Sermons

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,…a man who loved and who found no love in response….”

            I had never before thought of Jesus as a refugee child.  Since then our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, spoke of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus as a refugee family.  Yes, Jesus was born when his family was ordered to report for the census of the Roman Empire.  According to Matthew, they fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of boys his age.  Suddenly I remembered the painting that connected me early to St. Mary’s—“Rest in the Wilderness” by Elliott Daingerfield, purchased for a song by my husband in the 1980s.  It has hung in our family’s various homes through the years.  I have also learned that the artist painted Jesus in Egyptian attire during that time of waiting out Herod.  Yes, Jesus lived through quite a storm.

            The painting is dark.  It is night and the sky is menacing.  It is night during a long journey to Egypt.  We often call that scene The Holy Family.  Somehow there is holiness in the midst of such a storm of seismic proportions.  Mary cuddles her baby while Joseph ties up the donkey near a solitary tree.  There is a tiny campfire that gives the faintest light.  Here is a calm place in the midst of a storm.

            Yes, Jesus had weathered the storms of life.  The storm was a familiar place, the place where he learned trust, where he knew the power of God the Father.   This refugee child grows into the man who orders the sea to be still and inspires others to ask, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

            This is the Jesus who comes to us.  This is the Jesus who welcomes us into the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement as our Presiding Bishop calls us.  So we learn to trust in his presence.  We slowly discover that the chaos and confusion we encounter is no match for the Kingdom of God. 

So let us be bold.  Let us dare to call on the power of God when chaos threatens us and others.  May we trust that power to prevail.  There is only one catch—Jesus may exert his power in and through us.  Jesus may use us to end the storms of life for others.  Jesus may send us into the storms of life to be present with those whose boats are being swamped.  After all, we know something that even those first disciples did not know.  Jesus who died and rose again has power over every storm that life gives us.  May we live and minister as Easter People in the confidence of that promise.

             

Sermon given by The Rev. Samm Tallman on Sunday, June 3, 2018.

Gospel today gives us a recurring scene of Jesus transgressing strict boundaries of the law – today the 4th commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day & keep it holy.”
Faithfulness to the Law was the pathway to holiness
Yet Jesus models a deeper & more challenging faithfulness of intention as the path to share God’s holiness
This is not some passing confrontation with religious authorities—it runs much deeper than it may seem
It’s just 2nd chapter of Mark & they want to destroy him
Why? – By Jesus’ time, the Sabbath commandment had become not just sacred but at the heart of being a faithful Jew
For during the 50-yr. exile in Babylon, the Jews had lost Jerusalem, the Temple, & become a captive & enslaved people
Book of Daniel records: they were left no prince, no prophet, no leader
No longer could they offer their holocausts, sacrifices, offerings, & incense
No place to present their first fruits & favor with God
Yet secretly & with faithful intention to honor the Sabbath they could gather to hear God’s Word, worship & pray as captives in a foreign land.
It had enabled them to keep their identity as people of God
So when they returned to Jerusalem in 538 & the Temple was rebuilt in 520, they could fully observe the full Sabbath – the mark of being a faithful Jew that had enabled them to survive
So when Jesus allows his followers to harvest & then he himself heals on the Sabbath—it is an offense against the whole community
But there’s another level of offense that perhaps only the Pharisees could perceive
When Jesus asks, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or kill?”
Pharisees would have answered only God alone
For only God continues God’s work on the sabbath—giving life in babies being born & taking life in people dying
So Jesus crosses an even deeper fault line in claiming to do God’s work on the sabbath

So here we are, entering this long 6-month green season of the church year when turn our focus
toward how we root our lives in Christ
What may Jesus be teaching us in this encounter that challenges the Pharisees way into holiness
with God?
For sure, Jesus warns us that holiness comes less from obsession with religious rules & practices
& more from welcoming God’s divine love to dwell with us
Of course, we humans are always a mixture of God’s presence & God’s absence, of light &
darkness, truth & chaos, good & evil, openness & closedness
None of us is holy & pure on our own account
Yet don’t we yearn for wholeness in our life? That may be what holiness may mean when we
turn to God to show us that way
For holiness is nothing we achieve but rather receive
Holiness is not something reserved only for the strong-willed, the austere seekers, priests,
mystics, or even dedicated servants of the poor
No, I truly believe holiness comes as a gift to anyone who finds themselves poor enough—
whether material or spiritual—to welcome Jesus & willing to trust his way of love, mercy, &
grace
So many words describe this experience—forgiveness, 2nd chance, acceptance, mercy, love,
grace
It brings a gift of wholeness that makes us want to shape our life to share in God’s nature—
liberated from selfish desire, committed to self-giving love, & strengthened by divine Spirit
People yearning to share in this holiness pray daily, Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in
heaven
Yet here we are, barely into the first quarter of a new century, witnessing a world groping for
new ways to stay together while mired in conflict & division
So who are we the Church to be—and I mean both the Church of Jerry Falwell’s evangelical far
right as well as the Church of Michael Curry’s Jesus Movement & its energy of love
What does Jesus’ upsetting the path of holiness in his day call us to do in our day?
Just as Jesus is our Servant Lord so the Church should seek to dominate the world but rather to
serve the needs of the world

That means to work for a global society of justice & mercy that crosses national borders, all
cultural, ethnic, & racial divides, even all religious frontiers
The holiness of the Church is found in our liberation from selfish pursuit & embracing love that
respects the needs of others
How do we personally do that? I share with you part of the homily I preached for the Men’s
Breakfast this past Thursday
When you leave here, you will be bombarded by conflict & division as soon as you tune into any
media—sadly it seems intentionally that way
But when you turn to the people you will encounter, remember—every person has story that is
integral to who they are, what is dear to them, & how they see the world
Rarely do you know that story—yet how quick we are to size-up & see difference
Yet as Christians, we are called to respect & serve the needs of all with mercy & justice
So I offer three dispositions that may ground us in holiness of intention to which Jesus is calling
Simplicity of heart—to suspend our rush to judgment to find some better reason to be together
than what separates us
Generosity of love—to live from self-giving love that can free you from selfish desire
Abundance of mercy—Look thru the lens of compassion & empathy to see what can hold you
together rather than what can set you apart
Today’s Gospel calls us to transcend those things that divide us by a holiness of living that
mirrors what we pray every day:
Our Father
Hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come
Your will be done on earth as in heaven.

 

Sermon given by The Rev. Linda Wofford Hawkins on May 27, 2018.          

Welcome to the dance!  Today three magnificent dancers join in a divine circle dance.  The three become one in this round dance of love, freedom, and harmony.  They are three separate dancers, but they become one in the dance.  They are bound together in mutual love. They are what they are in relation to each other—as dancers in a dance of love.  To watch is to experience relationship, to know community, to be drawn into the dance of divine love. 

As we watch their flow of oneness, we are no longer observers.  We, too, become part of this dance of love.  As our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry told the world last week, love is the way.  It is the way of the heart of God.  It is the way of life in Christ, a dance of love. 

            Today is Trinity Sunday, the one day in our calendar named after a theological concept.  There have been countless jokes among preachers about avoiding the pulpit on this day as we run from the daunting prospect of this divine mathematics, this mystery of three-in-one.  But for me, the mystery of this day rang true only after some years of experiencing the Trinity in my life of faith.  Finally I realized that the Trinity is not about arithmetic but about relationship, relationship within the being of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Finally it is about the loving relationship in the heart of God into which we are welcomed as God meets us.  As early as the seventh century, John of Damascus wrote of perichoresis, the round dance of love, freedom, and harmony which is the Holy Trinity.  To know this Trinity is no longer a struggle to do divine mathematics; it becomes an invitation to the dance.

            Madeleine L’Engle is one faithful Christian who had this Trinitarian experience of God which she describes in her book called The Irrational Season.  Happily is she is now becoming better known again for her book, A Wrinkle in Time.  She tells of the years when she and her family left the life of New York City and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to live fulltime in their Connecticut farmhouse.  It was a study of unity in diversity.  It was a life shared with people very much unlike herself.  The people of the village did not share their educational and cultural interests.  No one there understood her heartbreak when she received rejection notices from publishers.  As a young mother with constant fatigue, it was not memorable as a “happy” time in her life.  There were tragedies galore.  Within three years, four of their friends died.  One child joined their family after her parents were killed.  These were not idyllic times in the country.

            Yet this was the time when she knew community best of all.  She describes the constant flow of children from house to house, the shared work within the neighborhood, the common life that centered in the village church.  She rambles as she describes the particularities of their life in community.  Yet she reminds us that community is just that.  It is a matter of particularities.  We experience community in particular ways.  We know it only as we ourselves have experienced it.  So it is with community.  So it is with our experience of God.  Madeleine L’Engle concludes, “The Trinity is our model for community.”

            We stand in a long line of people who have experienced God in the particularities of our human lives.  Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on a throne high and lofty surrounded by seraphs singing praises.  He was overcome with his inadequacy until the seraph blotted out his sin with a burning coal.  Out of that experience of God, Isaiah cried out, “Here am I; send me.”  Nicodemus was confused and fearful, reluctant but still seeking to know Jesus, coming by dark of night.  Being born from above confounds his imagination.  Jesus offers him the teaching that has turned countless hearts toward God: “…God so loved the world that he gave his only Son….” 

Isaiah, Nicodemus, and countless others have had their experiences of that love which draws us deep into the heart of God, into the very life of the Trinity where we come to know the deep unity of God and the deep unity within ourselves.  Madeleine L’Engle speaks wisely of that experience: “My moments of being most complete, most integrated, have come either in complete solitude or when I am being part of a body made up of many people going in the same direction.”  Perhaps one could say “when she was one” or “when she was three.”

Here is the dancing God who loves us in such a way as to use every possible angle to get our attention.  Brian Wren has written a hymn called “Bring Many Names” which suggests the many ways that God can meet us.  Listen now for some of his images:

Bring many names,

beautiful and good,

celebrate, in parable and story,

holiness in glory,

living, loving God,

Hail and hosanna!

Bring many names!

Strong mother God,

working night and day,

planning all the wonders of creation,

setting each equation,

genius at play….

Warm father God,

hugging every child,

feeling the strains of human living,

caring and forgiving

till we’re reconciled….

Old, aching God,

gray with endless care,

calmly piercing evil’s new disguises,

glad of good surprises,

wiser than despair….

Young, growing God,

eager, on the move,

saying no to falsehood and unkindness,

crying out for justice,

giving all you have….

Great, living God,

never fully known,

joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,

closer yet than breathing,

everlasting home:

Hail and hosanna,

Great, living God!

God is relentless.  God keeps coming at us, seeking yet another way to connect with us and show us holiness.  God is ever one yet finds many faces and names until we connect and join the dance. 

            We have known God as creator, as shaper of history, as a person in our world of flesh, as redeemer, as Spirit that flows where it wills, as a quiet voice in the still of the night.   We have known that strong mother God, warm father God, that old aching God, that young growing God—but always that great living God who is never fully known. 

            Today we come to encounter the God of the dance who knows us fully and loves us fully—even as we never know God fully in return.  Today we celebrate Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—all madly in love with one another, joining in the dance that makes them one yet reaching out to draw us into that dance of love and joy.  Let us join in the dance, the dance of praise that rings through the heavens this and every day.

 

 

 

Sermon by The Rev. Linda Wofford Hawkins preached on May 20, 2018.

It was a Pentecost I will never forget—the year 2000.   That holy year was relatively peaceful in the Middle East compared with the conflict of many recent years and with the present moment.   So the Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East invited the whole diocese to St. George’s Cathedral for the feast day as well as a variety of bishops from across the globe.   The North American regional board for St. George’s College, our Anglican educational center in East Jerusalem, decided to hold its meeting in Jerusalem to coincide with Pentecost, so my husband and I were privileged to attend.

            There was no need to concoct diversity for liturgical reasons that day.   We came from everywhere, dressed differently and speaking many languages.   People were taking photos of us Americans with as much excitement as we had taking photos of them.  I have never felt so exotic.  The bulk of the service was in Arabic and English simultaneously with some readings in other tongues.

            Suddenly something seemed different.  We were singing the final hymn, “Ye watchers and ye holy ones.”  Finally I realized what it was.  After the cacophony of all those languages, we were singing in unison.  Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.  I was not the only one who could not fight back the tears.  Here was the word we all share as Christians, the one word that makes us all one.  For one brief moment, we were one in a land of conflict and division.

            We overflowed into the courtyard for more singing while lunch was served to everyone in that huge crowd.  A guitar led us in songs that were familiar—“Seek ye first,” Number 711 in our hymnal, American in origin.  Then “We shall overcome” from the Civil Rights Movement in this country.  Even “Kumbaya” which I know for many represents contemporary hymnody at its worst.  However, I learned just this week that it arose in the Gullah community in the secret church of those enslaved on a South Carolina plantation.  In the Gullah language, it is a prayer meaning, “Lord, come by here.”

            I was astonished that our songs had become their songs.  One people’s yearning for justice spoke to the hearts of those Palestinian Christians.  We became one in those songs of the soul.  So much divided us, but so much more made us one in the power of the Holy Spirit—just as it was at Pentecost so long ago.

            It had happened before.  Fire—a blazing bush before the eyes of Moses, a bush that was not consumed.  Wind—wind that blew over the earth in creation, wind that blew where it willed in the life of Nicodemus.  Voices—voices that burst forth at the Tower of Babel, a multitude of voices that ended that edifice of human pride.

            But today the voices are different.  The voices—though many—are one voice.  The fire and the wind make a flock of bewildered disciples truly one.  Those humble Galileans proclaim the gospel in the languages of all the Jews gathered in Jerusalem, Jews from the four corners of the known world celebrating their harvest feast of Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit in their midst is One, and the Good News they hear each in their own language is one. 

            On this Day of Pentecost, the Spirit goes to work for the sake of the world.  This day is not about a light and sound show but about spiritual transformation that renews the face of the earth.   It is about what happens to us because of what happened to Jesus.   Today the disciples are empowered to turn the world upside down—in the words of our hymn.   Today is all about their response and our response.   Today the church is born.

            Today we renew our baptismal covenant.  We proclaim our belief in the Holy Spirit.   We believe the living God can enter human personality and change it.   We believe in the power of God to give us the spiritual gifts needed to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.  We believe in a God who can overcome our separation from God and one another.  We believe in a God who can shape us as a Kingdom people for Kingdom work.  Ours is a God who inspires us—literally breathes life into us—to make us the Body of Christ. 

            This day is full of surprises.  After all, surprise is the truest sign of the Holy Spirit.  We have a light and sound show followed by the disciples speaking in languages unknown to them.  But the real surprise is their response.   They get it.   They step up to the plate.   Thousands come to believe and give themselves to this Crucified and Risen Lord.  Their response is the church.

            Today is the last of the Fifty Days of Easter.  In the Great Vigil of Easter, we began with fire and water.  From the new fire, we lit the paschal candle.  We gathered around the waters of baptism and renewed our baptismal covenant.  Today we do the same.  After today, we return to “ordinary time” as it is sometimes called.  We move from this season of alleluias to the work for which our alleluias prepare us. Yet we enter these next days as people of Pentecost, people who are changed, people who are spiritually transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Today the paschal candle will go out for a time, but the fire goes forth within us as we live in holy expectancy, ready to be part of God’s Kingdom work in our time and place.

            Pentecost has to be different in Jerusalem this year.  The crowds are likely to be smaller at the Cathedral.  Yet I am confident those faithful Christians are shouting “Alleluia” in one strong voice.  Why?  Because we are Alleluia people in the face of darkness and despair, people full of hope for what is not seen. 

Jerusalem is a city of hope.   Like other ancient cities, Jerusalem had walls to be a fortress against danger.   But the New Jerusalem, the heavenly Jerusalem, has open gates—gates to welcome all tribes and nations that stream to the city of God.  There will be no temple in that city, for all people will know and love God in that city filled with the presence of God.

The world cries out for the ministries of our church which was born in the midst of fire and wind.   In response to the voices of pain, fear, and confusion, the power of the Holy Spirit moves in and through us.   The Spirit wakes us up with spiritual dynamite.  It fills us with the power we need to serve in ways we never imagined.

            The Holy Spirit makes us one—one in love, in service, in unity with Christ.  Today we become Alleluia people.  It is the one word that makes us who we are as the church.  It is the last day of our Fifty Days of Alleluias.  So let us belt it with all that we have to give—Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.   

Sermon by The Rev. Linda Wofford Hawkins preached on May 13, 2018.

Let’s take a mental journey.  Go back to the time when you were a little child.  Remember what it was like to be four years old.  Your parents give you a helium balloon.  You are thrilled with your new gift.  You walk along, glancing up every now and then to see it floating far above your head.  Then suddenly the worst happens.  You stumble on a bump in the sidewalk, and you let go.  The balloon rises up and up and up—far from your reach.  You burst into tears and watch it drift away.  You shout for it to come back, but it has a mind of its own.  You beg for someone to catch it.  You stand there weeping until your balloon finally moves out of sight.  It hurts to let go.

            At this point in the Christian year, we observe perhaps the most painful of partings, a time of letting go.  It is a poignant moment, this time in between.  This Thursday was Ascension Day when Jesus ascended to the Father, ending his resurrection presence with his disciples.  After his death and resurrection, he appeared to his followers.  Then just as they became attached to their Risen Lord, he suddenly left them.  He stretched out his wounded arms to bless them one last time, and then he left their sight.  At first it is a moment of victory and celebration, but then the loss sinks in.  Suddenly he is no more.  He leaves them as children watching in amazement as he ascends.

            The gospel today gives the words of the final prayer of Jesus before his death, words fitting for us to hear in this time of letting go, in this time in between, in this time between the Ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  In his high priestly prayer, Jesus speaks more to us than to God the Father.  He provides the game plan for how the disciples and we in our day are to carry on.  He guides us into becoming the grown-ups who will move ahead when the father is gone.  We hear all his hopes and dreams for us in the days ahead.

            First of all, he prays for our unity.  It has been rightly said that unity should be the clearest sign of God’s people in the world.  In the Book of Acts, we see one step toward unity with the replacement of Judas with Matthias.  They agree to draw lots.  Imagine that for our discernment committee as it seeks a new rector for St. Mary’s.  Their process does remind us of a fundamental truth.  God works with all sorts of people with all sorts of gifts.  The power of the Holy Spirit can do amazing work when leaders are open to the guidance of the Spirit and the community is willing to invest their support and commitment in the leadership they are given.  Leadership will succeed if the disciples are willing to seek unity as the body of Christ.

            I am reminded of an image from my childhood.  My father was in the poultry business and had several chicken arms in deserted rural areas.  A modern chicken house is a long flat building on a concrete slab where the chickens are fed and watered by electrical machinery.  Once a tornado came through and destroyed a building, leaving nothing but the concrete slab.  We figured the chickens would disperse in their new freedom.  Oddly enough, after a bit of initial scattering, they gathered on the concrete slab as though nothing had happened.  Maybe they knew that spot as home where they always had food and water.  Who knows?  They lost the building that held them together in unity, but strangely they still stayed together.

            Would that we human beings could do the same.  Jesus knew that without him around to hold his followers together they would be at risk for fracture and confusion.  So his first prayer for them—and for us—in this time in between is a prayer for unity.   “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

            Once I was blessed to hear Archbishop Gitari from Kenya speak as he conveyed the spirit of the church in Africa, perhaps the most vital branch of our worldwide communion.  He embodied the experience of community that is natural in his society.  His refrain was simple: “I am because we are.”  In response, an American told a story that sums up what that experience says to us in America.  An anthropologist working in Africa decided to give an IQ test to a group of schoolchildren.  He set them up in their seats and instructed them to do their best.  Trusting the honor system, he left the room.  Upon his return, he found them huddled in a group doing the test.  When he chastised them, they simply responded, “But you told us to do our best.”

            Indeed we all do our best together—when we work together toward a common goal, when we share our strengths and weaknesses, when no one is seeking credit as an individual.  The children doing the collective IQ test remind us that unity gets the job done.  For them, doing their best translated into a group effort—not independent study. 

Doing it together leads us into the joy that Jesus prays to be made complete among us.  It equips us to face the challenge of being in the world but not of the world.  It prepares us to live in this time of waiting, this time in between. 

            Finally, Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in the truth.”  Make them holy.  Consecrate them.  To be holy is to be separated from the profane world, to be different.  In the Hebrew Bible, it meant the consecration of a sacrificial victim or the hallowing of a person for a sacred work.  Jesus prayed that we might be commissioned to a special task.  This holiness is not something we create for ourselves.  God makes us holy and sets us apart for a purpose.  We are holy not because we are naturally different but because of that purpose.  It is only for us to discover that wholeness and holiness within.  To sanctify is not to purify.  We are still the same people with all our imperfections.  It is a scary thought that Jesus has departed the scene and left imperfect people like you and me in charge.  However, as sanctified people of God, we have what we need to answer the call.  The Spirit equips us to do the work of God. 

            As we continue as stand-ins for Christ in this world, being in the world but not of the world, we cannot cling to the past.  We cannot hang on to Christ as clinging children.  We must let go of the balloon that goes upward to its destination.  We must accept the challenge of finding our unity, our joy, and our holiness in this world where Jesus left us behind to stand in for him.

            The strange paradox is that only in the letting go do we receive what is there for us.  We must let go of all that is dear to us—the people, the places, even ourselves.  The hardest task of all is to let go of self, to let go of “I” so that there can be a “we”—a “we” that is one with God and one another.  Let us learn to let go.  Let us rejoice in our Risen Lord who loved and trusted us enough to leave us with the task of sharing the Good News with all the world.  Let us pray for the growth of our unity that we might be equal to the task.

Sermon by The Rev. Linda Wofford Hawkins preached on May 6, 2018.

The Blind Side—the place where we need protection.  The Blind Side—the movie I watched twice back to back the first time I encountered it during a Mother’s Day marathon on television.  Since then, I have seen it enough times to have it practically memorized.   The movie is based on the life of Michael Oher, a homeless African American teen who became part of an affluent white family in Memphis, Tennessee, and went on to college and professional football.  His life began to change through a succession of kindnesses—first his friend’s father, then a private school coach who demanded his admission as the right thing for a Christian school to do, then a science teacher who believed that he could learn.

            The real game changer came when a bossy mom took charge on a cold, rainy night and took him home with the family.  One night on the couch led to a room of his own and the first bed he ever had.  The hard driving little brother took charge of Michael’s football training, and the sister studied by his side.

            Early on, the mom found the key to awakening his giftedness.  His eighth grade assessment scores were all in single digits, but he scored in the ninety-eighth percentile in one area—protective instincts.   So she helped him translate his self-sacrifice for the sake of others into the language of the football field.  “Think of the quarterback as me: Protect him. Think of the halfback as S.J.: Protect him.”

            His football abilities blossomed as he lived into his protective instincts, and the scholarship offers rolled in.  Eventually he went to Ole Miss, made the Dean’s List, and signed with the Baltimore Ravens.

            At one point, the family sat down at the kitchen table, all bubbling with excitement.  The announcement was proclaimed: We have decided to invite you to be part of our family.  Michael was baffled, “I thought I already was,” and everyone exploded with laughter.

            Looking back on the movie, I hardly remember anyone saying, “I love you”—if ever.  I would have to watch the hundredth time to do the fact checking.  This mom was not the touchy-feely type.  She was constantly snapping out orders and telling people off.  She stood up to the racist remarks in the football stadium and at lunch with her wealthy friends.  The children had the strength to ignore the barbs about their black brother.  The father’s financial generosity gradually grew from a lunch ticket to a pickup truck to a personal tutor for five years.  It was all love in action—especially Michael’s love that nurtured children on the playground, his love that protected his new mom in his rough former neighborhood, and his love that saved his brother’s life in an accident.  Love in action.

            Today Jesus is talking about love in action as he says farewell to his disciples, as he prepares to die.  We continue the conversation of last week when he told us to abide in him like the branches of a vine.  Jesus gives a simple command that is the key to bearing fruit.  “Abide in me.”  “Love one another.”  As William Temple tells us, “…these are not two things, but one thing with two aspects, whereof the former is the occasion of the latter.” (Readings in St. John’s Gospel, p. 270)

            So the source of any love we might manifest for one another is this abiding in Christ.  Abide.  It is a word we do not use often and even then usually to say, “I can’t stand…whatever.”  Jesus asks us to make him our abode as it were—to stay in him, remain in him, live in him.  It is a way of asking, “Where do you stay?”  If we abide in him, his love becomes the arena, the sphere, the location of our life.  He becomes the very air we breathe.  We live as branches connected to the vine, as we heard last week.  St. Paul explains it as being “in Christ,” living as the body of Christ.

            Here is the love that is the great commandment of Jesus, the commandment we heard on Maundy Thursday, the one commandment that includes and fulfills all the others.  It is a mutual indwelling in Christ as the Son dwells in the Father.  It is part of a chain of abiding love that flows from God through Christ to those who live in his love.

            This love is not a feeling.  It is not about liking anyone, not about sharing common interests or backgrounds.  It is certainly not about agreeing—something we need to remember in the church more than anywhere.  It is not even about what we usually call friendship.  “Love one another,” Jesus says—not like one another or enjoy one another or agree.  This love is a call to be for the other and act for the other whatever the cost.  “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

            This love is the foundation for the peculiar and mysterious fellowship we have as people who know we are loved by Jesus.  At our best moments as the church, we share a love unique to the Christian family, but it is porous enough to let others in, leading others to know Christ’s love through our love for one another.  Of course, we fail over and over again, but at our best—when we abide in Christ—that love never excludes but includes others.  It even extends to this fragile earth, our island, that provides for us yet looks to us for protection.

            At one point in the movie, the dad muses about how happy the mom seems at the end of the day.  “Does it have anything to do with Michael?”  “It has everything to do with Michael,” she answers.  They are talking about happiness that becomes true joy.  Today Jesus says, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”  Joy is finally the truest mark of our life I Christ, life as part of God’s kingdom.  Love and joy are those unique commodities that become more abundant in the sharing.  They can grow because their ultimate source is God who is a reservoir of love and joy that never runs out.

            Joy is finally the state of the soul that is filled with love.  To live in joy is to become the true self we are meant to be.  We never attain the fullness of joy without sacrifice, without receiving the gift of Christ’s love and in turn, giving sacrificially for the sake of others.  The artist speaks to that reality in describing our bulletin cover.  The cross lies at the center as uplifted arms receive the gift of grace, grace that is shared with love and joy.

  That ninety-eighth percentile on protective instincts makes all the difference.  This Jesus knows as he prepares to die for those he loves.  This Jesus wants us to know as he prepares to ascend, leaving us to share his love with one another and the world.

            May we abide in Christ ever more deeply.  May Christ’s love make us all courageous lovers of one another.  Jesus has our blind side covered.  May we do the same for all those we are called to love.

           

 

 

 

 

Sermon by The Rev. Linda Wofford Hawkins given at The Great Vigil of Easter on March 31, 2018       

            Tonight we gather as a family around the campfire, telling our stories.  We have known other fires in times past—the pillar of fire by which God led the Hebrews by night, the fire that gave us the ashes of Ash Wednesday, the charcoal fire where Peter warmed himself even as he denied Jesus.  But tonight’s fire is a different one.  It is the new fire of the paschal mystery.  It is the light of Christ—“a flame divided but undimmed, a pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God.”

            So we have drawn close to the light and warmth of the fire to tell our stories once again, to be reminded who we are and what our life is about.  Tonight at the Passover meal of our Jewish neighbors the youngest child asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Tonight the child within each of us cries out at our Passover, “Tell it again.  Tell the story about…..”  So we tell the story again.

            We have rehearsed once more the liberation of the Hebrew slaves from bondage in Egypt and the dry bones coming to life.  Our lectionary gives us even more wonderful stories of God’s mighty acts—the creation of our world, the saving of Noah’s family and the animal kingdom from the great flood, and the almost-sacrifice of Isaac by his father (and our father) Abraham in obedience to our mysterious God.  We have heard of God’s presence in the life of Israel and the promise of salvation for all the earth.

            Frederick Buechner is a novelist as well as a theologian.  He knows about telling stories.  He also knows the way stories can bring us to faith.  He says, “How do I happen to believe in God?....Writing novels, I got into the habit of looking for plots.  After awhile, I began to suspect that my own life had a plot.  And after awhile more, I began to suspect that life itself has a plot.”  And what might that plot be?  We are here tonight to celebrate the plot of life itself, the story of death and resurrection that is the basic story of life.

            Buechner also says, “If this is above all a Christ-making universe, the place where we are being taken is the place where the silk purse is finally made out of the sow’s ear….At the heart of reality—who would have guessed it?—there is a room for dying and being born again.”

            Tonight we find that room, that room for dying and rising again.  Tonight we rewind the tape and return to the beginning of the stories that are finally one story.  We have heard again the story that carries the plot of all our lives.  We discover that even sow’s ears like us are being changed into silk purses in this magnificent story of dying and rising again through the power of God.

            Ours is truly a Christ-making universe.  Holiness is all around, holiness that fills us with terror and amazement just like the women at the tomb.  All of creation was meant to be at one with our creator, but forces set loose in our world pull us away.  Yet God repeats the story.  Again and again God raises us up—out of slavery, out of the murderous waters of life, back from the death of the dry bones, through the agony of grief into the joy of resurrection.

            Tonight all those stories become one story before the empty tomb.  The stones have been moved away—the stone at the tomb of Jesus and the stones that seek to hold all our lives captive.  Jesus makes all our stories into his story.  Tonight as we raise the lights, as we ring our bells, as we sing out Alleluia—we proclaim the plot of all our lives.  Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.  Tonight as we return to the mystery of our baptism, we become one with Christ.

            Our lives are storm tossed and chaotic.  We know all about fear and confusion and heartache, but tonight the light of Christ has pierced the darkness.  We join