Saturday, October 31, 2015

Many Waters

With the junction of performing my first baptism and the rain we have been experiencing in Houston lately, I've been thinking about the place of water in our lives. There are a lot of stories in the Bible that deal with water and the Thanksgiving over the Water prayer from the Episcopal baptism service in the BCP highlights a few of them: creation, the passage through the Red Sea, and Jesus' baptism. But there are many many more, fishing stories, storm stories, rain and floods, Noah, Jonah, Peter walking on water, Paul being shipwrecked, the list goes on. Water has a huge place in the biblical narrative. I'm a huge fan of the writings of Madeleine L'Engle and one of her children's novels is called Many Waters and its about Noah's family before the flood. But interestingly enough, the title is taken from a verse of scripture not in the Noah story of Genesis. Madeleine highlights a verse from the Song of Solomon:

"Many waters cannot quench love
neither can the floods drown it."
Song of Solomon 8:7

I love this verse. It sounds like simple poetic Hebrew parallelism, the second line restates the first in a different way. Both lines deal in large water images, but I've come to realize that the lines come at the idea in two very different ways. The first line talks about the undeniable thirst that is involved in love - for greater knowledge, greater understanding, greater intimacy. God knows us completely, every vice, virtue, mitochondria, glucose molecule, every brain wave pattern. Yet, despite this infinite and intimate knowledge of us, God remains with us, still watching - with inexplicable sorrow and joy - throughout our lives. As a mother, knowing her child better than anyone else, continues to watch and delight in first and reoccurring experiences she already knows. She knows what it is to walk, but when her child does so for the first time, it is a wondrously new thing. God loves us with a thirst that cannot be quenched.

The second line speaks of an endurance and strength that cannot be swept away or drowned. Nothing can destroy love in its purity. As the apostle Paul says, "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39) Even when we stray far a field from  - when we run and deny and fight against and are indifferent to - this God who created us, God's love endures.

Thus together, love is a thirsty endurance, an enduring thirst. "A longing for the reunion of the separated," as theologian Paul Tillich says. For "many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it." Water is an amazingly powerful part of our universe, and so is love.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

All the things on the Table

Proper 22 B
4 October 2015
Eternal God, heavenly Father, we are grateful for all the gifts you have given us, even when those gifts are seen as weakness, for in you weakness is turned to strength and darkness is turned to light, with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. 

One of my coping mechanisms when I feel overwhelmed is to clear off a wide flat surface, my dining room table for instance, and put down all the things I feel overwhelmed about on it. I write sticky notes of what my worries are and I put them on the table as well. I spread everything out so that I can see it and find ways to move forward. As I was thinking about this morning, I got a little overwhelmed. So, I want you to envision a clean table with me. 

First, today is St. Francis of Assisi day and later we will be blessing the pets of the parish. We will put a little statute of St. Francis on our table. Second, today is part of our stewardship campaign. Put that pledge card on the table. Third, today is/was our first day of breakfast and packing backpacks for Bayou City Blessings in a Backpack. Let’s put a bag of food there too. Fourth and fifth, Mark’s gospel: questions of divorce and people bringing children to Jesus. Here are some rings for the table and a children’s toy. 

I wonder what you make of all of this. I’ll tell you what stands out to me. 

All of this involves vulnerability. Let me show you. 

St. Francis. Do you know the story of St. Francis? Francis of Assisi was the son of a rich merchant. He lived the rich kid life for a long while, but after fighting in a local war, spending a year in a dungeon, and getting malaria, his life had changed. He started having experiences that opened his heart and mind to God. He totally gave up material goods. He started the Franciscan order and it grew quickly but he lost control of it just as quickly because his strict understanding of absolute poverty was hard to maintain. He is one of the most beloved saints in the canon and yet pretty much the least intentionally imitated. What strikes me about the issue of absolute poverty is the extremely vulnerable position one is left in. With absolutely nothing but the clothes on one's back and the bowl one drinks from and eats from and begs with, one is an easy target for starvation and danger from the elements and one is hardly able to help many people, since most people want money. But Francis’ vulnerability was also his strength. He was a powerful voice in the church, speaking for those Jesus asks us to care for, the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, and the sick. 

The pledge card. Our stewardship campaign. The stewardship campaign is the church’s way of raising money to continue the programs and missions of the church. In order to continue services, visiting each other in times of need, sharing the good news through bible studies, and fellowship, we pay to operate the buildings of our campus. The church has the same mind when it comes to money as most of us. We try to store up enough to pay the bills each month and be able to support the ministries that build the kingdom of God on earth today. By giving money, time, and energy in stewardship, in service, and in prayer, we build up the strength of our community. By thanking God through sharing our gifts with each other, we open ourselves up to be vulnerable, bringing to mind questions about whether we will have enough money. Yet, our vulnerability is our strength. We open ourselves up to the community of the church, we invest in Christ’s body, and the mission of the church to the world. 

A bag of food. Each week Bayou City Blessings in Backpack sends 700 children home with a bag of food so that they will not go hungry all weekend. These children live in food deserts, where food is scarce and not always very healthy. All 700 of these children are vulnerable, they look to someone outside of their families and living partners for the very things to sustain them. Yet, their vulnerability is also a strength. Without this vulnerability, we would not be in community with them. We have the chance to share our love with them and encourage them as they encourage us. Their vulnerability reminds us of our own vulnerabilities and that is a strength.  We know that we are all together broken sinners in need of God. Our real strength comes from God, through grace, not of our own power.

What do we have next? Rings. In the gospel passage this morning, Jesus gets questioned about divorce. There are a million stated reasons people get divorced and marriages do not work. However, Jesus points to the hardness of our hearts. Our inability to be vulnerable with each other. To communicate what is really going on within us, our needs, our expectations, and our feelings. Jesus is surprisingly egalitarian for the times, stating that a woman could divorce her husband, which wasn't the custom at the time, but what I see Jesus really pointing to is the issue of vulnerability. While I am not married, I have observed plenty of people around me who are. Becoming one flesh is about being able to be vulnerable and open with each other. Yet even in marriage, we can build walls around our hearts so that we are not hurt by loving the people closest to us in our lives. It is scary to be vulnerable and we can become unwilling to open ourselves to knowing another’s sins and taking responsibility for our own feelings. When we break down the walls, when we admit how we feel, or how we have been hurt, we open ourselves to vulnerability. Yet, our openness is a strength. By opening ourselves to each other, we are better able to communicate, to recognize the truth, and to find more joy in our lives together. 

Last but not least, we have the children. In the second part of the gospel passage this morning, Jesus becomes indignant about the disciples stopping children from coming to him. The disciples do not think that it is appropriate for children to be brought to Jesus. It doesn’t fit their picture of their Messiah King. But all those children are vulnerable. And he meets that vulnerability with knowledge and appropriate love.  The children come because they pushed forward by their parents and so forth, they are not necessarily doing this on their own and they are in a vulnerable position. The disciples are showing the hardness of their hearts in not letting the children come to him. There is a connection between the first and second parts of this passage. The hardness of our hearts, the lack of vulnerability. Children cannot hide their vulnerabilities. Most of the time they don't know any better. They cannot hide the fact that they depend on those around them to provide food, structure, activity, love... And Jesus says they come into the kingdom of heaven. Their vulnerability is their strength. They are willing to accept the love of Jesus quite openly. 

This is what I see on the table. Jesus calling us to break down barriers between each other and be vulnerable. And our vulnerabilities are our strengths. When we break down the walls around us, we open ourselves up to all the pains of the world, being rejected or hurt. Yet, when we break down the walls around us, we also open ourselves up to the light of Christ, the love and grace of God. We open ourselves to each other, we build community and we know that we are loved. This is our strength. This is the hope for our future. Vulnerability. Because by being vulnerable together, we are the one body in Christ. 

Now there is a clear open table in this room. When we bring all our overwhelming worries and concerns and lay them on the Altar, we are vulnerable. Jesus gathers them all up and gives us the bread and wine of life, his own body and blood in communion. What was once weakness has become strength. What was once death has become life. What was once darkness has become light, through the creative power of the Father, the redemptive work of the Son, and the sustaining work of the Holy Spirit. Amen.