Thursday, December 18, 2014
Advent 3B December 14, 2014 I heard a story this week about the flourishing of catalogs in our society, and how strange that is given that the Internet has just about killed other forms of printed material—encyclopedias, the Rolodex, the paper map. The news story was asking the question, “So why are catalogs flourishing?” Take a moment and think about your home and your relationship with catalogs. Do you throw them directly into the recycle bin before they even make it into the house? Do you have stacks of them piled somewhere (perhaps with the rest of your mail, like in my house?) Do you dog ear the corner of pages, circle things that you like? My earliest memory of a catalog was being a child and going to see my grandparents, who always had a copy of the Christmas catalog from Penny’s. I was allowed and encouraged by my Ma Ma go through the catalog and circle the things I’d like for Christmas. It was a magical experience, wishing and hoping for all those beautiful toys! The NPR story made me remember all that, and it struck a chord in me as it talked about its hypothesis for why catalogs are still around. They quote Sue Johnson, a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier in Bay City, Mich., who has hauled catalogs and other mail in a satchel for 28 years. "It builds up the muscles in your arms," she says. "A lot." But Johnson also says that she likes to curl up on her couch at home, and look at catalogs. “I'll sit here and read catalogs for hours and just look at stuff," she says. "Stuff I either wish I had, or maybe something will give me an idea to make something." The story also has Felix Carbullido, chief marketing officer at Williams-Sonoma, talking about how catalogs are used in sales in that company. "Our customers come in with the catalog dogeared and refer to the catalog as 'this is the style of my home that I'm looking to achieve,' " he says. That style you've seen portrayed in high-end catalogs is often a tableau: maybe it's a couch, a bookcase, a couple of rugs, plants, sunlight streaming into a casually elegant room. Even if you're not buying, the retailers want you to keep dreaming. And that's one reason the catalogs keep coming.”i In an essay about today’s gospel, Barbara Brown Taylor writes about this type of dreaming that is provoked from us by the catalog companies. She writes, “Depending on local conditions, preachers will want to spend some time thinking about the ways in which faith and hope can cancel each other out this time of year. Faith, by definition, is a radical trust in what God is doing, even when the divine mode of operation is far from clear. Even in the wilderness, even without a proper title for himself of a proper name for the coming One, John the Voice goes on testifying to the light…. Hope, on the other hand, can easily assume the dimensions of individuals and corporate wants. I hope for a white Christmas, a less contentious church, a closer relationship with Jesus, a God who makes sense. While there is nothing wrong with any of these hopes, they still carry considerable cargo, suggesting that I know not only what my community and I need from God, but also how God might best come to us. The only hope on this Messiah table is the bare hope of God’s arrival, sweeping all clutter away.”ii Is it true that faith and hope cancel each other out this time of year? I certainly can resonate with what Taylor writes about “the considerable cargo” of our hopes. But I think hope is absolutely essential to a relationship with God, so how do we get around her dilemma? How do we reconcile this thinking with our reading from Isaiah for today that is filled with Israel’s hope for restoration? How do we reconcile this with Paul’s closing line from our epistle reading today: “The one who calls you is faithful…”? Another book I am reading talks about Taylor’s dilemma between faith and hope with a little more nuance. It is called Living With Hope: A scientist looks at Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany by John Polkinghorne, who is both a physicist and priest in the Church of England. Polkinghorne writes about the difference between true hope and two other attitudes which are commonly confused with hope: optimism and wishful thinking. “[Optimism] springs from a calculation of how things may be expected to turn out, with the belief that in the end it will all prove not to be too bad. It is the feeling possessed by the person who things they know a ‘certainty’ for tomorrow’s horse race. Wishful thinking, by contrast, is not at all concerned with probabilities, for it simply sails off into the blue of ungrounded longings. It is the feeling possessed by someone who daydreams how nice it would be if their modest weekly ‘investment’ in the National Lottery made them an instant multimillionaire. Neither of these attitudes is the same as hope, which neither tries to predict the future from the present nor neglects the constraints that the reality of the present imposes. Christian hope is open to the unexpected character of what lies ahead precisely because it relies on the faithfulness of a God who is always doing new things.”iii “The One who calls you is faithful.” So what are we as individuals and as a church to do with all this? Are we supposed to stop our optimism and wishful thinking and opt only for hope and faith in a God who is faithful? First, I think we must spend time analyzing and characterizing what we often assume is hope in our own lives and in the life of our church. Is it really the true hope that Polkinghorn talks about or is it more or what Taylor refers to as hope, a wish fulfillment or optimism? Those things, in and of themselves, are not bad; they just aren’t hope. Second, we can ask if this hope that we assess is something that we want to just happen or if it is something that we are called to work toward? True hope, I think, is one in which we have a responsibility to act with God in order to participate in God’s bringing the hope to fulfillment. If it is true hope, then how are you, how are we being called to act? I’ll leave you with a little story from our history here, that fits I always think about when I read this passage from Isaiah. It gets to the heart of what is hope and what is wish fulfillment or optimism. After Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Coast and folks were starting to look out and survey the damage, parishioners here discovered our great, beautiful oak trees were pushed over from the fury of the surge and the storm. These proud, strong “oaks of righteousness” were lying on their sides, with their roots exposed. So the parishioners gathered, with some heavy machinery, and pushed the oak trees back upright so that their roots would once again be down in the ground. They acted and they hoped that the glory of these wise old oaks would be restored. And I am told that we didn’t lose a single oak tree. In closing, I share with you a story, written by a woman named Shannon Lynch. It is titled “More Vinegar than Honey.” She writes, “To my social detriment, I can’t talk music or fashion or movie stars. I can talk about ideas, but I can’t quote books unless the book is in front of me. All the aloneness in my life, in my marriage, has made me a retreater. Now that I’m out of my marriage, mostly I think about finding a job. So easily I vacillate between surrendering and freaking out: How am I going to take care of my boys? Where do I find safety and community for us? What has value? What is valueless? Vinegar is cheap and cleans well. Honey is expensive and sweetens. But what of this? All I’m doing is looking for a job, and I haven’t been able to get even a vinegar job. Is it because I’m 51? Is it because I’m not very likable? In God’s Pauper, a fictional account of the life of Saint Francis by Nikos Kazantzakis, Saint Francis dreams he bathes and feeds a foul-smelling man and, suddenly, he knows how to live his life. I dream about a woman I hardly know, a woman with well-shaped legs and the easy smile of abundance, talking about having a tea before her wedding. She turns away from me and, suddenly, tall policemen drive off with my children and my dog while I stand crouched and screaming in the street. It’s not the best way to wake up. And that job I thought I had, I hadn’t. Then I hear 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai on the radio telling me I have to stand up for myself. I have to put down the shoe. Here I am right now, more vinegar than honey. I have an education. I have a talent. But you, dear sister, have the courage of a thousand women. There’s no one in silence or action to tell me what to do anymore. I have to become a lunatic of courage. Oh God, I’ll just cry and everyone will see me cry, see me for the fool I am. Francis says, “We’re going to start with small, easy things; then, little by little we shall try our hand at the big things. And after that, after we finish the big things, we shall undertake the impossible.” This is my first small, easy thing”.iv i. http://www.npr.org/2014/12/11/369603493/heres-why-retailers-keep-sending-you-catalogs ii.Feasting on the Word Year B Vol 1. Ed. Bartlett and Taylor. Homiletical perspective for Advent 3. Westminster John Knox: Louisville, 2008, p72-73. iii.Polkinhorne, John. Living With Hope: A Scientist looks at Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. WJK: Louisville, 2003, p 4. iv. http://www.onbeing.org/blog/more-vinegar-than-honey/7079
Sunday, December 7, 2014
Advent 2 Year B December 7, 2014 Advent is a time of new beginnings. The liturgical “new year,” it can be a time when we make resolutions about how we live our moral and spiritual lives. Our gospel reading for today emphasizes this with its opening line: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Scholars think that this isn’t necessarily the beginning of Mark’s gospel, but it is, rather, the title. And interestingly enough, Mark begins, not with Jesus or even Mary and Joseph but with Isaiah, with God’s messenger, and with John the Baptist. So what does John the Baptist have to teach us about new beginnings this Advent season? In and through John’s ministry, we see that new beginnings are born out of repentance and humility. We only begin anew when we realize that our old ways are no longer working. We only begin anew when we are open to change and when we open our hearts in willingness to leave behind that which no longer fits us, that which separates us from God’s love. I’ve learned something about this repentance and humility this week. On Monday, my husband invited me to join him in reading Morning Prayer on a daily basis. I will confess that I haven’t read Morning Prayer regularly since seminary, but because he invited me to join him, I did. I appreciated the broader exposure to scripture (especially the Psalms) over the course of the week. But what really struck me was the power in doing daily confession as a part of Morning Prayer. I found that my failures were much more present and real when I was examining my life daily as opposed to only weekly (in making confession only on Sunday). I found it was both more powerful and more freeing, when I asked myself daily “in what ways did I fail God and others yesterday?” But, strangely enough, I also found in making daily confession, that my blessings and my gratitude were much more present as well. When we reflect upon our lives daily, then it becomes a rich time of repentance, and humility and also for new beginnings. And so I invite you to join me in this exercise this Advent season. If you do nothing else, say the confession of sin daily and assure yourself of God’s pardon as it is found in the BCP on pages 79 and 80. But it is also important to remember that this is so much more than some sort of spiritual New Year’s Resolution. Going back to the gospel, when we remember how the gospel of Mark doesn’t really end, it means that we also get to participate in the “beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” How we live our lives matters in the story of God’s redeeming of the world. We then become emboldened to look beyond our own individual lives at other parts of our society, our church, and our world that need repentance and redemption. We are an important part of the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ I read a poem this week that was posted on Parker Palmer’s blog. He was writing about living out fully the questions of our lives and he ended with this poem. I think it is a different kind of confession-a way to examine our lives and the world around us daily to assess where we need to repent and where we have encountered God’s blessing already. Questions Before Dark by Jeanne Lohmann Day ends, and before sleep when the sky dies down, consider your altered state: has this day changed you? Are the corners sharper or rounded off? Did you live with death? Make decisions that quieted? Find one clear word that fit? At the sun's midpoint did you notice a pitch of absence, bewilderment that invites the possible? What did you learn from things you dropped and picked up and dropped again? Did you set a straw parallel to the river, let the flow carry you downstream?i i http://www.onbeing.org/blog/the-questions-we-ask-ourselves/7075
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Advent 1 Year B November 30, 2014 “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence-- as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-- to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!” And so we enter this new year of the church, this first Sunday of Advent with a bang! These words of Isaiah are a rather dark beginning as we begin telling the story all over again for another year. It is both strange and appropriate that we begin with a lament where we see both a baffling God who hides from God’s people and a redeeming God who is their father and maker. Composed sometime after the children of Israel are taken into captivity in Babylon and before the rebuilding of the temple, this portion of Isaiah reflects the people of God’s disorientation in the wake of a devastating exile. And we know a little of that disorientation, don’t we? We live in a time of already and not yet; a contradictory time of frenzied activity and a strange sort of emptiness; a time of both unceasing access to other people and ideas and a deep longing for fulfillment and meaningful connection. This season of Advent can be for us a disorienting season that is “marked in equal measures by joyful anticipation and hectic, even pressured, preparation. Dinners, buying gifts, parties, cards, school holiday programs... [And, oh, the decorating!] Each and all of it can be wonderful, and each and all of it can become rather overwhelming.”i But one of the gifts of Advent is that it shakes the church and us out of Ordinary Time with the insistent news that it’s time to think about fresh possibilities for fulfillment and human wholeness. It’s a bit contradictory, this fresh start, this season of hope in the midst of this season of darkness. It is not nearly as easy to be hope-filled and expectant as we slowly slink toward winter and cold, dark days. And many of us fear the dark. It is when the familiar landscape suddenly becomes strange and sinister and unfamiliar. During Advent, we are invited, even encouraged to dwell in the dark for just a season, to search out the hidden God in the dark corners of our world and our souls, searching by the light of just a couple of candles. And that is very counter to what is going on in the world around us. One commentator writes that she recalls a comment that “our country has changed over the past years from one that wanted to be good to one that wants to feel good. We see some of this desire every Christmas season as people run from store to store and shopping mall to shopping mall searching for the things that will bring them and their families some sort of fulfillment and happiness.”ii Advent is a season where we are invited to dwell with our longing without trying to rush to fill it, where we live in the tension of our relationship with a God who is at times hidden and who is at other times fully present and actively redeeming. And what we long for, really, that we rush to fill isn’t more. We long for peace. And we cannot create peace for ourselves through selfishness. Peace comes when we open ourselves to vulnerability, to brokenness. Peace comes when we open ourselves to hope. Peace comes when we are willing to go a little deeper, to dwell in the dark, to peek around and become friends with what we might find there. So perhaps…our task this Advent is to be the ones who look to do good above trying to feel good. Perhaps our task this Advent is to dwell in the dark a little while, to sit with our own longing and with the longing of others. We do this by looking for Jesus in the need of those around us and to be awake to God’s presence in response to our own need. In this season of making lists and checking them twice, I invite you to make a different sort of list –call it an Advent list. You can make this list in your head or on paper, but I want you to list a few of the things that will occupy your Advent this year. Now, think about how in each of those events and activities you might be more attentive to the vulnerability and need of those around you and more honest and open about your own need that you might receive the care of others. iii I’ll leave you with some words from the poet T.S. Eliot to help guide you in the making of your Advent lists: “I said to my soul, be still and let/ the dark come upon you/which shall be the darkness of God.” i. David Lose on his blog: http://www.davidlose.net/2014/11/advent-1-b/ ii. from Feasting on the word Pastoral perpective p 4 iii. This idea came from David Lose on his blog: http://www.davidlose.net/2014/11/advent-1-b/
Sunday, November 16, 2014
The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 28A November 16, 2014 Someone once said to me that we become like the God we adore. That statement springs to mind in contemplating this latest in the challenging parables of Jesus brought to us by Matthew’s gospel. Jesus tells the story of a master who is preparing to go away on a journey, but before he goes he entrusts a total of 8 talents to three of his slaves. To the first slave, he gives 5 talents, to the second 2 and to the third one. Then he goes away for a long time, and the first two slaves are hard at work to make more money for their master, but the third slave takes his one talent and buries it in the ground. When the master returns, he is very happy with the first two slaves and very angry with the third slave. What first strikes me in this parable is that the first two slaves and the third slave have different expectations/understanding of the master. The first two believe in a master that would empower them and appreciate them for going out and getting a good return on his money. The third slave expects the master to be “a harsh man, reaping where [he] did not sow, and gathering where [he] did not scatter seed” and the slave acts, accordingly, out of fear and buries his talent. Interestingly enough, there is little evidence in the parable that the master is really this way, although he does live into the slave’s expectations in the end. In fact, the evidence we have up to that point is that the master is, in fact, crazy generous with his money. 1 talent in that time is worth over 15 years of earnings for the average day laborer. So at the beginning of the parable, we see the master entrusting the three slaves with a total of 120 years worth of earnings. What we expect of a given situation, event, person, and even God very much determines our experience. “For some God is loving and kind like a benevolent grandparent. For others God is stern and judgmental. For some God is protective, for others God is always on the verge of anger. For some God is patient and long-suffering, while for others God is impatient and dour. These pictures shape not just how we think about God but how we actually experience so many events in our day to day life that we connect—often unconsciously—to God and our life of faith.” So, I invite you to take a few moments now (and this may be a process that you continue in the coming week) to reflect upon/pray about the question What God do you see? What God do you expect? Think about both your own positive and negative images of God. This week, I read a blog post by the Quaker writer Parker Palmer, who is one of my favorite spiritual writers of our day. In this blog post, Palmer writes about how he has been doing discernment work with a Quaker clearness committee. He has been reflecting on age and vocation, being mindful of how at 75 he is no longer able to do as much of it as quickly as he has done in the past. So he went to the clearness committee with the question, “What do I want to let go of and what do I want to hang onto?” (This seems to be the essential difference between the success of the first two slaves and the failure of the third in today’s parable. The first two let go of the master’s money to make more, and the third hangs onto it to keep it safe. The first way is an open-handed, trust and hope-filled way of being in the world. The second is a fearful, grasping way of being in the world.) But to continue Parker Palmer’s story, after he meets with the clearness committee, Palmer did not come out with an answer to the question, “What do I want to let go of and what do I want to hang onto?”. Instead, he came out with a slightly different and better question that made all the difference for him. “What do I want to let go of and what do I want to give myself to?” He writes, “I now see that ‘hanging on’ is a fearful, needy, and clingy way to be in the world. But looking for what I want to give myself to transforms everything. It’s taking me to a place where I find energy, abundance, trust, and new life.” So the second question I invite you to reflect upon today and in the coming week is “What in your life, in your faith, do you want to let go of, and what do you want to give yourself to?” i.David Lose at www.workingpreacher.org ii.http://www.onbeing.org/blog/the-choice-of-hanging-on-or-giving-to/7029
Sunday, November 9, 2014
22nd Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 27A November 9, 2014 Much of life, it seems, is spent in waiting. We all wait for so many different things. We wait for good news and for bad news. We wait for calls back about the potential job, for test results to come back, and to see the doctors. We wait for the weekend, for vacation, for holidays. We wait to see those we love. We wait for reconciliation, for healing, for new life and opportunity. We wait for things to return to “normal.” Some folks are even waiting to die. There is much waiting going on in our lives and in our world, and there is much waiting going on in our readings for today. Jesus is waiting in the in-between time between his entry into Jerusalem and his arrest and crucifixion. He knows it’s coming, and yet he is waiting, carrying on with his teaching and his ministry. The Thessalonians are waiting for Jesus’ return—only 20 or so years after his ascension—they are thinking that he’s going to come back any day now. Matthew’s community is waiting, still 20-something years later, in the midst of persecution and hardship—still waiting for Jesus’s return. It seems that everybody is waiting for something these days. I wonder, what are you waiting for? Our parable for today, the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids, is only found in Matthew’s gospel. It’s a little bit confusing and archaic, and yet it still has much to teach us about waiting. Jesus begins by saying, “The kingdom of heaven will be like this…” Then he goes on to tell the story of a bridegroom who is unreasonably, unrealistically late. The bridesmaids, who are probably his own relatives, wait for him to come so they can fulfill their duty and light his way from his bride’s family’s house to his family’s house where the wedding banquet will be. All 10 of the bridesmaids fall asleep because of the advanced hour and the unexpected delay, but there are two elements in the story that separate the wise bridesmaids from the foolish bridesmaids. First, the wise bridesmaids bring extra oil, so that they have oil for their lamps when the bridegroom finally arrives. Second, the wise bridesmaids are where they are supposed to be when the bridegroom comes. The foolish bridesmaids panic and run off to find more oil, so that they are not present when the bridegroom enters into the party and they are, thus, locked out. I can’t help but wonder which of these two failures causes them to be characterized as the foolish bridesmaids? I also can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the foolish bridesmaids simply continued to wait, with sputtering lamps and dwindling lights? What would have happened if the bridesmaids simply waited in the darkness of the night? It is these questions that make me think that this parable is so much more than an endorsement of the Boy Scout’s motto: Always be prepared! It is an acknowledgement of the reality of waiting in our lives and in our world and it teaches us that how we wait is also integral in how and when we encounter Jesus and the kingdom of God. So the question today is not just what are you waiting for? But also, how do you wait? Do you try to fill the time with other inconsequential things? Do you fret and obsess about what you are waiting for? I had an epiphany about how I was waiting when I was in my early 20’s. I was just out of college, working at Stewpot in Jackson and living in my parents’ home in Canton so I could save money for when I got to go to seminary. I was in the backseat of my college friend’s car and we were driving back from spending New Year’s Eve in New Orleans at another friend’s family home. As we drove back home, I was feeling sad because our holiday was coming to an end, because I was headed back to the real world, where I had a job but very few friends or social connections and because I had just recently learned that I would not be going to seminary the next fall as I had hoped. I was looking out the window at Lake Pontchartrain as we sped over it, and I realized all of a sudden that I was living as if my life were on hold. I was missing the opportunity to live a full life because I was so focused on waiting to go to seminary, and I was living a sort of shadowed, hollowed-out life. I was not fully engage with the rich work I was doing, with the community I was serving. I vowed to change the way I was waiting, and when I returned home, I began looking for a roommate and an apartment in Jackson. Those ended up being three very fruitful years in my life, and I am thankful that God invited me to change the way that I was waiting. So three questions for you today. 1. What are you waiting for? 2. How are you waiting? 3. How might God be inviting you to change the way that you are waiting?
Sunday, November 2, 2014
The Sunday after All Saints November 2, 2014 I don’t usually title my sermons, but today is a special day, this Sunday after All Saints—one of the 7 major feasts days in our Episcopal Church calendar. Today, you actually get a title: “So, what do you want to be, anyway?” I want to share with you a story. It is written by Thomas Merton in his book The Seven Story Mountain, and interestingly enough, while not considered to be a saint in his own Roman Catholic tradition, Merton is commemorated in our new calendar for lesser feasts called Holy Women Holy Men. We remember Thomas Merton as a saint on December 10th. Merton writes, I forget what we were arguing about, but in the end Lax suddenly turned around and asked me the question: “What do you want to be, anyway?” I could not say, “I want to be Thomas Merton the well-known writer of all those book reviews in the back pages of the Times Book Review,” or “Thomas Merton the assistant instructor of Freshman English at the New Life Social Institute for Progress and Culture,” so I put the thing on the spiritual plane, where I knew it belonged and said: “I don’t know; I guess what I want is to be a good Catholic.” “What do you mean, you want to be a good Catholic?” The explanation I gave was lame enough, and expressed my confusion, and betrayed how little I had really thought about it at all. Lax did not accept it. “What you should say” – he told me – “what you should say is that you want to be a saint.” A saint! The thought struck me as a little weird. I said: “How do you expect me to become a saint?” “By wanting to,” said Lax simply. “I can’t be a saint,” I said, “I can’t be a saint.” And my mind darkened with a confusion of realities and unrealities: the knowledge of my own sins, and the false humility which makes men say that they cannot do the things that they must do, cannot reach the level that they must reach: the cowardice that says: “I am satisfied to save my soul, to keep out of mortal sin,” but which means, by those words: “I do not want to give up my sins and my attachments.” So, what do you want to be, anyway? On this Sunday after All Saints, we have a relatively new tradition that we uphold. (It’s now a tradition because we did it this way last year…) After the homily today, you will be invited to come forward, if you desire, to light a candle. While you light this candle, I ask that you remember by name, either silently before God or as a whisper, the people who have been the saints in your life—all those who have come before you in the faith, those who showed us how to walk the way of Jesus in deliberately giving up our sins and attachments. As we do this, we will quietly sing many peoples’ favorite All Saints’ song—I sing a song of the saints of God(293), and we are mindful that at the end of each stanza, each of us will proclaim our intent that “I mean to be one too.” So let’s just say that’s what we want: we want to be a saint. How on earth do we do that? What does it mean or look like to follow what Merton says that in being a saint, we must live our lives in a way that means we are intentionally trying to give up our sins and attachments? The life of a saint is actually a life of paradox. That’s what Jesus is hinting at in the gospel reading for today as we listen to the Beatitudes from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Did you know that the word that is translated as “blessed” can also be translated as happy? “Happy are those who mourn, for they will be comforted….” The life of faith that Jesus proclaims is a paradox. And here’s the thing about paradox. Truly giving up our sins and attachments doesn’t happen when we try harder, (much to the dismay of this first-born, over-achiever who secretly believes anything can be attained if I just work a little harder—even sainthood). The life of the saint is actually achieved in and through surrender to God. Only then do we relinquish our sins and our attachments. So, how do we do that? How do we more fully live into that paradox? This past week, a friend told me about a sociological study that she had encountered. The report of the study is called The Paradox of Generosity. I didn’t have time to read the results of the whole study, but I did read the executive summary which hits the high points. This book is interesting because it looks at the science of generosity. It is written about the findings of a national study of two thousand Americans in 2010. The researchers examining the data then analyzed it through four-hour interview sessions with forty carefully chosen households. The book begins by defining generosity as “the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly.” They continue that generosity is “a learned trait that involves attitudes and actions…[and ] is ultimately an expression of love.” I was struck by that because it is the overwhelming impression that I have of the lives of all those I consider to be saints—this attitude of giving generously as an expression of love. The study uses five measures of well-being to answer the main question: Is greater generosity, measured in various ways, positively associated with well-being? The five measures of well-being are happiness, bodily health, purpose in living, avoidance of depression, and interest in personal growth. The study also looks at various areas for generosity: voluntary financial giving, volunteering, relational generosity, and neighborly generosity. The study found that those who would self-identify as very happy people are also people who are very generous (according to the criteria set by the study); the study pointed out that the happiest people are those who give away 10% of their income; and conversely those who consider themselves to be somewhat or very unhappy do not have regular practices of generosity. It’s an interesting study and you can read much more about it and the findings, but in the essence of time, I’m going to share with you one of the concluding paragraphs: “‘The message of this book is simple, but we think also profound and important. Generosity is paradoxical. Those who give their resources away, receive back in turn. In offering our time, money, and energy in service of others’ well-being, we enhance our own being as well.’ This paradox, wisdom of the ages [which echoes much of Jesus’s essential teachings—in giving away our lives, we find them…], is now supported by quantitative and qualitative evidence. Practicing generosity leads to a general sense of well-being, while a tight grip on things and resources diminishes this sense of well-being.” So, what do you want to be, anyway? The beginning step on the journey toward living into your calling as the saints of God is a close as walking forward and giving thanks for those who have been shining lights of generosity in your own lives and in this world. It is as close as filling out a pledge card today for the first time or increasing your giving just enough so that you feel it. So what do you want to be, anyway? May God give us each the courage to live into the beloved words that we sing this day: “I sing a song of the saints of God….and I mean to be one too.”
Sunday, October 19, 2014
19th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 24A October 19, 2014 Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." It sounds so simple doesn’t it! Jesus is once again embroiled in debate with the religious authorities of the day. They send some disciples to try to trap him asking him about paying taxes. But note that this discussion isn’t about just paying any old taxes. This issue is about the fact that in addition to all the other taxes the Jews had to pay, they also were required to pay a tax to their Roman occupiers in order to support the occupation. This was an ongoing debate in that time—did faithful Jews pay their taxes with a coin with a false god upon it or did they defy the Roman government and break the law. Jesus’s answer stuns his interrogators: "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." We know it is not that simple, don’t we? Every single day of our adult lives we are challenge to wrestle with this question as people of faith and followers of Jesus. What belongs to whom? If we dig a little deeper, we might go so far as to ask in the context of this piece of scripture, what of our currency bears God’s image and should be given to God? In scripture, Jesus talks about money more than any other subject except the kingdom of God and there is a reason for that. That reason is just as true for us today as it was 2,000 years ago. It is because “your view of money is the chief spiritual issue in your life.”i (silence) Today I invite you to embark with me on a journey examining this chief spiritual issue in your life, your relationship with money. I have a series of 7 questions that I’m going to ask you today. These questions were originally posed by the late Rev. Dr. Thomas H. Carson, who then served as the Executive for Stewardship of the Episcopal Church, and they are written about in the article "Spirituality and Money: 7 Questions that Saved my Spiritual Life" by Bruce Rockwell. 1. “Do you ever worry about money? … about having enough? … about keeping what you have?” 2. “Do you sometimes envy what others have earned, have inherited, or have been able to do because of money they have and you don’t?” 3. “Do you ever get anxious about what inflation has done to depreciate your savings and your preparation for retirement?” 4. “Do you ever equate your value as a person with what you earn?” 5. “Is bill-paying stressful for you?” 6. “Has money ever been the source of an argument or misunderstanding with a loved one?” 7. “Do you ever spend more time thinking about money in any one day than you do in prayer?” Rockwell writes, “After posing these questions, Dr. Carson said the following: ‘If you have answered ‘yes’ to some of these questions, you may be having an affair with money. And this affair is buying your soul, taking away your freedom, paralyzing your creativity, debilitating your peace of mind, destroying friendships, breaking up your marriage, destroying your freedom in Christ, and threatening your very salvation.’”i I would be very surprised if there is a single person in this room who did not answer yes to at least one of those questions. (I know in my heart of hearts, I answer yes to many of them.) So what do we do? How do we better navigate the ongoing discernment of what belongs to God in our daily lives? I invite you to join me in an exercise this week. As Episcopalians, we pray what we believe and we believe what we pray. We have two different statements that we say or sing every week when the offering plate is brought forward. At the early service it is “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” At the late service, we sing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” Both of these statements are our statements about what belongs to God. We say or sing them every Sunday, and yet, how often do we think of them after we leave this place? As we pray and reflect upon how we might begin to ask God to heal this unhealthy affair that each of us has with money that serves as an impediment in our relationship to God, the exercise that I challenge you to take on this week is simple. Every time you encounter money in your daily life (in the checkout line at the grocery store, when you pay a bill online, when you take a couple of dollars out of your wallet to pay for a cup of coffee, when you are standing in a department store deciding whether or not to purchase something), then say (or sing) your statement of belief to yourself: “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” Is your choice of how you are spending your money something that you are proud to offer to God? Or is it something of which you are ashamed? That’s a pretty good indication of how you might choose. This exercise also works for the time that you spend in prayer about how much to pledge to the church for the coming year. Is your choice of what you are giving to the church something that you are proud to offer God? Or are you doing it out of different motives—guilt, blackmail, or even inattention, giving whatever you happen to have left in your pocket…Give until it feels good is advice that someone once gave me. If it doesn’t feel good or joyous or life giving, then go back and go through the questions at the beginning of this sermon again. Your view of money is the chief spiritual issue in your life. All that we have been given comes from God, and how we use it, how we spend it is detrimental in our relationship with God. In closing, let us pray the collect for the Right Use of God's Gifts (BCP p 827). Almighty God, whose loving hand hath given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor thee with our substance, and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of thy bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. i. Spirituality and Money: Seven Questions that Saved My Spiritual Life By Bruce Rockwell. http://www.tens.org/resources/blog/spirituality-and-money-seven-questions-that-saved-my-spiritual-l
Last Sunday, I was preaching about the way of humility, and I included an extemporaneous story about my 6 year old son Jack. At the 8:00 service, I became very emotional in the telling. As one man was walking out of church, he looked at me kindly and said, "I suspect there is more to that story about Jack. I think you should write it, and I would very much like to see it when you do." I was taken aback by his insight, and I agreed to try. Sometimes, I have a nice, tidy sermon written and God intervenes in my life in ways that make the gospel very real, very challenging, both wonderfully and painfully revealing and convicting. In those moments, I may feel called/compelled to take the leap of faith and include my messy faith moment in my nice tidy sermon. Last Sunday was one of those moments. Saturday night was a horrid time for Jack and me. He was acting terribly defiant at the Saturday night service. I had to call him out during the sermon, and I had to physically remove him from the service during the Creed. At home, I threatened to "take away everything he loved" iff he ever acted that way at chuch again (not one of my finer parenting moments, I admit). I was certainly feeling the stress of months of single parenting, of taking a kid to church when he really didn't want to go, of living into my own expectations (and some of others?) that the priest's family is/must be beyond reproach. I put Jack to bed that night after a long snuggle, and I slept with all these issues still simmering. The morning started off, with another snuggle, but it quickly dissolved as we were rushing to leave and Jack refused to wear the clothes I had put out for him. In fact, he had on his most casual shorts, a t-shirt, and his nasty, old yellow crocs. We proceeded to fight and negotiate until I had him in khaki pants, a polo shirt, and his church shoes. But it was not easy nor pleasant. We continued to argue all the way to church--about how he was stuck in his brand new video game and about how he wanted to buy a new one (rather than try harder and get through the part where he was stuck). Our arguing intensified as I fussed that he couldn't go through life walking away from difficult things, and as we puled into the church parking lot, I was so angry and frustrated. He was too. We both made it angrily into the church, and I went angrily on my way to prepare for the service. I was being the altar after a few minutes had passed, checking that everything was there, and Jack approached me. He wrapped his little arms around my legs as I was standing there, so I knelt down in front of him, on his level, right there behind the altar. He transferred his arms to hug around my neck, leaned in and whispered, "I'm sorry." I was stunned! I replied with a hug of my own and the words, "I'm sorry, too." He then went on his merry little way. As I stood in the pulpit preaching about humility, I knew that I had to share this story about how one little boy's humility taught me more about the way of humility that I was trying to preach than any other experience or thing that I had read or learned. And I fought back the tears int he pulpit as I told about how my 6 year old taught me how humility can truly bring about reconciliation, even in the most conflicted situations. Over and over again, I am thankful for the ways that God speaks to me through the little ones, the vulnerable, the children, the pets, and the poor.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
18th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 23A October 12, 2014 Even amidst all the joy and celebration and new life in this place over the last couple of weeks, I have really struggled in one area of my life. That has been in watching, from afar, as my beloved General Seminary holds a very messy, very public fight between the faculty (many of whom taught me and helped form and shape me as a priest) and the dean, who was a friend and classmate of mine and the board (many of whom I also know and respect). A couple of weeks ago, 8 faculty went on strike and refused to continue teaching or worshipping in the chapel until they could have a meeting with certain members of the board. Their letter stated that they were unable to continue to work with the dean. The board interpreted their letter as letters of resignation and has since discontinued their pay and their health insurance. It has been a very public, very nasty fight with articles written about it in Huff Post, NY Times, and countless blog postings in church circles. Everybody and their brother has an opinion about what is going on at General; most are very vocal about picking sides. What is, perhaps, most painful to me, is the very public nature of this family fight. Imagine that kind of public scrutiny if you were to have a fight with your spouse or partner, your child, your best friend! It would be untenable. Our gospel reading for today, yet another challenging parable, is another example of this very public, very nasty family fight. In this part of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is in the temple, and he is very intentionally ruffling the feathers of the religious authorities. His parables are drawing lines in the sand between those who are in and those who are out, and he is telling those who think they are in, that is not the case. In the community to which Matthew is writing, there is also a great deal of family fighting going on. Matthew’s community, which is primarily Jewish, is trying to find its way in and among its Jewish tradition, and we see some of the drama and conflict that is going on in the community at that time coming out as a part of the agenda of this particular series of parables. Also, there is the way that Christians have used this parable over the years to promote anti-semitism—another public family feud that has lasted across the centuries. Then there is yet another family feud going on in the church in Phillippi that Paul addresses in our epistle reading for today. He writes of two women, Euodia and Syntyche, who are embroiled in some conflict, and he asks that they be “of the same mind.” And he asks a particular person, whom he calls his “loyal companion” to help them work out their differences. I will confess that it has been difficult for me to find the good news in the midst of all these stories of conflict this week. But then I ran across an alternate reading of the parable in Matthew’ gospel for today. Some scholars posit that Jesus’s and Matthew’s listeners to this parable would know immediately that the story refers to an actual earthly king, one of the Herods, who attacked Jerusalem in an attempt to seize power from its rightful ruler, so that the original listeners would never equate the king in the parable with God, as some of our modern interpretations are wont to do. These scholars also posit that the comparison with the Kingdom of God comes in the form of the ill-dressed wedding guest (who is a figure similar to the suffering servant figure depicted in Isaiah) who is mistreated terrible by the harsh king/earthly authorities and does not speak once in his own defense. I’m not particularly satisfied with this interpretation of the parable, but because we read it in the context of Philippians today, at whose heart we know dwells that beautiful, ancient hymn to Christ, I think it does give us a glimpse of good news. The hymn to Christ that is found at the heart of Philippians was our epistle reading two weeks ago: “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 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. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. This ancient hymn to Christ that is the heart of Paul’s letter to the Philippians celebrates and reminds us of Christ’s self-emptying, Christ’s way of humility. And it reminds us that as his disciples, we are called to emulate it, to put on the garb of humility, to walk the way of self-emptying love. Now, we all know good and well that when we are embroiled in family fights (or arguments of any kind), then humility is that last posture that most of us adopt. It is completely self-defeating. And yet, that may very well be what this parable is telling us that the Kingdom of God calls us to. More and more people in the life of the church, in the life of families, in the life of institutions, get mad and leave. My dear ones, that is not the way of Jesus. Bearing with one another, walking the way of Jesus Christ, means putting on the garb of humility, staying at the table with the one with whom we disagree. It means accepting Paul’s invitation to let our gentleness (rather than our righteousness) be shown. I invite you to reflect upon whether there is a conflict in your family, your work, your church or otherwise, in which you are embroiled where God is calling you to walk the way of discipleship by following Jesus’s way of humility? If this question makes you feel a nudge of discomfort, then I urge you to spend some time with the hymn to Christ in Philippians this week—it’s chapter 2 verses 1-13 --and pray that God may help you follow this way set forth by Jesus. Let us pray. Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Sunday, September 21, 2014
15th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 20A September 21, 2014 “It just isn’t fair!” How many times did I utter those words as a child? Often, it was when I was faced with something that one of my brothers got to do or have that I did not. And every time I would utter my complaint to my parents-- “It just isn’t fair!”--you know what my parents would respond? “Life isn’t fair.” Let me just tell you, there’s no more effective way to shut down that fairness conversation (I know, I’ve used it with my own kids before) because even as children we have witnessed and experienced the unfairness of life. We have two different stories today that give us similar glimpses of the nature of God and God’s kingdom and similar glimpses of the nature of our humanity. In both of these stories, the people complain to God (or the landowner), “It just isn’t fair!” and God’s response is even more shocking to us than the one that we parents usually employ. In the gospel parable for today and in the story from Exodus, we see the contrast between the generosity, the providence of God and the grumbling of God’s people in the face of that generosity. The Children of Israel have just been rescued from slavery in Egypt, and almost immediately, they begin complaining [say in an angry, whiny voice], “"If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." “It’s not fair!” they complain. We could have just stayed in Egypt where we were miserable but at least we knew what to expect. But you know what? God doesn’t say to Moses, “Life isn’t fair; I saved them from slavery and now those whiners are on their own.” Instead God says to Moses, “OK, fine. I’ll give them two square meals a day, which is more than they were able to scrounge when they were slaves in Egypt being forced to make bricks without even straw. And you tell them that they shall have their fill of bread—an abundance of food in the wilderness. And in and through my generosity, you will know my glory.” In the parable, Jesus starts out by saying “the kingdom of God is like a landowner…” He then proceeds to tell the story of a group of day laborers (a really tenuous position in which to be in that world) who are unemployed and who become employed for the day by the landowner. As those laborers work, the landowner keeps going back and hiring other unemployed people to work in his vineyard, until he even finds some near the end of the day and invites them to come work. At the end of the work day, the landowner goes to pay the workers, and he pays everyone the same amount, the amount that he agreed to pay those who worked the entire day. Those workers who labored the entire day complain: “It isn’t fair that those who came late received the same amount that we did!” The landowner answers them, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” And Jesus closes the parable by saying for the third time in Matthew’s gospel, “And the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” Both groups—the children of Israel and the day laborers in the parable—all have so much to be grateful for. The children of Israel are saved by God once again; the day laborers have had meaningful work all day for which they have been paid an honest wage. And yet, they all are stuck in this mentality of fairness and entitlement—because that’s really what we mean when we say, “That’s not fair,” right? We are saying that we think we are entitled to something that we think we aren’t getting… They are so envious of God’s goodness to others that they are unable to be grateful for God’s goodness to them. And most of us can relate to that. Someone once wrote, “This parable lays before each and all of us a choice that is as clear as can be. When we look at our lives, do we count our blessings or our misfortunes? Do we pay attention to the areas of plenty in our lives or what we perceive we lack? Do we live by gratitude or envy? Do we look to others in solidarity and compassion or see them only as competition? The killer thing about this choice is that it really is a choice as unavoidable as it is simple—you just can’t be grateful and envious at the same time. So which is it going to be?” (David Lose workingpreacher.org2011) (Hand out index cards here) So here’s what we’re going to do today. We are going to make our choice for how we want to live this week. Do we choose to be grateful? Or do we choose to be envious or entitled? The ushers are going around, and I want each person to get two index cards. On the first index card, I want you to write something for which you are grateful, in your life or someone else’s. Now I want you to write on the second card some grudge or resentment that you hold in your heart, something that you believe that you lack, something of which you are envious, or something to which you feel that you are entitled that you have not received. Once you are finished, hold each card facedown in each hand. Notice how physically the two cards weigh the same, but spiritually one of the two cards is weighing you down, weighing your heart down with unhappiness and bitterness while the other fills your heart with joy and hope. Today you have a choice as to which of those two cards you will hold onto. We’re going to pass the collection plates now, as I finish the sermon, and you can choose which one of the two cards you keep to carry out of here with you for the rest of the week and which one you will let go of. The one you let go of, no one will see, but I encourage you to put the one you keep someplace so you can see it throughout the week. But you can’t keep both of them at the same time because you can’t really be envious or entitled and grateful at the same time. You have to choose how you’re going to be. Which will you choose to carry with you to God’s altar and out into the world with you today—envy and entitlement or gratitude?
Sunday, September 14, 2014
14th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 19A September 14, 2014 Today’s gospel is the beginning of a long string of challenging parables that we will encounter through our lectionary over the next few weeks. Our parable today begins with Peter’s question to Jesus about how many times he should forgive someone in the church who has sinned against him. When Peter answers his own question by asking if 7 times is enough, 7 being a holy number, he is basically asking, “Must I practice perfect forgiveness?” And Jesus answers that his forgiveness must be beyond perfect, beyond counting. Those who read and preach on this parable find ourselves wrestling with many questions: is God’s forgiveness of us conditional upon our forgiveness of others? What does healthy, unconditional forgiveness look like in Christian community? What does this shocking parable say about the nature of God and about God’s grace? My dear ones, I do not have the answers to those questions. But I do have another parable I’d like to share with you this morning. This story is written by a woman named Naiomi Shihab Nye, who is a poet and storyteller. I encountered this story on Parker Palmer’s blog post titled Five Simple Things to Reweave Our Civic Community which he posted on the onbeing.org blog on September 11th. Gate 4-A from "Honeybee: Poems & Short Prose" “Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been detained four hours, I heard an announcement: "If anyone in the vicinity of Gate 4-A understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately." Well — one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there. An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly. "Help," said the Flight Service Person. "Talk to her. What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this." I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke to her haltingly. "Shu dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-se-wee?" The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, "You’re fine, you’ll get there, who is picking you up? Let’s call him." We called her son and I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and would ride next to her — Southwest. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for fun. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up about two hours. She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee, answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies — little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts — out of her bag — and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo — we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie. And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers and two little girls from our flight ran around serving us all apple juice and they were covered with powdered sugar too. And I noticed my new best friend — by now we were holding hands — had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere. And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, this is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in this gate — once the crying of confusion stopped — seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.” The important thing about Jesus’s parable for us today is that it is not addressed to individuals. It is set in the context of Matthew’s gospel, and in the way that Peter, himself, asks the question, in the context of the church—the community of faith. It is as if Jesus is creating a shocking, hyperbolic scenario to set us up. It is address to people who should know the source and reality of forgiveness, and it is almost as if Jesus is saying to Peter, to us, “How could you ask such a stupid question?” Because as Jesus continues to teach, as Nye’s parable shows us, it isn’t so much about forgiveness and about its role in Christian community (and in the community of the world at large). It is about grace. It isn’t about getting hung up on all the little details of our life together; it is about inviting each other (and others beyond our walls) into dwelling more fully into this mystery that is the Grace of God’s love as made present in Jesus Christ and given to us over and over again through the tickling breath of the Holy Spirit. Just a little something to remember—that is to look around at each other and find ourselves smiling and all covered in holy powdered sugar from the sacrament we receive here today; that forgiveness is the plant that keeps us rooted together in God’s grace. May the spirit of God empower us so that we may work together to create this community as one that makes manifest the Grace of God. May we go forth into the world and make it so.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
13th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 18A September 7, 2014 Beginning today and for the next 40 days, you are invited to join with me and the Vestry in the ancient practice of lectio divina. Lectio divina is the reading of scripture in a spirit of prayer, and one modern monastic writes of it: “Lectio divina…is the art of making the transition from a biblical text to our life. Because it helps us make this transition, lectio divina is a precious tool that can help us bridge the gulf we often observe in our churches between faith and life, spirituality and daily existence. It… leads us, first, to turn our gaze toward Christ and search for him through the biblical page, and then to place our own existence in dialogue with the revealed presence of Christ and find our daily life illuminated, filled with new light.”i Your vestry and I spent 40 days this past Lent in a committed rhythm of lectio divina. We all found that it greatly enriched our spiritual lives and helped us to grow in the knowledge and love of God. It was their desire to help make this process available to you, so we have complied 40 days worth of scripture and meditations that the members of the vestry have written, and we invite you to join us in taking up this practice of lectio divina for the next 40 days. For the sermon today, I’m going to walk you through an exercise in lectio divina, so that you may know how to do it. First, open with some silence or a short prayer. One of my favorite prayers is a variation on the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, you are the light of the world. Fill my mind with your peace and my heart with your love.” (I’ll give you a moment to do that.) Second, you read the designated piece of scripture aloud for the first time. Then spend a few moments in silence reflecting on the passage. Romans 13:8-14 “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (silence) What word or phrase strikes you? Hold that word or phrase in your mind as you spend a few moments in quiet reflection. Now read the Scripture passage aloud a second time, holding in mind the word or phrase that struck you when you first read it. What might God be saying to you through this word or phrase? Spend a few minutes in quiet reflection. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (silence) Read the scripture passage aloud a third and final time. How might God be calling you to act through the word or phrase that first struck you? How might you respond to this call? “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (silence) Sit with the Scripture passage for another moment in quiet reflection and thanksgiving. Then you may close with a final prayer. We invite you to join us in walking this way of lectio divina over these next 40 days. The Vestry meditations were emailed out on Friday; they be available on our website at www.stpetersbts.org (and there are a few hard copies in the back for those without internet); and a supplement to this process is found in the Called to Life participant’s guide from the Collegeville Institute that we will be using for small group discussions and support on Wednesdays and Sundays beginning this Wednesday and next Sunday. (There will be a link to that on our website which was also emailed out on Friday and there are also a few hard copies available in the back.) Let us close with a prayer. This is the collect for Proper 28 found in the Prayer Book on page 236. Let us pray. Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. i. Bianchi, Enzo. Echoes of the Word. Parclete: Brewster, 2013. p69
Sunday, August 24, 2014
I've been watching as more and more of my friends post videos of themselves dumping buckets of ice water over their heads in efforts to raise money and awareness for the disease ALS. I will admit that I have been somewhat disdainful of the phenomenon. Don't get me wrong: ALS is truly a terrible disease, and I'm sure folks with ALS and those researching it are thankful for all the exposure and the money that is being raised. But I personally don't like being peer-pressured into jumping on the ALS bandwagon. My husband David and I have a number of charitable organizations that we already support, and that is something that I enjoy doing--giving money to people to help in their endeavors. In fact, I see it as a part of our own stewardship and the giving of our resources back to God through organizations that seek to do good in the world in a variety of ways. Then I was challenged by three different clergy colleagues to do the ALS ice bucket challenge. Truly, I was just going to ignore you all, but then my 10 year old daughter came home saying that she really wanted to do it. My first thought was "Aha! A proxy for me!" But we began to have a conversation about it. I asked her why she wanted to do it, and she could not really answer that other than "everybody else is doing it." So I made her do research on ALS, which she did. She came back to me and told me what she had learned, and she said she wanted to do it and to give them a donation from her own savings. It was then that we had a real conversation about peer pressure, how it can be used and for ill, and how it's always important to make informed decisions about things rather than just doing them because everyone else is doing them. I felt good about her decision, and so I dumped a bucket of ice water on her head. (That was actually really fun!) But I'm still not joining the ALS icebucket challenge. I'm glad you all are doing it and that you have found some way to give to something beyond yourselves that you think is important. But for me, dumping a bucket of ice water on myself isn't much of a sacrifice, nor does it have much meaning (although I'm sure my children would think it would be fun to watch). Instead, I have signed up to give blood in a blood drive this Friday for the American Red Cross. I understand that there is a blood shortage, and giving blood is a way that I can give of myself, my time (one of the hardest things for me to part with), and to help save lives. In the meantime, you can see the video of my daughter doing the ice bucket challenge posted on my Facebook page, but we won't be tagging anyone to carry on after us.
11th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 16A August 24, 2014 So many people are deeply unhappy. They walk around under this cloak of quietly burdened misery. Maybe they’re unhappy in their jobs or their lack of a job? Maybe they’re unhappy in their relationship (or lack of a relationship)? Maybe they’re unhappy under the stress of all that they have to do or that they don’t have enough to do? Maybe they’re unhappy because their health is failing? Maybe they’re unhappy because of regrets about the past? Maybe they’re unhappy because their hopes for the future continue to be frustrated? So many of us are deeply unhappy. In the gospel reading for today, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter, always impetuous, jumps out there on his own, and he takes a risk in his faith, in his relationship with Jesus. “You are the Messiah,” he proclaims boldly, even if he doesn’t really know or understand what that means. Peter’s story is an incredible story because it is a story of transformation. And in this moment in this gospel, we see that Peter has been and will continue to be so transformed that Jesus gives him a new name, a new identity. (We saw a similar thing occur several weeks ago when we read the story of Jacob wrestling with God.) And that is really what faith and relationship with God is all about—transformation. God loves us too much to let us stay in our same old worn out and broken lives. But transformation is scary. It’s risky. I don’t think it’s something that most of us naturally seek out. It often comes about in the crucible of hardship. And I think sometimes, we resist the transformation of God’s love into something deeper and fuller and richer in our lives, because we are afraid. We don’t like change. What’s the saying? “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t..” And our playing it safe, resisting the transforming power of God’s love makes us unhappy. When is the last time, do you think, that you risked something in your faith, in your relationship with God? The thing about transformation is that it is not an end unto itself. Paul writes that we become transformed so that we can seek to discern the will of God. That’s the goal of transformation, the object of faith—to seek to discern the will of God. When is the last time that you sought to discern the will of God in your life, in your particular situation or relationship? Take a minute and ask yourself if you spend much of your life these days being unhappy? Might it be because of your answer to my previous question? We do not have to be unhappy. So much of unhappiness in people of faith is because 1.we actively resist transformation and 2. We do not seek to discern the will of God. Now, hear me carefully. Even if we do these things, it does not mean that we will always be happy. But it does mean that we will know and experience both joy and peace. I spent part of this past week at Gray Center with the Commission on Ministry, and one conversation that I had with a friend about happiness stuck with me. My friend was talking about how their family had vacationed at Walt Disney World this summer for the first time. He had resisted it for the much of his child’s life, but finally the whole family went. And he said it was the first time in a long time where he spent five days and was purely, utterly happy. He talked about how people would spontaneously break out into song in the streets ("it was like living in a musical"), and how he and his wife (perhaps jokingly) wanted to come up with some way to make their church services like that—to transport people to a place of happiness, out of the world, out of the cares and concerns of our lives for at least the time that they are at church Sunday morning. Wouldn’t that be awesome?! But what if we didn’t need the church or our Sunday morning worship to escape the cares of our real, everyday lives? What if we allowed ourselves to become so transformed, so in tune with discerning the will of God that Sunday became a time to feed our joy? So where do we start if we recognize that we are stuck, mired down in unhappiness? First, we have to recognize that we are unhappy, and we have to get to the point as they say in 12 steps recovery where we are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Then we begin to do the difficult work of recognizing how we have become conformed to this world and embracing the process of being transformed to discern the will of God. For most of us, this is work that cannot be done alone. We walk this way with spiritual directors, with conversations with clergy or close friends who are already deeply committed to the spiritual life. We do this work with good therapists. I have watched as Dave Wilson has walked with many of you and helped you in this process of discerning God’s will through seeking health and wholeness in your lives. And when you are willing to do the work, I am amazed at how the results of good therapy seem to border on the miraculous! If you are feeling physically unwell, then go to your doctor and demand that she or he help figure out what is wrong. The most important part, I think, is being willing to risk by listening to your own life, what it is telling you and how God is speaking to you in and through that. As I returned from sabbatical, I realized two very important things. First, judging by the amount that I slept while on sabbatical, I was incredibly sleep deprived. Second, in my unhappiness at my husband’s absence and in other things, I had not been taking care of myself. In fact, I was overusing both food and alcohol—being conformed to this world—in efforts to assuage my loneliness. Back to school time is a time in our culture which is filled with hope. It is a time when we eagerly anticipate fresh starts, a time ripe for making changes and being transformed. You do not have to continue to be unhappy. If you are willing and ready, God will transform you with the help of this community and others. Let us pray. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us, O God, that we may be made uneasy within the comfort of our lives and that we might be emboldened like Peter, to proclaim you as Messiah of our lives and our world. Help us to not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed that we may discern and fulfill your will. Amen.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
10th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 15A August 17, 2014 It’s so good to be back with you! I had a wonderfully refreshing sabbatical, these past 8 weeks. I really enjoyed the gift of time to be with my family in a very intentional way (that I have never experienced before), and I return to you refreshed and energized and hopeful about our life together. While on sabbatical, one of the things that I did was to disconnect from a lot of what has been going on in the world. I didn’t really watch the news and only checked on social media occasionally. I’ve really enjoyed catching up with those of you I have seen and learning what’s been going on in your lives these past two months. But is has been a bit of a shock to my system this past week, in getting reconnected with the world around me—mainly through media and social media. As I’m sure you all know the internet has been abuzz this week with the news of Robin Williams’ suicide. His death was shocking and so deeply tragic. It seems that everyone has something to say (or write) about it. His poor daughter has been under attack, and others are adamant that this is the perfect time to raise awareness about mental illness and depression. Having been disconnected for a bit and then coming back into it all at this particular moment in time, I am struck by the stubbornness that colors much of the writings and postings about Williams’ death. Each person with a position is so very sure he or she is right, and then someone else comes along to argue. I was somewhat dismayed to discover some of this stubbornness in the gospel reading for today. Jesus encounters a Canaanite woman, and she starts shouting at him to heal her daughter. Jesus doesn’t answer her (it reminds me of what I do when my children are asking me for something I don’t want to do—I try to act like I don’t hear them and maybe they’ll get tired and go do something else). But she just keeps yelling at Jesus and his disciples until finally Jesus has a conversation with her. Both of them seem to be stubbornly dug in to their positions—Jesus isn’t going to heal her daughter and she isn’t going away before she gets what she knows he can give --until suddenly something shifts. And Jesus recognizes the woman’s great faith and gives her what she demands—healing for her daughter. We see stubbornness at work in the other readings for today as well. Joseph stubbornly forgives his brothers after they have sold him into slavery in Egypt, and he is able to step back from his own individual circumstances and suffering and to recognize God’s fulfillment of salvation for God’s people—“what you meant for evil God meant for good”. And then Paul gives us a glimpse of the stubbornness of God when he writes, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” God’s people will always be God’s people, no matter what. And it’s comforting and hopeful to say and believe that God is going to redeem it all—our stubbornness, the suffering, the brokenness, the mean-spirited comments, those whom we have loved and lost to mental illness, depression, suicide. But what are we supposed to do in the meantime? What does it mean to have faith like the Canaanite woman? Faith like Joseph? Faith like Paul? What does that actually look like in our lives and in our world? I want to share with you two different things that I read this week that have spoken to me about stubbornness and about faith and about the long arc of salvation—where I have found the good news to be this week in the midst of tumultuous public conversation and a challenging gospel story. First, from SSJE-Brother, give us a word. Faith by Brother Mark Brown. “God’s vision of the new heaven and new earth actually needs the engine of our discontent, our dissatisfaction. We tend to see the individual brush strokes rather than the sweep of the whole canvas. But the eyes of faith begin to see the long arc. The eyes of faith even begin to understand how not only vague discontent but even suffering and anguish are part of this larger process.” This is what Joseph is doing in the Genesis reading for today when he is able to offer generously to his brothers both forgiveness and their place in long of arc of God’s redemption of us all. Second, a blog post by author and sociologist Brene' Brown posted this week. “Choose Courage”. "When confronted with news of a stranger’s unimaginable pain – a suicide, an overdose, a protest for justice and basic dignity – we have two choices: We can choose to respond from fear or we can choose courage. We can choose to believe that we are somehow insulated from the realities of these traumas and that our willpower or our strength of character makes us better than these displays of desperation and woundedness. When we seek shelter in the better than – safer than – different than thinking, we are actually choosing fear and that requires us to self-protect and arm ourselves with judgment and self-righteousness. Our only other option is to choose courage. Rather than deny our vulnerability, we lean into both the beauty and agony of our shared humanity. Choosing courage does not mean that we’re unafraid, it means that we are brave enough to love despite the fear and uncertainty…. The courageous choice also does not mean abandoning accountability – it simply means holding ourselves accountable first. If we are people of faith, we hold ourselves accountable for living that faith by practicing grace and bringing healing. If we consider ourselves to be smart and curious, it means seeking greater understanding. If we consider ourselves to be loving, it means acting with compassion. It’s difficult to respond to the tragedies of strangers – even those we think we know – because we will never have access to the whole truth. In the absence of information, we make up stories, stories that often turn out to be our own biographies, not theirs. Our choices have consequences: They make the world a more dangerous place or they cultivate peace. Fear and judgment deepen our collective wounds. That rare mix of courage and compassion is the balm that brings global healing. We have two choices. Let’s choose courage. Let’s choose to love despite the fear.”i In this world of individual opinions and judgments run rampant in the public, one of the most faithful things that we can do is to examine our own stubbornness when it comes to judging others. When we find ourselves slipping into thinking that we are better than, safer than, different than, someone else and thus arming ourselves with self-righteousness and judgment, we are invited to take a step back and do some self-examination. We can ask ourselves: What is it that makes me afraid in this situation? What are the assumptions that I am making about this person, this group that may be colored by my own story, my own prejudices? What might it be like for me to be vulnerable to this other person’s suffering and brokenness? How am I called to be true to my faith in this relationship? How might I practice grace and bring healing? How might I see greater understanding? How might I practice compassion? How might God be calling me to participate in God’s saving work by choosing courage? i. http://brenebrown.com/2014/08/14/choose-courage/
Sunday, June 8, 2014
The Day of Pentecost Year A June 8, 2014 A letter to Dominick Cabral upon the occasion of his baptism. Dear Dominick, Today is a wonderful day to be baptized! It is the Day of Pentecost, the day that we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to all believers and through that gift, the birth of the church. In baptism, it is said that you are remembering who you already are. And on this day of Pentecost, the church shifts our awareness to remember who we already are, remembering what we proclaim and the source of that proclamation. In baptism, you are remembering that God has already created you good. God has claimed you as God’s beloved and marked you belonging to God through Jesus Christ forever. In baptism, you are saying “yes” to the truth that God has already claimed you. You are accepting this grace which cannot be earned but only given by God; grace which must be accepted by you in order to fully be received. In baptism, you are promising to follow the way of Jesus Christ, follow the way of hope, reconciliation, forgiveness, healing; and the way of death to self and resurrection to new life in Jesus Christ. In baptism, you are becoming a part of the body of Christ that is the church—both this particular church and the universal Christian church. You are accepting your own unique ministry among us, and you promise to join with us in proclaiming the good news of Jesus in your words, in your actions, in your very life. On this day in the life of the church, together we remember our story. We remember how God creates all things and all people good, but how we turn away from God to follow our own faithless hearts and desires. We remember how God calls us again and again to return to God, to put our trust in God, to have relationship with God and to once again be God’s people. And when that doesn’t work, God sends Jesus to walk beside us, with us, as one of us; to lead us along the way of being fully human and in perfect relationship with God. But we still don’t like that. We don’t like giving up our own way, and so we put him to death on the cross thinking that would be the end of him. We desert him, we who were his closest friends and followers, and we despair at what we have done. But God shows us! Because on the third day, Jesus rises from the grave and shows us that God’s love is stronger than our own wills; God’s love is stronger than our own faithless hearts; God’s love is stronger than sickness and pain and adversity; God’s love is stronger than anything, even death. And Jesus walks among us for a little longer, until he is taken up to heaven; but before he leaves, he promises that he will not leave us comfortless. He will send us the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Advocate to continue to teach us and to keep us connected to God and to Jesus in a new way. And that is what we remember and celebrate today--Jesus’s gift and the fulfillment of his promise--that he does not leave us comfortless; we are not left alone again to our own devices. And so we, the church, remember today who we already are, what we proclaim, and the source of that proclamation. We proclaim the hope of the resurrection through our words and deeds and very presence. We proclaim God’s promise of comfort to the broken hearted, even when we, ourselves, are suffering with sighs to deep for words. We proclaim the continued presence of the risen Christ among his people and in our hearts and minds and bodies. We proclaim a home for all in Christ Jesus, a place where all are welcome and where all are already claimed as God’s beloved and marked as Christ own forever. We proclaim a ministry of proclaiming the gospel for all—even the littlest of children--every person a disciple—called to tell and to live the story of hope in a way that is authentic and unique to your own unique gifts and lives. We proclaim and remember this day that the Holy Spirit is even now already at work within us, helping us in our weakness, inspiring us to pray, allowing us to be known intimately by God. We proclaim and remember this day that we are all given a variety of gifts but they are all rooted in the same spirit of God. We proclaim and remember that none of us walks this way alone. We all need each other to be whole and complete and holy. And finally we proclaim and remember this day the truth of that first Pentecost: that the church is those who are “called out.” We are not content to sit within our beautiful four walls, focusing on our own inner lives and our own individual relationships with God. We do come here to find rest and peace, to get reconnected with the source of our hope, and we are fed and loved and nurtured and comforted and reminded that we are God’s beloved. And then we are filled to the brim with the Holy Spirit and sent out into the world to share the good news of God’s presence-- of comfort and hope, grace and home, belovedness and belonging-- to a needy and hungry world. Dominick, we welcome you into the family of God; we promise to walk this way with you; and we give thanks for your presence among us. Your sister in Christ, Melanie+
Sunday, June 1, 2014
7th Sunday after Easter-Year A June 1, 2014 We have been doing much waiting, much anticipating in the Lemburg household of late. Every day, we have been counting the number of days left in school. (Only one and half more, in case anyone needs help counting it). We have two June birthdays to which we are counting down, and we also are just about close enough that we can begin counting down the days to our summer trip to Hawaii. For me, I have always enjoyed the anticipation of the event, the preparation, the expectation that comes along with the waiting. So I am struck today by the waiting that takes place in the Acts story for today. We find ourselves in this weird sort of in between time liturgically, where Jesus has ascended to heaven (which we celebrated this past Thursday) and the church (and the disciples) are left waiting. We have been promised by Jesus that he will send his gift of the Holy Spirit to comfort and guide us after he has gone. And we look forward to this. We will celebrate it at Pentecost next Sunday with red balloons and birthday cake and a baptism. We wait with expectation of what is to come. “So when they had come together, [the disciples] asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ [Jesus] replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…’” Even after all that has happened, the disciples are still waiting for their certain expectations to be fulfilled. They are counting down the days until Jesus will restore the kingdom to Israel. But Jesus blows those expectations wide open, just before he is physically taken up to heaven. And all of a sudden, the disciples are left there, looking up to heaven with their mouths hanging open. They are left there waiting without their expectations. So the question for us this morning, the invitation for us is—what is it like to wait without expectation? What is it like to wait without the countdown to something bigger and better? What is it like to wait without watching the clock? What is it like to wait without expectation? Because this is the kind of waiting we are called to in these final days of the Easter season and beyond? I’ve just begun reading a book called Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by a man named Parker Palmer. Palmer is a Quaker, and in this book, he writes about how we are all called in vocation—how vocation is not a goal that each of us pursues but rather the voice that calls us in and through our life. Vocation is our life telling each of us who we are. At the beginning of this lovely little book, Palmer quotes a poem by William Stafford titled “Ask Me” which begins to hint at what it means to wait without expectation. Some time when the river is ice ask me mistakes I have made. Ask me whether what I have done is my life. Others have come in their slow way into my thought, and some have tried to help or to hurt: ask me what difference their strongest love or hate has made. I will listen to what you say. You and I can turn and look at the silent river and wait. We know the current is there, hidden; and there are comings and going from miles away that hold the stillness exactly before us. What the river says, that is what I say. In some ways, waiting without expectation is like a frozen river: “We know/the current is there, hidden; and there/are comings and going from miles away/that hold the stillness exactly before us.” But how on earth do we do this? How do we wait without counting down the days? How do we keep moving through life and time (which we are all bound to do, no matter how much we might want to stop it) while holding the stillness exactly before us? The disciples’ response to this waiting without expectation is to stay together and to constantly devote themselves to prayer. Palmer’s response to this is that we must listen to our life; that we have deep within us, the truth of who we already are that has been covered up by the goals that we think we need to pursue and the ways that we try to fit in. I think we are called to do both (because really, they are both forms of prayer-of knowing God and knowing ourselves.) How might we do this? Palmer writes about this lyrically and with humor: “How we are to listen to our lives is a question worth exploring. In our culture, we tend to gather information in ways that do not work very well when the source is the human soul: the soul is not responsive to subpoenas or cross-examinations. At best it will stand in the dock only long enough to plead the Fifth Amendment. At worst it will jump bail and never be heard from again. The soul speaks its truth only under quiet, inviting, and trustworthy conditions. The soul is like a wild animal-tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek. That is why the poem at the head of this chapter [that I just shared with you] ends in silence…” We break bread together. And we spend time alone in silence and in prayer. This summer, I hope to spend time with Palmer’s lovely little book and to spend time in silence, listening to how my life speaks. I hope you will join me in doing this in your own life, and when we meet again in August, we will have much to share with each other. Some time when the river is ice ask me mistakes I have made. Ask me whether what I have done is my life. Others have come in their slow way into my thought, and some have tried to help or to hurt: ask me what difference their strongest love or hate has made. I will listen to what you say. You and I can turn and look at the silent river and wait. We know the current is there, hidden; and there are comings and going from miles away that hold the stillness exactly before us. What the river says, that is what I say.
Sunday, May 11, 2014
Easter 4A May 11, 2014 I LOVE YOU LITTLE. I love you big. I love you like a little pig.” I was starting to get bogged down in the gospel reading for today, lost in Jesus’s mixed metaphors of shepherds, sheep, gatekeepers, and gates. My attention had been captured by the last line of our gospel, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” I was trying to focus on what abundant life really is? And I was contemplating the following line written by the Lutheran pastor David Lose, “In contrast to all that would rob us of life-the thieves and the bandits he mentions-Jesus comes to give, not just life, but life in abundance. Not just survival, that is, but flourishing; not just getting by, but thriving, not just existence, but joy.” I was thinking about how this abundant life that Jesus brings flows out of being cherished by, being known by God, and how it flows out of the work that we do of cherishing and knowing others. And then I happened to pick up the Christian Century, and I read a story that I think gets to the heart of abundant life. It’s written by Mark Ralls who is a Methodist minister. “ ‘I LOVE YOU LITTLE. I love you big. I love you like a little pig.’ During my visit to the nursing home that afternoon, I must have heard this sweet, odd rhyme more than a hundred times. I was sitting in the atrium, talking to a distinguished older man I had come to visit. He was a church member, and I enjoyed visiting him. But that particular day we were not sitting there alone. Near us sat a woman, another resident, wearing a nondescript pastel blouse and a broad, broad smile. Though the woman sat close enough to touch, she expressed no interest in us or in our conversation. She just stared out the window and said those childlike words: ‘I love you little. I love you big.’ She repeated them again and again and again. ‘I love you like a little pig.’ I tried my best to focus on the man I had come to see. But throughout my conversation with him, I caught myself wondering about our neighbor and her whimsical rhyme. Did she ever say anything else? Of all the words to remember, why these? As I was leaving the nursing home, my curiosity got the better of me. I searched for a nurse and, feeling a little sheepish about interrupting her work, approached her. ‘Could I ask you an odd question?’ I said. ‘The woman who sits in the atrium. She says this little rhyme over and over. Do you know why she does this?’ The nurse smiled and repeated the words with a dramatic flair: ‘I love you little. I love you big. I love you like a little pig!’ She had obviously heard the rhyme thousands of times—and she wasn’t the least bit tired of it. ‘That’s Thelma,’ she explained. ‘She taught first grade for more than 30 years. Her little rhyme was her own special way of greeting the children each morning. As she helped them remove their coats, she would whisper those words in every little ear. It was her way to let each child know she possessed a special place in her heart.’ Thelma’s mind was ravaged by dementia, but here was this single holdout from her memory. I marveled at this. Perhaps Thelma and her rhyme suggest a way to understand…[the love of God as lived out through Jesus—the shepherd for us the sheep.]” It is a kind of cherishing. And that is certainly at the heart of what Jesus is saying when he talks about being the good shepherd. He’s talking about how he is the one who knows us, who calls us by name, and who cherishes us, always, no matter what. This message takes on deeper meaning when we remember it in context in John’s gospel; our passage today is Jesus defense against those who criticize him for healing a man who was born blind on the Sabbath. It shows the lengths to which God will go in God’s cherishing of each of us. But it also serves as a reminder that when we follow Jesus, then we are called to not only receive this cherishing from him. But we are also called to pay attention to the times when others offer us that same type of knowing, of cherishing, and we are called to offer that to others. It is my deep hope that you have known and experienced this knowing, this cherishing by God and by another before. Whether it is through the love of a parent, a lover, or a child; a grandparent, a grandchild, or a grand-friend; whether it is a sibling, a best friend, or a soul mate…I suspect you each have truly been known and cherished by at least one other person in this world. Once we have known that kind of knowing, or cherishing, then we are called to do that for others. “Thelma gave this kind of love to her students. That is, she gave them a sustained cherishing, not mere mindless repetition. This is why she greeted every student with a hug and a rhyme—and it’s why, even now, she can’t seem to stop greeting them. ‘I love you little. I love you big. I love you like a little pig.’ ‘Does she always do that?’ I asked the nurse. ‘Oh, no!’ she replied. ‘Only when she is very happy.’ The nurse paused. ‘But then again, Thelma has had a good life, and she’s happy most of the time.’” “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” This sense of abundant life is captured in the StoryPeople story by Brian Andreas titled Whole World. I’ll share it with you in closing: “Moms come in all shapes and sizes, but they’re pretty easy to recognize because they’re the ones who teach you stuff all the time about how to be in the world and sometimes that sounds a lot like: chew with you mouth closed sit still. Stand up straight be polite. Look them in the eye. And Sometimes it seems like that sort of thing doesn’t add up to a whole lot. Until the day you feel the soft ache of love in your heart that makes you take care with a friend who hurts or when you look in a stranger’s tired eyes and you stop and smile. Or when you listen to the ABC song for the thousandth time and you laugh and say again and suddenly you understand that is the real thing moms do and it adds up to the whole world.” I LOVE YOU LITTLE. I love you big. I love you like a little pig.” “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”