Sermon: Whose Kingdom?

Proper 22, Year B, RCL
7 October 2018

There’s a comedic fantasy series you may be aware of, commonly called the Discworld books, by the late and great Terry Pratchett. If you haven’t read any Pratchett and want to, you can google up whole flowcharts as to which of the many books in this series you want to start with, but personally, my favorites are the ones in which Granny Weatherwax appears. Granny Weatherwax is an old and cantankerous witch, who doesn’t hold with highfalutin educated language but is very powerful and dedicated to helping people in need — the salt of the earth but definitely not the sugar of the earth. In one of these books, she has a conversation with a young man about the nature of sin.

“There is a very interesting debate raging at the moment on the nature of sin, for example,” says the young man.
“And what do they think? Against it, are they?” answered Granny.
“It’s not as simple as that. It’s not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of gray.”
“Nope.”
“Pardon?”
“There’s no grays, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people like things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.”
“It’s a lot more complicated than that–“
“No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”
“Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes–“
“But they starts with thinking about people as things…”

Today’s readings are all about the consequences of thinking about people as things. Let’s start with the gospel. When I was growing up, this gospel passage was one of the scary texts that people would use against others. “Don’t get divorced!” seemed to be the main thrust of it. “And if you do get divorced, you can’t remarry or you’ll have broken one of the Ten Commandments!” And nobody ever made a distinction between men and women in talking about these verses — the assumption was that this saying of Jesus applied in the same manner both to husbands and to wives. And given his talk with his disciples, it does seem like that. Continue reading “Sermon: Whose Kingdom?”

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Sermon: Taken, Blessed, Broken, Given

Proper 14, Year B, RCL
12 August 2018

I try not to look at Facebook too much these days — or at least, when I get on there, I scroll as quickly as possible through all the random photos and links and placards of outrage and shallow quotations and horrifying news, just looking for the basic updates of my friends’ lives. But even as I scroll past all of that, I can’t help some things just sticking with me.

One of those things was a picture. A small child, a refugee, who had been separated from her family, found herself with a piece of chalk. With the chalk, she drew an outline of her mother on the hard concrete. Then she curled up in a little ball over the chalk-mother’s heart and went to sleep.

Now, like a lot of you, I have been pretty exhausted of my capacity for galvanizing rage and compassion. So the reason why I keep returning to this image in my mind has less to do with a feeling of urgency to help that particular child and others like her, and more to do with how that child, that particular child, is bearing witness to something going on in all of our hearts.

A person can be provided for with all the basics necessary for physical life — food, clean water, safe shelter, warmth. But cut a person off from their source of blessing — from the gaze and the voice telling them that they are loved and claimed permanently — and they become lost and bewildered. The basic provisions become irrelevant, even useless. This is a wound that can follow us all of our lives, and so we find ourselves trying to get back to the source somehow, drawing in chalk a placeholder image that we can go to for our blessing.

Elijah found himself in a similar situation. He fled into the wilderness because the king of Israel was seeking out the prophets of God and putting them to death. He was trying to exterminate the very ones who were called to keep God’s people connected with their source of blessing. He was exhausted and heartsick. He said to God, “I am no better than my ancestors. Just kill me.”

Now why would Elijah say that, if he is the prophet trying to recall Israel to their best selves? His failure to speak an effective word was so devastating that it seemed to drag him down along with his people. His failure has cut him off from the same sense of blessing he was trying to bear witness to. He is exhausted and heartsick. So what does God do about this? Well, the first thing God does…is feed him. God doesn’t try to argue with Elijah, not yet. God feeds Elijah, and Elijah finds the strength to get up and walk to Mount Horeb. To Mount Horeb, the historical place where Israel was incorporated as a people. God gives Elijah what he needs so that he can get back to the source, where, in the next passage, he will discuss the problem with God and decide what to do about it.

And in today’s passage from the Gospel of John, Jesus makes explicit what is implied by Elijah’s story. Yes: it is important to feed the people of God with physical food — generously, abundantly, ungrudgingly. And what makes that feeding effective and worthwhile — the point of feeding people — is so that they will feel the contact between themselves and the source of their blessing. Jesus says baldly: “I am the bread of life. I am the source of your blessing. I am God’s Word spoken to you, to claim you and name you the Beloved. Believe. This physical food keeps your body going, but it’s the blessing that will give you the real life. And you can try to draw this blessing for yourself, but…it’s just chalk. The real Source draws you.”

We can see from these passages what it means to need our source of blessing. We can see that it’s a deeper and more fundamental need even than food and water. And we can see what it is to cut someone else off from that source, because all of us have some idea of what it’s like to be cut off ourselves. The monk and theologian Henri Nouwen says: “To be chosen as the Beloved of God is something radically different. Instead of excluding others, it includes others. Instead of rejecting others as less valuable, it accepts others in their own uniqueness. It is not a competitive, but a compassionate choice. Our minds have great difficulty in coming to grips with such a reality. Maybe our minds will never understand it. Perhaps it is only our hearts that can accomplish this. Every time we hear about ‘chosen people’, ‘chosen talents’, or ‘chosen friends’, we almost automatically start thinking about elites and find ourselves not far from feelings of jealousy, anger, or resentment. Not seldom has the perception of others as being chosen led to aggression, violence, and war.” We cannot afford to be jealous of our blessing. To hoard the blessing is to kill it.

In today’s reading from the letter to the Ephesians, we hear this: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, for that Spirit is the seal with which you were marked for the day of final liberation…. Be generous to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you. In a word, as God’s dear children, you must be like him. Live in love as Christ loved you and gave himself up on your behalf, an offering and sacrifice whose fragrance is pleasing to God.”

Just like the bread that Jesus held up at the feeding of the multitude, just like the bread that we will watch the priest hold up in the Eucharist, God has taken us up: chosen us. God has pronounced a blessing over us. With our consent God breaks us; and then God gives us away. Just like Jesus. Not just chalk.

Our mission…should we choose to accept it…is to magnify, propagate, and channel the Source of blessing, through our very brokenness, through our very exhaustion, through our very complicity in the sins of our people. These are the conditions — there are no others — in which God sustains us, and draws us, and gives us what we need to keep going. Our very exhaustion, if we make an offering of it, is something God can use. After all, Jesus took a boy’s lunch and served it to five thousand people. And then he sent his disciples out with baskets to collect the leftovers, “so that nothing will be lost.”

Realize: God is paying attention to the broken pieces. Because those pieces have been personally blessed. God will not see one person lost. God will not see one person left unchosen. So when we give our alms today, let us make an offering of ourselves as we actually are. And when we take communion, let it give us the strength that we need. And when we share our lives together, let us remember that it is God who does the impossible stuff. Our jobs are bite-sized jobs. Let us taste and see that the Lord is good, and take joy in trusting him.

Let us pray again together today’s Collect.

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Becoming Beloved Community

Rev. Martha Frances

Meditation for Saturday Noonday Prayer—-Rivendell General Chapter—-23 Jun 18

Becoming Beloved Community

Becoming—always in process, moving toward s/he whom Godde continues to call each of us as gift we’re to be in the world.

Beloved—being loved, a receptive stance, open & accepting, drawn to the lover by the sheer power of holy desire, the anticipation of being created & creating anew

Community—those transformed by the lover’s compelling joyous creation, that imitate the multiplicity of their one creator by gathering in holy community where they respond in awe & adoration with the work of the people to worship, to further create, to accept & welcome, to care for & witness to their living into their own sense of being beloved & playing their gift forward to widen the sacred circle of beloveds

The sacred circle welcomes both those easily beloved & those who bother us the most for our Godde reaches those who most need to be beloved, all of us muddling through community-building & living into Godde’s reign.  

May we in Rivendell continue the journey our creator loves us into day by day.

 

Sermon: The Hidden Kingdom

Proper 6, Year B, RCL
17 June 2018

When I was growing up my family used to have a subscription to the National Geographic magazine, and I always looked forward to seeing the maps and pictures of artifacts and amazing vistas from all over the world. I would pore over each new issue looking for glimpses of the world beyond what I could see by walking out my own front door.

But some of the articles were not simply fascinating; they gave me a frisson of sympathetic horror — underwater photos taken of debris from the Titanic, bones in ancient tombs, glyphs and monuments of civilizations destroyed long ago. One image has stuck with me: I can still call it vividly to mind. It was from one of the articles about the city of Pompeii, destroyed by an eruption of the volcano in whose shadow it lived. Archaeologists had not only uncovered the city interrupted in its daily life and preserved in all its detail like a fly in amber; they had also found the remains of people caught in their very attempt to save themselves. One such cluster of bones had been preserved so perfectly that you could see exactly what their last moments had been like: a large skeleton, curled shieldingly around a smaller skeleton, curved still more protectively over a tiny one.

Of these three people there is nothing for us to know, except this. Only their bones are left to testify to us about their lives and deaths. Their names, their occupations, their experiences, are all hidden in the flow of ash and time that exiled them from us living in the present.

Bones don’t seem like much of a testimony. But to the twentieth-century scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, bones and fossils built up in him a deep, unshakable conviction of the hidden presence of God in our material lives. Teilhard became a priest on the strength of this conviction, and testified in his prayers and writings of the blazing compassion and involvement of God in every detail of the world, whether we could observe it or not. And more than that, he believed that we as Christians are charged with the responsibility of not just testifying to, but helping to mediate the growth of the universe into what God desires for it.

The scriptures today are all about the hidden dimensions of our lives. In the story of David’s anointing we hear that Samuel has gone to Bethlehem in obedience to God’s secret command to identify a new king for Israel. Jesse shows all his sons to Samuel one by one, and though to Samuel’s eye they are all likely-looking men, God says to Samuel, “I can see what you can’t. I am looking at their hearts. And none of these will serve.” Samuel finally asks Jesse if he has any more sons to look at, and Jesse has the youngest pulled in from from his work watching the flocks. This is a recurring theme in the Hebrew scriptures: the unlikely younger son becomes God’s chosen, to further the divine plans for the world. The story tells us he was good-looking from the outside point of view, and more than that, God saw that he was ready and responsive to bear the charge of the Spirit. Continue reading “Sermon: The Hidden Kingdom”

Lisa’s Sermon: Intimacy

Lent 5, Year B, RCL
18 March 2018

Every year when my Community, the Rivendell Community, gets together for our annual meeting, we always make sure to carve out time in the agenda for telling stories. In part, we want to tell the stories of our twenty years of life together for the benefit of our new postulants who don’t yet know them. But also we want to tell the stories for our own benefit, not just to reaffirm our memories, but to reinterpret them. And not just to reinterpret them, but to let them reinterpret what is going on right here and right now. Because of that, the stories of our life together are as vastly important as any other business on the agenda — our lives are knitted together by these stories.

There’s something similar going on in today’s readings: there are at least three backstories going on in this passage from John’s Gospel, stories that knit together our understanding of what’s going on and interpret and reinterpret one another, past interpreting future and future interpreting past. Continue reading “Lisa’s Sermon: Intimacy”

Sermon offered at Trinity Church Central West End, Saint Louis, 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B

by Barbi Click

A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak at the Awaken Shabbat service at Central Reform Congregation to talk about the work we do in the Food Ministry. The service is about tikkun Olam – the work of repairing the world.

As I read the texts for this day, I was reminded of that beautiful service, so closely in tune with the needs of the world.

I have been rereading Walter Brueggemann’s Journey to the Common Good. Rarely have I liked the term, Common Good. Too often it has been used for good of one group to the detriment or death of another. However, in this context, it is for that idea of tikkun olam. Appropriate to today’s political climate, Brueggeman writes about liberation from the political regime of Pharaoh and its reliance upon the idea of promoting fear and scarcity.

In Pharaoh’s regime, there is never enough—not money, nor food, land, nor power – there is always a demand that more is needed. Even in the story of Joseph as Pharaoh’s overseer, the people of God were enslaved by an economic system that demanded more – first their money, then their livestock and land, and finally, their bodies. The people became enslaved and a necessary part of the incessant groan of the production system. In exchange, they were given what they needed to survive so that they might continue work for the benefit of that system.

In any economy based on the exploitation of humans and rooted in fear and scarcity, eventually a limit of human suffering is reached. In this instance, the cries of the Israelites rose up to God and God heard these and sent a deliverer to lead them out of their enslavement in Egypt.

Moses lead the people of God out of slavery into the wilderness and God made certain they had all they need but still they function within the limitations of the myth of scarcity. They cannot see into the abundance. They try to save up, wanting more, just in case God doesn’t provide on the next day. They long for the old regime where they knew Pharaoh would always feed them, and they knew what the morning would bring. They forgot the suffering that came along with that security. They wanted the security of knowing … they bemoaned their loss.

In the Exodus scriptures for today, God speaks to the people, setting it all out for them to understand. It is obvious that they cannot do this on their own, even with Moses leading them. They need Laws.

But Brueggemann writes that the Decalogue is not just a set of rules or laws. These are a pathway for a different way of living, a transformational life of abundance through faith, in fact, Liberation.

I am the Lord your God – I brought you out of slavery; Do not worship other gods.

Do not make any thing into an idol – nothing – not money, not work, not material things, not power – nothing. Because God is a jealous God.

More than a threat, this is a promise. God is promising a regime change. Forget about Pharaoh and his system of constant craving. Worship the One who liberated you from this system of scarcity. There is no room for God within a production system. We do not have to constantly produce. God is enough.

Do not profane God’s name. Rather than about cursing – I believe this is about using the name of God to justify our own thoughts and actions. Such as stating that it is a God given right that we can own weapons of mass destruction, or that we can take what we want because it is God’s will. It seems to me that the idea of Manifest Destiny was about profaning God’s name. Do not justify your right to take that which is not yours, especially by declaring it a God-given right.

Keep the sabbath day holy – Take time to rest from the aggressive anxiety. It is an intentional pause in our week that allows a mind and a body to let go of the fear, to let go of the need to accomplish, let go of things that do not really matter. How many of us live in a state of aggressive anxiety? Always worried about one thing or another.

Commandments 5-9 are about predatory practices – neighbors are not prey – they are to be respected and not exploited. The boundaries are set: honor your elders, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie – not little lies or big ones. Don’t take away respect, or a life, or a spouse, or a possession, or the truth.

And lastly, — do not covet – this sets a limit of greed and hoarding. don’t worry about what you do not have; don’t worry about what your neighbor does have. Do not store up treasures, whatever your treasure may be. Constantly storing up more because what we have may not last, may not be enough, may be taken from us? Storing up money, storing up clothes, storing up things, just in case. Even in the case of the food pantry, we run into this problem. Storing up food just in case we need it tomorrow. Just in case there is not enough. As ifwe do not trust that God will provide. As if we are not as important as the birds in the sky or the lilies in the field. Yet God always provides.

Just as with the liberation from the regime of scarcity for the abundance that is God, so is today’s gospel representative of a release of an old idea.

The old system is replaced with the new reality of Jesus’ presence. The idea of the temple with its sacrifices of grains and animals to God is replaced with Jesus himself as the principal means of access to God.

That does not mean that the temple is no longer a holy place; Jesus rids it of all the sacrilege, namely, cleansing it of the ordinary happenings of the market place. He disorders the business of those who profit economically from the worship there. Jesus disrupts the whole idea of buying sacrifices and gifts to give to God. Just as Jesus is set in that place of sacrifice and offering to God, what God wants from each of us is that we give of ourselves. Stop storing up for later and offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God alone.

God wants us. God wants us to let go of our fear and sense of scarcity. God wants us to see the abundance that is available if we love God with all our heart and all our mind and all our soul.

I remember when I struggled with the idea of loving God more than any one else. How could I love God more than my precious child or my beloved spouse or my parents? I loved them more than anything. But then, one day as I struggled in prayer with this idea, I knew the words – If you love me most, you will love them more. And I understood what it meant to love God fully.

God wants us to love one another in that same way. We are to care for one another, tend the sick, care for the dying, visit those in prison, feed those who are hungry and offer drink to those who are thirsty. We are our brother’s/sister’s keeper. We are not here to judge whether someone is worthy of our love. We are to know that they are. We are to act justly and love mercy and above all, love God. We are to persevere in resisting evil; strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of all people.

Persevere, proclaim, seek, serve, strive, respect – all action words and all promises we make. Intentionally we are to act out our lives as followers of Christ. We are in a covenant with God by our baptismal vows.

Our times are not much different from those days of Pharaoh. We continue to be enslaved by an economic system that hurts the least of us most. We are imprisoned by a system that rewards few and demands much of others.

God wants the “faithful well-being” of the whole community – not just some.

Brueggemann writes that wisdom, might, and wealth are a triad of death because these violate neighborliness. I would use the words privilege, power, and wealth as violations of neighborliness. Violence is added to these things that separate us. These are counter to all things that come of God. This cross we are supposed to take up has no privilege, no power, no wealth. The Christus Rex cross with the risen Christ stands in direct opposition to the violence used to place the body upon it.

It is not enough to simply subvert the empire. Jesus told Peter in last week’s Gospel that he was setting his mind on human things rather than divine things. Jesus came to change the world – not through power and privilege but through love born in a ghetto manger, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, giving the dead new life, then forgiving those who were killing his body. No power. No privilege. Simply love. Divine love.

Steadfast love, justice, righteousness – these are the things that define God’s intention for all of creation. There is no middle ground. There is no either/or. There is only this:

God loves steadfast covenant.

God loves justice that serves the weak.

God loves righteousness as intervention for social well-being.

Our participation in this full idea of community, of neighborliness is the way to break out of the economic system that enslaves us – all of us; those with much and those with little.

Trust God. Do not be anxious. Let go of the scarcity. Trust God, live into the abundance. Trust God, care for the kingdom, which is the neighborhood – the community – the Other.

All will be well with Steadfast love. Justice. Righteousness. Will it be difficult? Of course, it will. That is why we answer each vow of our covenant with the words, “I will … with God’s help.” We cannot do it alone.

Love God. Love one another. The sum of the ten commandments. And the only way to repair the world.

Amen.

 

Lisa’s Sermon: Surprise, Arizona

Lent 3, Year B, RCL
4 March 2018

About a week or so ago, I happened to look at my phone and saw a little baseball icon in the notifications ribbon. When I tapped it, I discovered that the Royals had won a Spring Training game against the LA Dodgers in Surprise, Arizona. I said, “It can’t be Spring Training already! It’s February!”

Well, it may have been February, but Spring Training has definitely arrived. Along with other signs of the change in season: a ponderous lift of the temperature, an appearance of the sun like a magnificent athlete yawning his way luxuriously out into the open morning…and, of course, for us in the church — Lent.

Every year when Lent arrives it catches me with an oh-wait-I-wasn’t-ready sort of feeling. Picking reading material, planning special disciplines — when it comes to the point I often have to hurry to get my Lenten game on, even if I’d given it some thought. And because there are infinite ways to approach the specific disciplines of Lent, it’s easy to get bewildered and lose sight of why we undertake prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for forty days before Easter. So, let’s talk about those three disciplines in the context of today’s readings. Continue reading “Lisa’s Sermon: Surprise, Arizona”

Lisa’s Sermon: Allegiance

Proper 29, Year A, RCL (Christ the King)
26 November 2017

Every so often, when I feel like I need a shot of energy for my day, I look up a good action movie scene on Youtube — like the parkour scene from Casino Royale, for example. Daniel Craig as James Bond is chasing this bomber guy through a construction site, jumping off cranes, plowing through drywall, swinging down scaffolding, spreading havoc in their wake. Can you imagine trying to work with James Bond in the vicinity? But explosions and chaos and flying bullets is James Bond’s job. My job, fortunately, does not involve any parkour or car chases or hails of bullets; but it is nice to live vicariously for about seven minutes while I’m answering emails.

It’s nice because, despite being so perilous and chaotic, an action chase scene seems simple, almost lighthearted. There’s a massive disruption of business as usual, but that disruption is for the greater good, and it doesn’t upset the ultimate balance of the world around. Indeed, disruptions like this are often meant to restore that balance in some way. Somebody is going to save the day. Continue reading “Lisa’s Sermon: Allegiance”

Sermon: The Instruments of Peace

Feast of Francis of Assisi
1 Oct 2017

So it turns out that Francis of Assisi didn’t actually write the “Prayer of Saint Francis.”

The prayer that begins, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…” did not appear anywhere until shortly before World War I. At one point it was circulated on a prayer card with St. Francis on the front of it, and so it quickly grew to be associated with the saint. There’s a saying very similar to this prayer, collected from one of Francis’s close companions, Giles of Assisi:

Blessed is he who loves and does not therefore desire to be loved;
Blessed is he who fears and does not therefore desire to be feared;
Blessed is he who serves and does not therefore desire to be served;
Blessed is he who behaves well toward others and does not desire that others behave well toward him;
And because these are great things, the foolish do not rise to them.

(I checked Twitter to see if that would fit in 140 characters…alas, it doesn’t. But if you happen to be one of those whom Twitter has given the new experimental double-character limit, you’re in luck. It’s 233 characters and you can even fit in the author’s name. I’m just saying, if you happen to have this privilege, here’s an opportunity to use it for good.)

(As our Presiding Bishop likes to say, Oh, I’m gonna get in trouble now.) Continue reading “Sermon: The Instruments of Peace”