Monday, April 25, 2011

The Day of Resurrection: Sermon 2011

The Day of Resurrection: Easter 2011
April 24, 2011
Once, long ago in a kingdom far away, there was a most unusual custom. In most kingdoms, when the ruler dies, his son or daughter succeeds to the throne after him. But in this kingdom, when a king died, a special bird called the “bird of good fortune” was released. This bird flew around in the air above the subjects in the land and the person upon whose head it finally landed became the next king.
In this kingdom, there was a slave who worked in the king’s palace. He was a musician who entertained the king and his family and guests by dressing in funny clothing -- a cap made of chicken feathers and a raggedy belt -- and playing music on a drum. The slave was not happy about his lot. He felt that it was degrading, and he prayed to be a free man.
It came to pass that the king died one day, and the “bird of good fortune” was released. It circled the sky for some time, while the people of the kingdom watched in anticipation. Finally, it came to rest on the head of the slave, nesting itself in his hat of chicken feathers. Immediately, and to his great surprise, he was declared king of the entire empire and, in an instant, the slave was transformed into a powerful sovereign.
The new king moved into the palace, donned his royal attire, and sat upon his throne. As his first royal decree, he had a tiny hut built next to the palace. The only furnishing in this little shack was a large mirror. Early every morning the new king entered this little shack, disappearing behind the door for a short time. Then he would emerge, lock the door behind him, and return to the palace. His ministers and advisors thought that this was very peculiar behavior but, after all, he was the king now and who would question the king?
As the years went by, the king passed many laws aimed at reducing, and finally eliminating all slavery and suffering. The changes were made so gradually that no one noticed them. The king was known to all for his kindness, his justice, and his compassion, as well as his strange habit of visiting the odd little hut early every morning.
One day, his closest advisor asked, “Your Majesty, what is it that you keep in that hut of yours?” The king led the advisor into the hut and showed him a burlap sack containing the chicken feather hat, the ragged belt, and the drum. “These,” he said, “are my most treasured possessions.”
“But these are reminders of slavery!” the advisor replied in disgust. These are not the possessions of a king, Your Majesty!”
“Ah, but they are,” replied the king. “You see, once I was a slave and now I am free. When you made me your king, I promised myself and God that I would never forget that I was once a slave lest I grow arrogant and haughty, and treat people as I was once treated. Every morning, I come here and dress as I was once forced to dress as a slave. I stare at myself in the mirror until tears come to my eyes and only then am I prepared to leave this hut and rule as a good king should. It is this memory which makes me the king I am. These are the most treasured possessions I have.”
Wonderful story, don’t you think? It is a Passover Tale told by Iraqi Jews; the original source has been lost from memory, so it’s passed on by word of mouth these days. It’s the story of a people who remember life as slaves, life under Pharaoh all those years ago when Moses led them out. It’s about looking honestly at who you are, looking at where you have been, and taking that next step towards who God is calling you to be.
Today we come to church on this most holy day of our year to look into the mirror of our faith, and we remember that we are slaves no more.
This is important because there are so many ways that we might be enslaved in this world of ours. Some people are slaves of fashion—the latest clothes, gadgets, cars. Some are slaves to our work, to success. Some are slaves to money. And so very many of us are slaves to our fear.
So today of all days, it is important to look into that mirror and to remember that we no longer have to be slaves to anything, not fear, not even death.
In Matthew’s gospel account of Jesus’s resurrection, we see those sad, grieving women, slaves to their sorrow, who are headed to Jesus’ tomb, and suddenly they are shaken by a great earthquake and the appearance of a messenger from God, who gives them the news that Jesus is no longer in the tomb but he has been raised. As they race off to tell the rest of the disciples the good news, they run smack dab into Jesus. And he says to them: “Greetings! Rejoice!” and then “Be not afraid!”
When is the last time someone told you “Don’t be afraid!” and you were able to believe it? Have you really and truly believed it since childhood, held in the arms of a loving adult and comforted? As we grow older, we experience the reality that Earnest Hemmingway articulated when he wrote, “Life breaks everyone”; and even if we are not completely broken, we certainly get worn down, more and more, as the years pass.
But not today! For today we look into the mirror and what do we see? We see people who were once slaves—to sin, to fear, to death. And we hear the words of our risen Lord echoing in our Alleluias: “Do not be afraid! Rejoice!” And today, we can believe it. For on this, the day of the Resurrection, we can look into that mirror and see hope. We see the truth of the resurrection—that God’s love is stronger than anything, even death.
Some of us need to look into this mirror more often, which is what we do every Sunday when we gather to worship. Every Sunday, we celebrate the feast of our Lord’s resurrection, and we hold up the mirror for each other and help one another remember: no matter what you may be going through in your life, no matter what sorrows or grief or burdens you carry with you into this place, no matter how the bonds of slavery seek to entangle you, we will hold up the mirror in front of you and help you remember that through Jesus’s resurrection, you are slaves no longer; we will hold up the mirror and help you remember that nothing can separate you from the love of God, the love that is stronger than absolutely everything, stronger than sorrows or grief or burdens or frustrations. We will hold up the mirror and remind you that you are held in the love of God that is stronger even than death.
“Rejoice. Be not afraid.” Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Alleluia!

Great Vigil of Easter sermon 2011

Great Vigil of Easter
April 23, 2011

A Letter to Daniel Andrew Dickson upon the occasion of his baptism.
Dear Daniel,
On this most holy night, it is our custom to remember the stories of our faith and the works of God in our salvation. Since you are just a little shy of three on this occasion, I don’t know how much of this night you will actually remember as you grow older.
But it is my hope that you at least remember the dark of this night. All of your life, from this point forward, will be a dance between the light and the dark.
There will be times in your life, when you may feel that the darkness weighs upon you like the tomb, and you feel that you cannot go on. And it is in those times, especially, that I want you to remember the dark of this night.
Because the dark of this night is a different kind of dark. It is the deep and dazzling darkness of God. It is the blanket of darkness that stretched across creation at the beginning, the darkness that was split by the light when God spoke the command and claimed it as good. It is the darkness under which the Children of Israel walked through the parted waters of the Red Sea, the darkness through which God led them out of their slavery and into their salvation and their freedom.
This is the darkness, on this most holy night, that has been vanquished by our eternal king; it is the darkness of the tomb where Christ no longer lies; it is the darkness of the deep waters of baptism, through which you are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, the darkness through which you are made a new creation.
As you grow, may you remember this darkness and the truth of this night. Remember the promise that you do not have to be afraid of anything; that all you must do is stand firm and God will be present with you. Remember that darkness and fear and death no longer have any hold over you; that you have been given the gift of light, freedom, and eternal life on this most holy night.
Remember that the light of Christ shines continually to drive away all darkness, and that Christ, the Morning Star who knows no setting, shines always in your own heart.
Remember that in Christ’s resurrection, God has proven once and for all that light will always split the darkness and drive away the shadows of the grave. And may you always find reminders of this truth in your everyday life: in the full-bodied, whole-hearted play, that only children can accomplish and in the laughter that accompanies it; in your deep and abiding love for ketchup; in offerings of kindness; in a good song or a well-turned phrase; in a sunny, 72 degree Saturday; in breakfast for dinner or an afternoon nap. May these and so many more good things always remind you that the light always shines in the darkness.
And may you always remember the glorious truth of this night. No matter what you may encounter as you dance between light and darkness, remember that God loves you and has created you good, so good; and that in Christ’s resurrection, God’s love for you and for each of us has proven to be stronger than the darkness, stronger than anything, stronger even than death.

Your sister in Christ,

Good Friday sermon 2011

Good Friday sermon
April 22, 2011

“Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”
After everyone else had abandoned him, why were these women still there? Why are we here this day? What do we hope to gain from this sad observance?
One of my commentaries wrote of the Good Friday observance: “Everybody sings ‘O Come all Ye Faithful.’ Only the faithful sing ‘ O Sacred Head Sore Wounded’ or ‘At the cross her vigil keeping, stood the mournful mother weeping…’ This week, for better and worse, we are pretty much on our own. That is the cultural difference between Christmas and Holy Week—but why do the faithful, and to be honest, the wondering and questioning, and not-really-sure-at-all, come to a Good Friday service?”
Why are the women standing at the foot of the cross? Why do we stand here as well?
As Jesus’s mother stands at the foot of the cross with a small remnant of people, she must be weeping, grieving not only for the horrible suffering and death of her innocent son. She is also grieving for the loss of her hope, the loss of dreams for her own future and for her son; she is mourning the loss of her joyful expectations.
While not all of us have experience the profound grief of the loss of a child, all of us know something of this other loss. We too have lost hope; we too have had to bury our joyful expectation; we too have grieved the loss of our dreams for how life is supposed to turn out.
So why do we come here today? Is it to be a funeral for our lost hopes and dreams and expectations? That would hardly be Good Friday!
Today, the writer from the letter to the Hebrews reminds us that we are here to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,” “to approach the throne of grace with boldness that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need…” We know the end of the story, the great surprise of Easter, and even on this sad day, we can focus on the hope that is the gift of the resurrection.
And the gift of the cross this day is an invitation. We are invited to take all that we have lost, all for which we still mourn, and to lay it all at the foot of the cross, where it will no longer be lost, dead, gone. At the foot of the cross, all our lost hope can and will be redeemed. And that is why we are here this day.

In just a few moments, after the solemn collects, we will have what is known as the “veneration of the cross.” As we sit in silence and then sing about Mary’s grief and profound loss at the foot of the cross, you are invited to come forward to the cross or to kneel or sit in your pew, and to imagine that you are gathering up your loss, your grief, your frustrated expectations, your hopelessness, and that you are laying them down at the foot of the cross where they will be redeemed and given new life, new hope in the resurrection.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lent 4A sermon

4th Sunday in Lent Year A
April 3, 2011
I have been given a lovely gift this week, and I want to share it with you. Early in the week, before I’d even begun to think about this homily, I was looking for something to read. I found, on my bookshelf, a book that David’s aunt had sent to us two years ago; a book that she had read with her church during Lent that she had wanted to share with us. Well, I’d stuck it on my shelf and forgotten about it, until this week. The book is called Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives, and it was written by Wayne Muller, an ordained minister and therapist.
I was hooked on this book from the second page with this paragraph: “A ‘successful’ life has become a violent enterprise. We make war on our own bodies, pushing them beyond the limits; war on our children, because we cannot find enough time to be with them when they are hurt and afraid, and need our company; war on our spirit, because we are too preoccupied to listen to the quiet voices that seek to nourish and refresh us; war on our communities, because we are fearfully protecting what we have, and do not feel safe enough to be kind and generous; war on the earth, because we cannot take the time to place our feet on the ground and allow it to feed us, to taste its blessings and give thanks” (2). “…As it all piles endlessly upon itself, the whole experience of being alive begins to melt into one enormous obligation. It becomes the standard greeting everywhere: I am so busy (2).” “With a few notable exceptions, the way problems are solved is frantically, desperately, reactively, and badly. Despite their well-meaning and generous souls, community and corporate leaders are infected with a fearful desperation that is corrosive to genuine helpfulness, justice or healing. As Br. David Steindl-Rast reminds us, the Chinese pictograph for ‘busy’ is composed to two characters: heart and killing” (3).
It is more than a little disturbing to me to hear the disease of my own life experience named in such a clear and concise way. And I know that I am not alone in living this rushed and harried and violent life that Muller writes about because I see the results of this life in the lives of others all the time—in the nurse at the doctor’s office, in the person on the phone, in some of you who so desperately want life to be different but who cannot break out of the system of busy-ness and violence in which you find yourselves caught.
What’s most interesting to me about this image of life that Mu ller articulates is that it is not unique to our age (although the developments of progress and technology have certainly intensified it). We can see glimpses of this violence in our gospel reading for today. What starts out as a conversation between Jesus and his disciples leads Jesus to heal a man who had been blind from birth. And then we see 33 chapters worth of resulting conflict and drama among the newly healed man, his family, his community of faith. It is a whole lot of talking and arguing and conflict and drama, all about authority and sin and legitimacy. And the man who was born blind just keeps telling his story: “I was sitting there, and the man called Jesus walked up and healed me of my blindness”. Eventually, he gets put out of the synagogue, exiled from his faith community, for telling his story. And Jesus finds him and offers him a new community of faith and a new way of life to go along with his new way of seeing the world.
We are very much like the man who was blind from birth who was healed by Jesus and given the beautiful gift of a new way of being in the world; as a result of this gift, this new way of seeing, he finds himself caught up in the drama and the violence of those around us. But he stayed faithful to the story, and after what I am sure was a most painful exile, he was rewarded by a glimpse of the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ.
We are also very much like the Pharisees. We do violence to others when they speak the truth about the disease in the way of the world and the way of our lives. And we ostracize them; we refuse to listen, and we even squeeze them out.
Today, the 4th Sunday in Lent, is also known in our tradition as Laetare Sunday. It means Rejoice Sunday, and it was traditionally a time when the mood of Lent was somewhat lightened so that people could get a little bit of a reprieve and then journey on through the rest of Lent.
The gift that I received this week from the Holy Spirit’s encouragement to pick up this book on the Sabbath, I share with you this day, so that we may all rejoice together.
Our lives do not have to be like war. God does not want that for us, and God invites us, through Jesus Christ, to live into the wholeness that is already deep within us. Muller writes that we tap into that existing wholeness by remembering the Sabbath. He writes, “While Sabbath can refer to a single day of the week, Sabbath can also be a far-reaching, revolutionary tool for cultivating those precious human qualities that grow only in time. If busyness can become a kind of violence, we do not have to stretch our perception very far to see that Sabbath time—effortless, nourishing rest—can invite a healing of this violence (5). …Sabbath is a way of being in time where we remember who we are, remember what we know, and taste the gifts of spirit and eternity (6)…Sabbath is more than the absence of work; it is not just a day off, when we catch up on television or errands. It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true. It is time consecrated with our attention, our mindfulness, honoring those quiet forces of grace or spirit that sustain and heal us (8).”
On this 4th Sunday in Lent, may remember who you are and what you know; may you easily receive the gifts of healing and Sabbath and new vision that our Lord has to offer you, and may you take the time to listen to your life, “to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, and true”, and be freed from the violence of the world and of our lives.

(Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives. Bantam: New York, 1999.)