Saturday, May 14, 2011

Easter 4A sermon

Easter 4A
May 15, 2011
I want to begin my homily today with a little show and tell. This is my Mother’s day present that I got last week from my daughter MM (who’s six). My gift was made up of three different parts. First, a card made by Mary Margaret at school with a lovely, hand-written note inside. Second, a book, Just Mom and Me, which is made up of activities for mothers and daughters to do together. And finally, a dollar bill—just kind of thrown into the bag. So here’s what’s the coolest part of MM’s gift to me. It is made up of things that we both value: a book that honors our relationship, an expression of her artistic talent, and a dollar; and it is a true offering of her stewardship, made up of the three classic components: time (together doing the activities in the book), talent (in her art and writing), and treasure in the gift of a dollar that was given to her by the tooth fairy.

Senior Warden, Marie Porter, and I spent the weekend at the very first Bishop’s Annual Stewardship Summit (BASS), and we learned a wonderfully succinct definition of what stewardship is. Stewardship is “what you do with all that you have after you say ‘I believe.’”

Our passage in Acts is a beautiful snapshot of stewardship at its best in the life of faith, and it resonates with us because it is about people like us. It starts with the disciples, who had abandoned Jesus at his crucifixion, who are so scared of what might happen to them that they huddle together in one single room behind locked doors. But then, they encounter the Risen Lord, and he transforms their fear into hope, joy, and a passion to spread the good news of Jesus’ life and ministry, his death and resurrection. So these formerly scared disciples are given the gift of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and then Peter, who had been the most afraid of all of them, preaches to the crowd and 3,000 people are converted to the new faith and baptized into the body of Christ. These three thousand people then give themselves over to The Way of following Christ, “devoting themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” They give of their possessions and hold things in common, and they even sell their possessions and distribute the money to the common good, to help those who have need. What is most amazing about this picture of life in the early church is that these people, who are no better or stronger or smarter or richer or poorer or more faithful or less fearful than any of us give themselves to what they all have in common, not what distinguishes them from one another. And the people who knew them before and see how they have become transformed are amazed and give glory to God through the power of the resurrection to new life. And even more begin to join them.

Stewardship is what we do with all that we have after we have said that we believe; it’s how we spend and make our money; it is what we do with our time, our attention; it is how we make a difference in this world; it is how we give our heart, and how we trust God. There is nothing stopping us from being that community of faith in Acts, in giving ourselves to what we have in common not what distinguishes us. We know how it’s done—through a commitment that we all make in our baptism and in the renewal of our baptismal covenant. It is a commitment to devoting ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers, a commitment to giving our hearts to the Way of Jesus Christ above all else. Nothing stands in our way except our fear that there will not be enough, our fear that we will not be able to do it, that it will be too hard, that our friends will make fun of us, that it will infringe upon our own will for the way we live our lives. Nothing stands in our way except our fear. And my friends, if there is anything that was proven by Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, it is that in the Kingdom of God there is and always will be enough; that we have absolutely nothing to fear and absolutely everything to gain.

Think about the difference that we will make in this community, when we give of our love and attention and our money without fear, without scarcity; think of the difference we will make when we give ourselves and our hearts to what we have in common. And let us give thanks for those little ones among us who teach us about the abundance of God and how we might also give generously.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Easter 3A/Mother's Day

The Reverend Melanie Dickson Lemburg
Easter 3A
May 8, 2011

I’d like to share with you today, some parts of one of my favorite poems: “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” by Wendell Berry. It’s an interesting poem that starts out by talking about the way of the world, and then it urges us to follow a different path.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
Love the quick profit, the annual raise
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed…
…Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head.
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

There is much in that poem that captivates me, but during this Easter season, I am most especially drawn to that last line: “Practice resurrection”. Many of the ideas of the poem lead up to that notion of practicing resurrection, but my question for us is, how can we, in our daily lives this Easter season, practice resurrection?

In our gospel for today, we see one instance of practicing resurrection. Cleopas and his companion are leaving Jerusalem. They are, in effect, getting the heck out of dodge, trying to leave the events of the weekend far behind them. Their hearts are heavy and sad, and they encounter a stranger on the road. Even though their leader is dead and gone, his way of welcoming the stranger is ingrained upon them, and we see their reflection of it, in how they welcome the unrecognized risen Christ. So, before these two even know of the resurrection, we see them practicing resurrection in the way that they extend the hospitality of Christ, welcoming the stranger, offering food to the hungry and shelter to the traveler. It is because they, even in their sadness and preoccupation, are willing to open themselves to the other that they are able to walk with the Risen Christ to Emmaus; and at their invitation, he joins them for a meal, where he makes himself known to them in the breaking of the bread. For a moment, just think of what this story would look like if those two men hadn’t offered hospitality to the stranger….They would have never received the revelation that this man they had traveled 7 miles with was in fact the Risen Christ. Even the most cursory offer of hospitality opens the door to the gift of the revelation of the presence of God.

So what is hospitality? It took me preaching this sermon on Mother’s Day to begin to realize what motherhood in its various forms has taught me about hospitality. Now I’m not talking about how to set a nice table or make a big, elaborate, welcoming meal for a dinner party or giving hostess gifts when someone throws you a party. I’m talking about the essence of what it means to be a mother and to be mothered by another. That is what hospitality is all about. In motherhood, a person allows a stranger, a completely other person to take up residence in our bodies, our hearts, our souls, our imaginations. It means spending the rest of our lives nurturing and shaping them, not possession them or expecting certain things from them but spending time with them, appreciating them for their own gifts and inviting out of them the person that God has created and called them to be. That is true motherhood, and it is also true hospitality, and you don’t have to be a mother, biologically, to know it and to practice it. I’d be willing to bet it is what you appreciate the most of the people who have mothered you over the course of your life.

Why would we offer hospitality? It’s not because we have a beautiful building, great music. It’s not because we need or want more people, more bodies in the pews, more pledges to support the budget. We offer hospitality because we believe that the Risen Christ is among us and that he continues to reveal the truth of life, death, and resurrection in our own lives, in our own stories. Once we have tasted the power and the gift of this truth, we know that there are people out there who are dying of hunger for this taste of truth and hope that we have to offer. Yes, bad stuff happens. People get sick and die. But our lives are not without meaning. Our lives are not without purpose. When we look into the eyes of the stranger, Jesus helps us to see that truth in their face and to offer them a place among us in the story. We offer hospitality because the truth of today’s gospel story and the truth of our own experience teach us that in welcoming the stranger we find ourselves, again and again, surprised to suddenly recognize the face of the Risen Christ. And we offer hospitality because each of us knows, deep in our hearts, what it means to be the stranger, the one on the outside, longing for a place and a people to belong to.

How do we offer hospitality? In the terms of Berry’s poem, hospitality is not just about “practicing resurrection”; hospitality is also about “doing something that won’t compute…” The two disciples have walked with a stranger for 7 miles and when he begins to move on and continue his journey, they stop him and invite him with the simple words: “Stay with us.” It’s hard to imagine that these days-- meeting a fellow traveler and then inviting them home for supper and to spend the night…But what would that radical hospitality look like for us? We do it every Sunday—when a stranger enters our doors, we invite them into our home, this place that is sacred, so very holy to us; this place that has been built and rebuilt through blood, sweat, and tears. We feed them, and we invite them to stay with us because in and through them we may encounter the risen Christ. We open up a place for them in our hearts and in our imaginations, and we appreciate them for the place that God has offered us all together in this story of life, death, and resurrection.

So in this Easter season, do “something that doesn’t compute.” Welcome the stranger; embrace the outcast, the child, the one whom the world says has no value; feast with God’s children at God’s table; look for the Lord where you least expect him; gladly live into your place in the story; practice resurrection.