Thursday, September 28, 2017

20A, "There is nothing you can say or do..."

This week's readings can be found here
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You Are Enough

The early Israelites shared their ancestry with the Ninevites.

But, they had forgotten, Jonah had forgotten. That these people whom he thought so deserving of God’s wrath—were his people too.

They were people who shared in the common origins of his own community. They were people, living, dreaming, hoping, doing just as his people lived and dreamed and hoped and did.

He had forgotten.

And, in this, in this he was condemning not the Ninevites, but himself. His own people, his own origins, his own.

His own who were in fact God’s own people.

They had fallen short, they had done evil,

But they had turned back to God.

And, God in God’s inestimable mercy—a mercy far beyond that which Jonah himself understood—was forgiving.

Because God had not forgotten that these were his people as well.

They had not yet named God with their lips, but they were moving towards naming God in their actions. Becoming more akin to the people whom God intended them to be.

Jonah forgot, that they were him and he was they. That in condemning them, he condemned himself.

And, in this, this becomes a narrative not about the repentance and the warning of the Ninevites. But, about Jonah’s need for transformation.

He is the one being called to repentance. He is the one, who is confronted by the truth that he himself had fallen short in failing to extend the kind of mercy which God intended in this moment.

 “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

God is concerned about those we would forget.

God’s compassion is given to those we would condemn.

And, in this, I find myself vulnerable to my own wonderings—whom have I forgotten? whom have I failed to show compassion for? Whom have I condemned? How have I fallen short? What can I do to fix this thing, this moment that seems so terribly and completely broken?

And, I want to curl up beneath the bush alongside Jonah…because in this, I have condemned myself.

Exhausted by my own wonderings, my own questioning. Unable to see or hold the big picture because the many small pictures of despair have been writ large across the screen and I am tired. I am tired and overwhelmed.

Like so many of us, I feel exhausted by the world. By the forces of evil which seek to divide, by the natural disasters that just keep coming, by my failing, by our failings.

Is it any wonder that Jonah despaired? That we despair? 

But, where do we go with this. Where is the comfort? Where is the hope? Where is the good news that we so long for? And, I say we, because we need good news. We need to know that in our weakness others will be strong and that in our own moments of strength we can support the weak. We need to know that even our poorest effort, even our last ditch, show up at the last-minute effort, is recognized with grace and mercy and forgiveness.

A grace, mercy and forgiveness that we find so challenging to give not just to others but to ourselves.

This passage from Hebrew Scriptures is one about compassion. Compassion for others AND compassion for self.

There is a podcast I listen to--“One Bad Mother” in which two moms seek to support and encourage each other and their listeners as parents.  Parents are invited to call in and share both their genius moments in parenting and their complete fails. And what is amazing about this is that the wildly unrealistic expectations that we have for ourselves become glaringly obvious when we are asked to have compassion for someone who is struggling with the very things we ourselves may be struggling with.

The tag-line for the podcast is roughly, "you are doing a great job!”

A tag-line that is intended to acknowledge the very, very, hard and so often thankless work of parents. Parents who struggle to do what is right, and whose every desire is to do a good job in the midst of all of the external and internal pressures and criticisms they face.

To tell somebody they are doing a good job, particularly in moments when they may be despairing, is to extend compassion. A compassion for which we all hunger.

But, it’s not just about compassion for each other as parents--it’s compassion for the children we raise. Biz, one of the hosts, often describes how she will tell her daughter, “baby girl there is nothing you can say or do that will make me stop loving you!”

Sit with that for a moment, “There is nothing you can say or do that will make me stop loving you.”

There is nothing you can say or do that will make God stop loving you!

You will be forgiven, you will be loved, you will be held accountable. And on the last day—God will welcome you with open arms because there is nothing you can say or do that will make God stop loving you!

And, not just welcome you, God will search for you tirelessly. God will, like the landowner in today’s parable, keep going out in order to find more and more people. God will not give up on those who are in need!

You are loved. You are sought. You will never be abandoned.

This is a fitting message on a day when we welcome baby Henry to the household of God. A fitting message when we bless our Pilgrim youth. As their community, part of what we are called to do is to remind these young people throughout their lives that they are loved. That there is nothing they can say or do that will make God stop loving them.

But, not just them. But, us. We are also beneficiaries of this love. We need the reminder that if we are the ones who are found at the very last—long after the bulk of the work has been done—we will still be loved, we will still be welcomed, we will still be given the freely given grace of God.

People of God, there is nothing we can say or do that will make God stop loving us.

Amen.

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And...if you want to check out the podcast One Bad Mother, click on the link!




Thursday, September 21, 2017

18A, When Sin is the Place Where Jesus Shows Up

The scripture appointed can be found here

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2, 3, Jesus

Most of us know what it feels like to be alone in the world.

The first night after the break-up. The first night after leaving home. The first weeks, months or even years in a new city. Watching the news after everyone else has gone to bed. Endless scrolling in the middle of the night.

Feeling far away, even when close by.

Many of us know what it feels like to be alone in the world.

In this world that seems so, so, big—and us who seem so, so, small.

And, so, on this day. When the news once again overwhelms and so many of us feel uncertain about what is and what is to come.

I long to know that I am not alone.

That I am not the only one frightened; that I am not the only one anxious; that I am not the only one saddened by this world we are in.

And, that in this place and this time, I can turn to this gathered community as a place where I don’t have to go it alone. I can turn to this community, and the God to whom we give praise, for both solace and strength; pardon and renewal.

Solace and strength, pardon and renewal.

Achieved not through anything I am doing, but through what God has already done.

Solace--a comfort in the routine and rhythm, consolation that in the midst of change God’s love is unchanging. Solace when we find wholeness in the midst of brokenness and rightness in the midst of all that feels wrong.

Strength found in the sacrament, the bread and the wine that serves as a means by which we can find unity with God and with each other, taking the broken body and making it whole again through our participation.

Pardon, in turning to each other and recognizing that we are all broken, we are forgiven and out of this forgiveness we are renewed.

Renewal, when we work with this word assuming that it means to resume an activity that has been interrupted we can see that in our gathering we resume the journey towards God that has been interrupted by the world and its brokenness.

Solace, strength; pardon, renewal.

“God, open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.”

These words, from our Eucharistic Prayer today, bid us to see our gathering as a place where we find both solace and strength, pardon and renewal.

Solace, strength, pardon, renewal—and grace.

A freely given grace made possible through the love of the God who first loved us.

A grace that forgives, a grace that includes, a grace that welcomes. The grace that lends itself to the mercy we long for when we cry out, “Lord, have mercy on us, for we are sinners in your sight.”

Grace and sin. Sin and grace.

Solace, strength, pardon, renewal.

A gift to us in the midst of our brokenness. The brokenness we describe as sin, the sin we describe as those things which separate us from God and from each other.

And, if we are to understand sin as that which divides us, grace and pardon is that which unites us.

Grace and pardon found at our table, in our prayers, at our peace, and in our collective and growing awareness that our brokenness is not the sum total of who we are. The grace and pardon found when we do not allow the sins that separate us to define us. The grace and pardon found when we refuse to let our brokenness define us, or our woundedness control us.

To speak of grace is to speak of sin...pardon given through grace, renewal found in renewed relationship and new life.

Sin becomes the place where we experience mercy. Sin becomes the place where we can seek renewal. Sin becomes unitive in its universalism. Sin becomes a place where we reclaim our identity as beloved.

And this belovedness, by definition, requires relationship. We are beloved and in this we are reminded that even in the hardest of times and places, we are not alone. We are never alone. Sin would serve to isolate, but renewal of life is found in relationship. We are renewed in relationship.  

We are renewed whenever two or three are gathered in Christ’s name.

Wherever two or three are gathered…

I have heard this phrase so many times, most often as a flip response to small worship attendance. But, this text is not meant to be an encouragement to worship even when only a couple of people showed up. It is meant to be a reminder that in our relationships with each other, we encounter Christ. That whenever two or three are gathered Christ is there.

And, we are not alone.

When we show up with and for each other in the midst of this reality, we engage in making incarnate the love of Christ. When we engage in the messy and muddy work of relationship, we create new life from the very mud in which we thought ourselves mired.

A new creation, a renewal of life, all made possible when we step out of our loneliness and into relationship, even in the midst of brokenness—or, perhaps, what the Gospel today is saying, especially in the midst of brokenness.

Because, Jesus will show up in that brokenness.  In the middle of the mess and the muddiness of our relationships, Jesus will show up. Not just then, but now.

Whenever two or three are gathered—I am there. I am there in the midst of conflict. I am there when you seek reconciliation. I am there when you show up to and with each other. I am there.

Whenever two or three are gathered. Whenever we turn to each other, in peace and in pardon—Jesus is there. Whenever we engage with another member of the body of Christ, Christ is made manifest. And we, we, are not alone.


We are the gathered body, that place where solace and strength, pardon and renewal, are lived out. Lived out in our love for each other—not the saccharine love of hallmark cards, but the love that is experienced in mercy, the mercy that is found when we show up to each other and to our merciful God.  

The Spiritual Practice of Seeking Refuge

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