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 enfleshed.com. 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.