Wonderings and Reflections:
When I was little, I went to a department store of some kind with my grandparents. I know it was a department store because it had those racks of clothes that were a circle---remember those? Usually they were hung with shirts or dresses…..and since I was small for my age (hard to believe, I know), I used to love to go into the middle of those clothes racks. Not quite sure why. I think I liked the feeling that it was my own space. So, I know the store that I was in with my grandparents that day was a department store because I remember being in the middle of one of those clothes racks---hidden from view---and then coming out. And quickly realizing I was lost. My grandparents were nowhere in sight.
Suddenly the world in which I had been safe and happy just a moment ago became a world in which I was lost and afraid. The environment around me quickly turned unmanageable without the safety of my grandparents. I started to cry.
Luckily, someone came and helped me and then there was an announcement over the loudspeaker saying that whoever belonged to Jane should come to the customer service desk. And then…..then I saw my grandparents hurrying over. My grandmother wrapped me in those grandma arms and I knew I was safe. The world became manageable again. Nothing had really changed. I was in the same place. But now I was found. And my grandmother’s hug, followed by grandpa’s, told me how valuable and loved I was. Found.
And I am certain that we all have similar stories. And we chuckle at our silly, childish stories as we retell them. But do we recognize how profound these stories are? This moment has stuck with me for my entire life. I mean a thousand things probably happened to me in that year of my life---but it is this memory I carry. Because this moment, this story, shaped and formed me. This seeking and finding, this moment of joy when they saw me and wrapped me in their arms----it was one of several moments that has defined me----helped me to see myself as someone who is loved and valuable---someone who would not be allowed to stay lost. Can we even begin to understand the indelible mark this leaves?
And Beloved, that Cross we mark on those who are being baptized, when we say the words: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and Marked as Christ’s own forever,” that cross means that we are found. That cross is like a branding, an imprint, an indelible mark that declares we are loved beyond measure, valuable beyond price, worthy of relentless seeking. Like the shepherd and the woman, God knows our value---even though we ourselves may doubt it or others doubt our worth. Let’s face it; most of us wouldn’t leave the 99 to find the one or get down on our hands and knees, sweep the house and search carefully, turn on all the lights to find one coin, a tenth of what we have. We have a term for that 1 sheep, that 1 coin: Collateral damage. We believe that the effort required to gain back the loss is not worth it. Like those Pharisees and scribes we complain and murmur about folks we have judged, become filled with resentment, become blind to the inherent value of other humans, and are content to ignore their lostness. But God knows our value and refuses to give up on us, refuses to allow us to remain lost. God is the relentless seeker who never stops looking. For each and every single created thing, every human who ever took breath.
And we are all lost, let’s just be honest. Some of us are lost because we are possessed by our possessions. Some of us are lost because we disconnect and divide ourselves from our siblings and fellow beloved. Some of us are lost because greed is driving the bus. Or our resentments lead us astray. Some of us are lost because of the voices we listen to that are not God’s or because the idols we worship (power, fame, status, beauty, wealth, comfort and preferences) are actually not worthy of our worship. We are lost because we forget where home base is, who our home base is.
Remember playing those games---maybe some of you still do play them---like Kick the Can or Hide and Seek? When we used to play in my neighborhood, someone would yell: Ollie Ollie Oxen Free---Come out, Come out wherever you are! And then we would all know it was safe to come out into the open without losing the game. And we would all run in to Home Base.
Beloved, we are lost. God is seeking us. And Jesus is our Home Base. In Jesus is where we are safe; where we are home and whole. We gather as the Body of Christ so we can touch home base. We come in order to hold Jesus up in front of our eyes, through Word and Sacrament, to proclaim, witness and experience Jesus. Jesus, who is our mark, our target, the model of our truest nature. Jesus whose life, ministry and ways show us what our life, ministry and ways should like. Jesus who worships God and glorifies God by living the truth that God so loves the world. And what follows this truth is an outpouring of love, mercy, forgiveness, second chances, reconciliation, renewal, makeovers and re-dos. Return. Being found. Made whole. Shalom.
God calls us together for this Eucharistic meal not because God has some need or desire for us all to be in one space at the same time. God calls us to gather together each week because God knows we need it. We need this liturgy, these prayers, this music, this Sacrament, this Body of Christ. We need to re-member whose we are and who we are----holding ourselves up to Jesus. And then recognizing and claiming where and how we have become lost.
Without this recognition, we will continue going on our merry way, still believing we know what we are doing---saying to ourselves: I am not lost. I got this.
Remember that relay game where one person on the team puts their forehead down on the top of a bat and spins around and around the bat until someone yells stop and then you have to try to run to the other side of the room and tag the next person on your team? But of course, you are so dizzy from spinning that you fall all over yourself and the path between you and your teammate becomes a stumbling comedy. Well, the world has the same effect on us because the world is constantly leading us in different directions. The world spins us dizzy, and we become dazed and lost. We can’t walk in a straight line---we lose sight of home base.
But then, Beloved, if we listen, if we pause and take a deep breath and lean into the silence of prayer and Word, we will hear God calling out: Ollie Ollie Oxen Free! Come out come out wherever you are. It’s safe. In fact, you are already saved. So come home. Come home.
And as we come in, running with our hands outstretched, and touch and taste home base, we are liberated by love and then it’s our turn. Our turn to look up and out as the Body of Christ and call out: Ollie Ollie Oxen Free. Come out Come out wherever you are.
In her book One Coin Found, Emmy Kegler, a one-time Episcopalian but now an ELCA pastor, writes: “We too are lost and dusty coins. We have gone unnoticed, rusted from others’ indifference, misspent and misused, and our friends and leaders did not see our neglect. But God, in big and little ways, has picked up a woman’s broom and swept every corner of creation. God, in big and little ways, has tucked up her skirts and flattened herself on the floor, dug through dust bunnies and checked every dress pocket. God has found us, dustier and rustier and without any luster, and held us up to the light to say: No matter how you rolled away or what corner you were dropped in, you are mine.” (8)
Ollie Ollie Oxen free! Come out, come out wherever you are.
So one of the things I pondered during this Sabbatical time was all the ways Jesus has ruint me. Seriously. Ruint me. And, frankly Beloved, I think we all need to be ruint; liberated by Jesus in order to shine love and give life---just like Jesus.
“The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” (Jeremiah 18)
All God’s beloved are in the potter’s hand. And when we wake to that Great Truth and Promise----we will be ruint. Transformed. Not because we are bad or not good enough, but because we are already more. We are made in the imago dei, and God desires us to live into the fullness of this reality, this Truth. We are made for so much more.
Once I began to experience the living Jesus (as opposed to the character I heard about and read about but who mostly stayed on the page and in the story), meeting the living Jesus and beginning a relationship with this One began my real transformation. I started to question the world around me with different eyes and a different heart---questioning what I had learned from society, culture, books, classrooms, teachers, parents, priests and friends---and holding those learnings up to the lens of Jesus—to the life of Jesus and the Way of Love. Seeing through the prism that is the Word.
The Word awakens us to the reality that there are many “little gods” we put before God and in place of God. First and foremost, there is greed; Greed in its many forms. The greed of wanting the most stuff, more stuff, and to keep all the stuff I already have, even if others don’t have enough. The greed of demanding that things are done my way and I am allowed, thank you very much, to live by my preferences---even though God calls us to community with a variety of preferences. The greed that is believing that because I work hard, or because I come from a good family, or because I am American, or because I am white, or because I am male, or because I am highly educated, or because I am straight or because I am…..(insert whatever lie you tell yourself here)….I deserve to have more than others. None of us are immune. Greed owns too much landscape in my heart just like anyone else.
Back when Murray was a social worker and I was a teacher, we lived paycheck to paycheck with four kids for many years, trying to pay off school and medical debt. Struggling to keep what we had and working to get more. And then you know what happened next? Ruint. Jesus did some of that re-shaping thing with the clay of our hearts. One year, when we were invited to consider how we would support Jesus’ work at our church, we decided to get serious about moving up that tithing scale instead of staying stagnant. And what really changed it for us is when we put our faith-giving at the top of our budget instead of the bottom. We decided to give to God first, instead of as a left-over. And, at first, we couldn’t give a lot more, but a little bit more. And we kept at it until we were able to give what we had been hoping. And I gotta tell you: Kingdom giving leads us into Kingdom living. Don’t get me wrong: Murray and I are not completely liberated from the stranglehold of greed, but giving first and leaning into generosity shoves that little greed demon farther and farther from the center of the heart’s throne.
Oh, Beloved, this is so very hard. Waking up can happen in a moment or it can take a lifetime. And then, Beloved, we also have to stay woke which is a 24/7 journey of repenting and returning, of re-centering and remembering. Because the truth is, staying asleep to the call of Jesus, or allowing it to be a really quiet whisper in the background instead of our main soundtrack, is so much easier, and more convenient, than waking up and turning up the volume. This is why we gather in community, in this place---because we need to swim in the waters of baptism regularly, we need to marinate in the Word, we need to forgive and be forgiven, we need to see Jesus in the friend and the stranger, the newcomer and the awkward, in the child and the elder, in the atheist and the believer. It is this life of practice and ritual, of being inconvenienced and not getting our way, of worshiping, learning and serving that moves us from our self-centered lives to the Way of Love, into the life of Jesus.
This is what becoming Beloved Community is all about: a gathering of people who are committed to awakening---to diving deep into Jesus so that we might know the Word and Be the Word and Spread the Word. Our purpose is empowering all to be able to do that one thing Jesus asks us to do: Follow Him. Follow Him. Take up the cross---lift up the brokenness of humanity upon our own selves---just as Jesus did---so that we can allow death to bring forth new life. Follow Jesus: Love all others, undeserving though they may be, but worthy are they all. And that includes us, Beloved. Don’t forget your self. Because God, the Creator, the Potter, has declared us all Worthy of this love. Faith means allowing ourselves to awaken and committing to staying woke by recognizing our lives are already in the hands of the Potter. God’s love, desire and steadfast commitment is the Grace that makes it all happen.
But, Beloved, don’t get your unicorn and lollipop stickers out just yet because knowing, loving and following Jesus, changes us. And sometimes that puts distance between us and those who knew us before. Or those who don’t know us at all, but based on our last Facebook post, hope to never meet us. Because the truth is: Jesus followers can’t walk that “Consumerism, all-for-profit, wall-out-the-foreigner, the-planet-earth-is-here-for-my-benefit, every-man-for-himself” path that society continually beckons us to walk. Jesus followers cannot serve Money and Power, or convenience and preferences, as our Master. God is our God. And God’s goal is our goal: Tikkun Olam: the healing and restoration of Creation. Jesus warns us Beloved. Hear the Word: Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14)
Pretty darn clearly, Jesus is saying: Me first. Follow Me First. Take up the cross of redemption for all of humanity, and come, follow me.
You know, in the Commandments we are told not to take the Lord’s name in vain. Growing up I learned that this meant I wasn’t supposed to say certain things like: God da*** you or Go to Hell, and then there’s the other list of words that we were never to say, but I shall not repeat them at this time. Because I actually think that’s NOT what the commandment is about at all. I think we take the Lord’s name in vain when we call ourselves Christian and decide to go about living our life as we think best anyway---even when it looks nothing like Jesus.
St. John of the Cross said something that has been at the heart of my formation as a priest and pastor: He describes community as rocks in a bag, shaken together, in order to rub one another smooth. But during my sabbatical, it occurred to me that there’s something missing from this image: the water. Like those stones from the sea, we need water as we tumble and are reshaped, reformed, resurrected and made anew. So, come, follow Jesus. Let the waters of baptism drown you, let the water in the wine renew you, let the waters of fellowship replenish you. That’s what I love about this community, and this place where all of this happens. As beautiful as all those centuries-old church buildings in England that I saw this summer were ---there was something missing. Most of them are no longer first and foremost a place where people gather to take the bread, to hear the word, to pray in community. Oh, they all still have worship gatherings in some form. But, primarily, they are museums. Places people go and pay for a ticket to see beauty, and the vastness, and the overwhelming artistic genius, but they also go to see how it “used to be.”
But, Beloved, what made me long for this day is that here I am in the midst of not how it used to be, but how it is, and how we are becoming. Becoming Beloved. Being the Beloved. Awakening to Love and gently nudging others out of the nightmare the world so often can be. Inviting all to come and see, come and follow. There’s another story to hear, another way to walk, another life to live, another way to be. Beloved, it’s good to be home.
Beloved, today Peter has his mind blown…..Pow!
God says: I am doing a new thing….and folks, God ain’t jokin….
You see, Peter had been taught by religious leaders that some things to eat are holy and some are not;
That some places and activities are sacred and some are not;
Peter had been taught to only associate with certain people---believing that some people have God’s favor and some do not.
And then the truth of God’s plan and dream break into Peter’s life and this truth about how God really desires us to live, well, this Truth is radically different from what Peter has been taught---what Peter has held as his beliefs---and this new understanding of God’s truth and love turns Peter’s world on its head. (Pow!)
So Peter responds: Who am I that I should hinder God?
To “hinder” means to prevent, to slow down, to put up a barrier…
Beloved, we cannot stop God. No one can. Nothing can. Easter proclaims that there is no power stronger or more enduring than God’s love. None. Not death. Not hate. Not violence. Not fear. Ultimately, love wins. And Beloved, when the church is truly the church……..then Presently, love wins.
But, let’s get real: we all know that we CAN prevent love; we can slow down love; we can put up barriers to love; we CAN hinder love. If we were in Peter’s situation, we might find ourselves saying: Wait! What? The Holy Spirit pours down on THOSE people? The Holy Spirit is in THAT place? The Holy Spirit is participating where exactly? Over there? Nah….can’t be…..
Again, sound familiar? Let me show you a short video…..
Beloved, as the church we are those couples in that commercial and God is calling us to be bold….to put ourselves into the midst of the stranger, what we might term as the “other”……God doesn’t call us to simply welcome the stranger…..God calls us to go out.
In fact, the Greek word for church “ek klesia” means the gathering, but it also means the ones called to go out. We are both the gathered and the sent…..sent to go out because the Holy Spirit is being poured out all over the place…….yes, poured out on over THOSE people and in THAT place….and we are called to go and participate in that work, with those people, and to go to the places the Holy Spirit is working and moving out in the neighborhood and in our world.
And let’s be honest with ourselves, many of us have a problem with the term the “other.” Because we believe that in Christ there is no us and them, there is only us. And this is true; I have often preached it, but it is more nuanced than this. This weekend, John Herder, MaryJo Laube and I had the pleasure of attending Synod Assembly, and we heard a fantastic speaker, Pastor Sunitha Mortha, an ELCA pastor who is from India, and she shared a wisdom from the theologian Miroslav Volf that I want to share with you today:
In the Body of Christ, what is removed is the HOSTILITY toward difference…..not the difference itself.
We have differences as the Body of Christ; we have differences as the human race. God doesn’t desire to erase those differences; God created those differences. What God desires, what God calls us to do, is to remove the hostility toward the difference….hostility that is often grounded in fear. Fear because our truth is that we don’t really want to believe the “other” is created in the imago dei---that same image of God in which we are created.
Because if we believe that God created all of humanity and God loves all of humanity….if we believe that God loves all of Creation and desires its vitality…….. what implications do these beliefs have on how we live? How we exercise our spending power? What does it mean for the systems and legislation we support? What implications does this have for how we treat the immigrant, the refugee, the one of different faith, the female, the mentally unhealthy, the black, the brown, the indigenous?
Beloved, who are we that we should hinder God?
And when the Holy Spirit knocks us on our head as she did to Peter in today’s reading-----then the wideness of God’s mercy blows a hole into our worldview.
And this is exactly what we need to happen…..we need our understandings to be blown open so that we can become vulnerable enough to receive God’s love, but also so that we can become vulnerable enough to share God’s love.
But for that to happen, like Peter we have some work to do. First, we must unlearn some things we have learned. Even as the Church, maybe especially as the Church. The Church hasn’t always gotten it right, and I am pretty sure we will continue to get it wrong from time to time. But, like Peter, can we be open to a new thing? Can we hold our learning with a bit of lightness so that there is room for the Holy Spirit to continue to work….on us? And for us? And through us?
Secondly, like Peter, we are called to deep listening. We are to deeply listen to those who don’t see and know the world as we do. And we are to listen without the assumption that our way is the best way or the only way or the right way. It is a way. But there are others: Other ways with richness and goodness and beauty. Beloved, listening to the other is listening to the Body of Christ. A part of the Body that may look differently or sound differently or believe differently than us. Rather than listening with judgment, can we move from curiousity? Like Mary, can we sit at their feet and learn?
For then we will hear and see, like Peter and anyone else in Scripture who is paying attention, that God works on the margins; God works on the edges. God comes to the least expected and into the midst of the most unexpected places---shining grace, mercy, jaw-dropping love and life-giving restoration.
Nick and Allison, this is the journey, this is the life, that Tatumn and Jersey are joining today. Not because before today they weren’t God’s children but because today, as their parents, you are saying YES to God’s claim on them and on you. This is a journey of learning and unlearning, learning and re-learning, a journey of deep listening, recalculating, returning and turning. A journey in which we learn to expect the unexpected because God’s grace is always at the center and is the ground on which we stand.
And from this grace-filled center, as we continue to allow our minds and hearts to be blown wide open by God’s audacious love, we hear God calling us to new people, new places, new situations and new understandings; God calling us into the only mission that matters: At-One-Ment. Unity with God and Unity with all people for that is how Creation flourishes. This is how Creation becomes sustainable. Oneness. Through Love. Love that is the working toward the vitality of all created things and all people.
Today, Swain family, we promise to accompany you all----in mutuality. We won’t always get it right. We will probably even disappoint you from time to time. But, we promise to stay at the table with you---to remain committed to you, to Tatumn and Jersey, and to one another. We promise to gather in worship, study and service that will break our hearts and minds open so that we can hear God’s dream and we can see where and how God is already at work. We promise to remain open to learning and unlearning, to deep listening, to expecting to find God on the edges, at the margin, in the most unexpected faces and places.
As Henri Nouwen wrote: To pray…..to listen to the voice of the One who calls us “Beloved” is to learn that that voice excludes no one.”
Beloved, the Holy Spirit is being poured out all over the place. What do you say? Let’s get drenched.
Once the chocolate bunnies are eaten, and the eggs have all been found, and the Easter grass from the baskets is finally no longer dangling in the most absurd of places…….what happens next?
The claim today is that Jesus lives. Really? After the church takes the time to make certain we tell the story of Jesus’ death not once, but twice, in this past week---now we are supposed to believe that Jesus lives? Really?
And, okay, let’s say I fall for that. That I am willing to set aside all logic and reason and enter the mystery and buy the story that Jesus rises from the dead, that life comes from death………and now what? What’s the point? How does believing resurrection make any difference in my life, in your life, in this world?
Well, friends, I hate to tell you this, but I don’t think believing in resurrection is just about getting into heaven. The God of Holy Scripture, the one who forgives the criminals on the cross, who forgives the ones who nail Jesus’ hands to the tree, the God who runs out to meet us after we have disowned him, who leaves 99 to find the wandering and lost one, the God who restores our sight and who heals us so we can walk again after we have crippled ourselves through self-centered choices and greedy decisions, this God of Holy Scripture does not seem very intent on creating a party list to decide who is in and who is out. Instead, this God seems insistent on inviting every last one of us to the banquet---even the one who takes his thirty pieces of silver and betrays with a kiss.
What does it mean then? Why make certain we hear of Jesus’ death if we are only going to be asked to believe that Jesus lives? How do we know Jesus lives? Why would any sane and reasonable person be willing to believe in, to practice, resurrection?
Beloved, God gives us Jesus, this parable of a human life that is meant to help us understand our own lives, so that we can believe that the deaths we face everyday do not have the final word. God gives us resurrection so that we can trust that the tombs of greed, of war, of hatred, the graves of bigotry, of poverty and of indifference DO NOT GET TO HAVE THE ULTIMATE AUTHORITY IN OUR LIVES. The stones can be rolled away from these death traps.
Because Jesus lives.
When we refuse to move from fear and anger, Jesus lives.
When we create, vote for, and sustain systems that insure everyone has food, shelter, healthcare, and clean water, systems and laws that recognize every person is equally worthy of having enough: Jesus lives.
When we choose to put an end to violence and vengeance as the cross teaches us, instead of responding with humanity’s sense of justice and move instead from God’s justice of mercy and forgiveness, Jesus lives.
When we recognize that this fragile earth, our island home, isn’t here to serve us but we are here to serve, to tend to and protect her and all the treasures of this Creation, Jesus lives.
When we demand that black lives matter, yes all lives matter, but we know that some lives are privileged and others are not and Jesus has shown us that we are to cross the boundaries and be mindful of and seek to strengthen the status of those who are de-priviliged and weakened and held as less valuable by societal structures, laws, and prison systems, so when we demand that black lives matter, Jesus lives.
When we go to the border and meet the refugee and immigrant with food and water, shelter and healthcare because as we look across the barbed wire we do not see a threat to our own prosperity, but we see a sibling who is created in the same likeness in which we are created, the image of God, when we build a longer table rather than erecting a higher wall, then Jesus lives.
This isn’t political; this isn’t about being republican or democrat, this isn’t about being American or patriotic. This is Gospel. This is about our primary citizenship as members of God’s Kingdom.
So when we stop hoarding, out of fear that somehow we are not going to have enough or we are not going to have as much (preferably more) as our neighbor, and we quit allowing our possessions to possess us, and we look up from our screens and see beloved siblings instead of simply seeing someone else who has something I want or think I need or someone else who got better than me or someone else who has an advantage or comfort that I don’t have, when we look up and out and recognize that we are one thread in this beautiful tapestry of Creation and we actually need all these other threads---even the wonky, crooked, funky-colored ones, then Jesus lives.
When we remove ourselves from the center and put God back on the throne of our hearts and at the center of our lives, Jesus lives. Because then we see differently, hear differently, understand differently. We are atoned---brought back into alignment with God and with one another---made whole and well, even if our bodies and minds still have cracks and dis-ease and dis-comfort. And Jesus lives.
Beloved, we are the Living Body of Christ in the world. Christ has no other hands and feet but ours. We are the beating heart of the One who redeems, the one who saves, the One who lives. Beloved, practice resurrection. Show the world that Jesus lives.a
Today we hear some Pharisees warn Jesus: Careful, Jesus, you better take off because Herod is looking to catch you and kill you. And Jesus tells them: Well, you go and tell that Fox I’ve got work to do: healing, casting out evil, making folks whole and well, I will not be distracted. I’m gonna keep doing me.
According to Jesus, Herod, the person with the power, the one who has authority, who rules through the laws, Herod is a Fox. And Jesus refers to himself as a hen. This is not a slip of the tongue, but a deliberate message to the ones listening and to us today. For the hen, after all, is a chicken—the prey of the fox, the one foxes eat for breakfast. And, interestingly enough, in that patriarchal culture, Jesus identifies himself with a female image because God is neither male nor female—a Truth we still struggle with today since so very much of our language for God is not gender-neutral, but male dominated.
Jesus presents himself in this female image---the one who is meant to be seen as weak and vulnerable in the picture---and declares that it is this “vulnerable and weak” way of being that he trusts with his entire life. Jesus makes clear that his role is to gather the even more vulnerable ones under his wing---to place them there for protection, for healing, for refuge….to insure they have a future with the Fox lurking around every corner.
And Jesus laments: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…..you will not see me….. Jesus laments that God’s beloved people do not see him for who he is, that God’s beloved refuse to be gathered in, that God’s beloved allow themselves to be the people of the Fox instead of the people of the One who Saves.
Beloved: we need to hear this Gospel today. The Fox is prowling all around us. This past week, the Fox declared himself in a Great manifesto with the claim that the Internet contains all the great truths, and the truths this Fox believes, the truth this Fox acted upon this past Friday in New Zealand are the lies of “an Internet subculture of extreme anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, white supremacist ideology” (the Washington Post, 3/15/2019). And because of listening to this rhetoric of hate, separation, and division, Brenton Harrison Tarrant decided that nobody was doing enough to stop immigrants, to stop what he called “the genocide of white people,” so he decided to take violent action, and now 49 people have been gunned down while praying in their mosques. Our muslim siblings have been killed, and many have been wounded, and all of them have been terrorized.
And we woke up on Friday morning and heard the news, and we lamented and shook our heads and asked: What are we to do? When will it end?
Beloved, let us hear and see Jesus today. Jesus has been going around healing, praying with folks, bringing in the outcast, sharing meals with all kinds of disreputable folks, building relationships and putting himself and God’s truth and love out there. And when they told him the Fox was prowling, Jesus says: I am going to keep doing what I do. I’m gonna be me. I am not going to run or hide or become afraid to do what I do. I’m going to heal, I’m gonna pray with folks, I’m gonna bring in the outcast and eat meals with anyone who will come to the table. I’m gonna build relationships and put God’s truth and love out there. Because this is how we silence the Fox. This is how we gather all God’s people under the wings of the One who saves.
Beloved, Brenton Harrison Tarrant is not some incomprehensible anomaly. Brenton was born like the rest of us---a baby who is a sponge for learning. And somehow, in Brenton’s life, he learned that white people deserve to be privileged, they deserve to be the ones who hold the power, they are the ones who deserve to have all the stuff. And Brenton also learned that those who are not white: the immigrant, the Muslim, the brown, the black, the Asian--- these ones are a threat to Brenton and to all white people, simply by being, by breathing. Brenton concluded that if we are not going to be smart enough to separate ourselves from these non-white people, then Brenton’s work was to wipe them out from society.
Beloved, if Jesus is our Yes, then we must provide the Brentons of this world a different vision and understanding. We must, like Jesus, live our truth that all God’s people, all the Created, are equally valuable and worthy of having enough. And we must do it loudly, and in every public square and arena. The volume needs to be turned up, and the volume must come from sources other than “good Christians” simply reciting it in our prayers, or declaring our Creeds, or renewing our Baptismal vows. We must live this truth with our words and our actions. We must live it with our laws, with our institutions and our systems. We are being called to take a long, hard look at what has always been and to recognize where and how we privilege those who are white. Our systems, our laws, our economic system, our housing situation---all of it bends in favor of those who are white and those who have economic advantages. We are being called to consider how that sense of “white privilege” lives within us.
Even though we have been taught and we take pride in America being a “melting pot,” there are numerous signs around us that many people in our country are afraid of the truth that America is, and indeed has always been, multicultural with different hues and different languages, different beliefs, and different customs. Last year, the shooter at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh also lamented what he called the “white genocide.” And this xenophobia---fear of the ones different from us---this xenophobia is literally killing us. And it is not just a national problem; this is a global problem as was sadly made clear this past week.
Beloved, if Jesus is our Lord and our Yes, then we also must be ready to say NO to anything that doesn’t look like Jesus. Anything that declares some are less valuable, that some are to be separated from us, anything that smacks of Nationalism or White supremacy and American exceptionalism. Even when that way or that law or that system works for us. And that’s the hard part; that’s how the Fox gets us---by making it easy for us to turn a blind eye and to harden our hearts toward the injustice. When it doesn’t touch us, in fact when it benefits us, it is so much easier to follow the Fox.
Because Brenton’s hate wasn’t shaped solely from extremism. Brenton’s beliefs and truth upon which he acted were born in the everyday soil of the rhetoric around him. The rhetoric and the laws and the systems all around him reinforced and fed him the fear upon which he acted. And let’s not fool ourselves, we are not immune to this rhetoric, these laws and systems; we create them and vote for them and speak them ourselves. In fact, sometimes this divisive rhetoric claims itself to be Christian; it declares it is love which gives them the authority to condemn. Oh, Beloved, the Fox is a sneaky creature. Jesus knew who the Fox was and recognized the fear-mongering rhetoric and systems when he heard and saw them. And we must too.
Last Ash Wednesday, several leaders from many Christian backgrounds, wrote their own manifesto of a type. It is titled: Reclaiming Jesus, and you can find it at ReclaimingJesus.org. This letter is a call to all of us to recognize that if Jesus is Lord, then Jesus is the one who has top authority over our lives: over our choices, our words, our actions, and our behaviors. Jesus is the Yes that leads us to know what we must reject---Our Yes defines our No.
The very first article in this letter, this manifesto, states: “We believe each human being is made in God’s image and likeness….Therefore, we reject the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts….” Our belief determines our actions; our Yes makes clear our No.
Beloved, in the Old Testament reading today, God told Abram an impossible, unbelievable, almost crazy thing; and Abram believed God. His belief, which he then acted upon because that is what a belief is: a Truth lived out: Abram’s belief led him to be in right relationship with God. The word used is tzadakah (righteousness); tzadakah in Hebrew is always connected with executing justice.
Today God is asking us to believe something that may seem equally impossible, unbelievable and almost crazy. God is asking us to believe that there is another way to live in this world: that we do not have to succumb to the Fox’s way, that we need not be afraid, that all God’s people are equally deserving of having enough, of living next door, of being welcomed wherever we find ourselves to be. God asks us to believe, and Jesus, the One who saves, models our way forward: Live our truest identity by refusing to be scared away from living God’s way of love. Be the ones who gather the vulnerable under God’s wings. Live your yes through actions and words of healing, building relationships, sharing meals and declaring the outcast as worthy, valuable and beloved. Do not be afraid; God is our shield. Jesus gathers us in. Beloved, go and tell that Fox: Listen, I’ve got work to do; I’m gonna do me. And then, Beloved, let our “me” look just like Jesus.
Here’s what I love about this reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: It’s not really about marriage. Oh, it certainly has something to say to those who are getting married, but Paul wrote this letter to a church. This letter is about all our relationships---in particular, community relationships. And here’s the thing: marriage is meant to represent the love we are to have in all our relationships, and within our community.
Wait! What! That’s crazy! I mean, it’s hard enough to live out this love God is prescribing with my spouse (who is a particularly wonderful person)….and now God wants me, wants us, to live out this patient, kind, not envious or boastful, not rude or arrogant love---this not insisting on its own way, sacrificial, not resentful, but hopeful, enduring love with all people? All kinds of people? Shut the front door! What in the world is God thinking of…..?
Well, God is thinking of the world, of course, all of Creation. We are what God is thinking of---how the world might be turned right side up again. Through Love.
And yes, Beloved, this kind of love between all people and in all relationships is exactly what God wants. Of course, this love will look a bit differently with different folks and in different relationships. But at the center of all our interactions, connections and associations—family, friends, strangers, neighbors, enemies----at the center of each God calls us to have and share this Jesus kind of love St Paul describes in today’s letter.
Lord, have mercy, is this even possible? In the past I would have said: Probably not. Maybe only in the next life…..but friends, let me share a love story with you…….a most incredible thing happened this past Tuesday….right here at the Beloved Community….
Two years ago I met Rob Barndollar. He was coming to the Warming Shelter that was held in Intercession’s old building. Rob stood out to me because from the beginning, he was incredibly friendly, and grateful, always asking how he could help, how he could be of service. The first time I met him he had brought some Polito’s pizza to the shelter; he was working at Polito’s at the time, and he was offering it to those of us who had come to share Saturday breakfast.
Rob showed up pretty much every Saturday that he could that summer. Our relationship started to grow. That fall he and his girlfriend moved into the Knights Inn; they didn’t want to spend another winter outside. Rob continued to come to breakfasts at the Franciscans and he showed up when BobbieJoy and I were volunteering there.
Rob wasn’t a saint, but any means, but it was easy to see treating others well was at the core of who he was---he was constantly trying to give back. Last April, we worked with Rob and others to get him a vehicle and a driver’s license so that he could work regularly. That was the plan. Rob kept telling me about a book he was writing about God’s plan for him, for us, for people to live together differently. Rob was full of hope and possibility.
Then, this past May, Rob was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Rob could have become bitter and angry, but he didn’t. He realized how many blessings had come his way; he realized how God loved him. Due to the generosity of the folks here, we were able to help him get him into his own room, and our own Jb helped him to get hospice care. We partnered with his other friends, particularly those of Evergreen Community Initiatives, to try and make sure Rob was able to enjoy and have some comfort his last days. Again, Rob wasn’t always perfect, and he certainly did not want to go gentle into that good night. But he was at peace; he knew his creator; he was certain God was with him.
Thursday, January 24th, Rob died. He and I had talked about having his memorial service, his celebration of life, here at the Beloved Community. Not because you all knew him, but because you all cared for him through the ways we were able to help him. The service was this past Tuesday. On that frigidly cold night, 60+ plus people came out to celebrate Rob’s life and love. As one guest who had not had the pleasure of meeting Rob asked BobbieJoy: “you mean all these people came out in this weather for one homeless guy?”
It was so amazing. I wish you could have seen it. Gathered here in this holy space were two non-denominational pastors, a Franciscan Roman Catholic priest, and me. There were Episcopalians, Lutherans, non-denominational folks, Roman Catholic folks. There were homeless folks, addicts and alcoholics. Some who have known material wealth, and some who have known none at all. We all came. With different expectations, beliefs, and levels of comfort. We came; we shared stories; we ate a meal (Polito’s Pizza, of course), we prayed, and we sang. Our voices came together to sing Amazing Grace, and beloved, it was: amazing, and grace. Because, this Beloved, this was heaven. All stripes and sorts of humanity for a brief moment realizing we belong to one another. Realizing what this is all really about. And Beloved, this all happened because of Love; Love for Rob---and Love for God---Love made heaven manifest here in this place.
Oh Beloved, two years ago I was probably thinking that Rob needed me, needed us. But Beloved, I needed Rob. My heart has been changed; I see differently now….and there’s no going back….
Poet, artist and Methodist minister Jan Richardson wrote:
“Loving is never just about opening our heart. It is about being willing to have our heart become larger as we make room for people and stories and experiences we never imagined holding. It is about being willing to have our heart become deeper as we move beyond the surface layers of our assumptions, prejudices, and habits in order to truly see and receive what — and who — is before us. It is about being willing to have our heart continually shattered and remade as we take in not only the brokenness of the world but also the beauty of it, the astounding wonder that will not allow us to remain the same.”
Beloved, let me leave you with a simple prayer I pray at the end of my Morning Prayers each day….a prayer that has opened my heart for those things God longs for me, but those things I too often want to avoid or deny or shut out. It goes like this:
Lord, infuse me with your grace that I may flow from your love.
Beloved, may God’s grace break our hearts open so that we can be agents of God’s love.
“When we feel certain that the human soul is no longer at work in the world, it’s time to make sure that ours is visible to someone, somewhere.” ---Parker Palmer
Beloved, we are living in an age when some of our siblings in the world are fleeing their homes and homelands in order to find a better life---a life where violence is not persistently nipping at their heels, a life where their children can flourish, a life where hunger and thirst are not constant companions. This may be hard for us to truly wrap our heads around, for most of us, if not all of us, have not experienced such desperation, such fear. I, myself, have lived on welfare, have had times of great financial struggle, but never have I felt that I needed to walk thousands of miles, leaving all I know behind, simply to seek a safer life for my children and myself. This reality I do not know.
And Beloved, we live in an age when these neighbors of ours, as they take these desperate and risky steps toward a more abundant life, they are met with tear gas, with their children being taken from them and kept in cages. They are met with threats and racist depictions of who they are.
I know I am not alone in my heartbreak and anger about the harm being done to our siblings. These ones who are most vulnerable. But what really breaks my heart is the lack of movement within our nation to stop this from happening; what devastates me is how many brothers and sisters of mine, of ours, are okay with this taking place. And I don’t think these siblings of ours are villains. I think, that just like us and like all humans are capable of doing, they are simply believing a narrative that benefits them. We all want to believe narratives that do not challenge or disrupt our comfort, our status, our assumptions and expectations. These narratives that allow us to remain inward-centered, protecting self at all costs.
The narrative being told in this age is that these beloved ones who are fleeing their homeland are people we should fear. We are told to be afraid of this portion of our family because:
1. They are illegal
2. They are most likely going to hurt us or others
3. They are going to take something that is rightfully ours
Beloved, we can choose to believe this narrative. We can choose to rationalize and justify actions that deny our neighbors healing, that deny them assistance and help. We can let fear rule our hearts.
But, Beloved, this is not God’s narrative. The Psalmist today reminds us that “All the paths of the LORD are love and faithfulness.” Not just love and faithfulness from God to us, or love and faithfulness of us to God. But love and faithfulness of God to all people, and love and faithfulness of neighbor to neighbor. For loving our neighbor is how we love God. The Way of Love.
This current age’s narrative of building walls, denying our neighbor, letting fear determine how we live with those who are not like us---this narrative is not our narrative. And we cannot succumb to it.
Because we are God’s people, and God’s narrative tells us that people, Beloved, people are never illegal. And even in this current age, the truth is that our migrant neighbors are not even taking illegal action. Seeking asylum is legal---here and throughout the world. While it may be unwanted by some or it may be threatening to some, it is a legal right of humanity. Even in this current age.
And Beloved, God’s narrative tells us to be not afraid. We are not to shun our neighbor out of fear, but we are called to love our neighbor. In Scripture, specifically in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke, we learn that our neighbor is whoever is in need. And, we are shown that how we love our neighbor is to show mercy and compassion, to take the risk of crossing boundaries and borders in order to assist our neighbor. This is the way of love. This is our narrative.
God’s narrative is about an abundant life, not scarcity. An abundant life that rises from acts of generosity, of sharing and not hoarding, of distributing justly what God has provided instead of allowing ourselves to be possessed by what we think of as our possessions. As Americans, we may be worried about not having enough resources---that we don’t have enough jobs or our economy cannot sustain so many folks in need.
But the Gospel truth of helping our neighbors instead of denying them only seems foolish or financially impossible when we isolate ourselves. As Americans we may or may not have all the resources needed to deal with the health, safety, shelter and employment needs of our neighbors at the border, but as global siblings we most certainly do.
Here’s the thing, Beloved: as a follower of the Way of Love, our true identity as the people of God, there’s simply no room to be okay with what is happening in this age at our nation’s border. Maybe the answer is not as simple as “just let everyone in,” but our response, according to God’s narrative, should be an act of mercy, of compassion, of healing, of uniting and not dividing. Acts that say: we see you; we know you; we are bound to you; your wholeness is my wholeness. For together, we are the Beloved. “Whatever you do to the least of these,” Jesus tells us, “you do to me.” Love God; love neighbor.
So first and foremost, let us---as Christians---let us know our own narrative, God’s narrative, so deeply and so profoundly that we are not duped by another narrative, the narrative of this age. Let us not be captured by fear or sideswiped into self-centered protection at all costs---leaving our brothers and sisters bleeding and crying at the side of the road. Let us look for where God is at work and then join in that redemptive and healing work. Let us stand up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near. Justice and righteousness are signs of God’s Kingdom---a new age dawning.
At this start of a new church year, today’s readings on this first Sunday of Advent speak of an apocalypse---that’s right---again with the apocalypse. There will be “signs in the sun, the moon and the stars and our earth…” (and friends, let’s not forget who created and who is in control of the sun, moon, and stars…). The “powers of heaven will be shaken….” “The days are surely coming…” Jeremiah prophesies. The end to one age and the beginning of another; the world is about to turn, echoes the Mother Mary who is preparing to give birth to Love in the world. A revolution.
Social Justice advocate and follower of the Way Dorothy Day once wrote: “The greatest challenge of the day is how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us.”
Beloved, the world is about to turn, from one age to the next. Turning with the revolution of one heart at a time. Each heart marinated in the narrative of God’s love, each heart trusting in the call of Jesus to Come. Follow. Come and see. Come and break bread; take and eat. This is God’s love for you. This is God’s love for our neighbors. Know who you are. Know whose you are. Come, beloved, and “cast away the works of darkness; put on the armor of light.” The Kingdom of God is near.
In most profiles that churches put out when they are looking for a new pastor or priest, there is often a statement that says the church would like a preacher who connects the Scriptures to their daily lives---a preacher who makes sense of the Gospel and declares how it is relevant to our world today.
Well, buckle up: here goes…..
We are faced with many issues today---some of these issues have been going on since the beginning of time, I am sure---but most of these issues feel as if they have escalated in recent months and years. I am talking about:
immigration and border security
homelessness and poverty
healthcare for all people
should we raise or lower our taxes (in other words, why do I have to pay for other folks?)
racism, white supremacy, and nationalism
Beloved, the Good News of Jesus Christ has something to say about all of these things, and today’s readings speak God’s Truth if we have ears to listen:
“The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world and all who dwell therein.”
This one verse from today’s Psalm, speaks to all of these issues in one way or another. Let’s start with Creation. This verse reminds us that everything is God’s and everything was made by God. Our part in Creation, going back to Genesis, chapter 2, is to care for all of creation. To be good stewards of that which God has made---including humanity which is made in the image of God. When God puts human in charge of the Garden of Eden---of the Creation---God asks human to do two things: to serve Creation and to guard Creation. Obed and shamar: these are the two Hebrew verbs. To serve and to guard.
Four weeks ago, the UN put out a statement reporting that the status of carbon dioxide pollution here on earth is a life or death situation. Time is running out; if we are not willing to live differently in order to limit and decrease the carbon dioxide pollution in our atmosphere within these next 12 years, we will cause damage that cannot be walked back---damage that will lead to unprecedented changes to our world. People, we are talking about the status of this fragile earth, our island home, becoming more inhospitable and drastically different in the lifetimes of the children who sit in this room right now---in the lifetime of Gus and Roman whom we baptized two weeks ago.
As we celebrate All Saints Sunday---when we recognize that we are all in one communion---bound together: past, present and future---we hear this wonderful reading from the 21st chapter of the Book of Revelation. Now, this book of the Bible has been used as a weapon in our lifetime. Some have taken it and spun a tale about a great rapture, a clear distinction of who is in and who is out. This Great Rapture that has captured many folks’ imagination and has sold thousands of books for the writers of the Left Behind Series---this Great Rapture is made up. It was concocted in the 19th century; and while elements of Scripture and the Book of Revelation were woven into the fantasy---it is not Biblical. It is not the Good News.
But there is plenty of Good News in the Book of Revelation (in fact, we will be studying it in the New Year, so stay posted). The Book of Revelation is an apocalypse—an end time prophetic epiphany---but not about the end of the earth. This book describes an end of an age, the end of one age—the age of the Empire---and the start of a new age---the age of God’s reign on earth—the new Jerusalem. Where God and humanity are one another’s, where chaos has ended, and death, pain and sorrow do not have the ultimate power. For God makes all things new---all things.
Beloved---do you hear this Good News today: God loves and includes all---all people, all created things, all of humanity, all kinds. God does not divvy up the worthiness of humanity into races, genders, sexual orientations, colors, economic status, or even nations. God does not look down upon created earth and see borders. God does not favor one nation over another, one race over another, one gender over another, one social status over another. Those are sinful, human divisions. God works for all things; God makes all things new.
Today’s Gospel has Jesus standing at the mouth of the tomb, with the stench of death and decay hanging in the air, and Jesus calls the dead back into life. Because the Good News is Resurrection---that death does not have the ultimate power, that love wins, that darkness does not overcome the light and that life is stronger than death.
This is the central message of our faith: Resurrection.
But, beloved, do we believe in Resurrection? Do we let it be our primary call?
Or, Beloved, do we allow death to have more power than resurrection?
What if we considered all these burning issues of the day through the lens of Resurrection?
immigration and border security
homelessness and poverty
healthcare for all people
the purpose and need for taxes
racism, white supremacy, and nationalism
What if, as we ask and consider how we should vote or choose or what we should believe about these issues, what if we used resurrection as our litmus test? Think about it; we believe in the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Another way to name the Trinity is Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. That is who God is: the One who Creates, the One who Redeems and the One who Sustains life. If we are to name ourselves as Christian, then this means our allegiance is to God first, not nation. This means that Jesus is our Lord, not our wallet or our status quo. If we are Christian, this means we have vowed to live the life of Trinity: creating, redeeming, and sustaining life. This is our litmus test---this is how we know how to choose, how to vote, how to live and how to give.
But, here’s the kicker. We are not called to create, redeem, and sustain life only for ourselves or only for our family or only for our nation or only for our race or only for those who profess the same creed or speak the same language or who celebrate the same holidays……..God makes all things new. All things. As Christians, we are called to live our lives in ways that create, redeem, and sustain life for all things---for all of Creation----for all belong to God, so we are each other’s business.
So let’s get back to how the Good News speaks to these burning issues of the day; you know, apply the Bible to our everyday lives:
The thousands of our siblings who are seeking a better life so they walk thousands of miles in hope of tasting that abundance which God provides for all---we already know what God-the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of life-- desires for these ones. On which side of the tomb will we stand?
Or in Pittsburgh where our Jewish siblings are gunned down while attending worship or in the high school hallways of Parkland, Florida or in weekend celebrations at Pulse nightclub in Orlando or the concert in Las Vegas or the elementary classrooms in Newtown, Connecticut…..are we prepared to unbind our nation from the death shroud of gun violence?
Can we share our abundance in the form of taxes in order to provide healthcare for all folks, making certain all people have shelter, food and drink, providing a living wage for all those who work, practicing resurrection through our systems and structures? Building a society that is enabled and empowered to care for one another---especially our most vulnerable (in Scripture they are named as the widowed and orphaned). Raising folks from death to life?
And if we are unwilling to have taxes that provide for this, if we don’t think it is the government’s role to do this, then we must come up with another way, for Gospel makes it clear that it is our work to do. Not somebody else’s.
As Christians, as Jesus followers, as People of the Way of Love---this is our business. And it is the business we call all people to take up with us. This is resurrection. This is how we, like Jesus, stand at the mouth of the tomb, with the stench of death and decay all around us, and raise people from death to life. This is how we unbind them and let them go----free them and us from the death shroud that strangles us from the abundant life God desires for all things to know and have.
This beautiful vision described in the book of Revelation is not about a heaven that we can go to when we die. This apocalyptic dream is not about the end of the world; it is about the end of an age. This is an apocalypse of Hope---and oh, how we need to hear it today; how we need to believe it today; how we need to lean into this vision and participate in what God is already doing today---creating, redeeming, and sustaining life. Because, Beloved, we are the agents of resurrection whose participation in God’s vision creates the apocalyptic turn---moving us from one age to the next.
As Republican President Abraham Lincoln preached at his first inauguration in 1861, standing at the cusp of the Civil War:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may
have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Then Jesus took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.”
Let’s picture this in our minds, this embrace by Jesus of a child. And let us remember that a child, in this Mediterranean society of Jesus, was one without status, power, or value. This is the one Jesus brings into the center of the gathering; this is the one Jesus embraces, welcomes, and by doing so, welcomes the Divine.
Friends: the only way I know how to be a priest and pastor is to be myself. With vulnerability and authenticity. So with vulnerability I come before you today and share that I have discovered a ball of anger burning within me. An anger that I had not recognized was within me all these 52 years I have been trodding this fragile earth, our island home. But I cannot hold it in any longer. I cannot ignore it. It burns. And right now, it is being fed daily. I have found myself needing to find more and more ways to seek the light, to go to the silence and enter that holy space where God waits for me so that the anger can at least be siphoned off a bit and weakened, so that I can be reminded of our bigger Truth, this stronger love that wins…..
Then Jesus took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.”
Beloved, as the Body of Christ, we are called to follow Jesus’ action, and we need the little child we bring into our embrace to be female…..all females. Because Beloved we have not valued the female among us. Probably since time began; I don’t know. But, I do know, certainly for my whole life. And this assault of the female is so embedded in who we are, how we live, what we find to be normal, that we don’t even recognize it when it is happening. We all participate in it---male and female. We just allow it. If we are female, we swallow it. We normalize it: Boys will be boys…….telling our girls to watch how they dress but not asking our boys to respect girls enough to learn control.
Oh, Beloved, there are just so many ways and so many things that lead to this diminishment of women…..that is why this ball of anger within me is burning……I knew when this began, this metoo movement, with women standing up and refusing to be silenced and demanding a change, demanding justice for the violence that is so often just accepted as this is how it is…..I knew this would be a reckoning. I knew once the thread was pulled, it would be unraveling and unraveling and unraveling for a long time …….
Because you see, sexual assault isn’t just physical…….if you are a male, you probably cannot even imagine……it begins when we who are female are put in precious clothes that are supposed to stay clean; dresses that limit our movements; clothes that define our expectations. It begins when people assume that our highest goals are found in the home with only a limited pool of influence. When we are told that there are positions and roles that we cannot do….and then when we refuse to relent and we achieve those roles, we are told we are not as valuable because we are paid less for the same work….When we are told to not raise our hands so often or to speak more quietly, to be more feminine…..when we show leadership skills and are seen as bossy or aggressive instead of promising and effective….
But, Beloved, even for all of these truths to be true, so many other things had to be accepted as truth first. Humanity has built a structure that inherently lessens the influence, the voice, and the value of women. This goes beyond patriarchial society. It is found even at the heart of our faith story and how we, as the Church, have chosen to tell it. We have focused the great miracle of the Mother of Jesus, the love and life of Mary whose greatest gift is that she gave birth to the Divine into the world, and we have wrapped it in the word “virgin” as if that is the most important aspect because that aspect then defines her…..and it defines her as men would have her be: pure, chaste, submissive.
And then we hold that version of the Mother Mary up and ask every female to fall in line. Be like this Mary---not focusing on her trust in God, not focusing on her ability to give birth to Jesus who is Love into the world, but focusing on her purity, with every image we see of Mary showing her to be beautiful, calm, quiet, and submissive. And also, that somehow, she is incomplete without the child. And as this cherished picture is held up for all females to hold as our highest possible achievement, with this expectation for women, came the right to shame anyone and everyone who falls short of it (which is almost every female at some point in her life), even when the falling short of it is caused by someone else’s actions and aggression against her, even though men are held to no such standard. In fact, the standard for men has actually been the opposite. Virility is the highest virtue, not purity.
The damage began so long ago. And has been built and nourished and fed and expanded…….touching everyone who identifies as female………in some way……often (if not always) in many ways: Words that shame or judge; expectations that limit and diminish; glass ceilings that hold us down.
And this week as I prepare for today’s reflection, Christine Blasey Ford has been doubted and questioned and belittled by men over and over and over again (I mean, really, is it any wonder that victims do not tell when this is what they can expect? When so often there is no proof but only their word). And as she has come forward, like so many women before her, including the women who first arrived at Jesus’ empty tomb that first Easter morning, it has been assumed that Professor Ford is telling an idle tale, assumed by legislators who are elected to protect the civil rights of all citizens, legislators who are supposed to see beyond party to the common good of our nation that so desperately wants to be the greatest, the first----this week I hear the Good News:
“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then Jesus took a little child and put her among them; and taking her in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Oh Beloved, let us be this servant, let us as the people of God, and then I hope and pray us as the United States, let us learn how to be the greatest by becoming the servant. And let us finally and fully recognize that we must serve all children, yes, but let us pay special heed to the female among us---the One who has been granted the lower status. And let us tend her wounds. Let us make changes and choices that help her to believe that this reckoning will lead to a new day. A new day when half of God’s beloved people, those who identify with the pronouns she, her and hers, will no longer be limited by words, expectations, and lower salaries. When the She among us will have no ceiling to push her down. When the Female portion of the image of God within this tapestry of humanity will be loved, valued, and cherished for who she is and what she brings to the table.
There is much healing that needs to happen; anger that needs to dissipate; redemption and reconciliation in which we must all participate. No one is exempt because this is systemic and woven into all of our DNA. Beloved, this isn’t a political statement. This is a Biblical Statement. And beloved, Jesus is here. Waiting to embrace. To receive, to heal, and to rebuild. If we truly tend to Mary, then Christ will be born anew….within us, around us, and through us. Richard Rohr reminds us: “Christianity is a lifestyle – a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving. However, we made it into an established “religion” (and all that goes with that) and avoided the lifestyle change itself. One could be warlike, greedy, racist, [sexist], selfish, and vain in most of Christian history, and still believe that Jesus is one’s ‘personal Lord and Savior’….The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on Earth is too great.”
Beloved, let us be the Jesus who, in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, takes the hand of the little girl who is lying dead and says: Talitha Cumi! Rise Up, little girl, rise up!
It’s that time of year again……primary season. That means commercial after commercial after commercial. And unfortunately, beloved, we are not talking about commercials that share a candidate’s dream or vision of what can be. We are talking about commercials that simply hammer down on the opponent or opponents; commercials that are filled, as St. Paul would say, with “evil talk” In many ways, sound pollution filling the air.
In some ways, I think these political commercials are a barometer of our society, taking the pulse of our American culture and mindset, and beloved, it ain’t pretty. It seems there is plenty to be angry about……plenty of reasons to remain divided…..smaller and smaller patches of common ground on which we as a people can stand together.
St. Paul tells us to “put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
It makes you wonder, doesn’t it, if the world in which St. Paul lived in was anything like the times we find ourselves living in. But, beloved, while the times were vastly different, the reality of conflict and division, polarization and danger were very much a part of Paul’s life and culture. So, how then, can Paul simply say: Put away all bitterness? Leave anger and wrath alone…..Set aside your malicious and evil talk and be tenderhearted; choose kindness; forgive.
All too often it feels like that old joke: Well, now come to think of it, you can’t get there from here……..How? How can we possibly get there from here?
Well, if you’ve known me for a while, you know that I often say (somewhat jokingly even though it is no joke) there is always one correct response to any question, and that right answer is:………(Jesus!)
I’m not being a Pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky, some kind of hippy-loving Jesus freak when I say that. I really believe Jesus is the answer. Let’s look at Today’s Good News:
Jesus says (again….he said it last week, and it will come up a few more times this month): I am the bread of life. The bread. The food. The thing that feeds our hunger……
Jesus is the answer because Jesus is the food. Gandhi once said: “There are so many hungry people in the world that God could only come in the world in the form of food.”
Hunger is emptiness…..hunger, beloved, often shows up as anger, malice, wrath, polarization……revealing an emptiness that goes beyond our stomachs……an emptiness that resides in our gut---in the Old Testament, the gut was the seat of our compassion and our mercy. Oh Beloved, we are hungry.
But there’s an antidote to hunger, and that antidote is food…..bread…..Jesus.
As we feast on Jesus, as we walk this way of Love that is Jesus, as we come to this communion and remember that we bring our lives before God in the offering, asking God to bless our lives, to break our lives open so that, like Jesus, our lives can be shared with others…..as we consume the bread, the food, the sustenance that is Jesus, we are being reshaped and reformed.
Beloved, the beliefs we repeat weekly in the prayers and the texts of this worship, the actions we undertake Sunday after Sunday, the music that swims in our bloodstream and the words that remind us what this is all about----take, bless, break, share---these repetitions are like water dripping on the stones of our humanity, smoothing the rough edges, reshaping the jagged corners, refocusing our sight and sharpening our hearing so we can see God at work in us, in one another and in the world, so that we can know and be known by Jesus, this eternal bread, this essence of what it means to live abundantly (Give us this day our daily bread).
And as we become what we receive, God lives more and more within us---this is the truth we come to know in Jesus: God with us; God dwelling within humanity.
A few months back I shared with you that St. Columba once said: “Joy is the echo of God’s life within us.”
So, now I want to circle back to my opening question: How do we get there (tenderhearted; choosing kindness; setting aside malicious and evil talk) from where we are? How do we go from tearing others down to building one another up? How do we become imitators of God and live in love as a fragrant offering?
We resist. We become resisters. And beloved, the resistance to evil and malice, the opposition of anger and wrath is joy. Joy is the resistance. For joy comes from God’s presence within us, within our lives. Now, you may be thinking, there she goes again with that Pollyanna, idealistic, JesusFreak talk again. But, bear with me, beloved. Maybe you know some folks like the folks I know.
Folks who have every reason to be anger, disgruntled, and full of fear. Some of these folks have had a lot of hard luck; some of these folks have made their own hard luck. A few of these beloved folks I know have been handed a life-ending diagnosis. And as we all know, these kind of diagnoses also come with painful and scary roads.
And yet, beloved, these folks I know, they exude a warmth, a love, a joy---there’s really no other word for it---they talk about their blessings. And yes, they talk about their fear or their worries; their wonderings and questions, but the shadows do not define them or limit their capacity for love, for grace, for joy. These folks I know, and again, you probably know or have known some folks like this----they have something not everyone has. They have Jesus, that second person of God who is also called the Word and has been known by other names and known by names we have probably never even heard since the Word has always been; they have that indwelling of the divine.
These folks I know, they believe the promise. The promise that there is more than this life we can see and know in these very mortal bodies. The promise that God is working toward their wholeness---a wholeness that goes beyond this life we now know---a wholeness that isn’t dependent on the breath we take, but comes from the Spirit that we receive.
And because they have Jesus, they have joy. “Joy is the echo of God’s life within us.” Oh Beloved, this isn’t easy. But it is. But it isn’t. We who demand our independence must first become dependent. On God. On one another, recognizing we are each other’s business. And we who pride ourselves on self-reliance must come, come to the table, come and join the community of the diverse, the broken, the faithful, the faithless, the sinner, and the saint, and lift up our hands so that we can receive. Receive what we don’t have the capacity to give or provide for ourselves.
Jesus is the bread, the food, the stuff of life abundant. Take; eat; let joy resound within you as your truest self---as one made in the image of the divine----takes shape and form and dwells within you. As Civil Rights leader and organizer Bayard Rustin said: “Let us be enraged about injustice, but let us not be destroyed by it.”
Beloved, instead: Let us be the resistance---the echo of God leaking out in the form of joy---resisting the wrath, the malice, the division, and instead speak and live the Way of love, members of one another, God’s beloved community.
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.