Tag Archive for Bishop Michael Curry

Bishop to Clergy: Renew your vows SO THAT…

The following sermon was given this morning at the annual Renewal of Vows and Blessing of Oils at Christ Church Cathedral.

Bishop Fisher preaching this morning at Christ Church Cathedral. (Photo: Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts)

Welcome. Thank you for taking time away from sermon prep, acolyte wrangling, bulletin proof-reading, pastoral care and answering questions about when IS the Easter Service, to come together in mutual support of one another in ministry.

Welcome Lutherans and UCC. Some of our liturgical language may be different, but the mission is the same. Jesus’ mission of mercy, compassion and hope. When so much in our world seems to be coming apart, we are coming together. I am grateful for you.

 Renewal of vows makes me think of Holy Week 1998. Betsy and I and our very young children were at Holy Innocents in Highland Falls New York and I was the Episcopal West Point chaplain. We had a Holy Week evening service in the church with only the candles on the altar for our light. At that service most of the congregation were West Point cadets and we all stood around the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer. Grace, four years old, stood next to me at the altar, her chin level with the top of the altar. She was captivated by the scene. For her it was magical and mystical. Looking out at everyone, looking at me leading prayer. Afterwards Betsy asked Grace “Did you like being up at the altar with daddy?” To which Grace responded “Oh yes, mommy. I loved it. I felt just like a pwiest!” Betsy said, “Would you like to be a priest someday?” Grace was very clear in her answer. “Oh no, mommy. I want to stack the groceries at the supermarket. That’s a cool job.”

Grace Fisher and a West Point cadet (Photo: submitted)

A humbling reminder on the day we renew our vows as ordained leaders in the church.

Bishops get veteran bishops for coaches. A question my coach would ask me in every session was “why did your diocese choose you?” It is a way of getting clarity and setting priorities. I think it was because I said a lot about social justice and about trying new things in ministry. 50 new things even if 49 fail. And there is one more. After the election, one of our church leaders said to me: “You know, bishop, no one in my parish was going to vote for you when the slate was announced. You were the only candidate with a doctorate (in ministry) and we knew we didn’t need some academic lecturing us in something abstract when the needs are so real.” Now that is not my perspective but it was his. And then he added “But when we went to the walk-abouts and you were asked questions, you would leave the stage and come into the middle aisle and answer the questions from there. From where the people were. That night in the parking lot, we all decided we were voting for you.”

Notice it wasn’t because of what I said. No great insights or pearls of wisdom changed their minds. It was being in the midst of the people. Going to where they are.

 That’s what I will be praying about today when I renew my vows.

How about you? Priest, minister, deacon. The Holy Spirit, working through so many people around you and through sponsoring parishes and commissions on ministry, called you. Maybe it was a few years ago or maybe it was forty. Why did they choose you? In all your quirky uniqueness. Why did they choose you?

And what made you say yes?

While you are thinking about that, let me provide a structure for your particular answer.

Mariann Budde is the Bishop of Washington D.C. She points out how often the Bible contains a “so that” statement. Here are a few examples:

Matthew 5:16 Let your light shine before others, SO THAT they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, SO THAT you may discern what is the will of God- what is good and acceptable and perfect.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that God gave his only Son, SO THAT everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.

I was ordained so that… What comes next? I hope you answer that with something spectacular. Something worth giving your life to.

A couple of weeks ago, I put that question to a few of our clergy in an email. Here is what they said:

  • I will renew my vows SO THAT I can offer my spiritual gifts to a community of faith that has richly blessed me and that helps me to grow in ways that matter.
  • I will renew my vows SO THAT I might share and testify to the love that saved me and made me and holds me.
  • I will renew my vows SO THAT the hope and justice of God in Christ would be made known.

We were called by God, loved by Christ SO THAT we may understand the power of His Resurrection.

I was ordained SO THAT I could help spread the light and hope of Christ.

What is it for you? I was ordained so that…

While you think of your answers I’m going to ramble on about a couple of other things.

 Whatever that great, holy, Jesus-centered, Holy Spirit inspired statement is for you, know that to get there we need to cultivate resilience, and persistence, or what some in leadership circles are referring to as “grit.”

Here’s another quote from the wise Mariann Budde. It is a long quote and we all know you should never use a long quote in a sermon. So don’t tell the bishop.

“Here’s why we need resilience. Because we are called to lead others from where they are now, as a body, to where God is calling us, a preferred future or a necessary sacrifice. That process, by definition, invokes resistance. Resistance is not all bad; nor is all change good. As a result, those of us called to lead have no choice but to live and move and have our being in what might be called ‘the messy middle.’ That place where nothing is clear, where what you thought was a God inspired idea goes nowhere, where those who called you to lead are now resisting you with everything they’ve got, and it occurs to you that working as a barista in your neighborhood coffee shop seems like a more fruitful place for ministry than the church.” Or you long to stack the groceries in the supermarket.

When that happens, not if, when that happens, have friends, deep friends, to confide in. And a disciplined prayer life. And maybe some scripture verses that can serve as a mantra. Like Paul’s in the second letter to that conflicted, confused, hungry for the Spirit community in Corinth. “Since it is God’s mercy that we are engaged in ministry, we do not lose heart.” Or in Genesis, Jacob wrestling with that angel “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Now for a few minutes on today’s gospel. I won’t be long. I know not all the Holy Week bulletins are done.

I chose the Gospel about what Walter Brueggemann calls “the riot in the Temple.” I chose it because I believe it is a pivotal part of the Holy Week story and it gets overlooked. And I think it is a key story for the ministry we share.

I just learned a few days ago that the Cathedral in Connecticut is doing something new and meaningful with this story. On Palm Sunday we begin with the triumphant entry into Jerusalem and then at the time for the Gospel we read the Passion which continues the story beginning with the Last Supper. We go from the hosannas of the crowd to Jesus agonizing over his impending death. We leave out a key part of the story that explains this very severe change of tone. The riot in the temple. Here’s what Connecticut is doing. The usual opening of the service with the entry into Jerusalem. Then at the time of the Gospel the story of the riot in the Temple is read. And then at the very end of the service, the Passion is read and the congregation leaves in silence to continue their Holy Week journey.

This story suffers too from a superficial understanding. How often has this passage been used as “you see Jesus is human like us. He got angry.” The same way the Martha and Mary story gets reduced to “we all need to balance out our busy Martha lives with Mary-like contemplation.” We interpret the verse this way SO THAT we don’t have to acknowledge the social revolution Jesus began in bringing women into the male-only circle of religious thinkers.

This passage has meanings so deep that the four evangelists take three approaches to it. Mark and Luke just tell it and then go right away to the chief priests looking for a way to kill him. John uses it to illustrate the scripture “Zeal for your house will consume me.” And an early reference to the Resurrection. Only Matthew follows the Temple cleansing with healing stories. Throwing over tables creating a space for healing. I will come back to that. But the heart of it was an unjust sacrificial system that made demands on the poor. In words and with very clear action, Jesus drew our attention to a societal problem and acted on it. Jesus didn’t just offer thoughts and prayers. He overthrew tables. He disrupted the system. A system that many believed to be sacred.

On this day in which we renew our vows, I will ask another question: Do you ever feel like throwing over some tables?

Here’s some I feel like throwing over.

  • The public health crisis of gun violence. 97 people a day die from gun violence in the United States. Many from suicide. Several children every day from accidents. Many in our urban communities as victims of what Michael Curry calls the “Unholy Trinity” of racism, poverty and guns. And some in our growing number of mass shootings – the ones that get our attention. America loves her guns and her guns are killing her loved ones. Many loved the theology and culture and economy of the Temple sacrifices but that did not stop Jesus.
  • Then there is crisis of creation around climate change. I could quote our own Margaret Bullitt Jonas on this but in the spirit of ecumenism I will go with Pope Francis: “Human induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity. In this core moral space, the world’s religions play a very vital role.” If we commit to passing the faith down from generation to generation then we have to commit to a sustainable island home for future generations.
  • The plight of immigrants in our immigrant nation. Children in cages at the border. Lucio Perez in sanctuary at the UCC Church in Amherst for a year and a half, forced to live apart from his wife and their four children. What would the Jesus we follow- the table over thrower- tell us to do about that?

In the ordination of a bishop in the Episcopal Church, eight questions are asked and answered. One is “will you shake up the conscience of your people?” Another is “will you defend those who have no helper?”

My actions are never closely adequate to the depth and expanse of the question. Thank you for all the times you have inspired me in this work of overturning tables.

And we do this not just as a voice crying out in the wilderness, not out of righteous anger, but as Matthew makes clear, SO THAT healing becomes possible. The royal wedding preacher says “WE are the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it.”

On this day, as we renew our ordination vows, let’s return to that wisdom of Paul. Since it is God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. And as my go-to-theologian Walter Brueggemann adds “Do not lose heart. God has not quit, and will not until our joy is reflective of God’s own.”

Amen.

+ Doug

Dreaming of a better world in the midst of this one

Cartoon by the Rev. Jay Sidebotham for Church Publishing Inc.

I have often begun Christmas sermons, and reflections about Christmas, with stories about Christmas Pageants I have seen. Like the time the child portraying the angel Gabriel did not exit the stage after her “annunciation” to Mary. Instead she stayed with Mary through all the rejections she and Joseph and the baby Jesus faced as they were turned away at inn after inn. And Gabriel looked on aghast but never left them.

Or the time the youngest children dressed as sheep were crawling down the middle aisle of the Church toward the stable as “Holy Night” was being sung. But when one noticed all the toys off to the side that had been collected for the needy, he broke ranks and headed for the toys. And so did the rest of the flock.

Or the time at Pageant rehearsal when my daughter Grace had the part of Mary. She was sitting and holding the baby, a real one, when the boy portraying Joseph standing next to her said, “I want to hold the baby.” Mary (Grace) said “No, I’m holding the baby.” Joseph insisted he should hold the baby. Mary said “no, the mother always holds the baby.” Joseph said “this year I should hold the baby.” To which Mary replied, “You know, Joseph, technically you are not even the father.”

Another preacher, I think it was Thomas Long, wrote about another pageant rehearsal. The director was encouraging the young people to read along in their bible as they recreated the story. When they got to the story of the Magi in the Gospel of Matthew, one girl kept on reading. She got to the part where King Herod was furious at the Magi, and ordered the death of every male child under the age of two in an attempt to kill Jesus. She said, “Hey, wait, what’s this? This is terrible!”

The director assured the girl that this part would not be in the pageant. She responded, “No. It is part of the story. We have to include it.”

The director and the young actress settled on a compromise. An actor dressed as the king would stand at the far edge of the stage throughout the pageant, hovering over the story of the first Christmas.

This part of the story makes us feel uncomfortable but it is true. Baby Jesus was not born into a spiritualized abstraction. He was born in the midst of a poor people ruled by a tyrant who was propped up by an Empire. He was born to parents who immediately became refugees fleeing to protect him.

Flight into Egypt, Ghana, 1971

And that is why Christmas is a life changing story of hope that never gets old. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the famous Royal Wedding preacher, puts it so eloquently and so forcefully: “We are the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the Dream God has for us.”

Christmas is about hope, about dreaming of a better world while we are in the midst of this one. Christmas reminds us of all the love that is around us, reminds us of so much that is good and holy and sacred.  At Christmas we tell stories of our “better angels.” Christmas reminds us of generosity and forgiveness and courage – even as King Herod looks on.

Christmas reminds us that God has not given up on us. Just the opposite. We call this baby, “Jesus” – which means “God saves us.” And the angels tell us “do not be afraid. This is a message of great joy.” God is here now, in 2018, in the midst of us.

Merry Christmas.

+Doug

We have two precedents: prayer and action.

If we could see one of those “word clouds” of the media coverage of the last couple of months in our new political world, the dominant word would be “unprecedented.”

  • unprecedented use of Twitter by the President-Elect
  • unprecedented responses to criticism
  • unprecedented refusal to hand over tax returns
  • unprecedented attempts at interference in our election by a foreign power
  • unprecedented for Democrats to sit out the Inaugural

What should we do in unprecedented times? We can turn to the “precedented” in our own tradition. Our precedent is for prayer and action.

We will pray “for those in positions of public trust, especially President Trump, that they may serve justice, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person” according to the words of The Book of Common Prayer. That powerful but simple line has Biblical roots. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry recently reminded us, Psalm 72 urges prayer for the King of Israel that he might rule in the ways of God’s justice, defending “the cause of the poor” and “bringing deliverance to the needy.”

In that same communication to the Church, Bishop Curry tells us that when we pray for Presidents of the United States, “we pray for their leadership in our society and world. We pray that they lead in the ways of justice and truth. We pray that their leadership will serve not partisan interest but the common good.”

In an unprecedented time, we have precedent for praying for our President. I will do that on Inauguration Day and in the days to come.

We also have another precedent. We have the biblical mandate to act justly.  It can be seen in the 2000 calls in the Bible to help the poor, in the command to “welcome the stranger,” in Jesus’ prayer that God’s “will be done on EARTH as it is in heaven,” in Jesus’ respect for women clearly expressed so often in his ministry and in making Mary Magdalene “the apostle to the apostles.”

Our Christian tradition heralds the actions of those who tried to live this biblical imperative for social justice: Frances Perkins, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Dorothy Day, Thomas Gallaudet, Vida Dutton Scudder.

Our precedent is for prayer and action.

Christianity is not an abstract idea. The biblical imperative to act justly calls us to see immigrants and refugees as the “stranger” in need of our welcome. It calls us to imagine God’s will for the earth and to make it so. (Here is the letter to the President-Elect from the Bishops of Massachusetts about his choice for the EPA.) We will be acting  justly when we respect the dignity of all persons regardless of race, gender identification, sexual orientation, place of origin, religious beliefs, or economic status. We will be living justly when our streets and schools are safe from gun violence.

Bumper sticker of the Presiding Bishop’s description of the Church (Forward Movement)

As the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement, we have a big mission. We have to witness to our faith in our families, in our neighborhoods, where we work and in our politics. God be with our President, and God be with those who march in protest this weekend. God will be with us in the struggle to find our way, to speak our piece and act justly for the good of all people.

Dr. Martin Luther King wrote, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I pray for the courage to witness to our faith in the things that matter. I pray courage for us all.

+Doug

God is looking for us and God will not fail.

Gary Roulette, "Parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep" (oil on canvas, 8 ft x 5 ft, May 2013)

Gary Roulette, “Parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep” (oil on canvas, 8 ft x 5 ft, May 2013)

The following is the sermon offered to the people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on Sunday September 11, 2016

Jesus was such a great preacher. In these parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin, he engages his listeners by saying “which one of you…” Which one of you has ever lost anything? Since turning 60 I lose my glasses at least once a day. Losing something is a universal human experience. In asking this question Jesus not only engages his audience but he connects his audience to each other. According to the text, his listeners that day include “tax collectors and sinners” and “scribes and Pharisees.” The unrighteous and the righteous. Scribes and Pharisees would never include themselves among sinners. But Jesus brings them together in the experience of loss.

Now that Jesus has us engaged, he asks “which one of you, having 100 sheep and losing one, would leave the 99 in the wilderness and search for the lost one?” Not put them safely away in a pen with a guard. Leave them in the wilderness where there is great danger. Think coyotes. Which one of you would do that? The honest answer is “none of us, Lord, no one would do that.” But, spoiler alert, God would.

Jesus continues “which one of you, having ten coins and losing one, would sweep the house all day long until it was found, and then call your friends for a party?”

How would you answer that question? Let’s consider a 21st century version of this question. Think of a time you lost your car keys. You search and search. You look under furniture, in between the cushions, back out to see if you left them in the car. If you are of the spirituality that does this sort of thing, you might promise money to St. Anthony. Finally you find the keys. Which one of you would throw a big party? For four years now I have been living just 20 miles from here. I know people sitting in front of me this morning have lost and found keys. Not one of you have any of you invited me to a “lost and found key” party. No one.

2000 years ago when Jesus asked this question, his listeners are thinking “no one would do that Jesus.” But God would.

Jesus gets us interested by telling stories of a universal human experience – loss. But after he gets us there Jesus uses the opportunity to tell stories about God. Let’s explore these stories and learn about God and how the Living God makes a difference in our lives.

Let’s look at the numbers: 100 sheep, 10 coins. Those numbers represent fullness or completion. A full set. When one is missing the set is incomplete. God strives for completion. Why does God search out the lost? Because God’s world can’t be complete without them. You have heard the expression that parents are only as happy as their least happy child. God is like a parent. God can’t be happy until all people are brought into the fullness of life.

Here is another truth about God. In God’s eyes we are all sinners God wants to save. Consider this. In the lost sheep story the shepherd leaves the 99 in the wilderness and goes to search for the one. The text is very specific. When he finds the one, he goes home and gathers friends for a celebration. He does not go back to the wilderness for the other 99. That is because all of humanity is represented by the one lost sheep. The 99 don’t really exist. We can only understand this by looking at the words that conclude the parable: “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who have no need of repentance.” Do you really think there are 99 people anywhere who have no need of repentance? The Pharisees might think they are in that crowd but Jesus is constantly pointing out their delusions. On many Sundays we have the “confession.” Do you ever exempt yourself from that? Do you think “nope, nothing happened this week that I am sorry for”? That never happens for me. And if it did, the “things left undone” would catch me every time. God knows who we are and yet still wants to save us.

Why? The lost coin parable reveals an answer. The story is about an inanimate object – a coin. The coin does not care if it is found or not. A coin can be a coin lying with the dust bunnies under the bed or when it is placed on a nice clean mantle or if it is being spent. The coin does not know it needs to be saved. And yet the woman (God) looks for it. It matters to God. God has an inbuilt desire to look for us. God is love and God will love whether we want to love back or not. As our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says, “if it is not about love then it is not about God.”

We know this from the 23rd Psalm which offers us more shepherd imagery for God. Recall the last lines of that psalm which is the favorite of so many: “surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Here is a secret. Don’t tell the bishop. That is not an adequate translation. Really smart people who know Hebrew better than I do say that in the original Hebrew the word is not “follow”, which sounds so passive. It is closer to “your goodness and mercy shall pursue me, shall chase after me, shall hunt me down”.

The psalm and today’s parables reveal a God who is persistent, faithful. In those times in our lives when we feel lost, know that God is looking for us. Even if we don’t feel God’s presence or power or hope, something is going on. God is looking for us and God will not fail.

Now I know the Red Sox game is on at 1:00 pm so you are hoping I will end this sermon soon, but here is just one more dimension to these rich parables. Each of the “lost” stories in Luke’s Gospel ends with a party. The shepherd throws a party. The woman throws a party. The very next story in this chapter is about the prodigal son – the lost son. And that ends in a party, too.

The Saint John's Bible ~ Saint John's University (Collegeville Minnesota)

The Saint John’s Bible ~ Saint John’s University (Collegeville, Minnesota)

Remember the first lines in today’s gospel. The Pharisees “were grumbling.” The Pharisees were good people. They went to church. They prayed. They studied the Bible. They gave generously to the poor. But they were missing out on joy. They knew the laws of the church so very well but they were confining God to those laws. Jesus invited them to stop grumbling and celebrate a God of irrational, exuberant generosity. We are invited to join the same party.

Now I know we have a big job ahead of us. Michael Curry says we are the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream that God has for it. What a big mission! And in just two more minutes (I promise) we will re-commit ourselves to that mission. We will recommit ourselves to changing the world into the dream God has for it. We need to act because faith without action is just an opinion. In an anxious time in our world and in our country, let’s be a people of hope. Let’s remember in our tradition that we have been claimed in baptism as Christ’s own forever. Forever. God will find us. And there will be a party like no other. Because that is what God does. Amen.

Jesus was what we are.

John Giuliani, Guatemalan Nativity, 1990s.

John Giuliani, Guatemalan Nativity, 1990s.

The Bishop’s Christmas Eve sermon given at 10 PM in Christ Church Cathedral.

 

Don’t you love the Gospel for Christmas Eve? Written by Luke, it is an iconic story, a world-changing story, a story that touches the soul. I will happily preach about it in a moment but first, I want to look at a line from the Gospel we read tomorrow on Christmas Day from the Gospel of John. Since you decided to move the service up one hour – from 11 pm to 10 pm – that gives me plenty of time to preach on two gospels, right?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What came into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

The darkness did not overcome the light, but the light didn’t overcome the darkness either. Preacher Scott Johnston puts it this way:

“I struggle with this verse because I want them to declare that when the light comes into the world it obliterates the darkness. It takes the bleak mid-winter with every sadness, every despair, every raw deal, every horrendous travesty, every evil plan, every god-awful life sucking disease, and tosses the whole mess into the cosmic trash bin. I want the light to arrive and I want it to win, and win big.”

The light came into the world and 2000 years later there is a lot of darkness. We know that so powerfully in 2015. But we have been given a promise – by God no less – that the light is here and darkness will not overcome it. Maybe, that is enough. Later in this liturgy we will turn out all the lights and sing “Silent Night” while holding candles. It will be more dark than light. But as we hold those candles and sing that hymn, I pray we know – we really know – that God is with us no matter what here in the real world and not in an abstract world.

That truth is what brings us into tonight’s gospel. “In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. That was the first registration and was taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.” It reminds us of a line that comes up a couple of chapters later in Luke’s Gospel when Jesus and his cousin John are adults. We are told who the emperor is, who the governor is, who the king is, who the high priests are “when the word of God came to a man named John in the wilderness.” These are crucial details. It is Luke’s way of telling us this is not a fairy tale. This is not “once upon a time.” In history, in the real world, God was present. The light was coming not in heaven but on earth. God was not present in a vague way but in a human being. That presence was not to be restricted to Jesus but was to be a presence, a light in the darkness, for all of us.

The Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins puts this world-rattling insight into three lines of poetry:

“In a flash, at a trumpet’s crash,

I am all at once what Christ is

Since he was what I am.”

Christ was what I am. If that is true, then we need to look to who Christ is to know who we are. And it just so happens that tonight’s gospel gives us lots of insights into that. This birth story sets the themes that play out through the life of Jesus and beyond into our lives.  Let’s look at three of them.

The census required that everyone go back to the hometown of their father to be counted. For Joseph and the very pregnant Mary, that means going to Bethlehem – a seventy mile journey. When they get there, “there is no place for them in the inn.”

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Now there are dozens of theories about what this means and to go into all of them would have required that this service start at 9 and not 10. But I am intrigued by one commentator who says that if all of Joseph’s family had to return to the ancestral home of Bethlehem, then his brothers and sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts were all in town. But no one came to their aid. No uncle, seeing the almost-ready to give birth Mary, said “hey, take my bed. You need it a lot more than I do. I’ll sleep outside by the manger where the animals eat tonight.” Again, we can speculate forever about why no one did this. Perhaps it was because Mary was pregnant and not married? Who knows? But what we do know is Jesus will later say in Matthew’s Gospel (I know I’m intermingling gospels here – don’t tell the bishop): “I was hungry and you gave me no food. I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.” Could it be he understood that from his birth story? Jesus tells us what we are to do to be truly human, to be a light in a dark world: “Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave me food. I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

The shepherds give us another hint as to Jesus’ mission – and what it means to be human. Shepherds were not highly regarded in the society of that time, but just the opposite. To use modern terminology – they were “lowlifes.” And yet the angels bypassed the Emperor and the Governor and give the scoop about salvation and a whole new way of being to them. Doing that, the “outsiders” have been brought within the people of God. The baby Jesus would grow into an adult Jesus who would do the very same thing – including tax collectors and sinners, women, the poor and the marginalized. That was unimaginable in those days. One of my favorite theologians, Walter Brueggemann, puts it this way:

“The newness that God did at Christmas was to send into the world this Jesus who is beyond our imagination, who brought healing and grace everywhere he went, who forgave and transformed and called people out beyond themselves to a newness they could not have imagined.”

In another soul-gripping story from the life of Jesus, his cousin John who is in prison sends friends to ask Jesus: are you the one, the Messiah? And Jesus says tell him what is happening here. “Blind people are dancing. Lame people are walking into freedom. Lepers are being invited back into the family. Dead people are being given new life. There are poor people having their debts cancelled. All around there are people starting over in freedom and courage because God is doing a new thing.” God is healing and restoring and liberating and reconciling because the light has entered the world and the darkness could not overcome it.

St. Augustine Church, Prophet Isaiah by Raphael

St. Augustine Church, Prophet Isaiah by Raphael

And one more of many connections between the birth story, the mission of the adult Jesus, and our lives now. The angels who appear to the shepherds sing a hymn that is an echo of a hymn in the book of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6:3). The prophet Isaiah who lived 600 years before Jesus will be incredibly important in his life and message. You all know – too well – that in many of my sermons I use a quote from a Bruce Springsteen song or a baseball story. They are my “go to resources.” The “go-to” resource for Jesus is Isaiah. He quotes him more than anyone else from the Hebrew Scriptures. Isaiah. The one who tells us: “Look, you who serve your own interests…and oppress your workers…the fast I choose is to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free…to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house.” That is one of dozens of passages about social justice and the rejection of violence. Isaiah is Jesus’ spiritual hero. Isaiah is on Jesus’ personal Mount Rushmore.

Isaiah also says “those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” I always thought Isaiah got the order of that movement wrong. He goes from flying to running to walking. Shouldn’t it be walking to running to flying? Isn’t that what we are called to in the spiritual life? Maybe. But perhaps the spiritual life and real life are the same thing. Sure, sometimes we soar. We have “Paul on the road to Damascus moments” of incredible insight and connection to the living God. And we know about running – it’s Christmas in America – anyone feel like they have been running the last few weeks? But walking, and not fainting – that’s huge for living in a world where the light has not obliterated the darkness. Walking and not fainting because we believe every day that the darkness will not overcome the light. Walking and not fainting because we follow Jesus “who was what I am” and leads us on a mission of mercy, compassion and hope.

Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, invites us to be part of the Jesus Movement. And the Jesus Movement is determined to change this world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it. 2000 years ago the Jesus Movement, building on the Isaiah Movement was born. We are part of that. The Light is in the world. When Barack was president, and Charlie was governor, and Michael was the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the word of God came to you and me. The darkness will not overcome it. Amen.

+Doug