Saturday, October 14, 2017

19th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 23A

19th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 23A October 15, 2017 “We become like the God we adore.” I read this line many years ago in a book titled Good Goats: Healing our image of God. “We become like the God we adore.” We see this writ large in our Old Testament reading for today. The Children of Israel have become restless because Moses has been away for too long conversing with God and receiving the 10 Commandments. (A new translation that is closer and truer to the original Hebrew says it this way: “Now when the people saw that Moshe was shamefully-late in coming down from the mountain…”) So the people rise against Aaron and challenge him to “make us a god who will go before us.” Because Moses has been absent from them for so long, the people begin to grow anxious and clamor for a god that they can see, who is physically present with them in Moses’ absence. Aaron acquiesces and makes them a golden calf or a young bull—modeled on a Canaanite symbol of fertility. And then they begin to revel before their newly minted fertility god. “We become like the God we adore.” Paul reminds the troubled community in Phillipi of this truth in this portion of the letter where he is addressing a conflict that he has learned about between two women--Euodia and Syntyche. He urges them to “be of the same mind in the Lord,” and then he reminds the whole community of the virtues of Christ that we are all called to model and share: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” “We become like the God we adore.” And in the gospel reading for today, we have another violent parable from Matthew’s stern Jesus. Many scholars are tempted to read the parable as an allegory with the king being God and Jesus being the bridegroom, but others are not so sure about this interpretation. What if Jesus is actually aligning himself more with the man at the wedding feast who is thrown out because he does not have the proper wedding garment? Well, that throws the whole parable into a totally different perspective. Then the violent king becomes aligned with those in Jesus’ day who are aligning themselves with the institutions of power. The Jewish New Testament scholar Amy Jill-Levine says that the parables of Jesus are meant to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. If this is true and it is true that “we become like the God we adore” then what does this parable say about who we believe God to be? I want to share with you and extract from the book 'Good Goats - Healing our image of God by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn & Matthew Linn. In this extract, Dennis is writing: I am half German. Although I don't want to stereo-type all Germans, like many of my ancestors I was born a self-righteous German. ... I saw all the mistakes and errors in every one but myself. For years I tried every kind of healing prayer in order to be rid of my self-righteousness. Although these prayers healed me of many things, my self-righteousness did not change. I often wondered why, when I prayed so hard, God did not heal me. Then one day, I noticed that my self-righteousness had nearly disappeared. Why, I asked, after so many years of struggle, was there suddenly and almost automatically such a wonderful change in my life? I changed when my image of God changed. Most of us recognize that we become like our parents whom from early on we adore, even with all their faults. We may not realize that we also become like the God we adore. Unfortunately, the God I grew up adoring was German. My God was a self-righteous German who sat on his (at that time my God was all male) judgment throne. Being a self-righteous German, my God could see all the mistakes and errors in everyone else. If my self-righteous God did not like what he saw in others, he could even separate himself from them by sending them into hell. And if my God could be a self-righteous German, then no matter how many healing prayers I prayed, I would probably never change. I became like the God I adored. In every aspect of our lives, we become like the God we adore. One day Hilda came to me crying because her son had tried to commit suicide for the fourth time. She told me that he was involved in prostitution, drug dealing and murder. She ended her list of her son's "big sins" with, "What bothers me most is that my son says he wants nothing to do with God. What will happen to my son if he commits suicide without repenting and wanting nothing to do with God?" Since at the time my image of God was like Good Old Uncle George, I thought, "God will probably send your son to hell." But I didn't want to tell Hilda that. I was glad that my many years of theological training had taught me what to do when I don't know how to answer a difficult theological question: ask the other person, "What do you think?" "Well," Hilda responded, "I think that when you die, you appear before the judgment seat of God. If you have lived a good life, God will send you to heaven. If you have lived a bad life, God will send you to hell." Sadly, she concluded, "Since my son has lived such a bad life, if he were to die without repenting, God would certainly send him to hell." Although I tended to agree with her, I didn't want to say, "Right on, Hilda! Your son would probably be sent to hell." I was again grateful for my theological training which taught me a second strategy: when you don't know how to solve a theological problem, then let God solve it. So I said to Hilda, "Close your eyes. Imagine that you are sitting next to the judgment seat of God. Imagine also that your son has died with all these serious sins and without repenting. He has just arrived at the judgment seat of God. Squeeze my hand when you can imagine that" A few minutes later Hilda squeezed my hand. She described to me the entire judgment scene. Then I asked her, "Hilda, how does your son feel?" Hilda answered, "My son feels so lonely and empty." I asked Hilda what she would like to do. She said, "I want to throw my arms around my son." She lifted her arms and began to cry as she imagined herself holding her son tightly. Finally, when she had stopped crying, I asked her to look into God's eyes and watch what God wanted to do. God stepped down from the throne, and just as Hilda did, embraced Hilda's son. And the three of them, Hilda, her son and God, cried together and held one another. God Loves Us at Least As Much As the Person Who Loves Us the Most. I was stunned What Hilda taught me in those few minutes is the bottom line of healthy Christian spirituality: God loves us at least as much as the person who loves us the most. God loves us at least as much as Hilda loves her son or at least as much as [my family] love me.” “We become like the God we adore.” This week, I invite you to think about who you think God is, what you think God is like, and to ask yourself if there aspects of yourself you find you long to see change, that are part of the 'image of God' you live with and adore? (The excerpt and the part of the question come from

Thursday, October 5, 2017

18th Sunday after Penteocost-Proper 22A

18th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 22A October 8, 2017 I’ve really wrestled with this violent parable on this particularly violent week. So I think the best thing for me to do with you today is to walk you through my wrestling with it as I pondered the question: “where is the good news for us in this gospel reading this week?” Full disclosure: some of my wrestlings have involved one very political statement made by another. I think you’ll see as I share my story with you of this week, that it’s important to my own wrestlings but in no way am I suggesting what you should think or believe on this complicated issue. (So try not to be anxious when you hear me start to talk about hot topics of the week.) I awoke on Monday morning, much like the rest of you, to hear the news about the mass shooting in Las Vegas. I read a couple of news reports that morning before coming to the office, and then I engaged with a couple of different things that are important to this conversation. First, I read a daily meditation written by my friend and fellow priest Carol Mead. (She sends these out daily under the heading of her blog Holy Ordinary and they are smart and thoughtful. The meditation for Monday was titled “In the shadows” and Carol writes about how a “recent article about an iconic image of Che Guevara lamented the loss of depth in seeing the man only through that one familiar image. The author wrote that the image encourages us to think of the human being without depth. He said it ‘provokes a sense of sadness’ and asked, ‘What is the consequence of this flattening emotion?’ Carol continues, “Much of our world today prefers that ‘flattening,’ a process of making everything binary: black and white; right and wrong; us and them. We fail to see the shadows that define real human beings; the nuances of doubt, fear, or joy. We find comfort and convenience in labels, because they save us the work and trouble of seeing the multiple dimensions of our fellow human beings.”i Not too long after I read Carol’s thoughtful meditation, I read a post by a college friend of mine on Facebook. Her post first thing Monday morning said “The NRA is a terrorist organization.” This made me deeply sad, and I wanted to comment on it and say to her, Dear Friend, I love you and I respect your opinion. And I also love my husband, who is a member of the NRA.” I wanted to tell her about how when the NRA would call us with some sort of poll or another, my husband would engage the caller in conversation and tell the caller why he had trouble with the way that certain questions were phrased and the way that the poll or the conversation was skewed. I wanted to tell her that my husband struggles with being a member of the NRA but that he feels that it is the best way for him to be a part of the conversation-from within the organization. I wanted to tell her about my friend Carol’s article about flattening, about how we do that sort of violence to each other all the time now and that it tearing the fabric of our communities and our common life just as certainly as other acts of horror and violence. But I didn’t. I just kept scrolling and going about my day. Then, on Wednesday, we celebrated the feast of St. Francis of Assisi at our weekly healing service. I read a meditation to that group that talked about how Francis opted out of the systems of his day, much like Jesus did.ii And that’s really what Jesus’s parable is about this week. It’s about all of us, about the systems that we find ourselves trapped in, about ridiculous, nonsensical violence; and about the dangers of simplistic, dualistic, flattened thinking. The good news that I found this week is that we are not trapped. We can opt out of the system—just like Francis, just like Jesus. And I don’t think it even needs to be such a dramatic sort of opting out of the system as they both practiced. It can start with one small step in our individual and family lives. Because there are so many ways that we all participate in systems of violence—ways that we do harm to ourselves and each other: the flattening out of each other that Carol wrote about—both individuals and groups; the glorification of busy-ness in our own lives and the lives of our children; the 24 hour news cycle that serves to raise our anxiety; our addictive culture around food, alcohol, and buying things. There are small ways we can opt out of participating in these things and others in our systems that do violence to ourselves and others, and in that we will find the freedom of Jesus, the freedom of Francis. So, your challenge this week is to look at your life and to choose one practice that you feel burdens your heart or does violence to your soul. Examine this practice, and imagine how God might be inviting you too live that differently. As a companion on this journey, I invite you to pray the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. It is collect #62 in the BCP on page 833. Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen. i. The Rev. Carol Mead. Holy Ordinary post for October 2, 2017 titled In the shadows. ii. Sam Portaro’s meditation on Francis of Assisi (October 4) in his book Brightest and Best

Thursday, September 28, 2017

17th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 21A

17th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 21A October 1, 2017 A monk joined a monastery and took a vow of silence. He was told that he’d be able to say two words to the abbot every 10 years. After the first 10 years the abbot called him in and asked, "Do you have anything to say?" The monk replied, "Food bad." After another 10 years the monk again had opportunity to voice his thoughts. He said, "Bed hard." Another 10 years went by and again he was called in before the abbot. When asked if he had anything to say, the monk responded, "I quit." The abbot replied, "It doesn't surprise me a bit. You've done nothing but complain ever since you got here." All around us, people are complaining. In our public discourse, on social media, in our neighborhoods, cities, families, and churches. People complain. Even in our readings for today, we seem to see an inordinate amount of complaining. In our Old Testament reading, the children of Israel are complaining (for the third time since they left Egypt) that there is not enough water to sustain them in the wilderness. They complain to Moses, and Moses complains to God, and God offers a solution, that God will provide water from the rock through Moses, so that the people may quench their thirst. And so God, once again, takes care of the children of Israel. (Although in this third account of their complaining, we get the sense that even Yahweh is growing weary of the griping….) In the gospel reading, the chief priests and the elders of the temple are complaining to Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things?” Note that just a little earlier in this same chapter, Jesus has entered Jerusalem and cleansed the temple—running out all the money changers, turning over tables and accusing the temple leadership of being a part of the corruption of the temple. So, they come and lodge a complaint against him the form of a question about his authority. Jesus answers them with a parable about two sons—one of whom complains when his father asks him to go work in the vineyard but then who goes and does it and the other who says he will go willingly but then never goes. When you look at all these instances of when people complain, really, they aren’t wrong to complain. Things aren’t going so well for them. The children of Israel are in the wilderness where they have been lead and they just might die of thirst out there without water. The temple elders and chief priests have had their temple thrown into chaos and their work there challenged. And then there’s us—things in our lives and our world around us can be pretty scary. But here’s the thing. Years ago I read a quote in something I was reading. I think it was something by Richard Rohr, but I haven’t been able to find it, so you’ll have to bear with my paraphrase of it. And let me just tell you, this concept changed the way that I saw myself and the world around me. The notion is that when people complain, it reveals a deep dissatisfaction within their own spiritual lives that is crying out to be tended to. When I complain, I reveal a deep dissatisfaction within my own spiritual life that is crying out to be tended to. When you complain, you reveal a deep dissatisfaction within your own spiritual life that is crying out to be tended to. If there is something going on in our lives, in our church, in our world, of which we find ourselves needing or wanting to complain—what if we stopped and paused, and instead, examine that moment, that inclination, as a possible moment for transformation. Because I think that the opposite of complaint is opening to transformation. Now, I know that transformation can be a scary word for all of us who aren’t crazy about change. But…the goal in the Christian life is and always will be transformation. “Let the same mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus,” we hear Paul say to the Philippians today. The goal of the Christian life is to be transformed--through our relationship with and following of Jesus—more and more into who we are created to be—into the image and likeness of God. But to be open to transformation, we have also be open to the causes or the sources of our complaints—our pain, our discomfort, our fear, our isolation, our loneliness, and our heartbreak. And if we are able to acknowledge that suffering rather than turning our focus outward immediately and complaining then we become more open to transformation—both our own and our hopeful working to being an agent of transformation in the world around us (in our family, our church, our neighborhood, our city, our nation, and our world). I read a story this week that is in Brene’ Brown’s new book Braving the Wilderness. It is actually a transcription from a video from Buddhist nun Pema Chodron’s “Lousy World” teaching that is grounded in an Indian Buddist Monk named Shantideva’s teaching. I’ll share it with you here. “This lousy world, these lousy people, this lousy government, this lousy everything…lousy weather…lousy blah, blah, blah. We’re [angry]. It’s too hot in here. It’s too cold. I don’t like the smell. The person in front is too tall and the person next to me is too fat. That person is wearing perfume and I’m allergic to it.. and just..ugh! It’s like being barefooted and walking across blazing-hot sand or across cut glass, or in a field with thorns. Your feet are bare and you say, ‘This is just too hard. It’s really hurting, it’s terrible, it’s too sharp, it’s too painful…it’s too hot.’ But you have a great idea! You’re just going to cover everywhere you go with leather. And then it won’t hurt your feet anymore. Spreading leather everywhere you go so you can cover the pain is like saying, ‘I’m going to get rid of her and get rid of him. I’m going to get the temperature right, and I’m going to ban perfume in the world, and then there will be nothing that bothers me anywhere. I am going to get rid of everything, including mosquitoes, that bothers me, anywhere in the world, and then I will be a very happy, content person.” [She pauses] We’re laughing, but it’s what we all do. That is how we approach things. We think, if we could just get rid of everything or cover it with leather, our pain would go away. Well, sure, because then it wouldn’t be cutting our feet anymore. It’s just logical, isn’t it? But it doesn’t make any sense, really. Shantideva said, ‘But if you simply wrap the leather around your feet.’ In other words, if you put on shoes then you could walk across the boiling sand and the cut glass and the thorns, and it wouldn’t bother you. So the analogy is, if you work with your mind, instead of trying to change everything on the outside, that’s how your temper will cool down.” Your invitation this week is this: pay attention this week to when your first inclination is to complain about something, and instead, examine the true source of your discomfort and invite God to reveal to you how that might be transformed. And if you’re feeling really brave, invite God to transform you, too.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

16th Sunday after Pentecost-proper 20A

16th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 20A September 24, 2017 “It just isn’t fair!” How many times did I utter those words as a child? Often, it was when I was faced with something that one of my brothers got to do or have that I did not. And every time I would utter my complaint to my parents-- “It just isn’t fair!”--you know what my parents would respond? “Life isn’t fair.” Let me just tell you, there’s no more effective way to shut down that fairness conversation (I know, I’ve used it with my own kids before) because even as children we have witnessed and experienced the unfairness of life. We have two different stories today that give us similar glimpses of the nature of God and God’s kingdom and similar glimpses of the nature of our humanity. In both of these stories, the people complain to God (or the landowner), “It just isn’t fair!” and God’s response is even more shocking to us than the one that we parents usually employ. In the gospel parable for today and in the story from Exodus, we see the contrast between the generosity, the providence of God and the grumbling of God’s people in the face of that generosity. The Children of Israel have just been rescued from slavery in Egypt, and almost immediately, they begin complaining [say in an angry, whiny voice], “"If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." “It’s not fair!” they complain. We could have just stayed in Egypt where we were miserable but at least we knew what to expect. But you know what? God doesn’t say to Moses, “Life isn’t fair; I saved them from slavery and now those whiners are on their own.” Instead God says to Moses, “OK, fine. I’ll give them two square meals a day, which is more than they were able to scrounge when they were slaves in Egypt being forced to make bricks without even straw. And you tell them that they shall have their fill of bread—an abundance of food in the wilderness. And in and through my generosity, you will know my glory.” In the parable, Jesus starts out by saying “the kingdom of God is like a landowner…” He then proceeds to tell the story of a group of day laborers (a really tenuous position in which to be in that world) who are unemployed and who become employed for the day by the landowner. As those laborers work, the landowner keeps going back and hiring other unemployed people to work in his vineyard, until he even finds some near the end of the day and invites them to come work. At the end of the work day, the landowner goes to pay the workers, and he pays everyone the same amount, the amount that he agreed to pay those who worked the entire day. Those workers who labored the entire day complain: “It isn’t fair that those who came late received the same amount that we did!” The landowner answers them, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” And Jesus closes the parable by saying for the third time in Matthew’s gospel, “And the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” Both groups—the children of Israel and the day laborers in the parable—all have so much to be grateful for. The children of Israel are saved by God once again; the day laborers have had meaningful work all day for which they have been paid an honest wage. And yet, they all are stuck in this mentality of fairness and entitlement—because that’s really what we mean when we say, “That’s not fair,” right? We are saying that we think we are entitled to something that we think we aren’t getting… They are so envious of God’s goodness to others that they are unable to be grateful for God’s goodness to them. And most of us can relate to that. Someone once wrote, “This parable lays before each and all of us a choice that is as clear as can be. When we look at our lives, do we count our blessings or our misfortunes? Do we pay attention to the areas of plenty in our lives or what we perceive we lack? Do we live by gratitude or envy? Do we look to others in solidarity and compassion or see them only as competition? The killer thing about this choice is that it really is a choice as unavoidable as it is simple—you just can’t be grateful and envious at the same time. So which is it going to be?” (David Lose workingpreacher.org2011) (Hand out index cards here) So here’s what we’re going to do today. We are going to make our choice for how we want to live this week. Do we choose to be grateful? Or do we choose to be envious or entitled? The ushers are going around, and I want each person to get two index cards. On the first index card, I want you to write something for which you are grateful, in your life or someone else’s. Now I want you to write on the second card some grudge or resentment that you hold in your heart, something that you believe that you lack, something of which you are envious, or something to which you feel that you are entitled that you have not received. Once you are finished, hold each card facedown in each hand. Notice how physically the two cards weigh the same, but spiritually one of the two cards is weighing you down, weighing your heart down with unhappiness and bitterness while the other fills your heart with joy and hope. Today you have a choice as to which of those two cards you will hold onto. We’re going to pass the collection plates now, as I finish the sermon, and you can choose which one of the two cards you keep to carry out of here with you for the rest of the week and which one you will let go of. The one you let go of, no one will see, but I encourage you to put the one you keep someplace so you can see it throughout the week. But you can’t keep both of them at the same time because you can’t really be envious or entitled and grateful at the same time. You have to choose how you’re going to be. Which will you choose to carry with you to God’s altar and out into the world with you today—envy and entitlement or gratitude?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

15th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 19A

15th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 19A September 17, 2017 I’m just going to go ahead and lay it out there today. This parable in our gospel reading for today is especially challenging. I mean, in case you missed it, let me just read the end for you again: “And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” I don’t know about y’all, but I know I am in trouble. (Just this past week, my family and I were talking about how I still haven’t forgiven my brother for using his Mr. T stamp that he got in his Wendy’s Kid’s Meal and stamping it all over my beautiful bedspread 35 years ago!) So what’s going on here in this gospel? Peter and the disciples are clearly embroiled in some drama, so Peter comes to Jesus and asks him, “How many times do I have to forgive?” Peter thinks it should be 7 times, which is considered a perfect number, but Jesus says, nope that’s not enough how about 77 times (or some translations have this as seventy times 7). Either way, both of these are like infinity. And then Jesus tells the parable. But here’s what you need to know about the parable. The amount of wages that the slaves are indebted is really important here and would have immediately jumped out to Jesus’s listeners. The first slave who owes 10,000 talents… well that is the equivalent of 150,000 years worth of wages. It’s not something that slave could have paid back even in multiple lifetimes. But the second slave who owes the first slave 100 denarii—that is the equivalent of 1 day’s wage. So it is something that ostensibly could be paid back over time. It’s pretty ridiculous, then, what the first slave does—how he is forgiven this tremendous debt by the king and yet he cannot forgive this much smaller debt from his fellow slave. It’s ridiculous. So, what if Jesus is telling this ridiculous parable to show Peter, and us, that we are asking the wrong question? The questions shouldn’t be “How many times do I forgive?”. Instead, it should be “How do I forgive?” Because deep down in our hearts, we know that we are much more like that first slave, who has been forgiven so much but for whom it is so hard to forgive just a little bit. And let’s face it. It is so very hard to forgive. So maybe we aren’t asking the right question—not how many times do I have to forgive, but how on earth do I do it? Yesterday, I listened to a podcast as I was running. It’s the Onbeing podcast by American Public Media—where the host Krista Tippett interviews a whole variety of people about different things that mostly have to do with faith and our common humanity. The one I listened to yesterday was an interview between Krista and a Lakota (Native American) poet named Layli Long Soldier and the interview is titled “The Freedom of Real Apologies.”i Long Soldier had written an award winning book of poetry called Whereas, which is an emotional response to the 2009 Resolution passed by the US Government apologizing to the Native American people. As I listened to the conversation between these two women yesterday, I was struck by a couple of things. First, denial is the enemy of forgiveness-both in the giving and in the receiving of it. If we cannot admit that we have wounded someone or been wounded ourselves, then forgiveness cannot be offered or received. (That is part of what is so ridiculous about Jesus’s parable—that the first slave is in complete denial about how much he has been forgiven already when he refuses to forgive the other slave his relatively small debt.) Second, forgiveness happens because of and is completely woven through with grace. Long Soldier speaks about a time when her father apologized to her. She describes it as being the “the most effective and the most miraculous apology that [she]’d ever received in [her] life.” Here’s what she said about that encounter: “…When I was in my 20s, he came to visit one time and unexpectedly, he was sitting at breakfast with me and apologized for not being there. And I think there was something in the way he said it. He cried when he said it. And I could feel it, I could physically feel that he meant it. And really — and I can say this to this day — in that moment, all of it was gone. Like, all that stuff I’d been carrying around — it was gone. It was lifted. And I feel, in many ways, we started new from that point on. I really have not had the need to go back and rehash things with him and so on. We started from that place forward. We’ve known each other in a different way.” How do we forgive someone who has wounded us? First, we admit that we have been wounded. Then, we pray for God’s grace to forgive. I don’t think it is something that we can really do on our own. For most of us, are hearts are too hardened, too wounded. But God has already forgiven each one of us so very much, and God will grant us a portion of God’s grace to forgive one who has wronged us if we are open enough to ask for that. So, this week, I invite you to reflect on where you are on your journey to forgive one person who has wounded you. If you are ready to begin to forgive, then pray for that one person every day this week, and also pray daily that God will give you the grace to forgive. And then wait and trust that God will give you what you need in God’s time. i.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

13th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 17A

13th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 17A September 3, 2017 I subscribe to a daily email meditation that is written by a Roman Catholic, Franciscan priest named Richard Rohr. This past week, I was reading the meditation for the day, and I was struck when I read the words that Rohr wrote. He wrote that he thinks that Christians have “not been taught how to live in hope.” Hmm, I wondered, is that really true? Christians have not been taught how to live in hope? In our reading from Romans today, Paul seems to be giving the early Christians in Rome a laundry list for discipleship: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all…” And while hope is certainly mentioned and is an important part of this lists for disciples, he doesn’t really give much instruction on how to do it. I mean, think about it for a second. Have you ever been taught how to live in hope? In our gospel reading for today, we see Matthew’s gospel focusing on Jesus’s teaching that is specifically for his disciples. We go from Peter’s triumphant confession of last week, when Jesus names him as the “rock” upon which Jesus will build his church, to Peter’s utter failure (of understanding, or nerve) this week when Jesus refuses to listen to him because he will not allow anything to come between himself and his understanding of his mission. We see, in this week’s gospel, the paradox of Peter going from being a “rock” to “a stumbling block.” But what on earth does all this have to do with how Christians learn how to hope? What Rohr is getting at, I think, is that learning to hope involves a cultivation and a strengthening of our ability to live with paradox. He talks about Noah’s ark, and the paradox of all the opposites that were contained therein: animals and people, wild and domestic, the crawling and the flying, the clean and the unclean, male and female. And God takes all those seeming opposites and locks them into the ark all together. Rohr writes, “God puts all the natural animosities together and holds them in one place. I used to think it was about balancing all the opposites within me [he continues], but slowly I have learned it is actually holding things in their seemingly un-reconciled state that widens and deepens the soul. We must allow things to be only partly resolved, without perfect closure or explanation…God’s gathering of contraries is, in fact, the very school of salvation, the school of love. That’s where growth happens: in honest community and committed relationships. Love is learned in the encounter with ‘otherness.’” Each of us, like Peter, is a mixture of light and dark; fear and faithfulness; kindness and unkindness; stumbling block and rock. The wideness of God’s mercy is that all of our paradoxes are contained and held together in God. We cultivate hope when we learn to live with those paradoxes in ourselves and in each other, and we cultivate hope when we learn to forgive reality for not turning out the way that we think it should. I’ve been thinking over the last couple of weeks about a man named Will Campbell. Campbell was a native Mississippian, a Southern Baptist preacher, a writer and a farmer in TN. I’ve been thinking about Will Campbell lately because he was someone who marched and worked with Dr. King in the Civil Rights movement, and later in life, he believed that God was calling him to minister to KKK members. I’ve always wondered how he was able to work with and relate to those polar opposites, and I’ve been pondering that lately in the light of current events. I think that the answer must be that Campbell recognized that we are, each and every one of us, a mix of paradoxes ourselves, and to follow Jesus faithfully in this paradox that is discipleship, we’ve got to learn to love and forgive each other. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” So, this week, I want you to think about what opposites exist in your own soul that you might rather not acknowledge? What opposites can you imagine might exist in the heart of one you might consider to be your enemy or your adversary? What aspect of your life do you need to offer to God to ask God to help you forgive your reality for not turning out the way that you thought it should? In closing, I’d like to share with you a short blessing by the Roman Catholic priest John O’Donohue from his book To Bless the Space Between Us. To Come Home to Yourself May all that is unforgiven in you Be released. May your fears yield Their deepest tranquilities. May alll that is unlived in you Blossom into a future Graced with love. Amen.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

12th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 16A

12th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 16A August 27, 2017 When I was a little girl, my father would drive me to school every day on his way to work. We were often running late, but my dad developed playful rituals to help manage our worry about my being tardy, and these playful rituals were infused with magic and fun. He convinced my 6-7 year old self that I had the power to change the red light that would slow our progress to school by saying, “Light, Change!” And we were both delighted when it would work (often with cues from him for the timing). When we would finally arrive at school, as I would get out of the car, Dad would usually say to me, “Have a great day today, and pass it on!” I thought about this daily encouragement this week, as I found myself saying these same worlds to my children as they walked out the door one day on the way to school: “have a great day today, and pass it on!” At our best, this is what we, as parents, impart to our children: their belief in themselves that, no matter how little they may feel at times, they have the power to change the world! But many of us lose this confidence as we age (or perhaps we never had it to begin with). Think about it. When was the last time that you thought that you had the power to change the world? As we grow up, the world knocks us down and around, roughs us up a bit, and we may stop believing that we can create any kind of change for the good. But I am here to tell you today that you CAN change the world. In our reading from Exodus today, we get a glimpse of two ordinary women, Shifra and Pua’h. Up until this week, I had never given these women a second thought. But in our story for today, we see that these two women, these two midwives, make a choice to defy the decree of the Pharoah, and by their actions, they changed the world. Because they refused to kill the Hebrew boys when they were born, Moses was able to be born, and he was used as God’s instrument to free God’s people who had become enslaved in Egypt. Shifra and Pua’h, two ordinary women, changed the world. And then there is Peter. In our gospel for this week, we see Peter making his confession before Jesus and all the other disciples that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus calls Peter blessed and tells him and the others that this truth has been revealed to Peter by God, and he tells Peter that he will be the rock upon which Jesus will build his church. In this one moment, Peter sees clearly, and he proclaims boldly who he sees Jesus to be. His confession changes and will continue to change Peter and the world. I remember the first time I heard a person’s confession. Now I’m not talking about a confession of sin, like in our rite for the reconciliation of a penitent. I’m talking about who that person believes Jesus to be and why she follows Jesus. It was in my first parish, in the middle of a Wednesday night Lenten study. I don’t remember all the words that this woman used, but I remember her passion, and it just about brought me to my knees. And I remember that she did say that she chose to follow Jesus because she was a much better person when she was trying to follow Jesus’s teachings than she would be otherwise. Her confession of faith change me, and it helped me to understand that this old church is alive with the power of the Spirit (as one of our hymns puts it—the spirit’s power shakes the church of God) when we are serious in pursuing God as revealed through Jesus “the Messiah, son of the living God.” So, I have an assignment for you all this week. I challenge you to pay attention, to try to find at least one person whose world you can change by your attention or your kindness this week. (For you overachievers out there, like me, you can try this practice daily, if you’d like!) Find one person whose world you can change for the better by your kindness---the grocery store clerk who you actually look in the eye and smile at; the child to whom you offer kindness or forgiveness when you could offer frustration; the person who cut you off in traffic who you could give an angry honk to but choose silence and a forgiving wave instead; praying for the one who has harmed you instead of returning evil for evil….You will know when the opportunities present themselves, if you are looking for them, paying attention. One of my Facebook friends posted a quote this week from Mother Theresa that was an important reminder for me: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Friends, we are all a part of God’s family, and our work is loving the world, one family member at a time. So… “Have a great week, and pass it on!”

Thursday, August 17, 2017

11th Sunday after Pentecost Proper 15A

11th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 15A August 20, 2017 I’ve been thinking a lot about belonging this week. The need to belong seems to me to be a basic human need, hardwired into us for our survival in the early years of our existence. Most of us have families in which we belong, communities responsible for our care and our nurture until we are able to take care of ourselves. But beyond this sort of evolutionary requirement, we as humans seem to seek out community in which to belong. Recent studies have shown that belonging is an essential component of our health, our happiness, our interest, and our motivation. Each and every one of us, whether we admit it or not, needs to belong. Our lectionary readings for today seem to be wrestling with this. Joseph, who is the apple of his father’s eye, is torn from his family in which he is secure in his belonging, sold as a slave in Egypt, where God works with him to create a new purpose--a new sort of belonging for him. When given the opportunity to punish his brothers for their horrible treatment of him, Joseph chooses forgiveness, and he invites them and his father into a new way of belonging with him in his new life of power and success in Egypt. In today’s portion from Paul’s letter to the Christian community in Rome, Paul is wrestling with whether or not the Jews, God’s chosen people, belong in God’s new kingdom that is being revealed through the person of Jesus Christ. Paul comes to the conclusion that God stubbornly holds on to all of God’s beloved people, writing that “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew…for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (We are reminded of God’s stubbornness in holding fast to each of us every time we have a baptism, and we see the newly baptized being “marked as Christ’s own forever”.) In the gospel reading for today, we see Jesus wrestling with this notion of belonging. He has a very definite understanding of what his mission is and who he is being sent to. When he is approached by the Canaanite woman, he does not mince words. He tells her that she and her people do not have a place in his mission. But the woman is not content with the response, and she stubbornly demands belonging—in the form of healing for her sick child—from Jesus, and he gives it to her, in a manner of speaking. So the good news is that each and every one of us belongs to God. We have been claimed as God’s beloved at our creation, and marked as Christ’s own forever at our baptism. This calling and claiming of each of us as God’s beloved is irrevocable. Nothing that we can do can or will ever change it. But for whatever reason, we don’t always feel like we belong. And much of the heartache in this world happens when we act out of a place of fear—where we don’t feel that we belong. And much heartache and hurt has happened in this world of late because many people do not feel that they belong in the church. (Now please note that I’m not talking about this church specifically. I’m talking about the church with a capital C—the Christian church in general.) People are slipping away from churches and many more people than ever before have no religious affiliation. (There are so many that people who study church demographics have coined a new word for these folks who have no church affiliation. They call them the “nones.”) I believe that you all want to grow and re-energize this church. And we are united together in that mission. But before we begin doing that work, we need to spend some time and some work in looking at how we create a culture of belonging in this place. And to do that, I need to hear from you (because I have only belonged here for such a very short time). So, here’s what we’re going to do. I have a few questions for you about your sense of belonging here. In a couple of minutes, I’m going to ask the ushers to pass these questions out to you. It is totally up to you whether or not you put your name on it; whether or not you even fill them out. Only I will actually see these, although I may share some of the most pertinent points with the vestry when we do our planning retreat—all anonymous. But I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on this, because in order to grow and re-energize, which we all want to do, we need to understand what our special gifts are in cultivating a spirit of belonging here and we also need to understand what our challenges are. Once you fill these out, you can mail them to me; scan and email them to me (my new email address is on the back of the bulletin), drop them in the collection plate, or drop them by the office. Here are the questions I want you to think about and respond to. 1. Do you feel welcome at this church? 2. What makes you feel welcome? 3. What has made you feel not welcome? 4. What do you most love about being here? 5. What's gets in your way?i I’ll give you some time to think, pray about and reflect on these before we move on in the service. i. These questions came from a blog post by David Lose:

Sunday, August 13, 2017

10th Sunday after Pentecost Proper 14 A

10th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 14A August 13, 2017 ​I have a confession that I need to make because it’s probably only a matter of time before this becomes evident. I am a recovering perfectionist. It’s a characteristic that is common among us first-born children, and something about myself that I never really thought about when I was younger—just how satisfying it was for me to see that perfect score of 100 written in red ink on the top of a school paper. But it wasn’t until I became a parent that I began to realize some of the challenges that my perfectionism creates for me and for people around me. Because nobody and nothing is perfect. And to expect that from people and places and situations is a recipe for frustration and disappointment. ​So it was with mixed emotions that I read this week’s collect: “Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord…” My first emotion was excitement: “Hurray, finally I get to pray for what I have always longed for….perfection!” But then I got a little worried. Do I really want to pray that I will always think and do those things that are right? Is that really what we’re supposed to be praying for? Perfection? Because what I have learned is that while it is a gift to be able to envision things as being perfect, perfectionism can be an impediment to whole-hearted living and is often the close-companion of fear. ​Imagine, if you will, the scene from today’s gospel reading. Jesus has just fed the 5,000, and he sends the disciples on ahead of him so he can pray. In the meantime, the disciples find themselves battling a storm in the middle of the lake. We know some of these folk are seasoned fishermen, but we also know that the wind is against them, so they’re probably getting tired. But they don’t become truly afraid until they see Jesus walking toward them across the water. And he calls out to them: “take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” ​And then, who even knows what that crazy Peter is thinking—as he asks Jesus to invite him to join him in walking on water. (Peter, it is quite clear, is the opposite of a perfectionist.) And Peter is doing ok at first, until he becomes frightened and begins to sink; and Jesus takes him by the hand and lovingly helps him return to the boat. “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” ​Do you want to know why I know that Peter was not a perfectionist? Because he was willing to get out of the boat and to try to walk on water. He was willing to take a risk and to be vulnerable. And those are both ways that Jesus calls his disciples to be in the world over and over again. He himself takes risks and is vulnerable with people, and he calls them and us to that as well. ​For me, perfectionism is a problem because it makes me afraid to take risks and to be vulnerable. ​So what I’ve learned to do is to ask myself questions. What is it that you are afraid of? What’s the worst that could happen? What might Jesus be inviting you to risk to live more fully into God’s love? (repeat) ​And the good news that I have found in that struggle is this. God is often more present to us in the storms and struggles of our lives than even in the good times—maybe because when things are going well we aren’t paying attention but when we start sinking, we look for the hand outstretched to us like the life-line that it is. “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” ​And maybe that is what we are really asking for in the collect. Not to be perfect or to think and ask those things that are always right. But to be confident in God’s abiding love and presence that we can dare to take risks, be vulnerable and know that the one who has experienced the worst that can happen (death), reassures us to take heart and is standing nearby with hand outstretched. ​The world is a scary place this week. But the world has always been a scary place. I believe that the opposite of fear is actually peace, and sometimes in the face of our fears, it is all we can do to just put one foot in front of the other. And that is enough. Sometimes it is a courageous act to continue to pray for peace in the face of all the odds, and yet, that is what we are called to do. We are called to pray for peace for ourselves, for others, and for our world and to be a part of the peace for which we pray. ​Several years ago, when I was going through a difficult time, one of my parishioners told me that his mother was a first-grade teacher. He said that she would often tell her students, “You can do hard things. I know this to be true, and I believe in you.” And then he looked at me and said, “You can do hard things. I know this to be true, and I believe in you.” ​This is what Jesus means by his words “take heart; it is I; do not be afraid.” He is telling us that he knows that this world is scary, but we shouldn’t be paralyzed by our fear (or our perfectionism). We are invited to get out of the boat and walk to him across the water. You can do hard things. I know this to be true, and I believe in you. Amen.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Feast of the Transfiguration

Feast of the Transfiguration August 6, 2017 Several weeks ago, after we decided that our first Sunday together would be August 6th, I curiously looked to see what the readings for the day would be. I was delighted to discover that today we mark and celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, which is a significant enough feast in the life of the church that when it happens to fall on a Sunday, like it does this year, it trumps the readings and the collect for that Sunday. The Feast of the Transfiguration is when we hear about how Jesus and his most trusted disciples go up to the top of a mountain to pray, something that was an ordinary occurrence for all of them, but on this particular day, the disciples witness Jesus being ‘transfigured’: his face is changed and his garments are shining. They are given a glimpse of the glory of God shining through Jesus. For the disciples who are with Jesus, the transfiguration ends up being the high point of his earthly ministry. They see the glory of God revealed in him in the midst of ordinary time together, and then they go back down the mountain to begin walking the path with him to his crucifixion. Today we, too, are given a glimpse of glory in our ordinary time here together. We celebrate how God has called us all together here in this place, and we begin the work together of being in community with one another with all its joys and gifts, challenges and heartbreak. This week and (I’m sure in the coming weeks), I have found myself asking many questions about you all, your life here, and the way things work. I find that these questions can really be distilled into two questions. “How do you do that?” And “Why do you do that?” I’ve been thinking about those two questions when it comes to the transfiguration and what it means for all of us. But I’m going to start with the second one first. Why? Why do we gather together here week after week? Why do we celebrate when there are things to celebrate and mourn when there are things to mourn? Why do we continue to gather in Christian community when so many folks are disenchanted with the Church in general and other Christians in particular? Why do we do this? There are a few lines in a sonnet on the Transfiguration that encapsulates the “why” for me. It’s a sonnet by the poet Malcolm Guite and the most potent few lines are these: “The Love that dances at the heart of things Shone out upon us from a human face And to that light the light in us leaped up…”* When we show up, even in the most ordinary of times, when 2 or 3 are gathered together in Jesus’s name, we often see glimpses of “the Love that dances at the heart of things.” We taste it here in the bread and the wine; we touch it here in hands old and young reached out in supplication; we feel it here in heads bowed and hearts lifted; we hear it here in music, in laughter, in open-hearted listening; we see it here—this glimpse of the glory of the Love that dances at the heart of all things—in the faces of each other, and we are sent out into the world to show others what we have seen and known here. That is our why. Now for the “how”. Several years ago, someone shared with me 5 spiritual practices for discipleship—key practices that feed and nurture us as we try to follow Jesus and live into the promises of our baptism—both in this community that is the church and out in our lives in the world—at school, work, home, and at leisure. For me, these 5 practices are how we do this discipleship thing. They are 1. Pray Daily 2. Worship weekly 3. Learn constantly 4. Serve joyfully 5. Give generously I have found it helpful in my own journey to focus on one practice at a time to grow and strengthen rather than trying to work on them all at once (which can seem rather overwhelming to me…). So if that works for you, too, then pick one that you want to try to live more fully into over the next couple of months. Because, in giving ourselves faithfully to these practices of discipleship, we become more open to glimpsing the glory of the “Love that dances at the heart of all things.” I want to close with a blessing. It’s a blessing that is written by the artist and poet Jan Richardson, who is a United Methodist Elder. She has written this blessing titled When Glory: A Blessing for the Transfiguration That when glory comes we will open our eyes to see it. That when glory shows up we will let ourselves be overcome not by fear but by the love it bears. That when glory shines we will bring it back with us all the way all the way all the way down.** Amen. * **

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Easter 6A

Easter 6A May 21, 2017 First of all, let me say how wonderful it is to be back with y’all today! I’d like to take a brief opportunity to thank you; I learned so much from you about how to love and be loved as a priest and her people. I continue to be deeply grateful for my time with you and for the continued friendships that have lasted over the years! Our gospel reading for today picks up right where we left off last week. Jesus is speaking to his disciples over the course of several chapters in John’s gospel that are known as the farewell discourse as Jesus is trying to prepare his disciples for what is to come as they are gathered together in the Upper Room just before the Last Supper. He has just told them to not let their hearts be troubled and that he is going before them to prepare a place for them. In our reading for today, he promises that he will ask God to send them an Advocate who will be with them so that they shall not be orphaned. The King James Version actually translates it as “I will ask the Father to send you a Comforter” and he promises, “I will not leave you comfortless.” And doesn’t that sound lovely? When we, like the disciples, are faced with times of uncertainty and transition in our own lives, it is helpful to remember Jesus’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit to comfort us. I like to think of the Holy Spirit showing up, draping a nice down throw around my shoulders, giving me a cup of chamomile tea and patting me on the head and saying, “There, there, love. Everything’s going to be ok.” (maybe even with a charming British accent?) And sometimes the Holy Spirit does show up and do that. And in those times I am extremely grateful. But I have also learned that I cannot limit myself to that understanding of the Holy Spirit, because sometimes the work of the Holy Spirit in my life and in the life of the church is offered in different and unexpected ways. One of the presenters at the Preaching conference that we went to this past week, a United Methodist Bishop named Will Willimon said it this way: “Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit to teach us lessons we cannot learn on our own.” Three years ago, I was on an 8 week sabbatical in Hawaii where David was working for 10 months. Our family had a wonderful time and experienced so many unique and interesting things. One night, our friend Paul convinced both David and me to go skydiving with him and a group of our friends. (Let me just say I have no idea why I agreed to this! As most of you know, I am one of the least likely people to do agree to go skydiving. But I did.) As we went to bed the night before our skydiving trip, I lay awake for hours absolutely terrified. I lay there imagining what it was going to be like to stand in the doorway of the open side of the plane and to have to jump out into the great wide open. And I thought, “I don’t know how I’m going to do that.” But I had committed to going and didn’t want to back out. When the day finally arrived and we got all suited up for our jump, I was introduced to my tandem jumper, a very large Russian man named Viktor. As Viktor tried to make small talk with me, I think he quickly realized that a). I was absolutely terrified and b). I couldn’t talk much because I was trying not to throw up. We took off in the plane as Viktor wasis religiously checking and re-checking all the buckles and straps of our two harnesses, and all too quickly, it became our turn to go. The moment I had most feared loomed before me. I made my way to stand in the doorway of the plane thinking that there was no way I was going to be able to do this, when Viktor did something that surprised me. He shouted in my ear to sit down on the floor of the plane and dangle my legs out. I felt a certain degree of momentary relief as I followed his instructions, and the next thing I knew, I was out of the plane and hurtling through the great blue sky. Now, what I only realized later after talking to our friends was how Viktor and I actually got out of that plane. Our friends confessed how horrified they were to watch as Viktor actually threw me/us out of the airplane. And you know, as much as I like to see that lovely comforting Holy Spirit show up with a cup of tea and words of comfort, sometimes the Comforter shows up and, like Viktor, throws us out of the airplane because there is just no way we are getting out on our own. And thankfully, the Holy Spirit stays connected as we free fall for what seems like an eternity but is really only seconds and then deploys the parachute with a tremendous jerk that leads us to land (, sometimes softly, sometimes not), at our destination. How has the Holy Spirit has shown up in unexpected ways in your life or in the life of your parish during times of transition? In what ways might God be calling you to trust in the work of the Holy Spirit, as unexpected as it might be? What are the lessons that the Holy Spirit may be trying to teach you right now that you are not able to learn on your own? There are certain seasons in our lives when we are called, as followers of Jesus to wait and to watch, to open ourselves to new life that the Spirit is calling forthfor in us. These can be times of uncertainty and anxiety, but they can also be times when we grow in our faith, trusting in what another writer calls “the slow work of God.” The poet Jane Kenyon captures this openness to the unknown and the unexpected in her lovely poem Let Evening Come that I will share with you in closing. “Let Evening Come” by Jane Kenyon Let the light of late afternoon shine through chinks in the barn, moving up the bales as the sun moves down. Let the cricket take up chafing as a woman takes up her needles and her yarn. Let evening come. Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned in long grass. Let the stars appear and the moon disclose her silver horn. Let the fox go back to its sandy den. Let the wind die down. Let the shed go black inside. Let evening come. To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop in the oats, to air in the lung let evening come. Let it come, as it will, and don’t be afraid. God does not leave us comfortless, so let evening come.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Easter 5A

Easter 5A-2017 May 14, 2017 “Jesus said, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.’” Our lectionary crafters have given us as a gospel today on this 5th Sunday of Easter, that is the gospel reading that is most often chosen by bewildered and grieving families as they plan a loved one’s funeral. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Strangely appropriate today as we mark a very definite ending here. The context of this gospel is also important to us. This portion of John’s gospel is known as “the farewell discourse.” Jesus has told his disciples that he is going to be betrayed and handed over to die. The disciples are understandably bewildered, frightened, shocked, saddened and in denial as they hear Jesus say these words to them all gathered together in the upper room where they are about to eat their Last Supper. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” Jesus says this to those whom he loves because he knows that things are about to get very much worse for them before they get better. That is the nature of this life of death and resurrection that every follower of Jesus is baptized into. We see this truth writ large in the story of Stephen and the beginning of the early followers of Jesus in Jerusalem that is today’s Acts reading. Again, context is important here. Stephen has been chosen by the community of believers in Jerusalem as one of the first deacons, selected to serve the community to free up the 12 apostles to “focus on prayer and …serving the word.” Stephen and the others are selected because they are “men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” And Stephen really lives into this, the writer of Acts tells us: “Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.” But the leaders of the synagogue take issue with Stephen; they argue with him but cannot stand up to him, so they form a plot against Stephen. “They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. They set up false witnesses…” against him. So, standing before the council, Stephen preaches a sermon about the salvation history of the people of Israel: about Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses and the way that God worked through all of them to bring about salvation, now come to fulfillment in the person of Jesus. And Stephen’s preaching enrages the people in the council, and they take him out, and they stone him. And as devastating a blow as that must have been to the early Christians in Jerusalem, it does not end there. Stephen’s death begins a severe persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and all but the apostles become scattered throughout the countryside. Saul begins “ravaging the church” by going into peoples’ houses and dragging men and women off to prison. It definitely gets much worse for the church in Jerusalem. But, history tells us that this moment in time is the real beginning of the spreading of the good news beyond Jerusalem, as “those who were scattered [go about] from place to place, proclaiming the word.” It was the church father Tertullian who named this truth when we wrote, “The blood of the martyrs becomes the seed of the church.” Truly, in the pattern of death and resurrection, it often gets worse before it gets better. There’s a passage of scripture that Bishop Gray quoted at various times over the course of his Episcopate. I was thinking about it last week, and so I went searching for it. It is another way of summing up the heart of this cruciform life that we are called to, the pattern of death and resurrection that is found in all of our lives, whether we embrace it or not. The passage is from the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Joseph, as you know, was his father’s favorite, and so his brothers sold him into slavery where all manner of indignities happened to him which culminated in him being falsely imprisoned in a foreign land. But God intervenes and positions Joseph, through the use of his special gift of interpreting dreams, in a position where Joseph is able to save an entire generation of people in Egypt and beyond from famine. At the end of the story, when Joseph and his brothers are re-united, the brothers are concerned that Joseph will enact revenge upon them for their mistreatment of him, and Joseph responds, with a clear statement of resurrection and forgiveness: “What you meant for evil, God meant for good…” We put our hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. We know, even when things seem to be at their worst that God’s love is stronger than anything, even death. We trust the truth that is found in both Joseph’s and Stephen’s stories: What other people mean for evil, God can and will use for good. And we know that sometimes, things have to get worse before they can get better.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Easter Year A

4th Sunday of Easter-Year A May 7, 2017 “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” In some ways, those 11 words sum up the entirety of the gospel, of Jesus’s ministry, of his crucifixion and resurrection, and how we, his followers are called to be in this world. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” But what does it mean? For us? For our church? For our lives? For our world? “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” This heart of the good news needs to be set alongside the heart of the human condition for us to be able to understand how and why it is good news. The heart of the human condition is that each of us wants to know and believe and understand that we matter. And Jesus showed us this: We matter to God. Our deepest fear is that we do not matter. But the truth of abundant life is that each of us matters to God. You matter to God. And at some point or another, each and every one of us suffers. In that suffering, we need to know that we matter to God, that our suffering matters—God is not indifferent to it. Our readings today point to this; they reassure us of this truth of abundant life. You and your suffering matter to God: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,/ I shall fear no evil; /for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me./ You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; / you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over./ Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,/ and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” And in the epistle: “It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.” You matter to God. The other piece of Jesus’s promise of having life abundantly is to live out of a place where we know and trust that each and every one of us matters to God. So the flip side of this is really at the heart of all of our sinfulness, isn’t it? Not believing or knowing that each of us matters to God, not living like each of us matters to God, and therefore not treating other people like they matter to God. Most of the time we don’t mean to do this. We get busy. We become too preoccupied with our own lives. We don’t take the time to really listen to other people, to see other people, to try to understand what causes them to do what they do. Most of the time we don’t mean to treat people like they don’t matter. But we do. Each and every one of us. And I know when I reflect back on those times, I am deeply and truly sorry. That’s a part of being human too. Each and every one of us matters to God, and each and every one of us falls short of living into this fully, abundantly. So we forgive one another because each of us matters to God. So, if this abundant life that Jesus offers and promises us comes out of a place of knowing and acting like each of us matters to God, then how do we go about doing this better, more fully, living more abundantly? It is actually more simple that you might think. Back before I went to seminary, when I was working downtown at Stewpot, I was heavily influenced by my time spent in the daily chapel service at there, just before the noon meal. This service was open to anyone (but not required), so it was not uncommon for the congregation to be made up of other Stewpot employees like me, members of the homeless community who were coming to eat their one, sure meal of the day, elderly folk who couldn’t survive on their Social Security and came to eat a free meal to help stretch that money a little farther every month, adults with mental disabilities who lived in the area personal care homes and who were really looking for a safe community, and different members from Jackson-area churches who came to help serve the meal on that particular day—folks from law offices downtown, work-at-home moms who wanted to offer their time while their kids were at school, newly retired folks who were wrestling with finding new meaning and purpose in their lives. That chapel service was the most diverse community I have ever been a part of, truly a cross-section of humanity. And the chapel convener, a man named Don London, had an exercise that he liked to do during chapel (at least once a quarter). He would start chapel by quoting John 3:16 (the King James version): “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And he would say it again: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And then he would say, “How many ‘whosoevers’ do I have in here today?” And the regulars, who knew the drill, would raise their hands quickly. But it would take the volunteers a little bit longer to figure it out. I’d see them look around the room, and tentatively raise their own hands, claiming their status as a “whosoever” too, until a hand from every person in the room was raised. And then Don would say, “This is what you need to remember, as you get ready to go out into the world. God loves you, and I love you too. God loves you, and I love you too. Now. Turn around. Shake your neighbor’s hand. Look him or her in the eye, and say it to them. ‘God loves you, and I love you too’.” And then he would wait for us to do it. And pretty soon, it would take on a life of itself. People were not content to just tell it to their immediate neighbors in that chapel, they wanted to say it to every person in that room: “Gove loves you, and I love you too.” And what I learned from Don and those people in that chapel is that it is never too late to claim the abundant life that Jesus offers. It is never too late to begin or to begin again. It is never too late to claim for yourself that you matter to God, and to help each and every person you come into contact know and remember that truth for themselves. “God loves you, and I love you too.” Let’s try it and see what happens. Turn to your neighbor, reach out your hand, look them in the eye and say to them, “God loves you, and I love you too.” Now, get up from your seat. And go find someone who is seated somewhere else in the church. Take their hand, look them in the eye, and tell them “God loves you, and I love you too.” Now do it with five more people. Tell them that they matter to God and to you. “God loves you, and I love you too.” This is what it means to live the good news that is revealed in the Resurrected Christ. It is to live our lives as if each and every one of us matters to God. To proclaim with our very lives the good news of abundant life to a needy world, “God loves you, and I love you too.”

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Great Vigil of Easter

The Great Vigil of Easter—2017 I have been haunted this week by a scene from the movie O, Brother Where art thou. If you’ve seen the movie, I feel certain you remember it. Delmer, Everett and Pete are all standing around in the woods trying to figure out their next move, and an unearthly singing breaks out in the woods around them. As they stop talking to notice, they see a multitude of people, robed in white, streaming past them, singing and heading to a muddy looking river. As I went down in the river to pray Studying about that good old way And who shall wear the starry crown Good Lord, show me the way! O sisters, let's go down, Let's go down, come on down O sisters, let's go down Down in the river to pray The other two characters seem curious, but Delmer is enthralled, and all of a sudden, he takes off running into the water to the front of the line where, after a sharing a couple of words with the preacher, he is immediately baptized. When he comes up out of the water, he says to his friends, “Well, that’s it boys! I’ve been redeemed! The preacher done washed away all my sins and transgressions. It’s the straight and narrow from here on out and heaven everlasting is my reward!” Then Everett says, “Delbert, what are you talking about? We got bigger fish to fry.” And Delbert replies, “The preacher said all my sins is washed away, including that Piggly Wiggly I knocked over in Yazoo.” Everett responds, “I though you said you was innocent of those charges.” And Delbert continues without missing a beat: “Well, I was lying, and the preacher said that sin’s been washed away too. Neither God nor man’s got nothin’ on me now. Come on in, boys, the water is fine!” Water permeates our readings for tonight and our liturgy for this triduum—these three holy days. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” The Spirit of God has always moved in and on and through water. In the reading about the Flood, God cleanses the earth of corruption through the waters of the flood while preserving creation in the ark with Noah and his family and all the animals. In the reading from Exodus, God recreates his people Israel in the parting of the waters of the Red Sea. As they pass between the two walls of water unharmed, God strips them of their identity as slaves and renews them as God’s beloved and chosen people who God is willing to fight for and care for and lead home to their promised land. And in the reading from Ezekiel, God tells God’s people, who are once again enslaved and exiled, that God will “sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” And they will once again be claimed as God’s people, marked as God’s beloved, restored in God’s heart and in their homeland. I was speaking with someone yesterday (on Good Friday) about the services so far, and she said that she had always appreciated the Triduum services, but this year, they had taken on a new significance for her. This year, she felt as if she was being washed clean. I was stunned in that moment in that seemingly casual conversation, to hear her give name to the stirrings of my own soul these last few days: the sense that we as individuals and we as a whole community are being washed clean by God’s spirit in our walking together and in our holy remembering. God’s cleansing work is about to be finished in us (at least for the time being) as we stand in a couple of moments and reaffirm our baptismal vows. In those moments I invite you to offer to God your heart of stone, so that God may sprinkle it clean and replace it with a heart of flesh that is re-energized by God’s spirit, and reconfirmed as God’s beloved, with whom God is well pleased. As I went down in the river to pray Studying about that good old way And who shall wear the starry crown Good Lord, show me the way! O sinners, let's go down Let's go down, come on down O sinners, let's go down Down in the river to pray

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Lent 5A

Lent 5A April 2, 2017 This past week I read a poignant news story about UN Peacekeeper Michael Sharp whose bones were found in a shallow grave in the Democratic Republic of the Congo earlier this week. The writer of the news story reflected on a time when he had met Michael, and Michael had shared with him about the peacekeeping work that Michael and his colleagues were already doing in the Democratic Republic of Congo among the rebels there. Michael’s vocation was to engage in dialogue with the rebels—violent people who perceived the world so differently from how he did. He would sit down with them and listen to their stories, and then he would usually persuade them to surrender. And he believed that his approach could be applied to other violent groups—from ISIS to neo-Nazis—who rely on myths to recruit members and sustain themselves. In a conversation with the reporter back in 2015, Michael explained how he would approach these very violent rebels he worked with. “It starts, he said, with understanding their world view of the past as ‘the good old days and we need to go back to that. And that is the classic narrative of exile.’ The rebels, he said, were nostalgic for a mythical home and aimed to rewind history to a time that never really existed in the first place. For the Congolese rebels, their fantasy was an era when they—in their imagination—ruled neighboring Rwanda and killed their ethnic enemies with impunity.”i The article continues talking about Michael Sharp’s methodology and how he worked within the mythical narrative of the exiled rebels to provide them with reasons to surrender, which had been a very effective model. But this story struck me this week in the ways that it resonates with our reading from Ezekiel today (and even a little bit with the gospel reading). We see the prophet Ezekiel, who has been raised up by God to serve as a prophet to the Children of Israel who have been marched against their will into exile in Babylon, where they live as a conquered people among their conquers. They are longing for home, and they tell stories of the good old days, the way things used to be. Ezekiel continues this exile narrative with the vision of the valley of the dry bones. The people in exile are a people who have lost heart, who are suffering a death of the spirit, a living death in exile in a foreign land. And the explanation given at the end of the reading is that they are, in fact, the dry bones that will be reanimated and re-energized by the breath of the Lord, so that they may be placed once again on their own soil and so that they may once again know Yahweh as their Lord and God. This story of death and resurrection, wandering and displacement and return to home is a central one in the Old and New Testaments, and really, if we think about it, we can all relate at least a little bit. Each of us, if we are truthful, has our stories of exile and loss, wandering and disappointment. Each of us has our own narrative of “the good old days,” “the ways things used to be” before… Before he died. Before she got sick. Before he became addicted to drugs or alcohol. Before she lost her job. Before the divorce. Before all this change… And each of us has our dusty, frustrated hope of all that now will never be. These are our own Valleys of Dry Bones. On this Fifth Sunday of Lent, the last before we enter Holy Week with great fanfare, triumph and pageantry on Palm Sunday, we are offered the invitation to walk through a graveyard of our own lost hope and frustrated expectations. We are invited to acknowledge and recognize our own heartbreak. And we are given the gift of freedom when we stand, in the middle of our valley of dry bones, let go of the shreds of the false narratives we tell ourselves, and admit brokenly before our Creator: “This is not how I hoped things would be.” “Can these bones really live?” Because, my friends, in that admission of ours, we offer God space, an invitation—to breathe new life into those valleys of dry bones in our lives, to breath new hope and renewed purpose into our stories, and to restore us more fully in relationship with God and each other. For the breath that fills us with new life is the same breath that created us, claimed us, and marked us as God’s beloved, belonging to Christ forever. So, take a moment and reflect on these questions, and take them with you out into the world and your week beyond this place: 1. Name the valley of dry bones that you are being invited to walk around in during this season. The dry bones can be dead people, dead dreams, lost or hibernating hope, or the promises of God you have forgotten or set aside. 2. How had you hoped things would be different? Name your hurt and your disappointment to yourself and to God. 3. What can you learn about yourself and the world from this painful, difficult path that you have been called to walk? 4. Can you offer to God your valley of dry bones, and when God asks you, “Mortal, can these bones live?” can you answer with faith in the resurrecting breath of God—“O Lord God, you know.”? i.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lent 3A

Lent 3A_ 2017 March 19, 2017 “Is the Lord among us or not?” You can’t really blame the Children of Israel for asking it. After all, it was God and Moses who brought them out of the security of their enslavement in Egypt. It was God who led them in the wilderness and told them to camp there where there was no water to be found. What do people do when they can’t get the water they need? People get angry. People panic. Even Moses begins to panic as it looks like the people are getting ready to stone him. So Moses cries out to God, and God promises Moses and the people that God is truly with them. God goes ahead of them and stands on the rock at Horeb so that when Moses strikes it the water comes forth. In a place where there is no water, God’s presence causes the water to bubble up from the rock. And yet the place is named after the people’s unbelief, their questioning, and their testing: “Is the Lord among us or not?” And it is used as a cautionary tale in Psalm 95: “Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.” I had a conversation with someone years ago about this story and he asked “If the parting of the Red Sea was such a powerful event, definitive proof of God’s presence and care for the Israelites, how is it that they can doubt God’s presence among them? How was it that their hearts become hardened? It’s an interesting questions, I think. How is it that our hearts become hardened? If we are truly honest with ourselves, we know the answer to this. We may not understand it, but we certainly have experienced it. We, who have encountered God’s presence in our lives and in our community over and over again, still find our hearts failing and doubting God’s goodness and God’s presence. "Is the Lord among us or not?" We find our hearts hardened, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. We grow thirsty and we panic that we will not have what we need to assuage our thirst. We fear that maybe this one time, God won’t show up, won’t give us what we need. But that is not the nature of God as revealed in Jesus. Jesus reveals for us a God who always shows up, offering living water, “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” Knowing everything that we have ever thought or done and still loving us unconditionally, unerringly. In this season of Lent, perhaps we are being called to tap into this spring of living water that is already bubbling up in our souls. Perhaps we are being called to pay attention to our hardened hearts and to invite God’s love to soften us. One way to do this is through the practice of a daily self-examen. A self-examen is the practice of asking yourself a set of questions every day to both acknowledge our failures and to also tap into God’s presence in our lives through gratitude. In this practice,“by the interweaving of admission and thanksgiving we come to appreciate the love that upholds and guides our decisions, and at the same time we become conscious of our withdrawal from that love”—when and how our hearts grow hardened over the course of a single day. And in this particular self-examen that I am going to share with you today, we can see the connection between acknowledging our failures and our hardness of heart at the same time that it guides us to accepting God’s grace and acknowledging God’s presence in our lives through our gratitude. “To ask these questions of ourselves each day helps us to see patterns in our lives that are easily overlooked, avoided or forgotten. ‘In a sense, it is like a daily shower…It does not necessarily prevent our going back in the grime…but it does help us to know where the grime is found.” In addition to the daily examen, Lent is a good time to engage in one of the most-underused of our seven sacraments: Reconciliation of a Penitent. There are two forms in the BCP that you can look at (on page 447), and Katie and I will be scheduling times for folks who want to come in and partake of this sacrament to do so in the second half of Lent. Reconciliation is a gift from God available to all who desire it, and it is an important part of welcoming God’s healing our hardened hearts when the time is right. 6 Questions for a Daily self-examen: 1. When was I least conscious of God’s love today? 2. When was I most conscious of God’s love today? 3. When did I not act out of love today? 4. When did I act out of love today? 5. What opportunities for thanksgiving did I miss today? 6. For what am I thankful today? I have copies of these questions available in your pews that I invite you to take with you when you leave. One way to begin and end this practice is with the Collect for Purity that we pray here every week. I will close with that today, and invite you to sit and reflect on these questions for a few moments of silence. Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

First Sunday in Lent Year A

Lent 1A March 5, 2017 A few years ago, I was struck when one of my friends told me that she was “giving up fear for Lent.” When I asked her how she was going to do it, she talked about how: during the times when she identified that she felt afraid, she would gently remind herself of her trust in God and her belief that God would give her everything she needs. In reflecting on the practice afterward, she told me, “It was so much harder than it sounds or than I thought it would be. I didn’t realize how much we, even as Christians, allow fear to run our lives and our relationships. But it ended up strengthening my trust in God and my faith so much more than I expected.” On this first Sunday in Lent, we are reminded that Lent is a time when we, like Jesus, are driven by the Spirit into the wilderness for a season of fasting and self-reflection. But this wilderness is not a vacation to the mountains or the beach, a chance to “get away from it all” for a while and unplug and recharge. This wilderness is barren and wild. It is a place that can be lonely and dangerous, stark in its struggle and its solitude. And we’ve seen what happens to people in the wilderness. Just look at all the stories in the Bible about the Children of Israel who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years after the Exodus! Most people, when wandering in the wilderness, become afraid. Afraid of the loneliness. Afraid that they will be hungry. Afraid that we will not have enough—not have what we need. Fear is a powerful motivator, especially in the wilderness. But the wilderness and the solitude it provides can also be a place where we distill and clarify our identity. In it, we can strip away what is not important, what is not really true to who we are and our relationship with God. If we will let it, wilderness can be a time of growth and clarity for us, even in the midst of its demands and hardships. My husband likes to tell a story about this gospel reading and the time that he saw one of the passages from it on an inspirational bible quote of the day calendar. The quote for that day was “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” He tells that story to show that context is important. And it’s true for us today as we think about Jesus’s temptations in the wilderness. It is, in fact, the context of the story that provides the key to how Jesus thrives in the wilderness, and the key to how we thrive when we, too, find ourselves driven into the wilderness. Because what has happened immediately before our story for today? Jesus has emerged, dripping, from his baptism, when he (along with all who are gathered there) hears the voice of God say of him: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” And each of those temptations are designed to chip away at Jesus’s identity—notice how two of the three start with “If you are the Son of God…” Jesus resists the temptations, not because he is some super-human. He resists the temptations, they have no hold over him, because he remains secure in his identity as God’s beloved, with whom God is well pleased. He trusts that God will give him what he needs, so he does not feel the need to take anything the devil is offering him. This past Ash Wednesday, I was struck by a connection that I had never noticed before. When the priest makes the sign of the cross in ash on each of our foreheads and says the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” it is the same gesture that is made in chrism oil at our baptisms with the words: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever.” Like Jesus we are sent forth from our baptisms into the wilderness that is life, to face hardship, spiritual hunger and thirst, loneliness, loss of control. The real temptation for us, like Jesus, is whether or not we will let fear overpower us, chip away at our identity and make us less than the one God has created each of us to be. All temptations boil down to a choice: whether we will try to assert our own will, which is always the way of death; or whether we trust in the God of the resurrection who always breathes new life. This season of Lent for us can certainly be a season in the wilderness, if we focus on worship and practices that allow us to be stripped of all that does not support our true identity as God’s beloved--marked as Christ’s own forever--that is given to us from the beginning of time, and if we allow ourselves to be stripped of all that prevents us from living more fully into that belovedness. I think this year, I’m going to take up my friend’s practice of giving up fear for Lent. In those moments I am afraid, I will acknowledge my fear and then say gently to myself, “Remember that you are God’s beloved. Do not be afraid.” I invite you to consider joining me in that practice this year. May God grant us all the clarity of our identity as God’s beloved as an antidote to our fear, now and always. Amen.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

3rd Sunday after Epiphany Year A

3rd Sunday after the Epiphany Year A January 22, 2017 There have been seasons in my life when I get a certain song stuck in my head so well and thoroughly-for days, weeks, (and one unfortunate time—even months on end)—that I have finally learned to pay attention. These songs can be, for me, a message from God, a message from my own soul. This week, I have been besieged by the song “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” I have listened to so many different singers’ versions of it—Tennessee Ernie Ford, EmmyLou Harris, Johnny Cash, Natalie Merchant, Ed Sheerhan—this week in an effort to loosen its hold on me, and still it goes around and around in my head until it sometimes can no longer be contained and I just start singing it (often startling my family, random strangers in the Madison Kroger, and our church office staff). I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger Traveling through this world of woe Yet there's no sickness, toil nor danger In that fair land to which I go I'm going there to see my father I'm going there no more to roam I am just going o'er Jordan I am just going o'er home It’s essentially a song about longing—longing for heaven, longing for family, longing for God, longing for home. In the gospel reading for today, we see Jesus crossing over the Jordan, but it seems to be the very opposite from which poor wayfaring stranger yearns. When Jesus crosses over the Jordan, he is leaving home, leaving family, leaving familiarity, and crossing to the other side of the river to make his home among strangers, the Gentiles. When he calls his first disciples, he is making new family out of strangers. And something in his call speaks to them—recognizing and knowing them and fulfilling for a moment that place of deep longing, deep homesickness within each of them. And they leave it all behind to follow him—livelihoods, parents, homes, families. They leave home in order to find and follow Jesus who is their true home. They leave home to join Jesus in the work of making strangers family. A few years ago, I was having a conversation with my seminary classmate and friend The Rev. Patrick Skutch. And we were talking about God’s call and the disruptions that often accompany God’s call, for individuals, even for churches. After the conversation, Patrick shared with me something he wrote for his parish at the time, and it struck me: “…In the Scriptures, disruption seems to be one of the symptoms of God's call. Think of Moses (who had made quite a comfortable life for himself), or any of the prophets, or of Andrew and John and Simon Peter. The Kingdom of God, which Jesus proclaimed, was itself disruptive, disruptive of world views, religious assumptions, and the special interests of the ruling powers. The disruptions in our own life (some of them bewildering and incredibly painful) are not themselves necessarily God's doing (God does not, in my view, arrange suffering and pain for God's creatures), but they may be sign posts or the raw material through which God's call might emerge. Disruption does not necessarily mean calling, but call is almost always disruptive.” We see this disruption and division evidenced in the portion of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians today. (And I think we see it in what is going on here currently, as well.) It is echoed in the words of our sequence hymn today, written by Mississippian William Alexander Percy; the third verse was read aloud to me by a wise priest before I went off to seminary: “The peace of God it is no peace,/ but strife closed in the sod./ yet let us pray for but one thing-/the marvelous peace of God.” When you get to the heart of it, we are all just poor wayfaring strangers. Some of us are so homesick that when we do find home, we make an idol of it. It is so tempting and easy to do. But the call of Jesus to discipleship is the call to cross over the Jordan—to see things from a different place, to make family out of strangers, and to heed the call to follow and find him as our one and only true home. The calling of Jesus to prepare for the Kingdom of God is essentially a call to opening our lives to disruption, so that we may encounter God, who is our true and only home. How might Jesus be calling you these days to cross over the Jordan, to leave comfort and security so that you might find your true home? How might Jesus be calling this church to cross over Jordan—to make family out of strangers and to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom? I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger Traveling through this world of woe Yet there's no sickness, toil nor danger In that fair land to which I go I'm going there to see my father I'm going there no more to roam I am just crossing o'er Jordan I am just going o'er home