Sunday, July 14, 2024

8 Pentecost, 2024-B: Our prophetic message to the world

Proper 10 Lectionary: Amos 7:7-15, Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

En el nombre de Dios, creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen. 

I love the prophets in our Scripture! To me they are like artists, painting doorways to the truth. As with other forms of art, it often takes some education to fully appreciate their work.

Amos is known as the prophet of social justice. He was a herdsman and farmer who lived when Israel was divided into two kingdoms: the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel. Amos lived in Judah and God sent him Israel, where Jeroboam was king, to prophesy.

The northern kingdom of Israel then was kind of like Galilee was in our Gospel reading. Today, we might see Hollywood or Washington D.C. similarly. These are places of earthly excesses, even decadence, populated by circles of rich, materialistic cosmopolitans, who believe they earned their own fortunes and, therefore, deserve the enjoyment their fortunes afford them. They show little to no mercy for those in need among them. In fact, they hardly notice them.

It was to people like these that Amos prophesied in Chapter 6: “Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, …who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” (v 4-6)

Amaziah, the priest of the temple, begged Amos to leave Israel and prophesy somewhere else. Stop saying bad things about us, Amaziah said. This is the king’s territory, and we are beloved, favored, and blessed by God. That’s why we have it so good.

Amos responded, yes, you are beloved of God, which is why you, of all people, should know how you are to live in relationship to God and one another. You have gotten lost in the satisfaction that comes from earthly wealth, power, and privilege. You believe that you deserve the blessings you have and that you can kick back and enjoy them. But your power and privilege are an illusion. And when the illusion fails, you’ll realize that you have nothing because you chose to live in the absence of God, which leads only to nothingness.

Amos uses prophetic language to describe this nothingness saying, your wife will be sold into indignity, your kids will have no life in them, you will lose all you hold dear – including your land (which, for the people of Israel, meant their identity). You will even lose the dignity of your life and your death. 

But God, who is steadfast in love and mercy, always responds to human hubris, offering mercy and a way to go. In the vision of the plumb line, God asks Amos, ‘What do you see?’ ‘A plumb line,’ answers Amos. Right, says God. “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” (v 8-9)

In other words, by the mercy of God, all that the people cling to, all that seems desirable to them but leads to their destruction will be removed. All may seem lost because those things – the luxuries, the power and wealth, the success, and the esteem of others– had seemed so important.

But God, who loves us with steadfast love, knows that these things are to us humans like pills are to an addict. They trick us into believing that we are satisfied and happy even as they are destroying us.

We become so focused on ourselves that we lose sight of those suffering around us – the hungry, unhoused, infirm, and alone. Since we also convince ourselves that we are the source of our success, we conclude that they should earn their own and we don’t need to share with them any part of ours. We even tell ourselves that it’s for their own good that we don’t share – they should learn to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps – presuming, of course, that they even have boots.

In our gospel story, we see what this kind of self-focus and the attachment to earthly power can do to us. The story of Herod’s murder of John the Baptizer is a difficult story because it includes the worst of human behavior: incest, debauchery, murderous manipulation, misuse of power, and the death of an innocent. We want to cry out – how can those people let this happen? Why doesn’t anyone stop Herodius or Herod from committing this great wrong?

They don’t because they’re so preoccupied trying to amass or keep their own power and the luxurious lives they’ve become accustomed to, that they don’t care about the horror being played out right in front of them. Speaking truth here isn’t worth the risk of losing what they’ve worked to gain for themselves.

Sound familiar? That’s because people are people - in every era of human history.

We, who are followers of Jesus Christ, must go a different way. We are called to walk the way of love, as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry often says, the way of kindness, graciousness, and community.

But detaching from our hubris and self-sufficiency is a lot like detoxing from an addiction – it’s painful at first. The body and mind fight against it. We cling to the false reality we’ve created for ourselves because it is preferable to the truth that is coming into view – the truth that all of those things we thought mattered, the luxuries, power, wealth, and esteem of others, lead us to nothing… leave us as nothing.

It feels like desolation, and, in fact, it is desolation, blessed desolation, the total destruction of a false reality we had made for ourselves. From that place of desolation, we call out to God who is already there waiting to hear and respond to us in mercy and love and to show us what we ought to do, as our Collect says.

We believe that our salvation is in Jesus Christ, the second person in the Trinity of God, who came to live and minister among us, and gave his life for our salvation. Jesus did it and it has been done – once, for all. There is nothing we can or need to do to save ourselves. No amount of obedience or good works can save us. Indeed, they are the fruits of our salvation, not the means to it.

We need to remember that when we do anything good it’s because the grace of God has been lavished upon us, compelling us to do our part in Christ’s continuing work of the redemption of the world. When we do anything good, it’s because the Spirit of God, the viriditas of God, lives in us and touches the world through our grateful hearts and willing hands. When we do anything good, it’s because we have “heard the word of truth,” which is another way to say Jesus. We have believed in him and surrendered ourselves and our lives to him. 

It is through Jesus that we have wisdom to understand what we ought to do and it is by his grace that we can do it. The rules that guide us have to be reinterpreted in each age to make room for a compassionate response to the changes in the world. Jesus did so much of that during his ministry: healing on the Sabbath, touching a bleeding woman to heal her, calming and restoring a demoniac. Jesus showed us how the law is meant to serve humans, not the reverse, through the grace and mercy of God.

Right now, we are witnessing an increase in the passage of laws that criminalize being unhoused and other laws that forbid people from feeding them; laws that forbid giving water to asylum seekers; laws that forbid doctors from providing life-saving surgeries for pregnant women and best practice medical care for trans children.

These are not in keeping with the way of love and we must speak our truth about it, no matter how many modern-day Amaziahs try to make us stop. We have a message to prophesy, a message of the unfathomable, inclusive, compassionate love of God for all people.

And no matter how many Herods of today manipulate their way around what’s right - or even lawful- destroying lives they neither notice nor care about; we won’t stop calling it out as wrong. As Ida B. Wells once said, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” 

We have the light of truth in us. It is the very Spirit of Jesus given to us so that we can continue his reconciling work in the world. So, no matter how impossible or desolate the path to peace and love seems to our earthly minds, we’ll continue to pray for and gratefully receive the grace and power to do what God would have us do. Amen.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

7 Pentecost, 2024-B: Ready, receptive, transformable

Note: You can watch this being delivered live at Emmanuel Episcopal Church during our Sunday, 10 am service of Holy Eucharist, live-streamed on our YouTube channel. The sermon begins at 27' 25"

Lectionary, Track 2: Ezekiel 2:1-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13 

En el nombre de Dios, creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

I want to begin today with a discussion of one of my favorite saints: Hildegard of Bingen, who lived in the 12th century (1098-1179), so, the medieval era.

Hildegard was sickly from birth and throughout her life. If anyone knew weakness, it was Hildegard. Beginning from about the age of three, Hildegard began having visions. Though she was hesitant to share her visions, she eventually trusted someone enough and told them. This prompted the formation of a committee of theologians to authenticate her visions – which they did.

One of the things I love about Hildegard was how grounded she was in her faith. I can only imagine that this woman’s visions, and interpretations of those visions, were so quickly authenticated because her articulation of them was congruent with her Christian faith. This can be witnessed in her many writings.

Hildegard was a mystic. Her writings were prophetic, apocalyptic, theological, botanical, and medical. She was also a poet and composed music for her poetry. She was, in other words, a polymath, a female one no less, ahead of the Renaissance.

Hildegard described her visions as reflections/voice of the living light. The visions came as images which she then interpreted in words. She heard the voice of God not with her ears but in her spirit. Hildegard “saw” that within all creation is a Divine life force, the breath of God, ruach, as it is called in Genesis. This, she says, is why everything in creation reflects and glorifies God.

That same life force is in us like sap is in a tree. Without it we would die. By it, we have within us the ruach of the Divine who fills and transforms our bodies and spirits, connecting us to all creation and motivating us to nurture and care for ourselves, one another, and all of creation. As Hildegard said in her prayer: “O Holy Spirit, … you are the mighty way in which every thing that is in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, is penetrated with connectedness, is penetrated with relatedness.”

By observing nature around her, Hildegard “saw that there was a readiness in plants to receive the sun and to transform its light and warmth into energy and life.” Source. She called this process: viriditas (greening).

I would suggest that this is our faithful posture during this long, green season after Pentecost: to be ready, receptive, and transformable. It is also the theme of our Scripture readings today.

Let’s start with Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. This is Paul speaking about himself in the 3rd person. Was it false humility? It often is with Paul, but this time, I don’t think it was because this portion of his letter is so authentically mystical.

Paul talks about being caught up to the third heaven, a realm beyond human comprehension where God is fully present. What Paul is describing here is a unitive experience: complete connectedness, oneness with the Divine and all that is, where somehow the truth of all things is known.

When the experience ends and our mortal nature returns, we have no words to describe it. Paul said, he “heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.” We couldn’t if we tried, but Paul, being Paul, is a Pharisee and so the words he can find to use are very rules-based.

Still, he manages to communicate a very, very important message from his experience. God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Paul was not accustomed to being weak. He was an elite, wealthy, educated, religious authority with the power to hunt down and kill those he deemed to be heretics. But in this letter, we see that Paul was ready, receptive, and transformable. His acquiescence culminates in his effusive statement: “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”

How profound that is! We need to make room in ourselves for the power of Christ to dwell in us. Our hubris, our sense of self-sufficiency, our willingness to divide heaven and earth and relegate God’s power to the heavenly realm while we maintain power over the earthly realm - has to go!

Like Paul, we too, as a people, are unaccustomed to being weak. Our culture worships strength, even brutality, in sports, politics, and, sadly, religion.

Look around in the world as we have it today. Who is crying out “Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy, for we have had more than enough of contempt, too much of the scorn of the indolent rich, and of the derision of the proud” as our psalmist says. Who are those voices among us now?

It is us. We are not disconnected from the families in Ukraine or the Middle East enduring war or from the families in our own city besieged by gun violence. We are connected to the descendants of slaves who continue to battle discrimination and enslavement through economic and political structures that exclude them and privatized prisons that profit from exiling them. We share a life force with the indigenous people who continue to live in imposed poverty and exile from their homelands. We are also one with those whose pride forbids acquiescence to true weakness, who squeeze God out because they don’t trust in the mercy, love, and power of God to transform.

In Ezekiel, we see how God responds when our hubris squeezes God out of our collective hearts. Ezekiel speaks of a God who cares so much about the people who, in return, care so little for God, themselves, or others. The people have become impudent, stubborn, and rebellious. In response, God reaches out to them through a person, Ezekiel, with a message. Hildegard might describe this as the life force of God reaching out through the prophet to renew the dying world. But be advised, God said, they are a rebellious people who may refuse to hear you.

This is similar to what Jesus tells the disciples when he sends them out. There may be some who won’t welcome you or your message. If that happens, Jesus says, don’t try to fix it or force it. Just leave and, as Taylor Swift would say, shake it off.

At our Bible study this week, one of our studiers suggested that Jesus took his disciples to his hometown on purpose, to show them, before he sent them, that even he wouldn’t always be welcomed, despite the many healings he’d already done. When our Scripture tells us that Jesus could do no deeds of power there, it wasn’t because his power was diminished but because the people were unwilling to receive from him. They were not ready, receptive, or transformable.

Jesus sends us now, with the same authority he gave the disciples, to heal the brokenness in our world. We, too, won’t always be welcomed and sometimes, we have to just shake it off. We aren’t sent with a scorecard to record our successes. We’re sent to bring the viriditas within us, the life force of God within us, to heal the world around us.

We often read these healing stories the way we watch movies like Harry Potter - like it’s a fantasy. Healing is magical and we don’t have magic.

Well, I’m here to tell you, yes we do! We have the power of God’s healing life force, viriditas, within us, and we’re already using it! 

When someone comes to us broken by grief, or insecurity, or fear and we comfort them or remind them of their worth, God has extended viriditas through us to them. When someone is wounded by racism, sexism, or homophobia and we work to transform the systems that oppress them, God has healed the world through us. When we sit with someone who just needs us to be present, without solving anything, God has extended the viriditas that is in us to them.

Some healing is physical, but it is also spiritual, emotional, and personal – and we know how to do it. We just have to wake up to the power of God’s viriditas in us and commit to go wherever and how-ever God sends us to heal the world, remembering what Julian of Norwich said, that “We are not just made by God. We are made of God.”.

I close with a prayer from Hildegard’s feast day, which is September 17. Let us pray. O God, by whose grace your servant Hildegard, kindled with the fire of your love, became a burning and shining light in your Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

5 Pentecost, 2024-B: Receive the peace

Note: You can watch this being delivered live at Emmanuel Episcopal Church during our Sunday, 10 am service of Holy Eucharist, live-streamed on our YouTube channel. 

Lectionary - Track 2: Job 38:1-11; Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

En el nombre de Dios, creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen. 

Whirlwinds and stormy seas. Stillness and peace. The imagery in our readings today is so relatable. We all know what it feels like to have to weather a storm which can be happening to us or within us.

Storms happen. They’re part of life. In every storm, God is present, aware of the storm and its effect on us, and never fails to help. God’s word still calms whatever chaos we find ourselves in today.

In our Old Testament reading, “The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.” Wind, breath, from the Hebrew word ruach has always been a reference to the Spirit or Essence of God. A whirlwind, however, is a turbulent wind, a swirling, often destructive maelstrom. This story illustrates Job’s confusion and fright as God reveals and smacks down Job's hubris.

The whirlwind was part of Job’s journey into right relationship with God. This storm didn’t threaten Job’s life – it saved it. Hubris will destroy us – and others, as the Psalm illustrates so well. But God will stop our proud waves with “a whisper.” In the stillness that results from this breathy, softly spoken word of God, our joy is restored, and we realize that God has saved us from ourselves and brought us to safe harbor: which is God.

Paul affirms this in his letter to the church in Corinth. Quoting Isaiah (49:8), Paul reminds us that God has said, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” This is that day, Paul says. The time is now.

The time is now to open our hearts completely to the grace of God. In order to do that, we’ll have to die to a few things. We have to die to our hubris, as Job did. We have to remember that God is God and we are not and only God can save.

We also have to die to the notion that God is other, out there. Objectifying God has done so much damage to us. God is our creator who breathes life into us. Scripture tells us that God is steadfast, faithful, merciful, and of great kindness. Yet, we have created and weaponized a frighteningly vengeful, punitive, distant God, out of our fears and sense of unworthiness. Objectifying God also leads us to objectify one another, which does its own kind of damage as we can see with homophobia, racism, sexism, all the …isms that divide us and result in the oppression of some by others.

In the story of the stormy sea in today’s gospel, Jesus directly addresses our objectification of God. The traditional approach to this story is that it is a story of Jesus’ divine spirit being made known to the disciples. With a word, Jesus can calm a storm. Even the wind and sea obey him.

That is true, but it is only one side of the story, the outer side. I would like to invite us to go to the “other side” of this story, the side that speaks to the storms that happen within us as we journey into right relationship with God, self, and other, much like Job did.

The context is this: Jesus has just finished teaching the crowds about the kingdom of God, that is, what right relationship with God and one another looks like. He does this through a series of parables, which he explains in private to his disciples.

As I mentioned last week, the disciples come from a tradition that promises a Messiah who will set them free from oppression. Jesus has just begun teaching them that this liberation, this salvation, is so much bigger than they imagine. It is not just liberation of the children of Israel, but liberation of all people.

While they’re trying to wrap their heads around that, Jesus says, “Let us go across to the other side” meaning the other side of the Sea of Galilee – the Gentile side. This was more than a geographic relocation. It was a journey into right relationship with God, others, and even themselves.

Following Jesus meant they had to choose to leave behind what was familiar to them and head toward what seemed a less than desirable destination. They did go, but it wasn’t long before they began to experience a great windstorm within. This storm was so strong they thought they might die.

Does following this teacher mean their death? Yes. It does.

It means the death of their small understanding about God. It means the death of their understanding of their own identity as God’s chosen people and their habit of seeing others as unworthy, unclean, and unwelcome in the kingdom of God. It means the death of their expectations about the Messiah and salvation. And it means the death of their objectification of God.

In the midst of this interior, existential storm the disciples cry out to Jesus: Teacher, don’t you care that we’re perishing? Why did they call out to their teacher instead of their Lord or Messiah? Because they wanted to understand but their minds were in a whirlwind. Jesus replies, “Peace! Be still!” to the disciples – to storm within them. Then he asks, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 

The disciples have to let this death happen. So do we. It won’t destroy our life; it will save it!

But they still didn’t get it – or at least the gospel writer didn’t. I suggest that the great awe that filled them was that reverential fear mixed with wonder that always happens in the presence and power and overwhelming love of God. It creates a kind of whirlwind in our minds, spinning us off balance until we let go and let God be God for us and in us.

It is the peace of Christ that calms all our storms. When storms happen, and they will happen here and there as long as we live, we can remember and cling to the foundations given to us in our Scripture. In Ezekiel, God says, I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live. (37:14) In Joel, God says, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh.” (2:28) Then, of course, there is Jesus, who, in the gospel of John, breathed his own spirit into us saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (20:22)

Journeying into right relationship with God is our choice, and we make this choice knowing that we will have to die to our need to understand so that we can live into being the truth of who we are, the truth that we are vessels of God’s own Spirit, dwelling places of God, embodied Love.

Being this truth is only the first step. Then there’s the doing – as Jesus did - being present to others as they are tossed about by their inner and outer storms and giving voice to the spirit of God in us to speak peace to them.

When I studied in England as part of my doctoral work, I visited Coventry Cathedral where I watched a video of King George VI speaking to the people of England from the bombed-out rubble of that beautiful church destroyed by the Nazis. He called for a response of peace and forgiveness. It was transforming.

A month later, in his Christmas message, King George quoted a portion of the poem, “The Gate of the Year” by Minnie Louise Haskins. Here’s what he shared: 
 “And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ 

And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And [God] led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.”  Source
Whatever our storms, whether in the world around us or within us, let us faithfully put our hands in the hand of God and receive the peace and salvation only God can give. Amen.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

4 Pentecost, 2024-B: Our high calling

Note: You can watch this being delivered live at Emmanuel Episcopal Church during our Sunday, 10 am service of Holy Eucharist, live-streamed on our YouTube channel. The sermon is at 29:21.

Proper 6, Track II: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:1-4,11-14; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10,14-17; Mark 4:26-34 

En el nombre de Dios, creator, redentor, y santificador. Amen. 

“Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness and minister your justice with compassion.” This is the high calling of the faithful followers of Jesus, isn’t it? To be faithful and loving, to act boldly and compassionately in the face of injustice.

This has always been a hard task for God’s people to accomplish. Our own understanding is so small and it takes time for us to move beyond them as God continues to expand the boundaries of love around us. We often resist, delay, and even rebel against this expansion of our understanding and our practices. Often, when by the grace of God we see injustice, we hesitate and consider the effect tending to the needs of the one who is suffering the injustice will have on us.

It’s always been this way, and as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, once famously said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It does eventually, and not because of anything we do, but because it is the plan of God who is always faithful.

That’s what the parables in today’s gospel are all about: God’s faithfulness to the process of expanding the boundaries of Love. Jesus describes this process in terms of seeds and trees, a metaphor people then and now can understand.

These parables reflect back to the reading from Ezekiel in which God takes a tender branch from the giant cedar tree and plants it on a high mountain, Bible-speak for the place where God is encountered. God’s plan for that seedling is that it will become a marvelous cedar with boughs so large and so strong that it will be able to house and comfort winged creatures of every kind, Bible-speak for all the peoples and nations of the world.

That’s the process: God creates the environment where all peoples and nations live in harmony. This is the household of God.

Our part in this process is, as our Collect reminded us, to proclaim God’s truth with boldness, and minister God’s justice with compassion. Our forebears in the faith have never agreed completely on what that means and how we do it, but each generation tries to be faithful to that call. We all succeed and fail to some degree, but the process continues because that is the nature and promise of God.

Today’s gospel offers a shift in Jesus’ ministry and message. Previously, Jesus had spent his time preaching in the synagogues and temples. In this passage from Mark, Jesus takes his message out of the churches and into the communities where people of all descriptions can hear him: women, children, Gentiles, slaves. Everyone who is “other.”

The message Jesus is now proclaiming is about expanding their understanding of the boundaries of God’s love. Salvation isn’t just for the Jewish people but for all peoples, all nations.

The parable of the seed is the introduction to this expansive understanding. Jesus teaches that someone (meaning people, not God) plants a seed. It grows in the darkness under the soil, out of sight from the one who planted it, and they don’t know how it grows. Tending the seed does matter, but God’s love, God’s grace isn’t limited to that, as anyone who has seen a flower emerge from a sidewalk crack knows.

Steve and I have discovered a Rose of Sharon auspiciously planted by some unknown source in our garden. It’s in the perfect spot and grows taller every day. It excites us to see it because we didn’t plant it or tend it. It just happened. When the earth bears fruit it’s because God made it happen.

The second parable, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, is a familiar story about the way God chooses the least to accomplish so much. By the grace of God, the tiny mustard seed grows to become large and strong enough to be a comforting home to the birds, much like the cedar tree in Ezekiel. The references in this story are the same and Jesus’ listeners would have “heard” Jesus’ message that the household of God is for all people, all nations.

This is not what the people awaiting the Messiah were seeking. They were seeking liberation for the Jewish people from occupation by their enemies, but Jesus was teaching them about liberation for all.

Back to our backyard garden… Steve and I are thrilled everyday watching the birds eat from our many feeders and playfully bathe in our bird baths. With that thrill, however, comes constant vigilance for squirrels who are steadfast in their quest to steal the birds’ food. No matter what barriers we put up, eventually the squirrels overcome them. They’re persistent little critters. They’re probably also the source of the Rose of Sharon.

Whether we like it or not, squirrels are created of God, so they too have a place in the environment we occupy. Perhaps instead of only working on barriers against them, we might repent and tend to their needs, embracing them rather than other-ing them. 

Are the dots beginning to connect?

This was at the heart of Jesus' message. Some people ate up Jesus’ message of the expanding boundaries of Love evidenced by the huge crowds who were gathering to hear him. Others resisted his message. For them, inclusion in liberation can’t happen for the “others” – the Gentiles, foreigners, slaves, and women - until it happens first for us.

Sound familiar? It’s a theme that keeps repeating in the generations of our forebears and continues in our generation. This week we mark Racial Equity week in the midst of PRIDE month. These are just two of the “others” of our time who cry out for justice and compassion. We are called to respond by embracing them and tending to their needs.

We also must speak the truth. White supremacy is so baked into our culture that we’ve allowed ourselves to lose sight of its trajectory from the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 which freed only the enslaved persons in Confederate states, to the 13th amendment, ratified in 1865, which outlawed slavery in the US, to the backlash of black codes, Jim Crow laws, and redlining practices of the 19th and 20th centuries, to the School to Prison Pipeline today. This path represents the arc of injustice. We have much still to do toward racial equity.

Remembering that we are in the middle of PRIDE month, we acknowledge that we have much to do on this injustice as well. Come to our PRIDE picnic on June 30 at 5 pm to build relationships and share resources that will help us embrace and tend to the needs of our LGBTQIA2S+ siblings in Christ who are suffering or still healing. Go to the PRIDE page on our website (under the Welcome menu tab) where you will find resources to educate and heal us all.

We definitely have much to do, and it’s OK if we start small, as long as we get started. Dr. King once said: "Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step." And as Bishop Deon said at the End Gun Violence rally last Sunday, “The time has come. The time is now.”

If we take the first step God will show us the next step, and the next one…, and by the grace of God we will grow into the fullness of our strength, offering ourselves, our church, as a place of comfort and safety to all peoples, all nations.

This is the path given to us at Baptism: striving for the justice and dignity of every human being. It is the path that bends toward justice. 

So I ask our Equity and Justice pillar of Faith In Action to help us determine what our first step will be. I will support you in that endeavor. And I ask everyone at Emmanuel to commit to take that first step together. 

The time has come. The time is now. Amen.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Pentecost & Baptism, 2024-B: Expanding the boundaries of love

Note: You can watch this being delivered live at Emmanuel Episcopal Church during our Sunday, 10 am Rite II service of Holy Eucharist, live-streamed on our YouTube channel.  The sermon begins at 29:22.

Lectionary: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

En el nombre de Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen. In the name of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Amen. 

As I read our Collect for today, I was struck by this phrase: “…in the unity of the Holy Spirit…” This is something we hear so often as we gather together to worship. It ends just about every Collect we say, and it concludes all four of our Eucharistic Prayers.

Even though we pray this often, have we stopped lately to think about what it means? Well, today’s a good day to do that because this phrase is, for me, the essence of Pentecost.

In the story in Acts, God, who is Trinity in Unity, self-divides into tongues as of fire and rests on each person in the gathering. When that happens, each one is filled with God’s spirit. They are now, in their bodies, living in unity with the Holy Spirit. This was God’s choice.

You remember last week, I preached about the power of God being the power of choice, and the power given to us being the power to action. In the Pentecost story, God chose to overtly join God’s self to each person, and the minute that happened, they were empowered to action, immediately sharing the Good News of the love of God in the world.

As they spoke, everyone present could understand them, and this bewildered them. How can this be? It’s the same question Mary asked the angel Gabriel when he told her she would conceive a son by the power of God’s spirit. It’s good to remember Gabriel’s response to Mary as we read this story of the first Pentecost. In fact, it’s a mantra we can all live by: “For nothing shall be impossible with God.”

As our Psalmist says, “O Lord, how manifold are your works…” then he goes on to describe just some of the wonder and diversity of God’s creative love. May we, like the psalmist, sing God’s praise forever.

In our gospel story, Jesus promises to send an Advocate from the Father. I need to pause to mention that each time the word “Father’ is used here, it is plural, and it literally means “father and mother.” The appropriate pronoun, therefore, would be “they” not “he.”

The word Advocate, also faithfully translated as Comforter, Helper, and Counselor (as in a lawyer or an advice-giver) literally translates as one who is summoned… called to one's aid, a pleader who comes forward in favor of and as the representative of another. (Greek translation, Thayer)

Jesus says this Advocate will "testify on MY behalf." This is Jesus’ Advocate - summoned to help him, to testify in favor of his cause as his representative." And when the Advocate comes,” Jesus says, they will show the world to be wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment. 

Sin, because there are people not persuaded by me, they don’t trust me and so they are without me; the divine-human relationship is disrupted.

Righteousness, because I withdraw from this world (you will see me no longer) and return to the eternal unity of God. Righteousness literally translates here as, “the state of him who is such as he ought to be” (Greek translation, Thayer)

And judgment... God’s judgment, God’s choice is to separate and distinguish Jesus from the powers and powerful of the world who distract us from our right relationship with God, others, and self. These worldly powers throw us off our true path. Jesus says they have been JUDGED (not condemned, as it was translated here), that is, they have been distinguished from Jesus who is our true path: the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Jesus’ Advocate, who is the Spirit of truth, will make all of this known to us. Spirit, btw, comes from the word “pneuma” which is feminine, so the appropriate pronoun would be “she” not “he.” She will guide us into all truth. She will make known the things that are to come. She will glorify Jesus.

And through Her, so will we.

In the story from Acts, Peter says, “Let this be known to you, and listen to (which actually translates as “receive”) what I say. When we open ourselves to receive the power to action given to us by the Spirit of truth, we too will prophesy.

To prophesy is to speak as directed by the Spirit of God. So, prophesy that the Holy Spirit of God now dwells in us, uniting us to God and to one another – actually and intimately, like family. Prophesy that the need to divide our matter from God’s Spirit, to divide worthy people from unworthy people, is a lie – because we live in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Prophesy, then watch as God works through our faithfulness.

The other way to use our power to action is to live it. That first Pentecost was a powerful moment of heavenly inclusion, of building relationships where earthly divisions had been. All nations, all people were being made known to be one body, one family. When we live this truth as a church, the Good News will issue forth from our mouths and our lives like rushing water, satisfying those who hunger and thirst for a Love that includes them too.

As the church, the body of Christ in the world, we are called to communally discover and nurture the gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit and use them so that the truth that we are all the family of God is made known on earth.

Today we are blessed to welcome a new member into this family of God: Emilia Jane Reinhardt, Emmy as we call her. Emmy has unique gifts to be discovered and nurtured. Her parents and Godparents will pledge to help her grow in her Christian faith and life. We will pledge to do all in our power to support Emmy and her parents, praying that God will teach Emmy to love in the power of the Spirit and send her into the world in witness to that love.

By this Baptism, we will expand the boundaries of love. We will renew our own Baptismal vows, remembering that we too are marked as Christ’s own forever and are called, along with Emmy, to have inquiring and discerning hearts and live lives of grace.

How wonderful is it to know that we are never alone on this pilgrimage of life? We have family everywhere we are: God, one another, and self - in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

I now invite Emmy, and her parents, Godparents, family, and friends, to come to the font for the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. I also invite all of the children present today to come forward and help me bless the Baptismal water.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Ascension 24-B Divine love for a divine purpose

Note: this sermon can be viewed on the Emmanuel Episcopal Church YouTube channel. See the service of Holy Eucharist, Rite II for May 12. The sermon begins at 23:30.

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

Today we contemplate how we interact with and are affected by the stories in our Scripture. How we do that is as varied as we are. Are you someone who approaches Scripture as a literal, historical account? Or do you approach it as a metaphorical or spiritual story? Or do you have another way?

Whatever your approach is, it is faithful when you let God guide you from where you are to where God wants you to be. No matter where we start, we grow and mature and our understanding expands, deepens, and widens as the revelation of God’s love in Christ lives and moves in us.

How do we interact with and how are we affected by our lectionary today? Let’s review them quickly in order.

The Acts of the Apostles is traditionally thought to be an extension of the Gospel of Luke written by the same person. Then we have the joyful song of praise found in Psalm 47. Next is the letter to the Ephesians, which while often ascribed to Paul, is believed by most scholars not to have been written by Paul but by someone who ascribed it to Paul probably to borrow on Paul’s authority to deal with problems in the church in Ephesus. Regardless of who wrote it, this portion of that letter is, imho, a bit of genius for which I am truly grateful. Then we have the gospel account according to Luke.

These Scriptures move together in a beautiful dance that upholds two main themes: power and enlightenment. The story of the Ascension of Jesus is the story of God’s power and our enlightenment. Let’s look at how.

The author of Acts recounts how Jesus made many post-resurrection appearances and instructed his followers to remain in Jerusalem where they would be baptized by the Holy Spirit. The followers reasonably ask. ‘Is this when you’ll restore the kingdom of Israel?”

Jesus’ reply is: that isn’t your concern. Those times and periods are set by God who alone has the authority (this word literally means ‘the power of choice’). What is your concern is this: the Holy Spirit will come upon you and you too will receive power.

In Acts, the power they receive is power to action, and the action is to be Jesus’ witnesses beginning in Jerusalem, spreading throughout Judea, and ultimately to the whole world.

Then Jesus is lifted up and out of their sight in a cloud. Clouds symbolize the presence and care of God for the people. They also symbolize that which is beyond human control. As an example, at the Transfiguration, a cloud overshadowed Peter, James, and John who were being overwhelmed as they watched a supernaturally dazzling Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah.  As the cloud descended upon them, they were gently led to sleep. When they awoke, Jesus was alone with them and the reality they could manage was restored – and very much expanded.

The account of the ascension in the gospel of Luke differs a bit from the account in Acts. In the gospel story, Jesus affirms for them that he is the Messiah who was prophesied in their Scriptures. Then he opened their minds to understand this.

In the gospel version of the ascension story, the power they receive is enlightenment. Our version of the Bible says Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures. The word used here means “to bring together, as foes in battle; to collect together… into a whole; to apprehend.” (Greek Bible, Thayer translation)

So, in Acts, Jesus’ followers get the power to action, and in the gospel of Luke, they get the power of holistic enlightenment.

In all cases, God chooses what is to happen. This is what we call God’s plan, and it is dynamic, loving, and continually responsive to us. We who have been clothed in the Spirit of God, then act to make God’s choice happen on earth. As Jesus prayed, “on earth as it is in heaven.”

The author of Ephesians, whether Paul or someone else, was not an eyewitness to this event, yet he affirms that for all of us the eyes of our hearts are enlightened by our faith in Jesus, who is the Christ. Then he offers the genius of his own enlightenment about Jesus: “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

How’s that for a beautiful portrayal of the Christ?

In the Gospel story from Luke, as Jesus was ascending, he blessed his followers, and they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy…” It might help to know that the Greek word “chara,” translated as ‘joy,’ also means great gift and extraordinary power.

So, the great and extraordinary gift given to us is the power to put love into action in response to God’s plan for the world.

This time, they got it! With the eyes of their hearts enlightened, they worshipped Jesus finally recognizing that he is God, and it makes them joyful and they can’t help but continually praise God in the temple.

Do we feel this joyful? Do we feel this powerful?

When Jesus ascended into heaven, he handed over the continuing work of reconciliation to us – the church, the body of Christ in the world. Knowing full well the cost of love, Jesus gave us the power of his love; a love which demands we pray for those who persecute us, forgive those who harm us, and love those who hate us…a love that never gives up on the other, but stands with them, bearing the light of Christ into any darkness.

Upon our baptism, the greatness of God’s love is meant to be what people see when they see us. God is not only dwelling within us but all over us, visible for all to see, including us… and I think that may be what scares us.

As author Marianne Williamson famously said: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”

We, who are believers now are witnesses of this powerful love in the world today. We are called not just to receive the gift of this love, but to use it.

So I ask you, people of Emmanuel, in what ways is this powerful love being manifest in and through us today? Are we models of forgiveness in a sin-filled world? Are we icons of hope to the hopeless? Light to those trapped in darkness? Comfort to the suffering? Are we welcomers of the exiled, the reviled, the hated?

It’s so easy for the church to get distracted from our mission, but our mission is simple: Be the extraordinary, powerful, transforming love of God in the world. Make known this amazing love to those who don’t know it, or have forgotten it, or had it stolen from them. Be love in the face of hate and ridicule. Detach from anger, from being right, and from the rewards of this world, and seek only the love that forgives all, welcomes all, and judges none.

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

We have heard throughout this season of Easter that Christ abides in us, and we in him - individually and as a community of faith. Jesus also told us that, as amazing as his ministry was, we would do greater things in ours.

On this Feast of the Ascension, we are being challenged to own the extraordinary, powerful, love already in us and use it to heal the world around us. Each person here has within them the extraordinary power of God’s love and the community being gathered within these walls has been chosen by God in this time and place to do the work God has for us to do.

This is our invitation to action. So, let’s be the extraordinary, powerful, transforming love of God in Christ, and let’s enjoy the heck out of the time we’ve been given to be together as witnesses to the world of that Love. Amen.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Easter Sunday, 24-B: The joy of seeing

Lectionary: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; John 20:1-18 

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

Alleluia, Christ is risen! (The Lord is risen, indeed!)

Isn’t it wonderful to have our Alleluias back? I loved it last Sunday when one leaked out of us a little early at our Eucharist.

It’s OK – in fact, it’s wonderful that an Alleluia is always right at the rim of our cup ready to spill out! 

We know that the Easter story begins in sorrow. Our walk through Holy Week has reminded us of this in body and spirit.

John’s gospel also begins the Easter story there – in sorrow. Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb, but the gospel writer doesn’t say why. She sees that the huge rock covering the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away and runs to fetch Peter and John ( presumably the writer of this gospel). By the excitement in her words, we hear Mary’s fear that someone may have stolen his body. They’ve lost him again.

John is the only gospel writer to ensure the presence of two men at the empty tomb in the Easter story. Men would be qualified as legal witnesses of the empty tomb. Mary’s proclamation would be easily dismissed as she was just a woman and therefore had no standing as a witness. John further affirms the cultural hierarchy by having Peter, who outranks John, go in to the tomb first.

John says the two men saw the wrappings that had been on Jesus’ body were now sitting on the floor. The wrapping that had been on his head was rolled up into a bundle in a place by itself. Why these details? Perhaps they were meant to prove that Jesus’ body had not been stolen. As one of our Bible-studiers said, “Who takes the time to unwrap a dead body you plan to steal?” Good point.

Seeing the empty tomb, John believed. He wasn’t just seeing with his eyes. He was perceiving in his heart and soul though he admits they didn’t understand it yet. There’s often a delay between knowledge in the spirit and understanding in the mind. So… the two men went home. We all have to process grief in our own way.

“How do we make sense of this?” one of our Bible studiers asked. As a priest, I celebrate whenever we get to this state of mind, because that’s then we can “see” God. 

When we surrender to the realization that we can’t make sense of the Triune God, of Jesus, and his resurrection from the dead, we have entered a rare and amazing experience of the divine mystery. Our minds will never be able to understand it, but we all can enter that experience and know God in a deep, intimate, unity of our spirits.

Unlike the two men, Mary went back to the empty tomb and wept, allowing herself to grieve, to experience the sadness and devastating emptiness Jesus’ death had left in her. She did this at great risk to herself. Being found a follower of Jesus could have led to her own death.

Imagine the courage it took for Mary to take so many risks. Going to the tomb in the first place, then traveling back to fetch the men - who were hiding away in fear. Then leading them to the empty tomb. Then, staying there alone after they left, openly weeping for Jesus.

But from the darkness of that devastating emptiness heaven kindled a great light. Through two spirit-messengers heaven asks Mary why she is weeping. She answers them unaware they are angels from heaven, but fully aware that her answer could get her executed. We can almost hear the echoes of Jesus’ teaching: for those who lose their lives for my sake will save it. (Mt 16:25)

Sure enough, Jesus himself appears to Mary, though she doesn’t recognize him until he says her name… echoes of Jesus' teaching: I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. (Jn 10)

Upon hearing Jesus say her name, Mary knew… It wasn’t just what she was seeing with her eyes, but what she knew deep in her heart and soul. It was the unity of her spirit to Jesus. Mary Magdalene knew Jesus, loved him, and ran up to embrace him – a huge no-no in that culture.

Don’t hold on to me Jesus says, which sounds strange at first. Stranger still is that the Greek translates this as: do not connect one thing to another, do not kindle this fire because I have not yet ascended…

It’s less strange when we consider the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The Scripture tells us that their relationship began when Jesus healed Mary from seven demons. Remembering that numbers in Scripture are symbolic, the number seven represents natural and divine completeness, perfection. Jesus made Mary spiritually perfect.

That was the start of their relationship. Now it comes full circle.

When Mary recognizes the resurrected Jesus, she “sees” him, with that deep, intimate seeing in unity of spirit, and she begins to connect the dots, and Jesus tells her to wait. Don’t connect those dots just yet. First, go tell your siblings in Christ, as our bishop so accurately says, that I am ascending to my Father (which, btw, is plural here and literally means father and mother). There is more to come. Be patient, trust me, and do as I say.

The gospel story for today ends there, but we know that what is to come is beyond anyone’s imagining. Jesus has transformed death into resurrected life in him through his unbound, selfless love for us. Jesus’ love for us broke the final barrier of fear for us: death, and he broke it wide open. Standing in this new doorway of his making, the doorway to resurrection life in him, Jesus invites us to come to him. Then he sends us into the world to love one another as he loves us.

Love. It all comes down to that. God’s irrational, unfathomable love for us. Jesus’ patient, healing, and sacrificial love for us. The Spirit’s steadfast and ever-present love for us. It all comes down to love: the eternal love of God who dwells in us and we in Them.

Wherever we are on our own spiritual journeys into “seeing” Jesus as perfectly as Mary did, now is our time to love as Jesus loved us: with patient, healing, sacrificial love. Love that often seems irrational to the world’s eyes, especially when it butts up against self-serving power or revenge. Love that is steadfast even when attacked or rejected.

In her poem, “Messenger”, Mary Oliver says, “My work is loving the world… Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work… which is mostly rejoicing… telling them over and over, how it is that we live forever.” 

 Joyful Easter, everyone! May we remember the lavish love of God we have and have to give, and may we give it to others as lavishly as God has given it to us. Alleluia!

Saturday, March 30, 2024

The Great Vigil of Easter, 24-B: A revolution of love

Lectionary: Genesis 1:1-3, 4a [The story of creation]; Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 [Israel's deliverance at the Red Sea]; Isaiah 55:1-11 [Salvation offered freely to all]; Zephaniah 3:14-20 [The gathering of God's people]; Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 28:1-10

En el nombre de Dios, creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

I love the Great Vigil because I love the long, intentional walk through the story of our liberation and redemption. From Genesis to Matthew, we hear the unifying message of God’s liberating and redeeming love for us.

In Genesis 1, God spoke creation into being, bringing order and peace to the chaos waters and divine purpose to all that is created. Speaking uses breath, so it is literally by the breath of God that we are created and blessed and proclaimed not just good, but very good.

In Exodus 14, we have gotten ourselves lost and tossed back into chaos by evil – which is anything that divides us, overburdens or exploits the vulnerable, deceives or harms someone, and creates sadness, hopelessness, and despair. In this story, some among the created have formulated a lie that benefits them alone, infusing them with a false sense of privilege and enabling them to hoard gifts meant for them all. This evil purports that some are not worthy, a lie that completely ignores God’s pronouncement in Genesis that we are, indeed, very good.

The shock of this betrayal creates a rupture in our relationships with one another. It weighs us down and weakens us, starving us of the resources and dignity given to us by God. We cry out and God hears us, lifting us into Their presence where we find comfort and the strength to keep going.

In Isaiah 55, God acknowledges through the prophet that evil has a foothold among us on earth. It’s just too tempting to put ourselves first, and God and neighbor last. The lie that some have power and privilege over others persists, so God clarifies, reminding us that everything that exists is God’s to give, including mercy and reconciliation, and God gives freely to all, including those who have gotten lost in the lies.

The truth is that God is a mystery beyond our knowing, and every creative word carried on the breath of God will accomplish God’s purpose for it because God is always faithful to Their promises. Our only response can be to give thanks and trust.

Zephaniah affirms that God always keeps Their promises, so we can rejoice knowing that God can and will deal with the liars who dishonor and diminish us, and God is always redeeming, restoring us to abundance in Their love.

Our response to God’s covenant with us, is our covenant with God: Our Baptismal Covenant, in which we affirm our commitment to live with one another according to God’s plan of love. We promise to resist the evil that lies to us and hoards God’s gifts. We promise to proclaim by everything we say and do that God loves all God has created. And we promise to serve God by making every effort we can to bring about justice and peace while upholding and honoring the dignity of every human being.

When we fail to resist evil (which we will), or when we join with it for our own benefit, we promise to repent, to turn around and go in a new direction, to return to God, who will forgive us, dust us off, and send us back out to keep on serving.

God has made clear that everyone is within reach of Their saving grace. We have no right to act as if anyone or any group is outside of that reach. Equality is the way of God.

The systems of the world would disagree. They thrive on inequality. They use it to justify their hoarding – I deserve this, I earned it. You don’t deserve it, so even if you did earn it, you can’t have it. The destruction of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, OK in 1921 comes to mind along with the continued presence of racially restrictive covenants in the deeds of many homes here in St. Louis. This is an injustice we here at Emmanuel have been working to correct for the last two years.

In short, our Baptismal Covenant calls us to a revolution of love, that is, a transformation, a reformation of the inequalities of the world and restoration of the equality bestowed upon us by God. The beautiful thing about this revolution, the revolution of love inaugurated by Jesus’s resurrection, is that it is carried on the breath of God.

The revolution of love is not like revolutions of the world which sound like bombs and lies and threats. Neither is it guilt or morality-driven coercion like so many of the so-called Christian churches practice today. This revolution, the revolution of love, is one of a quiet, steady turning of the way of the world toward the way of God.

I was talking to a priest-friend last week about Tracy Chapman, the talented musician who made a big splash at the Oscars singing her 1988 hit song, “Fast Car”, with country music singer Luke Combs. Watching them, for me, was a dazzling moment of equality-making, a whispered revolution. There was a queer black woman singing her mega-hit with a straight white man on a stage viewed by millions. 

This priest-friend told me that Tracy Chapman’s song, “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution”, which she wrote at age 16, was inspired by her experience at her Episcopal High School. So, I looked that up. You can find just about anything on YouTube. (It's linked HERE and is found at 4.06)

So here’s the story: raised in Cleveland, OH, Tracy was awarded a scholarship to an Episcopal boarding school in Danbury, CT as part of a program called, “A Better Chance.” She said the people at the school “didn’t have a sense of where the scholarship students like [her] came from”; neither did they “have much interest.” She said they thought “that people who didn’t have money or were working class, their lives weren’t significant and they somehow couldn’t make a change.” This made her mad, she said, and inspired the song.

If you’ve never heard “Talkin’ About a Revolution” it starts with these words: “Don’t you know they’re talking about a revolution? It sounds like a whisper…”

Listening to this song 35 years after I first heard it gave me the chills. I understand this whisper so differently now. However she meant it, I heard it as the breath of God speaking creatively still, setting us on the path of justice, dignity and equality for all.

This path doesn’t destroy those who chose the lie or who fell into it by habit of the generations before them. It transforms them through repentance, by turning around and returning to God.  It’s a revolution, a turning.

This is described so beautifully in our gospel from Matthew, where Mary Magdalene and the other Mary , who represent lives the world would find insignificant, go to Jesus’ tomb. The earth shakes as the spirit-messenger from heaven comes among them. The guards, who represent protectors of the earthly status quo, shake too, and become like dead men.

This brought to my mind a rescue dog we once had, Deni, who decided at 6 months old that she was going to live outside. Try as we might, we couldn’t get her to come inside, even on the coldest, snowiest nights in Michigan. Deni was a sweet dog. She loved us and all of our indoor cats and dogs, one of whom, Ollie, was a real brat. Ollie didn’t mind being aggressive to get his way. Deni tolerated Ollie - until she didn’t. Then she’d simply smack him down with her paw. She never bit him or hurt him. She just stopped him, and he didn’t move – like he was dead.

That’s how I see these guards. God smacked them down and they didn’t move - like they were dead.

Then the angel tells the women not to be afraid, affirms that Jesus is not in the tomb because he is risen, and sends them to go tell the rest of Jesus’ disciples. He will go ahead of you, the angel says, and you will see him there. And they do! But this isn’t just seeing Jesus with their eyes. It’s perceiving him in their hearts and souls. It’s knowing him intimately, deeply, in unity of spirit.

Then Jesus sends them on again to tell the men who were hiding in fear that they too will “see” him. And we know they do! We know this because we have their testimony in the Scripture stories we will read in the coming weeks.

As Bishop Deon said in his Easter Message: the disciples came to the tomb “expecting death, but they found that resurrection was the word that got whispered into our world.” A revolution of love that sounds like a whisper.

We will see Jesus too. We will perceive him in our hearts and souls. We will know him intimately, deeply, in unity of Spirit because that is the gift he gave us at Easter.

On this most holy day, we celebrate that Jesus has transformed death into new life – resurrection life in him. As Jesus sent Mary and Mary then, Jesus sends us now to tell everyone that they too can “see” Jesus because they matter. We all matter. 

Friday, March 29, 2024

Good Friday, 2024-B: Wait and trust

Lectionary: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42

I admit it - these are hard Scriptures to read. A few years ago, when the pandemic suddenly shut our churches down, we had to scramble to get our Holy Week services pre-recorded so our congregations could experience the Holy Week journey to Easter.

I had just begun serving as the Interim Rector at Calvary Church in Columbia, and we hadn’t figured out the technology yet, so we kept having to start over. Dcn Janet ended up reading the Good Friday passion gospel three times before the recording was successful. Each time she read it, I could see her drooping a little bit more. As we started that third attempt, Dcn Janet said to me, “I hope we get it this time. I’m not sure I can read it again.”

These are hard Scriptures to read.

Pilate said to the gathered crowd: Here is the man! Look, here is your king! Behold him, beaten and bent… bloody where the nails have pierced his flesh.

Behold him breathing his last, his head dropping to his chest, as his body goes lifeless. Look, here is your king.

We try to look - to picture in our minds the events of that first Good Friday, but it's a surreal experience. It's like that movie trick where the world is buzzing around in fast motion in the background while the main character in the foreground is moving slowly.

As we journey together through Holy Week we are standing in the vortex of two realities of time: chronos time, measured by clocks and calendars, and chairos time, sometimes called “deep time.” This is time outside of time, the time appointed by God for God’s purpose. As the world happens all around us, our Holy Week includes this “deep time” not only for us, but also for all who came before us, and all who will come after us.

We walk together slowly and liturgically through the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday aware of our tendency to want to run quickly through the hard parts and head straight for the relief and joy that Easter brings.

But instead, we choose to allow ourselves to be shocked and saddened by the unjust and horrible execution of the Innocent Lamb of God. We join ourselves to the throng whom Isaiah said “were astonished at him so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance” and we let that break our hearts again.

At our Christian Formation last Sunday led by Mandi, I was reminded of an experience I had while doing some mission work in Romania. I visited a monastery in Suceaviţa, where I saw an ancient tapestry of Jesus' crucifixion. Above his body were four angels who were crying and covering their faces which were contorted in grief and absolute horror. (Photo: close-up portion of the Passion Crucifixion by Giotto, Scrovengi Chapel, Padua)

While part of me must have known this before, that day was the first time I let myself really know and experience the reality that heaven was also shocked and horrified by our execution of the Messiah.

These are hard Scriptures to read.

God knows how hard it is for us to wait in the discomfort of our shock and sadness and frustration over injustice. It's normal to want to escape from it, to turn it all off and stop listening. But we also know where this story is ultimately going, so we know that we must learn to wait through this difficult moment and trust the promises of our faith.

Some of you have heard me tell this story before, so please indulge me the repeat. (It probably won’t be the last time I tell it either!) One of the best pieces of advice I ever got on this was from the rector of my home-church in Valdosta, GA. I was experiencing a spiritual crisis like I'd never known before. It was the darkest of nights for me spiritually. I was ready to run away from God, from the Church, from everything.

My rector, Fr. Stan White (may he rest in peace), said to me, "I hear you, Valori. God hears you. Be willing to wait in the discomfort. Trust. Remember, God has already acted to redeem."

On this Good Friday, I commend Fr. Stan's advice to you: be willing to wait in the discomfort. Trust, for God has already acted to redeem, all things, always.

This is what Jesus demonstrates for us from the cross. As he was dying, Jesus quoted from Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, and are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress?”

As a rabbi, Jesus was employing a common rabbinical technique, saying the first verse of the Psalm he wanted his followers to remember in its fullness. Even as his body was dying, Jesus was connecting his followers to the promises of their faith: the liberating love of God who knows their suffering and is already acting to redeem.

I offer to you tonight this meditation I wrote some years ago on Psalm 22, reflecting on my own experience oƒ misery: 

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

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

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

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

They’re like snarling beasts coming to tear me apart. They’re drooling for my destruction.

I’m twisted; melting into a puddle of nothingness. I’ve cried so much by now that I’m all dried up. I’m dying and I feel like you’ve left me alone at my dusty grave.

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

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

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

I can’t help but praise you even now, God, because I know you. So, I praise you in the presence of your people gathered for worship.

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

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

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

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

That is my purpose. That is my promise.

On this Good Friday we, as a congregation and as individual members of it, step willingly and fully into this chairos moment trusting that God is present with us through whatever forms of death we may be facing right now and is already leading us into new life, transformed life, eternal life in Christ our Savior.

That is God’s promise. Amen.