Friday, June 19, 2020

Where Have I Been? With links and a video.

Friends, since the last sermon I shared I’ve preached often—and shared those sermons via our church’s YouTube page. I’ve not updated here because, honestly, it was one more thing.

But, it’s time. 

The sermon that defines the last three months, for me, is titled “Breathe”. It was recorded on May 31st at St. Clement’s,  https://youtu.be/nTRExiaPPso

It begins a series of sermons that focus on who we are in this moment, and how we are called to respond to the systemic racism which continues to steal the breath of God’s beloved children. 

The full text of this sermon is available below my sign off.

You can find all the worship services that have been recorded for St. Clement’s during this time of the “scattered church” at our YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCS2KgezzX4QSTt6BmIMjK-g?view_as=subscriber 

Peace to you all,
Joy

Monday, March 16, 2020

Lent 3A

Sermon in the time of Covid-19
Tyler Bold, MD PhD, infectious disease and the Reverend Joy Caires
Tyler’s words are Bold (pun intended). 
Lectionary page with Lent 3 scripture is here 

Since the beginning of this year, we in America and in Minnesota, have been fortunate to only observe from a distance what is happening with Covid-19, praying for the health of those affected and for the wisdom of those whose actions can make the biggest difference in the trajectory of this outbreak.

The news seemed far away. A disease affecting those people in that place. So, we prayed for them…those who are not here and whose deaths we will not know to mourn. We shook hands, we embraced, we took our collective breaths and said our collective prayers. We sang our songs, we shared our meals…we did not know. 

In the past 2 weeks, however, we have transitioned from spectators to participants in this pandemic.

I made signs for the doors of the church yesterday, Building closed for worship and all other gatherings. I chose my words carefully. The building is closed, the church is not. The church cannot close. The church is us, the church is us in prayer, regardless of proximity, the church is us the body of Christ. A body that transcends time and space. The church is not and will never be closed. 

The building is closed. We are not. 

And, today, as the church, we are working to save lives. To save lives by staying home.

The 2 most important things we can do now are to protect the most vulnerable people in our communities, and to reduce the rate of transmission. 

The collect for the third Sunday in Lent, for today begins, “Almighty God, you know we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves”. We have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. This is reality, we cannot help ourselves ALONE. But, together as the Body of Christ in the world—we can help the world. This is in our power as Christians, as the people of God, to stand in body and spirit between suffering and the vulnerable people in our communities. 

Older people, and those with underlying medical conditions, are particularly vulnerable to this infection. Because not everyone who is contagious shows overt signs of disease, we must particularly consider how our individual and communal actions affect the most susceptible of those around us. We must all do our part to prevent these people from being exposed.

We must. We must do our part. Our part to seek and serve Christ in all persons. Our part to honor the dignity of every human being. Our part. 

Some will think we are overreacting. Some will say that closing our buildings is tantamount to a betrayal of God. I would and WILL counter—our buildings are closed, the church is not. And, we are praying together, we are acting together, we are remembering our ancestors and taking our part in the communion of saints. We are doing ALL of this, but without gathering in groups—and this is HARD. It is a change to our habits, our practices, and our general understanding of what it means to be a community. But, we are Christians and this moment of suffering can and will bring hope for the future. 

So, I enjoin you CANCEL EVERYTHING. Gathering in groups, no matter the reason, puts members of your community at risk. I have already heard from folk about their plans to gather in groups for prayer. Please, reconsider. What seems an act of faithfulness puts your neighbors, friends, and communities at risk. I hate saying this, I hate that we have come to this. But, this is part of what is being asked of us, as Christians. 

Hear the words of our ancestor Paul, “we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

The Holy Spirit has been given to us. Paul Tillich described the Spirit as the unitive being, the person of the Trinity that unites us to God, to Christ and to each other across all time and space. God is not limited by the walls of the building and we are united!

We are united in action because,

Although 21 cases in our state may not seem like many, I tend to think of this figure as a blurry image of the past. It is imprecise, since our limited capacity for diagnostic testing obscures the true number of cases in our communities. And, just as the light from the Sun is 8 minutes old when it reaches the Earth, these case numbers really reflect the consequences of our community behaviors and decisions from 2-3 weeks ago. 

2-3 weeks ago…2-3 years…20-30 years…200-300 years…2000 years. What is happening now reflects all of history. The decisions made, the stories told, the lives lived—and so, here we are. 

Here we are, in the wilderness of this season, knowing our past and accepting the responsibility of the power we have to shape the future of all creation. 

Because, the decisions we make today will impact the course of this disease over the next 2-3 weeks. 

The decisions we make today…will impact all of our tomorrows. 

We must also act now to ensure that we can provide optimal care for all those who do become sick. If too many are afflicted at the same time, this will not be possible. This concept of “flattening the curve” underpins the many efforts towards “social distancing” you have seen in the past week, including the closure of our own building. This strategy is an essential way to slow transmission rates and enable our healthcare system to accomplish this goal.

We have no power in ourselves to help ourselves—and, at the same time, we have the power to save the world entire! Assume this mantle of power. Feel the presence of the Spirit. Remember, you are part of the communion of saints—that great communion of the past and present and the yet to come. 

You are not alone. You are not now, and will never be alone. God abides in you—and no matter where we are in our physical bodies, nothing can separate us from each other and from the love of God which unites us. 

“I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Good people of God, we have entered into the labor. We can and will make sacrifices so that others may live. We can and will make choices that will change the world. We can and will, with God’s help, take our part.

The 2 most important things we can do now, are to protect the most vulnerable people in our communities, and to reduce the rate of transmission. 

This means…
-       Wash your hands with soap and water frequently and thoroughly, for at least 20 seconds at a time
-       Avoid touching your face
-       Do not gather with others, in groups either large or small
-       If you must gather with others, do all that you can to avoid close contact, maintaining a distance of 6 feet, or 2 arms’ lengths
-       Avoid public spaces where people may come into close contact
-       Cancel all travel
-       Work from home if possible
-       As weather permits, it is safe to be outdoors, as long as this does not involve close contact with others 
-       If you have ANY symptoms of cough, sore throat, fever, body aches, headache, or diarrhea, stay at home and keep to yourself
-       If symptoms persist for 48 hours, CALL your doctor to discuss the availability and need for testing
-       Do NOT go to a clinic or emergency room unless directed to by a healthcare provider, or it is truly an emergency

Public health demands our health as the Body of Christ. Keeping these directives in mind, let us pray,

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 
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Saturday, March 7, 2020

Lent 1A

Lectionary readings can be found here

+++

It was never about the milk...

Milk.

I clearly remember, the milk.

Two glasses, lined up on the counter, the blue and white carton fresh from the fridge,

My mother ready to pour.

And my sister and I, keenly watching. 

Slowly, she’d begin with one glass. Pouring about half-way, then alternating to the other. 

Back and forth, bit by bit, she would pour slowly. Occasionally pausing to get to eye level with the milk line in each glass. 

We watched. Waiting for her to make a mistake. 

The mistake, of giving more to one than to the other. 

Shrill protests ready behind our teeth, we were wary and we were ready. 

It wasn’t a love of milk that drove our passion for equity, nor was it love of each other. I didn’t care if she had less, neither did she if she had more. What we cared about was that the other one, didn’t get more. It wasn’t about what we needed. It wasn’t about what we had. It was about ensuring that the “other one” wasn’t favored. 

And, ohhhhh, if one got more than another…the spite and the retribution!

It was never about the milk. 

It was about our parent’s love and our own metaphorical empty glasses. 

Pour the love in, but make sure it’s equal. Pour the milk, and make sure we get the same. We constantly wanted what the other had and my mother worked painstakingly to ensure that the milk was the same. She wanted to make sure that the milk was the same, because we were never sure that the love was likewise. 

Now I know. Now I know the vastness of her love. Her unreasonable and profligate and irrational love that led her to pour, bit by bit, glass by glass, the milk just so. 

I wonder, if that’s how God is in the story we heard today—loving all creation profligately yet unable to appease the jealousy of one for another. For theologians have long speculated that it was green eyed jealousy that motivated the snake to lead astray the very ones who God has declared, not just good, but VERY good. They have speculated that it was jealousy of God’s wisdom that led one to eat, and then another. They have speculated…

About what this primeval story means for us in our post-postmodern world. Where knowledge is power, and trust is scarce, and we hunger for more when the same or even less would be enough.  
Self-consciousness, become shame. Awareness turns to regret. And things would never be the same. For them. For us. For the us in the now, who need to reckon with our very nature. 

Our very good truth, in tension with the reality of our envy. 

The reality, that no matter how much we have…the temptation is to grasp for more.

To grasp for the fruit that is not ours and the power that belongs to God. 

Temptation is easy…the markets themselves driven by our tendency to succumb. To succumb to our wants, all too often at the expense of our innate goodness.

The newborn babe wants for nothing but milk. Unable to focus or grasp beyond the moment. Innocence toddles about unclothed. Delight in the green grass tickling the toes, the breeze on bare skin. Then, the grasp and the wail, the crash and the despair. We are only human, and our desires while base, reflect our deep drive to survive. 

Our drive, for food, water, shelter, and progeny. To survive to create…literally or metaphorically, the what’s next for creation. 

And, so there is tension between comfort and affliction. Tension between who we were made to be and who we have become. Tension between what is and what might be. Tension between neighbors. Tension between friends. Tension between sisters who stare at the glass and wonder if it is full enough. 

And, it is into this tension that temptation comes. 

Hunger, desire, and defiance in the desert. The tempter, knows the weakness of humans. And, Jesus is fully human. But, lest we forget, he is also fully divine. 

Fully human, fully divine, and filled with the knowledge that is is he, it is he who is the beloved son of God. He knows who he is—he is beloved. 

And, he need not fear that he will have less than the love of God. 

And, that love is all sufficient.  

Think of the order of things in the Gospel we hear today—birth, baptism, temptation…Jesus hasn’t even healed anyone yet. And, yet he is loved as he is, not for what he will do, but for who he was born to be. 

The beloved child of God. 

He sees himself, and in seeing there is knowing. 

Jesus knew he was beloved. He knew who he was and to whom he belonged as the beloved child of God. In his belovedness, Jesus could see evil for what it was and reject it. In his belovedness, Jesus had the strength to withstand temptation in the desert. In his belovedness, Jesus had the resilience to wake up each day and face down evil once again. In his belovedness, Jesus had the courage to step back into the world of men and humble himself unto the cross.
God’s love is not a finite good. We cannot run out of it and our neighbor’s or, gasp, even our enemies possession of it does not diminish it for ourselves. 

How is it then, that we covet? That we covet the bit of milk, the bit of money, the bit of this or the bit of that. How is it then, that we look through the eyes of the snake and not the eyes of our God? 

The eyes of God, God who see us through the creator’s lens, and in that seeing declares us “very good”.

They say, that you ought to tell children who you hope them to be. Kind, loving, joyful, honest, smart…and that by doing so, they will believe themselves, by nature, to be these things. Do we believe ourselves very good, or have we convinced ourselves that we are beyond redemption? Do we think that our nature is beyond the mercy of God? 

Most days, I read the news in some form or another. I read it, but not at face value—I read it through the lens of every single thing I read in scripture and everything I say from the pulpit, the prayers we say, the traditions we share, and the people you all are. 

And, so I read about tempters and snakes. I read about denials and despair. I read about the broken and the breaking. I read about destruction and deviance. And, I wonder, how on earth we have come to this place where the tempter’s power holds so much sway. 

And, then I think about milk.

And, I don’t wonder anymore. 

But, we cannot end with the milk.

That would be succumbing to another temptation, to end on a child’s greed, writ large onto a global stage and consider that explanation enough.

If we’re that screwed up, why bother?

Perhaps that is more original than any original sin—a tendency to give ourselves over to an existential despair that unwittingly feeds into the power of evil in the word. The desert fathers and early monastics called this kind of despair acedia, and considered it a sin. It’s the kind of thinking that keeps us from action. Kathleen Norris, contemporary novelist and poet writes, 

“When life becomes too challenging and engagement with others too demanding, acedia offers a kind of spiritual morphine: you know the pain is there, yet you can't rouse yourself to give a damn. . . . Caring is not passive, but an assertion that no matter how strained and messy our relationships can be, it is worth something to be present with others, doing our small part. Care is also required for the daily routines that acedia would have us suppress or deny as meaningless repetition or too much bother.”

It is worth something. To show up. To act. To care. It is worth something. It is worth everything. 

It’s not about the milk.

It’s about giving a damn about God’s love. 

Amen.






















Ash Wednesday 2020

A Sacrifice for our God
Ash Wednesday, 2020

The first time I tried to run a mile, I was in 6th grade gym. 

3 laps into the assignment, I wheezed to a walk.

The task beyond my asthmatic lungs, I remember the shame I felt as I watched classmates trot past. 

I was lapped, more than once. 

I didn’t run again until I was 22. Anonymous in a new city, I laced up my shoes in my studio apartment. I ran a bit, walked a lot, and slowly and surely, I defeated my own self perception of what I could and could not do. 

I felt strong and confident in my newfound ability. I could do it—and as I grew stronger I found that running was a fantastic time for prayer and my pace was set by my favorite setting of the Gloria. 

Glory to God in the high-i-est! 

And, this was how I began. Not for anyone but me. Not for any purpose but defiance. Not for any reason but because I could. 

And, pe-e-eace to God’s people on earth. 

Step by step, my pace quickened. 

By the time I could handily run 4 miles, I was beginning to get comments.

Wow, you’ve lost a lot of weight!

You really look good.

Did your new girlfriend get you to run? That’s great!

While the intent was affirmation, the impact was anything but affirming. 

I was doing this for me. I wasn’t trying to lose weight. My girlfriend, Lona, never worked out—and I knew for a fact that I was the more athletic of the two of us. And, had I looked awful before? Were people really paying that much attention to my body? Who was I running for anyway? Is exercise a moral good? Did people really think that thinner me was somehow a more virtuous me?

I kept running…for me. 

And, people kept commenting. Strangers and neighbors, felt inclined to comment.

         Once, while running alone, “Keep going, you’ll get that weight off!”

On one of the rare occasions when Lona ran with me, “wow, Lona got you out running, huh? Good for you!”

Lord God, hea-venly king…

One foot in front of the other. 

There were times I ran more, times I ran less, times I did not run at all. 

But, regardless of how much I ran, every time I ran I found myself subject to critique.

Hey, have you been exercising? You’re looking good!

Yes, yes, I know the intent was encouragement. But, it became harder and harder to find joy in the movement of my feet and the strength of my body ,when I was constantly being reminded of our culture’s standards for bodies—photo shopped, carefully composed, tilted, posed, sucked in, and marketed, bodies.  The ideal body, something I could never obtain…but, was encouraged to pursue.

And, as I continued in my life of faith, the pounding of feet that marked my prayers was offset by my awareness that many people have a bias against bodies that do not meet a standard of “health” that we assume comes from vegetables, the gym and our pants’ size. Every time, I hear the words “will-power”, it is no secret to me that we are assigning religious virtue to what we eat and what we wear and how we move. 

And so, I find that I’ve had to work to hold on to my why. 

I don’t move for you. I don’t move to lose weight, to look different, or show off. 

I move to pray. I move for strength. I move to breathe. I move to play. I move to think about sermons.

And, somehow, in reflecting upon all of this. I found myself with new insights into the invitation to a Holy Lent and the Gospel text the lectionary assigns for Ash Wednesday.

The prayer book declares Lent a time of “self-examination and repentance; prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and reading and meditating on God's holy Word.”

Yet somehow, given the breadth of what we are invited to do in Lent, what so many take away from this exhortation is some sort of religiously self-righteous diet plan. The WHY of Lent, the why of our religious observances, becomes subsumed by the cultural bias towards bodies of a certain size. If you were to google the phrase, “Lent and eating disorders” you’d find article after article about people, usually women, for whom Lenten fasting became a religiously sanctioned means of self-destruction. 

         Wow, have you been working out? You’ve gotten thinner!

         Woah, Joy’s really holy, I mean check out that sackcloth and ashes! 

Al-might-y God and Fa-a-ther,

         What did you give up for Lent? 

Somehow the Gospel’s warning begins to make more sense to my,“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them”

We cannot live fully and wholly into who God calls us to be, if we treat our bodies OR our faith as products to be consumed or avenues for exploitation. 

So, this Lent, give yourself permission to move, pray, breathe, stretch, eat, fast, laugh, cry, love—because you are human. Because God took human form. Because God brought you here. Because…you were made in God’s image and God’s hope for us is bigger than a smaller pair of pants or a million likes on instagram.

Fast, for liberation.

Deny yourself, for healing.

Pray to remember.

Cleanse your hearts.

Journey in order to return. 

To return to the truth of God’s love for us. To return to an awareness of who we are called to be. To return…

One foot in front of the other, we return. To pray, to live, to breathe, to grow. 

To grow in love and faith. 

To grow into the full statue of Christ. 

In Paul’s 2nd letter to the community in Corinth, he offers a litany of sacrifice which is paralleled by a litany of gifts, “knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God.”

The sacrifice loses its meaning if it is anything less than a means of encountering, experiencing, and witnessing to the power of God to liberate, reconcile, and make whole.  

So, will your practice bring knowledge? Will it challenge and increase your patience? Will you be kinder in 40 days? 

Will you make an offering of genuine love and truthful speech?

Step after step. 

Lord God, lamb of God, you take a-way the sins of the world.

Remember the why of your Lenten observances

The why that is for you and for God. The why that is for reconciliation. The why that is for healing and strength. 

Let the Gloria set the pace…

…you take a-way the sins of the world, have me-er-cy upon us.