Category Archives: Rev Stephen Smith

The State of the Parish–St. Patrick’s, Dublin

In a word, the state of the parish is good. We have enough money in the bank to pay our bills. We have enough reserves to handle what we expect may be the next major building projects. We have great worship and music, education programs for all ages, and outreach to the wider community. We are meeting our goals of being a church that grows, that cares, and where our children can grow in the faith.
I want to highlight some wonderful things I’ve seen in the past year.
First of all, I am thrilled by the expansion of the number of small groups we have in the parish. When I came here 15 years ago I said we needed more small groups. Back then we had foyer groups and a spiritual direction group and that was pretty much it. We expanded, with EFM groups, post EFM extension groups, sacred circles, a men’s group that meets at 6:45 every Tuesday, which is now supplemented with a men’s group that meets on Thursday at a more decent hour (calling themselves the later in the day saints). For a medium size church like ours, offering more and more small groups is a way to grow the church. It creates opportunities for people to find connection and community which may allude them in a crowd of 150 to 200 on a Sunday morning.
Speaking of Growth, the vestry made one of its goals to revamp the new member ministry program. Some of us will be attending a conference in Cincinnati on March 10 to learn more about this. I am looking for others who may be interested.
But even without attending that conference yet our new member ministry has improved. The staff is doing a better job tracking visitors. Also, the blurbs the vestry and I wrote for the Sunday News that talked about the role of people in the pews creating a welcoming church must have had some effect. These past two Sundays I led newcomer classes attended by 17 people. One of the main things they shared about coming to St. Patrick’s is how welcoming the people are.
I was also pleased with the transition we made with Amy O’Neill taking over the parish administrator job from Roy Barker. Roy did great work, and Amy is picking right up where he left off, as well as adding her own skills and touch to the job. Between her and Mother Cameron I feel surrounded by colorful and helpful bulletin boards.
I am also so glad to have Mother Cameron on staff. I looked 20 years to find an assistant who liked kids, liked working with kids, got right down on their level with them, and actually liked working with arts and crafts. You just do not know how few clergy fit that description and she does.
Mother Cameron and Bill Eddy started the Thursday night family suppers this past year and now we regularly have over 35 people.
Other things I want to highlight from last year include another very successful Vacation Bible School. We had almost 100 campers. We took our first international mission trip as five youth and two adults went to Cuba for a week and build relations with the Episcopal Church there. We participated in Social Media Sunday in a way that highlighted our media profile more than ever before.
I could go on and on because we have a lot to offer, we accomplished a great deal, and we have a lot to be thankful for. At a programmatic level I am most thankful for the options we have. From small groups, to educational workshops, lots of varied youth activities, to three different services on Sunday, Thursday night dinners, fish fries, fellowship events, and outreach projects people have an option for how they connect with their faith here at St. Patrick’s. The days when active church membership was defined by Sunday attendance are long over. In a culture where choice is paramount, being a church with many choices should be a continued strategy for growth and sharing the love of Christ with our community. Let’s keep up the good work.
Which brings me to the future. Over the last two years we have considered the possibility of a pipe organ. The vestry will continue to work on this project in the coming year and will keep you informed along the way. I will say, as I said last year that I am in favor of the project if enough people support it. And the main reason for my support is that it gives us more options. In a world that prizes choice, more and more options are needed.
Also, in the coming year, I hope to install a camera and recording system for putting the church services and/or sermons on line. We have some memorial gifts which can make this happen. We will start out with posting the week of the service, and we will have the capacity to move to live streaming video in the future.
I do have some concerns about the future. One of my concerns is that as we provide more and more options, one option that seems to be chosen less often is worship. Though we can count many more people connected with the Church each year, our average Sunday attendance continues to decline. This is true across the board in this country. A recent pew survey shows that of those who say they are very connected with their church, the number who attend worship every Sunday dropped from 78% to 58% in just three years!
What we do in worship, even if it is at a contemporary church with no vestments and nothing that looks like liturgy, is foreign to everything else we do in our culture. Our culture is about marketing, entertainment and self-fulfillment, and worship is none of those things. Because it is so different I’m not always sure we get it. Worship is meant to remind us that there is a God and it aint us. God is also not our economy, or our government, or our country, or the world. Worship is meant to remind us that God is greater than all these things; that God loves us, but that God also holds us to a higher moral standard accountable to God’s desire for justice and peace. I don’t know about you, but I need daily reminders of that reality, not just weekly.
Another minor concern I have about the future is finances. We met our budget last year even though we presented a deficit budget to all of you at last year’s meeting. We have a deficit budget again this year. And I have little doubt we will have enough money to meet our expenses. My concern is that we are stuck. For years we have seen pledges come in for around $490,000 from about 190 individuals and families. We have over 250 individuals and families actively involved in this church in one way or another. I would like to see us make it a parish-wide goal to finally get more than 200 people to make a pledge to the Church and to cross the $500,000 mark.
Finally, I want to thank all of you, the staff, and especially Mother Cameron for the space you gave me to take a sabbatical this past year. The highlight of the time away was the time I got to spend with Jan in Italy. It was the trip of a lifetime and expanded even more my appreciation for the history that created our Christian faith.
I am grateful to serve as your rector and pray that this year will be so filled with the love of God for each and every one of us, that so shines forth from us that we share it with the world around us simply by the way we live and move and have our being. God bless you all.

Christmas Eve Sermon by The Rev. Stephen Smith 2017

The Rev. Stephen Smith Christmas Eve 2017
St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Dublin, Ohio

One of my favorite cartoonists was Doug Marlette. He was the political cartoonist for the Atlanta Constitution and then the Charlotte Observer, until his death in a car crash in 2007. Like many political cartoonists, he also created a daily comic strip. His was called Kudzu. The strip took place in By-pass Mississippi, and the main character was Kudzu DuBois, a sixteen-year-old boy with all the issues and problems that sixteen-year-old boys have. Kudzu’s best friend was a short, portly, nerdy looking boy named Nasal T. Lardbottom. And their spiritual advisor was the pastor at Bypass Baptist Church, the Rev. Will B. Dunn, a cowboy-boot sporting, tobacco chewing, and broad-brimmed hat wearing man of God.

Obviously, the comic strip had a southern feel. It did not find a home in newspapers up north, but when I was in seminary back in the 1980s it did not matter if I was reading the newspaper from Atlanta, Nashville or Chattanooga, Kudzu was always at the top of the comics page.

One December I remember a series the Kudzu strip ran. Apparently Nasal T. Lardbottom was having an attack of teenager hormones. He was found doing the “Shimmy” on top of the Card-Catalogue in the library, while listening to Van Halen music and shouting “Girls, Girls, Girls.” He was brought before the student council to determine an appropriate punishment for such lascivious behavior.

The council decreed that since he had so besmirched the reputation of Bypass High School, henceforth he would be required to wear a bag over his head with the letter “H” on it, so that decent people might shun him.

So, for the next few weeks Doug Marlette milked this story for all it was worth. There would be a panel showing Nasal sitting all by himself in the lunch room, with everyone else at the tables crowded against the far wall away from him. He would be sitting at the front of class with the teacher at the far end of the blackboard, and all the other students crowded against the back wall.

The local BBQ refused to serve him, and the Piggly Wiggly grocery store no longer redeemed his coupons, not even on double coupon day.

Finally, on Christmas Eve, Nasal seeks solace at Church. As he enters, still with the bag over his head, everyone screams and rushes out of the Church. But they gather around the windows to look in. Because everyone wants to see what the Rev. Will B. Dunn will do with this situation.

The Reverend marches up the pulpit steps and puts a bag on his head with the letter “H” printed on it and says, “Nasal, unto us a child is born.”

Great theology, and form a cartoon. No matter who we are, “unto us a child is born.”

Now I hesitated to use this story because the bad guy in it is pretty lame. Let’s face it, Nasal T. Lardbottom doing the shimmy on the card catalogue while listening to Van Halen and shouting “Girls, Girls, Girls,” is not all that bad. So, yes unto him a child is born.

There are people so much worse than Nasal, like the man who shot his supervisor at the Dublin post office yesterday and then the postmaster outside her apartment. Recently, we have heard so much about those who abuse their power to take advantage of others, from Harvey Weinstein to Matt Lauer, and so many others. There are those who try manipulating racism and fundamentalist Christianity for the sake of political power. We see violence and war perpetuated by the powerful against the lowly. We fear the onslaught of war from a madman in North Korea.

Yesterday I heard a woman from the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests (also known as SNAP) say that she hoped the doors of hell would swing wide to let in the recently deceased Cardinal Bernard Law, the man who conspired to hide priestly abuse of children for years.

There is no shortage of horrible people. There are plenty of villains. Do the angels say to them, “Unto you a child is born.”
In a word, “yes.”

By coming into the world as a vulnerable, little baby, God declares God’s love for us; all of us. Even if it means that horrible people will visit their violence on that baby Jesus when he grows to be a man. Still, God bestows favor upon us. When the Angels say, Peace, good will to all whom God favors, they are not picking and choosing. God favors this one, but not that one. Rather, it is blanket statement meant for all humanity. Because God comes to all humanity, therefore all humanity are recipients of God’s favor.

What we forget is that when God declares God’s love for us, or bestows favor upon us, it is does not mean that we deserve it. And it certainly does not mean that God now excuses our bad behavior, or that our behavior has no consequences. Rather, God is saying, in essence, “let me help you with that. Let’s see what we can do to turn your life around.”

Maybe a good way to explain this comes from my experience nearly 20 years ago when I was summoned to jury duty. I wore my collar, to be honest, in hopes it would get me out of serving. But the very first day I reported to duty I was called into a courtroom to be interviewed for serving on a jury. The prosecuting attorney did not waste any time. Seeing my collar, she immediately homed in on me and said, “Reverend Smith, you’re in the forgiveness business, am I right?”
“That’s correct,” I replied.

“How will that affect your serving on a jury?” she asked.
I thought for a moment and said, “Forgiveness does not take away the consequences of our actions. Instead it helps allow the love of God to support us as we try to face those consequences and amend our lives.”

“I have no problem with this juror,” the prosecutor said. Meanwhile, the defense attorney was looking much paler.

The world is a messed-up place. It would be so much easier if we could pick and choose who the bad guys are, and who we could write off; who is deserving of God’s favor, and who should be cast into the depths of hell; who is right, and who is to be shunned for their wrong actions, their wrong beliefs. We certainly use that kind of language in our politics these days.

But God comes to us all. Unto all of us, a child is born. And God comes in hopes that some who must face the consequences of their horrible behavior may actually be changed.

God comes to us, God favors us with his presence, not because we are all that good, but because God hopes and works for our transformation. After all, without God it is a vicious circle, of hate and war, revenge, and violence.

But with God there is hope, that even those we describe as horrible, evil, our enemies, can be transformed.

If we did not believe this transformation was possible then why are we doing prison ministry?

So, whether we are Caesar Augustus in power and luxury, or the unnamed shepherds in the fields, unto us a child is born.

Whether we are people who have made poor choices which we regret harmed others, or people who tried our whole lives to live as virtuously as possible, unto us a child is born.

Whether we are the perpetrators of evil and abuse who deserve to face the consequences of our actions and amend our lives, or the victims of violence and abuse who need the healing love of God, unto us a child is born.

Peace, good will to all whom God favors. And God favors us all, for unto us a child is born.

Advent 2 Sermon by the Rev Stephen Smith

 

The Rev Stephen Smith’s sermon September 10, 2017

September 10 2017

Sermon on Charlottesville by the Rev. Dr. Stephen Smith, August 20, 2017

Charlottesville Sermon

Sermon on the Transfiguration 2017–The Rev. Dr. Stephen Smith

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Smith
The Feast of the Transfiguration, 2017
I must share with you my experiences with food this past week. It started with a trip to the farm market to buy corn—corn that had been picked that very morning. It was home and in a pot of boiling water by 1 pm that afternoon. And, oh, how it tasted. I didn’t even need butter or salt. There is nothing like the taste of freshly picked sweet corn. There’s a science behind it. You see, once you pick corn, when it is 12 hours off the stalk it begins to convert the sugar to starch. That’s why that stuff they strip-mine in Florida and ship up here tastes like wood.
I also bought some peaches and yesterday they were ripe. I took one and peeled away the skin. It came off without effort, just lightly falling away with a little tug. And when I tasted it, oh my. I know you’re supposed to let the juice run down your arm but I ate it so fast there wasn’t time.
And last night I made salsa, with fresh tomatoes and peppers from my garden, and onions and cilantro grown locally. I didn’t even waste chips on it. It tasted so good.
I love this time of year. It is the only time of year you can get these kind of fresh fruits and vegetables; the only time of year when you can enjoy these incredible flavors. And when those tastes registered in my brain they latched on to the pleasure centers and opioid receptors and made my mind go Ka-pow.
That is what is supposed to happen. We are wired that way. We are wired to love fresh fruits and vegetables because they are good for us. Our bodies, after years of evolution, know this. So, these foods appeal to us in ways beyond even taste to the very pleasure receptors of our minds.
My recent experience with food reminds me of a sculpture I saw recently on the trip Jan and I took to Italy. I was reading in our guidebook, while on the train from the airport to downtown Rome, and I discovered that one of my favorite pieces of sculpture was just a block and a half away from the central train station. It was just there in some random church. We had to see it.
I had only seen pictures of this piece of art. It was amazing in real life. The sculpture is the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, by Bernini. I love Teresa of Avilla. She was a great mystic who said people could have direct encounters with God, that did not have to be mediated through the rites and offices of the Church. She ticked off a lot of priests and bishops. She was not saying the church was unnecessary, after all we need the church to help make sense of our experience. But she did insist that all people could have direct access to the presence and love of God.
In the sculpture Teresa is obviously in the throes of joy and ecstasy. It is sensual. And it is obvious that this encounter with the presence and love of God is making the pleasure receptors in her brain go Ka-pow. And the incredible realism with which Bernini depicts this scene makes you realize that he had to know what Teresa was experiencing. He knew. It must of happened to him as well.
Now there will be people who will tell you that my experience with food and Teresa’s experience with God are two very different things. After all, I was truly eating these foods, and my body is the product of years of human evolution that made it possible for me to enjoy such flavors. Whereas, Teresa had an imaginary or fantasy encounter with God.
Some scientists would disagree. About 20 years ago, a group of scientists studied mystics who claimed they had experiences of the presence of God, detailed in book entitled Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. They mapped the brain waves of these people while they prayed and asked them to raise a hand when they felt they were in the presence of God. In every case, the parts of the brain that lit up were not the parts associated with imagination, dreams or fantasy. Rather the part of the brain that was active during mystical experiences was the part associated with sensory perception: hearing, sight, taste, and sound. The experience of God, and the way it effects the pleasure receptors in our minds is, according to our brains, just as real as the ecstasy at the food I ate this past week. It appears that we are hard wired even for God. This is real.
So, let me tell you what is truly unreal. What is unreal is the assault we have waged on our minds’ opioid and pleasure receptors.
Human beings have always had pleasurable experiences with the things we’ve ingested. We discovered, early on, what plants would stimulate the pleasure centers and opioid receptors. We learned fermentation. We have ingested things that altered our moods, and our view of the world and reality, and often this brought us joy.
But a few hundred years ago we discovered distilling. So now we have rapid alcohol delivery devices. We also discovered ways to turn the poppy plant and cannibals into massively potent mood alerting drugs. And, if that isn’t enough, we have created synthetic drugs with massive mood and pain altering power and we are overwhelmed.
Human beings have always loved beautiful images; sunsets, oceans, the attraction of another beautiful human being, the beautiful earth on which we live, or even the starry sky at night. But now we are so bombarded with images on TVs, Computers, phones and all around, that they overwhelm our minds.
And food. Yes, we love the taste of fresh food. But through years of evolution we have been wired to crave and love things that we could only find rarely in the natural world. We needed these things to stay alive and they were in short supply, so we developed an almost insatiable appetite for them. These foods are salt, fat and sugar. Now, food companies take advantage of that natural craving and overwhelm us with these ingredients, and it is killing us.
What is more, all these overwhelming assaults on our brains are dulling our pleasure centers and opioid receptors, so we are less likely to respond to the natural and real stimuli of ecstasy. Now that is unreal.
Which brings me to Jesus’ transfiguration. You might say that Jesus’ transfiguration was a mystical experience. While with his most trusted community, Peter, James and John, he is caught up in the presence of God. He is declared the fulfillment of the law (by the presence of Moses) and the prophets (enter Elijah). But more importantly, he is reminded who he is—the son God, the chosen. He is the beloved.
Now I have often said that most of what happens to Jesus can happen to us. We too can be caught up in the presence of God. We are not the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, but we are beloved children of God. And that is real. It is who we are. And it is worth contemplating that reality and allowing it to soak into our very being. Allow it to reach even to the pleasure centers and opioid receptors of our minds so our brains go Ka-pow; just like Teresa, just like Jesus.
So every morning, before anything gets turned on, I want you to remind yourself that you are a beloved child of God. And every night, when everything is turned off, remind yourself that you are a beloved child of God.
It won’t necessarily make your life easy or free of pain. After all, the transfiguration is the last thing that happens to Jesus before he starts his journey to Jerusalem. And we all know how that turned out. But we know that the one who loves us will carry us through our tough times.
And, if we can make ourselves aware of the presence of God in our lives through community, through beauty, through food, or just in prayer, and if we can allow that experience to remind us who we really are—the beloved children of God—then it will make our brains go Ka-pow.

 

 

The Rev. Stephen Smith’s sermon, July 23, 2017

The Rev. Stephen Smith’s sermon, July 23, 2017

Stephen Smith’s sermon on the raising of Lazarus

Sermon the Sunday before Election Day

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Smith, Rector

A portion of the sermon from November 6, 2016.

Never have I had so much pressure to endorse a candidate from the pulpit, or at least denounce one. People keep asking me, “Who are you going to vote for?” And, “What are you going to say about the candidates?”

I have always held to the Barmen Declaration. Written mostly by Karl Berth in 1934 it says that the Church should not be over identified with any one political party, or for that matter with the state itself. Otherwise, we simply become the tools of politics or the state. We comprise our integrity, and lose the ability to proclaim the word of God in the midst of politics or the state.

Because I believe so strongly in the Barmen Declaration I have never, and will not now, pick a candidate from the pulpit.

And let me say that if people are asking who I am going to endorse from the pulpit, then they are asking the wrong question. The real question is, what kind of people are we going to be in the midst of and after this election? I want to be a person who acknowledges that all of us are created in the image of God. And all of us deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

So last week I posted something on Facebook (that I originally saw on Cricket Park’s page) to support this view. It was a picture of Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump together with the tag line: Both of these people are created in the image of God. Yes. Both. I got a lot of comments. And for the most part they were very respectful. Thank God that those who really wanted to challenge something about this post saved their comments for private messages. Most were fine, but there was obvious displeasure among others, on both sides of the political spectrum.

People asked, “Are you saying these are two equally good candidates? Because they are not!” I did not say that.

“Are you saying that his/her words/action are excusable?”
I did not say that.

“Are you saying their policies don’t matter?” or “There isn’t any difference?”

I did not say any of those things. I simply acknowledged what we Christians believe, that all people are created in the image of God, and therefor are worthy of dignity and respect, even if they do not demonstrate it to others.

As David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, lamented recently, “This election has been over politicized and under moralized.”
We have forgotten our morals and can only talk about the politics. But the first principal of religious ethics is that all people are created equal in the image of God, and so are worthy of respect and dignity. That is the first principal.

Jesus understood this when he told us to pray for our enemies, and bless those who persecute us. He did not say they would stop being our enemies or persecuting us, but they would still be our fellow human beings.

Even the rabbis who were contemporaries of Jesus came to understand this message and included it in the Mishna and Talmud. They added a commentary at the end of the story of the Exodus. That story ends with the people of God walking through the water on dry land, and then the water coming back over the Egyptians and their chariots once God’s people were safe. Then they saw the Egyptians dead on the sea shore and Miriam sang a song of triumph! So these later rabbis added a commentary, “And God wept for the dead Egyptians and the widows and orphans they would leave behind in Egypt.” Even the Egyptians, the hated enemies were to be remembered as children of God.

We are in the midst of an incredible hate fest. Not only do the candidates abuse one another, so does the electorate. And in some ways we’ve gotten what we deserve. There is nothing the candidates say that I have not heard everyday people say for well over 10 or 15 years. The horrible rhetoric of the campaign is simply a reflection of what a lot of people have been saying for years. It simply has bubbled up to the top.

There is only one way forward through this kind of morass, and it is to remember this first principal: that we are all created equal in the image of God, and all deserve respect and dignity.
Does that mean we’re all going to get together, hold hands and sing Kum-by-Yah: not likely. This is hard work.

It would be so much easier for me to stand up front here and tell you how I voted and share all my righteous indignation at the candidate I didn’t vote for. That would be easy. Trying to seek peace and reconciliation among people who are tempted to despise one another is much harder.

But it is the only way. We will always have disagreements, and conflicts. There will be times when we stand against another and say we think the other side is wrong and we will do anything to stop them, but hopefully with respect. And there will be times, hopefully as rarely as possible, when we will have wars. It is human nature. But the only way to get beyond these horrible times is to see and recognize the humanity and worthiness in one another.

Abraham Lincoln understood this and made it clear in his second inaugural address. It was March 4, 1865. The outcome of the war was assured but it would not be over for almost another month. People were still shooting at each other. People were still killing each other. And Lincoln dared to say that we should look to the future, “With malice toward none, and charity to all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right.”

These are amazing words at the end of a horrendous civil war: malice toward none, charity to all, firmness in the right, but only as we are sure God helps us see the right. He was outlining a path forward to hope and healing.

We, as Christians can do the same. We can do this. It is who we are meant to be, people who know and see the image of God in every human being, who acknowledge that all of us are worthy of dignity and respect. No matter what happens Tuesday let us not forgot who we are, and dedicate ourselves to a mission of dignity and respect, peace and reconciliation among all people. It will not be easy, but it truly is the only way forward.

Sermon on the Orlando Tragedy

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Smith

I Kings 19:1-15

Omar Mateen did horrible damage to us as a nation last Sunday.  First and foremost, he killed 49 people, all of them young, all of them in the prime of life.  We should mourn their loss.  He wounded more than fifty others; a horrific tragedy.

On another level his actions also magnified almost every issue we have been fighting over in the culture wars of recent years.

He had to be a Muslim.  And so that raises all our fears, including the fears of our moderate Muslim friends. We’re all afraid of domestic terrorism, local radicalization, and lone wolf attackers.

Never mind that he appears to be Muslim in name only.  He has lived in this country all his life. In his acts of violence, he pledged allegiance to both ISIS and Hezbollah. Like most Americans he did not even realize that these two groups are at odds with each other and would welcome killing one another. Yet his very name, Omar, instills more panic.

And it had to be a gay bar.  We are still fighting over issues of sexuality and even a small group of Christians protested at a funeral for one of the victims. I am sure most Christians would not even consider this, but it does not change the fact that conflict over issues of sexuality are still being debated in our churches.

Mateen also exhibited severe mental health issues.  He was violent, bragged of connections with terrorists when there were none, and was obviously confused about his own sexuality since patrons at Pulse recognized him as a person who previously came to the bar to meet men.

And that raises our concerns about health care and how we afford mental health care for those who need it.  As the cost goes up and up and the affordable care act does not seem to help, we wonder if only the wealthy will receive the care they need.  And it ignites that debate as well.

And he bought guns.  He was investigated twice by the FBI for links to terrorism.  There were none.  He was just shooting his mouth off.  But even with the past investigations he bought guns. And so we haul out that hot button issue and fight and fight over gun control.

Finally, it was Latino night at the Pulse. So let’s fight about immigration.

Last Sunday was an event of extreme horror, and an event which heightened all our tensions and conflicts in the midst of a culture war. It makes you want to run away and hide.

That’s exactly what Elijah did. He, too was dealing with a culture war, and one that may be even more deadly than ours. You see, Israel was supposed to be different than the nations around it. The nations around Israel all believed that might made right. The strong were supposed to lead and the weak should get out of the way or die.

But it was not supposed to be that way in Israel.  If you read through the prophets of the 8th century BCE you come to realize that Israel was not going to be judged by how many other countries it defeated in war. It would not be judged by how well it preserved its borders, or by assuring that the king’s heir would take over the kingship upon his death in a smooth transition of power. No.  The prophets kept pointing out that God wanted to be sure the king brought justice to the poor, and remembered the helpless like widows and orphans. Israel would be judged not by its might alone, but by how it cared for the least of God’s children in the kingdom.

Ahab and Jezebel did not like this idea.  They wanted to be more like the other nations. And so they threatened Elijah whenever he would remind them of God’s justice.  So Elijah ran away for his own safety.  In fact, he went as far away as he could to be still among people who worshipped Yahweh.

An angel appears to him and offers food and drink and encourages him to partake, otherwise the journey will be too hard for him.

Then, God comes to Elijah and ask, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah.”

And he says, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, I’ve done everything you asked. But they’ve killed your prophets, abandoned the covenant and thrown down your altars and I, I alone am left.”

I half expect God to say, “Oh Elijah, quit whining.”  But instead God appears to Elijah, not in fire, or wind, or earthquake, but in the still small sound that cannot be mistaken for anything else but the very presence of the divine.

And again God asks, “What are you doing here Elijah.”

And despite the power of God’s self-revelation, Elijah comes back with the same whining rant.

“I have been very zealous for the Lord. I’ve done everything you asked. But they’ve killed your prophets, abandoned the covenant and thrown down your altars and I, I alone am left.”

This time, God does tell him to stop whining. He informs Elijah that there are still thousands back in Israel who remain loyal to God. And he informs Elijah that Ahab and Jezebel will not last forever, but that God will bring about a change.  You might say God has always been about regime change when necessary.  And God invites Elijah to be a part of that change.

Here we need to revisit that food and drink given by the angel. The angel says it’s to empower Elijah for a hard journey.  But Hebrew can be an ambiguous language. There’s another way to translate it.  The phrase could be, “eat and drink for the journey is bigger than you are.” In other words, it’s not all about you Elijah, it’s about God and what God is doing to bring about his goodness and his purposes for humanity and the world. The journey is bigger than you are and you can come along if you want.

God says the same to us.  The journey toward God’s goodness is bigger than we are. Good is working God’s purposes out, and God invites us to come along. It’s easy to believe that God is working out God’s purposes when things are going well, but when it’s all a mess . . .

There are signs, however.  Two weeks ago David Brooks wrote a column calling for a new culture war, not one based on our positions alone, but on the moral obligation to treat each other as human beings; to treat each other with dignity and respect. Can you here the baptismal covenant? David Brooks is an Episcopalian. He called this the “new moralism.” New? We’ve had since the publication of the 1976 prayer book, so let’s live it!

And in Orlando itself there are signs of the goodness of God. Scott Simon shared the following Morning Edition. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, after witnessing the outpouring of love, support, and the people lined up to donate blood said of his community that it was “the most horrific day in the history of the city of Orlando yet I stand here prouder today of our community than ever. We will not be defined by the act of a cowardly hater. We will be defined by how we respond, how we treat each other, and this community has already stepped up to do that.”

Dr. Joshua Corsa, a surgeon at the Orlando Regional Medical Center helped care for 54 wounded people until his shoes were covered in blood.  He said of these shoes on his Facebook page:

“…when the last patient leaves our hospital, I will take them off, and I will keep them in my office. I want to see them in front of me every time I go to work. For on June 12, after the worst of humanity reared its evil head, I saw the best of humanity come fighting right back.”

The journey to God’s goodness is greater than us.  We come to this church to encounter God and God asks of us, “what are you going here?”

How else can we respond but to say that we are seeking God’s nourishment for a journey toward God’s goodness. Even in the midst of a world stunned by horrific tragedy and culture wars, we join the journey that is greater than us.