Saturday, June 27, 2015

Writing a Sermon Between the Tears of Rejoicing and Tears of Sorrow

Proper 8B, 2015 
(Readings Here)

The Water is Wide...

Last Sunday...

Last Sunday was a Sunday of lamentation in a time of lamentation.  

Last Sunday, we heard the lamenting of people crying out for the body of Christ to wake up, to wake up, and proclaim peace in the midst of the storm of bigotry and hatred.

Last Sunday, the waves threatened to overwhelm our small boat in the vast sea.

This Sunday, the cries are still there. And, the storm still blows.  

But, this Sunday we’ve seen the power of the healing that happens when the people wake up and ARE the body of Christ.

This Sunday, we’ve seen a flag that divided us torn down.

This Sunday, we’ve rung the raucous bells of this very tower in jubilation.

This Sunday, we’ve seen further evidence that the mercy of God is not earned, but granted.  

Marriage. Love. Rejoicing. 

Murder. Threats. Sorrow.

Tears of joy and tears of sorrow mingling on our cheeks.

And, the words of the apostle Paul emerge as truth, we ARE the “sorrowful yet always rejoicing; the dying who yet live”.

From last Sunday to this Sunday, from one side of the sea to the other. 

“I never thought I’d see this day,” these were words I heard again and again on Friday.

as we celebrated dignity affirmed and a hope that so many had lost hope in came to pass.

“I never thought I’d see this day,” words that come to mind as the very same church which once told slaves that baptism meant they’d be free only in heaven, elected a Presiding Bishop descended from slaves*--the Right Reverend Michael Curry.

Yes, there is healing on the other side of the sea.  There is healing when the body of Christ wakes up and cries out peace. There is healing.

And, yet there is still work to be done and other seas to cross and storms which continue to threaten this oh, so, small boat in which we stand.  

As Justice Kennedy so eloquently said,  "Outlaw to outcast may be a step forward, but it does not achieve the full promise of liberty." 

And, as the burning of black churches and the slaughter of black Americans can attest, the passing of the Civil Rights Act may have accomplished legal rights, but it did not accomplish liberation from the enduring and pervasive sin of racism..

outlaw to outcast does not achieve the full promise of God’s love for us. 

And, as GLBT peoples and their allies throughout the country rejoice at legal access to marriage, it is important to remember that legal provisions don’t guarantee safety, access to housing and jobs and the support of families and faith communities.  

Outlaw to outcast does not achieve the full promise of God’s love for us.  

And, so, in the midst of a time that has called us to great joy and great sorrow, we are reminded that if we disconnect ourselves from what has passed, we disconnect ourselves from the on-going work to which we are called. In the midst of our celebrations we must remember that the law cannot transform the heart--that kind of transformation will take the ongoing work of reconciliation and restoration.   

Ongoing work which will emerge out of our calling to the impossible possibility of a God kind of love.  We cannot settle for the status quo, we cannot settle for anything short of the liberation of the entirety of creation, and as President Obama reminded us in his eulogy for the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, “To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change, that’s how we lose our way again.”

And thus, as I reflected on the Gospel this week it strikes me that the most important moment of healing is what happens afterwards. 

“Go in peace”

“Give her something to eat”

The action of this narrative does not end with any one act of healing, the act of healing is a beginning, not an end. 

The time of isolation imposed by illness has ended, and a woman’s relationship with her community must be restored. The time of fasting imposed by death has ended and, to live, the child must be fed.  

Likewise, those who have been oppressed must be nourished, those who have been excluded must be welcomed in peace--the full promise of liberty relies on our collective efforts to turn law into love.  

When law becomes love, a woman is healed.  When law becomes love, a child is restored to life. When law becomes love, relationships are restored.  When law becomes love, the hungry are fed.  

And, what seemed impossible is possible and we, as witnesses of liberation, are overcome with amazement. 

The work of transformation is ongoing...and we are invited to explore what it is to be genuine in our love--to move beyond symbolic gesture and empty word into meaningful action. 

To go in peace and to nourish new life.  The apostle Paul implores the community in Corinth to walk the talk and in his exhortation, I hear the call to live the life of faith which we proclaim.   

“I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”

There are other seas to cross and storms to quell...

and there is enough, hope, 

there is enough, love, 

there is enough, peace

there is enough.

*the Reverend Will Gafney, tweet dated 7/27/15

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Because of Zion: A Sermon and Litany for the Fallen

Pentecost +4 

Scripture for this week can be read here (I suggest reading the Gospel prior to reading this sermon)

There is a children’s story that many of you probably know...”going on a bear hunt”, and all week the refrain from that story has been with me.
“There’s no way over it, no way under it, oh no, we've got to go through it...”

From one side of the sea to the way over, no way under, no way around...just through.  In a boat, on a journey, to the other side.  

The youth and adults who departed for pilgrimage can surely relate to this notion of the journey to the next place.  As they waited for the megabus on Friday morning (the first leg of their trek to Ireland) I can imagine that many of them wished there were some way to JUST get there--without the exhaustion and work and anxiety of the journey. 

And, having experienced the intentional and ongoing work of formation that accompanies the ordination process, I can imagine there were times when Dan wondered if he would ever get across to the other side!  

Are we there yet?  The rather comic, and real, refrain that punctuates any long car trip stems from a longing to get there without spending our time in and with the journey.  

A longing for the other side, a longing for the promised peace, a longing for the God of our hopes to finally make manifest the kingdom of love we long for in a new creation. And, sometimes a longing for this journey to end so that the next can begin!

In our travels there is a sense of eagerness for what is to come and sorrow at what is not yet come to pass. 

This longing is not a critique of our life here in the 21st century, it is a longing grounded in that place of knowing that this is not all that is...a longing endured and embraced by saints through the millenia.  Saint Augustine wrote: "We are but travelers on a journey without as yet a fixed abode; we are on our way, not yet in our native land; we are in a state of longing, but not yet of enjoyment. But let us continue on our way, and continue without sloth or respite, so that we may ultimately arrive at our destination."

And, in these heavenly terms, the destination is not ours to dictate.  “Let us go to the other side”.  The disciples stepped into the boat, from that place of learning (the passages preceding this in the Gospel are Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom) to the place of healing (once Jesus and the disciples reach the other side, they encounter the Geresene demoniac who Jesus heals).  In a way, this particular journey is one from learning to healing...from study to action...from theoretical to lived.    

But, in between the one and the other is a boat, in the water, on the journey.  And, it is human nature to want out of that boat and into the promised land to come. So we speak of healing when the wound continues to be made; and, proclaim forgiveness for unrepented sins and use the death sentence as a means of avoiding owning our own place in a system of exploitation that all too easily nurtures the hatred that leads to destruction.   

Look at those kind folk, they’ve already granted forgiveness. We just need to heal. Once the killer is dead, we can move on...

And from our place of privilege we turn the newspaper pages to the next thing and the next thing.  Turn the radio up, there’s a good song playing. Change the channel, there’s something good on channel 11.  

Yet, beneath the sound of our own noise is the raging of the wind.  

We are in the storm.

And, the disciples do not want to be there and I don’t want to be there as the seas grow rough, and we call on Jesus in words of lamentation.  “Do you not know we are perishing?”

My God, my God why have you forsaken me?  Do you not know we are perishing?  Your people cry out for mercy and surely the cries have rent the heavens by now!  Do you not know we are perishing?  

This has been a week that demands our lament--A week when a terrorist steeped in the rhetoric of racism and despair has taken the lives of 9 of God’s beloved children--A week in which one less place in this country is proved safe for our brothers and sisters of color. 

The street corner, the swimming pool, the sanctuary--the storm tears at whatever sense of safety our brothers and sisters might have had, and it is my intention to claim that we are in the storm. That from our place in the storm, our cry to the God who created us and the Son who redeems us and the Spirit who sustains us...must go forth.  

And, so a litany of names and lamenting...

Do you not know we are perishing?  

Clementa Pinckney. Sharonda Singleton. Ethel Lee Lance. Cynthia Hurd. Myra Thompson. 

Do you not know we are perishing?

Tywanza Sanders. Daniel Simmons. Depayne Middleton. Susie Jackson.

Do you not know we are perishing?

Tayvon Martin. Tamir Rice.  Akai Gurley.  Kajieme Powell.

Do you not know we are perishing?

Michael Brown.  Eric Garner. Yvette Smith. Andy Lopez. Shereese Francis.

Do you not know we are perishing?

We could name more names, and it is safe to claim that the list grows even as we speak. 

Get us out of this storm! Make it stop! The water is deep, and the sea is wide and the winds overwhelm us.  

Do you not know we are perishing?

In the midst of the storm the litany of the fallen has increased...and in the here and the now, we cry out.  

Do you not know we are perishing?

We would not lament if were satisfied.  We would not lament if we did not carry the hope for the other side within our very being.  We would not lament if we were satisfied with the status quo.

Do you not know we are perishing?

Perishing in the storm of our own making. Perishing in the turmoil of a country torn by the named sin of racism. We are in the storm...and so we cry out. But, from where shall our help come?  

Will the sleeping body wake and calm the storm? Will we, as the body of Christ in the world--no hands, no heart, no mind but ours--will we be able to say to the storm,  “Peace be still”?

If we truly believe that he abides in us and we in him than it is our job to stand in the midst of the storm and listen to the lamenting of the grieving and the oppressed...and to demand the storm to stop. As long as we hear the lamenting, we can do nothing else but act...and the lamenting is loud and the cry cannot be unheard.

The lament names our brokenness, and the lament of the oppressed is the lament of the beloved children of God. The beloved friends of the one who came to love us as children.  

The storm which has consumed our boat is racism…and it is ours to discern--as people of privilege and power, as people serving the call to be Christ’s body in the world--how we shall work to calm the storm. It is ours to discern how we shall speak “peace be still” into the structures, the powers and principalities, that benefit from the oppression and exploitation of others. It is ours to look into our privilege, to claim the power we have and use it for liberation--our own liberation and that of the world entire. It is ours to name the storm of racism that threatens to pull our boat under. It is ours to be the body that hears the cry

Do you not know we are perishing?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Embracing the Uncertain, Trinity Sunday 2015

The Scripture appointed for Trinity Sunday is here

Admitting That to Know Would Be Heresy

This year, in my Good Friday sermon, I explored the foretaste of resurrection which I found in the midst of the Passion.  From the Gospel of John, 
“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.”
From this short passage, I spoke of God’s call to transformation, to repentance and reconciliation. And, it was with joy that I proclaimed 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.    
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.  And, the power of the cross as an instrument of crucifixion and emblem of all that destroys becomes a symbol of hope.  
And, so, as I read today’s Gospel, I was moved once again...because in spite of Nicodemus’ lack of understanding...the seeds of love were planted.
And thus the wonderment of it.  Nicodemus’ who has been told about earthly things, and not believed, gains an understanding of heavenly things which he had not believed.  Nicodemus, who came for wisdom under the cover of darkness, steps into the light of love as one born of the Spirit.   
But, did he ever “understand”?  
And, from the question of understanding, we enter the question of the Trinity--a long belabored topic in the church (so much so, that when you ask clergy if they are preaching on Trinity Sunday, some will groan and others will grin as they mention that their “assistant” is preaching that day).  Ineffable, invisible, incomprehensible...unimaginable.  
But, since we are human beings we try our best to imagine...and out of our imagination...
Because as we dip into the traditional and not so traditional explications of the inexplicable, each symbol falls short of the Trinity’s meaning and magnitude.  There is a solid and humorous You-Tube video by Lutheran satirists called “Patrick’s Bad Analogies” that I highly recommend.  But, in brief...
Water in three forms, liquid, ice, vapor--modalism, a heresy because it implies that God is expressed in three forms, but the same substance.  The clover with its three leaves joined at the center, partialism because it implies three connected parts each a partial of a whole.  Or the sun, the sunlight and the warmth generated--arianism, because the sun generates the light and warmth, and the Son and Spirit are not generated by God--but are rather.
The only expression of the Trinity that doesn’t seem to be a heresy is that it is a mystery.  The expression of the divine as one God in three persons--that’s beyond our human understanding.
Yet, it is not beyond our knowing.  
And, that’s a radical thing to embrace--this idea that we can believe something that we do not understand and understand something we do not know.  
Martin Buber, my favorite theologian (if I were to pick a favorite) states “the world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings” (I-Thou)
In short, what we cannot comprehend we can embrace--and in encounter we can know what we can never understand.  
(And, just for full disclosure..this is the point in my sermon preparation when I listened to Sarah McLachlan’s song “building a mystery”)
So, back to heresies, and my consideration of what I believe to be the fundamental flaw of each of the symbols offered--clover, sun, water--how do we have a relationship with any of these as objects in a way which allows us to have a relationship with the Trinity?  The most famous depiction of the Trinity, by Russian iconographer Andrei Rubev depicts the three person seated at a table.  When you look at the icon, you begin to realize that as the observer, you complete the table.  The observer sits at the fourth side.  
We are in relationship with the Trinity, indeed, we are part of the Trinity.  And the Trinity itself is a relationship between three aspects of love, moving, indwelling, each in each—perichoresis is the word for what is quite simply a God engaged in an elaborate dance.  It’s literally meaning is to dance around in the same essence of…an elaborate choreography.  
Contact improvisation…
Yet, what role are we to play in the dance?  How have we been brought into the relationship?
Through Christ’s humanity we become a part of the Trinity--in Christ’s death and the care Nicodemus takes with the body of the man who had become his to care for, we can see Nicodemus literally embrace the incomprehensible.  
And, so we too are called to embrace.  To embrace the broken.  To embrace the forsaken.  To embrace each other.  And in that knowing of the other--we can then find we know what we had though unknowable.
Nicodemus had yearned for knowledge, for facts, for proof and definitives.  But, what he got instead, was the opportunity to embrace the incomprehensible.
And, it was then that he was born of the Spirit.
Theologian Richard Rohr, in an NPR interview in December of 2006, stated that
“People who have really met the Holy are always humble. It's the people who don't know who usually pretend that they do. People who've had any genuine spiritual experience always know they don't know. They are utterly humbled before mystery. They are in awe before the abyss of it all, in wonder at eternity and depth, and a Love, which is incomprehensible to the mind. It is a litmus test for authentic God experience, and is — quite sadly — absent from much of our religious conversation today. My belief and comfort is in the depths of Mystery, which should be the very task of religion.”
So, here we are standing on the deep end of mystery.
Where an answer of I don’t know, but I love. Or it is uncertain but I am certain. Is what is left beyond the embrace and the promise 

that God would give God’s only live and die as one of us.  And as one of us, we could begin to know that which was unknowable.