A New Place

 A Sermon for the 6th Sunday in Easter: Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5, John 5:1-9

Preface, this is my last Sunday as a retired supply priest for St. Stephen’s.

Well, today is an interesting day. I could preach about Acts, and how Lydia is not only a leader in the early Christian Church, she is also a wealthy independent woman who is a leader in her community (Acts 16:9-15). And there is plenty of thoughts here when under the guise of standing for a fetus’ right to life, several states, under the leadership of mostly older white men, have passed draconian laws that seek to deny women their biblical place as their equals and images of God. I could preach about Revelation and the New Jerusalem, which is already here, that has no Temple, because the Temple, which is the reminder of God, is no longer needed because God is here all the time (Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5). Or I could preach on John 5 and people ignoring the cripple, by the pool of Bethzatha, for 13,870 days (John 5:1-9). We tend to focus on the miraculous healing when Jesus tells him to get up and walk, and he does. We don’t talk about the man’s total lack of appreciation; he just walks away. We also ignore how many excuses people made, and make, excuses to walk on by those in need. This story is an example when righteousness, which this man has little of, has nothing to do with healing and salvation (Pankey). However, the divine muse kept pushing me elsewhere.

Today you and I are in a new place. For the first time in 25 years, I no longer have a pulpit. I know I am still a priest I know I am called. To exactly what? I am not sure; I have some ideas, even some thoughts, some hopes, but nothing definite.

For the first time St. Stephen’s no longer has an idea of your priestly leadership. You have been through several transitions of Rectors and Vicars. You have even been through the mission-parish-back to mission status more than once. You know you are a Faith Community, a faithful community. You know you are called to be a welcoming, caring home for anyone seeking a place to nurture their relationship with God. What that is going to look like, and how it is going to be, is a work in process. Your vestry and Bishop Benfield and Cannon Alexander will lead this discernment.

You and I are separately in the same place, a new place, an unknown place. To be honest it is a little scary ~ because it is unknown. Friday, I read the Noon Day Prayer Office in which Psalm 121 is one of the appointed options.

It may be familiar:

 1 I lift up my eyes to the hills; *
from where is my help to come?

2 My help comes from the Lord, *
the maker of heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot be moved *
and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.

4 Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel *
shall neither slumber nor sleep;

5 The Lord himself watches over you; *
the Lord is your shade at your right hand,

6 So that the sun shall not strike you by day, *
nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; *
it is he who shall keep you safe.

8 The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in, *
from this time forth for evermore (BCP 779).

In ancient days gods lived on the hilltops. The psalmist implies there is no help to be found there. Why? Because his help comes from God, who created the heavens and the earth, and who watches over him and you always. God is the psalmist’s help. God is my help. God is your help. God is eternally reliable help, wherever you, ~ we, maybe, whatever we may be up to. Psalm 121 is one of my favorites, it hangs on my study wall, or it will again when I am settled in my new study.

Psalm 131 is another favorite, adopted by my informal study group in seminary:

1 O Lord, I am not proud; *
I have no haughty looks.

2 I do not occupy myself with great matters, *
or with things that are too hard for me.

3 But I still my soul and make it quiet,
like a child upon its mother’s breast; *
my soul is quieted within me.

4 O Israel, wait upon the Lord, *
from this time forth for evermore (BCP 785).

We laughed about great matters or things that were too hard, and there were plenty. We took comfort in stilling our souls in stopping and waiting for the Lord.

While I am on favorite Bible verses, here is one from the creation story

So, God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

This is the foundation of our relationship with God. All of us, every human being who ever was, who is, and who will be is created, ~ made ~ in God’s image and therefore made to be in relationship with God. From the second creation story

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help-mate.” (Genesis 2:18).

This is the foundation of our relationship with each other. We are made to be in relationships, we are created to be help-mates to each other, specifically, male-female, and by extension, everyone is created to be everyone else’s helper -mate (Young Gen. 2:18). How these come together is seen in John 9. There the disciples ask Jesus

Who sinned the man or his parents that he was born blind?

And yes, according to Jewish theology, there was apparently a way a fetus can sin. That now aside, we can focus on Jesus’s answer.

Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me (John 9:3-4).

Or

No one sinned. Life happens. This man was born blind. Now is the time to work the works God has given us to work (Trotter).

Which brings us to where we are.

For the first time in a quarter century, I do not have a pulpit. For the first time in memory St. Stephen’s does not know the nature of your future. No one sinned, no one did anything wrong, life just happens. God has given us work to do, even if it is yet somewhat undefined, so you are not alone, you have helpmates, you are made to be with God, so you can still your souls and not worry about the little stuff, or the big stuff either, because, God is eternally and reliably here to help, wherever you, wherever we, maybe, and whatever we may be up to.

We can be at peace.
We need not fear the changes of life,
but can look to them, with full hope as they arise
God, whose very own we are,
will deliver us from them.
God has kept us so far,
and will lead us safely through all things; …
We need not be afraid
of what may happen tomorrow;
the same eternal Father
who cares for us today, will take care of us every day.
Let us put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations
and in peace, work the works God has given us to work
(adapted, St. Francis DeSalles).


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 26 5 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Helmer, Ben E. “Such Good Things, Easter 6.” 26 5 2019. Sermons that Work.

Johnson, Elisabeth. Commentary on John 5:1-9. 26 5 2019.

Pankey, Steve. Pick up your excuses. 26 5 2019. <wordpress.com/read/feeds/333491/posts/1312346053>.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

Trotter, John Scott. “Healthy Access.” A Proposal for Doctor of Ministry Memphis Theological Seminary. April 2016. TS.

Young, Robert. Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible. 1892: Public Domain, n.d.

 

Love These People

A Sermon for 5th Sunday in Easter; Acts 11:1-18, Psalm 148, Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35

 Years ago, I went to some sort of conference on some ministry program or another, you can tell the program is not what captured my attention. Truth is I’m no longer sure if I was actually there, or if I have simply incorporated it into my story, either way it is a part of my world view. The speaker walks on to the stage, right past the podium, all the way to the other side ~ turns around and walks all the way across the stage again; only then goes to the podium. Without any introduction, the first words are “If you are not here because you love these people ~ leave!” Everyone’s attention is captured; everyone instinctively knows the truth they have just heard, without love, what we do doesn’t matter.

So, I was a little surprised when I was drawn to Acts, and not John’s Gospel reading this morning, and its focus on love. Three phrases from Acts stood out:

  • What God has made clean; you must not call profane
  • not to make a distinction between them and us, and
  • who was I that I could hinder God?

I was all ready to start with who was I that I could hinder God until I read a blog post Without a Doubt on verse 12 not make a distinction between them and us. The author, my colleague Steve, got to digging around in the Greek and learned ‘doubt’ is a cognate or similar, translation to ‘not to make a distinction’ Further digging revealed that the Contemporary English Version translation is The Holy Spirit told me to go and not worry (Pankey).

And of course, Bobby McFerrin’s little song Don’t Worry Be Happy popped in my head. I was going to play it, but it is too long. The gist is, McFerrin runs through a list of life’s potential troublesome moments

you don’t have a place to lay your head,
your rent is late,
you don’t have any cash,
you ain’t got no style,
you got no gal to make you smile.

His advice is don’t worry if you do it will make your troubles double; so don’t worry be happy (McFerrin).

I got to wondering “What has Peter got to worry about?” He has just raised Dorcus, beloved disciple, from the dead, and many came to believe, which is great (Acts 9:36-43). Then He has a vision about forbidden foods, in which God says what I have made clean do not call profane (Acts 10:9-16). A vision can be an exciting thing, at the same time it can be a two-edge sword because God wants something. Then 3 strangers from the Roman centurion, Cornelius, show up asking for Peter (Acts 10:17-20). What could go wrong here? He goes to Caesarea (Acts 10:24) which is the capital of the Roman province, in the middle of Gentile territory (Easton). That puts him at risk of being seen as assimilating, adapting, to the majority Roman Empire’s culture, which is the opposite of God’s people being different (Peterson). Cornelius tells Peter So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say. (Acts 10:33) While Peter is preaching the Holy Spirit is poured out on the Gentiles (Acts 10:45). Peter’s response is to baptize everyone he can lay hands on, all of them gentiles. And then, like after every other church event, they share a meal, Peter sits at table with Gentiles (Peterson). There are all sorts of troublesome things here.

And trouble is where Peter is this morning. All I described happens in chapter 10. This morning’s reading is from chapter 11. Here Peter is called before a gathering of apostles and the believers, in Jerusalem, to explain what happened. He does so in a clear orderly way, focusing on God’s presence in every step (Gaventa and Petersen). Peter don’t worry, he’s happy, he knows he’s doing God work:

  • Going to Caesarea, to the home of a Roman Centurion, and breaking the barrier of separation between Jews and Gentiles, is doing God’s work,
  • preaching Jesus to Gentile, is doing God’s work,
  • baptizing all in Cornelius’ household is doing God’s work,
  • sharing a meal at a Gentile table is doing God’s work.

There are lots of things to worry about; but Peter don’t worry, he’s happy to be doing God’s work.

So ~ what about our troubles today? Today’s troubles:

  • There is a rise in religious intolerance; in the middle east against Christian minorities, and in India, Burma, and China against Muslim minorities.
  • There are all sorts of legislative machinations concerning abortion; a state legislator claimed pregnancy by rape is a gift from God (Stone), another lawmaker and former police officer, claimed that most rapes that he investigated were consensual (William).
  • There are all the troubles around immigration, beyond the issue of the wall, and increasing numbers of people crossing the border,
    • there are the continuing concerns with DACA,
    • the lack of workers in agriculture, construction, hospitality, and other industries who are no longer able to recruit the number of temporary immigrant workers they have in recent years.
  • There are threats to the economy, such as tariff conflicts, and Brexit.
  • There is a vague threat of war in Venezuela with the effort to bring about a change in government.
  • There is the threat of accidental war with Iran as tensions rise over the balance of power in the Middle East between Arab and Persian powers of Saudi Arabia and Iran, and their allies.
  • There are the conflicting ideas about changing rain patterns slowing the planting season, breaching levies flooding towns and farmlands, and stopping barge traffic on long flooding rivers.
  • There is the escalating violence in Blytheville.
  • And of course, there are the changes at St. Stephen’s

All these involve crossing some sort of boundary or another, some sort of change or another. They involve how we see others, how we judge others, perhaps unaware, perhaps intentionally, and they involve how we see ourselves, our traditions, our faith, our understanding of God as right or simply better.

We face the same challenge Peter did, thought without, at least so far, a divine vision. But even with a vision, we, individually and as a community, face the decision the apostles and the believers in Jerusalem faced. Knowing nothing we do can bear fruit without God (Mast). We ponder

  • does not changing hinder God?
  • does changing hinder God?
  • is this change of God?
  • is God the only arbiter, and/or judge?
  • is the direction unilaterally, singularly, directed by the Spirit?
  • is God cleaning hearts (Gaventa and Petersen)?
  • is the change loving each other, your neighbor, yourself, your enemy, your spouse, your children, your friends, your bus driver, your mailman, your pharmacist, everybody, as Jesus loved ~ loves ~ everyone, so that others know God/Jesus/Spirit’s presence in and through us (John 13:34-35) (Bates)?

In pondering we realize that loving as Jesus loves means accepting radical change in which God invites and enables us, to extend further, and embrace wider, so that individually and together we each become more (Ditewig). We realize how such love is hard, this it is never without sacrifice, pain, and challenges (Lewis).

These are challenging questions. They would take the heart of everyone, and there may come a day when our hearts fail; but not today. Today we don’t worry, today we be happy, today ~ we trust in God and in doing God’s work, after all, we do love these people (Wikiquote).


References

Bates, J. Barrington. “The Way of Love, Easter 5.” 19 5 2019. Sermons that Work.

Ditewig, Br. Luke. “Change.” Meeting Jesus in the Gospel. SSJE. Cambridge, n.d. Email.

Easton, M. G. Easton’s Bible Dictionary. Public Domain, 1897. Olive Tree.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 19 5 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Real Love. 19 5 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

Mast, Stan. Old Testament Lectionary — Axts11:1-18. 19 5 2019. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

McFerrin, Robert Jr. “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” Universal Music Publishing Group, 19 5 2019.

Pankey, Steve. Without a Doubt. 19 5 2019. <wordpress.com/read/feeds/333491/posts/1310831034>.

Peterson, Brian. Commentary on Acts 11:1-18. 19 5 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Stone, Michael. Missouri Rep. Calls Pregnancy By Rape God’s ‘Silver Lining’. 4 5 2016. 17 2019. <patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2016/05/missouri-rep-calls-pregnancy-by-rape-gods-silverlining>.

Wikiquote. The_Lord_of_the_Rings:_The_Return_of_the_King#Aragorn. n.d. 18 5 2019. <https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Lord_of_the_Rings:_The_Return_of_the_King#Aragorn&gt;.

William. Missouri Lawmaker Says Most Rapes That He’s Investigated. 17 5 2019. <mavenroundtable.io/theintellectualist/news/missouri-lawmaker-says-most-rapes-that-he-s-investigated-areconsensual->.

 

 

 

More Than the Shadow of Death

A Sermon for Easter 4: Acts 9: 36-43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17, John 10:22-30

 

My Great Aunt Hallie was an interesting lady. She never married. She had some sort of position at the University of Virginia, I expect in the Extension Service. One clue to that is that she was instrumental in starting the 4 H Clubs in Virginia. Another is she always had some tale or another about crops, trees, or animals to share. Though I only saw her infrequently, I learned a lot from her. I learned how to pack a trunk. They would arrive, the trunk would open, and it was completely loaded, not a single space left, and all was perfectly in place. Hallie would use her cane and point to which box to move to get to the cases she wanted; and when that was retrieved, everything went back into its appointed place, no exceptions, ever. She also knew very practical things. At some point, she and her lifelong friend build a six-unit apartment building. She was there when every load of wood was delivered; as each piece was unloaded, she would pick up one end, sight down its long edge to see if it was straight; if it was, on the stack to use it went, if not, she tossed it aside to be returned. Some years later, when they re-carpeted the halls, all the entry doors drug, so, at 80 or thereabouts, she got her skill saw and trimmed a ½ inch off the bottom edge of all the entry doors.

She died sometime after I was priested, and she left me a shepherd’s crook. It hangs off a bookcase in my office and I see it daily. I am often reminded of the story she would tell us; sheep are not particularly smart, they need shepherding – looking after, hence the crook had two ends; one hooked to drag them out of places they shouldn’t be, and a rounded end to prodded them down the road. I am not exactly sure dragging and prodding are great examples of ministry; but I am more and more sure those functions tell us, there is more to the 23rd Psalm than we tend to hear.

I’m not sure I have ever presided at a funeral the 23rd Psalm was not said, one place or another. Largely because of verse 4

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, (or, the valley of the shadow of death. as in the King James)) I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me (Psalms 23:4 NSRV).

 It is a powerful comfort, as those who mourn seek to find assurance their loved one is in God’s hands; and also seek assurance that their lives, though forever different, will somehow be oaky. However, beyond this, there are numerous other themes to explore.

First is that that God is certainly a good shepherd, but in a time when fear, in its many guises, motivates, defines our behaviors, in so many unknown ways, is there anything such thing as a good sheep (Bostock)? If there are so few good sheep, then perhaps many, most of us, ~ (all of us?) seek a shepherd; someone, bigger, stronger, wiser, to take care of us, and to fight our battles, and win our wars for us (1 Samuel 8:20) (Hoezee).

The Psalm is full of motion, the verbs; makes, leads, walk, spread, anoint, follow, and dwell are connected with every day ordinary bits of life. This motion is a prompt pointing us see that we do not need to wait to be restored, God/Jesus/Spirit offers, has promised, to restore our daily lives; and that goodness and mercy peruse us, seeking to assure us the daily perils and evils do not pose a lasting threat (Morris).

Our returning to the house of the Lord is not a onetime event. Rather it refers to the constant going to and fro of life in and beyond: shadowed moments, behind closed doors, in gardens, by the well, abandoned, in loneliness, needing to escape, all places where God/Jesus/Spirit meets us, refreshes us, and reminds us we are never alone (Morris; Lewis; Hoezee).

The shepherd, who lays us down, restores us, comforts us, sets table for us, anoints us, is a shepherd on a mission:

  • A loving, giving mission (John 3:16),
  • a bring other sheep mission (John 10:16),
  • a blind man mission (John 9),
  • an “I am” mission,
  • a “come and see” and “I send you” mission,
  • a find the abandoned mission, and
  • a calling us to mission, mission (Lewis).

Finally, there is a royal association theme. In the Old Testament, the shepherd always refers to the Kings of Israel and Judah. The plasm expresses confidence in God to provide food, water, shelter, guidance, safety from violence, and a place of honor (Gaventa and Petersen). The implication is a job description for Israel’s kings, that very few live up to, and now is a job description for any and all governing structures, including republics and democracies.

The more I thought of it, all these themes are a description of good sheep.

Good sheep

  • are fearless, because they trust in God/Jesus/Spirit presence;
  • they take care to care for themselves, so allow goodness and mercy to catch up, and refresh them,
  • they are a source of goodness and mercy that refresh others,
  • good sheep return to the House of the Lord,
  • and lead other sheep who are caught up in shadowed moments, behind closed doors, in gardens, by the well, abandoned, lonely, or needing to escape, into God/Jesus/Spirit presence,
  • Good sheep know the Shepherd’s calling, so they know their mission, and
  • trust in divine abundance and from there provide food and water, safety, shade, guidance, protection from violence, respect and honor to the great uncountable multitude of God’s children, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages (Rev 7:9), journeying with all of them through their particular ordeals (Rev 7:14), guiding all to belief in the Lord, (Acts 9:42) that leads to eternal life, where they will never perish (John 10:28).

Being good sheep is not an enviable nor easy Way. It is a good thing we have a shepherd who loves us, a shepherd who knows us, each of us by name, a shepherd who devotedly pulls and prods us along The Way, who is ~ well ~ is not just a good, but The Shepherd, the Risen Shepherd.


References

Bostock, Jazzy. “The Lord Is My Shepherd.” 12 5 2019. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 12 5 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Psalms —. 12 5 2019. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. A Good Shepherd Perspective. 12 5 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

Morris, Bobby. Commentary on Psalm 23. 12 5 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

 

 

Focus: Love in an Age of Fear

A sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Easter: Acts 9:1-6, (7-20), Psalm 30, Revelation 5:11-14, John 21:1-19

Last Wednesday morning I was reading the New York Times, as I do every morning, well almost every morning. I was captured by a photograph. It was the eyes that grabbed me; at first, I thought he was blind, but no that wasn’t it. Then I noticed his right hand is bandaged, covered in a bright blue wrapping. He held a folder with a few papers in his left arm; which is in a sling and that hand is also bandaged, covered in a similar bright blue wrapping. The kippah (kih-PAH) or yarmulke (jɑːməkə) finally triggered the recognition, this is the Rabbi of the synagogue in Poway, Calif. attacked by a white American male terrorist.

The image is powerfully, eerily haunting. I do not often read letters to the editor, I read his. In part he wrote

I was preparing to give my sermon Shabbat morning, when I heard a bang, had a table fallen over or Lori Gilbert there to say Yizkor, mourning prayer for her mother, fallen? I went to went to see, and I saw the terrorist who killed her. He shot me, my right index finger was gone, my left index finger injured. The active shooter training kicked in; I ran to children in the ball room grabbing and pushing with my bloody hands to get them out. Almog Peretza, veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, ran after me to help get the children to safety; he was shot. The terrorist’s gun jammed. Oscar Stewart an Army veteran and Jonathan Morales an off-duty border patrol agent rushed toward the terrorist and he fled.

I do not know why I had to witness scenes of a pogrom (the massacre of a particular ethnic group) in San Diego County like the ones my grandparents experienced in Poland. I do not know why God spared my life. I do not know God’s plan. All I can do is try to find meaning in what has happened; and to use this borrowed time to make my life matter more. I pray that my missing finger serves as a constant reminder to me. A reminder that every single human being is created in the image of God; … a reminder that my ancestors gave their lives so that I can live in freedom in America; and a reminder, most of all, to never, ever, not ever be afraid to be Jewish (Goldstein).

The same day David Brooks, a columnist I regularly read, wrote An Era Defined by Fear. He begins “Another synagogue shooting.” And continues to explore how fear pervades our society and sets the emotional tone for our politics.

On Sept. 11, 2001 … a nation that had once seemed invulnerable suddenly felt tremendously unsafe. Since then we have experienced all manner of shootings, schools, city centers, rallies, churches, Mosques, and synagogues. Today’s politicians rise to power by stoking fear. Childhood trauma adds to our mounting fear. Traditional media and social media have responsibility for the rising fear [by their (our) use of fear to increase readership]. Fear itself has begun to take control … so that we are unable to hear good news. For example, we are in the longest economic boom in our history … nobody feels it. Fear stokes anger … anger stokes more fear. It drives out all thoughts of others. In an atmosphere of fear grand ideologies clash, and we begin to [speak and think] in binaries, oppressor versus the oppressed, good groups verses menacing groups (Brooks).

In the earliest days, before there was even a church widespread violence against the Way, was driving many Christians out of Jerusalem back to their homes in faraway places. Even as the Jesus movement was spreading to the ends of the earth, persecution was following. And Jesus acts again, he calls Saul, sends him blinded and disoriented, by divine light, to Damascus to meet Ananias. He also calls Ananias, who answers as Samuel did “Here I am Lord.” and Jesus reveals his calling. Ananias is fearful, he knows of Saul’s murderous tirades. Jesus tells him to be at peace, “I will be with you.” If Jesus had not sent Paul to Ananias Paul would never have figured what he was to do. It is Ananias who explains his mission, and introduces him to the rest of the faith and to the community of faith. Ananias lays hands on Saul, calls him brother, makes the Jesus movement story clear, and heals Saul’s blindness. He is the human means by which Saul is filled with the Spirit There are 3 gleanings to share this morning

  1. no one is beyond the saving reach of God/Jesus/Spirit
  2. conversion always leads to commission, – we are saved from and saved to serve, and
  3. A call is not simply a matter between ‘me and Jesus,’ it is something that requires the discernment, confirmation and direction of the community of faith (Campbell qtd. in Mast).

That work begins with Ananias and is the work of every congregation, and The Commission On Ministry in the Episcopal Church. Charles Campbell notes

The living Christ is ‘loose’ in the world … persecuted, ‘ordinary’ believers provide the gifts of discernment and enemies become brothers and sisters, and violence is replaced by witness (Mast).

This is the hope for the world This is the hope for our nation This is the hope for Blytheville This is the hope and the work of St. Stephen’s and all churches, all people, and all communities.

This hope, this work, appears in all sorts of ways. Rabbi Goldstein continues

the terrorist who shot up my synagogue called my people, the Jewish people, a “squalid and parasitic race.” No. We are a people divinely commanded to bring God’s light into the world (Goldstein).

He is right, Jews, Christians, and Muslims all of Abraham’s children, all of God’s people, are divinely commanded to bring God’s light into the world. We are all divinely created to be a blessing to all the people in the world (Gen 12:2-3) (Thompson).

Brooks notes that some people, notably Christians, believe the perfect love casts out fear. He is not so sure a Franklin Roosevelt is on the horizon; but this is not the end of hope. He is beginning to see how governance, people collectively trying to solve practical problems, people collectively just getting stuff done, might be the light the darkness of fear will not overcome (John 1:5). Fear will come in the night; but eventually you have to wake up in the morning, get out of bed and get stuff done (Brooks).

Getting stuff done looks a lot like feeding and tending God’s sheep, and that can be very difficult (Kesselus). Nonetheless getting stuff done is what Paul did. It is what Ananias did. It is what Rabbi Goldstein is doing, It is what we, individually, as a congregation, and as a community, are all about. It is how we individually, as a congregation, a city, county, state, and nation, open the eyes of our faith and behold Jesus’ redeeming work (BCP); by which we are a blessing that brings love into an age of fear.


References

Brooks, David. “An Era Defined by Fear.” The New York Times (2019). <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/29/opinion/politics-fear.html?rref=collection%2Fbyline%2Fdavidbrooks&action=click&contentCollection=undefined&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=3&pgtype=collection&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 5 5 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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