Monday, May 20, 2013

Holding onto hope

The other day, I listened to a public radio report on research into suicide notes.

Yes, it's a sobering topic but an instructive one.

A researcher, a linguist, has developed a complex computer program that reads through all the notes, sorts and sifts them, and then identifies certain key words and phrases common to the notes.

When the research is complete and published one day, medical personnel, educators, clergy will have further help in identifying people with suicidal thoughts and will be better able to intervene and save lives.

What did you learn  from the notes?  the radio interviewer asked the researcher.

He said that beyond mundane concerns like instructing a friend or loved one left behind to pay the mortgage or get the dog to the vet for its shots, nearly every note mentioned the loss of hope.

Without hope, there is only despair, which can lead some people to suicide. It did for the people who wrote those tragic notes.

Despair is cumulative. Crisis after crisis. Stress upon stress. Pain added to pain. It all builds up. The weight of suffering, especially when carried alone, becomes too much. And too often, the person so afflicted sees only one way out and, sadly, that is by taking his or her own life.

But might hope also be cumulative? Can hope be planted in the soul, tended and then allowed to flower like roses in the garden?

I think so. And the time to start is now. And the way to start is through prayer. Daily prayer, the constant turning of one's attention to God, is the beginning of hope.

Despair takes root and blossoms into darkness and death when one thinks that one knows more than God, that there is no solution, that there cannot possibly be resurrection from the grave on the third day.

But the gospel declares that God has conquered death--that Jesus Christ is risen from the grave and is alive. The God of all-powerful love is the only reliable ground of hope.

 As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said, "God makes a way where there is no way."

Sometimes, our mortal eyes can't see the way, but God can always see it.

So, hold onto hope, for hope is God holding onto you in the darkness until the light of dawn comes.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Loving as Jesus loves: indiscriminately.

The News-Leader reports today on a local ordinance that would prohibit discrimination locally against people who are gay, bisexual or transgender.

A group of local pastors--I was one of them-- signed a letter to the paper expressing our concerns about  another pastor's use of four Scripture passages, which have been used historically to justify discrimination--and worse--against God's gay, bisexual and transgendered children.

In the same letter, we called for support of the anti-discrimination ordinance.

This last Sunday, I preached about God's indiscriminate love in Jesus Christ. Christ's love embraces all people. And Jesus calls his followers to extend his love--his love being our willing and working for the flourishing of everyone.

Here is the text of my Sunday sermon. As always I welcome your comments.

Easter Five/c
The Rev. Kenneth L. Chumbley
April 28, 2013
Acts 11.1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21.1-6; John 13.31-35

I love this time of the year. The gloom of winter gives way to the glories of spring—cardinals singing, flowers blooming, trees bursting into green blossoms.  And—sniffle and cough—allergies!

Still, spring is my favorite of nature’s seasons for so many reasons and for so many reminders of God’s life-giving love.

Here’s an analogy: God’s love is like the sun that shines onto the earth, into our world, and life flourishes in the sun’s light. Today in the gospel, Jesus talks with us about the importance of God’s love. He gives us the love commandment.

He’s given it to us before. I guess we need reminders that love is what the Christian faith is about, fundamentally. It’s not about doctrines, dogmas, creeds, tomes of theology, as important as they are.

Love alone is of ultimate importance.

Love one another, Jesus says, as I have loved you. By this—this love—people will know that you are my disciples, followers of the way, the truth, the life.

He urges us to live according to this commandment. To love in the way God loves. Love…indiscriminately. Love the way the sun’s light shines upon everything.

In today’s gospel from John, Jesus is at supper with his disciples, his last meal with them, and he commands them to love people who are part of that immediate and intimate fellowship. To love one another indiscriminately.

Jesus loves even his disciple Judas, who even now plots his betrayal and death. He wants Judas to flourish, but perhaps knows that Judas will choose the way of death, not of life.

Love one another, my little ones, Jesus says to his disciples. Love the one who gossips about you. Love the one who has hurt you.;  Love the one who is impossible to get alone with. Love the one you don’t understand. Love the one in the dirty clothes. Love the one who makes more money that you do. Love the one who makes much less than you.

Love one another the way, I love you Jesus says, and so show yourselves to be Christians, followers of mine.

Don’t just speak love. Act it. Love as I do, Jesus says, indiscriminately. Working actively for the flourishing of others. Whoever they are. Love as intensively as the sun, whose rays fall on the earth in equal measure, bringing forth life in its fullness.

But don’t stop there in your loving, little ones.

Jesus does not mean that we are to love just one another—just the people in the pew with us. Just other Christians. Just Episcopalians. But he intends that we love everyone: Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, and people who just don't care.

God’s love is indiscriminate. So love that way, Jesus says. The way he himself lives. The light that that shines from the Father into the Son and from the Son into us and through us onto others through the power of love, the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ love is to shine out of us, with its full intensity. To blaze like the sun at noontime.

God’s love for everyone is the message of the Acts reading this morning. Today’s text expands on the implications of the gospel—the words of Jesus himself. Acts is the church’s interpretation of the love commandment for a new situation.

Peter has this vision of a huge pice of cloth dropping down from heaven, and it’s full of unclean creatures, which Jews have been warned to stay away from, or God will stay away from them.

And yet, Peter hears God’s new word to him. The Spirit says, “Take up and eat.” God tells Peter to consume that which he had thought unclean. To take to himself that from which he'd religiously separated himself.

God’s love, Peter says, based on this new revelation, is for the Gentiles, too—not just the Jews, but for those non-Jews- THOSE people over there.

In God’s community, there’s so segregation. There’s no discrimination. But only equal love for all equally.

And in St. John’s revelation this morning, we see a new vision of what God intends for the human community—what God was doing in Jesus more than two millennia ago and what God is doing now in him and through him. God is creating a new heaven and earth, the new Jerusalem.

It will be a new creation in which the light of God’s love in Jesus brings forth the flourishing of everyone and everything.

It is springtime. Birds are singing for all. Flowers are springing up for all. Trees are bursting into green bud for all. And there are no more tears. and, let's hope, no more pollen and allergies!

God is working for this new human community of love as we participate in his work, loving with God’s indiscriminate love.

In the words of that children’s Sunday school song, Jesus wants us to be his sunbeams.

To let God’s light of love shine through us and onto one another right here; through us and onto everyone beyond this church through our giving and serving.

Through us, sunbeams of God’s love can shine on Haiti at the clinic of Les Timoun, where fragile, vulnerable babies need food and medicines to flourish.

Through us, sunbeams of God’s love can shine on the needy children at Bissett Elementary who need new shoes.

Through us, sunbeams of God’s love can shine on hungry people through our canned good offerings on Sundays, our cash gifts, and our volunteer hours to Crosslines. And please remember: our Crosslines gifts will be matched this month by a foundation.

And through us, sunbeams of God’s indiscriminate love can fall on God’s gay, bisexual, transgender children who are denied equal access in Springfield to housing, employment, medical care because of who they are.

Little children, Love, Jesus says today. Let the light of the Father and the Son’s love shine in you and through you in the power of God the Holy Spirit. Love as God loves in Jesus--indiscriminately--for the flourishing of life for all God’s children.

Love for that new community of earth—the new Jerusalem.

Christ Church, we are Jesus’ sunbeams of love. So shine. Shine on all. Amen

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hail Mary

In the Roman Catholic Church, May is the month of Mary--the Blessed Virgin, the mother of our Lord, the Theotokos or God bearer of Orthodox Christianity.

How well I remember May 1 from my Roman Catholic days. We, the faithful, focused our attention on Mary. We attended a special Mass in Mary's honor. In our classrooms, we listened to the nuns lecture on her significance.

Growing up in the church, I was frightened of God the Father--that exalted, almost Zeus-like dweller in heaven with the flowing white beard (Much later, on a visit to Rome, I saw the Father so depicted in  Michelangelo's painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and realized where that image had originated). I felt at home with Jesus, the Son of the Father; Jesus was my friend and companion, my comfort. I was puzzled by the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost.

But Mary? Ah, Mary, she was pure goodness--the ideal mother. She was the first disciple of Jesus, who was both her son and her Lord.  She was the examplar of faithful living.

In the Roman Catholic tradition of my birth and early years, Mary was revered, even adored because of her place in salvation history. She said yes to God, declaring to that angelic messenger: "Let it be to me according to Thy will."

And she bore the Savior, nurtured him over the years, and watched him, through anguished eyes, suffer in his passion and die on the cross. Mary wept and wailed as her child suffered and died, the way mothers have wept and wailed since the beginning of time as they have watched their children perish in war, from hunger, thirst, privation of all kinds, in storms and floods. Alas, mothers will go on weeping for their lost children.

Today, thanks be to God, Mary is honored not just by Roman Catholics, but also by many Protestants. As an Episcopalian now, I go on honoring her.

Devotion to Mary is a part of my rule of life as an associate of the Society of St. Margaret, an order of women religious in the Episcopal Church. (Yes, we have nuns and monks in the Episcopal Church.).
And so I remember the Blessed Mother today, in May, and on feasts dedicated to her.

And I pray the Hail Mary, that prayer my own beloved mother taught me when I was a toddler and that I have prayed regularly ever since.

Please pray with me...

"Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art Thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen."