Sunday, July 17, 2016
Are we passionate about our work?
The Rev. Connie Campbell-Pearson

(See Documents below to download)

At first glance, the story of hospitality in Genesis and the story of hospitality in Luke seem to be saying to me, the opposite thing. In the story of Abraham we are told that he saw three men standing near him and he ran to meet them, bowing down to the ground and then requesting that he be allowed to wash their feet, feed them and see that they are refreshed. He was the ultimate host to three strangers and we are later told in Romans chapter 4 that Abraham believed God (that he would become the father of many nations as he had been promised) even when his own body was a good as dead and the barrenness of his wife Sarah, he did not weaken in his faith and it was reckoned to him a righteousness.

 Genesis 18:1-10a

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, "My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on-- since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said." And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes." Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent." Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son."

Note:  We are told five times in the story that Abraham, Sarah or the servant hastened, ran or made ready quickly.

In our gospel story, we see another accounting of hospitality. Jesus has arrived at the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. I'm guessing that we have probably heard countless stories about the "one thing that Mary has chosen" and apparently her sister, Martha, has not. I'm betting that the moral of the story that we have been told is that it was better to sit at the feet of Jesus than labor to accommodate others. Am I right here?

But seeing the story of Abraham paired with this story of Martha made me wonder, just what was the thing that made Martha and Mary different. You see, the problem with Martha is not her hospitality. Just look at the difference in the attitude of Abraham and Martha. He is running to do the work; she is complaining to the Master.

Luke 10:38-42

As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

Martha becomes distracted and worried. She complains to the Lord that her sister is not working as hard as she is. She may be an effective organizer, a great cook, conscientious in all she does, but she is simply responsible...driven by duty, not passion.

What are the works in your life that brings you joy? What are the works in your life that when you've spent hours at it, you look up in amazement that the time has flown by? What are the works in your life that you are called to?

Did I ever tell you that years ago, when I was at another church, I was asked to become a deacon? Now a deacon, in that particular fellowship was one who was in charge of hospitality – like wedding receptions and planning the Christmas party. You would never want me to be charge of a wedding reception. I flatly refused the offer! You see, I didn't understand what God really meant by being a deacon and it wasn't until I met a deacon here at St. James, that I actually understood what was the work I was being called to.  I could have become a deacon in the other church, but I would have done it out of duty, not spiritual passion.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of sitting with George Zabriskie, as he is actively dying. I was with someone else who had a hymnal and together we sang songs to George, including his favorite one, Lift High the Cross. You see, I came to sing and pray, but I wasn't the one who was called to spend the night with him as Thyrza was traveling home from Maine.  I haven't been the one to sit and hold his hand or read Psalms to him. No, my part was small, but it was what I could do with passion and love.

Likewise in a church, it takes all of us working together, each bringing whatever gifts we have. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2.10)

Friday night, St. James served at the community cafe. Not all are called to minister in this way. Perhaps you've tried it and while you might be willing to continue, if it's not your passion, take the risk to look for where else you might be called to serve. Perhaps you are being invited to demonstrate the sacraments to children be serving in Godly play. Perhaps you are being invited to strategize with leadership and listen to the voice of God about the direction of this particular fellowship of believers. Perhaps you are interested in serving the naked, the hungry, or those in prison. Perhaps you are being asked to be hospitable, making this church, not just a friendly church, but also, one that has no distinction placed on anyone who comes through that door and is welcoming to all.

More than anything, passion is God's gift to us rather than anything we actually do. For each of is called repeatedly, invited to turn away from something and toward something else. He invites us many times to turn in new directions. When we answer those calls, passionate spirituality happens. We cannot make these calls happen, but we can put ourselves in the position of hearing those calls when we practice some sort of spiritual rule in our life. In this way, prayer, scripture, receiving communion, gathering together every Sunday to worship, helping those in need, going on a retreat, these practices and many others are ways for us, like Mary, to sit at Jesus's feet as a disciple and listen to what he want to tell us.

It was risky for Mary to sit as a disciple at the feet of Jesus in a culture that did not leave room for women to do such a thing. Yet here we all are today, taking time on a beautiful Sunday, to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen. I commend you all for being here today and every Sunday, because it is not what the world does today. You are being intentional, rather than conventional and God appreciates that in each one of you.

“We may find it risky, for all sorts of reasons, some of them self-imposed, to undertake spiritual practices, to answer the call to be continually converted, to become aflame with passionate spirituality or what Jesus calls ‘the one thing necessary’. We may, after all, find ourselves taken to unexpected places.

Passionate spirituality took a biblical farm hand named Amos away from the tending of sycamore trees and made him into a prophet of God. He responded to his call.

Passionate spirituality took a slave from Maryland’s Eastern Shore named Harriet Tubman and made her into the Moses of her people. She responded to her call.

Passionate spirituality took Oscar Romero, a conventional cleric from the tortured country of El Salvador and made him into a voice for the voiceless. He responded to his call.” (taken from Sermons that Work)

Passionate spirituality can take you and me, normal, ordinary folk and take us to extraordinary and unexpected places if we will embrace the call. And I can guarantee you, without reservation, that the journey will be worth the cost. 

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Sunday, March 13, 2016
Father Greg Smith

The last few weeks have been rough for me.

I lost an 18 year-old kid to suicide. I lost a friend in my office building to murder. Friday, the murder/suicide of a young family now rocks our community. Yesterday, I lost a beloved friend to cancer, who leaves behind a wife and kids and hundreds of students in the wake of his brilliant and beautiful life.

It stinks.

And now I have to stand in front of you and try to piece together some semblance of hope.

The Gospel, as usual, is not silent.

We may be tempted to hoard our treasure against some future day of reckoning. We may be tempted to hold back our best in case of some future need. But….

Mary takes this perfume. Expensive. Precious. Dear. And anoints Jesus’ feet with it. Crying. The ultimate expression of humility.

She was probably saving it for some very special occasion.

My grandmother was one of those who would “put things away”- when she died there was a whole chest full of lovely things that never saw the light of day. Waiting for who knows what….

Judas even exclaims in protest.

But Jesus defends her.

“The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”

I think she realized that the Kingdom was at her doorstep.

I think she realized that this man was to be honored.

I think she realized that Jesus was the one who would be the advocate for all.

I think she realized that this moment would never come again.

And she took her (most?) precious possession and gave it to Jesus.

Why?

Because he deserved it.

How?

He earned her love.

Not by being judgmental or angry or hostile or horrible, but by being loving and trusting the power of God’s love.

By being pure love.

Humility is about being honest.

“Life and death are identical twin sisters born within every human being. We are all kin as we travel the uneven roads of our common journey through life. Yet being kindred- why are we so unkind toward each other?

Why do we find it so hard to see each other’s dilemmas as being identical to our own? Why do we so often accept unkindness as the order of relations among us? For us to live unkindly to each other is to live unnaturally.

How do we live kindly in an unkind world?

Humility teaches us kindness. Humility prevents our taking the first places at life’s banquet, prevents our excessive consumption of resources while sisters and brothers on other continents or down the street cannot feed their children.

Humility helps us step down from the pedestal of individual destinies to share life with the crowd.

Humility helps us to see how easy it is to lose everything we hold dear in an instant; our house, our status, our families, our very selves lost in the distractions that keep us from realizing our kindness with one another.

Lent is an occasion for us to reorient our priorities, to attend to the least privileged first- to allow the lame lead us in the procession by their slower pace and with rhythms that appreciate how we must all proceed care fully or suffer soul-death alone.”1

I’m feeling a lot of sadness lately. You might be, too. 

The important thing is not to hoard our joy.

Not to keep our love to ourselves.

We have to spread it around.

Like Mary did.

What do I need to break open and share with the world?

What is the beautiful fragrance that I am to open for all those around me?

I believe it is simply this- it is my heart.

Don’t hold back. Don’t wait for “the perfect time”.

Give your heart every single day.             

Amen

1: From Bridges to Contemplative Living, Montaldo, Goth

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Sunday, October 11, 2015
"The Rich Young Man"
Mark 10: 17-31
The Ven. Roxanne Klingensmith

As Jesus was setting out on a journey,  a workaholic,  a wealthaholic, a status-consciousaholic, a personal appearanceaholic,  a success-at-all-costsaholic, a drugaholic, a people-pleaseraholic, a poweraholic ran to him and knelt before him.  And in separate voices they each asked “what must I do to inherit eternal life, what must I do to enter the kingdom of god, that place of peace, justice, mercy, of joy that passes all understanding?”

Jesus replied, “You all know what you must do.” Give up yourself, everything that defines you, claim a new identity in me—give it all up and follow me.”

“What?”  Each replied, “But I will need to change!  That is asking way too much of me to do.  The sacrifices I must make in giving up self, everything that defines me is just too great, too costly.  I mean I will have to relinquish my great wealth that I have accumulated over the years. I have struggled to attain a prominent position in my community and now I have it.  How I appear to others is the most important thing to me.  I cannot quit working—just a bit more and I will be the company CEO—my family can put up without me just a little bit longer.  I cannot stop using drugs—I will be lost without them—to give them up will drive me crazy.  I don’t care about anything else.  I must do what other people want me to do otherwise they will not like me.   

Each continued to confront Jesus—what more do you want from me—I have already admitted to you that i am powerless over who I am, that a power greater than me, you, guide me to a more productive way of living—I mean I have said you can have my life, I have looked long and hard at who I am and have said to you I am truly sorry.  I have asked you to heal me, to take away all my shortcomings.” 

Much grumbling continued to be heard…

Hearing what each had said, looking at each one, Jesus felt profound love for them.

Thoughtfully and succinctly he replied, “There are things you have not done that you still must do to become anew in me, to take on a new identity, to follow me.

Get out of yourself, drop the self-absorption! Who have you hurt while living this chosen life of yours? Go and apologize, seek their forgiveness.  Do not stop examining who you are; when you have done wrong, admit it quickly and honestly.  And while you are at it, don’t forget about me—I am with you always.  Come to me, talk to me, ask that my will be done.  Pray for the strength, courage and wisdom to do what I am calling you to do in my name.   For in me, you will find all these things possible.

In all of this, I say to you, truly you will be blessed; claim a new identity in me.  You will find yourself in the kingdom of God. You will find that peace, justice, mercy, joy that passes all understanding, life everlasting that you all, bottom line, so yearn for.  You will find yourself following me and you will not be concerned about the cost to do so.”

When the workaholic, the wealthaholic, the status-consciousaholic, personal appearanceaholic, success-at-all-costsaholic, drugaholic, people-pleasingaholic, poweraholic heard all these words of Jesus—well, they were not words they expected to hear at all. This kingdom of god was not what they had ever envisioned at all. 

So still stuck on the cost of changing, the cost of giving up everything they knew, the cost of giving up an old identity for a new one,

 

They left—sad, gloomy, actually grieving. 

 

And Jesus?  He still loved them.        

 

Amen

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You're a Treasure!
A Sermon Given by Deacon Roxanne Klingensmith
at Saint James Episcopal Church
On Sunday, September 6, 2015

"I want to be alone."

That was the famous declaration made by the early Swedish film star and glamour girl Greta Garbo (1905-1990). But it was that declaration that jinxed her search for solitude. A vast cast of has-been, over-the-hill actors and actresses struggled to stay in focus but swiftly faded out of the limelight and into obscurity. But Garbo, by her very insistence on alone-time, was hounded by media hangers-on until her death in 1990. To get a picture of Greta Garbo remained a paparazzi “holy grail” throughout her life. 

We are more alone and less alone these days than ever before. We humans have always lived in communities, in tribes, in families — for protection, for food, for companionship, for love. In the twenty-first century urban living is the norm, with large populations of people gathered around a commercial/communal core. But even as we live lives more closely packed, we are more solitary. Education and economics have made it possible for more people to “make it” on their own. What for centuries had been the culturally and economically determined “norm” — to marry and produce a family in order to survive — is no longer viewed as a necessity. In America, the new norm is singledom. Half of all adults are unmarried, and 15% of those singles live by themselves. In Scandinavia it is estimated that by 2020 half of all “households” will be occupied by only one individual.

But singledom does not mean we are alone. Who out there today is not umbilically connected to the “social network?” E-mail, Facebook, ebay, Instagram, Tweet, Pinterest, whoever and whatever dot “com.” We are never alone as long as the power grid is up and running. And it is not just when we’re avoiding work or annoying chores by going online. The online “Kindle” advertises itself as the “campfire,” showing a wilderness camping family happily downloading an electronic connection while snuggled in front of a fire in front of their tent. Out-of-bounds, crazy skilled skiers and snowboarders carry cell-phones with tracking beepers in case their off-line adventures cross the line and get them into trouble.

“Getting away from it all” never happens anymore.

The “apocalypse” series “Revolution” posits the ultimate disaster of a world, not infested with outer-space invaders, not poisoned by nuclear fallout, but a truly horrifying scenario — a world “gone dark.” In other words, a world without the power grid, a world where we are cut off from all of our electronic connections.

How “alone” might we be in such a place? Do each of us ou have commitments and connections that would help support and sustain us without the benefit of electricity? Can each of us  find solidarity in genuine solitude?

In today’s gospel text Jesus seeks solitude and embraces community in the same breath. Leaving “kosher” ground, Jesus travels into Gentile territory. Yet while he is isolated from his “tribe,” from the ritualistically pure community carved out by observant Jews, Jesus has no problem reaching out to the Father. Jesus finds God in time alone or in time together, no matter what the physical circumstances.

Camped out in a “heathen” home, Jesus seeks solitude so that he can experience the personal solidarity of the divine-human relationship. Jesus is the only person who has ever gotten that relationship right. When the incarnate Jesus, Son of the Father, singularly seeks to speak with God, there is no disconnect.

God created human beings out of a divine pleasure, a heart’s desire that we would yearn to be in God’s presence — that we would commit to being in an unique and personal relationship with God….. One-on-one.  A face-to-face encounter with of one person---you and me--- —  God’s profound creative desire.

As the incarnate divine, it is this special connection that Jesus represents in complete perfection. And when Jesus himself needs to re-boot that connection, he goes apart — so that he does not come a-part. Jesus seeks not solitude to shut out the world. Jesus does not seek solitude to be solitary. He seeks it to be in solidarity with God. Jesus seeks solitude to up the amps of God’s presence. In his alone-time Jesus never is truly alone, or lonely. It is when he is alone that Jesus stands most fully before and with the Father, feeling the fullness of divine love.

We mistake solitude for alone-ness. We think solitude is solitary. The truth is solitude is relationally charged; it can be our time alone with God---in relationship with God for which we were created.

Outside the “garden,” the rest of humanity has a fractured view of solitude and aloneness. We crave the internet connection because we think that when the power goes off . . . the power goes off. Not so. When we stand before our Creator, the power goes on full force. The power of connection. The power of relationship. The power of love. If we can find the time to stand alone and in prayer before God — we are never alone. We are plugged into the life-sustaining force of the universe. We are interfaced with our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.

Have you ever reflected on the fact that . . . there are no chairs at the Lord's Table? The posture of faith is not sitting, but kneeling down, standing up or walking toward. It is in these sessions, these moments of solitude with our Lord, that empower us to stand up for truth, walk toward each other in need, and kneel down in service to the least, last and lost. It is in these moments of solitude with God that stir our souls to joy.

 The longest living and largest living things still on this earth don’t swim in the oceans. They stand in the forests. Redwoods grow to immense size, their girth recorded by countless of photos of cars being driven through tunnels bored through their trunks. To grow to those immense dimensions takes centuries, not seasons. Yet Redwoods don’t have an enormous single taproot that anchors them into the earth. Trees that grow that way inevitably get shoved over, uprooted, by some random great gust of wind when the soil is drenched.

Redwoods survive and live to grow to great heights, because they spread their roots out. Redwoods create a network, and “internet” root system, holding each other up, strengthening the soil in which they are standing. They are singular, but they are completely connected. They are alone, monarchs of the forest, but they are kept upright and strong by their relationships.

The ultimate “treasure” in our lives is our relationship with God, with ourselves, with each other, and with creation.

I have an idea—how about turning to someone, as you leave this morning, looking them in the eye, and saying…. “You are a treasure. Thank you for being in my life.” And the next time you’re alone with God, greet your Creator with these words: “My Lord, My Treasure--- I am so very glad you are in my life, that you are my life.”    AMEN

Many thanks to Leonard Sweet for words/ideas presented here.

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Going Down
A Sermon Given By
The Rev. Connie Campbell-Pearson
Deacon, Saint James Episcopal Church

At Saint James Episcopal Church
On Sunday, September 30, 2015

(See Documents Below to download)

“Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.”

Boy is that one big Oops! The disciples – they wanted to be the greatest. We too have dreams and aspirations to become something important! What or who is it that you dreamed to become? Someone famous? Someone beautiful? Rich? Famous? The greatest?

God seems to have a different promotion system AND it always involves going down. Now when I think about going down, it’s almost like a four letter word. We might only have bad thoughts about this word. “The stock market is going down!” might be awful to hear if you are heavily invested in stocks. Or we might hear “here’s your last paycheck, the company is downsizing.” But there can be an upside too. If you are overweight, you like to hear “Yeah, I went down another pound today!” Or if your blood pressure is climbing past normal, you’d like to hear your health care provider say “Your blood pressure is going down.”

In our beautifal creation, there is one entity that ALWAYS seeks to go low.

The Water Song

Come, oh come! let us away- lower, lower every day,
Oh, what joy it is to race, down to find the lowest place.
This the dearest law we know- "It is happy to go low."
Sweetest urge and sweetest will, "Let us go down lower still."

 Hear the summons night and day calling us to come away.
From the heights we leap and flow to the valleys down below.
Always answering to the call, to the lowest place of all.
Sweetest urge and sweetest pain, to go low and rise again. 

It is now that for many years, whenever I need inspiration, there is one place I go.  I need to go to Yellowstone and stand at the brink of the Upper Falls. The water from the Yellowstone River, is flowing along quite serenely until it suddenly comes to this great fault in the earth. The view is more than magnificent. I am always amazing that amidst the thundering of the falls, there will be a small delicate flower growing out of the rock just a few inches away from the tumult. 

I find it a very spiritual moment to imagine the joy with which the water gives itself, racing to find the lowest place. There’s no hesitation, but rather leaping without abandon. “Sweetest urge and sweetest pain, to go low and rise again.” It’s the most interesting phenomenon isn’t it? Water goes low, only to rise again and do it all over again. It really somewhat like God’s promotion system. You go down to become great in God’s eyes.

If we had a map or an app that could show us where we actually are on our journey to become great in God’s eyes, it would surely help.  Perhaps there is a way!

You see, the mission of the church has always been clear. In the Great Commission, we are called to make disciples of all, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has also told us that there are really only two rules – we need to love God with all our heart and mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. Simple, right? Easy – heck no!

A book that I’m reading right now called Move, recalls the 1957 movie of Dr. Suess – How The Grinch Stole Christmas. The people of Whoville reach out to the Grinch but they end up embarrassing him and he decides to steal all their presents for Christmas. The tenacious Cindy Lou Who discovers that the Grinch’s heart is actually two sizes too small. But wonder of wonders, when he tries to save the presents, the magic xray machine shows us that his heart actually grows 3 times larger that day. If you haven’t seen this movie, maybe you need to rent it and watch it again!

The author speculates that it be great if we had that xray machine inside the door of every church so that we could actually measure everyone’s heart and see if we are if fact growing to love God and one another more. Alas, such a machine doesn’t exist.

So how do we know if we are growing more in love with Jesus and our neighbors? One of the evidences of our love growing is when we can serve others….those can’t pay us back, who we may not know, who perhaps have made those decisions that land them in jail, or in the homeless shelter…the marginalized, the destitute, the hungry. How do we give ourselves with abandon to serve? 

Today, we are going to sing songs about being a servant. We’ll hear the familiar scriptures about being a servant. When I sit down, you will have heard a sermon about becoming a servant. For a moment, our heartstrings will be pulled and perhaps we will even pray the prayer that asks God to help make us a servant.

My invitation and challenge is this. TRY IT. Try serving someone you don’t know, who can’t pay you back. If you need a visual inspiration, go to Yellowstone and stand at the Brink of the Upper Falls. Ask God to help you become like the water that gives itself with abandon to go down. Watch the movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas and afterwards, ask the Lord to show you what size your heart is towards Jesus and towards your neighbor.

And like the water, as we go low, we will rise again. It’s the model Jesus showed us on the cross.

 

“You came from heaven to earth
To show the way
From the earth to the cross
My debt to pay
From the cross to the grave
From the grave to the sky” 

Hear the summons night and day calling us to come away.
From the heights we leap and flow to the valleys down below.
Always answering to the call, to the lowest place of all.
Sweetest urge and sweetest pain, to go low and rise again.

It’s God’s way.

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 Are you envious that I am generous? 

A Sermon Given By Father Greg Smith
At Saint James Episcopal Church
On Sunday, September 21, 2014

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“That’s not fair!” a child I know said to his father.

The father- a brilliant man- then said this to his son: “Would you like it to be even less fair? Keep complaining.”

From childhood, we seem to have a quantity-oriented view of what’s fair.

If you get more than me, it’s not fair.

Arguably, we are much less likely to notice this when it is in our favor.

However, it still poses a problem.

How do we teach our children the power of fairness?

 

Are we modeling it?

Do we believe it ourselves?

Am I a model of fairness?

Hmmmm.

It’s a humbling question.

 

Today’s Gospel asks us “Are you envious because I am generous?” 

That is one of the most challenging lines in the gospels.

“Are you envious because I am generous?”

Are you envious of the blessings of others?

I have a hard answer.

It is none of your business.

It’s between them and the Lord.

It doesn’t match with what you think they should get?

You’re stepping in to God’s business.

One of the things I spend time with is the comparison between others and themselves.

Except that there is no comparison.

You and the Lord.

That’s the deal.

It’s not about raising me up to the standards of others,

It’s not about putting me on the standards of those I know.

It’s about honesty- humility- which is honest- between yourself and the Creator.

Who are you?

Who does God Want you to be?

Does God compare us to each other?

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A Sermon Given By The Venerable Roxanne Klingensmith
Deacon, Saint James Episcopal Church

At Saint James Episcopal Church
On Sunday, January 19, 2014
In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday

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Letter to Christian Americans From St. Paul
By Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I would like to share with you an imaginary letter from the pen of the Apostle Paul. The postmark reveals that it comes from the city of Epheus.  After opening the letter I discovered that it was written in Greek rather than English.  At the top of the first page was this request: "Please read to your congregation as soon as possible, and then pass on to the other churches."

For several weeks I have worked assiduously with the translation.  At times it has been difficult, but now I think I have deciphered its true meaning.

It is miraculous, indeed, that the Apostle Paul should be writing a letter to you and to me nearly 1900 years after his last letter appeared in the New Testament. 
How this is possible is something of an enigma wrapped in mystery.  The important thing, however, is that I can imagine the Apostle Paul writing a letter to American Christians in 1956 A.D.  And here is the letter as it stands before me.

I, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to you who are in America, Grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

For many years I have longed to be able to come to see you.  I have heard so much of you and of what you are doing.  I have heard of the fascinating and astounding advances that you have made in the scientific realm.  I have heard of your dashing subways and flashing airplanes.  Through your scientific genius you have been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains.  You have been able to carve highways through the stratosphere.  I have heard of your great medical advances, which have resulted in the curing of many dread plagues and diseases, and thereby prolonged your lives and made for greater security and physical well-being.  All of that is marvelous.  You have made tremendous strides in the area of scientific and technological development.

But America, as I look at you from afar, I wonder whether your moral and spiritual progress has been commensurate with your scientific progress.  You have allowed the material means by which you live to outdistance the spiritual ends for which you live.  Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but through your moral and spiritual genius you have failed to make of it a brotherhood.

I am impelled to write you concerning the responsibilities laid upon you to live as Christians in the midst of an unChristian world.  That is what I had to do.  That is what every Christian has to do.  But I understand that there are many Christians in America who give their ultimate allegiance to man-made systems and customs. They are afraid to be different.  Their great concern is to be accepted socially. They live by some such principle as this: "everybody is doing it, so it must be alright."  You have unconsciously come to believe that right is discovered by taking a sort of Gallup poll of the majority opinion.

But American Christians, I must say to you as I said to the Roman Christians years ago, "Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."  Your ultimate allegiance is not to the government, not to the state, not to nation, not to any man-made institution.  The Christian owes his [her] ultimate allegiance to God, and if any earthly institution conflicts with God's will it is your Christian duty to take a stand against it.

I understand that you have an economic system in America known as Capitalism. Through this economic system you have been able to do wonders.  You have become the richest nation in the world, and you have built up the greatest system of production that history has ever known.  But Americans, there is the danger that you will misuse your Capitalism.  I still contend that money can be the root of all evil.  It can cause one to live a life of gross materialism.  I am afraid that many among you are more concerned about making a living than making a life.  You are prone to judge the success of your profession by the index of your salary and the size of the wheel base on your automobile, rather than the quality of your service to humanity.

The misuse of Capitalism can also lead to tragic exploitation.  This has so often happened in your nation.  They tell me that one tenth of one percent of the population controls more than forty percent of the wealth.  Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. If you are to be a truly Christian nation you must solve this problem.  You can work within the framework of democracy to bring about a better distribution of wealth.  You can use your powerful economic resources to wipe poverty from the face of the earth.  God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.  God intends for all of his children to have the basic necessities of life......So I call upon you to bridge the gulf between abject poverty and superfluous wealth.

[Oh that] I could be with you in person, so that I could say [these words] to you face to face.....

Let me rush on to say something about the church.  Americans, I must remind you, as I have said to so many others, that the church is the Body of Christ.  So when the church is true to its nature it knows neither division nor disunity.  But I am disturbed about what you are doing to the Body of Christ.  They tell me that in America you have within Protestantism more than two hundred and fifty-six denominations.  [Now over 40,000].  The tragedy is not so much that you have such a multiplicity of denominations, but that most of them are warring against each other with a claim to absolute truth.  This narrow sectarianism is destroying the unity of the Body of Christ.  You must come to see that God is neither a Baptist, nor a Methodist; [God] is neither a Presbyterian nor an Episcopalian [or for that matter, Roman Catholic].  God is bigger than all of our [faith traditions].  If you are to be true witnesses for Christ, you must come to see that, America.

May I say just a word to those of you who are struggling against ...... evil.  Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons.  Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter.  As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love.  Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.  Always avoid violence.  If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.

In your struggle for justice, let your oppressor know that you are not attempting to defeat or humiliate him, or even to pay him back for injustices that he has heaped upon you.  Let him know that you are merely seeking justice for him as well as yourself.  With this attitude you will be able to keep your struggle on high Christian standards.

........don't despair if you are condemned and persecuted for righteousness' sake. Whenever you take a stand for truth and justice, you are liable to scorn.  Often you will be called an impractical idealist or a dangerous radical.  Sometimes it might mean going to jail.  If such is the case you must honorably grace the jail with your presence.  It might even mean physical death.  But if physical death is the price that some must pay to free their children from a permanent life of psychological death, then nothing could be more Christian.  Don't worry about persecution America; you are going to have that if you stand up for great principle.  I can say this with some authority, because my life was a continual round of persecutions.  [Even so] I am still going.  I came away from each of those experiences more persuaded than ever before that "neither death nor life, nor angels, or principalities, nor things present, nor things to come . . . shall separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."  I still believe that standing up for the truth of God is the greatest thing in the world.  This is the end of life.  The end of life is not to be happy.  The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain.  The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may.

I must bring my writing to a close now.  Timothy is waiting to deliver this letter, and I must take leave for another church.  But..... before leaving, I must say to you, as I said to the church at Corinth, that I still believe that love is the most durable power in the world.  Over the centuries men have sought to discover the highest good.  What is the ["highest good"] of life?  I think I have an answer, America.  It is love.  This principle stands at the center of the cosmos.  As John says, "God is love."  He who loves is a participant in the being of God.  He who hates does not know God.

So American Christians, you may master the intricacies of the English language. You may possess all of the eloquence of articulate speech.  But even if you "speak with the tongues and man and angels, and have not love, you are become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."

You may have the gift of prophecy and understanding all mysteries.  You may be able to break into the storehouse of nature and bring out many insights that men never dreamed were there.  You may ascend to the heights of academic achievement, so that you will have all knowledge.  You may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees.  But all of this amounts to absolutely nothing devoid of love.

But even more, Americans, you may give your goods to feed the poor.  You may give great gifts to charity.  You may tower high in philanthropy.  But if you have not love it means nothing.  You must come to see that it is possible for a man to be self-centered in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice.  He may be generous in order to feed his ego and pious in order to feed his pride.  Man has the tragic capacity to relegate a heightening virtue to a tragic vice.  Without love benevolence becomes egotism, and martyrdom becomes spiritual pride.

.......the greatest of all virtues is love.  It is here that we find the true meaning of the Christian faith.  The great event on Calvary signifies more than a meaningless drama that took place on the stage of history.  It is a telescope through which we look out into the long vista of eternity and see the love of God breaking forth into time.  It is an eternal reminder to a power drunk generation that love is the most durable power in the word, and that it is at bottom, the heartbeat of the moral cosmos.

I must say good-bye now.  I hope this letter will find you strong in the faith.  It is probable that I will not get to see you in America, but I will meet you in God's eternity.  And now unto him who is able to keep us from falling, and lift us from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy, to him be power and authority, forever and ever.  Amen.

Sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, on 4 November 1956, MLKP.

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A Sermon Given By
The Reverend Canon Dr. Clark M. Sherman
Rector, Saint James Episcopal Church

At Saint James Episcopal Church
On Sunday, December 1, 2013
The First Sunday of Advent

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"But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

When I was in Jr. High, I think it was 1968, some friends and I snuck into a local club in Madison, Wisconsin called Snoopy's.  A new group was playing there that night.  They were called The Chicago Transit Authority.  Yes, that Chicago.  They had a song entitled, "Does anybody really know what time it is?".

Does anybody really know what time it is?  In our Epistle reading today, Paul says, "(we) know what time it is."  Do we?

Every year it seems to start a little earlier.  Shopping, wrapping, shipping, delivering.  There are Christmas cards to be sent.  There's a tree to be bought and decorated.  There's outside decorating to be done - lights to be hung.  There are cookies to be baked and fruit cake, oh how I love fruit cake.  There is a dinner party or two and a caroling party in a couple of weeks.  There's the school holiday program and the office Christmas party.  There are people to pick up at the airport.  There's the big game, or two.  And then there's all the church services (which I know are of the utmost importance to you).

It's all there in our day-timers and iPhones, and it's all OURS.  Our time.

And then there's God's time, all contained within the circle of an Advent wreath, a wreath whose first candle is lit this morning.  It's the beginning of Advent, the beginning of the church year, a big circle of time that every year turns us from the waiting of Advent to the joy of Christmas, to the sober reflection of Lent to the joy of Easter, to the prayerful patience of Eastertide to the joy of Pentecost, and back again.

I love songs sung by The Highway Men (Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylan Jennings and Kris Kristopherson).  Perhaps their best is called The Highway Man. It is about how life, essentially comes around, and around, and around...

And so the Season of Advent comes around again.  But Advent is not a time when we go through the motions of remembering a story whose ending we already know.  Advent is about Jesus coming once and promising to come again. It is about the light shining in the darkness and the darkness not understanding it. It is about the Kingdom of God having arrived and yet still arriving.

There is much work left to be done - and not just what we face in the days ahead. Believe it or not, Christmas will arrive whether we get it all done or not.

Will the Kingdom of God come in a similar way?  What will you and I have done to bring about its coming?  Will we recognize it when it comes?  Or, will we go about our tasks, filling our time, and forget about what needs to be done in God's time?

A friend and former priest in our Diocese, Mary Frances Schjonberg suggests that we can overlay the two - these related spheres of time, taking good care of the tasks that will make for a special holiday season and staying awake for the signs of the Kingdom, and its arrival - God's time - breaking into our own.

AMEN.

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A Sermon Given By
The Reverend Canon Dr. Clark M. Sherman

Rector, Saint James Episcopal Church
At Saint James Episcopal Church
On Sunday, September 8, 2013

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It makes sense to count the costs when deciding to make a big purchase such as a home, a car or land.  Although it would seem like a good idea to sit down and work the pros/cons and numbers, not everyone takes the time to do so.  I wonder how many people count the cost before they enter into these important decisions?

When Jesus spoke of counting costs he used analogies that ring as true today as they did two millennium ago.  Clearly, Jesus was concerned about the spiritual costs of being a disciple.  At the heart of this passage is the question: What does the Lord require of us?   As I've said on numerous occasions before, Jesus calls us to be more than just believers...he calls us to be disciples.

For those of us who have grown up in America, being a disciple of Christ isn't all that difficult.  For many in our nation, being a Christian means little more than checking a box on a survey or census.  That's why over 80% of Americans say they're Christians, but less than 30% attend church regularly.  Since the time of Constantine, actually Emperor Theodosius, we've assumed that if you live in Western society, you're a Christian.  Baptism became for many little more than a sign of one's joining the club.  But is that what Jesus has in mind for us?  As John Wayne might say, "not hardly".

Jesus' parables sometimes enlighten, but at other times muddy the waters.  In this passage, Jesus leaves little doubt as to his intentions, and what he says should make us all a little bit uncomfortable.

The message is simple: If you want to be my disciple then you'd better count the costs.  It's an "all or nothing" proposition.  If you're not ready to jump in with both feet, and stay with the journey until the very end, then perhaps it's best to stay behind.

It's important to remember, Jesus says to us, if you decide to be my follower, it can cost you family, friendships, jobs, and your place in society.  And that's the way it was up until Constantine made Christianity a legal religion in the Roman Empire and Theodosius granted it most favored status as Rome's official religion. No sooner did this take place than things changed for the church.  Not only did it become beneficial to be a Christian, but your life might depend upon it.  And so, the churches filled up, but the fervor and faith of the people began to decline. The church began to look a bit like Empire.  Money, land and power became important.  Orthodoxy - right thinking - became the mark of Christian - not the way you lived your life.

Being a Christian in a Christian majority is easy and beneficial.  But, converts in countries where Christianity still isn't the majority religion, understand much better than us the truth in Jesus' statement about the costs involved in being a disciple. Some today, actually die because of their faith in Jesus as the Christ.

Our ultimate allegiance must be to the kingdom of God, a kingdom that is defined by the cross.  If we're to follow Jesus then we must give over everything to him.

When Jesus calls us to be his disciples, he breaks worldly bonds, and asks us to trust him and follow him, without ever looking back.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that no one can follow Christ without recognizing the risk and counting the cost. He says, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die".  Tough words. But, that's what it means to take up the cross.  Thank goodness we don't have to literally die.  But we do have to die to self and become his, and his alone.  As scripture says, "you are not your own, you have been bought for a price".

What I hear Jesus saying to us this morning is this: Being a Christian involves making choices, and they're not always easy to make.

So, what does it cost us to be a disciple of Jesus?  For Bonhoeffer it meant returning home to Germany from the safety of a teaching post at Union Theological Seminary to take up the struggle against Nazi tyranny.  I'm sure he never saw himself being a martyr and despite questions about the wisdom of his choices, he remained true to his calling.  As a result, his witness has been an inspiration to many.  But, if all we do is live vicariously through his story, we fall short.

This cross I have around my neck this morning is a copy of the cross worn by Pope Francis.  It is beautiful and causes me to be mindful of his example to us as Christians.  The cross of Jesus is more than a piece of jewelry...it is a way of life. It is not a life of "Be-happy-tudes"...it is a life of self-sacrifice and unconditional love.  It is the life to which you are called.

Count the cost.  Take the risk.  Be more than a believer.  Be a Disciple.

AMEN.

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