What Should we Do?

Sermon by Father Daniel Gunn
Advent 3 (16 December) 2012
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Pro-Cathedral, WB

May we seek Truth together in humility.  Amen. 
Today we arrive at the third Sunday in Advent.  This is supposed to be a day of rejoicing with Mary.  It is supposed to be a brief respite as we anticipate the advent of our Lord.  Thus we hear the voice of the prophet Zephaniah telling Zion to “Sing aloud” and “shout . . . rejoice and exult with all [our] heart.”  And today’s Epistle bears much the same message to Paul’s pet congregation: “Rejoice always, again I say rejoice” he says.  Yet we should take note how these lessons of joy are juxtaposed with the Gospel, which probably better tells where we are today.  In that Gospel we hear the voice of John the Baptist seemingly condemning us, and so we ask as those who came to hear John, “What should we do?”  In fact, I would wager that we are filled with many questions today in light of the events of this past Friday.  I am speaking, of course, of the cold murder of 27 people, mostly children, in Connecticut.  This horror is in many ways no worse than the other mass shootings we have witnessed in recent years, but to many it feels worse.  Before asking “what should we do,” we are compelled to first ask, “Why?”  If God is good, then how and why would God allow such evil to exist as we witnessed this past Friday?

Questions of this nature belong to a branch of theology called Theodicy which examines why a good God allows evil to exist.  Many better minds than ours have grappled with this, and came to unsatisfactory conclusions.  Some have said that God is not all benevolent; others that he is not all powerful, still others have tried to explain how all goodness could coexist with evil by saying that because God is good evil must exist to prove his goodness.  While still others have speculated that God limits God’s self thus allowing evil to exist.  I have read and studied them all, and find that every answer falls short.  Ultimately there are no satisfying answers and we are left with the paradox that two things can be true at the same time: God is good and evil exists.  All other attempts to explain become straw, and so we fall upon our faces before that good God and ask for mercy, forgiveness, and peace.  We humbly pray that God would deliver us from evil.

Forgive me my soapbox moment: If I had my way today I would call for a moratorium on gun sales, but having grown up around guns I know this alone is not the answer.  Guns are but one symptom of a greater problem.  What I do pray for is that we will get beyond our romance with weapons and in every way possible work to end our culture of violence.  The fundamental message of John was for the people to change their ways.  In a word: repent.  What should we do?  Repent.  It is in the act of repentance that we change our culture.  It is in the act of humbling ourselves that we change our world.  It is in the act of growing to love our neighbor as we love ourselves that change our culture.  And may we teach that love and humility to each other as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.

Many of us will object, “I have done nothing wrong.  I didn’t kill 20 children.  Why should I repent?”  And we hear the voice of John crying out to us in the crowd: Bear good fruit.  Inasmuch as we participate in our culture in any way and in any part, we are called to repent.  The redemption of the world depends on the action of one person, Jesus the Christ, that is the message of Christianity.  It still depends on the actions of individuals—each of us.  Ending violence in our culture begins with you, and it begins with me.

Last week I was watching that hard-hitting news program called The Colbert Report as the anchor interviewed Sister Simone Campbell, the organizer of “Nuns on a Bus.”  Sister Simone explained the mission of the Church and of every Christian.  She said we are called to “Touch the pain of the World.”  Even before the events of this past Friday I was moved by her words.

So where is our hope today?  Our hope lies in the love of a God willing to live among us as one of us.  Our hope is in the fact that our God was willing to “touch the pain of the world.”  Our hope is in the fact that evil will never conquer good, darkness will never conquer light, and violence will lose to peace.  When we ask like those in today’s Gospel whose hearts were piqued: “What should we do?” we have the answer already.

In these thoughts may we find truth.  Amen.

Diocesan Life for September 2011

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The Ordination of Eddie Lopez to the Diaconate

Sermon by Daniel Gunn
Rector, St. Stephen's Pro-cathedrl

On the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (24 June) 2011
St. Stephen’s Pro-cathedral, WB, PA

May we seek Truth together in humility.  Amen.

Eddie, I have a question for you.  This is the last exam you will have to take in this LOOOOOONG process.  Are you ready?  (That was not the question.)  Here it is: Do you hear voices?  Think carefully before you answer.  This is not a trick question.  You’ve already passed your psychologicals, so you don’t have to lie.  Do you hear voices?  If you answer “no” then I withdraw all my support, because I believe that you do hear voices, and to this point I have known very few people who have heard and heeded that voice more than you.

I’d like to help you fine-tune that voice this evening.  First by offering some suggestions from Isaiah, and then by offering you some advice I receive from an elder priest some years ago.  Let’s look at Isaiah.  Today is the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist.  Since that is a mouth-full, let’s dispense with that, and just talk about John the Baptist, or in this case Isaiah.  Today you are being ordained to the Sacred order of Deacons.  This in some sense means that you belong to the people.  As I understand it, you exceed me, or any other presbyter, because you are directly under the bishop, and as such you have a responsibility to him (or her) to be among the people.  First there were Apostles, THEN deacons, and only thereafter, priests.  You, my friend, have a six-month tour of duty with the general.  But you need not fear.  You already have the field manual from Isaiah, and he gives you the instructions.

Ordinarily when we hear this lesson from Isaiah we are in a season of preparation and anticipation—Advent.  God spoke to Isaiah instructing him to comfort God’s people.  You’re an old hand at doing this.  In fact, you’re engaged in a system that comforts people already (that’s if being a chaplain at a concierge hospital counts).  (That reminds me: how do you pay for rich people when they have splinters removed?  I’m joking, of course.)

In all seriousness, you are called to comfort people who feel as though they are in the wilderness.  You are called to enter the wilderness and be with them.  You are called to prepare a place for God in the wilderness of people’s lives.  But how can you comfort people?  People are like grass and flowers that flourish one moment and the next they wither and fade.  Ah, but Isaiah reminds us that you have an especially comforting tool: you have the word of our God.  As you know, deacons have a special calling to proclaim the Word of God—the Good News—among the people.  So Eddie, comfort God’s people with the word; remind them that God will come to them.  Remind them that God will feed them, and when necessary, carry them.

Now let me transition to some advice I received from an elder clergy person, and one from Bishop Paul.  I am going to give you these 11 nuggets, trying not to elaborate.  I keep these on the inside of my office door as a reminder.

This first one comes from Bishop Paul: “You can’t refute a sneer.”

Start daily with devotionals.

Empowerment is good for spiritual, emotional, physical, etc. health.

Keep office door open.

Answer own phone and keep own calendar.

If Rosanna (your significant other) does not like an idea – pay attention.

Can’t build efficient staff with a committee.

Clergy get paid for being Christians – laity don’t – respect them for their commitment.

It does not matter how effective or efficient you are as a priest if I flunk as friend and husband.

People are always more important than ideas.

The work of Holy Spirit is most discernable in interruptions.

My friend, you and I have been on this journey for some time; Now GO, comfort God’s people!

In these thoughts may we find truth.  Amen.