By the Rev. Darren Miner
Years ago, when my cousin Leah was three or four years old, my mother was babysitting her. And Leah noticed a Snickers bar on the counter. She asked if she could have it. My mother explained that it was the last candy bar and that she would split the bar 50/50 with her, each getting exactly half. Now, my mother wasn’t about to hand a paring knife to a child. Instead, she took the knife and asked Leah to point to the exact middle of the candy bar. She said she would cut where Leah pointed. Now, the bar was about five inches long, but Leah pointed about half an inch from one end. My mother asked her, “Leah, are you sure that is the middle, that both halves are exactly the same size?” Leah nodded. Then my mother cut the bar at that point and quickly snatched the larger piece. Leah cried, but she learned a lesson about greed. Now, this story of my cousin is charming, but it is also instructive: we learn that greed infects us early on!
A sermon preached by Christopher L. Webber at the Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco, on July 20, 2016.
Years ago we had a quiet day at the church where I was serving. We had a member of the Order of the Holy Cross to lead us and her theme was prayer and she told us a story I still remember. She said she had been re-assigned at some point by her order to another convent and it was quite a while before she saw some of her friends again. Then she happened to be at a meeting where there was one member of the order whom she hadn’t seen in quite a while and they greeted each other warmly and the nun who was telling the story said, she began by saying: “Oh, it’s so good to see you you look wonderful, I’m sorry I haven’t made more of an effort to keep in touch but I do appreciate the Christmas card you sent. And listen, now that you’re here, I wonder whether you can do something for me . . .” And she told us that she stopped at that point because she suddenly realized that she was going through the basic forms of prayer.
One handy way of remembering the various forms of prayer is a mnemonic device: the word ACTS – a-c-t-s – ACTS. There are four basic types of prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. She had used them all: Adoration: “You look wonderful.” Confession: “I’m sorry I haven’t kept in touch.” Thanksgiving: “Thanks for the card. And Supplication: “Could you do something for me.?”
So that’s a full life of prayer and I wonder how many Christians have that full a prayer life. I’m sure lots of people get the “S” word taken care of: supplicating, asking God for things. We get in a mess and we cry for help. And that’s OK, that’s the S word, supplication, and we ought to use it. We need help, we know God can help, so we pray.
But I wonder how many ever get beyond supplication: asking for something for ourselves or for others. Prayer often does begin that way and that’s alright, but it’s only a beginning and it’s not a very complete relationship. We all begin there. We begin there with all our relationships. A baby is hungry and cries for milk. That’s basic. But as we grow, we get more sophisticated in our inter-personal relationships. We learn about the C word: confession. Somewhere along the line, we get taught to “Tell your brother you’re sorry you kicked him.” So we learn, reluctantly, about confession.
By the Rev. Darren Miner
On April 25, 1993, Mathew and I attended the LGBT March on Washington. That Sunday, we worshiped at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square, the so-called “church of the presidents.” Some 800,000 people were gathered right outside the doors of that church. Yet, the preacher never once mentioned the event. And the only hint that anything was going on outside was in the Prayers of the People, where there was a brief intercession for “those who struggle for justice.” I left dismayed and disappointed by that particular Episcopal church. While today’s sermon is not exactly a Pride Day homily, I don’t intend to repeat the mistake of that preacher in 1993. About one million people will line Market Street today to celebrate Pride Day. This celebration will remember the advances made in the 47 years since Stonewall, as well as the tragedies along the way, such as the massacre just two weeks ago in Orlando. Undoubtedly, there will be a continuing reminder that the AIDS epidemic is still with us. I am proud to say that our bishop will be marching in the parade, and Episcopalians will be marching alongside other Christians to spread the message that God’s love is more inclusive than we can even imagine.
But enough about Pride Day! Let’s take a look at today’s scriptures. The reading from First Kings is about the calling of Elisha to be an apprentice prophet. It’s helpful to recall the context. Elijah was tired to the point of despair, and he had been sentenced in absentia to death. So, he sat down under a tree and prayed for a swift and painless release from life. Instead, God gave him a mission: first to anoint new kings for Israel and Aram, and then to anoint a successor for himself. Elijah obeyed…sort of! Instead of anointing the two kings, he sought out his successor first and ordained him as his apprentice by placing his cloak over him. The anointing of the two kings would have to wait—for Elijah needed his helper!
By the Rev. Darren Miner
I don’t know about you, but my heart is still broken by the massacre in Orlando. I hear stories about a man who sang in a Gospel choir, another man who worked in a local blood bank, two men who faithfully served their country in the Army Reserves, an 18-year-old woman who graduated high school just the week before her murder…. The list goes on. Good people died, and the nations mourns. But the nation does not unite. Yes, after September 11 some 15 years ago, the nation did unite for a time. But not now.
Recently, a county commissioner in Alabama defied the proclamation of the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces to lower the flag in mourning. Why? Because he thinks that to mourn is to be weak. On an Episcopal Church blog, a man refuses to pray for the President of the United States by name, because he just can’t stand Barack Obama. Another person on that same religious blog criticizes a litany against gun violence (not against gun ownership, mind you, but against gun violence!), because if God fulfilled the prayer he might have to give up his guns. Democrats look at the massacre in Orlando and see a case of domestic gun violence by a mentally unstable man. Republicans look at that same massacre and see foreign terrorism at work. And so they defy each other and block any real change. The truth, of course, as it often is, is lost somewhere in the middle.
Why, you may well ask, do I bring up all this mess at church? What on earth does it have to do with the lectionary readings? Well, let’s look at those readings.
A Sunset Music | Arts and Verismo Opera joint presentation.
Enjoy a comedic romp through Gianni Schicchi with a cunning con artist that tricks the greedy Donati family who are fighting over their dying relative’s estate. Laugh and weep with Canio, the clown, over the tragedy of a love triangle in Pagliacci. Both operas are full of gorgeous and well-known music, such as: O mio babbino caro and Vesti la giubba (the clown who cries behind his makeup).
Date & Time: Saturday June 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Venue: Incarnation Episcopal Church, 1750 29th Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94122
Tickets: $25 General, $20 Seniors/Students
Limited Seating. Reserve your tickets online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/opera-double-bill-pagliacci-and-gianni-schicchi-tickets-25448481092
For additional information visit http://sunsetarts.wordpress.com or call (415) 564-2324
By the Rev. Darren Miner
If you’re very keen-eyed, you may have noticed that our lectionary inserts now say “Track 2,” instead of “Track 1.” The difference between the two tracks is that in Track 2, the Old Testament readings during Ordinary Time are chosen to complement the Gospel reading, while in Track 1, the Old Testament readings have no connection at all with the Gospel reading. Today, the Old Testament reading and the Gospel reading not only complement each other, they look like carbon copies. Each is the story of the resuscitation of a widow’s only son. But there are differences, and these differences are significant.
In First Kings, Elijah, as you may recall, is a refugee in the town of Zarepath, in the Gentile kingdom of Phoenicia. He is abiding with a widow and her son. When he arrived at their door, he found them starving due to a drought. Having been promised that God would provide, the woman fed Elijah with the last of her food. God rewarded her generosity by providing a miraculous never-ending supply of flour and olive oil. All seemed well. Then disaster strikes. The woman’s only son dies. This would be a tragedy in any culture. But it was even more so in ancient Israel. A widow with no male heir lost all her property to her husband’s family. And unless her deceased husband had a brother who was willing to marry her, she would be homeless and destitute. In a real sense, the death of the woman’s son was her death sentence as well.
The widow of Zarepath accuses Elijah and his God. (Now I say “his God,” because the woman was most probably a Gentile worshiper of Baal.) Elijah is a bit panicked. And he too accuses God of a betrayal. But he conquers his doubt and performs an action that could be considered either a prophetic sign, a medical procedure, or a magical rite. He covers the body of the dead child three times with his own body, all the time praying to God to revive the boy. And God shows mercy and returns the child to life. This is the first resuscitation story.
By the Rev. Darren Miner
We finding ourselves nearing the end of Eastertide. Just two more weeks to go. This coming Thursday is Ascension Day, when the Church commemorates the final farewell of the Risen Christ. The feast of Pentecost is on the 15th, when we will commemorate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. Today, it seems, we are meant to look ahead to these two events and to prepare. I suppose that’s why the editors of the lectionary offer a Gospel reading from the farewell discourse at the Last Supper. Because, in this brief excerpt from that long discourse, Jesus tries to prepare his original disciples for his imminent departure from this world and for the sending of the Holy Spirit.
Inexplicably, the editors of the lectionary have omitted the question which prefaces today’s Gospel reading: “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” For Jesus had just stated that in a little while the world would no longer see him, but his disciples would see him. As Jesus is wont to do, he offers a response to a question that is not exactly an answer: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Now, he could have just explained that he had been talking about his future Resurrection appearances to the faithful. But instead of answering Judas’ question, Jesus says what he thinks needs to be said. He asks his closest disciples to keep his word, to follow his teachings, to be obedient to his commandments—in short, to stand by him, even when he is gone.
Jesus puts before his disciples a test of their faithfulness: if they love him, they will show it by following the love ethic at the heart of his every word and action. They will love God. The will love their brothers and sisters in Christ. They will love the stranger. They will even love their enemy. Now, by love, Jesus didn’t mean affection. Love for Jesus was less of an emotion and more of an action. You show your love when you feed the hungry. You show your love when you visit the sick. You show your love when you acknowledge the homeless beggar, even if you can’t spare a dime. You show your love when you come to church week after week, even when you feel exhausted. And last but not least, you show your love when you vote for a leader who cares about the weak and welcomes the refugee.