Monday, April 30, 2018

Sermon: The Spirit is snatching you!

Photo by Trevor Gerzen on Unsplash
Sermon for April 29, 2018
The Fifth Sunday after Easter (B)
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse, Preacher
St. Michaels and All Angels Episcopal Church
Onsted, Michigan

God, take our minds and think through them,
take our lips and speak through them,
take our hearts and set them on fire for you. Amen.

Watch this sermon on YouTube, here

Good Morning St. Michael’s!  My name is Vicki Hesse and
I am the director of the Whitaker Institute for the Diocese of Michigan. 

The Whitaker Institute is the educational arm of the Diocese.
Our overall purpose, our mission since 1954, is to form disciples
to carry on the ministry of Jesus Christ.
We do this through education, equipping and empowering.
We exist to provide lifelong formation –
that is, learning opportunities
members of our faith community to
grow in knowledge, mature in their faith
and become better equipped for their unique ministries.

Practically speaking, this includes three main programs:
First, Academy for Vocational Leadership –
a monthly school for ministry operating collaboratively with
Dio E Mich and Dio W Mich.
The Academy provides theological training
for people seeking ordination.
Second, Exploring Your Spiritual Journey –
a twice-monthly circle of people (from our Dio)
listening with the ear of their heart
how God is calling them to serve in the world.
Third, Safeguarding courses –
regular courses designed to teach church ministers
about protecting the safety and dignity
of children and vulnerable adults. 
Perhaps at coffee hour we will have a time
to explore the programs that Whitaker offers:
next Saturday’s Ministry Fair,
or e-Formation for Digital Literacy in Ministry
or participation in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land next year. 

Thank you to Judith and Diana
for the invitation to preach today
and be with you in celebration of our Lord’s resurrection!

A few years ago, the parish in which I served
hosted video-oriented Sunday course called
“Living the Questions,” by author and theologian Diana Butler Bass. 
In this series, Bass explores how
the times, they are a changing for The Church.
– and importantly so.
In the series, Bass shares that
The basis of the institutional church
is believing (creed and dogma),
behaving (rules and techniques) and
belonging (membership and choice).
All of this results in people thinking
that Christianity is about getting the answers right,
living by the rules, and passing the test.” 
Learn what we believe so that you may behave this way and then you belong.

However, she contrasts, our faith formation (our “catechesis”)
needs to change and align with post-modern spirituality. 
She says that, “When talking of spirituality,
the three B’s (believing, behaving and belonging)
are still important but their emphasis changes
from what you believe to how you believe,
from what you do to how you act and
from what is your membership to who are you?
This focuses on relationships and community.
And perhaps the order shifts, first to belonging,
then behaving then believing.

For Jesus asks, “Follow me”
before he asks, “believe in me.”
So, the model is worth considering,
knowing that in fact it is spiral –
each person’s participation in a community –
and therefore a communities engagement with God –
works on all levels according to context.

Today’s story from Acts of the Ethiopian eunuch
echoes these very themes.
His way of salvation offers
a pattern of “catechesis” (or formation).
How often we, too, need to travel a wilderness road
to secure God’s salvation.

See, the eunuch yearned for salvation.

He longed for and suffered for a people of which to belong.
Although he had worldly success
as a wealthy court treasurer,
he was doubly outcast by his religion.
He was rejected because of where he lived (Ethiopia is not Israel) and
because of his sexuality – he had been castrated,
which is against the Torah law[1].

He definitely traveled the wilderness road.
And that is where Philip found him.
“Do you know understand what you are reading?”
With honest vulnerability, the eunuch replies,
“How can I, unless someone guides me?”

The eunuch yearned for salvation through belonging,
so he behaved as one “should” by taking a pilgrimage
and read scriptures for right belief.

I wonder how we, too, yearn for salvation –
for personal and for societal transformation. 

We are far from Jerusalem, the way of peace. 
The list of ways our hearts are broken is long:
we ache for healing for our family and friends affected with disease.
We long for hospitality of, instead of punishment to,
the refugees and immigrants.
We look for peaceful solutions from gun violence. 
We know there is sufficient food
yet we see neighbors who are hungry.
We weep for the devastation of the earth
and crave legislation that cares about creation.
We thirst for civil conversation in our thorn-infested, desert-dry politics.

We definitely travel the wilderness road.
And that is where Philip finds us.
“Do you know understand what you are reading?”
Where is God in that mess?
With honest vulnerability, we reply,
“How can we, unless someone guides us?”
So who is guiding you these days?
How do you follow Jesus – and with whom?

When the eunuch said that,
God’s Spirit guided Philip and
God engaged in the eunuch’s life right then.

Philip went over to the chariot, joined the eunuch,
and offered communion – through the scriptures –
to belong to the way of Jesus.
Philip spoke and proclaimed the good news,
pointing out salvation which was in plain view.  
Philip showed how God got involved in all of life
by water and the Holy Spirit.

“What is to prevent me from being baptized?” the eunuch wonders.
What is to prevent me from belonging?
And through water and the Holy Spirit,
God began doing God’s work through the eunuch, and
encouraged Philip to keep sharing the good news of salvation,
especially among those who the religious traditions marginalize.

See, that same Spirit is among us here – in this Christian community.
That same Spirit is working among us, to remind us we belong. Here.
That same Spirit drives us to follow Jesus.

Here, we can behave as Jesus shows us in the gospels:
Beseeching prayerful healing and reconciliation for family and friends,
offering hospitality and aid to refugees and immigrants,
working for laws that make our society safer in the midst of violence,
reaching out with food to those who are hungry
while challenging the laws that make people poor
Educating folks everywhere to care for creation
while challenging unjust legislation that allows pollution to continue.
Practicing patient, open conversation with brave space guidelines
for diverse and inclusive communities.
Look out!  Following in this way is not easy!
It’s turning the whole world upside down!

This God we believe in is training us, through this community,
in the art of mutuality and co-creation. 
God offers us a catechesis modeled by this eunuch to depend on others:
Do you like to learn? God calls you to teach.
Do you like to give? God calls you to receive.
Do you like to talk? God calls you to listen.
Do you like to act bravely? God calls you to be vulnerable.

The eunuch yearned for salvation and we yearn for salvation.
And God in Jesus enlists us to engage this crazy Spirit.
What is to prevent us from being baptized, from belonging?  Nothing. 
For we are God’s answer to what is wrong in this world.

Today’s good news is that the Spirit is among us,
engaged in our belonging, our behaving, our believing –
God is here, enlisting us
not to stay where God found us but
to move us to where God needs us to be.

Today, the Spirit is snatching you
to proclaim the Good News to this very broken world. 
Go on your way, rejoicing in the Spirit of God!


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Sermon: Names

Photo by Dewang Gupta on Unsplash
Sermon for April 22, 2018
Easter IVB
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Detroit

Open our lips, O God, that our mouth may proclaim your praise. Amen

In addition to being Earth day, we also commemorate Good Shepherd Sunday – where the readings call us to recall Jesus’ “nickname” as the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep.

Which is where I would like to start today.  What is your name? 
Where did you get your name? 
Think of the source of power that was conferred
when your name was placed in your heart.

The Jewish tradition[1] holds that
the Jews were redeemed from Egypt
because they kept their names and their language.
Their names and language separated them
from the Egyptians in their midst.
And this decreased their temptation toward idolatry.
So even today, Jewish names are understood
to arise from divine inspiration during the naming ceremony. 
In Hebrew, the name of every object
is the conduit for divine energy and
so that is true of every person’s name –
the channel through which
the soul’s energy reaches the body. 
So names have power.  Influence.  Divine direction.

In our first reading,
the ruling elders and scribes challenged the apostles Peter and John,
“by what name did you do this?” 
The challenge arose because
Peter and John were teaching and healing. 
They proclaimed that
“…in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead …” the scripture goes,
“…And many of those who heard the word believed;
and they numbered about five thousand.”
The rulers demanded to know:
By what power or by what name did you do this –
this healing, this conversion to your way of life?
Because names have power.  Influence.  Divine direction.

In the Gospel reading,
the rulers also challenged
Jesus’ ability to heal and
            to liberate people from their oppression.
They demanded to know from Jesus –
by what power did he have to heal the blind man? 
Jesus replies by giving his name,
his various I Am nicknames –
“I am the gate” and “I am The Way” and
“I am the Good Shepherd” –
essentially naming the power and divine reflection
from which he is able to do this. 
Names have power. Influence. Divine direction.

And, if Jesus is the Good Shepherd,
I wonder if there are more than just a few ways
[we] are like sheep.
Sometimes we don’t live into our powerful God-given names.
Sometimes we are timid, greedy, foolish, and half holy.  
Sometimes, like sheep, we forget who we are and whose we are ---
we get hungry, and hungry for more than just food.
We get thirsty for more than just drink.
We are bereft of Divine Inspiration –
our souls get hungry and thirsty…”[2]

Maybe this sense of inner emptiness
is what makes us know we have named souls in the first place?

I remember watching my friend Mark
sheer his flock one day.
He just tipped the sheep on their backs
and they lay, defenseless, as he clipped their wool. 
To be like a sheep is to be like a child,
being guided and taken care of
by someone larger and stronger –
always receiving and seldom giving.

The trouble with seeing Jesus as the Good Shepherd
is that it makes us sheep –helpless, needy, sheep. 
The trouble with thinking of ourselves as sheep
is that sheep do not ever grow up to be shepherds. 

As children, we needed this loving care. 
As we mature, we have an even deeper need. 
That need, that call from God,
is to care for and feed someone else.
That is when we find abundant life. 
Names have power. Influence. Divine direction.

In the power of the Divine name of Jesus,
that inner emptiness can be filled.
That is what Psalm 23 means
by saying that God is a shepherd:
God feeds that part of us which is hungriest and most in need of feeding.
God pours a drink for the part of us
which is parched and most in need of hydration.
Jesus is both the Good Shepherd of the sheep
AND the recruiter and trainer of shepherds.

In this Christian community,
it means both receiving and giving in the power of his Divine Name –
of caring for and being cared for,
of giving and receiving,
of loving and being loved.

Hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd
means to go outside of St. Peter’s walls.
To involve yourselves in the fight for justice.
 To gather at rallies, vigils, protests.
To hold trainings and to risk arrest. 
To speak truth to power and to walk together while building beloved community.

By what power or by what name did you do this?
Names have power. Influence. Divine direction.

In the name of Jesus, it means, profoundly: trust.
It does not mean that death will not come,
that tragedy will not sting,
that our hearts will not be broken,
that someone will not betray us. 
Trusting the One named the Good Shepherd invites us into Psalm 23½:

Even though I walk through the blight of Detroit,
I will not fear death…
Though I pass through the valley of dismay at our political process,
I will not be alone…
Though people may think less of me
because of my decisions, I will not lose heart…
Though my relationships are strained and my work is never done,
I will fear no evil…for you anoint me, guard me, love me.

This is really good news!  To be free of fear,
to be empowered by the Name of Jesus,
to be a glimmer of divine reflection…
THIS is a gift beyond words. 
I know this because I am a specialist in fear,
in uber-responsibility and paralyzing self-shame.                
But then there is this Good Shepherd, Jesus,
who promises to meet us in ways
we cannot imagine in the most difficult places
of life – and death.

May we, this day, follow where he leads
and trust that he loves us beyond measure.
May we, this day, follow his voice,
share in his ministry, and
allow him to guide us into paths of service and compassion.

Names have power. Influence. Divine direction.  
With the one named Good Shepherd, may we have life, and have it abundantly.


[2] Frederick Buechner Sermon Illustration cited here on May 1, 2017