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.
Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Love goes beyond language
Love interrupt thoughts
And is boundless in her might.
Let love meet you in your hiding place.
Let love meet you in the mystery.
Right here where you are
Not just your tomorrow self.
Oh no, you are loved today.
(Morgan Harper Nichols, “How Far You Have Come” page 107)
Do you remember the tune, “One is the Loneliest number that you’ll ever know?”
A catchy tune that Harry Nielson penned the song: was made famous by the band: Three Dog Night. Believe it or not, Harry Nielson wrote the song inspired by the beep beep beep of the busy signal that Harry listened to while dialing a friend. Reaching out for connection, Harry’s desire was denied by the fact that the other person was talking to someone else (1968 was very much PRE-call waiting OR voicemail). Harry penned the song to the rhythm of the tone. As he sat and listened to the fact that no one was going to respond to him.
It’s simple song with a chorus of “One is the loneliest number that’ll you’ll ever know”— in the late 60’s this chorus struck a chord with many. Feeling alone, isolated, separated. The song was so popular that it topped the charts for three weeks, at number (wait for the comedy here)— #2!
If we are being honest, this song still resonates deeply within us.
One can be the loneliest number.
When you have been separated from those you love, when you find yourself alienated by peers or family, when illness restricts your ability to be present with others.
One can be the loneliest number.
And yet love meets us there and can transform that loneliness.
St Paul this week is writing to the church in Ephesus. Ephesus the booming town with flourishing trade and lots of conversation. Like any place of commerce there was wealth, comfort, AND disparity and division. Paul is writing to the Ephesians to remind them that the true definition of being one is to be no longer lonely, no longer solitary,
Rather, “being one” is defined by coming together to be one as community.
To become one to eliminate division and isolation.
In our reading today St. Paul uses the word ONE 4 times in his reading!
First, be one to bring groups together, breaking down walls.
Second, be one and recreate one humanity, through the God incarnate, in the flesh with us in human form.
Third, Be one and reconcile into one through Jesus’ death on the cross, and expressing his love so expansively for all
Finally, we are one restored daily through the one spirit, when we feel discouraged, alone, left out.
Being one is no longer lonely rather it is unifying and strengthening.
Being one together acknowledges the beloved individuality of each person and brings them together on the common ground of Love.
Community that was divided is brought together, walls broken down, and as one, the community stronger.
And this is hard work- it was for the Ephesians and is for us.
This was the reason baptism was only for adults in the early church, in baptism you are committing to promises of behavior to transform your daily life. We promise to strive to building community and growing in relationship with God and one another.
Building Community is messy, hard, and challenging work.
Building Community is listening deeply to the person with a different opinion or perspective rather than dismissing them.
Becoming One means letting go of our way being the only way and coming together.
Here’s the thing.
God has a knack for transforming our lives in every step and stage.
When being one could be lonely and terrifying, God can make us one: strengthened and unified.
In our Gospel reading you hear Jesus departing for a time away to rest and upon arriving sees that the crowds on the other shore are lost, as though without a shepherd.
Jesus does not run the other way, instead he runs towards them and transforms their space.
In their loneliness, their wanderings, Jesus gave them compassion and teaching, healing, and presence. The crowd became one flock drinking deeply the still waters of peace that Jesus restored to them. He met them where they were and was WITH them.
Yesterday we gathered for the Lynching Memorial Marker Dedication Ceremony and Interfaith Service of Remembrance just a half mile from here at Cascades park. WITH over 200 people, we remembered Piece Taylor, Mick Morris, Richard Hawkins, and Ernest Ponder all murdered without ever having a day in court between the years of 1888-1937. And they are just four of the members of our community who died in this way.
45 different faith communities came together in the form of the Community Remembrance Project to strive to collaborate to looking honestly at our past in this community and how we can move forward to strive for justice for all of God’s children and respecting the dignity of every human being. The work of this collaborative group is to come together not just to mark the past but also to create a better future. Their work does not conclude with the marker dedication, it continues with continued education and work towards seeking building up community.
Similarly, St. John’s continues to work with Capital Area Justice Ministry. This ministry is a collaboration of multi faith, multi-economic, multi-race congregations seeking to build up community for the restoration of humanity, the recreating of community and as Paul says, a dwelling place for God. Ever since Cain was jealous of Abel, we have had work to do to be in community with each other and with God.
In the church, we are constantly coming together as one body.
ON Sundays, like now, together in one space (physically and virtually)
We return to church in those thin spaces of our lives, when we gather for marriage, baptisms, and at funerals.
We gather as one when we need healing, strength and courage.
And we are sent out as one into the world.
Our work is to help convert the “one is the loneliest number” chorus into “We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord”- accompanying those who feel weak and grow in the knowledge of the love of God.
Let God meet you right where you are, in whatever that makes you feel like one is the loneliness number and know that we are one right here with you, one with you as a shepherd giving you healing, strength and courage to be loved today and to make a difference today.
To close with the words of Bono from the Band U2, we are:
One love, one blood One life, you got to do what you should One life, with each other Sisters, brothers
One life but we’re not the same We get to carry each other, carry each other One One
O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
We give thanks to you, who are the source of Love; whose light shines forth throughout the universe! Come awaken our hearts that we might do your work; For, without you, we can do nothing; ‘tis your Love that loves through us.
(Psalm 107:1-3 from Psalms for Praying by Nan C. Merrill)
Happy Birthday America!
Did ya’ll know that the statue of Liberty arrived in 1885? One of our favorite landmarks actually arrived near our 110th birthday. This year on June 17th She celebrated her 135th birthday, standing tall in New York City’s harbor. With her torch and tablet, she is a beacon on the shoreline. Lady Liberty right there on her pedestal so that she is the first thing you see as you enter the harbor, a beacon of hope and freedom. The gift of this statue actually began on the 100th birthday of this nation. While she stands tall now, did you know that this isn’t the only place that she has stood?
She was fully sculpted and assembled in Paris before she was sent to America.
This meant that in 1885 she was disassembled and – 350 pieces of copper and iron in 214 wooden crates arrived in the New York Harbor AND thankfully they came with a “handy instruction manual.”
Talk about putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. With hammers and nails, soldering irons and a whole lot of dusty workspaces and women men, the task was accomplished by fall of 1886.
This amazing structure was in pieces and sent with love and assembled for an entirely different country to re-assemble and for all to be reminded of the hope and light of change that it was to those across the ocean.
To be reassembled, to be pieced back together.
To be made whole, to be stronger together.
Awaken our hearts that God’s light can be shown through us.
Our country is in a space where there are so many pieces.
So many pieces that have jagged edges and pointing harsh edges.
Beautiful pieces each with their own part of making the larger structure strong and full of hope.
We are in need of some beautiful coming together moving forward to be light for one another and the larger community.
Where are our handy instruction manuals? Some days it seems like a wardrobe from IKEA would be easier to bring together.
Well with King David, God was always the instruction manual.
While God kept telling God’s people you don’t need a king, you have me as king over you, God relented and gave them a King (first Saul and then David)- and David was. HUMAN.
David was full of broken flaws, but God never left David. Sweat tears, mistakes from King David and yet faithfulness continued from God. The northern and southern kingdoms of Israel were united under King David. It took time, some challenges, some failures, but with God’s direction, David was the leader that the people needed.
In our Gospel today, we see division amongst those who knew Jesus as a boy, they had seen him in those in between years where we know so little about and they listened to Jesus and are divided.
The people of his hometown can’t believe that Jesus is claiming such authority. They KNEW him, they changed his diapers, they saw him when he got his first tooth and when he lost his first tooth. They had been WITH him all of his life. Where was this authority coming from? They chose to stay apart rather than come together and follow Jesus.
And Jesus says to his disciples after this experience, “go out into the world and share what you know about me” YOU ARE the equipment, you don’t need much else, YOU are the manual for how others can believe. And if there is rejection, do as I did in Nazareth:
Go to the next town.
Don’t make a big deal just keep doing the work with those who will listen.
And in our gospel you hear these words, “Shake the dust off your feet.”
Now dust is mentioned a lot in the bible J….
Remember God created the heavens and the earths and the dry lands
Remember Adam was created out of the dust.
Remember it’s the dusty dry bones of Ezekiel where God breathes in new life.
Remember it is in the dust of the desert the Jesus is tempted and has angels wait upon him
Remember we are dust and to dust we shall return, we say on Ash Wednesday.
Remember Jesus washed the dust from his disciples feet at the last Supper as the example of the leadership they too were to have.
When Jesus is talking about dust, he says to give those who do not accept you to God.
Do not fear the dust of failure
Do not fear the dust of rejection
And also do not become indifferent, do not become numb, or lose hope.
Remember only the God who breathes new life into old bones and dust itself can also bring resurrection, give new life.
Jesus says, “Let those who do not accept you, -this message, this hope, this joy, this love- leave that rejection to God. God is in charge of giving new life, of changing lives, yours may not be the voice with which God’s love might be heard but this should not silence your voice.”
Continue to strive to speak hope and love and strive even more so to listen.
Remember, Jesus did a lot of walking and talking.
He did not stay in one place.
People who met with him, who walked with him- literally got covered in dust.
Perhaps we should focus less on the dusting off our feet and instead getting so close to Jesus that we are covered in his dust. (Imagery shared with me from a leader from Happening in North Carolina. WOW, right?)
All of the work that we do is covered in God’s thumbprint of the dust of hope, joy, love, freedom from earthly burdens.
Perhaps the handy manual we have for putting our world back together again has been within our hands all along through pausing, listening, recognizing and acting in love for loving our neighbor and ourselves.
This calling is hot and dusty and exactly the work Jesus did for each of us.
We are the instruments, we are the equipment, you don’t need much to do this work but a heart full of love, a willingness to learn and be transformed, and being intentional with all that you do.
O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
May your hope be as bright as a flaming light held high long the unknown shores of night
May you never lose the vision of what the years to come could be,
And no matter how dark the sea may look,
You have the courage within to dream (Morgan Harper Nichols How Far You Have Come)
That beautiful prayer is written by Morgan Harper Nichols, which is found within her book “How Far You Have Come”- a beautiful artistic book telling both her journey but also her poetry and words of encouragement. The book narrates her family’s car trip from Atlanta to Los Angeles the summer of 1996.
The journey begins with leaving Atlanta, just as the Olympic torch was arriving to begin the games, the family heads westward.
Car trips never go expected. Her family’s first hiccup was getting out of Atlanta.
Traffic came to a standstill as they were departing…..
in their rush, they were late, leaving later than they had hoped and frustrated and anxious…..
everything came to a full stop on the 75/85 connector…..
to literally watch that tiny flame of the Olympic torch cross over the highway.
While this tiny runner with a small flame delayed their departure, it also gave her family pause to join everyone else around them and gaze wondering together about the hope and the excitement of the Olympic games….
An unexpected pause on their journey. A chance to gaze together at hope, at endurance, at community striving together. To dream.
Do you not care?
Why are you afraid?
Who is this among us?
These three questions meet us head on in our Gospel reading today. In the midst of their perfect planned boat trip at the end of the day, a storm brews up on the disciples.
While storms were common on the sea of Galilee, they were also commonly life threatening. The family of the disciples got in the boat ready to get to their destination. As a storm brewed, all hands were on deck to keep the boat upright, to keep things going and not capsizing, the disciples were focused on not losing nets, people, the material things that are essential.
And Jesus, where is Jesus? Well, he is redefining the term “deep sleeper.”
I can hear the disciples’ exasperation after a long day of keeping up with Jesus’ that can’t he help out with this????
Jesus, Don’t you care about us?
(your inaction make us think you don’t)
Jesus, don’t you care enough to be awake with us until all the work is done?
(If you cared, you would help!)
And Jesus awakes and responds to the heart of the matter, to hear what they were asking, he responds with “Why are you afraid?”
Perhaps it’s the fear of the storm
Perhaps it’s the fear of not getting to the other side of being stuck in the middle
Perhaps it’s the fear of not being included and knowing the rest of the plan for the rest of the journey.
Jesus does care about our deep fears.
Because Jesus Cares Jesus says to the waters, “Peace be still”
The creator says to the created “be calm.”
To us, to creation.
The God we believe in, is among us.
The God we believe in IS in the boat with us.
God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit is with us in the midst of the storm AND the stillness.
Many of you have started your car trips of the summer, getting those long-awaited vacations in now that the school year has finished.
Now that many are vaccinated, covid restrictions are loosening we are taking adventures YET even in those carefully planned adventures, we find ourselves involuntarily in the midst of storms.
The unpredictable, the change of plans, the delay of plans.
We might set out in our vessels thinking we have all that we materially need safely secured tightly around us and yet we can’t control the weather nor the traffic! (YOU TRY driving through Atlanta at any time!)….
We are awaiting the unknown of the next chapter of middle school, high school, athletics, college life or new jobs.
We are awaiting medical diagnoses, next steps, and treatment.
We have had a loved one die recently and can’t even imagine what comes next.
We see inequality of treatment of our brothers and sister in Christ and struggle with our own call to work in the community.
And Jesus says to us, Peace be still.
And immediately the waters are calmed.
Remember the same waters that were in the beginning of creation parted for life to be created. Remember the waters of the Red Sea parted for giving new life to the Hebrews escaping the Egyptians.
Remember the waters at Jesus’ baptism declaring the beginning of his ministry and calling us into our own.
In the midst of the stormy waters, God is right there with you in the boat, right there stilling the seas and present through the challenging waters of our life.
In our epistle reading today, St Paul is giving a truth filled pep talk to the Corinthians. I love Paul’s words in The Message translation today:
“Companions as we are in this work with you, .. don’t squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us.
“I heard your call in the nick of time, the day you needed me, I was there to help.” (This reminds me of the disciples today!)
Paul also is imploring the people to open their hearts to God who is right there with them in the long days, the short days, the days where you don’t get lunch because you were caring for someone else, the days where you were judged and mocked for doing the right thing. God is right there with you.
To continue on the journey, as Paul says “enter this wide open spacious life.” “Open up your lives and hearts and live openly and expansively.”- God’s peace is there to be found and steady us in our boats.
God’s Peace is there to awe us and give us courage and to bring us back around to the journey with purpose and calling and sends us forth.
Today is Father’s Day, yesterday was Juneteenth, this past week we hosted Youth BEAT and Summer Choir Camp, we gathered and scattered and prayed as a community in so many ways.
Youth and children coming together to learn about music, Youth coming to learn more about God’s call for them to live out their faith in action on their faith journey, parents accompanying them on their adventures.
On June 19th we recognize the day that those who were enslaved in our country were given their freedom on paper, we rejoice in that freedom and we simultaneously acknowledge that same proclamation did not change a system overnight and we still have work to do, pain to recognize and work to do to rebuild the beloved community of God as a nation.
Today is Father’s Day- a day where the only perfect example of Fatherhood is the one we know through God’s sacrificial love for this world through creation and his son, Jesus.
And today we will commission Caroline and John Allen to go forth, sent by St. John’s to continue to be the hands and feet and heart of Christ in a new location! in Ecuador.
Paul today says, Today is the acceptable day, NOW is the acceptable time, to listen, to act, to be who we are called to be.
Water and Storms, Cars and Boats, Stillness and Calling.
Be Stlll and Know.
Know that God does care deeply about you.
Know that God knows your deepest fears and is there with you
Know that God is the God of all creation,
God is present and beside you in all that happens as you respond to the call of being a beloved Child of God.
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.