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Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday

No doubt you’ve heard, or will hear in your lifetime many variations on the “You need to come down from the mountain” sermon on Transfiguration Sunday. They often interpret Peter’s suggestion that he build a tent as a metaphor for those wanting to stay comfy in their spiritual life without changing their actions – to hang on to the mountaintop moment. And I don’t want to dismiss those sermons out of hand, faith without works is indeed dead, and so the message that we need to live out our faith is important. But that’s not the sermon I’m going to give tonight.
Because on some level I don’t believe that sermon is really appropriate to this day’s texts. I’m going to offer a different interpretation of what Peter said, and then focus on God’s response to that. Our text says that Peter didn’t know what he was saying, for he was terrified; hardly a moment of spiritual complacency. In fact I’d suggest that Peter is all too quick to take action.
We live in a culture of action, of drive, ambition, impatience, moving on with things, short attention span, your team is only as good as their last game, what have you done for me lately? What’s really going on? I don’t know, let’s build a tent.
And how does God respond to Peter? God came in a cloud and spoke. Shhh, calm down, listen to my beloved. Jesus was Peter and John and James’ beloved too. They gave up everything for him. Yet, how often do we rush ahead to respond to the people we love instead of actually listening?
How often do we even have mountaintop moments? How often do we actually seek them? Do we take time in our busy schedules for going off and praying as Jesus himself often did? We can’t make the mountaintop moments happen, but we can take time to climb the mountain.
Every Sunday is a feast of the resurrection. Every Sunday should be approached as a mountaintop moment. Why when people talk about praxis do they not often talk about the effort of climbing the mountain in the first place?
When we gather together, sit, stand, kneel – if we do, bow, cross ourselves, sing – whether we’re good at it or not, take, eat and drink the body and blood of our Lord. We are climbing the mountain. Maybe we are not in a headspace to have a mountaintop moment. They actually aren’t all that common – even for the apostles. But if we approach our worship knowing that in the bread and wine that transfigured glory is present, or even that when two or more are gathered that glory is present, we are opening ourselves up to those moments.
And oh what glory it is. Christ truly has the power to transform. Christ can change the direction of your whole life. Turn you in the direction of being who you really are, who God sees you to be. In the direction of the you that God holds beloved.
And should we have a mountaintop moment, how easy is it for the cares of the day to wipe that moment from our consciousness. Even if the cares of the day are the result of the praxis – the living out the implications of that moment?
And how often or how long do we contemplate the implications? I do not believe that sitting still and listening is spiritual complacency. If you’re truly listening, it’s anything but complacency. What Jesus says is wonderful, compassionate, loving – but really really hard. In co-operation with God, you can be transformed. Not by simply saying, ok, I see what you’re on about, I’ll take it from here. You can not be fully you without God.
This is the last Sunday before Lent. Lent is meant to be a time of slowing down, of reflection, of fasting – getting out of our normal routine for 40 days. As a penitential season, it’s often thought of as grave, serious, dark. But what if we see that darkness as the cloud of God enveloping us; as God quieting us to tell us about God’s beloved? And telling us who we are and can be.
And this darkness was on the mountain. It is part and parcel of the mountaintop moment. Peter, John and James saw something amazing, but they also heard something amazing – heard it in the cloud, in the darkness. And Jesus told them not to say anything right away. Listen, contemplate, be with this.
The other side of the “faith without works is dead” coin, is that all the works in the world if they have no love are nothing more than a bunch of noise. Cultivating that love is the work of contemplation, or reflection. The question before us is often, what’s the right thing to do. How often do we ask what is the loving thing to do? What can we do with God that we can’t do on our own?
Remember in the flight from Egypt God led the Israelites to freedom both as a column of bright fire and dark smoke. Both light and darkness have love in them. So as we travel this Lenten season together, let’s listen for the love that’s in the darkness, let’s be in the calming darkness of God’s cloud. Let’s listen to God’s beloved together.

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Size Simply Cannot Matter

Size Simply Cannot Matter by Presiding Bishop Craig Bergland

originally published on The Buddhist Christian

In December of last year I celebrated the fifteenth anniversary of my ordination and August of last year marked the eleventh anniversary of The Universal Anglican Church, the denomination I helped found and have had the privilege of serving as Presiding Bishop since its inception. We all had grand visions in those earliest days, visions that were rooted not in the work we had to do but rather in cultural evaluations of success that were in retrospect completely inappropriate. You see, if you want to change the world, if you want to make the world a better place, then you cannot realistically expect enormous popularity, because what you seek to do is to overturn the status quo and that will upset more than a few people. If you want to change the world you simply cannot expect the people who profit from the world as it is to stand and give you a round of applause.

How different is that from what we’ve been trained to expect? How many of us have bought into the notion that if you do the right thing the world, by which I mean not a simplistic and dualistic assessment of good and evil but rather the people who profit from the status quo, will stand and applaud? Jesus himself, in what is probably the least popular of the Beatitudes, famously said “Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me. Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you.” Yet for some reason we expect throngs of people to come are running in joyful appreciation and support of our counter cultural work. An honest assessment will reveal that has never been the case. In fact, you might say that if you are broadly appreciated and you believe you are bringing reform then you should face the truth that the reform you believe you are bringing is nothing more than the status quo in repackaged form.

We all need to consider the reality that the more powerful a movement is, the smaller will be its beginning. The voices that have said there is something wrong with the system have always faced resistance, have always been marginalized, and have always faced those who would silence the message. That does not make the message any less valuable or necessary. The truth is that we live in political and economic times that believe human beings are expendable commodities. When we tell those in power that that is simply not the case, we should not expect rounds of applause and warm hugs. In fact, we might come to see resistance to our message by those in power as a sign that we are on the right track. Those who are invested in the consumer capitalist system will never be able to see that all human beings matter, because the consumer capitalist system sees human beings as little more than revenue sources. If you happen to be a human being who doesn’t represent a revenue source, then you are little more than disposable refuse. Those of us who stand and say otherwise will always be seen by the consumer Capitalist system as a problem to be eliminated. Those who are unable to be a revenue source and those who say they have value are a problem to the system.

One of the problems with many of those who work for social justice today is that they seek fame and glory. They imagine themselves to be current day incarnations of the great heroes of justice, but they are unwilling to pay the price that nearly every prophet has had to pay. They want to be famous but not be objects of scorn, they want to be well known prophetic voices but not have anyone attempt to silence them, they want to make the ultimate change without paying the ultimate price. These are false prophets, and they often seek not authentic change but rather to have their egos fed and their pockets filled. I want no part of them, and neither do the people with whom I am privileged to serve.

An obsession with size, no matter the context, is always an occasion for the celebration of ego. The truth is, there is no place for ego in authentic spirituality because the goal of authentic spirituality is to destroy the ego. Regardless of our tradition, we must seek to listen to the voice of the Spirit that fuels the fire within us. And when we hear that voice, we will follow it because we will recognize that there is nothing else we can do. If we believe we have a choice, then the voice we follow is not that of Spirit but rather that of ego. If we think that what we have heard will make us famous, then the voice we follow is not that of Spirit but rather that of ego. The best explanation that I have ever heard of being called to something is that when one is called there is no choice, there is nothing else we can do, but respond to that voice. When we respond to that voice with authenticity we find fulfillment, and when we find fulfillment nothing else matters. It will not matter how many people applaud what we do, it will not matter how large our organization grows, it will only matter that we are faithful to the work and it will only matter that we do our best.

There is in this a wonderful freedom, the freedom to be ourselves, the freedom to move towards that which we were put on this planet to be. Of course, skeptics will say that this is nothing but self-deception, that this is nothing but delusion, that none of this is real. I am afraid they say that because either they are invested in the status quo, or they haven’t taken the time to listen to that still, small voice within their own heart and soul and so they have not found their own purpose. They choose instead to criticize the purpose that others have found, and toward them I feel nothing but compassion. Perhaps one day they will find their purpose, but I cannot make their unwillingness to find their purpose an obstacle on my own path to fulfilling that purpose. Each of us has a slightly different path, and each of us must walk our own path.

My wish for you is that if you have not found your own path yet, you would continue listening until you find it, and when you do find it, my wish is that you recognize it and follow it. Do not let cultural definitions of success get in the way of following the work that you are called to do. The truth is that no matter how many cultural assessments of success we accumulate, if we aren’t following our heart’s true desire we won’t be happy. Happiness cannot be defined for us by someone on the outside who doesn’t understand our call. Whatever we are called to do happiness consists in doing it to the best of our ability. That thing we are called to do may or may not be a source of income. We may have to do something else to pay the bills and keep a roof over our head, following our call after working hours. That doesn’t make it a lesser call. In fact, there is a great freedom in knowing that our call and our happiness lie outside of working hours. Such knowledge constitutes a form of resistance to attempts by employers to control us. When we find our meaning outside of the workplace, we have a freedom that those who find it within the workplace cannot achieve. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with finding meaning in your employment, it means there isn’t anything wrong with finding it elsewhere. May you find yours and live fully into it.

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Sermons from an Inter-Spiritual Priest(ess): Becoming a Spiritual Warrior 2 – St. Brigid in the Desert Worship and Meditation Service – January 25, 2015

The conclusion of a two part series from The Rev. Suzy Jacobson Cherry!

Sermons from an Inter-Spiritual Priest(ess): Becoming a Spiritual Warrior 2 – St. Brigid in the Desert Worship and Meditation Service – January 25, 2015.

 

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Sermons from an Inter-Spiritual Priest(ess): Becoming Spiritual Warriors – St. Brigid in the Desert Worship & Meditation Service – January 18, 2015

The first of a two part series from The Rev. Suzy Jacobson Cherry!

Sermons from an Inter-Spiritual Priest(ess): Becoming Spiritual Warriors – St. Brigid in the Desert Worship & Meditation Service – January 18, 2015.

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On the Folly of Ownership: A sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – Year A

Paul regarded everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. But did he ever really have it in the first place? Do the tenant farmers in our parable really think they can own land by killing the vineyard owner’s son? Who really owns anything? Doesn’t everything ultimately come from God? And shouldn’t our whole life be an offering back to God what God gave us?

As I read tonight’s parable in preparation of this sermon, I started thinking, “Why does God always seem to be the 1% in these parables?” Of course, often we jump to the conclusion of who God is in these stories. But maybe many of these parables are not actually clear on who God is; we may just be used to the traditional interpretation.

However the Isaiah quote that begins this particular parable leaves no question about the identity of the landowner. God owns the vineyard and the tenant farmers are the Pharisees, Matthew lets us know that for sure. And the slaves were the prophets, and the Pharisees knew John was considered a prophet. John, Jesus’s cousin who had been murdered.

And Matthew’s Jesus is not kind at all to the Pharisees. Matthew gives us the greatest number of Jesus’ “woe to the Pharisees” sayings. Jesus lets them have it.

And that kind of gives us an out here. We can say, ah, this is a parable for the murderers of prophets and Jesus in the past; or if we interpret it in the present, a parable for the hypocritical religious leaders of today. And we know who they are – and they are never us.

And yet, initially, I found myself sympathetic to tenant framers in this story. I mean, tenant farmers even in the time of Jesus usually got a raw deal or were poorly treated. Certainly that was the case in the medieval feudal system. But these tenant farmers are murderers; can I still be sympathetic towards them? Well, kind of, I mean, I was thinking about just uprisings. Well yes, they can turn violent, but sometimes these things happen.

Who gets to decide who owns natural resources anyway? The person who builds a fence around it? And isn’t property usually acquired and defended through force and violence? Unless you’re a Native American, any land you might own in the US certainly was at one point. I mean who really owns land anyway?

And that’s the real question here. God is the landowner. God owns everything. The tenant farmers kill the son thinking they’ll get his inheritance, but the Father never dies. Everything will always belong to God. But God doesn’t own the way the tenant framers understand ownership. Nor for that matter the way the Pharisees understand it.

I was sympathetic to the tenant framers because I saw the landowner though their lens; a lens of greed and violence. That’s not the kind of landowner God is. God doesn’t put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants. God keeps sending messages through prophets and the Son, trying to get the tenant framers to repent, to change their mind.

Human landowners are the tenant farmers, under the illusion that they have wrested the vineyard from God. And that’s who our modern day 1% is. And they take and keep land and resources and maintain their power by violence. And like the Pharisees, they think (or claim anyway) that is justice.

None of us in this room are the 1% But let’s not get into the same “this isn’t a parable for me” mindset that is tempting when applying it to the Pharisees. Because in a world run by the tenant farmers and Pharisees, it’s easy to think of property the way that they do. And that way of thinking is on way of understanding the fall of humankind.

For those of you who were with us when we read Schmemon’s book on sacraments, you may remember this quote: (And please look past the non-inclusive language for the moment) “[T]he original sin of man is not primarily that he disobeyed God; the sin is that he ceased to be hungry for God and for God alone, ceased to see his whole life depending on the whole world as a sacrament of communion with God. The only real fall of man is his non-Eucharistic life in a non-Eucharistic world.”

And whether we see it or not, our lives do depend on the whole world as a sacrament of communion with God. And I mean this quite literally. We don’t live in isolation from the ecosystem. Human life on earth relies on a delicate balance that is quite frankly in jeopardy. We have not been good farmers. And if we don’t listen to the prophets that are warning us about this, who knows, after we destroy ourselves maybe the new tenants won’t even be human.

The early believers may not have had the theological language of the whole world as a sacrament of communion with God, but I suspect they had an understanding akin to that. That something is described as being “…of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possession, but everything they owned was held in common.”

We in the order have chosen to live in Christian community, in part, to speak to the current economic system which has no sense of this. It’s an economy focused myopically on the creation and accumulation of wealth for individualistic benefit. We seek an economy of mutuality and the sharing of personal wealth and talents for both the common good and personal development, an economy beyond individual ownership and beyond all economies: the economy of the Kingdom of God.

Now, I realize this commitment to a way of life that those in the order and the house of the order have chosen, is not the way of life everyone here has chosen. And frankly, even those of us who have committed to this must make compromises to the system. Because the system is run by the tenant farmers, and they do use force and violence and other means, which in ways are more insidious. And so I’m not calling for us to give up all our possessions, to not own anything in the human sense of the word. No, I’m taking about a frame of mind. I’m talking about seeing the sacred in what you have; seeing the gift that it all is; seeing that it is all from God.

And Paul speaks to us this evening bout our personal talents. If you stop and think about HOW we think about ownership, that illusion goes even deeper than what we normally think of as possessions. Our physical bodies, our nationality, our race, our religion, our pedigree, our profession, our passions, our reputation, our morality, none of these are a righteousness of our own. I’m not so sure I’d go so far as to call them rubbish, but I do not consider them as belonging to us.

I really do think that we are all special little snowflakes. In the sense that we each have our own “crystalline pattern,” but remembering we are all made of the same stuff and there is never just one snowflake. I really do think that God wants us to be us. But almost everything I’ve adapted from Paul’s list didn’t originally come from us, and each one of these things may be more significant to some of us than others. But certainly our physical bodies, our nationality, our race, our religion, our pedigree, our profession, our passions, our reputation and or our morality shaped us, and in some sense make us who we are. All of these things are sacraments of communion with God. I have faith that God can and has and will continue to desire us to be authentic. And God sent us servants and a Son to tell us this: God loves who we really are and wants us to love God back in return. Being trinity, God is love in relationship, and all that was created was through that love. All that we have and all that we are is from love.

Readings for this sermon:
Isaiah 5:1-7
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

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RHIMES

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Have a Beer for Jesus