Thursday, October 18, 2012


The man placed the box of "grandpa's" ashes in the niche. Slowly, deliberately, methodically.

We all took a deep breath.  The stone mason approached.

He walked slowly, carrying several buckets of tools and materials.  He knelt down and reached for the engraved plaque.  He held it in his hands, closes his eyes, and bows his head. Silence covered the space.

We all took a deep breath.

Breaking the silence was the spatula, scraping the mortar on the edges of the engraved plaque. Scrrrrk scrrrk scrrrk scrrrk.  He stood and swiped mortar on the edges of the niche, echoing in the boxy space. Scrrrok. Scrrrok Scrrrok Scrrrok.

We all took a deep breath.

He placed the plaque on the niche, using the level to ensure it was square. He braced the corners with small plastic nibs and sealed the covering plaque in its place.  He gently wiped clean the plaque, the neighboring niches, the drips on the ground.

He paused, placed his hand on the name and said a prayer.

What a juxtaposition: the mortar of earth and ash contrasted with the breath of eternal life.  Surely this is sacred ground!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sermon: Latimer and Ridley, Oxford Martyrs

Sermon for October 16, 2012

Feast Day of Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, Bishops and Martyrs, 1555
St. Philips In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki Hesse, October 16, 2012
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all hearts be acceptable to you, o Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen

I have to admit.  History is not one of my best subjects.
In fact, (now, John, close your ears) this was
the one subject of the General Ordination Exams
for which I received (ahem)
remedial help to complete the canonical requirements. 

So when I saw that today’s feast day included
not one but two figures in the history of the reformation,
I cringed.  I reached for the
200-pg “Brief history of the Episcopal Church” book
as well as the nearly 1200-pg “Christianity, the first 3000 years” for perspective of these important ancestors
in our Anglican Tradition.  I wanted to find out:
·    What is really important about these two figures? 
·    How is their life reflected in the Gospel text? 
·    What is relevant to us, today?

Both Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley
refused to recant their protestant theology
before Queen Mary and were persecuted for it.
While their executions contributed
to Queen Mary’s moniker as “Bloody Mary,”
their lives, their faith, and their zeal
inspired the continual reformation
and renewal of the Anglican church.

Hugh Latimer (once Bishop of Worcester)
was zealous in his anti-ecclesiastical position
(in other words, he sought reformed roles and
expectations of clergy and how the church
was organized in obedience to God, not the pope)
even while he held an orthodox theology.
He did not argue doctrine, but rather the
“moral life of Christian clergy and people.”[1] 

Nicholas Ridley
(once Bishop of London and teacher of Lady Jane Grey)
was inspired by the reformation happening on the continent
(a la Luther, Zwingli and Calvin). 
Both participated in the development of the
Book of Common Prayer and opposed Queen Mary.

In 1555, during their execution in Oxford,
Latimer cried out to Ridley:
“Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, … 
We shall this day light such a candle
by God’s grace in England as I trust shall never be put out.” [2]

With these prophetic words, we now know that
the English reformation spread.
The candle they lit did find a way for reforming peace. 
These two former bishops, persecuted and
burned at the stake for pursuing a reformed church,
held fast to their faith and witness to
God’s living presence in the world. 

Today’s gospel text addresses persecution,
just at the end of  Jesus’
farewell discourse in the Gospel of John.
For most of that farewell discourse,
Jesus taught that the relationships
in the community are to be governed by love. 

In today’s text, Jesus tackled
the believing community’s relationship
to those outside the community.
He prepared the disciples for their relationship
to the world and how that relationship would be
governed by hate, persecution and death. 

Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.”

This is not exactly the happy marketing message
we might expect to find
from someone trying to gather followers. 

In this text, the disciples learned that
the call to “love as Jesus loves”
would most crucially be tested
when the community meets the world’s hatred.

Jesus contrasted their faith community and
the “world” more sharply here
than elsewhere in this gospel.
Listen to the “us vs. them” rhetoric,
unusual for one who professes Love.

"If they persecuted me, they will persecute you;
if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.
But they will do all these things to you
on account of my name,
because they do not know him who sent me.
If I had not come and spoken to them,
they would not have sin;
but now they have no excuse for their sin.
Whoever hates me hates my Father also.”

The way that Jesus contrasted the believing community to the world shows how that believing community
saw themselves as strong internally and unflinchingly
“over and against the ways of the world.”[3] 
For this community, belonging to Jesus
precluded any membership in the world. 
This community saw itself in opposition to the world. 

We must listen to Jesus’ words with care.
This world-denying rhetoric can morph into
life-denying language easily.
In fact, this rhetoric might demonize the adversary,
which makes Love Thy Neighbor a shame. 

Following the examples of Latimer and Ridley,
we follow the more subtle call of Jesus -
to reject “business as usual” – not to withdraw from the world but to be fully present in the world and bring love into it.

In other words, while we might be persecuted for our beliefs,
Jesus calls us, to be radically obedient to his words,
“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”

Love, the love we have for one another –
canNOT be separated from its source in God and in Jesus. 

Then Jesus told his disciples:
“When the Advocate comes,
whom I will send to you from the Father,
the spirit of truth that comes from the Father,
he will testify on my behalf.”
When Jesus told his disciples about this Advocate,
the community knew that
Love was this spirit of truth.
Love, whose source is God and Jesus,
Love would prevail through the Advocate,
despite persecution.

And we know that community love,  
sourced from God and made real through the Holy Spirit,
that strengthened the disciples
also strengthens us for what persecutions lie ahead.

Bottom line?
The love of God made known in the incarnation
continues into the life of a believing community (such as this)
through the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus and God send the Holy Spirit to
the community, not to individuals. 
The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, is not a private possession. 
It is a gift given to and known in community.
It is the presence of Jesus after Jesus’ departure,
not simply a subjective experience of God.

It is the Paraclete that is the unifying mark
of Christian community,
because it gives all believers access to Jesus.

And, it is through this community, St. Philips,
that we are strengthened in our discipleship
and ability to do God’s work in the world. 

This Tuesday Healing service in our worship
and prayer together,
fueled by the Holy Spirit,
brings healing love to the wounds
that I have and that you have.
The Holy Spirit is at work in our community,
because we are grounded in the Love of Jesus.

Thank you all for your presence here.
Thank you, as well, for your continued support of the church
and all these ministries, grounded in love.

I don’t know about you, but I have found strength and healing
in the prayerful cards sent by the Condolence Writers,
in the prayers offered through the Daughters of the King,
in the communion shared by the LEMs,
in the prayers of knitted into the shawls,
in the abundant love of the church mice receptions,
and in the silence of the centering prayer group,
just to name a few. 

Through these ministries, through our community of love,
we are all strengthened by the Holy Spirit to heal.

Because of your support of these ministries,
I have grown in faith here at St. Philips. 
In this stewardship season,
I invite you to join me tithing to the church. 
Consider how your financial support of St. Philips
meets the healing needs of so many.

Perhaps you will consider an extra prayer
for the person sitting next to you who is involved in
at least one or more of these very important ministries. 

It is through this community of Love, here at St. Philips,
that we are strengthened through the Holy Spirit to be disciples in the world, to do God’s work through God’s love.

Especially this Tuesday Healing service, and our time together,
fueled by the Holy Spirit, brings healing love to the wounds that I bring and that you bring. 

That is good news, that as partners with God
in healing the world, through the Holy Spirit,
you are strengthened for work in the world. 

May we all become witnesses,
like Latimer and Ridley, to God’s abundant love
that knows no bounds.


[1] Holy Women, Holy Men, page 640
[2] A Brief History of the Episcopal Church, David Holmes, p.7
[3] The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX, p. 766

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Sermon: Friends and Family Plan

Sermon for Pentecost 18/Proper 21, Year B
St. Philips In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
Vicki Hesse, September 30, 2012

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

As you may know, My family and I just moved to Tucson
from Virginia, via North Carolina.  Phew!
Moving is a complicated and trying experience. 
We are now in the process of evaluating
what to do about our cell phone service. 
We have looked at the main providers –
AT&T, Sprint, TMobile, US Cellular, Credo Mobile…
There is one that intrigues us – from Verizon,
called the “Friends and Family” plan. 

This plan allows the customer to identify
five to ten numbers to dial for free –
well – included in your monthly rate –
and these numbers do not count against your plan minutes. 
Today’s Gospel message explores this notion
of a “friends and family” circle –
any perimeter around whom you will talk within your plan. 

Here’s the thing - God has already expanded
our circle of friends and family. 
God has already widened who is “in” our community. 
God’s love spills out over any pre-defined circle. 

Albert Einstein once said,
“We are part of the whole which we call the universe,
but it is an optical delusion of our mind
that we think we are separate.
This separateness is like a prison for us. 
Our job is to widen the circle of compassion
so we feel connected to all people and all situations.”  
Widening the circle of compassion is today’s topic.

Today’s Gospel is a continuation from last week’s story.
The disciples were gathered with Jesus
 in a house in Capernaum,
a fishing village on the shore of Galilee. 

The disciples and Jesus had just arrived,
hot and tired, dusty and hungry. 
This house was where (as mentioned last week)
they had been silent about
their “who is the greatest” argument. 
To this argument, Jesus had reminded them,
“whoever wants to be first must be last of all and
servant of all.”

This is where today’s story begins. 

So here they were, in their familiar hometown. 
They were surrounded by familiar walls,
familiar scents, and
familiar shadows cast from a setting sun. 
They were likely sharing a familiar meal
when this discussion occurred.
One of the disciples, John, fessed up.  He
told Jesus what else had happened
on their walk from Galilee. 

“Teacher,” he explained, “We saw someone
casting out demons in your name and
we tried to stop him because he was not following us.” 

As John told this story,
the other disciples probably nodded with knowing affirmation.
John ratted out that someone
who was not from their group
was healing in Jesus’ name.  The nerve!

That someone was not in their circle of friends and family.
John described their efforts to protect Jesus,
“…we tried to stop him…” –
to preserve access to Jesus’ healing powers
so that it can be used for those who are “in” the circle. 
That person was healing someone –
but not in the same way that the disciples were taught,
not doing it with permission from Jesus and
not doing it in the right place, the church or synagogue. 

They might have just been on the side of the road. 

We can imagine all the eyes shifted from John
to see what Jesus would say about *that*.

Does John’s perspective ring any bells for you? 
Does it feel familiar, this effort to stop some
from healing in a way that we don’t agree?

These days – with this strange, wobbly economy,
we know there is a shortage of jobs. 
We also hear that there are people
coming here “taking” those limited jobs. 
We want to close up our circle and
prevent them from crossing into our zone. 
Those people are not in our group,
we hear. 
Those people are not doing it with permission. 

This sense of who is in or who is out happens
in our daily lives quite a bit. 

I recall working on a chaplain team in a hospital. 
A funny thing would happen. 
we would be called to visit someone in spiritual crisis and
one of the nurses would come in, hold their hand,
and begin praying with them. 
Hey, wait a minute, we might think,
we are the chaplain, not you! 
We found ourselves trying to prevent access to healing powers.

On a more mundane level,
have you seen that bumper sticker that says,
“Friends don’t let friends xxx,” fill in the blank. 
Friends don’t let friends drink coffee from *that* coffee shop
or eat at *that* fast food restaurant or
shop at *that* giganto-mart or …

Whatever it is – what do we do with people
who are our friends but violating our community values?
What about those who are not in our group but taking
advantage of our community values?  
Those people are not in our group! 

Who is “in”?  who is “out”? 
How would Jesus have us include or exclude?
When Jesus heard John’s explanation to protect
his circle of friends and family,
Jesus turned and said to them,
“Do not stop him. 
For no one who does a deed of power
in my name will be able
soon afterward to speak evil of me.
Whoever is not against us is for us.” 

Oh.  The disciples paused. 
Here they tried to do a good thing
and Jesus turned things upside down again!

Jesus expanded the circle of God’s love.
With arms sweeping wide,
he gestured the size this circle. 
“Whoever is not against us is for us.” 

Jesus continued to reframe
who had access to his, Jesus’, power,
and who was to be welcomed into the disciples’
friends and family plan. 

Pointing to each of them, he replied,
“Whoever gives YOU a drink of water
because you bear the name of Christ
will by no means lose the reward.” 

In case they missed, it,
Jesus continued in hyperbolic language
using proverbial sayings familiar to them.
Jesus ensured the disciples that God’s circle is quite wide. 

Jesus re-drew the boundaries
so that those who were “with” him
included as many people as possible. 

And for us,
Jesus has re-drawn the boundaries
of our friends and family plan. 
Jesus continues to offer God’s love
to as many as possible – who are we to limit it? 

Our circle is wider than we can imagine. 
God is working in our lives on behalf of others
and in others’ lives on our behalf. 

It is a testament to God’s creative power
and humanity’s attentive ear,
that people leave their familiar hometown,
their familiar culture and their loved ones,
to seek a better life in a place of apparent abundance. 

In our chaplain group, we began to realize that
despite our desire to control
access to God’s healing powers,
nurses and families and even doctors would pray
for and with those who were suffering.  And it helped.

So what does this grace mean for us today,
in this gathering of God’s people at St. Philips? 
How do we live into this awareness of God’s expansive circle? 
As Einstein said, “it is an optical delusion of our mind
that we think we are separate….
Our job is to widen the circle of compassion
so we feel connected to all people and all situations.” 

Well, we have very specific guidance from the letter of James, to at least pray for others.

As you remember, when you came into church tonight
we asked you to write your first name on a card. 
We have placed these in a basket. 
When that basket comes by,
I invite you to take one name card out. 
Take that name and pray for that person
who may or may not be someone
in your friends and family plan. 
It’s okay,
they are in God’s expansive circle and
God knows who they are. 

Because, as you expand your circle of love,
You join in God’s expansive circle of love - 
the one in which we live and move and have our being.

Today’s good news is that
God expands the circle and widens the walls. 
We can love each other because already, God loved us. 
Welcome to your new friends and family plan –
with ever-widening circles!