Sunday, March 25, 2012

Lent 5B, 2012: Continue to go deeply

Lectionary: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

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

Well, we’re at the last Sunday of my favorite season; so let’s take a look at where we’ve been. We began our corporate Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday with a quote from Pierre Teillhard de Chardin, the French philosopher and Jesuit priest (d. 1955): “Let us leave the surface and without leaving the world, plunge into God.” To help us accomplish this, we have spent our Thursdays in Lent exploring various ways of praying, that is, various ways of plunging into God.

We remembered together on Ash Wednesday that ‘Lent’ means ‘spring’ and we talked about God sowing seeds in us that we would nourish and God would cultivate during Lent. We heard the prophet Joel telling us to “rend our hearts, not our clothing,” and we understood this to mean that we are called to open ourselves up and let God in, to go deeply into ourselves – into our hearts – and not get preoccupied with exterior, worldly things like giving up chocolate, or sushi, or television.

We also shared this prayer from Teillhard on Ash Wednesday: “…when the painful comes in which I suddenly awaken to the fact I am losing hold of myself and am absolutely passive within the hands of the great, unknown forces that have formed me; in all those dark moments, O God, grant that I may understand that it is you …who are painfully parting the fibers of my being in order to penetrate to the very marrow of my substance and bear me away within yourself… Teach me to treat my death as an act of communion… For you bring new life out of every form of death.”

As we prepare to bring our practice of a Holy Lent to a close, we hear Jesus talking about this very thing in today’s Gospel. When Philip and Andrew told Jesus that some Gentiles wanted to see him, Jesus proclaimed that now his hour had come to be glorified, explaining what he meant by likening himself (his life) to a seed.

For us, it is the seed planted in us by God, which we have nurtured during our practice of Lent. Jesus says this seed must die because unless it does, it remains only one seed. But if it dies, if it breaks open the cover that protects it, the seed can reach into the soil that is all around it, send out roots and grow strong. Only if the seed dies, Jesus says, can it bear much fruit.

Cling to nothing, Jesus is saying. Don’t put the life you think you want ahead of the life God has planned for you. Die to life as the world presents it and instead, go deeply into your heart, and there you will find eternal life – life in the eternal presence of God – because God is already there.

Remember, as we discussed last week (in our short grammar lesson), eternal life isn’t something that happens after we die. It’s a present reality for those who believe, for those who know God in their hearts. And that is exactly how the prophet Jeremiah told us God wants to be known: “…after those days, (God said through Jeremiah)… I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people.”

On Lent 1 we recommitted ourselves to this very covenant, remembering that as Jesus was baptized, God tore open the heavens to let us in. Our response, the one we have been practicing during Lent, is to open ourselves in return, and let God in.

On Lent 2 we were reminded to get behind Jesus and follow him, remembering that our Savior sees with the eyes of heaven. God loves us and has a plan for us and for the whole world – and we can trust that. Following Jesus means learning to see as he did, it means developing eyes that can see the kingdom that Jesus said is at hand. If we can’t see that kingdom, we have to go deeper still.

On Lent 3, Deacon Pam reminded us that our faith in God is relational, and all about love: God’s love for us and our love for God and one another. It is our faith and our love for God that will lead us to live as God would have us live. Deacon Pam reminded us that we are called us to transform our inner selves so that we can love God with everything we are. When we do that, she said, our lives will reflect the One in whom we believe.

Last week, Lent 4, we reflected on the motherlieness of God who forgives us, cares for us, and comforts us even when we whine and complain about everything, and even when we mess up. We remembered that our God loves us so much that God “gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

I asked y’all to try to memorize the next verse, John 3:17 which says: “Indeed the Son of Man came into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

And that leads us to today – the last Sunday in Lent. Having gone willingly into the wilderness on Ash Wednesday, where the wild beasts of our fear and self-centeredness threaten us, we nevertheless opened ourselves to be penetrated deeply by God.

Today we look at the seed planted in us by God and we realize that seed IS God. God is in us and Jesus is asking us to let go of everything else – everything we thought about and planned for – and let the God-seed that is in us break its covering and reach its roots deeply into us and bear fruit in us.

It’s a scary thing when we think about it. Even Jesus admitted that his soul was troubled as he sought to do this. Then Jesus’ doubt returned to faith. No, he said. This is why I’m here. I came to do this. Glorify your name, Father. And God answered, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.”

And God is glorifying it again in us. It’s why we’re here. By our faith we glorify God. By our lives, we glorify God. We are the kingdom of God in the world. It is in us. It is us.

As we journey through this last week of Lent I pray that we continue to go deeply into our hearts, breaking ourselves open to God, allowing God to penetrate to our very marrow. I pray that we let the seed of God that is in us die, having learned through our Lenten practice that death really is “an act of communion,” and that “out of every form of death” springs new life, eternal life, life in the kingdom of God.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Lent 4B 2012: The motherliness of God

Lectionary: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

Note: Mother Valori preached from notes today.

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

Today is Laetare Sunday, also known as Mothering or Refreshment Sunday. In the tradition of Mothering Sunday, we pause to give thanks for our mother church, the Mother of our Lord, and the motherliness of God (pink vestments).

We talk a lot about God the Father, but not God the Mother. Remembering this is true to Scripture and Tradition, but not very present in our experience.

For example, in Gen 1 – the first story of creation, God created humans in the divine image, “male and female” God created them. It was in the second story of creation in Gen 2 that Adam (adam in Hebrew means human) was created and Eve (meaning first) was created from Adam’s rib. (1:27)

The prophet Isaiah tells us that God desires to comfort the people of Israel “As a mother comforts her child.” (66:13)

Wisdom literature = feminine character of God and feminine name for God.

Jesus also describes the motherliness of God in the Gospel of Matthew, saying: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…”

John 3:16
Jesus said, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may (SHALL) not perish but may have eternal life. (Gk retranslation)

Martin Luther called this the gospel in miniature.

Short grammar lesson: Infinitive: to have. Past tense =had. Present tense = have. Future tense = will have.

So when does Jesus say we have eternal life? While we are live or after we die?

Another teaching: Eternal life – who? God alone. Living in eternal life = living in God.

Add John 3:17
"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Whenever we rebel, when we make mistakes, or act badly, how does God react? How God always reacts. Let’s remember what was in our Old Testament reading from the Book of Numbers…

God tells Moses to lead the people out of slavery in Egypt where they are slaves, to a place where they can live in freedom and peace. And all they can do is whine about what isn’t right.

They complain that they have no food, so God gives them manna. Then they start complaining about the manna.

Then snakes begin to attack them and many of them died. This makes them realize that they haven’t been acting right.

So the people cry out, “Save us from the snakes!” and what does God do in response? How does God react?

God gives Moses a way to give them comfort. Put a snake on a stick and lift it up so they can see it. If they trust in my love for them, they will not die.

The same is true for us. Jesus tells us if we trust in God’s love for us, then we will have eternal life (remembering that eternal life is right now, not in the future – not after we die.)

And if we have eternal life, then how will we be judged at the end of our life? How will God decide?

Jesus tells us something really important about that. It’s the last thing he says in this gospel story. Jesus says that God has already decided:

“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world…” If we live in that light (which is Christ) then everything we do will be done in God.

If we live in the light of Christ, we will do what is good and true, except when we mess up. God knows that we can’t live perfect lives, that we will always make some mistakes. It’s part of being human.

It isn’t about what we do (works). It’s about who we are. We are beloved of God. All of us. Every one of us. Children of God.

So how does God react when we mess up? the way God always reacts. God comforts us like a mother comforts her child, and protects us like a hen gathers her chicks under her wing to keep them safe.

Why? Because God loves us.

Let’s go back to our sign, and let’s say it together: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Add 3:17 "… not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lent 2B, 2012: Following with no exceptions

Lectionary: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30 ; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

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

I was having a conversation this week with my daughter who was talking with another member of a symphony she has recently joined. Not to sound like a proud Mama (which I am), but they love her and are looking forward to her playing with them for a long time to come.

This other member of the symphony asked Jessica about the other ways she uses her musical gifts to earn a living. One of those ways is as Site Director for the Atlanta Music Project, a non-profit group that brings classical music instruction to under-privileged children.

The site my daughter manages is in a depressed neighborhood where violence is a constant threat. In fact, one of the teachers at AMP was recently mugged while leaving the building.

The symphony colleague, upon learning this, bemoaned that now she would worry about Jessica going to and from her work there at AMP. The colleague asked Jessica why she didn’t just carry a gun, to which my daughter replied, “I don’t carry a gun because I wouldn’t use it. How can I teach these children that violence is never an appropriate response, and hold out an exception for myself?”

She is sooo my daughter! During my years working with abused families, my friends in law enforcement were constantly trying to get me to learn to shoot so that I could carry a gun. I refused every time it came up, saying exactly the same thing: “I won’t carry a gun because I wouldn’t use it. I cannot kill another human being – no exceptions.”

“What if someone wants to kill you for sheltering their wife? Or what if someone were to threaten to kill your child?” my law enforcement friends would ask. All of the above actually did happen, yet I never gave myself the exception to use violence in response to violence, or to value my life over the life of another – even one I would label a ‘bad guy.’ That isn’t my call.

My approach was and still is driven by what Jesus said to Peter and the other disciples in today’s gospel which I have always heard like this: ‘You can’t be my follower if you are in front of me telling me how it ought to go. Get back behind me and follow me. I am God. I will lead. Remember precious one, you can only see from an earthly perspective. I can see with the eyes of heaven. Trust me. Follow me. That means, get behind back in line behind me.’

For the people who first heard Jesus say these words to Peter and the other disciples, the cross was a real tool of death, and it was used liberally against those who disrupted the status quo. The cross was the “gun” of that time. Even the religious leadership used it to stop Jesus from disrupting their status quo.

Jesus could have “fired back” in response (metaphorically of course), but he didn’t. He let them kill him,knowing that the plan of salvation and redemption was being accomplished by his giving up life.

This seems like a tough path to follow – and in some ways it is. But in many ways it isn’t. Following Jesus means being willing to sacrifice whatever is asked of us so that the redeeming work of God can continue to be accomplished now, in our time, through us.

As we journey deeper into Lent, deeper into the wilderness where the wild beasts of temptation lead us to dare to tell God how to proceed according to our plan, this call to get behind Jesus and follow him isn’t a call to death. It’s a call to life!

What life is there besides life in the eternal presence of God? Who would want anything besides that? Besides, what “gun” can we construct to save us from death? And who could we shoot with it having determined that their life should end so that ours could be saved? What if our encounter with that person was the means by which God would finally reach their hearts and lead them out of error into truth, out of death into life – and we killed them instead?

Jesus had no exceptions, no “gun.” He went willingly and peacefully to the cross, giving of himself totally for our sake. Now he asks us to do the same.

In our time, we aren’t likely to be asked to give up our actual lives. It’s more likely that we will be asked to give up our exceptions, exceptions that lead us astray, exceptions like: ‘I will love my neighbor, as long as they aren’t disagreeable, or gay or breakers of the law.’ …or…’I will attend to the cries of the poor and needy as long as I get to stop when I’m tired, frustrated, or feel threatened’… or… ‘I will offer my gifts, time, and money in service to God’s kingdom as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rest of my calendar or inconvenience my current spending habits.’

What are the exceptions we are called to give up this Lent? We all have them, and this is our time to get honest and humble and acknowledge them, so that we can discover the times and ways we are out front telling God how it ought to be.

Lent is when we get clear, and get back behind Jesus, which is the only option for those of us who call ourselves his followers. Thankfully, God is gracious and merciful to us when we have gone astray.

God has redeeming work to do in and through us. All we have to do is get back in line and be a follower with no exceptions.

Friday, March 2, 2012

VMS March Newsletter article: Strengthening our spirituality

As you know, Lent is my favorite liturgical season. I say that because this season asks us to go deeply into a prayerful state and examine our spirituality, individually and communally.

Spirituality is a word that is bounced around a lot in church and culture. It now can mean many things to many people, and it is often used as justification for living outside a church community: ‘I’m spiritual, but not religious’ or ‘I worship God in creation, not in church.’

Anglican theologian Marjorie Thompson says, “…Christian spirituality begins with God, is dependent on God, and ends in God… It is Christ being formed in us.” This is why we set aside time to put our attention on this. It takes that kind of effort for true growth to happen.

For us, spirituality is dynamic. It’s alive and changing, evolving and growing, all the time. This is one reason we must be anchored in a community of faith, even as we journey alone. As theologian Urban T. Holmes says, attempting this journey can “render one “flakey …if it is not tempered by a commitment to the church.” Our Anglican tradition offers many tools for the Lenten journey - practices that can help us avid flakiness while strengthening our ‘spiritual muscles.’ At Redeemer, we are offering information and opportunity to practice some of these tools during our Lenten teaching on Thursday evenings: Centering Prayer, prayer journaling, the Rosary, walking a labyrinth, intercessory prayer.

Spirituality, for Episcopalians, is also grounded in Scripture. In addition to our Sunday and Wednesday Eucharists, Redeemer regularly provides Morning Prayer weekdays in the chapel. For those who want to establish a discipline of framing their day in Scripture and tradition, the Daily Office (Morning and Evening Prayer) can found in our Prayer book or online at:

Another tool for strengthening our spiritual muscle regarding Scripture is the practice of lectio divina. Reading Scripture this way means intentionally opening ourselves to ‘hear’ the whispers of God who is being continually revealed to us in the Word. Lectio can be practiced alone or (my favorite way) in a group. Our Adult Formation group that meets on Sundays often practices lectio divine. Our vestry begins all of our meetings with this spiritual practice.

Finally, spirituality is active, because ours is an incarnational faith. Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, now lives in us and calls us to love - as an action, not just an idea. An incarnational spirituality has bodies (ours) – eyes that see and ears that hear the call of the poor and oppressed, feet that take us to where our hands reach out to love and serve; mouths that speak peace and call for justice; hearts that share in the pain and joy of our neighbors and creation. In their book, “Christian Spirituality” authors Lawrence Cunningham and Keith Egan say: “Authentic Christian spirituality links common worship (liturgy) with the works of charity as well as the desire for, and commitment to, social justice… authentic Christian spirituality must reach out to everyone without respect to class, gender or social condition.”

Spirituality, then, is dynamic, disciplined, contemplative, inclusive, communal as well as individual, grounded in Scripture and tradition, charitable, and results in action. It is a pathway and a journey into a continuing revelation of God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit.

Now do you see why we need to focus on this – and why it’s my favorite liturgical season? God bless us all on our Lenten journeys.

(Note: See the full newsletter on our website:

Held in Love - VMS article in the Shelby Star

This is my third February in Shelby, and frankly, the turning of the seasons here has me a bit confused. I don’t recall the season of winter happening at all this year, yet it looks like Spring has sprung already. The daffodils are in full bloom at the churchyard!

This brings to my mind the greatness of Almighty God, by whose hand creation came into being, and who continues to care for and guide it. In the book of the prophet Isaiah, the voice of God reminds us: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (55: 8-9)

Thankfully, we aren’t expected to comprehend God or God’s plan. We are called to trust that God is faithful, kind, and full of compassion, and that the promises of God given to us in Scripture are true. We are called to trust that it is from Love we were created, by Love we were redeemed, and in Love we are sustained. The ebb and flow of the ocean tides, the annual cycle of seasons, the daily reality of night following day which follows night, and the internal rhythms of our breathing, our heartbeats, our sleep and wakefulness – all held in the loving hands of our Creator who is beyond our comprehension and control.

Resting in the Love that exceeds our comprehension and control is the perfect posture for practicing a holy Lent. Remembering that the word “Lent” means “spring,” and that it refers to a time when new life is being formed in us, we have a wonderful opportunity to let go and trust God.

When Jesus, our Redeemer, was filled with the Holy Spirit and led by that Spirit into the wilderness, he showed us how to do this; how to let go and let God form new life in us so that we can be prepared to respond faithfully to God’s call on our lives. Choosing to enter our interior “wilderness,” translated from the Greek as “desert” or “uncultivated place” as Jesus did, provides us opportunity to let go and let God cultivate in us the faithfulness we need to live and serve in a world full of temptations.

Lent is not a time for us to wallow in the misery of our wretchedness as hopeless sinners, and we don’t fast in order to atone for sin. We fast to allow ourselves to experience emptiness, even though emptiness scares us. The nothingness of it feels kind of like death. Remembering, however, that we are a resurrection people, we have no fear of death, not even the little ones, like the death of a habit, or the death of an idea we hold about God, or ourselves, or our neighbors, because we rest safely and securely in the hands of Love who created us, redeemed us, and sustains us.