Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The attack of the Sugar Plum Fairy

The kids were both up by 5:30 this morning, on this second weekday of the Christmas holiday break. I got up with them but was still tired when David got up around 6:30, so I went back to bed for a short winter's nap.

I was awakened from my early morning nap by David's calm voice saying loudly, "Oh, you bad, bad baby!" In case you've never been awakened by that sentence, let me assure you that it is not a comforting sound for a mamma to hear. As I made my way blearily out of our room to investigate, I discovered my husband was in the kitchen vacuuming my son. When I inquired what was going on, I learned that Jack had been unsupervised for some period of time (?) and had decided to occupy himself by playing in the container of powdered sugar in our pantry. The result was a large amount of powdered on the floor and a powdered sugar-covered baby. David had received the crime-stopper tip by the concerned older sister, MM, who went to get him off the computer by saying, "Daddy, you have GOT to see what Jack's done!"

All in all, it was an interesting way to begin the day!

Advent 3C

The 3rd Sunday of Advent Year C
December 13, 2009
One day this past week, I was very, very grumpy. I was feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of the season, wondering when I was going to have time to do my Christmas shopping, address and mail our Christmas cards, bake, and find that missing box of Christmas ornaments that we’ve managed to lose in the move. I was sitting at my desk, making an angel tree for our outreach project, and I was getting more and more cross as green glitter from the tree got all over my desk and my hands and my face, my hands got sticky from the glue stick I was using, and it became increasingly more apparent that making an angel tree for the parish is not one of my gifts for ministry—Martha Stewart I am not! As I was gluing the gift requests on the back of the angel ornaments, I stopped to read one of the lists of request for Christmas presents. It was from a 7 year old girl whose favorite color is purple or pink (like my own daughter) and who had asked for either a bike or a scooter for Christmas and also for a gift certificate to a portrait studio for her family to get their picture made. Intrigued, I read another from a 17 year old boy: itunes gift card and black ankle socks; and another: a full sheet set, a floor lamp, and any classic movie on dvd; and another: a 2 sided crock pot, scrapbooks, and comfortable shoes for work; and another: slippers, a monthly bus pass, and black hair dye; and another: Sponge bob square pants shoes to fit a size 4T and anything Spiderman or Superman…12 of these little sheets of paper I read, each one representing a beloved child of God whose humble hopes and dreams were offered to us with the hope that we could help them be fulfilled. And here I was irritated by all the green glitter getting on my desk.
I could just hear John the Baptist’s scathing comment to me across the ages as he called me worse things than a brood of vipers.
Now, I do not offer this to you in order to make you feel guilty or to make you share in my guilt. Today is Gaudete Sunday, rejoice Sunday, when our Advent penitence is somewhat lightened; we light the pink candle, and we are invited to join the call of the prophet Zephaniah, the apostle Paul, and even fussy old John the Baptist. My struggle this week has been how to live into this call to rejoice when our hearts may feel burdened by the cares and the concerns, the pressures of the season? How do we rejoice when our hearts feel heavy or anxious, stressed or broken? And what does it mean to rejoice?
We can learn something about rejoicing from Paul and from John the Baptist this week. First, Paul. His words may seem like an empty echo when read out of context of the rest of his letter to the church in Phillipi. But then we remember that in this letter, he has identified three great threats to the community: opponents who have caused them suffering, so much so that Paul fears that the church might divide in the face of it; alternative teachers who Paul unflatteringly calls “dogs” who threaten the gospel that he has been proclaiming; and a conflict between two female leaders of the congregation called Euodia and Syntyche who are at odds over an interpersonal and congregational issue. On top of all this, Paul is writing his letter in chains from prison. So when the people of the church of Phillippi hear Paul’s letter saying, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice…” they are listening with hearts that are weighed down from external and internal conflicts with anxiety about their future . He goes on to support his call to rejoicing by encouraging them to show forth their gentleness, to not worry and to pray, to turn their focus away from their fears and their conflicts and to focus outward on others in their community.
When the people come to John the Baptist in today’s gospel reading, even after his great tongue-lashing of them, they continue to ask him again and again…”What then should we do?” John’s great gift is that he is a person of vision who knows exactly who he is (not the Messiah but the one pointing to him) and that he has a very clear understanding of who his listeners are and who they could possibly be. He tells each one what they need to do in order to bear fruits worthy of repentance, and each prescription has to do with looking outside of themselves and their own issues and treating others with justice and mercy, gentleness and charity.
The poet Audre Lord wrote to her friend and fellow poet, Adrienne Rich: “Once you live any piece of your vision, it opens you to a constant onslaught of necessities, of horrors, but of wonders too, of possibilities.”
That is what John the Baptist offers his hearers: “possibilities”. It is the possibility of the good news—how we can be, how we will be changed for the better.
It is also at the heart of Paul’s hope and his call to rejoice—the possibility of transformation that he has experienced and continues to experience even in prison and the possibility of the church in Phillippi.
And so it is with us.
Our joy is not rooted in our own happiness, in our own prosperity, in our own stress and conflict-free circumstances. Our joy is rooted in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the way that he transforms our hearts and our minds so that we are no longer orbiting around our own sufferings and hardships, but we can be focused on God and on others and on the joy that springs forth from those relationships.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” For with God, all things are possible.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

One More Marker

On Tuesday, I celebrated my 5th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. I did not do anything special to mark it, other than what I did as a part of my work that day. I did remember it, and when I got home that night, I was nostalgic and a little mournful that I did not make time to say Mass in thanksgiving for God's call to me many years ago or even to read again the promises I made and the charge made to me in my ordination that was all made holy when the bishop laid his hands on my head five years ago.

However, this morning, I have realized that I have discovered another "marker" of my own pilgrim's way this week, my pilgrim's way that is the ordained priesthood. It has been in working on preparations for our Celebration of New Ministry this coming Sunday evening.

This week I have spent much time with the liturgy and its words have washed over me again and again: "Melanie Dickson Lemburg...Having committed yourself to this work, do not forget the trust of those who have chosen you. Care alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor. By your words and actions, and in your life, proclaim the Gospel. Love and serve Christ's people. Nourish them, empower them for ministry, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come. May the One who has given you the will to do these things, give you the grace and power to perform them."

Those words echo the words of charge at my ordination, and they also echo the work that I have been doing as a parish priest this week in multiple hospital visits, drop-in office visits, midweek Mass, the feast of St. Nicholas and Advent wreath making, and preparations for upcoming liturgies.

I give thanks for them and for the way that they serve as a marker that (at my best) I am doing exactly what I have been called to do. "It is meet and right so to do." And the anniversary of my ordination could have no better marker than that.

The Pilgrims' Markers

I have lived my life at a break-neck pace these last few days. I can't even remember the last moment of quiet contemplation I have fully rested in. I'm up early this morning to go visit someone in the hospital pre-surgery, and I am thankful to find the office quiet at this early hour and hope to have some time to be before all the activity begins again.

I'm sitting out in the church's garden, looking out over the Gulf. The tide is low, and there are markers out just off shore. I'm not sure what their purpose is (peraps to mark the shallow water from the deep for boaters?), but they remind me of the markers at the Holy Island of Lindisfarne (in the UK) which look like they are just sticks coming up out of the sea, but at low tide, these sticks mark the path for the pilgrims to make their way across the dry land to make their pilgrimage to Lindisfarne.

This morning, I believe that is the purpose of quiet contemplation and of prayer. At low tide, the slower easier season in our lives, the way to God may be clearly marked; at high tide, the business and chaos may seem to occlude the path like water swirling over the sand. That's why we need the markers of prayer and quiet and contemplation; That's why we need the season of Advent. These practices invite us to once again set our sights on the markers that line the way.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent 1 Year C

Advent 1C
November 29, 2009

Let us pray. Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.
This collect, which may seem inappropriate to be read in the middle of the morning, is one of my favorites in the prayer book. It is found in our daily office, in both evening prayer and in compline, the liturgy for the close of the day. It is pure poetry, and I love the image of us asking God to keep watch with us.
It’s also a beautiful image for us as we begin this strange season of Advent. Today we hear from the prophetic voices of Jeremiah and Jesus. We light the first candle on the Advent wreath to signify the prophets and their message. And what is the message of prophets? It is to keep watch. “The days of the Lord are surely coming… when I will fulfill the promise I made…” “Be alert at all times…” “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down…” “Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Keep watch.
Jeremiah is speaking to the children of Israel, hostages in Babylon who are being seduced to start a new life there. Jesus is speaking to the children of Israel, oppressed in their own promised land by foreign occupants. Keep watch. Do not be worn down or won over. Keep alert, even in this twilight time, for the fulfillment of all you have been promised will be here, and you won’t want to miss it. Keep watch.
But what does it mean for us? How do we keep watch? It is not a common practice in our society that has little time or patience for waiting. Really, the only times that most of us keep watch are when we have absolutely no control over it. Armed service personnel still keep watch as they are assigned. We keep watch with those who are mourning, those who are dying, as the collect reminds us. We keep watch with those who are expecting. Keeping watch is a practice that we do in the twilight time, the time in between times, the time between dark and dawn, the time between life and death, the time between creation and birth. The season of Advent is also a twilight time, a season between the already and the not yet; when the world around us wants to rush toward the false lure of fulfillment, we are called to keep watch.
During Advent, the feelings of desolation and exile, the longing, the loneliness, and the expectation that run just below the surface of our lives are invited out into the light, and we examine our longing and we make a choice. We can either push it back down to where it always dwells, or we can use our longing, letting it help us to be ready, to stand watch for the fulfillment of our expectation. The fulfillment of all our hope has come and will come again. And we are called to keep watch.
Let us pray. Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Proper 28B sermon

The 24th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 28B
November 15, 2009
I was expecting my first child, and I was two days overdue. We were staying at my parents’ house as we all awaited the birth of their first grandchild, and I was like a “watched pot.” I awoke from an afternoon nap, and I began having contractions. We waited a while, and then David and I drove to Jackson to the hospital. After I was admitted and hooked up to the monitor, the attending nurse kindly told me that I was not in full labor and should go home until things progressed a little farther. I was frustrated and more than a little uncomfortable, but we went back home and I went to sleep, and when I woke up in the morning, in full labor….I thought I was going to die! I felt like I was being ripped apart, and I honestly did not know if I would survive it.
In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus and his followers have entered into Jerusalem and the disciples marvel at the grandeur of the temple. Jesus then begins to tell them what the end times will be like: the temple will be destroyed, false messiahs will come and lead people astray, there will be wars and rumors of war, nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes, famines, but this is not the end….The end is still to come. “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” (And then, in a part we don’t read today, he goes on to predict how the disciples themselves will be persecuted and put to death.)
As I listen to Jesus’s words, I wonder what it must have been like for his followers to hear him say all of this. Things were already bad for the people of their time. They were the lowest of the low, barely scraping by an existence, and now they are being told that things are going to get worse before they get better. I wonder what it was like for the original hearers of Mark’s gospel; scholars think that Mark, the oldest of the gospels, was written right around the time of the war in Jerusalem (in 66-70), right around the time that the Romans destroyed the temple for the second time. What must it have been like for them to hear these predictions coming from the mouth of Jesus while they were living it and experiencing it in their reality? What must it have been like for them to hear him say, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” Where is the good news in this?
In childbirth, even though I had moments when I thought I would not survive, I was able to preservere because I had a goal I was working toward—the birth of my child. I was working toward a new creation. Y’all know something about that here, you who have worked to give birth to a new St. Peter’s by-the-Sea and a new Mississippi Gulf Coast after what must have seemed like the end of the world as you knew it. In following Jesus, in living the Christian life, we are called to be co-creators with God. Now, what does that mean?
One of my favorite writers, the late Madeleine L’Engle, explains the concept of being co-creators with God in this way: “God created and it was joy: time, space, matter. There is, and we are part of that is-ness, part of that becoming. That is our calling: co-creation. Every single one of us, without exception, is called to co-create with God. No one is too unimportant to have a share in the making or unmaking of the final showing-forth. Everything that we do either draws the Kingdom of love closer, or pushes it further off.” (Madeleine L’Engle, And It was Good; Reflections on Beginnings. Harold Shaw: Wheaton, 1983, p.19)
We are invited to join with God, and through our actions, our choices, to help God draw the Kingdom of love closer. That is a weighty and worthy charge, and it is also quite a gift, that God would allow us that part in building God’s kingdom of love. So how do we accomplish this?
How can we be co-creators with God ? There are as many different ways to do this as there are people here, but I can give you a good place to start in three simple parts.
1. Show up for worship. We gather together to remember who we are as God’s people and to reaffirm God’s work of love and redemption and transformation that is recorded in our sacred stories and lived out in individual and corporate life. The writer of Hebrews writes “and let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching”—suggesting that worshipping together is one of the ways that we are able to hold fast to our hope when times grow difficult.
2. Turn in a pledge card. Last week, I devoted my whole sermon to the story of a poor woman who gave me her gold butterfly necklace when I complimented her on it and the lesson that I learned from that powerful experience: that every person is created by God with the need to give. It connects us with God and with all of God’s creation when we are able to offer pieces of ourselves and things that we hold to be dear and of value.
3. Find at least one new way (beyond the first two) of being involved in life at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea. The work that we do as the church is our best attempt at being co-creators with God, at showing forth God’s love to a needy and hungry world. And every person who worships with us needs to be engaged in this co-creative work. We do it because we are grateful for all that God has given us, because we believe that we have a unique way of telling the story of God’s redemption and love and salvation, and because God has invited us to join God in this beautiful and life-giving work.

“This is but the beginning of the birth pangs,” Jesus tells them. Now you can look at that two ways. You can see Jesus telling them, that the suffering has only just begun—more doom and gloom. But I choose to look at it as Jesus telling them that all this suffering is a natural part of the birthing of a new existence and a new way of being, that yeah, it sure huts right now, but in the end, with a whoosh of fluids, a cry of loss or triumph, a great release, and there is a new life. All of the wars and the poverty, all of the diseases and the cancers, all of the terror and injustice, all of the cares and concerns that weigh us down in our daily life, all of these things are but the beginning of the birth pangs. As Christians, we live our lives in hope that even though we face hardships and persecution and suffering, we continue to be a part of a process of new life, new birth, in which God will use us co-creators. Being co-creators means that how we live our lives in the midst of suffering and hardship matters because as we are able to continue to love, and to worship, to honor and to give thanks, we do our part in helping to bring God’s creation toward its fulfillment, toward the end for which it was created. We live our lives in hope because we hold onto Jesus’s promise that once we endure the pangs of labor, we will actually hold in our arms that new life and the promise that our life has meaning.
Won’t you join us as we make the choice to work with God to help the kingdom of God’s love draw closer?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Pulling Weeds

Yesterday afternoon, I spent another hour of my life on the phone with AT&T. This is the fourth month that I have had to call AT&T because they have yet to bill us correctly for the new phone service that we signed up for when we moved. My call time each time averages about an hour, and by the time I spoke with the fifth individual yesterday, I was absolutely livid.
I took a deep breath when the customer service rep asked me, "How can I exceed your expectations today?" and I answered, "At this point, it would exceed my expectations if you could actually fix my problem and not pass me on to yet another incompetent customer service rep." I then took another deep breath and apologized to that individual and told her I was very angry and frustrated, but that I had no right to take it out on her, and I proceeded to relay (for the fifth time that hour) my saga of interactions with AT&T over the last four months. After some time working on the problem, the rep assured me that the problem would be taken care of (where have I heard that before?), and then she proceeded to try to get me to sign up for some new AT&T service. I answered that I had no intention of signing up for anything new until the proved they could effectively offer me what was initially promised, and we ended our conversation.
When I got off the phone, I was furious. I needed some way to channel my anger, so I took on a project that I always dread, but that has been hanging over my head since September. I put on my ratty clothes and my Crocs; I dug out my gardening gloves, and I went out into the front yard to weed the front flower bed. Now, I absolutely HATE gardening (probably because I usually manage to contact poison ivy whenever I go anywhere near a flower bed). But on this day, it was exactly what I needed. As I ripped out weeds, I imagined all the incompetent customer service reps I had talked to over the past few months. I even got the shovel out to work up a particularly large and pernicious weed, and I took great delight in imagining what I could do with the phone AT&T corporation with my shovel.
About half-way through, I began to cool down and think about God. I often think of how God uses life, circumstances, etc to weed out the weeds from our own souls. I thougth about the appropriate use and funciton of anger in our lives and marveled at how easy it is to cross the line between appropriate and inappropriate expressions of anger. As the evening began to grow dark, I finished my task in a much better frame of mind, and I spent some time outside in the early evening with my husband and son who came out to keep me company.
Even now, I am on my way to Gray Center for Presbyters' Day, in which the bishop has invited all priests to come and discuss the latest flare up among the clergy that started at clergy conference this year. This whole situation has inflamed a great deal of anger in my heart, and my prayer, as I journey there, is that God may grant me a spirit of discernment and control toward the appropriate expression of my anger and frustration.
Maybe some part of that will be a reminder of my pulling weeds and the weeds in my own soul that still need to be weeded out. But I think that I've made a really good start just by leaving my shovel at home.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Saints' Day sermon

All Saints’ Sunday
November 1, 2009
This time of year, alot of people like to hang out in graveyards. The Sun Herald has been chock-full of listings of cemetery tours and haunted houses this week, and even NPR did a story on a ghost hunting expedition to a haunted estate that was built on the burial ground of a Native American tribe in Florida. This is one of the few times when the liturgical calendar of the church and the pop-cultural Hallmark-fueled calendar of holiday observance are in alignment, and even we Christians find ourselves hanging out in a graveyard this morning.
In our gospel reading for today, we see Jesus, hanging out in a graveyard. He has arrived too late to save his friend Lazarus, and so he joins the mourners outside Lazarus’s tomb. But the story does not end with a tour of the graveyard. Instead, Jesus acts, commanding that the grave be opened, offering a prayer to God, and then commanding Lazarus to come out. And the result of all this, the writer of Luke’s gospel reports, is that “the dead man came out” still bound and wrapped in his funeral cloths.
In our worship this morning, we also will spend some time in the graveyard. First, we will take this sweet, innocent baby, Virginia Anne Wolford, and we will bury her with Christ in the waters of baptism. She will then come through Christ’s death out the other side to be a new creation, marked as Christ’s own forever and a member of the body of Christ. In baptism, we are acknowledging what has already happened, that this child is a beloved child of God, but in that process, death must occur. And we remember that death and new life, that powerful transformation, in our own lives as we renew our own baptismal vows.
Then, later in our Eucharistic prayer, we will read the names of the faithful departed, those whose lives have impacted ours, who now dwell in the communion of God’s saints, among all God’s faithful believers. This reading of the list of the faithful departed of our lives and the life of St. Peter’s is the equivalent of meandering through the graveyard and placing flowers on each grave, and it is also so much more. It is reaffirming our connection with those who are with us no longer and also reaffirming our hope in Christ that one day we are all united at the Great Eucharistic feast, the heavenly banquet at which God will wipe every tear from our eyes and will make all things new.
The Celts of the British Isles, our ancestors in our Anglican heritage, maintained that there are “thin places” on this earth, places where the boundary between earth and heaven, between past, present, and future, is so thin that it can be crossed over. For whatever reason, we often find such thin places in graveyards, and All Saints’ Day is also such a thin place. Even as we remember and celebrate our past and those who have made us who we are, we celebrate our present and our future as the body of Christ—those who have died and been resurrected through our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection.
And so we also gather today, during this thin place, to make our pledge to support the continued work of Christ’s body in the world through support of St. Peter’s over the coming year and on into the future. We remember those who have given of themselves to make this place a sanctuary and a haven for us, those who have blazed a trail or paved the way before us. We look around and give thanks for all those present with us here today, our fellow pilgrims on a journey, fellow travelers on the road. And we also look forward into the future of St. Peter’s and give thanks for those who will come after us to continue our work and our mission in this world when we are nothing but dust in our graves in the graveyard.
In closing, I leave you with some words of hope from a portion of the poem “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant. So live, that when thy summons comes to youTo join the innumerable caravan, which movesTo that mysterious real, where each shall takeHis chamber in the silent halls of death,Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed,By unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,As one who wraps the drapery of his couchAbout him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

And let us be thankful for all that was, all that is, and all that is yet to come

Monday, October 26, 2009

Proper 25B sermon

The 21st Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 25B
October 25, 2009
There is some debate among commentators as to how to categorize our gospel story for today. Some argue that this is a story of healing. Jesus clearly heals the blind Bartimaeus, so I think there’s some merit in that argument. But others argue that it is a story about call. Jesus calls to Bartimaeus, and he gets up, leaving his cloak behind, goes to Jesus and then, after he is healed he becomes a follower of Jesus and goes along with him. There’s merit in that case also, so I would posit that it is a story about both healing and call. It’s a fascinating story, that has so many layers, and I am especially intrigued by the role of the crowd who witnesses the exchange between the two central figures of Jesus and Bartimaeus.
Let’s look again at the story. Our story for this week follows immediately after last week’s reading from Mark. Jesus and his disciples are on the road to Jerusalem; the disciples have just been in a fight over who is the greatest and will have the most influence when Jesus comes into his glory in the kingdom. Jesus and co make a pit stop in Jericho, and on their way out of town, one of the local beggars, who is blind, calls out from the crowd, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Well, some people in the crowd tell Bartimaeus to hush up, and he just yells louder….At this point in the story, in a moment that is absolutely electrifying, “Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ So the people in the crowd say to Bartimaeus, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ Notice the complete reversal in attitude from only moments before. The crowd had been trying to silence Bartimaeus (and their reason is not at all clear), but when they witness Jesus’s response to Bartimaeus, they offer words of encouragement to him and they even mediate Jesus’s call to him. So Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, leaving behind his one and only possession, and he springs up and goes to Jesus. “Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’—the exact same question he’d asked James and John that sparked the fight among the disciples in last weeks’ gospel reading—and Bartimaeus replies, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus then says to him, “Go, your faith has made you well.” And Bartimaeus regains his sight and he followed Jesus on the way—the path of discipleship that leads to Jerusalem and the cross.
It would be easy to try to relate to this story through the character of Bartimaeus. Each of us has wounds, a hunger for something, an emptiness that Jesus’s call to us promises to heal, to fill. Our wounds, our hunger are the forces that propel us out of our comfort, away from our security to follow. Then, when we are called by Jesus, when we are touched and healed, we see the world with new eyes.
But there is an equally powerful transformation taking place among the crowd in this story, and that is who I identify with this week. That moment in the gospel when Jesus stands still and then tells the crowd to call Bartimaeus is absolutely electrifying, and it is a moment of transformation for the crowd.
I have had one of these moments—these electrifying, transformative moments-- this week that I’d like to share with you. On Sunday night, a number of us were gathered here at the church for the first getting to know the new rector session. In the middle of that time, a young man named Robert showed up here, and he poured out his story to several of us who sat with him. He came to St. Peter’s in a moment of utter desolation, when the events of his life had become so overwhelming that he had chosen to end it, but when it came down to it, he could not do it. And so he came here, to our church, because he had been one of the crew who had painted the parish hall. In our time with him, Robert kept saying over and over again: “I just feel so lost.” And so we listened to him, and we began to formulate a plan to help him begin on the way to healing and wholeness. Now a few things are miraculous to me about this story. First is that anyone was here because we’re usually not here on Sunday nights. Second is that the people who first encountered Robert did not try to send him away or hush him up, even though he was disrupting our gathering. Instead, they listened to his story, and they responded with compassion and mediated Jesus’s call in his life—the call to health and wholeness. Third is the willingness of a wide variety of folks to rally around Robert, even going so far as being willing to raise a pretty substantial sum to help him in his path toward healing. My time with that young man and with those of you who are ministering to him has been transformative for me, and I give thanks for that, even as I continue to pray for him.
This next Sunday marks the end of our fall financial commitment campaign, and the Vestry and I are asking that you consider filling out a pledge card for your promise to support St. Peter’s by-the-Sea for the next year. My friends, whether or not you choose to do this, know this. It is about so much more than money. It is about how we, as a body of disciples, choose to mediate Jesus’s call to a lost and hungry world. We do it through rallying around one who is lost. We do it by opening up our church and inviting people in, offering them food and drink and wonderful hospitality, like the ECW did this week. We do it as we seek to discern who Jesus is calling St. Peter’s by-the-Sea to be.
Bishop Jeffrey Lee of Chicago said, “What we do on Sunday morning is the creation dying and rising with Christ. Do we mean this stuff or not?”
Do we mean this stuff or not?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sermon for Proper 24B

Proper 24B
October 18, 2009
In our gospel reading for today, the writer of Mark tackles the theme of greatness. In a part we did not hear today (or last week), Jesus and his disciples are on the way to Jerusalem and Jesus predicts his death and resurrection for the third time. Immediately after that, James and John ask Jesus to grant their request to each sit in places of honor and influence beside him; a fight breaks out among the disciples, and Jesus calls them all together and teaches them that the way of the world in measuring power and greatness has no place among them. He talks about how, in the world, people in authority lord it over others…. “but it is not so among you,” he says.
“It’s not so among you.” I find it hard to understand what Jesus means by this. He has been talking about his death and resurrection; he’s offered the disciples a chance to participate in his resurrection; and they’re worried about the seating chart in heaven—who’s going to sit where and how much influence they’re going to have. How can Jesus say to them, “It is not so among you” when they’ve offered only evidence to the contrary?
I went to clergy conference this past week, and the bishop shared with us the sobering fact that because of a combination of different factors—the economy, the results of the stock market in 2008, and the diocesan commitment to pay the interest on the properties purchased by churches on the Coast who have relocated but not sold their other properties—because of all these factors, the diocesan budget for 2010 will have to be cut by $300,000— which will be just under 15%. However, the bishop is using the process of cutting the budget as a time to revision who we are as a diocese and to examine how what have been doing and are doing now fits into who we want to be in the future and how we live out our mission of “One Church: United in Mission. Inviting. Transforming. And Reconciling.” At Clergy conference, he invited all the clergy to enter into this exciting and creative process with him. As we broke into small groups to begin to do this, I became utterly disgusted as we all fought and squabbled over whose agenda and ideas were more important. And what could have been an invitation to participate in resurrection, through listening, prayer, and discernment, turned into a theological and doctrinal contest of one-upmanship.
In the midst of that I heard the words of Jesus echoing across our cacophony…“But it is not so among you..”
Then I came back home for yesterday’s funeral, and I found the truth in Jesus words. I found a love story: a husband and wife who were married for 60 years, and when the wife’s health failed, the husband showered service and care and devotion upon her until her last moments. I found a parish who pulled together to offer service—food, comfort, and a well-planned and well-executed funeral—to the family. I found people who were not worried with who was doing what job but who were just concerned with getting it done and doing it well and who poured themselves out in love and service to do that. And it was remarkable, and it was the physical embodiment of the gospel for me in a time when I sorely needed the reminder that Jesus’s words for his disciples and for us do ring true: “It is not so among you.”
At clergy conference, our speaker, Bishop Jeffrey Lee of Chicago, told us a story of how a Christian priest went to a Zen Master for a retreat. It was the practice of the Zen Master to offer a mantra for each person on retreat, and the Master said to the priest, “I have been reading of your Jesus, of his story, of his resurrection. Your mantra for this week is “show me your resurrection.”
Jesus invites us to participate in his resurrection by loving service to one another and to those outside of our doors. May we remember that the way of the world does not have to be our way. May we live into the mark of the cross made on our foreheads at our baptism and Jesus’s prophetic words for us at our best: “it is not so among you.” May we unflinchingly walk the way of the cross, through pain, suffering, sacrifice, and death, into resurrection. And may we have the grace and the courage to show forth our resurrection in every moment of our lives and our life together.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

'Til death do us part

I've have many encounters over the last week with different married couples. One of them has been long, fruitful, and happy, and it is nearing the end as one spouse is in the process of dying. I've sat with this couple and heard stories told and watched these years together culminate in a quiet waiting and watching, a being with until the very end. In one sense it is utterly heartbreaking to be with this man as he waits with his life-long sweetheart as she dies, and in another sense it is beautiful and natural even in its sadness. "I have absolutely no regrets" he told me at one point. "Every good thing that has ever happened to me has been because of her." I wonder how many people can say that and mean it like I see that he does?

Today I spent some time with my aunt and uncle who have also been married a while (longer than I've been alive). As they deal with my uncle's fight with cancer, it is again heartbreaking and holy to witness all the years of marriage that they bring with them to this point and to see how those holy moments together have formed and shaped them to walk this part of the journey together.

I've also spent time in counseling with a couple who's marriage is in trouble and with another couple in pre-marital counseling, talking about a marriage that is only beginning. There's a prayer that I pray with all couples in premarital counseling that asks God to help them "be worthy of each others' best and tender with each other's dreams". And I see that the common denominator in these long-lived, happy marriages has been an awareness that each one holds the other's heart in his or her hand and he or she is careful with that honor.

Now, I'm the first to recognize how challenging that can be to live into on a daily basis: when there are groceries to be bought, meals to be prepared, children to be cared for, laundry to be done. In the midst of the chaos of life, sometimes it's all we can do just to keep our heads above water. And yet, that's just not enough. To thrive in this fearful, holy, amazing, and life-giving journey of being married, of holding another's heart in one's hands, two people must be careful of the other at all times, and they must be aware of the honor that it is.

May God give all married people the grace and the ability to live out our common lives together and as the end of our time on this earth draws near to be able to say, "I have absolutely no regrets."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Proper 23B sermon

The Reverend Melanie Dickson Lemburg
19th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 23B
October 11, 2009
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions…”
It just goes to show that the old adage holds true, especially when it comes to God: Be careful what you ask for…The man comes to Jesus, looking for the key to inheriting eternal life, and it seems that he gets much more than he bargained for. Interestingly enough, this is the only instance in the gospel of Mark that someone walks away from the call to follow Jesus, and it is one of the few times in all the gospels when Jesus looks at someone and loves them. Many scholars suggest that this story, in Mark’s gospel, should be read as a healing story. The man comes to Jesus and kneels before him petitioning him, just like those who come to Jesus in Mark’s gospel and ask for healing. And when Jesus offers the man his challenge, the word that he uses for “go” is only used in Mark when Jesus tells people he has just healed to go and lives their lives and be free from their affliction. So what does that mean for how we read and relate to this story?
The man comes to Jesus, and he is obviously searching for something. He thinks that he is searching for the key to salvation, but he could really be searching for many other things: attention
from Jesus, justification for the way he has lived his life, answers on how to continue to live…Maybe, like so many of us, he doesn’t really know what he is searching for, but just feels the need to ask
the question and to enter into dialogue with Jesus. Mark tells us that, after a little bit of instruction, Jesus looks at the man and loves him. And then he puts his finger on the very heart of the man’s
infirmity, on the very heart of his weakness, and he challenges him to see these things about himself very clearly. By issuing his prescription for the man-- to go, sell all his possessions, give the
money to the poor and then come and follow him—Jesus offers a diagnosis and holds a mirror up in front of the face of this man, and the man (who thought that he was a pretty righteous individual
because, after all, he does follow all the commandments as the Torah teaches) realizes that Jesus has asked him to do what seems impossible and that he will never be able to earn his salvation or his
assurance of eternal life. It is only when Jesus asks the man to give up all his possessions and come and follow him that the man realizes that his possessions serve as an impediment to his quest for
salvation. And when he sees this picture of himself looking back out of the mirror that Jesus is holding up, he is shocked and goes away grieving.
Now some people hear this story and see this as an end for the man. They see that Jesus is pointing the man away from himself and back toward God, and that the man can’t handle this, so he goes away grieving, and that is it. But I’m more of an optimist, and I read this story and hear that this is just the beginning for the man. In the encounter, Jesus has held the mirror up in front of the man and has shown him a truth about himself that he did not recognize before. In doing this, Jesus opens before him the path or the way to healing and wholeness and eternal life. He asks of the man what seemed to be the impossible for him and he allows him to fail, for the moment. But it is that failure that opens the way for the man. Hopefully, he begins to understand, like the disciples, that salvation is not something that we humans can ever earn, but for God nothing is impossible. It is only upon realizing that he cannot earn his own salvation that the man can move beyond himself and focus on what he can do, and he can move toward what God is doing in his life, who God is calling him to be, and how to live more fully into that reality.
This past Thursday, I went to a retreat in Jackson for a program that I’m in discernment about entering. It’s called Journey Partners and it’s a two year training program in how to be a spiritual director, how to be engaged in holy listening. This retreat came upon the heels of a very busy week, when I had worked a great deal and seen my family very little, and I still had so much work that was waiting for me to come home to. As I sat in my seat and learned about the program, I began to be more and more excited, imagining how life-giving and energizing this work could be to me and my own spiritual life. And then they told me the requirements: three week-long retreats a year for two years and at least 4 written reports and five books to be read before each retreat. In my heart, I laughed (but not really in a good way) because I saw that Jesus was calling me to something good and life-giving, but in it, he was also asking me to take on more of the very thing that had been so overwhelming for me this past week—more work and less time with my family. I sat there stunned, uncertain how I would respond to this call.
“How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God.” “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
In our Christian formation class this past Wednesday night, we discussed the spiritual practices of counting our blessings and naming our anxieties. Each person had a piece of paper and was invited to count their blessings on one and name their anxieties on another. The most surprising part of this exercise was when we all discovered that we had the same things on the two different lists. On our blessings lists were things such as family, health, etc, and on our anxieties list were something happening to our family, health, etc. How are we able to heed God’s call to give up or take on, how are we able to hear Jesus’s call to follow when our blessings and our anxieties are so closely intertwined? What of these blessings or anxieties might Jesus be calling you to give up in order to be more healthy, more whole?
We, like the young man, come to Jesus in search of something. And when he offers us a prescription for healing and eternal life, a true picture of who we are and what ails us, we often turn away in grief, thinking he asks of us the one thing we cannot give up or take on. The good news is that it often takes our failure to help us recognize that nothing we can do can earn us eternal life. “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” God wants eternal life for each and every one of us and offers it to us despite of, and in and through our failure. May we be able to witness the sight of Jesus looking at us and loving us, offering us freedom and eternal life, no matter who we are or what we think we can do.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Use Your Words

Last night, David took MM to her soccer game and I was at home with Jack. It got to be supper time, and he began to make noises signifying his increasing hunger. I cooked him a couple of hot dogs and he waiting impatiently for them to cook and cool. Finally, when I told him it was supper time, he ran over to his high chair, eager to begin.

I cut up the hot dog into quarters and gave him a few bits at a time, and then I would go off in the kitchen and do some other things. I would invariably hear Jack make his loud, demanding sound that signifies that he wants something, so I would go back to the table and talk to him. "What do you want?" I would ask kindly. "Do you want more hot dog?....Then use your words; say, 'More, please.' He would look at me for a moment and then he would say, "Pweese." (In a voice so sweet to make any mamma's heart melt.)

We did this routine several times, and I began to grow slightly weary of it, wondering how long it would take to train him to use his words when he wanted more rather than just yelling for it. But then everytime he said that one word, "Pweese," he would look so proud and I would feel such great joy.

I wonder about how, in our lives, God encourages us to "use our words." What times in my life are the spiritual equivalent of sitting in my high chair and yelling because I need something? Is God the one there encouraging me to examine what it is exactly that I am yelling for and urging me to use my words to ask for it rather than seeking it in inappropriate ways? Does it warm God's heart to hear me offer my equivalent of "Pweese" to God, and does God rejoice in each person's one small step toward living in God's kingdom?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Proper 22B sermon

After much blood, sweat and tears, and much thanks to the Blanchards for keeping me supplied with coffee after my pot malfunction in the late hours of Saturday night, here's this week's sermon.

18th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 22B
October 4, 2009
Once there was couple who was on their way to get married. While en route, they have a fatal car accident and both are killed. When they get to heaven, the couple asks St. Peter if they can still get married . Peter says to them, “I don’t know. This is the first time we’ve ever had that request. Let me go find out…” and he leaves . The couple sit for three months and begin to wonder if they really should get married in heaven, what with eternity hanging over their heads. “What if it doesn’t work out?” they wonder. “Will we be stuck together forever?” St. Peter finally returns, looking somewhat bedgraggled. “Yes,” he informs them, “You can get married in heaven.” “Great,” says the couple, “but what if things don’t work out?” Could we also get a divorce in heaven?” St. Peter turns red in the face and throws his clip-board onto the ground. The couple looks alarmed as St. Peter says to them, “It took me three months to find a priest up here! Do you have any idea how long it’s going to take for me to find a lawyer?!”
I’ve spent an untold number of hours this week agonizing over our readings for today, and there’s just no easy way around any of them. In the gospel, we have Jesus being questioned about divorce by first the Pharisees and then his disciples. But it helps if we look at the whole picture rather than just what Jesus has to say about divorce. First, note that Jesus does not instigate this discussion on divorce. The Pharisees bring the question to him in yet another attempt to trap him. There were two different schools of thought about divorce at the time: one said that only sexual misconduct was grounds for divorce while the other maintained that anything the man deemed offensive (such as burning his dinner) could be grounds for divorce. By bringing this question to Jesus, the Pharisees were trying to force Jesus to choose a side. But as usual, Jesus refuses to play their game, turning the question back to them: “What did Moses command you?” Jesus then tells them that divorce is even an issue because of their hardness of heart and that God’s intention was for all to be in communion with God and each other. Jesus is speaking in broader terms, beyond the institution of marriage, and talking about the Kingdom of God and how we try to make up rules for who’s in and who’s out, but in reality, God wants everyone and everything to be in communion with God. The Kingdom of God will not be limited by our hardness of heart.
But then, there’s another glimpse of Jesus’s teachings about the Kingdom of God in our gospel reading for today. Later, when Jesus and the disciples are in a house, some people bring their children to him to bless, and the disciples try to turn the children away, and Jesus’ rebukes the disciples and tells them to let the children come to him, “for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” Again, we see Jesus placing himself between the most vulnerable, the powerless ones and the disciples’ hardness of heart. And he is also lifting up certain characteristics before the disciples for their emulation in their pursuit of the kingdom of God. Children are unselfconscious, receptive, and content to be dependent upon others’ care and bounty.
And then there’s Job. What on earth do we do with Job? I will confess to you that the entire book of Job makes me very uncomfortable. There’s Job, who’s minding his own business, doing what is right and then this heavenly poker match between God and the satan (or the heavenly prosecuter), with the stakes being Job and all that he has and is. And then there’s Mrs. Job, who often gets a bad rap, but who is equally affected by it all as her husband. Finally, after they have lost all their children, all their livestock, practically everything, she tells Job, “Just end it already—curse God and die and end our suffering and pain and loss” and Job responds to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” And that’s really where it gets me. I’m all for being thankful for God for our blessings, and it is an essential part of our spiritual lives—remembering that God is God and we are not and acknowledging all the good things that we have from God and making our offering as a grateful response. But I have a really hard time attributing the bad things that happen to me and in the world to God. I cannot reconcile my understanding of God as the giver of all good gifts, who wants to be in relationship with us, with Job’s statement that we need to take both the good and the bad from God.
I’ve been reading a book by the Episcopal priest, Robert Capon called Health, Money, and Love and why we don’t enjoy them. It’s an interesting book , and in it, Capon talks about how happiness and happen have the same root word, and how we often make a mistake in thinking that happiness is something that has to befall us or happen to us. He even talks about how life is like a Divine Crapshoot, with God being the honest casino owner who” lets the unloaded dice roll the way they want …lets the cards in the blackjack shoe lie in any unstacked order the shuffle determines…lets the roulette wheel turn at its own pleasure. And then—precisely and only because he is a master of the odds-- gets the exact result he wants without interfering with the freedom of anything.” Life happens, Capon seems to say, and God lets it.
Now, whether or not you agree with Capon’s image of God and our existence (and honestly, I’m not sure where I stand on it), each of us, at one time or another, has experienced a sense of powerlessness. We have all encountered at least one thing in our lives that is ultimately beyond our control, whether that is another person, such as a spouse or a child or a parent or whether it is circumstances themselves. Children experience their own powerlessness on a daily basis, and this fact, I believe is at the heart of what Jesus was getting at when he spoke of how they will inherit the Kingdom of God. What is key in our participation of the Kingdom of God is not so much fretting about why we are suffering but instead focusing on how we are suffering. Does our suffering inspire us to open our hearts and feel compassion for the plight of others, or does it cause us to harden our hearts?
Now, even though I am not convinced I accept Capon’s image of God, I do like how he later elaborates on this idea and I think it gets to the heart of what we believe about the kingdom of God and how we attempt to live in God’s kingdom in the here and now. He writes, “ …Happiness lies in our ability to accept everything that happens and then either enjoy it gratefully or reconcile it patiently. We may not be able to control all of the things that happen outside us, or even very many of the things that happen inside us; but since we are in control of both our gratitude and our patience, there is always and in every circumstance a path open to the happiness that God already has over everything. Such happiness is not cheap, of course: it cost even God some terrible hours on the cross. But it is available…”
Even in our darkest moments, in moments of our most intense pain and suffering and evil, God’s grace and mercy, God’s forgiveness and abundance is available to us. And it is the message of the cross and the way into the Kingdom of God. It is about recognizing that life happens, we will suffer, and it is how we suffer that makes all the difference. Do we accept that we are powerless and let go of our desire to control, accepting the good with grateful hearts and bearing with the bad in patience? Or do we allow our hearts to be hardened by what we experience and close ourselves off from the very purpose of our existence which is to be in communion with God and with each other?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sabbath is a state of mind

The house is quiet. The baby is asleep and MM is at soccer practice with her daddy. I'm drinking a glass of wine and breathing deeply.

I don't have a sermon for Sunday. (Well, truth be told, I have five sermons for Sunday all smooshed into one; so I need to discern which one needs to be preached this Sunday.)I have to work much of the weekend--meeting tomorrow in Madison and meeting Saturday in Jackson. But there have been and will be moments of Sabbath in the midst.

My mom was here for two nights, helping get MM's room in order and hanging pictures in my home. There's something holy about being with my mother...we cook and work together easily, but it's also that with her around, I'm not just a wife and a mother but I also get to be a daughter. I name that as holy time for me this week.

I took J to the grocery store yesterday and we played a silly game where I stuck the post-it note list on my nose and pretended to sneeze it off, and he laughed and laughed, great big baby belly-guffaws. That is holy time for me this week.

Fridays are holy time, when I don't go into the office and get to hang out with David and Jack.

Tomorrow I meet with my spiritual director, more holy time that helps me gain perspective.

And tomorrow night, I get to have supper with two of my oldest friends...together they help me remember who I have been, even as I realize that who I am now is almost a different person.

Sabbath time is when I stop and recognize God's presence in my life and in the world. When I remember that God is God and I am not, and when I can give thanks for that reminder and that orientation.

Quiet house. Glass of wine. End of a work-week. Amen.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Proper 21B sermon

What do the Collect for the day, St. Peter’s by-the-Sea and a pirate all have in common today? Give up? A focus on treasure.
Now, a good pirate is always very concerned with treasure, so that, I believe is self-explanatory, but the other two may need a bit of explanation.
Let’s look at the collect of the day: “O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace; that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure…”
In this prayer, we are ultimately asking God that we may be partakers of God’s heavenly treasure. Well, what does that mean? What exactly do we think we are asking for when we ask to be partakers of God’s heavenly treasure? ‘Pie in the sky when you die’ or something more pertinent to the here and the now? And how on earth do we run to obtain it?
The epistle reading for today from James gives us some help with this. The writer of James seems to be talking about different forms of prayer in our reading for today, but it goes even deeper than that. He is writing about common life, the grace and power that we receive when we are all united with God and each other through prayer. This is God’s heavenly treasure, what Jesus taught over and over again—love God and love each other. It was what he was referring to when he said “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Anything that doesn’t grow out of those two commandments is sin—that which separates us from God. God’s heavenly treasure is offered to us even now, when we try to live our lives faithfully according to Jesus’ teachings and are mindful of how our lives and choices and actions impact all people.
So much of our lives are spent running to obtain treasure, but it is not always God’s heavenly treasure that is found through loving God and loving others that we pursue. Our culture has very different ideas of what treasure is, and the message of what we should want, what we should need, often overpowers the gospel message of God’s grace, abundance, and invitation. It is all too easy for our own ideas of treasure to get all tangled up, and we lose focus on the offer of being partakers of God’s heavenly treasure.
The Anglican priest, Herbert O’Driscoll writes about a Celtic endearment—that is one of the most loving ways to refer to someone in that culture: “mo stor” or “my treasure.”
I’ve been wondering this week…..If I were to sit down and take an inventory of all that I am and all that I hope to be, what people and things, what gifts and talents would I consider to be ‘my treasure’. Treasure is not just about our income or our possessions, it is about what we afford value to (rightly or wrongly). For many people, time itself is considered a treasure because lives are so busy ,and time is such a precious commodity. What in my life do I most value…what people, places, experiences…what talents and dreams…what possessions. That is my treasure.
I learn so many spiritual lessons and truths from my children and this area is no exception. When we were preparing to move here, I was immersed in the business of moving, packing up all our things, buying a house…One day, Mary Margaret, who had been having some bad dreams, found a picture of us 4 Lemburgs taken at a Christmas parade last year. She asked if she could have it, and we put it into a frame that we found, and she told me that she planned to put it on her bedside table so that when she awoke from a bad dream, she could look at it and remember—no matter what happens, we’ll be together. That photo and all that it symbolized to her became a treasure.
What is your treasure? How does your treasure overlap with God’s treasure or are there gaping inconsistencies? All that we are and all that we have comes from God, so all is God’s treasure that is entrusted to our care. But in God’s economy some treasures have higher priority, such as acts of mercy and pity.
Today at St. Peter’s we have a two-part focus on treasure. Today is the beginning of our fall financial commitment campaign (a.k.a. the stewardship drive). Today we begin a 5 week focus on the various gifts that we have, the treasures that have been given to each of us by God and God alone and entrusted into our care, and how we are called to share these treasures, as individuals and as a church, to spread the good news of God’s saving work through Jesus Christ. Today we have our Parish Opportunity Day, a time when most of our ministries and programs are represented at tables in our parish hall, and all are invited to walk around, pray and discern where your gifts, your talents, your treasure can best be used in promoting the spread of the gospel through the work of the church.
Also today, we celebrate another treasure of St. Peter’s in the life and ministry of The Rev. Diane Livingston. You all know, better than I, how Diane’s presence among you during a time of intense transition served as a source of comfort and care, a graceful example of the servant ministry to which we all are called in our baptism and an icon of God’s loving care and presence for each of you. Diane has truly been a treasure here, and we give thanks for her witness and presence among us.
What exactly is God’s treasure that is promised us? What do you consider to be your treasure? Where do the two meet (or not meet), and how might you live your life or adjust your priorities so that your treasure and God’s treasure are one and the same? Our pursuit of treasure can be a source of hope and life for us, but it can also be something that separates us from the love of God and slowly kills our souls. Which do you choose?
In closing, I share with you a story by the clergyperson, John Westerhoff. “At an informal family Eucharist I celebrated last year during Lent, I asked the group to name persons whom they knew were suffering. A little girl sitting next to her father said, “My father’s suffering but he will not tell anyone.” While I was thinking of a response, she began to hug him. In embarrassment he said, “Oh, Beth, stop; you’re going to hug me to death.” No Daddy,” she exclaimed, “I’m hugging you to life.”
What is your treasure? What is God’s treasure? Are they the same?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Washed in the blood of the Lamb and Lovesme like the Rock of Ages

It had been a long, long Monday. I was on my way home, later than I had planned, and I got a call from D on my cell phone when I was at an intersection less than a mile from home. All he said was, "Come home right now."

When I walked into the door, I felt fairly confident that some form of chaos would greet me, and I was not disappointed. In the kitchen stood D and baby J, both of whom were covered in blood. And the baby was screaming hysterically. As I quickly surveyed the scene, I noticed that D had blood all over his white t-shirt, and J, who was not wearing a shirt, not only had bood smeared all over his chest but also had it smeared all around his mouth. I quickly learned that J had cut his finger and that it probably didn't require stitches, but that it would require two adults to subdue and bandage him to stop the bleeding. About 30 more minutes of drama ensued as we worked to clean and bandage him. I am always amazed at D's prowess at any kind of first aid. His training as a boy scout has always served us well.

So after we got J bandaged and cleaned up, he was still quite hysterical. I turned off the light in his room, and I sat in our rocking chair where the two of us have spent many long hours since the beginning of his life, in moments of quiet communion, first nursing and praying, and now reading, and singing and rocking. I held him closely, and I rocked him, and I sang to him. And I reflected.

First, I thought about the shocking image of seeing my 15 month old baby with blood smeared all over his face and around his mouth. D had told me that after J cut his finger, he had immediately put it in his mouth to try to make it feel better. But it was quite a disturbing sight to witness. Then I thought about how prominent a part blood plays in our weekly liturgy and how domesticated it has become for me. It took that shocking image of my child with his blood all over his face and all over his father for me to remember that Jesus talking about his own body and blood in the Last Supper isn't normal. It's disturbing. There's a violence that is associated with blood, for most people do bleed of their own free will. But there is also an earthiness there. It is the life-force of our bodies, a natural accompaniment to giving birth.

As I rocked and sang and comforted my baby, I thought about Paul Simon's song "Loves me like a rock", which to me is about the steadfastness of a mother's love through all stages and positions of life.

Haven't quite figured out how the two fit together, but I'll be thinking about it.

In the meantime, check out Paul Simon and the Muppets.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Bring your gift to the altar"

It was my second Sunday at St. Peter's and after the church service, one of my new parishoner's and friend came up to me to apologize for her almost 7 year old son's behavior at the altar rail. I thought back and didn't remember anything spectacular, and we surmised that it must have happend on the deacon, Diane's side. But then, of course, I had to know what happened, and she begrudgingly told me.

Apparantly, H had come to the altar with some friends of the family. When Diane went to place the host into his one open palm, he was nudged by the "adult" male who was with him, and H opened his other palm proudly to reveal that it contained a roly-poly. The story then went that Diane was so surprised by this offering, that she dropped the host (but this turned out to have taken on some elements of urban ledgend).

What most struck me, as my friend was telling me this, is that H was, in fact bringing his own offering to the altar as Jesus instructs all of us. What more appropriate offering from a 7 year old boy than a roly-poly which he has captured and contained, watched and wondered at?

One of my favorite things in this whole wide world is to witness children at the altar. I love to see their shining faces, the epitome of hope. It reminds me of who I have been and also who I hope to be: simple, joyful, and grateful.

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Changes in latitude; changes in attitude"

Last night, the Lemburg family went out to eat in our Sunday evening family meal ritual. (Sunday lunch is just too harried for priests' family, and we often find ourselves in different churches or citites at the noon hour and unable to gather before rest time). We've tried many different restaurants in our time here on the Coast, and this past Sunday, we tried a different one, just downt the street from our house.

Things were going well. They actually had a high chair for J (we've been to a couple that have not, and we won't be returning there); we had ordered our food, were being served by an energetic attentive waitress; MM was coloring on the fabulous kids sheet they had provided, and D and I were catching our breath and enjoying a moment or two of relative peace. It was then that I noticed that J (who is 15 months old) was doing something weird in his high chair. As I observed him and payed attention to our surroundings, I noticed that there was a Jimmy Buffet song playing in the restaurant. J was putting his hands behind his head with his elbows out to the side and gyrating his body (much like the siganture move from The Full Monty). I realized that he was trying to show his appreciation for the music by dancing enthusiastically. It was hilarious, and I kept laughing out loud as he continued to do his new move all throughout dinner.

We finished dinner and went home and started the bedtime ritual, and I got to put J to bed. We read a story, turned off the light, and snuggled in his rocking chair. I sang to him and rocked him for a good long time, telling him how precious he was to me and how much I enjoyed his dancing, and soon, he fell asleep in my arms like he has not done in months.

It was holy time. As holy as my time at the altar had been that morning. And as I sat there in the dark with the heavy weight of a sleeping baby snuggled against me, I thanked God that I am able to be a mom and a wife and a priest, and that God speaks to me through it all when I take time to listen to the music and be still in the holy moments.

Not your mother's church

I have recently started a new position as Rector of St. Peter's by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Gulport, MS. This new job has included a move for my entire family--a major transition for my husband and me as well as for our two small children, who had only ever known McComb as their home.

I had been worried about how my five year old daughter would adapt to life in a new place and especially life in a new church. Clergy kids have such a blessed and a cursed existence. Because of their connection to the priest, they are often cast into the spotlight just by association. In a way, they become the property of the entire church, almost like a church pet, and this can truly be a blessing, as we have experienced in the past, as the parish showers upon them love and attention that is truly like grace--well beyond what could ever be asked for our imagined. We definietly experienced this at Mediator-Redeemer, and I was somewhat anxious as to what it would be like for my children at my new cure.

Just before this past Sunday (after two Sundays at the new church), D was talking to MM (5 year old daughter) about what was going to happen on Sunday. He told her that he would be serving his last Sunday in Crystal Springs, and that she and her brother "would be going with Mommy to Mommy's church." At this point in the conversation, MM interrupted and said, "You mean we are all going to MY church."

It made my heart glad to hear those words come from her and the sense of belonging that she already feels. It speaks greatly about the warm welcome that we have received here, as well as about the unique way that children adapt to the world around them. And it reminds me of what I used to feel in the church of my childhood, how I knew it was MY church and would walk the stairways and halls with a sense of belonging.

My prayers this night is that I might learn about new beginnings, welcome, and transitions from my daughter and plunge right into belonging with no hesitation or reservations. And my prayer is that all the children of our church may proudly say, "It's not Mommy or Daddy's church. It's MY church!"