Saturday, October 16, 2010

Homily for Robinson/Duffy Wedding

A Celebration of Christian Marriage for
Katelyn Elizabeth Robinson & Christopher Ryan Duffy
5:00 P.M. on 15 Oct 10
Town of Esopus United Methodist Church
Port Ewen, NY

Scriptural text is from John 2:1-11.

The Wedding in Cana is a perfect Scriptural reading for the wedding of Katelyn and Christopher. This is the only time that we actually see Jesus at a wedding, and the story appears only in the Gospel of John. I love to wonder about those who repeated the story so many more would know about it: the disciples were there and it increased their belief. But the servants who drew the water must have known and then the steward, who probably sampled both batches of wine. How else would he have known that the second batch was better?

Now look at the similarities to us here: We too are celebrating a wedding in a small village, like Cana. We too are a gathering of family and friends—and there are mothers present! These families also want everything to be just as it should be to honor this decisive moment in the lives of their children, to honor the new extended family that is being formed, and to honor all of us, their guests. Finally, our story today contains a miracle, one that I hope will be remembered by us who are here and told by those who are blessed by the married life of Katelyn and Christopher in the years to come.

We are not turning water into wine. And our feasting this evening is not a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice for us. But in a cynical time of quick decisions and casual arrangements, we are celebrating true love in the sight of God and the Church. Katelyn and Christopher have worked together. They have been friends and have taken the time to know and understand one another. I can’t forget what the couple said during our first conversations: Katelyn spoke of Christopher’s work ethic and of how much she could depend on him in every way. And Christopher said that he loves Katelyn’s “joy for life.” It was clear that they wanted their love blessed in the presence of God and of God’s people.

Our miracle starts, therefore, with the recognition of love that goes beyond self and self-interest. The vow that Katelyn and Christopher will shortly make is to give all that they are and all that they have. The poem we heard and Scripture readings speak of this amazing power of love. Marriage is a commitment to cherish so fully that two people are willing to trust their inner selves and hopes—and their daily lives—to one other. They must not only be willing to comfort; they must allow themselves to be comforted. I’m sure Katelyn and Christopher already know what it means to be pushed a little beyond their comfort zones.

And so there are risks in a commitment to marriage as well. The party in Cana ran out of wine; there was the danger that the rejoicing might end early. As the reading from Proverbs reminds us, in every marriage, there is the need to search—to stretch—for insight and understanding, knowing they are more precious than silver or a hefty bank account. Only with insight and understanding—and forgiveness—can a relationship survive. And when insight and understanding are not enough, Katelyn and Christopher will find themselves turning to God’s grace for comfort and help. The miracle of this evening is that Katelyn and Christopher are starting on a journey that will bring them even closer together and that will transform them and those who know them.

Katelyn and Christopher, with the commitment that you are pledging to one another this evening, the common everyday stuff of life—the water, if you like—can be turned, over and over again, into the wine of rejoicing. Remember this holy evening. May it bless your days together and may your happiness increase.

Let us pray:
Eternal God, creator and preserver of all life,
author of salvation, giver of all grace:
Bless and sanctify with your Holy Spirit
Katelyn and Christopher, who come now to join in marriage.
Grant that they may give their vows to each other
in the strength of your steadfast love.
Enable them to grow in love and peace
with you and with one another all their days,
that they may reach out
in concern and service to the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Intercessory Prayer from Service of Christian Marriage,
United Methodist Hymnal, p. 866)

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Spacious Place

Sermon for 10.10.10

Please pray with me: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

From today’s Psalm: “Come and see what God has done.…Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard….We went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.”

Recently, I heard a letter sent by a nurse in a mission orphanage in Africa. A young mother had given birth. Shortly after, she died, leaving her infant and a little girl. Utterly without equipment, the staff had to try to keep the newborn sufficiently warm. One of the children in the orphanage knew that Jesus could help. She prayed to Jesus to send a hot water bottle for the baby and a doll to comfort the sister. The nurse confessed a reluctance in saying “amen” to the prayer since she didn’t see how Jesus could do what the child had asked. But that very afternoon, a package arrived from her former Sunday School students in the states, mailed five months earlier. It was the first package she had received from home. In it were brightly colored T-shirts for all the children, and—needless to say—a hot water bottle and a lovely rag doll. How could God have known, five months before, that those last two items were so needed!

That letter was not only an act of praise for the Lord who hears before we call, but an act of remembrance for a mercy received and an act of profound gratitude to the Lord who knows before we ask. These are the powerful messages of our Scripture this morning. Our Call to Worship, Psalm 66, insists on God’s grace to us and urges us not only to accept grace but to accept the possibility of grace, for us, and for all the earth. We are not alone even when we in some remote settlement in Africa or wrestling with a problem on our own laptop or waiting for a specialist to read our x-rays. We are, all of us, saved from our own human misery by the ever-presence of God’s grace.

There are examples every single day. But it’s also worth remembering those times in our lives when something wonderful occurs at just the right time—improbably, impossibly: a letter, a phone call, a chance meeting, a reconciliation, an outpouring of generosity and effort in time of need. Suddenly things open up before us. We can stretch and breathe again. We tend to speak of “coincidences” and “the miracle of human kindness,” when in fact these are blessings of God’s love at work in this world through us. Who would have expected a simple Carpenter to be our Redeemer? God’s love always has the last word and God is always up to something greater than we can imagine. As the Psalm tells us, God has “brought us [and is bringing us] out to a spacious place.”

But once there, it is essential to mark that moment, to say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!” and then recount, as does Psalm 66, the delivery from Egypt, the later crossing over the Jordan River to the spacious Promised Land, and anything else for which we owe God thanks. So Timothy is told, “Remember Jesus Christ.” “Remind” people that even “if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” Again and again, Scripture tells us to remember: There is the commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” At the Eucharist, Jesus urges us to eat and drink “in remembrance of me.” In this way, no matter what else is happening, we will become more Christ-like, workers who need not be ashamed.

Aren’t we sometimes like the nine lepers this morning, a story that only Luke remembers? They cry for healing and then go rushing off to resume normal lives. Not that anyone can blame them. It’s so tempting to put the bad memories behind us and enjoy normalcy again. These lepers were social outcasts, banished from their homes and families. They were appalling to look at and their condition was associated with sexual misconduct, like someone with syphilis or AIDS. No one would touch them and even their shadows were thought to carry infection. No wonder they want to return to human touch and society.

But one, the Samaritan, is willing to put off that precious moment of return. He seems willing to transform normalcy and keep some of the sacred within it. He turns back, praising God and thanking Jesus. He remembers to stop, to praise, and to thank. This remembering and this gratitude cause Jesus to say, “Your faith has made you whole.” It wasn’t that this particular man deserved to be healed because of an extraordinary record of faithful belief. Simply by giving thanks, he was acknowledging God and therefore living out faithfulness, putting it into practice. He stopped his own urgent business of being declared clean by the priests in order to mark his personal encounter with a saving God.

Jesus’ farewell to him, “Your faith has made you whole,” has tied some Christians up into guilty knots. They fear they have not been healed because of their own lack of belief. But what Jesus is honoring is the man’s deep gratitude. Jesus defines that as faith, for gratitude is life affirming and life giving and acknowledges the source of life. C.S. Lewis has written, “Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.”[1]

The grateful Samaritan was, in fact, a man at worship, remembering not only praise to God but thanksgiving to someone from another culture—an outsider in fact—Jesus, a Galilean. In these acts, the Samaritan was doing what Jeremiah urged the children of Israel to do in exile. In a sense, Jeremiah is telling them to shape up and accept the new conditions of their lives with good grace and as normally as possible: plant gardens, marry, have children. But he’s also telling them to pray. To pray their way through the lives they must now live, rather than pining for the good old days. He tells them to pray for the city in which they now live and in its welfare to seek their own.

Jeremiah was writing long before Jesus told us to love our enemies and to bless them that curse us. But this powerful prophet also knew that worship has the power to heal and that worship right where we are, right here, right now, opens up spacious and healing places for ourselves and, quite surprisingly, for those around us.

Our encounters with a saving God may be monumental, truly miraculous, or quite personal and seemingly modest. But acknowledging any of these encounters, remembering and treasuring them, is the faith work and the worship that God asks from us. This practice of gratitude, not only inside but outside these doors, even in the present-day Babylon that assaults us in so many ways—subtle and not—is unexpected news, but it will lead us to the “Good News,” the spacious place of the kingdom of God.

Let us pray: Dearest Lord, we are blessed to be able to praise you this morning and in this place for all that you have given and are giving, known and unknown by us. We thank you for our life and for this earth on which you have placed us. Let us not forget even your smallest mercies and, through them, help us to grow more like the one who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

[1] C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (London: G. Bles, 1958), 78-81.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Relational Disasters

Sermon for 10.03.10
Lamentations 1.1-6; Psalm 137; 2 Timothy 1.1-14; Luke 17.5-10

Please pray with me: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each of our hearts be acceptable to you, dear Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

From today’s Epistle: “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”

Years ago, when we were living close to the UN, Karl and I would often walk our dog quite late. On one bitter winter night, I noticed a nice lined glove lying on the pavement. About a block later, stretched out on a bench, we saw one of the homeless deep in sleep, covered with sacks and old clothes. My bright idea was to run back and get the glove for the woman. Then an odd thing happened. Although she was sound asleep and I had a man and a large dog with me, I was hesitant to go up to her. Possibly because her total isolation and misery made her seem so alien and that possibility frightened me. Taking Karl’s hand, I laid the glove next to her and we returned to our home, but the memory has remained.

Our Scriptural readings this morning talk about isolation and misery. Lamentations describes a people that have gone into exile, groaning, grieving, powerless. Our psalm describes people so full of despair that they’ve given up playing their musical instruments. Whenever I hear that line, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” I think of those times when I, or people I know, have felt so cut off from joy and even from God’s mercy, that it’s hard to find a hymn to sing or a prayer for comfort. We feel alien, wrapped in a cold and dangerous misery that sets us apart. Even the New Testament letter to Timothy, speaks of Timothy’s tears, the tears of a faithful Christian who has become discouraged by what is happening to his church and who seems to be having doubts about his faith.

I’m grateful for such passages because we have felt heartbreak too in this church, certainly tears and fears. These passages remind me that we are not the only ones. All through history, the faithful have had moments of isolation and despair. But Scripture gives help in tough times too. Even when our faith is being tested, it is possible to pour out our distress, to call out to God. In fact, it is essential. The psalmist realizes that at the moment of greatest fear and pain, we can and must remember blessings: “Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set [the temple of] Jerusalem above my highest joy!” And the Letter to Timothy outlines a way of living through tears: Even when there is disaster, there is still relationship.

There is relationship with God, who continues to call us into a life that is holy and blessed; who saves us, not because of our own actions—or lack of them—but because of an all-embracing love and grace; who is a continuing presence in our lives. The wonderful thing about a deepening relationship with God is that it leads to a full range of relationships with others and with all of God’s creation.

There is relationship with the faithful and not only the holy memories of Scripture. Timothy is reminded of his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. They were good Jewish housewives, witnesses to faith in God’s power whom Timothy can look back to. We are witnesses, reminders to one another of the spirit of God. We can nurture ourselves and one another in goodness, in hope, and in Christian joy.

Moreover, Timothy is told to rekindle the gift of God. Think about rekindling a fire: You have to rearrange the little pieces of wood, add larger ones, stir around in the ashes, blow gently. Life requires similar discipline. The work of rekindling is sometimes tricky and sometimes hard. Sometimes we have to start over again. But there is that gift of God living within us, that divine spark that through God’s grace and the Holy Spirit glows and burns.

And we have the saving help of Christ. Today we will be given the great gift of that help through the sacrament of Communion, through the living presence poured out among us that “makes us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.”

These things—the good news of Christ, the mercy and peace of God, the power of the sacraments, and the faithful nurture of one another—are the treasure with which we have been entrusted, regardless of our present circumstances. I think of this treasure horizontally, stretching across the world, touching those people and places we may never know. I also think of it vertically, extending from the past into the future. We can’t know how fully it will extend in either direction. We certainly can’t yet know what it can be. But just as we know that we will not receive God’s treasure all at once, so we know that God’s power, working in us, will do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. This is our certain hope and therefore our faith.

Let us pray: O Lord God, you call us, your servants, to ventures of which we cannot see the ending and through dangers unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us. Amen.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Blessing of the Animals

Second Annual Blessing of the Animals
October 3, 2010
Pastor Dora and Fred Rhoda, guitar

Welcome by Pastor

Hymn: “The Friendly Beasts” UMH 227

But ask now the beasts,
and they shall teach you;
and the fowls of the air,
and they shall tell you:
Or speak to the earth,
and it shall teach you;
and the fishes of the sea
shall declare unto you. (Job 12:7-8)

Prayer (all together):
Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals, especially for animals who are suffering, for any that are hunted or lost, or deserted or frightened or hungry, for all that must be put to death. We entreat for them all thy mercy and pity and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words. Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessings of the merciful. (Albert Schweitzer)

Hymn: “God of the Sparrow, God of the Whale” UMH 122

The Blessing:
Praised be the Creator, who has given every creature its own wisdom and in whose clear eyes we can see the miracle of creation. We pray, dear God, that you will protect and bless all things that have breath, and especially these animals gathered here.

Individual Blessings as guests come forward:
Bless, O Lord, (name of pet and name of friend),
and fill our hearts with thanksgiving for their being.

Dismissal (all together):
May the Creator of us all continue to protect and sustain us, now and for ever. Amen.