Saturday, July 30, 2016

Proper 13C, In Which I Preach Another Sermon About Hope While Feeling Pretty Darn Hopeless

The readings for this week can be found here (using the Hosea passage)


If you attend the 8:15am service in the Spring you will find that the light comes through the stained glass window in such a way, that the most stunningly beautiful aspect of its composition is the crown of thorns as it sits in the lap of the Mother of God. 

It radiates in ruby tones. Standing out against the backdrop of grief, the backdrop of an empty cross from which a body has been taken and not yet risen. 

I wonder, if her hands bled, if she clutched at this remnant of her son’s final moments regardless of the thorns.

I wonder at her wounding born of his wounds and I wonder at this peculiarity of this place. This church in which an empty cross adorns our space, but it is not yet the cross from which he rose and remains the place at which he died.

And, yet we turn our faces to the light, tipping our chins upwards to look into the light that beckons.  Because while he is dead, we know also he has risen.

On Monday I took communion out into the world, to protestor and police officer alike. Offering it to those whose appointed task kept them from church. 

And on Tuesday, I watched as one with whom I’d shared the bread was arrested by one with whom I’d shared the bread.

And, in that snapshot of a moment, a sense of awe consumed me. Broken, rended, separate, yet one. A shared humanity. And, regardless of the events leading up to that moment. And, regardless, of the events to come…

They and we are beloved.

Beloved Children of God, beloved children of God, joined together in a brief moment when all that matters is the broken bread shared and the love of God revealed.

They and we are beloved. And, when we recognize this, when we recognize each other as beloved, the challenge then becomes to love as God loves us.

The bread did not fix the broken structures. The bread did not prevent the screaming and the cursing. The bread objectively did not solve anything.

But, it held the promise of healing everything. One moment in which police and protestor alike bowed their head to receive a blessing. One moment in which police and protestor alike lifted their hands to receive the bread and hear the words “this is my body, broken for you.”

Without qualification. Without judgment or arbitratration rendered. You are hungry, you will be fed. It is what the psalm promises.

You will be fed, because there is enough for each of you.  You will be fed because we will not withhold God’s grace from you. You will be fed, because you have stated so clearly that you are hungry.

Hungry for a new kind of food. Hungry for a different way of being.

Longing for the offered embrace that was not ours to give, but God’s to grant.

Longing to be included, included in the promise of life yet to come.

Longing for the reassurance, that this moment of pain is not the end of the story.

And, this brings me back to the window in this, our sanctuary, a place where invitation is literally spelled out across the chancel steps.

Come, you who are thirsty. Come all those who hear the call. Come.

Come to the table where our sorrow turns to rejoicing and our tears to laughter. Come.

It’s an open invitation to those who can see beyond death and into the life to come.  Those who can see the hope that the world so often forgets.

So as the light filters through the glass, we are pointed beyond the moment of death, and it is we who hold onto the hope that Mary and the beloved disciple must have found so hard to grasp. In knowing what we know, and what they have not yet learned, we hold the hope for those who have lost their hope.

I want to be clear—hope is not a platitude, it is not easy and it is not offered as a means to avoid talking about the painful, hard, unjust, frightening and hateful. Our hope looks at death upon the cross and sees something more to the story. We hope despite it all, we hope because of it all.

Our hope leads us to open the doors for those who need shelter, to offer bread to those who need bread. Our hope gathers diapers for those who need diapers, to serve food to those who need food. Our hope shows up. Our hope fills cups. Our hope sings. Our hope creates beauty. Our hope teaches children. Our hope offers blessings. Our hope loves those who can’t love themselves. Our hope listens, knowing that it is God who will call us home.  

This story of our stubborn and persistent hope, is the testimony the hopeless, the fearful, and the hate filled in this world need. It is the testimony that Hosea gives to us in the here and the now as well as to those in the once and then. Hosea reminds us who we are and to whom we belong. Hosea points us towards the God who loved us and loves us, the God who has already healed us. The God who stays constant even when rejected, stays present even whilst in pain. The God who cries out for us even when we have forgotten how to cry out for God.    

The prophet Hosea’s goal was to point out in the strongest way he knew how, his people’s betrayal of God and God’s continuing love despite that betrayal. And, while Hosea’s extended metaphor of infidelity and punishment is hugely problematic, it was the means by which the prophet sought to express his own understanding of the brokenness of Israel’s relationship with God.  But, this week, Hosea moves beyond the brokenness to speak of restoration. 

God brings the people home.

When we pair the prophet’s words with the icon before us, we are invited to see as God sees at the foot of the cross…to be in that place of mourning all that has been destroyed, while simultaneously rejoicing at the new life that is to come.  This is a place of tension, it is a hard place, where there are no easy answers. It is the place where police and protestor alike, lift their hands, sharing the bread and blessing in one moment and in the next finding themselves bound together by force and reckoning. Both part of the body of Christ, both caught in brokenness, both hoping for more than today. 

Isn’t the cross beautiful when the light shines through just so?

Sunday, July 3, 2016

One Foundation

The texts for Proper 9 are found here


On All Saints’s Sunday, in the year 2003, I had the privilege of attending the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson. Held in an arena, the stadium seats were full and there was a palpable sense of joy and excitement, tempered by fear.

Underneath his new robes, Bishop Robinson wore a bullet proof vest. And, each and every one of the 4000 people seated in the arena had passed through metal detectors and had their belonging searched prior to entering the building. So yes, there was joy, but there was also anxiety.

And yet, as the mighty swell of the organ began, a deep inhale could be heard as 4000 people sang, in unison and in full voice, the Church’s One Foundation. And the procession began and there was no turning back from this moment and Gene Robinson entered, along with 40 of his fellow Bishops, as well as banner bearers, Eucharistic ministers, choir—a veritable multitude singing and marching in defiant and joyful proclamation that we, as a church, would not be afraid and go forward into the new life to which God has called us.

1. The church's one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is his new creation
by water and the Word.

Fear did not win that day. Love did and we became a new creation. And, I am drawn to this memory, this moment as I consider the Gospel this day.

You will go “as a lamb to the wolves”, the Gospel proclaims.

And, they went and I am sure that they were afraid. I am sure that they must have felt at a loss, no purse by their side, no cloak, no staff whose staccato tap alongside their footsteps would have strengthened them on their way.

I imagine that they must have felt vulnerable, strangely naked and exposed—if not literally, then metaphorically. Naked to the scrutiny of those who would hear their testimony, exposed to the shaming of a culture in which their empty hands would have been seen as a sign of greater failings.

Vulnerable as they walked, vulnerable as they proclaimed, vulnerable in their hunger, vulnerable in their reliance on the hospitality of others, vulnerable as they wept, vulnerable as they prostrated themselves before the Lord.

Vulnerable, as those who have no desire to become a martyr offered themselves in places and ways in which martyrdom may well have been, and sometimes was, the outcome of their witness and their testimony to the way of God in the world.

As a lamb to wolves.

Yet, the funny thing about those lambs. There are far more lambs than there are wolves. And facing the wolves, the sheep circle about heads facing outward so that they can see anything that might be coming at them. The lambs, ushered to the middle, and protected by the strength of the herd.

Bishop Robinson did not enter that arena alone—100s flanked him and 4,000 encircled him. The disciples did not go out alone. Sent in twos and moreso as the 70. Shoulder to shoulder, their footsteps fell in unison along the dusty road.

A testimony to the strength of the body when the body is more than the one--we who are many are one body, for we all share in the one bread.

Lambs can face the wolves when they are part of the herd.

When I was little I loved to watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. And, I could have told you at a very young age, that predators rely on their ability to separate out the vulnerable from the herd in order to kill. And, so I would hold my breath, and my heart would ache as the wolves worked their way in between the lambs and the herd.

And, like those lambs, the church itself can be destroyed when she falls prey to those forces of division in the world. It is striking to me that the lectionary offers these texts with their emphasis on unity in this season after the Pentecost—and as I consider this, I consider that the Pentecost sending relies on our ability to engage in ministry together. To go together, to sing together, to pray together.

And this bring me back to the arena where the 4000 sang, “The Church’s One Foundation”.

If you are unfamiliar with that hymn, whose opening lines I quoted earlier in the sermon, its theme is one of the inevitability of God’s unification of all creation through the inbreaking of peace and the manifestation of Christian unity in the face of those forces which would divide us.

2. Elect from every nation,
yet one o'er all the earth;
her charter of salvation,
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with every grace endued.

We need each other. That’s the message of the Gospel today. That is the message of this letter to the Galatians. That’s the message of this passage from 2nd Kings in which healing can only be achieved through reaching out to the outsider.

We need each other.

In a reflection on the consecration of Gene Robinson, the Reverend Jim Payne, wrote words that seem particularly fitting in this time rife with national and international divisions. Paraphrased

“Let us celebrate Gene Robinson's consecration and the advance in acceptance in the human family.  In our celebration let us also remember [those who] struggle to find God's presence even in this challenge for them.  Let us remember that in times of growth we too are challenged and struggle.  Let us remember them in love and pray for them, that they know God in the place of Chaos.  Chaos is where creation is created anew each moment.  When our hackles are raised and our tempers are high let us remember that those who anger us are our neighbor and even if they do something contrary to our direct experience of God to pray for them.  In our prayers let us do so for their sake and not for our comfort, for we are all on the journey together.”

We are on the journey together. Go.