Saturday, February 28, 2015

Lent 2B

Lent 2B March 1, 2015 Several years ago, when I was a brand new priest and a new mother, I became convinced that I was going to die. I’m not talking about the “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” kind of knowing I was going to die. I felt like I had a premonition that I was going to die. It was horrible. I was so sad; I wrestled and argued with God, upset that there was so much left of my young life that I would not get to live. I thought about all the things I would never get to see my daughter do; all the moments I would not get to spend with my husband. Then one night, I was driving in a horrible storm, and I thought, “This is it. This is when I’m going to die.” But obviously it didn’t happen. What I realized, after I reached my destination and was then driving home later after the storm had passed is this. I had been walking with an older woman, a parishioner named Madeline as she was actively dying. It was one of the first people who I truly cared about in a parish who I was accompanying through hospice and death. And Madeline was not at all happy about dying. She railed against it, insisting that her 70+ years on this earth were not enough, praying to God for more time. And I just couldn’t understand it. In my youth (and probably shallow spirituality), I couldn’t understand or empathize with her. But after I came through the period when I was convince that I was going to die, I understood Madeline, and I could empathize with her in a way that I couldn’t before. Mark tells us in today’s gospel about how Jesus began to teach his disciples that “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Mark tells us that Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him, and (an interesting detail Mark gives us that I’ve never noticed) Jesus turns back to look at his disciples while he rebukes Peter, telling him that he is setting his mind on human things instead of divine things. It’s understandable. Peter doesn’t want to hear about his friend’s suffering and death. He doesn’t want to contemplate that change in all of their lives that Jesus seems to be predicting. Peter hopes that if they don’t talk about it, maybe it won’t happen. And interestingly enough, by including that detail of how Jesus turns to look at all the disciples while he rebukes Peter, Mark seems to tell us that all of the disciples (and maybe even the crowd that Jesus gathers with him to expound on his teachings) is indicted in Jesus’s rebuke. So what do we do with this? How does this affect our faith and how we live our lives? We, like Jesus’s disciples and the crowd, are indicted in Jesus’s rebuke. But what does that mean? This week, I picked up the book by the Francisan monk and Roman Catholic priest Richard Rohr titled Immortal Diamond: The Search for our True Self. In this book, Rohr writes about how in the shorter ending to Mark’s gospel, the disciples learn of Jesus’s resurrection and they run away and fear. The end. He writes about how this is really true for all people. Resurrection does not sit easily with us. We cling to old forms, old ways of being. Rohr writes, “Whether human beings admit it or not, we are all in love with—even addicted to—the status quo and the past, even when it is killing us. Resurrection offers us a future—dare I say a permanent future—but one that is unknown and thus scary. Humans find it easier to gather their energy around death, pain and problems than around joy. I know I do. For some sad reason, it is joy that we hold lightly and victimhood that we grab onto.” In the book, Rohr writes primarily about the ways that we can let go of our false self, who we think that we are that is all bound up in ego, to uncover (like an immortal diamond) the essence of our true self, who we are in God. He offers three components of the process for how we do that. The 1st has to do with recognizing something about the nature of God. He writes,“The goodness of God fills all the gaps of the universe, without any discrimination or preference… Grace is not something God gives; grace is who God is.” It is God’s grace, God’s very nature to keep all things God has made in life and love alive forever. And it is God’s grace that bridges the gap between light and dark, between death and life. The 2nd is about what our Christian tradition means by death itself. “Death is not just a physical dying, but going to full depth, hitting the bottom, going the distance beyond where I am in control, fully beyond where I am now.” Death is encountered in failure, in vulnerability, in shame, in heartbreak. In fact, any time we love fully, we are opening ourselves to death. “If we are honest, we acknowledge that we are dying throughout our life, and that is what we learn if we are attentive: grace is found at the depths and in the death of everything.” The 3rd has to do with death and resurrection. “When you go into the full depths and death, sometimes even the depths of your sin, you come out the other side—and the word for that is resurrection.” This is what Jesus is trying to teach Peter and the disciples and the crowds and all of us this week. Our encounters with God are not always easy and pretty. Sometimes God calls to us out of the depths of our failures and failings, and it is in those moments that we follow Jesus in the way of the cross through death and into resurrection. In closing I want to share with you a poem I read this week. It’s from a 14th century Middle Easter mystic named Hafiz although the translation is a contemporary one. It’s a little startling in its language and some of the images it uses for God, but it speaks to how this experience of the way of the cross that Jesus calls us to often feels when we are walking that way. Tired of Speaking Sweetly from "The Gift: Poems by Hafiz," translated by Daniel Ladinsky Love wants to reach out and manhandle us, Break all our teacup talk of God. If you had the courage and Could give the Beloved His choice, some nights, He would just drag you around the room By your hair, Ripping from your grip all those toys in the world That bring you no joy. Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly And wants to rip to shreds All your erroneous notions of truth That make you fight within yourself, dear one, And with others, Causing the world to weep On too many fine days. God wants to manhandle us, Lock us inside of a tiny room with Himself And practice His dropkick. The Beloved sometimes wants To do us a great favor: Hold us upside down And shake all the nonsense out. But when we hear He is in such a "playful drunken mood" Most everyone I know Quickly packs their bags and hightails it Out of town. Rohr, Richard. Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self. Joessy-Bass: San Francisco, 2013, p xi Rohr, Richard. Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self. Joessy-Bass: San Francisco, 2013, p xix Rohr, Richard. Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self. Joessy-Bass: San Francisco, 2013, pp xx-xxi Rohr, Richard. Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self. Joessy-Bass: San Francisco, 2013, p xxi

Saturday, February 21, 2015

First Sunday in Lent Year B

First Sunday in Lent—Year B February 22, 2015 This First Sunday in Lent, we always have the story of Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness. But because we are currently in Year B of the lectionary (reading) cycle, we have the gospel account today from Mark—short, stark, sparse, and to the point. Mark recounts how Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan; how he is claimed by God as God’s son, the Beloved, with whom God is well pleased. And Mark tells us that the same Spirit that anoints Jesus in his baptism then drives him out into the wilderness where he stays for 40 days, is tempted by Satan (which in Hebrew means “the adversary”), is hanging out with wild animals and is tended to be angels. That’s it. That’s all Mark gives us on Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness—not a lot when you think about all the detail that is found in Matthew and Luke’s accounts (including a variety of temptations and other specifics like dialogue between Jesus and Satan). But Mark’s scarcity of detail is interesting because with so little to work with, Mark leaves us lots of room for both questions and imagination in our conversation today. I have some questions I invite you to think about this morning in light of the gospel. I’ll leave some silence in between these so you can reflect on them, and even jot them down to think about over this coming week, if you want. 1. Where does temptation come from? Does it come from outside or inside of us? Can you identify a temptation that you have struggled with? (Perfectionism is one for me….) 2. What do you consider to be your biggest adversary right now? (For me, this is living with messiness and uncertainty when I really prefer for things to be well-planned and executed. It’s interesting how the first two answers for me are clearly related. Is that the case for you, too?). 3. What is the connection between baptism and wilderness and/or temptation? We dip our hand in the water of the font and make the sign of the cross on ourselves when we leave this place every week and go out into the world. What might that have to do with temptation or wilderness places? 4. What are the characteristics of wilderness places? In our world? In your life? When is a time when you’ve been in the wilderness (either literally or figuratively or both)? Today is also the day in the church when we celebrate Episcopal Relief and Development Sunday. We collect money for the helping arm of our church all through Lent in our little hope chests (or mite boxes as they used to be called). They we bring these back on Easter Sunday, and we send the money to ERD who mission is that of “healing a hurting world.” One of the pop-ups that came up on the ERD website when I was looking at it this week, reminded me of how they often will go and dwell with others in the wilderness of poverty or disaster when so many others cannot or will not go there. (Our own Mississippi Gulf Coast was a huge recipient of a great many funds from ERD after Hurricane Katrina. ERD helped provide a brand new facility for the soup kitchen in downtown Gulfport and purchased a house for the transitional shelter for families.) ERD’s pop-up that I read says, “Where others cannot reach, we go. Where others leave, we remain. Where others lose hope, we shine God’s light.” I wonder how much St. Columb’s can raise for ERD this Lenten season? If you are giving up something for Lent, would you consider putting the money for that in your ERD hope chest or writing a check to them? Could we raise $5000 do you think? That’s 250 people or families giving $20 at Easter. What do you think? If we at St. Columb’s could raise $5,000 this Lent for ERD, that is enough to pay for a well for a family who lives in the wilderness of lack of access to clean water. We could make a huge difference in the life of one family! As you ponder all these questions this week, I want to share with you an image and a meditation by Quaker writer Parker Palmer. It’s called Life on the Mobius Strip. “That curious object is a Mobius Strip. If you take your index finger and trace what seems to be the outside surface, you suddenly find yourself on what seems to be the inside surface. Continue along what seems to be the inside surface, and you suddenly find yourself on what seems to be the outside surface. I need to keep saying “what seems to be” because the Mobius strip has only one side! What looks like its inner and outer surfaces flow into each other seamlessly, co-creating the whole. The first time I saw a Mobius strip, I thought, ‘Amazing! That’s exactly how life works!’ Whatever is inside us continually flows outward, helping to form or deform the world-depending on what we send out. Whatever is outside us continually flows inward, helping to form or deform us—depending on how we take it in. Bit by bit, we and our world are endlessly re-made in this eternal exchange. Much depends on what we choose to put into the world from within ourselves—and much depends on how we handle what the world sends back to us. As Thomas Merton said, ‘We don’t have to adjust to the world. We can adjust the world.’ Here’s the question I’ve been asking myself ever since I understood that we live our lives on the Mobius strip: “How can I make more life-giving choices about what to put into the world AND how to deal with what the world sends back—choices that might bring new life to me, to others, and to the world we share.”

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday 2015 sermon

Ash Wednesday 2015 February 18, 2015 “Ash Wednesday is the day Christians attend their own funerals.”i This is the opening line from an essay on the gospel reading today by Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor. “Ash Wednesday is the day Christians attend their own funerals.” Today is the day in the life of the church when we take up the penitential practice of marking ourselves in ash, in hearing the words while we feel the grit on our foreheads: “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Why do we do this? Are we that morbid that we take some sort of pleasure in attending our own funeral? We do this to start fresh, to remember, to be forgiven, and to help us get reoriented in our relationship with God. So much of life we live in a mindless way, going through the motions, not really paying attention. Today is the day we are called up short out of that. Today is the day that we are reminded that we will not live forever; that life is precious and of value, and how we live this one, unique life matters to God and to the world. One of my favorite contemporary poets, a woman named Mary Oliver, was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, and so she wrote a poem about it. In the first two stanzas, she contemplates the frailty of her body and she reflects on what her death will be like. Listen now to her last two stanzas: 3. I know, you never intended to be in this world. But you're in it all the same. so why not get started immediately. I mean, belonging to it. There is so much to admire, to weep over. And to write music or poems about. Bless the feet that take you to and fro. Bless the eyes and the listening ears. Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste. Bless touching. You could live a hundred years, it's happened. Or not. I am speaking from the fortunate platform of many years, none of which, I think, I ever wasted. Do you need a prod? Do you need a little darkness to get you going? Let me be urgent as a knife, then, and remind you of Keats, so single of purpose and thinking, for a while, he had a lifetime. 4. Late yesterday afternoon, in the heat, all the fragile blue flowers in bloom in the shrubs in the yard next door had tumbled from the shrubs and lay wrinkled and fading in the grass. But this morning the shrubs were full of the blue flowers again. There wasn't a single one on the grass. How, I wondered, did they roll back up to the branches, that fiercely wanting, as we all do, just a little more of life?ii Today we live in this tension of remembering that we are dust and to dust we return and the fact that, at least for a while, we belong to this world. There is so much good that God invites us to give ourselves to in our short time here. One of my Facebook friends, who was also my liturgy professor in seminary, had posted this reflection yesterday and it gets to the heart of the matter today, I think. It is attributed to Rabbi Simcha. “Keep a piece of paper in each pocket. One should read: ‘For my sake the world was created.’ The other should read: ‘I am but dust and ashes.’ i. Barbara Brown Taylor Feasting on the Word Year B Vol. 2 p21 ii.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Last Sunday after the Epiphany--Year B

Last Sunday after the Epiphany—Year B February 15, 2015 I’m going to put something out there that may be a little shocking to some folks, but I want to use it to begin our conversation with scripture this morning. “What if there is no plan?” I was reading a blog post this week where the writer, a preacher and seminary dean named David Lose, writes about how the gospel for this week reminds him of a scene from the TV show, “The Walking Dead.” In the scene, there is “a simple exchange between Rick Grimes, the sheriff who leads a bunch of survivors through a zombie infested landscape and Hershell Green who functions as something of a father-figure and mentor to Rick. They are discussing the horrors of their post-apocalyptic world when Herschel affirms that he still believes there is a plan to all this, that God has something in mind. Rick is, if not downright skeptical, at least unconvinced.”i What if there is no plan? Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus takes his three hand-picked disciples up the mountain with him to get away and pray—a regular occurrence for Jesus and them. But on this day, the three disciples witness Jesus’s transfiguration: his clothes become an unearthly white and they see him conversing with Moses and Elijah—the two key figures from Israel’s history. And Mark tells us that they are terrified! So, Peter rushes to deal with his terror by finding meaning-trying to fit this awesome encounter into the framework of a plan, a course of action. In the face of the mystery of the transfiguration, Peter offers to build booths for all of them. Now, his offer to build some booths isn’t quite as random as it might seem to us. “For elements of the Jewish tradition associated the “Day of the Lord” – that time when God would draw history to its climax and defeat Israel’s enemies – with the Feast of Booths (see Zech. 16). And so Peter, taking the appearance of Moses and Elijah as the cue for this event, offers to build them booths. Peter, you see, has taken this momentous encounter with God’s prophets and fitted it into a pre-existing narrative and religious framework that helps him make sense of this otherwise inexplicable and somewhat terrifying event. Yet by doing so he comes perilously close to missing an encounter with God. For just after he stops speaking, almost interrupting him, in fact, a voice from heaven both announces and commands, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him!’ Peter wants to fit what is happening into a plan. God invites him instead to experience the wonder and mystery of Jesus.” I think it’s interesting that Mark tells us that in the midst of the transfiguration and Peter’s planning, the disciples become overshadowed. This is the same word that is used in Luke to describe Mary’s encounter with God in the annunciation, when the angel tells her she will become the “God-bearer”.ii How often, I wonder, do we miss out on an encounter with God because we are too busy trying to make meaning of a given situation in our own lives? How often do we ignore or resist the overshadowing of God because we are so busy trying to make things fit into “God’s plan”? That’s why I am intrigued by this question, “What if there is no plan?”. Would we live our lives differently, being more fully present in the moment, more attentive to the ways that God is already showing up in our lives and in our world? I feel certain we would not be quite so cavalier in pushing off God’s plan onto others in our attempt to make sense of the tragedies that they might be enduring. How often are we like Peter, missing out on an encounter with the Holy One because we are so afraid, and we push aside that fear with a semblance of control? On this Last Sunday of Epiphany, perhaps you have already begun to think about Lent and about what sort of practices you might give up or take on. I know I have. I had thought about taking on the practice of reading Morning Prayer every day during Lent. (I did this with my husband, David, during Advent, and it was a powerful experience.) But after spending some time with this gospel, I think I’m going to forgo that. Why you may ask? Because morning prayer is so very chock-full of words. And also because I feel like this is my attempt to control the Holy with my own plan of what I should be doing for Lent. Think about it. Does the way that you keep Lent open up room for the overshadowing of your life by God? Does it offer an invitation, a space for God to be in your life? Or is it more about control? What might it look like for us to use Lent to let go of some of our need for order, structure, plans, and control and to really open ourselves to being overshadowed by God? It’s a terrifying thought, isn’t it? What would it mean for us in our common worship, in our individual prayers and practices and devotion and in our lives, to live in the present, not seeking meaning but being open to the overshadowing of God through the Holy Spirit as given to us by Jesus Christ? I encourage you this week to spend some time reflecting on that slightly troublesome question: What if there is no plan? As you do this, ask yourself what in our faith is left as foundation if there is no plan? I’m a fan of a writer named Richard Rohr. He’s a Roman Catholic priest and a Franciscan brother, and he has founded the center for action and contemplation. This week on Facebook, I discovered one of his quotes that I will leave you with this week to think about. Rohr writes, “God does not love you because you are good. God loves you because God is good.” i. ii. ibid

Sunday, February 1, 2015

4th Sunday after Epiphany Year B sermon

4th Sunday after the Epiphany-Year B February 1, 2015 What a wild and wonderful week it has been! I am so happy to be here, and I am deeply grateful for the incredible warmth and generosity of your welcome for me and my family! Our scripture readings for today are an interesting beginning to the conversations with scripture and each other that we will have over the coming years. We see in Deuteronomy Moses articulating God’s promise to the children of Israel to raise up for them a prophet from among them. Paul writes to the Corinthians about how the spiritual practices of individuals can have an effect on others in the community of faith, and how we are all bound together in our responsibility to each other. And Mark gives us the story of the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry in that gospel. Jesus has just been baptized by John and called his disciples, and Mark tells us that immediately, he heads to Capernaum where he teaches in the synagogue and is confronted by an unclean spirit that is possessing a man there. It’s important for us to note (but certainly not emulate!) that Jesus’s first public action in Mark’s gospel is to engage in a confrontation (or as another writer put it, to pick a fight with an unclean spirit). That’s important and it sets the stage for Mark’s gospel, which will show us, again and again, “how Jesus has come to oppose all the forces that keep the children of God from the abundant life God desires for all of us…God wants the most for us from this life and stands in opposition to anything that robs us of the joy and community and purpose for which we were created.”i This past week, I read a reflection from the United Methodist elder and artist Jan Richardson. Jan writes this week about a small collage that a friend had given her that she carries around in her purse all the time. In the center of this small collage is the word “wholehearted.” She reflects about how each reading for this week gives us a glimpse of what it means to live whole-heartedly, to have a whole heart, “to live in a way that recognizes that broken though we may be, God sees us as complete and is about the work of helping us live into that completeness, not just for ourselves but for and with one another.”ii I’ve been reflecting on this notion of wholeheartedness this week, and it has been comforting to me as I have felt somewhat scattered, full of joy with this new beginning and yet fragmented as my husband and children stay behind in Gulfport. And as I reflected on all this, I remembered a conversation I heard with Krista Tippett, the host of the NPR show On Being, and the late Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue, who is known best for his book Anam Cara. I went back and listened to this conversation as I was driving up here this past week, and I was struck by how O’Donohue talks about this wholeness or this whole-heartedness. He started off by quoting his old friend Meister Eckhart, a German mystic from the middle ages, saying, “‘There’s a place in the soul that neither time, nor space, nor no created thing can touch” and [he continues], I really thought that was amazing and what it means is that your identity is not equivalent to your biography and there is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there is still a sureness, where there’s a seamlessness in you and where there’s a confidence, a tranquility in you. And I think the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is to visit now and again that inner sanctuary.”iii It is both a comforting and powerful notion that there is a place within each of us where God dwells that is truly whole, unbroken, where we go when we pray and when we worship and when we love! But it also bears mentioning the reality that I think we all experience and that is illustrated in today’s gospel reading that even though we all have this place within us, we spend much of our lives, much of our time being possessed by forces outside of us. I read a great article this week by a woman named Courtney Martin titled “The myth of multitasking: longing to be absorbed wholly” that really highlighted for me this contrast between wholeness, whole-heartedness and whole-hearted living and possession. Martin quotes William James, American philosopher and psychologist of the late 1800’s who wrote, “Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought.” Martin goes on to cite modern evidence about how multi-tasking can actually be damaging to us because it “creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop ‘effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.’ It also increases production of the stress hormone Corisol, as well as the fight-or flight hormone, adrenaline. In other words, all bad things. Things that make you feel out of control. Things that make you anxious. Things that make you sick.”iv If multi-tasking and the addiction to busyness isn’t something that possesses you, I invite you to reflect, this week, on what does possesses you? For many of us, it is money and possessions. This is part of why we fill out and turn in pledge cards in the life of the church every year. It is to seek to loosen the hold that money has on our souls by acknowledging gratefully that all that we have comes from God and offering back a portion of that to God’s service. But there are also other outside forces that possess us and keep us from dwelling fully in the whole-heartedness that God offers: power, fear, food or drink, substances, the past, others’ expectations are just a few. I invite you to join me and spend some time in prayer and reflection this week with a gentle gaze toward what possess you these days, being mindful of that place in you where God dwells and where you are fully whole. One of my favorite artists is a man named Brian Andreas. He makes whimsical prints coupled with short stories that go with them. I’ll leave you with one that I saw this week titled Nothing More: “If there is any secret to this life I live, this is it: the sound of what cannot be seen sings within everything that can and there is nothing more to it than that.”v
i. ii. iii. iv. v.