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  • SERMON 7-10-22 Pentecost 5C St. John Woodward Ending Pastoral Relationship

    Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-9; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37 Neighbors Do you remember the theme song from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood? “It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor, would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor.” (1) Through his example, his ministry of presence, his compassion, and understanding, Fred Rogers lived out on screen for millions of children in America, what Jesus teaches us about who is MY neighbor. Neighbors used to be more than just the people whose house happened to be next to ours. I grew up in a small neighborhood of 1960’s suburbia, and in my neighborhood, lived as friends. We played football, rode skateboards and bicycles, and played games all summer long together. My neighbors would do anything for me and I would do the same for them. We cared for each another, helped each another, shared snacks, and ate dinner with one another. Strangely, that world seems to be only a memory. something has changed in our psyche and neighborliness is not what it used to be. Today, we Americans seem to struggle with the concept of neighbor. There is so much strife in the world, so much internal divisions, and the idea of friends, allies, and neighbors seems to be a fleeting concept. Some folks live in gated communities where we keep the right kind of people in and the wrong people out. Front porch sitting, where we visit with one another as our neighbors take their evening strolls is not the norm. We live in a culture in which, we pull our cars into the garage, close the door, go into the house, and never even know the names of those living beside us. So, we 21st century Christians now find ourselves in an isolated, private, and non-engaging way of life, and it is no wonder we cannot understand what Jesus is trying to teach us about MY neighbor? Merriam Webster dictionary defines neighbor as “one living or located near another,” or more in line with our Christian understanding, our “fellow man (human).” The Greek word Jesus used for neighbor is πλησίον. It means “any other person irrespective of nation or religion with whom we live or whom we chance to meet.” (3) Jesus takes this well-understood definition several steps further, and teaches God's notion of neighbor is pretty radical, which means it may be radical for us as well. For his audience that day, the words of Lev 19:18 echoed in ears of the legal experts who questioned Jesus. That scripture states, "You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord." In Jewish tradition, neighbor was limited to only those within the nation of Israel. For many folks today, neighbor seems to be only those people who meet certain legal criteria, economic criteria, or social status criteria. Jesus redefined loving our neighbor as ourselves clearly and his definition left out the criteria of exclusion. Jesus further explained this concept by relating it to a people who for Israelites were the ultimate outsiders. He made a Samaritan the hero of a parable he told, and this outsider was the true neighbor in the story. Jesus made the hero someone who outside the legal, economic, and social norms of the day, and it was this person who showed us compassion, love, and care for someone not of his own people. This person loved like Jesus loves. The Test In today's Gospel we hear, "A lawyer stood up to test Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Theologian Mark Davis explains the importance of this question asked of Our Lord. He writes, “I do not hear this as a question about ensuring that one gets to heaven and not hell, but a question about the whole matter and purpose of life itself. This is a “what is the meaning of life?” or “what is the chief end of humanity?” sort of question. (2) In other words, the lawyer is asking Jesus, "If I am your disciple, what is my purpose, what is my mission? Jesus does not answer his question, but asks him what the law says. The lawyer asnwers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." Jesus tells him that if he will but do these two commands, he might discover is purpose in life and then, know how to live the life God intended for him. That was not quite enough for the lawyer though. A generalized command to love all with whom we come in contact seemed to him to be too demanding, too difficult, and it wiped out the criteria he wanted to use to classify “who is in” and “who is out.” So, he asked Jesus, “who is MY neighbor.” It seems like a simple question and not a bad thing to ask, but the heart of the question is this, “who can I exclude from that list of people I must love Jesus?” If you can help me define who is MY neighbor, I can keep a list of the unworthy, unlikeable, and “less than” who are not my neighbor. Jesus turns the whole dialogue upside down and tells the incredible story about an unlikely Samaritan neighbor. Remember Jews and Samaritans were not friendly to one another. Ancestrally, Samaritans are descendants of the Jewish tribe of Ephraim and tribe of Manasseh (two sons of Joseph) as well as from the Levites. In other words, they were family, but religious practice and doctrine differences made them and the Israelites bitter enemies. It is ironic Jesus chose a Samaritan as the hero of the story. Remember from last week’s Gospel, “Jesus had just been denied entry into a Samaritan village. James and John, in fact, wanted to call down fire and invoke a Sodom-like punishment on that village.” (2) So, it was a Samaritan, and not a holy and devout insider priest and Levite that showed compassion, care, and love for the man who had been robbed and left half dead. Now what we also need to see in this parable is the extent of compassion, care, and love he showed the poor man. First, he bandaged his wounds and poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal (he walked while the hurt man rode). He brought him to an inn and took care of him; he even stayed with him overnight and nursed him back to health. He shared from his abundance and gave two denarii (two day’s pay) to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of him, and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” The Samaritan did not merely show pity on the victimized man, he shared the suffering of the man and helped him in his circumstances. How then did he become a neighbor? He offered immediate triage for the man’s plight, he transported him, gave him shelter, offered ministry of presence, invested in his healing, and made possible ongoing care. That sounds like a model for us to become a neighbor because sometimes, the opportunity to become a neighbor is surprisingly unexpected. Go and do likewise In my second grade class in school, I learned once again, “Who is MY neighbor.” He wore dirty jeans, holey high top sneakers, and a plaid shirt that had not been washed in a week. The condition of his clothes said a lot about the life he must have lived at home. His name was John Wayne. This was no cowboy with a particularly distinctive swagger and well-known voice. No, this John Wayne was a quiet, shy second grader, who due to no fault of his own found himself every day in a particularly difficult situation. It was obvious that he suffered an impoverished existence. It was obvious to me at eight years old, that he was hurting, when one day while everyone else was eating lunch, I watched him pick up the scraps of potato chips the other kids dropped from their brown bag lunches. On the playground, the other kids made fun of John Wayne, they ostracized him from the group, and he suffered. Oh yes, he suffered. I remember telling my mother about John Wayne that night, and then watching her cry because of what I had witnessed. Soon after that, every day for the rest of the school year, I came to class with two brown bags. One had my name on it and the other had John Wayne’s name written at the top. In both bags, my mother put sandwiches, chips, cookies, and money for milk and ice cream. My mom made it clear that I was not to just give him the bag and then join my friends for lunch, but I was to sit with him and share lunch together. Through a simple brown paper bag, I learned that suffering with others is not merely solving the problems of their plight, but it is sharing their suffering with them. “How do we become a neighbor?” Suffering is the reality in which, all of us find ourselves. Suffering is not fair, life is not always fair, and death is certainly not fair. It is not fair that young children in our own neighborhoods go to school every day with nothing to eat. It is not fair that hearts are broken when a spouse says goodbye to their soul mate at the time of their death. It is not fair that disease, famine, weather-related devastations, and war cause such pain and anguish in the world. Suffering is not fair; it is simply our condition, and none of us are immune to its effects. The higher calling for we Christians is to suffer in love with one another and those outside our closest connections. So, how do we become a neighbor? When we see someone suffering, neighboring includes providing triage (or maybe helping them sustain life in the moment), it included transporting (if it safe for you us we may offer a way to get more help), it included sheltering (helping them find protection from what afflicts them). It included ministry of presence (being with them in their suffering as long as you are able). It includes investing (be willing to give from the abundance God has given us for others). Finally, it includes providing ongoing care (remaining connected to the afflicted until they are able to stand on their own). Becoming a neighbor is how we Christians pass on to others, the abundant grace, compassion, and love God has shown and does show us every day. We are not called merely to show pity and write a check (although that generosity does help in some cases), but more than that, we are called to bear one another’s burdens. Maybe becoming a neighbor is not as difficult as we think, if we can drop the criteria of “who is MY neighbor. Becoming a neighbor may mean just bearing the burdens of the other, or it can be as simple as sharing a brown bag lunch like two little boys did so long ago, and for a few moments each day, one little boy’s suffering was no more. St John’s Woodward has been blessed for the last two decades plus, to have among you someone who understands what it means to be a neighbor. Mother Mary has served you all faithfully with grace, love, and humility. As you leave today and as you are driving down the street and see a homeless man or woman, be a neighbor. As you shop in the store and see a distraught cashier at the register, be a neighbor. As you go to work this week and see your colleague struggling, or as you meet the person living next to you trying to make ends meet, be a neighbor. Remember the Christlike example of Mother Mary and remind yourself, “These are my neighbors.” Then go and do and be what Jesus says a neighbor is “The one who shows mercy, so go and do likewise." REFERENCES (1)https://www.lyricsondemand.com/tvthemes/mrrogersneighborhoodlyrics.html (2) http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2013/07/a-neighbor-is-one-who-nurtures-wounded.html (3) http://www.biblewebapp.com/reader/

  • RV Resiliency

    Webster's dictionary defines Resilience is "an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change." Life often includes moments of joy and celebration, co-mingled with change, or misfortune. These undulations of mountain tops and valleys is a part of living, and it is normal for all of us. Thus, our ability to recover and adjust and to thrive is not defined by how many mountaintops we climb or how many times we are at our peaks. Resilience is defined by how we deal with the valleys, how we dust ourselves off, and we rise again when we face adversity. My faith tradition (the Episcopal Church) is influenced greatly by Benedictine spirituality, whose beginnings in the fifth century with monastic traditions that influenced early Christians in England, Ireland, and Scotland. The Benedictines rule of life, or way of faith, is centered on living a life in balance in prayer, work, and holy leisure. This approach to life embraces that when any of these three areas are out of balance, then we are not whole or rather, we risk our resilience. There is a time for the spiritual, for the vocational (work), and for leisure and play. As Volunteer Airmen of Civil Air Patrol, it is essential for each of us to find ways to remain resilient and strong in all areas of our lives, so that we might with excellence, accomplish our missions. Moreover, each of us must strive to live into our full potential. In Civil Air Patrol we have Five Pillars of Wellness and Resilience"; Mind, Body, Relationships, Spirit, and Family, and these pillars are the foundation supports for our resilience and balance. We must strive to be fit in each of these areas, and to seek help in those areas in which we struggle. In addition to my service as a Chaplain in Civil Air Patrol and my work in aviation as a Flight Instructor, my ministry is serving as an Assistant to the Bishop of the Diocese of Oklahoma. My work is often joyful and fulfilling, but it also fraught with challenges and struggles. Often, I must travel all over the State to visit with one of our 68 churches and institutions. I am blessed to help people discover and live into their call to ordained ministry. I help churches call new clergy during times of leadership transition. I am often the one that goes into troubled churches to help them work through times of conflict. It would be easy for me to spend every moment of my week only focused on my work. However, I strive diligently every day to find balance and cultivate the five pillars of resilience. One way I do this is through intentionally combining the church visits I must accomplish each week; with a passion my spouse and I have for camping and RV'g. My spouse Terri and I, along with our two miniature dachshunds will often take our RV to a State Park near the church we are visiting on an upcoming Sunday. We love to be out in nature, taking our dogs for walks, enjoying a nice campfire, fishing near the lake, or just taking naps with cool breezes blowing through the open windows in our RV. In a few days, we take a few moments in our hectic lives to create balance. We do this intentional play and recreation. We work on the pillars of resilience (mind, body, relationships, spirit, and family) all in a short three-day weekend. Being present in nature, gives our mind a rest from the hectic other parts of life. Walking our dogs gets us off the couch and exercises our bodies. Being together in open spaces of beauty fosters our spiritual connection to nature and creation. Spending time together we my spouse and doing something we love we grow our relationships as a family. What some might see as a mere side trip associated with a work task, can become many moments for cultivating resilience, wholeness, and balance. So, what do you do to strengthen your pillars of resilience? Remember, it is only when every member of our great organization is strong and resilient that we can be “One Civil Air Patrol, excelling in service our nation and to our members.” So, strive for balance, strengthen you pillars of resilience, and when you need help, reach out to your wingman, your commander, or your chaplain for support.

  • SERMON 2/6/22 Epiphany 5C St. Mark's, Perry, OK

    Isaiah 6:1-8, [9-13]; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11 Fishing in New Waters Fishing used to be one of my favorite hobbies. When I was a kid, we owned a beautiful boat, and we spent weekends on the lakes of East Tennessee, fishing and relaxing. On my Dad’s farm we also had a pond stocked with Bream, Catfish, and Small Mouth Bass. They were so abundant that a little corn on a hook would net hours of fun. Unfortunately, when we lived in Florida I did not fish as much as I used to do. Saltwater fishing is different in some ways from how I was taught to fish back home. I tried fishing off a pier, and occasionally I caught a Ladyfish or a catfish or two, but I never had the fishing success I had back in those ponds and lakes of East Tennessee. I just gave up on my fishing avocation because it seemed too difficult and far outside my comfort zone. What I really needed was someone to guide me and show me the way, so I can effectively haul in the big catch. I needed to be flexible and realize that I was trying to fish in a new environment than before. I needed to take a risk, make an investment of time to my old avocation. Maybe I just needed to get back out there and fish again. In today’s gospel reading, we heard about Jesus’ own angling adventure down by the lake. Jesus climbed into one of Peter’s boats and asked him to push out into the shallows. Luke does not tell us the particulars of the lesson Jesus verbally taught but then, he taught us in another way. After teaching the crowds he did a little fishing with Simon Peter and his two business partners James and John. Jesus said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Peter knew better and said, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." And, so he did. The big haul was miraculous! There were so many fish that the boat Jesus was in, and the second boat alongside them, almost capsized. We should not be surprised, when Jesus sends us out to do something, and when he is with us in the adventure, that there will always be a big catch! Surprise Surprise In Luke’s rendition of the fishing story, Simon Peter became so frightened by the miracle that he said to Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" Often when Jesus surprises us in this journey of faith with results we did not expect, we are like Peter “astounded by a death-defying Jesus, moving us from failure and scarcity to life and triumph.” (1) Sometimes even I, as a priest am astonished by how God opens doors that I never expected. Sometimes my faith is challenged and I doubt, don't you? Why are we so surprised when our mission work is so effective, but we should not be surprised because God is leading the way. When we embark on something unfamiliar, we have to decide beforehand whether we are really willing take a risk. We all face walls of fear when we step out of our comfort zones, and let God work in our lives and transform our lives. Letting go and letting God is both a frightening experience, and a joyful and peaceful experience, both at the same time. We can become frightened and say, “Lord, I am doing ok now in my own little way of life, leave me be and don’t ask any more of me.” That is what Peter did. But when he came face-to-face with the miraculous life changing power of God in Christ in his own midst, nothing would ever be the same for him. Jesus was calling him, and us into a new kind of angling vocation. Vocation Simon Peter, James, John, the other nine apostles, and every disciple of Jesus throughout history have been called to a specific Christian call. Each of us here today has a call from God to take our place in the Kingdom work of Jesus. Wikipedia defines this “call, summons … an occupation to which a person is specially drawn or for which they are suited, trained, or qualified. Though now often used in non-religious contexts, the meanings of the term originated in Christianity.” (3) We are talking about our Christian vocations. You do not have to be a cleric to have a vocation, because by virtue of your baptism you are given gifts for ministry. The question many of us wrestle with is this, “Lord, what would you have me do?” Well, for Simon Peter, James and John, who also did not know what to do, eventually “left everything and followed him.” They left their fishing nets and boats (their life’s work). They left their fear, uncertainty, and feelings of inadequacy all behind. They followed Jesus who led them to their true vocation, which was another form of fishing; Jesus style. Our vocation begins with the individual ministries we do in service to God. Those things like serving as a ministry leader, an usher, a chalice bearer, choir member, bell ringer, Eucharistic visitor, office minister, Sunday school teacher, or any other ministry. However, our primary Christian vocation is the one that we share with Jesus, Simon Peter, James, John and all Christians throughout the ages. We find our primary vocation in the baptismal promises, and primarily the one to which we promise to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” Yes, I am talking about evangelism and it is a critical connection to discipleship. Evangelism – Fishing Jesus Style Jon Berquist explains, “Discipleship is not an end in itself; it is a means to further the teaching of Jesus.” (2) Our vocation is to carry on the teachings of Jesus in our everyday lives and that is what evangelism is really all about. Each one of us may be the only gospel anyone will ever read. So, how we live, how we love, and how we serve for some people we encounter will be the only lens through which, others will see the light of Christ. My friend and clergy colleague Stephanie Spellers wrote in her book The Episcopal Way, “If the word “evangelism” makes you anxious, think less about convincing someone to believe what you believe and more about growing a relationship. In the process of sharing your (story with a friend) and growing in understanding, you will already be doing evangelism.” Evangelism can be a fear-provoking part of discipleship for many of us, but we must remember that we never do it alone. Like Peter, James, and John, we have the original people-angler with us in the boat guiding us and showing us the way, so that we might effectively haul in that big catch. Berquist asserts, “People-catching is not a matter of strategy or even a measurement of our faithfulness; people-catching is Jesus' work, and we disciples are the tools he uses.” (2) To live faithfully into our individual and corporate Christian vocation, what we really need is someone to guide us and show us the way, so we can effectively haul in the big catch. We need to be flexible and realize that we are trying to people fish in a new environment than before. We need to take a risk, and make an investment in time to our vocation. Maybe I just need to get back out there and fish again. So, let’s go people fishing and share with our neighbors the love of Christ poured out into each one of us. Let’s go people fishing and share with our neighbors the grace we find in this gathering of community. Let’s go people fishing and share with our neighbors the life-changing transformation we experience in serving others, as Christ serves us. So, what do you say? C’mon, the water is nice, the weather is beautiful, the fish are biting. C’mon, leave that fear and uncertainty behind. C’mon, pick up your nets, and “Let’s go fishing.” REFERENCES (1) Willimon, William H. “Get out of Here.” The Christian Century, vol. 121, no. 2, Jan. 2004, p. 21. (2) Berquist, Jon L. “Luke 5:1-11.” Interpretation, vol. 58, no. 1, Jan. 2004, pp. 62–64. (3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocation (4) Spellers, Stephanie. The Episcopal Way (Church's Teachings for a Changing World) . Church Publishing Inc.. Kindle Edition.

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