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Posted on May 13, 2018

Minority Reports—homily for 13 May 2018

Minority Reports

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Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985. Ruth and Naomi, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55328 [retrieved May 10, 2018]

May 13, Seventh Sunday of Easter:

Psalm 1
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
1 John 5:9-13John 17:6-19

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

It can be comforting to live in a black and white world. A world where good people are good, and do well, and thrive…and bad people get what’s coming to them. A world where you can tell who’s good and who’s bad by the color of their costumes. It’s a world that is often presented to us in advertising… “look at how successful those thin, attractive people are! They must be doing something right…I want to be like them.” Its a world that is presented to us in the Psalm today.

“Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked….They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; *everything they do shall prosper.”

But the wicked…”they are like chaff which the wind blows away…the way of the wicked is doomed.” (Psalm 1)

It can be comforting…this easy to understand world…It can be seductive…this very simple moral calculus—if I behave and do what’s right I will get good things…and if I don’t behave bad things will happen—“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5) Simple. Clear cut. You’re either in…or your out…walking in the ways of the Lord, or blown away like chaff…it’s super attractive…except that there’s the flip side to it as well…

Because what if I’m not doing well? What if I’m no longer young, and have never been thin, or attractive? What if I’m struggling to get by? How do I know if I’m in the club? What if people who look like me, or dress like me are not held up as role models but instead are constantly represented as “less-than,” “inferior,” “bad?,” or just, simply don’t exist at all? Does this simple moral calculus mean that it’s somehow my fault? Am I counted as part of the wicked just because I’m not any of the things that define what is successful, or righteous, or good in this particular culture?

Black and white might be a comforting way to look at the world—for some. It’s a tempting way to look at the world—for some. It’s not a realistic way to look at the world. Because our world is not black and white.

If only there were some stories…some counter narratives…that undermined…that subverted…this all-too-simple, and potentially damaging narrative…if only our scriptures only contained stories like that…

How many of you have spent time studying the genealogy of Jesus? It shows up in two places…Luke chapter 3, and Matthew chapter 1. Luke traces the genealogy all the way back to Adam. Matthew just goes back to Abraham. The two don’t exactly match up, and Matthew does some very interesting things that Luke doesn’t.

Luke’s list starts with Jesus and works back in time, listing only fathers—the paternal line. Matthew starts with Abraham and works forward in time and has some interesting additions: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah—the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar…Who’s Tamar? A woman. And not just any woman. Tamar is a gentile—probably a Canaanite who was not married to Judah. Tamar’s story never makes it into the lectionary because it’s PG-13 at best, and that’s maybe too bad because it’s a great—problematic—story that works as a counterpoint to this dominant narrative (See Genesis 38).

Tamar was married to Judah’s eldest son, but he died with no children. And as was the custom, she then married the next son. He died. The same with the next, so Judah got concerned and wouldn’t let her marry his youngest son. Which, in that culture, at that time, was an improper thing to do.

Then Judah goes to a festival, and Tamar (feeling wronged) disguises herself, and meets Judah on the road. Judah thinks she’s “a woman who works near festivals,” wants to “transact business with her.” She says, “what will you give me.” He says, “I’ll give you a lamb.” She says, “No, I want your staff and  “seal-cord” (sort of how you would sign your name).” He says, “fine.” They go off. She gets pregnant.

Months later, she’s showing and people say, “Judah, what’s up with your daughter-in-law? She’s been running around.” Judah says, “Take her out to be burned,” (terrible, I know). Tamar says, “Wait. I have proof of who the father is.” And pulls out Judah’s seal cord. So now everyone knows, that not only did Judah fail in his duty in not letting her marry his youngest son, he is responsible for her pregnancy. So, to his credit, when confronted with this he says, “She is more in the right than I.” She’s vindicated, and gives birth to twins (Perez and Zerah), one of whom is the ancestor of King David—and of Jesus.

Tamar is an outsider in every sense of the word. She’s an outsider making her way in a culture that is not her own. And she’s held up by Matthew—and later tradition—as someone who exhibits great faith, greater faith than the men around her.

A few lines later in the genealogy, Matthew mentions Salmon father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth. Two more women. Rahab might not be familiar, but Ruth should be. We’ll hear some of Ruth’s story later this year.

Rahab was also a Canaanite, and (according to her story in Joshua 2), but unlike Tamar, also worked in “the oldest profession,” who aided Joshua in the conquest of Canaan. In Jewish tradition she is held up as an exemplar of faith. But I’m sure the Canaanites (if any had been left to write a history) would have told a different story of her betrayal. The point isn’t to figure out if she was “good” or “bad” the point is that the inclusion of her story in this grand narrative raises questions, and complicates the story in instructive ways. She’s a stranger…trying to navigate her way in a dangerous world. And her presence serves as a constant reminder of the very troubling, and violent, history that we have all inherited.

Ruth’s story is actually closer to the “rags to riches” narrative that we’re familiar with (See the Book of Ruth). There’s a famine in Bethlehem so Naomi and her husband go to next door to Moab where their sons marry Moabite women. All the men die, and Naomi and her daughters-in-law are left penniless. Naomi tells both of them to return to their families in Moab, but Ruth refuses. Instead, she leaves her family, and the only homeland she’s ever known and comes with Naomi back to Bethlehem. Then the headline might read: “Poverty-Stricken Foreigner Finds Favor in the Eyes of a Prominent Rich Man.” (New Interpreters Study Bible. p 384). She’s gleaning in the field (picking up the leftovers) catches Boaz’s eye. Naomi and Ruth conspire to get her next to Boaz and…long story short…Boaz marries her and she becomes the great-grandmother of King David. 

Another outsider…another stranger…another story outside of and slightly askew from the dominant structure. The fact that she is constantly referred to as “Ruth the Moabite,” underscores this. Moab was “the wrong side of the tracks,” it was the neighboring country,  and everyone knew that nothing good came from Moab…to put it in terms that some of us might be more familiar with—Star Wars—calling her “Ruth, the Moabite,” is like saying “she’s a nobody, from Jakku.”

It’s true our scriptures are filled with voices that uphold the dominant narrative…that the good are rewarded…the wicked are punished…our ancestors who edited these texts put this Psalm first for a reason…it’s aspirational. But they also included minority voices…voices that question, and challenge, and move us to think and interact with our world in more nuanced ways. The most extended, comprehensive critique of this black and white narrative is the Book of Job. Job is also an outsider…from Uz…which again, is a little like saying, “if there is a bright center in the universe, Uz is the planet that it’s farthest from”… Job has no claim to being part of the “in crowd,” nevertheless,  he is “blameless, and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1) and yet, horrible things happen to him…and his whole story is an extended argument about how this could be. It’s never really resolved. But I don’t think the Bible was ever intended to be a rule book with cut and dried answers for all of life’s questions. It’s an invitation to enter into a conversation with God and one another about what really matters in life….How we can go about faithfully determining what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s challenging, and often perplexing, but it’s one of the best tools we have to prepare us for being sent out.

We are being sent out into the world…”we do not belong to the world”, as Jesus says, but we are still in the world. But this world we’re being sent into is not a black and white one. It’s not even grayscale…it’s multi-hued…it’s a riot of color and shades and tones…let us go into it with eyes and hearts open, listening for and telling the stories that need to be told.

Amen.

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Posted on May 7, 2018

Preparing to be sent out—sermon for 6 May 2018

Preparing to be sent out

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Book of Common Prayer, p. 855

May 6, Sixth Sunday of Easter:

Psalm 98
Acts 10:44-48
;  1 John 5:1-6John 15:9-17

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

Turn to page 855 of the BCP, An Outline of the Faith or Catechism

What is the Mission of the Church?

“The mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”

Ok. That’s pretty broad and all-encompassing, but then so is God.

Next question: How does the church pursue its mission?

Answer: “as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.”

The church pursues it’s mission as it prays and worships…so being here…participating in this service…no matter what that participation looks like—if you are here—you are carrying out the mission of the Church.

But the church also pursues its mission as it proclaims the Gospel…that one requires a bit more than just being here…but remember Gospel simply means “good news”…and remember that our baptismal promise is to proclaim the Gospel “by word and example”. We proclaim the Gospel as much by how we live, how we treat others, how we work together toward common goals as we do through the words we say. In other words, to paraphrase St. Francis, “preach the Gospel always, use words if necessary.” But the words are still important.

Being able to say, “I’m a Christian”…or it’s because I’m a Christian that I do X, or believe this…” That’s really important, and probably a lot scarier in this day and age, than just being a good person. It might require more courage.

The church pursues it’s mission as it prays and worships, as it proclaims the Gospel…and promotes justice, peace, and love. There you go…it’s about how we live in the world. How we live in God’s world as faithful people.

Next question.

Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?

Answer: The church carries out its mission “through the ministry of all its members.”

Through the ministry of all its members. That’s you…and me…and as our reading from Acts points out…All on whom the Holy Spirit descends…it’s foolish to think that God’s work can only be done by only a certain group of people.

The church carries out its mission “through the ministry of all its members.” Let’s talk about the laity (that’s you)—and a pro-tip about the way the BCP is written—things that are more important, or preferred come first. So if the direction says, “the people stand or kneel” it means standing is preferred. If it says “the people kneel or stand” it means kneeling is preferred. So, notice how the ministers of the church are laid out…”Who are the ministers of the Church? The ministers are “lay persons bishops, priests, and deacons.”

So what is your ministry? It’s to carry out the mission of the Church… “to represent Christ and his Church, to bear witness to him wherever they may be”…wherever you go, you are representatives of Christ… “and according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world;” So, based on the gifts given to you by the Holy Spirit—your natural skills and abilities, or even just the tasks that you are called into, you are to go out—as I try to remind you every week—to go out and do the work God has given you to do—be engaged in God’s mission of restoring and reconciling. Whether that is as a student, a teacher, a lawyer, a financial analyst, a doctor, a nurse, an administrator, a small business owner, a parent, a grand parent, a child, a sibling…whatever it is you do for the other 167 hours of the week…that’s the mission of the church.

What we do here…and what we do when we’re not here. I told you, it’s all encompassing.

The fifty days of Easter are drawing to a close. Thursday (the 10th) marks the Ascension…the day the risen Christ ascends to the Father…on Pentecost we receive the Spirit and are empowered to carry on his work. Jesus, today, is getting us ready for this. Today, he reminds us—just as Kathy did last week—to abide in him…to remain attached to him—like branches are attached to the vine—remain attached through worship, and prayer, and community…we can’t do this alone. Abide in his love. Remain in his love. Stay attached to his love. Live out his commandment, which is what? “love one another as he has loved us.” Abide in that…and live it out…carry it out to others.

“I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” The fruit of restoration, the fruit of reconciliation, the fruit of peace, justice, and love…the fruit of mission.

As Easter draws to a close, Jesus is preparing us to be sent out…to visibly be his followers in the world…and today we’ll have some practice. At the end of the service, all are invited to join in a Rogation Procession around the church…you can read about it in the bulletin…we’ll go out of the church and offer prayers for our neighbors, for our common life, and for all creation…which we are called to restore to unity with God and one another.

That’s one way we’ll practice. Another is a “listening project” The Mission and Outreach Committee, with the help of many others in the Parish and a team from Episcopal City Mission, are undertaking. Over the next few weeks, a group of about 14 of us will be going out and inviting 3 or 4 people one at a time into conversation about what “mission” means here at All Saints. How are we living out God’s mission in this time and place? The goal is to hear your stories, your passions, and your questions about mission and outreach, so that the Mission and Outreach Committee can be more responsive to the  work that matters most to you. So that we can understand where God is calling us as a community to be focused in the next several years. To listen for those places that are longing for reconciliation, and reconnection. We won’t be able to get to everyone before the Mission and Outreach retreat on June 9th. But I hope these types of conversations can and will continue.

We are being prepared to be sent out…every Sunday…it is an all-encompassing mission…but it’s not an impossible one…these commandments are not burdensome…and we have each other and a great cloud of witnesses—saints and apostles—to rely on. And we have Jesus, the great High Priest…the good shepherd…the Alpha and Omega…the one who is and is to come…our brother…our friend…

Abide in him…and love one another…and God’s mission will be fulfilled.

Amen.

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Posted on May 5, 2018

The Vine Abides-homily for 30 April 18, Easter 5, Rite 13

 

The Vine Abides

Kathleen O’Donoghue, Family Minister

Homily for April 30, Easter 5 and Rite 13

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

 John 15:1-8  ”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

This morning I have the honor of speaking to our Rite 13 youth…Charlotte, Riley, Lucas and Nora. This is their day when we celebrate a rite of passage of sorts. It’s not Confirmation, that will come later, but an acknowledgement that becoming a teenager, becoming 13, is a time that you need support and encouragement and nourishment of the spiritual kind. It can be a scary time, filled with exciting possibilities for the future, but still tethered by the roots of being dependent on parents, teachers, community and church to help point you in the right direction and support your growth.

Now even though these words are specifically for our four teens today, they’ve assured me it’s OK if you all listen in and think about your own spiritual growth too.

When I saw the gospel text for the day I had to smile. I know that Becky Taylor really loved these verses and structured church school last year around the verse, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” When one thinks about nurturing and support of the children and youth of All Saints, Becky immediately springs to mind, as she was such a faithful source of nourishment and tending of their spirits.

I also had to smile because this is also MY favorite image of God and God’s people. As a very young child, I read these words weekly, as they were carved into the wood surrounding the chancel at St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Dorchester. At 7 I didn’t know much about growing vines, but each week I tried and tried to understand what Jesus meant by “I am the vine and you are the branches”. It was in fact a kind of prayer or meditation that I engaged in for years and I can’t help but think it shaped me as a follower of Jesus.

Finally I had to smile because I really can’t think of a better gospel lesson for our Rite 13 youth and this celebration today. 13 year olds in particular are in this magical place when they, where you, imagine they are invincible, can plan to be and to have anything they would want in the world and most of all, feel they can accomplish all this on their own. I say this to you all today, thirteen year olds, because I of course used to be 13, (can you imagine?) and I thought exactly the same thing about my future, my life and my own ability to navigate the world without the help of those annoying adults who kept telling me what I needed. Anybody else have this experience when they were 13? Look around you for a moment and see in what good company you find your selves! If there were ONE SINGULAR THING I would wish for you, one thing you would learn as you become older teens and young adults, it is that YOU SHOULD NOT TRY TO GROW UP ALONE. Our culture encourages individualism and following our own paths and making a mark based on our capacity to be entertaining (YouTube videos) or to get as many “likes” as possible on our Instagram pictures. None of these things is BAD in and of itself, but you just need MORE than this. We ALL need more than this, to flourish, to grown, to produce fruit in our lives.

Mentioning “producing fruit” brings us back to the vine and the branches. Thinking about that picture, Jesus being the vine, the large supportive structure of the grape plant, and we being the branches, the off shoots of that vine, is exactly right. We depend on Jesus, the vine for our spiritual nourishment, for our support, for our community surrounding us as we will surround you during your time of blessing here today. Thinking we can bear spiritual fruit without the vine is simply a mistake. Have you ever seen fruit that has begun to grow but then fell off the tree or plant and is lying on the ground? What does it look like? Its growth has stopped, it is not ripe (think about a green strawberry or tomato), it wouldn’t taste good if you picked it up off the ground and bit into it. Fruit needs the continued nourishment and water and sun that staying attached to the vine provides.

Maybe this all sounds pretty obvious and what control does a strawberry have if it gets detached from a vine anyway? Well, this is the thing about Jesus. You and I know and I think those listening to him that day knew, Jesus isn’t really talking about grapes on a vine or strawberries on a plant. He says “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” AH HA! Once again Jesus catches them, Jesus catches US, by talking about something they understand in their own lives and then makes a CONNECTION to his own purpose of helping them get ready for his departure, start to tell the Good News of the Gospel in the early church and most importantly, remain nourished and cared for in the presence of the Holy Spirit, which will sustain them, feed them, help them to produce fruit in their lives. Do you get it?

YOU are the fruit of the vine! Your parents or grandparents or your guardians have raised you and cared for you throughout your life, all thirteen years of it, to help you become the best fruit you can be! Ripe and full of life and nourishment for the world. And now it’s coming to a time in your life that you will start to decide if you want to remain, to abide, in that place where you can continue to be nourished and tended to or if you think you’re good and you can take it from here. I wonder what effect that decision will have on your fruit?

I’d like to make sure you know I’m not saying your family, your church, your school has to do everything for you. That’s not nurturing, that’s suffocating!

Here is however what all of those, family, school, sports, music groups, theatre and to me very critically CHURCH, can continue to do for and with you as you continue to grow and flourish into your life.

  • First is CARING. We at All Saints LOVE YOU and your changing teenage self. We want you to participate in worship, have a sense that prayer is powerful and know you have people here to whom you can tell anything, ANYTHING, without fear of judgment or laughter.
  • Next is CONNECTION. The people here will be here for you all through your teen years and as you enter adulthood. When you feel that you are absolutely and utterly alone in the world, and you will feel that way, call or text someone you know at All Saints.
  • Maybe most importantly, we offer COMMUNITY to you. In the past we have celebrated your firsts, listened to you sing with Schola, watched you acolyte and cheered when you didn’t set anything on fire! We celebrate you today at 13 and as you develop and create your own way in the world and we’ll do the same at your Confirmation, at your Graduation, when you send updates from college, when you marry and have your own family. Does all that sound fake or that we can’t promise this? It’s what the church has been doing for years, decades, centuries, millennia. The Church continues to abide in Jesus (the vine) and it will continue to do so into the future, forever. We are your community, we will offer you nourishment (physical and spiritual as a matter of fact), tend to your hearts, pray for your sorrows and celebrate your joys. Abide in us here and abide in Jesus. V5 “I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me, you can do noting” v8, “My father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

Stay in your church community. Remain and develop connections with each other, older teens to show you the way and adults who have been through it all before.

Abide with Jesus. Go to him in prayer, ask for help, share your joys, grow and mature in your faith.

Take that fruitful faith and share it with others. With family, with friends and perhaps most importantly with the folks you don’t know, the desperate, the hungry, the lonely. Show them Jesus in all our interaction with them and help them to see that He is the vine and that they may also abide in him. Become his disciples.

Amen.

 

 

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Posted on Apr 11, 2018

Where was Thomas?—homily for 8 April 2018

Where was Thomas?

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By Caravaggio – http://www.christusrex.org/www2/art/images/carav10.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6804893

April 8, Second Sunday of Easter:

Psalm 133;
Acts 4:32-35;  1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

 

I wonder where Thomas was.
That first night…
John’s account says, “When it was evening on that day…(that day being Easter)…the day that Mary Magdalene returned with this incredible story of seeing Jesus…Alive.
(She thought he was the gardener, but still), she saw him and ran and told the others, “I have seen the Lord.”
And they do what? Go into hiding. All except Thomas
That evening they are locked in, and afraid.
But not Thomas.
He’s not there.
I wonder what he was doing?

John’s gospel account gives us a picture of Thomas as one of the boldest disciples.
Thomas is willing to go with Jesus back to Bethany near Jerusalem after they hear that Lazarus has died. Everyone else is terrified that returning will result in them all being stoned to death.
But not Thomas. He’s the one who says, “Let’s all go so we can die with him!” (John 11:16)

In the non-biblical stories…the tradition that grew up around Thomas, he was the apostle who ventured the farthest. Legend says that he set off through Syria, and Persia, and made it as far Kerla along the west coast of India, and established a number of churches among the Jewish diaspora there. He may have traveled into Indonesia.
There are other legends, recorded by Jesuit missionaries in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, told by tribes in Paraguay, that a holy man—“Father Thomas”—one of the apostles, had lived among them, preached the gospels and performed miracles.
So maybe on the evening of THAT day, Thomas was hiding out somewhere else…but give what little we know about him, that seems unlikely. Thomas never appears to be a cowering sort…he’s a hands-on kind of guy…a doer.
So what was he doing?
We don’t know—I have some theories—but all John says is that he’s not in the room with the rest of them.
And what about that doubting….he doesn’t appear to be someone who lets his doubts—his skepticism—or his fear get in the way of actually doing something.
But this one incident gets him this unfortunate nickname—“Doubting” Thomas.
But come on…
Would you believe that group?
These are the same people who just a couple of days ago fled…deserted Jesus…publicly denied knowing him…
and now Thomas is just supposed to trust them again?

Let’s think about this doubt for a minute….
We live in a world that is seems to be simultaneously absolutely incredulous (disbelieving) and utterly gullible.
We both refuse to believe in certain things…and we believe in all kinds of other things with very little evidence.
We live in a world where: Show me…Prove it…Pics or it didn’t happen…
Operate side by side with truthiness, and fake news, and outright lies that no amount of facts can combat.
Everyday we are awash in “see it for yourself” images…raw, unfiltered footage of every manner of good and evil.
And we also awash in photoshopped, staged, promotional propaganda.
We’re all doubters (or we should be)…doubt, as they say, is not the opposite of faith…certainty is the opposite of faith. We all need to have a good deal of discernment about what we will or won’t believe.
And here’s one reason scripture is so powerful and necessary in a world like ours…because all that input…your favorite news show…all your subreddits and twitter and facebook feeds, your Netflix queue and all your Amazon recommendations…they all work towards encouraging you to believe that the world really does work exactly the way you think it does. They are all about confirming the status quo…The gospel very, very rarely affirms the status quo. The Gospel is always a challenge to the way we think the world works. It is always there and ready with examples that run counter whatever the status quo is…and it’s important to have that.
But that doesn’t help us with where Thomas was.
There’s a long standing scholarly debate about whether the author of the fourth gospel is the same as the author of this letter we heard today. Maybe they were the same person…or maybe just from the same community…one thing they share in common is this insistence on “what we have heard, and what we have seen with our eyes.”
And do you remember what John’s letter says next? “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands.”
Now in the Gospel story, none of the other disciples touch Jesus…they see and rejoice…but apparently it’s not just Thomas who touches…”We declare what we have heard…and seen…and touched with our hands.” The resurrection is not just something to believe in…it’s something that can be touched…and felt…and known…not just intellectually, but known in a tactile…embodied…cellular way.
So here’s my theory…as to why Thomas wasn’t there that first night.
I like to imagine that he wasn’t there because he wasn’t afraid, and was out doing what Jesus had taught him to do…healing…reconciling…ministering…I like to think that he was the one bold enough to carry on with the mission even with the leader dead.
Maybe Thomas isn’t there because, as we can see, he doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty, so maybe he’s out continuing to care for those wounded by Rome’s brutality…bandaging the bloodied heads, the crushed hands, the bodies wounded by the violence endemic in society …
the hearts bruised by loss, twisted by fear…the spirits battered by the demands of trying desperately to keep up…or souls diminished by being unable to provide basic sustenance for their families.
In other words, maybe Thomas is out being an apostle…carrying out the hard, messy work of God’s mission…bringing reconciliation…pressing for peace…advocating for justice…embodying shalom…
Maybe…And maybe John, through this famous scene with Jesus is connecting the wounds of Christ, with the wounds of the world….
And reminding us…that following Jesus means something other than overcoming doubt and “believing six impossible things before breakfast” (Through the Looking Glass) it means getting your hands dirty…
It means being willing to reach out and touch the wounds that we inflict on each other…in order to bring healing…
It means risking your heart, and being willing to step into the messy, difficult, and scary places of hurt and grief that are always left in the wake of violence…in order to bring peace…

Maybe Thomas wasn’t there that night because he was out doing that….
And maybe he is here every year, on the Sunday after Easter to remind us that following Jesus means bringing your whole self…doubt and all…and standing with others in difficult situations…it means being willing to look at and touch the wounds we inflict on one another….it means going out to be with the vulnerable…to those places of greatest need and to proclaim, “peace”… It means going out and making those connection…those real…tangible connections…because that’s where we truly discover the reality of the resurrection, and where we proclaim “our Lord, and our God.”

Amen.

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Posted on Apr 1, 2018

The Ship of Faith—homily for Easter Day

The Ship of Faith

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Photo Credit: Adam Heitzman Flickr via Compfight cc

Principal Service:
Psalm 118:1-2,14-24
;
Acts 10:34-43; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11Mark 16:1-8

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

They say, the ship of Theseus was preserved for centuries. Theseus, the legendary founder of ancient Athens, was so revered that the Athenians preserved his ship. They accomplished this by removing all of the old planks as they decayed and replacing them with new ones over and over again for hundreds and hundreds of years. Which creates this paradoxical thought experiment…if all the timbers have been replaced, is it still the same ship?

This same paradox gets told as “my grandfather’s ax.” This is the ax my grandfather gave me, the handle broke and had to be replaced several times, and the head wore out and had to be replaced several times, but I would never buy a new ax, because this is the one that belonged to my grandfather.

All Saints Parish was founded 124 years ago this November. I dare say, no here this morning was there at the time. Yes, the building is still here…lovingly tended to (we replace things periodically)…but the true timbers of this ship of faith…the wood…the warp and weft of this body of the faithful…have all been replaced…many times…over several generations…Is it still the same church? Are we still the same church?

Are we still part of the same Diocese that was founded in 1784, when Samuel Seabury was consecrated as Bishop of New England and New York, the first bishop in the Episcopal Church?

Are we still part of the same church that was reformed by Elizabeth I (and many other reformers) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries?

Are we still the same church of Gregory the great in the sixth century, Gregory who sent Christian missionaries into northern Europe, including the British Isles, and established Christian outposts there?

Are we still the same church that Paul writes to today? The church in Corinth…Which is (by the way) as close as we get to any actual witnesses at the tomb that morning. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth around the year 50, only a few decades after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus—his are some of the earliest writings we have…Mark and Luke (who wrote Acts) came much later. Are we still that church?

In many ways, the answer has to be…”of course not.” There are too many cultural and historical changes that happened between the first, sixth, sixteenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twenty-first centuries.

On the other hand…

“I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received… through which also you are being saved…(This is Paul talking to the Corinthians, but he might as well be talking to us). “For I handed on to you…what I in turn had received…that Christ died, and that he was buried…that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures…that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred, most of whom are still alive… Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, he appeared to me.”

This is what I proclaim, says Paul, and “so you have come to believe.”

Paul had an experience of the resurrected Jesus. And so did many others. Which he then told others about.

And did you notice that all we heard today was someone else’s report about Jesus’s resurrection?

We didn’t actually see Jesus this morning…just heard about the resurrection from others. This young man in the tomb, Peter, Paul, the writers of our hymns…me…

Thousands of people down through the centuries. I bet there are some here who have had an experience of the resurrected Jesus…

This mysterious figure sitting in the tomb, robbed in white, tells us that Jesus isn’t here, and then says, “but go and tell the others…He is going ahead of you, and you will see him, just as he promised.”

Go and tell others, and you will see him. There’s a connection between telling others and seeing Jesus.

They must have done that, because not long after this people start telling stories about meeting strangers on the road. Strangers who open up the scriptures to them, and then when they invite him to eat, he takes bread, and blesses, and breaks it, and Jesus is revealed as real and present in their midst, which is just what we do today in the Eucharist…modified to be sure, but in essence very much the same as it was 100, 500, 1000, 1500, and almost 2000 years ago.

They must have told the story, because soon others see the Risen Christ in locked rooms, and on a beach, and on the road…wherever they are feeling lost, and hopeless, whenever their hearts are breaking, or sometimes they’re just going about their day…laughing with those who laugh, and weeping with those who weep…and in the midst of that daily existence…Jesus is revealed to them. And what we have inherited is their testimony…and these ritual practices…

This ship…this church…is the same, because these traditions…open us up to be able to experience of the Divine in our own lives…they help us see God acting in the world…they help us learn how to be human…(which is not as easy as it sounds)…they teach us how to live in community…how to truly belong…our traditions recognize that we are going to get it wrong…we’re going to mess up all of this up, and make mistakes…and so our traditions help us heal the wounds…and bind up the brokenness…And we’ve been at this…doing it very imperfectly…for a very long time.

Gustav Mahler is often credited with this quote. Apparently, he did say it, but he was quoting it from a German translation of Thomas More. I’ve googled it and can’t find the true origin of the quote, but that doesn’t make it less poignant, or less true…

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”

We are not here this morning, to simply commemorate something that happened some two millennia ago…we are not worshipping or preserving the ashes of some long deconstructed ship…we are the tenders of a flame… We are the keepers of a light that shines in the darkness…and the darkness cannot overcome. We are the tellers of tales, and the singer of songs…songs and stories that tell of the power of life over death, of hope over fear, of love that embraces all and never ends…

“You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified.  He has been raised. He is and is not here. Go and tell others…tend the flame…shine the light…he is going ahead of you…you will see him, just as he told you.”

Amen.

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Posted on Mar 18, 2018

Breaking hearts—sermon for 18 March 2018, Lent 5

Breaking Hearts

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Photo Credit: Jeannette E. Spaghetti Flickr via Compfight cc

March 18, Fifth Sunday in Lent:

Psalm 51:1-13 or 119:9-16;
Jeremiah 31:31-34Hebrews 5:5-10John 12:20-33

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

“And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’?  No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”

This is a different approach to Christ’s passion than in the other, synoptic Gospels. There, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus prays something similar to this…but the core question is different.

On the night of his arrest, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have Jesus, alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, in great distress, praying “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me,” (Matthew 26:39). It’s a real plea. It’s only in John—where Jesus is revealed at the beginning to be the Divine Logos—the Word of God—where this question is rhetorical.

Should I say, “Father, save me from this hour?” No, it is for this that I have come.

But if one of the primary lessons Jesus is trying to teach us, as I pointed out last week, is how to be human (so that we can reveal the divine within), then this has to be a real question, I think. Do I really have to go through with this?…Are you sure?… It’s a very human appeal that is encoded into one of our most beloved prayers.

We use the contemporary language version of the Lord’s Prayer here most Sundays. It’s the version that was developed in the wake of Vatican II in the 60s and was revised again in the 80s [Praying Together,
English Language Liturgical Consultation Copyright © 1988]. There’s a line in it that used to be, “Lead us not into temptation,”  but now goes, “Save us …. from…the time of trial.”

There are many very excellent linguistic and theological reasons for this change, but there are two aspects that are relevant today.

1. We need to be clear—no matter which version we are using—that when we come to this line, we’re not proclaiming that God intentionally leads us into any kind of temptation, or sets up tests for us to undergo. God is not some kind of mad scientist concocting various bizarre mazes for us rats to run just to see what will happen.

2. Trials and tests and challenges are inevitable in life…heartbreak and failure just come with the package.

In praying to be saved from the time of trial we’re not asking to be given a pass. “God, can you just write us a note, so we don’t have to do this?” No. We’re praying that when the storms come…and they will…that no matter what God will be with us and will save us…just as God saves Jesus (God’s own self). So in all of the other Gospels, when Jesus comes to this point—this very human point of, “really? Are you sure?” And asks, “if it’s possible, let this cup pass from me,” he always follows it with what? “But not my will, but yours”…or “not what I want but what you want.” Of course we also say this in that prayer we pray every week. In fact it comes right at the beginning….”Your kingdom come, your will be done—not ours—Gods.” And as Jesus points out today…we still have to go through it…the seed still has to die—in order to bear fruit. The trial will come. We will have to relinquish our control…empty ourselves…turn it all over to God. I think it’s a nod to the reality that in our path back to God—our path to becoming human our hearts will be broken.

Author and teacher, Parker Palmer, writes: “There is no way to be human without having one’s heart broken.” [The Broken-Open Heart: Living with Faith and Hope in the Tragic Gap, by Parker J. Palmer]

In learning to become human, our hearts—our seed—our deepest self will be broken. But Palmer points out, that there are at least two different ways for this heart-core to break.

The first is that it can be broken so that it shatters into a thousand shards, what he calls, “sharp-edged fragments that become shrapnel aimed at the source of our pain.” This kind of broken heart is an unresolved wound…that “we carry it with us…feeding it […], sometimes trying to ‘resolve it’ by inflicting the same wound on others.”

The other way of having a heart broken is this. Palmer, says, “Imagine that small, clenched fist of a heart “broken open” into largeness of life, into greater capacity to hold one’s own and the world’s pain and joy.”

This is when heartbreak becomes a source of compassion…when our capacity for empathy is enlarged.

And it’s also biblical. There is a beautiful midrash—rabbinic interpretation—of the portion of Jeremiah we read today, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

The interpretation goes like this: “A disciple asks the rebbe, “Why does Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon your hearts’? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?” The rebbe answers, “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.”

Parker Palmer, concludes: “In Christian tradition, the broken-open heart is virtually indistinguishable from the image of the cross. It [is] on the cross that God’s heart [is] broken for the sake of humankind, broken open into a love that [we, as] Christ’s followers are called to emulate. […] The cross-beams stretch out four ways, pulling against each other left and right, up and down. But those arms converge in a center, a heart, that can be pulled open by that stretching, by the tensions of life—a heart that can be opened so fully it can hold everything from despair to ecstasy. And that, of course, is how Jesus held his excruciating experience, as an opening into the heart of God.”

What should I say? Father, save me from this hour? No it is for this that I have come…I have come to show you how to have your heart broken open so that the Word falls in, so that you can expand your capacity to hold everything…

We’re about to enter Holy Week. And the liturgies from Palm Sunday to Easter morning—and especially the liturgy of the Triduum (Maundy Thusday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil) have evolved over centuries to give us some experience of this…to help guide us through this time of trial…to give us some practice having our hearts cracked open and expanded. If you’ve never experienced the whole thing, I encourage you to set aside the time to do so. It can be a deeply transformative experience. If you regularly participate in the Triduum liturgies, you’ll know that each year is a little different. This year Chris and Jessica and I have planned services that emphasize these themes of sacrifice and expansiveness—of emptying, giving over—and the slow but persistent growth that emerges from going through…and turning ourselves over to God, so that God’s will be done.

Father, what should we say, save us from this? No, it is for this that we have come. To know you, and to know the fullness of life, the fullness of your love, the fullness of our humanity…to hold with you in our broken-open, God-centered hearts all that you love.

Amen.

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