If you were unable to join us for Morning Prayer, you can watch a recording of the service here. Thanks to Marisa Sifontes from Candler School of Theology, Emory University, for an incredible sermon.
A sermon preached by Nathan Kirkpatrick, priest associate at the Advocate
If they were taking nominations for an eighth deadly sin,
To join the ranks of greed, lust, wrath, pride, envy, gluttony, sloth —
Sandy Deal, my high school English teacher,
would offer lazy writing for consideration.
Lazy writing, she would say,
robs language of its evocative, provocative,
persuasive, catalytic power.
passive voice for no good reason,
an over-reliance on cliches —
all were the bane of her existence.
But her chief annoyance in lazy writing
was the use of the word very.
Ms Deal dared us to expand our vocabularies
so that we would never think to write that a book was very interesting;
instead, it needed to be compelling, arresting,
intriguing, enthralling even.
We would never imagine writing that a character was very sad;
instead we would write that they were morose, brooding, melancholy.
No one was ever very thirsty in Ms Deal’s room, they were parched.
You get the idea.
As I have read and reread today’s Gospel lesson,
it occurred to me how pleased Ms Deal would be
with the biblical translators.
Note where we begin.
Immediately after his baptism,
St Matthew tells us that the Spirit drives Jesus
out into the wilderness
for forty days of fasting and prayer.
And at the end of those forty days,
St Matthew writes that Jesus is famished —
not a little hungry, not very hungry —
that word that comes from the Middle English “to starve.”
More than hungry, more than very hungry,
Ms. Deal would approve.
Sure, there are other translations that say
that, after forty days and forty nights,
Jesus was very hungry or even just plain hungry.
Ms. Deal would not approve
because, of course,
what St Matthew is describing is not just a hunger pang
but a state of being — of being at your limits, beyond your limits,
worn down, worn out,
nothing left, yearning, searching,
longing for a morsel, a crumb
something to sustain, something to satisfy.
Ravenous. Starving. Famished.
And it’s then when Jesus is in that place
that the voices come —
in what the tradition has called the temptation of Jesus.
It’s then that the devil appears and offers him three things.
As you know, as sophisticated hearers of Scripture,
that when we are talking about the devil,
about Satan in Scripture,
we are not talking about the terrifying figure of medieval paintings
or the sinner-devouring creation of Dante
or even the little guy in the red pajamas with a pitchfork.
When Scripture speaks of Satan, of the devil,
it speaks of the angel who went rogue and went wrong,
it speaks of the Adversary, the one who is against us,
the Accuser, the prosecutor who charges and condemns us,
the metaphorical roaring lion who seeks to destroy us.
In this instance in particular, Satan is the voice of self-satisfaction,
self-protection, and selfish ambition:
Turn these stones to bread (self-satisfaction),
Throw yourself down (self-protection),
All that you see can be yours (selfish ambition).
In the reading from Genesis,
Satan in the form of the serpent
is the voice of amnesia —
forget who you are,
forget who you were created to be.
“If you eat this, you will be like God,” the snake hisses,
when we are clearly told just verses before that
Adam and Eve were created in the very image of God
and were already like God in every way that mattered.
It’s when Jesus is famished,
run down, worn out, depleted,
that the voices come, that temptation comes to him.
Satisfy your own need.
Preserve yourself at any cost.
Serve your own ambitions.
And, of course, Jesus foils each temptation,
with the story concluding that Satan leaves him
and the angels arrive to care for him.
In St Luke’s telling of the story,
it ends somewhat more ominously —
with the devil departing from Jesus “until an opportune time.”
I wonder if you know something about
the heart of this story in your own life,
if you know what it means, what it feels like to be famished in your spirit.
I wonder if you know something
about being at your limits, beyond your limits,
worn down, worn out, with nothing left,
longing for something to sustain, something to satisfy.
If you know something about being ravenous, starving,
about being in that very place — that wilderness place —
maybe where grief weighs on a soul;
where regret takes its toll,
where choice and possibility paralyze.
If you know something about
what it means to carry shame with us and within us.
I wonder if you know something
about the voices that sound so loud
when we’re in that kind of soul space.
The voices of self-doubt that taunt
you are not enough and who do you think you are.
The voices of despair that
tempt us to abandon hope.
The voices of suspicion
that make us strangers to one another
and, if strangers, then also threats.
The voices of rage that divide and destroy.
The voices of self-satisfaction that tempt us to get our own first.
The voices of selfish ambition that call us
not to our better angels
but to our lowest scheming selves.
The voices of self-protection
that whisper to us in this moment to stockpile a lifetime’s worth of Clorox wipes or buy out a nation’s supply of surgical masks.
The voices of fear
That say that this is 1929 or 1939 all over again.
If we know something about being soul hungry,
if we know something about standing in the wilderness,
if we know something about the voices that come,
then this Lent
these forty days are an opportunity, a chance really to find our way out.
In 1760, the Anglican priest John Wesley
wrote this to one of his colleagues
who was teetering on the edge of burn out:
“Do not starve yourself any longer
…Do justice to your own soul;
give it [the] time and means to grow.
Fix some part of every day for private exercise …
Read and pray.
You may acquire the taste which you have not;
what is tedious at first will afterward be pleasant.
It is for your life; there is no other way;
else you will be … a pretty, superficial preacher.”
That’s the invitation Lent offers to each of us and all of us.
The paradox is that this fast can become our feast.
We don’t have to starve our souls any longer.
In this season, we can
Feast on the bread of life,
Drink from the cup of salvation.
Fix some part of our every day to read, to pray, to dream, to hope,to work, to remember who and whose we are.
So that we might hear a different voice.
A voice that says:”You are my beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.”
A voice that says: “Be not afraid.”
A voice that says: “You are not alone.”
Whether it’s here on Sunday mornings
or Sunday night’s evening prayer
or Wednesday night’s book study
or contemplative prayer or the weekly house dinner
or walking the stations of the cross around the pond,
or offering food, money or time,
or working the land or cooking for the men’s shelter —
whatever this Lent will give your soul
the time and means to grow.
Figuring that out, committing to it and doing it —
Well, that seems like a very good idea.
Oh. Sorry, Ms. Deal. That seems like a stupendous idea.
A sermon by The Rev. Nathan E. Kirkpatrick. Advent III. December 15, 2019
If you have ever lost faith in something
– in a cause or a candidate,
in an organization or an institution –
If you have ever given your all
only to find that your all is not enough,
If you have ever found yourself despairing or disillusioned,
If you have ever found the road steep and the way hard
And you have wondered if it is worth walking at all,
Then you have a friend in John the Baptist.
Our morning gospel finds John in prison;
In fact, in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life,
John has been in prison for almost seven chapters.
So long that he has missed
Jesus’ sermon on the mount, the Beatitudes,
and The Lord’s Prayer.
He has been incarcerated as Jesus has already healed many,
Raised at least one from the dead,
And stilled a storm at sea.
While Jesus was laying all the foundations of his public ministry,
John was a religious and political prisoner
Of a narcissistic megalomaniac
Who resented the fact that John
tried to hold him accountable for his unethical behavior.
You remember John is in prison
Because he had publicly objected to Herod
Taking his brother’s wife as his own.
As the gospel of Luke tells it:
“But Herod the tetrarch,
being rebuked by [John]
about Herodias, his brother’s wife,
and about all the [other] evil things Herod had done,
added this to everything else –
he locked John up in prison” (Luke 3:19-20<https://biblia.com/bible/nasb95/Luke%203.19-20>).
And in prison, after more than a while in prison,
After missing all the foundations of Jesus’ public ministry,
A no-doubt weary John the Baptist
sends a question to Jesus,
one of the most haunting questions in scripture.
“Are you the one who is to come,
Or should we wait for another?” (Matthew 11.2).
To hear the pathos in the question,
to hear the heartbreak,
to really hear it,
we have to remember that this is John –
John, whose birth had been announced by an angel,
John, who, in utero, had been present
to hear Mary’s song
as Jesus’ mother sang it to John’s mother.
This is John whose own sense
of calling and purpose
was to fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah –
The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked straight,
and the rough places plain,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
This is John who had preached to the masses
about repentance and transformation.
This is John who had said of himself,
After me comes one who is mightier than I …
I baptize you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit..
This is John who baptized Jesus,
and at that baptism, watched as the heavens were opened,
watched as the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove,
and who had heard there a voice from heaven thunder –
“You are my Son; with you I am well-pleased.”
This is that John,
who now is asking,
“are you the one who is to come
or should we wait for another?”
As I hear it,
If John is not outright losing faith,
he is certainly losing heart.
Now, to be fair about it,
there are biblical interpreters who say
that this is more of a rhetorical question,
that John sends Jesus the question
on behalf of all the people
who had heard John’s preaching across the years,
who themselves may have begun to wonder,
who themselves may have begun to ask –
“John seemed so certain that this Jesus was the Messiah,
but look what’s happened to John.
Is Jesus really the One? Or was John wrong?”
So, these biblical interpreters suggest that
perhaps John is raising the question
not really for himself
but for all of these others
who might now have a doubt or two,
who might be wondering
if this is the One who has come to set all people free
if He can’t even get John out of Herod’s jail.
Sort of the opposite of
what most of us mean when we say,
“I’m just asking for a friend…”.
You can see, you can hear
what these interpreters are doing, right?
They’re wanting to protect John,
John, the one with the resume I just read to you,
from the possibility of doubt
precisely because of that resume.
They’re wanting to say,
“no, no, nothing to see here,”
if a person with that resume
what does that mean for the rest of us mere mortals?
If John, after all of that,
could find himself despairing – even for a moment –
what would that mean for all of the rest of us
who have spiritual resumes that pale in comparison?
But, for a moment,
I wonder what would happen
if we don’t try to protect John.
If instead of saying,
“oh, that’s so sweet of him,
he’s faking some doubt
so that the crowd gets to hear Jesus say,
‘yeah, yeah, I’m the one,’
how benevolent of John” –
what if, instead,
what if we say
that maybe, just maybe,
John’s life, John’s circumstances
had made it hard for him
to hold on to belief even for just a moment?
I, for one, think that that
might make him more important for us rather than less.
I, for one, think that that
wouldn’t tarnish his halo or risk his sainthood at all,
but it might actually confirm his humanity and his sainthood.
Rather than the caricatured firebrand preacher,
John might be a bit more accessible to us,
a bit more familiar to us.
It may also help explain why –
as Fleming Rutledge, the preacher and scholar, notes –
John, not Jesus, is the central figure of Advent.
If we don’t try to protect John,
then, for any of us who have ever wondered
if Jesus is the One we have been waiting for,
for any of us whose lives have made it hard to believe,
then, for us, we have a newfound friend in John.
Here’s my hunch –
if I’m wrong, you can tell me at Teachable Moment or lunch.
My hunch is that most of us
at some point or another
have looked out at the world through
all kinds of prison bars -literal, metaphorical –
and have wanted to know
if we have put our faith in the right Messiah,
we have wanted an answer –
“Are you the One? Or shall we wait for another?”
Which is so much deeper,
so much harder,
than losing faith in a cause or a candidate,
in an organization or an institution,
it is so much harder than giving our all and finding it not enough,
so much harder than walking the road and finding it tough-going
because, in each of those moments,
if faith is true, then we have faith to lean on.
But, if faith falters, then, so, too, does the very hope that sustains us.
What if John is asking for himself
and giving us words for our experience, too –
are you the One or do we have to keep waiting?
It’s a perfect third Sunday of Advent kind of question,
when, in a normal year, the walk to Christmas starts to feel long.
When maybe we’re ready to be done with Advent hymns
as beautiful as they are and just sing a Christmas carol or two.
When maybe we’re done with waiting.
Two Sundays ago, I was with
the folks of the Episcopal campus ministry at Duke
for their Sunday evening Eucharist,
and several of the students
were talking before mass
by the advent wreath.
And at the Episcopal Center,
their Advent wreath
has different colored candles –
three purple and one pink –
for the Sundays in Advent.
And the students were discussing why there was a pink candle.
One of them finally said,
“did you ever think that maybe they were just tired of purple?”
Maybe you know something about being tired of purple,
tired of waiting for God; weary of wondering if or when life will change.
Maybe John’s question is yours:
Are you the One or do we have to keep waiting?
In Matthew’s Gospel,
Jesus answers John’s question.
“Go and tell John what you see …
that the blind see, the deaf hear,
the sick are healed, the dead live again,
and the poor have good news preached to them.”
For us, Jesus might answer it this way:
Go and tell what you hear and see –
that the community that gathers in my name
brings food for the hungry,
builds Tiny Homes for the homeless,
welcomes strangers and makes them friends,
cares for those who are hurting and for those who are healing,
marches for justice and prays for peace,
gives time and treasure to change the world.
If you have ever asked, if you have ever wondered,
if John’s question is yours today –
Hold on to what you hear and see,
because our waiting is almost over.
The Rev. Nathan E. Kirkpatrick
There are two hymns that have been running through my head as I looked forward to today. “There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place …” and “Every time I feel the spirit …” There is something about today that makes me want to sing and dance, with you.
Now those last two words are the key words, “with you.” Not only am I too self-conscious to sing and dance without you, (remember I am, after all, a native of New England). But more important, the movement of the Holy Spirit is something that, by its very nature, is meant to be shared, to be experienced in community, to be celebrated together. As my seminary Professor Charlie Price used to say participation is a Holy Spirit word, and today is all about participation.
So many things to celebrate today, and such a joy to be with you. 15 years of the Church of the Advocate. 15 years of the gift of the Holy Spirit moving through you, through your community, through your leadership and your witness.
15 years of innovation and initiative grounded in the liturgical richness of our Anglican tradition. Or to borrow from the Orange County slogan – 15 years of living “around the corner AND ahead of the curve…”
Let me suggest a couple of visual images for today. One comes from our Presiding Bishop, who played a key role in your beginnings. Bishop Curry, in one of his first videos after he became Presiding Bishop, spoke about being asked what the Jesus movement looked like. And of course the video was filled on the streets of New York, and Bishop Curry is moving about walking and talking, and is in fact, himself, an embodiment of the Jesus movement. But he is also wise enough to know that we all need to be involved, to participate together. So he shared an image from our liturgy, of the moment, as the gospel is processed, where all the people turn together, to face the gospel. He said, that is an image of the Jesus movement. And you all here, have taken that to a deeper level with the opportunity to reverence, to touch or kiss the gospel as it moves through the community. For me, this captures a moment where the Jesus movement meets the movement of the Holy Spirit, in worship.
And as you well know, the Jesus movement is not just about what takes place inside the church. An equally vital dimension of the Jesus movement is what takes place outside the church. And here, the image that comes to my mind is the journey, literally the movement, of this building, which was St. Philip’s church, in Germantown, NC as it made its way to the Homestead Site here, in December of 2012. They had to remove the roof for the move, but the visual image of this church moving, on a flat bed truck, from that community to this one, is an icon of the church literally moving through the world.
The Holy Sprit is all about repurposing, reimaging, recreating and renewing. And in an age where many churches are struggling under the burden of what has come to be called our edifice complex, you were showing how the building itself can remind the church that we are called to be on the move: in, through, and for, the communities we serve.
And your name, Church of the Advocate, conveys this deep commitment, which is embedded in your missional DNA. You are the embodiment of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and you are all about what it means to be an Advocate – as your T-shirt puts it – “Be the noun, do the verb.”
And here there are numerous examples of the ways you have done just that. Compassion, justice and collaboration have been the values that stand at the center of your advocacy. And today, we celebrate with you two initiatives in particular, which have been at the heart of your connection to the community: the Piedmont Patch Collaborative and the Pee Wee Homes Collaborative.
The first is a model for how we are called to be good neighbors and stewards of the land, and the ways we can learn to “serve rather then harm God’s creation.” The second is an initiative which invites a broad cross-section of the community to collaborate in an innovative approach to affordable housing, partnering with town, county, individuals, organizations, and other non-profits, including Orange County Habitat for Humanity, to create another pathway to homeownership. This is the stuff of the gospel! This is what we are called to do and be!
Not that accomplishing all of this has always been easy. At times it has been discouraging, frustrating and disheartening. And occasionally, truth be told, bureaucratic impulses from within our own church structures have gotten in the way … imagine that. But here is where the Holy Spirit, the power of your commitment, faith in God, trust in Jesus, holding to your guiding values at the center have helped you to persevere and prevail.
Bishop Steven Charleston has written words which remind us that the spirit is at work even when we are facing challenges and resistance:
“Don’t let the dark clouds fool you. They may pretend to own the heavens, to stretch from horizon to horizon, ominous and commanding, a permanent shadow hanging over our lives, but don’t let the clouds fool you … there is world of sunlight behind them. One day, when the wind of change pushes them apart, that light will return to bathe the earth, to restore the vision of every person, to set right what has been broken. Stand firm then in what you know and believe. Look up and do not be afraid, for when you feel the first breeze of hope, you will know the clouds will soon be chased from the sky.”
The wind, the breath, the breeze, these are all signs of the Holy Spirit. And our readings today all celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Isaiah, the Spirit of the Lord is upon the prophet as justice, healing, and Good News are proclaimed. In I Corinthians, it is the variety of gifts that are celebrated, all in the one body. And Luke is a kind of backhanded affirmation if we, who are less than perfect know how to give good gifts, how much more does God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit, when we ask.
The Holy Spirit is a relentless advocate for justice, for compassion, and the witness of the Holy Spirit for generations has been that this is work we must do together, in concert, as part of the Body of Christ.
And today, we celebrate this gift and the 15 year journey that has brought you to here. The winds of change are blowing through you in a way that has opened us as a diocese and opened the wider church.
Not coincidently, this week, the Standing Committee and Diocesan Council both voted to recommend that a new church plant, Christ the Beloved Community, in Winston-Salem, be recognized and received into communion with our convention next month. There was great excitement as we talked about this. Christ Beloved Community serves a Latino neighborhood and it has been a partnership with the Lutheran Church from the very beginning.
A couple of people said they couldn’t remember the last time this happened in our diocese. But you can! It was in January of 2004, back when our convention was held in January. You were that mission! And there is a connection between that moment and the one we will celebrate next month.
Justice, compassion and collaboration are part of their values, too. Your journey has inspired theirs. Without your witness and your trailblazing, who knows if this community would ever have been started. Their journey is part of your legacy.
The breeze of the Holy Spirit is stirring among you and within you. And those being confirmed and received today are a testimony to that movement. They are part of it. All seven of them, and Lisa counted them just before the service to make sure they were all here. And we are all part of this movement of the Holy Spirit.
It is a movement that invites and involves all of us. It means to be an Advocate/ to Advocate: be the noun, do the verb. It is the Jesus movement alive and well in this time and in this place.
And today we celebrate loud and long the gifts of the spirit that have made this possible, and the compassion, collaboration and justice that through you, has been born in our community and reborn in our church There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place, and we know that it’s the spirit of the Advocate. AMEN.
The community gathered in the Advocate Chapel on Sunday, July 15, 2018,for the Burial Office for Tom Fisher.
Sam Laurent offered this sermon for Tom.
It’s there in the pictures. Looking at the photographs he took, the ones he exhibited, the ones he hung on his walls or that others of us have hung on our walls, you can see a bit of how Tom tried to see the world. It was a vision that didn’t come by accident. He cultivated it. Studied it. It ran deep in who he was, why we grieve him, and how we will know his presence again.
Street photography would be the name for the genre, and like many who were inspired by the french photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, Tom’s most creative work spurned grandeur and poses in favor of finding something beautiful in the mundane. A picture of someone doing their job. A picture of two people meeting on the street. Almost always, there were people.
So I asked him. Why these candid shots of people? In that way we had of giving his sophisticated wisdom a veneer of folksiness, Tom said “well, they’re a hell of a lot more interesting to take pictures of than rocks.”
And then he stared into the middle distance, lined up an imaginary shot in his mind and said “so there are two people coming together on the street. My job is to have my camera set up so that with minimal fussing with it, I can capture that moment. Just the encounter of two people is so fascinating. Maybe they know each other. Maybe they’re strangers. There is so much between them that I don’t know. I just want to capture the moment.”
The art in his images, then, was his reflexive attraction to wonder. Capture the moment, and you can return to it. You can imagine what was going on with the people in the picture and the space between them. But they remain mysteries. The photograph holds you in your unknowing, inviting you into a space of wonder.
And, well, so did Tom. As a financial planner, he made it his business to help people handle the uncertainty of life. His work helped people be able to turn their eyes from the nagging worries of the future and be attentive to the present.
Tom loved books. Specifically, he loved novels with the kind of characters you think about months later, characters that open up a space within you that you hadn’t known about before. Tom’s favorite characters felt compassion in their bones. They spoke to the beautiful experience of the unknowability of human life.
Tom loved live music. He and Candy travelled for concerts. He helped produce God only knows how many shows with the Forty Acres organization he cofounded. Those performances gathered people together to exalt in the creative potential of the moment.
Maybe all of this is why he was so captivated by this building. Probably he took more pictures of it than anything else that’s not a person. This chapel stood somewhere else for 120 years before we moved it here to Chapel Hill. It is a space consecrated over and over again by the gathering of generations of people we can’t know. These walls heard prayers and laments and hymns for decades before ours echoed through. This wood is seasoned like one of Tom’s old guitars, richer and warmer for the history that rippled through it, and drawing us into a present moment where the mystery of the past opens us to the mystery of the present, where our reality meets God’s.
God’s reality. That reality is particularly mysterious—acutely mysterious—to us today, and it was something that fascinated Tom throughout his life. The man who was known for being a terrific listener to his friends and family grounded himself in listening for God’s movement in the world. That mysterious depth that lies behind each person is a reflection of the primal mystery of the divine.
Divine mystery is an antagonist today. We always want to understand God. We want to say that everything that happens, even cancer, somehow has divine purpose behind it. But what we see, what we hear in the readings Tom chose for today, is that God’s power is manifest as love. Nothing, Romans says, including death, can separate us from the love of God.
A God of mystery who is insistently present with us in the form of love. I spent a lot of hours and drank more than a few pints of beer talking about this God with Tom. The conviction that divinity flows through each person and calls us to defend the dignity of each person… the conviction that the divine mystery calls us to listen steadfastly for God in our midst… this is the spirituality of Tom Fisher.
This was no accident. It was no affect that he put on. This was Tom. The man who worked for Civil Rights knew something of the sacred mystery of each person. The father of Morgan and Jess knew something of the beauty of possibility, the unfolding mystery of each child, and the love that allows them to thrive. The man who went to seminary before becoming a financial advisor knew something of the importance of letting each person decide who they are, of being prepared to act. The man who helped lead this church into existence knew something of patient listening and of the transfixing mystery that guides people of God. The photographs reflect the man who took them.
And so we are gutted today, because we have lost Tom. His steadiness, wisdom, and love were never more evident than in the months since his diagnosis, when Tom’s choices were guided by the value of the present, by his ability to find depth and love in a time freighted with the grim prospects of a dire disease.
More than anyone I’ve known, Tom led those he loved through the end of his life. He took care of us. He sat and talked frankly about the end of life. He told me stories of gratitude for time with Morgan and Jess and their families, of his delight in the people his children had become and the people they had married, stories of the magic of his grandchildren, of his sheer awe at the compassionate force of Candy’s love. Life, he knew, had been good.
So this hurts. And it will hurt. It is love’s dark insult to us. To love is to eventually be heartbroken. And Tom knew that love is simply the most important thing. He was right. So this hurts.
But those pictures…
The moments that Tom sought to capture are sacred, but they are not rare. Our days are infused with the potential for something new to happen, something more than we would imagine. This is the movement of the insistently loving God of mystery, the God who now bears Tom in the glory of divine memory and presence, working through the miracle of relationship to ensure that when we notice the depth of mystery in a seemingly ordinary moment, Tom will be with us. And we will feel gratitude, and we will feel pain. At the same time. There is no prescribed ratio of the two.
Those ordinary moments, when refracted through the prism of clear presence to the moment, are the kingdom of God. To be fully present in God’s creation, in this precise moment which is the only moment that is actually happening, is to see that the boundaries between us are not so clear. We will miss Tom, but we will feel Tom’s presence when we allow ourselves to be present, because Tom is, in a very real way, a part of us. All of this.. this life… is space held open by God so that we might intertwine in relationship, so that we might, acting from love, create beauty from the very possibilities that lie before us. I understand this better than I did before because I was given the tremendous gift of being Tom Fisher’s friend.
It is all a wildly improbable miracle, one in which we are now rightly grieving the loss of this man who was woven deeply into so many lives. Even in this painful moment, the beauty and mystery of Tom’s life draws us in like one of his pictures. We want to know more. We want another conversation. Another dinner.
This is the mark of a life well lived. Of a man who was deeply loved and who loved deeply. It is grace that intersected our lives with his, and it is grace that will allow us to know his presence in those future moments when the mysterious unknown of life speaks to us of something more. Something we can’t touch but can marvel at.
There is so much in those pictures. So much behind them. God knows we will miss Tom, and God knows we will feel him with us yet. It’s in the pictures.
A homily offered by Lacey A. Hudspeth at the Episcopal Church of the Advocate, Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018.
I love the story of Alice in Wonderland. The story of a small girl who falls into a hole where she must navigate many odd and even absurd events in order to find her way home.
I love it because in the story there is this constant need in it to press two different questions—questions about Alice’s character
questions about Alice’s mission:
This story of Palm Sunday is often one I have a difficult time with, because it involves a
feeling of triumphalism that makes me uncomfortable. Jesus rides into Jerusalem, the
political epicenter of the time, amidst people fawning palm branches before him saying,
“Hosanna!” which translates literally into “God save us”.
As I have thought this week about why this story makes me so uncomfortable, I have come to realize it is because there are other people in our own more recent American story who live into the political triumphalism, who are swayed by a group of people saying something similar to, “save us, we put our hope in you, God has sent you to us.” I have a difficult time with the nature of triumphalism— it comes across as arrogant, rooted in worldly success, and I find it confusing in the face of the Jesus that I have come to know— I think we have to do something similar to the characters in Alice in Wonderland this morning. We have to look inside the gospels and ask of this Jesus riding into Jerusalem
Who are you? and What is the purpose of this?
AND, ask ourselves… What IS IT that we are committing to when we kneel before someone and say, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord ”
We must press Jesus on both who he is as a human and who he is as a God. Let’s look at this man we lay down palm branches for, a man we beg to save us.
Let’s look first at Jesus as a man. What is MOST unusual about Jesus, what sets him apart from other men is threefold:
1. His relationship to God
2. The shape and narrative of his life as teacher and justice seeker
3. His building relationships with outsiders, with the marginalized
As a man, Jesus very clearly sets himself outside of the triumphalist crowd. The palm branches mentioned in the gospel of John are meant to be reminiscent of the processions that greeted the political victories of the Maccabees.
But, Jesus quickly and clearly corrects this vision of himself as their political savior the people expected him to be— a man who rides into the epicenter on a jeweled chariot, a man who celebrates power.
Instead Jesus acts out a prophecy— he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey to show that, like the King promised in Zechariah, he has come to bring peace and salvation, NOT riches and political glory.
Jesus rides in on a donkey to say of his character:
I do not come to set up a hierarchy of power; I come humbly, a child born in a trough, a man riding in on a donkey, I am coming NOT to wield power over you, but rather the exact opposite— I have come to die for you, so that you may live.
Here we see the nature of Jesus as both human and as God.
Jesus, the man and the God, turns this triumphalism on its head. When the crowd tries to triumph the coming of Jesus as political-glory… Jesus instead celebrates what will be— the triumph of gratuitous love, the gift of the
Incarnation sent to gather us all into the mystery of the Trinity.
And when we press him, when we interrogate Scripture to more fully understand who he is as both fully human and fully divine, I think we come to know God as Pseudo Dionysius does— Jesus is the divine goodness who maintains and protects all creation and feasts on them with its good things.
At the core of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, Jesus is one who seeks and finds relationships— indeed, it is precisely through the incarnation— through the living work of Jesus present on earth as both fully human and fully divine—
We dont celebrate power.
We celebrate the mystery of God gathering us into the life of the Trinity.
When we look deeply into the character of the humanity and divinity of this God, we look deeply into the face of gratuitous love— love that is poured over each one of us without any regard for worthiness.
If we are like Alice, working through the absurdities of the world, trying to find our own way home— I think Jesus once more turns the questions around and looks at us and says,
Who are you? What do you believe?
What is your character and what is your mission?
How will you live out the gratuitous love I have shown you?
Will you be set apart by your love and relation to God?
Will you be set apart by your narrative of justice seeker?
and will you be set apart by building relationships with the marginalized?
These are the questions of Palm Sunday.
Amen and Amen.
A sermon preached at the Episcopal Church of the Advocate | Lent One 2017
One of the strangest realities about our life together as church
is the way we come together and say the hardest things to each other.
And then, somehow, when we have, we walk away a bit lighter.
It happened on Wednesday.
At noon and at 7, groups of us gathered in this place.
With ashes on our foreheads,
We looked at each other and said,
“remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Lisa put it as bluntly as possible in her sermon, we. Will. die.
And yet, on Wednesday evening, after the service,
I, for one, walked out into the rain and felt vibrantly alive.
It’s one of the strangest realities about church —
We come together and say the hardest things to each other,
And yet, there is in the saying of it some measure of liberation.
It happens here on Sunday mornings, too.
We gather together.
And we, perfectly lovely, perfectly nice people,
Come together and reveal the reality about our lives.
We come together and we pierce all our illusions and facades that we spend so much of the rest of our time constructing or protecting,
to acknowledge who we have become
and how we are and how we live in the world;
what we really hope for and what we really fear;
and whether it’s a simple or sprawling prayer of confession,
we acknowledge the evil we have done
and the evil done on our behalf.
We gather and sit with sin, our own and our own.
We say the hardest things about how our lives have gone.
And then we hear a word of liberation –
That the Lord has put away our sin,
that our transgressions have been forgiven,
that mercy embraces those who trust in God.
It’s one of the strangest realities of our life together as church –
We come together and say the hardest things to each other,
And find, when we do so, there is some measure of freedom.
This telling the truth is the hardest part of Lent.
As a child, I thought that the hardest part of Lent
was the giving up — the no chocolate, no candy, no cookies,
the no peanuts, pretzels or cracker jacks.
The no television, no video games, the no internet
(not that we had the internet when I was a kid,
Al Gore had not invented it yet; but you get the idea).
I thought the hardest part was the giving up.
But, what I’ve come to realize is
that the hardest part of Lent is
not the giving up but the owning up.
It’s not that the giving up is easy,
but the owning up is so much harder —
it’s hard to tell the truth about ourselves,
not just because telling the truth, in and of itself, is hard,
but because we confront this tension
between who we were created to be and who we so often are.
We confront the truth that it’s easy to forget who we are created to be.
It’s why we begin our readings this morning in a garden,
Soon after the birth of all things.
You remember that, in the beginning of Genesis,
We hear of a God who creates everything that is
Not because God had to
but because God – in God’s own life –
Was overflowing with love.
And God births the universe out of love,
To share love, for the sake of love.
And the clearest way we know that?
Genesis tells us that we are created in the image of God,
as reflections of God in the world, to love –
To care for one another, to care for creation,
To walk humbly and justly before God.
That’s why we’re here.
It’s why we were made in the beginning.
It’s why creation carries on;
Love is why creation carries on.
But, we are told just a few verses in that this love gets sullied.
We heard the story this morning.
Now, I don’t want us to get hung up on the talking snake;
Whether or not there was a loquacious reptile is beside the point,
the story points to something profoundly true about the spiritual life:
the temptation for Eve and for Adam is to forget who they are.
The serpent – the craftiest of creatures –
whispers in the young woman’s ear –
“God knows that if you eat of this tree
your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.”
The problem with this reasoning is
That just a few short verses earlier
We are told that Eve and Adam
already were like God
In every way that mattered.
They were made from God’s love for God’s love to be love.
Their temptation is to forget.
The temptation is always to forget.
In the Gospel reading, we find Jesus, moments after his baptism,
Perhaps still a little damp from the full immersion in the river,
still reflecting on the dove and the voice from heaven,
Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Spirit of God.
(My favorite cartoon of this scene shows Jesus strapped into the passenger seat of a Jeep with a ghost-like driver saying to him, “just two more hours.”)
Not what it means driven.
Jesus is moved, propelled into the wilderness by the Spirit of God.
There, after forty days of fasting and prayer,
Jesus meets the tempter,
The nagging voice, the shadow side, the adversary, Satan,
However you want to narrate it.
But there, in the wilderness, as the voice had whispered in the garden,
The tempter whispers to Jesus – “forget, forget, forget.”
The voice that whispers you are not enough and who do you think you are – what Brene Brown calls the twin tapes of shame. Forget. Forget. Forget.
“If you are the Son of God … turn these stones into bread.”
Forget that the Son of God came not to be served but to serve.
“If you are the Son of God … throw yourself down and let angels catch you.”
Forget that the Son of God came not for signs and wonders, for show and splash.
“If you are the Son of God … worship me and I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth.”
Forget that the Son of God came to announce a new kingdom that exists by God’s priorities and passions and not to lead the old ones.
Forget, forget, forget…
But we notice here the difference between Adam and Eve and Jesus;
It’s the difference Paul is calling our attention to in Romans –
If the temptation is always to forget; then the grace that is found in Jesus
is that he remembered.
He didn’t forget that love is the way, the calling, the reality of our lives.
And so, when the tempter, the nagging voice, the shadow side, the adversary, Satan – however you narrate it – comes and says “forget,”
Jesus says, “remember.”
And so, the hardest part of Lent is to remember, to own up
To who we are,
to who we are made to be,
and why we are here.
To remember that we are made from love,
to be God’s love in the world.
The hardest part of Lent is to remember that sin isn’t the truth
of who we are, but is what happens when we forget who we are.
And let’s not overlook the fact that some of us
Grew up in homes and with families that help us forget;
The language was of love but the acts were of harm.
Some of us – many of us – still live and move in systems and structures
That enable us and encourage us to forget.
We live in systems and structures that
Reward the degrading of creation instead of the care for it,
And when we do, we pillage and pollute our own homes.
We live in systems and structures that tell
persons of color and the poor and the prisoner
that they are less than,
and when we believe it or act from it, we are all diminished.
We live in systems and structures that
Encourage us to seek our own welfare before the welfare of the city, the common good,
That make apathy an easier choice than love.
Apathy is the great challenge of our day, not hate.
And when we believe it, we lose.
It’s a curious thing about our life together —
How we come together and say the hardest things to each another.
We do it so we don’t forget. It’s so we remember.
Reflections on the First Sunday After the Epiphany
January 8, 2017
The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck, Vicar
“Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it, and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you…..” (Isaiah 42)
“I have taken you by the hand and kept you….”
Today marks the first Sunday in the season of Epiphany. Friday evening some gathered in the Chapel to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany itself. And we were reminded of the coming of the wise men, the sages from afar, to the birthplace of Jesus. By that story we are told that Jesus came, not just for a few, but for all. For all of “us” and for all with whom we share this world.
In the words of St. Peter in Acts of the Apostles: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.”
And today, today we hear the story of the baptism of Jesus. (We had a little fast forward of 30 years in 30 hours…) In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus is full grown. A man.
Today’s story is not just the story of John the Baptist and the River Jordan and the cleansing ritual and Jesus.
Importantly, the Gospel story we hear today is also a story of the Holy Spirit, descending upon Jesus, in bodily form like a dove. It’s the story of a voice coming from heaven declaring, “You are my Son, the Beloved.”
That dove and voice bit is essential to the story. Because by it we learn, just as the witnesses of old learned, that somehow in this person Jesus God is made (here’s the good Epiphany word) God is made manifest in Jesus the man.
As the old hymn goes: “God in man made manifest”.
In this person Jesus,
And because God is in this person Jesus, in this human being born like one of us, in this human being dwelling on earth like one of us, because God is in this person Jesus, we understand that God has chosen to engage with us in an incredible, powerful, awesome and efficient way.
So that now we can hear the word of God in the prophet Isaiah and know it true,
“I have taken you by the hand and kept you.”
Throughout the season of Epiphany ahead we will recognize, embrace, celebrate, that God has taken us by the hand and kept us.
We will celebrate that God has been manifest in Jesus, and, as such, has engaged with us, closely.
In the season of Epiphany, we will hear story after story that reveals that manifestation of God in Christ. We will hear stories of Christ’s miracles, of Christ teaching with authority, of Christ shining with a holy glow like none other – in his transfiguration on the mountainside.
This is all very cool. And exciting. Not only because we are talking about God –
“the God who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it, and spirit to those who walk in it”.
But because we are talking about that God engaging with us. we who are frail and floppy, self-centered and arrogant, fearful and flailing.
Epiphany is not a story of God’s “outreach” — of God reaching out to us and giving us what we need. Epiphany is a story of God’s “engagement”. In Christ, God has engaged with us. And, in Christ, God has called us to engage with one another, and with the world in which we live.
It begins today as we hear the story of the Baptism of Jesus. And we consider again our own baptism. The Holy Spirit was present at both.
If we were in worship together this morning, we would renew once more our baptismal covenant, reminding us of what it means that we are baptized and what we are called to be and do because of it.
I’ve pasted that covenant below.
In Christ, God has engaged with humanity.
In our baptism, we have become engaged with Christ.
So it is that God has chosen to take us by the hand
and keep us close.
That is the stuff of the season.
The Baptismal Covenant
Celebrant Do you believe in God the Father?
People I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
Celebrant Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
People I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Celebrant Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
People I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?
People I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil, and , whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?People I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People I will, with God’s help.
Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
The readings for the day can be found here.
A sermon preached by Justine Post at The Advocate
Year A, Advent Two
December 4, 2016
A few weeks ago the KKK put out word that they would march a victory parade somewhere in North Carolina on December 3. The location was not shared until Friday night, when they announced to local news that they would be up in Caswell County. I felt strange waking up yesterday morning. I kept looking on facebook and twitter, to try and see what was happening. I felt both disgusted and fearful. I didn’t really know what to do with myself. What was bothering me was bothering a lot of people yesterday morning: it was an intentional move by the KKK to be secretive about their victory rally on a location. It was a move to provoke and promote fear and uncertainty in an already uncertain climate. However, for most of the day there were more protesters than there were any sight of the KKK up in Pelham. In fact there were peace rallies all over the state. People all around North Carolina stood up for love and peace, and there was no sight of the hate group. Yet everyone was in anticipation.
All day I had been checking the news, waiting in anticipation to see what would happen. But it was not a hopeful kind of anticipation. It was a waiting for something bad to happen, like watching a horror movie. This is very UNlike that of the kind of anticipation Advent usually brings about. This season of advent we await IN HOPE, knowing that the Christ Child will come soon. Knowing that we are waiting for something to happen, but that thing that’s about to happen is LIGHT coming into the world to dispel the darkness. It’s supposed to feel different than it did for me yesterday.
This past week I had lunch with a friend who pastors a rural church in Wilson Co. We were talking about what it means to preach. She hasn’t really known what to say or how to say it lately, but every Sunday she still goes up to the pulpit. A few weeks ago she had told the congregation, I don’t care who you voted for, now is the time to repent and remember our baptism. And we will repeat as many times as we need to until it sticks. Baptism is something that reminds us of what we do have in common. So they all renewed their baptismal vows. And she told me- I felt like they could all be on board with that- usually everyone appreciates the act of repentance and remembering our call to be Christians. Yet after the service all that one parishioner could say was… “well I see you got a little political there.”
I find that so interesting. What I keep thinking about is our Christian profession. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord. For some reason I feel like it’s hard at times for us to understand that when we proclaim Jesus as Lord, we are making a political statement. In fact, it’s more like a political threat. We are claiming our allegiances to Jesus- we are relying on him to make things right in this world, not anyone else. Our proclamation that JESUS is Lord (not anyone else) should therefore have an effect on how we live and who we love, and the decisions we make.
And who better to learn about proclamation than John the Baptist, who stirs everything up and making us do things like pay attention and repent. And it’s pretty jolting in Matthew, because John literally just appears. We don’t hear of his birth story or the angel’s word of hope to Elizabeth. He just shows up: preaching in the wilderness of Judea. And he’s begging to be listened to. He shows up wearing strange clothing and eating strange food and asking anyone who has ears to repent and make way for the True God. Some of the first words we read him saying is calling religious leaders a brood of vipers. Here in Matthew we get the John telling people to repent and calling religious leaders out. And we have him preparing people for baptism.
It’s important now more than ever to pay close attention- to remember what Jesus said last Sunday and be watchful. John did not seek to comfort but to challenge. He was one who spoke truth to power. Just think of the climate that John the Baptist was in when we was preaching. The Christ child’s been born but his family is forced to flee from violence. Herod then killed every little boy under two years old living in Bethlehem. It is unimaginable yet we all know this is a part of the Gospel. Violence all around. Herod using power to kill innocent children because he himself feels threatened.
Now in those days John the Baptist came (give or take a few years). In those days of violence, fear, and threats. He came preaching in the wilderness, saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.” Here repentance means so much more than we think. When I hear wilderness and repent in the same sentence, I think of ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’: the iconic river scene, where the escaped convicts go down to get baptized, and Alison Krauss plays in the background. Then they go about their lives, running away and getting into trouble. But the kind of repentance John is talking about is different. It requires a commitment to a new way of life. The word- metanoia- means to change or transform. It goes way beyond saying sorry. It requires work, self-awareness, being in community, and prayer. That’s why John says to bear fruit in keeping with repentance– because it’s an ongoing act that goes beyond confession. We repent, we remember, we repeat.
What’s more, John is calling us to repent so that we may distribute power. We don’t get it in the Matthew text but we get it in Luke. And I know it might be a bit un-anglican of me to do this, but I want to switch Gospels and quote Luke here. The words are just too fitting. There John says that
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
I told this story once when I was teaching Sunday school years ago. I had a big sand box- all morning me and the children made valleys then built them up. We made mountains and brought them low. We made things smooth and even with the sand. Yet isn’t that what allows for the possibility of peaceful relationships? To recognize power and for those in power to let it go? This is why the text in Isaiah is so beautiful, compelling and delectable to our ears. Because if power really could be distributed equally, than the wolf and the lamb could actually dwell together, and a little child really could lead a herd of cows and lions together. Don’t you just crave that? So much peace and unity within such creatures? And Isaiah says, “they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” This is the kind of world that pure repentance could bring.
John says here in Matthew that he baptizes with water for repentance. These two are and always have been intimately connected. When we remember our baptismal vows, we are (or at the least should be) convicted to repent and turn toward God. We recite the Nicene Creed and we remember that we have renounced evil… so yeah we are reminded that our allegiance to Christ is far more important to our allegiances to anyone on this earth. We remember our baptism together, because baptism makes everyone wet, not just some. Are you ever here for a service when Lisa sprinkles you with Holy water? There’s not a chance you’ve escaped dry from one of those services. So not only does baptism represent repentance and a clinging to the Goodness of God, but it means we are all in it together. So we repent, we remember, and we repeat.
Remembering our baptismal vows is something that can give us hope in a tough world. It reminds us of two important things. One: that we might await in Hope for the Prince of Peace- and that we never await in fear for Christ’s coming . And two: we should feel challenged by our baptismal vows. It holds us accountable, and another, it urges us to hold other baptized believers accountable as well.
As a refresher, here’s what our baptism means. It means we will continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers. It means we will persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, we will repent and return to the Lord. It means that we will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. It means we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself. And it means we will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. (With God’s help, of course). We also remember what we renounce: we renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God. We renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. We renounce all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God. We turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as our Savior. And we put our whole trust in his grace and love? We repent, we remember, and we repeat.
These commitments do in fact impact our daily lives. They impact who we love and the decisions we make. Yesterday in North Carolina I believe a lot people remembered their baptism, as thousands gathered for peaceful protests throughout the state. There were so many protesters that the KKK was pushed out of Pelham, then out of Danville. Unfortunately, around 3pm, 30 some members of the KKK drove over to Roxboro- waving confederate flags and some yelling “white power.” It’s upsetting and troubling, yet they weren’t even willing to get out of their cars. What was supposed to be a prideful parade was brought to a short drive. So we’ve got to pray harder and love more. Because if we take heed of John’s witness, we must speak out against hate and violence and evil. We can’t stand by and be quiet. We repent, we remember, we repeat.
So I say remember your baptism.. Pray about what our baptism means for us in this country, pay attention to the ways others are resisting evil and loving neighbor. Reflect on what proclaiming Jesus as LORD means to you in your life. These are dark times, but they aren’t any darker than they were when Christ was born into this world. Only light can extinguish the darkness. The Light of Christ. So we pray and we pray and we pray that Jesus comes to us, and is nearer to us than our very breath. Amen.