Saturday, March 21, 2015

Gaudior, the Unicorn, Lent 5B


Lent VB, 2015
Readings can be found here
The news often causes me great anxiety.  Drought, cyclones, weather extremes and war; racial inequity, homophobia and religious radicalism.  I find myself feeling helpless in the midst of what all too often feels like a world mired in abuses and horrors.  And, from the midst of this feeling of helplessness, I considered the readings this week.  And in my consideration of promise and life and death and love and in the context of St. Patrick’s day...I remembered the opening pages of “A Swiftly Tilting Planet”.
A Swiftly Tilting Planet, by Madeleine L’Engle, sets the stage on an earth, our earth, in which our abuses of the world and its resources have reached a head and the despot of a small nation is set to destroy all of creation through the use of nuclear force.   In the opening chapter, Scientist and advisor to the president of the United States, Mr. Murry tells his children that
“The world has been abnormal for so long that we've forgotten what it's like to live in a peaceful and reasonable climate. If there is to be any peace or reason, we have to create it in our own hearts and homes.” 
And, thus the youngest of the Murry children, Charles Wallace engages with the past to transform the present--an engagement in which he is charged with transforming a broken heart through the offering of peace and reason (and, of course, he does so in partnership with a cranky unicorn...it IS fiction).  
And, as I consider this sweeping fictional narrative of salvation through faith in the ability of humanity to be transformed through love--through engaging with our potential for peace and reason in our own hearts--I am struck at our own narratives of God’s offer of salvation through an invitation to transformation.   
An invitation to allow ourselves to be drawn into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus--as Jesus says in the Gospel of John. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself”.  
What does it mean to be drawn to Christ?  
Children’s book author Lisa Tawn Bergren, describes being drawn to Christ as being akin to a river’s travel to the ocean.  The river’s journey will end, but in ending it becomes part of something larger than itself.   So, yes, the river loses its life but gains the greater in its ending.  And, as I consider this metaphor, I find myself drawn into an imagining of the Lenten invitation to participate in the journey with Christ--and in that participation to to be drawn beyond ourselves and into the body of Christ.  Lent becomes an invitation to lose our lives and participate in the divine life that is unending.  
And, so as Jesus speaks of his impending death in this passage from John we too consider our own ends.  And, as we turn our eyes to the cross, we are also reminded that there is a strength and a hope beyond the cross--the story will not and does not end in the Lenten wilderness or the execution upon the Hill of the Skull.  The story, in fact, does not end...and in the simple phrase Jesus uses, “lifted up”, is encapsulated not just the crucifixion and literal lifting of his body, but also his resurrection, his lifting up from the grave, and his ascension to the right hand of God.
In crucifixion emerges our hope.  And, in the poignant use of a phrase that invokes death, life and unending companionship with God, I find an invitation to hope.  
Because Christ has been lifted up, so too will we be lifted...death will not end our stories.  
The Revised Common Lectionary, in partnering this passage from the Gospel of John with the passage from the prophet Jeremiah, draws a connection between the covenant made between God and God’s people Israel and the new covenant in Christ.  Covenants in which a people beloved by God are promised the gift of boundless love and forgiveness.  Covenants in which the God who has claimed us, promises love no matter what. 
“I will write it on their hearts.” God has transformed the human heart.  Consider, the truth, that God has transformed your heart by inscribing within it a promise of love and forgiveness.
This, this is the amazement of a covenant written on our hearts...a covenant that promises love no matter where or how far we may stray.  A promise structured into our very selves and very beings.  
As we enter into the final days of our Lenten observance I invite you to consider the love that has been written on your hearts.  To consider what it means to bind the love of God to ourselves and offer it to others.  To engage with the covenant, with the promises we have made to God and each other--the offering of a place where true joys are to be found.   
And so, turning again to the impending destruction of all that is and the crisis faced by the protagonists of “A Swiftly Tilting Planet”, we are reminded of that which lies within the human heart--the capacity to embrace the peace and reason imbued in us by the creator who loves us. 
And not only embrace this capacity but, claim it.  In Madeleine L’Engles’s novel, as creation itself is troubled, a prophetess speaks.  The words of the prophetess are ancient ones and claim the power we have to make peace manifest and claiming our responsibility to bear the living Christ into the world.  They are words that give me hope, and fill me with a sense of the light that each of us can offer in the presence of what too often feels to be overwhelming darkness.   
The invocation, used by L’Engle in framing her book, is one with which many of us are familiar--even if we haven’t made a habit of reading young adult science fiction novels.  L’Engle uses the text referred to as Patrick’s Rune.  A text we have inherited as “The Breastplate of St. Patrick”.  And, it is said that Patrick sang this hymn when an ambush was set for him by King Loeguire (Leary).   In the words of this hymn, what is claimed is the love of God, and what is manifested is the love of God, and what is invoked is our unity and our vision for a new creation in which our brokenness is bound up by the very love of God which has created us. 
This prayer, this invocation, this hymn attributed to the Saint, has been a prayer used by travelers and pilgrims as a prayer bidding God’s protection from the perils of travel.  As we continue our our own journey in the Lenten wilderness--facing temptation knowing that the pain of the cross is to come, I think it is fitting to sing together these words attributed to Patrick.  I invite you to turn to hymn #370 from our own hymnal--”I bind unto myself today”.  We will sing together...verses 1-3 and verse 5.
I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever,
by power of faith, Christ's Incarnation;
his baptism in Jordan river;
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spicèd tomb;
his riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
of the great love of cherubim;
the sweet "Well done" in judgment hour;
the service of the seraphim;
confessors' faith, apostles' word,
the patriarchs' prayers, the prophets' scrolls;
all good deeds done unto the Lord,
and purity of virgin souls.


I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven
the glorious sun's life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.


I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken, to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.




Words: attributed to St. Patrick (372-466);
trans. Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), 1889Music: St. Patrick's Breastplate and Gartan (verse 6)



Sunday, March 8, 2015

Count the Stars, They Stay Still


Lent 3B, 2015
St. Clement’s Episcopal Church
Readings can be found here

442; 147; 341.

These are the numbers--members, averages Sunday attendance, communicants in good standing.  Each year, every Episcopal Church is asked to fill out what we call the parochial report.  The national church states that “The Parochial Report established by our Constitution and Canons is a tool for the collection of data that is intended to assist the Church in planning for mission.”

More numbers...

24; 13.

How many baptized, how many buried, how many transferred?  How many left?  What’s the total?  

And, so we count.  

1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10

How many communicants in good standing.

Taking communion here three times a year makes one a communicant in good standing.  

Enter your user ID number here, and then your personalized pin.  

A parish I served as a youth worker in Ohio, St. Luke’s, has a vibrant ministry with its neighborhood and the children in it.  Dozens of children show up each week for a hot meal, worship, open gym.  They are invited to participate in diocesan youth events, they are welcomed with open arms on Sundays.

Sometimes they bring their grown-ups.  More often they don’t.  

The youth outreach worker described the hilarity of trying to fill out the parochial report.  Do hundreds of children hungry for a meal and kindness count?  How many were there?  It would be easier to count the stars--the stars at least stay still in the night.  Baptism?  Who knows, unlikely but possible.  All they know are that children are hungry for food, and love and prayer.  “Does swimming count?” we quip.

And, then a sigh.  Quantifying the work of God in our midst, measuring the Spirit and summing up the body of the Son in our midst.   It’s the new math.  

40. 3.

40 days in the desert, tempted by the forces of evil.  40 days of rain to destroy that which was broken. 3 hours on the cross.  3 days until he rose again.  

Are you with me?  Come with me to the temple market.  Count the change, weigh the incense, trade for the unblemished, exchange the profane for the holy.  Bypass the bleating sheep and enter the inner sanctum.  

Hear the roar of anger, the crash of cages and the fluttering of the doves.  Such foolishness.  Such wisdom.  Walls that will fall, bodies that will be destroyed--walls which will stay crumbled as we watch the body rise.  

The crack of the whip, the temple will fall.  But, he will not and his disciples will remember what he said.  We will remember--”Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

Destroy this temple?  

For the author of the Gospel of John, sin is the fundamental state of not being in relationship with God--and for the embodied God, the temple marketplace becomes a barrier to relationship.  

Jesus’ wasn’t just “cleansing” the temple—his actions attacked two essential services.  You NEEDED unblemished animals for sacrifice and the Roman coinage with images of Caesar couldn’t be offered in the temple because those coins represented worship of Caesar and not God.  So, if you were going to worship in the Temple and live out the precepts of your faith you NEEDED these services—adherents couldn’t participate in worship without these services.  

So to attack these essential components of worship, is to attack the political and religious structure as a whole.  This is not just some sort of embarrassing and forgettable temper tantrum in a public place--this is the upending of an entire system--the old sacrificial system.  The marketplace is no longer needed when the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is amongst us.  

In short, the presence of Christ is in the midst of the community of Christ.  The only offering to be made is of ourselves, the only one to follow is the one walking to Golgatha, the only way to worship is with our very being.  Seeking and serving Christ in all persons... 

Christ in all persons, the culmination of the journey out of Egypt.  Christ in all persons, the summation of incarnation.  Christ in all persons and the presence of God is broken loose and set free in our midst.  

Thus, Jesus was not just cleansing—he was attacking the entire Temple system of worship.  Now Jesus was not the only one opposed to centralized worship in the Temple in Jerusalem…the prophet Isaiah writes a great deal about turning away from ritualized Temple worship and towards a deeper personal piety.  Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless—these were the rituals that mattered…not worship in a temple whose construction had required the blood and sweat of the poorest.  This is about justice—God’s kind of justice.  A justice in which mercy and love are the measure.  Our own systems of justice—at their very best—are our best attempts as humans to enact God’s love in the world we live in.   

It’s been 50 years since the March in Selma.  51 years since the passing of the Civil Rights Act of  1964.  55 years since the Rondo neighborhood was shattered by the construction of interstate 94.  And in 2014, the difference between the median household income of white Americans and black Americans is 22801.  18.2 percent of children in Minnesota live in poverty.  2 dollars and 44 cents--the difference between the minimum wage and a living wage in Ramsey County.  

There are tables that need overturning.  Worlds and systems that need transformation.  

And, it is our task, our sacred duty to transform the world. Have we not covenanted to seek and serve Christ in all persons, love our neighbors as ourselves, honor the dignity of every human being, and resist the forces of evil.

Loving and resisting, transforming and serving.  

How do we measure love?  How do we weigh transformation?  How do we value service?

10. 1,826,449. 3,278. 6. 7.

10 commandments.  1,826,449 trees planted in Haiti since 1984.  3,278 meals served a day in Ramsey County through the food shelves.  6 days to labor and a seventh for all to rest.

Is this how steadfast love is to be shown to the thousandth generation? 

Will we love?  Will we honor the commandments?  Will we keep the apostles’ teachings?

What numbers will we keep?  What God will we worship?  

Shall we count the times we continued the apostles’ teaching and how often we gathered to pray together?  

How about every time we resisted evil?  

How often we have repented and forgiven each other?

How many times did each of us proclaim the Gospel?  

How often did we love our neighbor as ourselves?  

How many hours did we spend striving for justice and peace and dignity for every human being?  

By what numbers will we be known?  


(I invite you to check out  http://www.dirtysexyministry.com/2014/01/the-new-parochial-report.html   for an engaging essay on the idea of a "New Parochial Report")







Saturday, February 21, 2015

New People, By Water and The Spirit


Lent 1B: Flood and New Life
Readings found here

During my Ash Wednesday sermon this past week, I preached a reminder that each of us is marked as Christ’s own forever.  In our beginning and in our ending--and in the midst of the now that is now--marked as Christ’s own forever. This claiming of our collective identity as Christ’s own, is not a new message for me to preach. I often speak of the importance of remembering who we are and to whom we belong--we are beloved children of God who belong to the God who created us and loves us--beloved children of God who have inherited the promise of hope--beloved children of God whose participation in the humanity of Christ calls us to care for and love all of creation--beloved children of God faced with temptation and worry; beloved children of God who are invited again and again to “repent and believe the good news”; beloved children of God who are invited to the table.  

The season of Lent is a season of invitation back to the table--of reconciliation and restoration of the wholeness of community.  The broken relationships, the broken promises, the worries and anxieties--Lent becomes a time in which we work towards the vision of wholeness--when we are invited to become a new creation in Christ.  

This is not an invitation to destruction, but an invitation to restoration.  And, that’s where I want to pick up the story of the ark today.  

My temptation, when I hear this story of cataclysmic flood, is to get stuck in my own horror at the destruction of all life.  Sure, there are the lovely bits about the dove and the promise to never destroy--complete with rainbow!  But, the lovely bits for me are subsumed by the flood waters.  

In a sermon I preached here in September, I referenced the Talmudic response to the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea... “How can you sing as the works of my hand are drowning?”

 And, this becomes my gut response to this text...how can we celebrate the rainbow when the works of creation are destroyed by the creator?  But, in a literal gut check, I recognize that if I approach this text as a literalist, I reject the invitation to engage with the mythic qualities of the text...those things in the text that transcend context and culture.  

In the flood narrative we hear of a creation so corrupted by the actions of human beings that the only choice left the creator is creating a new creation.  A fresh start, as it were.  Out of the destruction of all that was, emerges the hope for what might be.  And, part of that hope is the creation of a new covenant, a new relationship, between humanity and God.    




Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh writes that, “ if you look deeply into your anger, you will see that the person you call your enemy is also suffering.  As soon as you see that, the capacity of accepting and having compassion for him is there. Jesus calls this “loving your enemy.”  When you are able to love your enemy, he or she is no longer your enemy.  The idea of “enemy” vanishes and is replaced by the notion of someone who is suffering and needs your compassion.”  

What an amazing twist to our understanding of the flood narrative...the invitation to see God as a God who looked deeply into anger and recognizes our suffering.  A God for whom the idea of enemy vanishes and is replaced by the notion of someone who is suffering and needs God’s compassion.  

And, when I can see in the flood the promise of God’s compassion and remembering I can connect our own story , our ancestral trajectory--stemming from a story of survival and emergent promise.  A story in which God chooses a new way to be in relationship with all of us--a relationship of shared experience, regret, love and sacrifice.  

And, out of this flood narrative, a limitless promise emerges--God’s covenant is with the entirety of creation.  Never again.  And God remembers.  And we remember.  

The Eucharistic Prayer, prayer C, which we will be using for the duration of Lent invokes this remembering of creation, betrayal, and new creation.  

At your command all things came to be...From the primal elements you brought forth the human race...But we turned against you, and betrayed
your trust; and we turned against one another...Again and again, you called us to return...made a new people by water and the Spirit.  

Made a new people...what an amazing invitation to start anew.  

One of the most powerful symbols we’ve been gifted with as a church is that of water.  Out of waters that would destroy comes new life into being.  And, not only new life, but a promise for all of life.  All...and this promise in its entirety is a powerful affirmation of our interconnectedness.   God’s promise is an “all of us or none of us”—my salvation is intimately tied to yours and we are all in the ark of creation together.  And, this causes me to wonder, what happens to our understanding of creation and our place in it if we begin to understand ourselves as survivors of the flood?

For the survivors of the flood, the ordeal of the waters results in an intense feeling of belonging that is marked by God’s covenant.  “This sense of comradeship and communality that comes out of the shared ordeal which anthropologist Victor Turner calls communitas. Communitas in his view happens in situations where individuals are driven to find each other through a common experience of ordeal, humbling, transition, and marginalization. It involves intense feelings of social togetherness and belonging brought about by having to rely on each other in order to survive.”   

We rely on each other to survive.  And in our mutual interdependence we are invited to examine what it means to be invited into an experience of the holy lent.  

When we walk in the desert together--whether literally or figuratively, we are driven to find each other, rely on each other and support each other.  And beyond our own human here and now, we are called to remember that when we walk in the desert, we walk with Jesus.  Lent can serve as a reminder that we are never alone or isolated in our suffering, our temptation, our rejoicing, or our belovedness as children of God.    

So here we are, after the rainbow, and out of the flood comes not an invitation to destruction, but an invitation to restoration.  Made a new people by water and the Spirit.  

Amen.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Tattooed Sleeves


Transfiguration B 2015, St. Clement’s
Scripture appointed for today may be found here 

You may be amazed to learn, that there are times when I wish that I could choose to stay home on Sunday morning, or better yet, go to brunch or a coffee shop to read the paper.  But, for better or for worse, the choice to NOT be here is not mine to make. When I serve as a priest in a parish, each Sunday morning includes services, like it or not--whether I feel like it or not.  And I have to say that, since having children, I am struck in particular by the dedication of those who week after week manage to get their children here!  

So, why are you here?  Why aren’t you all wearing snugglies on your couches and brewing another cup of coffee?  Why aren’t you blearily rolling over in bed after glancing at the clock and realising that it’s Sunday and you don’t have to get up yet?  Isn’t the Sunday crossword beckoning?  Weren’t your pajamas comfortable enough?  I mean, really...it’s cold outside!   

Why have you chosen this place and this space on this frigid Sunday morning?   What have you seen? What glimpse of the divine, what hunger, what longing, what yearning, has brought you to St. Clement’s today?  

And, if your answer to that question is “my parents made me”, why do you think they made you?  What is so important about being here today that your parents ignored your pleas to “just stay home” and made you come to church?

To church, today, where we find ourselves celebrating Global Mission Sunday--and marking the beginning of our seventh year of partnership with the work of restoration in Haiti.  Today, on Transfiguration Sunday, when we hear of what has been seen and speak of our own glimpses of the divine.  

As we move from Epiphany into Lent, Transfiguration stands as a cross roads of sorts.  

Epiphany celebrates the revelation of Jesus in our lives--transfiguration, as I see it, celebrates the transformation that occurs when we witness Jesus.  And it celebrates the lives of those who have been transformed by what they have seen--Elisha’s witness of Elijah’s dramatic departure; Paul who encountered the light of Christ in his own heart, and  Peter, James and John who stood transfixed and stood witness to God’s proclamation of love for God’s son, their friend. 
  
“Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."’

Peter, Peter, Peter...poor fellow, putting his foot in his mouth again.  But isn’t it human nature, to want to dedicate places and spaces in honour, in memory and in witness to something we have witnessed or encountered?  To try to capture the moment, as best we can, so that we can return to that moment again and again.  Monuments and memorials, scripture and song...trying to capture the dynamic movement and manifestation of God in our midst.  Oh that we might catch the whirl wind!

We can’t stay on the mountain top--Elisha has the duty to take the words of God back to his people.  Jesus cannot stay on the mountain in the booths his disciples offer to construct, he must make the journey into Jerusalem.  We can’t stay in this place of exquisite music, public prayer, and Cass Gilbert design forever...we have to leave out the doors and take the beauty, the charge, the power of our experience with us.  

Just as Elisha’s double portion of the Spirit drives him to the work of God in the world, so too does our own mountain top witness demand an action and reaction back in the work-a-day world.  It becomes our obligation to take what we have seen and share it with others.  

Following the final session of the race, power and privilege conversation that was held here over the last four weeks, the facilitators asked us how we might share what we’d learned with the larger community.  Someone in the group suggested that we might consider wearing buttons that say simply “Ask Me”, and invite others into conversation about ourselves, our community and the dynamic of privilege and race--not only in America, but in our immediate neighbourhood.  I wonder if Paul would have encouraged such buttons?  ”Ask Me”, inviting others into conversation about the good news of Christ in the world and the light that will forever shine in the darkness.

There are lots of ways to invite the conversation...to proclaim to the world the transformation that has taken place in our own lives.  You may not wear a button, but there are other symbols which proclaim the new truths we have encountered.

After my first year of college I noticed a rather peculiar phenomena that stretched from mid-November through mid-December of each year.  Shortly before Thanksgiving break, and then again before Christmas, there would be a rather astonishing number of trips made by first year students to a couple of different institutions--the tattoo parlor and the piercing shop.  

Now you might think that getting a new tattoo, or your nose pierced or shaving your head, days before going home to your family might be the most ill advised thing anyone could do.  And, you may be right!  

But, these wanton actions, these body modifications on a seeming whim had a deeper meaning.  We had been transformed, by new learnings, new freedoms and new loves and when we prepared to return home to our families, we carried with us the desire to have those we’d left behind see that  WE WERE NOT THE SAME AS WE HAD BEEN.  So off we went, noses pierced and hair mussed up from the our own whirlwinds of encounter--back to the people and communities we had left months before.

“Ask me” we proclaimed!  And, so people did--and in their asking they learned of new loves, new learnings, and new passions made manifest. Pilgrims gone and returned again.  In coming months we will send off our own pilgrims to Haiti, and then in a few months pilgrims to Ireland.  And ,while I don’t think they will come back tattooed and pierced, I DO think that they will invite the conversation...Ask Me.

 Ask me the question, what did you see up on the mountain top?  Where did the chariot of fire take you?  What story of our neighborhood, what chance meeting on a Haitian mountain side, what requiem or mass, what sermon or song?  What did you see!? 












Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Mother-In-Law


Epiphany 5B, 2015, St. Clement’s Episcopal Church

Scripture appointed for the day found here

The Greek word Epiphany means manifestation or, in another attempt at definition, a sudden insight into the meaning of something.  So, in this season after the Epiphany of Christ to the magi, I have found myself asking the question

What insight follows our own encounter with the manifested Christ?  What revelation is being made to us in the proclamation of the Gospel appointed each day?  

And, lest you think I’m over-thinking things...we are actually supposed to get something out of our encounter with scripture...

So what do we get when we dig into today’s encounter with the manifested Christ?

She has no name.  Like so many of the other stories about women in scripture we find ourselves gathering at the bedside of a woman who has no name.  And, I find that irritating, I want her to have a name.  A name besides “Simon’s mother in law”, I want a name for her that reminds me to see her as her...I want her to have a voice, I want her to be greeted and lifted up when she is restored to wholeness.  I find myself moving beyond irritation and into a place of resignation...of course the first thing she does after being miraculously made well by the son of God is serve everyone...isn’t that what a nameless woman is supposed to do anyway?  

Ugh.  

Perhaps I am alone in my irritation.  Perhaps, I am projecting my own “stuff” on this biblical woman.

My dad worked hard, forty hours a week that was more than forty most of the time.  He rose to work, and when he came home tended the animals on our own makeshift farm.  Work upon work.  

And, my mom, home with the kids--tending the animals, cleaning the house, volunteering at our schools and driving us to events and activities.  Work upon work.  

And, when my mom was sick, when the mental illness none of us understood--the malaise that garnered little sympathy because she looked “fine”--when that illness enveloped her, it meant the house wasn’t cleaned and the laundry undone...and that’s when the arguments would begin.  

I go to work, it’s your job to cook and clean the house.  I go to work, you’re supposed to...I go to work...

Your job.  In my father’s family the men worked and the women cleaned.  In my father’s family, young men joined the military and then came home to take care of the women.  The women who cleaned, and cooked, birthing the children and tending to everyone’s needs...work upon work.  

So perhaps I project too much into this story of miraculous healing.  Perhaps, my own story gets in the way of this one.  

Perhaps Simon’s Mother-in-law was lying there, wishing, just wishing for a miracle that would allow her to make dinner for everyone in the house.  

But, allow me to continue my projection.  In her illness, the house had fallen apart--unswept floors and pots left sitting long after the last scrapings of the meal had been dished onto the last of the plates.  The rooms carried the mustiness of closed windows and unaired bedding.  

They needed her--she was needed, she was essential to the running of the household, to the wholeness of the family.  How many folk do we know who when ill long to “just get back to work”...to have things return to normal, to be back in the midst of the everyday tasks, no matter how tedious, those tasks that tells us that everything is as it should be that we can carry on and that it’s going to be okay.  

And, so restoration to health often means restoration to a life that is pleasantly or even unpleasantly “normal”.    When I served in the children’s hospital, parents of children with chronic disease were cautioned by social workers and child life specialists to keep things “normal” that having to do chores and homework and follow the rules, would provide a sense of stability and normalcy to their family--a stability their child, healthy or not, craved.  

And, so it strikes me that being able to serve was perhaps exactly what Simon’s mother-in-law wished.  To be whole again, to be able to serve in the way she and all those she loved had become accustomed.  

And, in being healed she re-enters society as a servant to the son of God.  Allow me to repeat myself.  She is the very first servant to the son of God. 

Scholars make note, that as servant to the Christ she becomes the very first deacon of what shall become the church. Allow me to introduce the nameless woman who serves as deacon to Christ...Simon’s mother-in-law.

the Rev. Dr Ofelia Ortega Suárez,, the first Presbyterian woman to be ordained in Cuba, connects this passage to the history of  the early church.  The early church, the ecclesia or gathering of those who followed the way of Jesus, did not gather in cathedrals or temples, stone monoliths or dedicated sanctuary.  The early church gathered in private homes, it was in the homes of early followers that the disciples heard the Gospel and found the support for living out their own calling to service. "This woman," Ortega writes, "gets up and turns the Sabbath into a paschal day of service to others. Jesus does not command her. She is the one that assumes the initiative and awaits the consequences, discovering the value of mutual service above the sacredness of the Sabbath" (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 1).

In this woman we see this intersection of Sabbath and service.  In this passage we see the call to mutual service juxtaposed with the call to rest.  Both rest and labor, serving and being served.  

There is a phrase you’ll hear me say often--that praying shapes believing...that how we pray and do the work of liturgy, shapes our beliefs.  But, let me take it a bit further...praying shapes believing and believing shapes doing.  Our faith is not a passive one, it is an active expression of all that we are and all we say we believe.  And so, following our recitation of the Nicene Creed, we will lift up the outreach ministries of this community--our faith in action in the community and world in which we live.    

We believe and we serve...the Episcopal Network for Stewardship references the phrase that stewardship is, “Everything I do after I say, “I believe”.  And, so we believe and we do.  Praying, believing, doing...and asking again the question, 

What revelation is being made to us in the proclamation of the Gospel appointed each day?

“He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” 

We follow along in the way of Jesus who has lifted us up.  Calling us to be a community of preaching and healing, healing and preaching.  We lift up a saint of the church, the woman who served as the first Deacon.  We lift up our own participation in the healing body of Christ.  We begin to serve, and in that service there is more revelation...