John 6: 1-21

We like explanations.  We like to make sense out of life’s curious happenings.  We like to pinpoint the exact place where sense and understanding broke in and stole the limelight from the miracle.  At least that is my impression after reading several commentaries on today’s gospel.  There are two noted miracles in today’s gospel.  The first being that Jesus, using just 5 loaves and 2 fish (which happened to belong to a little boy) was able to feed over 5000 people.  5000 people.  The other miracle being that Jesus walked on water.  There is so much discussion about both of these miracles- did they happen, did they not happen, symantics in word use… I would like to just focus on the miracle of the feeding the 5000.

Can you imagine throwing a dinner party for 500 let alone 5000 people?  The cost of that meal would be tremendous.  The time spent preparing the meal, shopping for the ingredients for that meal.  I mean, even if we clipped coupons, enlisted an army of volunteers- had access to the biggest kitchens in Wilmington, cooking enough fish to feed 5000, enough bread to feed 5000 would be a huge undertaking. 

Accomplishing that is an actual miracle.

At least in my book. 

I am used to cooking a meal for one, maybe two, sometimes even 4 people.  It is a miracle if I don’t burn something, scorch something, cut my finger or over-season the vegetables, to be honest. 

But our need to make sense out of these miracles has led some to write and share that the feeding of the 5000 happened not because Jesus multiplied the bread and fish, people were not fed through any magical miracle happening but because one little boy offered up his meager lunch to Jesus to be used as Jesus saw fit.  When the people around Jesus saw this others began to also open up their brown bags and water skins and shared with their neighbors.  Voila!  An instant feast catered by 5000 of your closest friends and neighbors. It was the mother of all potlucks.  No one left hungry.  In fact, there were twelve baskets of food left over. 

So, we feel comfortable with this understanding, this explanation.  Jesus didn’t do a magic trick.  He didn’t pull a baker’s rack of bread out from his sleeve.  He gave thanks for the food that was provided, he thought in terms of abundance and in that mind frame, more and more and more began to share because they weren’t protective of what they brought.  They weren’t consumed by the need to meet their own need of a meal, their own need of satiating their hunger.  They began to see, visibly see, that there was more than enough and in that security, they contributed their own food to party.

When I was 16 years old, I was sitting on the porch with my father and my younger brother.  It was late September and we were sitting there trying to be strong and brave.  We were participating in one of the greatest rites of passage for anyone growing up in the low country.  We were having a hurricane party.  Now, I’m not talking a party where you invite the neighbors over.  I’m talking a party where you go buy snacks, food you only eat every once and a while- chips and dip, candy, honey buns- and of course, bottled water, canned goods with a pop top- what good is a can opener if you have to plug it in and the power is out?  As a junk food junkie, this was almost better than Christmas.

We sat there on the porch waiting.  We waited and waited and finally the very outskirts of the storm began to knock on our front door, on our tall pine trees, on our small island of security.  In a matter of hours, my understanding of security was going to be washed out from beneath my feet.  In the mean time, I ate chex mix, drank fruit juice from a square box with a small flexi straw and watched jeopardy.

Oh how I can recall that night.  I close my eyes and I can hear the rattling of the 100 plus year old windows in their 100 plus year old frames.  I can hear the wind and see the flashes of green, yes, green lightening.  And I can recall the rapid heartbeat in my chest and the tension running through my whole body.  White knuckled.  Fear. 

My family was gathered in the family room on the 1st floor and right before the eye passed over us, we took a hit to our roof.  A pine tree top was resting in our 2nd floor attic.  It could have been worse.  We walked outside in this brief moment of calm in the middle of this calamity and the overwhelming stench of pine was enough to make you think you were walking in a Christmas tree farm.  It was dark, the power was out everywhere and while being surrounded by all these giant pine trees, my world felt at once extremely large and extremely small. 

These are trees I have gazed upon for years swaying gently in the breeze, standing very still and tall on fall afternoons, places that held generations of birds and their young- now they were in my yard. They were lying down like sleeping giants.  Mind blowing.

In the days that followed, life was anything but normal.  This event, this hurricane hugo continues to be a source of profound impact in my spiritual journey.  But what is resonating in me when I read today’s gospel is the 3rd miracle that no one ever really sees as a miracle.  The 5000 people came together and sat down together and ate a meal together.  That is a miracle too- or at least it would be by today’s standards.

Neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend, family to family- all sitting down in small groups on the ground breaking open their knapsacks and tearing hunks of bread, cheese, fruit into parts to share.  I’ll trade you half of my tuna fish sandwich for half of your apple.  I’ll give you some of my carrots for some of your figs.  And they talked, I imagine, about Jesus, about Jesus’ teachings, about the healings they have witnessed or maybe even experienced.  They unplugged from their work, their to do lists, their obligations, their errand running and they sat down in that large field and they broke bread together.  No one mentioned political parties.  No one was clamoring to sound intelligent or bright, no one was trying to out boast the other.  No one was arguing.   They were just eating, just sharing, just being a community together- brought together through Jesus Christ, by the love, teaching and healing of Jesus Christ.  That, my friends, is a real miracle.

Two days after Hurricane Hugo finished giving us one heck of a thrashing, it was clear that the power was going to be out for a while.  The ice was melting and finding enough ice to keep our frozen things frozen was becoming a bit of challenge- not just for my family but for many families.  We either had to eat it or lose it.  A call went out through my street to come over to the Salvo’s and bring items to grill or fry, bring items that could be cooked without electricity.  Bring it all.  And we did.  So did everyone else.

12 families gathered and we feasted.  We sat down together and we ate like kings and queens.  As I reflect on this evening, I try to remember the last time I had seen some of my neighbors, let alone all of us gathered together.  I believe that this was the only time we all gathered together in one yard, the only time we all broke bread together, the only time we left our sports games, our hobbies, our work, our obligations, our errands behind and came together to eat and be a community.  There were tiny miracles among us.  No one was hurt by the hurricane.  No one lost anything that couldn’t be replaced.  No one was without their basic needs being met.  Those are tiny miracles but the bigger miracle is that we reached out to one another, shared what we had, stood there holding one another when the pain and loss and devastation was too much for one set of eyes and one heart to take in.  We wept together and we grew stronger together.  Fed by spiritual food of community, we indeed became community.

Through the healing and teaching and love of Jesus, we are each drawn to this table, to this holy and sacred meal.  We are drawn together as a community where we don’t have to bring anything to the feast because the spiritual food is in abundance, there is plenty for everyone. We move, neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend, family to family up to the table for a taste of the greatest miracle of all- light overcoming darkness, life over coming death.  We are fed and filled by that miracle every time and we allow our souls, bodies, minds and hearts to be transformed, to be prepared and continue to be Jesus’ love, teaching and healing in the world today.  We gather and as we gather, so do many many others today.  We are gathering with our family, friends and neighbors throughout Wilmington, throughout Delaware, throughout North America, throughout the globe to participate in this most holy supper, this miracle feast.  For this one moment, when the body of Jesus is placed in our hands, we are also placing our hearts in Christ’s hands and no one argues, no one fights, no one tries to one up the other.  We are quiet, prayerful, fed, filled and satisfied.  That is the true miracle.  Amen.

 

 

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July 22, 2012

Proper 11B

Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56

Have you ever heard this saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans.”  This quote is attributed to Woody Allen, but I am sure many people have thought this long before Mr. Allen’s feet touched this earth.  If you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans.  I have a feeling that today’s Gospel is a good representation of that saying.

In a matter of 30 verses we have gone from Jesus getting no respect in his home town, not being able to do many miracles and healings or teaching in his home town, and realizing they needed to go out to the villages- to the villagers to get the job done.  Along the way Jesus teaches his apostles how to do evangelism and he sends them out to do exactly that- to tell the story, to engage people in conversation, to listen to the hurts in their lives and to be a presence to them in that and offer to the villagers the healing power of presence.

Now we have those apostles returning back to Jesus after being away and reporting on the work that they have been doing.  And in the meantime, while the apostles have been out preaching and teaching Jesus has suffered the death of his beloved cousin John the Baptist, the one who initiated Jesus into his ministry, into his call, into this life through Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan River.  So a lot has happened in these 30 verses.

30 verses, as many who are doing the 90 Day Bible Challenge know, can sometimes take a loooonnnnggggg time to read, or it can take a very short time to read.  But to try and quantify just how much time is covered in these 30 verses is hard to speculate.   I don’t know how long the Apostles were out and about evangelizing and healing.  But however long it had been, they have returned now and they are getting ready to do an assessment of sorts.   And when the apostles come back, Jesus listens to them and it is very clear that they are tired.  It is clear that they need a break before the Apostles go back out to continue their work.  So they make a plan.

Like I have said before, if you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans.

The Apostles and Jesus make a plan.  They are going to go away.  They are going to go on retreat.  Jesus introduces this idea in verse 30.  Jesus says, “come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”  They make this plan out in the middle of the square, the town center, out in public where people suffering from Jesus fever (much the same way as some of you may have suffered Elvis Fever or Beetle Fever or maybe even Beiber Fever) could hear them.  The Jesus Fever people are consumed with one thing and one thing only:

To be close to Jesus and to reach out and touch the hem of his garment and know that whatever ailment that they have within their body, whatever rough issue they are facing in their life, whatever concern they have looping through their mind and in their heart; they know- somehow they know that one touch, one moment of Jesus’ time and attention is going to make it all better.

But Jesus meets with his apostles right there, trying not to be distracted by the gathering crowd- maybe they had posters that said, “I love you Jesus.”   Or ““I just want a closer walk with thee”  I guess holding up the sign John 3:16 sign would have been a little redundant in this gathering.

Now if they were in today’s world, this plan may have been made around the table in a board room or a conference room.  They would discern who should they hire to lead the retreat, they would have decided, “Should we do a ropes course?  Should we do some trust building games?   Some team building activities?”  What kind of food are we going to eat?’

And they would have set up an automatic response on their email that would have read something like:

Thank you so much for your email.  I am away on retreat with the other Apostles and Jesus.  I will be returning in the near future and will respond to your email then. Have a blessed day.”

But they didn’t have that option.  They made this plan in the middle of the public square and these people on the fringe, the ones who are suffering from Jesus Fever over hear the plan.  Instead of having the social graces to let this tired and weary group go away to rest and be refreshed, to have the break that they need, the Jesus Fever group go ahead of the Apostles to the destination, the conference center, to the camp ground the Apostles were going to camp in and they set up camp themselves and they are waiting.

You want to make God laugh, tell God your plans.

Jesus arrives with the Apostles in tow, and they may have crested some hill after they docked the boat and saw the whole throng of people.  And maybe a moment or two passed where Jesus closed his eyes and said, “I… I.. Can’t.  I can’t do this to the Apostles.  I can’t do this right now.  They can’t do this right now.  Come on God!  Really??  They need a break.”  Maybe Jesus opened up his eyes again and looked at the crowd knowing that they had traveled a great distance to be here, to be waiting on Jesus and his Apostle’s arrival.  The crowd was without shelter.  The crowd was without comfort, and what the crowd needed more than anything was to be comforted- and the only way to satiate that need for comfort is the teaching of Jesus Christ, the healing of Jesus Christ and the love of Jesus Christ.  The thing they need and want can only be given by Jesus- love.  Jesus recognizes this and he has compassion for them.  As Mark writes in verse 34:

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

Jesus may have turned around to his group of Apostles and said, “I know we made a plan but this need is greater.”

There is no hesitation, at least none that is written in this text, on the Apostles part.  They don’t complain. They don’t, “But you said, Jesus.”  They don’t throw their hands up in the air.  They assist any way they can.  When they agreed to follow Jesus, they agreed to all that that life entailed, including going with Plan B when plan A has been disrupted.

Of course they went with Plan B.  This is a chance to really seek and serve God’s people.  This is an example of what ministry is about.  We can go away and talk about ministry and talk about and talk about it- which is good and the right thing to do- but when given a chance to actively do ministry- we should go for it.

Ministry can be exhausting, absolutely to the bone exhausting.  But it is also life giving.  Doing ministry is life changing.  When we say the Lord’s prayer, there is a line in the prayer that reads, “Thy will be done.”  The thy in that prayer is not me, or you- the thy in the Lord’s prayer is Our Father, who art in heaven, Our Lord, Our God.  God’s will be done.  And through the compassion that Jesus had for the crowd that had gathered, that is exactly what happened. Thy will be done. Not my plan, but your plan.

Now, as a cautionary measure- I want to say that as a self confessed workaholic, this passage does not give me or you permission to always be at work, to always put ourselves second, always go beyond expectations when you are serving.

My brothers and sisters I am here to tell you that you cannot sustain a life of service, ministry and love if you don’t stop and meet your own needs from time to time- or, and this can be difficult for some of us to do- let others minister to us.  Let others be as Christ to us.  You cannot be of service to God or God’s people if you are burned out, washed up, at your wits end, exhausted.  Yes, serving others can be exhilarating and can cause a high on endorphins, but that wave will crash and you are going to need to take care of yourself at that point.   I know it isn’t covered in this specific passage for today but remember that Jesus also values going away from the others to pray- he did that over and over all throughout his ministry.  Jesus also enjoys a meal with his friends.  Jesus encourages his apostles to abide in him, to rest and linger from time to time- all this helps us refresh our passion for ministry so when we see the crowds that have gathered in our own lives, we too can show the same compassion that Jesus showed this hungry, needy, dirty, yearning, broken crowd.  Not my will but they will.  Not my plan, but your plan.

Amen.

Sermon for July 15, 2012

Proper 10b

Ephesians 1: 3-14

It was a hot July morning.  Actually, the word hot is an understatement.  It was HOT!  Walking out my front door I was hit by a wall of humidity that made my clothes instantly stick to my skin.  My daypack was draped across one shoulder filled with water, snacks, a book and two hiking poles.  I had a plan for the day and it consisted of hiking around in graveyard fields off the blue ridge parkway. 

I had been working for about a month in my internship at All Souls Cathedral.  My summer had been unusually busy.  A trip to Villanova for a preaching excellence conference, a trip to New Jersey for an ordination, doing research on the emergent church and preparing for my last year of seminary.  This hot day in July was a day that would be centered on respite, rest, relaxation, pausing just for a moment and getting lost in the wonder of God’s creation.

Hiking has been a part of my prayer practice for years.  Sometimes getting away from the technological advances of this day and age is what is necessary to quiet my heart and mind to the point where I can be silent.  Where I can be stilled- even as I hike mile after mile- my body might be moving but my soul is at rest.  Others may find this stillness in knitting or mowing the yard or going for a drive.  Hiking has been a place of stillness for me.  I was craving some of that stillness on this hot July day.

Graveyard fields begins with a long descent to the base of the mountain.  Seems nice and easy but one must remember that what goes down also goes up.  I would be facing the up part at the end of my day but for the moment, I focus on the step right in front of me and not on the inevitable climb back up that will take place after a long day of playing in the woods.

 

 

Graveyard Fields is a popular hiking spot that is easy to drive to.  I was not alone, even though I arrived very early in the day.  There were postings of recent bear sightings in the area and what to do should you run into a bear.  This caused a brief moment of panic and I almost turned back.  But in my heart I knew that if I turned back I would miss this day of rest.  I would have found something to work on back at my apartment or even go into the office at the church and finish the research I was working on.  My mind said, “No, Ginny.  You need this day.  You need this day off and you need this hike.”  My heart agreed and we took off to the upper loop around the top of the mountain. 

All the way up I dined on the last of the blueberries and blackberries blooming and in season along the trail- the reason the bears had been in the area.  There is nothing like a sweet tangy handful of fruit to give you extra energy when you are looking at huge elevation gains in a short distance.  As I got to the top of the mountain, I was treated to an overlook that spanned for miles.  Between the fruit and the view, I knew in my soul that this was what I needed.  Respite.  Rest.  A time to just relax into God’s love, into the knowledge that God loves me- always has, always will.  Amen.  No ifs, ands or buts. 

After a break in the shade of a massive tree I completed the loop around the top of Graveyard fields and made my way over to the top half of the falls.  This was another climb up but not as steep as the first part of the hike.  About half way to the top of the falls I stopped to take a long draw of water from my bottle and I noticed this amazing feature.  A spider somehow collected the ends of several leaves, wove them together to make a little cubby and then from there created a web, using the leaves as a funnel.  It was something to see, ingenious, amazing.  This tiny 8 legged creature using what was around it to not only secure food but to also secure lodging. I peeped into the funnel of leaves and I saw the spider at rest- or at least it looked at rest.  Perhaps this spider had also decided to take a break from modern technology and just commune with its creator. 

 

 

The top of the falls was within the next mile and I felt the anticipation and excitement grow with each step.  I could hear the water.  I could sense how close I was to the refreshment of shade, water, rocks.  My feet were yearning to be without shoes and dipped in the cool mountain stream.  One last stretch of up, up, up and then Viola!  Moving water, clear blue sky, cooler temperatures, a little bit of heaven on this planet. 

It was later in the morning by this point and my hunger was awakened during the last push up to the falls.  I opened up my daypack and feasted on peanut butter crackers, dried apples and mangos, trail mix and cold water that had been frozen just a few hours ago.  Fed and filled, I stretched out on one of the rocks and read for a while.  My head grew hot in the sun so I hung my head over the rock above the water rushing by.  I dipped my hand into the stream and poured water over my head to cool down.  One time.  Two Times and by the third time I realized that I was weeping. 

I was only a few months old when I was baptized. I don’t remember that day at all.  But this act of pouring water over my head reminded me of the action of Baptism, the covenant we make, the sign that is formed on our foreheads and the words said by the priest, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.” 

 I have renewed my baptismal vows several times over the course of each liturgical year.  It is real easy to forget we are sealed and marked as Christ’s own forever through baptism.  As I sat there weeping under the stretched out branches of ancient trees, being nurtured and held by even older mountains, I recalled just how broken and broken down my life has been at times.  How much I have let others down.  How much I have tried to run from the eyes and heart of God.  How much I rejected God’s love at one point or another.  And I recalled in that moment how glorious and life giving God’s love is.  All the mistakes I have made.  All the mistakes we have made- it is still not enough to make God stop loving us, seeking us out, calling us God’s children.  That is a powerful, powerful message.  That is a powerful realization that sometimes gets buried beneath emails, texts, twitter, jobs, to-dos, family, friends, plans, school.  Sometimes we forget the very basics.  Sometimes we forget the very basics.

 Today in our reading from Ephesians we are reminded of the very basics.  We are reminded that we are loved.  We are beloved Children of God. I was weeping tears of gratitude, tears of joy, weeping tears that were brought on for no other reason than I was at peace, fully reclining in the knowledge that I am loved.  I am loved by our God- and that is Good News. 

Sometimes it is good to just stop and remember this news.  Remember this part of our spiritual lives and journey, remember that even in spite of ourselves- our short comings and failings, our humanness- God still loves us.  We are God’s beloved children, adopted through Jesus Christ and our being brings God joy.  Who we are in relationship to God begins with love and moves into forgiveness and ultimately we are marked and sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit- redeemed as God’s own people.

Today’s reading from Ephesians is a nice reminder of the constancy in our life- that we are loved.  No one can hear that too much.  We are loved.  You are loved.  Loving us is joyful for God.  Loving God is joyful for us.  We are redeemed through Jesus Christ, we have forgiveness through Jesus and God gathers us up to God and calls us beloved, beloved, beloved children.  Walking with God, living a life that is Christ like, seeking out God’s will in our lives, reveling in the mystery of faith- this is reason enough to celebrate the creation that you are and that is what God does- celebrates in glory, celebrates each of us, calls us God’s children, reminds us that God’s love is sufficient and steadfast and nothing we can ever lose.  Never.  Ever.  Lose.

 

 

 

 

This passage in Ephesians is a reminder from the author Paul to the Ephesians that no matter what you may face today or in the days to come, no one can take away the love that God offers us.  No one can shake the glory of  God and the hope that comes from Christ.  These are the basics, brothers and sisters.  These are the basics that we need to remember and remind each other.  You are loved.

Listen to some of the words Paul writes:

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places

his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved

this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

This is the day and this is the time when we remember that our life is rooted in Christ, our path is walking in the way of Christ and through this we are sealed and marked as Christ’s own forever- and we are the beloved children of God.  Loved first.  Loved wholly.  Loved completely.  And loved always and forever.

Amen

 

 

Proper 9B/Ordinary 14B

Mark 6: 1-13

July 8, 2012

In the Gospel of Mark this week, we hear Christ’s first hand encounter and lesson for us when it comes to evangelism.  You will notice that when Jesus returns home, mind you he is returning home after he has healed people, brought people back from the dead, casting out demons and calming seas- he goes to the place where it all started for him in his home town- the synagogue.  He goes there to teach and people that gather from his home town are amazed.  They are awed by his teaching.  But then they start to think, “Wait a minute.  How is this happening?  Is he not Joseph’s son, the carpenter?  Where does he get off teaching us like this?  How did he learn these things?”  They reject Jesus.  They weren’t part of the story, they weren’t aware of the full story.  Because the people of Jesus’s home town did not understand how or why or when Jesus became so full of wisdom, they rejected him in his role as teacher.  They were offended by Jesus.

Many times when people get offended by the growth a person has done in their own life, the offense happens because the offended know in some capacity they haven’t grown, they have remained the same. Keeping the changed person in a box makes others feel comfortable is a great deal easier than to work on our own life and allow for growth and change to take place.  Jesus was and has been and will always be a carpenter’s son according to the people who live in Jesus’s home town.  Growth, change, risk- becoming- these events and activities require us to go outside our comfort zones- to step outside the box others may have placed us is in order to accomplish the growth.  That might be why the people were so offended by Jesus and his teaching.

Rather than throwing in the towel as far as his ministry goes and going back into carpentry in order to appease his neighbors and family, Jesus gathers his apostles together and they head off to the villages where the villagers were ready to experience and believe in the living Christ, God’s son, Jesus.  In the process of journeying to the villages, Jesus takes this time to teach his band of brothers how to do evangelism. 

Now.  That E word, evangelism does not sit well or taste sweet in many mouths or hearts of Episcopalians.  The action of evangelism runs contrary to how many of us like to live and move and have our being.  When I hear the very word “evangelism” images are conjured up like slick hair and a slicker tongue, gold watches and rings, sweaty faces, jumping and running around on the stage- where you can buy forgiveness, where you can buy God’s mercy, God’s grace with a simple love offering.  Paying for prayer.  Raise your hands if that is what comes to mind for you when you hear the word Evangelism or evangelist.

I try very hard to leave statistics and numbers out of sermons but I think we need to hear this:  In a recent pew report called the Religious Landscape Survey, 1 out of 4 18- 29 year old Americans are not currently affiliated with any type of religion (Pew Report, summary page).  16.1 percent of all adult Americans responded to the question of religious affiliation by saying they have none- no religious affiliation.  This is the fastest growing segment in the survey.  The majority of the unaffiliated population (12.1% of the adult population overall) is made up of people who simply describe their religion as “nothing in particular.”  They believe in nothing in particular.  The vineyard is full of fruit, the wheat is ready to be harvested.  We as a church and as individuals need to step outside our boxes.

What these numbers tell me is if we are going to make any headway in the world today, we need to remember what evangelism really is.  Evangelism is telling the story.  Evangelism is including people in the story.  Evangelism is inviting people to ask questions knowing that we may not have the answers- and that is okay.  You don’t have to have all the answers when telling the story- you just have to have faith.  You don’t have to have the answers- you just have to believe.  In the very spaces between telling the story, questions being asked- relationships are being created, lives are being changed and the Holy Spirit is dancing- right in those spaces. Dancing.  Even the Apostles didn’t have all the answers.  But they still went out.  Jesus still sent them out, two by two to heal, to work miracles and to teach and to baptize and to bring people in and let them know about the Kingdom of God.  Evangelism.

Tell the story. 

You might be wondering, “Ginny.  What is this story you are asking us tell?”  The story consists of the following:

Who is God is to you.  What does that relationship means to you.  The story is your spiritual journey.  Friends, we need to be comfortable telling our own story, our story as people who believe.  If you need a reference for what it is that we corporately believe, please refer to the Nicene Creed which can be found on page 358 in our Book of Common Prayer.  When we say it together here in a few minutes, take a moment to listen, really listen.  Between our Baptismal Covenant, the Nicene Creed and the Eucharist- these are the very bones of our own story.  What you add to the story is how this impacts your very life.  Your very relationship with God.  Your very relationship with others. 

And when you tell the story you may very well experience rejection- but you are in good company.  Even Jesus was rejected.  Jesus knew from his own experience that some folks may not be ready to hear the story, may not be ready to believe, may not be at a place in their own lives where upon hearing and believing the story, they are ready to allow their lives to be changed, to break out of the box they currently live in, under the assumptions that they have.  It happens.  Jesus said to his 12, “11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet.”

Jesus never said to his disciples then or to us today, “Just wait right here and they will come to you.  Don’t worry, when they get hungry and thirsty, they will come to you.” No. Jesus always sent people out to do the work.  

If Jesus or the 12 had let the fear of rejection prevent them from telling the story, we would not be here today.  We would not be here today.  But you are here.  And we are here.  Somewhere in your soul and heart you are hungry.  And you are looking for nourishment that can only be given here.  Do you think there are others out in the world, in your neighborhood, who are just as hungry as you are?  You don’t need any kind of special education or script to pull from- you just have to tell the story.  It doesn’t have to be pushy.  People are thirsty.  They don’t need you gushing and overflowing their cup.  They just need a sip.  A taste.  They just need to know where the water lives.  Where is this water?  Our job is to move about and let people know that there is such water.  Our job is to go out there and say, “Yes.  I thirst too. But when I am thirsty, this is where I go, this is how I pray, this is how I use the gifts God has given me to love and serve God by loving and serving my neighbor and when I do that- my thirst is satiated. This is the table where I am fed and all are welcome to come and be fed, to come and have your thirst quenched.

For the past three Sundays Jesus has been preparing us to tell the story- to go and tell the story. Listen to some of the words of Jesus has said in the Gospel of Mark:

This is how we do evangelism:

26He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.”

This is where we do evangelism.

And Jesus said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”

 

This is what we need in order to do evangelism:

Jesus says to Jarius, “Do not fear, only believe.”

 

And this is when we do evangelism- today.

Today Jesus gives the commission- to his disciples, to the 12 gathered back then and to each of us gathered today,

 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two. 

Is evangelism scary?  It can be.  Is evangelism hard?  It doesn’t have to be.  Is evangelism worth it? Absolutely.

Go.  Go and tell the story.  Go and help someone who is thirsty.  Go and realize that when you tell the story, you remember what drew you in and what a gift that truly is. What you will realize is that you cannot feed others without also being fed in the process. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Mindful Musings

July 6, 2012

 

 

In May of 2008 I heard these words from my bishop, “You are officially a postulant.”  For those who don’t know what a postulant is, it is candidate seeking admission into holy orders.  I was in my kitchen when the call came in.  I was three hours into my return from my 2nd and final overnight with the commission on ministry and the standing committee.  I was just back from doing early voting for our primary.  I was still waiting to hear, “no.”  If I had heard “no.” then I would have made plans to begin the 2184-mile long Appalachian Trail the following Winter/Spring.  I would have found some way to rejuvenate my love and passion for my current job.  I would have hunkered down and found joy in the day to day life of a Biltmore Employee, and Asheville citizen and continued the ministries I was already participating in.  I would have been okay. 

 

But that “no” never came.

 

Instead, a whole new slate of issues, concerns, problems and wonders began to circle through my mind.

 

How will I pay for this?

Where will I live?

Am I certain this is what I am suppose to do?

What if I get there and I don’t like it?

What if I get to seminary and realize I made a mistake?

What on Earth am I doing?

 

I spent the next couple of months putting it all into perspective.  Life was going to change.  I had no idea just how much life was going to change but I knew in accepting this opportunity I was going to be asked to go on faith and forget about certainty- at least certainty in way that is understood within the civilian world.

 

I had a job I probably could have retired from.

I had a circle of friends that meant the world to me.

I had a home, or at least a home town, that I loved, that loved me back.

I had a meager but wonderful music career (okay- it was more like a past time by this point but I still got great satisfaction from my time spent on stage.)

I had a dog.

I had a church that I loved.

Why would I do anything to screw around with the balance I strived every day to maintain?

 

The answer I kept coming up with was this, “You are asking the wrong question.  This is not so much about here and now but about there and tomorrow.”

 

Although it comes across as something easy to say and read, letting go of the comfort of a secure life was a price I wondered if I could afford.  I know I am not alone in that wondering.  This is not a unique to me situation.  But we all wrestle with it in our own terms and we all reach a point of peace at some point- there is no other way to embrace our call otherwise.

 

So.  In the year that followed my official status as postulant, several events occurred.

 

  1. I began to document what I did at work so that when I left, there would be instruction- but there is no way to capture it all in written format.  The people I worked with at Biltmore, from my team to the departments to the people I never met- they were and are a rare breed of people whom I love and whom I am grateful for every lesson you ever taught me.   I am amazed today how often and eagerly I draw from my Biltmore experience in my day to day life now as a priest.  Truly.
  2. I stopped playing music.  This was hard.  I’m not going to lie.  I mean, I still played my guitar, but I stopped booking gigs.  I had a round of last performances in October of 2008 and then that was it.  No more. 
  3. In March of 2009 my body went into a kind of “screw you” state that lasted for 4 months.  I injured my left knee and in the process of healing, my body exploded in a very real, very painful, very humbling flare of Rheumatoid Arthritis.  Now, let me just go ahead and confess that I consider myself to be all of the following: independent, stubborn, hardheaded, stubborn, a bit of a control freak and did I mention stubborn?  Well.  Being both sick and all of the afore mentioned descriptors, I had a real life lesson in leaning on the arms, hearts and souls of my community.  I went from working out 6 days a week to needing a walker, wheelchair, cane and crutches to get around.  That happens when your knees, ankles, elbows, wrists and back decide to “act up”.  I spent March- July learning how to ask for help, receive help, how to be patient with my body and recovery and adjusting to what my “new normal” meant.  I made a difficult phone call to Virginia Theological Seminary and requested a disabled room and I applied for and received a temporary disabled parking pass.  I was 36 years old.  I felt much older than that.  I almost postponed going to seminary because I couldn’t imagine adjusting to a new life with the inability to use all of my body. God is good, I got my flare under control and by August 8th, the day I left Asheville, I had been walking on my own for almost 3 weeks.
  4. My marriage ended.  I don’t talk about this much.  My marriage ended officially on July 24th, 2009.  I am grateful to her and for all the many ways she loved me, taught me and walked with me.  I am also very glad to see that she is doing well, is experiencing all the joys of life my vocational calling and the sacrifices needed to me made in order to achieve my MDiv could never have provided her.  I celebrate her and pray for her daily. 
  5. I left my dog.  She couldn’t come with me.  She stayed with my ex for the first year and then moved to my childhood home to live with my mom and dad.  Leaving her was probably the highest price I had to pay.  I know that sounds weird and I will accept your judgement, but Ella is my sweet baby girl, her smile has always brought joy to my heart and there is something about the presence of a dog that just seems right in my world.

 

I arrived at VTS in August about as broken as a human could be.  And something glorious happened.  I healed.  I regained full use of my body and my heart and my mind and my soul.  I got to spend each day in prayer and in the classroom- around the table with friends talking about all manner of things and I began to settle into the idea that this was exactly where I needed to be.  The three academic years spent at Virginia Theological Seminary were by far the best three years of my life.  Every struggle, every joy, every question- with or without answer, every evening on the patio, every Whine/wine on Wednesday, every Sunday at St. Philip’s, every hug shared- every bit of it a precious gift.  I never stopped pinching myself.  I would say that I was the luckiest.  I still feel that way.  I know that for years and years to come I will be surprised by the gifts given to me through the people and classes and worship and fellowship I experienced at VTS.  You can’t go home again… but I look forward to visiting.

 

So.  Graduation happened on May 17th, 2012.  I moved to Wilmington Delaware on May 19th.  I began my first call on May 23rd.  In all the years leading up to this moment; from expressing what I heard as a small four year old to my Mom and Dad through the rough and tumble years of my teens to leaving the church in my twenties to returning in my thirties, nothing could have ever prepared me for walking up the steps to Trinity on May 27th with sermon in hand knowing that this wasn’t for class credit, this wasn’t part of my discernment process, this wasn’t “pretend”… this was for real.  This is for real.  I remember taking a moment early in the morning on the 27th and being intentional in my prayer trying to recount how and why and when and where and who- all through my life and I was overcome with tears.  I spent the better part of my senior year weeping- when words fail or can’t express what the heart and soul feel, there are always tears.

 

These same tears came calling on Saturday, June 30th as I realized in the procession at my ordination to the priesthood that these people had gathered for me, to surround me in this most amazing day,- 35 years in the making.  I wept, I sang, I prayed, I spoke the words I was supposed to say and my heart rejoiced fully in a way I had never experienced before.  I felt hands laid on me,  I felt full, I felt amazed and I felt humbled.  Humbled and blessed and loved and cared for.  Even as I write this those same tears come bubbling up.  Tears of Joy- as my Mom says.  These are indeed tears of joy.

 

I am grateful to Trinity and Old Swedes in Wilmington Delaware for giving me a shot, for letting me get my bearings and for allowing me to stretch out in what this calling looks like and feels like.  I still find myself mentally pinching my arm every morning and grateful that I am not dreaming.

 

God is good.

g

 

Proper 8B

July 3, 2012

Mark 5: 21-43

Proper  13B

07-01-2012

They gathered together in the living room.  They, the two adults and two children and one dog.  Along with a few photo albums, several family heirlooms, a laptop computer, some clothes, toys, stuffed animals. Strange what seems most important when the idea sinks in that you can take merely what you need, what will fit into the car.  When you realize what you must leave behind.

Breathing in the familiar scent of the house they had lived in for the past twelve years, the smell of recipes tried and failed, the ones that became family favorites still hanging in the air, in the curtains.  The smell of the shampoo and soap, the lingering scent of aftershave and laundry detergent, baby lotion, the dog’s musty coat of fur- all being consumed and overtaken by the smell of not too distant smoke.

They gather,  each pair of eyes scanning the walls, the shelves, the nooks and crannies, determining if the possessions they are clutching are the right ones to take with them.  You can see the weight of questions in the furrow of the brow.  And the small voice of one of the children echoes out across the heaviness in their, “Why?  Why is this happening?”

“We need to leave.  We need to leave now.” The family, the dog, the most cherished and precious possessions are loaded into the two cars in the driveway.  Should we take both?  Should we just take one?  I don’t want to be far from you.  I don’t want to be separated.  I need to be close to my loved ones.  One car.  One car.  Into one car they climb and they make their way to safer ground.  No radio on this trip, the car is unusually quiet. This was not a road trip of their own choosing,  this they face.  Uncertainty.  Not knowing.  What will happen next?  Where is God?

I love Facebook.  I do.  I am not afraid to admit that I find great satisfaction in being able to connect with long lost friends through facebook.  I also love the pictures people post, the thoughts they are thinking, the events taking place in their lives.

As much as I love being connected to my circle of friends via facebook, one thing that drives me up the wall are the posts that read something like:

“Share if you have faith in God.”  9 out of 10 people won’t share this because they don’t have faith in God or they are embarrassed by their faith in God.

If you don’t repost this then something terrible is going to happen.  Repost in 5 minutes and your wish will come true.  Share this with 10 friends and God will work a miracle in your life.

Yuck.

That is not how I practice my faith in God. God doesn’t operate on a quid pro quo basis.  God doesn’t say, “You do this for me and I will do this for you.  Don’t do this for me and I Will do this to you.”  I can’t imagine making God that small.  I also can’t imagine that God is checking my facebook status to see if I do indeed have faith in God.  God loves us.  There is nothing we can do or not do, say or not say, think or not think that changes this equation. God loves each of us.

I mention this because today’s Gospel seems a bit like a Hollywoodized production.  Two miracles take place in this passage: the healing of Jairus’s daughter and the healing of the hemorrhaging woman.  The story uses two different types of people, a juxtapostion in and of itself- one male, one female, one of status and power, one so lowly and almost invisible, one makes a request- doesn’t even ask but makes a request almost a demand for Jesus’ help.  The other, the woman doesn’t even feel worthy enough to ask and in a survival mode, she takes what she needs to live- in this case she risks being stoned to death by reaching out to touch a man, in public while she is ritually unclean.  The moment she reaches out and touches the hem of Jesus’ garment- and by hem, the part that is almost touching the ground, she was crawling on the ground down where the dust flies up, below the others following Jesus, physically low, emotionally low, in terms of status and power, as low as one could be- and she is instantly healed.  And Jesus said, “Who touched me?”  Coming clean at this moment may still mean death for the woman due to rites, customs and laws but she cannot be silent.  She cannot contain the truth.  She comes to him trembling and full of fear and tells him it was her who touched him.  Rather than rebuking her, chastising her, punishing her like so many others had done before, Jesus calls her daughter. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”  Jesus calls her daughter.  When was the last time anyone called her anything other than unclean?  Unworthy?  Untouchable?  Unloved?  Twelve years is a long time to be treated as less than, as barely human.  Her faith was so strong and Jesus’ love and mercy is so powerful that the healing happened without a physical or intentional touch from Jesus.  That is powerful stuff.

While the conversation between Jesus and the woman takes place news arrives that Jairus’s daughter has died.  This man, this father just learned of his own daughters death and Jesus has the audacity to say to Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” Yeah.  I bet that went over well.  However, Jesus is able to break through that emotional static that sets in when we hear news that is unpleasant, life changing, disappointing, and world crashing.  Jesus breaks through that noise of a 100 million unrealized dreams, unrealized expectations, and unrealized life.  Jesus breaks in; Jesus breaks through and quiets that noise to the point that the heart, the mind and the soul can hear the still voice of Jesus.  And when Jesus speaks he doesn’t say, “Everything is going to be alright.”  Because it might not be alright.  Instead Jesus reminds the synagogue leader to have faith, do not be afraid, believe- even in this darkest moment- things are not as they seem.  Jesus continues to make his way to Jairus’s house, to Jairus’s daughter.  He says to the mourners that had gathered, “She is only sleeping.” And he enters into the twelve year olds’ room takes her by the hand and says, “Talitha Cum” Little girl, get up.  Daughter, get up. 

I say this passage is a bit Hollywoodized because there are two sick people, two healings, two miracles, two people whose lives have been changed forever by their faith in Jesus and what happens as a result of their faith in Jesus.  This passage seems to give off the understanding that if you have faith in Jesus that nothing bad will happen, that you will be instantly healed… friends, I am here to tell you that we cannot afford to let our minds and hearts entertain or feast on that cotton candy flavor of faith.  It may taste sweet melting in our mouths but it does nothing for the rest of our body, it does nothing to sustain our very lives.

What is important to remember is that indeed life does have its ups and downs. The root cause of these ups and downs is not God, is not Jesus, is not the Holy Spirit.  Bad things don’t happen to people because they didn’t have enough faith.  People’s houses don’t burn down in a wild fire because they didn’t pray enough or go to church enough.  God is not that small and God is not a being to be manipulated.  As I stated before, God does not operate in a quid pro quo frame of mind.  God loves us.  God loves us so much.  What happens in our lives is not a result of faith or lack of faith.  People don’t die because of God, planes don’t crash because of God, the greatest hurts in our lives, the deepest, darkest most painful hurts in our lives did not happen because of God.////// 

 

But, when we are hurt, when we lose a loved one, when houses burn down, when the earth quakes, when unexplainable events happen in our lives, what our faith offers us, is a chance to go to God in prayer, go to God with our tears, our pain, our sorrow and give it all over to God.  Our faith offers us a chance to come together as a community, holding each other in prayer, sharing in a common meal together, being fed and nurtured and healed through our connection to God and to one another.  What our offers us is the understanding that even in our darkest hour, our greatest need, we are not alone.  Our worries, grief, sorrow, feelings of uncertainty- we can give over to God through our prayers and our faith and we rest for a bit, regroup, rely on one another to truly be the hands and feet of Christ here on earth and we get up.  Talitha Cum.  Daughter, get up.  Son, get up.  Your faith has made you well and this is the community that will be here for you in your darkest hour as well as in your greatest joy.  Amen.