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.