Tuesday, March 25, 2008


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!

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.


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.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Eyes Wide Open

A reflection on John 9:1-41

Six and half years ago I stood in this spot and offered to you my first sermon as your rector. I no longer have a copy of that sermon, long lost in one of the numerous computer crashes before I learned how to back up my data on a flash drive. But I do remember the illustration I used and the point I wanted to make.

In that sermon I described my experience working as a volunteer in the pediatric unit of a local hospital. I talked about one baby in particular. The mother came to this country from India but the father’s visa was repeatedly delayed. So, the mother, pregnant with their first child had to give birth in a foreign country without family or spouse. And the baby developed “failure to thrive” syndrome.

Failure to thrive is somewhat of a mystery to doctors, no one knows exactly what causes it. All they know is that despite everything appearing normal a baby fails to gain weight and grow; instead the baby diminishes and sometimes dies.

The Indian mother cared for this baby night and day, comforted and loved him, even as she grieved her own struggle to parent in this lonely way.

I used that illustration to name what I felt was a fear here – that this congregation feared its ability to grow and that that fear would manifest into a failure to thrive.

Underneath all of our work over these last years it has remained a subtle but lingering fear. Will this church die?

The point I wanted to make in that first sermon was that the desire to live, and the ability to do so, resides in large part with you, the people of St. Hilary’s.

Just like the baby, no matter how much loving care he received, something in him needed to decide to live. Somehow it seems the baby needs to make that decision, in what ever context the baby is able to do so, before the organs begin to fail from lack of nourishment.

Church communities need to make a similar decision to live. It needs to be an organic decision; the energy to live must rise up within, with the people willing to do what it takes to live.

Of course I had only a glimmer of an idea, in that first sermon, just how challenging the road ahead would be. Together we faced, just three short weeks after my arrival, the events of September 11, 2001. We gathered here that night in our fear, to be comforted by one another, to share stories and to pray.

We spoke of the evil of this world, the tendency for chaos to rear its ugly head, and God’s desire to forever scoop into the chaos and pull forth new life.

We had to remind ourselves that God desires life; God desires health; God love us and wants only the best for us; and, God will always win out over evil.

We have waded through natural disasters in the world around us – of Tsunami’s and hurricanes, finding our strength in helping others.

We have mourned through the deaths of many beloved people in this parish and found that we are stronger because of our ability to care for one another.

We have faced deep profound challenges to our faith in the actions at General Convention in 2003. We have found our voices as individuals and as a community as we willingly entered into difficult conversations. We have learned how to speak from our hearts and to listen with respect.

We have learned to let go of those who felt they had no choice but to choose another way, another church.

We have found our strength in living the tension of the middle way.

We have learned how to listen to others and understand that Christians can disagree on a whole number of issues, doctrines, and dogma, and still be good and faithful Christians.

We have learned how to read scripture and realize that each of us brings our own bias, our own lens.

But we have also learned that there is a central truth to the Word of God – that God loves us just as we are – and that we are called to love God, love others, and love self with that same generous spirit that God shows us.

We have learned that this is not easy – it has not been easy to extend love to those who would rail at us for not taking sides; for choosing to follow the middle way.

Sometimes it has not been easy to love God as we wondered what was happening to us, to this faith community – why didn’t God make us big like other churches?

And it has not always been easy to love ourselves and see the strengths and beauty and value of this parish family in the midst of our stress and strain and fear that we will fail to thrive.

Our gospel reading this morning offers us a direct link to all these same issues. In the story of the man born blind the Pharisees seek to point fingers and lay blame – surely the man was blind because of something he did before birth, or something his parents did before he was born.

The Pharisees see a direct link between cause and effect, between well-being and sin. But in the process they spend all their energy pointing outward and fail to look inward, fail to see their own sin and spiritual blindness.

And therefore fail to see God’s love evident in the world.

We have spent much of the last six years looking directly at this same theme -

that we begin first by looking at our selves and the ways we as individuals and as community are living in broken relationships with God and one another.

But it is not enough to just look at our brokenness. We have to do something about it. We have to make amends. We have to look at the ways we reject God’s love for us and for the world. We have to look at the ways we reject others and hurt people – and how we do this in ways known and unknown. Then we have to ask God to forgive us and to help us.

In traveling the journey of Lent we are pointed in the same direction as the disciples – a direction that helps us learn, over and over again, (like the disciples)that God is not a judging punishing God. Yes, God can be that. But what we learn from Jesus is that God is really one who aches for the brokenness of this world – in all its manifestations.

And, in Jesus we learn that God yearns to heal that brokenness. Also in Jesus we learn that God has chosen to do this, to heal the brokenness of the world, by working in and through human beings.

In Christ God came to heal this sin sick world and restore us to wholeness. But like that baby, we have to be open to God’s transforming love. We have to let it into our lives and into our spirits and we have to act upon it.

I don’t know why some failure to thrive babies turn around and live anymore than I know why others don’t. All I know is that is complicated and very sad.

And I don’t really know why some churches turn around and live and grow while others do not. I do think that Diana Butler Bass is on to something.

Remember our meetings in January 2006 when I shared with you her model, the tinker toy model? I think she is on to something when she suggests that we need to learn a new way of being church – one that is less about “authority” and “more about questioning without easy answers.”

And I think she is on to something when she says that the churches that grow have three factors all working together: a clear vision for mission, quality leadership in lay and ordained positions, and the Holy Spirit energizing the place.

I like to think that the work I have done here has been setting the stage for this to happen. We have laid the foundation for a clear mission with our work with refugees – whether that work plays out in selling Bishop’s Blend Coffee and the proceeds to Mexico, or with resettling refuges, or other Fair Trade endeavors…there is a clear sense of mission here. B will now take over as the Episcopal Migration Ministries Refugee Program Diocesan Liaison. She will help to keep this ministry remains front and central with the parish and the diocese.

I also like to think that we have quality leadership in our vestry and lay leaders, and these folks will hold the helm and steady this ship to navigate the waters ahead. They will need your support, prayers, and love. Be sure to pray for them and thank them.

And you will be in good hands with Pastor Deb. She will bring a calm and steady hand to the leadership as well as new enthusiasm and inspiration. Pray for her too and offer her your full support.

Remember always that you are a strong faith community making a difference in the world. Remember always to love God, love your selves, and to love others.

Remember me as one who loves you too.

And, remember that this church is not a community gathered around its priest – rather this is a community gathered around Jesus. All you have to do to thrive is to be yourselves, to love generously, and to continue to see beyond yourselves.

Don’t allow your anxiety about the future make you blind. Don’t allow your fear to limit what is possible. Allow the healing love of God to wash you and to open your eyes anew, to see clearly what is possible.

With eyes wide open, with the clarity of new sight you will see Jesus,

and he will lead you to new life.