Risk Everything — Fr. John Bedingfield, Nov 19th

November 19, 2017
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In the name of one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

In yesterday’s RenewalWorks group meeting, we were talking about the Bible, and how much – or how little – the congregation of St. Barnabas knows about it. At the risk of getting a little bit ahead of the RenewalWorks project, I will share with you that one of the things that we discovered in our survey is that the majority of the people in the pews every week do not believe that they know very much about the Bible. While on some level I believe that that finding is accurate, I also told the group that I believe that this congregation knows much more Bible than you think that you do.

Please believe me when I say that I am not going to call on anyone nor will I put anyone on the spot at all. But please raise your hand if you have heard the Parable of the Talents (that we just read, from Matthew’s Gospel) before. Now of all of you who raised your hand, raise it again if you feel like you have heard this parable more than once. Now, do you see what I mean? People are saying that they are familiar with this parable. Familiarity means that you “know” this part of the Bible, on some level.

Okay, pop quiz, part 2. How many of you have heard this parable preached on in the context of an annual stewardship campaign? Right! Everyone who feels pretty familiar with this story has doubtless heard a sermon tying it to how we give our time, treasure, and talents, to God, by giving them to God’s Church to use. So let me say right now, this parable can reasonably and accurately be read to say, “If you do not step out in faith and use all that you have – time, treasure, and talents – for the good of the Kingdom of God, then you are acting like the third servant. And your fear will not stand you in good stead with the God who gave you everything that you have.” That is a solid stewardship message, and one that we at St. Barnabas can stand to hear right now.

Keep that message in the back of your mind – because I want to talk to you about something a little different than that. I want to talk with you about the importance of risking everything as you seek to be a Disciple of Jesus Christ.

When Jesus told this parable to the Disciples, it was near the end of a long “Farewell Discourse” or going away speech. Jesus was moving ever closer to his date with crucifixion, and he was making sure that the Disciples had all of the knowledge that they needed, before He left them to carry on His work. From the 23rd Chapter of Matthew, through today’s reading and beyond, Jesus was preparing them for events of the future, particularly His return to the earth, on the last day.

So when He told them this parable, He was obviously telling them something about being prepared for His return, and how they should use their talents wisely as they wait for Him. But Jesus was also passing along a broader message: you cannot thrive and grow as a Christian, if you are not willing to take risks. He was telling the Disciples – and us – that risk is key to growing and moving forward; that being willing to lose everything, was the only way to grow in Christ.

Here now is a different parable about being willing to lose it all in the Kingdom of God.

A long time ago, a monk set out on his travels accompanied by his assistant, a Brother. Night was falling when the monk told the Brother to go on ahead to find lodging. The Brother searched the deserted landscape until he found a humble shack in the middle of nowhere.

A poor family lived in the shack. The mother, father, and children were dressed in rags. The Brother asked if he and the monk could spend the night in their dwelling.

“You are most welcome to spend the night,” said the father of the family. They prepared a simple meal consisting of fresh milk, cheese, and cream for the Brother and the monk. The Brother felt moved by their poverty and even more by their simple generosity.
After they had finished eating, the monk asked them how they managed to survive in such a poor place.

In a resigned voice, he told them, “We have one cow. We sell her milk to our neighbors who do not live too far away. We hold back enough for our needs and to make some cheese and cream—that is primarily what we eat.”

The next morning, the Brother and the monk said their good-byes and set out to continue their journey. After they had walked a few miles, the monk turned to the Brother and said, “Go back and push the family’s cow off the cliff!”

“Father,” the Brother replied, “they live off the cow. Without her, they have nothing.” The monk repeated his order: “Go back and kill the cow.”

With a heavy heart, the Brother returned to the shack. He worried about the future of the family because he knew they depended on their cow to survive. Yet his vow of obedience bound him to follow the orders of the wise monk. So he pushed the cow off the cliff.

Years later, the young Brother became a monk. One day he found himself on the same road where he had been given lodging so many years earlier. Driven by a sense of remorse, he decided to visit the family. He rounded the curve in the road and, to his surprise, came upon a splendid mansion, surrounded by landscaped gardens, in the place where their shack used to stand. The new house exuded a sense of prosperity and happiness. The monk knocked on the door.

A well-dressed man answered. The monk, not recognizing him, asked, “What ever became of the family who used to live here? Did they sell the property to you?”
The man said he and his family had always lived on the property. The monk told him how he had stayed in a humble dwelling on the same spot, along with his master, the old monk. “What happened?” he asked.

The man invited the monk to stay with him as his guest. While they ate, the host explained how the family’s fortune changed. “You know, Father, we used to have a cow. She kept us alive. We didn’t own anything else. One day she fell down over the cliff and died. To survive, we had to start doing other things, and develop skills we did not even know we had. We were forced to come up with new ways of doing things. It was the best thing that ever happened to us! We are now much better off than before.”

If we risk everything that we have, in pursuit of the Kingdom of God on earth, we have no idea what the God of all abundance will do with it. If we have complete trust in the Jesus, who risked His very life for the abundance of the Kingdom, we too can see that trusting and risking it all is the way to God’s abundance, both now and for eternity.

I read this week: “Michelangelo (1475–1564) once said, ‘The great danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high, and we miss it; but that it is too low, and we reach it.’ Whatever we do, we are to make it an offering to God. In the end, that is the only thing that matters, regardless of personal consequences. It is in this way that we may truly enter into the joy of our master.”

We have a great financial challenge facing our congregation this year. If we, as a congregation, have faith enough in God to risk it all — to be fearless in the face of loss — then we can be free to find new ways of doing things, and we can potentially reap blessings beyond measure as the Kingdom of God comes near.

Risk it ALL as we work together to overcome adversity and to grow into faithful and dedicated Disciples of the One who never hesitated to risk all that He had. Amen.

Stay Alert and Ready, Fr. John Bedingfield November 12th

November 12, 2017
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         This is an odd parable that we get from Matthew’s Gospel today, isn’t it?  I mean, to begin with, Jesus’ parables almost always have a twist at the end that is designed to turn what we believe – about how the Kingdom of God works, and about who we are – upside down.  Not so with this one.  Some commentators refer to this one as an allegory rather than a parable, because you can just assign Jesus the part of bridegroom and all of us the bridesmaid roles, and then the story makes sense – and scares the bejeebers out of us.  But you know what?  I really don’t care one way or the other, and I bet you don’t either.  What I want to know is: What does this really strange, and frankly somewhat off-putting parable have to say to all of us gathered here today?

         Before we can figure that out, let me give you a bit context that might help. 

         The story tells us some details about wedding customs in Palestine at the time of Jesus.  Once the groom-to-be and the bride’s father had agreed on the terms of the marriage contract, they would enter into the contract, sometime between a day and seven years after which the groom would gather his friends and relatives and ride – or walk – to the bride’s family’s house.  He would take his bride from her family home and voila, they were married.  Then came the great part.  The return of the groom followed by his bride, which would begin a multi-day wedding party to rival a Kardashian wedding.

         Now here’s where the parable starts to come in.  Young women from the bride’s family would act as the bride’s attendants.  The members of both families, including distant relatives, would wait in the groom’s father’s house until the wedding party arrived.  There was no set time for the groom’s entourage to appear, thus, the arrival could not be predicted.  It did, however, often occur during the night.

         As the parable begins, ten bridesmaids wait with lamps to light the way for the bridegroom, who leads the way for the rest of the group.  The “wise” bridesmaids brought along extra oil for their lamps, while the “foolish” bridesmaids figured that they had enough oil in their lamps to get the job done.  As the time of the arrival was delayed, the bridesmaids became drowsy and slept.

         Finally, at midnight, the arrival of the bridegroom was announced and all went out to greet him.  The five wise bridesmaids were prepared with enough oil to refill their lamps.  But the lamps of the five foolish bridesmaids were empty.  When the foolish asked the wise for some of their oil, they responded that they did not have enough to share.  So, the unprepared bridesmaids had to run down to the oil vendors to replenish their supply.  And when they got back, they had been locked out of the wedding celebration – never to be admitted.  Happy little story, huh?

         Now obviously, if we go back to that allegory theory, we are talking about the 2nd Coming of Christ, and if we are not properly prepared – whenever the day and time may be – we will be in danger of missing out altogether.  But frankly, there are evangelical preachers who are preaching that message every day. 

         I believe that Jesus told the Disciples this story so that he could give them this strong message: If you want to be my Disciples (or Bridesmaids), if you want to be part of the banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven, you have to stay alert at all times; you have no idea when the bridegroom will need something from you, and you have to be alert and ready to respond.

         “A man once approached Mother Teresa and said, ‘Mother, I want to do something great for God, but I don’t know what.  Should I start a school, be a missionary in a foreign land, build up a charitable agency?’  He had great visions.  Mother Teresa looked at him closely, with kindness in her eyes, and responded: ‘What you need to do is make sure that no one in your family goes unloved.’  And by this she doubtless also meant the entire human family.[1]

         Jesus’ final commandment to His Disciples – at least as St. John tells it – was that they should love one another just as He loved them.  And because Jesus is the epitome of God’s love for all of creation, that means that we are to be alert and find those who are in need, we are to care for those needs, and we are to always be alert to find new ways to reflect the love of God in the world.  And our desire to do as Christ does, will hopefully help us learn to be alert and ready in all things.

         “Being alert and ready, like everything else, takes practice though.  Jesus also told a story about a wise man who built his house on a rock and a foolish man who built on sand, Jesus said that that wisdom comes from hearing God’s Word and doing it.  Being alert and ready happens when day by day, week after week, we hear God’s Word and partake of the holy meal, living in a state of being open to the presence of God.  We become more nearly ready each time we open ourselves to the call of God.  Following Jesus in our daily lives keeps us alert.[2]

         So … being alert and ready is possible for us if we will:  show up here; listen to the Holy Word; eat the Communion meal that will nourish us for our work; give of ourselves in time, talent and treasure, pray for ourselves and others, in a regular fashion; and constantly find new ways to feed the poor, tend the sick, give rest to the weary, visit shut-ins; and care for those who have no one to care for them.  These are the things that we are hopefully already doing.

         As the author Robert Farrar Capon exhorts in The Parables of Judgment (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ., 1989):

‘Watch therefore,’ Jesus says at the end of the parable, ‘for you know neither the day nor the hour.’ When all is said and done—when we have scared ourselves silly with the now-or-never urgency of faith and the once-and-always finality of judgment—we need to take a deep breath and let it out with a laugh.  Because what we are watching for is a party.  And the party is not just down the street making up its mind when to come to us.  It is already hiding in our basement, banging on our steam pipes, and laughing its way up our cellar stairs.  The unknown day and hour of its finally bursting into the kitchen and roistering its way through the whole house is not dreadful; it is all part of the divine lark of grace.  God is not our mother-in-law, coming to see whether her wedding-present china has been chipped.  He is a funny Old Uncle with a salami under one arm and a bottle of wine under the other.  We do indeed need to watch for him; but only because it would be such a pity to miss all the fun.

So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, be forever ready and alert!

 

[1]  Synthesis, 12 Nov 17

[2]  Id.

We Need to Walk the Walk, Fr. John Bedingfield October 1st

October 1, 2017
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In the name of one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

"A young priest who graduated from seminary just before World War I was appointed to a church in a very small town.  He had been there only a couple of weeks when he received the call every new minister dreads: to do his first funeral.

The person who had died was not a member of his church.  She was, in fact, someone with a very bad reputation.  Her husband was a railroad engineer who was away from home much of the time.  She rented rooms in their house to men who worked on the railroad, and “rumor had it” that she (earned a little extra money in the house) when her husband was away.

The young priest, faced with his first real challenge, could find no one with a good word to offer about this woman—until he entered the town’s small, … grocery store on the day before the funeral.

He began talking to the store owner about his sadness that the first person he would bury was to be someone about (whom) nothing good seemed to be said.  The store owner didn’t reply at first— and then, in his silence, he appeared to make a decision.  He took out his store ledger and laid it on the counter between himself and the priest.  He opened the ledger at random and, covering the names listed in the left-hand column, he pointed to grocery bills written in red: orders that people had bought on credit; and then to the column that showed how each bill had been paid.

He said, 'Every month, Gladys would come in and ask me who was behind in their grocery bills.  It was usually some family who had suffered sickness or a death—or some poor woman trying to feed her kids when her husband drank up the money.  Gladys would pay their bill, and she made me swear never to tell.  But I figure, now that she is dead, people ought to know—especially those who benefited from her charity, and who have been most critical of her!'"[1]

We could call today, 'Talk the talk or walk the walk' Sunday.  In Matthew’s Gospel today, we hear Jesus respond to a challenge from the Temple authorities by posing a parable to them, which at its core, posed the question, 'Who does the will of God, the one who talks the talk, or the one who walks the walk?'

The lady from the story, Miss Gladys, walked the walk of Christ.  She was someone whom the people of the town 'knew' very well.  She was someone upon whom they universally felt comfortable looking down.  Gladys was one of 'those people,' you know, the ones who do things that we don’t approve of – or whose way of life we find unpalatable – or as Facebook posts like to put it – 'She was disgusting!!!'  And yet, as the 'good' people of the town – the ones who said 'Yes' to Jesus with their mouths, let their neighbors struggle and potentially go hungry, Gladys stepped in quietly, doing as Jesus asked.  Who did the will of the Father, the good, church-going citizens of the town, or Gladys?

We Christians, and I would venture to say, especially this congregation of St. Barnabas, speak a lot about feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the shut-ins, and generally doing to others as we would have them do to us.  As a congregation, St. Barnabas has been very good at trying to live out this commandment from our Lord.  But here’s the thing about following Jesus: we can never – and I really mean never – say that we’ve got this one covered and do not have to think about it anymore.  As soon as we figure that we can answer Jesus’ question with an unqualified, “Yes Lord,” we are already on the wrong side of the conversation.

You see, the world is an ever-changing place.  Every day new people and things are born, and every day others die.  As the earth makes its constant rotation around the sun, things on our planet and in our lives, are inevitably changing.  And in 21st Century America, that change has increased in tempo to break-neck speed.  What we have “always,” known to be true may be about to become false, because the world has changed so much and so rapidly.  One of my favorite modern preachers, Dr. Will Willimon put it this way,

In the town in which I grew up there were five downtown, thriving congregations representing a variety of Christian denominations.  Today, only three of those congregations are still in existence.  Why?

Go to the town and ask anybody.  They will tell you.  “Those churches couldn't find a way to reach out to their changing community.  They became more concerned with themselves and less concerned with the world around them.  And they died.”

There is something about Jesus Christ who reaches out all the way to the margins.  He is determined to be Lord not just of me and my friends in the church, but for the whole world.  Before he goes to the cross, he engages his critics and infuriates them by telling them that some of the worst people on earth, those whom they regard as morally and spiritually inferior to themselves, will go into the kingdom before them.

If our congregation ever loses this truth, we are in danger of losing our congregation.  If we get confused into thinking that Jesus Christ is my Lord, and not their Lord, we will lose the gospel (sic).  There does seem to be something about Jesus Christ that makes it impossible to worship him without following him, following him to the margins where he is seeking and saving the lost, finding those we are all too willing to cast aside.

We are beginning a time of self-reflection here.  We are about to embark on an exercise of viewing ourselves: not as the Episcopal Church that grew out of a need for a new parish on the Southwest side of town; not as the church that for years housed the Episcopal School of Acadiana; not as the place that is the alternative for the people who do not feel comfortable at the other churches in the area; but rather, as the place that is a vital part of our community, the place that, if we shuttered our doors tomorrow, would be sorely missed by the people around us who are not our members.

The world, the United States, the state of Louisiana, the community of Lafayette, they all have people who are hurting right now.  There is an incredible amount of suffering going on in 2017, both that which is new, and that which is chronic.  Jesus is calling us to alleviate that suffering.  We need to look at ourselves and see how we can best walk the walk of helping those who are most in need. 

Join in the work.  Start to talk with your fellow members of this congregation – and perhaps more important, talk to those in the community who are hurting – and help us to bring those two groups together.  As a congregation, we need to look for and find new ways of getting to know our community’s needs, and then find the best ways to meet those needs.

Lafayette has a lot of churches.  We don’t need to be another church.  We need walk the walk of Jesus and be Miss Gladys.  Amen.

 

[1]  Synthesis – October 1, 2017

Discipleship Fr. John Bedingfield, September 10th

September 10, 2017
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In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

As a preacher, there are days where I read the slices of Scripture, the lectionary readings, that we get for the day (in case anyone ever asks you, the seminary word for such slices is, pericope) and I am amazed at how the chosen pericope for the day fits just perfectly with what my heart and soul tell me to preach. . . . And then, there’s today.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love this Gospel passage from Matthew. It has a lot to tell us about how Christians should settle disputes. And today, we also get the wonderful Passover story from Exodus. Those are great readings. But today, at St. Barnabas, we are embarking on a spiritual renewal program and a new year of church ministries, and we are about to baptize another wonderful baby boy, James Charles Capdepon. And frankly, those readings don’t really speak to this day, place, and time. So, let’s look at the Epistle to the Romans.

In Paul’s preeminent writing, he introduces himself to the Church in Rome and lays out his understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Most scholars break this letter into several sections, and what we read today comes from the third section, which addresses what it means to live by faith in Jesus. Or stated differently, what it means to be one Jesus’ disciples.

In chapter 12, which immediately precedes what we just heard, Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God –– what is good and acceptable and perfect.” He was laying out the argument to his first readers, that in order to be good disciples of Jesus, they must discern God’s will and then try to conform their lives to that will.

In today’s reading, Paul tells us that we should owe no one anything except love. Just as God gives us ongoing love, we too should love all of God’s children endlessly. The great biblical scholar, Walter Bruggeman said of this passage, “While some Christians feel that they can fulfill (this) love obligation by ‘a superficial and saccharine profession of love for the entire world, … Paul calls for the difficult task of real love for real people who are met in everyday life, not theoretical love for humanity as a whole.’”

If we want to know what that sort of real love for a real person looks like, all we have to do is go back again to chapter 12 of this epistle, in which Paul says, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (12:18) –– and “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink: ....” (12:20)

Paul told the Romans that loving their neighbors — that is ALL human beings — as they love themselves, is the absolute fulfillment of the law of God. In other words, as Jesus said, all of the law and the prophets, every other part of the Bible, hangs on loving God and loving other humans the same way we love ourselves.

So, this glorious Sunday on which we are kicking off the RenewalWorks program and restarting our ministries, and bringing another new Christian into the family, we are reminded that being disciples of our Lord is all about how much we can show our love for other people. And we are reminded to seek to become better disciples in all that we do.

I was reading quite a bit about discipleship this week. A baptist pastor from Texas had an interesting story about his church members who believe that simply being baptized, as James Charles is about to be, is sufficient to make one a fully formed, instant disciple. He said,

There is no such thing as an instant disciple; like the word, it takes discipline. (The 1980s) Russian comedian, Yakov Smirnoff talk(ed) about when he first moved to America, he was amazed at the variety of instant products he could buy in the store. There’s powdered milk: just add water and you have milk. There’s powdered orange juice: just add water and you have orange juice. Then he saw Baby Powder and thought, “What a great country! If you want a baby, just add water!” Some people think that’s how discipleship works. You take a believer, add a little baptism water, and “poof” you have a fully-devoted follower of Jesus–a real disciple. But it takes more than water to make a disciple. Disciples are made, not born.

Pastor Dykes is really onto something there. While we Episcopalians believe that baptism is truly all that it takes to be a Christian and a full member of the Church, it is NOT all that it takes to be an effective disciple. In order to become a true disciple of Jesus Christ, you must have what modern writers have referred to as the “Marks of Discipleship.” And those marks include:

1. Daily prayer. Meaning that you must have devoted prayer time in your day, every day. And that that prayer time should be systematic — as in praying the Episcopal Daily Office.

2. Weekly worship. This is the height of preaching to the choir, but this means that you need to make the effort to be here every week. Not only because worshipping as a community has power that worshipping alone just doesn’t have. But also because it is here — gathered around this altar, receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, that we are spiritually fed and nourished for the continuing work of discipleship.

3. Reading and studying the Bible. I know that this is asking a lot, but the best way for you to do this, is to become a part of an on-going bible study. I pray that this year we will begin new groups through St. Barnabas, in which people can meet with people with whom they share things in common, and study Scripture together. But do you know what? This may be a big shock to some folks … but we do this kind of work EVERY SUNDAY during the Christian Formation hour, and you are ALL invited.

4. Developing and growing spiritual relationships. We must keep expanding our circle of friends and the sphere of our spiritual relationships. Doing the work of Jesus in the world — the real hands and feet kinds of work like feeding the poor and clothing the naked — begins by building relationships with other people and finding out what their needs are, so that we can become part of their solution.

5. Engaging in work in the community. One of the goals of the months of self-study we are about to start, with the RenewalWorks program, is to determine what we should be doing to reach out to the community around us and to be engaged in local works — as a congregation. Feeding the poor and clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty and visiting those in need is important and widespread work. We just have to determine where we should plug in to do some good.

6. Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. I know, that sounds like the four letter word — evangelism (yes, I do know that evangelism is more than four letters). But do you know what evangelism really is? It is sharing something you love with people whom you would like to have what you have. That’s all. Share the story of your Christian journey with people you know, and see what happens.

7. Practicing generosity with your time, talent & treasures. Give of yourself, your time, your money, your skills and abilities, in ways that can make a difference. We will be talking much more about this in weeks to come.
That is it. That is what it takes to become a full, capable disciple of Jesus Christ. You can get a copy of this sermon on-line, staring this afternoon. Just go to saintbarnabas.us and follow the link. Then print out the list and put it on your refrigerator, with everything else you don’t want to forget. And let’s begin working on this list together. Starting today, when you go across to Ramsay Hall and find a new ministry in which to share your gifts.

God bless you all. Have a great day and find new ways to serve.

 

Who’s Your Dog? Fr. John Bedingfield, August 20th

August 20, 2017
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         Last week, I preached about the sin of racism in America today.  At the risk of people believing that I will never preach about anything else, today’s Gospel – and the events of the intervening week – mean that we’re going to talk about it again.

Jesus said, “It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.”  Who are the dogs in your life?  Who is it in your world who is so inconsequential that they don’t rate being treated as well as you treat your friends and loved ones?

         When Jesus was confronted by the woman in today’s Gospel story He responded in a way that is most uncharacteristic for the Jesus we’re used to.  He and the disciples left the ever-growing crowds in Galilee and went off into the land of the Gentiles, the land of Canaan. 

Canaan is the land founded by Noah’s son Ham.  He was the one of Noah’s three sons who was shunned by his family after he saw Noah one night, drunk and naked.  Noah cursed Ham, whose name he changed to Canaan, and vowed that Canaan would forever be cursed and that his descendants would always be slaves to the descendants of his brothers.  Canaanites were different.  They were NOT God’s chosen.  Heck, they weren’t even really people.

So the Canaanite woman comes hounding Jesus, yelling at Him incessantly, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon!”  This is a different story than we usually see with Jesus.  Here, the woman yells and pleads for help and Jesus does what?  He ignores her.  Jesus, the compassionate lover of souls; Jesus the Good Shepherd; gentle Jesus, meek and mild; ignores her.  And then, it gets worse.

When she keeps at Him, He doesn’t smile at her and say, “My daughter, your prayers have been answered.  Go in peace.”  No, when she asks for His help, He tells her, “It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.”  This is one ticked off Jesus.  This is Jesus trying to make a serious point.  He knows what His ministry is, and that ministry does not include this woman or her demon-possessed daughter.  She is not who He came to save – in fact, she’s not even a “who” she is a “what.”  She is an animal, without a name, worthy of nothing from the table of the Children of Israel, the chosen of God.

Who are the dogs in your life?  Make no mistake, we all have them.  The dogs in our lives are the people we prejudge – the people whose worth we believe to be less than our own, simply because of some characteristic about them that we don’t like, don’t approve of, or simply don’t understand.  Have you ever told a joke, or laughed at one, that made fun of someone else’s color, ethnicity, or sexuality, in a cruel or demeaning way?  Of course you have.  Admit it, we’ve likely laughed at them, we’ve perhaps told them, but we’ve absolutely heard them.  How are those jokes different from Jesus calling the Canaanite woman a dog?  Aren’t both dehumanizing?

How about people who are otherwise different than you?  What if they’re dirty or homeless?  Are they any different than the Canaanite woman in the story?  What about Muslims?  Especially those who live in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria, what about them?  Are they different than this dog of a woman from Canaan who came to Jesus?

“Dogs” are all around us.  Anyone can be a “dog.”  All we have to do is take away someone’s humanity and we can turn that person into a dog.  Once someone has been reduced to the anonymity of dog status, then it is incredibly easy for us to treat them any way we want, without consequences.  After all, they’re not like us, they’re not as good as we are, so why should we worry about treating them the way we’re treated?

I don’t think Jesus was only trying to give us an object lesson here.  I think what we see in this story is the truly human Jesus learning a lesson of His own from the Father in Heaven.  Jesus’ mission up to this point had been to care for the children of Israel and to try to bring them to the fulfillment of their destiny as God’s chosen people.  But Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine.  For the fully human Jesus, I think His ministry unfolded in front of Him, much as our own lives do.  By that, I mean that for most of His life on earth, I don’t think He necessarily knew what was coming next.  So, when Jesus treated this woman as a dog, as anonymous and sub-human, I can just hear the voice of the Father in His ear, “Whoa.  Hold on just a minute.  I made this one, just the same as I made all the others.  They are all My children.  They are all worth the same to Me.  Get to know her and see what you think.”  So Jesus stops ignoring her and listens with those compassionate ears we’re used to, when she says, “Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” and He suddenly sees her for what she is, a child of God who is faithfully praying for help.

Jesus told the disciples to love their neighbors as themselves – to love each other even as Jesus loved them.  I think it was that teaching that flooded through Jesus as He answered her, “Woman, great is your faith!  Let it be done for you as you wish.”

My brothers and sisters, we live in an increasingly anonymous and segregated world.  More and more, every day we are being isolated from the rest of humanity.  We travel in large, comfortable metal cocoons we call cars.  No one can hear us when we call them names for cutting us off in traffic.  We live in homes that are separated from other homes by acreage or fences.  We speak to each other by text-message, email, or perhaps by telephone, but rarely face-to-face.  We post comments on webpages or we tweet using anonymous twitter handles.  We don’t look into the eyes of people very often in this isolated world.  Anonymity is the name of the game, and on top of that, we’re constantly being told that we should fear or hate everyone who doesn’t look or think the way we do.  They’re “Islamic fascists” not people.  They’re illegal aliens, not people.  They’re refugees, not people.  They’re people of other colors, not people.

We can most easily start treating people as children of God when we get to know them as children of God.  We can only begin to treat people with the love of neighbor that Jesus called for, when we get to know them as human beings first.  The message I want you all to take home today is simple: it’s all too easy to mistreat people whom we have dehumanized – it’s harder to treat someone as a dog if we know his or her name, if we know about their family and their lives.

Next time you hear someone reduce an entire segment of the world’s population into a stereotype or a punch line, or the next time you’re tempted to do so yourself, remember that every one of those people has a name, a mother and a father, a life story that will almost certainly have similarities to your own.  We are all different.  There are bad Muslims, there are people who sneak across our borders who are evil, there are people of different colors or ethnicity or sexuality who do things that harm their communities.  But those harmful people are the same small percentage of the population as are all “bad” people. 

We are all fundamentally the same.  God made every one of us and loves each of us as we want to be loved; as cherished parts of a wonderful creation.  Those who deserve to be feared and ostracized will prove it over time.  But until you get to know them, you’ll never know which people are more like you and which ones are not.

Don’t make anyone an instant dog.  Assume first that they’re children of God.  Assume that they deserve the same respect you do.  If they don’t, you’ll know it.  But more will than won’t.  We are all God’s children.  We should all act like it’s so.

Amen.

“Beware of Sinners Judging Other Sinners, Especially With Finality,” Fr. Bedingfield July 23rd

July 23, 2017
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I do not often begin writing a sermon by having a title. That is just not how my process works. Not so today. Today, the title came first. This sermon is called: Beware of Sinners Judging Other Sinners, Especially With Finality. I readily admit that I stole that title directly out of one of the sources I was using to prepare for this. But that sentence just struck me between the eyes. It is exactly what I believe Matthew’s Gospel is saying to me today.

Today’s Gospel reading is sort of the sequel to last week’s Parable of the Sower. Today we hear Jesus teach the Disciples by giving them an allegory, instead of a regular parable. In today’s story there are absolute connections between the things in the story and the real world. You know … the sower is Jesus, the seeds are the children of God, the weeds are the children of the devil, etc. Jesus wanted to make sure that none of the Disciples mistook any of what he was saying for something else, so He made it plain.

An obvious lesson to be learned from this allegory is: we servants of the Lord, do not have the ability to remove the weeds from the garden, without harming the good grain that God has sown. Therefore, we should be patient, appreciate the growth that God provides, and wait for Jesus and God’s reapers to determine who belongs where. Or put in more familiar terms, “judge not, lest ye be judged.”

We should always be patient and tolerant of one another — including those with whom we vehemently disagree, and those of whom we are most afraid. We must guard against thinking that because we are “good Christians” who do our best to follow Jesus, we somehow know how to judge another human on God’s behalf. That is not only arrogant, but Matthew tells us it is also dangerous, because we risk destroying something that is of great value to God when we do so. You see, not only do wheat and weeds look alike to us; but we individually, are also made up of both wheat and weeds. So we should be patient, tolerant, and be ever so thankful that the one who will judge in the end is the one who loves us deeply enough to give His life for ours.

Jesus told the Disciples that we humans have limited vision. We cannot see what God sees. We do not have anything approaching the divine understanding of the world, or its inhabitants. Therefore, when we categorize and separate people, based upon our so-called knowledge of who is in and who is out, we have already gone against what it is that God would have us do, thereby putting ourselves in the “out” category. Ironic, huh?
When we presume to say, for instance that all Muslims are out to destroy our country and all of Christianity, we are judging on behalf of God and therefore have already gone against what Jesus taught. When conservatives judge liberals, or liberals judge conservatives, and believe that we know what is in the other’s heart, thereby knowing who is wheat and who is weed, we have already placed ourselves in the weed category.
Jesus says that the mere fact that we humans dane to do Jesus’ work of judging the hearts of other humans, makes us susceptible to judgment. As Carl Jung, famous psychotherapist, is quoted to have said about those who judged each other, “The brighter the halo, the smellier the feet.” In other words, we cannot ever hope to be able to judge another’s worthiness to be a child of God. The more we do so, the more we show the world how unworthy we really are.

On a local level, when we judge who is “good” and who is “bad,” based upon our own criteria (whatever they may be), we are overstepping our bounds, or as my grandfather said, we are “getting too big for our britches.” And according to Jesus, going agains the express wishes of the One who sows the grain in the field. When we judge each other, we can destroy existing (or soon to bloom) relationships, because we infuse them with suspicion and distrust.

Here is an example that hopefully makes this point clear. Fifteen or so years ago, there was a young boy in this congregation who was a HUGE problem. His parents brought him for Christian Formation every Sunday. And he would run around the classroom, creating havoc everywhere he went. He antagonized other children and was a constant disruption in the class. But, even though the teachers sometimes had to do so through gritted teeth, they refused to judge the child as unworthy of being a part of the community. They kept loving him and trying find ways for him to fit in more fully. And over time, he began to show signs of blossoming. Then he began to flower. Now, this Friday evening, we will have a going away party as Laurent De Prins goes off to seminary, where he will be formed into a priest of the Church. This particularly lovely and loving flower would never have bloomed is the members of this congregation had gotten impatient with God and uprooted that little weed, all those years ago.

Remember: Beware of Sinners Judging Other Sinners, Especially With Finality

If we take this same message to a world stage, the allegory from Jesus translates to a warning that we should be very careful before we wage war on other humans in the name of a “Christian Nation,” because in our limited vision, we may well have taken on a cause that is not God’s at all, but is our cause that we hope to imprint with God’s blessing. As I read this week, “We will never eradicate ‘the tares,’ or ‘tarishness’ from the world. We might unseat a tyrant and bring him to justice; but we will not succeed in eliminating global evil. Only God can heal the fallenness of creation.”

Our own Bishop Jake has a particularly good blogpost this week, entitled, “Whose Side is God On?” In it, he discusses many of the issues that I wrestled with this week, and he does it in the context of one of the most horrific stories in the Bible; the Old Testament story of Jephthah’s daughter. I will not steal his thunder here, so — after the service, please — go to www.jakeowensby.com, and check it out. Anyway, in the post, Bishop Jake says, “when we co-opt God into our own violent agenda, our own cruelty can reach soul-crushing depths. We will consume not only our enemies but also ourselves and those we love with violence.” That is an eloquent statement, which makes clear that we judge others, and act on that judgement, at our own peril.

". And there is very little in the world that is more final than war.

Whether it is within your family, your pew, within your neighborhood, our city or state, or within the nations and peoples of the world, Beware of Sinners Judging Other Sinners, Especially With Finality. Be patient. Be loving. Be willing to let God be God. And stop worrying about anyone else’s worthiness. Love God and love your neighbor. That is enough.

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

God Sows Abundant Love On YOU, Fr. John Bedingfield, July 16th

July 17, 2017
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Today’s Gospel is one of Jesus’ most famous stories. It is the parable of the Sower. Many of us have heard this passage so many times. The sower sows seeds all over the place and we get to figure out what happened to each bunch of seeds and why. In order to get much out of this parable, we probably ought to take a look at it — even though Jesus ostensibly explained it to the Disciples on the day that He told it.

When you think of someone sowing seeds, what picture do you get in your mind? In today’s America, it would be a huge machine that precisely places in seeds, equidistance apart, each in its separate hole. Or, if you go back a hundred and fifty years or so, you might see someone poking holes in the ground with a tool and placing seeds that way, or dropping seeds carefully into mule-plowed furrows. But what Jesus was talking about was none of that. He was talking about the kind where a guy with a bag full of seeds walks around taking great handfuls of seeds and throwing them everywhere, willy nilly — as if he just didn’t care where they landed. Like the legend of Johnny Appleseed, who supposedly sowed apple seeds everywhere, just hoping that apple trees would grow all over the American countryside. [That’s not how John Chapman really did it, but for us, the legend works.]

So Jesus tells us that the seed is the Word of God. That would lead us to think that Jesus was the sower. Not so fast! Jesus IS the Word of God — as we know Him to be from John’s Gospel (you know, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.) So, if Jesus is the seed in this parable — who is the sower? Who are we in this parable? Or is it an allegory? Either way, we are the soil — or are we the sowers, who sow the seed (the Word of God) around to others? You can see the problem when we begin to dig deeply into Jesus’ parabolic or allegorical telling of this story.

But for today, please set all of that aside for a few minutes. Here is what I would like for you to take from this parable today. God is the sower and God sows abundantly! Forget everything else. God sows abundantly. And not just abundantly, but extravagantly, recklessly, and even improvidently. You see, this parable is not just about the Word of God being given out to everyone, it is about how God loves us in the same way.

Let’s face it, we are all of the different kinds of soil — as Jesus explained the parable. And we are all of them interchangeably. But we are not just those types of soil when it comes to hearing the Word. We are also those different types of soil when God casts the great, overflowing handfuls of love onto us.

Sometimes, when God throws a heaping handful of love on us, we are like the path. Our hearts have been so trampled down and hardened by everything else life has thrown at us, that we forget how to accept love — human or God-given — so the love just runs off of us, like so much excess rain water. If life has been hard enough, if we have suffered enough at the hands of humans, we can not allow the love to enter in. We cannot allow ourselves to be that vulnerable. And we miss the restorative blessing of God’s abundant love.

In other situations, God’s love just pours over us and we are like the rocky ground. The love hits, but it has no way to sink in deeply. We instantly feel the love, but because we are “rocky,” we cannot really trust that it is love that is meant for us. Instead, we believe that we are not “worthy” of the love. We cannot really believe that God could ever love us, in our broken and sinful state. So we figure that there must be a “catch,” that when we reach for the love, God will just snatch it away and laugh at us for thinking it was ours. And we turn away from the love, leaving it behind.

Many times in our lives, we are like the soil with the thorns. God gives us so much more than simply abundant love. Instead, God showers us with torrential love, and it really sinks in. We stop slumping over, head bowed, fear in our hearts when we are present to God. We truly let God’s love into our hearts and we begin to transform into something more closely resembling what God wants us to be. But the world creeps back in. We get busy with work, or kids, or we become disillusioned with our particular house of worship, and we turn our backs on God — no longer accepting the ever-flowing Godly love. Instead, we spend our days worrying about things we cannot change, and being miserable, because nothing in our lives works the way think it should. And we slowly forget the love that started to change our lives.

But, if we will just be open to it ….

We have the capacity to become fertile soil for God’s profligate sowing of love in the world. If we are the fertile soil, we will receive God’s love and dedicate our lives to reflecting — and returning — that love into the world, by following Jesus Christ into the places where there are thorns and rocky ground and hardened paths. When we truly open ourselves to the abundant gift of God’s love, our lives actually change. The good things get better, because we appreciate where they came from and we give hearty thanks. The bad times even get better, because we are secure in our knowledge of God’s love. So we never doubt for minute that, no matter how things turn out, everything will be good, because the one who loves us perfectly will always be right beside us, showing us that love in myriad ways. And when we can accept God’s love deeply — all the way into the marrow of our bones — the that love will multiply 100 fold, so that WE never run out, no matter how much we give out to those with whom we interact. If we allow it, we can actually become almost as prodigal with our sowing of love as is the God who literally IS love.

I recently read a poem that was attributed to someone about whom I could find no information. So if you know anything about the origins of this poem, please share them with me. The poem is by Kashi Rahman, and it goes like this:

Scatter love as you scatter seeds––
Your store stays undiminished.
For love makes love as seeds makes seeds
In a harvest never finished;
Nor look to see how your gift fares––
It is enough to plant it;
Just sow love with a lavish hand
And take (the) harvest for granted.

Today I would like for you to take this thought with you when you leave. No matter who you are, or where you came from; no matter what you have done, or left undone in your life; whether you have always seen yourself as a good person, or your life has been so far off the straight and narrow that you cannot stand to look in the mirror; no matter how much love you have refused to give or receive up to now; God loves YOU — abundantly, extravagantly, recklessly, and even improvidently. God loves you as if you were the only person in the world. God knows everything you have ever done — and loves you, not in spite of those things, but because those things make you, you. God loves you the most, when you are completely unloveable.

So try to start living like that is true. Grow in God’s love. Drink it in. Luxuriate in it. And then get up and go out into the world — trying your absolute best to sow that same love wherever you look — on the path, on the rocks, in the thorns, or in the lush meadow.

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

It’s Empathy! Fr. John Bedingfield, June 18th

June 18, 2017
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         Those of you who are FaceBook friends with me, know that I shared something on Friday, from the group who call themselves “Episcopal Memes.[1]”  This one meme just seemed to really say something about the way I have been feeling, especially this week.  The picture is one of John Coffey (the giant of a man who is a central figure in the Stephen King book and the Frank Darabont film that share the title of: The Green Mile.)  John, who is clearly a Jesus figure in the story, looks out and says, “I’m tired boss.  Mostly I’m tired of people being ugly to each other.” 

         I know that I am not telling you anything that you don’t know, when I say that the this week, congressman from New Orleans, Steve Scalise, Matt Mika, Zach Barth, Crystal Griner, and David Bailey, were all shot at a Republican legislators’ baseball practice.  And on that same day, just a little while later, there was workplace shooting in San Francisco, in which, Wayne Chan, Benson Louie, and Michael Lefiti were all killed, and two others wounded.  On the day, I sighed, and I knew that I should preach another sermon on gun violence in America today.  But frankly, my brothers and sisters in Christ, I was pretty sure that I didn’t have another such sermon in me.  We have had so very many multiple shooting incidents in this country now, that it’s hard to feel outrage anymore.  It’s even beginning to be difficult to churn up anger about absolutely senseless killing of human beings.  And my inability to become outraged, made me sadder.

         You can count back as far as you want – so that you can blame the people who disagree with you – and you can perhaps identify that time period in which our politicians and public personalities began to say truly vile things to each other.  Like I said, we will all determine what that time was, based upon whom we want to blame.  But be all of that as it may (I am not at all interested in assigning blame), last week just seemed a lot like a watershed moment to me, and by the time I started writing this sermon, it was weighing pretty heavy on me.

         One of the truly thoughtful modern Christian writers, Diana Butler Bass, posted on FaceBook this week that we should resist blaming what happened in Alexandria, VA, on the words which created the “toxic environment,” around modern politics today.  She said that blaming the words themselves was too easy.  She went on,

"[W]ords themselves -- even passionate, angry ones -- are not the problem.  Even angry words can give life.  The Anti-Word is the problem.  When words are used not to express, not to create, not to make space for justice.  Like Anti-Christ, they pretend to be anointed, but they are a pale imitation of the true thing.  The Anti-Word twists reality, undermines love and peace, destroys hope and possibility, colonizes and oppresses.[2]"

So, Diana Bass got me past blaming the ofttimes horrible words that almost all of us are guilty of using (at least sometimes) and which our political leaders are way too often guilty of using in public discourse.  So I started thinking about what else it was that was weighing down my soul.  If it wasn’t just the words – and if I actually could no longer feel the pain of the actions of people – what was it.  And then I found it.

         Matthew tells us,

“Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, . . .”

         And it hit me!  Compassion – or at least some level of empathy – is what is missing.  In the world today – and because it is what I experience every day – I will say that especially in America, there is a distinct lack of empathy for other people.  We no longer seem to be bound by even the simple, old-fashioned Southern courtesy of my childhood.  And courtesy, or manners, is what used to cover up for those places where empathy was missing.  Now it is just a stark and constant barrage of people being mean to each other in order to diminish the other.  And it can wear you down.

In The Green Mile, the scene from which the quote I read, came near the end.  John Coffey had his date of execution set, for a double murder that he did not commit.  And over his time on the Green Mile, his jailers had come to know that John was a gift to the world, directly from God.  He was pure goodness, surrounded by a broken world that couldn’t accept him.  In the scene, John is in his cell, talking with Boss Edgecomb, the head jailer.  What John Coffey says is this:

"I'm tired, boss.  Tired of bein' on the road, lonely as a sparrow in the rain.  I'm tired of never having me a buddy to be with, to tell me where we's going to or coming from, or why.  Mostly, I'm tired of people being ugly to each other. I'm tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world every day.  There's too much of it - it's like pieces of glass in my head, all the time.  Can you understand?"

Yes, John Coffey, I thought to myself, I can understand.  Sometimes those of us in the helping professions can take in a little too much of the misery and it can be like carrying a weight of your own, some little tiny piece of what Jesus must have carried when He stopped ministering to people and took that lonely walk to the cross.  And I have to tell you, it can be exceptionally draining on one’s reserves of Holy Spirit. 

         There is so much ugliness in the world today.  We can no longer go a single day where the news – whether local, national, or international – is not filled with back-to-back stories of people killing, maiming, or simply saying horrible “anti-words,” to each other, incessantly – and then crowing about how they got the advantage over someone else.  And it can drag down the human spirit if we let it.

         But you know a wonderful thing about the Spirit, is that it has infinite reserves – because the Holy Spirit is always creating; always adding more to the world’s ability to reach out to each other.  And so it was that I was asked to go the hospital room of a man who is in the final stages of a particularly painful type of cancer.  Wanting to maintain privacy, I will not mention his name.  But suffice to say that our conversations over the last week have been amazing.

         I met a man who knows much more about how and when his life will end, than any of us would like to.  But he told me a long story about how incredibly lucky he was.  He told me about being lucky to have a hospital full of doctors and nurses who cared for him and tried their best to keep him comfortable.  He wanted to talk about what happened after we die – not because he was afraid, but because he was interested in how our conversation might go.  I got to know him pretty darn well in the time that we have been visiting … and even though he was in the hospital bed, he ministered to me.  He showed me the goodness and the hope that come from the power of the Holy Spirit in the world.  He reminded why I am ordained.  And I give thanks for that.

         So what do we do with all the ugliness in the world today?  We can get involved with it.  We can post and repost ugliness on FaceBook and Twitter and Instagram.  We can let it wash over us until we and those around us begin to drown in it – exactly as the “Anti” part of the world would like.  Or, we can go out in the world and find people to help.  We can share the Good News of God in Christ.  We can revel in the creative and supportive power of the Holy Spirit.  And we can experience the goodness and love of God in the world.  I choose the latter.

         This week, try to show others the love of Christ that lives in you – in every way you can.  Make this corner of the world, the Kingdom of Heaven, regardless of what others say. 

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

 

[1]  https://www.facebook.com/E.C.M.churchhumor/

[2]  https://www.facebook.com/Diana.Butler.Bass, posted June 15, 2017

You Can’t “Learn” the Blues, Fr. John Bedingfield, June 11th

June 11, 2017
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         I have been playing guitar for over 50 years.  For a few of those years, in my teens and early twenties, I played pretty seriously.  By that, I mean that I practiced every day and got paid (sometimes) when I played.  Throughout those years, I was primarily a rock/folk/country rhythm guitarist.  That means that I played chords behind myself or someone else who was singing, or someone who was playing the lead part on guitar or keyboard.  But in recent years, I decided to teach myself to play blues on guitar.  And that is when I discovered something.  Human beings cannot be taught to play the blues.  For sure, you can learn to play the notes and patterns of notes that make up what are known as blues “licks.”  But you cannot be taught to play the blues.  You cannot think your way into it.  In order to truly play blues guitar, you have to experience the blues through the notes – the same way lovers of the blues (like me) experience the blues through hearing it played and sung.  How many, if any, of you love listening to Son House, or Muddy Waters, or Robert Johnson?  Well I cannot teach you to love their music.  I can, perhaps, teach you to appreciate the art form, but you cannot be taught to love the music.  You simply have to experience what they are playing in order to love it.  It is the same way with humans and God – what we celebrate today as the Holy Trinity.  You cannot be taught to understand the Trinity.  You have to experience it.

         For about two thousand years now, people of great faith and learning have tried, universally without success, to explain what we mean when we say that we believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three in one and one in three.  Jeremy Taylor, the 17th Century Anglican priest and gifted writer, said it well:

He who goes about to speak of the mystery of the Trinity, and does it by words, and names of man’s invention, talking of essence and existence, hypostases and personalities, priority in co-equality, and unity in pluralities, may amuse himself and build a tabernacle in his head, and talk something—he knows not what; but the renewed man, that feels the power of the Father, to whom the Son is become wisdom, sanctification, and redemption, in whose heart the love of the Spirit of God is shed abroad—this man, tho he understand nothing of what is unintelligible, yet he alone truly understands the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

         Episcopalians believe that the way we come to know God is through experience.  First we experience who God is, and then we come to believe and understand.  As we heard to the creation story from Genesis, God created the world, and with each new creation, God said, “It is good.”  When we experience the goodness of God’s creation, whether it be: a walk in the woods; a wonderful meal with friends; holding someone we love close to your heart; or even listening to B.B. King play Lucille; we begin to understand that God is good.  Esther de Waal wrote in Every Earthly Blessing[1]: “Creation reveals God. It is as though the world is the teacher who sets forth and preaches God.”

         When we begin to experience the love of God, as exhibited in the Incarnation of God in Christ, then we begin to understand the second person of the Trinity.  The Bishop of Nevada, +Dan Edwards, wrote, “God the Son is the compassion of God who understands our experience and loves us enough to share our affliction.  Thus, our suffering is not diminished, but is transformed.”[2]  When we are in deep misery and someone reaches out to us, not offering us easy answers or platitudes, but rather offers us unconditional love and understanding through listening and empathizing, then we begin to experience the Son of God.

         When we feel the unmistakable and palpable “hand of God,” in our lives – as in those times where we pray for wisdom and suddenly have a certainty about what we should do; or when we are in the midst of turmoil and say a quick prayer, followed by a deep sense of peace; or when we are deeply in need and without warning someone calls or comes by and raises our spirits; then we have begun to experience the third member of the Trinity.  Again, Bishop Dan says, “As the Divine force that gives and restores life, God the Holy Spirit—acting with “gracious serendipity”—is present in every situation to revitalize and empower our hope and courage.”

Thus it is that we first experience the Holy Trinity, and then we begin to seek out ways to express that experience in words.  John Wesley was quoted as saying, “Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and the I will show you a man that can comprehend the Trinity.”  Of course he was talking about trying to teach the Trinity, not experiencing it.  To put it another way, one of my favorite modern Christian writers, Anne Lamott, said, “I didn’t need to understand the hypostatic unity of the Trinity; I just needed to turn my life over to whoever came up with redwood trees.”[3]

         When we have experienced and begun to see those experiences as being the power of the Holy Trinity, one God, in our lives, then we can start to search out ways in which God is calling (or pushing) us into action.  Perhaps the best way to look at this is through the life and ministry of Jesus.  As I read recently, “Jesus did not spend a great deal of time discoursing about the Trinity, or original sin or the incarnation which have preoccupied later Christians.  He went around doing good and being compassionate.[4]

         As a congregation, we at St. Barnabas are about to enter a time of intentional and hopefully deep discernment about who we are and what God is calling us to do.  In September, we will begin a program called RenewalWorks©.  You will soon begin hearing much more about this program, from the lay leaders of the congregation.  But for now, suffice to say that is will be a couple of months of intense self-study and on-going discussions about how God acts in our lives and how we thereafter, act in the world. 

         In the context of today’s celebration of our experience of the Holy Trinity, our coming time of renewal will be focused on making us a truly experiential Trinitarian congregation.  That means that we will hopefully live into God’s call that we begin to see ourselves as, “called and sent by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and deed for the sake of the world God created and loves so much.[5]

            Let me end today with a benediction.  May we learn to love the blues through listening to the recently deceased Gregg Allman, and  “May God the Father bless us; may Christ take care of us; may the Holy Spirit enlighten us all the days of our lives.”  Amen.

 

[1]  Harrisburg, Penn.: Morehouse, 1991, p. 57

[2]  God of Our Silent Tears, Los Angeles: Cathedral Center Press, 2013.

[3]  Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, N.Y.: Riverhead Books, 2005.

[4]  Armstrong, Karen, Atoms and Eden: Conversations on Religion and Science, Steve Paulson; N. Y.: Oxford University Press, 2010.

[5]  Synthesis, June 11, 2017

Love Jesus But Hate The Church? Fr. John Bedingfield May 28th

May 28, 2017
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A brand-new priest arrived at his first church.  As usually seems to be the case, several of the original members of the parish had waited for their new priest to arrive before they would die. Consequently, in four weeks he did eight funerals. He was so busy with the funerals that he did not have time to write his regular Sunday Sermons. So, he used the sermon from the Sunday he arrived … 3 more times. The Vestry went to the Bishop complaining that this new priest had used the same sermon 4 times in a row. The Bishop asked what the sermon was about. The Vestry members couldn't remember, they scratched their heads and hemmed and hawed - but they really couldn't remember. So the Bishop said, “Let’s let him use it one more time.”

I read a blog thread online this week. It had a provocative title: “I love Jesus, but hate His church.” I LOVE Jesus, but I HATE His church. The question being pursued in the blog was, in essence, is that possible? Unfortunately, the blog I was reading, didn’t lend itself to a very high level of discussion on either missiology (the study of religious missions and their methods) or Christology (the study of the person, nature, and role of Christ). And the question lingered on in my mind.

This question, or one like it, has existed probably since the Church began. It has been expressed in many ways, like the benign, “I am spiritual, not religious,” and confrontationally, like the famous statement from Mahatma Gandhi, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” No matter how it is phrased though, the sentiment that Jesus and the Church are separate from one another, and that someone could choose between them, is a popular one among some post-modern thinkers.

To talk about these things, we must first agree upon what we are talking about when we use the word, “Church.” When we say “the Church,” we can mean “our parish,” or the Episcopal Church, or what I believe that most people who are discussing big Christian issues mean – all of Christianity. So, for my purposes, “the Church,” with a big C, means the universal Christian church, while “the church” with a small c would mean St. Barnabas, “our church.”

So, I think that when people say that they love Jesus and hate the (big C) Church, what they are saying is: “I love the idealized Jesus that I’ve created in my mind and I really hate organized religion.” And there seems to be a lot of this kind of thought these days, among many Americans, especially millennials. Here is what I would like to say to all of those people who express sentiments similar to this.

First: Who exactly do you believe that Jesus is, and where did you get that idea? Most of the “spiritual but not religious” people say something along the lines of, “Jesus is love.” That is absolutely correct in one sense, but it does not even begin to scratch the surface of who Jesus is.
Jesus is 100% human, which means that He came to earth and lived for somewhere around 33 years as one of us. He got cold and hot, tired and sweaty, joyful and depressed. He joked with people and chewed some of them out. He ate and drank and burped when He had indigestion. All just like us. BUT … He was also 100% God. That means that He was around from the time before the world began. He was there as the creation came into being. He knew Adam and Eve, and Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He knew King David and all of the prophets. And He understood the mind of God in all things. He understood the creation of life and how humans interacted with God. He could call down miraculous power at will. And He was faithful to God as He lived a completely sinless life.

To say that this Jesus is only love is to sell Him short, and to misunderstand much of His mission on earth. The Creator God – God the Father – sent His only begotten son so that all who believe in Him might have everlasting life. Jesus came into the world so that we might be freed from bondage to sin and death, and so that through His sacrifice on the cross, we could be in a position to accept His gracious, redemptive love and have a personal relationship with the Triune God. And Jesus came into the world to begin the work of repairing and restoring the world, bringing the Kingdom of God into fruition. And through our baptisms, He commissioned us to carry on the work.

Saint Paul told the Church in Rome, “4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another,” (Rom 12) something that he had previously told the Corinthians. We … The Church (big C) ARE the Body of Christ. To explain this to the Corinthians, Paul said,
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Cor 12)
St. Paul explained well just how the Church functions as the Body of Christ, the hands, feet, eyes and ears of Jesus in the world.

So if someone says that he or she loves Jesus but hates the Church, what they are saying, is: “I love whoever it is that I’ve decided Jesus is, but I hate Jesus’ body in the world.” Which at least matches Gandhi’s sentiments, but still doesn’t deal with the fact that you logically cannot hate Jesus’ body but love Jesus.

No, the people who say things like this are really trying to express another sentiment altogether. What they mean to say is, “I love the ideals of Christianity but I hate the institutions that do not adhere to those ideals.” At this point in the sermon, many people will sit back and sigh and say to themselves, “At least he’s not talking to us, the members of St. Barnabas, because we are good members of the Body of Christ.” To which I would respond, “Not so fast.”

St. Barnabas is a wonderful parish. I am into my seventh year among you and I feel like I have a pretty good handle on who and what this parish is. You are good people and for the most part you work hard at being good Christians. Please do not take offense that I said, “for the most part.” That was not a dig at anyone. It is a recognition that NO ONE, including me, works hard a being a good Christian all of the time. But this parish has a heart for reaching out to others, and that is a building block in bringing the Kingdom of God to perfection. However … that heart for reaching out is not enough. We can and must do more.

As I am often reminded, one of my predecessors, Fr. Ken Cooper used to end services by saying something like: “Feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and love those who have no one but you to love them.” That pithy and well phrased statement is a good call to action. It reminds us that Jesus told us to: feed the hungry, bring drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, tend to the sick, visit those who are imprisoned. And that list is a good roadmap for all that we, as the Body of Christ, should be doing to usher in the Kingdom.

In the world around us – actually in the neighborhood around us – there are many strangers whom we need to meet. There are many hungry, thirsty, naked (or nearly naked) people. There are sick and imprisoned people. And all of them could use relationships with authentic Christians. Not people who want to “fix” them. Not people who want to preach to them, or worse yet, condescend to them. They don’t need people who will throw money at them and leave. They need relationships with the Body of Christ, people who will care about them, listen to them, enter into the problems they have and help find solutions. St. Augustine said it well when he said,

"What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like."

The children of God who are not members of St. Barnabas need THAT kind of love. And we have it to give. We, the Body of Christ in the world, can begin today to try to find new ways to reach out to this broken and hurting world, starting right here. And who knows, maybe some of those who “hate the church,” might just take notice that we are the Body of the Jesus they “love,” and come and join us in this work.

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