Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost 2017

Over the next few months, our Old Testament lessons will follow the lives of the great patriarchs and matriarchs of our faith in the book of Genesis. These stories are artful, fun, and spiritually rich, but they can also seem quite strange. There are a lot of unfamiliar social and religious customs, the characters are often deeply flawed and behave in morally reprehensible ways, and what is playful and poetic in Hebrew often comes across as stilted and sparse in English.

But for all their strangeness, the basic point is pretty simple: No amount of human weakness and human folly can stand in the way of God’s love and God’s promise. The whole message is that we can’t screw things up badly enough to thwart God’s love.

Today we get the story of Hagar and Ishmael. Hagar is a slave in the household of Abraham and Sarah, and Ishmael is the son she conceived by Abraham at a time when Sarah and Abraham were convinced they wouldn’t have a child of their own.

Once Sarah and Abraham miraculously do give birth to Isaac, Sarah doesn’t want the slave’s child hanging around as a possible usurper, so Hagar and Ishmael are sent out into the desert wilderness: desolate, rejected, and alone. When they run out of water, in a heart-wrenching moment, Hagar places the baby under a bush, and sits just out of sight and sound, unable to watch her own child die, but also unable to completely turn away. As the story is told, you can almost hear Ishmael’s cries of thirst, and Hagar’s screams of anguish. But shockingly, we are told “God heard the voice of the boy. . .And God was with the boy.”

God was with the boy, in the depths of grief and the agony of thirst. God was with the boy, who was rejected and cast out. God was with the boy, who was insignificant, and illegitimate. God is there, in the lonely, deadly, desert, in the parched screams of a baby and his mother. That’s who God is with. That’s what God does. Ishmael is not the chosen one, Ishmael and Hagar are sent to a sure death out of the jealousy and fear of one of our faith’s heroes, but not even that can stop God’s love and God’s promise. That’s who God is.

The fact that God tends to be with the despised, and lonely, and unworthy is exactly why Jesus tells his disciples that joining up with this God is likely to get you into a whole lot of trouble. We get edgy Jesus in today’s reading. “I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” I have come to set a son against his father, and a daughter against her mother.” When you really join up with the God whose love knows no limit and can’t be stopped, watch out.

The God we worship, the God of Abraham and Sarah, Ishmael and Hagar, King David and Mary and Jesus and the rest, is a God who is always turning the world upside down. The poor are blessed, the hungry are filled, weakness is strength, dying is the path to life, the outsider is beloved and worthy of God’s promise and love. Whenever people really believe that, and really start to live like that’s true, feathers get ruffled for sure.

Even recent Christian history bears that out. Dorothy Day was arrested over and over and over, mocked and criticized and despised for standing up for the rights of workers, and welcoming the poor and destitute into beloved community. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed because he dared to take on the racism built into the foundation of our society. Oscar Romero was shot while saying mass at the altar because he stood with the poor in El Salvador and stood up to the government that ignored and exploited them.

But that’s what it means to sign up with Jesus. It means joining God in the wilderness, sitting with the desolation of Hagar and the cries of Ishmael, hearing those same screams in the laments of mothers whose children are killed by guns; in the desolation of a refugee family who has watched their son wash up dead on a beach, only to meet contempt from the nation they flee to. Following Jesus is about shining a light of love into the dark life of the woman sold on the streets, it’s about taking starving Ishmael into our arms by sharing a table with the homeless and hungry.

God heard the voice of the boy. And God was with the boy. Do we hear his voice today? Are we with that boy, or that girl, that man or that woman?

But Jesus isn’t just edgy in today’s gospel lesson. His warnings of resistance are backed up by re-stating God’s promise that has endured since all the way back in Genesis. “Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” “Even the hairs on your head are counted.” There is nothing that can happen to us, there is nothing we can do, to escape God’s love and God’s commitment to us.

God heard the voice of the boy. And God was with the boy. God hears your voice: scared, broken, angry, doubtful, grieving, filled with regrets, singing with joy. God hears your voice. If God was with Ishmael and Hagar, that means God is with you.

Where do you hear Ishmael, where do you see Hagar this week?

It’s no secret that we Christians are not always particularly Christ-like. The church and church people are just as flawed as Abraham and Sarah and the rest. But whenever Christians start to take Jesus at his word, whenever Christians start to live with Jesus’ heart, they often start to seem crazy. But in a world gone crazy with fear, in a world mad with violence, in a world full of demented divisions, living and loving like Jesus might just make us go sane. Loving wastefully, waging peace, living like Jesus, might just throw out a lifeline of hope and joy, and announce the Kingdom of God has come near. Amen.

 

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Proclaim Original Grace, First Sunday of Lent, 2017

The title for my sermon this morning is “Proclaim Original Grace”, which is the title of the second chapter of our Lenten book Find Your Way Home. Our Old Testament reading today is actually the story of our original sin. That juxtaposition was intentional. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that original sin is not a particularly popular Christian doctrine. When most people think of original sin (which isn’t often), they tend to recall some vague sense that it’s about how cute little babies are in fact terrible sinners, and need to be baptized to get rid of all their horrible sinfulness. Or we might think it has to do with the way humans procreate, and how that’s inherently bad. If those are what we mean by original sin, no wonder it’s unpopular, because that’s an absurd notion.

Our reading from Genesis today reminds us that human sin doesn’t really have anything to do with babies or hell fire or sex. It’s a familiar story. God makes the world, puts Adam and Even in the garden of Eden, tells them to have a good time, just as long as they don’t eat this one fruit from this one tree. A serpent tempts them to eat the fruit, they eat it, and now childbirth is dangerous and painful and life is hard.

The key to understanding sin is how the serpent hooks Adam and Eve. “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” You’ve got this situation here where you are in relationship with each other, and with God, and with all the great stuff in the garden. But eat this fruit, and you won’t need God. You’ll be able to know it all and do it all on your own. Our original isn’t about all the naughty things we do, it’s about the way we reject our need for God and for one another.

We were made for community. We were made for relationship with God, with each other, and with creation. That’s why we’ve selected the book Find Your Way Home for Lent. The twenty-four spiritual principles outlined in that book were developed by and for women who have experienced unspeakable trauma to help them learn how to live in the kind of genuine, loving community both they and we were made for.

See, what comes before original sin in the Bible is original grace. We were made in the image of God. The perfect, beautiful, loving, compassionate, thumbprint of God can be found at the center of every single one of us. Original grace is the idea that every single human being is endlessly valuable. Every single human being is sacred and worthy of love. Original sin is nothing more than the way we reject original grace in ourselves and in the people around us. We forget that we are loved immeasurably by God, so we try to fill our love hunger with money or booze or stuff or status or whatever. We forget that we are all invaluable in the eyes of God, so we spend our days trying to prove that we are valuable by trying to be perfect or by overworking, or by shrilly trying to win the game of life.

In a recent sermon, Bishop Barker quoted a friend of his who says there are two types of people in the world: the enough love people, and the not enough love people. The enough love people are generally cheerful and pleasant to be around. They are able to let perceived slights and insults roll off, they forgive easily, and they are a joy to be around. The not enough love people are generally irritable and grumpy, demanding of friends and family, they hold grudges over any small insult or perceived slight. The enough love people act out of courage and generosity. The not enough love people live with fear and a sense of scarcity.

The first step in finding our way home is to reclaim our original grace. Finding your way home begins with remembering that you are loved. Finding your way home is about learning how to live as an enough love person instead of that not enough love person all of us can be.

You are loved deeply, immeasurably, unalterably: not because you are perfect, not because you deserve it, but simply because you bear in your body, soul, and mind, the very image of God. True peace, true joy, true freedom all start from really believing that to be true. And if it’s true for you, (which it is), it’s also true for every other person on the planet. It’s true for the people you like, and the people you don’t like. Your life, and our world, will really start to change when we really believe that. If you are loved endlessly, if the people around you are loved endlessly, then they don’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to be perfect. As our book puts it, “We don’t’ have to live in shame for all the things that have been done to us or that we have done to one another.”

Lent is a time when we are called to repent. That doesn’t mean feeling ashamed and beating ourselves up for all the crumby things we do. Repenting means turning it around, re-turning to the fact that you are loved. Repenting means remembering that we need God, and we need each other. Repenting means admitting we can’t go it alone. Repenting means accepting the first sentence of our book: “No matter where we are, we are better coming together than living separately.” Repenting means proclaiming original grace, seeing yourself and everyone around you as beloved, valuable, wonderful children of God.

Try it this week. Try sitting quietly for ten minutes some morning or evening and just thinking of how you carry the image of God, just contemplating the fact that God loves you. And then, if you really want to see your life change, anytime you see someone–at work, or at home, the person behind the cash regiser, the person you walk by in the store–think about how you are seeing the face of god. Think about they, with all their shortcomings, are beloved of God. Reclaim original grace, and then proclaim original grace. Right now, this week, start to find your way home to the God who made you by love, through love, and for love. Amen.

Sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany

When I was in college, I had a part-time job at a small, independent bookstore in Hastings. This was during the era when the self-help book industry was just starting to explode. Books flooded into the store and flew off the shelves that promised to make you happier, better set up for love and connection, more productive, and more successful. The unabashed optimism and cheeriness of these books always made my cynical Generation X eyes roll dramatically and often. The epitome of the books from this age was Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which is a time management and leadership manual sealed with a kind of smarmy spiritual veneer. Despite my constitutional allergy to the whole idea of the book, it’s actually not too bad, and I remember more than my pride wants me to admit. One of the habits Covey discusses is “to begin with the end in mind.” The idea is that if you have a clear goal for where you want to go in some area of your life in the future, it will transform how you live in the present. When you see the end, you know how to begin.

The Transfiguration of Jesus, which is the story in our gospel lesson today, is Matthew’s way of beginning with the end in mind. It seems like something right out of science fiction. Jesus and three of his disciples go up on a mountain together, and suddenly Jesus gets a mysterious glow, his clothes become dazzling white, he’s joined by two long dead prophets, and the thundering voice of God declares Jesus his beloved son, and urges the disciples to listen to him. I can’t hear this story without thinking of the final scene in Return of the Jedi when the shining, ghost-like figures of Anikan Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Yoda appear to Luke and company.

It would be easy to dismiss this as just a fantastic invention of the gospel writer, but there’s a lot more than a simple magic trick going on here.

Up to this point in the story, things have gone pretty well. Jesus has been teaching, healing, and building up a nice little group of followers. But right after the episode this morning, things start to get a little darker. Jesus starts to journey toward Jerusalem, his conflict with the religious and political authorities starts to build toward its violent and tragic conclusion.

So right here on this mountain, just before things get really hard for Jesus and his disciples, God gives them a preview of what the end will look like. This episode is God’s way of saying, no matter what is about to happen, my light will outshine the coming darkness, my life will overcome the impending death. They are beginning a very difficult period with the end in mind. They have a glimpse of God’s victory at the end of the hardship they are about to face.

At the end of it all, when the disciples are on the ground overcome by fear, Jesus comes to them, touches them, and says, “Get up, and do not be afraid.”

That’s exactly what Jesus says to us this morning, too. Get up, and do not be afraid. This story is always read on the Sunday right before Lent starts, and as we prepare to begin Lent, we get a preview of Easter. As we face different kinds of darkness–the worries about our jobs, our kids, fear for the nation, weariness at how conflicted we all are, fears about our health, or our money, or fears about potential assaults on our own dignity or that of others—we hear the promise, we see the preview, that God’s light and love will outshine and outlive the worst our world can be.

Get up, and do not be afraid. Do not be afraid because God’s light and love will shine brighter than the darkness you’re facing. Get up because God’s love is more powerful than the hatred and intolerance that are out there. Get up because that light and that love needs to be carried out into the dark world, and that’s what we are for as followers of Jesus.

Every week, this is meant to be a small little mountaintop, a place where the beauty of this space and the ancient prayers are meant to dazzle us just a little with a preview of God’s promised future, so that our experience of the present darkness can be reshaped by God’s light. Each week, the Jesus we meet on this mountaintop offers us a chance to begin again with the end in mind: the end of God’s loving kindness, God’s compassionate justice, God’s perfect peace.

We stand on this mountaintop each week so that we might go back out there and help dazzle the darkness around us, transfigure whatever sorrow we encounter, infect the world with love and hope. As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry often puts it: our job is to help God transform the world from the nightmare it has become for so many into the dream God has for all people. Get up, and do not be afraid.

In a few minutes, we’ll baptize Oliver Pendell. As part of that, we’ll renew our own commitment to being light in the darkness, working for justice and peace in the world, and we’ll receive Oliver as a beloved brother in that work. Every baptism is this incredible moment to hear God call us beloved, to see God’s light shining in the darkness, and to be reminded that we are called to be that light in our lives.

All of us have plenty to be afraid of. All of us have more than our fair share of worry, of anger, of grief. We stand on the mountaintop again this morning, we are invited to begin again with the end in mind, with God’s glorious love and mercy in sight. We’re invited again to feel Jesus’ hand tap us on our sagging shoulders and say again:“Get up, and do not be afraid.” Amen.

 

 

 

 

“Dignity”-Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany by Brother James Dowd

This morning we have just heard a reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians which contains a passage that has had a major impact on my own faith journey. Given the particular moment we find ourselves living through as Americans, I wanted to share a bit of my personal experience with others in our community because I think it might shed light on what some of you might be experiencing yourself. So I am going to ask you to indulge me talking about myself for a just a little bit here.

This then is a story about me, my dad, the Sisters of Mercy and how I became an adult Christian in a very difficult time. First, Dad had the faith of a man raised in an Irish-Catholic milieu, the type of faith you found in members of the Greatest Generation. Unlike many men of that generation and from that tradition, he was comfortable talking about faith – he loved the Scriptures and he loved to read lives of the saints. He was well grounded in what it meant to be a Christian. And he shared that with all four of us kids and, as I showed particular interest in religion, we talked about God and the Church and lots of religious topics a fair amount. These are the conversations with Dad that I most cherish now, many years after his passing.

When I was about fifteen, Dad began to talk to me about what we just heard in First Corinthians. He would say, “Jim, it is always important to remember that you are God’s temple and God’s spirit dwells in you.” The reminders of this particular passage, which came often in my mid-teens, seemed to come out of the blue. This would often be followed by his telling me that it is important to listen to the church’s teaching on all matters, but that there were levels of teaching that were more important than others. The teaching that we are all God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells within each one of us was among the highest and most important teachings. Remember that, he would say.

I had no idea why he was constantly referring to this one specific passage.

Now fast forward a few years to when I was being educated in high school by Sisters of Mercy. These sisters, along with my mother and sister, are among the greatest women in the world, and I just love them. Towards the end of my junior year and throughout my senior year, I was beginning to come to an understanding of myself that was rather upsetting and often confusing. It would take several more years for me to be able to fully grasp what it all meant, but it was becoming clear to me that I was gay.

At this point it was the late 1970’s and we lived in Williamsburg, VA. I was completely steeped in my Roman Catholic faith, and didn’t even have the word “gay” in my vocabulary except as something that was said by actresses in movies from the 30’s and 40’s referring to being happy.

But for me, there was nothing happy about life by the end of my senior year and into my first year of college at William and Mary. No, these were dark times.

And throughout this period there were several Sisters of Mercy who reached out to help in ways that would have an enormous impact on me. They would tell me – over and over again – that I was created in the image and likeness of God and that God made me, just like God made everyone else, to be a temple of the Holy Spirit.

One Sister at a particularly dark time, said to me “don’t you understand that when God made you in God’s image and created you to be a temple of the Holy Spirit, God gave you an inherent dignity that no one can take away from you. No matter how bad things get, no matter how awful the President and the Pope might be on this issue – your dignity was given to you by God and no human being and no institution can take that away from you.”

So that was the early to mid-1980’s and things were very bad and getting worse for gay men at that time. With the entire church – not just the Catholic church – being openly hostile toward gay people or, at best, neutral, as if we didn’t even exist; and with the president ignoring the ever growing plague of AIDS, it was a dark, dark time for me personally and for gay men in general.

But through it all, my father’s words and those of the Sisters of Mercy kept coming back to me – “I am created in God’s image and I am the temple of the Holy Spirit. No one can take that dignity from me.” This became a kind of mantra for me. I thought about that a lot and more importantly, I prayed with that idea a great deal, and soon, I actually began to believe it and then found a way to live more deeply into that theological point of view. A point of view that still guides me today. A point of view summed up in one word: Dignity.

I haven’t really consciously thought about that time in my life in quite a while now. But the current situation in our country has brought all of that rushing back to me and that has caused me to reflect much more profoundly on our Baptismal Covenant, especially the last question that we ask and answer every time we renew that covenant.

That last question – you can find it on page 305 in the Prayer Book – is asked by the Presider at the liturgy: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? And we all answer: “I will, with God’s help.”

There is so much of our theology tied up in that question and answer. The linking of justice and peace among all people – let me emphasize – that means all people, every type of people, every type of person. Like them or not, understand them or not, agree with them or not, we are to strive for justice and peace among everyone.

But it occurs to me that had my dad and the Sisters not taught me about my own inherent dignity, it would have been nearly impossible for me to see that dignity in people who were different from me. And so I would like to offer you the gift that my dad and the Sisters offered me. That gift which understand that God loves each one of us in the unique way that God created us.

So if you are a person who feels under attack by the current political climate, I want to offer you the wisdom of the Scriptures and the tradition of our faith that Dad and the Sisters taught me.

  • If you are a woman, who is repulsed by the idea of being considered a piece of meat that can be grabbed at will or if you are a woman who is sick and tired of not being paid equally for equal work, then I want to say to you that you were created in God’s image and you are a temple of the Holy Spirit and that gives you a dignity that no one can take away from you.
  • And if you are a transgendered person, and you are sickened by the hatred and ignorance that lands at your feet daily, then I want to say that you were created in God’s image and you are a temple of the Holy Spirit and that gives you a dignity that no one can take away from you.
  • And if you are a differently abled person, and you are horrified by the governments’ attempt to erase your presence from every Federal web site, then I want to say to you that you were created in God’s image and you are a temple of the Holy Spirit and that gives you a dignity that no one can take away from you.
  • And if you are a person of color and you are repulsed by the outward display and inward longing for a white nationalist regime by some of those in power, then I want to say to you that you were created in God’s image and you are a temple of the Holy Spirit and that gives you a dignity that no one can take away from you.
  • And if you are an immigrant or refugee and you are terrified that the Administration is going to tear apart your family then I want to say to you that you were created in God’s image and you are a temple of the Holy Spirit and that gives you a dignity that no one can take away from you.

 

But for all of us, it is not enough to be told by someone that you have this God-given gift of dignity and then, magically, everything will be o.k. I had to pray for a long time after my dad and the Sisters taught me this wisdom to really come to believe it. Faith is the gift from God, but it is only the gift of a seed. If you don’t tend and water it with prayer it will not grow. So during this dark and dangerous time in our history, I urge you to tend to your dignity, water your dignity. Deepen your prayer lives as an act of resistance to those forces both within you and without that attempt to tear you down, that attempt to tell you that you are not worthy of the protection of this great country, that you are not God’s beloved child.

Now please understand, dignity is not enough. But the Baptismal Covenant directly ties respecting the dignity of every human being to the striving of justice and peace. And respecting the dignity of every human being begins by respecting the dignity inherent within yourself.

We are nearing the end of the season of Epiphany, that season in which the Church focuses on the manifestation of Christ in the world. The greatest manifestation of Christ in the world is a community of Christians shining forth their dignified selves. Embracing our Christian faith by acknowledging our own dignity and the dignity of others is a great act of resistance that we can all engage in. May God bless us in this holy work. AMEN.

Sermon for Recovery Eucharist and Commemoration of Father Samuel Shoemaker by the Reverend Charles Peek

There are people who shy away from AA because they think it seems too religious. Welcome to the Episcopal Church where we seldom make the mistake of seeming too religious.

You can tell by my outfit that I’m not a cowboy, so let me introduce myself: I’m Fr. Chuck Peek and I’ve been sober since April 30, 1986. For those for whom that form of introduction doesn’t mean anything, I’m a failed drunk. Once I belonged to the Poor Me club…poor me, poor me, pour me another! I don’t have to live like that anymore thanks to a program of recovery, such as AA; AA in turn owes its thanks to Fr. Sam Shoemaker, whom we celebrate tonight. Fr. Shoemaker, in turn, owed his life and ministry to his dedicated grasp of the essence of the spiritual tradition of Christ’s Church.

When we celebrate Fr. Shoemaker, we are celebrating a priest who was not at times shy about being critical of priests—something we can all relate to. (If you’ve been standing outside, finding fault with the Church, come on in and meet some of us who not only know its faults but sometimes are its faults!)

Among the legacy Fr. Sam left us was a kind of wish list for priests. Fr. Shoemaker’s “wish list” for the priest of the church is, it seems to me, no different than the wish list for all Christians, and, taken possibly in reverse order, no different than what the 12th step asks of those recovering:

“…I wish they would not forget how it was

Before they got in. Then they would be able to help

The people who have not even found the door,

Or the people who want to run away again from God.

You can go in too deeply, and stay in too long,

And forget the people outside the door.

As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,

Near enough to God to hear [God] and know [God] is there,

But not so far from men [and women] as not to hear them,

And remember they are there, too” (“I stand at the door,” silkworth.net 2016)

The spiritual steps offered as the steps to recovery in AA (or any other twelve-step recovery group) include steps that should be familiar to every practicing Christian. They include taking a moral inventory, making amends for harm done (in Christian repentance, it is not enough just to tell someone you are sorry for hurting them, you need to make amends for the harm), making a daily practice of meditation and prayer, turning our wills and lives over to God, which folks in Recovery and a great many Christians call “surrender”: laying down the arms of self-destruction and hoisting the flag of surrender to a loving God who can make us whole and useful.

In a letter to Fr. Shoemaker, Bill Wilson (sometimes called the founder of AA) said that the steps summed up what had been taught “primarily by” Fr. Shoemaker. Without Shoemaker’s teaching, Bill said, “there could have been nothing—nothing at all,” and he usually listed Sam’s name among the “co-founders” of AA (along with Dr. Bob Smith).

If you have been in meeting rooms of AA you have seen pictures of Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob. You never see Sam’s picture, nor do you see the picture of Ebie who helped Bill get sober but couldn’t stay sober himself, and you certainly don’t see pictures of the long-suffering spouses, such as Lois. If I had my way, every one of their pictures would hang in the meeting halls. But, then, the program of recovery constantly reminds me that it is not all about Chuck Peek getting his way. Being a member of AA is not conditional on the member getting his or her way. (Wouldn’t it be nice if that were true of the Church as well.)

Not only the conception of the program of Recovery but also its very language echoes language and concepts found in the sermons and books of Fr. Sam Shoemaker. These same words and thoughts also echo the scripture once read in recovery meetings before there was a Big Book (the manual Bill Wilson wrote for AA), especially The Book of Acts, the Sermon on the Mount, the book of James, and Paul’s hymn to love at the close of Corinthians. And they all in turn mirror the standards used in the Oxford Groups that were forerunners of AA and for which Fr. Shoemaker was the American leader. Let me give one example of the close resemblance: in his preaching, Sam Shoemaker charged each listener to come to a “decision to cast my will and my life on God.” That is almost word for word the 3rd step of recovery (found in your program): “We made a decision to turn our wills and lives over to God.”

Now having mentioned the Big Book, let me say that tonight’s celebration is not necessarily a recommendation to go out and immediately read a copy of “the big book,” Alcoholics Anonymous. (Unless of course you are in Alcoholics Anonymous, and then it might be a great idea to read the manual!) But as to what good the book will do for those not addicted or committed to helping addicts: all the spiritual steps of any sound spiritual discipline are there to be sure, but they are definitely framed in the language of addiction, and possibly you are not an addict and do not operate from a personality that leans to any obsessions.

Perhaps…although for most everyone the possibility bears more thought than it is usually given. But even with the specific language to people who are addicted to substances, or behaviors, or experiences, the spiritual principles in the book come through loudly and clearly, so maybe a Christian or a church study group could benefit from a reading of the Big Book.

There you would find that the principles are simple and basic. Love and Tolerance (and the honesty, openness, and willingness necessary to become loving and tolerant) are the keys, and when it comes to being loving or tolerant, honest or open, it is my experience that we all stumble, all fall short. “All fall short of the glory of God.”

These principles we try to practice one day at a time. Scripture tells us that sufficient to the day is the evil thereof…meaning: we only get one day at a time and waste it if we try to live yesterday or tomorrow, if we take it for granted, or if we devote it to a fixation on all that is wrong with the world. We live only when we live the day we have, thankful for its blessings, and devoted to the solutions to our life’s problems. In short, your day is either run by the evil of people, places, and things, or it is run by the goodness of the grace of God! You cannot have it both ways, you cannot serve both God and what is not of God!

[During the Sunday Eucharist at St. Luke’s, Kearney, our celebrant tonight, Fr. Ness, gathers people for thanksgivings and blessings, and he always begins by asking them all to take a deep breath of the Spirit. Spirit and Breath come from the same root word, and a little thought will tell you that breathing is important to spiritual practice. Nothing better arrests a moment of panic than getting control of our breathing. Nothing eases stress better than regular, deep breathing. So I want you to take a moment right now and, with me, breathe deeply in and out: slowly breathe in God and breathe out what is not God, breathe in the spirit of God, breathe out what is not of the spirit of God, breathe in peace, breathe out discord . . . already you may feel the benefit of this, and you will find that adding this to your prayer and meditation times helps you to peace and quietness of mind.]

Now there are basically three things programs of recovery say about God:

First, Recovery tells us that there is a God and I’m not it. No matter from what religion or denomination, it is fundamental to every spiritual life to get rid of grandiosity and embrace humility. And by grandiosity I mean from both ends, the grandiosity of feeling that you are better than everyone else and the grandiosity of feeling you are worse than everyone else.

Now my good friend, retired Roman Catholic priest Fr. Jim Schmitt tells the story of parishioner who was just a horrible man—mean and abusive to his family, dishonest in his life, awful. But one day that changed and the change lasted another day and into weeks and weeks and Fr. Jim finally asked him what had happened that made the change in him. The man, now in recovery, said it was simple: he had turned in his resignation as head of the universe . . . and God had accepted his resignation!

So, first “there is a God and I’m not it”; then secondly recovery tells us that God is and has been all along in our corner. We don’t discover that God is with us now that we’ve gotten sober or clean. Drunk-a-logs (the stories we tell of our former drinking lives) prove that God was with us over and over again. And that tells us that the God who has been with us all along is not the hateful, angry God we had been taught or we had come to believe to be God. God was not missing in action, though we often missed the signs of God’s presence.

There is a God and I’m not it. God is and has been with us all along. And finally God expects something of you. I know we do not not seek controversy and I am sure this will be controversial, but here it is: contrary to a lot of sentimental Christianity preached today, God requires more than pious words. We are called not just to say God is in our hearts or Jesus is our savior, but to strive to actions that make those words real. The 3rd and 7th step prayers in The Big Book are essentially the prayer that God might do with me today whatever it takes to make me useful to God and other human beings. And one follow-up thought about being useful . . . we can’t be useful off by ourselves. Every addiction I know of—again to a substance, a behavior, and experience doesn’t matter—ends up isolating us from others. We may have started out going to the bar to be social; we end up alone in our rooms hoping no one will bother us. You cannot remain in isolation and recover and you cannot remain in isolation and be useful.

Making our new understanding real by putting words into action is exactly what we heard urged by St. Paul in tonight’s second reading: “Clean out the old leaven of malice and evil and eat of the bread of sincerity and truth.” (I Cor. 3)

We do not get into action once for all. We get into it daily. Sometimes we get over-confident or lazy. So the fact is that all of us some time, some of us all the time need to be reprogrammed, need to reboot the system. We celebrate Sam Shoemaker because that’s what Sam Shoemaker teaches us how to do. Let us celebrate Sam’s day by listening to what Sam teaches. My few examples all come from his book Realizing Religion—even in the title you can hear the idea of making something real. Anyone can be religious, but the challenge is to make that religion real in your life. So here is just a sample of what Sam taught.

Sam wrote, “There are laws for the production of the Christ-type of life. Without heeding them it is . . . foolish to hope for success.” 7

And with that he noted, “It is extremely hard, and in most cases frankly impossible, for anyone to secure results which are fundamentally spiritual without using any spiritual means, or fulfilling any spiritual conditions.” 6-7

Again, Sam taught, “Surrender to the Divine Life . . . takes on reality as we have in mind definite cooperation with God in definite work for one definite person.” 79

(When we first get into recovery, the definite person is ourselves; as we grow in recovery, then the definite person becomes another person in need.)

Then Fr. Shoemaker knew what all sound psychology teaches us, that one of the three things most needed in our lives is a sense that our lives have meaning and purpose. He told us that in recovery, we are:

“Armed with that fortifying [strengthening] sense that we are cooperating with God and doing the work which of all work [God] most wants done.” 78

I could hear that thought echo scripture tonight when Dottie read the reading from Isaiah, “Awake, awake, put on your strength”! (Isa 51)

And since you have all gathered here in a church tonight, here is what Fr. Shoemaker tells us about Church:

Sam taught: “We need the Church—need its irksome discipline as well as its inspiring teaching—and not less the Church needs us.” 69

How many ever stopped to think the Church might need us!

And he added: “There is no greater testing place of character, especially of the disposition which is able to work with others, than the fellowship of the Church.” 69

As I come to a close tonight, I want to say a word to those of you already in Recovery; remember this: the fellowship of the program is meant to lead us to the fellowship of the spirit. In the Fellowship of the Spirit, then, let me close with Fr. Shoemaker’s invitation to all of us…to you tonight…and invitation I repeat with fervent hope that you will take it to heart:

God will always give the regeneration we want . . . God has a great spiritual experience and destiny to which [God] calls you, if only you will rise up to receive it.

AMEN.

Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, 2017

On Christmas Day this past year, my family spent the afternoon watching the original Star Wars movie. It was the first time our daughter Mari had seen it. I’m not sure what she thought of it, but for her nerd father who grew up with it as a staple of his childhood, it felt like a big moment. It had been years since I’d watched the movie, and this time I was struck by just how fast the plot moves. Princess Leia moves from an imperial senator, to an imperial prisoner, to commander of the rebellion with barely taking a breath. Luke Skywalker moves from being an ordinary farm boy on a backwater planet to being a major figure in the rebellion in about twenty-five minutes. The sequence of events that move the characters along seem like a rapid series of coincidences, but of course, in the Star Wars theology, it is the God-like force that is calling and moving them toward their destiny. In an instant, an ordinary person, in the midst of his ordinary life, is called to play an extraordinary role.

The same thing is happening in today’s gospel lesson. When we read this passage at both our Wednesday Bible study and most recent chapter meeting, several of us were particularly struck by how Simon and Andrew, James and John immediately drop everything and leave their lives behind to follow Jesus. Four ordinary fishermen, in one instant, are called to play an extraordinary role. Because they responded to that call, those ordinary fishermen are all enshrined in these windows, and countless others like them around the world.

Like the movie Star Wars, the events in this morning’s lesson are set against the backdrop of a cruel and oppressive empire. The fishermen Jesus called were kept in crushing poverty by what was extortion disguised as tax law, and for the people living on the little slice of earth known as Galilee, that was nothing new. Back when it was known as the land of Zebulon and Naphtali, the Assyrians were doing the same thing the Romans. In the midst of a dark political landscape, Matthew frames Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s ancient promise:

“Land of Zebulon, land of Naphtali. . .Galilee controlled by the Gentiles. . .the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

Jesus is the light promised to a people living in the darkness of oppression, fear, and poverty.

The rest of the lesson then shows us what that light gets up to, how it works in the world: it calls people to a new way of life, it invites people to form a new community of love, it heals those who are sick, who are desperate, who are desperately poor. God’s promised light works in the world by forming a alternative community of love and healing that will resist the world’s darkness.

In the words of one of my favorite biblical scholars, David Lose: “Jesus called ordinary people, in the middle of their ordinary lives to do extraordinary things. . .and he still does.” [1]

When we normally think of Jesus’ call, we think it’s the ordained clergy who are called, or we think that maybe some people are called to a particular job or something. But Jesus calls each and every one of us, exactly like he called Simon and Andrew, James and John. He is not so much calling us to do a particular kind of job, he is calling us to be light in a dark world. Jesus is calling us, Jesus is calling you, to form an alternative community, to join an alternative kingdom of love, and work together to heal the desperately sick, the desperately lonely, the desperately poor, and maybe most of all those who are just desperate.

Jesus is calling you, ordinary you, to play an extraordinary role. Jesus is calling you to light in the darkness. Jesus is calling you invite others into an alternative community marked by love and hope and healing. Jesus is calling you right where you are, in your own fishing boat, in your home, at your office, to join God’s extraordinary movement of bringing hope where there is despair, love where there is hatred, life where there is death.

I wrote this sermon on Friday morning, just before the presidential inauguration, as a handful of people were sitting in this cathedral praying. It’s an anxious time for our nation. These past several days, everyone has seemed a little more on edge. We are deeply divided, there’s anger all around, many are afraid. The good news for us today is that the people of Zebulon and Naphtali knew what all of that was like, Simon and Andrew, James and John knew what all of that was like, Jesus and everyone he touched and healed knew what that was like. Throughout the Old Testament, in the gospels, and in so many places in the history of the church, God’s people have come together in the midst of uncertain times, in the midst of all kinds of darkness, in fearful times and in exuberant times, and formed once again an alternative community of love and light. This morning, Jesus is calling you, ordinary you, to be extraordinary light and extraordinary love, saturating and infecting the world wherever you are, whoever you are, and whatever you are with love and hope and peace. Jesus stands right here in the midst of us today, and calls us again, “Follow me.” I will make you fish for people, I will make you light for the world. Land of Zebulon and Naphtali, land of the United States, land of Omaha, the people who have walked in darkness have seen, see right now, and will see again, God’s great light. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3018

2017 Epiphany Proclamation

In the ancient church, before calendars were widespread, it became the custom for all of the holy days for the year to be announced on the feast of the Epiphany. The days and seasons of feasting and fasting that give shape to our life as Christians are all oriented around the date of Easter, which is the central mystery of our faith. The annual Epiphany proclamation helps us put in mind and look out over the whole scope of the salvation story as we enter into this new year.

Dear brothers and sisters,
the glory of the Lord has shone upon us,
and shall ever be manifest among us,
until the day of his return.

Through the rhythms of times and seasons
let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation.

Let us recall the year’s culmination,
the Easter Triduum of the Lord:
his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial,
and his rising celebrated
between the evening of the Thirteenth day of April
and the evening of the Fifteenth day of April,
Easter Sunday being on the Sixteenth day of April.

Each Easter — as on each Sunday —
the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed
by which Christ has for ever conquered sin and death.
From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy.

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent,
will occur on the First day of March.

The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated on
Thursday, the Twenty-fifth day of May.

Pentecost, joyful conclusion of the season of Easter,
will be celebrated on the Fourth day of June.

And, this year the First Sunday of Advent will be
on the Third day of December.

Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the passover of Christ
in the feasts of the holy Mother of God,
in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints,
and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.

To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come,
Lord of time and history,
be endless praise, for ever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

Christmas Eve, 2016

As most of you know, I grew up in North Platte, which is a smallish railroad town that sits on the southern edge of the Nebraska sandhills, exactly 281 miles west of this cathedral. I didn’t pay much attention to those sandhills growing up—they were just sort of there—but in my adult life, I’ve grown to love them more and more every year. I love their austere and understated beauty. I love the fact that though they are their geologically fragile and threatened, somehow they’re still there. I love how when you drive through them the sense of your own smallness against the vast backdrop of God’s creation is both comforting and terrifying in equal measure. They are known by very few people in the world, and beloved by even fewer.

About a year and a half ago, I was in Bethlehem around Easter. I had just finished eating lunch at a little restaurant on the edge of town, and I was standing outside by myself, taking in the view of the Judean hills, the same hills where the shepherds were keeping watch in tonight’s gospel. I was mesmerized by how much they look like the sand hills I came from on the other side of the world. Replace the sheep with cattle, and I might have been standing on the hill just outside my mom’s back yard. Like their Nebraska counterparts, on the first Christmas the Judean hills were largely unknown to the world, and loved only by the handful of people who called them home.

And yet, that’s where the real action happens in Luke’s Christmas story. The gospel we heard tonight is one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. I’ve read or heard it hundreds of times. But this year I was struck by the fact that the way Luke tells the actual birth of Jesus is pretty boring. A poor family is sent scurrying by an imperial decree the way poor families always are when the powerful make decrees. Labor and delivery are described in one sentence! We get no details about what would have been a scary and unimaginably difficult journey and childbirth.

But when the action shifts to the hills, things get exciting. An angel appears, shepherds shake with fear, and a big heavenly choir appears transforming those ordinary hills into a flash cathedral. Heaven and earth are joined together, and common ranch hands become the first to hear the news that the world has changed.

With the politically powerful hanging around the edges of the story, the poorest people, in the most insignificant field, become the place where the glory of God’s love shines brightest.

And that’s just the thing about Christmas: it makes the astonishing claim that the God who made all things took on our flesh and blood, moved into our neighborhood, joined us on our terms. But God wasn’t just born in some generic sense. God was born in what was basically the North Platte of the ancient Roman Empire, or the inner city, or the Appalachia, or the border town slum.

Christmas announces that God is always being born in those places and people that are most forgotten, and thrown out, and overlooked. Christmas announces that God often shows up in the cold and lonely and frightening mangers of our own hearts. Christmas promises that there is no person too far gone, no situation too broken, no place too distant for God’s love to reach and save and heal. In fact, if we follow Luke’s version, the less important and lovable the place, the more likely God is to show up there.

But if that’s true, if we really believe that, then those of us who celebrate it tonight are compelled to constantly proclaim that fact with our whole lives.

The beauty and peace and joy of this night is not an escape, it’s not a temporary reprieve from a harsh and brutal world. The beauty and peace and joy of this night are meant to shape us into people that will help God dazzle forgotten fields with the glory of love wherever we are.

To sing “o come let us adore him” is to join God in defying the powers that are working now as they did then to oppress, and ignore, and break down and exclude. To sing “o come let us adore him” is to commit ourselves to expecting God to show up in the poor, the homeless, expect God to side with the immigrant, expect God to stand alongside gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, with religious minorities, with victims of sexual assault, with the frightened and angry foster child, to travel in the weary arms of refugees, and anyone else who has been pushed to the margins and backwaters of our world. Those are the places we will find God being born again and again and again. This night invites, it demands, that we stand in those places and look for the glory of God to come blazing out of them.

So come to the manger again tonight to worship our newborn king, but don’t expect him to stay there. Expect to hear about him from those out in the fields, expect to meet him on the forgotten and lonely hillsides of our world, in the hidden and painful parts of your own heart. And when you meet Jesus in those places, expect to quake with awe and joy at the way he dazzles the darkest places with the glory of love. Amen.

Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent by Brother James Dowd

As you have no doubt gathered by now, this morning we mark the first Sunday of Advent. In our church calendar this is the beginning of the new liturgical year, and in our secular calendar and popular culture it is a kind of crossover from the Thanksgiving holiday to the Christmas holidays.

And all of this just in time for Jesus to get his Christmas cards out early with the heart-warming Gospel message we just heard, that the world is coming to an end; that disaster waits around every corner; and that you better be ready. Happy Holidays from our house to yours, signed: Jesus, Mary and Joseph!

Not to be outdone, our ever pervasive media, from which we are seemingly unable to find refuge, has decided that the end times are indeed upon us, and that the apocalypse begins here in the United States, rather than in the traditionally anticipated place of the Middle East.

And perhaps they are correct. Maybe it is that bad. The signs of our times are not looking good and I believe we really, truly, need to pay attention to them. To sweep under the table the questions, concerns, and even panicked response to the election of our sisters and brothers who are handicapped, or immigrant, or Muslim, or poor, or LGBT, or African-American, is morally indefensible. Just as it was to sweep those same concerns that many white working class people had. Concerns that no one was listening to them regarding their increasing poverty, their inability to find work, the growing very serious drug problem in rural areas and more.

So, yes. I’m here to tell you they are all right – the world is falling apart. Insane terror organizations like ISIS control large parts of the Middle East murdering untold numbers; climate change is real and yet most of our leaders fiddle as millions of acres of forest burn, our coastal areas flood and havoc is wreaked on our agriculture; Neo-Nazis and Klansmen openly celebrate, “their” election victory; many of the women and men who built our major industries throughout the Midwest and Appalachia are in desperate need; race relations haven’t been this bad since before the civil rights era; young men of color continue to be harassed, imprisoned, and even killed at alarming rates by the police; police officers are being randomly assassinated; and so much more.

So, yes, we should pay attention. That is what Jesus was instructing us to do when he told us to awaken. But as Christian, we are also not to despair. We are never to despair. Advent is an important liturgical season in any year, but this year, I think it is essential for our lives as Christians because Advent is nothing if not about light, peace, joy, and hope.

And that is why, when Dean Loya, Mother Sarah, and I were planning the Advent program for our community, we chose the theme of Breathing into Christmas as a way to focus our faith journeys at this time. We will seek to teach, in various formats, the theological and spiritual aspects of light, peace, joy, and hope and how they help us to breathe into Christmas. The idea of breathing into Christmas is a way to bring those theological aspects of light, peace, joy, and hope into the everyday reality of our lives. To change what can seem like abstract ideas into something as close to us and as necessary to our existence as our breath.

This week, we’re focusing on light. This morning we heard the great prophet Isaiah, the prophet of Advent, invite the House of Jacob, to “walk in the light of the Lord”. And that reminded me of another prophet I greatly admire – not nearly as well known – but very important to my life and to the lives of many others. Father James Otis Sargent Huntington was the founder, back in 1884, of the Order of the Holy Cross, the order to which I belong, and the first male monastic order in the Episcopal Church. He fought against many church, societal, and governmental forces to bring the light of Christ to another period in which both our church and our country was being roiled by great unrest.

In his time, the Industrial Revolution was creating a great deal of wealth for a very few on the backs of the mostly immigrant working poor who labored in near slave-like conditions. He first chose to work with very poor German immigrants, none of whom were Episcopalian.

God always works in mysterious ways and that is no less true with Father Huntington. So, here was the young James Huntington, a patrician son of a well-heeled New England family, whose father was a bishop of the church, called to serve in the slums of the Lower East Side of New York. And the way he would serve and welcome others to serve with him was to dedicate his life and community to prayer and service to society’s outcasts.

All that prayer – what I call breathing – led Father Huntington to develop his most famous teaching which is a simple sentence: “Love must act, as light must shine, and fire must burn.” “Love must act, as light must shine, and fire must burn.”

Inherent to the fact that light must shine – it cannot not shine. It is not light if it is not shining. And inherent to the fact that fire must burn – it cannot not burn. It is not fire if it is not burning. So too, is the fact that Christian love must act. To love as a Christian one cannot not act. It is not Christian love if it is not acting. One must, in fact, act. And that very act of love is learning to live into the light.

Living into the light, breathing into the light, is an act of Christian love. It is an act so radical that it is, in fact, quite counter-cultural to engage in such acts of love. You see, all around us, the forces of the market-place, our current political system, and our governmental, military and industrial complex all conspire to have us believe that if we gorge ourselves on buying products we don’t need; and if we vote out of fear even when that vote is not in our personal or national self-interest; and if we allow our treasure to be squandered on needless armaments and wars; We will be happy. We will be satisfied. We will be safe.

You see the powers of darkness are best at deception. They want us to be so afraid that we will attempt to assuage that fear with the supposed balm of a hyper commercialized and militarized society. A society that is susceptible to the Big Lie. And these same powers tell us over and over and over again: you don’t need to act: politics doesn’t belong in the church; you don’t need to act: those immigrants are taking our jobs; you don’t need to act: those people who are protesting are just whiney crybabies; you don’t need to act: your life is hard enough.

Darkness. Darkness. Darkness. But Advent is about Light. Light. Light. Light. In fact, we have this great symbol in the Advent wreath that we use each year. As the literal darkness descends and we have less light each day from now until nearly Christmas, we keep lighting first one, then two, then three, then four lights on that wreath in defiance of the darkness. To be a Christian is to out-light the darkness, even if by only one candle, because light must shine.

And so we too must act. We stand up at Advent and we light those candles and we keep lighting those candles, and we put lights up on our houses and on our trees, as we proclaim to the world that we will not let the darkness overcome us. We will act for love, for mercy, for justice, and for peace. Nothing will stop us because if God can love us so much that God would come among us, become one of us, teach us God’s way of living, and then die for us; the very least we can do is to attempt to become a little bit like God and behave in a way that is about the light.

As light must shine and fire must burn, so too we must act as God’s hands and feet and heart and mind and voice in our time and in our community, just as the great prophets Isaiah and Father Huntington did in their times. This is our time, my sisters and brothers, to stand up, light those candles, pray into that light of Christ, and act for justice, act for peace, act for the immigrant, the despised, the poor, and the forgotten. Let that light shine in you so that it becomes the fire that must burn in our communities. AMEN.

Sermon for Christ the King Sunday, 2016

Two TV moments to start this morning. Sixteen years ago at this time, after George W. Bush and Al Gore had fought through a bitter and mean campaign (it seems pretty mild now), the country waited weeks and weeks to sort out what was essentially a dead tie between the candidates. Cynicism about politicians and Washington had been growing for a while, and seemed universal. NBC’s “The West Wing” was just hitting its stride. Against the backdrop of an election scene that looked a little like a circus, and then as the country started to become more and more fractured, “The West Wing” provided us with a sort of alternate political reality, where President Josiah Bartlett and his team united a country with integrity and a commitment to service that seemed both pleasantly old-fashioned and hopefully forward thinking.

Fast forward to today, and in the aftermath of this year’s bitter and mean campaign, I’ve been watching the Netflix original series “The Crown,” which traces the reign of England’s Queen Elizabeth II from her ascension as a young woman in the late 1940s. In one of the early episodes, Elizabeth is seeking advice at the bedside of her sick grandmother. The older woman leans in and says forcefully, “Monarchy is God’s sacred mission to bring grace and dignity to the earth. It gives ordinary people an ideal to strive towards, an example of nobility and duty to raise them in their wretched lives.” Her point is that the monarchy serves as a grounding point for English identity, an anchor of stability and history in the midst of a rapidly changing world, and a British empire coming apart at the seams.

Today is the last Sunday after Pentecost, which since the early twentieth century has been celebrated as the feast of Christ the King. Pope Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the King to remind a divided Europe in the aftermath of World War I of their common allegiance to Christ rather than to any earthly ruler.

It’s a feast that seems as relevant and important today as it did in the 1920s, and I think the alternate reality of “The West Wing” and the Crown’s ideal to strive towards can help us make sense of what it might mean for us today.

Our gospel lesson today gives us a sense of what the ideal Christ our king sets for us might be. Here is Jesus in the most unlikely position for a monarch: being executed alongside common criminals as an enemy of the state. Three times Jesus is mocked and challenged to save himself, and three times he forgives and embraces his tormentors. While the nations and kingdoms of the world are ruled by force and intimidation, our kingdom is ruled by a king who suffers alongside us, a king who uses his power to dispense boundless mercy, who promises paradise to criminals and outcasts. When Jesus was handed all the power in the universe, he didn’t choose to simply be the biggest king with the biggest empire, he chose to give his power away in love, he chose to use his power to upend all the ways we normally organize kingdoms.

Our king provides an ideal to strive toward, a grounding point for our identity, but it is an ideal of service, and mercy, and love, and peace. It’s an ideal of loving rather than winning. It’s an ideal of being merciful. It’s an ideal of standing with those who are cast out. Our king rescues us from the power of darkness by turning the order of a dark world on its head.

“The West Wing” provided a different way of imagining one season of our nation’s history. But, of course, it was fantasy and escape. The alternative kingdom we belong to—the Kingdom of God—is actually more real and more true than the darkness we currently see. Our job is to make what seems like a different and fantastical reality shine through that darkness, until it turns the whole world to Christ’s light.

In the coming months and years, there will be no easy or cheap healing of the deep and complex divisions among us in this country. I’ve heard from so many people who I love, who I work with, that the immigrants, refugees, gays, lesbian, and transgender persons, and so many others who were targeted by hateful rhetoric in this campaign are scared about what happens next. That the election came out the way it did suggests there’s a whole lot of people in our country who are angry they’ve been overlooked and ignored and dismissed. Others are simply tired of hearing about it, and simply want to move on.

I don’t know how it’s all going to shake out, but wherever a person falls on that spectrum on this day, the call to us is the same. On the feast of Christ the King, we are invited simply to renew our commitment to Jesus Christ, not as a doctrine or a belief or a religion, but as a way of life. We are invited to renew our commitment to living the way Jesus lived and taught, and to renew our allegiance to the kingdom his life announced. We are called to make Jesus’ way of standing with the suffering, solidarity with the marginalized and threatened, offering peace at every turn, the ideal we strive towards, the thing that lifts us out of our ordinary lives.

But then we are challenged to help make this other kingdom a reality here and now. We are challenged to ask ourselves: what is one thing we can do today, or this week, to wave the flag of Christ’s kingdom? How can I stand with the suffering? Where can I offer forgiveness?

The good news today, and every day, is that no matter what happens in our lives, in our nation, or in our world, God has already overcome the powers of darkness and sin and death. “He has rescued us from the power of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” The resurrection assures us that’s a done deal. Our job is to use whatever life we have to offer that promise to those who are still trapped in darkness, until the kingdom of life and light and love appears in its glorious fullness. Amen.