Sunday, April 19, 2015

Easter 3B

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. iii.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Day of Resurrection--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 Great Vigil of Easter--2015

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+

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday 2015

Good Friday—2015 There is a temptation that we face this day. It is understandable; our liturgy even seems to encourage it. Our temptation today is to think that this day, Good Friday, is about us. It is not. Good Friday is about God. As one Episcopal priest puts it, “The Bible is the love story between God and humanity.” It’s important to remember always, but especially today. Another saying, from a French parable, says that “the crucifixion is that moment when God’s heart falls out on the floor, and we trip on it.” In the Passion story from John’s gospel, we see a much more stoic Jesus than in any of the other gospels. This is a Jesus who knows exactly what is happening. This is a Jesus who “strides through the Good Friday passion account in divine and human majesty.” ( FOTW Theological perspective p 306). Jesus in John’s gospel utters three mysterious statements from the cross. “Woman here is your son. Here is your mother.” “I am thristy.” “It is finished.” Theologian Stanley Hauerwas, in his book Cross-Shattered Christ writes about this reticence saying, “…I believe the reticence of the Gospels as well as these spare words from the cross is not accidental. Instead, that reticence is a discipline given us by God to draw us into, to make us participants in, the silence of a redemption wrought by the cross. In the world as we find it—a world that seems to make belief in God some desperate irrationality, Christians are tempted to say more about what we believe than we can or should say…In his book Christ on Trial: How the Gospel Unsettles our Judgment, Rowan Williams observes that ‘God is in the connections we cannot make,” a wonderful remark that reminds us that our desire to say and know more than the silence scripture forces on us manifests our uneasiness with the mystery of a God who would be known through crucifixion.” (Hauerwas pp 39-40). Today we are invited to dwell for a while in silence, ‘in the mystery of God who would be known through crucifixion’. We contemplate the mystery that is the heart of God, fallen out on the floor for us to trip over today. We remember today that “mystery does not name a puzzle that cannot be solved. Rather mystery names that which we know, but the more we know, the more we are forced to rethink everything we think we know.” (Hauerwas p 15) In closing I leave you with an excerpt from the poem Mercy by John F. Deane (from which the title of Hauerwas’s book comes) to reflect upon: Mercy Unholy we sang this morning, and prayed as if we were not broken, crooked the Christ-figure hung, splayed on bloodied beams above us; devious God, dweller in shadows, mercy on us; immortal, cross-shattered Christ— your gentling grace down upon us. (Taken from Stanley Hauerwas, Cross-Shattered Christ (p. 10). The poem appears in Deane's book Manhandling the Deity.)