Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

Monday, June 20, 2016

Healing is...listening, and telling the truth--The sermon I preached the Sunday after the Pulse nightclub massacre

I wrote this sermon in the week after the massacre and shooting of over fifty people at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  The shooter claimed allegiance to a radical religion that claims to be Islam. After much contemplation and wrestling with scripture, social media, my friends, my own heart, and God, this is what I could come up with, and in the context of a five week preaching series on healing which I had already begun three weeks before. It is what it is. 

Healing is... listening, and telling the truth: A sermon on Luke 8:26-39

Have you ever had the experience of realizing the way you present yourself isn't all that helpful?  Perhaps even not very kind? I find it to be nearly universally true that we all think about ourselves quite a bit more than anyone else does. We have strong opinions and beliefs. We have our patterns and ways of being in our home and in the world. We tend to think that we are basically right, and other people are from time to time, but certainly not as much as we are. We are quick to judge. Slow to listen. And only when we are really pressed, do we seek to understand the perspective of someone who is really different than we are. It often takes a shift in our environment, an intentional placing of ourselves in a vulnerable situation, to really hear what we sound like. As my mother used to say, "I'm going to record what you are saying sometime and play it back for you so you can hear what you really sound like." She never did that, but she didn't have to.  Eventually I had the experience of hearing what I really sounded like.  I thought I sounded witty, but really I sounded sarcastic and judgmental. And because my posture had shifted, suddenly I could see that my comments had a negative effect on the person who was listening to me. It was as clear as if someone had shown me a brief video of myself. Gosh, how long had I been doing that?  Not pretty.  Demons are never as attractive as we like to think they are. 

And yet our demons are often so wrapped up in who we think that we are, that it is difficult to imagine life without them.  The tormented man in Geresene had so many demons that when Jesus asked for the name of the evil spirit that possessed him, the demon replied: Legion. Hundreds. Too many to count. Many of us are able to keep our demons under wraps, but some of us fall to pieces like this man in Geresene.  What were his demons exactly? Did he drink too much? Did he speak whatever came to mind? Did he suffer from mental illness and hallucinations? Did he break all of the Ten Commandments and then some? We don't know. All we know is people were so frightened by his behavior that they tried to control him.  This was to no avail.  He broke the shackles, tore off his clothes, and wandered among the dead. This was likely preferable in the minds of the villagers to wandering among the living.

But not so for Jesus. Jesus saw this man and had compassion on him.  He listened to him. He called him to remember his true self: one made in the image of God and beloved by God. He sent the demons away.  You want to go into a herd of pigs? fine, go into the pigs.  But leave this man in peace. Let this man know the good news that he is not his illnesses, he is not his mistakes, he is not his sins, he is not his demons. No, this man belongs to God. He is God's beloved son. 

When I committed to preaching a series on healing this month to correspond with the healing stories of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, I had no idea I would once again be compelled to comment and respond pastorally to another act of hatred and gun violence in our country. On August 5th I will celebrate my ten year anniversary to the priesthood. In that time there have been far too many mass shootings and smaller acts of gun violence--citizens murdering citizens-- on which I have prayed, written, and wept: Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Mother Emmanuel AME Church, San Bernadino, the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. NIU student Steven Agee was murdered over four years ago across the street from our own church, shot to death. I know I am not mentioning others, there have been too many. And now Orlando. And now two vulnerable and beloved communities are heartbroken and terrified, people who are my friends and who's friendship and gifts to my life and our world I value deeply: the LGBTQIAA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer, Intersex, Assexual, and Allies) community and the Muslim community. Ten years of ministry marked by ministering in the midst of horrific violence.  Twelve years since the ban on the sale of assault rifles was lifted in our country. I heard that fact in passing this week.  Now it makes sense, but I don't like it. I don't like it one little bit. 

Where is the healing to be found for this seeping open wound of violence in our country? What's a Christian to do?  Michael Franti sings in his song Gloria, "When many little people in many little places do many little things then the whole world changes, but sometimes not fast enough for me."  As much as we want a quick fix, the truth is it took a while for us to get here: crazed, naked, shackles and broken chains rattling in our footsteps. It took us a while to get here, and it's going to take a while to come out of the tombs and into the land of the living. It's going to take some courage as individuals and a society to let go of those demons that have so possessed us that we can't imagine who we would be without them. One answer I do believe we can see in the example of Jesus and his encounter with the man at Geresene. Jesus listened to him. He did not run away. He told the demons to leave the man in peace. It seems a small thing to heal just one man. But that one man when he was made well became a witness. He was able to tell the story, to offer hope to others who were wrapped up in their demons.  

I believe we are being called by Jesus as church to listen with the heart of Christ, and to tell our story, just as Jesus commissioned the man he healed of a legion of demons to stay in his home and tell his good news story there. We are being called to tell the truth.  Part of that truth telling is to say with intention what we assume everyone knows. The Episcopal Church does not believe that human sexuality is a demon. We do not believe that being LGBT is a demon. We do not believe that being Muslim is a demon. We do not believe that being Latinx is a demon. We do believe that we are all created in God's image.  We do believe that the image of God is not to be defiled by the demons of hatred, fear, intolerance, and prejudice. We do believe as Bishop Lee wrote,  "Every act of violent hatred is an assault on Jesus Christ who is present in every victim. I do not know how else to understand the mystery of the cross. Murder is simply blasphemy, an attempt to obliterate the image of God in which we are all made." But we as a congregation of St. Paul's have not said that directly here in the place Jesus has called us to tell the good news. Why is that? I am not trying to make you feel guilty, I'm simply asking us to contemplate if the way we have been presenting ourselves to our neighborhood is helpful or not. Do the vulnerable and hurting people in our city know they can find healing and sanctuary here?  And if not, then are we willing to confess these sins of privilege, indifference, and apathy to Jesus, and allow him to send these demons away?

In a few minutes we will pray a litany of healing. I encourage you to lift up in prayer all those demons that are troubling you. All those ways that you have been presenting yourself to the world that have not been helpful, that have hurt others, that have hurt you. Some of you will feel compelled to come forward for anointing and laying on of hands as we beseech Jesus to fill us with his grace so we may know the healing power of his love. Some of you will feel compelled to keep vigil from your pew. Both are acceptable. But know this, the good news is we are not our illnesses.  We are not our mistakes. We are not our sins. We are not our demons. We belong to God. We are each one of us God's beloved child. Jesus is our liberator and the great healer of our souls. Some wounds will take a long time to heal, but in God's eyes you are not your wounds. This is good news. And there are people in your world who are dying to hear it. Do not be silent. Do not assume that everyone already knows this truth. 

Luke 8:26-39

Sunday, November 29, 2015

See the Signs, Share the Hope--A sermon for the First Sunday of Advent--November 29, 2015

This sermon was preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in DeKalb, Illinois on the first Sunday of Advent 2015.  This was also the first Sunday I was back in the pulpit after a twelve week sabbatical.  The text for the day was Luke 21:25-36.

Good morning!  It is so good to see each and every one of you.  I have been looking forward to this moment.  And now it is here, the wait for the Rector to return is over.  But don't relax your spiritual muscles too much, stay limber for we are embarking upon the season of waiting and anticipation: Advent.   

Advent is an unique time of year.  For on thing it's short, this year Advent will last twenty-six days.  Only Christmastide is shorter. Second of all Advent is not about waiting to celebrate Christmas.  This is what Advent calendars of various sorts would have us believe.  And those are great, we always have at least one going in our home--this year we have a Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar.  Waiting for Christmas is fun!  But for us, the spiritual meaning of Advent is waiting in hope for the return of Christ.  Here in Church time--God's time--we are waiting for something we haven't seen before--the return of Jesus Christ our Lord.  We acknowledge at the Ascension every spring (40 days after Easter) that Jesus has ascended into heaven and promised to return.  We also say every week in the Nicene Creed that "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end" (BCP 359). It's an odd theological concept though because we are also largely influenced by the writings of St. Paul and the movement of Holy Spirit to believe that Christ is with us in the church. You may recall the opening sentence of the comforting prayer of St. John Chrysostom at the end of Morning Prayer: Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them..." (BCP 102). 

These two ideas we believe about our Christian faith and about God may seem a bit strange and even paradoxical, but there you have it: In the Body of Christ Jesus is present in the world.  And also, in Advent we devote our hearts to preparing for the return of Christ from the heavenly realm. Advent is definitely a cosmic big picture sort of season. And yet, the cosmic return of Christ is beyond our grasp.  We have no experience of this. And so we tend to skim over it, frankly it's easier to wait in hope for Christmas.  But to do so is to also to neglect the power of Jesus in our midst now--in the Body of Christ present right now in the world. To not be attentive to waiting in hope for the signs of the return of Christ is to risk missing the signs that the kingdom has drawn near, the glimpses of what one day will come to pass when all of Creation is reconciled with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

Our Gospel from Luke asks us to hold this big picture coming reality of God's reign on earth with the small picture of where we live today. In the small picture--in today--our redemption is found.  And that is well worth turning our attention to for we do not need to linger in the darkness, signs of the kingdom of God are already being revealed and beckoning those who are weary of darkness into the light.  In the midst of the end times language of this slice of Luke's Gospel, Jesus tells a little parable about how watching for signs of springtime is like watching for signs of the kingdom of God: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near" (Luke 21: 29-31). Now, as a forester at heart I am always on the look out for the first swelling buds on the silver maples starting in February.  But not everyone thinks about trees as much as I do. Often I hear people remark on how spring is finally here in late April or early May once the trees are blatantly in bloom.  But the signs of spring were there much much earlier for those who were watching closely. It's ok that not everyone notices, spring will come anyway.  But when we apply this parable spiritually, it's not okay that people are suffering in darkness and cannot see the signs of the kingdom drawing nigh.  

Let me tell you a story from my sabbatical to help illustrate what I'm getting at. In early November I spent two weeks visiting my brother and his wife in Taipei, Taiwan. Taiwan is very safe.  You can walk around with little fear of harassment or crime, I was told many stories that in an American urban context would be unbelievable. But safety is an illusion.  One evening around ten o'clock we were waiting at a bus stop in a nice neighborhood.  A bus pulled up and a woman and her small daughter quietly departed the bus.  Suddenly we heard someone completely losing it.  Everyone turned and we witnessed this woman being screamed at by a man who appeared to be her husband.  It had to have been her husband/partner, because who else would scream at a woman like that while she quietly took it, and her little daughter uttered not a word or a whimper?  I asked my brother and sister-in-law if they were indeed together, we all assumed yes.  They didn't say much, and neither did anyone else. But I said quietly, "This is not appropriate, even though I am not Taiwanese I know that THIS is not appropriate."  I felt very frightened for that woman and her child. And in that city where I did not speak the language or understand the culture I wasn't sure what to do besides pray.  We see the signs of tribulation Jesus alludes to in this reading.  We see the cracks in the lives of people around us and sense the pain and suffering beneath the carefully varnished surface.  We see them, but they may not see us.  They are often bitterly, painfully, alone.  Just like you see buds opening on the fig tree, see the signs, says Jesus. See the signs that the kingdom is near; see the signs that many are too frightened or distracted to see.  Stay alert.  Stand up.  For your redemption will come.  But what about those too frightened to see? We have an obligation to help them stand up as well. 

This is what it means to be a follower of Christ in Advent: look for the signs of kingdom of God drawing near, and help others who believe they have lost all hope know that in Christ Jesus our hope for redemption can never be taken away. Friends: Stay awake, be alert! The signs you may see may be an opportunity to reach out to a friend who is isolated and in pain.  Perhaps you are being called to help him or her crawl out of the darkness, or at least let them know you are there to help when they are ready to be helped. I will remember this scene at the bus stop in Taipei for years to come.  I will remember the time I saw a woman and child in distress and was at a loss as to how to help.  I will remember this when I meet others who are deep in danger and tribulation.  And with God's help, I will see the signs and help them stand beside me so together we might receive the redemption of God.  I'm sure you have had these moments as well in your life.  Touchstones where you realize people are suffering in ways much more awful than you thought possible. I know you know what I'm talking about.  The temptation is to pretend like you don't see.  But the Way of Jesus is to bring those who cower in the darkness into the Light. In the Light we can all begin to have hope. 

Amazing things happen when you keep your lamp lit, when you look for the signs that the kingdom has drawn near, when you wait with great hopefulness on the return of Christ Jesus.  Amazing things happen we we surrender to God's time.  After 2000 years of waiting, Advent is definitely a reminder to surrender to God's time.  When you surrender to God's time you learn to appreciate the sacred possibility of every day. Every day in this world there is great suffering, but every day through the tender compassion of those who closely following Christ Jesus there is hope. There is love. So stay awake, be alert, be slow to judge, quick to love, and eager to see the kingdom of God shining through the cracks of the world not as we wish it were, but as it is in all its terrible beauty. "[And] when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near" (Luke 21: 28).

The children at St. Paul's drew the following sermon response:

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Prayer: What? Why? Where? How? And Why does God care anyway??

This sermon was preached on the seventh Sunday of Easter, May 17th, 2015 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church.  We also celebrated Children's Ministries this morning.  The texts for the day are found here.

Prayer. Prayer.  We say it so often, we take for granted others know what we are talking about.  Or even that we know what we are talking about!  Prayer.  Praying for you.  I'll keep you in my prayers.  Please pray for (fill in the blank).  Prayer request. Prayer tree. Prayers2pass  Prayer, prayer, prayer.  

What is prayer?

Attentiveness to God.  Being present to the Divine presence of the Creator of the universe.  Prayer is paying attention to God.  Prayer is listening to God.  Prayer is also talking with God... our hope is that we are not talking at God, but rather we are in an ongoing conversation with each other. 

Talking prayers, conversation with that mysterious force of life and goodness in the world we humbly name "God", is happening in our scriptures today. In the Acts of the Apostles (1:15-17, 21-26) Peter leads the assembly of 120 persons in prayer to discern who to choose a second twelfth apostle to take Judas' place left open by his betrayal of Jesus.  They acknowledge that God knows everyone's heart, and ask for divine inspiration to know who should be chosen--Justus or Matthias.  Then they cast lots, to read God's answer there too.  

In John, (17:6-19) Jesus also talks to God, prays to God the Father on behalf of all who believe thus far, and all that are his...which is pretty much everyone who makes an effort "All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them." Where does Jesus say this prayer?  In the house, after dinner.  Right where he finds himself at the moment. Prayer is really about being present to God in the present moment.

If that's true, then we can pray anywhere!  Where do you pray? (And please don't forget to mention "in church" but I also hope you are praying more than once a week! ;)).  Where do you pray?

Talking isn't the only way to pray, how do you pray?  If we are all made in the image of God, then there is certainly at least as many ways to stay connected with our Beloved Parent.  Yesterday I saw a photo (meme) on Facebook of a forest and the following info: "Shinrin-yoku: a Japanese noun meaning a visit to the forest for relaxation. Literally, 'forest bathing.'" God made the trees, God made me, it's natural we should want to spend sometime together!  Many times in my life being in the wilderness generally and the forest specifically has been like bathing in the glory of God.  Is that a prayer? Absolutely.  Singing--St. Augustine said "s/he who sings prays twice." walking. running. dancing. laughing. living life fully and in the moment and acutely aware that God is with us everywhere--that's a prayer right there, my friends. 

But why do we pray?  What do we want from prayer? Assurance. Comfort. Joy. Union with the Holy Spirit. Peace. Miracles. Discernment. Clarity. Relief from pain. Direction.  Psalm 1 (our psalm today) says : "[Those who do avoid wickedness] delight in the law of the Lord, and they meditate on his law day and night" (Psalm 1:1).  The LAW.  Sounds rather ominous and overbearing.  Another way to translate "the law" is "teachings", particularly "God's teachings."  Meditating on God's ways, and not our own, helps us lead lives like "trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything [we] do shall prosper" (Psalm 1:2). Why do we pray?  We want to do what is right.  We want to bear fruit that will last.  We want to be favored by God, and my brothers and sisters, you are.  you are! 
Have you ever wondered why God wants us to pray?  I wonder, what could God--the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of the Universe possibly need?  Perfect Love without any lack--that's our Jesus!  So why does God want us to pray? God wants us to listen to the sweet music of the blessed Trinity, that is for sure.  But God also wants us to listen to each other.  God wants us to hear one another's hopes, fears, sorrows, and dreams.  Listen to these prayers are children have written for us.  See the glorious tree and stream they have made!--there is a river who's streams make glad the city of God--God is in the midst of us and shall not be moved. Psalm 46.  Children are so present to the moment, they are so near to the heart of God in this way: listen to what they are saying, listen to the hope that permeates through their lives. 

Proverbs 13:12: "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life." 

The children have drawn us a tree of life, and bid you add your prayers on these post-it notes to make the leaves of the tree.  Prayers of your hopes, your fears, your sorrows, your thanksgivings, your dreams.  

"Harlem" by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?

Could it be that prayer is much more than a wish list?  Much more than a desperate cry?  Much more than inner peace?  Could it be that in listening to the prayers of one another as we pray that we might catch a wisp of the dream of God? God's dream is resurrection: new life out of the ashes of death.  Hope deferred no longer, but exploding in exuberant blossom and foliage like a tree of life.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Love the parent, love the child: Sermon for Sixth Sunday of Easter and Mother's Day

This sermon was preached on May 10, 2015 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, DeKalb, Illinois.  The texts for the day included John 15: 9-17, and 1 John 5:1-6. 

This morning of Eastertide we are invited to travel back to the other side of the cross--to the night of the arrest of Jesus. In the fifteenth chapter of John after the meal is finished, Jesus begins to speak.  He is reminding the disciples about who he is, so that they can remember to abide in him--to abide in his love--when things take a turn for the worse (crucifixion). What does the abiding love of Jesus look like?  Jesus says it looks like laying down one's life for one's friends. Jesus does this not as an automatic act of obedience to a displeased God (the Father).  He lays down his life because he loves them.  He loves us.  His love is the same love that God the Father has for God the Son.  It is complete and has no lack, and so it is shared freely with others. Freely with the world, for anyone who has ears to hear. 

What does it look like to love in a way that reflects/imitates the love of Jesus? Many, many years ago I remember sitting in a church basement hearing a lay person give their testimony about loving one's neighbor.  She reminded us that Jesus wants us to love the one who deserves it the least. God wants us to love one another, even when we don't like one another. Love is never to be confused with like.  This love Jesus is talking about isn't romantic.  It's a deeper commitment to serve the other as if we were serving Jesus himself.   (Image from Central Methodist Mission in Cape Town)

The first letter of John takes this love of the friends of Jesus one step further: "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments" (1 John 5:1-2).

Commentator Judith Jones writes: "Jesus is born of God, but everyone who believes in him becomes his brother or sister. Whoever loves the parent loves not just one of the parent’s children but all of them. The consequences of this conclusion are enormous: every child of God is linked to Jesus. Every injustice done to a child of God echoes the injustice done to him. Every act of violence committed against a child of God recalls the violence committed against Jesus." (Judith Jones, )

Lately, I've been thinking about that mother in Baltimore the twitter-verse named "#MotheroftheYear" for slapping her teenage son and screaming and cursing at him for looting (or preparing to loot).  In the video of the event and in her comments later to media outlets it is clear that Toya Graham was not only angry, but afraid. She was afraid, she didn't want her son to become "another Freddie Gray".  Media outlets and social media has been lapping this up.  But in light of 1 John I ask, If we love the mother, do we also love her son?  Michael--his name is Michael.  Did you know that?  You should, because Toya loves Michael.  She loves him as desperately as we love our own children; our own beloved vulnerable ones. 

And yet, to quote a recent opinion piece written by Stacey Patton in the Washington Post, "Why are we celebrating the beating of a black child?"  Patton writes: "Graham’s message to America is this: I will teach my black son not to resist a system of oppression, so he can live...This celebration of Toya Graham reflects a belief that black youths are inherently problematic, criminal and out of control. The video also supports the idea that black fathers are always absent, and that everything will be fine if an angry black mom just beats the “thug” out of an angry young man." Ms. Patton has a point as well.  Violence is not the answer. Hating on the youth of this country (particularly the not-white youth of this country) and blaming them solely for racial divisions and civil unrest is certainly not the answer.  

Tamir Rice.  Do you remember his name? The twelve year old boy from Cleveland who was shoot and killed this past November by a police officer while playing at his neighborhood park with a toy gun. His mother was reported living in a homeless shelter earlier this week because she couldn't bear to stay in the family home that was so close to where her son died.  Her name is Samaria.  Did you know her name is Samaria?  This weekend Samaria's family and supporters helped her move out of the homeless shelter and into a new home.  This little boy of twelve has still yet to be laid to rest, pending any need for future medical examination a trial. Can you even imagine? What do you say to comfort the mother who's son is brutally murdered?  That's one challenge.  But then what do you say to that mother who has waited these many months for justice, and still she waits to lay her baby boy to rest?  I'm at a loss for words.  

Pointing fingers. Appointing heroes.  The media and social media manipulating the personal stories of others for our entertainment.  When is this going to end?  It makes me tired.  I am so very tired. I am heartsick. My heart breaks for our country.  I can scarcely imagine how tired the people of Baltimore are. The people of Cleveland. Ferguson. Oakland. And all those places where protests haven't happened yet. not yet anyway. How tired must all the mothers and sons (not to mention fathers and daughters) be who wish they didn't have to say #blacklivesmatter , and yet know if they don't go out and proclaim it in peaceful demonstrations on the streets no one else will?

When are we going to abide in love as God-the-Parent and God-the-Son abide in their love for one another? When are we going to be honest with one another and stop shifting the blame for the mess race relations is in our country to someone else? When will we love the son as much as we love the mother? Because it's time.  It's time that we love the son as much as we love the mother. And it's time to love the mother as much as the son.  Every act of violence (be it physical, emotional, or virtual--yes, even the violence of a key stroke) is an echo of the act of violence wrought against Jesus the Son on the cross.  Conversely, every act of love is an illumination of the hope of the resurrection of the Son by the great Love of God our Heavenly Parent: Our Mother; Our Father. It is through this great abiding love of the Parent and the Child that Jesus holds in his heart grace and justice and liberation and healing.  And Jesus freely shares this great Love with his brothers and sisters--you, and me, and every beloved child God has witnessed the birth of on this precious planet.  

When we truly abide in the wondrous love of Jesus the Son, we can see that he is our brother. One of the questions we are asked in our Baptismal Covenant at our baptism and the renewal of our baptism is "Will you seek and serve Christ in ALL persons loving your neighbor as yourself?" The priest or bishop asks this question. Do you remember what our response is? "I will with God's help."  (Book of Common Prayer, 305). Seek and serve Christ in ALL people. Not some people.  Not the people I like.  Not the people who deserve it. No.  We are to seek our brother Christ Jesus in everyone we meet: the mother slapping her son, the son throwing a rock, the little black boy playing with a toy gun in the park, the police officer who shoots an innocent child, the devastated mother falling apart in a homeless shelter, the one who annoys us, the one who disturbs us, the one who we think deserves our love the least.  In the ones we like and the ones we don't, we are asked to see our sister. Our brother. Our Lord Jesus. 

Jesus said to his followers on the eve of his crucifixion, "I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me, but I chose you." (John 15:5-6a). How might our interior lives, and our communities be different if we knew in every fiber of our being that we are the beloved friends--the brothers and sisters--of Jesus?  And what might happen if we approached every person as our brother or sister? As Christ embodied before our very eyes?  I know we are tired, friends.  We are tired, fed up, and often not feeling "the love".  But we do not live this post-resurrection life in Christ on our own. We can embrace our weary brothers and sisters we meet along the way and seek to serve Christ in ALL of them with God's help.  Always, always, may we remember to ask for and accept and deliver God's help. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Planting Hope, Cultivating Life: A sermon for Easter Sunday 2015

This sermon was preached on Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, DeKalb, Illinois.  The text for the day was the Gospel of John 20:1-18.

This past Monday two of us from St. Paul's attended a community organizing meeting for DeKalb County Community Gardens.  There were well over sixty people there.  There are well over forty gardens in our county planted and tended by DeKalb County Community Gardens volunteers, including our own Thrive Garden.  These gardens are at schools, senior centers, and low income housing developments.  There is a food forest.  There is a farm being developed to train people with cognitive disabilities to be able to have meaningful work and grow food for the hungry in our county.  Tens of thousands of pounds of produce are harvested every year and given to our food pantries. Anyone in the neighborhood--rich or poor--anyone who wants to eat fresh, local, organic produce can.  Only three short years ago there were only twelve people at that first organizing meeting.  Twelve people who planted seeds, yes. But who also believed they were planting hope.  In the furrows of the soil of life cracked open by sorrow, despair, apathy, and boredom the gardeners continue to plant meaning, food, spiritual healing, and most of all hope. And as the great preacher John Claypool once said, "as long as there is hope, there is life". 

Life is what is planted in the garden that surrounds the final hours of the life of Jesus and his death and his resurrection.  In the starkness and brutality of the cross it can be easy to miss these small mentions of the garden.  We can get carried away in the sorrow and despair of the public and cruel execution of the Prince of Peace.  And yet, the garden is there: A spring of hope in an otherwise brutal landscape. Where is Jesus betrayed by his friend, Judas, and arrested by the temple guards?  In a garden.  What does he find when he arrives with the cross at Golgotha?  A garden.  Where do the women hold vigil outside the tomb?  In a garden.  And finally where does Mary find Jesus as she weeps in confusion and grief outside the empty tomb?  A garden.  When we take a second look at John's story of the Good News of Jesus Christ we see that even in the darkest hours of the life of Christ, hope has not died.  Hope has not died for him, for his disciples, and not for us either.  In the garden there is always abundant hope for new life and new creation. In the garden life is changed, but never, ever taken away.  

And yet, in the midst of all this fecundity Mary falls down and weeps because she can't figure out what has happened to the body of her beloved friend and teacher.  She is so deep in her concrete jungle of despair that she does not recognize Jesus when she first sees him.  Jesus asks her, "Woman, why are you weeping?"  Jesus doesn't tell her not to weep, he asks Mary why she is weeping. We know why.  They have taken away her Lord, and she doesn't know where to find him.  They have taken away her hope.  To paraphrase William Sloane Coffin, the loveless powers of the world appear to have triumphed over seemingly powerless love once again.  This of course is not the case.  But in this moment there is a lot for Mary to cry about.  In this moment in the world today there is a lot to cry about: children dying from gunfire in the neighborhoods of our inner cities, women and children being attacked and abused by those who claim to love them, millions of men, women, and children enslaved and trafficked in the sex trade and production of cheap goods thousands of miles from their homes, people going to bed hungry in this town tonight, families with no place to lay their head in this town tonight, people struggling in the grip of addiction in this town tonight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered neighbors wondering if they have a flat tire or worse in many parts of this country if anyone will come to their aid, or if those who do will then refuse service in the name of Jesus.  Jesus, you know why we are weeping. Sometimes we can't see the garden in the shadow of the cross.

Jesus calls to Mary a second time--this time he calls her by name, and through the fog of her grief she recognizes him. They are in the garden after all.  Hope has not died.  Does she realize what this resurrection means for the world?  Eventually, but first she realizes what this means for her.  the end is not the end, what looks like the end is actually a new beginning.  As Fredrick Buechner famously wrote, in the resurrection we see that "the worst things are not the last things." Hatred and fear and intolerance will not win.  Love will be the order of the day.  We will weep mightily.  And Jesus will always hear us when we cry.  This is good news.  But even better news is the fruit of hope from the garden with which Jesus sends Mary back to the others:  Go and tell the others that I have risen, that I am ascending. Go and tell the others our story is far from over.   

William Sloane Coffin wrote in his Easter sermon in 1978:  "The lamp of the resurrection doesn't swing over some narrow empty grave, but rather over the thick darkness covering the whole earth" ("Our Resurrection Too", sermon Easter March 26, 1978). Jesus gives Mary a new voice, a new identity.  No longer is she the one who mourns, she is the one who will carry hope out into the world. She will be the swinger of the lamp of the resurrection over the thick darkness of the world as she cries out, "Don't give up! I have seen the Lord!"  We have been charged with this mission as well.  This morning we are reminded that no matter how broken we are with weeping and sorrow, Jesus sees us as worthy swingers of the lamp of the Gospel and apt messengers of the good news of the resurrection.  The worst things are not the last things.  Where there is hope there will be new life.  The garden of John's gospel grows with gusto and audaciously blooms with hope even where evil has hacked at the roots and tried to poison the soil.  Go, and tell this good news!  Because for every cry of hunger, every assault of the vulnerable, every tear shed for the persecution of the beloved creatures of God there is someone like you and me, there is the blessed community of gardeners planting seeds of hope.  Go, and tell this good news!  This is a community of faithful witnesses who have seen the Lord. This is a church who will persist against the mean, fearful, hateful, and flat out evil forces of the world in telling the good news of the abundant love of Jesus and thru him God's power at work healing the world.  Go, and tell this good news!  Alleluia Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia! 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Show up! People want to see Jesus: Being a person of faith and hope in the world

I preached this sermon on Sunday, March 22, 2015 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, DeKalb, Illinois. I had just returned from two weeks at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York.  The text for the day was John 12:20-33

It is good to be back at St. Paul's.  So much to tell! A lot to unpack from a time of intense and important conversation. The first few days were very disorienting, until I realized that a big part of what God was calling us to do as a delegation was to show up.  To show up in a forum that either disregards the works of people of faith, or takes them for granted.  Before I was there to witness the workings of NGO's (Non governmental organizations) with the United Nations I didn't fully understand the voice the church, specifically the Episcopal Church has in the public forum and international forum.  But as it came up several times, when everyone else leaves a place of conflict, when even the UN says this is too dangerous--such as in South Sudan--those who are left helping the people are the churches.  Those who say from the comfort of our stable nation states, don't forget our sisters and brothers who are starving to death, are the churches and people of faith. We are the ones who show up and hold up Jesus to a devastated world.

Five members of our Episcopal Delegation at a swanky reception at St. John the Divine, NYC 

It is so easy to get caught up in the tasks and necessities of the every day and forget to step back and see the bigger picture.  I think that perhaps a lot of busyness is  what is going on in chapter twelve of the Gospel of John. It's a rather disjointed reading, a transition reading really from the wonders and signs portion of the gospel to the farewell discourse portion.  In other words there has been a lot of teaching, preaching, healing, miracles, and then almost abruptly Jesus starts saying good-bye.   It is in this disorienting time of frenetic activity that two Greeks approach Philip and say, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."  And then...Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.  Why all the fuss?  Why all this consultation?  Show them Jesus, already!  And then Jesus answers, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." A puzzling answer, perhaps.  But also a clear one--the time has come for me to move on, the time has come to see the bigger picture, the time has come for you to show people who I am through following me.

In the public arena some people of faith are there to show the people God, and some are there for other motivations.  For example, the Holy See had the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) chamber of the UN for three hours one afternoon.  They began with one of their archbishops speaking for thirty minutes before he turned over the mic to a woman, the worldwide director of Catholic World Services in fact.  Someone my fellow delegate and I were eager to hear.  But she proceeded to read from what were apparently carefully screened remarks that spoke in very general terms about what this agency does.  It was boring.  It was an inside conversation.  It was not empowering to women.  And it didn't show me, or anyone else who wasn't a part of that tribe, the liberating and glory-filled Jesus we encounter here in our reading this morning.  We were sorely disappointed until on the way out of the UN we saw our colleague, Ryan, from Ecumenical Women (PCUSA) walking in to give comments on behalf of our larger advocacy collective.  In the midst of other NGO's, Ryan (a "heforshe" feminist man), spoke with clarity and conviction about our positions for ending violence against women, providing for women's health including reproductive health, education for women and girls, and raising up women into positions of power and decision making. This is one way of what following Jesus looks like: speaking up as a person of faith in the public forum.  Advocating for the rights of women and girls for the benefit of all humanity and all Creation.
The ECOSOC Chamber at the UN on a more interesting day: Intergenerational Dialogue March 13, 2015 

Another afternoon we had the opportunity to have a Q&A with our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts-Schori.  One of our delegates, Digna de la Cruz, from the Dominican Republic, shared an experience she had the day before of attending a forum on maternal health.  Digna is a pediatrician, and so she had something pertinent to add to the conversation, and so she did.  When she introduced herself as a member of the Episcopal Church delegation to the UN the other people were visibly shocked.  She was the only delegate from a church or other faith institution in the room.  Bishop Katharine praised her and encouraged us all to show up as Episcopalians where we aren't expected.  Showing up and identifying who you are as a follower of Jesus is how others will see Jesus.  Some may not want to see Jesus.  But this is not your fault, it is simply a bad impression that other Christians have given through any number of heresies at worst and acts of poor taste at least.  There is a place for the voice of moderate and progressive Christianity.  And there are certainly places in our world, in our own community where people are desperately waiting to see Jesus.  Are we able to get out of the way and give people access to him?  To the abundant life that he has promised to those who believe even now?
Digna de la Cruz from the Diocese of the Dominican Republic, showing up at the UN!

With a few more sisters from the Episcopal Delegation showing up for a friendly visit with Ambassador Francisco Cortorreal from the permanent mission of the Dominican Republic to the Untied Nations

Perhaps you are wondering what any of this has to do with you.  My dear sisters and brothers in Christ, showing people Jesus has everything to do with us!  Jesus has no other hands but ours.  No other voice but ours.  No other heart breaking open in compassion for the suffering in our homes and in across the world than ours.  Nothing will change in this world if we do not show up in the places where we are not expected.  Show up, and bring Jesus along with us.  Sometimes it is sticky to identify as a Christian/Episcopalian, but when advocating for those who are suffering it isn't as sticky as you might imagine.  I send you out into the world this week with this piece of good news: When you show up and bring Jesus along, you will find he has always been with you. Jesus said, "Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor."  Let us honor, God, with our presence, our voice, and our prayers.  Amen.

St. Joseph--the original #heforshe

Last week I had the honor of celebrating the Holy Eucharist with my sisters and brothers at the close of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meeting.  Here is the homily I preached that day.

St. Joseph, March 19, 2015--Chapel of Christ our Lord, Episcopal Church Center, NYC

2 Samuel 7: 4, 8-16; Luke 2:41-52

Collect of the Day:
O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Some of you know that my husband and I are both priests.  Rich really supported me coming here, as I know many men and boys in your life supported you being here too.  (and some women too!).  This week I've been pleasantly surprised to see a number of men and boys as supporters of gender equality. (this is what a feminist looks like). As a mother of sons, and partner in life and ministry with a good man I appreciate this.  And I am going to carry this part of the story back home to my family.  I am so grateful for them.

Two Feminists I met at the International Women's Day March in NYC 3/8/15

Lynnaia was apologetic about St. Joseph being my day to preach, but I think we can give Joseph another look through the lens of gender equality.  Joseph was original gender equality supporter, right?  Is it an accident that Luke and Matthew begin their gospel's with Joseph as a main character?  I don't think so. there are a number of male characters in the Hebrew Scriptures that said and did horrific things to women. But not Joseph.  He shows up, and he stands by Mary. His heritage was the house of David--Israel's original favored anointed king. But Mary was the God-bearer--the mother of our savior Jesus. Joseph doesn't say anything in either Luke or Matthew. Mary actually does most of the talking in Luke's Gospel.  But Joseph does something so seemingly small that we take it for granted: he shows up.

Jospeh and Mary looking for Jesus

The Gospel for St. Joseph's day is Jesus the tween. He was a handful, that Jesus!  Staying behind at the temple without telling anyone what he was doing.  Acting as if his spiritual life was all that mattered, and not the welfare of his parents and their feelings about losing track of him.  I wonder if at that moment of finally finding Jesus after three days if Joseph was remembering God's promise to the house of David thru Nathan as we heard in 2 Samuel: (I will not take my steadfast love from him. 2 Samuel 7:15)!  What's interesting here is that while Mary does the talking, Joseph clearly backs her up.  And Jesus notices that.  He goes back home and is obedient to his parents.  And in doing so grows in wisdom and grace. To become truly human Jesus needed to grow up.  He needed a good mom and dad to show him what it means to truly love and respect one another: to be in an equal partnership as women and men.

When we go home we have a lot of stories we are carrying with us.  This has been a very disorienting time.  Then after a while we reoriented inside the CSW feminist bubble.  But now we will be disoriented again as we go back home where other people in our lives have not seen and heard and felt what we have.  I encourage us to share our stories, but to do so lovingly and gently.  Let those you left at home do some of the talking first.  Embody Joseph in those first few moments before you jump to being Mary.  Show up. Listen. Support. Love. And then have your say. Then invite others to hear you, and join you in this conversation of empowering women for the good of all humanity.  And may the steadfast love of our God be with you always.
The men in my family and me! Easter Sunday 2014