Saturday, November 29, 2014

553 Miles North, 8 Hours 45 Minutes From This Address: St. Paul to Ferguson

I have spent days, and if I am to be honest, weeks and months, wondering what I can say.  What I can offer as a white woman living in Minneapolis, serving a largely white congregation?  There are hints of a conversation around the edges, as we quietly discuss the need for our community to have conversations around the issues of race, of privilege, of class.  To discuss what it means to be St. Clement’s, a church in the midst of a gentrified neighborhood, on the edge of the African American community that was carved apart by a highway to ease the movement of suburbanites into the city centers.  

What can I say? I’m not from here, nor have I been here very long.  The temptation is to remain silent.  But then I hear from friends with black and brown bodies--friends immersed in community organizing, friends who get deeply and most profoundly what it means to be black in America, because they ARE black in America.  They insist upon the importance of people who look like us being in solidarity with people who look like them.  The call has been clear--speak up.  Or as a colleague puts it...”no matter where you are, the scripture today speaks to Ferguson”.

These friends aren’t just referring to the big and splashy headlines but to micro-aggressions, the 100s of little acts of violence that happen every day, and to the systematic inequalities that continue to disenfranchise the already disenfranchised.

There is my friend who left work and was asked by the uber driver picking her up if she was a janitor or security guard--when in fact she is a program manager.  My friend Karen who has to deal with the reality that the conversation she has with her children about race becomes a conversation about how not to be killed by those charged to protect.  The teenagers, like those I worked with in Cleveland, who have had to grapple with the truth that there are people who see their bodies, by virtue of the color of their skin, as weapons.  

Suddenly, youthful indiscretion is criminalized without possibility for reconciliation or redemption

I begin to understand the conversation I overheard as a child in Hawaii, when my Pilipino/Portuguese Uncle Junior spoke of his time on the mainland and how hard it was because people thought he was black.  How people treated him differently, how he encountered the reality of racism, and how painful that reality was.  

This world is broken people.  And we have no choice but to speak.  I have said repeatedly that we are a post-resurrection people called to the work of reconciliation.  If the world is broken, if we are to be Christians within it, we must do the hard and painful and inglorious task of repairing what we have broken.  

In many ways, this call to reconciliation and restoration is what I hear when the Gospel mandates that we are to “stay awake” as we prepare for the kingdom of God.  To stay awake, keeping our eyes open and feet moving in our efforts to not only prepare a place but create the new creation to which we are being called.  

I find myself tempted to say, “But, I didn’t break it, so it’s not my job to fix it!”  I want to deny my part in all of this, but today isn’t about what I want and the Gospel is clear that we cannot go back to sleep.  

Our liturgy each week is shaped for this work of transformation--this work of awakening.  

And, this week I am struck once again by the confession found in the supplemental liturgical text, “Enriching Our Worship” which asks us to confess to those things “done on our behalf”.  So, even if we weren’t the ones who broke it, we must repent of a system that has institutionalized the marginalization and subjugation of others and in doing so, has done it for the advantage of the privileged.  Who benefited when 94 tore up Old Rondo?  Who benefits when gracious old Victorians are restored to former glory?  Who benefits when the practice of open enrollment becomes defacto segregation?  

Recently, the bridge on Lowry Avenue in Minneapolis was repaired--the bridge which connects Northeast Minneapolis to North. I remember the conversations that swirled through the air as good and kind people discussed their concerns that the reopening of the bridge would open up a conduit for crime.  That what pollutes North would flow like some miasma across the river and poison our own community.  

This is messed up.  Can you see how messed up this is?  Can you see how the brokenness in this world keeps us from being the people God intends us to be?  

In 1997, actor Desi Arnaz Giles, who in an interview noted that his mother loved Lucy, was cast as Jesus in the Park Theater Performing Arts Center’s production of an annual Passion Play.  

Almost immediately, he started receiving death threats and the ticket cancellations rolled in.  

The sacrilege which he was accused of?

The heresy which invoked such passion?

Being black.  

"I've led a complete life," Giles said Tuesday. "Should somebody clip me during a performance, don't cry for me, just rejoice because I'm ready to go home."

Ready to go home.  When we talk about martyrdom, when we talk about suffering, when we talk about the burden borne by the crucified Christ...

Who better to portray Jesus than someone who knows the burden of suffering, who has carried the weight of our nation’s brokenness, who understands in his heart of hearts what it means to be persecuted for Christ’s sake?

When, I read the story of Desi Arnez Giles the news articles from 18 years ago all noted that the weekend following his portrayal of Jesus, Desi was cast as the devil in a musical.

No one protested that.  And, when I read the grand jury testimony out of St. Louis, I am struck that the police officer referred to Michael Brown as a “demon”.  

This is sin.  This is brokenness.  When anyone in this world can look upon another child of God, a creature of God’s own making, the work of God’s hand and proclaim them as anything less than beloved--we all find ourselves falling short of God’s call to justice, to love, to grace, to renewal and to reconciliation.

The prophet Isaiah speaks, “You are the potter; we are all the work of your hand...consider we are all your people”

We are all your people.  And this Advent, as we prepare for God incarnate, God in the flesh, fully human and fully divine.

We would be wise to consider that being made in God’s image is not restrictive but expansive.  

Jesus as a woman, Jesus as black, Jesus as indigenous, Jesus as gay, Jesus as white, Jesus as Palestinian, Jesus as man, Jesus as lesbian, Jesus as transgender, Jesus as poor, Jesus as rich, Jesus as baby, Jesus as grown, Jesus as millenial, Jesus as boomer, Jesus as Xer, Jesus as disabled

Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers, Jesus healing a child, Jesus protesting, Jesus proclaiming, Jesus weeping, Jesus calling, Jesus demanding, Jesus comforting...

You can’t be what you can’t see...and if we can’t see God incarnate throughout the breadth of diversity of what it is to be human we deny the full humanity of God AND the full humanity and beloved-ness of each of God’s children.  

And, in case you think I’ve given myself over to heresy.

Remember your baptismal promise

“Seek and serve Christ in all persons”  Christ in ALL persons.  We don’t get to pick or choose how Christ is made manifest in the world--we must live into our calling to see Christ in every person in the world.  

And, this Advent I call us to remember the baby we long for.

And, mourn the baby who will be crucified.

I call us to lament what has been destroyed

And to hope for what has been promised.  

I call us to implore the God of love to break into this broken world, and as the prophet Isaiah spoke:

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence...we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

I call us to remember the promise of love.

I call us to participate in God’s act of redemption.

I call us to heed the voices of the oppressed.  

I call us to act.

I call us to pray.

I call us to learn.

I call us to be the people that see the baby’s promise.  


If you want to learn and read more--these links back up the references I’ve made in this sermon to societal systems that have led to the perpetuation of racial inequity in our communities; they call us to act; and they give us suggestions as to how we might do so within our context as Episcopalians.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Fugitive

The readings for Proper 28 can be found here

The Fugitive

Last week, a congregant pointed out the tension between the words we traditionally end the proclamation of the Gospel with “Praise to you Lord Christ” and the truth that sometimes, the last thing we want to do is give thanks for the words we have heard.  

And, this week, like last, I could almost hear the hesitation in the response of praise.  As, once again, we hear a parable where an allegorical interpretation would seem to run counter to what we know and understand of a God of mercy and abundance.  In fact, if we take this parable allegorically, it runs counter to what Jesus himself has shared with us in the Gospel of Matthew about the nature of God and our calling to serve.

So, today I offer, from the Gospel of Matthew
some reminders...

“Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, and the reviled” (Mt 5:1-11)

“As you go, proclaim the good news, “the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.  You received without payment; give without payment” (Matthew 10:78)

“Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy not sacrifice” for I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” Matthew chapter 9

“Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Mt10:39)

“whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me...whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple--truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward” (Mt 10:40,42)

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt11:29-30)

So what happens between chapter 5 and chapter 25?  What was the Gospel writer’s community experiencing that so transformed these words of grace to words of judgment?  

Biblical scholar and theologian, John Dominic Crossan in The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction About Jesus, writes that the escalation of violence in Matthew stems from the conflict in Judaism between Christian-Jewish scribes and Pharaisaic Jewish Scribes.  Crossan holds that it is Matthew who is speaking in what Crossan calls “attack parables” and that the authentic voice of Christ (an authenticity he validates by cross referencing the material in the Gospel which appears in Mark) is made manifest early in the Gospel, before Matthew’s voice begins to overwhelm the voice of the messiah.  (193-194)

But, on a Sunday when I hold aloft the Gospel book and read this particular parable in this particular context, I have to wonder how we might extract the grace of God from the violence of this text.  If this is the scripture given to us to encounter today, where might we meet the God of abundance in the words that have been proclaimed?

This is not a new dilemma we are facing today, when we read the parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew a few weeks ago, we explored how that passage is changed if we read it and discern that the guest who is cast out of the banquet is in fact, Christ.   Rather, than reread that sermon (which, is tempting) I wish to share with you a contemporary parable

“one day a young fugitive, trying to hide himself from the enemy, entered a small village.  The people were kind to him and offered him a place to stay.  But when the soldiers who sought the fugitive asked where he was hiding, everyone became very fearful.  The soldiers threatened to burn the village and kill every man in it unless the young man were handed over to them at dawn.  The people went to the minister and asked him what to do.  The minister, torn between handing over the boy to the enemy or having his people killed, withdrew to his room and read his Bible, hoping to find an answer before dawn.  After many hours, in the early morning his eyes fell on these words:  “It is better that one man dies than that the whole people be lost.”

Then the minister closed the Bible, called the soldiers and told them where the boy was hidden.  And after the soldiers led the fugitive away to be killed, there was a feast in the village because the minister had saved the lives of the people.  But the minister did not celebrate.  Overcome with a deep sadness, he remained in his room.  That night an angel came to him, and asked, “What have you done?”  He said: “I handed over the fugitive to the enemy.”  Then the angel said: “But don’t you know that have handed over the Messiah?”  “How could I know?” the minister replied anxiously.  Then the angel said: “If instead of reading your Bible, you had visited this young man just once and looked into his eyes, you would have known.”  (WH 25-26)

Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer

There is an old spiritual that asks “were you there when they crucified my Lord?” and in these passages the answer becomes “yes, we were there”.   

What if we read the parable of the Talents in such a way that we see the servant cast into the outer darkness as the Christ?  What if what we take to be a “given” is in fact the very thing which confounds us in this parable.  What if, our understanding of the master as God is based on our own projections of how the world works--rather than Christ’s reflection upon the nature of violence.

And, in the Gospel passage today, I want to draw your attention to the one cast out.  What can we learn from the least of these, my children, in this passage?  What is Jesus offering us in this parable?  Where is the grace?  What hope can we draw from this, yet another part of Matthew’s little apocalypse?

This servant, the least of these, deserving of compassion and honest in his fear.  What if the other servants had shared the bounty?  What if this servant had been raised in the midst of generous abundance?  What if this servant had been taught that the master is one of abundance and love and care?  Would the talent have been hidden away?  Or proclaimed as the abundance it was?  

So, it is with compassion that we are called to hear of this, the third servant.  And, when I read with compassion, I can recognize the fear which filled this servant.  

“Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid”

How might we, in the here and the now, be transformed by moving beyond fear and scarcity and into abundance?  How will we create a world in which the grace of God transcends fear and abundant love becomes the default response to brokenness.

This parable calls us to use our talents/gifts/resources to expand God’s grace, to defeat the fear that breaks us and the anxiety that keeps us from acting with love.  This parable invites us to consider our own encounter with God--and with that consideration, we are asked to take a different approach.  

An approach summed up by Saint Julian of Norwich in her exhortation

"Live without fear. Your creator loves you, made you holy, and has always protected you. Follow the good road in peace, and may God's blessing remain with you always."

And, it is this exhortation that I will leave with you in today’s blessing.  

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Proper 27A, St. Clement’s, "Beam Me Up Scotty"

(The scripture can be found here)

Beam Me Up Scotty
A Sermon on Matthew 25:1-13

When I was little, my family would spend a week each year hiking and camping in Haleakala National Park.  My dad would carry a week’s worth of canned goods and bisquick in a world war II pack board, my mom laden with sleeping bags.  Haleakala, is the Hawaiian name for the volcano that formed the island of Maui.  It means “house of the sun” and when you look up at the crater from the valley below, it quite literally looks as if the sun is setting within the bowl of the caldera.  And, when you drive up the curving road traversing this dormant volcano’s side, you pass through the ring of clouds that so frequently encircle the peak--the chill dampness permeating until you reach the dryness of the air above the clouds.

There is an expansiveness to the landscape there.  From the crater’s rim you can look out and over the valley where the majority of those who live on Maui dwell, when you walk down the sliding sands trail, you enter what seems a martian landscape of dry cinders and lava fields.  It is desert like, and indigenous plants like the silversword and animals like the nene goose, fall into the category of “found nowhere else on earth”.  

As I describe Haleakala, or “the crater” as we would casually refer to it, it sounds fantastical.  And, in retrospect it was...however, as a child I had little appreciation for the folks who looked upon Haleakala with wonder and reverence.  The folks who you would sometimes find, worn and weary and enchanted, on the trails.  The folk, my mother referred to as the “beam me up scotties” who quite literally would climb to the crater’s rim out of some sense or understanding that they would be picked up there--by gods or aliens or whatever transcendence caused them to leave behind all they knew for encounter in the caldera.  

After one such encounter with a white woman with wild hair who asked to sit on our cabin steps to eat her papaya, I found myself (intrigued at the age of eight) wondering what she would do when “scotty” failed to come get her.  Where she would go, when her life continued on, devoid of the aliens she seemed so committed to.

My parents were politely dismissive of her ramblings and kind as they brought her water.  But, later they were clear with us...both about kindness and about the importance of staying grounded in the here and the now.  

Romantic notions about what might be encountered in the house of the sun were far less important to my parents then the work being done to remove invasive species, fence the crater so that feral goats wouldn’t eat the endangered silversword plant, and the trails my father had once helped maintain.  

And, with this memory--I am drawn to the tension that Matthew addresses in the Gospel we hear today.  In these passages, often referred to as the “little apocalypse” those Jesus addresses are the insiders, the disciples and followers of the way--they are the ones who have waited and hoped and suffered for the sake of their faith in the son of God, Jesus the Christ, the crucified one.  He is quite literally, preaching to the choir.

Matthew wrote in 80 or 90 of the current era--decades after the death and resurrection of Christ.  Scholars note, that Matthew was a Greek speaker who was not an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry--and he wrote in a time when followers of the way, the early Christians (both Jewish and Gentile) were being expelled from the synagogues (hence the sharp critique of Phariseeic Judaism that we hear in the Gospel).  

Matthew addresses a group that felt marginalized and the Gospel of Matthew emerged out of that sense of alienation.  Further, this group of Jewish and Gentile Christians were experiencing the tension of delayed hopes, they had been waiting for a lifetime and yet the wait continued.  The early followers of the way of Jesus felt sure that Christ would return in their lifetimes.  As time passed, the leaders of the early Christian community dealt with the broken hopes of the waiting followers...

And, this parable emerges out of the reality that there were those who had given up on the expectation of Christ’s, the bridegroom’s, return.

The entire community waited and had become complacent in the waiting.  One cannot help but think of the sleeping disciples--can you not stay awake one hour?  

This parable is a tough one, as my modern ears are quick to notice the lack of generosity on the part of the quote/unquote wise...and my store of biblical knowledge notes the abundance of the blessing and love of God--an abundance which seems in short supply in these verses.  But, once I get past the “issues” I have with the text, I find that the main point of the parable has little to do with living in community, and a great deal more to do with waiting in anticipation.  

I can only imagine that the early Christians struggled with moments when the Way no longer felt relevant to them--when living for the future, that never seemed to come, caused them to give up on the present.   And, I can imagine that the followers addressed in the parable were those being reminded of members of the community who had fallen away and how easy it is for complacency to take the place of engaged preparation.

How, do we 2000 years after the life of Christ, live in the waiting?  In the time between time, between the creation of all things and the restoration of all creation to God.  As we moved through the exodus narrative with its prolonged wilderness, as we move through this time of transition at St. Clement’s, how do we wait?  

How do we serve God in the here and the now, in the already but not yet of life after the resurrection?  

Do we become complacent and wait for someone else to assume the ministry of this place?  Do we sit on our metaphorical cabin porches waiting to be “beamed up” and disappointed when the transcendent disappoints?   

Or do we wait with action and compassion?  Sharing our light and our hopes, our joys and our sorrows.  Sharing the burdens of those who travel the way with us, being swift to love and making haste to be kind.   Seeking and serving Christ in all persons.  Honoring the dignity of every human being.  Breaking bread and drinking wine.  Keeping our vigils and honoring our vows.  Reconciling, forgiving, serving, embracing.  

There is much to do while we wait.  And, in my time here as transition priest, I’ve watched you all in the waiting, and have been struck at the love and the care, the passion and engagement, the commitment of time and talent and treasure.  Haiti, loaves and fishes, dress for success, weddings, memorials, baptisms, requiems, pilgrimage, anthems, baking bread and stirring soup, pouring coffee and selling boats, praying, teaching, learning, painting and cleaning, raking leaves and embroidering linens.  This is what we do while we wait.  This is what we do.  This is who we are.