Sunday, December 24, 2017

That's my story and I'm Sticking With It....

A friend of mine is fond of telling a story about her life and then concluding with, “That’s my story and I’m sticking with it!”
A few years ago my husband, son, and I were watching the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, the version that came in 2000 with Jim Carry as the Grinch. I remember thinking that they’d  changed the story, a lot, in order to make a full length movie out of it. It was significantly different from the version I saw as a child. Then our son said, this is the only version of the story he remembers. Same story, two versions…
Christmas also has two stories, two versions. We have the commercial one with Santa and parties, shopping and sales, and gift giving, and advertisements announcing that this is the most wonderful time of the year. Although it’s not for everyone. 
I have had Christmas’s when I could not afford to buy a single gift. I know what it feels like when the Christmas I am celebrating is not the Christmas our culture describes. That year challenged me to explore the meaning of Christmas while overcoming depression and sorrow over the circumstances of life, and make my peace with it.

That year I leaned into the original Christmas story. We went to church on Christmas Eve and I immersed myself in the mystery of God’s love revealed in music, prayer, and story. The story that  tells us about the birth of Jesus, of a woman brave enough to work with God, to take huge risks to bear a child and bring God’s love into the world in human flesh. Of a God who loves creation, loves human kind so much that God joins with us in our sorrows and our joys, and works with us to care for the world. 
A few years ago an amazing story appeared in an Alaska newspaper.  A man named Tom was out with a charter group on his 62 foot fishing vessel when four juvenile black-tailed deer swam directly toward his boat. “Once the deer reached the boat,’ he said, ‘ the four began to circle the boat, looking directly at us. We could tell right away that the young bucks were distressed.
I opened up my back gate and we helped the typically skittish and absolutely wild animals onto the boat. In all my years fishing, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. 
Once on board, the deer collapsed with exhaustion, shivering. We headed for the harbor. When we reached the dock the first buck we had pulled from the water hopped onto the dock, looked back as if to say, ‘Thank-you,’ and disappeared into the forest.
After some prodding and assistance, two more followed, but the smallest deer needed a bit more help. (for which he was put into a wheel barrow and transported from the boat to the dock).
Finally, with the help of three humans, the last buck got to its feet and ran off to join the others. …”
The beauty of stories like this is that they remind us that there is a thin line between creation, human beings, and the God who created all of us. And sometimes that line dissolves and we see the world as God might see it. A world called to live in harmony and peace. A world in which the true Christmas story merges with the commercial one, and we see the many gifts of life with which we’ve been blessed. 
On this most holy of nights/days we celebrate the reality that God is with us. In the mystery that is God, God has chosen to dwell in and within all creation, and most particularly in human life. 
This is our Christmas story, of God active in the world through the birth of Jesus. It is story that reminds us that how we live our lives reveals the fullness of God in the world – particularly when we live with compassion, kindness, gentleness, and love toward all. 
The true gift of Christmas cannot be placed into a box and wrapped with paper and ribbon and bows. The truest versions of the story remind us that the meaning of Christmas is found in the heart.

And, as Christians, the true gift of Christmas is made manifest in the one whose life we celebrate, the one who comes as the fullness of God’s love, to walk with us through this journey of life. To be with us in our joys and our sorrows, to be ever present in our life story. 

Even when life is at its most challenging, whether we are crazy busy, or feeling bleak and hopeless, or excited, or bored, or whatever life feels like -  somehow, by the grace of God revealed in the simplest of ways, we can experience the gift of life and the presence of God’s abiding love for us. It’s true that often God’s abiding love for us is made manifest in a simple act of kindness that you extend to someone, or they extend to you. The meaning of Christmas is God’s love revealed in the world in and through human beings, in the kindness and love we show for others, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, tending the sick, caring for all people. 
Into the darkness of a winter’s night, God gave all creation God’s most precious gift of love, Emmanuel – God with us, the Incarnation, the birth of Christ. The mystery of the Christmas story, of that precious gift of love, is a paradox – for the darkest night is also the source and the place of new life, of love, of God manifesting the fullness of God’s self into the world.

In this Christmas season, let the compassion of God fill us with hope. May we recognize, in our life’s story, the gift of how deeply God loves us, just the way we are. And may we love others with that same generous gift of love. 

That’s my Christmas story, and I’m sticking with it. 

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

For Such a Time as This

Perhaps the most profound challenge I have faced in the eighteen years that I have been ordained is my experience with the people who come asking for assistance. Some of these people haunt me to this day, either because I helped them or because I could not. How does one help a teenager, perhaps homeless, who comes to the church seeking a place to get warm, sleep awhile, and maybe get some food? I gave him a bag full of coffee hour muffins from the freezer, invited him to sit in the warm sanctuary, where he laid down and fell asleep on a pew, and I kept watch over him until I had to leave. He rode off on a bike, and I never saw him again. 

How does one help an out of control woman who comes panhandling after worship on Sunday morning, moving through the crowd of parishioners having coffee in the narthex? How to respond appropriately to her erratic, perhaps psychotic angry yelling? I offered her what I had, but it wouldn’t do, she wanted more and more, and left, angry, and yelling obscenities. I never saw her again either. 

And yet I am, you are, we all are called for such a time as this, called to respond to the needs of the world, to be the hands and heart of Jesus, to be a reflection of God’s love, to cloth the naked, feed the hungry, visit the sick and those in prison, to tend to the least of those in our midst. In the words of Isaiah this morning, to help rebuild the broken state of the world, to offer hope, to be generous, to rebalance the iniquities that allow for poverty, homelessness, inequality in all its forms including our long history with racism, and the newly rising tide of allegations, abuse, sexual misconduct  and violence against women and children. 

For such a time as this, we are called. 

Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, along with the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA church, Elizabeth Eaton, have called us for such a time as this, to pray, fast, and act. Every month, on the 21st day of the month, beginning last May, through December 21 of next year, we are to set aside time to pray, to fast, and to act.

Why the 21st of the month? That is the date the SNAP funds, food stamps, run out for families because we do not give them enough to buy food for an entire month. Erin and I have noticed a marked increase in visits to our food pantry from the 21st of the month until the beginning of the next month. But, lest you think that food stamps actually help people, I assure that the needs are far greater than what is given. There is virtually no assistance for people over the age of 18, everyone is expected to get a job. Don’t give me statistics on the number of people who reportedly scam the system, because I can assure you that there is a backstory that the statistics do not reveal. People are not given enough food stamps to live on for a month, they are required to find jobs, but we do nothing to help them get jobs. There are no regional initiatives to respond to the lack of jobs, and if one is lucky enough to find a job, it's usually minimum wage and we do nothing to assist with childcare, transportation, gas, or car insurance. 

And so, on the 21st of each month we pray for a more just world. We fast in solidarity with the hungry. And we seek ways to act to bring forth God’s love.
At our food pantry we get a few people now and then who want to take advantage of us. Our aim is to feed people, as many as possible in as dignified a way as possible. And so we hold people accountable to self-manage and respect others who come. We tell them, take what you need but leave food for others. And even those who have scammed us from time to time hold to this principle,  when we tell them that is our sole requirement - take what you need, and leave some for others. 

In fact our food pantry has become so generous that even those who are recipients of the food are beginning to help out. For Thanksgiving food distribution two of the pantry recipients came and spent all of Monday and Tuesday managing the food distribution, helping people get what they need and leave something for others. These two are coming back this week to help with Christmas food distribution. For Thanksgiving we ran out of turkeys twice. I went to Kroger, the one on the north side, where the manager allows us to purchase as many turkeys as we need, and to get them at the sale price. I bought 10 more turkeys, and while standing in line to pay for them, the woman in front of me donated $20 for the turkeys, because they were for the food pantry. 

For such a time as this. In the season of joy and glad tidings, of shopping and gift giving, and holiday parties. For such a time as this, when loss and despair heighten, and grief takes hold in a deeper way, contrasted with an often false message of cheer. For such a time as this, to be generous, to care for others, to work to right the injustices of the world. For such a time as this to fast, pray, act.

This Thursday night, December 21, we will gather with our local sister church, St. Paul Lutheran, for a Longest Night service, to participate in our call to common mission, to pray, fast, act. We will pray for the many ways people are grieving today, for the loss of loved ones, for the loss of hope, for the chipping away at our civil liberties and hard won efforts to right injustices. This month we are asked specifically to pray, which does not take away the incentive to fast and to act, but focuses our efforts primarily on prayer. We are to pray for one of the 17 UN Sustainable Goals to create greater balance in the world, to reduce poverty, increase education and employment and the one we will emphasize - bringing greater equality in all its forms. We will sing, meditate, anoint and pray for healing and wholeness, and share the simple meal of Holy Communion.

The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God is at work in every human endeavor to bring forth justice, peace, and love. God is in every act of compassion and generosity that human beings manifest. God comes to us in the incarnation, in the word made flesh, in the life of Jesus and every time care for others, feeding people in mind, body, and spirit. 

A reflection on one of the reading for Advent 3B, Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Saturday, November 25, 2017

I will with God's help....uncomplicating the complicated

I was baptized when I was nine years old. I have vivid memories of the baptism itself, of being terrified, as I was fully immersed three times in a deep pool of water, and my relief that I did not drown. But I have no memory of any preparation for that baptism. I don’t recall anyone talking to me that morning or the day before about the meaning of baptism and how it would impact my life.

In the early church people spent two years preparing for baptism. Then, only adults were baptized and the two years were spent unlearning one way of understanding the world - particularly that the emperor was God - and replacing that worldview with an understanding of who Jesus was and the Christian understanding of God.

Now, when I meet with parents and Godparents of an infant who is to be baptized, I spend about an hour in conversation with them followed by a rehearsal. 

Baptism is the beginning of one’s journey of faith. The first thing baptism does is “name” us. In baptism we all share the same last name, “Christian,” because in baptism we are named and become a member of the family and body of Christ.

One learns what it means to live as a Christian through being part of a faith community and through facing the challenges of life, making decisions based on the values of the Christian faith. In the world today it can be confusing to know what Christian values we are to live from. The baptismal covenant in the Book of Common Prayer offers Episcopalians some clarity on this. 

The covenant asks a number of questions including: Will you share? Will you treat others with dignity and respect? Will you learn about the Christian faith and will you worship in community; and our response is, “I will with God’s help.” We are not asked to journey alone, we are invited into a community of other people of faith and supported throughout our lives by the presence of God. Everything we do, we do with God’s help.

The conversation I have with people preparing for baptism covers three renunciations and three affirmations. Each person preparing for baptism is asked to renounce evil and affirm a new way of life. My hope is that people have a good sense of what they are renouncing and affirming in these vows. The first question I ask is, “What is evil? What does evil mean to you?” To a person this question, the idea of evil, is challenging. We live in a world that is full of evil but we are losing the ability to talk about evil from a spiritual perspective. This is because what gets defined as evil is culturally bound in time and place. Binding evil within the confines of a culture and a time tends to minimize evil and eventually, as times change, people reject that which has been defined as “evil.” 

In baptism we are reminded that evil is a spiritual force that pulls us away from God, causes harm to other people and causes harm to ourselves. I define evil as that which causes broken relationship in all its forms - broken relationship with God, broken relationship with the earth, broken relationship with other people, and a broken relationship with ourselves. How are you living with and struggling through broken relationships like these? What does it feel like when you are living with a broken relationship with God? What does it feel like when you are living with a broken relationship with another person? In what ways are you broken within yourself? Do you feel bad about who you are? Can you think about these broken places and recognize the evil forces at play in your life? Growing into being a mature Christian requires that we think about the broken places in our lives and work to heal them and make amends. 

Secondly, the parents and Godparents on behalf of the candidate, are asked to affirm a new life in Christ. What does this mean? What does “savior” mean to you? Again, “Savior” is one of those complicated Christian words that gets culturally bound up in time and place. The end result may diminish the meaning of savior in one’s life. I have often said that I think God called me into the priesthood in order to save me. By this I mean, God was saving me from myself, from my own propensity toward self destructive ways of diminishing myself. As a priest, as a wife, as a mother, I have felt called to do the hard work to be the best person I can. I have worked to have greater self-awareness of what pushes my buttons and how I can be more reflective and responsive and less reactive and emotional. I have gone to therapy and spiritual direction and worked to recognize my feelings and use them appropriately. Years ago, disenfranchised from church, I chose to return to church for the specific reason of having a community with whom to grow and mature as a person of faith. One cannot be a Christian by one’s self. One needs to be in relationship with a community of people who are facing life’s challenges so that we walk the journey together. Becoming a mature Christian and working to have healthy relationships is the bedrock of Christianity. 

This is why we baptize people on a Sunday morning in the primary worship service - so that baptism is central to our lives, central to who we are as a community, and so that the person being baptized understands that they are being welcomed into relationship, into community. 

In a few moments we will baptize Era Alden and welcome him into the body of Christ, into a history, into a faith community, and he takes on our name, Christian. May we do everything we can to support Ezra in his life in faith, as we have done for his parents and grandparents and for one another. May we do all of this with God’s help. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

A remedy for spiritual malaise.....

I’m tired. 
I’m tired of the onslaught of violence in the world: guns and mass murders; abuse of people of color; abuse of women; abuse of children; abuse of money; and on top of all of it, the seemingly endless hypocrisy. I’m tired of being in a rut and feeling stuck. I’m tired of the world as it is and yearn for what the world could be. I’m tired of feeling like I try, but I am just spinning my wheels, like tires stuck in mud. I use to spend the month of November and the days leading up to Thanksgiving thinking about gratitude and those things that I could be thankful for in life. And, although there are things that I am truly, deeply grateful for, the effort to list them feels false and trite to be as if I were trying to hide my head in the sand and pretend that all is well. Last week I asked us to consider the state of our souls. If I really look deeply, I can only say, my soul is agitated because I want to make a difference in the world, I want the world to be a less agitating place. 
This week in the Gospel of Matthew we have come to the third in a series of difficult parables. Two weeks ago we had the story about a wicked servant who mistreats other servants, then last week, the story about the ten maidens and what happens to those who are unprepared, and today a story about the workers and a corrupt boss. One worker turns his five “talents” into ten, the other turns his two talents into four, and the third who buried his one talent and returns only the one, saying; “Hey boss, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” 
So, let’s take another look at the third worker. He knows his boss is wicked, evil, and greedy, and he calls him on it. Whereas the first two did exactly what was expected of them without question, the third person calls it like it is, has the courage to speak up against the corruption. This third person shows courage, integrity, and perhaps a reasonable sense of fear because he knows that he will be ostracized for speaking up and telling the truth. 
The deeper challenge of this parable is played out in the news today. It’s almost mind boggling how many people, who are tired of burying the injustices of their lives, are speaking up. Now people are finding the courage to speak out against racism, sexual exploitation, and gun violence, people speaking out against violence and injustice in all its forms. Every day. More people. It begs the questions, What is happening? Who are we? and What are we supposed to do? 
As Episcopalians the baptismal covenant affords us clear guidelines on who we are and how we are to stand for justice.  In fact next week we will have a baptism and we will renew our baptismal vows. These vows ground us, reminding us how we are to live as people of faith, not passively, but courageously. The baptismal covenant reminds us that we are:
To persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord. To  proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving one’s neighbor as  one’s self. To strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. In other words, we are supposed to be the third worker. But the baptismal covenant also reminds us that we are not alone because to each of these questions the response is: “I will with God’s help.” 
Whenever I am feeling particularly exhausted I run on the treadmill. It’s a paradox that cardio exercise actually gives me more energy, but it does. It also relieves stress. Likewise when I am feeling spiritually exhausted I have to do spiritual cardio - I have to take more time for prayer and silence. I have to open myself up to God and trust that God will help. 
I fear there is no quick remedy for the tiredness that I feel. There is only the steady determination that prayer and action will move me into a new place. 
So perhaps, if you feeling the kind of malaise that I am feeling, there are some things one can do this week to pray and act: 
Come and support the Holiday Market this afternoon. The Holiday Market began 7 years ago, during the economic slump, as a way to support local artists, as a response to the shop small initiative, and as a response to the crazy rush of holiday shopping and consumerism that builds from Thanksgiving into Christmas. Our mission to feed people in mind, body, and spirit, is revealed through sharing our building with absolutely nothing gained for ourselves but the opportunity to be gracious and hospitable. So come and greet people who walk into our building and tell them about Christ Church - that the Holiday Market is our gift to artists and one way that we are making a difference in the world, enabling local artists to share their talent. Start your Christmas shopping by supporting these artists. Come to the Evensong and worship with a traditional night prayer set to music. Come and support Chapel Day’s bake sale. Come and support the musicians and enjoy a glass of wine while listening to some fine music. Share this with your friends and invite them to come too.
Come and participate in the Pray/Fast/Act this Tuesday night, which will be a combined initiative with the Centering Prayer group and our monthly invitation to participate in the Presiding Bishop’s call for us to Pray, Fast, and then act for justice, especially environmental justice. Come and take time in silence, listening to God, sharing a simple meal, and pondering ways we can be better stewards of the earth. Invite others who are looking for ways to respond to their anxiety and who want to make a difference in the world. 
Sign up to help with the Parents Night Out for Chapel Day on Saturday night, Dec. 2. Spend some time with the children of our preschool and get to know the parents. Help them experience our gratitude that they are here and that we hope that their experience of Christ Church is good.

Be an ambassador for this church every where you go. Share that we are creative and caring, working to do our part to restore some sense of justice in the world. Talk about Blessings in a Backpack, the food pantry, warm clothes for men, Creating Hope International, the League of Women Voters, AA, martial arts and stretching, the community garden, the labyrinth and pet memorial garden, and the many ways we share and care and strive to make a difference through prayer and action.

Maybe a little time on the spiritual treadmill will do the trick, unsticking what's stuck, relieving the sense of malaise, and reinvigorating a tired soul. 

A reflection on the Gospel of Matthew (25:14-30) in Proper 28A

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Resting on the Spiritual Porch

I have a good friend who is always late for everything. Whenever my friend and I schedule a date to get together I plan to arrive 15 minutes to a half hour later because inevitably she will call and say she’s just leaving.
At first brush, the Gospel story of the bridesmaids seems very critical of those who tend to be late. Unusually harsh because the story says that none of them knows the day or the hour that the bridegroom will come. However, if you don’t know the day and the hour how are you supposed to know when to be ready? Under those conditions even the most conscientious of us could be late and unprepared.
Perhaps the reading is not about promptness at all, but about what it means to be  awake, attentive, preparing? Specifically, in our context, what if it is speaking of spiritual preparedness?
Jim Wallis, one of the founders of the Sojourners community, tells a story about a colleague living in a village in Central America. She worked in a community that was marginalized in all kinds of ways. She poured herself into her work for social justice, laboring with great might to bring change to this village. One day, some of the people of the village came to her, asking her why she worked so hard, why she didn’t join them in their fiestas or sit with them on their porches in the evening.
“There’s too much work to do!” the laboring woman replied. “I don’t have enough time.”
“Oh,” the people of the village said. “You’re one of those.”
“One of who?” the woman asked.
“You are one of those,” they responded, “who come to us and work and work and work. Soon you will grow tired, and you will leave. The ones who stay,” they said, “are the ones who sit with us on our porches in the evening and who come to our fiestas.”
For me this story begs the question: Am I working hard, exhausting myself in the name of God, but ironically leaving no time or energy to just be present to God? Do I think that working hard is enough? Or is it actually more effective to listen for God’s direction and then go and do?
The Gospel reading points me to look at is how I spend my time and what occupies my inner thought process – in particular those things that draw me closer to God and those things that pull me away from God. Essentially asking me, above all, to make time for God. Nothing is more important than our relationship with God, with self and with others. And the only way to have a healthy relationship with God, with self, and with others is to nurture these relationships. To rest on our spiritual porches and commune with God.
So let’s take a moment and rest on a spiritual porch with God. Get as comfortable in your pew as you are able. You may want to close your eyes so you can pay attention to what’s going on inside of you. Take some deep breaths, right into your belly, and breath out. Can you feel yourself quieting down a little? Now pay attention to how you feel inside, and your thoughts. Consider the state of your soul. Are you at peace? Or are you restless? Are you agitated or calm? Do you feel at peace with your self? Do you feel at peace with your family, friends, and neighbors? If so, give thanks to God for this time of peace in your life. If not, ask God to guide you into the steps it will take to bring you to a place of peace, whether that means letting go of something, or forgiving something, or making a change in yourself. Now ask God what God hopes for you, what is God’s best idea for you and how you live your life?

When you are ready, open your eyes. 
There is another ancient Jewish legend about two men walking through the Red Sea, which God has spectacularly parted, in order to aid the exodus of the Jewish people. Imagine that walk, the high walls of water held back by a mysterious and awesome force so a group of people can follow God to freedom. Now imagine two men named Ruben and Simon who were part of that group, but instead of looking up and seeing the glory of God, they looked to the ground and saw mud.
“This is terrible,” said Ruben, “There’s mud all over the place.” 
“Disgusting” said Simon, “I’m in muck up to my ankles!”
“You know what?” replied Ruben, “When we were slaves in Egypt we had to make bricks out of mud just like this.”
“Yeah,” said Simon, “There is no difference between being a slave in Egypt and being free here.”
And so it went, Ruben and Simon complaining the entire way across the bottom of the Red Sea. For them there was no miracle, only mud. Their eyes, heart, mind, and spirit were closed to the possibility of miracle, grace, and God, even though they walked right through it all. We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are….
Taking time to focus on God is the only path toward living a balanced, holistic, fully integrated and authentic life of faith. But how does one do this? In a world in which many people are increasingly busier than ever, how does one find time to grow one’s faith and relationship with God? 

A process of preparing  can open one's heart to the peace of Christ. With the peace of Christ in one's heart, one’s spiritual lamps become filled with the kind of holy oil made up of  God’s love igniting the light within and the capacity to shine out into the world. Shining out to be God’s hands and heart in the world. Shining out to feed people in mind, body, and spirit.

A reflection on the Gospel for Proper 27A: Matthew 25:1-13

Saturday, October 21, 2017

One Degree of Difference

I did this exercise with us a few years ago, but I want to do it again. How many of you have your cell phones on you? If your cell phone has a camera, take out your cell phone and take a picture of your self. If you don’t have smart phone close your eyes and imagine seeing yourself in your mind’s eye.

Now look at the picture and notice what your see. Notice the color of your eyes and their shape. Notice the shape of your face and your skin tone. What are your thoughts as you do this?

Now looking at your face imagine that the face you are looking at is the face of God. It’s your face - but it’s also God’s face.

Does that change the image you see? Are you able to see that the image in the selfie is you and is also an image of God? God has your eye color, your skin tone, and the same shaped face as you. 

God looks like each one of us and all of us at the same time. God reveals God’s self in and through every human being. God is black and brown, pink, and white, olive toned, and all shades of skin color. God has blue eyes, brown eyes, black eyes, gray eyes, green eyes, and every shade of eye color. God has all hair color and all textures. 

At the same time God has none of our human characteristics - because God is neither limited nor confined by human constructs - God made us in God’s image - thus God is like all of us - but God is also more, much more than all of us. 

The identifying characteristic that made the Hebrews different from any other faith is the reality that God was with them, where ever they went, God went with them. As Christians we’ve come to know God as revealed in the person of Jesus. God with us gives us the idea that we can see and know God in human form. 

Now take a look at the person sitting near you. Yes, this will feel a little uncomfortable. But try it anyway. As you look at a person sitting near you, say out loud, “You are the face of God. In you I see Jesus.”

Just sit with that for a moment. “You are the face of God, in you I see Jesus.” Each one of us is the face of God, in us God’s love made manifest in Jesus is revealed to the world. 

So looking again at your image in the selfie - think about this, that God is looking back at you. What does God see? 

God sees a beloved human being. God sees a person that God loves deeply. God looks at you tenderly and with compassion, holding all your fears and worries with love. God looks at you and says, you are my most precious creation, with you I am well pleased. 

God does the same thing with our church. God looks at us, with all our flaws, and says, Christ Church in Dearborn, is my most precious creation. God does this for every church, every synagogue, mosque, and house of worship. God loves God’s creation. 

At Christ Church we have many ways of expressing God’s presence in and through us and out into the world around us. As a community centered church that feeds people in mind, body, and spirit, we reveal the face of God, the love of Christ, to those who come into our building for the food pantry, for blessings in a backpack, to support the work of Creating Hope International and its initiative to educate women in Afghanistan, to the League of Women Voters and their work to develop informed voters, to dance classes, martial arts, stretching, voice lessons, Chapel Day preschool, AA meetings, even to the postal carriers who come here every day for a brief respite and a bathroom break.

These are just a few of the ways that we reveal God’s love made manifest in Jesus, God’s love in us, through the mission and ministries of this church. One could say that revealing God’s love is a Christian practice, a habit, that gets formed in one’s self  when one comes to church and works on growing into a mature Christian with an active faith. 

Christian practices help us form habits of faith which then inform how we live. Developing habits of faith is a process, one that we develop by being intentional and consistent, by literally practicing the practice of being a Christian. We learn the practice of being a Christian in our worship on Sunday morning, that is its purpose - to form and inform us - so we can go out into the world and live our faith, seeing God in one another and loving as Christ has taught us. 

Next Sunday is Consecration Sunday, the day we bring to the altar our pledge of support for the mission and ministries of Christ Church for 2018. It’s called Consecration Sunday because in the act of filling out the pledge card and bringing it to the altar we are connecting our financial giving to the most sacred and intimate practice of our Christian faith, the place in our worship where we come face to face with ourselves and with God in the bread and the wine, in the act of sharing, in giving and receiving, in being fed in mind, body, and spirit. Coming to the altar with your pledge card is an act of consecration, a practice of faith, of making sacred and holy, yourself and your gift, all of who you are. It’s turning what is Caesar’s into something blessed and holy, transforming our money and ourselves into an offering for God and God’s work in the world. 

Sailors have a saying, when navigating far out at sea the horizon can be deceiving such that even a one degree of difference can completely alter one’s course and where one lands. 

A one degree of difference in how we see ourselves and live and practice as Christians can alter the entire outcome of the world we live in. A one degree of difference in what each of us chooses to give back to the church for God’s work in the world can completely alter the outcome of the work this church can do.

Give more not because the church needs it, because ultimately it is not about us, it’s not really about this church, but about God’s work in the world, which is done through the church. 

Each of us is being asked to seriously consider what we are giving to the church and honestly assess if we can give more. This is not meant to pressure or shame. It’s an invitation to consider how one sees God in one’s self and in others. To look at your selfie on your phone and see God in you and you in God. To see the face of Jesus in the person sitting next to you. To recognize the deep love that resonates in and through this church and the generous ways we share God’s gracious love with the world, acknowledging that many people are fed in mind, body, and spirit, because this church exists right here on this corner. Christ Church has made a positive impact on Dearborn for 150 years. Making a one degree of difference now in how we reveal God in us and us in God, we can continue to be effective witnesses to God’s love and work in the world for years to come.

a reflection on the readings for Proper 24A: Exodus 33:12-23; Matthew 22:15-21

Saturday, October 07, 2017

The Aim of Life

Like most people, when I was in my twenties,  I was focused on trying to figure out my life. I struggled to figure out what I was going to do to make a living, what I valued and what was important to me. Along with some friends of mine I found my way into practicing a form of Buddhism that focused on chanting. The idea was that the chanting had a harmonic resonance with the universe and would literally align one’s entire being, like a magnetic field aligning electrons, with the spiritual pulse of creation. One chanted every day with an intention held in one’s mind, something that one wanted. My chanting was grounded in the hope of finding a deeper relationship with the divine and aligning my life with the creator. I suppose, then, that it was really no surprise when one day while chanting, I realized that I was not a Buddhist, but a Christian. At the time this was actually a startling realization because I thought I had left Christianity behind when I was 15. I thought that Christianity was too narrow minded, too legalistic, too judgmental. But in my thoughts that morning I was ruminating on how much I appreciated Christmas and Easter, and not just as family time, but because I had also started going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve and Easter morning services. It’s true that I had no desire to go to church on a regular Sunday. In fact the idea of stepping foot in a church on a Sunday morning filled me with trepidation and fear, fear that they’d “get” me and before long I’d be a narrow minded judgmental person too.
Eventually I realized that this form of Buddhism was in some ways just as legalistic as my perception of Christianity because it taught that if one ever stopped chanting one’s life would fall apart and one would live in chaos. I was just as afraid to stop chanting as I was of entering a church on Sunday morning. But eventually I found my way back into church. It helped immensely that I found a church that invited questions and was open to ideas and exploring faith. It has also helped that becoming part of a faith community and worshiping on Sunday mornings anchored me in a tradition that had a long history, that had roots, which then formed roots in me and gave me the foundation I needed to navigate the complex nature of life as a person of faith.
Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, is addressing this idea, that we become more ourselves when we become more like Christ. The primary aim in life, Paul writes, is to know Christ. 
Paul, before he became a Christian, was an educated Hebrew, a Pharisee. He was wealthy and had high standing in his community. He was all the things that Jesus addresses when he calls the Pharisees out for their hypocrisy, their strutting around as if they are perfect but failing to be faithful to God because of their judgmental self righteousness, of their rigid attitudes for who belongs and who does not. 
And then Paul had an epiphany and he changed completely from that narrow minded Pharisee to a follower of Jesus, striving to love as Jesus loved. Loving those on the fringes of society as much as he loved his closest friends. He spent the rest of his life living the teachings of Jesus - going out into the world to serve others. He tended to the sick, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, loved the marginalized, and taught entire communities how to do the same. His letters to the churches in Rome, Ephesus, Philippi, and Corinth are profound teachings on how to live in community as followers of Jesus, how to love as Jesus loved, how to reveal the love of God in human flesh. He taught communities how to listen deeply to God.
The rise in violence over the last decade, and especially the last couple of years, from mass shootings to terrorism, to murders, human trafficking, the world crisis caused by displaced persons who have no country to call home, the intense rise in natural disasters from hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes leaving entire islands and countries devastated and perhaps to never recover, and the cruel and violent language people use to speak to one another across the spectrum of social media and even in person - this rise in violence speaks to a world that has lost its moorings. 
Karen Armstrong, a world religions scholar, once wrote about a phenomenon that happened about four thousand years ago, which caused all the world religions of that era: Judaism, Buddhism, Confusionism, and Hinduism, to almost simultaneously develop the concept of the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would done to you. This concept changed the course of human relationships, rooting humankind in the idea that our purpose in life, however one understands the Word of God made flesh, is to love one another. It raised to awareness that the Word of God, which was with God from before time, speaks into the human condition, into all the world religions, guiding human beings to treat each other with love and respect, everyone equally. This higher calling asks that human beings change, like Paul, from living a narrowly defined life to a life that embraces all people equally. As Christians we understand this as the teachings of Jesus, who we also know as the Word of God made flesh.
As your spiritual leader, your priest and Rector, I am convinced that the only way we are going to truly find our purpose in the world today is to practice actively listening to God and making room for God to speak to us and guide us. I have every confidence that if we stop and listen intentionally, offering space for silence, that God will enter that silence and lead us. 
Recently with the Vestry and then with the Renaissance Strategy Task Force, I led us in some silent prayer and guided meditation.  These ancient prayer forms are designed to help us make room for God’s presence in our lives and to awaken our antenna, our capacity to listen and to recognize God speaking to us now. 
How will we know if the ideas we have, and the pulls we feel, are of God and not just of our own limited sense of direction? How will we know if we moving out of a Christmas and Easter service only experience and into a life transforming every day experience? 
The mystics and other Christian teachers, including Paul, tell us we will know it is God speaking if the direction we discern is one that pushes us out of our comfort zone, out into the community, out into the world to learn and grow and build relationships with others. 
We will know this because that is how God always works. This is how God worked through Jesus and it is how Jesus worked through Paul and it is how the Holy Spirit works through us. Its how the Word of God spoke into the world thousands of years ago and caused a seismic shift in self awareness and the awareness of others. It’s what we’ve reflecting on all year in the Gospel of Matthew. And especially what we hear in Matthew 7: In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

a reflection on the readings for Proper 22A: Philippians 3:4-14

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Does the world see Christ in us?

The summer I was 19 years old was they first time I visited my father in Puerto Rico where he had just moved to work for Goya foods. My dad lived in Puerto Rico for about 20 years and I visited him several times. Puerto Rico is a beautiful island and distinctively different from one side to the other. San Juan is a large metropolitan city with an historic district known as Old San Juan. El Morro, an old stone fort built in the late 1500’s guards one end of the city. The fort is high on the cliffs and looks out across the Atlantic Ocean toward Spain. The rest of the city is a mix of gorgeous white sand beaches and ritzy hotels intermingled with extreme poverty. Driving across the island one encounters industry, like the canning factory of Goya foods, mountains with thick rain forests and waterfalls, and the Arecibo Observatory on the western end. From its construction in the 1960s until 2011, the observatory was managed by Cornell University. The observatory's 1,000-foot (305-meter) radio telescope was the largest single-aperture telescope from its completion in 1963 until July 2016 when the Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in China was completed. It is used in three major areas of research: radio astronomy, atmospheric science, and radar astronomy. I’ve been to it, and it is quite amazing. 

On the south end of the island one comes to Ponce, a beautiful old city and the sandy beaches of the Caribbean, with it’s amazingly beautiful teal blue waters. From one end to the other Puerto Rico is a gorgeous, lively island filled with lovely people. 

Or, at least it was. The one-two punch of hurricane Irma and the even worse hit by hurricane Maria, whose eye went directly over the Arecibo Observatory, has devastated the island. Rescue and recovery efforts are hindered by everything from the challenges of providing gasoline to the lack of water, to government assistance or the failure of assistance, to private individuals using their own planes to fly sick people out, to cruise lines using their ships to transport people off of the island, to people giving monetary donations to organizations like Episcopal Relief and Development, in an effort to help people before more lives are lost. The mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, has been in the news reporting that while the disaster brings out the best in people, people helping people, this is not a “good news” story. People are desperate and dying.

In the seven years that we have used the worship materials for Season of Creation, we have never had a year filled with this many disasters: three major hurricanes to make landfall in the USA and two devastating earthquakes in Mexico, all within weeks of each other. Not to mention the intense monsoons, flooding, and loss of life in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal. If ever there was a year for us to be attentive to creation and the needs of others, this is it. 

Typically on this first Sunday in October I speak about St. Francis and the blessing of the animals and our role as stewards of God’s creation to care for the earth and all its creatures. The feast day of St. Francis is October 4th, which inspires both the Season of Creation materials and the blessing of the animals.

These disasters point us not only to our worship liturgy, and to the care of creation, but to the very question that our readings ask today: Does the world see Christ in us? Can the world see in us, in our actions, the love God being manifest in ways that help others?  Paul is asking this question in his letter to the Philippians. And in a way this is also the heart of the Gospel. This entire year we have been studying Matthew, and the focus of the Gospel of Matthew is to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of all the law and the prophets - that Jesus is the way. 

And the way of Jesus is to love, to go out and serve others, tending the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and loving all people equally. 

How are we doing this? 

Does the world see Christ in us?

In the verses leading up to our reading today, Jesus has gone into the temple, the symbol of those with power and authority, and overturned the tables of the money changers. 

It’s a complicated story that deals with atonement of sins, the ability to purchase animals to sacrifice as a symbol of atoning for sins, and the greed of merchants in the temple selling animals and providing change for the purchases. Jesus sees the hypocrisy in the temple and reacts with anger. 

In today’s reading, as a result of his disruptive behavior Jesus is in a discussion with the leaders concerning his authority – who does HE think he is? Jesus enters into his typical debate and concludes with a parable that describes the hypocrisy, greed, and entitlement of those he is speaking too. Jesus sees deeply into the human condition and tells these people that the temple is a place of formation, a place to know God in their lives, but then they have to go out from the temple into the world and care for people. Staying in the temple has led to self centeredness, entitlement and greed. 

God, alive in Jesus, compels people to move out into the world to serve others. It’s what Jesus did. It’s what the disciples did. It’s what we are to do.

Does the world see Christ in us? 

For the last month I have posted opportunities on our Facebook page for us to contribute to recovery and relief efforts in Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. 

Abagail Nelson, Senior Vice President of Programs for Episcopal Relief and Development offers frequent updates, which I have posted, on ERD’s coordinated efforts with the Episcopal Dioceses in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to get supplies and recovery efforts into the local communities, despite the huge challenges of transportation and housing. I hope some of you have seen the posts on Facebook and contributed to ERD or an organization of your choice. 

The readings today are a cautionary tale for us, reminding us that this church and our worship is where we come to be formed. But we are not to get stuck inside, we need to venture out. As a faith community, as part of the Renaissance Strategy, the primary question I have been asking us to consider is, what we are doing as a whole, as the body of Christ, to reach out and make a difference in the world?

Another way I could ask this questions is: “Does the world see Christ in us?” and if so, how?

a reflection on the readings for Proper 21A: Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32

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 ...