Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sermon for Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13
Year C
August 4, 2013
                                          Hosea 11:1-11                            Psalm 107:1-9, 43
                                    Colossians 3:13-21                          St. Luke 12:13-21

To continue our discussion somewhat from the last time I preached, we again see in the Gospel, Jesus preferential option for the poor in his warning to those with wealth. In the parable, the rich man was worried about how to care for all his wealth, and he learned as we all know, that you can't take it with you.

The story today begins with someone calling out to Jesus for financial justice and yet Jesus dismissed him and his claim. In fact, Jesus warned him that his attention was in the wrong place. He was focused on his wants and his needs. His focus was inward directed.

Where is our attention placed? I fear that it can too often be in the wrong place as well. One lesson to be taken from the Gospel today is a lesson concerning where we should be paying attention. Are we focused inward on ourselves, or outward on the world around us?

An inward focus is a selfish and self centered view. An outward focus is a godly and god centered outlook. Outward views are healthy and life giving, inward views are not.

There can be several reasons for not wanting to look outward. It may be too painful. We may think we have too much on our own plate to deal with. And there are seeming rewards for looking inward, but this is actually a lie.

An inward focus is the worst thing possible for our spiritual health.

And while our gospel lesson today is focused on an individual, the application can be much greater. Now don't get me wrong, there are good reasons to look inward, when we are examining ourselves and working on improving ourselves. The the inward looking in the Gospel today was not focused on self improvement, it was focused on self enrichment. Not that we should not be looking at things inwardly as individually. We should! We should be examining our lives to see where our focus should be for self improvement.

But when we focus on selfish things, we are looking the wrong direction.

The same is true for organizations. Churches can either focus inward or they can focus outward. There is tremendous pressure for churches to focus inward. There are many difficulties. Dwindling numbers and finances will inevitably draw the focus of those remaining inward. And this is a terrible mistake. It is the start of the end. It may seem counter-intuitive, but an inward focus draws our attention away from God and the blessings that God is providing and causes us to focus on what is lacking.

Rather than being focused on what God has called us to do, we become focused on what we need to survive. It is one of the reasons that I'm so opposed to churches that post financial information every week. It drives an inward focus and rarely solves the problem of the downward spiral. In fact, it can have the opposite approach in the end by driving away potential new members of the church.

So, as much as I might sound like a polly-anna, the answer for ourselves and our church is to remain focused outward. Asking how can we spread the good news of what is happening in our church. Asking how we can be Jesus to those in need around us. None of this makes sense to the world. In the world, we are supposed to look inward, analyze problems, and develop solutions.

However that is not the way God works. And it is not the way churches work. If you want to be successful, continue to focus on gratitude. Continue to focus on what God is doing in your life and in the life of your church community. Continue to focus on what it is you believe what God is calling you to do.

That is the pathway to success and growth in terms of God's kingdom.

You can find the podcast of this sermon in ITunes by searching in the ITunes store for

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sermon for Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11
Year C
July 21, 2013
                                               Amos 8:1-12                                                       Psalm 52
                                          Colossians 1:15-28                                         St. Luke 10:38-42 

Hymns: 618, 657, 686, 662 

If anyone wonders where I get to get my rather universalist views from, the author of Colossians must surely bear some of the responsibility. In the passage for today we are told that “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things” through Christ.

There are no limits in that statement. There is no holding back. All things have been reconciled to God through Christ. It includes you. It includes me. It includes the world.

This is one of the reasons I have a hard time with the concept of hell. Certainly the jewish tradition had no hell. And I'm not sure that there is a lot of biblical support for it.

Of course that leaves many of us struggling with things like Hitler and other monsters in the world. What happens to them if there is no hell? I think there are two possible answers. One is that like the rest of us they are reconciled to God and end up in heaven. Which might actually be a form of hell to have to live up to the enormity of the evil the perpetrated against others through all eternity. Or perhaps they are just snuffed out of existence. Who knows? And really, at this point in our faith walk, who cares? We should all be focused on what God calls us to do and worry less about how others responded to God's call in their lives.

God didn't choose just a select group to be reconciled with as some would like to believe. That, in my mind is way too limiting of the love of God. And as heretical as some might find this rather simple view of mine, there is a message in from the prophet Amos that I feel is even more earth shattering.

It is a message for us true enough, but I feel it is even a more important message to politicians and those in power. What has shocked me in recent years is the apparent ability of people to separate their responsibilities to their creator from their life in the world. The message from Amos is a powerful warning to those in power. This should not be particularly surprising as God tends to always speak powerful messages to those in positions of power.

Amos warns that those who “trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land” are going to be called to account for their actions. Amos was apparently one of the earlier liberation theologians. Actually when you look at the words of the prophets, they were all liberation theologians. This understanding has often been expressed as God's preferential option for the poor. In the words of Gustavo Gutierrez, “God demonstrates a special predilection toward those who have been excluded from the banquet of life.”

Too often our political leaders in this day and age clearly have a preferential option for the rich and what to ignore the poor, I guess in the futile hope that they will go away.

God wants each and every one of us to live into that special predilection to those who have been excluded. There may have been many reasons for the exclusion. But not one of those reasons will represent God to those who are excluded.

We are called to step out and take risks. It is not easy. And it certainly is not safe.  

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8, June 30, 2013

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8
Year C
June 30, 2013
I Kings 2:1-2, 6-14              Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20

Galatians 5:1, 13-21                     St. Luke 9:51-62  

The words form the first part of the lesson on Galatians today has significant power for me as I though about them and the church in general, and about St. Peter’s in particular. They speak to us in a time when our current society seems to judge that individual needs and concerns are overriding factors in living life.

And Paul points out quite openly that we are set free in Christ. And that freedom is absolute. However Paul also warns against embracing that freedom and using it as an excuse for self indulgence. And that is what separates our freedom in Christ from the more self centered, individualized freedom that the world would so easily call us to.

Paul calls us on the one hand to not submit to the yoke of slavery, but at the same times calls us to become slaves for one another. And I think that is the key message for us to take home today. We are called to be slaves to one another.

That is not an easy call to live out. All of us have the desire to want our own ways. And yet being a slave to others calls for us to put others ahead of us. It calls on us to see the best of others in all circumstances. It calls for each one of us to give up battling to be right.

As a slave to others, god calls us to let go of self and ego and to embrace the call to seek to severe Christ in each of those around us. All of you who have been in relationships with others know what this is like. It can be frustrating. It can be challenging. Sometimes it can seem like an impossible burden.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6 Year C

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6
Year C
June 16, 2013
                     I Kings 21:1-21a                                              Psalm 5:1-8

                     Galatians 2:15-21                                         St. Luke 7:36—8:      onnday of 3   

Who is in and who is out?  Often we categorize people by whether they are in or out.  Are they part of the cool, acceptable crowd?  Or are they out? 

The Gospel today deals with those in and those out.  Those who are in are often very comfortable with their status.   They have no fears.  The Pharisee’s were part of the in crowd in the Jewish world that Jesus lived in.  Women who were sinners on the other hand were definitely on the outside.  They were looked down on.  They were unappreciated.  They had nothing worthwhile to offer society or those around them.  

It seems like in our society today everyone needs to be a part of the in crowd.  No one wants to be in the out crowd.  But of course, who could blame them?  Jesus was being invited to be a part of the in crowd in.  But as usual Jesus was not very accommodating.  And Jesus had his own agenda.  And very often that agenda never agreed with what the in crowd wanted.

Now the in crowd is easily upset with what Jesus had to do or say.  The Pharisee is scandalized to the seas as is letting this sooner or woman to Sonoma.  Wisely the Pharisee observes that if Jesus was really a prophet he would’ve known what type of woman this was, that she was a terrible sinner.

The in crowd always wants to judge the out crowd.  That seems to be the nature of things.  And the problem with Jesus was that he refused to judge people.  Jesus wanted to accept everyone as they were.  Jesus wanted to touch every one right were they were in their life.  The out crowd is always about changing people to make them fit in.  Jesus was about accepting people the way they are.  And the in crowd finds that point of view just a little bit frightening. 

The challenge for us is how do we make St. Peter’s more like Jesus response and less like the Pharisee’s?  Sadly too many outside of the church see a place filled with Pharisee’s only too happy to judge them and condemn them, rather than seeing a place filled with Jesus like people who want to embrace them with open arms of love and acceptance.  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C, April 21, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Year C
April 21, 2013
                        Acts 9:36-43                                              Psalm 23
                     Revelation 7:9-17                                    St. John 10:22-3      onnday of 0   
Hymns:  371, 410, 314, 388 

“My sheep hear my voice … no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

The early church was a much different church from the church today.  The Gospels were written as the church was struggling against many forces in society.  So you might wonder what the lessons of the Gospels can hold for us today, in such a different place and in such a different time. 

But often the messages of the Gospel are timeless.  The church has used and reinterpreted the lessons of the scriptures though out history.  The church wants to make the lessons practical and applicable in every time and in constantly changing circumstances. 

The early church faced a lot of struggles.  And so do we today.  Admittedly much different struggles today, but struggles nevertheless.   And so we look to the scriptures for comfort and guidance. 

We hear the voice of Jesus and are comforted in that voice.  Jesus provides a familiar voice in the struggles and challenges we face in the world and in the struggles and challenges we face as a congregation. 

Congregational live can be a challenge.  Learning to live together in a faith community.  Living to live as a faith community as we struggle with differences. 

It is amazing the things that parishes can find challenging.    I was reading this week about a sculpture entitled “Jesus the Homeless”.  It is a power presentation of Jesus depicted as a homeless person, sleeping on a park bench.  The only way you can tell it is Jesus is by the nail marks in the feet.  Sadly two cathedrals turned it down.  Jesus was homeless once again.  This could have been a powerful message speaking to the poor and homeless in the community, giving them a chance to hear the voice of the shepherd.  But the chance was missed. 

Sadly those in power could not hear the voice of Jesus in that situation.  I think for most of us it is hard to hear the voice of Jesus unless we hear a voice very much like our own.   All too often we can only see Jesus when we see someone like ourselves.  The idea of a homeless Jesus is a scary thing for many people. 

We covet the familiar in our lives and in our parish.   And that presents a challenge for any parish in transition as St. Peter’s is right now.  It is only in being willing to try the change will we have the opportunity to grow and develop.  And yet in the midst of it, we can rely on the familiar voice of God in our life in the face of change. 

St. Peter’s needs to be open to new things and change.  When you call a new parish priest there will be lots of change and transition.  It will be a challenge to every one.  The next priest will bring talents, skills, and abilities which may be different.   She or he will have different strengths and weaknesses.  But you can count on the familiar voice of Jesus to be in your midst as you go through the challenge of change.  

You may be challenged with new ways of doing things.  You may be challenged with different attitudes and ideas.  But the familiar voice of Jesus will be there with you, guiding, building, and strengthening.  

The key is to be open to new ideas and the opportunity to experience life in a community of faith in a new and different way.   And yet, each of us will still have the familiar voice of Jesus with us in this journey. 

Will we be willing to trust in God as we go through the next change, or will we, like those rejecting the sculpture of Jesus the Homeless, reject, fight and fear the new and different and challenging.  I pray that God will give us all the strength to embrace the change, relying on the familiar voice of Jesus speaking to us, kindly, gently, lovingly, and encouragingly as we move forward.   

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Second Sunday of Easter
Year C
April 7, 2013
                        Acts 5:27-32                                              Psalm 118:14-29
                     Revelation 1:4-8                                            St. John 20:19-3      onnday of 1   
Hymns:  199, 7, 208, 469

Today is known as Low Sunday.   Churches tend to be packed on Easter Sunday, but now we are back to the normal, and many just take a Sunday off.  So we few are here!  

And of course today is St. Thomas Sunday.  Poor St. Thomas, you have to feel for him.  He is always held up as the skeptic against the example of the other disciples.  And yet, this is not quite fair as a comparison.  After all, the disciples had already experienced what Thomas himself asked to experience.  Thomas was not asking for anything other than that which they had already experienced.  He wanted to see Jesus in person just as the other disciples had.  It seems a perfectly reasonable request to me. 

Those others disciples were not a shining example of blind faith.  They had been able to see Jesus and believed and that is the same experience that Thomas wanted to have as well. 

To tell the truth, I actually think Thomas is a pretty good example for all of us in the Christian church today anyway.  I believe that a little bit of disbelief and skepticism can be quite healthy and good for us both as individuals and as the church.  Disbelief allows us the opportunity to ask question and opens up the possibility of deepening and exploring our faith. 

And yet some people and church leaders show what I feel is an unhealthy fear of a little or like in my case, a lot of, disbelief.   In some churches the honest questioning about faith and what we believe is quite threatening.  People never speak of it because they fear they will be judged as either very weak in their faith, or worse as no longer Christians. 

People are afraid to even express any doubt or concerns for fear about what others – or God will think about us. 

This quite frankly is not good for our own spiritual development or for the development of the church as a whole.  To be fearful of growing, developing, and questioning is extremely unhealthy.  Thomas was not afraid to speak his own truth, that he needed more in order to belief.  He was not afraid to speak out his concerns regarding his faith to those around him. 

We need to feel that it is safe to express our doubts, our understandings, perhaps even our fears about our faith walk in our lives.  

Only when we feel safe to do this can we truly grow, develop, and challenge ourselves and our faith. 

I pray that God will grant all of us the strength of heart to not fear to express ourselves.  I pray that God will grant all of us the strength of character and charity to be open to listening to people expressing their doubts and struggles.  That will make St. Peter’s a healthy place to learn and love.  

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sermon for Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Day
Year C
March 31, 2013
                        Acts 10:34-43                                              Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
                     I Corinthians 15:19-26                                     St. John 20:1-18   
Hymns:  180, 371, 207, 208

“I truly understand that God shows no partiality…”  That is what Peter said.  Sadly many people who claim to be Christians believe that God show partiality and a lot it. 

People who believe that only if you believe like them you will go to heaven.  People who believe that only if you belong to their particular denomination, will you go to heaven.  Probably the most extreme example is the Westboro Baptist Church.   But there are those even in our own community who also believe this.  They believe in a god of partiality and I find this extremely sad. 

I want to do something rather unusual this Easter Day.  You see, today I’m not going to talk about the resurrection.  Instead I want to talk about Peter’s revelation in today’s first reading.  Of course this reading from Acts comes after the resurrection.  It deals with the early history of the church and the church leaders, in particular Peter. 

You see, in spite of the experience of the apostles in living with Christ and living through the experience of the resurrection, they still had their pre-conceived notions of how God was acting in the world around them.  The resurrection experience had not yet transformed them or Peter.  There was still work to be done in his life.  The resurrection experience merely prepared him for changes he could not even imagine. 

Too often I feel that in the Christian community we look at the resurrection or conversion experience as a one time event in which we are somehow magically transformed by God and that is it.  But there is usually always much more head of us in that experience.  It is merely the first step when God begins to work in our lives. 

In this particular instance Peter was struggling with the issue God’s partiality.  Yes, Peter and the apostles believed that God was indeed partial to some.  That God had a preference for some people over others.  It was a deeply ingrained believe and not an easy one for Peter to overcome.  In fact, in a dream he had to get the message repeated three times from God before it sunk in. 

What brought Peter to this point was a dream.  In the dream, all sorts of unclean animals are placed before Peter and he is told to kill and eat them.  He had been raised all his life to not eat certain things because God did not what him to. 

It was a life long, and scripturally based belief that Peter was struggling with.  So there were very good reasons in Peter’s mind for not wanting to accept this change from God.  And yet, once the light dawns on Peter, he embraces is whole-heartedly.    

Not only that, but in the stories culmination today, Peter actually expands this dream to include something completely different from what was in the dream.  Rather that restrict his dream to a literal interpretation of exactly what he had seen, that is that God had done away with dietary restrictions, Peter greatly expanded the interpretation of this dream to include the understanding that the good news of the resurrection and power of Jesus was open not to just those of the Jewish heritage, but to everyone. 

Peter issues that powerful statement we hear in the first reading:  “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”  There is something very important in this simple sentence that is important for the Christian church.  

You see, many in the church say, yes that is true, BUT we “have to do what is right” to be acceptable and you are not doing what is right.  But remember, Peter originally believed that the preconceived notions that God was overturning were WRONG.  Not only that, but peter went to far as to expand it to include more that was just in his dream. 

So it is not just say, ok, sure as long as you do what I think God wants you to do, you are good to go.   Rather it is understanding the potential that God is trying to correct something that is wrong. 

We individually and the church as a whole needs to be open to the possibility that our understanding of what is right and what is wrong from God’s perspective may actually be the wrong thing that needs to be change!   This is pretty frightening stuff both from an individual and a organizational perspective. 

But like Peter, we need to be open to seeing things in a new light.  And the church as an organization needs to be open to seeing things in a new light as well.  That is probably the greater obstacle.  Churches are like glaciers when it comes to change.  They move very slowly, if they move at all.  And yet, by our failure to be open to seeing what God may be doing or how God may be trying to change us, we lose out on opportunities to grow and open our community to becoming more and more inclusive. 

Just imagine what the church would look like had Peter not boldly embraced this change.   It would not be what it is today. 

Just imagine what the church would look like had brave people not fought against slavery.  It would not be what it is today. 

Just imagine what the church would look like had brave people not fought against racial inequality even after the battle against slavery had been won. 

And imagine for a moment how people felt when those in power in the church argued in favor of slavery and racial inequality.  Imagine the damage that did to the cause of the gospel message.  Imagine what it did to the message of Easter. 

I believe we are each called to be in the forefront of expanding the meaning of the gospel to all.  St. Peter’s is called to be a beacon of light and hope in Seward.   And I believe it is! 

I don't think there is any danger that God will ever judge us for being too easy on our fellow human beings or for loving them too much. 

So this Easter, as we celebrate the joyous event of Christ risen.  Let us all commit ourselves to a church that is in the forefront of the spreading the gospel message.  Let us be in the forefront of speaking out for those who others would denigrate and despise.  That is what Jesus did.  That is what Christians do.