Response to the Theater Shooting, Fr. John Bedingfield July 26th

July 26, 2015

In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

         You know, it was only a little more than a month ago that I stood in this very spot and wondered with you, how we could make sense of a mass shooting event.  That was in the aftermath of the Emanuel AME shootings in South Carolina.  Since that time, we had another mass casualty event at a military recruitment office in Chattanooga.  And now this horrible tragedy has visited our own people. 

In thinking back, I preached in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings too – and frankly there have been too many others to think about.  These events make no sense at all, whether you are immediately and viscerally experiencing them, or whether you are looking at them from afar.  It just boggles my mind that one person could shoot a bunch of people to whom he has no connection; who, in point of fact, he has never met.

         The complete senselessness of this sort of act leads people to ask: Why would God allow innocent people to be killed and injured this way?  Or, My God!  Why did you do this to us?  Those are fair questions in the immediate aftermath of the event.

When we look at Thursday’s shootings through the lens of our immediate pain and confusion, it would be easy to get so lost in anger and depression that the only thing we could do would be to shrug and say, “I don’t know why these things happen, so I will just hug my loved ones and go on with life.”  If that is where you are, I understand that.  But do not stay in that place.  It is important to get beyond that response of shock and dismay and to move to a place where our fear, anger and hurt can be channeled toward something better.  Let me offer you a few thoughts on this.

         First, pay no attention to the people in the media who have simple answers for the complex issue of gun violence in America.  There are no simple answers.  The answer certainly is NOT to arm every American citizen.  As Gandhi once noted, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”  Everyone being armed does not make people safer, it only gives them the illusion of safety.  And despite what some have said, this is NOT God’s retribution wrought on America for some perceived national sins.  The God who brought God’s very self to us in the person of Jesus Christ, does not bring down meaningless retribution on a group of innocent movie-goers – and particularly not at the hands of a drifter with a criminal record.  As we just heard, in the best-known line of John’s Gospel, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish, but may have eternal life.”  That statement speaks of a God who loves people dearly, so dearly that God would sacrifice on OUR behalf.  That is not a God who seeks such personal retribution.

         God did not DO this thing to our friends and neighbors.  I am quite certain of that.  And similarly, I firmly believe that God did not “allow” this thing to happen for some greater purpose.  There are so many ways that God does act in the world – ways which reflect God’s love for creation and God’s immeasurable goodness – that to believe that God somehow “turned a blind eye” to what was going on at the Grand 16 just does not compute for me.  No … I do not believe that God caused these shootings to happen, either by act of commission or by act of omission.  This tragic event was, quite simply, the result of a broken world, inhabited by broken people.

         The second thing that I want you to keep in mind is: no matter what people in the media may say, this IS the perfect time to begin to talk about the blight of gun violence in America.  In fact, we are incredibly overdue for beginning to have that conversation.  Over 30,000 people are killed by gun violence in this country every year.  If not now, when IS IT the right time to talk about that?  I do not pretend to have any coherent answers for the issue of gun violence.  I know that gun ownership by responsible Americans is not the problem.  I do not know what kind of regulation might be beneficial for us to start to stem this tide of violence.  But I do know that unless we begin to have the conversation – in other words, if we just continue to ignore the problem as somehow being inherent to who we are – we can only expect a continuation of the same cycle of violence we experience now.

         The third thing is that we, as Christians, need to come together in the wake of this tragedy, to begin to galvanize ourselves into a group that wants to take on God’s mission of healing and renewal in this broken world.  We need to find new ways to reach out to the larger community of Lafayette and beyond … to find new avenues for not just bringing the Good News of Christ, but BEING the Good News.  For instance, what would it be like if this congregation began to make connections with a church, or churches on the East side of the Evangeline Thruway, not so that we could be benevolent benefactors to them, but so that we could create relationships that would allow us to find common ground.  Through such relationships we might be able to engage a new part of God’s mission of peace and hope in a different mission field.

St. Paul, in his wonderful explication of love to the church in Corinth, gives us some good advice for taking on such a mission.  He said:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Everything that we do in the name of Jesus Christ, must be done in love.  And that loving mission cannot wait.

         I am not going to stand up here and tell you that we should all just get up, dust ourselves off and jump into new and exciting ways of being The Church, right now, today.  For some of you, that would be a possibility.  But for others, it is simply too soon.  Believe me, I understand that there is a great deal of grief at work in our homes, our congregation, our city and our state. 

Grief is one of the most powerful forces in the universe.  It can cause you to become stuck in a seemingly hopeless place, feeling that you will never have the ability to get past it.  That is the other place where the love of Christ can be at work in and through us.  In coming days, you will hear about the establishment of grief groups here at St. Barnabas, safe places where people can share their pain, their fear and their feeling of being out of control.  We will get through this horrible event together.  That is one of the reasons that we gather as the body of Christ – for the soul strengthening nourishment that we gather from each other, and our Lord.

I visited with Bo and Gerry Ramsay this afternoon.  They are out of the hospital and recuperating at home.  They very much appreciate your thoughts and prayers and expressed that several times.  Keep up the prayers, they work.  Bo said something striking to me.  He said that he holds no ill will against the man who shot him, and everyone else.  He said, “I forgave him that night.  It was what I had to do to seek after my own faith.”  Now I am not saying that this event will not have long-term effects on Bo.  It will.  But his approach to healing is one that we could all learn from.  Through his conscious act of forgiveness, Bo has already gone miles down the road to healing and wholeness.

Remember what St. Paul told the Corinthians,

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.

         As we continue to try to process all that happened to our community in recent days, let us have the love of Jesus Christ as our watchword.  Let us not be arrogant or rude toward each other, or anyone else who does not share in our pain.  Let us not rejoice in the gunman taking his own life.  Instead, let us rejoice in the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.  And let us be patient and kind with everyone who is working through this at a different speed than we are.  But as our immediate pain begins to subside, let us harness all of the energy that we have put into hurting and turn it into a positive force, to begin to bring healing and reconciliation to our small corner of the Kingdom of God.


The Joy of Worship Fr. John Bedingfield July 7th

July 12, 2015

Come Holy Spirit and fill this place.  Give us the power of the spirit.  And in that power, let us have joy.  Amen

David again gathered all the men of Israel, thirty thousand.  And besides men, there were women and children.  Probably making the number closer to eighty thousand.  David and all the children of Israel set out from Baale-Judah, to bring up from there the Ark of God.  So David went and brought up the Ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and those who bore the Ark of the Lord danced with all their might.

The Ark of God is a box, built to God’s specifications, as given to Moses.  Some say the box contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments, which (according to Moses) were written by the very hand of God.  And at the corners of the Ark were carved cherubim – small angels – who, according to Jewish theology, held the legs of an invisible throne for God.  So the people believed that God sat a few feet above the top of the Ark of God. 

That is what they brought back to the City of David that day.  They brought God into their midst.  They brought God home.  And there was joy!

David – the King of Israel – danced down the street in front of the Ark – in his underwear!  “Girded in a linen ephod,” is translated by many biblical scholars as, “in his underwear.”  He danced down the street in his underwear because he could not contain his joy over the fact that God was coming home.  Have you ever experienced that kind of joy?

All of you parents … was there a particular Christmas when your child wanted a present.  Not just any present but the present.  There were multiple letters to Santa Clause.  He or she began to ask you about the present sometime in September; and then asked you about it every day.  And they swore that if they only got this one present, their lives would be complete – they would never ask for anything else … ever.  And on Christmas day, when they opened the present, when they finally held it in their hands; it didn’t matter who else was in the room.  It was just the child and the present.  It started with eyes as big as saucers.  Then there was the smile that threatened to split their face in half.  And then they would shake, and maybe squeal a little – or maybe squeal a lot.  And ultimately they would jump up off the floor and start to dance.  They danced because of the feeling they experienced at having their heart’s desire.  That is unbridled joy.

That is enthusiasm.  “Enthusiasm,” comes from the Greek,  (en theos), “in God.”  Enthusiasm comes from experiencing joy in God.  That’s what the children of Israel were experiencing when God came to be present with them.

When we were at General Convention, our House of Deputies had an amazing chaplain.  The Rev. Lester Mackenzie is a priest in the Diocese of Los Angeles, but he was born and reared in apartheid South Africa.  Lester is a big man with a melodious voice, complete with a lovely, South African accent.  His favorite way of ending a prayer for us was to say, “All these things we bring to you, because I know that you love it when we pray, Amen.”  Lester can definitely do some wonderful praying.  But his greatest gift, from my point of view, was his ability to get 842 Deputies to stand and move, while we sang and played the djembe drum.  Lester sometimes got so enthused by what he did, that we were a little late getting down to business.  But I always knew, and felt that we had prayed to God with enthusiasm – with joy – when Lester led us in singing and dancing.

We Episcopalians don’t generally approve of dancing in church.  Most Episcopalians believe, apart from an occasional liturgical dance (which we sit and watch) that you should never dance in church.  No.  I will not be dancing this morning. …  there are just some things that you should be spared from seeing.  But the bottom line for Episcopalians is, there is no dancing in church because we believe in the 11th Commandment … “Thou shalt not be tacky.”  And we worry about being tacky – a lot!  So we don’t do anything.  If you don’t move, you can’t do anything silly.

We come in to church “in silence,” (at least relative silence).  We take our places in silence.  We stand, sit, kneel, stand, sit, kneel – on command.  We do not touch each other except during “the Peace.”  We do not interact with each other.  We interact forward and back (congregation to celebrant and vice versa), but not side to side (congregant to congregant).  And this lack of movement, while very reverant, can sort of BIND the joyous Spirit of God.

That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with our manner of worship.  It is my manner of worship – and has been all my life – and I love it.  There is a huge place in our hearts and in the church for quiet, contemplative worship.  But when we take our desire not to be tacky so seriously that we shut down the power of the Spirit, we not only bind ourselves in a little cocoon– but we try to bind God there as well. 

We tell God, “Let’s don’t get too carried away with this Spirit thing.  We’ll be fine.  We get it.  We understand that the Holy Spirit is here.  You don’t have to show us.  Let’s don’t ‘wander around’ while we worship.”  And we lose an opportunity; an opportunity to experience the same joy that the children of Israel felt when God came into their presence. …  Because, my brothers and sisters, God IS PRESENTHERETODAY.

That red Sanctuary light tells you that God is present in this room.  That red light represents that fact that the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ are here, in this room, right now!  God is present!  During today’s baptisms the font will contain Holy Water, which indicates that God is present here.  The Holy Spirit is known in Scripture as the “Breath of God.”  …  Breath …  Take in the Holy Spirit.  GOD IS HERE TODAY!  As surely as God was there when David danced, God is here.

I don’t expect to see much dancing here today.  I don’t even ask to see dancing today.  What I ask is that you open your minds – I know that your hearts are already open – open your minds to the possibility that the joy of God can be so wonderful, so omnipresent in our lives, that we cannot contain the joy.  En Theos – Enthusiasm.

I have celebrated the Eucharist almost every Sunday since 2005; many weeks, three or four times in the week – sometimes more, sometimes less.  I don’t know how many more than 1,000 that is, but in the celebration I say the words of the Eucharistic Prayer.  Now we have several Eucharistic Prayers (A through D, 1 and 2) and I change them with fair regularity.  But the basic story that the priest tells through the Eucharistic Prayer is always the same.  When I celebrate the Eucharist, it would be very simple for me to develop a rote delivery of that part of the service.  That way the inflection would always be the same, the timing would always be the same and I could get it done and get on with my day, or evening.  Perhaps I could even think of other things while I was saying the prayers.  But I can’t do that.  And the reason is, because every time I celebrate the Eucharist the words are brand new.  God speaks to me every time I celebrate the Eucharist.  The power of the Spirit is right there … in word and action …  when I celebrate the Eucharist.

I love being a priest.  I love being the Rector of St. Barnabas, but more broadly I just love being a priest.  And I love it because, among other things, I love being able to express to other people, the joy that I experience in the worship of God, and particularly in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Today we have more baptisms into the holy family of the Church.  In the baptismal liturgy we call upon the power of the Spirit in a very particular way.  We ask God – through the power of the Spirit, to sanctify the waters of baptism and then to seal the newly baptized in the power of the Spirit.  The power of the Spirit … IN YOUR BAPTISM, IT IS YOURS … IT’S HERE, RIGHT NOW … TAKE IT!  And when you take it; let it out.  Joyously and joyfully, let it out!  Be childlike in your love of the Lord.  Experience the joy that you knew as a child … and see what kind of power comes from unbridled enthusiasm for God.


Charleston and Christ’s Call to Us, Fr. John Bedingfield June 21st

June 21, 2015

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

         I was working on what I believe would have been a good sermon for today.  It was about the Disciples and Jesus in the boat on the Sea of Galilee.  I was going to tell you about how quickly and unexpectedly storms come up on that body of water, and how dangerous the waves can be.  Then we were going to talk about Jesus being the answer to the storms of life – the peace and stillness that faith in Christ can bring.  But all that changed on Wednesday night.

         On the morning news Thursday, I heard about yet another mass shooting in this country.  This time, a young white man whose confessed level of racial hatred is beyond my comprehension, sat in the church historically known as “Mother Emanuel” for an hour, before opening fire and killing 9 innocent people who were gathered in Bible study and prayer.  All mass shootings are shocking and horrifying, but this one struck me differently.

Not only did this young man go into a place that was literally a sanctuary to commit mass murder; but in this case he also targeted people to kill solely on the basis of their skin color differing from his.  Dylann Roof reportedly had been planning this attack for about six months.  His Facebook profile picture was one of him looking at the camera menacingly, while wearing a jacket with flags from the previously white supremacist, apartheid countries of Rhodesia and South Africa. 

In his plan, Dylann Roof did not randomly pick a target.  He intentionally chose Emanuel African American Episcopal Church because it has been a focal point in the Civil Rights movement in South Carolina.  Dr. King preached there, and it was a center for voter registration in the 1960’s.  But more than a century before that, it was the site where a slave revolt was planned in 1822.  Mother Emanuel is a huge and important symbol to black South Carolinians, and it is precisely that symbolism that was important in choosing this target.  Before he opened fire in the church, Roof reportedly said that black people were “taking over this country.”  The message is clear:  Dylann Roof was motivated to shoot innocent people because he believes that white people are superior to black people and the races should be completely separated.  And because he could not force complete segregation on this country, he chose to commit and act of terrorism, intending to anger and frighten people into beginning a race war.

         Even as Americans began to grieve over the loss of innocent lives from this act of terrorism, the questions and counter accusations began, in all forms of media.  I read things on-line, watched television coverage and heard radio reports about this story.  And even as I heard the heart-felt sorrow and calls for prayer from many of our leaders; what struck me most were the voices of the white supremacists who complained loudly that the shooter was not representative of them and that they were the true victims in this story.

         We often hear today that America is a “post-racial” society.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Oh, we may have twice elected an black man as our President and there may be more opportunity for upward mobility for some black people than in ages past, but make no mistake, racial equality is anything but a reality in this country.  And there is an angry and violent segment of our society dedicated to the proposition that racial equality can never become the norm.

         Racially motivated violence has been a stain on this nation’s fabric since we began the scourge of slavery.  Over the centuries, racial animus as the primary factor for murder has never lessened to any great degree.  In 2013, there were 3,563 victims of racially motivated hate crimes in America.  2,369 of those victims were black, while 755 were white[1].  Despite what the white supremacist groups may proclaim, racial hate crimes against black people far outstrip the number of such crimes perpetrated by blacks against whites.  And this week, an angry racist brought his own brand of violence designed to induce terror into the community, into this historic black church – causing some in the community to ask, “Where can we feel safe?”  If hate-filled people attack innocents in church, where do we look for comfort or answers?

         Only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ can we find answers.  Only in God can we find that “peace which passes all understanding.”  In the midst of a storm that threatened to sink their boat and takes their lives at any moment, the Disciples told Him that they were afraid and then watched as Jesus – the Lord of life – relied on the power of the Almighty to miraculously calm the storm.  Jesus is truly the remedy for life’s storms.  Having faith in His power and trusting in His love is the way toward peace.

But along with bringing peace and calm, Jesus taught us to love God and love our neighbors – just as well as we love ourselves. Jesus also taught us to seek justice and righteousness, or as our Baptismal Covenant puts it: to “strive for justice and peace among all people, (while respecting) the dignity of every human being.”  In our Baptismal Covenant we promise to be instruments of God’s peace, and that means actively seeking to eradicate hatred among people, especially when that hatred is motivated by something like the color of someone’s skin.

         In response to the Charleston shootings, The Rt. Rev. Nick Knisely, Bishop of Rhode Island, said this:

[W]hen such a senseless act of violence occurs, we are filled with many emotions, but we cannot respond to a hate crime with more hate.   One Charleston resident is reported to have said, ‘We must love our way through this.’  We concur.  

Let our response go beyond our expression of empathy and grief.   Let us recommit ourselves to the hard work of racial reconciliation and building communities of safety and love.  As our Presbyterian colleagues have stated,  “Arresting the shooter is the job of law enforcement.  Arresting hate is the work we are all called to do.”[2]

We all need to do whatever we can to help end racism and the violence that it breeds.  It begins with small things, like not allowing people to use racially disparaging language or to tell racial jokes in your presence.  Then, in your everyday interactions with people, fight urges to stereotype people.  Treat all people as the individual children of God that they are.  Remember, no one is born racist.  It is a learned belief system.  And as such, it can be unlearned.

Now, please turn to page 833 in the Book of Common Prayer and let us pray the prayer of peace, attributed to St. Francis, together.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is

hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where

there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where

there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where

there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to

be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is

in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we

are born to eternal life. Amen.

Seeing People As God Sees Them, Fr. John Bedingfield, June 14th

June 14, 2015

In the name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit, Amen

         I’ve said before that one of my favorite movies is Paul Haggis’ 2005 exploration of race relations in America, “Crash.”  One of the recurring themes of Crash is that people are not what other people see.  Over and over in the film, people’s prejudices induce them to make assumptions about others that turn out to be completely untrue.

         In one scene, a wealthy white woman has called to have the locks in her home changed after she and her husband are carjacked.  When the locksmith shows up, the woman tells her husband that he needs to call another locksmith in the morning to get the locks changed again, because she is sure that this “gangbanger” is going to sell their keys to someone in his barrio.  She makes this pronouncement because the locksmith is Hispanic, has his hair closely cropped, and wears a white t-shirt and khaki pants.  As the audience finds out later in the film, the locksmith is a hard working husband and father, who is honest to a fault and whose biggest desire in life is for his daughter to grow up out of the barrio – healthy, happy and well educated.

         Crash is such a great film because makes us take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror, as it speaks of universal truth – that we all have our prejudices.  But the most striking thing about the movie is that it zeros in on “first impression prejudices.”  We all see people and instantly judge them, based solely upon how they look.  We see someone who is dirty, wearing shabby clothing and pushing a shopping cart full of cans.  We “know” that the person is homeless.  But we also “know” that this person we have already judged to be homeless is lazy, uneducated, probably criminal and almost undoubtedly mentally ill.  That’s a lot of assumptions for a brief glance – but admit it, you’ve done it.

         In this morning’s reading from 1st Samuel, we see the same human failing on display.  God tells the prophet Samuel to go and anoint one of Jesse’s sons to become the next king of Israel.  This reading is about Samuel’s prejudgment and what a mistake God saw it to be.

         In the early part of chapter fifteen – which precedes this morning’s reading – King Saul got “fired” from his position as ruler; by God no less.  Saul had disobeyed God.  So God told the prophet Samuel that God regretted making Saul king in the first place. Samuel then sent his friend Saul into retirement and went to Bethlehem, on God’s orders, to anoint a new king.  Now think about that for a moment.  Saul was the King of Israel – ostensibly the most powerful person in the country; able to determine who has life and who has death – and he takes his orders, including the order to leave – from Samuel, the prophet. 

         The stories of Samuel’s prophecies and Saul’s kingship show the depth and breadth of Samuel’s relationship with God.  Samuel was able to communicate with God in a very effective manner.  God spoke and Samuel understood.

         When Samuel went in to the house that God led him to, Jesse brought his sons in.  The instant Samuel saw the eldest son, he judged that Eliab was the one who had been chosen by God to be the new king.  Eliab was tall and handsome; the sort of young man who commands a room by the power of his presence.  And Samuel had the most common of all prejudices – that tall and handsome people are the best people.  Eliab came into the room and Samuel said, “of course this is the guy.  He’s tall, commanding, handsome; what else could God possibly want.”  But God told Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; ….” 

         Then God said to Samuel, “(T)he Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  Even God’s most trusted prophet, a man with whom God had regular two-way conversations didn’t see as God saw people.  This tendency to judge based upon surface appearances is such a human frailty that everyone has to be careful in order to avoid it.  And most of the time, let’s face it, we don’t even try to avoid seeing through the eyes of our own prejudices.

         Samuel’s story is a very instructive piece for us.  We look at the outside, judge immediately and only recognize the meaningless, the surface aspects of people.  God looks on the inside and sees what is important.

         And it is not just in socioeconomics and race that we don’t see what God sees.  When people first look at Taylor, they know instantly that she is “different.”  Her eyes, her ears, her teeth – as well as her hands and feet – are all different than most people’s.  And if that weren’t enough, as soon as she speaks, strangers seal their judgments about her.  Because she has a profound speech delay, and her hearing is sometimes a problem, people who meet her often judge that she is stupid.  Occasionally we hear people say, under their breath, “re-tard,” as she walks away.  [By the way, just to let you know something: the word, “retard” is my least favorite word in the English language.  There is just NO good use of that word.  It can only hurt people.]  Sorry to digress.  People look at Taylor and make assumptions that she cannot understand them; that she is not capable of learning; that she is not capable of much.  But God sees her differently.

         God doesn’t see what Taylor cannot do, but instead, sees what she can do.  God sees Taylor’s heart.  And seeing her heart requires a wide-angle lens; because it is so huge.  In Taylor, God sees love that knows no bounds, just like His own.  Taylor gives love to anyone who comes into her path.  You don’t have to prove anything to her first, you don’t have to earn her love, it radiates from her.  And while Taylor’s academic limitations mean that she may never be able to read beyond a rudimentary level, God sees that she can read people.  She can read which people accept her love – and which ones don’t.

         I spent the last week at Camp Able – the Diocesan camp for people who are differently abled than most of us.  A staff of 70 people, aged from 14 to over 60, handled every daily need (food, water, bathing, changing, medicating) for 35 people whose abilities ranged from completely mobile and chatty, but sometimes hard to follow, to total quadriplegic with no ability to communicate.  The camp is a life-changing blessing to some people who may live in institutional settings and rarely get out of that environment.  But it is an even bigger blessing to those of us who are transformed by developing relationships with these children of God.  At first glance, we see the folks as (sometimes severely) limited, or in an impossible situation.  But God sees them as made in God’s image.

Just as the shepherd boy, David was the unlikely person to be blessed by God as the successor to King Saul, so is Taylor, and so are many of her fellow campers, the unlikely recipients of that gift from God.  They were given a gift that allows them naturally to see as God sees.  They know love when they see it and they know when love is missing in someone’s life.  God didn’t choose any of the Camp Able participants, or Taylor, for this gift because she was tall or handsome or commanding.  God chose Taylor and the others based upon what was seen with godly eyes – a beautiful and loving spirit.

         St. Paul said, in his second letter to the Corinthians, “From now on, …, we regard no one from a human point of view….”  Paul says that we can no longer get away with our prejudices simply because we’re human.  Now that we have known Jesus, we can no longer get by with saying, “that’s just the way I’m made.  I call ‘em like I see ‘em, and I know what “those people” are like.”  St. Paul says, “(I)f anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation ….”  That new creation is us

Jesus died so that we could be reborn; made new and improved.  He saw lepers and people with horrible diseases for who they really were, not for who society said they were.  Jesus expects nothing less from those who know Him.  Paul says it best, “(E)verything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

         One of the greatest things about Camp Able – or for that matter, being Taylor’s dad – is that, at least on brief occasions, I am blessed with Godly vision.  When we open our Godly eyes, we see people’s hearts and we are able to reach out to them in ways that create bonds of love and respect.  When we close our Godly eyes, we simply continue to see the ignorance of our own prejudices.


The God Who Sends, Fr. John Bedingfield, May 31st

May 31, 2015

In the name of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

         Today is Trinity Sunday, the day that we celebrate, or at least consider the doctrine of the Trinity – our closely held belief that God is one being in three persons. 

         The belief in the Trinity has been a foundational piece of Christianity for many centuries.  But it has also been quite troublesome from time to time, because it is so hard to really get a grip on what we’re talking about.  It is difficult for the mind to grasp the concept that God is unified – one being in every way, and yet at the same time that God is three different aspects: the Father (Creator); the Son (Redeemer) and the Spirit (Sustainer).  And today’s readings cannot really address the totality of the difficulty we have with this doctrine because the Trinitarian God is never really explained in Scripture.  Go ahead.  Look it up.  The term “Holy Trinity” is not in there.

         We have descriptions of the acts of Creation done by God, beginning with the creation stories in Genesis.  Over and over we get stories of the way God created heaven, earth, humanity and all that continues to be created.  We also have texts that speak about God the Son – a lot of them – and how He redeemed the world from sin and death.  In fact, the entirety of the New Testament is devoted to stories of God, the Son – Jesus Christ – what He did during His earthly ministry and what His presence means to us today.  And woven through all of those stories, both Old Testament and New, are stories that speak of the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the world.  But there is no text that deals directly with all three entities that make up the Trinity.

         Maybe it’s best that – for the most part – we leave deep discussions of the history and application of the doctrine of the Trinity to Christian education forums and use the pulpit for consideration of what this Holy Trinity means in our everyday lives.  So what can we learn about God – and us – from these Trinity readings?  I would really like to consider that this morning’s readings reflect the fact that God is “One who sends” in order to get God’s mission accomplished.

         This morning’s reading from Isaiah is one of the favorites for use at ordination services.  Isaiah has a vision in which he is experiencing being in the presence of God on a holy throne.  Even though he cannot see God directly, the prophet is humbled to the point of terror by God’s proximity because he realizes how unworthy he is to stand in the presence of God.  Isaiah knows that he has not always spoken well or properly.  He says that he has “unclean lips,” and is not worthy to speak about God, much less to God.  But God sends an angel to purify the prophet’s lips.  Then he “heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’  And (Isaiah) said, ‘Here am I; send me!’”  And send him, is exactly what God did. 

         The Gospel reading contains Jesus’ famous discussion with Nicodemus, the Pharisee.  Nicodemus, like Isaiah, had been sent by God to perform a mission.  He was a leader of the Temple, one of the people in charge of keeping God’s law among the Jewish people.  And God sent him to Jesus for an explanation of what made Jesus different from the prophets and the pretend messiahs who had come before.  Jesus recognized Nicodemus as having a pure heart, unlike the other Pharisees who tried to trap Jesus into breaking some part of The Law.  So Jesus explained rebirth in the Spirit to Nicodemus.  And ultimately Nicodemus was convinced, to the point where he defended Jesus before the Sanhedrin – the council of the Temple – before Jesus was crucified.  God sent Nicodemus to perform a mission.  Nicodemus answered God’s call and became an important instrument of God’s mission in the world.  But the last part of the Gospel reading tells us about God’s most important act of sending.

         John 3:16 is one of the few Bible verses that almost everyone can quote from memory.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  Jesus was the ultimate example of God sending someone to accomplish God’s purpose in the world.  God loved the world enough that God decided this mission of sending was too important to be done by anyone other than an aspect of God’s self – God the Son. 

         The world was so broken; it had gotten so far away from the perfect creation that we read about in Genesis, that God had to try something brand new to restart perfected creation.  Throughout the Old Testament there is a repeating cycle of stories in which God makes covenants – contracts – with humanity.  In these covenants God promises to give people the whole world (or at least everything that was good for them) if they would only be faithful and worship the one true God.  But every time, the people could not (or would not) live up to their part of the covenant.  They would always stray away and begin to worship things other than God.  This would anger God.  And God would punish the people for their idolatry.  Then the people would repent and return to God, and God would offer them a new covenant.  The cycle began in the Garden of Eden.  It continued with Noah, Abraham and Moses.  Over and over God tried to covenant with humanity, but without success.  God loved this creation of His very much, but God was running out of ways to try to make the covenant work.  Then God decided to do something brand new.

         God “gave” His only Son – God sent His only Son – so that all who believe in Him should not perish, but might have everlasting life.  God sent an aspect of God’s self – the Only Son – not just to try to explain a covenant; not just to try to enter into a new covenant – but to BE the new covenant between God and humanity.  Jesus came into the world to be the agreement – the contract –  between God and the creation that God loved so much.  For the first time, people were not entering into a covenant with a God they could not see, some distant and frightening being.  Instead, they had this human aspect of God right in front of them.  They could see the love of God reflected in the face of Jesus.  They could see the healing power of God reflected in the deeds of Jesus.  They could see the world being fed and nourished through the actions of Jesus.  They even saw death defeated through the wonder of Jesus. 

         God sent Jesus to perform the most important task God had ever accomplished – the redemption of the world.  And so began the work of perfecting the world on a cross on Calvary.  But now God has empowered US with the Holy Spirit so that we can continue the work of redemption that Jesus started.  God sent the Holy Spirit to us so that we might have the power to perform the work that God sends us to do. 

         God sends us into the world every day.  As believers in the God of Creation, we are called to be sent out to be the hands, the eyes and the voice of God in the world around us.  God loves us enough to send Jesus and the Spirit.  It is up to us to use the gifts we have been given in the way they were intended – as reflections of the power of God’s love of all creation.

         God the Creator gave you life.  God the Son redeemed your life and the world around you.  God the Holy Spirit is ready to empower your life.  Listen to God’s call.  Be brave enough to be sent.  Then live a life in which reflection of the loving God is the most important thing you do.  “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Starting today, let’s live like it.


Sr. Sunday Sermon, Jacob LeMeiunier

May 17, 2015

No Text Available.

Commanded to Love and Baptize — Fr. John Bedingfield, May 10th

May 10, 2015

In the name of one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

         An atheist went to an auction and bought an ancient lamp from a cathedral. He took it home and began to polish it.  Suddenly, a genie appeared, and said, “You know how this goes.  I’ll grant you three wishes, Master.”  The atheist said, “I wish I could believe in you.”  The genie snapped his fingers, and suddenly the atheist believed in him.  The atheist said, “Wow.  I wish all atheists would believe this.”  The genie snapped his fingers again, and suddenly atheists all over the world began to believe in genies.  “What about your third wish?” asked the genie.  “Well,” said the atheist, “I wish for a billion dollars.”  The genie snapped his fingers for a third time, but nothing happened.  “What’s wrong?” asked the atheist.  The genie shrugged and said, “Just because you and everyone you know believes in me, doesn’t necessarily mean that I really exist.”[1]

         Last week there was a story making the rounds on social media sites.  I read it on a site called Episcopal Café.  Since I read it, it has (as they say) gone “viral.”  It seems that a same gender couple in Orlando Florida wanted to have their baby baptized at the Cathedral there, the community in which they had been worshipping for some time.  The parents met with the Dean of the Cathedral to talk about the baptism, and a date was apparently chosen.  However, just before the date of the baptism arrived, the parents were informed that people at the Cathedral had objected and so the baptism was being cancelled.  The story then goes on to give comment from the Cathedral Dean as well as the Diocesan Bishop, both of whom refer to this as a “misunderstanding,” and say that they are trying to get something worked out.

         There are myriad sermons that could be written, based upon this news story.  There are church polity issues, social justice issues, biblical interpretation issues and just plain theological issues to be discussed.  But it seems to me that the story of an Episcopal Church denying baptism to an infant because of something the church deemed to be “wrong” with the child’s parents, cries out to be discussed in the context of today’s scriptural readings.

         In the lesson from the Acts of the Apostles, we heard this:

The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.  Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

         Then, in the reading from the 1st Letter of John, the writer says,

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 

         Finally, in today’s Gospel we heard,

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.   I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

         It seems absolutely beyond question to me that, above all else, Jesus insisted upon His believers living out the commandments of love that He gave them.  He did not tell them to go out and begin to judge who was worthy of love and who was not.  Jesus never told them that there were some people that they were supposed to love, but others that they were not supposed to love.  He told them that there were only two “Great Commandments:” that they love the Lord their God with all their hearts, minds, souls and strength; and that they love their neighbors as themselves.  That seems incredibly straightforward to me.

         I have heard the argument way too many times, that what Jesus meant when He gave us the commandment to love, was that we should love the sinner but hate the sin.  I cannot count the things that are wrong with that.  But a major one is that Jesus did not say that … anywhere.  He never set us up to judge each other’s sins because He knew all too well that we are all sinners, with Him being the only exception.  Jesus knew that if He commanded us to judge each other before we decided whether or not to love, there would be no love in the world.  He knew that when we have the opportunity to judge each other, it becomes a contest of homogeneity – we tend to like only those who are just like us and we judge harshly everyone who differs from us.

At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gave us what is known as the Great Commission, when He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.[2]  There is no system built into that commission for us to determine who is acceptable to receive the sacrament of baptism.  Jesus never suggested, much less commanded that we should set up a system of obstacles that must be negotiated before people can be baptized.

Our baptismal service is a wonderful overview of what baptism means to both the individual being baptized and the church community into which that person is being welcomed.  At every Episcopal baptism, the gathered community reaffirms its faith through the call and response of the Baptismal Covenant.  In that covenant, we recite our central statement of beliefs, as set out in the Nicene Creed.  But then we take it farther than just reaffirming our beliefs.  We go on to make promises as the Church that is about to accept a new member of the Body of Christ.  We promise – with God’s help – to:

·      Keep receiving Communion and praying;

·      To try to avoid sin, but when we fail (as we will) to repent and return to God;

·      To speak and live the Good News of God in Christ;

(Now here’s where it gets trickier.)  We then promise:

·      To “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving (our) neighbor as (ourselves)”; and

·      To “strive for justice and peace among all people, and (to) respect the dignity of every human being.[3]

Jesus said that we should love each other just the same way that He loves us.  And while He was on earth, Jesus loved: the poor[4]; the diseased[5]; the misshapen[6]; the ones whose faith tradition was different from His own[7]; those for whom society had no use[8]; and yes, even those whom society had branded as having committed sexual sin[9].  I am sorry, but I just cannot find – either in Scripture or in our own Book of Common Prayer – any place where it says that the sacrament of Holy Baptism can be denied to any person who desires (or whose parents desire for her or him) to receive it. 

Whether a church denies baptism to someone who does not attend services often enough to make church leadership happy, does not give enough money, or (as in this case) someone whose very life does not seem to measure up, in any case, the church is turning its back on what Jesus commanded – not suggested, not requested, but commanded – us to do, to love an baptize people.

Episcopal churches know better.  Hopefully someday we will all act better.

[2]  Matt 28:19-20 (NRSV)

[3]  BCP pp 304-05

[4]  Luke 6:20 (NRSV)

[5]  Matt 8:3 (NRSV)

[6]  John 5:1-9 (NRSV)

[7]  Luke 10:29-37 (NRSV)

[8]  Matt 9:9 (NRSV)

[9]  John 8:2-11 (NRSV)

The True Vine - Mthr Mitzi George, May 3rd

May 3, 2015

The Author of John's Gospel is not only an eloquent and gifted writer, but a master at using rich imagery from the ordinary, everyday experiences of life. The author uses these images to connect us to Jesus Christ and explain why the Jesus story matters.


John's Gospel is perhaps the best literary piece of all four gospels. It is filled with those wonderful analogies and metaphors we still refer to when we try to describe to a non-believer just who Jesus is to us personally. John has Jesus himself telling us who he is in all of the splendid "I am" phrases which fill the text of the Gospel. Phrases like: "I am the Good Shepherd." "I am the light." "I am the true bread which came down from heaven." "I am the way, the truth, and the life."

Today, we hear Jesus refer to himself as the vine. "I am the true vine," Jesus says. Not any vine, but the true vine cared for and nurtured by the great gardener, Abba, Father. Jesus says he is the true vine, and we are the branches. If Jesus is the vine, God the caretaker or gardener, and we are the branches what exactly does that mean for us or about us; and what does it imply about God and Jesus? That is what we want to know isn't it?

I know that we have a lot of gardeners here at St. Barnabas. The community garden is proof of that. Folks who like to get their hands in the dirt; either to grow something good to eat, or to grow beautiful flowers to enjoy indoors and out. And so, if you are one of those who like to dig in the dirt and nurture plants so they grow and produce well, you know and understand a little bit about what the author of John's gospel is trying to convey as he uses Jesus' voice to bring to life a truth about Jesus, Jesus' relationship to God, and our relationship with Him.

Now, I won't presume everyone here today is a Christian. I won't presume that everyone here has a relationship with Christ. Sometimes I think we priestly types, myself included, assume anyone sitting in Church on Sunday morning is a Christian. That just isn't true. For those of you who haven't quite made that decision as to who Jesus is and why it matters I think this passage in John's gospel clarifies what it means to be in relationship with Jesus. It also explains in a very simple and yet poetic way why choosing this relationship is important. At least it clarifies what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. I personally don't think you can be a Christian and not a disciple. The two terms are interdependent. So if you aren't a Christian or haven't made a decision about your faith life yet maybe this will help you along the way toward discipleship. And if you are a Christian perhaps this will clarify a little further what that should feel like or look like when others see you or me interacting in the world.


Jesus declares himself to be the true vine. The true vine. A vine that is authentic, real, genuine stock. And this true vine is tended by the God of all creation, the Father or Abba. 


One thing most of us know about vines is that they have to be pruned. Any vine has to be kept cut in order to produce good fruit, or good flowers, and really so they don't go crazy and cover everything else. When vines grow without pruning they choke out other good plants. I have some wild blackberry vines growing on the edge of my yard. No one prunes them or takes care of them. They just grow wherever they want to go, but you know they don't really produce that much fruit and they have caused other plants and shrubs to be chocked out.


Sometimes I think we assume when plants grow naturally without interference from human kind they are the best they can possibly be. There aren't any chemicals thrust upon them, no fertilizer or bug sprays, Mother Nature will care for it the way it was meant to, and the fruit will be so much better, isn't that how we think?


Well, that may not be as true as we like to imagine. If it's good fruit we want, if we want abundant fruit then caring for it and tending to it will cause it to produce more abundant and better tasting fruit. That is why agriculture is an important business. Even organic gardening requires managed decisions about planting and tending. I know from experience. I worked on an organic truck farm my first year of college. There is a lot of science that goes into growing good fruits and vegetables or beautiful flowers, even organically. And we all know God is the Great organic gardener.


Jesus even refers to God as the gardener or the one who prunes the vine. That infers that even the true vine is controlled and managed from outside itself. The gardener decides what is cut back and pruned away. The vine has no say so or control over its own care. Only the gardener makes those decisions. So God decides what is cut away from the vine so that the vine can continue to grow rich, healthy fruit.


Pruning isn't a bad thing. Pruning is good for plants. Another assumption here is that what is cut away is bad. Not true! Just because a branch is cut does not mean it was an evil no good branch, it just means that in order for optimal growth and production the branch has to be snipped. The snipping away of branches enables the vine to get optimal sun, water, and nutrients for optimal growth. It's God's call, not yours or mine, and not even Jesus'.


Jesus does however indicate in this metaphor of the vine and branches that the branches have a choice to be a part of the vine. Jesus is actually inviting us to be a part of the true vine. He says; "If you abide in me and I abide in you." In fact, the word abide is integral to this passage, not only this passage but the entire work of John's collective writings. The word abide or abiding appears 118 times in the New Testament, 64 times in the Gospel of John and the 1st epistle of John. Sixty four times the writer uses the word abide in order to describe the relationships between God and Jesus, Jesus and his disciples, and the relational quality of the Holy Spirit. I would say the word abide is a very important concept for understanding what John wanted to explain about the Jesus story.

The word abide isn't really used much today. I don't hear people talk about abiding anywhere or with anything. Do you? Abide is what we might refer to as colloquial or out dated term. But it really is a great word! It literally means to stay or stick with it, to persevere with, to remain with. To abide is more than a casual relationship. To abide means you are in it for the long hall, through thick or thin, whatever happens you are there. To abide in the vine we make a conscious choice to stick with the teachings and life style of Jesus. We govern our lives by that decision and we stick with it no matter what, we choose to persevere and remain in relationship.

When we abide with Jesus, Jesus is sticking with us no matter what as well. Now some of you sitting here might be preparing to come to our confirmation retreat next weekend. You might be considering confirmation or reception into the Episcopal Church. But what I think you will really be doing is deciding if you are going to abide in this vine. Will you decide that your soul can abide here, with us other branches even as imperfect and crazy as we are sometimes; will you abide with us and be secure in knowing that we are all in this life together no matter what. Will you persevere with Jesus and with us?

When you see branches being pruned will you understand pruning as a loving act of God who is caring for the vine and assuring good healthy growth. Will you agree to be pruned. Will you be the branch and give up trying to be the vine or the gardener. As a branch you don't get to pick what gets cut or in which direction you grow, the gardener does that, trust God to prune the right things so that good fruit will come about. The gardener determines the direction the vine goes, the branches produce the fruit. That will be your job when you decide to abide in the vine. Producing fruit is our job as branches; but the branch doesn't will itself to produce fruit, it produces fruit because it has been cared for and pruned by a loving gardener and it has remained a part of the vine. It has chosen to abide and by making that decision has been lovingly tended to by the divine gardener we name as God.

You see when you or I decide to abide with Jesus we do not always get what we thought we wanted. Experience and old age tells me this is a good thing. When I was young I thought quite differently. But after abiding with Jesus and him abiding with me I have come to see quite clearly how marvelous and loving the pruning in our lives is when God is the gardener. If it had been up to me I would have remained a hopeless hippie on the east coast, no telling where I might be. I know I wouldn't be here, with this loving community. And, I wouldn't be an Episcopal priest that gets to do ministry with all sorts of wonderful people. I wouldn't have the family and people I love so dearly. God is indeed good! Deciding to abide with Jesus was the best decision I have ever made. And not one thing about my life today would have evolved if I had controlled the direction and picked for myself. I mean that! I chose to accept the path, I didn't make it happen.Trusting our lives to God's tender care really is a freeing experience once we learn to let go of all the control and trust that God really does want for us a good abundant life.

In making that decision to abide in the vine, Jesus promises to abide with us. Jesus promises to stick with us through thick or thin, he promises to abide. There are no exceptions. Jesus abides with us when we choose to abide with him. That is present tense! It doesn't mean that one day in the far future or when we're dead Jesus will come and be with us. It means right here and right now. It also doesn't mean that Jesus will abide as long as we are good, but jump out of the relationship if we make a mistake or mess up, like a lot of people in our lives do. Jesus promises to abide with us now and forever. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit will abide with us and will be with us always, as well

 Abiding is a relationship that cannot be changed or diluted, it can't be erased or altered. It's a sticking with it relationship. That is what Jesus promises. Perhaps we should use that term in the new marriage rite. Do you so and so choose to abide with so and so until death do you part. I like that idea.

Abide is a great word and it's a word the writers of John's gospel have chosen as a way to explain the relationship of God the Father to the Son, and God's Incarnate Word to us, God's children. Contemplating what it means to abide in a relationship like that, a relationship that is absolute, a place safely tucked into the true vine is comfort for the soul. It allows us to take in a deep breath and slowly exhale knowing we are a part of that always and forever relationship.

Once we make the decision to abide in the vine, we become one of many branches. A branch that is pruned and cared for, one attached to good vine stock that can only produce good fruit. A high quality grape vine can only produce high quality grapes. And vine stock like that is so precious it is actually passed down from generation to generation. When a family moves from one place to another, they take a piece of the vine with them, because they know they will get good fruit from it. There are vineyards in the world with vine stock older than our country; because the vines are so good and produce such great fruit.

It's that way with the branches of the true vine as well. You can only get good fruit from good vine stock. It doesn't mean the branches won't need to be pruned, they will and must get pruned, but in pruning the branch the fruit gets better.

A few additional thoughts to ponder while we contemplate the whole concept of fruit bearing plants: the branches don't produce fruit for the vines use or for the branch. Fruit from any plant is used by some other creature or creatures as food and nourishment. The fruit of a vine is never for the vines benefit; it's always for the benefit of another. Branches don't produce fruit apart from the vine nor can they produce fruit of their own will. The whole ability of a branch to bare fruit comes from deep within the vine, all the way to the root.

The difference between most vines and the one true vine however is this: the branches in the true vine get to choose if they want to remain in the vine. Do you want to be a branch? Do you want to bear fruit that will be used for the benefit of others? Do you trust God to care for and prune only that which needs to be pruned away? The choice is yours. We each get to make that choice.

When we decide to abide in this vine however, we abide eternally. The evidence of that relationship is revealed in two ways: The first is love. Abiding in Christ causes us to love, it is a natural condition of our choice to abide with and in Christ. We love others not because they love us, but because we are beloved of God and we are a part of that true vine. The second piece of evidence that identifies us as branches of this true vine is that we bear good fruit for the benefit of others who need to be nourished. It is a natural condition of the relationship we have with the vine once we choose to abide in it. Fruit is a natural result of good solid stock, we don't have to worry about it, learn how to do it, take a class or get a degree; all we have to do is make the decision to abide. We have to commit to the relationship.

That is really what confirmation is all about, it's what Baptism is ultimately about; choosing to abide in the vine that has been proven to be true and solid, choosing to abide with all the other branches and loving them, choosing to allow your good fruits to help others and all because we know the best gardener. The gardener loves the vine and cares for each and every branch; the branches bear fruit because of the love and care they receive and in turn bring the gardener great delight as he watches the fruit blossom and grow! Just like we do when we plant our gardens in the spring and wait for that first ripe tomato, that first summer squash, or that first sweet cantaloupe. 

Jesus bids us to come in and safely abide in the vine, among the branches. A safe abode for your soul and a place of everlasting peace.



It’s About Standing Up For The Flock, Fr. John Bedingfield, April 26th

April 28, 2015

In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

A man decided that he would travel across the country and visit as many churches as he could.  He started in San Francisco, and began working east from there.  Going to a very large church, he began taking photographs and making notes.  He spotted a golden telephone on the wall outside the sanctuary and was intrigued with a sign that read, “$10,000 per minute.”

Seeking out the pastor, he asked about the phone and the sign.  The pastor answered that the golden phone was, in fact, a direct line to Heaven, and if anyone paid the price, he or she could talk directly to God.

The man thanked the pastor and left.  As he continued to visit churches in Salt Lake City, Denver, Chicago, Milwaukee, and across the United States, he found more such phones, with the same sign, and the same explanation from each pastor.

Finally, the man arrived in Texas.  Upon entering a church, behold: he saw the usual golden telephone.  But this time, the sign read: “Calls: 25 cents.”  Fascinated, the man asked to speak with the pastor.

“Reverend, I have been in cities all across the country and in each church I have found this golden telephone, and have been told it is a direct line to Heaven, and that I could use it to talk to God ....  But in 20 other churches, the cost was $10,000 per minute.  Your sign says 25 cents per call.  Why is that?”

The pastor smiled and said: “Son, you're in Texas now!  It's a local call.”

This is the 4th Sunday after Easter, which, according to the Revised Common Lectionary – that mystical entity which determines what Scripture readings we use for each Sunday – is known as Good Shepherd Sunday.  This is the Sunday when all of our readings remind us in one way or another of Jesus’ discussion of Himself as The Good Shepherd.

It is the Sunday on which we get the most famous of all Psalms, number 23.  There are very few people in the world who cannot recite at least part of the 23rd Psalm, with its ubiquitous first line, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  That line – written almost 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus – gives us a little insight into what Jesus was talking about when He said the words we heard from John’s Gospel today.

When Jesus spoke of being The Good Shepherd, His early listeners would have understood that He was, at least in part, talking about the fulfillment of a prophecy from Ezekiel, during the Babylonian exile.  The prophet Ezekiel said that Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed because, in part, of the powerful misusing the powerless.  In the 34th chapter, the prophet reported what God had told him:

(Ezek. 34:2ff) Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves!  Should not shepherds feed the sheep?  You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep.  You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.  So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, …

(Ezek. 34:15ff) I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God.  I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy.  I will feed them with justice.

            When Jesus spoke of Himself as The Good Shepherd, the Pharisees, Scribes and Priests would have heard echoes of Ezekiel in His statements.  You see, it was those people of the ruling class of Israel about whom Ezekiel spoke – and whose continued misdeeds, some 500 years later, made Jesus step into that role.

            In ancient times, shepherding often meant living with the sheep.  It meant near-constant interaction with the flock; leading them from pasture to pasture, keeping them safe from predators, making sure they got to water often enough, and chasing down the ones who strayed away from the flock so as to keep the flock whole.  It also meant that the shepherd developed a great knowledge of and affection for the sheep of his flock.  And the sheep developed an affection for the shepherd as well.  He was their provider and protector and they relied upon him.  There is no doubt that there were many good shepherds back then.  Think about David, before he became king, back when he was a shepherd.  David saved his sheep from lions and bears – literally putting his life on the line so that the sheep were kept safe.  David was definitely a good shepherd.

            When Jesus spoke about being THE Good Shepherd, He was marrying the images of dedicated and caring sheepherders with the Ezekiel expression of God’s rage at the men who were supposed to be shepherding the children of Israel.  Jesus’ statement was one of condemnation of the powerful and protection of the weak.  That message of shepherding the weak and powerless in the face of danger from the strong and powerful is a resonating one, one that has enlivened the hearts of some of God’s faithful servants.

            In 1955, the 44 year old John Hines became the Bishop of the Diocese of Texas. Bishop Hines preached and taught – and lived – the social Gospel.  He believed that racial discrimination, particularly the practice of institutionalized segregation, was antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and he set about trying to end it in his diocese.  He integrated all aspects of diocesan activity for both laity and clergy.  But that is not all that he did.  When I served at Holy Spirit in Houston, one of our parishioners was a retired trial lawyer who had spent many years trying civil rights cases on behalf of the U.S. Attorney General’s office.  Because I had also been a lawyer, he used to drop by my office and drink coffee and tell me stories about those days, and about Bishop Hines.

            He told me about a time in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when racial segregation was everywhere in Texas.  The Federal Government was not doing much about civil rights in those days, except investigating lynching cases.  But he said that it was not unusual for Bishop Hines to call and ask him to go to some small, East Texas town and visit with the Rector and Vestry of the church there.  His instructions were to let them know that the Bishop expected them to support desegregation and to support his efforts, and (just in case there was any question as to whether Church and State were united in this work), to let them know what his position with the government was.  I guess the thought was, sometimes subtle intimidation is necessary for the greater good.

            Bishop Hines was elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in 1965 and he took his burning passion for equality with him to that post.  Over the next nine years, he did all he could to engage the Episcopal Church in the cause of Civil Rights, all the time with the story of The Good Shepherd underlying his work.  Bishop Hines answered the call to be like Jesus when he took on the powerful on behalf of the powerless.  He fought the fight of equality in Jesus’ name.  And through it all, most of the people in the pews of the Church, knew that Bishop Hines was their shepherd, the one who cared for and loved them even as he tried to reimagine The Church.  But make no mistake, he also laid down his vocational and professional life because of what he professed.  The powerful in the Church fought back when he challenged them, and his life was never easy.

            Jesus is always looking for other shepherds to help with His continuing work.  Jesus loves and protects His flock, not just from predators but from the powerful whose policies make their lives miserable.  And He is looking for help – not from hired hands, who have no passion for His work – but from true shepherds (be they lay or clergy) who feel called to do as He does.  As Bishop Hines once said:

Against even the worst of possibilities, must be set the inescapable obligation of Christians, that the Body of Christ must be prepared to offer itself up for the sake of the healing and the solidarity of the whole human family, whatever its religious or racial identities. Especially must the Body of Christ risk its own life in bearing and sharing the burdens of those who are being exploited, humiliated, and disinherited!

There is plenty of shepherding work left to be done.  There is racial, economic and sexual identity discrimination all over.  The Church and the world need good shepherds.  You do not have to be ordained, you just have to love the flock, and be willing to put your life on the line to save its members, or at least to try to make their lives better.  Amen.

Sounds Like Love To Me, Fr. John Bedingfield, April19th

April 19, 2015

In the name of the Risen Lord, Amen.

            Madre Annie told this joke a couple of years ago, but it worked so well with the sermon that I had to use it again.  A young Episcopal priest called all of the children in the congregation to come forward for the children’s sermon on Easter morning.  He started by asking, “What’s warm and furry and hops around on the ground?”  There was silence.  A little perturbed, he tried again.  “What’s warm and furry, hops around on the ground and has long, floppy ears?”  Again, nothing.  Somewhat exasperated, the priest asked, “What’s warm and furry and hops around on the ground and has long, floppy ears and loves carrots?”  One of the boys nudged his friend and said, “I know the answer is supposed to be Jesus, but it sure sounds like a rabbit to me.”

            We could begin today’s sermon with a similar line of questioning.  What do all of the readings today have in common?  Just like the little boy, we all KNOW that the answer is always supposed to be Jesus.  But let’s see if maybe there is also something additional we should look at.

            In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter cured a lame man and everyone watched the man walk away.  They were astonished at what had happened, and Peter said, “why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk.”  And then he preached to the gathered crowd about the power and wonder of the risen Lord.

            In the Gospel, Luke says Jesus appeared to the Disciples, shortly after the resurrection.  They were in the midst of despair over His death, and suddenly there He was.  The first thing He said to them was, “Peace be with you.”  And then, he began to convince them that He was real, was risen, and was truly there amongst them.  And He said, “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in (Jesus’) name to all nations, ….  (Because) You are witnesses of these things.”  In other words, you know who I am, you have experienced the power of God in your own lives, now you must go out and show others what you know.

            And what DID they know?  They knew what the author of 1st John said in this morning’s reading.  “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; .…  Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”

            And what WOULD God reveal to them about who God was – and is?  The Psalmist tells us, “Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O LORD.  You have put gladness in my heart, more than when grain and wine and oil increase.  I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep; for only you, LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

            I KNOW the answer is supposed to be Jesus, but this sure looks like love to me.  In the Collect of the Day this morning, we prayed, “Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold Him in all His redeeming work.”  That redeeming work is love. 

            2012’s Academy Award winning film, Life of Pi is based on the book of the same name.  The book tells the story of Pi Patel, a young man who moves with his family from India to Canada.  They cross the ocean on a cargo ship which is also carrying the animals from the zoo Pi’s father operated in India, but which he has had to close.  During the ocean crossing, the ship sinks and Pi ends up in a lifeboat with an injured zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a tiger.  Needless to say, the story gets interesting from there.  But the really fascinating thing in the story is the fact that Pi is a very religious Hindu who is also a student and follower of both Islam and Christianity.  

Pi loves God and spends a great deal of his time thinking back on what he learned about God.  One commentator describes Pi’s spiritual search this way:

"Pi (has trouble understanding) ‘Christ crucified.’  Father Martin, a Catholic priest who befriends Pi, listens to the young man’s questions.

Pi says to Fr. Martin, ‘What?  Humanity sins, but it is God’s Son who pays the price?  I tried to imagine my own father saying to me, ‘Pi, a lion slipped into the llama pen today and killed two llamas.  Yesterday another one killed a black buck.  Last week two of them ate the camel.  The week before it was painted storks and grey herons.  And who’s to say for sure who snacked on our golden agouti?’  The situation has become intolerable.  Something must be done.  I have decided that the only way the lions can atone for their sins is if I feed you to them.’

‘Yes, Father, (Pi says) that would be the right and logical thing to do.  Give me a moment to wash up.’  Hallelujah, my son.  Hallelujah, Father.’  What a downright weird story.  What a peculiar psychology!’

Pi goes on, ‘Why would God wish that upon himself?  Why not leave death to the mortals.  Why make dirty what was beautiful, spoil what is perfect?  Love.  That was Father Martin’s answer."

            Love.  The author of John’s first epistle uses that word 38 times in only 5 chapters.  This love that John talks about, the love that was so confusing to Pi when Fr. Martin tried to explain it, is a love that is even hard us to understand – and we’ve known Jesus all our lives.

            Jesus came into the upper room, where the disciples were hiding from the authorities after the crucifixion.  Judas wasn’t there – after he betrayed Jesus, he left and hanged himself.  Peter was there, hiding, after he had denied that he knew Jesus three times.  They were all there.  All of the people who said that they loved Him during His earthly ministry were there … and none of them had lifted a hand to help Him in His time of need.  But Jesus was there too.  The Love was there.

            Jesus came into the room and said, “Peace be with you.”  To a room full of people who had let Him down, He said, “Peace be with you.”  And then He sat down and had a meal with them.  He opened their minds and their hearts to the truth of who He is and what that means. 

            See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.  Beloved, we are children of God – the God who loved us enough to sacrifice His only Son on our behalf.  We are all children of the one who loves us and wants nothing more than that we reflect that love to each other.  He wants to open our minds and hearts to His love.  And He wants us to love each other, just as He has loved us.  He wants us to love each other unconditionally, to be for each other what Jesus was to them – the epitome of love. 

Jesus told the Disciples – and us – to love each other, no matter what.  John tells us that we don’t know what we will be like in the end.  But we DO know what we are supposed to be like now.  We are supposed to be like HIM – loving those who hurt us – loving the prodigal sons of the world – loving the unlovable.  That’s what He tells us we are supposed to be like.  Jesus tells us that we are to be the reflection of His perfect love in the world.

            Yep.  Definitely sounds like love to me – the love that can only come through the grace of God; and the love we can begin sharing today. 

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore.