Sunday, July 17, 2022

6 Pentecost, 2022-C: Rhythms of prayer and action

 Lectionary: Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42 

En el nobmre de Dios que es creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen. 

An interesting feature of our humanity is what is called, “selective attention.” The marvel that is our brain, specifically the visual cortex, filters out information deemed irrelevant.

A famous example of this is the gorilla video from a 1999 study on selective attention. In this study,
“subjects are shown a video of a basketball match, and are asked to count the number of passes that happen during a game sequence. During play, a person dressed in a gorilla costume crosses the shot. When asked to report on what they saw… subjects could report the number of passes observed, yet, incredibly did not report seeing the gorilla... In fact, people appear flummoxed when they are told the gorilla [was in the video], and are astounded when they watch the video back” and see it. (Source)  

Our story from Amos is about selective attention. It begins with a teaser about a basket of fruit, but quickly takes a darker turn with God saying: The end has come upon my people Israel.” Reading our sacred texts means being willing to prayerfully discern and share the Good News within it because it’s always there. So, where is in this story?

It might help to know that the “basket of fruit” reference is a wordplay in Hebrew. The word that translates as basket of fruit sounds like the word that translates as “the end.” God asks Amos, ‘What do you see, Amos?’ Amos says, “the end.” (No, that isn’t the good news yet.)

Remembering from last week that God is the plumb-line in the midst of the community, this story from Amos shows us that God sees what’s happening on the ground. God repeats, “I will never pass you by” which is interpreted to mean, I am in the midst of you I am in the midst of you (Ah, there’s the good news). Being in the midst of you, God says, what I’m seeing from you is not just, not compassionate, and not right.

Hear this, God says: [I see] you trampling on the vulnerable, and oppressing the powerless. I see you practicing deceit with predatory lending so that you can build your own wealth. I see you selling junk food and passing it off as nutritious.

I see all of what you are doing, God says, and though I am the true vertical among you, you don’t see me. So, I will watch and wait while you bring yourselves to the only end you’ve made available to yourselves: your own undoing. When it starts happening, you’ll realize how wrong you’ve been and you’ll look for me to save you, but you have made me irrelevant so you don’t see me.

The psalm picks up the theme of calling out the tyrants for their cruelty. “You love lying more than speaking truth. You love all words that hurt.” O that God would hear our prayer and demolish you utterly…”

I admit this Psalm has been my prayer for a while now. I am not God, but I see these very issues playing out in our world today, and if social media is any indicator, I’m not alone in this. My recourse, our recourse, is to pray – to go into the presence of God where our hearts can be moved from “demolish them utterly” to “I trust in the mercy of God for ever.(More good news)”

The news has been so disruptive to my peace lately. In my busy-ness I’ve had to be intentional about stopping to pray and rest in the love of God, to listen for my Savior’s voice of comfort be strengthened by it and led back into peace – into Christ’s peace. I’ve had to make time to sit at the feet of my Redeemer, like Mary did in our gospel story, or risk being sucked down into the whirlpool of the chaos of the world.

The story of Mary and Martha in our gospel from Luke is often discussed in ways that pit Martha against Mary in a competition for holiness. I often hear people say, “I’m a Martha” or “I’m a Mary.” The truth is, we’re all both. We all have our gifts to offer in our ministries, and there are times we must all stop and sit at the feet of Jesus for the renewal of our souls.

The other biblical stories of Martha and Mary illustrate that these sisters possess a great gift of hospitality. They are a team – and their home is a center for hospitality and friendship. Martha’s frustration in this story is that her teammate, Mary, isn’t doing her part, leaving the burden of the whole ministry to Martha who tries to hold it up alone, but finds herself bitter and resentful about it.

Jesus responds with a soothing: Martha, Martha… you are worried and distracted by many things, but there is only one thing that really matters. Look, Mary has chosen the good part. Jesus’ word was relevant for her and claimed her attention.

Why our translators changed the word here from ‘good’ to ‘better’ escapes me and is part of the reason we hear this as a competition. Mary didn’t choose a better part than Martha. When Jesus called Mary’s choice good, he was saying it was admirable, deserving of respect and approval, and he gave it all of that.

Jesus was clear that Mary’s choice would not be taken from her. Choice is a sign of our freedom. Mary had the right to choose for herself. We all do (well, maybe not so much anymore if you’re an American woman, anyway).

When I picture this story, I see Mary sitting with the other disciples having a conversation with Jesus. They all seem happy and relaxed. Martha is not in the room with them. She’s visible through a doorway to another room where she is preparing food. Her back is to Jesus which means Martha can’t see Jesus, and as the story from Amos teaches us, when we can’t see God, we can’t move in justice, compassion, and right relationship.

To all of us who are worried and distracted by many things, Jesus assures the Martha within us, and it sounds something like this: Y’all know me well enough to know that I don’t need a fancy dinner, just time with you and our friends in your home. Be still sometimes, all you Marthas. Just be with me. You have no praise to earn, no expectations to meet. You are already beloved. Come and be with me. I will fill your emptiness, restore your hope, and prepare you for your work in ministry. (Yet more good news)

As we head deeply into summer, we have the opportunity as a church community to rest and be restored by sitting at the feet of our Redeemer and listening to him. It’s easy to get distracted and busy preparing for the fall program year, or advocating for justice in our world, but Mary shows us that Jesus respects and affirms our choice of making time to sit at his feet and receive the one thing we need before we attempt to engage in our outward ministries.

It’s like breathing. We can’t breathe out our ministries until we have breathed in Jesus. It’s all about balance. We can’t just breathe in or out without passing out. We must have a rhythm of both.

One of the things I love about Emmanuel is that there are deeply spiritual people here, prayerful people, and also passionate advocates for justice and peace. While all of us have both qualities, some among us may be more inclined to advocacy than to centering prayer, others to prayer over action, but as a whole community, we have it all. Our task is to keep a balance of inward formation of our spirituality and outward opportunities for service.

This place is our center of holy hospitality. Each week we breathe Jesus in together. We make and share the holy food of Holy Communion with our friends and ministry teammates. Then, strengthened and restored by Word and Sacrament, we are sent into the world to love and serve in the holy name and loving way of Jesus.

There is so much injustice, insult, and damage to life out there, but if we try to serve without making time to sit first in God’s presence, we may end up doing more harm than good. So, for this moment, let us rest at the feet of our Redeemer, where we will receive the only thing that really matters. Amen.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

5 Pentecost, 2022-C: Called to show mercy

 Lectionary: Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen. 

This week we collectively mourn the loss of life at the July 4th parade in Highland Park, IL. This latest
mass shooting, by yet another young white male, left 7 people dead including both parents of a 2-year-old child and left a 10-year-old child paralyzed from the chest down. As one eyewitness said, “It was a quiet, peaceful, lovely morning, people were enjoying the parade… to have that peacefulness suddenly ripped apart, it’s scary. You can’t go anywhere, you can’t find peace. I think we are falling apart.” (Source

It certainly feels like that sometimes. Thankfully, peace doesn’t originate outside of us, but within, where God in Christ dwells, within us individually and within our parish community, so it’s always there for us, to restore us when we feel lost or afraid or alone.

As we come together in this holy place today, we shake the weariness of this latest trauma from our hearts and souls and enter our worship asking God to “mercifully receive our prayers… and grant that we may know and understand what things we ought to do, and also… to give us the grace and power to accomplish them faithfully.”

What are the things we ought to do…?

This can be a problematic discussion because it can degrade very quickly into a set of rules or laws that delineate specific things we can and cannot do. In the context of church life, that can reduce us to living lives of freedom-less obedience to a changing landscape of laws architected by the powerful, because as history demonstrates, the rules change as those in power change. Sound familiar?

Thankfully, the rules also change as people grow in wisdom, grace, and faith. The fact that I’m standing here as your priest in charge is evidence of the church’s growth allowing for the ordination of women.

There have always been those among us who must know and clarify every instance in which any specific rule does or doesn’t apply. It’s how the 10 commandments morphed into nearly 700 rules to live by. There have also always been those who misuse the rules in order to thin the herd: if you disobey our rules, you’ll be cast out of our community, or worse yet, cast into eternal damnation.

Please understand: I’m not suggesting that living in faith means living with no rules. On the contrary, I believe that rules - or canons as we call them in the Episcopal Church - customs, and traditions help us live together in peace, with fairness, and provide a firm foundation from which we can evolve and grow from generation to generation.

What I don’t believe is that obedience to rules or traditions can lead us to eternal life. That path can only be found in the heart, which is what (I think) Jesus was demonstrating in today’s gospel.

The lawyer in this story asks Jesus: ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds by asking what the law says. Familiar with the law, the man answers by quoting from Deuteronomy (6:5): You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.”

Right, says Jesus. Do this and you will live.

Luke says that the next question the lawyer asked was to justify himself, in other words, to affirm for himself that he is doing it right according to the law. Jesus answers with the story of the Good Samaritan.

You all know this story. At the end of it, Jesus asks which of the three men who saw the dying man was a neighbor to him. The one who showed him mercy the lawyer says.

Right again, Jesus says. Now you go and do likewise.

But the question remains: how do we know what we ought to do? How do we know when to keep the law and when to set it aside for mercy’s sake?

The answer can be found in the story from Amos. God provides Amos with a vision of a plumb line, which is, of course, a vertical reference line: heaven to earth. From now on, God says, this is us. We are forever connected and from that connection you will know how to go.

This ties into the great commandment Jesus gave us to love God with all we are – heart, mind, soul, and strength. It’s a love that gives God preference over us, our understanding, and our rules. To love God in this way is to choose to be merciful in every moment, in any circumstance, and to trust in God’s ultimate plan of love for the whole world even when that world is fraught with violence and destruction.

Another important point in the Amos story is that the plumb line is in the midst of a community. This isn’t about our individual relationship with God but our relationship to God as a community of God’s people.

Has anyone ever experienced a time in church when some with power or influence pressed their own agenda onto the community? They might have honestly thought they were advocating for what was best for the community but they also forgot that God’s plan is often more than we can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20) and sometimes it takes time to unfold, and that time can be uncomfortable or costly.

The letter to the Colossians reminds us that there will be moments each community needs to endure patiently. We’re in one of those moments right now as many of us feel like we just can’t or don’t want to endure any more pandemic restrictions that continue to hinder our in-person parish life. But as a people called to show mercy, we must prioritize the needs of those among us who are at higher risk from the virus variants over our own desire to be done with this pandemic.

I hope it helps to know that we are currently working to find the both-and solution to this moment. Pray for us as we seek God’s guidance on this.

As a people called to show mercy, we must remember that action is required. The law of the time prohibited the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan from touching the dying man, but the Samaritan touched him anyway, bandaging his wounds and carrying him to a safe place where he could heal. He even paid the man’s rent. The Samaritan didn’t offer thoughts and prayers, he offered aid.

When we think about it, we know what we ought to do. Each of us individually and us as a community - we know. The real question is: do we have the will to do it?

It sometimes feels like we’re spitting into the wind; like there’s more to be done out there than we can do. When we feel like that, we must remember that our hope is in Jesus Christ whose promises are true. So, we do not despair. We act, shattering the categories the world has about those who are or are not neighbors worthy of our mercy and care.

Mother Teresa says, “There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, too much pain. Then suddenly the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.”

We are those people. As the body of Christ, the Church, we are never alone, and we’re nourished regularly by Word and Sacrament, which means our strength is never depleted. Never.

As we transition culturally from a generation that goes to weekly church services out of duty or obedience to the rules to a generation that dismisses (some even abhor) the institutional church and its rules, it’s important to remember that the body of Christ is now as it has always been – a community of people in whom God in Christ dwells. When the world looks at us, they should be able to see us doing justice, acting mercifully, and walking humbly with God. (Mic 6:8)

The church in every generation is faced with situations that cause us to look beyond our rules, traditions, and customs in order to respond with mercy; in order to grow in wisdom, grace, and faith.

I close with a prayer borrowing some of Paul’s words to the Colossians. Let us pray...

May we be “filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… May we be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, and may we be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to [God], who has enabled us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” (9-12) Amen.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

3 Pentecost and Baptism of Theodore: The wild whirl-windiness of God

 Lectionary: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:1,13-25; Luke 9:51-62 

En el nombre del Dios que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen. 

I want to begin with a shout-out to Jae, our Organist-Director of Music, for the music he chooses for us every Sunday, but especially this Sunday. The hymns today are replete with phrases and concepts to pray with and ponder. I have done so this past week preparing for today and I commend them to you to enrich your prayers this week.

The music is also the perfect enrichment for a Baptism, which we celebrate today. Standing firmly on the foundation of Jesus Christ, we open wide our hearts and arms to love all – all, all, all, all ,all, as Desmond Tutu would say, as he loved us. We pray that God kindles a flame of love in Theodore today, and in all of us, and confirms it daily throughout our lives. and confirms it daily throughout his life.

We pray that Teddy is continuously surrounded by the body of Christ wherever he is so that he is encouraged to discern his unique gifts from God, nourish them in the body and blood of Christ, and in his community of faith, so that he may serve God and neighbor, held in grace, prayer, and the power of love, all his days.

I want to hold up one phrase from our Sequence Hymn: “Where generation, class, or race divide us to our shame, [God] sees not labels but a face, a person, and a name.” (H-603, v 3) It connected immediately for me to our gospel story where Jesus has his “face set to Jerusalem.” Jesus was immediately personified for me. His labels of Messiah, Christ, God Incarnate – fell away and he became a face, a person, and a name.

Sometimes we forget the reality of Jesus’ humanity. It’s more comfortable to let him be just God who knew what was coming in Jerusalem, who knew what was on the other side of the crucifixion enabling him to endure it. But the reality is, Jesus was also fully human. He nursed at his mother’s breast, went to church with his family, ate dinner with friends, and willingly went to Jerusalem knowing he’d angered the Jewish and Roman leadership so much that both were out to kill him.

Jesus had disrupted the status quo and the powers that be were about to set it back again – and he knew it. Yet he went anyway.

The phrase “setting your face” to something was a commonly used idiom showing commitment and resolve to do something. It’s one of several idioms used by Luke in telling this story.

Another one is: “to bury one’s father” which specifically refers to a son’s duty to remain with his parents to care for them until they die. This phrase offers a variety of ways to understand it. Given how Jesus teaches, it’s probably all of them, so let’s take a quick look at a few of them.

First, this might have been an excuse, ‘I’ll follow you soon, but not now,’ kind of like St. Augustine’s famous wayward prayer: “Lord, give me chastity and self-control, but not yet” as he continued enjoying his roguish lifestyle.

It might have been Jesus speaking of spiritual life and death – let those who do not recognize me, keep doing what they’re doing – but you who follow me must do differently. You must love one another as I have loved you… which is probably why Jesus had such a strong reaction to the suggestion that they bring down fire from heaven to kill the Samaritans who refused them hospitality. Luke says Jesus rebuked them, something usually reserved for demons! You can almost see Jesus’ face-palm – I just told you to love one another…

It may have been that Jesus was reminding his listeners that, "No ministrations could help the dead. [It is the] living [who] need… the proclamation of God's kingdom" as theologian James Horn said. Source: Horn, James G., Lectionary Bible Studies, "The Year of Luke," Pentecost 1, Study Book, (Augsburg-Fortress, 1976), 46. Jesus followed this admonition with a suggestion to go and proclaim the kingdom of God instead.

Finally, in response to the follower who wants to say goodbye to his family before he follows Jesus, Luke employs the idiom "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." That was a hard “no” from Jesus. A more understandable example in our time might be a driver who tends to turn around to check on those in the back seat while driving. That driver risks veering the car off the road and crashing, killing everyone in his car. That person wouldn’t be fit to drive.

The Spirit calls us to go where we are led not to look back and cling to where we have been. As much as we’d like to think we’re all good at multi-tasking, we aren’t. Our brains can only focus on one thing at a time. We can switch back and forth, some more quickly than others, but Jesus is asking us to stay focused on just this one thing: proclaiming the kingdom of God on the earth through Jesus, the Christ.

In Jesus’ time, the man asking about saying goodbye to his family would need their permission to go. Go where? Jesus said, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." No responsible elder would let a young man follow a prophet to nowhere. This might have been a face-saving excuse, or it might have been Jesus re-prioritizing a cultural-religious norm: not even family takes priority over God’s call on your life.

I remember when I finally decided to go to seminary, getting yelled at by family members who said I was being irresponsible asking Steve to leave his job, the kids to leave their friends, and risking financial ruin – all of which happened. But you need to know that my whole family supported the choice to risk everything to answer the call God had placed on me. It cost them a lot, but the choice was clear for all of us. This is the kind of choice Jesus is asking the man in the gospel story to understand.

Being a Christian means living in the whirlwind of the Spirit who leads us. Sometimes, when we try to nail things down, we may be able to organize ourselves into a comfortable place, or convince ourselves that we’re properly in moral control of others who need it, but we also may be trying to tame the Spirit. As I said in a recent sermon, quoting Christopher Morse: “The Spirit’s working for freedom is revealed only by the free working of the Spirit.” It’s a continual discernment.

May we always trust the Spirit, in all Her wild whirl-windiness, to empower us and lead us as we love and serve in the name of God who is Trinity in Unity. Amen. 

 (Invitation of the family to the font for the Baptism)

Sunday, June 19, 2022

2 Pentecost, 2022-C: We are Legion too


Lectionary: 1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a; Psalm 42 and 43; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39 

En el nombre del Dios que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen. 

I confess that I have a complicated relationship with St. Paul, as many Christian women do. However, the particular part of Paul’s letter to the Galatians we read today is, in my opinion, one of his best, most inspired and inspiring teachings: that “in Christ Jesus [we] are all children of God through faith …There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; … all of [us] are one in Christ Jesus.”

I hear something like this pretty regularly, and I hear it as the voice of God speaking within us, and it sounds like this: Why can’t we all just get along? Why is it so hard to understand that people are people? We’re all the same – just trying to live our lives and take care of our families.

Here we are in PRIDE month working for the freedom of our LGBTQIA+ siblings who simply want to enjoy the same rights the straight community already enjoys. Today is also Juneteenth, our newest national holiday, commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation which gave freedom from slavery to African Americans.

Each generation must address whatever divides us. These are just two issues that divide us today. We have more. We’ve always had more. Humans are a divided race, and division leads to hate which leads to death and destruction of life. Jesus came to change that.

It was 7 years ago this week that a young white man walked into a Bible study at Mother Emanual Church in SC and killed 9 African Americans because he hated blacks. It was 6 years ago this week that a young white man walked into a gay bar in Orlando and killed 50 people because he hated gays, and probably Latinxs. A week ago there were mass shootings in California, Michigan, Texas, Louisiana, Colorado, and two in Indiana - killing a total of 8 people and injuring 28. This past week an old white man killed 3 people at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in AL as they enjoyed a pot luck dinner.

We have to find a different way to live together. We have to do better than this.

In his letter, St. Paul is addressing the historic divide between Jews and Gentiles who are now becoming members of the nascent Christian community: do Gentile followers of Jesus have to follow Jewish law? Paul responds that all of us are one in Christ Jesus, so nothing divides us anymore.

This isn’t an easy transition to make. We, and by that, I mean humanity, continue to fall back into the confinement of division, even codifying it into laws, generation after generation, country after country.

But we, who are followers of the Way of Jesus, are called to live differently. We are called to be reconciled to God in Christ and to one another, remembering that it is only by being reconciled to God in Christ that we can live in peace and unity with one another.

The gospel demonstrates this with an amazing story rich in symbolic language. In this story, Jesus goes to a place which is opposite of Galilee - opposite not just in location, but also in religion. Gerasa is a Gentile country.

There he comes upon a man whose description leads us to believe that he was probably mentally ill. His behavior so frightens the local community that they tied him up and put a guard on him to keep him away from them, but he regularly escapes his chains (which symbolizes sin) and escapes to the wilderness – a powerfully symbolic word for the place where we encounter God who leads us to new life.

The man is forced to live on the margins of society, stripped of his freedom and enslaved by evil, which is what his nakedness symbolizes. He was scary, strange, and to be avoided.

But Jesus doesn’t turn away when he sees this untamed person. He approaches him, and remarkably, asks his name. Names are powerful symbols in ancient Jewish culture, expressing the essential nature of a person. This man called himself “Legion” a military word that symbolizes that he has lost his true identity and is controlled by powerful, destructive forces within himself. It also refers to the Roman legions that were controlling and destroying the Israelite people.

Like the demoniac, we are Legion too – and by we, I mean humanity. There are many powerful, destructive forces that control us from within and lead us to need automatic weapons of war to feel safe in the grocery store, or to shoot African Americans in prayer, or gay siblings and allies dancing at a bar, or churchgoers sharing a meal.

As the story proceeds, the demons within this man are sent into a herd of swine which run off a cliff and drown. It’s important to remember that although Jewish culture found pigs to be abhorrent, this isn’t a story about animal cruelty or the loss of livelihood of the owners of the pigs.

Let’s think about where else we hear about drowning. I’ll give you a hint – it’s a kind of important milestone for us Christians. In Baptism we are drowned into the death of Christ to be raised into the life of Christ.

Once this man is freed from his chains and the forces of destruction within him, he is healed, and it happened in a very Baptismal way. The swineherds who witnessed this ran off to tell everyone else what they saw. When the people came and saw the man sitting there with Jesus, “clothed and in his right mind” they were “seized with fear.”

Isn’t that a strange response? Maybe, but it’s not uncommon. In 1921, when we saw African Americans thriving in their newfound freedom in what was called “Black Wall Street” we massacred them and burned their city.

When healing happens, the system around the one healed tends to try to force them back into the way it used to be so they can continue on as before – even though that way was destructive to them.

This is something taught to recovering alcoholics and survivors of domestic violence. I used to use the visual example of a baby’s crib mobile. It spins well while everyone is in their place. If one person leaves the system that exists, however, the mobile tilts and can’t spin like it did and the dysfunctional system is disrupted.

In the gospel story, the people wanted Jesus to leave. He was disrupting their system.

The healed man wanted to go with Jesus – who wouldn’t? But Jesus sent him away. If that seems cruel, hold on. There’s a purpose to it.

Jesus sent the man home to declare - which translates as “to show” - what the love of God has done for him. This is a powerful part of the story.

This formerly untamed, scary, naked, chain-bound man was sent by Jesus to share his good news of reconciliation to God and his community. This man was an apostle – sent by Jesus – before Mary Magdalene witnessed the resurrection that first Easter, before the disciples’ Pentecost experience.

The first apostle was a formerly mentally ill, demon-possessed Gentile. How’s that for a God twist?

The gospel tells us that the man did as Jesus commanded him. He went home “proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.” We don’t know what happened in the long term, and that’s part of the lesson for us.

We do as we are commanded: we love God and one another as Jesus loved us. God does the rest in God’s time. God’s plan of redeeming, reconciling love isn’t ours to accomplish but to participate in, to foster.

We are lavish planters of the seeds of divine love. God does the growing and the harvesting – which we may or may not see in our earthly lives. We don’t lose hope because our hope is in Jesus; and we don’t lose patience because we trust in God’s inclusive plan of love and we, too, don’t want anyone, not even a hate-filled shooter, left out or lost.

I close with a prayer from Let us pray. 

In the image of God, you created everything and called it good! In abundant diversity, your likeness is found in us. We reject all messages that belittle or degrade any among us. And so in faithfulness to God and one another we proclaim: Sacred are our bodies of every size and ability. Blessed are our sexualities, drawing us towards love of many kinds. Beloved is every gender, revealing you in different ways. To our skin, beautiful in every shade, we say hallelujah! Praise God, our Creator, who blesses us with this world, these bodies, and our fellow creatures, all created good, very good. Amen. (Source)

Monday, June 13, 2022

PRIDE, 2022: Sharing my story


Our bishop says that our stories matter and need to be shared. Just prior to the start of PRIDE month, I invited LGBTQIA+ members and allies at Emmanuel (Episcopal Church, Webster, Groves, MO) to share their stories, their joys and pains, how this church and THE church has supported or injured them. The first to share their PRIDE month story is – me. I am your priest, and I am also the mother of a lesbian daughter.

I remember knowing that my daughter was gay when she was little. When she came out to me in high school, I could honestly tell her that I already knew, that I’d know for a long time, so she could let go any worry about my reaction to her news. I loved her as she was and would support her as she came into the fullness of herself and her love.

As a parent, I did grieve when she came out, because it was official. The future I was taught to hope for my child was gone, so were my hopes for grandkids – in the way I was taught to expect them - and I had to let myself grieve all that. As God always does, in the ashes of what was gone, a new hope was born, and it brought me freedom.

Soon enough, I realized that my hopes for my daughter hadn’t changed much at all. I hoped for a future where she would know love and build a family, where her gifts could find expression and provide her a comfortable living, where she could become her fullest self. She is living this dream today: teaching music and playing in orchestras in South GA, legally married to her love, and raising my two grandsons, who were born by IVF.

After years of progress toward LGBTQIA+ inclusion, we, as a family, now face the threat of their loss of freedoms and rights, but not only them. I recently was made my grandson’s legal guardian for the second time in my life. The first time was prior to the legalization of gay marriage. This time it’s in the event their rights to marriage and adoption rights are repealed. I pray for all people – gay, straight, and otherwise - who may lose the option for in-vitro fertilization at all, and for adoption due to their sexual identity.

As a mom, I’ve always worried about my daughter’s safety. We raised our kids in deep South GA where my daughter lives again, and where guns are rampant, and anti-gay Christians are the majority voice. But now we also live in a culture where just about anyone can get a gun, where people shoot and kill those who offend them or their beliefs. I pray daily for the safety of my daughter and her family.

When I interviewed to come here to serve with you, I told the search committee, as I tell every discernment committee, that my daughter is gay and if this church couldn’t fully welcome her as she is (meaning, e.g., that she could hold hands with her wife in the pews), that was fine, but then I am not the priest they want or need here. I haven’t had a church admit to being welcoming in concept only, but I have served in them, which is why I add the example when I make this statement now.

As we celebrate PRIDE month, I thank you for being a parish where I can share my story as the mom of an LGBTQIA+ person. I celebrate the love and real acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people here at Emmanuel. This love reflects the God we worship, and it can change the world. Thank you.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Trinity Sunday, 2022-C: Soaring freely in God

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

En el nombre del Dios, que es Trinidad en unidad. 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 principal 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 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.

Years ago, I was talking with a friend of mine who was becoming an Episcopal priest. I asked him what heaven would be for him. He said that for him, heaven would be to know everything there is to know about God.

That made me very sad. How could this smart man 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 don’t think I’ve shared with you yet about one of my hobbies: quantum physics. 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.

One of my favorite theoretical physicists is Fred Allan Wolf who I’ve been reading since the early 1980s. Dr. Wolf says the farther physics goes into the micro and out to the 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! Do you see why I love this stuff?

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. And 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 tiny-ness of a quark to the vastness of a galaxy.

Painting credit: Valori M. Sherer, 2014
God is continually revealing God’s self to us, inviting us into the mystery of God. 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 a mountain? Have you ever heard the healing power of the ocean's crashing waves? …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 grandson and he loves me with his whole little self, I know God. When my dog snuggles into me and looks at me with adoring eyes, I know God. 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 our prayers and hymns. Sometimes, God chooses to be revealed in the midst of a hymn or a prayer we’re going through for the thousandth time, not really paying attention - until some divine truth hits us, switching on a light of understanding, and transforming us 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 in our time on earth.

Theologian Christopher Morse says, “The Spirit’s working for freedom is revealed only by the free working of the Spirit.” Standing firmly on the foundation of our faith, we can be in the mystery, soaring freely with God going wherever She leads, certain that there is always more God, more love, to be revealed to us.

I close with a prayer from the Revised Common Lectionary Prayer book. Let us pray: 

“God of delight, 
your Wisdom sings your Word 
at the crossroads where humanity and divinity meet. 
Invite us into your joyful being 
where you know and are known 
in each beginning, 
in all sustenance, 
in every redemption, 
that we may manifest your unity 
in the diverse ministries you entrust to us, 
truly reflecting your triune majesty 
in the faith that acts, 
in the hope that does not disappoint, 
and in the love that endures. Amen.” (Source)

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Pentecost 2022-C: Liberating, transforming love

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

God, who created us, dwells in us. God dwells in all God has created: human, creature, and nature, and has declared that everything created is not just good, but very good. Everyone and everything issues from the breath and word of God and is, therefore, to be treated with respect and dignity.
Humanity has a long history of establishing hierarchies of people and creation. The notion that some people are better than other people is ludicrous. As much as I enjoy the stories and characters in Downton Abby (and I do want to see the movie), it holds up for us the human habits of sinfulness through classism and elitism – both of which are alive and well in current experience here and across the world.

As our Nicene Creed reminds us: Jesus is the one through whom all things were made. All things – human, creature, and nature. It is only by loving Jesus, clinging to him, keeping our attention focused on him, that we are able to keep his commandment to love God, neighbor, and self as he did.

When Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments,” he wasn’t asking us to obey rules. Look at all the rules Jesus broke in the name of love! He ate with sinners and tax collectors, touched the lepers and the dead, welcomed and spoke with women and children who weren’t his family.

Entering into love with Jesus means giving up the priority of self and our reliance on the rules we made which divide us into categories for the benefit of a few. For the people in our Scripture stories, that meant letting go of the notion that foreigners were bad, and that women, children, and beasts were of lesser value and could be owned and disrespected.

That’s one of the things the Pentecost event did – it blew away the boundaries of their habits and opened the disciples and all present to something new, amazing, inclusive, and expansive – the love of God in all people.

Another thing the Pentecost event did was awaken the presence of the Spirit of God in the disciples. The tongues of fire that rested on the heads of the disciples are an amazing image. Fire, in Biblical language, is the presence of God. Remember the burning bush in Genesis, the pillar of fire in the desert in Exodus… At that first Pentecost, pieces of God were distributed by Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus. Each one was given a piece of God to bring into the world. Paul talks about these later in his writings about the gifts of the Spirit.

Finally, the Pentecost event bonded people into relationships that previously had been inconceivable. The Good News of the salvation of God in Christ was shared among people who didn’t share language or experience or even respect. Yet God bonded them miraculously and they became one family – the family of God – of which we are the current generation.

Years ago, I was a chaplain on the oncology/hematology unit of a regional hospital in south GA. One day I sat at the bedside of an elderly man, Rufus, who was dying of cancer. Rufus had no teeth and spoke with a very thick southern accent that I found nearly impossible to understand.

As he spoke, I could hear enough to know he was telling me his life story as many dying patients did. Rufus had a 3rd grade education, something about his sisters and his grandmother… and the death of his parents when he was very young.

There I was, knowing how important it was for me to hear this man’s final words, yet feeling helpless and frustrated because I just couldn’t understand him. “Lord, give me Pentecost ears” I cried silently in prayer. “Open my ears so I can understand him – and hurry!”

Just as I finished praying, I literally heard what sounded like the rush of a wind. My ears felt like they popped, the way they do when you’re in an airplane and they adjust to the change in pressure, and suddenly, the man’s voice was as clear as a bell. 

He was talking about meeting the woman who became his wife just before he shipped off to Europe in WWII. He told me about his children, how his heart broke when his son went to prison and the joy his grandchildren and great-grandchildren brought to his life. 

As he spoke, part of me was marveling at the fact that I could actually understand him. Another part of me was aware that we were experiencing a miraculous moment, a moment full of the power of the Holy Spirit. It was at once perplexing and enlivening.

When Rufus finished speaking, he wanted to rest, so I told him I’d sit nearby and read the Psalms to him. As he slept, I looked at this weathered, toothless, 90-something year old man, whose great-grandparents were slaves, and I realized, he felt like family in my heart. Though he died only 6 hours after I’d met him, I will always cherish my memory of Rufus and the Pentecost moment we shared.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr once said, “Power at its best is love… implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.” (186)

This is the power that came upon those gathered at that first Pentecost and it is the same power that comes upon us today. Filled with the liberating power of love, Peter preached to the people from “every nation under heaven” gathered there in Jerusalem that they were witnessing the fulfillment of God’s promise given through the prophet Joel where God declares, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” Not just male flesh, or Jewish flesh, but all flesh.

Look around you, Peter is telling them. The Holy Spirit is alighting upon all of us: Jew, Gentile, male, female, slave, free – and it’s happening now.

On this Day of Pentecost, I declare to you, my beloved siblings in Christ, that God is still pouring God’s Spirit into all flesh: black, brown, white, gay, straight, non-binary... all flesh – and it’s happening now. When we put together the pieces of God that were given to each of us, we can change the world.

That’s why we’re here – in this church. Whenever we gather together to worship and share the holy food of Communion, we are inviting the Spirit of God to awaken the divine love that is in us, to liberate us from a preoccupation with ourselves that we might see and respond to the needs of the people and world around us.

I want to clarify, however, that when we do good works it is not for our own benefit. It isn’t about us doing what we need to do to get into heaven but about us bringing heaven to earth.

Good works happen when God’s presence is awakened within us by the Holy Spirit. That is our Pentecost moment when the proverbial tongue of fire is visibly resting on us, and it happens not just once, but often, continually throughout our lives.

When we come upon someone who doesn’t know the presence of God’s love within themselves and they haven’t experienced it much, if at all, in the world around them, we draw nearer to them – unafraid - as Jesus did with the Gerasene demoniac (Mk 5:1-20), and allow the awakened Spirit of God in us to reach out to the slumbering Spirit of God in them. It is sinful to blame or judge them, or to get defensive or selfish about the gifts we’ve been given that they have not.

When Rufus and I shared our Pentecost moment, we both felt an immediate closeness, like family, only deeper. In addition, Rufus found the comfort he needed to die in peace and I experienced what it felt like to bring heaven to earth for the sake of another.

I will admit: my heart has been troubled lately. I’ve been so distressed by the school shooting in Uvalde, the subsequent multiple mass murders over the Memorial Day holiday, and even more since then. At last count, there have been nearly 250 mass shootings in the 155 days of 2022.

Realizing that caused my stomach to lurch, but then I remembered Jesus and what his love did in his world and what it is doing in ours – through us. So I’m also at peace, the kind of peace that can only come from Jesus. Conflict and division are historical, continuing earthly realities, but the peace of Christ – the peace that brings wellbeing, wholeness, holiness - is our eternal reality.

God’s own spirit is within us, liberating and transforming us, leading us to change the world simply by unleashing the power of the divine love that abides in us. 

So, let us go forth in the power of the Holy Spirit, with all humility as beloved creatures of God, and change the world! Amen.