That We All May Be One

The sermon preached by The Rev. Andy Jones, on May 24, at St Andrew’s Episcopal Churchs, online service of Morning Prayer.

You will find a video of the Morning Prayer service on St Andrew’s web site on the 1833 Online page.  The sermon begins at 11:30 into the video.

 

From the Gospel assigned for the Seventh Sunday of Easter in Year a of the Revised Common Lectionary:

“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

(John 17:11b)

Good morning.

So much has changed in these last few weeks, in these last couple of months.  Sometimes it seems like nothing has been spared.  Everything has changed.  And that has even extended, at least for me, to my prayer life.  There’s so much to pray for, so much to pray about right now.  I pray for family and friends, that they stay healthy and safe.  I pray for my aging parents, that they stay home, and stay safe.  I pray for this community, that we may stay bound to one another.  I pray for our leadership: national, state, and local governments, that they may make wise decisions.  And I pray for all of you.  I pray for the members of our community who are home alone, people who are sick, and even for a few of us who are dying.  There’s so much to pray for.  Sometimes it feels a little overwhelming.  And so, there are days when I am so overwhelmed, I seem to have lost my voice.  I don’t know how to pray, or for what I should pray.

That’s one of the reasons why I am so grateful for this gospel passage today.  Here on the last day of the Easter Season, here on the last Sunday before we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, we get to hear Jesus pray.  We call this chapter of John’s Gospel The High Priestly Prayer, twenty six verses in which Jesus prays for us.  I think that we can find some direction for our own prayer, in the words that Jesus says today.

The last line of our reading this morning, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”  So that they may be one, as we are one…  In the twenty-six verses of chapter seventeen of John’s Gospel, Jesus prays three times that we may be one.  Just a few verses after the line we heard today, Jesus prays, “that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.”  And then “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one…”  Three times Jesus prays that we may be one as he and God are one.  That’s a powerful prayer, and a powerful prayer to repeat over and over again.  May we be one as Jesus and God are one.   What exactly does that mean?  What would it mean for us to be on as Jesus and God are one?

Early theologians liked to talk about the Trinity, the connection between God, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, as a connection of movement, as a dance of three persons, so united in desire, and will, and being, that they move effortlessly together, like a couple that are so used to dancing together that they glide effortlessly across the dance floor, and it’s hard to tell who’s leading and who’s following.

Jesus isn’t praying that we all agree.  He’s not praying that we all come to the same conclusions, or that we find our way forward with the same sorts of paths.  I think that what Jesus is praying for in this moment is that we learn to dance together.  That we learn to accommodate one another.  That we give and receive both identify and understanding in that movement that flows back and forth between us.  That we may be one as Jesus and the Father are one.

Now what Jesus doesn’t say here, but which should become obvious as we think about Jesus’s movement in this dance, is that in order to be one with someone else in this way, we have to be ready to give, to bend to move, to allow the other to lead.  There is some sacrifice involved.  I may be entitled, it may be my right, but that might not be the best thing for the ones with whom I am dancing.  So, I need to be ready to give, to give way, to allow the other to be and to breathe.  When we all do that together we are participating in the dance that is the inner life of the Holy Trinity; moving, flowing effortlessly together; understanding that the others agenda needs to become ours, even as ours becomes theirs; as the needs of the other become our needs, as our needs become theirs.  I think that this is a particularly powerful and profound way for us to pray right now; that we may all be one; and recognizing that we are all bound together, and that there are no disposable people.

As we continue to move through these difficult times, and our federal, state and local governments begin to remove the restrictions that have kept us Safer at Home, we need to consider the needs and the agenda of the other before we jump in with both feet, stepping on their toes, asserting our own rights, privileges, and agenda.

I think this is particularly true of us in the church.  It may be that Dane County, Madison, say that we can open our doors and come back together in our building, but that may not be the best thing for all of us.  And if it’s not the best thing for all of us, I’m not sure that it’s the best thing for any of us.  What will it look like to gather with no more than ten people in our building?  What will it look like when we are allowed to have as many as fifty people in our building, but because we need to maintain six feet of separation, we may only be able to accommodate thirty at a time?  If only thirty of us can come to church then is it really appropriate for us to open the doors and gather in that way?   And even when we are allowed to gather, there will be those in our community who will be prevented from joining us because they are in a high-risk population.  I say that with some real trepidation as I approach my sixtieth birthday this summer, and will be joining that group of those officially designated as at risk.  Someone told me earlier this week that whether or not I want to admit it, I am part of that group.

So how will we gather in a way that brings us all together and allows us to be one as Jesus and God are one.  One of the things we know is that we will not stop live streaming our services.  In this time of pandemic, we have been forced to try out some new tools that we may not have explored if not for the urgency created by our current context.  And so as we figure out how we can come back together in or building we will work to make sure that we all have access to the community that we love and depend on.

Our Bishop, Bishop Steven Miller, has a Task Force assembled and they have been working on guidelines for reopening our parishes.  He has submitted those in draft form to the clergy and the wardens in the diocese and we’ll be meeting with him on Tuesday to discuss them, and then we will be ready to share them with you all.  Mother Melesa and I have gathered together a Task Force of St Andrew’s Parishioners so that we can figure out how those guidelines work with our architecture, in our space, within our walls; and we will be working and sharing our progress with all of you as we think this through.  The Task Force will then make a proposal, or some recommendations to the Vestry for their approval.  All of this will take time.  And whatever we do, I imagine that we will be behind our state and local government, watching to make sure that it is safe, that they have made appropriate and healthy decisions for all of us, as we strive to do the same for our community.

One of the things that Jesus says in his High Priestly Prayer, is that he hopes and prays that we will be one so that the world will see us and know that it was God that sent Jesus into our midst.  Jesus hopes that by our unity, by the depth and strength of the community that we form and sustain, the world will see Gods presence, and be moved, and be changed.  This is a moment for the Church to lead.  This is a moment for the church to say that we might be entitled to gather in this moment but we will not do so until it is safe, and we know that we can all be one in ways that are healthy and life giving.

If you’ve been paying attention to this discussion on the internet, you will know that Bishops across this church, clergy across this church, have been saying that the government did not close our doors, and the government cannot open them.  We closed our doors.  We chose to stay home, because we know that that is the best way for us to love on another in this moment.

Jesus prays that we may all be one.  We can’t gather together as a body in our building right now, but by staying home and protecting one another, we are one.  God has given us a way to be one even when we cannot be together; and that is by honoring and respecting the needs of all of the members of our community, by loving one another, by staying safe, and by doing all we can to keep each other safe at this time.

It has been a difficult time and there has been a lot to pray for.  I hope that you will add to your prayer list and not feel like I am imposing on you when I make this suggestion, but I think it would serve us all well if we close our prayer time in the days ahead by echoing Jesus’s words.

Heavenly Father, makes us one as you and Jesus are one; Jesus in you and you in him, and us in you and you in us, so that we may be one, and continue to love one another in ways that only you can show us.

Peace,

Andy+

Church Sure Feels Different Today… A Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent 2020

On the first Sunday of each month at St Andrew’s, we work to make our worship accessible for all our members young and less young. We do this through an intergenerational sermon and opportunities for children and youth to take on leadership roles.

This sermon was preached from the center aisle, without a transcript.  The sermon is built around the readings for he First Sunday in Lent in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here

Here is a recording of the sermon delivered at the 10:30 service on March 1, 2020

 

Here is a transcript of the recording:

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.

Please be seated.

Church looks pretty different today, doesn’t it?  I don’t know about you, but the first thing I noticed when I came in here this morning is that there were no flowers up front.  All of the beautiful color that’s usually right there at the top of the steps missing today… well, except for the purple.  For the last couple of months, we’ve had a short green super frontal across the front of the altar, but today we have this great big beautiful purple linen hanging off the front.  And we have this purple cloth up here on the cross.  And then, as if that wasn’t different enough… we started out with a parade this morning! We came up the center island back down the side and back up the center…  It was like a big figure eight here in the room.  Church is very different today, isn’t it?

That’s because this is the first Sunday in the season of Lent.  And this is a season where we remind ourselves that we might not have been doing all that we can, to walk in the path that Jesus walked before us. We spend the season thinking about the ways that we may have hurt other people, the ways that we may have hurt ourselves, and the ways that we may even have hurt God; by the things that we’ve done, and the things that we haven’t done.  And the point of all of that is to be better at doing the very thing that Jesus came to do.  Jesus came here and walked among us as one of us to show us how much God loves us, and to teach us how to love God back, and how to love one another, even how to love all of creation, the world around us. So in this season of Lent, we look for ways when we might not have been doing the things Jesus taught us as well as we might have.  And this purple cloth, The purple cloth on the cross, the flowers missing, that great parade we had at the beginning… we do those on the first Sunday of Lent every year.

But there’s another thing that we do on the first Sunday of Lent every year.  Every year on this Sunday, we hear the story of Jesus in the wilderness.  So, let’s just put that story in its place in the narrative.

Jesus goes to the river Jordan where he’s baptized by John the Baptist.  And in Matthew’s gospel, the one we’re reading now, there is a voice from heaven that says “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  Jesus knows beyond a doubt who he is, and then all of a sudden, he goes out into the wilderness, to figure out how to be God’s beloved, the one with whom God is well pleased.  Jesus knows that it’s his job to show us how much God loves us, and to help us love God it in return in the same way; and to help us to love one another, and the world around us in the same way that God loves us.  And so, he goes out into the wilderness to figure out how to do that.

The gospel tells us that he didn’t eat or drink anything at all for 40 days. Can you imagine how weak you would be, how tired, how desperate you would be for something to eat or something to drink?  That’s the moment when temptation comes along.  Matthew tells us that the devil shows up and says “If you are the son of God… if you are the person that that voice from heaven just proclaimed you to be, turn these stones into bread.”  Now Jesus is here to help us to love God the same way that God loves us, and I think in reality, even though Jesus is really hungry and this may feel like it’s about him, Jesus knows that the devil is tempting him to feed all of us with the stones around us, to win us over by providing the things that we need, by meeting our every need.  In essence, to buy our allegiance.  But Jesus knows that love that is bought isn’t true love. You can give people gifts.  You can give people presents.  You can give them everything they want, and they might follow you around for a while because that and of a nice thing.  But that’s not the way to get someone to really love you.  So, Jesus tells the devil “no, go away.”

devil is not finished yet.  The devil comes and tries again, and takes Jesus up to the highest tower of the temple in Jerusalem, and says if you are the son of God, throw yourself off.  Because Scriptures say that the angels will catch you before you hit the ground.  And when that happens, and people see they’ll know who you are. It would be silly not to believe you.  They’ll get in line and they’ll do whatever you say.  But that’s not what Jesus wants.  Jesus doesn’t want us to follow him because it’s logical.  Jesus doesn’t want us to follow him because it makes sense.  Jesus doesn’t want us to follow him because it would be foolish not to.  Jesus wants us to love him.  Jesus wants us to love God.  Jesus wants us to love one another and the world around us.  And so Jesus knows that proving can never lead to love.  Arguing, proof texting, showing the facts, logic, that’s not going to lead to what Jesus wants; the ability to love one another and to love God.  So, again, Jesus tells the devil to go away.

Devil says, I’ve got one more card up my sleeve, takes Jesus up to the highest mountain and says, if you will fall down and worship me, I will put you in charge. You will be the master of all you can see, everyone will obey you, obey you.  That’s about as far from love as you can get.  You can’t force someone to love you.  You might be able to force people to do what you want.  But when you do that it’s not very likely that they’re going to love you in the process, and you don’t learn how to love other people, or God, or the creation that God made, if you’re being forced to do that.  So, once again, Jesus sends the devil away, and at that moment the Angels came to take care of him there in the desert.

During this season of Lent, we are working, we’re trying to understand the ways that we have failed to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and we’re working to see the ways that we’ve failed to love our neighbors as ourselves.  And I think that we hear this lesson every year on the first Sunday of Lent because Jesus gives us the model. How do we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength?  By loving others the way that God loved us; not by buying their allegiance, not by proving that we are right, not by forcing them to follow us. But by engaging in acts of self-giving and sacrifice, recognizing that love is built through trust and ongoing relationship, and commitment to holding one another up.  That love comes through being together and recognizing another person’s needs and agenda as equal to our own, and by making sure that the least among us have what they need to thrive and flourish.

Here in this season of Lent, we learn something very important about our God. Our God wants more than anything for us to love God and to love our neighbors and to love ourselves.  And God loves us so much that, even if in the end it might be good for us, God will make us do what God longs for us to do.  And even though sometimes it might make us feel better about life, God won’t meet our every need; turning stones into bread when we need bread.  Because God can’t afford to buy our love.  Because that’s no love at all.  And even though it would be nice, maybe, if we had a clear set of standards and beliefs, and some solid evidence that God is who God says God is, and that Jesus is who Jesus says he is; what really makes us human, and what makes us like Jesus, is our ability to love and to believe despite the evidence to the contrary.

God doesn’t want automatons. God doesn’t want blind followers.  God doesn’t want people who are following because they had their fill of the bread on the other side of the lake.  God wants us to follow God because we are so deeply in love that we can’t bear to be out of God’s presence; that we can’t bear to live our lives in ways that are outside of God’s vision and dream for all of creation; and all we want in our hearts is to step more fully into that relationship, leaving behind the things that distract us or drag us down.

Every year on the first Sunday of Lent, we take away the flowers.  We change the frontal.  We hang a purple drape on the cross to remember, or to remind us of Jesus’s sacrifice, we listen to this story about the true love of the one who makes, creates, redeems and sustains us, and who gives us a clear path for walking in God’s light footsteps.

Welcome to the season of Lent.

Amen

Unbind Us and Set Us Free: a Sermon for Proper 16C

This sermon, offered by The Rev. Andy Jones at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, WI, on August 25, 2019, is built on the readings assigned for Proper 16 in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here

Here is a recording of the sermon

 

Here is a transcript of the recording

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer.

Please be seated

The parish that sponsored me to go to seminary back in 1999, boy that sounds like a long time ago, was situated across the street from the municipal sports complex; soccer fields, softball fields, there were bleachers and a little bit of a stadium up there.  There must’ve been fifteen or sixteen fields, and a very limited amount of parking.  I don’t know what happened after our first couple of years of that parish, but something changed, and suddenly the city started scheduling games at that complex on Sunday morning.   And we would arrive at church and find that our parking lot was already full of the cars of people that had come to watch their kids play in these games.  We grumbled, we complained, we wrestled back and forth with the city.  We tried to decide whether or not we should put up signs that said parking for church members only, or have people standing there checking ID cards at the gate as they came in…  But I don’t think that our complaints in our discontent over that moment holds a candle to what’s happening in today’s gospel story.

Jesus walks into the synagogue and sees a woman who has been crippled and bent over for eighteen years.  He heals her, in clear violation of the commandment not to work on the Sabbath.  The leader of the synagogue is incensed and keeps saying to the crowd, “there are six days on which work may be done come to be cured on one of them, but not on the Sabbath!”  You can almost hear him saying, “We are a nation of laws!”  They were…

The people of Israel, when they escaped from Egypt, wandering in the wilderness with Moses as their guide, are given a great gift.  Moses goes up onto Mount Sinai and comes back down with tablets of stone on which are carved the Ten Commandments.  Now it’s clear that these commandments were the requirements for earning God’s love, for making your way into God’s grace, because God chose the people of Israel long before the Ten Commandments were given to Moses.  God made covenants with Abram and told him that his descendants would be as many as the grains of sand on the shore and  the stars in the sky and; that his descendants would be a blessing to all people.  God already loved the people of Israel.  The Ten Commandments were the way that the people could live fully into that relationship, to experience the depth and the fullness of God’s love, and grace, and mercy.  So, when they received those commandments they were a gift.  And the psalmist, later on, writes about the Commandments, that they are sweeter than honey from the comb.  They weren’t constraining.  They weren’t confining.  They weren’t meant to punish or to judge.  They were given as a guide to life in God’s light, and grace, and love, and mercy.

They also set the people of Israel apart from the other people in the land.  As Moses is about to confer the Commandments upon the people, in the book of Deuteronomy, he tells them that other nations will look on them with awe and wonder and say,

“‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’ 7For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? 8And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?”  (Deuteronomy 4:6b-7)

Adherence to the Sabbath became especially important to the people of Israel when they were in exile in Babylon, and they felt their identity as a people’s slipping away.  The Sabbath was what held them together, and helped them to remember who they were, and whose they were.  So when Jesus walks into the Temple this morning and violates the commandment to remember the Sabbath day and to keep it holy, there’s a lot at stake here in the mind of the leader of the synagogue.

You have to know that this isn’t the first time in Luke’s Gospel that this has happened. Way back, early on in Luke’s Gospel, we’re in chapter 13 now, back in chapter 6 Luke records a story where Jesus heals a man with a withered hand, in the temple.  He does it on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees go out and plot how to destroy him as a result of his violating that law.  The same thing happens in Matthew and in Mark, the same story, the same consequence, the religious leaders are so incensed the Jesus has healed on the Sabbath that they plot to have him killed.

I think Jesus is here this morning helping us to remember who we are, and whose we are.  He’s helping us to remember the place from which the law springs.  The summary of the law that we sometimes say to begin the service in Lent, says you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.  That is the core and the foundation from which all other laws are derived, the core and foundation from which all laws spring.  And it is out of God’s love for us, God’s compassion for us, God’s desire that we experience God more fully, that God gives us these laws.  The laws in and of themselves… they’re not the end, they’re not the goal, they’re not the purpose.  The purpose is God’s love, and the laws themselves are just tools to help us realize and experience it.

So what’s happened here this morning, and what happens in all the instances where Jesus heals on the Sabbath, and people complain and object, is that they have mistaken the laws for the end and the goal.  Jesus tells us in Mark’s version of that story of the man with the withered hand,

“The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)

The Sabbath is a gift to us.  It was a gift to the people of Israel who’d escaped Egypt where they were told to make bricks without straw and didn’t have any time to rest, to pray, to worship, just to be.  The Sabbath sets us free, just like all of God’s commandments set us free from the things that would bind us, and tear us away from God.

Jesus’s mission is to set us free.  We know that because in the fourth chapter of Luke, when he returns from his temptation in the wilderness, he quotes the prophets and says, “I have come to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, to set the captives free, to give sight to the blind.”   God’s goal, Jesus’s mission, is to liberate us and set us free so that we can live fully into the relationship with God that God offers us.  Love, grace, and mercy, come first.

Now Jesus recognizes that even the leader of the synagogue, and the people whom he’s chastising in this moment, know that that’s the truth.  He says, look, if any of you have an ox or a donkey, on the Sabbath you untie it and you take it to drink.  You show that level of grace and mercy to your animals, when it’s convenient to you.  But here in this case, there is a person, a woman standing in front of you who has suffered for 18 years…  Why is it that you are willing to deny that same grace and mercy to her?   Why is it, that when it’s not convenient to you, the letter of the law is more important than the spirit of the law.

Jesus, I think this morning, is offering us a caution and calling us to account.  When we pass and enforce laws that don’t set people free; that don’t offer them life, and love, and grace, then we have made the law an end and a goal in and of itself.  And we’ve forgotten that all of those laws need to spring from God’s love.

I think that we need to think deeply about this moment in Luke’s Gospel, especially when we consider the fact that of all the nations on the earth, we have the highest incarceration rate per capita of any of them.  We have more people in prison now than any other country in the world.  So how is it that the laws that we have passed, the laws that we have embraced, find at their core, in their center, love, and Grace, and mercy?  Something is wrong.

And we know that the laws that we do have are not applied consistently.  We know that there are populations in our midst who suffer at the hands of the laws that we have passed, who don’t receive grace and mercy at the same rates that others do.  The differential of incarceration rates between African-Americans and others in this state is astounding; almost 4 to 1, and nationally 3 to 1.  If Jesus were here this morning he might be standing in the space and calling us hypocrites.

The good news in all of this is that Jesus is here calling us to account.  Jesus is here because God loves us, to remind us of who we are and whose we are, to remind us of the function that law serves in our society and in our communities, and to remind us that the law needs to be designed to set if we are free.  If we are free, we need to work to make sure that others are as well.

Jesus is here this morning because God loves us and wants us to be free; pointing out that we need to apply justice, and grace, and mercy, evenly across all populations.  This wasn’t news to the people that Jesus was speaking to.  The prophet Micah says to the people in his community, why do you bring these gifts to the altar, and burn incense?  God hasn’t asked you for those things. But God has told you what is good

“…to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”  (Micah 6:8b)

Those words are ringing out to us today across the centuries.  And Jesus is standing in our midst calling us to account,  and offering us the chance to turn, and to share with others the gift of freedom that we ourselves enjoy.  Because the truth is, that unless we are all free, none of us are free.  And if we would be whole, our neighbor must be whole.  If we would stand in God’s light and love, without fearing the shadows on the periphery, then we need to know that everyone is standing in the same light in which we stand.  Jesus is here today because God loves us and is calling us to return, to remember who we are and whose we are.

Amen.

Enough of your thoughts and prayers, do something!

This sermon, by the Rev. Andy Jones, was offered at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin, on August 11, 2019 at the 9:30 service.  It is based on the readings assigned for Proper 14 in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here.

 

Here is a recording of the sermon

 

And a transcript of the recording

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer.

Please be seated.

Every week, when the preacher stands in this spot, or stands there in the pulpit, it’s their job to interpret the Scriptures and to interpret the world around us, through the lens of those texts that we call authoritative.  It’s the preacher’s job to break open the text; to give some sense of what was happening where and when they were written; and then to relate those texts to our lives today; and look for God’s word speaking to us through those words of our Bible.  Now sometimes it’s really hard to make those connections. People living 2000, 3000 years ago had a different understanding of the world around them and how the world worked. Their context was very different from ours.  And so sometimes it’s really difficult to relate the things that they were saying and doing to what we say and do today.  Other times those connections are so blatant and so clear that they’re just unmistakable.  Now you would think those would be the easy moments to preach, but that’s not always the case, and it’s definitely not the case today.  The connection between our lives today and our Scripture is so clear that we’re forced to address them, even though we spend an awful lot of time trying to avoid them.  I’ve been up since 2:30 this morning trying to think of a clever way into this, a clever way to bring the Scriptures around to us, and to start the Scriptures, but I just can’t do it.  The only place to start is with us here and now.

It’s been a really difficult couple of weeks. The pain and to which we’ve been exposed; the pain that we’ve seen in El Paso and in Dayton, and in those chicken processing plants and in the communities where they are planted…  that pain is real and deep; part of an ongoing malaise that affects us… that affects us deeply; that affects us at parts of our being that are so deep and fundamental that they keep us awake at night.  They hurt us deeply, and we don’t know what to do.  We don’t know how to make a difference.  We know that those things are happening.  We know that they are there. And then we walk into church this morning and we hear the words of Isaiah, a prophet, the son of Amoz, speaking for God he says to us,

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;

cease to do evil,
learn to do good;

seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,

defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.”

(Isaiah 1:16,17)

the connection between Isaiah’s world, there in the middle of the fifth century BC, and our world today is so clear that we can’t avoid it.  God says to the people of Judah as he makes these statements to them,

“When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;

even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.”

(Isaiah 1:15)

It’s like God is saying, “Enough of your thoughts and prayers, do something!”

God is calling us this morning to do something!

the problem is it so hard to know what to do.  The problems are so deep, and so entrenched; they seem to be built into the very DNA of this country.  They drive us to despair and they drive us to ruin.

At the end of the prophecy God says,

“…if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be devoured by the sword;”

(Isaiah 1: 20)

If you think about it for a minute, think about those children along our southern border, think about those children who live in the towns where their families have been called to work in chicken processing plants, think about the people whose lives have been deeply scarred; and you’ll know where the next violent acts will come from.

The more we contribute to this destructive cycle, the more we participate in it, the more we turn our backs and let it go, the deeper the spiral goes, and the more entrenched in violence our society will become.  God doesn’t need to threaten to punish us God’s self. we are sowing the seeds of our own destruction by our complacency and our failure to act.

Isaiah does hold out hope for us.  God says, “Come let us reason this out.  Let us argue it out.”  Even though our sins are scarlet and red, they can become clean like wool.  There is the opportunity for us to remedy things and to reconcile with our neighbor, and with those on our borders, and on the margins; with one another, and with God.

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;

cease to do evil,
learn to do good;

seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,

defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.”

(Isaiah 1:6,7)

Those are the values that need to drive our political and our social life.  Those are the values that pervade all of our Scripture; love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.  Defend the widow and the orphan.   Feed the hungry.  Clothe the naked.  Visit those who are in prison and the sick.  God calls us to love one another.

So what are we to do in the face of these problems that seem so insurmountable and so intractable.  The place to start is right here at home; to love our neighbors, to hold out our hand, to clothe the naked, and to feed the poor, right here in Madison. But that’s not enough. God is speaking to the whole nation of Judah, not to individuals but to a whole nation whose identity and life is at stake.  And here in this moment God is speaking to us as a people, and as a nation.  So we need to talk to the people who we have elected to represent us.  If our Christian values are not being upheld and supported by the people who have the power to change the policies and to write the laws that defend the poor, the widow and the orphan; to unite families to make them stronger; to lift people out of poverty and out of the darkness; if they’re not doing those things and we need to let them know that we are not happy with the job that they are doing.  And if they won’t represent our values, then we need to make sure that we carry those values into the voting booth with us.

This isn’t a matter of politics.  This is a matter of ethics.  This is a matter of love.  This is a matter of theology.  It is our Christian vocation and calling to support the least among us, and the way that we do that in a system like the one that we have is to elect people who will do those very things on our behalf.

This morning the connections are easy to see.  Isaiah the son of Amoz, speaking in the middle of the fifth century, is speaking to us in a way that we can avoid or ignore.  So we have to speak of these things that are difficult.  We need to speak of them perhaps in places where we ordinarily would not.  But we need to speak.  All over this country bishops in the Episcopal Church and leaders of other traditions are standing up.  Bishop Marianne Edgar Budde, of the diocese of Washington DC, was part of a group at the national Cathedral that wrote a letter in response to some language that was uttered about the place that I was born, Baltimore Maryland.  And in an interview after that letter she said that she believes, that if the church would stand united with one voice, things could change.  If the church would stand united with one voice things would change.  We are the body that is called to speak with this moral imperative, and we need to stand, and we need to speak; to our neighbors, to our siblings, and our children, and our parents; to the people with whom we work, to the people whom we send to the state capital and to Washington DC to represent us.  We need to stand as the church and speak God’s word the same way that Isaiah son of Amoz is speaking it to us this morning.

Amen.

Wrestling With Our Questions: A Reflection for Palm Sunday 2019

This reflection, offered by the Rev. Andy Jones at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 14, 2019, is built around the Gospel reading for the Liturgy of the Palms and the Passion Narrative assigned for Year C in the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here

The reflection was offered just prior to the reading of the Passion.

Here is an audio recording of the reflection as offered at the 10:30 service

 

And the text from which the reflection was offered

This is a strange and difficult day.

It wasn’t that long ago that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and the crowds started turning to him in huge numbers.  So many people were believing in, and following him, that the authorities put a price on his head and he had to move north to avoid being arrested.

But now he is back.  He’s come south, from Ephraim to Bethany, to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and today he’s riding over the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem!

Those of us who have been following him are so excited that we have thrown our cloaks and palm branches on the road before him and we have declared him our King,

            “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”

A triumphant entry into the city where God resides among God’s people.  A parade, with singing and shouting, a moment of joy and celebration!

But in just a few moments it will all take a dark turn.  Betrayed by one of his own, Jesus will stand before Pilate and the elders of the people on trial; and in that moment of decision, as the whole world holds its breath to listen… we will join our voices with the crowd and call for his crucifixion, sending him to the cross.

It is a terrible thing to see these moments juxtaposed, one right after the other.  And if we are paying attention to what is happening, if we are present in this moment, it will shake us to our core, raising some very difficult and profound questions.

But then that is what this day, this liturgy, is meant, is designed to do; to shake us to our core, and to raise the very difficult and profound questions with which we will wrestle for the remainder of our Lenten journey.

 

In what ways have we chosen the politically expedient, the path of least resistance, the safety of quiet complacency or denial, and allowed Jesus, the Good News of God in Christ, Love come down, to be cursed, spat upon, and beaten, because the cost of standing by his side was too high?

In what ways have we turned our backs, pretending not to see, as Jesus and all that he stands for is, in the name of security, preservation of the status quo, profit, and Empire… nailed to a tree just outside of town?

Week after week we proclaim him and renew our commitment to follow where he leads.  But today, today we hang him on a tree.

 

If we are paying attention to what is happening, if we are truly present in this moment, it will shake us to our core, raising some very difficult and profound questions; questions with which we will wrestle for the remainder of our Lenten Journey, and perhaps, beyond.

These are the questions which this day, this liturgy, is designed, is meant, to make us ask.

 

At the conclusion of the Passion reading this morning, we will not recite the creed, proclaiming our faith, because at that moment we may not be sure what we believe.

We will not pray for the whole state of Christ’s Church and the world, because, as Jesus hangs on a tree, we may not be sure that we have standing to plead before God on our own behalf or on behalf of others.

We will not confess sour sins and hear the words of absolution, because awareness of those sins may be too fresh, to immediate, for us to effectively, and genuinely seek forgiveness.

And to be absolved today, might let us off the hook for the rest of the week.

At the conclusion of the Passion reading this morning, we will spend some time in silence, and then we will move to the Eucharist, the sacrament that Jesus institutes at the beginning of today’s reading of the passion.

We will be fed.  We will be offered some comfort and reassurance of God’s love.

And then we will be sent out, to wrestle with our questions.

Come back later this week.

Bring your questions on Maundy Thursday and marvel that Jesus is washing your feet.

Bring your questions on Good Friday in answer to the question – “Where you there?

And then join us on Saturday night and on Sunday morning as we gather once again, to hear God’s answer to our questions.

Choosing the Way of Love: A Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent

This sermon, offered by The Rev. Andy Jones at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin, on March 10, 2019, is built around the readings for the 1st Sunday in Lent in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find those readings here

A recording of the sermon delivered at the 10:30 am service

Here is a transcript of the recording

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer.   Amen.

Please be seated.

It almost seemed like a dirty trick yesterday afternoon at about 6 o’clock when the snow was blowing sideways past my kitchen window.  Here we are.  It’s the first Sunday of Lent 2019, the first day of daylight savings time, in the middle of the winter that just won’t let us go.  So I think it might be a good idea in this morning for us to turn our mind to some, perhaps, happier moments.  I’d like to ask you all for just a minute to close your eyes and remember how you felt in those moments that seemed to change everything.   Maybe it was the moment you got picked for the team, or for the show.  Maybe it was graduating, or being accepted to school.  Maybe it was when that one person said yes, or asked.  Maybe it was the moment you learned that you would become a parent…  Think about the joy that you felt in those moments, the astounding way that your body felt alive, your heart pounded in your chest, as the possibilities opened up before you.  And then, acknowledge with me if you will, the anxiety that came just a little while later.  Will I be good enough to stay on the team?  What kind of actor will I be?  What kind of student will I be?  How will I study and what will I study?  What kind of partner, what kind of parent will I be?  And how will I know how to do all of these things?

If you’re feeling that moment of question and doubt, imagine how a young man from Nazareth in the Galilee must have felt.  He’d heard the stories, the stories about an angel coming to speak to his mother.  He’d heard the stories about the birth of his cousin John, the stories about the day when his mother and his aunt came together and sang with joy because they were expecting children.  He’d heard the stories… and he had this recollection of sitting in the Temple at 11 years of age and answering the questions that the teachers posed, and then asking questions of his own that they struggled to answer.  All his life he’d sensed that there was something different about him.  All his life he’d wondered what it meant.  And then, having gone to see his cousin John the Baptist ministering there in the wilderness, standing knee-deep in the muddy waters of the Jordan River, Jesus stood up water streaming from his hair and dripping from his nose and chin, and heard a voice that made sense of it all.  “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

He must have been ecstatic to finally, finally understand and to be able to make sense of all of those stories…  I wonder if that joy even lasted until his feet were on dry ground there on the banks of the Jordan.  What does it mean to be the son of God, the Beloved?  What is it that I’m supposed to do?  How will I be this person?

The next thing that happens in Luke’s Gospel, after a short insertion of Jesus’s genealogy to give us the reader some evidence that this is in fact true about Jesus, Jesus goes into the wilderness.  Now it’s important to note that in Matthew and Mark Jesus doesn’t seem to go of his own accord.  In one of those versions he is led by the Spirit into the wilderness.  In the other he is driven into the wilderness.  But here in Luke’s Gospel it says that the spirit led him in the wilderness.  It’s like he went there of his own accord to work this out.  To think about it.  To ponder just what it might mean.  To ponder his vocation and how he would live it out…  and once he got there the spirit managed what would come next.

We don’t know when, during those 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus figured out what his vocation was, or his mission.  We do know that as soon as he returns from the wilderness he goes home to Nazareth, he goes in to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, they hand him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and he says this,

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And then Luke tells us,

“And he rolled up the scroll gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to say to them, ‘today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”

Jesus returns from the wilderness with the understanding that his vocation, his mission, is to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  But an understanding of his mission and his vocation isn’t the only thing that he gained in the wilderness.  He also learned, or declared how, he would live out that vocation.

Luke tells us that the devil came to him and said, “If you are the son of God turn this stone into a loaf of bread.”  Surely, if it’s your mission and vocation to set the prisoners free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… if you can snap your fingers and feed people they’ll get right in line.  They’ll do exactly what it is that you ask them to do because you will be able to meet all their needs.  Jesus turns his back on that temptation.

So the devil tries again and takes him up and shows him all the kingdoms of the world and says, “If you are the son of God just take it it’s mine I can give it to you” and you will be in charge.  You can tell them what to do and they won’t get right in line.  You will have the authority to demand that they release the prisoners; they take care of the blind, the lame, and the sick, the poor…  All you have to do is worship me and you will have the power to make them do whatever you want.  But Jesus says no.  Certainly, he would be a benevolent dictator, a benevolent autocratic ruler, but that’s not the way that Jesus chooses.

So the devil tries one more time, and takes him to the pinnacle of the highest point of the Temple, and says growing yourself off.  Because if you’re the son of God the Angels will catch you before you hit the ground, and people will see that, and they’ll know without a doubt, in an instant, that you’re the one to follow.  And they’ll jump right on board with whatever you tell them to do, because it would be foolish to not do what you say.  And again, Jesus turns his back.

William Temple, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury for a few short years in the 40s, his tenure was cut short by his untimely death, speaks about The Temptations in the Wilderness as the temptation to coercion.   Buy their allegiance.  Force their allegiance.  Prove that it would make no sense to do anything but get in line and follow you.  All of those William Temple calls coercion because what God really wants, and what Jesus really wants in this moment, is not our allegiance.  It’s not our trembling obedience.  It’s our love.  God wants us to love. And love cannot be coerced.  I’m sure William Temple had never heard this phrase but you all have heard it, “If you can’t say no, it’s not love.”  If Jesus were to try and buy us, by turning stones to bread, that wouldn’t be love.  Forcing us wouldn’t be love.  Even proving, as a matter of science, who he was, would deny us the ability to choose.  And it’s only when we can choose, that love is possible.  So, Jesus instead, walks out of the wilderness and chooses the path of the suffering servant, and it makes himself vulnerable to us, in the hope we will love in return.

That’s really great news if you think about it.  Now it might be more expedient… It might have remedied a lot of the world’s problems that Jesus had chosen one of those other paths; if he was turning stones into bread, and feeding the poor; or making autocratic leaders who aren’t so benevolent step in line because he had the power to force them; or proving that it’s for our benefit, or to our benefit, to live the life to which he’s calling us.  But any of those paths would have made us less human than we are capable of being.  It would’ve denied us the ability to choose to love even when the evidence all points to the contrary, or when it might be easier to choose other paths to achieve laudable goals.  It’s good news that God wants us to love.

And I think it’s very instructive to us as we enter the wilderness of Lent, to spend our own 40 days trying to discern how to live out our identity, given to us that our baptism, as beloved children of God with whom God is well pleased; as we try to figure out how we will live in this world, seeking to realize God’s dream and vision for creation in our own lives and in the community around us.  It might feel good to get self-righteous and indignant and angry.  It might feel good to yell and demand.  But what Jesus does in the wilderness is turn his back on those behaviors, and to reach out, making himself vulnerable, and hoping that the relationships that are forged will lead to a community that lives its life together in light love and grace.

As we make our way through these 40 days we may have the opportunity to discover, within ourselves and in our lives, places where our anger, or our impatience, or our need to be right and to have the right answers, or to know the right way of doing things, gets in the way of love.  We may find those things within ourselves impacting our families, our workplaces, the people with whom we interact in the marketplace, and in the voting booth.  But in this moment, as we began our journey through the season of Lent, we are called to do the same thing that Jesus did; to walk out of the wilderness with our humanity intact, whole, loving, forgiving; willing to be vulnerable to change, to the needs of others and to their place in this garden with us.

Forty days.  Forty days in the wilderness.  Forty days in the season of Lent, with God as both our destination and our companion on the journey.  Today we get a true gift, the knowledge, the truth, the understanding that it’s all about love; loving ourselves, loving our neighbor, and loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; in the wilderness, at home, wherever we are.  Love.

Amen.

A Difficult and Perilous Journey: A Sermon for Ash Wednesday

This sermon, offered by The Rev. Andy Jones, on March 6,Ash Wednesday, 2019, is built around the readings assigned for Ash Wednesday and the Invitation to The Observance of A Holy Lent found on page 264 of the Book of Common Prayer.

The Lectionary Readings for Ash Wednesday can be found here

The Invitation to the Observance of a Holy Lent can be found here

 

Here is a recording of the sermon delivered at the 12:00 noon service on Ash Wednesday:

 

Here is a transcript of the recorded sermon:

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Please be seated.

It is to be sure a remarkable thing that we do this day.  Wednesday, a work day, the middle of the day, 16° outside, and we have come together to take the first steps on a difficult and perilous journey; a journey that will be marked by beatings, imprisonments, riots…  Oh, no wait.  That was Paul’s journey.  Our journey will be marked by self-examination and repentance, by prayer fasting, and self-denial, and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word.  Not easy disciplines to keep.  If they were easy, there would be no need to invite us all to enjoin in these practices at this moment.  So, this journey through the season of Lent will be difficult.   And while we’re not likely to suffer imprisonment, riots, labors, it will be a perilous journey; because during this season of Lent we will be called to look inside of ourselves and to see with God’s eyes; and to dare to name those places within us that we would rather not expose to anyone, maybe even to ourselves.

We will be called to identify those places in our lives that don’t fill us with joy and life, but which cause us some degree of pain, and shame, and discomfort.  And during this season we’ll be called to wrestle with those things, and, perhaps limping for the rest of our lives, walk away from them, turning our backs on them, and turning back to God, the one who gives us light and life and joy.

So, it is a difficult and perilous journey that we undertake this day.  And even more remarkable, I think, because in just a few moments we’ll come forward and kneel at this rail, and be reminded of our own fragility, our mortality.  We’ll kneel here at the rail and have ashes smeared on our foreheads in the sign of the cross, and hear the words, “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” a reality that most of our culture would like to ignore or even deny.  And yet, we will come forward today and volunteer both for this journey and for this reminder.

Then, just a few minutes later, we’ll return to this rail, and we’ll hold out our hands, and ask for help.  We’ll hold out our hands and receive the symbol and the sign of God’s ongoing presence in our midst and in our lives.  We’ll hold out our hands and we’ll be reminded that, even as we walk this journey, seeking to rid ourselves of the things that hold us back, the things that chain us, God is walking by our sides.  Even as we seek absolution, we are being forgiven.  Even as we work to come closer to the heart of God, God is before us, behind us, beside us, within us; moving us along this path, holding us up and showing us the way.  I think it’s probably accurate to say that without that reassurance of God’s presence, and love, and forgiveness; without the promise of that new light that will break at the end of this journey, we might not dare to take these first steps.  Even together, this journey would be terrifying, if not for the truth, and the faith, and the belief, that at the end of this journey is God; and for this reminder that on every step of the way, as we make that journey to our destination, God is by our sides.  So, this day we come together to begin a journey that will lead us ever deeper into the heart of God, and allow God’s light, and life, and love to shine more brightly within us and around us.

The world may wonder as we walk among them today with this symbol of death and mortality on our foreheads.  And they may expect, as they look on us with that sign on our heads, to seem grim, disheartened, downcast, even afraid.  I think that as we walk this earth with Earth smeared on our foreheads, we can do it with our eyes lifted up, with confidence, and faith, hope, and even joy.  Someone greeted me after the early service this morning in the Narthex, and she said I guess is probably not appropriate to say Happy Ash Wednesday.  But you know if you listen to this Invitation to the Observance of a Holy Lent, it says “Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the gospel of our Savior…”  I can’t think of anything happier than a message of pardon and absolution.  So, if someone looks at you questioningly, and starts to tell you, “Hey, you’ve got dirt on your forehead…”  You just look at them and say Happy Ash Wednesday.  Amen

Peace,

Andy+