Sunday, August 28, 2016
15th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 17C August 28, 2016 A letter to Zora Senitko upon the occasion of your baptism. Dear Zora, Today is the day of your baptism, a day when some would say that we “remember who you already are.” We gather today to baptize you into the body of Christ; and we gather today for your parents and godparents, and all of us really, to acknowledge that you are already called and named, claimed by God as God’s beloved. In your baptism today, your parents and godparents are accepting that belovedness on your behalf, and they are promising to raise you in a way that helps you learn how to live more fully into that. So even though you probably won’t remember much of this day when you are older, there are some things that I hope you will continue to remember over the course of your long, faithful life as a follower of Jesus. May you remember that following Jesus is, most of the time, neither easy or comfortable. As Jesus calls us to grow more and more fully into our status as the beloved of God, he calls us to change and grow to become more like Jesus. He calls us to hold more loosely those parts of our self that we cling to—things like status, wealth, power—and to cling more tightly to our reliance on God. May you remember that as God’s beloved, that means that you are no better and you are no worse than anyone else. Jesus reminds us not to think so highly of ourselves that we grasp for the highest place at the table, but we also shouldn’t be held back by thinking that we are somehow less than others. When we recognize that each of us is God’s beloved, then that affects how we treat people, even those who are dramatically different from us, those we are afraid of, those we might otherwise look down on. May you remember that we become like what we worship. Whether it is other people, money, the latest gadgets, our calendars, we become like what we worship. As followers of Jesus, our worship should always be centered on God. That means daily prayer. Weekly worship. Learning constantly about God and other people. Serving joyfully. And Giving generously. May you remember that following Jesus, being a full member of the Body of Christ in this community and in the Church means offering radical hospitality. We are those who represent the one who has proven that God’s love is stronger than anything—even death. And so our main purpose as the Church, the body of Christ, is welcoming others into that new life and celebrating there presence here and in looking for others to spread that good news to as well. May you remember that what we celebrate every single week here in the eucharist is that Jesus is throwing a party, and all of us are invited. And yet none of us are really worthy of being invited. We do not earn our invitation or our place here. We are here because each of us is beloved and cherished by God because of who God is, not who we are. So when we look up and down the altar rail at one another, we marvel at this and we celebrate it. We are all here together because Jesus has invited us to be here. And it is our call to welcome all who he has invited. May you remember, sweet Zora, that there is never anything that you can do to get yourself uninvited to this party. You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and you are marked as Christ’s own forever. May you grow more fully and surely in this knowledge, all the days of your life. Your sister in Christ, Melanie+
Saturday, August 13, 2016
13th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 13C August 14, 2016 Just a couple of months ago, I had a rather strange experience that involved my children and a pop song we were listening to on the radio. We were driving somewhere and out of the blue the two of them started singing along with the chorus of this song that I didn’t even know they knew. The chorus goes “If we could turn back time/to the good old days/ when the mammas sang us to sleep/ but now we’re stressed out.” It was pretty funny. As I listened, I discovered that the entire song (which is titled “Stressed Out”) is about how the singer/group (21 pilots) is harkening back to childhood when they were carefree and innocent and above all, not stressed out. At that time, they could play pretend with money but now, in their stressful, adult lives, they have go to work. Another refrain is “wake up you need to make money!”. I was amused and intrigued that my children were singing about this sort of idealized vision of childhood in the song, when even now, they know the realities of their own stresses, both big and small. It’s also interesting to me that, on this day that we celebrate back to school and the blessing of the students, teachers, and administrators, our lectionary readings are all about stress and expectations. (Not really the way I would have planned it, but perhaps there is something for us there, after all.) We all know that we have expectations for the academic year. We get a fresh start, and we are optimistic about how we will navigate through the challenges and the stresses. And we know, even with these bright, shiny, new beginnings, eventually, we are going to encounter stress. In the reading from Isaiah, we see the frustration of the owner of the vineyard (who represents God); we see the result of expectations that are unmet time and time again in this relationship. We see the stress placed on the relationship between God and God’s people because of the people’s bad choices and their unwillingness to live into God’s love song. In the Hebrews reading, we see the Christian community there who are under stress getting a pep-talk from the writer. “Don’t give up!” he is saying. “Hang in there! Look at all these folks who have come before you who have had tough times but who have kept the faith. Run with patience the race that is set before you, and let us shed the weight of sin that clings to us so that we can persevere in faith.” And then there is the gospel: where Jesus himself is clearly stressed (he even says as much) as he sets his face to Jerusalem and moves toward his crucifixion—the baptism by fire. He is frustrated because his expectations are not being lived into by the people who he is teaching and those who are following him. And he tries to realign peoples’ expectations of him not as a bringer of peace but as a bringer of conflict and discord. So where is the good news for us in all of this? First, there is a sort of freedom that can be found when we acknowledge in a particular moment that we are stressed. It doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, we don’t deal with it; project our stress onto other people. Squash it down. Try to ignore it. Jesus doesn’t do any of this in our reading for today. He names it, and he lets it fuel his mission, rather than distract him from it. The stress seems to become a part of the fire of his baptism, burning off where he is wrestling between the will of God and his own will for survival. Second, it is important to realize that stress happens both when expectations are unnamed and unmet and when expectations are named and not met. This is true for all relationships: romantic, familial, work, church… There’s a saying in A.A. that gets to this. “An expectation is a down payment on a resentment.” Both Jesus and the writer of Isaiah are naming their unmet expectations for God’s people in the hopes that the people will change and grow to meet those expectations. (I recently had a conversation with someone who told me that they no longer had any expectations for someone in their life, and I thought that was one of the saddest things I had ever heard because it meant that there was no hope there, either. I think we’ve got to be able to have realistic expectations and hope, but that’s a sermon for another day.) Third, bad things happen to us and to people that we love, things that cannot be controlled by us; and that is stressful. There are things that we feel we cannot escape from, and that is stressful (and not at all what our expectations for our life look like). Illness, loss, aging, transitions…In some ways all of these things are little deaths that happen over and over again in our lives. So much of our stress stems from how we think things used to be and wish they still were or from how we think things should be. But my friends, here is the good news of the gospel in all of this. And, strangely enough, it is found in our burial liturgy. It is that “Death is not the end but a change.” No matter what stresses we find ourselves in; no matter what inescapable situation we feel imprisoned in, Jesus goes ahead of us, in and through the fire of baptism and change and transition and transformation, and he invites us to join him on the other side. If we can remember and hold fast to that, (that “death is not the end but a change”) then those daily stresses and unmet expectations just seem a little less consequential and a little more manageable. This past week, I heard a true story about phenomenal grace under pressure, about faith and patience in the face of extreme persecution and stress. It’s a story that aired on This American Life about a group of Girl Guides (the rest of the world’s form of our Girl Scouts) and their leaders who were taken prisoner in a Japanese concentration camp right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The leaders and the girls were at a school for the children of American and British missionaries and workers in China, and the children were taken, without their parents to the concentration camp. But here is what is remarkable about this story. They never stopped acting like Girl Guides. The leaders promoted cheerfulness and service to the girls for the entire four years they were captive. They had competitions (based on the thing they needed for their survival) that served as their merit badges, and they continued to sing throughout the whole four years the Girl Guide songs, songs of faith and optimism and hope. One girl remembers how they would frequently sing the song: “Day is done. Gone the sun from the sea, from the hills, from the sky. All is well, safely rest. God is nigh.” The leaders were not foolish. One is recorded as having written about her hope that when they were finally to be taken outside of the camp to be killed, she hoped she went first so she wouldn’t have to watch it. Yet, they knew that death is not the end, but a change. And in the midst of incredibly stressful circumstances, those leaders chose to have hope, to do what they could to protect those children, and to be faithful in their calling. The narrator of the piece says it well: “There probably aren't many places on earth where you have less reason to be cheerful than a concentration camp. But it turns out, in a place like that, being able to be cheerful, to have a positive outlook, it's not dopey or silly. It's how you survive. How you tell the story matters.” May God give us the courage and the faith to live our stories faithfully and well, no matter what happens. Amen.