The Virus of Violence and Dr. King, Fr. John Bedingfield, January 15th

January 15, 2017
00:0000:00

In the name of the God of Justice and Peace, Amen.

         This week, as I read through the Scripture passages assigned for today, I kept coming back, over and over again, to thoughts of the violence that seems completely ubiquitous in today’s world, and the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. day that will take place tomorrow.  I couldn’t help but be struck by the contrast of the Gospel story of Jesus – the Prince of Peace – set over against the seemingly endless stream of stories about people killing other people; set against the backdrop of a national holiday that commemorates the life of a man whose ministry was dedicated to social change through non-violence. 

         In my struggle to bring coherence – or at least to make some sort of sense – to these disparate images, I read an article by the Rev. Timothy Merrill, a minister from the United Church of Christ tradition.  I was quite taken by some of what Merrill had to say.  He began by talking about the comparison between mass shootings and the assassination of Dr. King.  He talked about the fact that it has now been almost 50 years since Dr. King’s assassination and that there have been thousands upon thousands of innocent children, women and men killed during that time.  He noted that, even though Dr. King’s assassination deeply affected this country, his was certainly not the first or last assassination we had felt personally.  For example, there was JFK in 1963 and then RFK shortly after Dr. King. 

Merrill said:

America is many things, and much of it good.  No argument there.  But we're not here to discuss America's goodness, but America's illness.  Even to the casual observer, America is a victim of the virus of violence, and America is a patient who can't seem to recover from this dangerous disease.  We are a country that seems to reflect the vision of the ancient prophet Habakukk: (who said) ‘So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.  For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted’ (1:4).

 

It doesn't help to say that the illness is self-inflicted.  What matters is to decide how we're going treat the disease or learn to live with the virus of violence.

 

 

(The events in every mass shooting remind us that our nation is ill with a sometimes dormant virus).  Granted, we're not always FEELING sick and while violence is going on SOMEWHERE, in the communities where we live, we might be untouched by violence-for now.  …  We're saddened because we can empathize with those who are grieving, and of course (when it hit Lafayette) we [took] up the national debate as to how we [could] treat this virus of violence.

 

(Merrill goes on) But this virus is never really dormant.  While (our) community is at rest, somewhere in our country - in many place(s), in fact - communities are mourning an outbreak of violence.  A child has been hit by a stray bullet, a 7-Eleven clerk has been robbed and murdered for $24 and change …, a teenager has been the bully's victim for too long, an ex-husband murders the ex-wife, the child kills the parent, and so on.  Every week, children are dying in cities across America to accidental shootings, gang-related (violence), or in school yards and classrooms.  …  Don't think we're infected with the virus of violence?  The situation has become so bad, that many schools require students, teachers, … staff and visitors to pass through metal detectors.  Some authorities advocate arming teachers so they can fight violence with violence.  These same folks suggest creating textbooks with Kevlar covers so that students can use (them) as shields when the bullets start flying. ….

 

Can we with integrity say that this will change?  Can we preach that the Peaceful Kingdom is coming if we will but treat the mentally ill better, tighten up (reasonable) gun control measures …, try to do a better job in getting young people into a religious culture that effectively teaches the values of love and respect?  Can we really preach the vision of Isaiah that someday the wolf and the lamb will lie down together?

 

Rev. Merrill suggests that the answer to that question is “no.”  Only God can usher in the time of the Peaceable Kingdom that the prophet Isaiah talks about.

Perhaps (he says) that's why MLK said that we must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.

 

         Rev. Merrill wrote that article back in 2011, when the country was mourning the shooting in Tucson, Arizona, in which Representative Gabby Giffords was dealt a wound from which she still not recovered completely.  Since then we have seen so much wanton violence in the name of nothing.  Even we in the loving community of Lafayette, have seen such senseless violence up close.  The number of incidents and the number of deceased just keeps rising to the point where we can no longer keep accurate count.  And still the virus of violence goes on, unchecked.  How then, do we deal with this problem?

Christians are people who are called to advocate for change.  So (Rev. Merrill suggests) if you can help educational and government(al) and institutional agencies do a better job treating the mentally ill, do it.  If you can lobby for gun control measures that (make sense), do it.  If you can use your voice to help soften the rhetoric and encourage civil discourse, do it.  

 

[We are to do the best we can do to make the world a more peaceable place.]  The (prophet Isaiah) says: ‘Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause’ (Isaiah 1:17).  (Dr. King) said: ‘If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music.  (You) should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street-sweeper who did his job well.’  …  (The German writer and martyr, Deitrich) Bonhoeffer is often quoted (in saying that) we must bind the wounds of those the wheel has crushed, but we must also stop the wheel.  If you can in any way be a wheel-stopper, be a wheel-stopper.

 

That (means), ….  Embrace peace as a life-style choice.  Never lift your voice or your hand against another living creature.  The apostle Paul, writing to the Romans, urges, ‘If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all.’ (12:18)  ‘A soft answer turns away wrath,’ so goes an ancient Hebrew proverb, ‘but a harsh word stirs up anger’ (Proverbs 15:1).  As MLK once said, ‘Non-violence is a powerful and just weapon.  It is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.  It is a sword that heals.’

 

         In this day and age of the virus of violence, we Christians are called, more than ever, to live a Christ-like life.  In other words, to live our lives as Jesus lived, truly and completely loving our neighbor in the exact same way that we love ourselves and our families.  Dr. King famously said, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars...  Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  It seems to me that Dr. King was calling for something that was even more radical than loving our neighbors as ourselves.  He seems instead to have been calling for the completely radical idea of loving our enemies.  Dr. King wanted us to follow Jesus’ call for agape love.  Agape is pure love.  Love without a motive.  Loving someone simply because God loves them.

Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people possess.  It (is selfless love that) begins by loving others for their sakes.  Therefore, agape makes no distinction between friend and enemy; it is directed toward both.

 

         So if we love others with true agape … if we can really put aside our dislike (if not hatred) for those whom we hold as enemies, and truly show them the love of Christ – the love that says, “I only want the best for you,” will we solve the problem of violence?

[Merrill says] Sadly no.  But these actions will make a difference where we live.  They will bring healing where it’s possible to bring healing.  [And] It’s our only option.  

 

Again, listen to Dr. King’s words, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars...  Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

         We have a new year here.  Let’s try radical, agape in 2017.  Let’s see if we can begin to bring healing to our corner of the world.  As Dr. King said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”  God bless the soul of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Amen.

Christmas Sermon Late Svc, Fr. John Bedingfield, Dec. 24th

December 26, 2016
00:0000:00

In the name of the Incarnate God, Amen.

Every year is the same. Stores and television start cranking up the Christmas machine right around Halloween. And every year, we complain about the commercialization of our Christmas. But then comes Thanksgiving – and “Black Friday,” “Cyber-Monday,” and all of the other contrived sales days – and we capitulate, to one degree or another, with the commercialization. And quite frankly, the Church does not help us out much either. Because for the month of December, all around us the culture is saying, “It is Christmas time! Immerse yourself in familiar carols and Christmas parties.” Meanwhile the Church is saying, “Not yet. Wait. Christmas starts on the evening of the 24th.” It is no wonder that by the time this night rolls around, we are wearied, stressed out, and perhaps (as is so aptly put in Yiddish) verschimmelt, meaning that our nerves are shot. But … you know what? One of the miracles of Christmas is that we may feel all of those things, but when we come into this beautifully decorated holy space, and surround ourselves with people who feel the same way we do, and we start singing those old familiar songs, and participating in that familiar liturgy, then everything melts away and it is Christmas again. The real Christmas, not the one made up by advertising people.

On this night, we celebrate the arrival into the world of God as a human infant. Christmas is our yearly retelling of the story of Joseph, a righteous and courageous carpenter from the village of Nazareth, who brought his pregnant fiancé, Mary with him as he answered the call of the Roman government to be enrolled in a census – so that Rome would not miss an opportunity to tax everyone. This is the story of a young couple who had never been intimate with each other and yet were about to bring a baby into the world – the baby that an angel had explained to each of them would be the Son of God, or Emmanuel (God with us). Every year we get to hear about how there was no room for the Holy Family in regular living quarters, and about how they bedded down with farm animals – so that the future King of Kings and Lord of Lords would have the humblest of all possible beginnings. And we remember the story of our Lord’s first visitors – shepherds, the lowest rung on the social ladder, those who spent their lives surrounded by animals rather than people, but who came and found Jesus in a manger – and they worshipped Him.

This is the story we hear every year at this time. And for most of us it is a story of great comfort, joy and gladness. But this story is not without its demands either. By virtue of the fact that we say we believe that these events happened over two thousand year ago; and because we say that we believe Jesus actually was (and is) God in human form; we therefore must act as if we believe these things to be true. The great German theologian and reformer, Martin Luther, put it this way:

"If it is true that God Almighty, the One who hung the stars and set the planets in their courses, has indeed come among us, Emmanuel, well, then that requires us not only to rethink our situation but also to live in a very different world. When you have previously believed that God is distant, high and lifted up, not close and caring, and then when you get news that suggests otherwise, well, it is difficult to live as you have lived the day before you got the news."

Or stated a slightly different way, Christmas is the day of the Church’s (and our) great joy. Because on this day we celebrate the fact that where once there was a God who was far off and very removed from us – a God who was most renowned for vengeance and invoking fear in people; that God, has now – through unmitigated grace – reached down to us. Through the Incarnation we have (or at least should have) discovered that God is first and foremost a gracious lover of all human beings. God became one of us as the utmost gift of grace – love in the human face of God.

I recently read a story by an young mother that I would like to share with you:

[Each December, I vowed to make Christmas a calm and peaceful experience. I had cut back on nonessential obligations - extensive card writing, endless baking, decorating, and even overspending. Yet I still found myself exhausted, unable to appreciate the precious family moments, and the true meaning of Christmas. 

My son, Nicholas, was in kindergarten that year. It was an exciting season for a six-year-old. For weeks, he’d been memorizing songs for his school’s “Winter Pageant.” I didn't have the heart to tell him I’d be working the night of the production. 

Unwilling to miss his shining moment, I spoke with his teacher. She told me there’d be a dress rehearsal the morning of the presentation. All parents unable to attend that evening were welcome to come then. Fortunately, Nicholas seemed happy with the compromise. 

So, the morning of the dress rehearsal, I filed in early, found a spot on the cafeteria floor and sat down. Around the room, I saw several other parents also quietly finding their seats. 

Then the students were led into the room. Each class, accompanied by their teacher, sat cross-legged on the floor. Then, each group, one by one, rose to perform their song. 

Because this was a public school, I didn't expect anything other than fun, commercial entertainment; songs of reindeer, Santa Claus, snowflakes and good cheer. So, when my son’s class rose to sing, “Christmas Love,” I was a little taken aback by its bold title. 

Nicholas was beaming, as were all of his classmates, adorned in fuzzy mittens, red sweaters, and bright knitted caps upon their heads. Those in the front row- center stage - held up large letters, one by one, to spell out the title of the song. 

As the class sang “C is for Christmas,” a child held up the letter C. Then, “H is for Happy,” and so on, until each child held up his or her letter and they presented the complete message, “Christmas Love.” At least that was the plan.

The performance went smoothly, until we noticed a small, quiet, girl in the front row holding the letter “M” upside down. The audience of 1st through 6th graders snickered at this little girl’s mistake. But she had no idea they were laughing at her, so she stood tall, proudly holding her “W”. 

Although the teachers tried to shush the children, the laughter continued until the last letter was raised, and we all saw it together. A hush came over the audience. In that instant, we understood the reason we were there, why we celebrated the holiday in the first place, why even in the chaos, there was a  purpose for our festivities. For when the last letter was held high, the message read loud and clear: 

CHRIST WAS LOVE.  And He still is, today.

At Christmas, we give gifts to one another because God gave us the gracious gift of love. It is very hard for a person not to be transformed in some way when he or she really listens to the Nativity story. When we finally let it sink in that God became human in order to bring us the up-close-and-personal gift of God’s love for us – when we finally internalize the message of the depth of God’s care for us, we cannot continue to live the life that we lived before we heard the Good News.

Someone whose pseudonym was Wilda English, but whose identity I could not find, wrote what I will leave you with tonight.
God grant you the light in Christmas, which is faith;
the warmth of Christmas, which is love;
the radiance of Christmas, which is purity;
the righteousness of Christmas, which is justice;
the belief in Christmas, which is truth;
the all of Christmas, which is Christ.

God bless you all. And Merry Christmas.

Christmas Eve Early Service, Mthr. Mitzi George, Dec. 24th

December 24, 2016
00:0000:00

This morning as I was having my coffee, I sat down and checked in on one of the two online groups to which I belong. The first post I read this morning was from a young woman who was newly ordained to the priesthood and was obviously nervous about her first Xmas Eve service. She was asking if it was normal to be nervous, and wondering what she might say that would impress her new congregation.

 I shook my head and reminisced about similar feelings long ago; and realized I still get nervous every time I preach. It's a daunting feeling to have this responsibility, not just the first time but every time I preach. Considering the post I also thought to myself, there isn't really anything you can say that hasn't been said hundreds of thousands of times, so keep it simple.

 In reality, the Xmas story itself is the most amazing story ever written, and it's the most incredible message ever given. God loves the human race so much, that God becomes flesh and dwells with us, as one of us!

 But the story itself is a remarkable statement about the God in whom we believe. Most of us would have written the birth of God's only son with great flair, pomp and circumstance. We would have never in a million years placed the birth of the Savior in a tiny obscure town in a poor forgotten province of the Roman Empire. You nor I would have placed this birth, among the cattle stalls in an unnamed inn, in a town of little or no significance.

 In our book, God's son would have been born in a fine marble palace with attendants and great fan fair. This birth would have been surrounded with wealth, power, and all the majesty befitting a king.

 The truth about this amazing story is that as inconspicuous and simple as this birth narrative is, and as simple and insignificant as Jesus was at birth and throughout life, you and I are here this evening celebrating the event of his birth! Over two thousand years have passed since this event took place and you and I are here to celebrate it, just as Xians have celebrated it for thousands of years now. That is the real Xmas miracle.

 Jesus was born to simple Jewish parents, a carpenter father and a young mother. People who lived under the occupation of the Roman Empire, in an enslaved nation that longed for a king to free them from their oppression.

 Jesus was born unexpectedly during a trip to register for a census. And because the town was so full of travelers who came for the same reason, there were no rooms to rent. First time parents finding themselves in a difficult situation, settling on the only space left, a cattle stall. And it was there that Mary gave birth.

 I imagine Mary and Joseph couldn't have been more nervous or shaken. Their baby was coming and there was nothing they could do. There in a make shift bed, made of straw, Mary gave birth, to the King of Kings. But no one noticed, there were no kings present, there weren't any dignitaries, or attendants, just two nervous parents and the cattle that shared the space.

 The first Xmas story was simple, those involved were simple too. But somehow this child born among the cattle becomes the greatest gift ever given to the world!

 That is the miracle of the Xmas story. You and I should not be sitting here in the United States of America re telling this story and celebrating its advent again! You and I are a part of the Xmas miracle that continuously unfolds with each years passing.

 We like the shepherds in Luke, are given a message, a message of love from the God of love. The message is as simple as it can be and yet more important to the human condition than any story ever told.

 The message is this: God chose to become flesh and to dwell with us in the most obscure places, the simplest of circumstances, to show it was possible to live in complete love and devotion to God and to one another. God came among us because more than anything God wants to reveal to us how deeply we are loved. God became one of us to show us the way to peace and salvation. God came to bring perfect love into being.

 The human race has always had a difficult time believing that God could or would love us. We are too familiar with our own short comings and sins to believe it would be possible for God to love us. That is why the story is so profoundly important to all of us.

 Jesus came to a simple place, a place of obscurity, to very humble people. He grew into a man that showed great love and compassion to those others had forgotten and abandoned, to those deemed unclean, unworthy, and unfit. Jesus offered God's grace and love to all who would listen, to all who were in need of salvation. Jesus came from obscurity and walked in relative obscurity all his life. And here we are, celebrating his birth. We don't celebrate Caesars birth, or Herod, or any other noble birth. We celebrate the birth of Jesus.

 The story of Christmas is lived out over and over again. Every time a friend or family member returns home, every time a loved one is reconciled, ever time a baby is born and a family is filled with hope, and every time we offer forgiveness and the gift of love to another. Because the Xmas story is a story of hope, forgiveness, and love.

 So, tonight, or in the morning when you gather around that Christmas tree under which are probably too many glistening presents do this one simple act before ripping into them. Take a moment with your family and look at all the gifts under that tree and remember that each one of those gifts is a symbol of the real gift of Xmas. Each unwrapped gift represents the hope God shares with us, each gift represents the love Christ brings to us, and each gift represents the giving and sharing of ourselves so that the love of Christ might fill our hearts with joy. I hope you have a very grace filled Xmas, and may God be with you always.

 Amen.

Extraordinary Presence, Mthr. Mitzi George, December 18th

December 18, 2016
00:0000:00

Studying today’s Gospel, I found myself pondering the intimate details Matthew feels compelled to share. Matthew seems to bring us face to face with how extraordinary the birth of Jesus was, how extraordinary circumstances bring about human compassion and simple acts of love that result in the messiah being revealed to the world.

The story we hear today, is one we have all heard. We have heard it because we all know someone who has been in the same situation in which Joseph and Mary find themselves. I think of this story as extraordinary not because it is beyond belief, but because it is so very and extremely ordinary in many ways. It is extra ordinary and yet filled with that grace and compassion that flows through the hearts and souls of men and women when faced with extenuating circumstances.

The author of this gospel seems to think it is important for us to know the extremely intimate and ordinary circumstances that surround the birth of the Messiah. Mary is a young woman who was engaged to marry Joseph. She was probably 12 or 13 years of age. This marriage was undoubtedly an arranged marriage. Mary would have been promised to Joseph long before she even understood what was meant by the term marriage, perhaps even as an infant. Joseph may have been a young boy. We really do not know, except that we have some understanding about the cultural practices of the period. We know that most marriage agreements were arranged between parents, more specifically between fathers when their children were either infants or very young. We know that many times those promised in marriage would not even know one another until the marriage transpired. Often the terms of the marriage had more to do with alliances or financial considerations and almost nothing to do with love. Marriage was a contract between families, not a result of two people falling in love.

I have known two women in my lifetime that were married in the same way. One of them was my husband’s grandmother Jamillie Khoury who was from Lebanon. Just at the turn of the twentieth century at the age of twelve, Jamillie was told by Sara her mother that they were going to pack up her things and take a boat to America to meet the man she would wed. Jamillie would tell us later in life that she was playing with her dolls, when her mother took her by the hand and said, “Come Jamillie, we are going to America to meet Charlie, your husband”. Sara brought Jamillie to the US to meet a man she had never seen. The marriage was arranged when Jamillie was an infant, and twelve years later, sight unseen, Jamillie was being uprooted and taken to America to marry. This was certainly the situation between Joseph and Mary. The two of them either didn’t know one another or barely knew one another but were brought together because of an agreement made years earlier by their parents. They were expected to marry, but there circumstances in which either party could back out of the deal.

Matthew tells us that, before the wedding celebration can take place, Joseph discovers Mary is pregnant. Not only is she pregnant, but the baby is not his. At this point Joseph had a moral dilemma. There are three decisions Joseph could make in this situation. Joseph can call off the wedding publically; but he knows if he does Mary might be stoned to death. Another option would be to send her away quietly, probably to a relative who lived far away, so she could have her child and Joseph would be free to take another bride. With this option, Mary would probably never wed; as she would have been a disgraced woman. This brings us to Joseph’s third and final option. His third option is to marry her, allow her to have the child and accept her and the child as his own. Which he does. This short scene in scripture speaks volumes about Joseph, and it is a good thing because we have very few references about Joseph in the gospels. The option he chooses however, gives us some insight into just what kind of person Joseph is.

This passage tells us a lot about Joseph. The author tells us Joseph did not want to bring public disgrace to Mary; so we know Joseph is a kind and compassionate man. The scripture also tells us he had a dream in which an angel appeared to him and spoke to him about Mary and her baby. Obviously, Joseph was a faithful man believing in and practicing his faith, because he interpreted the dream as a genuine message from God and took that message to heart. I would have to say, Joseph is quite a catch! He is kind, compassionate, and faithful, not quick to judge, but discerning and thoughtful. That is an impressive list of qualities for any spouse.

The scripture also tells us he is courageous and self-confident because he agrees to name the baby Jesus. I know that does not seem like a courageous act to you. Unless you are from one of those southern families that has to use the wife’s maiden name as a middle name and you do not follow tradition. However, in the first century Jewish culture a new born baby, especially your first born son, was always named after a significant relative, so to name Jesus a name that was not a part of Joseph’s historical lineage was scandalous and shocking. Yep, Joseph had to be one tough cookie to take that kind of heat.

This kind of man would be father to the messiah. Joseph was the man who guided and taught Jesus what it meant to be a man, to be human. I think that is an important point as we consider just who Jesus was at birth and who he became as the messiah. We too often assume Jesus was born with all the “good stuff” already infused in his DNA, unlike the rest of us who were born, just human. We all know that we have had to learn and struggle to become the people we are today. Somehow, we think of Jesus as having been born fully developed with all knowledge and wisdom. That way of thinking however, devalues the very point of his coming among us as one of us! Jesus has to be fully human in order for our theology to work.

Our entire theology is in error if we do not fully embrace Jesus was born a real human being. If Jesus was fully human then he had to learn, struggle, and grow into his adulthood, he had to learn, struggle, and grow into his faith, he had to learn, struggle, and grow into the man he became; Emmanuel.

You see: if Jesus was not fully human; then you and I can never do or be what Jesus said we could. If Jesus was not fully human then the whole message of the gospels is of no use. God did not need to become one of us, to show us the way, if we (you and I) are not fully capable of becoming the kind of person Jesus was. What good is it for Jesus to show us the way, for us to know the way, if we can never hope to live into the way? Our whole belief system is all a lie if Jesus was not fully human and if he never needed Joseph, or Mary, or any of the other significant adults who guided him and taught him to be a faith filled, compassionate man. Joseph was a significant teacher and parent in Jesus’ life; and that is why when the time came Jesus was ready to become the Messiah, Emmanuel, God with us.

Friday afternoon, I had the daunting pleasure to meet another Emmanuel. Ann Snyder, Jo Doucet, and I travelled with Hospice of Acadiana to Angola. We went to visit with and spend some time with the inmates who work the hospice program at Angola. The program there is second-to-none, world renowned as one of the best prison programs anywhere. The approximately one hundred inmates chosen to work the program are all lifers; men who will never be paroled, and who will probably never leave Angola Penitentiary. Now, I know these are all men who have done bad things. That is why they are there. They were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Emmanuel is one of the patience on the hospice unit, he too is a lifer. He is a large man, a man who has been in Angola more than twenty years. Emmanuel has been in the hospice unit for a year now, and by observation, he will probably not be there a whole lot longer. As I walked in his cell, he was watching TV or at least flipping through the channels. He said he was looking for the show Wild Alaska because he likes to watch all the animals running free. Emmanuel had worked his way up to the Dog camp where they raise and train the dogs used there at the prison. With a twinkle in his eye he talked about the wolves, the dogs they bred with the wolves to create a bigger more aggressive dog, the Blood Hounds, the shepherds; he also spoke of living at the dog camp, “Get to live in a house” he said, “Just like a real person.” The most joy came over his face when he talked about training the puppies, especially the Blood Hounds. He loved running with them out in the fields, just running until he got tired, that is how he would train them to give chase and track prisoners. For Emmanuel all of this play, life at the dog camp was just an opportunity to feel normal, to feel human, to feel free.

I could not help but think about the gospel passage this week when I met him. His name certainly brought it to mind, Emmanuel, but also the deep longing and desire to be free, the joy in his eyes and smile when he spoke of the dogs and animals he saw on the TV. It gave me just a little glimpse of who this Emmanuel was, and is. It helped me to see a small glimpse of who Emmanuel was and I wondered what life events caused this lover of animals to end up in an Angola cell waiting to die.

Then there was Demetrius. I sat next to him on a pew as we participated in a Hospice in-service. We sang together and laughed about how neither of us could carry a tune, but we sang anyway. He shared with me how important his hospice work was and how he had come to really know and believe in Jesus Christ. He is a senior at the Bible College there on the Angola grounds, a college started by Billy Graham. He talked about sitting with inmates as they died, doing vigil by their bed so they would not die alone, and he spoke about wanting them to know there was someone who cared, someone who loved and respected them as children of God, someone who understood redemption and how important it was to be set free. Demetrius said, “I have a ministry of presence here. I can’t really change anything, all I can do is be there and let them know that I care.”

That is the message of Emmanuel. God with us. Jesus came to be present, to show us that we could be set free from all the things that bind us here on this earth, free us from all the things that keep us in turmoil, and fill us with fear. Jesus didn’t come to zap us into something different, he came to be present with us as we grow and struggle to become what God has already created us to be, children of God.

Emmanuel, a ministry of presence for all of humanity, even those we have locked away and forgotten. God is with us and we are here to fulfill a ministry of presence to all of those we meet whether poor or rich, weak or strong, free or enslaved. It is an extraordinary reality that you and I should be called upon to be instruments of God’s grace and presence, but we have. Like Joseph and Mary, we have been drawn into the continued story of God’s revelation, the revelation of God’s self to the world. Now let’s get to work and prepare ourselves to receive Christ in our hearts that we might truly reveal the presence of Christ in this world.

Amen.

Wait For the One, Fr. John Bedingfield, December 11th

December 11, 2016
00:0000:00

In the name of the God whose Incarnation we await, Amen.

         Here we are in this third week of Advent and we have talked quite a bit about waiting – waiting on: the coming of the baby Jesus; the coming of the Incarnation of God; and the coming again of Christ, to raise the dead, to judge the world, and to usher in the new heaven and the new earth.  And all the while, many of us act as if we are simply waiting on Santa Claus.

         I don’t know about you, but in my life there seems to be a great deal of waiting.  And since the advent of the internet – and especially since we all got smart phones – our tolerance for waiting seems to be decreasing rapidly. 

         When I was a kid, my Mom would take me with her when she went down to the local Sears Catalogue Center.  If you are not familiar with it, the Catalogue Center was not a Sears store.  There was no merchandise for sale there.  Instead, it was a place with a long counter, on which sat Sears catalogues and behind which there were a lot of boxes.  Truth be told, it looked a lot like a Post Office.  But we did not have a Sears store in Garland Texas in the mid-sixties, so we had to use the Catalogue Center, where Mom would fill out an order form for whatever it was that she wanted to buy and couldn’t find locally.  This process was to keep her from having to drive all the way into Dallas to shop at Sears.  So … she would fill out all of the paperwork and then the company would put in the order.  Then we would wait for the order to come in.  Sometimes that took two weeks, sometimes longer.  And we waited.  Finally, the product would come in and they would call us.  Then she would drive back to the Catalogue Center and pick up her package. 

         Now we have amazon.com.  What do you want or need?  They probably have it.  Where do you live?  It doesn’t matter.  Do you want your purchase tomorrow?  Pay more money and it will be there.  No waiting.  Whatever you expect to get will be here by the time you blink your eyes.

         And when those of my generation were young, if we needed the answer to a question, we had to wait for someone to take us to the public library – or perhaps to a relative’s house (someone who had a set of encyclopedias) so that we could look up the information we needed.  We had to wait a while to find out our answer.  Now?  Everybody’s phone has access to almost all of the information known to human beings … instantly.  As a short, cautionary aside, remember that just because the internet contains all of human learning, does not mean that everything you read on the internet is true.  But I digress.

         Today, if for some odd reason we do have to wait for any period of time (for example, at the doctor’s office) we take great offense.  We are now so accustomed to having what we want, when we want it, that we can even take offense at having to sit through a stop light.  And on that issue, I speak as one with authority.

         John the Baptist told his disciples to go and ask Jesus,

‘Are you the one, or are we to wait for another?’  Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.  And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.’

         That is an interesting way for Jesus to end his message to John’s disciples.  “And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”  You see, Jesus understood that John was asking this question because he, John, was in prison as a result of his preaching repentance and preparation for the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah.  Even as great as John’s faith was, he might have begun to question Jesus as he sat alone in a dungeon, awaiting his own execution. 

         John’s question, “Are you the one, or should I wait for someone else?” is a question for many of us today, at least obliquely.  After all, if that God – as seen in the human face of Jesus – is the One, why are we still waiting for the perfection of the world?  Why does God allow people to suffer?  Why hasn’t God answered my individual prayer for my situation to improve?  If I tithe to the church, why am I not seeing riches pour into my lap?  Why doesn’t God do something about all of the lost jobs in Acadiana, following the oil bust?  Why doesn’t God fill in the hole in next year’s church budget?  Or whatever question burns most in your mind and heart.

         It is important for us to remember, as we ask those questions, that John the Baptist, who was God’s chosen messenger to ready the people for Jesus’ arrival – that John, was in prison when he asked his question.  The subtext of his question to Jesus was, “Why don’t you get me out of here, so that I can go on with my work?”  But John had to sit and wait.

         Jesus’ odd message about people being blessed for not taking offense at him, follows His list of some of His amazing achievements.  He in essence said, “Tell John that I am healing people of horrible illnesses and changing people’s lives in many ways.  And it would be better if he gave thanks for all that I have done, rather than complaining about what I have not done.”  One modern commentator said, “‘It is always the miracles that Jesus does not perform for us that easily form a stumbling block for faith.’  (But) Jesus blesses us when we remain faithful in the face of prayers that seem not to be answered or hopes that go unfulfilled.”

         Just like John the Baptist, we may be called at the moment to wait.  Maybe it is not yet our turn.  Maybe there is still something that we should be learning from our situations.  I do not know why God has not answered each and every prayer for help that has been earnestly offered by each individual in this congregation.  But I do know that God is answering prayers.  God is active in the world.  Jesus Christ is: giving the blind their sight; the lame their mobility; and the deaf their hearing.  In addition, thanks to St. Barnabas and other places like it, those who are spiritually dead are being raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.  And Jesus says, blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me. 

         The Rev. Dr. Will Willimon, wrote this story a few years ago, in explanation of Jesus’ response to John the Baptist.

Our long Advent wait for Jesus was finally over.  We gathered in our church on Christmas Eve to joyously welcome Jesus.  A great crowd gathered, far more people than we normally have.

But we waited and waited and no Jesus showed up.

On Monday, at our church's soup kitchen, all of the homeless people were atwitter.  Everybody was talking about the same thing.

‘What did you think of him?’ one of them asked another.

‘He wasn't as tall as I thought he might be,’ ....  ‘And he had a great sense of humor.  I hadn't expected that in him.’

On and on they talked, sharing impressions, discussing what they had heard from him.

‘Who are you talking about?’ I asked. ‘Who was it who visited with you out under the underpass yesterday?’

‘Why, Jesus,’ they all responded with one voice.  ‘If you hadn't been at church, you would have seen him there with us.  He's got this thing for the maimed, the blind, and the lame.’

And I was … offended.

         So, while we wait for our individual miracles – while we wait for our personal healing, or to receive the relief that we need for our problems – we are being called to tell out everything that Jesus has done … and to not take offense that He has not done everything we think He ought to, when we think we ought to do it.  Wait on Jesus – and since you will have some time, go out and tell the world about the One you are waiting for.  Amen.

Advent Can Be Relevant — Mthr. Mitzi George, December 4th

December 6, 2016
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The Gospel readings for Advent seem rather disjointed in relationship to our present culture. We are sitting here this morning twenty-one days before Christmas. Some of us have not even begun to decorate for the season, or shop for gifts. Others have had the halls decked out for Christmas from the moment the turkey was cleared from the Thanksgiving table. Many are already booked solid for the weeks to come with one Christmas party to the next. The truth is Advent has become insignificant in our lives, unless you are a member of the altar guild or choir. Advent, why bother!

The lectionary observes Advent with the same zeal for the season it has observed since the sixth century. But we do not really want to hear the readings of Advent, they can bring us down and we do not want to be down when Christmas Carols are playing 24/7. For example, it seems a little odd and kind of a “Debbie Downer” thing, that we come together this morning to hear Matthew’s gospel exclaim the arrival of John the Baptist. What does this gospel have to do with Advent? What does it have to do with Christmas in light of where we are in time and space?  Is this gospel even relevant for those of us living in the mainstream of Lafayette, LA in 2016?

John’s story is of course important to Christian tradition. The Jewish scriptures predicted the coming of the next King of Israel and were clear that there would be another coming to prepare the way of this great Messiah. This precursor was to warn the people that the time was coming; so, for traditions sake, we remember the story of John the Baptist. But other than tradition, does the story hold any real significance for us today?

How do we glean anything meaningful from this gospel passage, or from any of the readings we share today? You see; if scriptures have become simply a way to remember the events, and those events have lost their relevance; then you and I do not really need to be here. We do not need to continue to gather here, or spend money to keep this place open, or do any of the things we do here or out in the world, as a result, of being here. We can just stay home, go play a round of golf, take a yoga class, sleep-in, any number of other things that might enrich our lives in a meaningful way. If scriptures are irrelevant to us today, then we need to stop reading them, listening to them, or trying to understand them. After all, Christmas in 2016 does not have anything to do with the scriptures. Christmas is no longer about the coming of Christ as much as it is about the coming of Santa or a time to be jolly and make merry.

But what if the gospel today is still relevant? What if there are lessons in the readings to which we still need to pay attention? Perhaps heeding these stories with new hearing, with a new interpretation, with new attentiveness will bring us to a place of greater understanding. Maybe if we examine these scriptures with a new focus they will become relevant again!

Let us look at John’s story in a few contexts that may add meaning to the story for us this morning. First, consider the context of John’s job description. John is a prophet. Now for those of the first century that did not equate to a fortune-teller. A prophet was someone who interpreted the past in relationship to the present. or in other words, they studied the history of the people to whom they were sent, and given past behaviors and present conditions gave warnings of what might be happening at that moment. John was not like Nostradamus, we like to think of prophets as people who can predict the future or psychics. John was a good old-fashioned prophet who could see the present situation and determine outcome. There were some unique characteristics, about John, that are important for sure.

Let us consider the context of location, next. Location is important in John’s story. John is preaching, teaching, and baptizing out in the wilderness. He is not in town. He is not in the city, or a village, or even in the farming community. John is in the wilderness. That means those going out to hear him are taking time out of their lives to travel some distance just to see and hear what he is saying. They are leaving their homes, jobs, families, and their communities to go into an area described as wilderness. Because John is doing something so significant that the word is spreading throughout the region about him, people are making significant effort to go out to see him.

John does not look like the typical religious teacher either. He is unshaven, ragged, wild looking. He is not the refined rabbi people were used to hearing. However, there is something about him that draws people out of their ordinary routines and persuades them to go out to the wilderness to hear him; and on top of that what he says to them is so compelling that they leave the wilderness soaking wet after being Baptized in the river. Hundreds of people profoundly affected by what they hear and are persuaded to be baptized by John. What he says changes their lives at that very moment, a result of a single encounter. Even the leaders of the Pharisees feel compelled by John’s message of repentance.  They too want to be baptized in the Jordan.

John’s message is another context we need to examine. It was not any easy message to hear. Repentance was not simply an experience of feeling sorry or bad about something you did. Repentance was an actual change in the direction of one’s life and focus. Repenting was not just a matter of feeling bad about some action or behavior. Repenting was making the choice to alter the life style, the whole way of living. Repenting was turning one’s life in the direction God wanted them to go, literally. John reminds us that repentance is involved in preparing ourselves for the Christ.

How does that work for us today? The way we celebrate the holidays now, we may need to repent! Now there is a scary thought! Talk about a party pooper! John is certainly not the life of the party. Most of us would not dare invite him to our home, let alone a Christmas party. John and messengers like him are the type of holiday guests that make us wonder either “what in the world is wrong with him?” or “what in the world is wrong with us?” Most of often we wonder what is wrong with him because we do not care to consider what may be wrong with us.

Seriously though, what if we are the people who have become cold and hardened in our faith because we have allowed the secular concept of the holidays to suffocate genuine piety and deep reflection on the meaning of Christ’s arrival into our world? What if we are the ones who pay more attention to decorating the trees in our living rooms rather than cultivating the living trees of faith that are supposed to produce true fruits of repentance, of which John speaks? During our Advent, do garland and shiny ornaments overshadow the Fruit of the Spirit? Are we more interested in the lovely gilded angel on top of our Christmas tree rather than living angels or prophets who may be calling us to repentance?

The purpose of repentance is to remind  us that change is necessary  not for the sake of change but because we’ve become aware that our actions are out of step with God’s deep desire for harmony, balance, and equity for all of God’s people and for the whole of God’s creation. Repentance, in short, is realizing that God is pointing us one way, but we’ve been traveling another way. Repentance allows us to change the course. Now that is a message that is still relevant, isn’t it?

Repentance can seem daunting. I mean, there are so many things I could repent of, we as a community and nation could repent of many things, even we as a species could and should repent for multiple injustices. Pollution and climate change. Poverty and food scarcity. Racial injustice. The lack of clean water. Overflowing prisons. The number of children living below the poverty level. Crime and violence, and the list goes on. No wonder we would rather give up on the whole repentance thing, hunker down with our current and comfortable friends and biases, and get back to watching our favorite television series on Netflix or HBO.

So do we dare to consider what our lives and community would look like if we truthfully considered repentance this Advent season? How do we do that so that it is meaningful and specific, so that our repentance actually leads us to move in a new direction rather than giving up.?

Let me ask you for just a moment to shut your eyes. Go ahead, just relax. Now with your eyes closed imagine what vision God has for you. Take a little daydream about what and where God wants for you, what God wants for the community of St. Barnabas. What are the things God would have us do and where would God have us go? What would our lives together look like if we were to walk into this new vision? God invites us to dream something beyond what we can presently see. In some ways, that is exactly what the Isaiah passage chosen for this Sunday is – God’s dream about a different world where there are no predators or prey, no fear or hatred. It is not a goal to be achieved, but a dream by which to set our course.

Now, with eyes closed; choose one, just one element in your life that you would like to repent – that is, change the direction – and name this Advent as a time to do that. Is there an unhealthy relationship you want to repair? Can you imagine using your time differently, for a better means? Is there some practice or habit you might take up that would produce a more abundant life for you or those around you?

 

And lastly, can you identify one element of our communal lives that needs repentance? Picture it in your mind. Can you think about how you can contribute to that. Can you spend time volunteering or assisting in a ministry here at St. Barnabas? Can you make an additional donation? Can you get to know someone who is different from you ethnically, politically, or generationally and try to build a more vibrant community this way? Can you identify one communal issue and begin praying for it daily, open yourself to how God might direct your time and actions to changing that issue?

The point of Advent is to make room for Christ’s arrival, to be surprised again that God was willing to enter into our lives and history and take on our vulnerability in order to give us hope. Most think God is sitting up in heaven either smiling or frowning down at us depending on our behavior. But the God we know does not do that. The God we know comes down from heaven to take on our humanity and our life and give us hope by being with us and being one of us. Jesus did not come down screaming repentance but inviting us to eternal life and helping us to see our neighbors, not as competitors for scarce resources, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. If Advent is a time to slow down, it is so we can have that time to prepare for Christ among us.

Which means the holidays can be a time, should be a time in which we are encouraged to take action and step toward God’s dream for our lives and our communities. If we do this now, Advent itself might become a more meaningful season for us all.

Amen.

Hate is Never Okay, Fr. John Bedingfield, November 30th

November 27, 2016
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         This is the first Sunday of Advent – that season in the Church where we wait for the coming of the baby Jesus and the Second Coming of Jesus the Christ.  During this season we typically examine who we are and whether or not we are ready for the impending arrival of the Incarnate God.  But the season of Advent should also be about looking at the world around us and attempting to prepare it for the Second Coming as well.

         St. Paul told the Church in Rome:

You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. ….[1] 

         In the last few weeks there has been a significant uptick in the number of reported cases of harassment of people, based upon their race, ethnicity, religion or general sense of “otherness”.  I do not know how many reports I have read or heard about in which someone has been accosted or threatened and in which either the words “sieg heil,” the swastika or a combination of the two was involved.

         Clearly these attacks – on both people and places – are meant to evoke fear in the victims.  There is a name for this behavior, it is called terrorism.  These actions are taken by people whose hearts are filled with hate and loathing, in order to frighten their victims into doing something different … whether that be moving to some other place, not voting, or changing the way they look or talk.  That is the definition of terrorism.  What is being done in this country today is absolutely no different than the burning of a cross in someone’s yard.  It is an overt act of hatred.  And that is never acceptable.

         Recent events have included: swastikas drawn on the dorm room door of Jewish students at the New School in New York City; at Texas State University, in San Marcos, some students advertised to start of vigilante squad whose mission it would be to torture the professors who taught the value of diversity; at a high school in Minnesota, there were racial slurs and threats to people of color, scrawled in a restroom; “Make America white again,” along with a swastika, was spray painted on a baseball dugout in upstate New York; and at an Episcopal Church in Silver Spring, Maryland – a church that had gone through the effort of starting a Spanish-speaking service – had the banner that advertised their multi-lingual service defaced with the words, “Whites only.”  This is only a short list (and not a list of the worst) of what is happening in America today. 

St. Paul continued in his letter to the Romans with:

Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably,

         That is what we Christians are called to do – to lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  In other words, to live honorably.  And as we Episcopalians say in our Baptismal Covenant, with God’s help we will: persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, we will repent and return to the Lord; we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves; and perhaps most importantly, we will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.  If those things are true; if we at all believe anything that we have pledged to God, there is no place in our faith tradition for anything that even hints at disrespecting any of our neighbors, much less outright hating them.

         The Most Rev. Michael Curry, our Presiding Bishop, recently said, in response to this spate of hateful violence,

"As Christians, we believe that all humans are created in God’s image and equal before God ….

As a Church, seeking to follow the way of Jesus, who taught us, 'you shall love your neighbor as yourself,' (Mt. 22:39) and to 'do to others as you would have them do to you' (Mt. 7:12), we maintain our longstanding commitment to support and welcome refugees and immigrants, and to stand with those who live in our midst without documentation.  We reaffirm that like all people LGBT persons are entitled to full civil rights and protection under the law. We reaffirm and renew the principles of inclusion and the protection of the civil rights of all persons with disabilities. We commit to the honor and dignity of women and speak out against sexual or gender-based violence.  We express solidarity with and honor the Indigenous Peoples of the world. We affirm the right to freedom of religious expression and vibrant presence of different religious communities, especially our Muslim sisters and brothers. We acknowledge our responsibility in stewardship of creation and all that God has given into our hands. We do so because God is the Creator. We are all God’s children, created equally in God’s image. And if we are God’s children we are all brothers and sisters.

'The Episcopal Church Welcomes You,' is not just a slogan, it’s who we seek to be and the witness we seek to make, following the way of Jesus."

         We may not have any way to effect what is going on in other parts of the country.  We cannot stop people from misbehaving in Texas or in New York, or in Minnesota.  But we can have some influence on what happens in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana.  If we hear about events like this in our community, I call upon you here and now, to step up and speak up.  Let people know that this is not the way we treat other children of the Creator God.  Tell them that terrorism is not the right way to deal with what you perceive as a problem.  And above all, let them know that the Golden Rule is the bare minimum of how we are to treat each other.

         Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.  That is the essence of who we are what we are called to do.  Do not let your political passions or your distaste for another lead you away from this bedrock principle.

         Let me close this sermon with a collect from the Book of Common Prayer. 

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;  unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

[1]  Romans 13:11-14 (NRSV)

Get Over Fear - Follow Jesus, Fr. John Bedingfield, November 13th (Late Publication)

November 22, 2016
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Jesus said that the days were coming when the grand and glorious Temple in Jerusalem – one of the wonders of its day, a magnificent edifice that took over 40 years to construct – would be completely destroyed … not one stone left on top of another.  And when the Disciples asked about when this might happen, Jesus gave them cryptic answers that ended with their own persecution and execution.  Welcome to the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, huh?  Actually, it is.

What we read today is a part of the apocalypse of Luke 21.  Matthew and Mark contain similar apocalyptic writings.  Today, apocalyptic literature is not written for general consumption very often.  But in Jesus’ day, it was quite common.  And the purpose of apocalyptic writing is quite simple: it shows how horrible things may or will get, in order to show the hope of coming out on the other side.  That is what Jesus was doing in this passage.  He was telling the Disciples exactly how horrible it could get, in order to assure them that God would have their backs, and that in the end, all things would be well.

Another part of reading apocalyptic literature is that it can be corrective.  The Letter to the Thessalonians also concerned the coming Day of the Lord (known as the final apocalypse).  You see, some of the people of Thessalonica were using the Apostle Paul’s belief that the Second Coming was imminent to forsake their work and to wait idly for the expected new life.  Thus the writer of the Epistle warns against joining those who were divisive do-nothings while they waited.  But most of all, apocalyptic literature is meant to provide comfort and to ease our fears.

Human beings have tough times.  They always have and they always will.  Times get hard and people worry.  It has always been that way.  Throughout all of human history, there have been great disappointments, huge upsets, and events that have sent people into tailspins of grief and fear.  But Jesus’ message to the Disciples – indeed, Jesus’ message for us – is that God’s got this.  Jesus KNEW, and wanted us to understand, that no matter how things go in our lives, no matter what kind of difficulties we may encounter, the God of all creation is still in charge.  And as long as we remember the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we should always have hope.

It seems to me that fear, more than any other single factor, holds us back from living the life that Jesus calls us to.  All sorts of things can cause us to fear.  We worry about not measuring up to someone else’s standard of what we should be.  If we do nothing, we cannot fail, thereby disappointing someone whose opinion matters to us.  So, we do nothing.  We fear that we will lose those things that we have worked so hard to achieve.  And so we hold on as tightly as we can – never sharing what we have for others because scarcity is surely right around the corner.  We fear looking foolish to others – so much so that we will do or say anything to raise our stature in others’ eyes.  So, we lie (or at least fudge a little bit) when we talk to people.  And there are those times where the world around us scares us.  We see events unfolding around us that make us uneasy, fearful and depressed.  So, sometimes we act out to try to share our deep fear and frustration with others.  But Jesus tells us not to be afraid.  If we but trust in God, all will ultimately be well.

Elie Wiesel, the Jewish author and Holocaust survivor, tells a story of two little boys whose mother asked them to chase a chicken snake out of the family’s henhouse.

They looked everywhere for that snake, but couldn’t find it.  The more they looked, the more afraid they got.  Finally, they climbed up slowly and stood on their tiptoes to look on the top nesting shelf ... and came nose to nose with the snake.

They fell all over themselves and each other, running out of the henhouse.

“Don’t you know a chicken snake won’t hurt you?” their mama asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” one of the boys answered, “but there are some things that will scare you so bad you’ll hurt yourself!”

I completely understand that story.  I am really, really afraid of getting shocked by electricity.  I detest that feeling more than I detest having my teeth drilled – and that’s saying something.  I was told one time that my fear of electricity would ultimately hurt me.  And I have hurt myself, quite a few times, by jerking away so fast that I rammed my elbow into whatever was nearby.  Fear can cause us to do all sorts of harm to ourselves and others.

When we allow fear deep into our lives, it can change how we see everything around us.  It can make us suspicious of people who are not really a threat to us.  It can make us hear other people with such a predisposition that, even when someone says something that is not confrontational, we are ready to fight.  Fear can make us doubt the motives of others to such an extent that they can never do anything “right” in our eyes.  We can see people through such prejudiced eyes that if we were to find out they had cured cancer, we would complain that they were adversely affecting our doctor friends.  Fear is a powerful negative motivator – and other than the “fight or flight” response (the one that kept our ancestors from being eaten by wild animals), it really does not serve much of a positive purpose.

So what do we do to combat the fears that threaten to overtake our lives?  We remember how Jesus told His Disciples not to worry or be afraid.  Later in Chapter 21, after He has foretold all of the calamities that are coming, He tells them, “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  In other words, when you look around and think that things cannot get any worse, rejoice because I am about to show you a new thing – a new way of life.

And that is really what Jesus offers us in all of the cares and troubles of life … a new life.  No matter how bad things may get, no matter how intense the storms of life may be – the Way of Jesus offers us hope, comfort and peace.  But to get the most value out of the lessons that Jesus taught us, we must get out and do the work that He did – we must go out into the world and walk in the footsteps of our master. 

I read just the other day, a quote from the Dalai Lama (clearly not a Christian himself, but someone who knows a thing or two about walking in the footsteps of his master).  He said,

“If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another.  If you wish to know that you are safe, cause others to know that they are safe.  If you wish to better understand seemingly incomprehensible things, help another to better understand.  If you wish to heal your own sadness or anger, seek to heal the sadness or anger of another.”

And that seems to me to be as good a reading of what Jesus said, as has been put out by any Christian author.  Live like Jesus and let go of the fear, anger and resentment.

In just a couple of minutes, we are going to baptize mine and Donna’s beautiful and precious granddaughter, Kennedy Madison Norman.  And in the course of that part of the service, we are going to reaffirm our baptismal promises, as Kennedy’s are made for her.  We will promise to persevere in resisting evil, and when we fall into evil and sin, we will repent and return to the Lord.  We will promise to proclaim by word and example, the Good News of God in Christ.  We will promise to seek and serve Christ in other people, loving our neighbors as ourselves; and we will promise to seek justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being.  That is a long way breaking down what could be said as, “I will seek to walk in the footsteps of Jesus in all that I do.”  And there is no better way to get over our fear, than to do as Jesus did. 

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

Politics and the People of God, November 20th, Mthr. Mitzi George

November 20, 2016
00:0000:00

As I prepared for this morning’s sermon, I thought that these scripture readings were so perfect for all of us at this point in our countries history, no matter which side of the political spectrum. First and foremost, those of us gathered here this morning are not Republicans, Democrats, or Independents; we are the people of God gathered to worship and give thanks to the God who sustains, the God who forgives, the God who loves each and every one of us.

So just to be clear about who we are gathered here today I want to invite those who were Hillary supporters to sit one my left and the Trump supporters to sit on my right, and those of you who dare to vote third party could go sit in the back of the room. Just a little political humor to lighten the gospel we share on this last day after Pentecost or Christ the King Sunday.

As I examined todays Gospel and considered how this gospel might speak to us today, I realized that this gospel passage is the extreme example of politics gone awry. The scene that Luke shares with us contains political chaos and confusion, political power and corruption, politics at its worst; and yet there are huge lessons embedded here that every one of us needs to consider before we have our next political conversation, listen to another political analyst, or search the web for the latest juicy bit of political gossip.

Make no mistake; Jesus is executed for political reasons. Those standing closest to the scene of this execution were embroiled in a passionate political struggle. They saw Jesus as a political risk, and because of their fear, their need for power, and their lack of understanding and inability to rationally consider their own political flaws, they seek to have Jesus put to death.  Jesus is crucified to settle the political tension of the time. Some of those standing in the crowds were not even aware that Jesus would be killed, they had been caught up in the frenzy of the crowd. Others just stood by idly and watched to see which side would win the battle. Others thought it would be a simple, quick fix to calm the fears of political rivals.

In the crowd, there were the leaders who scoffed, there were those who cast lots for his cloths, others who mocked him, there were those who stood by watching, and then there were the two thieves: one on the right, the other on the left. Some there were Jews, some Romans, and some from other places far and wide.

Jesus was arrested and interrogated all through the night. He was then; stripped, beaten, and forced to carry his own cross through the streets to the hill outside the city, to the location where they nailed him to it, and hung him to die, in the heat of the day

Jesus through it all said very little.

Jesus did not defend himself, he did not argue, he did not protest, he stood silent most of the time. Even as he hung on the cross for hours there were few words spoken by him. However, there are huge lessons for those of us sitting here today. Especially for those of us who find ourselves either fearful of our present political condition, or if we find ourselves on the winning side feeling a little smug, defensive, or dismissive of the fears of our political foes.

 You and I, most of us here, consider ourselves Christians. We are Baptized.  We profess Jesus as our Savior. We have made certain promises to follow the way of Christ and if that is true then Luke’s passage must be one of the great lessons we learn for how we conduct ourselves as followers of Jesus the Christ.

 Jesus’ response to his political adversaries was “Father, forgive them for they not what they are doing.”  Jesus did not encourage his followers to fight or to cause political unrest of any kind. In fact, if we examine all the Gospels to extract just what Jesus taught about how his followers should react toward political adversaries what we find is this: Jesus teaches, “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and give to God, that which belongs to God.” Then this: “A dispute arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” In Matthew that same message reads this way, “‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.26It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave;8just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Just before his arrest, this scene is played out,” When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’50Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him.”

Jesus never advocated or instructed civil unrest. Jesus did teach humility, servanthood, caring for the poor, the widowed, the sick, the marginalized. Jesus instructed his followers not to worry about tomorrow, not to store up riches that thieves could break in and steal. Jesus taught kindness and gentleness toward all people regardless of their position in life, regardless of their political affiliation, regardless of their gender, age, race, nationality, or political affiliations.

When I look out at those of you gathered here with me today, I do not see Republicans, Democrats, or Independents. I see the People of God. I see good people who love and serve the community of Lafayette and beyond. I see people who love God and love one another regardless of gender, age, race or nationality, sexual preferences. I see you, the beloved community of St. Barnabas, a light shining in the darkness.

My hope and prayer for all of you can be summed up in the words of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, which we read today. “

11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Let us put down our political rhetoric, let us look at one another knowing that each of us, every o is a member of the family of God, let us take comfort knowing we are people of God, and be encouraged to do good each and every day, in the name of Christ our Lord. Let us seek to be the peacemakers, and let us walk in light, loving and serving our God.

 Amen

Persistently Thankful, Fr. John Bedingfield, October 16th

October 16, 2016
00:0000:00

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

This parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge lends itself to being interpreted in many different ways.  But one thing that comes through clearly is that God wants persistence in prayer … always. 

Jesus was telling the Disciples something that was very important for their lives.  Remember throughout the Gospels we see over and over that Jesus goes away to pray.  He prayed always.  This was an instance where he wanted them to understand what he did.  Jesus was very, very persistent in His prayers to God and He wanted them to do likewise.

But one of the things that you get from this parable is that persistence pays off, and if you are persistent in prayer, God will give you what you ask.  That idea is more than a little problematic for some people.  Because they say, “I pray and I don’t get what I pray for.  I’ve prayed hard and God did not give me what I wanted.”  Nothing in this parable says that God will always do what we want – only that God will answer our prayers.  So when we think about the problem we have with the notion that, “We pray and God acts,” it typically comes down to something like this: I know that God is unchangeable … immutable, and therefore is there a point to my praying?  If God is unchangeable and I pray to God, it doesn’t matter, because God won’t change.

I don’t know for sure where we came up with the idea that God is completely unchangeable, but it certainly was not from Scripture.  Remember the story in Genesis about Abraham and his conversation with God about the city of Sodom?  Abraham was talking with God and God told him that God intended to destroy the city and all of its residents because the people of Sodom were so horrible.  They had stopped being hospitable to strangers and had stopped worshipping God.  And Abraham says, “God, if you can find 50 people in the city who are righteous, will you save everyone?”  And God says, “Yes.  If I can find 50 righteous people in the city, I will spare the city.”  So Abraham says, “How about 45 righteous people?”  God says, “OK.  If there are 45, I will spare the city.”  And Abraham works God all the way down to 1.  He says, “If you can find 1 righteous person in the city, will you spare the rest?”  And God agrees to save the whole city for 1 righteous person.  Well … as it turns out, there was not one righteous person in Sodom and God wiped it out.  But I would suggest to you that that was a time when Abraham’s conversation with God resulted in God changing God’s mind.  You can say, “Well, not really.  Because God knew all along that there were no righteous people in Sodom.  So God did not really change His mind so much as God was just having an exercise in communication with Abraham.  I get that.  I understand that argument.  But what about Noah?

Noah loaded up the ark with pairs of animals and the Noah family and they survived the flood.  Then when they got out the ark, Noah had a conversation with God, in which God said, “I will never again destroy the world with a flood, and the rainbow in the sky is the sign of my covenant with you.  That will never happen again.”  I would suggest to you that that is another example of God changing God’s mind.  Because God looked down on the flood and said, in essence, “This was not a good idea.  I should not have done this.  I will never do this again.”  You could say, “Well, not really.  Because God knew all along that this would be a one-time event that would not be repeated.”  Okay.  I get that argument too.  But what about Jonah?

God tells Jonah to go to this great city of Nineveh, this city of 120,000 people, and to walk through the streets to preach repentance to the people … because, like Sodom, the people had proven to be evil in the sight of God.  Jonah’s mission was to preach to them and turn their hearts – to make them repent and return to the Lord, in order to save their city. 

After a 3 day rest in the belly of a fish, Jonah went to Nineveh and walked through the city, doing exactly what God said.  And it worked!  The people repented – from the most powerful to the lowliest person in town – all of them put on sack cloth and ashes, and prayed to God for forgiveness.  And it says in Jonah, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.[1]”  It says it, right there in Jonah.  So we know that people can pray and God will change God’s mind.  We don’t know when or why it happens, but we know that it can happen.

Jesus told the Disciples to be persistent in their prayer.  So that, even if God is stuck in His position, maybe you can wear God down by your prayers.  That is the message that Jesus gave them.  Wear God down by continuing to pray! 

And this idea of persistence is so important in our lives.  We teach our children to be persistent.  When they try something and fail we say, “Hang in there.  Keep trying.  Be persistent and you’ll get better.”  We believe that if we are persistent in things, we will eventually reap rewards from our persistence.

So I told you last week that we are kicking off our annual stewardship campaign.  And I want you to remember this week to have persistence – not only in asking God for what we need, but also in giving thanks to God for everything we have been given.  We need to be persistent in our prayer lives as we say, “Thank you God for granting me another day of life.”  “Thank you God.  I was able to get to church today.”  Or “Thank you God, because I have a church to go to.”  “Thank you God for everything you have given me … even when things aren’t going well … thank you for the many gifts that you have given me.”  Be persistent in that prayer too.

Persistently giving thanks to God may not only change God … It changes us too.  Persistently being thankful changes who WE are.  It changes how we see ourselves and how we see the world.  When we are persistently thankful we start to imagine a world that is very different from the one we see around us.  When we are thankful we start to see to see the good around us and in the people we meet.  We are not weighed down by the horrible things that go on around us.  We can see the good in all of God’s creation.  And then we can start to give back.

Here is another place where the persistence pays off.  I have told you that what we are doing with our stewardship campaign this year is trying to get more people involved in what is called proportional giving – giving a percentage of what you make.  You cannot just jump into proportional giving.  Most people have to work up to it.  And it requires persistence.  If this type of giving has never been a part of your spiritual discipline before, you will need to work at it. 

Becoming a proportional giver is like going to the gym.  When you first start, you may hate it.  You may resent it.  You may say, “I want to keep this money for me.”  But like the gym, if you are persistent at it – if you pledge and give persistently: weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually –  over time you will begin to see results, benefits from your hard work.  Your persistent giving will begin to change who you are and you will start to reap the rewards of your actions.  You will start to see the wonderful bounty that comes from God in all things.  You will begin to see all things differently and it will change who you are.  But that is not the only part of giving.

We also need to be persistent in giving of ourselves in time and the use of our skills and abilities.  There are many people around the congregation who work all week and then give of their time and their talents to accomplish the work of the church.  We need to give back in every way we can.  We need to be persistently generous.

So … As you think about it this week (because I know that you spend all week thinking about my sermons) think about this idea of persistence.  Think about what persistence in prayer and thanksgiving would look like.  Think about what it would mean for your life, and what it would mean for the life of this worship community.  Amen.

 



[1]  Jonah 3:10 (NRSV)