Category Archives: Homilies

Mother Susan’s Sermon July 5, 2020

Sermon  7 5 20

Well, I am charmed and grateful that any of you are tuned in the day after July 4! Thank you all for spending at least some of your July 4 weekend with your church. God bless you! And have a joyous Independence Day weekend!

And let us bless each other by showing care and love for each other. Wear masks! Maintain at least a six foot distance from each other, except for immediate family. Someday we’ll all be able to hug again. Just not now or in the near future. We are in an epidemic and as recent upsurges have shown, it must be taken seriously and that requires patience.

I must acknowledge that there are some people who have decided for WHATEVER(?!) reason to ignore the need for social distancing, to ignore the need to care for each other — who have decided to turn this into some sort of political issue. This nonsense reminds me of my great-grandfather John Findley. Years ago, As more and more people left their horses and buggies behind and bought cars, the need arose for traffic laws. Well, he wasn’t having it! He decided that no one could tell him what side of the road to drive on!  He decided that he would drive on whatever side of the road he wanted to! Whenever he wanted to! Freedom! It was all about his freedom. His individual freedom.  I think it was Oliver Wendell Holmes who said, “Your freedom ends right where my nose begins.”

Anyway, eventually Grandpa Findley had to give up his keys — to his town’s everlasting relief.  Sometimes, to live on the same planet, we just need to agree to accommodate each other. It is God’s desire that we get along with each other and even – revolutionary idea here – learn to love each other. Let’s ask ourselves what God would have us do.

Meanwhile, let us rejoice in our opportunity this weekend to thank God for our corner of the world, our nation. And in that spirit I offer the following prayer for our country. This prayer is found on page 820 in our Book of Common Prayer. Let us pray.

“Almighty God, who has brought us to this good land for our heritage: we humbly beseech you that we may always prove ourselves to be a people who are mindful of your favor and glad to do your will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners.  Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way.  Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and among all the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, let our trust in you not fail; all this we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Amen.

And now let me quote from our Gospel for today. “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul.”

We have surely been living through a time of weariness and burden. And to hear Jesus’ promise of rest for our souls is so welcome and exactly what we need to hear these days. Amen!

The love story of Rebekah and Isaac in our Old Testament reading is also welcome these days. And I just want to take a moment to thank God for Abraham’s servant. This nameless man who was sent by Abraham to return to Abraham’s homeland, probably traveling between 500-600 miles to find Isaac a wife for his son from among Abraham’s own people.  Abraham clearly trusted this man, and he was right to do so — mainly because his servant trusted in God. And so, the trust moved right along because ultimately Rebekah trusted in God too. She brought along her maids to join with the servant for the return trip and they all traveled back to Isaac and Abraham in Canaan. And as far as we know Isaac and Rebekah were happy together. Thank God for the faithful servant!

And thank God for our beautiful reading from the Song of Solomon. We often hear it at weddings.

And then we come to our Gospel where Jesus invites the weary to come to him for comfort.

But before that Jesus spoke of the fickleness of those he often found himself preaching to. He knew that no matter what he said, somebody was going to complain about him. He knew it. He knew that in many ways those who received his Word were like children,  innocent, yet immature children. And he rejoiced in that! So-called sophisticated listeners can get all wrapped up in their own intellect. Sometimes our brains can get in our way.  Sometimes it’s best to take God’s Word just as you hear it. This is why the simple words of “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” are so memorable and ring true no matter how intellectually “sophisticated” we may think we are.

Perhaps this 4th of July weekend calls for quiet reflection as we stay in and around our homes. Perhaps this holiday at this time doesn’t lend itself so much to gazing at bursts of beautiful light and color in the sky as it does to gazing at each other with gratitude for those we love, with gratitude for our church, the people of our church. Maybe we can’t see each other, but we know that we are together, loved by God and loving God together.

Let us rest assured this Independence Day that we can always find rest for our souls with Jesus no matter what is going on in the world.

“Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.”

Mother Susan’s Sermon for June 28, 2020

Sermon 6 28 20

Deuteronomy 26:5 “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor.” That is what anybody bringing offerings to the temple in Jerusalem was supposed to say to the priest when they presented their offering. That meant that they were descended from Abraham. As are we all!

The story of the origin of Christianity is wonderful and unusual. It is also the story of the origins of Judaism and Islam. We all go back to Abraham – the first wandering Aramean. No kings, no emperors,  no Pharaohs – just a wandering nomadic chieftain named Abraham who left his father’s land of Ur, probably in search of good grazing land for his growing herds. He was too successful to stay where he started. So he had to move on.

Now there are those who believe the story of Abraham is a myth and they may be right. We talked about the nature of myths with Father Don and Mel Caron during their last installment of the “Living the Questions” series. “Coming to you every Wednesday night over ZOOM at 7 PM. Check out our website to find out how to connect.” What is myth and what is history? Does it matter?

Abraham was the founding father of all founding fathers! Was there a real Abraham? Or is he a made up combination of all the Semitic nomads who wandered into the land of Canaan at approximately the same time?

I believe myths start from kernels of truth.  I believe there probably was a man named Oedipus who unknowingly had sex with his mother (BIG mistake!) thus teaching us about a taboo that many different societies now hold in common. Incest is a no-no!

The story of Abraham is curious. It’s not about a king. It’s about an ordinary man who has extraordinary faith – faith that defies logic. He was promised that he would be the father of a great nation. Well, he and his wife Sarah had to wait a while for that. Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born and Sara was 90! Now, we have to remember that the older a character is, the more respect they are due in our ancient chronicles. So lots of ancient characters were reported to have lived to great ages. Also, Sarah’s and Abraham’s ages established the miraculous nature of Isaac’s birth.

You want a lot of respect? Get really old!

Another unique feature of Abraham’s story establishes the difference between the God of Israel and the Greek and Roman gods. Abraham had an extraordinary relationship with God. They walked and talked together – like friends. Consider Apollo’s relationship with the people of Rome – Apollo rarely showed an interest in humanity, unless they were female and capable of being impregnated.

And that leads me to today’s story – often referred to as the binding of Isaac. That was the worst that happened to him. And yet it was the worst that happened to him. Our story begins with “God tested Abraham.” I’ll say! God calls to Abraham and Abraham answers with his most frequent response. “Here I am.” Oh, the trust in those words — “Here I am.”

Then God speaks words of instruction that seem to mock Abraham’s willingness to obey. “Take your son, your only son Isaac (Ishmael was gone by now – turned out into the wilderness with his mother) your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”

What!?!

How could God ask that of him? This would make his life with Sarah and his short time with his long-promised son a mockery.  Abraham, he who conversed with God, well, apparently he had nothing to say for three days – just cut wood and set out to go to where God told him to go.

They arrived where Abraham saw the place for the sacrifice far away in the distance. He asked the two young men with them to stay with the donkey and he and Isaac continued on foot. He asked Isaac to carry the wood for the fire. How ironic is that? To innocently carry the wood that will set you aflame, that ill roast you alive. I’m reminded of Jesus carrying his own cross. Abraham carried the fire itself and a knife and they kept on walking. What was going through Abraham’s mind?

Isaac tries to speak with his father, “Father!” And Abraham responds just as he responds to God, “Here I am,” and Isaac says, “We’ve got the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb?” And Abraham answers him, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”  The agony of that response. Indeed God would. Perhaps God already had – 12 to 13 years ago.

Our story continues, “So the two of them walked on together.” Apparently in silence. What were they each thinking? Isaac having a nice walk with his dad? Abraham walking in devastation and obedience. Both putting one foot in front of the other.

They came to the place God had shown to Abraham. He built an altar, probably of stones, and laid the wood out on top of it. Then the story tells us that he bound his son. He tied him up so he couldn’t move, so he couldn’t run.  In silence, he laid his son on the wood. We don’t hear any more from Isaac. Did he know? Did he cry? He had to be bound. Abraham picked up the knife to kill him. Did Isaac see it? I don’t think any of us can imagine the pain of that moment. To prepare to kill your own child. Why is God doing this? We never get an answer, at least not a satisfactory one.

“I’m a good man! I’ve done everything you’ve ever asked me to do! We waited so long for this boy! He’s precious to me! He’s the only son you let me keep! I do what you tell me to do! I’ve always done what you tell me to do! Why?”

And it isn’t until the very last second, as he lifts his hand to stab his son, to kill him, that the angel of the Lord stops him. “Abraham, Abraham!” and one – more – time Abraham says, “Here I am.” And God tells him to stop. “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

And a ram magically appears and Abraham sacrifices it and he calls the place, “The Lord will provide.” And that’s it.

What?

I wanna know what the walk home was like! “My dad was willing to sacrifice me! He was willing to kill me!” Did Isaac understand? Was he ever able to trust Abraham again? Or did his trust grow because his father was so good at trusting God?

If you read further on in Genesis about Isaac, he proceeds with a fairly undramatic life with his wife Rebekah. He gets tricked by Jacob regarding his legacy, but that doesn’t actually affect Isaac. He’s just a good old patriarch who lives a long time and leads a healthy life in the land God gave him. A wandering Aramean. The wandering Aramean. Our wandering Aramean.

Is his story a myth? I hope not. I hope it is the story of the years of God’s people learning how to be God’s people. It is a story that rings with humanity, not with unlikely tales of heroes and gods. It is a story that we can understand today. It is a story that invites us to join in the constant struggle with God and humanity. Read the stories of the patriarchs and the matriarchs, and their sons and daughters. Our ancestors were wandering Arameans.

Mother Susan’s Sermon for June 21, 2020

Sermon Sunday 6 21 20

Our primary and greatest commandment is given to us in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is also found in Deuteronomy, long before the Messiah ever came among us. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.” The next greatest commandment, “You must love your neighbor as yourself,” is found in Matthew and Mark. Not much room for doubt or waffling or equivocation there. Our gospel for this week tells us what these words mean in no uncertain terms.

Our gospel for this week is real nuts and bolts stuff.  And this gospel is not necessarily comforting. It’s challenging. Jesus is telling us, “You’re either with me or you’re not. You’re either one of mine or you’re not.  Jesus is telling us, “either you is or you ain’t.” And that is real. Jesus is telling us, in no uncertain terms that he requires commitment. We don’t get to sit on the fence.

Commitment. There’s a scary word. Can we commit to our faith?  Most of the time, we’re content with Jesus promising us hearts and roses, and all we have to do is believe. Or say we believe. Do we really know what that means? But here, in today’s gospel, we are told what faith is all about – what faith really means,

First, Jesus challenges us to identify our master. What motivates us? Is it Jesus? Is it money? Is it position? Who/what do we believe in? Who is our model? What is our model? Do we even have a model?

What Jesus has to say in our gospel is reassuring for his tiny band of disciples.  Contemporary Christians don’t know what it’s like to be persecuted for our faith. The disciples were persecuted. They knew what it was like to be whipped and scorned for believing in a god other than the Roman gods – in a god other than Ceasar. We’re all very comfy in our western christian society. We take a lot for granted. What if we were living in communist China, or Soviet Russia? Would we be able to stick to our Christian principles? Or would it just be easier to go along with the crowd and not rock the boat – “Nothin’ to look at here. Just keep movin’ along. There’s nothing different about me.”

How it must have struck ice cold fear into those disciples’ hearts to hear that they shouldn’t have any fear of those who were against the Christians. Easy for Jesus to say! “Have no fear of them. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, nothing secret that will not become known.” What if I don’t want to be uncovered? What if I want to hide? What if I don’t want to die in an arena?

“What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul;” Easy for you to say, Jesus! I don’t want my body to die! Maybe I don’t want to be noticed! Maybe every hair on my head is counted, but I wanna keep them all and my head. I know I am more valuable than many sparrows, but I don’t want to stand out. Maybe I don’t want to become known for being a Christian. Maybe I just want be a nice lady who is now also a grandmother who just wants to get along! And stop counting the hairs on my head!!

“Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” Now that’s scary. We read in other parts of the New Testament that Jesus has come to bring peace. What are we to believe? I think it’s pretty clear that sometimes Jesus brings us peace and sometimes our faith in brings us disagreement and even fighting.  Jesus tells us that faith in him can cause disagreements. The most important question seems to me to be, where do we stand?

This is nitty-gritty stuff. I’d be willing to bet real money that there are more people who are ready to stand up for their politics than stand up for their faith. Any takers?

Maybe that’s the question we need to ask ourselves. What is important to us?

Well, Jesus puts it out there. He speaks of families divided. We know that can happen. And in the earliest years of Christianity, families were often divided. What he is telling us is that profound faith can lead to profound disagreements — even within families and among friends.

And finally, Jesus faces us with a problem that many families face and he presents us with the solution to that problem as well. He is telling us that we cannot sacrifice our faith for the sake of family. He is asking us to get our priorities straight. He is telling us that our faith must be the center, otherwise there can be no center. He is telling us that our faith must be stronger than family, because that will ultimately strengthen us and our families.  A profound faith in Jesus Christ will lead to stronger love for everyone in our lives. He is telling us in the strongest terms possible that God needs to be the center for everything else to fall into alignment. That’s hard for many of us to hear.

But that’s the best way for us to find our lives. Only if we are willing to put Jesus first, before everything and everyone else, will we find our lives falling into place. That doesn’t mean that we lose our love for our loved ones – NO! Jesus is asking us to have faith that our love for all those we love will fall into alignment once we commit to our love for him.

Jesus doesn’t mince words here. He’s direct and to the point. Anybody who loves anything or anybody more than him isn’t worthy of him. Once he comes first, then we will be worthy of him and his love for us. A love that is ready and waiting to share our load. It is only by making our very selves less important than his presence in our lives that we can find ourselves.  That’s what letting go is all about. And that’s when our load gets so much lighter. That’s when he shares our load. That’s what it means to “walk in newness of life.” Life get so much lighter and easier to bear when we entrust our lives to God.

Commitment. It’s an important word. It’s an important act. That is what Jesus is asking for today. Commitment.

Mother Susan’s Sermon for May 31, 2020

Sermon 5 31 20 Pentecost

Happy Birthday to us! Happy Birthday to us! Happy Birthday Christianity! Happy Birthday to us!

Pentecost! Today is the birthday of Christianity.  When the Holy Spirit came and landed like flames on the heads of the disciples, making them look like so many birthday cake candles. That’s when the Christian church took off, when we really began. 

I am especially grateful for our readings this year because these readings are about new beginnings. And if there was ever a time we need to think about new beginnings, it is now.

I pray and I believe that we are approaching the end of this phase of the pandemic. It’s not nearly over, but we are approaching a next phase – hopefully the beginnings of a recovery phase. We have no idea what our world is going to be like, but it will be changed, and we will need to adapt and change with it. It’s going to be different.

We are entering a period of time that can easily be compared to the very beginnings of the Christian Church. There’s a lot of unknown ahead of us and it can look very scary and we need our faith.  

It was in just such a time as this that a ragtag little group of men, and yes, women too, were gathering in a dark shuttered room, petrified by fear. They had gone through the joy and heady optimism of Palm Sunday when it seemed as if anything was possible. Jesus was going to take over! Rome was gonna be done! It was gonna be a new world! Oh, how young and joyous and naive those young men and women were.

All it took was an arrest in the middle of the night and a charge of sedition and it was all over. Possibly one disciple attended the execution. The rest ran away. Jesus hung on a cross and died, not from blood loss – no – the crucified died from the weight of their own bodies crushing their hearts.

And they all thought they were next. They all thought they were going to be hunted down and executed too! 

And then he was buried and the rumors started. The body was missing! Never mind that they walled up the tomb and posted guards. And then there were sightings! He was seen in a roadside inn. He started popping up all over the place! He showed off the holes in his hands and the gash in his side. What was going on!?!     

I love how, after the excitement of Easter, of resurrection, our readings accelerate and build to the mystery and power of Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is when Christianity takes off. This is the birth day of Christianity.

Immediately after the resurrection all of Jesus’ disciples and friends huddled together in a small attic room, with the doors closed, the windows shuttered, afraid to face the world, not knowing what to do. What was next? 

And then, the Holy Spirit happened. 

Jesus had promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would come upon them and illuminate them and comfort them and bring them gifts. And it did.

In our first lesson from Acts we hear of a violent wind and divided tongues of fire resting on each of the disciples, and they felt filled. Now remember, for the most part, these were uneducated, unsophisticated people – most unable to read or write. But that didn’t matter to God. They were gifted enough to be useful. We all are. In some ways I wonder if the disciples weren’t more useful to Jesus as the “tabula rasa” or “blank slates,” they were, ready to be written upon by God.

And then the Holy Spirit brought gifts.  It was like Christmas!After the Holy Spirit came, in the cosmopolitan city of Jerusalem anybody who heard the disciples speaking began to hear them in their own native language. That right there was a gift! Of course the usual naysayers and skeptics assumed the disciples were drunk. But Peter set them straight (“it’s only 9 o’clock in the morning!”) Beware those who sneer! Peter reminded the people that the prophet Joel had foreseen this and that everyone who called on the name of the Lord would be saved. All they had to do was believe-that-it-was-possible. 

And then along came Paul. One minute he’s observing the stoning of Stephen, holding the stoners’ cloaks (how nice of him!).  And then he’s blinded on the road so that he could see more clearly and he converted and climbed aboard the Holy Spirit express, reminding all those who heard him that no one could say “Jesus is Lord” except by the power of the Holy Spirit.   

 Both Peter and Paul remind us that everything we do is by the power of the Holy Spirit and without the Holy Spirit we can’t do anything. We forget that. We think, “Here God, I’m going to do this wonderful thing for you. I’m going to do you a favor.” NO. Paul makes this very clear when he talks of the variety of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Everything we are able to do is because of the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to us as the Holy Spirit chooses when we give ourselves to God.

Paul listed these gifts. “There are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates them all in everyone.” We might receive the gift of speaking wisdom or teaching. We might receive the gift of manifesting our faith with healing or miracles so that others can see it. Some people receive the prophetic voice, and remember, the prophetic voice isn’t necessarily about telling the future. It might be about telling the truth at a time when people don’t want to hear the truth. Another gift can be discerning the presence of spirits, both good and evil. Some people receive the gift of languages. Others receive the gift of interpretation. But what Paul tells us is that all of these gifts are activated by the Holy Spirit. 

For just as the human body has many parts but is still one body, so we are the many parts of the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit joins us together in the Body of Christ.

Never forget.  That ragtag little group of frightened people started out scared and petrified in a dark room – too afraid to walk down the street, to even show their faces. 

The Holy Spirit showed up, and transformed them. No more fear. That’s what we need now. To know that we need not fear the future. We have the love of God.