Sunday 1-24-16

St Barnabas, Norwich VT

Sermon by Rev Jennie M Anderson

Lord, make us stewards of ourselves, that we may be servants of others. Take my words and speak through them, take our minds and think through them, take our hearts and set them on fire, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.  Good morning!  Welcome

Good News, Good Ways/Changing the Landscape
Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers, said, "Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes." 
James Baldwin, 20th century (about the March on Washington 1963) said, "That day, for a moment, it almost seemed that we stood on a height, and could see our inheritance; perhaps we could make the kingdom real, perhaps the beloved community would not forever remain that dream one dreamed in agony.

My friend Kate says about this week’s gospel lesson that it's the Sabbath, and Jesus has come home to Nazareth, to his own congregation, to deliver the inaugural address of his ministry. The heart of Jesus' message and mission is in this short sermon containing a few verses from the book of the prophet Isaiah but omitting Isaiah's line about "the day of vengeance of our God." N.T. Wright suggests that this omission would have offended those first-century Jews who understandably hungered for God's vengeance on their enemies and oppressors. (pause) At first, everyone admired Jesus' gracious words, and then it occurred to somebody to "consider the source"--and suddenly familiarity started to breed contempt, and someone asked, "Hey...wait a minute, isn't this just Joseph's son? How can he sound so smart, and how can we take him seriously about God's grace reaching all those outsiders?" But Jesus doesn't return home to preach a new message that offends ancient traditions, like a trouble-making radical enamored of "current thinking" that he learned out there, in the wider world. In the following verses that we will hear next week, he refers to the scriptures themselves for stories of "outsiders" like the pagan widow of Zarephath and Naaman, who experienced the long reach of God's grace. Jesus had come to open the eyes of the blind, but not just the physically blind: he would face the challenge of opening the eyes of the spiritually blind as well. Just as regaining physical sight changes the whole life of a person, so opening our eyes to the truth of the gospel transforms all of us who "have eyes to see," and, we might add, "ears to hear." [Kate Huey]

I want to take a minute with you all and explain, that to me, the very best pop love songs created are really, really great when in our listening ears and listening hearts, we can replace the Lover with an idea of God and the Love with an idea of ourselves and the song still works.  So keeping that in mind, while I was walking in the woods with the dog and praying and praying about Jesus’ whole message of LOVE not fear, hate, and resentment, especially keeping in mind that part about how it is suggested that this omission of that part from Isaiah would have offended those first-century Jews who hungered for God's vengeance on their enemies and oppressors.  While walking, and praying all about this week’s gospel message, I got caught up with one of the songs from a classic musical that I seem to have known all my life. So interspersed in this weeks’ reflection of the lessons, I invite you to pray with me the words of the song I thought of walking in the woods and praying:

Where is love?
Does it fall from skies above?
Is it underneath the willow tree
that I've been dream of?

I have been thinking about Jesus’ words of Isaiah, and his message of love, confusing to his home town, and then, next week as the gospel message continues, even unwelcome not welcome in his home town. I thought and prayed about all the wars and the war-like actions of unbearable oppression taking place all around the world because of our human investment in vengeance, fear and hate. Then in my prayers as I walked, I shifted my prayer to our own Anglican Communion and the struggle with the Episcopal Church and the rest of the Anglican Communion. As I offered you a sample last week, I keep reading the different perspectives and different messages about the Anglican’s Primates Meeting and I am so comforted that we are willing to struggle through these tough issues of disagreement and not go to war against each other or create any more of a schism or separation.

I am not sure that the Anglican Communion as a global organization, the Episcopal Church as a large and significant section of the Anglican Communion, and even we at St Barnabas, a single parish, a small but mighty parish in the small but mighty, mountainous diocese of Vermont, I am not so sure but that we ALL may be benefitting from the struggle of identity, personality and character- what we believe about people throughout the church and we love each other. 
When I was serving a fairly small but much more conservative parish, several of the more progressive members of the congregation set out to deepen their education about the LGBTQ community in the church and in so doing represent the congregation in their efforts. When the presentation was offered to the folks back in the pews, the resistance came in the form of the statement, “well this is all well and good but there are more important matters we must deal with first like poverty, racism, bullying and other forms of oppression before we get to the issues around the acceptance or not of the LGBTQ community!” My question in response to that query is, will we not get to these other things through embracing with love and justice, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters?

Where is she?
Who I close my eyes to see?
Will I ever know the sweet "hello"
that's only meant for me?

I want to offer some of the reflection of the Canadian Primate to the Anglican Communions. It was published in an article in the ENS (the online news for the Episcopal Church). He said that while the meeting of the Primates was particularly challenging with respect to relationships throughout the Communion, there was about midway through a declared unanimous continue walking together and not apart. This meeting could have been marked by calls for exclusion of the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and me. It was not. It could have been marked by walk-outs as some had anticipated. It was not. It could have been marked by ranting and raving.  It was not. Instead it was marked by perseverance to remain in dialogue that was frank but respectful. It was marked by a generosity of grace and patience, with one another. It was marked too, by renewed commitments in the consideration of matters of doctrine that could be of a controversial nature, to consult broadly in the seeking of advice and counsel.
We were reminded once again of the principle named by the Windsor Continuation Group that “when the Primates speak collectively, or in a united or unanimous manner, their advice – while it is no more than advice – nevertheless needs to be received with a readiness to undertake reflection and accommodation”. While there have been calls through the years for “an enhanced authority” on the part of The Primates’ Meeting, there has been – and rightly so – a resistance to the meeting becoming a Curia for the Communion. We recognize that we are but one of The Instruments of Communion which is the only body with a Constitution outlining its objects and powers, all of which are focused in one way or another on our relationships in the service of God’s mission in the world.

Now dear friends, may I remind you that the Primates tended not only to matters of concern within “the household of faith”, but also to matters of concern to our common humanity and the creation itself. In his opening address for this meeting, Archbishop Justin reminded us that half of our Churches in the Communion live with extreme poverty, in the turmoil of war, and with devastating effects of environmental degradation. The Anglican Alliance gave a presentation on the Sustainable Development Goals and the Primates have issued a Communion wide call to get behind these goals through our work in advocacy.

Who can say where she may hide?
Must I travel far and wide?
'Til I am bedside the someone who
I can mean something to... 
Where... ?
Where is love?

The Sustainable Development Goals have become one of my very greatest passions and what I believe are the most hopeful developments in my lifetime. I am so glad that people like The Most Rev. Fred Hiltz of Canada are working so hard to be in the solution when so many of us and so many of the world struggle deeply with the problem and can’t find our way to the perspective of being in the possibilities. I invite you to bring home with you in your heart, the song of the little orphan boy seeking love and pray for all the children who are lost in our world looking for God’s love through people like you and me.

Let us pray. In you, O Lord our God, we find our joy, for through your law and your prophets you formed a people in mercy and freedom, in justice and righteousness. Pour your Spirit on us today, that we who are Christ's body may bear the good news of your ancient promises to all who seek you. Amen.