Sunday, March 31, 2013

No one expects the Resurrection! Easter Day 2013

The Day of Resurrection: Easter Day March 31, 2013 “No one expects…the resurrection!” The chief characteristics of all four gospel accounts are fear and surprise….surprise and fear. In Luke’s gospel which we just heard, we see the women discovering the gaping-open, empty tomb, and they are surprised, afraid, confused. Then two men in dazzling clothes appear to them and ask them a question that echoes through the ages: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The men say to them, “Remember how he told you…” And only then do the women remember, and they go back and tell the apostles what has happened. But the men are also stunned, because “no one expects the resurrection.” And the men think that the women are actually delirious, except for Peter, who wants to go see it for himself. No one expects the resurrection! No matter how many times Jesus predicted his death and his resurrection, none of them was prepared for it to really happen. The women are reminded by the two dazzling strangers, and in that remembering, they are struck by revelation—something beyond reason, or proof or knowing or understanding. No one expects the resurrection! It’s why we are gathered here today. Because no matter how many times we hear the story, no matter how many times we say the Nicene Creed—that we believe that on the third day he rose again in accordance with the scriptures--we do not expect the resurrection when it shows up in our very own lives. We are gathered here today because so often we too look for the living among the dead. Because we cannot remember the truth of the story on our own. We need each other to bear witness to the resurrection in our lives. No one expects the resurrection! It is why we gather Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. Why we have formation offerings and church suppers. It is why we have coffee hour and Vacation Bible School. It is why we baptize and marry and bury people. It is why we break bread together at God’s table. So that we may remember and so that we may bear witness to the resurrection in each others lives; so that others may help us see and find and uncover resurrection where we least expect it! No one expects the resurrection! Not even I, who am called to preach it and proclaim it regularly. This place and all of you have revealed to me so much about resurrection. It is a part of our DNA here; I have said before that we are truly a resurrection community, an outward and visible sign of resurrection, this church having been rebuilt from the ruins of death and destruction. We are a place where people are finding a spiritual home where they have never been able to anywhere else; a community that truly tries to accept people for whoever they are when they show up here. I think of all the times in the life of this parish when I see love transform people. Those are revelations of resurrection. I think of all the little deaths I have witnessed in your lives—how you get stuck looking for the living among the dead—and how in one profound moment or in a thousand regular moments resurrection is revealed and new life is uncovered. I think of the people with whom I have walked toward death, and even here you have shown me glimpses of resurrection: A glimpse of resurrection from Martha who asked me how she would know when it was time to die, who listened to me and believed me when I told her that she would know, and who then proceeded to tell her family exactly when she was ready. I certainly didn’t expect it, and yet here I have seen resurrection. A glimpse of resurrection from David who is dying even as he has lived, with a gentle humor, steadfastness, faithfulness, and living out a deep and profound love for his family. I wouldn’t have expected to see it there, and yet even here I have seen resurrection. And a glimpse of resurrection from Kit, who told me as he was dying that he was ready for the next great adventure, and who also told me mischievously that he would try to send me a message from the other side to let me know what it is like. And then a couple of weeks after his funeral, I dreamt of him, and he was more joy-filled than I had ever seen him. I certainly didn’t’ expect it, and it was, for me, a profound gift and revelation of resurrection! No one expects the resurrection! And yet it is the risen Christ, wild and free and at work in our lives and in the world, both in the midst of life and in the midst of death. It is our call to bear witness to it in and through and for each other. No one expects the resurrection… Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Great Vigil of Easter 2013

The Great Vigil of Easter March 30, 2013 A letter to Ethan, Sam, Jax, and Hiram upon the occasion of their baptisms. Dear Ethan, Sam, Jax, and Hiram, Tonight is a holy night. “This is the night” we sing again and again; the holiest moment of our church year in which we remember and participate in the saving acts of God. This is the night we gather in the darkness to light the new fire, to remember that the light of Christ can overcome all darkness. This is the night we tell the stories of our faith, how God creates all that is and calls it ‘so good’; how God acts to free God’s people from hundreds of years in slavery in Egypt and how God sets them on their course to new life and freedom in the land God has promised them; how those same people find themselves once again in exile and God promises them that God is always near, that God will save them if they but trust in God and not be afraid. This is the night, we remember and participate in the story of how God saves us; we remember and participate in this love story of God for God’s people. This love story is best summarized in a quote by the writer Frederick Buechner (pronounced Beekner). He writes that God says to us, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” This is the night you are being baptized into Jesus’s death and resurrection, which is, strangely enough, the happy ending of this love story, and the reason why you don’t ever have to be afraid. This is the night you are being baptized into a new way of life—the way of discipleship, of following Jesus. This is the night you are being baptized into this way of forgiveness and reconciliation; this is the night you are being baptized into a way of self-emptying and self-giving; this is the night you are being baptized into the way of peace that teaches you to not be afraid but instead to put your hope in the God who saves you and who is always near. This is the night you are being baptized into the truth that God’s love for you is stronger than anything that you will ever have to face in this life, even death. We promise to walk this way with you, sweet boys. We promise to help you remember the light of Christ that always burns brightly in the darkness, even the darkness of the grave. This is the night we promise to help you remember God’s love story for you and for all of creation: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” God’s love never fails. Your sister in Christ, Melanie+

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday 2013

Good Friday 2013 We need Good Friday. We need Good Friday because all the rest of the year, we can convince ourselves that we understand God. But Good Friday is a stark and shocking reminder that we most assuredly do not and cannot. Eugene Peterson, the translator of The Message, says it well when he writes, “Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?” We need Good Friday because it reminds us that we do not have all the answers. We need Good Friday because it shocks us; it wakes us up; it reminds us that we need to pay attention. We need Good Friday because we, too, know something of deep sadness, of frustrated expectations, of lost hope. We need Good Friday because the song of Israel that Jesus, who is God with us, sings from the cross—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—echoes in our own hearts at different times and at different seasons, too. We need Good Friday because we long to “hold fast to the confession of our faith without wavering”; we need Good Friday because we desperately need to be reminded that “he who has promised is faithful.” We need Good Friday because we, too, have kept watch as one we love is dying. We watch as one we love is in agony, and we discover ourselves to be truly and utterly helpless. We need Good Friday because we too have our funerals and we get worn down by the senseless suffering, by the grief, by the loss, and by the heartbreak. We need Good Friday because we also need to be reminded that even though this old world seems to be broken beyond repair, God is carrying out God’s plan of salvation: “things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made…” We need Good Friday because even though we cannot make Eucharist on this sad day, we gather together to eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus who loves us and who gives himself freely to us and who is with us always, even today. We need Good Friday because even today, especially today, we take solace in communion with God and with one another. We need Good Friday because today we get to see what it means for Jesus to be ‘fully human’. We need Good Friday because we and the whole world need redemption, even if we don’t fully understand how it works, or even what it is, we know that we need it. We need Good Friday because as Richard Rohr writes, “This is exactly how Jesus ‘redeemed the world by the blood of the cross.’ It was not some kind of heavenly transaction or paying a price to an offended God, as much as cosmic communion with all that humanity has ever loved and ever suffered. If Jesus was paying any price it was to the hard and resistant defenses around our hearts and our bodies. God has loved us from all eternity.” We need Good Friday to remember, on this day of all days, “that God has loved us from all eternity.”

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Sunday of the Passion--Palm Sunday Year C

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday-Year C March 23, 2013 I can’t help but wonder: what’s the appeal of Palm Sunday? We usually have pretty large crowds on Palm Sunday (second only to Easter Sunday itself). So what’s the appeal? We are people of the Gulf Coast, so if there’s no Mardi Gras, then any parade will do? We like the pageantry and the party favors that we get to take home in the palm fronds? What’s the appeal of Palm Sunday? It starts off triumphant and ends in defeat. It starts with us crying out “Hosanna to the King” and ends with us crying out “Crucify him”. Why do we show up in full force on this strange day, year after year after year? I’m reminded of a song that was iconic of my childhood, a song that was made popular because of its presence in the movie Footloose. The song is “I need a hero” by Bonnie Tyler, and it gets to the heart of why I think we come to Palm Sunday. Tyler sings, “Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods./ Where’s the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds?/ Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed? Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need./ I need a hero, I’m holding out for a hero ‘til the end of the night./ He’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be fast and he’s gotta be fresh from the fight./ I need a hero./ I’m holding out for a hero ‘til the morning light./ He’s gotta be sure and he’s gotta be soon and he’s gotta be larger than life. (Larger than life.) And we get that don’t we? Like Bonnie Tyler, we think we need a hero, and it looks like we’re going to get one today by the way we start off. Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem amidst cheering crowds who proclaim him to be the new hero of Israel. We see our own deep longing mirrored in the crowds, and on Palm Sunday, we too try to make Jesus into a hero—one who rises up in the midst of conflict and who, through strength, courage, determination, and force, will come out victorious and triumphant. But that is not what we get in Palm Sunday and Holy Week. In his book Abiding that I have been reading this Lent, Ben Quash talks about how Jesus is not a hero, because a hero must always overcome conflict with conflict. He writes, “St. Augustine of Hippo, in The City of God, asserts that there is something more profoundly encoded in the universe that is more foundational, more primary, more ultimate than conflict. It is peace….Before all violence, lack or competition, there was (says Augustine) fullness or plentitude. In our epistle reading for today, Paul tells us and the people of Phillipi that Jesus discovers, uncovers, or taps into this fullness or this plentitude in a way that for us seems counter-productive and even non-heroic. Jesus taps into this fullness by self-emptying and by obedience. He gives himself away in and through deep trust in God’s love and in deep trust of the ultimate supremacy of peace over conflict. Today, Jesus is decidedly non-heroic because he empties himself and then acts out of a profound trust in the “deep and abiding power of peace.” So we don’t get a hero today, but we get something so much more. We get one who shows us the way. I know we all like to think that we could be heroes if it came down to it, but that is not the call of the Christian life. The call of the Christian life is to be imitators of Christ, who is the opposite of a hero. Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “And in this, Jesus is an exemplar for the rest of us. ‘Let the same mind be in you,’ Paul writes, apparently believing that this is within our reach. On Palm Sunday, we do not witness the singular death of a singular child of God. Instead, we witness the kind of self-emptying that we too are capable of. The verbs of our lives can flow from the same Christ mind, this same way of seeing ourselves in relationship to God and to the world. Sooner or later we too will be called to be obedient to death. In the meantime, we are as free as Jesus decide how we will spend our energy: on self-protection or self-donation, on saving ourselves (and our religious institutions) or giving ourselves away?” (Feasting on the Word 173). Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

4th Sunday in Lent--Year C

4th Sunday in Lent—Year C March 10, 2013 There is a restlessness in my soul. Sometimes I try to fill it by busy--ness. Sometimes I try to fill it by mindless pursuits. Sometimes I try to fill it with accomplishments, perfectionism, food or drink, shallow, soulless books, or other things. There is a restlessness in my soul, a kind of lost-ness. I see it in you too, this restlessness in your souls. I see how you try to fill it with various and sundry things—with some of the things that I use to try to fill my soul and with other things: exercise, always thinking about or planning the next big thing, a kind of literal transience—moving from place to place physically, spiritually, and in relationships. I see this restlessness in dissatisfaction and complaints, in the ways that you drink too much or use too much prescription medication (or other kinds of drugs); I see it in your anger and in your hopelessness and in your depression. I know this restlessness that drives you, for I feel it too. I see this restlessness in the journey of the Prodigal Son in Jesus’s famous parable, and I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t why it is so well known, so well beloved—because it gives a face to our restlessness. It is this restlessness that causes the younger son to leave his comfortable home and go searching to fill his restlessness. It is this restlessness that motivates him to make bad choices, to squander his money, and it is this restlessness that leads him to what the AA community calls “his rock bottom,” sharing the food and dwelling place of the pigs he has been hired to care for. And the intriguing thing about this parable is that it is in that one moment, when he realizes that he is truly lost, when he realizes exactly where his restlessness has brought him, it is in that moment that Jesus tells us that “he came to himself.” In a famous quote that speaks across the centuries, St. Augustine of Hippo wrote in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” It is what Paul is talking about in 2nd Corinthians when he writes, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation…We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” It is what the children of Israel experience in our reading from Joshua today as they are nearing the end of their 40 years of wandering, restlessness, exile, and homelessness. And they stop, just outside the promised land, to keep Passover as God has taught them, before they return home. It is what is meant by this meditation from SSJE brother Curtis Almquist titled Desire. “God is our desire, behind our desire, before our desire, beyond our desire. God is using this potent, sometimes gnawing gift of desire—which springs from God’s own heart—to lead us, like with bread crumbs, to a door which we might not have otherwise chosen or even recognized in this life. Instead, that door is home.” (Curtis Almquist’s meditation for 3/7/13) “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” So what is one way to still our restlessness, to find our home and our rest in God? It is in and through worship. In the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lenten book for this year, titled Abiding by Ben Quash, Quash writes about how we are caught between this paradox of our call to abide in God and the inherent nature of being in exile that comes with following Christ. He writes about how the younger son in this week’s parable “came to himself” and returned home from his self-imposed exile, and he says that the same thing can happen to us in worship. The younger son heard the call of his father’s home across the miles, and so can we. He writes, “Worship is the response of our whole being to the call of God; it is a repeated ‘turning towards home, running towards the embrace of God’s welcoming arms.” For us Episcopalians, our liturgy makes it very clear that worship is about offering our hearts to God. Every week, I say to you, “Lift up your hearts!” And you say back to me, “We lift them up [un]to the Lord!” We gather here week after week after week because our restlessness drives us away from God toward other things; we gather here because, as the old hymn puts it, we are “prone to wander”; we gather here because we deliberately choose to be in exile, and so week after week, we need to deliberately return to God, in and through worship, again and again and again. We come here week after week so that we may “come to ourselves” and heed the call of the loving parent to return home. This week, just as I was sitting down to write this sermon, I ran across a lovely little song that gets right to the heart of our restless wandering and our return home to God that we are invited to join the Prodigal Son in. The song is called “Home to You,” and it is by a group called The Peasall Sisters. Here are the first verse and the chorus. “I’ve been travelin’ this road for miles/trying to get to where you are/and though you’re tellin’ me the way to go; but I just can’t hear you over my heart. Give me grace to make it through the night. Give me faith so I can see the light. Give me strength so I can make it home…to you, home to you, home to you.”i. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” So I say to you, “Lift up your hearts!” “We lift them up [un]to the Lord!” i. Here's the song:

Sunday, March 3, 2013

3rd Sunday in Lent--Year C

Third Sunday in Lent—Year C March 3, 2013 It has been a challenging time in the life of our church. We seem to have been beset by tragedy, disaster, and death in the lives of so many who are connected with our parish. Many of us feel helpless in the face of so much sadness and suffering, and the words of the collect seem to hold especially true this week: “God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves…” In our gospel reading for today, Jesus and his followers are talking about two horrific events that have just happened, probably in Jerusalem: the murder of Galileans by Pilot, possibly while they were in the temple making their sacrifice and the death of 18 people when the tower of Siloam fell on them. Jesus uses this conversation about these two current events to talk about the nature of sin and punishment and especially about the nature of God. And in order to realize just how radical what he is saying is, we need to understand the prevalent religious thought of the time on the issues of sin and suffering. One commentator writes, “That suffering is a punishment for sin is a biblical common place. Deteronomic theology, which had gained wide currency by Jesus’ day, asserted that obedience to the Torah brought blessings, but disobedience brought a curse. Here Jesus clearly rejects that view. A person’s righteousness or lack of it has nothing to do with any evil that may befall that person.” (Feasting on the Word, Exegetical Perspective by Leslie Hoppe p 95). That is a radical idea for Jesus’s time, and for a certain extent, our own time too: “A person’s righteousness or lack of it has nothing to do with any evil that may befall that person.” In the gospel lesson for today, Jesus is saying, “That’s just not how God is.” The other piece of this that I think is especially pertinent to us today can be found our contemporary popular saying which I hear many, many people say whenever they are trying to make sense of suffering in their lives or in the lives of others. They say, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” Friends, Jesus is telling us in this gospel today, that also just isn’t how God works. Please, take this moment, right here and right now, to erase that sentence from your brain. Do not ever say that to someone else; and please, for the love of God, do not say it to yourself either. Now, don’t get me wrong. I get why we say this. We see or experience suffering, and we think that there has got to be a reason for it. As Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “We would rather have a punishing God than an absent or capricious God.” But Jesus shows us that none of those are accurate understandings of God. Strangely enough, in preparing for this sermon today, I used the wrong Old Testament reading—Isaiah 55:1-9, but that reading has much to offer. That Isaiah reading is God speaking to God’s people after they are about to give up home in captivity in Babylon, and God says to God’s people: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” So what do we do? How do we make sense of and survive suffering, if we cannot lay it at the fault of the one who is suffering or lay it on God? Jesus tells us to repent; to turn away from ourselves and to turn back to God. Isaiah says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.” And Jesus promises that God is always near. Three different meditations or readings that I read this week, spoke to me on this issue, and so I share them with you. First: Place. “Presume that God’s revelation is happening all along the way, not just in “sacred” moments but in every moment, every day. Practice attentiveness. Saint Columba said, ‘God is everywhere in his immensity, and everywhere close at hand’”(Br. Curtis Almquist, Society of Saint John the Evangelist). Second, Richard Rohr wrote, “If God is Trinity and Jesus is the face of God, then it is a benevolent universe. God is not someone to be afraid of, but is the Ground of Being and on our side.” Third, the call of the Christian in repentance is to actively work to abide in God. Repentance isn’t so much about us; it’s about God. In the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book 2013 titled Abiding, the author, Ben Quash, writes, “The true ground of our personal identity is our covenant relationship with God, in which we are not an instrument of God’s will, and God cannot be an instrument of ours; in which a focus on ‘will’ is relativized by ‘trust in a genuinely eccentric ground’ of the reality and value of who we are. This center is beyond ourselves (it is ‘eccentric’), because it is in God. But that is more easily said than learnt, and for as long as history lasts, we will continue at some level to live ‘in Adam’. The Pelagian response to sin…may argue that greater moral effort can remedy the problem, but this is to keep the human will center stage and resist the eccentricity in which human creatures find their real value. Orthodox Christian teaching argues instead that human good works are only ever responses to a prior grace, and are learnt in the context of a radical dependence on such grace” (Chapter 4). Jesus is the face of God, the one who suffers for us and the one who suffers with us. Through his example and presence with us, he teaches us that repentance means turning away from our own will and our own desires, and returning to God. He also teaches us that understanding why bad things happen is less important (and even sometimes irrelevant) than using that moment as an opportunity to return to God and to trust that God’s grace continues to be freely offered. So next time, when you are experiencing suffering—your own or that of someone you love—instead of trying to make sense of it by saying, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” keep that moment in silence and say a prayer for yourself or the other, that you may be recalled to the never-failing Grace of God which is revealed in Jesus to be trust-worthy, loving, and ever present. No matter what.