Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sermon: Sergius, Abbot of Holy Trinity

Sermon for September 25, 2012
Feast Day of Sergius, Abbot of Holy Trinity, Moscow
St. Philips In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki Hesse, September 25, 2012

I speak to you in the name of one God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today is the feast day of Sergius,
a national hero and patron saint of Russia
from the mid-14th century. 

A little bit about his background:
He was born during civil war and
his family left Moscow to begin farming in a nearby village. 
At the age of only twenty, he and his brother
moved to an even more secluded life in a nearby forest. 
From this location,
they developed what is now the Monastery of the Holy Trinity.

Apparently, he had a humble nature and
refused higher advancement, such as becoming
Bishop of Moscow. 
Instead, he remained, (and this line in particular struck me)
“…simple and gentle in nature, mystical in temperament and eager to ensure that his monks should serve the needs of their neighbors…” 

In other words, his life was not about him. 
We can draw inspiration from this one who grew deeply
in his faith through devotion and through his fellow monks.

The fertile inner-work that he did
is reflected in Proverbs and
in the Gospel and inspires our own inner-spiritual work.

From Proverbs,
“Listen, children, to a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight…”
and again
“The beginning of wisdom is this:
Get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight…”

From the Gospel, we hear
“Pay attention to how you listen;
for to those who have, more will be given…”

Woven together, these texts raise up the nature of wisdom, gained from attentive listening and sharing. 

In biblical context,
the Gospel passage
“No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar or
puts it under a bed but puts it on a lamp stand…”
can be seen as a commentary on the parable
that actually preceded it. 
The parable that preceded it (but not read today)
was the parable of the sower and the seeds –
the seeds that fall on the path,
that grow among thorns,
that fall on the rocks and
that grow in good soil. 

In biblical context, then, Jesus could be heard saying
just as one sows in order to reap a harvest,
so one lights a lamp in order to give light. 

One doesn’t sow in order to feed birds or
to choke a bush with thorns –
so also one does not light a lamp
to put it under a suffocating jar or
under a bed. 

The purpose of sowing –
God’s purpose for the Word or the light –
is to effect change. 

If you receive God’s word –
the light of God’s word –
like good soil receives the seed,
you gain even greater insight and
maturity and knowledge of God. 

This is what Sergius did. 
He received the Word and passed it on. 
His sharing – his own proclamation
was the dynamic act that effected change. 

Today we hear how God’s word
burns like an eternal candle.
When we allow it, when we are attentive to it,
it gives light to produce a bountiful harvest. 
The very hearing of God’s word can transform us –
and especially so if we approach it
with radical openness and trust. 

Then, as we share our gifts of wisdom, time,
endurance and life experience,
so will we grow in the knowledge and love of God. 

The good news is that God’s word –
God’s light –
shines all the time,
whether or not we are aware of it. 

We are called
to offer our simple, gentle, humble attention to it and
to realize the life and vitality it offers. 

With our simple and gentle nature,
may we continue to seek and serve Christ
in every person we meet this day and every day,
just as Sergius invites us.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sermon: Framed

Sermon for Pentecost 16/Proper 19, Year B

St. Philips In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
Vicki Hesse, September 16, 2012

Mark 8:27-38
27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

I speak to you in the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. + Amen

Jesus asked them, “But who do YOU say that I am?” 

When I thought about that question, I remembered a story[1]
that I heard about two friends, Marion and Sandra. 
They were school friends who met on the street one day. 
Marion had recently lost her husband, David. 
They had been married for about 34 years,
he had had a heart attack and he had died. 
About 10 days after he had died, Marion met Sandra along the street.

Sandra was not a close friend but one who was very warm to Marion; they had seen each other occasionally.  
When they met, Sandra was filled with remorse because
she had not contacted Marion when she saw David’s obituary.  

Sandra was highly apologetic,
“I should have phoned you, I should have come to see you, and
I don’t know why, but I just want to say, I’m sorry, Marion.”

Marion said, “That’s alright, Sandra. 
You know, when people die, not everyone knows
what to say to those who are bereft,
so please don’t feel embarrassed about that…
it was a very sudden death. We had not anticipated it. 
He had had a massive coronary and it turns out that
if he had lived, he would have had a very restricted existence. 
So, because he was such a lively man,
maybe in a way that this is a blessing. 
We’ve been upheld by the prayers of the church and
by the people who have come to see us and
we’ll just have to go through the grieving, you can’t go around it.” 

Then Marion asked, “How about you, Sandra?”
Sandra said, “Oh, everyone’s fine, Marion, fine, yeah, fine,
all except my father.” 
“Oh?” Marion said, “What’s up with your father?”

Sandra said, “Well, he, um, died about 8-9 months ago.” 
“Oh!” Marion said, “I never saw the notice of your father’s death
in the newspaper.” 
Sandra said, “No, we never put it in – but he died a peaceful death,
he was about 85 and his time was up and he went gladly.” 
Then Sandra asked, “Do you remember my father, Marion?”

Marion said, “ Of course I remember your father…
I remember when I would walk down King Street
(a main street in the town) and
I would look into the butcher shop at the cross roads and
there would be your father, when he worked in the shop,
with his pork-pie hat on and a blue and white stripped apron
and his sleeves rolled up and his arms up to the elbows in
mincemeat or kidney or liver or whatever he was working on. 
Oh! in fact, I can remember your father
more easily that I can remember my husband David.”

Now here is an odd thing –
a woman’s husband has died 10 days earlier and
she can remember another woman’s father
more easily than she can remember her own husband. 

If we had time we could discuss why that might have been the case
and might come up with any number of possibilities –
a guilt associated with the death,
unfinished business,
perhaps an argument, or
some reason of a block.
This is actually a more common phenomenon
than we like to admit. 
Sometimes when people die, we cannot remember them. 

Perhaps the reason was because Sandra’s father was a man
that Marion only knew as the butcher on King Street. 
She looked through, as it were, a frame and
saw him at his work.  
She had never seen him fishing.
She had never seen him bowling. 
She had never seen him in his Masonic Apron
(probably his wife had never seen him in his Masonic Apron, either!). 
She had never seen him on vacation,
she had only seen him as this man who worked in a butcher shop. 

Now David, her husband, she’d seen him in many guises. 
She’d seen him in his army suit.
She’d seen him in his gardening suit because that was his first job. 
She’d seen him in his wedding suit,
she’d seen him in his birthday suit,
she’d seen him when he was in deep grief, as when
his younger brother, Tom, died of pneumonia at age 14.
She’d seen him delighted as when it was announced to him
that he had become the father of twin boys. 
She’d seen him in so many guises – so what could she focus on?

Sometimes we imagine that the people we know well
are actually the people we know only in one context. 

See, the people I know best and that you know best
are those who will have seen us at work and at play
and in different situations –
or full of fun,
puzzled or
full of joy. 
And when we see people in a numerous ways, then,
we can say that we know people well.  

This is how God knows us and relates to us.
God, through Jesus, has chosen to relate to us person to person,
not as distant, far off objects. 
And we will have a fuller understanding
of the one who calls us “friend” if we have in our mind –
and in our experience –
a range of pictures or images or characteristics of that one,
from which we can draw to seek and serve the Christ in one another.


In today’s gospel, Jesus asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that I am?”
and they answered him, with single-frame personalities –
“John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets.”
Jesus re-asked, “but who do YOU say that I am?”
and Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” 
When Jesus taught them the Son of Man
must suffer, be rejected, be killed and
after three days, will rise again – then,
Jesus expanded the frame of who he was. 

Peter reacted by rebuking Jesus;
this was not the Jesus he thought he knew so well. 
Jesus reacted by rebuking Peter;
he was not accepting this expansive frame.

Jesus said, “You are setting your mind not
on divine things but on human things.” 
Jesus rejected Peter’s control,
Peter’s single-minded context of who Jesus was. 

Jesus expanded the frame of who he was and
who the disciples were, too. 

Jesus explained that
to be a disciple of his meant this:
“if any want to become my followers
let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” 
Jesus set his mind on divine things and
saw the disciples in an expansive frame,
that they were called to
“take up their cross”
for the cause of God’s kingdom.


Perhaps we can see ourselves in this scene.  

Perhaps we know Jesus as the one who
shares communion with us every Sunday
but if we meet Jesus on Monday,
at the corner of River and Campbell begging for food or money,
we don’t know what to say. 
We want to rebuke that Jesus –
we have set our mind not on divine things but on human things. 

Perhaps we know Jesus as the one who
holds a sheep with a gentle smile,
but when we hear about the Jesus who speaks truth to power
by saying, “get behind me, Satan!”
we cringe, close our ears and don’t know what to say. 
This is not the Jesus who fits into a nice, neat frame. 

Like Marion who knew Sandra’s father just as the “butcher”
with the pork-pie hat and striped apron,
we sometimes see Jesus only in one frame –
as the one “up there,” the one distant from us. 
Or is he only that?


In today’s gospel,
Jesus told the disciples about
God’s faithfulness to redeem all of creation. 

He told them what it meant that he was the Messiah. 
He refused to be boxed-in.
He told them how it was necessary
to be rejected, to die and that then he will rise again.

Jesus told them that through him, all of humanity
even those in the isolated region of Caesarea Philippi –
all of humanity, will be redeemed – that is,
liberated, healed and saved –
that all of humanity will know God’s love. 

In the question, “But who do YOU say that I am?”  
Jesus freely invited his disciples to expand their frame –
to follow him in the same manner,
to have their own experience of God’s gracious love. 

God, through Jesus, revealed a
deep, vulnerable, and intimate everlasting love
for all of humanity.


In this question, “But who do YOU say that I am?”
Jesus freely invites us to expand our frame and
to follow him in the same manner,
to have our own experience of God’s gracious love.
In this question, Jesus invites us to “set our mind… on divine things.” 
In this question, Jesus reveals God’s steadfast love of you and of me.

Jesus expands the frame of who we are, as his disciples, too.

Each time we look deeply into the eyes of our sisters and brothers;
each time we suffer, are rejected and some part of us dies;
each time we share ourselves deeply;
we increase our capacity to know who Jesus is -
We broaden the frame of Jesus and of ourselves. 
We are transformed when we follow as a disciple
 in the footsteps of the one who calls us friend. 

And each time, we can recognize
how God is alive and faithful and present with us in  
our own suffering, our sacrifices and our deaths.

This is where Jesus reveals, again,
God’s unwavering love for us and
is already resurrecting new hope in our lives. 

Jesus asks me, today, and you, today, “Who do YOU say that I am?” 

When you answer this question,
know that you are a disciple of him who refuses to be boxed in,
who offered himself to God’s will and
who reveals God’s deep, abiding love. 

When you answer this question, think of who God says that you are:


Know you are loved.


[1] From John Bell, Iona Community, speaking at a retreat at Montreat Presbyterian Conference Center in 2010.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A L'il Welcome

I'm learning about welcoming from a 7 year old.

Last week, the "yellow visitor cards" arrived in my box.  These are those cards that folks fill out who are "visitors" and they use the little golf pencil to write their contact info.  I collected several cards, left a few "welcome!" voice mail messages and wrote simply notes to a few.

This week, I received an email from one of the vestry members.  She wrote,

"...I haven't actually met you in person yet ...We received the nicest handwritten note from you today in our mailbox addressed to our son, (name withheld), who is 7 years old.  

I think he must have filled out a card from a pew and dropped it into the offering plate.  He is precocious to say the least so I am sorry if you mistook him for a visitor to the parish.  ...Anyhow, I am looking forward to meeting you and hoping that you get to spend some time our congregation's younger children and their families...Welcome to Tucson .  We are so glad that you are here!"

So, while I was busy welcoming a new visitor, they were welcoming me!

God continues to show up in the most unexpected places.


Saturday, September 8, 2012


This week, I started my at my first parish position.

First time in *that* sanctuary.  First time someone called me, awkwardly, "Um, Reverend?..." First time meeting an altar guild of thirty women who know the names of sacred objects and know how to clean them.  First Vestry meeting.  First use of the "split" chalice.  First time wearing a collar in the grocery story.  First time reading this specific Gospel for a congregation, "In my Father's house there are many dwellings..." which is, of course, one of the selected texts for a funeral.

All these firsts, and it got me thinking.

How is God showing up in these firsts?  In some way, I believe that God overflows in those "first" moments.  With awe, with confidence, with delicacy, with color, with surprise.  *That's* a living God, alive!  God - loving me through it all, despite my new-ness.

I hope it always feels "first."

“So I started in, talking. Before I’d spoken half a dozen sentences, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as he did on us the first time. I remembered Jesus’ words: ‘John baptized with water; you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So I ask you: If God gave the same exact gift to them as to us when we believed in the Master Jesus Christ, how could I object to God?” - Acts 11:15-17 (The Message)