Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sermon: Karl Barth






Sermon for December 9, 2014 
10:00 Healing Service
Feast Day of Karl Barth (obs)
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
For online access to the readings click here
I speak to you in the name of One God:
Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit. Amen

“Don’t look where you don’t want to go
Look only where you want to go”

This was the only advice my mountain biking coach offered 
as we turned our bikes along the steep downhill 
single-track path on this Colorado mountain.

The trouble was, I was constantly looking at either the rock or root that was sticking up and in the path, that I had to ride over, or
I was looking at the steep canyon to my left that gave me a fright just considering how I might fall.

“Look only where you want to go
Not where you don’t…
And your bike will follow
The wheels will simply roll over whatever it is.”

Look only where you want to go.

To me, this example (while relatively benign)
captures the essence of what Paul was saying
in his Epistle to the Romans,
“I do not do what I want
I do the very thing that I hate…
With my mind I am a slave to the law of God and
with my flesh a slave to the law of sin…”

And this is the essence of Karl Barth’s “dialectical theology” – that God’s relationship to humanity is both grace and judgment.  He called this the paradoxical nature of the Divine truth.

Karl Barth - a Swiss reformed pastor and professor
of the early 1900s.
What do you know about him?

Karl Barth was a giant of theology…
We hear that he was
·        Born in 1886 in Switzerland
·        Studied in prestigious universities
·        Pastored in Geneva and Safenwil during WWI
·        The experience of which
o   informed him in his writing a commentary on Romans in 1918
o   where he addressed the doctrines of
§  God’s sovereignty and
§  Human Sin
o   (which he believed had been excluded from theological discourse of the time)
·        In 1934 he was instrumental in the Confessional Church, the faith leaders who confessed Christ as Lord, not Hitler (The Barmen declaration)
o   That the church’s allegiance to God in Christ mean a moral imperative to challenge the rule and violence of Hitler
o   This led to his resigning professorship at Univ of Bonn
·        Continued in his writing until 1968 the 13-volume “Church Dogmatics” which reassessed the entire Christian Theological Tradition
·        Pope Pius XII called him the most important theologian since Thomas Aquinas

Barth articulated three main theological notions:
1.     God’s Word as the definite source of revelation
2.     Incarnation as the bridge between God’s revelation and human sin
3.     The election of the creation at God’s great end

Clearly, Barth was gifted with intellect, a strong sense of justice, a deep faith and had a way of
doing theology that comes out of experience.
But what does that mean, “doing theology”?
Webster defines theology as : 
·        the study of religious faith, practice, and experience;
·        especially :  the study of God and of God's relation to the world

So Barth, I believe, modeled a curiosity for God’s relationship to the world.  With his gift of articulation, he was able to influence many people with imaging God’s presence and God’s relationship to humanity and the world.

And so, let’s take a moment to consider
the notion of “doing” theology. 
What does this look like for us, today? 
Think of an experience you had – what was God’s relationship to that experience?

One of my supervisors while working as a chaplain used to invite us all to consider WIGIAT. Where Is God In All This?  or

In today’s gospel, Jesus offers that
“everyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin.”
Is that what happens when I rely on my own
strength to push away the temptation
to look at the rocks and roots in my way?

Today’s good news is that Jesus makes us free.  Jesus has a permanent place in God’s household.  Jesus frees us and empowers us
to look at where we want to go,
not where we don’t.

In this season of Advent, sometimes “little Lent,”
In the watching and waiting for WIGIAT,
In the anticipation of incarnation and joy,
We give thanks for grace in our lives, so that we may “do theology” and recognize Love
in the face of each other.  Amen

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sermon: Love Languages


Irene prepares expansive lunch that feeds our hearts




Sermon for November 23, 2014
Proper 29A, Last Sunday 
After Pentecost
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ

For readings click here

Lord, open our lips
That our mouth shall proclaim your praise. Amen

A few years ago,
a friend of mine told me about a book. 
She swears this book saved her marriage. 
It’s called The Five Love Languages,
by Gary Chapman. 

The premise of the book is that each person
has a primary love language and
we must learn to speak their language
if we want that person to feel our love. 
The five languages are:
First, “words of affirmation.” 
In this language,
spoken praise and appreciation
to your loved one
is like rain on parched soil. 
Second, “acts of service.” 
In this language,
actions speak louder than words and
even tiny acts are hugely important
to your loved one. 
Third, “receiving gifts.” 
In this language,
it is the thought that counts. 
Even a single cheerful flower
can mean the world to your loved one. 
Fourth, “quality time.”
In this language,
undivided attention
(with the TV off and consistent eye contact)
displays the depth of your love. 
Fifth, “physical touch.” 
In this language,
physical connection demonstrates true love,
everything from a hand
on your loved one’s shoulder
to a deep embrace.

Of course, most of us express or desire
a combination of these five basic love languages. 
Words of affirmation, acts of service,
receiving gifts, quality time or physical touch. 

In today’s gospel,
Jesus taught the disciples
the basic love languages
spoken in the Kingdom of God. 
And Jesus taught the disciples
to whom these love languages
were to be expressed.

The parable served as a “last lecture”
for the disciples, culminating
the climactic ending
of Jesus’ speech about the “end times” –
about what happens in eternity to
the “sheep” who express the love languages,
the “goats” who do not, and
“to whom” they expressed it. 

These works of mercy were, for Jesus,
the basic love languages:
food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty,
welcome for the stranger, clothing for the naked,
care for the sick, and
visitation for the imprisoned. 

Express this love language, Jesus taught,
to “me” - because
“I appear to you in the form of any need.” 
That was the wisdom that Jesus shared.
He intended the disciples
to imitate his concern for the poor and needy.

And Jesus intends for us
to imitate his concern for the poor and needy,
through his love languages.
Feeding, watering, welcoming,
clothing, caring, and visiting. 

“When you did it to one of the least of these
my brothers and sisters, members of my family,
you did it to me.” 

In serving the most vulnerable and needy
among us,
we serve our Lord
through his love languages without words. 

In this teaching,
Jesus proposes a radical new social structure
where our King is found not in strength or power,
but in the “least”–
the people who are poor, vulnerable, needy. 

When we imitate Jesus’ concern and service
for the poor and needy,
our lives overflow with richness and meaning. 
When we express the love language of Jesus,
our hearts burst with compassion and joy. 
When we feed, water, welcome, clothe, care for and visit our neighbors,
we are living God’s dream. 

For God’s reign happens right now,
in the present,
not through power, but
by deeds of love, mercy and compassion,
especially toward those least powerful. 

Jesus’ “last lecture”
can makes us very uncomfortable
if we think about it much. 
We cannot help everyone. 
We do not have endless time or money. 
So what can we do?

Well, two things:
First, we can “speak” the six love languages:
Offering food, drink, welcome,
clothing, care and visitation.

Second, we can notice the people around us
who are “least” – and recognize that person may be us.

A few years ago, I travelled to
the city of Juarez (MX) and
visited Centro Santa Catalina,
a women’s sewing coop
run by a nun from El Paso,
situated on the city landfill. 

We visited CSC and got to know
the Juarez women who came everyday
with their children & grandchildren
to their community-run school, who sewed beautiful garments together every morning and shared bible stories many afternoons.
One day at noon,
Irene invited us to visit her home for lunch. 
We trekked along a landfill pathway,
across broken glass, bits of trash and old tires
to the little housing enclave
just across the way, still on the landfill.

We sat in her kitchen,
one of four rooms in her house.
When she opened the fridge,
the only thing in there was
a small bottle of ketchup and a coke.

We sat and tried to talk to each other
(we spoke very little Spanish,
her English was about as good).
Her grandson came in and  
we saw her give him a few pesos
so that he could buy queso to go with
the lavish beans & rice & enchilada lunch
that Irene was able to feed us
from her meager pantry. 

We were fed not only by the delicious food,
but by her expansive hospitality. 
We drank her living water of hope
that life would get better,
through her grandchildren,
and through this community
of which she had become a part.

Irene welcomed us to her home and to her world, without shame and with dignity.

After lunch, the joy of her family erased
any fear of danger (so public in the media),
as we laughed out loud
practicing each others’ language
with her grandchildren.

She clothed us in the light of her faith
as she offered a silent, toothy smile
to our mutual inability
to really hold a conversation.

In that lunch, amidst that poverty, Irene showed us the face of the incarnate God, full of faith, hope and love.

When we speak the love languages of Jesus and notice who around us is “least” – we best stand back for our encounter with God is certain.

Who is the least, right here, right now?
In every moment, who is the poor, the needy?

Is it the woman
in the grocery store line
who is hungry for Love,
and asking you listen to her story?

Is it the man at work,
thirsty for hope,
asking that you share how
God is doing a new thing in your life?

Is it the stranger
inside each of us –
that unnamed fear,
that surprising upwelling of grief,
that vulnerable side of us?



Is it the stranger to our country, the immigrant or refugee trying to make a better life for their family?

Is it the friend who is “sick”
with outrage at our political process?

Is it the “prisoner” in each of us,
the one who is locked in ways of thinking,
or frozen in strong convictions
or held captive by righteous indignation?

When we love those who are “least”
we are in the good company of Dorothy Day,
who established the Catholic Worker Movement
in the 1930s. In her essay, “Love is the Measure”[1]
She wrote,
“There is nothing we can do but love,
and dear God,
please enlarge our hearts to love each other,
to love our neighbor,
to love our enemy as well as our friend.”

Dorothy knew the love language of Jesus –
the language that Jesus intended
the disciples to imitate.

The disciples learned in this “last lecture”
about God’s expansive hope in their lives. 
which transformed even the bumbling,
very human,
fearful disciples
into full-blown apostles.

And so it is for us. 

Do you want to experience God’s presence?

Speak the language of Love to “the least.”
And stand back,
for you will be transformed
by God’s power working in your life.

The good news today is that
God transforms us by
feeding us with love and forgiveness
in our human mistakes
offering us a cool drink of empathy
and compassion when we share our stories
always welcoming us
to return again and again
to prayer after being away
clothing us in the light of creative hope
when all others are at wits’ end
caring for us through the presence of another
when we have any dis-ease.
and
visiting us with perspective when we are “imprisoned.”


God reveals God’s self to anyone who is
the “least.”

In a world that seems too big to change,
our lives,
given away through
Jesus’ love language,
have more meaning and value
than we can possibly imagine,
because that’s where Jesus meets us. 

That’s where Jesus reveals his true kingly power and sovereign strength
That’s where we – bumbling, human,
fearful disciples
are transformed into full-blown apostles.

Where?

In the least of these…

Amen



[1] Except from Dorothy Day’s By Little and By Little: The Selected Writings of Dorothy Day as cited by Colman McCarthy in The Class of Nonviolence.