Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Advent 4

Advent 4
December 19, 2010
On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we light our 4th candle and we remember the angels—God’s messengers of peace and good news. And on this last Sunday of Advent, I invite you to once again take a few moments of silence and get in touch with your longing. Close your eyes for these moments of silence, if you would like, and ask yourself, “For what do I long?”
Our gospel reading from Matthew today gives voice to one of the longings of our hearts. We long for dreams, for vision and the promise of God.
Our reading for today is one in a series of 4 dreams in Matthew that are all key components to Matthew’s telling of the story of Jesus’s birth, and these 4 dreams are central to the very survival of the baby Jesus. After today’s dream, Joseph is visited by the angel in his dreams twice more as he is warned to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt when Herod orders the slaughter of all the young male Hebrew children and then told that it is safe to return from Egypt. (The other dream in Matthew is when an angel comes to the wise men and tells them to avoid Herod on their way out of town, as he is desperate for information on Jesus’s whereabouts so he may eliminate him.)
In today’s dream, Joseph has discovered that Mary is with child and has seemingly broken both cultural expectations and the betrothal covenant. Being a kind, righteous man, Joseph forms a plan to divorce Mary, which is the culturally expected thing to do in such a situation, but he plans to do it quietly so to minimize the harm it may cause her. As far as plans go, it is a reasonable plan.
But then the angel comes to Joseph in his dream and explains to Joseph what is going on. The angel, God’s messenger, gives Joseph a glimpse of God’s vision—that the child that Mary shall bear will be “Emmanuel—God with us.” And the angel gives Joseph a new plan to follow: to take Mary as his wife and name the child, thus recognizing him as Joseph’s own son.
It is when Joseph wakes up that I think the truly remarkable happens. When Joseph awakens, he has a choice. He can follow his own carefully laid out plan that fits in with his culture’s expectations. Or he can follow the dream of God, the vision, the promise of God with us.
Like Joseph, we long for the dream of God, for tangible glimpses of God’s vision, God’s promise of God with us.
We long for surety, for answers about many things, including which direction to follow in life to be the people God calls us to be, and we make our own plans as to how to achieve that. We live within our own culture’s expectations, and we live our lives the best we can when often the way before us seems murky and even dark. And what we wouldn’t give sometimes for an angel in a dream telling us clearly what to do, for just a glimpse of the vision of God to help us on our path.
This season we remember and celebrate that God is with us. And I wonder how often in our lives this God-with-us offers us God’s messengers, the dreams and the visions for which we long, but we cannot recognize these glimpses of God’s dream, we cannot heed them, cannot follow because we are too attached to our own plans, our own or our culture’s expectations?
Today we give thanks for Joseph, a righteous man who was not afraid to put aside his own plans to follow God’s dream and whose courageous choice opened the way for the gift of God with us.

Advent 3

3rd Sunday of Advent
December 12, 2010
Advent is a season for remembering. In the lighting of our Advent candles, we remember the message of the prophets, quiet Bethlehem where Christ was born, and we remember the shepherds who first heard the good news of God with us. Today we light the pink candle on our Advent wreath on this Rejoicing Sunday.
Advent is a time of waiting and expectation, of both hope and longing. Last week, I invited you to become acquainted with your own longing this Advent season, and I will once again invite you into a space of silence and reflection, but before I offer you my Advent question, I want to acknowledge something.
It is easy for me to stand up here over these four weeks and ask you the question, “For what do you long?” but getting in touch with and befriending our longing is not easy work. Many of us spend much of our time, our energy, our lives convincing ourselves that everything is fine, that life is good, that we are content and that we have everything we could possibly want or need, and we fill our lives with busyness, bustling from task to task, from idea to idea in an attempt to dampen our restlessness. But underneath all our busyness, underneath it all dwells our lonely longing heart.
This past Monday, it was well past my bedtime, and I couldn’t sleep (which is very unusual for me—usually I collapse into sleep moments after my head hits the pillow). This particular night, I was restless, so I got out of bed and went and sat in my favorite chair with my journal. And I was still restless, so finally it occurred to me that perhaps I needed to spend some time with my own Advent question—for what do you long? So I asked and I waited and I listened. It did not take long for the Holy Spirit to whisper in my prayers and give name to my longing that night; it was a longing for solitude, for space and time to be quiet and to have absolutely no one and nothing in between my soul and God.
So now I invite you to close your eyes if you want and to spend a few moments in silence listening to the Holy Spirit as you ask yourself this morning: “for what do you long?”
Our scriptures give voice again this week to the longing of the people of God, and this week, all three readings give us different glimpses of longing for home; each in its own way is a snapshot of a homesick people.
The reading from Isaiah gives us a kaleidoscope of beautiful images of a new home that is both the new promise of God and the lovely dream of a homesick, exiled people.
The writer of the book of James is more of a realist who advises a sort of spiritual “buckling down” in the face of homesickness and longing, trials and persecutions, that we may endure patiently until the Lord comes again and restores our home for us.
And the gospel of Matthew gives us a glimpse of the imprisoned John the Baptist, who is homesick for his mission and ministry and who longs for answers and for inclusion in the new home and new kingdom that Jesus is creating.
In his book The Longing for Home, the writer and theologian Frederick Buechner writes about a powerful moment in a church service when he was a lost young man listening to his next door neighbor and mentor, the Reverend George Buttrick preach a sermon one Sunday morning. Buechner writes, “It was toward the middle of December, I think, that he said something in a sermon that has always stayed with me. He said that on the previous Sunday, as he was leaving the church to go home, he happened to overhear somebody out on the steps asking somebody else, “Are you going home for Christmas?” and I can almost see Buttrick with his glasses glittering in the lectern light as he peered out at all those people listening to him in that large, dim sanctuary and asked it again—“Are you going home for Christmas?”—and asked it in some sort of way that brought tears to my eyes and made it almost unnecessary for him to move on to his answer to the question, which was that home, finally, is the manger in Bethlehem, the place where at midnight even the oxen kneel.” Buechner continues, “Home is where Christ is was what Buttrick said that winter morning and when the next autumn I found myself to my great surprise putting aside whatever career I thought I might have as a writer and going to Union Seminary instead at least partly because of the tears that kept coming to my eyes, I don’t believe that I consciously thought that home was what I was going there in search of, but I believe that was the truth of it.” (24-25)
On some level, all of us long for home and go in search of it in various ways; for some of us it is the home of our memory which we try to recreate in some ways in the present, or perhaps it is the home of a distant dream, a place that no longer or has never existed. The church father, St. Augustine wrote that our hearts are restless until they rest in God, and it is true that while we are in this life, we will always be longing for home, longing for God. But a friend recently reminded me that even while we long for our spiritual home, long for God, God is present with us in our very longing. It is the reality, the promise, and the hope for which we both rejoice this day and prepare to kneel before at the manger on Christmas eve. God with us. In Christ our true home is always present.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Advent II

Advent 2A
December 5, 2010
The season of Advent is my favorite season of the church, and it is also the most counter cultural. While the world around us rushes to decorate, to cook, to shop with a frantic and frenetic energy, we are called to wait, to be still, to be silent, to listen. The other day I was listening to an Advent cd in my car—hymns like what we are singing in church today—hymns that give voice to our longing and our expectation; and I went into a department store and encountered a riot of Christmas decorations, a long line with grumpy shoppers, and the sounds of Jingle Bells playing too loudly and at a tempo that was 5 times faster than normal and which made it quite frazzled and frantic.
This Advent, if you find a space for silence and for waiting, for hope and for longing nowhere else, I promise that you will find it here.
For the rest of this season, I want us to consider one question: “For what do you long?” What is the deepest hunger of the deepest part of your heart?
Take a moment of silence now, breath, listen, and dwell with your longing. For what do you long this day?
This Advent we will dwell with our own longing and we will listen to our scriptures as they give voice to our deepest longing.
Today’s scriptures name two of our deepest longings. We as God’s people long for hope, and we long for harmony.
Hope is a gift from the God of steadfastness and encouragement, and it flows freely through our relationship with God and the scriptures. I’ll never forget the time that I was teaching an Inquirer’s class, and I quoted, almost off-handedly, a passage from a book to them that said the scriptures are “the love story between God and humanity. They tell us where we have been, who we are, and where we’re going.” When I looked up at the people I was teaching, I saw that they each looked like they’d been hit in the head with something, and I realized what a profound concept this is. The scriptures tell us what we already know: that we are people who spend a lot of our days wandering in the wilderness, longing for someone to love us and help us. And when we pay attention, we see that God is with us, loving us, helping us, and offering us the gift of God’s hope, which is the fruit of our trust in God.
The other longing that our scriptures name today is the longing for harmony. We see in Isaiah God’s ancient promise of harmony for all God’s creation and the vision of God in which we are invited to participate. Harmony means our willingness to encounter God’s welcome to each one of us, encountering God’s wide embrace which means that all belong in the heart of God. When we know this and believe it, then we act accordingly to others, and we take our place in the vision of God, even as we give others the invitation to join us there.
Another way that we find the fulfillment for our longing for harmony and participation in the vision of God is to remember that we human beings exist not for the fulfillment of ourselves but for the glory of God. When we are all working for the glory of God, then we are more likely to dwell within the vision of God’s peace.
Thomas Merton once said that life is a perpetual advent. This Advent season, may you not be afraid to dwell a bit with your longing, may you make peace with it, and “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Thanksgiving Sermon

Thanksgiving sermon
November 21, 2010
I don’t know about y’all but we at St. Peter’s have been talking a lot about first fruits lately. I would imagine that we are not unique in this utilizing of October and November as a time for the annual stewardship drive. And in that time of stewardship, we have spent some time talking about first fruits, how it is important to give to God off the top of our lives rather than out of what happens to be left-over. This is emphasized in our passage from Deuteronomy this evening, how God has saved the people of Israel and brought them out of slavery and exile in Egypt and has brought them into the land of promise that is their inheritance as God’s people. Because of this special relationship with God, the people are instructed to give the first fruits of the ground to God. It is an act of thanksgiving, an act of relationship, an act of remembering all that God has done for them and responding.
I would imagine that it was pretty easy to do this, that first year. After all, we know that it is not a hard task to be thankful to God when the milk and honey of the land is flowing freely. It is easy to be thankful when all is going well, and my heart is practically overflowing with thanksgiving to God for the glory of creation, when the skies are brilliant blue and the sunlight sparkles on the sound. It is easy to be thankful when my household is running smoothly, kids and husband are happy and healthy, and the kids are acting sweetly. (In fact, my moment of deepest thanksgiving every day is inevitably when I am putting each child to bed.)
It is easy to feel thankful when all is going well. But what about when it is not? How do we give God the first fruit that is thanksgiving when our hearts are heavy or burdened, when we don’t really feel that we have anything for which to be thankful?
There’s a great scene in the lovely book the Life of Pi by Yann Martel, that gets to the heart of thanksgiving. Pi Patel, the hero of the novel, is a 16 year old boy from India, who practices Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam and who has the gift of seeking out and holding up the kernel of what is best in all of them. Through a strange series of circumstances, Pi finds himself stranded in a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a 450 pound Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker. Pi is forced to use every ounce of his reason and skill to survive, and he often relies on his faith to provide meaning and comfort in his bleak situation.
In the following passage, Pi speaks of his reliance on his faith over the course of his journey, and it is a faith that is strengthened and upheld by a spirit of thanksgiving:
“I practiced religious rituals that I adapted to the circumstances—solitary Masses without priests or consecrated hosts…They brought me comfort, that is certain. But it was hard, oh it was hard. Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love—but sometimes it was so hard to love. Sometimes my heart was sinking so fast with anger, desolation, and weariness, I was afraid it would sink to the very bottom of the Pacific and I would not be able to lift it back up.
At such moments, I tried to elevate myself. I would touch the turban I had made with the remnants of my shirt and I would say aloud ‘THIS IS GOD’S HAT!’
I would pat my pants and say aloud ‘THIS IS GOD’S ATTIRE!’
I would point to Richard Parker and say aloud ‘THIS IS GOD’S CAT!’
I would point to the lifeboat and say aloud ‘THIS IS GOD’S ARK!’
I would space my hands wide and say aloud ‘THESE ARE GOD’S WIDE ACRES!’
I would point at the sky and say aloud ‘THIS IS GOD’S EAR!’
And in this way I would remind myself of creation and of my place in it.
But God’s hat was always unraveling. God’s pants were falling apart. God’s cat was a constant danger. God’s ark was a jail. God’s wide acres were slowly killing me. God’s ear didn’t seem to be listening.
Despair was a heavy blackness that let no light in or out… I thank God it always passed. A school of fish appeared around the net or a knot cried out to be reknotted. Or I thought of my family, of how they were spared this terrible agony. The blackness would stir and eventually go away, and God would remain, a shrinking point of light in my heart. I would go on loving.”
Just as love is a choice, an action, so may we also choose thanksgiving, even when our hearts are not feeling particularly thankful.
One of the most powerful things I have ever experienced was my first time attending the noon-day chapel service at Stewpot Soup Kitchen in Jackson. I had just started working there, fresh out of college, and the leadership of Stewpot had decided a while before that people needed to be fed spiritually as well as physically. And so they started holding an ecumenical worship service 30 minutes before the noon meal, and people were invited but not required to attend. Well, the service was usually packed full, as it was on this first day I attended. At one point in the service, the leader went around the room asking each and every person to name one thing he or she was thankful for on that particular day. He asked the homeless people, the mothers struggling to raise their children without enough money to buy food or clothing—name one thing for which you are thankful. He asked the mentally disabled who aimlessly wandered the streets of Jackson in an attempt to escape their abysmal group homes, and he asked the senior citizens who had to choose whether they could buy food or medications with their limited incomes—name one thing for which you are thankful. As I sat there, curious about what these worn-down people could possibly be thankful for, I was overwhelmed by the sincerity and simplicity of their responses. Every person found at least one thing to be grateful for that day, and many of them responded simply, “I am grateful that God woke me up this morning and gave me this new day.” It quickly became evident to me that they understood and believed that everything, every day is a new creation with new possibilities and new ways to love, that all that is has been given by God. And they were grateful. I will never forget the lesson that those beautiful, broken people taught me that day: at any point in our lives, any person can choose to find at least one reason to be thankful for God.
I think that too often we think that thanksgiving is an emotion that must well up out of our over-full hearts. And friends, that just isn’t the case. Thanksgiving is love in action. It is a choice that we make to live our lives a certain way. Pi Patel recognized this even as he was stuck in abysmal circumstances, he remembered that all that he had been given was really God’s and even though bad things were happening to him, he chose to carry on with his life and to carry on trying to love God. My friends at Stewpot had made the choice to be thankful as well; in the midst of their own oppressive situations, they recognized that all that they had, including their very lives, was a gift from God, and so they chose to respond to God and their neighbors with love.
And so this night we gather to break bread together, and to help each other remember that Thanksgiving is choosing a path, a way of living our lives, recognizing that all that we are and all that we have comes from God, and offering love as our first fruits, our thankful response.

Last Sunday after Pentecost--Christ the King

Christ the King Sunday—Proper 29C
November 21, 2010
Today is the last Sunday after Pentecost, last Sunday in our season of ordinary time, and the last Sunday of the church year. In our church, this Sunday is designed to lift up the theme of Christ as King, and then we move next Sunday into the season of Advent with its themes of waiting and hope, of expectation and longing.
So what does it mean to say that Christ is King on this day?
Our readings give us three depictions of kingship that are startling in their differences. For Jeremiah, a true king is one who is responsible for the people and should not allow them to be scattered through ruin and disaster. True kingship is the promise of one who will not only gather those who are scattered but he will also fulfill the kingly task of bringing all people together and be present with all people.
In the hymn to Christ, the writer of Colossians gives us a poetic smattering of images of Christ’s kingship: his glorious power, his inheritance of light, the image of the invisible God, first born of all creation; “he is before all things and in him all things hold together;” in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him God reconciled all things to God. It is a high and lofty expression of what it means to see Christ as King.
Then suddenly we find ourselves right in the middle of Jesus’s crucifixion from Luke’s gospel, and we see him being mocked by his tormenters and ridiculed in his kingship. We witness his humiliation, and his sublime power as he forgives again and again and again. And we see him honor the thief’s request and his confession of faith as he grants him a place in his kingdom.
So how do these three different pictures of Christ’s kingship come together for us to inform us and help us in our relationship with God?
I think it’s important to remember this day that in the earthly realm, the function of a king is symbolic. A king rules over a particular place or a particular ethnic group. For someone to be a king, he needs to have a people. And what we celebrate this Sunday of the year is that Christ has made of us his people.
As most of you know, I grew up here in Mississippi. David, on the other hand, grew up in Northwest Arkansas, and so he was not familiar with a lot of our Southern culture as it is lived out here. When we first moved to Mississippi, he was baffled by the Southern ritual of “who are your people.” You know the one I’m talking about. You get a couple of people together who are just meeting for the first time, and they want to know who your people are—that means a family name and a location. Here in the South, your “people” is a biological unit. When we first moved here, David didn’t much care for this exercise. His people weren’t in or from Mississippi, and so he didn’t see the point in it. But for those of us who live here, it’s a way of connecting to people, of understanding who they are, where they come from and seeing how their life patterns may be interconnected with ours by knowing the same people. This is what Christ does for us, and we lift that up today. He gives us that common relative, that connection through which we can relate to one another.
We are scattered and fragmented, and we are called back into wholeness, back into God by Christ who brings all together. And we remember this day and give thanks that we are all made Christ’s people and united to each other in and through his forgiveness. We become related through his kingship, and we are bound together through our forgiven-ness.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sunday after All Saints'

Sunday after All Saints’
Baptismal letter
November 7, 2010
A letter for those about to be baptized (and for those renewing their own baptismal covenant).
Dear Mason, Alejandro, and Amelia,
This day we do something very strange. We take you three, beautiful children, and we drown you in the waters of baptism and bury you in the death of Christ. We do this so that you may no longer belong to yourselves, or even to your parents. We baptize you so that all may remember that no matter what happens to you over the course of your life, you are blessed, and you belong to God.
On this day of your baptism, as your parents and godparents make promises on your behalf, we make one all encompassing promise to you. We promise to support you; we promise to help you remember that no matter what happens, you belong to God, to help you remember that you are blessed.
People are haunted and lost, but in our baptism, we are claimed as Christ’s own. We may feel that we have fallen out of belonging over the course of our lives, but when we renew the covenant, we remember that we are marked as Christ’s own forever and that he calls us to proclaim that good news to all whom we encounter.
The Wisdom of God who dwells within us is so often quiet and subtle, especially amidst the clamor of the world and of our own selfish desires. But we promise to remind you that she is there and to help you listen to her, that she may nurture and embrace, teach and guide you on the way and even overflow from your own heart to anoint others in the light of belonging.
We will help you remember that you belong to the communion of saints, which means that all those who have gone before us in the faith and who continue to grow in the love and service to God in eternity are also bound to us in faith and support us in prayer. Those whose lives of faith have shaped and influenced you in the past continue to be active in our present and future and we are held in their faith and in their prayers when we most need it. They have illumined for us the path of belonging, what it means to be God’s people. For we all belong to God.
We promise that when you suffer, for unfortunately ,you sweet, innocent dear ones, you will suffer, we promise to help you find meaning and hope in your suffering even as we remind you that in Christ’s wounded body, we are bound in solidarity with all who suffer and we are called to do all in our power to prevent suffering and injustice in the future.
We promise that when you are most poor, we will help you find the treasure of the Kingdom of God which is already yours. When you are hungry, we will feed you and remind you that you dwell in the fullness that is God. When you are weeping, we will weep with you, and we will hold onto one another in the promise of God’s laughter. When you are hated or excluded, reviled or defamed because you belong to God, we will stand with you in that, and hold and uphold you in the peace of that belonging.
We promise to help you remember the hope to which you are called, to hold you to the standards of compassion and reconciliation and selflessness into which you are baptized this day, and we ask that you do the same for us.
We promise to help you remember the truth of your baptism, the truth of the resurrection: that God’s love is stronger than anything…even death; and that for those who belong to God, death is nothing to fear but is yet another passage on the way to deeper belonging to God.
And we promise to walk that way with you as your brothers and sisters, as your friends and companions, in this life and in the next.
Your sister in Christ, Melanie

Monday, October 11, 2010

20th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 23C sermon

This sermon references the texts of Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 and Luke 17:11-19.

20th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 23C
October 10, 2010

In thinking about gratitude this week, I was reminded of the scene from that old movie, Shenandoah. In the movie, Jimmy Stewart is a pacifist farmer in the midst of the civil war. He’s trying to raise 7 children without his wife’s presence, but with her strict instructions that they be raised as good Christians, so he prays dutifully over their bountiful dinner, “Lord, we cleared this land; we plowed it, sowed it, and harvested it. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here; we wouldn’t be eating it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone for every crumb all ourselves, but we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food we are about to eat. Amen.” And I wonder, when compared with this week’s gospel story, is this gratitude?
I think that there is a certain part of gratitude that has to do with duty. I wish I had a dollar for every time I do something for one of my children and then I always say, “Now what do you say to me???” (And what are they supposed to say?) Thank you! In the South, we know that saying “thank you” is just what you do; and so we do it because we are supposed to.
But our gospel lesson for today gives us another piece of the picture of what gratitude is. 10 lepers are walking by Jesus out in the middle of nowhere. They all cry out to him, “Jesus, Master, Have mercy on us.” He tells them to go show themselves to the priests and on the way, they discovered that they have been healed of their skin affliction. One person, upon realizing that he had been healed, turns back and falls at Jesus’s feet and tells him thank you. Jesus tells the man to get up and go on his way, for his faith has saved him. It’s important to note that the writer of the gospel of Luke situates this story of the healing of the 10 lepers and the one grateful one who returned, right in the middle of a chapter on discipleship. It is discipleship that moves gratitude from being about duty into being about our relationship with God.
Does God need our gratitude? No. But we need to be grateful. It is the natural state of the creature toward the creator, and every Sunday, we are reminded that it is a part of DNA as people of faith: “lift up your hearts!” We lift them up to the Lord!” Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give God thanks and praise. It is right, and a good, and joyful thing, always and everywhere” to praise and give thanks to God. Our sacred meal of remembrance is called Eucharist which means Thanksgiving. It is not just what we do, but it is also who we are. We are people of gratitude.
Sometimes it is so easy to lift up grateful hearts before God. When the weather is like it has been, I am so much more mindful of being grateful to God than in the dog days of summer. Several years ago, it was beautiful weather (like today) and Mary Margaret and I were going to go on a walk. She was very excited about the prospect and was buzzing around while I got us ready and finally got her into her stroller. Then she said to me, “Wait, Mommy. I need to do something.” So I waited; and she prayed: “God is great, God is good. Let us thank God for this walk. Amen.”
But there are other times in our lives, when the weather is not so nice, when the diagnosis isn’t what we had hoped, when the old wounds refuse to heal, when the news is not good or when life is just plain hard. And as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to be grateful to God, even then. How are we grateful then, when it feels that we have very little for which to be grateful?
You have heard the words of the false prophet, Hannaniah, Jeremiah writes to the children of Israel who have been taken away from their home in Israel into captivity in Babylon. Hannaniah is telling you that you will be coming home soon, but I am the true prophet of the Lord, and I am telling you that you will not be coming home soon. So here’s what God wants you to do. Even though you are homesick and grieving, even though you long to return to the land of your ancestors and heritage, God is calling you to get on with your lives, there in Babylon. Build houses and live in them. Plant a garden, marry off your children, make friends with the Babylonians. Get on with your life. And even if you are not grateful, you say thank you anyway; because you are still God’s people, even after everything. You practice gratitude, and as you practice, the Holy Spirit will transform your burden of duty into joyful gratitude. And you will be healed (but maybe not in the way you expect).
Like faith, gratitude is not about feeling. It is about practice. If you do not feel that you can be grateful, then live gratefully. Let us pray. God is great. God is good. Let us thank God for this day. Amen.

Monday, October 4, 2010

19th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 22C sermon

19th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 22C
October 3, 2010

Luke 17:5-10
The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you. "Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"

I will never forget the day in CPE-the chaplaincy training program that most clergy have to complete before ordination—when one of my colleagues was kicked out of our program by our supervisor. His name was Miles, and he was from a more fundamentalist tradition. He had been serving as chaplain in the ICU floor of our hospital, and the head nurse reported him to our supervisor because he told the daughter of a man who was dying in the ICU that if she only had more faith, then her father would get better.
This is one of our worst nightmares, one of our most shadowy, dark, secret fears. If only I had more faith then the bad things wouldn’t happen to me; if only I had more faith, then maybe a miracle would occur. If only I had more faith, then I would know what to say when faced with such tragedy and sorrow.
Even the disciples, when faced with Jesus’s description of the demands and challenges of discipleship, whisper in their hearts, “Oh, if only I had more faith, then maybe I could accomplish this.” And then, overcome by their fears and terrors, they cry out to Jesus: “Increase our faith!”
So often we read Jesus’s response like my former colleague Miles: “if only you had the smallest seed of faith, then you’d be able to accomplish miracles.” But these are not the words of Jesus to his friends, friends that he is preparing to give his life for. And these are not his words for us, we who are needy, discouraged, disheartened, and grieving.
“Why, you don’t need more faith,” Jesus tells us. “All you need is this teeniest, tiniest little bit. You already have what you need. God has already given you what you need. Do not worry about how much faith you have. Instead, live faithfully. Do your duty, what you are called by God to be and to do. Even the tiniest bit of faith is enough to do extraordinary things, but it must be put into practice.”
Faith is not just saying “I believe.” It is living as if “I believe that…” I believe that God is still at work in the world; I believe that all the suffering will one day be redeemed; I believe that love is stronger than anything, even death. Faith is so much more than just showing up and going through the motions. Practicing our faith means picking a spot to be rooted in and to grow in that spot, in giving, in prayer, in good works.
Faith is looking unflinchingly into the face of suffering, in our own lives, in our relationships, in the world, and it is saying that this suffering is the way of the cross and that even this darkness can and will be redeemed in and through Christ’s resurrection, no matter what happens.
Faith is holding onto the faith that has been passed on to us, by our mothers and our grandmothers and all the saints who have come before us, and it is trusting them and their faith when we feel we cannot trust our own.
And it is clinging to the faith and the hope of the people of God, who cry out to God in their suffering across the ages in echoes of loneliness, despair, grief, utter bereavement, spiritual and physical homelessness, and suffering, and who cling to the steadfast love and mercy of God who is fully present in and with our loneliness, despair, grief, utter bereavement, spiritual and physical homelessness, and suffering.
“In my heart there is no faith—no love—no trust—there is so much pain—the pain of longing, the pain of not being wanted. I want God with all the powers of my soul—and yet there between us—there is terrible separation.” These words were written by a famous person of faith in the 20th century, and they may sounds hauntingly familiar to many of us. They were published a few years ago in the book Come My Light, which is composed of excerpts of letters written by Mother Teresa in letters to spiritual advisers over a period of 45 years in which she directed the Missionaries of Charity, the order of Roman Catholic nuns she founded. Though she longed for joy in her faith, she knew that her feelings were not the point. What is importance is the practice.
You already have what you need. God has already given you what you need. Do not worry about how much faith you have. Instead, live faithfully. Do your duty, what you are called by God to be and to do. Even the tiniest bit of faith is enough to do extraordinary things, but it must be put into practice.

Monday, September 20, 2010

17th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 20C

The 17th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 20C
September 19, 2010
Today's gospel reading includes one of Jesus's most challenging parables. It is both challenging to read and challening to preach. Why would Jesus make an example for godly living so unsavory as it is in the person of the dishonest manager? Also, the ending is completely unsatisfactory. We want to see the scoundrel get justice in the end. But that’s not what happens.
So beyond being completely confusing and unsatisfactory, what does this parable have to offer us today? After Jesus tells the story of the dishonest manager, how he tried to repair his swindling by reducing the debts of those indebted to the rich man, he makes a comparison between the “children of this age” who are represented by the dishonest manager and the “children of light” who are presumably the followers of Jesus, his disciples that he is telling the story to (and us). He commends the dishonest steward because he uses all the resources that he has at his disposal, all the things that have been entrusted to him, all his master’s treasures, to bring about a particular vision, that is to save his own skin. The dishonest manager has an understanding of his master, as well as of the people he is working with, and he uses all of that awareness to try to get himself out of trouble.
So one of the questions this parable raises for me is what does it mean to be the children of light? What are the treasures of God that are entrusted to us? How are we called to live into God’s vision for the kingdom?
I think being children of the light means being bearers of the good news. It means that we live within the world but do not live our lives according to the values of the world. It means that we live our lives centered in Christ and his teachings, not putting ourselves at the center but rather putting Jesus and other people at the center. It means using our resources and our energy to work with God to bring all of creation into God’s kingdom. The treasures of the children of light are those things that Jesus has taught us to hold dear. At the heart of it all is God’s love which is freely given to us and which we are called to share with others, above anything that we may gain for ourselves, above even our own lives. The vision of the kingdom of God which we are called to bear witness to is a kingdom where love and relationship with God and others is of greatest importance, where everything else works toward this vision. And the deepest treasure of this vision, the deepest treasure of both love and relationship is forgiveness. That’s what the dishonest manager understood and used to his advantage. How much more are we, the children of light, called to understand and to use this treasure in doing the work of God’s kingdom?
So I had made my peace with this difficult parable, and then God sprung another one on me. I was drinking my coffee and reading the paper on Friday morning, when I saw a picture of the man who I had met at the church a mere few days before the angel statue was stolen from the church grounds back in March. He had introduced himself as Joe, and he was the one I always suspected of being the perpetrator of the theft, and there he was pictured in the paper along with a story about a copper-theft ring that has just been busted in Jackson County. Well, I was quite excited and set the wheels of justice in motion, contacting our wardens, who then contacted the local authorities. Well, the wheels of justice are slowly turning, and nothing further has happened in this at this time, except that this story from real life then started bumping up against Jesus’s parable for me, and it started causing me some real discomfort, and it made me start asking questions.
What is the call of the children of light in this particular situation? Here we have a person who has hurt us tremendously, probably for his own selfish gain. He stole a piece of our history that was precious to us, precious because of who it represents and also because it symbolizes a piece of our church, a piece of our past that weathered the storm and was restored. And he made a complete fool of us and our hospitality, showing up in broad daylight and asking questions about the angel statue, even getting a tour of the church. Personally, I’m really angry at Joe, and I’d like to see them lock him away and throw away the key. But that is the way of the world, and it is the concern of our justice system. I fully support our justice system and trust that process, and I will do all in my power to support it. But, to borrow a phrase from our more Protestant brothers and sisters, I find myself, in this situation, to be “convicted by the gospel.” If we really believe that we are the children of light and we are called to live our lives according to the priorities of God and God’s kingdom, then how are we called to lift up the priorities of love and relationship in this particular situation with this particular individual ? What would forgiveness for this individual look like for us? How might we even begin to go about it?
Let me share with you something that happened to my family when I was growing up, because it is part of my challenge with this Joe situation. When I was a teenager, my family was the victim of multiple house burglaries. At first, they took money and all of our jewelry, mostly sentimental pieces like the gold locket that had been my great-aunt/godmother’s and my leather-bound, gold embossed Bible with my name on it. When they came back, they took the tv and VCR and other larger items, anything they could carry with them. We got the bigger items back after finding them at a local pawn shop, but we never recovered the sentimental items. Eventually, my dad was called down to the Canton Police department, and he looked into the faces of two teenage boys who were responsible for causing my family such hurt and fear. The boys were dealt with according to the law, and we went on with our lives.
Years later, my dad participated in a Kairos event. For those of you who don’t know, Karios is a weekend of spiritual renewal similar to Happening, or Cursillio, but it is held in prison, and the pilgrims are convicts. My dad and the others on the team had spent a lot of time praying before they put on the weekend, praying for themselves and for those they were going to encounter and when dad was there at the prison doing the Kairos weekend, he met one of those two teenage boys who had robbed our house. The young man remembered my dad, and he told my dad about how he had felt when he was handcuffed to the chair in the Canton Police Department and he had to look into the face of the man whose family he had robbed repeatedly. And then, in that prison, where he was doing time for a completely different crime, that man asked my father for forgiveness for what he had done to our family, and my dad, by the grace of God, was able to grant it.
So I don’t know where God is calling us in this thing with Joe, but I know that we need to begin somewhere.
And that somewhere is that we begin by praying. Paul’s first letter to Timothy says, “First of all, then I urge that supplications, prayer, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone”. Don’t just pray for those you like, Paul says, or those who are sick. Pray for everyone, even those who hurt you. And then he challenges us to remember that Christ Jesus “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” and who, therefore, did not just give himself for the children of light but “as a ransom for all,” even someone so self-centered as would steal from a church. So we pray for Joe; and we pray for ourselves, that God may give us the grace and the power to act, not as children of this world, but as children of the light, who are working to help fulfill God’s vision for God’s kingdom.
Let us pray. Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, September 13, 2010

16th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 19C

The 16th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 19C
September 12, 2010
Our gospel lesson for today is 2 out of a series of three parables that Jesus tells in Luke’s chapter 15. Luke starts off by setting the scene saying that “the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus.” As a result of this, the Scribes and Pharisees, the religious insiders, begin grumbling… “What kind of person is this Jesus of Nazareth who’s willing to consort with such a disreputable bunch?…”
When Jesus hears them, he tells the two parables that we heard today and then upon their heels, he tells the parable of the prodigal son, which we don’t get to hear today.
“Which one of you…” Jesus says, wouldn’t go after a lost sheep or search for a lost coin? So, I’m going to need a little help with this part from the kids… We have, somewhere in our nave, a little lost sheep and one lone lost coin, and I need you to walk around quietly and see if you can find them….
(Jeopardy music…)
(When they find it, have a bit of the Hallelujah chorus sung or get crowd to cheer)
Now in just a few moments, we will have a banquet of bread and wine to celebrate the recovery of the lost…
You know, the temptation of this parable for some of us may be to associate with God who searches out the lost, as we in the church are called to do—seek out the lost. (Or some of us may even associate with the lost that are found by God.)
But I bet few of us naturally associate with the Scribes and Pharisees who were grumbling about being included with such riff raff.
But listen to what Jesus says: “Which one of you” would leave 99 safe, healthy sheep to go into the wilderness to find one lost sheep, and then have a party when you found it? “And which one of you” would spend all this time and effort and energy turning your house inside out to find a lost coin and then spend money to throw a party to celebrate?
Not me! It doesn’t make any sense! It seems at the best extravagant and wasteful and at the worst, foolish.
In these parables, Jesus is very clearly telling us (and the Scribes and Pharisees): God’s economy and your economy are very different; God’s priorities and yours are not the same.
But I think the most important issue today is that God calls the righteous, the religious insiders, the older brothers who have never strayed, but who have always been where we were supposed to be and done what we were supposed to do, god calls us to come to the celebration, even though we may not approve of God’s ways, of God’s extravagance, of God’s mercy.
Because these parables are not just about the lengths to which God will go to save the lost. They are also about how the righteous, the religious, the faithful respond to God’s gift of mercy to other people.
Remember just a few moments ago when we were all so happy, so relieved that the children found a fake coin and a stuffed sheep?
How do we respond in real life, in our church, in the world when we see God finding the lost? When we see God’s mercy at work in the life of one whom we don’t judge to be worthy of God’s mercy? What will we say when God says to us: “Come to my feast and rejoice with me, for I have found my child who was lost?”

Sunday, September 5, 2010

13th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 18C sermon

The 15th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 18C
September 5, 2010
When I was in seminary, I got to hear the former Stewardship officer for the Episcopal church, Terry Parsons speak. She told us, “People ask me all the time why they should tithe, or give 10% of their income back to God through the church. I always tell them, ‘well, the Old Testament tells us to give 10% to God; and Jesus tells us to give up everything, so I don’t know about you, but I’ll take the 10%.”
In today’s gospel, Jesus gives us no such loophole for following him. He tells the large crowds who are traveling along with him as he makes his way to Jerusalem that there are demands for being his disciples. They must hate their families; they must carry the cross and follow Jesus. The must count the cost of discipleship from the very beginning, and finally, if that weren’t enough, Jesus tells them “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” With the challenge set so high, I’m not sure many people could actually become one of Jesus’s disciples, nor am I sure that many would even want to. So where’s the good news in this gospel?
The other night, I watched a PBS documentary called Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio. It’s a documentary about Sambo Mockebee, a friend of my family’s in Canton and about how he created a program at Auburn University called the Rural Studio for which he was awarded a Macarthur Genius grant. The documentary shows footage of an interview with Sambo from before he died in which he is adamant that it is the duty of any professional to work to make the world a better place. His concept of the Rural Studio was his way of doing that through architecture; bringing Auburn students to live in rural Alabama to live in the midst of staggering poverty where they would use recycled materials, innovative architectural designs, and their own labor to build structures to improve the lives of individuals and the life of the community. They built (and continue to build) homes, a fire station, a church, a community center, a Boys’ and Girls’ Club and so much more; most of these structures cost between $8,000-10,000 to build.
In this process the students learn not only how to be architects but also how to make the world a better place, and Mockbee believed that once they were bitten by the bug of using their gifts to help people then they would return to that vocation at some point in their futures. He talked about how at the Rural Studio, the students and professors all worked, ate, and celebrated together, so that some of the normal hierarchies and divisions of academy have no place in that environment. He also talked about how in families, we have people who do ok for themselves and others who aren’t able to, and that as a family, we take care of those who need some extra help. This was foundational in his understanding of the mission of the Rural Studio: that these people who live in abject poverty in rural Alabama are a part of our family who need a little extra help from us.
One of the people that they built a house for was a man called “Music Man” who had lived in a decrepit trailer with no running water. He was known in the community for his love of music and his extensive stereo equipment, and in his interview for the documentary (which was provided with subtitles because his speech was so challenging to understand), Music Man told how he never really went to school but was self-educated through comic books.
At the end of the documentary, they showed the inside of Music Man’s new house, built by the students and faculty of the Rural Studio, and it was a thing of beauty, made from recycled wood with high lofty ceilings and lots of light, and it was absolutely filled to the brim with all of Music Man’s music equipment and with plastic grocery sacks filled with stuff covering every surface.
As I watched I was dismayed to see how this man had filled this beautiful open space with all that clutter, even as he spoke with great enthusiasm of how wonderful and life-changing it was to have access to his own well and running water and not to have to go to the spring to get water.
Then one of the former student architects offered this insight. He said that the goal of the project had never been to radically change the way that Music Man lived and maintained all his stuff, but it had been to make his life better, to take who he was and how he lived and to make it better by providing him a safe, secure place to live, running water, and (this is the part that really spoke to me) high vaulted ceilings to let in both light and air and to give his soul a place to soar above all the clutter and trappings of his life and his poverty.
Urban T. Holmes, who was an Episcopal priest and dean of the school of theology at Sewanee wrote in his book Spirituality for Ministry that there are two ways of looking at religion. Some people see religion as a way of escaping from the harsh facts of their existence, while others see religion as a means of living into the unpleasant actuality of our existence with reasonable hope.[1] That second option… is what Jesus’s call to discipleship today is about, and so in closing, I want to share with you what Sambo Mockbee’s story taught me about this call to discipleship this week.
Discipleship moves us beyond our comfortable ties to kinship to forge new relationships with others who walk this way of faith with us and even with others who may be separated across the radical divide of life circumstance and poverty. It challenges us to expand our understanding of who our family really is. It means sometimes swimming upstream against what culture tells us should be our loyalties, priorities and affections, and using the example of Jesus Christ to order the values of life and our priorities. Discipleship, like anything involves a cost. Cost is what we give up to acquire, accomplish, maintain or produce something. It involves a measure of sacrifice, effort and resources. So often we think nothing of paying the cost of the things, success, or status that the world tells us are important, but we balk at what we perceive to be the steep cost of discipleship.
Discipleship means evaluating our attachments and asking ourselves do we hold our attachments to people, places, things, money, power, success, or status above our attachment to God and our discipleship to Jesus Christ? Discipleship means “the ability to enjoy the world to the full because I am not anxious about losing a bit of it or acquiring a bit of it…[It] also consists of the recognition that I have within my own resources ample enough…to meet [life] creatively so that it builds me up into my own selfhood.”[2]
True discipleship or ministry or giving is not something that is justified in our minds on the basis of what we get from it—money, merit, friends, popularity, success, a good spiritual feeling, or even salvation. Following the Lord Jesus Christ as his disciple is something that we do for the sheer purpose of making the world a better place through the talents and skills and resources that we have to give, and it is an expression of faithful service to the God who created us and as a way of being in relationship with Jesus whom we know to be the way, the truth, and the life.
[1] Holmes, Urban T. Spirituality for Ministry. Morehouse: Harrisburg, 1982, p 67.
[2] Ibid. p 74. Quoting H.A. Williams on Poverty.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

14th Sunday after Pentecost--August 29, 2010

The Fifth Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

In between college and seminary, I worked at Stewpot, a soup kitchen and so much more in West Jackson, Mississippi. I'll never forget my first Monday lunch at Stewpot because it was my initiation into their curious Monday ritual. All the hungry, homeless, and elderly people who had gathered for the noon meal were seated at their tables waiting for lunch. One of my co-workers, Don London, would welcome them to lunch at Stewpot, and on Mondays he would ask them, "What do we say on Monday's at Stewpot?"
Someone or several someones in the crowd would reply, "We made it!" And Don would say, "That's right! What do we say on Mondays?" And others would yell, "We made it!" And he would ask again, "What do we say on Mondays?" And at least half of those blessed, downtrodden people in that lunchroom would yell in a strange kind of cheer or prayer, "We made it!"
After a couple of weeks of this strange ritual, I finally got up the nerve to ask someone what it was about. They told me that for the population that makes up the community at Stewpot, weekends are especially dangerous. For those who are in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction, the temptation to relapse can be particularly intense over the weekend. And for the elderly and homeless in that neighborhood, weekends were especially dangerous because there was more mischief going on in the streets.
So Mondays at Stewpot were a little celebration in which everyone was invited to celebrate that they survived the weekend to gather together for a meal again. "We made it" was an acknowledgement of the trials of the past , a shout of triumph for not being overcome by them, and a prayer of thanksgiving and hope for the future.
It was also an acknowledgement that not everyone did make it. Some did succumb to the drugs or the violence; some chose not to be there to eat; some were waiting to rejoin the community on Tuesday.
"We made it" was an acknowledgement of all that and a thanksgiving that we who were able had come together once again.
And so it is for us as well. Every Sunday is a feast day of our Lord's Resurrection, a day when those who are able, gather to be fed and to offer up our cry of acknowledgement of the sufferings and temptations of the past, of the times that we have failed, and our cry of thanksgiving and triumph and hope for the future. "We made it!"
This Sunday, this day of all days, it is especially true. In each of our lives, regardelss of where we are this day, what we have lost and suffered, we participate in Christ's death so that we participate and celebrate his resurrection.
And so, this Sunday, August 29th, this feast day of our Lord's resurrection, we gather together to feast on a foretaste of God's heavenly banquet, and we lift our voices together to say...
"We made it!"
What do we say today? "We made it!"
What do we say today? "We made it!"
Thanks be to God. Amen.

Monday, August 16, 2010

12th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 15C

12th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 15
August 15, 2010
“Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard…” Well, it starts off nicely enough. A farmer has a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He showers it with great time and care and everything possible for it so that it will bear fruit. But when he goes to gather the grapes, he discovers that it has only yielded wild grapes, which are not the fruit he was looking for and for which he has no use. So he becomes angry and vows to remove the hedge and the wall so that the vineyard will be devoured by the wilderness. He will allow the briars and thorns to take over, and he will even go so far as to command the clouds to rain no more upon it. Just to finish out this love song, a different voice begins to sing the last verse, which tells us that the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel and the people of Judah…and they have disappointed the Lord’s expectations for them and will suffer accordingly.
So my question for us today is—how is this a love song? (Or to revert more to the language of the decade of my early childhood: “What kind of jive love song is this?”)
One of my joyful responsibilities as a parish priest is to spend time offering pre-marital counseling to couples who want to get married in this church. It is a duty that I thoroughly enjoy because in my time with the couple, I get to listen in on the love song that is their life together. However, our time together is not just all wine and roses. We talk about big topics and issues that will affect their marriage, and I try to help equip them with tools to deal with those issues. On the second time I meet with a couple, after I’ve gotten to know them a little bit and heard their stories, we meet and we talk about their expectations. I have this worksheet that they fill out with questions about their daily life and also any big plans that they have for the rest of their life together. It’s a multiple choice type thing, and it has questions like: “Who will take out the garbage? And the choices for answers are He will, She will, We both will, Neither will. Who will do the dishes? Who will work? Who will decide who’s job takes precedence when we move? He will, She will, We both will, Neither will. It’s kind of a silly little exercise, but it gets at something that is very important to realize about all relationships. With love comes expectations. It’s true about a marriage or a significant long term relationship. It’s true about a parent-child relationship, about a friendship. It’s even true about a relationship between a priest and her people. With love comes expectations. When expectations are met and fulfilled, trust is built. When they are not, then anger and hurt occurs, and trust is broken.
Now what is most challenging in today’s Isaiah passage is that it shows that God’s love is no exception to this. In this love song about the vineyard, everything that God does for that vineyard and every watchful expectation held springs forth from God’s love. It is love’s eager work. The passage says in three different verses (2,4, 7) that God expected, and the vineyard did not meet God’s expectations. And so God’s expectations for Israel also continue to be disappointed; God expects Israel to bear fruits worthy of their chosen status, namely justice and righteousness, but instead Israel does not deliver justice and righteousness for the poor and oppressed.
This is the part that is hard for us to talk about, is hard for us to hear. We have been reassured, over and over again, of God’s grace and God’s love that never ends, and we seldom hear that God’s love comes with expectations for us. We have been taught that we are entitled to all the benefits of love with none of its expectations and even demands. The demand, the expectation of God’s love is that we produce fruit, and not just any old willy-nilly wild fruit, but as John the Baptist says earlier in Luke’s gospel that we “produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.
Isaiah’s love song challenges us today to ask ourselves “what are the fruits of repentance and of God’s love that are missing from my life that God expects me to bear forth in this world?” Is it justice? Righteousness? Mercy? Compassion? Humility? Generosity? Joy? What are the fruits missing from our common life, the life of St. Peter’s by-the-Sea, that God expects from God’s church?
My brothers and sisters, we are called, as followers of Jesus Christ to a life of transformation and sacrifice, where we submit our own wild-grape-like desires to the love and expectation of our Lord that we might bear the fruit that God expects. We do this by spending time in prayer with God, not just talking but listening as God whispers to us like a lover what God expects of us. And we do this by following the way of Jesus Christ in all that we are and all that we do, continuously opening ourselves to be transformed by our encounters with others and with the love and grace of God. That is the love song that our Lord Jesus Christ sang and continues to sing in this world.
And the best news is this. That love song continues. It does not end on a note of disaster and discord. There are many, many verses in God’s love song, and it is God’s expectation that our lives be sung in harmony with the Creator of the love song and become verses of sublime beauty and love that we could never achieve when singing solo.

Monday, August 2, 2010

9th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 12C sermon

9th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 12C
July 25, 2010
Take a moment this morning and remember the person or people who taught you to pray…
For me it was my dad, saying prayers with me at bedtime every night; it was my grandfather, closeted in his study in prayer and sermon writing on Saturday afternoons while all his wild grandchildren tore around his house and standing in front of his congregation in his black robe, head bowed in prayer, on Sunday mornings; it was a woman named Jane Schutt, who treated me with such respect, even though she was an old woman and I a small child; it was countless number of Sunday school teachers, VBS leaders, EYC leaders, camp staff, and clergy. Even today, I continue to learn how to pray from people I read, people I pray with, the people of this church as we join in prayer and worship, and my own children and the children of this church.
In our gospel today, we have the first prayer lesson for all believers, the beginning of praying with and in Jesus. In this lesson, we see that preayer is so much more than just our own private conversation with God. It certainly does include that, (as Thomas Merton puts it, prayer is the communion of our freedom with God’s freedom.”). When we pray, and especially when we pray the Lord’s prayer, our freedom is not only in communion with God but also with all the other followers of Christ who have come before us and will come after us.
Let us look then with fresh eyes at our first prayer and our first teacher.
In the gospel of Luke as well as in Acts, prayer is an integral part of the life of Jesus and his followers. In Luke, Jesus frequently withdraws to places to pray (5:16, 6:12, 9:18). He prays before he chooses his disciples (6:13-16), when he feeds the 5,000 (9:16), the night before he dies (22:39-44), and even from the cross (23:34, 46). The book so Acts also emphasizes that through prayer, believers participate in God’s commitment to bring forth God’s reign.
The United Methodist bishop, William Willemon, has this insight into the Lord’s prayer. “[Jesus] has a definite, peculiar notion of what constitutes prayer. Prayer is not whenever I spill my guts to God: prayer is when I obey Jesus and pray for the things that he teaches me to pray for and when I pray the way he prays. Prayer is bending my feelings, my desires, my thoughts and yearnings toward Jesus and what he wants me to feel, desire and think. In most churches I visit, a time of prayer is often preceded by a time of “Joys and Concerns.” I notice that in every congregation, the only concerns expressed are concerns for people in the congregation who are going through various health crises. Prayer becomes what we used to refer to as “Sick Call” in the army. Where on earth did we get this idea of prayer? Not from Jesus. He healed a few people from time to time, but he doesn’t pray for that. He prays for the coming of God’s kingdom, for bread (but only on a daily basis, not for a surplus) and for forgiveness for our trespasses. It’s curious that physical deterioration has become the contemporary North American church’s main concern in prayer. Jesus is most notable for teaching that we are to pray—not for recent gall bladder surgery—but for our enemies! To be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, is to pray like Jesus. … A Christian is someone who talks to God about what the Lord’s Prayer talks with God about…. A Christian is someone who is engaged in lifelong training in how to pray like Jesus.”[1]
Are we brave enough to do that? Are we brave enough to ask that God’s kingdom come into our world, into our lives? Are we brave enough to ask for only enough bread for today? Are we brave enough to ask for forgiveness of our trespasses? Are we brave enough to pray for our enemies?
The good news is this. Even if we are not brave enough today, Jesus does not leave us as orphans. He continues to teach us how to pray, when we pray the words of the Lord’s prayer, when we pray in worship and at the Eucharist, when we pray in private. Whenever our freedom reaches out to touch God’s freedom, whenever we ask, “Lord, teach us how to pray”…Jesus answers by sending the Holy Spirit, who whispers in our souls and says, “When you pray, say…”
[1] Theolog: Blogging toward Sunday; William H. Willemon; The Christian Century; July 23, 2007.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

8 Pentecost--Proper 11C

8 Pentecost--Proper 11C sermon
July 18, 2010
“There is a lovely story of a man exploring Africa [that is written in the book Anam Cara by John O’Donohue]. [The explorer] was in a desperate hurry on a journey through the jungle. He had three or four Africans helping him carry his equipment. They raced onward for about three days. At the end of the third day, the Africans sat down and would not move. He urged them to get up, telling them of the pressure he was under to reach his destination before a certain date. They refused to move. He could not understand this; after much persuasion, they still refused to move. Finally, he got one of them to admit the reason. This native said, ‘We have moved too quickly to reach here; now we need to wait to give our spirits a chance to catch up with us.’” (Anam Cara John O’Donohue Harper Collins: New York, 151)
In reading today’s gospel passage, it is of utmost importance to remember that this story of Mary and Martha and their encounter with Jesus is coming right on the heels of last week’s story in Luke’s gospel—the story of the lawyer whose encounter with Jesus resulted in Jesus telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. We must remember what that lawyer’s initial question to Jesus is, because that will help us in how we read this story. The lawyer has asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, and when Jesus asks him what is written in the law, the lawyer responds that it is “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and your neighbor as yourself.” The two then embark on a continued line of questioning about who is the lawyer’s neighbor and Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan; the lawyer answers Jesus’s question of who in the story is the victim’s neighbor; the lawyer answers “The one who showed him mercy,” and Jesus says to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Then our story for today picks up. So many people have read this story as the dichotomy between the active life and the spiritual life and they say that Jesus is clearly promoting contemplation over action. But I’m not so sure that’s what’s going on here. Maybe it’s partly because I feel really bad for Martha. It makes sense to me that she’s stressed out. She’s giving a dinner party, and she really wants things to be nice for Jesus and his companions. And there’s her sister sitting on the floor at his feet, when she could be up helping her.
I know what it’s like to be Martha, to have the million little items that need to have attention chasing around in your head like squirrels; to be so very busy and more than a little bit resentful and jealous of someone who has the leisure to sit at Jesus’s feet and just listen. But what’s important for me to hear in this gospel is this. Jesus does not gently scold Martha for being busy. Instead, he says to her, “Dear Martha, this isn’t about your sister; it’s about you. You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” He holds up a mirror before her to let her see that the problem isn’t that she is busy and her sister isn’t helping. Her real problem isn’t her sister. It is her. It is that she is worried and distracted by many things and there is need of only one thing.
What is this one thing? CS Lewis said it this way: “There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him.” Other theologians have written that “the chief act of man is to glorify God and enjoy God forever.” Perhaps most well known is scripture, how Luke articulates the one needed thing. It is “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind….”
It’s what Martha is missing. She’s so caught up in her worry and distraction that she has lost sight of the Lord who is sitting right there in front of her, and she can’t even take time to talk to him without being caught up in her own worry and distraction. It’s what the explorer in Africa was missing when the Africans sat down in protest and refused to go. It is why we are here; it is what we are always looking for but which we cannot see for our worry and our distractions.
So what does it mean to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind? How do we glorify God and enjoy God forever?
We start with this one moment, this one time and place of Sunday morning. And we name those things which keep us worried and distracted from glorifying and enjoying God. Is it your health or your family or your finances? Is it your loneliness or your need for perfection? Is it your own vision of how things should be, which distracts you from fulfilling God’s vision? Is it that you are so drowning in the details of your life that you are not able to live and love freely? What are your worries and distractions? After we name them today, we are called to lay them at the feet of our Lord, before his altar, where he will then free us and feed, that we may spend our life glorifying and enjoying God.
And then, when we leave this place and go back into the world, back into our lives, we listen and pay attention to our lives. When we or someone close to us realizes that we have moved so quickly that we have left behind our souls, that we are worried and distracted by many things, and none of them is the one needed thing of loving and enjoying God, then we sit down for a while, lay down our baggage or worry and distraction, and we wait for our souls to catch up.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The 7th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 10C sermon

7th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 10C
July 11, 2010
I wonder what it was like for the lawyer in today’s story from Luke’s gospel on the day after he had his conversation with Jesus? I imagine him tossing and turning most of the night as he relived the encounter and the story it provoked.
He would start with the beginning, how he started out to test Jesus, but in his effort to test him, he asked Jesus a question of deep concern to him, one that he thought he had already figured out: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
When Jesus posed his own question, the lawyer was pleased because he knew this one; he could even recite the Scripture by heart. “What is written in the law? Why it is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself.”
He knew it was right when he answered, and Jesus affirmed him, patting him on the shoulder and telling him if he did this then he will live. But suddenly, in that moment, being right and knowing the law just weren’t enough anymore. Instead, he felt something. Was it doubt? Uncertainty? A fear that maybe he didn’t have this whole salvation thing figured out after all and sewn up in a nifty slogan? Maybe it was discomfort or a hunger for something more, something deeper? Suddenly, in his insecurity, he needed justification from this man that he had set out to test.
So he opened his mouth and asked Jesus the question that would truly change his life, transform and haunt him. “Who is my neighbor?”
Thinking back on that moment, he especially remembered the look on Jesus’s face. It was a such a strange and disarming mixture—with the glint of singleness of purpose in his eye coupled with the softness of love and compassion that framed his eyes and mouth like parentheses and the peace that stretched through the expanse of his brow and cheeks.
Then Jesus began to tell him the story of a man, much like himself, who was attacked by robbers while traveling a lonely road and who was beaten, robbed, and left in a bloody heap on the side of the road.
As he lay there, two men witnessed his suffering, his humiliation, and each passed by on the other side of the road. Finally a third man stopped and the lawyer again felt his initial unease as he heard Jesus say that this third man who stopped was a Samaritan. To good Jews, Samaritans were despised as being heretics and breakers of the ceremonial law. They were looked down upon and treated with great contempt.
He remembered his discomfort as Jesus described the familiarity of the Samaritan’s ministrations to the man, the care and affection that was poured out upon stranger by a stranger. He was even shocked at the lengths to which the Samaritan would go to help the man, how he not only paid money on the front end but promised repayment of whatever was spent on the man’s care, as if they were family—father and son or brothers, instead of bitter enemies.
He remembered the moment when Jesus asked him, “which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
And he paused in his struggle to answer. He remembered thinking that if it were him lying bloody and helpless in a ditch, then he’d rather die than receive help from a Samaritan, let alone receive such an abundance of compassion. And he thought that he’d rather die than have to reciprocate such for one he despised.
So when Jesus asked him the question, again, he knew the answer, but this time he couldn’t simply say it. He couldn’t answer “the Samaritan” because it was just too hard, too impossible, and the words stuck in his throat. Instead of naming the hated Samaritan heretic as the one who was fulfilling the Jewish law, the lawyer found a loophole and answered, after his long, tortured pause: “The one who was a neighbor was the one who showed him mercy.”
And he would never forget until the end of his days how Jesus nodded and looked him squarely in the eyes and said, “Go and do likewise.”
It wasn’t until he was at home in his own bed that night trying to sleep when he realized that he had been transformed. When he’d thought he’d had all the answers, had the path to eternal life all figured out, suddenly Jesus sneaked up on him and he was faced with more and more questions about his life and his faith.
What is this mercy which Jesus has called me to replicate? And how do I show it to people whom I distrust, dislike, and even despise?
Again and again, he remembered Jesus face as he looked at him; he remembered all the times he had prayer to God asking for mercy…
And he knew in the deepest depths of his being what mercy is….that it’s not just the forgiveness of a debt or an offense or the flip side of justice. It’s about “blessing and unwarranted compassion as well as leniency. It’s about pardon, kindness, strength, and even rescue and generosity.”[1]
An offer of mercy, he discovered, is an offer of kindness, care, risk, and even intimacy, and it may be willingly and joyfully received in a way that transforms both the giver and the receiver, or it may be rejected. In mercy, we give of ourselves and we are unprotected, defenseless. Mercy is moving and active; it is intervening and interceding, and it always results in a change of relationship, a change of status.
“So that’s mercy,” thought the lawyer, “but how do I live into that? Where on earth do I start?”
And as he looked outside to see the pink edges of dawn creeping across the face of the world, he remembered Jesus’s parting words to him: “Go and do likewise.”
Go…and do likewise.
[1] Lord, Jennifer L. Reflections on the Lectionary. The Christian Century, June 29, 2010, p 19.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 7C
Elijah stands on the side of Mount Horeb, with his face wrapped in his mantle to meet the Lord who comes in the sound of sheer silence. And the Lord asks him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” As with all defining moments in life, so much has happened to bring Elijah to this point.
“King Ahab of Israel did more to provoke the anger of the Lord the God of Israel than had all the kings of Israel who went before him.” And his wife Jezebel? Well, really her name says it all. Ahab and Jezebel have led the people astray from following God. They have promoted the worship of Baal in Israel, and they have defied Israel’s covenant with her God. So Elijah goes to Ahab and tells him that God will send a drought on the land for 3 years, because Ahab is so bad, so corrupt. Well, Ahab doesn’t like that and he sets out to kill Elijah, but God takes care of Elijah. God finds Elijah a safe place to be and provides him food and water in the midst of a drought. Later, when that runs out, God sends Elijah to a widow and provides them all with a never-ending supply of meal and oil to make bread; God heeds Elijah’s prayer when he prays that God might spare the widow’s son who has died, and God restores the son to life.
In the third year of the drought, God sends Elijah back to Ahab. Elijah encounters Ahab’s servant Obadiah, who is a faithful worshipper of God and who tells Elijah that he has worked to save 100 prophets of God when Jezebel went on a recent killing spree and was murdering all the prophets. Elijah asks Obadiah to tell Ahab he wants to see him, but at first Obadiah refuses to do it. He tells Elijah that Ahab has been searching hi and low for him, and because Elijah has been so elusive, Obadiah fears that when he goes to tell Ahab that Elijah is there to see him, and he returns with Ahab, God will have whisked Elijah away to safety and Ahab will kill Obadiah. Elijah assures Obadiah that he wants to speak to Ahab, and when Elijah and Ahab are face to face, Elijah issues a challenge to Ahab. He invites him to assemble all Israel on the top of Mt Carmel along with 450 prophets of Baal.
Once they are all assembled, Elijah speaks to the people of Israel and challenges them to choose which god they will worship and serve: Baal or Yahweh. He then brings two bulls for sacrifice, one for the 450 prophets of Baal and one for himself; they prepare the bulls for offering and lay them on the wood, but they put no fire to it. Then each set of prophets is to pray to their god to answer by fire, and that god will prove to be the god of Israel. The people agree to this plan, because Elijah speaks it well and because it promises to be a good show.
Elijah lets the prophets of Baal go first, and from morning until noon, they cry out “O Baal, answer us!” But there is no voice, no answer. At noon, Elijah starts to mock them: “Maybe you should yell louder! Surely he’s a god; either he’s meditating, or he’s wandered away or he is on a journey, or perhaps he’s asleep and must be awakened!” They keep going until the time of the oblation, but there is no voice, no answer and no response. Then Elijah takes the stage. He invites the people to come closer to him, repairs the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down, and he makes a trench around it. He puts the wood in order, cuts the bull into pieces and pours water 3 times on the offering so that the water overflows and runs into the trench.
Then Elijah calls upon God, the God who has never yet failed him; the God who has repeatedly saved him from assassination from drought and from hunger, and he says, “ O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord falls from heaven and consumes the offering, the wood, the stones, the dust, and even the water that was in the trench, and the people fall on their faces and proclaim that God is their only God. Elijah commands them to seize the 450 prophets of Baal and has them all killed.
After that amazing feat, Elijah tells Ahab to go eat and drink because God is about to end the 3 year drought with some rain, and Elijah goes back up on the mountain and bows himself down upon the earth and puts his face between his knees (from exhaustion or in prayer for rain?). When he comes down, it rains and both Ahab and Elijah head to Jezreel where Ahab has a palace. Elijah has won; the people have proclaimed that God is their God, and Ahab is no longer trying to kill Elijah. But when they get to Jezreel, Ahab tells Jezebel all that has happened, and Jezebel vows that she will see Elijah dead within the next 24 hours. At this point, something strange happens: Elijah’s nerve fails, and he flees into the wilderness, running as far south in the promised land as he possibly can.
It should be his finest hour. He has done what God asked him to do, turning the hearts of the people back to God, and he has accomplished it through some pretty decent showmanship on his part and some really cool pyrotechnics on God’s part. At this point, he should be feeling like the superhero of all prophets, but something in him fails, and he goes out into the wilderness and prays to die. Even then, even there, God sends angels with food and water, and they take care of Elijah, and they send him to Mount Horeb (which is Mount Sinai where Moses received the 10 commandments from God) so that Elijah can meet with God. Elijah spends the night in a cave on Mt Horeb, and then God asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah, like many prophets before and after him, speaks his peace to God saying: “ I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life to take it away.”
So God tells Elijah to go stand outside the cave on the side of the mountain before the Lord. First comes the wind, but God is not in the wind. Then comes the earthquake, but God is not in the earthquake. Then comes the fire (which God had just used to defeat the 450 prophets of Baal), but God is not in the fire, and then a sound of sheer silence. That’s when Elijah knows God is there, and he wraps his face in his mantle and goes out to stand before the God of Israel.
God says again to Elijah, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (Why does God ask him again? Is God giving him a chance to change his story or rethink his answer?)
And Elijah says again: “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life to take it away.”
And as God has always done in this relationship, God listens to Elijah and tells him, “Get back to work.” Here’s our new plan: no more pyrotechnics. You are going to anoint your successor and anoint new kings for Israel and Aram, these two whom I have named. And God will continue God’s work of salvation for Israel in a new and different way.
In Elijah’s story is good news for us as well. Elijah, the superhero prophet, who escapes death on multiple occasions and orchestrates a marvelous and show-stopping defeat of God’s enemies, has a crisis of faith in Jezreel right on the heels of his most marvelous victory. First, he is erroneously focused on being the only prophet of God left in the whole world, and he overestimates his importance in the overall scheme of God’s salvation of Israel. Second, he loses faith in God’s providence. God has taken care of him every step of the way; God has done everything that Elijah has asked of God, but in Jezreel, Elijah loses his nerve, he loses his faith.
But in spite of all this, God still takes care of Elijah. God still listens to Elijah and answers Elijah. God even issues a new call to Elijah for how Elijah can continue to be a part of God’s new plan for the salvation of Israel. God promises Elijah that there is a future for Elijah after the cave, when Elijah has said, It is enough. I can’t do this anymore. And God promises that there is a future for Israel through the abundance of God’s grace which makes the impossible possible and which is unceasing, untiring, unrelenting.
This is good news for us, who are not super-hero prophets. We too feel the effects of life beating us down. We too grow weary of following God’s call for us. We too are tempted to believe that we are all alone in facing whatever we are dealing with, we are the only ones who can do a certain thing; we are the only ones who are left. We too lose our nerve and run for it. We too come to a point in our lives when we say, “It is enough, God! I don’t want to do this anymore!”
And God who is always faithful, always providing, always listening and willing to answer, reminds us that we are not the center of the universe and the only piece of God’s plan of salvation, and then God issues a new call to us, a new way to participate in salvation and in God’s work in the world.
Take a moment this morning to listen to the silence of your own heart. Is God speaking to you, asking: "What are you doing here?" Is God issuing a new call to you, new work for you in the world?

A Prayer for Father's Day

A Father’s Day Prayer
(adapted from a mediation written by Kirk Loadman-Copeland)
Holy God, whom we call Father, we give you thanks for the people who have been our earthly fathers in this life, and we pray for all sorts and conditions of fathers. For fathers who have striven to balance the demands of work, marriage, and children with an honest awareness of both joy and sacrifice. For fathers who, lacking a good model, have worked to become a good father. For fathers who by their own account were not always there for their children, but who continue to offer those children, now grown, their love and support. For fathers who have been wounded by the neglect and hostility of their children. For fathers who, despite divorce, have remained in their children's lives. For fathers whose children are adopted, and whose love and support has offered healing. For fathers who, as stepfathers, freely choose the obligation of fatherhood and earned their stepchildren's love and respect. For fathers who have lost a child to death, and continue to hold the child in their heart. For those men who have no children, but cherish the next generation as if they were their own. For those men who have "fathered" us in their role as mentors and guides. For those men who are about to become fathers; may they openly delight in their children. And for those fathers who have died, but live on in our memory and in the communion of your Saints, whose love continues to nurture us. All this we ask in the name of your beloved Son, who is both father and mother to us all. Amen.

3rd Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 6C

3rd Sunday after Pentecost—
Proper 6C
This week, a good number of us have been gathering at the church each night and dressing up like pirates. It’s been Vacation Bible School, and both the adults and children have been learning from each other what it means to “Seek God’s Treasures.”
We’ve had a different Bible story each day that offers us a one word nugget of God’s treasure and how we seek it. We learned the story of Jonah and the whale and that God’s treasure is sought and found through obedience, in not running away when things get tough or don’t go our way.
We listened to the story of Moses who led the children of Israel to freedom from slavery in Egypt through the parted waters of the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army chasing them down, and we learned that God’s treasure is sought and found through courage.
We heard the story of how Jesus first called the disciples and invited them to leave behind their fishing nets and follow him that they might become fishers of people, and we learned that God’s treasure is sought and found when we trust God and God’s call in our lives.
And we heard the story of Jesus walking on the water and how Peter started to join him until he grew afraid and began to sink, and we learned that God’s treasure can be sought and found through faith.
But those are just a few of the treasures that God has to offer us. (I want you to think for a minute: What are some of the other treasures of God that you have encountered in your life? )
In our gospel story today we see another example of how we seek (and find) God’s treasure. Jesus is eating dinner at a good, religious man’s house, and a woman appears. She is very sad because she knows she has done wrong, and she has not been seeking the treasures of God; so she weeps upon Jesus’s feet to show how sorry she is; and Jesus offers her a beautiful golden nugget of God’s treasure. He offers her forgiveness; he offers her a new beginning. And when the good, religious man protests and tells Jesus he shouldn’t have anything to do with the woman, Jesus tells the man that God’s forgiveness, God’s treasure is available to everyone who seeks it.
We all do things that are not good, that are not what God would have us do… God’s forgiveness, God’s new beginning is available to each and every one of us, no matter what we do. (Theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “There is no condition for forgiveness.” )
There’s another beautiful piece of God’s treasure that we especially need to remember this week. (It’s what Vacation Bible School is really all about, I think.) You know what else is God’s treasure? You. You are God’s treasure. Each one of you is created by God, made to love God and to be loved by God, and made to love other people. Each one of you is God’s treasure; you are so precious to God, and you are invited to live your life held in the hollow of God’s loving hand, held next to God’s very heart.
No matter what you have done, to hurt yourself or other people, you are offered God’s forgiveness and you, yourself are God’s treasure.
But when we claim this as truth for ourselves, then we must also recognize it as truth for each other: No person falls outside the forgiveness of God. And each person we come into contact with is treasured by God. So we have to remember this when we choose how to treat other people. We have to treat others as they are treasures of God, also.
So, everybody. One last lesson from Vacation Bible School this week. Repeat after me. I am God’s treasure…. (Now look at your neighbor: ) You are God’s treasure… Let us all seek God’s treasures.

Monday, June 7, 2010

2nd Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 5C

2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 5C
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine with me. You are walking down a road in your own private funeral procession. You carry in your heart a secret burden; it is the burden of the loss of your dreams. It is the death of someone you hold dear; it is the loss of your independence as you grow older; it is the burden of never-ending work, of the constant demands of children, of an empty nest, of caring for an elderly parent. It is the burden of broken promises, of broken relationships. It is the burden of a lost job, of feelings of shame and worthlessness. It is the burden of always making things perfect. It is the burden of addiction; it is the burden of illness or the illness of someone you love. It is the burden of depression, of lost-ness, of loneliness. It is the burden of lost hope, of disappointment, of disillusionment.
Take a silent moment to examine and name your own secret burden, for we all walk through life carrying something.
As you stand there alone, under the weight of your grief, your secret burden, suddenly Jesus is there walking by. He looks at you, and he sees you; he sees your secret burden—your grief, your loss of hope. And he feels with you, and he walks up beside you and says in a whisper to your very heart: “do not weep.” Then he places his hand on you—on your head or cupping your face, on your shoulder or even a full embrace, and he speaks directly a command to your dead hope: “I say to you rise!”
Suddenly you feel it, your burden is not so heavy, and you feel the first stirrings of your hope, the green shoot of new life breaking forth out of the deepest darkness of your soul into the light of your awareness. It is your new life; your new hope. But you are afraid, because it is so sudden, and maybe you were not ready to set aside your grief, your burden; maybe you didn’t want your hope resurrected because you couldn’t bear the pain of being heart-broken and wounded all over again.
So you take a deep breath and your initial panic subsides, and you realize how good it feels to be free of your burden, how good it feels to be whole-hearted again. You realize the power and the gift of your newly-resurrected hope, and you taste in your soul a sweet dab of joy and freedom, like a dot of honey on your tongue.
This is the gift of Jesus’s compassion in your life. We are invited to come to God’s table, where we are looked at by Jesus in his infinite compassion, and we are invited to lay down our burdens there and to receive that compassion, to eat and drink it in until it heals our broken hearts and resurrects our dying hope. And then we are sent out from here and invited to share Jesus’s compassion with others. For when we show compassion and mercy to others, we are participating in Jesus’s own life-giving compassion. It is a resurrection compassion that gives dead hope new life and gives heavy hearts new joy.
May this be your gift this day. Amen.