Saturday, November 12, 2016

Broken Love

Our readings this morning in Isaiah and in the Gospel of Luke appear to be sounding a warning. Look out! The times they are a-changing!
But let’s remember that these readings appear every three years and were not designated specifically for today as a response to this presidential election or the times we live in. We are not to read into them more than they are. They are the end of a three year cycle of Bible readings which all combined give us a portrait of what it means to be a people of God and how we are to live as a beloved community, the kingdom of God come near. .
Isaiah is a prophet who lived about 2600 years ago. Isaiah lived during a time of great turmoil for the Hebrew people. The people were divided and cynical about their future. There was hardship and their lives were difficult.
Into this state of despair, Isaiah reminds the people that God is with them. God will turn their heartache into grace, their challenges into new life. Isaiah prophesy’s “Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox… They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.”
The Gospel of Luke is similarly doom and gloom with a hint of hope. Luke is speaking of events that happened in his world, in his day: war, disease, destruction, earthquakes – all of which preceded the ultimate tragedy – the destruction of the temple by Roman soldiers in the year 70. The temple was where God resided and the Romans pillaged it, tore it down and took the beautiful artifacts and paraded them through Rome.
Luke wrote this Gospel about twenty years after the destruction of the temple. And the message of the Gospel of Luke, with its fabulous parables and stories, is to remind us that God is active in the world and in our lives. The incarnation, the birth of God in the life of Jesus, the love of God manifest in human flesh, is a sign for us that God will act in and through human beings. God acted in and through Jesus. God acted in and through the early Christian communities. God acts in and through us, hoping to bring us together, to restore peace, to build the beloved community.
Somehow God always finds a way to do this.
Because ultimately God desires that chaos be transformed into order and that sorrow be transformed into wisdom. God seeks to console us in our despair and fill us with peace. But God does not accomplish the transformation alone; we must be active participants with God in the transformational process. That’s incarnational love. 
So, whether you are someone who is pleased with the outcome of the election or whether you are someone who is grieving and fearful, remember our primary value as Christians is to respect the dignity of every human being by loving God, love self, and loving others.
Love begins with God and how we treat each other. How we respond to challenges is only a reflection of how fully mature we are in our faith and how capable we are of living our values. Those who are pleased with the outcome of this election have hope that there will be a restoration of order, which brings them comfort. But, there are real people in the world today who fear for their lives as an outcome of the election. The fear and despair feels real, and maybe the risk is real too. Black children and transgender children are dying by suicide because living in this world now feels too risky. Children in schools right here in our area are terrified of deportation. Women wearing hijab's are being attacked.  If you are a woman who has been abused, this election may have opened wounds, resurfacing the violence that was inflicted and leaving women literally shaking and ill from fear. 
In the words of Leonard Cohen, may he rest in peace, let us remember that “Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”
 All of this points to a huge division in how we live out our values and the unconscious impact of systemic racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia.
We in this church claim to be open, welcome, and affirming, we say that we are a community centered church that feeds people in mind, body, and spirit. So now the rubber hits the road because if this is really a value for us, a belief we stand behind, then we need to be a safe harbor for everyone. We need to be love, broken, real, solid, in solidarity, for the safety of everyone. As Anne Lamott tweeted recently, “Every time we choose the good action or response, the decent and the valuable, it builds incrementally, to renewal and resurrection.” Love is not a victory, it’s hard work that never ends, regardless of how cold or broken life may be.
In a few minutes we are going to baptize two babies into the body of Christ. The Christian values in our baptismal covenant charge us to respect the dignity of every human being every day all the time. For me this means resisting the temptation to name call, to not say things that demean another person, don’t diagnose others, do not blame others, take responsibility for myself, for my actions, thoughts, and words. I can disagree with something a person says or does without diminishing them as person…loving God, self, and neighbor. 

The Gospel of Luke tells us that by our endurance, we will gain our souls. Let us endure to lift up others. Let us endure to be a safe place. Let us endure to be a beloved community, the kingdom of God now. May we not be afraid to take risks, let us endure. May we be a place of hope, let us endure in love. May we be the beloved community built on God’s transforming grace. May we, broken as we are, be love. Hallelujah. 
a reflection on the readings for Proper 28C: Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 21:5-19   

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Perfectly Broken

Saints have always been part of my faith reality, in large part because as a child I attended the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The Christian tradition defines saints as people who are more like Jesus than the rest of us, which means they are almost perfect and they perform miracles. The Episcopal Church has a huge book on the saints we recognize and we celebrate one every Tuesday at the weekday Eucharist. 
As a child I wondered what kind of person was so perfect in their faith that they could perform miracles like Jesus did. As an adult I’ve come to realize that being perfect is not the goal and miracles are in the eye of the beholder. I take comfort in Richard Rohr’s saying:
“We come to God much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.”
The disciple Peter, for example, is a less than perfect saint. He defended his love of Jesus, but then at a critical moment Peter ran away and denied he knew Jesus. Jesus called this broken man “the rock” upon which the church was built. Jesus asked Peter to feed the sheep - which means you and me. So, we are fed by a broken saint who reminds us that even in our broken selves we too are saints. Louise Penny in her spirit-filled but secular detective novels has Inspector Gamache, her lead character, reflect on how “being broken makes one stronger.” 
How is it that the message in our reading this morning from the beatitudes in the Gospel of Luke gives us insight into what it means to be both broken and, perfect just as one is, an ordinary human being and a saint?
For one thing, in the Eucharist, when we tell our Christian story of how God is working in and through Jesus and in and through us, we symbolize God’s action in Jesus, God’s love, when I break the bread and we share pieces of this broken bread with one another. Being broken is holy. In Japanese culture, when a piece of pottery is broken they mend it back together with gold. The gold increases the value of the pottery and creates beautiful patterns along the broken edges. Being broken is an opportunity to be made whole in a new way, a more beautiful way. The bread we break is a sharing in the body of Christ, inviting us to be made whole in God’s love. 
There are many ways that we are broken, as individuals and as a parish with a 150 year history. Take for example our organ - a little over a year ago, this instrument valued at nearly a million dollars, and one of our primary assets, was failing. It was failing from age and in need of its anticipated every fifty years refurbishment. Now, after a creative and engaging campaign, the organ repairs are underway and all of the funds to repair the organ have been acquired. We came together as a congregation to raise the funds to fix the broken organ and make it whole. In the process of repairing this broken instrument we have learned much about the organ and organ music - remember the forty Sundays of mini organ concerts last year? And, the tours to the loft to see the pipes? And all the handouts on the organ? Eventually it will be back in full form and I trust that we will swell with joy when we hear it played again. In a way the refurbishment of the organ stands as another symbol, like the breaking and sharing of the bread, of how we are made better, and extend ourselves more fully, and come together more completely, through our brokenness. 
There are many other ways that we break ourselves open and share ourselves. Like the people in this church who tend to our altar - making bread, setting the table, and washing the dishes. People who sing in the choir, or people who some time in its forty year history have sent their kids to Chapel Day Preschool. People who lead our Christian Formation for kids and youth and the occasional adult forums. People who work with the Evangelism Commission or Ushers, helping people find their way into this community. People who take care of the property and ensure that the building and grounds are maintained and kept beautiful. People who offer and partake in our martial arts, stretching, and dance classes. People who tend to our finances and investments and ensure that we are being good stewards of the money entrusted to this parish for our mission and ministries. People who work with the Stewardship Commission and remind us to think about God, generosity, gratitude, and practicing our faith. People who serve in Parish Life – providing coffee hour and other offerings of hospitality. People who plan our worship and lead our worship and serve on Sunday mornings as acolytes and Lay Eucharistic Ministers, people who read the lessons for us and people who take communion to people in their homes. The Vestry who, along with the clergy, discern, formulate, articulate and hold before us our mission in the world, as a Community Centered Church that feeds people in mind, body, and spirit. Sometimes we feed people in literal ways through Blessings in a Backpack that feeds hungry kids, the food pantry that feeds hungry individuals and families, the SCHOOL project in Liberia that feeds hungry minds, the annual Holiday Market to supports local artists, and many other ways we share this building with countless people who come here every week – from AA to Creating Hope International (which is an organization that educates women in Afghanistan) to League of Women Voters to voice lessons, recitals and concerts, and many other groups and events in between.
What I hear in the beatitudes is a reminder that we are broken but we are also all blessed. Our brokenness and our blessing express themselves like gold mending the cracks when we tend to the hungry and the poor – those who are literally hungry and those who are spiritually hungry. Living an active faith does not mean that we will live perfect lives. We will struggle. Struggle with our faith. Struggle with what we believe. Struggle with whom to help and why. Struggle with those who challenge us. Struggle with those who are different. We all struggle. We are all imperfect.
When we walk to the altar in a few minutes we will offer our selves, broken or whole, just as we are, to God. You may also place your pledge card on the altar acknowledging that your gift of money is a sacrament – an outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible grace of God’s love in our lives. Each of us here today contributes what one can in time, talent, and treasure.  
So, bring yourself to this table, where the bread is broken. And in the breaking of the bread and in the offering of one’s self, may each one of us be made whole again, the body of Christ given for the love of the world. 

a reflection for All Saints’ Day: Luke 6:20-31

Thursday, November 03, 2016

CEB Women's Bible

Like other bloggers on the RevGalBlogPal site, I was thrilled to catch the invitation to read and review the Common English Women's Bible. As an Episcopal priest I tend to use the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible and am fond of the Oxford Annotated edition, which I purchased while in seminary. As a woman and a priest I have struggled with the dominant male voice in the church, often at the complete exclusion of female voices. So, over the years I have actively sought out all resources and Bible commentaries by women and from a woman's perspective. Thus I was immediately drawn to review this Bible, and have high hopes for its translation, its accuracy and clarity. I am also hopeful that this interpretation will provide new insight into well known texts by lifting up women's stories which may otherwise lie in more obscure positions in the Biblical text. 

Due to some sort of shipping glitch I did not receive the CEB until a few days ago. Unlike some who have had this Bible for a few weeks and have used it for their daily devotions, I have had little chance to engage the text. Still, my focused review and reading of some of the texts, leaves me hopeful that this Bible will become a favorite. Every Tuesday I preside at a weekday Eucharist in the parish. A small handful of elderly women attend. I always lift up a female saint from the official Episcopal book of saints, and speak about the witness of women in the church and the world. I anticipate that this Bible will become an active part of that service and the Bible study that follows. I think the women will appreciate hearing from and studying through a Bible that is focused on both accurate translations and the point of view of women. I especially like the sidebar notes that the Bible contains, unpacking the text in richer detail. 

My only dismay is that, despite the effort to call Jesus "human one" every reference to God (at least those I have read in the Psalms) uses male pronouns. It would have been more helpful to use both male and female pronouns for God, and even occasionally no pronoun - God she, God he, God God. That would have opened up the image of God in a fuller, richer, more expansive, perhaps even provocative way. 

Overall, thank you for this Bible. It is not your typical "woman's Bible." 

The CEB Women’s Bible.  (c) 2016. Abingdon Press.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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