Sunday, October 20, 2013

22nd Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 24C

22nd Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 24C October 20, 2013 On this day that we are baptizing Bailey Lipps, I’m feeling called to preach about something that often strikes fear into the heart of many a faithful Episcopalian. It is something that each of us promises to do when we are being baptized (or, as in Bailey’s case, something our parents promised on our behalf), and it is something that we all promise to do over and over again when we renew our own baptismal covenant. Are you ready to hear what this terrifying thing is? It is prayer. Prayer is something that we all know that we should be doing; it is something that we know is important. And yet, most of us Episcopalians don’t even know where to begin. I had the good fortune of being taught to pray by my father (who is the son of a Methodist minister) and a Jewish rabbi, but many, many years as an Episcopalian have made even me a little rusty. But do not fear. I have good news. Listen to what our Book of Common Prayer has to say about prayer. (This is on page 856, if you want to follow along.) “What is prayer?” “Prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with our without words.” (read it again). It is so simple, and yet it can be so very profound in how we understand prayer and our own life in prayer. Our prayer is a response to God. God’s Holy Spirit is already at work in us, so that when we pray, we are responding to God; Paul writes that our very urge to pray is actually prompted by the Holy Spirit, which is already at work praying within us, interceding “with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 9:26). That takes a lot of pressure off of us, doesn’t it? God is doing the initiating, and even calling forth the response from our own souls, and all we have to do is to show up and be open enough to pay attention to it all! The theologian and writer Frederick Buechner writes about prayer: “Everybody prays whether he thinks of it as praying or not. The odd silence you fall into when something very beautiful is happening or something very good or very bad. The ah-h-h-h! that sometimes floats up out of you as out of a Fourth of July crowd when the sky-rocket bursts over the water. The stammer of pain at somebody else's pain. The stammer of joy at somebody else's joy. Whatever words or sounds you use for sighing with over your own life. These are all prayers in their way. These are all spoken not just to yourself but to something even more familiar than yourself and even more strange than the world. According to Jesus, by far the most important thing about praying is to keep at it. The images he uses to explain this are all rather comic, as though he thought it was rather comic to have to explain it at all. He says God is like a friend you go to borrow bread from at midnight. The friend tells you in effect to drop dead, but you go on knocking anyway until finally he gives you what you want so he can go back to bed again (Luke 11:5-8). Or God is like a crooked judge who refuses to hear the case of a certain poor widow, presumably because he knows there's nothing much in it for him. But she keeps on hounding him until finally he hears her case just to get her out of his hair (Luke 18:1-8). Even a stinker, Jesus says, won't give his own child a black eye when he asks for peanut butter and jelly, so how all the more will God when his children . . . (Matthew 7:9-11). Be importunate, Jesus says—not, one assumes, because you have to beat a path to God's door before he'll open it, but because until you beat the path maybe there's no way of getting to your door. "Ravish my heart," John Donne wrote. But God will not usually ravish. He will only court.” (Originally published in Wishful Thinking) Prayer is about being deliberate and paying attention to the ways that God is already at work in our lives, and then offering to God all the stuff of our lives in response to that, with gratitude. The writer Anne Lamott has written that there are three prayers that she prays over and over again: “Help”. “Thanks”. And “Wow.” (I think perhaps some of you Ole Miss fans have had a recent experience of praying all three of these within the span of the game last night!) So the good news about prayer? It’s nothing to be intimidated by. Persistence is important, and above all, remember that it’s the deep prayer of your soul has already been initiated for you by God, and the Holy Spirit, or the God in you, is already responding. All we have to do is show up, and pay attention. “Help. Thanks. Wow!”

Sunday, October 13, 2013

21st Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 23C

21st Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 23C October 13, 2013 In today’s gospel passage, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He is in an in-between time and at an in-between place. He encounters 10 lepers who, according to the holiness code in Leviticus (the religious law), have been made outcasts because of their illness. And they cry out to him, asking him to have mercy upon them. He answers them by telling them to go show themselves to the priests (another part of the holiness code through which lepers can be evaluated and if found to be disease-free, then reinstated into the community). And the writer tells us that as they go, they are made clean. And one of them (a Samaritan—a bitter religious rival of the Jews), upon seeing that he is clean, turns back, falls at Jesus’s feet and thanks him. Jesus asks him where the others are, and then he tells him to get up and go on his way, that the man’s faith has made him well (or whole or even literally his faith has saved him.) Then Luke’s gospel continues with a passage that we don’t hear at all in this lectionary cycle, but I think is very important and informative of how we look at this little story. Luke writes next, “Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The Kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For in fact, the Kingdom of God is among you.” Could it possibly be that the Kingdom of God is uncovered or revealed in and through gratitude? Oscar Wilde once said, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” For us followers of Jesus (or followers of the Way, as the early Christians were called), we seek to uncover, to discover this Kingdom of God that is already among us. For us, it’s not about pie in the sky when you die. It’s about healing and wholeness and fullness of life here and now. It’s about living, not just existing. This little story from Luke’s gospel today shows us how the Samaritan leper was blessed not once but twice—once when he was healed with all the others and then a second time when he returned to give Jesus his thanks and praise. The Samaritan leper received not only the blessing of healing which all the other lepers received (simply by being in the right place at the right time?). But when he returned to give thanks to Jesus, he received the blessing that comes from recognizing blessing and giving thanks—the blessing of wholeness and even perhaps of salvation. In that way, this little story shows that gratitude is the difference between living and just existing. Another writer writes about this experience of the second blessing of gratitude in this way: “Have you ever noticed just how powerful it is not only to receive blessing but also to name it and give thanks for it? Maybe you’re at dinner with family or friends, and it’s one of those meals, prepared with love and served and eaten deliberately, where time just stops for a little while and you’re all caught up and bound together by this nearly unfathomable sense of community and joy. And then you lean over to another, or maybe raise your glass in a toast, and say, ‘This is great. This time, this meal, you all. Thank you.’ And in seeing and giving thanks, the original blessing is somehow multiplied. You’ve been blessed a second time. Or maybe you were at the Grand Canyon (or some other wonderful spot), taking in the beauty of the vista, when you lean over to your companion and say, “This is so beautiful. I’m so glad you’re here to share it with me.” And again, the blessing is multiplied and you’ve been blessed yet again. Thanksgiving is like that. It springs from perception -- our ability to recognize blessing -- and articulation -- giving expression, no matter how inadequate it may seem at the time, of our gratitude for that blessing. And every time these two are combined -- sight and word -- giving thanks actually grants a second blessing.”i And well, that’s easy to say, isn’t it, but not quite so easy to do, especially when the world seems to be falling apart around us. Only 5% of the population of our entire country is satisfied with the work that congress is doing in this stalemate and government shut-down that is affecting so many lives. Individuals are struggling—financially; folks are sick or unhappy with the way their lives are turning out. It is not always our natural inclination to be grateful. I can’t help but wonder what it cost the Samaritan to not follow Jesus’s instructions and proceed with the others to the priest but rather to return and give thanks. Was his gratitude so overwhelming and overpowering that he could not help but give thanks? Or was it because his mother had taught him to say thank you? I suspect it is the first, but the curious thing about gratitude is that it doesn’t really matter how we get there. We receive the second blessing of gratitude whether it is something that wells up within us or whether it is something that we are deliberate in seeking out. In his book Reflections on the Psalms, C. S. Lewis observed the connection between gratitude and well being. He writes, “I noticed how the humblest and at the same time most balanced minds praised most: while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least. Praise always seems to be inner health made audible.” Most of us want to be happy and healthy and whole. So how we do this? How do we cultivate, how do we practice gratitude? What does it take to be grateful for the blessings and healings of our lives? It’s actually very simple. You can do this every morning to start your day or even multiple times throughout the day. Take a doodle card out of the pew in front of you (or any piece of paper will do). Take a few moments and think, right now, of 7 particular things—people, events, qualities, healings, gifts, even disasters—for which you are grateful (right now, in this moment). Write them down. (silence) How might things be different for you, for me, for us as a church, for our whole world, by our articulating often and loudly that gratitude? What happens inside when you give voice to that gratitude? At the offertory, you will be invited to come forward and place your thanksgivings in the collection bowls on the altar—your opportunity to thank God for those 7 good gifts in your life right now. (If you are not comfortable or able to come forward, then place your paper in the collection plate that the ushers will pass around). And then together, we will make Eucharist, thanksgiving, giving thanks to the Lord our God for all the good gifts God has given us. In conclusion, I will leave you with a quote from the medieval mystic, Meister Eckhart: “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was ‘thank you’ that would suffice.” i.David Lose from his blog: