Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sermon: Obedience

Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

Sermon Preached at
Cathedral Church of St. Paul
On the Feast Day of Saints Peter and Paul
The Rev’d Vicki K. Hesse
June 24, 2018

Lord, you know that we love you. Teach us to follow you. Amen

Today is the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul.
The selected readings weave together
a theme about implications of obedience to God
And God’s faithfulness to us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously wrote about the “cost of discipleship[1]
in a book by the same name, reminding us
that when Jesus called the disciples,
their response was obedience, not a confession of faith.
“Because it was Jesus the Christ,
who had (and has) the authority to call and to demand obedience…”

Beginning with Ezekiel,
one of the prophets hanging out with
the people of Israel during the Babylonian captivity…
Ezekiel proclaimed The Lord’s assurance
to search for and seek out scattered sheep. 
Ezekiel speaks the voice of God who
rescues, gathers, feeds, heals, strengthens, and is faithful.
That’s God’s part.
And for the people, Ezekiel and his contemporaries Daniel and Jeremiah,
They preached obedience,
reminding people to keep the covenant of mutual faithfulness.
Daniel’s story illustrates the cost.
(As my colleague Fr. Lawson[2] writes, )
“Daniel didn’t want to get political.
All he was trying to do,
while living as an exile from Israel in the heart of the Babylonian Empire,
was to live his life obedient to God.
He wasn’t trying to make a statement,
just trying to live his life
and say his prayers
and be obedient to what God was commanding him to do.”
But when the empire, in the form of Nebuchadnezzar,
told him not to do what God commanded[3],
Daniel resisted. This got him thrown into the lion’s den. 

The readings continue with St. Paul’s 2nd letter of Timothy. 
What we know about St. Paul is this:
didn’t really want to get political either.
All he was trying to do,
while living as a Jew with Roman citizenship,
was to live his life in obedience to God.
St. Paul proclaimed God’s message of love and
urged followers of The Way
to persist and to encourage others in their faith.

In this letter, followers are taught  
to pray for those in authority, so that all may live lives in peace. 
Paul knew the cost of his obedience,
“…already being poured out as a libation,
the time of my departure has come,
I fought the fight, finished the race, kept the faith.”

Further, in Saint Paul’s later letter to the people of Rome,
he urged the community to pray for and
to obey civil authorities while hating what is evil,
holding fast to what is good,
loving one another with mutual affection AND
extending hospitality to strangers.

Saint Paul really did not want to rock the imperial boat.
His obedience to the law of faith
brought him in conflict with the law of the empire.
That led him to his martyrdom:
his death bore witness to
the kingdom of God against
the kingdoms of this world
that try to assume God’s rightful place as Lord of all.

The Gospel portrays St. Peter. 
Peter really didn’t want to get political.
All he was trying to do,
while living as an exile from Israel in the heart of the Roman Empire
was to follow the instructions of Jesus: Feed my sheep. Tend my lambs. 

He wasn’t trying to make a statement,
just trying to live his life and care for God’s people entrusted to him. 
But when the empire tried to tell him
not to do what God had commanded him to do,
he resisted and it got him crucified.

Throughout Holy Scripture there are stories
about staying faithful
in the face of powers and principalities that demand we obey them
and not the commandments of our Lord.

It’s there from the first stories in Genesis,
o   taught to help the captive people of Israel to resist the Babylonian empire
-         through the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ at the hands of Pontius Pilate
-         to the last book of Revelation, written to help the early Christian community resist Roman empire orders to cease and desist their way of life

Holy Scripture, see, can be read
as a guide for keeping one’s life focused on and obedient to God,
for those of us
not trying to make a statement,
but trying to live joyful lives, to raise children, to care for parents and
for those of us
who are unwilling to compromise obedience to God
to appease an empire making competing claims on our allegiance.

Which brings us to today.  How do we experience
competing claims on our allegiance?

You read the news, you have heard the stories:
There are more than 2,300 children[4]
forcibly separated from their parents
while crossing the Southwest border recently.
These children are being housed across the US,
in shelters and temporary housing.
Neither parents nor children know where each other are,
nor when, how, or if they will be reunited. 

And while the President did sign an executive order
meant to end the separation of new families at the border,
it does nothing to address the plight
of those already in housing due to the “zero-tolerance” policy.

Churches and faith communities have condemned this violation
of the rights of children.
And, despite what the Attorney General has said,
Holy Scripture is clear about how to treat those who seek refuge.

From Deuteronomy to Isaiah, from Jeremiah and Ezekiel,
from Paul’s letter to the Romans to the Gospel of Matthew chapter 25,
God commends faithful people to remember
we were once aliens,
that God loves the stranger
and so we welcome people different from us and people who are outcast.
Jesus demands obedience to welcoming the stranger
and caring for the vulnerable.

In ordinary times,
we welcome, with expansive love, those on the margins.
We try to live our lives, work our jobs
share meals to those who are hungry,
give coats to those who are cold,
provide air-conditioning to those who are over-heated,  
care for the sick and those in need.
In ordinary times we are obedient to God,
doing our part in God’s kingdom, because God is love!
These times are not normal.

I wonder, with a broken heart,
how can we stay obedient to God’s call for expansive hospitality
and welcome those seeking refuge
when our government does not welcome but
closes the door and tears apart families
before they get a hearing on the legality of their refugee status?
How can we care for the alien, the vulnerable, the children,
when they are put in detention centers?

What can we do when empire tells us
not to do what God commanded us to do?
That’s the cost of obedience. The cost is bearing the anger.
We can resist. We can cry out. We can do our part to stop it.
We can share what Holy Scripture guides us to do: remain obedient to Jesus.

I don’t know where this resistance will lead.  I hope change.
For Daniel, resistance led to a lion’s den.
For Saint Peter and for Saint Paul, resistance led to their execution.
And for us who believe in the resurrection over death,
Whether death of self or ego or embarrassment ….
our resistance will bring resurrection and will change something.  

We don’t want to get political.
We just want to follow Jesus because we, too, love him.
Feed my sheep, tend my lambs, he says.
And, “follow me,” he says.
Because …. when faced with this dilemma, God has to win.
Love has to win.  Or our faith doesn’t matter.

The good news today is that God in Jesus
pours into us the courage of SS Peter and Paul,
who resisted with their faith and in their witness.

As we resist, keep your eye on Jesus,
meeting him in strangers, in guests, in those different from us.
Know you are not alone.
Together, we have the loving, liberating, life-giving
good news of God’s love in Jesus who feeds us breakfast,
who guides us to resist and to do our part to make God’s dream a reality.

It is not easy being obedient to God.
It is not comfortable resisting. 
Being part of the Jesus movement means
that just as Peter and Paul bore witness in their times
to the love of God in the face of empire,
we can too, in our way.

For the same God who loves you more than you will know
will redeem you through Jesus and
will strengthen your faith every step of the way.
As we give thanks to God today for SS Peter and Paul,
we praise God for those in every generation
whom Christ has been honored.
We pray that we may have that same grace
to glorify Christ in our own day.

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, pages 57-58

[2] Portions inspired by a social media post by the Rev. Daniel Lawson on June 18, 2018

[3] Chapter 6 of the book of Daniel

Monday, June 18, 2018

Sermon: Oil and Anointing for End of Year

Sermon Preached on June 17, 2018
Proper 6B RCL
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
Academy for Vocational Leadership
Colombiere Retreat and Conference Center

In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer

Wow. The final HE for our year together.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes[1]
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles
In laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life
How about love?
…Measure in love
And we have loved a lot this year. So thank you.
And today is the last day.
Does that mean you are done? you stop learning?  you have arrived? 
Of course not.
Does that mean you might be sad for this experience ending?

So you can relate to Samuel’s grief.  For,
Today was the last day for Saul, the very King that Samuel had anointed.
Samuel must have felt like it was the last day ever.

“Samuel grieved over Saul.
And the Lord was sorry
that he had made Saul king over Israel.”

You know the story:  The Israelites rejected God as their king.
They wanted a king in flesh and blood that sat on a real throne.
They demanded a king and God listened,
appointing priest Samuel to anoint Saul as the king. 
In that anointing, Samuel poured a vial of oil over his head. 

And their life in ministry together began;
they were bound together into God’s story. 
But you know what happened.
Along the way, Saul rebelled. 
By sparing the Amalekite’s cattle
and offering it as a sacrifice,
Saul’s version of sacrifice
became more important to him
than obedience to God. 
So, God rejected him as king over Israel.
And Samuel mourned. The Lord was sorry. (pause)

Only twice throughout the bible
does God seem to regret anything. This was very unusual.
You know the first time, in Genesis,
the matter of the, ahem, little rainstorm and subsequent flood.
Then, here, we read The Lord was sorry. 
God regrets having anointed Saul –
 The one who had promised to keep covenant but did not.

What strikes me today is the nature of missed expectations.
Saul did not live up to The Lord’s expectations.
Samuel grieved the loss, the seeming end of his (Samuel’s) purpose.

I wonder if we, too, grieve over “Saul.”
·        We expected answers that AVFL didn’t have:
o   like the meaning of life or why the pit of an avocado is so large.
·        We expected our parish discernment committees
o   to recognize our untapped gifts. 
·        We expected sooner ordinations,
o   or quicker responses of COM interviews,  
·        We grieve the friendship expectations we will have to re-make
o   as we become ordained pastoral leaders and that changes relationships.
·        Broader, we ache for a Benedictine hospitality
o   to be extended to families at the border who seek refuge.
·        We grieve the way that
o   people who are perceived as “other” are invisible,
§  or worse, targeted with phobia.
·        We mourn the loss of civility in public conversation
o   and now recognize a lack of Benedictine humility
o   in much of our governmental leadership.

What expectations do you have for others, now at the end of this year?
We grieve over “Saul.”
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
What about love? Oh, right, LOVE! And grace!

The good news in today’s text? 
This text demonstrates so well,
God knew the story was not over.
There was a lot of Love to be spread around! 
The Lord was not done looking for a new king yet.

The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will your mourn for Saul,
since I have rejected him as king over Israel?
Fill your horn with oil and be on your way’. 1 Samuel 16:1 

Fill your horn with oil!
This time, it’s not a little vial, but an entire HORN of oil. 
“I want the guy to be drenched in oil – make it stick!”
you can imagine The Lord remarking.

“Don’t spend any more precious time mourning the past when I have moved on.”
God had a new king for Samuel to anoint. 
God could not do God’s work
as long as Samuel was stuck in disappointments and missed expectations. 
Because you know, there was a shepherd boy
waiting in the fields
for Samuel to relinquish “what had been”
so he could be part of “what was to be.”

King David was part of Samuel’s future
but he couldn’t have gotten there while still mourning Saul.

On that day
the Lord told Samuel, go to Jesse and – don’t worry,
I’ll tell you what you shall do
and you shall anoint for me the one that I name.
I’ll tell you what you shall do….pause

Today’s good news? The Lord is asking you to become new. 
Fill your horn with oil!
This time, it’s not a little vial, but an entire HORN of oil. 
“I want the YOU to be drenched in oil,”
you can almost imagine The Lord remarking. 

Yes, it’s the end of the year,
the end of these relationships,
the end of the AVFL community as we know it.
AND God anoints you in this ending, so that you can anoint others. 
Your mission through these texts
to co-create the world in a fresh way.

You go and fill your horn with oil. 
God will tell you what you shall do with God’s love and light and blessing.
God chose you, at this time, to go
and anoint God’s people in
Grayling, Otter Lake, Lapeer,
Gladwin, Mt. Clemens, Lansing,
Belleville, Novi, Chelsea,
Lake Orion, Saugatuck, Grand Rapids,
Grand Haven, Kalamazoo, Sturgis and Marshall.. go and anoint!

Guide them in community work.
Guide them to provide radical hospitality.
Guide them to honor their precious style of worship.
Guide them to break the mold and do something new.

God chose you, your unique gifts, your special perspective,
for a new church,for a new society, to make God’s dream come true.
God values your unique set of ears
that will hear when God says,
“rise and anoint that one, chose that one to continue my dream.”

One of the best lessons a mentor taught me was this:
Church will nearly always fall short of expectations. 
People will disappoint you.
No rector will meet your expectations.
You will work for some goofballs. 
You will have to do menial work.
You will be surprised by grace.
You will be embarrassed.
And you will SHINE!!

Today’s good news?
God has not stopped looking – there is no last place. 
Not until the day of Resurrection where all things are made new –
For today God pours out God’s love and oil on you. 

Out of the ending of our program year,
new beginnings can come forth.

“Because you are in Christ and there is a new creation –
see, everything has passed away – see, everything has become new!”

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes[2]
How do you measure a year in the life
Of a woman or a man?
In truths that she learned
Or in times that he cried
In bridges he burned
Or the way that she died
It's time now to sing out
Tho' the story never ends
Let's celebrate
Remember a year in the life of friends

Fill your horn with oil and be on your way’

[1] Seasons of Love, Song by Donny Osmond, Lyrics cited at on June 14, 2018
[2] Seasons of Love, Song by Donny Osmond, Lyrics cited at on June 14, 2018