Thursday, September 27, 2007

Saint Michael and All Angels

St. Andrew's Episcopal School - Upper and Middle School Chapel

Genesis 28:10-17; Psalm 103:1, 19-22; John 1:47-51

Night night. Sleep tight. I’ll see you in the daylight.

So goes our nightly bedtime tuck-in with our six-year-old son.

Good night, Little Charlie. Sweet dreams and happy turnovers.

And then he pulls his covers up close over his shoulders, wraps his arms around his stuffed bear, and shuts his eyes…

I wonder what bedtime was like for Jacob that night, alone in the wilderness, a stone for a pillow and nothing but desert air and a starry sky for covers. Did he lie there awake, wishing for his childhood when his parents tucked him into a warm bed at night? Night night. Sleep tight… Did he lie awake, remembering old stories, all the times he and his brother Esau had, by the skin of their teeth, gotten away with all sorts of tricks and schemes? Most of them had been his idea… Or did he lie awake on the hard ground, his heart pounding, his every breath choked with conscience as his mind raced through the life-altering scheme he had just pulled off?

Just a few days earlier – or was it a lifetime ago? – Jacob had tricked his father into giving him the blessing and birthright that should have been Esau’s. Now Esau hated Jacob, says the storyteller in Genesis, and he vowed to take revenge by taking Jacob’s life. Jacob weaseled one final blessing out of his father and then took off through the desert, covering his deceptions with his dust.

He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. And did he lie awake, staring into the wilderness night, seeing nothing but his guilt and grief? Nope. He dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth… and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it…And God said to him, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…”

Well, good night, Little Jacob! Sweet dreams and happy turnovers! How is it that this scheming, manipulative, honor-code violating man gets to dream about angels while I – not a perfect saint, I know, but not a Jacob, either – I dream about fighting giant blobs of sticky goo with nothing but a yellow comb and Scooby-Doo at my side?

This remarkable story of this sweetest of dreams is always read on September 29, the Feast Day of St. Michael and All Angels. On that day, the ministry and mystery of angels is marked and celebrated. Our scriptures, as well as stories from other faith traditions, are filled with angels bringing messages, singing anthems, rescuing prisoners, warning of danger, guiding to safety, making promises, announcing wonders. They come by way of wings and dreams, but also sometimes by foot through the front door. And always, always, it seems, the first words out of their mouths are, Do not be afraid!

There’s not much to fear from the angels we see these days, drawn in soft pastels on greeting cards, glittering gold on a keychain, smiling, chubby little cherubs gracing coffee mugs and refrigerator magnets and even the packaging for bathroom tissue. These angels bear little resemblance to the divine beings who bring the glory of God so near the air itself trembles.

What do angels look like? The lower school students have been coloring pictures of angels in chapel class, and now the walls of the room where we meet are covered in hundreds and hundreds of them. Many of their faces reflect the different colors of our skin. Their robes reflect every color of the rainbow, some in combinations perhaps even heaven has not imagined. Some are holding crosses, or hearts, or birds, or swords. Some say things like Praise God or I love you. One actually says Boo! Do not be afraid…!

The truth is, most of us probably won’t dream sweet dreams of angel-laden ladders, and we won’t hear a heavenly choir sing (although ours perhaps comes close?) and we won’t ever see white feathers or gleaming halos. The Reverend Herbert O’Driscoll suggests that for most of us, “Angels’ wings and their glory are hidden, their voices are familiar and they speak of everyday things.” Just as Jacob dreamed of a way between heaven and earth filled with those through whom the presence of God is made known, so are we surrounded by that presence at all times and in all places. Every moment, every choice, every encounter we have with one another in this wide, wild world contains the possibility of encountering the presence of God in one another, of others encountering that presence in us. The air trembles around us. As Jacob said, How awesome is this place!

So how is it that Jacob dreamed his sweet dream? It turns out there’s not a single one of us, saint or sinner, to whom God is not willing to make the promise, Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go… And so our way through the wilderness is covered in hundreds of thousands of angels appearing in the faces of strangers, the smiles of friends, the comfort of cool breezes, the sudden and deep knowing that we are not alone and that we have what strength it takes… Surely God is in this place and we did not know it! How awesome is this place!

In the night and in the daylight, my friends, sweet dreams… Amen.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Proper 20C

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Crystal Springs; St. Matthew's, Forest

Amos 8:4-12; Psalm 138; 1 Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13

I must confess I often have a hard time remembering sermons – even the really good ones. But there is one sermon I will never forget, a sermon I heard now almost 20 years ago at a tiny little church in Charleston, South Carolina. I don’t remember the name of the church, or the name of the preacher, or the text he was preaching on. But I remember the sermon.

The preacher, apparently, was not originally from the south. On the last night of his long drive from somewhere far away to Charleston, he stayed at a Howard Johnson just off the interstate. The next morning, he grabbed his roadmap and notebook out of the car, and made his way to the hotel restaurant for breakfast.

He was seated in a booth, and the waitress told him about the specials as she poured him a cup of coffee. The preacher had a favorite breakfast, though, and so he placed his order: two scrambled eggs, bacon, toast with jelly.

When the waitress left, he spread his map across the table, and with a yellow pen traced the last leg of his journey to the South Carolina low country. In his notebook he checked the list of things he would need to do when he arrived in Charleston later that afternoon.

It didn’t take long for the waitress to return with his plate, and so he moved aside his maps and books to make room for his breakfast. When she asked if there was anything else he needed, the preacher glanced at his plate and saw the scrambled eggs still steaming, the strips of bacon glistening, the perfectly golden toast with little packets of mixed fruit jelly…and a pile of white stuff topped with a square of melted butter that had begun to drip down the sides.

“Um, I didn’t order this,” he told the waitress. “This white stuff. I didn’t order this. What is it?”

“Honey,” she told him, “that’s grits. It just comes.”

That’s grits. It just comes. The preacher learned that morning what we already know – when you order breakfast in the south, you don’t have to request grits. You have to request no grits. Otherwise, it just comes.

A lot of things in life just come with no warning, no explanation, no placing an order. Beautiful sunsets, happy birthdays, phone calls from distant friends – wonderful things that we weren’t expecting. But also car accidents, debilitating illnesses, devastating natural disasters – terrible things that we never expected.

That’s life. It just comes.

Even when we know it’s coming, even when we have a long time to prepare, to plan, to buckle up, to board up…even when we know it’s coming, life can turn our worlds upside down and inside out, and we are suddenly in a new place with no map to help us find our way.

This parable is listed among what many scholars call the “hard sayings” of Jesus, and several suggest this one is the hardest. Jesus seems to lead us onto new ground where dishonesty and deceitfulness are commended, hard work is dismissed, and wealth is lifted up as a means for ensuring one’s own future.

Surely the dishonest manager knew that his boss might catch him cooking the books one day, and that if he was caught he would be fired. He must have known what was coming. But no matter how we interpret what the manager did next, he was still acting dishonestly, at least to some degree. Some scholars try to redeem him a little by suggesting that the amount he deducted from the debtors’ bills may have been the amount of illegal interest charged by his boss. Or that the reduction may have been the amount of the manager’s own commission. Perhaps he simply calculated how much each debtor could afford to pay, and then cleared the balance. In any case, the debtors did not know that the manager no longer had the authority to make these decisions. The boss did not know that the manager was still being dishonest. The manager deceived everyone.

But in the standard twist-at-the-end-of-a-parable, the manager, too, was deceived. He did not get the mercy he was scheming for – he got more. Whether he deserved it or not, the manager would be in the good graces of the debtors, because he had reduced their bills. What was unexpected was that he landed, at least for the moment, in the good graces of the master as well, because he had acted shrewdly. The manager, whatever his motives, had wrangled accounts, had managed available financial resources, in such a way as to produce a win-win situation for everyone involved. The debtors would repay what they owed (or least some portion of it), and out of gratitude to the manager, would be sure to help him out in his unemployment. The boss would collect his outstanding debts, and would finally be free of the manager who had been dishonest in his dealings.

What on earth does this hardest parable mean? What did Jesus intend to teach us? Scholars are all over the map on this one – there are enough explanations to provide for a lifetime of sermons. This morning, though, let us reduce it to one.

I believe this hard saying from Jesus can remind us that grace comes at unexpected times and from unexpected places. From dishonest managers whose self-centered scheming ends up benefiting others as well. From Oscar Schindler, and others like him, whose carefully orchestrated deceptions saved the lives of thousands during the Holocaust. From a man who routinely broke the law, who ate with tax collectors and sinners, who healed on the Sabbath, who deceived the greatest deceiver of them all by returning new life for death on a cross.

It is, I believe, the message that Charleston pastor preached 20 years ago: grace is like grits. It just comes.

Grace, like life – because of life, perhaps; in spite of life, sometimes – grace just comes. Grace, the overabundance of God’s love revealed in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who ministered to outcasts, who died for sinners, who forgave debtors, who rose for us all. Grace, the overabundance of God’s love poured into us by the Holy Spirit, whether or not we have asked for it, whether or not we want it, whether or not we deserve it. Grace is like grits. It just comes.

It comes at unexpected times and in unexpected places. In fact, God gives us grace at all times and in all places, an overabundance of love piled high on our plates, and so we are able to give grace, able to love more than we think we are. If left to our own devices, we might be inclined to look after ourselves as the dishonest manager did. But the real significance of grace is that it can make honest people of us – it makes us able, despite our shortcomings, to reveal God’s love to others.

The choice, then, is not whether or not we will ask for God’s grace, but rather, whether or not we will allow it to fill us when it is offered, when it comes. Will we be transformed? Whom will we serve? Will we store up wealth for ourselves, in the form of money or possessions or power or pride, or will we serve our true master whose immeasurable riches consist in love and generosity and forgiveness and grace?

The dishonest manager had something like the right idea – he needed to be in relationship with others to survive. And he was right that there are times when the shrewd – meaning the careful, thoughtful – use of financial resources helps to establish and maintain those relationships. But for what purpose? Jesus urges us this morning to establish and maintain relationships by grace, by that same overabundance of love that he has shown us through his forgiveness of our self-serving sins. He urges us to serve God, putting all of who we are – our lives, our hopes, our work, our resources, our wealth – in God’s service. We will be amazed at what becomes possible, amazed at the unexpected riches of love and generosity and forgiveness and abundant grace we receive at this table, that we might take it into a hungry world, to those who have never tried grace before.

Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Amen.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

International Day of Peace

St. Andrew's Episcopal School - Middle and Upper School Chapel

Micah 4:1-5; Psalm 37:7-12; Mark 4:35-40

I have never been out on a boat in the middle of a raging storm. But that hasn’t kept me from turning a few boats over anyway…All it takes a very special lack of aquatic skill and the discovery of a very large spider on board for me to flip a canoe on a lake smaller than the one just down the hill.

The disciples were out on a boat in the middle of a raging storm. But that shouldn’t have worried them – several of them, including our own Andrew, were seasoned fishermen who had surely been out in worse weather. The wind and waves were really beating the boat, though, rocking it violently, swamping it and threatening to turn it over.

I think it must have been one of those times when, in the midst of a crisis, we begin to forget everything we know, like, don’t stand up in the canoe, don’t whack mercilessly with your paddle at a spider in your canoe… The disciples knew how to handle their boat, but the fierceness of the storm tipped their worry over into fear that sank deep into their bones, and they forgot everything they knew about boats. Tempers and panic rose to the surface, and they shook Jesus awake, crying, Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?

Whatever currents there were in the wind and water that had worked themselves up into a storm, they were something like the currents swirling around Jesus each and every day. As he went about the towns and villages of Galilee preaching and teaching and practicing compassion for those pushed to the margins of society – compassion for the sick, the poor, the outcast, the foreigner, the sinner – those who were in positions of power began to fear he was going to capsize the system they had so carefully constructed. In that system, the sick, the poor, the outcast, the foreigner, and the sinner were considered threats to the safety of the community and the nation. They didn’t belong in the boat and were excluded at all costs.

The storm brewing over the Sea of Galilee that day was very much like the storm brewing around Love in a world governed by Fear. And just as the disciples forgot everything they knew about navigating rough waters, so do we often forget what we know about navigating conflict in our lives, our communities, and our world. Fear takes over, terror sets in, and we lash out at one another, whacking mercilessly at what we perceive to be the threat to our safety. The descent into violent seas, or into all-out war, is swift, and we cry out to God, Don’t you care that we are perishing?

Peace, be still! Jesus said, and the wind and waves were calm, but only, I think, as a courtesy, because Jesus was not speaking to the water but to the disciples whose fear had made them forget what they were made of. Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? he asked them, and he asks us. Have you still no faith that there is and always has been peace in the boat with you, that you are capable of navigating rough seas, that you are capable of navigating conflict, that you do not sail these waters alone?

It is a small but terribly significant detail in this story that there were other boats out with Jesus and the disciples that day. Mark tells us nothing more about them, how they fared in the storm, whether they were afraid, whether they had faith, but he tells us they were there together on the water as the great storm arose. It is a significant detail for us in this week when people all over the world will be observing the International Day of Peace. More than twenty years ago, the United Nations passed a resolution calling for this annual event, a day upon which the world would mark its progress toward global peace. This Friday, September 21, people of all nations, races, and faiths will join together in remembering what we are made of, what we already know, that there is peace in all our little boats, that we do not have to be afraid, that we do not sail alone. We will mark the International Day of Peace today in our prayers.

“There have never been more able crafts in the waters than there are right now across the world,” writes scholar Clarissa Pinkola Estes in a piece entitled, Letter to a Young Activist, encouraging us not to make things worse in the middle of the storm by fearfully whacking away at spiders or whatever it is that we think threatens our safety. This morning I leave you with a portion of that letter. “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts, or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing…

“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times… To display the lantern of the soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both, are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.” Amen.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Proper 19C

St. Christopher's Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Jackson

Exodus 32:1, 7-14; Psalm 51:1-11; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

Well, which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine alone and defenseless in the wilderness where coyotes and wolves and thieves can attack the flock while you go after the one little sheep that is lost who knows where among the steep and rocky and treacherous hillsides for who knows how long until you find it?

I haven’t done much sheep herding in my life, but from what I have read it seems the honest, real life answer to Jesus’ question in this parable would have been: no one. No shepherd who truly made a living from his flock of a hundred sheep upon losing one of them would leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after that one. It’s not worth it. He’d cut his losses, and return with his flock to the fold.

Which one of you, like a woman having ten silver coins, if you lost one of them, would not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until you found it?

Now this one I have done. Or something like it. The honest, real life answer to this question would have been: most people. Most of the people, anyway, among whom Jesus ministered – a single silver coin, worth barely a day’s wages, could have meant the difference between eating and starving to death for the poor and outcast who flocked to him like lost sheep to a shepherd.

We’ve all searched high and low for something that was lost, something of real or sentimental or at least practical value. For me it’s my car keys nearly every morning. For my six year old son it’s a little blue matchbox car missing for weeks now. Every now and then I wish God the Homemaker Woman would come to my house and light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds…under all my clutter who knows what she’d find that I’ve forgotten I ever lost…

The Pharisees and the scribes, scrupulously obedient to God the Rulemaker, had no patience for anyone who couldn’t find their way out of sinfulness and into righteousness. Luke tells us they grumbled when they saw Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, because surely he knew God’s law warned against it like a mother warning her children not to run with the wrong crowd. At their best, the Pharisees and scribes lived and breathed Torah, setting for all others the example of living according to God’s covenant rather than the world.

But their high standards over time had become rigid, more concerned with measuring righteousness than with maintaining the relationship between God and God’s people. Jesus’ warm welcome of those who just didn’t measure up was radical and disturbing to those who topped the charts of righteous living. And so they grumbled, unable to accept the wideness of God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea when the law clearly defined a more narrow way. So, Luke writes, Jesus told them these two parables. The shepherd who does leave the ninety-nine to find the one. The woman who searches diligently until she finds her coin. The parties that follow on earth and in heaven as friends and neighbors and angels rejoice over what has been found, for I tell you there will be more joy…over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Jesus, in his life and in his teaching, in these parables he told the grumbling religious leaders, was messing up the boundaries that had long stood between sinners and righteous people. He was cluttering the covenant with what seemed like exceptions to the rules. If the shepherd will risk everything to find the one lost sheep, if the woman will search until she finds the coin, doesn’t that give us permission to wander away from the flock whenever we feel like it? To fall away on a whim? God will come looking for us, and just when we need it, will lift us up on strong shoulders or tuck us away in an apron pocket and all will be well until the next time we lose ourselves…

But the Pharisees and scribes were making the same mistake we often still make when we hear the parables of Jesus. It was and is, perhaps, a natural mistake for those who measure worth by personal merit rather than by divine mercy to hear the parables as stories about people rather than God. We have named these parables “The Lost Sheep” and “The Lost Coin,” but if Jesus had given his sermons titles, he might have called them instead “The Kind Shepherd” and “The Diligent Woman”. The pair of parables are not really about lost-ness or found-ness but rather about God the shepherd, God the homemaker, valuing infinitely what has been lost, searching for it tirelessly, seeking not just until frustration or discouragement set in or the until the search becomes dangerous but, rather, seeking until it is found and the party can begin. These parables are about the wideness of God’s mercy, the enormity of God’s love, the immeasurable value God attaches to us whether we think we are valuable or not, whether we think we are lost or not.

One theologian has asked, if the one sheep is with the shepherd, and the ninety-nine are not, who in the story is really lost? Another suggests that the ninety-nine and the one are not really two separate groups of sheep – they both represent us. The ninety-nine are humanity as we think we are, while the one lost sheep is humanity as we really are.

Listen, then, to who we really are. We really are easily separated from the flock. We wander. We stray. Perhaps we become self-absorbed, so busy nibbling away on our little circle of grass we don’t notice when the others have moved on. Perhaps we see a better patch of grass a little ways off, and then another, and then another, and before we know it we are all alone with our lunch. Perhaps we consider ourselves better than some of the other sheep and so we distance ourselves from them. Perhaps we consider ourselves strong enough to make it on our own and so we wander off deliberately. Perhaps we just want to be alone. Perhaps we think we have something to prove. Like the one sheep, we really are easily separated from the flock.

But like the one sheep, like every one sheep who wanders off, like every coin that rolls away into a dark corner or deep crevice, we are also worth the search. In spite of – perhaps in part because of – our proclivity to roam, we are of inestimable worth to God. Paul knew this, and rejoiced in it greatly, proclaiming, The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, to round up lost sheep, to collect coins. When we have, as the old confession of sin states, erred and strayed like lost sheep, we have become separated from our understanding of how we are valued by God. Our worth, and the worth of every other sheep in this life is not measured by merit, by what we have or by what we have accomplished, but rather our worth is measured by God’s infinite and unfailing love. God will find us, broom in hand, and will sweep away the clutter from our lives and restore us to our God-given image.

The parables of Jesus are not about us, but we are invited through them to consider how we are both lost and found, both Pharisee and sinner. And we are invited especially to accept with joy our worthiness and our God-given image and to join in the search for all who are lost, broken, bleating, and alone. Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? Like Paul before us, we are invited to rejoice both in finding and in being found, and to bring others with us to the party that begins at this table and lasts for eternity.

This, Jesus teaches through his parables, is the repentance over which the angels themselves rejoice. Not to come crawling back begging forgiveness but to recognize with gratitude that we are forgiven before we ask and found sometimes before we realize we were lost. Repentance is accepting with joy and gladness the work of the shepherd who washes us through and through once he gets us home, the work of the woman who wipes away the dust and grime. Repentance is our response to being found, so that, with a clean heart and a renewed right spirit within us, we take out a flashlight and broom and join in the search for all who, like us, so easily wander off.

Although it is not the context in which the words were first delivered, these reflections of Martin Luther King resonate with the good news Jesus shares with us this morning: “Number one in your life’s blueprint should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your worth and your own somebodiness… Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance… If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper [and here I would submit that it is the lot of the whole flock to sweep the house, the streets, the world if we can], sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings, sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”

We follow Jesus here as his faithful flock so that we can follow him right back out that door into the wilderness, flashlights and brooms in hand, tirelessly sweeping the world not to separate the righteous from the sinners but in order that the world might rejoice in the worthiness of all its lost sheep (which is to say, everyone). There’s an amazing grace party going on, and all are invited. Amen.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Proper 18C

St. Andrew's School - Middle and Upper School Chapel

Deuteronomy 30:15-30; Psalm 1; Philemon 4-6

Sometimes, when you really look at what’s out there, the choices are overwhelming. And you know you’re going to have to commit sooner or later. Probably sooner. Once you commit, you’re stuck with your choice, until the next time you have to make a decision. So you narrow the options down, which usually means getting rid of some great things along with the not-so-great ones, until you’re left, finally, with just one option. And you commit.

I’d like mint chocolate chip, please. In a cup.

Thirty-one flavors of ice cream – more than that in some shops. An array of brightly colored toppings that you can have mixed in or sprinkled on your scoop or two or three of ice cream served in a cup or a cone plain or dipped in white chocolate or dark chocolate and rolled in nuts or sprinkles…who can decide?!

The truth is, though, once we start narrowing the options down – for instance, no ice cream flavor should include raisins or come in a color that can’t be found in nature – we begin to realize that most flavors are simply a variation on the two most basic and beloved choices of all – chocolate and vanilla. Thirty-one flavors. Thirty-one toppings. Thirty-one kinds of cones. A bazillion combinations based on a simple choice between chocolate and vanilla.

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity, Moses said to the Israelites. I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.

I’d like life and prosperity, please. In a blessings-dipped cone.

Not a difficult decision, right? Life and prosperity, death and adversity – it’s a simple choice. So why is it that we so often find it hard to commit ourselves to what brings us the sort of life and prosperity and blessings that God offers us each and every day? Why is it so hard to choose life?

I don’t mean the same kind of life the world offers – the kind we see advertised everywhere, on TV, on billboards, in magazines, all over the web. It’s usually not too hard for us to choose that kind of life and prosperity, right? We work hard at school, we work hard at sports, we work hard at work, we work hard at everything – we choose to do what it takes to be successful. And that’s fine and commendable choice to make, one that will reward us along the way, lengthen our lives, and bring us blessings.

But the kind of life and prosperity God offers isn’t so much about being successful as it is about being fruitful. It’s about choosing to live our lives in such a way that the world can look at us and see an abundance of God the same way we might look at a tree and see an abundance of fruit. It’s about choosing to live our lives in such a way that not only makes the world available to us, but that also makes God available to the world through us.

Moses urged the Israelites that day to choose life by obeying the commandments of God, loving God, walking in God’s ways, by holding fast to God. Of course, there were not just ten but hundreds of commandments written down by the time it was all said and done. Jesus would later sum up all those commandments like this: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

We choose life when we choose love. And I’ve been here just long enough to see that our St. Andrew’s community is full of life. I’ve seen it in the way you care about your friends. I’ve seen it in the way your teachers and coaches care about you. I’ve seen it in the way you all care about the world, about those who are sick or suffering or less fortunate or alone. This, my successful friends, is your fruit.

What makes choosing this kind of life and prosperity hard, I think, is that we are faced with so very many choices each day. What to wear, what to buy, to whom we will speak, how we’ll use our time… The world will ask us to choose only success, and at all costs. But this morning, we are asked to consider choosing God first, choosing love, choosing a life that bears fruit.

Every decision we make throughout our day is a new opportunity to choose life. There are a bazillion options out there – many of them are wonderful, full of blessings; others aren’t so good for us. But God has an abundant supply of those little pink plastic spoons, knowing full well that it can be hard for us to make up our minds, hard for us to commit. We choose life when we choose love, when we choose the One who first chose us, loved us, gave us life, and sprinkled us with blessings.

Let us pray in the words of Julian of Norwich, “God, of your goodness, give me yourself, for you are enough for me. If I ask anything that is less, I shall be in want, for only in you do I have all.” Amen.