Tuesday, January 31 – Marguerite Judson

This sermon was preached for the Commemoration of the Rev. Samuel Shoemaker on January 31, 2017 by third-year Marguerite Judson. The texts for this day were: Isaiah 51:17-52:1a, Psalm 130, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, and Luke 4:40-44.

Today we remember Sam Shoemaker. As a Princeton student teaching Business courses in China and trying to start a branch of the YMCA, Sam discovered just how inept he was at conveying his faith. He then became deeply involved in the Oxford Group, trained at General Seminary, and was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1921. He began serving as the Rector of Calvary Church in Manhattan soon after, then at Calvary Church in Pittsburgh starting in 1952. As Holy Women, Holy Men encapsulates his ministry as priest and evangelist, they note that Sam is “remembered for his empowerment of the laity.”

Yes, he learned to communicate his faith! And he helped hundreds of people equip themselves for lives of service. He nurtured an explosive growth in membership at Calvary Church in New York, where his church was the headquarters of the Oxford Group in the US in the 1930’s. He published 30 books and tons more essays and sermons; he preached weekly on the radio after moving to Pittsburgh.

Another ministry, Faith at Work, grew out of Shoemaker’s passion for personal witness and the ways he transformed the church newsletter. The group began in 1926 at Calvary in NY and helped a number of normally reticent Anglicans talk publicly about their faith. On Thursday evenings through about 1936, lay persons both presented their witness of their life as Christians and were trained to witness in the work world.

What has touched me more deeply has been the way in which Shoemaker’s leadership of the Oxford Group, with its emphasis on Confidence, Confession, Conviction, Conversion, and Continuance, bore such amazing fruit. How a couple of their small Bible study groups for drunks in the early 1930s – one at Calvary Episcopal in NY, the other in Akron, Ohio – quietly morphed into the powerhouse of Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon and dozens of other 12-Step programs which today help millions of people of any faith – or none – step free of addiction to substances and processes.

Sam Shoemaker was the pastor of and a lifelong friend to Bill Wilson, AA’s co-founder, over the decades in which those early gatherings started shifting from Oxford meetings just with other drunks to freestanding meetings in what became Alcoholics Anonymous.

It is fascinating to me, to see how deeply the 12 steps are rooted in the Christian principles Shoemaker highlighted: surrendering to God, asking for help, facing our failings, making amends for wrongdoing, and the practice of daily prayer and meditation.

And, most profoundly, putting the needs of the other ahead of one’s own needs. What we aspire to in mutual service in the body of Christ is blazingly clear in the fact that the most important person in any 12 Step meeting is the newcomer.

One of the crucial things that Bill Wilson and those early members discovered was that they could stay sober only by helping other people; other drunks who were hurting as badly, or maybe worse, than they did with their few hours, or days or weeks of sobriety.

People who said, with the psalmist: Out of the depths, I cry to God for help; none of us can face your judgement. But I wait for you, God, my soul waits for you in the midst of endless longing and desperate hope for an end to my anguish.

And that’s what those in today’s Gospel reading were saying; those who were sick with every imaginable and unimaginable ailment, what they must have said as their friends brought them to Jesus.

This Gospel reading is from very early in Jesus’ ministry. He has come out of the wilderness; he returned with authority and started healing people in Galilee. He pissed off his hometown of Nazareth, then went 40 miles (about 2 day’s journey away) to Capernaum, a fishing village on the north of the Sea of Galilee.

Luke quickly draws our attention to Jesus’ healing ministry. In Capernaum, Jesus made more trouble by healing during the Sabbath service, and then privately healing Simon’s mother in law (also during the Sabbath). Finally, as our lesson starts, the sun sets, the Sabbath is over and more and more people flood to Jesus for healing.

The thing I noticed about today’s Gospel lesson is how freely Jesus heals everyone. He does not ask for confessions of wrongdoing, or promises of good behavior, or public statements of faith – in fact he wants all those unruly demons to keep silent about who he is.

There is a wonderfully absurd generosity in how Jesus heals! Willy nilly, without hesitation, restriction or bargaining. He just heals people. He pours out God’s transforming love on everyone who asks for it.

And in 12-step meetings, people ask for help from “God as you understand God.” In meetings, at any hour of the day, in almost any country in the world, God is there, being anonymous, not asking for public statements of faith. But loving, and healing, and healing, and healing those who cry out for help.

Pouring out love through doors opened by the faithful service of Sam Shoemaker who, among other things, was part of the healing of those first few drunks who experienced just how generous God can be as they learned to surrender, ask for help, and serve others in need.

May we ask freely and joyfully for our own healing! Amen.

 

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Monday, January 30 – Mia Benjamin

This sermon was preached at the Monday Eucharist service on January 30, 2017 by first-year Mia Benjamin. The texts for this sermon are: Hebrews 11:32–40, Psalm 31:19–24, and Mark 5:1–20.

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

“But Jesus refused, and said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.’”

I was going to preach a very different sermon today. Right up until last Friday, that is. That’s when I learned that President Trump signed an Executive Order suspending the entry of refugees and immigrants into the United States. His order affects the citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, and it’s still unclear whether that applies green-card and visa holders, although it’s still affecting them. Perhaps you, like me, have spent this past weekend praying for friends abroad who are now suddenly unable to return home. American doctors, professors, students, and business-owners facing exile from the homeland they have served and built and taught and healed.

I often wish, and perhaps you do as well, that following Jesus always means going off on a grand adventure and slaying the huge dragons of racism and poverty and all those big, sexy national issues that everyone is talking about. And the thing is sometimes it does. Sometimes following Jesus does mean leaving behind family, friends, and careers to move across the country. Sometimes it means getting arrested at Standing Rock, or shutting down an airport terminal, or even breaking the law. But then there are these other times Jesus refuses us. Times when Jesus asks us to start small and slow, right where we are. With ourselves, with our friends, with our neighbors.

The story we read today from Mark’s Gospel is about Jesus casting demons out of a suffering man. It ends with the people of his city deciding to respond with fear. After hearing what Jesus had done, and how much one man’s liberation had cost them as a community, the people beg Jesus to leave their town. And as he’s getting into his boat, the healed man begs to go with Jesus. But Jesus refuses. The man asks if he can follow Jesus, and Jesus says no, go home.

This past January intercession, several of us took a course in broad-based community organizing. As I sat through class, literally sitting there knitting hats for the big national, million-person Women’s March that weekend, our instructors taught us the incredible power of starting small and slow and local. The basic building blocks of community organizing, we learned, were not taking huge, dramatic, uncompromising stands about our principles, but rather the humble steps of sharing of stories, first one-on-one and then in small groups. Through those stories, we learn what our neighbors really care about, the winnable issues they have the energy to change. In other words, we learn to look for where the Holy Spirit is already agitating folks to transform their community, and we join in with them.

So what happens when big, national stuff hurts our friends and makes us angry? I struggled a lot this weekend, this whole past week really, with not knowing what actions to take. Whom do I call? What petitions do I sign? Where’s the march happening? Where can I find Jesus leading a faithful band and climb aboard? Where’s the boat, I’ll jump right in.

But Jesus refused, and said to me, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you.’

So here’s the Good News. I do have a story to tell. Many, actually. All about the ways that God has worked through Muslims and citizens of Muslim-majority countries to transform and liberate me. All about Iranian professors who taught me to write academic theses and how to make rice with saffron and potatoes. Jordanian Muslim women who taught me how to look patriarchal religious clerics in the eye and hold them to the woman-affirming words of their holy book. A young Egyptian man with a rubber bullet shard in his forehead who taught me what it really means to demand democracy. Palestinian Muslim neighbors who taught me how to love the bend my body makes when I worship God and all about the holy scent of miramiya tea.

You probably have stories, too. Stories of what God has done for you through the work of human hands. Hands that carry the wrong sort of national identification cards, or lips that use the wrong name for God. Maybe you have stories of the ways people, the ones we’re told to fear, Muslims, immigrants, and foreigners, have calmed your demons and been your neighbor. Tell those stories. To your friends, to your neighbors, to the world.

Because here’s the other good news in this passage. Like many of the other people Jesus heals in the Gospel of Mark, this man doesn’t listen to Jesus, not really. He doesn’t get in the boat with Jesus, but he also isn’t satisfied with just telling his friends. This Jesus-follower travels all around the Decapolis, his local region of the ten cities, proclaiming all that God has done for him. The good news, then, is that Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. That his refusal may not be a rejection at all, but a calling to the larger gifts of the spirit we never knew we had.

There are many people in this world who are afraid of the power of outcasts with second chances. There are many who have been taught only look to what bringing a madman in from a place of death might cost us. What does Jesus ask you to do for them? What does he refuse to allow you to do?

My answer came to me from my college professor’s daughter. I’ll end with the words she asked her father to share on social media:

“Salam, Hello. I am eleven years old. I am living for a year in Iran. Me and my family were hoping that this new law would not apply to green-card holders. I was shocked when I first heard of this law. I have lived for 9 years in the U.S.A. Does that make me different from the people who are around me and are citizens? I consider myself just as American. Does it make a difference if I am Muslim? Is that wrong? I have lived and talked and laughed with the people who have supported this law. I cannot believe that they would do this to me. So I ask you to reach out. Reach out to the people and tell them our stories…I ask you all to do something about it, to help these people who have done no wrong to come home. It is not the time to stand at the sidelines and watch other people to do our work for us. And I hope with all my heart that the people that are stuck with nowhere to go, will soon find their way home.”

Amen.

Monday, January 16 – Dr. Julián Andrés González

This sermon was preached for the commemoration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, January 16 by Dr. Julián González. The texts for this sermon were Genesis 37:2-20, Psalm 77:11-20, Ephesians 6:10-20, and Luke 6:27-36.

What do Joseph, Martin Luther King, Jr. and undocumented youth in this country have in common?

When you google dreamer the first option defines it as a person who is unpractical and idealistic and its antonym is a person who is realist.

Sigmund Freud in his psychoanalytic theories argues that a dream is the unconscious way of expression. The opportunity of the unconscious to act out and express the hidden desires of the id. So according to Freud, the reason you struggle to remember your dreams is because the superego is at work. It is doing its job by protecting the conscious mind from the disturbing images and desires conjured by the unconscious.

So dreams are to be forgotten, to be erased once we wake up in order to keep us in the real world. By this Freudian definition, a dreamer is a weak person. Her superego would be frail, not capable to control and to suppress the unconscious. By google definition, she would be unpractical and idealistic, not living connected with this world.

Today you are celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. When we think of Dr. King most of us remember his “I have a dream” delivered during the March on Washington in 1963. His words of an ideal world of interracial society continues to linger and fuel the imagination of people who strive for a just and compassionate society. King dreamed of a day when racial justice and equality would be the rule of the land. So we remember today the dreamer and the dream. The dream will continue to propose and delineate an ideal world that compels and guides the actions of people who want to come as close as possible to the dream.

On the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. and at the beginning of a brand new year, our thoughts may be turned toward dreams, goals, aspirations, and resolutions. Freud was talking about dreams of the unconscious but there are dreams that are lived in the conscious mind, whose desires and images are not disturbing, but the reason why people are willing to face violence, to get up every time they are thrown down, willing to be thrown in jail for what they believe are unjust and immoral laws. People willing to stand up in civil disobedience for a dream.

We should all have a dream because they involve purposes for living. Without purposes our lives are plain and dull. Without a purpose for living we lose all hope for life. But as we ponder our dreams for today, remember the dreamers of our common stories and histories. Some of our dreams are frivolous and foolish. Some dreams lack reality and substance. Our dreams should not fail the test of reality.

King’s and the Dreamers’ dreams are fueled by desires of social progress and equality. Consider if you will, the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis. Joseph was a dreamer unlike King and the undocumented youth in this country. Joseph was an arrogant youth, snitching on his brothers and spoiled by his father who did not know how to show love to all his children. Hated by his brothers for Joseph’s presumptuousness, they were willing to kill him because Joseph’s dreams were about his dominion over his brothers who in both dreams are depicted as bowing down to him. Joseph’s dreams were the tyrant’s dream to lord it over the people. The tyrant who wants all people to bow down before him.

But King’s dream was for the benefit of others. His constant use of symbols and images from the Bible, especially from the prophets, gave people the compass and plan of action to put those dreams in action. African Americans’ respect for the authority of the Christian Scriptures is surprising. It seems like a miracle itself. Their introduction to the Bible frequently came by way of sermons from Colossians 3:22-25, Ephesians 6:5-8, and 1 Peter 2:18-20, directed at ensuring their obedience to their masters. The God they met in these sermons was firmly on the side of their tormentors, opposing their freedom and reifying the status quo. The religion they were offered emphasized the subjugation of their wills as a divine duty to other humans who laid claim to their bodies. In other words, Reading scripture was not a spiritual experience but a hostile activity whereby the Holy Writ was used to pacify them.

In King’s sermons and speeches we see the other side of the African-American’s engagement with the Bible. “I have a dream” is a narrative of freedom that draws from Amos and Isaiah.” King was able to transform the Bible into an indispensable part of his community’ struggle for justice and equality. The same book that was used to justify their oppression also provided hope for their liberation. They found a means to argue for their full equality in terms adversaries would have to respect. After all, even their adversaries, steeped in the Christian faith and committed to arguments based on Scripture, would have to heed the Word of God or to be exposed to have failed hypocritically to adhere to the precepts of the ground of their faith.

King was drawing from a long critical tradition in which African Americans found that they could benefit from employing the Bible as it grounded subversive arguments against the type of Christianity practiced by southern slaveholders. In “I have a dream,” King was providing a mythic and powerful system that could explain their plight and symbolic world of a just and desegregated society.

Finally the Dreamers of our current broken immigration system. I should speak of Gaby Pacheco who was born in Ecuador and is one of the best known Dreamers. She and three others walked 1500 miles from Miami to Washington D.C., in 2010 to raise awareness of the plight of undocumented immigrants. As political director of United We Dream, she helped persuade president Obama to announce the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program. Along Gaby, Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez also participated in the 1500-mile walk dubbed the “Trail of Dreams” who is now board member of the gay-rights group GetEQUAL.

I should also mention Julieta Garlbay, born in Mexico, nicknamed Dream Elder. In 2010 when she turned 30 years old no longer met the age requirements of that year’s DREAM Act. Despite all this, she has not given up. As a leader with United We Dream, she is advocating for an immigration reform bill that would allow her to gain citizenship.

Mohammad Abdollahi, born in Iran, was one of the first Dreamers to participate in a civil disobedience action. In 2010, he and three others did sit-in at Sen. John McCain’s office in support of the DREAM Act. Since then, he has led similar civil disobedience actions,

Finally, Prerna Lal-Schublner who described herself as undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic. She is not afraid to speak her mind about president Obama’s record on immigration, which she once called “depressing and dismal.” Besides working to stop deportations, she also advocates for the rights of LGBTQ immigrant. She is co-founder of DreamActivist.org and currently serves as board member for Immigration Equality.

Like them there are thousands of Dreamers who are working to keeping the dream of justice and equality alive. Investing their lives to resist an unjust and immoral immigration system. In them we have an example of how the dream of King continue to fuel the lives of people and how the system in which we live continues to enslave, subjugate, and oppress fellow human beings.

Paraphrasing King’s speech we should continue to say: We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “for Citizens only,” No we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Dreamers as well as other relegated communities are resisting and will continue to resist a system that marginalize them yet use them. We still cannot say (pause) “free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last.”

Paraphrasing one of King’s late speeches, “where do we go from here?”…(pause) This is my hope for the future that in some not too distant tomorrow, we could say in past tense, “We have overcome, we have overcome”… (pause) we have engaged the different, the other… we have not only resisted the ideology of the oppressor but also the ideology of oppression… we have engaged the beloved community… This will give us the courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tire feet new strength as we continue striding forward to the city of love and togetherness.