe God has transformed death into life. The specifics will vary for each of us, but in the words of our Baptismal Covenant, our response to God’s promise is to seek and serve Christ in all people, to proclaim the gospel with our words and actions, to work for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being. In a world where death too often seems to have the final say, we are called to pick up the cross of Christ, follow Jesus, and do something to be part of God’s outrageous promise that the final word belongs to life.
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
February 18, 2018
1 Lent B
When I was 11 years old, my family moved from a New Jersey suburb of New York City to Little Rock, Arkansas. While I knew that life would be different in the south....less snow, for one thing...I was totally unprepared for importance of family ties in the south. In the bedroom community where we had lived in New Jersey, pedigree did not matter. No one cared who you were related to; no one would have known them anyway. People moved in and people moved out. If you didn’t get to know your neighbors quickly, you never would because one of you would move. So, we were surprised when we moved to the south where the first question asked after being introduced to someone was a very patriarchal “who is your father?” My father wasn’t anyone particularly important, but my grandmother had lived in and around Little Rock most of her life, knew lots of people, and in a pinch that would save me from being a total outsider in the 6th grade. For better or worse, mostly the latter I imagine, pedigree told people who you were and something they thought important about you.
Jesus’ pedigree seems to be of great importance to Mark’s gospel. This is, after all, the third time in 2 months that we have heard the voice of God say to Jesus “You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” The first time was in January, January 7 to be exact, on the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus. We heard the same gospel reading that morning...the heavens were torn apart, the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, and the voice of God spoke. Then, last Sunday, on the Last Sunday after Epiphany, we heard the voice of God speak from a cloud at Jesus’ transfiguration and say “This is my Son, my beloved, listen to him.” And then today, we hear the story of the baptism of Jesus again, followed this time by Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. A third time, we hear the voice of God say “You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” On three different Sundays in three different contexts, baptism, transfiguration, and temptation, we hear two stories where the voice of God says the exact same thing. Clearly, Jesus’ pedigree, his identity as the Son of God, is important to Mark and tells us who Jesus is and something important about him.
The cynics say that the only reason that we hear the voice of God at Jesus’s baptism today, on the first Sunday of Lent, is because without the account of Jesus’ baptism, Mark’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is only two verses, hardly enough for a respectable gospel lesson. Certainly, Mark gives us by far the briefest account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Mark does not tell us how Satan tempted Jesus, as Matthew and Luke do. But because Mark says so little, we are called to pay careful attention to every word he does give us.
The story of Jesus’ baptism and the story of Jesus’ temptation are linked together because the first thing Mark tells us is that IMMEDIATELY after Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit DROVE him into the wilderness. Jesus is not led by the Spirit, not filled with the Spirit, but driven by the Spirit. Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days, as Moses was on Mount Sinai with God for 40 days and 40 nights, as Elijah spent 40 days and 40 nights without food on the same mountain, as the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness after their deliverance through the Red Sea. And Jesus was not alone in the wilderness. He was tempted by Satan, he was with the wild beasts, and angels waited on him.
Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness defines what it means to be the Son of God, which is why we hear the stories of Jesus’ baptism and Jesus’ temptation together. First, to be the Son of God is to trust the Spirit, the same Spirit that descended upon him as a dove, even when the Spirit of God takes him into the harsh barrenness of the wilderness. Secondly, the Son of God is part of the continuing story of the relationship between God and God’s people, the same story in which Moses and Elijah had key roles. Jesus will move the story further than either Moses or Elijah ever dreamed possible, but it is still the same story and the same God that Moses and Elijah encountered on the mountain and that led the Israelites through 40 years in the wilderness. Thirdly, to be the Son of God is not to be exempt from suffering and struggle. Quite the opposite. To be the Son of God means engaging the suffering of the world and the struggle between good and evil.
On Ash Wednesday, we entered the Lenten wilderness. The wilderness felt even more stark this year as we were reminded on Ash Wednesday of the darkness of violence and senseless death in the loss of 17 beloved children of God. The Lenten wilderness is a place where we, like Jesus, wrestle with our identity as God’s beloved children. How does our identity as God’s beloved children, and our understanding that all people are God’s beloved children, affect the way we live in a world where violence and suffering always seem to have the last word? In this Lenten wilderness and through our Lenten disciplines, we learn to trust God where we have trusted our possessions, food, habits, or opinions for a feeling of security. But our trust in God does not mean we just sit around and wait for God to act. Through our study of scripture, we understand more deeply how we are part of the ongoing story of salvation, and how we are called to make this world more closely resemble the Kingdom of God. And, like Jesus, we are reminded that being God’s beloved child does not mean that we are exempt suffering or the struggle between good and evil. Instead, we will learn to find God in the midst of those struggles.
The goal of Lent is not to simply survive in the wilderness until Easter. The goal of the Lenten wilderness is to journey towards Easter in a way that deepens our understanding of who we are as God’s beloved children. When we have a better understanding of who we are as God’s children, we will better know how we are to make this world more closely resemble the peaceable kingdom, where we can find God in the midst of the struggle between good and evil and how our lives can proclaim that the last word belongs to life.
Thursday, February 8, 2018
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
February 4, 2018
5 Epiphany B
Every day, our mailbox at home is filled with evidence of raw human need. Heifer Project, Doctors without Borders, Amnesty International, Save the Children, Food for the Poor, St. Jude’s Hospital for Children and so many more organizations send out request for funds on what seems like a weekly basis. All of the requests contain heartbreaking stories along with the question “Can you help?” Most of the stories are backed up by what I read in the news about medical care in war ravaged countries, the dire plight of refugees, starvation in impoverished countries, and the situation of children around the world. The needs are overwhelming. Don and I have a few organizations we support, but for the most part, the unopened envelopes simply go into the recycling bin. The needs of the world are simply too overwhelming.
I wonder whether Jesus felt overwhelmed when the whole city of Capernaum showed up on his doorstep with their loved ones who were ill. Jesus had just cured Simon’s mother-in-law, and apparently the news of Jesus’ healing power spread quickly. We are told that Jesus healed many who were sick and cast out many demons in Capernaum, and then he went away to pray. Then, even though there were more sick people to be healed in Capernaum, Jesus went on to the neighboring town so that he could proclaim the good news there as well.
When Jesus went away to pray, the gospel tells us that Jesus got up while the night was still very dark and went away to a deserted place. In the linear story of the gospel, which our lectionary does not follow, Jesus has just spent 40 days in a deserted place, the wilderness, where Jesus was tempted by Satan. In that wilderness, Jesus wrestles with his identity as the beloved Son of God. We will hear that story in two weeks, on the first Sunday of Lent. But I am reminded of that story when I hear that Jesus went to a dark, deserted place to pray. Jesus has not gone to a lovely retreat center where meals are provided and there are beautiful grounds to help connect him with God. Jesus has gone into the desert in the dark of the night, which sounds like a rather scary place to me.
I wonder if Jesus has gone to a dark place this time to wrestle with how he is to respond to the desperate human need he has encountered in Capernaum. Clearly he has the ability to meet that human need and to cure the people of every illness and demon that possesses them. What was he to do? He could spend his entire ministry in one city healing the sick and never finish. Jesus could enjoy great success and be very popular in Capernaum. But if Jesus stayed, the good news he came to proclaim would go no further. But if he left, he would leave sick people behind. What is the Son of God to do?
Jesus leaves his time in the deserted place renewed and with clarity about his mission. In the beautiful words of Isaiah, “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not be faint.” Jesus says to his disciples who have hunted him down, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also. For that is what I came to do.” And we are told that Jesus travelled throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Two things strike me about this brief story. First, Jesus says his mission is to proclaim the message. Jesus does not say that his mission is to heal people, even though he has healed a lot of folks. Secondly, the only time Jesus has used words to proclaim the message is at the very beginning of the gospel when he says “The time has arrived, and the Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news.” So, Jesus must be primarily proclaiming the Good News with actions rather than words.
Jesus reminds us that our primary mission as his followers is to proclaim the Good News. Paul echoes that mission in the letter to the Corinthians when he reminds us that his primary obligation is the proclamation of the gospel. To stay centered on that mission, we, like Jesus, need regular time for prayer, so we do not become overwhelmed. But, also like Jesus, our mission is not to meet every human need in the world, or in Summit County even. Our mission is, however, to do exactly one church’s worth, and each of us to do exactly one person’s worth, to proclaim the gospel with our lives, our actions, just as Jesus did. If our primary goal is to meet every human need, we will become completely overwhelmed and end up doing nothing. If our primary goal, our mission, is to proclaim that the Kingdom of God has arrived and to do so with our lives by doing the fullness of one church’s worth of gospel work, we will not be overwhelmed. Steeped in prayer and the richness of our relationship with God, we will have done the gospel work we have been given to do. Our mission as followers of Jesus is to proclaim with our lives that the Kingdom of God is at hand. In the course of doing that, much human need will be met, and we will make a gospel difference in the world.
Saturday, February 3, 2018
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
January 28, 2018
4 Epiphany B
Jungle Jim’s is an enormous international grocery store in Cincinnati. I have not yet been to the West Side Market in Cleveland, but I imagine they are similar in the vast array of foods offered. At Jungle Jim’s, there are departments for Asian, Indian, Hispanic, European, Mediterranean and African foods. Many of those departments have aisles for individual countries. I am usually in search of tea, chocolate, and cheese, but Jungle Jim’s is also the only place where I can find golden syrup. Golden syrup is the British version of corn syrup, with a caramel color and buttery taste that make for an amazing pecan pie. The Great Britain section of Jungle Jim’s is in the very back of the store, which must be at least a half mile from the entrance. Wandering through the aisles, looking at the great variety of food from all around the world, I can tell you that I have never seen one section, aisle or shelf marked "Food sacrificed to idols." Not one. And if Jungle Jim's doesn't have such food, I'm guessing we would be hard pressed to find these delicacies anywhere in our part of the world, including the West Side Market. So, St. Paul's words this morning about whether to eat food sacrificed to idols seem rather irrelevant to our lives of faith in Hudson, Ohio in 2018. The author of one of the commentaries I read said that he had never heard a sermon preached about this passage from I Corinthians. Now, I know that preaching is not supposed to be competitive sport, but Challenge Accepted!
The church in Corinth to which Paul wrote was divided over all manner of things-such as who was baptized by the greater Christian, who has the greater spiritual gifts, and how people of faith should behave at the Eucharist, which had turned into something of a potluck in Corinth. In this passage, Paul addresses the issue of food sacrificed to idols. We may find that irrelevant, but in Paul's time, the question of whether to eat such food was of deep concern and was tearing the church apart. Since idols have no real existence, some Christians thought it was fine to eat the food that had been sacrificed. Other Christians believed that to eat such food was to participate in the idolatry, which was clearly against the commandments of God. This disagreement threatened to divide the church and created an ugly atmosphere of condescension and judgement.
The issue here is not allowing a few people control the majority. Just one chapter later, Paul will write "For why should my liberty be subject to the judgement of someone else's conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why should I be denounced because of that for which I give thanks?" The issue at stake here is the nature of Christian community. Christians are called to be a community of love and respect, not condescension and judgement. In baptism, we 21st century Christians also promise to respect the dignity of every human being including each other and those with whom we disagree. At Christ Church, we don't always agree on everything. We don't all have the same politics or priorities or interests. But despite our differences, Paul calls Christians to be communities of love and respect.
What Paul does not tell us is how we are to love each other in the midst of any disagreement we might have. What does a community look like where people genuinely love each even when they disagree? For that, we turn to the gospel reading. First, when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and taught. The gospel calls the Body of Christ to gather on the Christian Sabbath to worship God and to learn. Then Jesus heals a man with an unclean spirit. The gospel also calls us to respond to the needs around us. Jesus neither judged the man nor sent him away. The man had probably been rejected any number of times and was not likely welcome in very many places. But Jesus healed him. Here and in so many other places in the gospel, Jesus calls us to respond to the needs around us, whether the needs of each other or the needs of strangers, to bind up the injured and set free those who are held hostage by the injustices of society.
What is the secret to being a healthy congregation in conflicted times, whether the conflict is over church matters, as it was in Corinth, or in the current secular/political atmosphere? The answer is not to ignore our differences. The answer is to stay focused on the work of the church-worshiping God and doing the work of meeting the human needs of those around us, whether the physical needs of those who are hungry, or spiritual needs of those who thirst for a church that will welcome them. When our identity as Christians comes from our common worship and our common gospel work, then we are free to talk about the issues of the day on which we may disagree.
Jesus and Paul remind us that the body of Christ, the church, is to be a community of faith where love builds up and allows us to respond to the needs to the world. If we don't love each other, we probably can't do ministry together very well either. And if we are not engaged in ministry together, our love for each other is mostly talk. The two go hand and hand and make for a church that is a joyful and effective witness to our faith-which is what both Jesus and Paul have in mind!
Friday, January 26, 2018
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
January 21, 2018
3 Epiphany B
When I was a child, there was a lake just down the path from my grandparents’ house in the mountains. My guess is that if I went back now, that body of water would look more like a glorified pond. But to my 7 year old self, standing on the dirt we thought of as a beach, the water was plenty adequate to count as a lake.
Every year, our grandfather would stock the lake with fish. Do not ask me what kind. I haven’t a clue. My brother, sister and I would throw handfuls of dry dog food into the water to make the fish jump, then we would use cheap, plastic fishing poles to catch the fish. Amazingly enough, the system worked and we were quite successful. Most of the fish were thrown back, but occasionally we would get to keep the fish and our grandfather would clean and cook them. We felt quite accomplished, when actually our grandfather had insured a successful catch. All we had to do was show up with the dog food and a fishing pole.
Then there is the way my brother-in-law fishes. Joe, Don’s younger brother, married into a family that takes their fishing very seriously. They would never use dog food for bait! For Joe’s in-laws, fishing requires expensive equipment, high quality bait, and being in the right place at the right time on the water. The competition is fierce among family members as each person seeks to outdo the other in size and number of fish caught. Fish that are not the right size or kind are tossed back. At the end of the day, the fish are brought in, counted and weighed so that a winner can be determined.
This morning, Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James and John away from their work fishing and mending nets and says, “Follow me.” Jesus tells the four men that he will make them fish for people. Exactly what kind of fishing does Jesus have in mind? Does Jesus mean the kind of fishing where you throw dog food into an over stocked pond and are guaranteed to catch something? Or does Jesus mean the kind of fishing that is competitive sport and where undesirable fish are thrown back? Given that Simon, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen by profession, fishing was neither a childhood game for them, nor a serious hobby. Fishing was their life.
In case you can’t tell, I am not very comfortable with this whole idea of fishing for people. For starters, bait is used to get the fish’s attention, and when swallowed, the bait is gone. If we are using bait to entice others to follow Jesus, that bait is the gospel, which does not disappear when swallowed. Secondly, we are not trying to hook or net people against their will. Rather we are trying to use our lives to show others a joyful, grounded way to follow Jesus so they will want to follow as well. And lastly, we’re not interested in cutting anyone up and frying them for supper. We want others to join us in following Jesus so that together we can make this world a bit more like the Kingdom of God. So, what are we to make of this whole fishing business?
For Simon, Andrew, James, and John, fishing was their life. So, this is what I think Jesus is really saying to the four fishermen. “Follow me and I will teach you how to use your life, your whole life, with all of your skills and your passions, to show others the Kingdom of God.” The four men happened to be fishermen, as many people were in the first century if they lived near large bodies of water. The idea of fishing for people caught on in the first century as a way to talk about making followers of Jesus because so many people were trained and skilled at fishing. But what I believe Jesus really wanted was to teach people to use their whole lives for the purposes of growing the kingdom of God.
Jesus looks at each of us today and says, “Follow me and I will teach you how to use your whole life to grow the Kingdom of God.” Jesus wants to show us how to use our skills and passions as an engineer, a teacher, a business owner, a cook, a plumber, a painter, an electrician, a parent, a nurse, or whatever we might be, to grow the Kingdom of God. If you happen to be good at fishing, great. Jesus will use those skills. But there is hope for the rest of us!
Today is our Annual Meeting Sunday, and a day we stop and think about who we are as a church and what we are doing to grow the Kingdom of God. One of the things we do at the Annual Meeting is approve a budget, which has lots of numbers reflecting income and expenses. I wonder what the Annual Meeting and Christ Church would be like if, rather than have a budget with income and expense numbers, we had a budget based on the skills and passions we have that we can use to make the world look more like the Kingdom of God. For starters, the income side of the budget would be enormous. We would never be able to say, “We can’t afford that” because we have an incredible talent bank to draw on here. But what would the expense side of the budget look like? How would we choose to invest the remarkable skill and talent that we have at Christ Church? Would we balance the budget carefully as we do with the finances, evenly distributing our resources among the many opportunities we have for making a gospel difference in the world? Or would we take some risks and budget more than we believe we can ever 8do on our own because we trust Jesus to show us how to follow?
When Jesus tells Simon, Andrew, James, and John that he will make them fish for people, Jesus is not telling them that the work will be easy because they already know what they are doing. Jesus is telling his four new followers that if they follow him, and take following him seriously, they will use their entire lives in new and challenging ways to make a gospel difference in the world. On this Annual Meeting Sunday, Jesus calls us to come to this special place called Christ Church to be renewed and reminded of who we are as Jesus’ followers, so that Jesus can lead us out into the world where he will use our whole lives to make the Kingdom of God come near.
Friday, January 19, 2018
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christian Unity Prayer Service
January 18, 2018
The book “The Poisonwood Bible” tells the story of the Price family, a Baptist family who, in 1959, left their home in Georgia to save the lost souls of the Congo. Barbara Kingsolver’s story details the mostly frustrated attempts of the family patriarch, Nathan, to single handedly save the souls of the Congolese people by forcing both Christianity and western culture on them. The disasters run from the failure of Price’s allegedly superior western plants to bear fruit in the Congo, to the death of the Price’s young daughter, to Price’s utter inability to convert the Congolese to Christianity. When I first read “The Poisonwood Bible” some years ago, I was struck by the missionary zeal of Nathan Price and the extent to which the Bible was used to divide and control rather than to unite and liberate.
I could not help but think about “The Poisonwood Bible” when I read the materials for today’s Christian Unity service. The materials and worship service for today were developed by Christians in the Caribbean, which is a vast and diverse expanse of islands in the Caribbean Sea. Sadly, one of the things that Caribbean countries and territories have in common is the connection to slavery and European colonization. The Bible was often used to justify slavery and oppression in the Caribbean as the Bible was used to do the same in our own country. And yet, the Bible was also a source of hope for the people of the Caribbean as it was for slaves in the United States.
The dramatic story of the Exodus has long been a source of inspiration, comfort, and hope, for people in bondage. Time and again, Scripture refers to the story of the Hebrew people’s miraculous escape from Egypt as the Egyptian army follows in hot pursuit. If God’s right hand could shatter the Egyptians, surely God’s right hand can destroy any bondage or enslavement in any time or in any place. The Exodus story not only tells of God’s saving work in the past; the story tells us that God wants liberation for God’s people in all times and in all places.
As a 21st century Christian who lives in comfort and security here in Hudson, I have to say that I have a fundamental discomfort with the story as told in our passage from Exodus this morning. The story does give credit where credit is due, praising God for God’s mighty acts in delivering the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. Only God could send plagues of locusts, or frogs or hail, or part the Red Sea. I am all for giving God credit. And yet, while God could have liberated the Hebrew people all by Godself, God chose to use Moses, to partner with Moses if you will, to save God’s people from the Egyptians. Back in the third chapter of Exodus, God called Moses from the burning bush and said, in paraphrase, “I have heard the cry of my people who are in Egypt, and I am sending you to get my people out of there.” Moses is none too pleased with this arrangement and offers all kinds of reasons why this is a bad idea. But God is insistent, and describes the partnership God and Moses will have, by which God will convince Pharaoh to let God’s people go, and Moses will lead them out.
God’s liberating work has been about partnership ever since God and Moses delivered the Hebrew people out of Egypt. I see the same sort of godly partnership in the founding documents of the Caribbean Conference of Churches. That document says, and I quote, “We, as Christian people of the Caribbean, because of our common calling in Christ, covenant to join together ….. to overcome the challenges created by history, language, culture, class, and distance. We are therefore deeply committed to promoting peace, the holistic development of our people, and affirming social justice and the dignity of all persons.” Together with God, the Christian people of the Caribbean have partnered together to do Exodus work and to deliver people from the varieties of bondage in which they find themselves today.
The right hand of God is indeed glorious in power, and the power of God is used to liberate God’s people from bondage, working in all the ways described in the hymn we will sing this morning- writing, pointing, striking, lifting, healing and planting. But what about God’s left hand?
We are God’s left hand. Whether Moses, or those who helped Jews to safety during the Holocaust, or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, or people who work with victims of addiction, violence, or human trafficking, or God’s own son sent to free us from sin and death, God works in partnership. The partnership of the churches in the Caribbean in an incarnation of that partnership.
Jesus’ prayer for his disciples on the night before he died was not that his disciples would always agree. His prayer was that his disciples would be one. On the one hand, by being united, the disciples would mirror God’s love for the world. On the other hand, by being one, the disciples could actually get something done as they continued Jesus’ liberating work. We gather today to show God’s love to the world through our unity and to bind together because we can do so much more together than we can do apart as we continue God’s liberating work.
One of my favorite television shows is “Call the Midwife.” At the end of one grueling day, Sister Monica Joan, an elderly quite eccentric Anglican nun, encourages a young midwife who has had a long, hard day with these words. “The hands of the Almighty are often found at the ends of our own arms.” May we be those hand, together.
Monday, January 15, 2018
Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
January 14, 2018
2 Epiphany B
Late one afternoon, about 10 years ago, I was working in my office in Springfield, Ohio, when the phone rang. If you have ever hung out in a church office, you know that we get all kinds of interesting phone calls. We get phone calls from people needing a variety of kinds of assistance, or people with no connection to the Episcopal Church whatsoever who want to vent about some stand or other than the church has recently taken, or, my personal favorite-companies wanting to offer us a line of credit but needing to speak to the owner. I would happily put the caller through directly to God if I could!
That afternoon, however, the call was from a man named Alan Kimbrough. Alan lived in Dayton, Ohio and was actually my husband’s cousin although we had never connected with Alan in all the years we had lived in Springfield. Alan was looking for a church that would host the Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus for their Christmas concert. The Chorus had several church venues in Dayton, but were looking to move out into wider community. Would the Episcopal church in Springfield be willing to host?
After some wonderful conversation with the vestry, I called Alan back to say that we would love to host the concert. We had months in which to plan the hospitality, which we took very seriously. We knew that exceptional hospitality would send one message and mediocre hospitality would send another message. When the long-anticipated night finally arrived, we had ushers and greeters scattered throughout the building, which is as much of a maze as this church, and enough appetizers and dessert to feed a small army. The church was packed with excited people who had come from as far away as Zanesville to hear the chorus. The atmosphere was electric, and I could feel the energy in the room. People stayed for a long time after the men sang and enjoyed the reception. But what I will remember the most about that evening, and hope I never forget, is the number of people who came up to me that night and said, “This is the first time I have ever felt welcome in a church.”
This morning, Jesus decides to go to Galilee where he finds Philip and says “Follow me.” Philip then finds Nathaniel and tells him, with some excitement in his voice, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathaniel should be excited, too. Philip has found the long awaited Messiah. But Nathaniel is somewhat less than enthusiastic. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
By the end of the story, Nathaniel has declared that Jesus is the Son of God. What changes Nathaniel’s mind about Jesus? What convinces Nathaniel that something good has come out of Nazareth, and that this Jesus is worth following? What happened was an encounter with Jesus in which Jesus sees something in Nathaniel that is good. “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Even then, Nathaniel is skeptical. “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus replies “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Jesus had noticed Philip under the fig tree when there was no real reason to notice the man. When Nathaniel realizes that Jesus really saw him, and saw something in him that was good, Nathaniel is moved to say “Rabbi, you are the Son of God.”
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” When I talk with people who have never had a connection with church, and all they know about church is what they read about in the press or on social media, they wonder “Can anything good come out of church?” At best, they see that we give up precious time on Sunday mornings, and often other times during the week. We believe in a God we cannot see. We pattern our lives around an ancient book. We eat bread and drink wine that we call the body and blood of Christ. We do lots of good works, but so do many other organizations. At worst, they see church as an institution that divides rather than unites, that preaches judgement rather than compassion, and that condemns rather than loves. Can anything good come out of church?
This weekend, we celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I am reminded of Dr. King when I hear Jesus say to Nathaniel “Here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Jesus was speaking about Nathaniel’s character. Dr. King said “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Dr. King gave his life to overcome racism in this country and to tear down the barriers that divide us. Dr. King’s work was to make this country a place that welcomes all people into all aspects of life regardless of their color, whether drinking fountains, restrooms and restaurants, or places of employment and government office. Whether based on the Declaration of Independence and the statement that all are created equal, or based on the book of Genesis where all are made in the image of God, Dr. King called us to live like we believe those statements to be true.
Can anything good come out of church? Both Jesus and Dr. King call us to treat people exactly the way our Baptismal Covenant calls us to treat people. If we work for justice and peace, and respect the dignity of every human being, no exceptions, and seek and serve Christ in all people, no exceptions, then people of all races, economic backgrounds, educational levels, nationalities, and sexual orientations will know that they are welcome here. And to all who wonder, the answer to the question “Can anything good come out of church?” will be a resounding “Yes!”