Thursday, February 11, 2016

In the Breaking is the Healing, A Sermon for Ash Wednesday

Readings appointed for Ash Wednesday can be found here 

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Last night, at our Shrove Tuesday celebration, a small boy in our congregation asked my why we burn the palms. My reply?

Because they were once alive and they now are dead and become earth again. They remind us that alive things, including people, become dead things and return to the earth. And that in living and in dying we are loved by God.   

In retrospect (and when not standing outside with a crowd of tweens standing too close for my comfort to the burning palms) I would have said more.  But how much can a wee one take in on a cold night when the smoke is pouring from a galvanized tin?  So, now I go on, and consider the palms which were burned into ash, and the smoke that stung our eyes, and the cheering parade that led to death on a hill, and the first breath become the last. 

And, our own confrontation of what is our end, and what is inevitable. But, bound up in that inevitability, the equally inevitable truth of of mercy and love and grace.  

We ask for mercy knowing that there is mercy. We ask for pardon, knowing there is forgiveness. We tilt our heads, knowing there is hope. We raise our palms, knowing we’ll be fed.

Broken, made whole. Burnt, made complete. Crushed, made new.

Without breaking, there is no healing. Without death, there is no life. And, what will come is hope and what will come is mercy. And, so the smoke stings and the questions are raised as bits of ash are caught by the wind. And, small children ask questions that become sermons because there is more to the question than can be contained in a word hastily cobbled together on a cold night.

And, so considering the beauty of the broken I find myself musing on the poem The Bread I Break, by 20th century Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

This bread I break was once the oat,
This wine upon a foreign tree
Plunged in its fruit;
Man in the day or wine at night
Laid the crops low, broke the grape's joy.

Once in this time wine the summer blood
Knocked in the flesh that decked the vine,
Once in this bread
The oat was merry in the wind;
Man broke the sun, pulled the wind down.

This flesh you break, this blood you let
Make desolation in the vein,
Were oat and grape
Born of the sensual root and sap;
My wine you drink, my bread you snap.


Once oats waving in the breeze, once grapes hung thick upon the vine. Once a baby, now a man. Once celebrated then denigrated. Raised up and torn down.

Without the living, there is no the dying. Without the dying, there is no new life. Without the new life, there is no healing. And, God has mercy upon us.

The grapes are plucked and thus they die. But in their death they become the wine. The wheat is broken and the chaff is burnt. But in the breaking there is bread. And this bread, it is broken for us, and this wine it is poured for us—and out of breaking there is healing and we raise our hands and tilt our heads for the receiving. 

And so we are and so we become. And, God has mercy upon us.

The gathering prayer we use on this first day of the Lenten Season, addresses God in hope and truth, “God, you hate nothing you havemade and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthilylamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness,may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remissionand forgiveness”

And, if poetry is not too your liking, the collect invites logic, in proof form. You can take it as a mathematical proof if you like,

God, hates nothing God has made!
God, made us.
Therefore, God does not hate us. 

Psalm 51 offers us more along the lines of this proof—and it is made clear that, when offered our broken hearts, God’s response is one of compassion and acceptance. In the face of our brokenness, God forgives our past failings and our desire to for a new heart is enough. 

And so, 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. 

So those lively palms, waved high on Palm Sunday, become brittle and bunched and broken into a pail. Fire is lit and the flames leap high.  What remains is dust and ash and bits. And, we are restored.

Sorted and sifted, they become more than palm and more than ash. A remembrance and a promise and a hope. And, we are made whole.

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. And, we are made new.

Without the living, there is no the dying. Without the dying, there is no new life. Without the new life, there is no healing. And, God has mercy upon us.

God has mercy upon us.

God has mercy upon us.





Saturday, February 6, 2016

Through a Mirror Dimly, Transfiguration

The readings for Transfiguration can be found here

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Sometimes it feels as if our lives are lived in pursuit of mountain top moments.

In fact, that’s the only way I can make sense of things like bungie jumping, surfing 50 foot swells, climbing Mount Everest or Sky diving. 

People who participate in these sorts of activities describe them as “life changing”, as transformative. They may describe themselves as feeling more complete, more authentically and wholly themselves in the moments following these peak experiences.

And, when described as a “peak experience” we can call to mind the work of psychologist Abraham Maslow who used the term peak experience to describe the “tremendous intensification of any of the experiences in which there is loss of self or transcendence of [self]” (Maslow, 1970, Motivation and Personality,  p. 165)

For example, “Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.”

An intense experience of encounter, an encounter with the divine that leaves Moses literally transformed. An encounter, not just for Moses, but for the entire community as the ongoing work of Moses leads the community to a deeper understanding of God’s salvation and the ongoing covenant between God and God’s people.  

So, while Moses may not have been a bungie jumping enthusiast--he was a man transformed through relationship with God and an encounter on a mountain. And, in his transformation, the community that (only a few short chapters ago) had turned from God to the worship of idols, re-engages with the God of all creation.  

As I consider this, I consider what it takes for not only for an individual but for an entire community to be transformed. What would it mean for all of us, here at St. Clement’s, to be transformed?

I would argue, that our Christian calling is to transformation. To the process of becoming more wholly and perfectly ourselves with the help and power of God. Our liturgy, the work we do here in our worship, is centered on the potential and desire for our own transformation.  Confession, forgiveness and reconciliation are central to our liturgical action each and every week.  

During our Lenten observances, our liturgy will point even more explicitly towards this process of repentance and reconciliation.  During the season of Lent we will observe the penitential order offered in the Book of Common Prayer.  This order begins the liturgy with a call to repentance--but the call to repentance is framed within the context that our repentance, our desire for forgiveness, is met by God’s grace and mercy.

The priest begins, “Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins.” And the people respond, “God’s mercy endures forever.”  

Our brokenness is met by God’s grace. The brokenness that led to the Israelites worship of the golden calf is ultimately met with forgiveness and a deepening of relationship. The brokenness of Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian community, is met by God’s mercy. And, throughout the Gospel we see moment’s in which Peter’s failure ultimately becomes his triumph.  

Transfiguration, transformation, reconciliation, a people made whole and holy in relationship with God.  

This culmination of the season after the Epiphany, sets the stage for our Lenten journey.  
As the prayer book liturgy for Ash Wednesday notes, 

“This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.”

Our observance of what’s called “the transfiguration” is an invitation into the process of forgiveness and reconciliation that marks the season of Lent. 

It is also a gift, an offering, as our experience of transfiguration gives us sustenance for our Lenten journey.

Transfiguration offers hope for the journey--we can’t stay on the mountaintop, but the experience of the mountaintop gives us what we need in order to sustain the day to day in between what can be called peak experiences.

C.S. Lewis, in the Chronicles of Narnia has Aslan describes this experience on the mountaintop thusly, 

“Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart...”

Today is an offering of signs, and we are encouraged to take note of the shining face of the divine so that we might remember that light and recognize the divine in the ordinary and the day to day.

The glimpse we have offers us hope for the future. 

I realize as I write these words that perhaps I’ve been too impersonal. With my references to Maslow, Lewis and the skydiving which I can assure you will never be one of my hobbies.  So, I want to close with an offering of one of my own peak experiences.  

It begins with grief. My dad died, of a massive heart attack, in November of my senior year of high school. I grieved, I still do. There is much from that year that I’ve forgotten--my experiences fogged by the grief and loss that superimposed themselves over everything my senior year.  Near the close of that school year, my class participated in a retreat and (still clouded by sorrow) I remember distinctly how deeply burdened I was by my awareness of all that my dad would not experience and all that had been lost. However, during a hike up the side of a valley, I remember looking around and seeing clearly for what seemed to be the first time in a very, very long time.  

As I looked up the green slope, down into the valley below, and out into the deep blue of the ocean, I was struck by a moment of sharp clarity. This beauty, this transcendent creation, was enough. And, if my dad had had even one such experience, that would be enough. The transcendent happiness of that moment burst through the clouds of sorrow and reminded me of the beauty and hope that was there, despite the suffering, despite the loss, despite of the what might have beens.  

In that moment I experienced a beautiful truth of God’s grace in the midst of it all. All I knew was transfigured in a moment of glory and of happiness. And, while that moment was all too fleeting, I hold it still and to know that this exists, this wholeness and holiness--this is enough. 

the Reverend Lori Brandt Hale writes that, “The transfiguration of Jesus offers a glimpse of what is possible, not only for Jesus, but for all humanity.” (FotW 454). So, today we are offered a glimpse of what is possible. 

And, thus, it is our calling to be transformed into the possible. To be made more wholly and completely ourselves--and in that transformation, to radiate the light of Christ into a world desperate for that light.  

So, shine on people of God. 

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I wanted to include the following from Barth, it didn't fit.  But, since this is my blog, you're getting it anyway...

Theologian Karl Barth describes God as “the one who makes us radiant.” Barth goes on to say that “We ourselves cannot put on bright faces. But neither can we prevent them from shining.”



Saturday, January 30, 2016

Symeon, the Undeserving and Grace--Season After the Epiphany 4C

The scripture appointed for the Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany can be found here 

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When I began in ministry I served as an youth outreach worker in Ohio.  As part of my role as youth outreach worker I participated in diocesan youth retreats several times a year.  

Music was a huge part of every event--usually guitar--and the music tended towards taize chant (easy to learn and sing without needing any text or instruction) and contemporary Christian hymnody.  

There are three pieces of music from this time and these events that have stayed with me.  One is the simple taize chant, “be still and know that I am God”.

Another, piece, “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary”, 

And, then another, “Here I am Lord, send me”. 

I can distinctly remember the experience of hundreds of youth--and I’ll include myself in that number as I was recently out of college--standing with arms wrapped around each other, eyes closed, and swaying.  

Bidding, through music and prayer, that God would make Godself known to us and that we, young people ages 14-18, their chaperones and clergy, would ourselves become the means by which God would transform the world.  

Be still and know that I am God, Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary and please O God, send me.  

The music, our prayers, our fellowship, our passion...

And, this idea, of our interdependence with God.  These all served as an anchor for those of us who wondered what we might have to offer.  How we might, out of our own brokenness, be fit to serve God.  

And, tho’ we might protest as Jeremiah did, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy."

The response to our own inadequacy was a promise of support and companionship--a promise that when we were not ourselves enough, God working in us would be more than enough.

We will with God’s help, that is the refrain of our baptismal covenant--indeed it is the refrain of our very lives.

We will with God’s help.  God, helping us, God’s beloved children.  God, wanting us, as imperfect as we might be, to do God’s work in the world.

Do not be afraid, I am here to deliver you...says God.

When I juxtapose this calling of the prophet, with Jesus’ words in the temple, what strikes me is the expansiveness of the call.  It’s not for the perfect, it is not for the worthy, it is not for the sinless, it is not for wise, it is not for rich, it is not for the righteous.

It’s a call for the broken and the imperfect, it has nothing to do with deserving or earning. God’s call is not something to which we are entitled.  It just is. It is fundamental to ourselves and our relationship with the one who makes us holy.

Hear this, we are not holy. We are made holy.

We are not perfect. We are made perfect.

Don’t talk to me about deserving, or about worthiness. Talk to me about gift and about grace. Don’t talk to me about what should be. Talk to me about what will be with God’s help.

Talk to me about a world in which we don’t get what we deserve and there is nothing to which we are entitled. Talk to me about a world, in which all we have is through grace and the power and potential of God’s spirit moving in us.  A world in which our response to any grace extended, even if it is not to our own benefit, is one of gratitude for God moving in the whole.  

Gratitude for the love which endures all things. Gratitude for hope, gratitude for faith, gratitude for a community in which we can explore what it is to be loved and loving.

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he states that we know only in part--and as I consider this text I am struck that the whole of what must be known is that love transcends being right or powerful or honored. 

I once read, in some premarital counseling essay or another, that it’s important to ask ourselves if it is more important to be right or to be happy.  

And, given today’s context--I’d argue that it is more important to be love than to be right.   

And, perhaps that is the challenge given us today. What would it be like if all of us worked to be love rather than to be right? 

How would our community, the church, be transformed if love was the marker rather than righteousness?

In the passage from Luke we read today, Jesus is driven out of town because he upholds love rather than right. The examples he gives of those who receive God’s healing grace are an unnamed foreign widow and a member of the Syrian army--and the community rises up against him because in these examples the enemy and the outsider are the recipients of God’s grace.

In short, they are mad because Jesus offers an expansive vision of God’s love to a world which sees love as a limited resource. 

If we as Christians think of God’s love as scarce--than it is all too easy to become hoarders of grace rather than purveyers of love. Jesus is clear that we don’t need to earn it or deserve it--and in these passages we are given the challenge of accepting God’s love for each and everyone (whether we think they deserve it or not).  

So, here we are undeserving people, and God is speaking to us--bidding us to know God’s love in stillness, and in that knowing be a place for God’s love to be made known and out of that place of proclaiming God’s love, we are sent.  

I wish to close by sharing with you a poem by the 10th century Byzantine monk and poet, Symeon (referred to as the “new theologian”), who wrote a passage that speaks to this 
He writes,

“as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous? — Then
open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ’s body

where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.”

Everything that is hurt, everything that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly irreparably damaged, is in Christ transformed.

We haven’t earned it and we don’t deserve it. But, we are it, we are God’s love and that in and of itself is more than enough.  

Here I am Lord, send me.  








Saturday, December 12, 2015

This is True

Scripture for Advent 3C can be found here

Joy, Hope, Locusts and Honey


I’m not going to give you statistics—you have mpr for that.  I’m not going to describe some horrific scene of terror, you have cnn for that. I’m not going to frame or spin or detail or op ed this or that for you—pick up any paper or scroll through any newsfeed for that.

What I’m going to do is preach the Gospel.  I’m going to proclaim good news. I’m going to look to scripture and mine it for hope. I’m going to point to Bethlehem and every hope, and every dream, and every glimpse of that love that breaks into those places most desperately in need of love. 

Because, we need hope and we need joy—because, if we lose sight of hope and we forget the joy that God takes in us, then we lose the potential to work towards the transformation of what is, into what God calls into being.

Hope keeps on going. Hope knows that we are worth saving. Hope sees the potential. Hope proclaims that today is not tomorrow and that tomorrow will be even better than today.

Hope keeps us alive and launches us into a new tomorrow. Hope claims our belovedness.

Hope proclaims good news of a better tomorrow to all the people.

Hope reminds us that we have the power to be akin to Christ. Hope shares coats, hope shares food, hope refuses to exploit others because hope has enough.

Hope knows that we are broken, but hope also knows that God’s grace and mercy are not hindered by our brokenness.

Nothing we do or don’t do can separate us from the love of God and the prophet proclaims rejoicing and the author of the epistle enjoins us to gentleness.

Be gentle, rejoice,

The peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Peace which makes no sense, hope that makes no sense, love that makes no sense, good news that makes no sense.

Here we are then, a senseless people—embracing the absurdity of hope and in that embrace ushering in the long expected Jesus. 

God is not waiting for us to get our act together and be perfect parents in perfect places, God is going to be born head first into a world that’s awash in violence and despair. 

A baby in a pit of vipers--rejoice people of God, rejoice! 

It would be hard to find a more jarring juxtaposition!  And yet, beyond all understanding, here we are. 

John who sups on locusts and wild honey and woos his congregants by calling them snakes.  Zephaniah who castigates those who break the covenant with God. Paul who writes from his jail cell an enjoinder to rejoicing.

Each of them addressed a broken world—and each, in their own way, offered a reason for rejoicing.

Let’s focus for just a moment on John the Baptist…cheerful fellow, an optimist really. Glass always half full with that one! 

Really…I’m serious.  This Gospel is just that good news!  And, it’s because of a truth that John the Baptist proclaims—a truth about who we all are and what we are capable of being.

Luke, the author of the Gospel, tells us that John’s audience is composed of tax collectors and other people on societies’ margins—these are not the good and respectable people, these are people of disrepute.  Tax collectors in John’s day were considered fundamentally corrupt, in fact, a tax collector’s presence in a home was considered, by some, to make that home unclean. Tax collectors embodied the abuses of Rome and the emperor who commanded them. And, so here they are—outcast from society for their role in the exploitation of the Judean people. 

If these tax collectors and sinners had been satisfied with their state, they would not have gone out into the wilderness to be berated by a moody prophet. They are looking for something better than what they are. And, John sees in these people the potential to be transformed and to become other than what they are—or perhaps, more truly what they might be. 

So, John greets them quite cheerfully, “you brood of vipers!”

And, then John the Baptist identifies their potential and their desire to be transformed.

And, when they ask what they need to do to be transformed, his advice is simple…

Share coats and food, treat others with respect and dignity.

You can do it, you can be better, you can transform yourselves and the world you inhabit. 

This is good news. Amazing news really.

And, this is exactly the news we need in the here and the now.

As we read the statistics, as we despair over the news, as we wonder at a society that seems literally hell bent on its own destruction.
We can listen to the words of the wild haired prophet and see a fundamental truth—we are all capable of doing God’s will in the world around us. 

We are not powerless, and there is hope. And, today we take joy in that hope!

Prophets, apostles and martyrs—rejoicing in the inbreaking of God and the fulfillment of God’s promise.

Peace beyond all understanding! Children out of stones! Trust without fear!

These are holy fools, proclaiming a wisdom the world would call foolish.

Fools proclaiming a new hope and a truer truth!

So, foolish ones, let us embrace the absurdity of hope in this day and age.  Let us, accept the gift of peculiar peace.  Let us proclaim, from the prison of our own making, that there is a way out of despair and Christ in our captivity.

Poet and modern day prophet, Daniel Berrigan writes…

Daniel Berrigan (born 1921)
Advent Credo

“It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss—
This is true: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life;

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction—
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.

It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever—
This is true: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful councilor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world—
This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo I am with you, even until the end of the world.

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church before we can be peacemakers—
This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall have dreams.

It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history—
This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshipers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.

So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ—the life of the world.”

Amen.

(From Testimony: The Word Made Flesh, by Daniel Berrigan, S.J. Orbis Books, 2004.)