Repairing a Broken World

This evening I think it’s helpful to remember where we left off last week in Matthew in fact I think it is helpful to go back to chapter 24 when Jesus having just assailed the scribes and Pharisees sat at the Mount of Olives and the disciples asked him “What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” And Jesus proceeds to tell them what will happen when the Messiah will come. He warns them not to be deceived and to be vigilant and he says many things about being ready and prepared for this coming “Keep Awake” he says, “ for you know neither the day or the hour”. Don’t be deceived by pretenders who claim to be the Messiah and don’t be lazy and negligent…Stay awake because he could come at any hour. Any hour at all. This warning to be vigilent and to be ready is echoed again in our Epistle this week from the First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians. We are in the days just prior to his crucifixion on the cross and his brutal death. Jesus is trying to tell them about what is to come so they will see and recognize the signs he is telling them about. “Keep Awake”…be ready, be prepared…”Keep Awake”.

This week’s Gospel lesson from Matthew, tells us the parable of the Talents. Three slaves are given a sum of money (a “Talent”) by their master before he goes away for a long time. When he returns he asks for an accounting and finds that two of them had invested what they were given and had doubled the original amount and he rewards each with praise and greater responsibilities. But the third in fear and trepidation had hidden his Talent in a hole in the ground to protect it and although it had not lost value it had not grown. The master angrily addresses him and says

“You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.” Then he tells one of the others, “take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten talents…for to all those who have, more with be given, and they will have an abundance, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away” And then he throws the slave out into the darkness.

We are talking about a great deal of money here. By one reckoning one talent could be more than 1 million dollars. SO it is easy to get caught up in the monetary nature of this story and the complexity of our capitalist economy or even in the concepts espoused by those who preach the prosperity gospel. But this is a parable and parables are complex riddles not factual news reports. Parables can leave us with questions that can confuse and puzzle us. And they are frequently not about what their actual words seem to tell us. In this instance when the Gospel of Mathew was written there was no such thing as a capitalist economy, so to judge the meaning of these ancient words only in economic terms would, I think be wrong.

I think it helps to remember that the 25th chapter of Matthew begins with these words:         “When the day comes, the kingdom of heaven will be like this”. I think the purpose of this parable is to give us clues as to what we should expect the kingdom of heaven to be like and to show us what God expects of us.

The Jesuits have an interesting and helpful way of looking at scripture. It is called the “Composition of Place” and it calls them to approach every passage by first descending into the heart to discern what God is trying to tell them and then to put themselves into the place of every person in the story. In this way they place themselves inside the scene not on the outside looking in. They actually try to imagine what they might see what they might hear and what they might touch by actually living in the scripture. SO in this case we would be the master and we would also be each of the slaves…and through that exercise they try to determine the message that God is giving us.

Here I think we are being told something that has little to do with the monetary value of the gifts we are shown in the parable. I think we are being shown that each one of us receives gifts from God of all kinds.

The gift of prophesy, the gift of intelligence, the gift of being able to write or to sing or to take care of the poor and the sick, The gift of great wealth or of great empathy. The gift of being able to be a parent and raise a child or the gift of being able to care for the elderly in their last days of life. There are far too many gifts to name but we all receive them each according to God’s needs for us.

SO I think what this parable is trying to tell us is that whatever gifts we are given, we must first understand or discern them and then we must use them to the best of our ability offering thanksgiving for God’s grace. We then multiply the power of our gifts and can come closer to reconciling with the person God wants us to be and the person we truly are.

Father Adam told us two weeks ago in his sermon about the dancing saints that fill the ceiling of Saint Gregory of Nyssa church in San Francisco. Last Sunday I had one of those experiences that I no longer refer to as coincidences but instead call God Incidences. We were in New York, walking up town from Wall Street to the Whitney Museum on 16th Street when we passed by Trinity Church Wall Street. We had no plans to attend church that morning, but as we passed the open doors the service was just ready to begin and we decided to stop and go in. After experiencing a life changing sermon by the remarkable Reverend Mark Bozzuti Jones I am ready to ask God to help bring those saints down from their lofty perches to help us create a new revolution in how we actually live and use our faith.

Father Mark used his sermon to tell us that we need to find the means to love more deeply and to live our faith more deeply to combat the hatred, discrimination, greed, sickness, dishonesty nihilism, growing militarism in our country and the hunger and poverty that causes millions throughout the world to die before their time.

In light of all the negative and soul dampening things taking place in our world it is crucial that each of us mine the full potential of the gifts we are given. We must live our faith in a new and dynamic way to help bring about the freedom, justice and love that millions of people throughout the world cry out for.

I think that we are being called though this parable to use the gifts we have received to bring God’s love to a broken world. So with this message… I ask all of those saints on all of the ceilings in all of the churches throughout the world to come down to us to help us in our time of need and repair and restore our brokenness. I ask God to help me and each of you to use your gifts to stand up and walk forward as a new army of the faithful…committed to loving each other and to actively fighting to do what we say with our mouths and through the efforts of our hearts and with our hands begin a revolution of the millions of the faithful to multiply the power of our efforts to restore our world.

Amen

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Writing the sermons we need to read.

I have a good friend named Lindsay Lunnum who is a very talented and faithful Rector of an Episcopal Church in the New York metropolitan area.  I recently sent her one of my sermons for some feedback and she responded with something that has continued to echo in my life. She said “we need to write the sermons that we need to read”.

That was never move true than in the past week when I wrote and delivered a sermon based on the story of the Canaanite woman in the Gospel of Matthew.  The sermon focuses on the concept of rejection and how it impacts us all at some point in our lives. On Monday I had my own experience with rejection and when I confided how angry and disappointed I was, Margaret said “maybe you need to go back and read your own sermon.  I did.  Truer words were never spoken.  Lindsay and Margaret were both right. I do not know what God has in store for me…what his plan is.  I need to stay positive and open to what will come next.

Here’s that sermon:

It is an innocent children’s game. 10 chairs and 10 children.

The music starts and the children circle the line of chairs ready to sit as soon as it stops. Every time it stops a chair is removed and one child without a seat is removed from the game until there is only one chair left and two children. The music starts, one child claims the chair and is declared the winner and the other the loser. 9 losers and 1 winner. No one wants to be the loser, the rejected one, the “other”. Being rejected is a sad part of our lives. Something that almost everyone experiences at some point but it is often painful.

Walt Disney

Steven King

Michael Jordan

Each of these celebrated and successful people were rejected (sometimes brutally) or fired at least once and many over and over again before they achieved success. In our society, success (and now celebrity) seems to be the most important thing that can be achieved. Those who succeed are deemed the winners and every one else the losers…so what’s it like to feel like you are the person in the room who is always surrounded by everyone else who is so successful. What is it like to be the person who is not at the top of the deck but who thinks he or she is at the bottom and just never good enough?

Michael Jordan probably thought he was at the bottom when he was cut from his high school basketball team. Steven King probably felt pretty low when his first book “Carrie” was rejected 30 times until in frustration he threw it into the trash and his wife fished it out, submitted it one more time and it launched his writing career. And the name Walt Disney might never have evoked the flights of imagination we now connect with the images he created if he followed the advice he was given in a rejection letter after submitting his work which read, “you don’t have much talent and your ideas are not very good. You might well be advised to seek another profession.”

Success and professional accomplishment are real but the acceptance and recognition that come with them are elusive and ethereal things and there is not much distance separating those who are accepted and those who are rejected. In our lionizing of the successful we are all involved in the creation of those people who society looks down on as the failures, the outsiders, the others. Who never seem able to find a place that brings them strength and acceptance and shelter.

Our lesson this week from Matthew is a deceptively simple story about such a woman, a Canaanite who appears in both Matthew and in Mark’s gospel (although in Mark’s gospel she is called a Phoenician of Syria.) That is the only significant difference between the two accounts. But neither name is terribly important. The important thing here is that Jesus and his followers were Jews and this woman was a Gentile. The point of this story is that Jesus was sent specifically to be the savior and protector of the Jew. the time. So when this poor woman comes to him and begs for his help for her afflicted little girl, his disciples urge him to reject her and send her away because she was a gentile and because she was a woman and because she had very little status in the all male Jewish world…But when she falls to her knees in front of him and pleads “Lord, help me”. This woman, this Gentile woman, this “other” the outsider who doesn’t fit the description “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” who Jesus was sent to… calls him “Lord” As she does this and her heartfelt pleas are rejected by the disciples, Jesus hears her and sensing the sincerity of her faith makes plans to help and save her not because she is Gentile but because of her deep commitment to her faith.

There is a famous passage here that has always bothered me: Jesus says: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs!” but this lowly third or fourth class woman responds: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters table.” She is humble and grateful for his help and Jesus is willing to take her faith from what more fortunate and privileged people leave behind and take for granted. She takes nothing for granted and her sincere statement of faith in the light of her expected rejection, causes Jesus to open his heart to her, He says “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish”! And her child is healed.

So what are we to learn from this? That Jesus’ disciples would reject this faithful supplecant because of her status as a non Jew? No. I think we learn that although Jesus was sent to save and protect the Jews…his heart is truly open to all people of faith and when that faith is demonstrated he responds with love and support. In an ideal world, I would hope we could construct a society where we could judge people only with the conviction that every child created by God is inherently valuable from its first breath. That there are no “others”. Only a holy commitment to love accept and embrace each other with great enthusiasm and sense of mission.

But in the absence of that, may we like the woman in our Gospel lesson, walk in the shoes of the outsider who when rejected, uses that slight as a reminder that God loves us and will protect and defend us.   May we when faced with rejection simply and unabashedly fall to our knees and thank God for his acceptance and love and the strength and conviction to love each other with immediacy and enthusiasm. We cannot know God’s plan for us. An experience with rejection may be a gift in disguise as we turn in pain and sadness from something that we wanted so much but did not get…we may find that another pathway becomes clear another portal opens that we could never have anticipated and that could never have happened without the initial rejection we have faced. I can tell you that this has happened to me many times in my life.

There are those people who go through their lives from childhood to old age feeling like they never belong, they never fit in they are always on the edges of our society struggling to get by. They are chosen last in school yard games, face loneliness and isolation. They are the people with their nose pressed against the window looking at everyone inside having a good time while they are outside in the cold. They live without love, without friendship and without human companionship. They are the opposite of what most of us strive for. They are “the other”. To be the other is a sad and heartbreaking experience and sadly that many share. Here is a bit of a poem by Amber Jones called the outsider where she describes this person:

The Outsider by Amber Jones

I am the outsider, the nobody
Always watching,
As your pains and fears pass by,
Always waiting
For some place to belong, to be
Even though
I know that I belong nowhere,
Always to be
Without another
I am the outsider, the loner
Always seeking
Some form of acceptance, but I
Find none
No longer hoping, but pleading for a cure to my
Everlasting depression
I am the outsider, the lost
I am the outsider

We are all involved in the creation of the “Other”. The rejected one. Yes sometimes a person can be so caustic and difficult to deal with that he or she virtually pushes people away. But I find it true that when a group is formed an awful lot of our time is spent keeping people out rather than inviting people in. And every time we do that we are involved in creating “the other”. I went to a very popular disco one night in New York many years ago. There was a huge crowd outside trying to get in and bouncers baring the door to almost everyone. We were with someone the owners knew so the doors opened for us and we were ushered in to find the place almost empty. The owners were trying to make it seem like it was so hard to get in that once we did get in there was nothing to get in to.   I think it is truly un Christian to be about creating a society that marks people as in or out. Winners or Losers. Successes or failures. In reality we should be about inclusiveness not exclusiveness. We are told to love each other. To love thy neighbor. It seems to me that to look down on any child created by God is to grossly ignore Jesus’ charge to us. We were created out of God’s love and we are made to love each other. If we are truly to live a Christian life we need to find the means to eliminate exclusivity and learn to love and include all of God’s creation.

Amen

 

 

 

All You Need is Love

A sermon from Robin Bugbee. Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Charleston, South Carolina.  Saturday, July 22, 2017

Here’s a quote I like from John Lennon:

“Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”

“Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”

That quote has stayed with me since I first heard it in a song of his called “Beautiful Boy” many years ago. The quote actually first appeared in a cartoon caption in 1957 when Lennon was 17. Doesn’t really matter. It is a great comment on the way most of us live our lives… running around so frantically and so stressed out that we can’t seem to take the time to just stand still and appreciate all that we have. And I am not talking about the value of our worldly goods.  Those things, believe it or not, don’t really count for much.   But it would be hard to tell that from what appears in our mass media. I spent some time last week taking note of the number of TV commercials aimed at us that have to do with protecting our health, so we can supposedly live forever, or making great investments so we have the means to supposedly live forever.  The things that are truly important are the people we love and who loves us…our families and friends and the incredible beauty of God’s creation.

I want to tell you a story about a video I saw recently that made me think about this message I was going to bring to you tonight, It hit me hard and brought a tear to my eye and it warmed my heart.

We see a young boy, maybe 6 or 7 outside with his father. The father hands his son a pair of sunglasses and asks him to put them on and it is then that we can tell that the child is profoundly color blind. The little boy looks around and is amazed by seeing the world in color for the first time after only seeing things in shades of grey. It is a kind of miracle these magical glasses that completely overwhelms the child and he begins to cry tears of great joy hugging his father’s legs and sobbing softly over and over again “thank you Daddy…thank you Daddy”. Not so very different than the words we utter in prayer often as a matter of course: Thank you Father.

Several days after I shared that video I was sent another. A very similar scenario. Except this time the color blind person was middle-aged adult…but the end result was the same. Overwhelming gratefulness and freely flowing tears for the gift of being able to see the vibrant colors of the world for the first time.  I tell you that story because of the reasons why it was so inspirational to me. I am not one to pass up the magnificence of the gifts we are given every moment of every day. In fact, I spend a great deal of my life trying to help others find and recognize those gifts in their own lives. But I am just an average guy and like you and most of us get caught up in the meaningless confusion of our lives, the petty things we worry about and I am apt to miss the big picture: those things that are truly important. That is one of the main reasons we come to this place: to help us to reconnect with the magnificent gifts God constantly gives us and to help us understand that our lives are so much more than how important we are, how much money we have and how grand our houses are.   That the true gifts we are given by God are what binds us to him and to each other.

I watched a magnificent concert this week that was filmed in front of Buckingham Palace in London several years ago to celebrate the Queen’s birthday. Every major musical star in the galaxy was there with a full symphony orchestra and an enormous audience of thousands. Suddenly, Paul McCartney walked out, the crowd erupted and the orchestra and singers began jubilantly singing the Beatle’s “All You Need is Love”.

And it struck me: this is what Paul is trying to us in his letter to the Romans.

You are God’s. He is yours. He will never leave you alone. He will always be with you bringing you all the gifts you need… there is nothing you need do to earn any of this and there is nothing you can do to lose it. It is simply a matter of love and Grace.

I love this week’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans…but then I love the entire book of Romans because in it Paul speaks so sincerely and with such love about the wondrous gifts we have been given as the children of Christ. His letter is an attempt to build up the faith of the people in Rome who are following Jesus Christ and he does this by talking about what it means to have faith, by showing us that we can never be separated from God’s love and by demonstrating in the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes how to truly live a Christ centered life. He pours his love for his life in Christ into every word and is so clearly trying his best to build up his fellow Christians not so much with the word of God but with what it has meant to him personally. He tells them that they are good when he says:

“I myself feel confident about you… that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.”

He gives them good and helpful advice

“We, who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.”

And most importantly, he tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, not things present, nor things to come, nor powers, not height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This is our promise from God. These are the gifts that we are continually given. And like that little boy who sees the colors of a rainbow for the first time…we need to continually tune in to the wonders of this world and the magnificence of the gifts we are showered with daily and instead of taking them for granted…use them as Paul would want us to, embrace Gods love to try to return it as best we can, and love each other with great enthusiasm and joy.

So back to John Lennon’s quote: by all means, make plans. Our lives are uncertain and fragile. and can change in an instant. We all have both wonderful things and terrible things that happen to us throughout our lives…but we have to embrace all of them.  Everything is a gift from God although many times that is difficult to understand.  We need to try to keep in mind that trying to live a life in Christ requires us to live by his plans not the ones we make. The mystery is we cannot know his plans but we need to try to be open to understanding what he would have us do and how he would have us live and love.

Because we were born of his love for us.

And that is all we need.

Amen

 

Telling a Story…or someone else’s story.

Every Monday morning I try to post something on my Facebook page that is really inspirational to help people start the week in a good place. I love the music of John Rutter and this week I posted a magnificent rendition of the composition “For the Beauty of the Earth” sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir under this comment: “This is such a magnificent work by John Rutter that it would have been enough if he just stopped after creating it…but I’m awfully glad he didn’t. I hope this helps everyone have a blessed start to their week.”

Shortly after posting it, I received this message from a woman who thanked me for the posting and said how much she loved it and how grateful she was to be able to begin the week with it echoing in her mind. I thanked her in response. A bit later I received another message from her that said:

“Robin: I told my husband about this and he encouraged me to tell you

“This morning, I was sitting in our sun blessed living room enjoying my morning coffee and checking my emails and Facebook on my phone. Up popped your post with the Rutter piece. As I sat singing along, the sun came through a side living room window and blotted out the video but not the music. Suddenly the screen showed a cross, which filled the entire screen, I was momentarily stunned and emotionally moved to tears. How had that crossappeared? I realized that it came from a reflection of a framed print on the wall behind me and as quickly as it appeared, it vanished. It must have just been a peculiar accident.”  Shirley.

So here was a woman who had responded to a posting I had made and had been inspired so much by the music and the image of a cross on her phone that it had brought her to tears. And just as quickly as her tears had dried she had rejected the event and chosen to class it as an accident.

And so I responded:

“Dear Shirley:

Nothing is an accident. Everything is a gift from God.

Thank you and Blessings”.

Robin

And about an hour later I got another message from Shirley that said:

“Robin:   I have made two attempts to repeat my experience without success and have decided to accept the gift.”

We had connected we had talked about God in the world Shirley and I had been inspired and that is a great demonstration of what evangelism can be. It is something each of us can do if we are simply aware of God’s work in our lives and are ready to share that news with others.

The Gospel lesson that we just heard read is a continuation of the 10th chapter of Matthew “the Evangelist” that we started last week but the tone of this week’s lesson is much darker. We are at a point in the life of Jesus where he has spoken the parables and demonstrated the miracles that should make it clear who he is and where this story is going but it is almost as if he feels the need to make his message much clearer, much more precise and impossible not to understand. We are at a point in this story where something is going to happen and it is likely going to be dramatic and messy and dangerous. When Matthew quotes Jesus as saying “I send you out like sheep among wolves: be wary as serpents, innocent as doves.” He is clearly trying to tell them that by following him, walking in his footsteps, professing their faith and standing up unwaveringly…the apostles are about to find out that this is a dangerous and difficult task and they could lose their lives for what they profess to believe.

When Jesus says, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master, it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master.” He is telling them bluntly that they (the disciples) will share the teacher’s lot or what ever befalls Jesus will be visited on them as well. They are likely to find themselves in a whole lot of trouble very soon. Jesus knows the punishment he is going to experience and so is warning them of what is to come to them. But the truly important part of what Jesus is telling them in this Gospel and the gift that I think we should take away from today’s lesson is that only God can protect us as he protected his son. Only God can direct us on the path that is best for us and only God can preserve and protect each of our souls. We are children of this ultimate protector and there is no other.  Surely this is the message that Jesus was in the process of demonstrating by showing that it was possible to live a life with him and to walk the paths he walked demonstrating the love of God that lead him inexorably toward the cross. And that brings me to how this message has application to our lives today in the church. Episcopalians and the Anglican tradition have never (at least in recent times) had a very positive attitude towards the concept of Evangelism. We shy away from any demonstration of our faith as if we are embarrassed about discussing it with anyone other than someone who has been sitting next to us in the same pew for the last 20 years. And yet that is exactly what the disciples truly were: Evangelists. And they had so much more to lose, their lives, than I think we do in Charleston in the year 2017.

I’m reading an interesting book about Evangelism called “Lifestyle Evangelism: Crossing Traditional Boundaries to Reach the Unbelieving World” by Dr. Joe Aldrich that has a lot of valuable information on Evangelism in our lives. It begins with this story:

“There is a legend which recounts the return of Jesus to glory after his time on earth. Even in heaven, he bore the marks of his earthly pilgrimage with its cruel cross and shameful death. The angel Gabriel approached him and said:

“Master, you must have suffered terribly for men down there”.

“I did”, he said

“And,” continued Gabriel; do they know all about how you loved them and what you did for them?

“Oh no” said Jesus, “Not yet. Right now only a handful of people in Palestine know.”

Gabriel was perplexed. “Then what have you done to let everyone know about your love for them?”

Jesus said “I’ve asked Peter, James, John and a few more friends to tell other people about me. Those who are told will in turn tell still other people and my story will be spread to the farthest reaches of the globe. Ultimately, all of mankind will have heard about my life and what I have done.”

Gabriel frowned and looked rather skeptical. He knew well what poor stuff men were made of. “Yes”. He said, “but what if Peter and James and John grow weary? What if the people who come after them forget? Haven’t you made any other plans?”

Jesus answered: “I have no other plans. I am counting on them”

Twenty centuries later, he still has no other plan. He is counting on us… In reality, one of the most important things we are asked to do is to be about the business of evangelizing…each and every one of us. In fact our presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, calls us all to be Evangelists. And here is how he does it…by telling a simple and heartfelt story that can do no less than touch my heart and yours. Perhaps you have heard him tell this story about his Father. If you’ve heard it before…that’s OK. It is so powerful that I think it is worth telling over and over again.

“When my parents met, my mother was an Episcopalian. My father was in seminary and a Baptist preacher. One Sunday, my father decided to go to church with my mother. He had never been inside an Episcopal church. It was an alien world to a person who came from the African-American Baptist tradition. The Book of Common Prayer, the liturgy, the written prayers, the silences, the chanting…all were new. But he later said the most striking difference for him that day was communion. He had never experienced a chalice, the common cup from which everyone drank. That morning my parents were among the few African-Americans in the congregation. This was the 1940’s. Jim Crow was alive and well. Segregation and separation of the races was still the law in much of the land. The armed forces had not yet been integrated. Brown v the Board of Education had not taken place, and it was long before the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Martin Luther King Jr. was still in seminary. Still, my father saw on the altar only one cup from which everyone was to drink. My father didn’t feel comfortable going up for communion but when my mother went up, he watched closely. Was the priest really going to give her communion from the common cup? And if he did, was the next person really going to drink from that same cup? And would others drink too, knowing that a black woman had sipped from that cup? He saw the priest offered the cup to the next person at the rail and that person drank. And then the next person, and the next, all down the rail. When my father told the story he would always say: “That’s what brought me to the Episcopal Church. Any church in which black folks and white folks drink out of the same cup knows something about a gospel that I want to be part of.”

So why is it that we find evangelism such an objectionable activity?

I read a piece recently on a blog called New Wineskins that brought this home to me. Even if we are the most introverted of introverts, one of the things we all should be finding a way to do is to bring the Good News of Christ to the world around us the way it was brought to us. (Think back a bit…who was it that went out on a limb…took a chance and brought the good news to you?) After all, the word Gospel translates to “Good News!” Each of us, like Matthew, has a responsibility to make Evangelism an important part of our lives but what stops us, I think, is an aversion to interrupting another’s personal space, of expressing our faith and being afraid of a negative reaction. Plus I think many of us have had a bad experience with someone trying to “save” us. As Dr. Aldrich says in his book: “Unhealthy evangelism models have hurt the evangelism enterprise. Often the artificial and unnatural methodology of some of these models offends us. Gimmicks, pseudo-questionnaires, buttonholing, altar calls, evangelical mugging and the outright rudeness of some witnesses can turn us off and the result is that evangelism has become a much misunderstood term – one that most people either swear by or at.”

Well here is a solution to that problem that I think could help each of us. Instead of talking about our faith…why not BE a living demonstration of it? Listen to what Paul has to say about this in 1 Corinthians:

“My message and preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with demonstrations of the Spirit’s power so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power!”

Evangelism is something we should BE more than something we should be doing or talking about. It is so important that we try to make the point with what we do in our daily lives that “Born into sin and blemished by infinite imperfections, we have not been excluded from Christ’s love. That God not despite what we are, but because of what he created us to be both nourishes and cherishes us. Isn’t it incredible to think that he cherishes us? That he is always with us and that as the bible says, “even the hairs on our heads are numbered.”

I think true and meaningful evangelism means to replicate and demonstrate the nature of God, his love, righteousness, his faithful and steadfast commitment to care and protect us in everything we do every day. To be joyful, in the face of despair, to be positive in the face of negativity, to be generous in the face of miserliness and to be loving in the face of bigotry and hatred.

So tell a story like Bishop Curry’s…and if you don’t have your own story…tell his or the hundreds of others that can be found in books like his “Crazy Christians” Do this. Be this and we can truly live a life in Christ and be his shining light banishing the darkness in the world. I cannot conceive of a better definition of evangelism and Jesus is still counting on us!

Amen

 

“There You Are Again”

Chaplain Robin Bugbee at Saint Stephens Episcopal Church, in the city of Charleston SC. Saturday May 20, 2017

“If you love me you will keep my commandments.” That’s what John has to say to us in this week’s gospel. “ If you love me you will keep my commandments”. Jesus is preparing to leave his followers and is trying to prepare them for what is to come. He’s trying to get them ready for the time when he will not be among them so he talks to them about this being that he calls “another Advocate” who will be with them forever. It’s almost like a mother tucking in her young child for the night. The child is drowsy…almost asleep…and just as the mother turns off the light and slowly begins to close the door the child fearfully cries… “Mama! Don’t go!”

And the mother comes back, comforts her child and says

“Now…now, don’t be afraid. I’m not going anywhere. I will always be here for you.”

She says this with all the love in her voice that she can muster…but as she says it, she knows it is not true. That one day she will have to leave… and her child will have to walk on without her. It is a painful and a tender moment that any parent or grown child might be able to recognize. So this mother is trying to prepare the child gently for that break that hopefully won’t come for many years. She is trying to give her children all the love and care and encouragement they need to gradually become a fully formed adult who can one day stand on their own and nurture their own children. And that is exactly what Jesus is trying to do with his disciples. He knows his time is running out. He knows what is going to happen. That he will be crucified, die and then rise from the dead to be with his Father. So when Jesus speaks about this Advocate…he is talking about the Holy Spirit who will “abide with you, and he will be IN you”.   He says: “I will not leave you orphaned…because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me and I in you.”

If you have ever lost someone you loved deeply, a parent, a sibling or a life partner you may, like I, have had the feeling that although this person is no longer in this life, they continue to live in your heart. They have, in a real way, become an essential part of you and sometimes when you least expect it…there they are. Or in the words of a beautiful song by Livingston Taylor called “There You Are Again”

“I believe in the actual

In the clear, concise and the factual

All of life has meaning

And it should be clear to see

But when the crowds all drift away

And we are apart for one more day

In the most peculiar places

You’re where you should not be

There you are again

In the rustling leaves of a summer storm

In my favorite chair all safe and warm

In a wish that a child believes.

There you are again

When light returns to the summer sky

When two lovers cannot say goodbye

When a movie makes me cry

When the perfect story ends

There you are again.

So in a real way, this is what Jesus is trying to tell his followers… “If you love me you will keep my commandments and I will be with you forever.” But unlike the promise that the Mother made to her child…we are promised that his “spirit”, this “advocate” will be in the Father and we will be in him and he will be in us. We will be fully integrated so that we are never without the Holy Spirit. This is the gift of Grace that we are given as children of God. Matthew tells us that Jesus said:

“Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind, this is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”

I believe in a real sense that if we know and practice these two most important commandments we know just about everything we need to know about living a Christian life with God.

It is a deceptively simple prescription. Love God … Love yourself and love all the people God created. Of course we are talking about a special kind of love here called “Agape” Love.

Within Christianity, Agape is considered to be the love originating from God or Christ for humankind or as Wikipedia says: “In the New Testament it refers to the covenant love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God. A simple way of thinking about it is as love for our fellow beings.”

This simple act of brotherly love is all that Christ really asks of us. But to really comply with the commandment…it means that we must learn to love ALL our neighbors…. everyone. And it doesn’t say LIKE your neighbors. It says LOVE your neighbors.

We need to find the means to find something to love in every person we meet…even if we feel there is a lot to dislike at the same time. When we do this we are actually doing more than just complying with a commandment from God (and that certainly would be enough)…we are actually making a practice of seeing God in the face of every person we see every day. Think about that for a moment…how much better a way to live a life in Christ it could be to see God in the face of every single person we see. How much more inspirational our lives could be if we didn’t wait to Sunday to praise the Lord but did it every time we met one of his creations!

These two commandments have the potential to change the world. But more importantly they have the potential to change our world, which is a concept a bit easier for us to comprehend. Imagine what our lives would be like if we were simply able to summon that brotherly or sisterly love for each person we meet.  Imagine if our first greeting was not “How are you” but “I love you” and imagine how a clear expression of love could change our conversations and interactions.

So why not give it a try this evening. If you’ve got the courage…turn to the person next to you or in front of you and just say I love you. Right now. Go on…give it a try…no one will laugh and it doesn’t hurt.

And I truly love you all.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

Overwhelming Grace

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

The meeting on the road to Emmaus that we just heard in today’s Gospel lesson from Luke is a pivotal point in our story of the resurrection. Of course we know the outlines of what happens: The crucifixion is over. The bible says they rested on the Sabbath and then on the first day of the week at dawn the women come to the tomb, find the rock rolled away and Jesus is gone. The women are terrified but two men in dazzling clothes (thought to be angels). Tell them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen”.

On the same day, two of Jesus disciples, Cleopas and Simon are on the road to Emmaus and while they are walking, Jesus comes and walks with them but they do not recognize him. He asks them what they are talking about and they tell him all that has happened from Jesus condemnation to his death. When they tell him that the women had gone to the tomb and found it empty and had a vision of angels, Jesus says:”Oh how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared. Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into glory?” Then he interprets to them all the things about himself in the scriptures. Still they do not recognize him as Jesus.

As they come close to the village, Jesus walks on ahead as if to leave them but they ask him to stay with them that night and he does. When Jesus was as the table with them he took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them. Then Luke writes: “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him and he vanished from their sight.” Finally…they recognize Jesus.

I think this lesson has great importance for each of our lives today. It certainly does for me. How and when do we recognize Jesus in our lives? It has been many years since my baptism and despite some lapses in church attendance; I don’t think there was a time when I would have denied my faith in Christ. But there were certainly many times when I took that faith for granted. It was a part of me but one that I chose to ignore when it wasn’t convenient or when it might have caused me to be more self critical of my impulsive and selfish behavior. In recent years, I have asked myself how I could have been so willing to ignore the gift of God’s grace that I…that we all have been given. How could I have been so willing to take that gift for granted for so long? I think it is because I never really understood what the gift was and without understanding it’s nature, I couldn’t understand it’s value and it’s ability to radically change my life.

I think the story of the meeting on the road to Emmaus is the story of meeting, understanding and accepting the Grace of God. When I thought about writing this sermon, I had a concept in my head that I called “Overwhelmed by Grace”. For a very long time I think I had trouble understanding what Grace was and I remember the day that began to change

About 12 years ago, during my late wife’s terminal illness I tried every trick I could to wish God into changing what I knew were happening. I bargained with him, “if you will do this thing for me…I will do anything for you and be more faithful.” I played games: “if the faucet drips six times…not seven…we will get good news from her CT scan”… I fairly exhausted myself trying to find ways to get God to save me from myself and to make the sickness and sadness and awful fear of the loss of love just go away. And all of this did was bring me to a place of such desperation that one night I used my key to open the chapel door, laid face down on the cool tile floor and just cried until I sell asleep. I don’t remember leaving that night, or locking the church door or walking home, or what happened after that experience but I do remember that was the night that I gave it all up. As if I had ever had any control at all. I gave it all up to him. In a real way, that was the first time in my life that I truly and fully recognized God’s grace in my life. The gift had been there all the time…but I wasn’t ready to accept it. Any more than the disciples were ready to recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus until they finally did.

The illusion that we are in control of our lives can be as addictive as a reliance on alcohol or drugs. The history of 12 step programs began with Alcoholics Anonymous (which you may or may not know was founded in the parish hall of Calvary Episcopal Church at 61 Gramercy Park North in New York City). Frequently, in order to make progress against any addiction, participants in these programs need to reach a place often referred to as “rock bottom” before they can begin rebuilding their lives. It is a place where, because we can get no lower, we give up trying to control our lives and our addiction (whatever that may be), and turn all of it over to God and ask his help. Grace lives in that intersection of hopelessness and hope. And hope is the stuff of faith.

I have thought about my life a great deal over the last 10 years and the amazing thing is the frequency of opportunities I have to be overwhelmed by Grace. It happens to me every day. Often, multiple times. I am ushered into a relationship with someone in need and conversation is transformed into a holy place where I am given the magnificent opportunity to love another child of God and to help them touch their own faith and to recognize their own gift of grace.

This past Thursday morning, I received a call asking if I would be willing to go over to see a mother and her little toddler who was in serious condition in the Emergency Room at Children’s Hospital. This was a “Grace Moment” giving me the opportunity to enter into a holy space where I would have a chance to help bring the love of Christ into a desperate situation. I call it Grace because without it, I would not have been there and in sincere humility would not have had the tools to help.

Medical ethics and Federal law prevent me from talking with you about this family and their sweet and almost angelic little child, but I can tell you that the experiences of being with them and sharing their faith during a really terrible and heartbreaking time stopped me cold…and changed my life. I can also tell that this brush with mortality changed this young mother’s life too and brought her to a new awareness of the enormous well-spring of goodness and love that surrounds us and is with us every minute of every day but which most of us take for granted…until be can’t any longer.

That’s what I want to talk with you about tonight. The tendency we all have to look at magnificent things as if they are nothing important…when they are in reality direct messages from God: concrete manifestations of how much he loves and cares for us.   They are opportunities for Grace that we need to learn to recognize and to embrace. Their awareness…like the apostles finally recognizing Jesus on the road to Emmaus is what is so important.

I live in God’s grace and it is an invaluable gift, which inspires me minute by minute by minute. Every day. Sure I have bad days. Like you I am a broken person prone to sin. (I often wish we could start out each service by encouraging each of us to turn to the person next to then and say something (in their own words of course) like this:

“I know that outside of these walls the world expects me to be perfect …but I also know that inside these walls I am protected by God’s love and encouraged to be honest about my failings and my fears and that I will be loved because of them…not in spite of them”.

I must tell you I find God’s grace enters my life over and over again and presents me with wonderful opportunities to reach out with the love of Christ each time. But the important part of this is not who I am but who you are…who we all are. Each of us has the opportunity to truly live a life in faith. Do I find all these ‘grace notes” in my life because I am special, unique, on the path to ordination as a Deacon. Certainly not. They are in every life…your life…right now. If you begin to consciously look for them…they will find you. The very act of searching for God’s Grace will bring it to you but you will not have far to look. Grace is a thing of the heart and you will find it within you if you will only look for it instead of looking away. Once you are open to Grace…God’s heart will join with yours in a harmony of inspirational love. He is waiting only for us to recognize him working in our lives.

What is he doing in yours…right now!

Amen