Sunday, April 20, 2014
Easter Day 2014 I read a story this past week that caught my attention. It is shared by Rob Bell in his book What We Talk About When We Talk About God: “At TED 2012 a brilliant, passionate lawyer named Bryan Stevenson gave a talk about injustice and racism. He spoke about his work around the country within the prison and court systems and his desire to see all people treated fairly. He told stories about young men he's currently defending in court, arguing compellingly for a more just society, and then he closed with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. (who was quoting the abolitionist Theodore Parker) about how the moral arc of the universe is long and it bends toward justice. The second Stevenson was done, the audience gave him a rousing, extended standing ovation. Then later, they pitched in collectively to give his organization over a million dollars. I point this out because when the audience was asked from the stage two days earlier how many of them considered themselves religious, it appeared that only about 2 or 3 percent of the people raised their hands. And yet a man confronted them with the moral arc of the universe and they intuitively, unanimously, instantly affirmed the truth of his claim. Is history headed somewhere? Seriously? Because when Bryan Stevenson talks about the moral arc of the universe, he's talking about history, history that is headed somewhere, somewhere good. History that has a point to it. I believe that those smart, educated, accomplished, self-described-as-not-very-religious people stood and applauded because deep within every single one of us is the conviction that there is a point to this. That life has purpose. That when we die, the lights are not turned off and the show is not over.” This is what we gather here today to celebrate: the moral arc of the universe that culminates in a justice that we would have never imagined or even asked for. Easter Day shows us, year after year, that the moral arc of the universe culminates in Resurrection. What a wonderful, unexpected surprise! In John’s gospel this morning, we see Mary Magdalene also receiving a surprise. She has discovered the empty tomb; the two men disciples have come to see it, and have gone away, not knowing what to do. And yet, Mary Magdalene lingers until she encounters a man who she thinks is the gardener, but really it is Jesus. That always captures my imagination, how she doesn’t recognize him until he calls her by name. Because we know something about that don’t we? We, who would have never imagined resurrection, who hear the story year after year, we don’t recognize it when it is right in front of us! Another writer writes, “Resurrection is always a mystery, always a miracle, but often we do not recognize resurrection when it comes to us. When all that separates and injures and destroys is overcome by that which unites, heals and creates in the ordinary routine of our daily lives, resurrection has taken place.” (From Birthed from the Womb of God: A lectionary for women compiled by Dorothy Harvey p 28) Today we gather to celebrate that the point of history is resurrection. In and through Jesus’s death and resurrection, God is making all creation new—us, our families, our church, our friends and neighbors, those people we love and those we don’t, the oceans and the deserts, the mountains and the cities….The point of history is resurrection. May we have the grace this day and always to recognize the mystery of resurrection when it stands before us and calls us by name!
Great Vigil of Easter-2014 “Every year everything I have ever learned in my lifetime leads back to this and the black river of loss whose other side is salvation, whose meaning none of us will ever know. To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go. This excerpt from Mary Oliver’s poem, “In Blackwater Woods” wonderfully captures what we do on this night. Tonight we gather to tell the stories of our faith, and in some mysterious way, we are present in those moments of salvation history. We sit in the dark of creation as God forms us from the dust. We run panicked through the dark in the midst of waters of the Red Sea, and we witness the death and destruction of God’s enemies. We sing the song of our salvation while we are still in the dark, still in the middle of the water, still wondering if we will actually make it out alive. We stand in the valley of bones with Ezekiel and we watch as God’s breath knits the scattered bones together and remakes them into a people. We who have walked into this church that is as dark as a tomb, walk with the women in the dark to Jesus’s tomb, and we share their fear and their confusion when we find it empty because it is so far beyond our experience, our understanding. We gather in the dark to renew the words of our baptismal covenant, to remember the light of Christ that is given to us in and through our baptism, and to see this night, what a difference this light can make in the face of death and darkness, fear and loss. “Every year everything I have ever learned in my lifetime leads back to this and the black river of loss whose other side is salvation, whose meaning none of us will ever know. To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.” We have experienced the black river of loss; we acknowledge the fleetingness of this world, this life, and all whom we hold dear. And we rejoice this night in Christ’s resurrection, in the way that we are brought through the black river of loss into the mystery of eternal life waiting on the other side.
Friday, April 18, 2014
Good Friday—2014 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? * and are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress? 2 O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer; * by night as well, but I find no rest. 3 Yet you are the Holy One, * enthroned upon the praises of Israel. 4 Our forefathers put their trust in you; * they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 They cried out to you and were delivered; * they trusted in you and were not put to shame. We gather over the course of these three days to recall the stories that form the heart of our faith, the essence of the people of God. We suffer with the children of Israel who are in captivity in Babylon. We watch and wait with Jesus’s mother and his disciples as he hangs dying on the cross. We read aloud the heartbroken words of Psalm 22, and we remember today our own desolate times, the times when God seems to be absent. And we remember the times when we have acted as if God is absent. Just last week, I was introduced to a Welsh poet names R. S. Thomas, and much of Thomas’s poetry speaks to the absence of God. I’ll share with you his poem titled In Church for your reflection on this day. “In Church,” by R.S. Thomas Often I try To analyze the quality Of its silences. Is this where God hides From my searching? I have stopped to listen, After the few people have gone, To the air recomposing itself For vigil. It has waited like this Since the stones grouped themselves about it. These are the hard ribs Of a body that our prayers have failed To animate. Shadows advance From their corners to take possession Of places the light held For an hour. The bats resume Their business. The uneasiness of the pews Ceases. There is no other sound In the darkness but the sound of a man Breathing, testing his faith On emptiness, nailing his questions One by one to an untenanted cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is a day to dwell for a while with our suffering; it is a day for questions. Let us fearlessly kneel together now, nailing our questions, our emptiness, and the world’s suffering one by one to an untenanted cross.
Maundy Thursday 2014 One of the things that I cherish most about when my family of origin gathers together is the stories that we tell of our common history. My father, a gifted storyteller, often tells me stories of my grandfather and his life-long vocation as a Methodist minister. These parables are full of teachings and insights that my father often shares with me just when I need them. Other times, when the whole family gathers, we tell stories of our childhoods. We siblings gently poke fun at each other, and my father makes us all laugh until we cry. This is why we gather here tonight and over the next three days. It is to tell the stories of our family. It is to remember with joy and sadness the stories of our faith. It is to remember what our common values are and to recall the foundations of who we are as the family of God. Tonight, we remember our Jewish roots, how God saves us and claims us as God’s people in the Passover. Tonight, we remember the new commandment given to us by Jesus, to love (and serve) one another as he has loved (and served) us—a task that is often both deeply rewarding and difficultly daunting for siblings. Tonight we remember the meal that unites us over and over again as family; the meal that we share every week that lies at the heart of our family with the pattern that Jesus models for us: take, bless, break, and give. I received a gift this week in reading an interview between Krista Tippett, who is the facilitator for the American Public Media show—On Being and a woman named Avivah Zornberg, who is a modern day master of midrash—the ancient Jewish art of inquiry for discovering hidden meaning in and between the lines. Tippett interviews Zornberg about the hidden meanings in the Exodus story, part of which we hear tonight as a part of our Maundy Thursday observance. The Passover story is the heart of our Holy Week observance. It is why Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem. It is what they are gathered to celebrate on the night before he died. It is woven quietly and hopefully through Paul’s writing, which is our earliest description of the Last Supper. And it’s a horrible, brutal story! The story sets the stage for God’s murder of all the first born Egyptian children and results in Pharaoh essentially throwing the children of Israel out of Egypt. Pharaoh and God (and Moses) have been waging a war over the Children of Israel. But rather than making this a story of the Villain Pharaoh and the poor hapless children of Israel who must be saved by God, Zornberg opens it up and explains how in and through all of them (Pharaoh, Moses and the people), there is a resistance to God’s redemption. For all of them, there is a unwillingness to open themselves up to an alternative reality. Zornberg states, “I’d like to suggest that the whole story really is about the need for the people to be more than an object that has to be yanked out of Egypt. But for the people to become, to acquire the kind of life and openness and communicability that makes them want to emerge from that place of death which is Egypt.” As we walk into and through death over the course of these next three days, what might this interpretation of Exodus add to our own story? How might God be working to redeem us and how might we be working against that, resisting it? How might God be calling us out of our places of death and into a life of openness and communicability and relationship with God and each other?
Sunday, April 13, 2014
The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday Year A April 13, 2014 “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” What are we supposed to make of this famous instruction of Paul to the Philippians after just having heard the Passion Gospel on this beginning day of Holy Week? “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” First, when we read this lesson in the context of Palm Sunday, it is especially important to remember that Paul is writing to the entire community at Phillipi because the great temptation of Holy Week, I think, is to make the event a one time, historical event. In that way, we can never really and truly let the same mind be in us individuals that was in Christ Jesus because none of us is called to death and crucifixion as Jesus was. But in Philippians, Paul is reminding the community of two things. 1. The drama of the crucifixion is placed in the context of the cosmic drama of Christ’s self-giving. It is not just a one time act that happened a long time ago. Instead, Christ’s self-giving has cosmic implications, and it happens over and over and over again—past, present, and future. 2. Paul’s words are written not to the individuals at Phillippi. This is not about individuals working out their own salvation individually. Paul is writing to the community. He is reminding them to be united as a community, to not let divisions distract them from living into the fullness of their calling as followers of Jesus Christ. As Christ humbled himself by taking human form and being obedient to God, so the Philippians must also humbly look to the interests of others. Their salvation is all bound up in each other and even with people outside of their immediate community. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” A 20th Century Welsh cleric and poet, R.S. Thomas captures this cosmic mind of Christ (and what we are being invited into this Holy Week) in his poem the Coming. I will share it with you in closing today: The Coming by R.S. Thomas And God held in his hand A small globe. Look he said. The son looked. Far off, As through water, he saw A scorched land of fierce Colour. The light burned There; crusted buildings Cast their shadows: a bright Serpent, A river Uncoiled itself, radiant With slime. On a bare Hill a bare tree saddened The sky. many People Held out their thin arms To it, as though waiting For a vanished April To return to its crossed Boughs. The son watched Them. Let me go there, he said. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Where there is suffering, “let me go there, he said.” May it be so with us, as well.
Sunday, April 6, 2014
The 5th Sunday in Lent—Year A April 6, 2014 “Before I die, I want to…” These are the words that New Orleans artist, Candy Chang, stenciled on the side of an abandoned building near her house, after she had already covered the entire side of the building with chalk-board paint. She drew lines on it, left a bucket of chalk beside it, and then she left it. Before I die, I want to…. Then she came back and checked it, and she was amazed at the responses. It was a public invitation for those in her neighborhood to reflect on their lives in a public space, the beginnings of a conversation. The next day, when she came back to check it, the entire wall was completely filled out. And then it began to spread. Others started creating these walls all around the world—South Korea, Paraguay, Chile, Australia, Israel, South Africa… What started as a public conversation on a block in New Orleans became a public conversation around the whole world. And it all started because Candy lost someone she loved, a woman who had been a mother to her died, and she started thinking about mortality and what really matters, and she invited others into that conversation. Before I die, I want to…..Some of the answers were funny: “Before I die, I want to be tried for piracy.” “Before I die, I want to kiss someone in a piano bar. “Hug a sloth”. “Swim without holding my nose,” “Have my own theme song.” Some were about following dreams. Before I die, I want to “Straddle the international date line,” “Sing for millions,” “Plant a tree.” Some were about finding meaning in life, touching on the issues that encompass all humanity. Before I die, “I want to be completely myself,” “To stare at the stars with the people I love,” “Overcome depression,” “Love my body,” “Stop being afraid.” Candy Chang concludes (her TED talk) by saying, “Life is brief and tender. Preparing for death is one of the most powerful things you can do. Thinking about death clarifies your life.” Today, on this 5th Sunday of Lent, we are invited to think about death. We walk through a valley of bones with Ezekiel. We stand with the people in the town of Bethany as Jesus calls a dead man out of the tomb. We who have spent this Lent turning away from those things that are impediments in our relationship with God and turning back toward God face one last impediment as we prepare to enter Palm Sunday and Holy Week. It is death—our own and those whom we love. The two very different pictures of death and resurrection in our readings for today, can offer us some direction on what to do with this overwhelming topic. In Ezekiel, we see God taking a bunch of dry bones and knitting them together to form a community of living and breathing people. In this way, God is reminding the scattered, dried up people of Israel who are languishing in exile, that God will refresh, restore, and reunite them as a community through the life-giving breath of God. In the gospel reading, I am struck for the first time about how Jesus issues three commands in the raising of Lazarus. “Take away the stone!” “Lazarus, come out!” and “Unbind him, and let him go.” Two of those commands are issued to the gathered community, and in that way, they participate in the raising of Lazarus. Jesus offers Lazarus new life, but it is the gathered community that helps in that by unbinding him. Such is our call, the life-giving work of the church to follow the command of Jesus and to “unbind people” from their fear of death. And one way we can do that is to talk about it. Before I die, I want to spend more quality time with my family. Before I die, I want to be more patient. Before I die, I want to travel to all the places that my husband and I have said we’d like to visit. Before I die, I want to be a grandparent or a surrogate grandparent. Underneath all of these hopes and dreams, you can see the things of which I am longing to be unbound, the things that keep me from the new life of the resurrection that is offered to me in and through community and in and through the breath of God. So now, we’re going to do something a little different. We are going to have this conversation with each other. Turn to someone sitting near you or next to you, and I want each of you to answer the question of what you would write on Candy Chang’s chalk board: “Before I die, I want to….” You don’t have to say this second part out loud, but think about what your answer tells you about what you need to be unbound from. Come back together. Now, I want you to think of a different answer. Before I die, I want to…. Half of you get up and go to the other side of the church and have that conversation with someone different. (The other half of you stay seated.) Now come back together. In the remaining moments of silence, I invite you to offer to God your dreams of what you would like to do before you die. And also offer to God that from which you need to be unbound. May God give us all the courage to live our own life to the fullest, to proclaim the power of Jesus’s resurrection, and to work through the Holy Spirit out in the world, unbinding that which is bound and serving as agents of new life and resurrection. Watch Candy Chang's TED talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/candy_chang_before_i_die_i_want_to