Monday, August 13, 2018

The Spiritual Practice of Seeking Refuge

Readings for 14B 2018 (remember, we're using track 2 through year C)

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The passage from 1st Kings we heard today has the plot line of the epic poem. And while, my own attempt at verse is not, by any means, epic. It does attempt to give you the entirety of the narrative arc beyond the broom tree and Mt. Horeb. Here goes…

Recently returned triumphant
From the sacrificial plains
In which his Lord and God
Had prevailed
Against the prophets of Baal.

Elijah met
Real God,
And a real fire,

Who in consuming the offering.
Brought down the false
And, inspired the wicked to revenge.

So, the victorious prophet
Fled.
From the vengeance of those,
Once mighty, now mocked.

Until he came to rest
Beneath a tree
Where despair met anguish
And where,
God, once called upon,
Provided cake.

But no direction,
Beyond the past
Which lay ahead
At Mount Horeb.

Mount Horeb where his ancestors had gathered to hear the covenant proclaimed. Mount Horeb where Moses, with a shining face, came back from his encounter with God. Mount Horeb, the place of burning bushes and the promise of land.

Elijah, who is given new life by bread and water beneath the broom tree goes back. Back to the spiritual home of his people, the point of origin of his people’s future.

And in this his pilgrimage of faith, the meaning of Elijah’s story is enriched through his connection to the overarching arc of God’s salvation. The offering consumed by fire, the wilderness journey of 40 days, the Exodus of his people—all woven into the story of God and his ancestors. He looks backwards in order to see forwards.

He returns to what was so that the future might be.

As poet Pablo Nerudo writes in his reflection in the World’s End,

“And that's why I have to go back
to so many places in the future,
there to find myself
and constantly examine myself
with no witness but the moon
and then whistle with joy.
ambling over rocks and clods of earth,
with no task but to live,
with no family but the road.”

Going back, to find ourselves in the future.

To remember who we are and to whom we belong.

Lest we forget, and find ourselves despairing in the midst of our own wilderness.

When Elijah returned to Mt. Horeb he was going to the birthplace of God’s covenant with God’s people. Mt. Horeb is the site upon which Moses encountered the burning bush. A place where Elijah could be reconnected with the God who had sent him forth, and the God who had called him home.

The God in whom, as the psalmist writes, he could take his refuge.

And, so as we consider the readings appointed for today, we are invited to consider alongside Elijah, alongside the author of Ephesians, and alongside Christ himself, the spiritual practice of seeking refuge. 

where we come from,

who our people are

and where we go when we ourselves seek refuge.

When fear of the world overwhelms us, when the headlines afflict us, when we grow anxious and worried about work or school, when societal injustices consume us. Where do we go?

Where do you go?

Silence….

Throughout my life, I have had the need for refuge. For one reason or another, needing to go somewhere to remember who I am and to whom I belong.

When I was little, I would go climb the jacaranda tree in our front yard, sitting between the branches surrounded by the purple blooms.

In college, there was a swing above the campus pond and the bright walls of the campus chapel.

When our children were born, refuge was the smell of their milky heads.

Here in this space, it is the breaking of the bread and the upturned hands.

Yesterday, it was a cup of coffee and the high-pitched buzz of the dog day cicadas.

All of which have served to remind me who I am and to whom I belong.

Where do you go?

Silence…

Having considered this, I invite you to turn to the person next to you and ask them where they go. Where they go for refuge in this world of ours.

Conversation…

Thank you all for taking the time to make these connections this morning. To consider the fear that drove Elijah to despair and to explore where we ourselves go when we long for refuge. 

Let us consider the truth that is offered today...

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in the Lord.”  

You who are afraid.

You who are ashamed.

You who are troubled.

Taste and see, in the shelter of this moment, taste and see, that there is goodness, that there is love, that there is kindness, and that we are not left comfortless.

We are not left comfortless.

And, today we are offered this bread, this cup, this peace, and this space, as a means by which we can remember that the Lord has called us beloved and in that belovedness we are called to love likewise.

Amen.







Baptism and Affirmation

Readings appointed for Pentecost 13B can be found here 

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My father was a lapsed Roman Catholic and my mother an unchurched Episcopalian.  I'm still not entirely sure what led them to insist that my sister and I (both baptized as infants at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Makawao) attend catechism classes in preparation for our first Holy Communion.  

As part of preparing for receiving our first communion each of us was required to make our first confession. So, scapular around my neck with laminated pictures of Saints and a glow in the dark rosary in my hands, I entered the little booth and confessed the only sin I could think of.

I was mean to my sister...

I’m sure I was given some task, some number of penitential prayers to perform. But, being only 8 at the time, my awe and fear of the priest seemed more than penance enough and I scurried out of the booth when I ran out of sins to confess (I think I may have confessed cruelty to my younger sister multiple times because I couldn’t think of anything else to say!).

Second only to the priest, in their ability to inspire awe, were the nuns who taught the classes. They were adamant that partaking of the bread and the wine was to be done with intentionality and solemnity--that in our first Communion we would be participating in something beyond ourselves and in that first taste we could begin to comprehend the intermingling of the human and divine.

Or, at least that is my understanding now as I suspect that’s not at all how they phrased it!  At the time, I was awestruck by my new glow in the dark rosary and the possibility that I might somehow prove negligent in receiving that sacred bread.

Because, on one point in particular the nuns were clear--one was not to chew the holy wafer.  Do not chew! Whatever you do, do not chew the body of Christ! And so, as I opened my mouth to receive that first holy bit of wheat and water condensed into its round cracker form, I felt a sense of dread and panic.  How does one go about eating the body of Christ without chewing?!

Gummed to the roof of my mouth, the wafer eventually grew sodden enough to be swallowed and I left the chancel steps with relief. I had survived this encounter with what seemed the holy of holies and the faded picture which remains from this moment is of a solemn little girl in white dress and veil standing alone before the altar. 

And, so, today as I stand here in this gathered company, this community of faith, I can only imagine what my 8-year-old self would have thought of my genuflection and my elevation, of the consecration which I am privileged to perform as priest.

I feel a sense of awe as I consider the stretch from 8-year-old self to the self that serves as Priest that can be summed up most beautifully in the prayer of Humble Access. 

We do not presume to come to this thy Table (O merciful Lord) trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his Blood, in these holy Mysteries, that we may continually dwell in him, and he in us, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood. Amen.

This prayer appears in the Book of Common Prayer on page 337, and has been part of our common liturgies since 1548.

And, while it is a prayer rarely said nowadays, it is the prayer that centers me in the sanctity of our action at the table we call the altar. It is the prayer that reminds me that mercy and grace are not earned but granted. It is the prayer that reminds me that we dwell in God and God within us. It is the prayer that holds me to my conviction that this is God’s table and all are welcome--regardless. This is the table where we sinner and saint stand alike and as one.

As the letter to the Ephesians offers, there is, one body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

And, each of us given grace in according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

And, how to measure this gift of Christ’s love? There is no measure for such generous love. There is no measure that does not overflow with the abundance of that love. 

And in response to that love, all that we have and all that we are is brought to this table.  And, it is enough.  That is the gift of grace in the Good News we hear today...that who we are and what we have is abundantly, generously and unstintingly ENOUGH.

Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and so we too shall be fed from a body that, having been broken, is resurrected and reunited through our own feasting.  The bread baked by our fellows, and shared from this table, binds us into a wholeness that fills the empty and opens to us a world beyond self.  We partake and in that partaking become more fully who we are called to be.

And, this, this is AMAZING. And, we have the privilege of being part of this! So, while the solemnity of communion is one aspect of our celebration, it is a solemnity imbued with joy. The invitation to God’s table is an invitation to celebration! To a feast! To a party where are all welcome!

Oh, how I wish I could go back in time to that solemn faced 8-year-old and whisper in her ear…

“This is life and you are loved! You are an amazing and beloved child of God and there will always be a place for you in this world! It might be hard sometimes, but it’s going to be worth it—may you never forget the taste of this bread in your mouth and the love of God that will never abandon you.”

In just a moment we will formally welcome baby Abigail to this celebration that extends beyond time and space, we will welcome her for who she is and whomever she will become as a beloved child of God. We welcome her, knowing that God has called her to be part of us, part of this, part of the transcendent feast of God’s love! And, throughout her life we will shout to the rafters so that she may hear,

“Abigail, you are part of us, and we welcome you just as you are! You are enough and we are enough and God has called us beloved!”

Let the people say,

Amen.






The Spiritual Practice of Seeking Refuge

Readings for 14B 2018  (remember, we're using track 2 through year C) +++ The passage from 1 st Kings we heard today has the p...