Sunday, June 16, 2019

Trinity Sunday, 2019-C: There's always more

Lectionary: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Canticle 13; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15



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En el nombre del Dios: Creador, Redentor, y Santificador. Amen.

Last week on Pentecost Sunday we celebrated the establishment of the community of Christ on earth. Today, Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the Community of God. One reason the liturgical calendar puts these principle feasts side by side is that we learn how to be the community of Christ on the earth by living like the community of God: a community in unity with itself.

Trinity Sunday is when we pause to contemplate what we it means to us that God is Trinity in unity; one God in three persons. There is no expectation that we’ll figure out anything new. It took the church 325 difficult years to agree on how to understand and talk about who Jesus was. That was the great achievement of the ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 from which we received our Nicene Creed. And it is because we can stand firmly on that foundation that we are able to soar freely into the knowledge and experience of the mystery of God as God chooses to reveal to us today.

Easier said than done… Years ago, I was talking with a friend of mine who was a Presbyterian minister and is now an Episcopal priest. I asked him what heaven would be for him; how he understood it. He said that for him, heaven would be to know everything there is to know about God.

My initial, interior response, was sadness. First of all, he’s a very smart man. How could he think our finite brains could ever hope to truly comprehend the infinite? More importantly, however, was my friend’s use of the word “about.” To seek to know about God isn’t the same as to seek to know God. Knowing about God objectifies God. God is other, outside, observed.

I felt lonely for him because Jesus didn’t come to be observed or studied by us but to reconcile us to God. The Holy Spirit descended upon the community of Christ at Pentecost because God chose to dwell in us, to be one with us forevermore.

I don’t think I’ve shared with you yet about one of my longstanding hobbies: quantum physics. One of my favorite quantum physicists is Fred Allan Wolf who wrote “Taking the Quantum Leap” in 1982. I’ve been reading his papers (and others’ works) ever since.

Quantum physics is concerned with the micro-universe, sub-atomic particles like quarks, and the macro-universe, galaxies – going as far as we can go in both directions. What I have learned from this discipline is that everything we learn points us to something we don’t know. Beyond anything we can know there is always more.

Fred Allan Wolf says the farther physics goes into the micro and out to macro-universe the closer we get to mystery. “The trick” he says, “the real trick in life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery.” (A scientist said that!)

When we think about it, there is much we already know about God. We know that God is the source of all that is. We know that Jesus said he and God are one. We know that Jesus promised the Holy Spirit of God would come, clothe his followers with power from on high and lead them into all truth. We know that this would happen over time as Jesus said in today’s gospel.

We know that God is relationship: a Trinity who lives in Unity. We know that we have been brought into that relationship through Jesus who reconciled us to God, making us one with God as he is one with God.

We know that God continues to be revealed to us in creation, in prayer, in community, in our own bodies, and in the gift of our intellect. When Jesus said, I have many things to say to you and you will know them over time, he was talking about the kind of knowing that happens by entering the mystery – a knowing that happens in the wholeness of ourselves; in the wholeness of our community, and in the wholeness of creation – from the tininess of a quark to the vastness of a galaxy.

God is revealed to us in many ways. Have you ever had the experience of a breath-taking sunrise? …or stood in the timelessness that exists as you peer over the edge of a cliff on the Blue Ridge mountains? Have you ever heard the healing power of the crashing waves of the ocean? …or been lost in the universe of a star filled sky? If you have, then you have been in the mystery of God.

When I hold my new grandson and he loves me with his whole little self, I know God. Am I alone when I say that when my dog snuggles into me and looks at me with adoring eyes, I know God? Does anyone else experience that?

When I remember my mother’s smile or see her in a dream, our love feels as real as when she was alive and I know… that’s God, because I know, we know, that God is love, and love never dies.

Every time we gather for Holy Eucharist where we, as the community of Christ on earth, are nourished, strengthened, and enlightened by Word and sacrament, we know God.

God is revealed through the prayers we’ve prayed and hymns we’ve sung together a thousand times. Sometimes, God chooses to be revealed in the midst of a hymn or a prayer we’re going through by rote, not really paying attention until some divine truth hits us, switching on a light of understanding, transforming our understanding entirely.

Trinity Sunday is a good Sunday to be an Episcopalian. We don’t try to solve the mystery. We simply enter it. When we do, when we’re quiet and make space for God to speak in us, amazing things can happen. Love we didn’t know we could have is given to us, insights light up our understanding, and truths are revealed that connect us to everything and show us how to go forward on our path of our faith.

Theologian Christopher Morse says, “Faith is in the first instance, God’s doing. It is God’s relating to human beings in such a way as to relate human beings to each other in ministering to the common good. How and when and where God’s spirit achieves this is not subject to human control. The Spirit’s working for freedom is revealed only by the free working of the Spirit.”

Standing firmly on the foundation of our faith, in unity of community with one another, we can let the Spirit of God work freely in and through us, and we can soar freely with Her going wherever God leads us, certain that there is always more God, more love, to be revealed.

Amen.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pentecost, 2019-C: Our Pentecost reality


Lectionary: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35,37; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17, (25-27)



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En el nombre del Dios: Creador, Redentor, y Santificador. Amen.

In the Pentecost story from Acts, the disciples are waiting together as Jesus had told them to do, until they’d been “clothed with power from on high” which truly did descend upon them filling them with the Holy Spirit. And the best way the Luke could describe it was that it looked like divided tongues of fire settling upon each one present. As you know, fire is biblical language for the presence of God: the burning bush in Genesis, the pillar of fire in Exodus, and the fire covering the tent of the covenant in the book of Numbers.

On that first Pentecost, fire which signaled the presence of God, divided itself into smaller bits and each person present was given one of those bits. Gathering all of their bits together enabled the synergy of God’s presence in each of them to blossom into the fullness of God among them. This equipped them to carry the Good News to the whole world as the prophet Joel had said, and the early church grew exponentially.

Sadly, it didn’t take long for some of those disciples upon whom the spirit of God descended to be edged out to the margins of the community once again. As the fledgling church began to form its institutional identity the top leadership – Jewish men - shoved the new wine of this Pentecost reality back into the old skins of the Jewish temple system, eventually edging women, slaves, the poor, and others right back to the “outer courts” of the community.

There was no existing earthly system that would enable the Spirit of God to continue to move unimpeded among the disciples, so they fell back on a familiar one. The doors that Jesus had flung open began to close and that institutional system evolved into the one we have today which continues to reflect this ancient patriarchal advantage.

It’s a pattern that has played out in human history over and over again.

I recently read a novel called, “The Healing” by Jonathan O’Dell. Set on a cotton plantation in pre-Civil War Mississippi, this book tells the story of a young slave girl named Granada who transitions from life in the “great house” to an apprentice “doctress” – a midwife and healer - under the tutelage of an amber-eyed, mixed race slave named Polly Shine. Polly, a healer, was purchased by the master to intervene in the cholera epidemic wiping out his “stock.” Knowing abolition was on the horizon, the master aimed to treat his slaves well enough so that when freedom became an option, they’d have no need of it – a condition Polly called being “freedom stupid.”

Mother Polly had “the sight.” A person with “the sight” had visions and dreams from the eternal realm which helped them “see” beyond what seemed apparent in the world to what was eternally true: in their bodies, their community, and in the world.

Polly could “see” this truth and she saw that same ability in Granada but Granada would have to learn how to use it, and doing so would cause her to confront and unlearn so much of what she had assumed was true. Polly told Granada that in order to learn this Granada would have to stop talking, watch, and listen.

Polly’s great frustration with Granada was what she was “freedom stupid.” Once when discussing the prospect of freedom with her young apprentice, Granada complained that she didn’t want to leave the plantation to go to freedom-land. “Where was it, anyway?” she wanted to know.

It isn’t a place, Polly told her, it’s a way of being.

This story is such a great metaphor for the church. Church isn’t a place. It’s a way of being. We don’t go to church. We are the church who gathers together in a building we call our church. Each Sunday we share stories from Scripture that help us remember our identity; and we share the divine meal together – the one Jesus asked us to share in order to remember him.

In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter quotes the prophet Joel who declares God’s intention to pour out divine Spirit onto ALL flesh: sons and daughters, men and women, old and young, slave and free. This is that time, Peter proclaims. It still is because God is still redeeming. God is always redeeming.

But like young Granada, so many in the church cling to old understandings and old ways. Unable to comprehend the magnitude of the freedom of God’s spirit and trust its power to transform us, our community, and even the world, many Christians turn away from it, choosing to fall back into a spirit of fear as St. Paul said.

“Do you not believe…?” Jesus asks his disciples. “Believe me [when I say] that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.”

Or as Polly would have said: stop talking, watch, and listen. Transformation is happening even now in our individual bodies, our communities, and in the world. God is redeeming. God is always redeeming.

We look back at the pre-Civil War era and wonder how Christians could ever have believed that the kidnapping and enslavement of humans could be proclaimed as in keeping with God’s will …that snatching nursing babies from their mother’s breasts, and children from their innocence; that working people to near exhaustion, whipping them, and hanging them from trees was in any way in keeping with Jesus’ commandments to love.

Yet today more than ten thousand brown children, whom we separated from their parents - some while literally nursing at their mother’s breasts – are being housed in cages on our soil. An additional 1500 children remain officially “lost.” While in our custody, 7 year old Jakelin Caal Maquin died from dehydration and exhaustion, and 8 year old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez died from a cold that went untreated until it was too late.

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jesus said. And his commandments were to love God, and neighbor as self. To love others as he loved us.

Thankfully, God is still redeeming. God is always redeeming until “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” God renews the face of the earth by continually sending forth God’s own spirit to create and re-create the world; and God has chosen us to make manifest on earth what is true in heaven.

This is a tremendous gift, one that often overwhelms our experience. Like Granada, we may hesitate to accept it and resist unlearning what we know in order to learn this new way of being, but when we gather together, the bits of God’s spirit in each of us unites with the bits of God’s spirit in all of us, and the fullness of God is made manifest through us on the earth.

That’s why we come to church. We don’t come to check off the attendance box on our heaven-bound report card, or to prop up a building, or to hang out with friends. We gather together every Sunday to remember the stories of our identity and share the divine meal so that we, as a community, can unite our bits of the spirit of God together in order to manifest the fullness of God into the world.

We know that each church and every church institution will be as imperfect as the people who comprise it and devise it, so we endeavor to free up the spirit of God to establish new ways of being church in the world: our church, THE church, remembering that God continually works through us in all our imperfections to redeem. God is always redeeming.

Happy birthday to the church in our continual becoming. Amen.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Feast of the Ascension: True stewardship

Today we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension. Since this principal feast falls on a Thursday, we transferred it to Sunday. (See BCP, p 15)

Lectionary: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53



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En el nombre del Creador, Redentor, y Santificador. Amen.

Our Scripture readings today speak to us of power - the power of God given to those who believe. This is radically different from earthly power, however. Let’s take a look.

In the story from Acts we hear Jesus’ last words on earth: "… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you." In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of “the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” In the Gospel from Luke, as Jesus was ascending into glory, he blessed his followers, and they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy…” (the Greek word “chara” being translated here as ‘joy’ means: great gift, extraordinary power).

So, what is this power they are speaking about? The answer is simple: The power they speak of is love, and yes, it is as available to us today as it was then.

We have been baptized by water and the Holy Spirit. Knowing full well the cost of love, Jesus gave us the power of his own love – love that prays for those who persecute us, forgives those who harm us, and gives of itself for the sake of the other. This love compels us to stand by those who hate us, going toward them, not away from them, so that we can bear the light of this love into their darkness.

This love is more powerful than anything else in creation. It is the source of all life and the hope of the world. This love that we have been given can transform lives, heal bodies, move mountains, and renew the face of the earth.

We, who are believers and witnesses of this love, which is the love of God in Christ, are called to receive the gift of this love for ourselves, and to use it for the sake of others. Remember, after Christ ascended, it was the disciples who went about preaching, and teaching, and healing the sick, and restoring the lost. This is neither beyond our ability nor (should it be) beyond our expectations for ourselves and our church community.

So I ask you, St. David’s family, in what ways is this power, this love, being manifest in and through us right now? Are we models of forgiveness in a hate-filled world? … of humility in a world that worships aggression? …of generosity in a world that grabs for personal power? Are we icons of hope to the hopeless? …light to those trapped in darkness? …comfort to the suffering or lonely?

It’s so easy for the church to get distracted from our mission, but the mission is remarkably simple: bear the extraordinary, powerful, transforming Love of God into the world. Make known this amazing love to those who don’t know it, or have forgotten it, or had it stolen from them by “good Christian folk” who had it all wrong. Be Love in the face of hate and ridicule. Stand humbly in the presence of earthly power as Jesus did and embody the Source of true power as She acts through the weak, the least, and the last. Detach from anger, from being right, from the rewards of this world, and seek only the Love that makes no sense – the Love that forgives all, welcomes all, and values all – all people, all creation, all.

When the generations to come look back on our part of this ongoing narrative, what will be the story they tell about us: the St. David’s community in 2019? Will they sing songs about how the power of the love in our small church transformed Cullowhee and Jackson County? It’s a goal…

The greatest, most powerful thing in the whole world is the same now as it was when creation was being spoken into being: love. And this love has been given to us as a gift from the Creator of the universe. More amazingly, it is this Love, God Herself, who dwells in us.

Take a moment (close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing that) and turn your thoughts inward. Open your hearts and enter that beautiful temple of God’s Holy Spirit known as your body. Enter reverently, marveling at the fact that God created you in all this intricate, distinctive physicality; that God chose you knowing all your strengths AND weaknesses; and that God dwells in you. Stay there a moment in peace and awe as you feel the love of God within you, on you, all around you, making you one with all that is, all that was, and all that will be. Claim this moment of Holy Freedom – the freedom to be exactly who God made you to be. Let’s stay in this moment for just a few seconds and allow it to sink in…

Now open your eyes and look at where you are: in this beautiful, holy space, surrounded by friends and co-members of the body of Christ known as St. David’s. We have been clothed with power from on high.

When the disciples first experienced this, they returned to their lives exhilarated. That felt sense of elation and openness of heart is how our bodies experience "Holy Freedom: the full awareness of ourselves as part of the unfolding Divine Will."(Source: The Enneagram Institute)

We, as a church, having been clothed with power from on high, are unlimited in our potential. Remember, Jesus told us that, as amazing as his ministry was, we would do greater things in ours.

This church community is being gathered together by God – as an intentional divine action - because the expression of God’s love, in each one of us and in all of us together, is exactly what is needed in this time and in this place to do the work God has for us to do.

Brother Keith Nelson, of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopal Monastery in MA, says it like this: “Jesus, our savior and our model in all things, teaches us that anything glorious that is visible in us or any glorious work wrought by our mind or heart or hands is the manifestation of God’s glory. Since that glory is not ours, it is an unlimited supply that we can spend without counting the cost.”

This is true stewardship of our gifts: to use all that we’ve been given without concern for depleting them or even ourselves, knowing that we are animated by and operate within the abundance of the eternal love of God.

Amen.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Stop and let the love happen

Recently while visiting with my family in Atlanta, I surprised my grandson, Emerson, by my arrival. He had just finished his breakfast and was in his mother’s arms getting ready to play. He reached for me (you know how my heart melted over that!) and I took him joyfully into my arms, preparing to sit on the floor for his favorite activity – reading a book.

When I received him into my arms, however, he put his head down on my shoulder and got very still. I waited, then realized he was loving me with his whole body. I had been prepared to get right to what we were going to do together, but Emerson had a different plan: he wanted to stop and let love happen first. I surrendered and we stayed in that embrace for a very, very long time.

This lesson from Emerson is one I have to learn over and over again: stop and let the love happen. Like so many in our culture, I am generally oriented toward getting things done. Our internal chronometers compel us to keep moving, keep accomplishing, mindful of the schedule for the day.

The first person to introduce me to this lesson was my Transition Minister from my home diocese of< Georgia. Born in Selma, AL, and a friend of my husband’s family, The Rev. Bob Carter was a slow (and I mean slow) talking Southerner. I was in the process of ordination at the time, so Bob would call me often. When I’d hear his melodic address: “Vaaalllori, this is Booobb Caaaahtuh” my internal chronometer would shut off and I’d stop what I was doing ready to listen for as long as it took. Bob was a loving man, a wise counselor, an experienced priest, and a valued friend. It was always worth attending fully to what he had to say – for as long as it took him to say it.

Relationships deepen when we stop to listen or to let love happen. Sometimes the most important thing we can do is let go of our schedule for the day and notice who or what is seeking our full, loving attention. It may be a hug from a precious baby, or a call from a slow-talking friend. It may be a bird whose song compels us to join it in creation, or a memory of a loved-one that draws us into prayer and remembrance.

There is nothing we can accomplish on our calendars that has more eternal significance than stopping to let love happen, it all its many forms. As we move into the many tasks calling for our attention, I pray we remember to stop and let the love happen and our relationships deepen.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

5 Easter, 2019-C: It. Is. Done!

Lectionary: Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35




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En el nombre del Dios: Creador, Redentor, y Sanctificador. Amen.

I begin with a prayer from Orison Marden which we shared at our third summit. It’s called “Divinely Empowered.”

Deep within humans dwell these slumbering powers,
powers that would astonish them,
that they never dreamed of possessing;
forces that would revolutionize their lives
if aroused and put into action.

This past week in my interim support group we discussed “pioneers” vs. “settlers,” terms used and defined by our mentor, The Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle. Our discussion focused on the context of individuals and church communities, and how those two groups – the pioneers and the settlers – can affect churches in transition.

Human systems are usually a mix of pioneers, who leave the safety of established cities, towns, and farm and head out into unknown territory. Settlers are those who follow the pioneers out then put down roots, make a home and build a culture where their new land.

When a church is in transition, it’s the pioneers who lead the way with vision and courage into a new promised land. Settlers help everyone figure out how to live there once they arrive.

In our story from Acts, Peter, who is a reluctant pioneer, pushes out into uncharted territory. Belonging to a people who have been conquered and oppressed for much of their history, the Jews learned to cope and survive by distinguishing themselves from the culture that conquered them. They accomplished this spiritually through their rituals and physically through circumcision; establishing an interior and exterior “them” and “us.”

As Peter grows in his understanding of who Jesus was and what he did, Peter struggles with the commandment Jesus gave him to love as he loved them. Peter knows loving as Jesus loved would mean violating Jewish law that restricted Jesus’ way of loving. The nascent Christian community is looking to Peter, the Rock to whom Jesus gave the metaphoric keys of the kingdom, to lead the way. Meanwhile, Paul is nipping at Peter’s heals pushing for full inclusion of Gentiles into their burgeoning community.

Trying to be faithful, Peter goes where the Spirit of God leads him – to a northern coastal town. As he arrives, a representative of the household of a Cornelius, a Roman officer, finds Peter and tells him that his master sends for him to come to his home.

Here it is… that moment the pioneer must make the choice to go or not go. Pioneers know that heading into the unknown is difficult, people will always complain about it (at first), and it requires summoning up the courage to face what comes and a profound trust in God to be near, guiding and protecting. Pioneers like Peter know that the path toward their goal isn’t clear; neither is the goal most of the time. The only thing that is certain is the voice of God telling them to go.

God shows up in a real way for Peter by speaking to him through a vision during a trance. Remembering what I preached last week, I wish more of us felt comfortable growing into this spiritual reality because when we are in this intimate a relationship with God, a relationship of mutuality is developed and we respond out of trust, not fear of retribution even when the world reacts negatively.

During this vision, Peter clearly hears God’s guidance: “The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.” Once there, Peter witnessed God’s redeeming love and he understood that he and his people were safe to let go the defense mechanism they’d forged long ago for their survival.

Peter saw that “the Holy Spirit fell upon them [the Gentiles] just as it had upon us [the Jewish disciples at the first Pentecost]. Peter continues, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?" In this moment, the slumbering powers within Peter began to awaken and he chose to push on in faith and enter this unknown territory.

Suddenly his path and goal were clear and he went fervently into the missionary field to which God was sending him, and the whole newly forming Christian community followed their pioneer into their shared divine purpose. In each new place, the settlers established ways of being a Christian community among the people they encountered there.

The harmonious co-existence of pioneers and settlers can be a powerful tool of transformation as the early church demonstrates. Problems arise when they disconnect from their divine inspirer or when they stop working together, prioritizing one group over the other.

In the church setting, pioneers who become disconnected from God can devolve into authoritarians who may resort to spiritual, emotional, or physical violence to protect their place of power, exerting power over rather than empowerment of; and their community of love becomes a personal or small group-controlled empire. Settlers can devolve into rules-makers and rules-enforcers, inhibiting the free movement of the Spirit among the settled community, stifling creativity and continued evolution of the community, eventually doing harm to people who don’t comply or who cry out against injustice.

I think of the awful experience of ordinary people during the Reformation, the Crusades, and the colonization of the “New World” - our own history – as the European monarchs and their church leadership enforced their version of correct belief and practice using some of the most horrifying tortures imaginable. I consider that our own present world society exhibits many of the same practices today.

Our civil leadership currently defends the use of torture, what is now euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques” including “sleep deprivation, waterboarding, prolonged standing, and exposure to cold” for the purpose of national security. Currently, eight states have or are passing laws that will force women and girl children who’ve been raped to bear the child of the rape, even when her life (not to mention her mental health) are at risk.

The 20th century was one of the most violent periods in human history.
Every 9 seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten. One in five women is raped at least once in her lifetime, and 40% of them are under the age of 18. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%. If African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites, prison and jail populations would decline by almost 40%.

This is our current reality and it isn’t in keeping with the way of love Jesus modeled for us. I love the description of that world found in our reading from the Revelation to John. It’s a vision of the ultimate reality of reconciliation in the world.

John, the visionary pioneer says, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth,” one in which God dwells with mortals, one in which God wipes every tear from our eyes. “Death will be no more; crying and pain will be no more… See I am making all things new…”

But the most exciting statement to me in this revelation is when God said, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life."

It is done, and God has done it. And God promises to give life, which is likened to a spring of water for those who are parched, imprisoned, assaulted, or tortured.

This is affirmed by Jesus in our gospel from John when he says, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.”

Now. Immediately. It is done.

God has been glorified in Jesus and Jesus has been glorified in God. Since Jesus has reconciled us to God, we also have been glorified in God. To be glorified is to be invested with dignity, honor, and importance.

Everyone is important and is to be treated with dignity - even an 11-year old girl made pregnant by her rapist… even a brown-skinned person who believes and practices differently… even a black or brown or white-skinned prisoner… even those who want to coerce or control them. Because through Jesus all humanity has been invested with dignity, honor, and importance.

In this season of Easter we remember together that Jesus comes to claim the here and now (as we will sing in our closing hymn) because It Is Done. The reconciliation of the whole world to God is happening now and we have been chosen to participate in its completion.

I close with a prayer we shared at our second summit: The Awareness Prayer

May there be peace within us today.
May we trust God that we are exactly where we are meant to be.
May we not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May we use those gifts that we have received, and pass on the love that has been given to us.
Me we be content in knowing that we are each a child of God.
May God’s presence settle into our bones and allow our souls the freedom to sing, dance, praise, love, and imagine.
Help us to see that this is true for each of us and for all of us.
Amen.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

4 Easter, 2019-C: Abnormal for Christ

Lectionary: Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30



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En el nombre del Dios: Creador, Redentor, y Sanctificador. Amen.

I know a woman who is trying to come to terms with a lifetime of spiritual experiences that the world judges as “abnormal” but she knows deep within her to be truth – the truth about her and her oneness with God and all that is. Due to her fear of judgment by the world, this woman has learned over time to fear having these experiences in case someone might notice.

The experiences persist, however, so to cope she simply doesn’t talk about them anymore, which leaves her feeling a bit isolated. Over time she has come to see herself as physically broken and spiritually disjointed and incomplete. She is comforted by studying about persons in the communion of saints whose experiences seem something like her own.

The Good News I could share with this woman is that she is already whole in a marvelous way; that she is graced with the gift of experiences of divine unity many others never have. The result is she has a reconciling heart, strongly desiring that others share in the unifying love she knows so well.

This woman experiences oneness with God and all creation, and she always has. She also knows that the world is not open to hearing about her unusual experiences and will intervene to return her to the “normal” range of experience. It’s been done before.

Many Christians with mystical experiences or extraordinary gifts share this impression. I wonder if St. Francis of Assisi were around today what his fate might be; or how the world might diagnose Julian of Norwich who had shared experiences of the passion of Jesus on his cross. What if Mary Magdalene were to make her Easter proclamation today? They’d probably tuck her into a DSM category of people who see dead people.

What if Peter raised a child from the dead today? How would the world understand that? What would we do to him? Would anyone even consider the possibility that God was working through him? Does the modern world allow for a concept of God who can do that – much less a God who can bring the whole world to a place where we hunger and thirst no more, and where every tear is wiped away from our eyes?

The concept of God most often presented by the people of God in the world today seems to be a punishing, vengeful God, not the God of goodness and mercy described in the 23rd Psalm who spreads a feast before us far outpacing our hunger; who refreshes us and fills us to overflowing with divine love and mercy.

The world tends to be fearful of God and suspicious of people who live in union with the infinite love of God. Even the Christian world tends not to believe, despite our belief that we are formed in God’s own image and called to dwell in God’s infinite love.

When we encounter someone actually doing that, however, we generally respond by trying to force them back into the structures and patterns we have agreed are “normal” and acceptable. Our gospel shows us that the response was no different for the first person who lived in complete divine-human union: Jesus the Christ – the one who called us to live as he lived.

Jesus bent or completely blew away all kinds of “normal and acceptable’ structures in his day. He hung out with women, tax collectors, and known sinners; he touched dead bodies and healed lepers. Granted he was restoring them to life and health, but that must be overlooked in order to force him back into acceptable structures.

When the Jewish leadership confronted Jesus at the festival of the Dedication, that’s exactly what they were trying to do. We often read this as gospel story as if the Jews are actually seeking clarification from Jesus. In actuality, this is a threatening encounter. They have encircled Jesus, trapping him within their ranks as they tried to trap him in blasphemy in order to get him arrested.

Knowing what they’re up to, Jesus simply says: “I have told you, and you do not believe.” The Jewish leadership knows about Jesus; his reputation has spread far and wide along with news of crowds who gather in the thousands when he teaches. They know Jesus has healed lepers and demoniacs, cured a man born blind, and even raised his friend, Lazarus, from the dead and restored him back to life.

In fact, it was probably because of his works that Jesus was judged as “abnormal and unacceptable,” and needed to be stopped. That was the purpose of this conversation at the portico of Solomon: to stop him.

So, Jesus being Jesus, presses this conversation to the limit claiming the truth of his wholeness and oneness with God: “The Father and I are one" – a shockingly bold statement. The next line in this gospel, not included in our lectionary, is that the Jewish leadership took up stones and tried to stone him.

It’s a strange dilemma we’ve set up for ourselves – to strive in our Christian journey for union with God in Christ, in whose image we’re made and whose spirit dwells in us while at the same time counting the achievement of that, even in moments of our lives, as abnormal and unacceptable. It is fear that causes us to close in the walls around what is normal and acceptable – for God and for us. What is an attempt at spiritual safety, however, becomes a prison, and it is faith that sets us free.

We have nothing to fear when we lie down in the green pastures of the presence of God. Not even the valley of the shadow of death can harm or distract us from the divine feast that has been prepared for us by God, a feast that fills us to overflowing.

Each Sunday we partake of a tiny bit of that feast at Holy Communion. So come, share the feast and celebrate being abnormal and unacceptable to the world!

I close with the first verse and refrain from a song by Pink called, Wild hearts can’t be broken:

"I will have to die for this I fear
There's rage and terror and there's sickness here
I fight because I have to
I fight for us to know the truth
There's not enough rope to tie me down
There's not enough tape to shut this mouth
The stones you throw can make me bleed
But I won't stop until we're free
Wild hearts can't be broken
No, wild hearts can't be broken."

Amen.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

3 Easter, 2019-C: Listen for the extraordinary

Lectionary: Acts 9:1-6, (7-20); Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19



Note: If the above player doesn't work for you, click HERE for an alternative audio format.

En el nombre del Dios: Creador, Redentor, y Sanctificador. Amen.

It can be difficult to connect the truth we know about the transformative effect of Jesus’ resurrection to how we live that in our present reality. Thankfully, today’s Scripture helps us make that connection.

This gospel from John illustrates so well the very human experience of getting on with life while still in that foggy state of consciousness that follows any extreme experience – in this case, the execution of the Messiah and then his appearances to them afterward. He’s dead and yet he lives. Imagine how hard it was for those first disciples to process this.

So, Peter does what most of us do – he makes a first step back into life as he knows it: “I’m going fishing” he says. There is nothing extraordinary about this statement. In fact, the beauty of it is its simplicity. Peter was a fisherman. He went fishing. He did what he does… in all the fogginess of his state of mind. Peter’s nascent leadership of this tribe of transforming souls is made evident by the others’ response: “We’re going with you.”

The gospel writer tells us they caught nothing. No surprise there. Going through the motions rarely generates any fruit, but it does help us carry on while the transformation from death to resurrection life is happening in us.

It’s interesting to note that Peter and the rest went fishing in the night. We know this because we’re told that it was just after daybreak that Jesus appeared to them. They went, therefore, from darkness to light as they processed what the resurrection of Jesus meant for them.

Not recognizing Jesus at first, even though they’d already seen him several times, and even though he called them “children” as he was wont to do, they obeyed the voice that spoke to them in their fogginess of mind, and the very ordinary thing they were doing became extraordinary. The fruit of their fishing was huge – so huge it broke the earthy container attempting to hold it.

Ever gently guiding them in this transformative process, Jesus stood on the beach and called them to come to him and eat food he had already prepared for them. Jesus was calling them from the waters of rebirth back into life on the earth. He fed them fish for their stomachs and bread for their souls. All the while they’re still in that liminal, foggy state of consciousness not daring to ask who he was because they knew it was the Lord, they just didn’t know how it could be…

Jesus questions to Peter grant him the real opportunity to repent of his betrayal and use the pain of it to transform his upcoming ministry which was to feed and tend the newly forming flock of the Good Shepherd. We all have humanity that gets in our way, but we also all have forgiveness that frees us to live into our divine purpose.

Also accomplished in this conversation was a redirection. Peter and the others (including us) keep looking for Jesus outside of ourselves. Jesus redirects Peter (and us) to find Jesus within ourselves, in our love and care for the flock of Christ.

Then Jesus issues a subtle warning that our divine path will take us where we do not wish to go. It took Jesus there. “Follow me,” he says. The comfort in this simple statement is that Jesus is always there, a step ahead of us, encouraging and empowering us as we do the ordinary things we do, transformed into extraordinary, by his spirit which dwells in us.

Peter was an ordinary fisherman who became an extraordinary fisher of people in the power of the transformative effect of Jesus’ resurrection in him. Whatever is ordinary in us, whatever we do in our lives, becomes extraordinary in the transformative effect of Jesus’ resurrection in us.

Some of us, however, get bogged down in the earthly. When that happens, God acts to set us free. The story from Acts illustrates this for us, showing how God restores us to a path of life when we are going down to the grave, as the psalmist says.

Saul was a Pharisee bent on protecting the Jewish tradition he loved. So zealous was he in his endeavor, that he found a way to justify hunting and killing those whom he thought threatened it, namely the followers of Jesus. So, God came to him and the brilliance of the light of love struck Saul blind, rendering him helpless to do anything but listen to God, then make a choice on how to respond.

How many of us have seen people whose eyes are open yet who see nothing? It’s a very human condition.

As God is sending Saul to a disciple of Jesus named Ananias, Ananias experiences a divine revelation. God asks Ananias to lay hands on and heal Saul, who is on his way to him. Ananias asks an important and familiar question to many of us: Are you sure, God? This one is pretty brutal.

God was sure, and Saul became Paul, an apostle of the resurrection – eyes opened in faith by the faithful and very human contact of the disciple Ananias.

As I said, it can be difficult to connect the truth we know about the transformative effect of Jesus’ resurrection to how we live that in our present reality. The only way I know to do that is to listen. For some of us it takes being struck blind and helpless as Saul was, or hopeless as the disciples were, to finally stop and listen.

In 1994, Steve and I took our family to live in his hometown of Selma, AL, in order to be present with his parents as his father was dying. We attended St. Paul’s Episcopal Church there – a synchronicity of the first order, as you’ll see. On Ash Wednesday of that year, as I stood in line for ashes, a draft of air from the floor vent on which I was standing rose up and I felt the brush of it on my face. Almost immediately, my eyes began to burn and tear.

The next morning, the pain was nearly unbearable so I went to the eye doctor and learned that my eyes and face had suffered severe chemical burns. I was blinded for two weeks, during which time I was bedridden. My children were 12, 3, and 2 years old. Steve, some friends, and our housekeeper kept our household functioning during my incapacity.

So, there I lay for two weeks, helpless to do anything but pray and listen to God. I found myself unable – finally - to avoid God’s continual call me to begin a path to ordained ministry.

Finding and walking our divine path doesn’t mean we suddenly lead lives of blessing and favor. That’s a false understanding, as Jesus made very clear to Peter, and as Paul’s life illustrates. These apostles of the resurrection were imprisoned and finally killed for speaking love into the world.

I know the author of the gospel indicates that Jesus’ statement points to the death Peter would suffer in the world, but I also hear in it that God may be the someone who takes us where we do not wish to go. Even Jesus experienced this as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane – until he let go his life and trusted in God’s plan of redemption working through him.

Living into our divine purpose means letting go of our lives and letting God’s plan of redemption work through us. The story of Saul being transformed into Paul shows how hard that is for us. Paul is an icon of answering Jesus’ call to lose our life in order to save it; of dying to self in order to live.

I close with an invitation: this week, let’s all make time to listen; real time we schedule on our calendars or adapt into our prayer and devotions time. During this time, let’s listen together, as a community, for this: what are the ordinary things do we do that God seeks to make extraordinary through the transforming power of the resurrection in us?

God bless us as we open ourselves to listen and make our choice to respond.

Amen.