Sunday, November 17, 2013

26th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 28C

26th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 28C November 17, 2013 I want to share with you something that not many people know about me: I love to read post-apocalyptic fiction. Adult, young adult, you name it; for some strange reason, I love to read stories about how society has completely broken down—due to wars or natural or man-made disasters—and as a result, society and government become oppressive and corrupt, and the hero or heroine fights to restore justice and peace and harmony. Most of these stories are very much about good versus evil in a world that has completely fallen apart, and the good usually triumphs. Not too long ago, I read a news story online about one for the more popular, young adult, post-apocalyptic series—The Hunger Games. (You may have heard of these or even read them; they’re in the process of making movies based on the books.) In this story, the districts have revolted against the government a century before, and their punishment is that every year each district has to hold a lottery to select a boy and a girl to send to fight other children in an arena. These children fight to the death until one is left remaining. The news story that I read stated that there was allegedly interest in building an amusement park based on this story. At first, I thought it was absolutely ridiculous, but then I started to understand the appeal of a place where, even though the world has gone horribly wrong, good still triumphs over evil. It’s something that I think we can all understand and relate to. All three scripture readings for today point to this reality. Each writer is dealing with what must seem like the end of the world; each writer must feel that they are living in a time after the apocalypse. The writer of Luke has seen the destruction of the temple and the end of peace at the hands of the Romans. The writer of Isaiah has seen the people of Israel taken into captivity and exile in the foreign land of Babylon. The writer of 2nd Thessalonians sees a community that is full of conflict and division as they wait anxiously for Jesus’s return and then dismay that is has not been fulfilled. Every generation has known the signs of the end times about which Jesus speaks. We have known the conflict and division that comes from wars and natural and man-made disasters. Just this past week, our world has been rocked by the news of the horrendous devastation in the Philippines from the typhoon. The estimate of dead continues to grow well beyond 10,000, and there is complete and widespread destruction. There is division and conflict in our own country about government spending and the Affordable Health Care Act. Even in our own lovely parish, we have seen signs of conflict and division as the Vestry has sought to have a conversation about whether or not we should pursue offering the liturgy for witnessing and blessing a life-long covenant or same sex blessing. For me, it has been the most difficult and challenging time in my 9 years of ordained ministry. I have witnessed conversations and encounters of open-heartedness and grace and I have witnessed conversations and encounters of hard-heartedness and meanness. I have been uplifted by the former and dismayed by the latter, and I have realized, once again, that most of us are a strange mix of both—depending on our best and worst moments. My brothers and sisters, in the midst of all this, I have grown so very weary. And then I read our reading from 2nd Thessalonians for this week, and it (and all the readings for this week) seemed to be an important reminder to me of the vocation and community of the people of God. “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” And that is really the heart of what we are trying to figure out here—what is right? One of the commentators writes about the gospel reading: “Suffering always means pain, disruption, separation, and incompleteness… ‘It can render us powerless and mute, push us to the borders of hopelessness and despair.’ The opportunity to testify during times of destruction is, in part, the audacity to muster courage in the face of fear, the boldness to speak in the face of suffering. Great suffering changes some people and defeats others, but for those who endure, their very souls are gained. Suffering provides an opportunity for those who have been changed to tell of their hope.”i The time has come for me to tell you of my hope and of what I believe it means to “do right”. I do not believe that homosexuality is a sin. I believe that God has created us all, called us good, and that sexuality is an important part of how God has created us. I do not believe in a God who would create people to be certain way and then condemn them for living into who God has created them to be. This may come as a surprise to many of y’all, but I am quite ambivalent on the issue of whether or not we should petition the bishop to offer same sex blessings here. Since General Convention of last year, I’ve had three different same sex couples, all who are or have been parishioners here, ask if I could perform this liturgy for them. But for me, at this particular moment in time, the liturgy has never been the most important thing. For me, doing what is right is more about living more fully into what it means for us to be an inclusive community, to truly try to live into our baptismal covenant of respecting the dignity of every human being and seeing in each other (and in all people) the image of God in which we have all been created. For so many people, the inclusivity of St. Peter’s has been why people come here and stay, and I have discovered that it is an important part of our identity and our mission—what makes St. Peter’s by-the-Sea different from other Episcopal churches on the Coast. But my brothers and sisters, I have learned from our process and this conflict that there is a very big difference between being an inclusive community and begrudgingly tolerating those who act differently than us. And for me, being an inclusive community is what it means for us to do what is right. It means bearing with one another in our differences. It means choosing love over division and meanness. It means recognizing that all of us are God’s children, longing to know and experience God’s love, and that God welcomes all of us to God’s table with those with whom we both agree and disagree. Doing what is right means recognizing that each and every one of us falls short of the glory of God; that there is no such thing as better and worse sin. Sin is what separates us from God and from each other. Doing what is right means following Jesus, who chose to be with people who were flawed and imperfect, who chose to minster to those who were on the fringes of society. It means following Jesus who challenged the religious system that sought to create a hierarchy of insiders versus outsiders, and it means modeling our lives on his example. I read an essay this week by a woman named Dierdre Sullivan titled “Always Go to the Funeral.” In this essay, Ms. Sullivan writes about how her father taught her to always go to the funeral and why. It gets to the heart of what it means to not grow weary in doing what is right. She writes, “‘Always go to the funeral’ means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don’t feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don’t really have to, and I definitely don’t want to. I’m talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The Shiva call for one of my ex uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn’t been good versus evil. It’s hardly so epic. Most days my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.”ii The reading from Isaiah today gives us a glimpse of a peaceable kingdom—where the lion shall lie down with the lamb and the serpent’s food shall be dust. It speaks of peace and fruitfulness and fulfillment for God’s people. And the most significant part is that this glimpse of the peaceable kingdom is not at all about what we do. It’s about what God does. All that we must do is trust that surely it is God who saves us; we must trust in him and not be afraid. But trusting God means trusting God, (and to an extent, trusting each other), and not relying on our own will. And in and with and through us, God will make of us a new creation. “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” i. from Feasting on the Word ii. Here are the readings for today:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Sunday after All Saints'--baptismal letter

The Sunday after All Saints’ Day November 3, 2013 A letter to Marlee Curtis upon the occasion of her baptism. Dear Marlee, You are being baptized on a most special day, today. It is the Sunday upon which we commemorate the Feast of All Saints’ Day, one of the major feasts in the life of the church and one of the days when it is especially appropriate for a baptism. On this day, you are being baptized into Jesus’s death and resurrection. Your parents and godparents are accepting for you your status as a beloved child of God. They are promising that you will live your life in a certain way, as a follower of Jesus. And then, after you are baptized, we will hand one of your godparents your baptismal candle and I will say to you, “Marlee, receive the light of Christ.” And that’s really what this day is all about; it's about how you will let the light of Christ, the light of God’s love for you and for others, how you let that shine forth in the way that you live your life. We celebrate this Sunday after All Saints’ as a major feast because this Sunday is about how other people’s lives and lights have shined forth in this world and have made it and our lives better. As another writer puts it, “These days [around All Saints’] are haunted for me in a good way; they offer an occasion to remember, to reflect, and to offer thanks for those who have shaped my path by the path they walk. These days remind us that in the body of Christ, death does not release us from being in community with one another.”i Today, Marlee, you are being baptized into the body of Christ. All who have been baptized, going all the way back to the first followers of Jesus, are also baptized into Christ’s body and into Christ’s resurrection. Today, we remember that those who have died are and will always be still alive and united with us in Christ’s body. Their light still shines in this world in the way that their faith has shaped ours. And we are aware that this is also true for all of us who have also received the light of Christ (as you will do today). Our light, our faith, our lives have the power to shine brightly with the truth of God’s love and to shape the lives and the faith of others. (You are already doing this, sweet Marlee, as you come to this church every Wednesday with your grandmother, and you bring a sense of joy and hope and innocence to all of us with your presence among us.) So today, Marlee, before your baptism, I will invite those who want to come forward to light a candle, and to light it for those whose lights have shone brightly in their lives. And I will also tell them to make sure that they light the candle for themselves as well, for their Christ light is still shining and has the power to light another’s path for a season. And then we will baptize you, and I will give you your own candle to be added to the others. In it, may you remember all those who have come before you and who will come after you to shine the light of their faith in this world; and may you remember the power that your one light has now and always. Your sister in Christ, Melanie+ i.