June 2019 Sermons
June 30, 2019 The Rev. Bill Van Oss
Call stories in today’s Scripture Readings
In Second Kings we hear how Elisha was called to succeed Elijah as prophet. Elijah called him as Elisha was out plowing with twelve oxen. Only a very successful farmer had twelve oxen, but Elisha left that life behind when he heard God’s call through Elijah. To seal the deal, he slaughtered the oxen and gave a great feast for the people. There was no going back to his old life.
Today, we heard how Elijah’s mantle fell upon Elisha as Elijah was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire. And how Elisha now had the authority to lead the people, and the power to split the waters. It was a dramatic call story in today’s first reading.
And in the Gospel, Jesus calling disciples to follow him to Jerusalem. Some heard the call from within and said, “I’ll follow. I’ll follow you Jesus.” Some heard Jesus say, “follow me,” but whether the call was from within or without, Jesus is clear that following him will be challenging and not comfortable. And if they’re going to be followers, they must not look back. You’ve got to slaughter the oxen. Callings….
Callings… I’m going to invite you, today, to consider calling through the lens of prepositions. Six prepositions – those little, tiny, relational words: By, To, As, From, For and With. These six propositions can help us understand calling.
By: We are called by God. That is clear throughout the Scriptures and especially in Jesus. We are called to be his followers in many ways. Sometimes the call comes through conversations with others, sometime by trying new things, sometimes in a quiet moment of prayer, a still, small voice, we are called by God.
To: We are called to – to a new and deeper life. To meaning and purpose. To community. Galatians today makes it clear, once again, that we are called to love our neighbor as our self. To love is our highest calling. We are called to God.
As: We are called as – we are called as we are, in every stage of our lives. Some people think calling only applies to college students and ordained ministers, but children are called, and we are called in mid-life, sometimes asking: “Is this it? Am I on the right track? Should I stay with this or do something else?” Elders are called – wondering what life is about, in light of health concerns and not being able to do everything I once could. We are called, in our particular circumstances, in every stage of life, as we are.
From: We are called from. Today’s Gospel makes that clear. Called from the comfort of home, called from where we are, from comfortable patterns, from well-worn ideas. I know someone who had a job she very much enjoyed, but it was very demanding and took her away from home, a lot. She felt called to change jobs to have more time with her children. Called from… Retirement is the move from paid work to something else. Every “from” means there’s an ending. The end of a career, who am I now? The ending of a relationship, through divorce or death, called from that, one needs to forge a new identity in light at the ending. Called from…
For: Called for. Asking the question, what will I give my life for? Michael Hines recommends asking three questions:
- Is what I am doing a source of joy?
- Is it something that calls forth my gifts and talents?
- Is it of genuine service to others and to the wider world?
And finally, we are called With: with others. Jesus didn’t call one follower, a kind of protégé or successor. He called a community of followers who called others. We are never alone on our journey, but we always have fellow followers to help us discern our callings. We are called with…
Call stories in today’s scripture readings… As we consider our own callings, at whatever stage of life we are in, let us remember the propositions: We are called by God, to a new and deeper life, as we are, from where we are, for love and service, with others.
Jesus calls us….
June 23, 2019 The Rev. Bill Van Oss
A powerful story in today’s Gospel… Many different and intriguing aspects to it, not the least of which is that it is the first recorded report of Deviled Ham….
All kidding aside, this is a powerful story. It speaks of the power of compassion, and how compassion can change lives. Jesus and his disciples are in Gentile territory. They got there because their boat was caught in a big storm. Jesus steps out of the boat, in this foreign land, and he’s met by a man with demons. A man without clothes, homeless, unless you consider a graveyard a home. A man with no name: a nobody, shackled and chained because people are afraid of him. No voice except for the demons who speak through him, many demons, a legion.
Use your spiritual imagination… to imagine Jesus, a little bewildered after being tossed about in a storm, still without his “land legs,” on foreign soil, a place he’s never been before. He is approached by this naked, tormented nobody of a man. Jesus, not afraid, show him compassion. Imagine how many times the man had approached the people of the village, and people in the countryside, looking for help. And how many times they had run away, afraid, or said, “Here comes that nut again” and walked away.
But not Jesus. He talks and listens, asks questions, and does what he can to help. Where others see only the man’s many demons, Jesus sees a beloved child of God who is hurting. He shows him compassion, and that compassion heals him and changes his life. Because compassion is a powerful thing.
I recently saw a story about a man named Ryan Speedo Green. He grew up in a place, he says, where “guns made the music of the streets, drugs were the currency, and the violence was not operatic.” Ryan had a very difficult childhood filled with violence, and poverty and drug abuse. He admits that he became a young man with a violent temper and was filled with anger. These were his demons and they caused him much trouble. He was suspended from school over and over and he was in trouble with the law. He ended up in juvenile detention after pulling a knife on his mother and brother. Shortly after arriving in detention, Ryan was ushered to a classroom, where he proceeded to throw his chair at the teacher, “a little, tiny white woman” he says. Fully expecting to be thrown out of class, that was his goal. Instead, the teacher approached him, unafraid, and explained that “we do not throw chairs in here: and invited him to sit on the floor until he could have a chair without throwing it.
And Ryan says that this was the beginning … the beginning of his new life. Oh, there were more outbursts, but people still cared about him, talked to him, listened to him…helping to break through the isolation that was an ever-present refrain in his life. Compassionate adults encouraged him to become involved in things, to explore his gifts, find things he was good at and enjoyed. One suggested he sing in the chorus. And Ryan found his voice. Music connected him to others in a way he had never been connected to people before, and it spoke to his soul.
At age fifteen he saw Denyce Graves singing in “Carmen” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, and Ryan Green had found his calling. Today he is an opera singer performing at the Met, thanks to a lot of hard work and “a little, tiny white woman” who showed an angry, frightened teenager compassion.
Because compassion is a powerful thing, a life-changing thing. It is likely that someone has showed you compassion along the way – a parent, spouse, child, partner, teacher, boss, friend. And it is also likely that there is someone today, who needs compassion from you. Perhaps it’s someone close to you, perhaps it’s a stranger.
May the example of Jesus inspire us and fill us, so that God’s compassion will flow through us to all those in need. May we followers of Jesus be fountains of compassion “in a world gone deaf to the cries of the hurting, and the pleas of the powerless.” (Joyce Rupp). For compassion is a powerful thing.
June 9, 2019: PENTECOST The Rev. Bill Van Oss
(singing) “Come, Lord Jesus, send us your Spirit, renew the face of the earth… Come, Lord Jesus, send us your Spirit, renew the face of the earth.”
Happy Pentecost! This is Pentecost Sunday when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. The Spirit came in “the rush of a violent wind,” the reading from Acts tells us. Wind and “divided tongues, as of fire” that rested on each of them.
They were all together, the disciples, likely asking: what do we do now? Jesus was with them, but then He was crucified. He had risen from the dead and appeared to them for forty days. Then He ascended into heaven and they were left to wonder: where is He now? Where is Jesus now that He has returned to His Father in heaven? And the disciples entered an “in-between” time that Barb described so nicely in last week’s sermon, leading to today: Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit in wind and fire to a group of confused, huddled and frightened followers of Jesus. The Spirit comes upon them and sends them out into the world. They were transformed from frightened and confused to fearless and bold. Hearts on fire, no longer silent, they speak to everyone they meet: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Egypt, Libya, Cyrene… No matter where the people came from, no matter what language they spoke, they understood these disciples filled with the Holy Spirit, because the disciples were speaking the universal language. The language everyone understood, the language everyone understands today, the universal language is love… Amor, L’amour, amore…
You likely noticed that the reading from Acts today was proclaimed in different languages: Spanish, French, Italian and sign language. You only understood if you know one or more of those languages – human languages. But the language of God is love, universal, understood by all. The Word of God is love. Love is the language everyone understands. It’s the language spoken in so many different ways, with words, in silence, with touch, and expression, in gestures, and actions big and small, in music, in nature (God’s gift of love), and in one another.
Love is the universal language. Even the tiniest baby understands it: smile and coo at one, they know love. Little Parker was here last Sunday for his baptism. His parents and sponsors got up in front and Parker lit up with all the love that surrounded him here in church, he smiled and started to wave!
Love is the universal language. It can be spoken in words – saying “I love you” is one of the most powerful things you can say. But love can also be wordless as when you sit with someone who has just lost a loved one, or who is in the midst of a crisis. Any words spoken are less important than the love conveyed in one’s presence. Even someone unconscious and coming to the end of life knows the love that surrounds them in family and friends and caregivers.
You don’t need to be a genius to understand love. Remember Forrest Gump’s famous line: “I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is.” People will tell me that don’t believe in God. I’ll ask: “Do you believe in Love?” They say: “Yes, I believe in Love.” Then you believe in God, because God is Love.
Love can be warm and fuzzy, but Love is often tough. Admitting something difficult to oneself is loving yourself. Telling a hard truth to someone else is a loving thing to do. Love is as simple as the gift of a pinecone a child decorates for the Christmas tree, and as complicated as quitting a job to care for an ailing parent or spouse. Sometimes loves means being together, and sometimes love is walking away.
The promised gift of the Holy Spirit is love. Jesus was love in the flesh, and when He departed for heaven the disciples were anxious and confused, but God’s love came to them in wind and fire: the Holy Spirit, God’s love, filled them and sent them out to tell the whole world about the life-changing, world-transforming power of God’s love. And they got it – all those different people, from all those different places understood the universal language of God’s unconditional love.
And so we gather here, this day, to be set on fire, to be filled with God’s love so that we might go forth and proclaim it, live it, put flesh on it. So that the whole world will know it: the power of God’s love, the power that can change our lives and renew the face of the earth.
(singing) “Come, Lord Jesus, send us your Spirit, renew the face of the earth… Come, Lord Jesus, send us your Spirit, renew the face of the earth.”
June 2, 2019 Rev. Dr. Barbara Elliott
Today we are celebrating a Baptism, honoring our Acolytes, and we are ending the church’s Easter Season. Ascension, which recognizes when Jesus ascended to heaven, happened 40 days after Easter; that was this past Thursday. Next Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, when the Disciples received the Spirit--and we are now gathered here on this “In-Between” Sunday.
As we begin, I want to first recognize Parker Edward Grover-Manthey who we are baptizing this morning. He is the fourth generation of the Manthey family to be baptized in this church—in this font! A living celebration of this family’s continuing faith and roots. Manthey family members have been part of St Paul’s for more than half of our 150-year history!
In addition, our group of Acolytes is with us filling the pews here in front of the lectern! They provide a loving service for our worship services—and are learning how important they are to how we each, of every age, are important in our church community.
As I said, today is the Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost, an in-between time for us, an ‘In between’ time in the spiritual sense. In the times that Jesus lived 2000 years ago, these were the days when the Disciples were living truly in-between times: they no longer had Jesus among them—he had ascended to heaven—and the blessing of the Spirit on Pentecost which Jesus had promised them, had not yet arrived. So, they were struggling: their beloved leader was gone and that left them unsure how to live and move forward in time.
It is interesting to note that our church calendar and our readings actually point out these ‘in-between’ times in our lives. This emphasizes the importance of these in-between times and helps us know that our own spiritual in-between times are both significant and normal.
Yes, this in-between spot in our church calendar recognizes that there are also in-between times in our own spiritual lives, when things are not going as we would want. As we struggle in these times, we find ourselves reaching for God’s peace, but it seems far away. In these times, it feels like the Spirit is beyond reach. Instead, these are the times when we become aware of God’s absence…and we search, needing to feel God’s presence.
You can think about a time when this has been true for you. Maybe your experience of this lasted a long time—like the one that Mother Theresa described in her journal. According to what she wrote, she searched and prayed for a sign of God’s presence for years, but she was unable to recognize signs of God’s connection with her. Years. How alone and horrible that must have felt. And again—although she lived those times longing for God’s presence, she was convinced that following Jesus’ teachings about the Way of Love were the Path forward. So, she persisted on that Path. Mother Theresa lived in this in-between place as she got up every day to continue her walk on the Path. Amazing to think of her life in this way and to know that she was actually recognized as bringing God’s presence for others.
All of us take turns living in these in-between places; most of us live in them for shorter periods of time than Mother Theresa. I hear about them often when I am working at the hospital. It seems that one time that opens these experiences for us is when we hear that our health has changed, and we are diagnosed with a condition we will need to live with through the rest of our life: Cancer. Addiction. Diabetes. Mental Illness. At times like these God can seem to be somewhere else. I hear words like: “Where is God when I need God?” “I need reassurance that this will be okay…”
We each do take our turns at this in-between time, just like the Disciples did when Jesus left them, and the Spirit wasn’t near. When we live this struggle, we try to find the meaning in what is going on. Suddenly our ideas about how the world works are upside down. We find ourselves grasping for ways to make sense of what is happening and unfolding. We have the old story, but it doesn’t fit with what we are experiencing now. We are needing the energy and presence we have come to count on. Our relationship with God needs to grow with us into our new life.
When we look at today’s readings, we find them offering insights about the causes and resolutions of this in-between space. The reading from Acts describes Paul’s exorcising a demon, which resulted in the slave owners’ distress at lost income. Yes, today we often find the same distress they did—and then come to recognize our sense of meaning and purpose are no longer defined by money. The in-between time in this story also includes an earthquake, that is part of its resolution. Our in-between times often include serious disruptions in our lives too, before new insights become clear to us.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is praying for his Disciples at the Last Supper. Jesus knows he will die in the next few days; the Disciples don’t know this is coming. Jesus prays for the Disciples, that they will have what they will need to get through the in-between times when Jesus is not present any longer. Jesus prays that “they will believe” in him through his word and that “they may be one” living with the support of community. He also prays that the love which has been shared with them will continue. Jesus knows how hard in-between times are and prays for the Disciples—and for us, as people who can know him through his teaching the Way of Love and that we can sustain our community with it.
Which brings us to today’s reading from Revelation, the last book in the Bible. The last words of the New Testament close today’s reading and include “Come, Lord Jesus!” Yes, that is how we feel in these in-between times.
Today we welcome Parker into our church and to God’s family. And today we celebrate our Acolytes’ growing participation in the church. May we all, the Acolytes who are here today and those who could not join us, as well as Parker, experience God’s love and presence so that when we live these in-between times, the Way of Love sustains us each.
As Jesus prayed: we come from Love; we return to Love; and Love is all around us. In our in-between times, even when God’s presence seems remote, we know the Way of Love. Amen.