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Seeing the Face of Jesus

27 May

The Rev Canon Frank Logue preached the following sermon at
St. Paul the Apostle Episcopal Church in Savannah, Georgia on May 27, 2017

Seeing the Face of Jesus
An Ordination Sermon for Thomas Barron and Leslie Dellenbarger
II Corinthians 4:1-6

Brown should be the color of a deacon’s robes. Deacons are in the name of Jesus Christ, “to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely.” The Bishop will also pray for God to make them, “Modest and humble.” Serving the lost and the left out while remaining modest and humble. Brown should be the color of a deacon’s robes.

Our reading from II Corinthians reminds us, “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Letting the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shine through our hearts, reflecting the light of the face of Jesus to others is the work of all Christians. The order of deacons is a separate and distinct order of ministry alongside bishops, priests, and lay persons. The deacon is “to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example” especially in serving those most in need. In this work of bringing the needs of the world to the church and taking the church out into the world. In the words of the ordination rite, “At all times, your life and teaching are to show Christ’s people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself.”

Serving others as if serving Christ. The Rule of St. Benedict is the great pattern for monks and nuns in the west. And in this rule, Benedict set out the centrality of hospitality declaring (In Rule 53), “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt. 25:35).”

I don’t know about you. I find it easier to find Christ in other people than I do to find Christ in myself. But Jesus did not say merely, “Love God and love your neighbor.” Jesus said that all the Law and the Prophets, everything he came to teach through his life and ministry were, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” We also have to find a way to see ourselves as loved by God. Not that we deserve, or earn God’s love. That is beyond our abilities. No, we are to see our faults and to know that God loves us as we are and wants something more and better for us. God wants to redeem the tragedies of our lives through the sacrifice of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Click here to read the rest of the sermon: Seeing the Face of Jesus

 
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Send Me – An Ordination Sermon

13 May

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue gave this sermon at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
in Augusta, Georgia on May 13, 2017

Send Me
An Ordination Sermon for Terri Degenhardt and Larry Jesion
Isaiah 6:1-8

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the Temple,” the Prophet Isaiah describes his call to serve as a prophet. Six winged angels, called Seraphs sing “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is filled with his glory.”

Smoke fills the Temple, which shakes to its foundation. Isaiah too is shaken to find himself in the very presence of God and he knows he is not worthy. The prophet cries out, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

This dramatic recounting of Isaiah’s call comes not at the beginning of the Book of Isaiah, but at the start of the sixth chapter. Isaiah has for five chapters pronounced the Word of the Lord to the people of Jerusalem and all Judea during the reign of King Uzziah. Now the king is dead. Our Old Testament reading then describes a second call coming to Isaiah. The prophet was already serving God and then God says, “But wait, there’s more.”

How appropriate to encounter this passage of a second call as we gather to ordain Deacons Terri Degenhardt and Larry Jesion to the Sacred Order of Priests. Each of them experienced a renewed call. While not so dramatic as Isaiah in the Temple that year that King Uzziah died, they still experienced a powerful call to serve God as a priest.

Years ago, each of our ordinands experienced that typical call of a deacon in being tapped on the shoulder by a priest who asked them to consider serving as a deacon. I say this is typical, as deacons are servant ministers. The work of a deacon is to take the church out to the people and to bring the needs of the people in to the church. What we the church seek are people who are already doing that work. Often the person is already being a deacon and others recognize this before they do.

Terri was already taking the love of Christ into the classroom at Augusta Technical College. Even if she didn’t see it yet, Terri had been ministering for years as she taught students, especially women, who lacked confidence and self esteem to see the potential within themselves. She saw her students as God sees them and reflected back that grace and love. This is good, holy work she was immersed in long before her Rector, Steve Rice, spoke to her about a possible call to serve as a deacon.

Larry too was already drawn to caring for those outside the church. In fact, for Larry that care began before he was back in the church. After his wife, Pam, began working for Hope Hospice, Larry started volunteering. He even spent the first weekend of their married life together as a chaperone at a grief camp for children. So it was only natural after his relationship with Jesus sparked in a new and powerful way that his faith would enliven the work he had already been doing. It was only natural that his pastor, Cindy Taylor, would see this and point out what others could see, that Larry was being the icon of servant ministry. He was already living out the ministry we expect to find in deacons.

Now the church has affirmed a call to the ministry of the priesthood as we have seen priestly gifts operating within them. This is not something different we are asking them to do as if we are adding tasks or changing their job description. Even as they served as vocational or “real deacons,” we began to see that a priest is who they are called to be. We had already seen them being priests and pastors. This is rare. Most deacons will serve many years in ministry continuing to connect the church to the lost and hurting people around us. This is sacred work which the church values and serving as a deacon usually occupies the rest of one’s life.

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Do As I Have Done For You

13 Apr

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church
in Savannah, Georgia on April 13, 2017

Do As I Have Done For You
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Peter got it wrong.

We shouldn’t be surprised in the least. The gospels have taught us to expect Peter to be the eager disciple who energetically jumps to the wrong answer and is ready to act when listening and learning is called for.

Peter sees Jesus get up from the table, take off his outer robe, and tie a towel around himself. Then he watches as Jesus pours water into a basin and begins to wash the disciples’ feet. You can almost hear the wheels turning in Peter’s mind as Jesus wipes the wet feet with the towel that was tied around him. Peter is waiting until it is his turn. He lets the other disciples take part, but he will never let the master be his servant.

Then as it is his turn, Peter asks, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

Impetuous Peter doesn’t want to wait. He understands perfectly well that Jesus is serving his disciples in the humblest of ways and he isn’t going to play along. Disciples wash their teacher’s feet, not the other way around. Peter says flatly, “You will never wash my feet.”

Then in language that has long reminded the church of baptism, Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” This changes everything for Peter. If foot washing is a sign of being part of Jesus, then he wants to be drenched – soaked from head to foot.

Picking up on the baptismal line of teaching, Jesus seems to push it further in saying, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean.” In this same way, one who has been baptized needs only repent of his or her sins to be made clean again. One doesn’t have to be baptized a second time.

But the connection to baptism was not Jesus’ main purpose that evening. It was the night before he was to die. The disciples did not know this yet. But Jesus is using his last evening to get across his most important lessons one more time. In case they missed the significance of his washing their feet, Jesus points out that he has done this to give them an example to follow, saying, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

This is where we expect Peter to strip off his outer robe and start working his way around the gathering washing up the other disciples. But this time, he seems to understand that something more is going on here than a lesson about washing feet. It is an example Jesus is giving. An example of service rather than a command to spend one’s days cleaning road grime off feet.

It might not have been easy to get across, but Jesus clearly connected with this message about servant leadership. Peter and the other disciples might have left the table still wondering about when and where they were to wash each other’s feet. But everything would change in a few hours. The next night they would be gathered in mourning at the death of their rabbi. Much later, sometime after the shock of Good Friday and the joy of Easter, this foot washing lesson sank in. We know the point got through because with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the disciples really came to understand their call to ministry and were empowered to act on it.

Later, when remembering that night before he died, Peter and the others would have seen foot washing from the far side of the cross and the empty tomb. Having seen how complete was their teacher’s love and commitment, those words of Jesus, “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” must have sounded so different. Then even Peter knew that the life of service to which his Rabbi called him would involve much more than washing the feet of those he might have considered beneath him. After washing their feet, Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Jesus’ example was much more life changing than the humble act of washing feet. Jesus had been obedient unto death, even death on a cross. He had loved as God loves, and in the process, so upset the status quo that various groups who couldn’t agree about anything agreed that Jesus must die. Jesus was restoring outcasts to community. Jesus was breaking down the dividing walls between those who were “in” and those who were “out.”

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Live as children of light

19 Mar

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon at St. John’s Episcopal Church
in Savannah, Georgia on March 19, 2017

Live as children of light
Ephesians 5:1-14 and Luke 11:14-28

In our journey through Lent, our readings move from last week considering Jesus’ power to cast out demons to land this week considering what comes next. And what must follow is that we amend our lives. For in repenting, turning toward God, and amending our lives, we close the door behind the exiting demon. Jesus said, “the last state of that man is worse than the first” when speaking of someone who once he has been delivered from a demon, finds the demon returned later with seven more and in greater strength.

While we can try to be too enlightened to talk of demons, the observable fact is plain that everywhere you go, people all around you are fighting battles you know nothing about. We are surrounded every day by people anesthetizing themselves. The anesthetic has many names—binge drinking, overeating, excessive exercise, illegal drug use, prescription drug abuse, hoarding, unhealthy relationships, workaholism, compulsive spending, gambling, the list goes on, but the dynamic is the same. It doesn’t matter if the crutch is good scotch or bad coffee, self-medication can only mask the pain. Behind the façade, the deep hurt remains.

Most people sometime between the age of 5 and 25 pick up emotional wounds that will remain festering and seeping poison into their psyches unless they can find healing. Whether the source was absent parents, physical abuse, rape, bullying, or just never matching the image in the magazines, never earning the favor of those who mattered most to you, betrayal by friends, a learning disability that caused you to always fear you couldn’t measure up. The sources are legion and layered. Without bringing true healing to the deep hurts, much pain will follow and will spread out to those we love.

Perhaps the greatest human fear is that we will get what we deserve. Everyone else is okay, but I know that I do the right things for the wrong reasons. I know the secret sins, the hidden shame, the parts no one can ever see the reason for the false front that masks the need for self-medication. The Gospel does not teach that I’m okay and you’re okay. The Good News is that even though I am far from okay and so are you, that God loves us anyway and offers us a way to turn our lives around.

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Seeing Rightly

20 Nov

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon at The Church of the Transfiguration
in Dallas, Texas on November 20, 2016

Seeing Rightly
Luke 23:33-43

Our Gospel reading brings us to the foot of the cross to see Jesus’ with his arms of love nailed to the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace. Even as Jesus proclaimed forgiveness to those who are in the act of killing him, he is challenged to prove that he is Messiah and King by saving himself. We who follow Jesus two millennia later get the dramatic irony that it is only in not saving himself that Jesus will save us.

Those present at Jesus’ crucifixion who knew the scripture best failed to see what God is doing through Jesus. Rather than standing over creation in judgment, God came in the Second Person of the Trinity entering the creation in weakness. He who the universe could not contain was born to a poor girl in Galilee. Soon after he was born, his family were on the road as refugees. God took on human form in the person of Jesus. As the great champion of the faith Athanasius would put it, “He became like we are that we might become like he is.”

Jesus loved us so much that even when the cost of that love was suffering and death, he would not give up on that love. Through his death on the cross, Jesus broke the power of sin and death that we might have forgiveness and life eternal. And yet, the only one who sees rightly that salvation that can come through Jesus is the thief dying on the cross next to him. He knows that Jesus is sinless and yet is condemned to death.

Dying on a cross alongside Jesus, the thief has just heard words not of judgment or condemnation, but of forgiveness. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” The man who remains nameless to us was known to God. The thief wanted the forgiveness and reconciliation with God that could come through Jesus and he says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Such unlikely words of faith. The thief knows that though Jesus is dying, the Reign of Christ is about to begin. How is this perception possible when everyone else is missing it? How does the thief on the cross see the truth that the sinless one alongside him proclaiming forgiveness is even then able to welcome him into paradise? This takes seeing with the heart.

As I prayed through this passage preparing for this Sunday, I recalled a favorite book, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic, The Little Prince. I already knew by heart my favorite line from this gem of a book, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

I decided to look the quote up and see the larger context for those words. I was amazed by what I found. I want to share that journey with you as we consider the story of The Little Prince alongside our Gospel reading. For “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

The sermon is continued here: Seeing Rightly (full sermon)

 
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Water in a Barren Land

26 Sep

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon for the Diocese of Georgia’s Fall 2016 Clergy Conference
meeting at Honey Creek Retreat Center on September 26, 2016

Water in a Barren Land
Psalm 63

O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,
as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.
-Psalm 63:1

The Psalmist cries out to God, seeking the presence of the living God. My soul thirsts for you. My flesh faints for you. Water is a precious everywhere on the planet, but living in the land of Israel makes that reality all the more clear. That’s why water and salvation are so intimately connected throughout scripture. In the first Psalm, a person who meditates on Torah day and night is like a tree planted by streams of water. In Jeremiah, the Lord is a fountain of living water. Jesus uses this metaphoric use of water when he talks to the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

These verses concerning springs of salvation and living water carry forward into our own day, filled with meaning for those of us who work in what should be a spiritual oasis. We are saturated by the goodness of the Lord. In fact, we can get so soggy from sloshing around in the springs of salvation that we can forget that we actually live in a desert country.

Yet even here on the buckle of the Bible Belt we are surrounded by people living in a spiritual wasteland. The people we stand in line with at the grocery store, the clerk at the local WalMart, the bank President, the cook at the Waffle House, and on and on and on. They are thirsty for the life giving Gospel of Jesus Christ and fill that void in all sorts of unhealthy ways.

But to get real, those of us in ordained ministry are not immune to spiritual thirst. And the more we serve others, the more we can grow parched. We all know of and have known people called by God, given gifts for ministry, serving in the church in a ministry bearing good fruit who end up in alcohol addiction, prescription drug addiction, porn addiction or who have ended up in adulterous relationships, taking money, or abusing their power and ending up out of ministry.

Spiritual thirst is not something to which we are immune. When we try to quench our longings in other ways, we can falter and fall like anyone else.

While we may not be immune to the problems, we can make an effort to build up our defenses. Denise Vaughn, the Rector of the Church of the Annunciation in Vidalia invited me to lead a mini retreat for the Toombs Area Ministerial Alliance which is her local ministers’ group. When we met last month, pastors from nine denominations came together and I was astounded by how the group trusted one another as I broke open this topic. I challenged the pastors to break into smaller groups to discuss the spiritual practices, which nurture their faith. The Roman Catholic priest detailed his Rule of Life while a Church of God pastor told how he finds it helpful to spend time talking with recent converts to hear the freshness of their discovering their faith in Jesus Christ. Daily prayer and scripture reading were common.

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Send a tornado into their hearts – An Ordination Sermon

14 May

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue gave this sermon at St. Paul the Apostle Episcopal Church in Savannah, Georgia on May 14, 2016 for the ordination of Donald Holland, Ian Lasch, Tommy Townsend, and Ray Whiting to the Sacred Order of Deacons.

Send a tornado into their hearts – An Ordination Sermon
Acts 2:1-21

“What does this mean?” Bewildered, amazed, astonished, and perplexed is how our reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes the crowd gathering that Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Devout Jews from every nation under heaven are living in Jerusalem. Each person hears someone talking in their mother tongue, the language of home. The Good News of Jesus flows fluently from somewhere. As they gather, those seeking the source of the commotion discover a gaggle of Galileans full of the Holy Ghost.

The crowd levels at the disciples a version of the same complaint made against Jesus: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth”. How can these hicks just in from the sticks be speaking clearly in the language of Parthians, Medes, Egyptians, and so on. In the midst of their bewildered amazement, one solution presents itself: These men must be drunk. The part left unsaid is, “Hello. Galileans.”

God is doing a new thing and the crowd gathering on that day when the Holy Spirit first came in power has only their old categories. Based on the existing prejudices about a group of Galileans, the way to make sense of this Pentecost event is to dismiss the clear proclamation of the Gospel as mere nonsense, because the messengers are fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot, and so on—far from the spiritual elite. The devout Jews from all over the world want to know can we possibly hear God speak through such clearly imperfect vessels as these men?

The question is probably more relevant than you would like me to admit. We are here this morning to take part in the ordination of Donald, Ian, Ray, and Tommy to the Sacred Order of Deacons. So I will repeat the question, “How can we possibly hear God speak through such clearly imperfect vessels as these men?”

Don’t hear me wrong. I think the world of all four ordinands, but to prepare for this sermon I read back through the spiritual autobiographies of all four men and read their extensive psychological reports and more in the five inch stack of paperwork collected by the Diocese of Georgia in the past four or more years. Certainly, those psychological reports did not reveal these men to be any crazier than the rest of us, but spending time with their life stories does show that the path to this day has not been a straight line for any of them. While no individual among the four shares all of these characteristics, as a group they have experienced severe health issues, alcoholism, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, periods of doubt and unforgiveness or of notable pride and arrogance, broken marriages, and other twists and turns to their lives so that each of them has friends who will hear of today and think, “Really. What is the church thinking?”

This is where the deacons, priest, and bishop can say, “Welcome to the club.” We too gave some people who heard of our ordinations pause to wonder if the church might be scraping the bottom of the barrel. This has been the reaction to those God calls to serve him since before Mary spoke to an angel and learned, among other things, her next conversation with Joseph would be a doozy or even before Miriam learned that God called her stuttering brother Moses when he was on the run for murder.

Click here for the full text of the sermon: http://loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org/?page_id=1635

 
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That They May Become Completely One

08 May

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue gave this sermon at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
in Charleston, South Carolina on May 8, 2016

That They May Become Completely One
John 17:20-26

Let me tell you about my friend Jesus.

Jesus was and is God.
In seeing Jesus, we come to know our Triune God more fully.
In Jesus life and ministry, we see God.
So let me tell you about my friend Jesus.

Jesus was born to a poor mama and poor step daddy. Jesus was a great kid, who grew up to be the man everyone wanted to hear speak. But Jesus was also born into the Roman Empire, so Jesus, the King of all creation, knew disrespect. Jesus grew up in a world that disrespected him at any good opportunity.

A good kid from a good family. A man who would change the world. But if Jesus ducked into a store catering to Romans to buy something for his Mama, he might have to wait a while. Standing there waiting for the others to be served first. Truth be told, the shopkeeper might act like he didn’t even see him until all the right people had been served first. They would not have seen the content of his character. One look at Jesus and they knew his kind could wait. That’s the world my friend Jesus knew.

And if anyone wanted to change the way the world worked, the Empire lined the roads with crosses. Get too far out of line, you would get hung on a cross as an example to the rest.

So what did my friend Jesus do?
He turned that world upside down every chance he got.

Oh the world fought back. The creation that had already turned its back on God always fights back against the way the world should be. But that kid from Nazareth conquered the Roman Empire and he has been conquering principalities and powers ever since. My friend Jesus sees the crosses, the beatings, the lynching trees, the electric chairs, the prisons full of lives of promise cut short. Jesus sees all the ways we put people down and it breaks his heart. Jesus sees the heart of every man and woman. He knows us, the good and the very bad, and he loves us anyway, completely, unreservedly.

As our friend Jesus tells us in our reading this morning from John’s Gospel, he and God the Father are one. He tells us that he is in the Father and the Father is in him and he wants us to be in them too. Our friend Jesus talks like that sometimes. Especially the way his Beloved Disciple John tells about Jesus.

Jesus wants us to know that before the very foundation of the world, God was in relationship. No I can’t describe it fully. The Trinity is a divine mystery. But Jesus wants us to understand something about the nature of God. Jesus tells us that he and the Father and the Holy Spirit were in relationship before the creation.

Somehow in God’s own being there was and is love. And when this Triune God did create, God created out of that love for love. Yes, it’s a mystery. No, we can’t fully comprehend it, but there is something to this Trinity of persons that is written in to the very fabric of creation. Everything is interconnected. All creation is meant to be in one harmonious relationship.
God did not create one kind of person just so another kind of person could put them down. God did not create some kid just to stand aside in a store unseen until all the right people bought what they came to buy. Sin created that mess.

God created a world out of love for love. God imprints on each human the very image and likeness of God. God sees us and calls us good. It’s sin that leads to world with roads lined with crosses and lynching trees.

In our reading from John’s Gospel, it is the night before Jesus is to die. He knows the Empire has a cross with his name on it. Jesus did not have to go looking for his cross. Jesus loved like there is no “us” and “them.” Jesus showed compassion to the lost and the left out. Jesus loved as God loved breaking down divisions among people. The cross found Jesus.

The full sermon continues here: http://loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org/?page_id=1624

 
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Remember Me – Palm Sunday Sermon

21 Mar

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue gave this sermon
at Christ Church Frederica on Palm Sunday 2016

Remember Me
Luke 22:14-23:56

On the night before he died, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” So begins the long reading of the Passion from Luke’s Gospel.

We begin with Passover. Later, Peter will forget Jesus prediction and will deny three times that he even knows Jesus.

Then much later as Jesus after he has been crucified and looked out on those killing him, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” A criminal dying alongside the innocent Jesus wants this mercy too. The thief says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Our reading begins with an act of remembering, then out of fear Peter feigns amnesia trying to forget his connection to Jesus, and finally a criminal next to Jesus asks that the Lord remember him. I want to pick up this thread of remembering, forgetting, and remembering as a lens through which to look not just at Jesus’ passion, but also at our lives.

Remembering is essential to any understanding of Judaism and so the roots of our own faith. The most basic statement of the Judaism, to be remembered by all, is the Shema, a simple prayer taken directly from the Torah which Jews are to pray twice daily and are, if possible, to be reciting as they die. The words are:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

These are the words written inside the phylacteries, the two small square leather boxes traditionally worn on the forehead and the left arm during morning prayer by Torah observant Jewish. These words also go into a Mezuzah, the decorative case that goes alongside the doorways of observant Jews. The central proclamation is to be recited to your children and talked about when you are at home and when you are away when you lie down and when you rise.

One story points to how powerful this act of remembering can be. Immediately on peace coming at the end of the Second World War, Rabbi Eliezer Silver went to Europe to find Jewish children hidden among non-Jewish families to escape the Holocaust. To find the children, he would later recount how he went to gatherings of children and call out:

: אֶחָד יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה יִשְׂרָאֵל שְׁמַע
אֱלֹהֶיךָ יְהוָה אֵת וְאָהַבְתָּ
מְאֹדֶךָ –וּבְכָל ,נַפְשְׁךָ- וּבְכָל ,לְבָבְךָ- בְּכָל

Shema Yisrael, Ado-nai Elo-heinu, Ado-nai Echad.
Vuh-ahav-ta ate Ado-noi Elo-hecha
Bi-chol li-vav-cha oo-vi-chol naf-shecha oo-vi-chol mi-odecha

Rabbi Eliezer would then scan the crowd and could see the children remember who they were as those words spoken by their Jewish parents spoke deeply to kids scarred by war. Just as they were trained to do from bedtime onward, the words Hear O Israel spoken in Hebrew broke the spell, cured the amnesia, and let the children remember who they were, and restored them to community.

The Torah instructs the faithful to tell of God’s great deeds to their children and their children’s children. This daily act of praying the Shema is coupled with the central act of remembrance, the Passover. At each Passover Seder, Jews recall that if God had not brought the children of Israel out of Egypt with a mighty arm, they would still be slaves.

An important part of every Passover Seder comes when a child asks the central question of Passover, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The traditional response is, “On this night we remember we were slaves in Egypt…”

That key question traditionally comes after the second toast of wine. And Luke records in his Gospel the two toasts as well as Jesus’ words. After the second toast, Jesus, as the head of the Passover celebration, would be expected to tell the Exodus story.

Jesus should have said, “On this night we remember we were slaves in Egypt…” But that’s not what he said. What Jesus did say was, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” And Jesus also said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Our word “remember” as we use it today is a weak compared to what is meant here. The Greek word is Anamnesis, which does mean remember, but it means this in a very real sense. If my arm or my leg is cut off, I am dismembered. Anamnesis is the opposite of dismembering. We re-member when our members are once more attached. We are made whole. We are fully ourselves once more.

Jesus said that when you do this, I will be re-membered. The Body of Christ will once more be whole. It is not that we will recall who Jesus was, but we will know fully who we are as he is present to us and we are part of his mystical body.

The full sermon continues here: http://loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org/?page_id=1601

 
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Nothing Less than the Power and Presence of God

08 Jun

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon at
Christ Church Savannah on The Feast of Pentecost—June 8, 2014

Nothing Less than the Power and Presence of God
Acts 2:1-21 

Nothing less than the presence and power of God breaks into the room where the disciples are waiting and praying on that 50th day after Jesus resurrection. Here the Evangelist Luke lets us know language breaks down as he resorts to simile saying it was a sound like a violent wind and then something happened he could only describe as if it were divided tongues of fire. The experience was beyond words and Luke reaches into metaphor and analogy to convey the ineffable.

When the Gospel moves to the tangible—what they did see and hear that morning—a miracle is occurring. The Holy Spirit came to Jesus’ first followers on Pentecost, empowering the frightened pack of disciples to become a brazen bunch of evangelists. The curse of the Tower of Babel was reversed in one amazing outburst. At Babel, people were divided. Now, the former fishermen and other followers of Jesus became interpreters par excellence. In this Babel scene played backward, the devout Jews from Elam, Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Pontus, Pamphylia and other far flung parts of the Roman Empire hear the Good News of what God has done through Jesus each in their own native language.

The gospel is spoken not in confusing babble but with a crystal clarity that leaves the hearers cut to the quick. Before this amazing day is over, 3,000 devout Jews will be baptized as followers of Jesus, the Christ. Yet not everyone understood what was happening in their midst. The account of that day in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that some onlookers took the excitement for a drunken mob. The first Christian sermon begins as Peter explaining to the crowd that the disciples are not drunk, “for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.” Clearly Peter never showed up early for the Georgia-Florida game, which is the world’s largest cocktail party. There the saying, “It’s five o’clock somewhere” could become “It’s 9 a.m. somewhere.”

But what Peter is assuring the crowd is that the miracle they are witnessing cannot be dismissed so easily. For these unschooled Galileans are speaking clearly in languages they have never before understood, if they had even heard them spoken. Certainly, it feels safe to reduce the disciples’ behavior as coming from heavy drinking. It might also be comforting to relegate Pentecost to an outbreak of religious hysteria. But the Pentecost experience was not due to alcohol and is not so easily reduce to nothing more than hysteria.

This is an ongoing tendency about lots of phenomenon for which we have no ready understanding. We seek safe, tidy answers. The physicist turned Anglican priest, John Polkinghorne, said in his book Quarks, Chaos and Christianity, some people are “nothing butters” when it comes to the world we live in. Reductionists see a thing is “nothing but” its physical explanation. They need only look at the most elemental form of a phenomenon to explain everything.

For someone with a “nothing butter” way of making sense of the world, the compositions of Bach are nothing but vibrations that ineract with our eardrums to create the effect we call music. The Mona Lisa is nothing but flecks of paint that we experience as differing colors. Baptism is nothing but water poured over someone’s head as a part of a ritual observance. The Eucharist is nothing but bread and wine and the Pentecost experience was nothing but religious hysteria.

Yes, Bach’s music does reach our ears as nothing but vibrations against our eardrums, for that is how the beauty of the composers’ work is transmitted. But you can’t reduce their music to mere vibrations hitting your eardrum as what one hears is nothing short of miraculous.

Of course, the Mona Lisa is just flecks of matter we call “paint” put on matter we call “canvas” in ways that we experience as an interplay of colors. But her enigmatic smile cannot be reduced to the physical matter that forms the art. In these works of art, the notes of music and the paint on the canvas convey so much more. Reducing them to the essential physical phenomena misses the point.

The Pentecost event defied any “it was nothing but” explanation. We can’t reduce Pentecost to “It was nothing but emotionalism,” or “It was nothing but mass hysteria,” or even “It was nothing but a long-ago event we can no longer explain.” The closest we can get is “Pentecost was nothing less than the presence and power of God.”

That day, the Jesus Movement was transformed not by human will, but by an act of the Holy Spirit. For while the apostles first gathered out of fear, this same rag tag band of disciples will bust out of the room, go into the streets and tell the world about Jesus. Within generations the Good News of their resurrected Lord will be known throughout the Roman Empire and in time it will go out to the ends of the earth all through the work of the Holy Spirit. On receiving the Holy Spirit, the disciples preach the Good News of Jesus and miracles follow.

That same Holy Spirit is right here, right now in you as I preach. Every preacher depends on this every time she or he preaches, knowing that even if the preacher, despite all effort, gets the sermon not quite right, the Holy Spirit can still work with those imperfect words to speak to the hearer’s heart.

There is a story which illustrates what I mean about the work of the Holy Spirit. Its told of the ancient Celtic saint, Comgan, that takes place as he arrived in a village soon after the death of the priest.[1] A man of some substance, the priest had 17 horses, but he left no will. The people were arguing among themselves as to who should get the horses when Saint Comgan comes riding onto the scene.

Comgan told them he could both solve the horse dilemma and find the village a new priest. He said that the horses should be divided so that the sexton should have half the horses for digging the graves and caring for all the property; the beadle should get a third of the horses for his care of the church’s things, especially those items used in worship; and the choirmaster should receive a ninth of the horses for leading the church music. And the person who could resolve how to divide the horses should be the new priest.

The village was mystified, but agreed to the plan. The sexton, beadle and choirmaster set out to find someone who could solve the new mathematical problem of how to divide 17 into half, a third and a ninth without sawing up any horses or dividing days of the week. They ran into lots of people interested in the dilemma, but none who could solve it.

Then a young man offered his own horse to the priest’s herd. Now enlarged to 18, the herd was divided in half, with the sexton receiving his nine horses. The beadle got his third by taking home six horses, and the choirmaster got a ninth of the herd with two horses. The original 17 thus divided, the young man took his own horse back.

The villagers promptly asked the man to be their priest, citing Saint Comgan’s advice. The man agreed and he was sent to the bishop for first training and then ordination before returning to the village for three decades of faithful service to the congregation who miraculously found him.

One has to assume the role of The Holy Spirit in this story. The story doesn’t work without the Holy Spirit touching the hearts of those involved, speaking with that still small voice. The Holy Spirit is the one who inspires Comgan to set up the task and also inspires the young man to ride into the village and offer a solution. The same Holy Spirit then gets the Bishop to back the whole plan leads the young man to return to be a faithful priest after going away to study.

The Holy Spirit is that 18th horse. Just as the inheritance issue could not have been solved without first adding the 18th horse, so there are things in your life that you will not be able to get through or able to bear without the Holy Spirit. For God’s presence working in and through you can get you through problems which seem insurmountable.

Rather than reducing how God is working in your life to safe or tidy explanations, look for the unexpected ways in which you are being opened up to something more. For the God that broke into the midst of the disciples that Pentecost morning is here now within you if you are open to God’s presence.

Brother Roger, the monk who founded the Christian community at Taizé put it well in writing,

“Let yourself be plumbed to the depths, and you will realize that everyone was created for a presence. There, in your heart of hearts, in that place where no two people are alike, Christ is waiting for you. And there the unexpected happens.”

Pentecost is a time to remember that God’s spirit is still present in a mighty way. That’s why our worship can’t be reduced to “nothing but” music, readings and a sermon. The Eucharist can never be described as “nothing but” bread and wine, any more than baptism is “nothing but” water and words. That is far too limiting. We don’t want nothing but a religious experience. We long for nothing less than the power and presence of God, a presence for which you were created and for which your soul longs.

There will be times when you really need the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. Not sure when that might be? Well, there are two times in life: 1) the times when you pretty much have everything under control and you are facing no challenges, and 2) the times when everything seems to be spinning out of control and you are left reeling.

The truth is that having everything under control is an illusion. The reality is that you can’t control everything, even the things that matter to you most. The good news is that you don’t have to. Instead, each of us can count on the presence and power of God not just in our worship each week, but in our daily lives. That is what we need anyway. If I were to depend on my own abilities, I would fall short of the mark. When I solve things they work out like this (interlock hands with only one finger crossing over). But when I work to discern God’s will and really listen and wait for the working of the Holy Spirit, I find that God is very economical and several problems are solved at once, for God’s solutions work more like this (interlock all the fingers of both hands).

To do this, follow the path of the disciples who remained in prayer and came together all in one place. So keep a pattern of daily prayer and weekly gathering for worship. Pray for God to show you God’s will. One way to pray for this when making a decision, such as whether to move or take another job, or whatever big decision you face, ask God to close the wrong doors and open the right ones. Then prayerfully walk forward and watch the sure thing fall apart while the long shot falls into place.

Also, make time to share what you face with other folks who are prayed up, asking someone to listen with you to how God might be speaking. For God does not always call us to an easy path, just the right one. In these ways, you can open yourself up to something more than the echo chamber of your own desires. For as Brother Roger said, when you really hear God, the unexpected happens. But it starts with refusing to settle for nothing but your own will and remain open to how God might be trying to get your attention. For the Holy Spirit remains so wild and unruly that sometimes only metaphor can describe what is taking place. And God can still break into fearful and broken heart like mine and so I know the Holy Spirit can do this for you as well. I don’t know what you face this day or will face this week, but I do know that if you will faithfully seek God’s will and listen, that God is faithful and you will be led by nothing less than the presence and power of God.

Amen.



[1]     This is my own retelling of the story, which I found in Robert Van DeWeyer’s book Celtic Parables: a book of Celtic courage, hospitality, humor, and holiness.

 
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