June 23, 2011

Pass It On

a simple act of evangelism that has gone untried

by Fr. Scott Homer

Everyone has their preferred means of communications. For some it is the telephone. More and more people use telephones to text one another. My preferred method of communicating is face to face but that is followed closely by email. Just about everybody, old and young, is emailing these days. It has become America’s means of sharing life with one another.

That is why Trinity has begun the practice of sending out a weekly email newsletter. The email newsletter is a fast and efficient way of sharing this parish’s life with one another. Almost everybody I ask tells me that the Trinity Newsletter is attractive, informative and professional. They tell me they read it, in its entirety, just about every Monday. And that causes me to wonder why we don’t forward it to our families, friends and neighbors. Wouldn’t that be an excellent way to let them know what we are doing in church, and also a friendly and gentle way of letting them know they we are inviting them to join in that aspect of our lives we call church?

Many of us forward jokes, or oddities, or product coupons that we receive via email. Why not forward Trinity Newsletter? Perhaps those people you are afraid to talk religion with would be blessed by receiving news about your church and the many wonderful programs that are happening there. At worst, they can shrug and hit delete. In either case you have fulfilled, in a very simple and unassuming way, your obligation “...to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence...” (1Peter 3.15)

June 9, 2011

Blessed in Brokenness

by Fr. Scott Homer

Once a month the residents of a number of group homes come to Trinity, Beaver to share in a lunch with dozens of volunteer parishioners. The event has been dubbed the Mustard Seed Café. Our guests come faithfully month after month and they receive tremendous meals served up with a smile. The question I am asking is, why? Why do they come? What do they need that we provide? A bowl of soup, a sandwich, some chips and a beverage? Sure, I guess, but they would have those things without us. They don’t need to venture outside their homes to get their bellies fed, so what is it that brings them to us?

Community, friendship, acceptance, love, forgiveness? Obviously they cannot articulate these things to us but isn’t that why they are really coming? They are coming to see you! They are coming to be greeted by you! They are coming because you are glad to see them, because you sit and talk to them, joke with them, sing with them, pray with them! They are coming because they love you and they enjoy being loved back.

Are they hungry and needing to be fed? Well yes, but they are not hungry for food. They are hungry for joy. They are hungry for companionship. They are hungry for relationships that greet them, and encourage them, and support them. Healthy relationship: that is the hunger that is beginning to be met at Mustard Seed Café. The core of every healthy relationship is love and the ultimate source of that love is Jesus Christ.

For the disabled and the handicapped relationships are often difficult. Many have grown up in relationships characterized by abuse and neglect. Many have been laughed at, mocked, humiliated and degraded. Many have been taken advantage of, used, or ignored. Many have grown to hold themselves in extreme contempt and to distrust others. They see little or no value in themselves as human beings. They do not like what they see when they look in the mirror. When they look in the mirror they see the “despicable me” the world has taught them to see. Is there any doubt about why they love the positive attention you show them?

“They” are not alone. Although we spend most of our lives attempting to mask our neediness and deny our lack of self-worth, although we want to feel good about ourselves and to know we are valuable to others, the truth for many of us is that we are hungry to be greeted, encouraged, and supported. We are hungry for positive, healthy relationships too. We too have heard so many negative voices for so many years. I pray that our church will become a place where healthy relationships support people by encouraging them, supporting them and nurturing them. I pray that the need for community that is central to every human being would be met in this church as we remind each other that we are forgiven, protected and welcomed by the head of our community Jesus Christ. I pray that many of us will model our lives after his example.

We are all hungry for relationships and if we cannot get healthy ones we will settle for unhealthy ones. Welcome to America. Welcome to the problems of drug abuse, alcoholism, sexual promiscuity, compulsive shopping, compulsive eating and compulsive living. If someone is starving he will settle for junk food. When people are starved for healthy relationship they will settle for any relationship, no matter how destructive. I pray that the people we know, the people who live around us will never have to settle for unhealthy relationships because they will find us to be a ready source of healthy ones.

The Mustard Seed Café at Trinity Church is a fairly new venture but already we have established a toehold on the true meaning of community. In our relationships with the truly broken, the truly marginalized and the truly poor, we are seeing our own brokenness and our own needs. As we see God's grace operating through us we begin to recognize the presence of the One who meets us, greets us, encourages and strengthens us, not in our areas of strength but in our greatest weaknesses. The heart of the community we are finding at the Mustard Seed Café is the heart of Jesus blessing us and encouraging us as we learn to bless and welcome one another.

In the months ahead I hope we will be able to find creative ways to point to the presence of the Holy One in our midst, to name Him and proclaim Him and rejoice in what He is doing for us. And I hope that we will begin to find ways to operate outside of the box, to explore new avenues for deepening our commitment to one another and to the community. What a blessed beginning the Lord has given us!

The next Mustard Seed Cafe will be held June 26 at 12:15pm in the parish hall. Try it. We believe you will like it.

June 7, 2011

The Ascension: Hope and Assurance Affirmed

by Fr. Scott Homer

A sermon for the 7th Sunday of Easter:

A large percentage of Christians around the world gathered in churches on Thursday to worship God and to celebrate the anniversary of Jesus’ ascension into heaven. We had quite a large number gather here. But why did we gather on the anniversary of the Ascension?

To answer that question I would like to quote two passages from scripture and then take you to one of my favorite places from long ago. It was an extraordinary place in many ways and I hope will give us some insight into the value of Jesus opening up the possibility of heaven to you and me. The first passage from Scripture is Psalm 127.1: “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build …” The second is from the Letter to the Hebrews 9.24: Hebrews 9.24, “Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”

To get to this place I liked so much, you had to walk off the noisy, crowded and busy city street, climb a series of steps approaching the building until finally you walked through large glass doors and into an mammoth lobby area built of very expensive stone and glass but otherwise open, plain, and largely utilitarian, as lobbies usually are. But we are not interested in the lobby. That is not why we have come and so we walk over to the banks of elevators. To get where we want to go we are going to have to ascend to the top of the building, and so we must choose the correct elevators because some of the elevators only service the lower half of the building. We need one of the elevators that will go all the way to the top, to the 103rd floor. The elevators are large, the size of small office, also nicely appointed but largely utilitarian and so nothing in the public areas of this building prepares you for what you are about to see. After a climb that seems to last forever, long after your ears have popped due to the change in atmospheric pressure, the door of the elevator finally opens.

As the door opens you find yourself beaconed into the most extraordinary space. It’s magical; it’s luminous, glittery and golden, with subdued, sophisticated lighting. There is a hushed atmosphere to the place with just a hint of elegant music in background. You feel like it would be crass to speak in a normal voice. You want to whisper. As you step off the elevator you feel as if you have indeed entered Cloud Nine. Here is refinement, beauty, and comfort combined into an environment which pushes the edges of human design. Surely, this must be the work of angels. This is a restaurant where every table has enough space to be alone and intimate even as its occupants share the room with many others. And you share the room with extraordinary smells and tastes and sounds and sights. In this restaurant, it is not cliché to say that you are experiencing a bit of heaven. And that feeling is enhanced by the ceiling to floor, and wall to wall windows through which you can gaze upon the millions of lights that illuminate the city by night. From this immense height you are convinced that you and these other fortunate few patrons are looking down from heaven upon a perfect earth. (I don’t know if you have ever noticed but there is no pain and no suffering from a distance—that only occurs up close) Beautiful, almost beyond human imagination, and yet this is not the Kingdom of heaven, not the creation of God or the Lord’s throne room. This is the Windows on the World Restaurant in the World Trade Center in New York City as I recall it in about 1978. Occupying the 103rd story in the tallest building in the world at that time, this was the closest thing to heaven that human creativity and industry could muster. Here at the top of the great cathedral of business and commerce was the place to strive for. The room smacked of money, power, creativity, genius. And when I entered that room at the age of 23 I thought, “This is it!” This is worth the striving, this is worth suffering to attain. If you could afford the prices on the menu in this place you really could know heaven on earth.

Of course the Windows on the World restaurant now symbolizes the problem. Nothing built by human hands lasts. Nothing devised or engineered by man can sustain itself. No matter how spectacular, no matter how rich, no matter how wonderful, the products of human labor and ingenuity are sure to fail, either from inherent structural flaws or from enemy attack. That fact was confirmed on on September 11, 2001. The great American tragedy of our time. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the workers labor in vain who build it.”

This morning we read an account of another ascent, not an ascent into a structure made by human hands, but an ascent into the Kingdom of God, a place far more spectacular than the Windows on the World Restaurant, and a place that has no inherent weakness, no design flaws a place impervious to attack. Here the rugs do not get dirty and worn. Here the glass is always clean. Here the staff is always courteous, and best of all, here everything on the menu is free because someone has already picked up your tab. All who ascend to this place will know joy, and peace, and fulfillment—not until it wears out, not until it gives out and not until it is taken from us. This place is the place built by the Lord, a product of God’s perfect will and purpose. This place lies beyond the fallen world where sin and death, anger and disease wield so much influence. The kingdom of God is set apart. It is pure and holy and it endures forever. “Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”

On the fortieth day after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, he ascended into heaven. Jesus is lifted up in a cloud and vanishes from sight. It is the final act in his work of salvation for his people. Jesus tells his disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you, so that where I am you may be also.” You know that expression, “Life stinks and then you die?” It is a lie. At the end of these few years we enjoy on earth lies life, not death. The more accurate expression would be something like, “death stinks and then you live, and live and live.” Jesus ascension opens the door to God’s heavenly and eternal kingdom to us.

The Ascension affirms in fact what Jesus taught in word: that there is way more to life than what you can see, hear, taste, smell and feel. Human senses are severely limited and if we trust them to explain reality to us we will be misled. Our senses will persuade us that when we achieve the success that we hoped for in this life that we have actually arrived someplace significant, when in fact, our success in earthly terms has little to no bearing on our eternal relationship with Christ. Even worse, reliance on our senses will cause us to be blind, deaf and dumb to the spiritual realities that surround seemingly ordinary events. We simply cannot rely on our senses to tell the truth in the important matters. We are not to trust in the products of our own hands. We are not to judge our wellbeing based upon our circumstances. We are called to trust in God for our future. We are to invest ourselves in the things important to Jesus Christ. God is working. He is building and we can trust in that building.

Do what you want with your life. But unless what you do has some bearing on your relationship with Jesus Christ it is of little or no long-term value. In the end all of your work will fall—maybe not as dramatically as the World Trade Center, but our efforts will fall just as surely. And so we ought to live our days, plan our activities with some intentionality. Our choices matter—and unfortunately we humans tend to choose our desires instead of God’s purposes.

Most of us wonder how we will find time to pray in the midst of so many important activities. That is a misunderstanding of our priorities. We ought to be wondering how we are going to find time to do all these other things when we have so much praying to get done first. Can you imagine calling your spouse and apologizing for being late for dinner because you had to stay late to pray? Now there is a legitimate excuse for missing dinner. Can you imagine writing out an I owe you to God, a bill equal to a percentage of your take home pay and keeping it on top of your stack of bills? Can you imagine giving back to God before you pay the electric or the rent?

We have said that the only thing that matters in the long run is our relationship with Jesus Christ. If we truly believed that we would live differently. And I am here to tell you. It is not a hypothetical. It is true. When a person takes care of their relationship with God first and foremost, they and their family lose nothing. In fact, they really do find themselves living a better quality of life. I have seen it happen time and time again. Try it, I guarantee you will like it.

And I guarantee that you will never find yourself trusting in a building that is falling down around your ears, realizing that you have lost hope in your future, living in anxiety and fear, and wondering if there is a God who cares. That is the unfortunate place people without faith wind up. People who despair, at least many of them, have spent their lives excluding God from the fabric of their daily lives. Many of them lived in the delusion that they could construct a house out of their own strength, their own ingenuity and their own hard work only to discover that it has all been in vain. The bottom line is there is only one heaven. There is only one way to ascend into heaven. Heaven is prepared. It is ready for occupancy. The way to heaven has been paved by our Lord and Savior Jesus, and he has shown us the way. He is the way and he has promised that all that believe in him, all who make him Lord of their lives, will find their home with him.

This first Sunday after the Ascension is a great reminder that our actual home is not here on planet earth. We are beings who were created to live in the heavenly realms but our minds and our wills have been misdirected. Our families and friends, even we ourselves have devoted ourselves to this worldly stuff thinking that somehow or another it would lead us to the things our hearts desire. Of course we have to live in this world, but we will never find the ability to live in this world gracefully let alone prepare for the world to come until we place God’s kingdom in the place of priority. We will never learn to manage life on life’s terms until we have submitted to living life according to God’s priorities.

Jesus ascended into heaven and we have been called to ascend into heaven as well. For Jesus the ascension was an event. In a moment he was raised up in a cloud and was gone. For us ascension is a process, a lifelong process that began when we were baptized and will end when we find ourselves before the throne of God singing, “Holy, holy, holy.” And I fear it is a process that we all neglect to our own detriment. I fear we suffer in this life needlessly because we defy God’s direction and refuse God’s assistance and grace. “Too busy to pray,” we say. “The world is too risky to trust,” we say. “If I give to God I will be the poorer,” we say. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Jesus said, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto to you.

Do something dangerous this week: Surrender to God. Trust that he will care for you. Believe that your investment in your relationship with God will gain you more than you loose. That is the truth! That is actual reality! Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, dwelling in the place of perfection. And he has saved a place for you there. Amen.