Saturday, May 26, 2012

Fear Not, I Am With You!


RCL Pentecost B
27 May 2012

Saint Faith's Anglican Church
Vancouver BC
            Two thousand years ago a group of Jewish women and men gathered in a location somewhere in what we now call the 'Old City' of Jerusalem.  More than a month and a half earlier the group had experienced the trauma of the arrest, trial and execution of their leader, a rabbi from Galilee by the name of Yeshua ben Yosef.  The trauma was further complicated by the apparent resurrection of Yeshua on the Sunday following his execution.  The news of Yeshua's resurrection had caused concern to the Roman and Jewish authorities and the group gathered in secret knew that their lives were in danger.

            We know little about those fifty days from the events of Pesach, the Jewish celebration of liberation from Egypt, to the festival of Shavuot, when Jews celebrate the giving of the Law on Sinai.  Some accounts suggest that Yeshua or Jesus, as we know him, remained with the community and gave them further instruction about the coming reign of God.  Other accounts suggest that Jesus ascended into heaven shortly after his resurrection, leaving his followers to ponder the meaning of his life and his teaching.  Whichever story is true, one thing is sure:  the followers of Jesus, filled with the experience of his life, his death, his resurrection and his ascension were not sure what they ought to do and were afraid.

            So on this Shavuot or Pentecost, as we now call it, they gathered for the sake of fellowship and perhaps for prayer.  Only Luke, the chronicler of the early days of the Christian movement, tells us what happened next.  God's Spirit came upon them and they began to speak in the languages of all the peoples gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate God's revelation on Mount Sinai.  The silence of the early Christian community was broken and, from that first Pentecost until this Pentecost, the good news of God in Jesus of Nazareth has been shared with every known human culture in all the languages spoken by humanity.

            Some Christian commentators are intrigued by the gift of languages that the apostolic community manifests on the first Pentecost.  This fascination has given rise to the insistence, in some Christian communities, on the gift of tongues or glossolalia  as the sign of one's true baptism into Christ.  I have served in a congregation where some members of the community believed that there were two baptisms, one with water and one in the Spirit.  Only those who had experienced both were truly Christians in body, mind and spirit.  It is not a point of view that I share, but I do understand the desire to seek a deeper relationship with the living God that some Christians believe glossolalia demonstrates.

            Over the years I have come to believe that the true gift of the Spirit is not the gift of tongues.  When I look at the story of the early Christian believers from Easter to Pentecost, I see a story about people who are deeply afraid, despite their experience of God's incomprehensible act of raising Jesus from the dead.  The resurrection of Jesus does not empower the community, but rather it seems to have dis-empowered them and left them dazed and confused, uncertain as to what they should do, even where they should be.

            But on this day God, through the agency of the Spirit, entered into that uncertainty and fear, and gave the Christian community the most important gift I can think of:  God freed them from the bonds of fear that kept them from sharing the story of Jesus and from living the new life heralded by the resurrection.

            As I look around the Anglican Church these days, I see a lot of fear.  Some of our fears are well-founded:  our numbers are declining, our members are aging, our sources of funding are decreasing and our institutional structures do not seem agile enough to meet the challenges we are facing.  In contrast to our situation more conservative forms of Christian discipleship seem to be growing, seem to be younger, seem to have funds and seem to require less structure than our own.  I have been privy to conversations in national settings that let me with the impression we were just trying to figure out who was going to turn off the lights, shut off the gas and turn in the keys to the building.

            We are just like that first group of Christian disciples:  we know that we have good news to share and we have all had experiences that cause us to trust in the God of Jesus of Nazareth.  But we are, for many reasons, paralyzed and need God's grace to break free and share what we know and what we have experienced.

            When I was in seminary, I spent a summer working in a mental hospital with adolescents who had been incarcerated for psychological assessments.  It was not an easy summer, but it was made easier by living in my old fraternity house with some of the younger brothers who knew me from my time as a member of the alumni board.  I could come home, relax and live in a totally 'un-church' environment, at least for a few hours.

            One afternoon, after a particularly bad day at the hospital, one of the younger brothers asked me why I kept going back to a place where I was routinely insulted, frequently tricked and, sometimes, at physical risk.  "Because," I said without thinking, "visiting the sick, feeding the hungry and caring for the prisoners is what Christians do."  Some years later, when I went to my first parish as a curate, I met the young man's parents.  "Thank you," they said, "you gave Brent the gift of faith."  It seems that my words aroused in Brent's heart a re-examination of the faith in which he had been raised and he decided that it actually meant something if someone like me would continue to do what I was doing, day after day.  I thank God that I was not silent that afternoon.

            Sometimes we do not share our faith because we think we are being polite.  Religion is not often spoken about in Canadian society unless it is a complaint about the ills of religion.  But religious faith is the origin of public schools, public health care and public care of the vulnerable.  Have we raised our voices to tell people this or have we simply kept silent?

            Sometimes we do not share our faith because we do not want people to think that we are religious fanatics or thoughtless fundamentalists.  But our silence simply reinforces the stereotype that many Canadians have about religious believers.  Think how surprised our friends and co-workers might be to discover that we are religious believers with open minds, open hands and open hearts.

            Sometimes we do not share our faith because we afraid of forcing our views upon other people.  But our vision of a future where every human being is valued, where peace and justice governs the nations and where every human being has enough to eat and to drink and can dwell in dignity is certainly a view that speaks to the deepest longing of every human heart.

            For many years I have been a reader of science fiction.  Unlike other forms of fiction, science fiction allows the writer to create and the reader to explore worlds that might be, some good, others not so good.  Among the more famous writers of science fiction is Frank Herbert whose series of novels associated with a world called Dune have kept several generations of readers intrigued.  In the first novel, simply entitled Dune, there comes a point when the lead character, Paul Atreides, recites the 'Litany Against Fear' as he prepares himself for a life-or-death trial of his abilities:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it is gone past,
I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone,
there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

There have been many times in the years since I first read these words that I have returned to them and found them a catalyst to face my fears and act.

            My friends, Pentecost is a day to celebrate the coming of God's Spirit to liberate us from our fears and to fire up our hearts, our minds and our love.  We are surrounded by people who need to hear our stories, our hopes and our visions.  They need to know that there are communities such as ours that work for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being.  They need to know that religious faith is more about a relationship with the living God than with dogmas written in obscure languages.

            May the Holy Spirit come upon us and free us from bondage to our fears.  May the Holy Spirit come upon us and empower our witness to the God of Jesus.  May the Holy Spirit come upon us and send us forth in love and peace to share the good news.  Amen.
             

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Liturgical Ordo for Pentecost 2012



pentecost
27 May 2012

The Gathering of the Community

The Opening Hymn

‘Wind upon the Waters’  Common Praise #408

The Introductory Responses

Your love, O God, has been poured into our hearts.
We dwell in you and you in us.

We will give thanks to you, O Lord, and call upon your name;
we will make known your deeds among the peoples.

Sing, sing praises to the Lord,
and speak of all the marvellous works of the Lord.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty,
who was and is and is to come!

The Hymn of Praise

‘Sing a New Song unto the Lord’  Common Praise #312

The Collect of the Day

Let us pray.

Creator and Giver of life,
make the dry, bleached bones of our lives
live and breathe and grow again
as you did of old.
Pour out your Spirit upon the whole creation.
Come in rushing wind and flashing fire
to turn the sin and sorrow within us
into faith, power and delight.  Amen.

The Proclamation of the Word

The First Reading

Ezekiel 37.1-14

The Psalm

Psalm 104.24-34, 35b from Songs for the Holy One

The Second Reading

Acts 2.1-21

The Gradual Hymn

‘Come, Holy Ghost, Our Souls Inspire’  Common Praise #637

The Gospel

John 15.26-27, 16.4b-15

The Sermon

An Affirmation of Faith

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary
and was became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father,
who with the Father and the Son
is worshipped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.  Amen.

The Prayers of the Community

The Intercessions, Petitions and Thanksgivings

The Exchange of the Peace

The peace of the risen Christ be with you all.
And also with you.

The Holy Communion

Offertory Hymn                              

‘Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness’  Songs for a Gospel People #108

Prayer over the Gifts

Empowering God,
look upon your church
and combine our diverse gifts
so that we may continue Christ’s mission in this world
until we join in your eternal praise.  Amen.

The Great Thanksgiving

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.

Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

Blessed are you, gracious God,
creator of heaven and earth;
we give you thanks and praise
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
In fulfillment of your promise
you pour forth your Spirit upon us,
filling us with gifts and leading us into all truth.
You give us power to proclaim your gospel to all nations
and to serve you as a royal priesthood.
Therefore we join our voices with angels and archangels,
and with all those in whom the Spirit dwells,
to proclaim the glory of your name.

[Common Praise #732]
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might. 
Heaven and earth are full of your glory. 
Hosanna in the highest.
Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. 
Hosanna in the highest.
hosanna in the highest.

Blessed are you, O God of the universe. 
Your mercy is everlasting
and your faithfulness endures from age to age.

Praise to you for creating the heavens and the earth. 
Praise to you for saving the earth from the waters of the flood. 
Praise to you for bringing the Israelites safely through the sea. 
Praise to you for leading your people
through the wilderness to the land of milk and honey. 
Praise to you for the words and deeds of Jesus, your anointed one. 
Praise to you for the death and resurrection of Christ. 
Praise to you for your Spirit poured out on all nations.

In the night in which he was betrayed,
our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks;
broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: 
Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. 
Do this for the remembrance of me.

Again, after supper, he took the cup,
gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying: 
This cup is the new covenant in my blood,
shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. 
Do this for the remembrance of me.

With this bread and cup
we remember our Lord’s Passover from death to life
as we proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died. 
Christ is risen. 
Christ will come again.

O God of resurrection and new life: 
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us
and on these gifts of bread and wine. 
Bless this feast. 
Grace our table with your presence.
Come, Holy Spirit.

Reveal yourself to us in the breaking of the bread. 
Raise us up as the body of Christ for the world. 
Breathe new life into us. 
Send us forth, burning with justice, peace and love.
Come, Holy Spirit.

With the ever-blessed Virgin Mary,
blessed Joseph, blessed Faith
and your holy ones of all times and places,
with the earth and all its creatures,
with sun and moon and stars,
we praise you, O God,
blessed and holy Trinity,
now and forever.  Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

As our Saviour taught us, let us pray,
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial,
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
now and for ever.  Amen.
[BAS p. 918]

The Breaking of the Bread

Lord, we died with you on the cross.
Now we are raised to new life.

We were buried in your tomb.
Now we share in your resurrection.
Live in us, that we may live in you.

The gifts of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God.

Communion

Hymn after Communion               

‘Come Down, O Love Divine’  Common Praise #645

Prayer after Communion

Holy God,
you spoke the world into being.
Pour your Spirit to the ends of the earth,
that your children may return from exile
as citizens of your commonwealth,
and our divisions may be healed
by your word of love and righteousness.  Amen.

Glory to God,
whose power, working in us,
can do infinitely more
than we can ask or imagine. 
Glory to God from generation to generation,
in the Church and in Christ Jesus,
for ever and ever.  Amen.

Blessing

May the Spirit of truth lead you into all truth,
giving you grace to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord
and to proclaim the wonderful works of God;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Lover, the Beloved and the Love,
be among you and remain with you always.  Amen.

Closing Hymn         

‘She Comes Sailing on the Wind’  Common Praise #656
(Ref, 1, 2, Ref, 3, 4, Ref, 5, Ref)

Dismissal

Let us go forth in the Spirit.  Alleluia, alleluia!
Thanks be to God.  Alleluia, alleluia!


Liturgical Notes

The Opening Collect is adapted from the Scripture Prayer for Pentecost in Revised Common Lectionary Prayers (2002), p. 127.

The text of the Nicene Creed is taken from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), p. 104, and set for responsive use following the model in Common Worship:  Services and Prayers for the Church of England (2000), p. 139.

The Prayer over the Gifts is adapted from the Intercessory Prayer for Pentecost in Revised Common Lectionary Prayers (2002), p. 126.

‘Thanksgiving at the Table IV’ is taken from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), p. 111, and includes the Easter Preface from The Book of Alternative Services of The Anglican Church of Canada (1985), p. 222.

The Prayer after Communion is the Thematic Prayer for Pentecost from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers (2002), p. 126.

All other liturgical texts are taken from The Book of Alternative Services of The Anglican Church of Canada (1985) and Common Praise (1998).

Saturday, May 19, 2012

I'll Take . . .!


20 May 2012

Saint Faith's Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

            I have always been what is politely called 'stocky' all my life.  I cannot remember any men's clothing advertisements that have included men built like me.  We rarely are the leading men in movies or television programmes.  We are always seen more as comic leads rather than romantic ones.

            When I was younger, being stocky meant that playground games were often painful moments for me.  It didn't help that I have one far-sighted eye and one near-sighted eye, a condition not identified until I was eighteen and out of high school.  Any game that required speed and hand-to-eye coordination were moments of severe trial to others and mild to severe trauma to me. 

            You all know how choosing teams goes when you are children.  Two team captains, always slim, trim and athletic, would be chosen and then started calling out their picks for their two teams:  "I'll take Bill!"  "I'll take Chuck!"  Back and forth it would go and my deepest hope was that I wouldn't be last.  Next to last was far better than last.  A lot depended on what kind of game we were playing.  But most of my playground hours were spent as one of the last chosen.  Sometimes, the worst of times, I would be the last chosen and my team captain would arrange for our team to have some sort of handicap based on my inadequacies.

            As an adult I have had other experiences of not being chosen.  Each one, I must admit, have re-awakened these childhood memories and brought to the surface all the same emotions.  Perhaps you have had similar experiences in your lives, but I have always envied those who seem to go from success to success effortlessly.  In my mind's eye they are the beloved of fate and history will remember them long after my name has faded even from the memories of my descendants.

            When Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus and departed from the company of the apostles, the community faced a crisis.  Because they understood themselves to be sent to share the good news of God in Jesus to the Jewish people, the apostles knew they needed to replace Judas as one of the Twelve.  The number was significant:  There were twelve tribes of Israel and Jesus' decision to appoint the Twelve was a symbolic message that his ministry would extend to all the tribes.

            But how was the community to appoint a new apostle now that Jesus had ascended and was no longer among them to choose Judas' successor.  Peter, as leader of the apostles, speaks on behalf of the Twelve and gives the community of the disciples the criteria for choosing a successor:  a man who has been a disciple from the beginning of Jesus' ministry through the trauma of Holy Week until the triumph of Easter.  Two candidates were chosen:  Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.  After prayer and some form of divination, Matthias is chosen and enrolled to restore the leadership to twelve.

            This is the last time in the New Testament we hear Matthias' name or, for that matter, Joseph called Barsabbas also known as Justus.  They fade from sight if not from legend.  The rest of the story will focus on the 'team captains':  James in Jerusalem, Peter roaming the Middle East and Paul travelling into Near East and Europe.  From time to time we will hear the names and stories of a few momentary star players:  Lydia, Phoebe, Onesimus and the like.  But like my childhood experience, being chosen last seems to lead inevitably to disappearing from view as the glory of the captains overshadows any of the 'lesser' players.

             But I had a small revelation this week:  Being last, being nameless, does not matter to God.  Whether we are chosen first or chosen last, whether we are the captains or just players on the bench, we are each precious in God's sight and we are each necessary to God's purposes for the renewal of creation.  Just because dear Joseph called Barsabbas also known as Justus did not become one of the Twelve, I doubt that he went home and sulked until his life's end.  I imagine he went back to his family and community and shared the good news of God in Jesus.  Perhaps he became the first teacher of a generation of teachers that led to the first Christians who came to the British Isles and shared the faith with my ancestors.  Perhaps Phoebe, a deacon named by Paul in the letter to the Romans, became the first to teach generations of women to celebrate their place in God's mission and whose witness led to Christine choosing to become a deacon.  Perhaps all of us here today are here because of those who were chosen last or whose names were never remembered.  We are their legacy; we are their continuing presence in God's unending work to all humanity into the fullness of life.

            Saint Faith's is not the Cathedral nor the largest parish in our Deanery.  We are not located on any of the major thoroughfares of our region where we can proclaim our presence to every passer-by.  We are here in the heart of a neighbourhood that is changing, but whose need for a community of open hearts, open hands and open minds has never diminished.  Our neighbours do not need stars; they need Joseph's and Phoebe's and all other quiet folk whose witness to the new life begun in Jesus and continued in us points the way to life with meaning and hope.

            I can hear God calling out the names for the team and they are the names of everyone here and everyone who is not here but who has found a place in this house of prayer and study.  There will be no one on the bench and no one who will be asked to play a position that they are not good at playing; but everyone will be playing.  Amen.http://dl.dropbox.com/u/74275025/RCL%20Easter%207B%2020%20May%202012%201000.mp3

Monday, May 14, 2012

Who Are We?

During the Easter season, Saint Faith's has been using an alternative lectionary for the first reading and psalm.  This lectionary was developed by the English Language Liturgical Consultation and provides a reading from the Hebrew scriptures and an appropriate psalm for the Sundays in Easter for Years A, B and C.  In this lectionary the Acts reading becomes the second reading for the day and the Gospel remains the same as in the Revised Common Lectionary.

For this Sunday the reading was Genesis 35.9-15 where God changes Jacob's name to 'Israel'.  It also happened to be the Sunday following the 111th Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster.  I apologize for no text, but you can listen to an audio recording of my sermon, 'Who Are We?', by clicking on the sermon title.

Blessings to one and to all.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Tell Me a Story


RCL Easter 5B
6 May 2012

Saint Faith's Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

            Early in my tenure at Vancouver School of Theology one of our students, Susan Lukey, came up with the idea of having a Saint Nicholas Day party for the children.  She had been raised in a home with a significant Ukrainian heritage, so the celebration of Saint Nicholas Day came naturally to her.  When she approached me about this idea, she asked me to do two things:  (i) play the role of Saint Nicholas and (ii) prepare a story for the children.
            Now the first task, dressing up like Saint Nicholas, was an easy thing for a high church Anglican to do.  Susan made a miter and a crozier for me.  I found a wonderful Navajo ring that could double as an episcopal ring.  I could wear my traditional alb, amice and cincture with a red stole and chasuble.  We were set.
            The crafting of a story was more daunting to me.  I had never really been into so-called 'children's sermons' and I was afraid that I would not be able to create a story that would capture the children's imagination.  Then I had a brainstorm:  I would craft a story with David, Anna and Owen providing the models for the roles of Bishop Nicholas' fictional nephews and niece.  The story began to take shape and it remains one of my favourite creations.  The children, both my own and others, loved the story and it became a required part of every Saint Nicholas' Day celebration.
            But one Saint Nicholas Day a young man, Marc Lepine, entered the Ecole Polytechnique in MontrĂ©al and proceeded to kill a number of young women, simply because they were women.  While I continued to play Saint Nicholas from time to time, the anniversary of the MontrĂ©al killings remained very fresh at a school such as VST with its long commitment to women's issues and development.
            But in recent years I have been able to resurrect my story and to use it on a few occasions.  In part I am able to do this because of Saint Nicholas himself.  While it is anachronistic to portray him as an early feminist, Saint Nicholas was well known for his efforts improve the status of the poor, especially young women who were often sold into slavery.  His story is a partial antidote to the tragedy of the Ecole Polytechnique.
            Stories are a core element of religious faith.  One might even argue that stories are the primary glue that holds religious traditions together.  Recently I was listening to 'Ideas' on CBC Radio One.  James Karse, a scholar of religion, was commenting on the wide variety of beliefs within any religious tradition.  He pointed out that Yale University Press had recently published a series on Christian creeds --- five volumes full of authoritative Christian statements about what Christians should and should not believe.  The glue, however, that holds the Christian community together, sometimes loosely, sometimes tightly, is not found in these volumes.  That glue is found in the story of a Jewish rabbi from the northern region of Galilee whose life and teaching changed the world as we know it.
            Another reason stories are the glue of religious traditions is this:  There is not always a direct correspondence between what a story says and what a story means.  If you and I disagree about what we should believe, we often pass quickly from debate, the effort to persuade the other to our point of view, to conflict, the effort to coerce the other to our point of view.  Stories do not lend themselves as easily to debate and conflict.  Stories tend to engage us in conversation, the effort to understand the perspective of the other person.  As we enter into conversation with each other, our world is enriched and deepened even as we realize that there is still more to the story than either of our perspectives can reveal.  James Karse would say that our conversation leads to a community where each participant is warmed by the contributions of others and where mystery, the deep truth we are all trying to comprehend, embraces us.
            Today's readings are invitations to enter into stories that gave rise to two religious  communities.  In our reading from Exodus we hear God entering into the covenant with the Hebrews who have come out of Egypt and who are on the path to becoming the people of Israel.  They are told that they are to be a priestly people who will be a sign to all peoples of the holiness of the God who brought them from slavery into freedom.  Everything else in the Hebrew scriptures can be understood as the community's struggle to understand what being a covenant people means.
              In some texts being a covenant people will mean being separate from all other peoples.  In other texts being a covenant people will mean being a beacon to others.  In still other texts being a covenant people will mean being open to bringing others into the covenantal relationship with God that the people of Israel enjoy.  In the Mishnah and Talmud, the two authoritative reflections on the Hebrew scriptures created by the rabbis in the centuries after the destruction of the Temple in 70 ce, there is no attempt to erase differing interpretations of the meaning of text.  All are allowed to gather around the text like campers around a fire who hear a story being told and try to ponder its meaning and its ending.
              In our second reading from the Acts of the Apostles the early Christian community is wrestling with the implications of the story of Jesus of Nazareth.  There are some members of the community who believe that the story means the redemption of the Jewish people and that membership in the community of Jesus' disciples is limited solely to Jews and to those who are willing to become Jews.  Others are wondering whether the story of Jesus has broader implications.  It is their interpretation of the story that we hear today.
              In the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures, eunuchs are forbidden to be members of the covenant people.  Perhaps their membership is forbidden because they cannot fulfill the command to be fruitful and multiply, perhaps because castration was often practiced by various non-Hebrew religions, but they were excluded.  By the time of the Exile, however, attitudes seem to be shifting and the prophet we sometimes call 'Second' Isaiah, will write that God will welcome eunuchs into the promised reign of God.
              Is it a coincidence that the writer of Acts has the eunuch reading a passage from Isaiah?  Is it a coincidence that Philip, one of the so-called 'deacons' of Acts, has a Greek name not a Hebrew name?  Whatever we may wish to draw from the details of the story, the message is clear:  In the new covenant of Jesus all are welcome, even foreign eunuchs.  One of the tragedies of the history of the Christian community is that our 'yes' to Ethiopian eunuchs eventually became a 'no' to Jewish believers in Jesus who found themselves marginalized and eventually persecuted by their non-Jewish sisters and brothers.
              My friends, we have a story to share with the world.  It is a story that still has meaning for twenty-first-century North Americans who are struggling with all the ups and downs, the successes and the failures, the joys and the sorrows of living in a complex world that seems to foster loneliness and separation rather than community and communion.  It is a story that we not only tell but that we live. 
              The story of Jesus of Nazareth did not end with his death and resurrection.  As the gospel according to John puts, Jesus is the vine and we are the branches.  The story continues to grow and to reach out beyond its original historical and geographical location.  The story continues to be told in the lives of women, men and children whose 'hearts are fired up', whose 'minds are fired up' and whose 'souls are fired up'.  The story continues to be told when people ask questions about what the story means and when communities such as ours raise our distinctive voices to share what we believe the story to mean.
              The Christian story is a story about relationships rather than, a story about communities rather than institutions.  It's a story worth sharing with others to start up a conversation with them about what it means.  So let the story-telling begin.  Amen.