Burning Questions November 11, 2013Posted by Sharon Ely Pearson in Jesus, Sermon.
Tags: belief, children of God, death, faith, God, Jesus, Pharisees, Proper 27, questions, Resurrection
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- Pentecost 25, Year C: Proper 27
- 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
- Luke 20:27-38
Living God, burning wild and unconfined, you call us to a new being, free from the fear of death: take away the limits that bind our imagination and choke our compassion that we may feel your pleasure in all that brings us life; through Jesus Christ, risen and ascended. Amen. (Prayers for an Inclusive Church by Steven Shakespeare)
At any given point in time, I think all of us have one burning question we’d like to ask God. When we are infants, the question might be “Why strained peas? Why strained carrots?”
As we grow older, our God questions grow and change with us. Children’s questions about the world around them might include “Why is the sky blue?” “Do dogs go to heaven?” “Are angels boys or girls?”
As we approach adolescence, our questions change. Innocence is often lost and questions about life and death begin to appear. “Why does everyone hate me at school?” “Why do I look the way I do?” “Where are you God, and why do bad things happen?” Often, in our teens we begin to stop asking God questions; and by adulthood, we learn to figure out how the world works (supposedly) understanding there are scientific answers for many of the simpler questions we had asked earlier in our lives.
But those existential questions still remain. “Who am I? Where do I fit in the world? How can I pass on what I am? Was it worth it?”
We grow from a magical world to one that is literal, then multi-faceted, then critical until finally, hopefully, it becomes transparent. We grow from knowing God as a parent, the creator, Jesus, a judge, a friend, a savior, to a blending of all these things with the hope that God is the center of all being.
Many of our questions come down to what we don’t know about ourselves and what is to come. And our faith is often shaken when we can’t find answers or what we have been told turns out not to be true.
Our readings today remind us of the times when we need to hold fast to our faith and trust in the unfailing presence and abundant promises of God.
We hear this in the visions of Haggai. We are reminded of them in Paul’s second letter to the Christians in Thessalonica. Through the action of the Holy Spirit we are made holy with a saving faith. And receiving the good news of Christ, we have a responsibility to hold fast to the traditions we have been given and to continue to live our lives according to Jesus’ example. Even when we have questions. Because we have questions.
Our gospel readings over the past few weeks have focused on Jesus being asked questions – from his disciples, from the Pharisees, and today from the Sadducees. These guys are the power brokers. They are no-nonsense literalists: if it’s not written down in the Law and the prophets, then it’s not true. The Sadducees know Jesus has been teaching about resurrection. They also know that the word resurrection is nowhere to be found in the law and the prophets. So resurrection cannot be true, and they have a sure-fire trap to prove their case.
The Sadducees ask Jesus a question based on a reality they do not even believe.
If a woman is legally married to seven different men in this life, which one will be her legal husband in the resurrected life?
In his reply, Jesus distinguishes between two ages and two kinds of existence. Mortals are part of this world by physical birth and part of the age to come by resurrection. Relationships are different in the age to come, where there is no death.
Lots of our questions, from childhood through adulthood, are often juxtaposed between the meaning of life and what happens after our earthly life as we know it. We ask for deeper understanding of things we do not actually believe are understandable.
For me, the past few weeks have been surrounded by death and the promise of this resurrection that Jesus speaks about. My dad passed away on October 18th, and we celebrated his life at my home parish on All Saints Day evening. He was 89-years-old and had been ill, but fought death up until his last breath. And he was someone who had planned as much as he could of what would happen after his death. He had prepaid his funeral arrangements, he had written his obituary. He had even chosen all the hymns for his memorial service. But I got to choose the readings – from Ecclesiasticus and Revelation – readings about visions, and angels, and praising those who have come before us, and what is to come for all of us.
While we remembered his life, we also focused on the living. The living memories he left with us, the living memories in the generations to come as exhibited by his grandchildren, and the great-grandchildren of his deceased brother who were present, scampering around the back of the church. For God is a God of the living and all people, those who now live and those who have lived before us, live in God.
We focused on new life. While my father’s ashes were interred, he was not present. My faith gives me hope that he is now transformed into a completely different, unimagined state of being. He is glimpsing what the reign of God will be like. Whether he is a transfigured personality like that of an angel, I’m not so sure, but he is where there is no weeping, pain, or sorrow. As Luke says, “Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36).
For we are all children of the resurrection. I am reminded that on more than one occasion Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven belongs to children. Children ask questions, real, genuine questions – no ifs, ands, or buts. They can be more insistent that Sadducees and Pharisees. While these two powerful groups in Jesus’ time were simply trying to trip Jesus up, children ask questions because they really are hoping for answers. Children ask questions because they know that God is a mysterious adventure waiting to be explored. The kingdom of heaven belongs to children because children ask children’s questions. As adults we sometimes ask childish questions, instead of the wondering questions that never had the “correct” answer. We ask for more faith, more trust, more hope – yet often times disbelieve they are truly possible.
When we are honest with ourselves we are honest with God. And God gives us an assurance that whatever may come, whatever life brings, nothing can separate us from the love of God. Whatever questions we may ask – whether it be about life or about death, what we need to remember is that it’s not answers that we need. We need only to become children again, and find our home in the loving arms of God.
We believe in God’s mercy and love – generally speaking. But in the particular stories of our lives, and the life of the world, we tend to act out of our disbelief. Jesus reminds us that God is God – not of the dead but of the living. Resurrection is simply the nature of who God is, and will never be understood when we have anti-resurrection minds (like the Sadducees).
Children of the resurrection are God’s own children who share in God’s eternal life. As one of the scribes declares in the verse that we didn’t hear that immediately follows the end of our Gospel reading, “Teacher, you have spoken well” (Luke 20:39), and they dared question him no more.
As Paul has written: “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Parent, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17). Amen.
Approaching God October 27, 2013Posted by Sharon Ely Pearson in Sermon.
Tags: death, grief, My Bounden Duty, parables, Pharisees, stewardship, tax collectors
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A sermon preached at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Wilton, CT: October 27, 2013 ~ Pentecost Proper 25: Year C
Months ago when I agreed to preach on this Sunday as part of our Fall 2013 Stewardship season I had looked at today’s readings and told myself, easy – these readings really speak to how we respond to God in word and action. Perfect! What if we were all like the Pharisee and tithed as he was expected to do? Certainly our annual financial campaign would produce many more pledges and less anxiety for those who prepare our budget. But the Pharisee is proud in his giving as he approaches God. He doesn’t seem to be called to grow closer to God and neighbor. Isn’t this what stewardship is really about? Ah, that’s the tack I’ll take.
But I’m not as in control of things like I think I am. Perhaps like the Pharisee. My dad, and perhaps God, had something else in mind for me to share with you today. As many of you know, my dad passed away a week ago Friday, having struggled with a number of health issues in recent months. The last two weeks of his life were not pleasant, and my life was filled with frustration with how he was cared for and why his quality of life and dignity had been compromised. But my faith gave me strength; I knew God was with me as well as Cliff, despite the unfairness of it all. I wasn’t alone. Plus I had John and Mary Grace. And the prayers of many of you. Thank you.
Most of you did not know my dad, Clifford Ely. I do know that Chris Perry had the “pleasure” of a few stewardship conversations with him. Thank you, Chris. My parents joined St. Matthew’s about five years ago, after they moved back here from their retirement in Maryland. In his prime he had been an active churchman; he served as the building chair for the construction of what was Grace Episcopal Church in Norwalk. He served on their Vestry and Stewardship Committee for countless years, and as a child I recall many evening finance committee meetings around our family dining room table that went well past my bedtime. He was always focused on money; he was probably the first person I heard say, “time, talent, and treasure” in talking about God. He read the bible literally. He was opinionated, stubborn, and didn’t always understand or agree with today’s church governance and inclusiveness. But he tried.
And did I say he worried about money? He saved all his life and didn’t want to spend it. He wanted to leave something to his heirs. We wanted him to spend – to give, to enjoy seeing how his hard earned money benefited others. But living on social security without a pension makes you hold your wallet close to your chest. His approach to God was in the “doing” – giving his time and talent, giving what he could –in treasure. He treasured his possessions, but in the past few years of his life had to give it all away. Having them meant nothing in comparison to having family and friends – and faith. Although he worried about that too.
His approach to God was probably not one of “being,” although I know he prayed nightly as well as whenever he knew I was hopping on an airplane (which he said was too frequently).
My dad approached God very differently than I do. And he and I had our heated discussions about God, Jesus, life, and the church. We often looked at the world differently. Despite this, I know each of us is loved, accepted, and embraced by God.
How do you approach God? What is your attitude? Is it any different than how you approach a friend, a co-worker, a stranger, or someone you love?
When do you approach God? Is it a particular time of day? When something happens to you? When you are facing a difficulty? Do you approach God with a particular posture or in a particular place?
In Jesus’ parables we are given underlying truths that push us to look at the world differently. Things are not as they always seem to be and we cannot depend on logical conclusions. Today’s parable of the Pharisee and the Publican instantly shatters our beliefs of who is acceptable to God.
The parable contrasts the smug attitude of those who believe themselves righteous but look down on others, in the form of the Pharisee, with those who are seen as outcasts in a community, in this case a tax collector. Each of them approaches God in a different way.
The Pharisee is a person of elite status, education, and respectability who knows and meticulously follows Mosaic Law. He obeys the dietary laws and religious observances. As a model citizen he regularly went to the temple and offered his prayers. He probably fasted twice a week and donated 10% (a tithe) of his income.
At the opposite end of the social spectrum is the tax collector. In first-century Palestine the responsibility of collecting Roman taxes was usually contracted out to Gentile and Jewish agents who could charge any tax rate they wished, as longs as the government received its due. By keeping the difference, the tax collectors could, and did, become quite wealthy. They were corrupt, and were looked down upon by any devout Jew. Tax collectors were banned from Jewish religious and social life.
So how do these two men approach God? The Pharisee prays devoutly in the temple for all to see. He even feels quite proud and exalted for being such a good guy in the eyes of God and his fellow Jews. What about the tax collector? He stands on the edges, face lowered, beating his breast, begging for mercy.
Which of these characters do you most identify with? I’m embarrassed to say that I resemble the Pharisee a whole lot more than the tax collector. My dad? Well, he wasn’t corrupt and definitely did not have great wealth, but he was one to ask for forgiveness and mercy. I guess he resembles the tax collector. I’m sure he’s laughing about my comparison now.
The Pharisee goes home feeling pretty good about himself. He is as content as ever, as close to God (he thinks), but in reality is as far away from God as he imagined the tax collector to be. Instead, God recognizes the traitor, a parasite, society’s refuse, as one who is good and justified. Humility rules in God’s eyes.
Who is righteous? According to the Rev. Gordon De La Vars (1):
Conforming to God’s will is measured not by a life of manifesting marks of holiness, but by a life of moments in which we ask God to make us holy. And these are moments when we may not expect God to listen. Moments when, in sorrow and bewilderment, in pain and anger, when feeling lost and alone, we wait for answers in the farthest corner of the temple, or even outside it. Moments when our hearts, weighed down by doubts and hurts and sins, are too heavy to bear. Moments when, like the Pharisee, we are not proud of what we’ve done, and when, like the tax collector, we don’t know how to make it right.
But it is precisely in these moments that God finds us, for the outrageous quality of God’s mercy is such that, when we believe ourselves farthest from God, we are actually nearest. When we feel ourselves most empty, we are most filled. When we think ourselves most wretched, we are most loved. For at these times we call on God, not to validate what we’ve done, but to acknowledge our dependence on God alone.
Last Sunday we recognized those who are making a commitment to prepare for the rite of Confirmation. In the Episcopal Church, confirmation is that time when an individual comes before a bishop in the sight of the congregation to reaffirm those baptismal promises, perhaps made for them by parents and godparents when they were young. Over the next few months they will be reflecting upon what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ by studying the scriptures, following in the disciple’s teachings, sharing in the breaking of bread at the Eucharist, seeking to serve Christ in all persons, and respecting the dignity of all persons. They will continue their lifelong journey of growing into the stature of Christ, which at the moment happens to be at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church.
As members of St. Matthew’s, each of us is called to serve as living examples of righteousness and humility. Let us show our children that approaching God at any time and any place is a life of following Christ. As my father would say we should live by Our Bounden Duty, something I needed to memorize before I was confirmed over 45 years ago: “To follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.”
God loves us wherever we are but may not want us to stay there. With God’s help, we can avoid the extremes of self-righteousness and self-deprecation. We can candidly acknowledge all that we are, while trusting in God’s grace to strengthen us and help us to grow. As we give to our congregation, and pray about what our financial pledge for 2014 may be, may God deliver us from our anxieties and, in turn, give us new life. Amen. (2)
Clifford Seth Ely, Jr.
February 24, 1924 – October 18, 2013
There’s nothing like a good hot dog on a Sunday evening.
(1.) Gordon J. De La Vars, “Standing Outside – Invited In” Preaching Through the Year of Luke: Sermons That Work IX (Harrisburg: Morehouse, 2000), 80.
(2.) Adapted from Dr. Joseph D. Thompson “Flourish in Faith: Proper 25” Stewardship Narrative Series (The Episcopal Stewardship Network, 2013).
Image: Hermanoleon Clipart
The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook October 10, 2013Posted by Sharon Ely Pearson in Adult Formation, Books Worth Reading, Children's Ministries, Curriculum, Resources, Teacher Training.
Tags: Christian Educator, Christian formation, Church School, Episcopal Christian Educator, Episcopal Church, job descriptions, Sunday School, volunteer ministry, youth ministry
It’s been years in the making as I’ve been culling through file folders full of handouts, worksheets, lists, and post-it notes. Coming early November, my latest book, “The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook” should be arriving in Cokesbury’s warehouse and hopefully in Amazon’s stockpile (but one never knows with Amazon).
It was fun to assemble and quite a challenge to determine what to include and what to leave out. Trying to make it ‘light’ but informative and useful, as well as categorized in a way that would make sense to a volunteer Christian educator, I had to lay out the page titles on my dining room table before submitting my final draft for publication.
A taste of some of the entries:
- What is Christian Formation?
- Safe Church Practices
- The Three-Legged Stool of Evaluation
- How to Choose the Right Virgin Mary
- Tourist, Missionary, or Pilgrim?
- Coveting Dedicated Space
- How to Be Best Friends with the Altar Guild
- When Snakes Show Up
- How to Get Paint Out of an Easter Dress
- The Budget
- Famous Episcopal Christian Educators
- What To Do When the Bishop Shows Up
- Stress? What Stress?
I’m grateful to all the places (and people) I have ministered in (and with) these past many years that gave me fodder for the creation (and sharing) of so many of the stories and ideas that contributed to this book: countless congregations throughout the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut (specifically those where I have served in a variety of capacities: Grace Episcopal Church in Norwalk, Christ & Holy Trinity in Westport, Trinity Episcopal Church in Southport, and my home parish – St. Matthew’s in Wilton); churches from numerous denominations where I’ve led workshops in countless states across the country; my Forma colleagues; and the hundreds of children, youth, and adults that I’ve had the privilege of serving with.
And thank you to the many colleagues who graciously offered their endorsements for the book. I am honored and humbled by their reviews:
When Episcopal educators have a question or need a resource, the person we turn to is Sharon Ely Pearson. Fortunately for us, Sharon has compiled answers to her most frequently asked questions in this informative, readable and even humorous gem of a book. Whether we are brand-new to this work or have years of experience under our belts, The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook is for us. Just reading the Table of Contents is worth the price. It’s everything we need to know, right at our fingertips. Barbara Tensen Ross, Missioner for Lifelong Christian Formation, The Episcopal Diocese of Oregon
Theological and practical, biblical and humorous, The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook is a treasure trove of wisdom, information, and guidance garnered from Sharon Pearson’s vast experience as a highly regarded leader in this field and geared to the specific context of the Episcopal Church. The well-organized volume covers everything from a discussion of the nature of Christian Formation, to tips about where to put the First Aid Kit, to how to maintain sanity in this vocation. This is a comprehensive, accessible, delightful resource that novice and experienced educators alike will want to have on their bookshelves. What a gift! The Rev. Canon Patricia S. Mitchell, Canon for Christian Formation, The Episcopal Diocese of New York
The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook is a nice, concise collection of information suitable for those new to the ministry of Christian education and formation. The mostly one-page entries helpfully explain “the basics” of Christian education in the Episcopal Church in a readable, light format. This book is particularly suitable for volunteer teachers, DCEs, youth directors, clergy and vestry members responsible for Christian education in their parishes. Cindy Coe, Formation Consultant, Episcopal Relief & Development
The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook is a compilation of information and examples, grounded in theology and history. It’s your perfect how-to book for children’s and youth ministry and would be relevant for both clergy and lay leaders. It’s a book that you can hand to those setting up new ministries, or you can hand it to seasoned veterans, who wish to learn new concepts or find needed validation in those things they may already know. As a professional consultant to parishes for children and youth ministry, I read many books on this subject, but what sets this book apart is that it provides a sound foundation for Christian formation, from job descriptions to sample teacher’s meetings, from ways we understand curriculum theologically to how and why we welcome children into church. This book gives the basics backed by the theory and theology. What a great resource! Genevieve Callard, Assistant to the Bishop for Children, Youth, and Young Adult Ministries, The Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan
The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook is a delightfully entertaining collection of practical information, truly “everything you ever need to know.” Sharon Ely Pearson has created a well-written and thoughtfully organized guide to the job and the ministry of the Christian Educator. Lisa Puccio, Minister for Children and Families, Christ Church Cathedral, Houston, Texas and Vice-President of Forma
This book is a true gift to Christian educators! It is a “must have” on the bookshelf and one that should be given to any person who accepts such a position. I wish this had been available years ago when I first took a church position. I would have kept it with me at all times! I look forward to sharing this gift with those in my diocese. Kathy Graham, Coordinator of Lifelong Christian Formation, The Episcopal Diocese of Alabama and Forma Board member
Wonderful, Extraordinary, Honest…these are only three words that describe The Handbook for Christian Educators. Pearson is recognized as one of the top experts in the education/formation field and this book is evidence why. In The Christian Educator’s Handbook she provides a range of information from; age- old practical advice, the depth of understanding Lifelong Faith Formation in the 21st Century and the congregation’s role. She includes contemporary issues such as how to handle new challenges such as bullying. For experienced educators it reminds us of the basics we have forgotten. For the new educator it will give you the confidence you will need to excel. This is a must have for all clergy and every seminary student would be wise to read it before their first assignment. Ruth-Ann Collins, Officer, Lifelong Christian Formation, The Episcopal Church
Weather Forecasting August 18, 2013Posted by Sharon Ely Pearson in Sermon.
Tags: al roker, Circus Maximus, Coptic Christians, discipleship, Epistle to the Hebrews, Jesus, lectionary, Luke, pharisees and sadducees, red sky at night, red sky in the morning
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Hebrews 11:29-12:2 and Luke 12:49-56
Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.
As a child I remember that saying from my mother and grandmother, whether it was an accurate weather prediction or not. Today we can get up-to-the-minute weather forecasts 24-hours a day, with Doppler radar down to the most local detail. But we know that the Weather Channel is not always accurate. Winds shift, fronts stall, and global warming has thrown all the averages out the window. Al Roker is not infallible. While he may tell us if it will partly sunny or partly cloudy in the five-day forecast, he can’t interpret the effect it will have on our plans or what we will do tomorrow.
Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.
Did you know that this saying has its roots in the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus is tested by the Pharisees and Sadducees to show them a sign from heaven? His answer to them was, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; “and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’” But then he goes on to say, “Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times.” (Matthew16:1-4)
Today’s Gospel comes with a weather forecast, too. This time Jesus is speaking to his disciples and the crowds that are following him. He said to them, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” (Luke 12:54-56)
Both of these Gospels are harsh. And they give us the flip side of Jesus’ proclamation and mission. We’re used to hearing Jesus talk about love of neighbor, peace, and the Kingdom of God. We are reminded that these things come with a price – the coming of God’s new world will bring division and conflict. Jesus comes “to bring fire to the earth” (Luke 12:49).
In biblical usage fire represents the Divine action in the world, often in terms of purifying judgment. In the Old Testament, God is often described as a “devouring fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24) and if we were to read a few verses further in today’s reading from Hebrews, we would hear God described as a “consuming fire.”
Jesus’ words of peace, his longing for the reign of God on earth could not erase the reality. I couldn’t help but think of the people of Egypt when I was preparing this sermon. The images of fire, images of death and destruction fill the news reports. The Coptic Christians are some of the groups under siege, watching their churches burn to the ground.
In Jesus’ day he could read the signs as easily as he could see the thunderstorms in the sky. He and his followers would soon taste of death. The path Jesus has set before us is not easy.
Carol Howard Merritt writes,
These words remind us that Jesus keeps us in the tension of longing and looking. On one hand, we yearn for peace, we hunger for the reign of God, we thirst for what is to come, but our prophetic vision cannot blind us to the reality that surrounds us. Our dreams do not lull us to slumber, but they keep us watching, waiting, and working. We look up at the sky, and we must be able to read the signs of the times. For Jesus, that meant realizing that the sword would be coming.
For the recipients of the Letter to the Hebrews all of this makes sense. They were second-generation Hellenistic Jewish believers. The date it was written is late enough for the readers to have experienced severe trials and tribulations, probably after the fire that destroyed about half of Rome in 64 CE in which the psychopathic emperor Nero deflected criticism by blaming the Christians. The author describes how the believers experienced the confiscation of their property, imprisonment, public insults, persecutions, the discontinuation of their meetings (presumably out of fear of the authorities), and a “great contest in the face of suffering.” The context was one in which believers faced significant opposition for following the divisive Jesus.
Sounds like the streets of Egypt today.
Imprisonment and government confiscation of property corroded community morale. Some people stopped meeting together. These beleaguered believers were tempted to “shrink back,” to deny the faith, and to “throw away” their confidence. The author thus encouraged them to “draw near,” and to persevere in “full assurance of faith” and “unswerving hope.” In particular, he exhorted them to imitate the faith of the saints who had gone before them.
A Christian who had lost house and home, endured public ridicule, or saw a loved one mauled to death in the Circus Maximus might ask many hard questions about God’s promises of love and hope. And we ask those same questions today when we see the violence on our streets and in our world.
The Psalmist recognizes this despair: “O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.” (Psalm 80:4-5)
How long, O Lord?
But don’t despair. The Letter to the Hebrews brings encouragement also. We have the inspiration of past generations to show us how to be faithful disciples. We hear listed countless men and women from scripture who performed mighty deeds through faith. We “are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” so that we can persevere in the race that is set before us.
In today’s world, and maybe even in our own lives, we are divided from our sisters and brothers, by disagreement, violence and hatred. But we can carry that torch, that burning flame as red as the sun, that is the brightness of God living on in each of us. We can attempt to mend the divisions in our families, communities, and pray for peace in the world. We can be ready for whatever stormy or sunny weather comes tomorrow. It won’t be easy. For by virtue of our baptism, we know that discipleship comes with a cost.
Don’t depend on the weather forecast.
Read the signs. Set your heart and mind on Christ.
Sermon preached at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Wilton, Connecticut on August 18, 2013.
- “Jesus’ Fire And Baptism” by Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM (santuariodesanantonio.wordpress.com)
- 20 Sunday Homily -c (frjayareddy.wordpress.com)
- August 18th 2013 – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (catholicjules.net)
A Day in the E.R. July 29, 2013Posted by Sharon Ely Pearson in Thoughts & Ramblings.
Tags: Assisted living, Emergency department, ministry, Norwalk Hospital, Nursing home, pastoral care
It began like most Mondays . . . thinking about the projects that awaited me at my desk, posting my weekly lectionary reflection on my Prayer Book Guide to Christian Education page, triaging what the rest of the week’s work would look like. But then, triage became a reality.
As many of you know, I’ve spent my fair share in Norwalk Hospital‘s Emergency Room over the past 3+ years. My mom, Trinette, has now been in a nursing home for 2 years with late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. So, I get regularly called to rendezvous with her at the E.R. when she has a fall. My dad, Cliff, now 89+, has been in an assisted living facility for 1.5+ years. And he’s had his moments, too. One day this past January I had the “honor” of having them both in the E.R. at the same time. So today began with a call from a nurse where he lives to tell me he fell during the night and was experiencing some pain. Another Monday at the E.R.
I’m ready for these spur of the moments calls now. I know I need to throw my phone chargers in my purse. Grab a book (aka Kindle), my laptop so I can work if possible, a bottle of water, and whatever snack I happen to have on hand. It might be a long day. And today, it was. Left the car at the valet parking at 9:00am. Got back in around 4:30pm.
Dad is fine. Of course, it took all day to figure that out. Since he wasn’t in need of any monitoring, we were delegated to one of the hallways as the 25+ E.R. bays were full on a Monday morning – plus the whole day as individuals came and went. Dad dozed in and out as I spoke to doctors, nurses. technicians, and even the Brookdale staff who came to check on him. By 5:15pm, he was back home.
What struck me most all day was the incredible ministry exhibited by all those who spend their days working in an Emergency Room of a city hospital. “Hanging out” at the intersection of the entrance hall, treatment bays, and hall toward all the x-ray, CT-scan, & other departments for almost eight hours, I developed an awe and appreciation for the nurses, doctors, technicians, housekeeping, social workers, patience advocates, security guards, and ambulance EMTs who passed me continually.
From where I was “stationed,” I probably saw and heard more than I should have. Privacy is tough in such a location, despite curtains and hushed voices. You hear the moans, cries for help, and questions being asked to those who are hard-of-hearing or unresponsive.
Every attending caregiver showed the same concern for all patients who were brought in: on their own volition or via ambulance. There was the elderly woman in the bay right across from us; she appeared to have been in a car accident. Turns out she had fallen out of bed at her nursing home . . . broken nose, stitches to her face, and then taken to surgery when it was discovered she had cranial bleeding. Another elderly woman, brought in from the same facility where my mom lives – a fall. A guy picked up on West Main Street totally intoxicated. An 18-year-old who would be attending the Julliard Conservatory in the fall – a composer and pianist, whose mom hovered over him. A man with chest pains. A woman with difficulty breathing, confused and combative, while her daughter stood by in denial. All received the same calm, sincere, and concerned care.
Our nurse took a 45-minute break at about 2:00pm. She was there when we arrived. She was there when we left.
And then there was the 40-something bronzed-body 40-something guy who appeared with a bunch of EMTs, two kids in tow. I heard the call come in; A 911 call from a child at a rest-stop on I-95. He had been having seizures since New Jersey, stopping along the way to get gas. His daughter had taken his cell phone to call for help (plus him running into the gas pumps at the rest stop) which brought the EMTs to their aid. They were headed to New Hampshire. Volunteers stepped in to whisk the 9-year-old twins away for some food – they had’t eaten all day. Trying to figure out who the man was – he was incoherent, although he said he had not been drinking or drugging. As the afternoon progressed, he became more alert and began to wander, unhooking all the wires connecting him to heart, blood and oxygen monitors. His language was vulgar, he looked suspect. But all attending staff quickly jumped to bring him back and settle him down. The volunteer with the children brought them by every now and then, trying to distract them as they were obviously worried and confused. Someone went to the gift shop to purchase them something to do. There was talk of ordering them a pizza. And all the while, tapping into his cell phone to try to find another family member. No police. ”Just” E.R. staff trying to care for a “Mr. Doe” and his two children.
Suddenly, our test results came back. All was well – just a follow-up visit to the doctor later this week was needed. Almost 8 hours later, we got the release papers and were sent on our way.
While this particular incident in my (and my dad’s) life has passed, I am left wondering what is still going on in the E.R. this evening. Pagers going off. Gurneys coming and going. Another shift of nurses and doctors. Ambulances at the ready. Life. And perhaps some death.
How is the woman who was quickly brought into surgery this morning? Has the woman who kept pulling off her oxygen mask settled down in her room “upstairs”? Did the prodigy get the proper meds? And what about the children? Are they cared for tonight; has another family member been found?
And gratitude. For those who do what so many of us cannot.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen. (Compline, Book of Common Prayer, p. 134)
Anxious Hospitality July 21, 2013Posted by Sharon Ely Pearson in Sermon, Uncategorized.
Tags: Abraham, anxiety, Dalai Lama, hospitality, Jesus, Luke, Martha
2 comments Pentecost 13 – Proper 11, Year C Genesis 18:1-10 & Luke 10:38-42
There are nights when I am unable to sleep because I’m stressing over a project that has been consuming me. There are times when I wake up, thinking about all that I need to accomplish during the day. And there are my days off in which I’ve spent food shopping, cooking, cleaning, and setting the table to prepare for a special dinner. In all cases, I’m a bundle of nervous energy – and no one better get in my way. It’s about getting things right – my own sense and drive for perfection. My doing something – usually for someone else.
We hear this restlessness and hurriedness in several of our readings today. All centered around acts of hospitality.
Three strangers suddenly appear at the tents of Abraham. Abraham hastens inside to Sarah and tells her to quickly make some cakes. He runs to his herd, chooses a calf and tells his servant to prepare it. He gathers all of this and brings it before his guests, standing under the tree with them as they, presumably seated, eat the feast he has set before them.
In today’s Gospel reading, an occasion of hospitality sets the context. After Jesus’ exchange with the lawyer last week about “who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-37), he and his disciples continue on their way to a village, where Jesus is welcomed into the home of a familiar family: the sisters Mary & Martha (with Lazarus apparently out of town at the time).
While we don’t actually know what Martha was doing, we can imagine her in and out of the kitchen. Making sure the meal was being properly prepared, bringing drinks to her guests, hanging up their cloaks in the closet.
We could say that both Abraham and Martha were being the perfect host, tending to every whim and need of their guest. Running to and fro, making sure all was perfectly prepared so as to make their guest comfortable, welcome, and satisfied.
The responses to these acts of hospitality receive different responses in each story though. We hear Sarah’s laughter at the comments of the three strangers. Is it really laughter of unbelieving or laughter of the nervous kind? Who are these guys? What do they really want? Have I prepared things well enough?
Martha shows a different kind of nervousness – one of frustration and anxiety. Why doesn’t she get any help from Mary? Aren’t women supposed to be in the kitchen and not listening to a teacher? What will the neighbors say? While Sarah laughs, Martha gets angry.
Both are showing what we might call “anxiety” today. And we do live in anxious times. Bankruptcy in Detroit. Continued unrest in the Middle East. Violence in our neighborhoods. Being wary of the stranger who is our neighbor.
Suzanne Guthrie writes a lot about anxiety:
Anxiety, like the common cold, is catching. One person’s anxiety at work or at home, infects the esprit de corps like a rampant infection. An unnamed anxiety can attach itself to a perfectly solvable problem and spread from an individual’s phantasms to the coffee pot in the course of a morning.
I inherited anxiety biologically. When I gratefully consume my daily dusting of medication for depression and anxiety I often think with regret that my father struggled without meds, pacing and pacing around the house in worn paths of worry over things beyond his control. I have to watch my anxiety, feeding on me and offered by me – the bread of anxiety. (I must say, to my credit, that many disasters have been averted by my detailed, all-consuming hard work of worry. If you worry hard enough, the disaster won’t happen. That’s what it feels like, anyway.)
How many of us can related to either Abraham’s, Sarah’s, Martha’s or Suzanne’s anxiety? Where do we find God in the midst of it all? I think that’s what Jesus is really trying to tell us.
Jesus’ answer cuts to the core about anxiety: “Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. Mary has chosen the better part.” Wait a minute – isn’t hospitality a core value of Jesus’? Welcoming the stranger? Embracing the outcast?
Suzanne also writes,
The rebuke was not because Martha served instead of listened. Jesus himself came as one who serves. The rebuke was for anxiety and distraction sabotaging Martha’s own desire to offer hospitality. Jesus, too, offered hospitality. Mary accepted it. She offered the hospitality of her heart to the Word made flesh.
Who doesn’t get distracted and anxious? Doing too much good in too many directions is one way of thwarting your own desire to offer hospitality. Rather, seek the one thing. Even then, it may be necessary to re-evaluate your energies and sense of hospitality.
What is that one thing? Some people believe this story places the importance of the contemplative life over the active life, but I don’t believe that’s true. We need both action and contemplation, and God calls people to both. Indeed, many activists are deeply contemplative, while many solitaries are fully engaged with the world.
Jesus is calling us away from distracting. To put our focus on what matters most – God and each other.
In our age of Total Information Overload, it’s “no small struggle” to move from the experience of Martha, distracted, agitated, and anxious, to Mary’s quiet, centered interiority. Dag Hammarskjold famously observed that the longest journey is the journey inward. That’s how and where we experience the love of God.
Many of us have shared how St. Matthew’s is like a family of welcome and hospitality. How do we embrace this in the busy-ness of our lives to simply come and be present in worship – to turn off the cell phone, sit in silence before worship and save the chatting until coffee hour?
Here at St. Matthew’s we have been evaluating and re-visioning what it means to be hospitable to the “stranger” among us; to slow down and embrace God in our midst. Did you know that almost every Sunday we have visitors among us? Our newcomers’ committee has been working to re-imagine ways to make sure we are paying attention to how we invite and include those who have recently come to our community. How we engage in providing a space away from the busy-ness of life as well as a place where we are comfortable talking about our spiritual journey. What happens after that first handshake? What happens during coffee hour? Do we tend to converse with our friends? Are we running around taking care of church business? Or are we seeking out someone we might not know – seeking that one thing which might be the hospitality of our heart and our presence?
I’d like to leave you with a few quotes to help us set aside our anxiety:
The Dalai Lama has said,
This we can all bear witness to, living as we do plagued by unremitting anxiety. It becomes more and more imperative that the life of the spirit be avowed as the only firm basis upon which to establish happiness and peace.
To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is itself to succumb to the violence of our times.
There is a verse from the book of Ezekiel quoted in Night Prayer, a service in the New Zealand Prayer Book that is one of my favorites:
It is but lost labor that we haste to rise up early and so late take rest, and eat the bread of anxiety. For those beloved of God are given gifts even while they sleep.
Jesus invites us to be hospitable. A hospitality void of anxiety and full of awareness. He invites us to be aware of our surroundings, to look around, breathe the air, gain some peripheral vision. For there are strangers and visitors among us, and we’ll miss them if we aren’t careful.
A sermon preached at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wilton, Connecticut on July 21, 2013.
Don’t Be Afraid June 26, 2013Posted by Sharon Ely Pearson in Jesus, Sermon.
Tags: demons, Fear, Gerasene, Jesus, Power of Myth, Shane Claiborne
1 comment so far Pentecost 5, Proper 7 – Year C Galatians 3:23-29 and Luke 8:26-39
Two weeks ago I was in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina at an Episcopal Conference Center called Kanuga. It’s a beautiful location where cell phones don’t get a signal and housing includes staying in little cabins scattered in the woods. One morning I woke up and stumbled into the bathroom to discover a humongous long-legged creature in the sink. There was no way I was going to wash up there. I quickly turned on the faucet full blast, walked backward, and closed the door. And waited. And waited.
What are you afraid of? I’m afraid of spiders. I’m afraid of large insects of which I cannot identify. And the creature that I could not identify, paralyzed me. But I had to overcome it if I was to hop into the shower before breakfast and be prepared for my presentation that morning. I had to face what lurked in the sink on the other side of the door. When I opened to door and looked into the sink, I saw that I had washed it down the drain – partly – because its legs were still squirming to get out. I jammed the stopper down, quickly hopped in the shower, grabbed a towel, then ran back to my room across the hall.
That’s a pretty minor fear compared to all that can possess our psyche and cripple us in the world today. Look at the headlines of our newspapers, we turn on CNN and see the constant stream of late-breaking news across the bottom of the screen, we hear that that the food we are eating is contaminated due to genetic growing practices. Fear can lead to madness. Madness in the sense that we can be so occupied with a world out of control that we are afraid to let our children play in the yard, afraid to get on an airplane, afraid to acknowledge the homeless person with his hand outstretched outside Grand Central Station.
Fear is an emotion induced by a perceived threat, which causes entities to quickly pull far away from it and usually hide. It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger. In short, fear is the ability to recognize danger leading to an urge to confront it or flee from it, also known as the fight-or-flight response.
Fear can lead to isolation and alienation. Fear can keep us from being in contact with the stranger among us because it is unknown. And fear can separate us from God.
Reading between the lines, today’s Gospel begins with fear and ends with fear. If we had heard the five verses from Luke that precedes today’s reading, we would have heard the story of Jesus calming the sea. Jesus and his apostles were in a boat crossing to the other side of the lake. While Jesus slept, a windstorm swept down the lake, filling the boat with water, and frightening all onboard, fearing they were about to perish. With a word or two, Jesus rebuked the wind and raging waves, and there was calm. His followers were afraid and amazed.
That brings us to today’s scene. They are crossing this sea (now that things have calmed down) to the land of the Gerasenes. Now the land of the Gerasenes is the land of the Gentiles, and no self-respecting Jewish rabbi would be taking his band of followers there. Not only is Jesus crossing a wide swath of water, he is crossing boundaries.
When he gets there, he’s confronted immediately with a man who is possessed. He’s more than possessed – he’s occupied. By calling himself “Legion,” he is acknowledging that he isn’t possessed with just one evil spirit but by dozens, hundreds, and thousands of them. Luke knew his readers would know that a “legion” was a Roman army of 6,000 soldiers. So this man definitely has some issues. He is a tragic figure that we can picture in our minds – he’s alone, he’s wandering around the tombs (think horror movies), and is clearly frightening anyone who might come near. And Jesus heals him.
This story is also found in the gospels of Matthew and Mark. But they don’t focus on the healing – they focused on the fear. They fear Jesus! While they had demonized this possessed man and marginalized him, they feared Jesus because they did not understand why he would bother with this derelict man who was worth nothing to them. It was much easier for them to demonize the man who was possessed than it was to accept him as being made whole. Perhaps they recognized that this man was more like themselves than they realized. Perhaps they recognized the evil that had been within him as parts of themselves.
All of us have demons within us. While they might not be outward anti-social behaviors, we could easily say that our name is “Legion” because of the mixture of genetics, geography, family of origin, and personal choices that comprises us as individuals. Our demons are possessiveness, hoarding toys, extreme individualism, self-centerdness, racial prejudice, homophobia, sexism, and elitism. And when we allow ourselves to be possessed by things that separate us from God, we allow fear to overcome our outlook toward others. Joseph Cambell, the author of The Power of Myth, has said, “Our demons are our own limitations, which shut us off from the realization of the omnipresence of the spirit.”
Robert Hendrickson will soon have a book published called Yearning: Authenticity, Young Adults and the Church. It is about the ministry of St. Hilda’s House in New Haven, part of the Episcopal Church’s Young Adult Service Corps. Every year a dozen or so college age students live with one another in community to serve. He writes:
Urban ministry is often a ministry of facing fear. Fear of the different and what seems potentially dangerous drive our culture’s response to challenging neighborhoods. We look for ways to isolate ourselves behind walls, to build a police/incarceration complex that will protect us, or to create a safety net rather than to challenge deeper systems of injustice.
The wonderful thing about fear is that it can become the fuel of love. When we conquer our fears, when God gives us the strength to go forward when we cannot do it alone, we know that we are not alone. We come to realize that grace abounds. Fear is a luxury that we cannot afford. There is too much need around us for us to spend extensive time nurturing it. Fear is a sign of a deeper ego-driven desire for self-preservation versus self-offering on behalf of the people of God. Fear is one of the many things we need to be able to offer up to God so that he can transform it and us.
Fear cannot drive the Christian response to the other. We cannot be content to say “there but by the grace of God go I. Every time we act with love, it involves risk, vulnerability. Sometimes we risk our lives. More often we risk what we think is our dignity, our authority, our pride, our sense of how things should be. Being drawn into relationship is always something that is a bit frightening, often disorienting, fraught with a heady mix of terror and joy.
Our reading from Galatians today names the deep divisions of Paul’s society – between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female – and names the truth, that in Christ these divisions are to be overcome. At every baptism, and when confirmation was held hear just a month ago, we made many promises, among them to resist Satan and the spiritual forces of wickedness in whatever ways they present themselves to us and in us. By our baptism we have renounced evil and promised to turn away from sin. We have been clothed in Christ so that we are not to be imprisoned by the sins that might possess us.
Suzanne Guthrie, a priest from Brewster, New York writes at The Edge of Enclosure, “Just as Jesus went to the Gerasene, his followers today are called to step out of the boat on the “opposite” side. The mission of Jesus’ followers is to take the healing and liberating love of God to broken and desolate regions, to those whose lives are bound by demonic forces they cannot control.”
While I left that creature to swim down the drain of my cabin sink that morning in Kanuga, I spent some time with Shane Claiborne, a young man who works with the homeless in Philadelphia with a new monastic community called “The Simple Way.” One of the many profound statements he said continues to resonant with me, quoting Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. Marianne Williamson, Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”
In Christ we are empowered to name the truth – whether it is called “Legion” or “fear,” and confront the demons that get in our way of being one with Christ. As we follow Jesus, as we participate in his ministry of healing and reconciliation in the world, we will find that we are all saved – not just those who are poor and outcast.
Do not be afraid.
Sermon preached at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Wilton, CT on June 23, 2013.
Will Your Kids Stay Religious? June 20, 2013Posted by Sharon Ely Pearson in Parenting, The Church.
Tags: children, faith, parenting, Spiritual but not religious
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If a child is securely attached to non-religious parents there is a greater likelihood that child will not be religious as an adult. If a child is insecurely attached to religious parents there is a greater likelihood that child will not be religious as an adult there is also a fair number in this group who fall into the “spiritual but not religious category. Mostly because their attachment issues make them suspicious of what researchers call, “social religion” [i.e., organized religion].
BUT…If child is insecurely attached to non-religious parents there is a greater likelihood that child will grow up to be “spiritual but not religious.” for the same reasons as above.Finally, children who are securely attached to highly religious parents are the most religiously attached of all groups as adults.
Read more at Will Your Kids Stay Catholic? UPDATED.
Dear Parents with Young Children in Church May 25, 2013Posted by Sharon Ely Pearson in Children's Ministries, Parenting.
Tags: children's ministries, Christian education, Christian formation, parenting
1 comment so far
Many of my posts here discuss and reflect upon the importance of having children present in the worshipping community. And how it’s important to welcome them as any other member of the Body of Christ. And how parents are the primary “passers on of faith.” And how parents NEED to attend worship with them in order to model what it means to be a participating member of a congregation.
So “I am totally that mom” tells it like it is: Read her post: I am totally that mom.: Dear Parents with Young Children in Church.