Sunday, August 25, 2013

14th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 16C

14th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 16C August 25, 2013 There was a crooked man who walked a crooked mile. He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile. He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse, And they all lived together in a little crooked house. I had the good fortune this week of getting to discuss today’s gospel reading with some of my colleagues here at St. Peter’s as we met for the Coast Clericus clergy gathering. One of our retired priests mentioned how today’s gospel reminds him of this little nursery rhyme from his childhood. I’ve been thinking about that all week, and I’ll speak more about that momentarily. In our gospel reading for today from Luke’s gospel, we see Jesus teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. While there he encounters a “crooked woman” one who has been bent over for 18 years. Jesus calls out to her, without her asking him for anything, and he tells her that she is healed from her crookedness. But then the leader of the synagogue starts up a fracas, about how Jesus has broken the commandment of not doing work on the Sabbath, and Jesus affirms the value of the woman and her need and right to be healed, despite how other people might interpret the law. Today’s story is interestingly situated. It falls in between the parable of the fig tree whose focus is on repentance, and the parable of the mustard seed and the leaven which are about the Kingdom of God and how to address discouragement or fear about what we feel we have when we believe we have failed. So what exactly is the word that is being spoken by this particular story that is situated between a call for repentance and an insight into the Kingdom of God? Another colleague talked about how we always have the temptation of reading the gospel stories and imagining that we are right there on Jesus’s side. But in this story, it is important for us to imaging ourselves on the side of the leader of the synagogue. The story of the crooked woman’s healing is an invitation to re-imagine and revision all the rules that we cling so tightly to through the light of Jesus’s compassion. “There was a crooked man who walked a crooked mile. He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile. He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse, And they all lived together in a little crooked house.” One of the truths that Jesus proclaims that has the capability of unbinding us all, is that each and every one of us lives with our own crookedness. As the nursery rhyme puts it, we are often drawn to be with and live with and worship with those whose crookedness matches our own, and we all live together in our little crooked house and are completely content. But then we encounter someone who is crooked in a different way than us—maybe she is a crooked woman in the synagogue, maybe it is someone who comes to church who doesn’t act how we think they should act…then we get all upset about their crookedness, paying absolutely no mind to our own. My friends, the good news is this. The light of Jesus’s compassionate judgment shines on each and every one us, and if we will pay attention, he will show us the ways in which we are crooked. Just like the woman in the synagogue, Jesus calls out to us and heals us of our crookedness before we even ask. And that healing often occurs when we bump up against someone else’s crookedness that is different from our own. It is why we, in the church, so desperately need each other, and especially need people who are different from us. Jesus uses each of us in the healing and the transformation of each other, if we but open our hearts up to it. So today, we are going to have extra time of silence after this sermon, in which I invite you to pray and ask Jesus to shine his compassionate judgment upon your own crookedness. When we get to the confession of sins in just a few moments, we will also have more time for you to prayerfully lay that crookedness down at Jesus’s feet. And when you think to judge someone else for their crookedness, remember that each of us lives quite happily in our own crooked house, and God loves each and every one of us too much …to let us stay there.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

13th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 15C

13th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 15C August 18, 2013 Luke 12:49-56 Jesus said, "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, `It is going to rain'; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?" Let me just start out by saying that I do not like this reading from Luke’s gospel today, and I really did not want to preach on it. I do not like to think of a Jesus who is invoking fire and promising division and conflict. We have enough division and conflict in the world, in our everyday lives, Jesus, thank you very much! We come to church in search of peace and harmony! Just what are you trying to do to us? Well, let’s think about this for a minute before we get all panicky. Maybe Jesus has a perfectly good explanation for being so snarky! In this portion of Luke’s gospel, Jesus has ‘set his face toward Jerusalem.’ He knows where he is going and what is going to happen there. As we say in our modern way, “He is stressed!” He is wrestling with the subjugation of his will and desire for survival to God. He is surrounded by people who just don’t get it, and he is preparing to place himself in the intersection between fear and hope, between hatred and love. He knows that it will be incredibly painful and heartbreaking and lonely. When Jesus talks about the conflict that following him brings to families, he is undermining the most basic fabric of life in his time; the household or family is the most deeply valued social unit, around which all of society is ordered. By claiming to bring division and conflict instead of peace to that sacred institution, Jesus is threatening to undermine and obliterate the current social status quo. You know all those people who bemoan the undermining of traditional family values? Well, that is exactly what Jesus is about in the gospel reading for today. So what is a preacher with a husband and two kids, a rector who is charged with the care of the household of the church supposed to make of this troubling passage and this troubling Jesus? My dear ones, we in this parish find ourselves to be in one of these conflicted times that Jesus predicts for people who follow him. (Interestingly enough, I have discovered that these conflicted times most often occur here in the height of hurricane season, when people here are at our most anxious.) Over the past-almost four-years that I have been your priest, we have seen tremendous changes. Our average Sunday attendance, the best predictor of church growth has been steadily climbing and is higher now than it has ever been. Our giving has been steadily increasing, and last year saw the first year since 2007 that we ended the year with a budget surplus as opposed to about a $20,000 deficit, and that is thanks to your gratitude and generous response in your giving and thanks to a new creativity among the vestry that I have never witnessed or experienced in any other church I’ve been a part of. We are doing more things, offering more programs, formation offerings and opportunities to engage in ministry than at any other time in the life of the church. New people are coming; some are just showing up, being led here by the Holy Spirit; others are being invited by you because you are excited about being a part of this faith community and you are offering the words to your friends that harken all the way back to Jesus’s words of invitation to his first disciples, “Come and See!” I strongly believe that we as a church are growing more and more into who God is calling us to be. Yet in the midst of this change and growth and new life, we are experiencing conflict. Change is hard for many people; while some rejoice as St. Peter’s by-the-Sea becomes a more diverse and inclusive community, others feel challenged and conflicted in encountering people who are different from them. What once felt like a closely connected family for some now feels alarmingly unfamiliar (and maybe more than a little scary and even dangerous). So a handful of people have left—both recently and over the last couple of years. And it is heartbreaking and maybe a little frightening to see people leave who are our friends, people who have worshipped in these pews with us and broken bread with us and given money and untold hours of their lives in ministering beside us over many years; they are people who I both love and respect. Sadly, it was their choice to leave, and they have all been told that the doors here will always be open to them if they choose to return. I long, just as much as many of you, for this church to be a place of peace and harmony and to just be one big happy family. But perhaps those are not the most important aspects of who we are called to be as a community of faith and followers of Jesus. I read a quote from the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams where he was asked about spirituality and the life of faith, and he replied, “‘Speaking from the Christian tradition, the idea that being spiritual is just about having nice experiences is rather laughable. Most people who have written seriously about the life of the spirit in Christianity and Judaism spend a lot of their time telling you how absolutely bloody awful it is.’ Williams argued that true spirituality was not simply about fostering the inner life but was about the individual's interaction with others."i So even while I find Jesus’s words today to be a source of deep discomfort for me, they are also indicating that here and now, we are bumping up against the gospel, the good news. Jesus reminds us that the work of the Christian life and the work of the church is not toward peace and comfort and contentment. He reminds us that we are baptized not into a family but into his body—the very body which he prepares to hand over to be crucified—killed, murdered, dead—so that all may experience the transformation and the new life that can only come with resurrection. My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are not called to be a family. We are not called to be peaceful; we are not called to be happy; we are not called to be content. We are called to be transformed! And transformation often includes a refining fire that burns off the parts that hold us back, make us impure. It may not be easy or comfortable, but it may very well be the most life-giving, Spirit and grace-filled work that we ever do together here. We are called to be the body of Christ which means we are not all the same. We come from a variety of backgrounds, bringing a variety of gifts. Some of us have been Episcopalians our whole lives (or at least it seems that long) and have a deep ownership in this church, having helped rebuild it from the rubble; some of us have been so deeply wounded by other churches that we can only marvel that we have been able to find a church where we feel at home. And some are somewhere in between the two. We have so much to learn from each other, and there is room for everyone at God’s table. I read an interview recently with the Rev. Lillian Daniel who has recently written the book When Spiritual But Not Religious is Not Enough. In the book and the interview, she is going after people who talk about being spiritual but not religious, but her words are also an important part of the life of the church and an important reminder of the reality of why we gather week after week to worship together. She says, “Any idiot can find God alone in the sunset. It takes a certain maturity to find God in the person sitting next to you who not only voted for the wrong political party but has a baby who is crying while you’re trying to listen to the sermon. Community is where the religious rubber meets the road. People challenge us, ask hard questions, disagree, need things from us, require our forgiveness. It’s where we get to practice all the things we preach.”ii My brothers and sisters, we need to practice what we preach, here and now. It is time for us to stop talking about each other and to talk to each other. I wrestled with God mightily about whether or not I was going to preach this sermon, and well, I guess you see who won… It is my hope that rather than serving to emphasize division and conflict among us, this may be the beginning of an opportunity to have honest, open, respectful conversation about how we, all together, will be the body of Christ and do his work of loving, healing, and reconciling in this place. I. ii.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

11th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 13C

11th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 13C August 4, 2013 “Once, with great sadness, a lawyer who was on the brink of retirement told [someone] that he had spent his career in the midst of fights over inheritance that occur between siblings. And really, he said, they are fighting over their parents’ love. So the pain that Luke remembered in the short plea, ‘tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me’, is deep and ongoing among us. Luke remembers Jesus using the moment to define greed (the storing up of resources) as the opposite of living richly toward God.”i The theologian and scholar Walter Brueggeman says that “greed is born out of the idea of scarcity and scarcity is born out of anxiety and all three are acted upon in an abundant world. Abundance is denied, not trusted, forgotten in our culture.”ii I had a spiritual director once who used to say to me, “If you scratch the surface of anger, there is always something underneath.” I have learned over the course of time in paying attention to my own inner life and in walking with other people through their own lives of faith, that more often than not, that “something underneath” the anger is anxiety. So what are we supposed to do with our anxieties? The Franciscan priest Richard Rohr had a meditation this very week (on the day that I needed to hear it most) about where anxiety comes from and how people of faith deal with it. (Note that Rohr is heavily influenced by Carl Jung, which is why he uses some of the particular language that he uses in this meditation.) He writes, “Only the great self , the True Self, the God self can carry our anxieties. People who don’t pray basically cannot live the Gospel, because the self is not strong enough to contain and reveal our delusions and our fear. [He says that he is most often quoted for this line:] “If you do not transform your pain, you will always transmit it.” “Always someone else has to suffer because I don’t know how to suffer; that is what it comes down to. Jesus, you could say, came to show us how to suffer, how to carry ‘the legitimate pain of being human’ as C.G. Jung called it. Beware of running from yourself and your own legitimate suffering which is the price of being a human being in a limited world.”iii Both this week and last week, our lectionary has given us readings from the prophetic book of Hosea as our Old Testament reading. Hosea is one of the minor prophets who is speaking to his own people, the people of the Northern Kingdom after Israel divided in half. And Hosea is speaking during a time of great chaos and turmoil and anxiety. The Northern Kingdom at this point in history is at war with Assyria and in virtual anarchy. Hosea is called by God to take a prostitute as his wife (which we heard in last week’s reading), and eventually Gomer leaves him. But Hosea brings her back publicly after her infidelity. And this relationship with her is used as the image of the relationship between God and God’s people who have been unfaithful. Overall, the book of Hosea is quite tumultuous and speaks heavily about the ruin that is coming to Israel. But our reading for today is so very poignant; written from God’s perspective, we see the cost of God’s love. We see God’s memory of God’s child growing through the years, how God has observed and cared for God’s people. It is beautiful, nurturing language: “it was I who taught them to walk, I took them in my arms; but they did not know I healed them. I led them with the cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bend down to them and fed them.” And God knows the peoples’ anxiety, and God knows that disaster is coming. And we who often ask “how can God allow such horrible things to occur” (in our lives, in our world), should note that God asks this question of Godself no less than four times: How can I…” do this? And the answer is that God’s heart recoils and God’s compassion is kindled. God remembers Godself with the words, “for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” It is this God whom Jesus reveals and to whom we are invited and challenged to be rich toward—a God who is steadfast and loving, the Holy One in our midst. So what does it mean to be rich toward God? Being rich toward God isn’t about money, although money can certainly be a part of it. It’s about how we deal with our anxiety and our suffering; being rich toward God is about how we are in relationship with God and with each other. The writer of Colossians talks about this in the verses just after the ones we read this morning (in verses 12-17). It says that those who are rich toward God treat others with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. They bear with one another and forgive each other; they clothe themselves in love which binds everything together in perfect harmony. The peace of Christ rules in their hearts so that they are truly the one body to which they are called. They are thankful and proclaim their gratitude to others…It is the difference between being self-actualized and self-absorbed; it is the difference between being driven by anxiety versus being driven by hope, and it is the good news to which we are called this week. And so this is our particular good news in this particular place. Part of what it means for us to be a resurrection people. It means we trust in God’s love for all people; we trust in God’s faithfulness; and we will not let ourselves be bound by our anxiety or our fear or our scarcity. It means that we continue to be a living witness to God’s abundance that is never diminished, even when it is shared. One of my favorite saints, Dame Julian of Norwich, had a revelation of the abundance of God’s love. And she came out of that mystical experience and uttered words that have helped anchor anxious souls back in God all across the centuries. She experienced God’s love, and she wrote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and every last thing shall be well.” These words are set to a little song that I often sing to my children at bedtime and even sometimes to folks who are especially anxious. I believe I have sung it in this pulpit before. But I want you all to learn it today, because it is the work of the church—the proclamation of the gospel—to sing the good news in a world that is consumed with anxiety and scarcity and fear. And it is the work of people of faith to pray to God, to manage our own anxiety, and live richly toward God. So I teach you this song today, and I promise to sing it to you when you are anxious, and I will ask you to do the same for me, for that is part of what it means to be the church together. (I’ll sing it through one full time, and then you can pick it up as you are comfortable on the second or third time through.) All shall be well; and all shall be well; and every last thing shall be well. i.Written by Nancy Rockwell in her blog The Bite in the Apple. ii.Ibid. iii.Richard Rohr’s daily meditation for Thursday, August 1, 2013 from Here are today's readings: