Sunday, July 7, 2013

"You know about Jesus? That's what I'm talkin' 'bout!" - a sermon for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost

OK, I want you to do something for me. I want you to repeat after me.

I want you to just say the name “Jesus.”  


Say it again: Jesus  


One more time: Jesus.


OK ... did you notice something? The building didn’t collapse. The sky didn’t fall. And you didn’t clutch your heart and die.

Episcopalians can say the name of Jesus.

Now here’s the thing … we Episcopalians don’t like to do this much. Now, full disclosure, we’re probably OK doing it in here … but when we get outside the immediate orbit of our churches, saying the name of Jesus is something we tend to shy away from.

In fact if you ask most Episcopalians what our favorite quote is from a saint, most of us will go right to St. Francis. “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary.”

 And we tend to stretch that “if necessary” to mean “only as an absolutely last resort!”

There’s something about us when it comes to talking about Jesus. Why do we have a problem with it?

Well, I think it’s two things.

The first is we Episcopalians are worried about offending people. We’re very conscious of decorum. You ever hear the list of things you’re not supposed to talk about at parties – money, sex, politics … and religion. The reason you’re not supposed to talk about those things is that they’re all about identity. They’re about who we are and what matters most to us. And when we start walking on that ground, things get real and people can get offended and hurt … so it’s better just to steer clear and keep the conversation safe.

The second thing we worry about is guilt by association. We’ve had enough experience of people using the name of Jesus to condemn and to beat people over the head that we’re afraid if we use it people will think we’re doing the same thing. And we don’t want people to think that about us.

So we end up being a people who can say Jesus in here … but not out there. We end up being really comfortable being a people gathered. But not as comfortable being a people sent.

And yet we can’t get away from this morning’s Gospel. We are a people sent. We are sent out into this world. And actually that’s part of not only our Christian DNA but our Anglican DNA. It was an Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, who said “the church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not members.”

We are a people sent. But we are sent in a very specific way. And it’s got five steps.

*Take nothing with you.
*Hang with the people
*Break some bread
*Give some love
*Say “You know about Jesus? That’s what I’m talking about.”

Let’s take each of those one by one.

 First, take nothing with you. Jesus sends the 70 out and says I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. This is not going to be easy stuff. But you don’t need to worry about a thing. Every little thing’s gonna be all right.

And it’s not going to be all right because we’ve got all the right stuff. It’s gonna be all right because we’ve got the power of God. And all we need to do is to trust in that power. Trust in the power of God to guide us to the right places, to give us the right words to say, even to make sure we get enough to eat. We don’t need to take anything with us because we’ve got all we need. We’ve got God. Trust in the Lord.

Second, hang with the people. Don’t wait for people to come to us. Go where they are. Enter their lives. Bust out of our comfort zones and go to places we might not normally go. Meet different kinds of people in new places. Go where the people are. And when we get there, break bread with them.

And that means build relationship. When we break bread with people, when we share a meal, there is a bond that forms. Breaking bread with the people means learning their names and learning their stories… and letting them know our names and letting them know our stories.

Breaking bread with the people means sharing life with one another, learning about where one anothers' joys and pains are. It means doing for one another what Jesus did for us … entered our lives and walked our walk with us.

Breaking bread with people means getting out there and being a part of the life of this city. Not just as tourists. It means being part of the life of this city the way Jesus was a part of life. It means diving into the city and sharing people’s lives and learning about them from the inside out. It means becoming a part of the community. Becoming a part of the us that is our neighborhood. Becoming a part of the us that is the world out there. But doing it with the eyes and ears of Jesus.

When we do that, when we become part of the us out there, when we do it with the eyes and ears of Jesus, we learn where the brokenness is. We learn where the love is needed. We learn where we’ve been in the ditch and need help finding a way out. We learn where the systems are that need transforming. And it is then that we bring the greatest gift we have. We bring the gift of love. And not just any love, but Jesus’ love.

We hang with the people. We break bread with the people. And then we give some love. Not some Hallmark kind of love that is about when you care just enough to scribble your name on a card. But some Jesus kind of love. Love that is about investing ourselves, giving of ourselves where that brokenness, where that poverty is.

This kind of love isn’t about having all the answers. It’s not about magically being able to fix every problem. But it is about going into the places where there is despair and bringing hope. It is about going into the places where there is darkness and bringing light. It is about going into the places where there is conflict and hatred and bringing reconciliation and love.

 It is about living the Gospel in the lives of the people. Not just in here, but out there. It’s about getting in the game.

Now all this stuff – trust in God, hang with the people, break the bread, give some love. All this is the stuff that St. Francis was talking about when he said “Preach the Gospel at all times” … but now comes the part where words become necessary. But because we’ve done all this stuff, the words are not empty.

Now that’s important, because that’s another thing we’re afraid of. We all know how empty words can be. We know it because we live in a world where people are trying to sell us things 24 hours a day. Talk is cheap. Anyone can say words. Whether it’s the words that try to sell us moisturizer or the sacred name of Jesus. Anyone can say words. And the words don’t mean anything unless they’re backed up with the real deal. But our words will be. They won’t be just words.

This is show and tell, with show coming first. But then we’ve got to tell. And we can. And we must.

We’ve already preached the Gospel at all times, but now comes the part where words really become necessary. We have to say the name of Jesus.

But because we’ve trusted in God, hung with the people, broken some bread and given some love, we’ve already shown people with our actions who Jesus is. And so all that’s left to do is to point it out.  To say the Kingdom of God has come near you.

So after doing all these things, we have to say the words. We have to say:

“You know about Jesus? Well, that’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout.”

“You know about Jesus? Well, that’s what I’m talkin’ 'bout.”

If we trust God, hang with the people, break some bread and give some love, we won’t have to have eloquent words preaching the Gospel. We won’t have to stand on a street corner asking people are they saved. People will know us already. They will know us by their relationships with us and they will know us by our love. And so all we’ll have to say is:

“You know about Jesus? Well, that’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!”

You see, what “That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout” means is that you’re really just naming the self evident. You’ve already shown them what it is. Now you’re just pointing it out.

We will have already preached the Gospel with our lives, so all that will be left is for us to say -- “You know about Jesus? That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout.”

We are not just a people gathered. We are a people sent. To meet people where they are. To share lives with each other. To be real with each other. To love healing into each other’s lives. And to say you know about Jesus? That’s what I’m talkin' 'bout!

We don’t need to be brilliant to do it. We don’t need to be wealthy to do it. We don’t need an official program or ministry of Christ Church Cathedral to do it. Jesus says “take nothing with you” so all we need to do it is to trust God.

So we’re going to get on with this service now. And we’re going to share our meal. And were’ going to lay our lives on that table with Jesus’ life and we’re going to get a new life in return that is a piece of each of us and a piece of Christ. And then Mark is going to say some words that I want us to take to heart as never before.

“Let us go forth in the name of Christ.”

And when we say, "Thanks be to God." That is like the starting gun at the beginning of a race. That is like the coach saying “go get ‘em” as her team takes the field. That means we are outta here. Not just to go back and go about our business until next Sunday at 10 am. We are outta here trusting God and taking nothing with us to

Hang with the people – enter their lives.

Break some bread – really get to know one another. Build relationship.

Find out where the brokenness is and give some of Jesus' love.

And finally, when we have preached the Gospel without words we will tell what we have shown.

We will not be afraid to say “The kingdom of God has come near you.”

We will not be afraid to say the word “Jesus.”

We will not be afraid, in fact we will say with great confidence and great joy:

“You know about Jesus? That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!”

A funeral homily for August Feehan -- by the Rev. Richard Baker

Grant, O Lord, that my words may be Thy words and if my words be not Thy words, let thy people be clever enough to perceive the difference. Amen

Augusta Feehan is gone...and we have sorrow. We grieve...not for Gussie...but for ourselves and the loss we feel. An important part of us is gone...and our lives will not be the same again...worship at the Cathedral will not be the same again without her chair on Gospel side. But we are not gathered today to mourn and be bitter...Gussie would not have approved of that...We are gathered to recognize our give thanks for the pleasure of her company...and then to let go.

And what a pleasure her company could be! We all have great Gussie stories...and we intend for you to share them at the reception after this service.

She was a tireless advocate of the Holy Spirit, which she saw as an active force in the world, making things come out right, and she never missed the chance to announce, after some fortuitous event, “I tell you, honey, it’s the Holy Spirit!” She probably never realized that she fit that description as well -- an active force in the world, making things come out right...whether it was providing money for a young person’s education...or a music program...or lighting on the cathedral.

And what officiant at a cathedral wedding can forget the Holy Spirit (in the person of Augusta Feehan) doing combat with the mother of the bride to be sure things were done the right way -- or not done at all. I’m sure, however, that successive Deans have wished on occasion that the Holy Spirit would direct her along the path of greater cooperation. In both cases, she was making the world work better as she saw it.... she embodied that spirit.

We acknowledge today what a special force she was in our world and we give thanks for Gussie, the insights she gave us, the fun we had with her. I will savor forever her great line when asked why she didn’t eat many meals in the dining room of the residence on 18th Street: “Oh, honey, I can’t stand the organ know, those old people reciting which of their organs isn’t working right today.”

I give special thanks for Jim McGregor’s special care and concern for her since he came to the Cathedral -- she and I shared the conviction that his ministrations gave her 15 extra years...and we all give thanks for those extra years of the pleasure of her company.

I want to share with you a poem by The Rev. David Fly, entitled ‘A Farewell to Gussie’

Only three years before our Gussie was born,
Orville and Wilbur were tooting a horn.
Their news was amazing and could really astound,
‘Cause they found a way to get off the ground!

A flying machine they sat in and soared
That even predated the Model T Ford.
I tell you all this because I’m amazed
At what Gussie saw in all of her days!

She flew higher than Wilbur and that other Wright kid,
And put on more miles than Ford ever did!
Rocket ships, radar, robots and such
Have all come along in her life – it’s so much!

In her 106 years she saw wars go to peaces,
And astronauts soar into vast outer reaches!
She knew flappers and beatniks and hippies and more,
The human parade has danced past her door.

And since she was born she’s streamed clouds of glory,
And I’m honored to tell just part of the story.
we’ll miss you, dear Gussie,We’ll miss seeing you,
What an amazing time you have lived through!

Those of us who have known you want you to know
That you’ve touched us all deeply . . . and so . . .
Today, we’re the ones who are tooting a horn
Giving thanks to God for the day you were born!

And now we must say goodbye...and let go of that part of our lives that we called Gussie. We do so confident that she has now seen her redeemer,...seen God with her own eyes...and sure that God has welcomed her to a special mansion among the many dwelling places in God’s house.

We let go of her hand knowing that God now has hold of her hand...and that God will never let go.

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

Monday, July 1, 2013

"Welcome to Samaria!" - a sermon for Pride Sunday Festival Eucharist

A sermon preached by the Rev. Mark Kozielec at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, June 30, 2013 As our good friend Louie Crew—who founded Integrity almost forty years ago and has worked so long for justice for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered people in the church and the world—as Louie would say at the start of many a homily on auspicious occasions such as these: “Welcome to Samaria!”

I wonder, however, if this notion of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered people as on the outside, at the margins, worshipping at the wrong sanctuary—I wonder if this metaphor continues to be as strong as it was now that 13 states (including California!) and the District of Columbia recognize our right to marry—and as the Supreme Court clears the way for federal benefits for those state-recognized marriages. Halleluiah!

 I don’t know about you, but I wept on Wednesday morning. Never in my wildest imaginings did I expect such movement in my lifetime. So, I wonder, too, how much longer we can wrap ourselves in the mantle of marginalization now that our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers can openly and proudly serve in the military and that more than 140 of the Fortune 500 companies not only protect our rights of employment, but actively recruit us. And the Episcopal Church? (Well, look around.)

 Of course, amid all that we have to celebrate this morning (and indeed it is quite a bit), we know that we still have a long road to travel for full and equal rights and protection in this land of freedom and justice—especially in light of the Supreme Court’s evisceration of the Voting Rights Act, and especially in places like Missouri, where, I recently learned, I can be asked to leave a restaurant because I am gay. Who knew?

 Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning youth are still being bullied at school, kicked out of homes, and relentlessly abused by so-called “Christians.” LGBT folks continue to be dismissed from jobs, denied access to spousal health-care benefits, and banned from being adult leaders in the Boy Scouts (has anyone quite figured that one out yet?). Welcome to Samaria!

Even our gospel text this morning is not very charitable towards Samaritans. It isn’t until the next chapter in Luke that we hear the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus uses extreme hyperbole—“A GOOD Samaritan??! Preposterous!”—to highlight that God’s love for creation knows no boundaries. Here, this morning, however, we have the centuries-in-grained prejudice against Samaritans to contend with—and with Jesus’ help, we will.

As we do, and reminded of Martin Luther King’s insistence that the arc of history is long, yet always bending towards justice, I am here today to remind each and every one of us—and especially those who identify as LGBT—that the arc of God’s action in creation is long, and it always bends towards love. Even outside a dusty, Podunk, backwater village in Samaria.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He sends some followers ahead to make arrangements for a place to rest and to keep Shabbat along the way. In a Samaritan village, his followers are told, “No thanks, no place for him here.” We might wonder, why the lack of hospitality? Perhaps our answer can be found in the author of Luke noting twice in three verses that Jesus’ “face was set toward Jerusalem.”

This does not simply mean that Jesus was on a jolly jaunt to Jerusalem—this was his final journey to Jerusalem, and his destination was the Temple, not only to worship, but to challenge and be challenged by the authorities there. For our gospel reading this morning we need to remember that for centuries there had been great enmity between Jews and Samaritans over where, exactly, the legitimate sanctuary of God was located.

Samaritans, originally part of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, thought it located there. Jews in Jerusalem, once part of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, insisted that Jerusalem was it. And since Samaritans would assume that Jesus and his followers would see Jerusalem as the only legitimate sight, Samaritans might easily wonder why they should prepare a feast for foreigners at a place that had been denigrated by Jerusalem Jews for centuries. Now, I don’t know about you, but I cannot help but notice at least a shadow of similarity here in our own ongoing discussions this year over where our own Pride festivities should be rightfully held. But I digress.

When James and John hear of the Samaritans’ disrespect of Jesus, thoroughly and utterly insulted, (“How dare those low-down Samaritans!”), they respond with, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

Well, my Samaritan sisters and brothers, that sure sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Let us recall for a moment how some religious leaders insist that “God hates fags,” and that Hurricane Katrina and Super-storm Sandy and perhaps a California brush fire or two can all be laid at the feet of LGBT folks. At least in the allegedly “Christian” thinking of the Phelps’ and Falwells and Robertsons among us.

Of course, Jesus, will have none of this. The author of Luke tells us that Jesus “turned and rebuked” James and John, and they made their way to another village. Now, here I get to do something that, as I preacher, I very, very, rarely do: quote from the text of the King James Bible. In that version, here is what transpires when James and John offer to immolate the Samaritans, that is missing from our version:

“[Jesus] turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.” In other, non-King James words, “Don’t forget what spirit you are of, for the Son of Man hasn’t come to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them.”

Kind of makes me wonder what life would be like if the Phelps’ and Falwells and Robertsons of the world, who love to clobber others with select scripture verses, would read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this simple verse from their King James Bibles.

Of course, our text from Luke is not the only one we might find a bit challenging on this Gay Pride Sunday morning. Wouldn’t it be easy to just ignore our snippet from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, especially when he writes:

“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.” I wonder how that would preach later, outside, at the parade!

The separation of Spirit and Flesh? Sounds a lot like “love the sinner but hate the sin,” doesn’t it? Sounds like the Church of England’s “solution” to the “problem” of gay priests, who can be ordained, as long as they’re celibate; and can have a partner as long as there’s no physical consummation. On this day of celebration, let us continue to pray for our Mother Church.

Of course, Paul writes through the lens of his own context, a neo-Platonist-Jewish-Roman-male lens, if you will. And, as Paul is writing polemic here, it’s no wonder that our ears prick-up a few verses later when, at the beginning of that exhaustive list of all of that dirty-fleshy stuff, he employs the “f” word: “fornication.”

Yet, as much as it sounds like Paul is writing to the Galatians about preferences and proclivities, we need to remember that Paul’s main purpose is to counter the teachings of Jerusalem-based followers of Jesus, who continue to propound that all followers of Jesus need to be circumcised—they need to adhere to the most ancient of Jewish laws. Paul’s point is: If we are led by the Spirit, then we are no longer subject to the laws of the flesh. And what is that Spirit? Well, it’s the same spirit we hear Jesus tell us we are of today, and it’s summed up in a single, great commandment: To love God with all your being; and to love your neighbor as yourself.

Setting polemic aside, I wonder if Jesus would rebuke Paul and his screed against flesh and passion and desire. I wonder if Jesus would not so gently remind Paul of the great commandment—the one Paul himself quotes—and how contradictory hating the flesh but loving the spirit is in light of this commandment. I wonder if Jesus would remind Paul that the arc of God’s action in creation is long, always bending towards love. And that God’s love is justice in action.

As some of you here today know, my husband Chuck and I moved to St. Louis and the Diocese of Missouri just about a year ago, from the Diocese of New Hampshire. There, I was blessed to be ordained by, and serve with the now retired Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson.

Gene often employs a simple, yet profound, summary of theology that has found its way into many of my homilies over the years, and it’s in this one today. And that is that God loves you beyond your wildest imaginings. Gay, straight; young, old; black, white; and every shade and configuration in between: God loves you beyond your wildest imaginings.

Let us embrace and embody that love as we joyously celebrate today; and let us enact that love as tomorrow we continue the struggle for justice and liberation for all creation.

Indeed, my sisters and brothers, God loves each and every one of us beyond our wildest imaginings. Even Samaritans.