Sunday, March 31, 2013

That Easter Day With Joy Was Bright

Easter Day, Year C, Gethsemane

All too often, life breaks us.  Shattered into a million pieces by our fears, our losses, our suffering, our grief.  We wander in the desert of our own creation, lost in the midst of our own lives.  If our eyes our open we can see that we do not walk alone in our brokenness, we walk with other broken people, in a broken world.  But, what are we walking towards?  

If we are to hear the Gospel today, we hear of a woman who walked towards a tomb that she expected to be full.  Caught in the pain of a witnessed crucifixion and a community rent by loss, betrayal and lies...she went.  

I can only imagine, that she felt broken.  I can only imagine, that she did not know how she would go on, or what would come next.  I can only imagine that one foot in front of the other was all that she had left that day.

Her only focus, on what she would find.  Death.

That was the journey she thought she was on.  

But, as we find again and again in scripture, what we thought was true is overturned again and again by the power of God’s transforming love.

We thought the sea would swallow us up.  We thought we might starve in that desert place.  We thought that the exile would never end.  We thought that our voices would be lost.  We thought that our friend was gone and that the powers of the world, those death dealing powers, would win.  We thought that we were so broken, that like the proverbial humpty dumpty we could never be put back together again.  

But, in today’s grace, in today’s testimony...

We thought wrong.

And at the tomb, in the midst of our brokenness, we see the messengers of God.  We see a stone rolled away, we see liberation and a new day.  

We see the body broken made whole.

We see a scattered community brought together.

We see, a creation that no human gardener could have made, but only the creator could have brought to fruition.  

We see ourselves.

With all that we have and all that we are, with all of our brokenness and bruised bodies, without any lies or duplicities.

We see ourselves loved by a God from whom no secrets are hid--a God who has created us and made us whole--a God who takes the broken and binds the pieces into a new creation.

In the fourth century Hilary of Poitiers wrote "God will repair what has been shattered, but not by mending it with something else. Rather, out of the old and very same material of its origin, God will impart to it an appearance of beauty pleasing to Himself."

You are pleasing to God.  You, just as you are, in the light of the resurrection are beautiful.  

And, as a resurrection people, I call us to look around.  See the broken people next to you, recognize the broken relationship and broken places.  And, just for a moment try, try to see in this resurrection light...

The beauty and life that God sees and brings forth.  

New life, new hope.  Each day a new day.  And, so springs forth the sun and every day becomes a new chance for peace, a new chance for casting aside those things that cobble us.  A new chance to respond to the question taken from the Mary Oliver poem “The Summers Day”, the question with which we began our Lenten journey...

What will you do with your one wild and precious life?

If that which was old and broken has been left behind, if each of us is new today?  What will we do with the life we have been given?

One of the glories of welcoming a new baby into families and communities is the imagining that happens--the pondering of the great possibilities that lie ahead for the little one we cradle in our hearts and in our hands.  How will they transform the world? What will they love?  What will drive their passions?  Who will they become?

So many hopes and dreams for this new and untainted life.  

And when we welcome babies into our faith community in the sacrament of baptism we speak these hopes and dreams aloud--that they may continue in the apostles teaching, grow in love and faith knowing the love of the community in which they break bread, that they may resist evil, that they may know that this community of faith will always be a place to which they can return, that they may bring life and wonderment to the world in the proclamation of God’s love, that they may see Christ in everyone they meet and serve them accordingly, that they will love others and honor the dignity of everyone they meet, that they will work for justice and peace for everyone.  These are amazing hopes and dreams for this small yet big and vast life that is cradled before us.  

But, these baptismal promises are not reserved for infants, people of all ages may choose to participate in the sacrament of baptism.  And, today we will renew these baptismal promises...promises that require renewal again and again and again, as we are broken and resurrected each and every day.  We mark this new life with particular fervor, on this the feast of feasts, this our celebration of the paschal mystery and the return of all that we had thought lost--but, this day is not unique, because we are gifted the opportunity for new life, each and every day.  Today is a day of being as full of hope and promise as those newly baptized.  As full of hope and promise as those newly born.  As full of hope and promise as that first resurrection morning.  

Are we able to accept that gift of hopes and promises?  That gift of new life?  Can we see ourselves holding as much potential and promise as we see in babies?  Can we see those around us with new eyes and see them as people who have the power and potential to transform the world?  Can we open ourselves to these hopes, can we see that in new life we have a fresh start, a renewed opportunity to be the one, once broken, made new and gifted with the ability to transform the world?

In this resurrection, in our resurrection, can we hold ourselves and each other with as much love as we hold the infants in our communities?  Can we hope and dream for each other and for ourselves just as we hope and dream for those littles who have just begun new life?

When we work towards the “yes” of possibility, the “yes” of love, the “yes” of peace and the “yes” of justice we are being a resurrection people.  When we can see ourselves and each other with eyes that can see the perfection of creation made manifest, we are being a resurrection people.  When we show up for life when everyone else tells us there is only death, we are a resurrection people.  When we work to transform our communities into places of equality for all, we are a resurrection people.  To live when the world says die, to rejoice when the world says weep, to aim for change when change seems impossible...this is resurrection and this is our calling made clear this day.  

We are to be a resurrection people.  To proclaim the power of love, to proclaim the potential for life.  To stand up to those things that bring death into the world and to say “you have already lost” and love will win.  This is our mission--a mission born anew each and every day as we find life where we had thought only to find death.  

She went to the tomb looking for the dead...and found life instead.  She went broken, and found healing, she went as one lost and in going she found herself anew.  What will you find today?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Vigil Sermon

Easter Vigil Sermon, 2013, Gethsemane

Sometimes it’s easier to find death.

It’s what they went to the tomb to find.

To anoint and care for, to mourn,

To shout angry curses at the sky perhaps.

Or merely to weep.

To be broken and torn by the inability to stop it.

That wave that overtook them all, 

That caught up a former friend in betrayal

And, led to lies, too many lies.  

Before that awful truth.

They had seen it of course,

That moment,

That piercing, sky ripping moment.

When the last breath soared

And sour wine was all that was left


So, to the full tomb they went.

Mary the constant, always and faithful,

Prepared for the miasma of death

The pungent smell of rotten meat

And the crawl of worms.

Ready, she prepared herself,

For the holy work of anointing and shrouding 

Unwrapping and gazing, once more

On the vestiges of her friend.  

And yet, at the tomb

There was no way to prepare herself

For what was

And is to come

Because there

Was nothing

Beyond the emptiness of the rock hewn cave

Yet, in that nothing

Was everything

And she cried out

And she witnessed

And she ran

And she spoke

So tonight I ask you, what will you cry out, how will you witness, to whom will you run?  Carrying the news that Jesus has risen...that the salvation promises have come true and that we can embrace

Knowing that our weeping has turned to rejoicing
Knowing that death has been conquered
Knowing that somehow
Beyond the truth we expect
Is a greater and impossible truth

And, tonight is a night of embracing the impossible possibility as Reinhold Neihbur would phrase it...that possibility we will declare as truth, that salvation has come and will come for us.  That truth that we are part and parcel, product and outcome, of a history of God’s salvation.  

And, this is a constant truth, and has been proclaimed again and again through the ages.  One of the traditions in the Eastern Orthodox church is the proclamation of the Easter sermon of St. John Chrysostom written around 400 AD--so 1,613 years of proclaiming this truth, this truth that overturns all of our expectations...a truth that we cannot stop, a truth that sweeps us up and upsets the world with its glory!  

And, as I hear his words, in my mind’s eye I can see them--the surprise of fireworks, the glory of the first flowers of spring, the explosion of creation, the glory of love.  His words are as fire on a cold night and the vision of the hope that we thought lost.  So tonight, I wish to share them with all of you.

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.
If anyone is a grateful servant, let them, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.
If anyone has wearied themselves in fasting, let them now receive recompense.
If anyone has labored from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward.
If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast.
If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss.

If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation.
If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not fear on account of tardiness.

For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first.
He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious.

He both honors the work and praises the intention.
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward.

O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy!
O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!
You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!
The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you!
The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free.

He that was taken by death has annihilated it!
He descended into Hades and took Hades captive!
He embittered it when it tasted His flesh! And anticipating this, Isaiah exclaimed: "Hades was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions".

It was embittered, for it was abolished!
It was embittered, for it was mocked!
It was embittered, for it was purged!
It was embittered, for it was despoiled!
It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and came upon God!
It took earth and encountered Ηeaven!

It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!

For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that have slept.

To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages.


Friday, March 29, 2013

The Clergy Mom Dance

Today is Good Friday,

And I am writing an Easter Sermon.

I want to be done with it while my son is at preschool.

It may be Holy Week,

But, he is only almost three,

And I won't be there for bedtime, for his nightly God blesses, again tonight

And again tomorrow.

And I don't want to be working on it when he is home later.

As he has noticed that mama is working more and more,

And so he tests and pushes and whines and wheedles.

Needing me to be mama, when I am a priest.  

And I wrestle with this dual calling, weighing the impact of the one on the other

Knowing that there is a line in the sand, somewhere, but I am not sure where.

I only know that if asked to cross, I will only do so if I can continue to hold that small hand in mine

And answer yes, when "I neeeeed you Mama" needs an answer of "yes".

This week has sometimes felt a bit 
like trying to shovel a snowdrift higher than my head with a very small shovel.
Doable, but hard.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Foot Washing, the Redemption, Part 2

This is part 2 of my Maundy Thursday sermon, read Part 1 here

An examination of the history of this rite in the church sees it used as a sign of hospitality, servitude and deep love.  It has also been interpreted as a means of recommitting oneself to baptism.  We live in community as Christians, and we face all of the challenges that living in community brings...often finding ourselves in broken relationships.  The opportunity to share in the foot washing can serve as a reminder of our baptism and offer a renewed opportunity for reconciliation and relationship.

When we look at ritual washing of any kind, from the full immersion of ritual baths to the small sprinkle of baptism, we see an act that is not just about having clean feet.  When I wash my hands before celebrating the Eucharist I murmur the prayer “create in me a clean heart o God and renew a right spirit within me that I may serve at your altar without error or omission”.  I’m going to be using my hands at the altar, and in washing them and saying this prayer I recognize that I will be encountering the sacred.  When we wash our feet, we recognize that we will be encountering the sacred--walking the way of the Cross with feet gracefully held by a loving God.  

So, in this ritual action by Jesus, we see an act of cleansing that purifies and refines...but further, it is even more important to note that is an action that is withheld from NO ONE.  Judas' feet are washed with the same care as his brothers and in that small moment I can only imagine the thoughts that ran through Judas' mind as Jesus cradled his feet in his hands.  This is an act of forgiveness and reconciliation--unasked for, unexpected and freely given.  

But, and there is a but, it is a gift that Judas refuses.  

Judas takes the gift without a willingness to encounter the Christ.  This emphasis on performing some act in order to enter into relationship with God (and each other) can be seen throughout scripture and in the stories that emerge from scripture.  In the passage from Exodus we hear today God literally passes over the homes of those that have marked their doorways with blood--the ritual action they observe serves as a means of communicating with God of indicating the existence of a relationship.  The preservation of life, the washing of the feet...both require movement on both the part of God and the part of the believer.  

Ultimately, reconciliation means being open to receiving the freely given gift of God's love.  It becomes an act embedded in mutuality and grounded in consent.  In order to receive the gift we have to be able to trust the giver--their motivations and their meanings.  There have been times in my life when I have refused the offer of good things, purely out of spite...casting aside gifts given out of anger, frustration or resentfulness.  And, in refusing the gift I have found myself refusing the possibilities for reconciliation.  

As I have learned, too often the hard way, part of the truth is that relationship doesn't exist without any work on our part. I, like Judas, like most of us, have cast away love freely given.  Yet, here we are, being given yet another chance.  The circular nature of our ritual observances offers us a weekly opportunity for renewal of relationship.  The Eucharist, the confession, the foot washing, the forgiveness, the peace....all of this is offered in our community regularly and openly.  And, in our liturgy today we are given yet another invitation to re-enter into relationship.  Now, I am not saying that anyone must participate in foot washing--there is nothing that prevents us from participating either symbolically and metaphorically!  But, this calls the question, what does it mean to offer and accept care from each other in this community?  What does it mean to accept a gift of love freely given?  What does it mean to trust our bodies and our souls in the hands of God?

Foot Washing and the #Humblebrag, Part 1

Maundy Thursday, Year C
(To be continued in Part 2, which will show up here this evening!)

One of the reasons that I am an Episcopalian is that I believe most whole heartedly in critical inquiry--an inquiring mind and a discerning heart being key qualities that I pray for in others and myself.  I am not one to accept things without question and I have enough of a stubborn streak in me that I sometimes question things that have always been so--not because I wish to change them, but because I want to be sure that we understand the why of them.  

So tonight, as we share in the ritual act of foot washing, I found myself going through the process of exploring my own feelings about it and going further in order to explore what I hope we receive and understand through participating in it.  

The foot washing, at its best is an act of care taking of the other, of those with less power than us.  It is an act of mutuality and consensuality--I care for you and you allow for that care.  As is most commonly practiced, with those “higher up in the hierarchy” washing the feet of those “below” them, it is usually cast as an act of humility on the part of leaders.  But this has always struck me as a bit of what some might call a "humble brag"--a term I learned from reading the comic “Doonesbury”--it refers to the use of self deprecating statements when the true intention is to point out how fabulous the speaker is.  And, my initial aversion to the act of foot washing, as it is sometimes practiced, I think comes out of the potential this act can have in perpetuating unhealthy power dynamics. 

Now, this may seem strong, but my concern is that  while this liturgical action is ostensibly about leaders accepting the role of servant, it really becomes a process in which those getting their feet washed are objectified...objects for the use of others.  This is troubling to me, this tendency to see each other as props in our own dramas...and this is the reason that my initial reaction to Pope Francis' decision to break from tradition (that of washing the feet of 12 priests) and wash the feet of children in a juvenile detention center was one of disgust.  Not, at the children, but at a system in which children are used and addressed as a symbol rather than as fully embodied human beings.  

Now, I don't wish to cast aspersions of malfeasance upon the Pope--and I do think there is a potential for great good to be brought about through the process of drawing the world's attention to the marginalized of our societies.  And, I would like to think that the young people sharing in this experience will find their encounter with the Pope to be one of encounter with the divine--and likewise I will pray that the Pope’s encounter with these young people will be one of encounter with the divine.  But, the potential for objectification that sidelines the powerful possibility of transformation and reconciliation is most certainly there.  

In college I fell in love with Martin Buber’s book “I-Thou” as a treatise.  A treatise for the importance of mutuality and consensuality in all relationship--because in the theology of Buber, when we objectify others we lose the ability to see the divine in their presence, the “thou” as he puts it.  And, while I do believe my concerns about the liturgical use of foot washing are valid, I do think that in practice it CAN be a vital way of embodying our love for each other and our willingness to serve as Christ in the world.  

But, how are we to move beyond objectification and incorporate this ritual into our lives and our liturgy in a manner which reflects an adherence to the teachings of Christ? 

Little baby footprints

Sunday, March 24, 2013 3D

One of the things about preaching is that it is an in the moment, face to face, art.  The written sermon is just not the same as being there.  I say this because I really do intend all of my sermons to be a conversation between me and the congregation--hopefully a conversation mediated and inspired by the Holy Spirit.  So, in a way, the written sermon always seems a bit "dead" to me...without the people who truly give life to the written word.

Today was a clear case of that...I struck out almost an entire page of my sermon following the 8am service.  It wasn't that I thought it was "bad", but rather because I knew something else was demanded.

In hearing the Passion read aloud I heard something new...something that I am rather shocked I'd missed.

The first victim of violence in the narrative of the Passion is a slave.  He had no weapon, no choice in being there.  He was an innocent by virtue of his powerlessness.

Then, I realized, the entire narrative is driven towards the sacrifice of an innocent--Jesus.

Yes, here we had a powerful reminder that we must stand against all forms of violence because in doing so, we protect the innocent--rather than watching at the foot of the cross, we find ourselves called to prevent the cross (in this case a tool of execution).

The innocent are the first victims...

And, in proclaiming the Gospel, we are called to stand for the victims.

So, strike page 3, insert commentary on mimetic theory...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Palm Sunday, Year C, Gethsemane Episcopal Church in Minneapolis

Liturgy of the Palms readings are here and Liturgy of the Passion, here.

Christ Bearer, Cross Carrier

I was part of a conversation this week about the use of the phrase “leaves behind” when used in obituaries or other references to relatives and friends of those who have died.  The core of the complaint about this language is that it creates a sense of abandonment--as if death were somehow a choice someone made and that all that remains is a the loss without any record of the love that will always be or the life that was lived.  

The language we use around death is problematic that way, we seem to want to pretty it up, sugar coat it, take away the awful reality that dead is dead.  It is not sleep, it is not a passing, it is death.  And, that is part of what we are witnessing to this week.  Jesus dies.  The former king of glory who we proclaim to Jerusalem has become a murder victim of the state--and there we will stand at an empty cross and a full tomb.  

But, when we think about this, about this loss and this death--is the theme one of abandonment or is it one of perpetual and constant companionship?  Are we left behind, or are we formed and followed, nurtured and lifted by the life we have witnessed and the love we will always carry?  

In some way, I think the juxtaposition we have in Palm Sunday gifts us with the opportunity to reconfigure our notions of death.  When death arrives for those we love we forever carry them with us, their legacy, their hopes, their dreams, our hopes and dreams for them...we carry those.  And in carrying those things into the world we may find ourselves transforming the world.

One of the traditions many churches observe today is the singing of the hymn "All Glory Laud and Honor".  However, there is an additional verse which was included in this hymn until the 17th century.  Now, I will warn you, the verse can be a bit giggle inducing to our modern ears, but I think the giggles are worth the risk as it carries an important message.

"Be Thou, O Lord, the Rider,
And we the little ass,
That to God’s holy city
Together we may pass."

Okay, are all of your giggles out?  Now, the reason I shared this verse is that I want us to consider--what does it mean to carry Jesus into Jerusalem?  It is where he will meet his death, but it is also to be where he will triumph.  What does it mean to be the one to carry Jesus into the world.  We become the vehicle, the means by which Jesus is made manifest in the world...we are the conveyance to the encounter.

In order for the people of the city to meet Jesus, we must carry Jesus into the city.  
And, what will the folks who encounter Jesus see...

Will they see empty symbol?  Pomp and circumstance with no substance?  Or will they see something else?  

Will they see a world transformed?  Will they see a proclamation of freedom and rejoice at a man whose death ties us together in a web of life?  Will they see us carrying Christ by feeding the hungry, offering freedom to the captive, rejoicing to the sorrowful?  
Who will this Christ be that we carry into the city?

Much of our time and energy in church, is spent IN church.  I am well aware of the commitment so many of you have made to what happens within these walls--important and blessed work.  But, part of our call as Christians is to step beyond the walls, what we do in here matters because of how the world “out there” will be transformed.  

Now, I am also well aware that we will not always agree on what that work out in the world will be...and I do not presume to tell you what either your personal or collective mission is.  But, I do want to share with you what many of our bishop’s and laity in the church have discerned as the place where we as a church need to carry Jesus.    

So, first let me start with a little bit about me...and I start here because when we discern our call to mission the question of who we are and where we come from interacts with where we are now and who we have become.  

When I was twelve, my father gave me a gun.  It was a major right of passage in my family.  We relied on hunting to stretch the grocery budget and it was a sport that brought my father a great deal of joy--something he wanted to share with us.  However, it was made very, very clear that with that gift there were some obligations--hunter safety classes being one of them.  It had also been drilled into us from a very young age that guns were never, ever to be pointed at another human being or anything you did not want or intend to kill.  Gun play was forbidden...and after the accidental shooting death of my father’s best friend during a hunting trip, we were painfully aware of the consequences of even inadvertent carelessness.  Owning guns came with responsibilities and gun ownership in our family was a privilege that could be taken away and had limits.  

So, to me, given my time and my place as a former gun owner and a member of my family, this notion of limits seems like an obvious component of gun ownership.  Further, as a Christian, standing against violence seems like a logical extension of my faith, particularly as we are confronted with the violent crucifixion of Jesus.  

Recent news in the Episcopal church has shared some of the concrete ways in which Episcopalians are taking a stand against violence.  The Episcopal Cafe detailed the Diocese of Chicago’s CROSSwalk, a four mile procession through the city from St. James’ Episcopal Cathedral to Stroger Hospital--where many of the victims of gun violence end up.  Described as both a lamentation and a call to action, the walk was led by Bishop Jeff Lee who called for participants to become "agents of Easter," and told the crowd of more than 1000 people that, when it came to gun violence, perhaps they were "the answer to God's prayer."

In an invitation to gather and a press release from the Episcopal Church’s Office of Public Affairs we are told that this coming Holy Monday, "a group of Bishops, priests, deacons and laity of the Episcopal church will be walking the stations of the Cross throughout Washington D.C.  Stopping in front of memorials, government buildings and art installations they will be offering prayers for an end to violence, the culture of violence, and the social and economic conditions that spawn violence."

“The death dealing realities of violence are brought home to us as Christians when we recall the crucifixion of Jesus on the Cross this Holy Week,” said Bishop Douglas.  “Walking the Way of the Cross invites us, compels us, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.”  Bishop Mariann Budde of D.C. (and formally of this diocese), writes “The church is called to comfort those who mourn, but if we do not also urge our lawmakers to take steps to reduce the number of people who are shot to death each year, our words of comfort ring hollow,” 

These are folks who are carrying their witness of the resurrection into the city, a witness that I believe cannot be held without also bearing witness to the crucifixion.  Christ was a victim of violence, and people in whom Jesus lives and breathes are killed each and every day.  In these public actions Episcopalians are carrying Christ to the city...they are Christ bearers and cross carriers bringing to life in the here and the now, Christ’s call to put down our swords.  

This carrying of Christ and Cross both is where we stand so clearly today on Palm Sunday.  We carry the living Christ AND we carry the cross today.  

When we lose our friend Jesus this week we are called to bear witness to his life by continuing it in the work of our life.  Dead on the Cross, living and made manifest in us...

Christ bearers, Cross carriers.  

Where in this city are we needed to bring the glory of the Christ we carry?

Christ bearers, Cross carriers...

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Lent 5C, a Holy Desert

Propers can be found here

A Holy Desert Lent

I spend a great deal of Lent trying to suppress the gently ironic raised brow that tugs upon my forehead as I go about my day.    The gourmet fish fry, the LONG wait to try and get into the best fish and chips shop in the city (two hours, plus on any given Lenten friday),  the general drunken debauchery of St. Patrick’s day.  All of these things, while they may be fun, all seem to stand in direct opposition to what we are supposed to be doing.  So much for the words we hear on Ash Wednesday in the invitation to a Holy Lent,

“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.”

In short, Lent is a time of repentance--facing and acknowledging our sins with the intent to sin no more; a time of self denial; and a time for forgiveness and the restoration of community.  Nothing about fish fries, no matter how delicious, nothing about giving up sweets or taking on more prayer, nothing even about the dilemma we face when St. Patrick’s day falls on a weekday in Lent and whether a saint’s feast day trumps Lenten piety!  

However, there is lots to be said about restoration of community, about forgiveness, about self reflection and about renewal.  Lent is a journey towards wholeness, a time when broken people, in broken communities, in a broken world are invited to see God in their midst--in our midst.  And, the place we are invited to see God, is in the literal and metaphorical desert of our lives.

To embrace the metaphor, Lent can be a time of self imposed desert wandering and wilderness walking.  We are invited to put not just our problems in perspective, but our whole lives.    We are called to remember who we are and to whom we belong.  We are called to remember that God dwells amongst us and that we are called to be God in the world, we are reminded of the centrality of community and the strength of God’s love.  

This metaphor of finding God in the desert came out of a very literal time and place, a true desert, a barren wilderness and an all too real exile from home.  The book of the prophet Isaiah was written in three parts and the section we hear today is from the portion which addressed the Israelites who were living in exile in Babylon.  Oppressed and marginalized, they were finding it difficult to see and follow the God of their people.  
Isaiah reminds them of the trajectory of history...a trajectory which has shown again and again that salvation will come.  The prophet is emphatic...God has always offered a way through the sea; a path in the wilderness and water in the desert.  

And in that emphasis there is an enjoinder to let go of the past and move into a new future, to be where you are when you are there.  And, in that place you will find God, a God who is calling us, and transforming us.  And in that relationship with the God of salvation we (and indeed, the Israelites) are a people who are reconciled and forgiven.  They and we move through the desert, one foot in front of the other...knowing that there is no way out but through.  

As you move through the wilderness, whatever that wilderness is for you--both as individuals and as a community--I wonder, how will this Lent transform you?  Who will you be when you step out of the desert, what hopes and dreams will be made manifest.  

At times it seems improbable, that our suffering and wilderness wanderings will bear fruit.  But, as the psalm says, "when the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream"

Does the happy ending seem like a mere dream?  Does reconciliation and rejoicing seem beyond our reach?  What does it take to be confident in God's love--to trust that this Lent will end, that this hard time will pass?  

At one point a few years ago, during a particularly challenging and painful time in our family, I joked that Jesus must have been on vacation in Belize, because if Jesus had been there surely life would be better.  Jesus with his uncanny ability to perform miracles that seemingly fixed “everything”, a veritable Superman there to scoop us up, just in the nick of time. 

Robert Capon in his book "Hunting the Divine Fox" writes, “The true paradigm of the ordinary American view of Jesus is Superman.”  He continues, “Jesus- gentle, meek and mild, but with secret, souped-up, more-than-human insides- bumbles around for thirty-three years, nearly gets himself done in for good by the Kryptonite Kross, but at the last minute struggles into the phone booth of the Empty Tomb, changes into his Easter suit and with a single bound, leaps back up to the planet Heaven.  It’s got it all...”   

If we keep waiting for a superman, for someone else to save us from each other and from ourselves, from our pain and from our suffering.  If we are looking for someone to scoop us out of the desert, out of the wilderness, without any work on our part...well, if that’s the case, we are in serious trouble.  

Because, if we hold up Christ as an “other” as somehow possessing skills and abilities that are so beyond our own “weak and insufficient” powers than it becomes too easy for “here I am send me” to become “where is Jesus, send him!”  How can we mere mortals, without any superhuman powers, seek to do what Jesus did?

Which begs the question “what did Jesus do?”.  And for that, I turn to today’s Gospel...a time in the narrative of his earthly life in which Jesus doesn’t seem to be doing very much at all.  A Gospel narrative that many find troubling for Jesus’ words

“The poor you will have with you always, but you won't always have me.”

The perfume that Mary anoints him with is equivalent in value to the wages a day laborer would have earned in a year.  And, in my concern for social justice and ministry in the world, I can feel the ire rise in me and I nod my head in response to Judas’ words, “why wasn’t the money given to the poor?”  

Why wasn’t it?  Can Mary’s actions only be interpreted as the squandering of a precious resource or is there something more there?  

Simply, devotion to Christ is not in opposition to our concern for the poor.  When Mary gives herself over to love for her friend and grief over his impending death, she is fully present in the moment--not the past, not the future, but right now.  She gives all of us the opportunity to see the fully human man who led and loved a movement into being.  She’s giving us the chance to mourn with her at the loss of a friend.  And, Jesus reminds us that part of what we learn at the feet of our dying friend is empathy for the victims of the world.  Through our love and care for the suffering servant we are asked to care for those very folk who will suffer and die as he did in the world.

By showing us how to care for a friend, Mary is showing us how to care for each other, those fellow wanderers in the desert, the thirsty and the weary.  Everyone here has been in the desert at one time or another or you may even be there now--and it may be that the person beside you will be as Christ to you in showing you the way.   There is no Superman to come and save you, save yourself and save each Christ and look for Christ, know that you are not alone and there is no way out but through.  Welcome and enjoy your sojourn in this Holy Lent.  

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Lent 4C, 2013, Gethsemane Episcopal Church

The texts...
Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

How many of you have heard the story of “the prodigal son” before?  How many have also heard it referred to as “the forgiving or loving father”?  Clearly, this isn’t a new story to any of us, and just as with any story we hear again and again and again, it becomes easy to stop listening, to think we know how the story ends and what the story offers.  But, one of the wonders of the lectionary, of this invitation to hear the same stories again and again, is that in doing so we are invited to hear them anew and bring ourselves as we are in the here and the now into an encounter with the narrative.  So, just as I groaned as I realized that the offering for today was that “tired old cliche of a narrative” I realized that I am a different person than the last time I heard it--and in that difference, I hear a different story--that is, if I am willing to listen.  Let me explain...

My mother was a difficult person, even in the best of times--and unfortunately, those best of times were few and far between.  And, in the worst of times I’d find myself on the phone with my brother and he’d refer to her as “your mother”.  I would quickly correct him with an emphatic “our mother” and we’d continue on in our conversation...bonding over our shared relationship with our mom.  A relationship that neither of us was willing to let the other deny.  We were in this messy, broken relationship together and there was no getting around that truth.  

And, part of that truth was the pain of love--and of broken trusts, and hoped for transformation.  None of which seemed to ever become manifest--but at this point in our lives and the aftermath of our mother’s death I’ve realized that he hasn’t said “your mother” in a very long time.  We both claim her, for better or for worse--she is part of us and of our story.  

Therefore, when I hear this parable I find myself noticing something new.   When the older brother speaks to his father and refers to his brother as “this son of yours", I hear what he is doing.  The older brother is refusing to acknowledge the relationship he has with his brother--he has shunned him, he claims no love and no loss as his brother returns because he is making it clear...this man is NOT my brother, you may claim him as your son, but he is NOT my brother.  I am not responsible for him, I will not claim him, he has destroyed our family’s reputation and brought shame upon us.  He is no longer mine and I am no longer his.  

But, the father responds quickly and responds using the phrase, "this brother of yours".  The older brother does not get to disavow his relationship with his younger--regardless of what has happened, they are STILL brothers.  No getting around it, no changing it, no refusing it.  Brothers still.  Kill the fatted calf, celebrate together...this is the resurrection, he was as dead to us and now he has returned.  Here, now, there is a new chance and the opportunity for transformation that we had thought lost.  How can we refuse this, this new shot at love and life?  The brother’s simmering resentment is strong and seems just--I think most of us can understand his position of righteousness...

But, in this broken relationship between brothers, there is a father who mediates.  A father who reminds them of what right relationship looks like and demonstrates to them what can be.  This is a father who stands in the brokenness of relationship--the space between the two he loves and says, “love each other” as I love each of you.  

This image is important to me--this image of God standing there in the midst of the brokenness and holding the broken pieces together.  Sit with that image for a moment...picture it, find that broken place and picture God there...holding those pieces together.  

God refuses to cast off or shun a beloved child, and neither is the brother allowed to abandon the relationship.  It's easy to want to judge the brothers--the younger for his irresponsibility and the older for his insensitivity, but the father does not judge, merely welcomes--and in that welcome we are reminded that we are getting another chance.  That the gift of reconciliation can be ours if we are willing to once again say “my brother” or “my sister”.  

The parable challenges us to do as the father does, because if we get caught in the mire of judgement, anger and revenge, our own capacity for living into the abundance of God becomes limited.  If we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ as "other" as somehow undeserving of God's love and grace, we find ourselves pulling away from God who loves us all.  If we cannot continue to claim "our brother" it becomes harder and harder to claim "our God”.  

How can one enjoy the party and participate in the free offering of love if one is consumed by anger?  If we are caught up in our own wretchedness, if we are in the midst of our own pity party, how can we freely accept the gift of God’s unconditional love?  And, if we are unable to forgive as God forgives, if we are unable to stand in the midst of broken places and offer healing we are disavowing a core portion of our calling as Christians.

“Seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourselves...” if Christ is in all persons, than Christ is in us.  And, therefore we are brothers and fathers both in the parable...and in this the words from 2nd Corinthians hold new light...

“We regard no one from a human point of view”--what is it to see others from God's point of view?  God creates, reconciles, makes new...we are then called to this same work...God uses us to do God's work in the world.  And, if that work is one of reconciliation and creation--how will that be made manifest in your own lives and in the life of the church?  

Rob Bell writes in his book "Love Wins" 

"What the gospel does is confront our version of our story with God’s version of our story.

It is a brutally honest,
exuberantly liberating story, 
and it is good news.

It begins with the sure and certain truth that we are loved.
That in spite of whatever has gone horribly wrong deep in our hearts
and has spread to every corner of the world,
in spite of our sins,
and hard hearts,
in spite of what’s been done to us or what we’ve done, God has made peace with us.

Done. Complete.

As Jesus said, “It is finished.”

We are now invited to live a whole new life without guilt or shame or blame or anxiety. We are going to be fine. Of all of the conceptions of the divine, of all of the language Jesus could put on the lips of the God character in this story he tells, that’s what he has the father say.

“You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” (pp. 171-72)

Do you believe this?  Do you believe the truth the hard truth, the almost impossible to believe truth that God loves you, that you are going to be fine?  

That God's love just is...unchanging and permanent and fixed.  That the pivot point of our lives is the love of God?  How would our lives and our relationships be different if we lived as if we believed this truth?