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.

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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.

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

 

Details about Ginny’s Ordination

 

Just a few reminders about Ginny’s Ordination to the priesthood.  The event will takle place this Saturday, June 30 at 11:00 a.m. at Old Swedes.  It will be followed by a cookout and potluck luncheon on the grounds of Old Swedes.

 

Parking

We are expecting a capacity crowd.  Parking will be available at Old Swedes and we will be double parking the cars tightly into the Old Swedes lot.  In addition, NORAMCO (the industrial plant below Old Swedes) has volunteered the use of their contractor’s lot on the corner of 7th and Old Swedes Landing Rd.–just a short walk to the church.  Parishioners who are able might consider parking at the NORAMCO lot to leave as much room for visitors at the Old Swedes lot.  If possible, we might be able to use a person or two who are familiar with the NORAMCO lot to help direct people to the lot and from the lot to the church.  John Piggott, who works as a part time sexton at Trinity will be on site to help coordinate.

Cookout and reception

If you volunteered to help set up for the reception, please plan to arrive at Old Swedes by 10:00 a.m.  Trinity will provide the meat for the cookout, along with bottled water and juice boxes.  Parishioners should be bring a side dish, salad, or dessert to share.  Please remember it will be hot on Saturday.  If you are bringing a dish that needs to remain cold until the reception, please bring it in a cooler. 

 

Seating

Since the cookout and recpetion will be on the grounds, you are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets to sit on.

 

06-24-2012 sermon

June 24, 2012

Pentecost 4b

June 24th, 2012

Mark 4: 35-41

 

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

 

“Let us go across to the other side.  Let’s go to a new place, a different place.  Let’s leave behind the comfort of the familiar and let’s go across to the other side.”

And the disciples said, “Okay!” and they got into the boat to take off and go across to the other side.

They didn’t expect to feel like their life was in danger.  They didn’t expect to feel like they might perish.  They didn’t expect to feel frightened to their very core.  They were just hanging out, on a boat, enjoying each other’s company, perhaps wishing they had their fishing nets, taking a trip to the other side.

I can’t help but want to break into song:

Just sit right back
And you’ll hear a tale
A tale of a fateful trip,
That started from this tropic port,
Aboard this tiny ship.

The disciples were a motley crew, they came from various backgrounds.  Some were used to being on a boat and others had never stepped on a boat before.  They had grown accustomed to being the support to Jesus while Jesus preached and taught and they knew how much this took out of him. How much it tired him out.  Even when Jesus wasn’t teaching and preaching to the crowds, his lessons continued in private when Jesus explained the parables to the disciples. 

 

We see the human side of Jesus as he longs to take his rest.   He climbs into the boat, gives a gesture to where they were heading (the other side) finds a nice comfortable spot on the boat, kind of in the back away from the group of disciples and he falls asleep.  Meanwhile the disciples are awake and aware of that feeling of leaving behind what you know and moving towards what you do not know… the journey from here to there… from old to new… from familiar to unfamiliar. 

 

Have you ever been in that space?  Have you ever been in that point in your life where you eagerly set out in a new direction, to a new place, a new job, or a new relationship, you are all gung-ho and feel ready and certain- like nothing can get in your way?  And if so, if you have ever ventured out in a new direction towards that new place, to that “other” side, and did you travel there without any fear? 

 

It is not by accident that Jesus sets a course for the other side.  It is not by accident that he desires to take his rag tag group of disciples to the other side, to work in a new area, to gather with a group of people they don’t know.  It is not by accident because Jesus is still calling us, still encouraging us, still setting the GPS in our lives to the “other side.”

 

If we were to stay in the familiar, only worship with people we are familiar with, only sing songs of a familiar tongue, we forget our end of the deal, our promise that we made in our baptism- to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.  My brothers and sisters, our neighbors live on this side and they live on the other side.  They live within our zip-codes and they live in other zip-codes.  Our neighbors look just like us and they look nothing like us.  They attend Trinity Episcopal Church, Old Swedes and they don’t attend church at all.  The other side.  That is where Jesus was heading.  That is where he was taking his disciples.  That is where we are being called.  The other side- beyond our comfort zones, beyond our own expectations, beyond what we know for certain.  Even so far as beyond death into eternal life.  The other side.

 

And guess what happened.  The disciples got scared.  This is one of the many reasons why I love the disciples and the Apostles.  They are a reminder that these folks didn’t show up from their pre-Jesus lives complete, without flaws, without the foot in mouth issues that we all suffer from – they didn’t arrive without egos, completely selfless.  No, they showed up just as they were.  We show up just as we are. Full of fear sometimes.  Questioning what in God’s name am I doing here?  Why am I in this pew?  Why am I in this boat?

 

The storm begins.  The disciples know where they are headed, they are gathered together in the small water craft and the storm rolls in on them with wind, rain, lightening, thunder, waves, mounting waves, tossing the boat to and fro and the disciples are clinging to the sides of the boat, huddled down together, white knuckled.  Perhaps second guessing the career change they made in order to follow the man who is now sleeping through this racket. 

 

The storm begins in our own lives when we head out in a new direction.  People who know us, who know us well, might begin to question our own judgment about the direction we are heading, the reasons behind our new plan.  We may fear that the timing is wrong.   We might fear that we don’t possess the gifts and skills necessary to get across to the other side.   We might fear that we will need to rely on others in order to get this job done.  We might fear that we will have to change in order to complete the task and make it to the other side.  We fear. 

 

When the fear settles in, when we know that what we are facing is bigger than us and we are committed to making it to the other side(whatever and wherever that might be) intact, in one piece something shifts within us.  In that moment of fear and realization that we cannot do this on our own, we cannot battle our fear on our own, we cannot overpower the storm on our own, we call out to Jesus who already knows our need and he says, “Peace!  Be Still!”

 

I know in the passage Jesus says this to the storm, to the weather but I can’t help but wonder if Jesus was saying, “Peace!  Be still!” to both the storm raging around the boat and to the disciples gathered in the boat.  Peace!  Be Still.  Shhhhhhhh.

When we focus our energy and our resources and our time on our fear and not on the journey, those fears seem to grow bigger, bolder and louder.  We can, sometimes, use our very fear to be the reasons we don’t move forward, we don’t take the risk of getting to know our neighbors, keeping us on this side and never making it to the “other side.”  Peace. Be Still.  The storm is over.  The power of the living Christ, the mercy he shows, the grace he offers, the love he gives is bigger than any of our fears.  He calms the storm.  He settles the sea of doubt and fear brewing inside of us.  He quiets the voice in our head that list all the reason why we shouldn’t move forward, move toward the place Christ calls us to- to the other side.

  I am reminded of a refrain from a Bob Franke Song

“Halleluiah the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly”

 

The other words that Jesus said during this passage seem a bit hurtful at first.  Jesus goes on to say, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”    One could argue that Jesus was speaking about the disciples’ faith, or lack of faith in Jesus.   I would like to go a bit further- not that the disciples didn’t have faith in Christ, but that they didn’t have the same faith in themselves as Christ had.  Jesus won’t let us go on our own.  We don’t enter into the journey towards the other side alone.  We are not alone.  Even when our fear is at its loudest and roughest and scariest, we are not alone.  Christ is still present, in our hearts, in our journey.  Knowing we are not alone empowers us to stand and stare down our fear, the fear that can prevent us from moving forward towards the other side.  Christ is in the boat.  Christ is in our hearts.  Our faith in Christ extends to the understanding that Christ strengthens us, nurtures us, teaches us, guides us and ultimately walks with us, rides with us, rows with us, flies with us- to the other side- to where our neighbors are, to where we are being called.  Jesus doesn’t say there is nothing to fear- because there certainly are things and people and events we may fear- but when we walk in love as Christ has taught us, we can walk without being afraid because we know we have faith and we are not walking alone. 

Peace.  Be still.  Have faith.  Let’s go to the other side.

Amen.

 

June 17, 2012 Sermon

June 19, 2012

Ordinary time 4b

Mark 4: 26-34

06-17-2012

I speak to you in the name of one God.  Amen.

Whenever I go back home to Asheville, North Carolina, there are several activities I will make room and time in my schedule to accomplish.  My “to do while back in Asheville” list consists of these items:

  1. Take a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway- which is more than a road – it’s a beautiful journey that entices drivers to explore a 469-mile gateway to America’s rich cultural heritage.  I normally drive to one of the many hiking trails or overlooks and take in the beauty and mystery of the mountains.  I breathe in deep and my breath becomes prayer.  I have been humbled and brought to tears on many occasion when surveying the beauty of God’s creation from the driver’s seat, from the top of a hiking trail, from an overlook.  I am humbled by the artistry of God, humbled by how green God’s thumb must be to have this creation be the result of God’s careful planting.
  2. I make time in my schedule to attend the Friday night drum circle held in Pritchard Park in the heart of downtown.  This gathering of all sorts and conditions of humanity has been assembling for over nine years.  I remember hearing one young man, tall and skinny, shirtless and baggy shorts, sweaty from dancing say with his arms outstretched, “this- this is my church” and I understood what he meant.   All walks of life show up to drum, to listen, to ultimately find their toe tapping, their bodies moving, their spirits lifted, connected and joining in a true example of the Kingdom here on Earth.  The rhythm from the heart, the rhythm of life, the rhythm of creation speaking a common language.  This is not an orchestrated piece that people study before arriving.  The whole of their lives has been their study and they bring their studies, their lives, their brokenness with them, drummer and spectator, child and young at heart, male and female, believer, not yet believing, and they revel in the connection, the connection running through each of them in this one tiny park for two hours, once a week.  Sounds like church to me too.
  3. The third item on my “to do while back in Asheville” list is to visit my alma mater- Warren Wilson College.  I arrived at Warren Wilson as a transfer student in January of 1992.  Without getting too far off track, let me just say that when I arrived to begin a new journey in a new school, I was in desperate need of some repair and restoration.  The previous school I had attended was not a good fit and I was wearing the scars of the damage done in that one semester on my heart and in my soul.  I was in need of reconciliation and Warren Wilson was the place I was going to be fed and nurtured and reconciled. 

Warren Wilson is not your typical college. In fact, one of their marketing taglines is, “Warren Wilson College isn’t for everyone, then again- maybe you are not like everyone.”  As part of the contract of being a student, one must agree to live a life of service while attending classes and fulfill the requirements of their Triad: academics, work and service.   Academics- pretty self explanatory- go to school, do your homework, participate in discussions.  After the academics piece, the college experience does take a bit of a different turn.  When I was a student, we had to agree to fulfill the service requirement each year which amounted to 20 service hours within the community of Asheville and a 100 hour concentrated senior project.   I washed and walked dogs for the humane society, I did winterization of homes for the elderly, I drove for meals on wheels and for my senior project I was the youth coordinator for Grace Episcopal Church. 

The third part of the triad is work and by work, I mean WORK.  Warren Wilson raises cows and pigs for market.  They grow corn to feed the cows and pigs.  They have an organic garden and from that garden they sell to the community, they have an onsite daycare, they have cleaning crews, cattle crew, pig crew, recycling crew, electricians, plumbers, painters, carpenters- the community took care of the community.  We worked 15 hours a week with duties assigned according to the crew you worked on.  I was a lifeguard, a librarian, an events planner, a security guard and the crew I Ioved the most and the reason I make sure to return to Warren Wilson whenever I am home- landscaping.  I go and I walk among the shrubs I planted, the retaining walls I help build, the trees I dug holes for and the flower gardens that contain my finger prints and my beads of sweat- and I marvel at how big they are, how much they have grown, that they are still standing, still flowering, still retaining.  I touch these elements and I am at once thrown back in time, sixteen years ago, laughing with my crewmates, longing for a water break, wiping sweat and dirt off my cheeks- and I feel the connection to the very root of these plants and trees and shrubs- I feel a connection to the mortar of these stones- and I marvel at how they have grown in my absence, in my slumber, in the time that I have been walking elsewhere, they have continued to grow and stand tall, stand strong.

One of my most cherished memories from this time in my life was listening to the orientation for the class of 1998 and hearing the dean of Work, Ian Robertson say, “We plant seeds and we grow people.”  We plant seeds and we grow people. 

I like to think that each of these activities that I do when I go home is a way of connecting or reconnecting to the seed and soil and sowers of my own life.

 

In our gospel text today we hear these opening lines:

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.

 

In working through the text, I kept trying to figure out- are we the seed?  Are we the ground?  Are we the sower?  Who are we?  What are we?  Which part is God?  I was having a little bit of an identity crisis.  Ultimately I came to a conclusion- and that conclusion is this- Yes.  The Kingdom of God begins with a yes.  Our participation in the Kingdom of God begins with a yes.  God’s vision of the Kingdom of God begins with a yes, “And God saw that it was good.”  Yes.

The kingdom of God belongs to the seed, to the ground, to the sower- to all who are participating in whatever capacity they are participating – knowingly, unknowingly, on purpose, accidently, well thought out plans and haphazard procrastinations, in our sleeping hours, in our waking hours, in our hopes and in our failures- the kingdom of God is becoming through each of us, is growing through each of us, is begin realized within each of us. Yes!  We do not know how- Yes!

We are the sower- we impact the ground, the people we come in contact with in our daily lives and our interaction with them is the planting of seeds.  We may not even know that we have done any planting but sometimes, after some time and some space, we notice something different within a person- some type of growth- which we might have helped nurture and create through our relationship with them.  Yes!

Sometimes we are the seed, we are placed in the lives of one another and together we change the world around us through our own growth and development.  As we grow, side by side, we also change the landscape around us.  Behold, God is doing a new thing- and we are a part of that new thing in the greening of our leaves, in the height of our stalks, in the shape and color of our fruit- we are each beautiful and unique creations of God.   In our own growing and becoming, the Kingdom is growing and becoming. Yes!

Sometimes we are the ground, the person or persons charged with the responsibility to hold the gifts that are given, the lessons learned, the memories shared, the people who have crossed our paths and decided to linger and abide for a while in our soil.  We let the root of those gifts, those lessons, those memories and those people be harbored, nurtured, tended to within our very hearts and souls.  We are strengthening them, empowering them, giving them a safe place to land until they are ready to grow.  We don’t do anything except be present and in our presence- we share with them in their journey.  Yes!

And God is present throughout the whole process, in all manner of ways- some we are aware of, and some we never see.  We do not know how. The mystery is part of the beauty of creation. 

And today we celebrate a new creation, a new sower, a new seed, a new plot of ground that we will tend to with loving and nurturing hearts.  We celebrate the baptism of William into this vineyard, this farm, this garden and as he grows, we grow.  And as he learns, we learn.  As he shares, we share; each in this beautiful cycle of sower, seed and soil.  God is present in mystery, God is present in the nurturing.  God is present in our becoming as we, together, continue to create the kingdom of God.  Yes!

Amen.

 

Mark 3: 20-35

Pentecost 2b

June 10, 2012

I speak to you in the name of one God, amen.

 

I think he’s gone mad.  I think he’s gone out of his mind, James.  I think your brother has lost it.  I know he was sent here, I gave birth to the Son of God, and I know that he is special and here to do the work of God- God knows I know this!  I have seen this work with my own two eyes.  But I think he has gone mad.  He is my child.  I don’t know what I will do if I lose him.  James, we should go. We should go to him.  We should bring him home.  We should save him.  Save him from this, from this death wish, this need to stir the pot.  Yes, to stand up for what is right- there is a time and place for that but at what cost?  I’m worried James.  I’m worried that this is not going to end well.  Let’s go get him.  Let’s bring him home.  They are going to kill him.  He is going to get himself killed.

He will listen to me, I am his mother.   I know he loves me.  We are going to leave James, you and me, let’s go get him.

I am not a parent.  I have two nieces and a nephew, a Godson, and I worry about them and I love them.  I want them to make good choices, right decisions and I want them to be good and upright citizens in our community.  I haven’t raised them.  I have from a distance watched each of them grow over the years but I have been somewhat removed from the daily ins and outs of rearing a child.  The struggle, the hardship and the great reward.  But I understand where Mary is coming from in this passage.

She is watching her son, Jesus, stir up such a ruckus and knowing the way the Romans operate- she knows that if he keeps this up, he is going to wind up dead.  In the blink of an eye, someone will run him through with a sword or a spear and I think Mary, out of all the love she has for her son, was doing what any parent would do.  “I got to bring him home.  I got to make him safe.  I got to nurture him, restore him… I have to save him… from himself.”

Mary doesn’t have the benefit of knowing the whole story.  You have to admit, that some of the things that Jesus said was causing him to put his life in danger- he was upsetting the apple cart, we was challenging the status quo, the rule of order- and what he was saying was dangerous to say when considering the context and the place- he was challenging the Authority of the government.  He was asking people to consider others first.  Consider the poor, take care of one another, pray, life is not about collecting wealth and status- nor finding these items and actions something to strive for- life is a gift, given by God, blessed by God for us to spend the whole of our lives serving God, worshipping God, giving back to God through our gifts, through our time, through our talents, through our relationships with one another.  Jesus was saying you cannot serve two- you cannot serve Roman Empire and God- you have to serve God.  And this… when said aloud, was considered “mad” behavior, possessed behavior.   

So Mary and James and the whole crew arrive to take Jesus home, Jesus says, “No!  No!  I know this makes you uncomfortable.  I know you are worried but this is not how it is suppose to be, Mom.  You can’t just come in here and put your arms around me.  This is what I am supposed to do.  I know it is painful to watch and makes you uncomfortable- I know these things, Mom but this is what I came to do, was born to do.  I’m not going home.”

Mary doesn’t give up.  She tries again and sends word to Jesus

“Jesus, your Mom is here.  She’s kind of mad.  She wants you to come home now.”

And Jesus says this one line that sends chills up my own spine, “Who are my Mother and my brothers?  These people are my mothers, my sisters and my brothers.  Whoever does the Will of God are my mothers, my sisters and my brothers.” 

Reading through the Gospel in preparing for today, I cringed when I read that line.  It hurts me in my heart to hear such words come from Jesus.  We don’t expect someone we know and love, whom regard as teacher and redeemer to say such things about his own mother.  But when looking at the lines right before this particular verse in the Gospel, we read that Jesus just said, “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”

Blasphemy: A contemptuous or profane act, utterance, or writing concerning God or a sacred entity.

I would like to add to the definition that blasphemy could also be a lack of acting, utterance and writing- to “not do” Things done and left undone, things said and left unsaid- blasphemy.  To allow the world around us, the people we are in relationship with stifle the Holy Spirit in our own lives, that to can be seen as blasphemy.

And when a person is stirred by the Holy Spirit to do, to speak, to live a life that has God at the center, and this life is in contrast to those who know how he or she used to be- two things are going to happen:

  1. That person will know deep, fulfilling and satisfying joy
  2. Their friends and families are not going to know what to do with them- especially if this newfound joy happens along the way, along the way of a shared life, a shared path.

People who have yet to experience that kind of joy are going to be dumbfounded by the changes that take place in the life of a person who has discovered the joy of God, the joy of living a life that is prayerful, that leans towards serving others, that longs to be fed through the community of Christ in order to go out and feed others, to be strengthened in a community of Christ in order to go out and strengthen others- this seems “mad” or a little left of center to others who are still thinking in terms of status quo, in “Earthly ways” who have yet to have the scales fall from their eyes or have their hearts opened to the incredible joy that comes from the Love of God.  And sometimes, instead of supporting those who have discovered this joy, they call us crazy, naïve, mad.   They say these things because they love us and don’t want us to change- but when a person discovers the joy of Christ, the grace of God’s love- one can’t help but be changed.  They think they are loving us, protecting us when they shake their heads at our faith and what we do because of our faith- but the reality is they are afraid of losing us because they aren’t ready to walk with us. 

Jesus never said this life was going to easy or comfortable-

When we were baptized, when we are baptized, when we renew our baptismal covenant, we agree to a life of action, of service:  The last three items in the Baptismal Covenant are the ones that will truly cause some of our family members and our friends to scratch their head, to worry about us, to want to collect us in their arms and bring us home so we can be safe:

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good
                 News of God in Christ?

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
                 your neighbor as yourself?

Will you strive for justice and peace among all
                 people, and respect the dignity of every human

I will with God’s help. We will with God’s help.  God’s help comes in the form of prayer, of spiritual food shared around this Holy Table, in the relationships we have with one another in this community- and our job as fellow companions is to continue to feed one another, nourish one another, pray for one another, hold each other accountable to using the gifts God has given us to love and serve God by serving those right outside these doors.  That is what we have agreed to.  No where does that say we will be safe and free from the judgment of others who have yet to experience the deep joy that comes from loving and serving God.  But in the end, that judgment doesn’t matter.  What matters is how you let the love of God shine through in your life- how do you use that light to illuminate the darkness in this world, how do you kindle that fire in your own life and give it away to the world. 

That is what matters.  Not what anybody else says.

So go- Go and love boldly. Go and shine brightly. Go and live a life that is dangerous- dangerously filled with the Holy Spirit and allow your life and the life of those around to be changed and transformed by the joy of God’s grace and love!

Amen.

 

Pentecost Sermon, 2012

May 27, 2012

Pentecost Sunday

May 27, 2012

Acts 2: 1-21

I speak to you in the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

In our own native language, in our own native tongue.

Words. Dialect.  Accent.  Intonation.  Words. 

You may have already picked up on the fact that I am not from around here.  My accent gives it away every time I open up my mouth.  I am the daughter of the low country in South Carolina, where rice and gravy is a staple at all family gatherings.  Where, I am pretty certain, the heat of the day and evening is so powerful, it causes us to speak slower- it is do dang hot to talk any faster.   I am the niece of the Blue Ridge Mountains where the ancient whispers of the woods curves its way around my words.  Where Yall is an acceptable plural form of you.  Although I do not speak a different language, I do speak in a different tongue. 

On this Holy day, the birthday of the church, Pentecost, a day of new ministry, we gather together in this one place and I can’t help but anticipate, even long for the sound of rushing wind bursting through the doors, filling this space up, lighting us all up with the Holy Spirit. I also can’t help but imagine how those who experienced the first Pentecost must have felt in the heat of the moment. 

 

The confusion, the wonder, the awe of being a part of what must have felt like riding the inside of a tornado or perhaps a roller coaster-while never leaving their seat.  Think about it for a moment- what if you turned to your neighbor and saw a flame dancing above their heads.  In one bold and unpredictable moment, the Holy Spirit made itself known to the crowd that was gathered and they were affected and transformed. 

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the language barrier was broken and all who were present were able to listen, hear and speak- in a common language- a language that sounded familiar to each of them, each in their own native tongue, a language that sounded like home, that resonated with the learning and teachings they experienced as children, a language expressing a common vision, and experiencing the mystery and wonder of faith in action, God’s deeds of power.  It makes sense that they were perplexed and amazed.  They didn’t have Google or Wikipedia to run to and do further research.  They were just there, wrapped up in the experience.  They weren’t drunk.  They weren’t stoned.  They were experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit and it… was… amazing.  It is… amazing. 

 Not many moments like that happen today. Even if they did, our nature of wanting to explain everything in terms that make events easy to understand would require us to use scientific research and explanations to uncover the root of the phenomenon.  We like to make sense of the things that make us feel uncomfortable, that challenge our comfort zones, that call us to be transformed in a date in time we didn’t have marked on our calendars.

 

 

But I am willing to bet that if given a moment to think, to reflect, to ponder, each person in this room has had an experience with the Holy Spirit speaking to us in a different way, being revealed to us in a language not our own but we understood it as if it were our native tongue.

The Council for Research Excellence released a study back in 2009 that showed average adults spend about 8 hours a day in front of a screen.  A computer, IPad, Television- just to name a few examples.  We are bombarded with images, click of a button access to anything and everything we could ever want to know about, read about- instantly.  But when was the last time one was moved, affected, perplexed- as the passage from Acts reads, by an experience with the Holy Spirit?  Kind of hard to get that through a modem, a LCD screen- even one that has High Definition and 3-D capability.  When was the last time a click of a button opened your ears to hear, your heart to listen, your life to be affected and changed? 

 I had an experience like that.  This experience took me by surprise, shook me to my core, opened my eyes and allowed me to experience the Holy Spirit in a new and different way. In 2006 I attended a dance performance – I typically don’t do much attending of dance performances- I much prefer concerts but I won tickets through a drawing at work.

 We made an evening of it with dinner before the show and a promise of a good glass of wine afterwards at our favorite wine bar.  We took our seats, I devoured the playbill in the minutes leading up to the lights dimming, the doors were closed- we were all gathered in one room.  We were lawyers, IT specialists, doctors, teachers, tourists, waiters and retirees, a wide assortment of people gathered for this performance.

  We came from many different homelands and either called Asheville our current home or a place we were visiting along the way.  As the dancers took the stage they began to tell a story about addressing the concerns of today’s middle and working class.  The performance was speaking about our families, feelings, and lives in a web of need, support and desire in a language I was not familiar with or able to speak- through the power of movement, using movement as metaphor.  But I got it.  I understood. 

 The very blood rushing through my body was resonating with the powerful story.  The room didn’t fill up with a rush of wind, but my spirit felt it just the same.  I was in awe, perplexed even by the experience.

God’s deeds of power- the topic of conversation offered in that one room in Jerusalem after the rush of wind and the flames of fire appeared, can be seen in the world around us, can be interpreted by those we sit next to in the chairs and pews, and can be experienced outside of this one room- in nature, in the galleries, in museums, in classrooms, in the car going from here to there from there to home, in our prayer lives, in the quiet and stillness of the morning- God’s power, through the Holy Spirit doesn’t have to be experienced in a rush of wind or in tongues of fire.  But the story gets our attention.  The story is actually pretty cool because in addition to the experience of wind and fire, different people from different places who normally and naturally speak different languages, were united by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Last October I was at the Philadelphia Museum of Art specifically for the exhibit Rembrandt and The Face of Jesus.  Our tour began and we moved through each of the rooms listening to the voice on the audio device telling us about each of the pieces of art. 

There was a moment when I looked around the room and surveyed the various groups of people who made up this particular congregation on that Friday afternoon.  There were nuns, international guests, people local to the Philadelphia area and people like me who had traveled the day before in order to witness this special exhibit. 

If given the opportunity to talk with one another, chances are we would discover that some of us spoke different languages than others.  Our accents would have sounded differently, our values may be different from one another, we all had different spiritual gifts to offer the world and we would probably disagree on what toppings to order on our pizza.  That being said we were all drawn to this exhibit, these beautiful works of art that told the story of Jesus and Jesus’s ministry- and for 2 hours, we all spoke and understood the same language.  In our native language, in our native tongue, the artist set us on fire through his gift of capturing the spirit on canvas and telling us that story. 

 The Holy Spirit enters in various and unexpected ways. In bold ways.  In subtle ways.  In ways we don’t even detect until years later.  And when we are open to experiencing the Holy Spirit, we are transformed, we are changed and we are reminded again and again of God’s deeds of power in the world around us- and in our own lives-  each in our native language, in our native tongue.

Amen.