Just Listen

You can read this week’s scripture by clicking here.

 

I remember when I first arrived here a little less than a year and a half ago; it was the beginning of March.  I was excited to get to know you, the people I would be serving.  I wanted to know who you are and what you care about.  I was thankful that many of you took the opportunity to have a meal or coffee with me so I could learn more about your lives.

And I remain always thankful for the opportunity to listen to what’s on your hearts because I’m here to be your pastor and to help this congregation of St John’s grow into what God is calling it to become.  I’m here to help St John’s discern how to live out its mission of serving God by serving our neighbors.

SnowdropsSo, when I arrived here in early March, the ground was still frozen and most of the plants in the yard were dormant in some way – either brown or underground. Some small plants had just begun to pop their heads out, however – crocuses, snowdrops, the beginnings of all the tulips that Janet Vincent planted over 20 years ago.  It was a feast during those first couple of months.  I went out and walked around nearly everyday taking pictures, posting them to Facebook and Instagram.

As I got to know you and as the spring breezes warmed the air and the soil, all manner of things started growing.  Now, I love houseplants and I’m pretty good with things in containers.  But outdoor gardens are new to me simply because I’d always lived in an apartment – even as a child.

So, I watched as green things grew and I slowly started to realize that not everything was meant to be a part of the garden: some things were weeds and some things were “supposed” to be there.  However, by this point, everything in the garden was growing so fast and my attention was focused on you – still getting to know everyone, still getting my head around everything that happens in the life of St. John’s.Weeds and Not

So, I let the weeds grow.  As you might have noticed.  It’s a lot of space and a lot of garden for one person to manage. But still, it was only once things came to maturity that I could tell exactly what was happening.  Now, we could argue whether this is patience or procrastination on my part. But I think the lesson is important: when we only know a little bit about what’s happening, we really have to wait and see before we go uprooting things.

So, we watch and we listen.  And we wait patiently to see what will happen.

 

Celies Breakfast

Whoopi Goldberg as Celie in The Color Purple.

One of my favorite scenes from the movie The Color Purple is when Celie, a person of infinite patience, cooks breakfast for her cantankerous houseguest, Shug.  Another character named Albert tried to cook Shug’s breakfast and he did such a bad job that Shug threw the breakfast out the door of her bedroom so that the food ended up on the wall of the hallway.

 

So Celie cooks a scrumptious breakfast, slowly slides it into the bedroom and jumps back out of the way, saying “I just stand back and I wait to see what the wall goin look like.  See what kinda color Shug’s goina put on there now.”

We watch and we listen and we wait… until we have more information, until we can see a clear path, until we truly know the difference between the weeds and the wheat.

Wheat and WeedsThe parable of the weeds and the wheat, as articulated by the Gospeler Matthew, is an allegory, where each thing in the parable correlates directly to something else.  As you heard Sue say when she read the Gospel, what we know is: the wheat is good and the weeds are bad.  However, rather than jumping in too soon, it’s best to wait.

In order to preserve the wheat and gain the best possible harvest, it’s best to wait until things mature to discern the good from the bad.

Unfortunately, this is usually applied to people in a wholesale way – that a person is either good or bad.  We end up calling people “bad eggs” or we believe that there is no redemption for people who have done bad things.  That is, quite frankly, blasphemy.

It’s true that it’s hard for people to change, but they do.  It is possible for people to stop thinking in immature, selfish ways and realize the impact of their behaviors on others and to live in ways that uphold the two greatest commandments:  Love God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

But even besides all of that conjecture about people being able to change, God never gives up on anyone.  No one is ever beyond the love of God.  I’ve often said, whenever we draw a line in the sand, Jesus is always on the other side of it.  Every single time.

So, when it comes to interpreting this allegory, I believe the more truthful understanding is that we have both good and bad tendencies within us.  (Harry Potter fans will remember that Harry’s godfather Sirius said this exact thing to Harry… not that Harry Potter is the gospel…)

Or, to be more generous, we have both helpful and unhelpful tendencies within us.  Some days we are the weeds and some days and we are the wheat.

Much like the parable of the sower from last week, we always have the potential for goodness because we are inherently good.  The whole of Creation is inherently good. We always have, within us, the possibility for being good soil.  Often it comes down to the choice we make.  And to make a choice, we need to discern.

If we apply this understanding to this week’s parable that we have, within us, the ability to be both the wheat and the weeds, then it’s incumbent upon us to continue maturing in our spiritual life so that we can better discern which parts of us are the unhelpful, toxic weeds and which parts of us are the fruitful wheat, capable of feeding others as well as ourselves.

This means we continue our efforts to learn to see through the eyes of Christ, rather than solely through our perceptions and limited understandings because preferences and opinions are often full of weeds.  We never have the whole picture.  But when we wait and listen and watch with faith in Christ, we are often surprised at the result. Something happens that we would have never expected.

And I know we don’t like it, but yet, we are sometimes asked to move through uncomfortable situations or be in relationship with people we label as “irritating” or “stupid” and listen and watch and learn rather than react.  The situation always opens up.  The other person always offers something that we haven’t thought of.

This is discernment.  What do we do when things are unclear or uncomfortable?  What else do we need to see?  Who else do we need to listen to?

Rather than react out of fear or anger, how do we move thoughtfully, respectfully, and lovingly… holding the tension of a difficult situation?  How do we hold a generous space to see what else might arise in us and in the situation we are facing?  This is fruitful discernment.

Because while we are called to act in the world, we are called to listen more than speak.  We are asked to watch for acts of goodness and kindness in others and recognize that sometimes we are wrong in our assumptions because we don’t have the whole picture.  Not one of us has the whole picture.  Because not one of us is God alone.

Things happen that we don’t like.  People act in ways that feel hurtful and are disruptive to our sensibilities.  But how do we respond rather than react?  How do we hear a voice other than our own when we are truly lost, which is to say, when we are cloaked in our certainty?

There is a prayer in our prayer book on page 833.  It’s a prayer that is always attributed to St. Francis because, as he spoke to birds and listened to animals, St Francis was the very icon of listening and watching, and waiting and hoping.

St FrancisLord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

And, just to reiterate something that I said a few moments ago, because it’s deeply, deeply important:  I will always be thankful for the opportunity to listen to what’s on your hearts.  It’s a holy thing to listen to others.

This prayer that I just said… it’s not just words to me.  It’s how I try to live my life.  It’s how I strive to be with others because I believe that when we listen deeply, when we seek to understand, it offers something that we aren’t often given in our current context of tv news and political pundits and opinions and reactions and snarky comments on social media… and that is the invitation to go beyond the weeds, those places of opinions and preferences, to go deeper into our hearts so that our inmost concerns and fears and hopes might be spoken and held as sacred.Heart flame

 

How often are we given the space to be truly heard?

 

Being the priest means that I’m given the pulpit, that I’m called to teach and guide and continue to point to Christ but it’s never a one-sided conversation.  I am well-trained and have experience but offer what I have and who I am in profound humility because I don’t have all the answers and this is God’s Table, not mine.

Listening to you and what’s on your heart is, ultimately, the only way I can be of service to you.  So, just as I did when I first arrived here, I continue to welcome and cherish each opportunity to listen.  Because I’m here to be your pastor.  And I’m here to help guide this congregation of St John’s as we grow into what God is calling us to become.

May we all seek to understand.  May we all seek to console.
May we all strive to see through the eyes of Christ.

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Truth and Good Soil

For this week’s readings, click here.
I saw a movie this week called Beatriz at Dinner.  Ever since I saw the trailer for this movie several months ago, I’ve been waiting for its release.  It’s a powerful movie about money and privilege, oppression and racism, capitalism and the plight of the earth, our home.  So, there is a lot going on.

I was mildly annoyed at the end of the movie, however.  It didn’t have a typical Hollywood ending.  I won’t spoil it for you, should you wish to go and see it.  But I wasn’t alone in this. I read some reviews and spent time in conversation with others who had seen it and we were all kind of scratching our heads.

Some of us liked being left wondering.
Some of us stayed annoyed, preferring to have a story make sense so that we clearly know the lesson we’re supposed to learn and move on.
And some of us, just wanted to be entertained, not to think too hard.

It seems a common set of responses to a story:  we like to get the point of the story or we like to keep chewing on its meaning or we just want to be entertained.

We have the same problem with parables.  Often, they aren’t what we want them to be.
There are layers of meaning that we would rather not have to deal with because we want easy to digest lessons.

Now, I can appreciate that.  I’m learning to cook vegan dishes right now with a program called Purple Carrot.  I’m deeply grateful that the recipes aren’t written in parables.  There are no metaphors.  No poetry.  No imagery.  No wordiness.  The instructions are clear, concise, descriptive, and straightforward.  I am learning a lot as I execute these recipes.  They are written well and offer some explanation for the why behind what I’m doing.

Unfortunately, God isn’t as simple as that.  The Kingdom of Heaven is a little more involved than a vegan recipe. As a matter of fact, the nature of God is mysterious – like a lemon seed on a counter.  You can never quite grasp it because it slips from your fingers as you try.  You can see it.  You know it’s there.  But it’s illusive and slippery.

Another way to think of this is to recognize God’s nature as Truth – truth that is startling and bright.  Poet Emily Dickinson says that the best way to tell truth is to tell it on a slant.
She says:
“Tell all the Truth but tell it slant –
… The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind –“

The Gospel Truth is, indeed, a difficult truth to take in.
If it were easy, the Kingdom of Heaven would be realized, Christ would have come back again and this moral coil would be over. God’s peace would be reigning and there would be no oppression.  Everyone would be liberated and we would live in equanimity.

And so, to help us hear the Truth, our teacher Jesus uses parables.  He teaches people by using extended metaphors that are grounded in their every day life.  He’s not exactly talking to us, however.  He’s talking to first century, illiterate peasants who were being ruled by an occupying force – the Roman Empire.

Their everyday life was one of oppression under Roman rule.  This is an important piece to understand if we’re going to understand Jesus as Messiah, to truly know what it meant to these people that this person Jesus was going to lead them to liberation.

For us, we like to put Jesus in a purely spiritual box.  But the kingdom Jesus was talking about – God’s kingdom – was one of real life liberation from real life oppression.  God’s peace was much more practical than a mystical sense of peace, of feeling good.  It was a balancing of power.

That is not to say that there is no spiritual component to this.  Not at all.  Jesus taught us how to pray, how to confess, how to heal… how to be in relationship with God.  Because this is what leads us to care for one another rather than live a self-serving, isolated life.

And this is the real point of today’s parable: if leading a spiritual life is just about feeling good, then we’ve missed the point.

To help illustrate this, we might glean a little from the missing verses in today’s Gospel reading:  verses 10-17.  What we miss is the disciples questioning Jesus about his choice to use parables.  And Jesus responds saying:

The reason I speak to them in parables is that seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.

Another WorldIn other words, he was trying to find another way to reach people because plain language was no longer going to work with them.  These were people who were tired and disheartened.  For nearly 100 years Rome had become a military presence in the area, gaining full control about 25 years before Jesus started teaching.  For nearly 100 years these people had been hoping that the Romans would leave, that someone would come to liberate them.  Many just gave in to despair, losing hope and accepting the circumstances.  Or finding a way to profit from them.

For nearly 100 years, the Jews had heard leader after leader, speech after speech, promise after promise.  None of them knew what life was like without Roman presence.  It had become the air they breathed.  So, Jesus used a different way of talking to them to get them to see that the way things were was not how they should be.

The “vast majority of the population, about 70 percent, were peasants who worked the land and lived in the towns and villages that dotted the countryside.”  That is to say, they provided the labor.  They didn’t own the land. They just went with the land, as animals of a farm might go with the farm should it be sold.  (Herzog, pgs 63-64)

The people to whom Jesus was speaking knew little else besides agrarian practices.  They didn’t know how to read or write.  They didn’t travel or have much leisure time.  They weren’t necessarily unintelligent.  But they were limited in their experiences.

Jesus used what they knew to teach them about how was trying to work through him – to liberate themselves from tyranny and oppression.

And his first lesson is a bit of a challenge to the listeners.  He’s asking them to place themselves on a continuum.
Where do you belong, he asks.  Which one are you?

  • Are you going to be the well-trodden path?  The kind of person who is so hardened against hope that your heart has no place for the Word of God to land?
  • Or are you going to be the rocky ground?  The kind of person who likes an easy fix but won’t be bothered to stick around when the Word of God asks too much of you?
  • Or are you going to be the thorny soil?  The kind of person who knows full well what the Word of God is saying but if it conflicts with self-interest, will refuse to act upon it?
  • Or are you going to be good soil?  The kind of person who hears the Word of God and allows themselves to be transformed by it?  To be liberated by it?

And here we are in 21st century New York.  Members of the Episcopal Church, sitting in an air conditioned room on a lovely summer day.

Some of us may garden, but we don’t need to.
Some of us work, but many of us no longer have to.
Some of us have experienced oppression, but most of us have never lived with bombs dropping around us or feared deportation or wondered if we were going to make it home at night if we were stopped by police.

Liberation.pngSo, if Jesus was speaking to oppressed, illiterate, Jewish farmers who spoke Hebrew or Aramean and lived about 2000 years ago halfway around the world… what could these words possibly mean to us today?

How are we supposed to be liberated by the Word of God?
How are we being asked to be transformed by it?

Consider that for a moment.
What kind of world is God asking you to imagine?  Not what do you want, that’s a trap that will just keep you confined.
What is God asking you to consider?  What is God asking you to give up so that you will be transformed?  What is the message God is trying to get you to hear?

And remember, it may be something that has never occurred to you before because we are so used to breathing the air of our circumstances – just like the Jews were so used to the Roman presence that they couldn’t imagine an existence without that.

What is the wildest thought that you think is impossible because you’re too conditioned by the world to imagine it might be the Word of God?  What is God’s hope that you are scared to let take root in your heart?

Now, here’s the Good News.

Parable of the Sower ShirtsWe are not one or the other… on Jesus’ list, we are not one or the other.
We are not either the hardened path with absolutely no hope or the rocky ground that just wants things to be easy.
We are not either the thorny overgrowth who is too self-interested or the good soil who finally gets it in some transformational ah-ha moment.

We are all of them.  At different points in our lives, we have been and will continue to be all of them.  And that’s Good News because there is good soil.
There is always good soil.

And God is always sowing seeds in us.  Always and forever.
Never giving up on us.
Never ceasing Her Love for us or His desire for us to hear the Word of God that is Christ.

But the challenge of this parable is always going to be there.
What kind of soil are we today?

ListeningAnd so I return to the questions: What is God asking of you right now?
What is the Truth that Jesus is asking you to consider, perhaps, for the first time in your life? What is God asking you to give up so that you will be transformed?

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Rest

You can find this week’s scripture readings by clicking here.
Something miraculous happened to me about two weeks ago:  I got a cpap machine.  (cpap=continuous positive airway pressure)

For the past 3 years or so, I’ve been in this seemingly endless cycle of feeling overwhelmed and never feeling like I had enough energy to attend to things.  All my attempts to improve my health just made things worse – more exhaustion, more weight gain, more feelings of being overwhelmed… and my blood pressure creeped up.  In March, I was finally able to schedule a physical with a new doctor here in town and I asked her to prescribe a sleep study.  And that’s what did it.Lion resting

There was nothing more I could *do* to feel better.  What I needed was rest.
What we all need… is rest.

So, I’m reading Jesus’ invitation with this deep appreciation now:
Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  (Matt. 11:28)

And it reminds me of a poem by William Wordsworth, echoing Jesus’ invitation to rest from the world that can make us so weary:
“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”

It’s the “world” we humans create that both Jesus and Wordsworth are speaking to:
The distractions, the addictions, the stuff,
the wars, the fear, the power-mongering,
the judgment, the comparison, the disparity of wealth,
the pundits, the politics, the bombs, the money, the greed,
the unkindness and name-calling, the positions and controversy,
the self-righteous opinions, the gossip,
the hate, the borders, the walls,
the nations, the governments, the guns.

The things we think are right and the things we think are wrong and the belief that we alone have the authority to discern such things.

The world is too much with us, indeed.  We have given our hearts away.  And we are carrying heavy, heavy burdens.  We really think it’s all up to us – that we carry the judgment of God on our shoulders, deciding what is right and what is wrong.
Is it really any wonder we struggle to get through the day sometimes? Are we really surprised that we reach for some way to quiet the swell of panic or fear or pain that arises in us?  We keep trying to plug the holes when what we really need is rest.

Because in all of this, we can so easily forget our blessed nature.  We can forget that we are created and good.  That all of Creation was made from the same elements and God called it all good at the beginning of the beginning.

We are good.  We are holy.  We are the beloved children of God all formed of the same earth, breathing the same breath.  Jesus is asking us to remember this and attend to it.

Rest here benchCome to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  (Matt. 11:28-30)

This yoke that Jesus talks about refers to spiritual discipline.  Not a discipline of doing, but of releasing.  To lay our burden down, the burden of trying to be God.  And, instead, remember ourselves and return to Love.

This word yoke is translated from the Greek word (d)zugos, refers to the heavy wooden bar that would join a pair of oxen in the field, enabling them to work together to pull a single plough.  So, in the minds of those who were listening to Jesus, they picture this wooden bar that they have lain on the necks of their beasts of burden, meant to join a pair together, to work together.

This is not a harsh yoke.  But it is a yoke, something that joins us with another.  He is asking us to accept a discipline, to be joined with Jesus in this discipline so that the work of being in the world is easier.  We don’t have to do it alone.  This discipline will bring rest to our souls.

Paul talks about in his letter to the Romans this week: I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  (Rom. 7:15-25)

He’s talking about undisciplined behavior.  He’s talking about the ways in which we temporarily forget who we are and whose we are. We forget that we belong to God and we mistakenly think we belong to ourselves alone and that we have no need to rely upon God.

And we stop praying.  We stop listening.
And we surround ourselves with only those voices who agree with us, who reinforce what we already believe to be true.
This is far from discipline.  This is indulgence.  This is addiction.  And this is when substance abuse can kick in.

Most people think that addiction is all about the substance itself.  But ask anyone who has dealt with addiction, really dealt with addiction, they are actually dealing with the thoughts, emotions, beliefs, prejudices, and patterns that lead to reaching for the substance itself.

It’s why the 12-steps are not a checklist about removing temptations, but about learning how to respond differently to the world, how to form new habits of thought, new emotional patterns, how to find a sense of rest in the chaos of the world.  And it requires confession.  Steps 4-7 get directly to the point:

  1. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  2. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  3. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  4. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.

It sounds a lot like our Confession.  I’ve spoken about the act of Confession before in sermons and in one on one conversations and other places.  Confession is not a part of our worship because the hierarchy of the church thinks we need to spend time feeling bad about ourselves.

prayer 2The purpose of confession is exactly the opposite, actually.  Its purpose is to offer rest.  Deep rest.  Think about where it is in our worship:  We have just heard the Word of God and then we pray for the world… offering our compassion, our hope, and our love for the world.

And then we have the Confession.
Before we share the Peace, we have Confession.
Before we come to the Table of Reconciliation, we have Confession.
Why?
Because we have to pray for ourselves.  We have to be at peace with ourselves before we can be at Peace with one another.
We have to spend time reconciling with ourselves before we can be at a Table of Reconciliation with everyone else.
This is the discipline that Jesus is talking about. This is the rest that Jesus offers to us.

He says, Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  prayer

Confession is the time we pray for ourselves and our own restoration. To acknowledge that we have missed the mark this week in our efforts to follow Jesus… and to be brave and be as specific as we can.  Did I speak badly about another person?  Did I treat people with respect?  Did I blame someone else for my reaction?  Did I act in anger?  Did I do what I could to help other people?  Did I respect myself?  Did I love myself?  Did I take care of myself?

Confession is the time in our worship when we rest deeply in God’s Love for us.  When we recognize that: I’m deserving of my own compassion.  I’m deserving of my own hope.  And I deserve to act in accord with God’s holy law.  Because I am God’s beloved, holy Creation.

Jesus doesn’t give us a set of laws – rules to keep us in line that we just use to keep other people in line.  Jesus gives us 2 commandments and trusts us to figure it out from there:  Love God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

It’s not that we are called to do nothing, my friends.  On the contrary, the Gospel is very clear… we are called to mission, to be in the world.  This rest that Jesus offers us is not a perpetual vacation from the world… that’s addiction.  This rest that Jesus offers us is found in the discipline of continually laying our burdens down and returning to the Law of Love and then acting in the world from that place.

The place where we stop trying so hard to master the world and just rest in the heart of Christ.  Where we are freed from the burdens we’ve been carrying for so long.  The place that reminds us of who we are and whose we are.  Where we know a sense of peace without the ideas of right and wrong, where Love is the only thing that is real.

Keith HaringBecause we are only called to Love.  And to spread that Love to others.  It is from this place and this place alone that we humans discover our creations and our efforts are not burdensome nor wearisome, but are generative and productive.

Because we are doing our work in the world, not alone, but yoked by Jesus’ law of Love:  Love God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

May Love be our discipline.  May Christ be our home.  May we find rest.

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Offering Ourselves

Abraham must have been very certain about what he was doing to risk the blessing that God had given him.  He must have thought he was right.

Abraham was told that he would be the father of many nations.  God had said: “No longer will you be called Abram, your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.”  Abram and Sarai were very old when they were told they would be parents – long past the age of conceiving.  And then Abraham and Sarah had Isaac, a name that means laughter.  So Isaac was Abraham’s legacy – his progeny.  Abraham is referred to as blessed because of this.

It’s clear from the passage that God is testing Abraham… but why?  For what purpose?  Is it this test that gives Abraham the descriptor of “blessed” – he has passed the test so now he is blessed, he is deserving?  The scripture certainly does read that way.

A lot of ink has been spilled on interpreting this story – the Binding of Isaac.

  • Some scholars argue that Abraham was righteous, focused on God’s Will. Willing to sacrifice everything, even his legacy – his own flesh and blood – to obey God.
  • Others argue that he was a fool, stupid. Focused on his own salvation, on what he thought was God’s Will.  Blind to what he was actually doing, saved from himself only at the last minute by God’s angel.
  • Still others argue that this is a metaphor for Abraham’s willingness to surrender his dearest treasure, his son to God’s purpose. In essence, giving up his fatherhood, his rights over his son.

My question for Abraham is: “Why are you so certain about what God is telling you this time?”  I remember that it was Abraham who had questioned God about the destruction of Sodom… questioned God’s decision to destroy an entire city, the righteous and the sinful together.

So, I want to say to him: “Y stopped God from destroying a whole city and you’re going to surrender your son?  You’re not going to question God about this?  This relationship that means everything to you, that you cherish beyond measure… you would rather be right and destroy this relationship than to stop and question your own certainty?”

And I wonder, what is it that creates that certainty in us that we are willing to replace righteousness for relationship?  How often have we done something that indicates we’d rather be right than be in relationship?  Why are we so concerned with our own justification?  To make sure that we are deserving of God’s blessing upon us? And how do we know who is deserving of God’s blessing?  Because we say so based on our standards?

Depending on how we see ourselves and our relationship with God, we may be convinced that our trials in life are what make us deserving – the long-suffering servant from today’s psalm: How long, O Lord?  will you forget me for ever? how long will you hide your face from me? But I put my trust in your mercy; my heart is joyful because of your saving help.
Or perhaps it’s our piety/faith makes us deserving.  If we do the right thing.
Or if we just believe hard enough, we will be blessed.

But what we fail to see so often is that we are already blessed.  We forget that God blessed all of creation when She made it.  When He formed us from the earth, God called us good.  We have already been given life.  Breath.  This flesh.  This incarnate, finite existence… to feel joy, love, to celebrate… to share with one another.  To bless one another as we have been blessed.

Today’s passage from Matthew is a part of a long set of instructions Jesus gives his disciples as he tells them to go out and preach.  To go from this place into Galilee and preach.  And since we are his disciples, we are called to listen too.  Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.

In other words: Whoever welcomes you, effectively welcomes the Christ in you, which is to say, welcomes God.  Welcomes us as blessed people.  It’s the relationship we have as incarnate, finite human beings.  Enfleshed and created.  Called good by God from the very beginning.

Those who are truly hospitable to God, will be those who receive the disciples well.  Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and welcomes the one who sent me.

Granted, it’s not always easy to welcome the people who show up on your doorstep, who show up in your life.  Especially those who are unbidden, who interrupt us from the daydream we have of who we are, the people who challenge us in our lives.  We don’t want to be challenged.  We don’t want to be told that we’re wrong or mistaken about what we believe.  But we’re called to welcome them anyway as prophets.

Sometimes we become empassioned about our opinions and when people don’t agree we fold up our tent and go home.  We sacrifice again and again and again because the relationship is less important than being right.

 

the-sacrifice-of-isaac-1966

Marc Chagall’s The Sacrifice of Isaac

And so, we’re always standing there holding the knife, just like Abraham, willing to slay the very relationship that God has given us – the relationship that God called good because of the sharing of the incarnate breath.  Just to prove we are right?  Deserving?  Is that what being blessed is about?  That we get to say… “See?  I was right?  Sorry, that I failed to acknowledge your blessed nature, but I was right!”

 

 

 

Instead, what if we remembered ourselves.  What if, in that moment of sacrifice, we actually heard God’s angel saying to us:  Stop!  You silly human!  That’s not the way to honor God’s blessing.

Because if we saw ourselves as God’s beloved child, wouldn’t we be better able to receive without feeling the need to be deserving of it?  The need of prove our own righteousness?  The need for others to prove theirs?

Would we better understand that the innate blessedness of God’s creation, that God’s love that formed us in the womb is what makes us “deserving” in the first place?  Would we continue to demand that others are “deserving” of what they receive?

We have to look no further than this country’s debate over health care to realize that we have forgotten this truth.  I realize that it’s a contentious discussion about the right way to do it and the wrong way to do it.  But at the core of it is a very direct question about how we understand ourselves in relationship to God:  If we truly saw all people as God’s children, saw the entire creation as blessed and beloved (most especially ourselves) why wouldn’t we want to ensure everyone has access to good healthcare?  Our very bodies are made from the same earth by the same God.

Why would there be a need to say some are more deserving than others?  Healthcare in a tiered system.  You deserve this level.  You deserve this level and so on.

But, we all have the same incarnate flesh.  We all breathe the same air.
Why wouldn’t we want to offer what we have received? Is it because we think we need to deserve something in order to receive it so we need others to deserve it based on our standards?
Because those standards are arbitrary – different for every single person, country, system.  Are we afraid of losing it if we give it away? Do we forget that God has already called us good?

Here’s a different way of thinking about blessing:
If we start from the place of truly knowing that all of Creation is blessed and is therefore a blessing unto us… if we remembered that more often, it would enable us to be better hosts to the Christ in one another, better hosts to God in our midst.

Maybe, then, we would be less willing to fold up our tent and go home.  Less willing to lay Isaac down on the altar and sacrifice the relationship for the points we might score from being right.

When we realize that we are hosting God in the person we’ve been given that day is when the true blessing actually happens.  Because we are blessed when someone receives what we offer.  Not when we receive but when we are received.  We are seen.  When we offer love, offer kindness, offer compassion, offer ourselves as an audience.  And that is received.

We offer and we offer.  And then offer again.  This is the self-emptying we are called to do as Christians.

When we make of ourselves and offering and sacrifice to God… that’s not just a request to put money in the plate.  What we’re offering is ourselves at this Table of Reconciliation every week.  Ourselves in prayer.  Ourselves in connection, in relationship with one another. We are emptying ourselves.

And in doing so, we are host to God in Christ – if just for that moment every week and we practice this and eventually we remember to offer ourselves when we go out every week.  This is what Jesus is talking about when he calls us to go out and peach: Leave here with what you learn and go and do likewise out in the world.  To be a blessing is to receive a blessing.

This is what Jesus is saying when he says: “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

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Called to Believe

Click here for the readings.  Click the play button below to listen:

Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas

The Incredulity of Thomas, Caravaggio

But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

How many times have you said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”?  Or maybe you just think it.

I don’t know about you, but I often find myself in Thomas’ seat.  I find myself full of suspicion and doubt, with thick, highly-defended walls, impenetrable by the people around me.  It seems to make me feel like I am in control.  It helps me to feel powerful.  It keeps me safe from disappointment.

Thomas, or “Doubting Thomas” as he has come to be known in the Christian tradition, is one of the followers of Jesus, a disciple.  And, it seems, he is the last of those 12 to see the resurrection of Christ.

He is not there when the community witnesses the resurrection together.  He’s not there when Jesus breathes on them to bless them with the Holy Spirit.  He is not there to learn the lesson of the Resurrection with them – that of forgiveness, of reconciliation.

Instead, Thomas is elsewhere on the evening of the Resurrection, we don’t know where.  Thomas is left out.  He’s not present.  He’s not party to ‘the party.’  And so, he’s feeling marginalized by his community.  He’s no longer in the know.  He’s disconnected because he hasn’t had the same experience that the rest of the community has had.

 

Jose Lerma Doubting Thomas

Doubting Thomas, Jose Lerma

 

And Thomas reacts much the same way I would when I feel disconnected from community.  He’s a little defensive.  He’s at odds with what his friends are telling him.  He essentially says, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

And I think we all experience this doubt when we find ourselves in the margins, when we find ourselves on the outside in some way.  It’s simple defensiveness, drawn from the depths of our own fears because we really just want to be accepted.  We really just want to belong to someone, to something.  And so, in response to the thought we are shunned, we shun others to make the experience easier to tolerate.

I think this need to defend ourselves is exactly what Thomas is displaying when he says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

And this is why today’s lesson about belief is actually about forgiveness.  This is why our collect today talks about the new covenant of reconciliation as established in the Paschal mystery.  This is why forgiveness and the Holy Spirit are intimately connected – Jesus says: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

True reconciliation, true forgiveness, can only happen when we have completely dropped our defenses.  It can only happen when we’ve let go of our need to have things proven to us.  Because when we stand in the place of expecting to be disappointed instead of expecting to be surprised by joy, we prevent ourselves from being reconciled to God and reconciled to one another in God.

Bound HeartHave you ever been so disappointed in someone, perhaps someone very close to you, that you have steeled your heart to expect disappointment from them?  Perhaps they are always doing something wrong, or they are never what you need them to be.  And rather than see the gift that they actually are, we simply shut down in the face of our disappointment in them.  We only see the lack.  We can’t see the abundance.

And so we live our lives closed to Christ, instead of open.

We look for the potential scams, instead of looking for the potential glory.  We expect the worst and try to protect ourselves from it, rather than expecting Christ to show up and opening ourselves to a new creation.

We hold our breath, instead of breathing the breath of Christ.

  • In the homeless person we expect to swindle us by buying booze with the $5 we’ve given them instead of food.
  • In the child we expect to get it wrong instead of empowering them to do it the way they think might be best for them.
  • In the friend we expect to hurt us or the loved one we expect to break our heart again instead of working to reconcile with them.

It is hard to believe, especially when you’re hurt or shamed in anyway.  It is hard to believe so that we might surrender our false power of building walls that constrict and protect ourselves and breathe in God’s Holy Spirit so that the true power of forgiveness might open our heart.  It’s hard to believe that much in the Resurrection.  But that is what we are asked to believe in, nonetheless.

Because, my friends, we are disciples.  We are in the room.  We weren’t left out.  And we are called to believe in the possibility of a new creation.  We are called to free ourselves and one another from the prison of death.  We are called to believe that, not only can that person over there change, but perhaps I can change too.  And perhaps the relationship itself can change.

When I think about forgiveness and reconciliation, I think about Restorative Justice.  Restorative Justice is a movement in many countries all over the world that offers a different option than the typical criminal justice system.  Restorative Justice believes that true justice happens when forgiveness happens.  Both the victim of the crime and the perpetrator meet with a trained counselor.  And if the counselor feels that both people are ready to step into a new relationship, they meet with the counselor present in the room, and they work together to restore the relationship.

I heard a story by a Restorative Justice counselor once: He had started meeting with a young man who had damaged some property and tagged it with graffiti.  He would have been sent to a juvenile hall in California’s penal system, but it was a case that was given to the Restorative Justice counselor.

He worked with this young man.  And he worked with the owner of the house, an older woman.  Her garage door had been spray-painted and broken.  And when they met, the woman explained that her husband had just died a month prior to the crime.  She spoke through her tears that he had worked tirelessly before his death to make sure that the house was in perfect shape so that she wouldn’t have to worry about problems once he had gone.  It was his last gift of love to his wife.

As she spoke, the counselor watched the young man – his eyes, at first, defiant and scared, his arms crossed in front of him.  The counselor watched as the young man’s defenses melted before his eyes.  The young man’s eyes beginning to well with tears, his arms uncrossing as he reached up to wipe his own face.  And then he watched as the light of Christ grew within this young man as he offered all that he could in that moment, his deepest most sincere apology and his desire for this woman’s forgiveness.

And so then it was time for him to tell his story.  His grandmother – the one person in his life who believed in him, who watched over him – had died a few months ago.  And now he had no one who he felt was on his side and he had grown angrier and angrier.  And, now, here he was in this room with this woman that he had hurt and he was so sorry that his thoughtless anger had done such damage.

So, they decided that, instead of going to juvenile hall, this young man would come to the woman’s house and repair the damage – fixing the door, painting it with a fresh coat of paint.

As the counselor tells it, the young man and the older woman grew to be friends.  He became the one she called on when something needed to be fixed in the house.  And she became like his family, someone who could care for him, who believed in him and who he would care for until the day she died.

Forgiveness and PrisonerAnd this happened because she opened her heart and chose to believe that there was more to this young man than the vandal who had damaged her home and ruined her husband’s gift of love.  And, perhaps more importantly, she chose to believe that she was more than a bitter, powerless woman and that she could do more than just let the police handle it.

Instead, she stood strong in the powerful love of Christ and extended that love to someone who just needed someone to believe in him, in the gift that he was and is, in his inherent goodness and preciousness as a beloved child of God.  And this gave him the power, then, to stand strong in that love too alongside her.  And both people were resurrected into a new creation awakened by mercy and true power.

My friends, we are disciples.  We are called to believe.  We are called to look for abundance, and for goodness, and for true power.

And more than that, we are tasked to call it forth in one another.  This is the mission of the Church – to call this forth in the people that we meet.  In our communities and our homes and our workplaces and on the street.  In our everyday lives… people who inconvenience us, who hurt us.label-jars-not-people

The mission of the Church is for us to be called out into the world to spread this love, this forgiveness, this understanding of reconciliation that is the Resurrection of Christ.

We’re not called to tell people how they need to be.  But we are called to stop expecting them to meet our standards and instead to wait patiently, expecting nothing more than the glory of God that is already inside of them.

Bp Desmond Tutu knows this.  Nelson Mandela knows this.  When Nelson Mandela walked out of his South African prison cell after 27 years believing deeply in a new creation, he worked tirelessly with Desmond Tutu to work toward reconciliation in South Africa.

Instead of seeking retribution, instead of inciting rebellion and racial riots, Mandela and Tutu worked with the white government of South Africa to end apartheid.  Because they believed in the Resurrection.  Because they believed in God’s abundant, saving love for creation.  And they believed, then, in their discipleship mandated them to call everyone to the Light of Christ so that an entire country could become a new creation.

By surrendering our hardness, our need to have people prove their worth, our desire to see people get what we think they deserve, we empower ourselves and other people to shine forth the light of Christ.  So that we all may walk in the Resurrection with our Savior and know the love and the abundance of God.

Thomas, the doubter, is a part of all of us.  He comes to visit when we feel we’re on the outside, when we feel we need to protect ourselves, when we have come to believe more in our own false power than in God’s power to work through us.  And this is why Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Because while Thomas is an inevitable aspect of being human, and an understandable one, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to believe.

We are called to receive the breath of life, the gift of God’s Holy Spirit that continually calls us toward one another – to forgive, to believe in one another’s belovedness – not more than our own but in concert with our own, so that we may always be reconciled to God.

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Maundy Thursday – A Guest Post from Deacon Sue Bonsteel

Click here for the readings.

img_20161029_165133434In this world where we are often surrounded by harsh rhetoric, threats of violence and retaliation, and cries for “an eye-for-an-eye” type of justice, we hear a different message this evening. We hear gentle and enduring words about compassion and love and serving one another. It is an evening when we gather as Christ’s beloved community and listen again to the readings that foretell traditions that we are to remember and pass along from one generation to another. They are the words of Christ spoken more than 2000 years ago to his own disciples shortly before he would be tried by the Roman authorities and killed.

This story is imprinted on our Christian souls. In Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus had gathered his twelve disciples. He alone knew what was about to happen to him – that one of his own would ultimately betray him to the authorities; one would deny him three times; and all would abandon him during his hour of greatest need.

Yet Jesus called his friends together – they shared a meal; and he broke bread and poured a cup of wine; he ate with his friends and blessed them; then knelt down before them and washed their feet; and showed them love and grace and compassion during a time when fear and anger might have seemed the more likely emotions.

What had Jesus done to deserve what was to come? He lived a life of non-violence; he healed the sick and restored sight to the blind; he freed the captives; walked among the outcast and ate with the scorned. He spoke up in the presence of injustice. He brought hope and life to those who needed it most.

Those were his sins in the eyes of the authorities. Jesus was to be killed because the goodness he brought to the world was more of a threat to the ruling government and religious authorities than any army could ever be. He had so radically upended the status quo during his lifetime that those in power decided the only answer for them was to put him to death.

Jesus didn’t run away as another person might; he didn’t prepare himself for a battle, arming himself with weapons. Instead he chose to spend his final hours with the ones he loved and who loved him. Jesus needed to be with them for they would be the witnesses to what would follow.

You and I know what is coming…and still we willingly gather here together as a community. We find comfort in being together as a Christian family as we enter into the ancient stories of these last days of Jesus’s life and death.

For tonight is the night when Jesus gave his disciples (and the world) two things that would forever connect us to him and one another: the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the mandate to love. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” We gather on Maundy Thursday not only to share a simple meal, but to share in the symbols of humility, love and service to one another established on that holy evening in Jerusalem. The physical acts of washing one another’s feet and hands and communicating one another with the bread and wine are both rich and intimate experiences. Perhaps we find it a bit uncomfortable; perhaps it makes us feel vulnerable. Yet if we allow ourselves the time and the space to enter fully into the liturgy, we are given an opportunity to draw closer to Jesus and ultimately to God.

It all comes down to love. The command to love one another sounds so easy, yet we already know how difficult it can be.  For it is human nature to strike back at the ones who try to hurt us or hurt the people we care about. It’s natural to feel repulsed by evil and immoral acts and think of ways to punish. However, that’s not the mandate Jesus left for the world. Indeed it’s just the opposite. Love everyone, he said, even those who wish us harm; even those who hate us and fear us. Just love one another.

The challenge for us, of course, will always be to discover ways to live that love in our relationships and in our communities and to use this blessed force of goodness in service beyond our selves. This type of agape love is selfless, and always committed to the well-being of others first. To seek out the marginalized and welcome them into our life; to take in in the stranger; to feed and clothe the hungry and the naked; to care for the sick and visit the prisoner – these are the ways we love the world as Jesus did.

Love is more than a fleeting passion or an emotional high. There is freedom in the word “love” but it carries with it a responsibility, a commitment, a sense of dedication to someone, to some principle, some value or truth that we hold dear. It is our relationship to Jesus and our faith in him that will always create the space to love our neighbor in a way that is authentic – in a way that accepts that person fully.

Jesus didn’t give us an easy formula to follow. He didn’t spell out in precise terms exactly how to go about doing this – to love the unlovable; to forgive the unforgivable; to see the humanity in those who act in ways that are inhumane. But he did something even better. Through his life and his deeds and his words he gave us an example, a sign, a clue, a road map to follow.

And so, beginning this Maundy Thursday, my prayer is that we may be generous with our love and deliberate as we live out the mandate to love one another. The words are simple yet they demand our whole life and attention. When we wash one another’s hands or feet; when we share in the body and blood of Christ, may we remember that we are celebrating Christ’s great love for us. And when we leave this place tonight, may we remember to bring that love of Christ to others.

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Crucifying Truth – A Palm Sunday Reflection

Click here for today’s readings.

Jesus entered Jerusalem to shouts of welcome, palms waving in the air as a sign of victory.  It was the same way they greeted a king. The way we greet someone who is supposed to vanquish the enemy and save us – a messiah. The problem with this messiah, is that he was a healer, not a warrior.

He pointed to us, his disciples, and tried to teach us how to be healing agents in the world, tried to help us understand that salvation is not about destroying those who are inconvenient to our lives, who trouble us and make us aware of our own complacency and privilege.

Salvation lies in the message of his Sermon on the Mount (transliteration from The Message):

  • you’re blessed when you mourn, when you are at the end of your rope, when you’re content with who you are
  • you’re blessed when you care, when your mind and heart are in alignment, when you can show people how to cooperate instead of fight
  • you’re blessed every time people put you down or speak lies about you because you are pointing to the Truth

Because you are pointing to the Truth.

Thomas Merton was a Christian mystic and poet – a Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky.  In his book, No Man Is an Island, he wrote about Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”

He says:
We are too much like Pilate. We are always asking, “What is truth?” and then crucifying the truth that stands before our eyes… [Pilate’s] belief that the question did not require an answer was itself his answer.  He thought the question could not be answered… But even in his denial, Pilate confessed his need for the truth.  No [one] can avoid doing the same in one way or another because our need for truth is inescapable… (189)

 The fact that [people] are constantly talking shows that they need the truth, and that they depend on their mutual witness in order to get the truth formed and confirmed in their minds.  But the fact that [people] spend so much time talking about nothing or telling each other lies that they have heard from one another or wasting their time in scandal and detraction and [slander] and [vulgarity] and ridicule shows that our minds are deformed with a kind of contempt for reality. 

 Instead of conforming ourselves to what is, we twist everything around, in our words and thoughts, to fit [how our own mind needs to see it.  And the seat of this need] is in the will… Our wills are plunged in false values, and our restless tongues bear constant witness to the disorganization inside our souls.”  (190-1)

Merton includes this from the letter of James, “the tongue no [person] can tame, an unquiet evil, full of deadly poison.  By it we bless God and the Father, and we curse [people] who are made in the likeness of God.” (James 3:8-10)

How can we possibly be so self-righteous as to think that we know who deserves to be cursed?
How can we possibly be so arrogant as not to see the glory of God shine through in every creature, every atom of creation?

The Truth we crucify is that which is inconvenient for us to believe.

  • from the extreme humanitarian crisis in Syria and our culpability in it by denying access of refugees, to the stripping of people’s rights and repealing of environmental protection policies… We would rather not see this.  But we do.
  • from our need for strawberries on our tables in winter which deprives Mexican people of the lands they’ve farmed for centuries and makes it impossible to feed their families, to the continued pillaging of the land and water of native peoples for the convenience of business profit… We would rather not know about this.  But we do.
  • from to the gossip we spread about others so that we feel better about ourselves, to the denial of our own beloved nature and worth… We would rather believe lies about ourselves and others than the Truth.

Merton goes on to say, that in a society like ours, with all the comforts we experience, “life has become so easy that we think we can get along without telling the truth.  A liar no longer needs to feel that his lies may involve him in starvation… Half the civilized world makes a living by telling lies.  Advertising propaganda, and all the other forms of publicity that have taken the place of truth have taught [people] to take it for granted that they can tell other people whatever they like provided it sounds plausible and evokes some kind of shallow emotional response.” (193)

There is Truth.  We know it when we see it.  It’s nothing that we need to brag about on Facebook or seek affirmation for or feel justified about or protect ourselves from.

Truth is Love incarnate – mercy, justice, kindness.
Nothing more, nothing less.

When we protect ourselves from receiving and offering mercy…
When we stop ourselves from striving for justice for all people…
When we prevent ourselves from performing inconvenient acts of kindness…
from believing deeply in God’s love for us…

then, we are the Crowd standing with Pilate in a tomb of death, yelling “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  Crucifying the Truth that stands before our eyes.

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Dry Bones and Forgiveness: Jesus Meets Lazarus in the Tomb

The readings for Lent V can be found by clicking here.

To listen to me preaching, click the “play” button below.  Please note: You’ll hear my voice crack throughout because I find the call to forgiveness to be deeply personal and quite an emotional experience – nothing to be alarmed about.  🙂

From the prophet Ezekiel:
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.  He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.  He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?”  I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”

The prophets comprise some of the most fantastical poetry and prose in the entire Bible.  Ezekiel’s vision is an example of this tradition.  His vision of a valley of dry bones and God’s commandment to Ezekiel to prophesy to them.  It’s a piece of scripture so rich with imagery, you can almost see it like a movie.  Picture this:

Dry BonesEzekiel is plopped down in a wasteland, the air so thick with dust that the sun is not able to cast shadows, it’s grey and dirty.  Dry – a parched landscape.  The air is still, stifling underneath the cloud of dust that presses down.

And as Ezekiel looks around for something, anything that will give him relief, he steps forward and hears a crunching.  He feels the breaking under his foot and he immediately draws it back in confusion and horror and shock.

He looks down… to discover that the ground, the grey desiccated ground that makes up the entire landscape as far as he can see, is a never-ending sea of bones; dry, brittle – parched of all life.  Long-since forgotten.  Discarded.

Even in his horror, he feels drawn to walk around, fascinated and revolted by what he sees.  Cringing every time he steps on the bones.

And he hears, “Mortal, can these bones live?”
Still sickened and in a state of astonishment and perhaps even outrage, he replies, “O Lord, God, you know.”

Scholars read this vision of Ezekiel’s as a metaphor.
We’ve talked about the Babylonians invasions of Israel before. When King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, captured Jerusalem in 597 BC, he took many of the leading citizens of Jerusalem as hostages in Babylon where they were held for 50 years – about 2 generations.  This was a way to prevent revolt in a newly conquered territory and establish control of the territory under the subjugating nation.

Ezekiel was one of the people captured and taken to Babylon.  He was a priest and once captured, became a prophet shortly after his exile.  So, this valley of the dry bones that Ezekiel is plopped in the middle of is the group exiles in Babylon.

In verse 11, God says, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel.  They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”

The vision is one of hope – that they will be restored and that this restoration is a re-knitting of a body – a community of people, who will be brought out of their graves, resurrected from this exile and returned to their homeland.

Verse 14 – God says, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act.”

So, even in the driest, darkest of times, when we have no more life in us, when we are no longer capable of hope… when we have been shut away in our deathly tomb… and we cry out of the depths to God… the message is, that there is, in fact hope.

Even though we are not able to call it up ourselves, even though we have no hope in us… God comes to us, breathing life into us, bringing us back to life.

What remains curious to me is, why does God need Ezekiel?
Because, if it is God who acts, who brings hope and breath and life to us… then what exactly is Ezekiel’s role?
What is important about the fact that God asked Ezekiel to prophesy?
Why does God ask this Mortal to get involved?

As humans, we have great capacity to hurt one another.  We also have an equally great capacity to become healing agents in one another’s lives.

The hurting part is easy.  We do it without thinking.  As a matter of fact, it’s usually because we aren’t thinking – or because we are making thinking errors – that we end up hurting one another to begin with. Sometimes that means we make something up about someone – assign motivation to someone’s behaviors before we’ve checked, and certainly before offering compassion.  These thinking errors always bring hurt to ourselves and ultimately to others when we cannot contain the pain our thinking errors have caused us.Be kind

The healing part, though… that takes more.
It requires a strength that we don’t think we have, a vulnerability that we don’t think we can expose, and a commitment that we don’t think we can make.
In short, healing requires Christ.  And so that means, healing requires us.

Most of Jesus’ ministry was about healing.  Through the healing of individuals, Jesus healed deep wounds in the human race that were and that are still occurring because we continue to make thinking errors.

What was so miraculous about Jesus, and what is so important for us to understand about the Incarnation is this:  Jesus showed us that the capacity to share God’s healing, life-giving breath is very much a human capacity. 

That we have within us, the ability to open our broken hearts to one another even when we think we can’t.  We have the capacity to enable God’s healing, breath of life in our world even when all we see is an endless wasteland valley of dry bones.

But it’s not easy.  Reconciliation, forgiveness, boundless compassion.  These healing capacities that we are called to incarnate are incredibly difficult, sometimes even more so than others.  But they are the foundation for Resurrection – for our resurrection in Christ.

Today Jesus meets Lazarus in the tomb.  It’s a mysterious and fantastical story, much like the work of the prophets.  But the key moment in the entire story is when Jesus turns to Martha and says, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

This signifies to us the importance of the community and how the community brings Christ’s presence to one another and to the world. This story is not about Lazarus, but about the community who loves Lazarus – because that’s who Jesus responds to.  It’s up to Martha to believe so that Christ may be present.  He answers the call of the community – of Mary and the other Jews, who call upon the presence of Christ and Christ becomes embodied by the community… and the dry bones live again.

It is when we show up for one another – really show up for one another – that we see the glory of God.  We are not only witness to the Resurrection, but we become the Resurrection.

When I read the dialogue between Ezekiel and God, it’s apparent that this is more than just a metaphor for the healing of Israel.  Because Ezekiel is also being challenged personally.  Ezekiel has been hurt, victimized.  He is a marginalized person, held in captivity in a foreign land.

What if God poses these questions to Ezekiel because Ezekiel is so hurt?  Because he is only capable of seeing dry bones?  In his misery, Ezekiel is locked in a tomb of death with those who sinned against him.  All he can see is dry bones.

And so, what if this question, this command that God makes of Ezekiel is about Ezekiel’s transformation, Ezekiel’s redemption and restoration?  Which, ultimately leads to Israel’s resurrection?

It’s as if God is asking, “Are you capable of forgiveness?”
“Are you able to lay down your burden?  To open your own broken human heart?”

And Ezekiel surrenders, “O Lord God, you know.”
Another way of saying, “O God, I have no idea. But I’m going to show up and try.”

Ezekiel sees no health in these bones.  He sees only a wasteland, dismembered remains of bodies.  He sees only death because in his humanity, he is not able to call forth the capability that enables God’s healing to take place.  When this happens, both Ezekiel and his perpetrators are bound together in suffering, in remorse.

Water of Forgiveness

“Water and Forgiveness” by Hali Karla   http://www.halikarla.com

God asks for one act of faithfulness – to prophesy to the bones, to speak to the bones of Love, to recognize the bones as if they are human, to show up and trust God long enough to see what happens.

God asks for this because God know that without it, both Ezekiel and those who have hurt him, remain bound together in a tomb of death.

I think we sometimes forget that forgiveness is a Lenten discipline – indeed perhaps the most important Lenten discipline.  We are called to forgive as a member of the Body of Christ so that ties of suffering and remorse can be broken and God’s entire body may be reconciled, restored, resurrected.

The point is that by doing the hard work of forgiveness, we are working toward healthy relationships amongst all of God’s beloved children. We are working at healing the world – at transforming the world – one person at a time.

And when we cannot extend forgiveness… when we have no capacity, when all we can see is an endless valley of dry bones, we can hopefully have the presence of mind to remember that we can call on God, out of the depths – to be with us, not to nurse our wounds, but to breathe life and Spirit to our dry  bones, so our own wound may be healed.

Often, forgiveness happens in spite of ourselves.  It opens our heart, if only just a crack.

And perhaps we need to do the work of forgiving our self before we can offer it authentically to an other.  Because, just as we cannot fully love another human without having the capacity to truly love and accept ourselves, we cannot open our broken heart into the compassion it takes to forgive unless have truly forgiven ourselves.

And so, God is always asking us, “Mortal, can these bones live?”

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Guest Post – Deacon Sue Bonsteel

You can read the readings for Lent IV by clicking here.

img_20161029_165133434Every so often I am startled by how unaware I am of my surroundings. There have been times when I get behind the wheel of my car and wonder how I arrived at my destination safely. If you’ve experienced it (and I know many of you have), it’s unnerving.  There’s a name for it – it’s called a dissociative state – a split in awareness between the normal conscious mind and other thought processes. It can range from mild to extreme, from normal to seriously disruptive. An example is when we carry out a normal motor task absent-mindedly – anything from knitting to pulling weeds to driving. We operate on “auto pilot” until something snaps us out of it – a phone call, a neighbor shouting hello, a red light. Dissociative states are very common when highly practiced motor skills are involved. People who work on assembly lines, for example, can let their minds wander and yet complete the task. Have you ever gotten “lost” in a book or a movie; or found yourself daydreaming? These are all normal, short-lived processes. We just “lose touch” with our immediate surroundings.

There are other explanations as to how we distance ourselves from what is around us that have nothing to do with “spacing out,” as we like to call it. Over our lifetime we cultivate practices that enable us to become unseeing people.  The routines we create in our life involving school, work, chores, family responsibilities can cause us to develop tunnel-vision – a single-minded concentration on one thing while ignoring others. So we focus on the task at hand or what is going on in interior selves and lose sight of the world in all its richness. We stop being mindful of the colors and sounds of creation and the diversity around us. Our vision becomes clouded by the repetitiveness of our day.

The risk for each one of us is when we become comfortable in our blindness – when it becomes all we know – and like a cocoon – keeps us protected from the world around us. We withdraw and see little outside our chosen field of vision.

It’s not a great place to find ourselves if our desire is to live fully as God’s own. Just consider the story of the blind man.

Many in the walked passed the blind beggar over the years but apparently few truly saw him. It wasn’t because he wasn’t always there; they knew that he was blind from birth. But it was because those who passed him on their way stopped seeing him as a human being. Rushing off to their destinations, they became increasingly blind to his humanity. Perhaps there was once a time when the community did wonder about him; perhaps they occasionally glanced at him; but before long they developed tunnel-vision and simply stopped seeing him as nothing more than a nuisance.

The disciples saw him – but as a convenient person whose situation made for an interesting theological question to pose to Jesus. They wanted to know: whose fault was it that this beggar was born blind? They asked Jesus, was it is his fault or his parents? Their question comes from a long-held but mistaken assumption that misfortune and illness came into one’s life as a result of some sin. So their concern was not the well-being of this man; they saw him as nothing more than a teaching moment.

In demonstrating God’s power, Jesus healed the man and his sight returned. It was more than the community could handle and so they retreated to what they knew. It was far easier and less dangerous to cling to their own understanding of power and rules and boundaries over the truth before them. They simply refused to see what was right before their eyes.

We can understand this reaction because fear does that to all of us. When we are afraid, our own tunnel-vision keeps us from seeing a larger reality and from living a larger vision. We deny what is right before our eyes and retreat to our old ways of thinking. For the truth is, if we do choose to open our eyes, then we have to confront the blindness within us in all its manifestations. That’s daunting and it can feel overwhelming. Yet if we wish to see God and the richness of life and live with others fully then we must pay attention to what is going on within us. There’s no other way. True sight begins in the heart and not the eyes.

Each of us is the blind man in this story. Michael Marsh, an Episcopal priest and author, puts it this way: Our sight is not about the quality of our vision or even the condition of our eyes. It is not about the lack of light around us but rather the amount of darkness within us. How we see others, how we see the world, the way we see life is less about the objects and more about our hearts. Until our eyes are opened by Christ, our seeing is just a reflection of ourselves upon the world. These are words worth considering this Lent.

If we wish to see God and live life fully with others then we must look deeply at what is going on within us. And as soon as we begin to acknowledge and accept our own fears and beliefs that live within us, we can begin to understand how they have impaired and distorted our vision. Fear narrows our world view, closing our eyes like the mud Jesus’ places on the blind man’s eyes. And if we cling to our fear, we lose the opportunity for conversion in order to be the Light in a troubled and fractured world.

Let’s put it in the context of something going on in our world now: the past several months there has been a growing movement in our area to confront the cruel deportation of undocumented people from marginalized communities. It’s a fearful time for many of our brothers and sisters; they have reason to feel unsafe due to the harsh rhetoric coming from some of our elected leaders and the constant threats leveled at them. Undocumented people are under attack and are afraid to leave their homes. Latino churches are reporting low levels of attendance. Latino children are showing signs of anxiety disorders, afraid to go to school for fear their parents may not be home when they return. It’s a terrible time for many in our own neighborhoods. Families are being torn apart; many who have no record of criminality. We – the larger community – must not be blind to their suffering. Yet it seems too many of us are.

We’ve all heard these comments: “They are illegal. “ They broke the law.” “They deserve to be deported.”  Our eyes are blinded by our fear. We hear a story of a crime committed by an undocumented person and we begin to see all people of color as threats. The restaurant workers we once greeted with a smile, we begin to ignore. We start making generalizations about the men and women who harvest our food, tend our gardens, and provide cleaning services to our homes and offices and whose children attend school with ours. We become suspicious of all who entered here from our southern border. We have stopped living in God’s world where all are valued and loved and welcomed. Instead, we begin to live in a dark world that we have created in our minds and not our hearts.

It needn’t be this way. We can choose to be people of the Light, with a vision to resist evil in all its forms including racism, sexism, homophobism, Islamophobia and those institutionalized structures that target the vulnerable.

Faithful people everywhere are finding ways to challenge the injustices. There is a resurgence of a Sacred Sanctuary movement throughout the nation. You may have also heard it called Radical Hospitality. To some extent, it is a public reaffirmation of our baptismal vows. It’s a pledge to stand with anyone under attack and to resist the evil that oppresses them. There are degrees of involvement in Radical Hospitality but may include providing safe space, food, transportation, moral and financial support to aid those being targeted as well as those left behind.  It’s a movement modeled after the early Judeo-Christian concept of sanctuary, where persons fleeing persecution could find protection in religious houses. It is a movement also founded on the religious values of compassion and love for all people.

Of course some will find this too difficult, saying this is a political issue and should be addressed by the courts. They may not see it as their concern. But it is, of course, much greater than a political issue. It is a moral issue and people of faith are being called to be moral voices in the wilderness in which we now find ourselves.

In his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul instructs the community to live as children of light; to find out what pleases the Lord; and not to take part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather, to work to expose them. The church therefore is to act differently: to tell the truth, to push for justice, to uphold goodness regardless of the norms of the society at large. This is the challenge all of us face today. These are difficult conversations to have but they need to happen, here in church and in our homes. Our eyes must be opened to the immoral and broken systems in our society that demean the dignity and preciousness of every individual. We need to do our best and perhaps it still may not be enough, but we must try. For if truly we are to be people of the Light, then we must be willing to be changed for the sake of faith. We must be willing to see things as they are, and not as we wish them to be.

This is our work of Lent: to cast off our blindness, and to turn from our old ways of seeing ,that we may help be the Light of Christ that shines in our world today and in the days to come.

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Jesus Meets the Samaritan Woman at the Well

The hour is coming, says Jesus.
“The hour is coming when you will worship [God] neither in this mountain nor In Jerusalem.”
“The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship [God] in spirit and truth.”

Buddy-Jesus

From the movie Dogma.

 

Whenever we hear prophecy, whenever we hear pronouncements such as this, I think we hear it a little like a promise and a little like a threat.  Something is happening, something is coming.  And that “something” is a good something.  But that “something” will also mess with my world and require me to change, force me to wonder “what will happen to me?”.

And this is how it is with the Reign of God.  Throughout the gospel, Jesus tells us of the Kingdom of God, the Reign of God… wielding it as both a promise and a threat.

Because Jesus is usually reminding us that the world we have created – the rules and dividing lines, the hatred and the oppression and the injustice – this world that we have created is not of God.  But Jesus is also telling us that God will always rectify those inequities.  God will always save us from ourselves.  Which is good.  But it’s also going to require some effort on our part.

In the story of the Samaritan Woman is, essentially, a story about tribalism or racism.  A story about rules and judgment and boundaries.  It’s a rich story, full of symbolism and metaphor  In order for us to read this symbolism, it helps to know the context of John’s Gospel.  So, here’s a brief recap of the long history of Israel.

  • A group of tribes came together – over many, many centuries for mutual protection and opportunity and formed a nation which they named Israel (which means “one who wrestles with God”).
  • Israel eventually named a king and the nation gained some power in the region.
  • They built the Temple in the city of Jerusalem – Solomon’s Temple. This Temple was recognized as God’s presence on earth.
  • Israel split into two kingdoms – the northern kingdom retained the name Israel and its capital became Samaria.  Meanwhile, the southern kingdom became Judah. Jerusalem and the Temple were located in Judah.
  • Outside forces invaded both kingdoms – one of them being Babylon. As an act of war, Babylon attempted to eradicate the culture by deporting some people to Babylon, mostly those who were in the capital city of Jerusalem where the power was, and they destroyed the Temple.  Those that remained were typically in other regions – like the city of Samaria.
  • After about 50 years of war, a new occupying force came – the Persians – who allowed the Jews to return home and encouraged them to build a new Temple in Jerusalem, which they did. After the Persians, the Greeks controlled the area.
  • And eventually Rome gained power and territory (which is when Jesus enters the picture) and destroyed the Second Temple. The great diaspora of the Jewish people began as many fled the region.

 

2-kingdoms

The divided kingdoms.  Note the location of Samaria.

So, what does this have to do with today’s story?  The Samaritans  were among the remnants – those who stayed behind when the power base of Jewish leadership in Jerusalem were deported to Babylon.

 

During their 50 years in exile, the Jews in Babylon had to acquire a sense of themselves, an identity they could maintain while living in a foreign land.  They told stories, followed their own religious leadership and developed worship and patterns of life.  Some did what they could to maintain racial purity, while others took husbands and wives of Babylonia.

During these same 50 years, the Jews who remained in the land of Israel developed a sense of themselves as the oppressed people of a land invaded by foreigners.  They also told stories, followed their religious leaders, and developed appropriate worship practices.  And, while some of them attempted to maintain racial purity, others took husbands and wives from the invading force.

When the deported Jews were eventually allowed to return, you would think it would be a glorious and celebratory reunion.  And it was, to some degree.  But mostly, these peoples had grown apart in their customs and their rituals, and even in their understanding and worship of God.

This happens when people become inwardly focused.  They forget the connections they have to one another and they grow distrustful.  They don’t want others to join them.  They don’t want to be changed.

The people who had stayed came to be known simply as Samaritans, linked to the northern capital.  And so we have the false division of the Jews and the Samaritans.  Although they were related, they were estranged from one another, each group developed rules and dividing lines.  Over generations, they grew to fear and mistrust one another.  They came to hate one another.

And so we have Jesus, the Jew, who dares to talk to a Samaritan.  And even more scandalous, perhaps, is that he goes to the well, where women gather, and talks to a woman.  And his intent is to create in her a follower, a disciple.

His purpose in doing this, in crossing the borders created by generations of people, is to draw everyone’s attention to their own true identity – beloved children of God.  So that everyone might see that divisions are useless, the lines we draw in the sand are truly pointless because they are not of God.

Jesus is the one who reminds us that all of creation is God’s.
All the people who drive us crazy.
All the people who we think behave in a way that is inappropriate.
All the people who look different from us and act different from us.
All of us are God’s beloved creation.

And that when we try to take that power away from God, when we try to redefine borders and make rules, when we try to reorganize creation according to our whims and desires and false notions and fears… every time we take our pride to a dangerous place and allow it to become oppression and injustice… we will inevitably fail.  And we will fail miserably.

And so Jesus says, “the hour has come.”  The hour has come for this false separation to fail.  The hour has come for your arbitrary rules and your divisions to fail.  The hour has come for reconciliation.  You see – it’s a promise and a threat.

And Jesus is the one who reminds us of this.  He is the one who continually points to the other, to the person on the other side of the line we’ve drawn and says, “yes.  That person too.”

I know I’ve said this before but here is it again: Jesus reminds us, every time we create a boundary between ourselves and an other, he will be on the other side of it.  Because mercy is always on the other side of a line we draw, especially when we think we’re right.

 

In this week’s meeting with Jesus, we imagine ourselves to be in the place of the Samaritan woman.  We are this woman who, has got to be one of the crankiest characters in the whole of the Gospel stories:

An older woman who had likely been handed down from one brother to the next as the previous one died, a life devoid of affection but bound to child-bearing for a family.
Having to go to the well in the heat of the middle of the day instead of the cool hours of the morning so that she could avoid the humiliation of being outcast by the other women.
A well-hated woman – pointed to, laughed at, cast aside.  Of course she no longer cares about being nice and playing by societal rules.  Why would she?

I have a feeling, we all have that part of us that identifies with this crankiness.  Tired of the world.  Coping with it by being demanding of others or manipulating others in some way:
Refusing to be vulnerable for fear of disappointment.
Hardened and protective.  Rigid and challenging.
Or just resigned and disconnected.

And yet, Jesus talks to this cranky woman longer than he talks to anyone else.  Meeting each of her challenging questions with direct responses instead of demanding that she play by societal rules which, he knows, are arbitrary anyway.

She’s real with him, not asking for anything from him.  As a matter of fact, the whole interaction begins because he asks her for a drink of water.

It seems he enjoys talking to her.  Perhaps a refreshing change from the fawning, sycophantic, overly-deferential manner in which his disciples treat him.  As if to make that point, Jesus brushes them off annoyingly when they find him speaking to her.

This is the promise and the threat of prophecy.  People aren’t going to act how we need them to act all of the time.  People will push our buttons.  And the more we draw lines in the sand, the less we are open to the wideness of God’s mercy acting in us, and flowing through us to be there for one another.

Because, here’s the most important part: most assuredly, someone else always sees us as the cranky Samaritan woman. And here’s your question: Is that cranky person inside of us willing to listen to Jesus and be changed?

In this interaction, we are called to recognize that Jesus is here talking to each one of us.  At some length.  This isn’t about fixing the Samaritan woman we see out there.  This is about accepting that we all have a cranky Samaritan woman that we carry inside each of us.  And then learning to stop drawing lines in the sand because we are all in need of mercy.  We are all standing in the need of prayer.

Because Jesus is always going to be on the other side saying, “yes, this one also belongs to me.”

“The hour is coming, and is now here.”
For this is what we celebrate together each and every Sunday.  This is what Eucharist is about.  This is what that Table is about.  It is about Jesus calling us back to God.  It is about Jesus calling all of us, every single one of us back to God.

Water of Life

By artist Stephen Broadbent.  To go to a site that offers description of this statue, click on the image above.

 

The Table is first and foremost about reconciliation – the living water from today’s Gospel story.

The promise and the threat of prophecy requires that we do what we can to stop ourselves from drawing lines and creating borders between one another.  To call us out to something better, something bigger than the small worlds we create when we cut off one another off.  That requires us to forgive – both the other person and ourselves – and then, to go one step further, and offer our hand in reconciliation, even welcome.  All are welcome at God’s Table.

Jesus goes to the well and creates a disciple out of a Samaritan woman.  In one scandalous act, Jesus reconciles centuries of fear, hatred, mistrust, and shame.  Because reconciliation is the living water he was talking about.  That is what it means to worship God in spirit and truth.

The hour is coming, and is now here.  And God is calling us back to the Table again where we are all welcome.  Let us welcome one another.

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Jesus Meets Nicodemus in the Night

The theme for Lent this year is 5 Meetings with Jesus.  This week, Jesus meets Nicodemus in the night.  Click here for Lent II, Year A readings.

I love this story from John’s Gospel.  I love the symbolism and the storytelling.  I love the tentative and vulnerable way Nicodemus opens up to the teaching of the Spirit.  The way he begins remembering his soul.

Scholars estimate that John wrote this Gospel around the year 90.  This is about 60 years after Jesus’ death, and about 20 years after the destruction of the Temple and the death of Paul.  People had been telling stories about Jesus in their communities for 60 years at this point – 3 generations.  They had been telling stories about his teachings of God’s unbounded love, his ministry of healing and feeding those who were outcast by society, his demonstrations against the powers that be which resulted in his death.

And when the Temple was destroyed by the powers that be, the Roman oppressors, Jews all over Palestine were thrown into chaos.  The Temple had been God’s home amongst them, the center of their life and the center of their identity.  The Jewish community experienced the destruction of the Temple as a trauma – very similar to how people in the US experienced 911.

Some of these Jews had come to believe that this man Jesus was the messiah.  And other Jews believed the messiah had not yet come.  The religion of Judaism was going through a deep split in its response to the destruction of the Temple.  People were redefining themselves, beginning to call themselves Christians, disciples of this man Jesus who they saw as the Christ, the anointed.  While others remained and developed a new way to worship God without the Temple – rabbinic Judaism, which is what we know as the Jewish faith today.

The Gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – all wrote during this time of chaos.  They wrote down the stories that had been told to them for decades about this rabbi named Jesus.  They wrote in ways that their people would hear, with particular techniques and language, so the people they were leading and teaching could develop and deepen their belief – a new way of thinking that helped them to understand just what a messiah came to do and how they could become disciples of this rabbi Jesus.

John wrote for a community of believers who were in open conflict with the more orthodox Jews in the area – kind of like different strains of Christianity today who have heated debates over ethics and scripture and sin.  John’s community was coming to terms with this difference.  And, often, John criticizes the more orthodox Jews – calling them ignorant, unrighteous, rule-bound, even evil. 

It can be hard to read John’s Gospel sometimes for this reason.  So, it’s incredibly important to understand the context of the Gospel writers – what they were going through, the motivations they had, the points they were trying to make, and the audience they were writing to.

Because over the centuries, this Gospel more than any other piece in Christian scripture has caused untold death and destruction.  People who love to use scripture and religion against others, to vilify and condemn others, have used John’s Gospel as a rallying cry against Jews and the Jewish religion.  The people who do this, we call religious extremists.KKK

Extremism is an easy disease to catch because it plays on our fears and makes us believe that we, alone, are right.  It polarizes us into camps and emboldens us to act out our fears in mobs and groups.

Extremism hijacks our faith and turns messages of God’s love into rallying cries of hate.  It makes us believe in the phrase “kill or be killed” and seeks to destroy the very life that God has given to all of God’s children. 

Extremism annihilates our humanity.  It extinguishes hope.  And most devastatingly, it makes us leave our soul behind, forgotten, in favor of false certainty, false safety, and self-survival.

What does all this have to do with Nicodemus?

In case you haven’t picked up on the theme of this Lenten season by looking at the cover of the Worship Booklet, the Gospels in Lent talk about 5 different meetings with Jesus in 5 different settings.  How do we learn from these meetings?  How do we see ourselves reflected in these characters who find themselves face to face with Jesus in tender and vulnerable moments?

Nicodemus is a character who represents Jewish teaching and authority in John’s Gospel – those who were opposing the revelation of Jesus.  Indeed, Nicodemus was a Pharisee, the most rule-bound of the Jewish sects.  They were the ones who insisted that the Law be followed to the letter because faith in God was demonstrated through adherence to the Law and the Law was only for Jews.  They were they extremists, scared in the aftermath of the trauma and using religion to scapegoat others.

And Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the middle of the night – night being symbolic for “secret.”  He comes to Jesus in secret because a part of him is searching.  A part of his consciousness is seeking out a different teaching.  He has started to wonder if there is something more than the certainty of the Law, more than his hate, more than his fear.

And Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you…” the only way to know God, the only way to see God’s reign here in this life, in this reality… is to have been formed by God’s Spirit, to have been born anew with a new way of seeing, a new way of knowing.

And our Nicodemus plays ignorant because John has written this story as a way of making fun of the more orthodox Jews:  Nicodemus says that you can’t enter your mother’s womb a second time.  You can’t be born again.

And Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you…” you must be washed anew, you must be formed by Spirit in order to participate in the Reign of God.  Because the Reign of God is not of this world, it is not born of our fears and hate and certainty.  It is of God, the very ground of our being, that which is so much bigger than our small worldview. 

You must have faith in the Spirit and its ability to form us, to open us to new understandings, rather than be bound by rules or customs.  Because God’s Spirit will take you wherever it wants, regardless of our rules, even if we think these rules are from God.  Regardless of these customs that comfort us, especially if we are certain that we are right.

But Nicodemus still has trouble understanding.  He’s befuddled by this knowledge, confused.  And has asks simply, “How can these things be?”

heart-light-1And Jesus says, one more time, “Very truly, I tell you…” the gift from God, the Christ, the Spirit of God that came from God, will be witnessed by the souls of all, not seen with the rule-bound mind.  Because it is the Spirit that speaks to the soul.  God sends the Spirit to us – so that we might come to remember that part of ourselves that is beyond the law.  So that we might believe in something beyond our daily rule-bound lives of fear and certainty.  So that we might be truly saved by reaching out in love.

And I have to say, I feel like Nicodemus most days.  I’d like to say I believe, that I’m fully formed by the Spirit and can bear witness to the Reign of God in every waking moment.  But the truth is, I still get befuddled and confused.  I still want to ask my teacher Jesus, “How can these things be?”  How can God love us so much?  How can God, who keeps loving us, who keeps offering us grace, who keeps sustaining us even when we mess things up completely… How does this work?  How can it be?  What does this mean?

I struggle like Nicodemus.  I struggle with believing that God loves me.  Believing that this world is redeemable.  Believing that I am redeemable.  It’s easier to believe my own opinions about how the world should be.  How others should be.  How I need to be in order to survive.

And so I stand up here preaching, not to you, but with you.  A fellow traveler on this journey through Lent, who sees myself in Nicodemus… meeting Jesus in secret, under the cover of night, wanting to believe but not ready to believe.

Because something else is guiding me.  Something else besides my mind is seeking to be formed, to be opened, to be made new.  It is not the rational, studied, well-informed, certain part of myself.  It is the part of myself that wants to believe, that already does believe… is my soul.Face of the Soul

The soul – the part of ourselves that keeps hope alive in the darkness of the world.  This consciousness that isn’t ours but somehow belongs to us.  This consciousness that is a part of God’s consciousness waiting to be remembered by us.  The soul is beyond the negativity and all the things we think we know –  the judgments we carry about ourselves, judgments about others about this world.

In the reading from Genesis today, God asked Abram to leave behind what he knew.  And Abram did.  He became God’s servant and the ancestor of us all.  And in today’s Gospel, Jesus asked Nicodemus to leave behind what he knew.  And, eventually, Nicodemus did.

Christ PortraitAnd here we are centuries later.  A group of people sitting in St. John’s Episcopal church on a very cold March morning… and God is asking us the same question.  God is asking us all to remember our souls, to go on a quest, leaving behind the things we think we know and walk the journey of Lent to become a new creation in the resurrection of Easter.

Because you and I are Nicodemus.  Each one of us sitting in this church is seeking Jesus out for some reason
… wanting to believe but not quite ready to believe
…. staring at the face of Jesus with incredulity
… realizing that he’s asking us to leave behind the things that make us feel safe, the things that make us feel certain, make us think we’re in control
… and beginning to grasp that it is our soul that longs to return to God because it is our soul that already believes in boundless love.

So the question is: What is God asking you to leave behind so that you might remember your soul once again?

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Jesus Meets Himself in the Wilderness

The theme for Lent this year is Five Meetings with Jesus.  In the first meeting, Jesus meets himself in the wilderness.  Click here for Lent I, Year A readings.

This story from the Gospel always makes me think of that old trope from morality plays: The angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.  Jesus sitting there in the wilderness – devils and angels whispering to him.  It’s not exactly what happens in the Gospel story but it’s the same story – humans, in our finite nature, are self-oriented.  daria

And there is a battle for our soul going on whenever we are tempted: Will we choose the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do?  Will we sell our soul for fame and fortune?  Or will we live an honest, humble life?

It seems the choices are simple.  But the problem is, they really aren’t.  The tempting choices we face often don’t present themselves in such clear cut ways.  It’s not usually Satan that we’re facing. It’s usually ourselves that we’re facing – our lesser angels.

Today Jesus meets himself in the wilderness.  He faces the part of himself that wants to give in to a need for security, a desire for power and wealth.  He faces the part of himself that we all know.  The part that says, “What’s in it for me?”

Or more, specifically, if I do what is being asked, if I live my life as if God matters to me, what will happen to me?

As humans, it’s an understandable starting place – what will happen to me?  Will I be ok?  Will we be ok?  Will we have enough?  Will I get my needs met?  If I do this or if I trust in this – will it turn out the way I need it to?

The Temptation story is found in 3 of the 4 Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  All have a bit of a different take, but they all take place immediately after Jesus was baptized and immediately before his public ministry.  The placement of the story is significant both because it explains that baptism alone is not going to save us and because it illuminates the struggle we all have when we are called to live our lives as if God matters to us.

Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan was an event in which Jesus was called out as the Christ, the anointed one.  In each Gospel the words are used – “This is my child, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  Jesus has already been given the title of the Christ.

We have these temptation stories because even after baptism, even after Jesus was anointed as the Christ, he was tempted.  Jesus faced himself.  And so do we… face ourselves in the wilderness.  We are tempted by that question – What will happen to me?  Will I have enough?  Will I be ok?  

It comes down to what we believe.  Do we believe the dark stories of our lives – that we are not worthy, not loved, not good? That we are not capable, not safe, and that we do not matter? 

When we believe these wilderness stories, Jesus knew, we react by trying to gain value in some way, to procure love, to make sure we are seen as good.  We try to gain power – we do too much and make sure that people see us.  And we try to protect ourselves by building walls and claiming property and taking our toys and going home.

Or do we believe in a different story?  One that tells me I have an abundance to offer.  I am capable and worthy.  I am OK.  I am good and I am loved and from that place I can do what is being asked in living my life as if God matters.  I can trust in the ground of my being.

On Ash Wednesday, we were invited to observe a holy Lent.  And we were beseeched by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians to be reconciled to God.  Which is more than coming to Church and praying.  More than simply saying I believe in God or telling others that we believe.  

Being reconciled to God means that we live our lives as though God matters to us.  And being reconciled to God means that we know that our lives are not ours alone.  Because God, not our self, is the source.  God is the ground of our very being.

From our stories in Genesis and even from science – we know that we are fashioned from the elements of the earth.  We know that we are made from atoms of carbon and molecules of water.  We know that we are fragile beings who bleed and laugh and cry and breathe.  We breathe.Creation

And this breath is something we all share – all creatures of God, all people who walk the earth – we all breathe.  This breath has been given to us by God, this force of life that flows in our veins and pumps our heart and shines its light on us and through us.

We are made of dust and to dust we shall return and all of this life, this breath, this blood is lent to us for a time so that we may share life with one another and love one another.  The purpose of life is nothing more than this.

We know this but we don’t always believe this.  Because the temptation is very, very real. It’s in our minds most of the time, if we’re honest.

What will happen to me?
What will happen to me… if I invite someone to share my life?
… if I make friends with someone who doesn’t think like me or look like me?
… if I let someone use my stuff?
… if I help someone who is in trouble and I break the law while doing it?
What will happen to me?

I can tell you what will happen: You will change.  Relationship changes us.  It’s just that simple.

It is relationship that is life-giving.  It might not be the relationship we’ve always imagined for ourselves, but it’s the relationship we have been given.  I’m not talking about putting up with abuse – that’s not relationship, that’s oppression.  I’m talking about seeing the person right in front of you and opening up yourself to being changed by them to be in relationship with them because the purpose of life is nothing more than to care for one another… because we all breathe.

Witnessing others, being moved by them, celebrating them.  When we do this, we not only offer a blessing, but we are blessed ourselves.  This is what happened on the curb for us this past Wednesday with Ashes-to-go when we offered to impose ashes on people – we blessed them and we were blessed.  We said yes to relationship.

And we all have a different path through the wilderness, different temptations that try to keep us bound in fear and pain.  Temptations that keep us from being in relationship with one another.  But, through the wilderness we must go if we are to live our life as if God matters to us, to live our lives as if we matter to each other. 

Devonte HartIn the story of Jesus’ temptation we see ourselves reflected.  When Jesus meets himself in the wilderness, he sees his own face, just as we are met with ourselves, our own lesser angels, when we are tempted to live our lives for ourselves alone, as if God doesn’t matter.

Can we see Jesus in ourselves?  Do we believe the light of Christ shines through our own heart?

When we see Jesus in ourselves, when we are able to hold ourselves with compassion, we might just stop insisting that our world show up for us in the particular way that suits us.  And as we practice, we learn to identify the temptations we have and we get better at saying no to the story in the darkness and saying yes to the truth, saying yes to the light. 

We turn away from our fears and yes to the relationship that is awaiting us, that will surely change us.  When we are able to see the face of God in our own face, we can let go of the story that tells us we are not worthy, not loved, not safe – because we know that we are.  Reminding ourselves that God resides within us, helps us remember that we have everything we need and we are good and holy, precious children of God.

And we are able to withstand temptation and become what God is calling us to be – Christ, whose heart is broken open for the world.  When we finally learn to see Jesus in ourselves, then we can begin to see Jesus in others.  This is the first task of Lent – to recognize and believe in the Christ in ourselves.

May it be so

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This Night

You can find the Christmas I readings by clicking here.

You can listen by clicking below:

nativity-color

 

This night.  This sweet night.  This holy night.

With all that is happening in the world around us – the arguing and the threats, the raging and the fear, the blame and the anger, the loneliness and pain… we have a promise.  

And we show up here on this night because we believe in that promise, or because we want to believe, or because it’s what we’ve always done, or because we need to or want to find a way to let something in to vanquish the shadow from our lives. 

Someplace inside of us wants to be melted so we come to hear the story.  We come to this sanctuary and we celebrate this birth, this gift from God that is God incarnate.

Because it is in the midst of all the fear and anger and pain… in the midst of the desert of our disbelief… that God always comes to us.  The story we have of this promise is about a young woman named Mary, who was forced to travel through the desert with her beloved while she was with child.  She gave birth in a barn and put the baby in a feeding trough.

This hope is born in the lowliest of places.  In the terror of forced migration, the pain of childbirth, the filth of a cowshed, this child, this hope is born. 

Because God always comes to us unbidden as the light returns each year in the midst of the darkness of our own lives. With no worldly ceremony, no grand entrance, God breaks into the world… on this night.  This quiet night.  This holy night.

The human heart is a complicated thing.  Capable of great love and joy, this part of us is also the most tender, most vulnerable part.  We carry our entire lifetime in our heart – the memories of our own, personal human story – the hopes and disappointments, the joy and the pain, the love and the loneliness.  This story that tells us to keep ourselves hidden, not to hope too much, not to shine too much, not to love too much.

Our heart is understood by many to be an organ of perception – the instrument through which we view the world.  When our heart is open and joyful, we see abundance and possibility.  When our heart is burdened and in pain, we see problems and danger.

Neither is a marker of faith, nor any indication of our own goodness.  It’s just an indicator of where we are on our journey because sometimes these dangers are very real – like they were for Mary.  And sometimes, we are able to see the possibility, like Mary.

And so this is where the bigger story connects with our own.  God’s breaking in is real – it’s not just a story about something that happened 2000 years ago.  It happens all the time.  This is why we call Christ the Alpha and the Omega because it’s always happened from the foundation of the world through to the completion of all things because Christ is the beginning and the end.

God’s promise, which we celebrate this night, this beautiful night, this holy night… is that in the midst of our own darkness, our own pain and vulnerability, God’s light shines through the gloom to find us once again.  No place is too lowly.  No person is beyond hope.  No heart is incapable of mending.

heart-mangerIn this manger that is our heart, we find that when we make room, even if it’s just a small space, this light of Christ enters in.  And God breaks into our world once more.  When this happens, we might find that we have so much more room in our own hearts that we could have ever expected.

In this manger that is our hearts, we learn that our pride and our opinions… our stories about who we are, become impoverished in the presence of this vulnerable child of flesh.  And our greatness can do nothing but bow, our intellect surrenders, we fall on our knees in the presence of this meekness, this little one.

In this manger that is our hearts, our hardness softens, our darkness is pierced by light and we are humbled: our stories dismissed, our mountainous fears made into proverbial molehills. 

Because every stone shall cry in its presence.
Every stone shall cry… on this night.  This glorious night.

This story of hope that we have, this promise we celebrate on this night, is that God’s will is never accomplished by the ways of the world, by power or coercion, by social norms or expectations. 

This story we have tells us that God’s desire for us, God’s dream for us will come in the form of vulnerability in the lowliest of places, in the most hopeless of moments.  God’s will is accomplished in our surrender to the quiet spaces in our hearts that yearn for connection and truth, those aspects of ourselves that receive and respond to light, like a newborn baby opens her eyes for the first time as it gazes upon the love shining forth from his mother.

Because ultimately, what comes to us at Christmas is Love.
We look for a sign, we search for that star that will guide us, telling us where to go and who to follow.  But when we open our eyes and see with our hearts, what we find in the manger is Love.  Just Love.

And our only task is to receive this Love… on this night.  This glorious night.

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Suddenly – An Easter Day Sermon

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A few years ago, I was walking along Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.  If you’ve never been there, it’s one of the more touristy places in San Francisco, right along the water, filled with souvenir shops, overpriced restaurants, tour buses, and lots and lots of street performers.

As you walk along, you are treated to performances by jugglers, musicians, dancers, men in suits spray painted in silver and moving like mechanized robots.  It’s a lot to take in.

 

SF Bushman

See?  I wasn’t making this up!

On this day, the sky was bright blue and clear, the breeze from the ocean wasn’t too cold but the sidewalk was packed with pedestrian traffic. And I can’t remember exactly where I was going or why I was there.  All I remember of that day is one particular moment.

 

I was walking along trying to maneuver through the crowd and “suddenly,” a man jumped out from behind a bush and scared the living daylights out of me.  I jumped back, gasping in fear and surprise.

Some of the crowd of people laughed in response to my shock. You see, this was his street performance – to crouch behind a dried bush that he carried with him and watch for his next target. The people watching were, of course, his audience, the ones who dropped money in his bucket.  It was harmless, really.

But I’ve wondered if Matthew’s sense of humor wasn’t a little bit like this street performer’s. Matthew uses the word “suddenly” to describe Mary and Mary’s meetings with the angel in white and with Jesus that morning. And the use of this word makes me think that Jesus couched behind some bushes in the early morning, like a prankster performance artist lying in wait for his friends to come by.  And then just at the right moment… “ta-da!”  “Greetings!”

Our friends Mary and Mary went through quite a bit that morning. While still grieving over the torturous death of their friend they wake before dawn to go and prepare his body for burial.  And then they get there and “suddenly” there was a great earthquake followed by a shocking scene where a lightning bolt burst open the tomb leaving a figure dressed in white who has the nerve to tell them, “Don’t be afraid.”  Don’t be afraid?

Mary and Mary, Matthew tells us, respond with a mixture of “fear and great joy” as they flee the tomb at the angel’s command to “go and tell.” And then Jesus pops out of nowhere and shouts, “Greetings!” And their response is to drop to their knees.

That’s what “suddenly” does to us.
“Suddenly” jars us out of our everyday patterns and routines.
“Suddenly” gives us a sense that we aren’t in control.
“Suddenly” shows us that, no matter how hard we try, we cannot plan for everything.
“Suddenly” has to be one of the most humbling words in the English language.  It brings us to our knees every time.

And the message is: “Do not be afraid.  Go and tell.”
Do not be afraid.  Go and tell.

I know we’re all here in this church today for different reasons, some because it feels good, some because we feel like we’re supposed to, some because we’re searching, some because it’s been a while and we want to be here.

I know we’re here looking for Jesus – but Jesus is not here.
At least not only here.  Jesus has gone ahead of us to Galilee.

Galilee, the place outside the walls of the church. The place outside the walls of our hearts and our minds.

Galilee, where we suddenly find ourselves when God chooses to shake us awake out of our reverie, out of our patterns and routines, and reminds us of the love that is eternal – the Alpha and the Omega, Greek letters inscribed on this Pascal candle to signify the beginning and the end.

Galilee, where we are brought to our knees because we see Jesus.

We don’t like surprises.  We want to know what to expect from our world.  We like knowing what is going to happen.  We desperately need to have some sense of control over our lives, our surroundings.

We expect people to show up how we need them to and we get mad when they don’t. We have opinions about security and safety because we confuse the importance of the things with the importance of their purpose.

We find all kinds of reasons to protect our hearts from being broken open in love because we don’t want to be brought to our knees.

Prison CellBecause we are sure that there is a tomb of death awaiting us. And we’d rather not be in it.  And we think if we just protect ourselves in some way, we can stay out of the tomb.

But in our need to do this very thing, we have chosen to believe in it – to believe in the tomb of death.  And that gives it power over us.

We’ve chosen to believe in an unreal world where “suddenly” is unwelcome.  We’ve chosen to believe a lie about ourselves that tells us we are incapable of love and of being loved.

“Suddenly” is necessary because we believe in the unreal tomb of death. We believe in it so completely that, unless we have an angel in white standing in front of us appearing out of some pyrotechnic show of fire and smoke, we will just go on about our way… believing in death. Refusing to be brought to our knees.

But the tomb is not real.  This is the Easter message: The tomb is not real.

What is real is Christ – seen and risen anew in a community that makes the choice to see only through the lens of love and uses that love to see beyond itself. A community of friends who know that the survival of our community is not our purpose.  Our purpose is to go and tell in Galilee.

 

Keith Haring

Untitled by Keith Haring

Go and tell of this love that is enteral – the Alpha and the Omega.
This is the only thing that is real.  And it will bring us to our knees.
But don’t be afraid, my friends.  Go and tell.

 

And I wish I had such abilities as that angel on the rock to shake us all out of our reveries to help us to understand just how profound the love of God is that is awaiting all of us when we believe in that eternal love, beyond anything we can imagine in our narrow understanding of reality governed by the expectations we have of people and the need we have to control our world. But I don’t yet have that skill.

All that I have, all that I can offer you is a deep belief that Christ is alive.  That Christ is risen.  And that Christ is waiting for us in Galilee.

Galilee – beyond our walls…
In our workplaces.
In our community.
On the curb offering ashes, in the yard blessing bikes.

Galilee – in our everyday walk through our everyday life.
Where we will see Jesus “suddenly” when we least expect it –
in the one who irritates us the most,
in the one who is homeless,
in the one who has hurt us the most,
in the one we most fear,
in the one who is in need,
in the one who is on the other side of the line we’ve drawn.

Our purpose is in Galilee, where we are called to serve.
Our purpose is to open ourselves to the “suddenlys” hiding in wait to shake us out of our expectations and fears and beliefs.
Our purpose is to go and tell, to go and love in Galilee.

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Go and Tell What is Real – The Great Vigil of Easter

Click here for the readings.

Click on the play button below to listen.

Here’s the scene:
A large, somewhat plain sanctuary with ornate wood carvings around the chancel.  Up front, the altar is decorated with candles and flowers.  In the back, the white marble baptismal font is also decorated with flowers.  Somewhere in the middle, a tall white candle surrounded by flowers is alight.  On the candle are the Greek letters Alpha and Omega – signifying the beginning and the end.

Here are the characters:
A group of about 40 people – some dressed in vestments, some in street clothes.

Here’s the plot:
They have been sitting in candlelight – attentively listening to stories, singing hymns, reciting psalms.  When the lights come up, in response to the priest’s proclamation, they all stand and ring bells and sing.

Then they sit back down and the priest, (who reminds some of these good people of Dawn French from the British television series The Vicar of Dibley) gets up and preaches such a fantastic sermon that they are all inspired to follow the Gospel’s command to “go and tell!”
And they leave running from the sanctuary to share their love of God with the first person they meet.

And the congregation grows because people want to be a part of such an enthusiastic, loving community of people who aren’t in it for themselves, but who understand that this thing called “church” is about serving the world.  Even if it means getting out of bed early on a Sunday morning.

This is a little different than the scene depicted in the Gospel of Matthew.

In that scene, we have a Middle-Eastern countryside outside the walls of a major city.  It is a clear, early morning at the moment of day break and we see two women walking the rolling hills toward a rocky outcropping where a small group of armed guards stands.

The characters, these two women – Mary and Mary, our main characters, are ritual leaders in a community of Jews because of their role in preparing a body for burial.  The guards are Roman soldiers dispatched by the local governor at the request of the Jewish leadership, who wanted to make sure the body wasn’t taken.

And the plot is a strange fantastical tale.  Because just as Mary and Mary reach the rocks, the earth shakes and a sudden flash moves a huge stone, leaving a gaping hole.

 

MBarredo Tomb

Empty Tomb, Cerezo Barredo

Emerging from the cloud of dust, a figure dressed in white appears casually sitting on the stone.  The guards freak out, unable to move or speak.  And this figure looks at Mary and Mary and says, “Do not be afraid.”

 

And the speech continues: “I know you’re looking for Jesus.  He’s not here.  He said he would be raised up and he has been.  Take a look and see for yourself.  Now, go and tell his followers.  Go to Galilee and you’ll see him.”

Now, I can imagine Mary and Mary, even though they were told “Do not be afraid,” were probably a little freaked out – a mix of fear and “great joy” is what we’re told they were experiencing. A set of emotions that accompanies us all when we are just doing every day things, living our everyday unremarkable lives and then something utterly unexpected happens.  We’re so shaken that we still haven’t adjusted, still haven’t believed this new reality.  Yet, so powerfully inspired were they, that they found themselves following the instructions and running to find their friends to tell them.

And then, my favorite part of the plot:

Before they had the opportunity to question themselves. Before they experienced the nagging doubt that can come creeping in when we’re faced with our world being turned upside down, their friend appears.  Shaking Mary and Mary to their core.

Jesus, the prankster (probably sitting behind some bushes along the footpath, anticipating the arrival of his unsuspecting friends, maybe even giggling at the thought of their reaction) jumps in front of Mary and Mary and shouts “Greetings!”

And he echoes the words, “Do not be afraid.  Go and tell.”

So, here I am – the priest (who reminds people of the Vicar of Dibley) in the place of the ghostly figure in white who sits casually on a stone and my task is exactly the same.
My words are exactly the same: Do not be afraid, my friends.  Go and tell.

I know we’re all here in this church tonight for different reasons, some because it feels good, some because we’re supposed to, some because we’re searching.
I know we’re here looking for Jesus – but Jesus is not here.
At least not only here.  Jesus has gone ahead of us to Galilee.

Galilee, the place outside the walls of the church.
The place outside the walls of our hearts.
And, just like in the Gospel story, I promise you’ll meet Jesus on the way, probably in some utterly surprising way.

And this surprise is necessary.  We don’t like surprises.  We want to know what to expect from our world.  We like knowing what is going to happen.  We desperately need to have some sense of control over our lives, our surroundings.  We expect people to show up how we need them to and we get mad when they don’t.  We have opinions about security and safety because we confuse the importance of the things with the importance of their purpose.

And we do this because we expect the tomb of death.
We are sure that there is a tomb of death awaiting us.
And we’d rather not be in it.
This is the way of the world.
But ironically, it’s not real.  This world is not real.
This is why the surprise is necessary: Because we believe in the unreal tomb of death.

We believe in it so completely that, unless we have an angel in white standing in front of us appearing out of some pyrotechnic show of fire and smoke, we will just go on about our way believing in death.

What is real is Christ – seen and risen anew in a community that makes the choice to see only through the lens of love and uses that love to see beyond itself.
This is the love that is enteral – the Alpha and the Omega.

And I wish I had such abilities to shake us all out of our reveries to help us to understand just how profound the love of God is that is awaiting all of us when we believe in the eternal Christ – the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end that is beyond anything we can imagine in our narrow understanding of reality governed by the expectations we have of people and the need we have to control our world.

But I don’t yet possess that kind of pyrotechnic skill.

All that I have, all that I can offer you tonight is a deep belief that Christ is alive.
That Christ is here.  And that Christ is waiting for us in Galilee.Love God Love People

Galilee – beyond our walls…
In our workplaces.
In our community.
Galilee – in our everyday walk through our everyday life.
Where we will see Jesus and he will take us by surprise:
in the one who irritates us the most,
in the one who is homeless,
in the one who is in need,
in the one who is on the other side of the line we’ve drawn.

And so, on this night, we gather to re-member ourselves.
To remember the stories of how we have come to know God’s hope for us through the stories of our tradition.
To remember that the community of friends is important to us but that the survival of our community is not our purpose.

Our purpose is in Galilee, where we are called to serve.
Our purpose is to go and tell, in Galilee.
Our purpose is to open ourselves to be surprised by Jesus hiding in wait to shake us out of our expectations and fears and need to control.

So, let us re-member ourselves as the Body of Christ in the renewal of our baptismal vows.

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