Sunday Sermons

May 10, 2020 – The Rev. Pamela Moore

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A, Revised Common Lectionary
Acts 7:55-60
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

+ + +

Risky Business

Happy Mothers’ Day Everyone

Some time ago, I wrote in the front of my Book of Common Prayer, “If now and then you don’t think your sermons might be a bit risky, then you are not a deacon.” It might surprise you to learn that deacons sometimes wonder if their sermons are too political, too radical, and too challenging for the communities they serve.

Deacons are described as having a prophetic voice and are encouraged to be truth-tellers when it comes to societal ills and the mistreatment of God’s children. And yet, deacons have always known that telling the truth is not always well received.

In today’s first lesson, we learn that the first Christian martyr and deacon, St. Stephen, was stoned to death because he proclaimed the risen Christ. However, there was much more to the story according to Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

Stephen was one of the “seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3), who were chosen by the apostles to relieve them of the administrative burden of “serving tables and caring for the widows.” By this appointment to assist the apostles, Stephen, the first-named of those the New Testament calls “The Seven,” became the first to do what the Church traditionally considers to be the work and ministry of a deacon.

It is apparent that Stephen’s activities involved more than simply “serving tables,” for the Acts of the Apostles speaks of his preaching and performing many miracles. These activities led him into conflict with some of the Jews (read as priestly authorities), who accused him of blasphemy, and brought him before the Sanhedrin. His powerful sermon before the Council is recorded in the seventh chapter of Acts. His denunciations of the Sanhedrin so enraged its members that, without a trial, they dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death.” (Adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts). By the way, the reference about serving tables is about the distribution of food.

Stephen was a servant leader, an evangelist, and a passionate follower of Christ. His commitment to the truth no doubt shortened his life. Yet, his willingness to speak truth to power still stands as a value highly prized by many in the diaconate.

Episcopal deacons serve in a variety of ways. If they still have a secular job, most often, their work is in service to others. They may work in nonprofits, healthcare, law enforcement, social services, the military, and in some instances, service minded corporations. Wherever they work, they are asked to “make Christ’s redemptive love known by word and example to those among whom they live, work, and worship. Deacons are also asked to interpret to the Church (all of us) the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.” (BCP, p. 543). Deacons are expected to have a prophetic voice.

In the Sojourners article, What does it mean to be prophetic today? (source – https://sojo.net/media/what-does-it-mean-be-prophetic-today) Walter Brueggemann, professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary, says that he thinks “a prophet is someone that tries to articulate the world as though God were really active in the world. And, that means on the one hand, to identify those parts of our world order that are contradictory to God, but on the other hand, it means to talk about the will and purpose that God has for the world that will indeed come to fruition even in circumstances that we can’t imagine.”

A deacon is expected to talk about what is contradictory to the will of God and to talk about what God is doing in the world, even if we cannot fathom how it will all work out. The first part, talking about what is contradictory to God, is the risky part. And while no Episcopal Deacons have been stoned lately as far as I know, we live in a society that is increasingly uncivil, angry and contentious, making it a challenge to speak truth to power.

Nevertheless, I am ready to speak about what I believe to be true. I will rely on what Jesus said, I will not let my heart be troubled. I will trust in God and believe in Jesus as I share with you what I think is contradictory to God.

I believe that it is contradictory to God to withhold nutrition assistance benefits to hungry people because you are afraid that they will use those benefits longer than you deem necessary. If we have money to bail out big corporations, we have money to feed people. Jesus gave us clear direction when he said, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17).

I believe it is contradictory to God to withhold care for the sick. By not letting all people access health insurance regardless of immigration status. (Matthew 25:35).

I believe it is contradictory to God to be inhospitable to strangers, as revealed in the way we treat immigrants who are still incarcerated at our borders and who are at considerable risk for contracting COVID. It is also contradictory to God and unacceptable to have an “oh well, some people will die” attitude about immigrants, people in nursing homes, and prisoners because the powers that be do not value their lives as much as others. (Hebrews 13:2).

And I believe it is contradictory to God to oppress the poor by ordering people to work in places that will not take the necessary precautions to keep them safe. A choice between protecting your health or working in an unsafe environment is no choice at all. (Psalm 140:12).

Some of our government and community leaders are doing their best to provide for us. However, we have too many leaders who do not seem to understand the devastation being visited upon our families, friends, and neighbors when they do not taking this pandemic seriously.

Thank God we are not totally at the mercy of powerful and insensitive people who lack compassion for those who are suffering. Thank God there are people called to care for the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. Thank God, we have ministers who feed the hungry, visit prisoners, and work to shelter people who are homeless. Thank God some folks are committed to calling other people regularly, so they will not be lonely. Thank God, we can worship online and share our love of God without fear of persecution. Thank God we recognize the heroes among us who put their lives on the line to save others.

God continues to work through us to achieve the greater good. As members of my family like to say, “God will make a way out of no way.”

The pandemic has changed our way of life and forced us to rethink how to be in the world. Many of those changes will be with us for months to come. The pandemic has revealed how vulnerable many people are when it comes to having enough to eat, being financially secure, and accessing healthcare. It seems that those who had few resources, to begin with, have even less now. Nothing can be taken for granted, and no one is immune to the unpredictable nature of this health crisis.

Therefore, we must continue to care for one another by keeping practices that make the community safe for all of us, not just some of us. We must continue to be kind, caring, and thoughtful amid the stress of this pandemic. We must act as representatives of Christ Jesus, who asked us to love one another as he loved us.

I leave you with a prayer that is often attributed to another saint, Francis, for it is a good reminder of how we can continue to serve God and one another as we live through this pandemic:

St. Francis Prayer

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

March 15, 2020 – The Rev. Dr. Stephen Shaver

3 Lent, Year A, Revised Common Lectionary
Exodus 17:1-7
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42
Psalm 95

+ + +

So there’s the physical, and there’s the spiritual.

The Israelites were in the desert. They were thirsty. Physically thirsty. And God met them there and provided water, miraculous water, water gushing out of a rock.

Jesus was by the well at noon, in the heat of the day. He was thirsty. Physically thirsty. And God met him there in the form of a woman, a Samaritan woman, and provided water, not miraculous water but very ordinary water, gushing out of a well dug so long ago by Jacob, the common ancestor of Jews and Samaritans alike. (more…)

March 1, 2020 – The Rev. Pamela Moore

First Sunday in Lent, Year A, Revised Common Lectionary
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11
Psalm 32

+ + +

My Brother’s Keeper

During this last week, I spent a significant amount of time researching a financial product so I could assist my younger brother with an important decision he will need to make in the next few months. My brother is about to become 62 years old, and since I am seven years older than him, our thoughts have been turning more and more as to how we might best prepare for the future as neither of us has children or a spouse to care for us. My brother is generally capable and can manage his household. However, when complicated decisions are involved, he often turns to me for assistance. As the dutiful older sister, I take these requests seriously because my mother always told me to look out for him and to take care of him. By the way parents, I understand what you are hoping when you ask older siblings to take care of younger ones. You are encouraging them to look out for each other. However, it would be great if you could put an end date on the request. After all it was one thing to look after my brother when he was twelve or before he turned twenty-one. He’s sixty-two now and honestly someone as hyper-responsible as me can struggle with this request as most grown folk won’t do as you say just because you told them to do it. (more…)

February 2, 2020 – The Rev. Patricia Moore

The Presentation of our Lord, Year A, Revised Common Lectionary
Malachi 3:1-4
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2:22-40
Psalm 84

+ + +

The sun the source of our life on earth is a rather small star in the universe. But it is huge compared to the earth. You could fit more than 1 million earths into the sun if it were hollow. 1 million. And, every second the sun is turning 4 million tons of its solar self, its solar material, its mass into energy—light. It generates that light and gives it away, you could say. The material it transforms into light is not replaced; the sun is transforming itself and giving itself away. We are circling around what we could call solar generosity—and sacrifice. Everything you’ve ever done is what we could call a solar event—the result of solar sacrifice and generosity. (more…)

January 26, 2020 – The Rev. Patricia Moore

Third Sunday After Epiphany, Year A, Revised Common Lectionary
Isaiah 9:1-4
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23
Psalm 27:1, 5-13

+ + +

“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear?”

Indeed, whom shall I fear? Whom do I fear? Whom or what do you fear? The Bible is filled with talk about fear, mostly with admonitions to fear not! Remember the angel Gabriel to Mary, “Fear not, the Lord is with you.” Angels are very much into “Fear not!”

But of course, if truth be told we do fear. I read recently that 40% of Americans suffer from anxiety—ranging from panic attacks to other forms of anxious living. Look around this church and think about that. 40% of us are living with anxiety. (more…)

January 12, 2020 – The Rev. Pamela Moore

First Sunday After Epiphany, Year A, Revised Common Lectionary
Isaiah 42:1-9
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17
Psalm 29

+ + +

Baptism

Somewhere in my house, there is a button I got a few years ago that says, “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.” I thought of that button when I read today’s Gospel lesson. As a young girl, I longed to be unique, to be noticed for who I was, and to know that I had God’s blessing. Whenever I heard the account of the Baptism of Our Lord, I could not help but wonder what it would be like for a ray of light to come from the heavens and for a voice to say, “This is my child, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” What would it take, I thought, to be the kind of person that God would think was an exceptional being? (more…)

January 6, 2020 – The Rev. Dr. Stephen Shaver

The Epiphany, Revised Common Lectionary
Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12
Psalm 72:1-7,10-14

+ + +

They brought him gifts, these magi; these wise men, mages, learned ones from the East. They came to find a king, and the one who was already king was not amused. He sent them on to Bethlehem, Herod, that fox, that sly wielder of power, plying them with smooth words even as his soldiers sharpened their swords for what was to come.

They brought him gifts, these sages, these Iranian seers, these Zoroastrian seekers of God. They followed a light from heaven, and they came to a humble house. And they opened their chests and brought forth their treasures, rich gifts laden with hope and expectation: Gold. Incense. Myrrh. (more…)

January 5, 2020 – The Rev. Dr. Stephen Shaver

2 Christmas, Year A, Revised Common Lectionary
Jeremiah 31:7-14
Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a
Luke 2:41-52
Psalm 84

+ + +

It’s not easy being twelve.

It’s not so easy being the parent of a twelve-year-old either.

Maybe even a little more so if that twelve-year-old is the Messiah.

This is the only passage in the Bible that tells us a story of Jesus participating in the universal human experience of being a kid, with every bit of the joy and frustration that involves. (more…)

December 29, 2019 – The Rev. Hugh Stevenson

UP, UP & AWAY

When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. (Luke 21:28 KJV)

I got a kite for my birthday. I love kites, the way they ascend into the heavens transcending the force of gravity, up, up and away. We took my new kite to Bodega Head where there was a fresh breeze from the sea and it flew up into the air. What exhilaration! So the song that concludes Mary Poppins speaks to me. It’s a song of joy or redemption, a song of resurrection. The Banks family had been going down hill, while George Banks devoted his full attention to the bank where he worked and neglected his family. But when he lost his job it was a blessing in disguise; he had time to fix the kite which was broken and to take his family out to the park as he sang:

Oh, oh, oh! Let’s go fly a kite up to the highest height!
Let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear. Oh, let’s go fly a kite![1] (more…)

December 15, 2009 – The Rev. Dr. Stephen Shaver

3 Advent, Year A, Revised Common Lectionary
Isaiah 35:1-10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11
Psalm 146:4-9

+ + +

There’s something very human about buyer’s remorse.

In a few weeks we’ll be seeing that up close as the return lines get long after Christmas. Although less and less in retail stores and more and more in post offices and UPS Stores. A few months ago I made an Amazon return and discovered for the first time that I didn’t even have to box up my item—just to bring it to the UPS Store and they would box it up for me. Companies are realizing that making their return policies easier actually makes them more money, as customers get more likely to buy in the first place. Buyer’s remorse is all part of the business plan. (more…)

December 1, 2019 – The Rev. Dr. Stephen Shaver

1 Advent, Year A, Revised Common Lectionary
Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

+ + +

It was about fifteen minutes before the end of my shift as hospital chaplain on call when I was paged to the cardiac catheterization lab.

I’d never been to the cath lab before. It’s not a place chaplains usually have a reason to visit. Patients usually go there for a procedure, then go home, or back to their inpatient beds. As I answered the page I could hear the shock in the nurse’s voice as she told me what had happened. A man in his fifties—let’s call him James—had come in for a test. Things seemed to be going routinely, until they weren’t. Without any warning, his heart stopped. The team performed CPR, but despite their frantic efforts, James died there on the table. (more…)

November 24, 2019 – The Rev. Dr. Stephen Shaver

Proper 29, Year C, Revised Common Lectionary
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

+ + +

“If you are.” “If you are.” “If you are.”

That’s what Jesus hears over and over as he hangs there. “If you are the King of the Jews, come down!” “If you are the chosen one, save yourself!” “If you are the Messiah, save yourself and us!”

And it’s as if his story has come full circle, back to the beginning, after his baptism when he went out into the desert and faced his first test, when Satan tempted him with almost the very same words. “If you are the Son of God. . . .” Turn these stones into bread, to feed your hunger. Bow down to me, and become king of the world. Leap from the temple, and test the Lord your God.

In the beginning just as in the end, the temptation is the same. To misuse his power. To turn his divine authority to his own ends. (more…)

November 17, 2019 – The Rev. Hugh Stevenson

Proper 28, Year C, Revised Common Lectionary
Malachi 4:1-2a
Psalm 98
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

+  +  +

APOCALYPSE

There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. Luke 21:11

We live in apocalyptic times. Let me explain what “apocalyptic” means. It is the opposite of the words of the song: “Don’t worry; be happy.”

Here’s a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note.
Don’t worry, be happy
In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry you make it double.  Don’t worry, be happy[1]

But we do worry because we are threatened by the coming of “the Four horsemen of the apocalypse,” which are disease and war, famine and death.[2] the gospels list the signs of tribulation as “great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”[3] (more…)

November 10, 2019 – The Rev. Dr. Stephen Shaver

Proper 27, Year C, Revised Common Lectionary
Job 19:23-27a
Psalm 17:1-9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

+ + +

It’s very human to want to escape mortality. To cheat the Reaper and live forever.

Sometimes quite literally. Maybe you’re familiar with the movement called cryonics in which people have their bodies frozen in hopes future technology will be able to bring them back to life one day. On the other end of the timeline, there are some biotech folks in Silicon Valley who are hoping to extend human lifespans to the point of never dying in the first place, at least not from old age. Now as Christians we might say that there’s a difference between endless life and eternal life. A life that’s just chronologically endless, and where you’re continually afraid of dying in an accident, might turn out to be a nightmare instead of a dream. (more…)