Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sermon: Thanks

Sermon for Thanksgiving Day
St. Philips In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki Hesse, November 22, 2012

For Readings, click here

Thank You, God. Amen

The other day I saw this report about Sam Sifton,
the national editor of the New York Times. 
He has a new book out called,
“Thanksgiving, How To Cook It Well.”[1] 

He said, on the national news,
“Thanksgiving is scary for a lot of people. 
It’s a holiday that’s filled with a lot of stress…
Do I have enough plates?
Do I have enough glasses?
Am I really going to have a tablecloth? 
What is a tablecloth?  Can I use a sheet?
That’s cheap.  Maybe I should…
What do I do about Uncle Morty who’s an alcoholic? 
He’s gotta be there – but then he gets drunk!”

Sifton summarized,
“Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be so complicated…Everything’s gonna be okay,”

“It’s a pretty simple meal
when you really think about it. 
You’re roasting a giant chicken.
You’re mashing some potatoes. 
You’re mashing almost everything. 
It’ basically a pile of mush on a plate
with slices of big chicken.”

Even still, Thanksgiving is scary for a lot of people
= = = = 
In today’s Gospel message,
we get the sense that the disciples were scared, too. 
This new vocation they chose – to follow Jesus –
was filled with a lot of stress. 
‘What will we eat?’ ‘What will we drink?’ ‘What will we wear?’

See, up to this point in the Gospel according to Matthew,
Jesus had been preaching and teaching to them
in the “Sermon On The Mount.” 
There, Jesus explained what it meant to be disciples. 
He taught a new way of looking at God’s kingdom,
about the beatitudes,
about being the salt of the earth and the light of the world,
about his fulfilling the law (not abandoning it),
about how to live in community, and
about how to pray. 
Our text today comes right at the point in Jesus’ sermon
when Jesus offers more instruction
about what “righteousness” means. 

So the disciples begin to get scared and anxious. 
‘What will we eat?’ ‘What will we drink?’ ‘What will we wear?’

The disciples, eager to please Jesus and to be good disciples,
might have, at that moment had a wavering faith –
a faith that until now, they could hold onto. 
And here was Jesus,
asking them to move away from their cultural values
into a life of trust and obedience in God’s reign.
This made them hesitant; they needed reassurance. 

= = = 
We are not unlike those disciples,
eager to please Jesus and to be a disciple,
but sometimes with a wavering faith. 
Jesus is asking us to move away from cultural values
and into a life of trust and obedience. 
This makes us hesitant; we need reassurance.

In fact, few of us are exempt from worry and anxiety. 
It’s not uncommon to live with chronic anxiety,
and many are scared – of losing our homes,
losing our jobs,
not having enough money for retirement;
caring for our children or caring for our parents; and
avoiding danger and terror attacks.

Those who have little,
fret over adequate shelter, food, and water;
finding a decent job;
taking care of their families;
having enough money to survive. 

All of us – rich and poor, privileged and exploited –
have legitimate reasons to fret and worry,
even though we know that fret and worry
do not change the realities we face.

Will God love me if I don’t worry?
Will God love me if I show my vulnerabilities?
Trusting in God’s providential care is not easy. 
If God is going to lovingly provide for all my needs,
does that mean that I can just goof off? 
More often than not, my faith waivers –
what if… it doesn’t work out. 
I feel like it’s all up to me. 

AND, there is a tension of
living as a disciple and
believing in God’s loving providential care. 
we are called to feed the hungry,
clothe the naked, and
visit those in prison. 

= = = 
Which is what the disciples had just heard
in the Sermon On The Mount –
about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and caring for others.

At that point, Jesus looked at the disciples and
smelled their fear.
With compassion, he began from their perspective.
Jesus taught the disciples
in language of their wisdom tradition. 
He appealed to their common sense and
their understanding of how nature works.[2] 

Isn’t life more than food?
Isn’t the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds… consider the lilies of the field…
look at the grass 
Therefore, do not worry, …

Jesus asked the disciples to “seek first the kingdom”
not in a “chronological” manner
but to seek God’s kingdom above all else. 
Jesus reminded the disciples, you have one priority:
God’s kingdom. 
Think less about what you are doing and more about what God has done, is doing and has promised.[3]

Jesus assured them. 
The one who called them to this radical style of life
is also the Creator
who lovingly provides for all of creation and
who, in the end, brings all of creation into God’s reign,
worry or not. 

Jesus assured them.
Look, he said,
God comes to where you are most vulnerable –
eating, drinking, clothing –
and that is the cross of the moment.   

It was the cross of the moment
in 1863. 
That was a vulnerable moment for Abraham Lincoln,
when he set the day of Thanksgiving
on the fourth Thursday of November[4]
a day we have observed ever since. 

In Lincoln’s vulnerable moment,
his life consisted of a confluence of anxious situations:

·        His political future was bleak:
o       If he was defeated in the 1864 election,
o       the confederacy would gain independence
o       and the Union would be permanently split. 
·        Members of his own cabinet openly detested him.
·        His wife was being investigated as a traitor. 

In this moment, Lincoln must have had faith
in God’s providential care. 

He must have discovered a spiritual practice
included in many of Paul’s letters,
including 1 Timothy that we read today, that
“… that supplications, prayers, intercessions and
thanksgivings be made for everyone…”

In Lincoln’s vulnerable moment,
he came to the awareness that
in the midst of personal suffering,
the one thing one needs most to remember
is the goodness of God. 
In the face of circumstances that seem too difficult to endure,
Lincoln discovered God’s goodness and mercy
by giving thanks as one community.

When we give thanks today, as one community,
we begin to know God’s loving care. 
We begin to realize that we can face an uncertain life.
We begin to know that we are not alone.
God hears, sees, and cares about us and our situations. 
God lovingly provides for all of creation. 

God is already acting in our life
by calling us here today; to share a meal –
a special meal in our culture. 
This meal of common food
has been in our tradition for years. 
It’s what people are craving
more than carbohydrates and protein. 
Today’s meal helps us remember who we are.[5] 
The meal of which I speak, of course,
is the Eucharist.

In that spiritual practice of giving thanks,
we have that supreme example each Sunday
and which we observe today:

That on the night in which he was betrayed,
Jesus took bread and when he had given thanks, …

and then after supper, Jesus took the cup
and when he had given thanks…

In THAT Thanksgiving, in THAT Eucharist, Jesus personally embodied God’s loving providence for all of creation.

God provides food enough.
God provides drink enough.
God clothes you with righteousness and grace –
even to those of little faith. 

God gets involved in Thanksgiving dinners and
pours grace gravy overall the trimmings.

The good news today is
that Jesus is inviting people
to God’s Thanksgiving Dinner,
where priorities are clear.[6] 

In the reign of God,
people look out for each other and share what they have;
people take what they need and leave some for others. 

In God’s Thanksgiving Dinner,
people think about their neighbors
even as they think about themselves. 

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God!
It is right to give God thanks and praise.


[1] “Thanksgiving Do’s and Don’t from Sam Sifton,” by Alexandra Ludka, November 16, 2012.  Cited at on November 19, 2012
[2] New Interpreter’s Bible, Matthew p. 210-211
[3] This quote excerpted from Rt. Rev. G. Porter Taylor in his Nov. 21 weekly reflection at
[4] What Makes This Day Different, p. 122-123
[5] YES! Magazine, Fall 2012, page 31 “Tribe Returns To Traditional Diet” by Kim Eckart
[6] Feasting On The Word, Eighth Sunday After The Epiphany, Year A, p. 406

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sermon: The Last Word

Sermon for All Saints Day
St. Philips In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki Hesse, November 4, 2012

For Readings, click here
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all hearts be acceptable to you, o Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen

At the seminary I attended,
there is a large dining hall
with high ceilings and sky-blue walls. 
Along the walls on all four sides of the room and
positioned several feet above eye-level
is an array of formal portraits
depicting a great cloud of witnesses,
all of  them significant and
distinguished figures in the seminary’s history.[1] 

Notably, this includes
the first African American Student,
who later became the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Washington and
a recent female dean of the school,
who transformed the school’s policy
against discrimination on sexual orientation. 

These historic figures, while not formally “red letter”
or even “lesser” saints,
did not let their death have the last word. 
They continually inspired us as seminarians.  
We learned about the resistance, difficulties and
suffering they went through.
We learned about their love of God,
loyalty to the seminary and
their passion to serve God’s kingdom. 

In their witness, they used God’s freely given gifts
of faith, hope, generosity and
commitment to justice,
to shift the world towards God’s dream. 
At the hospital where I served as a chaplain, there is a long hallway outside the pastoral care department.
There, by the exit door,
was a small black and white photo of William,
hung just at eye level.

William was one of the first patients
in 1921 at that hospital. 
William risked his health
to participate in one of the then-newest institutions
of his city.   
By God’s grace, William’s ordinary faithfulness spoke to me. 

William’s witness to the unceasing power of the Spirit
to inspire medical caregivers made him a daily saint,
one whom I greeted as I checked in for work.

These people (great and humble)
strengthened their witness of God’s grace.
In their own ways and in their own suffering,
they remained grounded in the deeper truth
of God’s indestructible grace,
the grace about which we heard
in the readings for today. 

In the Hebrew scriptures,
we heard that “the Lord of hosts will…
destroy the shroud cast on all peoples,
and will swallow up death forever.” 

In the Revelation to John, we heard that
“God will wipe every tear from their eyes
and death will be no more.”

And in the Gospel, the raising of Lazarus,
we learn that through Christ, God, (not death)
has the last word,
so that we will see the glory of God. 
God, not death, has the last word.

We hear Jesus cry out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
and echoing earlier stories about how
sheep know the shepherd’s voice,
the dead man does come out. 
God, not death, has the last word.

Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go!” 
In the lives of those dining hall figures,
in the life of William at the hospital,
in the life of Lazarus, and
in our lives here at St. Philips,
God continually reveals God’s love.

We hear in all these examples that powerful announcement. 

While death is inescapable, it is only part of the journey. 
God, not death, has the last word.

Through Christ, we know a life of faith
grounded in resurrection and new life,
surrounded by all kinds of saints. 

All these saints,
including the saints in the congregation here gathered,
have helped me to become stronger
in my discipleship and ability to do God’s work in the world. 

In observing the ninety-plus ministries,
I see the impact that
your faith has on your lives and the lives of others. 
And so I hope you will join me in tithing to St. Philips. 
This is what the saints ask of us:
to support each other in Spirit and
in Love with our gifts and graces.
I believe that through this community,
we can claim resurrection and
new life in God’s love.

By a show of hands, how many of you keep pictures
of everyday saints
around your house, work place or study?
I do, too. 

We do because in these images
we experience God’s love as the last word on our lives,
not death.

We do because we pray with everyday saints
who give us experiences of faith, hope and love.

We do because we continue to love them
as they love us, beyond death.

And today, just like as every time we gather at the Lord’s table,
we join with them in holy communion. 

Here, at this table, we receive the holy Sacrament
and are brought together in kairos time
with all the saints into the joy of God’s eternal kingdom[2]. 

Listen to your saints. They will tell you that
Jesus, not death, got the last word. 

Nothing can separate us from the love of God, nothing. 

And, that frees us, it unbinds us, it lets us go. 

That frees us to risk everything for the world that God loves. 


[1] Excerpt adapted and inspired from David J. Schlafer, What Makes This Day Different? Preaching Grace on Special Occasions, p. 61
[2] BCP, 363