Friday, June 23, 2017

Chapter 7 Prayer

Figuring out what it means to pray is never an easy task. Learning how to pray is something we do over and over again throughout our lives.

In an early conversation with a friend after her conversion, Sara Miles tries to describe what it means to pray.
""When you told me to pray," Jose would remember later, "it was incredibly earnest. You said prayer was like having this intense, profound longing that you just had to be with. That you put the longing in the hands of God, in a certain way. That it was important to be receptive to the unfulfilled, and not fill it or deny it." (page 70)

In what ways do you pray?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Chapter 7 Crossing

After experiencing her first Communion, Sara Miles goes on to describe trying to come to terms with starting to go to an Episcopal church, starting to become a Christian.

"My first year at St. Gregory's would begin, and end, with questions. Now I understand that questions are at the heart of faith, and that certainties about God can flicker on and off, no matter what you think you know." (page 65)

What certainties about God do you know? 
What questions about Christianity do you have?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Chapter 6 Connection

"There was an immediacy of communion at St. Gregory's, unmediated by altar rails, the raw physicality of that mystical meal. There was an invitation to jump in rather than official entrance requirements. There was the suggestion that God could be located in experience, sensed through bodies, tasted in food; that my body was connected literally and mysteriously to other bodies and loved without reason." (64)

How do you experience God in your life?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Chapter 6 Jesus

I don't know about you, but I have personally found this chapter very powerful. I don't remember my first communion. However, I do know the longing for it when I end up at services where I cannot take communion because of my food allergies. I too have cried at the altar rail from being a part of communion, and I have experienced crying at the altar rail because I could not take part in the literal eating of communion during that service. The Church believes that even if you cannot literally eat, for many reasons during a communion service, that if your intention is there, you have received. All well and good. There is still something powerful about the actual eating of the bread and drinking of the wine. 

Sara Miles goes on to talk about her confusion about what happened to her in taking her First Communion. She was repulsed, but also drawn toward it. 

"Yet that impossible word, Jesus, lodged in me like a crumb. I said it over and over to myself, as if repetition would help me understand. I had no idea what it meant; I didn't know what to do with it. But it was realer than any thought of mine, or even any subjective emotion: It was as real as the actual taste of the bread and the wine. And the word was indisputably in my body now, as if I'd swallowed a radioactive pellet that would outlive my own flesh. Much later on, I'd read what Jesus's disciples said about the idea of eating a body and drinking blood. "This is intolerable," they declared. Many of them, shocked, "could not accept it and went away and followed him no more." Well, it was intolerable." (59)

Have you ever found the idea about communion shocking?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Chapter 6 First Communion

Sara Miles experiences her first communion, un-baptized, unprepared, unsuspecting. 

“Early one winter morning, when Katie was sleeping at her father’s house, I walked into St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco. I had no earthly reason to be there. I’d never heard a Gospel reading, never said the Lord’s Prayer. I was certainly not interested in becoming a Christian – or, as I thought of it rather less politely, a religious nut. But on other long walks, I’d passed the beautiful wooden building, with its shingled steeples and plain windows, and this time I went in, on an impulse, with no more than a reporter’s habitual curiosity.” (57)

“There was no organ, no choir, no pulpit: just the unadorned voices of the people, and long silences framed by the ringing of deep Tibetan bowls. I sang, too. It crossed my mind that this is ridiculous. We sat down and stood up, sang and sat down, waited and listened and stood up and sang, and it was all pretty peaceful and sort of interesting. “Jesus invites everyone to his table,” the woman announced, and we started moving up in a stately dance to the table in the rotunda. It has some dishes on it, and a pottery goblet. And then we gathered around that table. And there was more singing and standing, and someone was putting a piece of fresh, crumbly bread in my hands, saying “the body of Christ,” and handing me the goblet of sweet wine, saying “the blood of Christ,” and then something outrageous and terrifying happened. Jesus happened to me.” (58)

"I still can't explain my first communion. It made no sense. I was in tears and physically unbalanced: I felt as if I had just stepped off a curb or been knocked over, painlessly, from behind. The disconnect between what I thought was happening - I was eating a piece of bread; what I heard someone else say was happening - the piece of bread was the "body" of "Christ," a patently untrue or at best metaphorical statement; and what I knew was happening - God, named "Christ" or "Jesus," was real, and in my mouth - utterly short-circuited my ability to do anything but cry." (59)

Do you remember your first communion? What was/is your experience?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Holy Communion or Eucharist or Mass or the Lord's Supper

We have many names for the ritual of gathering together to eat the bread and wine which Jesus told us to do in memory of him: Holy Communion, Eucharist, Mass, or the Lord's Supper. They all mean the same thing: the community of God's people gathered together to worship God in the eating of bread and wine which takes on special meaning in some way as the Body and Blood of Jesus.

(The theological differences of transubstantiation, full union, real presence, are not what I am debating now.)

The history of traditions around the Eucharist, the giving thanks to God, is long and wide. Some churches celebrate with unleavened bread, some with leavened bread. Some churches use wine, some use juice. Some traditions specify who is allowed to participate, specifying that those who wish to do so must be baptized in their church, some churches accept the baptisms of other churches, while some churches allow anyone to participate whether they have been baptized or not.

The Episcopal Church has traditionally required people to be baptized before they are allowed to participate in Holy Communion. For some time, the requirement was also that people be confirmed. During revising of the Book of Common Prayer, eventually the requirement for confirmation was dropped. Lately, (the last twenty years) there has been some discussion about whether the church should drop the requirement for baptism for participation in Communion. The idea is called Open Table and suggests that since Jesus ate and drank with all manner of people, not asking whether or not people are baptized, that we should too. There is also some wisdom about experiencing what being a part of the community looks, feels, smells, sounds, and tastes like before they join.

The church that Sara Miles ends up going to in San Francisco, St. Gregory of Nyssa, has gotten special dispensation from their diocese and the larger church to practice Open Table as an experiment in theology.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Chapter 5 Democracy

One of the people who made a big impression on Sara Miles was Ignacio Martín Baró.  Baró was a Jesuit priest and scholar and psychologist in Central America. He wrote a great deal about mental health in places of oppression, especially in contexts of community and liberation efforts. Sara Miles had a number of conversations with him and during one them she remembers him talking about democracy.

"In that cool office, he talked not about blood but about democracy, which sometimes he'd call "fellowship."" "Democracy definitely means that people will make mistakes. "And," he added, "we should welcome them."" (page 45)

How welcoming are we of other people's mistakes? How forgiving?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Chapter 5 Community

No matter what part of a war you are involved with, it makes you see your life differently. Sara Miles shares how it changed her perception of community and her life in that community of human beings.

"What I learned in those moments of danger and grief informs what I now call my Christianity. It was a feeling of total community with others, whether or not I was like them, through the common fact of our mortal bodies. We all had bodies that could suffer and be killed; we all had hearts that could stop beating in an instant. In war, I looked at other, different people and saw them, face-to-face--and, seeing them, felt a we." (page 39)

Jesus taught that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Perhaps he should have also told us to pray for those we persecute. When do you feel the greatest sense of community?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Chapter 5 War Years

As a journalist covering a war zone in Central America, Sara Miles saw the best and worst parts of both sides of the wars. 
"In both roles, as journalist and as organizer, I'd learn that it's possible to fall in love with a revolution - then doubt it, fight with it, lose faith in it, and return with a sense of humor and a harder, lasting love. I would have to learn the same thing about church when I was much older, and it would be no easier." (page 35)
Doubt and faith are a journey we walk throughout our lives. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Chapter 4 Learning through the Body

By this point... I'm starting to get hungry. I imagine Sara Miles is a pretty good cook. 

"As with everything else I'd learned - as with the religion I would come to practice - I absorbed cooking through my body." (page 32)

Our bodies are a very integral part of who we are as human beings. What can we learn from our own bodies? What haven't we learned because we don't want to listen to our own bodies?

Monday, June 12, 2017

Chapter 4 Cooking with My Brother

During her time as a cook, Sara Miles also worked with her brother David. She recalls some of the stories and lessons she learned during that time period, especially from the differences of style between herself and her brother. 

""It's just a piece of quiche, David," I said. "So why not do it right?" he said." (page 26)

Some words or phrases in the English language allow people to get out of doing things well. One of those words is "Just." With just, we right things off as not needing our best, we discount how much those things matter. The dangers of the word "just" is that it allows us to not do things right because it doesn't fully count. How often do you use the word "just?"

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Gnostic Influence

The Greek word is Gnosis. It means knowledge or wisdom.

In the early church world, the Greek philosophers had great influence. People would walk and travel hundreds of miles to sit at the feet of some of the great philosophers. There were teachers who were all over the spectrum from those who believed that experience through the body was the only way to knowledge all the way to the other end where only internal knowledge from asceticism and denying the bodily experience was accepted.

The Gnostic tradition was developing at the same time as the Christian tradition and in many times and places, the two coexisted and co-mingled. Many of the early ascetics of the Christian tradition were under the influence of some of the Gnostic ideas about needing to transcend the body in order to experience the divine. Some of those who were exiled from the church because they went as far as to say that Jesus was not a part of the Trinity, merely a human being who was teaching his disciples how to become divine.

Today, the Gnostic influence can still be seen in the Bible and in the world around us. There are some passages from Paul's letters that are understood to be included because he was trying to fight against the Gnostic influence. However, the idea that human beings can transcend their bodies is still one that comes up. The incarnation and resurrection appearances teaches differently. Our bodies are part of us, even when we are experiencing the eternal and divine. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Chapter 3 Solidarity

"But the pleasure of hiding in plain sight was just one of the benefits I picked up from working as a cook. I learned solidarity, the kind that only comes through shared bodily experience, sweating and lifting and hauling side by side with others. I learned from watching customers that the rituals of even the plainest or most cynically prepared dinner could carry unconscious messages of love and comfort. And at the end of a rush, when I sat down with the kitchen staff and waiters, I learned how central food is to creating human community, what eating together around a table can do. As a wise bishop would tell me, years and years later, in words I couldn't possibly have grasped back then, "There's a hunger beyond food that's expressed in food, and that's why feeding is always a kind of miracle." (page 23)
What miracles have happened to you around food?

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Chapter 3 Slow Down to Hurry Up

More lessons from Sara Miles' chef mentor: 
"Got to slow down to speed up," he said. Remember, doll: Slow down. When it's busy, slow down." (page 20)

How often do we just run right through things because we think we need to hurry up? Take a moment to slow down today. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Chapter 3 Accountability

The lessons Sara Miles learned from working as a cook in a restaurant are endless. One lesson she remembers and lives by is about accountability. "Honor meant never shifting the blame when someone beneath us messed up, meant claiming the mistake - "Say it loud," he'd sing, James Brown behind the grill - making it right and carrying on." (page 19)

Responsibility and accountability are big words, with a lot of weight behind them. How accountable are you for your actions? 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Chapter 3 Standing the Heat - Waiting

Sara Miles spent many years working as a cook in a restaurant. The cook that she worked for had some great sayings she writes in the book. ""You," he'd boom, pointing with the eight-inch chef's knife, "are a waiter." A moment of silence for emphasis, and he'd lunge forward: "That means, goddamnit, you wait!"(page 19)

What the chef says is a play on words for sure, but waiting is a lost art in American culture. However, patience is one of the Fruits of the Spirit from Paul's letters. 
How does waiting make you feel? 
What is the value in learning how to wait?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Chapter 2 Pilgrimage

During her time in college, Sara Miles found herself in the midst of the war zone in Central America. 

"It turned out that gunfire had a way of focusing my attention. And that I cared, passionately, about knowing the difference between the official story and physical reality." (pg 13)

This is something that is becoming questionable in our society, what is the physical reality of a situation? No matter how we look at something we always bring our context, our baggage and our perceptions into the story. Any story can be looked at in a myriad of ways and in a world where people can tell those stories for a wide audience, the language used, the nuances, can be very important to understanding the story being told. What is the physical reality of our lives? What are the stories we tell ourselves? How much of a gap is there between the two?

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Power of a Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage is a sacred tradition in religion. Christianity does not hold the reins of the pilgrimage, since people were walking to visit holy sites long before Jesus ever walked around Galilee. The Jewish tradition of visiting the Temple (today, the Wailing Wall) predates Christian pilgrimages. Muslims also have a tradition of pilgrimage, walking to Mecca on the Hajj. Today, thousands of people make pilgrimages in all sorts of ways in order to connect with God, with themselves, and their communities. Stories about pilgrimage are fascinating since each one is very different.

Personally I have a couple of pilgrimage stories. As a teenager in the Journey to Adulthood Sunday School program, my class made a pilgrimage to San Francisco and the one of the Redwood Forests. Directly after seminary, before I started my first paid job in ministry, I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, walking the land which Jesus and millions of other Christians have walked.

What's your pilgrimage story?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Chapter 1 The Family Table, Part 2

Sara Miles spends the chapter sharing about how her family approached life. "We all soaked up experience: sex, travel, drugs, food, hard physical work - anything that would take us further into the sensual, immediate world that my parents insisted was the opposite of religion." (pg 9)

Where do you think the boundaries of religion lie? Do you think there is an "opposite of religion"? What is it?

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Chapter 1 The Family Table

In Chapter 1, Sara Miles, the author, begins the book by sharing how she was raised and what she learned from her parents about religion. Both sets of her grandparents had been missionaries and their zeal had turned their children off religion. Her mother tells her the story of why she left Christianity as a child and recalls what she disliked the most. 

"" I hated the 'You have to be good because God says so,' " recalled my mother. "I hated being preached at. Everything was about guilt."" (page 7)

What are the parts about religion or Christianity you dislike the most?

Environmental Wholeness - Safety and Security

Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth, you made us fellow workers in your creation: Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 827 For the Conservation of Natural Resources)

While many aspects of personal wholeness and health are internal and solely personal, Environmental Wholeness is an aspect of our lives that is many times out of our control. Having Environmental Wholeness means living in a environment where you feel safe, from daily natural elements and from abuse from other people, and where there is room for you to live, move, and grow. We can do many things to make sure the environment around us is safe and makes us feel secure, however sometimes there are aspects of our environments we have no control over.

The natural world around us does many wonderful things for us. However, our relationship with the natural world is a delicate dance of giving and taking. Many times, especially when it comes to weather, we have no control over what happens in our environments. Yet, it does play a part in our stress levels and our ability to feel safe. Living in areas which are free from pollutants and able to sustain human life through plenty of food and water are important aspects of a stable life.

Beyond the natural world, our Environmental Wholeness consists of the houses we live in and the people we live with on a regular basis. Unfortunately thousands of men, women, and children live in unsafe environments every day. Part of the work of agencies such as the Venango County Community Services, Emmaus Haven Shelter, and Mustard Seed Missions, is to help people improve their environments so that they can find a place to live where they feel secure and able to thrive.  

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tuesday - Prologue

In the Prologue to her book, Sara Miles writes, "It turned out that the prerequisite for conversion wasn't knowing how to behave in church, or having a religious vocabulary or an a priori "belief" in an abstract set of propositions: It was hunger, the same hunger I'd always carried."

I have found in my own experience that people seem to think they have to be good enough to be a Christian or smart enough or have something they think they are lacking. Jesus asks for nothing, except that we believe in Him. 

Today is a two question day:
What do you think is a requirement for conversion to Christianity?
What are you hungry for?

Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday - the Author's Note

The book starts out with a sense of humor, and a very realistic sense at that!

Before the first chapter, before the prologue, the author, Sara Miles shares a note with all her readers.

"To use a religious analogy: This book is not the Bible imagined as inerrant and historically definitive. It's more the Bible I believe in - that is, a human compilation of stories told in different voices, edited and rearranged over many drafts to suggest truths not always fully understood."

She starts the book already begging a question from her readers... great engagement! 

How do you understand the Bible?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Seventh Sunday of Easter

I've been here ten months. Not a huge amount of time, but enough to start learning some basics about each other. If you haven't caught on yet, I'll tell you a secret. I like questions. Good deep questions. Questions that can be looked at and analyzed and pondered. Questions without answers or questions without easy answers. I like questions, and we get two goodies in the passage from Acts today. The feast of the Ascension is always celebrated on the fortieth day of Easter, typically a Thursday, and so we celebrated Ascension Day this past Thursday. The feast of the Ascension celebrates the day on which Jesus ascended into heaven after his resurrection and appearances in Israel. The story is best told in Acts as we heard it this morning. 
The first of the two good questions is from the disciples who are walking along talking to Jesus. The disciples ask Jesus, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" Its such a simple question. Yes or no? Easy, is it the time? However the question belies a very simple assumption. The disciples still think that Jesus is going to overthrow the Roman rule of the nation of Israel. You and I both know, he wasn't going to do that at all. The disciples, however, still don't get it. The whole mission hasn't been about restoring the nation of Israel. In a very major way, Jesus had already done restored Israel, just not in the way that the disciples were expecting. He did restore the people of God to the kingdom of God, bringing them back into relationship with God. Unfortunately, he didn't also overthrow the Roman Empire. Though of the choices, overthrowing death or the Roman Empire, I'm glad Jesus chose death. Probably just because the Roman Empire eventually died of its own accord and I am very grateful that Jesus saved us all from the clutches of sin and death. 

Jesus does answer the disciples question. However, Jesus doesn't give them a Yes or No answer. He tells them it is not for them to know when the Roman Empire will fall. It is not for them to know the times or periods of the future. Those are set by the Father. He does tell them that they will receive power with the Holy Spirit and that they have a job to do as witnesses throughout the earth proclaiming about Jesus. It wasn't the job that they wanted, but it is the job that they got. Right before Jesus ascends to heaven, he tells the disciples what they are to do. Then he gets lifted up and disappears from their sight.

Which leads us to the second good question. The disciples are standing there, dumbfounded I am sure, having just watched their leader disappear into the sky above them, when some men in white robes, probably angels, ask them a question. There was probably some momentary confusion among the disciples when they realized they were being addressed and some questioning as to who these men were. I bet some of those disciples could have stood there all day wondering what had just happened and what was going to happen next. "Men of Galilee, the Angels say, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?"

While the men in white robes, the angels, then tell the disciples some information about Jesus and his coming and goings, there is an implication to this question. I don't know about you, however any time I was asked why I was standing around looking at something as a child, the implication was always, "Don't you have something you should be doing?" Maybe that's just me and some hold over guilt from my parents. The disciples weren't going to find anything by standing and staring into heaven. Jesus had given them a job to do immediately before he left them and there is a sense that they need to get moving on the task ahead of them. The disciples never answer the question the angels ask them in the story. It is more of a rhetorical question after all. 

Thinking about these two questions leads me to wonder what it would look like if we asked them in our context here at St. John's. We probably don't wonder about Jesus overthrowing the Roman Empire and restoring the nation of Israel, however, we do ask similar questions to Jesus. When Lord, are you going to take care of the hungry? When Lord, are you going to end war in the world? When Lord, are you going to come back and restore justice in this world? When Lord, are you going to cure cancer? When Lord, are you going to come and fix my stressful situation? We as human beings are susceptible to wanting someone else to take care of our own problems for us. What assumptions about Jesus are we making at St. John's? How have we missed the point of Jesus' mission in the world and how have we missed our own part of it because we want someone else to take care of it?

The second question is as rhetorical and as poignant in our context at St. John's as it is for the disciples. Why do you stand looking up toward heaven? Jesus has given us a job to do and yet, sometimes we are better at staring into heaven than what we are called to do. You may ask, What work do we have to do? Like the disciples we are called to be witnesses to Jesus to the ends of the earth. Granted that does sound a little big and vague. I mean, that could mean a whole lot of things. 

When I think of all the things we could do, my brain gets overwhelmed... like a overused circuit... it tends toward breaking. When the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, in the story we will hear next week, as Jesus told them they would, they start speaking in different languages! What could we do with the Holy Spirit? What could we do if we didn't keep ourselves hemmed in? What could we do if we were willing to dream big?

Once we are given the Holy Spirit in baptism, there is really no call for us to be living normal ordinary boring lives. We have each been made extraordinary. With the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God breaks through and transforms moments into extraordinary times. What would St. John's be if we had confidence and faith and hope? Confidence in God to lead the way, faith in God to transform our actions and hope in ourselves to create goals and to achieve them? It may seem crazy, and I'm perfectly okay with y'all thinking I'm a little bit crazy, just not too much, I have passed multiple psychological exams... however, It may seem crazy that I have started day dreaming and planning and thinking ahead nine years to when St. John's hits its bicentennial. In nine years, this parish, this congregation will be two hundred years old. Two hundred years. Years of abundance, years of scarcity, years of sorrow, years of joy, always connecting to God through worship and prayer and fellowship. What will St. John's look like in nine years? What will we have dreamed and done together? How will we have witnessed to Jesus to the ends of the earth?

What would you do if you had no boundaries? no consequences? no fear or lack of money? I have a day dream book where I have written down things I have thought I would like to do some day. It spans a wide range of things. Many of them will never happen, though they are fun to think about and figure out what they would be like. Some of them are possible and for those few that I have sensed the greatest desire to do, I have what I call planning pages in further along in the notebook. On those pages, I write down what it would take to do those things. What would I have to do now, what would I have to save for? I outline things. Granted, I'm a planner, I'm a strategist. I plan ahead. Work out back up plans, pack emergency equipment. Not everyone does this. Some of us have vision, some of us get stuff done. Some of us plan ahead and work out the details. We are given different gifts so that we can work together as a community and support each other, so that we are not all silos, working by ourselves, getting burned out. We can hand things off when our gifts have been exhausted so that we can move on to the next project. 

I do not have the answers. I do have the questions. And I have the willingness to lean into the questions, to go on the Adventure, to see where the Holy Spirit is leading us. Please don't just stand there staring into heaven, follow Jesus' call to be a witness to the marvelous work that he has done!


take this bread - a summer virtual book study

Welcome to the summer virtual book study!

The purpose of a summer virtual book study is to take off some of the pressure of a regular book study. You can take this book at your own pace. Another good thing about a virtual book study is that wherever you and your book and your favorite device go, you can participate!

I will be posting quotes, questions, stories, pictures, and histories on this blog and on other St. John's social media outlets (check our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram sites). The posts will go Sunday through Friday, with a break on Saturday, throughout the months of June, July, and August. The chapters are short, the reading is interesting, and the stories are real.

In August we will have a review, in person, at St. John's during the Formation Hour, 9:00 am. The review is to gather together and think back over the discussions, ideas, thoughts that come out of the book study. I'm sure there will be some really good discussions ahead!

If you need to order the book, you can find it on Amazon.

If you want to participate and need help purchasing a book, please let me know!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Community Wholeness

Almighty and everliving God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear our prayers for this parish family. Strengthen the faithful, arouse the careless, and restore the penitent. Grant us all things necessary for our common life, and bring us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 817)

For a community to be well, good, and in working order, the members of the community need to be healthy as well.  We tend to talk a lot in the church about wholeness, however we don't always define what we mean by it. Wholeness is a step beyond health or physical well being. Wholeness  means being in harmonious unity, being unbroken and undamaged, means being well in many aspects of one's life. Though we are all at least a little bit broken and damaged, the idea of having wholeness or wellness in many areas of our lives is not as unimaginable as it might seem.

As defined by the National Wellness Institute, wellness is an active process through which people become aware of, and making choice toward, a more successful existence. There are many different aspects of wellness in life: environmental, physical, occupational, financial, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual. Unfortunately these days not many communities are concerned enough about the health and wellness of their members.  However this does not mean that we are not called to work healing and reconciliation in our lives. For ourselves and for others. We are.  Taking care of others requires taking care of ourselves. We cannot help other in a community when we are too tied up in our own problems to be able to see the needs of others. Jesus calls us to be agents of change for wholeness, wellness, healing, health, hope, and reconciliation within the communities we live in. God created us as marvelous multifaceted human beings.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Share a Story


Human beings are hardwired for community. We typically live in family groups and we function best with people we know. We feel most comfortable when we know and trust those who are around us. A huge part of what creates that kind of atmosphere is the stories which are shared. One of the reasons religious groups hold together so well through conflict is the shared stories of the Bible and tradition.

I would like to offer you a challenge. Now that everyone has their new directory (and if you haven't gotten one yet, there are still some in the church office), I challenge you to reach out to someone new in the next week. (Not someone you haven't talked to in a while, someone you really don't know at all.) Look through the directory, maybe there is a picture or a name that stands out to you as someone you couldn't list three things about.  Through a phone call, an email, reaching out to them before or after the church service, introduce yourself. Talk for a couple of minutes and share a story. An easy starting point would be, why do you come to church at St. John's?

Our community consists of amazing people. People who have been here a very very long time and people who are fairly new. We all bring wonderful gifts and stories to our community. Those stories bind us together through common sorrows, through empathy, through common joys. The Holy Spirit helps us share our stories and Jesus helps us enter into communion through the stories we share together.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Who, what, why, where, when, and how. These are the questions to answer when fully explaining a concept. We have talked about the answers to Who, Why, and Where in regards to the Holy Spirit. Who? The Holy Spirit is a part of God. Why? Because we need help, the Holy Spirit is the one who inspires us on the journey. Where? The Holy Spirit can be found in community. 

Today we are going to tackle the what and the when. What does the Holy Spirit do to help us on the journey? We are filled with the Holy Spirit and inspired to follow Jesus. When? All the time. Anytime. Every time. The Holy Spirit is always with us as a guide, inspiration, and help. 

So that was easy. I've already answered the questions. But wait, I can see you about to ask me, what does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?

What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?  In order to answer this question, I'll give you a few examples. The saints show us plenty of examples of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Stephen is one of the first for which this is said explicitly. In Acts we hear the story of the stoning of Stephen, one of the first deacons. The Holy Spirit fills Stephen and he has a vision of heaven and he tries to share that vision with those around him. Stephen forgives those who are stoning him while he dies and he gives up his Spirit to Jesus. Stephen does what God is calling him to do regardless of the consequences. 
In the Episcopal tradition, we follow the steps of the faithful who go before us. We have a book called Holy Women, Holy Men which sets out the feast days of the saints and gives a short description of each of them. This past week contained the feast days of Gregory of Nazianzus, Julian of Norwich, and Nicolaus von Zinzendorf. Each of these saints were filled with the Holy Spirit and saints have a tendency to have three things in common. They do what they feel is right, what God is calling them to do regardless of the consequences at the hands of other human beings. They recognize the way, the truth, and the life, and that God is at work in their lives. They are filled with joy that motivates them and drives them forward. 

Gregory of Nazianzus was Archbishop of Constantinople during the 4th century. He was known as the Trinitarian theologian, a great speaker and writer. Gregory had an experience with a great storm while on a ship that compelled him to give his life in service to God. His father was a bishop and he wanted him to be a priest in one of the local churches. However Gregory wanted to be a monk, far away from the political and social problems of the day. God had other ideas. Throughout his life, Gregory found himself in the middle of many different political and theological debates about the natures of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Gregory was filled with the Holy Spirit and able to stand up for his beliefs in the Trinity, in the three persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Gregory was a great champion of what we think of orthodox theology today. The Holy Spirit filled him with courage to follow his calling even though he didn't want to, gave him the ability to recognize that he God was at work in his life, and filled him with joy.

Julian of Norwich lived in England during the 1300-1400's. She is remembered because she had a number of visions of Jesus which she wrote about in a book called Revelations of Divine Love. This is the first book in the English language known to have been written by a woman! Most notably, Julian wrote during a major time of upheaval in the church and community, the early 1400's were characterized by time periods of plague passing through the land. She most famously wrote, "All shall be well, and all shall be well. And all manner of thing shall be well." Despite the restrictions against women at the time, Julian followed God's call for her, recognized God at work in her life, and was filled with a joy that allowed her to see beyond the problems of her time. 

Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf is actually one saint of which I am very fond. Zinzendorf, Ludwig to his friends, was a religious reformer and community builder in the 1700's. He was an eclectic theologian and he called his group, The Church of God in the Spirit. He worked for ecumenical causes throughout Europe, especially inviting people to live in his Christian community on his land in what is now lower Austria. Eventually, through conflicts and reconciliation work, he created the Moravian Church and personally helped set up two communities in the new English colonies, one in Bethlehem and the other in Salem. This is how I met him. Every third grader when I was in elementary school in Bethlehem had to do a history unit on the Moravians and Count Zinzendorf.  Zinzendorf was led by the Holy Spirit to many different places, he even met with Benjamin Franklin when he visited Pennsylvania in the 1740's. Though he had started out as a Lutheran, and ended up a Moravian (both groups Episcopalians are in full communion with today), he was guided by the Holy Spirit in standing up for his beliefs in religious tolerance, unity, and community, recognizing that God was at work in his life, and being filled with joy at the opportunities for others which he created. 

Throughout the centuries, thousands of men and women can be recognized as having their lives filled with the Holy Spirit. Today we celebrate Mother's Day, a holiday which exists only because men and women were filled with the Holy Spirit and stood up for their beliefs in caring for mothers and their roles in peace, temperance, and reconciliation. We follow their examples of following God's call, recognizing that God is at work in our lives, and being filled with the joy that comes from following where the Spirit leads us. 

What does the Holy Spirit do to help us on the journey? We are filled with the Holy Spirit and inspired to follow Jesus. When? All the time. Anytime. Every time. The Holy Spirit is always with us as a guide, inspiration, and help. What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Being filled with the Holy Spirit means doing what is right, what God is calling us to do, regardless of the consequences from other people. Being filled with the Holy Spirit means recognizing the way, the truth, and the life, and that God is at work in our lives. Being filled with the Holy Spirit means being filled with joy that motivates us and drives us forward. Like being filled with good music, when the Holy Spirit washes over you, it takes you on a journey you hadn't expected. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Bishops, Priests, Deacons

In the Episcopal Church we have a structure which consists of a three fold order of ordained ministers: Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. St. John's has great familiarity with bishops and priests. In fact, most of you know our current bishop, +Sean, quite well. I am the fifteenth in St. John's line of full time priests. However, we have just recently gotten our first vocational deacon! This past Sunday, Dave Betz was ordained to the diaconate and appointed to serve St. John's.

Deacons are called to serve the church in five specific ways. They are to study the Holy Scriptures, to make Christ known through their work. They are to "interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world." They are to assist during worship services, and to particularly serve the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely. (BCP 543)

Given these instructions, Deacon Dave will be taking on some new parts in our regular worship services. Specifically, at the 8 am service, Deacon Dave will be reading the Gospel, leading the Prayers of the People and the Confession, and saying the Dismissal. At the 10 am service, Deacon Dave will be reading the Gospel, leading the Prayers of the People and the Confession, setting the table and bearing Chalice, and saying the Dismissal. Deacon Dave will continue with his work with Emmaus Haven Shelter and visiting St. John's members in the hospital.

Please stay after the 10am service this Sunday as we celebrate the work that God is doing through Deacon Dave and congratulate him at the reception.

See you in church!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Good Shepherd Sunday

Today is colloquially known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Every year we celebrate Easter with at least one Sunday discussing the metaphor of sheep. Another metaphor the gospel of John loves is the metaphor of light. Here's a little glimpse into the nature of the relationship between sheep and light from a sheep farmer in Virginia:

"One evening just after dark, I was driving my Buick up our gravel driveway. As I rounded the first turn, my headlights illuminated a flock of sheep standing about 20 feet in front of me. One of the evangelical ones must have whispered to her buddies, “Run to the light!” because they all turned and headed straight for the car. Bonk! Bonk! Bonk! One after the other, they plunged headfirst into my front grill and then staggered off to the side to let the others have a turn. I honked the horn, but that just seemed to confuse them more. The sheep sped up, and my car rocked as every ewe threw herself at it. Finally, when they were all sprawled on the edges of the driveway, I edged past them and drove on to the house. They staggered to their feet and followed me in."

This story is from Ginny Neil who writes a blog about the sheep farm she owns with her husband in the mountains of Virginia. Ginny received quite the welcome home party that night. For most of us, even if we have no personal experiences with sheep, we have spent our lives hearing about the wily nature of sheep. They run away, they go where you don't want them to, they are always somehow in your way. Yet, sheep get a bad rap from many people. Not everything about sheep is bad. Sheep follow their leader, as notably shown in the story from Ginny, sheep are communal, they live in flocks, and sheep are each unique. 

One of the most iconic images Jesus gives us to teach us about who he is is the Good Shepherd. Jesus compares a good shepherd to a bad shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who calls each of his sheep by name. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who protects the sheep from harm. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who carries the sheep home when they get lost. Interestingly enough, the gospel passage for today stops one verse short of where Jesus says he is the Good Shepherd. In this passage Jesus says, I am the gate. Its a slightly more confusing image, Jesus being a gate. However, we understand the metaphor. Jesus is saying that all the sheep must go through him, or we must go through him to get to the kingdom of heaven. Sheep tend to be great at following each other. When we choose to follow Jesus, he will show us the way through the gate. By going through Jesus, we can find and have abundant life, more than we have ever dreamed of. By following our Savior, we become part of God's people. 

Naturally, since this image of the Good Shepherd is such an important one to how we understand ourselves in the church, we have Good Shepherd stained glass windows - both in the church and in the chapel. The Good Shepherd is a comforting metaphor, allowing us to know that Jesus is always caring for us. As Jesus goes on to say in the gospel of John, "The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." Jesus would do anything for his people. 

In the passage from Acts, well, we don't see any sheep. At least, not literally. The passage does talk about Jesus' followers and what they are doing, so in a way, it is metaphorically about Jesus' sheep. His disciples are the ones who have heard his voice and responded. And its clear that these sheep, the group of Jesus' followers in Acts have some of the characteristics of sheep. Let's face it, they probably smelled. More seriously, they are communal, they share space and food and possessions. In everything I have ever read or experienced of sheep, they are herd animals, they live in flocks. They stick together, communally, for safety and survival. 

In some sense, that is what we do all the time as well. In family groups, friend groups, and community groups, we rely on our communities in times of joy and sorrow. We stick together with other people for safety and survival. We share our food and our possessions in different ways with those around us. Yet, in our increasingly individualistic society, we are losing some of the values of what it means to be communal creatures. In the passage from Acts, you can see what value the community brings to each of the members - teaching, fellowship, mentors, dinner and meal partners, the ability to share possessions needed. We tend to look at this passage as an example of agreeable community - everything was perfect in the early church. However, we know this wasn't the case. The early church still had plenty of disagreements and discussions about what they were supposed to be doing. They each had to listen for Jesus' voice calling out to them. They worked out their disagreements, as far as they were able, staying in community together. 

You may be thinking, last week I told you that we would be talking about the Holy Spirit and yet I haven't mentioned the Holy Spirit once! Do not be afraid! Here comes the Holy Spirit. Dun dun dun! What does the Holy Spirit have to do with sheep or Jesus being the Good Shepherd? Well, we already agreed with St. Augustine that the Trinity never works alone. So the Holy Spirit must be part of the act of Jesus tending the sheep of his pasture. Whether the Holy Spirit is acting in the sheep in order for them to respond or helping Jesus wrangle the sheep, the Holy Spirit is present. Now, it may be simply because of the nature of the Holy Spirit's home life, but I tend to see the Holy Spirits' presence as a requirement in any act of communal nature. Flocks of sheep cannot be flocks of sheep without the instinct for survival that tells them that being in a group is safer, and communities of Jesus followers cannot be communities without the Holy Spirit. What connects and binds us together in community is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is that which makes us the sheep of Jesus' flock. 

Lastly, the metaphor extends to each of us. Even though sheep live their lives as part of a flock, live their entire lives in a community, they are each unique. Just as the flock of sheep now around me, we are each unique in our community. Bringing together gifts and abilities from different people allows us to work together to accomplish more than we could ever do by ourselves. Knowing one's place as a sheep of God's fold means following Jesus, living together in community, and being true to God's calling for you. Follow Jesus the Good Shepherd. Share in the community of Jesus' sheep. Listen for His voice calling out to you. The Good Shepherd cares for you.


PS. I was joined in the pulpit by a small flock of sheep for this morning's sermon.
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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Jesus is fully alive!

"When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead." John 21:9-14

Jesus' disciples had a hard time believing that Jesus really was alive again. Partly this seems to be because Jesus looks different than he had before. We never find out how, except that Jesus is not always recognized at first. In this story from John, there seems to be some question as to who Jesus was, and this was not the only time. The disciples on the road to Emmaus don't recognize him, Mary Magdalene doesn't recognize him at first, the disciples in the boat don't recognize him at first either. It is only when Jesus does something specifically related to his ministry and relationship to the people in the story do they recognize him. In this passage, when he feeds them.

What are we like after death? What does the resurrection mean? These are good questions that we don't have any concrete answers to. Jesus does eat and drink, so he is resurrected with his body, not as a ghost or a spirit. He shows them his hands and his feet, his wounds. Jesus tries to make it clear to his followers that indeed he is alive and that this means great things for the world. However, it is a hard concept to grasp. We don't have a tendency to live in this way. How would we live, what would we do if we had nothing stopping us? Death is no longer something to be feared. Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Easter 3

The Trinity were planning a holiday. The Spirit, manifesting the creative part of the divine nature, was coming up with the ideas. "Let's go to New York," he suggested. "No, no, no," said the Father, "They're all so liberated, they'll spend the whole time calling me 'Mother' and it will just do my head in." So the Spirit sat back and thought. "I know, what about Jerusalem?" he said. "It's beautiful and then there's the history and everything." "No way!" the Son declared. "After what happened the last time, I'm never going there again!" At this point, the Spirit got annoyed and went off in a huff. Sometime later he returned and found that the Father and Son had had a idea they both thought was excellent: "Why don't we go to Rome?" said the Son. "Perfect!" cried the Holy Spirit. "I've never been there before!"

Who is the Holy Spirit and why hasn't it ever been in Rome? Joking! The Holy Spirit has been all over the whole world.

Since we spent all of Lent talking about who Jesus is and what Jesus was doing in the world, building up to Holy Week and Easter, we are going to spend the Easter season building up to Pentecost talking about the Holy Spirit. Who is the Holy Spirit? What does the Holy Spirit do in the world?

We know the Holy Spirit from scripture as the Spirit, as the breath of God, as the advocate, the Paraclesis, the Sustainer, the Comforter, the one who inspired the authors of the scriptures, the one who moves us to repentance and baptism, the part of God working in us before we know it and can name it. But who really is this Holy Spirit?

Early on in the Christian tradition, St. Augustine of Hippo said in his book, On the Trinity, "the Trinity works indivisibly in everything that God works," in other words,  never does one part of the Trinity work alone. The Trinity always works together. So whenever we see the presence of Jesus or God the Father or the Holy Spirit, the other two are at work as well. In the passage from Acts, we see the workings of the Holy Spirit in all those who repent and are baptized by Peter and the other apostles. The people who are baptized "receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." We talk about this gift being given to us in baptism. In the passage from Luke, we definitely see Jesus in this passage, so the Father and the Holy Spirit must be present. We see the Holy Spirit in Cleopas and the other disciple walking along being opened to the scriptures. We cannot believe anything about God without the working of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is which gives us the ability to make the leap to faith.

Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. In Christian history, discussions about The Holy Spirit happened fairly late. In the original edition of the Nicene creed, the Holy Spirit had one phrase, "And in the Holy Ghost." That was it. The Holy Spirit was the afterthought addendum to the Nicene Creed.  The theologians at the time were too busy trying to figure out Jesus. However, once they figured out Jesus, they did start discussing the Holy Spirit and so we end up with the end of the Nicene Creed as we now know it.

"We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen."

Much more meaty! But still kind of vague. The fuller ending of the Nicene Creed shows how the church has settled on the question of who the Holy Spirit is and what the work of the Spirit is. The Spirit is part of the Trinity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is what inspired the prophets. The Spirit is what has created the church. The Spirit is that which moves in us to prompt us to baptism and shares with us the grace of the forgiveness of sins. The Spirit is that which gives us hope for the resurrection. All good things. But as you can see, still no determination on what the Spirit is, even though we can point to areas where the Spirit is at work.

In this way, the Spirit goes with the oldest metaphors of its name. In the books of the Hebrew scriptures, the Holy Spirit is known as the breath of God, in Hebrew, the feminine word, ruach, meaning breath or wind. Even though the wind blows and we can feel it, we cannot see it. We cannot see where it is coming from or where it is going. The Holy Spirit works in this mysterious way. In the New Testament, the Greek word for the Spirit is pneuma, also meaning breath or wind.  And of course, we get our name for the Holy Spirit from the Latin word meaning breath or wind, spiritus. God breaths out the Spirit and shares himself with us. I want you all to do something silly for a moment. Look over at the person closest to you and intentionally breathe towards them.  Go on... We all share God's breath, God's Spirit in us.

Who is the Holy Spirit? The Catechism from the Book of Common Prayer asks this very same question. It has this to say about the Spirit, "The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity, God at work in the world and in the Church even now." "The Holy Spirit is revealed as the Lord who leads us into all truth and enables us to grow in the likeness of Christ."
"We recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation." Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is that which inspires us. Which is God breathing on us and leading us back to God. Through worship and prayer, we recognize the presence of the Spirit as everywhere in the world.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday Sermon


Three years ago this May, I spent three weeks traveling and studying in the Holy Land. Every day was packed full with visiting places throughout Israel, my classmates and I had adventures to the tune of singing Christmas carols in the caves where Jesus may have been born in Bethlehem, drinking from Jacob’s well where Jesus talked with the Syrophoenician woman, swimming in the Sea of Galilee, renewing our baptismal vows in the Jordan River, taking time to walk across the barren hills of the Judean wilderness, and walking the stations of the Via Dolorosa, the way through Jerusalem Jesus is believed to have walked on the way to his crucifixion. On one of our action packed days we experienced an unplanned stop at the border wall separating the Israelis and the Palestinians. The guards went through our tour bus, checking all of our passports, asking a few of the group to get out and check through personal items. We waited there for a while, with the bus facing the wall and seeing the increasing line of people waiting to pass through the border check point. It was sad to see such obvious division between people who have so much in common.

Last summer I journeyed to Germany and took the time to visit the Berlin Wall, that infamous wall of separation between what used to be West Germany and East Germany. Even in pastoral Ireland, when I visited there, the landscape is littered with stone walls, crisscrossing the rolling green hills. Everywhere I go it seems, there are walls. I lived in Texas. And everyday I heard questions and worries about the wall and the border between the USA and Mexico. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to matter where we are in the world, we as humans are great at building walls. Stone, brick, concrete. It doesn't matter, we know how to build walls to keep each other out.

When I think of the gospel passage this morning, I see many differences between Jesus and ourselves, however one stands out to me in large letters. Jesus is not stopped by being entrapped behind stone walls. No tomb will contain Jesus. No walls can contain Jesus. No stone will stop a messenger of the Lord. God has done a marvelous work in Jesus. Jesus has overcome death. If even death cannot stop Jesus, nothing can stop Jesus. Not walls, not those we perceive as strong, not massive armies, not the rich and powerful. Jesus has already overturned the foundations of society. The foundation stones of society cannot stop the gospel, cannot stop Jesus.

Along with physical walls, there are, of course, emotional walls holding us back. Letting someone else inside your personal walls is a tell-tale sign of personal connection. All these walls stop us from sharing the community and unity for which Jesus stands. However, when we share our stories of Jesus, when we share our stories of what it is to be human, when we share what our lives are like, those walls come down. We are able to break on through to the other side. We are able to experience a bit of the joy and new life which Jesus wants to share with us.

It is a scary proposition, to live without walls. To break down the walls already in place, with decades of tradition, justifications miles long, and defenses to defy the most powerful forces. Yet, Even though we are afraid, there is no stopping the power of the gospel. There is no stopping Jesus. When walls come down there is plenty of debris and dust and confusion and cleaning up and readjusting to the new way of living. In the freedom of the gospel, that is the work of loving other people. Tearing down the walls and reaching out to those on the other side.

Do Not Be Afraid

Certainly, there is plenty to be afraid of in our current world. War, terrorism, unemployment, hunger, poverty, losing your home, losing your loved ones, losing your life. The list could go on and on for a long time. In the gospel passage, we hear, along with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the instruction, Do not be afraid, we hear it not once, but twice. Once from the angel of the Lord who meets the women at the tomb and, again, from Jesus when they meet him on the way to tell the disciples. The women’s receptivity to what the angel tells them and their ability not to be struck dumb by fear stands in stark contrast to the guards who are watching the tomb who shake at the appearance of the angel and become “like dead men.” (The Bene Gesserit mothers from the scifi series Dune were right, fear is the mind-killer, fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.) Fear literally held those guards back from experiencing Jesus.

Yet, we are told, Do not be afraid. Do not let fear hold you back. Do not let any wall, tomb, fence, hold you back. Trust in God. The good news of Jesus’ resurrection goes in so many directions. God has already started a marvelous work in the world. God is about to do a marvelous work in us.

When you are given a mission (and we have been)(you'll hear more about that in a minute) do not hold back. The women are giving a job to do. I would totally understand if they are afraid of telling the disciples about what they experienced at the tomb. Who was going to believe them? In Jewish law, you had to have three women to equal the testimony of one man, so already their witness is in the underdog category. And then to think of the actual message. Jesus is not dead, even though they all already know he has been crucified.  Jesus “has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him!” Those poor women, the men were going to think they were crazy.

However, they listen to the angel and Jesus. They do not let fear hold them back. Immediately, they worship Jesus, there on the spot. Worship and fear cannot go together. True worship wipes out fear and unites us in community. Then they go and tell the disciples the good news. They tell the disciples about the resurrection. The benefits of following Jesus are worth the vulnerability, worth the moment of being thought crazy. Biologically, fear is a natural reaction, and while the protective parts of the brain have kept us alive for so long, fear has no place here.

In the middle of the Eucharistic prayer, everyone in the rooms says something together. We call it the Memorial Acclamation. In today's service, in Eucharistic Prayer B, the Memorial Acclamation goes like this: We remember his death, We proclaim his resurrection, We await his coming in glory. Basically, the Memorial Acclamation is the encapsulated version of what it means to be a Christian. We are people who remember Jesus' death. We proclaim his resurrection, (that is part of our mission). And we wait. It does not speak about fear. Christian life is standing up to fear - not letting it stop us.

When angels, messengers of the Lord, come to tell us things, the first thing they say is always, Do not be afraid. Many have ruminated on this and said that obvious angels must be scary looking. However, there is a part of me that wonders whether the reason they say do not be afraid first is because they know what is coming. They warn us ahead of time. What is coming may be scary, they say,  do not be afraid. In this instance, with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, what they are told next is fear inducing. What they are told to do was going to take courage. But what they are told is oh so important! And by no means to be stopped by fear. They were given a mission. A mission from God.


Do you remember playing hide and seek as a child? Or playing hide and seek with your child? Do you remember trying to be silent, waiting, filled with expectancy…waiting to find or be found. I remember many a game of hide and seek growing up at the Cathedral in Bethlehem, trying to squeeze myself into a particular little cabinet under a counter in an alcove near the offices that contained the office fridge, microwave, and coffee pot. Amid the coffee filters, Styrofoam cups, and napkins, I would wait breathlessly. Feeling suddenly very alone in a small space in a huge building. And when it was my turn to count and seek, wandering those hallways, searching for my siblings, friends, cousins, neighbors, expectantly going and searching, knowing that strung around the building, like a string of pearls, were other children already waiting for me.

Jesus does the same thing. He waits for us, throughout the world. Both the angel and Jesus himself tell the women to tell the disciples to go find Jesus elsewhere. The women are given a mission, Go! He was not in the tomb, he was waiting for them in Galilee. Go! They say. Go find Jesus! He is not here. Funny enough, the women find Jesus even before they get to Galilee. Jesus wasn’t just waiting there for the disciples, he was also there near the tomb. We are given the same mission. Go! Jesus is waiting for us everywhere. He has gone before us and will meet us out there.

Now, you may still question where you will Jesus hiding out in the world. I tell you, Jesus is there. Jesus is here, in the midst of the community present. In the people sitting next to you, in front of you, and yea, even behind you. Jesus is here, in the Eucharist, in the act of giving thanks for all the blessings that we have received from God. Jesus is in Galilee as well, out among the people, among the needy, the poor, the outcasts, the every day ordinary folk. Jesus is out there, at school, at work, in our neighborhoods, at the grocery store. Jesus is on the journey with us, as a pilgrim, wherever we go, we cannot be out of God's reach. Jesus in your heart, waiting for you to find him.

There is always that emotional moment in the game of hide and seek. When the seeker finds and the hider is found. There is joy, there is laughter, there is the knowledge that you are not alone. That is the way it is when you find Jesus, out there in the world waiting for you. When we go looking for Jesus, we will find him. After all, that is the beauty of hide and seek, you already know that you will always find, because you know they are waiting for you. You already know what is waiting for you too, and you will always find Jesus.


Good Friday

They laid Jesus in the tomb. A tomb cut out of the rock of the garden. A tomb of stone with a large stone standing in front of the entrance as a door, as a barrier, as a wall. The stone represents the end. Nothing else can happen now. There is such a sense of finality to the ending of the story today. We know death. We have experienced death in our lives before. Death is the end. We see Jesus finish his earthly mission and accomplish everything the Father has sent him to do. I wonder if he felt any sense of relief or success in completing his mission. Yet, it looks so much like failure. There is such a sense of loss. The Messiah, the Christ, the Rabbi Jesus is dead. 

Naturally, the first question after any loss is why? Even if there exists a perfectly reasonable explanation for why a person died, it is never enough to comfort the bereaved after the loss of a loved one. The disciples must have asked this question as we do today. Why? Why did Jesus die? The most direct answers to the question also leave much to be desired. Jesus died because of fear, because he had to, because it was the only way to show us how much God loves us and set us free.
Why did Jesus die? Jesus died because of human fear. At that time, fear in the midst of the leaders, fear of uprising, fear of the unknown, fear of people being, saying, believing, and doing differently. Certainly, though, we cannot blame those at the time for their fear. We have the same fear living inside of ourselves. It comes out in our prejudices, it comes out in our ability to allow people to fall through the cracks, it comes out in our desire to stay within groups of like-minded people. We hold on to those same fears as the people living in ancient Palestine. We have for generations and centuries. Fear is many times as much as an end as death. We cannot get past our fear. 

Thankfully, fear is not the only reason Jesus died. Jesus most definitely could have saved himself. Jesus' death is an event which people have dissected for centuries. However you look at it though, Jesus died because he had to. Jesus in a way, allowed himself to be killed. He sacrificed himself upon our fear to show us a better way. Not once does Jesus act out in fear during the events leading up to his death. Jesus' death is not a ransom for a vengeful God - no, Jesus gives of himself. Its an act of self-giving that many of us cannot fathom, our sense of self-preservation is too strong. Jesus gives everything he has and is, his mission, his ministry, his family, his life. We may never be able to understand why he had to die. 

Why did Jesus die? Jesus died because it was the only way to show us how much God loves us and to set us free. Really? Death was the only way? I think of the story of Lazarus and the rich man, who asks Abraham to send Lazarus back as a dead man raised to go speak to his brothers. Yes, really, it was the only way. The largest things holding us back from life, from love, from freedom, are fear, sin, and death. Jesus had to go through those things in order to be able to save us from them.

During the season of Lent, the Adult Formation group discussed six heresies that have to do with Jesus' nature. The first question we discussed was whether or not God does suffer. The orthodox position, the non-heretical position, on this question is that God in human form did suffer as Jesus. In his suffering, as both divine and human, Jesus bridges the gap between human beings and God, a gap which only exists because of fear, sin, and death. Through Jesus we have a way to encounter, engage with, and become one with God.

Through breaking death, God saves all of us from our sins and the power of death. In Jesus' death, there is hope. There is not only a promise of forgiveness, but a very concrete act of forgiveness. By taking on the consequences of our actions, by removing them, Jesus opens up the possibility that we might live freely in gratitude and peace.

Why did Jesus die? Jesus died for us. We celebrate and we memorialize this every year. Jesus' death is both a very communal event and a very personal one. We come together to stand at the foot of the cross, at the door of the tomb to witness to Jesus' death. To witness to the insufficient reasons that the Son of God had to die. To witness to the loss that we feel. To witness to the end of a way of life on earth. Jesus died for us and we come together today to remember his sacrifice on our behalf. 


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Ordinary Stones

Palm Sunday

The reality of the situation this morning is, that after the story we read and heard, I feel emotionally tired and confused. We could rename this day, Whiplash Sunday. Palm Sunday is the most emotionally confusing day in the whole liturgical calendar. Why do we start with Jesus being proclaimed King, only to witness the whole story of him being betrayed, condemned, crucified, and dying, and then leave it there. Waiting for the rest of this week to reenact the story again. What is there to be gained from starting in triumph, only to end in defeat? What is there to be gained from starting in celebratory community, only to end in personal isolation? What do we gain from listening to the hopes of an entire people for their freedom, only to end in their leader being nailed to a cross?
There is a deep seated irony in the layout of the church service this morning. We come together to share this story, letting it rest in death for a while, and then after the prayers, and the peace, we are going to celebrate the rest of the story in Eucharist, in sharing communion, before we have even told the whole story.
Yet, it is into this irony that we must walk. The paradox of this week is that it is the greatest journey of our lives. This is part of the reason we do it over and over again every year. We celebrate a terrible story of human pain and suffering, because the ending is the defeat of all pain and suffering. We share this story this morning because this paradox of killing our Savior takes time to sink in, to stretch our minds, our hearts, so that we will be open to the working of God in our lives. This paradox turns our worlds upside down, inside out, front to back, in the best way imaginable.
I have a lot of favorite things about Jesus and his way of doing ministry on this earth. One of my favorites is his ingenious way of using the ordinary things of this created existence, the every day materials, to share extraordinary ideas. It is another paradox, for a day saturated in paradox, that the ordinary can be extraordinary. What strikes me as ordinary in the Passion gospel story today – but as also extraordinary, is the image of the rocks splitting at the end.
A stone takes time to make - thousands of years to make. And yet, we see the rocks splitting in this story almost instantaneously. Bible imagery of stones is not one typically talked about. We talk about bread and wine, we talk about fish and boats and water, we talk about the wilderness, we talk about hearts and minds and bodies, we talk about tents and temples, but not stones.
Yet, stones, the end result of soil being compacted through pressure for a long time into something very solid, stones are littered throughout scripture. I can think of Jacob's pillow when he dreams of the ladder to heaven, countless altars, pillars, idols, the foundations and pillars of the temple, the imagery of the chief cornerstone from the psalms, the tablets of stone on which are written the ten commandments, the stone with which David kills Goliath, the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, the heart of stone imagery, stones crying out, children of Abraham being made out of stones, Jesus' temptation to make bread out of stones, the destruction of the temple, not one stone will be left upon another... all the way from the beginning of creation through to the splitting of the rocks and tombs of stone being opened when Jesus dies. 

In every day literature, we use stones to represent the most basic of things and situations. Stone walls to keep each other out or to keep ourselves and our stuff safely inside. And those stones take time to break. In a way, we are given time, this Holy Week, to contemplate the stones set before us now. We need time to contemplate, to meditate, we need this week to see the stones before us and figure out how to knock them down. So that when we get to the tomb, we don’t get entrapped by his rock. We are left with the image at the end of the passage of the earth shaking and stones being split. How extraordinary!