Thursday, January 22, 2015

Sermon: Deacon Vincent, Martyr 304

Sermon for January 22, 2015 ~ 11:00 HE 1
Feast Day of Vincent,
Deacon of Saragossa, and Martyr, 304
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
For online access to the readings click here
Image courtesy Pixabay

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

Today is the Feast Day of Vincent, 
Deacon of Saragossa and Martyr in 304. 
He has been called the “protomartyr” of Spain – 
meaning he was the first martyr in Spain.

What do you know about him?

Very little is known about his life, other than:

·        His name, his order of ministry and the place and time of his martyrdom, in Spain.
·        Born and raised in Huesca, northern Spain, and ordained by Bishop Valerius, of Saragossa.
·        Early in the 4th century, all Christians were under persecution by Roman emperors Diocletian and Maximian.
·        The Governor of Spain had Valerius and Vincent arrested and imprisioned in Valencia.
·        One legend recounts that Valerius had a speech impediment and so Vincent became the preacher on his behalf. 
·        When they were arrested, they were challenged to renounce their faith.
·        It is said that amid threats of torture and death, Vincent said to his bishop, “Father, if you order me, I will speak.”
·        Valerius is said to have replied, “Son, as I committed you to dispense the word of God, so I now charge you to answer in vindication of the faith which we defend.”
·        The young deacon then told the governor that he and his bishop had no intention of betraying the true God.
·        The vehemence and enthusiasm of Vincent’s defense showed no caution in his defiance of the judges, and
·        The Governor’s fury was increased by this exuberance in Christian witness.
·        Valerius was exiled, but the angry Governor ordered that Vincent be tortured.
This legend brings up for me
the scripture that exhorts us to
“… in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord.
Always be ready to make your defense
to anyone who demands from you
an accounting for the hope that is in you;”[1]

Upon hearing this,
I sometimes think that
someone shoulda told me in advance
that it would be so hard to account for my faith.

Although the Baptismal Covenant
offers us a chance
to renounce Satan the powers of evil in the world
even as we claim Jesus as our Lord and Savior,
it’s not so direct as
“you must be able
to make an accounting for your faith.”

Instead, the covenant asks,
Will you proclaim by word and example
the Good News of God in Christ?”
which is a little different question. 

So today, Vincent invites us to reflect
on this question:
when you consider your faith,
have you created
a well thought-out answer? 
If the opportunity is presented
for you to share your faith,
will you speak or will you remain silent?

Our gospel lesson today says it just as directly:
“…everyone who acknowledges me
before others,
the Son of Man also will acknowledge
before the angels of God;
but whoever denies me
before others will be denied
before the angels of God.”

If it is difficult to account for your faith,
you are not alone. 
And we are called to do so, which is why God gives us the inner strength to do so
or at least be prepared to do so.

Has it ever happened to you
that you have been confronted to explain
the “reason for the hope that is in you”?

When in seminary,
I was advised that
when looking for a field education site
where I would work for a year,
it was a good idea to ask
the rector of the candidate church,
“what is your gospel?”

The answers I heard allowed me to gain a sense of this church community’s desire and ability to account for their faith.

I think this question is similar to what Vincent asks us today:  what is the Good News
that you hold in your heart
that guides your inner spiritual life
from which your outer life and values arise?

Today’s good news is that
God grants us the courage to proclaim our faith
in whatever form it is at this time –
and further, that we are not to worry about
“how” we are to defend ourselves,
as the gospel says,
“… for the Holy Spirit will teach you
at that very hour what you ought to say..."

Just as Vincent was upheld by God
in the face of threats and torments,

God strengthened him
and strengthens us today
to endure adversity with our steadfast faith.

How do we do that? Through the Holy Spirit. Through listening with the ear of the heart.
Through noticing the gifts and graces and blessings that are all around us.
Through mistakes and forgiveness and trying again and again.
Through our community, gathered here, in prayer and humble confession.


[1] 1 Peter 3:15

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sermon: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Civil Rights, RacialSermon for January 15, 2015 ~ 11:00 HE 1
Feast Day of Martin Luther King, Jr. (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

Today is the Feast Day of Martin Luther King, Jr.  He was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta.
What do you know about him?

It is hardly possible to summarize his meaningful life in short, bio-clips.  God filled him with such grace!

·        Son and grandson of Baptist preachers
·        Academic preparation: degrees of BA, BD, and PhD in Systematic Theology from Boston University.
·        1954 became pastor of church in Montgomery, AL.
·        1955 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man, King led the Montgomery bus boycott. 
·        Rallied not only the Black peole but also the consciences of Whites.
·        Founded the So. Christian Leadership Conference for non-violent mass demonstrations against racism: Birmingham, Selma and Chicago, which were instrumental to passage of Civil Rights Acts of ’64, ’65, and ’68.
·        He lived in constant danger and was jailed 30x. 
·        One night in 1957 he related that he heard the Lord speaking to him saying, “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice,” and promising to never leave him along, “No, never alone.” This was his “mountaintop experience.”
·        After preaching on March 31, 1968 at the National Cathedral in Washington, he traveled to Memphis in support of sanitation workers.  There he proclaimed that he had been to the mountain-top and seen the Promised Land, and that one day he and his people would be free at last.
·        The next day, April 4, he was killed by an assassin.

Perhaps the most powerful way to commemorate MLK is to listen and discuss his “I have a dream” speech.  Click here.

Our Gospel today is a portion from Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” which in many ways mirrors Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.  In this excerpt, Jesus describes how to treat your enemies.  We heard echoes of this from MLK in his sermon:

27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…5But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. …
36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

What radical perspective! What transformative grace!

Think about your own life and who you might consider your “enemies.” 
·        Is there someone close in your family with whom you have recently had an argument? 
·        … in your circle of friends with whom you disagree on certain points?
·        … in your church (ahem) that “just gets on your last nerve”?
·        …someone you have to deal with at your doctor’s office who just seems to push your buttons?
·        … someone on TV that irritates you?
·        Someone in politics?
·        Someone who you only know “about,” like a leader of a country?
See, the definition of “enemy” is someone who is actively opposed or hostile to someone or something – or a thing that harms or weakens something else.

If we consider this definition,
it is possible that our “enemy” is our inner self.  Perhaps that is the voice that says,
 “you can’t do that” or
“who do you think you are?” or
“don’t dream about *that*, it will never come to pass.”

Today’s good news is that even
in the complicated, difficult, stress-filled relationships
with our “enemies” - whether ‘out there’ or ‘in here,’
God’s grace and mercy heals and makes us whole. 
Today’s good news is that by being
honest to God about our enemies,
God liberates us and
sets us free of the bondage of hatred.

As Martin Luther King exemplified,
Through love and prayer we can let freedom ring…

And when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, we will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual,
 "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"