Saturday, April 25, 2015

Small Boat, Big Sea, Easter 4B

15, Easter 4B, Readings here
Jesus With Skin On
Many years ago now, as a youth outreach worker in inner-city Cleveland, I coordinated programming for the children who attended the community hot meal we offered at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.  St. Luke’s sits in the midst of a poverty stricken neighborhood known for drug trafficking and you could watch teens and young adults slowly wheeling their bikes up and down the streets as cars pulled close and transactions occurred.  Yelling and car horns, deep bass reverberating, and the ding of gas pumps at the “convenience” on the corner--the gas station that served as the only grocery store within walking distance of the church and its neighborhood. 
The children who came to us, usually came alone.  Big siblings with littles in tow, eager for a hot meal and ready to participate in the crafts, story times and open gym we made available.  But, mostly they came for the safe space to play and the grown ups who would listen carefully and earnestly to the stories of violence and abuse which plagued the community.  One night it was a thirteen year old’s swelling belly, another night meeting a child living with the after effects of severe lead poisoning, and then on more nights than I could count, the eager tattling and awe of littles as they spoke of siblings and cousins sent to juvenile detention.
In my second year of ministry at St. Luke’s and its sister parishes (it was a yoked ministry), I wrote and received a grant requesting funding for children’s books.  I read reviews, visited bookstores and libraries...searching for books that would speak to the children within their own context.  Books that would reinforce what we would tell them again and again and again--you are a beloved child of God.  God loves you.  We love you.  You are worthy of love.  
One of the books I found, illustrated by artist Tim Ladwig, used psalm 23 to provide the backdrop to a day in the life of two urban African American Children.   From morning to night, each moment of the children’s day is accompanied by a verse of the psalm--Grandma bathing the children, “anointed my head with oil”; menacing teens leering from the front stoop as Grandpa walks the children home, “even though I walk through the darkest valley I fear no evil”.
Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., the author of "Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction." reviews the book as follows 
“In "Psalm 23," Ladwig translates onto canvas the most famous Psalm of all, incorporating stirring paintings of African children in a loving family setting.  Ladwig has applied the ancient rural setting of this Psalm to the modern urban world. No Pollyanna portraits, Ladwig combines the bleak nature of potentially menacing city life with the comfort of God's presence.  The scenes are not so much "heavenly," as they are depictions of God's earthly provision through "Jesus with skin on"--loving parents, teachers, and other adults and extended family members.”
I read that book again and again.  
Jesus with skin on--an invitation to imagine the psalm as a mandate to create a place in which children could find a community of restoration, a table spread and waiting for them and real, concrete, manifestations of God’s grace.
We tried to be Jesus with skin on.
And with that we lived as resurrection people in a resurrection time.  God’s revelation is an incarnate one.  And, we become the incarnation of God’s hand and feet in the world.  
I have said again and again, to this community over the past year, that psalm 23 reminds us that we spend our lives in the valley of the shadow of death--whether we realize it or not.  The comfort of the psalm is that we are not alone in that valley--and as a community of faith we are charged with the mandate to keep God’s promise that no one shall be alone in the valley of the shadow of death.  We stand in solidarity with each other and those shadowed by all that brings death into the world.  
Being Jesus with skin on--for and with each other.
He is here because we are here.  We are here because he is here.  
Jesus with skin on.  
The epistle invites us to the living of our faith, “let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”  Or as a contemporary writer notes, we may be the only Gospel those we meet read.  
Loving in truth and action--living our lives in remembrance of who he was, who we are and who he is in us. Christ is indwelling in us and we are participants in the body of Christ--we are not first but last and not last but first.  I John begins with an enjoinder to lay down our lives for each other, to engage in actions where our own comforts and concerns are set aside for the interest of another.  
The epistle is clear--God's love abides in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and helps.  This all seems daunting, doesn’t it?  The need so big, the pain so great, our resources so scarce!  
There is a famous Breton Fisherman’s prayer, half petition and half lament, that’s used by the Children’s Defense Fund in many of their materials
"Dear Lord, be good to me. The sea is so wide and my boat is so small." 
The boat may be small, but it floats.  And, keeping in mind the prayer’s origin as the prayer of a fisherman, let us remember that our boat rocks upon a sea which provides all the sustenance we need.  Perhaps that’s a helpful reminder on annual meeting Sunday!  Small boat, vast sea, and the company of a God who loves us.  We will with God’s help we proclaim when we affirm our baptism.  The Bishop of the Diocese of Ohio, would refer to baptism as our first ordination.  Our first public commitment to love in truth and action.  And, as a community of faith, we love in truth and action with God’s help.  With God’s help there is grace enough, love enough, mercy and goodness enough.  There is enough--for everyone.  
Recently, I have found myself saying, “we love and value and create beauty here at St. Clement’s--and we live in a world in desperate need of beauty--we have what the world needs--we just have to figure out how to take it from in here, to out there!”  
We have beauty, the world needs beauty, the world needs us...part of the one flock and the one shepherd—with the power, to “pick it up” and “lay it down”…
The world needs us.
Jesus with skin on.  

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Seek Ye First, An Easter Sermon

Easter B, 2015
Seek Ye First

Her hair is shockingly pink and her nose pierced.  She pulls the mop bucket behind her.  Some mess or another.  The coffee to be poured, the tables to be wiped.  Laughing and smiling at the customers, she knows the regulars.  

And, as she passes the coffee shop counter where I type my Easter sermon, I look up.  

And, notice,

the tattoo on her arm.  

Seek ye first.  

Matthew, 6:33.  “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

You may know the hymn.

Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his rightousness, and all these things will be added unto you.  Allelu, Alleluia!  

And, so seeking, I turn back to the text and to Mary Magdalene.    

She went to the garden.  Early on the first day of the week.  She went to the garden and saw that the stone had been removed.  She went to the garden.


They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.  

And, thus, forsaken.  

She is drawn ever closer to the God who had died for love.  

Seek ye first.  

And, in the garden. The garden that was first and at the last. The garden carefully tended by the gardener of all creation.  She supposes him the gardener...fitting in that the gardener who is the creator is our God.

And, as she faced him, she wept, having lost all she came to find.  

“Why are you weeping?”

Why does anyone weep at the grave? 

Sorrow. Anger. Brokenness. Devastation.

Her search continues.
Tell me where you have laid him.

Tell me.  

Tell me.

And, so he does.  

The telling is in the sound of his voice saying her name.



And, all these things are added.

And in seeking she has found the risen God.

And, the risen God has found her.

It is striking to me, that it is when Jesus who is God (who is the Son of Man, who is her friend, who is her hope) names her, that she sees him for who he is.

In her naming that there is recognition.

And, she proclaims him.

Rabbouni, teacher.  And, the teacher is found and the teacher sends her forth...go to my brothers.

Seek ye first, my friends, those who sorrow, those who fear, those who tremble alone.

And in seeking, they they will find.  

And, in the finding there will be healing--  

The kingdom. New life. Hope. A future. Community. Possibility.

Seek them out and tell them. Proclaim my name to the world.

And, when my name is proclaimed the world shall know.

Seeking and proclaiming.  

Proclaiming the love we have found to the world that still trembles in fear.  

Seeking and proclaiming. 

Proclaiming the hope that has come to the world that longs for the good news.  

Seeking and proclaiming.

He has called our name.  And we proclaim his in return.

Teacher, friend, savior, son of God and brother to us all.     

So, on this Easter morning we gather and proclaim the one whom we have found.  On this Easter morning, we return to the garden to seek the one who has called our name.  

And, the one who calls our name, is here.  And the one who calls our name is out there.  And the one who calls our name dwells in us and we in him.

Seek and ye shall find.  

Children’s book author Margaret Wise Brown tells the story of a little bunny who tries to run away from his mother.  His mother replies, “If you run away, I will run after you.
For you are my little bunny.”

The little bunny devises cleverer and cleverer means of escape...

“If you run after me,” said the little bunny,
“I will become a fish in a trout stream 
and I will swim away from you.”

“If you become a fish in a trout stream,” said his mother,
“I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.”

“If you become a fisherman,” said the little bunny,
“I will become a rock on the mountain, high above you.”

“If you become a rock on the mountain high above me,”
said his mother, “I will become a mountain climber,
and I will climb to where you are.”

“If you become a mountain climber,”
said the little bunny,
“I will be a crocus in a hidden garden.”

“If you become a crocus in a hidden garden,”
said his mother, “I will be a gardener. And I will find you.”

And this is the truth, that the gardener has found us. The gardener in the garden, which is all of creation, has found us and we have found the gardener.   

Seek ye first.

We have been found.  

An Easter Vigil Sermon, It Takes Place in a Garden

Easter Vigil 2015

The story begins in the garden.  

With creation.  

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.  (Gn 2:8)

And, there the tree of life.  The tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  There the origins, the birthing of all creation in bird song, and grasses, in peace and companionship.  

There the calm and the introduction of our longing.  

Our yearning.

For the garden and a return to God’s vision of creation.  

For, the garden is guarded by an angel and there seems to be no way of returning.  

And, yet, we hold onto the vision. It has become our vision of possibility--born of the knowing that we are capable of such peace and such love.

And, so we try once again, to return to the garden.  

Gethsemane, where Jesus prays and the disciples sleep.

Gethsemane, where a sword is drawn and then sheathed.  

I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me (Jn 18:9)

And, none were lost, but the One.  And, in his loss we are found.  

So that “we too might walk in newness of life”.

And, in this new covenant is bound all the old.  Every covenant leading us back to the garden.  A return to God’s vision for who we might be.  And, in that return, we are the broken vessels spewing forth the light of God’s love and acceptance.  In that return, we hold the prophet Zephaniah’s proclamation that that God will bring all of us back.

Back to the garden.

And in that garden an empty tomb.

In that garden a new life.  

In that garden an angel.  
Not an angel to guard, but an angel to send.

Go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead” (Mt 28:7)

And, the whole world rejoices.  All of creation sings.  We are redeemed and made God’s children.  We have been made holy.  We are unbound.  

The world can be the garden once again.  And, we return, and we return and we return.  

Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Friday We Call Good

Last Sunday, we sang the hymn “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

Were you there when they crucified my Lord? (Were you there?)
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
O! Sometimes it causes me to tremble! tremble! tremble!
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
And, the hymn continues, detailing the torture undergone by Christ--the nailing and the piercing of the body--and culminating with the idea that Jesus’ death moved all of creation-- ”were you there when the sun refused to shine”.

Tonight, in our liturgy, we are reminded that the answer to the question poised in this Spiritual, composed by African American Slaves in the 19th century, is “yes”.

“Yes” we were there, “Yes we witnessed the flogging and the nailing, the scourging and the taunting”.  “Yes” we were there, we denied Christ and we stood by Christ.  “Yes” we were there, we wept at the cross and held the wine to his lips.  “Yes, we were there when they crucifed my Lord”. 

In participating in this liturgy, by enacting the passion through our own participation, we are reminded that what we recall in this liturgy is not some historical moment, or quaint and instructive embrace of historical reenactment, but rather, a claiming of our place in God’s story.  The story is now, the story is still happening.  

And in the story that is now, we find ourselves participants in a world in which powers and principalities exploit and deny the belovedness of all of God’s children.  In the now, we live and die in the midst of broken relationships.  In the now we experience the betrayal of those who once stood with us and the denial of those who swore never to leave us. In the now, we hold vigils for the dying.  In the now, we care and love.  In the now, we suffer. 

This is our now, it is our past and our future, but it is not the end of the story.  Because the broken now has been healed by a reconciled then.  The broken now holds the hope that healing will come.  All those things which separate us from God and from each other will be rendered powerless at the foot of the cross.  

Theologian Jurgens Moltmann upholds this moment on the cross--this poignant moment of silhouetted form hanging still against the sky--as the moment out of which our faith is born, “Our faith begins at the point where atheists suppose that it must end. Our faith begins with the bleakness and power which is the night of the cross, abandonment, temptation, and doubt about everything that exists! Our faith must be born where it is abandoned by all tangible reality; it must be born of nothingness, it must taste this nothingness and be given it to taste in a way no philosophy of nihilism can imagine.”

So, tonight we are invited to taste the nothingness.  Tonight we are given the gift of time to sit with our regrets and our sorrows.  Tonight we hear the gasp of forsakenness.  Tonight we cry out crucifixion.  Tonight we stand at the cross...

And, as we stand still, I am struck that the journey to Jerusalem has come to a close.  That, tonight, the way of the cross has ended with crucifixion.  That, tonight, the disciples will scatter...leaderless and directionless.  Tonight, the story ends.

But, if we are to believe Moltmann--tonight is the night upon which the story begins, “with the bleakness and power which is the night of the cross, abandonment, temptation, and doubt about everything that exists!”  And, so even in this story of death we find the signs of new life.  

Joseph of Arimathea who had kept his love of Jesus a secret and Nicodemus who had first come to Jesus by night (ashamed to be seen seeking the son of Man), these are the ones who use their power to make the request.  They use financial privilege to purchase the spices for anointing.  They take the risk of loving him to the end.  

“After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Judeans, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”

If God calls us to transformation, to repentance and reconciliation. I can only wonder that the first act of reconciliation following Jesus’ death on the cross is that those who were secret followers of Jesus are the ones who step forward to claim his body.    

Anointing it, wrapping it, and giving honor to a man from whom all honor had been stripped. This is the power of the cross...that even on this night, love wins. 

That even on this night when we cry, “crucify him” and name and own our own complicity...even on this night of death, we are transformed by what we have witnessed.