Saturday, September 24, 2016

Proper 21C, Rent Asunder

Proper 21C, the scripture appointed can be found here 

"By Schism Rent Asunder"

It is one of the duties of the priest to share with her congregation news of the wider church. Last week, the Bishops of the Episcopal met in the city of Detroit and from their meeting issued a letter

A Word to the Church for the World (link attached for reference, but full text printed below)

“Greetings from Detroit, a city determined to be revived.  Greetings also from the city of Flint, where we are reminded that the gift of water has for many of our brothers and sisters become contaminated.

Here we have been exhorted to set our sights beyond ourselves and to minister to the several nations where we serve and the wider world.

We lament the stark joylessness that marks our present time.  We decry angry political rhetoric which rages while fissures widen within society along racial, economic, educational, religious, cultural and generational lines.  We refuse to look away as poverty, cruelty and war force families to become migrants enduring statelessness and demonization.  We renounce the gun violence and drug addiction that steal lives and crush souls while others succumb to fear and cynicism, abandoning any sense of neighborliness.

Yet, in all this, “we do not despair” (2 Cor. 4:8.). We remember that God in Christ entered our earthly neighborhood during a time of political volatility and economic inequality.  To this current crisis we bring our faith in Jesus.  By God’s grace, we choose to see in this moment an urgent opportunity to follow Jesus into our fractured neighborhoods, the nation and the world.  

Every member of the church has been “called for a time such as this.” (Esther 4:14) Let prophets tell the truth in love.  Let reconcilers move boldly into places of division and disagreement. Let evangelists inspire us to tell the story of Jesus in new and compelling ways.  Let leaders lead with courage and joy.

In the hope of the Resurrection let us all pray for God to work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish God’s purposes on earth.”

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The Bishop’s of our Church speak of fissured and fractured ground. They speak of division. They speak of fear and of death.

They speak truth, and they speak hope—and the truth hurts and the hope heals and we are both wounded and whole.  We, we who hear these words and see these truths, and live in this broken world.

And there is no denying the brokenness.

In today’s Gospel this brokenness is represented by the existence of chasm. A literal rift has opened up between Lazarus and the rich man. A rift that seems too real then and all too real now.

Because, there is no denying the chasm that we have made, the chasm between those with privilege and those without. Between those who fear for their children and those who assume the prosperity of their children.  Between the rich and the poor. Between the dead on the ground and those in the air, “that looks like a bad dude” the officer said...

There is a chasm.

And, we stand at the edge of that chasm.  We stand and try to see across to the other side. We stand and wonder—if I take this step will I fall? 

And across the way lie the dying. Across the way lie the feared. Across the way is death. Or perhaps we are across and here there is death and fear?

I do not know. But what I do know is the longing to reach across. What I do know is that between here and there is a journey that we must take. What I do know is that crossing this chasm is a holy calling.  That where we are is not where we are called to be and that if we as a people are to not just survive, but thrive as God’s beloved, than we have to figure out how to take that step across. To take that leap and trust that if we see, truly see, those who stand across the fractured ground, that God’s grace will guide us across the way and into the new life that seems so impossibly distant. 

We cannot hope to cross if we do not take that first step, if we do not reach, if we refuse to see those who stand on the other side. We cannot hope to cross if our fear of death keeps us from life and from the love that has been so freely given.

Hope, love, life—these are all too easily hindered by fear. Is it any wonder that throughout scripture we are bid, “be not afraid” that before the divine can be truly experienced, fear must be cast out?   Fear keeps us from seeing the presence of God in our neighbor, fear causes us to see a gun where there is a book, fear causes us to see a man where there is only a child, fear causes us to look at the color of a person’s skin as a threat.

The propagation of fear is a tool of the oppressor.

Fear keeps us from keeping the covenant we make in our baptism and deepens the chasm which we must cross in order to survive.   

In the first letter of John, “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love”. In a sermon on this passage, Augustine instructed his audience to “Extend your love to those that are nearest, yet do not call this an extending: for it is almost loving yourself, to love them that are close to you. Extend it to the unknown, who have done you no ill. Pass even them: reach on to love your enemies.” (St. Augustine, homilies on the Gospel of John, 1 John IV, v2404)

Extend, pass, reach, bridge, cross, leap from this side to the next.

And, love those you would call enemy and in doing so, no longer enemy but fellows beloved by the same God who loves us. 

And in this, we cross the chasm which our fear has made.

I speak these words as a lament at the existence of this chasm we have made, but in hope that we will find a way across this chasm by following THE way of Christ in this world.

I speak these words because the Rich Man, who our tradition names Dives, and Lazarus are both made in the image of God. I speak these words because in baptism, in the household of God, in the broken body, in the blood that is shed, in the love that is shared, in the water of new life, in the joining of our voices, in our very presence and our willingness to see and to believe…in these things we move beyond ourselves and into “the presence of God who gives life to all things”.

Which then begs the question, will we accept the gift of this life?  Will we be made new by God’s love for us? Will we see, in God’s love for us, God’s deep and abiding love for all of humanity?

Will we see across the chasm and into the heart of God?

And in that vision, will we be made complete? 


Amen. 


Dives and Lazarus, Unknown Illustrator of Petrus Comestar's Bible Historiale, 1372

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Lost Found

Proper 19C, 2016, Scripture Appointed for today linked here


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Lamentation runs throughout our tradition.

And the beauty of this, is that lamentation laments what is yet hold hope for what might be. 

Our passage from Jeremiah today holds to this.  Lamenting the reality of God’s beloved people’s failings and the subsequent upheaval of their lives while holding forth the possibility for transformation. 

Lamentation holds hope when hope seems lost. Lamentation is the grieving over what is while clinging to the possibility that this is not all that is.

This is the lament of a God who has been betrayed and God’s abiding love—a love that cannot be turned away.  And, yes, the earth will mourn but there will be grace beyond the disaster.

I was asked recently, about the nature of suffering. How to hold the teachings of God’s omnipotence next to our experience of pain in this world…

And, in exploring this question, in walking the journey of my own life…

I have reached an understanding that has brought me enormous comfort. 

Many of you are likely familiar with the Michaelengelo’s sculpture, La Pieta.

In this sculpture the blessed Mary holds the body of her dead son.

She cannot fix what has been broken.  She cannot heal or mend. But, she does what she can--she stays and she holds and she grieves and she embraces.

And he is not alone. 

When I need to lend shape to God’s love for us, I meditate upon this image.

Given the truth of suffering, this is the image I need in order to walk the path set before me. That in the midst our hurting, we are not alone. That we are held by a God who knows all too deeply our pain. And, out of that place of knowing, accompanies us so that we are never alone in our suffering. 

The prophet uses words that have been translated to read to us as “the poor people”, words that could also read as “the beloved people”…and in that place pity becomes compassion and God yearns for the beloved who have turned away.

And, yet, they are still beloved.  And the prophet’s phrasing juxtaposed with the psalmists offer of comfort in the midst of castigation.

“you would confound the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge.”

The poor, the beloved, the hurting, the fearful…enfolded within the embrace of the God who knows most intimately what it is to live and what it is to die.

The God who holds us all the while.

La pieta, the pity.

The pain.

The compassion.

The hope.

The hope that even when we are lost we will not be alone.  

When I was in college I had the privilege of meeting William Sloane Coffin Jr.  Bill Coffin, who died in 2006, was the pastor of Riverside Church in New York City and a peace activist.  He was also a grieving father.  His son died in his early twenties and in a sermon that Bill Coffin delivered ten days following his son’s death, he spoke these words

“My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God's heart was the first of all our hearts to break.” 


God’s heart broke. God was there, God saw, and God’s heart broke.

And, therein is our consolation.

These are heavy words and sorrowful thoughts for a day dedicated to our ministries. But, these are needful words. 

And, these are not intended for our desolation and they are not to be heard in isolation. 

The Gospel today, juxtaposed with the prophet, juxtaposed with the images come across our newsfeed of fallen towers and a lost little boy, juxtaposed with this our own gathering…

And, in this juxtaposition is the grace of the Good News, the good news of a shepherd who has found the one who is lost while the rest of the herd waits, hopes and prays.

The 99 are as Christ to each other while Christ abides with the one who’s been lost.

99 left in the wilderness, and 1 in the company of the shepherd.

No one is alone and all will be found.

I have said in the past that scripture makes it clear that we will walk in the valley of the shadow of death—but, it also makes it clear that we shall not be alone there.  In our gathering, we keep the promise that none of us will be alone in the valley and in this Gospel we hear of God’s commitment that those who have been lost from the gathering will be found by God.

Desolation become consolation. Sorrow become joy. Tears to laughter. And the Christian hope is proclaimed.  Today we celebrate that we are not alone in our ministry and that God has gone in search of those who’ve been lost to us but never, never, never lost to God.    

There are two places in the Gospel of Luke when the heavens are described as joyful—when Jesus is born and when the lost are returned. And, so even whilst we mourn, we are called to celebration that someday this incomplete gathering will be made complete through the love of God.

And, so in celebration, let us sing.

"King Of Love"

The King of Love my Shepherd is
Whose goodness faileth never
I nothing lack if I am His
And He is mine forever
And He is mine forever

Where streams of living water flow
My ransomed soul He leadeth
And where the verdant pastures grow
With food celestial feedeth

Never failing, Ruler of my heart
Everlasting, Lover of my soul
On the mountain high or in the valley low
The King of Love my Shepherd is
The King of Love my Shepherd is

Lost and foolish off I strayed
But yet in love He sought me
And on His shoulder gently laid
And home rejoicing brought me

In death’s dark veil I fear no ill
With Thee, dear Lord, beside me
Thy rod and staff my comfort still
Thy cross before to guide me

Never failing, Ruler of my heart
Everlasting, Lover of my soul
On the mountain high or in the valley low
The King of Love my Shepherd is
The King of Love my Shepherd is

Oh, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Oh, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Never failing, Ruler of my heart
Everlasting, Lover of my soul
On the mountain high or in the valley low
The King of Love my Shepherd is

Never failing, Ruler of my heart
Everlasting, Lover of my soul
On the mountain high or in the valley low
The King of Love my Shepherd is
The King of Love my Shepherd is

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never
Good Shepherd, may I sing Your praise
Within Your house forever
Within Your house forever

Amen.




















 


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