Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Spirit of the Lord Is Upon Us

Sermon for SMHP, Year C, Epiphany + 3, Jan. 27, 2019
Luke 4:14-21                          
               14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
               16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 
               20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

          So we are back in Luke’s gospel for the foreseeable future, with the exception of the Easter Season which is always…?  [John]
          There are themes particular to any gospel, which is why we have all four.  Each looks at Jesus through a slightly different lens.  Matthew’s lens is the experience of the Jewish people, the rites and rituals of Judaism.  And the Law.  John wants to think about how Jesus fits into the whole cosmology, and what it means for him to be Son of God and Son of Man.
          Mark’s Jesus is the Man of Action.
          Luke’s Jesus is the Liberator.  So while Mark and Matthew also tell the story of Jesus teaching in the synagogue near his home, only Luke shows us what he is teaching.  Only Luke includes the lesson from Isaiah:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 
          It is a text of liberation, is it not?  The perfect opening salvo for a man whose mother sang the Magnificat while waiting for him to be born.  “God has sent me to turn the world upside down—to bring good news to those on the bottom.
          Jesus reads the Isaiah text as if it is about him, right?  We need to be clear on that.  He’s not just reading the Second Reading, “Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.”  He is offering the people gathered there in his home town his Mission Statement.
          The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.
          Because God has anointed me.  And sent me.
          And to whom has God sent Jesus?  Who are the recipients of his Spirit-infused ministry?
          The people Isaiah names:
          The poor.
          The captives.
          The blind.
          The oppressed.
          And those who have lost their land or were enslaved or owed large sums of money.
          You might not have caught that last part, but that’s what “the year of the Lord’s favor” means.  Isaiah declares—so thus Jesus declares—a Jubilee Year, during which debts are forgiven, land is return to those who had to sell it, and slaves are set free.
          So, again, to whom is Jesus sent?  To those who are suffering.  To those who yearn for freedom.  To those who live on the margins.
          This mission is the liberation of the world, from systems which enslave them and oppress them and rob them of the hope that is in their hearts.
          It is a mission which has been given to us.  In this place.  Do you think there is need for liberation in this place?  In this time?  Are there people in our parish who need liberating?
          What’s our stated mission?  [Building hope, proclaiming peace]
          Is that a mission of liberation?  A mission of turning the world over, and focusing on “the least of these?”
          Of course it is. 
          You build hope in those who are hopeless.
          You proclaim peace to those who live with war, with grinding poverty, with gun violence outside their doors, and sometimes inside them.
          Ours is a mission of liberation, and we stand in the footsteps of Jesus and of other great prophets of liberation.
          Father Greg Boyle is one of those prophets.  Anyone heard of him?
          Father Greg is a priest in the barrio of Los Angeles.  For over thirty years, he has been in ministry with gang members.  His parish is a hotbed of gang activity, and in the early days of his ministry there, Father Greg set out to “save gang members.”  “But then,” he says, “in an instant, I learned that saving lives is for the Coast Guard. Me wanting a gang member to have a different life would never be the same as that gang member wanting to have one. I discovered that you do not go to the margins to rescue anyone. But if we go there, everyone finds rescue.”
          Father Greg has stood at the margins with murderers and drug dealers and little kids on their way into gang life.  He has accompanied them to jail and done their funerals. 
          But he’s also seen a whole bunch of them transform their lives.  With people from the parish and some of the folks in and out of gang life, Father Greg started Homeboy Industries.
          Homeboy Industries started as “Jobs for a Future,” with Father Greg convincing local businesses to hire young people trying to transition out of gang life.  Then in 1992, a Hollywood producer donated enough money to buy an abandoned warehouse, and Homeboy Bakery was born.  Homeboy Tortillas followed, and today there are multiple industries at Homeboy, including a t-shirt business, merchandise, a bookstore, a café (Homegirl Café!), a diner, and a Farmer’s Market.
          There’s also a school, legal services, and tattoo removal.
          “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
          You no doubt noticed the signs for The Mark Youth and Community Center as you came in today.  If you missed them, check it out before you leave. 
          I don’t think The Mark is going to become Homeboy Industries, but with this project, we are taking a step toward those on the margins of our community.  Across the street at DeLaSalle High School are young people who could really use a break.  I see them in the morning when I take Dominic to daycare.  They are buoyant and funny and strong.  They are also bowed down from the trauma they’ve endured.  Over ninety percent of the students there have endured significant trauma:  gun violence, extreme poverty, family addiction, abuse.
          We’re not going to “save” them.  That’s not what The Mark is, or what it does.  The Mark is a way to join them where they are, and offer them a chance to do something else in the afternoons.  I can’t tell you exactly what The Mark does, because that is up to the kids, not me. 
          I can tell you this:  The Mark is our most significant opportunity to “build hope and proclaim peace,” and it is a project you should be proud of.  I hope it is also a project some of you will want to support; there will be lots of ways to do that.
          The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, people of God.  God has called us to join young people on the margins of our community, not to “save” them, but to stand with them.  As we do that, we stand with Jesus, with Father Greg, and with the vulnerable, right next to the heart of God.

Unwise and Untimely

John 2:1-11                           
          On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.
               3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”
               4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”
               5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
               6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.
               9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

          On April 12, 1963, a group of white clergymen in Birmingham, Alabama issued an open letter to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  [slide 2]
          King had been in Birmingham organizing nonviolent protests to the ubiquitous practice of Jim Crow segregation.  [show slides 3-7]  There were sit-ins and public demonstrations and hundreds of persons had allowed themselves to be arrested [slides 8-9] to show the injustice of a system which told black people where they could sit, stand, eat, and drink…and where they couldn’t.
          One of the persons arrested was Dr. King himself.  [slides 10-11] He read the clergymen’s statement while in Birmingham City Jail.

          Those white clergymen were a moderate group, all from mainline and similar denominations.  There was an American Baptist pastor, a Presbyterian Moderator, a couple of Methodist bishops, a couple of Episcopal bishops, a Reform rabbi, and a Roman Catholic bishop.  They actually wanted change, these men.  They supported an end to the Jim Crow era, in keeping with their Jewish and Christian values.
          But they didn’t want the change to come as the result of the sorts of public actions that Dr. King was leading.  They didn’t want the cry for change to be led by “outsiders.”  They urged a more sensible process, one which would come through “proper channels.”
          “When rights are consistently denied,” they wrote, “a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.”
            These demonstrations, the clergymen wrote, “are unwise and untimely.”
          This is not the hour for such things.
          Before we judge them too harshly, and alas, history has done that for us, I repeat, these were good, moderate churchmen who wanted to see change.  They wanted to see God’s vision of justice realized in their town.
          Just more slowly.  At the proper hour and in the proper way.
          And they are certainly not the only people in history to urge caution when justice is at stake.  Martin Luther, whose name Martin Luther King, Sr. adopted for himself and his son when the boy was five—Martin Luther had a cautious streak when it came to civil protest.  When the leaders of the Peasants Revolt tried to use his work to undergird their cause, he was furious and declared that the people must obey secular authorities.
          Travel a bit further back in history, and we come to the time when Jesus and his mother were at a wedding, and the wine ran out.
          This may not seem like a landmark moment for justice and civil rights, but think about what you know of Middle Eastern hospitality culture.  And what I’m about to tell you about wedding feasts.
          First, wedding feasts lasted for days.  Second, the hosts were expected to provide food and drink for all of the guests for all of that time.  And by drink I mean wine.    
          Running out of food or wine would bring shame on the household just as it was being formed.  Shame on the parents’ household.  And shame on the guests, who were also expected to contribute to the three day feast.
          That kind of shame was bad.  Righteously bad.  The “mother of Jesus”—that’s her name in the fourth Gospel—the mother of Jesus knew how bad it was.  And she knew the power her son possessed—the power to right the balance of this situation, as a precursor to righting the whole world.  (Think “Magnificat”)
          So she called that power out of him, with a seemingly simple phrase.  “They have no wine.”  That phrase only seems simple, right?  With it she acknowledges that she knows—she sees, to use a word John loves—she sees that Jesus has the ability to utterly change the situation in which the people find themselves.
          His mother sees that power in him, knows that he can right this situation…but for a moment there, it appears that Jesus has other ideas.  “My hour has not yet come,” he tells his mother. 
          [whiny voice] “Mo-om!  I don’t wanna save the world today.  I’ll save the world tomorrow.”
          Who’s been there?  Maybe you couldn’t save the world, or make Chateau Lafite Rothschild out of tap water. 
          But there was a moment you could step into.  A chance to help someone else.  A chance to stand up for right, to show compassion, to declare justice.
          It’s hard to step into those moments, isn’t it?  My goodness, if Jesus hesitates, I think we can acknowledge that we sometimes hesitate too.  We don’t know how to deploy ourselves in difficult situations, or we don’t think anyone cares what we think.  I mean, what difference does it make if one person stands up in this crazy world.
          [Slide 14]
          What difference indeed.
          People of God, our voices matter.  Our bodies matter.  Where we stand, and don’t stand…matters.  Right now, as never before, we have an unfortunate but profoundly clear opportunity to stand on the right side of history, the right side of justice, the right side of God’s kingdom.
          We have the opportunity to build the kingdom here on earth, by standing with the oppressed, the poor, the disenfranchised.  By showing compassion to our fellow humans—mirroring the actions of our Lord Jesus Christ that day in Cana.
          John tells us that the glory of God was seen in his actions that day.
          I am telling you today that the glory of God will be seen in your actions this day and the days that follow.  People will believe in Jesus Christ, when they see you doing something that makes this world more just, more kind, more compassionate.
          The glory of God is within us, just as it was within Jesus that day.  Since his mother is not here to coax it out of us, let me paraphrase her here.
          “They have no justice.”
          “They have no hope.”
          “They have no peace.”
[Show slides 15-16]
          I am in Birmingham because injustice is here… Just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown.
          Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.

Sunday, January 13, 2019


Sermon for SMHP, Year C, Baptism of our Lord, Feb. 13, 2019
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22                   
               15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 
               21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

          Baptism.  It’s that moment when the church stands in the shoes of God, who doesn’t probably have shoes, but whatever.  The church stands in the shoes of God and claims a person.  Snatches that person up and now that person is God’s.  Forever.  There are no Baptism Divorces.  Once you are God’s, you are God’s. 
          You also belong to the church when you are baptized. 
          [Big voice]  “We welcome you into the body of Christ and into the mission we share.”  That’s what we say to the newly baptized person, all of us, together.
          Baptism is a joining ritual in which we mark a person as
1.  Joined to God in a new way.
2.  Joined to the church in a new way.

          And all of that action is God’s.  Even the church part, because—and we sometimes forget this, so it’s good to remember—the church is God’s.  It was established by Christ and it belongs to God.  So baptism, the foundational sacrament of the church, is God’s.  God claims you in baptism.
          It should be easy enough for the church to get that right…shouldn’t it?
          Over on the Working Preacher blog, Professor Karoline Lewis tells of preaching a sermon in Lutherland—Minneapolis, Minnesota.  In the sermon, she quoted from Luther’s Small Catechism and talked about how baptism is a claim on us.  “In baptism,” she said, “God claims you.”  And it’s forever.
          A ninety-year-old woman came up to her afterward.  Karoline calls her Dott, though that is not her name.  Dott said that three years before she was born, her parents had a daughter born with severe birth defects.  They were told that there was nothing the hospital could do for her, and they should take her home.  Dott’s grandmother baptized the little girl, fearing for her salvation.  But when the baby died, their pastor refused to do the funeral, because he had not baptized the child.
          After hearing Karoline Lewis’s sermon, Dott said to her, “Is it true that GOD baptizes you?” 
          “Yes,” replied Dr. Lewis. 
          “Does that mean my sister is okay?” asked Dott.
          For ninety years, that woman thought her older sister had been in peril, because she wasn’t baptized “properly.”  She hadn’t gone to heaven, because she hadn’t been baptized by the proper person in the proper place.
          You know what the proper place for baptism is?
          Someplace where there’s water!
          A river, a lake, a big room with a bowl of water in it.  Your living room with a bowl of water in it.  The bedroom of a sick child…with a bowl of water in it.
          Sure, pastors usually do baptisms.  I also usually stomp down the paper towels in the second floor bathroom trash can.  But that doesn’t mean that anyone else in this building couldn’t do it. 
          Here’s why it is good that the church belongs to God and not just us:  we like to put walls around stuff.  In the church we--and by “we” I mean pastors most especially, God help us--we like to wall off important stuff like sacraments.
          But that doesn’t make any sense at all.  Baptism is all about walls coming down. 
          Scientists call water the “universal solvent.”  Water dissolves more substances than any other solvent.  Plain water.  Dissolves all kinds of things…including walls. 
          Baptism erases walls.
          There is no wall between us.  There is no wall between us and God.  In baptism we are claimed by God—adopted into God’s family.  We become God’s children in the same way that Jesus, on the day he was baptized, became God’s child in a new way.
          In baptism, God says to each of us, “You are my Child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
          We are God’s children just like Jesus is, which is why Jesus was baptized, just like we are.
          We are all washed in the same water.
          In fact, the water on your forehead came from this bottle [show bottle], which I bought at a little store up on a road above the River Jordan.  I took the bottle down to the river, to the spot where they say Jesus was baptized, and I filled it with water, and this is the first time I’ve used it.  You are now marked with the same water in which Jesus was baptized.
          But if you were already baptized, you have already been joined to him.  There is no dividing wall between us and Christ.  No dividing wall between us and all of humanity. 
          Walls are bad.
          But we love them, don’t we?
          Somewhere in your life, there’s probably a wall that needs to be washed away.  It may be a wall between you and another person.  It may be a wall in a relationship that looks okay, but that wall is keeping you from truly loving that person.  Maybe you’ve erected a wall around a dream—just put a wall around it and it won’t hurt when you think about it.

          Christians, we are not Wall People.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

--Ephesians, chapter two.
          Christ is our peace, and Christ has broken down the dividing wall between us.  Christ will work with us and walk with us as we break down those walls we erect to keep us “safe”—from other people, from our deepest dreams, from truly living into the fullness of what God has for us.
          Remember your baptism today, people of God.  You have been marked by the waters which baptized Jesus.  You have been baptized with the baptism with which he is baptized.  And if you are not baptized, please know that God has filed all the paperwork to adopt you too.  The waters are ready for you.
          Remember your baptism.  May the waters of the River Jordan, and the waters of all those baptismal bowls wash away anything that is separating you from realizing peace, hope, joy. 
          No walls.  Only us, together with God.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Power of Wisdom

Sermon for SMHP, Year C, Sunday of the Epiphany, Jan. 6, 2019
Matthew 2:1-12                   
          In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
               9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

          Like all good art, this painting affects one slowly.  It works at several levels, and the point (or points) that the artist is making come as you consider both the piece and its title.
          I believe the artist wants us to consider power as we observe the piece.
          Government agents using power to separate children from their parents.
          The power of love which connects them even as they are separated.
          The power of wisdom, and the lack of power in not utilizing wisdom.
          The power of art to drive an image into your heart like a stake.

          I cried when I realized what this image was showing us by juxtaposing a family separated with the Holy Family.
          It is a powerful piece—would you agree?

          I want to talk about power this morning, though I should really say that I want to continue talking about power.  The Christmas and Epiphany stories, which have provided the narrative structure to four worship services in a row now—these stories are all about power.  How power appears, who has it, how it is used.
          Consider the nativity story as told by Luke, our evangelist for this church year, Year C.  The story begins with the Emperor—Augustus—exercising his power to make his subjects bend to his will.  “Y’all go to your hometowns so that we can count you,” he decrees.  And a very pregnant woman and her loyal fiancé are forced to travel a hundred miles on foot and the back of a donkey...because the Emperor has that kind of power.
          The child is born, then, in a place meant for animals.  Wrapped in cloth and laid in a manger—a feeding trough.  How much power does he seem to have?  Yeah, well, you can’t always tell who has power, can you?
          Then an angel appears, obviously exhibiting great power—so much that like most angels, this one has to lead with “don’t be afraid.”  The angel tells the story to shepherds—nobodies on a hillside.  Then “a multitude of the heavenly host” makes a big, powerful splash:  “Glory to God in highest heaven and peace on earth.”
          And after this very powerful moment, the narrative shifts back…to…
          The shepherds.  The dirty nomads who follow their sheep around the Judean hill country and beyond.
          And those nobody shepherds, who have already been the first to see the Messiah, also become the first to tell the story.
          Which means that God bestowed on them—the shepherds—the power of WITNESS.  A really important power.  Somewhere between occlumency and divination.  (That was a little shout out for the Harry Potter crowd.)
          The shepherds exercise the power of witness to begin the work that has been handed down for generations, all the way to us:  the power of observing the Christ and reporting what we see and know. 
          Shepherds.  Get that power.  You can’t always tell who has power, right?

          And from Luke 2 and the shepherds, we go this morning to Matthew 2 and the wise men.  How many are there?  No idea.  We assume three because they bring three gifts:  gold, frankincense and myrrh.  But if in a trivia contest you are ever asked how many wise men, the answer is “we don’t know.”
          What do we know about them?
          They are powerful.
          They have means:  gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  According to some scholars, the gold is actually the least valuable of the three, assuming there was a decent amount of the frankincense and myrrh.  By the pound, that stuff is expensive!
          However much there was, it is clear that these “wise men” come from a particular class of people.  They have stuff, and they are able to travel around checking out babies.  And the description of them suggests that they are Zoroastrian astrologers, whose powers of divination (there it is again!) would be highly sought by other powerful people.
          So a far cry from shepherds, yeah?
          And yet, they inhabit the same plane in our Manger Scenes.  The wise men have robes, and carry gifts, but you just can’t discount those shepherds and their place as the first hearers and first tellers.
          The wise men bring great gifts, and they are great astrologers.  Or maybe astronomers?  In any case, they find Jesus and Mary and Joseph by following a star.
          That’s a lot of power.  But their greatest deed of power in the whole story is the deed they don’t perform.  I am referring, of course, to…?
          They “left by another road.”
          They were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and they “left by another road” to get back home.
          Herod, whose power was utilized for great evil during his reign, asked them to return and tell him where the baby born King of the Jews could be found.  He lied and said that he wanted to pay homage to the child.  We all know he had nefarious intent, and Matthew goes on to describe how he realized he had been tricked by the wise men and sent his soldiers to kill all of the children under two in and around Bethlehem.
          But they did not kill Jesus, because Joseph had another dream, which told him to “take the child and his mother and go to Egypt.”  They became refugees, in a land which did not erect a wall between itself and children. 
          A land, in other words, far different from our own, where the power of the bully pulpit has been joined to the power of the bully in order to demonize families that look an awful lot like our Holy Family.
          And I feel very comfortable saying that all of us in this room are upset by that. 
          Angry about that.
          Frustrated by that.
          But, really, what can we do?
          I mean, the bullies have all the power, right?
          We don’t have any, right?

          Today is Epiphany.  The word literally means “revelation.”  Jesus was revealed by a star.  And by wise men from the east who followed a star to see a child of little means whom they knew to be a king.  Wise men who bestowed upon that seemingly powerless child gifts meant for a king.
          You can’t always tell who has power.
          Rosa Parks was a slight African American woman, in a time when all of those things worked against you.
          Albert Einstein had a learning disability.
          Nelson Mandela was in prison for twenty-seven years, under the worst separation law in the world…at least so far.
          Then he became President of South Africa.
          Listen to the story of Epiphany.  Let it reveal itself.  See Christ revealed in it.
          See Christ, and know that you have the same power once vested in shepherds:  the power to see the revealed Christ, and to tell of his power.  The power of witness.
          The world needs witnesses.  This. Nation. Needs. Witnesses.  People willing to testify to what they have seen revealed in scripture, to what God has done in their lives and in history, and in the lives of the least of all of these.  The ones who seem to be without power but who are actually at the center of the Power of God’s Love.
          Listen to the story of Epiphany and ask yourself what it means for your life, this day.  Here we are on the precipice of another year.  Will we allow 2019 to happen without intervention? 
          Or will we find the power that is within us—the power of witness, the power of testimony, the power of shepherds and wise men, to put our bodies in important places?  Will we stand for the ones who lack power in the spaces in which they find themselves?
          Hear the lessons of Epiphany, people of God:

>Listen to your dreams. 
>Don’t believe everything others tell you.  See for yourself.
>If your mission is true, don’t let someone else co-opt it.
>Be brave.  Find your own power, and don’t fear the power of tyrants.
>Finally, pay homage to Jesus.  Offer him your gifts.  Invite him to use your gifts for the good of the world.

          There is a quote from the activist and writer Marianne Williamson which says this better than I could.  It is often attributed, falsely, to Nelson Mandela, for obvious reasons.  May these words reveal a truth to you.

          Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliantgorgeoustalented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
          My hope for you in this new year is that you will shine.  And the world will be made better, by the revelation of your power.


Sermon for SMHP, Christmas Eve 2018
Luke 2:1-14
          In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
          3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
          6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
               8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
          10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace.”

          A burning bush.
          A pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.
          A talking donkey.
          A “still small voice.”
          God has found a lot of ways to appear before human beings.  You might even say God has a flair for the dramatic. 
          And maybe I’m biased, but I think there is no more dramatic tale of human beings encountering God than the one which opens Luke’s gospel.  There’s all the buildup—angelic visitations to Mary and Zechariah, travels across the Judean countryside, poetry.  The poetry may only be dramatic for the English majors among us…
          Then there’s some political intrigue.  “A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.”
          Joseph and Mary must travel to Bethlehem, the original City of David. Jesus is born, and lain in a manger…”because there was no place for them in the inn.”
          Add shepherds, angels, and a heavenly host, and this thing is ready for Broadway.  Or at least countless low rent church productions starring six-year-olds in bathrobes looking shepherd-y.
          Just one thing seems out of place in this grand drama. 
          The baby.
          I mean, after all of the pomp and circumstances around this moment of divine inbreaking, doesn’t it seem a bit odd that God would choose to become incarnate as a baby?  Not so dramatic.  Babies are born every day.  They’re not so…you know, huge.
          God could have been the most perfect human ever born, sort of a cross between Idris Elba, Mother Teresa, and Patrick Mahomes.  Go ahead and take a minute trying to picture that.
          We know God was trying to be like us, so no pyrotechnics—no pillars of fire or raging bush fires. 
          But a baby?  Why would God choose to become known to us in a whole new way, as a newborn?  A newborn is so…vulnerable. 
          And that’s why, right?  God has done powerful.  It wasn’t so incarnational, really.  This time God wanted to become like us, and let’s be honest, we’re pretty vulnerable.  We can be hurt, physically, emotionally, spiritually.  We try to hard to be safe, that sometimes we make the world more dangerous.  What else but our profound vulnerability has created the gun culture that makes us all less safe?
          In being born a tiny baby in a space meant for animals, Jesus became truly like us—profoundly vulnerable…
          …and profoundly adorable.
          We are all willing to stipulate that Jesus was adorable, right?  By which I mean not just “cute.”  He was adore-able.  People came to adore him.  People are still adoring him.  We sang about it at the beginning of the service, right?  “Oh, come, let us adore him, Oh come, let us adore him, Oh come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.”
          Jesus may have been a vulnerable little baby, but he created quite a stir when he was born. 
          An angel told some shepherds and then a “multitude of the heavenly host” showed up and the shepherds left their hillsides and became the first to adore him.  And people have been adoring him ever since.  The more you get to know him, the more you want to adore him. 
          From the moment he was born, Jesus was vulnerable and he was adorable.  Because God wanted to remind us that we are both of those things and it’s okay.  God sent us a savior because God knew that we would never be able to overcome our fragile nature.  But God also wanted to remind us that God doesn’t just love us…God adores us.  God delights in us.
          This Christmas, as you think about the birth of Jesus, I want you to remember that he was born because you are adorable.  In fact, I want you to say it, out loud:  “I am adorable.”
          I am adorable.
          You are adorable, and you are adored.  It is the point of incarnation.  It is the point of this night.


You Can't Do That

Sermon for SMHP, Year C, Advent IV, Luke 1 Series, Dec. 23, 2018
Luke 1:57-80                   
               57Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.58Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
               59On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ 61They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ 62Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. 64Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
               67Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
68 ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
   for God has looked favorably on God’s people and redeemed them.
69 God has raised up a mighty savior for us
   in the house of God’s servant David,
70 as God spoke through the mouth of the holy prophets from of old, 
71   that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus God has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
   and has remembered God’s holy covenant,
73 the oath sworn to our ancestor Abraham,
   to grant us 74that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve the Lord without fear, 75in holiness and righteousness
   before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
   for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
   by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
   the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
   to guide our feet into the way of peace.’
               80The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel. 

          So I know most of you pretty well, and I know that at some point in your lives, and perhaps at several points, you have encountered a moment like the one in which we find Elizabeth and Zechariah this morning.
          You’re explaining something very important to the people in your life, and they are just not getting it. 
          Them:  “It’s just a phase.”  (Anybody ever heard that one?)
          You:  “No, seriously, it’s not.”
          Them:  You can’t really believe that.
          You:  Yes, that is what I believe.  Here are the reasons why.  (List of reasons follows.)
          Them:  You can’t wear that, eat that, do that, sing that, name your child that.
          You:  Um, yeah.  I can.

          That more or less the story over at Liz and Z’s house.  Their baby has been born.  Everyone has been calling him Zechariah, because that’s the custom—babies get named at birth, and first sons after their fathers. 
          But when they say to his mother, Elizabeth, at his bris, “Hey, he’s Zechariah, right?” she replies, “No.  He is to be called John.”
          And instead of saying, “Oh.  John.  Nice name.  I had an uncle named John.” they meddle and argue.
          What?!!  No one in your family is named John!  You can’t do that?!  That’s not the way we’ve always done it.”
          And then they start waving and gesturing at Zechariah (because he can’t speak, so they assume he can’t hear either).  [Pointing and mouthing]  “She wants to name the kid “John.”  Do something!
          And he takes the writing board he’s been carrying around for nine months—it’s a piece of wood with some wax on it—and he writes on it, “His name is John.”
          Because that’s what God told him, and he is faithful, and we aren’t doing things the way we’ve always done them anymore.  It seems to me that that’s the point of this weird little story, and the biggest reason I wanted us to read all the way through Luke 1 this Advent.  The story of the birth of Jesus, God’s incarnation, God’s desire to be with us in a new way—it’s all so radical that Luke writes a long prologue to it that sets the scene, with angels and divine intervention and mothers and fathers being faithful to God, even when it seems odd to the people around them.
          And finally, a song of faithfulness that reminds us once again that our faithfulness is a response to God’s faithfulness.  Zechariah’s Song, the verses that make up most of our lesson for this morning.
          The whole first half of the song is the perfect ending to the first chapter of Luke’s gospel--a description of how God has been faithful through the years.  “Blessed be the God of Israel, who has looked favorably on us and redeemed us,” Zechariah begins.
          Then he goes on to describe God’s faithfulness:
Here’s what God has done.  God has:
--raised up a savior for us in the house of David.  (The people listening probably thought he meant David.  But he meant Jesus.)
God has:
--spoken through the prophets
--shown the mercy promised our ancestors
--remembered the Covenant

          God has remembered the Covenant, and now God is establishing a New Covenant, one that will seem odd and different to some of you, but go with it.  Zechariah is the first to speak of the New Covenant, but Jesus will definitely have some things to say about it, and we continue to speak of it each week at the Eucharist.
          Then at verse 76, there is a pivot, in which the father speaks to his newborn son.  “And you, child,” he says, “will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.”  And indeed, that is the role of John.  It is the role he knew, no doubt prepared by his priestly parents.  It is the role he described to others, when they asked if he was the Messiah.  It is the role he often plays in iconography, one finger pointing to Jesus. 
          This section of Zechariah’s Song is the transition, from what God has done, to what God will do through Jesus. 
          Like God, Jesus brings salvation, but Jesus’ salvation is eternal.
          Jesus brings forgiveness of sins.  Another thing we talk about during the Eucharist.
          Jesus brings light to a people living in darkness, as the great prophet Isaiah promised.  We will hear that word tomorrow night, and some of you read it this past Wednesday.
          And finally, Jesus brings guidance, and this is where Zechariah’s song really looks into the future.  Because this is the part that is about us.  Look at verses 78 and 79: “By the tender mercy of our God,
   the dawn from on high will break upon us, 
 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
   to guide our feet into the way of peace.’
          John is charged to be the prophet of Jesus, who is charged with being a light in the darkness, a Word of hope, and with “guiding our feet into the way of peace.”
          Which means that the charge to us is about our feet.  Who knew that the feet were the most spiritually significant body part?
          But according to Zechariah this morning, the Most High, God incarnate, Jesus Christ, came to “guide our feet in the way of peace.”
          So our role in this song, in this story of Advent and Christmas hope—our role is to have the feet of peace.  To be on a journey of peace.
          The New Covenant of Jesus Christ is a Covenant of Peace.  No longer will God’s people be invited to make war on each other and on neighboring tribes.  We are assured of our salvation and the forgiveness of our sins, and freed up to simply love each other. 
          This fourth week of Advent, love is our theme, and as people of the Incarnate one, the child of peace, we are reminded that love is our one and only charge.  We are called to set our feet on a journey of peace, guided by our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.
          And it might seem odd to people around us, all of this peacemaking in a time of grumbling and aggression.  But it is our calling, as inheritors of the New Covenant.  It is the song Zechariah is singing this morning, to his infant son, and to each of us. 
          Let us greet these beloved children, John and Jesus, with a new commitment to peace.  To make peace, to live peace, and to sing our own songs of peace.  Songs that will seem odd, perhaps, to the world around us.  But songs that will indeed redeem that world.