Monday, July 17, 2017

Proper 10A, What Grace...

As always, the readings can be found here, we are using Track 2 for this three year cycle.

+++

Love. Freely Given.

I mentioned last week that, in my senior year of high school, my Father died. Suddenly, unexpectedly and ultimately, unresolvedly.

And, as I stood at the literal grave, all I could do was wail “I’m sorry, I’m sorry”.

I was sorry for so many things that had not been forgiven, so many things that had hurt my relationship with my father, my father whom I had sought desperately and, ultimately, unsuccessfully to please in life.

And, so, my song at the grave was one of regret at all that was unresolved. 

It has taken me upwards of 20 years to forgive myself for being a teenager, to forgive myself for not fitting within the confines of my parent’s expectations, to understand that their love for me was not conditional even when I knew that I could not meet their conditions.

20 years to let go of the “I’m sorry” and sit in the “I love you” of who they were and who I am.

And, so today, as I listen to the words of Paul in his letter to the Romans, I am struck by the unconditional and powerful statement of faith with which this passage begins.

 “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

It makes me want to weep.

“There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”.

Listen,

Listen,

my friends, my community in faith and in love,

“There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Just as you are, just as you will be…you are loved by the God who loves us.

The God who loves us, the Christ who abides in us—turning our brokenness into wholeness beyond our understanding…

And, in this, our regrets, our brokenness, our shame, our guilt—are all, ALL, transformed by the love of the God who first loved us.

There is a George Herbert poem, written in the 17th century, that speaks to this, titled “Hazards Transformed”


On thistles that men look not grapes to gather,
I read the story rather
How soldiers platting thorns around Christ’s Head
Grapes grew and drops of wine were shed.
The wing├Ęd fowls took part, part fell in thorn,
And never turned to corn,
Part found no root upon the flinty road—
Christ at all hazards fruit hath shewed. 
Food for five thousand: on the thorns He shed
Grains from His drooping Head;
And would not have that legion of winged things
Bear Him to heaven on easeful wings.



Although the letter said
Though when the sower sowed,
From wastes of rock He brings

The thorns that wound, produce the wine that we drink. The barren land is transformed by the miracle of enough for all.

Wine from the bier…bread from the tomb.

The parable speaks of the seed sowed where no seed shall grow, but the wonder of it is that the seed shall grow wherever and however it is planted.

What we see as lifeless becomes a place of life--because the landscape is not of our devising, but of God’s transforming.

As the prophet prophesies,

“Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Shall not be cut off.

As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, nothing can separate us from the love of God.

And, even at the grave, we make our song.

A song not of regret but of alleluia. And, so let us cry out, “alleluia, alleluia, alleluia”.

Amen.

At this time, I’m going to offer you an opportunity to take those things which feel broken, and turn them over to God for the freely given grace that transform our brokenness into wholeness. In the envelopes taped to the pews you will find paper and pencil. Please pass these amongst yourselves, sharing as needed (tearing the paper in half if needed).

Time allowed for distribution

Now that you have paper in hand, I will give us a few moments in silence so that you might write down those things or that thing that burdens your soul—the “I’m sorry” that needs to be transformed (don’t worry, no one will see what you have written). 

Pause for writing

Now that you have written down your burden place set it aside for a moment (in a pocket or in your bulletin). When you come forward for communion you can bring your burden with you and place your piece of paper in the basin of water in front of the altar. The paper and the burden you’ve placed upon it will dissolve.

May we all be set free so that we too can sing alleluia!




Sunday, July 9, 2017

Proper 9A

Readings appointed for today can be found here 
(note, we're using Track 1 for this three year cycle)

+++

Then, Now, When

I couldn’t have imagined the now. 

I couldn't have imagined it during my senior year in high school when my dad died. 
I couldn't have imagined it in the years I used my credit card to buy groceries. 
I couldn't have imagined it when phone calls from my mother were best avoided because she was drunk when she made them. 

I couldn’t have imagined the now. 

After years of one foot in front of another, footsteps guided by some far off goal or another, I couldn’t have imagined the now.

The stability, the happiness, the joy—and the time and energy to look up from the path in front of me and take the kind of long view that considers the question posed in the Mary Oliver poem, the Summer Day, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

What shall I do? Having reached the end point of one journey, which direction should I go? Now that this crisis is over, what comes next?

These are the kinds of question that the authors of the book of the Prophet Zechariah wrestled with during their people’s own time of relative stability. What shall we do? What comes next? And, in the first 8 chapters of the book, the answer to that question is found in the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. These chapters, written after the Babylonian exile ended, in 539BCE, seeks restoration of the “good old days”—the days in which social life was religious life and the stability of the community was reinforced by the stability of the temple in Jerusalem.

The conclusion of chapter 8 is emphatic about the glory that shall be restored to the people and to God upon the restoration of the temple. “Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to entreat the favor of the Lord…In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” (8:22-23)

They will see how fabulous we are and how amazing our God is—and they will come, they will come and want to be part of this good thing we have! They will see our amazing building, and our beautiful worship, and they will come! 

The inspiration of many a church architect?

Temple of dreams perhaps?

Yet, chapter 8 of Zechariah does not end the book and the story’s conclusion does not star Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. Because, in chapter 9 the narrative shifts, because the restoration of the temple is not the panacea the people had imagined.

It is not the restoration of the temple that shall restore the people, rather it is the restoration of the people which shall restore the world. And, so the priestly voice gives way to that of the marginalized who long for a king, a Lord who will arrive with peaceful intentions whose every word is liberation and every promise restoration.

Having been freed from exile, they rebuilt their temple. Having rebuilt their temple, they longed to rebuild justice.

I’m wondering if this resonates with all of you the way it resonates with me. The way it resonates with me when I name what feels a frightening truth—that my own stability is not the end goal. That the stability of the church is not the end goal. Rather, the end goal is the fulfillment of the promised in-breaking of the God who loves all of creation.

It's not a beautiful building, elegant speech, or theologically sound hymn…the end goal is the in-breaking of the fullness of God’s love. All else falls short. 

All else falls short.

And, now I wonder anew. Have I preached myself into a corner? Have I preached myself out of a job? Is the failure of the temple to restore justice point us towards an inevitable conclusion that the Church too is irrelevant and inadequate? That this time spent in prayer and praise, in proclamation and preaching, in breaking bread and drinking wine—that this time, is meaningless in the face of the evils that afflict the beloved children of God?

I hope not. I pray not. Because, it is in this place where I am reminded that this is not a story of my own salvation. Rather, it is a story of OUR salvation. Of God’s desire for the liberation of the all, rather than the salvation of the one.

When we confess together, when we demonstrate our reconciliation through the passing of the peace and our unity through the breaking and the sharing of the bread…

I am reminded that what we do here is meant to enact in microcosm God’s will for the world.

So, we confess, we repent, we forgive and are forgiven. We are reconciled and at peace, we gather together to be fed and all are freely given bread.

What we do in the here and the now of this gathered community is the enactment of God’s will for the entire community.

And, if we can't do it here, how on God's good earth will we do it out there?

Because, we didn’t build the temple to restore the world, 
we built it to restore ourselves so that WE might restore the world.

A weighty task, but not one we undertake alone. Because, something else that is made clear in this gathering is that we do not, and should not, serve God alone. We serve God in fellowship with the Body of Christ, the body that carries the burden with us. The sharing of the burden is the fulfillment of the promise of Christ we hear in the Gospel today.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The burden is lighter when shared…our singular bodies are not meant to exist in isolation, we who are MANY are one body. One body in baptism, one body in the sharing of the bread, one body, one hope, one call. A call to serve alongside the other members of the body, and in that service making the burden lighter for those who labor alongside us.

So, then how shall we serve? What is God’s calling? What is our purpose within this body?

This body that shares a sense of relative stability, a stability that allows us to look up and look out into those places in the world that long for the now we have, that seems so far off from the now they live. And, so what shall we, we the Church, we the body of Christ do with our ONE wild and precious life?

What shall we do from this temple, from this altar, from this place…how will we make what we create in this place a creation for the world? A new creation that will make real the hopes of captives and lift the burdens of the oppressed...

To return to the words of prophets, “return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope: today I declare that I will restore to you double”. Our hope, our joy, the worlds need—and a restoration beyond what anyone, anyone in the now can imagine! Amen.