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Sermons

Our sermons preached in various settings. 

Fire, Masks, & Identity

Alison Fischer

This sermon was preached by student, Alison Montgomery Fischer, on Holy Wednesday, April 17, 2019, in the All Saints Chapel of Church Divinity School of the Pacific. The readings for this sermon were: Isaiah 50:4-9aPsalm 70Hebrews 12:1-3John 13:21-32

 

Holy Pianist.JPG

Photo by Alison Fischer                       All Rights Reserved.

Fires were raging over tens of thousands of acres throughout our West Coast Region, people and animals were dying, multitudes were fleeing to safety. 

Those of us who were safe from the flames were entrenched in the toxic smoke that permeated our air with a suffocating realization that the nature within our worldly context will always carry the upper hand. 

Schools were closed. We were instructed to wear masks with respirators when we had to venture outside. A friend described this period as apocalyptic and wondered if this was what the earth was like during the Triduum, while humanity responded to the murder of Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps this context and experience was similar to the world without Jesus in more ways than we cared to recognize.

Five months ago, the Son of God had not been murdered, but these fires that ravaged our fragile earth were also caused by our human actions and egos. It was difficult to ignore our role in this modern crucifixion of our God’s Beloved creation. 

How effortlessly we forget and exclaim “Crucify! Crucify” because that is the easier action to take. 

And I wonder, as Jesus was preparing for his betrayal and death during this time we refer to as Holy Week, is the sense of suffocation that we experienced a glimmer of what he might have felt? 

Just as life continued on for the loved ones and condemners of Jesus, life continued on as the world burned around us. I found myself on Cal Campus, picking up packages at the Amazon center. A venture that my husband was frustrated that I took alone because of the armed robberies that were occurring in our neighborhood. He was working late to provide for us and I didn’t want to increase the tasks on his to do list. 

And for my own sanity, I needed to get out and walk. Because after a while of being confined by forces with greater power than ourselves, even toxic realities provide opportunity for freedom when you are using the correct respirators.  

My lungs and heart were pounding from over exertion of walking the short distance in that air quality and I needed to rest. My attention was drawn to a gentleman who was playing one of the outdoor pianos outside the Student Union. It appeared that all of his possessions were in a back pack that laid at his feet. This man was not a Cal student, but was simply seeking solace from the oppressive reality in an opportunity to escape into music. 

And I wondered about this gentleman’s journey towards that piano on an evening filled with toxic air. Did he learn to play at school, from a private instructor, or perhaps teach himself? Where are the individuals who fostered that love for music in his life now? Were the people who invested their time and love in this gentleman wondering where he was and about his well being? Perhaps they didn’t care at all and sleeping on the streets of Berkeley, CA were the healthiest option for him. 

I didn’t know a thing, except that his piano training clearly exceeded mine. 

And then I noticed this gentleman lean forward and stop playing for a few moments. Then, he would revive himself and play again. This cycle repeated itself a few times with each effort becoming weaker and weaker.

And I recognized those nods as a possible product of opiates. 

Or perhaps he was exhausted. 

Or simply choking on the toxic air and oppressive realities of life. 

But I identified and empathized with each possibility. I wondered how much this gentleman and I had in common and realized that we probably shared more similarities than differences. 

If he was nodding off, I empathize, because the balance of healthy pain management is a slippery slope. The potential spiral that is often sparked by the nodding into oblivion is a terrifying reality for many people. For most, this quest for relief and numbness quickly becomes a living hell. One must choose between the spiral that is derived from seeking total relief from a substance, as it appeared this gentleman had possibly decided, or resolving to pain management that is just effective enough to enable one to function. All, while staying uncomfortable and clear of the numbed oblivion. Even relief from pain can be suffocating. 

 I wondered if this gentleman and his loved ones perhaps parted ways similar to Judas and Jesus in that Upper Room. Did one party identify the other’s toxic behavior and claim “Go ahead and leave. What you are about to do, do quickly.” 

And I recognized how easily I could have been in this brother’s place, alone at the piano, if it weren’t for people who loved and invested their time and resources in me when I needed assistance to find wholeness due to tremendous pain and confusion. It isn’t a stretch to consider how easily I could have been nodding into oblivion if it weren’t for the good influence of others that empowered me to make a few wise decisions in pure faith and obedience and specifically given to Christ to sort out. 

As I reflect upon our pianist brother, I ponder “who is Judas, Simon Peter, and Jesus in this situation?”

Despite his suffering and lack of worldly means, he was gifting the world with the beauty of his music that was also serving as an outlet for him. 

In contrast, I had respirator masks in my bag and I chose to not interrupt him and offer him one. I used the excuse that although we were in a crowded space, I was alone and he may have been high. I chose to remain seated and selfishly document his beautiful music.

I chose to remain seated and observe rather than serve as Jesus commanded us to do in that Upper Room. And then I chose to walk away and leave my struggling brother to continue his cycle of gifting the world with music, being overwhelmed, and attempted revival. I chose to walk away from an opportunity to allow another soul to not suffocate and selfishly clung to the masks which I did not need. 

The Upper Room, the setting of today’s Gospel, was a location where Jesus and the Disciples sought refuge from their oppressors. It was here that Jesus continued his teachings of invested love through the demonstration of how we are to be of humble service to one another. washed his friend’s feet and served them bread and wine. The same Upper Room that Jesus identified His betrayer in Judas and sent him away to fulfill prophecy. 

 Jesus’ teachings imply that the Pianist is the one that Jesus would most likely embrace before me, especially when I was choosing to not interact with this gentleman as Jesus instructed. 

Yet our pianist brother is who our society consistently casts out and discards. 

I continue to pray for our brother. I hope he is still alive and finding opportunities to gift the world with his music. And to stop his cycle of being overwhelmed and in need of revival. I pray that he has the opportunity to learn that the suffocation of life may be relieved by the breath of the Holy Spirit. That total pain relief comes in the teachings and the investment of community derived from Jesus Christ and not a substance. That we have the opportunity to identify, sincerely repent and experience God’s grace, presence, and wholeness.

 And I hope that we all may find solace and hope in the good news of Jesus Christ, His teachings, and His resurrection from His murder on that cross. 

French writer Luc de Clapier stated, “We discover in ourselves what others hide from us, and we recognize in others what we hide from ourselves.” I often reflect on this self-identification, especially when I have issues with another person. I wonder how much of my identity I hide and what actions of my commanded faith do I ignore with the masks that I wear in my day to day life. 

It is easy to default into the façade created by our masks and pretend that we are all like Jesus. But the truth is that we all succumb to the stresses and temptations of life and act a lot like Judas in choosing the easier and more profitable solutions and opportunities. Or get overwhelmed or intimidated by life and deny our relationship with Christ like Simon Peter. 

But the Good News is that Jesus loves and is devoted to us, masks and all. Jesus remained in that Upper Room knowing what was to come and still washed his friends feet and broke bread with them. The same Upper Room that Jesus identified His betrayer in Judas and sent him away to fulfill prophecy. He suffered a horrific death and still cried out for forgiveness for His murderers. Jesus was and is invested in devotion and love.

He still faithfully cries out for us. So that we may cry out and be faithful to each other. And gift each other with music, to carry each other through the fires, and offer relief from the pains and suffocating situations of life. 

And despite us making the easier and more selfish choices and choosing to repeatedly crucify Him, Jesus offers us redemption through the cross. He calls us *through* our desire to crucify and leads us to the opportunity to evolve into someone else.  

One who is whole. 

One who has opportunity to heal and be healed. 

One who finds courage in the difficult and suffocating circumstances of life. 

One who is invested and devoted to others.

One who is Beloved. 

That is the Good News of Jesus Christ. 


Our Call to Prayer

Alison Fischer

Prayer serves as a direct line of communication with God. To me, prayer, especially group prayer, is effective and productive because it is focused energy directed towards a specific object, situation, or need. This energy has to go somewhere, right? Physics teaches us that that energy must be transferred. We have little understanding of the realities outside of our observed physical world so the possibility of the energy serving its prayerful intention warrants consideration and faith in the unseen. Of course, this is just theory, but that is how my brain comprehends the productivity of prayer. 

Our faith is rooted in the individual and group spiritual discipline of prayer. Today, James and Luke teach of how a person’s and community’s commitment to prayer is one of the core foundations in how we are called to live out as the Body of Christ in the world. They both call for considerable agency and discernment in our choices for prayer and our expectation from our relationship with the Holy. Our scriptures assure us that our intimate relationship with God, that is facilitated by prayer, enables us to see the Holy in the midst of suffering or even in our daily life.

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Thorn In My Flesh

Alison Fischer

The thorns in the flesh lead us to Christ’s crown of thorns, and ultimately, to the resurrection. This resurrection is what we remember, time and again, when we come to Christ’s table for the bread of life and cup of salvation. Christianity is about resurrection by grace and love after life’s crucifixions. Over and over again. Our Christian faith and our community empowers us to rise up again and again when the thorns continue to pierce our lives. 


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Perception and Peace

Alison Fischer

I wonder if the various emotions that our nation experienced that week of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death were in any way similar to the emotions that permeated Jerusalem in the days after Christ’s death. Both had witnessed the gruesome execution of a man who was using God’s word to go against a system of oppression and hate. However, Jerusalem put to death the Son of God and, of the crowd of people who had ordered and witnessed Christ’s death, I wonder if any person had pondered if He, perhaps, really was the Son of God? Or even, maybe a Holy teacher who should have lived. Or had they already moved onto fixation and hysteria over the next threat against the state and most importantly, their God?

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Stand Up and Walk - A Sermon for Healing

Alison Fischer

I don’t know anyone with a disability or chronic illness that has not at some point questioned where God’s presence was in their experience. The need for healing is a physical, spiritual, psychological journey towards God where we learn to survive, adapt, and still find reason to worship. 

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Radical Love- Feast of Christ the King

Alison Fischer

Today’s Gospel message teaches one of the core tenants of our faith and it presents a challenging command for the human ego. Our Ezekiel scripture conveys that human beings are naturally selfish, protective, and slow to forgive and forget in our quest for survival and prosperity. Our Gospel is difficult because living like Christ requires vulnerability to serve our collective brokenness of this world. It is hard, uncomfortable, and sometimes feels like the trenches rather than the love and fulfillment we are seeking.

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Society's Obstacles in the Way of Jesus Christ

Alison Fischer

I have difficulty writing off the nine who didn’t return as ungrateful. These nine individuals, who were most likely Jewish, had just been healed from a painful and shameful affliction that many considered a curse from God that served retribution for one’s sins.

We don’t know how these nine reacted or praised their healer in their individual experiences. We don’t know the activity of the Holy Spirit within their lives. We just know that they did not return.

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Slaying Dragons

Alison Fischer

The dragons will continue their destruction in many forms of trial; seizing opportunity to draw us away from God. 

Our Holy Trinity, their angels, and our fellowship as Christians are greater than these dragons. We celebrate the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels to remind us that our faith allows us to experience unexplainable mystical power and Grace that destroy the dragons in our lives.

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The Kingdom of Heaven Under A Mango Tree

Alison Fischer

Fourteen years ago, in the slums of Kampala, Uganda, a seed of the Kingdom of Heaven was planted under a mango tree by a small group of teenagers who wanted to help the orphaned and abandoned children who were the most vulnerable victims of their impoverished conditions. One of these teenager was Wilfred Blair Rugumba. Wilfred and I are the same age, we are both nearing 32 and it is a privilege to call him a friend and former colleague. Wilfred’s discipleship and devotion to being God’s hands and feet inspires me because he boldly identifies needs in God’s kindom and figures out how to improve or solve the situation, all while leading people closer to Christ. In the slums, teenage Wilfred and his friends identified that these youths needed and deserved guidance and the investments of others so that they could have the opportunity to not only survive but perhaps, break out of the cycles of poverty. So they met under a mango tree and shared God’s love for the youths through action and word. Then it developed into actually taking these children into their home and raising them to the best of their capabilities, honoring that every human being deserves a safe and healthy living environment and the opportunity of an education. 14 years later, Wilfred and his friends are leading a thriving congregation called Light the World Church and Wilfred is the Director and Pastor of Mercy Childcare Ministries that serves the orphaned and abandoned children and impoverished families of Uganda. With only their mighty faiths and mustard seed sized resources, these young men and later their spouses honored their calls to serve as the hands and feet of Christ.

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Wholeness Through Faith and Christ's Teachings

Alison Fischer

Christ's teaching in today's Gospel increases the challenges of our human experience, requires us to strive to rise above the difficulties and to continuously strive to be "better". Jesus calls for us to continue to make the righteous choices through the easy and difficult times. Jesus calls us to forgive those who harm us and cause us sorrow. Jesus calls us to identify inequity, stop cycles of violence, to use our privilege to restore justice and create opportunity and abundance for the "least of these".

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Job

Alison Fischer

Theology and the understanding of God, failed Job .  Got it totally wrong.  Which is a really scary thing, because there are no answers.  Job had only his gut and faith to hold on to.  This is where is think the quote from the Buddha figures in.  Words, theology are meaningless if we do not act on them.  If do not live the life, there is no point.  Job's life was called into question, because it did not fit the understanding of God at the time.  People forgot his goodness immediately.  People forgot all about the music they had heard and experienced.  No one in this narrative ever says "Job, you are a great man. You love God, how could this be?"  Everyone just points their fingers and write off everything he had ever done, because it did not fit into a neat little box. 

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The Baptismal Covenant

Alison Fischer

Our baptism is a reminder that we are not navigating this life alone.  Yes, it means that we a child of God and that the Divine’s presence is in our life, but it also means that we have this community of believers that are our sisters and brothers in Christ that become our family as we journey through this life together.  The community of the church is God’s abundant blessing in our lives to provide the necessary human interaction and support so that we may live a life in Christ.  Through this community, is where we find the support needed to survive our trials and sorrows in life.  It is through the church community, that we are held accountable for our behavior and encouraged to walk the righteous path.  It is through our church community that facilitates the opportunity to minister to others and be a part of their faith journey and walk.  We are given an opportunity to be vessels for the Holy Spirit and this opportunity is not one to be taken lightly.  We have an obligation to each other and to God to keep our collective body as healthy as possible.

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Reacting To The Storm

Alison Fischer

Through this human life of ours, we will continue to experience storms that are capable of destroying us.  Each of us will or have already encountered our own personal experiences that require us to cry out to God out of sorrow and frustration.  We all experience some type of physical and or emotional pain that we carry as our own personal crosses to bear.  As the Body of Christ, we are called to lift up our crosses together and move as a collective.  We are called to acknowledge that we are responsible for choosing healthy reaction to these storms in life.  

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Healing Through Christ

Alison Fischer

Today's reading though, is something I can more easily wrap my head around. Because no matter if it is physical, emotional, or spiritual healing, Jesus’ divine intervention can only do so much healing without our active participation and devotion. We must have faith and get up and walk and put forth the effort of managing our own obstacles. 

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What Does God Desire From You?

Alison Fischer

Scripture reassures us that no one who trusts God with their heart and soul will ever regret it as we reap the bountiful blessings she bestows upon us.  He sets life right for us through our faith as he recognizes how difficult it is to be believers in our corrupted world.  Salvation is really about calling out to God and trusting him to work through us so that we may navigate the not so easy righteous life. 

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