Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Proper 20 B

The kingdom of Heaven is not a zero-sum game.

Proper 20 B
Transcribed from a Sermon
Given on September 23, 2012
By Rev. Valerie Ann Hart
At St Barnabas Episcopal Church

It sure I wasnt the only little girl that dreamed about being Miss America when I was growing up. I guess today little girls might dream about winning American Idol. The boys dreamed about being the best baseball player, or the best football player or the best whatever. It seems we all have this fantasy of being the best at something. 
In our culture a lot of energy goes into determining who is the best. This summer we saw the Olympics. The Olympics is a huge industry where for four years people train and work and struggle so that they can be named the best in the world. They get to have that short little time where they are labeled "The Best". 
We all know that feeling of wanting to be the greatest. We can understand the disciples in the scripture today. Our society is so focused on determining who is the best that some of the most popular TV shows are the quote reality showswhere week-by-week, losers are sent off. They may be kicked off the island or no longer dancing with the other stars. Now if you are a star, doesn't that mean you are a success at something, that you are one of the greatest? Yet you have these people that already have some great ability learning to dance and working really really hard to be the best dancer on Dancing with the Stars. It is all about being that number one - about being the greatest. It doesn't seem to be enough to just do our personal best, we want to be the greatest. 
We want our children to do well. We want it to be like it is in Lake Wobegone where all the children are above average. We are constantly measuring ourselves against other people. And that is what the disciples were doing. 
But sometimes, trying to be first, trying to be the fastest, trying to be the best, trying to get attention can backfire. My brother had an interesting experience when he went to Vietnam. A large group of soldiers took a big airplane over to Nam. When they got off the airplane there was a bus and everyone was loaded on the bus and taken to the base. Now this brother of mine was never one to be overly enthusiastic about anything so when they got to the base he sat as people were pushing and shoving trying to be the first ones off the bus. You've seen that in airplanes, how people are hurrying to try and get off the airplane. With not much effect. So soldiers were pushing and shoving to get off while standing outside the bus was a lieutenant. The first half of the people who came off the bus were all put over to one side. While the ones who got off later were put in another group. Now the ones who got off first were the ones who were sent to the front lines because they figured that those were the ones who were going to be enthusiastic soldiers. The ones who took their time went to the base, so my brother spent his time in Nam working in an office. 
We all know about that drive to be the best, to be acknowledged. That drive to be best, to be first, comes from seeing the world as what is called a zero-sum game. In game theory, a zero-sum game is where there is a certain amount, and the more that I get the less you get. And the more you get, the less I get. It is like a pie. There is one pie and the bigger your piece the smaller my piece. It is a game where you either win or lose. There is no such thing as both people winning, or both people losing. I win you lose, you wind I lose. Therefore I have to fight. It is seeing the world as not enough and therefore I have to struggle - to get the love from my parents or the respect from my colleagues or the pay raise from my boss.  I have to be the best, to stand out because if they get it, I don't. That's a zero-sum game. And that is how most of us spend most of our lives.
But the Kingdom of Heaven that Christ proclaims isn't a zero-sum game. It is what is brilliantly called a non-zero-sum game. A non-zero-sum game is one in which the total amount available can be increased. In other words how much I get is not lessened by how much you get. It would be like when you have the pie instead of saying if you get a big piece I don't get as much you say Hey, let's bake pies together so we can have more pies.Most economic interactions are non-zero-sum games. If I am getting more than enough milk from my cow with more milk than my family can drink, and your apple tree is over abundant, I'll trade you some of my milk for your apples and we both win! We both have a healthier diet. That's a non-zero-sum game. That's what most exchanges are because you wouldn't trade for something if it wasn't going to help you, even though people sometimes negotiate as if buying a car or buying a house was a zero-sum game and try to win the negotiation process. But the truth is that if you didn't want that house and think that you would be better off by getting that house and the person selling it didnt want the money for selling it, you wouldn't be there to negotiate anyway. No matter what, you are both going to win. 
Gods world, the Kingdom of Heaven that Christ proclaims, is a non-zero-sum game. When there are five loaves of bread, if you get two that doesn't mean that anybody else is going to get less because there is more than enough to feed five thousand people. In the kingdom world, in the world of God, there is abundance and there is abundance on this earth. I was just reading an article that said that studies have shown that all around the world approximately forty percent of the food that is raised for human consumption never reaches a human being, but gets thrown away. Forty percent. Some times that because there is a problem of storage or shipping. In the United States it is more likely to be because we buy too much and restaurants buy too much. We end up throwing some away. In developing countries it has to do with not having the shipping or not having storage facilities. It is sometimes difficult to get the food from where it is raised to the people who need to consume it. 
We live as if this world were a zero-sum game, but if we work together we have more than enough. In a hunting/gathering society the hunters go out as a team because it is hard to hunt large animals by yourself. Then when an animal is killed, it is more than one person can eat, so it is brought back to the whole tribe and everybody shares. It doesn't matter who is the one that kills the animal in fact everybody is cheering everybody else on. Because when one does well we all do well. 
It doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. Imagine two men, two families who have houses on the same block and they both have very large lawns They start to get into a competition of who is going to have a better lawn mower. The first one gets a riding mower and the other one has to buy a better riding mower. Then the first one has to buy even better riding mower and pretty soon they have these two fantastic riding mowers that cost so much that they are both in debt. And they ride them for a couple of hours a week. Now the other option they had would be to say, Hey, let's put our money together and we can buy one mower that we both can use and we can get the top of the line without going into debt.
The way we see the world - is it an issue of being the best or doing what is the best? Is it seeing life as a zero-sum game where the more you get the less I have or do we see it as a non-zero-sum game where the more you have the more we all have together? Where the more we work together the more we thrive. 
You see the problem with wanting to be the greatest is that it is completely unchristian. Remember, Jesus told us we are to love one another. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves not compete with them. So, if I am busy trying to get what's best for me, if Im trying to get on top, I'm not being loving to the ones I consider less than I am. Every time someone says I am the greatest they are saying that others are less, and that's not loving, that's not compassion. 
We find that for those who have ever won an award for being the best, the ones who won a contest, who have gotten the gold medal, that satisfaction doesn't last for very long. But the satisfaction that comes when we help another person - when we help someone else to thrive and to grow and to be a better human being - that is a satisfaction that stays with us and feeds us. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Proper 19 B

Proper 19 B
Mark 8:27-38
Psalm 19
Transcribed from a sermon given
September 16, 2012
Rev. Valerie Ann Hart
St. Barnabas Episcopal Church

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight oh our Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen
Now you know where I got that statement I make before each sermon, from the psalm that we read today. In fact the Prayer Book is quite full of direct quotes from scripture, we just don’t always put down chapter and verse. 
I want to talk to you today about the Gospel reading and the questions that Jesus asks. Because these are the most important questions any person wrestles with. The first question is, “Who do people say that I am?” “Who do people say that I am?” Any thoughts? Who do people say that Jesus is? Lucille, any thoughts? Who do people say that Jesus is? 
“The savior.” “The son of God.” 
Anyone over on this side?
“A really good man.” “Our Lord.” “A perfect example.” “The good shepherd.” “The messiah.” “A healer.” “A great teacher.” “Son of man.”
We’ve got lots of words for him. Later we will be saying the Nicene Creed which is the ancient statement of faith that says such things as “God from God.” Some of those words we’re pretty familiar with. You can probably tell me what a teacher is, because we know teachers. Or a good man, we know about good men. But what does “Savior” mean? What does it mean to say that Jesus is the savior? Saving whom? From what? 
Or the Messiah. Now that’s the “correct” answer that Peter gave. But the Messiah? What does the word messiah mean? For the Jewish people of Jesus’ time the Messiah was going to be a warrior king like David, who was going to come and get the Jewish people to once again have control of their land, that would fight Rome so that once again they would be free and a great nation. That’s not what Jesus turned out to be. He was a very different kind of messiah. A different kind of savior. 
One of the problems with trying to say who Jesus is, when we listen to all the different ways he has been described, is that most of the time it is kind of complex. It is not easy language. We’ve heard a lot about who Jesus is. If you went to Sunday School as a child you heard one thing. In the secular world you might hear something else. Here in church we hear other things. So we have lots of answers to, “Who do people say that I am?” 
But all of those comments, all the theology, all the books written about who Jesus is, all the creeds - all of that doesn’t really matter. It is the second question that really matters. That’s when Jesus looks at his disciples and says, “Who do you say that I am?” How do you know who Jesus is? What do you say? Not quoting someone else, not based on what someone else says that Jesus is, but who is Jesus to you? Right now, today, this morning. 
I find that when we are on a spiritual journey our understanding of who Jesus is changes over time. Sometimes from day to day. It changes as we study scripture. It changes as we are in discussions with others. It changes as we read meaningful books. 
“Who do you say that Jesus is?” is the most important question. It makes all the difference in the world. And only you can answer that question. Some might answer that to you Jesus is a great teacher. That is accepted pretty much around the world. There is almost no one who doesn’t say that he had some wonderful teachings and that he showed a great deal of wisdom. That is one way to approach Jesus. It is not quite consistent, though, with what he said. C. S. Lewis wrote that if you say that Jesus was just a great teacher then you have to assume that he was either a liar or insane because he said that he was much more than that. It is hard to take the wisdom and teachings that we find in the Gospels and separate it from what he said about himself. But often the first way we get to know Jesus is as a great teacher. And that is important.
What about when we say that Jesus is my savior or my Lord. Well savior is a tricky word. What does savior mean? How has he saved you? Think about your own personal life. What have you been saved from? What have you been saved for? Or when we say he is my Lord, we don’t have lords these days. We live in a time and place where we have senators and presidents, but we don’t have lords. So there isn’t a real existential sense of what it means to serve under someone else. 
So maybe you might want to think about what other language would describe your relationship with Jesus. As I have sat with this Gospel reading for the last week, preparing this sermon, it has affected how I describe my relationship with Jesus, and I’m going to share that with you. It is personal; it is where I am today having studied that scripture. Where I am this morning, it may change, but it is what’s true for me right now. 
I would say that who Jesus is to me is that he is my friend. He is my friend who loves me no matter what. He is my friend who values me and holds me precious because he helped to create me. I am of incredible worth to this friend; and he accepts me for who I am. Loves me for who I am. And loves me enough to not let me stay who I am but encourages me to become more than I think I can be. He is my friend who is always there, whenever I need him. He always cares. 
And he is my friend that gave his life for me. And no love is as great as offering your life for another. We don’t have a lot of experiences of what it means for someone to give their life for us. People who have been in war or people like police or firefighters know what it is like to have companions that go into dangerous and difficult situations together. And they know that these companions will offer their lives to protect each other, risk their lives to protect each other. It is said that when soldiers go into battle once the battle gets intense they are not concerned with their country, they are not concerned with any grand statements of principle, they fight because of their comrades, the ones they are fighting with. And they want to protect them, and they will risk their lives in order to protect their friends, and they would be willing to die for one another.
Christ died for me. He is my friend that was willing to die for me, and in this passage he asks for me to be willing to do the same. To pick up my cross and follow him. To be his friend the way he is a friend to me. That might mean giving my life, although being in the United States it is unlikely I will give up my physical life for being a Christian. Although there are other parts of the world where that is not so sure. But it does mean transforming my life. It means giving up my self-centeredness. It means giving up my sense of ego control. It means changing my priorities, and it affects every decision that I make every day of my life. There is a prayer in the prayer book that I often say in the evenings. It is called a prayer of self dedication. It is on page 832 in the red prayer book. It is prayer number 61. I invite you, if you like, to pray along with me. 
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to thee, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly thine, utterly dedicated unto thee and then use us we pray thee as thou will, and always to thy glory and the welfare of thy people through our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Who do you say that Jesus is?

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Proper 18 B

God loves everyone, no exceptions.

Proper 18 B
Sermon Given September 9, 2012
By Rev. Valerie Ann Hart
At St. Barnabas Episcopal Church
Mark 7:24-37
James 2:1-17

I would like you to imagine something in your mind. I would like you to imagine that there is an Amish pastor who discovered that he had a gift for healing. All the Amish people would come in their buggies and he would preach, and if he laid hands on people, they experienced healing. So among the Amish he became rather well known. One of the people said we have other Amish people who live in Harrisburg Pennsylvania. We should go to them so you can teach them and heal them. So they made arrangements to do that. They rented a hall in Harrisburg and went there by buggy. When they got there and they invited all the Amish people they knew to come for an evening lecture. 
A reporter found out about it so there was a little article in the newspaper. Not a big article, but a little article, about this famous healer who was coming. The evening for the big talk comes and all the people are gathered. They have walked there or taken buggies, some of the ones who are a little progressive may have taken a bus. The women all wore bonnets and long dresses with sleeves that came down to their wrists. The men wore their suits. They were ready to listen. 
Just as the Amish pastor began to speak they heard a roar outside the hall. It was the sound of a motorcycle pulling up. That got everybody’s attention. They all looked at the door as it opened and in walked a woman with short shorts, boots and long black hair was falling in beautiful curls around her shoulders carrying her motorcycle helmet. She had on a top that was sleeveless and low cut so that all of the tattoos would show. She also had lots of piercings, her nose, her mouth her ears, you name it. She was chewing gum as she walked up to the pastor and said, “Hey, you’re the guy, right? My daughter has been sick and I have taken her to every doctor and nobody can help her, but I think that you can. Please help me.” Now you can imagine how quiet the hall was at that moment and you can imagine what might be going through the pastor’s mind. 
He looked at her and said “I’m not going to give the children’s food to swine like you.” Pretty insulting. How would you feel if you were that woman? Would you want to crawl away after being insulted like that? 
But instead she didn’t. She just looked at him and said, “That God of yours has got more than enough love and more than enough healing for everybody.” 
So the pastor thought, “Hmmm.  How can I deny that?” So the woman’s daughter received a healing that day.
Now this is kind of what it was like for Jesus in this little story of the Gospel today. Except it was probably more extreme in the Gospel. You see Jesus was in Tyre.Tyre was a city on the coast of the Mediterranean in what is now Lebanon. It was one of the biggest ports of that time. Very rich, very worldly, very Greek. Why Jesus went to Tyre is not quite clear. All we know he had gone into a gentile city. We can guess that he had gone to talk to the Jews who lived there. He is staying at what was undoubtedly a Jewish home and this woman walked in, and remember that the we all think we now what the women of Bible wore because we have seen the movies. They would wear long skirts. They would have something over their heads to cover their hair. They would be very modest, dressed very modestly, and probably even walked very modestly. Women had no political or economic power in the Jewish state of that time. So that was what was expected in the behavior of women. 
When this Syrophoenician woman walked in she would have been Greek. She would have been dressed like the Greeks, and Greek women wore sleeveless togas. You have seen pictures of that, beautifully hanging sleeveless dresses. They often wore Jewelry, so this woman probably had a gold band around her head to hold her hair that was long and free flowing. She certainly would not have a shawl over her head. She probably wore jewelry on her arms. Also, she was raised as a Greek woman in a rich town, so she probably had some money. She certainly had a lot of courage or “chutzpah” as they might say. She probably was educated, given the answer she gave to Jesus.
She would not have walked in with body language that said “Oh I’m just a woman.” She would have walked in like a Greek woman with her shoulders back and her head held high, knowing that she was equal to anybody. She probably had taken her daughter to all the different temples of the Gods and Goddesses that she worshiped. She had probably sacrificed to Hera, taken her to Aphrodite gone to whatever doctors there might be available. 
There is no indication in this Bible story that she had any relationship with the God of Jesus. None. It never says that she does. But somehow, somewhere she heard that Jesus had the power to heal. 
She cared about her daughter, and her love for her daughter drove her to go to beg Jesus to heal her child. 
And what does she get for that? “You don’t give the bread of the children to the dogs.” Jesus called her a dog. He called all of her people “dogs”.  To call someone a dog in the Middle East, even today, is a great insult. Back then it was the worst insult you could say about somebody. Much worse than us calling people swine. This is as insulting as you could be. And he didn’t just insult her, he insult all of her people. 
But she had a lot of courage. She didn’t slink away as I might in that kind of a situation. She looked at him and she said, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She didn’t argue with him about his evaluation of her as a dog. What she said was your God has more than enough. If your God is really what you say your God is there is more than enough love, there is more than enough healing, not just for the people of Israel, but for everyone. 
Jesus ha to acknowledged that she was right, and her daughter was healed.
Now there is a real question of what was going on in Jesus during this particular time. No one can know for sure whether he really at that point in his ministry was just there for the Jewish people, that he believed, like a lot of his followers, that the Messiah was to come for the Jewish people and the Jewish people alone. 
If that was so, this woman reminded him, opened his heart and mind to realize that the Messiah was for all people. 
The other explanation is that he was doing this for his disciples, because in the Matthew version of this story it says that the disciples came to him to ask him to quiet this woman down and get rid of her. So, he might have been using it as a teaching opportunity, knowing that some of his followers were critical that he was going to anyone anywhere outside of Israel. We don’t know. 
How you interpret this will depend upon what you think of Jesus. Whether he fully knew everything all the time or whether he was able to learn from a woman. 
What we do know is the response. We do know from that moment on his ministry was to everyone. When he left there the reading states that he went to the Decapolis. The Decapolis was made up of ten gentle cities (deca meaning ten).  North of the Sea of Galilee. Very few Jews lived there,  yet he went into that area.
The next thing we hear is him healing a person deaf and dumb who was probably not Jewish. He was probably gentile. 
This issue, this question of who did Christ come for who is the Messiah for, who is included, was there from the very beginning of the church. When we read acts and we read the letters we see That the question of who can be a Christian is very important. Was Jesus’ Way just for people who were Jewish, or could non Jewish people become Christian? Did the men have to become circumcised? Did the people who wanted to be Christian have to follow all the rules that the Jewish people followed? 
It was an importabt debate in the early church. Who is in? Who can receive this great love and grace and mercy that Christ brought to earth? Are there any restrictions? 
What we read in the letter of James today is that he is very disappointed, very upset, that there are some Christian congregations where when a rich person walks through the door the people get all excited and give them the best seats. Imagine coming in through the door of that church. Someone who is very wealthy and famous and well known is greeted and brought up to the front pew but people who are poor were ignored or told to sit in the back or sit on the floor. 
James makes it very clear that that is not what it means to be a Christian. He makes it very clear that if you have faith in the Christ that loves you. If you have faith in that mercy that you have received, if you have faith and you say you believe in Christ you should demonstrate it by how you treat other people. 
That is what he means by faith without works is nothing. It is not that we earn our way to heaven, but if you really believe, if you really have faith, and believe what Christ has offered us, you don’t make distinctions between people. You love your neighbor as yourself. You welcome everyone. Or as a bumper sticker that is up on my refrigerator says “God loves everyone, no exceptions.” 
If we truly have faith in the one who loves us and forgives us, and shows us mercy, we should show that faith by making no distinctions. Amen

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Proper 17 B

Sometimes the rules get in the way.

Sermon for Proper 17 B
Given by Rev. Valerie Ann Hart
September 3, 2006
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Brentwood
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
James 1:17-27

There is a story about a man who had the opportunity to visit hell. Upon entering he saw that people were divided up into groups. He asked Satan about the groups. Satan pointed to the first group and said that those were Jews that worked on the Sabbath. He pointed to the second group and said that they were Catholic (pre Vatican II) who ate meat on Fridays. The third group was made up of Methodists who danced and drank wine. Who is that last group that seems to try to keep themselves apart from the others? Oh, those are the Episcopalians who used their dinner fork to eat their salad.

I remember my mother carefully teaching me exactly were things were to go when I set the table. The forks on the left with one to be used first on the outside. The knife and spoon were to be put on the right with the knife blade pointed inward. The napkin on the left. The water glass above the knife, etc. etc.

Our acolytes are taught that the gospel candle, the one on the left of the altar, should never burn alone, so it is always the last to be lit and the first to be put out. 

We stand when we listen to the Gospel, out of respect, but only during a Eucharist. We don’t stand for the Gospel during Morning Prayer. Is it that we don’t respect the Gospel as much during Morning Prayer?

Rules, rules, rules, there are lots and lots of rules. My mother used to sum it up by saying, “It just isn’t done.”

We all have an idea of how we are “supposed” to act. We can easily discover we are judging ourselves if we don’t live up to these various rules which in the gospel today would be described as the tradition of the elders. 

It is not that there is no basis for many of these rules. Washing one’s hands before eating is a healthy thing to do. But some people take the rules to an extreme.

For example, someone with a compulsive disorder will have an action, such as hand washing, which they will do over and over again. A person with compulsive hand washing may wash their hands, come out of the bathroom, and then go and wash them again. They are not doing it because their hands are dirty. In fact, often their hands will get red and soar from too much washing.

They don’t do it to get clean, but to relieve their anxiety. When we are anxious, when we have that sort of generalized fear that doesn’t have a name, we look for something solid, stable, consistent. Rules provide a structure. They keep us safe. They make it easier to make decisions. They are predictable.

We tend to get particularly anxious during times of change. When our world is changing around us we want something, anything that is unchanging. We look for stability. 

It is a temptation in times of anxiety to cling to the rules. To try to find the correct way to do things. We look for something solid, predictable. We want things to be done the way they always have or at least the way they are “supposed to”.

But that is not of Christ. He was constantly changing, stirring things up. There was nothing predictable about him.

And to those who would cling to a set of rules he says, “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human precepts as doctrine.” He is saying that rather than focusing on what God wants – to love God and love our neighbor – we tend focus on less important, but more measurable, things.

Let me ask you, would you rather have a neighbor that does all the right things, mows his lawn, doesn’t make noise at night, etc. or one who has a good heart?

Would you rather have a friend who said and did all the right things, or one who had a good heart?

Would you rather have a spouse that did all the right things, he would open doors for you, she would cook great meals, or would you want one who had a good heart?

And would you want a son or daughter who always obeyed all the rules, or one who had a good heart?

Jesus said that there is nothing outside a person that can defile; rather it is what comes from the heart.

It is easy for us to look at the outside and judge based on whether someone is following the rules. Only God can judge the heart.

Let’s take a look at the end of the Gospel reading, Mark 7:21-22. This is one of the few lists of behavior from Jesus. Usually our behavioral lists come from Paul. But here Jesus spells it out, the evil intentions that come from a person’s heart.

I had one person, not from this congregation, use these verses as evidence that gays and lesbians should not be ordained because they don’t live up to Jesus’ standard. Well, let’s take a look at this list.

Fornication, theft, murder – ah – murder. Just what is murder? Some would say that abortion is murder and judge everyone who is involved with abortion as breaking Christ’s rules. Others would look at the heart of a young girl who struggles with the decision for an abortion. Some would say that capital punishment is murder and pass judgment on everyone involved, others would look at the heart of a governor trying to consider the concerns of the victims loved ones and honor the law. Some consider war to be murder and judge those involved while others would see a soldier with a good heart trying to do his duty and protect her fellow soldiers. 

The rules look simple, but they never are. They always have to be considered with the heart.

But lets move on with the list – adultery – avarice. Oh, that’s getting a little close to home, wanting too much for ourselves. Then we have wickedness, deceit, licentiousness – okay – but then comes envy – guilty – slander, pride – guilty again – folly – I know that I am foolish sometimes.

Whenever we look at a list in the Bible and start using it to judge others, or ourselves, we can get into a lot of trouble. It looks so clear, so black and white, but Jesus never spoke of black and white. He spoke of mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and love. 

Yet we are always judging others, and even more so ourselves. We see others as not doing it right, or we see ourselves as not doing it right. And we are often prone to do it at church – in spite of Christ’s continual message that we should not judge.

But remember what James said in the Epistle today:

“If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” Worthless. Think before you speak, pray before you judge.

He goes on to say “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” 

Compassion, self control, that is what religion is all about.

Remember, it doesn’t’ matter which candle is lit first. What does matter is that you love one another.

Whenever there is change in your life, whenever there is anxiety, remember that there is only one adequate response – Love God with all your heart and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. That will get you through the tough times, and that is the only rule that ever really matters.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Proper 8 B

The rich, powerful Jairus and the poor nameless woman with a hemorrhage both went to Jesus for help, and both were healed. Jesus' love and grace are offered equally to all.

Sermon for Proper 8 B
Given in June 1994
At St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Brentwood
By Rev. Valerie Ann Hart

If the Gospel reading seemed a bit long to you today, that’s because it was. I added a bit extra. Each Sunday we are mandated to read what is in the lectionary for that week, but it is up to the discretion of the priest to add to the readings. If we followed the lectionary today we would hear only the story of Jairus’s daughter. This is a powerful story even if standing alone. Certainly much could be preached about it. Themes of faith, and resurrection, the meaning of death and of life are there to be drawn upon. But when Mark wrote the story down he chose to add in the middle of it the story of the woman who had been bleeding. By editorial prerogative he could have put that story somewhere else, or even left it out, but instead he sandwiched it in the middle of another story. The people who put together the Sunday lectionary, unlike Mark, chose to leave the story of the hemorrhaging woman out. She doesn’t show up in the readings for any other Sunday, and I feel her story is too important to ignore. In addition, I feel that Mark must have had a reason for combining these two stories together, so I read the whole thing.
Jairus is a leader of the synagogue, that would be like being a Bishop and a mayor wrapped into one. Leaders of the synagogues had religious respect and authority, and were also community leaders. He was undoubtedly also well off financially.
In contrast, the woman who is hemorrhaging doesn’t even have a name. She has spent all her money on doctors, so she must have been quite poor. She has been bleeding for twelve years, which is usually interpreted to be a menopausal problem. When a woman was bleeding in ancient Israel she was considered unclean, ritually impure. In fact a man who touched (or was touched by) a menstruating woman was considered impure and had to go through certain rituals and wait at least twenty-four hours before being considered clean again. A man who was ritually impure was not allowed to enter the temple or partake in any religious services. Imagine what it would have been like for this woman. An outcast, untouchable for twelve years. Desperate she committed an unthinkable act - she touched a rabbi - thereby making him unclean as well.
Yet Jesus responded to her with as much compassion and love as he did to the rich Jairus. She is healed, not condemned.
Then Mark describes Jesus as continuing on with Jairus, without any purity rituals, without waiting the appointed time, and bringing the little girl back to life. A great miracle is performed by a ritually impure rabbi.
I believe Mark put these two stories together to emphasize Jesus’ total acceptance of all people. The rich and powerful and the most lowly and outcast are all welcomed and loved by Christ. It is the model which Mark would have us follow - total acceptance of all. It would have been easy for Jesus to focus his ministry on the rich - he could have healed them and lived will. But he didn’t, he responded to the poor, the outcast as well. It would have been easy for Jesus to only focus on the poor, to say that the powerful were already too corrupt. But he didn’t, he healed the rich and the powerful as well.
The community which Christ began - the Church - is called to welcome all. There is never a fee to enter the church. We are not judged by the amount of money in our pockets or the power that we wield. We are all in need of Christ’s healing love, rich or poor, powerful or outcast. We are all equal in his loving eyes.
Right now I feel a little like that hemorrhaging woman. I feel a bit awkward and unsure. I need to reach our and touch your robes for the health of this church. Asking for money is difficult for me. I don’t like to focus on the needs of the church, especially in a sermon, but I don’t know any other way to do this. This church, this tiny part of the great Kingdom of God, is in financial need. Each month we spend more than we receive and our savings are being quickly consumed. If St. Alban’s is to continue as a light in the world, if Christ’s work of reconciliation and healing is to continue here, in this form, we quite frankly need more money. The work of Christ will go on regardless of what happens here. The Kingdom of God is greater than you or I or St. Alban’s, but I believe we have some unique gifts to bring to this community and if you feel so also I ask you to increase your pledge or fill out a pledge card in the back of the church.
In the letter read today Paul writes to the Corinthians about members of the church in another city saying:
During a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave accord to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints. 
Begging for the privilege of sharing in the ministry.
In my mind from the readings today there can be no question about the kind of life a Christian is called to live. It is a life in which all people are valued, where no one needs to be ashamed because of their lack of the ability to give and no one is to be proud because of their wealth. It is a life in which one gives all that one can. It is a life where people give out of the abundance of joy that they have experienced as Christ’s gift to them.
All of us, rich and poor alike, are like the woman who feels she is unworthy to speak to the Lord and ask for his healing, yet has faith that just to touch his hem will heal her. We come on our knees to Christ, awed by the greatness of his gift to us, knowing that there is nothing we can do that would even begin to equal it. So we offer to Christ what we have, our time, our talents, our treasure. Not out of ought, but joyfully wanting to share in the privilege of Christ’s ministry to the world.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Proper 7 B

When we encounter a Goliath in our lives, when the wind and the waves of everyday living feel like they will sink us, Jesus says, "Peace, be still."

Proper 7 B 
Transcribed from
A sermon given by
Rev. Valerie Ann Hart
June 24, 2012
At St. Barnabas Episcopal Church

In that rather long first reading we got to hear the story of David and Goliath. Now Goliath was obviously a very large man. Whether he was quite as big as he is described in scripture is unknown, but he was obviously a much bigger man than any of the Israelites. You can imagine the fear, the confusion and the concern among the Israelite fighters. Remember, back then it was all hand to hand fighting so if someone was that much larger you, you were at a great disadvantage. But what was there about David that he didn’t get caught up in the fear and the concern.? What was it about him that he was able to keep his head and come up with a unique solution to that problem of Goliath? 
We can imagine what it was like then, with the yelling and shouting and the cacophony of the soldiers cheering on their people. The waves of fear that must have gone through the camp as they realized they were going into war. So much chaos and confusion and anxiety, yet David responded with clarity and calmness. 
That confusion and waves of chaos that David encountered were not unlike what the sailors with Jesus encountered. The Sea of Galilee is actually a rather shallow lake. I don’t know the physics of it, but the shallower the lake is, the bigger the waves are. So the Sea of Galilee, or lake Tiberius to the Romans, tends to suddenly have storms where the waves get very high. It is quite unpredictable. It is dangerous and it can be overwhelming. 
Let’s think about the disciples. They were fisherman. Now a fisherman stays pretty much along the coast. He doesn’t go too far out into the lake because most of the fish are caught close to the edge. The disciples would be used to fishing so if there was a big storm they would close to shore and able to come in. But Jesus had them going straight across quite a distance, far out from shore. So, even though these were experienced fishermen they were terrified by the storm. 
We can imagine being caught out on a boat in a huge storm with big waves. The water is rolling in over the boat and we think we are going to die. Then we look around, and our passenger is comfortably sleeping on the cushions in the back. 
The disciples say to him, “Aren’t you afraid that we are going to perish?” 
Now what was Jesus going to do. He doesn’t know anything about running a boat. He’s a carpenter. They, as fishermen, know much better what to do. Jesus wouldn’t be able to help them. What is going to, bail the boat? What do they expect from him? 
They seem bothered by the fact that he was so calm amidst this storm. They seem to want his attention. “Don’t you care about us? Don’t you care that we are about to perish?” 
“Actually not really too much,” is sort of Jesus’s response.
I have in my mind this image of Jesus kind of sleepily waking up and going, “Peace, be still.”
Then the waves stop and everything clams down. 
Now this is one of his miracles where the disciples began to realize that Jesus wasn’t just a healer, but he could control nature – the wind and the waves. But to me there is a deeper level to this story and that’s the “Peace, be still” comment. 
The real problem on that boat wasn’t the waves or the wind, but the fear, anxiety and confusion of the disciples. We all know what that is like. We all have times in our lives when the waves seem to be crashing over us. When there is so much stuff going on. When the fear of being able to pay the bills, worry about losing a job, concern that our children are acting out, or our parents are acting out, or we’re dealing with physical illness, with grief or loss. When the waves of pain, the waves of grief, come over us we feel it is going to sink us. It is coming from every direction, it is uncontrollable and our minds get obsessed. We all know what it is like when our minds are in great chaos. When it seems like we can’t think rationally anymore. 
Like the soldiers when they were confronting this giant Goliath. It didn’t occur to them that there might be some other way of defeating him. They were just overwhelmed with fear. 
But when we can quiet our minds a little bit, even for a short period, maybe we will see a way of getting through, of coping. 
So I think that when Jesus said, “Peace, be still,” he might have been talking to the disciples as much as he was talking to the wind and the waves. “Peace. Peace be still.” What a gift that is – to find peace and stillness within the chaos of our lives. 
That’s one of the reasons that it is traditional in many, many religions to have some regular practice of prayer and quiet. For me it is Centering Prayer. Some people do some form of meditation or relaxation. It is the idea of practicing peace and the stillness. If you practice that when life is going along okay, then when the waves start to feel like they are going to overwhelm you, you have something to go back to.
Of course what it really is asking Christ to be there with us, to give us that peace. Even if it is just 5 minutes a day. Even if it is less than that, just some time of quiet. 
Just to give us a little taste of that, I’d like to invite you all to close your eyes and just notice your breathing.
(The sermon ends with a brief meditative exercise.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Proper 6 B - Sowing Seeds

When we share our faith, tell our story, offer a gift or give of our time we cast a seed. Maybe, just maybe, it will sprout in another person's heart and grow; and we won't know how.

Sermon given on June 15, 1997
At St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Brentwood
By Rev. Valerie Ann Hart
Mark 4:26-34

A handful of wheat, five thousand years old, was found in the tomb of one of the kings of ancient Egypt.Someone planted the grains and, to the amazement of all, the grains came to life.

A parable is like a seed. No matter how long ago the story was told, when planted in the heart, in the mind, in the soul, it can come to life and grow. Each time we remember the story, each time a new event in our lives triggers a remembrance of the parable, there is a new understanding, and the seedling grows. Each time, each retelling, each rereading, each remembering the depth of understanding grows. 

Jesus taught in parables, in puzzles, with stories that his hearers would remember, would think about - that would aid and nurture the spiritual growth of the hearer. 

There are parables of words, and parables of action.

A sannyasi, an Indian holy man,had reached theoutskirts of a village and settleddown under a tree for the nightwhen a villager came running upto him and said, "The stone! Thestone! Give me the precious stone!"  
"What stone?" asked the sannyasi.  
"Last night the Lord Shiva appearedto me in a dream," said the villager,"and told me that if I went to theoutskirts of the village at duskI should find a sannyasi whowouldgive me a precious stone that wouldmake me rich forever.”  
The sannyasi rummaged in his bag andpulled out a stone.  "He probablymeant this one, " he said, as he handedthe stone over to the villager.  I foundit on a forest path some days ago.  Youcan certainly have it.” 
The man gazed at the stone in wonder.It was a diamond; probably the largest diamond in the whole worldfor it wasas large as a person’s head.  He took the diamond and walked away. 
Allnight he tossed about in bed,unable to sleep.The next dayat the crack of dawn he woke the sannyasi and said, "Give me the wealth that makes it possible for you to give this diamond away so easily.”  

A gift, an act of love, a touch, a statement, the telling of one’s own story can be a seed, planted in the heart, which grows to enlighten the soul. The gift given without expectation, the seed planted without knowing how, or why or if it will grow. The faith of the farmer who keeps scattering seed on the ground even though he doesn’t know why or how. Even though sometimes for days and nights he sees nothing above the ground. The seeds are scattered in faith - faith that somehow they will bear fruit.

The Samaritanwoman put down her water jar and went off to the town.  She said to the people, "Come and see the man who has told me everything I ever did.  Could this be the Messiah?"

Whatwonderful teacher wasthe Samaritan woman! She gave no answers. She only asked a question.She planted the seed of a question.It must have been tempting togive the answer because she had gotten it directly fromJesus when hesaid, “Iam the Messiah.  I who am talking to you."  But she was content to scatter the seed of a question and let it grow.

Many more became disciples because of what they heard from his own lips. They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for wehave heard him ourselves, and we know that this is, indeed, the Savior of the world."

We too need to be like the farmer who scatters seeds. We are called to scatter seeds - seeds of our own stories - the parables of our own lives - seeds of faith, seeds of love, seeds of gifts given without expectation. We plant the seeds in those we care for, in those we meet, in our neighbors, our friends, and our children. We tell the stories, we ask the questions, we give the gifts and then we sleep and rise night and day and let the seeds sprout, and grow and rejoice that the smallest of seeds can become the greatest of all shrubs.