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.”


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

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Occupy Hope, Occupy Advent

Advent 1C, 2015
Text found here
Occupy Hope

There is a photo, my mother and I seated in the open hatchback of our car. Yellow grasses bend around us with the wind.  Her arm is slung about my shoulder.  I am twelve and we have driven up the mountain side to witness the total eclipse of the sun.  We are perched on what looks to be the edge of the world.

I am smiling. I do not know that in 5 years my dad will die near that very place.  I do not know that after his death my mother will careen into disaster--her fragile mental health upended by tragedy and alcohol.   

I do not know.  Nor, does she.  And, so we wait, ready with our homemade eye protection to witness an event detailed in any number of narratives foretelling the end of days--the sun, obliterated, and the end upon us.     

And, we smile, we know better.  This is not the end.  But, in retrospect, perhaps it was.  It was the end of some things and the beginning of others.  

We lived that day.  Secure in love.  I was newly twelve and we did not know.  

Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun and the moon and the stars...”

And, the gravity of the veiled sun spins us round.  And, we drive up the mountain and perch on the edge of the world.  To bear witness.  But, we are not there to witness the end of the world.

We are there to survive it.  And, then to tell of it.  

Author Annie Dillard, describes a total eclipse of the sun which occurred in 1979, 

“You have seen photographs of the sun taken during a total eclipse. The corona fills the print. All of those photographs were taken through telescopes. The lenses of telescopes and cameras can no more cover the breadth and scale of the visual array than language can cover the breadth and simultaneity of internal experience. Lenses enlarge the sight, omit its context, and make of it a pretty and sensible picture, like something on a Christmas card. I assure you, if you send any shepherds a Christmas card on which is printed a three-by-three photograph of the angel of the Lord, the glory of the Lord, and a multitude of the heavenly host, they will not be sore afraid. More fearsome things can come in envelopes. More moving photographs than those of the sun’s corona can appear in magazines. But I pray you will never see anything more awful in the sky.”  

The photo does not do the awful justice. And, so photo in my mind’s eye, I was twelve.  My world was going to end. A new world would begin. I would choose to step into that new world.  And in that choosing, I would choose to believe in hope.  

To live, to become, to hope.

And, this is the theme of the first Sunday of Advent.


Hope that we can avert disaster.  Hope that promises will be kept.  Hope that the veiled sun will emerge intact.  Hope.

Can we understand the power of hope?  

Hope.  It is what the prophet Jeremiah proclaims in the portion of text given to us today--chapters 30-33 of Jeremiah are referred to as the little book of Comfort.  

And, after the first 29 chapters of Jeremiah, there is a need for comfort...

In Jeremiah’s charge as a prophet he is instructed to pluck up and tear down and then build and plant anew (Jeremiah 1:10).  So in the first 29 chapters he describes the failings of Israel and the devastation that has been wrought by those failings--he castigates the exiled people and angrily mourns the devastation in their midst. Jeremiah addresses a community devastated by the Babylonian invasion of 587 BCE, a community living in exile and longing for return.

Exile akin to eclipse--Jeremiah writes to a shadowed world. But, his charge being two-fold, he cannot neglect to tell of the God who builds and plants.  And, so out of the shadows emerges the comfort of God’s promise.  

The prophet offers hope, and the Lord says, “I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.”

And, the sun emerges from behind the unseen moon, “Thus says the Lord: If any of you could break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night would not come at their appointed time, only then could my covenant with my servant David be broken” (Jeremiah 33:20-21)

God’s covenant with us cannot be broken--it is as consistent as the rising and the setting of the sun.  Nor is God’s commitment to us dependent upon our own abilities--God’s covenant manifests itself in grace. Such grace, as the collect for today tells us, that our possession of this grace will allow us to cast away the works of darkness.

Grace into our upturned hands, grace freely given.  And, with grace, we become not an apocalyptic people, but anti-apocalyptic.

Anti-apocalyptic?  Apocalyptic foreshadowing becomes a warning we can heed.  The edge of apocalypse offer us an opportunity to transform ourselves while there is still time. Apocalypse stands at the edge of the world and then walks away from that edge--there be dragons the maps proclaim and the ships take heed.  
Out of the apocalyptic imagination we are given insight into what might be and the opportunity to choose a different way.

And, so we choose. And, on this first day of Advent we are invited to choose hope.

To trust hope. To stare into that veiled sun and know that the shadow will pass. To occupy hope, even from that place of exile. 

19th century author Frederick Charles Woodhouse writes, “The season of Advent gives us a new motto of life, “Occupy till I come.”...our bodies our faculties, our talents, our influence, our natural gifts, all belong to God; we are but tenants-at-will, we occupy till God comes” (“A manual for Advent” by Frederick Charles Woodhouse, 1883).  

Occupy, till I come.  Occupy until the covenant is fulfilled. Occupy until the baby is born. Occupy until justice comes. Occupy until love wins. Occupy until all are liberated.

Occupy Advent, occupy hope!

We began with an eclipse and so we will end with one, 

During the colonial period in American History there was an eclipse of the sun. It caught members of the New England state legislature off guard. In the midst of panic, a member made a motion to adjourn but one legislator stood, “Mr Speaker, if it is not the end of the world and we adjourn, we shall appear to be fools. If it is the end of the world, I choose to be found doing my duty. I move you, sir, let candles be brought”- (The Christian Century, November 17,2009)

And, so the sun eclipsed and they stayed the course. And, so today, as we light the first candle called hope, we proclaim our duty--to light the candles and proclaim that when this truth passes away a greater truth will come into being.  

We will occupy hope, we will occupy Advent. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Apocalypse--the Sermon that Wasn't and the Hope that Is
28B, Readings found here

I had a lovely sermon all planned out--Hannah’s song, the themes of thanksgiving and praise; the liturgical role of Hannah’s song and my own awe that the existence of this piece within the canon makes clear the early Israelites’ understanding of God’s interest and investment in the lives of women. 

In that other, lovely, sermon I was going to invite us to explore how we use prayer--how prayer allows us to engage with God within the context of our own lives and experiences.

It was a lovely sermon...

We were going to talk about God and how we as the church have an opportunity to engage God in our own narratives--and how the gift the church offers is the forum for making those connections between the world, our lives and our God.  

I think that you would have liked that sermon...

But then, this is not that sermon.  Because, once again I find myself praying into the depth of disaster. Beirut, Baghdad, Paris...and I wonder how many of you have come here today wanting to talk about God in those places and God in this place. 

I wonder, how many of us long for a means of understanding these terrors in light of our claim, as Christians, that love will win and that death will give way to life. 

I wonder, what those claims mean in light of both global and personal catastrophe.

And, from this, I engage again with Hannah’s song--a song in which the feeble grow strong and the weapons of the mighty are broken.

That will be the day...and, in that day, lies the hope of which we speak.

Our peculiar hope--out of death, life. An apocalyptic hope, is it not? 

Apocalypse our hope?  Apocalypse as comfort? I’m not entirely sure I want to sign up for that sort of bedtime reading!  

Or, do I? The other day, I was engaged in a conversation with a member of this congregation.  In jest, I joked about how useful I would be “come the zombie apocalypse”--“I can apply pressure and pray at the same time!”  

While I am not exactly sure why we started talking about zombie apocalypse (I’m guessing it was my fault), what I do know is that as we, as human beings in this culture and this time, jest about such things in response to our collective anxiety, our fear.  Fear about the fate of this world and our seemingly precarious place within it.

So, when we jest about zombie apocalypse-reading books like World War Z and avoiding the detours around Minneapolis’ popular Zombie pub crawl--we are experiencing our culture’s efforts to make sense of what seems to be impending doom by placing it within a mythic construct. Or, rather, we are writing our own apocalypses in the here and the now.

And in these apocalyptic texts there is a comforting demarcation between good and evil.  You, you over there--you’re evil, you, you over there, you’re good--the zombies versus the humans  How much simpler would the world be if such things were clear!  

There is a well known song that uses this trope as a means of unifying humanity against those forces of evil...

“Darkness falls across the land
The midnight hour is close at hand
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize y'awl's neighborhood”

Yes, I did just quote Michael Jackson’s song “Thriller”...but, did so with good reason.  In this lyrical text, the human speaker depicts the impending approach of an evil horde of zombies as a means of solidifying alliances with another human being.   

Humans versus zombies--can good and evil be more obvious? And this desire to paint with broad brush strokes groups as either all good or all bad, while understandable, has horrific implications.

In our search for sides we fall into the trap of vilifying others--dehumanizing them and denying their dignity.  An us and them, where the goal is the destruction of the other and not the reconciliation that can give birth to new life.  Destroying our brothers and sisters is not our goal or our hope as Christians--our hope is new life and the inbreaking of God’s peace into the world.  

I am called to remember that into the midst of conflict amongst the disciples Jesus reminded them of their priorities by placing a child at the center--lifting up the most vulnerable and placing their needs at the center of the disciples calling.  

And, so I wonder, confronted as we are with this text, can apocalypse in scripture do a similar re-centering?

Can we read what's known as the "little apocalypse" in the Gospel of Mark and find at its core a re-centering on new life in Christ?

We'll begin by looking at the center of religious life in Jerusalem, the Temple.  The fall of the Second Temple in 70 A.D. was an unimaginable catastrophe--an example of impossibly exacting craftsmanship.  It was built of stones weighing an average of 10 tons apiece--no mortar was used, rather the Temple was bound together by the laws of physics and the care of its builders.  The Temple, built upon the Temple Mount, towered over Jerusalem--both literally and symbolically. The Temple’s destruction was not only a physical act of aggression, but psychological as well--inspiring terror amidst a community that had been shaped by its reality.  And, so as the Gospel invites the listener to consider the destruction of what seems indestructible, it does so to an audience who already knows of the destruction that will come to pass and is trying to find meaning within it.  

Those addressed by the Gospel of Mark would have wondered what it meant to them, as first century Jews and Christians, to live in this time of wars and rumors of war.  And, so, the genre of apocalypse takes the landscape of the ruined temple and places it within the context of a cosmic battle, 

“Many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.”

So, let us re-center ourselves, as Jesus invites us to in this passage--step away from the wars and rumors of wars, stay calm and consider, Jesus has once again put a child at the center.  If there are to be birth pangs there is to be birth.  From sorrow to rejoicing, from death to life. 

The terror that comes by night is not the center of the story--the birth of a child is.

And, so we gather to celebrate life in the midst of death. The powers of darkness cannot win when we stubbornly insist upon holding life and love at the center. 

Let us pray, for all of us,  

"O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us, unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen." (BCP)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

That Dangerous and Finite House

All Saints, 2015
St. Clement’s Episcopal Church

The texts for preaching:
  • Revelation 21:1-6a
  • John 11:32-44

There are four baptismal feast days observed by the church, Baptism of Our Lord; the Great Vigil of Easter; Pentecost and All Saints.  

Baptism of our Lord because it marks the occasion of Jesus’ own baptism and God’s claiming of Jesus as the son in whom God is well pleased.  

The Great Vigil of Easter, because the texts appointed for that night explore the arc of God’s work of salvation in our midst.  From the water of creation, through the Red Sea to the baptismal waters of our own deliverance.  

Pentecost, because that feast marks the gift of the Holy Spirit to the world.  It is the birthday of the church and an occasion upon which formally joining the body of Christ through baptism becomes an opportunity to observe that the Spirit continue to move in our midst and transforms the every growing and changing body of Christ in the world.

And, then, All Saints.  All Saints because it a day when we remember and celebrate all of the saints that God has placed among us, now and in the distant past. We remember our loved ones who have died and acclaim, yet again, that death is not the end of our story--rather, death is a beginning of a new life in God in Christ. And in that new life in Christ, all of God’s beloved children are saints, and a cloud of saints and witnesses surrounds us in our lives and in our deaths. We baptize on this day as a way of celebrating the union of all who have been baptized with one another and the communion of Saints.  

So, Caroline Joy and Kyle George have been (or will be) joined this day with the communion of Saints and in that joining they enter into a journey of new life in Christ.  A journey of life to life and love to love and light to light. But, it is not a journey they undertake alone--they travel with all the saints as their guide. 

The Saints of this place, and the Saints of the wider church.  The Saints in the here and the now, and the saints that have ever been.  They will not travel alone and we are asked to keep our own promise to travel the way with them.  

And, where does that way lead?  It is said that in pilgrimage we discover within ourselves, along the way, all that we might have hoped to find in sacred destination.  Or, in other words, we don’t need to go anywhere to abide with God, as God abides with us in our everywhere.  

And so, when we welcome people into the household of God we are welcoming them to what is most fundamentally true--they have always and will always live a life with God who is at home in our midst.  Our midst, the where we are right now, then becomes the holy city of Revelation.  We are, in our very nature, the home of God amongst mortals.  

And, this holy city is the culmination of Revelation--the summation of the text is the abiding of God in our midst.  Or as Leonard Cohen put it in “Beautiful Losers”, a book I don’t actually recommend, in which he describes a Saint as one who “so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance.  Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape.  His house is dangerous and finite, but he is at home in the world.  He can love the shapes of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. “

And, so the Saints, in the image of God and in the way of Christ love and live within the present moment and through all eternity.  And, in that loving and in that living, give themselves over to a life lived in a “dangerous and finite house”.

What a radical yet wholly true notion, God lives with us in a dangerous and finite house.   God so loved the world...that God gave God’s self over to the depth of all that it is to be human--the pain, the suffering, the rejoicing, the loving.  And, in that sacrifice of self, there was a weeping and a knowing of the hurt that happens on the journey of the heart. 

God abides with us.

What a powerful naming of God with us--God who makes all things new, God who has made us new!   God at home with us, in the home of all creation in a  house which we create, a house which is always under under construction, and a house we will help construct.  

And, so this house of our being where God abides in our midst...what will we make of this house?  

House of prayer, house of hope, house of God...

There is a contemporary hymn that invites us to a building of this house where God is in our midst...Marty Haugan’s invitation

Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where prophets speak, and words are strong and true,
where all God’s children dare to seek to dream God’s reign anew.
Here the cross shall stand as witness and as symbol of God’s grace;
here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where love is found in water, wine, and wheat:
a banquet hall on holy ground where peace and justice meet.
Here the love of God, through Jesus, is revealed in time and space;
as we share in Christ the feast that free us:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where hands will reach beyond the wood and stone
to heal and strengthen, serve and teach, and live the Word they’ve known.
Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face;
let us bring an end to fear and danger:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place. 
Marty Haugen. Tune: TWO OAKS