Sermon – Mother Robyn – November 18, 2018

“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds,”
–Hebrews 10:16

When I was growing up our mother would often share bits of wisdom in pithy sayings or little rhymes designed to teach and to help us remember. Some, of course, were passed on from old folks in the family and things she had read while some I think she constructed herself. Even though she has been gone many years and I am now nearing the age she was when she died, I still recall those lessons and find myself repeating them. As I was reading through the lectionary for today the one that came to mind was “Don’t borrow trouble.” …and its corollary: “The evil of the day is sufficient unto itself”. I have found these admonitions to refrain from worrying about the future and to concentrate on what needs to be dealt with in the present to be very helpful in managing anxiety in these troubled and chaotic times.

People in every generation have been both fascinated and terrified at the idea of the end of days. In Genesis, we have a lovely mythology of creation…the beginning of all things but our holy texts are cryptic at best and downright confusing when it comes to dealing with how things will end. In the Gospel for today, we read that Jesus’ disciples wanted Jesus to give them some sign…a way to recognize if the end was near. In his response he doesn’t give them any real specifics and to be honest I am sure he probably could not if he had wanted to do so. In another place in the scriptures, Jesus reminds the disciples that only Father knows when the end will come….not even the Son has been given that information.

The disciples, of course, had heard the prophecies from Daniel as well as from Isaiah and the other great prophets but the ancient texts are not specific. Apocalyptic language tends to be wonderfully expansive and descriptive but in a vague way that allows for multiple interpretations and misinterpretations. All Jesus’ talk about wars and rumors of wars could have been describing their current situation as much as the future. The Roman Empire was always at war somewhere in its efforts to maintain power over its vast territories and people. Not to mention the constant conflicts in the history of the Hebrew people in their efforts to establish and maintain a nation-state.

Even now, more than 2000 years later we are still hearing of wars and rumors of wars. Not to mention the earthquakes and natural disasters in divers places. Jesus told his disciples that those signs were only the beginning of things…so it would seem that if the end is coming we are still only at the start of it.

My point in all this is to remind us that while some religious leaders have made very lucrative and successful careers analyzing Biblical signs and metaphors and concocting scenarios and timelines for the end of the world, the truth is no one knows and no one can know when the end of all things will come…or even how that might occur. It is not helpful to be fearful of something that cannot be predicted or altered by our actions. To spend all of one’s energy and concern focused on some future time or event steals that energy and attention from the present…the now where our loved ones are… where there is good work waiting to be done.

One of the reasons we are in our current environmental crisis is the Christian misconception that if the world is going to end anyway we might as well use up what is here. God did not intend for us to destroy this beautiful and precious earth that was conceived in the mind of God and created out of love. Our holy texts tell us that God looked at everything he had made and it was very good. Who are we to destroy that good creation in our greed and our wastefulness? Who are we to take more than our share while the poor and the powerless go without adequate food, water or shelter? Everything that is belongs to God. We are only temporary caretakers.

Another very negative aspect of focusing on the end of the world seems to be that those who engage in it the most seem to spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the folks they believe will be punished in some great tribulation before the actual end. As followers of Christ we are not called to judge God’s people in their sin but to love them in their brokenness. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and all of us have been redeemed by the power of Christ’s salvific act on the Cross. How all of that will come to its fruition at the end of the age only God knows. What we know is that we are loved…that God incarnate in Jesus Christ died that we might have eternal life and that Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it.

Whenever and however the end of the world comes about is of no consequence for us. We are called to live and love in the present caring for one another and tending to the earth and her creatures. If we focus on living well…living fully in the present we have no reason to fear the future. Yes, the world is in a sad and sorry state…it has been for a very long time. It seems that since we crawled out of our caves humans have been killing one another and destroying the planet in their blind lust for power, property and wealth. This is nothing new and even the most idealistic among us can see it is not going to change anytime soon.

But we can be faithful in the small things…make positive changes where we are. We can bind up the wounds of those closest to us. We can make the lives of our neighbors better by sharing our resources and our love. We can clean up and nurture our own corner of this creation making whatever future we have is greener and cleaner, healthier and holier than our past.

We can add our efforts to those of people who are working to end wars and to make peace in the world. We can make sure that the leaders of nations and the heads of corporations do not forget the faces of the poor and the vulnerable…the ones most affected by economic changes and environmental devastation. We can support legislators who advocate for justice and equity in law and commerce.

Years ago when I was young and bright and working at my first real job at an environmental demonstration center in the Daniel Boone National Forest, the catchphrase among environmental activists was “think globally and act locally”. There is still wisdom in this idea. If we are going to have a positive impact on the world we must first get our own house in order. That includes our interior, spiritual life. Developing good spiritual practices of attending worship and engaging in corporate and private prayer…studying the Bible and meditation on holy things…becoming comfortable with talking about Jesus and what it means to live a holy life. We are to offer ourselves, our souls and bodies as living sacrifices to God, showing forth Christ’s gospel of love in our thoughts, our words, and our actions. If we tend to our interior selves the effects will show in our exterior lives …by the good works we are called to do…by the kindness and compassion that will come so easily to us.

Yes, we believe that the world is going to end …some day. It might be soon or it might be in 6 billion years when our sun supernovas. The truth is it doesn’t matter. We are responsible for the lives we live here and now…in the present. We cannot change God’s plan for the future but we can live faithfully into God’s plan for today. If we are living our lives in love…of God…of neighbor…of self…of creation…..we have nothing to fear from the future. Our Lord is with us every step of the way in this life and in the life to come.

The future is in the hands of God…and so is our present. We can trust that God loves us…enough to come among us in frailty and vulnerability…enough to die for us incarnate in the man Jesus. Safe in God’s love we have nothing to fear, either today or tomorrow. As St. Julian said…all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

Sermon – Mother Robyn – Nov. 11, 2018

And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:28

Whenever the story of the widow’s mite comes up in our Sunday lectionary it is always tempting to launch into a stewardship sermon. In the most obvious interpretation of Mark’s account of the poor widow who gave everything she had to God by donating it to the temple seems a morality tale of how one should view tithing to the Church. I am sure there are countless priests and preachers who cannot resist encouraging their parishioners to give sacrificially to the Church…to strive to be like the widow.

I have to admit having served all of my time as a priest in ministry to the poor and the marginalized…those who have been abused by, passed by, failed at or just never quite made it into our competitive economic system it makes me nervous to ask someone to give “everything he or she has to live on” to the Church when there are bills to pay and mouths to feed and an increasingly uncharitable political climate that doesn’t support the idea of an economic safety net for those in need.

Of course, there are many of us who could always give more than we do to the ongoing life of the Church as well as to the outreach ministries, as we try to alleviate some of the sufferings of those dear souls God has given into our care. Everyone knows that the Church like any institution needs money to sustain her work and I believe that if we, the members who actually constitute the body of Christ are diligently and faithfully seeing to the good work God has called us to do those who see those good works and can do so will financially support them. If our worship and our service are offered in spirit and truth God will prosper us in this place and every place where Christ is honored and served with love.

The deeper lesson for all of us, whether poor or otherwise, is that God honors our gifts, especially those given in sacrifice to God or to the greater good. It is easy to give out of one’s abundance but when giving to a good purpose requires a sacrifice of something else….something wanted or perhaps even needed…it calls us to a higher place within our minds and our souls. If that sacrificial gift is given with love and not out of misplaced duty or guilt the gift is even more beneficial to both the giver and the recipient.

Sometimes the gift is given in faith at the moment trusting that God will provide for future need if necessary. We do not know what the widow was thinking when she took her last bit of meal and oil and made the small cake and gave it to Elijah but we do know that she was willing to give her last bit in service to God. In her faith tradition, hospitality to the stranger was of the utmost importance so when this uninvited guest needed to be fed she did not hesitate to give him the very last morsel…the one she intended to be the last meal for her and her son before dying from her poverty. We read that God honored both the widow and Elijah and her meal and oil lasted for many days, enough to feed her and her household and the prophet whom God had sent. Whether one believes in miracles or not the point is that God honored her willingness to share what little she had and rewarded her with the means to sustain her family and to continue her good work of hospitality to the visiting prophet.

In the Gospel story, we do not know what happened in the widow’s life after she put her two mites into the temple treasury. We do not get to see how God’s grace was visited on the faithful woman. Jesus’ lesson for his disciples was in the juxtaposition of his warning to be wary of the scribes and his praise of the widow’s sacrificial gift. He tells his disciples to beware of religious leaders who like to be noticed…who make the signs of their profession large and flashy and who make sure to be seen doing holy things and heard saying holy things all the while greedily filling their own pockets and making a nice life for themselves while the widows and poor who should be their concern are left destitute trying to pay the temple taxes.

When I was in seminary my liturgy professor used to warn those of us who were studying to be priests to be careful that we did not turn our “vocations” into “professions”. Serving God was never supposed to be easy. How could one who has been called to serve the poor and the vulnerable justify living in luxury while working with and for those who struggle to have enough to feed themselves and their children?

Many of us have been given the opportunity to live in relative abundance. How we choose to manage those resources should be informed and directed by our faith in God and our commitment to following the way of Christ. Each of us is accountable to God for the choices we make. I don’t think anyone coming to the end of his or her life ever laments “I wish I had been less charitable.”

I do realize that it is difficult to be a generous and giving person in our current culture. Every day in a thousand ways we are inundated with messages to “buy this or that” to “invest in the future”…to “accumulate” …to “consume’’. We live in a culture that idolizes wealth and encourages greed…where competition is considered better than cooperation and where the goal is to have more than anyone else. We teach our children to be greedy and then wonder why they grow into adults who fight over our coffins for what we leave behind.

We are told to buy what we want even if the man sitting in the pew next to us doesn’t even have what he needs. Some of us have even lost the ability to discern the difference between “need” and “want” so we spend what little we have on frivolous things that we enjoy for the moment and then cannot pay rent…or buy medicine…or keep the lights on. Our global economy functions because people buy and consume…people have jobs because others buy and consume….but what about those people who do not have enough to eat…or clean water…or whose homes are destroyed because someone far away got rich selling the instruments of war and death to those who were only too happy to use them….to gain power…to buy and consume?

The most radical aspect of what Jesus came to teach us is that we do not have to participate in these systems…and if we do participate we do not have to be controlled by them. We can adjust our thinking to prioritize what really matters which then frees us from the bondage of the incessant need to accumulate. We can hold our wealth lightly realizing that none of us will take anything with us when we die and wealth is only as valuable as the good it can do in the lives of God’s children.

What is of true value in your life and how do you treat that which is most precious? If it is your loved ones…your family…your friends…your spouse…your children…your companions…human and otherwise….do you make time to enjoy their company? Do you let them know how dear they are to you? Do you listen when they talk?….are you careful not to hurt them unnecessarily?….are you kind? Do you treat them with respect?

What about God? Where does your relationship with God fall on your list of important things? Do you spend time with your loved ones talking about your faith? Do you pray together? Do you study Holy Scripture together? Does your Christian life extend beyond Sunday morning? Do you look for an opportunity to share your love of Christ with others? Do you look for an opportunity to do good works for the sake of the Gospel?

Jesus never said that wealth was a bad thing but he made it clear that there were other things that were much more important. He also made it clear that it could be a dangerous thing if not kept in the proper perspective. He said it was very difficult for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of heaven….difficult because greed is a subtle demon that can take over before you realize it….difficult because wealth shields us from the suffering of our neighbor which can lead to a lack of compassion and even to cruelty…difficult because wealth distracts us from what really matters…… relationships with other people….relationship with God.

Brother and sisters, it is good to be grateful for all of the gifts and blessings that God has given us but we need to always remind ourselves that everything that we have and everything we are belongs to God who created us and loves us. If we honor and nurture this first and most important relationship everything else will be in its proper perspective. It is never too late to reassess one’s priorities and to begin to set things right. Tell your spouse how much you love him or her….take time to check in on that old friend….….turn off the TV and the computer and have a conversation with your child…whether baby or grown… don’t text…talk. Sit in the sun and listen to the birds….if you don’t have birds at your home take a stroll on Grace’s labyrinth in the morning and you will hear birds. Read the Bible….say the morning or evening prayer office….count your blessings …make a list of people who need your prayers and then pray for them. These may seem like small acts but every great change begins with a small act….a turn of the head…a new perspective.

None of us knows how much time we have left but we do know that life is lived forward not backward. You do not have to be bound by what has come before. In Christ, we are continually being made new….new creatures with new ideas…new creatures with love to share and lives to change. It is a new day. Why not try a new way?

Sermon – Mother Robyn – October 21, 2018

“…but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:44-45

At some point in our lives, all of us have sought the approval of someone whom we respected and loved…a parent, a teacher, a friend…a boss at work. We all want and maybe even need to feel special and our own feelings of self-worth can be bound up in this need for approval from others. When James and John asked Jesus for the honor of sitting at his side in his glory they were acting out of a need to be recognized by the one for whom they had given up everything. The Gospel of Matthew (20:20-23) has the boy’s mother requesting this honor for James and John but Mark makes it clear that the desire was their own.

Not surprisingly, the other disciples are pretty angry at this request but Jesus, rather than condemning the brothers uses this as an opportunity to share one of the foundational principles of his Gospel. Unlike rulers who use their authority as a means to control and oppress those in their power the followers of Jesus are to be servants to one another, regardless of status or social position. In the Kingdom, as envisioned by Jesus, rulers are to be servants and those in authority are to seek out and serve the least of these.

In response to James and John’s specific request, Jesus asks them if they are able to drink of the cup that God has prepared for him to drink and to be baptized with his baptism. The two men insist that they are indeed able, of course having no idea that Jesus is talking about suffering and violent death. Jesus goes on to tell them that they will indeed drink of his cup and experience his baptism but the honor of position in glory is not his to give.

The tradition of the Church is that James did indeed suffer martyrdom for his faith. In fact, he was the first of the disciples to be killed. James was put to death by the sword under King Herod Agrippa about 40 years after Jesus’ death. John is considered the only disciple to have died a natural death but according to tradition his last years were spent in exile far away from his home and family. In those early days of the Church to follow Christ was to willingly put oneself at risk of imprisonment, torture, banishment, and death. Those first Christians gave up everything for the sake of the Gospel. There are still people of faith under such threat in various parts of the world. While many of us struggle with difficulties in this life, putting our families or our lives at risk in order to worship is not one of them. We must not take this blessing for granted and neglect to thank God or to take the opportunities for worship and service that are available to us.

I find it surprising that despite Jesus’ candor about the difficulties and even danger those who chose to follow him would face our modern version of Christianity is so soft and comfortable. Many of us approach our faith lives as a pleasant distraction at best and a tedious duty at worst. Attending worship is just another of many things on our weekly schedule and it can easily be replaced by a more interesting activity. Where is our zeal for the Gospel? Why are we not fired up with the Holy Spirit called to go out into the world to speak truth to the powers that be and to offer our lives in service to God’s people? Our comfortable lives have made us spiritually lazy. We neglect to study the Scriptures and no longer measure our days with prayer. Everyone seems to have some closely held opinion about religion but there are few of us who truly live our lives by the tenets of our faith.

Brothers and sisters, we live in a time when people around us are increasingly divided by fear and hatred. Those who seek to have power and maintain control over the people fuel that fear and hatred with ugly rhetoric. Our own government is committing atrocities and tells us it is all to keep us safe, so we say nothing while the death toll from our foreign wars for profit mount and children in cages cry for their mothers. As long as the stock market goes up and our neighbors are worse off than we are then life is good. Perhaps most distressing in all of this is how professed Christians have deluded themselves into thinking that Jesus is pleased with their hate-speech and their warmongering…with their unrighteous judgment and uncharitable behavior. Jesus himself said that those who seek to save their lives will lose them and those who give up their lives for the sake of the Gospel will gain eternal life (Matthew 16:25). We have sold our collective soul for the illusion of safety.

Jesus never promised an easy life…a comfortable life…a safe life. In fact, he told his disciples it would be just the opposite. “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for my sake” Jesus preaches in the beatitudes. In offering up his very self for the life of the world Jesus’ destroyed all of those arbitrary boundaries that we use to separate ourselves from people who are not like us. Jesus made us all one family, children of the one true God and as such we all have intrinsic worth…we are all precious to God. That which is precious to God must be precious to us as well and we who seek to follow Christ must become the servants of those precious children of God. That means their health and happiness matter to us….that means we are to seek to relieve their suffering….to bind up their wounds…to visit them in their captivity and to work for their freedom. No one who is precious to God must be outside of our notice and our care.

I know there are those who will say that I am being idealistic…. unrealistic… that it is impossible for people of faith to live as Christ advocated in this day and age. Perhaps that is true but we can come closer to the Gospel than we are. Those who claim the name of Jesus must not become comfortable with the suffering of others. Why would we claim that sacred name for ourselves if we have no intention of living as Christ has called us to live? Of course, we will not be perfect but we can be better. We can choose to love rather than to hate. We can choose to share rather than to horde. We can choose to be kind rather than to be cruel. We can open our minds to learn about those whose experiences are different than our own and open our hearts to love them in their unique and beautiful diversity. We can choose not to engage in hateful arguments over things that do not matter. We can choose to listen more than we speak. We can choose to remember that this life is temporary but through Christ, we have the promise of eternal life.

In the first years of the Church to be a Christian was fraught with danger. To openly proclaim the Gospel was to put one’s very life at risk. For most of us in this age that is not what we face and yet we hesitate to proclaim our faith openly. Brothers and sisters do not be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. Yes, the ideal is that others will recognize us as followers of Christ by our loving attitude and behavior but sometimes it is necessary to tell folks about Jesus. Spend some time in study and prayer clarifying for yourself what you think…about Jesus’ call to a holy life…about salvation…about the role of your faith in your own life. If you become comfortable in your own faith you will then be comfortable sharing it with others but that requires time and prayer…and study and thought.

This violent and angry society is in desperate need of words of love and compassion. People need examples of gentleness…of kindness…of patience. We are called to live our lives of faith openly so that others may see our good works and glorify God. Do not be afraid to declare yourself to be a follower of Christ…and to clarify just what that means in a time when there are many false Christians following false Christs and preaching a perverted Gospel. If the sermon you give…or the sermon you hear is not about love then it is not about Jesus. Yes, I said sermon….because each of us is called to preach a sermon with our lives…to offer our own life experience… our own story as testimony to the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the world. Preach the sermon of your life loudly….joyfully….with energy and fervor so that all may see and know that Christ is at work within you.

The time for polite silence is past. We must all proclaim the Gospel of Christ’s love in whatever way we can….in our words…in our actions….in our very being. Take heart brothers and sisters, gird up your loins because the fields are ready for planting and we all have Gospel seeds to sow.

Sermon: Mother Robyn, October 14, 2018

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Mark 10:21-22

My Mama used to say that 5 dollars could keep you out of heaven as easily as 5 million if you loved those 5 dollars more than God. Her point, and I think Jesus’ point in our gospel was that wealth itself is neither evil nor good but it is our attitude toward it that matters. The underlying question is what do we value and how do we prioritize what is important in our lives. One’s wealth or even lack of it can become a barrier to a deep and intimate relationship with the God who loves us with an infinite, sacrificial devotion.

Jesus knew the rich young man’s heart and while he was sincere in his question about eternal life and in his desire to align himself with the will of God his love of wealth and perhaps the power and influence that came with it made him grieve at the thought of giving it up…even to gain the hope of life in eternity. He had become a prisoner of his own affluence and had created an idol of his stuff. At least at the moment, he encounters Jesus’ the temporal god of wealth was more beloved to him than the eternal God who created the universe and all of that stuff he worshipped.

Something important to notice in the Holy Text was that our Lord, looking at the young man loved him….he did not condemn him. The young man condemned himself in his response to Jesus’ invitation to free himself from his earthly burden and to embark on a new life walking with Jesus’ in the path of peace and holiness. Here was an opportunity to change his life and renew his soul but the price was too high. The young man could not do it, and he went away grieving.

When Jesus’ cautions the disciples about how difficult it is for wealthy folks to enter the Kingdom of Heaven the disciples are shocked. In their religious worldview material prosperity was a visible sign of God’s favor. But Jesus was saying something completely different. In fact, the Good News that he was preaching was that God’s heart was with the poor and the vulnerable….the outcast and the lost ones of society. Giving up one’s possessions….even giving up one’s very life for the sake of another was the greatest example of obedience to God and revealed the depth of God’s love in action. It was better to give than to receive….to serve rather than to be served.

While Jesus’ is clear about the dangers of personal wealth, he does say that which is impossible for humans is very doable for God. I believe that he was making the point that wealth is dangerous and many would not be able to keep it in proper perspective and handle it in a godly fashion but God could and would make way for those who truly seek righteousness, even the wealthy. As mentioned before wealth is neither good nor bad in itself but what we do with it can be one or the other….the impact it has on our lives and relationships…especially our relationship with God can be good or bad. Whether we have so much that we have lost compassion for those who suffer because of a lack of resources to have a decent life…or whether our lack of wealth has caused us to become bitter and resentful….angry at God because life is such a struggle.. either of these states is detrimental to one’s efforts to lead a godly life.

We see throughout the New Testament that Jesus’ was very concerned with how we handle our personal finances. Even his comments about divorce and marriage arose out of a concern for the women who were being left destitute by husbands who were divorcing them for little or no cause. Jesus was always concerned with the poor and encouraging those who were more fortunate to share their means with others. Wealth is only as valuable as the good we can do with it. If we hold our temporal belongings lightly and allow our generosity free reign everyone benefits…the receiver because a burden is eased and the giver who gets the deep satisfaction that comes from providing care to another person. The gift itself in the giving and receiving help both individuals in the relationship move further along the path to a holy life and providing an opportunity to glorify God.

As most of you know last night we celebrated the Festival of the Lord of the Miracles. Our own Grace community and a number of visitors gathered to worship and to fellowship in honor of Senor de Los Milagros. Depicted in a painting of the crucified Christ done 500 or so years ago by an Afro-Peruvian slave on the wall of a Church in Lima, Peru, the Lord of the Miracles represents the Christ who is with us in times of chaos and calamity. He is the Christ who poured out his lifeblood for us on the Cross….the Christ who stands with us when we have lost everyone and find ourselves broken and at the mercy of situations we cannot control. The Lord of the Miracles reminds us of what we have when we have lost everything.

Last night during the service I found my mind going back to our Gospel for today and I realized that this is the underlying question when we examine our approach to personal wealth and our relationship to worldly goods. What of value is left if we were to lose everything we have? Some of the folks who survived the recent hurricanes are facing that question themselves. Many of us have had moments when we too were in that position…a lost job, a catastrophic illness with towering medical bills,…a divorce….a house fire. Life is full of uncertainty, and there are countless potential crises that can upend our lives and leave us starting over with little or nothing. It is then we realize what is of true value to us….a friend who comes to lets us stay with him or her….a stranger who gives without expecting return…neighbors who rally together to share what they have and to divide up the work of rebuilding… These are the moments when the love of Christ is most visible in the generous acts of God’s people.

While it is true that we should not require a devastating calamity to make us aware of how God has blessed us or to remind us that our relationship with God is our most valuable possession, we humans tend to get complacent and forgetful in our everyday lives. We must not let ourselves become so comfortable that we neglect to see the pain and suffering of those around us. Those who have both wealth and a desire to be holy must not let their affluence smother their compassion. Yes, the poor will always be with us, but it is the economic structures that we have created and supported that keep many in poverty both here and around the world. We must not be blind to the fact that the more we have, the less someone else has.

There was a time when those basic things needed to sustain life: food, shelter, an energy source, and clean water were available for anyone who could plant seeds or cut a tree or dip a bucket in running water. But those days are long gone, and greedy profiteers have privatized the very necessities of life. If one does not have the means to buy food or clean water…a roof over one’s head or energy for light in the dark or the means to travel for work then life becomes very hard. While the members and friends of Grace Church have a long history of outreach ministry to address the immediate needs of our most vulnerable neighbors we need to be aware of the flaws in our economic system that keep people in poverty and feed the insatiable greed of the very wealthy. Wherever we can we need to work for justice so that all of us have access to the means of health, education and gainful employment.

In our first reading today the Prophet Amos says:

Seek good and not evil, that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said.
Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate;

This is the heart of our desire for a holy life. If our attitudes and behavior are governed by a sincere desire to seek good then this will determine how we deal with our relationships and our personal resources. The ancient prophets often paired commands for holy living with an admonition to seek justice. In this way holiness extends beyond our personal lives and compels us to seek to make the lives of those around us better through social and economic structures that are fair to everyone and do not benefit one at the expense of another.

Jesus’ Gospel message of love is rooted in generosity…the generosity of God towards his beloved and our generosity toward one another. If we seek to share God’s love, then the Holy Spirit will lead us to a right relationship not only with other people but with our stuff as well. God gives to us many blessings both visible and invisible to sustain our lives and give us joy. But the most important of these gifts is his own heart….his own love poured out without condition and without limit. In his sacrifice on the Cross God incarnate in Jesus revealed to us the depths of his love and offered us hope of eternal life. If we allow this hope to be our guide in life, then the temporal things of this world will remain just that….temporary blessings that are always coming and going into and out of our lives. If we appreciate them and release them, allowing them to do good in the lives of others how much greater has that blessing become.

Brothers and sisters, let us be grateful for the gifts we have been given…for family and friends for neighbors and especially for the love of God in Christ Jesus, the One from whom all good gifts come. Let us be generous with our stuff, with our affection, with our time and with our prayers. For all of us, no matter our condition in life, have something to offer to make the world better for us having been here.

Mother Robyn – Sermon Sept. 30, 2018

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer    Psalm 19:14

This afternoon our catechumenate class turns its collective consideration to prayer. And since our epistle reading from James today is concerned with the same subject I thought it might be good for all of us spend a little time thinking about our conversations with God. My experience of Episcopalians is that many of us are not really comfortable with prayer. Of course, we are fine with the Prayer Book and can read a collect beautifully but if asked to pray unaided we feel awkward and uncertain. If we keep the daily offices we have trouble doing it consistently for any length of time and as for our personal prayers, we can often go days without thinking about praying at all. For most Christians, we try to fit prayer somewhere into our busy over-scheduled lives but either forget to follow through with our good intentions or let our secular lives encroach on the time we had thought to set aside for prayer.

Personally, I find that my efforts at maintaining a good discipline of prayer tend to be seasonal. I will be very faithful and consistent for a season and then something happens and I lose my momentum. My schedule becomes erratic until guilt or the prompting of the Holy Spirit calls me back for another season of disciplined prayer time.

Why do we pray? Is it out of some sense of duty….because we think God commands it? Is it just being faithful to tradition? Many of us are driven to prayer in crisis out of a feeling of helplessness and a desperate need to call on any external help that might be available. But without that sense of desperation on a daily ongoing basis how many of us actually believe that prayer is efficacious…that God does indeed hear and will answer prayer? If we do not believe that God answers prayers then why do we do it?

The writer of the Letter of James tells us “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective”. He says that if any are suffering or sick, let them pray or have the community of believers pray over them and anoint them with oil. The Apostle Paul has written that we are to “pray without ceasing”… suggesting that we are to be in a state of constant communication with God. We are to cultivate the habits of spiritual people for our own benefit and for the benefit of our communities.

I would never undervalue corporate prayer…the collective voice of the gathered community bringing our desires and petitions…our concerns and our worries before God. However, each of us, as believers, as faithful followers of Christ are to participate in an ongoing personal practice of prayer. In other words, prayer is not just for when we are in Church. To use Jesus’ metaphor from the Gospel today…prayer is one of the ways we keep ourselves spiritually salty…able to create and nurture positive change in our communities and in our world. Prayer keeps us grounded in God…attuned to the Holy Spirit and strengthened in mind and spirit so we can handle whatever life throws at us.

We pray not because it changes God but because it changes us and opens us up to receiving answers to our deep questions, clarity in our moments of confusion and the comfort that comes from knowing someone who loves us is listening and understands, even in those moments when we do not have words adequate for explaining how we feel.

In my time as an Episcopalian, I have noticed that we are pretty comfortable in asking brother or sister to pray for us but not so much if the brother or sister wants to pray for us immediately…with us there. We need to become more comfortable with the practice of personally praying for and with one another. Praying together can feel very intimate and to do so asks us to allow ourselves to be vulnerable in the presence of another…to let our need be evident…our need for healing….for understanding….for comfort…our need to be heard. In those moments we become fully aware that prayer is not just pretty words strung together but the cries of an exposed soul.

Does God even answer prayers or is this just an example of walking by faith and not by sight? I do believe that God answers prayers but not always…not usually in ways that we expect. While we may use the words “if God wills” in our prayers I think most of us tend to think that our will is aligned with the will of God when it isn’t. God will answer our prayers as is best for us and sometimes …many times that means we do not get what we asked for or we get something else entirely. Sometimes we have misinterpreted a situation and to have our prayers answered as asked could be a disaster. That does not mean that petitionary prayer in which we request tangible things from God is inappropriate. We are told to ask God for what we need and we should but just be aware that we don’t always know what really need. I believe that even if we ask in error God will respond as is good for us.

The same is true in our prayers for other people. We cannot really know the heart of another. We just make guesses as to what they need and hope we can be of help. When we hold someone in prayer before God I believe that God hears the intentions of our hearts…feels the love we have for that person and responds both to us and to the other. But we may not see how or know when a prayer is answered. As people of faith, we trust that God hears us and in God’s time responds with love.

A skeptic might ask, “what about the evidence of unanswered prayers?” We pray for healing and someone dies. We pray for assistance with a financial problem and lose our job. We ask for help with a situation and yet everything remains unchanged. I cannot say why some prayers are answered and others are not. I do believe that God’s choice to allow free will in the universe may have something to do with it. God is not the big Santa Claus in the sky dispensing presents to good little believers….but neither is God the aloof, uninvolved deity who set things in motion and stepped away to let this little experiment play out unhindered or unhelped.

God through the Holy Spirit is moving and active in the world but in ways we cannot explain or predict. I know for myself that my ability to recognize God’s action in my life is directly correlated to where I am in my seasons of prayer. The more time I spend seeking the presence of God the more clearly I see God at work in my own life. I do not think that in my less observant days that God forgets me and leaves me to my own folly I just don’t think I am as aware of God’s presence…of the loving help of the Holy Spirit trying to keep me from willfully making a mess of things.

While prayer is a gift it is also a mystery. God desires an intimate relationship with each of us and it is prayer that we experience this relationship in a real way. But this intimate relationship is as unique as we are. God speaks our personal language sharing insight and wisdom and love in ways that we can understand. The more time we spend in communion with the Divine the more attuned to the ways of the Holy Spirit we become….and the more our own spiritual transformation will be visible to those around us.

Do not be embarrassed to talk about your prayer life…to share your deep experiences of God with those you love and in your community. In this way, we are all strengthened and we can all share in the joy and gratitude of answered prayers. At the same time do not compare your own relationship with God with that of someone else. We are not in competition here and God’s answers to my prayers may look nothing like the response someone else receives. A prayer that is not answered immediately, even an important one, does not mean that I am somehow less worthy of God’s concern or that God does not love me as much as my neighbor. While I may not understand if at all possible I am to remain faithful and wait.

There is power in prayer…power to nurture positive change within our selves and in our communities. In prayer, we become partners with God cooperating in the care of one another and in the work of bringing God’s love into this broken world. Pray without ceasing…for the earth and her creatures…for the nations….for the church…for our families and loved ones …for the sick and the suffering…for ourselves. I once heard a nun say that if we prayed for everyone and everything that need our prayers we would never get off of our knees. While I think she is probably right, I do not despair because I believe that when we forget, God remembers. We are not responsible for everyone but we are responsible for some…let us then be mindful of those the Lord lays on our minds and our hearts. Let us try to be faithful in our prayers and obedient in our service to God and those whom God has given us to love.