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saltoftheearthJesus’ followers are finding that it is not easy to follow him. There are not many people in the early Church. Rome wields power freely and cares more about the empire than faith. These Jesus-followers are an “odd lot of fishermen, homemakers, tax collectors, and eventually, former Pharisees and assorted Greco-Romans”[1] These Christians have no church building. They are un-organized. They have no stated goals or vision statements. Yet this ragtag group of people have followed Jesus of Nazareth for three years. They remember what Jesus has taught them in this brief span of time.

Jesus uses ordinary things in the world to make points about God and God’s love in the world. In Matthew’s gospel, he has just sat on a hill and told a big crowd of people who is is blessed, and who is not. After Jesus concludes what we call the Beatitudes, he turns to his followers and says, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Thanks, Jesus. We’re going to be reviled and persecuted by people who will spread fake news about us. . .

Jesus then goes deeper as he teaches these people who follow him around Galilee. Who are they—what is their identity as Jesus-followers? If they follow Jesus, exactly what are they supposed to do to change the world? To teach them, Jesus uses ordinary things in the world around him. Here, he uses the ordinary, yet essential, elements of salt and light.

First, salt. In the ancient world, salt is an important preservative, highly prized, and used judiciously because it is expensive.  “Salt brightens and sharpens other flavors already present” in food.[2] In other words, salt is subtle, yet distinct. Whatever flavor a particular food has does not change dramatically. It’s just that salt, added at the right amount at the right time, “enlivens and enhances a meal’s other flavors. It brings them out. It makes them themselves, only more so.”[3]

light-of-the-world Continue Reading »

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Micah 6:1-8

Hear what the Lord says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel. “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Prayer: “May the words I speak, oh God, be yours, and only yours. Amen.”

There are times when being a preacher is very difficult. I have had some difficult times to preach, and today is one of those times.  Last night, I sat and watched Facebook Live videos of protesting crowds at JFK International Airport, where foreign nationals were detained. Separated from families. One mother separated from her child. People who—two days ago—would have gotten back to America safely. Now, because of an order signed by the new President, they have been detained, and thousands of people have shown up to chant, to hold signs, to protest.

I watched what was going on, and I wept.

This morning, I got up, poured a cup of coffee, sat down, and scanned the news online. Then I put my head in my hands. What would I say to you today? As a Christian pastor, what can I say? I am going to throw out what I will call a patchwork quilt of reflective thoughts, and I hope the Holy Spirit will take up her needle and thread these pieces into something that makes a difference to you today.

One piece of the quilt: yesterday, at the Diocese of Washington, we debated a rather controversial resolution. Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde had already addressed the recent controversy over the Washington National Cathedral hosting the prayer service for the new president. Bishop Budde had spoken in other places about this, including her saying that “in times of national division, the Episcopal Church is called to be a place where those who disagree can gather for prayer and learning and to work for the good of all.”[1]  What she said yesterday was that either the WNC is “a house of prayer for the nation” or it is not. As a leader in Washington, she will go to whatever table she is welcomed at, and she will do the same—offering the chance for reconciliation and listening. (Note: she also made it clear that she does not agree with many things the new president says or does, and that “there may come a time for civil disobedience.”)

The controversial resolution was about St. John’s Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square for hosting the prayer service before the Inauguration, with the evangelical pastor preaching. This pastor opposes GLBT persons, and has other viewpoints with which Episcopalians disagree—including the idea of a leader being divinely ordained.  However, the convention got caught up in quibbling over language of this resolution and proposed amendments. Thankfully, someone finally moved to table this resolution, effectively making it null and void. I must tell you that I would have voted against the resolution. Why? Not because I disagreed with its position. But every Episcopal priest does ministry under the authority of our bishops. If the Rev. Dr. Luis Leon invited someone to speak in his pulpit, I assume that he had the latitude to do that, under the authority of Bishop Budde. And I would not want anyone telling me how I could invite into this pulpit. So I respect my brother, I know he has good sense, and know that he had his reasons for doing this. I trust him.

But here is what I thought of yesterday: Here we are, quibbling over one word in a resolution. (Should we leave it in, or take it out, or change it?)  And I am sitting there thinking, “Really, people?  Really? No wonder the culture thinks the Church is out of touch. Good grief!”

What is relevant? As we sat at diocesan convention and argued about words in a piece of legislation, human beings’ lives were on the line in airports all over this country. From JFK International to Newark to Dulles to Chicago to San Francisco. . .people from seven different countries on the president’s list were detained and denied entrance to the United States.

There were real consequences. According to the BBC online this morning, and Fortune magazine,  Google has called all of its employees home who were traveling overseas.[2] They do not want all of their highly skilled people to get trapped outside the United States. An Iranian scientist, who lives in Switzerland, who was preparing to come to the United States to do a postdoctoral fellowship in Boston, had to return to Switzerland—not able to enter this country simply because she was born in Iran.[3]

How do we live our lives as faithful followers of Jesus? Where are we in all this chaos and upheaval?

A third image: Last week, I gave you all thirteen suggestions for ways to live out our faith in real ways, in real ways. Was that challenging? (I see heads nodding.) Especially that “pray every day for someone you dislike—or even despise. Yes, that was the hardest for me, too. It’s easy to go in and pay forward $5.00. But to pray for a human being whom you dislike, or do not respect? Tough.

Today, I have brought props with me. Last Sunday, if you were here, you know that I had a pair of Chucks, my Birkenstock sandals, and a Bible up here.Today, I have more.  I have a backpack. Birkenstocks. Hiking boots & socks.

It occurred to me that Birkenstocks are usually worn in warm weather, often when we are schlepping about the house, or on the beach, or doing leisurely type things. So maybe we have reached a time in history when following Jesus of Nazareth requires hardier footwear. Maybe it is time for hiking socks and hiking boots. Serious footwear. And for those of us—like me—with weak ankles, laces that lace up around the ankle. The kind of shoe that makes people know you are serious about walking.

I have also put some other things in this backpack. Here is a Bible. You need the Word of God to go with you when you walk the way of Jesus. Here is a Book of Common Prayer. Because this book is where we Episcopalians focus our worship. Some of the most beautiful prayers and language in the English language are in this book—and if you want to take one home and look through it for some prayers, go ahead.  The other thing you might want to take is something like this little devotional prayer book—it is one I give to our young people when they are confirmed. Or maybe a picture of someone you love—or maybe a picture of someone you despise—so you can pray for that person. Who knows?

Another piece of the quilt:  Last night and this morning, I had faces in front of me. I thought about some of our folks—including college students—who have come to the United States from other countries. Some have grandparents, aunts, uncles, who still live in other countries in the world. What if those folks were trapped in airports today, unable to enter this country? I thought about a family here whose son is a submariner. I thought about some of you who are military—perhaps to be deployed soon. Many people in this parish work for government agencies—Department of Justice, NASA, NOAA. You may work for companies who contract with government. Some of you work for agencies you cannot talk about. We have old and young, many colors, Democrats & Republicans (& Independents). So how does our Christian faith work for us, together?

Another piece: In the 1980’s, then-rector Jane Holmes Dixon and her husband did not agree about the Gulf War. Jane admitted this to the St. Philip’s congregation. She noted that she and Dixie were on opposing sides about the war. So were many people here. But what mattered?  Jane said—and I agree—that here is what matters. (I turn and point to the cross on the altar.)

THAT matters.  That cross. Our worship together.  Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose from the dead for us. We come together, regardless of our political viewpoints to worship that Christ.  We put aside our political affiliations, and we worship.

Another piece of this: the prophet Micah was right. That prophet lived in a time when people said, “Well, if sacrificing one ram is good, then how about a lot of rams?  If a little oil on the altar means something to God, then maybe a lot of oil is better. And if things get really bad, well, maybe I should think about sacrificing my firstborn.”  Micah says no. No. Micah says, “God does not care about your worship, people. God doesn’t care about your worship, your historic churches and buildings. Here is what God cares about. Do justice. Love kindness—or goodness. Walk humbly with God. Humility matters.

Micah lived according to the Two Great Commandments. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. Then Jesus lived the same way. Loving God. Loving your neighbor.

Here is how we are to still live today, in the 21st century. We are to love God first. Then, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. And if we don’t love ourselves, get some therapy, people! Because if we do not love ourselves, we live in a land of shadows. We project our stuff out onto other people, and blame them for our problems. This is part of the problem today.

So what? So what? I want you to keep doing your homework from last week. Keep praying for someone you dislike. Do an anonymous good deed. Pay something forward. Send a card to someone. Encourage your brothers and sisters. Put a little extra something in the collection plate.

And let’s hold each other accountable. I don’t care who you are, what political party you are with, what position you hold. Each of us must be held accountable–especially leaders.  I have to be held accountable. So every now and then, you can ask me, “Sheila, how are you doing on this walk with Jesus?”

We need boots on the ground for Jesus. Today. In real time, in real ways, with real people.

And here is the truth. The Being who matters most to me, the Being for whom I would die, is not affiliated with any earthly power or earthly political party.  That Being is God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth. That Being is the only one I follow. That Holy One is the only one before whom I kneel in worship, this day and every day of my life. Amen.

[1] http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2017/01/12/episcopal-leaders-address-churchs-part-in-trumps-inauguration/

[2] http://fortune.com/2017/01/28/google-sundar-pichai-trump-immigration-order/

[3] https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/01/trumps-immigration-ban-is-already-harming-americas-scientistsand-its-science/514859/

Gospel Reading:    Matthew 4:12-23

hobbit-open-door-drawing

In J.RR. Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit, Gandalf the Wizard shows up at Bilbo Baggins’ hobbit hole, smoking his long pipe. Bilbo joins him for a smoke, and when he puffs a perfect smoke ring into the morning air, Gandalf comments,“Very pretty!. . .But I have no time to blow smoke-rings this morning. I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”[1]

Bilbo responds, “I should think so—in these parts!  We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them.”[2] Sticking a thumb behind one of his braces, he blows a larger smoke ring and ignores Gandalf, whom he has decided is not his sort, and hopes the wizard will go away.

Of course this is before he knows exactly who Gandalf is. But even when Gandalf tells him who he is, Bilbo is still reluctant to go on any adventure, wizard or no wizard. Yet if you have read the novel or watched the movie, you know that a tall, white-haired, bearded wizard challenges a small hobbit to leave behind his very comfortable life and have what will be the adventure of his life.

He sets out with a group of dwarves on a quest to confront the great dragon Smaug. Of course later, in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Bilbo’s nephew, Frodo, also embarks on a quest—his is to find a ring—the one ring that will rule them all. But back to Bilbo. Faced by Gandalf, Bilbo is “confronted with a call that will change [his life] completely.”[3]Bilbo Baggins is, of course, a fictional character. Yet he embodies the stuff of mythical characters on a quest.

In real life, you and I have several key examples, some of whom have lived in our lifetimes. One is Mahatma Gandhi. Another is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These are only two Continue Reading »

The Second Coming

falcon

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Photo accessed through Google images

For Today

fall-leaves2

For today

There is too much to take in,

News that I did not want to hear.

A deep sense of something that disintegrates

Before my eyes.

And yet.

And yet.

 

Despite the swallowing darkness

That lurks at my edges,

Despite the swirling waters that rise,

God is.

God’s eternal answer is

“I Am.”

 

The psalmist’s answer is

“Answer me, O Lord, for your love is kind;

in your great compassion, turn to me.”[1]

 

For today,

The sun shines her light on my face.

Crisp fall air awakens my body.

The moments of life wait

For me to hold, to savor.

 

For today, the morning breeze

Stirs wind chimes

On my back porch.

 

That sweet, gentle music

Is enough

To lift my spirit.

To bring gladness to

A heavy heart.

 

Sheila N. McJilton

Nov. 4, 2016

[1] Psalm 69: 18

Creation: SKY

Sept. 25, 2016

Readings:  Jeremiah 4:23-28  Psalm 19    Philippians 2:14-18   Mark 15:33-39

sky-and-clouds

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims God’s handiwork. Day to day makes utterance, night to night speaks out. There is no utterance, there are no words, whose sound goes unheard. Their shout carries throughout the earth, their words to the end of the world.”[1]

Sky. Psalm 19 is a poetic and powerful witness to God’s creative majesty and God’s creative word. “Pay attention!” the poet shouts to us. Look up!  See these heavens? They proclaim the glory of God. Those fluffy white clouds that drift and flow with the wind, those clouds that arrange themselves into creative shapes, those clouds have voices. All their voices praise the God who created them, who set them free to roam the heavens.

This morning, I have three images to share with you.

sky-with-cloudsImage #1. This summer, I sat in a window seat of an airplane, 30,000 feet above the earth. As I looked out, all I could see below the airplane wings was clouds.Fluffy, white clouds in a brilliant, blue sky. It suddenly occurred to me that had I not known where I was—that is, buckled into the seat of a 737 airplane, en route to BWI, I might now have been able to tell you that I was ABOVE the clouds. Without being able to see the ground, I could just as easily have been looking UP as DOWN. I must admit that it was a bit unnerving to think about this possibility—and glad the pilot and co-pilots were more skilled than I!

rocky-coastline-maineImage #2. Another afternoon this summer, I lay back on a blanket on a flat surface of some rocky cliffs. As I watched fluffy, white clouds move slowly across the blue sky, all that was in my vision—if I looked straight up—was the sky. Had I not turned my head to the right and seen the row of tall spruce trees there, or turned my head to the left and watched the waves that crashed against the rocky shoreline, I would have had no way to orient myself. Continue Reading »

Creation: HUMANITY

Readings:  Genesis 1:26-28          Psalm 8           Philippians 2:1-8           Mark 10:35-45

Genesis 1:28: “God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Genesis 2:15:  “The LORD God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.”            

A photo by NASA. unsplash.com/photos/rTZW4f02zY8Two Sundays ago, the theme of our first Creation series was EARTH. In Week #1, you may remember that I made a couple of points. The first was that the Genesis story is not a logical, scientific account of what happened in the beginning of time. Instead, Genesis was intended God’s people engaging in theological reflection,with God as the subject. God as the first cause.

I noted that there were at least three implications of the Creation story for you and me. First, I said God challenges us to recognize and acknowledge that God is the first cause of all life that we know: Light and darkness.  Sky, sea and earth. Fruits and vegetables. Daylights and nightlights.  Birds and sea creatures. Cattle, creeping things and wild animals.  Human beings.

worship

The second implication was that IF God is the first cause of all creation—from night and day to human beings—then our best and highest response to God is worship and adoration. We exist as created beings to worship the Holy One who created the world and all that is in it. Coming to church may have other benefits, such as socializing with friends or Sunday School for our children. However, the foremost and deepest reason we come to church is to worship God, the loving Holy One who created us. In the face of such a mystery, we kneel, give thanks, put our hands out to receive bread and wine that represent God to us through Jesus Christ.In response to what is in our hands, we say, AMEN.

There is a third implication, however, and I left that one for this week. It is this:  If we acknowledge God as first in importance in our lives and in the world, then this begs the question of how you and I take care of God’s created order.

Continue Reading »