Pharisees Then and Now, Fr. John Bedingfield, Aug 30th

August 30, 2015
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In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Oh those Pharisees!  Today’s Gospel is one of the many in which 21st Century Christians might look at the Pharisees and their challenging of Jesus, and sigh heavily as we say, “You guys just don’t get it.” And clearly the Pharisees did not get Jesus’ message.  But if we are really honest with ourselves, do we consistently do any better?

In what we read today, Jesus debates with the Pharisees from Jerusalem over the fact that His disciples do not ritually wash their hands the way the Pharisees have prescribed for people.  On the surface, this might be one of the rare times where we could understand the Pharisees.  After all, performing a ritual hand washing before you eat is little different from saying grace before dinner.  So why wouldn’t Jesus want His disciples to do that?  Let’s look at a little context.

In the sixth chapter of Mark – which immediately precedes today’s reading – here is what happens: there is the feeding of the five thousand (6:30-44); Jesus walks on water (6:45-52); and He heals the sick in Gennesaret (6:53-56).  Then, in the concluding verse of chapter 6, it says, “And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”  

So in all likelihood, before they came from Jerusalem, the Pharisees would have been very aware that Jesus had been working hard to feed people, heal them of their ills, and give those without hope, new life.  Knowing that He had been doing all of these wonderful things in the name of the God who created them all, the Pharisees came to challenge Him.  But they did not ask Him how he had performed the miracles of feeding and healing.  They did not ask Him how he discerned which people deserved to be fed or healed.  They did not even ask Him what all of these miracles meant to His (or the people’s) relationship with God.  Instead, they asked Him about His disciples washing their hands.

Now in order to really understand the Pharisees, we must understand that they were the keepers of Jewish law, and as such, they were the ones who were supposed to take a hard line against anyone who broke any of the 613 laws (or mitzvot) that made up both Torah (the Books of the Law) and the Mishna (the teachings of the Elders).  To the Pharisees, every law was equally important and any transgression required punishment, in order to bring people back into “faithful” exercise of their religion.  The Pharisees’ response may seem silly to us.  But the same things happen today.

We have modern Pharisees who are every bit as serious and dedicated as those whom Jesus faced.  When I was young in a very Anglo-Catholic, high-church parish, we acolytes had to meet in the sacristy thirty minutes before the service.  After we checked all of the altar guild preparations to make sure that everything we needed was where it was supposed to be, we lit the candles and then came back into the sacristy to help the priest vest.  His vestments were laid out in a very specific order, and folded in a very specific way.  As he put on each different piece of clothing, we all said a one-line prayer (specific to each piece).  After we had placed his chasuble over his head (that was the last piece of vesture), we all stood together and said a prayer of confession in which we beat our breasts three times (together, of course) and bowed to each other repeatedly.  It was all very devout, very pious, very ritualistic, and of deep importance to our rector (a former monk).  It was years after I was grown before it began to dawn on my how pharisaical all of that was.

You see it did not matter to our rector whether or not we (as parishioners, not necessarily as acolytes) fed the hungry, or gave drink to the thirsty, or visited the sick or imprisoned, it mattered if the cadence of our confession was correct and whether or not we hit our chests with a closed fist simultaneously.  That is the exact pharisaism that Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel.  But that is just one example of modern-day pharisaic extremism.

What about those who tell you that there is one, and only one, way to read the Bible?  Your understanding of Scripture cannot be correct because it does not match their own.  And it does not matter to them that you are out working hard on God’s mission in the world by trying to respond to the unmet needs of the community.  It does not matter that your openhearted love of Jesus Christ has brought hope to people who were hopeless before they met you, nor that you give as much as you possibly can in order make someone else’s life just a bit better.  No, you don’t read the Bible “correctly,” therefore you are wrong.  But it does not end there.

How about the folks whose mantra is more along the lines of: we have never done it that way here, therefore your way cannot be the right way?  People who have strong opinions about the way things are done in the church are not bad people any more than the Pharisees were bad people for guarding the traditions of Judaism.  But when we worry about how we do things, or who in the church does them, instead of whether or not we are carrying out God’s mission, we have become Pharisees.

Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah to the Pharisees, when He told them:

'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.'  You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.

That is the epitome of pharisaic action.  But Jesus was not finished with His message at that.  He had something else to say to them.  He went on:

"[I]t is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

Jesus’ point was that those things that the Pharisees told the people were defiling them, were just man-made rules that had no effect on God’s mission.  It was not their failure to follow the rules that defiled them, it was the evil that resided in their hearts that defiled.  When they talked bad about each other; when they judged each other; when their pride made them put someone down in order to build themselves up, those were – and are – the defiling things.

You see … all of the things that we get worked up about, in and around our church: when clergy or a fellow parishioner does not do what you want; or does what you want, but not the way you want; when someone has a different vision of the way things should be than you do and therefore you will not cooperate with them; those are the pharisaic moments.  In those moments, will you worry about the following of a ritual or a tradition that does not advance God’s mission, or will you try to find Jesus Christ in the other person so that, together you can move forward in mission?  The author of the Letter of James put it this way:

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.  Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Amen.

Living Bread = Living Christ, Mthr Mitzi George, August 23rd

August 25, 2015

[No Audio File Available]

Living Bread=Living Christ

 

For the fifth week in a row, we have the discourse about “living bread.” We have listened to a long dissertation of Jesus’ flesh and blood being the source of life for all who partake of this feast. And as you and I listen to this dialogue we cannot help but reflect on our own practice of holy communion/the Lord’s Supper. Some of us may think of this as metaphorical or literal, depending on our sacramental theology. Where Christendom is concerned the theology of the Eucharist is all over the map.

But you and I need to remember, that when Jesus gave this allegorical treatise there was no such thing as the Lord’s Supper, there was no practice or celebration of Holy Communion. So as we listen to these words we must remember that those who were hearing these words for the first time could only think about the cult worship that was prevalent in the ancient world, practices that included the drinking of blood and the sacrifice of young men and women. It was repulsive to hear Jesus say, “you must eat my flesh and drink my blood.” This was disturbing to many who heard it. This Jesus who had gained fame and power over the masses was now talking about the practice of cannibalism, or at least they feared he was. After all they knew there were those out there in the world who did practice such rituals. Of course they turned away!

You and I don’t have to go too far back in our own history to remember people that gained religious notoriety and power only to use it to do the unthinkable; which was to convince large numbers of followers to sacrifice their own lives or the lives of their children in what they thought was religious truth. So for us to truly understand the reactions of the many disciples who turned their backs on Jesus and walked away, we need to recall all the ways in which we have witnessed the abuse of power and the manipulation of religious zeal in our own lives and histories.

This is why it is vitally important that we as adult Christians use the skill of human reasoning in order to truly glean the truth and wisdom found in this and every passage of scripture. Jesus was a Jew! He did not advocate nor was he speaking in literal terms of digesting his human flesh or drinking his human blood! He was drawing on the Jewish understanding that blood contained the essence of life. But it was the life contained in the blood that was paramount to this discourse. Jesus is concerned with the life his followers live. He wanted his disciples to take on a life that would reveal God’s presence in them and through them. What kind of life reveals God’s presence? How do people see the living presence of God in our lives unless we are leading lives worthy of such notice?

What should our lives look like if we are truly digesting and processing Jesus Christ? As Baptized Christians what do our lives look like if the Holy Spirit is dwelling within us? If Christ is in you and in me, what is it that other people should be seeing in us? That is the real question. I don’t think it does any of us any good to debate whether or not the real presence is contained in the Eucharist. Many of us believe it does, and many believers think it is merely a symbol. Those are points on which we have argued for thousands of years now.

The reality however, no matter which side you are on, is this… How is the living Christ dwelling in you being revealed to the world around you? As practicing adult Christians it is your responsibility and mine to inwardly digest, process, and glean the very nature of Christ. It is our job if you will, to take on, absorb, and become as one with Christ.

Some of you may remember an old book entitled “You Are What You Eat.” I think that is a great title for this discourse Jesus is giving on the living bread topic. We are what we eat. We are what we take in to our bodies, what we allow to be processed into our beings. Because that is a true statement, it is up to us to decide what we will take in and digest in our lives. What things we allow to become a part of who we are.

Will we decide to take in Christ, to digest the life of Christ and allow Christ to be in us and we in him? Or, will we be filled with the anxiety and chaos of a broken world? Will we allow a temporal and broken world to dictate our actions and emotions, will we allow the broken world to determine our mood and dictate how we live? You see as Christians we are to be in the world not of the world. You and I are called to walk the way of peace, to bring salvation and healing to the world around us, to share the good news and to pronounce forgiveness of sin and release to the captive.

But you and I can only do that by the intentional and deliberate ingestion of the life of Christ: through prayer, study, meditation, more prayer, and by acts of kindness and charity. We must become as Christ in the world. The world and all of creation waits for you and me to be who we have been called and consecrated to be, the living Christ, the very body of Christ.

And finally, I would like to leave you with this quote from Br. Curtis Almquist+ 

“Say yes to your life [in Christ]. Invest in it, develop it, share it, be thankful for it, and when you miss the mark- which you will do- make necessary amend. Learn as much as you can from your failures: (which is about redemption and wisdom), and then get on with it.”

Go and be Christ to the world!

Amen.

Solomon and the Bread of Life, Fr. John Bedingfield, Aug 16

August 16, 2015
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Just Say Nothing, Fr. John Bedingfield, Aug. 9

August 9, 2015
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In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I have spoken many times about my grandfather, R.O.  He went by R.O. because he hated his name — Rufus Orlando.  But that is another story.  In all of my childhood years, right up through adulthood, to the time when he passed away at 93, I can count on one hand, the number of times that I saw him really angry.  And I can count on one finger, the number of times that I heard him say something bad about another person.  In the eyes of this devoted grandson, R.O. was truly amazing in how he dealt with his fellow man.

Generally speaking, people have a need to feel superior, or at least equal to the people around them.  I am not a psychiatrist nor a psychologist — I don't even play one on TV.  But I understand this to be a function of our egos.  While we all have this ego-driven need to feel like we are better than other people, some folks control the need better than others.  R.O. was one of the people who — in most situations — got past his ego exceptionally well.  Now he could be incredibly hard-headed, and would argue a point beyond proof, no matter how wrong he might ultimately be.  But that did not mean that, in the course of the argument, he would put someone else down, in order to raise himself up.  And I think that that is a huge distinction between R.O. and many other people.

We all know folks — let’s face it, occasionally we have all been the folks — who love to tear other people down in order to make ourselves look better.  In the movie, Steel Magnolias, there are several great examples of this trait.  When Olympia Dukakis’ character, Clairee Belcher and Dolly Parton’s Truvy Jones, see the mayor’s wife dancing in an expensive (and tight) dress, Truvy says, “I bet you money, she’s paid $500 for that dress, and she doesn’t even bother to wear a girdle.”  To which Clairee replies, “Looks like two pigs fighting under a blanket.”  Then Truvy says, “Well, I haven’t left the house without lycra on these thighs since I was 14.”  And Clairee responds, “You were brought up right.”  You see, it was not enough for these ladies to critique Janice Van Meter’s dress, or her body shape.  They also had to make a comparison to themselves, in order to show that they were superior to that which they criticized.  This sort of conversation can be, not just an occasional occurrence, but can become a hobby.  As Clairee later says, “If you can’t say anything nice about anybody, come sit next to me.”

We are all children of one God — the God who created the universe and everything that is in it.  And all of God’s children are created in that same God’s image.  That means that, no matter who we are judging by comparing them to ourselves, we are making comparisons between different pieces of God’s handiwork.  When we look at it that way, it seems like perhaps such criticisms of our fellow human beings might actually be above and beyond anything we are qualified to do.

But it is not just that judging one another is something that is “beyond our pay grade.”  It is also the fact that when we speak ill of other people — particularly to make ourselves look better — we are saying intentionally hurtful things.  And that is damaging to the body of Christ.  

The author of the Letter to the Ephesians says:

[L]et all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.  …  Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, .…  Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

The author of Ephesians says that we should not “grieve the Holy Spirit.”  By that he is putting an exclamation point on his prior admonition against evil talk.   When you think of grieving the Holy Spirit in this way, think about when you were a child and an adult whom you admired and wanted to please, warned you against saying or doing something.  Then when you went ahead and said or did the thing, you had that deep feeling of sadness because you knew that someone whose opinion mattered was going to be disappointed in you.  That is what Ephesians tells us happens to the Spirit of God when we speak badly of one another.  The Holy Spirit is disappointed in our actions.

Instead of speaking to — or about — each other in ways that grieve the Spirit, we are told that we should be kind, loving and tender-hearted toward one another.  We are told to forget (or at least not act on) our bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling and slander, and instead act as if we truly recognize each other as having been made in God’s image. 

The sixth chapter of John’s Gospel tells us, after Jesus fed the multitudes He explained the feeding as a sign that He, himself was the bread of life, sent by the Father, to eternally satisfy His followers’ hunger.  When the Jewish authorities did not agree with him on this theological point, they did not just say, “You know, Jesus, I think you are wrong about that, because that is not the way I understand the Messiah.”  Instead, they tried to put themselves above Jesus by pointing out that He was not really God’s Son, because as they all knew, Joseph and Mary were His parents.  In other words, they were saying, “You cannot really be the bread of life, because we know who you are … and you’re not all that!”

Unlike most of us, Jesus did not respond to them with a tit-for-tat counterattack.  Instead, He told them, “Do not complain among yourselves.  No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.  …  Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”  Jesus’ message was the same as was later rephrased in Ephesians.  That is, that the children of God are to: “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us ….

Jesus and the author of Ephesians are telling us how we are to live together as the Body of Christ.  When we experience our brothers and sisters as somehow deficient in how they: dress, act, walk, talk or reason; we are not to use those perceived shortcomings as ways to raise our own stature, while lowering the other person’s.  We are not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God by trying to find reasons to criticize each other, as we tell everyone how much better we could have done whatever is at issue.  Instead, our mission is to imitate Jesus Christ as closely as possible, living in love with one another — the same love that Christ exhibited for us when He gave Himself up as a sacrifice on our behalf — selflessly and without regard for whether or not anyone has earned our love.

I cannot tell you how many conversations involving R.O. that I listened to, in which someone would gossip about someone else, telling him how horrible another person was, and either explicitly or implicitly saying how great the speaker was by comparison.  In all of those conversations, it was obvious that R.O. was listening.  He did not tune them out or openly show disinterest.  But he never joined in the bashing of another person.  He never even nodded his head or grunted in the affirmative.  Instead, he listened silently.  And usually found something positive to say about the person before leaving the conversation.  That may not be a perfect imitation of Christ, but it is close enough for me.

So refrain from gossiping about your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Do not join in when someone is being critical of another.  Rather, remember that that person is, in fact, a beloved child of God, just as you are.  And search for something about the person that is positive.  Then use that positive as your contribution to the conversation.  Or just do not speak at all.  With all due respect to Clairee Belcher, if you cannot say something nice about someone, just say nothing.

Amen.

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

July 26, 2015
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In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember what St. Paul told the Corinthians,

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

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

Amen.

The Joy of Worship Fr. John Bedingfield July 7th

July 12, 2015
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Come Holy Spirit and fill this place.  Give us the power of the spirit.  And in that power, let us have joy.  Amen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

June 21, 2015
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In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

are born to eternal life. Amen.

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

June 14, 2015
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In the name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit, Amen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

May 31, 2015
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In the name of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

Sr. Sunday Sermon, Jacob LeMeiunier

May 17, 2015
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