Listening for Transfiguration

A sermon preached on Last Epiphany to celebrate the Transfiguration on February 11, 2018 at St. John’s Episcopal Church.  Click here to read the scripture.
Click on the play button below to listen along.

In today’s collect we ask for God to change us “into his likeness from glory to glory.”  I think sometimes we forget that the Transfiguration is for us.  That it is a map for us.

Jesus, upon that mountain with Peter, James, and John offered them a vision of what is possible.  I think it’s easier to believe that only Jesus could be transfigured, because that lets us off the hook.  But here we are, praying for ourselves to “be changed into his likeness.”

Bowman Transfiguration

Transfiguration by Bowman http://www.bowmangalleries.com 

This vision that Peter, James, and John saw was fantastical. It was unbelievable.  This kind of transformation, this kind of revelation belongs with the top echelon of Hebrew prophets – with Moses and Elijah.  Moses who brought Israel out of slavery and Elijah who defended the worship of YHWH over the more popular god Ba’al. This is the who’s who of prophetic Jewish leaders.

This mountaintop theophany (or direct encounter with God) is used throughout Hebrew scripture.  Moses receiving the 10 commandments in the book of Exodus on top of a mountain.  Elijah receiving instructions about who to anoint as the leaders of Israel in the first book of Kings on top of a mountain.  And here, Jesus shows us that God’s dream for us is more than rules to follow and more than rulers to bear power.

In this theophany isn’t Jesus receiving anything.
This is Jesus becoming something.
This is Jesus becoming Christ in full form.
And this is what is possible, not just for Jesus, but for us.

We had our Vestry Retreat yesterday at the Rectory.  The leadership of St. John’s all met to spend time in each other’s presence to offer ourselves to one another.  And as these amazing leaders talked about how we will work together as a group, the first thing they brought up wasn’t about emails or timekeeping or reports.

The first thing they talked about was the importance of listening to one another.  And they were clear, we’re not talking about listening to wait for our turn to speak so that we can make a point. We’re talking about a listening that is focused on attending to one another.  Listening with an open mind and an open heart so that we might be willing to be changed by what we hear.

A theorist named Otto Scharmer talks about 4 levels of listening:

He says the first level of listening is when we listen from our habits.  We listen for what we already believe.  And the result is that we confirm our opinions and judgments.
If we’re honest, this is what Facebook and Twitter is largely used for.  Echo chambers where we feel better because we’ve gotten plenty of likes for the things that we already think and believe.

The second level of listening is when we listen with an open mind so that we are listening, not to confirm what we believe, but to take note of new or different things.  It’s scientific observation. The result is that we learn and discover new things and we may learn to apply those things. This is good.

The third level is called empathic listening, listening with an open heart that enables us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and imagine what life might be like for them.  We listen from somewhere other than our own locus. Or we connect to a part of ourselves that may remember a similar experience in our own life.  We put our self in someone’s shoes.  Like a Wounded Healer, which we talked about 2 weeks ago.
The result is that we connect with someone in a real and authentic way and we are able to offer a healing presence and be healed.

The fourth level is called generative listening, which is listening with an open will.
This is a place of surrender, a willingness to be truly changed by what we hear.  The result is that we become a new creation and because we become a new creation, the person to whom we are listening also becomes transfigured before our very eyes.

This happens because we see Christ, we see what is possible is becoming what already is.  We see the Kingdom of God before us.

KHinkle The Transfiguration

Transfiguration by Kenyatta Hinkle

This doesn’t happen when we keep the world at arm’s length.  It cannot.  It may feel safer to keep the world at arm’s length.  Our opinions and our fears usually rule over us and we only listen for that which confirms what we already believe.

But when we welcome others into our world, not only are we likely to learn something new, we are likely to experience deeper connections and we are likely to become changed by the experience.  It all depends on our willingness to surrender to what’s in front of us.

This kind of welcome is exactly what we are asked to do in our Baptismal Covenant that we said together at the beginning of the Epiphany: to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as our self.

Can we do it all the time?  No.  We’re human.
Some days we have bad days when the world is too much with us and we’re tied up in knots because we don’t know how we’re going to pay our bills or we don’t like what someone said to us or our physical health has deteriorated of we’re sick or we feel bad about something we did or we’re hurt because someone doesn’t love us the way we would like them to.
On these days, it’s hard to get past level one, quite frankly.

But we practice.  Because Jesus has given us this image of Transfiguration, we practice.  And we have 40 days of Lent given to us as a gift in which we practice.

SHaque Transfiguration

Transfiguration by Sabina Haque

We practice opening our mind and maybe we realize that learning new things may feel a bit chaotic, but it increases our capacity and gives us new insights.  And so that might inspires us to go a little bit deeper.

We practice opening our heart and perhaps we realize that connecting with another person may feel a little risky, but it, ultimately brings joy to our lives as we share ourselves with friends.  And so we might go even a little bit deeper.

And we practice surrendering our will so that we might be reconciled with God, transfigured, “changed into Christ’s likeness from glory to glory.”

This Reconciliation happens because, having bent our own will, having arrived on bended knee before the manger just like the magi who followed the star and found themselves in a smelly barn full of animals and poverty and filth at the Epiphany, we are changed.
And what we see before us, isn’t the dirt of the world, but it is Christ.
This person standing before us is Christ.

And, just like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, we ask, “How may I serve you today?”

In this moment, we realize that the world is just the world with its laws and its power and that we will find no salvation in those worldly means.  But the true revelation is that God is with us, in this person transfigured before us.  Christ in dazzling white.

Transfiguration mosaic

A mosaic of the Transfiguration

Coming in Lent we have some opportunities for listening.

      1. Centering Prayer 5:45 every Wednesday, a new practice for us as we learn to listen to God in the silence.

 

    2. Lenten Soup Supper Learning Series: Understanding the Sanctuary Movement 6:45 every Wednesday.  We’ll listen to guests and to one another.  See the flyer in your bulletin.

It’s just listening.  Not making decisions.  Just learning to employ the 4 levels of listening.

Today as we celebrate with the final Alleluias before we begin our journey of Lent, may we know that this Transfiguration is, not only possible, but this vision that Jesus gives us is our birthright as children of God.  To welcome another, not hoping that they will be like us and agree with us, but to welcome another in the hope that we might surrender and be changed.

My friends, may we be changed by our Lenten journey into Christ’s likeness… from glory to glory.

giuliani_transfiguration

The Transfiguration by the Rev. John Guiliani

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On Healing and Service

A sermon preached at St. John’s in Kingston NY on the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 4, 2018.  Click here to read the scripture. Click the play button below to listen along.

Isaiah paints for us a picture of God – a God of comfort, renewal , redemption:
God does not faint or grow weary; God’s understanding is unsearchable.  (Is. 40:28)

There are several feasts we celebrate this time of year on the Christian calendar – the Feast of Saint Brigid, Candlemas (the Feast of the Presentation) feasts which appear here in order to mark the mid-point of winter.  blue-green-light.jpg

It’s mid-winter when we start to see a shift in the light, when we can see, perhaps, a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.  I have several of my lamps on automatic timers in the Rectory and I’ve noticed this past week that, as they come on, the light they offer is not yet needed because the sunlight is still filling the room.  And I feel a sense of delight and relief that the light is lasting longer.

I think this is a wonderful metaphor for healing.  There are times in our lives when we are called to put forth a little more effort, keep the light on just a little bit longer, moments when we need to pay closer attention to the light in our lives, to cultivate it.

There is a list of the most stressful events that typically cause illness if we’re not paying attention, if we’re not taking the time to take care of ourselves:  Death of a family member, moving, change in job, major illness, additions to the family or the or leaving of partners/spouses, being incarcerated… and the list goes on.

These are the moments in our lives when it can be difficult to tend to our light because we’re so focused on taking care of the crisis or so shaken by it that we lose our self for a bit.  This is understandable.  Life is sometimes quite difficult.

It’s during these times when, if we’re not able to kindle our own light, we may need to rely on our friends and family members just a little bit more, so we don’t get completely lost in the darkness.  So we learn to be of service to one another to be one another’s hope, to be one another’s light in the darkness.

And Isaiah says: “God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless… but those who wait for God shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

This part of Isaiah – chapter 40 – starts out with the words: “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.” Tenderness

It’s the announcement of deliverance, the promise of imminent redemption.  This chapter is one of the most quoted of all of Isaiah’s words because this message of God’s Love is so easily forgotten, yet so desperately needed:

Because the light will always return.  Even when we lose our way, especially when we lose our way, in the darkest moments of our lives, the deepest dream in our hearts, is that God’s light will return.

There are times when all seems lost and it’s so hard to remember God’s Love, when we believe we might just be beyond redemption, beyond hope.  In those moments, we think our heart is shattered, irredeemable… broken beyond recovery.

And there are some for whom this is a nearly constant experience. The ones on the margins.  The ones whom we would rather ignore.

What we often forget is that healing depends less upon what we do ourselves and more upon what God does.  Taking care of ourselves often means giving God the space to do what’s needed… through prayer or silence, through quiet walks or simple activities.   Allowing time.  And allowing space, usually the space to welcome others in.

I believe I’ve mentioned the movie Groundhog Day in a sermon here before.  Well, since Friday was Groundhog Day, I spent Friday evening watching this funny but poignant movie.

Bill Murray plays a weatherman in Pittsburgh, PA.  He’s someone who is convinced of his own greatness and puts forth enormous effort in shoring up his own self-esteem.  Like all of us, Murray’s character is a flawed human being.  But he’s someone who is so disconnected from himself and the people around him that each person he meets is just an object in his world – he either gives them attention so he can get what he wants from them or he ignores them because they have nothing he wants.Groundhog Day

From this worldview, everyone moment looks the same – on the lookout for objects that I can use.  Every interaction feels the same – did I get what I needed or not?  Every day seems to be a repetition of the day before – get up, get what I need from the world, be disappointed by what I didn’t get, go back to sleep.

In the story, Murray’s character actually lives the same exact day over and over again.  At first, he panics and tries to fix the problem.  Then he decides to relax and just enjoy himself, using each day for his own personal gratification.  Then he realizes just how empty that is and dives deep into despair, successfully killing himself over and over again only to wake up to the same Sonny and Cher song on the radio again and again.

Finally, he begins to surrender and starts to see the beauty in the world, beholding it with awe in the simple, little things. He decides to use the time to study, learn ice sculpting, and the piano.groundhog-day service

But the last step in his healing is when he realizes there are ways he can help other people – he shows up to catch a kid who falls out of a tree everyday, even though he never gets thanked.  He cares for a homeless man he sees everyday, trying to save his life.  He changes a tire on a car he sees everyday.  He saves someone from choking everyday.  He buys tickets for a honeymooning couple he meets everyday… and on and on and on.

In other words, he’s fallen in love with the world, with these people that he used to see as only objects in his world.  Which is to say, he’s fallen in love with God, the Creator, and made himself God’s servant, showing up to serve the others in his life everyday.  Welcoming them into his life as creatures of God, instead of just objects from whom he might be able to get something he wants.

When he finally wakes up on a new morning, the evidence of this healing is found in his genuine question: “How can I be of service to you today?”

And this doesn’t come from a need to be needed, or some desperate craving to be seen as good. This question comes from a simple desire born of awe, as if to say, “I see you, beloved child of God.  How can I be of service to you today?”Rest here bench

When is the last time you turned to someone in your life and simply asked, “How can I be of service to you today?”

Think about it for a minute.  Imagine yourself asking someone that question, someone you love or someone you don’t even like…
Does it make you feel vulnerable?  Does it make you wonder if they will ask it back so you’ll be taken care of too?  Do you think that, if someone needs you they will let you know so you don’t ask?  You don’t risk being laughed at or rejected?

These are typical human responses.

I think you’ll find if you ask it, people won’t know what to do with that… at least at first.  I’ve tried it before and so I know that people find it more than a bit disarming. But what if we asked anyway and meant it? What if we kept asking and eventually started getting answers?  How would that change our world?  How would that heal our hearts?

This theme of healing and service is the point of today’s gospel message from Mark.  When Simon’s mother-in-law was healed, she began to serve them, healing and service going hand in hand.Healing Hands of Service

Like last week’s gospel, Jesus, the Wounded Healer and Welcoming Stranger, is able to reconcile the community… “the whole city was gathered around the door…” by helping these people find their hearts again they can once again be in service to one another and be a part of healthy community.  They begin to welcome one another again.

Welcoming instead of needing.  Allowing God to heal what needs to be healed within us and through us, surrendering ourselves in service to God’s Holy Creation.

The whole of the Hebrew Scriptures, the whole of the Old Testament, has a simple storyline to it.  God gets angry when we forget that we are responsible for one another, not as a tribe, but as the whole Creation.  As a matter of fact, tribalism is identified as the exact causes of the divisions in the first place.

And so, if this is why God gets angry, because we are so focused on ourselves and our own tribe, then salvation must come through the healing of the larger community by the restoring of those on the margins – and this is exactly what Jesus comes to tell us – through the care of the poor, the destitute, the oppressed… the ones who Murray’s character in our movie would ignore and deem unworthy of his time and attention.

The ones who live their lives in the darkness.
The ones who we would rather ignore.
The ones who Murray’s character learns to, not only see, but to serve and to welcome… as if he’s welcoming those parts of himself.

As Isaiah reminds us, Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

This is how God works.  This is how God redeems.
This is how God reconciles us to Godself.
The restoration of Jerusalem occurs through service to God, in service to one another which is the healing of the whole community.

May we all offer one another healing, as we offer ourselves healing. May we all welcome the one we would rather ignore, especially those parts of ourselves. May we all offer ourselves in service to one another and learn to ask, “How may I be of service to you today?”

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Wounded Healer, Welcoming Stranger

A sermon preached at St. John’s Episcopal Church on the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany on January 28, 2018.  You can read today’s scripture by clicking here.
Click on the play button below to listen along.

 

 

The image on today’s bulletin cover comes from a Finnish artist named Hugo Simberg who painted at the turn of the 20th century.

 

 

We see 2 young people carrying a third figure – the angel who has been wounded – The Wounded Angel.  The young person at the back gazes directly at us, the viewer, demanding our attention and drawing us into the painting.  And just like that, we are no longer innocent bystanders because we see what’s happening.

Today’s gospel reading comes from the beginning of Mark.  It’s the first miracle in the narrative of Mark’s Gospel.   Mark starts off  with John baptizing Jesus in the Jordan and the Spirit immediately drives Jesus into the wilderness.  Immediately.  Where he spent 40 days and nights meeting his own demons, coming face to face with the fears that arise in any human experience.   As the scripture says, Jesus needed help with this, “angels waited on him…” it says.

When Jesus has done this work with the angels, when he has recovered his own heart and remembers himself as one who carries within him the hope and love that is the Kingdom of God… then, he goes to gather the fishermen as disciples and then off they go to Capernaum.  That’s where we are today.  In a synagogue in Capernaum, where Jesus teaches and casts out demons.

Now, it would be easy for him to ask someone to remove from the synagogue, this person who began shouting.  This is, after all, Jesus’ very first-time teaching.  And in front of his new followers.  Can you imagine the pressure of having someone so disruptive come and mess up your plans on the very first day?

But that’s not how Mark writes the story.  Because Jesus’ power is not a worldly power that keeps all the right people in and all the wrong people out.  Jesus is teaching his disciples in this very first lesson, that there is no “other.”  And there never was.
Because we’ve all been the young person at the back of the painting, carrying our wounded heart, asking for someone to know us and to walk with us.

Mark tell us that Jesus teaches with authority, rather than from the legalistic “who’s in, who’s out” perspective of the scribes.  And the amazement of those who watch comes from their disbelief that the demons are silenced, that healing happens rather than judgment, and so, even the demons seem to know this Holy One of God.

How is it that Jesus knows these demons so well that he can silence them?

Theologian Rita Nakashima Brock has done extensive work on the theology of healing, especially those who have been traumatized by war – veterans, soldiers, and civilians – who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  She sees in Jesus, not someone who exorcises demons because he is better than everyone else, but someone who is only able to understand what is needed because he’s been there himself.

Brock says,
“The image of Jesus as exorcist is someone who has experienced his own demons.  The temptation stories point to the image of a wounded healer, to an image of one who, by his own experience, understands vulnerability and internalized oppression.  In having recovered their own hearts, healers have some understanding of the suffering of others.

Naming the demons means knowing the demons… The Gospels imply that anyone who exorcises cannot be a stranger to demons… To have faced our demons is never to forget their power to hurt and never to forget the power to heal that lies in touching brokenness… Jesus hears, below the demon noises, an anguished cry for deliverance.  Through… [this] community is co-created as a continuing, liberating, redemptive reality.”   (Journeys by Heart, 80-81)

The wounded healer – the one who has recovered their own heart and can, therefore, have some understanding of the suffering of others.  We call this empathy.

Jesus knew the demons, knew how to help this suffering person, because he had done the work of recovering his own heart in the desert.  And, from the abundance that flows from that wiser place, Jesus casts out these demons, he silences them.

This recovery of our own heart is an important part of the ministry we have as Christians.  Otherwise, we keep looking to heal ourselves by what we do with and for others.

kintsukuroi – the Japanese art of mending pottery with gold to highlight the understanding that a piece is more beautiful having been broken.

This healing doesn’t all happen at once, not for most of us.  But it’s the steady progression of becoming more and more aware of the haunted places in our lives, our own demons that possess us and drive us far away from ourselves and far away from the Love of God.  As we allow the light of Christ to shine in our own shadowlands, we come to know our demons and the shame lifts and melts away.  And the wounds they have created are healed.

It’s not the bearing of our wounds that enables us to be a healing presence, but it’s also not the hiding of our scars.  Shame offers nothing.  Nothing.  It only serves to prolong our own healing because its purpose is to cover things up.  Our scars are the very conduit through which we are able to offer Christ’s love in this world.  When we are willing to show our scars, we are willing to share the evidence of God’s presence in our own lives.

The wise poet Leonard Cohen, who just died a little over a year ago, talks about this in his song, “Anthem”:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

These cracks of imperfection, this is where the Light of Christ finds its way into our hearts, helping us to recover our heart once again.  And this, then, is where the light shines forth from us.  Not through the cracks but through the scar that is the love of Christ.

When we attempt to heal another from our wounded place, we end up trying to get what we need and we end up projecting all of our anger and hurt and fears onto the other person, insisting we know what they need or, worse, insisting that they need to act as we did or as we wish we had.

We say things like:
protect yourself
pull yourself up by your bootstraps
suck it up
get a job
In other words: I want you to do what I need you to do so that I’m not saddled with your pain in addition to my own…
So we don’t have to pay attention to them so that we are not pulled into the painting and we can remain innocent bystanders.

We end up saying: “Just take care of yourself by doing what I need you to do because I’m too busy holding on to my own pain to offer you any space to deal with yours.”

This is the message of the world, my friends.  This is not the message of Christ.
Because in Christ, we are no longer innocent bystanders.

But when we allow ourselves to be healed by the love of Christ, when we begin to see that through Christ there is “no east or west or north or south,” there is no “other.”
When we open our own heart to be healed by that unbounded Love, then all that we offer to another is born of something generative, something life-giving, instead of our own needs.

And healing happens simply from our presence, not from anything we do, but from our willingness to walk with them, journeying alongside them.  It’s our heart that is with them, our heart aflame with God’s love.

We offer ourselves to that person and ask what they need or help them discern what they need if they are in that dark of a place.
We walk with them instead of blocking their path.
We accompany instead of prescribe.
We offer friendship instead of knowledge.
This is the heart of welcoming.  This is what it means to be welcoming.

If we’re honest, the way Christianity presents itself in America is moralistic and self-righteous.  Preachers make their name selling solutions:  offering toothy smiles, telling people what is wrong with them and how they need to fix themselves.  If we wonder why people don’t come to church anymore, we need look no further than this.

Because the true path of Christ is as a wounded healer.
Someone who accompanies instead of preaches.
Someone who listens instead of tells, who loves instead of judges.
This is the path of the welcoming stranger.

Welcoming and healing are intertwined.

Throughout all of scripture, welcoming the stranger is presented as a gesture of healing – not just the healing of the individual, but the healing of the entire community.  And it always comes with the reminder that we, too, have been strangers before.

We welcome the stranger and all that they bring, honoring the whole of who they are as a gift to become known regardless of language or papers or anything else we might put in their way.  Because we also want to be known and remembering this enables us to remember that we were once strangers too.

We walk with them, not from a place of needing to belong ourselves, but knowing that we do belong and they too belong. Remembering what it’s like to feel like an outsider or a foreigner – that’s the place we can welcome the stranger from – the healing of the welcoming stranger.

In our painting today, this is the ministry of the young person at the front – journeying with and helping to carry the broken heart of their friend.  The one who has given up the right to claim innocent bystander.  That’s the path of Christ.

I’d like to end today with an illustration from a common teaching story:

A man falls down a hole, a hole with such steep sides that there is no getting out.  He sees a doctor pass by and calls out, “Hey, Doc!  I’m down here in this hole.  Can you help me out?”  The doctor writes out a prescription and throws it down and yells, “Good luck!”

Then he sees a priest walk by and he calls out, “Hey Pastor!  I’m down here in this hole.  Can you help me out?”  And the priest writes out a prayer and throws it down and says, “God be with you.”

Then he sees his friend walk by and he calls out, “Hey, John.  I’m down here in this hole.  Can you help me out?”  And John climbs down in the hole.  The man says, “What did you do that for?  Now we’re both down here!”

And John replies, “Yeah, but I’ve been here before.  And I can be with you in this place.”

My friends, may we come to know ourselves as wounded healer, so that we may offer ourselves as welcoming stranger to all.

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Come and See

A sermon preached on Epiphany II, January 14, 2018 in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kingston, NY.

Click here to read the scriptures.

Hit the play button below to listen along as you read.

 

Nathanael said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Nazareth was a small agricultural village that wasn’t too far from the Great Silk Road, an ancient trading route where people from all over the world came and went.  Nazareth was too far away from the major cities along the trade route to be of any real consequence and too far away from the centers of Jewish worship to have any real importance amongst the Jewish people.  Jesus’ mother was from Nazareth and this is likely where he spent his formative years.  With about 2000 people who lived in simple dwellings with courtyards and animals amidst the fields where they worked.

No one thought much of it, except to make fun of it.  Why should they when it had no worldly importance?  It was irredeemable in the eyes of power.

Scholars agree that Nathanael’s point in asking his question was to speak contempt.  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Nathanael voices the contempt that arises from fear and a need to diminish others as a defense.  The sarcasm and derisiveness that speak from ignorance and cowardice, not love. The hatred that wails from the littlest part of ourselves when we’re afraid we aren’t going to get what we need from the world.

What is interesting is that John chooses to use Nathanael as a vehicle for revelation in this Gospel.  His scorn turns to awe before our eyes when he realizes even he is known by God.  Even in his obviously fearful state, where he offers no guile to hide his contempt, Nathanael is known, here, by God.

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  And Philip says, “Come and see.”

Today, we’re are celebrating the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

martin-luther-king-jr-pop-art-portrait-25-randal-huiskens

by Randal Huiskens  at huiskensart.com

The opening hymn that Terry chose, Lift Every Voice and Sing, is a song of redemption that speaks of coming through the darkness with dignity.  Later today, our friends at Point of Praise will be offering a concert in Dr. King’s honor and then tomorrow, I’ve been honored to offer a prayer at the Interfaith Community Breakfast.  And so as we speak about this person of deep faith, I want to start with the story of Haiti.

 

Haiti, located on the island of Hispaniola, is a country born out of the enormously tragic institution of slavery.  Hispaniola was the first place in the Western hemisphere to become a part of the slave trade at the moment that Columbus’ Spanish ships landed there.  It became a major port for the sale of human beings as it was invaded and inhabited by the Spanish colonists.  Hispaniola

Later in the colonial period, the island was split between Spain and France.  Then, centuries later, the French Revolution inspired the slaves and free people of color to throw off their oppressors and claim independence.  They revolted in 1791 and, after more than 10 years of war with Napoleon’s army, established the nation of Haiti in 1804.

Haiti remains the only nation in the entire world to be founded as the result of a slave revolt.  Why?  Because the colonial powers-that-be learned their lesson of power.
They forced the country of Haiti to pay the richest countries in the world for their losses during the revolt, burying the fledgling nation in poverty and instability for 150 years.  And then they developed systems of segregation and apartheid in their other territories so that as slavery was gradually outlawed, a slave revolt would never happen again.

Entire countries made irredeemable by the arms of power.

This is how American segregation developed.
Haitians emigrating to the American South, mostly to Louisiana, told stories of what happened and plantation owners conspired with law-makers to prevent an uprising in the States. Segregation

Martin Luther King Jr. grew up in this segregation, as we know, forced to use specially labeled bathrooms and water fountains, sent to separate schools, encountering innumerable barriers to voting, property ownership, and economic advancement.  Although he was a deeply faithful, intelligent, well-read, and charismatic person, Dr. King suffered from dark depression in the knowledge that the system in which he lived felt insurmountable at times.  It seemed irredeemable.

Many people in the American South who claimed to be Christians, used their religion to justify the racist laws, just as they had used it to justify slavery.  Many others didn’t even bother applying their religious beliefs to their public lives at all, compartmentalizing their spiritual lives from their political, economic, social, and communal lives.

The prevailing sentiment at the time among those who held power was that black people were to be feared.  Furthermore, the narrative of power claimed that keeping black people in their place was for their own good and it was ordained by God because the men of science at the time concluded that “[black people] were inferior and “riddled with imperfections from head to toe”… that they didn’t know true pain and suffering because of their primitive nervous systems… ” therefore, keeping them subjugated was for their own good.  (Medical Apartheid, Harriet A. Washington)

Irredeemable by the laws of power.

The voices of worldly power speaking through Nathanael’s contemptuous question:Rough Draft
Could anything good come out of these people of color?
Could anything good come out of Haiti?
Could anything good come out of El Salvador?
Out of Syria?  Mexico?  Nigeria?
Or any of the other places that claimed to be irredeemable?  (click to read a story that’s an example of how to resist this narrative of power)

And Philip says, come and see.

It’s less than a month after our celebration of the Incarnation – the Festival of Christmas where we are called to the manger every year.  To bring our pride, our power, our worldly riches… to a manger, of all places.  Asked to offer ourselves to the knowledge and the hope that God comes to us in the most vulnerable of forms.

The so-called wisdom of the world kneels at the foot of the needy, defenseless one, acknowledging the depth of connection in our responsibility to one another and the silence in that realization of love is deafening.

And it always brings me back to a quieter part of myself.

I don’t know if you’re like me… despite my best efforts along my own spiritual journey, I’m always finding myself in need of beginning again.  Always being brought up short, being reminded that I have much to learn despite what I prefer to think otherwise.  Always in need of rebooting my own spiritual practice.

It’s like God taps me on the shoulder and I respond with, “oh yeah.  I’m supposed to be practicing my spirituality.”  I’m supposed to be practicing what I believe.

Epiphanies can sometimes be euphoria-like experiences.  But usually, they are the moments when we realize that we are humans just doing the best that we can and we must always begin again our practice.  The good news is that we always have the opportunity to begin again in the love of God.

Nothing we do or say or believe removes us from God’s love.  It can’t.
God knows you and God knows me… so intimately.  The whole of who we are.
God loves us simply because we breathe.  This I believe.
And this I know because this is what sustains me in my own darkest spaces when the light feels so far away and I think the worst things about myself.

Because in the darkest moments of our lives, my friends, we don’t need to be told what to do or be chastised for not being better, or to be fixed or handled or imprisoned or challenged or ignored.
Because these moments are when Nathanael is bringing the voices of the world crashing into our own thoughts, demanding, “Can anything good come of me?”

In the darkest moments of our lives, we simply need to be known. Charleston 1
Just like Samuel was known in the Hebrew Scriptures from today.
Just like Nathanael was known in today’s gospel passage.
We just need someone to say, “Hey, you’re ok.  Let me walk with you a little while so you can come and see for yourself.”

Come and see.  This invitation is the Light of Christ.

And this is the deeper wisdom found in today’s scriptures.

Like Paul tells us, people don’t exist for the sake of our own amusement and use, for us to fix and condemn and mold and enslave.  We exist for one another because we are meant to accompany each other regardless of worldly laws and power.

Accompanying the stranger in our midst because being a stranger is a dark path:  Bus Stop Hospital Discharge
The refugee forced to leave their home.
The woman stranded on the streets of Baltimore in nothing but a hospital gown by the staff in the dark of night.  (click to read the story)
The one who grieves.  The one who is sick.  The one who is lonely.
The one who is trying desperately to hang on to their dignity and not take another drink.

We are here to remind each other that, indeed, something good does come from the places the powers-that-be have named irredeemable in their sneering contempt.

We are here to remind each other that, even in the hell that worldly greed can sometimes rage upon the world, we are known and we are loved by God.  And, as such, we cannot separate our spiritual lives from our political, economic, social, and communal lives.  It just can’t be done.

On the contrary, the ability to take this out, past our doors and into the world, is what we are here to cultivate.  Here.  At this Table. 2017-07-02 09.49.08b

The Sacrament of Eucharist is, at its core, an act of reconciliation.  It is through our thanks, through our gratitude for the breath of life that God offers us a remembrance of life beyond our own borders, And it’s there that we realize that one life, our life, is connected to another life is connected to another life is connected to another life.

This reconciliation that we practice teaches us that to reconcile with ourselves and the parts of our own lives that we believe to be irredeemable, is the core teaching.

Because only when we do that, when we reconcile with ourselves, do we have the ability to we realize that nothing and no one is beyond God’s love.
Those who have been displaced by worldly powers and laws.
Those who are in prison or in danger, hungry or in need.
Those who are struggling to regain their own dignity through no fault of their own.
Nothing is irredeemable.

The Rev. Dr. King himself said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

No one is irredeemable.
All are known by God.  All have inherent dignity.

And so we practice. We practice here so we can take it into the world.
We practice at this Table and learn to say again, if only to ourselves, “Come and see.”

My friends, come and see.

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Opulent Hope

A sermon preached on Christmas Eve – December 24, 2017 – at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kingston, NY.  You can read the scripture by clicking here.

Now, this may be the wrong way to start off a Christmas sermon when we are expected snow later tonight, but I used to live in Berkeley, CA… where it never snows.
I was walking through my neighborhood one December day, as the sun was beginning to set.  I walked around my neighborhood in a section I’d never walked before.  And there, tucked in the midst of several blocks of homes, sitting on a corner lot, there was a synagogue I hadn’t seen before.

At first glance, it seemed deserted for a Friday, when people should be buzzing around the property, preparing for a Shabbat service.  A porch light shone on the steps but there were no lights on inside.  There was one sign and it told me only the name of the congregation Chochmat HaLev – the name means Wisdom of the Heart.

I walked up the sidewalk along the side of the building.  And, as I approached the side door of the building where a porchlight shone from the ceiling of an alcove, I saw it.Chochmat Halev Bed

Lying across the porch blocking the double door was a simple bed.  A few layers of foam with a couple of blankets and a square blue throw pillow.  Someone at the synagogue had prepared a place for a traveler, a person without a home.

It wasn’t much, really.  It wasn’t a four-poster bed.  It wasn’t a soft, downy mattress with lots of pillows.  It wasn’t even a cot in someone’s guest room.  It was just a few layers of foam with a couple of blankets and a square blue throw pillow.

A place for a stranger to lay his head.  A soft bed waiting, welcoming… intentionally made for someone without a home.  It wasn’t much.  But as I stood there looking at it, it somehow felt opulent.  Chochmat HaLev – the Wisdom of the Heart.

We’ve heard the Nativity story before, from much better storytellers and interpreters than me.  Mary and Joseph traveled from where they lived to Joseph’s ancestral home of Bethlehem.  Mary’s labor started and they had to find a place to rest, a place where Mary could give birth.  Anything would do.  And they were given permission to bed down in a stable because there was no place at the inn.

It’s hard to imagine less opulent, less hospitable circumstances for the birth of this child.  For unlike the bed lying in wait on the porch of the synagogue, the preparations for Jesus’ birth were anything but intentional.  Mary and Joseph were traveling, strangers in a land that wasn’t theirs.   Maybe not refugees, but definitely migrants.

For sure, no one sought them out, or welcomed them.  I’m sure they were met with suspicion and wariness. There was no room indoors for them and no one had laid a bed out for them in expectation of their arrival.

Is this how the light of Christ is supposed to be welcomed into the world?  Perhaps that’s the wrong question.
Perhaps a better question is, is this how the light of Christ IS welcomed into the world?  And the answer is… yes.

For the light of Christ comes to us regardless of preparation, regardless of whether we think we are worthy or ready, regardless of what we think is our ability to receive this blessing.

There we are… shopping for gifts, wrapping presents, baking cookies, trimming trees, buying that last minute quart of eggnog… tending our flocks.  We function, plan, accomplish, achieve goals, cross things off our to-do list.  Often, these are good, necessary things – taking care of ourselves and the people we love to the best of our ability.

Yet this is when it happens, when we are tending our flocks.  This is when the light of Christ is born.  The Light of Christ comes as Love that just shows up, unannounced and in the most ordinary way.

And this is the essence of Hope.  We say things like we hope and pray… but often that’s laden with expectations.
But God’s Hope for us has nothing to do with expectation and all the ways we try to make sure things happen just the way we want them to.  Hope is the movement of God surprising us in the least expected place, the place that has somehow been forgotten or overlooked, often places that are not wanted.

A place that we have not planned for or a person that we have not looked at before.  Hope arises, not in the things we want, but in the things and the people that become a blessing to us.  Chochmat HaLev – the Wisdom of the Heart.

And this Hope, when we experience it, it feels opulent.  Because it’s completely unexpected.  We can get so focused on the things we think matter, that we can forget about the Love just waiting for us when we stop and take a moment to breathe.

Perhaps we become suddenly aware of the beauty that surrounds us – in a leaf, or a smile, or a dog’s panting, or a child’s Christmas pageant.  Or maybe we catch another person’s eye and laugh knowingly together.  Perhaps we just take in a nice, long breath and feel how the oxygen feeds our cells.  Something catches us unawares.  It’s not much, when this happens, but it always feels opulent.

We suddenly realize that whatever we are doing is not the point of the whole thing.  We see how connected we are and somehow instantly know that we are not, that not one of us is alone.

And this… this is the manger – these moments of opulence.
This is the manger.  This is where God breaks down the walls of expectation and focuses us, even if just for one moment, on the thing we’ve been forgetting, the one we’ve been overlooking, the numinous yet mundane reality.  Chochmat HaLev – the Wisdom of the Heart.

The manger is the place inside of us that we often try to hide.  The manger is the person or place that seems most inconvenient.  Because that is always where God will be found waiting for us to see. And this is always where we are called to kneel – the unexpected, least hospitable, most inconvenient, overlooked place in our own neighborhood.

And despite what Good News this is, it can be terrifying.  Just like it was for the shepherds, this message that we are not alone, that God is with us, is an earth-shattering reality.  Because it can be hard to hear that you don’t have to do anything to be loved by God.  There is nothing special that is needed to be the precious beloved child of God that we are all born to be, which is the very essence of the Incarnation.

It can be hard to accept that you are good simply because you breathe, to realize that the bed in the alcove of the synagogue has been laid out for you.

This is how Christ is born into the world.  This is how God makes Godself known to us.  This sudden, unexpected invitation to love, to a gift that we happen upon on our walk through our own neighborhood.

It isn’t much, but somehow, it’s always opulent.

The nativity story tells us that despite the lack of hospitality, the world is changed on this night when Jesus is born.  Because on this night, the world is reminded that God is with us.  God makes God’s home amongst us.

So, here we are, my friends.  Here we are.  The wait is over.  Our only task now is to stop for a moment and take a breath, to rest in God’s invitation that is the Christ light.   Because God is here amongst us, no matter what we have done or what we have not done.  God is with us in this manger.

What a gift.  What an unexpected gift of Love.

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Into the Silence

You can read today’s scripture by clicking here.

Click the play button below to listen along.

Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

Today’s image on the bulletin is from a mid-20th century American painter named Edward Hopper.  It’s his most famous work and is one of the best known paintings in all of American art.  It’s not really a seasonal painting but I think it reflects some important themes of Advent – space, light, simplicity, and quiet.

This image is that of an all-night diner in New York City where 4 people have

EHopper Nighthawks C

Nighthawks, Edward Hopper (1942)

congregated.  The scene has a quiet feel. There is no action implied except that of the waiter.  The dark street is motionless even as the artificial light spills out onto the dark sidewalk around it.  The colors are muted and the shadows long. The people don’t appear to be talking to one another.  There are empty stools at the counter, just waiting to be filled. This feeling of quiet is echoed in the large empty space.  The lines are straight and shapes are simple and clean.  There is minimal decoration, even in the closed shops across the street.  And even if there was any noise in the diner, we wouldn’t be able to hear it, as we are standing on the other side of the glass, looking in on this small congregation.

 

The whole image seems to be one of waiting and watching.  The space waits for movement to fill it because it is motionless itself.  The people, the nighthawks, watching for something new to cross their paths, something that will stir them into motion in the middle of the night.

So many people read this painting and think it looks lonely and depressing.  And I wonder, what is it about space and silence that unnerves us so that we want to fill it?  What are we afraid of?  What do we want instead?

It’s like one of those sleepless nights where we can’t seem to get our mind to shut off.  It’s almost as if the silence is so unbearable that we will fill it, even with the most disturbing thoughts.

Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

I once led a meditation workshop during which a group of about 15 people experimented with different types of meditation.  Each experiment was met with curiosity, except for silence.  When it came time for us to try silent mediation, the people became agitated, even as I spoke about it.  And when I suggested we sit in silence for 12 minutes, one participant, who had been previously still and silent, burst into nervous rambling and began shaking.

And it’s not just silence, it’s the quietness of prayer in general.  I always catch myself thinking all kinds of thoughts – wondering why someone said something or did something.  Wondering how I should respond or fix… or what I need to remember.  It’s as if I think that my thoughts are the most important thing.

And before we dismiss the importance of cultivating silence in our lives, let me ask you this:  From where else but silence do you hear anything besides your own thoughts?

Our minds are so filled with television and radio and smartphones and videogames and to-do lists and gossip and griping and anxiety and thought after thought after thought… sometimes layers of thought that we aren’t even aware of… how on earth do we ever hear God’s voice in the cacophony?

Mark’s Gospel is calling us to “Keep awake.”  And I can think of no more important time for us to be listening for God than now.  There is a great unveiling happening in the world and some days it feels as if everything is falling apart.  We are lost.  And there is no worldly messiah who will come.  Indeed, the real danger is in wanting for one to come and fix everything.

Because our salvation lies in God, in listening to God for guidance, and in taking action that is loving and compassionate, just and merciful.

Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

Today’s Gospel passage uses the trope of the householder going on a journey and leaving his servants in charge to watch after things.  We’ve seen this before in a parable – two weeks ago.  It’s woven into all the Gospels and is used in other mystical traditions.

The householder that goes on a journey is a metaphor for us getting lost.  Getting lost in our own stories and needs and wants.  In our beliefs and fears and desires – things we want from the world and how we might go about getting it or why we didn’t get it and who’s to blame.  Getting so lost that we forget how to be quiet enough to listen for God, how to pay attention enough to watch for God.

My own journey of lostness wasn’t that much different from others.  I somehow arrived in young adulthood and, of course, had some picture of what my life was supposed to be like.  I got pretty close to it but, it turned out that I had just borrowed someone else’s picture.  I wasn’t happy and I didn’t know what to do about it.

So, I ate, and I withdrew from my friends, and I hoped that things would just get better on their own because that’s the coping mechanism I knew.  After 7 years of living like that I knew I needed to make a change in order to save my own life.

I moved to another city, joined the YMCA, and started a gratitude journal.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just started my spiritual path.  However, the moment that really awakened me was my first retreat.  At one point, I got so scared that I ran out of the room and into the woods until I couldn’t run anymore.

PyramidMountainTentacles1But a few days later, at the end of that retreat, I had cultivated enough silence that the fog of my own self-judgment and criticism momentarily parted.  An enormous space opened up inside of me, all the thoughts disappeared, and what took their place was this overwhelming sense of Love.  It was as if light was had filled me up and was shining out of me.  I couldn’t speak.  All I could do was cry, I was so filled with gratitude.

Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

And after that, I wandered again, as we always do.  I found new ways to criticize myself and met new people to try and get approval from.  And I still work at these things every day.  And when I have the most trouble with anxiety, that’s usually when I recognize that I’m not giving myself enough silence.  Or rather, I’m not giving God enough space.

Because the Good News is that God is there in the silence.  We think we have to wait on God, but God is always there waiting on us.  We think God has hidden Godself from us, but it is us who have hidden ourselves from God… in all the expectations and judgments and fears and anxieties and blame.  God is just waiting for us to awaken from our own trance.

This is the hope of the season – that God remains.  In all our comings and goings, we can always return to God.  Always.  God the Master of the house, who comes at the most unexpected hour, in the most unexpected way, God is there to meet us when we simply find a way into a silent place.

It will feel like the world is ending because, in a way, it does.  For a time.

This time of Advent is a time of cultivating the space in which we can hear God speak.  A time of preparing the manger.  We cease from our wanderings and find our way back to our origin, the place of our birth.  Where we find God’s Hope, not in the ways of the world, but in our tenderest, most vulnerable self, our real self.

This is where we come on bended knee.

Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

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Homeless Jesus, King of Kings

You can read today’s scripture by clicking here.

RNS-HOMELESS-JESUS

Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz notes the ironies in his creation, “Jesus the Homeless,” a bronze sculpture depicting the Christian savior huddled beneath a blanket on an actual-size park bench. Only the feet are visible, their gaping nail wounds reveal the subject.

A few weeks ago, we baptized two beautiful little ones – Ella Mae and Eleanor.  All of 2 months and 15 months, these little ones, as they always do, strike a familiar chord in our beings.  Something we learn to leave behind or cover over because we’re scared it will be hurt.  Something sweet and tender and vulnerable – the part of ourselves that saw the world with awe and wonder, where everything is something to discover.

And in that baptismal service we said aloud our Baptismal Vows.
(paraphrased)

  • We vowed to continue our prayers and worship.
  • We vowed to try our best and offer forgiveness to ourselves and others when we miss the mark.
  • We vowed to teach others about God.
  • We vowed to seek and serve Christ in those we meet.
  • And we vowed to strive for justice and peace because that is how we honor the dignity of every human being.

That 4th vow – to seek and serve Christ – I’d like to highlight that one today as we mark the end of the longest season in the church year, the Season after Pentecost.  Today, we come to the ultimate message of Jesus’ ministry:  That true power is found in Love.  True “kingship” is found in stewardship.  True divinity is found in the least among us, the most vulnerable, the weakest, most defenseless people, the most tender and vulnerable part of ourselves.

Today is Christ the King or the Reign of Christ.  Each year on this day we have a Gospel reading that uses apocalyptic end-of-the-world imagery to highlight the reversal of power.  But this day acts as a threshold, not an end.  A transition from one thing into another.  We begin a new church year next week as the Season of Advent begins and we commence our preparation for the return of the Light, the coming of Christ into the manger of our hearts.

The wisdom of the liturgical year echoes the wisdom of the seasons in the Northern Hemisphere.  We learn about God through the cycle of life in this creation called Earth.  The end becomes the beginning of the next.  The darkness is pierced by the Light.  Winter turns.  Death is never the last word because there is always new life.

This is the God of Life that continues through all the comings and goings.  The rising of the sun in the East is all the hope we sometimes need to know that life continues past even the darkest, most painful of moments in our lives.  God persists.

God is the Hope, the Light that shines in the shadows of our lives.
God is the Forgiveness that moves us through pain.
God is the Mercy that frees us from shame.
God is the Glory that calls us out of hiding.
And God is the Love that reconciles us with ourselves and one another.  Over and over again.

The world that we create comes and goes.  Institutions and even nations rise and fall.  Ideologies grab our attention.  Objects and money captivate and, sometimes, enslave us.

But Light, Forgiveness, Mercy, Glory, Love.  The constancy of God is eternal.
And we know this most intimately in the tenderest part of ourselves.
We remember that part when we meet little ones like Ella Mae and Eleanor.  The question is, can we remember it when we meet those who trouble us?

The focus of Matthew’s Gospel, indeed all the Gospels, is the reversal of the notion of “kingdom.”

There is the obvious meaning of kingdom – the wealth and privilege of those who have wealth and privilege in society.  Christ’s presence can never be measured in worldly numbers and it’s problematic when we try.  Yet, because the church is a worldly institution, we cannot exist without money and some degree of privilege.

But how we use this money and privilege makes a difference.
Even if we think we don’t have enough.
How we live out our lives in the world makes a difference.
Even if we think we have no power.

We believe in the Incarnation, in God’s in-breaking into the world we have created.  Therefore, the spiritual life we live must be lived out in the world.

Do we offer one another Light and Hope?  Do we encourage our friends to Forgive?  Do we ask for Mercy?  Do we take the time to witness Glory?  Do we kneel at the feet of Love?

As humans, we struggle so much with needing to be seen or known in a particular way.  To have some kind of meaningful identity in the world… caring, smart, capable, attractive, unique, good, or right.  Sometimes even weakness or invisibility are ways we prefer to be known in the world.

There is something about these identities that feels safer to us in a world that is scary.  It’s a protection, a role we play to make our way in the world.  Sometimes we’re so entranced by this that we have forgotten the truer, more tender part of ourselves.  The Divine Spark, the Christ within us all.

And this is where that Baptismal Vow I mentioned earlier, becomes so vitally important.  To seek and serve Christ is not just about charity and being kind.  It’s also about looking for the Glory of Christ in the people we meet.  Seeing past the behavior that usually gets our attention and looking for something deeper and truer – the Glory of Christ waiting to shine forth.

To seek and serve Christ in one another means that we actually do the seeking, expecting to witness Glory and kneeling before it in awe and wonder.

The purpose of Timothy Schmalz’s sculpture is to remind us of just that.  Homeless Jesus is seen as distasteful by many and has caused controversy in many of the places it has been installed.  Because the worldly part of ourselves doesn’t like to recognize the Glory in someone we would rather ignore… or express our outrage or pity over.

Why would we worship a homeless person?  It’s almost blasphemous to suggest the notion, even when we read a Gospel passage that tells us this is exactly what we are supposed to be doing.  The cynical side of me wonders if it’s because we would so much rather worship a worldly king, someone from whom we can curry favors.  After all, what can a homeless person give us?

In Kingston, I’ve noted that homeless people don’t sleep on the streets so the enormous housing problem that I know we have in Ulster County is all but hidden from our sight.  So ask yourself, who are the people you find to be troublesome?  The people you avoid?  Who are the outcasts?

At one time (and this is still true to some degree) it was people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.  And St. John’s created a beautiful ministry, amid some controversy from what I understand, because people here recognized that in seeking the person with AIDS, you were seeking Christ.  Angel Food East not only fed people, but crossed a worldly boundary of going to visit people who were stigmatized.  That is the beautiful, yet disturbing witness of this congregation.  After all, what can a person with AIDS do for us?  There is no worldly power there.

I use the word disturbing, not in a pejorative way but to highlight that the Gospels disrupt and disturb our worldly understanding and sensibilities. In the same way, Matthew’s Gospel offers a disturbing metaphor for God – the Thief in the Night.

God, who comes into our worldly creation suddenly and without warning to steal our imagined kingdoms away from us.  God comes at our most tender hour, when our defenses are down, to change our world and show us the truth.

The truth that we are Beloved.  You are Beloved.
And we never needed what the kings of the world could offer us.  We never needed to be special or right or smart or witty, beautiful or capable… or any of the other things we think we need to be.  These efforts we make in “the world” to get something from “the world?”  They are the kingdoms we create.

What would it be like if we stopped trying so hard?  What would it be like if we just learned to accept ourselves?  What if we saw Christ when we looked in the mirror?  Would we be able to see Christ when we look at the homeless person?

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.’  Mt 45

This is the ultimate speech in Matthew’s Gospel and it is meant to be ironic, turning our worldly notions inside out.  Written to help us realize that we are not to bow down and submit ourselves to worldly power, or to the parts of ourselves that make us feel powerful or smart or capable or any of the other things we think we’re supposed to be in the world.

But to use our gifts in the world to endeavor to make the Reign of Christ present.  Here and now.  Because as we learn how to honor the most vulnerable part of our self, we also learn to honor the most vulnerable among us.

The constancy of God is found, not in worldly kingdoms, but in the act of bowing down to the powerless, the wretched, the lonely, the lost, the penniless, the homeless, the outcast.

The spiritual path of being a Christian cannot be separated from this image on today’s worship bulletin.  Because how we live our lives in this world makes a difference.

Hope.  Forgiveness.  Mercy.  Glory.  Love.
This is the eternal Reign of Christ.

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