Thursday, July 12, 2018

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women in scripture, named women. But there is another reading that has been floating around in my head. It’s there reading from the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke where Jesus enters that temple: 

Luke 4.14-23 (referencing Isaiah 61:1)

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free, 
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ 
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

This reading framed the theology of Sue Hiatt and informed her work and ministry. Sue Hiatt is the mother of the movement of women’s ordination in the Episcopal Church, known affectionately as the Bishop of women, although she was never consecrated a bishop. She was ordained a priest on July 29, 1974 along with ten other women at church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, the first eleven women to be ordained in the Episcopal Church, albeit irregularly. Ordained because enough retired Bishops had overcome the outdated theology that ordination belonged to men only, came to know the truth that Justice is orthodox theology and were willing to ordain these women.

Here we are, gathered and surrounded by the communion of saints, both living and those who have gone before us, to celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit as she has moved through the women and men who created, supported, and sustained the Episcopal Women’s Caucus for 47 years. We’ve done this work because Justice is Orthodox Theology. 

The Communion of Saints was a phrase used by Mollie Williams, an Episcopal priest and seminary friend with Sue Hiatt, just a few days before Sue died in 2002. Mollie, bereft at the pending death of her good friend, rejoiced with the reality that they would meet again in the communion of saints. 

Mollie married me and my husband Dan 33 years ago. She is the person I credit with pointing me to the Episcopal Church and the person I tried to blame when I heard a call to ordination. Mollie refused to take credit, she said it was all the Holy Spirit. 

The process toward women's ordination began in 1855 when the order of deaconess was establish, a lay order of women designated to serve the poor. It picked up momentum at a gathering of women at Graymore in April 1970. The Episcopal Peace Fellowship invited people from their members list to come to the conference at Graymore, to explore the real possibility of women’s ordination. The conference had grown out of the secular women’s movement, which was growing out of the civil rights, anti-racism, and peace movements of the 1960’s. It grew out of the 1967 General Convention that finally approved women to be deputies at General Convention, after a 25 year struggle. It grew out of the work of Lueta Baily who was one of 25 female deputies seated during the 1970 convention. The president of the house of deputies said, This is an act of the Gospel, which always comes with a judgment on our past and grace for our present and our future. The newly seated women come as bearers of the gospel, making us whole, holy, as the people of God.

From that conference in Graymore, and the failure of a resolution to specifically allow the ordination of women to all orders, at General Convention in 1970, another gathering organized in October of 1971 at Virginia Theological Seminary, a group of women and some men who came to call themselves the Episcopal Women’s Caucus. Sue Hiatt was there, so was Nancy Wittig, and Barbara Schalacter, Who else is a member of the communion of saints, past or present, of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus? I’ll start us off with a few, lift up those who were influential in your life:

Sue Hiatt
Pamela Chinnis
Barbara Harris
Frances Trott
Judy Upham
Marge Christie 
Pauli Murray
Pat Merchant
Sallee Bucklee
Katie Sheered
Elenor Lee McGee 
Merrill Bittner, 
Helen Havens
Alla Bozarth-Campbell, 
Marie Moorefield,
Katrina Swanson, 
Nancy Wittig
Cynthia Black
Pat Merchant
Judith Conley
Byron Rushing
Bill Fleener
Bishop Coleman McGehee
Bishop Bob DeWitt

When the resolution to ordain women failed to pass again in the 1973 General Convention people were mad. Women were mad. Sue Hiatt helped to orchestrate the ordination service that took place in July of 1974 because she had come to realize that the church was rejecting women’s ordination because it was easier not to ordain women than deal with the challenges that would come with ordaining women. There would only be change, she determined, when women took control of their future and made it so that it became easier to ordain women than deal with the bad press and the political challenges of not ordaining women. Hiatt wrote: "By the way, the Spirit of God often works in the world when the church won’t admit Her. Time and again in the history of our God and His people forces break in from outside to call us back to what we should be doing…. 

My friend remarked that she finally realized why the Canadians were so timid in confronting their bishops. They had accepted ordination as a gift, whereas we had claimed it as a right.

We stopped being grateful in 1970, and that made all the difference in terms of our self-imaging.

As predicted all hell broke loose when the eleven women were ordained in Philadelphia. Or actually its probably more accurate to say that the Holy Spirit finally had her way and because she is forceful when it comes to justice and doing God’s will, human beings rebelled and tried to stifle the Spirit. Like humans did with Jesus, like humans always do when the Spirit is calling us to do the radical work of justice that God seeks. But the Holy Spirit always has her way in the end.

Finally, thanks to the strategic work of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus grounded in the expertise of Sue Hiatt and her years of community organizing as a social worker and the expertise of Pat Merchant, Bill Coates, and George Rigas, who lobbied delegations at the 1976 General Convention who had split votes, the resolution granting ordination to women in all orders passed in 1976.

But that was not the end of the women’s caucus. In some ways the work had just begun. Encouraging dioceses to ordain women and congregations to call women as deacons, priests, and rectors, and even bishop, became the focus, still is the focus of many in the church today. The call to ordination and hiring women embraced the slogan, Justice is Orthodox Theology.

Over the years the Episcopal Women’s Caucus took on more causes for justice in the church from efforts to dismantle racism, encouraging people to think about the ways racism resided in us, in our words through the WordsMatter Project, supporting the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, working with the LGBTQ community, engaging with our sisters and brothers under the umbrella of The Consultation, the organizing body that unifies all of the justice groups in the Episcopal Church and moves our work forward during General Convention and in the years in between. Always our work focused on women supporting women. 

The early years of the women’s caucus, guided again by the insights of Sue Hiatt, worked to dismantle sexism and misogyny, especially women’s distrust of each other. Known as horizontal violence,  violence against each other, rather than the oppressor is characteristic of any oppressed group

All along we’ve been cautioned that like women pioneering in any field that has been male-dominated we need to be especially vigilant about the dangers of becoming part of rather than merely the object of the councils of the church. Systems of racism, sexism, even misogyny reside deep within us, and because we do not know what we do not know that we do not know, we have to be intentional about looking at our selves and how these systemic prejudices manifest in our thoughts, words, and actions. 

These days we have a rising tide of people who are publicly supporting their own oppression and the oppression of others: from women’s rights to quality healthy care, to asylum seeking women and children at our borders, to equal opportunities for education and employment, there is an intentional, systemic dismantling of every human right granted to people in this country since the 1960’s in a last ditch effort to restore the so-called supremacy of the rich white male. I firmly believe that this effort will fail, because I believe that Justice is Orthodox theology, and I am convicted by the power of the Holy Spirit. She is a force to be reckoned with and she always gets her way.

But because our God is incarnational, because the Holy Spirit works in and through human beings, she only gets her way when she finds people like Sue Hiat and her colleagues to lead the way, to take responsibility for our own lives, and assume authority for and insist upon the conditions in which we will live. If you don’t like it, do something about it, was her mantra. Don’t ask permission, just do it. 

Sue was always saying to her allies, “You know, things are bad, but we’ve got each other, and so on we go. Don’t worry, it’ll be all right—if not good.”

The women’s caucus has come to an end. But our work in, through, and for the church and the world is not over. We need to find new ways to carry on.  The challenges then and now:

Weight of inertia - the daily onslaught of violence from the leaders of this country is exhausting, and we run the real risk of getting stuck. But staying stuck is only for the privileged among us, the rest of us must align ourselves with the oppressed, because the spirit is upon us, we are called for such a time as this to gain release for the captives and set the oppressed free. Because Justice is orthodox theology. 

Feeling inferior - no more. As women, no matter one’s skin color, no matter one’s social class, no matter one’s education, no one is inferior in the eyes of God. It only takes one person to rise up, filled with the Holy Spirit, convicted of God’s justice, to change the world. Mary did it when she agreed to birth God into the world. She changed everything with her willingness to rise up.

Scattered Efforts - this is our greatest risk today and the primary reason the Caucus has ended. There are lots of efforts out there working to change the world, change the church, work for justice. But our willingness to come together in larger groups and work with a body, an organization, has passed. We, the board of the Caucus, tried for 6 years to rebuild this body, the Episcopal Women’s Caucus, to refocus, reorganize, reinvent, recharge. And there was lots of enthusiasm for it, but very few people willing to step up into leadership. So we made the sad decision to close down this body, but with the hope that it will provoke an opening, that in void something new will rise up, that in the space afforded by this opening, the Holy Spirit will move in and something, someone, will pick up the mantle, organize the people, unify our efforts, and inspire a new generation to live by the creed, Justice is Orthodox Theology, and thereby change the world. 

Let us gather at the river with the communion of saints, with those past, present, and yet to come. Let us give thanks for what has been and then gather up the fortitude to labor on. 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Discipleship: becoming one's true self

My seminary advisor was a renowned New Testament scholar, one of his protege students turned out to be Sarge Thomas' daughter, Amy, who taught one of the New Testament classes I took. Small world. Anyway, one day my advisor was talking to me about something, I don't recall what exactly. I do remember he said to me that he thought that the reason I didn't ask a lot of questions in class was because I had grown up in the Mormon church and that church doesn't encourage thinking and questioning.  No doubt I was raised to be the good girl, quiet, well behaved, and my childhood goal was perfection. However, I'm not sure if that's exactly why I was quiet in class. I suspect it had more to do with fear. I've mentioned before that Faithwalking course a number of us have taken and are taking, invites us to look deep at our lives, to ponder the things we learned about ourselves before we were 20 years old, especially the things that hurt us, shamed us, and left us feeling bad about ourselves. One of the things I learned when my mother announced that my brother scored higher on an IQ test than I had scored is that I wasn't smart. It's not what my mother said, but it's what I heard and the memory I made from that moment and how I defined myself. I'm not smart. So of course, if I think I'm not smart, and I'm sitting in class with students who have bachelors from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton - yeah, that's my seminary class - then you bet I'm not going to ask questions out loud, in front of the class. I didn't need anyone to know just how not smart I was.

But here's the thing. I've always had a lot of questions. Questions about myself, about the way the world works, about where God is in the world, about how God is working in my life and in the world.  I came to the Episcopal Church when I was in my early 30's because I was told that this is a church where I can ask questions and ponder life and faith.

So when I live by the idea that I'm not smart and I won't ask questions because I don't want people to see just how not smart I am, and yet I live with lots of questions inside of me that I hide away, then I am living a false self. I hide my true self behind being quiet, not asking the questions I have inside of me, out of fear of being judged, of people finding out that I am not smart, out fear of being shamed, like the shame I felt when my mother said that about me all those years ago. And living from my false self means I live a small, narrow life, one that denies me the fullness of myself,  prevents me from being whole and healthy and happy.

Jesus shows us how to live that whole, healthy true sense of self life because that's the life he lives. Jesus calls this true self, this whole self, discipleship - because following Jesus, being one of Jesus disciples leads one to the fullness of life.

The Gospel of Mark teaches that discipleship means setting aside fear of authorities, power, imperial pretense, and religious hypocrisy, because disciples learn to live from a place of true self. This true self lives within the values and principles that guide one's life.  For me that means that I try to live from the principle that God loves me just as I am, that I am made just as God desires me to be, and that what I value in life, how I love God, love myself, and love my neighbors, is what matters because this is the primary value of my life.

In our reading today from Daniel we hear the story of Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednago, and their response to King Nebuchadnezzar.  This king has built a giant statue of himself and has ordered everyone to kneel to it. But these three men, councils to the king from the Jewish people, refuse to kneel. Enraged the king throws them into a fire to kill them. But instead of dying these men are joined by an agent of God who walks in the fire with them and they come out unscathed. The king is so astonished that he allows the worship of the Jewish God in his nation.

In both the Gospel reading, with the rocking boat and pounding waves that nearly tip the boat over, and in the reading from Daniel with the men who survive the fire, we learn that life is full of challenges - literal and figurative - real fire, real wind, and figurative fires and wind. Holding steady to what one believes and values, living from one's true self enables one to weather the storms and challenges intact and whole.

a little reflection on the readings for Proper 7B, Daniel 3; Mark 4:35-41

Saturday, June 16, 2018

How to know what I don't know that I don't know....

What are the things that I don't know that I don't know?

This is the primary question that Faithwalking asks each person to consider. And then, how can I begin to know what I don't know?

One way I can do this is to learn to listen differently. Instead of listening for only 3-9 seconds before I begin to decide what is right or wrong about what another is saying, before I begin to formulate my argument back, before my autopilot reactive response that is formed by previous wounds and hurts kicks in, I can decide instead to listen differently. I may not ever agree with what you say, but I can listen with the idea that what you are saying is true for you, and maybe I can learn something from that. At the very least I can be fully present to you and hear what you say.

At some point in time each one of us has been broken, deeply truly broken, shamed, hurt, rejected, embarrassed, neglected or abused.

Listening for right or wrong/ agree or disagree will close me off to something that God wants me to hear, and if I close myself off to what God wants me to hear I will not grow fully into the person God desires me to be, I will stand in the way of my own transformation.

And so learning to listen differently is critical.

Listening differently puts me in a place of vulnerability because as I listen differently I will also BE different. I may end up being more human, more authentic, more real, I may disclose more of my real self.

But there is healing in our ability to be real, to listen deeply, to be present with others.

You and I may hold very different values and beliefs. I can learn from listening to you. Maybe you will learn something from listening to me. You do not need to be me. I don't intend to be you.

Sometimes I am the parable in the Gospel reading today: just as I am about to grow full and ripe  the shame and pain of previous wounds cuts me off like a sickle cuts off grain,  and I retreat into my wounded self Other times I have the courage and the inspiration to grow more fully, pain and all, and then I find that the growing pains have actually made me a better, happier, wise person.

Sometimes I am like the people Paul is speaking to in his letter to the Corinthians, I argue and want to be right, even if I am wrong. I won't listen, I act out of my first formation - the way I learned to be from the good and the challenges of my childhood - a way that may have helped when I was kid but fails me now as an adult. I don't want to behave like that broken 11 year old, I want to behave like a mature 61 year old, with compassion and wisdom.

I often wish I could be like Vashti in the reading from Esther - a woman who knew herself well enough, who valued her worth enough that instead of showing up wearing ONLY the crown before a room full of drunken men, she said no, she defied the king. She lost her role as queen but she retained her integrity. Or maybe I would be more like Esther, more meek and seemingly docile, and yet she too defied the King and saved her people.

As I prepare to begin the Faithwalking 201 course I am thinking about what it means to listen to God and follow Jesus, to live by the mission I hear God calling me into.

Will I live a small, narrow life, that seeks safety and avoids risk? Sometimes I really want that. But I fear that if I do that I will also feel incomplete, unhappy, inauthentic, not fully me, which will leave me feeling sad and empty.

To be the person God is calling me to be I need to listen and respect the human being that others are by not name-calling or belittling.  But that does not mean I have to agree nor support what they are doing. I can speak out, especially when someone uses scripture, the foundation of the faith I hold dear, to promote unjust actions which clearly go against what God intends - and God's intentions are clear if one reads all of the Bible instead of just pulling one or two sentences out of context.

So yes. I hope to be the person who speaks up, like Vashti or Esther, to be the seed that grows a deep faith and produces and active spirituality. You don't have to live your faith the same that I am feeling called to live, but I do hope that you too will learn to listen in a new way. To respect others, even if when you disagree, and to wonder, what can I learn from this? What I usually learn in situations like this is more about myself, how I can become more of who I want to be, how I can do more to make a difference. I can't change anyone else, but I can change me. This does not mean that I will be passive in the face of injustice, only that I will not demean others, even those whose values and beliefs are radically different from mine. I will, however, aim to speak up, to be like Vashti.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Listening as a Way of Life

Over twenty four years ago I began a process of deep listening to God. I had a volunteer ministry in a hospital offering massages to parents of sick children. Being a licensed massage therapist was prayerful, profound work for me, that took me to places of deep listening. I listened to people. I listened to God. I listened to myself. Eventually I discerned from all this listening that I needed to do more. So I entered a dual degree program to acquire a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Social Work, intending to be a hospital chaplain providing opportunities to guide people into deep healing of mind, body, and spirit. I had not yet decided if I was going to do this as an ordained person, that came later. It was difficult to listen to God and discern if I was called to the priesthood when I was already in seminary, surrounded by people who had already made that decision and had it affirmed by the lay committees, diocesan committees, and Bishops. Eventually I did make that decision and it was affirmed by all the people who needed to affirm it. 

However, I did not end up serving as hospital chaplain. By the time I was finished with my formal education I had heard another call, one that I had rejected initially because I knew it would be hard, but it was a call to parish ministry. While my call to the priesthood took an unexpected turn, I can only say now, 18 years into it, that I believe I heard God correctly and have lived faithfully the vocation God intended for me. 

Yesterday a number of us attended the ordination of Halim to the priesthood. It was a day that culminated many years of prayer and discernment of him. And already his life as a priest is not turning out exactly as he thought it would, because he is here in Dearborn, not Lebanon, and he is being called into a ministry he never imagined. I suspect, however, that following this call is just what God intends for Halim.

Soon Mitch will be ordained. He too has a sense of call, and it will be interesting to see how God calls him forward into ministry.

This parish has just spent a year in prayer and discernment, listening to God and pondering how we are being called into new life, what our purpose is here and now as Christ Church in Dearborn. I doubt that any of us knew last year what we know this year. It’s been a difficult year but in the end I believe we’ve heard God well and our decision to claim three goals for this parish is a response to that listening. Our goals are: deepen spirituality, engage in works of justice, and build relationships with ourselves, with the groups who use this building, and with the wider community. As we strive to live into these goals I suspect that God will take us places we never imagined. It is what God does, and how God works.

Likewise we hear stories in our scripture readings this morning of people listening to God. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is listening to God even though he does not fully know who he is or what is purpose is. Still he knows that he is called to bring forth God’s love into the world and to do that in radical ways - to literally love every one: the poor, the sick, the taxpayers, women, even the rich young man. Jesus’ family is not so certain that they are comfortable with how Jesus is living his life, they fear for him and want to contain him so he stays safe. At least they do that for awhile. I can’t imagine the Mary - who took a big risk for God to birth Jesus, nor Joseph who took big risk for God by staying with Mary - are actually fearful people who live limited, small lives. I suspect they get on board with Jesus and embrace his ministry. We know for certain that Mary was with him to the very end, risking even her own life to be at the foot of the cross. But at least for today his family appears to be fearful. And when we are fearful it is more difficult to listen to God. Our fear closes us off to possibility and we live smaller, more narrow lives.

Paul knew something about living a smaller life. Before he became a Christian he persecuted Christians. Then he literally had his sight taken away from him and new sight given to him - he because a Christian and began to work for good of all people. His letters to the churches aim to teach people how to live the Gospel, how to live in relationship with one another as Jesus taught, how to live by loving one’s self, loving others, and loving God. In today’s reading he talks about the nature of God’s presence with us, like a tent, a garment - God surrounds us and remains with us as we strive to do the work that God has called forth in us.

And then we our reading from the Faces of Our Faith curriculum, today the story of Deborah from Judges. We’ve heard the story of the creation of human beings, the story of Shiphrah and Puah who saved the Hebrew boys at birth which lead to the birth of Moses. To Moses leading the people into exile and five daughters of Zelophehed who had the courage to speak up and claim their father’s land, and now the story of Deborah. We are moving through the books of the Hebrew Bible and hearing the story of the formation of God’s people. Today’s story tells about the judge and prophet Deborah who gave wise counsel to Barak, the military commander. The battle fought in this text takes place in the promised land as the Hebrew people claim what they believe God has given to them. Deborah models a strong woman, faithfully listening to God, and Barak models someone who is willing to take the time to seek counsel, even from a woman, and listen before charging into battle. 

Listening is clearly a theme for our readings and for our common life together. Last week a number of us participated in the Faithwalking retreat where we practiced active listening - listening to the presenters as they taught us some of the foundational principles of Faithwalking. We spent time listening to God and reflecting deeply into our own lives. We practiced listening to each other. Do you know that the average person only listens to another person for 3-9 seconds before we stop listening and begin to formulate our argument back. And once we stop listening we have no idea what the person has actually said. In practicing active listening we were working on not responding, not judging, not arguing, not debating. Just listening and being able to say, I hear you. I hear you.

Being heard is a profound experience for both the person who was heard and for those listening. Listening to God, is a curious act of actually listening and hearing deeply the truth of one’s own life. God will only lead one more deeply into one’s most authentic sense of self. God can only do that when one takes the time to listen deeply. 

Today marks the end of a program year. We will celebrate a number of life transitions and give thanks for the ways we have grown in life and faith. It also marks new beginnings: for Halim, for this parish, for each of us. I’m excited and curious to see where God will lead us. I hopeful that we will step out in faith, courageously taking on the challenges that God has given us, trusting that God is with us, clothing us in faith, hope, love, so that this church can be its most authentic self in the world today.

Reflection on the readings for today: Proper 5B ( Psalm 130, 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1, Mark 3:20-35, and from the Faces of Our Faith curriculum - Judges 4-5)

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

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...