Saturday, January 14, 2017

I Am. Epiphany 2A

Epiphany 2A, scripture appointed can be found here
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I Am 
I am a member of a clergy colleague group called the Young Clergy Woman Project. The motto of the group, is simply stated,”you are not alone”.
And with this, joys and pains, fears and hopes are shared. And, I am reminded again and again, that I am not alone—that this is a calling I share with many, many, others. And, none of us are alone in it.
There is great comfort to be found in this sense of solidarity. And, because I’m attuned to look for these places of connection—I am struck by Paul’s sweet address to the community in Corinth. 
“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind-- just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you-- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Called to be saints, together. Called into fellowship.
Community is our calling as Christians. To gather, and share--our hopes, our joys, our fears, our pains, our gains and our losses. In one breath we rejoice together at a child born, and at the next, a friend gone from us. 
United through not just our shared humanity, but our shared participation in what we call the body of Christ.
A body that is not bound by mortality, a body that invites and welcomes, connects and affirms, a body that does not exist for the benefit of one, but for the benefit of all. “Come and see”…and what they saw!
The anointed one, human and divine, with a calling beyond the self.  
Come and see…see who I am and see who you shall become!
See the light that has been promised.
See the love.
See the compassion.
See that you have a place in this body.
See that you are not alone! 
Epiphany is a season of revelation, of hearing scripture which speaks to the revealed divinity of Christ. Yet, it also speaks to our own unveiling.
As he is revealed, our own nature is revealed…
Let’s consider for a moment, the light of the nations—
“I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth”
You is us.
I will give you as a light. As the body of Christ we are to be the light. To reflect into the world the good and the beautiful, the compassionate and the just.
And, in doing so, combat the fear that threatens to overwhelm our very humanity.
This seems a daunting task in the best of times, and these…well they are not the best of times.
And, over the past several months, I’ve struggled with how to help my own children through these anxious times. How to help them feel less alone, less isolated in their longing for better and for kinder. One of the tools I’ve found myself using is the “I Am” series by Brad Meltzer. This is a series of graphic novels written for children, and they carry the tag line “Ordinary People Change the World”.  In these stories, famous light bringers are presented as children who, small as they are, have made a big impact—I Am Jane Goodall; I Am Martin Luther King Jr; I Am George Washington; I am Rosa Parks…
I have felt energized and empowered by these simple texts—and the reminder that these heroic individuals are quite simply people who consistently chose to reflect the light of goodness into the world. Heroes made commonplace—in a world in which we find ourselves longing for heroes to upset the powers that threaten to hurt and destroy God’s creation.
Heroes, saints, helpers…many words for those who we look to for our salvation…and in considering these words, I consider those of modern day Saint, Mr. Rogers who once said…
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."
What has struck me about this statement, “look for the helpers” is how simple yet comforting it is.  Because, when we see the helpers we see love break into the broken places. We see a light that shines, and we are drawn to the light that is love. And, then, and then…we begin to reflect the light.
I am…Joy. And, you are…you are my fellowship, the body of which I am part, and the means by which we, the collective we, will aid in the in-breaking of God’s love into the world.
None of us can do it alone. But, we are not alone. And, when we are part of this larger body we, as Paul puts it, are not lacking in any spiritual gift. Together, we WILL aid in the in-breaking of God’s love. We have all that we need to do so.
Not alone. Together.
Together.
I am, and we are.
 “together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours”.
Together, as a light to the nations.
Together, as a voice of reason.
Together, as a beacon of hope.
Together,
Laughing. Crying. Rejoicing. Sorrowing. Grieving. Lamenting. Prophesying. Challenging.
Together. We are not alone.
I am. You are.
We are. The body of Christ.
Amen.


Baptism of Our Lord

Scripture appointed found here

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His Story is Our Story

In the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel we will hear the bulk of this year in our Sunday liturgies, we begin by hearing the who and how of Jesus’ identity. His birth and the foreshadowing of his destiny.

Matthew is widely presumed to have been a Jewish Christian--someone familiar with the Jewish scriptures who was able to set the story of Christ within the construct of the narrative with which he would have been most familiar.

Rather like J.R. Tolkien was a Christian, and used the New Testament in order to offer structure and symbolism to his Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but, that’s besides the point…

Back to Matthew…In Matthew’s telling, we are invited to connect Jesus’ birth with the promise of God’s ongoing intervention in the liberation of God’s people. Matthew begins with phrasing that harkens back to Genesis at the beginning of the Gospel. He offers us a genealogy that firmly sets Jesus as an heir of David and sets Mary, his mother’s, conception amongst other scriptural narratives in which women have given birth under unusual circumstances.  

But, not only does Matthew use the law and the prophets of Judaism to reinforce the who and hence of this child, he incorporates the the Gentiles.  The Gentiles were those outside of Jewish custom and religious practice, and so when three foreign dignitaries arrive in Bethlehem, we are being pointedly shown that the impact of this birth goes beyond any one culture. This birth and this child will become a unitive force between the Jews and the Gentiles and in this his influence will extend far beyond the limits of cultural, religious and political boundaries.  

This child is heir of David and in this he has inherited the full weight of prophecy. This is the one who will “bring forth justice to the nations”. This vulnerable child lies at the center of a complex web of political, religious, and military resistance to oppression.  

And so the family flees. 

They flee their homeland and all they know, for the loss of home and community is far less devastating than the potential loss of their child.  

The leave because anywhere is safer than this land under Roman role...they leave because hot at their heels are soldiers charged with the slaughter of the innocents. 

As Kenyan born poet Warsan Shire writes in “Home”, a poem dedicated to the current Syrian refugee crisis, “no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your year saying- leave, run away from me now i don’t know what i’ve become but i know that anywhere is safer than here” (http://seekershub.org/blog/2015/09/home-warsan-shire/)

And, so they go--to anywhere--and the child and his story disappear from sight.

Which brings us to this moment.  This moment in which the child, having survived that flight by night, stands as an adult at the side of a river. The Jordan River, running right through the heart of what had been Herod’s domain.  

30 years. 30 years of hiding. 30 years of waiting.  

Waiting, for the stories continuation on the banks of a river where all that had been promised would begin to come to fruition.

In my first call in ordained ministry, I became no stranger to waiting. The waiting for a surgery to be over. The waiting to get out of the hospital. The waiting for death. The waiting for birth. The waiting for things to simply, get better, while we prayed that they not get worse. In pediatric chaplaincy, I waited alongside so many who could do nothing but wait. One of these families waited for a year before they were finally able to take their child, born far too early, home.  

A home coming that truly defied all odds. Having arrived too soon, he survived, and it was not until two years after his birth, that his parents finally felt they could safely celebrate his arrival.  

But, not just his arrival...

They called the celebration, his “arrival, survival and thrival” party.  Now that his survival was largely assured, they wanted to celebrate: first of all, the birth that marked his arrival; then the end of the long hospital stay that was focused on survival; and now, most of all, to make it clear that having arrived and survived, this child would thrive.   

Given my training and my own belief that all of our story’s can be set amongst the stories of our ancestors in faith...I cannot help but draw parallels between this sequence: arrive, survive and thrive, and the narrative that we have heard these last weeks.  

Jesus arrived, he survived, and now, he will thrive.  After 30 years of waiting, his time had come to begin his ministry.  

A ministry, publicly claimed and proclaimed in his baptism.  “This is my Son, the beloved”

And, the story turns. 

This moment of baptism marks the beginning of a new life, and a public identity, that cannot be denied. Baptism also firmly cements Jesus as one of us...he like us will be born anew through baptism...and we like him, will be born anew through baptism. He like us, we like him. All beloved.  

Arrival, survival, and thrival--as the beloved children of God. And, when we fully accept our own identity as beloved children, we accept our calling...

From the prophet Isaiah, “I [the Lord] have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

As God’s beloved son, Jesus will participate in the liberation of all who have been bound to the exploitative and destructive powers of this world.  As God’s beloved children, we too are asked to participate in this.  

We were asked and today we will answer...when we renew our baptismal covenant, our promises, alongside those for whom these promises are made for the very first time, we take our place in the story alongside the Christ who took his place in our midst.  

His story is ours. Our story, is his. 

And so, today, at the edge of the font, on the bank of the river...I want you to listen very carefully to the commitments you make, here in public.

I want you to imagine what your life is going to look like, now that you have taken your place as beloved.  

I want you to consider what it will mean to live these commitments in every moment of every day.

I want you to come out of hiding, and not just survive, but thrive.

Amen.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve, Born to Liberate

The scripture appointed for this service can be found here

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Who here has ever played hide and seek? The classic children’s game, in which one person hides their eyes while everyone else hides from sight. Then, after an agreed upon interval, the seeker calls out, “Ready or Not, here I come!”.  And, while some are well hidden, others call out, “wait, no, not yet!” or “You counted too fast.”
There are times when Christmas feels like this, a frantic scurry of activity in the days preceding and, then, “ready or not, here I come!” and despite any protestations that the house is still a mess, or the presents aren’t wrapped, or the music not rehearsed enough, or the baby didn’t nap, or the sermon not “perfect”, Christmas comes.
Christmas comes in its own time, not ours. And, when it comes, ready or not, we will be found. And, we will be found in part, because we won’t be ready, and God will look upon our imperfections and judge them with the standard of an all-encompassing love. We won’t be able to hide from the beauty and the grace. We won’t be able to hide from the light that illuminates even the darkest corners…for “the grace of God has appeared.”
And, thus, by grace we are found. And, by grace we are transformed.
Because it is precisely when we are not ready, that we are most in need of transformation.
It is precisely when we are most broken, that we are most in need of healing.
It is precisely when we are most lost, that we will be found.
And this is the defiant and hope filled gift, of a son born into a world that is not ready.
Madeleine L’Engle’s poem, “He did not wait” speaks to this

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.

He did not wait
till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.

To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
God did not wait. And God’s son the Christ was born. Born, in a time of great political insecurity. Born on the eve of impending genocide. Born to refugee parents, in a stable. Born, during a forced registration.
Born.
And, the heaven’s cried out, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth!”
And, the empire quaked in fear. And, the people rejoiced.
They rejoiced.  They rejoiced. And, their joy became ours. Their hope, our hope.
This birth served as a reminder that the Roman empire would not determine the future of God’s beloved people. That the end of God’s beloved people’s story would not be writ by oppression, but by liberation.
Contemporary theologians and religious leaders, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu put this hope into writing for our own time and place,  
“No dark fate determines the future - we do. Each day and each moment, we are able to create and recreate our lives and the very quality of human life on our planet.” (Book of Joy)
Our rejoicing gives us power, and we are liberated so that our birth, through baptism into the Body of Christ, will itself be liberative for others. If you will recall, the words spoken in our baptismal covenant, that with God’s help we will “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” We were born for this.
Born.
Born for liberation, born to liberate! “Each day and each moment, creating and recreating our lives and the very quality of human life on our planet”. Each day and each moment, a moment of new birth, new life, and a new hope—a reaffirmation that the story of God’s beloved people is the story of liberation.
This night serves as a powerful reminder that we ourselves enact the story of God’s salvation. We, zealous for good deeds, and empowered for the work of transformation. We, who are the story, who are the Body of Christ, in this story about God, which is a story about us. A story set in a world where the need is great, but God’s love is greater. A world in which God shows up, not because of our perfection but because of our very imperfection.
So no, the world is not ready, but we will show up anyway. We will show up, because God shows up, and in our new life and new birth, we promise to show up to this unready and unsteady world. And, in our showing up, to act with the power and might of the liberating God who has promised that the tools of the oppressor will be broken “as on the day of Midian”.  (Isaiah 9:3) Defiance and hope intermingle and, in their union, become our joy…
So, ready or not, here we come!
Amen. 
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"May the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the perseverance of the wise men, the obedience of Joseph and Mary, and the peace of the Christ-child be yours this Christmas; and the blessing of God, Creator, Son and Holy Spirit, be upon you this day and always.  Amen." (Seasonal Material, Common Worship)


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Advent 4A-Grace to You, and Peace

Advent 4A, the scripture appointed can be found here 


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“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

I have a mentor and friend who begins each of her sermons with these words, taken from the letter of Paul to the Romans.  And, when I say these words today, I think of her and I think of the love she has had for every congregation in which she has served.  And, I also think of how this opening prayer, sets the tone for the remainder of the sermon.

Because this is a greeting, yes, but much more than a simple “hello”. First of all, it is a declaration that the preacher stands in the pulpit not for herself, but for God.  Secondly, it is an affirmation, that we ourselves are all children of God. And, finally, that the grace and peace that are conveyed by the preacher did not originate with the preacher, but are a gift from God, and God’s son Jesus.

And, in this, the preacher is the means and not the end. And, each of us, is the means and not the end. The grace and peace do not originate with us, nor do they end with us. We are the body by which grace and peace are conveyed, but they are not ours to own.  They are ours to convey. We are the means for God’s grace and peace in this world. And, in this I find the hope that all too often seems hard to come by.

We are to be the ones the world needs. We are to be as God intends us to be. We. The small become large when we are united in our acceptance of God’s calling.

And, just in case you didn’t notice. You did, in fact, accept this calling.

Think back, you agreed didn’t you?  Because this greeting, when used as a prayer, begs the response “Amen”. So be it! Your amen becomes an assent to the truth that has preceded.  Amen. So be it. So be the grace and the peace and so be the God who calls us children.

So, again let me say, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

So, yes, we are children of God…and as children of God, Paul reminds us that our heritage and our calling is that of the saint.

 Yes, each of you is called to be a Saint. And, while we may not use the language of sainthood to describe our day to day actions…consider that put most simply, a saint is one who serves God.

And as Martin Luther writes,

"to serve God is nothing else than to serve your neighbor and do good to him in love, be it a child, wife, servant, enemy, friend....What is it to serve God and to do His will? Nothing else than to show mercy to our neighbor. For it is our own neighbor who needs our service; God in heaven needs it not."

Called, to sainthood, called to service, called to live. in love and in truth, as beloved.

And, this sets the stage for the Gospel we hear today. 

Do good to her, in love. The Gospel for today, begins with the assertion that Joseph had decided to set Mary, his betrothed, aside quietly and without fuss—so as not to shame her or, worse, subject her to the possibility of death by stoning.

I like to imagine, that his heart was good and that he himself looked upon the need of his betrothed, Mary, and upon seeing her was able to act with benevolence. 

I like to imagine, that even this, seemed to him insufficient and that there was love there already. And, thus when God offered a way, a way that wasn’t easier, that was, in fact, a harder way—that Joseph seized upon this possibility and said yes.

Said yes in no less of a dramatic way, to the harder, yet kinder, yet better, way that was set before him.  Said yes, even in the face of fear—because the awe was greater than the fear, and the hope more powerful than the doubt, and the light brighter than the dark.

Grace to you, and peace.

And, in saying yes, Joseph puts an end to the shame that would have shadowed Mary, her child, and her own family. Because, his yes, is one which accepts the shame as his and his alone. Yes, she is with child, but it is his child and he accepts the responsibility of raising this child who in the custom of the time would be the presumed heir to Joseph’s honor as well as his property.

Joseph’s love isn’t a fair weather kind of love, but a love that takes on the burden of another’s shame and diffuses that shame into something better and life giving.  “You have heard it said, but I say to you…”

He confronts rumor with a better truth. And that better truth is the grace and hope of the world. 

You may say…but here is love.

The law says…but love has a different answer.

And, isn’t that the way of Christ?

To look beyond the law and what is said, and into the heart of what is both needful and good. To break the cycle of shame and humiliation, and assert the humanity and dignity of every person.   

Grace to you, and peace.

Joseph sets his heart and his life on the way, and in so doing, assists in opening the way for Christ’s way in the world.

And, as I consider Joseph and what lies ahead for this little family—the slaughter of the innocents, the flight into Egypt, I cannot help but see, in my mind’s eye, every image I’ve ever seen of men fleeing danger. Of men, holding tightly the bodies of children, as the world crumbles around them.

I imagine you have seen those images too. 

One such image, was on the cover of the New York Times this week. In the photo a man, woman, and child flee in the city of Aleppo. The man is holding the swaddled infant in one arm and holds an iv bag of fluid in the other.  Men and women fleeing danger, the refugee and the undocumented—called to be saints. 


“Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt ...”

Grace to you, and peace.

I wonder what we would do, if we would be brave enough. And, I think we would. We would be brave.

Meister Eckhart, Christian mystic and theologian (c 1260-1328) wrote, “If I were alone in the desert and feeling afraid, I would want a child to be with me. For then my fear would disappear and I would be made strong.”

Sit with this for a moment.  “If I were alone in the desert and feeling afraid, I would want a child to be with me. For then my fear would disappear and I would be made strong.”

Because, isn’t that the truth, we will be strong because someone else needs our strength?

And in this, I see that it wasn’t the angel’s enjoinder “be not afraid”, that emboldened Joseph to walk the path set before him, but rather his own child’s need.

And, in this, we won’t be afraid.  We won’t be afraid because the children will need us. And when we are not cowering in fear we will find ourselves standing up to the terror that threatens and preparing the place of love and hope that God intends.  That God intends for all of God’s beloved children. 

Grace to you and peace…

Amen.