Saturday, October 25, 2014

Painful Privilege

This week, I was gifted the opportunity to be at the bedside of a dear parishioner as she died.  With grace and dignity, she claimed her place amongst the communion of saints.  And, it is her voice I hear singing this hymn...

"What Wondrous Love is This"
An American Folk Tune

What wondrous love is this,
O my soul! O my soul!
What wondrous love is this!
O my soul!
What wondrous love is this!
That caused the Lord of bliss!
To send this precious peace,
To my soul, to my soul!
To send this precious peace
To my soul!

When I was sinking down,
Sinking down, sinking down;
When I was sinking down
Sinking down
When I was sinking down,
Beneath God's righteous frown,
Christ laid aside his crown
For my soul, for my soul!
Christ laid aside his crown
For my soul!

Ye winged seraphs fly,
Bear the news, bear the news,
Ye winged seraphs fly
Bear the news!--
Ye winged seraphs fly,
like comets through the sky,
fill vast eternity!
With the news, with the news!
Fill vast eternity
With the news!

Ye friends of Zion's king,
join his praise, join his praise;
Ye friends of Zion's king,
join his praise;
Ye friends of Zion's king,
with hearts and voices sing,
and strike each tuneful string
in his praise, in his praise!
and strike each tuneful string
in his praise!
To God and to the Lamb,
I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb,
I will sing--
To God and to the Lamb,
who is the great I AM,
while millions join the theme,
I will sing, I will sing!
while millions join the theme,
I will sing!

And when from death I'm free,
I'll sing on, I'll sing on,
And when from death I'm free,
I'll sing on.
and when from death I'm free,
I'll sing and joyful be,
and through eternity
I'll sing on, I'll sing on,
and through eternity
I'll sing on.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Things We Carry, Proper 24A, 2014

The Revised Common Lectionary dictates which texts are to be used for the sermon, they can be found here.  


I wonder what they tucked into their belts.  I wonder what they glanced at longingly as they fled into the darkness of the night.  I wonder, what was left behind as the deserts immensity became clear and the weight of even the smallest tokens became too much a burden.  

I am reminded of the Tim O’Brien collection of short stories, “The Things They Carried” in which he describes the burden borne by soldiers in Vietnam, “They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity.” 

The heaviness of their burden, the vast expanse of it all.  What a weight as the non-essentials are cast away one by one.  Rotting in the wet or desiccating in desert winds.  As the things themselves lose importance when confronted with the reality that they are just things.  

Golden calves too heavy, gems to be cast aside.  They carried gravity.  

And, in the midst of all that was broken--the promises that their feet trod upon as they danced.  The hearts rent by pain and loss in the shadow of the mountain.  

I wonder at the fear.  I wonder at the emptiness.  I wonder at the hopelessness.  And, then in the midst of my wondering.

I wonder what it felt like to be tucked so carefully into the crevice in the rock.  As God, the lover of souls, passes by in glory--too great to be seen and too great not to follow.  

"I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, 'The LORD'; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”

The promise of rest.  The promise of shelter.

The promise of the God of all creation and abundance in the midst of a travel-worn people and the pleading intercessions of a man who trusts in an I AM of grace beyond any fear that would prevail.  

I have had such moments of longing for that, for that moment of shelter--for the familiarity of love, in times of starting anew, in times of wilderness journey.      

When I left home for the first time as an 18 year old, I had two cardboard boxes and a suitcase.  And, when I stepped off of the plane to begin my new life as a college student, I remember watching them spin around the conveyer belt at the baggage claim.  Dented boxes...fragile and heavy.  

I hauled them off of the conveyer and trundled them to the car of waiting strangers.  

And, each move since has had echoes of that first move...  

-A hatchback packed with all my belongings and driven across three states.

-A couple of car loads from apartment to apartment.

-A small u-haul and another car to follow--packed to the gills with plants and yowling cats.

-A moving truck.

The gradual accumulation of stuff.  

Yet still, and often, the longing.  For the crevice of the rock and the sheltering hand of the God of love.

So, I have gone looking.  Looking for the peace which passes all understanding.  Looking for the God who will shelter, the God of love.  

“so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him--though indeed he is not far from each one of us.  For ‘In him we live and move and have our being” Acts 17:27

And, there are moments, moments when in my searching I catch glimpses of the God who surrounds us so completely that--in many ways--the glimpses are all that our limited vision can allow.  

And, many of those moments of late have been here at St. Clement’s.  That moment when I first entered and Dan and Pat invited me to sit with them so that I would not be alone.  Watching babies become toddlers and children teens.  Celebrating a thirtieth wedding anniversary with a renewal of vows--a renewal which took place before this altar, in the very place they were first made.  Looking out into the pews as old friends laughed and cried together during family remembrances for Jeffrey Carlson, who once served here as Junior Warden.  Azael hold a sloshing basin of baptismal water and the upturned faces of those anticipating sharing in the waters that marked CJ’s baptism.  The shape note singing at Liza’s service.  Sipping a mimosa in celebration of Verna’s birthday.  Watching Rich tape up the image of thousands of trees as we marked the support St. Clement’s has given to Fond Verant in Haiti.  The ring of the chimes at the choir’s sending forth, the ringing of chimes at Kevin and Ben’s wedding.  The weeping and the laughing, the rejoicing and the sorrowing.  All of us.  Together.  

None of those moments fit into boxes or trucks.  None of those moments could have happened without being here, with being in community in this place with all of you, these people.  

And, it is in this place, in this ministry that we gather in community.  A gathering that allows us to see beyond ourselves and into the God of abundance.  A gathering that encourages us to develop relationships across generations and share in the work of bringing God’s graciousness and mercy to all.  

A couple of months ago, Mary Fred referenced the Greek word for Ecclesia, the gathering--and that’s what we are, a gathering of people trying to bring God’s love and grace to this broken world we live in.  A gathering of people, who come back, week after week, in search of something beyond ourselves.  A gathering of people called, even if we aren’t quite sure what we’re called for yet.  A gathering of us...a gathering, sharing in the ritual and beauty of our tradition and finding ways for that beauty to shape the world we live in.  

As a gathering we walk the way that Christ sets before us.  

And, in today’s gospel, Christ is confronted by those who seek to confound him--and in reply to their question reminds them that while the coin might carry the image of Caesar, we carry the image of God.  So, if what is Caesar’s is to be returned to Caesar--then what is God’s is to be returned to God.  

I imagine that the coin felt heavier when returned to the purse.  The burden of oppression weighing down the pouch in a new way.  The confounders, confounded.  

The question about what is God’s and what is Caeser’s no longer works when we consider that it is all God’s.  And, in coming weeks you will be asked to consider what of God’s abundance, of your time your talent and your treasure, you will share with this gathering.  There is no set amount, no specified requirement--just the request that you give what you can.  

Isabel Allende writes in her essay for “This I Believe”, “Give, give, give--what is the point of having experience, knowledge or talent if I don’t give it away?  Of having stories if I don’t tell them to others?  Of having wealth if I don’t share it?  I don’t intend to be cremated with any of it!  It is in giving that I connect with others, with the world and with the divine.”  

She entitled her essay, "In Giving I Connect With Others".  We give, to connect.  We give to lessen the burden.  We find shelter so that we may be a shelter.  

I haven’t seen God, but I have seen God’s reflection--in the image we each carry of our Creator.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Daniel Berrigan, Squirrels and the Suffering Servant: Proper 23A

There are times when I read the Gospel--proclaiming the good news of God from the midst of the people--and my overwhelming desire is to be reading SOMETHING else.  

There are beautiful passages in scripture.  Love of neighbor, love of God.  There is poetry and prose, metaphor and miracle...

Then there is this, this passage from Matthew that has preachers throughout the country doing exegetical backbends to try to get around a text that seems so contrary to our fundamental understanding of a God of inclusion and love, a God of redemption and calling.  

The Girardian theologians, who are committed to reading non-violence in the text, suggest the preacher consider the joke, “when is a squirrel just a squirrel”--a pastor in preaching a children’s sermon holds up a stuffed squirrel and asks the children what it is...after a long pause, one of the children says “I know the answer is supposed to be Jesus, but that sure looks like a squirrel to me”.  So, when the text describes a king, we think the answer is supposed to be “God” but it’s not...

The Girardians suggest that what we hear described in this Gospel is not actually a story about the nature of God.  That this is not allegory, and that what we have here is a description of the actions of a human king--specifically suggesting that the Greek which introduces this parable refers to “anthropos”, a man, rather than God.  So, if a MAN is the king, what does it say to us about where we find Jesus in this text?

It was at this point in my research that I considered Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem...the hosannas that became cries of crucify him...

And, I wonder what happens to this Gospel if we understand the king as human, and the man cast out as Christ?  

As a college student I spent three months living and working with an intentional community called Agape, a community dedicated to living and teaching Christian non-violence.  It was at Agape that I had the privilege of meeting the Reverend Daniel Berrigan, a poet, activist, priest known for acts of civil disobedience.  Daniel in a sermon on this text writes that,  “The parable of the king’s banquet is brutally secular. It tells of the domestic misbehavior of the powerful and the victimizing of the powerless, of war and retaliation.”

Do our human understandings of inclusion end up excluding and destroying the very one we have called upon?  The very one we are, ourselves, called to serve?

If the kingdom of heaven is to be compared...Daniel Berrigan reminds us that compare means to find those things alike and those things which stand in stark opposition.  

Does the ease with which we identify the king as God demonstrate far more about who we are and our own understanding of what power means than it does about God?  

I would hazard, yes.  Just as last week we may have found ourselves nodding along to the Pharisees answer that the vineyard owner would be justified in destroying those who destroyed his son--this week we may find ourselves accepting that ruthless violence of a capricious king, because it makes sense based on our understanding of what human rulers do.  

But, let us remind ourselves, we serve a God and not a king...a God whose own son was cast out from the banquet, a God who suffered for our silence, a God placed upon the cross with our cries of crucify.  

the Reverend Daniel Berrigan writes, 

“In the parable Jesus presents to us the king. You choose, you decide. Is this a valid exercise of authority? Here is a clue: Don’t miss the storyteller for the story.

The One who tells the story knows both goodness and wickedness, because He is good, consistent and compassionate. He longs to see humans standing in the orbit of God’s love. He rejoices to see the speechless and poor, the nobodies, at His table.
In our story, he condemns no one, not even the king. Such a judgment is redundant, the royal behavior being self-condemned.

And to sum up matters, in utter contrast to the worldly king, the storyteller will give His life rather than take life.”

Give rather than take...our faith is redolent with those who have given rather than taken lives.  We call them martyrs, when they die, award them Nobel Peace Prizes when they live.  Advocates for justice, equality, for love and mercy.  

Last week, my sermon asked us to remember who we are, the beloved children of God, and to whom we belong...

And, I made the argument that we belong to God, but we also belong to each other.  

So, if a martyr is one who dies rather than renounce their faith...if our faith teaches us that we belong to God and each other, the idea of martyr is broken open and I am reminded of those who choose suffering, rather than renounce God or their fellow human beings.  

“the storyteller will give His life rather than take life”.

The storyteller who is Christ.  The storyteller who stands at the heart of the Gospel.  The storyteller who has the last word even as he breathes his last.

The storyteller whose story is now OUR story.  

Now, will we be silent, or will we keep telling the story of a God of love?  A God who invites each and every one of us to the table of Grace.  A God apart from our petty powers and principalities.  A God, who we describe as lover of souls.  A God of invitation.  The God in whom we can, as Paul implores us, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone...And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Who We Are and To Whom We Belong, Proper 22A

Proper 22A 2014

When I was a teenager I heard Eucharistic Prayer C for the first time.  This particular Eucharistic Prayer includes the line “this fragile earth, our island home”.  At the time, as a kid on the island of Maui, I found it amazing that the prayer book was referring to my home--Maui, where the tradewinds blew, the roosters crowed, the waves crashed and the ash from burning sugar cane drifted like some sort of bizarre tropical snow flake.  

The metaphorical meaning didn’t occur to me at the time--all I knew was a small island and the prayers recited from the upper room where I gathered with the dozen or so people who comprised the worshipping community of St. Paul’s Episcopal Mission.  

The Olverson family, Mary who drove all the way from the other side of the island to play the keyboard, Reverend Kate and the Nelsons...

If the Olverson family was late we would wait to process in...partially because we could see them driving towards the chapel and knew they’d be there in a minute, and partially because they were a fourth of the congregation.  Everyone knew everyone, and we were a small community on a relatively small island--it was relatively easy to understand how we were connected whether it was a sixth cousin on my mother’s side or an old school classmate of my father or a friend of my grandfather, or, or...well you see

When I left Maui for college in 1996, I missed that interconnectedness...and the resulting clarity of knowing who I was and to whom I belonged that emerged from understanding my place in the network of lives with which my own life intertwined.  And, thus, as an adult I have found myself drawn to exploration of how communities are formed and what makes a community a community.  
As an undergrad I took a class called, “Primary Epic and Early National Legend” and I was struck by many of the cross cultural commonalities the texts held--most strikingly to me the commonality of “rules” or laws set down in the text.  What became clear to me was the centrality of “law” to group identity.  That laws shape our understanding of who we are and to whom we belong.  

I would imagine that most of you have heard the phrase “in our family...”  It’s pretty much the same thing, the rules we live by help us to understand which family we belong to.  

The Ten Commandments demonstrate this aptly.  The commandments begin with a clear statement of identity “I am the God that brought you out of Egypt” and move into explication of what God expects from God’s people--You shall have no other gods beside me...”.  The identity of the community hinges on the centrality and singularity of their relationship with God.  

Who we are, the people of God, to whom we belong, God.  Sounds simple enough.  But, we’re not going to stop there.

Because the commandments don’t stop there.  The litany continues with directives of how we are to be in relationship with each other.  Because, we no longer live for self alone...but for each other.  Interconnectedness and accountability to one’s neighbor is foundational to our life of faith.   Perhaps we must expand on our understanding of “to whom we belong” because, it becomes increasingly clear to me that we belong to each other.  Or, as my friend Katy Piazza, a priest in the Diocese of Connecticut, succinctly put it “We belong to each other, WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT”.

The ground rules for right relationship with God move into the ground rules for right relationship with each other.  There is no getting around it.  I adamantly hold that how we engage with each other matters as much as how we engage with God.  We belong to each other, whether we like it or not.  

If the rules help us to understand who we are and to whom we belong...than it is clear that these rules, these Ten Commandments, point to a truth that we are children of God who belong to God and to each other.  

Take a moment and look around...we belong to each other.  NOT because we worship together here at St. Clement’s.  Not because we participate in the liturgy of the Episcopal church.  Not because we know the rules of deportment, or share a fondness for the reporting in the Huffington Post or the New York Times.  

We belong to each other because we are human beings called to relationship, called to see in each other our brother Christ, called to act in the world to bring the mercy and love of God to all the broken places.  

And, not only do we belong to each other, we belong to those we think of as “other” and they belong to us.  If we can understand that the stranger is our neighbor, are we better able to treat them with the love which God makes clear is their due?  

I began today with a reference to Eucharistic Prayer C’s phrase “this fragile earth, our island home” because the metaphor reminds us of how very close to each other we all must live--with shared resources, shared water, shared disease, shared suffering, shared rejoicing, shared devastation, shared hope, shared fear.  

James Irwin, an astronaut on Apollo 15, wrote 

“The Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God.” (quote drawn from the meditation resources on )

What a view from space this perspective of the “fragile earth”.  

How are we to tend it?  How will we tend each other?  

This question brings me to the vineyard we hear of in the Gospel today.  

What if the tenants and landowner in the parable we heard today understood their shared reliance on the vineyard?  What if they had known that they belonged to each other?   What if they’d adhered to the Commandments?  Do not covet, do not murder, do not steal?

Would have been a much shorter parable...

But, this parable is told in a community that seems to have forgotten who they are and to whom they belong. 

The original listeners of this story would have found themselves nodding along to the answer supplied by the Pharisees "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time."  That of course, was the answer that made sense.  Of course the landowner would destroy those who destroyed his son.  That’s how justice works--or is it?

Jesus turns the story on its head, by making it clear that this is not the answer given by God. The people to whom Jesus is speaking are the one’s who tell us that the landowner will “put those wretches to a miserable death”--NOT Jesus.    Jesus holds out a different ending 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone...”  

The cornerstone, that anchors the building; the cornerstone that orients the direction at which the building shall rise; the cornerstone that carries the weight...  

They had forgotten who they were and to whom they belonged.  Will we remember?  

An Ohi'a tree on the Island of Maui, near where we scattered the ashes of both of my parents.  Roots.