Thursday, August 31, 2017
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 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 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: http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1598
Sunday, August 13, 2017
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
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. *http://www.malcolmguite.com/ **http://paintedprayerbook.com/2014/02/23/transfiguration-sunday-when-glory/