Easter 2018: Gateway to the Kingdom of God

Homily for Easter Sunday

 

Like all children, mine go through phases where something so captures their imagination that they want to learn and read everything they can about it. My daughter’s current curiosity is Ancient Egypt, and more specifically, mummies.

We’ve now read together of mummies not just from Egypt but from all over the world, from Europe to South America, and even mummies in the bible…did you realize that both Jacob and Joseph were mummified in Egypt before being carried home?

What fascinates me is how much this burial practice was as much an expression of class as it was of belief. I don’t mean that a golden sarcophagus was a classier way to go, though by most measures that’s surely the case. No, I mean that generally speaking, only royal people got the royal treatment, and that if we’re finding your preserved remains today…while there’s a slim chance it’s because you were lucky enough to fall into a bog…most likely it’s because you were a person of some status. Perhaps you were noble; perhaps you were a patriarch like Jacob and Joseph, or perhaps you were just plain loaded.

As we peer into the empty tomb, let’s remember that that social reality was as true in 1st Century Jerusalem as it was in Ancient Egypt. Rock-Cut tombs were expensive, and mostly just for the upper classes. Tombs like these were signs of great wealth and status; they would have been family assets, as valuable perhaps as an estate would be to us today. A tomb wasn’t just a burial place: it was a family legacy.

What would it mean to part with our legacy for Jesus’ sake? Now, I’m not even to Easter Sunday yet…I’m still thinking a few days before, when a respected member of the council had been so moved by Jesus that he gave up his own legacy to show his love.  This is from the Gospel of Mark: Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.

Joseph of Arimathea was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. He was willing to follow his heart no matter the consequences. He was willing to part with his status and even his legacy simply to provide Jesus’ body with a resting place.  This was self-giving purely for love’s sake.

Joseph’s love made him bold. That’s a word straight from scripture:  Joseph boldly went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. He boldly went to Pilate, knowing what could happen to him, knowing what he was most certainly giving up, all for the sake of one thing: love. To show devotion to Jesus, whom he loved deeply, even in death.

Joseph was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. The curious thing is, when we are capable of that kind of love, capable of that kind of boldness, and drawn to that kind of devotion, in a way the Kingdom of God is already here.

Would he have been so bold if all this was just one big lost cause?  No, for you see even on Good Friday, Jesus had declared victory. Even Jesus’ death was a fulfillment of God’s promise. Even dressing his body for the grave was a sacrament of the coming Kingdom.

In a way, Joseph didn’t have to wait any longer.  When he died on the cross, Jesus cried out It is finished, meaning, “It is completed; it is accomplished, it is fulfilled![i]” And Kallistos Ware tells us that the thing fulfilled is:

The work of suffering love, the victory of love over hatred…At his agony and at his crucifixion the forces of darkness assail him with all their violence, but they cannot turn his compassion into hatred; they cannot prevent his love from continuing to be itself. His love is tested to the furthest point, but it is not overwhelmed.[ii]

So in a way, the tomb was a gateway to the Kingdom of God the minute they laid Jesus body in it. In a way, the stone didn’t matter because the victory had already been won…but the victory of Good Friday was still hidden.

But two days later, the hidden victory was revealed. On Friday, love defeated hatred; on Sunday, love overwhelmed death. In Christ’s resurrection, we see that there is truly nothing that will separate us from God. Not powers or principalities. Not hatred or fear. Not even death itself, for even in Death we find the healing power of God’s love.

The tomb had become a gateway to the Kingdom of God, but this morning the gateway leads out, from the dark night of death into a bright and hopeful morning. The incredible thing of this tomb – this mark of worldly status given up in a gift of love and sacrifice – isn’t just that it has become a gateway to the eternal, it’s that the tomb is a gateway to the kingdom of God no matter which way we enter it.

All of us go down to the grave, yet even there we make our song, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. That is entrance to the kingdom of God. We will be resurrected with Jesus, and so we know that death and sin and hatred no longer hold a claim on us. That, too, is the eternal kingdom. And if we can open our heart as Joseph did, if we can see what he saw, even in utter defeat, then we have already begun in this life to pass through the gates and enter the kingdom of holiness and grace.

Without knowing it, Joseph had begun to imagine what might be possible in God’s kingdom. The other person in this story with that kind of vision, of course, is Mary Magdalene.

Peter and the Beloved Disciple see the linens (carefully rolled up, for reasons we’ll never know) and run away joyfully, but Mary looks in and sees something they don’t: she sees two angels sitting on the bench where Jesus’ body had been.

Mary saw something that the others didn’t. Her heart saw something of what Joseph of Arimathea had seen. Mary was gifted with a spiritual vision that the others didn’t have quite yet. She moved among the angels. She stood still in a holy place, and offered the sacrifice of tears. And though the others ran off in a hurry, it was Mary who took the first true steps into the new kingdom of God. For it was Mary who first saw the Lord.

Mary, like Joseph, had been waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. That doesn’t mean they were without grief when Jesus died. Yet in their sadness they were fearless and even hopeful, so they could to see what no one else could: that the gateway had been crossed. That the tomb was a vessel for something new entirely. That Jesus was risen, and the victory was won.

The Lord is risen indeed, and we too have seen him. And rising up from the grave, we too make our song: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

 

Homily for Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018, The Rev. Bernard J. Owens, Year B, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Greensboro, North Carolina.

 

[i] Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY, 1979. P. 81

[ii] ibid

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fixed points of holiness

Homily for Mach 18, 2018 – Jeremiah 31: 31-34 & John 12: 20-33

The story of exile in Babylon and the return to Israel years later is one of the most poignant ones in the Old Testament. Few people realize, though, that upon their return to their homeland the people of God were issued a survey that had just a few questions: “Which of these major changes – exile, and then return – was most helpful in your relationship with God?” And, “Which one was most challenging to your faith?”

The years in exile, of course, had been a tragedy on so many levels: they lost their status, security, identity, and the temple itself; so returning home meant the end of a dark time.

But both of these movements – into exile, and then returning home – meant moving from one life, to another one entirely. In Exile they lost everything they valued, they were cast out from their homes and had to live among strangers. The ground underneath their feet had crumbled. But another change was coming.

Into that world of profound loss, Jeremiah spoke a word of hope: though the people had fallen, God’s fidelity to their covenant was still intact. The ground may have fallen out from under them, they may have forgotten the covenant altogether, but God was still God, and in that truth they found comfort and hope that they hadn’t felt in decades.

Just as the prophets in had once foretold a reckoning, Jeremiah said that though the world had changed, God hadn’t, and the days were surely coming when instead of a reckoning, they would experience return.

Nobody wants the reckoning. Most everybody wants the restoration. Is that a fair statement? But I might argue that in a certain way they are remarkably similar. You see, both represent profound change, and change can be holy. Sometimes change is instantaneous; it’s a catastrophe or a miracle. Sometimes change is imperceptible: tectonic in its pace but moving along all the same. But if we take for granted that change will come – sometimes it’s reckoning, and sometimes it’s restoration (and sometimes it’s just life)– it’s worth asking…which of these are better for our faith? Which kind of change brings us closer to a living experience of God? Which of these changes will best help us to heal, to grow, to reach towards union with God?

But let’s get back to the survey: which is better, exile or return? Reckoning or restoration? Decline or growth? If the Israelites were human, and I’m pretty sure they were, they probably answered with 99% certainty that the return was better. But I’m not so sure. I have a feeling that both offered a profound opportunity to grow deeper in their love for God.

You see, I believe that every change we experience – whether painful or hopeful – every one is an opportunity to grow in God. And I don’t think that’s by accident. I think that’s why change is a part of life…each time our world shifts there is a chance to rekindle, each time we find ourselves in a “new normal” we have an invitation to renew and revive the covenant of holiness that defines our lives.

I’m not saying that every change is a winner. Sometimes they’re great, and sometimes they feel like death. In fact, our gospel goes a step further: sometimes change is death. There’s no point in denying it. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. That’s our vocation, as Christians: to follow Jesus to the cross, to let the falsities of our lives die off and be changed by that. Sometimes our vocation is to bear the pain of change that the much of the world can’t handle, because that is what Jesus did. He carried pain in his body, and if we make can audacious claim of being the Body of Christ, then we too must be prepared to carry some pain.

The exile in Babylon was deeply painful, it was a humiliation that lasted for generations, but it was not such a bad thing for their relationship with God. Without the temple, they had to figure out who they were apart from a glorious building. Without a king of their own, they saw clearly the withered fruits of their own exceptionalism. Suddenly brought low, they could see the toll that their greed had taken on their neighbors, and on their own hearts. This was really bad for their ego, but let’s be honest, it was really good for their soul. Their mournful songs by the rivers of Babylon became hymns that would sustain them; the prophets who had warned of their downfall now used the same poetry to remind them that God grieved beside them.

Jeremiah knew that if they returned home, and got to feeling good about themselves, and began to forget once again that God had done this, and not them, then they’d be heading for the same outcome. Restoration would would be very good for their sense of self-worth, but would it be good for their souls?

Remember, though, how we’re thinking about change this morning. Every time something shifts, there’s an opportunity to go deeper. There’s an invitation to go into that file cabinet and take out the covenant that God has made with us, to renew and even revive it as something with a living claim on our life. Every change is a chance to grow in God.

So Jeremiah prophesied their return, but he had something else to add: God will make a new covenant with the houses of Israel and Judah. The new covenant rested on this: I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Even when we forget, we are God’s, and God is with us. Even when we are lost, we are God’s. Even when we are ecstatic with the joys of return, God holds us and loves us and calls us to go deeper.

This was about kindling a new spirit as they physically rebuilt their homes. And unlike the old laws written on stone: God would put this law within the people, and would write it on their hearts.

God wanted the people to make a leap – an upgrade, if you will, from one platform to another. From stone to flesh and blood. They weren’t simply to be parties to a covenant: they were to be the covenant, with the word of the lord imprinted on their hearts and the love of God evident through their very lives.

Stone tablets may have seemed good and sturdy, but stone doesn’t grow and it doesn’t respond well to change. The people had learned in exile that stone can crumble or be struck down or simply wasn’t packable when they had to move, but that hearts bound together by prayer and songs and love were far more durable. Where stone had failed, their hearts would be the new vessels.

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground, it will not bear fruit. In this life, the winds will blow. The rains will come. The ground underneath us will collapse from time to time, but God is still God. The temple may fall into the abyss and take with it the stone or the scroll that holds the old law… but the new covenant has already been given. It is here. It is here. The new covenant has been written on our hearts, and we keep it with our lives.

The changes in life may be swift and varied, the waters will rage and foam, so we fix our heart on the presence and grace of God. As our world changes, we hold fast to a promise that does not change: God is with us; God is our refuge and strength, and we are God’s people. We know this because it is written on our very hearts.

Homily for March 18, 2018, The Rev. Bernard J. Owens, The 5th Sunday in Lent, Year B, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Greensboro, North Carolina.

 

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the wisdom of the world

homily for February 25, 2018

Peter is wise in the ways of the world, and works well for him, up to a point.  Yet the soundest of worldly wisdom is still rooted in the world, and not in heaven. Peter’s conflict with Jesus is the inevitable flareup that happens when good old common sense comes into full contact with the foolishness of the cross.

Peter’s problem – his spiritual problem– is that for all its soundness, the wisdom of this world anchors us on human things rather than on divine things.  Worldly wisdom helps us to thrive and succeed according to a set of values that we rarely question, and it’s often about gaining status and power and security as we get grow in years. When that security is threatened – as it was with Peter, when Jesus gave him a glimpse of what this is really about – then we often react by clinging even more forcefully to ways that feel safe and familiar, perhaps even time-tested.

Yet when we hang our lives on the ways of this world – grasping for all those things that we tell ourselves make our lives better –in a way we are surrounding ourselves with the very things that hasten our own death.

Kallistos Ware tells us that “death has both a physical and a spiritual aspect, and of the two it is the spiritual that is more terrible.  Physical death is the separation of man’s body from his soul; spiritual death, the separation of man’s soul from God.”[i]  If we quietly believe that the passage of time is about upward mobility rather than seeking God in the humble soil of our hearts, then we are sadly misled. Instead of gaining life we surround ourselves with artifacts of lifelessness, with things that do not give life but in fact steal it from us.

Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

But what, then, is life?  If anything, we gain from this teaching the mystical paradox at the heart of our faith. If we cling to means and security, we lose everything that matters. If we empty ourselves as Jesus did, completely, giving ourselves for others and for God, then we gain our lives. The path to life is not found in security, but in vulnerability. The path to life is not through power, but through suffering. Life is found not in status and wealth and being held in high esteem, but in humility and poverty and sometimes even pain.

The drive to be successful and secure is a powerful temptation that leads us to trust in ourselves rather than in God. And it’s insatiable: we feel a relentless pressure to push against the ceiling of what we already have, to gain even more of those things that might affirm our value…and what’s worse, we rarely question this. That’s what worldly wisdom is all about.

Yet the life of the spirit is found below, moving gracefully beneath us as we toil atop a ladder. Life is not found in grandeur; it is found in simplicity. Life is found in the deep and heartfelt love we have for one another, a love that calls us to sacrifice and give of ourselves so that others can be fulfilled. Life is found in songs of praise and thanksgiving.  Life is found not in the hard-heartedness of power and privilege – quite the opposite, those are the seeds of our own death – but in the loving work of reconciliation and justice.

And life is found, we see, in suffering. Returning to the paradox, Jesus tells us that if we are to seek life, we will find it in the things that the world shuns. We disrupt the pattern of worldly temptations – temptations which often wear the sheep’s clothing of common sense – by denying ourselves, by taking up our cross, and by following Jesus.

Clifton Black reminds us that “in the economy of the gospel, the only way to be made whole is to let go of everything society reckons most valuable. There is no benefit in gaining the entire world…if in doing so one forfeits’ one’s deepest soul. [ii]

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Following Jesus to the cross means knowing the reality of suffering. This is precisely what Peter cannot handle. Peter doesn’t want to suffer. He doesn’t want to give up his life, he wants to save it & even make it something important.

Yet Jesus said to Peter, You don’t understand because you are still anchored in the world. Rooted here, cannot grow and you will not find life. But I want you to gain your life, to set your heart on the eternal, not just for yourself but so that others may become who my Father created them to be.

Peter is so afraid of suffering that he is willing to challenge Jesus on this, and even to resort to violence to prevent it from happening. Later, in the garden of Gethsemane when the guards come for Jesus, what does Peter do? He reaches for the nearest weapon he can find, in this case a sword, and ostensibly to protect his Lord but really to ward off suffering, Peter slices off a guard’s ear.

Do you realize what a tragedy this was? With one reckless act of violence, through his trust in a sidearm over the grace of God, Peter ended the Jesus movement. It was over, right then and there.  With one slice of a blade, everything was lost. In an instant of violence, a movement of love and grace and relationship became an insurgency. This was to be the end of it, and Peter’s trust in worldly things assured that Jesus of Nazareth would fade into history as just another religious dissident.

You see, that is what we do when we place our trust in the ways of this world, because the worldly things we trust become instruments of our own death. Money and security seem like a safety net, yet can very well be our downfall. But instruments of violence will always signal death, no matter how we spin it. We must never place our trust in violence to bring life.

Gun violence is a uniquely American sickness.  It endangers the innocent while it sabotages our ability to talk about what life really means. Dean Andrew McGowan of Berkeley Divinity School (my seminary) said over the weekend that “Gun violence…mocks and competes with the power of God to save and sustain. The forces that cling to (it) imagine violence as protection, and that infinite potential violence would somehow lead to peace, but this can never be true.”[iii]

Those who seek to save their lives, will lose them. Peter used violence to prevent suffering, but tragically ended up assuring that the world would know Jesus as just another instigator with a well-armed guard, if Jesus was remembered at all.

Except. Except. Except Jesus would not allow the work of salvation to be defined by fear or sabotaged by an instrument of death.  Thanks to Peter, the situation became hopeless, but because this was Jesus, it wasn’t hopeless at all. Because what happened? Jesus reached up to the guard, and if you have lost all hope, take heart – Jesus places his hand over the ear of the guard and restores him to wholeness.  Peter’s recklessness was redeemed. Jesus brought the movement back from the edge of collapse and restored the presence of grace.

Those who are willing to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus, will find life. Those who cling and strive and push to save their lives will only surround themselves with death, yet those who give everything will become vessels of salvation. The paradox at the heart of our faith puts us in sharp conflict with the wisdom of the world, yet it connects us to an infinite source of life at the deepest heart of our being.

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I’ll close with a thought from Mother Maria of Paris, an Eastern orthodox saint who died in the French resistance during the second world war. She wrote of what happens to us when we can break from worldly things and instead set our hearts on the eternal. It doesn’t actually take much. She wrote, “I think that anyone who has had this experience of eternity, if only once; one who has understood the way he is going, if only once; who has seen the One who goes before him, if only once – such a person will find it hard to turn aside from this path; to him all comfort will seem ephemeral, all treasure valueless, all companions unnecessary, if amongst them he fails to see the One Companion, carrying his Cross.”[iv]

Put down the things of this world, and you will gain everything. Take up your cross. Follow me, and together we will find life.

Homily for Feb 25, 2018, The Rev. Bernard J. Owens, The 2nd Sunday in Lent, Year B, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Greensboro, North Carolina.

 

[i] Ware, The Orthodox Way,  79

[ii] C. Clifton Black, Working Preacher

[iii] https://twitter.com/Praxeas/status/965228177659396097

[iv] Ware, The Orthodox Way, 85

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lent 2.0

Homily for the Last Sunday After the Epiphany, Mark 9:2-9

The disciples, when they followed Jesus up the mountain, were probably not looking for a life-changing experience. But let’s be honest, neither are many of us.

Who really has the time for a life-changing experience? Who among us has the capacity and the imagination these days? Let’s use a great modern word: who has the bandwidth for that kind of thing, with our schedules full to bursting and our spirits gummed-up with all the things we already know perfectly well?

In our lives we move so fast, with such seeming clarity of purpose, that we fail to see and hear important things that emerge right in front of us.  The things that matter. The things that can disrupt our trajectory and set us on a different path – sometimes gently, and sometimes abruptly. The things that might just awaken us to a larger life, to the presence of God, to our own brokenness, to our own giftedness. Do we see these things when they appear around us? Are we ready to listen?

That seems to be part of the story of the Transfiguration: Peter and James and John are right beside Jesus on the mountain, they see and they hear, but do they really see and hear? The fact is, they very nearly don’t.

They almost miss it because the moment they see something that disrupts their understanding, they scurry for a familiar meaning – but since this is about the unknowable and mysterious God, anything familiar would only be misleading. The try to plug the transcendent into a story they already know, rather than listen as the new story unfolds.

How likely was it that one of the three disciples, seeing their teacher transfigured before them, turned to the others and said. I knew it! I knew this was what Jesus was all about it. Judging from the rest of the story, this isn’t very likely. It’s more likely that one turned to another and said Wait, I thought we were spiritual-but-not religious – now what’s all this about? 

After the immediate shock of seeing Jesus shining before them, what do they do? They go straight to their comfort zone and begin to fit what they had seen – actually, they were trying to spin it in real time – into a story that was already familiar to them. Seeing Elijah and Moses, they said, “It is good for us to be here.” (Perhaps they said this was so that their presence would be reflected in the minutes). Let’s now create dwelling places. Let’s create structures. Let’s create vessels so that you – and Moses and Elijah – will always be where we know to find you.

Yet they begin to shift from their own narrowness to, if not an understanding, a new capacity for seeing when Peter stops talking and lets his heart take the lead. He stops talking and realized that he is scared.

This is one of those rare moments where fear is actually a helpful emotion. After Peter says that dopey thing about building three dwellings, we learn that he was terrified.  Fear itself isn’t the point, but at least we can say that this was a real emotion. It got Peter out of his heard and into his heart, into a place where he could begin to see and hear what was unfolding right in front of him.

And so when they heard God’s voice – This is my Son, the Beloved, Listen to him,” the disciples began to listen.

This was not the Jesus they had known, and so it was not the Jesus they had expected. And they are not alone. This was not the nice-friend and wise-teacher Jesus. This was not spiritual-but-not-religious Jesus. Speaking of this today, C. Clifton Black reminds us that many of us “have lost any appreciation of Jesus’ divinity… It’s easy to regard Jesus as a sage, hero, scamp, or fool. Some among (us) hide out with the History Channel’s Jesus and never come out. (The Gospel of) Mark uncages a Jesus so tamed.” [i]

It is precisely the opposite of what the disciples try to do at first: they want to build dwellings which would have domesticated the holy. But Peter’s trembling heart led them out of their own cages. This is my son, the Beloved.  Listen to him.

Listen to him. Are we listening? Are we so wedded to our stories that we miss the transfigured Lord right before our eyes? Are we moving so fast, and surrounded by so much noise, that we can hear neither the cry of our neighbors nor the still small voice of God?

You see, if Epiphany is about seeing, Lent is about listening, about turning off all the clanging and impatient channels so that we can better listen for God.

This is one of the reasons why in Lent we take on the simple discipline of giving something up: of letting go of something seemingly unimportant that holds an outsized share of our attention, and to then see what surfaces in the new space.  This discipline matters, but that’s not the ultimate goal. The goal is freeing ourselves to see something we didn’t see before.

As you know I spent my childhood in the Roman Catholic church, where everybody absolutely gave something up for Lent. And we didn’t eat meat on Fridays, or at least the cafeteria would only serve fish…this can seem quaint to us as Episcopalians, but I think that’s unfortunate, because it tells me that we’ve lost the practice of fasting. That we have convinced ourselves that we’re too good for it, or maybe too smart for it. What a loss that is.

When I came to the Episcopal Church, I discovered at first that giving something up for Lent was an elective discipline, that some did it and some didn’t. Praise Jesus and the Reformation, I thought! And then I learned that some chose instead to take something on, some kind of discipline such as daily scripture study or creative practice.

I’ve seen some really lovely Lenten disciplines that folks have taken on, and even tried them myself. They can be wonderfully formative. But sometimes they feel a little like “Lent 2.0,” a way that we feel like we’ve improved upon the simple discipline of giving something up. I think in that case, we miss the point a bit.

But in the spirit of meeting Jesus, of listening to God and listening for our own belovedness, I want to make a pitch for the old school. I want to make the case for giving something up. And I don’t mean giving up things that don’t make me feel fulfilled – because that’s not quite the point – and I don’t mean giving up things that harm you or other people – because you don’t need to wait until Lent on that one – and I don’t mean giving up something nebulous like “judgmental thoughts” because good luck with that.

I’m talking about giving up Chocolate Cake. I’m talking about giving up soda. I’m talking about giving up TV or iced mocha latte or the radio in the car. I’m talking about giving up that delicious little detail that you love so much, even though it does no one any harm, and may genuinely make life a little better.  Last year I gave up instant video – folks, that was hard! Two or three years ago I gave up sweets…also hard.  Once when I was working in film production I gave up caffeinated sodas, and my career never recovered.

We say that these things don’t matter – and of course they don’t – but the act of abstaining shows me what I really value, and alerts me to my dependence upon things other that Jesus. I didn’t have any mountaintop epiphanies, but I did take one or two more steps closer to Jesus because I became more aware of what things – what voices, what foods, what demands, were monopolizing my attention, and keeping me from listening.

Giving something up helps me to realize what a gluttonous would we live in. We crave attention, we crave security, we crave money and power, we crave, we crave, we crave. And in a world that uses the words of Martin Luther King to sell pickup trucks during the Super Bowl, we need to be able to practice the holy act of finding the off switch, and then actually using it.

The point is not the cake, or the soda, or the instant video. We don’t become holier when we ditch these things. The point is seeing Jesus, the point is being awake and alert to his presence, and indeed to his transfiguration before us. Do we see? Are we listening? Do we scurry to fit what we see into our stories, or with enough silence and openness can we, like Peter, let our hearts begin to draw us up into the mystery?

My favorite moment of this story is the quiet after the prophets disappeared, after God had spoken and they were simply walking back down the mountain, the four of them, basking in the light of a changed world. Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

What will we see when we open our eyes? What will we hear when we stop to listen? When we take a break from striving and judging and positioning, and learn simply to abide?

When we stop to listen, we are well on our way to Jesus, well on our way towards union with God, towards transforming the world through our own belovedness.

Homily for February 11, 2018, The Rev. Bernard J. Owens, The Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year B, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Greensboro, North Carolina.

[i] C. Clifton Black, Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3561

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6 reasons not to miss the Annual Meeting

With all the demand on our time it can be tempting to take a pass on the church’s annual meeting. Perhaps the business of the church doesn’t strike us as exciting. Perhaps we are content to let the pillars run the show since they’ve done such a good job with it anyway. Perhaps there aren’t a whole lot of big decisions to be made – no major resolutions or contested elections. Is this all that important then to be there?

Remember that an annual meeting is more than just coming together to make decisions, as a corporate board or gathering of shareholders would do. It’s a moment to celebrate the ongoing ministry of St. Andrew’s, to give thanks to those who serve in leadership, and to lay a foundation for new leaders to emerge. Plus we have lunch.

Not convinced yet? Here’s a quick list of why you shouldn’t skip the Annual Meeting.

  1. We aren’t simply voting for vestry members who threw their hat in the ring. The vestry election is the culmination of months of discernment and prayer on the part of the nominating committee, the clergy, the folks who were invited to be nominated and especially those who have offered themselves as leaders. This is an intentionally prayerful and spirit-filled process, and your prayers for the nominees are an essential part of the ministry of the church.
  2. Whether rotating off, continuing on or just coming on board, vestry members and other ministry leaders do a whole lot nurture the the church, building up in seasons of growth and offering support and leadership in times of challenge. They sweat the small stuff and tackle the big stuff so that the church can thrive. One of the best ways you can support them is by being at the Annual Meeting, casting your vote, asking constructive questions,  letting them know that they have permission to take risks and make mistakes, and that you are praying for them.
  3. If you’re new, the Annual Meeting is a great way to get the straight poop on the church – from the visions and priorities to the personality of the place. Plus, as a baptized member of the church you get full voting privileges!
  4. There is childcare. There’s a reason for that: we want everyone to participate, and the church isn’t fully the church unless everyone’s in the room.
  5. With all that public speaking in one morning the Rector will probably say something foolish, and we all know how entertaining that can be.
  6. The Annual Meeting gives an important snapshot of parish life: that our ministry is vibrant and collaborative and our leadership is dispersed, but that we know it must be more so if we are going to be who God is calling us to be.

As with all lists, there could be more, but I’ll save them for perhaps another year.  An Annual Meeting isn’t the only time where the whole church comes together, but it’s the  time where we are most intentional about casting a vision and celebrating leadership. I hope that you’ll add this to your calendar as not just as “don’t miss,” but something that, as I do, you look forward to each year.

The St. Andrew’s Annual Meeting is this Sunday, January 14. We will worship together in a combined service at 9:30 a.m., vote for vestry members at the conclusion of the service, adjourn for lunch in the parish hall and resume the meeting during the meal.

 

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