Sunday, April 08, 2018

God is IN the Darkness

Although I am preaching without a manuscript here is the gist of what I intended to say for Easter 2B, commenting on the readings appointed for the day. What I actually said was more, and included comments from the members of the congregation. 

Here are portions of the readings I was commenting on: 
1 John 1:1-2:2 "that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all" 

and from the Gospel - John 20:19-31"When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 

I woke up last Sunday, Easter, to find a story a friend of mine posted on his Facebook page.  Following the Great Vigil he came outside of his church last Saturday night and was awestruck by the full moon. He knelt to take a photo of it with his cell phone and while kneeling a car drove up to him. Two police officers got out of that car and my friend, a soft spoken gentle soul of a man, a black man with a wife and two kids, slowly stood up, terrified as he thought, I am a black man with a cell phone in my hand facing two police officers on a dark street. He was terrified as he faced his church, where he is the priest, where his name is on the sign outside, and realized just how vulnerable felt and terrified he was. Nothing happened, the cops didn’t do anything. But that’s not the story. The story is how terrified he was, a black man on a dark street, with a cell phone in his hand, confronted by two police officers.

I want to talk about darkness in 1 John – where it says that God is not in darkness, and how much I dislike that phrase. God is in darkness, God births new life through darkness. And, how it is that imagery like this has been used to teach “us” that darkness is bad and therefor dark people are bad. I hate that it appears in scripture and I can’t let it go unacknowledged.

I want to talk about the Gospel of John, and that the disciples were afraid of the Jews. Of the Jews – how weird that is because, well, they all were still Jews. Not by the time the Gospel was written, but they were when the story takes place.

I want to talk about the way we internalize prejudices of all sorts, and hear things like this so often that they flow over us without any thought.  

I want to talk about fear, which is at the heart of these two readings, the image in 1 John and the Gospel story. How fear causes reactivity and paralyzes at the same time. Fear can be useful for survival. The instinct to protect one’s self, for flight or fight, is embedded in the core of all life. However,  learning to recognize one’s fear’s and sort out when one’s fear is justified and when it is not also helpful. Fear can be the place from which one steps out in risk, becomes more creative and is propelled into new life. 

If the disciples had allowed their fear to remain they would have stayed holed up in that room. Living through their fear, asking questions, literally placing their hands into the wounds of Jesus, into their most broken and fear filled place, lead them to something deeper, to a mission of new life instead of hunkering down in fear and refusing to move. 

Instead we should be provoked, unsettled. We should be more like Thomas, questioning, doubting, walking into the darkness and finding Jesus there. Jesus who, through his wounds, brings new life and points the way to truth, who shows us how God is in and with and for everyone. And because of that no one should ever have to live in fear.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Easter: Gardening for New Life

One year my family and I moved into a new house. The backyard was large with lots of trees and grass. There was one oddity to the yard, a 3 by 5 foot section that was weed-filled. We figured it must have been an herb garden at one time, but now it was nothing but entangled weeds, the result of years of neglect. Not long after we moved in my husband, Dan, and I, decided to dig up the weedy section and let it return to grass. So we took shovels and went outside and tried to dig. We tried and tried, but to no avail. The weeds were too thick and the ground was too impacted by weeds, completely root bound. We called a landscaper to come help, and a few days later a couple of guys showed up with shovels. I started to laugh and thought to myself, "This I have to see." The guys made a valiant effort to dig here, then there. But after several vain attempts they gave up and left. A few hours later they returned with a tractor and dug up that root bound piece of earth. Afterward we filled it in and planted grass. The next spring green grass was growing everywhere. And then something odd happened. Tulips started to pop through the earth and the grass in the section we'd pulled up. The weed bound, life sucking section was now producing gorgeous tulips. Every spring thereafter tulips would pop up and bloom.

The season of Lent has come and gone. A season when we are asked to consider the weed infected, root bound, life taking areas of life and consider what we can dig up, let go of, or let die, in order for new life to take root and bloom. What are the ways that we are crowding God out, leaving no room, no place, no time for God in our lives? And, if we have lived through Lent effectively we have dug up those root bound places and made room for God, so that now, in the season of Easter, God can bring forth new life in and through us.

Some believe that the resurrection of Jesus was an actual embodied event, that Jesus really appeared in his body. Others, especially in this day and age, doubt the full embodiment of Jesus. But even still something happened 2000 years ago. Some kind of resurrection occurred and Jesus was made known again to the disciples. How is that Jesus will appear again, this year? What kind of resurrection will we encounter?

If we have made room for God to be in our lives, if we take the time to look at our lives, we will see God anew in many ways. Life giving ways.

Some of the ways we symbolize new life and the resurrection in this church can be seen in the alleluias. Our kids made these alleluias and buried them in that box, the tomb, on the first Sunday of Lent. There they stayed, hidden, until yesterday when we unearthed them and hung them on the windows for all to see. Then we tipped the box over and filled it with eggs, with new life.

We also see signs of new life in the plants and flowers that fill this space. In lighter colors, the incense, and the music. These celebrate the idea that out of despair God always brings forth new life and hope. In these next few weeks, through Pentecost on May 20th, pay attention to how and when God appears anew in your life, what new signs of life is God pulling forth in you? What are the signs of resurrection in your life? 

God is the gardener of our souls, planting seeds for new life, working with us to nurture and grow the fruits of faith. May you have a blessed Easter this day, and in the days to come.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday: Meditation on the Last Seven Words of Jesus

Meditation on The Traditional Last Seven Words of Jesus, with scripture references from the Gospel of John

Begins with singing this slowly twice:

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Pilate brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge's bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, "Here is your King!" They cried out, "Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!" Pilate asked them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but the emperor." Then Pilate handed Jesus over to them to be crucified.

How often do human beings break God’s heart? Surely God must weep over the refugee crisis in this world and all the ways and means that human beings turn other people into objects, subhumans, demeaning and diminishing others? God weeps over those who are dying from war, famine, cruelty, greed, genocide. Every day people crucify Jesus. Like this crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head to humiliate, scorn, and devalue him, consider the ways that this is happening in our world today. Strive to recognize how each of us may be complicit in ways known and unknown in daily crucifixions,  and aim to live with greater awareness and the desire to respect the dignity of every human being. (Place the crown of thorns on the cross)

Loving God, to whom Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of those who did not know what they were doing, grant that we too may be included in that prayer. Whether we sin out of ignorance or intention, be merciful to us, guide us to change our ways, and bring us peace in the name of Jesus Christ, our suffering Savior. Amen.

“Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two rebels, one on either side, with Jesus between them. One rebel said to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “You will be with me in paradise.”

Even as he was dying, Jesus revealed himself as God’s love in the world, a love that seeks to restore hope and dignity, to all human kind. A love that seeks to reconcile the broken and hurting. A love that seeks life not death. A love freely given for all. Like this mallet, used to pound the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet, a common tool intended to build up not destroy, may we be the hands of Christ, building up the body of love in the world. (Place the mallet on the floor at the foot of the cross).

O Lord Jesus Christ, who promised to the repentant the joy of paradise, enable us by the Holy Spirit to repent and to receive your grace in this world and in the world to come. Amen.

“Woman, behold your son. . . . Behold your mother.”

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

Jesus sought to bring all people to the fullness of their humanity, to create equality for women, for people of every race and nation, that all marginalized people may be seen as God’s beloved. These nails, a symbol of the binding together one to another, bound Jesus to the cross and insured his death and humility. May we, instead, have the courage and compassion to bind together love and mercy, hope and grace, in God’s name. (Place the nails on the floor, at the foot of the cross).

O love of God, Jesus Christ, in your hour of greatest suffering you expressed compassion for women through the care of your mother; grant that we who seek to follow your example may show our concern for the needs of others, reaching out to provide for those who suffer in our human family. Hear this our prayer for your mercy’s sake. Amen.

Within Our Darkest Night sung a few times

“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)
Jesus reveals his full humanity and his full divinity in his dying. He suffers like all human beings suffer. He doubts and cries out in pain. His suffering helps us remember that God is bigger than our doubt and stronger than our fear. God takes our pain, fear, doubt, and gives us the courage to change, to carry on, to face another day, to find hope even when all seems hopeless. The dice were tossed to divide up Jesus’ clothes, a callous act done as if he didn’t exist at all. (Toss the dice on the floor).

O Lord, I call for help by day, and all night long I cry out. O Lord, hear my prayer, for my soul is troubled; I am weak, cut off as if forsaken by all, forgotten and near the pit of death.
Lost and full of despair, I cry out, where are you oh, God? My hands are lifted up to you. Do you work wonders for the dead? Lord, do not hide your face from me. Darkness is my closest friend for I am all alone. Amen.

“I thirst.”
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), "I am thirsty." A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a cloth full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. This wine soaked cloth broke open the hard hearts of those who stood by and did nothing, a small act of kindness within the brutality of murder and death. Every day people are killed in senseless deaths, guns which are meant to protect are turned into weapons of fear in an unjust world. Who has the courage to stand up to the violence and offer another way? (Place the cloth on the cross). 

Any act of kindness, no matter how small, is an act of God’s mercy and grace, an opportunity for God to shine forth, to reveal God’s self, to embrace another in compassion. 

O blessed Savior, whose lips were dry and whose throat was parched, grant us the water of life, that we who thirst after righteousness may find it quenched by your love and mercy, leading us to bring this same relief to others. Amen.

“It is finished.”
When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Sometimes it seems that death wins and then our grief is deep and our sorrow profound. There is no replacement for the loss of human touch and for the physical presence of the one we love. When it is finished we are left with a huge hole in our heart, which will never be repaired. Although the ragged edges may soften, the love that once was - and it’s gapping hole - will always remain.  Each day, in many ways, human beings try to kill God’s love in the world through acts of injustice, greed, and self-entitlement. 

O Lord Jesus Christ, you came as God’s Word to change the world, to teach us another way, to show us the fullness of God’s love, and in return human beings killed you and tried to kill God’s love, too. Enable us to live and love so faithfully that we become good news to the world, joining your witness, O Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Oh God, into whose hands Jesus commended his spirit, grant that we may entrust our lives into your faithful hands of love. May we, with God’s help, transform the senseless death of Jesus into new life, and in his name, strive toward the day that no one dies from violence inflicted by other people. Amen.

 tape paper onto the cross with words that represent the ways we crucify Jesus in our world today - racism, sexism, LGBTQ, gun violence, etc., invite others to add their words

Meditation inspired by SJCPres

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Lent 4: Repentance and Prayer

The summer I was 18 years old I was entering my second year of college. My girlfriends and I had rented a house together. This was in southern Illinois, a beautiful place where the glaciers ended leaving high bluffs and many deep lakes. The weather in southern Illinois during the summer is hot and very humid and so my girlfriends and I would take every opportunity we could to go swimming. We'd find someone with a car to drive us out to the rural area where we'd park the car and hike back into one of the lakes. We'd walk through fields and woods and inevitably run into rattle snakes, who were sunning themselves on rocks. The snakes announced themselves with the rattle and then slithered off into hiding. Then we'd hike down out of the woods and onto the beach front of the lake. The lake was beautiful and very inviting on a hot day. However, it was also full of water moccasins. Yes, we went swimming in a lake with water moccasins. Granted, we threw rocks into the water to scare the snakes away, assuming they actually left. Then we swam for hours before hiking back out. Now, all these years later I look back on those days and wonder, "WHAT WERE WE THINKING?"

Whenever snakes appear in scripture, as we have today in the reading from Numbers and the Gospel of John, you know it's not a good thing. Snakes always represent that which is trying to take one away from God, to distract one from God's desire. In the reading from Numbers God has just released the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and they're wandering around in the desert eating manna, which is sort of like pieces of Wonder Bread falling from the sky. The people have grown weary of this bland diet, they actually wish they were back in Egypt, back as slaves, and so they complain. God gets angry at their complaining and punishes them with snakes that bit and kill them. Then God realizes thats a bad idea. Moses and the people pray for change and God responds by having Moses build a bronze snake and post it on a pole. Then whenever a person is bitten by a snake they can look at the bronze snake and live.

What in the world does the bronze snake stand for? Has God actually required them to build an idol?Or, is it possible that in turning the snake to bronze and putting it on a pole God has taken all of the power out of the snake? God has taken away all of the power of the snake to distract people and turn them away from God.

In our Ash Wednesday service we are asked to observe a Holy Lent through self-examination and repentance by prayer, fasting, self-denial, and meditating on God's Holy Word. What does repentance mean? (seek forgiveness). Repentance literally means to turn around, or to turn back to God. So in Lent we are asked to look at our lives and how we are living, to consider how we could live healthier fuller lives though fasting from that which keeps us from God, through self-examination by looking at the broken relationships and seeking to make them better, through self-denial which means deny the parts of ourselves that keep us from God - that turn us away from God - and to open ourselves up in prayer to consider where and how God is present in our lives. Sometimes we don't see God until after the fact. But other times we are aware of God's presence in the moment.

How do we pray? In our Sunday morning services we might pray in the silence before the service beings. We pray through the incense that lifts our prayers up to God in smoke and scent. We pray in song through the Taize pieces we are singing, each one created from words of scripture. We pray  in words too, in the prayers of the people and in the prayer of the Eucharist.

Each of the Eucharistic prayers tells our salvation history story, what God is doing in and through the life of Jesus and in and through our lives, and how we are called to share the bread, to take and receive, and share in this holy meal.

We are coming to the end of Lent, just one more Sunday and then its Palm Sunday and Holy Week. In this season we are called to ponder how God is active in our lives and how we are making room in our lives to be more present to God. Soon it will be Easter, the confession will be gone, the quiet somber tone of the service will be gone. We'll be more celebratory, joyful. We'll rejoice in the life God has given us, in spring, in blooming flowers, in warmer sunnier days, in new life and hope. In turning and returning to God, loving as God asks of us, loving God, loving self, loving others.

This sermon was preached without a manuscript, this is what I recall saying for Lent 4B: Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21

Monday, February 26, 2018


As I mentioned in a previous post, I threw out my Ash Wednesday sermon and decided to preach extemporaneously. I've continued that practice on the first and second Sundays in Lent - praying, pondering, thinking about what the readings are saying to me and what I want to lift up in my reflection. It actually takes a lot of work and takes a lot out of me to do this. However, almost everyone is telling me how much they appreciate what I'm saying.

What am I saying? I don't actually remember a lot of what I say. I remember the broad themes but not the word for word.

Lent 1: I reflected on what it means to "observe a Holy Lent' through the lens of "fasting." I don't remember how I started the sermons, which were slightly different between 8am and 10am. I only remember that I considered the various ways one might fast: from food or drink, from being busy, from social media...and then also, from being angry, hostile, fasting is intended to empty one's self and make room for God. At 10am I spoke about the worship space: the incense lifting our prayers up to God (we NEVER use incense), the icon of the Pontecrator and what it means to pray with an icon, the rocks I have available in bowls outside the church which people can hold and put their worries and concerns in and then use to build a prayer cairn around the icon which is at the foot of the altar, the silence we've built into the service - how these are all tools to help open us up and make room for God, like a fast opens us up....

Lent 2: I reflected again on observing a holy Lent, this time through the Book of Common Prayer instruction to practice self-examination (through prayer, fasting, self-denial, and meditating on God's holy word).

I spoke about the ways one might practice "self-examination" - in preparation for the confession which comes first in the service during Lent, or as an "examen" in the way of St. Ignatius by taking some time each night to consider what has gone well in one's day and what has not and how one might strive for a better day tomorrow, or how one might practice self-examination by being attentive to what one is feeling and thinking throughout the day and instead of being reactive.

I spoke about the liturgical cycle offering Christians different ways into the life of Jesus and opportunities for us to live the life God call us to live - that Advent is a season of waiting for birth, Christmas is a season of celebrating the incarnation - that God chose to act in and through the life of Jesus and now, by virtue of the incarnation, chooses to act in and through us - that God is embodied in us, how Epiphany is the season that looks at Jesus' ordinary every day life and the Lent is the season that asks us to consider the broken places in our lives and how we can mend them, to consider what needs to "die" before there can be new life, to remember that Good Friday leads to Easter - and that Easter is where we are headed too, new life, spring, hope.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Rend Your Heart

"...Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing." (Joel 2:12-13)

On Ash Wednesday I offered four services. One was with four year olds from our preschool, kids who are not necessarily Christian or even religious. I aim to teach them a little bit about Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent. I begin by reading Judith Viorst's book, "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day." I get the kids to repeat the refrain with me every time it shows up in the story. Then we talk about days when every thing goes wrong and we feel bad, those days when we have to say "sorry" to someone or when we need someone to say "sorry" to us. I talked about how the ashes remind Christians of the importance of saying "I'm sorry" and trying to treat others kindly. I then invite the kids to touch the rough ashes which are the remnants of the palms from Palm Sunday, burned on Shrove Tuesday for the Ash Wednesday services. I don't actually use these rough ashes for the cross I apply on people, although I could if I shifted them and added a little chrism oil. But I do use the rough ashes as part of the Ash Wednesday decor. Then I offer to use the refined ashes to make the sign of the cross on a child's forehead or hand, if they wish. 

At the noon service I had a four year in the front row, so I threw out my "formal" sermon and did a repeat of the conversation I had with the preschoolers. I asked the four year old to help me and I expanded on the idea of saying we're sorry to address more adult concerns of mending broken relationships. 

Then I had a 2pm service at the local retirement facility and there I preached my formal sermon, the one that I written, and I used my text. It was rather boring if I say so myself. 

At the final service at 5:30pm I threw out the formal sermon and in the spur of the moment offered a reflection on this portion of Joel - rend your heart. Open your heart to God. Observe a holy Lent by opening our hearts to God. I told the story about being with the preschoolers and then with the four year old, sharing how the day had progressed from the simple delight of sharing ashes with kids to this final invitation to observe a holy Lent. To ponder what it means to rend open one's heart, to be present to God, and follow where God leads one in the course of this season.

It's been many years since I have preached without a text, although that was my preferred style for a long time. I found something very freeing to preach from the heart on Ash Wednesday. It was not an unprepared homily, it was actually a deeply prepared homily, in which I opened my heart and allowed what was inside to pour forth.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Nothing is Impossible

Twelve years ago I suffered a life threatening illness. From a fractured tooth came an abscess, and then the abscess infected the bone in my jaw. The infection followed the nerve in my jaw, leaving me unable to feel most of my bottom lip and teeth. The infection then travelled up the side of my face. All of this developed over the course of one week, taking me from a dentist who thought I had TMJ to a hospital room and a team of doctors including a surgeon, an internist, and an infectious disease specialist. At first the hospital attempted to cure me with IV antibiotics. But 48 hours later, with the infection increasing, I was prepped and waiting for surgery. Following surgery to drain the infection I remained in the hospital another week and then, because the infection was in the bone, I went home with a pic line so I could apply iv antibiotics myself, four times a day for the next 9 weeks, until they were certain that no infection lingered in the bone.
As we hear in our Gospel this morning, Peter’s mother in law is sick with fever. Having a fever was no small matter in the ancient world – people knew that fever carried a high potential for death. Then, Jesus comes into the home and into her room, and heals her. Upon which she immediately rises from the bed and begins to serve her guests. “Being raised up” is how the Gospel describes this healing, using a verb, egerio, that is common in the Gospel of Mark. This verb suggests that a new strength has been imparted to an individual laid low by illness in order that they may rise up and take their place in the world.
Think about that – a new strength imparted to one laid low in order that they may rise up and take their place in the world. 
The same verb “To serve” is used in Mark to describe both the actions of the mother-in-law  AND the actions of Jesus – both are called to serve in the same way. Using that same verb for the woman and for Jesus indicates that serving is a call from God, to serve is holy. Apart from Jesus she is the first person who is described with this verb – making her the first disciple of Jesus, doing God’s work in the world by serving others. Only later is the verb used to describe the ministry of the other twelve disciples.
Following this story about the mother in law we find Jesus healing many others. We see Jesus in action, serving others, as an agent of God’s healing love in the world. It’s as if the door of the woman’s house, where she was healed, becomes the doorway where all in the city are healed.
However, it’s important to note that being healed and being cured are two different realities. Being cured is what the doctors did for me, cured me of an infection. Being cured comes from medical intervention or the body’s own natural immune system. Healing however is an expression of God’s power, grace, love, mercy, and compassion. Healing happens deeper inside, in the realm of one’s soul. Because healing comes from God, one might be healed even though one is not cured of the disease.
 One of the primary ways we access the healing that God offers is through prayer.  Jesus takes time out for stillness, to pray, to reflect and from it he finds his direction. 
One of the primary purposes of Sunday morning worship is to offer us this time for stillness and prayer, a time to be lifted up out of the concerns of our lives and be reminded of who we are and whose we are. Walter Bruggeman, a biblical scholar, has studied the Psalms and written extensively on them. The Psalms were the foundation of worship for the ancient Hebrew people, they were prayers sung during worship. Bruggeman speculates that worship for these people found its anchor in a theological understanding of God that began in Genesis 18, the story of the strangers who appear to Abraham and Sarah and tell them that Sarah will have a baby, even though she is old. It is a story that articulates the primary belief of these people, that nothing is impossible for God. That belief continues throughout the Hebrew Bible, from Judges to Jeremiah, to all the prophets, through most of the Psalms, and into the New Testament, from the Gospel stories that end in resurrection to Paul’s letters to the churches, and even in the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. The primary tenant of faith, proclaimed throughout the ages is, "nothing is impossible for God.” 
Of course today we are practical, learned, modern people and this belief probably sounds naive to many of us. Or at the very least we may give it lip service but we don’t really actually believe it because there is no empirical evidence to support this belief. No tangible proof that God can do anything. I mean, look at the world we live, at the divisiveness, the anger, poverty, violence, the seeming decay of every institution, if God could do anything, why doesn’t God fix this mess? 
As Christians we learn that God intervenes in the world through us, through human beings. The incarnation, the birth of God’s Word made flesh, and the calling of people to be disciples of God, is the calling of each of us to partner with God to bring forth God’s kingdom in every age and every time. God is seeking to raise us up, to work with us and through us. 
How can we possibly know how God is trying to use us if we don’t take the time to be still and listen, to avail ourselves to God in prayer?
Next week Ken Shuman from Faithwalking will be us. He will lead the vestry retreat on Friday and Saturday, preach on Sunday, and lead an adult forum. Faithwalking is an ecumenical group of Christians who are working to be healed from the trauma’s of life, physical, spiritual, or emotional trauma,  the kind of trauma that hold one back and keep’s one from living a full authentic life, from being our true selves. In being healed, Faithwalking raises up individuals and communities to their true mission, their true calling from God - healed and raised and sent out to serve others, partnering with God to bring forth God’s love to every corner of world, living in the most authentic way. 

Because nothing is impossible with God. 

a reflection on Mark 1:29-38 for Epiphany 5B

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Risky Business of the Thin Place

A number of years ago I drove highway 12 in Utah, which is a loop from Bryce Canyon east to Escalante then north and finally west again where it reconnects to the main highway leading to Salt Lake City. This scenic drive takes one on a winding road up to the very peak of the Rocky Mountains. One section was a mere two lane road with sheer 9,000 foot drop offs on both sides, straight down the mountain sides. I had the impression that a strong wind could blow us right off the edge. It was a terrifying yet absolutely awe inspiring drive, leaving me with the sense that I had been in the presence of our creator, experiencing the beauty of this world as God intends it to be.

I felt something similar when I lived near Lake Michigan and could walk the beaches and experience the changes of seasons in that immense body of water, from the rich deep colors of summer to the muted tones of winter with snow and ice.

Spiritually speaking experiences of God breaking into our every day lives are described as a “thin” place, when the veil between this realm and the next is thin or lifted. 

Thin place experiences are always unexpected and may be totally missed if one is not paying attention. Some people yearn for thin place experiences, where the veil is lifted and one’s awareness of God’s presence is enhanced. Finding one’s self in a thin place is often the result of a journey through risky terrain. 

We live in a world today that often runs contrary to thin places, that is instead thick and wooly. 

Some say that society is deep in what Murray Bowen Family System’s Theory calls “Societal Regression.” Societal regression is always symptomatic of a society that is clamping down from chronic anxiety and fear of change. The last time society went through a major regression was in the Middle Ages. Then the angst and fear produced the crusades and instituted an idea that the world was flat and that nothing existed beyond a few known countries and continents. That regression was broken open when some explorers dared to break through the fear and set sail across the waters. Fear was replaced by a few brave souls who were willing to step out into the unknown with creative imagination. That ushered in the era of Renaissance and eventually the reformation of church and state. 

Bowen theory says that the United States began a downward slope of societal regression in the late 1950’s, post WWII. This regression is the result of chronic anxiety caused by wage stagnation, fewer job opportunities, increased population growth, fewer natural resources, and is influenced by changing social norms around racism and gender as well as the reality of larger global influences, all changes that are increasing fear and anxiety around change, and thus a reactive pull inward, in an effort to limit change. The cycle of regression lasts until the society can turn around and engage in brave, creative, inspired, risk taking endeavors.

In the mean time, one of the primary symptoms of anxious times is a tendency to criticize, to dissect and take apart what others say and do. In all forms of social media, on Sunday “news programs,”  in political arenas, and in other community relationships, arguments are polarizing; with people aligning at the ends, leaving little room for thoughtful discussions and the seeking of a middle ground.

How we speak to one another, and our capacity to listen and ponder the grace and the gift in the other, is crucial in order to move out of anxiety and into hope and grace. Our reading this morning from Deuteronomy addresses this by asking the question “How does one know a prophet is from God?” “Who speaks for God?
Likewise Paul, in his first letter to the church in Corinth says we know that "all of us possess knowledge…(however) knowledge puffs up, but love builds up… Prophets speaking the word of God are always pointing the way toward love and justice as  God proclaims it all are loved, all are valued.

In December Bishop Gibbs spoke to us in an adult forum regarding what it means to be Episcopalian in the world today. He also offered us a gift, the potential to have another Curate for three years, for which he would pay half of the curate’s package if we can pay the other half. 

Shortly after the Bishop made this offer we went into Christmas break, with some people leaving town and others preparing for the many upcoming services we were hosting, including Lessons and Carols, Christmas, the Martin Luther King interfaith service, and today’s annual meeting. In the weeks since the Bishop was here we created and passed a budget for 2018. We’ve all been hard at work tending to year end and new year items that need to be addressed in a timely manner. We have not had time to thoughtfully consider what the Bishop offered us. 

However the five members of the Vestry who will continue on next year, and I, were able to begin a conversation about this when we met for dinner last Wednesday night. With a little intentionality we managed a conversation that was considered, thoughtful, and respectful of the Bishop’s offer, of the differing views we each hold, and of the views that others have already shared on this idea. Some have raised valid points about money while others have, in equally valid ways, have called us to pay attention to God’s call to us. 

I believe, and some members of the Vestry said as much, that beginning this conversation from our most anxiety-filled place, which right now is money and finances, is not the place to begin. I believe this even as we are keenly aware of and respect the financial concern and recognize its validity. 

The vestry and I, having heard a number of viewpoints on the matter, are entering into a time of prayer, listening, and discerning where God is present and how God is calling us. In the next weeks and months the Vestry will invite opportunities for deeper and wider community listening, reflection, discerning. This is not a time to criticize one another, nor to speak derisively of this idea, other ideas, of the bishop nor of one another. We’re aiming for gracious listening, for gratitude and kindness, for creativity and imagination, and regardless of where we finally end up, that this may lead us all into a thin place, into the holy and sacredness of God’s desire and purpose for us, now, in this time and place.

I pray that we can see with our spiritual eyes, gazing through the veil to embrace the vision of ourselves that God sees in us, and then have the courage and inspiration to follow God, being willing to be risk takers, however that is revealed to us…and letting love build us up instead of knowledge puffing us up. 

Thus, with love and through love, of God and one another, let us see what good can come out of us.

a reflection on 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Where is God?

When Dan and I were first married we went to Salt Lake City for a portion of our honeymoon, where he met my extended family. One of our first days in Salt Lake we drove east to Park City. It was a beautiful August day, and we leisurely wandered through the city and then drove through  the back roads and mountain side. As the afternoon was growing late we decided to head back to Salt Lake. I felt certain, based on a vague childhood memory, that there was a back-road over the mountain that would drop us into Salt Lake City. So we wandered on this dirt road for a bit, going deeper into the wilderness and over ever more challenging terrain. We were driving a little green Gremlin, or Pinto, I don’t remember, some old car my dad had. Whatever it was it was definitely not built for the rugged terrain we were on. Sure enough we bottomed out – took out some part of the undercarriage necessary for driving. This was in 1985, no cell phones, no GPS. We were good and stranded. Thankfully some young guys were driving their pickup through the back-roads and came to assist us. We had to leave the car in the woods and accept a ride to a gas station on the main highway where we called my dad and aunt to come get us. The next day we returned and pulled the car out of the rut. 
Sometimes one gets on a path and discovers that it is not the right path, yet, one just can’t figure out how to turn around and get to a better place. The people of Ninevah were in such a place – stuck in their self-destructive ways. Jonah comes and proclaims their demise and in doing so turns the course of events in a significant way. The people of Ninevah change their ways which provokes God to change God’s mind, thus sparing the people of Ninevah. Following God can lead to transformation. Jonah, angry and bitter that the people changed and God relented, went the other way turning from God and getting lost in the belly of beast.
The Psalm speaks of the steady presence of God.  Paul, in the letter to the Corinthians lists the ways in which the qualities of life pass away and change, but God’s presence is steady. And then in the Gospel we hear that God challenges people to pay attention, to recognize God’s call to humankind, to change our ways, to turn and to follow God. Our readings today provide us with examples or assurances of  God participating in the lives and actions of human beings.
Perhaps one reason the fisherfolk in the Gospel turn and follow Jesus may be that they remember the story from Jonah, of what happened, later, to Jonah when he fails to follow God and ends up in the belly of a whale. Perhaps, fearing that all could go wrong if they follow the wrong path, take the wrong road, these fishfolk-disciples-to-be take the chance on following God by following Jesus. Call it inspiration. Call it holy spirit inspired. Call it having the capacity to listen and the courage to follow, these fisherfolk come to learn that following Jesus is not only the way to go, BUT the way to LET GO. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians speaks of the many expectations that the people in Corinth must let go of. 
Which reminds me of a joke:
A disheveled, disoriented man stumbles across a baptismal service on Sunday afternoon down by the river.

He proceeds to walk into the water and stand next to the preacher. The minister notices the man and says, "Mister, are you ready to find Jesus?"

The man looks back and says, "Yes, preacher, I sure am."

The minister dunks the fellow under the water and pulls him right back up.

"Have you found Jesus?" the preacher asks."Nooo, I didn't!" said the man.

The preacher then dunks him under for quite a bit longer, brings him up, and says, "Now, brother, have you found Jesus?"

"Noooo, I have not, Reverend."
The preacher holds the man under for even longer and then brings him out of the water, and says, "My God, man, have you found Jesus yet?"

The man wipes his eyes and says to the preacher, "Are you sure this is where he fell in?"
In a way our readings are asking us to let go of expectations that things must be a certain way or of finding God or Jesus in a particular way and just wonder, “How am I called? Or, to repeat the question from last week, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Letting go of preconceived expectations or biases, and wondering, Can anything good come out of me, you, us? Can any good come out of efforts to listen, to pray, out of being open to possibility? 
My response to these questions is a clear and certain, yes. Good can and will come from any and all efforts to try to faithfully follow God. 
This year, through our readings with the Gospel of Mark, we will focus on what it means to be disciples – to follow God. The Gospel of Mark will challenge us as it begs the question, “Where is God?” To follow God we need to be open to possibility, and through prayer, reflection, and discernment, as individuals and as a community, become open enough to hear God and courageous enough to follow.
Today you will find the annual parish report ready for you to take and read. The booklet is filled with reports from the various commissions and committees of the parish on the work we have done over the last year. It’s a record of the fine ministries that take place at Christ Church, of the ways in which we strive to listen to and follow God. Following this meeting you can attend the financial forum and hear the story of how we are striving to be faithful stewards of the gifts we have been given and use those gifts as God is calling us, to partner with God in bringing forth God’s kingdom now. 
Next week is the annual meeting. At that meeting we will elect new vestry members and have the opportunity to thank the outgoing vestry members. In addition we will thank Sean Jackman for his many years of ministry here as the Director of Music. We are entering a time of grieving, of celebrating, of grieving some more, and of change. Times like these naturally bring some anxiety and yet, used well, they can be times of curiosity and exploration, a time to ponder what God is calling up in us now. It is a time when we will be listening in some specific ways for what God is calling forth in and through us, a time that asks us to be wide open to possibility. Times like these invite communities into their highest potential for creativity, and explore in ways we never thought possible, just how it is that something good can come from us, from this church, for this time and place.

 So, as you prepare for the meeting next week, and as we prepare for the year ahead, remember our readings today and the call to discipleship. How might following Jesus come to mean something new, something life giving and transformational?
a reflection on the readings for Epiphany 3B: Mark 1:14-20; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Psalm 62:5-12; Jonah 3:1-5, 10 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Can Anything Good Come Out of Nazareth?

John Lewis, a Congressman from Georgia, has written memoirs of his days working with Martin Luther King, Jr. These books reflect Lewis’ deep spirituality and describe how faith, hope, and love have been the guiding principles of his life. In his book, “Across That Bridge, Life Lessons and a Vision for Change” Lewis tells a story from the early 1960’s, which I paraphrase here:

On day Lewis entered a restaurant and ordered a meal. As a black man he was not allowed in the restaurant and was asked to leave. He gently refused and tried again and again to order his meal. Finally the waitress brought him his meal. Just as he was about to take his first bite, the waitress proceeded to pour disinfectant down his back. She then poured water all over his meal. The restaurant owner proceeded to spray Lewis with an insecticide intended to kill cockroaches. The owner sprayed Lewis until his skin was burned. All the while Lewis offered no resistance. Instead he looked them in the eye, reminding them that he was a human being. Lewis believed that the sheer act of putting his body on the line, in peaceful resistance, manifested the reality that the love in his soul, had already overcome hate.

Lewis extended love to these two because in his mind’s eye he was seeing them as the innocent babies they once were. He saw them as one of God’s beloved.  Grounded in that deep love of God, Lewis understood that the hatred they were exhibiting was a shell, something learned over time. This shell of hate and anger covered their inherent goodness – a goodness equally bestowed by God on all human beings. Lewis lives to this day with the deep belief that:

“Life is like a drama, and any person who is truly committed to an ideal must believe in the authority of a divine plan. Not a rigid, micromanagement of human behavior that predicts every step of every individual, but a set of divine boundaries that governs the present, the past, and the future—a set of principles humankind does not have the capacity to override, no matter how far we attempt to stray from its dictates.” (Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change).

In the early 1960’s members of the Civil Rights Movement, were actively and consciously learning how to utilize the power of their faith to move society forward. They used faith as a shield that literally protected their spirit and sense of integrity against the false notion that anyone had the power to inflict pain, limitation, despair, or any condition upon anyone else.

They decided to actualize the belief that the hatred they experienced was not based on truth, but was an illusion in the minds of those who hated them. Through intentional spiritual formation from the teachings of Gandhi and Thoreau, Lewis and others like him, learned to access a deep and abiding sense of love, patience, and hope.  This spiritual practice was based on teachings about the nature of God and God’s call to the faithful who practice God’s teachings. 

Our readings this morning all focus on the idea of being called by God, and our response to that call. Samuel, although a small boy, is called to become a "trustworthy prophet of the Lord." The Gospel of John tells the story of Philip and Nathanael leaving everything behind to follow Jesus. And in the way that scripture has of aligning itself with the times we live in, where God’s word remains relevant and active, we hear in the Gospel reading, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Can anything good come out of poor people?
Can anything good come out of rich people?
Can anything good come out of black people?
Can anything good come out of people of color?
Can anything good come out of white people?
Can anything good come out me?
Can anything good come out you?
Can anything good come out of these times we live in?
Take a moment and ponder this. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? That real Nazareth where Jesus lived 2000 years ago, and the symbolic Nazareth which is the image of God calling us out of our comfort zones and into the deep waters of real life and ministry.
Do you think that anything good can come out of this church? 
Do you actually believe that God calls us and works through us?
 Do you believe that God has called you to this time and place? 
And that as a result God is calling something good to rise up out of you, out of me, out of us, out of this church? That we have a God given purpose and calling to this place and time? 
I do. 
I believe that with every breath I take and every prayer I say and everything I do. 
Still it’s true that sometimes one needs help discerning the authentic voice of God amongst the cacophony that seeks to distract one from one’s true path. 
Samuel seeks the guidance of Eli. People discerning a call to ordained ministry need to have that call confirmed by a community of people who, after spending a number of weeks and months in prayer and conversation, can affirm a call or redirect the person toward another understanding of their call. Each of us has a calling, and for many of us it manifests in the work we do every day, whether that is our paid profession, our volunteer work, or our role as a parent or grandparent, lawyer, doctor, nurse, teacher, musician, or priest.
Martin Luther King, Jr. who will commemorate later today, knew his call from God. A minister and an activist for social justice, particularly as one who spoke out against racism and prejudice, Dr. King literally put his life on the line to follow God. King worked hard for the survival of people of color, to strive to form the beloved community - for all of society to recognize the inherent value of all human beings – loved by God and worthy of equal opportunities in all avenues of life.  Dr. King points us to consider how our call, like his call, is a movement toward the fulfillment of the kingdom of God, or what it means to love God, love self, and love others, that good did come out of Nazareth, and good can come out of us. 
 Our call may not look as extreme or as intense as Martin Luther King, Jr’s, nor as personal as Samuel’s, Jesus’, or the disciples’, but that doesn’t mean it is less important to the kingdom of God. How we manifest God’s love in the world by bringing forth as much good as we are able, good that manifests as equality for all, dignity for everyone, respect and kindness, deep listening and honoring the integrity of one another, by willingly putting ourselves on the line, in love, God’s love, will allow God to reveal in and through us, that good does indeed come out of Nazareth, out you, out of me, and out of this parish in this place and time.  Because anything to the contrary of this belief is an illusion. God’s will always prevails and that truth is found in love. 

A reflection on the readings for Epiphany 2B: 1 Samuel 3:1-10; John 1:43-51

God is IN the Darkness

Although I am preaching without a manuscript here is the gist of what I intended to say for Easter 2B, commenting on the readings appointed ...