Wednesday, May 24, 2017

7 Easter A

Christ prayed "That they may be one as you and I are one" and as he prepared to ascend to the Father he told his disciples "You will be my witnesses." One of the most important ways that we witness to the world is through our love for one another."

7 Easter A
Transcribed from a sermon given on
June 5, 2011
By The Rev. Valerie Ann Hart
St. Barnabas Episcopal Church

I’d like you to imagine that the patriarch of a family is dying. He’s in the hospital and he knows his death is near, so he gathers the whole family together - the sons and daughters, their spouses, the grandchildren. They are all gathered together and he looks at them and says, “I have loved you and cared for you and had concern for you, but I am soon going to be gone. My prayer to God at this moment is that you will stay together as a family, that you will love and support one another.”
You can imagine that happening. And that is basically what we have here today in the Gospel. It is the night before Jesus is arrested. He is talking with his disciples. He is giving them the last of his teachings. He is trying to prepare them for what is ahead. Then here he prays for them. He prays of all of those who have been given to him, which means us too. We too are his disciples. We too are those whom God has given to Christ. And his final prayer, his last request, is, “That they may be one as you and I are one.” Christ’s last passionate prayer is that his people will be together and united in the way that he is united with the father. That we, as he gives his command earlier, would love one another as he has loved us. That is his final request. And any of you who know anything about church history know that the Christian church has not been really good at doing that. But that doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying.
Today is the seventh Sunday of Easter. It used to be called the Sunday after Ascension. On Thursday we celebrated the Ascension which happened forty days after Easter. Jesus spent 40 days in his resurrected body interacting with the disciples. Then he took the disciples up on the hillside and as he stood there and told them, “You will now be my witnesses. I’m leaving. You will be my witnesses.” Then a cloud came and he disappeared from their sight. Now throughout scripture whenever there is a cloud that appears it represents the presence of God. It was as if a door opened between earth and heaven and Christ walked through it. He was gone.
In the reading today from Acts that describes this, what stood out for me was what happens immediately after the Ascension. The disciples had all been looking a Jesus and they continued to look at where he had been. Now he is gone and two men dressed in white, who obviously must be angels because they are messengers from God, appear. They say, “Why are you looking there were he left? Why are you staring at empty space?” So the disciples stopped and they looked at each other. The next thing we hear is that the community is gathered together in the upper room for prayers, for food and for sharing. The whole family, the disciples, some of the women including mother Mary and Jesus’ brothers, the whole family is there gathered together. It is the family loving one another.
Architecture has a strong effect on what we can do in a church or in a house. Think about an airplane. Now the goal in an airplane is to get lots of people close together for a long time without causing too much of a fuss. You don’t really want them interacting with each other. You don’t want them getting up and moving around, so you have all the seats lined up facing forward, That the only thing you can see is the back of people’s heads. And maybe the person sitting next to you, but you don’t look too much at the person sitting next to you because that is not really socially acceptable. You look straight ahead.
Now if you have people over for dinner you are going to sit around a table, or gather around in the living room. Where you can see one another, and you can talk to one another, and you can interact with one another.
Think about how we set up a church. We have all these pews and you are all sitting here and looking up at the cross. Except for the choir. The choir gets to look at the people. We have the cross up there so we are all looking at the cross. And that is a fine thing to do. But the angels said to the disciples, don’t look at where Jesus was - and they looked at one another. So I would like to invite you to be very counter cultural and turn around and look at one another. If you are sitting up in the front you might have to stand up. Look behind you. Stand up and look behind you. Look at these wonderful people. Look at this variety of human beings.
Every Sunday I get to look at all you and see the smiling faces and the sleepy faces, and the young ones and the old ones, the familiar and the unfamiliar as you look around at the people. Now there are some people here that maybe you have never seen before. Who are they? I wonder if they are new. Well maybe not.
Or maybe there is someone you see and you think I recognize that face. I wonder how long they have been coming to church? You might see other people whom you know their names because the name tags they wear but that is all you know about them. And there may be others here that you are really close to and you have come to really value and share deeply with. This is our family. This is the family that Jesus prayed that we would be one as Jesus and the Father are one. This is it.
Now to be one with one another as Jesus and the Father are one with one another we kind of need to get to know each other. When you love someone you want what is best for them. You do what you can to help them. But how can we help someone if we don’t know what their situation is. If we don’t know who they are. When we love someone we value them for who they are, we listen, we appreciate, we celebrate with them, we grieve with them, we support them.
In order to do that we have to know one another. A little bit more than just hello. A little bit more than just shaking hands on Sunday morning. So I would like to invite you to be brave and trust the Holy sprit. You will find on most of the pews, or at least every other pew, a basket that has some little pieces of paper and there should be a writing implement it it.
What I am inviting you to do is to write your name and a way to contact you. It might be a phone number or if you prefer to be contacted by email you can put your email address. Then what I am going to do is to collect all these and mix them all up. Then everybody that has put one in, takes one out. We are going to trust the Holy Spirit that whatever name it is you pick out is someone you need to get to know. I’m going to put my name in here too.
So what you will do is you will pull out a piece of paper and you will contact the person that you get. And you’ll say let’s get together. Maybe you will go have a cup of coffee together, maybe you’ll take a walk together. Maybe if it is someone who has physical limitations you may need to go to their house. Whatever. You may even go to the beach together. Whatever it is it is a chance to listen and get to know someone on a little bit deeper level.
I trust the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit works very efficiently. Trust that that person whose name you get has something you need. Maybe a story of their life. Maybe some encouragement. Maybe a new idea. And trust that you have something for that person. Maybe they need a ride, or a listening ear, or a good friend. Who knows what the Holy Spirit will do with this. I had one person at the 8:00 services that said, “I got just the person that I need to talk to.” I didn’t ask any further about why the need to talk.
We don’t know, but I am going to be real curious to find out what happens. I am going to be real curious for people who want to share their story of who they talked to. Now there is a small chance, a small probability that you will get yourself. If you get yourself that means the Holy Spirit is saying you better hang out with yourself a little bit. Take some time, listen to yourself, love yourself. Or you may get your spouse, and once again you better spend some time with your spouse. It might be a message that you need to do that You may get someone you know well. You may get someone you have never met, but it is an opportunity. An opportunity to practice loving one another.
And so I invite you to put in your little slips. I’ll get the choir over here.

Mix the all together and we’ll hand them out. Take one and pass it on. Don’t look. Trust the holy Spirit

Jesus said to his disciples before he went up to heaven, “You will be my witnesses. In Jerusalem, in Judea in Samaria and to the ends of the world.” We will be God’s witnesses. What does that look like? We can witness with our voice. We can tell what we know. But it is a much more powerful witness when we witness with how we live our lives. When we witness Christ’s love by loving one another. Most of you may know the old song “They’ll know we are Christians by our Love” Let us witness Christ in our love for one another.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

6 Easter A

Peter writes, "Be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting of the hope that is in you." What does that mean? What is the hope?

6 Easter A
Transcribed from a sermon give
May 29, 2011
By the Rev. Valerie Ann Hart
At St. Barnabas Episcopal Church

When I get ready to preach and read through the lessons for the coming Sunday, sometimes a passage, a little short something, will just jump out at me. Then I know that I have to preach about that, even if I’m not real excited about having to preach about that.
The one that stood out for me today is in the First Letter of Peter, where he says, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting of the hope that is in you.” Be ready, be ready to make a defense of the hope that is within you. As Christians we are always to be ready to make a defense of the hope within us.
Now of course the first question is what is that hope? I will get to that later in the sermon. But first of all there is the the idea that we need to be ready to respond. This doesn’t mean proselytizing. This doesn’t mean going to your neighbor and knocking on the door and insisting that they listen to you talk about God. This is when someone approaches you, and questions you, and asks, because if a person is asking “Why are you going to church? Why do you waste your Sunday morning at church? You don’t believe in that stuff, do you?” If they bring it up. If they ask you, that means that they are thinking about it and that means there is some part of them that really does want to know and understand. That is an opening and an opportunity to proclaim the hope that is within you.
Peter goes on and says we are to do it with gentleness and sensitivity. We have the perfect example of that in Paul in this reading from Acts. Here Paul is in Athens. Athens at that time was the center, or at least they liked to think of themselves as the center, of intellectual exploration. There wasn’t any TV. There weren’t any reality shows, so entertainment was going to the town square and listening to people talk about philosophy. Sounds like not entertainment for us, but for the Athenians that was the most exciting thing they could do. And there would be debates. And any time someone came through town that was a teacher, speaker, or well known in any way everyone was excited to hear what they would have to say.
A crowd had gathered to hear what it was that Paul was going to say. Notice how he begins. He begins by having observed and listened to the people he is going to be talking to. He begins with where they are by saying, “I was walking around your town and you guys are really very religious people.” He complimented his audience. It is always nice to do that. And he said I notice that you had a shrine to an unknown god. Well we know who that god is. God is not unknown to us. Then he quotes one of their own poets, Aratus, by saying "God is him in whom we live and move and have our being." It is a wonderful way to describe the creator, the source and foundation of all. The one in whom we live and move and have our being. He started with where the people were.
So if someone asks you about your hope or your belief, listen to them. Start with where they are. For example, when I go a party or a reception or a place where I am meeting somebody outside the church and they hear that I am a priest I get one of two reactions. The first is, "Gee I’m really sorry I haven’t been to church in a long time." I don’t know this person. Why should I care that they haven’t been to church? That’s their issue.
The second is “Well I don’t believe in God.” If they look like they really want to have a conversation I’ll say, “Well what is the God like that you don’t believe in?” And then they’ll begin describing the God they don’t believe in, “I don’t believe that there is some male with a big white beard up in heaven who is looking down at us and if we ask them we’ll get what we want if we are good and if we are bad we get coal.” And I’ll say, “I don’t believe in Santa Claus either.” The God they don’t believe in I don’t believe in either. Then I can begin to start talking about the God I do believe in. The God that has created - the source of everything. If it is a scientist you can talk about recent physics that suggests the complexity and interrelationship of the world. And if they love nature you can talk about the beauty of the creation. This God in whom we live and move and have our being.
So when we have the opportunity to defend the hope that is within us, what do we say? We are as Christians supposed to be prepared to give a response. The first thing in order to give a response is to have spent some time and thought and prayer and reflection on just what is this hope? Notice Peter is not saying be ready to quote scripture at them. And he doesn’t say be ready to recite the creed at them. It doesn’t say be ready to know all the rules. It says be ready to defend the hope that is within you. It is all about our hope. What is that hope that brings us to a church on Sunday morning? What is that hope?
It is Easter time and we have been celebrating the resurrection. Is the hope based on that? Is it the hope that we will continue to have life after our death? Is it a hope in the presence of Christ right now? Is it a hope in the future second coming, when Christ will come and heaven and earth will all be renewed? What is your hope? Is it a hope that life is not meaningless, that there is some kind of purpose? Or perhaps you are here today because you are feeling hopeless. Your job Is a mess or you lost your job. Your relationship is a mess. Money is running out. Everything is falling apart and you are feeling hopeless and you come to church with a glimmer of hope that there will be something said or something happen, or something that you will experience that will give you a glimmer of hope. Or perhaps you have come to church because you don’t believe but your spouse does. Thank you for being here. Perhaps there is the hope that it will strengthen that relationship. Or maybe you are here for your children because you know that Sunday school will help them develop a foundation. It is a hope for the future, for your children. What is the hope? What are you hoping for?
When I try to describe my hope it is about a relationship. My hope is based on a relationship with Christ. It is based on a relationship of love. It is based on an experience of the presence of Christ, the experience of the presence of love. And that is what the Gospel is all about, that relationship. The Gospel reading today where Jesus says to his disciples, I won’t leave you orphaned. I have a relationship with you that will continue. And I’ll send the Holy Spirit to be with you so that the love we have for one another will continue.
Then he gets into that rather complex language that John’s Gospel uses, where Jesus says that if you love me you are in me and I am in the father and the father is in you and it gets all this kind of complicated language and long complex sentences that when you sit down and you try to read you kind of read half way through the sentence and have to go back to the beginning to figure out just who… But the point of all that is relationship. A relationship of love. A relationship of support. And it is that relationship of love, that promise of the Holy spirit, that promise of God’s spirit being with us, strengthening us, leading us teaching us, loving us, surrounding us, caring for us. It is that relationship that is the foundation of our hope.
I also love the prayer for today, the first prayer, the collect that is at the beginning of the readings. You may not have been paying attention at the beginning of the service. It is a wonderful prayer.
Oh God you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding. Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire.

The hope is the promise for something that is beyond all that we can desire - that what the future holds is more magnificent then any of us can even imagine. It is not sitting around on clouds playing a harp, it is not something up there, it is something more, it is something grander, it is something more profound and it is based on a relationship of love. The love we have for God and the love that God has for us that was shown in Christ and proved through his resurrection. That is the hope within us that we need to be ready to defend.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

5 Easter A

"Do not let your hearts be troubled." But there is so much to disturb our hearts and minds. How are we to find peace in such troubling times?

5 Easter A
May 2, 1999
The Rev. Valerie Ann Hart
John 14:1-14

            “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Do not let your hearts be troubled? That sounds easy. These are beautiful comforting words from Jesus, but sometimes in the context of life, it is not so easy. Do not let your hearts be troubled? As if we could stop our hearts from sometimes being troubled. As if we could listen to the news and not let our hearts be troubled. As if we think about my children and all they have to deal with and not let our hearts be troubled. As if we could deal with grief, and loss, and arguments, and random violence, and warfare, and running out of money and, and, and, and not let our hearts be troubled. Maybe a monk off in a cave could let his heart not be troubled, but in real life, in the context of real life, it’s not that easy.
            It wasn’t that easy for the disciples either, in the context of their lives. The placement of this passage, this call from Christ to not let their hearts be troubled, comes in an odd place in the Gospel of John. It is during the last supper, Jesus has washed their feet and then told that that one of the disciples will betray him. Judas has left and just before this line Peter is told that he will betray Jesus three times. After all that, after hearing of betrayal and death and losing their teacher, Jesus says to them “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” How could they possibly have not had troubled hearts, yet Jesus says to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
            Is Jesus completely out of touch with reality here. How could they possibly not have troubled hearts? Of course Jesus knows how troubled their hearts are, what he is trying to do is give them a broader picture that can free them from the suffering they are experiencing. How are they to not have troubled hearts? By believing in God and believing in Christ. The way to an untroubled heart is to trust in Jesus. To trust that even though he is going away, he is going to prepare a place for for them. To trust that there is so much more that they don’t understand. He tells them that they know the way, yet they don’t think that they do. "How can we know the way when we don’t even know where you are going?" they respond. The disciples are caught in the physical realm, in their day to day reality. In that reality, things were looking pretty bleak. There were plenty of reasons for a troubled heart. But Jesus wanted them to look at another reality, the reality that is beyond physical limitations. The reality in which Jesus and the Father are one. The reality in which all that is happening around them is part of a larger plan for the salvation of the world. Rather than being something to be troubled by, it is something to be anticipated and to accept with peace in the heart. From the questions of the disciples it is clear that they were not yet ready to accept this other understanding of reality, and in fact they were extremely troubled of heart, hiding away in fear, until they experienced the resurrection.
            But after the resurrection, there was a transformation. Those living in fear with troubled hearts, lived a fearless life. Those whose hearts were troubled lived with hearts that were free and filled with joy. It is not as if the world suddenly became easy. The early Christians were persecuted. It was only after the resurrection they too were able to see the broader perspective.
            Take a look at the life that Paul was living as described in the reading from Acts. Paul would go into a city, preach, convert a few while disturbing a lot of other people. These people would then form a mob, attack the home Paul was staying at and quite literally drag Paul or his friends before the judges. At this point Paul would escape and run to the next city to do it all over again. During his teaching missions, Paul was threatened with stoning, arrested numerous times, ship wrecked, lowered over the city wall at night in a basket, jeered at, harassed, betrayed, abandoned and all the while he was suffering from an ongoing physical disorder. He heard that the communities he established were getting into all kinds of trouble, with in fighting, back biting, and questionable theologies. If you think your life is tough, look at what Paul went through. Yet, he would have been able to say that his heart was not troubled. He knew the secret of how to have an untroubled heart while living in real life. He had the broader perspective. He knew that Jesus and the Father were one, and that Jesus was there with him, supporting him, aiding him. He knew that there was a place prepared for him. From this larger perspective, what happened to him in his daily life was minor. For example in 2 Corinthians, after having detailed the sufferings of his ministry, including beatings and imprisonments, he describes Christ’s response to his prayers to be free of an continuing problem (12:9-10) “but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
            To be content with insults, hardship, persecutions, to be able to boast of one’s weaknesses, to know that true strength is found in weakness - these are the statements of an untroubled heart. To be able to live a life of difficulties, losses, pain, fear, and yet remain inwardly at peace, that is the life that Christ offers. To believe in Christ, to believe in the father, to be confident of Christ’s resurrection and that he is waiting for us, that is the source of true peace of mind - an untroubled heart. If we look for peace of mind in the outside world, we will never find it. If we trust in guns, or money, or walls, or a ‘safe’ suburban home for our security , we will never find it. Our hearts will remain troubled. But if we seek our security in Christ. If we learn to trust that he is the way, the way to God, the way to Love, the way to Peace, then we will discover that we can have an untroubled heart, even in the midst of pain and suffering. We will find that our security is no longer based on the things of the world, but on the one who created this world. We indeed will be able to follow, for we will know the way, the truth and the life.