Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 10, 2016, by the Rev. Karen Joy Kelly

 Sermon Year C Easter 3
Go Fish

          My father was an avid fisherman. In fact, whenever it was possible to go fishing, he did (often much to my mother’s chagrin)! We always lived near water. First it was Loon Lake … a very small Scandinavian complex about 45 miles outside of Pontiac, Michigan. A small lake, to be sure, but the lake in which I caught a five-pound bass when fishing with my dad. I was about five years old when it happened. It was such a big deal that he had the head mounted.
          We then moved to “bigger waters”, so to speak, to Algonac, Michigan, which is situated on the St. Clair River. The River also acts at that point as the boundary between Michigan and Canada. (Algonac is home to Gar Wood and Chris Craft for those of you who are boaters.)
          The strong currents of the river, its international shipping importance and the sheer depth of it meant a bigger boat. Of course, we ended up with a 26 foot Chris Craft, fully equipped with outriggers, trolling lines and sonar so we could more quickly find the schools of pickerel for which the river was known. (I might add that this didn’t always result in more fish caught!)#
          Jesus became the sonar for Peter, James and John that day, didn’t he? They didn’t know, at first, who he was and certainly not the deeper meaning of what he was asking them to do. He simply seemed to be a concerned person offering advice. 
The catch here is not described as a miracle and not intended as one.
H.V. Morton tells us that it is not at all unusual for fishermen casting nets to rely on someone on shore to tell them which way to cast their nets. It is a common occurrence. The man on land can often see fish invisible to the man in the water. Jesus was acting a guide to his fishermen friends, just as people still do today.

Yet, John recognized him immediately by his act fulfilled. Peter then, at John’s acknowledgement did the same.
          So they got to shore, counted the fish and encountered, for the third time, the risen Lord.
          A bit of a side track here about the number of fish. Of course they needed to be counted in order to divide them among the people. More importantly, numbers in the Bible have specific significance.
This is the case in the Gospel of John.
The number 153 consists of 3 separate numbers
100 – “fullness of the Gentiles”, shepherd’s flock, seed’s full fertility is 100-fold. Therefore, the 100 stands for the fullness of the Gentiles who will be gathered into the “net” of Christ. (according to Cyril of Alexandra).
50 – stands for the remnant of Israel who will be gathered in.
3 – stands for the Trinity to whose glory all things are to be done.
Yet Jerome offers yet another and the simplest explanation: in the sea there are 153 different kinds of fishes; and that the catch is one which includes every kind of fish; and that therefore the number symbolizes the fact that someday all men of all nations will be gathered together to Jesus Christ.
Also, it is noted that the great catch of fish held them all and did not break. The net stands for the Church; and there is room in the Church for all men of all nations. Even if they all come in, she is big enough to hold them all. Therefore, the universality of the Church leads to no kind of color bar or selectiveness. The embrace of the Church is as universal as the love of God in Jesus Christ.
And so, dear ones, on this Third Sunday of Easter, when there is so much to think about in the words of the Gospel of John, I invite you to think about yourself as a fisherperson. How will you “Go Fish” for Jesus in the next several months?
As Jesus, the now-risen Christ asks Peter, “Do you love me?” three times, consider that he is asking you the same question. “Do you love me enough to go feed my sheep, go tend my sheep, go out into the world in mission to show the love of Christ through this missional outpost known as our small church?” If so, how will you use your gifts, talents and skills to make God’s love known in this community? How will it reflect back on you and on the church? Are you willing to listen to Jesus’ suggestion of casting the net elsewhere?
Are you willing to be trained for special ministry that will be needed for future sustainability? Are you willing to do all in your power to sustain the work of Jesus through this place?
Are you ready, once again as you recall your baptismal vows, to be able to say, “I will, with God’s help”? And then, are you willing to step out and commit yourself to the future?
If so, then, go fish, in Jesus’ name!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 3, 2016, by the Rev. Karen Joy Kelly

Sermon Year C Easter 2
Alleluia! The Lord is Risen!
          Yes, alleluias have once again returned to our liturgical language and the presence of the Paschal candle is seen and will continue to be lit through Pentecost. You may have also noticed that, in our scripture selections during the Easter season, we read from the Book of Acts rather than from the Old Testament. We are in the season of becoming new … re-membering the resurrected Jesus as our companion on the way.  We will continue in the Easter season of the church year for the next 50 days.
Today, on the second Sunday of Easter we hear many things in our scripture readings, and, mostly, we think about doubting Thomas on this day, because there is a little doubt in each of us. And, if we have not wrestled with this doubt, we have missed one of the gifts God has given us … that of free will. We are here this morning because we believe what has been told to us through scripture and acknowledge that the Word of God gives us life and the tools to survive in an alien world.
I was reminded this week of what the Gospel does for us this morning … beyond being “doubting Thomas Sunday.”
I had not realized what was involved until I became intrigued by the phrase, “‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’”.[1]
My quest began with the final phrase, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” I have wondered about this for years, and this week had the luxury of time to research it further.
My discovery is that, in the Gospel of John, this is John’s way of telling us that Jesus, the new Adam, is actually commissioning the disciples for their work in the world from this point on, much like the end of Matthew give us the commission to go preach to the ends of the world. It was Jesus’ way of telling this room full of frightened followers, who had really seen Jesus as the Messiah for the first time, that they were ready to go forth and do and be the Word of God for the world to see.
So my question, not only to myself, but my invitation to you is just how are we going to live out (or into) our own commissioning over the 50 days of Easter. How is our story going to be linked to the story? How can we show the world that we, too, are part of that story in our being and in our doing? Just how will we show others that the community within the very walls of this beloved community not only talks its walk but walks its talk?
          This is a question that we must answer individually and corporately. #
          Three years ago I read a reflection written by a Laurie Brock in the Forward Movement Website called 50 Days of Fabulous a few years back. She tells us …
          “I had taken my college students to San Francisco to attend the conference for Episcopal college ministries, and we were attending an interfaith remembrance for Archbishop Oscar Romero at Grace Cathedral. The parade of speakers, combined with the general college ministry schedule of sleep-is-for-the-weak led to my attention soon drifting off. Suddenly, I snapped back to focus. On the dais was a local Hindu monk, speaking in a thoughtful, even lilt.
          ‘Last week I received this box of bullets,’ he mused.
          Fantastic, I thought, inwardly cringing. It’s a death threat. Some loony fundamentalist sent this nice guy a box of bullets to scare him.
          As I carried on a cynical monologue in my head, about the awfulness of humanity, the monk explained that certainly he had canvassed his neighbors, and figured out that the bullet box was, in fact, a mis-delivery. It had been intended for his downstairs neighbor – a federal agent of some variety.
          ‘But he had already received a replacement, so I thought What can I do with these? What would bring peace, what would resurrect these weapons?
          “He held up a bowl filled with golden pebbles. ‘So I melted them down, and I made them into prayer beads. Because, I thought, you would like to have them. So take one, please, everyone. We canb ring some resurrection together.’         
          “I still have mine,” Brock continued. “It lives in my jacket pocket, and it reminds me that resurrection isn’t just a singular act, once-and-boom! event. It’s a repeated, habitual transformational re-making of the world in which we participate.”[2]
          It’s a repeated, habitual transformational re-making of the world in which we participate. #
          How will you choose to live into the resurrection between now and May 15? How will your turning bullets into prayer beads change you and change the world, individually and as a member of this dear small church family?
What are the bullets that you can turn into prayer beads? With God’s help I know you will find them and change someone’s life … just as our collect for this second Sunday of Easter suggests:
“Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established a new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show for their lives what they profess by their faith, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.”
Alleluia, the Lord is risen!
Thanks be to God.

[1] NRSV John 20.21-23
[2] Brock, Laurie, 50 Days of Fabulous, Forward Day by Day website, April 4, 2013 meditation

Monday, March 28, 2016

Sermon for Easter Day, March 27, 2016, by the Rev. Karen Joy Kelly

Sermon – Easter Sunday – Year C
Hallelujah, the Lord is risen!

On Palm Sunday we cheered him.
On Maundy Thursday we remembered him.
On Good Friday we jeered and crucified him.
And, today, Easter Sunday, our high holy day, we celebrate his resurrection.
Indeed, our lord is risen!
Yet, what a journey to that point.Those who were closest to Jesus and others who were faithful followers of his. As they scattered, each to their own thoughts … I wondered how they would answer the question, “So, how was your week?” as unknowing friends might ask. Unknowing friends, may not be aware that as their rabbi was taunted, tortured, and crucified their world was turned upside-down … and not for the better. They scattered, Peter denying Jesus three times, others, hiding in that upper room. They had given their lives for naught (or so they thought). Where to go? How do we escape this? What to do? Even the news … the good news of the resurrection by the women on Easter morn was even more of a challenge … unbelievable to their ears. “These words were to them an idle tale” the Gospel tells us.
God did a new thing.
This new direction was the promise of God.
You see, we come to this morning and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the messiah, the Christ, who has indeed turned the world upside-down, on its ear (so to speak) for the better. He came to teach us … to give us an example of a God life … a good life … by which we are to live. He reminded us of the love of God … Love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your might and with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Very simple. Very simply stated with includes everything we need to know in order to go forward. The old has become new yet once again; new in its simplicity.
God, through Jesus, gave the extreme example to show us the way. And God continues to show us the way … in new ways as we struggle and strive to live into God’s intentions for us.
We are called to be unconditionally loving servant leaders who show radical hospitality to all. No exceptions.
This a new era of understanding as to what will be like to follow Jesus … not as princes of the church, but as servants of the people. Look at our world. Look at our country. A world divided. A country consumed by divisive politics. Love the lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might; and love your neighbor as yourself.
This week Pope Francis chose to wash the feet of Muslims … a new thing.  All around us there are good things happening … and, this morning, we are invited to be part of those good things happening. We are here to celebrate that, yes, it is possible to live another way. We are here because we believe that. We believe that the resurrection of Jesus is about the resurrection within each of us.
During this holy time, many of us have become closer to God and to one another during our Lenten Bible Study, using ancient scripture in a way that brought life to those words in our day to day lives and having the courage to share our stories with one another.
During this time we have reached out to others in an attempt to find our role as Jesus’ disciples in this time, this new time, to bring that love to our neighbors. We are discovering how to love one another so that it shows for the whole world to see. We are re-discovering what it means to be followers of Jesus in this new day and age and how to take our place at the table in order to do so.
Yes, the risen Christ, is our hope … hope for a new light to dawn. It is real. It is palpable. I can feel it in the air. Can you?
I invite you to ask God this morning … this morning of the resurrection … just how God intends to use you in this new Spring of your life. How will you manifest the resurrection in your heart and in your mind and in your soul as you leave this holy place this morning?
And this, dear ones, is the good news of Easter morning. You are invited, yet once again, to a new beginning.
And we can pray that this good news be felt in all corners of the world this particular Easter … in a world divided, a country divided … with God’s help, love can and will overcome all.
Alleluia! The Lord is risen! Thanks be to God.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sermon for Sunday, March 20, 2016 by the Rev. Karen Joy Kelly

Sermon – Palm Sunday Year C
Luke 19: 28-40
With reference to the Passion (Luke 23: 1-49)

          It is customary to read the entire passion of Jesus at this service and have it read by members of the congregation. We should not lose site of the reasons for the members of the congregation to take part. We take part in this narrative because we are all complicit in the life and death of Jesus Christ by the way we are and the way we live. We are reminded of that particularly at this reading.
Yet, there is another reason for its reading and that is that many (dare I say most) opt out of participating in what we would refer to as our High Holy Days … those days during the coming week where we re-live Jesus’ last days.
          Please consider participating this coming week if at all possible so that your experience of joy on Easter morn is as fulfilling as it possibly can be. You see, without Maundy Thursday and Good Friday there is no Easter. Many of us, since Ash Wednesday have gathered weekly to gain strength and affirmation as we do our best to learn to “walk our talk”.
          I am always reminded of my Reformed colleagues during this time who say that they love how Episcopalians “use all the senses.” The reading of the story is part of that. We not only come to understand our own complicity in the acts that took place, but we re-live the washing of feet, the Last Supper and the crucifixion on Friday as we experience the cross in our midst. While we enter our sanctuary in joy this morning we leave in silence … in quiet departure, beginning the final leg of Jesus’ journey as we journey with him.
          But today, I invite you into a different meditation. One that is meant to help us understand that all of this was done for us to experience a “new thing”. That “new thing” is what is to happen to us as changed beings, having intentionally walked with Jesus through his life, death and resurrection. #
As we gathered for Morning Prayer in the beautiful Abbey on the Island of Iona, we began the service with:
          “The world belongs to God; the earth and all its people.
          How good it is, how wonderful; to live together in unity.
          Love and faith come together; justice and peace join hands.
          If Christ’s disciples keep silent; these stones would shout aloud!
          Open our lips, O God; and our mouths shall proclaim your praise!”[1]
          I could not help but think of these powerful moments, surrounded by a sanctuary of over 1000 years made of the stone of the island quarried right there on Iona. I felt that I could hear the voices of the ages shouting out and that my voice had now also joined in this chorus.
          And we hear yet again this morning “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out!” #
          And so, in faithful, obedience, Jesus and his disciples departed from the Mount of Olives, himself on a donkey and the others following and shouting “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”   
          Today, I invite you to hear the words, once again from the Iona Abbey that reaffirm our baptismal commitments and our intention to follow Christ in this new way … by study, prayer and action as to how we can enter into this kind of ministry … both individually and as the members of this church.#
          O God, who called all life into being; the earth, sea and sky are yours.
          Your presence is all around us; every atom is full of your energy.
          Your Spirit enlivens all who walk the earth; with her we yearn for justice to be done.
          For creation to be freed from bondage; for the hungry to be fed.
          For captives to be released for your kingdom of peace to come on earth.
In the midst of hunger and war we celebrate the promise of plenty and peace.
In the midst of oppression and tyranny we celebrate the promise of service and freedom.
In the midst of doubt and despair we celebrate the promise of faith and hope.
In the midst of fear and betrayal we celebrate the promise of joy and loyalty.
In the midst of hatred and death we celebrate the promise of love and life.
In the midst of sin and decay we celebrate the promise of salvation and renewal.
In the midst of death on every side we celebrate the promise of the living Christ. Amen.[2]
And so be it, beloved, as we go through this holiest of weeks together, let us celebrate that which Christ gave for us and let us re-examine our own lives to be more in his image so that we can give for him, with him and in him.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.         

[1] Iona Abbey Worship Book, The Iona Community, Wild Goose Publications, Glasgow, Scotland, 2001, p. 15
[2] Iona Abbey Worship Book, The Iona Community, Wild Goose Publications, Glasgow, Scotland, 2001, p. 73, 74, 75.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sermon for March 13, 2016 by The Rev. Karen Joy Kelly

Year C Lent 5 (RCL) Sermon
John 12: 1-8

 Our scripture today speaks of joy and extravagance.
          There is joy as the Israelites are returned to their beloved city after years of exile. And there is extravagance expressed in Mary’s prophetic gesture. And as I prepared for this morning, I could not help but think of the hymn we learn as children, “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.”
          Our scripture for today sets the tone for what is to follow … Holy Week.    
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. And in the narrative according to John, he stops in the suburb of Bethany for perhaps one last visit with his friends, Lazarus, Martha and Mary. The opposition is rising … plans are in place to do away with Jesus as he threatens the religious establishment and their attitudes and behavior. And, yet another shocking event takes place, turning the Jewish world on its ear.
So what is happening here?  There are several things to consider. Let us begin with Mary.                                                                                                       
Mary’s anointing points to the anointing that will be done by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who will use one hundred liters of myrrh and aloes – an anointing of a king … in this case the Messiah.
Mary’s anointing of his feet is considered a humble gesture – a task reserved for the lowliest of servants. Yet, her anointing with expensive nard, would have been enough to help the poor a hundred times over.
The preparation of and at the feet is normally where the preparation of a corpse for burial would begin.
This is also the narrative in John that precedes Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and instructing them to do the same – teaching servant leadership.
In the Jewish society of that time, it was a shocking gesture in a culture where women do not let their hair down in the presence of any male figure other than their own husbands. To this, William Barclay says that she is a spontaneous person acting out gratitude that cannot be expressed more simply. He goes on to suggest that we could all be a little more spontaneous in our response to Jesus. Yet, others saw this as an act of prophecy.
Earlier, Martha tried to prevent Jesus from opening and entering the tomb of her brother Lazarus. It is also considered that through this generous act of Mary, the stench of death following Lazarus being brought back to life has been replaced by the scent of love and devotion and gratitude. And, it is said that this scent has reached out through the entire world by the telling of this story for generations to come.#
And then we have Judas Iscariot.
Judas is limited. Judas is known for dipping into the treasury for his own purposes. Judas does not either appreciate nor does he understand a theology of abundance.
The concern about the poor that Judas expresses at this point in the story is not sincere.
His actions foretell his behavior in the days to come. #
Both Mary and Judas are in roles that they do not yet comprehend. When hearts are overflowing with love, it is a natural outpouring of gratitude that is a proper response.
Mary gives us a wonderful example of spontaneous gratitude.
It is said that Mary responded to Jesus in behalf of the hundreds upon hundreds whose lives he touched in his three-year ministry on earth.
Mary became a model disciple and Judas is represented in contrast. His response leads to the destruction of the flock, while Mary’s devotion acts out the life of love that should represent the sheep Jesus came to save.
While the question of the poor will nag at us forever, there are times in the church that we must focus on the main thing … that Jesus came to reveal to us the kingdom of heaven and that we in turn must place Jesus first and foremost in our hearts. And this, in turn, gives us the joy, the gratitude and the grace to outpour our own love to others, to forgive others, to let go of grudges so that we can get on with the work of Christ in the world.
We are provided once again with another way to look at our own lives … and given an opportunity to seize the moment, as Mary did. We are to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world of those known and unknown to us as we share that generous love.
          Where are we on your journey of transformation with Jesus to Easter?
Are we able to share the abundance of our being and actions … or do we feel like pulling back?
          Are we ready for the Holy Week that is to begin next Sunday?
          No matter where we are in our journey … know that as we attempt to walk with Jesus … Jesus walks with us.
          Hear the words of The Rev John Bell in a meditation entitled He will Walk
          He will walk a little in front of us towards Jerusalem.
          He will not be scared though we are apprehensive.
          If we try to discourage him, He will recognize the Devil in our voice, and he will tell us as much In no uncertain terms.
Then he will go on again, in faith towards Jerusalem.

He will walk A little in front of us into controversy.
He will not be scared, though we are apprehensive.
He will argue with the intelligent, stop in their tracks the self-assured, touch the diseased, upset bank balances by his outlandish behavior in the sanctuary and weep in public.
Then he will go on again, in faith, Towards Jerusalem.

He will walk a little in front of us into Gethsemane.
He will not be scared, though we are apprehensive.
He will sweat blood and ask God if there is another way.
And when God says no, He will take the traitor’s kiss,
The soldiers’ spit, the bile and venom from the princes of religion.
Then he will go on again, in faith, towards the cross.

He will walk A little in front of us Towards Calvary.
He will not be scared, No, He will not be scared.
He will feel the pain of wood and nails; But more than this
He will feel the weight of all the evil, all the malice, all the pettiness, all the sin of the world Heaped upon his shoulders.
He will not throw off that weight, though he could.
He will not give back evil for evil, Return malice for malice,
Take revenge on the petty-minded, or spew out hate on all who have despised or rejected him. He will not give back the sin of the world, He will take it away into death, into hell, So that he can lead us into heaven.
Then he will go on again, In faith towards the resurrection.
He will walk a little behind us through the graveyard.
He will wait until we realize that he has died And admit our complicity in his life’s ending. Then he will come up behind us, and say our name, So that we can say his, Forever.[1]

As we approach Easter, we confront again the incomprehensible, unmeasurable, abundance of Christ’s love – love that doesn’t count the cost – love that gives until the vessel is empty – love that has only one object in mind, and that is our well-being – our salvation.
As we approach Easter, let us look to Christ – the author of our salvation. Let us seek what extravagance he is asking of us, and let us give him our all. #
Jesus loves us this we know. For the Bible tells us so.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit. Amen.

[1] Bell, John, Stages on the Way, Wild Goose Publishing Group, Iona Community, Glasgow, published in USA by GIA Publications, Chicago IL, 2000, pp 64-66.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Sermon for March 6, 2016 by The Rev. Karen Joy Kelly

Sermon Lent 4C
Luke 15:1-3, 11b to 32

          Our scripture for the day reflects the themes of grace, and gratitude, of freedom and relief. It is a celebration of the blessings of the awareness of God’s presence in our lives and living accordingly … some would call it an “attitude of gratitude” which is reflected in the Christ reflection in ourselves.
          Today’s parable from the Gospel of Luke is certainly a story of gratitude, redemption and the celebration of one who was dead and then reborn, through the consequences of life experience.
          I cannot help but compare the parable of the Prodigal Son to lessons learned from “Les Miserables” But more on that later.
          And, for a long time, whenever I read this parable, I found myself in the shoes of one of the two of the characters … the older child and the parent.
I, too, was the older child and was absolutely certain that my baby brother was always coddled and got away with murder. When he’d tease me, which appeared to be his favorite pastime, and when I could catch him to give him a good swat, I was the one who heard the words, “You’re older, you should know better.” So, I kind of knew what the older sibling felt.
I also have been a parent for two birth children and five “acquired” children. I know how it feels, as do most of you, when your child goes off in his/her own direction and you know perfectly well it is not what they should be doing. Sometimes it’s difficult to cut those apron strings … but sometimes it’s only through the consequences of actions that some ever learn.
But today, I would like to focus on the statement that began this Gospel lesson. “All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So, here’s the scene … not only were the Pharisees and the scribes staying close to Jesus … judging and questioning him as he had become a threat … they noticed that what they referred to as the “people of the land” were also hanging around and that he was actually paying attention to them!
You see, the “people of the land” might just as well be called the “scum of the earth” … sinners by their actions and their disobedience to Jewish law. After all, the Pharisees and Scribes were the Law to the Jews. To their way of thinking you could be condemned, but not redeemed.
And so it was … the beginning of “Les Miserables”, when Jean Valjean, hero, had been released from imprisonment in the quarries for 19 years for stealing bread for himself, his mother and his sister. He had been released, but had stolen corn from a boy, and hence hunted once again. He found his way to the rectory of a bishop, who kindly took him in, fed him and gave him a bed for the night. However, unaccustomed to kindness, Valjean rose early in the morning, stole the silver and knocked out the Bishop who had confronted him. The next morning the gendarme brought Valjean back. Valjean had told them that the Bishop had given him the silver. The bishop concurred, admonishing Valjean for not taking the silver candlesticks as well. Then in a conversation between the Bishop and Valjean, he asked why did the Bishop do that. The Bishop’s response was “I have ransomed you from evil and now give you to God.”
From that point on, Jean Valjean was reborn and was alive again. He became the mayor of a small town, was most generous and lived into his new life in a most exemplary way.
On his tail, however, was the rigid Inspector Javert, whose life would not be complete until he saw Valjean back in the quarry. Through the story they encountered one another on various occasions, and each time it would appear that Valjean had the upper hand, but would forgive Javert. This was a perplexing situation for the inspector. Even more perplexing to him was the fact that how Valjean represented himself was of no mind, that he was still a convict.
Ultimately, Valjean spares Javert’s life, only to have Javert capture him.
Javert, the Pharisee, the one who never broke the law, could not grasp the concept of forgiveness and redemption. He asked Valjean why he did not kill him when he had a chance. Valjean replied, “your life was not mine to take.”Ultimately he spared Valjean’s life, but took his own.
Javert, much like the older brother of the prodigal and a Pharisee, simply could not make room in either his heart or his mind that unconditional love is also boundless. That when one sees the error of one’s way and repents, that is cause to celebrate and only good can come of it.
A few years back I received a telephone call from a released felon. Danny Cyrus was released from prison 21 years ago and for the past 21 years has not even had so much as a traffic ticket. Yet, like Valjean, his past is still present with him. Finding work is difficult. He’s about to give up hope, yet he still has a vision. It is his dream to begin a company called “New Life Maintenance” and take released felons, train them, hire them offer their services to the community. All he runs into are brick walls. I share his story with you today with the thought in mind that times haven’t changed much in the  past 2,000 years or even in the past 200 years.
Jean Valjean encountered Jesus in that bishop. The late Pastor Steve McNeely, of Peakland Baptist Church in Lynchburg said in one of his radio broadcast that when one meets Jesus face to face three things happen:
One experiences a generosity, both in spirit and in action
One understands justice
And one steps up to a higher calling.
I wondered if I had met Jesus in Danny Cyrus’ call to me is an invitation for us to step up to a higher calling.
And I wonder how many of us, because of our Lenten disciplines will meet Jesus face to face for that once in a lifetime, life changing experience to step up to a higher calling.
Oh Lord, give us eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to understand.

In the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit. Amen.   

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sermon, February 28, 2016, by The Rev. Karen Joy Kelly

Year C Lent 3 2015
Luke 13: 1-9

There is always tension between God’s justice and God’s mercy
          I have a friend named Sally. Now Sally is my age. Sally has a son named Stevie. We call him Stevie, although Stevie is in his 50s. At birth, there was a loss of oxygen to Stevie’s brain. He functions as a pre-adolescent and will do so for the remainder of his life.  Stevie lives in a group home, works at a sheltered workshop and loves to spend the money he earns on books – books like Dr. Seuss. My friend Sally has been to hell and back while raising Stevie. People would actually go up to her on the street and say things like, “My you must have done something terrible to end up with a child like that.” So far as we can tell, Sally was a good mother to both Stevie and her daughter, a faithful wife, a God-fearing Christian and loyal Episcopalian. But, that’s how some folks believe. That is certainly what the Jews of Jesus’ time believed.
          Our Old Testament reading this morning is the time honored story of Moses and the burning bush. God revealing himself to Moses and revealing to Moses who it that he is to be and what it is that he is to do. First, like all the prophets, Moses says, “But God” …in other words … “I can’t”. You see Moses had fled from the pharaoh … found himself in a new environment and God changed Moses’ life. But let’s look at the question Moses poses to God. But what shall I say when people ask who sent me? What shall I tell them when they ask your name? God replied with “I am who I am”. Or, at least that’s what our translation tells us. Actually, in those days the Hebrews did not use vowel sounds. What God said was YHWH (yeh weh). The closest to that is the word Yahweh that we see upon occasion. The Hebrews never used the name that God called himself. They substituted the word “Adonai” or Lord. And, technically speaking, YHWH is a verb. It is in third person of the verb “to be.” It translates technically as “He causes to be.” So from God’s initial meeting with Moses, this rather simplistic notion of God has become one way that people look at God. When good things happen, it is because of God. When bad things happen, it is because of God.
In Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians in this morning’s readings, he too referred folk back to the “cloud” and those crossing the desert with Moses … and those who complained and were destroyed. “God is faithful,” he tells us and will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
          Today’s Gospel begins with a gruesome report of how folks had been slaughtered as they were offering sacrifices to God and their blood was mingled with the sacrifices. And Jesus reminds them of those 18 who were killed at Siloam.
          From what we know about Pontius Pilate, he was rather an inadequate public servant. Here we see that he, perhaps feeling threatened enough, decided to sacrifice some Jews who were offering their sacrifices to God. Some thought that he might have thought of them as insurgents by their actions. The accounts of the early historian Josephus (Jo see fus)  recall that Pilate’s confrontation with the Jews do tell of such bloodletting situations. Among his travesties against the Jews, whom he was sent to govern in the outpost of Jerusalem were his seizing of Temple treasury to build an aqueduct and killing a group of Samaritans climbing Mount Gerizim.
          Jesus, in his custom, uses such a moment to teach. He responds with two parallel questions: “Are you thinking that these Galileans were worse sinners than any other men of Galilee because this happened to them?” “Are you imagining that they were worse offenders than any of the other people who lived in Jerusalem?” To which he responded in order, “I assure you that is not so.” “I assure you they were not.”
          In a way, Jesus makes us mindful of Job and his friend who continued to tell him that he must have done something terribly wrong for this to have happened to him. For it was in the Jewish tradition that bad things happen because people do bad things. It was ingrained in the manner of thinking of the time. “If God is responsible for everything that happens, and God is a just God, then calamities must be the result of human sinfulness.”
          However, that is only part of the story.
          The point is, that Jesus has used this example to point out to those who wished to listen that the need for repentance is urgent. It is not enough to simply be in Jesus presence. It is not enough to simply have been baptized … or to have participated in the Holy Eucharist on a regular schedule. These sacraments are to remind, to re-affirm one’s resolve to repent. To turn around. To seek a new direction. To change. They direct us to Jesus the Christ. They are the “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace.” They are part of the disciplined life in which we are to walk.
          Luke then chooses to follow this teaching of Jesus with one of Jesus’ parables. This time it is the parable of the barren fig tree, where the gardener intercedes in behalf of the tree, pleading to give it another year. The fig tree escapes being chopped down, at least for another year.
There is but yet a shortened amount of time to repent. We do not know when. Like the foolish handmaidens who did not have enough oil to keep their lamps lit while awaiting the bridegroom. It is like the gospel when Jesus reminds us that it is the narrow door that we are to focus on entering, not the wide gate.
          For we are all called to discipline during this Lenten season. In this third Sunday of Lent, we are called to repent. We are called to live in the tension … the paradox of God’s justice and God’s mercy.
          How does this call you up short this third Sunday of Lent? How does it impact your life?
          The paradox continues with us on our journey. Which is it? God’s mercy? Or God’s judgment? Who is testing whom? How many times are we testing God by not taking the time for Lenten discipline … to walk with Jesus as he walks with us day by day by day? Who knows, outside of God, when the judgment will come? How can we take it so lightly?
          Are we like the fig tree? Is Jesus asking God for one more year for each of us? What will it take for us to come to grips with our own mortality; our own sinfulness; our own needs first and then others?
          What would you do if you were like the fig tree with only a year left? How would you make up for lost time; wrongs committed, opportunities missed.
          Each day is a gift from God. How will you use that gift during the rest of this Lenten season … through the Easter season … and for the rest of your life?
          Yes, it is good to ask questions and to try to understand God. But often we place God in a box. The box we create for God. It is more important to focus on what God wants of and for us. According to a Forward Day by Day reading, [God] is many-sided, multidimensional, powerful, frightening, loving and gentle all at the same time. He exceeds our ability to understand. It closes with this prayer, “Dear God, you are God and I am not. That is all I need to know.”
          By the way, my friend Sally will be the first to tell you that her son Stevie changed her life forever, for the better. She has become a leader in that field … and a social worker with a distinguished career. And instead of saying, “Why did this happen to me?” Sally says courageously, “Why wouldn’t this happen to me?”
          And to that I respond, “Thanks be to God for all who have found strength and new life in whatever journey the great “I am” or another person hands them. Amen”