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.


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.


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.

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."


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.


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Easter 2C: Recognize and connect with God

Lectionary: Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

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

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

You’ve probably heard me say before that I hold the concept of the quest for individual salvation to be the besetting sin of current Christian culture, and it may be that it’s been the besetting sin throughout Christian history, or even before that.

But our Scriptures tell us that the plan of God’s salvation was, is, and has always been for the whole world, in fact, for all creation – the earth, the heavens, the whole cosmos. This plan also includes a personal, transformative relationship with God, based on the unique character and personality of each person, as evidenced throughout the stories in our Testaments, Old and New.

Focusing on “my own personal salvation” is a demonstration of unbelief. If Christ died once for all and made us a priesthood of believers who are commissioned, that is sent by God in Christ, to serve, to carry this message of God’s redeeming love to the world, then worrying about our own or anyone else’s personal salvation means we don’t believe Christ already obtained it for us.

Do we believe he did? That is the very basis of our Good News, isn’t it? And as Peter and those first disciples said to the council: we are witnessing to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who hear and respond.

Today’s lectionary demonstrates for us that the plan of God’s redemption (reclaiming) moves from the individual to the community who, through their individual relationships with Christ, are working together to make an expansive, inclusive “net” with which to “catch” people (as Jesus promised they would do).

This early community hiding out together in that upper room included women and men, faithful-ish Jews and tax collectors, mystics and the empirically-minded. The Spirit of Christ approaches each of them differently, as it does for us now, helping us all move from unbelief to belief.

Our Scripture shows us that there’s a moment that happens when we recognize and connect with the resurrected Christ on a deeply interior level. When that happens, it is our response to an invitation by God to draw close, in the way we are able to do that and connect.

In the midst of the beauty and glory of this personal connection, we experience a physical sensation, the first sign of the process of transformation happening within us. This is what we are hearing in our gospel story from John, over and over again.

For example, at the tomb that first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene encountered the resurrected Christ, but didn’t recognize him at first. Pre-occupied and probably weighed down with the devastating disappointment that her beloved rabbi, to whom she was so devoted and who had given her so much hope through his inclusion of her while he lived, was now dead.

Did her hopes die with him? I imagine she was processing this very thing as she went to the tomb to anoint and prepare his body for proper burial. By now, a couple of days after being placed in the tomb, the body of her rabbi would be decaying and the smell would be strong.

Having worked as an oncology chaplain, I can tell you that when you know there will be a smell you have to steel yourself to carry out your ministry. I imagine Mary was doing that.

Then she encountered the risen Christ, but it wasn’t until he spoke her name, tapping into their personal relationship, and that she sighed her recognition of and connection to him: Rabbouni! At that moment, Mary moved from unbelief to belief.

She ran back to tell the others “I have seen the Lord!” but they didn’t believe her. So Jesus appears to them, at least ten of them: Judas was gone and for reasons not stated, Thomas wasn’t there.

Jesus spoke peace to them twice and breathed on them calling to mind God breathing life into Adam in Genesis; but in that case, God breathed life into one. In the gospel of John, God in Christ breathes life into the whole community.

Receive Holy Spirit, he says. The choice is still theirs, but it appears all accepted the invitation and they were all changed from unbelief to belief.

In today’s gospel, which takes place a week later, the disciples are again gathered in the upper room which is locked for their safety, and this time Thomas, the Twin, is with them. The disciples had proclaimed to Thomas that they had seen the Lord using the same words Mary Magdalene had used to proclaim it to them that first time. In keeping with the pattern, Thomas doesn’t believe, even though a whole community has proclaimed it to him.

He thinks he needs proof, so Thomas declares that unless he sees and can touch the wounds of Jesus, he won’t believe. Thomas doesn’t actually need proof. What he needs is that recognition of and personal connection with Jesus.

So Jesus gives it to him without scolding him or judging him. Jesus simply invites him to draw near and touch his wounds if that will lead him to believe. But, as I mentioned, that wasn’t what Thomas needed. In the presence of the love of God in the risen Christ, Thomas sighed his recognition saying: "My Lord and my God."

Powerful words.

In the Roman Catholic tradition in which I grew up, I was taught to repeat Thomas’ words at the elevation of the cup during the Eucharistic prayer. I still do that to this day. I breathe my recognition of and connection to Jesus, who is God in Christ in me and in the community with whom I share a Holy Communion.

It’s a necessary and great comfort to me to be part of a community of believers. After Jesus had given the disciples his peace (yet again), he told them something outright that they needed to hear: what you do in heaven will be done on earth (sound familiar?). If you forgive what separates and divide, it will be reconciled. If you don’t, it won’t.

Those few words contain a powerful teaching: remember how the world responded to the unfathomable love and mercy of God who seeks to reconcile the whole world to herself. They killed it. They killed the embodiment of divine love, yet from his cross he forgave them, reconciling even them into the community of love. You, my disciples, are now the embodiment of divine love on the earth. Love as I have loved. Forgive even from your crosses.

The early disciples understood this, as we can hear in their reply to the high priest: WE must obey God… WE are witnesses to these things, and they lived out their belief in their lives, and even in their deaths.

This is the new covenant of reconciliation established by Jesus. We have been reborn as a community – the fellowship of Christ’s body - and our commission is to show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith.

In order to do that, we must recognize and connect with God in Christ in a deep, interior, transforming way. God will invite us to this in whatever way will work for us as individuals and as a community, because it is Christ’s spirit in us that witnesses to the world, that forgives and reconciles what divides and separates, that drenches us in love at every shared Holy Communion.

I share with you this poem from the book “Episcopal Haiku” (p. 42):

A little girl drops
her wafer in the wine. She’s
soaking up God’s grace.

Soak it up – soak up the love and grace of God waiting to drench you, waiting to drench us – for WE have been commissioned to show forth in our lives what we believe. Amen.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter 2019: Hope is subversive

Lectionary: Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18

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

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

Happy Easter!

I want to share with you the closing statements of Martin Luther King, Jr’s prophetic “I have been to the mountaintop” speech, which he gave in Memphis TN the night before he was assassinated. Dr. King said: “Well, I don't know what will happen now; we've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter to with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life – longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I'm happy tonight; I'm not worried about anything; I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” Source

Like most prophets, Dr. King was a subversive. He challenged the established system and its practices which held African Americans in the bondage of racism. Dr. King’s message was subversive because it was a message of hope, and as theologian Walter Bruggeman says, “Hope is subversive.”

As a prophet, Dr. King gave hope not only to African Americans but to all Americans. He assured us that despite all appearances and the entrenched practices of the established system, we could live together as one people, in freedom and in unity. He knew this because he had “seen the Promised Land.”

As we continue on this journey of our life together, it is up to us to continually discover where the established system is divisive and oppressive and work to set those captives free. Freedom takes sacrifice; and if it is to be achieved, both the oppressor and the oppressed must work together to break those bonds that deny freedom.

Each age has a Promised Land to reach. Moses led the oppressed people of God out of bondage in Egypt to freedom in Canaan. In the 1960s Dr. King led us onto the path toward racial freedom. Today, God has made us aware of a variety of oppressed communities we can align with and work for their freedom and dignity too: gay and trans people, migrants of many nationalities, people of color, Native people, the poor – to name a few.

It’s a pattern that’s part of our spiritual DNA and one our Savior made eternally true for us. On the day Jesus stood up in the grave, shook loose his burial linens, and left that tomb empty, he made marching to the Promised Land a continual journey for us until his coming again.

It’s been this way from the beginning of our Christian narrative. As the women stood in Jesus’ tomb,
trying to understand how it could be empty, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes are standing with them, and they are terrified. But the two men simply ask the women a question, “Why are you here looking for the living among the dead?”

That might be an awfully strange question in almost every other circumstance, but not this time, and this is why: “Remember what Jesus told you…” the men said. The women did remember and returned to tell the others – who, of course, didn’t believe them.

They had all heard Jesus say these things, and yet, they still couldn’t comprehend it. So Peter runs off to see for himself. Finding it just as the women described it, Peter returned home amazed.

What amazed Peter? That Jesus hadn’t lied to them? That the women hadn’t lied to them? After all, this is the disciple who had been to the mountaintop with Jesus.

So what amazed Peter? Everything was just as Jesus said it was going to be.

I think what amazed Peter is that death was no longer what Peter thought it was – neither was life, for that matter. I think what amazed Peter was the power of the love he had witnessed in Jesus, the Messiah, now risen from the dead.

The resurrection ushered in a new thing, a new age, a new life - just as Jesus said it would, and it took some time for his followers to let go of what was and live fully into this new thing.

Luke tells us in the first chapter of Acts that the disciples were “constantly devoting themselves to prayer” in that upper room. The good news of Jesus’ resurrection isn’t something we can understand without devoting ourselves to continual prayer as a community.

The reason is, resurrection isn’t about bodies or breathing. It’s about presence. As we heard in Isaiah, God says, “Before they call I will answer.” God is present before, during, and after our understanding of anything. That is the hope we proclaim – living in the eternal presence of God - and it is, as Bruggeman said, subversive.

God, whose mercy endures forever, who is our strength and salvation, is always with us, dwelling in us, redeeming all things before we even recognize the need for it. In fact, that’s how we recognize the need for it. That’s how we know God is sending us on another march to another Promised Land.

As we go, it helps to remember that God shows no partiality. God didn’t pick Peter because he was so astute. Right? God chose Peter, gifted him, and sent him to live out his purpose. And Peter did just that – in all his imperfection.

God chooses each of us too. We were created and gifted for a purpose and that purpose is simple: to do God’s will.

And what is God’s will? According to our catechism, Episcopalians believe that it is the will of God that the whole world be reconciled to God in Christ. Reconciled people live in harmony and unity with one another and with God. The final destination of every march to every Promised Land is always reconciliation.

Sin is what separates us from God and one another. Sin builds walls between us and God, between us and one another.

Living the resurrected life Jesus gave us restores us to right relationship with God and one another, and all we have to do is remember. A way to understand this kind of re-membering is to think about how a surgeon re-attaches a body part that has been cut off. All the tissue, all the nerves, all the blood vessels have to be re-connected so that the blood of life can flow into that re-attached part.

Our purpose as Christians is to ‘re-member’ anyone who has been cut off from the body of Christ: the oppressed, exiled, or lost, and reattach them, reminding them and everyone who would exclude them that God shows no partiality - which means, neither can we.

My daughter told me of an online discussion she was having with a Christian friend who kept condemning a group of persons (in this case homosexuals) using the usual verses from the Bible to support their position.

Here was my daughter’s response (and I can’t make a better point on Easter Eve than this). She said, “All those words [in the Bible] are different ways of illustrating one message: lovelovelovelovelove. God is love. Period. You don't have to understand it. You don't have to agree with it. You can try to collect all the rules you want, and I'm sure that's a comfort. It's just not the point. I will say it until I die: God is love.”

We, the members of the body of Christ here at St. David’s, have been chosen and gifted to be a local embodiment of the Promised Land; a place where people gather to live in harmony; to confront and discuss the difficult issues of our time – the ones that tend to divide us – and find our way forward together in reconciliation and peace.

It’s a good day to be a Christian; the kind of Christian who will say until the day we die: God is love.

Happy Easter!


Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday, 2019-C: Keeping it real

Lectionary:Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

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

While I was working on my doctorate from Sewanee, I took one course at Notre Dame and it was on rap and hip hop culture. In it we studied a book entitled: “Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop.”

I took it because listening to rap assaulted me and I hated it. The popularity of rap eluded me: it seemed so violent, misogynistic, immature, and focused on all the wrong goals – money, sex, fame…

I took this class because, while rap wasn’t my cup of tea, it was reaching young people in a big way and I wanted to know why. It felt like an important thing to know. And I was right.

This class taught me that rap worked for this generation like the Psalms worked for our Jewish forbears…like they work for us now. The poetry of rap, like the psalms, is a means of honestly expressing the human experience. No wonder it connected so well!

I remember living through my twenties, or as I call them, my “hell years” when I was being stalked (before there were stalking laws), threatened, followed by hired hit men, slandered on TV, in newspapers and magazines. I was innocent and in shock as my abusive first husband (may he rest in peace) the perpetrator of some of the worst crimes I could think of, was coming off looking like a golden boy as I remained silent, keeping steady on a path that would bring justice to my baby daughter. We got there finally, after nine years.

During that very dark time in my life, I found hope in the poetry of the Psalms. They spoke of a miserable reality I could connect with and they always led me to a place of hope, to the arms of God where I found love, safety, courage, and the will to go on, trusting in God’s love and desire to redeem even the hell I was living.

It seems that Jesus found the same kind of solace in the psalms. As he was dying a slow, miserable, unjust death on the cross, Jesus quoted from Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? and are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress?

Two things were happening here: 1) as a rabbi, Jesus was pointing his followers to the entirety of the psalm by stating just the first verse; and 2) Jesus was reminding himself of the truth of God’s redeeming, powerful love in his darkest moment on earth.

I offer you tonight this first-person meditation on Psalm 22 from one who has known what misery is.

Where are you, God? I feel so alone. Why have you abandoned me? Do you even hear me?

My people have trusted you for generations. Scripture tells me of your redeeming love for others. Where are you, God, for me?

It’s me, isn’t it? I’m not worthy. They scorn me, despise me, laugh at me, and lie about me. They obviously know that I’m not worthy of love, of friendship, of justice.

But then again, God, you brought me to this life and you’ve kept me safe upon your breast. Stay close to me! I’m afraid.

They’re like snarling beasts trying to tear me apart. They’re drooling for my death.

I’m twisted up; melting into a puddle of nothingness.

I’ve cried so much by now that I’m all dried up. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. I’m dying and I feel like you’ve left me at my dusty grave.

But I’m innocent! They’re the evil ones and they surround me like packs of dogs. They taunt me and gamble my value away like it’s some game. They torture me; I’m fading into nothing.

Where are you, God?! Come and help me. Save me. Save my tired, wretched body. Save my weary soul.

Do I matter at all to you? … because you matter to me. You are the only strength I have left; the only hope there is.

Therefore, I will praise you, God, because I know you. I praise you in the presence of your people gathered for worship.

Praise God, you people! Because God does not hate or despise. And God hears our wretched cries. We shall be satisfied, justified, and we will live in eternal love, because God is servant of ALL.

Everyone, everywhere, and for all time will hear my words and know that God is God - and I choose to serve Her.

Hear me when I say it is to God alone the whole earth bows in worship, remembering and respecting our Creator who formed us in the power of Her love.

I know this absolutely, and my children and their children will know it too, because I will make this known to them and they will make it known to people yet unborn.

That is my purpose. That is my promise.

On Good Friday we, as a congregation and as individual members of it, live fully into the reality of the dusty, miserable, hopelessness of death, and choose life anyway, trusting in the redeeming power of God’s love to move us from whatever death we face to new life.

That is God’s promise and we are witnessing, experiencing, and embodying its fulfillment again as we move through Holy Week to Easter together.

I close with this prayer from the Hip Hop Prayer Book:

We pray to God, and we also pray to the church
For understanding our message, and helping us do our work
For giving us a place, where we can get down
And shout our voice, spread the message all around
For watchin out for us, and stayin aware
Inside your crib we can never be scared
Keepin it real for us and keeping it hot
Cause God don’t quit and God don’t stop.

We give it up to y’all for deliverin’ the truth
The words that you flow show us the proof
So we send out a blessin’ for bringin’ us the message
For keeping it real and showin’ us the lessons. Amen! WORD!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Maundy Thursday 2019: The power of servanthood today

Lectionary: Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Note: If this recording doesn't play on your device, click HERE for an alternative audio format.

Our reading tonight from Exodus always feels a little alien to me: animal sacrifice just isn’t part of my life experience. And the details about how exactly to do the sacrifice… well, it all seems a bit excessive. Until we consider our Holy Eucharist and the rubrics we keep as we offer our sacrifice of thanksgiving. In ritual practice, the details matter.

Moses and Aaron instructed the people to sacrifice a lamb. This is where we Christians get our language about Jesus as the Paschal Lamb, the perfect sacrifice who gave his life for our redemption.

As for me, I struggle against the theology of substitutionary atonement, that is, that Jesus made a choice to be punished - even unto death - for our sins in order to satisfy the demands of justice so that God could forgive us. I don’t buy it, though I don’t judge those who do.

I even struggle being part of a legacy that honors sacrifice. It just doesn’t fit with my experience of God. I am, however, part of that legacy. We all are.

Our forbears in faith sacrificed animals - some to appease an angry or vindictive God; and while that may not have been supported by their religious authorities it was in the hearts of some of the people as evidenced in the language of the stories we inherited in our Scripture.

For our Jewish forebears, these rituals were likely to have been for the purpose of communion - a means to bridge the realms of heaven and earth, to draw people into relationship with one another and into relationship with God. The role of the victim was as mediator between the realms. Source.

I can roll with that.

As we read these stories from our Scripture this Holy Week, we do so from our experience and present context. When Jesus was acting out this gospel lesson for his followers he was using experiences and language that they knew and understood, ritual actions that had deep meaning for them. And he asked us to remember…

When we remember we are doing so much more than recalling events, or even making them real in the present moment. The kind of remembering Jesus asked us to do, as one theologian said, brings “past actions to bear on the present, with new power and insight.” Source.

That is our purpose tonight. We are distant enough in time from ritual animal sacrifice that it: a) seems alien to us and incongruent with our spiritual experience; and b) kind of grosses us out.

So, how can we relate? Well, we look at what this particular evening of sacrifice meant to our forbears, how it impacts the world we live in, and what power and insight it brings us today.

“In ancient Judaism the ḥaṭṭaʾt, or ‘sin offering,’ was … for the expiation of certain, especially unwittingly committed, defilements. The guilty laid their hands upon the head of the sacrificial animal” [a lamb according to the instructions in Exodus]. “In this way they identified themselves with the victim, making it their representative (but not their substitute, for their sins were not transferred to the victim).”

The early Christians took this ritual and brought its power and insight to bear on their present moment delivering to us our ritual of Holy Communion and, specifically, our Maundy Thursday observance of it. We are called to so the same thing now. In the gospel from John we see a past action that bears on our present moment in a very powerful way. Jesus is demonstrating servant leadership – a concept almost as alien today as it was then.

Whether the leadership we know is political, religious, or familial servant leadership runs counter to the understanding of leadership in current culture. As one modern theologian says, the power model of leadership… “is focused on “how to accumulate and wield power, how to make people do things, how to attack and win. It is about clever strategies, applying pressure, and manipulating people to get what you want.” Source: Aug 4, 2015 by Scot McNight

Servant leadership, on the other hand, leads by serving a concept that almost sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s only contradictory on the surface. As theologian and bishop, Bennett J. Sims, said in his seminal book, “Servanthood: Leadership for the Third Millennium,” “From the secular perspective ‘servanthood’ often means ‘servitude,’ a condition either imposed on women and racially different groups by male-dominated cultures, or self-imposed by both men and women out of their fear of power.” …I will argue that servanthood is the way of fulfilling the human longing for peace and the planet’s need of preservation as the theater of all life. …Servant power functions as a two-way exchange, never as subjugating dominance; it not only influences others, but is open to influence. Servanthood acknowledges and respects of the freedom of another and seeks to enhance the other’s capacity to make a difference.” Source, published 1997, Preface, p1.

This way of understanding servant leadership isn’t actually new to the Christian community. In the 4th century, St. Augustine of Hippo said this: “For you I am a bishop, but with you I am a Christian. The first is an office accepted; the second is a gift received. One is danger, the other is safety. If I am happier to be redeemed with you than to be placed over you, then I shall, as the Lord commanded, be your servant.”

In our gospel reading, we hear Jesus say, “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” As the redeemed, we must get on our knees and serve humbly. And really, washing feet is washing feet, right? It’s a difficult and humbling experience on both sides of the basin then and now as Peter so aptly illustrates for us.

Jesus also said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Our task, as the church of today, is to bring Jesus’ words to bear on our present moment with all their power and insight. We start by celebrating this perpetual feast bridging the realms of heaven and earth, in order to draw people into deeper relationship with one another and with God. And we remember…that in whatever way we choose to understand it, Jesus has launched the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption and in doing so, made us all one family.

Then he showed us how to live into our redemption by serving one another humbly. He even gave us a ritual to help us bring the power and insight of our remembering to bear on our present experience: washing one another’s feet.

At this time, then, we proceed with this powerful, humbling experience of servanthood as Jesus taught us.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Palm Sunday, 2019: Contemplate the crucifixion

Lectionary: The Liturgy of the Palms - Luke 19:28-40; Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29. The Liturgy of the Word - Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:14-23:56

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Today, as we enter Holy Week, the church asks us to contemplate the crucifixion of Jesus. We begin by reading the passion gospel in parts embodying the reality of it processing with palms, and by speaking the words of praise and condemnation.

Was it inevitable – even planned by God ahead? Some of our Scripture says so, but it was not prophesied as such. Isaiah said he was beaten and lashed.

In our Scripture readings today, the triumphal entry to Jerusalem quickly transitions into the mob shouting crucify him. As Niccolò Machiavelli said in his book, The Prince: “The temper of the multitude is fickle”

Was the crucifixion the way God planned for this to play out? Was it God’ intention that Jesus be tortured and killed? Or was it our doing – the people’s doing?

One thing we know from the gospels is that Jesus had been predicting his death for a while. He kept telling his followers that he would die, much as MLK, Jr. said the same just before his assassination. When you are awake and conscious of the political and social pulse of your people, you can make some pretty accurate educated guesses about what will happen next.

So, how do you understand the crucifixion? This is the week to consider that.

I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to tell you how you should approach this or understand it. I only ask that you do. Come to the Good Friday service and spend some time in prayerful contemplation of this gospel.

I will say this about the crucifixion: if there is anything that demonstrates the unfailing mercy and compassion of God, it’s the crucifixion. God’s redeeming love never faltered even as we (the people) murdered God Incarnate. Instead, in God’s steadfast love for us even the crucifixion was redeemed bringing life from death…

Is there anything, then, that God’s love won’t redeem?

I close with this thought from Franciscan friar, Richard Rohr: “Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about us. It did not need changing. Jesus came to change our minds about God - and about ourselves - and about where goodness and evil really lie.” Amen.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Lent 5-C, 2019: Vessels of extravagant love

Lectionary: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

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

Thirteenth-century mystic Mechthild of Magdeburg was a prolific writer of poems and hymns that vividly describe the nature of an intimate relationship with God. Mechthild wrote:

“Great is the overflow of Divine Love which is never still but ever ceaselessly and tirelessly pours forth, so that our little vessel is filled to the brim and overflows. If we do not choke the channel with self-will, God’s gifts continue to flow and overflow. Lord! Thou art full, and fillest us also with Thy gifts. Thou art great and we are small, how then shall we become like Thee?”

How shall we? Judging from our readings today, we might imitate Mary of Bethany and St. Paul of Tarsus.

The story of a woman anointing Jesus’ feet is found in three of the four gospels, though it is only in the Gospel of John that the woman is identified as Mary of Bethany. By identifying her in that way, John brings the issue of intimate friendship into the story. Jesus and Mary of Bethany were friends… dear friends.

John also makes an important point about the way Mary anoints Jesus. Anyone who knows anything about Jesus knows that he was not interested in personal glory. And Mary does know Jesus, so she anoints his feet, which is a sign of repentance, not his head, which is how a King is anointed. Mary anointed the Messiah, not the next king of Israel.

The timing of this story is important too. Jesus, his disciples and some friends are gathered at the home of Mary and Martha of Bethany. Their brother Lazarus, whom Jesus has recently raised from the dead,
is also there.

Meanwhile, Caiaphas and the other religious leaders, upon hearing that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, have decided that Jesus must die and they begin to plot how to make that happen. They plan to kill Lazarus too, to ensure that his resurrection story also dies.

For the sake of the many, this one must die, they say. So they proclaim an edict that anyone who knows where Jesus is must tell the authorities so that he can be arrested. If they don’t they can be arrested.

It is in this context that Martha, Mary, and Lazarus Jesus and the others have gathered for dinner. The gathering itself is subversive and risky.

After dinner, Mary loosens her hair, which in that culture is the symbol of her feminine sexuality, hence feminine power, takes out a jar of expensive perfumed nard, which would be worth about $15,000 per pound today, and anoints Jesus' feet.

Mary loved Jesus deeply and she was unafraid to demonstrate that love and devotion, even when it meant violating the cultural conventions of her time and risking public disapproval.

Mary’s love of and devotion to Jesus somehow led her to know that Jesus needed this anointing now. She may not have even understood why, but she heeded that inner prompting, and Jesus thanked her for it later.

Imagine the faith and courage it took for Mary anoint Jesus in this way. How did she know Jesus wouldn’t respond like a typical Jewish man and rebuff for her touching him? How did she know that Jesus wouldn’t agree with Judas and be disappointed by her extravagance? How did she know that Jesus needed to be prepared for his burial the day before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem?

She knew. She knew because she knew Jesus… having sat at his feet and received the better part. Mary had integrated Jesus’ message of the extravagance of God’s redeeming love for the world and so she was empowered to reflect that extravagance in her own life.

It is this kind of knowing that St. Paul is talking about when he writes, “I want to know Christ. I want to know the power of his resurrection.” Here’s the backstory: having already established Christian churches throughout Asia Minor, Greece, and Macedonia, Paul was now in prison and he knew his death was imminent. Writing to the church in Philippi (though it sounds more like to himself), Paul lists his credentials: a faithful Jew… a Pharisee, blameless under the law.

Yet, despite all his spiritual bling, Paul confesses: “I want to know Christ.” Paul is talking about a deeply integrated, transforming way of knowing – the way Mary of Bethany knew him.

The lives of Mary and Paul make clear that living the reality of new life in Christ takes courage. As the world continues to be transformed by the power of Jesus’ resurrection, some people, some groups will cling to long-held customs out of fear of change, fear of losing power, fortune, or importance,
fear of being wrong or cast out from the group that matters to them.

Like Mary and Paul, we are called to listen then act as the Spirit leads us being unafraid to demonstrate our love and devotion to God, even when that is subversive and risky. To know the Christ in this way is to be empowered by his message of the extravagance of God’s redeeming love for the world; to participate with him, to become like him, and to reflect that extravagance by our lives and our service.

As the Episcopal presence in this college community, our message will be out of step with other churches, friends, and business associates in our area because we are unafraid to include everyone just as God made them. That may be a bit uncomfortable at times, but it is comforting to those who are being judged, excluded, and dismissed.

By our life together as a community of faith in the Episcopal tradition, we will demonstrate to them that they matter to us and to God, that they are beloved of God and welcome to be members of our family. There’s a symbol of that love on the door to our church. That’s what our worship, our website, our Stewardship of the Entirety of our Lives community events, and all of our other ministries communicate to the world.

Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with a perfumed nard as a sign of repentance and dependence on her Redeemer. The gospel writer said the fragrance of it filled the room. I hope it will do the same for us today.

Those little covered cups you were given as you entered our sanctuary today contain organic coconut oil infused with essential oil of myrhh – the scent Mary likely used in her ointment.

I invite everyone to scrape some of this ointment into their hands and rub it in. The coconut oil will liquefy when it meets the warmth of your hands and you will smell the myrrh.

This fragrance that’s on our hands will be an outward sign to remind us of our inner call. It will follow us from this worship into the world, where we will carry the extravagant love of God in Christ to all we meet.

Let us pray…

Fill us, O Lord, until your love overflows from us and nourishes the souls of all you draw near to us. Help us to recognize them as treasures of your kingdom, that we may give to them as extravagantly as you give to us. Grant us the courage to know you as Mary of Bethany did, to participate in you as St. Paul did, and to serve you, doing your will as you reveal it to us each day. Bless us as we discern the gifts you have given us, individually and as your community of love. Show us how to nurture those gifts, and motivate us to use them for your glory and the welfare of your people. Amen.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Lent 4: Heaven and earth rejoice

Lectionary: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-2; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

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En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Today, the 4th Sunday in Lent, is called Laetare Sunday. "Laetare" means "Rejoice" and on this day we remember that our Lenten work is meant to lead us to joy. The liturgical color is rose (pink).

This Sunday is also known as "Mothering Sunday.” In the English tradition, on this day people return to worship at the church where they were baptized. It’s is a kind of check in on our spiritual journey which begins at baptism; but where we are at any point in our life, is up to our responsiveness to God’s leading; and it may or may not have any resemblance to the plans we or our families might have made. As the joke goes: If you want to make God augh, tell Her your plans.

Just when we think we have it all figured out, when we think we know who we are, where we’re going, and how to get there… God moves in a way we didn’t see coming and we have to rethink, redirect, and repent, that is, turn around and go another way – the way God is showing us – just as the Israelites did as they wandered in the desert. The traditions that guided who they were and how they lived had to be suspended in the circumstance their exile.

They had to let go of what they knew and had planned, and walk on in faith toward the future God had prepared for them. As a people traditionally tied to the land, this wandering people had no laws to govern their lives as wanderers. They had to figure it out as they went along.

At times it was hard for them to tell if they were actually heading somewhere or if they were just wandering around lost. The generation who began the journey into exile was now dead and gone and a new generation was arriving at their God-given destination: the Promised Land. Honoring their forebears, they began re-instituting the traditions that proclaimed their identity and belief; but they did this as a new generation in a new place, with a new understanding.

St. David’s has been on this kind of journey. In our history is a de-consecration and re-consecration and today we are in a transition as a new generation being guided into a new understanding of ourselves.

The Israelites’ time in the desert had revealed only part of the big picture of the will of God for them. The rest of the story (as Paul Harvey would say) is found in the words of Jesus in today’s gospel from Luke.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is the third of three parables Jesus uses to teach about reconciliation. In this gospel, Rabbi Jesus tells a wild story, filled with things that would make his listeners cringe. For example, a son asking his father for his share of the inheritance would be akin to a death wish; the image of a Jewish man, even a desperate one, wishing he could eat the slop of swine would be horror upon horror for a kosher people; and no self-respecting, elder Jewish man would ever run to greet his son. (Source)

In addition, I think there are a few reactions Jesus counted on from his listeners (then and now). For example, it was the son’s own choice that led him to his desperate situation. He was selfish, disrespectful, and disobedient. He made his bed…(as they say). He has only himself to blame.

Finally, what about the older brother? He’s been good and faithful all along, and hasn’t asked for reward. But now his father kills the fatted calf for his low-life brother, and he’s understandably upset.

Looking at this parable from a “human point of view” these reactions make sense. But we who are followers of Christ must no longer look at things that way. We are a new generation, in a new place, with a new understanding.

Like the father in this parable, God does not count our trespasses against us. The world doesn’t love hearing about that kind of extravagance of mercy and love.

We’re good with it, of course, when it’s our own sin that needs forgiving, but we’re often less happy about it when it’s someone else’s sin. Then we, like the older brother in the parable, feel justified in our resentment. Some of us even feel justified in being violent toward the sinners we particularly hate.

I once heard Brother Curtis Almquist from the Society of St. John the Evangelist, an Anglican monastery in MA, say: “If you don’t have mercy for someone, you don’t know enough about them.”

God does know – and God never fails to seek the lost and bring them home with a joyous welcome. And God has called and prepared us to be partners in this work.

That’s why, as we consider this parable of the Prodigal Son, it helps to remember that we don’t know what led the lost brother to ask for his inheritance. We don’t know how he came to disrespect himself so much that he would live a life of such self-destruction. We don’t know how he came to believe that he wasn’t worthy.

Everyone has a story that plays out within the silence of their hearts. God knows our stories, our interior battles; and has mercy on us. The invitation during Lent is to return and claim it, just as the Prodigal son did when he ‘came to himself’ and returned home where he once knew love.

Upon seeing his father, the Prodigal son utters the words of repentance: “…I made a mistake…” and in response - there is rejoicing!

Once we realize the unfathomable love of God for us, then we truly are a new people in a new place with a new understanding. As St. Paul says it: we are a new creation.

We begin to see with the eyes of God and we notice that everyone is beloved. We respond with the heart of God, which breaks over anyone’s suffering - no matter how it came about. We respond with the heart of God that rejoices whenever someone returns to themselves… and returns to love.

A final word about the older brother in the parable, who represents us: the church. Like the brother, we try to live faithfully, and we’re tempted to be judgmental about someone who seems to ‘get away with’ not “being-hāve” as my kids would say. (When I’d tell my children to behave they’d reply to me: ‘I am being-hāve!)

Did you hear the father’s response to the older brother? Hearing this as the voice of God, the reply was: Beloved one, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”

Think about that for a minute – it’s amazing in its reality. What if we, the church, believed it when God says to us: My beloveds – you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours”?

There would be no building or budget concerns, no resource issues that would distract us from fulfilling our divine purpose. If we truly believed that, heaven and earth would rejoice! Laetare!