Sermons

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost: The Rev. Deacon Richard P. Limato

The Rev. Deacon Richard P. Limato

“So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

I must confess that I hear life, and the Gospels as having a soundtrack.

As I reflected on today’s Gospel, I couldn’t help but picture Liza with a Z and Joel Grey in the 1972 film Cabaret.

Money makes the world go around, it makes the world go round, the world go round.

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The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: The Rev. Katharine Flexer

The best lack all conviction, while the worst 
Are full of passionate intensity.
William Butler Yeats

The Rev. Katharine Flexer Headshot
The Rev. Katharine Flexer

In 1930, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle published a piece entitled, Are You a Liberal? Your Answers Tell: Columbia Professor Evolves 15-Minute ‘True and False’ Test Which Discloses Whether One Has Advanced Views. Here’s to great headlines.

The Columbia professor in question was Adelaide Teague Case, a former child of this parish from the time of the illustrious John Punnett Peters, rector here for 26 years and a national leader in social issues. Adelaide is on the calendar of observances called Lesser Feasts and Fasts, an Episcopal saints calendar full of dates when we remember and honor luminaries of the faith. Adelaide Case was the first woman to teach at an Episcopal seminary, and she taught and wrote throughout her life on issues of peace and social reform. Case also participated and led in organizations advocating for labor and pacifism – organizations that would later be labeled ‘socialist.’ ‘It is the business of the Church to take an active part in social reforms,’ she said – which is one of the statements on the quiz that you are supposed to answer ‘true’ to if you are a liberal. (You are also supposed to answer ‘true’ to ‘It is a religious duty to learn the laws of health and apply them’ and ‘ ‘false’ to ‘What a person eats or drinks is nobody’s business but his own’ – a sign that the definition of ‘liberal’ has shifted over the years.) On the other hand, if you are a liberal, you will answer ‘false’ to such statements as ‘Although some persons take advantage of our industrial system to gain unworthy ends, at bottom our industry is organized on a fundamental Christian basis.’ Hmm. Perhaps Adelaide would be called a socialist today after all.

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The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: The Rev. David Rider

Now well into a summer of Gospel stories from Jesus’ earthly ministry, today we encounter a rich trove of teaching on the art and practice of prayer.

In a mere 13 verses, Luke splices together three separate vignettes that includes the Lord’s Prayer itself, a parable about a demanding friend at midnight, and a pitch for persistence by which we Ask, Seek, and Knock for the important things in life.

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The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: The Rev. David Rider

The Rev. David Rider

Now well into a summer of Gospel stories from Jesus’ earthly ministry, today we encounter a rich trove of teaching on the art and practice of prayer.

In a mere 13 verses, Luke splices together three separate vignettes that includes the Lord’s Prayer itself, a parable about a demanding friend at midnight, and a pitch for persistence by which we Ask, Seek, and Knock for the important things in life.

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The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: The Rev. David Rider

If anyone here today wishes to write a first novel or produce an off- Broadway play yet struggles in finding an extended narrative, boy do I have a pitch for you.

Who knew that Jesus had an advance team?

Check out our first sentence in Luke’s Gospel: “The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.”

Jesus is going viral, and in the blink of an eye he scales up his team from the 12 disciples to 70 ‘others’ with faint parallels to Moses in the book of Deuteronomy.

If you were calling the shots, whom would you pick for this advance team and—if you were honest—would you appoint yourself?

Seriously, whom would you select for the team, and how would your story unfold?

In 1960, Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis wrote The Last Temptation of Christ, where he goes on a non-canonical riff about Holy Week (a book that had a major impact on me some years later as a high school student)—it became a movie in 1988.

Kazantzakis grabbed that phase of Jesus’ life but missed a great opportunity to tell the back-story of these 70 advance-team members.

You have a blank slate to pick the characters, develop their foibles and human stumbling, all with the generally upbeat ending of today’s lesson.

To prime the pump, here are a few of my candidates:

Two high school grads with ambiguous life trajectories whose parents have pressured them into a gap year.

A burnt out hedge fund manager who is loaded financially but.who struggles to claim anything like a human soul.

A slick evangelical who fast-talked his way out of a misconduct claim at his church but took a severance package and wants a second chance.

A beautiful mid-life woman who just departed a god-awful marriage and wants to start over.

An Iraq war veteran still trying to shake off PTSD.

Other candidates? Would you go with spiritual elites or more colorful, textured life stories?

Once we have selected the characters, imagine where you could take them?

Does the team of 70 stay in close touch and speak with unified voices, or do things fall apart quickly with internal strife, alliances, dysfunctional romances and petty jealousy?

Do you try to track all 70 as they move from town to town, or do you focus in on some lead stories within the pack?

How do the original 12 disciples feel about being upstaged by 70 upstarts?

They go out in pairs—quite convivial—so which dyads fall in love and which pairs throttle each other along the way?

What’s it like to stay as a guest in a stranger’s home, and what could possibly go wrong with a biblical version of Airbnb?

Do the actors focus on Jesus’ message, or does hubris set in once they cure some sick folks and stomp some scorpions?

Do any of the 70 turns out to be slackers who exploit their hosts?

Where would you take this luscious story of proactive outreach?

Would you recommend to our vestry a comparable model of engaging the Upper West Side?

As Luke tells the story—and we find it only in Luke’s Gospel—we findsome elusive but tantalizing clues with still plentiful opportunities for you to fill in the gaps.

First, Jesus bucks up the troops as he sends them on their way, stating, “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.”

Awesome! Sign me up.

What the heck does this mean, and why would I go down that road?

I can only guess that Jesus had an incredibly persuasive way

So in your novel or play, you must decide who eats and who gets eaten in the narrative—which would you be if you wrote yourself into the drama?

Who is the implied adversary in this story—the wolves—and why can’t any Jesus story ever become more like a quiet Sunday at the petting zoo?

We also learn that Jesus prizes agility—a heroic challenge for any who are weighed down by life’s stuff and its burdens.

Is Jesus joking or exaggerating when he demands that we carry no purse or sandals?

What’s this with the radical asceticism to which no one here today—including yours truly—has any hope of accomplishing?

We’ve airbrushed this demand out of Christian witness, for if it were the main criterion for discipleship; the Jesus Movement would not made it to Holy Week, let along the 21st century.

So your homework assignment for this morning: decide if Jesus is exaggerating to make a point or whether we throw in the towel because we will never get that rigorous.

Now we get to a fun part of dealing with aggression on the road.

Let’s assume that some of these home visits contained in your novel go quite well—great kumbaya evenings with ample opportunity to share faith stories.

But Jesus predicts that something might go awry—I cannot imagine how that would happen.

Jesus equips the 70 with a biblical version of a digital salute.

If your host fails to welcome you—and we do not know how they were paired up in hundreds of possible home scenarios—Jesus tells them to step out of the house, stomp their dusty feet (again, no sandals) and wipe off their feet in protest to their host—keep Jesus’ admonition in mind for any upcoming family reunions.

Finally, we get to the good stuff, which we Episcopalians have never seemed to embrace.

When the 70 return joyous with amazing stories of vanquished demons and the wretched made whole—remember those two kids in their gap year, how are they doing—Jesus reminds them that he has given them authority to tread on snakes and scorpions.

I’ll check with Andrea to see if that scenario is written into our Godly Play curriculum.

We do not know if the gig is up for the 70 or if they simply come back for an interim report to Jesus before returning to the field, but imagine how they must have balanced good days and bad, from being tossed out of their lodging to scoring victory as demon wranglers.

We have an exotic earthly-ministry story from back in the day with Jesus.

Beyond testifying to Jesus’ divine authority, it challenges us to think about the Jesus Movement of our own day.

Beyond showing up for church and its beautiful liturgy, how does it inspire us for mission in our own day?

Have we domesticated the Gospel with tepid admonitions to be kind, like a new episode of Mr. Rogers?

As a faith community, how do we discern God’s will and share joyful or challenging stories of discipleship in the world?

In our postmodern world—where every voice or social-media post seemingly has equal weight—what does the Church have to say to the Upper West Side, and who are the wolves that might devour us for lunch if we are not sufficiently savvy?

Two sleeper passages in this vignette give us hope and context for today’s ministry.

A favorite theme for Luke, Jesus reminds us that the Kingdom of God has come near—not in the great bye and bye but right now.

God’s reign currently surrounds us, and it fuels us for holy living as wildly textured but mercifully forgiven souls.

Notice the final sentence and almost becomes lost in the drama: “But rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Wow. That’s a whole sermon—and more—that speaks to an age-old debate about how we make amends with God after a bad day or challenging life.

Deserve it or not, God chooses whom God chooses.

Our names are written in heaven.

Which begs the biggest question of our Christian journey: what will we do with this joyous news?

The Third Sunday After Pentecost: The Rev. Deacon Richard P. Limato

St. Michael's new deacon, Richard P. Limato
Deacon Richard P. Limato

               “He set his face to go to Jerusalem”

Can you just imagine this scene in a film version of this Gospel?  Jesus “sets his face to go to Jerusalem.”  Camera close up, dramatic music begins to play. Jesus’s piercing dark eyes staring directly into the lens, leaving the viewer to wonder, what is he thinking, what is he seeing, as “he sets his face toward Jerusalem?”

What kind of America does Jesus see this day as he sets his face towards the United States?

In an Op Ed piece in the New York Times, columnist David Brooks gives us some insight into our nation’s 21st Century society.

He writes, “too many people feel left out of our story, there is no longer a single American mainstream to serve as the structural spine of the nation.  Mainline Protestantism is no longer the dominant religion and cultural force.  There is no white majority in our kindergartens, and soon there will be no white majority in our society.  The big three TV networks no longer dominate the culture.  There is no longer one dominant musical genre.  The nation’s ruling class has lost legitimacy.  Social trust is stronger at local levels; politically we are in an age of extremes. 

The challenge, Brooks writes, is that America has become radically pluralistic.  We used to be one dominant majority culture with a lot of minority groups defining themselves against it.  Were all minorities now.”

We only need to turn to today’s Gospel for insight into confronting our destiny, a changed America.

All three Synoptic Gospels tell this story.  Jesus’ ministry moves from Galilee.  He leads his disciples to Jerusalem – the place of  his destiny. 

We find a Jesus who might appear to be a bit snarky and harsh. “The son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” “Let the dead bury their own dead.” “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” 

We find a Jesus who leaves us a bit bemused.

Yet, the Jesus we encounter is resolute, single-minded, and prophetic as “he sets his face toward Jerusalem,” the ultimate mission. 

Jesus knows that this will be a rugged journey, one that will require the “all in” commitment necessary to build God’s reign.

He isn’t limiting his invitation to ministry to the dominant majority, the prevailing culture, the mainstream; he’s extending it to all.  Even the racially and mixed Samaritans. 

Jesus’s invitation to heal, to forgive, to accept, to live amongst is extended to ALL people.

At first glance, the disciples appear to understand, they are willing to go beyond their familiar boundaries.  But James and John seem ready with a scorched earth policy if they are rejected.  Jesus rebukes them.

Retaliation is not an option.  Jesus won’t abuse power.

In today’s Gospel, Our Savior of Love invites us to journey with him, to set “our faces” on his vision, a different type of life, a new prevailing culture, God’s reign.

Where we live the sanctified life Paul describes in Galatians, a life lived in freedom, where love of neighbor is powered by the gifts of the Spirit.

Where we embrace the “full stature of Christ,” a mature faith, a life fully integrated where our life in Christ becomes and is our identity.  

Where who we are, who we hope to become determines how we choose to live our lives in a more pluralistic society.

Yet this life comes with a cost, a depth of commitment that requires more than we believe ourselves capable of delivering.

This life requires us as Mother Kate suggested last week to be counter – cultural.

Jesus’ teaching in this Gospel is radically counter – cultural to the materialistic, self-indulgent culture of our society.  

Our Christian values are not always politically correct and culturally popular. 

We will be tested at every level.

We will face rejection.

We will confront power that will try to push us back to the days when things appeared to be greater and obstacles that will challenge our endurance.

And, bombarded by so much, we might even begin to think this is the “new normal” and allow a mind numbing complacency to set in.

Let’s face it.  Another incident of gun violence will be reported.

There will be additional faith based, gender based, /identity based hate crimes.

And there will be more bad news about children; beyond the horrific images we saw this week.

One of my elementary school students, a Rector’s son, protested to his mom when a Minister of the Cup at a communion rail passed him by, “I wasn’t given my Cup of Salvation!”

Out of the mouths of babes.  We are denying our children and so many others, their share in the “Cup of Salvation.”

We are denying them and the Son of Man a fitting place to rest their heads.

God yearns for us to care for the world in its fullness and diversity, making choices that renew and sustain life.

As Christians we are identified by what we treasure, the priorities we set, and the way we treat others.

“Follow Me,” Jesus says, follow me on a journey of faith, be single minded in purpose, “keep your hand on the plow,” don’t look back.

Let your hands build, let your hearts and minds be set on establishing God’s reign, even when it takes us to difficult places, even when it sets us apart from family and friends. 

This means living out the Five Marks of Mission adopted by the Episcopal Church and wider Anglican Communion:

  1.  To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2.  To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
  3. To respond to human need by loving service
  4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation and
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and renew the life of the earth.

At the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, Maya Angelou was invited to read her poem, “A Brave and a Startling Truth.”

It called out the many injustices in the world.

It talked of hostilities towards others, bloodshed on battlefields, the storming of faith communities, those too eager to reach for the bomb, the blade, and the dagger.

Yet in her poetic manner, she reminded the listeners of the beauty of the world we live in, the beauty of our diversity that Brooks captures in his article.

Angelou ended her poem with these stanzas.

“When we come to it (the day of peacemaking)
We, this people on this wayward floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
And without crippling fear
When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
hat is when and only when
we come to it.”

Friends, we have come to it.
We have the collective power to refashion this world.
Let us be the miraculous, the true wonders of the world.
Let us like Jesus, set our faces on Jerusalem.
Let us share his Cup of Salvation with all.

Your Daily Dose of Optimism: The America that lies beyond our current despair. David Brooks, Opinion Columnist, New York Times, June 20, 2019.

Maya Angelou, A Brave and a Startling Truth, Delivered June 1995 on the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations.

The Second Sunday after Pentecost: The Rev. Katharine Flexer

Kate Flexer headshot
The Rev. Katharine Flexer

Summer has now officially begun, as of Friday – and so begins the season of traveling. In our staff meeting last week, before starting our planning for the fall we went week by week through the summer, noting down which of us would be gone when. Afterwards Richard Storm sent around a New Yorker cartoon, of an office staff sitting around a table looking at a chart. One of them is saying, “I’m gone, then Tim’s gone, then Mel’s gone, then you’re gone, then we’re all gone, then it’s September.”

Sort of true. If you want to catch the whole staff together, you’ll have to wait till September.

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The First Sunday After Pentecost (Trinity Sunday): The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

For my ordination exam during seminary, one of the questions went like this: A theologian says the Trinity is obsolete and irrelevant to today. In 900 words or less, explain how the Trinity is important and practical in everyday life.

Naturally, I think I was probably the only one out of my classmates who was thrilled by this question. And as luck would have it, I flunked and my classmates passed with flying colors. So today, over half a decade later I finally have the chance to redeem myself on Trinity Sunday.

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The Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Rev. David Rider

Last weekend, I had the joy of presiding at a very California outdoor wedding that combined Silicone Valley with ancient Redwoods and Sequoias.

I had known the groom since his infancy, and his beautiful bride surrounded herself with her former synchronized-swim teammates as bridesmaids.

Now synchronized swimmers owe everything to control, teamwork and order, all qualities that were tested as the bride persevered in her wish for outdoor nuptials amid the great sequoias, two hours into a downpour as an indoor facility lay a mere 100 yards away.

As everyone dashed to the dry space immediately after my pronouncement, it was if we had conquered the world once we dried off and ignored the pine needles in the gorgeous wedding gown.

Everything clicked as loved ones and relatives danced the night away, and my own dispersed family found precious time together amid the festivities.

It was truly hard to say good-bye, we successfully avoided trite departure courtesies, and yet we experienced the letdown like that when Shakespeare reminds us that parting is such sweet sorrow.

We’ve all been through intense living, whether it be a quick weekend wedding, extended graduation rites or a family reunion.

Remind you of a recent similar encounter in your life?.

If so, you can begin to appreciate the existential feelings welling up in Jesus’ disciples in an extended section of John’s Gospel called the Farewell Discourse.

Every year, we read sections from the Farewell Discourse in the waning days of the Easter season.

Letting go becomes even more intense, as this represents a final goodbye, not simply the temporary absence of a month or season.

More so than in Matthew, Mark or Luke, John’s Gospel gives sweeping witness to culminating act of salvation as if it were one word:  Death/Resurrection/Ascension.

As mentioned in Holy Week, John’s witness to Jesus’ redemptive work has Jesus fully in charge and with bold foreknowledge of what will unfold.

Today’s passage represents a small slice of that big, audacious vision.

In earlier sections of this Farewell Discourse, we almost eavesdrop on an extended prayer between Jesus and his heavenly Father, whereby Jesus sums up everything he has done in intimate communion with God.

Now Jesus must prepare the disciples for his final departure in what seemingly goes right over their heads—an appropriate prediction of this Thursday’s Feast of the Ascension.

Jesus prepares to pass the baton to the Advocate—a quirky word—or the Holy Spirit who will continue to teach us and remind us of what he said and did.

Never once does Jesus insinuate that he will stick around forever.

Separation lies at the heart of the human condition, and Jesus models that coming separation in his Death/Resurrection/Ascension.

When done well, final last words can convey a deep blessing and challenge simultaneously, and Jesus does not waste his chance.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid”.

Easier said than done.

Let me break it to you gently, but it appears that the world—our world—continues to struggle with Jesus’ admonition.

With or without personal testimonials, we could spend the afternoon discussing ways that our modern world struggles with anxiety.

Some palpable anxiety stems from the sin, brokenness and unjust realities of life amid political strife, rampant income inequality, or oppressive structures that overwhelm the soul.

Other more personal, self-imposed anxiety flows from our low self-esteem or conflicts generated from peer-group pressure or failed life goals across the age spectrum from the elderly through mid-life and among the rising Gen Z crowd.

My goals is not to make you anxious by talking about anxiety.

Rather, let’s wonder aloud what Jesus might mean when he beckons us to not be afraid.

After all, anyone who freely hangs from a Cross on our behalf is not given to limp platitudes.

At least a dozen times in passages just before or after today’s passage, John’s Gospel talks about ‘eternal life’ and fruitful living as goals of the Spirit.

Anyone in favor of eternal life and fruitful living?.

John is at pains to remind us that eternal life happens right here and now when we fully apprehend God’s surrounding love and blessing in our lives—an idea nicely captured in the Hebrew word Shalom .

So it’s no utopian bromide.

Rather, it serves as a prophetic vision of what it means to live the resurrection life—a vision we celebrate well beyond Easter Day as we attempt to speak Good News to an anxious and distracted world around us.

What is your vision of eternal life right here and now, a zesty engagement with our inner selves as well as the world in which we live and move and have our being?.

What do we have to say to the children and youth of our parish as they come of age in a world permeated by anxiety?.

In an even bigger way, what do we have to say to loved ones and anyone else who might be listening when we finally take our leave of this world?.

Beyond anxiety—ideally the overcoming of it—Jesus drops another big word on his disciples that’s well timed for this Memorial Day weekend.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”.

We domesticate this word Peace at our peril—Jesus has something much bigger in mind than smiley faces and pumpkins.

Although we are all for some inner tranquility, Jesus expands Peace big league into a ginormous vision of the Kingdom or Reign of God—the basileia—that breaks into our current reality in the spirit of justice, mercy and reconciliation.

Jesus compels us beyond the isolation of our inner narcissism to something that is road-tested (perhaps crucifix-tested) as something larger than ourselves.

On this Memorial Day weekend, we honor those who have given their life in service to our nation.

We realign our values with a vision of biblical peace, transformation and resurrection spirit not so much as feel-good karma but as a just vision for this nation and the world.

Jesus prepares his disciples for his leave-taking with words of comfort and challenge, and we seek to mirror this challenge in our daily lives as the Body of Christ.

It’s been a wild ride of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and we are never quite sure whether the disciples get it or remain clueless.

Yet we know the explosive growth of Christianity that fans out throughout the known world in the earliest days of the Early Church.

We seek to replicate doses of it in our common life at St Michael’s through our worship, pastoral care, formation and outreach to a world in need.

I bid you to offer your anxieties to God in prayer, that they may be washed in divine love and transformed into resilience, focus and inner strength.

This goal may be the lasting take-away from the Easter season, a gift of resurrection spirit that never avoids life’s pain but transforms our brokenness—our anxiety—into deeper life courage and spiritual resilience.

In Scripture and until this very day, a person’s last words should bring additional poignancy and focus to what is important in this life.

It often becomes a topic in Holy Week, but it also should capture our imagination equally amid the great fifty days of Easter.

What would be your final words of blessing and wisdom to loved ones or anyone who will listen?

Whatever we might decide—and it’s really an important question—John gives us Jesus’ final words to his disciples, and through them to us:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Accept God’s peace that passes all understanding, and become a conduit for such peace, such shalom, to permeate this world as a beacon of justice, mercy and reconciliation. Happy final days of the Easter season, an uplifting Feast of the Ascension on Thursday, and miraculous expectation for the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, that descends upon us soon at Pentecost.