Monday, June 2, 2008

A Faith that's Caught, not Taught


Someone very wise once said, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.” Which got me to thinking: what if you wanted to be a hamburger? I have no idea why, but say you wanted to be a hamburger, what would you do?

You might start by living as a cow. This would take some doing seeing as how our stomachs can’t digest grass. You’d roam the fields with the herds, staying out in all kinds of weather. You’d listen for the bell signaling when it was time to go inside. And then one day, you’d be shuffled off to the slaughterhouse to be made into hamburgers.

Hey, I didn’t say it was logical your wanting to be a hamburger, just thought we’d explore what that would be like. It seems Jesus is saying the same thing as we hear him today. Remember that he’s talking with his followers right after he told people his revolutionary vision of God’s kingdom found in the Sermon on the Mount. Remember? It wasn’t a word to give comfort to anyone who wanted the status quo.

“You’re blessed when you are at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you bring peace. When you show people how to cooperate instead of fight. That’s when you discover who you really are and you discover your place in God’s family. Count yourselves blessed ever time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me.”

As if that’s not bad enough, he continues: “If you enter a place of worship and just as you’re about to make an offering, if you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then come back and worship God.”

Finally, he tells the crowds: “Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with all your energy in prayer. This is what God does, so live out your God-created identity.”

Whew! This is a tall order, no? But that’s what living as a follower of Jesus means. And he told his disciples, as they walked down that mountain, told them that it’s not what you say but what you do that matters. You can go around curing people in Jesus name. You can do all sorts of showy things but where or better yet—who is your foundation?

The prophet Micah said it succinctly in Hebrew scripture: What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God? If you wanted to be a hamburger, you’d start living as a cow. If you want to be a Christian, you strive to live like Christ.

Today we will baptize Julia Moss. Julia is being welcomed especially today as part of the church family of St. Hilary’s. Julia is already a child of God and later this morning she will become part of God’s family which known as Christians. Yesterday at practice, we talked about the many overlapping circles of our various families.

Each of us—Julia, her mother and father, her grandparents and all of our ancestors—is part of God’s family. God extended protection over all of creation when God made the promise with Noah and his descendants. Never again would all of creation be destroyed. And what is more, God made other covenants—other promises—to Abraham and David.

And instructed the Jewish people to “put these words…in your heart and soul, binding them as a sign on your hand and wearing them as an emblem on your forehead.” What is more, the Jewish people were to teach God’s words to their children “talking about God’s words when they are at home or when they are away, when they lie down and when they rise.”

In this way, people faithful to God’s commands shape their entire lives. Because faith is caught not taught. Faith, that gift from God, is not a series of propositions we agree to or argue with. We catch faith by being surrounded by people who are living the life God calls us to live.

Faith is a way to live in relationship with God. And how do any of us live in relationship with one another? By spending time together, by conversing with one another, by listening to each other. In doing things great and mundane, we live in relationship with one another.

Now we know from reading both Hebrew and Christian Scripture that God has revealed God’s Self in many ways—through creation, through the prophets, through God’ giving the Law to Moses and, we Christians believe, in the person of Jesus Christ.

But Jesus makes it clear that we cannot only give lip service to God. Hear the word of God and put it into practice. As the writer in Deuteronomy says—make it a part of your daily life. So place your foundation on God and it will show in how you live. To put it another way, Jesus' words are not really "heard" until they begin to work within the hearer, to transform life and direct behaviour. Only in the changed action of the hearer, is it clear that a proper "hearing" has taken place!

In just a few minutes we will together pledge to support Julia in her life in Christ. That is a serious commitment, a holy pledge. Look around you. Each person here has been shaped by a faith community. It may have been an Episcopal faith community or it may have been some other denomination. It may have been a Jewish faith community. You may have come here through the good example of someone whose life you wanted to emulate—even if you were not raised in any particular faith.

Someone took seriously God’s word to inscribe God’s promise on your heart and in your soul. That person was living a God-filled life and it led to your being here today. That person, those people helped shape your foundation. Now the problem with foundations is they’re often hidden and we can forget about them. But they form the basis, the strength of what we are building.
Building a holy life is not done all at once. Brick by brick, inch by inch we grow. We grow as faithful people of God by developing a prayerful relationship with God, by doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. These are life lessons. Julia is just beginning but compared to God’s immensity we are all beginners.

Let us thank God for the promises God made to Noah, for the faithfulness of our Jewish ancestors as they taught and still are teaching generation after generation of children by inscribing God’s word on hearts and in souls. We give thanks to God for the unique revelation of God’s love that we find in Jesus. And we give thanks for finding God here, in this community. Ever present. Ever new. Always calling us to rely upon God as our strong foundation.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Say What You Need to Say

This Sunday we will talk about our experience of St. Hilary as part of our steps in discerning who God is calling to lead the parish.

This follows up on the Church Assessment Survey. We will have one on one and larger discussions during sermon time. For reflection, John Mayer's recent song, "Say" has some good things for us to reflect on:

SAY
Take all of your wasted honor
Every little past frustration
Take all your so called problems
Better put 'em in quotations

Say what you need to say (x7)
Say what you need to saaaay...

Walking like a one man army
Fighting with the shadows in your head
Living out the same old moment
Knowing you'd be better off instead

If you could only
Say what you need to say (x7)
Say what you need to saaay...

Have no fear
For giving in
Have no fear
For giving over
You better know that in the end
It's better to say too much
Then never to say what you need to say again

Even if your hands are shaking
And your faith is broken
Even as the eyes are closing
Do it with a heart wide open... wide...

Say what you need to say (x7)
Say what you need to
Say what you need to
Say what you need to say...
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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Living in the House of Love


Trinity Sunday May 18, 2008

When is the moment a family starts? Now you might say, it’s when a child is born or adopted by a couple. But what about the reality of the mother’s changing body? The father’s growing concern over the mother, over his ability to care for this new life? What about the months of joy and worry and speculation over the child’s growth and development? The turning over of different names, the decisions about who will stay home and care for the child, who will be godparent, those thousands of decisions. Isn’t family being formed then?

Now some of you might say, a family is formed at the moment of conception when male and female are joined and make a new life. But couldn’t the beginning of a family go back farther—when a couple start to think about creating a new life? When a man and woman—even if they don’t know each other—think about their being mother or father? When people chose each other—whether it is as spouses or as potential donors for artificial insemination—aren’t they thinking about making a family?

And isn’t this one family tied in very real ways to the families they came from, shaped both by genetics and upbringing, by hopes and dreams of their parents, and their parents before them and back and back into history. Back before we were human. Back to the beginning of time.

When does a family start? In very real ways, don’t each of us start where we began our readings today—with creation. A family starts with creation. A good place to begin our lives. A good place to begin our life in God. Our life in love.

For us as Christians, the reality that God is love and the reality that God is Trinity are bound together. We begin as all of creation begins, at the beginning, when God overflowed and created the universe. When does a family begin? When love overflows and makes a man a father, a woman a mother and what did not exist before becomes a person—a child.

Now we believe that although there was a time when the universe did not exist, there never was a time when Jesus was not in God. Jesus’ becoming human allows us to come into God’s family. Adopted sons and daughters, all of us, we enter the dance that God is always engaged in.
Many people have tried to illustrate this and perhaps none so beautifully as the Russian Orthodox icon writer, Rublev. Come with me back to the font and let us look at the icon there.

Take some time to gently and prayerfully gaze at the icon. When we pray with icons, we’re not trying to figure out a math problem, solve a Sudoko puzzle or learn about how to put together a piece of furniture from IKEA. The way to look at an icon is to empty our mind of ‘right and wrong’ answers but to let the icon speak to us. And we gently gaze on the “window to eternity” Remember that icons are ‘written’ in order to lead us “into the inner room of prayer and bring us close to the heart of God.”

Let me invite you to pray with the icon for a few moments. What do you notice there? Now there are many interpretations possible here. Rublev wrote this icon to portray the Trinity. Because of the Biblical prohibition against depicting God, icon painters turned to the story of the hospitality of Abraham who was visited by three angels.

Many see Christ in the middle angel and God the Father in the left. Others see God the Father in the middle angel, and Christ in the left one. The middle angel occupies a special place in the icon: it is set apart not only by its central position, but also by a "regal" turn of its head towards the left angel, and by pointing with its hand towards the cup on the table. Both the turn of the head and the gesture are important clues to the hidden meaning of the icon. Equal among equals, the middle angel has such expressive power that one hesitates not to see in it a symbolic representation of God the Father. On the other hand one cannot fail to notice that the left angel is also essential: two other angels lower their heads towards it and seem to address it. Therefore, if we assume that the left angel is God the Father, the middle angel should represent Christ.

The icon shows a dialogue between two angels: The Father turns to His Son and explains the necessity of His sacrifice, and the Son answers by agreeing with His Father's wish.

Neither of these interpretations impacts the interpretation of the Trinity as triune God and as a representation of the sacrament of the Eucharist. The cup on the table is an eucharistic symbol. The third angel does not bless the cup and does not participate in the conversation, but is present as a Comforter, the undying, a symbol of eternal youth and the upcoming Resurrection.

The other important place our attention is drawn is the rectangle in the center bottom of the table. The perspective of the icon draws us into the center, just as our life in God draws us into the middle of the life of the Trinity.

The family of God of which we are adopted daughters and sons began in eternity. Before there was a universe, God existed. At a specific point in time, the universe burst out, just as we heard in today’s reading from Genesis. And God declared all of it very good.

Humanity was created out of God’s self-giving love. And from eternity God has been calling us into the dance of the Trinity. The ceaseless flow of self-giving love between and among the persons of the Trinity is the dance to which we’ve been invited.
But we’d forgotten our heritage, forgotten whose family to which we belong. So Jesus became human and reminds us how to dance. And he sends the Spirit, the Spirit of God’s undying love to be with us and to equip us to live in and love and transform the world.

Later today we are going to celebrate the birthday of the church. Usually parishes celebrate that day on Pentecost since the day we remember that Jesus gave us the gift of the Spirit can also be considered the church’s birthday. On that day, the once spineless group of Jesus’ followers became evangelists as they proclaimed to the world the good news that God loves everyone and that everyone is invited into God’s house.

But what with last Sunday being Mother’s Day and our celebration of our ministry with IRIM, we decided to defer the birthday celebration for today. Serendipity I’d call it because the patron saint of this community, St. Hilary was a great and early defender of the doctrine of the Trinity. Even our blogsite is known as Trinity Thoughts.

Hilary was born in a pagan family and although he was converted as an adult, he was caught in the middle of a great heresy. It was a time that makes today’s controversies about the role of homosexuals in society and in the church seem weak. Hilary initially thought like others that while Jesus was a great man, he was not God. Only later after his exile from France to Turkey did he read scripture more carefully and prayerfully and then he wrote volumes about the Trinity.

“Interesting”, you may say, but why should we care? We should care for the very same reasons the early church struggled with this—not because they didn’t have anything better to do than to sit around debating fine points of theology. We should care because it is in the house of God, in the reality of the Trinity that we are invited to come and live.

Our godfamily began in God’s love. It continued as Jesus joined all people to himself. It was furthered as his disciples followed his command to “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teach them in the practice of all I have commanded you.”

Baptism is important to the people of St. Hilary’s. When you called Pastor Terri, you identified it as central to your identity. Perhaps you did so because you were following patron saint, who found in this formula an important part of his life in God.

As you go forward from here—whether it is today as you go grocery shopping or attending a baseball game. Whether it is when you call someone you’ve not seen in awhile to find out if they’re okay. Whether you stop and buy some items for the food pantry or for a refugee’s kitchen. Whether you pray about a decision you need to make at work. Whether you take a moment to reconcile with someone you’ve injured.

When you live life in the Spirit of God, you are living in the life of the Trinity. You are dancing with God. So let us consider Jesus’ command to his disciples to be our mission. We too are to go forth from here. We too are to make disciples of people who don’t know about God’s love. We are to baptize them (and, in fact, in two weeks we will be baptizing Julia Moss) and we are to continue training them. Just as we ourselves are in training.

We enter the mystery of the Trinity because Jesus pulls us into life in God. Jesus invites us to the dance that is God’s never-ending dance of love for all of creation. The only sin is being a wallflower. He’s a perfect partner and can make all our clumsiness vanish. “Come dance with Me,” he says. “Come dance!”

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Pictures from Bishop Lee's Installation






A bit late but better than not at all. Here are some photos from Bishop Lee's installation.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Faith with Feet


T.S. Eliot (“East Coker”) writes:
“Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.

Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.”

Today we mark the last Sunday in the Easter Season. Forty days after his resurrection. Forty days of his appearing to and visiting his friends. Forty days during which he met with specific followers and met their needs: to Peter he brought reconciliation, to Thomas, reassurance; to Mary Magdalene he brought joy out of sorrow.

Today’s readings reflect Jesus’ ascension into heaven. “Home is where one starts from.” Bethany was Jesus’ home base while he was preaching and on his last day on earth, he took his followers the two miles from Jerusalem to Bethany.

Home is where we start from too. We start from the familiar: from the places we started from. We start with what’s familiar. And we are called out. We discover the connections between us and the world: “Not the intense moment/ Isolated, with no before and after,/But a lifetime burning in every moment.”

Several weeks ago I traveled with Cathy and Betty and Sue—we ventured out from our homes to the Leadership and Ministry Fair. You will hear from each of us about what we learned and discovered. You will hear about a few steps on our journeys with the Living Lord. Because you see, real faith has ‘feet’. Faith moves us out of our places of comfort to meet the living Christ where he is to be found.

That’s the reason the angels asked the disciples: “You Galileans—why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky?” Not that we could blame them for staring. But they learned what T.S. Eliot says: “Love is most nearly itself/When here and now cease to matter.”

For the living Christ commands us to do but two things: love God with all we are and love our neighbors and our enemies as ourselves. To do this is to experience eternal life—not just in the great by and by but here and now. In the midst of uncertainty, in the midst of strife, to know God through a relationship with the living Christ. Jesus himself has said this: “And this is eternal life—that they may know you…and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Now this knowing is deep and personal. To know Jesus, to know God is through a deep relationship—the way that brothers and sisters know each other, the way that lovers know each other, the way that a mother knows her child. It’s as far removed from a purely intellectual knowledge—the way that we know that traffic will be horrible on a rainy Friday night—as it can be.

For Christian spirituality is not a set of answers about a dead person. The life of a Christian is rather a life lived in relation to the mystery of a living person. Thus, we can follow T.S. Eliot when he suggests that “Old men must be explorers,” and that we must be “still and still moving.”

Whatever can it mean to be still—as in motionless—and still moving? We can be unmoving, tranquil, solid on the Rock that is Jesus. He is the pattern for our lives. Yet he also calls us to move—to get on with our lives and to be his presence in the world.

When people ask where Jesus can be found, we should be able to say with our words and with our actions that the Risen Christ resides in the gathered community. He resides in our worship and he lives in our service. The Risen Christ lives on in our hospitality to the stranger and in our ministry with others. The Risen Christ lives in the ways that he changes our lives and transforms the world.

So our “faith is a response to the living Lord who presses us on in every moment.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, “The Living Jesus”) You see it is Jesus who impels us “Into another intensity/For a further union, a deeper communion.”

Where our faith is growing, it is alive. In our end—in the death of what has lived out its usefulness, the death of what has become stagnant, the death of that which no longer serves us or God—is our beginning. We will now hear some of what Jesus’ current disciples have learned as they moved out from their homes to the Leadership and Ministry Fair a couple of weeks ago.

As Jesus ascended into heaven, the very last thing he did was bless the disciples. It is the first time in any of the gospels that we hear that he raised his hands to heaven. It is likely he prayed the prayer God gave to Aaron, when he was blessing his people. “The Lord bless you and protect you; the Lord make his face to shine on you, and be gracious to you; the Lord look with favor on you and give you peace.”

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Preaching an Unknown God in the 21st Century


Easter 6 April 27, 2008
Acts 17:22-31, John 14:15-21

During the summer of 2001, I traveled to Greece. I stood in the place we read that Paul stood in today’s epistle. The marble steps were worn down by thousands of steps of thousands of people who, like me, had toured to see this ancient place.

Something you may not know about me is that I’m a skeptic. I’m not one to be overcome with emotion at the sight of ancient ruins. More recently I traveled to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. While others were overcome by emotion at the places reputedly to the places where Jesus was born, where he died and where he was supposed to have been buried, I know my ancient history enough to know that the exact sites were speculation. But the place we read about Areopagus—Mars Hill is the literal translation—this site has been preserved and it’s history is well-documented, so I thought, “This is the spot, the very spot where Paul spoke to the people of Athens.” And I was moved to think that my feet were in the same spot where Paul had told the Athenians about an Unknown God.

Now the people of Athens were a sophisticated lot. At Mars Hill they’d heard from all sorts of speakers, talking about all sorts of subjects—political, religious, commercial. And they weren’t overly impressed with what Paul had to say. In fact, some of them sneered at him when he talked about the resurrection. And perhaps it’s significant that we have no “Letter to the Athenians.” Maybe there was a Christian community there, maybe not. We do know that he converts two followers but we don’t hear about them in any of Paul’s letters that have been preserved.

But why should you and I care about Mars Hill—an outcropping of rock in Athens, a city far away from us? Historically interesting, yes. But why should we care? Let me put it to you another way: where are the Mars Hills of the northwest suburbs? Where are the places where people gather to discuss and debate politics? To hear the latest news? To find out what’s going on?

Because those are the places where the community of St. Hilary’s is called to be. Where, like Paul, we are called to remind people that we know the identity of their unknown God. And to remind people of the joy that we find in knowing and loving this God.

It’s not so different—our times from first century Athens. The northwest suburbs are just as much mission territory as what Paul faced. Not convinced? Although it may be that most of the people around us may identify themselves as ‘spiritual’ and may know the highlights of the Jesus story, it’s clear that the world still doesn’t love Jesus in the intimate way he calls us to love him.

If the world loved Jesus—really was in relationship with him as brother, Lord and friend would we have war, division, killing in our streets? Would we have the food crisis? Would one part of the world grow fat off the resources of the rest of the world? Would people suffer alone because they don’t want to ‘be a burden’ on others?

Sure we’ve gotten sophisticated: our idols are not the statues of gold or silver or stone that Paul found in Greek temples. Today we worship idols of self-satisfaction, consumerism, isolation. Sometimes our idols look like us. Isn’t our temptation to worship science’s ability to solve our problems while at the same time failing to realize the importance of relationship? The importance of seeing the starving people across the world as our brothers and sisters? Or closer to home, do we erect idols of protection and fail to see the need in our own backyard?

When we love Jesus we keep his commandments. Not out of fear, not even out of the promise of reward but out of a sense of kinship with his mission. And what are his commandments but to love God and love the whole world. The love for the broken world is what sent Paul out to potential mockery and scorn to speak to the men at Mars Hill. It is the love for God and for our broken world that moves us out of here every Sunday and drives us into the world.

Where is your own Mars Hill? Where is the place where you meet other people and where you are called to help them know the unknown God—by what you say and by what you do? Because the world has changed—no longer can we expect people to find us by walking by the church and deciding to venture in. We need to be like Paul and go out into the marketplace and meet people there.

What might that look like? You know, the birthplace of Anglicanism, England has become a place where 95% of people do not go to church. If we lived there we might be tempted to despair. That’s one choice or we could choose to be like a young man named Neil. Neil is a computer scientist. Neil is also a deeply commited Christian who's exploring what it might look like to witness in the work place among his unchurched, thirty-something friends. He meets his friends for sports and games on Sunday, then they go to the pub. Where they engage in purposeful discussions about the important things in life. “Meet people on their own terms and at their own places”, he said, “rather than expect them to come to your church.”

What might it look like for us at St. Hilary’s to be like Paul: to consider that all people are God’s offspring, that all people are hungry for meaning and purpose in their lives and then to talk to them about our relationship with Jesus? No way! You may say. I’m no evangelist. I’m not smart enough, not versed enough in scripture to talk to my friends about that.

But that’s where we’re wrong. Because through our baptism, through our living as Christian community, through Jesus’ gift to us of the Spirit, we’re equipped. In his farewell speech to his followers Jesus told them—as he tells us—that he has not left them orphaned. He sends the Advocate, the Counselor, the Spirit who lives within us.

As Paul preached to the Athenians, we confess that God "made the world and everything in it," and we declare that every single person is "God's off-spring.” So I ask you: where is the person or the place that is outside of God’s concern?

Every part of our so-called "secular" life, are places where God is already or potentially acting: whether it’s in our schools, in our work, in our sports, in the worlds of law or the internet, medicine, , the arts, business, government, science, quite literally anything and everything is a place where God can be met and where Jesus can be encountered. We can truly say, like Paul said to the Athenians, "He is not far from each one of us."

At our best as Christians, we are called to engage people right where they are—to find out the truth of their lives and to speak of the truth of what and who we encounter in Jesus. There are places in your lives that are your own Mars Hills. There are people in your life who are hungry for some good news. Maybe they are people who used to sit in these pews. If you’ve not heard from them in awhile, give them a call. Talk about your hope. Find out what’s going on in their lives. Or maybe you see your neighbors struggling. Go beyond helping them. Ask if you can pray for them, bring their concerns to us. Bring the struggles of your neighborhood here and we will see what God is calling us to do about these struggles.

Visit our blogspot and engage in some lively debate with you fellow parishioners or see what others are doing by visiting other faith-based websites. Instead of just bemoaning the sad news in the paper—pray the paper, write a letter to the editor.

There is no place where God is not. Help others to see that and you will be amazed at the ways you see God in new ways. The world may no longer see Jesus. But it sees you, knows you, works and plays with you. He lives in you just as surely as your blood courses through your veins. Be his presence in the world. Go from here to your own Mars Hills and know that the Advocate already empowers and enlightens you.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Living Stones and a Stony Way


Sometimes, sometimes it is no easy task to be a preacher. Sometimes the texts just don’t speak to me. Sometimes I struggle to find a connection between the scripture and the lives of the people and the community I’m serving. I struggle to know what to say. I find myself at a loss for words.

This week though the texts are so ripe, so full that the opposite situation has occurred: there is so much richness in God’s word for St. Hilary’s. Where to begin? Let’s begin with what is scattered here in front of the altar—coats and stones. You will recognize these stones from our Lenten practice. During Lent, we are invited to take the stones as part of our meditation and to lay them at the foot of the cross as we lay our burdens down and as we remember that Jesus has taken all of our sin and all of our burdens upon him.

Today I invite you to consider these stones and the ones you have in your hand and consider them in a different way. We cannot help but notice the notion of the ways the scriptures talk about stones. Stones were used by an angry crowd to kill Stephen, the first martyr to die for speaking out about Jesus.

The psalmist talks about God as a rock and a fortress—a large, secure steady stone. And Peter. Peter whose very name could be translated as Rocky! (What irony there!) Peter talks about Jesus as a living stone, the cornerstone that the builders rejected and as a rock that some stumble over. He then goes onto encourage this early Christian community to see itself as a living stone, just like their living Lord.

Take a moment to look at your stone. Feel it in your hand-- its weight, feel its temperature. Think about what it would be like to throw a rock at a human being. Think about the last time that you stumbled over a rock.

Now think about the last time you went to a groundbreaking ceremony. Maybe even the groundbreaking for this church. What words were said? What ceremonies did you participate in? Did you insert a time capsule in the foundation?

Now I invite you to think about what it might mean when Peter called Jesus a “living stone.” What does that mean? Take a look at the stone in your hand. Is there anything you could do to bring life to something that seems so lifeless?

Which is the point. Nothing we can do can bring life to the lifeless. But it is within God’s power and what is more Jesus showed how God can bring life to what was once dead. Dead as a stone. For Jesus truly was dead. Dead as the stones we hold in our hands.

And so were his followers’ hopes. That Friday night and the next day, the Sabbath, their hopes were dead as the stones you hold in your hands. But God did a new thing and brought new life to the whole world when Jesus rose victorious from that dead tomb. Buried in the earth, he rose. And as he rose so did the hopes of his community. And a new people were formed—the people of the Way (as the early Christians called themselves).

“Who are we now?” is a question the community of St. Hilary’s has been asking itself since your rector left. It is a question you will be asking yourselves in a more formal way as we begin the discernment process to discover who God is calling to lead this community. We will be asking those questions through a survey, through parish meetings and through story-telling.

“Who are we now?” is the very question the community Peter was addressing in his letter. Exiled Gentile converts to “The Way,” we might expect they were uncertain and anxious about their future—they’d probably experienced prosecution and were excluded from their old lives. If they followed The Way, not only who they worshipped with but who they ate with and dealt with would be changed. And Peter gives them words of encouragement.

Listen to how he describes them. Listen and realize that that word is describing this community of St. Hilary’s as well. Who are we?
• a spiritual house
• a holy priesthood
• a chosen race
• a royal priesthood
• a holy nation

All of which lead to the conclusion, "You are... God's own people..."

Whew! “Now wait just a moment!” you may say. “I don’t feel very spiritual, I don’t feel very holy or chosen and certainly I’m not ‘royal.’ And no one ordained me a priest! I just try to do what I can do—in the church and in the world. And what I do doesn’t seem very big or important.”

But I say—and I think the writers of 1Peter and John’s gospel were saying the same thing—don’t shortchange God on this. For you are mightily anointed, you are mightily commissioned just as surely as any priest or deacon or bishop. For the anointing of God’s people takes place first at our baptism. It is our being brought into this family of God’s that makes us followers of the Way.

And what is more, because God has equipped us just as Jesus has promised, we are capable of doing even greater works than Jesus did. “Whoa! Whoa!” You may say.
“I’ve never raised the dead, never cured someone suffering from leprosy and the only crowds I’ve fed are my marauding family at the holidays.”
But see, since Jesus has gone to the Father, he still equips us as his saints and perhaps the miracles, the great works that we can do in his name are more diffuse. But they are miracles, nonetheless. Don’t believe me? Let me tell you about a miracle I participated in—a miracle that Jesus couldn’t have performed without some folks right here in the Chicago area.

Some of you know that I used to be the director of an interfaith group home for adults with developmental disabilities. One of the women who came to live at L’Arche lived nearly her entire life—from the time she was abandoned by her alcoholic mother when she was 6 until she turned 37—in an institution for people with developmental disabilities. When Jean came to live with us she was full of anger. Jean has the mental capacity of a seven year old. She could be charming one moment and throw a fit the next—particularly when she didn’t get her way. Jean had never known the love of a family, never known what it was to be loved unconditionally and she lashed out.

When she first came to L’Arche, although it clearly was a Christian community, Jean wanted nothing to do with prayer, or Jesus, or the cross. She claimed she was a vampire and had some dark fantasies. But the people living and working at L’Arche embraced her for who she was—a child of God. She was gently but firmly encouraged to come to evening prayer every night with the other residents, to sit while grace was being said at every meal and to join in Sunday worship.

One day, standing outside of church after Mass, she turned to an older woman with bright red hair and said to her, “I want you to be my godmother in the Holy Spirit.” The astonished woman, a retired special ed teacher had been observing Jean for several weeks but had not met her. Jean, of course, had no way of knowing Mary’s background nor do I think she would have cared. The two were put together by some higher power, that was clear.

Mary and the former director of L’Arche contacted the catechesis instructor who agreed to individual sessions. For months, every Wednesday, Jean was picked up by one of our volunteers and she was taken to catechesis instructions. When asked why she wanted to be baptized. “So that I won’t be so sad and so that Jesus will help me with my anger,” was Jean’s reply. And so, after months of catechesis instruction, on the feast of the Ascension, Jean was baptized, was brought in to “The Way.”

The Holy Spirit acted in this woman of limited mental capacity and acted by enlivening the whole community that made her baptism possible: There was Frank who picked her up from work, Chris, her baptism instructor, David, Megan and Vicky who work at L’Arche and helped plan the meal, Maria and Mary who saw to it that Jean got her baptismal instruction. I contributed in a small way by holding the community together, encouraging the staff, writing grants to make sure our bills were paid and that everyone had a roof over their heads.

The dead stone that was Jean’s soul and the dead stone that was her life in an institution came alive through a community gathered around our cornerstone—Jesus. See a cornerstone sets the pattern for the entire building—in this case, not a physical building but a community gathered in the name of the One who calls us and who empowers us.

A miracle that was. A miracle that the historic Jesus could not have effected—he didn’t live long enough to do that, so we, the followers of his Way needed to do it. Now when we were doing it, none of us considered ourselves miracle workers. We were all just trying in our own clumsy ways to follow the Way that had been set before us. Together with Jean we were learning what it meant to follow Christ.

Jean, like all of us who remain open to the workings of the Spirit, was being transformed. She used to lash out in frustration and in anger. The incidences of uncontrolled anger dramatically decreased since she came to live at L’Arche and since she began learning about Jesus. “I want Jesus to come into my heart,” Jean would say. And Jesus most certainly did enter her heart. And through our living, working and praying together, he entered the hearts of each of us who walked with Jean on the Way. And turned hearts of stone into living, joyful heart, hearts more deeply on fire with love and gratitude for God revealing God’s self in a two-flat on the west side of Chicago.

I don’t know all your stories: in the coming weeks, we will have a chance to talk about how this community has walked with Jesus on the Way. We will work together to dream about the ways that God might be calling this community to do even greater things in Jesus name. So let us take his words to heart, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He has gone ahead of us. He is good to his promise. He has prepared a place for him. A new place for St. Hilary’s to be ‘along the Way.’ And wherever we go, he is with us. Because he is the Way. In him is found the truth of what St. Hilary’s is to become. And with him we share an abundant life.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Walking with the Good Shepherd


The Good Shepherd
April 13, 2008

I invite you this morning to walk a labyrinth with me. A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. The Labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools. A labyrinth has only one path. The way in is the way out. There are no blind alleys. The path leads you on a circuitous path to the center and out again.

For you see, Psalm 23 presents us with a kind of labyrinth walk. The path with God is from a description of how the Lord provides us, his sheep with food and drink. Step One. Then we hear how God provides us with safety and security: Step Two. We travel with the Holy One to the center of the Psalm, to the center of our journey: trust in God. Such deep trust that we “fear no evil.” For God is with us—his rod and staff comfort us.

So walk with me: Scripture has many ways of describing God. We hear about God as Rock, as King, Judge, Ruler. Jesus is described as Bread of Life, Friend, Light of the World. Today we hear about God as shepherd. Now what do we know about shepherds? They lead their flocks out in the open. Up and down hills, through river valleys, always on the lookout for lions or wolves, the shepherd guides his flock. David, writing this Psalm describes the Lord as his shepherd. Great King David—does he take comfort in his armies for protection? No. His protection and his trust is in God.

Walk with me as we turn another corner in this labyrinth: Scene two turns to food and drink for animals. “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Like in California in the Holy Land, pastures are green each year for a maximum of two and a half months in the middle of winter. The rest of the year the fields are brown. So this is a good shepherd who can find his flock good things to eat. Much as we gather each Sunday for Eucharist—which is another word for thanksgiving—for all we have received from God. Just as we pray the Lord’s Prayer where we ask for our daily bread. Just as we gather to break bread together. There are many ways that God feeds us.

What comes next in our walk? “He leads me beside still waters.” Now sheep are afraid to drink from a moving stream lest it hide deep water into which they could fall and drown. Still waters and green pastures are, for a sheep, the best of all worlds.

So for us too. How many people come to church as a respite, a rest from their hectic lives. A time and a space apart. A time to gather with other sheep who know the Lord and to rest, just basking in God’s goodness.

Let’s walk a little further on our labyrinth path: Once God has satisfied our hunger and thirst, we move to a place of safety and security: Literally, God brings us back, back to the right path. “He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths.” Why? Not because of anything we do but because of who the Good Shepherd is: “for his name’s sake.”

We probably all know times when we’ve been rescued. Not because we’re so upright and holy but purely because of God’s generosity. The late Andrew Roy was a missionary to China who opted to remain after the Communist takeover in 1950, he was placed under house arrest and his interrogators attacked the person of Jesus by noting that Jesus told of a shepherd who left “the flock” and went after the one who was lost.

The communists argued that such an act was utterly foolish and irresponsible. The collective mass was all that mattered. Roy defended Jesus by pointing out that when the good shepherd in the parable goes after the lost sheep he gives ultimate security to the rest of the flock. Each sheep thereby knows, If I get lost, he will come after me. On the other hand, if the good shepherd cares only for the herd and does not put himself out for the lost sheep, each sheep is left with the ultimate insecurity. They will think, “If I fall one step behind, he will leave me to die.” But God’s kingdom is not survival of the fittest but rather a promise that Jesus has come for all us lost sheep. So even at times we feel most lost, we can hold onto that image of the Good Shepherd and hold onto that trust.
Now we get to the center of the labyrinth and the middle of Psalm 23: “Even though I’m walking through the valley of death, I’m not afraid. There’s nothing I fear because you are with me.” This is the climax of the Psalm and the center of our lives as Christians. We don’t need to fear death because we have already died with Christ. With his conquering death, we too have conquered it. This is the hope and the promise and the reality of the Resurrection.

When we walk a labyrinth there are three movements: the movement inward. Here we’ve moved inward from concerns about our basic needs: our food and drink. To concerns about where we can feel safe and secure. In the center there is the movement upward, up we go to praise God. So we rest awhile in this confidence that Jesus has conquered death. We can rest awhile in the fact that the Lord walks with us on our individual journeys and on the journey that St. Hilary’s is taking here and now.

And once we’ve rested, then the journey continues outward. We are commissioned outward—as individuals and as community—just as the sheep would venture out from their sheepfold. The movement of the Psalm takes us there: “Your rod and your staff—they comfort me.”

Again echoing the themes of safety and comfort—the Good Shepherd’s rod—like a mace—wards off marauding thieves or wolves. We invoke God’s protection as we journey out into the world. And he promises, he will protect us.

The shepherd’s staff had a crook in it to pull a sheep away from danger and to guide it. We pray this Psalm and consider how God is leading St. Hilary’s as a community to experience the kind of life described in our passage from Acts. As we move out from the familiarity of what St. Hilary’s had been, we can be secure that Jesus will guide us.

And look at the final movement in the Psalm—the final place we come out of the labyrinth. Again we find the Lord spreading a table before us. Keep in mind that a shepherd didn’t have any permanent ‘table.’ He’d spread out his cloak. Even in the midst of whatever enemies we may have, God treats us like royal guests. He feeds us as we go about our work in the world. He is ready to provide St. Hilary’s with whatever this community needs as it goes about fulfilling its mission in the world.

Our cup is overflowing with God’s abundance. We have confidence in what Jesus said: that he came so that we would have life and have it abundantly. The Christ of John’s gospel comes so that everyone would have such a richness of life that it would overflow into the world.

We cannot stay at the center of the labyrinth anymore than this community can stay in one place. The Good Shepherd protects us and also leads us out to new pastures. He is the gate to both lead us to protection and also to open ourselves to new experiences of what it means to be church. Over the next weeks you will pray, work and discuss new ways of being church. May you always remember who it is who is leading you.

And may you be aware that goodness and mercy will follow you and that even now. Even in the midst of sorrow and uncertainty, even now, you are right now dwelling in the house of the Lord. And this dwelling, this kinship with your Good Shepherd is indeed, forever.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Eyes Wide Open



Easter 3
Luke 24: 13-35

Who doesn’t love a good story? We go to the movies not only to see rock-em-sock-em, crash and burn action pictures but to be immersed in a good story. We like to tell stories about our lives and listen to funny or revealing stories that our friends tell. We complain when a movie or a TV program doesn’t have a good plot. A good plot—that’s just another way of saying that a story engages us, interests us, tells us more about the characters than we knew before.

This past two days, the vestry and I met with Canon Randall Warren from our diocesan offices to trade stories with each other. We heard some silly stories—like when I asked folks to talk for a minute or so about lawnmowers or spatulas. We heard some personal stories—like the view out our kitchen windows or to tell another person about the first car they owned. And we heard and told many stories about the community of St. Hilary’s—about some of the joys and pains you have shared these past years.

I heard about stories of the church’s activities in holding a silent auction or participating in the CROP Walk. I learned about how it used to be a practice to ring the bell in the bell tower. I heard about the time Fr. Crist found some kids sledding off the roof of the church. We heard about how some people felt excluded by some of the past ministries of the church. We all heard about how some folks are feeling nervous and anxious since Pastor Terri left. And we heard again about the things that are important to this community—good worship, a sense of belonging and a commitment to providing help for refugees.

If we look at the gospel we’ve just heard, let’s count the number of stories contained in this large story: First, there are the stories that Cleopas and the other disciple are telling each other. Stories about Jesus, his betrayal and his death and the fantastic story about the women finding an empty tomb and the hope that Jesus had risen.

Then along comes this stranger and Cleopas and the other disciple start telling the stranger the same stories, maybe giving him some background that they didn’t have to tell each other—since it appears this stranger is the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about this Jesus character.

Then the stranger turns the tables on them. Count it—we’re up to three stories. The stranger begins to tell them stories they thought they knew—stories of the prophets and their ancestors—but he tells these familiar stories with a new twist. And they move from being downcast to being delighted in what this stranger is telling them. Their cold, lifeless hearts are warmed and their passion begins to grow.

Then they invite him to stay with them for supper. And their eyes are opened—they recognize him for who he is. He vanishes and story Number Four begins—they run the seven tough uphill miles back to Jerusalem—and tell their story to the disciples who are gathered behind closed doors.
Four stories contained in this mega-story. But wait! There’s more. Because, you see Luke wrote the story down and we’ve heard it. So the story has become ours once again. Whether you’re hearing this story for the first time or for the 50th, this story is ours as well.

I love, love, love this gospel passage: it was the passage we read at my wedding, the passage I selected at my husband’s funeral, the passage I want read when I die. Because it captures so much of our journey as Christians. It captures so many truths—how story shapes us as individuals and as community. Yes, even the silly stories our vestry told each other about lawnmowers and the view out our kitchen windows and first cars. We come to know one another in deeper ways.

And the Road to Emmaus points us to the delightful ways that God meets us just where we are and takes us by delight and surprise. Delight and surprise. The disciples felt the reality of Jesus’ presence even before he revealed himself to them. Their hearts were burning within them. Notice that the gospel doesn’t say: They became satisfied with themselves because they finally figured out the logic of the scripture. The story doesn’t say that they high-fived one another because they were able to put down on paper what they’d experienced. No, their hearts burned within them.

And then “their eyes were opened.” Now this is a phrase that echoes another eye-opening experience…do you remember what that one was? Go all the way back to Genesis when Adam and Eve disobey God. Their eyes were opened and they saw their nakedness. They were revealed for who they are.

But in this story, the disciples eyes are opened and not only do they see Jesus for who he is…but they also see themselves for who they are—evangelists—people who are compelled—not by guilt or a sense of duty but joy—to high tail it back to Jerusalem and tell the others what they’ve seen and who they’ve experienced.

A journey that began with shattered hope becomes one of reversal—they literally change direction and are transformed in the process. As layer upon layer of the story is experienced and revealed, God shines through. So it was for Cleopas and his companion. So it is for St. Hilary’s.

As I heard stories from the vestry members, I saw Christ revealed and your vestry members experienced Christ revealed—in each other, in the stories about St. Hilary’s past and in the hopes for the future. We spoke and prayed about this community’s strengths and discussed how we might discern new ways God might choose to reveal God’s self—to St. Hilary’s and to the world.

God is all around us. Jesus is present to us in the breaking of the bread and also in the opening of this church to house a refugee family. In the dedication of people to Meals on Wheels. In the fun to be had in outdoor summer services. In the ways we welcome and incorporate new members and support each other in our daily lives. In the ways we pray for the world.

Now we may want to try to hold onto a particular experience of Jesus but “He will not stay put, stay the same, stay with us. "Stay!" is our chorus, but his refrain is, "Follow!" B.B. Taylor

The living Lord has called your former pastor to follow him to a new community. He calls this community to follow him to a new way of being—with each other, with the community and with the world. One thing stays the same—this Lord loves you, protects you and will never abandon you. This Lord even now is strengthening you for the journey.

Invite him in to stay, yes. And recognize when he goes, he has not left you alone. But calls you out to tell your brothers and your sisters—we have met him. And in this way, another layer of the story is revealed. Your story becomes another chapter in this marvelous, transforming megastory. Kingdom without end.

So stay tuned. Stay involved. Stay committed to each other and to meeting him on the road—wherever he may be met.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Blessed are You...when you believe AND when you doubt



Sermon March 30, 2008
John 20: 19-31
Preached by Pastor Deb Seles

Call me Thomas, tho that is not my name. My real name’s been lost to history. Generations know me only as “Thomas” meaning “The Twin.” Even my Greek name, Didymus is just another way of saying that I was a twin. So call me Thomas.

The other way you know me is as “Doubting Thomas.” “Thomas the Unbelieving One,” “Thomas the Skeptic,” Hestitant, suspicious, mistrusting. You’d be too if you’d heard the tales they were telling.

We hadn’t been together since that awful Thursday night. That night we last ate Supper with him. That night he blessed the bread and the wine with those strange words—this is my Body, this my Blood. We were repulsed by the suggestion of cannibalism. Blood is unclean to us Jews. And to be invited to partake of our leader’s Body and Blood—well, we thought it a sacrilege. And yet he seemed to indicate it was a necessity. A way of reliving what he was about to go through.

We were all skeptical and unbelieving that night. From his pronouncement that one of us would betray him. And when he said Peter would deny him—well, some of us could believe it—Simon always being the impetuous type. Still, none of us was prepared for what would happen. And we were disgusted by our behavior that night. To a one, we abandoned him when he needed us the most. We argued and wept and fought with each other in the intervening days. Accusations flew back and forth about what we could have, should have done.

So when they came to me with tales about his reappearing, part of me wanted with all my life to believe that death had not conquered the One we knew as pure Love. But the other, sensible part of me declared that it could not be. No man has ever risen from being three days dead, never mind that he predicted it. I thought it must be mass hallucination. Wishful thinking because we were so filled with guilt.

I said what any of the rest of them would have said if they hadn’t been there: “Until I see the place where the nails went and plunge my hand into his wounds, I’m not going to be fooled.” Angry? You bet. Angry at God, that He, the Almighty would allow this. What kind of Father demands that level of sacrifice. And I was angry at myself, at us for both believing him and then abandoning him. Even if he wasn’t the Son of God, as he said, he was our friend and deserved better than we gave him. Deserved much, much better.

But living in my heart was the passionate desire to believe what the rest of them had experienced. Those emotions were twins living side this Twin—anger and desire. I suspect you’ve experienced twins like those: guilt and desire, anger and desire. I suspect that’s why my story resonates with your own, you who have never walked with him in the flesh, never felt the hot sun of Galilee on your necks as you walk mile after mile with him and the crowds that gathered arond him.

Maybe your doubt runs high when your own children suffer, when you see good people punished and wicked people reign, when you wonder about your own ability to do good. Maybe secretly you yearn to see Him in the flesh when the news of the world is more and more about war and corruption and division than it is about peace and love and forgiveness. I don’t blame you. None of us would blame you.

But HE called you “Blessed” because you do believe without seeing. Millions after us have believed without seeing Him in the flesh. And there is the miracle, the miracle that you and all his followers have been living. Not the stupendous, being raised from the dead miracle, but a miracle, nonetheless. For you are the evidence that He LIVES!

See, he commissioned us that night: He sent us out to be to the world what he had been. He gave us the gift of His Spirit, the spirit of His love and reconciliation. And he gave us the gift and the power to forgive sins. Again, no small thing for us Jews—we’d always been told that only God had the power to forgive sins. His saying that when he was alive got him into trouble again and again with authorities. And even we wondered about it but we gave him the benefit of the doubt—because of who he was. But that night he gave us, our sorry lot, the very people who abandoned him, he gave us that power to forgive. And above it all, he granted us peace.

Of course, as we all eventually learned, his peace is not the world’s peace. It’s not the peace of complacency and comfort or safety. We huddled together in that room looking for the world’s peace, the safety that is found behind locked doors, behind old ways of living. His peace called us out into the world. His peace gave Peter, the Denier, the courage to stand in front of the crowds gathered for Pentecost and to declare who Jesus really was. His peace caused many of us to be tried by suspicious, fearful Romans and to be put out of the temple by suspicious, fearful fellow Jews. His peace caused many of us to go to our deaths, martyrs.

And perhaps his peace causes you, 2000 years later, to move out of your own comfort zones. To forgive one who betrays you. To speak to a person very different from you and to really learn her story. To minister with refugees from across the world and to learn of the gifts they have to give this nation.

Perhaps you, like us, struggle to find your unique mission. “How,” you may even now be asking, “how is God calling us, this community to love the world as God loves it?” Not how do you grow you membership, how do you bring outsiders to know or to believe exactly as you do, but how can the people of St. Hilary’s love the world as God loves it?

There are those who say that a religious person never doubts. They want certainty. And maybe that is why some are attracted to churches and movements that seem to promise all the answers. But even a casual reading of Scriptures reveals that doubt always has had a place in faith.

For a sincerely religious person is humble. As we walk with God, we discover a deepening of our lives and we know there are points at which the human intellect and reason cannot fathom the Infinite. I don’t know how Jesus rose, don’t know how it is that people fall in love, don’t know why some people are inspired by music and others by constant challenge. I do know that lives have been changed because we choose to believe and choose to follow the One who calls us to new life.

A poet once said: “Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.” So maybe it’s significant that I’m nicknamed Twin—the Doubting Twin who knows faith. I doubted because I feared the others had succumbed to an illusion. I wanted to believe in the reality of a risen Lord but it was too much for my mind to wrap itself around. I had to let my experience and my heart take me where my mind could not go—to a greater reality. And when I saw him, that’s when I threw myself to the ground and confessed him as My Lord and My God.

Perhaps your own doubt is leading you to a greater faith, a desire for a higher God. If you doubt there ever would be a kind of God who would create human suffering, you are saying there is a kind of God who is all Good and all Loving.

If you doubt there is a kind of God who would hate people and punish them, you are believing in a Higher God - a God of love and of forgiveness.

If you doubt God could solve your problems, you can nevertheless WONDER how he will do it and be willing to be pleasantly surprised "Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother."

My prayer for you is that your journey with God may be full of WONDER. I pray that you will experience faith that is a radical trust in God as the ground of your being. I pray that you will have faith that is a centering of your whole life in the Risen Lord. I pray that you will experience faith that results in a new way of seeing, seeing all of creation as abundant rather than hostile.

May your faith be more about “beloving” than “believing.” May this community be bearers of God’s love to a world that is crying out for healing and forgiveness. May the community of St. Hilary’s be instruments of the peace Jesus breathed on us that evening. The peace he still breathes on the world.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Got HOPE?


Easter Sermon March 23, 2008

Passing by a CVS pharmacy on Thursday, I noted the electronic sign: “We have all your Easter needs,” it announced. “All your Easter needs.” What are our “Easter needs?”

Does anyone really need cellophane grass in unreal pastel colors? Do we ‘need’ plastic eggs? Does anyone really need yet another stuffed animal, no matter how cute? Do we need cards, wrapping paper? Now some of us may argue that we ‘need’ chocolate but no one’s ever died for lack of it. And this Easter, we may also argue that we need the bright hope of blooming flowers, flowers that promise spring amidst the freak snowfall we’ve just slogged our ways through. But need them?

What do we really need? What brings us back to church today—some of us after spending the past three days in prayer and meditation, tracing Jesus’ last meal with his friends, his betrayal, torture and death? What do we need?

All our Easter needs. All the world’s Easter needs are for a sign of hope. What we need is not more colored eggs, not another piece of chocolate, not another squeaky bunny. What we need is hope.

And hope is what we’re given. Beyond our imagining, beyond our conception, beyond our ability to hold onto it. God gives us hope in the person of the Risen Christ.

Now there are those who argue about whether the resurrection was a fact, an event so stupendous that it has never been repeated. After all, no one was there with a video camera. Try as you might, you can search YouTube and you won’t see a clip of the flash of lightning, the crack of thunder, the earthquake and the guards running away in fear.

So what is left to us? What the Gospels ask is not "Do you believe?" but "Have you encountered a risen Christ? And to ask what changed? Is the wrong question. The question is, rather, “Who changed?!”

The burden of the New Testament is not that the world changed, but that ordinary men and women (the disciples, etc.) changed. Gomes

Look at the people surrounding Jesus before the resurrection—a scared and sorry lot if there ever was any. One of his friends betrayed him, the other their supposed leader denied him not once but three times. Everyone else ran away frightened and fearing for their lives. Is it any mistake Matthew’s gospel mentions the word fear four times in these 10 short verses?

What were the disciples afraid of? But when they arrived at the tomb, they found it empty. How did they react? Did their hearts leap? Did they dance a jig or burst out in laughter or song because he had risen the way he always said he would?

Maybe they feared the challenges that Jesus had set before them and sets before us -- the challenge to be poor in spirit, to embrace mourning, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to seek to serve others rather than to be big shots. Life is so much easier without these things. We want comfort, not challenge; ease, not adventure.

In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl tells the story about some of his fellow prisoners in the Dachau Nazi prison Camp during World War II. They had been held captive so long that when they were released he said, “they walked out into the sunlight, blinked nervously and then silently walked back into the familiar darkness of the prisons, to which they had been accustomed for such a long time.”

Maybe they were afraid because if Jesus wasn’t around, what would happen to his message? What would happen to the promise of God’s kingdom they had been hearing about and had been hoping to participate in? We have a clue in the reading from Jeremiah.

Here Jeremiah assures the “remnant” of the people left in Jerusalem that as a result of keeping the Covenant, they will be reunited with those returning from exile in Babylon. God’s people will be restored and reunited with all of God’s people.

We too are called to Keep the Covenant is keeping our end of the bargain—the NEW Covenant Jesus spoke about at his Last Supper. The NEW Covenant we proclaim when we break bread each time we come together for Eucharist.

What does it mean to keep the Covenant in a post-modern, post-Enlightenment, pluralistic, global, 21st Century? Clearly the Way to keeping the Covenant is not to look “up” to God. Because, through Jesus God has come among us. He lived, he died and we find an empty tomb. He rose. So we too, like the visitors who find the tomb empty are confronted with a choice: If God’s realm of justice-compassion is to be restored – as the Jeremiah and other prophets promise– do we think it will come about a la the LEFT BEHIND books—with thunder and Jesus riding a horse down from heaven. Or do we experience God with us. God, as the Risen Christ in partnership with humanity?

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never experienced God rolling in with thunder and lightning. But I have experienced the Risen Christ in the love of others who have helped me in Jesus’ name. I have experienced him in stories of lives transformed through him. I have met the Risen Christ as I’ve seen estranged people come together in reconciliation. And yes, I’ve even encountered the Risen Christ in the newspaper—in stories of enemies brought together in peace like what’s happened in Northern Ireland last year.

We all can experience him in the embodiment of his community, in the sharing of love with one another in Jesus’ name. We renew God’s Covenant by becoming living, breathing partners with God who gave himself as a free gift.

WE ARE THE EVIDENCE that Jesus is alive.

Christ has truly risen. The evidence is overwhelming. Just look around you here in this congregation gathered almost two millennia later.

Without Christ’s resurrection there would have been no faithful apostles, no church, no memory kept of his life and teaching, no babies baptized in his name, no hospitals developed by his spirit, no common yet holy Table spread for all who are hungry and need the bread of heaven.

God has designed us for life, and in Christ destined us for life abundant beyond our comprehension! I mean that; literally: Beyond our comprehension!

Christ has risen! Death does not have the last word. Laugh Christian, by indomitable grace, you now have the right!

This Risen Jesus “is the beating heart of the universe and does not need to threaten, to intervene, to punish, or to control” (John Dominic Crosson) in order to bring about God’s kingdom. But God does need us to help bring about the justice and compassion and restoration that Jeremiah spoke of.

“Do not be afraid,” again and again is the gospel message. For the exiled people of Israel, for the disciples gathered at the tomb. And also for us. Do not be afraid but hope. Hope for a transformed world, a renewed, courageous community. So it was for the disciples, so it can be for us.

In these 50 days of Easter, we are invited to recognize the signs of God’s kingdom all around us. We are invited to see Jesus standing right beside us, as he did with Mary. What is he calling us to do? Perhaps we can train our eyes to look in the direction that this Jesus, standing beside us is looking.

Jesus is risen. Death could not hold him.

In the gospel, Mary sees Jesus standing there, but she did not know that itwas Jesus. Jesus speaks to her saying “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" But she does not recognize him.

Jesus is risen. Death could not hold him.

And how about you? Is Jesus speaking to you – but you don’t hear him? Is heasking to be recognized by you as the Jesus who is alive - the Jesus who is risen --- but your heart is slow to believe?

Imagine you are at the tomb, the stone is rolled away, and the linen is
there, but no Jesus. You see two angels where his body had been. What do you feel?

You turn around and a man with a loving voice asks you: “Who are you looking for?” How do you feel?

What does your heart want to answer?

Take a moment now to listen to your heart: “Who are you looking for?”

So it’s not CVS, not Walgreen’s, not Costco that has all our Easter needs. It is the Risen Christ found in peace, found in justice, found in acts of compassion and mercy. The Risen Savior is found in the way he challenges us as individuals and as a community to bring hope to the world.

Who are you looking for? The God among us. He is the one we are looking for. And he is present in the world, ready to be found.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Sermon of St. John Chrysostom


Author: John Chrysostom (347-407) "The Golden-Mouthed Preacher"

The Easter Sermon of John Chrysostom exists in many editions on the Web. This version was prepared by André Lavergne [editor@worship.ca]. Cf. The editions of Mark Baker and Frank Dobbs.
Posted Easter, 1999. Revised Easter, 2001

An Easter Sermon
Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary from fasting?
Let them now receive their due!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their reward.
If any have come after the third hour,
let them with gratitude join in the feast!
Those who arrived after the sixth hour,
let them not doubt; for they shall not be short-changed.
Those who have tarried until the ninth hour,
let them not hesitate; but let them come too.
And those who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let them not be afraid by reason of their delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
The Lord gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour,
even as to those who toiled from the beginning.
To one and all the Lord gives generously.
The Lord accepts the offering of every work.
The Lord honours every deed and commends their intention.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike, receive your reward.
Rich and poor, rejoice together!
Conscientious and lazy, celebrate the day!
You who have kept the fast, and you who have not,
rejoice, this day, for the table is bountifully spread!
Feast royally, for the calf is fatted.
Let no one go away hungry.
Partake, all, of the banquet of faith.
Enjoy the bounty of the Lord's goodness!
Let no one grieve being poor,
for the universal reign has been revealed.
Let no one lament persistent failings,
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death,
for the death of our Saviour has set us free.
The Lord has destroyed death by enduring it.
The Lord vanquished hell when he descended into it.
The Lord put hell in turmoil even as it tasted of his flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, were placed in turmoil when he encountering you below."
Hell was in turmoil having been eclipsed.
Hell was in turmoil having been mocked.
Hell was in turmoil having been destroyed.
Hell was in turmoil having been abolished.
Hell was in turmoil having been made captive.
Hell grasped a corpse, and met God.
Hell seized earth, and encountered heaven.
Hell took what it saw, and was overcome by what it could not see.
O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?
Christ is risen, and you are cast down!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life is set free!
Christ is risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead.
For Christ, having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Christ be glory and power forever and ever. Amen!
+ + +

From the From: The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition | Date: 2007

Saint John Chrysostom [Gr.,=golden-mouth], c.347-407, Doctor of the Church, one of the greatest of the Greek Fathers. He was born in Antioch and studied Greek classics there. As a young man he became an anchorite monk (374), a deacon (c.381) and a priest (386). Under Flavian of Antioch he preached brilliantly in the cathedral for 12 years, winning wide recognition. In 398 he was suddenly made patriarch of Constantinople, where he soon gained the admiration of the people by his eloquence, his ascetic life, and his charity.

His attempts to reform the clergy, however, alienated many monks and priests, and the court of the Roman emperor of the East came to resent his denunciation of their ways. He lost favor when he demanded mercy for the dishonored Eutropius and when he refused to condemn without a hearing certain monks accused of heresy.

Empress Eudoxia and Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria, succeeded in having St. John condemned (403) by an illegal synod on false charges. The indignation of the people was reinforced by an opportune earthquake, and the superstitious Eudoxia had St. John recalled. He continued to attack the immorality of the court, and Emperor Arcadius exiled him to Cucusus in Armenia. There he continued to exert influence through his letters, and Arcadius moved him to a more isolated spot on the Black Sea.

St. John, already ill, died from the rigors of the journey. Although not a formal polemicist, John Chrysostom influenced Christian thought notably. He wrote brilliant homilies, interpreting the Bible literally and historically rather than allegorically. His treatise on the priesthood (381) has always been popular. His sermons and writings, remarkable for their purity of Greek style, afford an invaluable picture of 4th-century life. His influence was already great in his own day, and the pope withdrew (406-16) from communion with Constantinople because of his banishment. In 438, St. John's body was returned to Constantinople, and Emperor Theodosius II did penance for his parents' offenses. His accomplishments as a preacher and theologian are marred by a virulent anti-Semitism. In 1909, Pope Pius X declared him patron of preachers. Feasts: in the Eastern Church, Sept. 14, Nov. 13, and Jan. 27; in the Western Church, Jan. 27.

Friday, March 21, 2008

"Tell the Good News" Bp. Lee's Easter Message


March 22, 2008
Tell the Good News—Easter Message from the Bishop of Chicago

Dear Friends,
“There is so much good news out there!” That was a spontaneous outburst from one of the participants in a gathering last month of clergy who are in new positions or new to the diocese. It came in response to a question I asked about what the priorities should be for our work together as a new bishop and leaders in the Diocese of Chicago. This was one person’s answer to that question: “There is so much good news out there … in our churches and in the communities we serve. We need to hear about it and celebrate it.”

I agree. As I have begun traveling around the diocese I am struck by just how much good news is being made real in the lives of individuals and congregations and agencies of our church. From parish food pantries and feeding ministries to the dedication of a new, multi-million dollar residential facility for at-risk youth at Lawrence Hall Youth Services. From the heroic response of chaplains and congregations to horror on the Northern Illinois University campus to the joyful celebration of the latest youth gathering at Happening. From quiet acts of prayer in a hospital room to public advocacy for the passage of just hunger legislation. From the introduction of a child to the story of the Good Shepherd to our ongoing organizational struggle to address the sin of racism. In large ways and small the Episcopal Church in Northern Illinois is announcing the Good News that Jesus brought: the Kingdom of God, the Reign of God is in our midst.

The author Brian McLaren says that for too much of Christian history the good news of Jesus has become the good news about Jesus. And he says the good news of Jesus is just this: God has chosen to enter into partnership with humankind to save this world from self-destruction. In Jesus God has entered the human condition to save it, to save us from our selfishness and greed, from our murderous mistrust and hatred of one another. The great and mighty good news of Easter is that not even death could stop that project. God will not fail.

Given its obvious shortcomings and even sinfulness we should not need to be reminded that the Church is not the same thing as the Kingdom of God. But the Church is a sacrament, a living sign of Christ himself and it serves as an effective sacramental sign when it is working to make God’s Kingdom, God’s Reign of justice and peace and love, a visible reality. My heart sings when I look around this diocese and see many, many signs of how that is happening here. It is happening in the Diocese of Chicago and, by God’s grace it is happening all over the Episcopal Church. The most striking thing about attending my first meeting of the House of Bishops was to note how many stories there were about the Good News of God’s Reign from all over the country. I believe the overwhelming majority of the bishops of our church want to focus there and not on the issues that divide us. This world is dying to see an example of what it could mean to walk together in love without needing to agree on everything. That in itself would be a powerful sign of the Kingdom. I believe God wants this church to be such a sign.


So in this Easter season I invite you to look for signs of the Kingdom of God. They are all around you. Look for ways you can join with members of your church, with friends in your community to make the love of God real for someone else. Tell the Good News. The resurrection of Jesus Christ sets us free to act in ways that can transform the world. We will find challenges. We may be misunderstood or opposed or worse. But there is nothing to fear. Christ has overcome the world and God’s Reign is very near.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Jeffrey

The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee
Bishop of Chicago

Looking for Signs of the Kingdom--Pastor Deb's Easter Message


Sitting here in the middle of our early spring blizzard, it seems green grass and flowers will never appear. Yet, just as certainly as the snow comes, so does new life. And we know that we are promised new life in Christ.

In his Easter message, Bishop Jeff Lee speaks about his joy as he travels around the Chicago diocese and witnesses God's mighty hand at work in and through our congregations. He challenges us to "look for signs of the Kingdom of God."

I have been blessed to walk with you through Lent and now through Holy Week and Easter and I have been blessed by the signs of the Kingdom that I've witnessed here at St. Hilary's. In these short weeks they have been many: the love and care with which you celebrated the life of Keith Marchildon, the founding member whose funeral was March 1. The baptism of a new child of God. The love and care for each other and for people from around the world (through our refugee ministry). The desire for adults and children to grow in their walk with the Lord as we participate in Christian Formation. The courage of your leaders and vestry as they pray for God's direction as you take your next steps in calling a new pastor.

Bishop Lee declares that"this world is dying to see an example of what it could mean to walk together in love without agreeing on everything." The people of St. Hilary's do a good job of that: we may not all agree on everything but we come together to worship God and to discover ways we can show God's love in our daily walk in life.

My prayer for each of you this Easter Season is that you will revel in God's delight in each of you--for we are truly made One Body in Christ. His transforming love desires that we grow in God more fully and more boldy than we can begin to imagine. The signs of the Kingdom are all around us and are waiting to break free of the darkness--just like those spring bulbs are dying to break free of the frozen ground.

He is RISEN! HE IS RISEN! In your life and in mine. In this community and in the world. We need never fear for God has conquered death. We can be instruments of this Kingdom. He has given us His Spirit and lives on--in you and in me.

ALLELUIA! HOOOOORAY!

Pastor Deb

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Ride of Our Lives March 16, 2008

Palm Sunday
March 16, 2008

Some people go to the amusement park and they like to ride the merry go round. Me, I prefer a roller coaster. Sure, you go up and down, up and down on a merry go round. But you never get anywhere. You never get the heart-pounding, scary thrill that a good roller coaster gives you. Today’s readings are a roller coaster.

So strap yourselves in, folks. This is gonna be a bumpy ride. If you’re feeling a little disoriented today you’re not alone. Today we go from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem—hailed as the savior of the Jewish people—to his most vulnerable, human moment—when he is alone, abandoned, tortured and dying. He cries out, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me.”

We may feel dizzy and disoriented today as we hear these two readings. It’s more than a bit like being on a roller coaster. So pick your roller coaster of choice—maybe it’s the Ragin’ Cajun or the Tornado or Vertical Velocity. Strap yourselves in and come along with me.

Look where we’ve come these from these past weeks. Just six short weeks ago, we climbed up the mountain and we were with Jesus and the disciples on a mountaintop when he was transfigured and revealed to be God’s own Beloved. But we know that we can’t stay on the mountaintop—Jesus told Peter that and he shows us.

So—zoom, it’s down into the desert with Jesus and with his temptations. But then we climb as we whiz up with John’s gospel. These past weeks, we’ve traveled with Jesus as John’s gospel portrays him—full of wisdom and glory. Up we climb again. We’ve heard about how he comes to bring sight to the blind, to raise the dead, to bring good news even to a Samaritan woman.

And this morning’s service of the Palms brings us to the top of the roller coaster—to the big parade the Jewish people had for him as he entered the city. Keep in mind that if this took place at Passover, the city would have been crowded with pilgrims. Word about his marvelous deeds had been building and the crowd laid down their coats and spread the way for him with palms.

All this stirred up the Roman and Jewish officials—what would this mean to their power? And the plot to execute him began. We’ve also heard about his betrayal, arrest and death—according to Matthew. We’re plunged down with him, down to the depths.

If we are reeling, if we are queasy because of the rise and then the plunge, well that’s to be expected. Imagine how it would have been if you were one of his followers—to see the crowds hail him and then to abandon him yourself. To experience your friend, the Promised One—die a criminal’s death.

You’re sick. Sick to death. And you struggle for meaning. As a gospel writer Matthew was focused on providing some solid ground for them. He wrote in a way to show what meaning Jesus’ life and death had. Which is why he consistently ties his gospel to scripture they would have known—Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Psalms.

What the community needed explained was how such an awful death, how such betrayal by their fellow Jews could have happened to Jesus, the man they knew as the hero of their community. It must have been like a roller coaster ride for them too.

We enter Holy Week and we are invited to ride with Jesus the whole way—through the tenderness and the compassion of Maundy Thursday. On this day we are reminded that we must first allow Jesus to minister to us if we are to minister to others. Then we are invited to watch with him during our Vigil. We will set aside the sacrament in our chapel and we are invited to quietly pray as we recall how he was taken away like a thief. We are invited to pray during Thursday night as we recall his loneliness and the loneliness of others who watch and wait and weep at night.

On Friday, we are invited to mark with him again his Passion and Death, this time focusing on the masterful way he does this through the eyes of the writer of John’s gospel. For although the story is the same, how it is told is very different. We will have a reverencing of the cross that we built from our concerns. We will remember the ways that Jesus has taken the pains of the entire world upon him.

And on Saturday evening, we will again gather for the Great Vigil during which we will recall how at last he conquered death. We will light the Great Light again. What has been covered and hidden will be revealed. We again will climb the mountain with him and we will declare that he has made all things new.

Too many Christians only come to church for the triumph of Palm Sunday and then skip directly to the triumph of Easter missing the trip down through the week. They skip from the wave crest of Palm Sunday to the wave crest of Easter, and they miss the descent into greatness. The only way up is down. Jesus is calling us to that same journey downward into greatness. Mickey Anders

There's no Easter in the lessons today. Nor will there be all week. Unless we can walk these paths, leaving our comfort zone, our self-satisfaction, daring to walk beyond safety into the darkness of evil and death, carrying Jesus to the tomb, we will not even begin to grasp the power of the Resurrection.

So I invite you to walk with Jesus at every step of this Holy Week. Don’t short-circuit yourself and your own spiritual journey. Join us and the people of St. John’s as we ride the roller coaster that is Holy Week.

Jesus invites us to ride the roller coaster that is our unique spiritual journey with him. He dares us to the heart-pounding, scary, thrill that traveling with him is. And he knows we’re up to it. He knows that we can leave the safety of the merry-go-round behind as we join him. Our baptism is the ticket. There’s no height requirement. Just a willingness to strap ourselves in with him. Ready?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Choose Life

5th Lent March 9, 2008
Preached by Rev. Deb Seles St. Hilary March 9 2008

Choices. Our lives are full of choices great and small—what job to take, who to marry, who to play with, what school to attend. Small choices—whether to have roast beef or a turkey sandwich, whether to take the expressway or the side roads. And sometimes our small choices can have great consequences. We might take the side roads and run into an icy patch. We could choke on a chicken bone.

All over scripture we hear about people being given choices—when God calls, whether to follow God or follow some idol. Jesus was faced with a choice when he heard his beloved friend was ill. And for some reason he chose to delay his journey to Bethany. Martha and Mary had choices about how they would receive their friend: did they greet him with anger and accusation?

We don’t often think about the dead having choices but clearly Lazarus did have a choice. If you’ve ever heard about people having near death experiences, often you hear how they are given a choice about whether to return to the land of the living or not.

Last week Pastor Terri talked about a baby she encountered that was experiencing ‘failure to thrive,’ and she talked about how both human beings and communities make a choice about whether to thrive or not. It’s a mystery, she said, about why some babies do not thrive despite being given food. So too it is a mystery about why some communities thrive and others do not.

Perhaps it has to do with how we see our vocation. Vocation—the word comes from the Latin—to be called. Not only priests and deacons are called but mothers are called, fathers are called, the compassionate are called—we are each, in our unique ways called to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb when he was good and dead. Now there is speculation that the reason Jesus delayed returning to Bethany was that the Jewish people believed that one’s soul hovered near the body for three days. Waiting till Lazarus was buried four days would have meant that any speculation about this being a revival of a not-quite dead person would be eliminated.

We can speculate and discuss why Jesus waited four days but we have the result that Lazarus answered Jesus’ call. And is that not our duty too—to answer Jesus call whomever and wherever we are. Both as individuals and as a Christian community, we are called to respond to God’s call to life.

What is wonderful about this grouping—Martha, Mary, and Lazarus—is that it looks very much like church. In church there are those people who serve, like Martha; those people who listen in quiet contemplation like Mary and those people who are ill or who are bound by something—like Lazarus. Maybe we are each of these characters at any one time.

You know in our discussion with Vicky Garvey, some of us saw anger in Martha’s accusation of Jesus—“Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.” And that’s a legitimate response after all to grief. Anger—Martha might very well have been angry. Just as there likely is some anger with Pastor Terri that she left this community. Likely that there is or will be some anger with me because I am not Pastor Terri. Maybe there is even some anger with yourselves and some thought—if only we’d have been ‘better’ Pastor Terri wouldn’t have left. Whatever you are feeling—it is legitimate.

Does Jesus tell the sisters that they shouldn’t be angry? No, then I will not do so either. In fact, we hear that twice in this passage, Jesus himself is angry. At what, we’re not told but there it is. Anger is an important part of grief. What we do with it is what matters.

And anger is not opposed to faith—in fact Martha gives the most complete confession of faith from anyone we’ve heard yet. “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him. You are the Messiah, the One coming into the world.” So anger and faith can exist side by side. In Martha and in Mary and at St. Hilary’s.

The vocation of this community in the coming months will be to listen to God’s voice and find out where Jesus is inviting us to break free of whatever binds us and keeps us in the land of the dead instead of the land of the living. And if we think that’s going to be neat, let’s go back to scripture.

When Jesus orders the stone rolled away from the tomb, Martha, ever the pragmatist says—but it’s been four days, there is already a stench. Sometimes, in order to have a resurrection, matters first appear foul and messy. Resurrections do not happen when all is sterile and clean and smelling like our favorite room deodorizer. Where things stink is exactly where resurrections can also occur!

Because now, the community needs to assist in the resurrection. "Unbind him, and let him go." There are some people yearning to live resurrection lives. There are some folks who have been born again; they have risen from the dead!

In these next months, we are being invited as a community to assist in resurrection. Just how a community can do this is brought to mind by a real life story of Dick Hughes and Bill McLaughlin. Three years ago, Bill McLaughlin’s wife was dying of Alzheimer’s. We know the horror of this illness and the isolation that can come about as a spouse takes care of an increasingly disoriented partner. Dick Hughes was an acquaintance of Bill’s from their church, St. Paul’s Episcopal in Chestnut Hill Pennsylvania. He took it upon himself to invite Bill to tour a Philadelphia museum and have a picnic lunch.

That began a friendship between the two men. In the course of three years, they have toured 203 Philadelphia museum and have written a guidebook to benefit their church. Dick Hughes describes how he felt it was his Christian duty to help Bill. And so their adventure began.

Resurrection happens when ordinary people follow their vocation to be people of God. You will recall that last week we spoke about and named the Samaritan woman who was called out of her old life and who became an evangelist for the gospel. She returned to her old community a changed person.

We need each other’s help. We need community. We need others. Often, it is the task of Christian community to complete the action of Resurrection. Jesus has called forth new life: Lazarus, come out!" But Lazarus still has burial clothes on.


Ask the group to sit in silence as you offer a few ideas.
Ask them to see themselves “bound” — tied-up — not free.
Ask them to notice what it is that is constraining them.
Tell them it is not about feeling guilty — just noticing what it is that is holding us back.
Then, imagine Jesus coming to us and telling us to untangle each other, free each other, let each other go.
Now, see yourself free of this strangling binding.

We pray: thank you God that you are now, today, in our very lives the resurrection and the life. Thank you for breathing new life into our dry bones. Thank you for calling us out to be the people, the community you would have us be.