Sunday, July 5, 2020

5th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 9A

5th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 9A July 5, 2020 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Let us receive these comforting words of Jesus as the invitation that they are. I invite you to reflect on the question “What heavy burden do you need Jesus’s help carrying?” and open your hearts to the rest that he promises. Come to me, all you that are uncertain and afraid, unsure of what the future holds. Come to me, and I will give you rest. Come to me, all you that are bearing the heavy burden of chronic pain or illness. Come to me, and I will give you rest. Come to me, all you that mourn, daily mindful of who is absent and of the future that will not happen. Come to me, and I will give you rest. Come to me, all you that are lonely, longing for touch from family and friends. Come to me, and I will give you rest. Come to me, all you that are tossed about by the chaos of the 24 hour news cycle, of the pontificating on social media; come to me all you who are skeptical, doubtful, distrustful; all you who are passionate, righteous, and seeking justice. Come to me, and I will give you rest. Come to me, all you that are broken-hearted. Come to me, and I will give you rest. Come to me, all you that are longing for just a few minutes of quiet, of stillness, of peace in the chaos of your lives, your homes, your families. Come to me, and I will give you rest. Come to me, all you that are struggling to stay connected through technology; all you who have adapted, developed, created, and learned. Come to me, and I will give you rest. Come to me, all you that have lost your humor, your joy, your zest for life. Come to me, and I will give you rest. Come to me, all you that feel like your hearts have become hardened, weighed down, no longer open. Come to me, and I will give you rest. Come to me, all you whose burden has not been named. Come to me, and I will give you rest. Come to me, all you that are just so weary. Come to me, and I will give you rest. I invite you to close your eyes, rest in the invitation of our Lord, as we sing Come, be with me by Keith Duke. i. As we move toward Eucharist, I invite you to hear in your hearts the invitation of our Lord: Come to me and feast at my table, where you will find all your hunger sated and all your thirst quenched. Come and taste my joy. Come to me, and I will give you rest. i.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

4th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 8A

4th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 8A June 28, 2020 How on earth do we know who to listen to? We find ourselves in the midst of a world of competing claims which we as a society are now confronted with — everything from how to be safe in the midst of a global pandemic to the issues of race and how police function in our society. How on earth do we know who to listen to? This is not a new question for the people of God, and this Sunday’s Old Testament reading has been a helpful one for me to ponder and reflect upon during this unsettled season. We find ourselves reading a later portion in the book of Jeremiah. You will recall last week that we read Jeremiah’s lament about how God continues to call him to preach an unpopular message to the people of Jerusalem, calling them to repent or to face the coming destruction of Jerusalem at the hand of the Babylonians. Jeremiah feels that God’s call to preach this has made him a laughingstock, and he protests this treatment from God even as he proclaims God’s faithfulness and how God will vindicate him. This week, we have a tale of two prophets who are proclaiming conflicting messages to the people of Jerusalem. Since our reading from last week, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has conquered Jerusalem, deposed and deport the rightful king and replaced him with a puppet king for Babylon. God has told Jeremiah to start wearing a yoke around town as a symbol of the yoke that Babylon has put on the people of Jerusalem, so we have dour, old Jeremiah, wearing his yoke, and preaching about how Jerusalem needs to repent and prepare to bear the punishment of God as represented in the yoke of the Babylonian oppression. But then a group of their neighbors comes to Jerusalem with a plot to overthrow the Babylonians, and our reading from today picks up. The prophet Hananiah speaks to Jeremiah in the temple in the presence of the priests and the people, and he tells Jeremiah, “‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, says the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’” This sounds like good news for the people who have been oppressed and longing to throw off the yoke of their oppressor. God’s going to take care of it. But then, as our reading for today picks up, Jeremiah replies, ““Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.” We’ll know that you are a true prophet, Jeremiah tells Hananiah, when the words of your prophecy come true. “The proof of a prophet is in the pudding.” I bet you can’t guess what happens next! At that point in the story, the prophet Hananiah seizes the yoke around Jeremiah’s neck (in front of all the priests and people), and he breaks it. And not long after that, God sends Jeremiah with a prophecy to Hananiah, that Hananiah has broken the wooden yoke, but he will find it replaced with a yoke of iron. Jeremiah tells Hananiah that Hananiah is not a true prophet of Yahweh, and that Hananiah has made the people believe a lie. And then, the book of Jeremiah tells us, Hananiah dies. Eventually King Zedekiah joins with his neighbors to try to overthrow the Babylonians which ends with a siege and destruction of Jerusalem, including the temple, all of Zedekiah’s sons being slain by Nebuchadnezzar and Zedekiah being blinded and led away in chains to Babylon. We see in these two prophets two competing calls. The siren song of the call of Hananiah is a call to comfort, that God will take care of them and will remove the yoke of their oppressors. The call of Jeremiah is one that is much more difficult to follow. It is the call to peace and justice; it is the call of atonement; the call of living in a difficult place as a result of the faithlessness of the people. Jeremiah’s call is the call to the people of God to adapt to a changing world. How on earth do we know who to listen to right now? If this story is any indication, then we, the people of God, need to remember that the one we need to listen to is probably the one we don’t want to hear. One of the writers of the commentary that I read weekly shared this: “Several years ago, in a national urban ministry conference, one of the keynote speakers made this unforgettable statement, which seemed almost like a sidebar: ‘There are two great pathologies in our culture today. One of them is denial. The only antidote for denial is radical truth-telling. The other great pathology is despair. The only antidote for despair is radical hope, grounded in community.”i We need to be people of radical hope, grounded in radical truth-telling and rooted in community. We need each other more than ever to help us discern who we listen to and how we move forward. But the good news is that we have gifts and our gifts are adaptable. So this week, I invite you to ponder on a few things. 1. What truth might be found in the voice that you don’t want to listen to right now? 2. What are the gifts of this community? And how is God calling us to adapt to a changing world? 3. How might you, as an individual, be inspired to help us adapt the gifts of St. Thomas for use in the world in which we find ourselves? And as a part of your invitation this week, I invite you to consider joining Rev. Aimee and me in watching two videos that we have carefully selected and then joining us in a conversation on Zoom on Wednesday night at 6 about the videos, about race, and about what we are learning about ourselves while listening for truth in voices we are not always so comfortable listening to. We’ve both wrestled with this together and individually. We think it is an important conversation to have as a community of faith, even as we recognize the trust and the vulnerability that this conversation may require of us as leaders and of you as participants. All are invited to join us, and none are required. But know that the conversations will be conducted with respect, candor, no judgement and great care for every one. i. Bailey, Douglass M. Homiletical Perspective Proper 8. Feasting on the Word. Year A Vol. 3. Ed. Bartlett and Brown Taylor. Westminster John Knox: 2011, p 175.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

3rd Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 7A

3rd Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 7A June 21, 2020 When I do premarital counseling with couples who are preparing to be married, I spend a whole session with them on expectations. Unvoiced or unmet expectations are often sources for conflict in marriages as well as in other relationships, including churches. Folks in 12 steps programs often say that an unspoken expectation is a resentment in waiting, and resentments are deadly for people in recovery. Our two scripture readings today are actually both, in some ways, about expectations. Our Old Testament reading from Jeremiah is a study in what unmet expectations can do to a relationship as Jeremiah rails against God. And Jesus, in his 2nd of 5 major teachings in Matthew’s gospel is trying to debunk some of his disciples unrealistic expectations of what life will be like as his disciple before he sends them out to do mission work on his behalf. While the two readings are complementary, it is Jeremiah that has caught my attention this week. Jeremiah, who lives in a chaotic time and who has been preaching about the coming destruction to Jerusalem, is finding his audience to be more hostile than he would like. And so he rails against God, accusing God that God has enticed him and overpowered him, saying that God has compelled him to proclaim the coming ruin and destruction of Jerusalem, and as a result, Jeremiah has become a laughingstock. Jeremiah’s rage and his grief are palpable even across the centuries, and I find this passage is often difficult for me to read because it is just so raw, so real. But it can be helpful for us, too, as an invitation to sit with our own unmet expectations in our relationship with God. In fact, this portion of Jeremiah falls into a genre of biblical literature that is known as the lament. There is a large portion of Psalms that fall into this category of lament and, of course, the book Lamentations. The classical biblical lament follows a standard pattern that we see unfolding here in this passage from Jeremiah (specifically in verses 7-13): “(i.) a brief opening address, directed to God (v. 7 ‘O Lord’) followed by (ii.) the complaint (vv 7-10), in which the lamenter’s affliction and isolation are vividly described and the enemies are portrayed and quoted; followed by the most characteristic feature, usually introduced by an adversative (‘but’ or ‘nevertheless’), in which the lamenter gives (iii.) a strong confession of trust in God (v 11) and directly petitions God (v12, ‘let me see your retribution upon them’). Finally, laments usually conclude with an element of praise, present or in prospect, directed to the larger community, to whom testimony of God’s deliverance is directed.”i (We can see a similar structure at work in the Psalm appointed for today, as well.) So, what’s that got to do with us? This past week, I listened to a podcast titled Pivot that comes out of Luther Seminary, and the episode for this week was on lament. The hosts talk about how lament helps us give voice to our anger, our grief, our frustration, our powerlessness, our feeling that we are all alone, surrounded by enemies; and it is an important way of being with God, basically naming before God our unmet expectations so that they do not come between us and God. One of the hosts tells a story about how leaning into lament has change and reshaped his relationship with God. He tells the story of an Old Testament professor he had named John Goldengay, who describes lament as “shaking your fist at God and saying, ‘You promised things wouldn’t be this way.’” And he tells a story of when Goldengay’s wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and overtime she became unable to speak and was confined to a wheelchair. John would take his wife everywhere with him, to meetings, to class, and then every night, he would pray lament on her behalf because she could no longer do it herself. He would cry out to God and say, “Things are not supposed to be this way. This is not what you promised.” Eventually, John’s wife died, and years later, he remarried. The daughter of his new wife was working in the refugee camps in Darfur with people who were in immense suffering, and every evening, John and his wife would pray lament on behalf of the people of Darfur. These two powerful examples in the life of this one man show that lament is both deeply personal as well as communal; lament can be prayed on our own behalf, on the behalf of others, or on behalf of our entire society. I don’t know about y’all, but I need lament right now because it gives me a place to be candid with God, and it gives me a place to put all of the longings and losses and disappointments and grief of this season of our common life. Candor, with God and with each other, is a statement of trust and vulnerability, and in that spirit, lament can be an act of courage. It is an invitation to us to give voice to our expectations of who God is in order to release those expectations; because as Jesus teaches, God will consistently defy all expectations and refuses to be limited by them. So, your invitation this week is to write or pray a lament, either for yourself, for society, or for someone else. And as you practice lament, be mindful that lamenting connects us across time and across the world to all others who have cried out to God in lament. Even in our individuality, lament is always communal. In order to do this, I have a form you can use, and I want to challenge you to be as candid in this as possible because, as Jeremiah shows us, God can handle our honesty. This lament form is comprised of 4 statements: 1. God, I don’t understand _____. 2. God, please, fix _________. 3. God, I trust you with my future even if__________. 4. God, I will praise you even when___________. Lament can change the way that we talk to God, and in this season of chaos and isolation, it may be exactly what we all need. i. Butler, James T. Exegetical Perspective (for Proper 7A) from Feasting on the Word Year A Vol 3. Ed. Bartlett and Taylor. Westminster John Knox: 2011, p 149.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

1st Sunday after Pentecost-Trinity Sunday

The First Sunday after Pentecost-Trinity Sunday June 7, 2020 When I was growing up in Mississippi, there was a question that people I knew would often ask. I wonder if it’s a question that most Southerners ask each other? They would say to me or to others, “How’s ya’ mamma and them?” Sometimes, it was said as a greeting; others, it was asked as a legitimate question. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I began to think about this question and what it really means. “How’s ya’ mamma and them” is a question about connection. It connects the one asking with the one being asked through a person or other people being asked about, creating a sort of trinity of connection. The question draws connection and meaning through kinship, lifting up the relationships that are most dear and showing a desire for connection even there. Today is the 1st Sunday after Pentecost, the day every year in our church calendar when we celebrate Trinity Sunday, the mystery of a God who is unified in three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are together, One. On this Sunday, desperate preachers often resort to quoting the church fathers who hammered out the doctrine of the Trinity, or we draw on imperfect metaphors or language. I even once heard a desperate preacher use one of those fidget spinners to try to illustrate the Trinity. The temptation for preachers when faced with the Trinity is to try to appeal to our intellect, but our intellects fail us in the face of the mystery that is a Triune God who is completely unified. So, instead, on Trinity Sunday, I think the invitation is really to engage our hearts: “how’s ya’ mamma and them?” The trinity, at its most pure essence, its deepest truth, is about relationship. It is the relationship of God which inspires God to create-to bring order out of chaos, to invite us into the part of being co-creators with God in our relationship with all of creation and in our relationships with each other. In addition to its being Trinity Sunday, over a week ago (but man, does it seem longer), our Presiding Bishop invited us to pray prayers of lament and remembrance for the over 100,000 people who have died of Covid-19 in our country, and if possible, to participate in ecumenical prayers for all those who have died and continued to die. In just a few minutes, we’ll pray those prayers together in lament and in remembrance and to remind us that, even if we do not personally know someone who has died from Covid-19, we are all connected, related, and the deaths of so many diminish all of us. And yet, even so much more has happened this week, last week: the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis which was videoed and shared around the world; protests; riots; stories of police doing harm; stories of police doing good; political machinations on all sides….In some ways, it feels as if we have descended into utter chaos. Many of us just want things to get back to “normal,” but it is hard to imagine or picture what that would even mean at this point. In the midst of our chaos, we have Trinity Sunday, the invitation of God to co-creation, to relationship; we have the reminder from our Genesis reading that each and every person has been made in the image and likeness of God and the kinship that creates among us. And we have in our gospel reading for today Jesus’s parting words to his disciples, the end of Matthew’s gospel, what is known as the “Great Commission.” In the last line of this passage, we have what another preacher has said is the summary of the Trinity: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” If we really believe this, how does this affect how we are in the world? It is the promise of the abiding, relational presence of God in our lives and in our world, always connecting, always creating order and goodness out of chaos and disorder and inviting us to participate in that. So, what does that even mean to us in our current moment? How can we, people of faith, respond to the invitation of the Triune God to be in relationship in this time of isolation, fragmentation? How can we become, even now, co-creators with God, in the face of such chaos, disorder, upheaval? I think the first step has to be to remember the roots of our kinship and delving into what that means. This past week, Richard Rohr quoted the Jesuit priest, Greogry Boyle, who founded the transformation community of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, “to assist individuals and families affected by the cycle of poverty, drugs, gangs, and incarceration. Along with many Homeboys and Homegirls, he believes the healing process can only happen when we are in relationship with one another.” Boyle writes, “Mother Teresa diagnosed the world’s ills in this way: we’ve just ‘forgotten that we belong to each other.’ Kinship is what happens to us when we refuse to let that happen. With kinship as the goal, other essential things fall into place; without it, no justice, no peace. I suspect that were kinship our goal, we would no longer be promoting justice—we would be celebrating it.”i Kinship is the remembering that we belong to each other that is rooted in our creation in the image and likeness of God. It is strengthened in recognizing that each one of us is vulnerable in these mortal bodies, vulnerable to violence, vulnerable to the sickness of this global pandemic, even as we continue to try to protect the most vulnerable among us. It is found in recognizing that kinship can never be remembered when one person has his knee on the neck of another child of God, even as we recognize that deep within each of us dwells the potential for that decision for violence and harm in that situation. Kinship, for those of us who are white, means dwelling in our own discomfort during this season. Kinship means beginning to do our own inner work of learning and of peeling back the layers of systems from which we have consistently benefitted for our entire lives, even for generations. Kinship means us listening to people of color who have consistently been oppressed and persecuted by those systems simply because they were not white. Kinship means that we stand and look and bear witness, albeit uncomfortably, in the face of the chaos of shame and rage that is pouring forth now that those things which have happened for hundreds of years in the darkness have had the light shone upon them. Maybe the first step for us in the kinship the Trinity invites us into is not flinching from our discomfort, not judging, not allowing ourselves to be distracted by politics or Netflix or shopping or fill in the blank here, not saying “yes, but” or arguing or justifying. The invitation to kinship for us in this moment is to continue to be uncomfortable in this present moment and to listen. This past week, I started reading a book titled White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. I’ll confess that even the title makes me squirm with discomfort. It’s written by Robin Diangelo, a white woman who is a sociologist and a long-time trainer in anti-racism. I’m only a few chapters in, but I’m struck by how she says that part of the problem is that we, white people, have an overly simplified understanding of racism. We think that racism talks about a person who is racist, and we know that is bad, and we do not think that we ourselves are bad, or racist, so we reject talking or thinking about it because we don’t think we need to. She goes on to distinguish racism from prejudice writing, “Prejudice is pre-judgement about another person based on the social groups to which that person belongs. Prejudice consists of thoughts and feelings, including stereotypes, attitudes, and generalizations that are based on little or no experience and then are projected onto everyone from that group. Our prejudices tend to be shared because we swim in the same cultural water and absorb the same messages. All humans have prejudice; we cannot avoid it.”ii She continues, “When a racial group’s collective prejudice is backed by the power of legal authority and institutional control, it is transformed into racism, a far-reaching system that functions independently from the intentions or self-images of individual actors… ‘Racism is a structure, not an event’.”iii Our invitation for this week is to spend some time with our discomfort around issues of prejudice and racism in the light of the kinship we are invited into in and through the Trinity. One way to do this, which is the path I’m going to take, is to reflect on some questions Diangelo poses in her book, and I’ll share those with you in a moment. Another way is to read a book or an article or to watch a movie or program or listen to a podcast. We can help you with a list if that is something that you would like. Just ask. A good place to start is by reading the book or watching the movie Just Mercy, the book we read for our Lenten study a couple of years ago. The movie has recently been made free to watch on a number of streaming platforms, and it is another way to dwell with your discomfort as you discern what more you need to do. Here’s are the questions Diangelo offers, to help us dwell with and reflect on our discomfort: “The racial status quo is comfortable for white people, and we will not move forward in race relations if we remain comfortable. The key to moving forward is what we do with our discomfort. We can use it as a door out—blame the messenger and disregard the message. Or we can use it as a door in by asking, ‘Why does this unsettle me? What would it mean for me if this were true? How does this lens change my understanding of racial dynamics? How can my unease help reveal the unexamined assumptions I have been making? Is it possible that because I am white, there are some racial dynamics that I can’t see? Am I willing to consider that possibility? If I am not willing to do so, then why not?’”iv Friends, I know that what I am asking of you is difficult and challenging work. Know that it is work that I’ll be doing alongside you, and I hope that there will be a way for us to continue this work in person when circumstances allow. In doing this difficult work to live more deeply and fully into the kinship of God, we have the promise of Jesus and the Trinity: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” i. Richard Rohr’s daily meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation: Being One with the Other Thursday,  June 4, 2020. ii.Diangelo, Robin. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Kindle page 19. iii.Ibid Kindle page 20 iv. Ibid Kindle page 13

Sunday, May 24, 2020

7th Sunday of Easter Year A

7th Sunday of Easter May 24, 2020 When Mary Margaret was a preschooler, she hated taking naps. She would fight and resist until finally, I said, “Ok, you don’t have to take a nap, but you do have to stay in your room and be quiet for a certain amount of time.” This plan started off great, until a little bit of time passed, and MM called out, “Is it time yet?” “Not yet!” I replied patiently the first time and then with gradually decreasing patience every time after. “Is it time yet?” “Not yet!” until I finally just gave up and let her out. It started the dame way the next day and the day after that until I did what desperate mother’s do when they have the option: I called my mamma, and of course, she knew what to do. I told MM that I was going to put a timer in the hallway outside her bedroom door, and so when the timer went off, she would know it was time to come out. (This plan had an added benefit, which I recently confessed to MM, which allowed me to creep quietly outside her door and add time to the timer because I knew either she needed more quiet time or I did.) “Is it time yet?” the disciples ask the risen Christ. “Is it time for you to restore the kingdom of Israel?” Jesus tells them that it is not for them to know the times that God has set, but they can know that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon them, and they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. As Jesus is telling them this, he ascends to heaven, and his disciples are all left there, probably with their mouths hanging open and starting up after him. And as they are standing and staring, suddenly two men in white robes appear and tell them “It’s not time yet. He’ll come back, but it’s not time yet.” So the disciples return to the room where they are staying, and they stay there and pray together. The 7th Sunday of Easter is always a strange, in-between sort of time in the liturgical year—an already but not yet kind of time. This past Thursday, we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension and next Sunday, we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We know the spirit is coming because Jesus has promised this gift, but it’s not time yet. “Is it time yet?” our ecumenical partners have begun asking our bishop-elect. “Is it time yet?” our bishop-elect wonders what the clergy think. “Is it time yet?” we clergy ask each other. “Is it time yet?” some of you are asking. Two weeks ago our vestry had an important conversation, but we weren’t even trying to answer the question, “Is it time yet?” But rather we were reflecting on the question, “What will we need to do when it is time?” What will church need to look like when it is time?” What will we need to do to try our best and hardest to keep everyone safe? As we talked through the options, it became clear to us that when it is finally time, much of what we have known and loved about doing church together will have to look different—no nursery or choral singing; probably no coffee hour; all wearing masks when entering and leaving; no touching or hugging and staying 6 feet apart (which may have to include ushers telling you where to sit), and there were so many other creative and responsible questions asked by your vestry. Quickly the conversation moved from beyond “Is it time yet?” and “what will we need to do when it is time?” to questions such as “Can we engage with each other more and more meaningfully the way we are doing church now than what in person would have to look like, fell like, be like? And then they started thinking about the most vulnerable ones of you, how you would feel if some of us came back before you felt it was safe, ,and how we would feel if you came back before we knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it was safe. It’s not time yet. Even though the Catholics are starting back to in person worship; even though our President is saying it is necessary, we know it is not time yet because we trust the promise of our Lord that he is with us, even now, in what we do—in continuing to be the church even when we are not together in these walls, in caring for each other and caring for those in need. We trust the promise of our Lord that we will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon us. And we trust our bishop-elect and we trust each other. That’s part of what it means to be the church. And so we stay home and wash our hands, and we wear our masks in public when we have to go out, and we listen to our bishop-elect, even as he listens to us, and we continue to pray together, even as we wait. But as you all well know, we have not ceased being the church. In closing, I want to share with you a reflection written by a seminary classmate of ours who is also the Bishop-elect of the Diocese of Missouri, the Rev Deon Johnson: “The work of the church is essential. The work of caring for the lonely, the marginalized, and the oppressed is essential. The work of speaking truth to power and seeking justice is essential. The work of being a loving, liberating, and life giving presence in the world is essential. The work of welcoming the stranger, the refugee and the undocumented is essential. The work of reconciliation and healing and caring is essential. The church does not need to “open” because the church never “closed”. We who make up the Body of Christ, the church, love God and our neighbors and ourselves so much that we will stay away from our buildings until it is safe. We are the church.”

Monday, May 18, 2020

Funeral Homily for Stella Nussbaum

Funeral homily_Stella Nussbaum May 18, 2020 Stella Nussbaum was a beautiful soul, and she had the unique gift of inspiring and inviting the souls of those around her to give themselves to beauty as well. As your wife, your mother, your grandmother, she loved you well and uniquely; she loved you colorfully, creatively, vibrantly, musically. Stella was rooted and grounded in her awareness of her own stature as a beloved child of God, and her love flowed out of the deep wellspring of her faith. She was sincere, kind, graceful, and grace-filled, and she had the gift of seeing the best in everyone. Her soul delighted to ring out in praise to God the Creator—through her music, her art, her gardening. She created beauty, sought out mystery and then shared those gifts readily with others, inviting others into that way of engaging with creation (discovering secret gardens and mountain streams filled with fairies). She shared her childlike awe and wonder with all of you; she gave you glimpses of the holy, and she nurtured you, helping you find your God-given potential and inviting you to discover you own passion and then to apply passion to any task. Stella’s death was a long and gradual death as she slipped away slowly, over many long years; you all walked with her and loved her as faithfully as any family could, and your love and care for her has been a fitting tribute to her. So today, we gather in this strange season, spread out but still united in the love that we shared for and with Stella. We give thanks for her life, and we give thanks for her death because we know that on April 22nd, she was received into the arms of our Lord, who is her long-time friend and not a stranger. We mourn the loss of this beautiful soul in this world with us, and we remember that death is not the end, but a change; that through Jesus’s death and resurrection, God has proven, once and for all, that God’s love is stronger than anything. God’s love is stronger than our frail bodies; God’s love is stronger than the horror that is Alzheimer’s; God’s love is stronger than anything-even death. Today we mourn the loss of Stella-both on April 22 and all the days before that, and we trust the hope of our faith that we will all feast again together at God’s table where Stella will know you and love you in the way that only Stella can love.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

6th Sunday of Easter Year A 2020

Easter 6A 2020 May 17, 2020 This past week, I watched a TED talk by a scientist named Uri Alon. The talk was titled “When Science Demands a Leap Into the Unknown.” Alon talked about his experiences doing scientific research, going as far back as his research for his PhD, along with experience doing research with his students, and he uses his experiences doing improvisational theater to help reflect on the scientific process. He said that science presents the process of research as being moving from point a, which is the question, to point b which is the answer; but Alon has found this is not usually how science works. Instead, in trying to move between points a and b, as experiments fail and the way to the answer becomes blocked, scientists usually find themselves in a place where they get stuck. Alon calls this stuck place “the cloud,” and he says that in science “the cloud” is “an inherent part of research because it stands guard at the boundary between the known and the unknown.” If scientists can enter the cloud, leaving behind the answer “no” but instead saying “yes, and,” then often the way becomes open for creativity, new ideas, and the discovery of new things that had before been unknown. (I found it to be an interesting talk, and I’ll put the link to the TED talk on our Facebook page in case you’d like to watch it.)i In our Acts reading for today, we see Paul using some creativity to appeal to the Athenians in his proclamation of the gospel. He references their altar to an unknown God, and he invites them to enter the cloud with him, moving through the boundary between the known and the unknown to experience the reality of the living God, who is yet unknown to them. In our gospel reading, Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure, but he promises that he will not leave them orphaned. He promises that they will be given the gift of the Holy Spirit, the advocate, the Spirit of truth who will be with them forever. Jesus is trying to prepare his disciples for their entering of “the cloud,” living into the unknown of what life will be like without him present. It is a scary and anxious prospect for each of them, and throughout the gospels, we see how they resist and reject the unknown, even up to their disbelief about his resurrection. We, too, are living in a season of the unknown. We all want it to be as simple as moving from point a to point b and finding an answer or a return to normal, but that is just not the reality we find ourselves in. At least for now, we are stuck; we are stuck in the cloud, in the unknown of what church is going to be like in the future, of what life is going to be like in the future. For those of us who are planners, this is an especially difficult season because there is just no planning when you are in the cloud. But we can take a lesson from Uri Alon, from Paul, and from Jesus, who has already sent us the Holy Spirit, the source of creativity and hope and advocacy, to join us in the unknown, in the cloud. Now is the time for us to reach out to at least one other person to offer support and encouragement, to give each other the courage to say “yes, and.” Because it is in the cloud, in the midst of the unknown, when creativity can happen, if we are open and receptive to it. Your invitation this week is to consider the question: “How is living with so much uncertainty opening you to new experiences?”ii And as you consider this, I invite you to contemplate how the Holy Spirit might be inviting you to live more creatively by answering “yes, and” in this season of the unknown. i.. ii. And thanks to Ruth Woodliff-Stanley for sharing Uri Alon’s Ted talk in light of today’s readings.