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Archive for August, 2016

Our Treasures

Pentecost 12, Proper 14

August 7, 2016

Luke 12:32-40

The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman

Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you God’s reign.  Sell you possessions, and give alms.  Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasurer us, there you heart will be also.

Yesterday, I attended a Memorial Eucharist in thanksgiving for the life of John Anders Jensen.  I met John when I was serving at Christ Church, Needham.  I was newly ordained and this was my first call.  Christ Church is one of the cathedral (aka large) parishes of the Diocese.  It was an excellent place to begin my ministry as I got a chance to experience everything I was have to know as a priest. 

 John served as a verger and sung in the choir, John was always there as a pastoral presence, teacher and mentor during my early priest years. During subsequent visits to the parish to attend events and funerals. John and I always shared a laugh and a prayer.  There was a friend of his who gave one of the remembrances who said “we are not called to cry about the end of the good times but to smile that we had them” 

 Last week I preached about our connection with our stuff.  This week Jesus is asking again about our treasurers.  Where are our heart and our treasures located?  What are those fond memories that call our heart to sing, not to cry when we think about them. What matters most in your life?  Your retirement, items in your safety deposit box, you job, your car, your family, your title?  Only you can know what is important to you.   The thing is that we cannot take any of our earthly possessions with us when “our number is up”.

 My friend Angela recently shared this with me.  She was out shopping for a few things with her husband.  They had a quick, cheerful exchange with a woman in the aisle.  As they were trying to go past her in the opposite direction, after skirting around an employee with a stocking cart partially blocking the aisle.  The woman turned to them as said “You’re Christians, will you please pray for me? I’m having a hard time”.  Then she proceeded to break down into sobs.

 As my friend and her husband tended to her, she was aware that they were both wearing the sign of the cross on their necklaces and that is why the woman made the request.

 Here’s the kicker, Angela just bought her necklace that morning.

 We have always been told that God puts people in places at the right time for the right reason.  Angela and her husband were part of that message not just wearing the symbols.  They acted in faith, not just for themselves, but for others.  They didn’t judge her for who she maybe supporting in the upcoming Presidential election.  They didn’t judge her for what she was wearing.  They didn’t judge her for where she lived or where she went to school or what her profession was.  At that moment this woman need hope and somebody to care.  As my former Episcopal Divinity School Professor and now Dean of Berkley Seminary at Yale, The Rev. Dr. Andrew McGowan has said “there is something about the human condition that needs God.  Let me repeat “there is something about the human condition that needs God”.

 If the stock guy hadn’t been blocking the aisle, Angela and her husband would have never have had that encounter.  At the moment they were not symbol wearers but they were symbol “doers”.

 We come to church not only to be in communion with one another but every week we need to be reminded we need to practice what we want to become.  To practice and pray about where God is calling us and where God is guiding us to God’s treasurer for us.  To be ready for that wedding banquet.  We come to practice and be ready at all times to exercise love and kindness to others.

 When Jesus talks about storing up treasure. He is not talking about a heavenly bank where we can go to, and fill out a deposit slip and deposit our good works and make a withdrawal when needed.  But if we continue to live out the Gospel here on earth like my late friend John and my friend and her husband.  We will be moved by our hearts and not moved by our stuff.  This takes practice.  This takes reminders.  This is why we come to give thanks and to open our hearts and minds to those treasurers that Jesus is calling us to.  Our earthly bank may not be filled will all the money in the world but our heavenly banks are filled with those deposits that will fill us with gratitude. 

I am going to end with the well-known call and response.

God is Good:  All the time

All the time: God is Good




We Will with God’s Help

IMG_0762Sermon, July 31, 2016 Pentecost 11, Proper 13

Gospel: Luke 12:13-21

The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman

St. James Episcopal Church, Somerville MA

There is a story I heard when I first moved to Cambridge.  I use this story when leading retreats on Addiction and Spirituality.

Frank, begins his story this way. “I looked out over my horse farm in Dover, and said to myself, I want to be abandoned by my family and I want to be homeless.  I want to drink and use myself so far into oblivion that my home is sleeping in door alcoves and alley ways in the Combat Zone is Boston’s Chinatown”.

A man who had it all a lucrative job in finance, a horse farm, a BMW and Mercedes, a wife, two kids.  All the outside treasurers’ one could ask for, and yet he ended up homeless.  He speaks about thinking that as long as he had the “trappings” he was ok, he wasn’t that bad.  He had money in the bank and thought he would always be able to pull it together.  Even in the depths of his addiction while he would see his former co-workers in the financial district walked by him, he thought, I am going to get it together.   My wife will take me back, I will be able to sleep in the big bed again and my children will trust and respect me again.  At no time he says did it ever occur to him that he actually needed to stop drinking and drugging.  If things got better he would certainly be able to “control” his drinking and drugging.  There is a line in the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book that goes like this “if you had my problems you would drink to”.

Now over 30 years sober he recalls his story as if it was yesterday.  An Episcopal priest, the late Father Neil Hastings, took him into his house.  He lived with Father Hastings family, his wife and his children.  He got a “sober” job, not a financial job, yet, but a job.  His real “work” became an inside job, not an outside job.  His relationship with a God of his understanding became his foundation and which he now stands to help others.  Yes, he got to go home again, but he looked deep inside his soul and while not making the money he made in the past, he is working where his heart is singing

The gospel reading for today is more commonly known as the “Parable of the Rich Fool”.   Someone asks Jesus to settle a property score.  In Jesus’ day property was handed over to the eldest son.  Remaining sons would receive only what the oldest would hand down, if anything at all.  Disputes were handled by the Rabbi’s.  It was thought that the Rabbi’s would be fair in their decision.  Jesus had developed a reputation for being fair and honest so he was called upon to settle this dispute.

Jesus in true Jesus form, turns the question on its head and ask in so many words and I paraphrase: “are we a sum total of our stuff?”

I for one like my stuff.  I remember as a child the worst possible punishment imaginable was to have television, phone and car privileges’ taken away.  Today, I like my internet, my cell phone, my I Pad, especially this past week I like the air-conditioning, my car, the ability to eat farm to table, my clothes, my extensive shoe collection.  Our stuff makes our surrounding comfortable, but the question is what feeds our soul?  What feeds the place where are feet are placed at this moment?  Where do we included our spiritual work in the world with our walk with Jesus?  That is the inside work that Frank speaks about.  That is the work that is not seen as we walk down the streets in our everyday life.

Jesus is calling us to do the inside work, not the outside work.  The outside work tells us to build larger barns to store up crops, (so everyone can see the fruits of our labor), the inside work tells us to be a witness in a world where racism, economic and food injustice prevail, where the 1% is making their 1% on the backs of the 99%, where people of color and our police fear for their lives.

Last Thursday night my husband and I went to a Solidarity Gathering for “Wellesley Stands Against Hate” sponsored by The World of Wellesley.  This comes in response to racist, homophobic, and anti-immigrant remarks made by several Wellesley High School Students during a Facebook group chat.  There are those in the community that we clearly outraged and want to be engaged in making Wellesley a safe community for all.  We who sit here this morning don’t have to be directly engaged with the goings on in Wellesley.  We just need to read, to watch, to hashtag to know that our call to justice, our call to worship is greater than the sum of all our stuff.

The Catholic Theologian, Dorothy Day wrote this: ”What we do is very little, but it is like the boy and with a few loaves and fishes: Christ took that little and increased it.  He will do the rest.  What we do is so little we may seem to be constantly failing, but so did Christ fail.  He met apparent failure on the cross.  But unless the seed fall into the earth and die, there is no harvest.  And why must we see the results? Our work is to sow.  Another generation will be reaping the harvest.

Dorothy Day sowed, Martin Luther King sowed, Ida B. Wells sowed with her anti-lynching campaign, Judge Wade McCree sowed when he became the first African-American appointed to the Circuit Court for Wayne County Michigan, Jackie Landry sowed when she became the first female Catholic Chaplain at Harvard, Professor Gale Yee, sowed when she became the first Asian female PhD in Hebrew Bible.  Bishop Barbara Harris sowed when she became the first female Bishop in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion, my own mother sowed when she became the first African-American female and the youngest to graduate from Pharmacy school at DIT.  And most recently Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton sowed to make America realize a dream that few of us could imagine a few years ago.

Where is Jesus calling you to plant?  Where is Jesus calling you to sow?  The list is long for there are so many things and places to sow seeds, in the world and closer to home in the City of Somerville and closer still in our church home.  I would invite you to read Mayor Joe Curtatone’s piece on the recent police and Black Lives Matter protests here in Somerville.

Where will our passions lead us?  What are you being called to do in the here and now?  What if God came to you this night and said that tonight your life is being demanded of you.  Could you uphold our Baptismal covenant to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.  Our response is: I will with God’s help.  In our current hate filled political climate, I need to be reminded as we all need to be reminded that complaincency is not an action word but sowing is, and we can do it “with God’s help”. Amen.