Saturday, August 1, 2015

Out of Order

In looking things over, I realized that I'd not published two 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 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.

Too Many Stairs

Because He Ascended, So Too May We Ascend...

“St. Philip’s was built when people thought that the more stairs you had to climb, the close you’d get to God”.  We looked up from the sidewalk surrounding the old stone church, to the red doors cheerfully situated at the top of 20 some odd stone steps.  It was a warm autumn day, and I was getting a tour of one of the churches I would be serving as a youth outreach worker--the church which hosted the offices for the four yoked congregations we served.  

To get into the sanctuary at St. Philip’s you had three choices--all of which involved multiple stairs.  There was the aforementioned entrance on Denison Avenue, 20 steps up; then the entrance on West 33rd, maybe 6 steps; and then, if you came in through the parish offices, a long, dimly lit hallway, steps down to a gym, and a narrow flight up to the sanctuary.  

It was hard to get into St. Philip’s.  Up was the only way in. And, while the original architects may have imagined the place to be akin to that heavenly city on a hill, a beacon , visible to the whole neighborhood--the reality was that St. Philip’s felt more like a fortified building, imposing and slightly forbidding.  The sidewalk like a moat, and the steps the closed drawbridge--people walked past, but they rarely walked in.  

And, it was as I considered the appointed texts for the Feast of the Ascension, that I remembered St. Philip’s and the stone steps that posed a barrier to the remnants of the church’s aging congregation.  St Philip's, where the more stairs you had to climb the closer you were to God.  St. Philip’s, where so few could climb those steps that no one could get close to God...

And, one by one, people stopped trying to get in.  

And, the church closed.

This week has been a week of reckoning for the Church.  The Pew Research Center’s Study on Religion in America found a 7.8% decrease in the number of people who identify themselves as Christians.  And, more specific to our denomination, the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church, charged with the task of submitting an accurate picture of “the Episcopal Church” has just published their findings.  

And, those findings aren’t exactly surprising, given national trends amongst ALL denominations.  In the Episcopal church, average Sunday attendance now averages 61 people;  the Episcopal church, nationally, loses about 16,000 members a year as deaths outpace births; the average age of ordained clergy is now 48.  
It causes me to wonder, how many stairs have we asked people to climb to get closer to God?  Assuming, of course, that it is our particular staircase that leads to the vaulted heights of the heavens...


and, so we look up, for that doorway through the clouds, for some sort of terrestrial terra firma--as if by standing still and craning our necks we might find ourselves gazing upwards at the wounded feet of the ascended Christ.  

As if the answer is held by our view of the sky.  And, the angels inquire, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?"

So, if the answer is not up, where is it?  

From the portion of the letter to the Ephesians appointed for today, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.”

The eyes of the heart.  It is with our hearts, that we can find that for which we seek.  These last few weeks have found us exploring the promise of God to abide with us, to be in our midst, to be with us in all we are and all we do.  And, so it is with and within and without...that we find ourselves in encounter with the divine love which transcends all barriers--even tall stone steps.

There are no stairs to climb to ascend to the right hand of God.

Because, if we are the body of Christ we are the body of Christ ascended.  If he has ascended, then so too have we ascended.  And, it is the journey of the heart to ascend to that place where we are with God.  Our liturgy takes us on that journey of the heart every week...

Lift up your hearts, we lift them up to the Lord.  

This is the Sursum Corda...the lifting up of the hearts.  And, in our recital of this ancient dialogue each week, we state our yearning for that place we have been.  Ascended.  There is a Syriac Orthodox version of the Sursum, the Eucharistic Prayer of St. James, that invites us to see this ascension of self more clearly, 

(The celebrant, placing his left hand on the altar, turns toward the people and blesses them, saying:) The love of God the Father +, the grace of the Only-begotten Son + and the fellowship and descent of the Holy Spirit + be with you all, my brethren, forever.

People: Amen. And with your spirit.

(The celebrant, extending and elevating his hands, says aloud:) Upward, where Christ sits on the right hand of God the Father, let our thoughts, minds and hearts be at this hour.

People: They are with the LORD God.

Celebrant: Let us give thanks to the LORD in awe.

People: It is meet and right.

It is good, and it is holy, and we are here--here where we are invited to focus our thoughts, minds and hearts on the invitation of the God with whom we eternally abide.

Now, back to the supposedly bad news proffered by the parochial reports and Pew Study...

But, this time read through the lens of abundance, 

These reports tells us that people are being thoughtful and intentional about religion; it tells us that our church is full of people who really want to be here, not out of obligation or expectation, but out of a place of intentionality and engagement.  These numbers put us into a context more akin to that of the early Church--Jesus didn’t ascend so that we may ascend to power, but so that our hearts could ascend to God.  

As the Rev. Alissa Newton in the Diocese of Olympia writes, “We were born as a counter-cultural community of visionary rebels seeking God through community, acts of compassion, and radical hospitality. Perhaps the Spirit is calling us back to our roots.”

In short, a smaller church is a healthier and more authentic church.  We are called: to love, not to count; to witness, not to report; to use the power from on high as a means of transformation in the world.  

The Spirit, the power from on high, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

You will be my witnesses, in Minnesota, in St. Paul, in the Old Rondo Neighborhood, on Grand Avenue...witnesses to the journey of the heart. Witnesses to what has already happened but not yet been fulfilled.  In the words of St. Augustine...

“Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: “If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth.” For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies...We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity, but in him, we can be there by love.

Sermon for the Lord's Ascension

All Who Hunger Gather Gladly--A Sermon for the Season After Pentecost

Season after the Pentecost
Propers 13B, scripture can be found here

My father was a lapsed Roman Catholic and my mother an unchurched Episcopalian.  I'm still not entirely sure what led them to insist that my sister and I (both baptized as infants at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Makawao) attend catechism classes in preparation for our first Holy Communion.  

As part of preparing for receiving our first communion each of us was required to make our first confession. So, scapular around my neck with laminated pictures of Saints and a glow in the dark rosary in my hands, I entered the little booth and confessed the only sin I could think of.

I was mean to my sister...

I’m sure I was given some task, some number of penitential prayers to perform. But, being only 8 at the time, my awe and fear of the priest seemed more than penance enough and I scurried out of the booth when I ran out of sins to confess (I think I may have confessed cruelty to my younger sister multiple times because I couldn’t think of anything else to say!).

Second only to the priest in their ability to inspire awe were the nuns who taught the classes. They were adamant that partaking of the bread and the wine was to be done with intentionality and solemnity--that in our first Communion we would be participating in something beyond ourselves and in that first taste we could begin to comprehend the intermingling of the human and divine.

Or, at least that is my understanding now!  At the time, I was awestruck by my new glow in the dark rosary and the possibility that I might somehow prove negligent in receiving that sacred bread.

Because, on one point in particular the nuns were clear--one was not to chew the holy wafer.  Do not chew! Whatever you do, do not chew the body of Christ! And so, as I opened my mouth to receive that first holy bit of wheat and water condensed into it's round cracker form, I felt a sense of dread and panic.  How does one go about eating the body of Christ without chewing?!

Gummed to the roof of my mouth, the wafer eventually grew sodden enough to be swallowed and I left the chancel steps with relief. I had survived this encounter with what seemed the holy of holies and the faded picture which remains from this moment is of a solemn little girl in white dress and veil standing before the altar.  

And, so, today as I stand here in this gathered company, this community of faith, I can only imagine what my 8 year old self would have thought of my genuflection and my elevation, of the consecration which I am privileged to perform as priest. 

The awe which I feel as I consider the stretch from 8 year old self to the self that serves as Priest can be summed up most beautifully in the prayer of Humble Access.  
We do not presume to come to this thy Table (O merciful Lord) trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We be not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his Blood, in these holy Mysteries, that we may continually dwell in him, and he in us, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood. Amen.

This prayer appears in the Book of Common Prayer on page 337, and has been part of our common liturgies since 1548. 

And, while it is a prayer rarely said, it is the prayer that centers me in the sanctity of our action at the table we call the altar. It is the prayer that reminds me that mercy and grace are not earned but granted. It is the prayer that reminds me that we dwell in God and God within us. It is the prayer that holds me to my conviction that this is God’s table and all are welcome--regardless. This is the table where sinner and saint stand alike and as one.

As the letter to the Ephesians offers, there is, one body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Each of us given grace in according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 

And, how to measure the love gift of Christ? There is no measure for such generous love. There is no measure that does no overflow with the abundance of that love.  

And in response to that love, all that we have and all that we are is brought to this table.  And, it is enough.  That is the gift of grace in the Good News we hear today...that who we are and what we have is abundantly, generously and unstintingly given. 

Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and so we too shall be fed from a body that broken is resurrected and reunited through our own feasting.  The bread baked by our fellows and shared from this table binding us into a wholeness that fills the empty and opens to us a world beyond self.  We partake and in that partaking become more fully who we are called to be.

The supplemental hymnal, Wonder Love and Praise offers the following hymn sung to the tune of Southern Harmony that stands as a summation of our Gospel text today--

All who hunger, gather gladly;
holy manna is our bread.
Come from wilderness and wandering.
Here, in truth, we will be fed.
You that yearn for days of fullness,
all around us is our food.
Taste and see the grace eternal.
Taste and see that God is good.

All who hunger, never strangers;
seeker, be a welcome guest.
Come from restlessness and roaming.
Here, in joy, we keep the feast.
We that once were lost and scattered
in communion’s love have stood.
Taste and see the grace eternal.
Taste and see that God is good.

All who hunger, sing together;
Jesus Christ is living bread.
Come from loneliness and longing.
Here, in peace, we have been led.
Blest are those who from this table
live their lives in gratitude.
Taste and see the grace eternal.
Taste and see that God is good.

Text: Silvia G. Dunstan, 1991
(1) Bob Moore (1993)
(2) HOLY MANNA, from The Southern Harmony, 1835

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I Read the Harvard Business Review During Sermon Prep...And, Other Interesting Facts About This Sermon

Proper 11B, Pentecost 8, July 19th, 2015 
Readings here

He had compassion for them. 

This is the sentence I keep coming back to in today’s Gospel.

He had compassion for them.  

And, isn’t that what we long for.


To have another person express empathy and understanding in response to our own need.   

And, isn’t that what the world asks of us.

To be the kind of person who is able to express empathy and understanding in response to the needs of another.  

He had compassion for them.  

He had compassion for them, compassion grounded in his own humanity, compassion grounded in knowing what pain is, knowing what suffering is, of feeling hunger and thirst and the experience of sickness.  

Jesus could imagine their need because he’d felt their need.

And, this then, becomes our faith. A God who can imagine and respond to our need because God has felt our need. A God whose relationship with us is grounded in both passion and compassion.

In passion, calling us ever beyond ourselves, to a bigger love, to a more than faith, to an impossible possible.

And, in compassion, granting grace and mercy freely and lavishly.  

This brings me to the letter to the Ephesians...while my own Study Bible entitles this “The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians” there is clear scholarly consensus that this letter was neither authored by Paul nor written to the Ephesians (one of the clearest pieces of evidence is that unlike other letters attributed to Paul, there is no direct reference to Paul’s personal experience of Ephesus or the people there--and since, according to the Acts of the Apostles, Paul spent three years in Ephesus that omission seems odd). 

So not by Paul and not to the Ephesians. But, rather by an unknown author or authors with the aim of teaching the recently baptized.  

And, that begs the question, what do those new to a life of faith need to know?

They need to know that outsiders have been brought in and they are one in Christ.

They need to know that as followers of Christ they follow the law of love and that in Christ there is peace and reconciliation between all peoples.  

They need to know that they are part of something beyond themselves and that they exist in relationship to each other as well as something we have grown to know as the Communion of Saints.

The Communion of Saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise. (Catechism BCP 862).

Let’s sit with that for a moment...

we are bound to those we love and those whom we hurt as an extension of our own membership in the communion of saints.

we are bound together, the whole family of God, the living and the death.

Those whom we love and those whom we hurt.  

And, is that not a call to compassion?  A call to extend love and empathy and forgiveness and grace and mercy to the entire family of God?

The letter to the Ephesians bids the community to have this kind of compassion, to remember that they too were once outsiders and that as followers of the Way of Christ they are called to reconciliation, they are called to have compassion for their fellow saints and members of the household of God.  

He had compassion for them. 

And so, we as the body of Christ in the world, are called to compassion.  

Passion and compassion, the love of God calling us beyond ourselves and into the heart of the love that brings healing to the hurting. 

I’d like to end with a poem by another favorite poet of mine, Cynthia Rylant.  A poem entitled, God Got a Dog.

God Got a Dog 

He never meant to.
He liked dogs, He'd
liked them ever since He was a kid,
but He didn't think
He had time for a dog now.
He was always working
and dogs needed so
much attention.
God didn't know if He
could take being needed
by one more thing.
But He saw this dog
out by the tracks
and it was hungry
and cold
and lonely
and God realized
He'd made that dog
somehow He was responsible
though He knew logically
that He had only set the
world on its course.
He couldn't be blamed
for everything
But He saw this dog
and He felt bad
so He took it on home
and named it Ernie
and now God
has somebody
keeping His feet warm at night.

Somehow, he was responsible.

And, he had compassion for them.

For whom are we responsible?

To whom will we show compassion?

And what will inspire our passion?