Sunday, April 29, 2012

4th Sunday of Easter Year B

4th Sunday of Easter Year B April 29, 2012 A letter to Lucia Clair Matheny upon the occasion of her baptism. Dear Lucia, Today is the 4th Sunday of Easter, which is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday. It is a beautiful day to be baptized, because we are still so close to the Day of Resurrection; our alleluias are still so fresh and joyful, are hearts are light and full. Today in your baptism, we are recognizing and celebrating the truth of who you already are—God’s beloved child. This day we celebrate that you belong to Christ and that you will be marked as his own, belonging to him, forever. This process that begins for you today will go beyond even your own death, for you will always be a sheep of Jesus’s own fold, a lamb of his own flock, a sinner of his own redeeming. You will always be someone loved so much by Jesus that he willingly lays down his life for you and for all of creation. If you hear nothing else today, I hope that you will hear and know this: God knows you altogether and God loves you altogether. Nothing you can ever do can change God’s love for you or change your place of belonging in the heart of God. You may do things that grieve God, that hurt yourself and others, but you will always have a place in the heart of God who loves you so much more than you can ever ask or imagine! The deeper you live into God’s love for you, the more you will love others and give of yourself to God and to others, and it is in this knowledge and through this practice that you will encounter the abundant life which Jesus promises and offers you. Since today is Good Shepherd Sunday, and in many of our readings we are told that we are like sheep and Jesus is the Good Shepherd, I’d like to tell you a couple of things about sheep and their relationship with their shepherd that may help you on this journey of faith which you begin today. Sheep have gotten a really bad rap. People say that sheep are stupid, silly creatures, but scientists have actually proven that sheep are much smarter than we thought. Sheep are actually intelligent animals who can recognize faces and respond to rewards. But, there are two important things that we need to know about sheep that have led to their being labeled as stupid, because these two things ring true for us as well. First, sheep are not willing to be driven along like cattle. If someone tries to drive sheep, they scatter. But sheep are more than willing to follow along behind a trusted shepherd. They follow willingly wherever the trusted shepherd leads because they know the way is safe. Second, sheep, like most people, run when they are afraid, and in their fear and in their running, they become incredibly lost. We know something of this fear, this running, and this lostness. The late psychologist Rollo May has written, “Humans are the strangest of all God’s creatures because they run fastest when they have lost their way.” We know something of this. We become afraid when our lives take a turn from what we expect or hope. We become afraid when we feel trapped, and we run. We become afraid when circumstances seem to be spiraling out of our control. We become afraid when we are forced to change in ways that we do not want to change. We become afraid, and we run, and we get lost. At some point in your life, sweet Lucia, you will probably be truly frightened—whether it is by the threat of sickness or injury, afraid for someone you love, broken hearted and lost, believing your own false heart or the false lips of those who tell you you’re not good or good enough, you’re not smart or smart enough, you’re not pretty enough, you’re not doing enough…You may believe at some point that you are truly lacking and that you are unlovable. At some point in your life, I fear, you will be afraid, you will feel lost, and you will want to run and run and run. When those times happen remember this day. Remember that you are cherished by God; remember that you will always belong to Jesus, even when you do run away. Remember that he is not only with you, but that he has gone before you, into and through death and into the fullness of the resurrection. Remember that he is your shepherd and that he leads you and all of us through death and into the abundant live of the resurrection where he invites us to dwell. Always remember that God has created you good. You are good, no matter what you do, no matter what others say. You are good; God loves you and will always love you, and God really wants to you flourish and to grow toward God. Remember that we walk this way with you, following Jesus our Good Shepherd all together, so that none of us is ever alone. You have nothing to fear and everything to gain. May you not be afraid. And may you have life and have it abundantly. Your sister in Christ, Melanie+

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Day of Resurrection: Easter Day 2012

April 8, 2012
“Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”
Today we gather for one joyful purpose, and one purpose only. Today we gather to celebrate, to remember, and to participate in resurrection!
This week, we have been talking about how we as a church gather to do the work of holy remembering. Holy remembering is so much more than an act of cognition or recall. Holy remembering is what we do together, infused by the Holy Spirit, so that in the telling of the stories of God’s love for God’s people, we are participating, in some mysterious way, in that story, and God is making present the power of those moments in the past.
So today, our joy is to remember, to participate in, to celebrate the resurrection!
How might we remember and celebrate the resurrection this day and every day?
First, let us remember and celebrate that once again, God’s love is afoot in the world! I love the way that John tells the story of the resurrection! There’s so much running around, so much urgency. Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty, and she runs to tell the disciples, and then after the disciples race to the tomb, it is empty, they look around, and they just kind of wander off, leaving Mary Magdalene there alone weeping. And then, suddenly, Jesus is there, but she doesn’t recognize him. It’s almost like God is playing hide and seek with all of them; there are glimpses of the resurrection every where they look, glimpses of God’s love afoot in the world, but they do not understand it, they do not recognize it. How often is that true for us as well? Remember and celebrate that once again, God’s love is afoot in the world! Remember and celebrate resurrection!
Second, let us remember and celebrate the surprise, the shock of hearing him call you by name and recognizing him as the risen Lord! It is always so. When God acts, we are told again and again, “Do not be afraid!”, but still, we can’t help that shocked gasp of air that we suck in when we hear Jesus call our names and recognize him as the Risen Lord. Dead bodies do not get resurrected in our world, and yet, we meet him, face to face, again and again and again. And it’s always a surprise, isn’t it? No matter how many times we hear the story, when we encounter resurrection and the risen Lord, it is always a surprise. And then, when God acts, we have to reorient our assumptions, our priorities, our expectations. Remember and celebrate the surprise of God’s actions. Remember and celebrate resurrection!
Third, let us remember and celebrate that we are called to be witnesses. In the reading from Acts, Peter is talking about the joyful compulsion that he and the other disciples feel to talk about the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ. He makes a connection between those who witnessed the life and death, those who follow Jesus on his way and witnessing the resurrection. It’s too good not to share, and Peter and the others seem to be overflowing fit to burst with the good news.
I had an experience this week with strangers who witnessed to me of the good news of the resurrection. I got an email addressed to all of us that reads: “Dear Melanie and all -
We're thinking of you today. We're thinking of you and remembering a journey six years ago when we came upon the shell of St. Peter's by the Sea in Holy Week, 2006. We had landed in New Orleans to help our "assigned" congregation, St. Paul's Parish and School in the Lakeview neighborhood. We took a couple of days away to volunteer at Camp Coast Care, then drove further east to Gulfport. And then we found you and the amazing little tomb. We wept tears for you and yours that day. We're sure it's a feeling you know too well. Now we find we're weeping tears of joy to see your web site and the way you have restored that sacred, holy space which God has entrusted to your stewardship. And in doing that we're sure you have found restoration of spirit, mind and body as well. May it ever be so. …I often tell people that seeing [that] tiny, powerful expression of resurrection amidst the wreckage was the moment that Christian hope began to take shape for me. Blessings and joy to you this Easter. With love and gratitude Paul Peck and Mindy Chambers, Olympia, WA (in the Diocese of Olympia - the Episcopal Church in Western Washington State).”
What an amazing testament to the power of the risen Christ, that you could be a sign of hope to these folks in your darkest hour; and that they remember it years later, and can help us remember it too! Remember and celebrate that you, too, are witnesses to the resurrection. Remember and celebrate the resurrection!
Finally, let us remember and celebrate the new creation of which we are a part through the resurrection! The Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright says that “Our calling in the light of Easter is that we are to be advanced foretastes of the new creation begun with the resurrection. [The resurrection] is not just for us. We are not only beneficiaries of that new creation, but we are conduits of it—people through whom [resurrection and the new creation] happen. Remember, participate in and celebrate God’s new creation. Remember and celebrate the resurrection.
In closing I leave you with a quote that a friend of mine shared several weeks ago. [It is by Br. James Koester, and] it is about remembering, participating in, and celebrating resurrection every day in your own lives.
“Wherever in your life is victory, there is resurrection. Wherever in your life there is joy, there is resurrection. Wherever in your life is wonder, there is resurrection. Wherever in your life is resurrection there is Christ calling you to follow him out of death into his larger more glorious life.”
May you go forth into the world this day, and every day and may you remember, participate in, and celebrate resurrection as witnesses to the power of God’s love that is afoot in the world!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Great Vigil of Easter 2012

April 7, 2012

A letter to Heather Carnocki, Jack Vincent, and Hannah Hiett on the occasion of their baptisms.

Dear Heather, Jack, and Hannah,
We have been talking all this past week about holy remembering. How we gather together to hear and tell the stories of our faith; how this remembering is more for us than an act of recall, but that in some mysterious way, in our holy remembering, we make present the events and the power of the stories of the past. Nowhere is that more evident than in our holy remembering on this holy night.
Tonight we remember how this is a holy night. “This is the night when [God] brought our fathers, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt and led them through the Red Sea on dry land.” “This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin and are restored to grace and holiness of life.” “This is the night when Christ broke the bonds of death and rose victorious from the grave.” This is the night when you are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. This is the night when you have become an important part of the body of Christ. This is the night when we all remember who we are, from whence comes our salvation, how we are called to live our lives, and why it all matters.
This holy night is the beginning of a journey for you that you will follow into and through your own death. You will journey through valleys and over mountains; your way will be both smooth and rocky. Sometimes you will dance and rejoice along the way and at other times you will feel so weary and heartbroken that you don’t know how you can go on. During all of those different parts of your journey, my prayer for you is “May you remember.”
May you remember, during those times in your life, when darkness weighs upon you like a tomb, that the light of Christ shines within you and will light your path in the dark.
May you remember, no matter what happens, that you belong to God; that your baptism is a sign that God loves you, that God cherishes you, and that you are not alone.
May you remember the promises that we all have made to you—that we will walk with you as your sisters and brothers as you seek to follow Jesus.
May you remember, every time that you lift your shining face to God with your hands outstretched to receive the bread and the wine, that you are being fed the body and blood of Jesus who loves you, so that you may go out into the world to share that love with others.
May you remember that belief is not so much about what you think, but belief is about choosing a path and following it; belief is about how your live your life, what you give your heart fully to.
May you remember that Christ, our hope, is arisen, and he goes before you on your journey so that you may follow where he leads.
May you remember that you have been buried with Christ in his death and that you share in his resurrection, so you have absolutely nothing to lose. May you live and love with joy and abandon.
May you remember the truth of the Mystery of this holy night: “that God’s love is stronger than anything even death.”

May you always Remember.

Your sister in Christ, Melanie+

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday 2012

April 5, 2012
We gather together this day, as we have been doing at other times during this Holy Week, and the gift of this week is our corporate practice of holy remembering. This holy remembering means telling the story, remembering, and in some mysterious way participating in the story of God’s salvation of all people, past, present, and future. Holy remembering means recalling the power of the stories of the past, and through our engagement, participation, and giving our lives over to them, God makes present the power and the reality of that past event in our current life together.
Through this holy remembering, we are, in some mysterious way, participating in the story and receiving God’s blessings. As Tom said last night in his sermon, “What was real then is as real in this moment as then.”i
Our focus on what we are remembering shifts slightly with the progression of Holy Week. Last night, we remembered how we are slaves in Egypt, eating our hurried Passover meal, ready to flee at a moment’s notice. We remembered how Jesus kneels and washes our feet, how he claims us as his disciples when we show love to others. We remembered the Last Supper and how we participate in that communion with Jesus and all the saints week after week after week, as we “do this in remembrance” of Jesus.
And today, we remember and we participate in Jesus’s betrayal. We remember and witness how he calls upon God in his suffering, and God does not intervene. We remember and acknowledge how our own actions and decisions to “turn to our own way” cause Jesus’s suffering and the suffering of others in this world. Today, we remember how it feels to lose everything. We remember that sometimes it seems that the darkness wins.
Recently I read a French parable that speaks to another essential part of our remembering this day. It is a parable that speaks of unbreakable (and almost unbearable) sacrificial love; “a heart like Jesus—ready to love to the end and even give life.”ii “A widowed mother had an only son whom she cherished. Her tireless loving care was repaid with ingratitude. Heartless wretch that he was, heedless of her needs, time and again, he left her, only to return when his pockets were empty and he was hungry. Each time, she would welcome him and supply his needs at cost to herself. Eventually, his selfish greed had stripped her of everything she had. On his return and finding her unable to give him what he wanted, he was furious and in anger tore her heart from her breast and in sheer contempt threw it on the ground. As he ran to the door, he fell over the heart, and the heart said: ‘Have you hurt yourself, my son?’” iii
In some ways, it is a horrible little story… and yet today it reminds us that in remembering Jesus crucifixion we remember and witness the heart of God, which we have ripped out, tripped over, and still God offers us love, compassion, forgiveness, care, and nurture.
Today, let us remember this heart of God that is fully revealed in Jesus’s death on the cross. Let us remember the ocean of God’s grace that surrounds us even now. Let us remember that the darkness will not be forever. Let us remember that sometimes there must be death before there can be new life. Let us remember and hold fast to our hope, for the one who has promised is faithful.

i.The Rev. Tom Slawson. Sermon at St Peter’s by-the-Sea; Maundy Thursday April 5, 2012
iii.Burrows, Ruth. Love Unknown. Continuum: London, 2011. P 134.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday Year B

Palm Sunday Year B
April 1, 2012
Why do we do this, year after year after year? Why do we gather outside on Palm Sunday and wave our branches in procession? Why do we read the heart-breaking story of Jesus’s betrayal, desertion, agony, and crucifixion? Why do we walk this sad and solemn way through the events and stories of Holy Week?
Why do we do this, year after year after year?
We do this so that we may remember. The church has a fancy word for this remembering that we do. It is called anamnesis. And it is a sort of holy remembering. Anamnesis means so much more than just a cognitive exercise or an exercise in recall. This holy remembering means telling the story, remembering, and in some mysterious way participating in the story of God’s salvation of all people, past, present, and future. Holy remembering means recalling the power of the stories of the past, and through our engagement, participation, and giving our lives over to them, God makes present the power and the reality of that past event in our current life together.
Through this holy remembering, this anamnesis, we are, in some mysterious way, participating in the story and receiving God’s blessings.
Why do we do this, year after year after year? Why do we walk this sad, lonesome, heartbreaking way?
We do it to remember and to participate in the fullness of this story that is the love story of God for all God’s people. We do it to remember and participate in the Paschal Mystery that is the heart of our faith and which gives meaning to our own individual and corporate heartbreaks, failures, and disappointments.
Not too long ago, I was visiting with one who was dying of cancer. She had been suffering greatly in those last weeks, and she told me that on the worst days, she would pray, “Lord Jesus, I know that you suffered so much more than I….” There is comfort to be found in the corporate remembering, even in the midst of our individual sorrows and sufferings and search for meaning.
And so we gather today and in the coming days to remember and to participate in the truth: that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
May we walk closely together this week, following the way of Jesus's suffering so that we may share in his resurrection. And may we remember.