Posted on Sep 15, 2017
The Daughters of the King will be hosting a Quiet Day of Prayer and Reflection on Saturday, 16 September 2017, from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Come encounter many different ways to pray, whether you stay for 20 minutes or four hours. The sanctuary will be open with multiple self-service prayer stations, including rosaries, journaling, and icons. Group prayer activities will take place in the Guild Room
9:00 am — Morning Prayer
10:00 am — Lectio Divina
11:00 am — Praying with the Body
12:00 pm — Centering Prayer
1:00 pm — Noonday Prayer
The labyrinth will be available in the dining room from 11am to 1pm. Also, there will be an opportunity to practice prayer in daily activity, as well as provide a community service, in helping chop chicken in the kitchen at 10am in preparation for the Manna meal service. DOK members will be available throughout the Quiet Day to assist with prayer stations and to pray with you individually if you wish. If you have any questions, please contact Monica Burden.Read More
The Subversive Kingdom
July 30, 2017, Proper 12A
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Sermon by Sarah Brock
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast.
The kingdom of heaven is like hidden treasure.
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant.
The kingdom of heaven is like a net.
Have you understood all this? .
Are you sure??
Given their track record, I have to wonder if the disciples truly understood what Jesus was trying to tell them with these parables. But they at least had the advantage of context. Jesus fires off a series of similes here to connect with individuals from a variety of backgrounds: farmers, women, land owners, merchants, fishermen. He uses language and circumstances that were integral to the everyday lives of his audience. And, each model he presents offers a small taste of God’s kingdom.
Unlike the disciples, we have the significant disadvantage of distance in time, in place, and in language; making it even more challenging to understand what Jesus is trying to tell us with these models.
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.
These first two parables are often paired together because they have so much in common. Both indicate a small, humble beginning that transforms into something of great size and hospitality.
The mustard seed is the tiniest seed that grows into a tree that welcomes the birds to nest. The yeast is mixed in with flour, unnoticed until it reacts and grows into enough leavened dough to feed over a hundred people. But, these parables are not only about the power or impact of the smallest members.
The mustard tree begins life resembling a weed more than anything else and grows into a relatively small, bush-like tree often as wide as it is tall with a crooked trunk. This is no tall, strong cedar, representing power and majesty. Jesus could hardly have chosen a more scandalous tree to represent the Kingdom.
The yeast in the second parable is also not quite what is heard by our modern ears. Like me, those of you who are bakers probably buy your yeast in tidy little packets or jars from the grocery store. However, this is not what Jesus is referring to here. The leaven Jesus is talking about was a fermenting bit of dough saved over then hidden and kneaded into flour to make bread. Leaven, with its secretly penetrating and diffusive power is most frequently used as a negative symbol of corruption and sin.
Both the mustard tree and the yeast offer models of a kingdom with small, unexpected, and subversive beginnings. Offering the comfort that God’s kingdom is taking root even if you can’t always perceive it. But, also a reminder of the discomfort in the unconventional, unexpected, and even controversial ways in which the Kingdom brings about life and justice.
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Like the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast, these two also have a great deal in common in that they both speak to the value of God’s Kingdom. But again, there is a subversive element threading through these models.
There is the ethical question implicitly embedded in the timeline of the parable of the treasure. Buying a field where you’ve already stumbled upon buried treasure- who does that treasure really belong to? The previous or new owner of the land? Jesus seems to be offering an analogy not only of the immense value and joy of the kingdom of heaven, but also of humanity’s ownership (or lack thereof) of the kingdom.
Then, in contrast to the unexpected and unintentional discovery of the treasure, Jesus continues by comparing the Kingdom to a merchant carefully seeking out one individual pearl. Effectively highlighting the roles of humanity and God in bringing about the Kingdom; continuing to turn worldly ideas of possession and human power upside down.
The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into the baskets but threw out the bad.
Jesus finishes with one final reminder of divine providence and lack of human control and power over God’s Kingdom.
Have you understood all this? .
Are you sure?
Even with a deeper look into the context and nuances of these parables, they are still only models to help us wrap our heads around a complex, somewhat abstract event. And, as much as they help us to understand and communicate what is beyond words, models still have limitations in conveying the fullness of their subjects.
Love is an open door.
Love is blind.
Love is a battlefield.
But, do any of these models really do justice to what it truly is to love and be loved?
Grief is like the ocean.
Grief is a passage not a place to stay.
Grief is like a snowflake.
But, do any of these really name what it is to lose something or someone we don’t know how to live without?
A topographical map doesn’t touch the feeling of looking out at the vast expanse below from the top of a mountain after an exhausting hike. Or the sense of smallness and powerlessness of walking through a narrow canyon while only a thin strip of sky peaks through above.
We long so much for the comfort and safety of understanding, that we fail to look for the subversive aspects of the models we rely on and we fail to look for the ways in which they fall short.
It’s easier and safer to picture a grand American Elm, growing tall and strong on our street in Boston. A packet of active yeast from the grocery store down the street is tidy and manageable. But, in looking for the Elm, we may miss the beginnings of a mustard tree. That little packet of yeast doesn’t carry the same history and power for feeding people as the starter dough that’s been passed from kitchen to kitchen. We just might miss being caught in that net if we’re too busy deciding for ourselves who does and does not belong.
This week I have a two part challenge for you and for myself. First, what parables would you tell a friend or neighbor to talk about the kingdom of heaven? Second, what are the models that you hang your faith on? It might be a model for who God is, how you understand the Trinity, how you you explain sin or suffering, or any number of starting points. I mean look at how many parables Jesus tells throughout the Gospels! Take a moment to sit with these models. What are the challenging or subversive bits that are hiding beneath the tidily packaged surface?
Have you understood all this? .
Are you sure?
May you find a home among the branches and nourishment in the bread.
May you find treasure hidden in the field and redemption by the Merchant. May you be caught up in the net.
May you answer ‘yes.’
Can these bones live?
April 2, Fifth Sunday in Lent:
Draft text of the homily, please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.
O mortal, can these bones live again?
O Lord God, only You know.
We live in a deeply divided country.
I’m sure that’s not news to you. It’s just the truth. We all know this. For years, in the US, we’ve been shown maps of blue states and red states…occasionally someone does a county by county map that tries to show that we’re really all purple…but we all feel that the levels of polarization, and divisiveness seems to have reached historic levels. There’s not a lot we agree on.
One thing most American can agree on (seventy-one percent of us in a recent poll) is that the United States is losing its national identity…
Seventy-one percent think that our beliefs and values as a country are no longer clear…
We agree on that. What we disagree on is what those core beliefs and values are…or should be…it seems that the truths we hold are no longer so self-evident.
The good news is, that things like “Judicial fairness, [the] liberty and freedom granted by the Constitution, [and] the ability to achieve the American dream,” those are things that the vast majority of us agree are core to the American identity.
But there’s still a awful lot that divides us. For instance, whether we are, or should be, primarily a culture grounded in Christian religious beliefs…and the mores of our earliest European immigrant ancestors… Or whether we are, or should be, primarily mix of cultures and values from all parts of the world.
Republicans and Democrats in this poll responded very differently to those core identifiers.
Here’s something else most people agreed on, “More than half of Americans say the political polarization of the nation is extremely or very threatening, and another 34 percent say it is moderately threatening.”
We know these divisions are dangerous…but we have yet to see a way through them that we can agree on.
Can these bones live?
O Lord, only you know.
But let’s be honest…political divisions are just one facet of this divisive diamond.
It’s not just partisan politics that divide us: there’s a profound Urban/Rural split, there’s Whites and people of color, men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals, transgender and cisgender, the 1% the 99%, the religious and the spiritual but not religious, the employed and the unemployed, those with homes and those without, and let’s not forget the generational divides between the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers, Gen-X’ers, and Millennials. Everywhere you turn you are confronted with the stark reality of people who see the world fundamentally differently than you do.
We are living in a time of tremendous disruption. Of monumental and possibly unprecedented change. A “paradigm shift” some might call it. All of the institutions that the those of you in your sixties and older grew up with, all the institutions that you were taught to rely on have changed, or crumbled, or been so reconfigured they’re almost unrecognizable. Those institutions (government, the church, education, the media, etc. …) were already changing so rapidly that my generation never really learned to fully trust them. And the generation that is now moving into leadership positions never knew those older iterations of our institutions and consequently have a new set of norms and expectations for how things work…what’s important…and how best to achieve it.
Can these bones live?
O Lord, only you know.
The prophet Ezekiel had an impossible task. His writing spans an intense 20 year period in Israel’s history…about 590 to 570 BCE…the earliest years of the Babylonian exile. During this period, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. And the Judeans, the people of the Southern Kingdom, were very literally a divided nation…part of them (the unskilled, the poor) remaining in Judea, in the countryside around Jerusalem, and another part (the court, the skilled, the educated) living in captivity in the urban centers of Babylon. What Ezekiel gives voice to is the profound challenge they faced, of how to maintain their communal identity, outside of their homeland, with no Temple—no central institution—and no real leadership.
When Ezekiel is taken by God and set down in that valley of bones there is no end in sight to this situation. Two or more generations would grow up with the reality of exile before they made their way back.
It was a time of tremendous disruption. Everything they knew was in flux…their faith in all their institutions, and all their leaders…their faith in themselves…their faith in God…had been shaken to the core…What even was the core? Who were they in this new landscape? Could they maintain an identity, or would they disappear forever…
The narratives of exile (the prophets: Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and many of the minor prophets) resonate deeply for me now…they express this uncanny sense that I think many feel…the sense of being lost in a world not entirely of our own making…of being caught up in a world where things appear familiar, but, scratch the surface and they’re not. They describe this acute sense of being alienated from something central…something core… in a world of massive, and possibly cataclysmic, divisions. And they express a deep, passionate longing for genuine reconciliation, for true and abiding communities in which to live.
Can these bones live? O Lord, you know.
One of the powerful ironies of our time, is that we have so many choices about our communities…there are myriad communities that we could belong to…and yet…in the midst of all these choices, it is still community—real community— that we are starved for. Because we can choose to belong (or not) to any number of communities…we can often end up in a self-imposed exile surrounded only by people who are just like us… only seeing things that already confirm our own biases. And that starves us of true community…of life, and growth, and health.
We crave community. We are desperate for true community…community that doesn’t dismiss or paper over real difference, or that insists that others are welcome…but welcome only to become just like us…the communities we so desperately need are ones that hold those tensions…communities that are open to and safe for difference, that are generous with grace and plenteous with forgiveness.
All Saints strives to be such a community. And our community—our Parish is not just the worshipping communities that gather here on the weekend. People come here, week after week, to find healing in twelve step groups. People come here, week after week, to find wholeness, and challenge, and beauty, through music and arts groups. People come here week after week seeking a safe and hospitable place for their children in nursery school. About three times as many people come here each week to participate in one of the groups listed in the calendar as do who come here for worship.
And I think we share more with them than just our building…We share with them this hunger for community…a deep desire for a place where we don’t feel exiled from our best selves…from our core selves… a place where we can find healing, and wholeness, and support for our joys and our struggles. Where we can explore our relationships with God or our Higher Power, or however you define that…We share with them, and with so many others in our world, a deep and passionate desire for a place where hope, and beauty, and meaning can be found, and made together, even in the midst of so much that looks hopeless, and ugly, and meaningless.
Can these bones live? God knows…and this is God’s promise. This is the promise of Easter… “I will open your graves…and I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.” This is our promise and our calling to live in community…in true community…in communion…with God and with all our neighbors.
Open our graves, O God, and may it be so.
Hear, O Israel
March 5, First Sunday in Lent:
Draft text of the homily, please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.
“Hear, Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your being and with all your might…”
And you know how the rest goes…
“And you shall love your neighbor as yourself…”
Here’s how it continues…”And these words I charge you today shall be upon your heart. And you shall rehearse them to your [children] and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you go on your way and when you lie down and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as circlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and in your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Alter Translation)
It’s known in Hebrew as the Shema, (from the word “to hear”—Shema Israel—Hear, Israel); it has been called the creed and the catechism of our Jewish siblings.
It’s part of our creed as well. This we affirm…that God is one, and this is what we are to do…love God with all our heart and all our being (really our “life-breath” our essence) and all our might. And we are to teach this to our children, and remember this when we rise, and when we fall asleep, when we leave and when we return…this knowledge and practice should always be at hand…should always be before us.
It’s Jesus (the divine son of God, and the Jewish Rabbi) who long after this confrontation in the wilderness we hear about today, adds the familiar coda to it…a summation of the whole rest of the Torah which reminds us of the whole reason God puts humans into creation in the first place…we are put in the garden…in creation…”to till it and keep it.” We’re here to take care of…creation and each other…to be the servants of…all of creation. And Jesus sums this up by adding a phrase to the Shema, “and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these,” he says (Mark 12:31)
The Shema—this creed—this core value—is what lies behind, and beneath, and echoes through this whole conversation that Jesus has with this “tempter.”
His first response, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” comes from Deuteronomy 8, and is taken from a long passage warning not to forget God—not to forget these core values—in times of prosperity.
In the wilderness God fed the Israelites with manna in order to “make you understand that that one does not live by bread alone,” but now, you’re about to enter into the promised land so:
“Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments…When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God…Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is [God] who gives you power to get wealth.” (NRSV)
Do not say to yourself, “my power and the might of my own hand have gained this wealth.”
It’s all gift…everything is gift…but we are often tempted to take credit for all kinds of things…
The next two temptations: to religious pride, and to political power (isn’t it interesting that the last temptation is framed in a way that presumes that “all the kingdoms of the world” are already under demonic control…) to these temptations Jesus responds with other quotes from Deuteronomy, this time from the chapter 6 which begins with the Shema. And again with echoed warnings about forgetting what we’re supposed to be about.
When the LORD your God, “brings you to the land that [God] swore…to give you—[the] great and goodly towns that you did not build, and houses filled with all good that you did not fill, and hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant,” (sounds like the world we have all been born into), “you will eat and be sated. Watch yourselves, lest you forget…” (Deut 6:10-12, Alter trans.).
Watch yourselves, lest you forget…but we always do. This is supposed to be the core…the non-negotiable teaching…That God is one and that we are to be in loving relationship with God and with all God has created…we are to “till and keep” creation…loving God and loving our neighbor…and how are we doing with that?
Jesus easily deflects these temptations because he’s Jesus, but also because he is grounded in scripture and never, ever forgets this core principle.
But in the midst of multiplying temptations we forget, we take credit for it all ourselves, we just get it wrong. We act much more like the humans in the Genesis passage.
This is not a simple story, and deserves a longer study, but three details stand out that illustrate how humans typically respond when we forget this core truth. The first is: by amending the command. God says, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;” except this one.
But that’s not the way the woman says it. She corrects the serpent…God didn’t say we couldn’t eat of any tree, God said we can’t eat of this one, but then she adds…“nor shall you touch it.” But God never said that. She adds another injunction to the divine command…She’s never seen talking to God, so we have no idea where this comes from, and maybe it’s meant to be helpful (if we can’t eat it, better to not even touch it) but it sets up the rest of the temptation.
The second detail is that once the serpent responds she starts to overthink the situation.
She sees that it’s good for food, and that it’s pretty to look at, but not just pretty…it’s actually “lust to the eyes” (“delight” is a little too restrained here—she’s got an intense desire “to see” and “to know”)…so she takes the fruit (although I like to imagine that she touched it first because, remember she thinks she’s not even supposed to touch it), and when nothing bad happens then, she thinks “Ok…might as well eat it.”
The third detail is this: “She took of the fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.” He’s standing right there the whole time. He doesn’t correct her. He doesn’t argue with her. He doesn’t tell the serpent to take a hike…he just goes along.
So here we are this morning; the vast majority of us living in houses we did not build, filled with things that we by and large did not make. We eat our fill of food we did not grow. We’re happy when the Dow goes up—when our silver and gold is multiplied—and it is so very easy to forget God, to think “my power and the might of my hand did this.” As our society become more complicated, and more fragmented, our temptations multiply and out opportunities for sinning…for “missing the mark”…expand exponentially…temptations to subtly amend those core demands “we can till and keep this part of the garden…but not that,” “we’ll serve them but not them”, “we’ll love God and our neighbors when it’s convenient”…Temptations to overthink…to act too quickly…too rashly…Temptations to stand aside and do nothing…to keep quiet…to wait…It’s a long list of possible temptations…a great litany of things…things done and things left undone, right?
How do we stay connected? To God, and to one another? How do we return to that core teaching? How do we continually remember that God is God and we are not? How do we remember that we are to work with God in tilling and keeping the world…in tending and serving our neighbors? Lent is a time to really work on these connections. To reconnect with this core…to hear once again the call to love God and our neighbors in new ways; to reengage with the practices that give life, and to put aside those habits that deplete life.
May God’s grace and mercy fill us and strengthen us to face our temptations, and remember that the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And we are to love the LORD our God with all our heart and with all our being and with all our might…” And that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves…Always.