Saturday, July 10, 2010

God Passes By

God Passes By
A Sermon preached by the Rev. Peter De Franco at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Clifton, NJ
July 11, 2010

In the 2005 movie the 40 year Old Virgin, Steve Carrell finds himself in a strange situation. His date, who has had one too many to drink, gets into the driver’s seat and asks him to breathe into a Car Breathalyzers, also known as ignition interlock devices. Judges require people with drivers with multiple incidents of drunk driving to have a breathalyzer installed in their car to prevent them from driving while drunk. Ignorant of the purpose of the breathalyzer, Carrell blows into it and his drunken date swerves down the road, on the verge of yet another drunk driving accident.
In the new ABC Series, What Would You Do?, such an incident happens. A drunken woman, really an actress, tries to get a passer by to blow into her breathalyzer so she can start her car and drive it while drunk. So what would you do? The series goes on to present a variety of situations which ask the ethical question: What would you do? What would you do if you saw a customer berate a cashier with downs syndrome? What would you do if you witnessed a restaurant owner sexually harassing a young hostess?
What would you do if you witnessed a person being racially harassed?
Ethical choices confront us every day. Did you ever read the letters to the editor of the Clifton Journal? Many of the letters involve ethical dilemmas faced by our fellow citizens in Clifton?
What do you do when a pagan baits Christians about their beliefs?
What do you when a person proposes that it is ok to berate a person because they do not speak English? What do you do when a person alleges that the female pastor of First Presbyterian church is out to destroy the faith of the city of Clifton?
In today’s readings, God is posing the ethical question to us: What would you do if? Now if you listened to the readings today, I am sure that you are imagining that we should look at the parable of the good Samaritan.
Let’s begin with the first reading from Amos. There was a line in the text that caught my attention: I will never again pass them by. We might look on this line as a word of comfort, a reassurance that God is with us, that God will not pass us by but will be with us. This passage assures us that God’s presence comes to us as a word of confrontation and judgment and not always as a word of comfort and assurance.
Do you remember how Amos is confronted by Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel where King Jeroboam is ruling. We would imagine that the King would go to the temple to be comforted with God’s presence.
Jeroboam built an impressive kingdom with people living the life of luxury. Amos described the life style of the rich and famous of Israel in these words: they “…lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; 5who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; 6who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils.”
I doubt if any of us here have a bed of ivory and live a life of lavish luxury. If you do, perhaps you might want to invite us all over for a lamb feast with fine wines and a band providing idle songs to the sound of the harp. Let’s not let the language of upper class wealth cover up the word that God is saying to us as God passes us by. Are you living a self absorbed life? Are you living an ethically responsible life?
An ethically responsible life involves us in caring for the needs of others. An ethically responsible life challenges us to look deeper than we are accustomed to look. An ethically responsible life is the life that God lives and God passes us by to invite us to pass through the world as God does: Caring for those unjustly deprived of liberty, advocating for the undocumented and the illiterate, women and men and children who are hungry and homeless.
God has given us the gift of worshiping in this section of Clifton where we rub shoulders with those who are different than we are, who speak different languages, who have a different educational level, who come out of a different culture or religion.
God has placed us in a situation where we are given a choice: to behave like the priest and the levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan or to behave like the Samaritan and make the needs of the person on death’s door to be our own needs. If we close our hearts to the person in need, if we blind our eyes from seeing them, if we turn our back on them in Path Mark or Shop Rite, we run the risk of God closing God’s heart on us, of God ignoring our prayer, of God turning God’s back on us when God passes us by.
As we come to this temple to worship, God invites us to play What would you do? God is standing with us, inviting us to a change of mind and heart, a change before it is too difficult to change. What would it take for you to shift your mind and heart to see the world not from the narrow perspective which blinds us but from God’s point of view which heals us. Then God will not pass us by.
As the priest and the levite passed by the person hurt by robbers. We will discover the identity of that unnamed good Samaritan. The good Samaritan is Jesus. The good Samaritan is you.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

What A Friend We Have In Jesus

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Peter De Franco at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on May 17, 2009
It is not news to you that someone like me who is so involved in movie ministries watches a lot of movies. Recently Carl and I saw an outstanding movie: The Things We Lost in The Fire. If you have not seen it, rent it. It’s one of those movies that opens your heart and searches for the truth.
The story begins on the day of Brian’s funeral. Audrey, Brian’s wife, sends her brother to pick up Jerry, Brian’s best friend and a junkie, and bring Jerry to the funeral. With the exception of the Reel Jesus movies, Brian must be the best person ever depicted in a movie: a loving father to his two children Harper and Dory, an adoring husband to his wife Audrey, a successful real estate developer and a loyal friend to his best friend from grammar school, Jerry, a lawyer turned junkie.
Brian embodies what Jesus spoke about in today’s Gospel: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15: 13) One night, Brian ventured forth to get some ice cream for Audrey and the children. Coming out of the store, he witnesses a man brutally beating up a woman. When Brian steps in between them, the man shoots and kills Brian.
In a series of flashbacks, you see how Brian unsuccessfully struggled to get Jerry to kick his drug habit and how Audrey becomes increasingly disturbed that Brian is placing himself in danger whenever he visits Jerry in the worst section of the city. Audrey invites Jerry to come live in a one room house on their property and help around the house. Jerry provides Audrey, Harper and Dory with emotional support as they manage their collective grief. But as Jerry draws closer to Harper and Dory, Audrey cannot tolerate how Jerry can get the children to do things Brian could not. In her anger against the senselessness of Brian’s death, Audrey banishes Jerry from the house and Jerry tumbles back into his drug use. As she realizes her mistake, Audrey gets Jerry to enter a rehab program and as the movie ends we are left with the impression that Jerry is on the road to recovery.
All these people, Audrey, Harper, Dory and Jerry were transformed by the life of this one Christ like man: Brian. The heart of the story is about friendship, just as the heart of today’s gospel is about friendship. Brian was a man who could do nothing but good. He ardently believed in the power of love to change people. Yet he could not change his friend Jerry. Jerry was not ready to change. Only after Brian’s death could Jerry begin that road to recovery, only when Jerry began to act responsibly for Audrey, Harper and Dory could he climb out of the pit of addiction.
Friendship exerts such power in our lives. I am sure each of you can think of a person whose friendship you treasured and whose friendship changed your life. I am sure that each of us can think of a person who was there with us when we graduated from school and who held us at the funeral of a member of our family. Friendship brings us to that place of the heart where we find total acceptance, unconditional love, a sometime brutal honesty, and fidelity in the face of the worst crisis.
We might feel surprised when Jesus calls us his friends: “I no longer call you servants…I have called you friends” (Jn. 15:15) Yet everything that Jesus has been saying and doing in the Gospel according to John was leading to this disclosure: that Jesus has been in search of friends and then proving on the cross that he is the true friend. Just think for a minute about Jesus in this gospel, how he goes about drawing people into the circle of his friendship.
Jesus calls his disciples and we see Jesus sharing his life with them and drawing them closer to him and to one another. We meet Lazarus, Martha and Mary, Jesus’ family of friends. Lazarus is described as the one whom Jesus loved and Jesus raises Lazarus from the tomb. Mary would later anoint Jesus’ head with costly perfume as a sign of her love for her friend.
Jesus is preparing them for the greatest reversal of all, when he reveals to them that they are no longer servants but friends.
All too often we address Jesus as Lord Christ, Master, Rabbi, Messiah. All these titles place Jesus in a position above us, as superior to us. Should we not give him respect? Should we not revere him? Yet Jesus is the one who invites us to consider ourselves not as servants but as his friends. Such an invitation opens up to us a relationship of mutuality, of care, of trust, of honesty, of love.
All friendship begins with love and so the beginning of our friendship with Jesus begins with Jesus loving us: “As the Father has loved, so I have loved you. Abide in my love (Jn 15: 10) Love unites us with Jesus.
Yet Jesus asks even more of us in our friendship, Jesus asks that we should love as he loves: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 15: 12) Even as Jesus went about gathering friends around him, so does he continue to gather friends not only around him but with one another.
Many times, we imagine the church as the family of God. I would suggest that Jesus offers us a different model, a community of friends. Into this community of friends, Jesus invites you, invites you to love the other friends of Jesus with a love that accepts, that cherishes, that challenges, that supports.
We are not all called to give our lives for one another as Jesus did for us. Yet we are all called to that difficult task of loving one another with that same passionate love that carried Jesus through the cross to the transformation of the resurrection.
Jesus opens his arms to you in friendship. Jesus opens his arms to you in sacrifice. Will you follow and do the same?

Engaging the Wild Things
A Sermon by the Rev. Peter De Franco
on the First Sunday in Lent
given at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Clifton, NJ

Today, I would like to read to you a story, Where The Wild Things Are. “The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another. His mother called him “Wild Thing!” And Max said “I’ll eat you up!” So he was sent to bed without eating anything. That very night in Max’s room a forest grew and grew. And grew until his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around. And an ocean tumbled by with a private boat for Max and he sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are.
And when he came to the place where the wild things are they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws. Till Max said “BE STILL!” and tamed them with the magic trick of staring into their yellow eyes without blinking once and they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all and made him king of all wild things. “And now,” cried Max, “let the wild rumpus start!”
“Now stop!” Max said and sent the wild things off to bed without their supper. And Max the king of all wild things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.
Then all around from far away across the world he smell good things to eat so he gave up being king of where the wild things are.
But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go – we’ll eat you up – we love you so!” And Max said, “No!”
The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws but Max stepped into his private boat and waved good bye and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him and it was still hot.
On the first Sunday in Lent, we always hear the story of Jesus in the desert. The Spirit of God drives Jesus out into the wilderness. Jesus goes into the desert.
Now if any of you have gone into a desert you are in for a life changing experience. Deserts have little water, little protection from the ravages of the hot sun, little contact with people who can comfort you. There are wild things in the desert.
Jesus goes into that wasteland for forty days. Mark tells us that in the desert Jesus was tempted by Satan. But we do not know how Satan tempted Jesus. Mark tells us that Jesus was with the wild beasts. Mark also tells us that the angels waited on Jesus. For forty days….that is why we have forty days of Lent, so that we too like Jesus can go into the desert. I wonder what this story has to tell us?
Like Jesus, we are all entering into a desert. That desert is called Lent. I hope that each of you has selected something special do to during Lent. I hope that each of you has a plan for yourself. That plan should be for you to work on something you want to improve about yourself.
So some of you might try not to talk back to people. Some of you might want to work on the way you act when you get angry. Some of you might want to change the way you relate to other people be that giving up the need to control people, giving up patterns of manipulating people to do what you want them to do. Some of you might want to work on your addictions: to food, to computers, to video games, to talking on the phone, to texting, to spend hours on Facebook and not interacting face to face. Some of you might want to pay more attention to your body, to give yourself more exercise, to spend less time as a couch potato. Each of us has our own desert place to go, our own Lenten strategy of change, our own plan of self improvement.
But before we can start that plan, we have to take another look at the Gospel story. Because an important thing happens to Jesus before he goes into the desert. Before Jesus confronts the hard things in his life, something phenomenal happens to Jesus. Jesus is baptized.
When Jesus is baptized, he not only has water poured over him. God speaks to Jesus in his heart. God tells Jesus that he is God’s child. God tells Jesus that God loves Jesus. God tells Jesus that God is pleased with Jesus.
So before you go into the desert this lent, I invite you to rediscover your own Baptism experience. Take some time during this Holy Eucharist to listen to that soft silent voice of God who speaks to you in your heart and tells you: “You are my child, You make me very happy, I love you.” Hear that voice of God telling you: “You are my child, You make me very happy, I love you.”
Say these words with me: “I am God’s child. I make God very happy. God loves me.
Let’s say them again: “I am God’s child. I make God very happy. God loves me.”

Now you can go into the desert. Now you can go into the desert and not fear the wild beasts that you will meet there. For like Max, you will discover that the wild things are not that savage, that the wild things can be tamed, that the wild things can become your friends.
Now you can do battle with the evil forces that restrict you, that limit your freedom, that prevent you from becoming the person you want to become. And not fear that you are not strong enough to come out the winner. For God has started out ahead of you. God assures you that you are loved, that you are God’s beloved.
And at the end of your Lenten journey you will find yourself on the other side of your fear, on the other side of your faults, on the resurrection side of the world.

Becoming like the Good Shepherd

A Sermon Preached by
The Rev. Peter De Franco
on Good Shepherd Sunday,
May 3, 2009
at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church

Of all the psalms in the bible, perhaps all of us know the words of Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. Every fourth Sunday of Easter, we read the story of the Good Shepherd, we say Psalm 23, at one service we sing various settings of Psalm 23.
The feeling we tend to get is one of comfort, of feeling good, of knowing that we have a shepherd who is with us. I wonder if you feel that Jesus is always with you, constantly by your side, opening your lives to that experience of being loved and cared for by our God. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. Say those words with me. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
I hope that all of you feel that those words bring you comfort and peace, a sense that God loves you. Jesus is indeed our shepherd. We are all the members of the flock of Jesus. We are all sheep in Jesus’ flock.
If any of you have been paying attention to the news, a different animal has dominated the headlines. I wonder what animal that is? (PIGS!)
I am going to do something and I will ask you not to tell the bishop. I am going to call this good pigherd Sunday. So today, I would like to tell you the story of a pig and a flock of sheep.
Perhaps some of you know the story of Babe. Now this is a very sweet story, perhaps too sweet for some of you, so some of you might want to take a shot of insulin before we begin.
Babe was a baby pig, the smallest baby pig in the litter. Do any of you know what they call the smallest pig in the litter? The Runt!
Well, Babe was taken away from his brothers and sisters and brought to a country fair where Babe was the prize for the person who can guess his weight. When Farmer Hogget sees Babe, he connects with the pig, Farmer Hogger felt a common destiny with the pig. I imagine he felt like the way Jesus feels about us. Like the way Jesus looks at us, Farmer Hoggert looks at Babe and knows that Babe is going to be his pig. Just like Jesus looks at us and knows that we are his special people.
Farmer Hogget wins Babe and takes him home to the farm. Babe finds no other pigs on the farm so Babe is adopted by the Fly, the mother sheepdog, and her puppies. Babe begins to get confused and Babe thinks he is a sheepdog. Babe starts to act like a sheep dog. Rex, the father sheepdog, does not like Babe. Rex thinks dogs should herd sheep and pigs should stay on the farm and get fat.
One day, Farmer Hoggert takes Babe with Fly and Rex out to the pasture with the sheep. Babe sees how Fly and Rex herd the sheep, running down the meadow, forcing the sheep to return to the sheep fold. Let’s take a look and see what happens to Babe.
You might wonder what does Babe have to do with Jesus the Good Shepherd. I wonder what would happen if we thought of Farmer Hoggert as a symbol of God? And if we thought of ourselves as Babe.
We all could help the Good Shepherd with the sheep. We all could be good shepherds. We all could help the good shepherd with the sheep.
There is a phrase in today’s gospel that I want us too look at closely. “I have other sheep that are not of this fold, I must bring them also.” (Jn 10: 16)
We all think of ourselves as part of the herd of Jesus. And we all belong to that herd of Jesus. Jesus is going to bring new sheep to this herd.
At least once a month, you see new people come into this church. Perhaps you are among those new people. Perhaps you have heard Jesus calling you to come to this herd of Jesus.Perhaps you are among those who welcome the new members into the church.
We all are like Babe, all of us have heard Jesus calling us here, all of us are like Babe, we are all invited to become sheep dogs, inviting others into this flock, protecting the flock like Babe, caring for the sheep like Babe did: with a gentle manner, a loving heart, a kind soul.
Jesus is indeed our good shepherd. But we too are shepherds. Loving the one another. Caring for each other.
Perhaps you do not feel like a sheep dog. But there is a shepherd out there who knows that you can bring in new sheep. Just try it. See how Jesus will make you into a good shepherd. Then we all can not only say: The Lord is my shepherd. But I am also a shepherd.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Call to a Prophetic Ministry

A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Peter De Franco
at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Clifton, New Jersey
on January 18, 2009, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday

Today’s first reading presents us with a familiar story of the call of Samuel. You know the story how the boy Samuel was given to by his mother Hannah as a gift to God when Samuel was only weaned. Hannah left the child Samuel with the Priest Eli and his two sons. We might imagine that Samuel was enrolled in a sort of seminary run by Eli since Eli began to teach Samuel how to minister in the temple. Perhaps some of us might imagine Samuel as a cute little cherub of a boy, a sort of Jewish Altar boy who lived in the temple and perhaps he looked a lot like some of our own sweet altar servers.
But the two sons of Eli were priests who considered themselves above of others. When people would come to offer animal sacrifice to God, the sons of Eli would take the best cuts of meat, the parts which should have been sacrificed to God, they took them for themselves. Not only did they desecrate the sacrifices, they also took sexual advantage of the women who came to the temple. I wonder if Hannah knew of the moral character of these men if she would have brought little Samuel to another seminary.
The reading today begins with the description: The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. (1 Samuel 3: 1) The word of the Lord was rare in those days. Considering the moral depravity of the family of Eli, I wonder if that was the cause of the silence of God. Was the word rare since there were no ears to hear the word? Were visions not widespread since there were no eyes to behold those visions?
Yet God is about to do something new with Samuel. God calls out to Samuel. Unlike all those around him, Samuel hears the word. Not only does Samuel hear the word, he responds to the word. Now Samuel is not entrusted with words of comfort for Eli and his sons. Samuel is given a word of confrontation. The bible says that Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. (1 Samuel 3: 15) Yet somehow the heart that heard the word found the courage to speak the word and from that time on Samuel took on his prophetic calling.
The bible says: “As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.” (1 Samuel 3: 19)
The Lord let none of his words fall to the ground. I think all of us understand that prophets are people who hear God’s word and communicate that word and all too often to a people not eager to hear the word.
This weekend, we celebrate the life of another prophet of God: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In Lesser Feasts and Fasts, a book of the Saints in our church, Dr. King finds his place with the other holy men and women of our country and Dr. King is called a Prophet and a Civil Rights Leader. Now Dr. King was a holy man; he did have his moments of weakness but Dr. King was indeed a holy man, a prophet who did not let one of God’s words fall to the ground. In retaliation for his prophetic ministry, Dr. King suffered the fate of so many a prophet, from Jeremiah to John the Baptizer to Jesus of Nazareth: they were not only a prophets, they were also martyrs. He did not let one of God’s words fall to the ground, but his own blood fell to the ground and watered the ground so that the prophetic words of racial equality might be watered with his blood and bear fruit in the a nation where today we stand vigil at one of the most historical events in our history: the inauguration of the first African American President.
I wonder what would have passed through the mind and heart of Dr. King if he would have attended that inauguration. I think of the tears streaming down the face of the Rev. Jesse Jackson on the night President Obama was elected, tears of joy that we all had entered the promised land, tears of joy that we were finally living into the reality of which Dr. King but dreamed. Dr. King is celebrated in our church as a prophet and civil rights leader.
For many of us, prophets are people usually relegated to the past, the ancient past when Samuel lived in ancient Shiloh Isaiah walked the streets of Jerusalem or perhaps the ancient past when John the Baptizer was dunking people in the River Jordan. Prophets are safe in the past. Safe because we cannot hear their voices, we cannot see their actions, we cannot be bothered by their message. Prophets possess an uncanny ability to get under our skin and irritate us by their message.
I think that Samuel had his moment when he realized the cost of his prophet ministry, the cost Samuel had to pay was his own fear of proclaiming the word. Samuel was not afraid to pay the cost.
All of us share in that calling to be prophets, all of us are asked to take on that socially difficult role, all of us are invited to speak, to proclaim, to summon others with the word that God gives to us. Jesus shares with us his prophetic ministry. All of us share in that uncomfortable role of prophets.
Many of you have shared stories of how you are teased or ridiculed for being an Episcopalian. I heard one of you tell how she was invited to spend some time in a Roman Catholic Community to try and get them up to speed on issues. We not only have women as deacons and priest and bishops but our presiding bishop is a woman. We not only let gays, lesbians and bisexuals openly worship in our churches but we are ordaining them as deacons, priests and now even a bishop.
We are prophets entrusted with a simple message: All Are Welcome. It is shorthand for saying three other words: God Loves Everyone. We are given the uncomfortable task of being prophets in our community which does not always want to hear our word of universal welcome, of God’s inclusive love.
What do you do with the prophetic word you have received? Do you let your fear silence your prophetic voice? Do you let the comfort of sitting with people you know keep you away from the difficult task of welcoming the person who is new in this community, in your neighborhood, in your work place?
I invite you to take up your prophetic calling, I encourage you to take up the ministry of Samuel and Dr. King, and speak those three words in your community. All Are Welcome. God Loves Everyone. Don’t let the word given to you fall to the ground.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Baptism of Jesus and Our Baptismal Priesthood

A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Peter De Franco
at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
January 11, 2009

On the beach at Asbury Park, while a gentle snow was preparing to cover the sands, a group of swimmers, called polar bears, braved the frigid water of the Atlantic Ocean, and the below freezing temperatures to take a dip in the water. Wearing only a bathing suit, these swimmers, some might call them brave, others called them crazy, they commented that the day was perfect for a swim since, in spite of the frigid temperatures, the wind was not blowing, so they considered it a good day. Now don’t imagine that just because we are celebrating the Baptism of Jesus that I shall invite us all to imitate those Polar Bears and go for a dip in the Passaic River. Yet today we celebrate a person going to a body of water, not for a swim or a bath, but to participate in a purification ritual.
Mark clearly writes that only Jesus sees the heavens tear open, only Jesus hears the voice from the heaven affirming that Jesus is God’s Beloved Son, only Jesus feels the Spirit, not hover over him, but penetrate the very heart of Jesus and change him into a spirit possessed person. He puts on his tunic and mantle. The river Jordan continues its slow move toward the Dead Sea, another person approaches John to be dunked under the water and Jesus moves into the world, forever transformed, forever transfigured, forever god’s Child.
In a hymn that celebrates this event, we sing of the moment when Jesus is manifest at Jordan’s stream, prophet, priest and king supreme. Like that ancient baptism in the River Jordan, we too have been baptized, we too have come into the heavenly realm of God where we too have been singled out as a prophet, priest and king or queen. This week, I would like us to reflect on our baptismal anointing as priests.
When we think of priests, we usually imagine those people who wear funny clothes on Sunday and plastic dog collars during the week. Yet we seldom consider ourselves as priests. All too often, images of priests in vestments and strange clothing bar our imaginations from claiming the priesthood that is ours, a priesthood which most members of the first century church took for granted. Our patron, St. Peter, describes this priesthood in these words: ‘You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.”(1 Peter 2: 9) All too often our imaginations inhibit us from realizing our identity as priests of God. Yet that is what we are. Yet why are all of us called priests?
Primarily because of our consecration in baptism. Like Jesus at the River Jordan, the Spirit comes to us in Baptism, not with a lot of fanfare, not with a blast of trumpets, but with the silent, interior conviction that we are indeed God’s beloved children and, in our hearts, God’s Spirit dwells. Whenever a person is baptized, all of us in the congregation welcomes them with these words: “We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” (Book of Common Prayer)
We all share in the eternal priesthood of Christ Jesus. Priesthood involves more than just special clothing. In any culture that has them, priests usually are the ones who offer sacrifice. The Christian covenant no longer practices the priesthood of the Jews with the offering of animals, grain and wine. As the letter to the Hebrews makes clear, the ministry of Jesus as priest took place once for all when he offered to God the sacrifice of himself. That sacrifice was made once for all. We do not need to offer that sacrifice again and again. What we do as priests is to make the offering of ourselves in union with that offering of Jesus.
In our Rite I service, we pray these words that speak of our priestly offering: “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee.” (Book of Common Prayer) In the prayer that we will say today, we ask that God “grant that all who share this bread and cup may become one body and one spirit, a living sacrifice in Christ, to the praise of your Name.” (BCP Eucharistic Prayer D) We ask God to make us a living sacrifice.
To this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, we bring our lives, we bring our hearts as gifts, and as priests, we offer our hearts, that sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.
Some among us do function as priests in a different manner.
Some of us are given the gift of the ordained priesthood. That gift includes gift to forgive sins in God’s name, to sanctify the gifts of bread and wine, to bless water for baptism and oil for healing and people in their various times of need. This gift to the community of the ordained priesthood emerges from our common priesthood yet marks some in the community as exercising a different ministry. Even if that gift is different it grows from that same branch of our common baptismal priesthood.
We show that each of us functions in our unique ways by the way we say the prayer during the Holy Eucharist. We all say the Eucharistic prayer yet ordained priests say those parts which sanctify the gifts and offer them to God We all say those prayers which celebrate the great mystery of God’s gifts to us and we make the oblation of our selves, our souls and bodies to God.
Perhaps the understanding of your priesthood comes as a new reality for you. Perhaps your priesthood comes as a long lived reality to which you put a new name. Perhaps you exercise an ordained priesthood, perhaps you might realize that you might have the call to ordained ministry. However you find yourself as a priest, may you exercise your ministry with the grace of bringing your part of the world into the great priestly song of Christ that with Christ we may offer ourselves along with the great sacrifice of Christ Jesus as God establishes among us God’s reign.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Light in the Darkness

A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Peter De Franco on
November 30, 2008, The First Sunday of Advent

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent. Does anyone know what the word advent means? The word advent comes from two Latin words that mean coming toward. I wonder what is coming toward us? Or who is coming toward us? Christmas is coming toward us. Jesus is coming toward us. For some of us, Santa Claus is coming toward us.
Do any of you remember from today’s gospel what Jesus said is coming? Let me remind you of what Jesus said is coming:
Jesus said that something terrible is coming. Listen to Jesus’ words: “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” (Mark 13: 24-25) What does that sound like to you? It sounds like I don’t want to be around to see that happen.
What would that mean if the sun is darkened and the moon does not shine and the stars fall out of the sky? It would be pretty dark when that happens. We would all be living in shadows. We would all be in the dark. How would that make you feel? I think that I would be afraid. I would be scared.
What happens when everything is dark? What do you need? You need light. You need something to shine in the darkness. You need a light.
I think that Jesus is not only telling us that something terrible is going to happen. But Jesus is also telling us that something wonderful is going to happen. Jesus tells us that when terrible things happen, that kind of world has to end. Jesus is telling us that a world where people do bad things to other people has to end. Jesus is telling us that a world where people do not have enough clothes to wear, enough food to eat, enough space to live has to come to an end. So when Jesus talks about the sky becoming dark, it is only part of the story. Jesus is talking about a world where bad things happen. That bad world has to come to end.
Jesus is also saying that he will come to make everything better. Jesus called himself the light. But Jesus is also talking about the dawning of a new light to replace the darkness. This are the words from the Gospel: “Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. (Mark 13: 35-36)
Do you notice the references to time in the Gospel and how time progresses from evening to midnight, to cockcrow to dawn. Jesus is advising us that we need to keep alert. To pay attention, that we might see when the light dawns and perhaps even more than see.
I want to share a story with you about the battle between darkness and light, a story that played itself out only a few blocks from us. Last Sunday, as the congregation from the 10:15 service were going into coffee hour, a tragedy played itself out at St. Thomas Syrian Orthodox church on Third Street. You know the story of how an angry husband traveled from California to New Jersey to take his wife, the wife he brutalized and beat for years, back with him to California. We all know how that story played itself out in the Narthex of the church, how the husband came into the Narthex, demanded that his wife return with him, how a young man intervened along with the woman’s cousin. Shots rang out in the church, leaving the wife dead, the young man mortally wounded and the cousin still is in a coma on life support in St. Joseph’s Hospital.
On Thanksgiving night, I spent evening at St. Thomas Church along with other clergy, members of the family of Dennis John and the many people who were touched by his short life. Again on Friday night, I sat in the pew, praying for Dennis and his family, for his congregation, and listening to the words of friends, of priests who knew him, of members of his congregation. They spoke of his outgoing character, his profound love for people, his deep caring for others.
When I was asked to speak, I did not have a prepared text and these words of the Gospel came to my mind: Greater love has no one than to lay down his life for his friend. Jesus spoke of those words to describe how he would lay down his life for us. But countless Christians after Jesus have laid down their lives for others. Dennis did what Jesus did. In the midst of that dark hour, Dennis’ sacrifice was a shining light.
Priests came from all over the country. From India came a bishop who is the equivalent of our presiding bishop to lead the prayers and to comfort Dennis’ family and the congregation. Now I am not asking you to become a martyr. Only God can give us that grace. Seeing his mother crying without comfort let me ask God not only for her comfort but that other mothers be spared similar sorrow. Let us pray that none of us are called to that role.
But when a martyr arises in our community, we should recognize that what the world sees as darkness, we Christians see as the dawning light. What the world sees as loss, we see as gain. For the weakness of our human condition, God transforms into God’s own strength. The tragedy of human loss, God transforms by the power of the resurrection into new life. We are all called to be a light in the darkness. Not as dramatically as Dennis in his sacrificial death. But in smaller, humbler, hidden ways.
Perhaps by giving a Christmas gift to a stranger, providing food for someone who is hungry, showing love and affection for someone who is forgotten, you become a light in someone’s darkness. Make your heart a shining light that when you find darkness, the light of Jesus may shine through you.