“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Risking Failure

Lucy, also known as St. Lucia, lived in Sicily in the third century. She was rich, young, and Christian. Raised in a pious family, she vowed her life to Christ. Her father died when she was young and so her mother arranged a marriage for her. For three years Lucy managed to keep the marriage on hold, preferring instead to devote herself to a Christian life of service. Legend has it that to change her mother‘s mind about the marriage and support her devotion to a Christian life, Lucy went to the tomb of Saint Agatha where she prayed for her mother’s long illness. Her mother was cured and subsequently agreed to end the engagement and allowed Lucy to devote her life to God.  
Lucy’s rejected pagan bridegroom denounced Lucy as a Christian to the governor of Sicily, because it was still illegal to be a Christian at that time. The governor sentenced her to forced prostitution. Think about that, forced prostitution as a punishment. This “punishment” is still inflicted on some women today. The legend says that when guards went to arrest Lucy, they could not move her even after they hitched her to a team of oxen. So the governor ordered her killed instead. After torture that included having her eyes torn out, she was surrounded by bundles of wood which were set on fire, but the fire  went out. Through it all she had the tenacity to prophesy against her persecutors. She was finally executed by being stabbed in the throat with a dagger. 
As often happens with saints, a custom began memorializing St. Lucia. In this custom a young girl, dressed in white to symbolize the sainthood of Lucia, serves coffee and saffron buns to people in her home. There’s a familiar Christmas hymn sung in her honor.
Lucy, and her mother, like a number of Christian saints, gave all their wealth to the poor, not out of guilt, but out of gratitude. The feast day of Santa Lucia is this Tuesday, December 13, and we’ll celebrate her feast day at the 11am service. This young girl took huge risks for her faith. And like many in the early church, she died as a result. In a world that recognizes success as growth in prosperity or size or influence it would seem that Lucy’s life, especially because she died young, was a failure. But as Christians we see that the risks she took are a success story, not a failure, because she has left a lasting influence on the worlds through her faith.
This church is entering into a year of celebrating our 150th anniversary. We started very small, struggled tremendously for eighty years or so, than experienced stabilization and growth in the mid twentieth century. Those days of the 1950’s and 1960’s are remembered fondly as if they were the perfect era of the church because we were big and prosperous. But did you know that in the history of Christianity the 1950’s and 1960’s are an anomaly? For most of the two thousand years of Christianity, churches have been small community based centers for worship and family life, tending to the poor and supporting people through life’s transitions from birth to marriage to death. 
For 150 years Christ Church  and the people who have worshiped here and the people served through this church have been profoundly blessed. We, the inheritors of this church, have much to be grateful for. We are blessed with a fine congregation of gifted members and we have a prophetic sense of mission as a Community-Centered Church that feeds people in Mind, Body, and Spirit. Prophetic because we are actively seeking to be a people of God, responding to and working to reconcile the injustices in the world around us. We feed people through our building with the many people who come here for AA or Dance, Martial Arts, Stretching, or music. We feed people who have office space here like Creating Hope International, an organization that works to educate and employ women in Afghanistan. We feed people by offering office space to the League of Women voters and benefit from the information they share with us so we can be knowledgable about our elections. We feed people with our labyrinth, community garden, and exterior plaza. The plaza is used every day as people walk their dogs and use the water fountain or just sit, enjoying the beauty of the space. We feed people literally with our food pantry and blessings in a backpack. We feed people spiritually with music and small group meetings and worship. We feed people intellectually through thoughtful discussions as well as the SCHOOL project in Liberia. We share, with gratitude, the blessing of this church and property that we have been given, thanks to the people who have been members of Christ Church across the span of our 150 years. 
Striving to live as God calls us brings with it inherent challenges. Like Lucy, this effort to live as God calls, can result in seemingly profound obstacles that require the courage to take the kinds of risks that may allow us overcome them. We see signs of the courage and the risks taking all around us and down through the ages. Living a prophetic life is risky. We take risks by just working to keep this building open, staffed, safe, clean, and accessible to everyone. There are financial risks as we continue to commit our resources to making an impact on the world around us through our presence here on this corner. 
The prophet Isaiah in our reading this morning knew very well that the prophetic life was risky.
Isaiah tells us that being prophetic means that one is willing to speak into and take action to reconcile the ways in which human beings and whole societies have moved away from what God desires, moved away from what it means to respect the dignity of every human being, moved away from caring for the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised, living with broken relationships with God, self, and others. 
In our reading this morning from Matthew Jesus responds to John the Baptist’s question, “Are you the Messiah?” by reminding us that God acts through people, restoring justice to all; the blind receive sight, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed.

I think that the ancestors of Christ Church would be proud of how we are providing vibrant ministries and feeding people in many ways. No doubt all of these require resources of time and money, and so these ministries are financially risky. But, Jesus does not call us to store up treasures on earth, no he calls us, if you will, to fail at saving and storing up. To fail at saving money and instead to give everything we have to help others and to make an impact on the world around us, to heal and feed and clothe and love. Like St Lucia, like Jesus, our success is not measured by size or prosperity or even if we live, its measured by how we pour ourselves out for others, by dying  - if you will - to change the world around us, being Christ’s hands and heart in the world. 
a reflection on the readings for Advent 3C: Isaiah 35:1-10, Matthew 11:2-11