Saturday, April 16, 2016

Easter 4C

Speaking Plainly...

Easter 4C, the texts appointed for this day can be found here

I’m going to let you in on a little secret--I am not Jesus.

I know, shocking right!

And, I’m going to put something else out there--I’m not the shepherd. 

Jesus is.

This might seem fairly obvious.

But, for some, it’s an easy mistake to make.

Jesus wore robes.  I wear robes. Jesus—most likely, brown hair and look, I have brown hair! 

Jesus hung out with sheep, I grew up on a farm and we had a sheep once.

Jesus gave his friends bread and wine, I give my friends bread and wine. 

The similarities are stunning. 

But, all kidding aside. I will state it plainly, I am not Jesus. I am not the savior. I am not the Messiah. I am not even a shepherdess on the green. 

I am a child of God, just as you are a child of God.

No better. No worse.

Just simply, a child of God.

And, as a child of God, I am called to be as Christ to the world. I am NOT called to BE Jesus to the world.  This is an important distinction.

Jesus is a historical figure, whose life we are asked to emulate, but who we cannot literally be. In this Easter season we are reminded that it was in death and resurrection that Jesus was unbound by time and set loose into the world through the power of the Spirit. The Christ is expansive, inclusive and cosmic.

Harvey Cox in his book The Future of Faith, writes, “’Christ’ means more than Jesus. It also refers to the new skein of relationships that arose around him during and after his life…The Easter cycle, with all its harshness, joy, and impenetrability, tells of this enlargement of this historical Jesus story into the Christ story”

It is in the enlargement of the story, that the story includes us. In the truth of the Spirit in our midst we are incorporated us into the body of Christ and called into service as anointed ones.  

Have I lost you all?  The more I write, the more I think, the more I speak—the more I realize that these are deep theological waters in which we are treading. This is why the church is more than the spoken word. Our life of prayer—the actions, the rites, the sacraments, the fellowship are all meant to expand our understanding of the relationship we have with God in Christ. And so, I call us to take note of a very particular moment in the ritual of baptism. 

In baptism we are anointed with an oil called chrism.  It is an oil consecrated by the Bishop and dedicated for use in baptism—and the words used when the oil is applied are as follows, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever”. 

Christ is the Greek title meaning, “anointed one” and in our own anointing we become “anointed ones”.  In the early church the act of anointing was understood to impart the gift of the Holy Spirit, “being sealed” and gave the individual a place within the community of believers grounded in an understanding that they were now part of Christ in the world, “Christ’s own, forever”. 

Sealed and marked. Or in other words, in this rite, we are made complete by the Holy Spirit and our lives are given to God.

So, how do we live when our lives belong to God?

Bishop Hollingsworth in the Diocese of Ohio would remind us all, both lay and ordained, that baptism was our first ordination--that our first promises of service to God are made in baptism and therefore, all baptized members of the church universal are called to serve.

Like Jesus we are anointed—and in that anointing are lives are dedicated to Christ. 

When we perform a baptism in this community we are binding someone and ourselves, as the consenting community, to a life bound to a greater cause and purpose. In this act we, like Jesus, become unbound by time—unbound by the boundaries of our individual lives and connected to what we call the household of God and in that connection called in service to the mission of God. 

To be unbound. To be freed from all that would confine us. And, in this Easter season we are reminded again and again that we are set free, as Christ was set free, from the death that would bind and confine us and our ministry. One such reminder appears in the passage from Acts we heard today.

In this passage Tabitha, also called Dorcas (and why that name has never taken off, I don’t understand!), was such a person. Her resuscitation unbinds her from the limits of her earthly body and gives testimony to the expansiveness of God’s gift of new life. 

Tabitha was Christ’s own forever…and she demonstrated this through her ministry to the community.  Tabitha’s identity as a disciple, living as one claimed by Christ, has a concrete and real impact on her wider community.

And, in the miracle of her resuscitation, Tabitha’s acts of compassion are set free from the death that would end them. Death cannot snatch Tabitha away from God in Christ, and the concrete effect of her resuscitation is the defiant marking of this claim.

Tabitha’s compassion is central to this new way of life in Christ. Tabitha’s resuscitation is central to the message that death cannot limit, or destroy, the love made manifest through such acts of compassion. 

I imagine that many of us can think of individuals in our lives and the life of the church whose acts of passion and compassion have not been limited by death. And when we dedicate ourselves to following the self same God to whom these people gave witness, we have dedicated ourselves to the ongoing defiance of death and those powers in the world that would call our cause vain.    

And not only do we dedicate ourselves, we claim our place within the love of Christ in God, and proclaim the good news of the Gospel. 

 “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Nothing, and no one, can separate us from the love of God. Neither death nor sin will tear us away from the God who clings so tightly to us.

And that is the grace of this Gospel text we hear today, “No one will snatch them out of my hand”.

This is the consolation of Tabitha’s community. This is the consolation of our community. This is our consolation. “No one will snatch them out of my hand”…

We are bound to Christ and in that binding liberated in Christ.   

Our fellowship in this place, our worship together is a manifestation of that unbinding. It is the claiming of our place and the truth of Christ’s presence within our own lives and within the expansiveness we call creation to which we are connected through Christ.

And so, to bring us full circle. 

No I am not Jesus.
But I contain Christ.
And so do each of you. 

And together, we are the body of Christ.
Not looking to a single individual for the salvation of the world.
But actively participating in the salvation of the world,
Through the dedication of all that we have and all that we are
to the God to whom we belong.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Day

Text appointed for today can be found here

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In Which, We Rise!

On the first day of the week, they woke up thirsty. Drinking from a clay cup, and eating a bit of bread. Their bodies demanded sustenance.

On the first day of the week, they woke up with the dawn and slipped their feet into the sandals they’d left at the door. Then, one foot in front of the other, they lived as they’d always lived.

On the first day of the week, they wondered what they would say to to those who’d be sure to say, “I told you so.” They felt ashamed.

On the first day of the week, they were stricken yet also angry. They had hoped so much, given so much. And, now this.  Now this.

On the first day of the week, they knew what had happened but not what they would find.

Yet, having arisen from the pain, knowing that there wasn’t much beyond keeping on, keeping on, they went.

They took their broken hearts and bitter tears and went.

They took the fragrant spices.

They took their fear.

And, they went to the grave.

There to offer a final gift to close out this beautiful and terrible chapter of their lives.   

There, to anoint the desecrated body of the one who had breathed his last while they looked on.

And, they braced themselves for the stink of the grave and the emptiness of death.

And, then, and then, an empty tomb and a question...

"Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Why?  Why?!  Because he died, I was there. I was there and I saw him cry out. I was there and I saw it happen.  And, now you ask me why?

Fear and anger converged. And, yet even then, hope!

“He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again."

Dare they believe, how can they believe?

But, to remember. To remember. Is an empty tomb and memory enough on the first day of the week?

Is it enough, or is it everything?

Will the memory sustain us?  Will the evidence present itself? Will we learn to look for life in those places we thought only to find death?

One need only to watch the news, or open the pages of the newspaper to know that we walk in hard times, we walk in painful times, we walk in a time of unprecedented wealth and unprecedented need.

The burden of the cross is all too real.

The fear is all too palpable.

To hope seems ludicrous. And, yet, this hope is our calling.

Because to rise up, in the face of all that would destroy us, it to proclaim our hope and a new way.

A new life.

A life grounded in the expectation that love does in fact win. That peace will in fact prevail. That the truth of the awful will make way for the in breaking of all that is good.

A life in which we rise because he rose. A life in which we love and act and live and breathe because he did. A life in which we work for justice and mercy and peace and liberation because we know such things are possible.

A life, this very life, lived so that someday every downtrodden person, every exploited, broken and hurting person in this world can proclaim in full voice.

He is risen! 

And, until such a time that all are free, we will wait and work and live so that we might be a beacon of hope to all who would stand terrified at the grave.

In this is our calling, this gathered body we call the body of Christ, the risen body of Christ. And as this holy and sacred body, we will rise because he rose.  As this holy and sacred body we will abide by the command to love and in that love gather together the broken and the breaking, the hateful and the hated, the oppressed and the oppressor, into the fullness of God’s love.

That is what it is to be a resurrection people, to offer hope, to offer life, to offer an audacious claim that the life we have is not all the life there is. 

Defiant hope, beautiful truth and death defeated! The cross is empty and he is risen and in response the people rise! 

All the people, all the people, all the people! Lifted up and lifting into the light of the new day! 

Poet Maya Angelou gave voice to the defiance of this claim to life, in what I truly consider to be an Easter poem,

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Let all the people say,
Amen!

Amen!




Saturday, March 12, 2016

Lent 5C, an Invitation to the Way

Lent 5C, 2016, St. Clement’s

As always, the readings can be found here

About 1/3 of this is from Lent 5C, 2013, revisited. Or rather, it was from Lent 3C re-visited, but then child asked an important question...and reminded all of us that preaching is a lived art and you can read a sermon but it won't be THE sermon.  Because, the Holy Spirit moved in big ways this Sunday and mid-sermon a child in the congregation asked, audibly, "why did Jesus die?" So, I stopped and answered him, "they were afraid of him. People were afraid that his love was for everyone. And, when people are afraid, they don't make the right choices." (I'm paraphrasing). Sometimes what needs said was never written down.  I will note below when this interlude occurred
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Today, we draw closer to Jerusalem. With Mary of Bethany, Lazarus, Judas, and Jesus, we gather in a single room.

Lazarus, resurrected. Mary oh, so, grateful for another chance. Judas, hoarding the wealth. Jesus, knowing.

They were oh so close to Jerusalem. Their little shelter, insufficient in the face of the empire.

What could they do?

What can we do?

They gathered in the shadow of the cross.

And so do we, in this breaking and broken world, gather in that self-same shadow.

On September 26th, of 2001 the House of Bishops, of the Episcopal Church in the United States, issued a pastoral letter.

“We come together also in the shadow of the cross: that unequivocal sign that suffering and death are never the end but the way along which we pass into a future in which all things will be healed and reconciled. Through Christ "God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross." (Col. 1:20) This radical act of peace-making is nothing less than the right ordering of all things according to God's passionate desire for justness, for the full flourishing of humankind and all creation…”*

We have a choice. We can see the shadow as our oppression, or it can be our liberation!

Because, it is beneath that shadow, that we are called to healing. It is beneath the shadow that we are called to reconciliation. It is beneath the shadow that we are called to transformation.

It is beneath the shadow, that we find fellowship.

It is beneath the shadow that we find our hope.

Fellowship, hope and our calling as Christians in the world…

Our calling to self-examination and repentance. Our calling to open our hearts and give room to God’s compassion. Our calling to bind up, to heal and to make all things new and whole.

In this Lenten season, when the shadow of the cross seems most palpable. We are called.

This is the joy of Lent.

If we are broken, we can be made whole. If we are wounded, we can be healed. This is the promise, and this is our hope. That who we are now, is not who we will be. And that we are active participants in our own salvation.   

We are given a road to walk, and as active participants it becomes up to us to set foot on that road.

The shadow, the road, the cross…these become an invitation. Take up your cross and follow me. Follow me to that hill. Follow me to that place. Follow me…

The story continues, and then, and then, and then.  And, then to the desert and then to exile and then to return.

The prophet Isaiah proclaims, “Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea…”

A way is made, and it is up to us to take it.

The prophet Isaiah’s words were meant to remind the oppressed and marginalized community of Israelites exiled in Babylonia of the trajectory of their own story as a people. They were finding it difficult to see and follow the God of their people and they are reminded that God has always offered a way. Through the sea. Through the wilderness. Through the desert. There has always been a way and there is a way now.

And, in that way, you will find God, a God who is calling us, and transforming us.  And in that relationship with the God of salvation we (and indeed, the Israelites) are a people who are reconciled and forgiven.  They and we move through the desert, one foot in front of the other...knowing that there is no way out but through. 

As we move through the wilderness, whatever that wilderness looks like for us both as individuals and as a community--I wonder, how we will be transformed by the way we take?  Who will we be when we step out of the desert? What hopes and dreams will be made manifest? 

At times it seems improbable, that our suffering and wilderness wanderings will bear fruit.  But, as the psalm says, "when the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream"

Does a happy ending seem like a mere dream?  Does reconciliation and rejoicing seem beyond our reach?  What does it take to be confident in God's love--to trust that this Lent will end, that this hard time will pass? 

At one point a few years ago, during a particularly challenging and painful time in our family, I joked that Jesus must have been on vacation in Belize, because if Jesus had been there surely life would be better.  Jesus with his uncanny ability to perform miracles that seemingly fixed “everything”, a veritable Superman there to scoop us up, just in the nick of time.

Robert Capon in his book "Hunting the Divine Fox" writes, “The true paradigm of the ordinary American view of Jesus is Superman.”  He continues, “Jesus- gentle, meek and mild, but with secret, souped-up, more-than-human insides- bumbles around for thirty-three years, nearly gets himself done in for good by the Kryptonite Kross, but at the last minute struggles into the phone booth of the Empty Tomb, changes into his Easter suit and with a single bound, leaps back up to the planet Heaven.  It’s got it all...”  

If we keep waiting for a superman, for someone else to save us from each other and from ourselves, from our pain and from our suffering.  If we are looking for someone to scoop us out of the desert, out of the wilderness, without any work on our part...well, if that’s the case, we are in serious trouble. 

Because, if we hold up Christ as an “other” as somehow possessing skills and abilities that are so beyond our own “weak and insufficient” powers than it becomes too easy for “here I am send me” to become “where is Jesus, send him!”  How can we mere mortals, without any superhuman powers, seek to do what Jesus did?

(This is the point at which the child asked that question, Why did Jesus die? And I responded. The remainder of the sermon is struck through because it became an outline and adapted to meet the in-the-moment teaching  that was needed. I give thanks for a child who spoke what needed speaking and the gift of a response that spoke to that moment.)

Which begs the question “what did Jesus do?”.  And for that, I turn once again to today’s Gospel and that small room...a time in the narrative of his earthly life in which Jesus doesn’t seem to be doing very much at all.  A Gospel narrative that many find troubling for Jesus’ words

“The poor you will have with you always, but you won't always have me.”

The perfume that Mary anoints him with is equivalent in value to the wages a day laborer would have earned in a year.  And, in my concern for social justice and ministry in the world, I can feel the ire rise in me and I nod my head in response to Judas’ words, “why wasn’t the money given to the poor?” 

Why wasn’t it?  Can Mary’s actions only be interpreted as the squandering of a precious resource or is there something more there? 

Simply, devotion to Christ is not in opposition to our concern for the poor.  When Mary gives herself over to love for her friend and grief over his impending death, she is fully present in the moment--not the past, not the future, but right now.  She gives all of us the opportunity to see the fully human man who led and loved a movement into being.  She’s giving us the chance to mourn with her at the loss of a friend.  And, Jesus reminds us that part of what we learn at the feet of our dying friend is empathy for the victims of the world.  Through our love and care for the suffering servant we are asked to care for those very folk who will suffer and die as he did in the world.

By showing us how to care for a friend, Mary is showing us how to care for each other, those fellow wanderers in the desert, the thirsty and the weary.  Everyone here has been in the desert at one time or another or you may even be there now--and it may be that the person beside you will be as Christ to you in showing you the way.   There is no Superman to come and save you, save yourself and save each other...be Christ and look for Christ, know that you are not alone and there is no way out but through.

We have been given a way. It is now up to us to follow it.  Amen.