Monthly Archives: January 2017

The power to practice love | Sermon for 1 Epiphany

 

“This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased.”

I am among the most fortunate of people, because I know that my father loved me.

In a picture from when I was just a couple years old, you can see his hand touching my cheek, a simple gesture of physical affection that characterized his relationship with me and our whole family.

Dad and Me Orlando 1970He held me in his arms (and he held my mother and my siblings, too), and he told me he loved me in countless ways. When I shared that picture on Facebook, my sister instantly responded that she recognized his gesture — the “sense memory” is as strong for her as it is for me.

The last time I served as a deacon at the altar with him before he died, a similar account of the Transfiguration of Our Lord was the appointed Gospel reading. After I read the Gospel, Dad got up to preach but then stopped, saying, “I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to sit down, because this is my son, my beloved, and I want to listen to him. I want to hear what he has to say.”

My wife and I have spoken many times about what a blessing it is for both of us to have had this kind of unconditional love in our lives. Even though we do not have children of our own, we have been privileged to share our love with others, especially our “emotional daughter” Anna and our grandson Alex.

You have it in your power to give this kind of love, too. You can be for another person — a child or a grownup — the same kind of blessing that my father was. You can embrace them in the kind of love that God the Father has for all of his children.

Who is your beloved? Who needs to feel the touch of your hand on their cheek and hear from you that you are well pleased with them?

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Jesus heard these words from God at his baptism in the Jordan River.

Baptism was for him, as it is for us, an act full of symbolic meaning.

Our service of Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer outlines several symbolic meanings that the water holds for us.

We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.

We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Now sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of your Holy Spirit, that those who here are cleansed from sin and born again may continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior. (BCP 306-7)

Today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we will renew our own Baptismal Covenant and our baptismal vows.

The vows are not about how to earn God’s favor. Rather, they are promises we make about how we will live as God’s beloved children, how we will “continue forever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior.”

Baptism is to us a sign of God’s grace pouring over us; the promises we make are about what we will do in practice to share that grace with each other and with the world.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

That is, will you practice being graceful and generous with your fellow parishioners, your clergy, and your fellow-Christians? Will you practice prayer that keeps you in touch with God and the needs of God’s people?

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

That is, will you practice demonstrating grace by standing firm against those who do harm to others, and by recognizing when you are the one doing harm and making amends to those you have hurt?

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

Being a Christian is meaningful to you; will you practice telling other people about God’s blessings? Will you practice showing them that you have God’s peace?

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

We had diversity and inclusion training at my work this week, and we learned that promoting diversity requires conscious action. It’s easy to be with people like yourself, but you have to practice choosing to be with people who are different.

 Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

That is to say, will you practice remembering that every human being craves the touch of a father’s hand on their cheek, the loving embrace of a mother, the gentle word from a friend? Will you practice sharing that love with others and will you practice encouraging those in power to make sure people are being cared for?

As baptized Christians, we are filled with the grace and power of the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.

That means you have it in your power to practice the kind of love that Jesus practiced. You can be for another person — a child or a grownup, a neighbor or an enemy, someone who is poor or someone in power — you can be for them the same kind of blessing that Jesus was.

You can embrace them in the kind of love that God the Father has for all of his children and demonstrate Jesus’ self-giving love by your actions.

Who is your beloved? Who needs to feel the touch of your hand on their cheek and hear that God (and you) are well pleased with them?

 

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Beloved | Sermon for Holy Name

Note: Today’s sermon was my first as vicar of Church of the Holy Apostles in Oneida, WI. Founded as the Oneida Indian Mission in 1702 in New York State and moved to Wisconsin in 1822, Holy Apostles is the oldest Native American mission in the Episcopal Church.

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“Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Like Jesus we have not only titles, lots of them, but also a name.

Jesus’ Titles

Jesus’ most common title, Christ, isn’t really Jesus’ last name (and H. is not his middle initial). Christ is the Greek adjective that means Anointed; it’s the same as the Hebrew word Messiah.

In the stories of his birth that we read from Matthew and Luke last weekend and this morning, Jesus has another title, Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”

Perhaps some of you have seen that poster that lists many of his other titles?

names-of-jesus-poster

But perhaps Jesus’ most important title is Lord.

The first proclamation of faith after the resurrection – and from the patron of my former parish “doubting Thomas” no less – was “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Jesus is both Lord and Savior. His title is Lord, and his name means Savior.

Jesus’ Name

The name Jesus, according to the angel, means “he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

Paul writes to the Philippians that, because of the self-emptying, obedient love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross,

God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the Name of Jesus, every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9-11)

From before his birth, Jesus’ name starts to show us who he is and what he is doing.

We have names, too

My name is Rodger – Lindsay – Patience.

My name comes from my father and grandfathers and our Scottish ancestors.

I also have clan names – Ross, McColl, and Lindsay.

You each have names – some of you that I’ve met already, like Ken House (Hoyan), have two names.

Your names may come through your mothers and grandmothers. There were certainly a lot of Betties in the church basement a couple weeks ago when we were tying the cedar ropes that decorate the church for Christmas!

Many of you have clan names, too – Wolf, Turtle, and Bear.

Our names begin to describe us, at least in relationship to other people in our family and clan.

We have titles, too

I have a new title – Vicar.

The kids at St. Thomas have been having fun the last few weeks trying to remember to use another new title “Father” instead of my old title “Deacon.”

I am called a Senior Faculty Member at work. I’m not actually “senior” yet; my boss keeps trying to give me a promotion.

I am a Delta Diamond Medallion™ Member, and I have the luggage tags to prove it.

When we meet for coffee, Richard Ackley jokes and refers to me as “White Male Privilege” – that’s more about entitlement, but it comes from the same root word.

I am also a recovering alcoholic, a title that has transformed my spiritual life in the last few years.

Some of the titles we use are descriptive of who we are; some are aspirational. Some only serve to bring us down; others remind us how far we’ve come.

Beloved

But in the Body of Christ, in the “company of friends” who follow Jesus, we really only have one title, and that is Beloved.

Jesus is Lord, and we are his Beloved. John, who was actually known as the Beloved Disciple even while Jesus was alive, wrote that

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

We each have different names that connect us to our families, we each have titles that define our aspirations, but as friends of Jesus we have only one true title.

We are Beloved.

No other title should be allowed to obscure that one or to separate one Beloved child of God from another.

No other title – Episcopal/Methodist, Republican/Democrat, Oneida/White, Packers/Vikings, Christian/Muslim/Jewish, believer/atheist, no family name or clan affiliation – should keep us from sharing our lives with others as Beloved children of God.

Paul insisted that

Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit …. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it (1 Cor. 12:12-13; 27)

So as Jesus’s Beloved, it is our joy to cooperate with God and “plant in every heart the love of him who is the Savior of the world.”

We are – first, lasting, and always –

Beloved friends of a loving Savior
who remind God’s other Beloved children
of the self-emptying love of Jesus which is for them, too.

If other people are to believe in Jesus’ saving love, if they are to trust the loving purposes of God, they will have to see that love in his Beloved.

They will have to see it in us.

Amen.