Sermons

Sermon by The Rev. Linda Wofford Hawkins given on September 16, 2018

“But who do you say that I am?”

            I had been to the Holy Land before, but never before had I been to what was once Caesarea Philippi.  It is a journey far to the north of Israel.  So it was there that the lights came on for me.  It was a truly beautiful place.  I remember greenness.  The stone was covered with intricate carvings.  Why all the beauty?  In reverence for the gods—the other gods.  Suddenly I realized we were in the belly of the beast—the place of all the other gods that have competed with our Lord God through the ages.

            The place is now called Banias, originally Paneas—a grotto sacred to the god Pan.  Once this place was associated with the worship of the baalim we hear about in the Hebrew scriptures.   Herod the Great built a temple nearby in honor of Augustus, king of the empire.  Herod Philip later rebuilt the city and named it Caesarea.  This place was truly the belly of the beast.

In Mark’s gospel, they are “on the way” to this center of religious and political power when Jesus pops the question—“Who do people say that I am?” and then “But who do you say that I am?”  It is the question that would shape their walk with Jesus for the rest of the journey.  It is the question we live out everyday in our time.  This question shapes our priorities—the way we use our treasure—all that is most personal for each of us—our treasure of time, talent, and passion.  Jesus asks that question in the middle of the lives we lead, surrounded by all the other options for our commitment.

It is as though Jesus has walked onto the scene where our loyalties and accomplishments are shaped.  He asks that question at the center of Wall Street, at the country club, at the Harvard graduation, in the midst of the Nobel Prize ceremony, at Carnegie Hall, on the field of the Super Bowl, or to bring it close to home for me, at the NCAA basketball final.  Jesus walks into whatever is the belly of the beast for us.  He meets us in the place where we are tempted to let other priorities become gods for us, where we can allow other voices to set the standards for our lives, where other gods can demand our loyalty and even our worship.

            Until now the disciples thought they knew Jesus, but they really did not.  Now in this watershed moment of Peter’s confession of faith, Peter says who Jesus is—“You are the Messiah.”  Yet when Jesus tells him what that means, he does not want to know.  The disciples thought they wanted to be part of this Kingdom of God—that is, until they find out what it is all about.  To know Jesus is to know who we are and where we are to go.  To know him is to give him everything.

            Here it comes: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  Here is a new thought.  Jesus has many sayings reminiscent of earlier rabbis, but no rabbi ever used such an image as this.  Nonetheless, they had seen a criminal carrying his own cross to the execution site.  But a criminal—not the savior of the world, not the Messiah, not the Son of God.

            Jesus says, “Hand over your life.  Give all of yourself to me.  Get out of the driver’s seat, and give me authority over who you are and what you are about.”  He is telling us to put our selves on the cross.  Jesus asks for a total submission to an authority beyond ourselves, a submission which frees us from the captivity of ourselves in order to enter the joy of a new life of freedom.

            I was intrigued lately when the young mothers in our extended family were passing around quotations from a bestselling book called Girl, Wash Your Face.  It is a self-help book with a Christian twist.  It speaks to young mothers who struggle to love themselves enough to move into the self-sacrifice of healthy parenting.  When I ordered it, Amazon said I might also like another title—Get Over Your…..EXPLETIVE DELETED… Self.  I already get the drift.  Voices in our popular culture are discovering there is a freedom in getting over oneself, in denying self for the sake of a higher commitment—just as Jesus said.

            Thomas Merton says it well:  “When humility delivers a [person] from attachment to [one’s] own works and [one’s] own reputation, [we] discover that true joy is only possible when we have completely forgotten ourselves.”  (Seeds of Contemplation, p. 44)

            Nothing could be a more radical reversal of our direction, a more complete stripping away of who we think we are.  “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”  Indeed we die in order to live with Christ.  We go through Good Friday in order to reach Easter Sunday.  We yield as God works to transform us through the power of the cross.

            John Westerhoff, a priest in our church, tells a wonderful story about a baptism of an infant he experienced once in a Latin American village.  The baptismal procession began with a mournful funeral hymn.  The father carried the wooden coffin he had made.  The mother carried a bucket of water from the family well.  The priest carried the peacefully sleeping baby.  When they reached the chancel, the father placed the coffin on the altar, the mother poured in the water, and the priest covered the baby’s skin with embalming oil.  As the priest lowered the baby’s head into the water, he proclaimed, “I kill you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  The congregation shouted, “Amen.”  Then the priest lifted the child high and declared, “And I resurrect you that you might love and serve the Lord.”  A joyous Easter hymn then erupted.

            The priest covered the baby with the oil and dressed him in a white robe.  Then as the congregation sang quietly, the priest anointed the child and made the sign of the cross on his forehead saying “I brand you with the sign of Christ so that you and the world will always know who you are and to whom you belong.” 

            That says it all.  To belong to Christ is to die and rise again.  It is to be placed on the cross.  To know him as the Messiah is to turn over our very self to him.  To know him is to know who we are and to whom we belong.  May we be led to follow in this way, to give up everything that we might gain everything.  May we take up the bondage of our cross and walk into the new life that is perfect freedom.  May we be killed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Then may we be resurrected to love and serve the Lord.

              

             

 

Sermon by The Rev. Samuel V. Tallman given on September 9, 2018

Proper 18B | James 2:1-10, 14-17 | Mark 7:24-37 | St. Mary of the Hills | Blowing Rock, NC | 9/9/18


“Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith & to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?”
Surely, heard of the Gospel’s preferential option for the poor – the preferential option for the poor in Jesus’ ministry.


From Luke’s sermon of Jesus:
6:20 Blessed are you who are poor,
For yours is the kingdom of God.


6:24 But woe to you who are rich,
For you have received your consolation.


Jesus even announces it when he opens his public ministry in his home synagogue in Nazareth when he reads this passage from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me
To bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To let the oppressed go free
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19


Thru all his ministry, he sought out the poor, the servants & slaves of his society
The sick & the mentally suffering
The disabled
Even the fallen ones such as a prostitute, an adulterer, a tax collector


FL parish is in the heart of a city – daily flow & encounters with street people
Folks where life reduced to basic dependencies for food, shelter, water, hygiene, medical care
When every day begins & ends with trust in some providence to come from somewhere
And yet always surprised to find in them the strength of what makes us human – the capacity to hope & the desire to love & help each other


Because their lives are defined by vulnerability, it takes a deep capacity for faith to stay alive, to press on
For these folks know more than anyone else their need for faith that there’s a goodness present in the world that they believe comes from God


But Jesus himself, like us, can have blinders to what is around him
In today’s Gospel, a most unflattering portrayal of Jesus as he meets this Syrophoenician woman – a mother desperate to save her sick child – yet a Gentile


Yet Jesus calls her a dog – & we hear in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus say to her he came only to the lost sheep of the house if Israel


Yet she tells him that, no matter how he feels about Gentiles, he has no right to exclude them from God’s love – Jesus has to admit she’s right!


Blinders that keep us from seeing the breadth of the Gospel’s preferential option for the poor across boundaries of our own perceptions:
Racial & ethnic; nationality & religion; cultural & educational


That risk becomes so great in our world that places high value on the hierarchy of human achievement as measured by history, economics, & political power that we use to define ourselves—who’s part of us and who is worthy
And the kingdom of God is put at risk when we begin to believe our place in the hierarchy of human achievement justifies prevailing at the expense of others -- as when one nation weaponizes its power so its interests prevail over the interests of other nations


All too easy to lose sight of the Kingdom of God’s preferential option for the poor
As MLKJr said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”


Yet I came to seminary in 2009 out of 30+ yrs. in the world of banking & finance – worked with countless good people who kept those institutions & markets sound & functioning with the flow of money that turned the wheels of world’s economy to benefit the security & welfare of all people


I felt challenged by this idea of the Gospel’s preferential option for the poor
So for my independent study, I chose to explore Jesus’ preferential option for the poor alongside God’s equal desire for the salvation of the rich – both for my own soul & knowing the probability I would be serving congregations with significant affluence, such as St. Mary’s


Luke’s Gospel is especially portrays Jesus’ ministry & teaching to the rich – some tough, but always loving
Rich Fool – expanded barns – relax, eat, drink, be merry
Dishonest Manager – you cannot serve two masters
Rich man & Lazarus – blinders that fixed a gulf that couldn’t be crossed
Rich young man Jesus told to sell all & follow him
Zacchaeus – the tax collector
Over-arching themes – no matter how much you get, it never ultimately satisfies – there’s never enough to do that – the soul’s deepest desires only God can fill no matter how much you have.

Like in the Parable of the talents – it’s not so much what you have as how you use it – is there some higher good than your own?


So this preferential option for the poor is not limited in its meaning to lack of economic status, social standing, or privilege, or any other disadvantage


Jesus had to confront the poverty of his own spirit when confronted by the Syrophoenician woman, so Christ’s preferential option challenges us to confront the poverty in our own spirit


The Gospels don’t show us Jesus embracing with his love the heights of our human achievement – if anything the Jesus of the Gospels is anything but the prosperity Gospel


Rather our relationship with Jesus is grounded in how he meets us in our poverty – in that place that human achievement can never fill: failure, sickness, weakness, loneliness
And so the next scene in today’s Gospel is Jesus healing a deaf & mute boy – touching his ears & tongue with the command “Ephphatha” Be opened.


Jesus himself had just previously been opened by the Syrophoenician woman’s desperate cry— now Ephaphatha—Be opened to that place of poverty in you – that is where I will meet you


From 5 yrs. old to the preacher now, stuttering & the fear of getting stuck has kept fear in the pit of my stomach – so there’s no sweeter word than “Ephaphatha” emblazoned on the central cushion for me to see when I celebrate or preach
Be opened – Be opened to that place in you where God in Christ wants to meet you – it’s God’s preferential place in your life for God’s love to be in you.


Next Sunday, we will have the ingathering & blessing of pledges – Ephaphatha
Be opened – when you consider what to give, give it from that place where God has met you in your poverty – for God’s preferential option for the poor is where you have needed God the most – and so does the world.

 

 

Sermon given by The Rev. Samuel V. Tallman on Sept. 2, 2018.

Proper 17B – Song of Solomon 2:8-13| James 1:17-27 | Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 | St. Mary of the Hills | Blowing Rock, NC | 9-2-18


“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”


Last Sunday, Solomon was dedicating the Temple in Jerusalem he built for a place for God to dwell on earth
Now today, we have passage from the Song of Solomon, God’s love song for his people – Come away.
But, of course, the temple Solomon built was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC when the Jews were deported to Babylon
Even after it was rebuilt after their exile, the Romans destroyed it again in 70 AD – never to be rebuilt again
In a sense, God became liberated from the Temple to be present everywhere Jews gathered wherever dispersed among all nations – the great diaspora in the midst of all the lands of the Gentiles
So how poignant Solomon’s Song of Songs became for God’s dispersed people in foreign lands
“Come away, the winter is past, the rain is over & gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come.” I am with you wherever you are


So here we are in this church hearing this same invitation: we who have come away to this sacred space filled with beauty that was inspired & given by people who have sat in these pews for 100 years
5 generations have come away to this place – drawn not because it is beautiful but because they have been given something here that was dear & essential to their life


Today’s scriptures speak to me of one blessing in particular that is given here – the peace of God that passes all understanding – what in Hebrew is called Shalom
Deep peace of soul – spiritually deep, emotionally deep, even physically deep
The peace of God that passes understanding – how do you come to know what it is like? How do you find it?
Well, as with the Temple in the Jerusalem, it’s not God that needs a dwelling place on earth, but rather we who need a space apart to heed God’s love song, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”
It is we who need this space apart – a place to come away & regain our awareness that “every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above.”


That God is the origin & source of all that is – the world we live in – life itself – our own one precious life – what is truly a perfect gift
That awareness instills both awe & humility in us that opens us to receive what St. James writes about:
“Welcome with meekness the implanted word that has power to save your soul.”
Something Implanted: something sown in us like a seed or a kernel that has energy to root & sprout
Energy – divine energy – rooting & sprouting that can grab our attention
A warming of the heart – feeling like fire kindling
A lump in the throat, perhaps at unexpected words of a hymn that pierce our consciousness
Tears welling up in our eyes from some unknown wellspring
Energy not our own that, if we pay attention, may be drawing us closer to knowing our truest desires
Implanted energy that St. James says is in the implanted word
The Word of God that spoke creation into being, unleashing energy that continues to this day in all things, both living & also in what is inanimate, the rocks & soil beneath our feet


That Word or energy of God implanted in us becomes the very image of God we see both in our gift of language & thought that leaps to comprehend what is far beyond what our 5 senses and above all in our capacity to love
“And that same Word became flesh and lived among us.” JESUS
In Jesus, the incarnation of God’s Word that brings new life into being and that brings life out of death
For in Jesus, the Word of God made flesh – we can witness in his life the peace that passes understanding—peace that held him in all the times of his life – times of joy & sadness, of gratification and despair, life & death – all that is the same in every human life
God’s perfect gift of peace in Jesus is also God’s perfect gift to be nourished in us
How? By our worship & prayer, God’s Word in scripture, by the gifts of grace in Baptism & the Holy Eucharist, by the blessing of grace given in marriage, and by sharing in the celebration of Christ’s resurrection at every burial

All of these are but the means of grace whereby the energy of God’s implanted word roots & sprouts within us
But then St. James’s goes on to write: “But be doers of the word & not hearers only.”
One of the manifestations of God’s peace within us is opening our capacity for personal compassion every day when we start to see in the needs of others what we are meant to give away – what we are to give away to become truly empty of ourselves
Becoming doers of the word in the rigor of daily compassion brings us to respond to others and that can become the measuring stick of the quality of our soul


Jesus warns us, “There’s nothing outside by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
So look at what comes out
We live in a time of prosperity yet also a time of anxiety about changing values and a changing world order – where world peace may feel perhaps more contingent than before
So look at what defiles
How can you know whether that peace of God is already in you?
The peace of God has a long horizon, and you may not truly know it until you need it
But it reassures even in times such as these, when all is still okay on the surface but fear & anxiety lie close beneath
For the peace of God that passes understanding always holds our souls in wholeness even as all of us come to know the frailty of flesh
Each one of us shares in this one common human life—life with joy & sorrow, times of weal & woe, and ultimately life & death
Perhaps you won’t know you have it until you need it


So hear again the Lord’s invitation:
“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come…Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”
And, “Welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your soul.”
So let us pray for but one thing: the marvelous peace of God

 

Sermon given by The Rev. Linda Wofford Hawkins on August 26, 2018.

“There is more than one road to Kernersville.”  As a group of church people considered our different ways to find God, a wise man summed it up that way—“There is more than one road to Kernersville.”  We all seek the same love of God, the same life in God’s presence, but God becomes known in different times and places and seasons of life.

Today the psalmist proclaims, “How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts!  My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord….”  Those words conjure up the glory of the dwelling places we lovers of God have created from Solomon’s day to our own.  We sing “How lovely is thy dwelling place” and rejoice in the beauty of the place where we encounter the Holy One, where we find God settled, clean, and holy.

Yet in a few verses we hear of another way of knowing the holy. “Happy are the people whose strength is in you!  Whose hearts are set on the pilgrim’s way.  Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs, for the early rains have covered it with pools of water” (Ps. 84:4-5). Here is the pilgrim’s journey—the life of seeking and wondering, the long road in search of God, a path that can be dirty and strenuous with desolate valleys that take a long time to turn into a place of springs.  Here are people on the way, who have not yet arrived, who come to know God in fits and starts along the journey.

Solomon knew that the house he built for God could not fully contain God’s presence.  As he says, “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!”  So Solomon asks that God listen to the prayers directed toward this temple.  There is a place for the spirituality within those walls and a place for the spirituality outside the walls.  Both are holy places—the settled place of the sanctuary and the wandering path of the pilgrim’s way.

I find we often go deeper and learn more about our own spiritual paths when we compare notes with those of other faiths, who follow a different path and speak another religious language.  I remember a Lenten series where we Episcopalians invited a Muslim group to share our respective spiritual practices.  Pilgrimage became the richest discovery for us all.

We began as my Christian clergy colleague spoke beautifully about pilgrimage, offering the words of our Christian spiritual giants.  Then Ali, one of the senior members of that Muslim community told his personal story.  As a young man, he was an atheist.  As a journalist, he was sent to Saudi Arabia in the 1970s to cover the oil crisis of the time only to discover that everyone he wanted to interview was out of town. It was time for the Hajj when millions of pilgrims make their journey to Mecca, a time when the locals retreat from the mobs of visitors.  So he called his boss to explain his dilemma only to be told, “As long as you are there, just cover that!”

That meant he had to register as a religious participant and dress like all the others.  He was overcome with shame and confusion.  As he said, “I was a fake.  I was living a lie.  I did not even believe in the existence of God.”  Yet he went with the crowd, making that journey, wondering what was to come.  Then to his horror, out of that enormous crowd his number was drawn.  He was one of the few chosen to join in washing the steps leading to the holy place.  He was caught.

You could hear a pin drop.  Clearly the young men who revered him in their community had never heard this story. People on the edge of our Christian church listened with rapt attention, clearly recognizing their pilgrim quest in his.  Well, he did it.  He joined the others in washing those steps—even in his unworthiness, even in his doubt and seeking. Then somehow a moment came when he said to himself, “This many people can’t be wrong.”  Suddenly a door opened for him, and he believed.

As that evening ended, people gathered around him in gratitude for his story.  Muslims surrounded my priest friend eager to know more of the Christian writings about pilgrimage.  Together we discovered a spirituality outside the walls that can paradoxically lead us to the center of a tradition, to the authentic core of faith and knowledge of God.  As has been said, “…the pilgrimage, the journey, with all its vicissitudes is not the wearisome preamble to truth the necessary way to truth, the living, arduous, and the joyful process by which truth can be attained.” (James Harper, The Pilgrim Journey, A History of Pilgrimage in the Western World, p. 7)

It was again in the midst of interfaith dialogue that I learned a deeper level of the spirituality inside the walls.  For several years I had been in relationship with a certain mosque.  I had traveled with the imam as our guide and had gathered there with other clergy in theological conversations.  Then we decided to share our dialogue with our congregations in a town hall format.  At the first meeting, fifty people—Christian and Muslim—gathered at the mosque.  The next month when it moved to the church I served, fifty came from the mosque alone.  My colleague and dear friend whispered, “A lot of these people don’t show up at the mosque often.  They must like going to church better than the mosque.”

Then the lights came on for me when I met a New Jersey couple in town for a family visit.  I was puzzled that they would spend their family time on this event until they said, “We’ve never had a chance at anything like this before.”  Clearly they were hungry for welcome in a world that had been most unwelcoming.  The prayer of Solomon echoes: “…when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you….”  The doors of the church were open, and we all grew in our knowledge and reverence for God in that meeting of fellow seekers.

Yes, God meets us in many times and many places—in the pilgrim journey where doubts and fears beset us, where we need strength for both ordinary days and days of challenge.  God also meets us in the sanctuary—where we the faithful have gathered throughout the ages and received the gifts of bread and wine, the place of mountain top moments when we have known God’s revelation and found strength for the days ahead.  We come to the table not for ourselves only but for the sake of the world.  As Oswald Chambers has said, “The process of being made broken bread and poured out wine means that you have to be nourishment for other souls until they learn to feed on God.”  (Oswald Chambers, The Utmost for His Highest)

Those two paths to God finally become one path whether we begin inside or outside the walls.  May we cherish this house of God, this sacred dwelling place.  As we abide in Christ, may we become nourishment for all those who yearn for the love of God wherever they are on the journey.

 

Sermon given by The Rev. Linda Wofford Hawkins on Sunday, August 19, 2018         

            Recently a musician described what it is like to record his music in a church.  His is not religious music.  He simply recorded in that space.  Yet he caught my attention as he spoke of feeling the presence of all the people who had gathered in that place over the years.  He felt the spirits of those who came there with what he called “the mile markers of their lives.”  Those sacred moments shaped the acoustic of the place, as it were.  They made the space resonate with holiness.

            One hundred years of memories and spirits fill this place—most of those years under the name of Mary.  For most of those years, this painting has brought her to these hills, this planet earth, this thin place where heaven and earth meet.  So who is this Mary, and who are we as Christ’s people bearing her name?  What do we seek as we look toward her?  What does our world come seeking?  Let’s now imagine the voices that have called out to Mary in this place.  Imagine what Mary had to say in reply.

            Mary, the world is changing all around me.  I am afraid of what the future might hold.  God seems to be asking such scary things of me.

            “I was afraid, too.  Who was I, so young and unprepared, to be the mother of our Savior?  But somehow I found the courage.  Somehow my trust in God won out over my fears—even though I knew how hard it would be.  I learned to be a fierce protector of my child, and now I will stand by you.  I can’t take away the pain of life’s demands, but I will show you the way to dare boldly.”

            Mary, I am here because I lyearn for the holy.  I long to be close to what these people call God, but I don’t go for the formalities and ritual. All that puts me off.  Then I see the way churches are in the headlines for abuse and corruption.  Mary, is there something real and true about God in here?

            “Ah, God’s people have always fallen short.  They stray from God but God does not stray from us.  They cherish the ways God has been present in the past—rightly so—but sometimes they don’t notice the ways God can be present now.  So don’t give up.  Remember there is only one truth above all.  God loves you.  You are loved without any conditions.  I bore Jesus into the world to show that love.”

            Mary, I heard what you said to that fellow.  But you ask us to believe the impossible.  How could the divine become human?  How could a human mother be the Mother of God?

            “Ah, all those questions swirled around in my head once.  Then it was given to me.  They say I was the first believer, the first disciple.  There was a moment when I let go and believed.  They say you have to believe the impossible so the possible can happen.  God made it happen for me.  I know it can happen for you.”

            Mary, I feel so alone.  Sometimes I think God is speaking to me, but people would think I am nuts if I share those thoughts.

            “Oh, yes, after the angel appeared to me, even I thought I was nuts.  But then I visited Elizabeth and I was no longer alone.  She let me know that I was hearing God’s truth.  Only then could I sing my song of God’s promises and hope.”

            Mary, I feel like nobody.  Everywhere I turn there is so much expected of me—in work, in religion, in family.  The world expects so much, and I know I can’t measure up.  I feel trapped in a prison, and I want to be free.

“Oh, but you are somebody.  Didn’t you hear what St. Paul just told you?  That is why my son was sent to you. We were all slaves under the law of the world, but God saw our worthiness.  God came among us to buy the freedom of slaves like us—the way it was done in my day.  God adopted us ALL as sons and daughters.  That means you are Somebody, a beloved child of God.  God loves you, and I love you.”

Mary, I am an outsider.  I was outside there, listening hard.  I can’t imagine what you are saying applies to me.

“What part of ‘all’ do you not understand?  I just said God adopted us ALL as sons and daughters.  That means you just like me.  Just let it soak in and remind you that you are worthy.  It takes a while to let go of all the ways life put you on the outside.”

Mary, you can see by the way I look and talk that I am poor.  I am looking at people around me who have so much—fine houses, plenty of food to eat.  Why did God give them so much and give me so little? Does God really just love those folks?

“Yes, I remember being poor and having those same thoughts.  I am one of the Anawim, the poor little ones in my day, the ones who know their need for God.  But God let me in on the plans for our world.   Didn’t you hear my song?  It‘s all about a revolution—turning the world upside down and right side up.  ‘He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.’  Get it?  God is on your side.  God came to me in my lowliness.  There is enough for rich and poor alike.”

But, Mary, all I hear are promises, promises.  God hasn’t delivered for me.  The distance between rich and poor only grows.

“Yes, I felt that way at times.  But we had our Hebrew scriptures.  You call them promises—as though they were yet to come.  But I used the past tense.  We knew that God’s promises are so certain that they are as good as accomplished.  God’s work is past, present, and future all in one.  God’s mystery is unfolding.  God’s kingdom is here now and still coming.”

Mary, I am rich.  I heard what you said to that poor man.  What about me?  I thought God loved me, but now you make me wonder.  That revolution scares me.

“Yes, I understand your fears.  But look at the rest of Luke’s gospel.  I understand that after he quoted me he went on to talk to you rich people about the poor.  He wanted you to learn from the poor.  He showed the joy you can receive from giving—the way you have more spiritual riches when you share your material riches.  He wanted you to know that Jesus loves you because you are God’s child—not because you have proven yourself and accumulated so much.”

Mary, I hear a lot about salvation, but what does it mean?  What difference does it make?

“Glad to know you hear about it.  It is the reason my son came.  They tell me that my song is the first time it was mentioned in your gospels—never in Mark and Matthew but six times in Luke.  My people yearned for salvation, for the Savior who came when I gave birth.  He came to straighten out our world, to bring wholeness of life to all of us.  He came to heal the world, to transform us all.”

So now we gather and ask our questions of Mary—What do we do with all this?  Mary, how do we respond?

“Live Magnificat.  Remember what God has done for you.  Be Christbearers for the world.  Stand with the poor, and discover what the poor can teach you.  Share your hope with the world, and then find your hope growing stronger.  Taste and see that God is good.  Trust in God’s generosity.  Be generous with your life, your resources, your gifts and talents.  Proclaim God’s abundant love and watch the transformation that happens all around.

“Live Magnificat.  Yes, live Magnificat, and years from now people will hear the echoes of your prayers.  They will feel your spirits in this place, the mile markers of your lives.  They will see the transformation of our lives and our world.”  Amen.

 

Sermon given by The Rev. Linda Wofford Hawkins on Sunday, July 22, 2018

            I turned on the radio to hear a woman speaking a bit tearfully.  She said, “It was like being in church—although it has been a long time since I have been in church.  But it was that kind of comfort—being with all those people.  I felt hungry for something.”

            It was not clear what she was musing about.  Then she got more focused.  She was talking about her farmers market—where she felt part of a group of people, mostly unknown to her, gathered as individuals yet all part of something more than themselves.

            It seems silly at first, but the breaking of her voice revealed something deeper.  She had a vague memory of comfort and peace she had known in church.  She spoke as a stranger and alien longing to be part of a household.  She had a longing for holiness, a dwelling place for God, a place where divisions cease.

            People like her wander into this place exploring the art and absorbing the atmosphere.  They come questioning, wondering about faith.  In so many words, they are asking:  Where does God live?  Where is God’s house?  How do I find God’s presence?

            These are good questions just now as we observe the Centennial of this building, this house of God with its cornerstone set one hundred years ago.  We talk a lot about houses as we prepare for the Tour of Homes when we lead others through homes that give comfort and welcome them to this house of God where people have found comfort all these years.  Here we stand in a year of renovation and refurbishment of God’s house.  Can you smell the final carpet installation?

            We like David have an urge to build a house for God at least as fine as our houses of cedar—the material used for palaces and temples in those days.  I confess my first reaction as I arrived to serve as interim rector here was an urge to spruce up this place to be a worthy house for God and God’s people to meet.

            But what is Yahweh’s message for David?  God says, Where do you think I have been before now?  Have I asked for a house?  With a tent dwelling I have moved freely.  I dwell wherever I wish.   I will build you a house, a house made of people, a lineage of all my children.    

            That promise of a dwelling place continues in Ephesians.  Paul points to the walls that come down in the saving death of Jesus, the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile.  He uses the word for a protective fence that has become a wall of hostility that prevents certain people from entering.  Marcus Barth says in our day it would be a ghetto wall, the Berlin wall, the wall of racial barriers, or the railroad tracks that divide the haves and the have nots.

            Paul merges the house image with the dynamic image of a body living and growing.  Eugene Peterson gives us a lively translation in The Message: “God is building a home.  He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here….He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation.  Now he’s using you, filling in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together.  We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it….”

Notice the spiritual house is a house of reconciliation.  It is only possible when Jew and Gentile, foes long wedded in hostility, come together in peace.  It is not a peace we make with friends.  Peace is made with enemies.  It is all about reconciliation.  Such a spiritual house is, in Peterson’s translation, “a temple in which God is quite at home.”  How fitting that today is the date for the feast of Mary Magdalene, whose scriptures tell us of being a new creation in Christ meant for a ministry of reconciliation.

            We indeed become one new humanity.  That new humanity is hard to see in our world of division, yet the key to crossing the dividing wall is finding the one thing we have in common—our brokenness, our experience of being strangers and aliens, hungry for God and hungry for God’s people.

            Recently our adult class has been reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stephenson, a Harvard trained lawyer who for decades has defended prisoners who lack appropriate legal representation.  He tells of arriving at a prison in Alabama to be shocked by a truck covered with racist slogans.  The proud owner of the truck greets him at the front entry, demanding that this black attorney be strip searched.  Rather than cause trouble for his client he submits.  The client is mentally ill, more concerned with getting a milkshake than dealing with his death row status.  Stephenson prepares a defense revealing that his father was murdered before he was born and his mother died of an overdose when he was a year old.  From age two to eight he was in nineteen different foster homes.  One foster parent tied him to a tree where he was discovered three days later.  Substance abuse and schizophrenia became his lot in life.

            At his next visit Stephenson received a warm reception from the same guard who harassed him before.  The guard had been the one assigned to transport the prisoner to court.  He confided, “You know I took ole Avery to court for his hearing and was down there with y’all those three days….I want you to know that I was listening….I appreciate what you’re doing, I really do.  It was kind of difficult for me to be in that courtroom….I came up in foster care, too.”  His face softened.  “Man, I didn’t think anybody had it as bad as me….But listening to what you was saying about Avery made me realize that there were other people who had it as bad as I did.  I guess even worse….sitting in that courtroom brought back memories, and I think I realized how I’m still kind of angry.” (p. 200-201)

            They shook hands to depart when he continued, “I’ve got to tell you something else.  Listen, I did something I probably wasn’t supposed to do…On the trip back down here after court…I took an exit off the interstate…well, I took him to a Wendy’s, and I bought him a chocolate milkshake.”  When Stephenson met with Avery, he did not begin with his usual plea for a milkshake, so the attorney brought it up.  Avery responded, “Oh, I got a milkshake.  I’m okay now.”  He never again asked for a chocolate milkshake.  So two men met in their brokenness and found healing.  The dividing wall came down to create a new humanity.

            Stephenson’s own acknowledgment of brokenness came after many successes in freeing innocent prisoners.  But one night all efforts failed, and he was on the phone with James Dill, a man with intellectual disabilities who would be executed in an hour.  Mr. Dill stuttered especially under stress, so he stuttered with every sentence.  Bryan Stephenson suddenly remembered a time when he had made fun of a new boy who stuttered.  His mother called him down and made him apologize, give the boy a hug, and say, “I love you.”. The boy then whispered without a stutter, “I love you, too.”   That memory combined with Mr. Dill’s struggle to say thank you for caring brought Bryan to a life changing realization: “I do what I do because I’m broken, too.  I guess I’d always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human….our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning and healing.” (p. 289)  That is the dividing wall coming down, a new humanity being born, a dwelling place for God.  It is Mary Magdalene’s new creation, a ministry of reconciliation.

            So we remember our brokenness.  That remembrance becomes the source for all our thanksgiving, praise, and service.  That new humanity is the Temple built by God to be the measuring stick for all our earthly temples.  We simply ask, Is Christ the cornerstone?  Are the dividing walls coming down?  Are Jews and Gentiles all welcomed?

            There is a hymn called “All Are Welcome” by Marty Haugen that has made its way around the church in recent years.  In closing, I share some of the lyrics:

Let us build a house where love can dwell

and all can safely live,

a place where saints and children tell

how hearts learn to forgive.

Built of hopes and dreams and visions,

rock of faith and vault of grace;

here the love of Christ shall end divisions.

All are welcome, all are welcome,

All are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where all are named,

their songs and visions heard and loved and treasured,

taught and claimed as words within the Word.

Built of tears and cries and laughter,

prayers of faith and songs of grace,

let this house proclaim from floor to rafter.

All are welcome, all are welcome,

All are welcome in this place.

May that be our dream and our calling.  Amen.

 

Sermon given by The Rev. Linda Wofford Hawkins on Sunday, July 8, 2018

We were immersed in a committee meeting at church when we heard the bells ring.   There in Durham, North Carolina, we fondly called our house of worship St. Philip’s-by-the-Bus Station, so it was not uncommon for travelers to find their way to the church doors.  Hence, the bells that announced visitors.  One of our number went to check things out.

            He returned accompanied by two visitors rather different from the usual—two Franciscan monks dressed in their brown habits and sandals.  They sat down with us and promptly became part of our community.  Their monastery had sent them out to discover what the Holy Spirit was doing in the world.  It was October, so as I looked at their sandal clad feet, I was pleased that the Holy Spirit was sending them in the direction of Florida.  Their backpacks held a few clothes, their prayerbooks, pottery vessels for eucharist made by one of their sisters, and a whopping $7.  They were eager to find odd jobs to finance their journey.

            The dear man who welcomed them at the door proceeded to invite them to go home with him.  When I got to my house, my husband was on the phone with that man’s wife who wanted to know what in the world was going on.  That was the beginning of a memorable week in the life of our parish as those monks lived and worked among us.

            As it happened, my husband and I had planned a trip to Boone the next week-end.  Since the monks were headed to the mountains in search of Presiding Bishop John Hines in Highlands, they welcomed the chance to travel with us. 

            Now those were tough times in the Hawkins household.  I had finished seminary and two years of clinical training—still waiting for a bishop to be willing to ordain me, still looking for a “real” job.  When we stopped for dinner, my husband was looking for me to pick up the tab for the crowd. So I was really sweating it.

            Then we met our engaging young waiter.  Only because of the attire of our companions did we get into conversation with him that busy night.  He was Buck Belmore, a member of St. Mary of the Hills, who was on his way to seminary.  He returned to announce that his relative, the owner, was treating us to dinner.  Wow!  That was like winning the lottery.  Provisions from heaven above.

            On Sunday we parted from our new friends, just hoping that the Holy Spirit would continue to put a roof over their heads and food in their mouths.  We made our way back to Durham with our heads full of memories.  That evening as I unzipped my bag, something odd caught my eye.  It was a small pottery dish.  There to greet me was one of the pottery pieces those monks used for their daily eucharist.  They who traveled so lightly were traveling even lighter that night.  They saw my difficult transition.  They knew my need for hope and healing, and so they offered the gift of the vessel from which they were spiritually fed.  That gift has sat on my desk for about forty years now and counting.

            Those two monks in their brown habits showed me what it is to follow Jesus, what it is to live the lifestyle of a disciple.  It is not a life of asceticism but of simplicity.  It is a life shaped by the calling of Jesus and empowered by his authority, a life that proclaims the gospel and heals the brokenness of the world. 

            Today we have seen Jesus rejected in his hometown and limited in his healing.   Yet it is in that very context—the experience of being ostracized for revealing authority—that Jesus steps out to charge his disciples to continue his mission.  This description of their lifestyle is probably historically accurate.  Something this farfetched is not likely to have survived in the tradition if not original to the story.

            Jesus requires utter dependence upon the hospitality of others.  They are allowed the staff and sandals required for their travel.  In Mark, in fact, putting on sandals serves as a metaphor for discipleship. However, they are not to carry their sustenance—no bread, no money, no extra clothes.  Like Jesus, they are to take on the life of a sojourner, relying on the kindness of strangers.  They must be ready to receive the same rejection Jesus knew, shake the dust off their feet, and move on.

            Here is the beginning of who we are as church.  Just as they were called and commissioned by Jesus, we are given direction and purpose by Christ.  Most of all, we are given the power to do those mighty works.  The authority of Jesus that scandalized his neighbors is the authority that he passes on to us.  We receive a mission but also the power to accomplish it.  Yes, power.  Remember the dunamis, the power Sam Tallman spoke about last week, the power that was transferred to heal the woman who bled for years on end?  Jesus promises to give us the power we need to fulfill our calling.

            But what about this traveling light?  Does it give you a scare?  Or does it bring a sigh of relief?  After all, traveling light has its advantages.  We can look back to the founders of this country who traveled lighter than we do, to the founders of St. Mary’s who one hundred years ago lived with greater simplicity than we.  Traveling light gives a focus on our purpose.

            In this time of transition, we of St. Mary’s have the chance to check out the instructions Jesus gave us.  We can check and double check what we have in our travel bag.  Are there things weighing us down that we can leave behind?  Are we packing too much in fear that God might not provide?

            It is also time to listen carefully for our calling.   Jesus, what is that you are saying to St. Mary of the Hills?  What is your dream for us?  Could you say that again?  Are you sure that is your dream for us?  Yes, we stand on the shoulders of people who took great risks for you—but that was one hundred years ago here on Main Street.  That was over two hundred years ago in the English colonies.  Can it still happen now?

            This week I was reminded of folks who left life as they knew it to be faithful followers of Jesus.  Reading the online publication of the Diocese of Virginia that covers our General Convention, I noticed a familiar name—Celal Kamran, photographer.  Now Celal Kamran, Sr., was a man who brought his family from Pakistan where they were threatened with death as Christians.  That family appeared at my church in Northern Virginia after they learned that Episcopal was like Anglican back home.  The first day, they stayed for the work day on the church grounds.  They spent their first Thanksgiving at my family’s home, and for several years another guest from that day sent money to my discretionary fund to help them out. 

Well, the photographer at General Convention is Celal Kamran, Jr., the little boy I remember—now a young man with a beard, a college graduate, married and headed to Virginia Theological Seminary next month to prepare to become a priest. Facebook reveals a creative young man deeply committed to service and justice in the name of Jesus.  I see a young man who learned early to be fearless and travel light with Jesus.

            That brave family has endured much to follow Jesus.  They have put on their sandals and truly become disciples.  They give me a renewed faith that Jesus will give us the power we need to fulfill our God given mission wherever it may lead us.  May we step out to exercise our authority over the unclean spirits and commit ourselves to the work of healing.  Let us join hands and get ready to travel light.    

 

 

Sermon given by The Rev. Linda Wofford Hawkins on Sunday, June 24, 2018

I confess that my most memorable experience of sailing took place on a hot, still day—the worst ever.  The air moved not one bit.    Eventually the kids of all ages went for a swim alongside the barely moving vessel.

            Then suddenly things changed.  The sky darkened, and the wind picked up.  In the distance, lightning flashed.  My body grew tense as I looked far away to the shore.  That trip to the dock seemed never to end.  I learned the true meaning of that sailor’s prayer—“O Lord, the sea is so big, and my boat is so small.”  That storm taught me a new appreciation for the Lord’s sustenance in time of fear and confusion, a new dimension of the faith that is total trust in God.

            The companions of Jesus faced a much more terrifying storm.  They were in a spot known for sudden storms created as nearby mountains became a funnel to propel the storm onto the lake.  They knew from Hebrew scripture that the sea was the abode of chaos, the place of evil spirits, threat, and danger.  The sea symbolized the unknown, unpredictability.  Mark is the first writer to make the Galilee, this freshwater lake, into a sea to evoke all those images.

            This storm overtaking the disciples is truly a frightening experience.  In Mark, the Greek word for storm is seismos—in our language, something of seismic proportions.  With such a storm, only the power of God can prevail.  The storms of life come to symbolize the trials endured by the righteous.   With such a storm only the power of God can prevail.

            We, too, in our time know the storms of life.  For some, it means a flood, hurricane, or volcano taking us by surprise.   Perhaps it is a phone call announcing the death of a loved one or the test result of Stage 4 cancer.  It may be the announcement of divorce.  Perhaps it is the power of addiction that takes control.  It may be the interruption of the joy of a baby’s birth when a life-threatening disability is discovered.  It may be sexual abuse with memories that never go away or incarceration when innocent of a crime.  For some, the storm is the outbreak of war, the threat of gang violence, or religious persecution that forces people to forsake all that is familiar.  Just as for the people of Mark’s time, it may even be chaos and crisis in the life of the church.

            These are storms of seismic proportions.   These are moments when the earth shakes under our feet, when chaos overtakes us.   Our whole foundation shifts beneath us.  At such a time, we discover where power really resides.  Today we have heard two stunning stories of God breaking in to overcome the powers of chaos.   As David gives up the armor of a warrior and picks up five smooth stones, he declares it is the Lord’s battle, not his.  His peculiar weapons show the odd ways that God manages to overcome evil.  It is the power of God that both defeats the giant Goliath and stills the raging storm.

            Notice it is Jesus who has the big idea to launch out on a perilous sea by dark of night.  It is as though the storm is part of his strategy.  This is the first of several times when he directs the disciples to cross over to the other side—the other side being the place of the Gentiles.  It is a symbolic journey into the unknown, to a foreign place, to the other side of humanity.  Jesus seems to be saying that his power and his message are for all people, both Jew and Gentile.  A storm makes the journey itself and that work of inclusion difficult work indeed.

            In the midst of such a storm, Jesus is asleep—asleep at the switch.  Here he lies in perfect peace while the disciples are frantic with fear and confusion.  He got them into this perilous journey and now seems to have abandoned them to the elements.  They boldly confront him: “Do you not care that we are perishing?”  They are filled with fear because they really do not know who he is or the power that he holds.  So in one act of power, he speaks the words that silence the storm and address their lack of faith.  The storm demon is exorcised, yet their fear still lingers.  Now they are awe-struck.  They each have a lifetime to come to terms with the mystery of his power.

            So where does that calmness of Jesus come from?  How does he sleep in the midst of the chaos?  I suspect it is something about the center of peace and tranquility Father Sam spoke of last week, that inner place of connection with God the Father, that centeredness that remains constant through all things. 

Recently I came across a prayer written at least twenty-five years ago by the Jesuit, Karl Rahner, that led me to a new understanding of how that vital center might have grown and developed for Jesus.  “Come, Lord, enter my heart, you who are crucified, who have died, who love, who are faithful, truthful, patient and humble…too little loved by your friends…a refugee child, a carpenter’s son,&hell