Thursday, December 24, 2015
Christmas Eve 2015 There is a characteristic that runs throughout all of our readings for tonight, that I’ve always been intrigued by but never really understood. I’ve always wanted to preach on it, every year as Christmas Eve sermon time comes around, but I’ve never known what to preach. Well, my friends. The year has finally come for me to preach on this rare characteristic, and you all have my first-time viewing of the modern Christmas classic movie Elf to thank for it. Can you guess what the characteristic is? In the movie Elf, Buddy the Elf is actually a human who has been raised by an elf father –Papa Elf—at the North Pole. He learns the truth of his humanity and decides to go in search of his birth father who lives and works in that magical place of New York City, and Santa gives Buddy his blessing and a few tips for the journey. Buddy’s journey is characterized by all sorts of misadventures when he experiences the strangeness of New York with a sense of wonder and awe. At one point in the movie, Buddy is working at a New York department store, appropriately dressed as one of the elves in the Christmas section, and someone makes the announcement to the gathered shoppers that Santa will be arriving first thing in the morning. Buddy hears the announcement and then proceeds to scream: “Santa! Oh my God! Santa here! I know him! I know him!” Santa is someone that Buddy the elf gets to see every day of his life; and still, when he thinks he is going to encounter him in New York, he loses his mind with excitement. When I saw that scene, I finally knew what that elusive characteristic that I had always been curious about looked like. That, my friends, is zeal. We see zeal mentioned overtly in two of our readings for tonight, and it is hinted at in the other two. Titus talks about how the marks of a Christian can be found in our zealous deeds. The gospel reading for tonight shows us how the zeal of the angels in proclaiming the good news of Jesus’s birth is contagious and becomes the zeal of the shepherds to go and see this wondrous event that is unfolding right there before them. And part of the reason that Buddy the elf is so charming is because we as a people have lost this sense of zeal, I think. It’s actually a bad thing, now, to be a zealot. And Buddy shows us that zeal can be a marvelous mixture of hopeful joy mixed with a goodly portion of naiveté. Ok, I can hear you thinking, so we’re supposed to be zealous. How on earth do we accomplish this? We all know it’s not really something that comes naturally to many of us, nor is it something that we can add to our shopping list. And that is why we gather here tonight, my friends. To remember that zeal is not something that originates with us. Zeal originates with God. Even in the midst of all of our misunderstandings, fallings, and failures, God continues to love us with a joyfully optimistic and maybe even a bit naïve zeal. And at one point in history, God whispers to Godself, I know them. I know them. And God sends God’s self to be one of us, so that we might know a taste of God, God’s love, and God’s zeal. The good news this night is that the zeal does not begin with us. It is the zeal of God, that calls forth in us, if we allow it, a joyful, hopeful, naïve response. That is why we gather together tonight. To remember the zeal of God which has given the gift of God’s self, for us, to us, in the person of Jesus. That we might finally say in joyful hope, wonder and a bit naiveté: “I know him. I know him.”
4th Sunday of Advent Year C December 20, 2015 I want you to take a moment and think about all the different songs that you have sung in your life… The times you have been alone in the car and belting out some song just for the simple joy of being alive. The lullabies and the laments. The school fight songs, the Christmas carols, countless Happy Birthdays… There is something about singing that is both a deeply spiritual and a deeply human act, both primal and transcendent at the same time. There are some who say that God sings at creation, singing the creation into being. C.S. Lewis writes about this in the Chronicles of Narnia book The Magician’s Nephew when he writes about how Aslan creates the land of Narnia: “In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was beyond comparison the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it.” All of our songs of salvation seem to begin in the dark, and Mary’s song for today is no different. But her song begins in the darkness of her womb, in the deep-quiet-fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation. Interestingly enough, Luke’s gospel’s beginning is chock-full of singing. Mary’s song is the first of three songs in the first two chapters, and it is a song of reversal, in which the mighty are cast down and the lowly are lifted up. I can’t hear it without wanting to sing it---my soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant!” It is a song of joy that overflows in praise for what God has done for Mary and for all of creation, and the three central parts of Mary’s song are 1. God’s capacity and willingness to act in creation; 2. God’s holiness and 3. God’s mercy. Mary’s song is different from any song that has ever been sung, by us and the rest of humanity, because it is the song of a peasant woman who has been chosen to be “the God-bearer.” Her song is a mixture of both the past and future, just as it is her role as the “God-bearer” to be a part of God’s uniting of the past and the future in and through Jesus. In that way, her song is a song of hopefulness that is completely unique. She witness that God has already acted, God has already saved, and she helps project that salvific action on into the future. So how does this unique song fit in with all of our many and varied songs, especially in these seemingly dark days when it is difficult to find hopeful and joy-filled songs to sing? In his blog post for this week titled, “Standing and Acting in the Tragic Gap,” Parker Palmer speaks to this when he writes about how we are called to stand and act “in the tragic gap if we want to hang in for the long haul with the birthing of a better world. On one side of that gap are the hard and discouraging realities around us. On the other side is the better world we know to be possible-not merely because we wish it were so, but because we have seen it with our own eyes. We’re surrounded by greed, but we’ve seen great acts of generosity. We’re surrounded by violence, but we’ve seen people make peace…” When Mary and Elizabeth meet, this is possibly the first Christian community; they are the first of those who believe in Jesus. And what do they do? They sing together. Their song helps create a sanctuary where Mary is able to prepare and rest for three months. It is what we do. Christians sing (both literally and figuratively), and we help create sanctuary for others. I heard a story on NPR’s morning edition this past week when I was driving back from dropping off Jack at school. It is a story about these two people who saw a need in the depressed town of Saginaw, Michigan, and they started a music ministry called Major Chords for Minors in which they give out free instruments and music lessons to children who need them. They started this program with their own small savings and now it is funded by a number of small grants. The powerful thing that caught my attention in this story (which is part of a series titled “doing a lot with a little”) is how these children from often unstable homes find refuge not only in the music but also in the place where it is created and nurtured. I was struck by how music is transforming the lives of those children and families and by how music there is creating a sanctuary for others. In these waning days of Advent, when our minor songs of waiting shift toward Christmas carols of fulfillment, may we consider: how might the song we are called to sing be a way to create sanctuary for others? http://www.onbeing.org/blog/parker-palmer-standing-and-acting-in-the-tragic-gap/8258 http://www.npr.org/2015/12/16/456533840/free-music-lessons-strike-a-chord-for-at-risk-kids
Sunday, November 22, 2015
Last Sunday after Pentecost—Christ the King Sunday November 22, 2015 Today I would like to tell you two different tales of two different bunnies. The first bunny is named Barrington Bunny. Barrington is the only bunny in the whole wide forest, and he is sad and lonely because he cannot go to the other animals’ Xmas parties--he cannot climb trees like a squirrel or swim like a beaver. And he doesn't have a bunny family of his own. Barrington is crying alone in the snow on Christmas Eve when the wise wolf whose eyes are like fire appears before him, The wolf tells Barrington that all of the animals of the forest are his family, and that he as a bunny has his own special gifts. He can hop and he is furry and warm. As Barrington is hopping home filled with hope and a plan to help the members of his family (all the different animals of the forest), a blizzard wind begins to blow, and he comes across a young field mouse who is lost from his family. Barrington tells the mouse to not be afraid, that he will stay with him, and because he is a bunny, he can help keep him warm. In the morning, when the young mouse's parents find him, Barrington has died in the night keeping the little mouse warm. And the wolf comes and keeps watch over Barrington's body all Christmas Day. The second bunny is named Foo Foo. You see, Little Bunny Foo Foo was hopping through the forest. And out of nowhere he inexplicably scoops up a field mouse and bops him on the head. Then, down comes the good fairy, and she says, “Little Bunny Foo Foo, I don’t want to see you scooping up the field mice and bopping them on the head. I’ll give you three chances. And if you do, I’m gonna turn you into a goon!” Well, we all know what happens. Whatever inexplicable forces that are at work in Little Bunny Foo Foo’s soul to make him want to bop the innocent field mice on the head do not abate, in spite of the good fairy’s warning, and he burns through his three chances, getting turned into a goon in the end. These two stories of two different bunnies are actually two different pictures of kingship that we need to consider on this Last Sunday after Pentecost which is also known as Christ the King Sunday. The Foo Foo way of kingship is a way of might and violence. Foo Foo is bigger and stronger than the field mice and he exercises his power over them until someone stronger than him comes along and punishes him with more violence. The Barrington way of kingship is a way that knows and experiences suffering and loneliness, a way that reaches out to others out of that shared pain and offers a comforting presence even to the point of sacrificial death. We all know suffering, loneliness, tribulation. And most of the time, we are like the communities who John's gospel and Revelation are being written to. We want a strong, Foo Foo like King who will come in and bop all our enemies on the head and rescue us from our suffering. That is the world's way. But Jesus is not a Foo Foo like King. "My kingdom is not of this world," he says. “The way of using might to bring about victory, the way of violence, the way of ‘bopping the little ones on the head’ (or even turning the bullies into goons) is not my way,” he tells us in that one simple phrase. His is the way of Barrington Bunny: the way of staying beside those who are suffering, the way of sacrifice, the way of peace and a love that eventually conquers everything-even death. If we are to be his followers, the citizens of his kingdom, then that must be our way too. Which kind of bunny will you be? Whose way do you follow?
Monday, November 2, 2015
All Saints’ Day Year B November 1, 2015 A letter to Becky and Matthew upon the occasion of their baptisms. Dear Becky and Matthew, This is an interesting time in the life of the church year. It is the half-way point between Easter of one year and Easter of the next, and it is one of those Christian holidays that has become something entirely different in the culture around us. We see it most prominently in the contrast between Halloween and All Saints’. Every year at Halloween, I am increasingly more astonished (and somewhat dismayed) at the bacchanalia that takes place around us, as people work themselves up into a frenzy over costumes and candy. At the root of this, I recognize what Christian theologians wiser than I have named as being our culture’s fear and denial of death. But today, here in this church, we are going to do the exact opposite. Today, Becky and Matthew, we actually celebrate your death, and we will take with you this first step into a long journey of not only not being afraid of death, but seeing it as a peaceful companion throughout your life. Today we all will relearn and remember with you, that even though the world around us will scramble to deny death, we, as Christians, recognize that death is an important part of faithful living. “…We as Christians know at a deeper level that our society has it all backwards. It is not that life ends and death goes on forever. Death is but a single event that is not itself the last word. At the heart of the Christian faith is the Easter story of the Resurrection revealing that God does not abandon us at death, but raises us to new life.” So, Becky and Matthew, when we baptize you today, we are baptizing you into Jesus’s death, and we are baptizing you into Jesus’s resurrection. From this day forward, you are claiming your place as the beloved of God, who created you good, and you are becoming a part of God’s resurrection people-the body of Christ. As Christians, we also recognize that the awareness of death and mortality is a gift to us, because it then spurs faithful living, and not for the reasons you might think. Awareness of our death does not spur faithful living because we are afraid God is going to send us to hell if we’re not good enough, if we don’t “do right” or if we don’t earn our salvation. The truth is, none of us could ever be good enough to earn our salvation. That is a gift that has been already freely given to us by the God who loves us and who chooses to make God’s own home in and with us. Rather, we long to live faithfully because we are grateful to God; we recognize this mortal life as a beautiful, finite gift, and we long to cherish it and live it to the fullest. We are all here today because in some deep part of our souls, we have realized that our struggle is not to remain alive forever at any cost, but to live and to die faithfully; and we are here today because we have discovered that this living and dying faithfully is work that is more easily and better done when we have companions along the way. We are here today because we have discovered that following the way of Jesus, the way that is articulated in our baptismal covenant, the way of peace, forgiveness, healing, sacrifice, and reconciliation, following the way of Jesus gives our lives meaning; it makes life and our relationships infinitely richer than they would be otherwise, and we are all so much better for having companions to walk with us on this way. That is what we will promise to do for you this day and forward, Becky and Matthew, and you will promise to do it for us as well. And that is where the Saints come into the picture, why we remember them today on this All Saints’ Day, and why it makes today especially appropriate for baptism. The New Testament talks about “saints” 20 times, and it’s not talking about stained-glass people living perfect lives of faithfulness that we could only dream about. Saints, in the New Testament, refer to “God-lovers;” or as one of our old, beloved hymns puts it, “they loved their Lord so dear, so dear, and his love made them strong.” Brother James Koester of the Society of St. John the Evangelist writes about Saints: “The promise of triumph which we celebrate today in the Feast of All Saints’ is for all of us… who have lived lives of hope, or even just attempted to do so. It is for all of us who have lived lives of faith, or even just attempted to.” It is this work of attempting to live lives of faith and attempting to live lives of hope that we do together that forms us (and all those God-lovers who have gone before us) into Resurrection people through the weaving and working, inspiring and initiating of God’s Holy Spirit. We give thanks to God for your presence among us, and we look forward to walking this way with you. Your sister in Christ, Melanie+
Sunday, October 11, 2015
20th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 23 B October 11, 2015 I don’t really give my sermons titles, but I’m going to title this one. It is the top three things I have learned about stewardship or giving. Number 1: I was 22 years old and working at Stewpot in Jackson (back in the days that The Otts and Miss Lib were running around down there). I was working with the senior citizens and adults with mental disabilities, providing them enrichment activities before the noon meal. One day, one of the adults with mental disabilities, a woman named Cheryl, came in. I had often tried to have conversations with Cheryl, but she was so crazy, it was hard to talk to her—most of our conversations ended up going down the rabbit hole of her delusions. On this particular day, she came in wearing a shiny gold, butterfly necklace. I had never seen it before, and I complemented her on it, told her how beautiful it was and asked if it was new. She cocked her head and looked at me curiously for a moment, and then she pulled the necklace off over her head and held it out to me, not saying a word. Well, I was mortified! This woman, who only got a Social Security disability check, most of which was taken for her room and board and care at the group home where she lived, had probably used her measly $10 allowance for the month to buy this thing of beauty. I could not possibly accept it from her! So I said, ‘Oh no, it looks so beautiful on you! You really should keep it. But still, she stood there smiling, not saying a word, and holding the necklace out to me. And in that moment, I realized something. She needed to be able to give me that necklace. I needed to be able to receive it from her. Giving and receiving is an important part of every relationship; and people need to be both receivers and givers. She needed to be able to give. And so I walked over to her and let her place her necklace around my neck. (pull out necklace). I still have this beautiful gift from her, and it is something that will always bind me to her in relationship. 1. In relationship, we need to be able to both receive and to give. Number 2: Our relationship with God is included in this number one. We need to both give to God and receive from God. The former stewardship officer for the Episcopal Church, the late Terry Parsons, came and taught one single class at our seminary for our senior year. In this class, she shared with us her definition of stewardship: Stewardship is all that we do with all that we have, after we say we believe. As a part of a healthy relationship with God, we recognize that all that we have comes from God (that’s the receiving part). We make a grateful response to God for all that we are and all that we have by giving a portion of it back to God. It is said that Jesus talked about money more than he talked about anything else in the gospels except the Kingdom of God. Often when Jesus taught about money, he was teaching about the ways in which our money, our possessions are an impediment in our relationship with God. We see that in our gospel reading for the day. A rich young man comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus, looking at him and loving him, tells him, Go and sell everything that you own and follow me. And the man leaves sadly. How hard it is for people of wealth to enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus says. And what if that is more of an observation on his part rather than a judgment. Does it make it a little easier for us to hear? Maybe. When we look at this story in Mark of the encounter with Jesus and the rich young man as a healing story, which is how Mark actually sets it up to be read, mirroring many of the other Marcan healing stories, we see that our money, our stuff does not have to be an impediment in our relationship with God (and each other). But this story of the rich young man and Jesus’s encounter with him also shows us that money can cause “heart-sickness”. Therefore, God cares about what we do with our wealth, because when we don’t have a healthy relationship with money and stuff, it turns into heartsickness which is an impediment in our relationship with God and each other. Wealth can distort our sense of ourselves, our neighbor and God. 2. God cares about our relationship with money because God cares about us. Finally, number three. In that same visit to General Seminary, Terry Parsons answered a question posed to her by one of the cocky seminarians in our class (and let me just say, we were all cocky!). We had been through three years of breaking down the bible, learning how to read it. Most of us didn’t read the bible literally anymore, so someone asked her, “What about the biblical tithe? If we don’t read the bible literally on other things, why should we read the bible literally when it says that we should give 10% to God?” Terry answered, “Well, the Old Testament says to give 10% to God; Jesus tells us to give everything. I don’t know about y’all, but I’m going with the Old Testament!” I had found up to that point in my life that I would give to God whatever I had left-over (and usually, there wasn’t very much left over). Terry taught us that day about how the concept of the tithe or even a different percentage of giving, comes out of the “first fruits” ideology of the Bible, meaning that the children of Israel were encouraged to give the first fruits of the harvest to God, offering the first and the best and not the last and the left-over. When we were first married, my husband said to me, “it’s really important to me that we tithe,” and so we have made it a point in our married life to do that—he to his church and me to mine. But not everyone is going to be able to start our tithing. In fact, every time we move, I have to work on getting back up to 10% over several years. One year, I was giving up as much as I could “off the top.” Then I realized that if I gave up a daily cup of coffee from the coffee store that I drove past every day on my way to work, then I could give that $2.00 a week to add to my pledge. So, I did it. And you know, I thought about God and that gift every single day when I drove past there and didn’t stop for coffee. Number 3: Percentage giving matters. It is the way that we give to God off the top of what we have rather than out of the left-overs. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices to give to God, and that God will accept and use to help us deepen our relationships with God. We have been handing this chart out for the last two Sundays as a part of our fall commitment campaign, the New Consecration Sunday Program. It is a helpful tool, I think, as we look to see where we fall on this set of stairs in the giving in this parish. (Note that 278 people give nothing to this church. 89 of those are children, but you know, children can pledge too. Their relationship with God is just as important as ours is. If you want, parents, I can talk to you about some creative ways to teach children about giving. Just give me a call.) I wonder what would happen if each of us looked at ways that we might move up one step in our giving—wherever you find yourselves on the stair steps. I encourage you to take this home this week and spend some time in prayer with it. Take the time to do the math. Find where you fall on the front and on the back. And ask yourself do you feel good about what you are giving to God? Or is it something you would like to try to change? Next Sunday, we will gather together in worship and we will make our commitment to God for what we hope to give in the coming year as a part of worship. Following the 10:30 service, we will have a catered, celebratory luncheon where we will celebrate the grace of God, all the gifts that God has given us, and our common life here together. I want to leave you with a story to think about this week. I read a story several years ago about a team of researchers that did a study of monkeys. They placed the monkeys’ favorite kind of nuts down in the bottom of a long-skinny necked bottle, and they would leave it anchored there over night. In the morning, they would come back, and they would always find a monkey, with his hand caught in the bottle, gripped around the nut, and trapped there. Scientists were amazed that all the monkey had to do to be free was to let go of the nut. But they never did. When we give to God, that is one way that we are loosening our grip on the nut that keeps us trapped, acknowledging and asking for healing for the ways that money is an impediment in our relationship with God. What might God be calling you to give, to let go of just a little bit this year?
Saturday, September 19, 2015
17th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 20B September 20, 2015 This past Wednesday night, as I was leaving church with the kids, I realized that I was very low on gas. I made a mental note to stop at Kroger on the way home, and then I realized over half way down Hoy Road that I had completely zoned out and forgotten to stop. (It had been a long day!). So I ran the kids home and drove back to Kroger (around 7:30 pm). When I got to Kroger, all the pumps had people at them, and there were more people waiting. I got more and more frustrated as I watched people maneuver and cut in front of others to get to the open pumps, and so finally, I went to one of the pumps on the back of the lot and pulled up behind a woman to wait until she was done. As I waited with my window rolled down to enjoy the beautiful night, I watched this woman be completely engrossed in her cell phone as she pumped her gas. The truck in front of her left, and she was still pumping, but I couldn’t get around her car to get to the open pump. So I waited. Finally, the woman’s gas was finished, and she slowly close up her gas tank, never taking her eyes off her phone screen. I waited a couple of more minutes as she stood there looking at her phone and she realized that she had to push the button if she wanted a receipt. (“Please, don’t want a receipt,” I said to myself, but alas it was not to be.) She continued to be consumed with what was on her phone as her receipt printed, and she slowly pulled it and made her way into her car, maneuvering herself into the driver’s seat while not taking her eyes off her phone. (At last, I thought, I will get my gas and get home to eat supper and put my children to bed! I put my car into drive with eager anticipation.) But it was still not to be. The woman turned on her car, and sat there looking at her phone. At this point, my curiosity about this woman and her obsession with her phone had turned into acute irritation. But what to do? I didn’t want to be rude (because I had just talked at church about how I try not to drive like a jerk because I have a St. Columb’s sticker on my van), but this woman had been obliviously blocking two pumps for a while now, and I didn’t want to wait any longer. So I hung my head out my open window and yelled nicely, “Would you please pull your car forward?” I got nothing except curious and startled glances from the people at the other pumps. (Who is this crazy woman in the van trying to talk to other people at the gas pump?!) So finally, I just couldn’t stand it any longer, and I did it. I honked my horn. And what do you think happened? The woman jumped-startled when I honked, and then she put her phone down so that she could have both hands free to make rude gestures at me with in her rear view mirror. Then, FINALLY, she drove off. Well, I was livid! How dare she make rude gestures at me when she had been so self-absorbed that she had been blocking not just one but two pumps while a bunch of other people waited?! I pulled down the row to the first open pump and the gas attendant was walking over to empty the trash can. I said to her, full of my righteous anger, “did you see that woman blocking two pumps while she was on her phone?!” and the gas attendant said to me tiredly with her bag full of trash, “Honey, they all be like that. Every day.” And Jesus said to the disciples as they were arguing over who is the greatest, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” As I stood there in my collar and pumped my gas, I thought about the gas attendant, what she said, what her life must be like having to deal with that level of self-absorption day in and day out. And I realized that, even though she didn’t mean it this way, when she said “They all be like that. Every day.” Her “they” also meant me. And I knew, in that woman I had encountered Jesus, and I was simultaneously chastened and hopeful that I could be better. Because that’s really what is at the heart of the disciples’ argument in today’s gospel. Jesus has, for the second out of three times in Mark, taken himself and his disciples away from the crowds so that he can tell them about his impending death and try to help prepare them for when he’s gone. But they just can’t get it. We see they are so confused and afraid that they cannot even formulate questions for him about what he is trying to teach him. So they try to fill that void of confusion and fear by arguing over who is greatest. Instead of the self-sacrifice and service and courage that Jesus is trying to teach them about, they become fearful, close-minded, and self-absorbed. So Jesus sits down with them (which is the posture that Rabbis would take when teaching), and he tells them: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” And then he brings in a child, the lowest of the low in that society, and tells them this is what they must be: vulnerable, powerless, and dependent. I’ve been reading Brene’ Brown’s new book Rising Strong. Brown is a sociologist who is also an Episcopalian, and she has interviewed thousands of people about the human condition and their own life experiences. She studies the concepts of shame and failure, and she has determined that vulnerability is the key characteristic that fosters and nourishes whole-hearted living and human relationships. In her new book that I am reading, Brown writes about the importance of examining our own failures and asking important questions to help us learn from them and also to recast and reclaim those stories for ourselves. Which led me to ask some questions about my encounter at the Kroger gas pumps the other night. Why did I get so angry at the woman on her phone? (Because her self-absorption suggested that she thought her time was more valuable and important than mine.) What could I have done differently so that I would have felt like that encounter was a failure and to not be one of the “theys” in the gas attendant’s life? (Maybe I could have gotten out of my car and gone and knocked on her window and kindly and politely asked her to move instead of honking?) I read a blog post from the spiritual writer Parker Palmer this week, and he quoted a passage from Rainier Maria Rilke (Reiner Maria Reelkay) — from Letters to a Young Poet, that has caught my attention and made me think about the kind of questions that I ask. "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer." We are so like the disciples; when we are afraid or angry or confused, we don’t ask the right questions. We spend our time arguing about the wrong things, things rooted in our insecurity and self-absorption. But Jesus teaches us that the way of discipleship is the way of the cross. It is a way of courage, self-sacrifice, and service. So then let us be courageous. Let us we pay attention to what is really going on in our hearts. Let us try to live generously with ourselves and one another, and let us try to ask the better questions.
Sunday, September 6, 2015
15th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 18B September 6, 2015 I ran across an article this week about the government of Iceland’s response to the Syrian refugee crises—not stuff I usually encounter or read about. This article (on slate.com) was saying that the government of Iceland, which has a population of only about 315,000, said they could help in the crises by offering to take 50 Syrian refugees. The article pointed out that “as far as offers of help go, it didn’t come off as particularly heartfelt or overwhelming.” But then, a local, Icelandic author started a Facebook page named “Syria is Calling” where everyday Icelanders stepped up to try to fill the humanitarian need. Over 12,000 people weighed in, calling on their government to do more, and many of those who wrote, offered both their homes and their financial support. The comments in the article were profound, many people offering to open their homes to Syrians in need, especially children, offering from their skills as teachers, cooks, and just basic knowledge of how to get around in their community. Many others offered their financial resources, offering to buy plane tickets for the Syrians to travel to Iceland. I got kind of teary reading all these comments of people humbly offering their talents and time and money and the sanctuary of their own homes to help strangers in need half a world away! But then, the more I thought about it, it made me more and more uncomfortable. I don’t think I could offer that, to open my home, even though I have more than enough room, to a stranger from half a world away. And the time that they were offering, too, it was terrifying! I don’t have that much time to give away to someone else. I feel like I scarcely have enough for myself and my family. And then I started wondering, in my discomfort, if that is who I am called to be, the kind of thing that I am called to do as a follower of Jesus Christ… I was still thinking about all of that, as I started reflecting on the gospel reading for this week, and talk about uncomfortable… I’ll just go ahead and tell you, Jesus calling that woman (and her sick child, by association) a “dog” really makes me uncomfortable. I mean it’s one thing if we do something like that, but really, we expect more from Jesus! And come to think of it, I really don’t care for the Jesus of Mark’s gospel. Every time I read through that whole gospel, I am struck by how harsh Mark’s Jesus is, how he has little sympathy or patience for just about everybody except the sick people he heals. But I think that’s a key part of Mark’s Jesus and Mark’s gospel. The Jesus that Mark gives us is laser-focused on his mission, and he has little patience with those who can’t get with that program, including his own disciples. Which brings us back to the gospel reading. Jesus has just experienced a taxing encounter with the Scribes and the Pharisees. He is basically “hiding out” trying to get a little rest and recharging, and he doesn’t want anyone to know that he is there. But this woman finds him, and she is not a part of Jesus’s mission. She is a Gentile, and Jesus is very clear that his mission is to the Jews. And I am intrigued by how the woman responds to him, both courageously and humbly, and through her response, Jesus appears to experience a transformation in his understanding of his mission, to include people who aren’t Jews. We are doing two different things here today that relate to this. First, we are celebrating Labor Day and our stewardship of our time, and our work, our energy and our leisure, by bringing forward a symbol of all of that to offer to God by laying it on (or at the foot of) God’s altar. We do this today to be thankful for all that God has given us and to help us to remember, both today and out in the world in our everyday lives, that all that we are and all that we have belongs to God, and that God entrusts that, our time, our energy, our creativity to our care to oversee and use for God’s purposes. That’s really our own, individual missions in the world; (remembering that mission essentially means being sent out). To take what God has given us and to use it in our lives and in the world to bring about God’s purpose which is the reconciliation of all people to God. The second thing that we are doing here today is to begin a parish-wide conversation on mission: what is God’s mission for us here at St. Columb’s? How is God calling us out beyond our four walls as individuals and as a people to offer our gifts and God’s good news through the person of Jesus Christ to others? One of the things that I have learned in my 11 years of ordained ministry (that I didn’t really learn in seminary) is that it is mine and the church’s essential work to nourish and equip each one of you to be apostles of Jesus Christ in your own particular situations. We do that through worship together, through fellowship, through food, through formation. We do that in a variety of ways, but it is important for us always to remember in those things that we are each being formed and supported to be apostles in our own lives; apostles in the world. That is the mission of all the baptized. So over the coming weeks, you will notice three boards in the narthex and in the parish hall with three different questions on them. I will also be visiting most of the small groups in the parish and hearing your answers to those questions, because I think they are essential to uncover how we understand our mission as the people of God and what we need to do to better equip you for that mission. Be thinking about the questions. They are 1. Tell me about a time when you experienced a sense of community at St. Columb’s. 2. Tell me about a time when St. Columb’s was at its best representing Christ. What made that possible? 3. An apostle is someone who is sent forth. What about your experience at St. Columb’s has prepared you to be an apostle in the world today? (What do you feel might be lacking?) As you think about your answers to these questions, do not forget the symbol of what you are laying on the altar today; for that is a representation of the gifts that you bring to God, to this church, and to the world, and can, will and should be an essential part of your mission in the world. Last night, one of my seminary classmates had shared a pastoral letter from his bishop, The Bishop of Long Island, about the Syrian Crises and the Presiding Bishop’s call to recognize today and to remember that we are called to participate in "Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism.” I was struck by some of the words the bishop of Long Island wrote in this letter regarding the mission of the church, and so I will share those with you in closing: “If we are horrified by the sight of refugee children drowning in an attempt to find freedom, if we are concerned enough to take racial reconciliation seriously as a church body, then let us undertake some tangible effort to alleviate the suffering of God's people at our gates. Let us fight the good fight to build bridges for the strangers in our midst, not walls. Let us put our resources and time and energy into addressing the obligation from the Gospel of Jesus Christ to care for people, all people, and particularly those in the most profound need.”
Sunday, August 9, 2015
11th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 14B August 9, 2015 One of my friends shared an article from the New York Times Sunday book review this week that captured my attention. The article is titled Walker Percy’s Theory of Hurricanes, and it is written by Walter Isaacson. Issacson opens the article by saying, “Walker Percy had a theory about hurricanes. ‘Though science taught that good environments were better than bad environments, it appeared to him that the opposite was the case,’ he wrote of Will Barrett, the semi-autobiographical title character of his second novel, The Last Gentleman. ‘Take hurricanes, for example, certainly a bad environment if ever there was one. It was his impression that not just he but other people felt better in hurricanes’.” Isaacson writes about how Will Barrett, after making these observations, goes on to recall a date that he had with a girl named Midge. “Driving through Connecticut, they are caught in a Northeastern hurricane and seek shelter at a diner. When the wind breaks a window, they help the counter attendant board it up. ‘Midge and the counterman,’ Percy writes, ‘were very happy. The hurricane blew away the sad, noxious particles which befoul the sorrowful old Eastern sky and Midge no longer felt obliged to keep her face stiff. They were able to talk. It was best of all when the hurricane’s eye came with its so-called ominous stillness. It was not ominous. Everything was yellow and still and charged up with value’.” Isaacson continues, “Percy’s diagnosis was that when we are mired in the everydayness of ordinary life, we are susceptible to what he called ‘the malaise,’ a free floating despair associated with the feeling that you’re not a part of the world or connected to the people in it.” Isaacson is positing that all of Percy’s heroes deal with this malaise of being mired in the everydayness of ordinary life and that each one of them wrestles with going on the search for something more—the search that “anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.”i Isaacson goes on in the article to talk about how Percy sees in hurricanes the opportunity to shake normal, everyday people up out of the malaise, putting them in circumstances that break them out of their ordinary lives and give them the opportunities to be heroes or saints. And we get that, don’t we? Part of our focus today is the beginning of another school year and the beginning of a new program year in the life of the church. On the first day of school, we all pick out a special outfit. We buy new backpacks and school supplies. We start fresh and new, and we have the opportunity to be someone different, at least for that first day. And in the church, we have a chance, also, to start out new and fresh, to create new offerings, new rhythms, new patterns. Then there’s our gospel reading for today, in which Jesus says to the crowds who are following him, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” The first thing that you need to keep in mind is that this is our third out of 5 Sundays in this lectionary year when Jesus or the gospel reading itself talk about bread. By the end of this sequence all of us, preachers and people, will be most ready to go on the Adkins diet. The second thing that you need to realize about today’s gospel reading is that this particular crowd that Jesus is talking to isn’t buying it. “Now, wait just a minute, they say. We know this guy. He’s Jesus, son of Joseph whose father and mother we know! Who does this ordinary, everyday one of us guy think that he is saying that he is the bread that has come down from heaven?!” And we get that too, don’t we? While we are busy longing for some super-extraordinary circumstances, something to shake us up out of our malaise, give us a fresh start and a new rhythm, Jesus is telling us that he is that, but that he is also ordinary and humble. And he tells us how God calls to us, speaks to us out of the ordinary and humble aspects of our lives (the regular old wheat bread that we make the sandwiches for school lunch out of; the loads of laundry to be folded; the papers and the homework to be done and checked) just as much as God calls to us in the extraordinary times(the hurricanes and the vacations at the beach and the first days of school and the new program year). And maybe that’s why we need to hear about how Jesus is “the bread of life” Sunday after Sunday for five weeks in a row. Because we want to see God in the grandiose, and God is often there. But God is always there in the everyday, in the ordinary, calling to us to see and to know and to recognize God in that humility. “This is the claim Jesus makes in today’s gospel reading, the claim which offended the crowd who followed him then, the claim which still offends any who take it seriously today. For where we expect God to come in might, God comes in weakness; where we look for God to come in power, God comes in vulnerability; and when we seek God in justice and righteousness – which is, after all, what we all expect from a God – we find God (or rather are found by God!) in forgiveness and mercy.”ii i. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/books/review/walker-percys-theory-of-hurricanes.html?smid=fb-share&_r=3 ii. http://www.davidlose.net/2015/08/pentecost-11-b/
Saturday, July 25, 2015
9th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 12B July 26, 2015 When I first read the first two readings for today, my first thought was “Ick! Let’s see what the other two readings look like!” I mean, as far as opening lines go, the reading from 2 Samuel is pretty good: “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.” It has the makings of an epic story. But then as the story unfolds, we see the beginning of the fall of one of Israel’s great heroes. David sees Bathsheba when she is bathing and he must have her. They commit adultery while her husband Uriah is off at battle, and she becomes pregnant. David tries to cover it up, but for whatever reason, Uriah doesn’t go along with the plan, and in the end of our passage for today, we see David set in motion the process to have Uriah killed in battle in a betrayal by the rest of the forces. Then we’ve got that little ray of sunshine that is the psalm for today--Psalm 14. My especially favorite line is verse 4 which says, “everyone has proved faithless; all alike have turned bad/there is no one who does good; no, not one.” Ick! But I have learned that most times when I have such a visceral response to scripture, it is because God is calling me to wrestle with something that I’d otherwise try to get out of dealing with. So here’s how I wrestled with these scriptures this week. First, I went back to our communion song from last week—Lennard Cohen’s melancholy and haunting song “Hallelujah”. It starts off by talking about David and recounting a bit of our story for today, and then it continues on to talk about how there are many different types of Hallelujahs even while it talks about the hardships of love. One of the central verses of the song goes “There’s a blaze of light in every word/it doesn’t matter what you heard/ the holy, or the broken Hallelujah.” Essentially, love will break our hearts. In an article in Rolling Stone, Cohen is quoted as saying, “The only moment that you can live comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you say, ‘Look, I don’t understand a …thing at all—Hallelujah! That’s the only moment that we live here fully as human beings.” I don’t like to engage with this story of David because I don’t like to witness the fall of a hero. (It’s part of why I’m hesitant to read Harper Lee’s new book—because I’ve heard that in it we see the fall of Atticus Finch as a civil rights hero and a moral compass to his family.) But this discomfort is important to face, I think, because each of us is the hero of our own stories, our own lives. And when we refuse to acknowledge the times that others fall in grace, then we aren’t able to recognize and admit those times about ourselves as well. A couple of weeks ago, I read an article by one of my heroes, Parker Palmer, that I was reminded of in the midst of my struggle with these readings this week. Palmer speaks about this because it is the struggle of all of us, really. He refers to it as the search for wholeness in many of his writings. In this particular article, he quotes Florida Scott-Maxwell in her book The Measure of my Days: “You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done…you are fierce with reality.” And then Palmer writes about wholeness in this way: “…There are no short-cuts to wholeness. The only way to become whole is to put our arms lovingly around everything we’ve shown ourselves to be: self-serving and generous, spiteful and compassionate, cowardly and courageous, treacherous and trustworthy. We must be able to say to the world at large, ‘I am all of the above.’ If we can’t embrace the whole of who we are—embrace it with transformative love—we’ll imprison the creative energies hidden in our own shadows and flee from the world’s complex mix of shadow and light.” i Palmer writes about the need for us to be willing to move through the discomfort of honest self-examination toward the grace of compassionate self-acceptance. And as we do this work for ourselves, then I think we are more open to embracing the whole of the other as well. Medieval mystic Mechtild of Magdeburg writes about this saying, “From suffering I have learned this: that whoever is sore wounded by love will never be made whole unless she embraces the very same love which wounded her.”ii Betrayal only happens because love and trust existed in the first place, and her medicine is to embrace the love that wounded us. That’s hard work, but certainly more effective in our quest for wholeness than being in denial or burying our anger, bitterness and disappointment. So how do we do this? How do we do this work of honest self-examination? How do we do this work of embracing the love that wounded us? Parker Palmer suggests that we pay attention to that which we are afraid of and to move toward it that rather than away from it. He also suggests that we spend more time in nature, paying special attention to the mess that is in nature and the place it has in the world; that will make us more accepting of the mess of our own lives. He concludes, “Wholeness is the goal, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life. The sooner we understand this, the better. It’s a truth that can set us free to live well, to love well and, in the end, to die well.” What kind of mess might God be calling you to wrestle with in your life this week? As you reflect on this, I’ll close with the final verse from Cohen’s song, one that he sang but that is not often known by others who cover it. Because really, in the end, it's the only true song we can sing. I did my best, it wasn’t much/ I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch/ I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you./ And even though/ It all went wrong/ I’ll stand before the Lord of Song/ With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah… iii i. http://www.onbeing.org/blog/fierce-with-reality-living-and-loving-well-to-the-end/7729 ii. Fox, Matthew. Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations. New World Library: Novato, , 2011, p 61. iii. Cohen, Leonard. Hallelujah
Saturday, July 11, 2015
7th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 10B July 12, 2015 So here’s something you might not yet know about me. I love the show Game of Thrones. My husband and I watch it (although we haven’t yet finished the current season, so no spoilers, please!). I’ve read all the books that George R.R. Martin has managed to write. I think it’s really a great story, and I enjoy following the trials and tribulations of all the characters. (Although if you haven’t watched it before, I feel I should warn you that the show has lots of violence and also lots of nudity, so consider yourselves warned!) The thing that David and I have talked about most in Game of Thrones is the fact that in that world of the kingdom of Westeros, power is the chief motivator. And any character that acts out of other motivations such as mercy or kindness or just basic humanity often ends up having bad things happen to them. It’s become a bit of a joke for us now, as we watch it. If a character does something that is notably merciful, then we say to each other, “well, that one’s going to die!” and oftentimes, it happens. Early on in the series, maybe the first book and season, one of the main characters says to another, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” That sums up that kingdom and that story well, I think. Our gospel reading for today is the story of another kingdom. It is the kingdom of Herod. And our story from Mark’s gospel today is a strange little interlude, a flashback from Herod about the story of John the Baptist’s beheading that is stuck right smack dab in the middle this chapter of Mark. Our story for today is strange because, a) we don’t see Jesus at all and b) when you look at the whole chapter 6 of Mark, this story is stuck in a weird place. Mark has stuck this story of the beheading of John the Baptist in between Jesus’s sending out of the 12 (that we heard last week—where they are sent out vulnerably with nothing except the companionship of one other disciple) and when they all come back together and are reunited, going away to a deserted place for rest and renewal where the crowds find them, and then Jesus feeds them (which is actually left out of our lectionary reading for next week). So it’s a really weird placement of an especially gruesome and grisly story that even gives Game of Thrones a run for their money. In it we see that King Herod has thrown himself a birthday party. His stepdaughter Herodias is dancing at this party and her dancing has so pleased Herod and his guests that he offers to give her anything she asks for. Step-daughter Herodias goes off to ask her mother (who is also named Herodias) what she should ask for, and her mother, who has an ax to grind against John the Baptist who has chastised Herod for marrying her (his brother’s wife), tells daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. When daughter Herodias goes to Herod in front of all his guests and makes her request, the story tells us that “the king was deeply grieved” because he had liked and respected John, but he does what she asks “out of regard for his oaths and his guests”. When we look at how this story is situated in the middle of the sending out and returning of the disciples, it begins to make a little more sense why Mark put it there. Because when we look at it in context, we can see that Mark is telling the tale of two different kingdoms. One is the kingdom of Herod, where people manipulate others for power and position (and maybe even fun), where Herod throws his own birthday banquet that ends with the beheading of a man of God, where Herod refuses to do what his heart tells him is right because of how it would make him look weak. The other is the Kingdom of God, where God’s followers are sent out in weakness so that they may rely on the power of God, where people are healed and demons are cast out, where Jesus throws a banquet of mercy when the crowd has followed him and the disciples to a deserted place. And the contrast between these two kingdoms in Mark’s gospel leaves us with some questions. Which kingdom do you want to live in? Which kingdom will you help create? Which kingdom do you give your allegiance to? Of course we all know the “right answer” the “Sunday School” answer. We should want to live in and help create and give our allegiance to God’s kingdom. But think for a minute about the world that we live in, where competition and productivity is valued above most things, where power and success are held up as the highest good and vulnerability and weakness are frowned upon. In some ways, our world is more like Herod’s kingdom or even the kingdom of Westeros (although with a lot less nudity). Those who show mercy or kindness or compassion or who speak up against injustice often come out the worse for wear, even dead. Just look at what we did to Jesus! I want you to take a moment and imagine the kingdom of God, a kingdom in which there are no winners or losers—all are beloved children of God. And go back and think about those three questions I asked you again: Which kingdom do you want to live in? Which kingdom will you help create? Which kingdom do you give your allegiance to? A few weeks ago, I also preached about the Kingdom of God, and I encouraged you to look for ways that the Kingdom of God might be creeping up in your life and your world. I invited you to post of send me the photos with the #kingdomofgod. I remind you of that and invite you to add this dimension to it. Look for ways in your life and your world that this kingdom of God which is made up of compassion and mercy and vulnerability and speaking love and truth to injustice is cropping up in our world of power and competition and success. And pay attention to that. Nurture it where you can. And share those stories with me and others in this place. Thanks to David Lose for the idea of tying in Game of Thrones with this week’s gospel reading!
Saturday, June 20, 2015
Proper 7B June 21, 2015 Our country has been reeling this week since a gunman opened fire on a bible study at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. I have seen outbursts of horror, outrage, anger, and fear, as we all seek to find some sort of meaning in such a senseless tragedy and as we as a society yearn for a meaningful conversation on how we might prevent such acts of violence and hatred in the future. One of the gifts of our tradition, I have found, is our lectionary—a systematic process for reading most of the major portions of Bible in a three year period. We are fortunate to have the lectionary because it provides us with a way to have conversations with scripture and our lives and our world that aren’t subject to the whim of the preacher. Our gospel today is not one I would have chosen to give us good news in the light off the Charleston shooting, but in spending some time with it, I believe it has a great deal to offer us in that way. It is a passage that confronts fear, and fear is what is at the heart of such hatred, such tragedy. So I’ll begin our conversation with the gospel today by asking you to think about this question: Do you think the disciples are more afraid before Jesus’ stilling of the storm or after? Think about it for a minute. The gospel clearly indicates that they are terrified during the storm. They are so terrified that they wake the sleeping Jesus with a frantic question: “Do you not care that we are perishing?” And Jesus wakes up and calms the storm, and then he says to the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Notice what Jesus does not say here. He does not say, “Do not be afraid,” even though that is a prevalent refrain all throughout scripture, especially when people are encountering God or God’s messengers. In this instance, Jesus is not rebuking the disciples because they are afraid. He knows that there is much in this life to be afraid of: isolation, pain, illness, meaninglessness, rejection, losing one’s job, money problems, failure, illness, natural disasters, senseless acts of hate, and death. “Have you still no faith?” he asks them, because in and through faith we learn and hold fast to the reality that while there is much for us to fear, those things do not have the last word. God is mightier than any of those, even death, and God’s promise through the person of Jesus is that even when we do endure the fearsome things, God does not abandon us to them. God is with us, and God’s power is such that God can redeem even the most horrible, fearsome acts. That’s the disciples fear before the calming of the storm. But what about the question I asked you, “Do you think the disciples are more afraid before Jesus’ stilling of the storm or after?” Did any of you think that they might be more afraid after? Why? What would the disciples have to be afraid of after Jesus’s calming of the storm? I read a book several years ago that I was just reminded of recently. It’s the book Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. In the beginning of this book, the main character and narrator, Reuben Land, tells of the apparent miracle by which his father saved his life when he had just been born. He reflects on how often we tend to domesticate miracles, using the word to describe all manner of things that merit our attention and appreciation but that are not, finally, truly miraculous. He then goes on to press that distinction: “Real miracles bother people, like strange sudden pains unknown in medical literature. It’s true: They rebut every rule all we good citizens take comfort in. Lazarus obeying orders and climbing up out of the grave — now there’s a miracle, and you can bet it upset a lot of folks who were standing around at the time” (Peace Like a River, 3). Then comes the part that is especially pertinent to us today, both in light of our gospel reading and in light of the shootings at Emmanuel. “Quoting his sister, Reuben says, ‘People fear miracles because they fear being changed.’ Which is the source, I think, of this other kind of fear that stands somewhere between a holy awe and mighty terror: the fear of being changed. And make no mistake, Jesus is asking the disciples to change. In this very moment he is drawing them from the familiar territory of Capernaum to the strange and foreign land of the Garasenes. And he is moving them from being fishermen to disciples. And he is preparing them to welcome a kingdom so very different from the one they’d either expected or wanted” (David Lose at www.davidlost.net) When the disciples experience the miracle of Jesus’s calming the storm, they are confronted with a choice. The rest of Reuben’s quotation gets to the heart of this: “People fear miracles because they fear being changed,” he says, and then continues, “though ignoring them will change you also.” The disciples are offered the choice of allowing themselves to be transformed by this new encounter with Jesus, or they can refuse. But they cannot stay the same either way. So, what do you think is the miracle that confronts us in this moment, as individuals? As a congregation? As a society who has witnessed horrible acts of hatred and un-comprehendingly generous forgiveness from some of the families of the victims? How is God encountering you and calling you to the other side of the lake, to change, to a new and different imagination about what it means to be a people of faith in our particular community and circumstances?
Sunday, June 14, 2015
3rd Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 6B June 14, 2015 And Jesus also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” We’ve all heard it---the Sunday school lesson where someone brings in a mustard seed and shows us just how small it is and tells us about how our faith is like that—if we have just a little bit of faith then God will take it and use it and transform it into something so much greater: “a new creation,” is what Paul calls it. And I’m not disputing that. But what if…this parable isn’t so much about us and our faith but is about the Kingdom of God, as Jesus suggests. What does that even mean? What might that look like? And how might we participate in a mustard-seed-like Kingdom of God? Y’all remember that sermon I preached about kudzu not too long ago? Well, did you know that the mustard plant was practically the kudzu of Jesus’s time? It was essentially a weed, although it was a weed with a nice smell to it that sometimes could be used as a spice or medicinally. But really it was a crazy-growing weed like our kudzu. Wild mustard is incredibly hard to control, somewhat pesky and even a little bit dangerous, because once it takes root, it can take over an entire planting area. That’s why mustard was very seldom found in a garden in Jesus’s time but was more often found growing wild and overtaking the side of an open hill or abandoned field. “With what can we compare the kingdom of God…? It is like a crazy growing plant that no one would willing plant in their garden, which takes over, supplants, and preempts previous gardening agendas…” Here’s what Biblical scholar John Dominick Crossan has to say about this: “The point, in other words, is not just that the mustard plant starts as a proverbially small seed and grows into a shrub of three of four feet, or even higher. It is that it tends to take over where it is not wanted, that it tends to get out of control, and that it tends to attract birds within cultivated areas where they are not particularly desired. And that, said Jesus, was what the Kingdom of God was like: not like the mighty Cedar of Lebanon and not quite like a common weed, [more] like a pungent shrub with dangerous takeover properties. Something you would want in only small and carefully controlled doses—if you could control it.” (The Historical Jesus pp 278-279) It’s a little bit hard to hear this isn’t it, because we just know it’s going to shake us up too. The Kingdom of God is abundant and verdant; it is wild and uncontrollable; it is unexpected and it is rampant. It is a message of hope that we are invited to share this day and beyond. In the next few months, we are going to be talking about mission. About the mission of St. Columb’s. About the mission of every baptized member here. And this is a great place to start—with this image of the Kingdom of God. Because part of our mission is to participate in this wild, abundant, rampant Kingdom of God that is already at work and growing lusciously all around us. But the first thing we have to do is to pay attention to it. So, I have a challenge for you for this summer. I want you to seek out, to look for those little places in your world where you see the Kingdom of God infiltrating, taking over, bringing hope and abundance. I want you to look for those places where you sense that God is at work, even though it might not be particularly obvious or particularly grand. And I want you to take pictures of it and post them. Post them on our Facebook page with the (hashtag) #kingdomofgod. Email them to the church office so we can post them on our website. Print them out; share them with people and tell the stories of the Kingdom of God that you are encountering. We’ll do this over the whole summer, and then in August, we’ll collect them and display them all together in one place to kick-off our conversations about mission. I challenge you this week and beyond to look for, even anticipate the Kingdom of God in your world. Pay attention to it, seek it out, and pray about how God is calling you to be an active participant in aiding its unexpected growth. (Inspired by David Lose’s reflection “Mission Possible” June 10, 2012 at www.workingpreacher.org)
Sunday, May 24, 2015
A letter to Charlie and Lottie Thompson on the occasion of their baptisms. Dear Charlie and Lottie, Today is the Feast day of Pentecost; the day when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus and to the church. Today is a wonderful day to be baptized, because today we a remembering who you (and we) already are—beloved children of God who have been called out to do God’s work in this world. And today we are also remembering and celebrating the Holy Spirit. We do this with birthday cake and red balloons (and cake and balloons are awesome things), but the gift of the Holy Spirit is so much more! The word that is translated as Holy Spirit in the gospel reading for today is paraclete. This is often translated as “comforter,” and it’s a lovely thought, isn’t it? Because dear Charlie and Lottie, there will be times in your life when you need the comfort of God’s Holy Spirit; times when you grow weary of doing what is right; times when you feel so heartbroken that you think that you cannot go on. In those times, God’s Holy Spirit will be with you, praying to God within you “with sighs too deep for words,” comforting, aiding, and assisting. But this is not the only work of the Holy Spirit. We see this in our readings for today—the Holy Spirit comes as a rush of deafening wind and tongues of fire. She drives the disciples out into the streets to proclaim the challenging news that this Jesus who the crowd had put to death is alive through the power of God. And the crowds are understandably bewildered and astonished. It is the same Holy Spirit who drives the disciples to testify to the good news of God in Christ, spreading them out across the whole world and leading them into challenges, persecution, and sometimes even death. So yes, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to comfort us. But is also her work to stir us up, to drive us out of our comfortable places, to push us beyond our pre-supposed limits, to send us out into the world the make disciples of all people. Pentecost is the day that we remember that Jesus does not command us to go out and build churches, take care of old buildings, and devote ourselves to crumbling institutions. No, Jesus commands us: “go and make disciples” and “when you care for the least of these you are caring for me” and “love one another as I have loved you.” “And this kind of work is inherently disruptive, difficult, and at times even dangerous. And so Jesus sends the Paraclete, the one who comes along side us to encourage, equip, strengthen, provoke and, yes, at times to comfort us so that we can get out there and do it all again.” “We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as the answer to a problem, but what if the Spirit’s work is to create for us a new problem: that we have a story to tell, mercy to share, love to spread, and we just can’t rest until we’ve done so?” Today, we will renew our baptismal covenant along with you, Charlie and Lottie, so that we may remember the truth of all this as well. And we promise to walk with you along this way and expect you to do the same for us. We will help you remember that it is not the work of the church to be comforted; that is why “the Spirit’s power shakes the church of God”—to stir us up and to send us out into the world to share the good news of God’s love and mercy and redemption through Jesus Christ; and to make disciples of all people. Your sister in Christ, Melanie+ **Some of the ideas and the wording and phrasing of this sermon were inspired by http://www.davidlose.net/2015/05/pentecost-b-come-alongside-holy-spirit/
Sunday, May 17, 2015
Sarah Moses ordination to the priesthood May 2, 2015 When I was about to be ordained, I was given this stole. It belonged to my paternal grandfather, a United Methodist elder who died before I went to seminary. This was the last stole the family had left of Pop’s (having already given away all his vestments and library), and it was clearly in a state of disrepair. My grandmother and my aunt apologized as they gave it to me, saying they hoped it could be cleaned or restored so that I could wear it. And I put it in a box in the top of a closet and forgot about it, regretful that I didn’t have a better token of his long, faithful ministry to carry with me into my bright, shiny new one. That was 11 years ago. Today is the first time that I have ever worn my grandfather’s stole. What changed, you may wonder? I’ve been reading a book these past couple of weeks. It’s by Episcopal priest and scholar William Countryman and it’s called, Living on the Border of the Holy: Renewing the Priesthood of All. In this book, Countryman writes about the priesthood of all believers, including both the lay and the ordained in his consideration, and he writes about how all of us are called to live our lives “on the border of the holy.” I want to share with you a couple of paragraphs that Countryman has written. “What, then, is priestly ministry? It is the ministry that introduces us to arcane—hidden things, secrets. In one sense, priestly ministry is the most ordinary thing imaginable. All our lives, we are repeatedly in the position of finding, revealing, explaining, and teaching—or conversely, of being led, taught, and illuminated. Everyone is the priest of a mystery that someone else does not know: how to construct a budget, how to maneuver through the politics of the workplace, how to roast a turkey, how to win the affections of the boy or girl to whom one is attracted. The experience is so common that much of the time, we do not notice it at all. We are all constantly serving others as priests of mysteries known to us and not to them. And we are constantly being served by those who know what we do not. “Some human work is priestly in a very obvious way: teaching, parenting, mentoring, coaching, the performing arts, the arts of statecraft….Other tasks involve a voyage into the unknown in order to bring back news for priestly use. Prayer is like this…Scientific research….so is the work of creative artists and all serious thinkers. But even in the most daily of our daily routines, the process of priestly service never ceases…We are constantly standing alongside someone else, giving or receiving some new understanding of the world before us…To be human means to be engaged in priestly discourse—the unveiling of secrets.” When I think of my own priestly ministry, I think most about the times that the Holy has been revealed to me—through scripture, through prayer, through the sacraments, but also through my husband and children and through glimpses into the lives and stories of others, both inside and outside of the churches I have served. We are all called to this—the paying attention to, being open to the revelation of the Holy in our lives and then sharing that with others, teaching them. That is what we mean when we talk about the priesthood of all believers. That is what we are called to in and through our baptism. We, ordained priests, do this paying attention, being open to the Holy and then sharing and teaching about it in a very specific way, by 1. Doing this more publicly than most people and 2. In and through the sacraments. But none of us does this alone. We all do this priestly work in and through community, something that you, Sarah, have known and understood and experienced for a long time already. We see this in the gospel reading for today—where Jesus is commissioning and empowering his disciples in Matthew’s gospel to be sent out as laborers into God’s harvest. (I can’t help but think about the equivalent of this passage in Luke’s gospel, where Jesus sends out the 70 two by two. None of us is sent out alone. We all have companions on the way.) And that’s why I’m wearing this old, stained, and a little bit tattered stole of my grandfather’s today. It’s because of the way that, over the last 11 years, when I have most needed to hear it, my Dad has told me stories of Pop and his ministry—of the church that was so poor they had to pay him with turnip greens, of the time he testified in court and got the upper hand over the opposing attorney through his salty wit, times when he was successful and effective and thriving, and times when he was faithful, failing, and heartbroken. I wear this stole today in honor and memory and thanksgiving of other priests who have befriended me and taught me, and I wear this stole today in honor and memory and thanksgiving of the lay people who have shared with me and taught me about the holy in and through their lives. We all need to remember this, but you, especially, Sarah need to remember this, as you blaze the trail and help write the script for what it means to be a bi-vocational priest in this diocese and in this (slightly-tattered, old) church in a rapidly changing world. It may, at times be lonely work, and so I encourage you to remember: we are with you—sharing, teaching, learning, and receiving. Always.
Easter 7B May 17, 2015 There are lots of things going on in the life of the church today. Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the St. Mary’s Chapter of the Daughters of the King here at St. Columb’s. The DOK is an order for women in the Episcopal church and their mission is to be “the extension of Christ's Kingdom through Prayer, Service and Evangelism”. Today is also the 7th Sunday after Easter. What’s so special about the 7th Sunday after Easter, you may wonder? The 7th Sunday of Easter is a sort of liturgical no-man’s land. We celebrated the Feast of the Ascension—when Jesus is lifted bodily up to heaven away from the disciples—this past Thursday. And today, even though we have a glimpse of Jesus in the gospel reading, we are very aware of his absence as we await the fulfillment of his last promise—the gift of the Holy Spirit. And what better way to wait, than with our gospel reading for today! There are some grace-filled times in the life of every preacher when the lectionary crafters and the themes of the day conspire to throw a nice, easy slow pitch. Today, as we are celebrating 50 years of the ministry of prayer of the Daughters of the King in this place, we see Jesus in the upper room with his disciples as he tries to prepare them for his departure/crucifixion. And what is he doing? He’s praying to God on behalf of his disciples and closest friends. There are three parts to Jesus’s prayer that bear mentioning this morning. 1. Jesus acknowledges before God and all of us that the world can be a difficult place. “This life is at turns beautiful and difficult, wonderful and painful.” 2. Christianity does not provide an escape from life’s difficulties, but rather offers support to flourish amid them. We hear this in Jesus’s poignant clarification: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them…” His prayer and his promise isn’t that his followers be exempt from struggles. Rather it is the assurance that we are not and will not ever be alone in our struggles. 3. We are here for a purpose: to care for this world God loves so much and to participate in God’s fulfillment of all creation.i This Last Supper section in the gospel of John constitutes a transition in which responsibility for God’s mission in the world is passing from Jesus to the disciples and on to us. And the wisdom of this prayer for us is this: it reminds us that people of faith, followers of Jesus neither retreat from the world nor give in to the pressures of the world. To say that we “do not belong to the world” is to say that the world’s claims and values do not shape our essential identity, faith, value, and mission. And it also means that we are called to stay connected to the world that God loves, that God has created and to be a part of the fulfillment of God’s creation. One way that we do this is in and through prayer. In and through prayer, we are offering ourselves and others to God for hallowing, for setting apart, for being made holy. The word that is translated as “sanctify” in Jesus’s request: “sanctify them in your truth” is the same word that is translated as hallowed in the phrase “hallowed by thy name” in the Lord’s prayer. But you know, praying that takes a great deal of courage. Because when we offer our lives and the lives of those we love to God and ask God to hallow them, then we lose all semblance of control over it all. Because God will take it all and transform it in ways that we could never ask for or even imagine. And if you really think about it, that is terrifying. But the thing is, Jesus has shown us in his prayer, in his presence, in his life, that God is faithful and God is trustworthy. Jesus has shown us that God loves us and that God loves creation, and that God longs to be in relationship with all of it, all of us. I was sitting in on the morning meeting of the DOK last week. We have two groups (a morning and an evening group) and they each meet once a month to pray together, to go over prayer concerns, and to be spiritually nourished. As they went through the prayer list and the many names and cares and burdens represented by those names (and a few thanksgivings as well), I was struck by just how many prayers have been said by the women of this order in and for this place over the last 50 years. I give thanks for their ministry, for their example, and for their faithfulness. I want to close us with a prayer today. It is a prayer that is a paraphrase of the gospel reading for today by seminary dean and preacher David Lose. Let us pray. “Dear God, whose love knows no ending, we know this life is beautiful and difficult and sometimes both at the same time. We do not ask that you take us out of this world, but that you support and protect us while we are in it. We pray that you would set us apart in the truth we have heard here, that your love is for everyone, and we ask that you would send us out from this place to be a witness in word and deed to your grace, goodness and love. May we hear your voice calling us at home and at work, at school, in our social settings, and all places we gather, that we may always feel and share your love. We ask this in the name of Jesus, the one set apart and made holy for us." Amen.ii i. http://www.davidlose.net/2015/05/easter-7-b-called-and-sent/ ii. ibid.
Friday, May 1, 2015
Easter 5B May 3, 2015 When I was a child, we would make frequent trips back and forth between Jackson to Vicksburg to visit my grandparents who live there. I loved to look out the car window and watch as the beautiful, green colored hills rolled by. I can remember being enthralled by the foliage that grew all over those hills and thinking that it was so beautiful, both because of the way that it looked but also because it signaled that we were getting closer to seeing people who I loved to spend time with. Fast forward to my adulthood, when I learned what that green-leafed foliage on the hills outside of Vicksburg really was. I encountered it up close and personal in the rectory yard in McComb as it sneakily sought to take over my camellia bushes and entire flower beds. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? Kudzu! So I have this weird kind of love/hate relationship with the stuff. And one of the interesting things about kudzu that I found is that the vines would grow incredibly long. As I was pulling one part of the vine off my bushes, I would discover that that single vine was stretched all the way to the other end of the flower bed, entwined with many other plants along the way. It’s also incredibly tenacious, holding onto other plants with a kind of super-strength. Truly, kudzu is the Incredible Hulk of the plant world. In today’s gospel reading, as he is preparing his disciples for his departure, Jesus says to them, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” And I can’t help but think of kudzu when he says this: how even though bad things are coming and are going to happen to all of them, Jesus is making them a promise that he will hold onto them tenaciously; how we as the body of Christ are all inextricably connected with other parts that may be way down at the other end of the flower bed. I had an encounter with this truth a few years ago through Camp Bratton Green, our diocesan camp for young people in Central Mississippi. I had been to Bratton Green for one session as a child (5th grade), and it had been a pretty good camp experience, but I had not felt particularly plugged in to the life there. I had definitely felt like there were insiders and outsiders, and I was one of the outsiders. So I never went back, until I had just graduated from high school and decided I wanted to be a counselor. I was accepted to be on the staff of a priest I had never met, a man named Duncan M. Gray, III. And I made up my mind that as a counselor, I would actively work to make sure that every single one of the girls in my cabin felt a profound sense of belonging. I had a great week at camp that week, and it opened up a new sense of belonging for me in the life of that place. Fast forward ten years, and I had just come back to the diocese from seminary, and I was fulfilling my required two years of service on staff at Camp Bratton Green. On my first day there, one of the permanent staff (the college age kids who run the camp for the entire summer) came up to me, and she reintroduced herself and told me that I had been her camp counselor for her first session ever at Camp Bratton Green. She told me of how that beginning and that sense of belonging had opened the door for her for many happy summers spent out at Bratton Green and how she had come to be on permanent staff to help foster that sense of belonging in the children coming after her. Jesus says, “I am the vine, and you are the branches.” We have no way of knowing how our gifts and our offerings may affect and enrich the life of a member of the vine in another part of the flower bed. And in working with young people, especially, we never know how God will take and use the gifts that we freely offer and how God will multiply those small humble gifts into a radical abundance. But today, we are given the opportunity to do just that. Our entire diocese is marking today as Gray Center Sunday, when we remember and acknowledge the important role that Gray Center and Camp Bratton Green play in the formation of people as followers of Jesus Christ in Mississippi. No other place in this diocese has taught as many young people the beautiful truth of what it means to abide in God, to be a part of the long, snaky, interconnected vine that is life in and through the body of Jesus Christ. Today, we give thanks for that ministry, and we have the opportunity to give money to support all those important ministries that fall under the auspices of Gray Center. If you are able to give thanks for Gray Center and Camp Bratton Green in this way, then you can put cash in the offering plate today (or use one of our new offering envelopes and designate on the front for Gray Center), and it will go directly to Gray Center, or you can make a check to the church and put Gray Center Sunday on the memo line. We have no way of knowing how God will take and use that offering which we make in the life of the children of this diocese and beyond, in the life of Camp Bratton Green, in the life of Gray Center and all who go there for nourishment and retreat, and in the life of this community; but I believe that our small offering will be transformed by God into a radical abundance that will be beyond our wildest imaginings. Kind of like kudzu.
Sunday, April 19, 2015
The Third Sunday of Easter April 19, 2015 Ok, my friends, today we’re going to talk about sin. Now, you may be thinking, “What the heck, Melanie? We just got through with Lent. Can’t we get a little break during Easter from thinking about sin?” Or you may be thinking, “I’ve had enough talk of sin from my previous church to last a lifetime. I wonder if I go to the bathroom now, if she’ll notice if I just don’t come back?” Now look, I don’t really like talking about sin, either. While I have been an Episcopalian all my life, like you, I have also been beaten with the club of perceived sin by some of our fellow Christians here in Central Mississippi. But, just because other Christians have misused the concept of sin, I think we can reclaim it and recast it, because it is an important reality of our lives and the world we live in and especially our relationship with God and other people. This past week, I bought a new book. It’s titled Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations and is compiled by theologian Matthew Fox. I’ve been reading one a day and reflecting on it, and on Wednesday, I read this quote and reflection about sin. It’s a good place for us to start our conversation today. The quote of the day is from German medieval mystic Mechtild of Magdeburg: “From the very beginning, God loved us. The Holy Trinity gave itself in the creation of all things and made us, body and soul, in infinite love. We are fashioned most nobly.” Fox writes of this, “Some religious leaders teach that at the beginning humans were ugly and evil and full of something called ‘original sin.’ Jesus does not teach that. Nor does Mechtild, who reminds us that we were ‘fashioned most nobly’ from the get-go. We were loved from the beginning. And this nobility and lovability includes our body and soul. We were made, not in sin, but in ‘infinite love.’” i This is a good starting place for talking about sin because it reminds us that we (and all of creation) have been created and claimed as “good” by God the creator. But, we all know sin is a reality. Our epistle reading for today talks about it, names it as “lawlessness” and talks about how sin is a characteristic that separates the righteous from the unrighteous. Jesus also talks about it in today’s gospel reading. In Luke’s gospel, this is the first time that the Resurrected Christ has appeared to everyone all at once. It is especially poignant because his presence among those who betrayed and deserted him is the most powerful form of forgiveness there is. He gives them his peace, eats with them, and then tells them to be his witnesses proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sin in his name to all nations. So we are made in infinite love, created good, and yet somewhere along the way, sin becomes a part of the picture. I want to share with you a couple of articles I read this week, because I think they can help us think about sin a little differently. The first is an NPR interview on All Things Considered with NY Times columnist David Brooks about his new book, The Road to Character. Brooks is talking about the lack of fulfillment of life composed of measuring success according to one’s career, and he speaks of the particularities of his own situation, in his own words, being “someone who gets paid to be a narcissistic blowhard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident about them than I really am….I have to work harder than most to avoid a life of smug superficiality.” And he says to this, “I do think the turning point in a life toward maturity is looking inside yourself and saying, “What’s the weakness that I have that leads to behavior that I am not proud of?’ and I’d say, for me, it’s evolved. It used to be I just lived life on the surface thinking about politics only or thinking about sort of superficial success only. I think I’m a little better at that, but I still have the core sin of wanting everybody to love me and avoiding conflict. And so I have to look at that every day and figure out: How can I be a little better on that?” ii Now, I have a slightly different take on sin than David Brooks. I think that sin is whatever separates us from God and from each other, and I also believe that no matter how hard we try, we are not able to root sin out of ourselves. That is work that is only done by God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We can certainly be more open to that work happening in our lives, by asking for it to be done, and paying attention to our own motives. That’s where Brooks’ suggestion of looking at what core weaknesses we have and how that leads to behavior (and maybe motivations) that separate us from God and from each other. The second thing I read was a blog post by Quaker writer and theologian Parker Palmer. He writes, in a blog post titled Heartbreak, Violence, and Hope for New Life, about how heartbreak and suffering are a part of human life. He writes, “What can we do with our pain? How might we hold it and work with it? How do we turn the power of suffering toward new life? The way we answer those questions is critical because violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.[emphasis is his]” He continues, “Sometimes we try to numb the pain of suffering in ways that dishonor our souls. We turn to noise and frenzy, nonstop work, or substance abuse as anesthetics that only deepen our suffering. Sometimes we visit violence upon others, as if causing them pain would mitigate our own. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and contempt for the poor are among the cruel outcomes of this demented strategy.”iii He’s talking about sin and the ways that our avoidance of our own suffering lead us to behaviors that create a rift between us and God and between us and our neighbors. What do you think? Can you ask yourself David Brooks’ question today: What’s the weakness that I have that leads to behavior that I am not proud of? Can you ask yourself that every day, and then offer it to God in prayer, asking God to forgive it and transform it? “From the very beginning, God loved us. The Holy Trinity gave itself in the creation of all things and made us, body and soul, in infinite love. We are fashioned most nobly.”i i. Fox, Matthew. Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations. New World Library: Novato, 9. ii. http://www.npr.org/2015/04/13/399391894/take-it-from-david-brooks-career-success-doesnt-make-you-happy iii. http://www.onbeing.org/blog/heartbreak-violence-and-hope-for-new-life/7476
Sunday, April 5, 2015
Easter Day 2015 April 5, 2015 “O set me as a seal upon thy heart. A seal upon thy heart and arm. For love is strong as death, as death. The seal of love forever more.” This little song has been going through my head this week, as we have walked the way of the cross together. It is a little round that is based on a passage from the Song of Solomon that I learned in choir in seminary. It’s a song I’ve sung to my children at bedtime, to people who are getting married, to people who are dying. It is a love song for us from God; a song of God’s grace; a song of resurrection. On this Easter morning, we hear the story of Jesus’s resurrection from the gospel of Mark. Now those of you who have been walking with us through Mark this year know that Mark is a strange gospel with an even stranger ending. In fact, there isn’t really an ending to Mark’s gospel, and there is also no appearance of the Resurrected Christ. Instead, we get the women coming in the wee hours to the tomb, preoccupied with how they are going to move the heavy stone to perform the burial rites. They are greeted by an empty tomb, with the stone already rolled away and a mysterious stranger who tells them not to be alarmed. He tells them that Jesus who was crucified is not there; he has been raised. And he gives them a message to give to the disciples and Peter: “that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” The women are gripped with terror and amazement, and they flee the empty tomb. And Mark ends by saying “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” The gospel of Mark ends with no resurrection appearance from Jesus and with the utter failure of the women disciples, who fail because of fear. Where is the Easter song in that?! It is important to note, however, that just as the gospel of Mark is strange in its ending, it is also strange in its beginning. Mark begins with the statement: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” No birth narratives, no shepherds or wise men. Just that one sentence and then a fully grown Jesus already at work in the world. This is important for us today, as we read the strange ending of Mark’s gospel because it gives us a glimpse of what Mark is actually “up to.” If Mark’s gospel is only “the beginning” of the good news of Jesus Christ, and there is no ending, then what does that mean? It means the story is still going on, and we are part of it. Our faith, our proclamation of the good news of the grace of God through Jesus Christ, our very lives become part of the story, part of the love song of God; and maybe even that is still just the beginning? Two things I read this week that I want to share with you. First, I read an excerpt from an interview with NPR correspondent Scott Simon where he spoke about spending his last days with his mother as she was dying. He writes, “Mothers and fathers pour everything they are into us. And they stand us on our own. And they understand that we don't fully grow up until some day we lose them. There are some lessons that only grief and responsibility can teach us.” The second thing I want to share with you is an excerpt from a poem by Mary Oliver that is from her new book, Blue Horses. It is titled “To be Human is to Sing Your Own Song” In the song sparrow’s nest the nestlings,/ Those who would sing eventually, must listen/ Carefully to the father bird as he sings/ And make their own song in imitation of his./ I don’t know if any other bird does this (in/ Nature’s way has to do this). But I know a/ Child doesn’t have to. Doesn’t have to./ Doesn’t have to. And I didn’t. The empty tomb in Mark’s gospel does those things for us. It is, in a strange way, the gift of God who loves us and who has poured God’s very self into us, and who sets us on our own two feet. The empty tomb in Mark’s gospel is the love song that God sings to us, that God teaches us; and it is the invitation for us to sing our own song of resurrection, in our own way, through our own lives, in a new way, every single day. How will you sing this Easter song in your life in this world this day and beyond? “O set me as a seal upon thy heart. A seal upon thy heart and arm. For love is strong as death, as death. The seal of love forever more.”
The Rev. Melanie Dickson Lemburg The Great Vigil of Easter: April 4, 2015 A letter to Thomas Mitchell and Brandon Chow on the occasion of their baptisms. Dear Thomas and Brandon, This is a holy night. “This is the night when [God] brought our fathers, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt and led them through the Red Sea on dry land.” “This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin and are restored to grace and holiness of life.” “This is the night when Christ broke the bonds of death and rose victorious from the grave.” This is the night when you are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. This is the night when you have become an important part of the body of Christ. This is the night when we all remember who we are, from whence comes our salvation, how we are called to live our lives, and why it all matters. This holy night is the beginning of a journey for you that you will follow into and through your own death. You will journey through valleys and over mountains; your way will be both smooth and rocky. Some times you will dance and rejoice along the way and at other times you will feel so weary and heartbroken that you don’t know how you can go on. During all of those different parts of your journey, my prayer for you is “May you remember.” May you remember, during those times in your life, when darkness weighs upon you like a tomb, that the light of Christ shines within you and will light your path into the dark. May you remember, no matter what happens, that you belong to God; that your baptism is a sign that God loves you, that God cherishes you, and that you are not alone. May you remember, in those times when you feel so completely alone and far from God, that you have been given God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to dwell in you, to uphold and support you and to even pray in and for and through you when you cannot. May you remember the promises, Thomas, that you make, and Brandon the promises your parents and godparents have made to you—and may you remember the promise that we make that that we will walk with you as your sisters and brothers as you seek to follow Jesus. May you remember, every time that you lift your shining face to God with your hands outstretched to receive the bread and the wine, that you are being fed the body and blood of Jesus who loves you, so you may go out into the world to share that love with others. May you remember that belief is not so much about what you think but belief is about choosing a path and following it; belief is about how you live your life. May you remember that Christ, our hope, is arisen, and he goes before you on your journey so that you may follow where he leads. May you remember that you have been buried with Christ in his death and that you share in his resurrection, so you have absolutely nothing to lose. May you live and love with joy and abandon. And may you always remember the truth of the Mystery of this holy night: That God’s love is stronger than death. Your sister in Christ, Melanie+