August 12, 2018: Rector Robyn – “Let Our Words Be Love”

Sermon  August 12, 2018

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.           Ephesians 4:29

I hope that most of us do realize that there is power in words…spoken, written…even thought.  But how often do we consider the impact of our own words and tend to them before and after they have left our mouths?  Here in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he reminds his readers that what we say has consequence for good or ill and we have some measure of control over the effect.  He cautions the faithful to “speak only what is useful”….what is necessary…”so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”  Think about your recent conversations…you offhand comments to loved ones or strangers.  Did your words give grace to those who heard them?

Our Holy Texts include many references to the power of the word.  God spoke into the nothingness and a universe was formed.  God’s voice rang in the darkness and brought forth light.  God’s love was given voice and all that lives came into being.  This glorious creation and all of the beings that are a part of it are the living, breathing love song of God.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”  Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was and is the the Word…the Divine Logos manifested in human flesh sent to bring us the Good News…testimony of God’s sacrificial love.  Words that give us new life and purpose…instruction in how to be love in the world.

Further on in our reading from Ephesians, Paul tells us to “be imitators of God, as beloved children” and to “live in love.”  This is a lofty expectation and yet Paul says it so easily…fully convinced that this is something that through God’s grace all of us can achieve.  To be imitators of God is to move beyond vain attempts to be “good” striving for more…seeking to “become” love.

While it is admirable to be a moral person, morality is a human construct subject to the changes in cultural expectation and individual human perception.  Some behaviors that were once considered moral are now unacceptable and there are things that we do and say today that would have been considered wantonly immoral in the recent past.  We cannot judge right and wrong…good and bad…by what society finds acceptable.

We have evidence every day that despite the widespread, albeit false, opinion, that this is a “Christian nation” many of the elected officials to whom we have given position are driven by greed and a lust for power to make laws and ordinances that perpetuate injustice and inequality while ignoring the suffering of the weak and vulnerable.  They sell influence to the highest bidder and pad their bank accounts with blood money that is the poison fruit of foreign wars.  All around us the citizenry clamors for entertainment and seeks to feed an insatiable appetite for scripted reality…for false drama.  We have become increasingly uncivil airing evil thoughts in online screeds and spoken rants in public places.

The righteousness of God’s children must be different…must be more than the merely “acceptable” behavior.  We must strive to manifest God’s love not only in our actions but in our thoughts and emotions.  We must work to change our inner self into a dwelling worthy of the Holy Spirit and that resident grace will show itself in our actions.

Paul is very specific in naming those things we are to avoid.  He writes: ”Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

Becoming a new Creature in Christ…a creature that imitates the God who made us is a process.  From the moment of our baptism when our former self dies so that we can be raised in the likeness of our Lord…in our shiny and newness, we begin the process of “becoming” Christ.  We are seeking to be perfect, “as our father in heaven is perfect” and it is in the striving that we find our purpose.  It does not come all at once and we must diligently nurture godliness and faithfully cultivate righteousness.  Of course, we will fail…over and over….often many times in the same day.  But in Christ Jesus we have the assurance that if we repent, forgiveness is certain.

Because we have been forgiven we have the incentive and the ability to forgive others…eventually even those who have injured us grievously.  Do not despair if that forgiving is difficult or if you are not able to do it quite yet.  God knows our hearts and understands that some offenses cause horrible damage to the mind and the soul.  Forgiveness in those instances can take a while and our Lord does not condemn us for having to work through the suffering to hopefully come to a place of peace.

I know that many of you are thinking…how can I…just a regular human…flawed, broken…prone to mistakes…even think to imitate God, as Paul suggests?  But remember that God alone knows our potential…knows who and what we may be and through the Holy Spirit calls whom he wills.  When our Incarnate Lord Jesus was calling his disciples he did not seek out the powerful…the successful…the important people. He called the poor, the broken…the flawed…simple people with one thing in common….they heard Jesus’ message and were willing to go when called.

In our Gospel today we read that the people who knew Jesus growing up…who knew his parents were skeptical when he told them he had “come down from heaven” and that he was the “bread of heaven” sent to give life to the world.  They could not fathom that God’s deliverance…God’s provision for his people would be incarnate in a regular person…someone they knew.  But why would it not be so?  The spark of life that is in all living beings was put there by God.  The divine love of the Creator is infused in all that he has made.   Therefore every plant…every animal…every creature that lives is a miracle waiting to happen.  We do not yet know what we are becoming but God who draws each of us toward the future that he has planned sees all that we are and all that we may be both in this life and in the life to come.

We engage with the miracle of becoming God every time we come to the Altar and share in the Blessed Sacrament.  We do not know how the ordinary elements of bread and wine become the bearers of the Real Presence of Christ but we believe that it is so.  We cannot know exactly when these creatures of earth become the instruments of heavenly grace but all who partake of this heavenly bread….this body of Christ… become one with our Lord and with one another.  It feeds our souls and heals our bodies and our minds.

In our Old Testament lesson today from first Kings the angel told Elijah to “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”  This journey that is our life can sometimes seem way too much to us and we need the life-giving sustenance of the heavenly bread for strength and comfort and as a constant reminder that we are one with Christ Jesus.

For a time in the early Church when one of the faithful died the priest would put a piece of consecrated Communion bread under the tongue of the deceased as part of the “Last Rites”.  This was called the “viaticum”….”food for the journey”.  It was believed that holy bread would give the soul the strength to pass through death into the eternal life that waited beyond the grave.  While this is no longer the practice of the Church we still believe that there is power in the Blessed Sacrament to strengthen us for whatever will come.  In the bread and wine, we take our Lord into our very bodies and with it all of the grace to help us become “imitators of God” in our words and our life.  In the gathering together at the Altar, we join with all the saints who have been and who will be….all of us united in Communion with God.  In that moment we join with the dear ones we have lost and with those we have yet to meet all together in this Eucharist that is every Eucharist.

This is mystery.  This is grace.  This is miracle.

This is God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth made present in this old earth and its old heaven.  It is here that the power of our words fail us…for who can describe the glory of God’s kingdom and the joy of God’s people gathered together in the love of the one who made us and loves and gave himself for us?

So brothers and sisters…you who are the followers of Christ…you who would be the imitators of God….speak your love into the world…give your tender thoughts voice and let those words take action so that others will be able to hear and accept the message that you share.  We are the heralds of the Good News….let our words be healing….let our words be true….let our words be love.

August 7, 2018: Rector Robyn – “The Bread of Life”

Sermon Sunday August 5, 2018

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  John 6:35

At some point in my ongoing observation of the world in general and humanity in particular, including myself, I came to the conclusion that people don’t ever really grow up….we just grow big.  I think we have our moments of thinking and acting as adults should but for the most part, the same needs and desires that drive our behavior as children continue to influence us as adults.  The need for love, for attention, for food…for some semblance of control over the world or at least the people in our lives…all of these things continue to have more effect on our behavior than most of us would like to admit.

Both our Old Testament reading from Exodus and our Gospel lesson from John show God dealing with a people always hungry for more and trying to give them some instruction in how to be less attentive to the stomach and more concerned with the soul.  The Israelites had been liberated from the oppressive bondage of slavery under the Egyptians but in the time spent wandering in the wilderness, they began to resent Moses and the difficulty of the life into which he had led them.  They regretted their decision to escape and began to think that the life a slave wasn’t so bad after all…at least they had enough to eat. It is amazing how an empty stomach changes one’s perspective.

God heard their complaining and sent quail and manna to satisfy their hunger.  “And mortals ate the bread of angels.”  Of course later on, after the novelty of heavenly bread wore thin the Israelites would complain again about having to eat the same thing every day.  We all know folks who never seem to be satisfied with the blessings they have and always desire something else….some elusive thing that will make everything better.  I suspect that at some point in our lives all of us have been that person….wanting something more without needing it and not really sure of that something more is.

In the Gospels, we find the people seeking out Jesus and his disciples who had slipped off to be alone for a bit.  The people were remembering fondly that time Jesus fed the multitude and they got into boats and tracked him down.  Jesus calls them out, letting them know that he is fully aware that they are following him, not so much for his teaching but because they would like some more free food.  I learned early on in my work with the Church that if you want a crowd to come to any event you offer them food.  The stomach is a very powerful organ and controls most of us more than we are aware.

Of course, food is necessary for our lives and the fellowship of the table is one of the ways we connect with one another and strengthen our communities and families.  The fact that families do not sit down to eat meals together in our too-busy modern culture has certainly weakened our emotional connections.  At one time a great deal of time and energy was involved in the acquisition, preparation, and consumption of food.  With our methods of mass production and development of convenience items not only have we disconnected from the source of our food but we spend much less time in preparation and often eat while doing other things.  We have interpreted our hunger as the need for bread when in reality it is a need for much more than food.  It is a need for some relationship with the earth from which our food comes and for engagement with other people in some meaningful way.

The crowds who went looking for Jesus also had an appetite for entertainment and spectacle.  They were willing to consider the possibility that he had been sent by God but they wanted him to perform some miraculous sign to prove it….preferably one that involved food.  They said, “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”  Jesus reminds them that it was not Moses who gave them the bread from heaven but God.  At this point Jesus tries to move them out of their stomachs and into their minds using the bread as a metaphor … “it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 

Jesus goes on to reveal that he, himself is the living bread sent down from God to bring life to the world.  Despite the fact that those who heard his message did ask for him to give them the living bread, we know that they did not really understand what he was trying to teach them.  Jesus was offering them a new perspective on a very familiar message.  Humanity does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  Jesus was the Divine Logos…the living Word of God given flesh, come to dwell among the people to teach and to guide …and eventually to save.

The underlying point of all of these instructions about food and heavenly bread is that we come into this world with a deep hunger…an emptiness that can only be filled by the love of God as revealed in Christ Jesus.  The love we share with one another is a reflection of that deeper love that is the very essence of God.  The sad thing is we spent so much time trying to appease our appetite for the things that do not really make us happy…for more…for better…for something else….for influence…for control…for attention…for any number of fleeting trivial things that we starve ourselves of the only thing that really matters…love… expressed in acts of compassion and generosity….love revealed in the very life and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Brothers and sister…life is a fleeting thing.  We are here for only a short time and we cannot predict when those who are dear to us may be taken from us.  As much as it is possible through the Grace of God, take some time to feed the hunger for love, for fellowship with family and friends.  Share a kind word and maybe your lunch with a stranger.  Make a real connection with someone…don’t be afraid to love…openly, fiercely, unapologetically.  Care about something…care about someone and show it in your actions.  This is all the time we have and God is still sending the bread of love from heaven, given for all of us without condition.  Jesus said …, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  God has given us all that we need….take…eat…love.


June 17, 2018: Rector Robyn – “Our Sacred Call”

Sermon – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost  June 17, 2018

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Today I begin the sermon with the words of the Apostle Paul to the Church at Corinth.  I do this partly to bring to your attention a news story from earlier this week when a government official, a politician that I will not name, used the words of this same Apostle….words from a different letter, written to the Church at Rome…to attempt to give scriptural validation for an immigration policy that is as inhumane as it is unchristian.  As I have mentioned before I try very hard not to bring politics into this pulpit but when issues that should be of concern to Christians are politicized…and in this case, the very teachings of our own holy texts have been misinterpreted and misrepresented for evil purposes… all of us who claim the name of Christ must speak up. We must speak against those who would use Biblical language to validate unholy attitudes and policies enacted in the service of isolationism, elitism, and bigotry.  We must speak truth to power and denounce those who would do irreparable harm to children and their parents because in their desperation and fear they came seeking asylum at our borders.

I believe very strongly in the separation of Church and state because anything else has the danger of discriminating against those of faiths other than Christian and against those of no faith or who practice a different type of Christianity than those in power.  But when these evil people…and yes I do believe they are evil….claim to speak for Christians I take offense because it is clear from their actions that they worship only power and follow the god of this world rather than the risen Christ who lived, died and rose again that all people would be welcome and have a place in the kingdom of God.  Brothers and sisters things may get worse before they get better and we as the hands and feet …and voice of Christ in this world must work and speak for peace and justice for everyone especially the most vulnerable and helpless among us.  This is our sacred call as those who have been baptized by water and Spirit, sealed and marked as Christ’s own forever. 

In our lesson today Paul tells us that we have been made new creatures in our baptism.  The old rules no longer apply and everything is being made new under the life-giving law of love.  Doing the right thing is not difficult if we allow ourselves to embrace fully the reality of Christ’s love.  Living in this love we can find strength and courage to stand against hate and violence.  We can find the patience to be loving even to those who seem unlovable.  We can find the wisdom to discern the most loving alternative when faced with a decision to make.  Perhaps the most life and world-changing gift we receive in this loving relationship with Christ is the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of grace that helps us forgive others for the pain they have caused us.  It is this grace that can also give us the strength to forgive ourselves and to be free from the guilt for the wrong that we have done.  Every moment we are being remade into the likeness of Christ…new creatures ever rising from those baptismal waters to walk in newness of life recommitted to becoming Christ and to making the kingdom of God present in the lives of everyone we encounter. 

In our Gospel today Jesus tells us that this mysterious kingdom of God is as if someone scattered seed in the night and the new grain sprang up from the soil as a surprise gift.  Its origin is unknown but the blessing becomes more and more evident as it grows.  He also compares this kingdom to a grain of mustard seed….tiny and seemingly unimpressive and yet from it grows a bush big enough and strong enough to become home to families of birds who nest in its branches.

From small beginnings come great things.  We do not have to be capable of miraculous or powerful or impressive feats. God takes our tiny offerings…our efforts for good no matter how small and prospers those so that they spread and grow until everywhere we are is the kingdom of God and every act we do in love becomes a blessing shared by the citizens of that kingdom. 

I know it seems like the world has become a terrible place where those in power act without compassion or concern for the very people they are supposed to represent and where more and more people seem capable of thinking, saying and doing cruel things to others, acting out of fear or anger or cynicism.  People of good heart are feeling increasingly helpless as the servants of the evil one spread violence and hatred through neighborhoods and cities and nations.  Brothers and sisters we must not lose heart.  We can change things for the better if we can overcome our spiritual inertia and reach out in love and compassion to help ease the suffering of those whom God brings into our lives. 

I am not saying that thinking good thoughts and doing little kindnesses will change the world overnight.  But keep in mind that as long as there have been humans there have been those who have been driven by a desire for power, influence or wealth to do horrible things to other people and the other creatures of this planet. This is not a new situation and history shows that nations rise and fall…leaders rise and fall….some better some worse but all temporary.  God in Christ Jesus has given us the hope of the Resurrection and the promise of eternal life when our time here is ended.  Even now the power of the Resurrection is breaking through into this age and bringing with it the hope and courage for people of faith to begin to live Kingdom lives even in this broken and imperfect reality. 

Whatever happens in the next few days…or months or years…we, as the bearers of Christ in this world must not become complacent.  We must not make peace with oppression but continue to speak for those whose voices have been silenced and be willing to bear our neighbors burdens…to weep with those who weep and to offer comfort wherever we can.  Do not let false christians who follow a perverted gospel be the ones to speak for the Church.  Let the world know that the Christ we follow…the God we worship is a loving God who calls his people to be loving and compassionate…welcoming the stranger and caring for the poor and the vulnerable. Because we have been shown mercy we can in our turn show mercy.  God’s love is limitless…and unconditional.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  While we were yet sinners our Lord Jesus Christ offered everything…his suffering…his human future…his very life for our salvation…to show us the depth of God’s love…while we were yet sinners.

For me, one of the most heartbreaking images I have seen in recent weeks was a post on my Facebook feed from a priest friend.  It was a photo of rosaries that had been confiscated from immigrants by border control agents.  These desperate people were not even allowed to keep their devotionals…these strings of beads with which they prayed and which offered comfort and a reminder that their God had not forsaken them.  These are our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being treated like criminals.  Who have we become that we sit idly by while babies are being taken from their parents and children are being incarcerated? …no one allowed to comfort them as they weep…children who don’t know why they were taken or if they will ever see their parents again. This obscenity should make all people of good heart weep and mourn and rend our garments in sorrow. 

After my brother Michael died my mother had nightmares in which she could see him walking around and around a deep pool of water right at the edge.  She had always had a strong fear of water and in her dream, she knew her child was going to fall in before she could reach him.  I can remember her waking up weeping and terrified at the thought of losing one of her children.  I cannot help but wonder how she would have felt had any of us been taken from her with no indication of when or if we would be returned.  As difficult as Mike’s death was for her I think not knowing where or how he was would have been worse.

Brothers and sisters…pray for those who suffer from the unjust actions of governments wherever they are in the world.  Pray for parents who have lost their children and babies who cry out for their parents.  Spend some time studying the Bible so that you can know if someone is misinterpreting or twisting the Scriptures…even someone who professes to follow the same faith as yours.  Do not be afraid to preach Christ live-giving gospel of love with your words and with your actions.  Do not be afraid to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit when she calls you to act in love. 

As a Christian and a priest I do not really care what your political leanings are…who you vote for or why.  But I do care that the gospel of Christ is being misinterpreted and that perversion is being preached by those in power and being accepted as the truth by those who either do not know any better or who prefer to believe a lie.  Anyone who claims that God in any way advocates for the devaluing of human life and approves of abuse or the wanton and heartless infliction of pain and suffering on any of God’s creatures is a liar.  To believe or speak this is blasphemy and to act on it is sin. 

Gentle people, we must not remain silent.  Let us speak the truth of God’s love to all who will listen.  Let us show the truth of God’s love in our actions as we the bearers of Christ in this modern age work together to bring the Kingdom of God into the present.  You may be wondering where the “Good News is in all of this.  You are the Good News and I am the Good News.  We have the power to speak love into being and to ease suffering with our actions.  Do not feel guilty when God gives you a moment of joy in your family…or your fellowship with friends and at Church…in your worship.  This is the food of the soul and will nourish you and give you strength to do the work of loving this world out of the darkness.  In all of your good works do not forget to pray and to thank God for we have been reborn in Christ.  Let us then try to live as people who have indeed been made new.

October 22, 2017: Rector Robyn – “Render Unto Caesar”

“Give therefore to the emperor, the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s. Matthew 22:21

So, I had decided early on that I would not be giving one of the standard “stewardship” sermons that Episcopal priests tend to schedule for this time of year. But then I take a look at the lectionary for today and what do I find?….the “render unto Caesar” Gospel reading. So, what is a good priest to do?

Now, it is true that this lesson from Jesus arose out of a moment when the enemies of our Lord were trying to manipulate him into saying something that could be used in their efforts to permanently silence him. The Herodians were a political group loyal to Rome and who often took sides with the Sadducees in opposition to the Pharisees. They asked the question about the religious legality of taxes in hopes that Jesus would say something against the emperor, which would have been punishable under the law. Caesar was looked upon as a god and criticizing him openly would have been blasphemy or at least sedition.

Jesus’ thoughtful response to the question was a surprise. He did not question the necessity of financially supporting the government while placing the responsibility on the individual to decide how to prioritize one’s assets according to what was rightfully due to God and what should be given to the emperor.
Now of course when we take on this story in Church the comment will always be made that everything belongs to God. and while it is true that all that we have and all that we are were gifted to us by our Creator, I have found that those who usually make this argument don’t really want to give much or even any support to either the government or to those doing good works in the name of God. Folks can get a little uncomfortable….let’s rephrase that…folks get a lot uncomfortable when the conversation turns to wealth and how one should manage it in the public sphere.

To be perfectly honest I have my own difficulties with financial discussions… not because I mind if people know how much my salary is or even know how my funds are used. Mine is a visceral, emotional reaction that has little to do with the specifics of my bank account or anyone else’s for that matter. As I have often mentioned, I grew up in rural Kentucky. What I do not often mention is that we were to quote my mother “poor as Job’s turkey.”

My father was a farmer and a carpenter with 7 children, one who was drastically ill and by the time the last of us was born my mother was no longer working outside of the home. We had no health insurance and my father’s building work was always at the mercy of the weather and the economy. While we were never hungry, because we grew most of what we ate, and we were always clean and properly dressed because my mother was a wonderful seamstress and we had a good second-hand store in town, there was very little money for extras and my father lived with the ever-present worry that financial uncertainty brings.

From a very early age I knew that money was the great divider….the divide between the haves and the have-nots was very evident…in how we looked and in how we acted. Any school activity had to be evaluated on the basis of how much it cost. The rich kids had their own language…their own cars…and a mysterious series of social events of which the poor rural kids had no experience. The same was true for us. The city kids had no experience of outhouses in winter or getting up at dawn to set out tobacco plants or dig potatoes. They didn’t know about “making do” with what you had because there would be no more.

When my mother became very ill and had to have surgery my father had to take out a personal loan and paid off her medical care in installments. The American Heart Association paid the massive medical bills for my brother’s heart surgeries. I saw the anxious tension in my father’s face when one of his children had the sniffles or took a fall because he was worried about not being able to pay for medical care.

While my parents tried to always make sure we had what we needed we learned early on not to “want” for unnecessary things because everything came at a great cost of hours working or with worry attached. Money …or the lack of …was a constant source of anxiety. For me it came to represent obstruction and separation….it was the dark cloud that hovered over every decision. I spent a lot of time wondering what life would be like in a society without currency where everyone just shared what they had so everyone had enough and no one had too little….and no one needed to worry about what they did not have.

As an adult with several academic degrees, all of which were paid for by scholarship, grant or my own hard work…those childhood days faded into the distance of memory. I discovered that the more letters I had after my name the less people questioned my background but instead assumed that I came from the same social strata as they did. For many years I felt a bit like an imposter pretending to be something I wasn’t. No one knew my love of the ballet and opera came from watching public television with my mother…or that my knowledge of other countries and cultures came not from travel but from books. Even being an Episcopalian was uncomfortable for several years as I adjusted to being a part of the Church of rich, white people…a church that didn’t even have a congregation in the rural area where I was raised. As I found a home doing ministry with those who were most vulnerable and in need I found that I did belong …in this church and in my own life.

I don’t tell this story of my life to elicit sympathy but rather so you will know a bit about why I do the ministry I do and why I approach it the way I do. I know it may seem from some of my sermons that I have a problem with affluence and perhaps at some level I still do but the truth is I realize every day what a blessing it is to have resources available to do good work in this world. God does not measure our worth by what we have or do not have but counts us all as infinitely precious. The way we choose to use the financial gifts that we have gives us an opportunity to show that we too love and value those that society deems the least of Gods children.

While it is absolutely vital that we share our resources in outreach ministries to those in need we must not forget to tend to the needs of this worshipping community…its physical plant and the liturgy we do here. While to some this beautiful building with its glorious windows…our fine hangings and metalware…the countless candles that burn to light our services, our prayers and our spirits….to some this may seem like an unnecessary expense when there is so much need in the world for more practical things. But we must not forget that we are more than physical creatures…we are also spiritual ones. Yes, the body must be fed, but so too must the soul. The food of the soul is beauty….it is art and music…ritual and relationship. Together we create a space where our souls can commune with the Divine and with one another. Here in this holy place we can find the deep well of strength that rises from a community at prayer….here we find the transcendent experience of worship that has movements and words that reach back 2000 years into our Christian history. Here we have gathering places so we can study the scriptures and discuss the deep issues of faith and theology. Here we a library filled with the knowledge and inspiration of countless people of faith and thought. Here we have a parish hall where anyone no matter who they are or where they come from can come for a hot meal or shelter from the winter cold. Here we gather to grieve for our dead and to send them on to God with all of the beautiful words and flowers and music we can harness into a service. Here our dear ones rest in the garden among the green things, which remind us of their new lives in heaven.

Grace Church is a place filled with life… and hope…with faith and love….with creativity and inspiration. Here we create expressions of Christ’ love and from here we send them forth into the wider world. We give our time and our energy…our work and yes, our money to caring for this place and for the ministries it generates. God has blessed us with this wonderful place and generations of our brothers and sisters who came before us have cared for it and kept it alive so that we might reap the spiritual rewards. The honor has now been passed to us in this generation to make sure that those who come after us know that the people of God live and work and change the world from this place.

So, as you make your own decisions about what rightfully belongs to the Emperor and what is due to God think about what you want your resources to accomplish in this world and if you find something of value here in which you would like to invest, by all means be generous. We give thanks to God for all of those who have faithfully supported the work of this Church and her ministries down through her long and fruitful history. Thank you for giving of your means and for giving of yourselves to the building up of the kingdom. We have much good to do in this world and I believe that Grace Church will be an expression of Christ’s love in this place for many years to come.


October 15, 2017: Rector Robyn – “What’s On Your Mind?”

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8

Today I want to begin with a question…a very simple question but the answer, if honest can reveal a lot about a person. So tell me, what’s on your mind?

Perhaps it might be better stated, what do you spend most of your time thinking about? As people of faith we are often quite concerned with behavior. We focus time and energy on physical acts of service to those in need and devotion to the God we worship. But in the midst of all that doing we can forget that what goes on inside of our heads can be as important as what we do in our bodies. As we think so we are.

In the passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians that we have today Paul begins by encouraging the recipients of his letter to stand firm and to offer encouragement and support to two faithful women who have worked with him in his ministry. Paul reminds his readers to rejoice in the Lord and to be good examples of gentleness and faith. Finally he counsels them on their state of mind with suggestions about where the thoughts of a follower of Christ should be focused.

While no one wants Church members to become the thought police and if there is one place we can truly be free it is in our own minds, Paul makes a very valid point that those who seek to follow Christ should consider. We do have some measure of control over our state of mind and what we choose to focus our thoughts on can have lasting effect in our behavior and in our relationships. Our attitude can have powerful physiological consequences both good and bad. Our emotional state can effect how our bodies respond to illness and treatment. It can affect how well we do our jobs and most certainly has impact on our daily interactions with other people.

We all know people who seem to be angry all of the time…about politics or the state of the world or the price of gasoline. They go through life expecting to be offended and spend a great deal of energy upset over some small thing that someone said or did. They nurse old resentments and accumulate new ones until their lives are controlled by their negative emotions. This is not how the people of God are to be. How can we be witnesses to the love and forgiveness of Christ if we are filled with anger and resentment? How can we be bearers of the Good News if all we do is spread the bad news?

Paul admonished the folks at Philippi and us to focus our minds on those things that are true and honorable, just and pure…things that are pleasing and commendable….excellent and worthy of praise. Don’t waste time and energy on those things that do not matter or cause unnecessary drama. We are to be gentle people…not just doing kind things but being kind…not just doing acts of charity but being compassionate and loving.

This of course is easier for some folks than others and is more doable in some situations than others. But if we take on the spiritual practice of focusing our minds on the things of Christ it will eventually be second nature to us and it will not be an effort but simply our way of being in the world. So, how do we begin to do this?

Well, just like we choose nutritious food for the health of our bodies we need to choose carefully those things we feed our minds. What do we read or watch on television? What comes across our internet feeds? How much time do we spend plugged in rather than engaging with the real world? We are creatures who thrive in relationship and the more time we spend cultivating good ones the better we will feel….the happier we will be and the more peaceful our world will be.

But in this process we must not neglect our relationship with the Lord. Spending time in prayer and meditation…taking quiet moments to read and reflect on Holy Scripture…having conversations with our brothers and sisters about questions of faith or simply about our own experience of the Divine…all of these practices can strengthen us in mind and spirit and even have positive effects on our physical health, as our stress levels decline and our happiness increases.

To be perfectly honest, the topic of this sermon came to me last night as I was walking in procession during the Feast of the Lord of the Miracles. Fr. Michael Rich had given a sermon in which he evoked a powerful image that took shape and stayed in my mind. He spoke about the origin of the devotion to the image of Senor de los Milagros…the Lord of the Miracles, which had been painted on the wall of church in Lima, Peru by an African slave in the 1600s. At the time a great and terrible earthquake shook the earth and destroyed the Church and much of the area around it but the wall with the image of the crucified Christ remained intact. Fr. Michael talked about the image rising out of the rubble and devastation…a symbol of hope and a reminder that God had not forgotten the people…that God in Christ Jesus never forgets the people but sees and suffers with us no matter what horrible things are going on around us.

That image of our Lord, crucified…glorified…hovering over the chaos of the world stayed with me …coming back again and again to my mind. When we think of Christ glorified we tend to see the Christ Victorious like the image in our window…but when Jesus talked about being glorified he was speaking of his crucifixion …of being lifted up and drawing the whole world to himself…not in power or domination…but in weakness… suffering…in vulnerability. The reign of this Lord was founded in sorrow and sacrifice …in compassion and in the complete offering of himself to the pain of a violent death so we might know without a shadow of a doubt that God loves us and will not leave us…ever.It occurred to me that if I could spend more time thinking on the wonderful mystery of God’s love as evidenced in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, I might be able to incorporate that love more fully into myself and have it available to then share with others I encounter.

One of my favorite prayer practices, which I sorely have neglected, is to say the Rosary, which I know is a bit too Catholic for some folks. But a wonderful thing about the rosary is that it isn’t just saying the Hail Mary’s over and over and over like a mantra…although that might be useful; when it is done as intended, while you move your hands over the beads saying the Hail Marys aloud, in your mind you hold an image or a thought about one of the Mysteries….Joyful, Sorrowful or Glorious. The Mysteries are events in the life of Jesus from his birth and the visit of the Magi through his ministry and miracles to his death, resurrection and ascension. The whole exercise is a meditation on the life of Christ.

Now, I am not advocating that everyone begin praying the Rosary but I am encouraging everyone to deepen his or her prayer life. Become intentional…set a timer if you need to until you get the hang of it. But do spend more time with the Lord intentionally and not as an add-on to a very busy life.

I would also encourage all of to spend more time thinking about people and places that bring you peace and comfort…that make you happy or touch you deeply. Bask in your loving relationships….dive into those deep friendships….reintroduce yourself to you and get to know yourself a little better. Being a good friend to yourself is good practice for being a good friend to someone else.

The world is in a terrible state, with pain and suffering all around us both near and far. As followers of Christ and people of good heart we are called to relieve whatever pain we can…to be companions to those who have lost their way and to be comfort those who have lost heart. But if we do not feed our souls on the loving presence of Christ we too will find ourselves worn out with grief and care. If we can improve the emotional and spiritual health of our interior selves we will be better equipped to address the problems in the external world.

Brothers and sisters, we know what we need to do now we must encourage and support one another in the doing of it. Seek justice…practice peace….spread love.