Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Fugitive


The readings for Proper 28 can be found here

The Fugitive

Last week, a congregant pointed out the tension between the words we traditionally end the proclamation of the Gospel with “Praise to you Lord Christ” and the truth that sometimes, the last thing we want to do is give thanks for the words we have heard.  

And, this week, like last, I could almost hear the hesitation in the response of praise.  As, once again, we hear a parable where an allegorical interpretation would seem to run counter to what we know and understand of a God of mercy and abundance.  In fact, if we take this parable allegorically, it runs counter to what Jesus himself has shared with us in the Gospel of Matthew about the nature of God and our calling to serve.

So, today I offer, from the Gospel of Matthew
some reminders...

“Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, and the reviled” (Mt 5:1-11)

“As you go, proclaim the good news, “the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.  You received without payment; give without payment” (Matthew 10:78)

“Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy not sacrifice” for I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” Matthew chapter 9

“Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Mt10:39)

“whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me...whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple--truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward” (Mt 10:40,42)

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt11:29-30)

So what happens between chapter 5 and chapter 25?  What was the Gospel writer’s community experiencing that so transformed these words of grace to words of judgment?  

Biblical scholar and theologian, John Dominic Crossan in The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction About Jesus, writes that the escalation of violence in Matthew stems from the conflict in Judaism between Christian-Jewish scribes and Pharaisaic Jewish Scribes.  Crossan holds that it is Matthew who is speaking in what Crossan calls “attack parables” and that the authentic voice of Christ (an authenticity he validates by cross referencing the material in the Gospel which appears in Mark) is made manifest early in the Gospel, before Matthew’s voice begins to overwhelm the voice of the messiah.  (193-194)

But, on a Sunday when I hold aloft the Gospel book and read this particular parable in this particular context, I have to wonder how we might extract the grace of God from the violence of this text.  If this is the scripture given to us to encounter today, where might we meet the God of abundance in the words that have been proclaimed?

This is not a new dilemma we are facing today, when we read the parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew a few weeks ago, we explored how that passage is changed if we read it and discern that the guest who is cast out of the banquet is in fact, Christ.   Rather, than reread that sermon (which, is tempting) I wish to share with you a contemporary parable

“one day a young fugitive, trying to hide himself from the enemy, entered a small village.  The people were kind to him and offered him a place to stay.  But when the soldiers who sought the fugitive asked where he was hiding, everyone became very fearful.  The soldiers threatened to burn the village and kill every man in it unless the young man were handed over to them at dawn.  The people went to the minister and asked him what to do.  The minister, torn between handing over the boy to the enemy or having his people killed, withdrew to his room and read his Bible, hoping to find an answer before dawn.  After many hours, in the early morning his eyes fell on these words:  “It is better that one man dies than that the whole people be lost.”

Then the minister closed the Bible, called the soldiers and told them where the boy was hidden.  And after the soldiers led the fugitive away to be killed, there was a feast in the village because the minister had saved the lives of the people.  But the minister did not celebrate.  Overcome with a deep sadness, he remained in his room.  That night an angel came to him, and asked, “What have you done?”  He said: “I handed over the fugitive to the enemy.”  Then the angel said: “But don’t you know that have handed over the Messiah?”  “How could I know?” the minister replied anxiously.  Then the angel said: “If instead of reading your Bible, you had visited this young man just once and looked into his eyes, you would have known.”  (WH 25-26)

Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer

There is an old spiritual that asks “were you there when they crucified my Lord?” and in these passages the answer becomes “yes, we were there”.   

What if we read the parable of the Talents in such a way that we see the servant cast into the outer darkness as the Christ?  What if what we take to be a “given” is in fact the very thing which confounds us in this parable.  What if, our understanding of the master as God is based on our own projections of how the world works--rather than Christ’s reflection upon the nature of violence.

And, in the Gospel passage today, I want to draw your attention to the one cast out.  What can we learn from the least of these, my children, in this passage?  What is Jesus offering us in this parable?  Where is the grace?  What hope can we draw from this, yet another part of Matthew’s little apocalypse?

This servant, the least of these, deserving of compassion and honest in his fear.  What if the other servants had shared the bounty?  What if this servant had been raised in the midst of generous abundance?  What if this servant had been taught that the master is one of abundance and love and care?  Would the talent have been hidden away?  Or proclaimed as the abundance it was?  

So, it is with compassion that we are called to hear of this, the third servant.  And, when I read with compassion, I can recognize the fear which filled this servant.  

“Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid”

How might we, in the here and the now, be transformed by moving beyond fear and scarcity and into abundance?  How will we create a world in which the grace of God transcends fear and abundant love becomes the default response to brokenness.

This parable calls us to use our talents/gifts/resources to expand God’s grace, to defeat the fear that breaks us and the anxiety that keeps us from acting with love.  This parable invites us to consider our own encounter with God--and with that consideration, we are asked to take a different approach.  

An approach summed up by Saint Julian of Norwich in her exhortation

"Live without fear. Your creator loves you, made you holy, and has always protected you. Follow the good road in peace, and may God's blessing remain with you always."

And, it is this exhortation that I will leave with you in today’s blessing.  







Saturday, November 8, 2014

Proper 27A, St. Clement’s, "Beam Me Up Scotty"


(The scripture can be found here)

Beam Me Up Scotty
A Sermon on Matthew 25:1-13

When I was little, my family would spend a week each year hiking and camping in Haleakala National Park.  My dad would carry a week’s worth of canned goods and bisquick in a world war II pack board, my mom laden with sleeping bags.  Haleakala, is the Hawaiian name for the volcano that formed the island of Maui.  It means “house of the sun” and when you look up at the crater from the valley below, it quite literally looks as if the sun is setting within the bowl of the caldera.  And, when you drive up the curving road traversing this dormant volcano’s side, you pass through the ring of clouds that so frequently encircle the peak--the chill dampness permeating until you reach the dryness of the air above the clouds.

There is an expansiveness to the landscape there.  From the crater’s rim you can look out and over the valley where the majority of those who live on Maui dwell, when you walk down the sliding sands trail, you enter what seems a martian landscape of dry cinders and lava fields.  It is desert like, and indigenous plants like the silversword and animals like the nene goose, fall into the category of “found nowhere else on earth”.  

As I describe Haleakala, or “the crater” as we would casually refer to it, it sounds fantastical.  And, in retrospect it was...however, as a child I had little appreciation for the folks who looked upon Haleakala with wonder and reverence.  The folks who you would sometimes find, worn and weary and enchanted, on the trails.  The folk, my mother referred to as the “beam me up scotties” who quite literally would climb to the crater’s rim out of some sense or understanding that they would be picked up there--by gods or aliens or whatever transcendence caused them to leave behind all they knew for encounter in the caldera.  

After one such encounter with a white woman with wild hair who asked to sit on our cabin steps to eat her papaya, I found myself (intrigued at the age of eight) wondering what she would do when “scotty” failed to come get her.  Where she would go, when her life continued on, devoid of the aliens she seemed so committed to.

My parents were politely dismissive of her ramblings and kind as they brought her water.  But, later they were clear with us...both about kindness and about the importance of staying grounded in the here and the now.  

Romantic notions about what might be encountered in the house of the sun were far less important to my parents then the work being done to remove invasive species, fence the crater so that feral goats wouldn’t eat the endangered silversword plant, and the trails my father had once helped maintain.  

And, with this memory--I am drawn to the tension that Matthew addresses in the Gospel we hear today.  In these passages, often referred to as the “little apocalypse” those Jesus addresses are the insiders, the disciples and followers of the way--they are the ones who have waited and hoped and suffered for the sake of their faith in the son of God, Jesus the Christ, the crucified one.  He is quite literally, preaching to the choir.

Matthew wrote in 80 or 90 of the current era--decades after the death and resurrection of Christ.  Scholars note, that Matthew was a Greek speaker who was not an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry--and he wrote in a time when followers of the way, the early Christians (both Jewish and Gentile) were being expelled from the synagogues (hence the sharp critique of Phariseeic Judaism that we hear in the Gospel).  

Matthew addresses a group that felt marginalized and the Gospel of Matthew emerged out of that sense of alienation.  Further, this group of Jewish and Gentile Christians were experiencing the tension of delayed hopes, they had been waiting for a lifetime and yet the wait continued.  The early followers of the way of Jesus felt sure that Christ would return in their lifetimes.  As time passed, the leaders of the early Christian community dealt with the broken hopes of the waiting followers...

And, this parable emerges out of the reality that there were those who had given up on the expectation of Christ’s, the bridegroom’s, return.

The entire community waited and had become complacent in the waiting.  One cannot help but think of the sleeping disciples--can you not stay awake one hour?  

This parable is a tough one, as my modern ears are quick to notice the lack of generosity on the part of the quote/unquote wise...and my store of biblical knowledge notes the abundance of the blessing and love of God--an abundance which seems in short supply in these verses.  But, once I get past the “issues” I have with the text, I find that the main point of the parable has little to do with living in community, and a great deal more to do with waiting in anticipation.  

I can only imagine that the early Christians struggled with moments when the Way no longer felt relevant to them--when living for the future, that never seemed to come, caused them to give up on the present.   And, I can imagine that the followers addressed in the parable were those being reminded of members of the community who had fallen away and how easy it is for complacency to take the place of engaged preparation.

How, do we 2000 years after the life of Christ, live in the waiting?  In the time between time, between the creation of all things and the restoration of all creation to God.  As we moved through the exodus narrative with its prolonged wilderness, as we move through this time of transition at St. Clement’s, how do we wait?  

How do we serve God in the here and the now, in the already but not yet of life after the resurrection?  

Do we become complacent and wait for someone else to assume the ministry of this place?  Do we sit on our metaphorical cabin porches waiting to be “beamed up” and disappointed when the transcendent disappoints?   

Or do we wait with action and compassion?  Sharing our light and our hopes, our joys and our sorrows.  Sharing the burdens of those who travel the way with us, being swift to love and making haste to be kind.   Seeking and serving Christ in all persons.  Honoring the dignity of every human being.  Breaking bread and drinking wine.  Keeping our vigils and honoring our vows.  Reconciling, forgiving, serving, embracing.  

There is much to do while we wait.  And, in my time here as transition priest, I’ve watched you all in the waiting, and have been struck at the love and the care, the passion and engagement, the commitment of time and talent and treasure.  Haiti, loaves and fishes, dress for success, weddings, memorials, baptisms, requiems, pilgrimage, anthems, baking bread and stirring soup, pouring coffee and selling boats, praying, teaching, learning, painting and cleaning, raking leaves and embroidering linens.  This is what we do while we wait.  This is what we do.  This is who we are.  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Painful Privilege

This week, I was gifted the opportunity to be at the bedside of a dear parishioner as she died.  With grace and dignity, she claimed her place amongst the communion of saints.  And, it is her voice I hear singing this hymn...

"What Wondrous Love is This"
An American Folk Tune

1.
What wondrous love is this,
O my soul! O my soul!
What wondrous love is this!
O my soul!
What wondrous love is this!
That caused the Lord of bliss!
To send this precious peace,
To my soul, to my soul!
To send this precious peace
To my soul!

2.
When I was sinking down,
Sinking down, sinking down;
When I was sinking down
Sinking down
When I was sinking down,
Beneath God's righteous frown,
Christ laid aside his crown
For my soul, for my soul!
Christ laid aside his crown
For my soul!

3.
Ye winged seraphs fly,
Bear the news, bear the news,
Ye winged seraphs fly
Bear the news!--
Ye winged seraphs fly,
like comets through the sky,
fill vast eternity!
With the news, with the news!
Fill vast eternity
With the news!

4.
Ye friends of Zion's king,
join his praise, join his praise;
Ye friends of Zion's king,
join his praise;
Ye friends of Zion's king,
with hearts and voices sing,
and strike each tuneful string
in his praise, in his praise!
and strike each tuneful string
in his praise!
5.
To God and to the Lamb,
I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb,
I will sing--
To God and to the Lamb,
who is the great I AM,
while millions join the theme,
I will sing, I will sing!
while millions join the theme,
I will sing!

6.
And when from death I'm free,
I'll sing on, I'll sing on,
And when from death I'm free,
I'll sing on.
and when from death I'm free,
I'll sing and joyful be,
and through eternity
I'll sing on, I'll sing on,
and through eternity
I'll sing on.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Things We Carry, Proper 24A, 2014


The Revised Common Lectionary dictates which texts are to be used for the sermon, they can be found here.  

Carried

I wonder what they tucked into their belts.  I wonder what they glanced at longingly as they fled into the darkness of the night.  I wonder, what was left behind as the deserts immensity became clear and the weight of even the smallest tokens became too much a burden.  

I am reminded of the Tim O’Brien collection of short stories, “The Things They Carried” in which he describes the burden borne by soldiers in Vietnam, “They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity.” 

The heaviness of their burden, the vast expanse of it all.  What a weight as the non-essentials are cast away one by one.  Rotting in the wet or desiccating in desert winds.  As the things themselves lose importance when confronted with the reality that they are just things.  

Golden calves too heavy, gems to be cast aside.  They carried gravity.  

And, in the midst of all that was broken--the promises that their feet trod upon as they danced.  The hearts rent by pain and loss in the shadow of the mountain.  

I wonder at the fear.  I wonder at the emptiness.  I wonder at the hopelessness.  And, then in the midst of my wondering.

I wonder what it felt like to be tucked so carefully into the crevice in the rock.  As God, the lover of souls, passes by in glory--too great to be seen and too great not to follow.  

"I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, 'The LORD'; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”

The promise of rest.  The promise of shelter.

The promise of the God of all creation and abundance in the midst of a travel-worn people and the pleading intercessions of a man who trusts in an I AM of grace beyond any fear that would prevail.  

I have had such moments of longing for that, for that moment of shelter--for the familiarity of love, in times of starting anew, in times of wilderness journey.      

When I left home for the first time as an 18 year old, I had two cardboard boxes and a suitcase.  And, when I stepped off of the plane to begin my new life as a college student, I remember watching them spin around the conveyer belt at the baggage claim.  Dented boxes...fragile and heavy.  

I hauled them off of the conveyer and trundled them to the car of waiting strangers.  

And, each move since has had echoes of that first move...  

-A hatchback packed with all my belongings and driven across three states.

-A couple of car loads from apartment to apartment.

-A small u-haul and another car to follow--packed to the gills with plants and yowling cats.

-A moving truck.

The gradual accumulation of stuff.  

Yet still, and often, the longing.  For the crevice of the rock and the sheltering hand of the God of love.

So, I have gone looking.  Looking for the peace which passes all understanding.  Looking for the God who will shelter, the God of love.  

“so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him--though indeed he is not far from each one of us.  For ‘In him we live and move and have our being” Acts 17:27

And, there are moments, moments when in my searching I catch glimpses of the God who surrounds us so completely that--in many ways--the glimpses are all that our limited vision can allow.  

And, many of those moments of late have been here at St. Clement’s.  That moment when I first entered and Dan and Pat invited me to sit with them so that I would not be alone.  Watching babies become toddlers and children teens.  Celebrating a thirtieth wedding anniversary with a renewal of vows--a renewal which took place before this altar, in the very place they were first made.  Looking out into the pews as old friends laughed and cried together during family remembrances for Jeffrey Carlson, who once served here as Junior Warden.  Azael hold a sloshing basin of baptismal water and the upturned faces of those anticipating sharing in the waters that marked CJ’s baptism.  The shape note singing at Liza’s service.  Sipping a mimosa in celebration of Verna’s birthday.  Watching Rich tape up the image of thousands of trees as we marked the support St. Clement’s has given to Fond Verant in Haiti.  The ring of the chimes at the choir’s sending forth, the ringing of chimes at Kevin and Ben’s wedding.  The weeping and the laughing, the rejoicing and the sorrowing.  All of us.  Together.  

None of those moments fit into boxes or trucks.  None of those moments could have happened without being here, with being in community in this place with all of you, these people.  

And, it is in this place, in this ministry that we gather in community.  A gathering that allows us to see beyond ourselves and into the God of abundance.  A gathering that encourages us to develop relationships across generations and share in the work of bringing God’s graciousness and mercy to all.  

A couple of months ago, Mary Fred referenced the Greek word for Ecclesia, the gathering--and that’s what we are, a gathering of people trying to bring God’s love and grace to this broken world we live in.  A gathering of people, who come back, week after week, in search of something beyond ourselves.  A gathering of people called, even if we aren’t quite sure what we’re called for yet.  A gathering of us...a gathering, sharing in the ritual and beauty of our tradition and finding ways for that beauty to shape the world we live in.  

As a gathering we walk the way that Christ sets before us.  

And, in today’s gospel, Christ is confronted by those who seek to confound him--and in reply to their question reminds them that while the coin might carry the image of Caesar, we carry the image of God.  So, if what is Caesar’s is to be returned to Caesar--then what is God’s is to be returned to God.  

I imagine that the coin felt heavier when returned to the purse.  The burden of oppression weighing down the pouch in a new way.  The confounders, confounded.  

The question about what is God’s and what is Caeser’s no longer works when we consider that it is all God’s.  And, in coming weeks you will be asked to consider what of God’s abundance, of your time your talent and your treasure, you will share with this gathering.  There is no set amount, no specified requirement--just the request that you give what you can.  

Isabel Allende writes in her essay for “This I Believe”, “Give, give, give--what is the point of having experience, knowledge or talent if I don’t give it away?  Of having stories if I don’t tell them to others?  Of having wealth if I don’t share it?  I don’t intend to be cremated with any of it!  It is in giving that I connect with others, with the world and with the divine.”  

She entitled her essay, "In Giving I Connect With Others".  We give, to connect.  We give to lessen the burden.  We find shelter so that we may be a shelter.  

I haven’t seen God, but I have seen God’s reflection--in the image we each carry of our Creator.  




Saturday, October 11, 2014

Daniel Berrigan, Squirrels and the Suffering Servant: Proper 23A



There are times when I read the Gospel--proclaiming the good news of God from the midst of the people--and my overwhelming desire is to be reading SOMETHING else.  

There are beautiful passages in scripture.  Love of neighbor, love of God.  There is poetry and prose, metaphor and miracle...

Then there is this, this passage from Matthew that has preachers throughout the country doing exegetical backbends to try to get around a text that seems so contrary to our fundamental understanding of a God of inclusion and love, a God of redemption and calling.  

The Girardian theologians, who are committed to reading non-violence in the text, suggest the preacher consider the joke, “when is a squirrel just a squirrel”--a pastor in preaching a children’s sermon holds up a stuffed squirrel and asks the children what it is...after a long pause, one of the children says “I know the answer is supposed to be Jesus, but that sure looks like a squirrel to me”.  So, when the text describes a king, we think the answer is supposed to be “God” but it’s not...

The Girardians suggest that what we hear described in this Gospel is not actually a story about the nature of God.  That this is not allegory, and that what we have here is a description of the actions of a human king--specifically suggesting that the Greek which introduces this parable refers to “anthropos”, a man, rather than God.  So, if a MAN is the king, what does it say to us about where we find Jesus in this text?

It was at this point in my research that I considered Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem...the hosannas that became cries of crucify him...

And, I wonder what happens to this Gospel if we understand the king as human, and the man cast out as Christ?  

As a college student I spent three months living and working with an intentional community called Agape, a community dedicated to living and teaching Christian non-violence.  It was at Agape that I had the privilege of meeting the Reverend Daniel Berrigan, a poet, activist, priest known for acts of civil disobedience.  Daniel in a sermon on this text writes that,  “The parable of the king’s banquet is brutally secular. It tells of the domestic misbehavior of the powerful and the victimizing of the powerless, of war and retaliation.”

Do our human understandings of inclusion end up excluding and destroying the very one we have called upon?  The very one we are, ourselves, called to serve?

If the kingdom of heaven is to be compared...Daniel Berrigan reminds us that compare means to find those things alike and those things which stand in stark opposition.  

Does the ease with which we identify the king as God demonstrate far more about who we are and our own understanding of what power means than it does about God?  

I would hazard, yes.  Just as last week we may have found ourselves nodding along to the Pharisees answer that the vineyard owner would be justified in destroying those who destroyed his son--this week we may find ourselves accepting that ruthless violence of a capricious king, because it makes sense based on our understanding of what human rulers do.  

But, let us remind ourselves, we serve a God and not a king...a God whose own son was cast out from the banquet, a God who suffered for our silence, a God placed upon the cross with our cries of crucify.  

the Reverend Daniel Berrigan writes, 

“In the parable Jesus presents to us the king. You choose, you decide. Is this a valid exercise of authority? Here is a clue: Don’t miss the storyteller for the story.

The One who tells the story knows both goodness and wickedness, because He is good, consistent and compassionate. He longs to see humans standing in the orbit of God’s love. He rejoices to see the speechless and poor, the nobodies, at His table.
In our story, he condemns no one, not even the king. Such a judgment is redundant, the royal behavior being self-condemned.

And to sum up matters, in utter contrast to the worldly king, the storyteller will give His life rather than take life.”

Give rather than take...our faith is redolent with those who have given rather than taken lives.  We call them martyrs, when they die, award them Nobel Peace Prizes when they live.  Advocates for justice, equality, for love and mercy.  

Last week, my sermon asked us to remember who we are, the beloved children of God, and to whom we belong...

And, I made the argument that we belong to God, but we also belong to each other.  

So, if a martyr is one who dies rather than renounce their faith...if our faith teaches us that we belong to God and each other, the idea of martyr is broken open and I am reminded of those who choose suffering, rather than renounce God or their fellow human beings.  

“the storyteller will give His life rather than take life”.

The storyteller who is Christ.  The storyteller who stands at the heart of the Gospel.  The storyteller who has the last word even as he breathes his last.

The storyteller whose story is now OUR story.  

Now, will we be silent, or will we keep telling the story of a God of love?  A God who invites each and every one of us to the table of Grace.  A God apart from our petty powers and principalities.  A God, who we describe as lover of souls.  A God of invitation.  The God in whom we can, as Paul implores us, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone...And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”