Saturday, July 25, 2015

9th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 12B

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. 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

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!