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, 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.
Dear Jesus, Flood my soul with Thy spirit and love. POSESS my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance OF YOU. Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Thy presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus. Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be a light to others. Amen.
When I was younger I thought Mother Teresa was the most amazing person. I wanted to be just like her when I got older. In my eyes, her life was uncomplicated, she lived simply, spoke truth and served others. That was her life.
We see what we want to see sometimes, don’t we?
When I realized that she owned only two saris and was only 5ft tall, i realized quickly that i might not grow up to be JUST like her, yet her life’s work is a legacy and inspiration to us all.
A fierce tiny woman who showed love to each person she encountered and was a force to be reckoned with.
When I realized that being a short nun wasn’t my calling, I then decided I would be a doctor and serve with Doctors Without Borders. Well, organic chemistry helped steer me out of that field quickly…..
And yet a call remained.
And also for me (and in turn you) a reminder that your call fits you right where you are.
When we look to others and marvel at their gifts and compare ourselves to another’s vocation, we have sold our own selves short. If we covet those gifts and strengths of others, we will continue to find ourselves inadequate compared to someone else, and in turn we have under-realized that God has called us right where we are, who we are, to do work right where we are.
Elisabeth Kubler Ross says, “the most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that filled them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
Beautiful people do not just happen.
If we pause for a moment and look to our neighbors to our right and our left, let that sink in.
The beautiful person beside you has known struggle, loss, and found their way or are finding their way right now. This shapes their beauty and who they are to you. It also is their story to tell and ours to walk alongside of and be neighbors, friends, angels along the way with them.
Recently, I was reminded of a quotation by Abraham Lincoln, “We are FRIENDS not enemies. We’re going to look for the better angels in each other and embody the best of the American Character”- words from another time of division in our nation. When the beautiful people around us were not all seen as neighbors.
In this election season it is easy to see the divisions that currently exist, to choose to live ignoring those who have a different opinion than we do. To turn beautiful people into enemies, over simplifying their story and beauty to simply a single solitary position. In this pandemic season it is easy to not seem to be able to meet new people because of precautions and yet we are still in community, together.
If we truly listen to Jesus’ words today we have to acknowledge the reality that we are to love our neighbors- all of them. We are to see the beautiful people that they are, the struggle that has formed them and all of who they are. We are to live with our neighbors and care for those around us, as family should.
We are to seek out the better angel in each of us and in that search, let go of our self-induced dreams of control, domination, and catch the glimpse of the divine in the face of the other- (Barbara Holmes)
The Pharisees today are asking Jesus a testing question, “What is the greatest commandment”- they bring their illusion of control in their favorite lawyer who asks the question (remember Lawyers know the law and how to debate).
And Jesus answers. He answers his neighbor, the lawyer, seeing the beauty of the individual. Jesus answers with compassion, with grace, with focus, and with directness. Quoting our passage today in Leviticus, Jesus says, “LOVE GOD, LOVE your neighbor as yourself”- he states the first of the Ten Commandments and then summarizes the other 9 into 1 single sentence.
Similar to last week’s answer about render to Cesar what is Caesar and to God what is god’s creation. Jesus is saying if you love God with all of your whole self, that sort of love should spill over in all that you do, each person you encounter and all those you find yourself surrounded by. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry said it this way recently, “love seeks the welfare of other, the well being of others. Love is about living for WE, not just me. (See the full conversation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsT0hBJtRnI&t=3438s)
Loving our neighbor starts with loving our own self, loving who God has created us to be and THEN in response we are to share that love we have received, unconditionally, without judgment and accepting us for who we are – If we are so accepted, why wouldn’t we see this divine nature in those beside us and acknowledge the beauty that lies beneath the surface of our neighbors?
Hard to do?
Still called to do it? Yep, Daily.
Loving our neighbor is what we are called to do and why Mother Teresa spent her days in prayer. Opening her day with the prayer that started this sermon. Beginning with prayer, ending with prayer and praying her steps everywhere between….. this close and constant relationship with God gave her courage and a fierce love to advocate for those who were cast aside and establish the sisters of charity organization- providing care for the elderly who needed care and those who are left behind.
Creating a space where each person was treated with dignity and respect and equally cared for as treasured family members.
Mother Teresa lived a life of service. Not a one sided “always giving without receiving” service but in the manner with which we serve one another in family. She lived a life of service in relationship, in deep knowing , love, respect and admiration of the other person. She always beheld the face of God in the person she met from the beggar on the street with tatters of clothing to the head of the system when she wanted change for the poor. She saw the beauty of person within, their struggle, their likeness of God, the beauty of who they truly were.
St John’s has a deep and long legacy of servant hood.
Our mission statement says that we are shine the light of Christ in Tallahassee and beyond. Seeking to build up the community and kingdom of God.
In our deep gratitude of being a community these brick walls have not kept the love that we know retained within them. We see this weekly from Deacon Joe’s own weekly command to us to “GO in peace to love and serve the lord” in our dismissal, to his living example of caring for those in the prison, those who call the church and need pastoral care. We see this call to mission in the daily work and mission of Grace mission, to the gift of our school mentors giving of their time and growing in relationship with the students of Riley Elementary around them. Even in these pandemic times.
Growing up I thought serving meant I should travel to different countries, give up everything, be short and wear a sari.
The truth is that while some ARE called to serve in far way lands, our neighbor can also be found right here beside us, inviting us to open our eyes to listen deeply, see the divine in the person beside us and remember that they too are family- THIS is what Jesus is talking about …. serving is walking alongside of, being present and not always filling a financial gap but wrestling with our inner assumptions and injustice and striving to bring our neighbor, our brother and sister the equity that should be available. Love seeks the wellbeing of others.
Loving God and Loving our neighbor is the teaching that Jesus lived for us, he daily served through conversation, walking with, meeting with, asking for change, and even tossing some tables along the way. Jesus was constantly upsetting the normal flow of things because all of god’s children were not receiving the care they deserved.
Servant hood is about relationships, not judging the outward appearance but recognizing the deep beauty in each person and being willing to fiercely love them too.
This week, reflect on who has lived out this form of servant hood for you- the people who have tenaciously loved you, right where you are. Who challenged you to keep growing, to ask questions, to challenge the norm?
How will you do something different this week to live into this servant hood you too are called to…. start or strengthen a relationship with a neighbor?
We live in a world of too many divisions and silos. This week how can you seek out the better angel, the beautiful person in those you might otherwise quickly judge and dismiss?
Will you lean into this call this week, this month, at this time?
The Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
It is great to be here this morning with you and I bring greetings from all of your sisters and brothers at St. John’s in Tallahassee. It is a gift to be here today and I am thankful for the invitation. These times we are living in are different aren’t they? They are challenging… they remind me a bit of Moses wandering in the wilderness and a bit about the never ending season of Lent, crying- how long, how long….
So I ask you…take a moment and pause for a second.
How are you doing?
How are those around you?
Are you tired? Do you feel alone?
Are you tired of the headlines in the news or people telling you how you should or should not be acting? (I would love for everything to stop telling me to vote, I did already and it’s been counted and I can only vote once!)
Do you feel like people are not listening to you at all?
Our first two readings today are approaching these questions in two very different ways.
Moses, in leadership is asking for more support, encouragement. I sense he is feeling just a little bit overwhelmed, exhausted and daunted by the task of leading people at this point in time. The journey has not been short, comfortable and many have forgotten the why they are now wandering. Moses needs a pep talk, a bit of an embrace, hope. And God says, I am here for you. The road is no shorter, but i will meet you where you need me. I will give you rest.
In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, different time, different place but the same need for encouragement. While Paul himself cannot go and visit them directly, he is there through word and encouragement, reminding them of their identity, to be steadfast and endure. There is hope, their work has been with love, and God is there in their midst.
The God we believe in meets us where we are when we are lost, when we are exhausted, when we are afraid, when we desperately need God to be present with us.
Especially in these days when we are tired of not hugging our neighbors, of staying behind masks, of plans changed or been interrupted.
Our first two readings remind us to hold firm and be steadfast, caring for our community and our own selves. To live in hope, to know God is there also.
In baptism we are called by name to live a life of Love and the funny thing about this call is that it doesn’t protect us from harm rather just like Jesus after his own baptism, he was called into prayer, fellowship, teaching, and healing- from the muddy waters of the Jordan to the muddy waters of human life and suffering.
The is a story that at one of the times that Jesus stumbles on falls a third time, that there Veronica gives him a towel to wipe his brow. It is that towel where they say they saw the imprint of Jesus’s face, left behind. Now whether the image still exists on fabric or not is not the point of my story, the name given to that woman is veronica which literally means true image. And if you ever find yourself in Jerusalem (after the pandemic of course) the station where this act is remembered is right in the intersection of two streets, it’s a thorough fare where daily action flurries past as one prays the way of the cross. Right in the midst of the chaos and the daily tasks the Muslims, Jews and Christians, there is God, the true image in the midst of the chaos- present, showing god’s self to those who pause, saying- I am here with you in each person around you.
In the pain, in the difference, in the division.
We are in some muddy times right now, aren’t we- divisions seem further apart than in the past, exhaustion seems to be more common as we have limited connectivity, and things are JUST different.
And yet there is still hope, there is still the time to come together, to recognize the image of God in each person we encounter. To, as we say in our baptismal covenant to seek and serve Christ in each person.
And that brings me to the Gospel lesson today.
AS it says, the Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus, they wanted to get Jesus in Trouble with the greater authorities. Their question for Jesus was about authority and they are asking about the political authority that governed them.
Jesus does not fall into their shallow trap of answering a political campaign question- rather he refocuses the question with refocusing what this life is all about. God’s call to each of us to be stewards of creation.
In the midst of the muddy waters of our time, it is easy to lose sight that we are stewards here (like our parables a couple of weeks back shared with us) we are here because of God’s grace and we are caretakers of God’s creation, That is what our life’s direction is about.
How then do we seek to glorify God in all that we do,
how do we see beyond seeing political party only in order to see the best for all of God’s creation.
In Jesus’ holding up a coin, he reminds the Pharisees’ that money is man’s creation and therefore part of the political system.
We, on the other hand, are the image of God. Each of us, all beautifully and wonderfully made, equally made to be a part of this community.
So, I wonder, what do we do in these times where we are tired, we are frustrated, when we are tired of waiting?
Paul reminds us to stand firm in faithfulness.
Our baptismal covenant says, we will God’s help take one step at a time, listening and learning more about God in our midst.
I invite you this week to seek out someone, remind them of their identity through God and, like Paul, support them in this time.
Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but remember that you are God’s and are called to swim through these muddy waters to endure the suffering and also experience deep gladness too.
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
In Mid June I hit that moment, you know, you have all had it.
Staying within our precautions began to really grate on me. I felt gloomy, lost, foggy and tired of trying to be creative. I had had enough of being in one space.
SO, I looked outward and discovered the spiritual joy of Leslie Jordan. The actor.
Mr. Jordan has a 90+year old mother that lives in Chattanooga and in the midst of his visit with her he ended up stranded in the 30 day quarantine in TN.
Rather than moping about how he wasn’t in LA. He took to his Instagram feed and started telling short 30 sec stories. He greeted all his followers with. “Hey there Hunker Downers” and with a twinkle in his eye he would begin to tell a story. His stories are about not getting jobs and what he learned about that experience, the people he thinks are cute, the silliness of those around him and a general real sense of endurance. His first video made me cry. I laughed so hard. (It wasn’t that funny, well it was at the time).
His point is that we are all hunkered down here friends. While school has resumed and many activities are being creatively accomplished, we are still hunkered down as this virus is still around. We hunkered down just this week as Hurricane Sally blew past us and we waited to hear about our friends west of us.
Hunkering down and making due with where we are, listening deeply and reaching out to those around us.
We reach out of course through Calls, emails, drive-bys, notes, treats, random acts of kindness.
I have found that I live for hearing the “Silly Joke on Tuesdays” from my goddaughters. (They are pretty amazing)
We have been given schedules that are different, and so much more time for some to hunker down and to dig deep.
Howard Thurman, one of Martin Luther King Jr’s mentors used the words “center down”
My mother used to say that we all need to “Simmer down” as And the bible says “be still and know that I am God.”
And what then do we do with the stillness?
Howard Thurman says when we center down we:
“sit quietly and see one’s self pass by!
The streets of our minds seethe with endless traffic;
Our spirits resound with clashing, with noisy silences,
While something deep within hungers and thirsts for the still moment and the resting lull.
We listen to the deep still voice that runs through us, that lives within us and assures us that we are beloved, that we are who we are called to be uniquely, individually, in new ways and deeply in the environment we have been given to be community.
As we listen, floating up through all of the jangling echoes of our turbulence, there is a sound of another kind—
A deeper note which only the stillness of the heart makes clear.
It moves directly to the core of our being. Our questions are answered,
Our spirits refreshed, and we move back into the traffic of our daily round
With the peace of the Eternal in our step.
How good it is to center down!
Let’s be honest, we react differently to this isolation. Some embrace it and thrive with the space to dig deep, pray and accomplish the hard work of our own spiritual formation.
And others, fall into the category Of “I am tired of this hard work. I was thankful for the elimination of the distractions but now ‘who am I without those activities?’”
I wanna go back to Normal (whatever that was)
Another theologian, Richard Rohr talks a lot about our true selves, he says that we
We wear our outer selves as a mask to the world and our true selves are our inner selves that we often hide from the world and often we also hide from embracing.
God meets us when we are hunkered down, tired, isolated, in search of meaning and can’t find our way.
Remember the Israelites- wandering the desert not for just 40days but 40 years- they were tired, it isn’t exactly at the beginning or end of their story but in Exodus Chapter 16 they are fed up with hunkering down, centering down, discovering their identity as chosen people of God in the wilderness without the structure.
God Bless Moses, right?
The Israelites are so tired of it they would rather go back to Egypt and be slaves.
And God meets them where they are and gives them exactly what they need. As the Israelites redefine hangry- God provides bread from heaven, food for their bodies and soul. White fluffy manna straight from the skies.
A new way to be fed.
The people of God are still wandering but they know they will be fed. Lean into me, hunker down and we will get through this, God says.
In our Gospel reading we hear the familiar story of the Vineyard and laborers.
This Landowner is economically ridiculous.
He employs all the workers,
He keeps going after people to hire and then, then even more ludicrously (when compared to a normal world of economic efficiency) he then chooses to pay everyone the same amount of wages regardless of how long they worked.
It makes no fiscal sense.
AND this is Jesus’ point.
The kingdom of God is not like the system here on earth.
God’s kingdom is so very different! Jesus says to us with this parable, “remove the distractions and stop projecting the earthly system and rules upon God’s love.”
God does not bestow grace upon you because of how long you have been present.
God does not dispense love because of how much you have worked or when you arrived.
God loves who you are, your deep inner core that even you might be hiding.
God hunkers down and invites YOU to join in the vineyard work.
Right where you are.
You are a part of the community
And God wants you to listen to this call in this isolating confusing distanced time, be not afraid of the silence, do not let the distractions tell you that you are not enough.
Instead feel the closeness of God,
The consolation of God, as St. Ignatius calls it, and listen deeply.
Reach out to those around you when you feel like the despair and difficulty might be too much.
And keep reaching out.
Listen deeply to those who reach out.
Be with them.
As God met the Israelites, in their dismay.
Today’s unexpected white fluffy bread like manna comes in the form of prayer, walks, notes, flowers, unexpected ways from each of us.
The abundant love of God is there for you and in this topsy- turvey world.
Do not be afraid to take your metaphorical mask off and listen to God’s loving embrace right where you are.
We are all laboring in this vineyard, doesn’t matter when you arrived, we are here with you.
It’s time to rediscover that love we were given when we were created and in turn help strengthen our larger community and start to heal with the abundant love that God greets us with us with in the stillness.
This week keep your eyes open for the manna God gives you in this wilderness time as you hunker or center down and embrace God in your midst.