I’m Alvin Moseberry and if we have not had the pleasure of meeting, allow me to introduce myself; My wife, who is a member of the Choir and I have attended Epiphany Parish for over five years; We found this lovely place, on the recommendation of a friend who grew up with a previous Associate Rector, Kate Wesch; I majored in Theology in Undergraduate, so of course, in the long tradition of Philosophy, liberal arts and indeed Theology majors … I’m a bartender… I still deal in matters of Spirit… and most importantly, hospitality, but we will talk more about that another time. I have two children with whom I usually attend the Guided Liturgy for families, a lovely opportunity to worship with and serve our youngest fellow travelers and their handlers but I’m happy to talk to adults for a change! I serve our Rector, Doyt and broader community as a member of the Vestry.
Community! How treasured a resource… especially now that we’ve universally experienced the hunger pangs for connection this Pandemic has afflicted us with. Here at Epiphany, relationship is primary, first and foremost with our Creator and, in turn, with creation so the question is how do we relate? On its face, it seems silly to consider something we have done and will do every day of our lives, but as a practical matter, we all know, we need to do better!
Everybody Wants to Rule the World! (I once heard that on the radio) Everyone wants authority and to get it, we often sacrifice authenticity. Culturally, we perceive vulnerability as weakness, so it makes sense that we trade in artifice all the time; it’s safer to do so. One of my first classes in college began with my professor inviting the class to open our bibles to the Pauline epistles and let her know when we were ready to read. I could not find the Pauline epistles; in my mind, no one named Pauline wrote anything in the Bible. The Pauline epistles are the thirteen letters attributed to the Apostle Paul in the New Testament (4 Years and Thousands of dollars earned me that knowledge) but on day one of my college education I feared raising my hand would expose me as ignorant or unprepared. Something so simple as asking for help put me at the crossroads of authority and authenticity and do you know what I did? I did what every student does in such situations, I silently looked busy and went to the same spot in the bible my classmate sitting next to me found, the book of Isaiah! Soon, another, more self-assured colleague raised his hand and asked where he could find the Pauline Epistles and was thanked by the professor for being willing to ask the question clearly every student wanted to know. She invited us to accept an object lesson on the power of vulnerability. By putting aside vanity and embracing authenticity, space opened for our class to move forward with the days lesson & the professor assured us vulnerability and authenticity would open space for the witness of Christ not only in our classroom yet moreover in our personal lives, our Churches and the World.
In today’s reading from the Pauline epistle to the believers in Corinth we find the Apostle Paul expressing a truth fundamental to who we are as a community: We are saved by God’s grace though faith. Paul goes on to recount many witness’ to the resurrected Christ as proof of the Truth, including himself; further he acknowledges that he may not be a universally trusted source. Paul persecuted the early church. He saw them as religious apostates and even involved himself in trying to eliminate them; and so, Paul knew he could not make withdrawals or demands of his friends in Corinth without showing proof of deposits. Paul proffers that his being a witness to the risen Christ shows that as the old timers say: “The Lawd Works in mysterious ways”. Essentially, Paul puts forward that one knows that this is God’s grace at work, because why would God choose him; someone who has sinned against the church, to spread the good news of Salvation! Later in 2nd Corinthians Paul eloquently holds that we believers hold this treasure (the good news) in earthen vessels to show that real power is from God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7). (Our Frailty is the Point) Paul didn’t invoke his credentials for authority and say, I saw Jesus and you didn’t, so do as I say, instead he acknowledged that authority is God given and no one, even he, a man gifted faith by grace encountering him on the road to Damascus, has any elevated purchase or standing. By acknowledging his shortcomings; that he rejected the powerful testimony of his fellow travelers of the way, Paul presents another object lesson: That owning up to who you are and what you have done, shows respect for yourself and the people you’re in relationship with. Paul literally drops the Popeye line, “I am what I am” but that’s not Paul saying: “it is what it is, get over it”. Its Paul acknowledging the elephant in the room. It’s Paul keeping it Real. Being the father of a toddler, I thank the Lord for Daniel Tiger. A slimmed down reboot of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood on PBS, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood has not only entertained my children but offers me at least 10 minutes of quiet every day. Importantly, DTN has partnered with me instilling timeless lessons and sage advice in the form of catchy songs and jingles. I love a catchy tune! A great one in Daniel Tigers Neighborhood is “saying I’m sorry, is the first step; then how can I help”. Contrition is the price of admission in a respectful relationship. Indeed, from Authenticity & humility springs the authority and respect we all seek. It’s the way of the cross.
In today’s gospel reading, we leap into a tumultuous moment; Earlier in John’s narrative we see a plot against Jesus gaining steam: The Chief priests and Pharisees are plotting to murder Jesus and Lazarus, who Jesus raised from the dead. The text explains that at the heart of the religious community’s unhappiness with Jesus was not merely the miracle itself, but the strong following Christ began to command because of it. This was an antiquated example of a modern phenomenon: Jesus was despised for having a strong and growing social media following; Twitter Beef, as the kids may say (I’m sure that term is out of style; because I know it!). More galling, Judas, earlier in the chapter presages his betrayal by chastising Lazarus’ sister for lavishing costly perfume on Jesus, the man who Lazarus just saw physically save her brothers’ life. After witnessing or hearing testimony of countless signs and miracles from walking on water, to feeding five thousand people from a child’s lunch box, to reanimating life in a man dead and buried, Judas still did not recognize the presence of the Lord; so, showing his true colors, he groused about money (Other people’s money by the way) and how they choose to utilize it. This behavior is so widespread today we have entire magazines, tv shows and podcast devoted to it. How does Christ respond as the plot literally thickens? By encouraging his disciples and followers to consider eternal principles; That there is life after death! That he’s willing to sacrifice! That he sees the big picture; Relationship requires sacrifice. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” The way of the cross. Its not some Star Wars Obi-Wan Kenobi “strike me down; I’ll return more powerful than you can imagine” fantasy. It’s not some machismo, “come at me bro”, immature approach to a dangerous situation. It was and is a challenge to the people of God to remain focused on the truth, that God’s grace is for all creation and is freely given, even to those who despise you. If God loves all, who am I allowed to loathe. Forgiveness and sacrifice is not easy or particularly valued by our culture (In fact, it’s often mocked: “don’t be a martyr”/”why would you fall on your own sword?”). But the promise of the way of the Cross is that “going high when they go low” will bear fruit! Acknowledging the love that God has for everyone we encounter will demand a deposit but the promise of the way of the cross is that it will reap a harvest. What would it look like if the church took that posture today? What would we be required to sacrifice to show a skeptical world God’s Grace?
Last week, I drove home from Los Angeles to Capitol Hill here in Seattle. A thousand-mile drive is tedious and when one commits to such an undertaking, alone, it affords them time for reflection, solitude, solace and an excuse to indulge in a few guilty pleasures; In-N-Out burger, Sour Peach Ring gummy candies & Yacht Rock. Yacht Rock is newly defined soft-rock category comprised of passionate and soulful songs of the late 70’s and early 80’s. I am so enamored with this cheesy sub-genre that I’ve compiled my own playlist or digital mixtape of hundreds of tracks perfect for a thousand-mile sing-along. Sing-a-long I did, especially to one song I’ve loved my entire life; Billy Joel’s proud declaration of independence; “My Life”. In the song Mr. Joel proclaims: “I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life… Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone.” He continues “I still belong, don’t get me wrong, you can speak your mind, but not on my time”. It feels good to tell someone off; As Americans, we love this! We celebrate individualism and (in a vacuum) we imagine that we are not subject to any interrogation. Yet while belting out this tune in shower grade perfect pitch, I could not help but wonder, who would I ever sing this to? Of course, I thought of my parents whose advice often went in one ear and out the other & I somehow believed that because deep down, I meant them no disrespect; like Billy Joel, I still belonged to my family, so my attitude and its dissolution of real relationship did not matter. As a parent I now get to experience the business end of Billy Joel’s attitude towards authority, and I must admit having one’s authority questioned does not feel as good and questioning authority. At the heart of the song is a tragedy. I hear a family unable to reconcile the dissonance between love they share and their disappointment in one another. One party is ready to quit; To take his ball and go home. Yet, if it is as it were for the Apostle Paul, that we can be sure that “Neither death, life, angels, principalities, things present, things to come, any powers, heights, depths or any other created thing can separate us from the love of God” (Rom. 8:38), then who are we to let hurt, resentments fake news and misunderstandings cause us to slack in our calling to share that love even to those we feel are undeserving.