What’s in Your Apple?
2nd Sunday After Pentecost
Genesis 3:8-15, Mark 3:20-35
Amanda Musterman at Saint Patrick’s Somerset
Acts 2:1-21, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Amanda Musterman at Saint Patrick’s Somerset
Where is Jesus?
7th Sunday of Easter
Amanda Musterman at Saint Patrick’s Somerset
Abide, The Womb of Christ
6th Sunday of Easter
Amanda Musterman at Saint Patrick’s Somerset
You are Good Fruit
5th Sunday of Easter
Amanda Musterman at Saint Patrick’s Somerset
Go Ahead Check the “Preacher” Box
3rd Sunday of Easter
Amanda Musterman at Saint Patrick’s Somerset
Amanda Musterman at Saint Patrick, Somerset
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Amanda Musterman at Saint Patrick’s Somerset
Live Like They are Dying
Monday of Holy Week – Year B
Amanda Musterman at First Christian Church
Sitting with Mary at the Cross
Palm Sunday – Year B
John 12:12-26, Mark 14-15.
Amanda Musterman at Saint Patrick’s Somerset
Meeting the Maker
Epiphany I, January 11, 2015
Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Mark 1:4-11
Amanda Musterman at St. Patrick’s Somerset
Today’s sermon is based on the story –
Lucado, Max. You are Special (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossroads. 1997, 2000).
The book You are Special by Max Lucado, tells the story of a small wooden people named Wemmicks. All the wooden Wemmicks were carved by the same woodworker and all lived in the same village. All of them were different. Each day, as the Wemmicks went about their business, they gave each other stickers. When people did “good” things like looked pretty or jumped high, they received a gold star sticker. When people did “bad” things like look rough or fall down, they received a grey dot.
One such Wemmick was named Punchinello. Punchinello could not jump high, and fell a lot. The more he fell the more grey dots he received, so that his whole body was covered in grey dots. He was afraid to go outside, because he was afraid he would receive more grey dots. He had so many grey dots that people recognized that Punchinello was not a good wooden person.
One day Punchinello met Lucia. She was different than any wooden person he had ever met, for she had no stickers. Gold stars and grey dots simply would not stick. People would try to place a gold star for good things and it would fall off, and a grey dot for bad things and it would fall off. Puncinello did not want to have any one elses marks, so he asked Lucia how she did it. It’s easy,” Lucia replied. “Every day I go to see the woodcarver, my maker.”
So Lucia took Punchinello to meet the maker. The maker knows Punchinello by name. Punchinello apologizes to the maker for messing up his body by receiving grey dots. He says to him, I’ve tried hard not to get bad marks and I’m sorry to disappoint you. The maker says, “You don’t have to defend yourself to me, I don’t care what the other Wemmicks think, all that matters is that I made you, and I think you are special. Besides, the dots only stick if you let them matter to you. The more you trust in my love the more you will care less about the stickers. Remember, you are special because I made you.”
Punchinello didn’t stop thinking bad thoughts about himself, but in his heart he thought, “I think he really means it.” And when he did, a dot fell to the ground.
Friends, today, you and I, play the role of Lucia to Henry. We are his guide into the primordial waters of baptism where he meets his maker. In the waters of baptism, he hears the voice of the maker. The voice that says – you are loved. You are Special. You are my beloved with whom I am well pleased.
When we baptize Henry, we baptize him into the body of Christ. The physical act of going under the water and coming back up is a symbolic and holy act which makes an eternal bond between Henry and Christ life. When he goes under the water, he goes into the tomb. When he is lifted up, he experiences resurrection. Henry today, becomes a part of the body of Christ – the beloved with whom God is well pleased.
When we baptize Henry, he becomes indisovably adopted by God a son of God – a son, the beloved, in whom God is well pleased.
Today, when we baptize Henry, we wash away sin. We wash all the dots off, removing evil, healing him from all that separates him from Christ – he becomes the son of God, the beloved, with whom God is well pleased.
Henry may not be old enough to have amassed the multiple sin-grey-colored-dots which you and I may have amassed in our longer lives. I imagine, if you are like myself, or Punchinello, you carry some grey-sin-colored dots on your body – Dots of inward shame which we have placed upon ourselves, or outward dots which someone else stuck on us without our permission. Dots of shame because we failed. Dots of fear of not being good enough. Dots of guilt from an immoral action. A dot of selfishness, a grey circle of greed, envy, or inaction.
I don’t know what your dots look like, but I do know it keeps you from seeing yourself in the eyes of God – pleasing, beautiful, naked, unadorned, pure, and perfect just as you are, just as you were created to be.
Baptism is a communal event. So, today, as we guide Henry into the body of Christ, we do it together. Baptism, not ordination, is what makes ministers and disciples of Christ. So today, all of us, as a community together, pray for Henry – that he may be delivered from sin and death, that he may will be open to God’s grace and truth, and that he will come to recognize God’s love and share that love with others.
And we vow, together, that we will do all in our power to support Henry in his life with Christ.
And perhaps, most importantly, we all take the baptismal covenant together, again. For this is a life long process and we all need to be reminded we are washed, forgiven and loved, continually.
After we have baptized Henry, Father Phillip will asperge. The practice of asperging is an ancient practice of sprinkling Holy Water on God’s people. As Father Phillip walks through, you, the people of God with the Holy Water, you are invited to remember your own baptism.
The word Asperge, is derived from the same word we use for purge. What spots do you need washed clean? When that Holy Water hits your skin, what grey dot needs to be washed away?
May the waters of baptism wash us all. May they wash away the darkness and make room for God’s brilliant light. May they rain down freedom and take away bondage, may they flood out sin to make room for righteousness, may the cleanse our thoughts so that we may see love.
Today, we hear the voice of our maker. The voice of splendor, the voice of peace, the voice of strength, the voice which says – you are the body of Christ, my son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
Akeem the Stupid Sheep
A Christmas Story, 12-24-14
By Bob Horine (2004)
Shared at St. Patrick’s Somerset
Akeem was no stupider than any other sheep. The shepherds called him stupid because he often gave them trouble, doing what he pleased rather than what they pleased. And he was unattractive—to the shepherds and, perhaps, although there was no way to be certain, to the other sheep. His wool wasn’t white or black, but a dingy color that’s hard to describe. Also, there was something about his eyes; they had a look about them that—well—just wasn’t sheepish.
Akeem wasn’t like other sheep and so he was said to be stupid. (People sometimes do this to each other.)
The other sheep treated him badly, so Akeem tried to hang around the shepherds as much as possible, especially the shepherd named Mobad. Akeem would come up to shepherds and rub against their legs as a cat might. The shepherds would hit at him with their staffs and say, “Akeem, get away, you stupid sheep!”
Mobad would say that, too, but he didn’t hit at Akeem with his staff, so Akeem stayed closest to Mobad.
One night—and you know this part of the story—the shepherds and the sheep were in the fields outside a little town called Bethlehem when a strange and wonderful thing happened. It was late, the moon had already set, and the night was very dark. Suddenly, there was someone standing among the shepherds and he shone as if he were filled with light. He was an angel and he scared the bejabbers out of the shepherds. They fell down to the ground and hid their eyes. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid,” which, if you’ve ever seen an angel, is a funny thing to hear. Everybody who’s ever seen an angel has been afraid.
Anyway, the angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I have good news for you. Today a Savior has been born in Bethlehem. He is Christ the Lord. You will find him wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger in the stable of the inn.”
When the angel had said this, hundreds of angels appeared in the sky and in the fields and they were all singing and praising God for this strange and wonderful thing that had happened—the birth of the Savior, Jesus. Then, just as suddenly, they were gone. They finished their song and disappeared, just like that!
Well, it was some time before the shepherds could even talk, but after awhile, when they had calmed down a little, they said, “Let’s go see the Savior,” and they left the sheep and set off for Bethlehem. They left all the sheep except one. Akeem the “stupid” sheep followed them.
First one shepherd and then another told Akeem to go back, and hit at him with his staff or kicked at him or threw a rock at him. Akeem just got next to Mobad for protection and went on toward Bethlehem. Mobad said, “Go back, you stupid sheep. We’re going to see the Savior. Go back! This has nothing to do with you.” But because Mobad didn’t hit at him, and because Mobad didn’t want to fall behind the other shepherds, Akeem followed all the way to Bethlehem and to the stable where Jesus had been born.
The shepherds saw Mary and Joseph and the baby. At first they stood back at some distance. After awhile they came and knelt for a closer look at Jesus. Mary picked up the child and held him on her lap so they could better see him.
“Ahhh,” the shepherds said, because that’s what you say when you see a baby, even if it’s Jesus. While they were looking, someone edged between them to get an even closer look, and too late the shepherds saw that Akeem the “stupid” sheep was going right up to Mary and Jesus. Mobad made a dive for him, but missed and fell on his face on the stable floor. (And stable floors are…well, you know.) Akeem put his head in Mary’s lap beside the baby. The shepherds said, “AHHH!” because that’s what you say when you’re horrified.
The baby was wriggling and his hand touched Akeem’s head and rested there. “Ahhhhh,” said the shepherds, because that’s what you say when you think something strange and wonderful has happened. The little Savior had touched Akeem. That must mean something!
All the way back to their fields the shepherds talked about what they had seen. “A miracle has happened,” they said. “The little Savior has blessed Akeem the stupid sheep. What might this mean?” They talked and talked and someone said, “Maybe Akeem’s wool will turn to gold.” (They were already forgetting what the birth of the Savior meant and thinking about what they could get, as we do sometimes.) For the next few days they watched, and every morning they checked to see if Akeem’s wool was turning to gold. Nothing.
Perhaps, instead, Akeem, being blessed, could now be taught to speak like a human being. The shepherds, looking a little foolinsh, sat for hours and tried to teach Akeem to speak, but all he said was “Ma-a-a,” because that’s what sheep say no matter what’s going on.
“I know,” said a shepherd. “I’ll bet Akeem can count. I once saw a horse who could count. Think of it, a counting sheep!” The shepherd said, “Akeem, strike your hoof and tell me how much is 21 and 14,” but Akeem did nothing. “That’s too much,” said another shepherd. “I don’t know how much is 21 and 14. Try 2 and 2.” They did, but nothing happened. Akeem just looked at them.
Akeem just looked at them. There was something about the way he looked at them, something special about Akeem, but they couldn’t quite figure it out. However, because of this special something, they began to treat him with more patience and even some kindness, and some even began to enjoy his company. The other sheep, perhaps noticing the way the shepherds treated Akeem, began to treat him better, too. (The shepherds, who had sometimes called each other stupid, began to treat each other differently, too.)
It was Mobad who finally saw what was different about Akeem. Akeem was smiling. This sheep was smiling! Akeem was smiling because he had been touched by the Savior, by Jesus, and he knew he was loved. To the end of his days—and he lived a long life—Akeem smiled at being loved by Jesus.
Akeem had many, many children and the children had many, many children and so on and so on for 2,000 years, until today most of the sheep in the world are descended from Akeem the “stupid” sheep who became Akeem the smiling sheep.
And here is a strange and wonderful thing. If you look at any of these sheep you will see that they are smiling Akeem’s smile. Next time you see a sheep, look and see if it is smiling. Sheep smile because they’ve known ever since Akeem that they are loved by Jesus.
Jesus touched Akeem. When we come close to Jesus, in prayers or thoughts, or some act of loving-kindness, we too are touched, and that touch tells us we’re loved.
When we’re loved, like Akeem we smile and people know there’s something strange and wonderful about us. If they ask, tell them what it is.
(Copyright 2004 by Robert B. Horine. All rights reserved.)
Year B, Advent IV, 12-21-2014
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Canticle 15, Luke 1:26-38
Amanda Musterman, St. Patrick’s Somerset
Today, on the road to Bethlehem, we are one step closer. This Advent, we have walked a journey of preparation together. We have heard the wisdom of Isaiah and John the Baptist calling us to clear the way of debris and make room for God’s work.
Today, we are one step closer. The Advent wreath shines brightly as all four candles are lit. The question turns from WILL God’s light shine in the darkness to WHEN will God’s light come?
Today, we are one step closer. We are almost there. As we have prepared our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child, we have prepared our sanctuary. The greens are up, the crèche is in.
When God’s light shines in the darkness, and when Christ shows up – will Christ reside in that Creche?
This week, as we walk the road to Bethlehem, we expect to meet the Holy Family – Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus. Where do we expect to find them? Where will they stay?
Will the Christ Child come to reside at your house?
We Americans, and especially Southerners, love our residences. at Christmas. We spend weeks preparing our homes, our sanctuaries, our businesses into magical Christmas wonderlands. There is nothing more comfortable to me than sitting on a couch this time of year, surrounded by twinkling lights of fireplaces and Christmas trees, with a favorite drink in one hand and cuddling a favorite pet or family member in the other. It is comfortable.
I will not suggest that God does not show up in these comfortable places – God certainly shows up with families, but God may be more likely to show up somewhere else this holiday season.
Take our Hebrew Lesson Scripture for today as an example. Let’s look at David and the Israelites. In today’s scripture, David may have well been enjoying a holiday in a cozy restful house. After a really hard life – many years of slavery, forty years of wandering in the desert, 300 years at war, the Israelites were finally comfortable and settled. The reading states, “Now when the King David was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies, King David said to the Prophet Nathan, “See now I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God is stays in a tent.” (2 Samuel 7:1-12).
In David’s comfortableness, he very much wants to provide God with a comfortable dwelling. It as if he asks God, come on in, sit down, enjoy the fire. And then God shows up and visits with him but refuses to stay the night in the lush surroundings of the King’s palace.
God says to David – Thanks but no thanks. “I have not lived in a house since the day I began traveling with your people away from Egypt. Instead, I have been moving about in a tent. I have been walking with you. Whenever, I moved about the people of Israel, did I ever ask for a house? No, I prefer to walk with you where you go. You can go ahead and get comfortable, but I prefer to walk with my people, wherever they are. I prefer a tabernacle to a sanctuary, a tent to a house, a mobile home to a mansion.
God doesn’t really like to be pinned down into one particular dwelling. It reminds me of the story of the Transfiguration – you know the one. The story where Jesus took his three best friends – Peter, James and John up to a mountain and then turned into an amazing big white dazzling glowing vision shining in the light of God? And when Jesus turned into the sparkling vision of God, Moses and Elijah appeared. And then Peter got so excited that he said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here, let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Jesus doesn’t really respond, but it is clear he doesn’t take them up on their offer because they will continue down the mountain.
If Jesus doesn’t take up us on our offer to let him be in our homes this season, or in our comfortable dwelling places, where will he show up, where will he be, where will he find residence?
In a few days, we will tell the story of how God comes into the world. In the form of a poor child, dressed in rags instead of clothes, the son of a poor peasant, slave girl of a pregnant teenager. We will tell the story of how that child comes born into a barn because there was no room for his parents at the inn.
I don’t know what that inn looked like. I do know that Joseph was a carpenter, which means that he most likely built houses for people instead of having his own. And that his engaged to be wife was a poor peasant girl. My guess is that their lodging too, looked much more like a tent instead of a house, a transient cheap hotel instead of the Ritz Carlton. And for whatever reason, they too were denied lodging.
In 1984, Father Charlie, a Catholic priest in downtown Nashville, witnessed others who were, for whatever, reason denied lodging. As he looked out upon his churches parking lot and surrounding property one winter, he saw people sleeping in cars and in tents. Like the Holy Family, there was no room in the Inn for them. He invited them into the church. Over the course of one year, Father Charlie convinced other Nashville churches to open their doors to house the homeless. Today, his legacy, “Room in the Inn” houses countless numbers of persons in Nashville, Memphis, Lexington and many other cities in a movable shelter. Each night, the shelter moves from church to church providing hospitality through inflatable mattress and really nice meals. Like the Holy Family without lodging and the God of the tent, Room in the Inn is on the move.
Today, Christ is on the move, living in a tent, looking for where he is most needed. It is therefore, more likely that Christ will visit us not in the comfortable, well decorated parts of our homes, but the part of our hearts this season which are un-housed.
The parts of our hearts which are scared, hopeless, and pregnant teenagers. The parts of our lives which live in the messiness of a barn scattered with animal feces, the parts of our lives which are hurting and broken, and dark. God is on the way and he is looking for a manger instead of a mansion, a shelter instead of a sanctuary.
God was on the move in this space a few weeks ago, when members of our community gathered for a service of Remembrance and Hope. For just a moment, 22 of us gathered as God moved God’s tent to be with those who were hurting, grieving and lonely this holiday season. And for many moments, God showed up to be with us.
God is on the move, through Meal Share, through Food Boxes, through a community meal at First Methodist on Christmas Day. Like Mary’s song reminds us, God is turning up all over the place in unexpected ways – scattering the imaginations of the proud, lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things.
The Holy Family is on the move and are looking for lodging. Where will they reside?
Where will the Christ Child be born this season? In this manger? In another manger? In the dark barns of the hopeless places of our hearts?
I do not know where the Holy Family will show up this week, but I do pray if they do we will be ready. Ready like Mary to say, “Here I am, servant of you, Oh Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” Let me house the Christ Child.
Year B, Advent II, 12-7-2014
Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8
Amanda Musterman, St. Patrick’s Somerset
It is an age old, all American folk tale. A person in ultimate life crisis, goes to visit the guru. And the guru changes EVERYTHING.
We see the story over and over again in TV shows, books, and stories. You might recognize such behavior from Enlightenment, Arrested Development, Eat Love Pray or other show of your choosing. The main character is in crisis caused by the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, or problems with alcoholism. Lost and not know what to do, they seek help. Usually this help, involves traveling to some far off place – a remote place in the desert, an ashram in India, a mountain retreat center in Tibet. And there, the character runs into some aesthetic sage dressed in a tattered sari or robe who gives them some sage advice that changes EVERYTHING.
Today, we as a community, visit the guru. Our guru is named John. He lives in the wilderness. He eats locust and wild honey, he lives off the land in the middle of no where. He is other worldly and probably looks a little crazy. To visit him, we must trek to the deserted place within our souls, walk the solitary path within our heart, into the wild wilderness of our own psyche. Yet, there is something so special about his message that people from ALL of Jerusalem and the whole of Judea are flocking to him. All of us. Everyone we know is going to the wilderness to see the guru.
What is he saying that changes EVERYTHING?
“Prepare the way of The Lord. Make his paths straight. Make straight a road for Christ. A pathway in the desert, a highway for our God. The kingdom of God is at hand, the kingdom of God is near. Repent. Be baptized. Get ready.”
I suppose, some of us go to the guru and are confused by his message. What does it mean – prepare a pathway for the Lord? Others of us get it immediately. Some in the wilderness, begin immediately confessing their sins publically before all. Others start the hard work of boulder removal in their hard hearts. As they begin to prepare for the Lord, they begin to make their pathways straight –
Blasting away at anger
Chipping away at envy
Chiseling out pride
Carrying away rudeness
Picking out boastfulness
A few years ago, I had a friend, Mason, who was on this path. He traveled deep within his own soul and met his guru. His guru told him he had a drinking problem so he began by blasting the mountain of alcoholism. After the mountain was blasted, he needed to remove the crag of a smoking habit. He did. He then removed the boulder of weight gain, the stones of anxiety, the pebbles of personal habits.
One of the great thins about Aa, is it teaches dependence on a higher power. So when Mason began he depended on God. And with each move he sought God’s help. Mason prepared his ground, he started to make his path straight. God came into his life and did the mpossible work – filling the valleys and lowering the mountains. Mason just had to know the path towards his own heart.
The guru asks us that we begin the hard work of making a path to our heart. This pathway of the Lord is not easy. It would be far easier for us to not work on our pathway. Making a way for the Lord into our heart is not easy. Mason could have set idly by not doing anything. We could sit idly by this season by not preparing our road.
The guru asks us to hard work, but he does not ask us to do the impossible. It is impossible for us to blast our own mountains. That is for the work of God. The guru simply asks that we begin, that we prepare, that we start along so that the path is begun, that it looks a little trodden. That there is some semblance of a worn down path to follow once he comes to us.
Today, we visit the guru. And the guru says: prepare. Start a path. Take one step.
What begins your path towards the coming of Christ? Is it pushing the boulder of alcoholism out of the way? Is it taking the first step into the wilderness of AA? Is it mâchéting the heavy growth of racism? Is it raking out the undergrowth of consumerism? Is it clearing out the fallen tree of past rotten dreams? What do you need to clear away to make room for the Lord? What does it take to start your path this advent season? To prepare the way of The Lord?
What does the guru say that changes everything? PREPARE. Make way. Begin. Start a path.
God is on the way. Restoration to paths of destruction is near. Glory is coming to dwell in our land. Mercy, righteousness and peace are about to meet us on our road. Truth is going to grow on our road, righteousness will shine down like sun from the skies.
God is about to walk on our road. The Psalmsit today reminds us – righteousness will go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.
What Happens in the End?
Year A, Christ the King, 11-23-2014
Ezekiel 34, Psalm 100, Matthew 25:31-46
Amanda Musterman, St.Patrick’s Somerset
What happens at the end?
Today, Christ the King Sunday marks the end of our Liturgical Year – the end of Liturgical time. Next week, on Advent I, our church calendar will start over as we await the coming of Christ. As we wait, we will explore primal themes of creation – how this planet came to be, how we came to be, and how Christ came to be. In the past year we have waited on the Lord, we have witnessed his birth, we have walked along the road as his disciples, we have experienced miracles. We celebrated the tridium of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. The death of Christ should have been the end, but it was not, as Christ conquered the grave, our Liturgical Year continued. Far after Easter, we celebrated Christ resurrected presence on earth for the 50 days of Easter through Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came to rest upon the earth. We celebrated the resurrected presence and continuation of Christ’s work for 28 Sundays, until we reached today: the last Sunday, after Pentecost, Christ the King, the Reign of Christ, and the end of the calendar year. Today is the day when Christ comes to the earth to reign as king of all creation, forever.
What happens, on today, the end?
It was the end of a long journey for me. I had traveled from Lexington to Italy with 14 teenagers and three adults in tow. It was two days of sleepless stress – constant counting, making sure all our kids made it through customs, running through airports, waiting in airports, and holding hairs of kids throwing up in airports. After two days, we had finally arrived at our first two stops – the Coliseum and the Vatican. I was so looking forward to St. Peter’s Basilica. Surely there would be a place to rest, to pray, to be quiet, and to soak in God’s peace. As we went through the security lines we were surrounded and surrounded by crowds. As we entered the church, we were surrounded by crowds. There was no where to sit. There were no set aside chapels to pray in. It was noisy. It was crowded. It was hot. Extremely hot. It felt like Wal-Mart on black Friday.
Our kids dispersed, each on their own journey to meet at our meeting place at the designated time. I walked, aimlessly, into the catacombs. Surely they would be a place of respite, they were not. They were crowded. And although not as hot, they were still noisy. They were dark. The stiles, turned me and turned me through the catacombs, walking on the pre-marked path to which there was no choice but to stay on. And finally, without out warning, the path led me to light. Without warning, I was outside, standing in the light, in front of a beautiful working water fountain, complete with people and flur de lises’ spitting drinkable life-giving water in the glistening sunshine. It was the most beautiful place in St.Peter’s and it wasn’t in St. Peter’s at all. My face a lit, the stress washed away, my water bottle filled and I drank. Drank in the sunshine, drank in the water, drank in the silence of being outside by my self, drank in God. Out loud, my inner-Italian came out as softly bowed to the water and said, Gratzi.
What happens, today on the end?
This week, our Parish celebrated another end. The end of a beloved friend, Jonathan Thompson. As members of the Altmaier and Thompson families gathered we celebrated with the beauty of song gifted by Pleasant Company, a wonderful message of the hope of all creation. Through Jonathan’s life, and the celebration of his life, we as a community were reminded how beautiful our earth is. Through Jonathan’s eyes, the earth was seen as wonderful, magical, beautiful, something to live with, something to be in symbiotic relationship with. There is and was something about the testimony of Jonathan’s life – his writing, his photography, they way that he came to live with the land, that the boundaries of heaven and earth are not as visible as we choose to make them.
What happens, today, on the end?
Today, on the end, the last day of the liturgical year, Jonathon Thompson was right. The boundaries between heaven and earth pass away. As the Revelation of John reminds us, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, t he home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; and they will be his peoples, and God himself will be among them, he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21: 1-4, NRSV).
Today is the day, when we are reminded that when it is the end, when all of creation is complete, God comes to dwell among us. That, Jesus Christ as our true shepherd returns, rescuing us from places of darkness, bringing us to our own land, feeding us on our own mountains, teaching us where to find good water which is already ours. In the end, on the last day, we lie down, we rest, we graze on good land, we feed on the rich pasture that is already provided for us. The lost and the strayed are found, the injured are healed, the weak are strengthened, the naked are clothed, the enslaved are free, the weary rest.
What happens today, on the end?
I suppose, that we, after a long day of travel through this weary life, like Jonathan, find ultimate rest. We, remember that Christ has come, that Christ has shown us to the living water, and we give thanks for the drinks of refreshment. We dip our hands in baptismal water and remember the clean, livingness of that water, for all the life it provides. We rejoice in the symbiotic nature of all that is.
In the beginning, the God who was, created the heavens and the earth, water and land, and it was good. In the middle, the God who is, came to dwell among us. He came in the form of Christ, our shepherd to lead us to life-giving water. In the end, the God is to be, comes again, to point us to the river, a river that flows, swarms with life of fresh fish, living waters that gives nourishment to fruit trees that heal the nations. (Exekiel 47, Revelation 22). There in the midst of that living water, there is no more pain, no more tears, no more death, no more crying, no more hunger, no more thirst.
What happens, on today, the end – we, like in the beginning, let the great shepherd lead us to the living water. As it was in the beginning, it will now and forever be.
Ever out of Gas?
Year A, Proper 27, 11-9-2014
Amanda Musterman, St. Patrick’s Somerset
Have you ever been out of gas?
It’s a popular saying we use sometime. I’m tired – I’m out of gas. I’m at the end of my rope – out of gas. Too many things have come at me all at once – I’m out of gas.
This week, I found myself feeling out of gas. I’m in the middle of some huge life transitions. For several months now, I’ve found myself in the middle of a painful divorce. Among that, I’m trying to figure out how to be your pastor and what my identity looks like as a parish priest. Because of both of those, I’m deciding if I should move.
This week, among those decisions, I was faced with a few more, gas depleting situations. I left my job at God’s Pantry Food Bank. A friend had surgery for colon cancer. Another family member received bad health news. I had a cold, and two network meetings.
In the midst of all of this, I mulled and mulled over today’s gospel. It is a rough parable. The bridesmaids with all the oil seem selfish to me. I don’t want to be in the kingdom of heaven with them. The one’s with oil seem unprepared and left out. I wanted to see myself, this community, all of us at the great banquet, but all I could do was envision myself out of gas, siding with the bridesmaids who were foolish, sleepy, and suddenly scrambling to find more oil in an already complicated life. And for seriously, it’s stewardship season.
It was one of those weeks filled with a lot of darkness and not much light – the darkness of the changing weather, the gloominess of a broken heart without much hope, shadows of fear, the cloudiness of being extremely exhausted. The sadness of feeling out of gas.
Out of gas and in the dark, I met with my mentor. Our conversations focused around how hard it has been for me to preach a gospel of hope these days. I’ve never found myself in a place where I could not preach a message of love, yet this week was one of those weeks. I shared with her how hard it is to wrap your mind around hope in the darkness, how I wait for words, how the spirit seems silent. Like the bridesmaids who ran out of oil, my preaching lamp-light seems extinguished in these dark times of my life.
In the midst of this conversation, my mentor gave me permission to do something I have never done before – recycle a sermon. Feeling confident in this decision, I waited until Saturday morning to find my sermon for Proper 27, 2011. My lamp-light returned, just for a minute, as the glowing electrified oil of a recycled sermon lit my computer screen. It didn’t last. My sermon, for proper 27, year A, in 2011 was on a completely non-transferable event related to the life of the Cathedral. In a Christian parable on being prepared, the great irony is that I was more unprepared on a Saturday to preach than I ever had been in my life. The lamp went out with a poof – no oil left. No lamp left. No light left.
I tell you this version of my parable this week, because I imagine you, at some point in your life, may have experienced a similar story. The hopelessness of overwhelming darkness. A lamp that has run out of gas. Those times when the darkness is so overwhelming, you no longer recognize that you are holding the light of Christ and you may wonder if you ever held it to begin with.
If you are like me, you have experienced this in many ways. Unbearable grief. Times of darkness. Overwhelming sadness. The death of a parent, child, or best friend. The ending of a relationship, the loss of a job, the call with bad news, the impossible situation. Part of our human condition is to be in touch with the great darkness.
This afternoon, at Christ Church, the Bishop along with the mayor of Lexington, will gather at Christ Church to pray for those who have faced overwhelming darkness through addiction. I can only imagine, the addicted are searching for more oil when they too go to the dealer. More light when they visit the drug store or the liquor store for their bodies and souls which are broken and out of gas.
We all handle our darkness differently. Many of us have our own way of going to the dealer to get more oil. They may be more socially acceptable – 2 drinks instead of 20, bad tv which numbs our minds, food which makes us feel good momentarily, the escape of travel. But all of us, I imagine have some way in which we go to the dealer to search for more light.
What would have happened, if those bridemaids did not go to the dealer? What would have happened if they just waited, in the dark? What would happen to us, if we could handle the darkness?
I suppose, for them and for us, we would meet Christ. Christ has a way of always showing up in the darkness.
In the shadiness of our sinfulness, in an unlit manger under a night sky, in the midst of dark socio-political politics, in the midst of a cold-dark alley where the naked, homeless Christ sleeps. In the midst of dark cells of the imprisioned. In the midst of those that are deeply wailing. Over and over again, Christ has a way of showing up in the darkness and bringing comfort to those who mourn.
What would have happened if the bridemaids would have stayed in the darkness? They would have met Christ.
God always has a way of working in the darkness. Our whole world was created out of darkness. God alloweed darkness to cover the red sea so that the Isrealites could pass into freedom, God led them through the desert at night by a pillar of fire. God shows up and God leads people through darkness. In resurrecting Christ from a dark cave. God is in the darkness, and my hunch is, if we have the strength to wait it out, some work gets done there.
In this church, when you are baptized, the priest does two things immediately following your baptism. One, the priest places a hand with oil on your head and says, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. Secondly, in most churches you are given a candle with the words – receive the light of Christ. By nature of our baptism, we are never without light and we are never without oil.
The foolish bridemaids were without both – out of light and out of oil. They were also without God. The word foolish, moros, actually means irreverent, godless.
Christ has a way of reminding us that even though we are in the shadow of the valley of death, we shall fear no evil, for we are never without God. We are never without this community. This community always offers us a light to huddle around when our own light is dim. This community always reminds us, you, I, we, are light bearers, even when we forget we have the light.
May we courageously walk into the darkness and may the bridegroom come. For Christ always comes in darkness.
Why Didn’t You Go to the Wedding?
Year A, Proper 23, 10-12-2014
Exodus 32:1-14, Matthew 22:1-14
Amanda Musterman, St. Patrick’s Somerset
October is the new June.
For the past four Octobers, my life as a thirty something has been consumed weddings. Last week, I watched as my best friend from college married a wonderful man.
A year ago, in October, I went to the most extravagant wedding. Held at a Kentucky horse farm, gigantic urns of flowers speckled the landscape. A signature cocktail was served each hour on the hour. Before the wedding – Spiked lemonade under a decedent tent. After the ceremony, hot-bourboned cider with hot browns. A few minutes later, wine with salad. Even later, corn pudding, green beans, rolls, grits, and country ham. When the bride and groom cut their cake, home roasted coffee – which the groom had transported from his home in California. There was dancing. For those not wanting to dance, a fire pit was available with girhidelli chocolate s’mores. It was the most food I had ever seen (or eaten) in a five hour time frame and I danced every single bit of it off. The food was wonderful, the weather spectacular, the bride and groom radiant, and the people filled with love. And, just as the bride and groom got ready to leave, the biggest surprise of all. More food. Long after everyone expected the catering van to be loaded, everyone’s eyes filled with amazement as the servers returned. This time carrying trays of root beer floats and a choice of pulled pork sliders or grilled cheese. The abundance was beyond imagination.
It was a wedding of abundance. It was a wedding of thoughtfulness – the bride and groom had carefully selected table seatings, drinks, and food for their guests. With all that was going on, the bride knew I would be very excited her husband had roasted the coffee, so she mentioned that I try it. Then, he too, mentioned that I try it. I was not the only one. I have no doubt that they greeted each guest with such a greeting – we know you like hot browns, so we got them. We know you hate port-o-toilets, so we got the gigantic rockstar one. We know you love s’mores, we thought of you when we set up the campfire. We knew it might be cold, so we had our grandmothers bring the family quilts so that you could warm up. It was a wedding of thoroughly thought out details for each guest to enjoy. The thoughtfulness was beyond imagination.
It was the closest thing to a royal wedding I will ever experience.
This is the sort of wedding our parable invites us into today – a wedding of thoughtful abundance beyond imagination. A wedding where the king gives a wedding banquet and prepares a lavish feast with the fattest of calves and the finest of foods. It is the wedding of royalty and everyone is invited. And our host, is going to do everything to make us feel loved and welcomed into the beginning of the life between Christ and the Church.
Why wouldn’t you go? Why wouldn’t you go to this wedding?
I suppose, if you are like me, and like the guests in today’s parable, the reasons for not attending a wedding are the same reasons we don’t attend to the spiritual union of our life with Christ.
We, like the invited to the wedding, simply have too much going on. We get the invitation to Christ’s abundant table of celebration, but we lose the invitation in the mail. We hear Christ’s servants calling us to come, but we ignore them.
We get the invitation to walk with Christ, but we find ourselves immersed in our lives – in the businesses of our work, in the busi-ness of tending to our own needs, in the crowdedness of commitments. We, like the guests in the gospel, “made light of it and go away, one to his farm, another to his business.”
Maybe we found the invitation offensive, the love too good to be true. We still kill our messengers. In recent days, if the goings on at Episcopal Divinity School have taught us anything – it is that we, like those who were at the wedding, do not like those who speak out against justice and change against the status quo. Over and over again, our society and ourselves have a tendency to kill the messengers and mistreat those who speak for real truths – Martin Luther King, the civil rights movement, the young prophets. When someone invites us to a banquet such as this, whether we deserve it or not, it is radical and we aren’t often able to accept radical truth.
Some of us are just not prepared to receive an invitation. We are standing on the street one minute and the king invites us to the banquet the next – in our street clothes, not our wedding clothes. We can’t go, because we aren’t prepared.
Some of us have waited so long for the invitation, we cannot wait anymore. Like the people in the Exodus story for today – we are so tired of waiting for God’s goodness in our lives, that we make our own idols of time, money.
Why would you not go to the wedding?
Believe me, this is a wedding you want to attend. This is a wedding you need to attend. It is a celebration where those who are down are brought up, those who mourn feast on comfort, the meek devour the courageous courage of knowing who they truly are, those who are always taking care of others are fed and waited on, it is the wedding where all those who were persecuted for showing truth are the guests of honor. (Matthew 5, the Message).
It is a wedding where God is seen, where God serves righteousness and joy to drink.
It is a wedding where one can dance with the joy and abandonment of a child. And where that joy and abandonment is not only recognized, but encouraged. A wedding where that joy grows – like a small seed into a large tree or like bread that rises from the introduction of yeast.
It is a celebration so great, that someone when finding it sells all that they have in order to stay there, at the wedding.
You have been invited.
The king, out of his love for you, has invited you into a world of abundance. A world beyond imagine. The king out his love for you, has thoughtfully invited you to share in things that are good. Get ready to celebrate the feast that has been laid before you. Please come to the wedding, please come. Why wouldn’t you go?
Holy Grumble: Get Manna
Year A, Proper 20, 9-21-2014
Exodus 16:2-15, Matthew 20:1-16, Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Amanda Musterman, St. Patrick’s, Somerset
As your new Lay Assistant, with responsibility for Pastoral Care, I give thanks to the Holy Spirit for blessing us with today’s readings. Today’s texts, both the Exodus reading and the reading from Matthew, address Holy Grumbling. I don’t know if you know this about pastors, but one of our primary responsibilities is listening to the Holy Grumbles of God’s people. Like Moses and Aaron, your pastoral staff often fields the community’s grumbles in prayerful compassionate ways.
This is especially true for a new minister. Finding yourself in a new placement offers the community an opportunity to openly grumble. This conversation reflects the sacred memories of what was for a parish, allows the church to complain about what is unmet within their spiritual life, and most importantly, gives room to holy future and holy hope. This time is a gift, both to pastor and community.
Over my short first week here, you have entrusted me with your grumbles. I know some of the mistakes and challenges of past rectors, over the loss of membership, over unhandled grief in Father Bill’s passing, over relationships with the Diocese, over the shrinking of services, times, and programs. Your grumbling is heard, and like Moses I prayerfully offer your cries to God. Please know that you are also not exempt from my grumbles – I carry with me my fair share of grumbles – from other church situations, and from my own personal life.
Today’s scriptures give us insight and wisdom on how to handle this Holy Grumbling. Let it be noted, that the grumbling started quickly for the Isrealites. The text says, “on the fifthith day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt.” I do not know how long the fifteth day of the second month is. However, for a people who were in the dessert for 40 years, I find it is important to note that their grumbling began in months and days, not years.
It takes a short time for the grumbling to begin. Our text is in chapter 16. Just a bit ago, in chapter 14, the community had crossed the Red Sea. In the beginning of chapter 15, the Isrealites sang of God’s glory, Miriam, Aaron’s sister, led all the Isrealite women in dance and tambourine playing as they joyously sang. “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously. Horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Exodus 15:21). Then the Isrealites crossed into a land called Elim, “where there were twelve water springs and seventy palm trees; and they camped there.” That doesn’t sound like a bad place to spend a few days.
But, then, today, in Chapter 16 they start complaining – quickly and copiously about their conditions – they say to Moses and Arron – “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt. Sure it was bad, and we were enslaved, but at least we have food. Now we are dying in the wilderness. You, Moses and Aaron, have led us to a place where we will die of hunger.”
Like the waves of our lives, you as a parish have experienced ups and downs. You have experienced joyous times of tambourine dancing, and vacationing by palm trees and streams of water – full sanctuaries, and beautiful worship, and healing lives together. You have also experienced the parched desert – grief and loss of membership. It is only natural, like the Isrealites to wonder where God is in the desert times – to wonder if God is speaking, feeding, watering.
Let me assure you, that while we have not yet begun to enter into a honeymoon phase, that one day, your grumbles will be directed at Father Phillip and I – some may come as soon as this sermon is over. Just as the Israelites blamed Moses and Aaron for taking them out of Egypt and leading them into a water depleted desert of existence, there will be times, when you may feel Phillip and I will do the same and that is OK, it will be our job to listen to your grumbles then too.
When I hear those grumbles moving forward, I will be reminded of the Wisdom in today’s text. Here is some wisdom for you and for me.
First, grumbling is a sign of deep hunger. It is always stated that, from a church leadership prospective, that the thing which is grumbled about is never really the thing that is the issue, it always runs deeper. All sorts of grumbles, on whether to serve donuts at coffee hour, to what color carpet to put in the church, are rarely about the physical thing the grumble is about. They are about power, where God is in the midst of God’s people. They are about how God is perceived to be feeding hungry souls.
The Israelites were really physically hungry, but they were also hungry for a time when they knew God’s providence to be in the midst of them. Moses recognizes that the grumbling about water and food is not about water and food. He recognizes that it is not about his leadership – he realizes that it is about God. About the people of God not feeling that God cares for them and he challenges the Israelites to directly ask the question – what are you really grumbling about and shouldn’t that grumbling be directed towards God and not me?
In a second insight, both God and Moses listen to the grumbles of the Israelite people. I’d like to think that they did so in a pastoral way. Moses takes the communities grumbles directly to a conversation with God – and continues to point the people towards God. God listens and provides food. God always provides food.
Thirdly, and most importantly, this grumbling is done in community. It should be a note that this is not the sort of grumbling that happens in the Gospel for today. When those that worked a full day, received the same wages of those who had worked a partial day, they too grumbled. They said, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the full day and scorching heat.” The Greek is clear that this sort of grumbling is parking lot grumbling – the type of grumbling done behind closed doors and under bated and quiet breath. This is not the sort of grumbling that the Israelites do. They do open grumbling.
Their grumbling is much more indicative of the type of grumbling outlined previously by Matthew in chapter 18. The story of this grumbling is one which comes right before last week’s gospel of the hard lesson of continual forgiveness. In his words Jesus says to us, “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.” (Matthew 18: 15-17, the Message). This sort of grumbling is open and honest.
The Israelites were certainly open with Moses in their grumbling and they did so as a community. The grumbling, in this Exodus text is communal, open grumbling, it is the kind of grumbling that happens only when communities make a commitment to be together. In fact, this word, Loon, can be translated as grumbling, complaining or murmuring. But can also translated as lodging, remaining, dwelling, abiding. It is the same word that causes the God to remind the Israelites that they are to abide Passover while remaining together, that they are to travel to the promised land while abiding with one another, that they are to hear God’s Ten Commandments and experience Moses face shining in God’s glory while dwelling together, that they are to build a tabernacle for God to reside in together.
This community knows something about Holy Grumbling in the midst of staying together – you as the people of Saint Patrick’s have experienced many trials and tribulations, yet you have done so as a community which abides together. Like the Israelites, you have abided with one another through both joyous times and sad times. You have remained together. You have worked things out together.
Last week, you made a new commitment to abide together. Like Baptism, confirmation, and weddings, this is a communal pledge which says – yes, let’s stay together again and figure out this weird and amazing thing about how God’s Holy Spirit moves through the rustling of this parish. Through the Litany of
Welcome, for myself and for Father Phillip, Priest in Charge during the Interim, you publically recognized that church life ends, and begins again – you committed yourself to the trust and responsibility. You agreed to recognize us as servants of Christ, pray for us, to work with us towards peace and unity. We vowed to you that we would love, serve, and pray for you, lead you forward during a time of change, and to make God’s love know to you. You committed to reside with us, and we with you. And like the people of Israel, we all agreed to do so under God’s guidance.
The litany of Welcome was a powerful reminder to us that we are moving forward as a community, together. When Moses and Aaron went to look for the spirit of God, they did so looking forward into the wilderness. “And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.”
We, you and I, and Father Phillip look towards the wilderness. We look towards the wilderness of hope, towards the desert of beauty, towards a promised land of freedom. As we stand and look towards our future, may we too see God’s glory. May God hear our grumbling, and may manna reign down from heaven. God always feeds the hungry. Always.