Saturday, August 19, 2017

15A, Liberators and Prophets (and I don't mean Jesus)

The scripture appointed for today can be found here


Today we're going to travel back in time. Back to July 20th when the church remembered Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Amelia Bloomer; Sojourner Truth; and Harriet Ross Tubman.

In the introduction to their biographies, in Holy Men and Holy Women, they are described as women “who in the nineteenth century blazed the trail for equal rights and human dignity for all people regardless of race or gender. All four were deeply religious Christians who acted out of response to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the teaching of Paul that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.”

They are described in the Church as liberators and prophets.

(four different women in the congregation declaimed these from the pews)

"Elizabeth Cady Stanton led in the organization of America’s first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848. She was a dynamic speaker and traveled throughout the nation speaking wherever she could against the oppression of women and the,, enslavement of African Americans.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was a leader in the antislavery, women’s rights, and temperance movements. She was also a popular public speaker and she published a newspaper, The Lily. A native of New York, later in life she moved to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where she worked to establish a church, a library, and a school.

Isabella Sojourner Truth escaped from the slavery into which she was born, settled in New York City, became a street preacher, and opened a shelter for homeless women. She was six feet tall, had a powerful voice, and became a traveling evangelist and one of the most popular speakers on the abolitionist and women’s rights circuits.

Harriet Ross Tubman was born a slave on a Maryland plantation but escaped to Pennsylvania and freedom. She led more than three hundred slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad in the decade before the Civil War. During that war she once led a unit of black troops on a raid which freed more than seven hundred slaves."

I continued...

The Canaanite woman was born a Gentile and was an outsider to the Jewish community in the region. She was known for her advocacy efforts and persistence in confronting those who would withhold care from those they considered unworthy. In a time when honor and shame dictated the social hierarchy, she was willing to dishonor herself in her pursuit of what was right. Her efforts, changed the trajectory of Jesus’ ministry and gave people of all nations the opportunity to experience the love of Christ.

History writes a different story than the present we are in.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Amelia Bloomer faced angry mobs.

Harriet Tubman had a bounty on her head.

Sojourner Truth had to confront the court system to free her son from slavery.

The Canaanite woman was dehumanized and called a dog.

The social and political forces were at work against them.

And, yet, they showed up, they spoke up, and they confronted the powers that sought to oppress with a greater power that proclaimed liberation.

Agitators and agents of change. Protestors and people of power. Radical and revolutionary. Communities sought to shame them, courts sought to encage them, and yet they kept showing up and speaking up and in doing so would change the trajectory of their own stories and open up new possibilities for the stories that had yet to be written.  

The prayer that accompanies the feast day of these women is as follows.

Kindle in our hearts a zeal for justice and on our lips a voice for freedom. Amen.

O God, whose Spirit guides us into all truth and makes us free: Strengthen and sustain us as you did your servants Elizabeth, Amelia, Sojourner and Harriet. Give us vision and courage to stand against oppression and injustice and all that works against the glorious liberty to which you call all your children; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

And, if there is ever a time when we need to pray for vision and courage to stand against oppression and injustice, it is now. It is now, when the counter-Gospel hatred of white supremacy has been condoned in the halls of power; when the streets of Charleston are still littered from the violence of last weekend; when bombs are set in a mosque in Bloomington; when statistics speak to a reality of systemic racism that cannot be denied—this is the time to pray that we will have the vision and courage that we need in order to write a new story for ourselves that will open up the possibility for all people to claim, name, and write their own story. Free from oppression, hatred and indifference.

Indifference. Today, we are called to speak to indifference. The indifference of a man who could look at a mother in pain and in need, and tell her that she is not worthy. The indifference of the man that we know and proclaim as our strength and our redeemer.

And, honestly, that scares me. To speak of Jesus’ indifference and cruelty in this moment. The woman is scared and she is desperate for her child. He is focused on his vision of the task at hand, and she does not fit into that vision.

It scares me, to speak this way—to see the man I know as beloved be like this. I don’t want to know this about him. I don't want him to be human. I don't want him to echo the brokenness of our own being.

I don’t want to see him like this.

But, once you see, you can’t unsee. And, so today I see.

I see that in this moment Jesus reflects his culture rather than his Father. That his culture was so pervasive that even he, even he, did not question withholding his blessing from somebody in need.

And, this causes me to wonder how I too might fall into the subtle trap of reflecting our culture rather than our God; of reflecting human biases, rather than divine love; of reflecting indifference, rather than compassion.

I wonder...but wondering is not enough.

I need to repent.

But, not in private where I sit alone with my guilt and my shame but in public. In this place where I say, I am fully human and I too have sinned. 

I too have sinned. 

By being quiet when I needed to be loud. 

By staying home when I needed to be in the streets. 

By not confronting the racism I’ve encountered because it wasn’t the polite thing to do. 

I’ve sinned by choosing moderation when I am called to serve an immoderate God.

Immoderate in grace, immoderate in love, immoderate in the desire to know us by being one of us—God came down from the mountain, walked out of the fire, and became one of us. And, in doing this, in doing this--our God, in Jesus, gained an insider’s knowledge of our brokenness, our hatred, our pain, our suffering, and even our indifference to the suffering of others.

And, with this, we can stand before a God who understands. Who understands that who we are right now is not all we will ever be.

Who we are, who those we call “they” are, is not all that will ever be. And, that’s the good news today--Jesus was indifferent, but chose to make a difference. Jesus was cruel, but became kind.

And, if we can proclaim Jesus’ own transformation, then we can begin to see the potential for our own.

The potential we all have to be liberators and prophets. The potential we all have to be transformed. The potential we all have, to bring healing. Jesus being subject to the prejudices of his culture does not stand as the end of this story—the ending is one of healing.

So in these coming weeks, I want us to look around for the people who show up to confront us out of our complacency and our indifference. The people who won’t take no for an answer and refuse to be ignored. The people who offer us healing. The people who need the cure we might bring. I want us to look around for the liberators and prophets of our own time.

And, when we find them, and we WILL find them, I pray that we will be transformed by them—just as our Savior was transformed by her.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

14A 2017

The scripture appointed for today can be found here--note, we are using track 2

Also, please note, this sermon was written in a week where the sitting President used twitter to threaten unprecedented violence against North Korea (implied nuclear holocaust); and white supremacists descended upon the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, VA, carrying torches, instilling terror, and attacking counter-protesters. 

Here we are. 


Gale Force Winds

You are not walking on the lake like Peter
but on another sea, for this world is a sea;
Trials its waves, temptations its storms,
and men devouring each other as fishes do.
Don't be afraid, step out stoutly lest you sink.
When the gale blows and the waves rise,
and your weakness makes you fear you will be lost,
cry out, 'Lord, I am sinking,'
and he who bade you walk will not let you perish.
-Augustine of Hippo  354-430

Lord, I am sinking.

I read the paper.

I listen to the news.

And, the fishes who are men devour each other.

Lord, I am sinking.

And, the wind over the waters throws salt into the air.

And, the waves crash.

And, the water rises.

Lord, I am sinking.

And the air is hot and hard to breathe.

And, the meteorologists draw arrows and swirls as some storm or another threatens.

Do not let me perish.

Do not let us perish.

Do not let the chaos that overwhelms become the chaos that devours.

Let this be the chaos preceding a new creation.

Where we speak of war, may you O God speak of peace.

Where we speak of fear, may you O God speak of faith.

Where we speak lies, may you O God, speak your truth.

Where the pounding of boots instills terror, may the feet that bring the good news instill hope!

May we, we the people of St. Clement’s be the feet that bring the good news.

The Good news of peace, of faith, and of truth.

The good news that defies the powers of evil in this world, that defies the powers of evil made manifest in acts of hatred, racism and bigotry.  

The good news, carried by the feet that show up, speak up, and wake the dead in Spirit to a new life lived in love.

The good news, that we are not alone in this boat.

The good news that while the wind may be against us, that Christ is for us.

The good news that this moment is not the end.

When I served as a pediatric chaplain, parents would ask me if I had ever seen miracles happen--the blind see, the lame walk, the dead live. They would reach out their hand in hope that I would reach out mine and save them from sinking beneath the waves. Bold enough to step out of the boat, scared enough to turn to a stranger become a sign.

A sign of God’s presence in the wind-swept sea. A sign that there was more to this than this. That the beeping, that the wailing, and the weeping would give way to another day. Of breath. Of hope. Of laughter.

And, so they reached and I reached.

And, our hands would meet. In the boat. Together.

Akin to Christ we were, all of us, the hospital room adrift in an endless sea.

Forsakenness held at bay by the miracle of us, still standing. 

Have you ever seen a miracle?

In fear, faith. In darkness, light. In war, peace.

Have you ever seen a miracle?

From the 2004 interview of the last surviving participant in the Christmas Truce of 1914

“'I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence,' he said. 'Only the guards were on duty. We all went outside the farm buildings and just stood listening. And, of course, thinking of people back home. All I'd heard for two months in the trenches was the hissing, cracking and whining of bullets in flight, machinegun fire and distant German voices. 'But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted "Merry Christmas", even though nobody felt merry. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again. It was a short peace in a terrible war. ’”

A short peace, yet there it was, Christ proclaimed in the midst of war.

And, isn’t that where Christ is born?

In the middle of our need, our fear. Entering the boat to silence the storm.

And, in with Jesus the Christ in our midst, we worship.

We worship the God, the God who shows up in our worst moments and our worst hours. The God who shows up in the streets, and in our homes.

We worship the Son, the Son who came away from the mountain so that he might reach out to us in our fear.

We worship the Spirit, the Spirit that brings us together in this boat, in this place, in this time.

So that we will not be alone.

We will not be alone.

In this world that is a sea, we will not be alone.

In this time of twitter threats and nuclear powers, of lit torches and pepper spray. In this time when nothing seems stable and everything is in flux.

In this time, look around, and witness to the truth that we are not alone.

As we extend our hands, in peace, and in hope.

We are not alone.

As we bend our knees, and lift your voices.

We are not alone.

We share the fear and the faith.

The war and the peace.

The light and the dark.

We share this time together and in this time we are asked to be as the disciples were—together.  Together in the boat.

The boat that is an Episcopal church in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the people sang as the torches gather round.

The boat that is a raft of trees on the slopes of Fonds Verrettes.

The boat that is Maxfield Elementary School, where hungry children are fed so that they might learn.

This boat where we gather to worship the Christ whose birth caused the angels to cry, “peace to God’s people on earth!”.  

This boat that carries us from death, and fear, to life and faith.

This passage from the Gospel today is an interlude between death and life. In entering the boat, the disciples had left death behind on land to risk the storm at sea.

Because, on land, John the Baptist had been senselessly felled by a capricious and power-hungry ruler.

On land, politics and powers, riots and rulers, were defying God's love in pursuit of power,

On land, men were devouring each other like fishes.

They left the land of death for the sea of creation.

Where they rocked to and fro in a little boat.

To and fro in the sea, where fear of what could be, gave way to fear of what was,

Which gave way to worship of the God who shows up.

Who shows up in the midst of chaos and transforms that chaos into a new creation.

God’s new creation born in the chaos of the sea. God’s new creation which will confront the organized systems that seek to destroy the children of God. God’s new creation where death becomes life.

And, knowing life without fear, the disciples would be go from sea to land.

Bearing the truth of life, and compassion in the face of death and oppression. A truth that would feed the hungry, not with the blood of their enemies, but on the bread of life.

When the disciples return from the sea, they will gather scarce bread and fish and follow the instruction to feed the 5,000 who would gather in the midst of their fear.

And in this, they reach out their hands as Christ had reached out his.

And, in this, they would not perish.

So light the torches, we will overwhelm them with the light of God. Arm the missiles and we will arm ourselves with the peace of Christ. Threaten creation and we will usher in a new creation.  

We will not forsake nor shall we forsaken.

You are not walking on the lake like Peter
but on another sea, for this world is a sea;
Trials its waves, temptations its storms,
and men devouring each other as fishes do.
Don't be afraid, step out stoutly lest you sink.
When the gale blows and the waves rise,
and your weakness makes you fear you will be lost,
cry out, 'Lord, I am sinking,'
and he who bade you walk will not let you perish.