September 10, 2017: Rector Robyn – “Love Songs in the Rain”

“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.  Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;”   Romans 13:11-12

Floods and fire….war and pestilence…trial and tribulation….the world seems to in an uproar and no place seems safe.  All around us our loved ones and neighbors are beset with a chronic anxiety.  We no longer believe in those who represent us in government or the media charged with keeping us informed.  We look with distrust at our religious leaders and at the person sitting in the pew next to us.  Even nature herself seems to be rising up against us, possibly in retaliation for human maltreatment over generations.  Many of us feel helpless…or hopeless… fearing that things can only get worse.  We want to blame someone so we blame God…or sinners….or liberals or conservatives … anyone who disagrees with our worldview or follows a different religion.  Someone must be to blame for all of this misery…just not me.

The truth is we are all innocent and yet bear some blame for the state of things.  We, who have benefitted from social, economic and political structures that have historically oppressed the poor for the benefit of the wealthy…that have pillaged and desecrated the earth for resources that we have squandered carelessly believing that they would last forever.  We have waged war for profit and power and accepted corruption from our political and religious leaders and from our legal system.  We have made justice a myth and honor a lie believing that God favored us to the detriment of everyone else.  The consequences of the sins of the fathers seem to have come upon us at last. We have created this mess and now we must accept the responsibility of cleaning it up or learn to survive in the rubble that remains.

I realize I have painted a rather bleak picture of the current state of affairs but not necessarily because I think this is the path of the future.  Yes, things are bad but as long as there are people of good heart willing to work with love for a better world we are not without hope.  God did not bring us this far to leave us in the darkness.  We can and will weather these storms and hopefully in the process find ourselves a little more grateful for the blessings of this life, more patient with one another and ourselves, more generous with our forgiveness and more responsiveness to the needs of those suffering around us.

In today’s passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans the Apostle is admonishing his readers to “wake up” and recognize that now is the time to get busy with the work of the kingdom. While we were spiritually sleeping things got away from us and we have some housekeeping to attend.  He goes on to tell us to “lay aside the works of darkness” and to clothe ourselves with the protecting armor of light.  While most of us here probably don’t consider ourselves as workers of darkness, all of us can benefit from this advice.  Anger can be a work of darkness…arrogance…apathy…selfishness…

greed…complacency…complicitness… all of these are works of the devil and all of us are susceptible to any or all of them.  Sometimes it is easier to “go along to get along” and we fail to speak up against evil or in support of good when we have the opportunity.

In our Gospel lesson for today Jesus is addressing conflict within the community of the faithful.  Any group of people will have some measure of conflict.  While diversity is a wonderful thing, disparate opinions and life experiences can result in disagreements, sometimes over small things and sometimes over matters of importance to the individual and to the community at large.  The mark of a healthy community is how those conflicts are managed.  Do we disagree with civility and respect one another?  Do we listen to opposing views looking for areas of potential compromise?  Are we honest and open with one another, not harboring hidden resentments until they erupt in the wrong way at the wrong time?  In the midst of our disagreements do we remember that the other person is a brother or sister in Christ, loved and precious in the sight of God, just as we are?

In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus outlines a process for dealing with conflict that offers several opportunities for the disagreeing parties to reconcile.  At the same time there is an acknowledgement that there may be times when one or the other of the parties is not willing or able to reconcile and one or the other must walk away.  No one wants this sort of situation but all of us have experienced it.  Such an outcome is a failure…of the process and of us as Christians who are committed to loving and forgiving one another in a Christ-like manner.

While this topic is always a difficult one for a preacher I think in these contentious times it is perhaps a good thing for us to consider how we behave when we are in disagreement with one another in the Church and in our outside community.  As people who have committed ourselves to seeking and serving Christ in all persons we must always remember whom we represent.  The Christ we reveal in our own words and actions is the Christ that we are showing to the world.  If all someone knew of Jesus was what you reveal in your own behavior would that be a Jesus that anyone would want to know?

All around us are people who are desperate for love and for a sign that God has not abandoned them or this world.  We are the heralds of the Gospel…we are the signs that the hurting and desperate children of God need.  How we behave with one another in our own Church community…how we treat our neighbors …or that stranger on the street or in the grocery store…how we welcome the visitor among us both in our gathering and in our neighborhoods…these are the actions…the signs that God’s loving Spirit is still active and moving in this world.  Few of us are called to do great things but all of us are called to do what we can where we can to bring more love into being.  It really is about each and every one of us doing our tiny acts of mercy until like drops of water in a storm we have created a flood of goodness washing away the evil that so many seem so intent on releasing onto this precious creation.

While each of us is called to serve where we are for many of us that call is also to give feet to our love taking it to where it is most needed.  For some that may mean putting ourselves into uncomfortable situations and facing the wrath of the powers that be.  Some of us may have to become political…like Fr. Mark Johnston running for public office…or like those of us who gathered at UAB to publicly support our DACA recipients or those who organize and march calling our elected leaders to legislate with greater justice and equity.  Some may be called to serve in relief efforts to help those in dire circumstances. While the gifts of others are to minister to the emotional needs of those in despair and fear.  There is a place and work for each of us.

Whatever God calls you to do you will be given the strength and the courage to accomplish but it must always be done with love.   Anger and a passion for justice are powerful forces but love is the only thing more powerful than hate.  Without love the temptation to use the methods of force and violence can lead even good people to become no better than the evil they oppose.

Time and again we hear stories coming from war zones where the innocent bystanders on the ground…the victimized citizens…cannot tell one army from the other because all of them brutalize and terrorize the weak and vulnerable.  What have we gained if you cannot tell the good guys from the bad guys?   This is not a movie where the hero wears a white hat.  The only way they will know us to be the servants of a loving God is by the love we show in what we do and how we do it.

I know these are anxious times.  Many of us have friends and family who have been or are in the path of the hurricanes and the fires.  We pray for all of those who are recovering from Harvey or are evacuating or preparing for Irma.  We pray for the firefighters in the Pacific Northwest.  We grieve with our Mexican neighbors devastated by the earthquakes…with the Rohingya refugees fleeing the horror in Myanmar.  With the rest of the world we anxiously watch the threatening antics of the North Korean leadership and feel the emotional burden of the never-ending war in the Middle East.  We cry for peace and there is none to be found…except the inexplicable, internal peace that comes from admitting that alone we can do nothing but in God all things are possible.

Brothers and sisters, we must pray…and pray…and pray…and then pray some more.  Then while we continue to ask for God’s help and guidance we need to get up off our knees and get to work.   If you have a conflict with your brother or sister do your best to reconcile.  If you have time and opportunity offer to help someone without waiting to be asked.  If you need an outreach opportunity Grace has a number of ministries that serve our neighbors near and further afield….but we are not the only ones.  All around us are organizations working to make this community and the world better.

If you fear for the earth, plant and nurture something green…park you car for a while or disconnect from your technology for a spell…if you want to welcome the stranger offer comfort and support to a DREAMER who may be anxious and afraid right now.  Even doing something small will make you feel less helpless.  Create something beautiful or support an artist who is making beauty.  Sing to your spouse or to your pet.  In whatever way you can bring some light and peace and joy into this mess of a world.  All of these actions together will help to pull us back from the brink of despair.  But do remember that the doing is only the evidence of our being.  If we open ourselves to embrace the Holy Spirit our very persons will become the witness to God’s love.

You are not alone in this…you are not helpless… and you are not hopeless.  God in Christ Jesus loves us fiercely and unconditionally and we in turn can love one another and this world in a similar way.   God is with us in the midst of the storm and will remain with us no matter what comes to pass…
So with voices full of hope we will sing our songs of love in the rain and wait patiently for the sun to appear.

August 20, 2017: Rector Robyn – “Gentle People, Do Not Despair”

I offer you two passages to ponder:

for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.

Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,

I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.

Isaiah 56:7b-8

Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”  Matthew 15:10-11

Those of you who know me and who have listened to my sermons through these last several years know that I try really hard to keep politics out of the pulpit.  But, there are times when the Holy Spirit calls even the most reluctant of us to speak.  There are issues of concern for Christians and for all people of good heart that are politicized by those who seek to manipulate and control the minds and hearts of the population. Issues of economic and environmental justice…of social equality and equity….of care and concern for the poor and the vulnerable …of compassion for the fragile, the sick and the broken.  These concerns are the purview of Christ and his followers and when they are politicized we must become political.

There have always been those who feel no reticence or remorse in perverting the truth or outright lying if it gives them power, influence and wealth.  Unfortunately, in today’s entertainment focused culture many of the media sources people trusted to provide objective accounts of events now seek primarily to sensationalize and dramatize with a spin that appeals to their chosen demographic.  The media is not to blame for this but rather those who would rather hear news that agrees with their personal worldview rather than confront the complexity of the social and political climate in which we now find ourselves.

I say all this as preface to remind us that in his day Jesus himself was very political speaking against the powerful while offering solidarity and support for the oppressed, the vulnerable, the outcast and those broken by a society structured to make certain that the poor stayed poor and the powerful remained wealthy.  Judea was an occupied territory and the Jews were a conquered people.  The Romans allowed them some religious autonomy, as long as it was convenient and the religious leaders who collaborated with the Empire wielded their own bit of power over the faithful, taxing the poor into deeper poverty and tamping down unrest before it was noticed by Rome.

Looking around at the state of this world we can see that the situation now is not that different.  The hearts of men have not changed with the passing of millennia.  There is still hatred and violence, injustice and oppression, greed and intolerance, ignorance and arrogance.  The machineries of war still grind up the bodies of the young and the old relive glory days that were never glorious and try to hide the scars on the soul that they carried back from their own battles.  The poor are still battle fodder for the wealthy and while the rhetoric of the sabre rattlers continues to be about defending freedom and other noble causes the truth is war is very profitable.  Even those begun as just causes eventually become about acquisition…of land…or resources.  In the end weapons must be sold so more can be made…and so goes the war. The world is in the throes of a mass unrest and if we do not bomb, or burn or shoot ourselves into oblivion we seem intent on destroying the planetary ecosystem that keeps our fragile bodies alive.  One would think humanity has some sort of default tendency toward self-destruction.

It is probably pretty evident that I am feeling more than a little overwhelmed, and I suspect some of you are as well.  While these things have always been going on somewhere in the world as the background noise of our global society, the heavily armed men marching and chanting hatred, the threat of violence in the streets….the terrorist attacks in London and Barcelona…the rise in the number of mass shootings….  The incessant growling and snarling of supposedly civilized folks as they argue with their neighbors or post their rants on social media…..  Road rage and hate speech and all manner of ugliness boiling over or oozing out of the mouths of seemingly regular people.  Brothers and sisters what have we become?  And perhaps the more important question….how do we stop this becoming?

If our faith practice means anything at all I think it is important that we remind ourselves of some basic truths of our tradition.  The first and the most vital to our understanding of who we are is that we and all living things were created by a loving God.  We humans were made in the very image and likeness of this God, which means that if this God is love then we were made in love to be loving, creative beings. God made us to be in relationship with one another, with all of creation and with God.  This is a relationship based in love.  We were made as one people and God does not love some of us more than others.  Even in the Hebrew Scriptures when the people understood themselves to be chosen and set apart by God we read the prophet Isaiah declaring God’s welcome to all people:

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,

all who keep the Sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant–

these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;

The Psalmist too declares:

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide all the nations upon earth.

Who are we to deny those whom God welcomes?  I say this because the time is coming when we, as people of faith will be called upon to make a choice…to stand in opposition to hatred and bigotry or to hide in our comfortable lives because we would rather go along to get along.  Brothers and sisters words have power…to hurt or to heal.  While it is always good to think before one speaks and listening to someone else’s story can create relationship, there are times when to be silent is to be complicit.  We must not keep quiet in the face of injustice, abuse or exploitation.  We must speak God’s truth with love and without apology.

In our Gospel lesson today Jesus told his followers that : it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.  He was speaking to the power of words.  Just as you will know someone by their deeds you will also know them by their words.  Jesus goes on to say:

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.  No matter how good we are at lying to ourselves and others eventually our words will show whom we really are.  That racist joke made at an unguarded moment among friends…that hateful story about a neighbor…that salacious bit of gossip about a Christian brother or sister…..the cruel critique on the appearance of a coworker…the angry Facebook rant at someone who disagrees with our opinion.  If your heart is filled with anger and hate…with scorn and disdain…with arrogance and cruelty it will eventually seep out in your words.  This is not who we are called to be.

I know you may be angry…the events going on in this world are enough to make even peaceful people angry but anger that is fed eventually becomes hatred and hatred will eat you up from the inside.  One can be angry and not sin, especially in the face of injustice but we must not let anger cause us to forget that in Christ we are called to be peacemakers…to heal and not hurt….to bind up not wound…to comfort not afflict.  We must be the ones on the front lines speaking love into  being.  There is power is words and those spoken out of love …those spoken about love….are the most powerful of all.  Yes, you will probably be ridiculed…yes, you may be ignored and yes, you may even be threatened or injued….but if the followers of Christ do not have faith in the power of love then we are lost indeed.

It was love that led to the Incarnation…for God so loved us that he came to be with us…as one of us…to show us how to live….to show us how to die…to show us how to love.  We, who are made in the image and likeness of God have been given the power to love this world or to destroy it.  Never underestimate your own power to do something good.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu said “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”  This wisdom from a man who lived through the horror of South African apartheid and saw the healing made possible through the Truth and Reconciliation project.

You must discern God’s call to you in these troubled times.  For some it may be to be part of a larger movement or to engage in the political process…to march….to speak publically to the issues that are of concern.  For others the call will be more obscure…to help heal the breach between those who let opinion become more important than relationship….to find moments within the everyday to show compassion and to teach peace.  But none of us gets a pass…there is too much strife in this world for any of God’s people to stand by idle while hatred is breeding violence.  We must be awake and alert to opportunities to oppose the evil and to encourage the good, with the strength that comes from true humility.

Humility is not dismissing the good or demeaning oneself.  To see oneself as less than the precious child of God is either false humility or a detrimental lack of self-esteem.  Rather, true humility is to see oneself clearly both the good and the not-so good.  It is to be open to change while respecting one’s talents and abilities.  We must all be open to change and enter every situation with a willingness to learn and if necessary to be corrected.

Even Jesus, who was fully divine, but also fully human had to learn.  The latter part of our Gospel lesson today gives us a very revealing account of Jesus interaction with the Canaanite woman.  When our Lord at first refuses to heal her child he gives this truly awful excuse…. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  There is no way to hear this without cringing at the insult.  He basically called this woman and her child “dogs”.  Remember too that unlike our own culture where our dogs are like family….the same was not true in first century Palestine.

To be honest while offensive Jesus’ insult would not have been considered a sin.  The Jewish Law, as he would have understood it would have been very clear on the inferiority of the non-Jewish Canaanites.  They were despised because they were idol worshippers and in the early history of the Jews some of the people had intermarried with them and been led astray into questionable religious practices.   But the Canaanite woman in our story was not deterred by Jesus’ disdain for her.  She was a mother on a mission to save her child and I suspect she would have willingly faced worse treatment if there were a chance her daughter could be healed.  So she has the intelligence and the courage to argue with the Jewish Rabbi:  She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  In that one statement she expresses her humility in being willing to accept even crumbs; her obvious belief that she too was a child of God serving the same master; and her certainty that even a tiny bit of Jesus’ power could heal her child.  Humility, dignity and faith.  Jesus in that moment saw her great faith…in God and in him and he healed her daughter.  I believe that this was the moment when Jesus began to realize that his purpose was not only to save the Jewish people but in fact through him God intended to save the whole world.

If Jesus could be taught, how much more is there for us his followers to learn?  We also have in this story the great example of the Canaanite woman.  If like her we can remember that we are all children of God and trust that this God loves us and wants us to be well and happy then we have no need to hesitate but can come boldly before God asking for what we need to accomplish God’s purpose in our lives.  We are all agents of God’s grace….vital to the mission of bringing God’s Kingdom into being.

Brothers and Sisters, I know I spend a lot of time talking about the power of love.  This is because somewhere deep inside I truly believe that it is the only thing that will bring healing and renewal to this world that humanity has so sorely wounded.  I believe that love is the only thing that has the power to heal and renew the brokenness in each of us.  We have all been damaged in some way by circumstance, by those we love and by those who did not love us.  Healing comes with forgiving and being forgiven….in allowing ourselves to acknowledge the pain and holding fast to the love of Christ to move through it.  It is this life-altering, mind-changing, soul-stirring love of Christ that helps us realize that the most hateful of us…the most violent and destructive of us is often the most broken on the inside.  It is this brokenness that allows the devil to take root and evil to grow.  We cannot and should not accept the evil that these broken brothers and sisters perpetrate but we must try to love them and even when that seems too much to ask we should and can pray for them and for those they harm.    But prayers without action are like words without meaning.  We must be willing to put our love to task, doing good works of mercy and being Christ in the world at every opportunity.

Gentle people, do not despair.  Even when things seem darkest, God has not abandoned us. The light of Christ still shines in each and every person of good heart who seeks to bring peace.  In the early Church the first Christians believed that the “Peace of Christ” had power and substance and could be passed from one person to another by a touch or a kiss.  What if they were right and we have reduced what was a profound sharing of the power of the Holy Spirit to a friendly ritual greeting.  What if we could through prayer and intention share the literal peace of Christ with one another here in this assembly and with those we encounter out in the world.  With a touch we could begin to create peace in the world around us….the peace we pray for…the peace we work for…the peace we long for with a deep and abiding hope.

Let us then go into the world with the peace of Christ in our words and in our hands.  Let our very touch become a blessing and every word we speak be love….and may God be with us all.

August 13, 2017: Nathaniel Darville – “Setting Our Sails On Christ”

Let Us Pray: Bring us your peaceful words and place them in our mouths and in our hearts so we may bring your peace to all peoples and all places, O God, F, S, and HS. Amen. (Based on Psalm 85)

But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” [Matthew 14.26-27.]

‘Setting Our Sails Toward Christ’ or ‘Are Birkenstocks Water Proof?’ or ‘We Sail the Ocean Blue and our Saucy Ship’s A Beauty; We’re Sober Men and True and Attentive to Our Duty’

I guess you could say I am part of the music video generation. When I was about 5, the MTV channel came on the air and my teenage brother, Chris, would have it on all the time. We would watch music video after music video after music video. I remember I was about 7 when the video for ‘Magic’ by the band the Cars debuted. The premise of the video is pretty simple: it begins with dozens of people running to a big outdoor pool behind a mansion, where the lead singer of the band, Ric Ocasek, sings ‘Uh-oh it’s magic, when I’m with you’ to a bikini-clad blonde while walking on top of the pool water, as a crowd stood back in amazement on the grass. In my 7 year-old mind my first thought was, ‘Is this what it looked like when Jesus walked on water?’
But the context of today’s Gospel is far removed from 1980s New Wave rock music. At this point in Matthew, we find Jesus at a very dark point in his ministry. After a series of profound parables and teachings about God’s Kingdom, Jesus ends up in his hometown, Nazareth, only to find people will not take him seriously because they didn’t think any wisdom could come from a working class family, at least not the family of Joseph and Mary. What’s more, Jesus then gets word John the Baptist has been executed. His reaction is a very human one, he wanted to be alone. Perhaps he wanted to mourn his friend. Perhaps he had doubts about the direction of his ministry. Perhaps he desired to pray to God for discernment or comfort. The text does not say, but it is probably any combination of those things. All we know is he wanted to get away from the people that were following him. But he could not escape the crowd, which apparently had accumulated to around 5000. Again, his reaction was very natural. Jesus channels his grief into compassion for the large group of people. He knew they needed to eat so he provides bread and fish for them all. But after the crowd ate their fill, Jesus again withdraws, this time up to a mountain to pray while the rest of the disciples wait in a boat. While Jesus is praying, a storm ensues, and the disciples experience one of ancient world’s greatest fears: being blown out into dangerous waters, far from land. The disciples see Jesus walking towards them on the tempestuous lake and they do not recognize him. They are terrified, except for Peter, who walks out to Jesus as soon as Jesus identifies himself. But, poor Peter, always the comic relief, sinks into the water when he takes his focus off Jesus and focuses on his fear. Jesus pulls Peter up, and the moment they enter the boat, the storm ceases.
The narrative of Jesus and Peter walking on water is usually preached as a lesson on faith. That is, the disciples are in the story as an example of how not to act; a faithful person should not doubt. But I think this interpretation completely misunderstands the message of today’s Gospel. The 19th Century German anthropologist, Ludwig Feuerbach, proposed the bible is written with a completely human-centered perspective. In other words, our view of God [and Jesus] is really just a reflection of ourselves. While I disagree, I think Feuerbach is right when it comes to biblical interpretation. When we look at scripture, we look for ourselves in the text, and not the God revealed. In this text, just like any Gospel text, we should begin with what Jesus is doing. The way in which the disciples fearfully reacted in the story is completely appropriate. I am certain I would have responded the same way. It is a normal part of faith to have doubts, especially in times of trial. I think the point to take away here is not the disciples’ faithlessness, but Jesus’s faithfulness.
But this truth does not take away from realities of being Christian today. To live in this world as a follower of Jesus is to live in the midst of a storm. Storms have been a powerful metaphor for the dangers of this life as long as humans have thought critically about their environment. In Scripture, the world was destroyed by storms, all except Noah’s family and animals in the Ark. Storms were part of the plagues on Egypt. Jesus, too, encountered storms two different times while he and the disciples were out sailing. In the Odyssey, Odysseus encounters storm after storm as he tries to return home. And storms also play a major role in King Lear, Lord of the Flies, Les Miserables–virtually any movie starring John Cusack–and we could go on and on.
Despite the advances of technology, inclement weather still poses a real, existential threat in our everyday life. The last few years of climate change have only increased our anxieties. I grew up off the banks of the Delaware River in New York. When I was a child, flooding almost never happened, but over the past ten years, my hometown has sustained significant water damage three times, so that every time there is a storm in the forecast, my friends and family worry their homes will be ruined. I am sure anyone who lives near a significant body of water, like the people afflicted yet again in New Orleans, has the same fear. So when we read this Gospel narrative where the disciples are at the mercy of dangerous weather, we can easily identify with their sense of helplessness.
But the storms we are currently facing in this life are much more than weather. I don’t need to tell you there is a political whirlwind raging in this country. Social media has almost abandoned its original purpose of connecting friends from all over the world into a forum for abusive statements from all sides of hot button issues. Various newspapers and cable stations have long quit anything close to objectivity, and no longer exist to report, but only to validate already codified feelings and opinions. And perhaps what is most alarming, our public sphere is no longer a safe space for open, peaceful discourse. As we have seen this weekend, it is a place where violence is becoming more the rule than the exception, where arguments can often lead to verbal abuse or physical assault.
And we are confronted with an economic storm, too. Gentrification is forcing marginalized peoples out of their homes to make way for upper middle class consumer culture. We are beginning to see its effects in Birmingham. The ever-rising cost of housing is sentencing people into perpetual servitude to their landlords as they spend all their income on rent with no savings to purchase their own homes. The demonization and elimination of trade unions have put wages so low [that adjusted for inflation] the current average household makes only one-third what the average household made in 1965. This leaves us all feeling we are blown out at sea at the mercy of crashing waves, with no land in sight.
And we should never forget that without God revealed in Christ we are sunk as surely as Peter in today’s Gospel. But despite this being one of the most famous bible stories, we seem to have a difficult time keeping our eyes on Jesus. Our problem lies in our tendency to embrace one of two approaches. One thing we tend to do when faced with one of life’s challenges is we problem-solve. This can be called the scientific method. We take a look at the effect, try to locate the cause, and we then search for a solution. With this approach, we tend to believe the final answer lies in an unwavering trust in technology, which is ultimately only trust in ourselves to solve our own problems. What we fail to realize is what we identify as the cause is either not the cause or is a symptom of greater injustice. For example, one could say the reason people are not as well off economically as they were in previous generations is because taxes are too high, so the solution is there should be less taxes. Or one could say household income has dropped is because the minimum wage is low, so the government should raise it to a more adequate amount.
Another way we tend to address our problems is by turning to our religious beliefs or cultural norms. Again, we try to locate the cause, and search for a solution, but instead of using scientific testing to find causality, we site our traditions and texts to identify the reason for the problem. Another example: one could say the reason there is so much gang violence in schools is because we are not addressing the problems of class and race in public education, so the solution would be to confront these issues of justice with dialogue involving students, parents, and staff. Or, one could say the reason there is a gang epidemic in schools is because prayer needs to be brought back in the school curriculum.
But both of these approaches, while not completely wrong, fix our gaze not upon Jesus, but on ourselves. Whether we admit it or not, whether we like it or not, when we look to science only or religion only to deal with the dangerous winds and waves of this life, we believe we alone are capable of solving these problems. And this is nothing short of idolatry.
However, if we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, we will stand firm through all of the storms of this life. Our task is not found in technological advances, nor is it found the minutiae of religious traditions. It is found in our intimate relationship with the Triune God from within our interaction in the Church community and from interaction with all of creation. God loves you. God loves all people. God loves each part of creation. Our task is to love all people, all creatures, all places consistently, equally, and unconditionally. The direct cause of our challenges in this world is our failure to realize this truth, and our denial to ask God for the help to live out this truth. No matter how loud the chauvinists rattle their sabers, no matter how vicious the hatemongers call for us to shut our minds and hearts, no matter how much the supremacists long to slap us back to the ‘good ol’ days,’ Jesus is, and always will be standing right with us, loving us, and calling us to love.
Our Christian ancestors in the first few centuries of the Church were fond of nautical imagery. The first symbol for Christians in the catacombs were not crosses, but fish. Early Church buildings were covered with mosaics and paintings depicting boats and water to remind the faithful not only of the numerous stories of about water, sailing, and fishing in the bible, but also to remind them of their sacramental entrance into the Church community through the waters of baptism, and their baptismal call to travel the turbulent seas of the earth to spread God’s love.
While we have maintained much of this symbolism, our 21st Century selves have forgotten their meaning. Do you remember what this part of the church is called? The part with all of the pews? It’s the nave. But where did the name come from? The nave is the main body of a ship. My dearest friends, we are in this ship together, being tossed back and forth between these awesome winds and waves of this world. But we are not here for sanctuary. We are here in this nave to fix our eyes on Jesus, and follow him, so we can go out those doors and walk on those rolling waters, bringing God’s love as we pull up all we encounter. No, this isn’t magic, this is grace.
Nathaniel K. M. Darville Proper 14, 2017

-It’s time for my family and I to go. So now, I’m going to do something incredibly inappropriate; I’m going to gush.

-Please remember this is whole thing-me leaving to be a priest-is all your fault. I blame all of you, personally. This is a fact: if we had not stepped into these church doors all those years ago, I would not be answering this call. Each of you, and I mean each one, have brought my family and I here to this point, and I will never forget this discernment is all of ours that we are taking together.

-And thank you for teaching me how to live deliberately, act deliberately, and love deliberately. In my process, I have had to give my narrative more times than I can count. By now, I am quite sick of talking about myself and my spiritual journey. However, my story would inevitably lead to how I ended up here, and I was always thankful to talk about this wonderful church and extraordinary congregation. Grace may not be big, but it clearly has a big heart. There is no doubt God is at work here. There is no doubt God is speaking here. There is no doubt God’s love abounds here. In a world full of bad news, in a world full of fake news, you are a people of Good News. Thank you for helping me truly understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

-But my heart is broken. I have thought of this moment for some time now, and it is quite clear to me how completely useless my words are in explaining how much I will miss your presence in our lives. As much as I am excited about what God’s plan is for me and my family as I transition into ordained ministry, I am filled with sadness knowing we won’t get to pray with you every Sunday. But I take comfort knowing I feel this way because of the special bond I have with this parish, which is something I have never experienced before.

-Before I go I want to mention specifically my work with the Woodlawn community at the Food Pantry. It took me awhile to figure out why I found so much delight in helping distribute groceries. Around the time my formal discernment to ordination began, it came to me: I thought maybe, just maybe, some of the people who got food from us would leave thinking, ‘I know God loves me, because the people at Grace Church love me.’ I, personally, testify this is true, because when I leave this last time, just as every time I have left this tremendous place, I know God loves me because you have all shared your love with me and my family. I will not forget that. I will not forget you. Ever.

-Finally, to sum it all up, I am going to commit yet another of many homiletical sins; I am going to quote from scripture that is not from today’s lectionary. I am going to share Psalm 20, which always reminds me of this community, and it is and always will be my prayer for you. This is from one of my favorite versions, the New Jerusalem Bible, a Roman Catholic translation which restores God’s personal name in place of ‘Lord.’ It reads, in part:
May Yahweh answer you in the time of trouble, may the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
May he send you help from the sanctuary, and give you support from Zion.
May he remember all your offerings, and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices.
May he grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans.
May Yahweh fulfill all your petitions.
Now I know Yahweh will help his anointed; he will answer from his holy heaven with mighty victories by his right hand.
Some trust in chariots, some trust in horses, but we trust in the name of Yahweh our God.
They will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand upright and firm.

June 18, 2017: Rector Robyn – “Corpus Cristi”

Corpus Christi Sermon June 18, 2017

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6: 51

Today, we are observing a Feast that officially dates back to the 13th century but unofficially to the earliest days of the Christian Church. The Feast (or Solemnity) of Corpus Christi is a day set aside to commemorate not only the institution of the Lord’s Supper but the Real Presence of Christ in our own observance of the Rite of Holy Communion. This Feast is usually kept on a Thursday but the Holy Father, Pope Francis allowed it to be transferred to Sunday this year and our own Bishop Sloan has given us permission to commemorate the day, although it is not in our official Episcopal Church calendar. To be honest, there are few Episcopal Churches that keep Corpus Christi.

It is an important feast of the Roman Church but for Anglicans who have a more Catholic theology of the Eucharist Corpus Christi gives us an opportunity to reflect upon and celebrate the deep joy we find in our experience of Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament. In many ways the rites for Corpus Christi are reminiscent of Maundy Thursday and include a procession of the Blessed Sacrament. Unlike Maundy Thursday, which shifts the focus from the Lord’s Supper to the Gospel account of Jesus washing the feet of the Disciples, Corpus Christi keeps our attention on the Blessed Sacrament at the Altar and the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ blessed, broken and shared among us to give spiritual life to us and to the world.

For Episcopalians there is a diversity of understanding about Holy Communion in general and the Blessed Sacrament in particular. On one end of the continuum we find our more protestant brothers and sisters who are more in the line of the Protestant theologian Ulrich Zwingli, perceiving Holy Communion to be a memorial meal, a remembrance of past actions that is kept because Jesus commanded it. On the other end of the spectrum are the Catholics among us who believe in the doctrine of Transubstantiation, understanding the bread and wine to actually become the body and blood of our Lord… the substance having been changed but the outward appearance(the species) remaining unchanged. I suspect that most Episcopalians fall somewhere near the middle, believing in Christ really present in the Eucharist, but unwilling to speculate, as to how.

In my own religious upbringing in a very Protestant tradition, the congregation did share a form of Holy Communion every Sunday but it was continually impressed upon the people that this was a memorial meal…a recalling of Christ’s sacrifice held as a solemn observance, open only to the baptized. But it was made very clear that it was baptism that was the instrument of salvation. It seemed to me that the faithful kept the practice of Communion because Jesus commanded it but that it held little meaning in the spiritual lives of the believers. It seemed that something very important was missing from both the experience and the explanation but I would not find the answer until Fr. Francis Walter gave an “Instructed Eucharist” as part of our newcomer’s education.

When he began to talk about the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist my mind opened to the possibility that Sacraments were more than just actions done in obedience. They were in fact conduits for God’s Grace and had the potential to significantly impact those who received them. Holy Communion was not just a bit of bread and wine consumed in memory. Rather, in some profound mysterious way these elements of creation held within them the very substance of Christ and through the Holy Spirit could unite us to Christ in his sacrificial love and by that union we could partake of spiritual healing and strength and in fact become ourselves agents of God’s Grace to bring blessing to the world.

But as I mentioned earlier, within Christian tradition, even within our own Episcopal Church, there are members who hold differing theologies on the Sacraments in general and Holy Communion in particular. This diversity of theology was probably not present in the early Church. The days of blood sacrifice were not so far removed and Divine Mystery was more easily accepted. For first century Christians the rite of Holy Communion was so important, so mysterious that only baptized members of the community could even be present. Following the liturgy of the Word, which probably ended with a homily and prayers of the people, new people were escorted from the assembly to a separate space to receive instruction in the faith. There were two reasons for this. The first of course had to do with respect for the profound sacredness of the Rite. The symbolism of the ritual would have had no meaning or would have been confusing to someone who had not been educated in the faith. In the Episcopal Church we are still in some internal conflict about the idea of an “open table”. The question of whether Holy Communion should be open to unbaptized folks who may not be familiar with the theological or spiritual significance of the Rite is even now being debated.

The second reason the early worshippers were kept apart from the Communion service was more practical. At the time Christianity was considered a dangerous religious cult that was disruptive to the social order. Believers were always at risk for exposure and arrest, leading to persecution and even martyrdom. The communities of believers were wary and watchful for spies, people who would turn them in for political gain or out of spite. It was understood that the Eucharistic Feast with its language of flesh and blood was the most disturbing part of the worship for anyone unfamiliar with the practices. This secrecy did not serve the Church well for strange theories developed and rumors circulated among nonbelievers. In the early days some believed Christians to be cannibals and accused them of human sacrifice among other things.

Even now many modern Christians are very uncomfortable with both the language of sacrifice and the references to eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus. In our Gospel reading from John, when Jesus was saying these very words his disciples were distressed about it as well. The scriptures record that at one point a good many of his followers left him because they could not understand or accept the disturbing things he was saying.

What strange metaphors for Jesus to use, especially when he was attempting to reach followers who were faithful Jews, subject to any number of strict dietary laws. The Law of Moses was very concerned with what one ate and how one ate it. For Jesus to declare himself to be “bread from heaven” and to insist that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood would not die was incomprehensible to even his closest friends.

Think about it for a moment. Jesus was trying to describe something heavenly using earthly language. He was speaking of the eternal in a temporal way. In making the correlation between himself and food he was emphasizing that a relationship with him is vital to one’s life…not just in the spiritual but the physical as well. As creatures, biological animals by nature, food is an absolute necessity. If we do not eat we die. All life consumes other life and incorporates the elemental substances of what is consumed. We cannot separate ourselves from the essence of what we have eaten. In the same way when we have consumed the Christ really present in the Sacred Elements of Communion we incorporate his divine person into our own. We cannot define where Christ ends and we begin for he is in us and because he is eternal with God and no longer flesh, we are in him as well.

Jesus used these visceral symbols to get at the heart of relationship with God. To be in full communion with God is to be consumed by the Holy Spirit, eaten up with the divine. In like manner we are to consume that same Spirit, groping for truth and wisdom, inspiration and creativity, gnawing it off the divine bones with spiritual teeth. There is absolutely nothing polite, nothing sterile, nothing dignified about this relationship. We consume the bread of life and Christ becomes us as we become Christ.

There really is no way to understand this Mystery. It must be experienced. As Christians we believe that something precious and profound happens when we gather together in holy fellowship around the Altar to share in the Communion of the Blessed Sacrament. We believe that in some way Christ becomes present, whether in the bread and wine or in the community of believers gathered…we know our Lord to be with us. And one cannot be in the presence of God and remain unchanged. In the Blessed Sacrament we find strength for reconciliation, comfort for affliction, healing for the soul and the body. It is the Kingdom made present, a direct connection to the Communion of saints. It is the thinnest place where earth and heaven meet and the ordinary becomes sacred.

Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ…the Word made flesh and the flesh made bread…bread from heaven that once eaten brings life and immortality. Brothers and Sisters, in the Blessed Sacrament we come as close to Christ as we can in this life. Through the Holy Spirit our Lord is with us and in us and we in turn are with and in him…given life in the spirit, strength for holy work and healing for soul and body. This is gift…this is blessing….this is grace.

May 7, 2017: Rector Robyn – “An Abundant Life”

[Jesus said] “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

So in a single sentence we have the entirety of God’s purpose in the Incarnation. It turns out that it isn’t so very mysterious after all. God became human in Jesus Christ that we, the beloved of God, might have life…and have it abundantly.

But what is the nature of an abundant life? Even here in our resource rich country we tend to have a worldview based in scarcity. We focus on what we do not have rather than what we do and spend our days in various efforts to accumulate. When did we lose the ability to discern when we have “enough”?….enough food, enough money….enough stuff…enough attention…. enough time?

All around us is evidence that we as a people have become so spiritually gluttonous that we have lost the desire, perhaps for some even lost the ability to see a need to share. The disdain for the poor and the vulnerable that is evident in the opinions and decisions of the leaders we have chosen to represent us in government. Judgment of those who struggle at the socioeconomic margins permeates the media feeds, the Facebook posts and the comments sections of news articles. The abomination of “prosperity Gospel” that considers financial success and an extravagant lifestyle as the just rewards given by God for a godly life encourages even Christians to cling to the temporary treasure of wealth and shun the eternal treasure of compassion. “I’ve got mine so you go get your own.”

This endless pursuit of “more” has even altered the way we view and value labor and employment. When I was a child back in rural Kentucky, the desire for most folks was to finish school and get a “good job”…..a “good job” was a steady job…one that had the potential to last…hopefully for the better part of one’s working life. One of my brothers has worked at the same factory for almost 40 years. The company that makes forklifts has been through three different owners but Donnie stayed on…for many years as a welder and later as an inspector. He is not wealthy and never will be…but he is comfortable…and he has cared for his family and been generous with his neighbors…and he has lived within 5 minutes of where he was born for his entire life. He is in many ways very fortunate.

Contrast that with someone who finds a regular minimum wage job and works hard and steady at it for a similar amount of time. Several months ago when the discussion about raising the minimum wage in Birmingham was getting heated a woman wrote a letter to the Birmingham news talking about her life working in a fast food restaurant for something like 30 years. She was very articulate in her description of how difficult it was to make ends meet at her current rate of pay and even though she was a good employee there was no chance of making more money. When I read her story I realized that she had done what I had been taught as a child was the right thing to do…find a steady job and be faithful to it. But the people who responded to her letter were harsh and judgmental insisting that she was obviously lazy or she wouldn’t have stayed with a job that teenagers take in the summers. They equated her job loyalty as lack of ambition. It is no longer good enough to have a steady job…one must be “ambitious”….”upwardly mobile”. My father taught us that all work was honorable if it did not harm others, but apparently that is no longer the standard. We have lost our respect for those who want only to have a regular job but do not feel a need for advancement. Everyone wants to be management….no one wants to be labor. Who then will do the work and whom will there be to manage?

What constitutes an abundant life? Jesus, in his life and lessons tried to teach his disciples how to discern what was important and what was not….what was of lasting value and what was of temporary concern. Over and over Jesus told us to hold to the treasure that is not material…over and over we are told that we must love others more than we love our stuff….that to give….of our means…and of ourselves….even to the point of sacrifice is the call of those who would follow Jesus.

In the early days of the Christian faith the faithful tried to live according to the example Jesus had set. We have in the little snippet from the Acts of the Apostles the description of that first Christian community, where everyone shared what he or she had with the community and it was dispensed according to need. We read that they “had all things in common”. This is the truest form of community and it is an incredibly difficult model to maintain because eventually greed slips in and someone always wants more for his or herself. But at that time the disciples were still fired up with the Holy Spirit of Pentecost and they were expecting Jesus to come back at any moment. They were full of joy and expectation and in this spiritual momentum they were their best selves…generous and compassionate…wanting for everyone what they enjoyed for themselves.

This is the nature of the abundant life…..when I want for you ….for everyone …what I want for myself….the same necessities of physical existence….the same measure of physical comfort and spiritual joy….and not only do I want that for you as well as myself but I feel driven by the Spirit to see to it that you have what I have….physical comfort and spiritual joy in abundance.

The life Jesus advocated for his followers was never about scarcity…but rather about seeing what we have been given and sharing it according to need. Each of us has been given talents, intelligence, inspiration and creativity in the measure that God has seen fit….some have more of one or the other….or some have different gifts than another….but together, as a people….as a community we have been given all that we need to create the abundant life….but none of us has been given all of it. We were never intended to be self-sustaining, wholly self-sufficient, independent creatures. We are made for life in community and each of us is to be made better by the sharing of all of us.

This was what was intended for us and this is what those early Christians modeled in those first communities. We read that “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people”. They worshiped together and that feeling of joyful communion went with them into their homes and they were glad and generous. Their faith and their joy was evident to the wider community.

Is our faith and our joy evident to the wider community? Do we eat our bread in our homes with gladness?….are our hearts generous?

In the broader sense Brothers and Sisters, Christians have failed miserably to live out our call to an abundant life. The Christian mission is to work towards an abundant life for everyone…not just for ourselves and our own. But somewhere along the way we wandered from the path….we bought into the lie that personal success is more important that community health…..that survival of the fittest applies to humanity and fittest means wealthiest…or strongest….or most powerful. We forgot the call of the Good Shepherd to follow where he leads and we took off after the American Dream. Abundant became extravagant and we found that we couldn’t get enough. As good citizens…as good capitalists we were required to buy more…always more…whether we needed it or not…whether it destroyed the planet or not…whether it starved our neighbors or not….always we need to make and buy more….It became necessary that our stuff be cheap to make but expensive to sell so even the honor of creating and building became tainted.

Jesus didn’t come that we might have an extravagant life…. An excessive life…. A luxurious life….but rather an abundant life. An existence abundant in life…and in the things and experiences that make life worth living.

So how do we make our way back? How do we find the gate to the sheep fold….the gate that leads to the abundant life in Christ….to peace…to joy….to filling that empty hole in the soul until we have enough….enough love to share with a world that is still grasping and striving without any real understanding of why.

We do it a little at a time…weaning ourselves away from the need for excess. A good first step is to remind ourselves that everything we have and everything we are is gift, given by God to be shared with the world. If we lose our sense of ownership it becomes easier to see the temporary nature of things and to focus on the abundance of eternity. What will we take with us into eternity….love…and the memory of those we loved and who loved us….moments of joy and communion….experiences of transcendence and beauty…the things that cannot be quantified …or purchased…or lost.

We can also find our way back by being practically generous, sharing our excess with those who have little. If we begin by sharing the excess, we will find it easier to share when we have only abundance. Also, when we share from excess, we may find ourselves wanting to share from the things we love. If any of you have ever been gifted with something that the giver personally loved…you know what how special and life changing that can be.

I am always hesitant to preach this sort of sermon here at Grace Church because so many of you are so generous already. I suppose my admonition to you…to those of you who already share from your abundance with those who come to this place seeking compassion and help…is to look outward from Grace to the world. Pray for the poor and the vulnerable everywhere not just here in Woodlawn. Share the message of Christ’s love in your life outside of these walls. Let the broken and hurting people you meet every day know that God loves and cares for them and so do you. If you have found a moment of peace here…a moment of joy here….in worship or in community….carry it into your homes. Remember to pray…remember to make time to be with God in your personal time so that all of your life may be filled with the abundant love of Christ. Above all recognize your own belovedness….Our Lord has chosen you to carry his message of hope and peace into the world….into the whole world.

What we do here within these walls is just the beginning. Jesus came that we might have life abundant….all of us ….life abundant in peace….life abundant in joy…life abundant in love.