Saturday, August 22, 2015

In Which We Embrace Scandal

Proper 16B  St. Clement’s 2015
Scripture appointed by the Revised Common Lectionary can be found HERE

Scandal

Most of us were raised to be respectable.  Taught to say the “right thing” to wear the “right thing” to avoid controversial topics and making a scene.  

And, some of us, were raised to find our own selves offensive. Too loud, too feminine, too masculine, not masculine enough, too opinionated, too fat, too thin, too much, too little, not opinionated enough, too dark, too light, not right...

At all. 

And, so many of us diminished ourselves...quieter, gentler, softer. Seeking to fit into this box or that. And, this quieter, gentler more acceptable life...some of those of us found this life, not life at all.

And so the choice would come, would the price of the scandal be our life or would the scandal bring us life? 

What a strange thing, to find ourselves, as ourselves, the scandal!  

When I was in middle school, I had a teacher who knew that he himself was a scandal. The whispers would swirl around him and I remember most intently the moment when another student dared to speak the words aloud, “he’s gay”. I remember this moment because it was not a concept I knew, but I did know that it was not something one should be saying about a teacher--it was “not nice” and I wondered at this “not nice” thing being said about this particular dear and sweet man.  Five years later, knowing this teacher proved a lifeline...and I remember his words then, “I’ve found that I can change the world just by being myself...”

And so, he was a scandal, to many students and parents. But, the offense of his being was one which opened to many an opportunity to hope for new life for themselves and others. And, I think on this teacher (married to a beloved husband now, and the father of a preschooler) when I read the Gospel from John for today.  

The Greek word from which the word scandal comes is the verb Skandalon.  Literally, that which is a stumbling block to the life of faith.  The idea that the messiah should die on the cross, that itself was a scandal. The notion of eating and drinking the flesh and blood of another--that, a scandal.  Skandalon is used twice in the Gospel of John, and one of those places is in today’s passage.

“Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you?”

Skandalon, an offense...

David McCracken, a professor of English and Comparative Religion, discusses this passage from the Gospel of John at length in his book “The Scandal of the Gospels” and rather than the word “offense” he offers us the word “scandal” and a choice--we can be offended or we can have faith; we can be respectable or we can be scandalous.  (McCracken 159) 

And, thus our question, will we be offended or will we have faith and in having that faith become offensive ourselves?  

Are we willing to be scandalous? And in our scandal will we find new life?

For as the Gospel holds as true, it is the offense itself that gives life, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

It is the scandal of Jesus’ death and our own consumption of his sacrificial gesture that brings us life. What a scandal, that death would not win!  And the scandal of the feast gives us the endurance for the greater scandal of the final sacrifice, once and for all.  

2000 years of familiarity may have inoculated us to the offense of Jesus’ words. To Jesus’ followers, the notion of eating his flesh and drinking blood was both viscerally repugnant and offensive to their faith.  Levitical legislation explicitly forbid the consumption of blood and for some of Jesus’ followers this became the last straw--they backed away and left the community.   But, others stayed...eating and drinking of the body and blood that serves as a foretaste of the kingdom of God.  And, so we who have chosen the scandal as a way of life, we too gather to eat and drink...

And, this great offense stands at the center of our life as a church.  Architecturally, in most Episcopal churches it is not the pulpit that is the focal point which orients us in space, nor is it the Bible, rather it is the altar.  The sacrificial altar where we offer ourselves and where we participate in a feast of body and blood, of bread and wine. Weekly we participate in a great offense...an offense which offended the powers of death and proclaimed hope eternal, an offense which brought death, and an offense which gave birth to life. 

Jesus, the great scandalizer...And, in full participation we scandalize ourselves!

What then is our scandal? What is the truth that would scandalize the death dealing powers of the world? What will be the offense that will overturn the status quo of complacency?  Are we willing to scandalize respectable people and in doing so proclaim justice, life, beauty, peace and the inbreaking of God’s reign?

Our economy, our structures, our systems--they all rely on the silencing power of what I’ve heard referred to as “the respectability police”. And, for many of us, including myself we do a pretty good job of policing ourselves...policing ourselves into silent acquiescence. And, once again, polite trumps right.  
It takes a great strength to be a scandal--too risk our honor and our privilege for something greater than ourselves. Perhaps that is why the letter to the Ephesians today takes such care in describing a form of spiritual armor.

Do we have what we need to be scandalous? Are we equipped to be offenders?

The scandal of the cross, the scandal of the broken body and spilled blood. The scandal of a life lived for others.

And, so there stands another question...

Will we live? 

These are hard questions, and I worry that I might offend. Irony itself!  But, here we are, and we have the strength to face these questions, to wrestle with what love might ask of us and to discern what our own scandal might be.  

Will we speak truth to power? Will we proclaim ourselves the body of Christ? Will we claim our space, lift our voices, set aside the privilege earned through complacency and embrace compassion as our shame?


Will we?  

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Jonathan Daniels, Ruby Sales, and the Life of the Saints

Proper 15B, 2015

There are not many Americans in the 20th century which our larger tradition would call martyr.  But there are two such names inscribed in the Chapel of Saints and Martyrs of Our Own Time in Canterbury Cathedral. One is Martin Luther King Jr.  The other? A seminarian from Episcopal Divinity School, then called Episcopal Theological Seminary, Jonathan Daniels. 

I bring his name to this place, to St. Paul in 2015, because we need to know him as one of us.  I bring his name to this place, St. Clement’s, because we need to hear of his life and witness within the context of our worship. I bring his name here, because the specifics of his death remind us of who we are and to whom we belong. I bring his name here because I read the news and the Bible and I advocate for those policies which seek to stand between that which is love and that which is hate. I bring his name here because we pour the water and eat the bread for a reason. I bring his name here because it is his name and not his killers which shall be remembered in the church and the world.  

I bring his name here because his feast day is on our calendar of lesser feasts and fasts and marking his name becomes religious obligation. I bring his name here, because when we speak of the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, he like so many others, sings the holy, holy, holy into the world. And, I bring his name today because in five days time we will mark that moment when great commitment grounded in a life of faith, encountered a depth of hatred which it seems even love could not overcome.  

Because, in five days times it will be 50 years since Joyce Bailey, Ruby Sales, Jonathan Daniels and Richard Morrisoe tried to buy a soda from a store which was known as a place which would serve a mixed group. But, their thirst was seen as reason enough for death. And, a special deputy (a man who trusted that his name and his race would allow him to act with impunity) in one moment both ordered them to leave and raised his weapon. 

And, it was Jonathan who pushed Ruby aside and took the blast meant for her. 

Two months before his murder, Daniels wrote this about living with and advocating with blacks in what was known as the so-called Alabama Black Belt: “I lost fear in the black belt when I began to know in my bones and sinews that I have truly been baptized into the Lord’s death and resurrection, that in the only sense that really matters I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God.”

And, so while in living he died and in dying he lived. And, we speak his name because the bread and the water made him complete and in the same way we are offered such unity--the “one who eats this bread will live forever”.  

And, so Jonathan lives and we live and Christ lives.  Abide in me and I abide in you

 in five days time, we mark the death of the seminarian who stood between the teens and the weapon of hatred which would destroy them.

The man who leveled that shotgun was acquitted by an all white jury.

And Carlton L Perdue, the county solicitor serving in Haynesville Alabama at the time, his response? “If [Jonathan Daniels and his friends] had been tending to their own business, like I tend to mine, they’d be living and enjoying themselves today”

If...if he had ignored his baptismal covenant.

Christ have mercy

If he had failed to see that in the breaking of the bread we are bound together as the body of Christ.

Lord have mercy.
If he had continued to be nice and ignored the call to be kind.

Christ have mercy.

If he had set aside his faith for the interests of the status quo...

Grant us peace.

It took the intervention of the president to bring that young seminarian’s body home to his mother. 

And, the story could have ended there. But, his story didn’t. For in dying he lived and in living he died.  Inquiring, discerning, courageous, persevering...Jonathan echoed the will and the work of the creator who loves us all. 

In the prayer we speak following a baptism, we bid that God “Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.”

This, the prayer for infants, echoing the prayer of a king. As Solomon, in all his glory, bids the one God to give your servant an understanding mind and the ability to discern between good and evil.

A humble request, yet one which holds the power to transform the world...an understanding mind and the ability to discern between good and evil. 

And, like other humble things, it’s simplicity is it’s power.

Water

Bread

Understanding

Discerning

That this may be our own legacy! To share the water of new life, to gather together all at this table to share the same bread, to seek understanding and discern that which is good and that which is evil.  

Jonathan’s legacy is one which our church acclaims. It is a legacy that, like the teenager whose life he saved, lives on.

And, what of her? 17 year old Ruby Sales testified against the man who had tried to kill her and had killed Jonathan in her stead. And so, living, she went on to testify through her work in the anti-racism movement. And, grounded in the same life of faith which she saw lived out in Jonathan, in 1994 she entered the same seminary which Jonathan himself had attended. 

Today, Ruby runs The SpiritHouse Project “a national nonprofit organization that uses the arts, research, education, action, and spirituality to bring diverse peoples together to work for racial, economic, and social justice, as well as for spiritual maturity. SpiritHouse roots its work today in exposing the extrajudicial murders of African-Americans by White vigilantes and police.”

Jonathan died and love won. Baptized into the life and death and resurrection of Jesus our Christ, Jonathan died and love won.  

What happened there happens here, and what happened to him happens to us and what life is lived is lived in us.  

Because, in dying he destroyed our death and rising he restored our life. 

Following this sermon we will affirm our faith, we will pray for all people, we will confess our sins, we will share the peace and we will break the bread. 

And, these are not just ritual actions, these are not just “nice things to do”. These are witness and testimony before the God we call the God of justice and compassion. This is serious, this is important, this is life giving and this is love. 

And, thus, I invite you to stand as able, in love and with love, to pray the prayer dedicated to the ministry of Jonathan Myrick Daniels. 

O God of justice and compassion, who put down the proud and the mighty from their place, and lift up the poor and afflicted: We give you thanks for your faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one: who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. 

http://www.spirithouseproject.org/aboutruby.cfm About Ruby Sales and her current life and ministry

http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2015/08/13/remembering-jonathan-daniels-50-years-after-his-martyrdom/ Episcopal News Service Essay about the life and legacy of Jonathan Daniels


http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=215 The lectionary readings for Proper 15B

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Thirst, A Sermon for Pentecost 14B

Scripture appointed for today can be found here

Thirst

Today we speak of dignity, of seeking and serving Christ in all persons.  Today we speak of putting aside the work of evil in the world.  Today we give thanks for the waters which have opened up to us a new way of life.

Today we covenant, with God, with each other, with an infant who has yet to crawl--that we are working for something beyond ourselves.  Today we will break bread and drink from a common cup--and in that partaking we will be reminded that each relies on each.  We will be reminded that in the ritual of body broken and consumed we are partakers of the resurrection.  

But, today is not easy.

Today is not complete.

Today, we remember the hungry, the oppressed, the imprisoned, the impoverished and those who thirst for the waters of righteousness.

Today we speak of those myriad throngs clammering for the dignity we proclaim and the beauty we extoll.  

Seek and serve Christ in all persons.

This is a heavy work, a hard work.

A work that extends beyond Minnesota “Nice” with all of its passive aggressive glory and into the true kindness extolled in the baptismal instruction proffered by the letter to the Ephesians.

“be kind to one another, tenderhearted...”

Nice is not kind. Kind is not easy. And as we consider the command, be tenderhearted, let us consider the Pharaoh whose hardness of heart was the breaking of so many. As we consider tenderhearts, let us consider the parents who mourn their children and the children who cry out for love.  As we consider tenderhearted, let us be with each other in grief and in anger, in rage and in rejoicing.

Let us forgive. And out of that forgiveness, out of the peace which is proferred, let us eat and drink to fulfill the world’s hunger for justice.

“forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you”

Forgiven through the knowledge of our suffering. Forgiven through the knowledge of our wickedness. Forgiven through the stones which we would throw. 

Forgiven with a forgiveness hard won.  

Nice is not kind. Kind is not easy.

Will you strive for justice and peace amongst all peoples?

Will you?

It won’t be easy, this striving. And, these are hard and heavy words for any of us.  

Are we striving for justice and peace amongst all peoples?

Or is nice being quiet? Is nice complicit? Is nice watching as yet another child of God is destroyed by the powers that take our “niceness” as permission. 

We have only to look to scripture to see that 

Nice is not kind. Kind is not easy.

Last week I touched on the idea that David’s brokenness, is in the exploitation of those with less power than he. His, “sin” altho’ not framed with that language is that of putting one of his men, Uriah, on the front line in order that Uriah’s death might open the door for David to take Uriah’s wife.

Sit with that for a minute, the heralded king of Israel has, in truth and practice, put a man to death in order to take that man’s wife.

How does one speak truth to power, when the power holds your life in its hands?

How?

Who holds the powers that be accountable? 

Who?

This week David’s son Absalom falls. Poetic justice perhaps. David destroyed a family with his machinations and now it is his beloved Absalom who falls.  

And, he cries out "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"

And scripture holds David accountable. And through the millenia, scripture has held us to account for our abuses of power and our exploitation of others.

Today is not easy.
Today is not nice.

And, yet there is comfort, as scripture brings us to that moment when David's own heart becomes tender.  In this loss, David becomes as the least powerful of his people--tenderhearted, vulnerable to grief and sorrow. And, out of that place of tenderness comes new knowledge of himself and his subjects. Comfort found in tenderhearts.

Today is also a day when we are reminded of our covenant--a covenant which declares that in our life of faith we will be transformed. And this transformation,

It is not easy and it is not nice.

This transformation takes our mourning and our crying out and asks us to trust in the bread that has been given.

The Israelites journeyed through the wilderness fed on manna, manna we call bread.  In their affliction, they cried out to God and in their hunger they were fed.

Comfort in the midst of the journey.

We hunger and thirst, and the only bread that can fill us, who have all to much in the way of bread, is the bread that can live forever.

Comfort in the midst of our journey.

And that bread is here and the bread is now and that bread calls us to hunger and thirst for the world which longs for the dignity and the peace and the justice we strive for.

And, in this, there is comfort.  As the scattered body is united in the one bread and together we take on true kindness and open our tenderhearts to the needs of our hungry world.

++++

I had originally intended to close with the Mary Oliver poem "Thirst" from her collection "Thirst". I did not end up using it in the sermon but wish to include it here for your reflection.

"Thirst"

Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the hour
and the bell; grant me, in your mercy,
a little more time. Love for the earth
and love for you are having such a long
conversation in my heart. Who knows what
will finally happen or where I will be sent,
yet already I have given a great many things
away, expecting to be told to pack nothing,
except the prayers which, with this thirst,
I am slowly learning.


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Out of Order

In looking things over, I realized that I'd not published two sermons...so now things are out of order!
For the most recent sermon (for August 2nd, 2015) please go here

Peace Be Still

Pentecost +4

There is a children’s story that many of you probably know...”going on a bear hunt”, and all week the refrain from that story has been with me.
“There’s no way over it, no way under it, oh no, we've got to go through it...”

From one side of the sea to the other...no way over, no way under, no way around...just through.  In a boat, on a journey, to the other side.  

The youth and adults who departed for pilgrimage can surely relate to this notion of the journey to the next place.  As they waited for the megabus on Friday morning (the first leg of their trek to Ireland) I can imagine that many of them wished there were some way to JUST get there--without the exhaustion and work and anxiety of the journey. 

And, having experienced the intentional and ongoing work of formation that accompanies the ordination process, I can imagine there were times when Dan wondered if he would ever get across to the other side!  

Are we there yet?  The rather comic, and real, refrain that punctuates any long car trip stems from a longing to get there without spending our time in and with the journey.  

A longing for the other side, a longing for the promised peace, a longing for the God of our hopes to finally make manifest the kingdom of love we long for in a new creation. And, sometimes a longing for this journey to end so that the next can begin!

In our travels there is a sense of eagerness for what is to come and sorrow at what is not yet come to pass. 

This longing is not a critique of our life here in the 21st century, it is a longing grounded in that place of knowing that this is not all that is...a longing endured and embraced by saints through the millenia.  Saint Augustine wrote: "We are but travelers on a journey without as yet a fixed abode; we are on our way, not yet in our native land; we are in a state of longing, but not yet of enjoyment. But let us continue on our way, and continue without sloth or respite, so that we may ultimately arrive at our destination."

And, in these heavenly terms, the destination is not ours to dictate.  “Let us go to the other side”.  The disciples stepped into the boat, from that place of learning (the passages preceding this in the Gospel are Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom) to the place of healing (once Jesus and the disciples reach the other side, they encounter the Geresene demoniac who Jesus heals).  In a way, this particular journey is one from learning to healing...from study to action...from theoretical to lived.    

But, in between the one and the other is a boat, in the water, on the journey.  And, it is human nature to want out of that boat and into the promised land to come. So we speak of healing when the wound continues to be made; and, proclaim forgiveness for unrepented sins and use the death sentence as a means of avoiding owning our own place in a system of exploitation that all too easily nurtures the hatred that leads to destruction.   

Look at those kind folk, they’ve already granted forgiveness. We just need to heal. Once the killer is dead, we can move on...

And from our place of pilgrimage we turn the newspaper pages to the next thing and the next thing.  Turn the radio up, there’s a good song playing. Change the channel, there’s something good on channel 11.  

Yet, beneath the sound of our own noise is the raging of the wind.  

We are in the storm.

And, the disciples do not want to be there and I don’t want to be there as the seas grow rough, and we call on Jesus in words of lamentation.  “Do you not know we are perishing?”

My God, my God why have you forsaken me?  Do you not know we are perishing?  Your people cry out for mercy and surely the cries have rent the heavens by now!  Do you not know we are perishing?  

This has been a week that demands our lament--A week when a terrorist steeped in the rhetoric of racism and despair has taken the lives of 9 of God’s beloved children--A week in which one less place in this country is proved safe for our brothers and sisters of color. 

The street corner, the swimming pool, the sanctuary--the storm tears at whatever sense of safety our brothers and sisters might have had, and it is my intention to claim that we are in the storm. That from our place in the storm, our cry to the God who created us and the Son who redeems us and the Spirit who sustains us...must go forth.  

And, so a litany of names and lamenting...

Do you not know we are perishing?  

Clementa Pinckney. Sharonda Singleton. Ethel Lee Lance. Cynthia Hurd. Myra Thompson. 

Do you not know we are perishing?

Tywanza Sanders. Daniel Simmons. Depayne Middleton. Susie Jackson

Do you not know we are perishing?

Tayvon Martin. Tamir Rice.  Akai Gurley.  Kajieme Powell.

Do you not know we are perishing?

Michael Brown.  Eric Garner. Yvette Smith. Andy Lopez. Shereese Francis.

Do you not know we are perishing?

We could name more names and it is safe to claim that the list grows even as we speak.

Get us out of this storm! Make it stop! The water is deep, and the sea is wide and the winds overwhelm us.  

Do you not know we are perishing?

In the midst of the storm the litany of the fallen has increased...and in the here and the now, we cry out.  

Do you not know we are perishing?

We would not lament if were satisfied.  We would not lament if we did not carry the hope for the other side within our very being.  We would not lament if we were satisfied with the status quo.

Do you not know we are perishing?

Perishing in the storm of our own making. Perishing in the turmoil of a country torn by the named sin of racism. We are in the storm...and so we cry out. But, from where shall our help come?  

Will the sleeping body wake and calm the storm? Will we, as the body of Christ in the world--no hands, no heart, no mind but ours--will we be able to say to the storm,  “Peace be still”?

If we truly believe that he abides in us and we in him than it is our job to stand in the midst of the storm and listen to the lamenting of the grieving and the oppressed...and to demand the storm to stop. As long as we hear the lamenting, we can do nothing else but act...and the lamenting is loud and the cry cannot be unheard.

The lament names our brokenness, and the lament of the oppressed is the lament of the beloved children of God. The beloved friends of the one who came to love us as children.  

The storm which has consumed our boat is racism…and it is ours to discern--as people of privilege and power, as people serving the call to be Christ’s body in the world--how we shall work to calm the storm. It is ours to discern how we shall speak “peace be still” into the structures, the powers and principalities, that benefit from the oppression and exploitation of others. It is ours to look into our privilege, to claim the power we have and use it for liberation--our own liberation and that of the world entire. It is ours to name the storm of racism that threatens to pull our boat under. It is ours to be the body that hears the cry

Do you not know we are perishing?




At announcements: *In your bulletin is a blue piece of paper with instructions for the making of an origami boat and the Breton fisherman’s prayer

“God, thy sea is so great and our boat so small.”  I invite you to take this piece of paper home and fold it as instructed.  

The sea is great, the boat is small, but in that boat we must fit the world entire.


Peace be still.