Sunday, April 12, 2015

Peace like Peanut Butter - it sticks with you as you go

O God of peace, you bring tranquility into our conflicted lives. You raised Jesus from the still tomb; yet we continue to be entombed behind the closed locked doors of our fear. Open wide our doors and windows to the fresh air of new life. As Jesus showed his disciples his hands and feet, may we show ours to those waiting for our love. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen
 
Shalom aleichem. Assalam alaykum. Peace be with you.
 
What do you think of when you think about peace? Lack of war? Lack of stress?
I would like you to close your eyes for a moment
think about your favorite place to relax.
Remind yourself of how you feel when you are there.
The happiness,
the undisturbed feeling.
The beach,
the mountains,
the lake.
The vacation home,
the smells,
the wind in your hair,
let your muscles go for a moment ...
relax
 
Now if you'll rejoin me and return to this room.
 
Was that peace?
In some ways, it was peace. But its not the kind of peace that Jesus speaks of when he speaks with his disciples. In an interesting situation, locked in from the inside, hiding, tense, and afraid, Jesus walks among the disciples and offers them peace. A normal greeting for the culture, but one with a little bit of situational irony. They wish they had some peace. But they are not feeling peaceful. They are sad, grief torn, confused. They are feeling alone. The loneliness that comes after the person they followed and put their hopes in has walked out of their existence, seemingly never to be seen again. But we know this is not the end of the story. The disciples, for all their fear, do not stay in this room forever. In this great resurrection story, Jesus fills them with his peace and with the Holy Spirit. They do not respond right away, we find them in the same place the next week. But they do respond, they don't stay locked up forever.
 
A couple of months ago, when we were preparing for my ordination to the priesthood, I had a total liturgical geek moment when I was reviewing the service plan. I realized that the first official act of my priesthood would be sharing the gift of peace, sharing the gift of God's peace that I have been given, with you. There is that line in Matthew where Jesus says, go make peace with your brother before you make your offering. Liturgically, we do the same thing. We hear the words of the bible, we reflect (hopefully) on them in the sermon, we pray for the things that come out of that reflection in the prayers of the people, we confess our sins, and having been reminded of the abundant forgiveness of God, we are asked to share that peace with everyone around us, and then! we make our offering, in money, bread, wine, to God, as a response to the forgiveness and peace that we have been given. And we share all that has been offered in the act of communion with the community of peace we now have in the room, as Jesus did. We don't always take enough time during the peace to actually make peace with the fellow members of our parish with whom we have fought, but that is the purpose. In a ritual sense and in a practical sense. Its not just about giving everyone near you a hug or handshake, its about saying, we have just been forgiven by God of our sins and now we forgive each other. Its a wonderful moment.  The Christians who put together our worship service knew what they were doing. We are here to worship God, but there is an arc, a movement of the service which also teaches and moves us. There is a reason things are in the order they are in. The service hinges on the peace, we move, through the peace that is within because that knowledge, that faith, allows us to come to the rail for communion, knowing that we are not worthy, but that it does not matter. God loves us and grants us the peace to be courageous.
 
Peace in the midst of tension is not the peace of standing on the sea shore or on the mountain trail or sitting in your bathtub. God's peace is not the peace of 'yes, I've been on vacation for a week and I have another week to go.' A wonderful peace that is, but that is not God's peace. God's peace is being able to stand in the midst of tension and say, yes, you are a human being and despite all the tension and anger and stress, I am going to treat you like a beloved child of God. I am going to look into your eyes and know that you are more than the problem at hand. That is peace of God. The peace of God is a peace that sticks to your bones, even when bad things are piled all around. A peace that endures and at the end of the day reminds you that God created and it is good. A peace that allows you to breathe deeply and remember that God loves you. That peace doesn't look for conflict, but it doesn't run away from it either. Peace in the midst of the doubt, confusion, and tension we live with. Each of us has moments, maybe many moments, when we feel trapped by our fears, by our tensions. The only peace in that moment is the peace of knowing God's grace. Knowing God's love for us. This fills us with a peace that stays with us throughout all the tension, or conflict, or fear.


 We don't sit in a locked room, but we sit locked inside of our selves. Wondering what will happen next, what is going on, why we feel frustrated. Yet, Jesus comes into our midst this Sunday morning saying, peace be with you. Not the peace of the beach, not the peace of the mountain forest, the peace which passes all understanding. The peace that walks through seas on dry ground, the peace that allows us to walk the path set before us even though we know it will be hard and will be frustrating. The peace that allows us to walk with our community in respect, no matter how much of a mess we are. With peace from Jesus, we are encouraged to step outside of our locked doors. To open ourselves up to the forces outside of ourselves, despite the risks, despite the pain, despite the vulnerability. We are the disciples in the world being sent. Jesus gives us the peace that allows us to be sent, to go. We cannot sit locked inside ourselves any longer. It may not happen right away, we may find ourselves in the same mental and emotional place next week, as the disciples did. But we WILL also come to know the peace of God. Jesus fills us with peace and sends us out. We drink in the peace that we have been given and we know that we are sent into the world to proclaim this good news.
 
Jesus walks among us, speaking to us: "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Pilgrim - God's Sacred Land


I recently wrote an article for the Pilgrim, a newsletter for friends of St. George's College in Jerusalem for those in Australia, New Zealand, and the other Oceanic Islands.

It is a reflection on my experience of the land of Israel, having grown up learning about it, wanting to visit and then getting to see it for the first time in my life.

If you're interested, the article is here.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Tension in the Room - Maundy Thursday Sermon

"In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move." No, wait, wrong story. "In the beginning, God created." Yes, but that's not tonight's story. "In the beginning the word was with God and the word was God. And the word was made flesh and lived among us." Yes, that is the story we are telling. But, hold on a second, let's go back to the first one. It would seem rather unfortunate to be angry about existence, but many people are angry about their existence. Their lives are not how they would like them to be. For many us, truly there are things about our lives that make us very angry. Or things that we wish wasn't true. We wish that no one we knew had cancer. We wish that war was not as prevalent as it is. We wish that political fights did not strip people of the dignity and acceptance that we might have had. We live in a world where police have to tell parents their children died in tragic ways. And its not just other people. We have problems, addiction, severe illness, trauma, conflict, abuse in our midst. We share the world's worries and the weight of our sins. We live as broken people. Yet, this is the world in which the word was made flesh and lived among us. This is the world in which Jesus' story takes place. 

It would be so easy to skip this week. Holy Week. This part of the story is hard to hear. We have the triumphant entry on Palm Sunday and we have the glorious resurrection on Easter and we could go from mountain top to mountaintop without having to walk this painful valley in between. This week isn't about joy or peace, its about our brokenness, our pain, our sin, the tension. We walk in a world full of tension. We feel it, bunched up in our guts, worrying our hearts, nagging our minds. We have to live through every moment, no matter how good or how bad, and this week is one where every moment is full of tension. 

Tension, as defined in the physical world, is being stretched tight. For most things, it means being stretched tight between two objects. String is tense when it is fully stretched between two holding objects, like on a guitar or on a telephone pole. With only one side, there is no tension. The string is loose and fluid. If we apply this to our feelings, tension is when we are stretched tight between different people, events, emotions, or objects. Palm Sunday is tense because the story goes from one extreme to the other. we go from waving palms to give glory to Jesus entering Jerusalem to hearing the whole passion narrative, where Jesus is betrayed after supper and dies on the cross. There a lot of difference between those two emotional states and that stretches us, fills us with tension. We are filled with emotion on Sunday and we have a few days off in the world to think about it, and then we come back, here to the middle of the story and revisit the hardest parts. 

Tonight we revisit the part of the story we label as Maundy Thursday. There are many tensions in our story of Maundy Thursday. Myself, today, I felt pulled between the joy of working with the school students on wonderful service projects and the obstinate behavior of my phone, which decided not to accept a charger and die today. On a community level, we read The Gospel passage and we are stretched by the tension the disciples are feeling. The tension between the comfort and familiarity of spending Passover together and the knowledge and fear that someone is going to betray Jesus. Can you imagine the tension in the room? Someone is going to betray Jesus? And then, we feel the tension between the disciples knowledge of Jesus as Lord and teacher and their confusion at Jesus as servant while he lovingly washes each of their battered, bruised, and dirty feet. This is the action that speaks into the tension of the room. I love each and everyone of you his action whispers. We feel similar tensions as we gather during this service to remember and celebrate the words that Jesus spoke in lovingly washing each other's feet and sharing communion, sharing The bread and wine, Jesus' body and blood. And then, we watch the the altar get stripped, completely and utterly bare. The imagery leaves us emotionally raw. 

Yet, the real tension of Holy Week, the real tension of Maundy Thursday, the real tension in trying to remember, trying to serve, and trying to love one another, is the tension between being broken and being beloved. We know so well how much each of us is a member of a broken world and a broken people. Yet, this week also reminds us of how much we are a beloved people, a world of beloved people. Beloved to a point where God is willing to let his Son die for us and Jesus is willing to die in mercy for us. Each one of us is the object of affection. "Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." Jesus loved everyone he met with such compassion and care and overwhelming knowledge and love. That is our example for how to love one another. It is much easier to remember, serve, and love others when we first know that Jesus remembers, serves, and loves us, more than we can imagine. We may be broken people. We may live in a broken world. Yet, we are Jesus's beloved. ​We are beloved people.

The Depths of Good Friday

Blank black space
it almost consumes the eye
daring images to appear
and leaving imprints in the memory
I wallow in the emptiness
feeling grief in waves of silence
there is nothing,

nothing

nothing

it speaks
all is naught and for naught goes
I don't believe
miracles of miracles
transforms our inner knowledge
breathe in the blank black space
breathe in the nothingness of mind
breathe in the lack of emptiness
breathe out the unspoken, the unknown,
the hope of marauding dawn