Sunday, September 24 – Ethan Lowery

 

This sermon was preached at St Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Orinda by first-year Ethan Lowery. The texts for this sermon are: Jonah 3:10-4:11 and Psalm 145:1-8; Philippians 1:21-30; and Matthew 20:1-16. Audio available HERE.

Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

I love the story of Jonah. I love it. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s moving—and it somehow manages to fit all of that into only two pages. And so last summer, I decided to teach Jonah at high school camp at the bishop’s ranch one day. And I began by asking the youth “How many of you have heard of Jonah?” and almost every had went up. And I asked “How many of you know what happens to Jonah after he gets out of the whale?” and every hand went down.

And so let me ask y’all:

How many of y’all have heard of Jonah?

How many of you know what happens after Jonah gets out of the whale?

So let me tell you the story, because our Old Testament story this morning tells us some of what happens to Jonah post-Whale.

 

God shows up to Jonah one day and calls him to be a prophet, and asks him to go to the people of Nineveh and tell them to repent. But Jonah doesn’t like the people of Nineveh, and so he runs away, and ends up a stowaway on a boat out at sea—he wants to get away from God so bad. But God sends a storm in pursuit and the storm threatens to sink the boat, so Jonah throws himself overboard in order to appease God and save the crew of the ship and is promptly eaten by a big fish. Jonah stays in whale time-out for three days until his pettiness cracks and he comes around, singing a song of praise to God. He goes to Nineveh, he says the things a prophet says, the city repents, God decides not to reign calamity down on the people of Nineveh.

But then Jonah remembers that he doesn’t like Nineveh and he gets mad again. God was going to destroy Nineveh but Jonah got conned into helping God save them, and Jonah didn’t want them saved. Jonah wanted them destroyed; he can’t pull even an ounce of pity for them. God asks him: “Is it right for you to be angry?” So God does this scheme-y little thing in order to shame Jonah. God kills the bush that Jonah was sitting under, and Jonah is sad about the bush and God basically rolls up and says “Oh you can mourn a bush but not 120,000 people?? Huh??”

Jonah had passed judgement on Nineveh, and Nineveh didn’t get what he thought they had coming. And he was mad about it. And I’m curious about this angry feeling—of having passed judgement on something/somebody and wanting to inflict harm on them.

All summer long I shared with these youth–at mission trips, at camp–my hypothesis that the Bible is an anthology of the most relatable stories of human experience. No matter what you are going through or what you feel, somebody in the Bible knows what that’s like. The Bible is about us. And so this drive to pass judgement and to see through punishment…it’s not cute… and we may want to distance ourselves from it… but it’s also about us.

I think we all know what that feeling feels like. Like… it starts out as early as the playground, where somebody takes the ball from you and you push them down, right? It’s like when the most annoying kid in your class doesn’t study and then gets the highest grade on the test, and you studied all night for a B. It’s like when that one co-worker—the one who is just downright unpleasant to everybody—gets the promotion that you wanted… or that one co-worker who doesn’t work as hard as you, who isn’t as charming as you, who hasn’t been at the company as long as you. This kind of stuff happens and something in our reptilian brain stem activates, and your face gets hot, your stomach goes cold, maybe your brain starts to buzz and smoke a little bit. That’s the feeling that Jonah is feeling! Nineveh is bad and I am good and why is God saving them and punishing me? That’s the feeling that the workers have in the reading from the Gospel of Matthew. Those lazy workers got the raise that we wanted… and they didn’t even work for it.

God has a similarly shaming question for the all-day workers: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’” In both cases, in Jonah and in the Gospel, God has little patience for the judgment passed by us. There is a tension in these stories between God’s judgment, God’s righteousness, and our own judgment, our self-righteousness.

There are two things I wanna say about this and God’s question for Jonah: Is it right for you to be angry?

First, God asks: is it right for you to be angry? It’s not fun to be a Jonah, pouting under a bush. It’s not fun to be the grumbling laborers, with a full days wages in pocket and still a bone to pick. And in these readings, God is affording us the option to not have to feel that way. We don’t have to hold the burden of condemnation ourselves. Our faith practice… a deep rooted belief in the redeem-ability of all people can actually change our emotional state. Christianity isn’t exactly anger management… but it’s not far off, haha.

This is not to say that the Christian life is all rainbows and butterflies and soft harp music playing in the background. Christianity is not merely an exercise in positivity. We get to get mad… and we are encouraged to be mad when we see the dignity of all people not being upheld. But we don’t have to play God and to sit in the uncomfortable seat of Judge’s Chair and that ought to be of some relief to us.

Second, God asks: is it right for you to be angry? Jonah’s condemnation of Nineveh is in direct opposition to God’s plan of salvation for Nineveh. The laborers frustration at their common wage flies in the face of God’s generosity. This self-righteousness clashes with God’s righteousness, and that’s a tough pill for us to swallow. Our own qualitative sense of right/wrong isn’t reliable for the people of God. We are responsible for building God’s kingdom out in the world, and not our own kingdom. We don’t get to selectively condemn folks based on Who. We. Think. Needs. Condemning. For us as Christians, we have to focus on God’s work and sometimes that might feel like we are getting a raw deal, or like other people are being treated better we are… or than we think they deserve to be.

Again, for us Christians, it all comes back to the Gospel and that, for us, means loving the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength and all your mind, and loving your neighbor as yourself. That’s it. And so everything we learn from society would have us ask the question: is this good for me? Our religion would have us instead ask the question: is this good for all of us?

And this why is so much of our national discourse ought to be so frustrating to us. We’re out here talking about global nuclear conflict and climate crisis and universal healthcare and damn near all of the commentary is happening at the level of: is it good for me and for the people that look like me? Is it good for business? Is it good for the Democrats, is it good for the Republicans, is it good for my party, is it good for America? Our terrestrial allegiance is of no concern to Gospel. We instead must ask: is it good for the marginalized and the oppressed? Is it good for humanity? Is it good for the planet?

Instead of asking

“how much tax money will it cost me?”

“but how will they earn it?”

“does North Korea have it coming?”

“but how will we maintain our status as the leaders of the free world?”

“is there enough science behind it?”

 

I wonder what it would be like if, instead, we chose to ask:

“who is hurting and how can we help?”

“are we doing our best to reconcile?”

“is this good for all of us or is it only good for me, and people like me?”

“how many people will die if we don’t do something?”

“what’s the best way for us to take care of our planet?”

 

It’s so tempting to ask the previous questions—our society teaches us to ask those questions, and to challenge the veracity of every claim. But if we’re being honest, devil’s advocate isn’t really a good look for the people of God. The devil doesn’t need more advocates, Lord knows he’s got enough of ‘em already out there in the world. Jesus needs more advocates. And we [motions with hands] are the only people for the job. And when that work gets hard and we find ourselves frustrated or ready to deviate from it, we have the responsibility to ask ourselves:

Is it right for me to be angry?

Is it right for me to be angry?

Is it right for me to be angry?

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Sunday, September 24 – Mia Benjamin

 

This sermon was preached at St. Aidan’s, San Francisco on Sunday, September 24 by Mia Benjamin. The texts for this sermon are: Exodus 16:2-15Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45Philippians 1:21-30, and Matthew 20:1-16.

Did you bring us here just to die?

The Israelites have been through a lot at this point in the Exodus story. They’ve watched as their old homeland, Egypt, descended into the chaos of terrible plagues all around them. They left behind everything except what they could carry on their backs. They’ve trusted in a prince turned prophet, a column of cloud, and a mysterious, splitting sea. And all that has landed the chosen people here, in the desert. Lost. Starving, and afraid. So they want to know. Did God put us through all that just to have us die? Maybe we should have stayed put, kept our heads down, and made ends meet the way we knew how.

Not too long ago, I moved to live in the desert not far from where the Israelites were wandering. I had gone there on a research grant to figure out if this whole academia thing was for me. The problem was that I had my answer pretty quick. And that was a loud, resounding “No.” At first, I struggled with the motivation to write and research, set up interviews, study the language. But soon I found myself struggling to even get out the door, or to feed myself. And I knew I was losing more than just weight. It felt like essential pieces of me were wasting away. The excited parts of myself that loved to learn, that wanted to achieve something to make this whole year worthwhile—I could feel them withering in the dusty, desert air. What was I doing here? Did I leave everything behind just to fade away?

In the Exodus story, when the Israelites cry out to God, God provides. Bread from heaven, in the exact amounts they need. But what God provides in Exodus seems so simple: food to fill hungry bellies. What happens when our needs are deeper, more complex, maybe even impossible to articulate? Maybe you’ve been there, too. At some point in your life, crying out to God for the inexpressible. Maybe you’re there now.

I’m not sure what I was longing for back then. Maybe it was longing for a purpose, a life-giving path out of the desert, maybe it was just a way home. In any case, it was certainly not something that can just fall from the sky. Or even, I realized, something I could discover by looking deeper and deeper into myself.

Now this was back before the word “discernment” was part of my regular vocabulary, but looking back that’s exactly what I realized had to do. I had to stop, reassess, and yes, let go of making sure I got the big, bright future I thought I deserved. I had to move from keeping my head down and making ends meet to looking around and noticing the world outside of myself. Even if in that moment all that meant my neighborhood outside my door.

See, larger purpose I was looking for turned out to be right down the street, in a little old Melkite Church where God was already doing amazing things, bringing Jordanian Muslims and Christians together during a contentious time. I stumbled upon God providing for others, and found I had a role to play there, too. And through that work, and subsequent partnerships with chaplains, I began to hear again the call to ministry I had given up on for so long.

In Jesus’ parable this morning, we find God again making sure everyone is provided for. Granted, God’s provision for God’s people isn’t as easy as dropping manna for the people to gather. The workers receive their daily bread as wages for back-breaking work, all day in the scorching sun. Each batch of new recruits is understandably focused on staying in the vineyard, keeping their heads down, and making ends meet.

Yet, at the end of the parable, it’s also clear that in doing so they’ve missed a huge part of the story. It’s not about you! God chides the first group of workers when they complain they deserve more than the laborers who worked fewer hours. The real story is my version of justice, says the landowner. The real story is my generosity, my grace.  The real story is what I was up to, this whole time, while you were busy.

Because here’s what God, the landowner was doing. God was looking out of the vineyard and seeing the unseen. The lost, the starving, and the afraid. God was going out into the streets hour after hour finding the left behind and bringing them in. God was making sure everyone God came across got that daily bread at the end of day, disconnecting the fulfillment of basic needs from the value society places on the last and least. So I wonder, how might the story have gone if the workers stopped to notice what the landowner was up to, this whole time?

As Christians, the life we are called to is far more than making sure that we’ve gotten what we deserve. God calls us, the church, to a larger purpose—loving our neighbors as ourselves, to seeing the unseen, the unfed, the unhoused, and the unemployed, and inviting them in. The last shall be first. And here’s the thing. God’s already out there, showing us the way.

This morning I want to wonder with you, what does it look like to lift our heads up and look around to see what God is up to in our neighborhood? Who is left standing empty-handed on our streets today? It might involve pausing in what we’re busy doing. It might even take setting something down or letting go of big dreams. Taking a break so that we might better listen for how God may be inviting us to lend a hand.

In a way, that’s what my new mission is, here at St. Aidan’s, as your seminarian. I’m here to listen and look for what God is already doing in your midst. To eavesdrop on neighbor checking up on neighbor at the Food Pantry on Fridays. To listen to the hard work of moving from denial to reality to hope in Christian Ed. To pull back the layers of discernment about what our neighborhood needs sanctuary to mean.

The good news is that God hasn’t brought us here, to this point, to just spiritually wither away. Here, at this table, is the bread of heaven. Here, in this neighborhood, the life-giving, justice-making, death-defying work is already underway. Are we ready lift our heads up and see it?

 

Sunday, September 17 – Phil Hooper

This sermon was preached on Sunday, September 17 at Christ Church, Alameda by middler Phil Hooper. The texts for this sermon were from Revised Common Lectionary for the Feast of the Holy Cross: Numbers 21:4b-9Psalm 98:1-51 Corinthians 1:18-24; and John 3:13-17.

What are you afraid of?  What makes you break into a cold sweat, makes your stomach do a few flips?  For the Israelites in today’s reading from the book of Numbers, it might have been those deadly snakes that were slithering around in the wilderness.  Maybe for you it’s public speaking, or flying in airplanes, or creepy clowns.  I’ll tell you mine: audience participation.  Whenever I end up at one of those performances where they want a “volunteer from the audience”, I say a silent, desperate prayer: “please, God, please, don’t let them pick me.  Anyone but me.”  Almost invariably—they pick me!  I think they must have a way of finding the reluctant ones. And so I have to go up, engage in some deeply embarrassing little activity, all the while feeling like I want to crawl in a hole and hide.  It’s terrible.

Why do we fear the things that we fear?  One reason, as in the case of those biblical serpents, is pretty obvious: we don’t want to die.  But you might have heard the oft repeated fact that many people are more afraid of public speaking than of dying.  My reaction to audience participation probably falls under that general category.  Because here’s the thing: even more than death, many of us are afraid of looking FOOLISH.

To be considered foolish is a two-part trauma: mockery, then dismissal.  First they laugh at you, then they reject you.  It is a paradox of intense scrutiny and invisibility all at once.  We are seen but not known, observed but not acknowledged.  As innately social creatures, yearning for acceptance, being made to feel like a fool can be experienced as a type of brutality.  Maybe you’ve felt this at one point or another and know what I mean.

So why this meditation on foolishness?  Well, today we are observing the Feast of the Holy Cross—a moment in our liturgical year when we pause to deeply consider this object, this symbol that is so ubiquitous that it achieves its own sort of invisibility.  For the Christian, it is everywhere—above the altar, around our necks, imprinted on book covers and tattooed onto skin.  What is this cross?  How do we understand it?

Well, it is many things, but today I offer it to you as a symbol of foolishness.

Yes, foolishness.  By our typical measures of success, the cross stands for failure.  The starkest kind of failure.  When Jesus of Nazareth was hung upon that cross, he was not admired.  He was not lauded for his wisdom.  He was mocked, and then he was abandoned—abandoned by the curious crowds, abandoned by his beloved friends.  In that moment, He was seen as the fool.  We need to think about this; we need to feel this.  The embarrassment; the shame; the longing for a loving word, and the deafening silence of no such word coming.  And so he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We have to hold onto this part of the cross, because without its weakness we can’t begin to comprehend the power of the resurrection, without its isolation we can’t begin to comprehend the communion, the fellowship that we partake of at this table.  Before all of that joy, we are like Christ on the cross, the desolate fool whom the world does not know.

Today’s readings also include that famous gospel passage, John 3:16—”for God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  But gave God’s only son…to what?

He was given over to the arms of the Cross: its pain, its foolishness, its senseless misery.  Why?  How can this make sense?  It’s ludicrous! Scandalous! This is what victory looks like?! We talk a lot in this day and age about “winners” and “losers”, and I suspect I know what the powers of Rome in the first century would have said in 140 characters or less on Twitter: “Weak Christians are worshipping a loser who couldn’t even save himself! Sad!”

And we sometimes remain stuck there, friends, confusing prestige with virtue.  We want “likes” on Facebook.  We want money and applause. We want to be seen.  In our current climate of media and celebrity, notoriety is what we thirst for, whether it’s more friends, more social media followers, more members in the pews, more pledges on the balance sheet.  Status becomes the bottom line. We pray “Condemn us, God, call us sinful, but please, God, don’t let us be unimportant.  Don’t let us be the fool.”

And yet….and yet….there stands the Cross.  It is the unavoidable reminder that to participate in God’s love is to risk being foolish.  The Cross is the call to embrace that one thing we might fear more than death—our vulnerability—and bring it into a world that is likely to scoff at us.  Because it may be that the thing we fear is the thing that will save us.  Think back about those snakes—they were killing people, and then Moses took that embodiment of fear and death, cast it in bronze, lifted it up on a pole and turned into a symbol of salvation.  Just like Jesus was lifted up on the cross.  Just like we will be lifted up, in our own ways.  That which kills me, heals me.  In becoming the fool, I am given wisdom.

And so we end up with Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians, that all that is foolishness in this world—vulnerability, rejection, invisibility—is the doorway through which we enter the wisdom of God—a wisdom that lives in love, not in ego.  A wisdom that inverts everything we’ve ever done to make ourselves feel important and worthy.  A wisdom that is unlocked by the ultimate victory that the Cross points toward, the Resurrection, in which foolishness is transfigured, overturning all our assumptions about what is good and what is praiseworthy.

We honor the Cross not because it removes our fears but because it fully realizes them, and it leans so hard into them that it opens the door to all that is on the other side of fear, the risen Christ, in whom God’s wisdom takes this world’s priorities and makes THEM look foolish.

So yes.  If we look to the cross, we might be called fools.  And that is just as God would have it, because it means we are risking everything for God’s loving promise. So to some we are “fools” when we engage in justice and service ministry, believing that our contribution can change the corrupted systems and heal the wounds of this world.  We are “fools” when we vulnerably testify to others how God has changed our lives through a community like Christ Church.  We are “fools” when we welcome the stranger without conditions, without building walls to separate the so-called worthy from the so-called worthless.  We are “fools” for believing that a world soaked in countless generations of blood and tears, fueled by racism, nationalism, and xenophobia could ever be redeemed.  But my friends, if that is a fool, it’s the kind of fool I want to be. It’s the kind of fool that the Cross demands us to be.

Remember that bit about audience participation?  You didn’t think you were going to get off that easy, did you?  We won’t make it too hard today.  Just repeat after me:  GOD LOVES A FOOL.  GOD LOVES A FOOL.

May we all be fools for God, looking to that Holy Cross as a symbol of risk, of love, and of true wisdom.

Amen.

Tuesday, April 25 – Peter Skewes-Cox

This sermon was preached for the Feast Day of St. Mark the Evangelist by senior Peter Skewes-Cox. The readings for this sermon are Isaiah 52:7-10, Psalm 2, Ephesians 4:7-8,11-16, and Mark 16:15-20.

Today we celebrate the Feast Day of Saint Mark the Evangelist. Tradition holds that the author of Mark’s Gospel is the same person as Mark of 2 Timothy, Mark called “my son” by the author of 1 Peter, John Mark of the Acts of the Apostles and Mark, cousin of Barnabas in Colossians and Philemon. The Church of Alexandria in Egypt reveres Mark as the founder and first bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and so Mark is remembered as the founder of Christianity in Africa. By tradition, Mark was martyred in 68 by pagans celebrating the feast of Serapis, the god of Alexandria. Mark was buried under the church he founded, although the Venetians stole much of his remains in 828 and took them to St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. Today, St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria is said to stand on the site of the original church founded by Mark which served as the historical seat of the Pope of Alexandria, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

st. mark's
St. Mark’s Cathedral, Cairo, Egypt

In Alexandria on Palm Sunday this year, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the gate of St. Mark’s Cathedral, killing 17 and injuring 48.

In our readings today, Second Isaiah tells us of the arrival of the messenger who brings good news of peace and salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns, your Lord comforts his people, for he has redeemed Jerusalem.” The Psalmist writes of those who set themselves against the Lord and his Anointed, telling us what the Lord said to his Messiah: “You are my Son; this day have I begotten you. Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance and the ends of the earth for your possession.” The author of Ephesians summarizes Christ’s gifts to us: “some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

How do we, sitting here today, in this seminary chapel in Berkeley, make some sense of all this? We listen to these readings in light of the story told in Mark’s Gospel, a story first told 2000 years ago. And as we hear this story again in this place, new Christian martyrs are made half way round the world in the place where the evangelist brought Christianity to Africa. For those of us here today, only partway through our Christian journeys, there is clearly more of our own stories that are yet to be told.

Our Gospel reading for today offers us several clues about how to think about our work here. Mark’s Gospel is thought to originally end at verse 16:8, with an empty tomb and the words to the women of a young man dressed in white who said, “Jesus has been raised, he is not here. Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him.” The story ends. No post-resurrection appearances, no final words from Jesus.

Scholars speculate that Mark’s Gospel having been written first, the later evangelists found its ending incomplete and so they each wrote a longer ending, as we find today in Matthew, Luke and John. The longer ending for Mark’s Gospel that we heard today was perhaps written early in the second century, borrowing from the other Gospels to give Mark’s Gospel its own proper ending, and introducing some unique elements. Jesus makes a post-resurrection appearance to the eleven and sends them into the world to proclaim the good news, and then he is taken up to heaven. And the disciples went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere while the Lord worked with them.

As we sit here, 10 days after the Resurrection, we contemplate what is to come for each of us. Graduation in 4 weeks for some of us, graduation in one or two years for others of us, and some further years of ministry in this place for those who work here. All of us may have a sense that our stories are more like the original ending of Mark’s Gospel. What does it mean? How will the good news of an empty tomb change my life? The meaning of our stories cannot be reckoned until the stories have an end. An end that is still before us, as we sit here, contemplating an empty tomb, literally open-ended.

There are more clues in the longer ending about how we should carry out the work Jesus has given us. The longer ending makes explicit what is only implicit in the original ending. The good news of the empty tomb gives us the power to carry on Christ’s work in the world. The writers of the longer ending picked up signs of the working of the good news from the other Gospels: exorcisms, speaking in new tongues and laying of hands on the sick. All positive signs of the divine. But they added two more signs without New Testament parallels: handling snakes and drinking poison. The good news of the empty tomb gives us the power as workers of the divine to also physically handle the demonic.

Handling snakes and drinking poison comes in two ways. For many of us, our challenges to work with the demonic begin with our own personal transformation. We are empowered to be healers of others, even as we recognize that we are wounded healers, as we struggle with our battles with personal demons. We are empowered to love others even while we are having trouble loving ourselves. We are empowered to model a relationship with a living God for others, even while our own relationships are dying. We are empowered to open ourselves to the indwelling Spirit who heightens our knowledge of the Holy that surrounds us even as we struggle to stay sober, to stay away from everything that dulls our perceptions, our emotions, our pain.

Even as we do our own work of personal transformation day by day, we respond to the call for social transformation, to handle the snakes and drink the poison that threaten our common life together on this planet. The good news of the empty tomb gives us the power to confront the demons of climate change and threats to the sustainability of life on earth. To survive the toxic brew of racism and sexism, enforced gender identities and religious intolerance. To confront the demon of thinking that our material lives are governed by scarcity, not abundance. To survive the toxic brew that would keep us from welcoming immigrants and refugees as our brothers and sisters.

Sometimes we pay the ultimate price for doing this work.

On Palm Sunday, Naseem Faheem, a guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, redirected the suicide bomber through the perimeter metal detector, where the terrorist detonated. Faheem was likely the first to die in the blast, as he saved the lives of dozens inside the church. A few days later, on Egyptian national television, the country watched an interview with his wife who said: “I’m not angry at the one who did this, I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’”  The headlines summarized the response: Forgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable.[1]

One observer commented: “The families of the martyrs are promoting a worldview that is 180 degrees contrary to that of the terrorists. The great majority of Egyptians now carry deep respect for the Copts, who are viewed as patriotic people of faith.”

A local Bishop summarized the message of hope for Egypt: “When people see this attitude from Christians and the church, they ask themselves, ‘What kind of power is this?’ But with this witness we must also declare the message of Christ, which we are fulfilling—literally.” He said, “We may not see the response immediately. But we will in the near future.”

The story in Egypt is open-ended. The longer ending has not yet been written.

As we sit here today in this seminary chapel in Berkeley, we contemplate the work we are all called to do. To speak in new tongues, to heal the sick. And to handle snakes and to drink poisons and yet carry on.

Today we remember the life and witness of St. Mark, as evangelist and martyr.

And we remember Naseem Faheem, whose life and witness also makes him evangelist and martyr.

Amen.

[1] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/april-web-only/forgiveness-muslims-moved-coptic-christians-egypt-isis.html

Monday, April 24 – José Daniel Pinell

This sermon was preached on Monday, April 24 for Genocide Remembrance by first-year José Daniel Pinell. The readings for this sermon are: Isaiah 2:2-5, Psalm 70, Revelation 7:13-17, and Matthew 2:13-18.

This is a story of escape, a story of forced migration, a story of massacre. Reading this horrific story, it is hard not to think of our current migrant situation. As the story tells us, some managed to escape to safer lands, others were not so lucky. Jesus, the migrant, is forced to flee Bethlehem with His mother and father. They are able to flee with the help of an angel of the Lord, who warns them in a dream to take the child Jesus and flee to Egypt. And as with millions of migrants before them, and millions of migrants after them up to this date, the Holy Family is forced to flee their land in the middle of the night.

Today we are commemorating the victims of Genocide. We are living in unprecedented times of forced migrations. The Syrian refugee situation is a major humanitarian crisis, with over 5 million registered migrant refugees. These number don’t include the over 400,000 that were killed as a consequence of the Syrian civil war. And south of our border, we encounter the humanitarian crisis of the unaccompanied minors who are venturing into foreign lands, in a treacherous and unforgiving journey from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. In the first year since the crisis broke the news in 2014, it is estimated that anywhere from 60,000 to 90,000 unaccompanied minors were crossing our borders. Anywhere we look, the crisis is almost impossible to make sense of, the lost of life too high, our regard to human life too low, and sometimes we are tempted to look away lest we become overwhelmed and too disturbed. Like today’s Gospel story, sometimes we don’t know what to do or think about the horrors of state sanctioned persecution and the senseless violence we see at the fringes of our lands.

In today’s Gospel story, Herod becomes infuriated once he finds out that he was fooled by the wise men. A few verses before today’s reading, we see Herod troubled over the news of the birth of Jesus, and how all Jerusalem became troubled with him. They became troubled because of the unpredictable, jealous and schizophrenic character of Herod. They probably thought, “What would Herod do this time?” Herod, in his fury, sets out to massacre innocent male children in Bethlehem from 2 years and younger. His power threatened, his urge for self protection knows no bounds and is willing to sacrifice innocent children to keep his throne. In this manner our nation can also act like Herod. In the name of self protection, many in our nation are calling the government to close our borders to thousands of refugees seeking shelter in our country. We don’t know what these children will grow up to be! They say, sure, most of them will probably not turn out to be a threat to our society, but just in case! We are willing to sacrifice thousands to an uncertain fate in our self made altar of protection and safety. Power and privilege are intoxicating, and once it is tasted by a nation or a king, we are willing to sacrifice God’s creation to keep it.

Now, as our New Testament professors are quick to point out to us, outside of the biblical text, there is no evidence that Herod ever ordered this massacre. For this reason, some scholars doubt the historicity of these accounts. Other scholars, however, point out to how the story is in alignment with Herod’s character, who at one point arrested many Jewish leaders on false charges and ordered them to be killed when he died, so that people would shed some tears at his death. Some scholars also point out that since we are talking of the death of a few children, since Bethlehem’s population was not large back then, it is not unlikely that this act would not have been recorded during such violent times.

My point here is not to argue the historicity or not of the accounts, but to propose that perhaps one of the reasons it was not recorded outside of the gospels is history’s tendency to easily forget and label as insignificant events like these. History is more prone to remember the leaders who are killed, the war heroes and religious heroes who died for a nation. Perhaps history had much more “significant” things to report than the death of a dozen or so innocent children. Perhaps this is the same tendency we have whenever we ignore the cries of the Rachel’s weeping over their little ones being washed on the shores of foreign lands.

Perhaps this is why so many of us in the privileged and developed world are willing to shut our hearts, our doors, and our borders to the overwhelming lamentations of those fleeing violence and poverty. Today’s Gospel reminds us that there are no insignificant little ones who are not worthy to be remembered, even if they are not great in numbers. Today’s Gospel reminds us of the horrors that can be pursued in the name of self protection and security. Today’s Gospel also reminds us of the dangerous and unsafe life many people in the margins go through, where one’s home is ever fleeting, and one’s seeking of a better life is seen as a threat to other people’s ways of life.

As some of you know, this past Thursday I received a letter from immigration telling me that my application for permanent residency had been approved. After 14 years of waiting as an undocumented immigrant I finally took a big sigh of relief. I felt blessed. I felt joyful. I also felt a little guilty.  Why me, Lord? As I was in fellowship with some friends this past Sunday morning, including one who is still an undocumented immigrant, I felt a sense of guilt for being so blessed while others still suffered in the shadows. Why me, Lord? We met this undocumented friend when he was in Juvenile Hall in San Francisco, while doing ministry outreach among the incarcerated. When he was released from Juvy he moved out to a transitional home we used to have in the mission, and he lived there for a couple of years. He got clean from drugs, got a job, started attending church, and got baptized. We witnessed how God transformed the life of our dear friend. Before he was released from Juvy, however, the judge informed our friend that now that his fingerprints were in the systems, he would never be able to “fix his papers” that is, he would never be able to get documents in this country. Our immigration system leaves no space for grace. It has little room for reconciliation.

I felt guilt, then, this past Sunday, as I told the news to my undocumented friend “ya me aprovaron los papeles!”, my papers have been approved. I remembered that unless our current immigration laws change, he would most likely never have this opportunity. My joy was cut short. Why me, Lord? I wonder if Jesus felt the same way years later, as he learned the family story of his escape to Egypt, and the fate of those who stayed in Bethlehem and did not make it. I wonder, as He was discerning His call of Who He Is, the Son of God, I wonder if He prayed to His father and asked, “Why me, Lord?”

Now, to those of us privileged enough to be sitting here without fear of deportation or living in the shadows, it is not my purpose to instill guilt in your hearts. But are we asking the question, Why me, Lord? Why am I so privileged? I hope you look back at history straight in the eye and ask of it the reason of why we stand in privilege while others stand in misery.

This morning I want to move you from guilt to conviction. Guilt paralyzes people, conviction moves them into action. This morning I want to move you from shame and survivor’s guilt to the freedom found in forgiveness and reconciliation. I want to move you from simple inspiration to self emptying sacrifice. I want to move you and exhort you, my dear brothers and sisters, to the imitation of Christ, who being in the form of God, took human shape and emptied himself, seeing equality with God something not to be grasped at. God took human form, as an infant was the sole survivor of the massacre at Bethlehem, grew up in the wisdom of God to serve and live with those in the margins, those whom society ignored, those whom history had little regard to. He lived and then He died for our sins. He died at the bloodthirsty hands of a power hungry empire. And on the third day He rose again, showing us the way of discipleship: come, follow me and die, for whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Come then, let us follow Jesus, and let us find him in the stranger among us, in the migrant who lives in the shadows, in the midst of the cries of Rachel for her little children. If you seek Christ, this is where you will find Him.

Wednesday, April 12 – Kathleen Moore

This sermon was preached on Wednesday of Holy Week by first-year Kathleen Moore. The readings for this sermon were Isaiah 50:4-9aHebrews 12:1-3Psalm 70, and John 13:21-32.

It’s Wednesday in Holy Week. Welcome to the party.

The drama of the unfolding narrative of Holy Week draws me in every year, as each step brings me closer to the emptiness of Holy Saturday, when the power of absence does indeed make my heart grow fonder – when I am made to imagine this world, this life, this heart – without Jesus Christ. And I am made to feel a renewed and overwhelming sense of Easter joy that this was only an exercise of imagination.

But Holy Week, in its intense focus and structure, can also cause me to lose my balance. To turn entirely inward. To confuse Christ’s suffering with my own. To fall prey to feelings of powerlessness — and to fixate on the seemingly insurmountable sin of this world, of humanity. To throw up my hands in despair. To remember only Christ’s death, only Christ crucified. To forget the living Christ. To forget that I am living. To forget God’s mission. To be afraid.

After all, it is so easy to see ourselves and our world in the story. We continue to betray, to deny and to murder one another — in London, in Syria, in Egypt, in San Bernardino. We are the disciples at supper in John’s Gospel, looking around at one another, wondering “Lord, who is it” who will betray you? And perhaps thinking, “maybe it is me.” We are the authorities waiting in the wings. And, we are Judas son of Simon Iscariot.

You feel that?  That queasy feeling of unbalance? That feeling of being, perhaps, “troubled in spirit,” as Jesus is in today’s Gospel reading? Jesus knows he is going to be betrayed – by a disciple. By a friend. Jesus knows that Satan has entered the room.

And these are terrible things — terrible things we watch unfold in the world, in our lives, and in our Holy Week narrative. And I think it is a particularly sharp sense of these “terrible things” this Lenten season that has had a quotation from writer and theologian Frederick Buechner haunting me. He says, “The grace of God means something like: ‘Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”

Terrible things will happen. But we are at the party. We are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses.” Look around. We are at supper, next to our friends. We may be Judas, but we are also Peter and the rest of the imperfect disciples. We are all over this story. As Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote, “It would have happened like this even if the Jesus event were happening now instead of then. Even if we knew everything in advance – were we the ones on the street we too would shout ‘Hosanna’ and a few days later shout ‘crucify him.’ And that’s the good news when it comes down to it. Because these people of the Holy Week story are we people. And we people are the likes of which God came to save.”

We people are at the party, we people are those God came to save, and that is something to celebrate, even on this Wednesday in the middle of Holy Week. This is likely obvious to most of you, but I am just coming to understand it: to acknowledge the terrible and give it voice is not to deny, diminish or discredit the beautiful. And the other side is true too: to remember that the beautiful is right here for us does not deny the reality of the terrible – even during Holy Week. The level of personal misery we are able to achieve does not correspond to whether we are “doing Holy Week right.” In fact, to give ourselves only to one side of our complex, broken, beautiful world and of this complex, broken, beautiful story — invites us to give in, to become passive, to become paralyzed, to become, in a sense, “dead.” Even in this middle of the story, with Judas headed out into the night, can we be present with the living Jesus of today’s Gospel?  Can we accept the Holy Week invitation to life?

It is Wednesday in Holy Week. Jesus is at supper with his friends. One of them will betray him. “Beautiful and terrible things will happen.” Welcome to the party.

Image: “Who Among Us” by Debra Hurd.

 

Monday, April 10 – Peter Homeyer

This sermon was preached on Monday of Holy Week by Peter Homeyer. The readings for this sermon were Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 36:5-10, Hebrews 9:11-15, and John 12:1-11.

Last week the Church Pension Group made a presentation here at CDSP. The Church Pension Group, as you probably know, provides financial securities for employees of the Episcopal Church. It is considered a great success. They are one of the most solvent pension funds in the country and our national Social Security system is modeled on them, as the presenter made sure to remind us. They offered an evening full of solid financial advice. Pay yourself first. Make sure you have good contracts and records. Track credit scores. Invest in your future. Smart, reasonable advice. Of course, Judas’ advice was reasonable as well.

I mention this because, what do we do when there is no time for the power of compound interest to save us? When there are no more tomorrows, when it is time to say goodbye, investing in the future makes little sense. And that’s what I’d like to talk about today: when time becomes short, we stop asking, “How much does this cost?”, and start asking, “What will I miss if I don’t do this right now?” Goodbyes insist on extravagance.

But before I continue, would you please join me in prayer? May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Does anyone remember the tv show, “Blue’s Clues”? “Blue’s Clues” was a children’s show from about 20 years ago. It had two main characters, an animated dog, “Blue”, and her human companion, Steve. Steve was played for a number of years by Steve Burns and he liked to make charity appearances while he was a member of the cast. One of his favorite causes was the Make a Wish Foundation, where he would show up as a surprise guest at an event for a child with a life-threatening illness. Steve says that all of these appearances had one thing in common: as soon as he arrived, no matter how terrible the situation, both the children and their families, worked desperately hard to take this chance and make each other happy.

When I look at the Gospel reading for today, I see Martha, Mary, and Lazarus doing everything they can to make Jesus happy. The Gospel has been very clear in the last few chapters that many people are looking to do Jesus harm. Just before our reading, John says that Jesus could no longer walk around openly because it was too dangerous and that it was common knowledge that the chief priests and the Pharisees wanted him arrested. In that world, at that time, this was as certain a sentence of death as any
diagnosis of terminal illness.

Martha, Mary, Lazarus, and Jesus are close, more than just disciples and teacher. They  are the first people John describes in his Gospel as loved by Jesus. In the shortest verse of the Bible, Jesus weeps after Martha and Mary rush to him following his arrival after their brother’s death. And, of course, Jesus, greatly disturbed, greatly upset, performs a miracle for this family, bringing Lazarus back to life.

Now, in these last moments, understanding what little time is left to them, each in their own way, expresses their indulgent love for Jesus. Living just a scant two miles from Jerusalem, and with the inevitable confrontation with the authorities just days away, they host a dinner for this dearest friend. Martha: exerting a powerful influence through her kitchen. I think of my own grandmother, who made her presence known at family gatherings from the kitchen with her singing, beautiful table arrangements, and little treats with individual guests in mind. Lazarus: literally returned for the dead. He is all smiles at the table, joining in the eating, storytelling, and joking. And Mary: unable to restrain herself, pouring out on Jesus an oil which costs as much as a worker would make in a year. Then, in a culture which demanded modesty from women, she uncovers her hair, unwinds her braid, and wipes his feet with it. It is easy to imagine this cleaning as a mixture of equal parts expensive perfume and precious tears.

A few years ago a teenage boy at church contracted cancer. At first, the doctors gave him  a 90% chance to recover. But as the months flew by, his odds slipped lower and lower,  until one day, almost 9 months after that initial diagnosis, his doctors recommended him to the Make a Wish Foundation. Just a few weeks later the whole family was on a plane, headed for Disney World. The pictures I saw from that trip are still with me. In each of them some family member poses with this slim, ghost of a young man while they all, frantically, feverishly smile for the camera and each other. When they returned home he quickly became bed ridden. And as he grew ever weaker they crawled right into bed with him, wrapping their arms and legs around him like a blanket. Taking turns soaking up the intimacy of touch.

When I think about this story of Martha, Mary, Lazarus, and Jesus I see an invitation on how to experience this coming week. No clever combination of securities will slow the inevitable, exhausting arrival of death. The Last Supper, the Foot Washing, the Night in the Garden, the Arrest, the Betrayal by Peter, the Stations of the Cross, and the Crucifixion are coming. Embrace them. Let down your hair and be fully present to them. Crawl into bed with them. Cry a little. Pour yourself out until your world is filled with the fragrance of this extravagant goodbye.

In the name of the One who comes not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it.
Amen.

Tuesday, March 14 – Marguerite Judson

This sermon was preached for Tuesday, March 14 by Marguerite Judson. The texts for this sermon are: Isaiah 1:2-4, 16-20, Psalm 50:7-15, 22-24, and Matthew 23:1-12.

We’re in trouble. Again!

The Holy One is taking us to court. Our sacrifices at worship are offensive. Our attempts to figure out just what God is asking of us are not working!

And it’s just as true now as when today’s lessons were written. No matter whether we reflect on the passage from Isaiah, the portions of today’s Psalm, or Jesus’ conversation with the disciples (of which we hope we are one!) about knowledgeable and rigorous religious obedience, it’s clear that we are in trouble!

When we look at the first chapter of Isaiah, we find all the legal setting for the Holy One taking the community of faith to court. Creation itself is called to witness. Our rejection of the Holy One who loves us is laid out. Not just rejection…but despising God, being completely estranged from the One who created and loves us.

I think it is important to also look at the verses which were skipped in today’s lesson. What evidence does the Holy One bring against us in Isaiah? How is it obvious that we have rejected God?

As God’s words are so vividly paraphrased in The Message,

“Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings— meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more!

Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing

people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.

I watch the news and I see it happening, “…you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.”

I reflect on the ways I judge other people, condemning them for their use of political power, and discover that I am tearing people to pieces in my heart.

This weekend I did the Creating a Culture of Peace training which made it painfully clear how important it is to have compassion or empathy for opponents. I experienced how compassion is necessary to build justice, it is essential when I strive to “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

Thanks, but it’s much easier to focus on what YOU, and other people, are doing wrong!

But still the Holy One offers mercy, invites us to reason it out, to examine what we are doing in the light of what God calls us to do. If we change our ways, God will wash away our sins. If we keep going the way we’ve been going, the natural consequence is to be destroyed by violence. The violence which flows from injustice.

The lessons don’t get any easier to take when we turn to the Gospel of Matthew.

It is important to remember that Jesus tells the disciples to do what the scribes and Pharisees teach.

You might, like me, get caught up on the criticism “do what they say, not what they do” but that’s not the point. None of us is perfect; not scribes, Pharisees, bishops, arch deacons, professors, seminarians, people of faith, searchers, political activists, or family members.

But we might get side tracked by how good we look while we’re doing good!

I am reminded of a vivid lesson at a week-long training I attended 20 years ago as I started doing fundraising. Someone who was raising money for a university spent months and months with one donor, discussing, planning, and finalizing a very large gift. Once the donor signed on the dotted line, then this fundraiser worked with a fundraising team to do a special dinner at which everyone could celebrate

what a big difference this gift would make. Speeches were made, pictures where taken…all of the donor and the dean. The fundraiser was NOT in the picture.

And one of the people on the fundraising team realized: I hate this…I can’t do a job like that, to always be on the sidelines, and NOT be in the picture. So he resigned.

How am I, how are we, like that team member? Must we be recognized by other people for the good things we do? How loudly must I proclaim being on the right side of an issue?

Our goals may be good, our actions could be right, but our focus may be wrong.

During this lent, may our prayer be:

Lord, help us to hate sin. Pour out your healing love, that we may turn to you. Help us to quietly and fiercely, learn how to seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. For we long to walk closely with you and with your beloved people; all people to whom you give the gift of life; all of creation which sings your glory; and with the angels and saints – past and future – among whom we now stand. In your holy name we pray. Amen.

Tuesday, February 14 – Janet Wild

This sermon was preached on Tuesday, February 14 by third-year Janet Wild. The texts for this sermon are: Genesis 6:5-8, 7:1-5, 10; Psalm 29; and Mark 8:14-21

I’d love to be up here today preaching a sermon on St. Valentine or Valentine’s Day. However, with the unsettling news and tales of suffering that surround us right now. I’m going to talk instead about love and faith in a confusing time. It’s challenging to be a Christian, to follow Jesus and live out our faith in the best of times, the worst of timesi. To continue on even when we are disheartened and overwhelmed. So we arrive once again at a time where we must ask ourselves, how can I be a good disciple? How can I continue on even when I don’t understand or know what the path ahead will be?
Cyril and Methodius trusted in their faith, became missionaries and fought to spread the
word of God in the common language of their people. These brothers gave up their life of
privilege to serve the Slavic people. In their time, the clergy believed the only true languages of the church were Greek, Hebrew and Latin. They challenged and thwarted the brother’s at every turn. The brothers were undeterred, and in order to move forward they traveled to Rome for the Pope’s approval, which they received and where they were also made Bishops. Cyril died before he could return home. Methodius returned to Moravia, continued to be harassed and was eventually imprisoned. Nonetheless, he was able to translate the bible and Byzantine ecclesiastical law into the Slavonic language, and to continue his missionary work. You have to know these two brothers didn’t always know where they were going. But ultimately they followed what they knew to be true in their hearts and continued on no matter what the circumstances. In our time, how are we responding in the midst of political unrest and confusion? Do we know what is in our heart?
In today’s gospel from Mark, I imagine Jesus, rolling his eyes at the apparent cluelessness of the disciples. They didn’t know how to be good disciple’s either. Here they are worrying about bread and Jesus had just fed thousands, twice! He had calmed the water. He had walked on it! And here they were again, doubting and worrying and missing the bigger  symbolism, the connection that Jesus was offering them. Jesus wanted them to learn and then in turn be able to teach others. Imagine Jesus here right now. Would he be rolling his eyes at our lack of trust or would he be like a parent telling us the same story one more time?
I recently saw a movie called “The Visitor,” in which a college professor, Walter, comes home to find a couple, Tarek from Syria, and his girlfriend from Senegal, both illegal
immigrants, living there. Walter understands they have been tricked into thinking they had rented his apartment and lets them stay, in a very short time their lives become intertwined- Tarek teaching him to play drums, expanding his world farther by introducing him to a drumming circle, living, eating and laughing together. When suddenly Tarek is arrested and ultimately deported. Walter’s life is irrevocable changed and he can’t un-see his expanded world. He does the only thing he can think of to honor his friend, as illogical as it might seem, he goes down into the subway to play drums as he knows it’s something Tarek always dreamed of doing. After the last few days of immigration raids, I find myself thinking about this movie and wondering how I will respond as people in my life face the same uncertainty. What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ in this situation?
As we move forward in our own time, these are the questions that we must answer – the
ones that we must find in our own hearts. We live as part of the Jesus movement, even when we’re not completely sure where we are going or how we will get there. We can reach out like the brother’s Cyril and Methodius did, building our communities based on a shared experience and language. We can learn, as they did how to hold to our values and strengths while still growing, changing and moving forward. In action, this means coming together as partners in community organizing, marching not only to raise money for valuable causes but also to gather in numbers that create impact and give us the feeling of solidarity with our neighbors.
Participating, leading, and connecting in this way is being a good disciple. We will learn to see the world around us with clear eyes. We’ll learn from the disciples, who didn’t understand or trust in the miracles and teachings of Jesus in their time. They were caught up in the details of the day to day and completely missed the bigger story. Are we doing
this in our current overwhelm?
We need to wake up and pay attention to the world around us. Our heads are down and
we’re just plowing forward. We don’t see what’s going on with our neighbors, what’s happening all around us. We keep our world small in the hope of avoiding pain and suffering. In turn we loose connection, love and community. Jesus taught us that this is what we need.
As good disciples we will strive to see the love and miracles around us at all times. Like the character, Walter, we will step out of our safe and unconscious paths through the world in order to connect, learn and give back in the only ways that make sense. We’ll follow what we know in our heart to be true – and this will be our Jesus Movement.
And Jesus, like the unconditionally loving parent, will continue to tell us the story so we
in turn, might be grounded, heartened and continue on.

Monday, February 13 – Peter Homeyer

This sermon was preached on the Feast Day of the Rev. Absalom Jones on Monday, February 13 by second-year Peter Homeyer. The texts for this sermon are: Isaiah 11: 1-5, Psalm 137: 1-6, Galatians 5:1-5, and John 15:12-15.

Anyone here ever feel like the writer of Psalm 137?  Like you need to grieve a little, “to sit down and weep”?  That it is painfully obvious that our choices for ourselves and how to live our lives are being held captive by the powers of this world?  Have you wondered, “how shall we sing the Lord’s song”, when what we see around us are restrictions on the most basic recognition of our lives: like who we can love or where we can travel?  I know I have.

Today we remember a man who lived in a time of oppression more profound than that experienced by many of us and as deep as that of the Israelites when they were carried into captivity.  Today we honor Absalom Jones.  Born into slavery in Delaware before the Revolutionary War, he eventually became the first African-American Episcopal priest, and his lifelong song of praise to the Lord remains an inspiration for all those who find themselves bent under the yoke of oppression by those who will not grant them the basic dignities of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But before I continue, would you please join me in prayer?  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing in your sight o Lord, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.

Just over a year ago I had the good fortune of worshipping for a few weeks with the congregation of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Inglewood, CA.  The church, like the city of Inglewood, is predominately African-American.  They offer weekly Bible study, which I was able to attend a few times.  On Sunday mornings the room was packed and lively discussion buzzed around from participant to participant.  People talked not only about that day’s passage, but how it related to their own lives.  In each class, no matter the scripture passage we were studying together, eventually someone in the room would give a little chuckle and say, “Sounds like you got a life lesson on the difference between Chronos time and  Kairos time.”

Chronos, is the Greek word for chronological or sequential time but Kairos measures time differently.  It is not any particular amount of minutes, hours, days, or years.  It is indeterminate in length, measuring instead transformational change.  The members of Holy Trinity understand this to be God’s measurement of time.  And working in God’s time, means putting aside the schedule and the timetable.  Working in God’s time takes patience and humility.

Absalom Jones understood kairos time.  In the United States before the abolishment of slavery, babies born to female slaves were the property of their masters.  Absalom Jones at sixteen was sold away from him mother and sister and moved with his new master to Philadelphia.  Later, when, he met his wife, Mary, he carefully saved his money not to buy his own freedom but first obtain her liberty.  He did this to make sure that his own children were born free, breaking for one family, a cycle of bondage which passed from generation to generation.

At church Absalom Jones suffered through the kind of faulty thinking which Paul warns the Galatians to abandon.  After his own manumission, he and other freed blacks in Philadelphia tried to join a local church, but once inside they were told they could not worship with the other members.  They could not sit or kneel with the rest of the congregation, but would need to segregate themselves to the balcony.   Instead, after completing their prayer, Jones and the others walked out.  Not welcome to participate as full members in the white church, they established their own black congregation, independent of white control.   This church became a gathering place for those speaking out against slavery and it was here that Jones was ordained as a priest in 1804.   Unlike the Galatians, or the members of the white church, Reverend Jones was not to be fooled: differences to the exterior of our bodies are not material in our relationship to God.  

Does anyone know when it became permanently illegal to import slaves into the United States?

January 1, 1808, 20 years after the ratification of the Constitution.  Many people were not sure it would happen at that time.  The way the Constitution is written, this prohibition could not be made before 1808 but did not specify that the international slave trade must be abolished, simply that it could be.  When Congress did pass a bill outlawing the international slave trade, Reverend Jones gave a sermon entitled, A Thanksgiving Sermon.  Using Exodus 3:7-8 as his text, he reminded listeners of the, “nearly 400 years” the people of God lived, “degraded and oppressed” by the Egyptians, when “all was misery.  all was grief.  all was despair.”   But even during that time, “God was not indifferent to their sufferings”, open to, “every tear they shed… every groan they recorded”.  And, in due time, in Kairos time, we might say, God came down to them and transformed their lives.

Reverend Jones did not live long enough to see God manifest herself by ending slavery in this country.  During his lifetime the number of people living in bondage increased ten-fold.  There was good reason to sit and weep.  To forget how to sing the Lord’s song.  But, instead, in his Thanksgiving Sermon, Reverend Jones suggests a celebration.  An annual gathering on January 1st as a time to: (1) celebrate the partial victory represented by the end of the international slave trade; (2) show gratitude for allies still struggling alongside them: (3) pray for further heavenly influence; and (4) encourage virtuous living in the face of hardship.  

These components are just as relevant in our own time, as we sit and weep in a land for from what we imagined God had in store for us.   We must remember God’s past presence with us.  We must support each other to bring about God’s justice.  We must remind each other of the standards of gentleness, mercy, compassion, and conviction God asks of us.  And we must cry together to the Divine One for intervention. These are the notes of the song faithful in all times and in all places.  As Reverend Jones reminds us,

“the history of the world shows us the deliverance of the children of Israel from their bondage, is not the only instance in which it has pleased God to appear on behalf of oppressed and distressed nations, as the deliverer of the innocent and of those who call upon his name.”

– Absalom Jones, 1/1/1808
In the name of the Great Liberator.  In God’s time.  Amen.