Tuesday, November 18, 2014

One Night, One Star, One Child: Advent Program at Trinity - Sat Dec 6

Festival of Carols Benefit Concerts Welcomes the Fall Season in Song - Nov 22 & 23

The Interfaith Community Choir and Orchestra invites everyone to the 15th Annual Festival of Carols, a choral and symphonic concert benefiting the Interfaith Food Bank of Amador County.  Please note: because of the popularity of these concerts, the location and days have been changed to accommodate the community.  This year's concerts are scheduled the weekend before Thanksgiving, Saturday, Nov. 22nd at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 23rd at 3:00 p.m., at Grace Fellowship Church, 8040 S Hwy 49, Jackson.
The generous support of local business owners and community members continue to make this annual event free and open for all.  A light refreshment will be served after Saturday night’s concert, followed by a meal after the second concert on Sunday afternoon. Childcare will be provided and a goodwill offering will be accepted at both programs. All proceeds from the concerts go directly to the Interfaith Food Bank of Amador County.

This year’s concerts include a rarely heard piece by G.F. Handel for voice and trumpet accompanied by strings and continuo entitled, “Eternal Source of Light Divine”- a precious piece showing Handel’s lyrical mastery, sung by local soprano, Marie Bedard.  Two musical gems will be presented, the first, by Gusalv Holst, entitled “Christmas Day” for chorus and orchestra, and the second, “The Dargason,” which includes the familiar carol, “What Child is This” also known as “Greensleeves”, for string orchestra and oboe.  Both the Interfaith Chorus and Orchestra is made up of highly skilled youth musicians and amateur and professional adult musicians from Amador County and surrounding areas.   Local dramatic tenor, Bill McKenna will be featured in the movement “Every Valley”, from Handle’s Messiah.  Also on the program are a variety of early American hymns and spiritual songs, African style chorus, congregational singing and much more.

All are encouraged to join with the Interfaith Community Choir and Orchestra this year to offer support for the Food Bank and to usher in the Thanksgiving and Christmas season with quality choral music, sing-a-longs, great food and the special testimony of those who have been in need and have found aid, both physically and spiritually.

For more information, call 223-2834 or visit www.icchoirs.org or www.feedamador.org.  Those unable to attend either of these two concerts may send a tax-deductible holiday donation directly to the Interfaith Food Bank, 12181 Airport Road, Jackson 95642.  Donate online or send in a check payable to the Interfaith Food Bank.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sermon: Living Six Feet Under, or Living Abundantly - by the Rev. Karen Faye Siegfriedt, Trinity Episcopal Church

Living Six Feet Under, or Living Abundantly Reading: Mt. 25:14-30 Proper28/A
By the Rev. Karen Faye Siegfriedt; Trinity Episcopal Church, Sutter Creek, CA 11/16/14

There is a euphemism that is often used back east to describe someone who is dead and buried: “Six Feet Under.” This expression comes from that fact that in most graveyards (at least those on the east coast), holes are dug six feet under the ground as a resting place for the deceased. This is to protect the body from being dug up by animals or malcontents, which makes a lot of sense. What does not make sense however, is that some people, while they are still alive, bury their passions, their talents, and opportunities in life because they are afraid to truly live. As a result, they simply exist, giving up an abundant life for a diminished one. My hunch is, that when the final role call is issued, they will struggle on their deathbed, having many regrets for having not having lived fully. Today I would like to talk about living “six feet under” and will use the gospel story as my text.

Each year, the story of the talents is told around stewardship time. To be honest with you, I dread it. After all, I have been preaching for over 22 years, and what new things can I possibly tell you about this parable that irritates me, especially the quote: “For to all those who have, more will be given...but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” Maybe what irritates me most is that it reminds me of our capitalist system where the rich grow richer, and the poor grow poorer. Even the middle class in the United States is slowly disappearing into a thing of the past.

A traditional understanding of today’s parable is one of stewardship: God has given all of us gifts, talents, and resources to share with the world. Those who hoard these gifts for themselves are not being faithful disciples. God has given each one of us at least one gift for the building up of the kingdom, and we are to be generous with those gifts and not bury them in the ground. We will be asked to give an accounting of how we spent our lives in the end. Such an understanding of this parable meshes nicely with our ideas about free-market capitalism, get-what-you-deserve-justice, disciplined self-improvement, and the luck of the draw. However, such an interpretation does not fully jive with the rest of the gospel that portrays Jesus as having abundant compassion for the poor, the hungry, the marginalized, the lost, the loser, the lame, and the left-behind. So what could Jesus mean by this parable (this teaching story) and where is the good news in it?

At this point in Matthew’s gospel, there is a collection of parables that speak to the end of times. At different periods in history, people were expecting the world to end and a new world to arise. Christians sometimes refer to this time of transition as the second coming of Christ, or the apocalypse, or the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven in all its fullness. In general, Episcopalians tend not to focus on the end of times although I have a hunch that during World War II or the Cuban Missile Crisis, many have spent a few sleepless nights worrying about the end of the world and what it all means. Some of us are old enough or sick enough to reflect on the end of our physical lives. We wonder how much longer we have to live and how we will finish out our last chapter. Whether you think about the end of the world or the end of your life, today’s parable hints at how we should live our life between now and at the end of our time. It makes clear that we shouldn’t waste any time, no matter what condition we find ourselves in, but that we should live and prosper and share and take those risks that can make all the difference in the world.

In today’s parable, a wealthy businessman goes away on some enterprise. Before going on his way, he summons his three slaves and entrusts his property to them, each according to his ability. To the one who is the sharpest of the bunch, he gives him 5 talents of gold. This is a huge amount of money to invest. It equals about 75 years of salary which if we take today’s average salary of $60,000, then it would be equal to somewhere around 4.5 million dollars. Imagine being given a lifetime’s worth of money to invest. What a gift. What an opportunity. What a responsibility.

When I think about this parable, it reminds me that most of us are given at least 75 years of life to live. This, too, is a gift, an opportunity, a responsibility. How will you account for your life at the end of your 75 years or more? The first slave who is given the five talents of gold, invests it wisely and doubles the money. And so, too does the second slave who is given two talents (which in today’s terms is about 1.8 million dollars). These two are commended by the master on his return, who now trusts them even more. There is an old saying in Christian circles: To those who are given much, much is expected.” This means, the more talented and gifted a person is, the more responsibility she has for sharing those gifts to lift up others. When our bishop came in June, he reminded one of confirmands who has been blessed by God with many gifts of this saying. To bury our God-given gifts by hoarding them or by being lazy or by ignoring them would be a waste of a life. And so it was with the third slave. He was given $900,000 to invest, a smaller sum than the others but significant never the less. And instead of investing it, or even putting it in the bank to gain interest, he buried it in the ground, thus wasting an opportunity to grow in size and stature.

Now if you are anything like me, you might have sympathy for this third slave. Maybe you too are a prudent, careful, and cautious investor who doesn’t want to take any chances, and so you tip toe around, avoiding risks at every turn. But this parable is not about investing in the stock market or doubling our savings. It is about living. It is about investing in life. It is about taking risks. Living a life of faith is not about being static or comfortable, or hiding out under the radar. The third slave took 15 years of bounty, and because of his fear, buried it six feet under. Fear of course was his downfall, not his lack of financial acuity. Fear is the one emotion that can keep us small and diminish our lives.

This past week, Steph and I went to a family reunion where we celebrated her cousin’s 80th birthday. While we were there, I had an opportunity to visit with one of the relatives who has only a few months left to live. He is 72 years old, having been diagnosed with a non-smoker’s lung cancer that is not treatable. All they can do at this point is to make him more comfortable. I asked him if he was afraid to die. He said that he was not afraid and was spending his final days preparing his household and finances so that his wife would be in good stead. He then gave me an accounting of his life. Although he would do a few things differently, he was satisfied with how he spent his 72 years on earth. He had used his skills as an engineer to build up a tool manufacturing business. It was a successful business and he loved his work. He kept his body in great shape, riding his bicycle 15 miles per day. He loved his wife dearly and they had spent many happy times together. He wanted to live each day to the fullest and so he gave it his best shot. I think the master in today’s parable would say to him: “Well done, good and trustworthy servant...enter into the joy of your God.”

Richard has chosen to live his remaining days without treatment. He believes in quality, not quantity and has come to accept that his days are drawing near. Instead of burying his emotions six feet under, he is embracing life to its fullest until the final role call is sounded. It was a privilege for me to hear his witness. It was an opportunity for me to reflect on my own life and to take an inventory on how I am doing. So here are some of the questions I am asking myself as I take my own inventory:

1. What are the gifts God has given me and am I sharing these gifts freely to make a difference in the world?
2. What emotions do I have that keep me from experiencing abundant life? What am I afraid of and what kind of healing do I need to move from this place of fear to a place of love?
3. How does my disappointment of expectations rob me of joy and how can I change that?
4. What do I need to do to strengthen my own faith and fully trust in God to provide for my needs and the needs of the Trinity Community?
5. Finally, knowing that God has already given me 60 years of life, a precious gift of blessings, how will I live out the remaining 20 or so years that I might have left? Do I need to make a shift or am I called to continue to bloom where I am planted?

How about you? What does your inventory look like? Do you find yourself sitting back, letting your remaining days slip by, or checking out of life because you have become old, or too tired, or disappointed in life? Or are you still committed to investing in life, sharing your gifts, and making a difference in the world? The good news is that God has given us yet another day to live and to bless one another. We can either choose to live the rest of our lives 6 feet under or to live abundantly. Today’s parable encourages us to choose life so that we too can enter into the joy of our God.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sermon: Be Prepared. Keep your lamps filled! by Pastor Karen Siegfriedt

Be Prepared:  Keep your lamps filled!        Reading: Mt. 25:1-13       Proper 27/A
By the Rev. Karen Faye Siegfriedt; Trinity Episcopal Church, Sutter Creek, CA    11/09/14

There are many ways to understand life and our place in it.  On one end of the spectrum are those who understand life as being chaotic, unpredictable, and without any overarching goal. These are the folks who live day to day without hope, choosing to eat, drink, and be merry (whenever possible) until they die.  After all, why not?  Their attitude is:  “Life’s a bitch and then you die.”  Today’s gospel would probably have no impact on this group of people.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who view life as having a specific overarching goal, which is:  ‘One day, all of creation will live in harmony with God and each other.’  This will be a time when nations no longer lift up swords against other nations, when the oldest of enemies become the best of friends; when the wolf shall live with the lamb, and compassion and generosity become the operating principles.  Christians who embrace and work toward this vision tend to be more conscious, more loving, and better prepared for the long haul.  They are not na├»ve, but faithful.  They are not discouraged, but vigilant.  They are not impatient, but anticipating.  They tend to be more awake, always looking for the in-breaking of God, anticipating the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven.  These are the folks who live the gospel each day and thus end up feasting at the table and experiencing the bridegroom first hand.  

Most of us, however, are not as vigilant and fall somewhere in between these two polar opposites.  Having experienced suffering over time, along with the challenges and changes of life, many of us have become a little tired and maybe a bit cynical.  We get discouraged with all the violence in the world, the breakdown of society, our failing health and broken relationships. Some of us take the time to vote, while others simply don’t believe their vote will make a difference. It’s not that we don’t care, we do.  But we’ve become so distracted or overwhelmed with all of the demands of life that we have become lukewarm in our faith journey.  Instead of being a bright light in the world anticipating new possibilities, filled with joy and good news, our wicks are barely flickering.  It is to us, that today’s parable is addressed.  We are the ones whose lamps need to be refilled with oil. Maybe today’s gospel will inspire us.

The parable opens with a familiar phrase: “The kingdom of heaven will be like this...”  This parable (like the one we read a few weeks ago) uses the context of a wedding to make its point. Ten bridesmaids are waiting for the bridegroom to arrive.  The bridegroom is delayed.  The text does not explain the reason for the delay but in reality, a groom’s delay was not altogether uncommon in 1st century Palestine. For instance, there were often last minute negotiations between the groom and the bride’s relatives over the gifts exchanged.  Even though the bridegroom is late, 5 of the women have enough oil on hand to keep their lamps burning and five do not.  The five who lack oil miss the procession into the wedding banquet and lose out in the end.  In this parable, the bridegroom represents Christ, the bridesmaids represent his disciples, and the wedding feast represents the second coming of Christ (AKA- the kingdom of heaven).  

I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like the tone of this parable. It seems so unforgiving. After all, we can’t always think of everything ahead of time and we do make mistakes. But then I remember that a parable is a teaching story whose purpose is to make one or two points. It is not a systematic theological teaching. And the point of today’s parable illustrates the need to stay awake, to be prepared, and to live in a manner that expects the second coming of Christ.  

Originally, this parable was told by Jesus to his disciples in private on the Mount of Olives.  Later, Matthew wrote it down to teach the newly formed Christian community about patience and being prepared for the long haul.  You see, after Jesus’ life on earth had ended, the early Christians were anticipating the second coming of Christ, that new age where all things would be made new.  How they longed for this new age. However, that time had not yet come and those early Christian communities were becoming anxious and lukewarm in their faith.  They were being persecuted by the Romans and thrown out of the Jewish synagogues for claiming that Jesus was the messiah.  They felt deserted and discouraged.  Where they once were filled with the spirit of Christ and love for one another, they were now becoming fearful and inwardly focused.  Where they once had been brimming with joy, devoting their lives to serving others, their faith was beginning to waver.  It sure would be a lot easier for them to throw in the towel and enjoy the pagan way of life by eating, and drinking, and being merry.  It was into this context of diminishing faith, loss of hope, and impatience with waiting, that this parable was told to them.

I can understand how things like this happen. Back in 1989, a significant earthquake hit the Bay Area.  I was at the seminary in Berkeley wondering how my condo in San Francisco was holding up.  As I watched the news that night, I saw that the Bay Bridge had collapsed, houses were burning, and aftershocks were happening.  To say the earthquake had an impact on my life is an understatement.  In the aftermath, great efforts were made to teach us about disaster preparedness.  We were instructed to keep some cash on hand, always to have a ½ tank of gas in the car, to store several gallons of water and cans of food, to have a flashlight, batteries, and first-aid kits ready, and to write out a personal disaster plan for the family. I followed this advice diligently, and for about 10 years was prepared for the next earthquake.  But as time went on and the earthquake didn’t come, the batteries and cans of food expired, the water needed to be changed, and my gas tank often fell below the 50% mark.  Maybe I was lazy, or maybe I was tired of being vigilant, or maybe I was beginning to forget.  The passion I once had in being prepared for a disaster slowly dissipated, and the oil in my lamp was almost empty.  

Today’s parable is reminder to keep our passion for God alive and to work towards the kingdom.  It is an encouragement to keep our lamps burning and to lighten the path for others.  Time is of essence.  However, it is not always easy to be vigilant especially when we hit some rough terrain in our own spiritual journey.  Sometimes we are at a stage in our faith that is very satisfying and exciting while others times we feel stranded in the desert where God seems silent and our hearts are empty.  This sometimes happens when we become depressed or filled with anger or experience a great loss.  At times like these, we need to be patient, pray for healing and grace, and rely on the faith of others until our own faith is restored.

On the other hand, when make promises in baptism or confirmation or when we first join a church community, we often feel renewed, anointed with the Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. Our prayer life is powerful and we have a desire to reach out and serve others.  This is an empowering time in our spiritual life that keeps us motivated.  But then eventually, we come off the mountain top or hit a plateau or become disappointed with others in our faith community or our prayer life becomes stagnant.  The joy we once had begins to diminish.  We are unable to forgive a hurt.  The music has changed, or the preaching is not what it once was, or our friends have moved away.  At times like these, it is tempting to step back, to become lukewarm in our faith, to disengage from worship or study, thereby missing out on the bridegroom. Maybe this is what the early Christians in Matthew’s community were experiencing.  Maybe all they needed was a reminder to fill their lamps with oil so that they could be a blessing to God and to others.

Like any relationship of value, we need to pay attention for it to remain alive.  The joy of a newly-wed couple can easily diminish if energy is not put into the relationship. And so it is with our relationship with God.  We need to fill our lamps from time to time. Some of us fill our lamps with oil by going on a retreat or attending a Cursillo or participating in a year-long study like EFM or the Bible Challenge. Some of us fill our lamps with oil by offering our time to a feeding program or visiting the sick. Many of us fill our lamps with oil through daily prayer and study. Whether you sense it or not, the bridegroom is alive and well, waiting to feast with us at the wedding banquet.  So let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works  and give glory to your Father in heaven. {Mt. 5:6}  After all, who wants to live in the darkness?