Sunday, January 25, 2009

Two Sets of Brothers

This week's gospel focused on Jesus gathering his followers and He began by telling two sets of brothers to leave off their fishing, leave their families, friends, business, and follow Him. Again, the words of last week, "Follow me" are focusing Christians on what that means, exactly.

There's a great sermon called Strength to Love that talks about what that means, and how we, as Christians, follow Christ. In reading that, and thinking about the concept -- how much are you willing to give up, in order to follow the path of Christ -- got me thinking about how Christians, or people of any religion must ask the same question of themselves.

With the background I had, the first story that came to mind was one of a young girl named Mona, whose story of her faith is told here. There is a play based on her life which asks the question, "When the Moment Comes" -- what will you do. If everything is laid on the line, do you deny your faith for a moment in order to live for whatever your reasons are, or do you remain steadfast in your beliefs, knowing that it may ultimately lead to your death?

And then a friend of mine recommended looking at the website Who Will Save Iraq's Christians which tells stories of Iraqi Christians fighting for their lives, livelihoods, homes and children, and often simply fleeing before the persecution they experience there.

And from there my thoughts ran to what Christians have done in the past when persecuted and forced underground, and how they recognized one another -- the symbol of the fish in the first centuries of the common era, the forget-me-not flowers used by some Christians (Masons) during WWII because of their aid for Jews, and of course, the symbol of the Cross today.

So in that chaos of thoughts, it still comes down to the questions: How will you follow Christ? How will your life change because of your beliefs? How will your actions change because you are a Christian? How do you follow him?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Follow Me

This week, our blog is the sermon provided by a sometimes parishioner of ours, Karen G. King, seminarian, who has graciously consented for us to publish it here. It was lovely to meet this lady I've heard so much about, and we'll miss her as she continues her schooling.

"Follow me."

Two words. For children they are easy words. Follow the Leader, for instance, is a game in which a child leads and others follow, aping the leaders' movement. Simon Says is another game that children play, and in this game if someone says, "Simon says, 'Follow me,'" all the children do exactly that -- they follow whoever is the leader at that moment.

Adults have a hard time with "Follow me." They have to think and weigh the consequences of the action of following someone else. Questions like "Do I like this person?" "Do I believe what this person believes?" "Will this person want my money?" "Will I have to sacrifice my job?" And so it goes. We adults no longer have the innocent faith of children, who hear the words follow me and accept blindly that it is okay to do so. (As an aside as I wrote this about children, I suddenly realized that children of the late 20th century and the early 21st century have had to be taught that blind faith in strangers is dangerous. What a terrible comment about our world!)

The innocent faith of children prior to the mid-20th century is a metaphor for how the apostles accepted Jesus' call. When Jesus said, "Follow me," that is what they did. It was a little different when an apostle said to a potential disciple, "Follow Jesus." That person -- Nathaniel, for instance -- had to ask, "Why would I want to do that?" Phillip simply says, "Check him out and see what you think." And, we know the rest of the story, or do we?

You and I are parts of the rest of the story, aren't we? A story that has not yet ended. As such, many of us are Nathaniels. We have to check it out first. If we like what we hear and see and if we have faith in what we hear but cannot see, we follow. Then, and only then, do we become people who have made ourselves apprentices to Jesus Christ so that we can become capable of doing what he did.

I can only tell you what this apprenticeship looks like for me. I said, "Yes, I will follow you" only after many years of thinking and reasoning and searching. As a result, I am in New York City, studying to be a priest. I am a long way from home, from friends, from people I love. It was my choice -- God does not coerce people into following Jesus, which, as far as I am concerned, is one of the great things about God. I have a choice! You have a choice! Martin Luther King, Jr., had a choice, as did a man that he admired -- Mahatma Gandhi.

Each of us as Christians decided at some point in our lives that we wanted to be apprentices of Jesus. This does not mean that we are able to be Jesus. This means that what Jesus taught becomes the pattern of our lives. Within the Gospels, we find the teachings of Jesus that show us how to live our lives in relationship to time, place, family, neighbors, talents, and opportunities.

For instance, as a hospital chaplain, I had a real opportunity to serve God and that opportunity caused a real problem. I would walk into a room of a seriously or critically ill person as a representative of Jesus Christ so I was supposed to talk about God. Wrong! I was there to be present to their suffering as Jesus was present to the suffering of his times, friends, family, neighbors. This call to hospital chaplaincy was not about religion or Christian service. It was very secular -- I was there to listen to the suffering around me; and if I could actively help, I was to do so by bringing them myself as an active listener with whom they could share their joy and sorrow and suffering. My opportunity for discipleship led me to a whole new place and gave to me as much as I gave to it. I learned that while discipleship can be a religious affair, it also belongs to the world.

Jesus' mission, doing the will of God by bringing a new view of God and a new way to reach God, was religious, but it was so much more. It changed the way mankind not only views God, but also how people view each other. It brought a new secular pattern of living to the world.

So it was with King and Gandhi. They were called to ministry in the religious sense, but that ministry led to a much greater role than just leading prayers, teaching others about God and living a good life. They both became the hope of their friends, neighbors, families for a new world order that would free them from the oppression of others. Their roles were secularized: Gandhi brought about the independence of his country from Great Britain, and King brought about the end of segregation in the United States.

Martin Luther King, Jr., said:
Well, I don't know what will happen now; we've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop ... Like anybody, I would like to live a long life -- longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know ... that we, as a people will get to the promised land.
Gandhi said:

You have to stand against the whole world although you may have to stand alone. You have to stare the world in the face, although the world may look at you with blood-shot eyes. Do not fear. Trust that little thing in you which resides in the heart and says: 'Forsake friend, wife, all; but testify to that for which you have lived and for which you have to do' ....
Jesus could see God and brought a vision of a new way of living to the world, and he was killed as were the apostles and many of the disciples that came after them. Martin Luther King, as an apprentice of Jesus, was assassinated on the balcony of his motel room for wanting a new way of life for Blacks. Gandhi brought down an empire and brought a new way of life to his people. While all of these men were not Christians, they had tremendous faith in God and as such followed Him wherever it took them. They followed God's call.

How are we to live into our individual calls and follow Christ? It is as simple as it is difficult. As apprentices of Jesus, we are to act as he did -- help the poor, the sick, widows, orphans, and the oppressed. We are to treat each person as we would wish to be treated by them, and we are to love and to serve God. How we go about doing this is as individual as we are. We have to ask God and listen to God's response. By doing so, our individual roles will be revealed to us. Even if they are not earth shattering as were the roles of Gandhi and King, they are equally important to achieving God's kingdom on earth.

Gandhi made a statement about himself and his relationship to God that I think applies or should apply to all of us. He said, "I am a man of faith. My reliance is solely on God. One step is enough for me. The next step He will make clear to me when the time for it comes." As I see it, we are to trust God and follow Jesus, knowing that God will make clear to us exactly what form each of our discipleships is to take, how it is to take place, and when it is to take place.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


As with most people, I generally look at the concept of an "epiphany" as those moments of life-altering change, where something has occurred that literally challenges and changes the way I think or feel about something. It is that sort of epiphany that makes up many of the stories of the Bible, whenever Christ performed a miracle -- it made the news! I'm fairly certain that John's epiphany of who Christ was when God's light and voice appeared at the time of His baptism changed him in ways that he never even considered before. John knew that he was the forerunner, that his job was to tell people that Christ was coming, and to prepare, and yet, having absolute, physical confirmation of Christ's existence and seeing Him before him in the flesh, had to have given him a renewed sense of purpose, a certainty that before was merely belief.

And yet it is belief that we all, as every day Christians, must rely on in our day to day functioning. And it is my belief that it is the other type of "epiphany" that provides us with the certainty we seek. Imagine, if you will, the sound of a baby's laugh... the stillness and beauty of a snow covered landscape before being broken by any footprint ... the shaft of sunlight that breaks through the dark clouds of rain ... the look on a pregnant mother's face the first time she feels her child move ... the perfection of the human body. And think about the sense of peace that flows through your entire body when confronted by the *epiphany* that we are blessed, constantly, by the God who loves us enough to provide evidence of our belief, to provide us with the certainty we desire in order to continue on our path.

I grew up in a house where those epiphanies were pointed out, until I was old enough to recognize them for myself, and help in pointing them out to others. I'm one of those fortunate few who learned that certainty is acquired merely by being aware, and knowing the perfection in God's plan is much greater than I can see around me, but taking comfort in the knowledge that it is there, and appreciating the signs provided.

May this season of Epiphany allow you to be aware and turn your own belief to certainty.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Travels of the Magi

Today, not yet being Epiphany, we celebrated the second Sunday after Christmas with the story of the wise men. And one of the questions asked in a story borrowed from an Episcopal minister in Michigan was, who are today's wise men, traveling to meet Christ? What gifts do they bring, and what do those gifts say about Christ today?

We know that the wise men in Christ's time brought gold -- a symbol of Christ's kingship, frankincense -- an incense used in worship, and myrrh -- both a substance used in embalming royalty, and a powerful method of fighting infection. These were gifts of the wise men in acknowledgment of who they were visiting, as well as statements about the baby Jesus and His life as it would be, both on Earth and in Heaven.

Fortunately, God blessed us with a traveler today, after the service was done. A man named Teddy is traveling from Wyoming to Washington, by bicycle, to return home after quite some time. Now while bicycles aren't camels, it appeared that Teddy's gifts in his travels included providing us an opportunity to give him a bit of hot chocolate, fellowship, a left-handed glove turned wrong-side out to make a right-handed glove to replace one he lost, a scarf to help cover his face in his travels, and a lift up the hill out of town. He gifted us also with his knowledge of the Bible, current affairs and stories, along with the absolute faith that no matter what happens, we win in the end, because we get to meet God.

Gifts of this nature say a whole lot about the gifts and the giver. May God grant you the gift of meeting a magi this week.