Sermon: Mother Robyn – Sept 23, 2018

A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. James 3:18

Many years ago when I was working on my first Master’s degree in the vet school at Mississippi State University in an emotionally toxic laboratory environment under the control of a verbally abusive professor, my sister made a very astute observation that has held true in many situations with a large number of people. She said, “Robyn it’s always about power…who has it and who wants it.

Today in our gospel reading while the disciples didn’t word it in this way they were very much concerned with the same thing. The argument they were having was about who among them was the greatest. While most of the great religious traditions stress the importance of humility humanity cannot seem to resist the lure of power…of being better…or having more…then someone else. In our modern age, this drives our economic and geopolitical systems…our social structure…even our relationships with neighbors and fellow believers. In order for me to feel better about myself someone else must be less. In order to feel valued, I must always get my own way even at the expense of someone else. In our churches we give a lot of lip service to the idea of humility but often find ourselves in conflict over issues that really distill down to “who gets to have his or her own way”…who gets to have power over others.
We cannot agree to disagree because then no one wins and someone must always win. This is the good old American competitive way. Gone are the days when we practiced civil discourse…. When we valued kindness and mercy…gentleness and compassion. Now we laud aggression…we reward greed and have created idols out of the powerful. We crave wealth both out of an appetite for stuff but also because wealth is power. We revere powerful people and ridicule the vulnerable and the weak.

One of the underlying factors driving the current rise in nationalism is the idea that this country and its citizens are somehow better than others…that it has more wealth and power…obvious signs of God’s favor. This attitude is the root of the prosperity gospel… a heresy that declares God’s favor to be revealed in the accumulation of the trappings of wealth and power. I am not sure how Christians came to be so misled or have allowed themselves to believe such lies.

Our reading in Mark shows our Lord teaching his disciples the truth about what is of value in the Kingdom of God. If one wishes to be great one must be the servant of all. In setting the child in their midst and declaring that whoever welcomes one such as the child welcomes Jesus and in turn welcomes God who sent him, Jesus was lifting up the lowly…the powerless. In the culture of the day, children had no status….no voice…no power. Their only value was in the continuation of family and their worth as bargaining chips for advantageous unions with other families. They were powerless….the weakest of the weak.

But do not be mistaken, in advocating that his followers allow themselves to be counted among the weak and the powerless our Lord is not commanding us to be helpless. Rather in voluntarily giving up power, we are taking control of ourselves…our emotions…our desires…and we are refusing to be held captive to the societal systems that attempt to dictate what we are to consider worthy and admirable. The only way to fight the unjust systems of power and control that we have created is to refuse to participate in those systems. In giving up the quest for power and influence we will no longer need to appease those in power but will be liberated to be truthful…to be ethical…to be merciful and kind to those abused by those very systems we once served.

As members of the body of Christ, we must be vigilant with ourselves and resist the need to recreate the systems of power and control in our worshipping communities. We must learn to be cooperative …to compromise…to listen to those whose voices are rarely heard and to offer the opportunity for everyone to be part of the decision-making processes. We must not seek to control but rather to serve…to see clearly…to speak wisely and to disagree with grace and civility. We must try to call up leaders who speak painful truths with mercy rather than those who tell us only what we wish to hear. None of us is perfect and we all have room to grow in grace and knowledge.

It must be clear to most of you by now that the ways of God and those who would seek to inhabit his kingdom are counter to the status quo. The Kingdom is an upside down, topsy-turvy kind of world where the last become first and the first last…where one gains one’s life by being willing to lose it…where love is more important than power and where justice is tempered by mercy and forgiveness is always available for those who would repent. It is a society ruled by compassion where everyone who needs one gets a “do over”. It has an economic system based upon giving away one’s goods, money and time and a power structure where leaders are called by God and chosen by the people.

Now, of course, I am speaking of an ideal…the Church as it should be. We all know that because we are humans, flawed and broken every one…we can at best manage a flawed approximation of the ideal. But that does not mean that we do not keep trying…that we keep working to align our own lives more truly to the will of God and in turn align our communities to reflect the ethos of God’s kingdom here on earth. While we will not be perfected until our next life we can make this life better for others and for ourselves. We are not helpless…or hopeless….but to make significant changes in one’s life and behavior takes great desire and courage. We must desire the things of God…..and be brave enough to face possible ridicule and hardship by making radical public changes in how we live.

In a culture driven by a lust for power and wealth love and generosity are acts of revolution…and it all begins in gratitude….gratitude for the life we have been given…for the love of God in Jesus Christ…for Christ’s salvific act on the Cross when he gave his life for each and all of us…and for the many gifts and talents we have been given that can be put to good use in the service of God and his children.

Begin small…make peace with that neighbor ….admit when you are wrong…..let someone else have the last word for a change…refuse to argue over politics…or religion…or sports. Take a deep breath and think before you speak. Be gentle…be kind…be still…pray and wait for the guiding of the Holy Spirit. Seek counsel from someone who is wiser than you are. Be careful with the advice you give. Offer to help someone who has not asked.

The Kingdom of God that is and is coming will be and is made up of ordinary folks just like you and me. It takes no special skill or education…only a kind heart and a gentle spirit and a sincere desire to follow the will of God. But to follow the will of God we must give up our own will…our pride in our own abilities and our lust for power and influence. We must become the least of these….the servants of all…God’s gentle people and disciples of Christ. But for everything that is given up God will supply peace of mind…the deep satisfaction of work well done and the fullness of joy in our intimate relationships with the Divine and with one another.

The letter of James says it this way: Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Sermon: Mother Robyn – September 9, 2018

They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak. Mark 7:37

Mark’s gospel account of Jesus’ interaction with the Syrophoenician woman shows Jesus in a very unflattering light. No matter how one interprets Jesus’ behavior in this encounter it is problematic, whether one focuses on the “Incarnate God” aspect of Jesus’ nature or that of a divinely guided human. I think it is true that for most of us our understanding of the two natures of Jesus often results in an internal conflict. Either we need Jesus’ divinity to be predominate or we focus on his human likeness to ourselves. It seems contradictory to expect him to be both wholly human and wholly divine. The writer of the letter to the Hebrew’s tells us that Jesus was tempted like we are in every way but did not sin. But one of the defining aspects of our humanity is our tendency to sin. For we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It doesn’t seem logical that Jesus could have been truly, fully human and yet did not sin…even a little bit. Perhaps the truth of this lies somewhere in the understanding of just what constitutes a sin.

If we are honest with ourselves Jesus’ behavior with the Syrophoenician woman may fall short of sin but it wasn’t particularly nice. Here we have a glimpse of a tired, frustrated Jesus trying very hard to take some time away to rest but because of his growing notoriety, he cannot just go unnoticed. The woman hears that Jesus is there and comes seeking help for her sick daughter. The writer is intentional in letting us know that the woman is Syrophoenician. This description tells us some significant things…she is a stranger to this place….she is not Jewish…she is by all accounts an outcast who should not have been approaching a Jewish man for any reason….and yet she did.

She would have been fully aware of her social status (or lack thereof), as would Jesus. Both the culture of the Jewish people and that of the Roman oppressors were highly structured and restrictive. The social norms were such that the people at different levels of society did not mingle and did not engage with one another unless absolutely necessary. When they did there were expectations as to how and when people of higher rank were addressed. The interesting thing is that we have other accounts where Jesus paid no attention to societal expectation and engaged with people that were considered completely unacceptable….even non-Jews. Why Mark gives us this story of Jesus seeming to see and treat this woman as “other” is a puzzle.

Some have interpreted Jesus behavior as him testing the woman’s faith…but that is inconsistent with other accounts of him healing people who did not ask for it or did not voice any confession of faith. Others have suggested that he was using this as a teaching moment for those who observed it but this also does not seem consistent with Jesus’ character. Using a mother’s distress over her sick daughter as a means to educate his disciples denies her inherent dignity and essentially uses her as the means for another’s spiritual growth.

One of my priest friends in a Facebook post yesterday wrote that we should focus on the woman’s experience of Jesus’ healing of her daughter rather than trying to analyze Jesus’ behavior and that because we know that Jesus was God and God is love if we see him in any light but this we have misunderstood. While I appreciate his faith and agree that the woman’s experience is important I think we do a disservice to the humanity of Jesus if we just skip over the parts that make us uncomfortable.

The truth is we do not know why Jesus was so brusque and dismissive of the woman’s request. Was he just too exhausted to be nice? Was it some sort of automatic response to fall back on the unsettling but culturally acceptable bigotry of his people who saw themselves as “chosen” and everyone else as less? This would not have been considered sin under Jewish Law even if to most folks it is at the very least discourteous.

Jesus is still early in his ministry here and I tend to think he was still learning about who he was and what he was called to do. There are times when he isn’t quite ready for what God asks of him. We saw this first in the wedding at Cana when Jesus’ mother pushed him to miraculously make wine from water. Jesus insisted that he wasn’t ready…that his time had not come…but his mother insisted and it turns out Jesus was ready…and that it was exactly the right time for a miracle.

Just a bit later here in Mark we see Jesus trying to keep those who witnessed his healing of a deaf man from being so public with their praise and testimony. But we read that the more he ordered them the more they proclaimed it. We get this sense of Jesus’ trying hard to control this situation but because human beings are predictably uncontrollable having no success. Mark shows us a man who is not quite ready to deal with the reality of who he is and what he has been called by God to do. While this may not seem particularly divine it is certainly a very human response as was his behavior toward the Syrophoenician woman.

When she asks him to heal her daughter Jesus says “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” This is rude no matter how one reads it. If we accept that Jesus’ was stating something he believed then we see two things…the first is that he understood his mission to be solely to the people of Israel and the second …he is very insulting to a desperate woman. But at this point, the woman reveals her depth of wisdom and her humility. When she responds “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”, she is making a powerful confession of faith…faith that Jesus is indeed divine and has the power to heal her child and that even the scraps from God’s table of mercy are enough to bring healing and wholeness to the one she loves. Jesus is so impressed with her response that he heals her daughter immediately..remotely. His power is such he does not even have to be in the same place but healed her from a distance.

I can’t help but think that perhaps Mark included this story to remind us that Jesus was indeed truly human like all of us…a human being who in a moment of exhaustion and frustration did not show his best self but instead was rude and short tempered but in the face of the woman’s grace and patience rose to the occasion and in the process learned something about himself and about God’s purpose for his life. There are no other incidents like this recorded and Jesus would eventually begin to speak in broader terms about God’s loving intentions for humanity.

I am a big fan of science fiction and in the Matrix movies from several years ago, there is a scene early on when Neo…the Christ figure…is asked a question by one of Morpheus’ crewmembers. Cypher, who later turns out to be a traitor, asks Neo….”So, did he tell you why he did it? Why you’re here? Neo nods. Cypher goes on…”You’re here to save the world. What do you say to that?” At the point in his ministry when Jesus met the Syrophoenician woman, I am not sure he was ready or able to face the implications of the fact that he had been sent to save the world…to rescue humanity from itself.

I think if we are truthful most of us would admit that we are not really comfortable with totally human Jesus. The implication is that if Jesus is too much like us at some point God is going to expect us to be more like Jesus. To that, I say….”yeah”. We have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection and have arisen as new creatures…Christ-like creatures given the mission to carry the love of God into the world. We don’t get to use the tired old excuse that “I’m not Jesus” thinking somehow that makes it acceptable for us to live into our worst inclinations.

We are to strive for holiness of life, which is only possible if we let love rule our hearts and our minds prompting us to act in ways that are yes…like Jesus. Like my friend, Father Chris said…Jesus is God and God is love so where Jesus is love is. I would like to expand that a little to include us…we are the children of God, created by love to be love in the world. We are the brothers and sisters of Jesus and the disciples of Christ…reborn in the waters of baptism…raised to be the conduits of God’s love. God became what we are that we might become what he his. Let us go forth and be love.

Rector Robyn: Sermon September 2, 2018

Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? *
who may abide upon your holy hill?

Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, *
who speaks the truth from his heart.

                                    Psalm 15:1-2

All of the readings in our lectionary for today are concerned with the same thing…holiness of life….in other words, how are we to live in order to be pleasing to God?  Under the first covenant leading a holy life meant keeping faithful to the statutes of the Law. While on the surface it might have seemed as though the Mosaic Law only concerned one’s behavior, rather than the thoughts and intentions of the interior person.  But in the writings of the prophets who were considered the mouthpieces for God, there were admonitions about motivation. In the Gospel today Jesus quotes from Isaiah in reference to the righteousness of the Pharisees: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” implying that the religious leaders are saying the right things but their intentions are questionable.

It was not enough to be able to quote from the Law nor were its precepts to be used as a means to control the people.  As the religious establishment became more powerful the leaders and teachers added their own interpretations to the basic tenants of the Law and eventually ended up with a set of rules that were impossible to keep to the letter.  The Law, which had been intended to be a guide and a tool for those who sought holiness of life became a means of oppressing the people and keeping them in subjection both to the Law itself and to the religious establishment.

We see this in the Gospel account of Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees about the hygiene habits of his disciples.  Mark writes that the Pharisees called out Jesus because some of his disciples were eating with unwashed hands. The tradition of those faithful to the Law at that time included a number of ritual washings..for food, utensils, cooking and eating vessels, as well as for the hands and body.  These were not done only for physical cleanliness but included a component of ritual purity. You will notice that rather than asking why Jesus’ disciples ate with unwashed hands the Pharisees implied religious judgment with the term “defiled”.

Jesus, instead of addressing the lack of personal hygiene of his disciples uses the moment to teach a deeper lesson about holy living.  “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come:…”  Evil intentions lead to evil behavior and this is what makes a person unclean before God.

It seems to me that in our current culture we are confused and conflicted about what God expects of his people or even what it means to be a decent human being.  Perhaps that has always been the case and with the lure of social media turning even ordinary folks into self-absorbed narcissists the more outrageous one behaves the more attention and external validation one receives.  Even in those who claim to be faithful Christians, there is a tendency to focus on particular sins …especially those being committed by people who make us uncomfortable…with little attention to managing our own thoughts and behaviors to align ourselves with the teachings of Jesus.

While a little self-discipline is a wonderful thing the truth is Jesus was less concerned with keeping the letter of the Law then he was with treating one’s neighbors with kindness and compassion.  No one would argue that washing one’s hands before eating is a bad thing but not doing so does not make one a bad person. It might be a good way to spread disease or parasites in certain situations but in most cases is probably pretty harmless and Jesus was making the point that cleanliness on the outside does not translate to holiness on the inside.

While the letter of James may cause some discomfort for those overly concerned with the idea of “works-righteousness” …the idea that one can achieve salvation through the merits of one’s good works rather than as the free gift of God’s grace through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross…hopefully, no one would argue with the fact that it does contain some good advice for living out one’s faith in the world.  The writer of the letter is very practical and suggests that if we keep our focus on Christ we can have some control over our thoughts and actions and can work to become better, more Christ-like people. I tend to agree.

In James we read that it is not enough to just hear the word of Truth; we must then act on it, allowing it to become implanted within our very selves and in humility let it transform us into the likeness of Christ.  The letter of James includes some very reasonable lists of good practices that will help one lead a holy life…implying of course, that is something for which we should strive. It is easy in our current time and culture to be corrupted by this world in which those who value wealth and power make the decisions for the populous and our addiction to consumerism leads us to believe that everything and everyone can be bought for a price.  However, the truth of Jesus’ teaching has not changed….you cannot worship both God and wealth. You cannot serve Christ and cater to your own interests at the expense of your neighbor’s…even your far off neighbor. We have become so comfortable in our cognitive dissonance that we do not see ourselves for the whited sepulchers we have become….looking pious and religious on the outside but our shiny ersatz holiness hides that we really are dead inside.

Leading a holy life is not about deprivation for the sake of itself.  It is not about reveling in one’s self-control or wasting time judging oneself or one’s neighbor harshly for the times we fail.  Rather leading a holy life is nothing more than keeping one’s priorities in order. First and foremost in the life of Christian is God as revealed to us in Christ Jesus and our commitment to model our lives on his example and teaching.  That, of course, translates to allowing ourselves to be transformed by the love of God in Christ into holy people who share that love anywhere and everywhere with anyone and everyone we encounter. It means being concerned with our neighbor’s welfare.  It also means watching what we say so that we do not injure another with unnecessary hateful comments. It means watching what we do so we treat our own bodies and the persons of others with the respect and care due to one made in the image and likeness of God.  It means not being wasteful with the gifts of creation and not basking in our own financial or social success while others lack even the most basic necessities of life.

Leading a holy life cannot be done by the strength of one’s will…that is the sure way to failure.  Rather, it is by letting the love of Christ permeate all that we are and humbly seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit that we will begin to find the frivolous and empty pursuits of this world will no longer be alluring to us.  We will instead be drawn to the deep well of living water that is Christ rather than the shallow pool of what is fashionable or entertaining. Leading a holy life does take effort and commitment. It requires us to study and pray…to be faithful in worship and to seek out the wise counsel of those who are walking the way of Christ with us.  It requires us to put aside our preconceived ideas about people and seek to love and care for those who make us uncomfortable…those whose life experience is different than our own but who are struggling to make their way in the world just as we are. We must learn to put avoid judgment seeking rather to understand. At the same time, we must not be afraid to speak Truth…to openly and unashamedly share the Gospel message with others and to be willing to stand alongside the poor, the oppressed, the outcast and the vulnerable in their struggle for justice and equality.

There are two components to a holy life….the interior and the exterior.  If we attend to the interior person seeking to develop personal habits of prayer and study…of temperance and self-control…of moderation and self-discipline …of love for others and for self….This will inform our exterior life… how we live out that holiness in community…in our family….in the Church community…in our neighborhood and in the broader world.  It is the exterior self that is the example for others…the living witness of our internal commitment to serve Christ.

Just as the Law was intended as a gift rather than a burden for the Hebrew children so too the law of love in Christ Jesus is intended to liberate us…to set us free from the burden of trying to follow a long list of instructions for our behavior.  If we point our internal compass toward the true North of love we will find clarity and simplicity. We will not have to agonize over what to do because love will guide our decisions. Holiness of life, like all disciplines, requires practice…but the more we practice living into the love of Christ the easier it will become.

We will, of course, have moments where we fail and fall back into the world.  The lure of popularity…of accumulation….of power over others…of venting our frustrations…is very strong.  But even if we find ourselves falling back into old habits…even those that cause pain to others in our lives…we can repent and our Lord is faithful to forgive.  Life is made up of moments of starting over and always there is hope and possibility that we can do better…that we can be better people…holy people .leading holy lives.

“Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? *  who may abide upon your holy hill?
Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, * who speaks the truth from his heart.
Whoever does these things * shall never be overthrown”

Rector Robyn: Sermon August 25, 2018

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. John 6:68-69a

When I was a little girl I tended to be more than a little bit hardheaded and willful. I am sure that comes as a big surprise to those of you who know me well. (That’s a joke of course.) Anyway, being an emotional child as well I would occasionally get my feelings hurt over one thing or another and after working up a good mad I would announce to my mother that I had decided to run away. I would pack a couple of books, pencils and a pad of paper in a small snap top lard bucket and take off out the back door. Every time Mama would say as I was leaving…”Remember, if you get hungry you can come home.” Slamming the screen door I would take off up the orchard hill at a run. Invariably I always made it no further than the cow path at the edge of the garden before my mad would start to wear off and I would begin to rethink my decision.

At that point I would always make my way to my thinking place…a big limestone rock sticking out of a hill that made a perfect seat with a view of the surrounding countryside. As I compared the good and bad possibilities of a life on the road my child’s mind would always come back to one powerful truth. Everything and everyone I loved was back at home….my family….my animals and my books. Where else would I go to find the very things I was leaving? So, I would sit until I thought it might be mealtime and I would make my way home. Mama would never mention my little spell and life would go on just as it always did.

When we get older it can be more difficult to figure out what we need to be content with our lives. Some people never come to any sort of peace but spend their years moving from one place to another…from one job to another…from one relationship to another trying to feed a hunger they cannot define. We can even do the same thing in our search for a church home.

Our consumer culture has invaded every aspect of our lives…even the spiritual and we shop for churches and worshiping communities like we shop for material goods. We look for worship that is entertaining or novel and for a community of believers that is just like us. We want to belong but rather than invest the energy in getting to know the other people in the pews we look for indicators that the folks have similar tastes and beliefs. If we find ourselves in conflict or discover that there are things with which we disagree it is easier to go on down the road and find another church than to compromise or even discuss the things that don’t quite suit.

What are we really looking for?…in life?…in church? While we do and should come into the Body of Christ expecting acceptance and a safe place to explore our faith and learn about God I don’t think we are to be too comfortable. We should be excited and energized… challenged to be our better selves and to put our talents to making the world a better place. If our Churches ask nothing of us then we become passive worshippers rather than people seeking an intimate relationship with the Divine and a deeper communion with the Creation.

In our Gospel lesson for today Jesus is continuing his teaching on the spiritual communion we have with him and with God through his blessed body and blood. I think the writer of the Gospel of John spends so much time with this topic because it was and continues to be so difficult to comprehend. The disciples who heard Jesus describe himself as the “bread of heaven” as food to be consumed by those who believe in him, had a visceral response to his words. They were shocked and disgusted by what he was implying. This makes sense if we remember that the Law of Moses was about behavior…it was to be understood and obeyed literally. While of course the Hebrew Scriptures are filled with wonderful metaphor and symbol that help the faithful fathom the incomprehensible nature of God, instructions for how to be acceptable to God were rooted in behavior….what one did as opposed to what one thought. Action indicated belief. In light of this they understood Jesus’ words literally and the concept of eating and drinking his body and blood was not only abhorrent but literally forbidden under the Law.

Jesus used the language of consumption because nothing so clearly demonstrates the absolute need we have for the Real Presence. Jesus knew that his time was short and in the days after his Resurrection and Ascension when he was no longer physically present, the Blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion…the holy Body and Blood would be the means for ongoing intimate relationship with the risen Christ. In the Sacrament the community of believers would be fed the food that their spirits needed for life and health. In the sharing of the sacred meal of the Body of Christ individuals would become members of that same Body in communion with God and with one another. In that sacred communal relationship the suffering of one believer would be shared by all and in like manner the joy of one would become the joy of all.

But all of this would be inconceivable to those first disciples until after Jesus’ death and Resurrection. When he was with them and trying to teach these lessons they were just too difficult to understand and too disturbing to think about. We read that many of those who heard him became offended and left. Jesus asks the remaining disciples…the twelve…”Do you also wish to go away?” Peter, always quick to speak his mind said what they were all probably thinking…”Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter knew, as did the others, that Jesus had what they needed. Having heard his truth and having come to believe that he was who he said he was they could no longer go back to the life they had known. Having seen the Lord they could no longer “not see.” They may not have been certain about Jesus’ true identity as the Incarnate God but they knew he was the “Holy One”…the one for whom their people had waited for thousands of years. He may not have been what they were expecting but once they believed that he was indeed from God they were convinced that he had what they needed to feed their souls.

Life doesn’t always turn out the way we think it will in fact it usually does not. Sometimes things happen that cause us to doubt that God is active in our lives and perhaps to question whether or not we might have taken a wrong path. While I do believe that God acts in our lives I cannot tell you how or to what extent. I don’t think that there is necessarily a master plan of some sort that we are expected to follow. God does not want an army of automatons acting without choice or free will or responding out of fear of punishment. I believe that God through Jesus Christ wants a loving relationship with us…one where we seek divine guidance and assistance but also trusting in the powers of reason with which we are blessed as well as the good people who come into our lives to walk with us…to teach and advise us as we need.

Our relationship with the risen Lord can and will supply all that we need for health of the spirit and will enrich our emotional and physical lives as well. But that doesn’t mean that there will not be trials and troubles. Life in this world is not without strife and suffering but in our relationship with God in Jesus Christ we can find patience to bear the burdens that must be borne… the strength to overcome those obstacles that stand in the way of living a full life in Christ and an internal peace in the midst of unavoidable conflict.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he tells us to “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.”…to prepare ourselves for spiritual conflict by putting on the “whole armor of God” and whenever we pray to “pray in the Spirit”. There is every indication that if we are faithfully attempting to follow the will of God we will find opposition that we must fight against. God wants us to be strong and faithful… not comfortable and complacent.

Sometimes the enemy we will be fighting in spiritual warfare will be our very selves…the proud, selfish, greedy, needy self that gets in the way of living out our call to humble service to Christ and in Christ. Through prayer and study…through the assistance of other faithful brothers and sisters we can rely on the Holy Spirit to help us overcome even our own worst nature. And in those moments that we fail…and we will have those moments….we have the promise of forgiveness if we truly repent. Always we can begin again…reborn in the ongoing grace of our baptism. …refreshed in the grace ever present in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.

It is a good thing to seek after God and to seek a community of believers that allows one to live fully into a new life in Christ. But do not become so enamored of the search that you cannot recognize when you have found the way home. Remember to occasionally find your way to your thinking place and consider all that you have in your life both emotionally and spiritually. Sometimes everything we need is right where we are…we just have to recognize it…to accept it and to nurture it.

When I was a child whenever I decided to run away from home thinking that something different had to be better than what I had the love of my family and the beauty and peace of those trees and green hills would call me back and remind me that all I needed was right there. Now all this time later, having spent many years in many places seeking to serve God I have carried the love of my family and the memory of that green place with me. I feel that sense of homecoming whenever I stand at this Altar or gather in this community. In Christ I have found the love of family…a sense of place….and an increasing awareness that God is always with me and wherever God is …is home.

August 19, 2018: Rector Robyn – “The Bread of Life”

Jesus said, “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 6:51-52

As a eucharistically focused worshipping community we reference these words of Jesus very frequently…in our hymns, in the language of our liturgy.  We have the conversation about the Body and Blood of our Lord so frequently it is easy to forget how shocking and uncomfortable it was for those first hearers when Jesus first began to explain the deeper principals of his new theology.  In his life and his words, Jesus offered a completely new perspective on God’s relationship with humanity and the effect it was to have on the life of the believer.

Up until this point, even the most faithful of Jesus’ disciples were just beginning to accept the possibility that he was indeed God’s promised Messiah …the “great deliverer” foreseen by the prophets…the one who would come and free God’s people from their oppressors and bring into reality the kingdom of God. For thousands of years, the Jewish faithful had been formulating their ideas about who the Messiah would be and speculating about the wonderful things he would do.  As Jesus began to clarify his message it became clear that if he was indeed the Anointed One his identity and his purpose were not what was expected.

In this unsettling metaphor of consumption, Jesus was using language that was incredibly difficult for his hearers to understand and even more difficult for them to accept.  The Jews had very strict dietary laws; the blood of animals was a big don’t and the idea of consuming human flesh was completely unfathomable.  Jesus’ words were so confusing and disturbing it was difficult to move past what he said to get to the deeper truth he was trying to share.

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”  No longer would the practice of one’s faith be rooted in behavior.  In the sacrament of his body and blood, we seek to become as Jesus is not just to do as he did.  While good works are most certainly important and Holy Scripture tells us that we will be known by the fruit we bear, good or bad, it is the internal motivation arising from our inward likeness to Christ that reflects our relationship with God.  As we eat so we become.

All living creatures require some sort of food to survive and when we eat our bodies incorporate the basic components of our food…the chemical compounds that constitute the substance of what we eat become an inseparable part of what we are.  In the Mystery of the Blessed Sacrament, we consume our Lord’s body and blood and it too becomes incorporated into our very being…inseparable making him a part of us and us a part of him and by association also a part of one another.

In our Eucharistic theology, we believe that in some mysterious way the elements of bread and wine become the hosts for the Real Presence of Jesus. While there are some Anglicans who, like our Roman and Orthodox Catholic brothers and sisters believe that in the consecration the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ, most Episcopalians shy away from the belief in transubstantiation.  They do however accept that the bread and wine are changed in some fundamental way and have become holy items through which we have access to the Real Presence.  Because of this the consecrated bread and wine are treated with reverence.  We consume them with respect and are careful to treat, even the leftovers as sacred to be consumed or carefully stored for later use.

When Jesus was first teaching his disciples they had an extremely difficult time getting their minds around what he seemed to be asking them to do.  They were horrified by their literal interpretation of his metaphorical language.  In the early days of the Protestant Reformation, some of the theologians and religious leaders were also unable to move beyond their horror at the image and softened the theology into something more palatable.  The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ became a symbolic act only….a memorial meal…a ritual done in remembrance because Christ had commanded it.  The sacred elements were reduced once more to only bread and wine and in the interest of temperance, juice was substituted for wine.

I do not doubt the sincerity of our Christian brothers and sisters who understand Holy Communion in this way, as I myself did for many years having been raised in such a tradition.  However, I freely confess that for me the gift of the Real Presence of Christ made accessible to us in the Blessed Sacrament continues to stir my soul and strengthen me in body and mind in ways I never imagined.  In the gathering of the community of the faithful united in our desire for intimate communion with our Lord I find solace for those things that trouble me, insight into what I am called to do in the world as a servant of Christ and a deep reservoir of support and strength arising from my relationships with fellow believers.

In using the language of food and consumption Jesus was reminding his listeners that this relationship with God through Jesus Christ was necessary for life and health…both in body and spirit.  Jesus is the food for our souls…the sustenance for our eternal life.  Of course, the disciples did not truly understand what Jesus was trying to say to them and they would not be able to conceive of it until after his death and resurrection.  In the gift of the Holy Spirit that came upon them in power and fire at Pentecost, the disciples began to understand that to truly follow Christ one must be transformed into his likeness.  In our baptism, we bury the old self and rise as new creatures made in the likeness of our Lord.  Each time we come to the Lord’s table we feed this new creature on the bread of heaven…the precious body and blood of the Lord.  This is the sustenance necessary to keep this new creature spiritually healthy and able to carry the message of God’s love into the world in word and action.

Brothers and sisters do not deprive yourself of the food our souls need…make time and effort to gather at this table with the Community and to partake of the heavenly bread. Here you will find healing for our deep spiritual wounds and strength for the ongoing journey of our lives.  Here we connect with one another and bask in the Real Presence of the one who loved us and gave himself in sacrifice for us.

It is doubtful that we will ever understand the true meaning of this sacred communion…of what it is and what it does but we can experience it….its power to transform us into the likeness of the Christ we serve.  For now, the experience is enough.  In eternity we will see clearly and understand fully the gift that we have been given.

Behold the home of God is among mortals….he has come to dwell among his people and he feeds them with holy food and drink of his own self.  This is the bread of life….the food of transformation…the foretaste of the heavenly banquet where with the saints in light we will all eat and be filled…we will know as we are known…and we will finally truly understand the depth of God’s love for us and for all that he has made.