Sunday, July 29, 2012

9 Pentecost

2 Kings 4.42-44; John 6.1-21

+ This past week, I had several opportunities to talk about films. More specifically, my favorite films. For those of you who know me, few things get me more excited than talking about films. I love movies, and I love to re-watch my favorite movies. Every so often, someone will ask me to name my top five or ten favorite films. I can never do that. I have a very difficult time ever categorizing which films are my favorites. It often changes. And it often depends on what is happening in my life.

But…a film that is in my top ten list is a spooky, psychological horror film from 1995 called Se7en. The stars of the film, for those of you who might not have seen it, are Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey. It is about two detectives (Freeman and Pitt) who are pursuing a murderer (Spacey) who murders people according to the seven deadly sins. Now, I don’t expect good Episcopalians to know the seven deadly sins off the top of their heads. But I guarantee, after seeing this film, you will remember the seven deadly sins.

The seven deadly sins are:

Lust

Greed

Sloth

Wrath

Envy

Pride

Gluttony

Probably one of my most gruesome and memorable of the murders in this film is the one that is done for gluttony. Anyone who sees this film will never forget gluttony and what it is. In the movie a man is actually forced to eat himself to death. It’s a pretty horrible scene.

Now, it’s rare that I ever preach on sin. I don’t do it very often—and when I do, I usually do it during Lent. But today, I’m going to preach on a sin. Gluttony is a good sin to examine occasionally. We, in our society, don’t think about gluttony as a sin. We, after all, love to eat.

I love to eat. I love to go out and eat at a nice restaurant. More importantly, we HAVE to eat. There’s no getting around that fact. But gluttony is more than about eating. It is eating to excess. It is about eating—or drinking—to the point in which we are no longer fulfilled. Gluttony is eating without thinking about eating. It is about eating to fill the psychological and spiritual voids we feel within us rather than for sustenance.

Now, I have been guilty of gluttony in my life. I once weighed a considerably more than I do now. Some of you might remember how heavy I was at one time. And the reason I was so heavy was I ate not because I was hungry, but because I was filling some voids in my life.

When I lost that weight, I realized that more happened to me than just what happened to me physically by losing weight. I also noticed what happened to me spiritually as well. Mentally, I had to reexamine everything I understood about that simple, vital act of eating. I realized that most of us eat not when we’re hungry, but simply out of habit. Yes, we find that when have missed our habitual time to eat, our stomachs start to grumble and we find ourselves thinking inordinately about food, but that isn’t hunger necessarily.

In fact, few, if any, of us know what real hunger is. Few of us have actually ever starved. And that’s a good thing. I am happy about that fact.

The point I’m making, however, is that most of us simply eat because we are scheduled to eat at certain times. It’s sort of wired into us. But we very rarely eat just because we’re hungry. And we often eat more than we really need to. Eating feels good. Eating makes us feel sustained and comforted. And in those moments in our lives when we might need to feel sustained and comforted, food is a great replacement. I’ve learned, that most of us probably could survive very well and very healthily from less food than we actually consume.

The spiritual perspective I’ve gained from this different way of thinking about food has been even more enlightening. To be honest, I had never given much thought to the fact that eating is a spiritual act. For me, the best way to look at spiritual eating is in the light of that one event that holds us together here at St. Stephen’s, that sustains us and that, in many ways, defines us. I am, of course, speaking of the Holy Eucharist—Holy Communion.

You have heard me say it many times before and you will hear me say it many times again, no doubt, but I am very firm believer in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I truly believe that Jesus is present in a very real and potent way in this Bread we eat and in this Wine we drink. Like any good Anglican, I am uncomfortable pinpointing exactly how this happens; I simply say that I believe it and that my belief sustains me. With this view of the Eucharist in mind, it does cast a new light on our view of spiritual eating.

Just as I said that we often eat food each day without thinking much about why we are eating, so too I think we often come to this table without much thought of what we are partaking of here at this altar. I have found, in my own spiritual life, that preparing for this meal we share is very helpful. It helps to remind me of the beauty and importance of this event we share.

One of the ways I find very helpful in preparing is that I fast before Holy Communion. Sometimes, especially before the Wednesday night Eucharist we celebrate at St. Stephen’s, I can’t fast all day before our 6:00 Mass, but in those instances, I do fast at least one hour beforehand. Even that one hour of fasting—of making sure that I don’t eat anything and don’t drink anything but water, really does help put me in mind of the importance of the Eucharist we share.

On Sundays, my fast begins the night before. I simply don’t eat anything after midnight the night before. For some of us, this wouldn’t be a wise thing to do, especially if you have health issues, but I think even keeping to a simplified fast of eating less in the morning before coming to the Eucharist is helpful for most. If nothing else, these fasts are great, intentional ways of making us more spiritually mindful of what we doing here at the altar. And it also gives us a very real way of being aware of those millions of people in the world who, at this moment, truly are starving, who are not able to eat, and for whom, fasting would be an extraordinary luxury.

Our scriptures give us some interesting perspectives on eating as well. In today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we find Elisha feeding the people. We hear this wonderful passage, “He set it before them, they ate and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.”

It’s a deceptively simple passage from scripture.

In our Gospel reading, we find almost the same event. Jesus—in a sense the new Elisha—is feeding miraculously the multitude. For us, these stories resonate in what we do here at the altar. What we partake of here at this altar is essentially the same event. Here Jesus feeds us as well. Here there is a miracle. Here, we find Jesus—the new Elisha—in our midst, feeding us. And we eat. And there is some left over.

The miracle, however, isn’t that there is some left over. The miracle for us is that what we eat is in fact Jesus himself. Jesus feeds us himself at this altar. In this meal we share, we are sustained. We our strengthened. We are upheld. We are fed in ways regular food does not feed us.

In these last few years, as I learned new ways to understand and appreciate food, I also found myself growing in my appreciation and devotion of the Holy Eucharist. This beautifully basic act—of eating and drinking—is so vital to us as humans and as Christians. But having Jesus sustain us in such a way is beyond beautiful or basic. It is miraculous. And as with any miracle, we find ourselves oftentimes either humbled or blind to its impact in our lives.

This simple act is not just a simple act. It is an act of coming forward, of eating and drinking, and then of turning around and going out into the world to feed others. To feed others on what we have learned by this Food that sustains us. Of serving others by example. Of being that living Bread of Jesus to others.

The Eucharist not simply a private devotion between us and Jesus. Yes, it is a wonderfully intimate experience. But it is more than that. The Eucharist is what we do together. And the Eucharist is something that doesn’t simply end when we get back to our pews or leave the Church building. The Eucharist is what we carry with us throughout our day-to-day lives as Christians. The Eucharist is being empowered to be agents of the incarnation. We are empowered by this Eucharist to be the Body of Christ to others. And that is where this whole act of the Eucharist comes together. It’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. When we see it from that perspective, we realize that this really is a miracle in our lives—just as miraculous as what Elisa did and certainly as miraculous as what Jesus did in our Gospel reading for today.

So, let us be aware of this beauty that comes so miraculously to us each time we gather together here at this altar. Let us embody the Christ we encounter here in this Bread and Wine. Let us, by being fed so miraculously, be the Body of Christ to others. Let us feed those who need to be fed. Let us sustain those who need to be sustained. And let us be mindful of the fact that this food of which we partake has the capabilities to feed more people and to change more lives than we can even begin to imagine.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

7 Pentecost

July 15, 2012

Amos 7.7-15; Ephesians 1.3-14

+ Now, this is probably not the way I should begin my first sermon in being gone for almost three weeks. After all, I should begin, I suppose, with some profound thoughts on my car accident, of some spiritual insights that I may have learned while lying on my bed of pain. Actually, sadly enough, there weren’t many of those moments during my recovery. And I don’t think you really want to hear about those things.

Today, I am actually going to begin with something that, for those of who know me, I do not like to say,

“I told you so…”

I really don’t like saying it. But, I am going to say it today.

I told you so.

You remember that for several weeks before my car accident, I shared in my sermons—and Sandy shared in one of her sermons as well—about change. How essential change is to the larger Church, and how change is essential for us here at St. Stephen’s and for each of us as Christians.

Well, as you all know, during these past two weeks, the Episcopal Church’s General Convention met in Indianapolis. I don’t know how closely you kept on what was going on, but, as John Baird would tell you, a lot happened. Important things happened. And all of those important things happened in a way that will, eventually, lead to change. In some ways, some major changes. It seems like the Episcopal Church as a whole is going to do, to a large extent, what we at St. Stephen’s have been doing all along.

Change is happening. Change is in the air. It is happening around us. Now, I should be clear. This is isn’t new.

Nine years ago this summer—in 2003—the Episcopal Church’s General Convention met in Minneapolis. While there, the very controversial decision was made to approve the election of an openly gay Bishop, Gene Robinson, to the Diocese of New Hampshire. For those of us who lived through it, it was a contentious time. The Church divided up. People were either jubilant or angry over the decision.

Now, here’s another of my “I told you so” moment. Sometimes, I know, it’s hard to have a “prophet in your midst…” Dear Lord, let’s hope I’m not a prophet—that would just be sad.

But back then in 2003, I said—along with many other people who know a bit about the history and going’s-on of the Church—that in twenty years after Gene Robinson’s election, issues of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender people being elected as Bishops and being ordained to ministry would not even be given a second thought in the Episcopal Church. I said then, that there will be a day when these issues will be non-issues.

Well, here we are almost at the half-way mark in that prediction, and it seems to be coming true. At this Convention, of course, there was the provisional approval of the blessing of Same-Sex Unions. There was some contention about it. But not much.

It was just sort of accepted. And those people who didn’t accept (including our own Bishop Smith) made up a very noticeable minority.

This is a sign that those issues we were dealing with back in 2003 are far behind us. We are moving forward. We are working toward the goal we have been working toward all along—full inclusion of all people in the Church. All people, no matter who they are or what they are.

The change is happening. And it needs to happen. Because this change shows that to be a follower of Jesus in this world means that we have to be looking ahead. We have to be looking into the future. We have to be visionaries. And we have to prophets. We have to exploring new ways to be those followers of Jesus in this day and age.

Being a follower of Jesus means being people of change. Being a follower of Jesus means we are constantly looking for new ways to live out that radical following after Jesus. Being a follower of Jesus means that we are constantly looking for new ways to be radical in our acceptance of all people. Because that is exactly what Jesus did.

What we see happening in our Church following convention is a kind of fulfillment of what Paul talks about in his Epistle this morning to the Ephesians:

“With all wisdom and insight,” Paul writes, “[God] has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

Isn’t it amazing how that scripture speaks to us on this morning following the General Convention? And it’s true. God has made known to us the mystery of this incredible will of God, to gather up all things in Christ, thing here on this earth and things in heaven.

Later in on our reading today, Paul talks today about our inheritance as followers of Jesus and as Children of God. This Gospel of our salvation is, for Paul, “the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people…”

We, all of us, are inheritors because we, all of us, no matter who are, are Children of the same God. As a children of that God, we are co-inheritors.

Now, again, that’s not new to us here at St. Stephen’s We have been proclaiming this here at St. Stephen’s all along. And it is good to know that the larger Church is proclaiming this and is working toward the goal of being that kind of a Church—being a fulfillment of that scripture.

Of course, not everyone agrees in the same way about what being inheritors of the Kingdom is. But, that’s the way it is going to be sometime with prophets in our midst. Sometimes the prophecies are heeded and proclaimed and sometimes they are resisted. Our job as followers of Jesus is not vilify those who think differently than we do. Our job is continue to do what we have always done—to joyfully love and accept everyone in love, even those with whom we differ. Our job as followers of Jesus and inheritor’s of God’s Kingdom is to continue to welcome every person who comes to us as a loved and fully accepted Child of that same God. Our job is to be radical in our love and acceptance of others, no matter who they are. And our job as followers of Jesus is to see every person who comes to us as Jesus sees that person. And Jesus sees those people—and all of us—as loved. Loved by God.

This is not easy to do. It is not easy, as we all know, to be a follower of Jesus. It is not easy being a prophet—of proclaiming God’s Good News to others. Sometimes we might even find ourselves tempted to resist this weighty calling of ours.

Certainly, in our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures today, we find Amos resisting his call to be a prophet. Amos says, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people…”

That is who we are as well. Here we are, in our jobs, in our day-to-day lives. And God is calling each of us to prophesy to God’s people. To prophesy this radical love and acceptance. To prophesy the fact that we when we love each other and accept each other, the Kingdom of God that each of as children of God are inheritors of, will break through into our midst.

You have heard me say this again and again: I believe that an effective leader must first be an effective follower. And as Christians, who are followers of Jesus, we also must, in turn, be leaders to each other and to others. Each of us must be leaders and prophets to those we are called to serve.

We of course have a choice. We can be despotic leaders who use and abuse and mistreat the people we are called to serve. Or we can be humble leaders as Jesus himself was a humble leader—a leader who realizes that to be an effective leader one must serve.

In those moments it’s helpful to have coping skills to get us through the journey—and to do so without disrespecting or hurting those we encounter on the journey.

So, let us cling to this prophetic ideal of leadership. Let us be the prophet, the listener, the spiritual friend, the inheritor, the seeker, the includer, the loved child of God. Let us be the visionary to see that change is happening.

Change is in the air. Change for the better. Change for a revitalized Church built on love and respect for God and for each other. It’s almost too incredible to even imagine. I almost can’t wait for it…











Sunday, July 1, 2012