I found myself carrying my phone around and checking it for the time (isn’t that a statement of our times!?)… I found myself curious about where we were in time, how much longer.
And yes, that was on All Saints’ Sunday.
As people of faith, we mark time.
We live in a liturgical year. Seasons are marked by liturgical events. Some correspond with Calendar dates, some correspond with the Lunar Calendar (Ah, Easter/Passover). Biblically time is marked by 40’s (days for Jesus in the wilderness and Noah on the ark, and 40 years in the wilderness for Moses). We can think of the 7 days of creation and even the number 12. We mark the three days after Good Friday, the 50 days after Easter, the four weeks of advent, the 12 days of Christmas.
We are constantly marking time. Last week in particular my time was marked as a bible study that started the first week we closed the church completed a 31 chapter book. One week at a time, we marked our weeks with a small gathering to talk about the message of hope even in trying times.
We are marking time differently in these pandemic days, perhaps no one other than Dr Fauci knew we were going to be counting time like this for so long.
With hope and lament we realize the differences from now and March.
We recognize with sadness that we cannot do everything that we might want to do and when we might want to do it.
Reflecting back in our bible study, we realized we have had some rough times. We have lost members of our community and we have also had new beginnings, births, weddings, baptisms. New little Joys that we savor and treasure.
We know that we are never alone.
As we enter the month of November we journey towards an American holiday of Thanksgiving and our culture emphasizes gratitude.
We are also living in an election season. A time of waiting and process and potential dispute.
The Days are shorter and the nights longer here in the Northern hemisphere, it’s easy to only see the darkness.
In the christian faith tradition, we light candles as we prepare for Christmas. Our Jewish brothers and sisters light candles for Chanukah, celebrating triumph in trying times. In the season of Advent we hear a lot about light shining in the darkness, reminding us we are never alone we are never without help.
In this season, remember to reach out. You are never alone. We are here for each day each other.
Update on my watch: My watch needed to be turned off and rebooted and re-sync-ed with my phone. I had to manually shut it down and then wait while it reacquainted itself with my Phone. It took time, patience and letting go- the re-syncing takes time to do it right.
Where can you see the seasons right now?
Where can you see the need for light in our anxiety?
Where can you re-sync yourself? Re-Boot? Re-connect?
You are not alone, you are enough, you are connected. Remember to take time to let that “sync” in.
O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
O God I thank you for the lanterns in our lives who illumined dark and uncertain paths calmed and stilled debilitating doubts and fears with encouraging words, wise lessons, gentle touches, firm nudges, and faithful actions along our journey of life and back to you. Amen (Marian Wright Edelman, “Lanterns” A memoir of Mentors)
Happy Mother’s Day!
I know Mother’s Day is a bittersweet day.
Some of us do not have or never had a good relationship with our mothers.
Some of us lost our mothers at an early age never got to know our mothers personally.
Some of us might yearn for motherhood and may have miscarried or never carried our own children.
Many of us have adopted or fostered children into our family.
Motherhood is complicated and unique to each of us and our story.
Here is where the scriptures meet you in your own complicated story.
Hannah – the mother of Samson, strongest man in the bible- was barren most of her life.
Sarah- wife of Abraham gave up trying to have children and sent in Hagar to Abraham, of course this only made life more complicated later.
Rebekah- the mother of Jacob and Esau declares that she would rather die than carry the twins because they are struggling so much even before they were born.
Anna- who we hear about in the gospel of Luke, spend her life praying in the temple- no child of her own but beholds the infant Jesus when Jesus is presented.
Mary- the mother of Jesus is called at a young age to an unexpected pregnancy, challenging truths to tell, and the courage to walk alongside Jesus all of her life, even to see her young son die on a cross.
None of these women walked alone, there were siblings, spouses, those who struggled with them. Their faith and assurance carried them through their hardest times and gave them their sense of hope and joy.
As children of God, adopted into the family through baptism, our story becomes a blended one. We are all able to claim the love of god through this adoption, and in this adoption that John speaks of in our epistle lesson today, we are reminded that the love that we learn through scripture, through Jesus’ life and teachings gives us hope when expectations are dashed. When knots form and when we seem all tangled up.
Both our gospel lesson and epistle lesson speak a lot about Love. Both written by John, they are both descriptive and repetitive. And if something is repetitive in the bible, we probably should pay close attention to it.
Today’s reading in the gospel is during Jesus’ last discourse with his disciples, the reading follows after the lesson about “I am the vine and you are the branches” as Jesus sits with this disciples and speaks in love to them. He says to them, “you are going to have your expectations dashed, there will be knots in your stomachs about how to move forward, life is going to seem all tangled up.
I am here with you.
You are my friends, you are my companions.
You are the people I break bread with.
Remember the sacrificial love I have shown you, you have felt, and you too have shared in those moments. Know you are not alone and I am with you.”
This sort of love, of being with, being present, sitting with you right where you are is the love that we are to live out.
This message of enduring love is the core message of all of our scriptures.
Never does God abandon God’s people.
Rather, God compels his disciples, his friends to share that sort of knowledge with those they know, to strive for compassion for all of creation.
I have another Mary to share with you today: Marian Wright Edelman is the founder and president emeritus of the Children’s Defense Fund. Born in Bentonville, SC, the daughter of a school teacher and preacher. She was the youngest of 5 children. Her father died when she was 14. Calling her parents tall oaks, like the oaks of righteousness mentioned in scripture, she witnessed the love of family and mentors all of her life. In her “memoir of mentors” called “Lanterns” she tells the stories of those who were lanterns on her path, encouraging and believing in her potential as a scholar, lawyer and educator.
She was the first African American woman admitted to the bar in Mississippi in 1964 and much like Bryan Stevenson’s move from his home state of Delaware to work in Montgomery AL, she moved from Yale Law School to where the work she could do was most needed. Marian moved to Mississippi to practice law and work in the civils rights legal work that needed to be done. Her work continued to develop and create the Child Development Group of Mississippi which would eventually drive her to Washington DC to found the Children’s Defense Fund whose purpose is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.
Because of the lanterns of loving care and accountability in her life, she strove within her entire professional career to provide those same lanterns for each child.
This is the love that Jesus shared at the table with his disciples, compassion and fighting for a way in the darkest of nights. Seeking all to come within his embrace.
Jesus says, Friends, when it gets hard,
Come back to the table, sit with me and be present.
O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
One of my favorite “church songs” that I learned when I was young was “Go Tell it on the Mountains.”
This song is FUN to sing. Go tell it on the mountain, Over the hills and everywhere Go, tell it on the mountain That Jesus Christ is born.
The tune carries you along, it is joyful and it wasn’t until I arrived here as an ordained priest that I realized it is a Christmas Song. That last line sort of gives it away doesn’t it….. and as a young child I could hold on the chorus but never learned the verses….. which truly tell the Christmas Story.
When I was taught the song I was taught to sing it LOUDLY and joyfully….
and in return the song reminded me that my job as a christian was to GO, Tell, EVERYWHERE—-
Tell the story of Jesus.
And this simple tune reminds me quickly, GO AND TELL is our job to do, daily. Right where we are. GO and TELL it on the mountain.
We are to tell the story of Jesus’ birth, life, teaching, healing, suffering, death, and resurrection.
That in the form of Jesus, God came to be WITH us here in our midst.
The tune gives you courage in case you don’t know how, the words gave me instruction (where and how) in case I needed reminding.
Now before you think I have recycled a Christmas sermon today, I will draw your attention to our gospel lesson today, where at the very end of the reading the gospel writer tells the disciples (and us) that we are witnesses to these things.”
For those of you who might have grown up in a different faith tradition, the word witness might bring up the memory of “can I get a witness”- meaning someone to affirm what was saying, or make a public affirmation of faith in front of others.
For those of you in the legal profession (or those who watch it on tv)- a witness is one who has seen what has taken place and is willing to share “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” with those who were not there.
And both of these come from the same meaning of the Greek word used in the gospel today. The word in Greek is μάρτυς, mártys– which of course brings to mind the English word martyr and those witnesses of the early church.
These faithful followers were witnesses of these things without fear for their own lives. Perpetua, St Peter, St Paul, St Sebastian, Polycarp, to name a few. These believers went and told the story, affirmed what was shared from their own experience or those who told them first had.
They told the truth and placed their life upon it. This witness was a deep reflection of the love they received from God and were willing to go over the hills and everywhere to share because the need for this sort of sacrificial love to be understood/shared in this world was greater than their need for safety and security
The early church leadership let go of their personal fears and leaned into God’s being with them.
Letting go is often easier said than done.
In seminary the first Greek word I learned was apolýō– to loosen, to let go of.
It’s the first word we were given because it is the lynch pin of understanding salvation.
Letting go of our own pride and hubris, letting go of plans that were not meant of us, letting go so that we can more fully live into the example that Jesus gave us to live more closely with God.
apolýō is the Greek verb used for the power of forgiveness of sins that Jesus gives to his disciples so that they might free others from what hinders or distracts them to be beloved children of God, to loosen or let go of their sin.
And apolýō is the word that is used when Mary encounters Jesus at the Garden tomb- where she wants to cling to him, Jesus says to Mary, you must let go of me…..apolýō.
Resurrection means letting go of what was and live more fully into what is to be.
Resurrection transformed Jesus and our understanding of God’s Power over life and death.
With Jesus’ resurrection on that Easter morning, there is hope in our future, we live because we know we are not alone, we are beloved and we are more than whatever shame, guilt, or pain has occurred in our past.
Letting Go allows us to Go and Tell, or the fancy church word- “proclaim”, or witness, to truth that there is joy in this world amidst our struggles.
We are not alone, we can do together what we cannot do alone.
This afternoon we will be present for nearly 70 members of St. John’s of ALL Ages to publicly affirm their faith before our bishop. While we will not martyr them, you are ALL invited to come and be present at the outdoor service and witness this, say that great Amen as they make this public statement of faith. We, as a parish, all stand with them witnessing their joy and own experience of good news in their lives and it’s a GREAT day in the church!
This past week St John’s has lived a very real sacramental week. It is not often that you have a funeral, a wedding, and a baptism amidst all of our regular bible studies and services and then confirmations within 4 days- we joked all we needed was an ordination to complete all of the sacraments this week! All joking aside, in each of these sacraments we are reminded of letting go.
At Funerals we are letting go of our loved ones with prayers and celebrating lives transformed not ended by death, restored to wholeness with God our creator.
At baptisms we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ and are making promises for a new life with this love claimed as our own.
At weddings we commit to letting go the lives we had separately joining together as one and beginning a new chapter together- seeing the image of Christ in the other and being an example of God’s love to the world.
And in a new ministry this week, Walking the Mourner’s Path- we completed 8 weeks of walking together praying with 10 people who have lost a loved one some as recently as 6 months ago and some years ago, together we listened deeply to each other –not to fix each other or to have a solution, instead to witness to each other where sadness and anger dwelt and where hope also resides.
Journeying together knowing we can do more together than we can do alone.
This week also we trained new Pastoral Care Shepherds- a new initiative within our parish for how we witness to each other that not one of us are alone in this life, that we are to hold up the light of Christ to each other. You will hear more about these shepherds in the upcoming weeks as we all continue as a community.
We, daily, are called to open our minds to the scriptures, just like the disciples in our gospel today, we too are called to hear again and again the “peace I give to you” of Jesus. And we are reminded that in our letting go of things that have been we can see the new beginning.
We are letting go of a rector in June, we are embarking on parish wide Becoming Beloved Community work in the near future, we are collaborating with Capital Area Justice Ministry and other faith leadership in our city. All of this work means letting go of our own fears and at the same time walking in love together, listening deeply to each other and beginning WITH each other.
Last week with Thomas in the gospel of John, we heard “Peace be with you” said three times. This week, the third week of Easter, we hear those words again in the Gospel of Luke.
What were the disciples holding onto so dearly that these are the first words Jesus says to them over and over again? Where do we need to hear those words in our daily life so we too can put one foot in front of the other?
In church life we are always letting go and at the same time commanded to GO. As Father Wallace mentioned last week, our liturgy calls you into this space gives you sanctuary – a safe space- and at the end we are sent out to GO to love and serve- to tell it on the mountain.
This week what can you prayerfully let go of?
And where will you tell the love of God on the mountain?
Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
ALLELUIA CHRIST IS RISEN!
Happy Easter my friends!
It is so good to be WITH YOU here in this space today.
To be together
It has been a long Lent and here in this time, gathered together, we gather again …transformed. It’s a bit of a coming home.
I feel as though last year at this time we felt much like the disciples lost and confused on Easter, not knowing what was coming and we were so challenged in the past year.
We were together and yet separate
and now, little by little we are able to experience the joy of regathering,
of even the potential of Hugs.
We are re-emerging transformed.
The time isolated gave us a time to reflect, to be anxious, to evaluate what we took for granted and what we did not need.
Like the recent ship in the Suez Canal, the Ever Given, everything came to a standstill last year…. Things just had to wait.
And in that waiting,
We have struggled with the reality of racial injustice and violence.
We have also appreciated heroes who have carried on in the daily work to be done.
We have prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed some more.
We have experienced losses indescribable from death of friends and family
We have experienced hopes and dreams deferred.
People are emerging with new bodies (some lost a few pounds- some gained a few),
We emerge with new vision/goals,
And some have emerged with even new children!
We return to the familiar, to church gatherings, to Easter…transformed.
On this Easter morning we might understand Mary, Simon Peter and John a bit better.
After their three days of hiding, of emotional exhaustion, angst and fear, they re-emerge.
They return to the familiar in their processing of the events.
Mary Magdalene goes about the ritual of caring for a loved one and tending to the ritual care of a beloved’s body.
Peter and John and the disciples are in their routines gathered in community.
And in the midst of the familiar the divine appears.
The divine, appearing and reminding them that God is there in their midst.
Meeting them in the familiar, but like them- also transformed.
God has not abandoned them.
God is with them.
Jesus, son of God, born of Mary, teacher, healer, human and divine is there WITH them.
Speaking words of comfort, of consolation.
“Mary,” Jesus says.
Calling her by her name.
Mary knowing Jesus’ voice
Mary replies letting her grief, her joy, her relief and emotions spill within that title.
Mary, willing to still learn, receive, yearning to understand.
The simplest of exchanges and yet most profound of relationships.
Longing and connection.
And the Easter message is that God is right here saying
I am here. Here WITH you.
Here WITH us.
NOTHING can Separate us from the outstretched love of God.
This is the story of all of scripture, God does not abandon god’s people. And with each change and chance of this life, new beginnings occur.
Think of Noah and the ark, another monstrous boat. This boat giving shelter to Noah and his family while the storm outside raged. And when that dove returned with the olive branch, the journey in the ark was over and new life began. The land, their lives, all transformed. A new chapter of life beginning.
If we are honest, we too have been transformed.
Like the disciples on this morning,
Like Mary we are emerging and invited to continue to be in relationship.
Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, betrayal, death on a cross and the empty tomb were not something the disciples could forget, sweep under the carpet and just continue on as before.
Jesus, there with them, transforms weeping to joy.
Jesus not held by the earthly powers, the suffering, the pain.
Jesus transformed with the loving, lifegiving, liberating love of God.
And Jesus calls the disciples to be transformed by the same love.
Jesus reminds them they cannot, nor should they, forget.
Just as we too felt the isolation, the sacrifices, the angst this past year, we cannot forget what we learned in that space.
The things our eyes saw for the first time, the desire we found to make changes.
God shows us on this Easter morning that while power creates suffering,
Love absorbs suffering and transforms it.
Through Jesus, through Jesus’ outstretched arms on the cross, through the empty tomb unable to hold God, Jesus’ suffering is absorbed and transformed.
New life is possible.
New Beginnings through a God who meets us in the familiar and opens our eyes to what can be.
God on this Easter morning meets us in our isolation, our anxiety, our distracted lives and transforms us with arms of love, embracing us, hugging us and transforming our wildest dreams so that we too can be like Mary and go running with joy out into the world.
Sharing the good news.
Life does not end in death, God gives us hope beyond death. A new day, each day.
God, right here, through Jesus, transforms our isolation to community, our anxiety into joy.
We are reminded that even in the grave we sing Alleluia, Alleluia.
As we re-emerge this Easter Season, Let that loving, lifegiving liberating love shape our life and all that we do.
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Precious Lord, take my hand Lead me on, let me sta-and I am tired, I’m weak, I am worn Through the storm, through the night Lead me on to the li-ight Take my ha-and, precious Lor-ord Lead me home[i]
I love the melody of that hymn, the lullaby-esque quality that soothes ones soul that is in desperate need of soothing in the midst of struggle.
This song was written in 1899 by Tom Dorsey, written in his grief over the death of his wife who died in childbirth and newborn son who also died that same day. As one might imagine the grief was overwhelming, inconsolable.
And as the son of a preacher also musician, Tom sat down at the piano in his grief, picked up a familiar tune and wrote this prayer from his weary heart.
A prayer of beseeching, a prayer of seeking guidance, acknowledging the storm, the struggle, the pain and also there is light to come, that he was not alone and like a loving parent, God will take his hand to lead him on.
Take my hand.
It’s the phrase you say to children when you cross the street. For safety
It’s the action of young lovers as they grow closer in relationship. For love.
Currently we don’t do a lot of hand holding (and perhaps more hand wringing) in these pandemic times, but we miss clasping hands in handshakes in high fives, in ways where we connected. For hospitality and welcome, and affirmation.
Take my hand also acknowledges that we cannot live in community alone.
In grief, in sorrow, in joyful times- we are connected by each person around us and through God in our midst.
It takes courage to ask to take someone’s hand
and it takes courage to ask for someone’s hand. (ask anyone preparing for marriage!)
We are being vulnerable, asking for help. Reaching out.
We are trusting that the person reaching back will lead and guide us on the path for healing.
Today in our Gospel, the Greeks who came to Philip reached out to say “take our hands Philip, we want to see Jesus.”
Philip was familiar to them, he was their guy they could ask vulnerably, for help.
They wanted guidance through the challenges of living in an empire that was full of oppression.
They were seeking hope in a world where the “powers that be” were not changing.
These friends were Greeks, not Jews, they were outsiders.
Philip reaches back to them, with Andrew. and holds their hand
Brings them to see Jesus.
Take my hand precious Lord.
Think for a moment about times when you have cried out these words too, “take my hand precious lord”
Moments where you have felt as an outsider
Moments of grief or loss
Moments of frustration and need for companionship on this journey
Moments where you have needed someone to help you through the storm.
In the past year
At your work
In your faith journey
Who are those people who have brought you along, helped you to see the divine in your midst?
Helped you to not give up hope,
Who have held your hand?
And who has reached for your hand?
Have you reached back?
Did you swat the hand away?
In a broad sense “taking one’s hand” is what the church is and does. As Chris Schwenk shared in his coffee talk last week, the word “Church” literally means “gathering”- for joining together. To see God in our midst of the inconsolable times and also to move us towards change.
And to see Jesus means to realize that our Savior dies on the cross as a means of salvation. That in his death, giving up all that he was, we are given life. In his death, our hope is renewed, our sufferings understood and our struggle a part of the path of faith.
Take my Hand
This phrase is also the title of a mural that was unveiled in 2019 by Michael Rosato.[ii] A FSU graduate and resident of Cambridge MD. This mural is of Harriet Tubman reaching out to the observer, offering her hand to you to come with her into the wildness of the water and journey with her. She is breaking through the bricks of a wall to invite you to something bigger.
Harriet Tubman has always fascinated me.
Perhaps it’s because I lived on a military base with so many rules that I thought were unfair and unjust and I yearned for freedom. (oh my naïve understanding of lack of freedom)
Perhaps it was the fact that she refused to hear the word “NO” and would not listen to a system that was stacked against her because it saw her as black and female and therefore without deserving of dignity.
Perhaps she intrigues me with her creativity for making things happen and
perhaps it was the awe of her risking her own life and health on behalf of others’ freedom.
She both believed that God has freedom in store for each of us and that caring for others was more important than her own self.
Michael Rosato has a curious story of becoming an artist. As a military brat, he felt the call to ROTC and the military. And then the choice between art and air… he chose art and found himself in front of the pieta by Michelangelo.
A broken Jesus in Mary’s hands.
And Michael’s hands began to work in paint.
The mural TAKE MY HAND calls you to take Harriet’s hand, inviting you to come with her.
Her eyes are determined, strong, and those eyes assure you that she knows the way.
In this mural she is an icon to let you know that you are not alone, even today in needing freedom, new life, and hope.
This past week we heard of the killings of 8 people in Atlanta, 6 of which were Asian American Women. My alma mater, Sewanee, is struggling with student behavior that does not respect the dignity of every human being and their own historical roots established in the mid 1800s in the south. Here in Tallahassee, we have our own work to do with racial healing and we are still experiencing death and illness, isolation and disconnection due to the pandemic.
This week, I invite you to reach out, reach out to someone new this week check on them, listen to them, struggle with them and listen some more.
Let God take both of your hands together as we are tired, weak, worn through the storm, through the night –Let God Lead us on to the li-ight.
Tom Dorsey in his grief, clung to God for hope and light and did not give up.
The light in our world is within each of us. We have to work together, acknowledge our faults and short comings and work towards change in our own community so that each person’s belovedness from God can be recognized and honored.
I find the words of this prayer from Laura Jen Truman a great guide for our path ahead:
As we continue to take the single step that is in front of us, Jesus, keep us from becoming what we are called to transform. Protect us from using the empire’s violence- in our words, in our theology, in our activism, and in our politics- for your Kingdom of peace. Keep our anger from becoming meanness. Keep our sorrow from collapsing into self pity. Keep our hearts soft enough to keep from breaking, keep our outrage turned towards justice, not cruelty, remind us that all of this, every bit of it, is for love. Keep us fiercely kind.
(Laura Jen Truman page 74 in The Rhythm of Prayer)
Precious Lord, Take our hands
With the comfort of the song by Tom Dorsey
The Curiosity of the Greeks and friendship of Philip and Andrew
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Ya’ll this sermon is going to be out of this world.
Yes, I am going there, we are going to Mars.
First, since it is the season of Lent, I (like our liturgy) will confess first that I did not really know about Thursday’s excitement until it was announced at a clergy gathering I was participating in…..apologies and gratitude for all those who have been counting down the days and sharing this excitement.
With a last name of Moon, you would think that I would pay a bit more attention to NASA updates. But now you know my secret….I love mysteries more than the milky way.
And unbeknownst to me, my name was actually one of those sent to Mars.
Thanks to my little brother.
All of this information landed upon me at about 7pm on Thursday
(I told you I am grateful for all of you and your sharing of the good news, AFTER THE LANDING …so I could catch up.)
And as I read more about the Landing I loved what I read.
First, with all of Mars it’s about “follow the water”
Second, the names of the rovers are Curiosity and Perseverance (it’s like they took a note from the Old Testament, name these children after what they are the fruits of!!!)
Third, the names of the two cameras on the arm of the Rover are SHERLOC and Watson (Mystery and Mars-I was hooked!)
And finally- the purpose for this mission is “Looking for signs of life in a barren land.”
Talk about hope from a 129.52million away mile perspective!
This past week’s landing stopped me in my tracks,
As I realized…..this is what Lent is about, this is what our life of faith is about.
Looking for signs of life in a barren land.
The gift of curiosity and perseverance will help unlock the mystery and further us on this understanding of life that we have and how much we don’t understand. (and this statement could be for NASA or for us!)
This past Wednesday we began the season of Lent.
For some Lent is a barren time, with memories of restrictions and things you can’t do.
In reality, Lent is a time where we simplify things, we seek with curiosity to know God more closely.
The imagery of Psalm 51 resonated deeply with me this year-
Create in me a clean heart, Oh God.
I feel like I need refreshment from the phases of angst, fear and waiting of the last 11months.
The season of Lent can be a time of barrenness and removal of distractions, but the purpose is to find new life within us and refresh our spirit, ultimately restoring and strengthening our relationship with God.
The first Sunday of Lent, we always have the story of Jesus going to the wilderness immediately after his baptism.
In the Gospel of Mark that entire event occurs in one verse (and that would be way to short a gospel reading for us so today) so we get a refresher of Jesus’ baptism, his name being called out, the spirit driving Jesus into the wilderness with wild beasts and angels and then John is arrested all the while relentlessly proclaiming a message of repentance. (John is reliable).
Mark is the gospel writer for you if you just want to keep moving and keep the action going.
Today though, we are going to pause there in the middle…… dig a little deeper and linger with curiosity about that wilderness time.
Mark, with his sparseness of words, invites you to wonder, rather than describing the wilderness experience he lets you accompany Jesus and wonder what that was like. Mark doesn’t tell you the temptations, the hunger, what the angels fed him and when.
We get to wonder about what Jesus ate and did during this time for ourselves.
The images of the wilderness, for me are the deserts of Arizona- beautiful – but you don’t want to be caught out in the desert without water, without shelter, nor alone. Having lived briefly in Arizona when I was young, I have a healthy fear and respect for Havalina pigs, coyotes, and droughts.
The desert, though, within the bible and our fathers and mothers of the church, was a space for contemplation.
With a healthy respect for God’s creation, people would go to the desert to listen more deeply to God.
In Genesis- there is barren land after the flood which we hear about today with Noah.
In Exodus, Moses, is tending sheep in the wilderness when the new call within the burning bush appears.
After crossing the Red Sea, there is the wilderness for the Israelites for 40 years. In this wilderness the Israelites left a system that oppressed them and entered into a space where their sole existence was upon God for even the food that they ate each day. New Life.
Jacob wrestles with God alone by the river before reuniting with his brother.
Jesus goes to the wilderness as his first action after his baptism in the river Jordan and is both tempted AND tended.
Within his ministry Jesus returns to these places of Solitude to be still and be close to God in prayer and reflection.
Water and Wilderness.
Follow the water
Listen with curiosity.
And with perseverance (and practice) we will grow in faith.
We live in a pandemic time of barrenness.
It has seemed like a wilderness at times- things taken away.
A very Long Lent of it’s own sort.
And in this barrenness we have seen new life.
Individually you have realized what you have needed to let go of and what you need to continue.
AS a church we have had empty pews and enhanced our online capabilities and used our curiosity to dig deeper, our perseverance to reach out to people, and stay connected.
And much like all of the teams who created the rovers and gadgets aplenty to create last Thursday’s landing, we are all richer for all of you coming together with perseverance.
We can look at our past 11months and see the fear and anxiety
We can also look at the past 11months and the next 30plus days of Lent with the gift of new life and opportunity.
It took perseverance for Noah to stay on that boat with all those animals and all his in-laws. It also took curiosity to send out that raven and then dove.
Noah had to have HOPE that the time on the ark would end and trust in God that God would not abandon them on that boat.
Jesus’ baptism reminds us that we too are called by name, beloved children of God (even if you didn’t send your name to Mars) and are propelled into the wilderness time, as part of our faith journey.
Our choice is to lean upon God in these times of pandemic and of transition, to seek the new life that can be born from these moments and know that all that we do is a balance of curiosity and perseverance as a community.
This season of Lent is a time to follow the water.
Listen deeply, take time to be still, Do the spiritual inventory with renewal works for your own checking in and taking stock.
Be curious, see these times of in between as times for seeking out the new life that is to come.
And with perseverance we will continue to hear God’s Call to each of us a beloved Children of God.
Follow the waters of Baptism to see the new life that God is calling you into.
Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
He comes with Succor speedy to those who suffer wrong,
to help the poor and needy, and bid the weak be strong,
to give them song for sighing, their darkness turn to light,
whose should, condemned and dying were precious in his sight
Do you remember the joy and satisfaction of a A+ or a 100% on your last assignment?
Do you remember the affirmation when you got an answer correct when the class was asked for the answer?
I remember the line of gold stars that I put each day in elementary school for getting my homework done each day.
Getting it all right. Hard work rewarded and completed.
Do you remember when you didn’t get it all right?
Perhaps you risked the answer you thought was right or volunteered a new idea and it wasn’t accepted?
Did you regret sharing? Were you disappointed?
Did you defend your position digging in your heels?
Did you take a moment to listen and learn?
Our childhood experiences form our personality and can shape our patterns of behavior.
BEING RIGHT is usually based upon knowledge.
Which yes, can result in stickers on a chart, grades in a book,
and these are important, but today Paul reminds us that while knowledge is essential, Knowledge without love is empty (think of second Corinthians 13- Love is)
Knowledge with love is a game changer and builds up the community.
Paul is speaking in dialogue and teaching, he is speaking from a place of love and compassion for the early followers of the church and while I beg to differ with him about “food cannot bring you closer to God”- (if we take it out of context) here he is speaking to patterns in his audience’s lives that needed changing
Their actions needed to show the love that the people of Corinth have for God. And God alone
AS followers of the way, they were still in their formation of what does this faith mean.
We know the teachings but what does it look like manifested in love.
When I pause for a moment and think about public figures who embody the ethos of Love and Joy, those whose entire being embodies the love of God and building up the community and kingdom of God,
three people come to mind.
The Dalai Lama
And The Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.
In their book “The Book of Joy”- the Dalai Lama and archbishop Tutu share their definitions and understanding of Joy. They acknowledge that deep joy comes from within and from deep struggle.
Joy is more than a feeling, it’s an action, almost a compulsion, to serve the larger community.
Their book (the Book of Joy) is a dialogue between old friends who have supported each other not only in prayers but in action, they both have known deep suffering and struggles. They have been polarized and isolated and politicized and they have both spoken love and grace to their opposition and those who support them. CALLING both sides to create a more beloved community together.
The Dalai Lama and Arch Bishop Tutu’s deep joy does not ignore their suffering nor their people’s suffering. Rather, their joy allows them to more deeply define where true happiness is found. Joy does not come from personal achievement but from selflessness and community building up. Rather than focusing on the self, they focus on the larger community’s centeredness.
Oftentimes this sort of work is slower than doing it yourself and more difficult with multiple perspectives being shared
love builds up.
The time is worth the effort, the community is strengthened.
The Dalai Lama is still in exile and has been since he was 15. The archbishop is still striving for racial harmony in south Africa whose desegregation began in the 1980s and their joy abounds, their grace abounds, their love for humanity abounds.
Their countenance shines with the radiance of this deep known joy.
They speak with authority to the faithful and to those in power secularly too.
And our current presiding bishop, if you haven’t caught on by now, is all about LOVE. The formation program that kicked off in the Episcopal Church in his first three years as presiding bishop is called The Way of Love.
He is often quoted in saying that if “it ain’t about Love, then it ain’t about god”, even his new book is called Love is the Way.
Michael Curry’s preaching comes from a deep knowledge of that love – when he preached here just about 2 years ago, you couldn’t help but be lifted up and know that first you were loved and second that with the love of God you could take the next steps in your life that you were called to take.
In his book, Love is the WAY, Bishop Curry shares stories of those who have been those loving presence within his life, where love has lifted him up and where love has helped him endure and lead the church.
He too embodies the joy and hope that Jesus gives to each person Jesus encounters in scripture.
Today in our Gospel reading we find Jesus shining in the synagogue. Embodying love.
His countenance is on display- as those gathered listen, they listen deeply. Like the old slogan goes “When EF Hutton speaks, people listen”- this new voice speaks with the authority of his whole being. People are listening.
The word here in Greek is EK-Ousia. Ousia is that same word in the Nicene creed that states in English as Jesus is “ONE BEING with the father”
The first part of the word Ekousia, the ek means “out of” so the word here for authority is literally “Out of one’s being”- he teaches the scriptures because he is the son of God speaking about what his role.
He knows that role and understands it deeply the struggle, the hope, the love that it embodies. He is not just quoting empty words and arguing with others like the scribes were!!!
And in the response to Jesus’ words, there in that synagogue, there is a man with a demon embodying him. From that unnatural embodiment to the divinity of Jesus- the demon responds, speaks, and knows what Jesus is capable of and obeys Jesus.
Mark moves fast in his Gospel, he does not wax nor wane poetic. We are 21 verses in and Jesus’ baptism was told in 11 verses, he goes to the wilderness for 2 verses, he preached for 2 verses, called 4 of his disciples in 3 verses and then we have 11 verses telling this story of Jesus first teaching and his first healing which is an exorcism.
Mark is setting the stage. The teachers in the synagogue taught through quibbling and quoting scripture. Trying to get it right.
Here the embodiment of love is speaking and teaching with love to build up the community. Jesus is teaching the understanding of the scriptures and in action reconciling members of the community who were cast out. His being (ousia) was recognized by the faithful as something new and with curiosity and amazement and by the demon, the demon knew exactly what divine power Jesus had.
Each person who encountered Jesus thus far in the gospel of Mark left Jesus’ presence touched, transformed, by this love.
John the Baptist recognizes Jesus’ role, Andrew and Simon, James and John, the people in the synagogue and the man with the unclean spirit also transformed.
The call, the love that Jesus invited them into changed their path and called them into a new space.
We know the rest of the story, what lies ahead for John, for the disciples, for the people of the synagogue, the man who no longer had an unclean spirit.
Ups and Downs, different perspectives, community and identity reimagined.
The kingdom of God on earth in all its messiness.
None of these people remained the same, the transformation began in this space, within each story.
The same goes for each of us.
We were trained to memorize, teach, preach, all of those good things but if we don’t do those actions with love, deep love (not valentine’s day hearts, candy, once a year kind of love)
If we don’t commit our actions in love, we are like those who are clanging cymbals and noisy gongs.
You each are a masterpiece (remember psalm 139- marvelous and mysteriously made)- this means, YES, in your being God is there too.
In our community we each have a role, to build up, to take the time and do the hard work to work as a group – listen deeply and collaborate.
This is life long work as Arch Bishop tutu, the Dalai Lama and our presiding bishop have shown us working all of their lives with work that is not done yet.
Nor is it only up to those three men.
We each have a role to play.
This week listen to yourself, do you enter the room in the words of Brene Brown to be right?
Or to get it right together.
Or in the words of Maya Angelou:
Do the best that you can until you know better.
Then when you know better, do better.
God calls each of us to continue on this journey, listen deeply and let’s respond together with grace and building up the community.
Don’t strive for a gold star. You are a gold star already.
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Let us Listen, attune, and heed the inner voice of Love. In the sacred silence, we open ourselves to Wisdom, to ever deepening communion with the Source of all creation. Amen. (Nan Merrill)
Ya’ll I feel a bit like we are writing the 2021 verses of Billy Joel’s 1990 song “We didn’t start the Fire”- the list of unusual events keep occurring. Virus, Vaccines, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elections that take weeks to resolve, insurrections, and I am praying for a peaceful Martin Luther King Day and Inauguration….and 2021.
In turning to a new calendar year we start fresh with resolutions and yet those resolutions cannot ignore the underlying need for work to be done from things in 2020 and before. Billy Joel’s song we didn’t start the fire reminds us of all that this country has lived through viruses, has lived through impeachments, has grown during civil rights movements and that we are each molded by those historical events and we still have work to do, these too shape who we are now and how we are to proceed.
We take the pain and isolation of the past years and we have a choice, we can be immobilized by the pain, we can let bitterness take hold because of that pain, or we can use that pain and brokenness to discern a new path, one that nourishes our individual and collective souls.
In our Becoming Beloved Community Consultation gathering this past week, we began with listening to a familiar verse, I share it with you from the Message translation: You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all.
Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness. (Ephesians 4:5-6)
This verse is around our baptismal font, it is our response at each baptism, it is our reality as a greater community, we are, together, on a road together….. so we should stay together outwardly and inwardly listening to God who rules over all…. in all that we do. When we stray from that oneness, we seem to create more things for Bill Joel to sing about.
To stay focused we have to listen and attune ourselves to that inner voice of Love.
We have to hear the brokenness of those resorting to violence and respond with what Dr King said “Unarmed truth and unconditional love.”
To respond takes discernment.
Discernment takes listening.
Listening means being still before responding.
Listening to your emotions, the source of those emotions, your reactions and the sources for those reactions.
And that is what our scriptures are all about today, how do we listen and how do we respond?
Where is our call on this road we are on?
Young Samuel hears voices in the night calling his name.
As it could have been, he goes to Eli, his mentor and advisor and asks him what he wants…
Three things to note here about Samuel’s response.
Samuel responds immediately to the question (albeit to the wrong person)
Samuel answers receptively not defensively (not LET ME SLEEP FOR PETE’S SAKE)
And Samuel listens to Eli’s counsel of how to listen deeply.
And God keeps calling, patiently, persistently, until Samuel (the message translation says) responds to God with “Speak, I am ready to listen”
And in our Gospel, we have Nathaniel….
We know little about Nathaniel.
We know he is a friend of Phillip.
We know that Philip has been called up by Jesus right after Andrew and Simon Peter.
We know Philip and Nathaniel live in a town small enough to know each other.
We know that Nathaniel sits under fig trees.
And Nathaniel listens to a call from a friend, an invitation to go with.
Nathaniel responds to the visible joy, courage, and transformation of Phillip’s countenance, AND Nathaniel voices his reaction.
You see even back in Jesus’ time there was “us and them”
Nazareth was not known for prophets, scholars, the divine.
Nazareth was not the booming commercial city that Bethsaida was.
Nathaniel voiced what he knew of the other as his reaction.
And God is patient and persists.
Phillip invites, encourages, and says come with me and see for yourself.
And Nathaniel trusts Phillip enough to realize that Phillip might have a different story to receive.
An invitation, walking alongside, receptive.
Through a relationship Nathaniel comes to find himself meeting Jesus himself.
And Jesus responds to Nathaniel.
Nathaniel says to Phillip “I already know who anyone from Nazareth is” before even meeting Jesus.
To which Jesus responds, ‘I know you and have known you- similar to Psalm 139 appointed for today- I know your rising and laying down- I know you even spend time under the fig tree”
God knows are our deepest brokenness, our deepest wounds, the pain we refuse to let go of, the grudges we still hold and God says, I still love you and we can walk together with that also.
Psalm 139 is a beautiful reminder that you are indeed a work of art.
We don’t know why Nathaniel was under the Fig tree, was he eating lunch, was he teaching, was he nursing his wounds, was he bitter and angry, was he an introvert and recharging, was he isolated and ostracized?
We do know that even under the fig tree God was there present with him in that space and this call was surfacing within Nathaniel.
Where you are, there I will go
In the still silence and not the fire or earthquake
You are not alone, God is there with you and calling you to walk this same road.
Think about it, even our church history book is called “God Willing”- chronicling our own challenging times through fires, sickness, economics and step by step prayer by prayer walking this same road together. With lamentation, endurance and hope.
Julian of Norwich said it this way: No one listens, they tell me, and so l listen, and I tell them what they have just told me, and I sit in silence listening to them, letting them grieve.
These times have called us to listen deeply and respond.
To be reminded in our stir-crazy and lonely isolation days that we are not alone.
To be reminded in our tumultuous political struggles that we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom and as Dr King said, “whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We can never be what we ought to be until we are what you ought to be.”(MLK)
We come with our preconceptions and God meets us in our messiness, our grievances and invites us to be included.
To have a voice, to be listened to, to act as a beloved child and walk on this path with God.
Dr King did not have a Damascus road moment, his call to work occurred as he says, “My call to the ministry was neither dramatic nor spectacular. It came neither by some miraculous vision nor by some blinding light experience on the road of life. Moreover, it did not come as a sudden realization. Rather, it was a response to an inner urge that gradually came upon me. This urge expressed itself in a desire to serve God and humanity, and the feeling that my talent and my commitment could best be expressed through the ministry. At first I planned to be a physician; then I turned my attention in the direction of law. But as I passed through the preparation stages of these two professions, I still felt within that undying urge to serve God and humanity through the ministry. During my senior year in college, I finally decided to accept the challenge to enter the ministry. I came to see that God had placed a responsibility upon my shoulders and the more I tried to escape it the more frustrated I would become.” [i]
He further gave those in the civil rights movement these 10 commandments of practicing love in the work we are called to do:
Mediate daily on the teaching and life of Jesus
Seek justice and reconciliation- not victory
Walk and talk in the manner of love for god is love
Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all might be free
Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy
Seek to perform regular service for others and the world
Refrain from violence of fist, tongue or heart
Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health. [ii]
2021 is yes a new calendar year and yet is connected to our past, God is calling us forward on the same road together, it will take energy and courage and we will continue to walk together as the faithful have done together in a new way.
This week take a moment to read Psalm 139, listen deeply to those words,
If you have a fig tree sit under it, be like Nathanael and sit under it!
Listen to God calling YOU, hear that you are marvelously made and your neighbor is too.
Listen to God meet you there and call to you, by name.
Know that God knows your name and speaks it lovingly to you when God calls.
And seek that belovedness in each encounter you have with people on this road.
Focus on Practicing just one of the 10 Commandments of Non-Violence
Remember great things can come from even the most unexpected places.
O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
This year has been a year for the books!
I do believe when we say Merry Christmas this year we truly mean it in a different way.
For 10months this year we have had our routines changed, our methods and work redefined, and we have spent a lot of time waiting. It feels like we made the seasons of Lent and Advent last the whole year long.
I think that if we are paying attention, this year we see a little bit more clearly where God is in our midst and where change needs to occur.
This year, when we say Merry Christmas to each other, I think we have heard the nativity story in a new and simpler way, listening to the story of a young couple of whose life was rearranged, transformed and where God interrupts our world and seeks to give us hope and restoration.
Especially tonight, in this little town of Bethlehem.
Now ya’ll, I am going to brag for a moment.
I have seen the star of Bethlehem.
In my backyard
And not two days ago in the night sky, but in May.
LEMME EXPLAIN- In the early months of the pandemic people started walking more, people started to garden more.
While I was working from home I took time to plant zinnias (I am by no means a master gardener if you were wondering) and in a pot that we had in the backyard, we had some green things growing…they were what you call “volunteers”- I didn’t plant them, they just got there and started growing and I was excited to figure out what they were.
Then lo and behold it blossomed a beautiful white flower… it wasn’t anything stellar, but it was beautiful in its own right- it shone, right there beside my potted zinnias.
And with a little help from my friends, (disregarding those who said- it’s a weed, move on Abi) we figured out it was called “the star of Bethlehem” right there growing of its own accord.
Blooming away. In the midst of it all.
In the midst of it all.
Hope, fragility, and resilience, a new beginning occurring right where it was, just because the world needed it.
We read the nativity story each year reminding us that in the midst of struggle, conflict and brokenness, there is hope.
Emmanuel, God with us- right here. Fragile and resilient, God knows our pain and our struggle and interrupts our plans with the wail of a newborn baby.
800 years ago, a man by the name of Giovanni de Pietro de Branardone, or Francis (as his father called him) was transformed by the times he lived in. He was born into an easy world of wealth and privilege which allowed him do pretty much whatever he pleased whenever he pleased.
In the midst of it all, his eyes were opened to the disparity of wealth in his community, the need for change, not only in his own life but within the community and the life of the church.
The words he heard from God were “rebuild my church” and with that command he sought, right there in that space to rebuild the community, inviting people to care for each other, restore hope, and work towards healing the community and including those were cast out.
St. Francis, as we know him now, preached at all times to all the beloved creatures of God, animals, children, women, men.
And he persisted, letting nothing discourage him.
St Francis was resourceful and used any method he could find.
He is the reason we have our nativity scenes.
800 years ago, with his desire to teach about God coming to us right here in our midst, the word made flesh, living and breathing in our midst Francis made the concept concrete with real animals and people so that those gathered might hear the story with new ears, listen and see the hope that our scriptures tonight remind us of… that God came among us right in the ordinary to rebuild, restart, and restore hope in this world.
In a weary world where we need rejoicing.
In a weary world where we need rebuilding
In a weary world where we know that there is hope and new beginning.
God shows up in our midst right where we are in the unexpected, in the vulnerable, in the brokenness and gives us hope. God volunteers to be in our midst amidst the unplanned. Interrupting our routine and realigning our vision.
God opens our eyes, unveils the injustice in our community, and reveals the need for rethinking the way we do things and restructuring our own lives.
This year we have seen the need for rebuilding our own lives,
we have been forced to simplify our routines out of a desire to protect our greater community.
We have experienced death and mourned our loved ones in unique and different ways.
And we have seen hope through those who have worked relentlessly in the medical field, the education field, those who serve and protect, those who have cleaned daily to make sure that the greater community is safe.
We have seen injustice and poverty at new levels and have had to face the realities of the inequities of the world we live in.
And tonight we gather and remember the shepherds, the angels, the holy family as they welcome a new beginning. A baby, the word made flesh.
This baby reminds us that:
We are each called to hold that infant, the bundle of joy in the midst of the simplicity of that night.
We are each called to follow the voices of the angels and bear glad tidings to each place that we go.
And like St. Francis, we are called to rebuild this church and community so that all might hear the good news that Jesus lived and taught that we are to restore and rebuild the church and the community so that all might experience this joy and hope.
This is the message Jesus brings to us in his arms stretched out on the cross, reaching to each of us in sacrificial love. Seeking to restore us to wholeness and wellness.
Oh Holy Night, indeed, let this weary world rejoice as we remember the love that God has for this world found in this tiny child born this night!
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
He brings God’s rule, O Zion; he comes from heaven above.
His rule is peace and freedom, and justice, truth, and love.
Lift high your praise resounding, for grace and joy abounding.
Oh blest is Christ that came in God’s most holy name. Hymn 65 v2
Our hymn text tells of God’s rule coming…. What it will bring but leaves out the when will it be HERE already.
We are to wait for that coming….
How do you wait?
I will confess, I am often impatient, and at times I don’t wait well.
This past week, I walked into the post office at.. lunchtime… and stood in line. It was a long line. The line did not move at all for two minutes. I realized this was going to be more of a time consumption that I was prepared for and I turned on my heel and left.
A great example of how unprepared I was to wait, patiently…..
My mother, on the other hand, gave all of us a great example of how to wait.
With four children who did sports and afterschool curriculars. She, through endless practices, games, meets, rehearsals and doctor’s appts, always pulled out her cross-stitching and started to the use that time that she had to wait, to actively wait. She used the time she had to be creative and complete Christmas gifts, birthday gifts, using the waiting time preparing for what was to come.
The season of Advent is about waiting and preparing.
I emphasize the “AND” in that sentence.
The two are not mutually exclusive. While we wait, we prepare.
In 2020, we find ourselves waiting for a lot of things.
Waiting on the election to finish, we wait for law suits to complete, we are waiting on a vaccine, we wait for exposure and contagious isolation and quarantines to finish.
And if nothing else, these pandemic times have given us time to wait.
And our lesson from second Peter today made me chuckle. “one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day”- isn’t that what our days are feeling like sometimes?
And the words of encouragement that are given next remind us to breathe in deeply and know “the lord is patient with you” while we may lose our patience regularly, the Lord is patient with us, time passes and that patience is renewed each moment along with the call to how them we should be waiting.
How we should be preparing for life as we know it as we wait…..
Second Peter and our Gospel reading continue with why we are to actively wait. Essentially God loves us enough to want us to continually become and grow and belong in the communities that we live in.
To borrow Mary’s words in response to Gabriel, we are to magnify the Lord in all that we do. Our reading also reminds us that change is coming and all through God’s hand.
The gospel writer Mark is more blunt and less poetic in his writing than the writer of our first lesson. In his concise way, Mark begins with the beginning. In the words of Maria in The Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning when you read you begin with abc”- Mark says when you want to understand the story of Jesus, you need to start back with the words of Isaiah and the story of John the baptist, Jesus’ cousin.
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke begin with lineages, tell us who Jesus’ people were, where he came from. Mark wants us to remember the prophets, god’s call to faithful people (and for us) to use their waiting to be real, hopeful, to be transformed with repentance, study, and living in community.
Mark reminds us that the prophets call the people out of comfort to change. And John presents himself in the form of a prophet, wearing the traditional attire of those who sought out the life of prayer and discipline of the Nazareens???? His attire was similar to that of Elijah- wild hair, faithful in prayer, and calling people to prepare by restarting. John says to those gathered, “Repent, be transformed, as you wait for the messiah, use this time to clean house, change your mindset and start fresh. Prepare. Start right now.”
The German Theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this, “Advent is a season of waiting, but our whole life is an Advent Season, that is a season of waiting for the last advent, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth.” (From Bonhoeffer’s Christmas Sermons page 27)
While we all have Advent Calendars to color or little doors to open and wreaths with candles to light that help us count down to Christmas Eve, we are not just waiting for Christmas. We, too, wait for the coming of our savior, like those who waited for the messiah to be born and like those who waited for freedom from captivity, we too wait.
And while we wait, we prepare. John’s message to us is to be transformed in our waiting. Active, prepared, waiting. We don’t sit idly by. Rather, the prophets and Jesus’ life and teachings call us to act.
We are to transform ourselves and those around us with actions of love, reconciliation and restoration. We are already in motion, moving towards Christmas and with each Christmas that passes we live more deeply and fully into the kingdom of God.
Henri Nouwen says our waiting should be in this way: “Those who are waiting are waiting very actively. They know that what they are waiting for is growing from the ground on which they are standing. Right here is a secret for us about waiting. If we wait in the conviction that a seed has been planted and that something has already begun, it changes the way we wait. Active waiting implies being fully present to the moment with the conviction that something is happening where we are and that we want to be present to it! A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment is the moment.” (from Finding My Way Home page 368)
While I can be standing still, even being still is active waiting. For in being still you can listen deeply to God’s presence right where you are. See the divine in the other, and seek to be community and right relationship with God.
And so I ask you, how is your waiting going this season?
Where do you need repentance and change in this season, in your heart?
Where can transformation begin as we have been given this time to wait, together on this spiritual journey and as we daily begin again and the Lord is patient with us?
God has given those faithful witnesses who have shown us the way,
how can we too practice active waiting bringing about change, right where we are and with those around us.
As we light our candles of hope and peace, let each action we make an action bringing us closer to each other and god’s peace and freedom, and justice, truth, and love.
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Well, my friends, here we are mid November.
45 more days until 2020 is over.
I don’t know about you but sometimes I think we are still in summer (it’s been warm) and some days I feel like we should be in 2022. Then I look out the window and see some fall colors and the early sunsets and I am reminded, nope, we are well into November.
Earlier this week, my husband Rob reminded me that this week the Masters Tournament is being played.
Having lived and worked in Augusta, GA for 4 years, I was excited and then also confused… that’s an April thing….. J
One of the many reasons “that’s an April thing” is because of the flowers that appear throughout the course in the SPRING event. AND it always occurs after daily saving time has sprung forward. Giving the players bonus hours of playing time if the day goes long.
The Masters tournament in their delay of scheduling has also seen the effect of darkness.
Their game has been effected by the literal availability of sunlight to play! We, here in the northern hemisphere, are feeling the acuteness of the shorter days too. Darkness by 6:30pm.
And we carry on, we figure out how to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.
We pause, readjust and continue to seek light and God in our midst.
So many things could blind us to the light of God.
Our Lives right now have been at the same time simplified and complicated.
Families continue to discern what are the safest things for our children’s educational experience, employers continue to have to make hard choices after 8 months of living into lean times and discerning a path forward as businesses.
We have had an election season (not just day) and we have a country that is clearly divided in half. And we must lean into relationship with each other to move forward. Each side seeking to be in conversation and, rather than seeing sides, we need to be community together.
You will notice in our lectionary, our readings are shifting.
Beginning 2 weeks ago with All Saints’ Sunday, you have heard themes of darkness and light, gnashing of teeth, judgement.
Often our readings make me wish we could just drink more peppermint mocha holiday beverages and spend less time talking about the darkness.
And yet, we only know true joy and light because of struggling through the darkness. Wishing things away does not bring more light into the darkness.
Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians has shifted from his chipper peppermint mocha pep talk to the people about rejoicing and thanksgiving to today’s reading. Paul is grounding them in the reality that there will be darkness, there will be times where you feel isolated, alone, polarized and you might feel like everything you are doing is futile. You might want to shrug your shoulders and say “why bother?”
Paul is saying to the faithful “Do anyway.”
Paul reminds them, You are beloved, you can survive even the darkest night, You have to be the light.
Encourage each other. Be there for each other, so that together you can weather these hard times. It reminds me of a relay race.
In relay races we are charged to do a leg of the race and then right when we can go no further, we pass the baton off to the next person, catch our breath and then cheer like hell to get that final person in…… we build up each other, work with each other, realize that we are on this team together.
Now you may be wondering – is she going to avoid the gospel reading???
Hee hee, it’s one of our favorites.
The really fun parables always include wickedness, gnashing of teeth and outer darkness. These parables make us uncomfortable. They don’t give us a warm and fuzzy feeling and they are jarring……
Today’s parable follows directly after last week’s and next week you get more judgement… it’s no wonder that in Chapter 26 of Matthew it begins with “the authorities started to plot to Jesus”- each of the parables in Chapter 25 are turning the then systems upside down on their head.
Today’s parables of the master and three servants is not unpacked later “aside for the disciples” we don’t get an explanation, from Jesus himself.
But it is clear the master is not happy with the final servant.
Look at the parable….
Where do you see yourself in the story? Where do you see God?
We can reflect on the “man with slaves” and then referred to as Master “who went away” (we don’t know why, for how long, and btw he didn’t give a single instruction to the servants) and apparently he knows the ability of each of his servants.
We can reflect on the first servant- wow, what great investments
We can reflect on the second servant- also WOW great investments, given less (Why? We don’t know) also doubled what he was given.
We then look at the third servant who does not increase the amount given to him, but he also did NOT lose it either…..(gotta see some positive there too)
The third servant also speaks truth about the system.
Pause for a second.
How did the servants double their talents given to them? The Servants were not playing the stock market to increase their gains. They did not become stock traders. Rather they went and gleaned profits off their fellow community members to make the profit for their master. They continued the system that the master used with them. He didn’t give them the talents so they could have them, rather he wanted more for himself.
The third servant saw the system, saw the fear that the master put into each person and says out of my fear of you, I kept your money safe rather than risking it, finding more wrath and exploiting my neighbors to win your gains.
If you pause for a moment and realize-
What if Jesus in the midst of the final weeks of his life was speaking about the system needing to change, the Roman empire needed to stop its taxation and exploitation of the poor, this third servant becomes a whole different person. (see more of this perspective from Debbie Thomas- here
Jesus becomes the third servant, refusing to be used by the system, he stands in opposition to the system, he doesn’t act in opposition like the disciples thought he would, rather, he- with his life- shows how one can serve, sacrifice on behalf of others without exploitation even if that means suffering and ultimate death.
It is one way to look at the parable.
These parables end with outer darkness, they are heavy and hard. Parables that end this way are easy to read quickly and keep moving….. and yet, we can see ourselves in the parable if we pause.
Are we the first or second servant trusted with much and seeking approval, know the system and working towards pleasing those who demand of us regardless of the means of the task?
Are we the masters demanding of those around us to do things when the system needs to change and we refuse to acknowledge the suffering going on?
Are we the third servant using our voice and being cast out?
Are we all of them depending on the moment of the day and task?
Looking at the parable this way gives you pause and a little more empathy for each person doesn’t it?
Here’s the thing about the outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth- while it sounds mighty unpleasant and somewhere I don’t want to be…..
At the end of these parables there is never an ending of “and they were struck dead”- being cast out, weeping and gnashing your teeth always leaves room for coming back into the fold.
Being Cast out: Remember for a second, who is it that Jesus always makes time for, invites to the table? Jesus is always inviting those who were cast out into the conversation. He commands reform but never excludes those who need to change.
Weeping to me expresses sorrow, remorse, broken heartedness and a desire to be restored. Weeping to me speaks to crying at the brokenness of the world and desire for change and restoration.
Gnashing of teeth reminds of gritting your teeth, wanting to have done better and knowing that you fell short.
All three of these things we want to avoid. We are trained to avoid. Think about it though, the bible tells of so many who wanted to avoid these dark moments and they usually failed in their efforts. Think of Jonah who ran the other way, Moses who ran to the wilderness, Zecharaiah who couldn’t believe that his wife was going to be pregnant with John the Baptist. What happens next? God meets them where they are and restores them to wholeness.
Believe it or not, today’s parable gives me hope.
In these times we have been given great treasure, life has been both simplified and complicated.
How have we used this time?
How have we used the systems we existed in before COVID to make things “normal”?
How have we changed and looked at our lives were pre-covid and realized what was good and what indeed was not good for us…changing what we do and how do it?
Simplicity and yet complex.
As our days are shorter, more filled with darkness, it is easy to let the isolation convince us that we are left behind, not effective and yet I challenge you to be reminded by Paul that you are beloved and NOT in darkness because of the love that you have received.
Jesus reminds us today that there will be opposition, he knows what that is and he will walk with you through those struggles.
And no matter how cast out, weepy, or teeth gnashing we feel- we are always being called to be in a fully restored community.