Saturday, February 21, 2015

New People, By Water and The Spirit

Lent 1B: Flood and New Life
Readings found here

During my Ash Wednesday sermon this past week, I preached a reminder that each of us is marked as Christ’s own forever.  In our beginning and in our ending--and in the midst of the now that is now--marked as Christ’s own forever. This claiming of our collective identity as Christ’s own, is not a new message for me to preach. I often speak of the importance of remembering who we are and to whom we belong--we are beloved children of God who belong to the God who created us and loves us--beloved children of God who have inherited the promise of hope--beloved children of God whose participation in the humanity of Christ calls us to care for and love all of creation--beloved children of God faced with temptation and worry; beloved children of God who are invited again and again to “repent and believe the good news”; beloved children of God who are invited to the table.  

The season of Lent is a season of invitation back to the table--of reconciliation and restoration of the wholeness of community.  The broken relationships, the broken promises, the worries and anxieties--Lent becomes a time in which we work towards the vision of wholeness--when we are invited to become a new creation in Christ.  

This is not an invitation to destruction, but an invitation to restoration.  And, that’s where I want to pick up the story of the ark today.  

My temptation, when I hear this story of cataclysmic flood, is to get stuck in my own horror at the destruction of all life.  Sure, there are the lovely bits about the dove and the promise to never destroy--complete with rainbow!  But, the lovely bits for me are subsumed by the flood waters.  

In a sermon I preached here in September, I referenced the Talmudic response to the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea... “How can you sing as the works of my hand are drowning?”

 And, this becomes my gut response to this can we celebrate the rainbow when the works of creation are destroyed by the creator?  But, in a literal gut check, I recognize that if I approach this text as a literalist, I reject the invitation to engage with the mythic qualities of the text...those things in the text that transcend context and culture.  

In the flood narrative we hear of a creation so corrupted by the actions of human beings that the only choice left the creator is creating a new creation.  A fresh start, as it were.  Out of the destruction of all that was, emerges the hope for what might be.  And, part of that hope is the creation of a new covenant, a new relationship, between humanity and God.    

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh writes that, “ if you look deeply into your anger, you will see that the person you call your enemy is also suffering.  As soon as you see that, the capacity of accepting and having compassion for him is there. Jesus calls this “loving your enemy.”  When you are able to love your enemy, he or she is no longer your enemy.  The idea of “enemy” vanishes and is replaced by the notion of someone who is suffering and needs your compassion.”  

What an amazing twist to our understanding of the flood narrative...the invitation to see God as a God who looked deeply into anger and recognizes our suffering.  A God for whom the idea of enemy vanishes and is replaced by the notion of someone who is suffering and needs God’s compassion.  

And, when I can see in the flood the promise of God’s compassion and remembering I can connect our own story , our ancestral trajectory--stemming from a story of survival and emergent promise.  A story in which God chooses a new way to be in relationship with all of us--a relationship of shared experience, regret, love and sacrifice.  

And, out of this flood narrative, a limitless promise emerges--God’s covenant is with the entirety of creation.  Never again.  And God remembers.  And we remember.  

The Eucharistic Prayer, prayer C, which we will be using for the duration of Lent invokes this remembering of creation, betrayal, and new creation.  

At your command all things came to be...From the primal elements you brought forth the human race...But we turned against you, and betrayed
your trust; and we turned against one another...Again and again, you called us to return...made a new people by water and the Spirit.  

Made a new people...what an amazing invitation to start anew.  

One of the most powerful symbols we’ve been gifted with as a church is that of water.  Out of waters that would destroy comes new life into being.  And, not only new life, but a promise for all of life.  All...and this promise in its entirety is a powerful affirmation of our interconnectedness.   God’s promise is an “all of us or none of us”—my salvation is intimately tied to yours and we are all in the ark of creation together.  And, this causes me to wonder, what happens to our understanding of creation and our place in it if we begin to understand ourselves as survivors of the flood?

For the survivors of the flood, the ordeal of the waters results in an intense feeling of belonging that is marked by God’s covenant.  “This sense of comradeship and communality that comes out of the shared ordeal which anthropologist Victor Turner calls communitas. Communitas in his view happens in situations where individuals are driven to find each other through a common experience of ordeal, humbling, transition, and marginalization. It involves intense feelings of social togetherness and belonging brought about by having to rely on each other in order to survive.”   

We rely on each other to survive.  And in our mutual interdependence we are invited to examine what it means to be invited into an experience of the holy lent.  

When we walk in the desert together--whether literally or figuratively, we are driven to find each other, rely on each other and support each other.  And beyond our own human here and now, we are called to remember that when we walk in the desert, we walk with Jesus.  Lent can serve as a reminder that we are never alone or isolated in our suffering, our temptation, our rejoicing, or our belovedness as children of God.    

So here we are, after the rainbow, and out of the flood comes not an invitation to destruction, but an invitation to restoration.  Made a new people by water and the Spirit.  


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Tattooed Sleeves

Transfiguration B 2015, St. Clement’s
Scripture appointed for today may be found here 

You may be amazed to learn, that there are times when I wish that I could choose to stay home on Sunday morning, or better yet, go to brunch or a coffee shop to read the paper.  But, for better or for worse, the choice to NOT be here is not mine to make. When I serve as a priest in a parish, each Sunday morning includes services, like it or not--whether I feel like it or not.  And I have to say that, since having children, I am struck in particular by the dedication of those who week after week manage to get their children here!  

So, why are you here?  Why aren’t you all wearing snugglies on your couches and brewing another cup of coffee?  Why aren’t you blearily rolling over in bed after glancing at the clock and realising that it’s Sunday and you don’t have to get up yet?  Isn’t the Sunday crossword beckoning?  Weren’t your pajamas comfortable enough?  I mean,’s cold outside!   

Why have you chosen this place and this space on this frigid Sunday morning?   What have you seen? What glimpse of the divine, what hunger, what longing, what yearning, has brought you to St. Clement’s today?  

And, if your answer to that question is “my parents made me”, why do you think they made you?  What is so important about being here today that your parents ignored your pleas to “just stay home” and made you come to church?

To church, today, where we find ourselves celebrating Global Mission Sunday--and marking the beginning of our seventh year of partnership with the work of restoration in Haiti.  Today, on Transfiguration Sunday, when we hear of what has been seen and speak of our own glimpses of the divine.  

As we move from Epiphany into Lent, Transfiguration stands as a cross roads of sorts.  

Epiphany celebrates the revelation of Jesus in our lives--transfiguration, as I see it, celebrates the transformation that occurs when we witness Jesus.  And it celebrates the lives of those who have been transformed by what they have seen--Elisha’s witness of Elijah’s dramatic departure; Paul who encountered the light of Christ in his own heart, and  Peter, James and John who stood transfixed and stood witness to God’s proclamation of love for God’s son, their friend. 
“Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."’

Peter, Peter, Peter...poor fellow, putting his foot in his mouth again.  But isn’t it human nature, to want to dedicate places and spaces in honour, in memory and in witness to something we have witnessed or encountered?  To try to capture the moment, as best we can, so that we can return to that moment again and again.  Monuments and memorials, scripture and song...trying to capture the dynamic movement and manifestation of God in our midst.  Oh that we might catch the whirl wind!

We can’t stay on the mountain top--Elisha has the duty to take the words of God back to his people.  Jesus cannot stay on the mountain in the booths his disciples offer to construct, he must make the journey into Jerusalem.  We can’t stay in this place of exquisite music, public prayer, and Cass Gilbert design forever...we have to leave out the doors and take the beauty, the charge, the power of our experience with us.  

Just as Elisha’s double portion of the Spirit drives him to the work of God in the world, so too does our own mountain top witness demand an action and reaction back in the work-a-day world.  It becomes our obligation to take what we have seen and share it with others.  

Following the final session of the race, power and privilege conversation that was held here over the last four weeks, the facilitators asked us how we might share what we’d learned with the larger community.  Someone in the group suggested that we might consider wearing buttons that say simply “Ask Me”, and invite others into conversation about ourselves, our community and the dynamic of privilege and race--not only in America, but in our immediate neighbourhood.  I wonder if Paul would have encouraged such buttons?  ”Ask Me”, inviting others into conversation about the good news of Christ in the world and the light that will forever shine in the darkness.

There are lots of ways to invite the proclaim to the world the transformation that has taken place in our own lives.  You may not wear a button, but there are other symbols which proclaim the new truths we have encountered.

After my first year of college I noticed a rather peculiar phenomena that stretched from mid-November through mid-December of each year.  Shortly before Thanksgiving break, and then again before Christmas, there would be a rather astonishing number of trips made by first year students to a couple of different institutions--the tattoo parlor and the piercing shop.  

Now you might think that getting a new tattoo, or your nose pierced or shaving your head, days before going home to your family might be the most ill advised thing anyone could do.  And, you may be right!  

But, these wanton actions, these body modifications on a seeming whim had a deeper meaning.  We had been transformed, by new learnings, new freedoms and new loves and when we prepared to return home to our families, we carried with us the desire to have those we’d left behind see that  WE WERE NOT THE SAME AS WE HAD BEEN.  So off we went, noses pierced and hair mussed up from the our own whirlwinds of encounter--back to the people and communities we had left months before.

“Ask me” we proclaimed!  And, so people did--and in their asking they learned of new loves, new learnings, and new passions made manifest. Pilgrims gone and returned again.  In coming months we will send off our own pilgrims to Haiti, and then in a few months pilgrims to Ireland.  And ,while I don’t think they will come back tattooed and pierced, I DO think that they will invite the conversation...Ask Me.

 Ask me the question, what did you see up on the mountain top?  Where did the chariot of fire take you?  What story of our neighborhood, what chance meeting on a Haitian mountain side, what requiem or mass, what sermon or song?  What did you see!? 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Mother-In-Law

Epiphany 5B, 2015, St. Clement’s Episcopal Church

Scripture appointed for the day found here

The Greek word Epiphany means manifestation or, in another attempt at definition, a sudden insight into the meaning of something.  So, in this season after the Epiphany of Christ to the magi, I have found myself asking the question

What insight follows our own encounter with the manifested Christ?  What revelation is being made to us in the proclamation of the Gospel appointed each day?  

And, lest you think I’m over-thinking things...we are actually supposed to get something out of our encounter with scripture...

So what do we get when we dig into today’s encounter with the manifested Christ?

She has no name.  Like so many of the other stories about women in scripture we find ourselves gathering at the bedside of a woman who has no name.  And, I find that irritating, I want her to have a name.  A name besides “Simon’s mother in law”, I want a name for her that reminds me to see her as her...I want her to have a voice, I want her to be greeted and lifted up when she is restored to wholeness.  I find myself moving beyond irritation and into a place of resignation...of course the first thing she does after being miraculously made well by the son of God is serve everyone...isn’t that what a nameless woman is supposed to do anyway?  


Perhaps I am alone in my irritation.  Perhaps, I am projecting my own “stuff” on this biblical woman.

My dad worked hard, forty hours a week that was more than forty most of the time.  He rose to work, and when he came home tended the animals on our own makeshift farm.  Work upon work.  

And, my mom, home with the kids--tending the animals, cleaning the house, volunteering at our schools and driving us to events and activities.  Work upon work.  

And, when my mom was sick, when the mental illness none of us understood--the malaise that garnered little sympathy because she looked “fine”--when that illness enveloped her, it meant the house wasn’t cleaned and the laundry undone...and that’s when the arguments would begin.  

I go to work, it’s your job to cook and clean the house.  I go to work, you’re supposed to...I go to work...

Your job.  In my father’s family the men worked and the women cleaned.  In my father’s family, young men joined the military and then came home to take care of the women.  The women who cleaned, and cooked, birthing the children and tending to everyone’s upon work.  

So perhaps I project too much into this story of miraculous healing.  Perhaps, my own story gets in the way of this one.  

Perhaps Simon’s Mother-in-law was lying there, wishing, just wishing for a miracle that would allow her to make dinner for everyone in the house.  

But, allow me to continue my projection.  In her illness, the house had fallen apart--unswept floors and pots left sitting long after the last scrapings of the meal had been dished onto the last of the plates.  The rooms carried the mustiness of closed windows and unaired bedding.  

They needed her--she was needed, she was essential to the running of the household, to the wholeness of the family.  How many folk do we know who when ill long to “just get back to work” have things return to normal, to be back in the midst of the everyday tasks, no matter how tedious, those tasks that tells us that everything is as it should be that we can carry on and that it’s going to be okay.  

And, so restoration to health often means restoration to a life that is pleasantly or even unpleasantly “normal”.    When I served in the children’s hospital, parents of children with chronic disease were cautioned by social workers and child life specialists to keep things “normal” that having to do chores and homework and follow the rules, would provide a sense of stability and normalcy to their family--a stability their child, healthy or not, craved.  

And, so it strikes me that being able to serve was perhaps exactly what Simon’s mother-in-law wished.  To be whole again, to be able to serve in the way she and all those she loved had become accustomed.  

And, in being healed she re-enters society as a servant to the son of God.  Allow me to repeat myself.  She is the very first servant to the son of God. 

Scholars make note, that as servant to the Christ she becomes the very first deacon of what shall become the church. Allow me to introduce the nameless woman who serves as deacon to Christ...Simon’s mother-in-law.

the Rev. Dr Ofelia Ortega Su├írez,, the first Presbyterian woman to be ordained in Cuba, connects this passage to the history of  the early church.  The early church, the ecclesia or gathering of those who followed the way of Jesus, did not gather in cathedrals or temples, stone monoliths or dedicated sanctuary.  The early church gathered in private homes, it was in the homes of early followers that the disciples heard the Gospel and found the support for living out their own calling to service. "This woman," Ortega writes, "gets up and turns the Sabbath into a paschal day of service to others. Jesus does not command her. She is the one that assumes the initiative and awaits the consequences, discovering the value of mutual service above the sacredness of the Sabbath" (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 1).

In this woman we see this intersection of Sabbath and service.  In this passage we see the call to mutual service juxtaposed with the call to rest.  Both rest and labor, serving and being served.  

There is a phrase you’ll hear me say often--that praying shapes believing...that how we pray and do the work of liturgy, shapes our beliefs.  But, let me take it a bit further...praying shapes believing and believing shapes doing.  Our faith is not a passive one, it is an active expression of all that we are and all we say we believe.  And so, following our recitation of the Nicene Creed, we will lift up the outreach ministries of this community--our faith in action in the community and world in which we live.    

We believe and we serve...the Episcopal Network for Stewardship references the phrase that stewardship is, “Everything I do after I say, “I believe”.  And, so we believe and we do.  Praying, believing, doing...and asking again the question, 

What revelation is being made to us in the proclamation of the Gospel appointed each day?

“He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” 

We follow along in the way of Jesus who has lifted us up.  Calling us to be a community of preaching and healing, healing and preaching.  We lift up a saint of the church, the woman who served as the first Deacon.  We lift up our own participation in the healing body of Christ.  We begin to serve, and in that service there is more revelation...