Luke 17:11-19 & 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15
(A shorter version was preached at school chapel)
Proper 23 C – 10/13/13
St. Paul’s Alexandria
The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales
If our love were but more faithful,
We should take him at his word;
And our life would be thanksgiving
For the goodness of the Lord.
Graduation season — that time of celebration in May and June — seems like a distant memory on this chill October morning. But for one young man I know, it dragged on until just a week or so ago. I say “dragged,” because he was weighed down by the burden of writing thank-you notes.
Now, I know this young man appreciated the gifts, the checks, and the electronic tools and toys he received that would help him begin his college career. But writing thank-you notes is such a drag! He might have procrastinated forever, but two voices would not let him – the voice of his own conscience, and — you guessed it— the voice of his mother Finally, his mom told me, she wrote out a little “script” for him and gave him the task of copying it in his own handwriting —— three a day — until he was finished. He had to make the notes personal, mentioning the specific gift he was given and how much the giver meant to him. He had to say thank you.
The man in today’s gospel had to say thank you, too. Only he didn’t need any prompting — no reminders, no “script.” For he was not giving thanks for a gift he would outgrow or use up. He was thanking Jesus for his life.
The man — unnamed in today’s gospel, though I have my own theory — was a leper. That’s a word we don’t hear much outside of the Bible these days, but lepers were people with a terrible disease that forced them to live apart from everyone else, except other lepers. Bible scholars think the word “leprosy” covers a variety of skin diseases, but the most serious was an incurable eating-away of limbs and facial features that left people disfigured and disabled. Worst of all, was the isolation that people with leprosy endured in order to keep this terrible disease from infecting others.
So in today’s story, we hear of 10 lepers traveling together and “keeping their distance” as they called out, “Jesus! Master! Have mercy on us!” When he saw them, Jesus did not know their names, or nationalities, or religions. He did not know if they deserved to become well. He did not know if they would be properly thankful. All he knew was their NEED, and to that need he responded.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heaven
There is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment given . . .
We hear of that kindly judgment in our first lesson today, where God’s healing was also made available to a suffering soul without regard for name, nationality, or religion. And if Naaman, the commander of the king’s army, had had to prove he deserved healing, he would have been hard pressed to do so. Naaman is not calling out in humility and pain, like the lepers in our gospel. Rather, in his pride, he takes offense that the man of God, the prophet Elisha, sends a messenger to tell him to do something as simple as washing in a nearby river. Naaman does nothing to prove himself worthy of healing. And yet . . . God heals him.
For the love of God is broader
than the measure of the mind
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
It’s most wonderfully kind when Jesus tells the 10 lepers to show themselves to the priests, because according to the law, it’s only when the disease has left them that lepers go to the priests. The book of Leviticus is clear on all the laws pertaining to leprosy (and there are many – read them sometime if you’re looking for the grossest parts of the Bible). That law states that people who recover from leprosy must show themselves to the priest and follow certain rituals before returning to society. So the ten, in hope and obedience, set out.
But before they get very far, one of them feels sensation returning to his numb limbs, senses a tingling, looks at his hands and finds that his skin has become as sweet and soft as a young boy’s. He has been made clean. Without a second thought, he turns and runs —dances, perhaps — back to throw himself at Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving. And he was a Samaritan, Luke tells us – not one of the chosen people, not one of Jesus’ tribe, but the outsider who recognized that
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea.
We don’t hear from Luke what happens next. But I have a theory. I think the thankfulness that propelled that man that day overflowed and kept on going. I think he lived a life of thanksgiving. Matthew and Mark tell the story of a dinner that takes place in Bethany, in the home of “Simon the leper.” And I can’t help wondering if it’s this man who hosts the meal at which a woman, herself filled with gratitude, anoints Jesus with costly ointment in her own extravagant gesture of love.
Thankfulness begets thankfulness. The grateful heart overflows with generosity, and generous acts — acts of hospitality, acts of love for God and neighbor — call forth more gratitude, more generosity, from those who receive them. In a world that sorely needs generosity, could YOUR overflowing heart show someone today the wideness in God’s mercy?
If our love were but more faithful,
We would take him at his word,
And our life would be thanksgiving,
For the goodness of the Lord.
Luke 19:1-10 (Zacchaeus)
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School
The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales
When a first-grade girl woke up one morning in October and saw the paper cut-out jack-o-lantern she had taped to her window the night before she jumped out of bed filled with excitement. “Hooray,” she bubbled, “It’s Halloween!”
She was excited because she was finally going to get to wear the scary witch costume she had been waiting for. She liked scaring people, and she liked the shivery feeling of being scared herself.
So she was extra excited about the rubber mask her mother had bought her. It was so creepy that at first she didn’t want to touch it, much less slip it on over her head. It was the grayish-green color of mold and had stringy hair, a hooked nose, snaggle teeth, and a wart on its nose. When she had muster the courage last night to put it on and look at herself in the mirror, SHE even got scared until she reminded herself, “That’s really me in there.”
That day at school, the girl took delight in terrifying her classmates and shouting, “I’m the biggest, baddest witch in the world.” She chased pirates, and ghosts, and ballerinas. She started pulling the curls of a girl dressed like Little Bo Peep. She thought it was funny when other kids called her “Old Witch.” It WAS funny, at first.
But then, the girl began to worry. Nobody seemed to know who she really was. Everyone kept calling her “witch” and nobody seemed to remember that she was really just a nice little girl trying to have some fun. She stood still and was almost about to cry when she heard her teacher, Mrs. Binney, say: “Come on, Ramona. Come join the parade.”
Ramona had never been so happy to hear her name. Someone knew who she was. She was free again to be herself.
Something a little like this happened to the man in our gospel reading today. Zacchaeus was a man who enjoyed scaring his neighbors, and he didn’t do it just for fun. Zacchaeus was a tax collector, and in his days that was not a respected government job. He threatened his neighbors until they paid him money that he would give to the enemies of his own people, and he forced them to give him more than they owed, so he could keep some for himself. Zacchaeus lied, tormented, and cheated the people of Jericho.
So everyone was surprised one day to hear Jesus call out to him, “Come on, Zacchaeus!” You might remember from the story that Zacchaeus had climbed a tree to get a better look at Jesus, because he was a short man and couldn’t see over the crowd. Maybe you know that feeling. Maybe Zacchaeus thought he could hide behind the branches the way Ramona hid behind her mask, and not be noticed. But Jesus noticed him, and called him by name. Jesus didn’t call him down from the tree so he could scold him, either. Instead, he treated Zacchaeus like a friend.
“Zacchaeus,” Jesus said, “hurry and come down for I must eat at your house today.” Now that really surprised the people of Jericho, who complained that Jesus was going to the home of a sinner – someone who had done many things to hurt God and other people.
But Jesus saw deeper than they did; he saw what was really inside Zacchaeus. He saw a good man. And Zacchaeus did become good again. He told Jesus he would give half of everything he owned to people who were poor. And to the people he had cheated, he would pay them back four times what he had taken from them.
When Jesus called his name, Zacchaeus was changed. Someone knew who he was. Like Ramona, he was free to be himself again.
No matter how you dress up this Halloween – no matter what other ways you might one day try to hide – I hope you’ll always remember from this story that God sees the good in you. God calls you by name, and sets you free to be the best self you can be. Amen.
Homily for Chapel, Opening Day
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School
This weekend my family enjoyed one of the most happiest events that can happen in a family. Many relatives and friends gathered together celebrate the marriage of my daughter Holly and her husband Steve. And Saturday was a beautiful day for a wedding, with the sun shining on red, gold, and orange leaves until they glowed like colorful jewels.
It was wonderful to have such a happy event this time of year, because this time of year always makes me a little sad. I see the glorious colored leaves and know that they’ll soon be gone – like the tiny bright leaves on the trees next to MacKinnon Field that looked like golden rain as they tumbled to the ground in the past few weeks. The weather’s getting colder, and it’s getting dark earlier and earlier, too. Something is coming to an end.
The prophet Isaiah, in the lesson that Alethea and Reid just read, has some words that may help us as we think about such endings. Isaiah was reminding the people of Israel, thousands of years ago, that the endings they had experienced were about to become brilliant new beginnings. The sorrows the people had known when they were taken away in exile were about to become joy. God was bringing them home, but the promise didn’t end there. “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth,” God told Isaiah. He gave Isaiah the vision of a time when everyone would live in peace and no one – not wolves, or lions, or people – would hurt or destroy.
That time has not yet come. But we see new beginnings all the time in smaller ways. Hmmmm …. I have a way to explain that a bit better. I have a story.
A little boy was going to bed after a wonderful day. He had played in the sunshine with his friends, and had lemonade to drink, and read a story with his father under the oak tree. So when it was time for bed, the little boy was sad. He said to his mother: “Why does the day have to end?” And Mother said, “So that night can begin.” The boy looked out the window and saw a silver moon. He was silent for a while.
“But where does the sun go when the day ends?” he asked.
“The day doesn’t end,” said Mother. “It begins somewhere else. When it is night here, it is day somewhere else.”
“Well then, where does the wind go when it stops?” asked the boy. “It blows away to make the trees dance somewhere else,” said Mother.
“And the leaves on the oak tree, when they turn color and fall?” asked the boy. “They go into the ground, to help make new trees and new leaves,” said the mother.
“But when the leaves fall, that is the end of something!” said the boy. “It’s the end of autumn!
“Yes,” said the mother. “But the end of autumn is the beginning of winter. And the end of winter is the beginning of (pause) spring. And the end of spring is the beginning of (pause) summer.” The little boy smiled. He LOVED summer.
“It really does go on and on,” he told his mother. “Everything changes, but nothing is lost.” And the mother smiled, too.
And that is how one little boy learned something you have heard me say before, something I hope you will always remember: that
For every beginning there is an end,
And for every end, (let the children join) there is a beginning.
For every beginning, there is an end, and for every end, there is always, always a beginning. Thanks be to God! Amen.
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School
1 Advent – 12/3/13
The Rev. Rosemary Beales
This is a season of surprises.
I am always surprised at this time of year that it IS this time of year again! I am surprised at what a distant memory summer seems. I am surprised at how early it gets dark, and how dark it gets. I am surprised at the difference one small candle makes in the gathering gloom. But that’s not the surprise I’m thinking about.
Here on the first week of a new church year, the first week of Advent, I’m thinking about Advent calendars, which are full of surprises. This year, the first day of Advent neatly lines up with the first day of December, and many of you have opened the little windows, or doors, or drawers, on your Advent calendars with anticipation. What picture, what scripture verse, perhaps what shape of chocolate awaits you? It’s always a surprise, but that’s not the surprise I’m thinking about.
Soon, wrapped boxes will appear in our homes –- mysterious packages tied in paper and ribbon. Who can guess what’s inside? No peeking, no shaking, now, because you would not want to spoil the surprise. But Christmas gifts are not the surprise I’m thinking about.
I am not even talking about the most wonderful gift of all, the great event we celebrate at the end of these four long weeks of getting ready. In Bethlehem, a baby is born, and a light shines in the darkness. That GOD would choose to be born as a helpless and vulnerable baby is amazing, but that’s not the surprise I’m thinking about.
The babe of Bethlehem grew up to surprise everyone. Born in a barn, he turned out to be a king, though not the kind of king that people expected. Here was a king who served; a king who suffered; a king who saved. Yet even THAT is not the surprise I have in mind.
The prophet Isaiah had a glimpse of the surprises to come. Eight hundred years before Jesus, Isaiah dreamed God’s dream of a time of peace and fulfillment.
We heard his words today, but perhaps not with the power they had so long ago. We hear them as a tender fantasy that gets blurred in our imaginations with Narnia, Middle Earth, and maybe even Hogwarts. After all, a time when warriors beat their swords into plowshare – a time when people stop fighting and start feeding one another — a time when when people long to learn the ways of the Lord — It all seems so fanciful, so . . . impossible.
The surprise in the Isaiah reading is that this vision is for US. God is still working out his purpose, that all peoples will one day stream to the house of the Lord, that nation wil no longer lift up sword against nation and that no God’s children will study war no more. As impossibly far away as that vision seems, God is still working on it.
No one knows when that vision will be fulfilled. Even Jesus once told us that he didn’t know the hour or the day when God would make all things new. But he did tell us this, good advice for the Advent season:
That’s what we’ll do for the next four weeks, and beyond
Here, today, we watch. We wait. And in the darkness of unknowing, we light one candle.
Welcome to the season of surprises. Welcome to Advent.
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School
2 Advent – 12/10/13
The Rev. Rosemary Beales
Yesterday, the sun set at 4:46 in the afternoon. Many of us were not even home yet when it got dark. Certainly, it was dark before we ate dinner.
Today, the sun rose at 7:16 in the morning. We have 9 hours, 30 minutes and 3 seconds of daylight today. And the days will keep getting shorter until the shortest day of the year – December 21, when we have 9 hours and 26 minutes of light. Then, little by little, minute by minute, the earth will begin to edge closer to the sun again, and little by little, minute by minute, the light will return.
I’m thinking about light because of the story we just heard about a man who was born blind — who had never seen the light — and how Jesus healed him. Jesus, who said, “I am the light of the world,” gave this man the gift of vision.
I’m thinking about light today, also, because we are coming close to the feast of St. Lucy, or Santa Lucia, on December 13. The name “Lucy” means “light,” and St. Lucia is the special saint of those who desire clear vision.
St. Lucia was born near the year 300, in Sicily, an island to the south of Italy. But it’s in Sweden, a country in the far north of Europe, that her feast is especially celebrated. People in America remember Lucy, too, and students in JK-2 art classes spent all last week making special things to remind them of St. Lucia. We’ll talk about them in a minute, but first….
But first, I want to tell you all about Lucy — in fact, I want you to meet her!
(signal Lucy to enter)
This is our own “Lucy girl,” and just like the Lucy girls in Sweden, she is wearing a crown of candles on her head (the Kindergarten girls are wearing their own versions), a white gown, and a red sash. And look what she’s carrying – she’s carrying a tray because the tradition in Sweden is that the Lucy girl serves her whole family breakfast in bed. On the darkest morning of the year, the Lucy girl goes from room to room, lighting the way with the candles she wears on her head. She serves special cross-shaped buns called Lussekatter and sweet, milky coffee to her family. Behind her go the “star boys,” with their pointed hats and stars on sticks.
[K kids – crowns or girls; hats for boys.
1st graders – cut outs of Lucy and star boys]
Some of you might have read about these St. Lucia traditions in an American Girl book called “Kirsten’s Surprise.” But maybe you’re wondering, what do they have to do with the original Santa Lucia, long ago in Sicily?
Back when Lucia was born, it was against the law to be a Christian in Sicily. Christians had to hide their faith, or they could be arrested and even put to death. Lucia loved God enough to take that risk. She even visited the Christians who gathered in underground hiding places called the Catacombs. She took all the money that her family was saving for her wedding and spent it on food and clothing for people who were poor and persecuted. In order to keep her hands free to carry the food she brought them, Lucia wore candles on her head. Lucia had to be very careful so the rulers didn’t find out that she, too, was a Christian.
One day, though, they did find out, and Lucia was arrested. The rulers told her she could go free if she made a sacrifice to the Roman gods. But Lucia said she had already given away everything she owned as a sacrifice to Jesus, and now she was willing to give her life, too.
Lucia did give up her life, but that was not the end of her story. Hundreds of years after her death, she saved the people of Sweden from a terrible famine. Food was scarce, and everyone was hungry. On the darkest day of winter, they saw a boat sailing toward them. Instead of a dragon’s head like most Viking boats, though, they saw a beautiful maiden, dressed in white and glowing with a heavenly light. When the boat reached land, St. Lucia handed out huge sacks of wheat to all the people until the boat was empty. They would have bread to eat all winter long.
That’s why the people of Sweden love St. Lucia, and it’s one reason we remember her today. In the name of Jesus, the light of the world, she brought light to the people of Sicily and Sweden. She has brought light to us today.
I hope you’ll remember St. Lucia on her feast, and every day. When you share what you have with others, you, too, are letting your light shine. Like Lucy, you can shine as a light in the world to the glory of God. Amen.
Matt 3:13-17 (This is the multi-generational version of similar sermon preached in 2011)
Epiphany 1A – 1/12/14
Epiphany Church, Odenton
The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales
It’s wonderful to be home again – how I’ve missed this place – how I’ve missed YOU. Even those of you I haven’t met yet, you are part of me as a “daughter of Epiphany.” Every fiber of fabric, every grain of wood in this place are dear to me. I love these walls and windows.
One of the things I’ve always appreciated about our windows is that we don’t have one that depicts the scene in today’s gospel. Many churches do, including one that I served right after seminary. There was the scene, in lovely pastels: Jesus – you could tell he was Jesus because of the long white robe — standing ankle-deep in a clear stream, while John, in camel skin, stands on the shore, pouring a gentle trickle of water from a golden pitcher. The scene is lovely, and serene, and . . . not at all the way I imagine the baptism of Jesus!
What happened at the Jordan was anything but serene. If there were a soundtrack, it would not be the peaceful, melodic rhythms of Pachelbel’s Canon in D. It would be more like Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, with its crashing cymbals and booming cannons – or perhaps like the blaring horns of a football halftime. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
No, Jesus’ baptism was far from quiet. It was, in fact, the END of his solo act,
and the BEGINNING of a symphony that resounds these 2,000 years later.
Just moments before today’s scene, John had been shouting to the crowds who flocked to him from Jerusalem and all Judea. We know why they came to the water —
They wanted forgiveness, washing away sins, wiping away mistakes;
they wanted repentance, turning away from their pasts.
But what did Jesus want?
John might be asking the same question. Here is The One, he was just telling the people, whose sandals he is not fit to untie. Yet Jesus demands that John baptize him, and John, protesting, not quite understanding, consents.
He consents not by pouring a stream of crystal water over Jesus’ head, but by holding him as he goes down, head and all, into darkness and chaos and shocking cold. Matthew tells us that as Jesus is coming up out of the water, he sees the heavens opened up;
but I like Mark’s version better.
In Mark, Jesus sees the heavens—‘TORN APART.”
Jesus’ life was torn that day — torn into two parts, the before and the after.
The life of serenity, and the life of servanthood.
That’s what baptism did to him, and what it does to us.
Why did Jesus come to the water that day? I have an idea, but first, I want to tell you about . . . a football game.
* * *
On a crisp November day in the city of Grapevine, Texas, two teams were facing off — the Lions against the Tornados. Both names sound pretty ferocious, don’t they? But these two teams were not evenly matched. The Lions, from Faith Christian School – a school a lot like the one where I work – had 70 players, eleven coaches, the latest equipment, and lots of parent volunteers. The Lions had won 7 games and lost 2.
The Tornados were Oh and 8 – they’d lost eight games and won exactly . . . none. Their 14 players wore second-hand, beat-up pad and helmets. No parents came to their game. Instead, they were escorted to the locker room by 12 security guards who took off their handcuffs before the opening whistle. These young men went to high school in a maximum-security prison, and they were there because they had made serious mistakes, done terrible things—robbery, rape, murder. Most people called them losers.
But a few weeks before the game, the Faith Christian coach had an idea — dare I say, a Christian idea. What if, he thought, just for one night, half the Faith Lions’ fans cheered for the OTHER team? The idea caught his students’ imagination. And so, when the Gainesville Tornados took the field that November night, they crashed through a banner made by Lions fans that read, “Go Tornados!” They were surprised by a forty-foot
“spirit line” of fans flanking them as they took the field, and even more surprised when they heard 200 people on the bleachers behind them, cheering for them by name, rooting for them as if they were the most important people on earth.
At the end of the game, the Tornados practically danced off the field, with their fingers punching the air, #1. They gave their coach his first Gatorade bath ever. They climbed back onto their bus in high spirits. You might guess that the Tornados had won the game. Actually, the scoreboard showed that the victory went to the Lions.
But those guys with their #1 fingers in the air actually had it right. They knew — perhaps for the very first time — that they were winners. It wasn’t just their coach that got drenched that night. Those players had been drenched, soaked, bathed, showered . . . with love. Perhaps, for the very first time, they knew that they were Beloved.
* * *
When Jesus went down into the water of the Jordan, he wasn’t washing away his mistakes, his sins. Jesus was perfect and without sin.
I think he went down into that dirty water to show that he belonged to the sinful human race, that he was willing to be one of us.
In a way, we could say that he was rooting for the other team. Our team.
When Jesus heard the voice that called him “my son, the Beloved,”
that voice, God’s voice, was not only for him. It was also for us.
We are all drenched, soaked, bathed, showered with love as children of God.
And that love is too strong to keep to ourselves.
In our own baptisms, our lives were torn in two.
Even if we were tiny infants, God’s action in baptism tore our lives into
the before and the after.
Before, when we could have lived self-sufficient, thinking only of ourselves.
And After, when we can only live as servants, to God and to all God’s children;
After, when we must love because we are Beloved.
It’s love that made the students at Faith Christian School do what they did.
It’s love that has helped you, as individuals and as Epiphany Church,
share the love of God with others –
even, especially, with those whom most people call losers.
Because of our baptisms, you and I know that, in the eyes of God, there are no losers.
In the eyes of God, there are only winners.
There are only Beloved children of God.
Luke 2:1-20 & Isaiah 9:2-7
Christmas Day 2013
St. Paul’s Alexandria
The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales
In the hour of their darkest need, their father prepared for them a gift.
They were three children — 13, 10, and 9 — whose hearts had been broken. In the first week of learning to live without their mother, their father breathed into being a plan.
It would cost more than he could count, but he did not count the expense, and simply proceeded with his design. Months went by, long months of waiting, and one day, there it was.
The children looked up, and down came their gift — delivered by a helicopter that whirled away as swiftly as it had arrived. Enchanted by mystery, they gathered around a sarcophagus, gasping at its jeweled eyes and fingering its golden hieroglyphics. When they pried open the treasure, they found the one thing in the world that would save them.
They found a grandmother.
It was Timothy, the youngest, who twisted the key that set the body to humming and whirring. Agatha, the middle child, took a turn, and then Tom, the eldest. And suddenly, each child remembered the brochures that had dotted their father’s dresser for months, the ones that proclaimed: “I sing the body electric!”
The Electric Grandmother opened her eyes. And the children, who had sat in darkness for too long, saw a great light. “She was born!” Tom would exclaim years later. “She was born!”
* * *
Today we celebrate our Father’s greatest gift — born, born! — in the hour of humanity’s darkest need. There is no comparison, of course, except through the gift of imagination — for a mystery as big as Incarnation cries out for contemplation, not by theory or reason or calculation, but by story.
The poet T.S. Eliot calls the mystery of Incarnation “the hint half guessed, the gift half understood.” So let’s see if a story can give us a hint, bring us closer to halfway understanding.
If you know the story by my favorite science-fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, you know that the grandmother’s coming was just the beginning. You know that months before she was born, she was made-to-order at a company called Fantoccini — Italian for shadow puppets, or maybe dream people. From a far, electronic deep, she was given a good, warm, soft voice. She had to be not so bony that she’d cut the children to the quick, nor so plump that they’d feel sunk in her embrace. Her hands passing the potatoes or brushing fevered brows had to be not marble-cold or oven-hot but something in between. Her hair — well, enough to say that every small detail was chosen to entice, delight, beguile the ones for whom she was made.
And yet. And yet, Agatha, after the initial excitement, pulled back. Agatha ran. Agatha resisted. Agatha refused. Grandmother simply . . . waited, all the while feeding, helping with homework, braiding hair, mending clothes. Grandmother, whose memory safely stored all they said and did, kept on giving love.
“Love!” said the father, his face shadowed as he peered into electronic almost-eyes. “But . . .but woman, you’re not IN there.”
A beat, two beats, then her reply: “No, but you are. Everything YOU, all of you, are is in here. And though the debate may run another hundred thousand years, ‘What is love?’, perhaps we may find that love is the ability of someone to give us back to ourselves,
just a trifle better than we had dared to hope or dream. . . .
“If paying attention is love, I am love.
If knowing is love, I am love.
If helping you not to fall into error and to be good is love, I am love.”
How she convinced even Agatha of that love — and at what cost — is a story Bradbury tells better than I can, and I hope you’ll give yourself the gift of reading “I Sing the Body Electric.”
For now, let it be said that the Electric Grandmother, who came to them in deep darkness, promised to be with them always. And was.
* * *
And so we come to the day we have been waiting for, when Love is born, born!, anew.
Not made-to-order, to our specifications, but
“Of the Father’s love begotten.”
Today, we sing the body human.
Jesus, the babe of Bethlehem — God in human flesh —
came down from heaven
to teach us how to love,
to help us to be human.
“The hint half guessed, the gift half understood” is wholly given,
given despite the cost,
again and again.
He came in humanity’s hour of darkest need,
and, dear God, aren’t we still in that hour?
Though light shines in the darkness and, I firmly believe,
the darkness cannot overcome,
the headlines from Syria and South Sudan and Southeast Washington
remind us that God’s children still need to be saved.
Our participation in saving them will somehow save us, and,
Dear God, WE need to be saved.
So here is the good news of the Christmas gospel.
To us, to YOU, is born this day a SAVIOR.
Pay attention to him, for that is love.
Know him, and know his suffering children, for that is love.
Be good, for you are made for goodness,
Above all, be human, as he taught us to be human.
In the name of Jesus, become the love of God in human flesh — your flesh.
Become the love, the light this dark world needs —
the hint half guessed, the gift half understood.
Be the Incarnation, this Christmas day and every day. Amen.
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes Chapel -1/11/11 (reworked as intergenerational sermon 1/12/14)
Life of the Beloved
The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales
“Come to the water!” John the Baptist cried. “Come wash away your mistakes; come get clean; come back to God.” And people did. People stepped into the water, went down into the water, and came out changed.
I don’t know why Jesus came to the water that day. I have an idea, but I want to come back to it later. First, I want to tell you about . . . a football game. Now, you might be thinking, what does a football game have to do with a story about baptism? After you hear it, I hope you’ll understand. Because this was no ordinary football game.
On a crisp November day in the city of Grapevine, Texas, two teams were facing off – the Lions against the Tornados. Both names sound pretty ferocious, don’t they? But these two teams were not evenly matched. The Lions, from Faith Christian School – a school a lot like ours – had 70 players, eleven coaches, the latest equipment, and lots of parent volunteers. The Lions had won 7 games and lost 2.
The Tornados, on the other hand, were Oh and 8 – meaning they had lost eight games and won exactly . . . none. Their 14 players wore old, beat-up pad and helmets. No parents came to their games. Instead, they were taken to the locker room by 12 security guards who took off their handcuffs before the opening whistle. They went to a high school that was also a prison, and all of the players were there because they had made serious mistakes. Most people thought they were losers.
But a few weeks before the game, the Lions’ head coach had an idea. What if, just for one night, half of the Faith Lions’ fans cheered for the players on the OTHER team? The idea caught his students’ imagination. And so, when the Gainesville Tornados took the field that November night, they crashed through a banner made by Lions fans that read, “Go Tornados!” They were surprised, as you might imagine, but even more surprised when they heard 200 people on the bleachers behind them, cheering for them by name, rooting for them as if they were the most important people on earth.
At the end of the game, the Tornados practically danced off the field, with their fingers pointing in the air, #1. They gave their coach his first Gatorade dunking ever. They climbed back onto their bus in high spirits. You might guess that the Tornados had won the game. Actually, the scoreboard showed that the victory went to the Lions. But those guys with their #1 fingers in the air actually had it right. They knew – perhaps for the very first time – that they were winners. They had been drenched, soaked, bathed, showered with love. Perhaps, for the very first time, they knew that they were Beloved.
***When Jesus went down into the water that day at the Jordan, he wasn’t washing away his mistakes. Jesus, we believe, was perfect and without sin. But he went down into that water to show that he belonged to the human family, that he was willing to be one of us. In a way, we could say that he was rooting for the other team.
So when Jesus heard the voice that called him “my son, the Beloved,” the voice was not only for him. It was also for us. We are all drenched, soaked, bathed, showered with love as children of God. And that love is too strong to keep to ourselves.
It’s that love that made the students at Faith Christian School do what they did. It’s that love that will help you, whatever faith you follow, share the love of God with others, especially with those whom most people would call losers. Because you and I know that, in the eyes of God, there are no losers. In the eyes of God, there are only winners. There are only Beloved children of God.
Celebration of Space Exploration – 1/7/14
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School (with communion)
The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales
If you happened to look up at the sky last night, you might have noticed an especially bright object. I was watching it all through our Christmas break, and wondering if this dazzling star had a name. It made me curious and excited my imagination. Could it be, I thought, something like the “wild star” that the wise men followed 20 centuries ago – the one that led to Bethlehem?
It turns out that what we’ve been seeing in the winter sky isn’t a star at all – it’s the planet Jupiter, a planet as big as 1,000 Earths rolled together. The largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter is the closest this week that it will be all year – “only” 391 million miles away. I know all this because wise men and women study the heavenly bodies, the way the magi did so long ago. These scientists know the names of every star, and where each one will be at what time of year. Unlike the magi, they put all this wonderful information on the Internet for you and me.
People have always been fascinated with the skies, and long before the time of the Magi, ancient astronomers learned to predict their movements. That’s why those wise men we remember today knew there was something strange afoot when they spotted a star they had never seen before — something so unusual that they had to follow it and see where it would lead. As we also heard today, it led them to a Child.
Today, we remember the magi. But this is also a day when some churches commemorate other star followers, other explorers of outer space. You see, science – like knowing the paths of the stars and planets — and mystery – like imagining what that great light could be — are not so far apart. Knowledge and mystery are like two sides of a coin, two gifts given by the same God.
Long before you were born, back when I was a teenager, curious star followers landed on the moon for the first time. The words everyone remembers were spoken by Neil Armstrong, who said as he set foot on the surface: “One small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind.”
But here are the words that his partner, Buzz Aldrin, spoke: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
With those words from the communion service, Aldrin opened two little plastic packages given to him by his Texas church. Into a tiny silver chalice, he poured wine from a vial about the size of his finger tip. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully crawled up the side of the cup. Aldrin remembers: “I ate the tiny host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility [on the moon]. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the [bread and wine of] communion.”
Interesting, indeed. The fruit of the earth — the earth on which Jesus Christ was pleased to dwell as one of us – came with the first earthlings to walk the surface of another heavenly body. The earth-stuff that in Jesus’ hands became food for our souls as well as our bodies had soared beyond the limits of earth, and nourished the spirit of an explorer of outer space.
It was not only outer space, of course, that Buzz Aldrin was exploring. It was also inner space – the mysterious space within each of us where the presence of God abides. It’s that presence that gives us the curiosity, the courage, and the commitment to explore uncharted paths, to learn new things, to take new risks. It’s that presence that the Magi sought, and that we seek when we follow any star.
As we begin a new season of learning and growing, may you follow your star. Through knowledge and mystery, may you come to know God. Amen.
One day, I’m going to create a blog around preaching with children and post my sermons there. I take them very seriously — it’s not a light thing we do. If you are reading this because you’re drawn to the Godly Play theme of this blog, you already know that!
To begin, I’m going to post here some “how-to’s” — purely subjective (especially my aversion to puppets) and mostly derived from my Godly Play experience.
As a chaplain serving a lower school (grades Jr. K to 5) for the past 6 years, and as a parish priest, Sunday School volunteer, and parent over the years, I believe I can offer some guidance.
The following originated as a message to a seminarian who asked my advice:
Ah, the children’s sermon . . . Everyone has to do it, and no one teaches you how!! one of these days I will teach a course, since no homiletics professor I know considers it a subject worthy of their time.
I am no expert, but I do preach with children every week at school, and about once a month at church.
Notice that I saw “preach with,” because I just don’t like the sound of “preach to.” I use the same language about adult sermons. It is a two-way conversation, a dialogue, even if only one person is speaking out loud.
So . . . a few do’s and don’ts:
DO preach short (I print mine on one side of a single sheet, in two columns, landscape style, single spaced — this creates a sheet you can fold in half and tuck into a prayerbook.)
DO preach with as few notes as you can. As noted above, I do prepare a manuscript. It’s a necessary part of the process for me. When possible, I preach without text. But when using the manuscript, I know it well enough that it’s really a prop and most of the time, my eyes are on the congregation. If you are a Godly Play practitioner, you are well prepared for speaking from the heart. MORE IMPORTANT than whether you use notes or not is whether you love what you’re saying and convey it in a way that shows you love the children, and that God loves us all.
DO strive for something that is accessible to the children BUT also contains food for the adults. This is critical and helps prevent talking down to the children. (Sometimes the children’s sermon is the only sermon at a particular service. Sometimes a preacher will finish talking with the children and then preach the “real” sermon. Needless to say, I hate that approach.)
DO smile 🙂 not that I have to tell you that.
DO your usual exegesis! Many people believe they can find a children’s sermon in a book because a) they are out of ideas, 2) they are afraid of children or 3) they do not think that study is worth their time for “just a children’s sermon.” I know this because I worked at a seminary library, and every Saturday some student would come in asking for a book they could use for a children’s sermon *the next day.* 😦 Just as in an adult sermon, you will not “show your work” in your sermon, but you will have something to say if you engage the text in a serious way.
DO tell stories! Either from your own experience or from a book or movie the children know.
DO use an object(s) if they help you make a point. Do not feel that you MUST have something to show (a la the “brown bag” sermon schtick) — but children are fascinated by something as simple as pouring water from a pitcher into a bowl, or using a cornucopia filled with familiar and strange fruits/vegetables to talk about God’s generosity.
ask the children questions in front of the congregation. I know, I know, this is what many people expect. It puts children on the spot. It encourages them to be entertaining, to get a laugh; or it embarrasses them and discourages them from sharing their thoughts. Either way is IMHO disrespectful. Resist the people who want the children to say “cute” things for the benefit of the adults. No one expects adults to share their responses to the gospel out loud in front of their peers. Also, It can also be hard to regain control once the competition to answer begins.
(An exception is to ask a question that everybody knows the answer to and can say together, like “what happened in Haiti last year?” or “what holiday is coming?”
DON’T tower above them if they are sitting up front in the chancel. Sit with them. If the adults can’t see you, that’s OK. (Personally I prefer to have the children stay with their parents — it discourages the kind of “performance” mentality described above.
DON’T call them “kids” or “kiddies.” Not that you would. I have a personal distaste for “boys and girls” which I can’t quite explain.
DON’T necessarily end with a moral. One of the homiletics gurus who dismissed my request that he cover children’s sermons replied that all children need is a moral. NOOOOOO – they need stories with which they can make their own meaning. This doesn’t mean that you don’t interpret the lesson for them. But pat answers and platitudes are not what children need.
DON’T use puppets if you can help it. Again, just a personal bias 🙂 Puppets creep me out.
You can tell I’ve heard a lot of bad, and good, children’s sermons. I am sure I’ve preached my share of bad ones, but I always strive to do better.
Jeez, I thought I didn’t have much to say. In summary avoid the canned crap and treat the children and the text with the same respect you would give their parents and grandparents. If you love God, the scripture, and the children, they will know it. YOU WILL DO GREAT!!