Monday, November 26, 2007

Christ the King

Peter's sermon from Sunday, 11/25/2007

Today is the last Sunday of the current church year. It is also known as the Feast of Christ the King. The concept of king is difficult for us. But the idea of power is not strange to us. We know about power. All of us have power, some more, some less, and all of us have to deal with power. We know that power can be used for good or ill.

Some years ago I went to see Monsters, Inc. Monsters Incorporated depends for its energy on capturing the screams of children to power their electricity. The corporate motto is, "We scare because we care." And Sully is the best monster of them all until he meets "Boo" a little girl who is not scared and who Sully comes to care for deeply. But then a transformation happens, Sully discovers that there is even more energy in Boo’s laughter than in her screams. His whole world is turned upside down. He had lived in a world whose premise was that power is preserved by fear. But he learned that there was another world waiting for him, a world that was based on love and joy and not fear.

To me this is a wonderful image of what is happening this last Sunday of the church year. We are being invited to glimpse into the world of a profoundly different kind of king, a king who invites us into a kingdom, not based on fear, but one that is based on love and joy.

The first reading (Jeremiah) looks to the time when God will restore the Davidic kingship, a time when kings will truly shepherd the people and not exploit them. This king will rule with justice, defend the afflicted and save the children of the poor.

Today we leave Luke’s witness to Jesus. (Next week we will begin to travel through Matthew’s) All through this past year we have been living into the rich texture of Luke’s portrait of Jesus:

  • It began with the story of shepherds coming to visit the baby Jesus. You may recall that shepherds were not viewed as very savory people—they were not welcome into villages, they had a reputation for being thieves and not very clean. But Luke’s Gospel has this underlying theme that those on the edges are being brought by God into a new community.
  • In Luke Jesus begins his ministry by taking up the theme of Isaiah, bringing good news to poor, release to the captives. Now here in this powerful scene Jesus utters one final word of welcome and acceptance to the thief on the cross—today you will be with me in paradise.
  • In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is the promised Davidic King spoken about by Jeremiah. (a mighty savior, born of the house of David. 1:69) But Jesus has turned the idea of kingship on its head. Jesus rules from a cross: unlike the kings around him he prays for forgiveness for his enemies, he resists every effort to provoke him into anger and rage. This king bears an unjust punishment so that we might be forgiven.
Paul captures the power of this rule from the cross in the concluding words to the epistle, through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of the cross. (Col 1:20) If we are to live under the kingship of Christ we are to live as those empowered to reconcile. Like Sully we have a find a new kind of power, one that is not based on fear, but one that is based on hope.

Christ the King has set a new environment for us to become full human beings. By dying he has created an environment of reconciliation. This is what we practice here. We give to each other the peace of God. We join Christ to become God’s reconciling people. How do we be sustain ourselves as a reconciling community in a world driven by fear?

Desmond Tutu tells the story of a light bulb that shone brightly and proudly. "[It] began to strut about arrogantly, quite unmindful of how…it could shine so brilliantly, thinking that it was all due to its own merit and skill." One day the light bulb is taken out of he socket and placed on the table. "Try as hard as it could, the light bulb could bring forth no light and brilliance….It had never known that its light came from the power station and that it had been connected to the dynamo by little wires and flexes that lay hidden and unseen and totally unsung."

We practice the reign of Christ by staying connected to Christ and to each other. We do this by creating room for prayer and worship in our lives, by being open to the presence of Christ in every dimension of our lives, by working for justice and reconciliation in our lives and in the world around us. We live the reconciling love of God by being open to the Christ in all persons no matter what their race, their gender, their political persuasion.

Today we have a particular way of expressing our oneness with Christ by caring for those who are marginalized by poverty, lack of education, AIDS, or famine. We can become a part of the ONE campaign. You can do this by filling in the cards in your bulletin and placing them in the Offertory Plate. The office will send in your commitment card so that you may stay informed and become part of the ONE community as advocates of the poor. Begin where you are. I know of one person here who is sending mosquito nets to Africa to protect people from malaria. There are also white wrist-bands for you to wear as a reminder that you are a part of the One community.

Also, you have received a bulletin insert that focuses on a particular group of people at the margins: those who suffer from HIV/AIDS. Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day. There are now over 40 million people infected with this disease. While AIDS is not longer a headline story in our media, we who are advocates for those who are at the edges, can still tell the story and seek justice for those at risk. Keep reminding our politicians of our commitment to the MDG’s –if we honor our commitment it will prevent 10 million children from becoming AIDS orphans. As a citizen in this most wealthy of nations you can become a citizen advocate for righteousness.

What this Sunday proclaims is that God is about the business of reconciling. We get to choose whether we are on the side of Christ the King who reconciles from the cross or whether we will be on the side of the forces of fear.

Sure we are currently divided and we differ on substantive issues, but I believe that the God who comes to us in Jesus is the God who is seeking our healing and our wholeness.

So then on this feast of Christ the King let each of us become the instruments of the Peace of God by extending ourselves as those who offer to the world Christ’s reconciling love. Amen.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

God is God of the living, not the dead

Peter's sermon from last Sunday...

Intro. Today's readings look at two sides of the human condition—the readings from Haggai and Thessalonians basically deal with disappointment, fear, and the loss of trust. They ask can God be trusted in the face of disappointment? They explore the condition of despair. The Gospel reading looks at a very different side of our nature—that aspect of our nature that can assume that we are right in our point of view, that we know the mind of God. It explores the condition of pride and vanity.

Now I don't know about you but I have been on both tracks—there are times when I am struggling with some disappointment in my life and wonder if God is even present to me, and there are other times I am so sure that I am right and know the mind of God and I am proud of it! We are a strange species at times fragile and afraid and at times sure and confident. In either case we find ourselves in some kind of ‘bad faith', either God cannot be trusted, or I know, as others don't, the mind of God--either despair or pride.

Let's look more closely at each of the readings and see what clues they offer:

1. Haggai & Paul The people Haggai is preaching to are really struggling—the temple they have built after returning from Exile seems but a shadow of the one they remembered. Hadn't God promised a New Jerusalem and a New Temple? (Is.55) Haggai reminds them of the ancient story of the Exodus—that from the poverty of slavery God built a nation. God is with them now in their struggle and they are not to be afraid, but trust in God.

Similarly, Paul writing to some Thessalonians who were in a panic because they thought that they had missed Jesus' second coming and had been left behind. Paul says to them, “stand firm in the tradition."

Each of these answers speaks so forcibly to us as we gather here to remember the tradition. You may have come here today wondering if God could be trusted in the face of your doubts and fears? How do we deal with those fears that at times seem overwhelming and where God seems so very far away? Both Haggai and Paul give us a simple and direct answer: remember the story! Remember what it is that brought you to faith in God in the first place and don't give up!

Thursday I met a man from Mexico who is an organizer for migrant workers not far from here. He was feeling very sad because one of his workers had been taken to prison and was very despondent. We talked about ways he could bring hope to this man. I suggested to him that he might arrange to bring him communion so that this man, though separated by bars, could know that he is still a part of the community. He thought that was a great idea. This is why we take communion to our shut-ins and sick members—to give some tangible sign that they and we belong together in God's beloved community.

All of us face doubt and fear—and all too often we feel that we are alone in our fears, but as we pass the Peace we remind each other that no one is alone and that God is present, even in our disappointments. This is what we do for each other.

2. The Gospel takes us to the other side of the human condition—the pride and confidence of being right. The Sadducees thought they were right and looked down on the superstition of others. They confined their religious beliefs to the literal text of the five books of Moses. On this basis they denied any belief in an afterlife. For them resurrection was limited to the passing on of one's name through progeny.

They drew Jesus' attention to a prescription contained in the marriage law. (Deut. 25:1-10) In a male dominated society, it is a law designed to secure a male progeny, and to protect the property of male heads of households, who die before fathering a male heir. It was also designed to protect the widows from a life of poverty in a patriarchal culture where property was held by male heads of households, and widowed women were often forced into abject poverty.

The Sadducees then tell a rather outrageous tale of seven brothers, each marrying in turn the widow of the first brother. Then they pose the question, if there is resurrection, whose wife will she be? Now note the premise of their question: a woman's role is subservient to men. We can get the irony of their question if we imagine that the woman had been the questioner! The conversation might have begun like this: “Lord, you know I have been married to seven brothers, but I really only ever loved one of them. Will I be able to be with him in the after life?" Or, suppose she simply said, “Lord, I'm tired of being pushed around to satisfy these seven brothers, can't I get some relief in the after life?"

Do you begin to see the theological significance of the tale now? If there is a resurrection it throws into question the fabric of the social system that defines people by their relationship to the existing power structures. If there is a resurrection, then it is possible that places of privilege and places of subjugation will no longer apply. If there is a resurrection, a patriarchal system that subjugates women to men could be overthrown.

In fact, that is just what Jesus replies to this trick question. He first says that resurrection life is not about the possession of one person by another, but in the resurrection life all are children of God.

But then Jesus adds a clincher to his argument. He points out that their view of God is inadequate. He cites the very scriptures they hold as foundational to argue that God is the God, not of dead, but of the living. From their own scripture there is the witness to a power that transforms the life of this age by that of an age yet to come, and is on its way even now. Jesus' real complaint against these Sadducees was that they viewed the tradition as somehow frozen in the sacred texts of Moses, rather tradition is a living and ongoing reality that is always being re-appropriated to a new understanding of God's love and purpose.

Now we know there are Sadducees in the church today who believe that they have the final word on whom God welcomes into the church and on what condition. They are saying that gays can only be a part of us if they are celibate, that women can only be a part of us if they stay away from the altar.

I recall a man who felt strongly that women should not be at the altar and when, long before women were being ordained, I introduced women chalice bearers he refused to take communion. So we always scheduled a man alongside of a women and he then chose which side to go to the communion rails. Then when on vacation in San Francisco he went to the cathedral where on that occasion there were only women! He could not choose and so took communion. His family teased him and brought him out of his stiffness.

We have looked at two sides of the human condition—the fear of being left behind and the pride in being right. And each of us will find ourselves on each side of this spectrum. But here, in this coming together around bread and wine we are invited to find a middle way—the way of trusting God in the face of our fears and the way of humility in our search for the truth.

The psalm for today describes this balanced approach to our human journey as one that is focused on God's ongoing victory in the progress toward justice and righteousness. We do not live in a static world, but one in which God is actively seeking to transform us by the qualities of mercy and faithfulness qualities that are in contrast to those of the world around us.

The psalm reminds us, as Augustine said of old, our souls are restless until they find their rest in God. The balanced way is to know that God is near to us in our fears, and the praising God is the best antidote to pride.

Jesus said, God is God of the living, not the dead, and this means that God is present to us in all dimensions of our lives, our fears and disappointments and our times of pride and arrogance. God is constantly nudging us to respond to love as a way to comfort us in our fears and challenge us in our pride. Amen.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Virtual Tour of the Church

Thanks to Ken Booker and Armond Kane, a virtual tour of the church is now available by clicking here.

Eventually these photos will reside on the parish website. For now they reside on Armond's Kodak EasyShare Gallery.
NOTE: You do NOT need a Kodak EasyShare account to view the slideshow.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Acclaimed Hip-Hop docu-film at church today

An out-of-town colleague pointed Michael and me to this post. I'm glad we received this free advertising. Thanks to Carly for making this event happen!

Staff report
Democrat & Chronicle

(August 26, 2007) — Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes, a critically acclaimed documentary film, will be shown at noon today at St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene Episcopal Church, 17 S. Fitzhugh St.

The award-winning documentary by Byron Hurt examines the issues of masculinity, sexism, violence and homophobia in today's hip-hop culture.

A discussion will follow.

Panelists include Jean Howard, chief of staff in the Office of the Mayor; State Sen. Joe Robach; and representatives of various women's organizations.

The suggested donation is $5.

This event, which coincides with Women's Equality Day, is the inaugural partnership program for two local groups: Stand Up Guys and Survivors Advocating for Effective Reform.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Treasures on Trial

Proper 14—Year C (RCL)
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 Luke 12:32-40

Lord Jesus, stay with us; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and
awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the
breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.
I hate to admit it, but I'm a fan of some of those TV shows that feature crime-detecting sleuths with dramatic court scenes—shows like Law & Order and CSI. Even though much of story and action takes place outside the courtroom, often the most significant moments are when some piece of evidence gets revealed in court to seal the fate of some alleged perpetrator. Those are very dramatic moments indeed. Our first reading this morning is actually a courtroom transcript, recorded by a court stenographer named Isaiah. There's a portion of the transcript that I think has been edited out over the centuries; I like to think that it reads something like this:

Hear ye, hear ye! The Supreme Court of the Holy One of Israel is now in session,
the Honorable Judge Lord God Almighty presiding. All rise. Docket number 3N1:
the Heavenly Host vs. Humanity, charged with crimes of intentional
injustice—oppression of the poor, neglect of the needy, exploitation of the
widowed, and abandonment of orphans.
Isaiah has written his vision as a courtroom scene with God sitting on the bench as a holy Judge, pronouncing sentence over a guilty people who have gone astray from God's will and commandments. The crime has been that God's people have been doing the prescribed rituals of worship, all the while perpetrating injustices against the poor, the oppressed, the widowed and the orphaned. The most helpless people of society have been trampled on by people who—you could say—are regular in Church attendance. I rather like the way that Eugene Peterson relays this passage in his translation called The Message:

"Why this frenzy of sacrifices?" God's asking.
"Don't you think I've had my
fill of burnt sacrifices,
rams and plump grain-fed calves?
Don't you
think I've had my fill of blood
from bulls, lambs, and goats?
When you
come before me,
who ever gave you the idea of acting like this,
here and there, doing this and that—
All this sheer commotion in the place
provided for worship?
"Quit your worship charades.
I can't stand your
trivial religious games:
Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special
meetings, meetings, meetings—I can't stand one more!
for this, meetings for that. I hate them!
You've worn me out!
I'm sick
of your religion, religion, religion,
while you go right on sinning.
When you put on your next prayer-performance,
I'll be looking the other
No matter how long or loud or often you pray,
I'll not be
And do you know why? Because you've been tearing
people to
pieces, and your hands are bloody.
Go home and wash up.
Clean up your
Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings
so I don't have to look
at them any longer.
Say no to wrong.
Learn to do good.
Work for
Help the down-and-out.
Stand up for the homeless.
Go to bat
for the defenseless."

In my youth, I was once struck by a question I heard posed in a sermon that was similar to this kind of courtroom scene: "If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" It was a disturbing question to me because I know that we live in a society where religious belief and practice aren't the kinds of things we consider to be criminal activity. Nor do we tend to think of neglect of religious belief and practice as being criminal activity. But here we have Isaiah's vision of the Divine Courtroom, with charges being brought against humanity for failure to treat others the way that we would like to be treated. So if we were to turn that around, and imagine that doing God's will were illegal, would there be enough evidence to convict us? And if so, what would that evidence look like?

Change of scene…

Moving from Isaiah to Luke, in our Gospel reading today, we find Jesus giving some helpful hints to his disciples on how to make sure that they are "found guilty" of being faithful to God. He suggests that we sell our possessions and give the money to the poor. He asserts that we need to make purses that last eternally by putting our treasures in heaven, rather than on earth. He warns that wherever our treasure is, that is where our heart truly is—so it would be best for us to make sure that our treasure is where God wants us to have our hearts.

So, what is our treasure? In the early years of Christianity there was a man who we now know as being St. Laurence, whose Feast Day was just celebrated on the 10th. Laurence was a Deacon of the Church, and was arrested, accused and tried for being a Christian. Because the Deacons were responsible for giving money from the Church to assist the poor, Laurence's persecutors demanded to know where the Church's treasury was kept. Laurence said that he would bring them the true treasures of the Church; and as legend has it, he brought in the sick, the poor, the orphans and the widows. Laurence was found "guilty" and became a martyr—that is, a witness—to the Christian faith.

Laurence isn't alone in his theology of what the Church's treasures really are. Jesus himself said that by doing anything kind for "the least of these" who are hungry, thirsty, sick, naked or in prison, it is as though it has been done for him. Even Isaiah's vision of the Divine Courtroom asserts that the poor, the widowed, the oppressed, and the orphans are nearest and dearest to the heart of God.

No how do we go about taking care of these treasures? How do we keep them safe, from moth, rust, or burglary? We all understand the concept of stewardship—that everything we have is a gift from God, and that we are to take care of those gifts on God's behalf. Proper stewardship of these treasures requires us to live into what we Episcopalians call our Baptismal Covenant. In that Covenant we are called to: "seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves" and to "strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being" (The Book of Common Prayer, page 305).

These words from the Baptismal Covenant—which are also found in scripture—are powerful words if we truly take them to heart. If we respond to these Vows by saying, "I will, with God's help" we are taking our first steps toward becoming stewards of God's greatest treasures. And if we continually work to make God's treasures become increasingly more and more our own treasures, we will have begun to do the work that Jesus has called us to do today, and we will avoid being on the receiving end of the courtroom scene described by Isaiah. Let us work and let us pray that when the time comes for our homes to be broken into by the Son of Man, posing as an unannounced thief in the night, our treasures will be found in our hearts, and not in our houses. Amen.

David Grant Smith
12 August 2007

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Reaction to the Rector's Essay on Racism

Last Wednesday, the Rector's essay on racism was published in the Democrat and Chronicle. Below is one of the reactions he received...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Affirmative action is vital to balance scales

By the Rev. Michael W. Hopkins
Guest essayist
Democrat and Chronicle

(July 18, 2007) — Two recent news items should cause us all to reflect on the continuing problem of racism in our society. The first was a column by Board of Contributors member Eric Bourgeois ("Need for affirmative action gone," June 18). The second was the opinion delivered by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down so-called "race-based school integration plans."

Racism remains one of the most stubborn and troubling contexts in American society, and both the column and the Supreme Court ruling only exacerbate the problem.

In his column, Bourgeois unfortunately equates racism and discrimination. They are not the same. Webster's Dictionary defines racism as "the abuse of power by a racial group that is more powerful than another group and the abuse of that advantage. ..." Racism is not primarily about discrimination; it is primarily about power and the privilege that power takes for granted. The writer's citation of the census data that "75 percent of the country is white" is an example of the use of power and privilege to put others in their place. So is the use of the term "minorities" to label people.

In the majority Supreme Court opinion, the same kind of mistakes were made. Affirmative action programs remain necessary because we live in a society where power and access to power are not held equally. They are necessary not only to counteract discrimination but to provide for the larger social good. Simple "majority rule" has never been the primary goal of our society. Truly free and democratic societies seek diversity of opinion and experience at all levels of human interaction, and value fairness (which is not always the same as equality) and justice above all things.

As a person of European descent, I have learned — often the hard way — that my participation in the sin of racism is more about the privileged place in society that I take for granted than about my personal attitude toward people of another race. I have access to power (such as my sense of security and freedom) simply because of the color of my skin. Whether I like it or not, that is racism, and I am a beneficiary of it. Racism will exist, and affirmative action will be necessary to ensure fairness and justice, until folks like me accept that truth and begin to find ways to share or even give away power so that fundamental fairness may thrive among all of us who call this land our home.

Both Bourgeois and the majority on the Supreme Court want to believe that we can and should live in a colorblind society. We do not and cannot.

Hopkins is rector, Episcopal Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene in Rochester.

Click here for the original article.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

David Smith's Sermon on July 1st

Proper 8 – Year C (RCL)
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

Lord Jesus, stay with us; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.

Before I begin the "official" portion of the sermon, I want to say something: Thank you! Thank you for taking me in ten years ago as a seminary student, to provide me with opportunities to learn skills for ministry and to reflect on those experiences. Thank you for having me as a staff member, and for the privilege of having served with you as your Lay Associate and Minister of Music for the better part of seven years. Thank you for the many ways in which you have formed me, challenged me, and affirmed me in my discernment toward realizing a call to ordination. Thank you for your prayers, support and love. Thank you for the honor you have entrusted to me to stand before you as a Deacon on my way to becoming a Priest. And thank you for the gracious way in which you opened your arms, your hearts and the doors of this beautiful Church to host the ordination and reception yesterday. I am truly honored to have been so blessed by you; and wherever this journey takes me, you will be with me in my heart.

Now… speaking of journey, I would like to turn our attention to the work of journeying today. We have two journeys before us in the readings this morning: Elijah and Elisha make a journey to the other side of the River Jordan in our first reading, and Jesus begins his journey toward Jerusalem in the Gospel of Luke. And both of these journeys are characterized by some intriguing details.

The story of the parting of Elijah from Elisha is one of my favorites. It is a story about turning from old leadership to new leadership. It speaks about passing important values from one generation to the next. It tells about the wonderful relationship between a mentor and a student. But mostly, it speaks about greatness coming out of chaos.

Chaos is a powerful concept in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the minds of our ancient forebears in the faith, chaos was what happened whenever and wherever God wasn't present – without God, things fall apart, death and destruction have a heyday, and there is no semblance of order or meaning to the existence of anything. What is so fascinating to me is that the author of this portion of the Bible uses the whirlwind – a metaphor and symbol for chaos and destruction if ever there was one – as a means of describing the way in which Elijah was taken from Elisha, who must have been very terrified!

Yet, terrified as he was, Elisha performs a customary ritual of mourning by tearing his clothing, he picks up the coat left behind by Elijah, and uses it to divide the Jordan and cross over to the other side. And as he does so, he asks a great question: Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah? In asking this question, he accomplishes two things. First, he acknowledges the chaos into which he has been thrown by this strange journey beyond the Jordan where he witnesses his mentor's disappearance, knowing that he is utterly alone. Second, he acknowledges the power of God to be present with him, and to help him move on. And move on he did! doing things even greater than Elijah in proclaiming the word of the Lord.

The other journey before us today is in Luke. And, just like Elijah, the journey is taking place so that Jesus can be "taken up." And, also like Elijah, this act of being taken up requires a journey to a specific location. But for Jesus, the location isn't beyond the Jordan; it's the holy city of Jerusalem. The author of Luke makes that clear by a phrase that I have come to love: he set is face to go to Jerusalem. And, as we heard in today's reading, not everyone that Jesus encountered was eager to receive someone who had their face set toward Jerusalem.

Now, as Jesus set out on his journey, he had some peculiar conversations on the way. When someone offered to follow him, Jesus made it clear that foxes and birds have better living conditions than he did – following Jesus on this journey was to essentially be homeless as they went from place to place, proclaiming the kingdom of God on their way to Jerusalem. And to those who wanted to delay the invitation to follow, Jesus reminded them that the need to proclaim the kingdom of God was more important than anything else, including the standard social customs of the day. We could easily say that Jesus, through the pen of St. Luke, is telling us that as we set our own faces toward Jerusalem, and follow him in proclaiming the kingdom of God, we will no doubt be engulfed in a whirlwind of chaos!

We are all familiar with whirlwinds of chaos. I became reacquainted with it myself, when I forgot to bring my sermon with me today, leaving it on the chair by the front door. And we all know how chaos can surround us, confuse us, and take our life journeys into places that we never would have dreamed possible – whether good or bad. But the kind of response that we make to that chaos is what will make us or break us. We find examples of how to engage that kind of chaos in Elisha and Jesus. With Elisha, we see how to ask the important question: Where is God in this mess? and how to pick up the pieces left behind by a whirlwind, and use them to do God's work. And in Jesus, we see how important it is to have our faces set toward that which empowers us to proclaim with him the kingdom of God.

Now, we humans don't like chaos. We actually like things to be tidy, and neat and bound up in little packages with some semblance of order and control. This is why we have things like laws – to bring order to the chaos of human existence. And it is this human need to order our lives that St. Paul was writing about in today's reading from Galatians. Paul was a great observer of human behavior. He knew that we are creatures of habit and predictability. He knew that within us is a great conflict raging between our human desire for order and our human tendency to get caught up in disorderly conduct. He knew that we as human creatures like to compound chaos with more chaos. And this is what he is getting at in today's reading. Paul gives us several examples of things that lead to unruly living – impurity, licentiousness, enmities, dissention, factions, and so forth. To avoid these things, we have laws, guidelines, social customs and moral values that are there to help us from falling into chaos. And Paul speaks about the way that we humans tend to look at those laws and values as being restrictions binding us to correct patterns of behavior. But, Paul wants us to know that in Christ we have freedom from those laws – freedom to end the chaos of wanting order on the one hand, while on the other resenting that which keeps us orderly. Paul tells us that in Christ we are free to bear forth what he calls the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And then he makes this outrageous statement about these so-called fruits of the Spirit – he says that there is no law against them! I think that this is hysterical… Paul is appealing to our chaotic desire to be free from restriction, by urging us to freely participate in these things that are not illegal.

Imagine what it would be like if love were illegal. Wouldn't it be fun to go out and love people just so that you could say that you broke the law? And if peace and joy were somehow not valued by society, wouldn't it be outrageously decadent to sneak around spread them everywhere we went? Well, Paul is saying that in Christ we are called to be countercultural like that – we don't have any laws binding us and preventing us from participating in these wildly freeing characteristics known as the fruit of the Spirit. We are released from chaos! We are, in fact, unleashed to create a new chaos of love, joy, peace, gentleness and kindness.

Like Elijah and Elisha, and like Jesus and his disciples, today we are on a journey. We have been called in Christ to proclaim the Good News of God as we go forward. And in our journey, we will no doubt face chaos and uncertainty. But we can be confident that we have been empowered by our Baptism to step out of the chaotic moments of life with a sense of resolve to continue the work that God has given us to do. Like Elisha, we can pick up the pieces that have fallen all around us, and use them for God's purposes as we work to discern where God is present in the midst of life's chaotic moments. Like Jesus and the disciples, we can continue to proclaim that today is the day of the kingdom of God. And like Paul, we are free to live in the power of Christ, bearing forth the fruits of the Spirit. So let us press on, come what may. And may God's empowering blessings inspire us until our journey is ended. Amen.

David Grant Smith
1 July 2007

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Podcast of Davis Mac-Iyalla's Talk

Did you miss Davis Mac-Iyalla's talk on Friday, June 22nd, at 7 pm? Click here for the podcast!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Hotel Worker Petition

Below is a link to the petition in support of hotel workers in Rochester, particularly those at the Crowne Plaza.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Peter Peter's Trinity Sunday Sermon

Does not wisdom call…delighting in the human race?

What wonderful concept—God's wisdom not only calls us, but also delights in us! We desperately need to hear God's wisdom in an era of political and global crises! What prevents us from hearing? Trinity Sunday offers us a clue: we are brought face to face with the mystery of God and the human struggle to understand our experiences of God.

Trinity Sunday is full of rich and complex themes. As one hymn expresses it we worship the Three in one and one in three. It is a day when we focus on God's mystery as Creator, Redeemer, and Advocate. At the height of our service today we will sing (say) the ancient words of the Sanctus offering a threefold Holy, holy, holy as we commence the Eucharistic feast. This use of Isaiah's ancient song with its threefold "holy" is a very early part of the Christian liturgy, dating from at least the 2nd century and helped to promote the Trinitarian focus of Christian worship.

But a century later the idea of the Trinity became something of a political football in a very divided church. Some wanted to protect the eternal mystery of God uncompromised by the presence of the human Jesus; others wanted to protect the divinity of Jesus as the incarnate Son of God and equal person in the Trinity. The resulting division of the church was a problem for the Emperor, Constantine. He needed a united church to help consolidate his empire. Constantine summoned all of the bishops to the city of Nicea where he secured their commitment to the Trinitarian formula that is now preserved in the Nicean Creed that we recite every Sunday.

I do not intend to bore you with the complex linguistic issues the framing of this creedal document faced, but I do want to draw attention to the political consequences of this event in the life of the church. By exercising his imperial power in this manner Constantine gave shape to a view of God, and of Jesus, that had all of the overtones of his own imperial authority. The ancient historian Eusebius says that in many ways Constantine displaced Jesus as the primary earthly image of God. God was now seen to be like an emperor. Jesus became a King. In subsequent eras monarchs came to rule with divine favor and embody the kingly rule of God.

This imperial use of religion is an ever-present temptation—as servants of God the King crusades have been launched to eradicate evil. Much of our own self-image as Americans is shaped by ideas of our special status as a people chosen to show God's way of righteousness by ridding the world of evil. But as we witness the debacle in Iraq we see how dangerous it is for any nation to have this kind of missionary zeal.

Many have said that by projecting images of imperial or royal power onto God we are guilty of anthropo-morphizing God; that is we make God into some kind of human entity that we admire. But I suggest that the real theological issue is not the anthropomorphizing of God; it is the deification of humankind. Our tendency is to make humankind into whatever image of God we project: if God is an emperor or a monarch, then in God's name we rule all that is before us; if God is a creator-mechanic, then we create and manage the earth as we see fit. We view humankind in our image of God, sometimes with profound consequences for our life on this planet. Currently we are facing an ecological crisis that is a direct consequence of our view of ourselves as the sovereign species on the planet. We live as if we are the only species that matter.

Sally McFague, who has written extensively on the idea of God and creation, says that how we view God and consequently how we view ourselves, is the source of many of the problems we face as a species. We have assumed a role on this earth that ignores what she calls the household rules: "take only your share; clean up after yourself; and keep the house in good repair for those to come." It does not take a great deal of imagination to see the devastation that we have created on this "fragile planet, our island home." There is increasing evidence that we are facing a global challenge as we witness the effects of global warming, increasing hunger and poverty, and the rampage of AIDS in Africa, not to speak of the increasing danger our abuse of the planet is bringing to the survival of several non-human species. McFague says that we need a new ecological economics to replace the current dominant model of economics. The current model rewards the survival of the fittest, but at the cost of community and belonging; we need a model that views our place here as a part of the whole community of nature and learn to live in such a way as the needs of all are met; not just the few who currently benefit from the present system of greed.

It is time to listen to that voice of wisdom that delights in us as we heard in the first reading. Many scholars say that Jesus was attuned to this voice of wisdom and that much of his teaching was influenced by the wisdom traditions of ancient Israel. Instead of domination and greed, Jesus speaks of God as one who welcomes all to the table, who acknowledges the least among us, who is the sower of seed, and the protector of birds and children. This God invites us to live into the rhythm of life, not to dominate creation, but to join in the harmony of creation and learn to treat it as a gift.

Jesus brings a new dimension of God to our consciousness. Brian McLaren describes this as the difference between God A and God B. God A is the macho ruler whose power and will drives all into submission; God B, Jesus' view of God, is of a "unified, eternal, mysterious, relational community/family/ society/entity of saving Love." Jesus came with a message of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom unlike all the imagined kingdoms we humans have relished. In this Kingdom all will receive a living wage instead of half the world that lives on $2 a day. In this Kingdom all will be invited to the palace for a feast, instead of the few who can afford to eat sumptuously. In this Kingdom children will be prized as gifts to cherish, instead of fodder for violence or consumption. As McLarne puts it, "When greed and consumerism are exposed, when arrogance and irreverence are unplugged, when hurry and selfishness are named and repented of, when the sacred-secular rift in our thinking is healed, the world and all it contains (widows, orphans, trees, soil) are revalued and made sacred again."

Wisdom calls and delights in the human race. There are no chosen people, privileged people, special people; the God who brought them to life delights in all people. Trinity Sunday is an invitation to expand our image of God to see fully the "human face of God in Jesus" and to join with Jesus in the Spirit filled community that is about the care and sustaining of all of creation. (Note what some of our members are doing about our care for the environment as they suggest new ways to manage how we enjoy food and refreshments and consider attending "An Inconvenient Truth" this Saturday.)

William Wordsworth meditates on our place in nature in a poem called Lines Written in Early Spring. He writes about the "thousand blended notes" he hears and sees as nature abounds all around, and then he writes these sobering lines:

And much it grieved my heart to think

What man has made of man.

Trinity Sunday is about the expansive vision of God who is at once present in the humanity of Jesus and in the Spirit filled communities that seek to renew and care for all of creation. For people who meet God in this threefold manner the church is not about who is in, or who is out, it is not about creating a safe haven of like-minded people, it is about meeting God who is abroad in the world seeking and saving the lost, it is about a shared commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, and is about embodying the same love for people and creation that we see in Jesus, the Son of God and that we see in the renewing power of those Spirit filled communities among us. Blessed be the name of the Holy Trinity. Amen.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Let Everyone Who Hears Say Come

Easter 7, May 20, 2007
Acts 16:16-34;
Rev 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21;
John 17:20-26
Psalm 97
The Rev. Mary Ann Brody

Isaiah says, Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God! … He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep. (Is 40:9-10a, 11) Isaiah says also to us, lift up your voice with strength, O Rochester, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear.

I spent most of my childhood afraid of the city. I grew up in a suburb outside Pittsburgh, PA. My father worked in the city and took the bus in and out every single day. Life in our suburb was safe, which implied that the city wasn't. I walked or rode my bike just about everywhere I wanted to go from home, but not to the city. During the day the city was filled with people working downtown, or shopping in the stores. Sometimes I would ride the bus down to shop at Gimbel's or Kaufmann's department stores around Christmas time. I'd meet my Dad and ride the bus home with him before dinner.

When I was in high school, I'd ride the bus to Girl Scout meetings at the council headquarters downtown. At night the streets were eerily deserted. The absence of human activity made it all the more terrifying to me. What if something happened? Who would help me? I ran without stopping from the bus stop to the office doors. If I saw anyone else out on the street, I'd put my head down and ran faster. Something in me said that the city was full of people who weren't like me, that the city wasn't safe. I'm not sure I ever thought there were good tidings to tell about the city. I think a lot of people are afraid of the city, like I was.

Over the last several weeks, we've been hearing a lot about the New Jerusalem. Last Saturday we celebrated 190 years of Episcopal ministry in this city. On Sunday we heard a beautiful description of the New Jerusalem, the glorious city of God, the very place that will call us all home at the end time. God brings life to the city and it's filled with God's glory. Yet our city isn't there yet. Many here are struggling to survive. We're divided about how to move forward, and that is often complicated by racial and class differences. What are the "good tidings" we're meant to be shouting here as the Spirit and the bride encourage all to "Come"? When they say … let everyone who hears say, "Come." And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

Where is the "water of life" in our city? For a long while the river and the canal were our life blood … but these are no longer our "water of life". The water of life is the power and glory of God flowing through us, and through all those God uses in building this city anew. Our good news is that God is here! Do not fear! God has not abandoned the city, and neither will we. Our gift to the city is a pledge to stay, to be a church that will seek to nurture and care for the city. Part of our vision is to be a center for Episcopal ministry here. If that is what we are really going to become, it means we have to think about doing our work in a different way. It means we need to seek partners in ministry wherever we can find them. We need to offer the water of life as a gift.

A freely given gift! A gift we offer precisely because God gave it freely to us, to flow through us to others! But here's the real rub, it's not just faith we're talking about here. It's shouting the good news and daring to live it. It's to hope in a place that all too quickly tends to despair, and criticize as soon as something begins to look as though it just might not work. It's giving up fear that gets in the way of transformation. Give water for life – give what is needed to those who will take it so that life can flourish here.

An urban ministry center can be a font of living water. It's living water that enables people to find steady employment, or get the coaching they need to keep a job they already have. It might mean running an after-school program that helps kids be successful in school so they can begin to imagine a real future for themselves, and just maybe, stay in school. It might look like providing a free hot meal to a family to help make ends meet at the end of the month; maybe it means companioning with a literacy program to help people learn how to read, or how to file for social services. Maybe it's coordinating a Community Watch program, or running a parent support group. Maybe it's about training leaders for urban ministry and shouting from the mountaintop, "do not fear". It all depends on what we hear from those who come, - even if it seems to be the annoying voice of a demon, like the one that followed Paul and Silas. Even that voice spoke truth.

It means saying "come" to a lot of people whose stories will touch our own in sometimes painful ways, and whose lives will make us look at the messiness of life we might rather avoid. It means stepping out of the comfort zone of our own parish to engage people in other urban congregations to talk about issues that concern us all. It means lending a hand to the work that's already going on, and working collectively on projects that represent good ministry, whether they happen in this building or somewhere else.

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let everyone who hears say, "Come." And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. That is our calling we've heard.

The kind of work we're talking about involves people, not just people living on the streets, but people in neighborhoods. It means exploring links with community agencies and supports that already exist. Our work will be more effective if it can be provided where people live, in actual communities. An urban ministry center makes sense in a neighborhood, where people can come. Our building, as much as we love it, is situated in an urban center surrounded by businesses and government buildings. We need a neighborhood as a ministry field. If we build it, they will come! St. Stephen's recently received a service award from their neighborhood association for the ministry they're already doing in that community. We have much to learn from them, and much to gain by doing ministry together on the west side of the city.

I've come a long way from my childhood fear of the city. I still have a love/hate relationship with it. My heart longs for the quiet and slower pace of a more rural life, but there is also something beautiful about the buildings and bridges here. I've found that the sky is just as blue, and the lilacs smell just as sweet. I look people on the street in the face now, and I smile. They often smile back, and I get a glimpse of the face of God. "Do not fear", says the prophet. "Here is your God! … He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

The Christ we seek will be in those who seek us. Christ will come in the faces of the hungry and the homeless, in bodies frail and strong, in the humble and the proud. Christ will be present in the suffering we see and the joys we share in the building of God's kingdom. Our lives will be gifts of living water that build a new city, and the rewards we receive will be in the work we do.

So with the Spirit let us say, "Come." And let everyone who hears say, "Come." And let everyone who is thirsty come. And let everyone who is hungry come. And let everyone who is lonely come. And let everyone who is seeking God come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

Church goes hip-hop to reach younger crowd

(May 27, 2007) — The Episcopal Church of St. Luke and St. Simon Cyrene took it to the street Saturday.

It may be one of the oldest churches in Rochester, but the 5 p.m. service was thoroughly modern.

On a temporary stage set up on Fitzhugh Street in front of the church, rappers backed by live musicians performed and participated in a hip-hop mass that is expected to become a monthly event at the church.

"I think it's a really neat opportunity to draw in a lot of youth and do something kind of unconventional," said Jessica Kane, 31, of Penfield, a church member.

About 100 people turned out, a mix of young and old sitting in folding chairs on the sidewalk and on the curb.

The hip-hop mass concept was started in the Bronx in 2004 by Episcopal priest the Rev. Timothy Holder, better known as "Poppa T," who has taken the idea to more than 30,000 worshippers in about 100 masses across the country.

Holder's ministry, now based in Atlantic City, N.J., received the 2005 Peacemaker Award from the World Council of Churches and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Saturday's event featured the rappers Missionary Men from New York City, Paradox from Brooklyn and D.O. from Toronto.

The Rev. Michael Hopkins, rector of St. Luke and St. Simon, said church officials have been seeking "new ways to speak the message of Christianity to young people today."

"And we can't think of any better than this," he said. "I think there's an opportunity for us to bring a lot of people together here, especially young people, but I think we can bring all kinds of people together," Hopkins said.

Click here for the original article.

Hip Hop Music and Church Unite

[Hip Hop Music and Church Unite]
Hip Hop EMass debuts locally.

by Rocco Vertuccio
photo by Ben Shutts
Published May 26, 2007

It's not your father's church service for sure. Religion meets rap in Rochester this weekend.

Rochester's oldest church hosted a new spiritual phenomenon. Hip Hop EMass made its debut at the church of St. Luke and St. Simon Cyrene on Saturday. Rappers from New York City and Toronto performed in a concert called “One Mic, One Life, One Love.”

"We’re basically spreading positive messages on how to come out of the old state of mind using God's influence with rap we are basically like rappers who deliver messages in our raps," said Jahdiel Newman, Missionary Men.

EMass started on the streets of the south Bronx in 2004. Since then, more than 20,000 people have experienced it across the country.


Click here for the original article.