Monday, April 2, 2012

Sermon from April 1, 2012

All Souls, Berkeley

Palm/Passion Sunday Year B

Mark 11:1-11

Isaiah 50-4-9a

Philippians 2:5-11

Mark 14:32 – 15:47

Time can be funny, shifting gears in seemingly random ways. Life, in its unfolding, has a way of slowing down and speeding up, and there is little to nothing we can do to change it.

Except that we have the ability to make meaning from the variability we experience, and in doing so we can begin to divine God’s presence in our lives and the world around us.

This gets to the heart of the historical and theological understanding of two different strands of time – chronos and kairos.

Chronos is the daily flow of time. It is always moving forward, and though it may seem to speed up or slow down when we are looking back, or as we anticipate or dread what is coming, it is quite simply the ongoing steady current of time that frames our lives.

It gives meaning in how we mark it – birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and holy days. It can be heard in the tick of the second hand on a watch or the whooshing swing of a pendulum on a clock. It can be seen in the seamless transition from one number to another on the digital clocks on our phones and in the turning of one day into another, one season into the next, year after year.

Chronos is the water we swim in and the air we breathe, and as I preached a few weeks ago, it is easy to become enslaved to it – letting it not just mark our time, but to delineate it in such as way as to control us. It is therefore something we must always be mindful of.

Kairos can be understood as God’s time. In theological terms it is ‘the appointed time in the purpose of God – or, when time is fulfilled.’ Kairos is different because when we enter it, time doesn’t just seem to change speed, it actually does.

Perhaps an apt visual description of what I mean is ‘bullet time’ as seen in the movie The Matrix. The visual effects of this movie were revolutionary in many ways, not the least of which was how regular speed, slow motion, time-lapse and a constantly changing perspective of a scene serve to slow down, expand and speed up time at crucial times - the iconic image being the ability to see the energy trails of bullets as speed through the fight scenes, the viewer backing in and out of the scene and seeing it from several angles.

In this way, it visually captures kairos – showing us the possibilities of how time can shift and we can enter and leave those shifts.

When we experience kairos, we know it, because whether big or small, what we are doing has a timelessness to it that expands and makes life both slow down and speed up – giving us all the time we need.

I feel this when I get lost in a good book, or enjoy a relaxing meal with friends. I’ve felt it when I’ve been on retreat or even vacation, both of which by their very nature serve to help us step back from our daily chronos routine. I’ve experienced it when I’ve sat and prayed with people who are dying and I’ve known it was real when I listened to someone offer confession in the Rite of Reconciliation. Perhaps you just sensed it in the presentation of Jesus’ Passion.

If you take a few moments to reflect this week I know that you too will begin to see the strands of kairos that weave in and out of your life.

And today, this week, we enter something special. A time that like no other that knits together and merges these two elements. Holy Week. Chronos, in our journey through the Great Three Days, from Maundy Thursday to Good Friday and then The Great Vigil. And yet kairos in perhaps its more pure and undiluted form as God’s purpose and time overflow through these days, signs of God’s unconditional love leading us toward the mystery of Easter.

Our Gospel readings from Mark today pull us into this powerful double flow of time, beginning with chapter 11 and the reading we heard in the courtyard about Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem, and then continued in chapter 14 with Jesus’ anointing, the Last Supper, on into the garden of Gethsemane, then traveling to courtyard of the high priest, before then going before Pilate, followed by the march to Golgotha and the cross, and finally to be laid in the tomb as the women bore witness.


We stride every year through these events; they are marked and lived as chronos for us as surely as they were for Jesus and his friends. But kairos is just as surely at work, because here, in the approach to Jesus’ death, the narrative time slows and shifts, expands and becomes something more – something we will only fully know when we reach Easter.

Because if we were to read the Gospel of Mark out loud together straight through, we could mark the minutes it takes, about ninety. But kairos is there too, because Jesus’ yearlong Galilean ministry (chapters 1-10) would take about an hour to read. But the final week of Jesus’ life (chapters 11-16), would take half an hour.[1]

This shows us why Holy Week is something more. Always more, but not simply marked in minutes and hours, instead also lived in the moments that we encounter the holy and find time slowing and speeding within and around us, making meaning as God’s time becomes ours also.

And so this week I invited you to gather, to watch, to kindle and to sing. To step back from the dailyness of chronos, even as we walk the days of the Triduum. And to savor the feel, the tastes-sights-sounds, of kairos as God’s time saturates the story we hold most sacred, the story that is still going on and that we are a part of over 2000 years later.

~ AMEN ~



[1] Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, pg. 179.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sermon from March 11, 2012

All Souls, Berkeley

Lent 3/B

Exodus 20:1-17

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

John 2:13-22

Gracious God, take our minds and think through them;

take our hands and work through them;

take our hearts and set them on fire.

Amen.

The desert is a dangerous place. People do not go into the desert unless they have to. There is no water there, and without water we die. There is no food there. Without food we die.

When the wind blows, it changes the shape of the desert. People get lost. Some never come back.

In the daytime the sun is so hot that people must wear lots of clothes to protect themselves from the sun and the blowing sand. The sand stings when it hits your skin. The sun scorches you by day. At night it is cold. You need many clothes to keep warm. The desert is a dangerous place. People only go there if they have to.[1]

This is the beginning of the Godly Play story ‘The Ten Best Ways’ in which God gives the people the Ten Commandments. It evokes clearly the fear that the people of God were facing as they left slavery in Egypt behind followed the pillar of fire and smoke into the desert.

When they gave in to the fear, they turned away from God – they complained, they doubted, they gave into internal power struggles amongst them, they made idols.

And so God gave them the Ten Best Ways so that for the rest of their journey, and even once they left the desert, they would know how to live.

When telling the Ten Best Ways story in Godly play you use the desert box, a big box full of sand, of course you do. And as you list the ways, which are shaped like halves of a heart, you place them so they are standing up in the sand.

The first three make row and are placed behind a half of a heart that says Love God:

1. Don’t serve other gods.

2. Make no idols to worship.

3. Be serious when you say my name.

Now number four shifts a bit, so that it becomes what will be the center.

4. Keep the Sabbath holy.

And then the last six are placed in a second row behind the other half of the heart that says Love People:

5. Honor your mother and father.

6. Don’t kill.

7. Don’t break your marriage.

8. Don’t steal.

9. Don’t lie.

10. Don’t even want what others have.


God knows these are hard. God did not call them the Ten Easy Things to Do. They are The Ten Best Ways to Live. And even though God knows we will mess up and not always follow the Best Ways, God gave game them to us because God loves us (hold up the 3 piece heart).

There is an internal logic to these ways that is clearly laid out in the sand when you tell this story, that is both compelling and beautiful: The way we attend to God—the first 4 halves of the heart—shapes the way we attend to our neighbor—the second 6 halves of the heart. In other words, proper praise of God shapes our social responsibility; good theology is good ethics.[2]

Tied up with these thoughts we come today to the story of Jesus going up to Jerusalem in preparation for the Passover. Upon entering the Temple he found people selling sacrificial animals and changing money, from the Roman coin to the Temple coin—all things that needed to happen in order for people to properly worship and praise God.

But what he saw enraged him, and he overturned the tables and grabbed a whip to drive the sellers away.

It seems an extreme response, but what Jesus understood was that while the buying and selling of animals and changing of money served a function to proper worship, it had forgotten its purpose.[3] It had stopped really being about worship and had instead become about consumers and marketers. It was nothing intentional, there was no real malice involved, but over time there was a shift.

And the end result was that God was no longer at the center. The people had literally brought things into the temple that ended up not bringing them closer to God, but standing between them and God, and therefore each other as well.

We bring things into the temple as well. Each of us bring something different, and sometimes we bring things in as a group. They are too many for me to name, but I invite you to pray about them.

However, if I were to identify the biggest thing we as a culture have brought into the temple, it would be that thing that drives so many of our lives – being over-calendared. We are too busy. Our days and nights are over-filled. There is always more to do, or that we could be doing. We no longer rely on our memory, let alone pen and paper, we have apps to help us keep all the balls we are juggling in the air.


And it stands between us and God and each other.


Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.

Remember how this best way was in between the others in the Godly Play story? It was the link between the ways to love God and to love people – and it tells us how to love both God and people.

And I have news for you. This – being here at church – is not Sabbath. The Sabbath is not presented to God’s people as a day of worship, but rather as a day of cessation blessed by God’s own rest –

For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.

Rest is written into the very nature of life.

It is therefore essential that we rest. That we make time for Sabbath. That we turn again to God. Without it we too should expect to face Jesus’ anger. For we should know better, we’ve been taught, and what’s left is to reconcile our lives to God and those around us.

So how do we create Sabbath? What do we need to do?

First we need to create some breathing room, some margin in our lives. We need to resist the urge, the necessity, to fill every day with as much as possible. It doesn’t make us more holy. It in fact does the opposite, pulling us away from holy and sometimes our humanity as well. When we are ‘too busy’ we are not able to be present to others, let alone God, or even ourselves. Start small if you have to, but work to create a pattern of space in your life. Open space leaves room for the Spirit to move and breath with us. As we were invited to this Lent, we need to Pause. Reflect. Pray.

This isn’t about being silent, though. Last Saturday during the Leadership Day I led a session on incorporating prayer into your leadership practice. As a part of it I had people break into small groups and lead each other in prayer. It was not silent in that room. Some of the prayers were quite loud and included laughter. But what it was, was quiet.

Quiet in that way that indicates room has been left open for God’s presence, with the expectation of God’s presence, and the possibility of transformation.

Pastor and poet Ted Loder aptly puts it this way:

Now,

O Lord,

calm me into a quietness

that heals and listens,

and molds my longings and passions,

my wounds and wonderings

into a more holy

and human

shape.

The quietness of Sabbath can make us more holy and human.

Sabbath is not only quiet, however. It is ironically also work. Because I believe a big part of Sabbath, that half of the heart that connects our love of God and our love of people, means that we must at all times work towards reconciliation for those parts of our lives and the world that are broken.

Reconciliation – re-turning God to the center of our lives and also living in right relationship with those around us. This is what the Ten Best Ways gives us. They are not The Ten Easy Ways, but they are the Best Ways. If we are not in right relationship with those we have wronged or who have wronged us, then we cannot fully re-turn to God.

Holding on to our anger with both hands keeps us from taking God’s hand. But once we decide to work towards reconciliation we make space again for God to be our center. I say ‘work towards’ reconciliation, because this is not something that we do and complete once for all, wrapping it up with a bow. It is a process to always be working toward – and intentionally – otherwise it will never happen.

The desert is a dangerous place. But it is the place where God led the people to show them how to love and live fully—things that always have risk. It is also for us a place to meet God, the place where we re-turn to God. May this Lent be for us a desert journey into that dangerous and life-changing place.

~ AMEN ~


[1] From The Ten Best Ways, The Complete Guide to Godly Play, Volume 2.

[2] Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, pg. 76.

[3] Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, pg. 95.

Sermon from Ash Wednesday

All Souls, Berkeley

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Psalm 51:1-17

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

As we enter this Lent, may we

Pause,

Reflect,

Pray.

Amen.

It has been said that on Ash Wednesday, Christians attend their own funerals. It is no mistake that this liturgy in which we partake leads us to contemplate our own mortality. We will soon be marked with ashes and admonished with these words, ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ It is a somber but compelling ritual, calling us to pay attention.

As poet Rilke wrote in his Book of Hours

God, give us each our own death,

the dying that proceeds

from each of our lives:

the way we loved,

the meanings we made,

our need.[1]


This is the gift found upon entering Lent. A chance to be given our death and to be marked with dust; to pause, examine our lives and repent of that which has come between us and God; to wake up tomorrow with the opportunity to adjust our course as needed – and through prayer and action to reconcile our hearts and lives.

And so we begin today with our death. As morbid as it may sound, the point here is not to mourn, but to reflect. Because that’s what we do when we gather for a memorial service, we reflect on the person we’ve lost. Ash Wednesday gives us the opportunity to do this, in some small way, for ourselves. It calls us to look in the mirror and see who we are at this point and time, to make meaning of our story so far, and to reflect on what parts of us are lost.

We are lost for many reasons and in big and small ways. We have estranged relationships with those in our lives. We have let our personal prayer practices lapse. We are in debt. We are too busy to honor taking Sabbath time. We keep in our possession a lot that we do not use, but form which we refuse to be parted.[2]

The list goes on and on, but what they all have in common, is that at the root, they are all outward signs of the fact that we’ve let something come between us and God. Which is why today and for the coming forty days we are called to focus on a discipline of penitence.

In our reading from Joel today we see the prophet call the people to repent. Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

In this first call to repent, the prophet uses the word ‘return’ twice. In Hebrew this word means “to arrive again at the initial point of departure.” Here it suggests that those who had been originally with God, had moved away from God, and were now returning to God.[3]

Yet it was not enough for them to do this as individuals, for Joel sounds another trumpet with a second call to repent, this time to sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. And no one is to be left out of this congregation, all are called – the aged, the children, the infants at the breast, even those secluded on honeymoon – all are needed to come together and to re-turn together.

And for us this Lent it is the same – we are called to re-turn, to turn again, as individuals and as a community. That is why today we face the difficult task of naming what separates us from God—our corporate and individual sin. No one likes to admit mistakes or confess to sins. It is not easy. But it is important, because there is little possibility finding what we’ve lost, and re-turning to God until we find the source of estrangement in our lives. And most importantly, confessing our sin is essential to reconciliation.

I believe that reconciliation is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. And here I would define reconciliation as re-turning and being re-turned.

It is both the process of re-turning and the arrival back to where we began with God at our center. It is what we do, and become, once we have paused and reflected, once we have examined our lived and repented, asking for forgiveness. It’s what happens when we forgive others and ourselves. It happens through prayer – the ways that we dialogue with God, the ways our actions in this world are prayer in action. It’s what we then offer to the broken world around us, because once we are reconciled to God, we become a part of God’s ministry of reconciliation.

Our reading from 2 Corinthians today begins by entreating us to be reconciled to God, and continues, declaring to us that in him we might become the righteousness of God. And while our passage from Matthew’s Gospel says nothing about reconciliation, I think it still says a lot about how to live it.

It would seem that the focus on Matthew’s text is piety. Of note is that while our translation of this scripture gives us the word piety, a better translation would be righteousness or justice. This gives an important shift to the framework of the three acts Jesus outlines here: almsgiving, prayer and fasting.

But the operative word to pay attention in this Gospel passage is secret. In these few short verses the writer uses this word six times as an injunction against doing these things in public for notice.

In the culture of the time, giving and receiving gifts provided the framework in which relationships were negotiated and social status was displayed. You always showed your religious practices in public. It told people who you were. And it easily led to outward actions becoming more about self interest and less about relationship with God.

When you remove these actions from the public sphere and remove the self-interest, and when you use the lens of righteousness and piety, what you are left with are God-centered actions that bring reconciliation into the world: almsgiving can be charity and justice-making. Prayer can be, well, prayer—the constant that binds everything together. And fasting for us could be making choices to live simply and reduce our carbon footprint.

Living your faith out loud, ‘faithing’ if you will, may today be just as counter-cultural as it was to keep your piety secret was in Jesus’ day. Walking out the doors of the church with a smudge on your forehead doesn’t make you a hypocrite, it marks you as one on a journey.

Death, penitence, reconciliation.

These are the steps on our Lenten journey. They help us reconnect with who we are, with who we can be, with who God made us to be. We are human beings made in the image of God, but we are made of dust and to dust we shall return.[4]

And today it begins with being given our death, that we might pause and reflect to live a life re-turned, praying to reconcile the world to God’s steadfast love.

~AMEN~



[1] Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, III,6, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy.

[2] Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, pg. 17.

[3] Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, pg. 5.

[4] Lenten Meditations 2012 from Episcopal Relief & Development, Shannon Ferguson Kelly, contributor.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sermon from January 15, 2012

All Souls, Berkeley

Epiphany 2/B

1 Samuel 3:1-10

Psalm 139:1-17

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

John 1:43-51

Gracious God, take our minds and think through them;

take our hands and work through them;

take our hearts and set them on fire.

Amen.

Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit

Bidden or unbidden, God is present

This quote, found among the Latin jottings of Renaissance scholar Erasmus, was popularized in its English translation by psychologist Carl Jung who had it inscribe both over the front door of his home, and later on his tombstone.

And it serves as thread that weaves our scripture passages from 1 Samuel , the Psalms and the Gospel into something more than any of them are by themselves, teaching us about listening – knowing – encountering God.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present


The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

The same could be said of our times, but this observation sets the stage for the beginning of a shift of power for the people of Israel, one which will ultimately lead to the line of kings – for it will be Samuel who anoints first Saul and then in time David.

But today we are at the ironical and amusing, yet powerful, beginning of one of the great stories of the Bible, when the boy Samuel first encounters the Lord.

Now, the irony comes from the fact that God’s voice is apparently so unexpected in the Temple of all places, and the amusement comes from the play on words that is only evident in Hebrew:

Now Lord called, “Sam-u-el, Sam-u-el,” which means “God has heard.”

And Samuel responds, “Here I am!” and runs to the priest named Eli, whose name means “my God.”

And so three times we see this happen: God calls out “God has heard!” and Samuel runs to “my God,” rather than recognizing his true God that is speaking to him.

It is only after God speaks repeatedly that Eli’s wisdom awakens and he realizes what is happening. And so he instructs the boy that when God calls him again he should answer, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

And that is what Samuel does. Because God did call to him again.

In the stillness of the night, with darkness encroaching though the lamp of God has not yet gone out, God was finally heard.

We don’t always recognize it, we often don’t hear, let alone listen – but God is always present and always ready for conversation, calling us into a new thing.

Bidden or unbidden…


O God, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar.

No matter the translation – NRSV, Book of Common Prayer, The Runaway Bunny, or the St. Helena Psalter that we read/sang from today – the intensity and intimacy of this scripture passage is awesome.

More than one writer has called Psalm 139 a creation psalm. Not one about the vast mysteries of the heavens and earth, or even the marvelous workings of nature around us. No, this creation is God’s own ongoing work in bringing us to fullness of life, the unwrapping of the mystery of each of us as unique individuals, [1] as children of God.

To me, this psalm feels like a warm embrace, bringing comfort and giving strength. The words express an intimate knowledge and involvement of God in our lives.

Here, names are not even necessary. Almost every verse contain pronouns referring to both the psalmist (I/me/my) and to God (you/your). They are intertwined in such a way that God is the very context of the psalmist’s life, and indeed ours as well.[2]

And yet there is an edge to it that is nearly overwhelming – we are fully known, there is not a word on our lips that God does not know; God is always present, pressing upon us from behind and before – there is nowhere we can go to escape God.

As the psalmist writes in the middles verses 6-11 (omitted) –

Where can I go then from your Spirit; where can I flee from your presence?

If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there your hand will lead me, and you right hand hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night,”

Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.

Yes, psalm 139 speaks of the One who created us, who knows us fully and loves us unceasingly, but it also reminds us of the easy to overlook a powerful truth – that God is always with us in all that we do and wherever we go.

Bidden or unbidden…

Follow me. Come and see.

We walked through Advent together, celebrating a season of anticipation and preparation. We rejoiced through Christmas together, celebrating the mystery of the incarnation – the birth of ‘God with us.’ We welcomed the magi once again at Epiphany, celebrating also the gift of the water of baptism.

And now we have this green season of Ordinary days before the start of Lent to explore the manifestation of Jesus – stories that began with his baptism last week and lead us into a deeper knowledge of who he was and how he was among us.

And so today we hear from the Gospel of John about Jesus calling disciples. This calling began in verse 35 with the calling of Andrew and Simon Peter, and now continues with the story of Philip and Nathanael.

As far as action goes there isn’t a lot here. Jesus found Philip and said to him “Follow me.” And that was somehow enough. It was enough for him to go to his friend Nathanael, tell him about Jesus and say, “Come and see.”

Now Nathanael was skeptical, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” But when he saw Jesus, and Jesus ‘knew’ him upon sight, Nathanael too believed and proclaimed Jesus the Son of God, the King of Israel.

What led these men to make such a radical decision to ‘come and see’ and ‘follow’? We read of no miracle or sign that Jesus performed, nor any teaching. In this account it seems to be enough that they encountered Jesus, even if they weren’t expecting it.

When have you encountered Christ? Where? Is it a story you can tell, or a stirring in your heart? How has your life changed in the least expected of ways?

Bidden or unbidden…


Each of these stories about listening-knowing-encountering God teaches us fundamental things:

Even when confronted by the divine, it is possible for us to be oblivious to God’s presence in our lives.[3]

We may ‘know’ that God is always present, but sometimes it takes a few times before we catch on and pay attention.

We are sometimes skeptical of the message because of the messenger.

The thoughts of God are greater in number than the grains of sand.

We need to say, “Speak, for your servant is listening” a lot more often.

I don’t know why this prayer was so fundamental to Carl Jung. I do know that when our knowing God is surrounded by God’s call and our listening, and God’s call and our decision to follow, that this prayer – bidden or unbidden, God is present – becomes a way for us to live our life and approach our death.

It is a reminder that throughout it all – the daily-ness of life, the celebrations, the heartaches and the gift of the gathered community – we are always in the middle of a conversation with God, invited to listen, knowing we are loved, called to join the great journey with Christ.


~ AMEN ~



[1] Kathryn Matthews Huey, ucc.org: Sermon Seeds.

[2] Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 1; page 249.

[3] Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 1; page 261.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sermon from November 13, 2011

All Souls, Berkeley

11/13/11

Proper 28A

Judges 4:1-7

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Matthew 25:14-30


Gracious God, take our minds and think through them;

take our hands and work through them;

take our hearts and set them on fire.

Amen.


What a day to get the charge to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest Holy Scripture, eh?

I’m wondering if anyone else felt a moment of disconnect at the end of the Gospel there?

Mary? How was it for you to proclaim that ‘For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away’?

Did anyone else feel a slight hesitation in responding ‘Praise to you, O Christ’ after the last line about the worthless slave getting thrown into the ‘outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’—as if it were some horrible trip to the dentist!

One clergy friend posted this comment on Facebook: “If you’re preaching tomorrow, please join me in reminding your congregations that God is *just* like a vicious loan shark whose only interest is in securing more money for himself. But somehow, also, loving.”[1]

I think all of these reactions to today’s Gospel point to one thing – this is no easy story to proclaim or hear.

So what are we to do with it? Let’s begin by taking a closer look at what Matthew was doing with this parable.

While most commonly known as the ‘parable of the talents’, this tale is in actuality not centered on the talents, but on the third slave, the master, and their relationship.[2]

That being said, what was a talent? In the time of Jesus a talent was an enormous sum of money. One talent was roughly equal to 15 years of wages for the average day laborer. So one slave was given the equivalent of 75 years of wages, another 30 years and the last one a mere 15 years. And then the master went away trusting them to steward such amazing gifts.

Like is the case with many of the parables, there is an over the top quality to the circumstances we find in this story.

Not only are we talking huge, unrealistic sums of money, but two thirds of the slaves took that money and were able to beat the odds by doubling it in the market. Only the last slave hid the money by burying it in the ground, but both choices were actions which set the stage for the return of the master, a settling of accounts and the climatic finish of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But the kicker is that for Matthew this wasn’t about money at all. While Luke has a slightly different version of this story that occurs earlier in the story, Matthew puts this parable as second to last tale Jesus told his disciples before the events leading to his passion and death.

Jesus wasn’t giving his friends last minute financial advice, he was again (like he had been all along) teaching them how to live faithfully in the world once he was gone. He was telling them that life, and living, are full of risks, but that if they trust God and don’t give in to fear, then they will continue to follow the path he set out for them.

It was the slaves that took the exorbitant gifts and took risks with it, that resisted the fear of just trying to hold on to it, and in the end they entered into joy upon the master’s return. Not because they doubled his money, but because they didn’t keep it hidden, because they lived like they really trusted God. The lived the Gospel every day and not just on the Sabbath.

But the third slave buried the money, as like in a grave. He acted out of fear, which he readily admitted to when questioned by his returning master. He was able to return coin for coin exactly what he was given. But instead of living the Gospel he let fear kept him from growing, just as it did the gift he was given stewardship over.

Fear is powerful. It can be strong enough to stop us in our tracks and make all our choices seem futile and the ability to take action seem impossible.

Fear makes us cling rather than letting go. But clinging only binds us to our fear. It does not set us free.[3]

The slave that was driven by fear learned the lesson that the greatest risk of all is to not risk anything, not to care deeply and profoundly enough about anything to invest deeply, to give your heart away and in the process risk everything.[4]

With all this in mind we would do well to remember the words of Anglican poet and priest George Herbert: “Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise thee.” Like so many of Jesus’ stories, this parable calls us to a fullness of life built on God’s love every day and in all our actions.


Sooo…this parable is not about money. Except when it is.


Money is an inescapable factor in our lives. Decisions about how we get money and then what to do with it, are things we begin learning as children and can take us a lifetime to master. Money can be used for necessities and for indulgences. It is said it can’t make you happy, and yet our culture tells us that we always need to buy something new and better – always more.

And in the last few years, as the economic crisis has unfolded, more and more of us have faced the reality of unemployment or pay cuts, rising food and housing prices and the weight of debt. It never ends, like a treadmill that keeps us moving but never gets us anywhere. And we’re still told it’s never enough, there’s always something next. Right now that next is Christmas. In fact, it was Christmas in many stores before it was even Halloween. It’s always more, more, more.

But not more like in the parable. In our lives, paradoxically the more has begun to bury us in the ground.


Something has to change. And perhaps it has begun.

Occupy Wall Street. The 99% talking back to the 1%.


For the last month as we’ve watched this movement unfold in the streets, and as we’ve sat in our pews and focused on St. Francis and stewardship, I’ve felt the call to pull this into our corporate life and to pray about the things happening in New York City and in our own backyards – Oakland, San Francisco, Cal.

What’s going on is something that shouldn’t remain outside our walls, and while it is in no way a Christian or even religious movement, faith leaders and faithful people are bringing Christian thought and theology to sidewalks and tents.

There is much commentary, both theological and otherwise to be found out there, including an excellent sermon that I highly recommend for your edification preached recently at CDSP by All Souls member and Professor of Church History, Dr. Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, in which he wove together beautifully foundational Anglican theologian Richard Hooker and the OWS movement.[5] (have Dan stand up; people can email me for link to it)

When I read today’s gospel, and indeed our psalm as well, I knew it was time to examine what the Spirit might be saying to us about the occupy movement.

Now, I have to admit when I first starting reading and hearing about OWS I was, if not skeptical, then perhaps just comfortable in my inability to affect change. You might call entrenched fear.

I didn’t see a clear message emerging. I didn’t see how camping out in the shadow of Wall Street’s golden calf could really do anything. And while there is still no clear message with a list of bullet points for change, and while it remains to be seen what this movement will be able to do to affect change, I have begun to feel changed because of it.

Do you feel it? The smell of possibility in the air? The feeling of a loss of isolation, as if for so long we were each alone in thinking that the system is broke, that our culture and economic system were heading for collapse. The tentative stirring of hope as we watch this something pull together so many people into one place.

And now, as OWS has spread across social media and throughout the world, there is for the first time in my memory, real and widespread conversation going on about power and money, oppression and privilege, about no longer accepting the status quo.

People en masse are not only gathering in cities and towns and campuses to occupy, but they are beginning to take the risk of change together en masse too.

Just look at the number of people who have taken their money out of big banks in the last few months and the popularity of ‘bank transfer day’ a little over week ago as many thousands of people put their money in Credit Unions. Or the rise in popularity of ‘Small Business Saturday’ on November 26th when we are all encouraged to do our holiday shopping at locally owned businesses as a counterpoint to the orgy of consumerism that is Black Friday.

These are just a couple of the things rising to the surface for the 99%. Where it goes next is up to all of us, and I find that risky and exciting.

But the fact remains that 99% is not 100%, and just like the good shepherd left the 99 to search for the 1 lost sheep, I believe we are called as Christians to focus our wrok in all of this towards reconciliation.

What do I mean by that? Well, I think there are many layers. The first could be this: I am going to go out on a limb and say that most of us gathered here are 99%-ers, and yet the fact remains that we are individually and as a parish privileged. I define privilege not only by wealth, but by other factors as well – race, gender, class, education level attained, sexual orientation, physical ability – you name it; all those little categories we can break ourselves down into give us relative levels of power and privilege.

Those in effect are our own personal 1%-edness, and we ignore it to our detriment. How we each choose to use our privilege is just as important as how those who make up the 1% that OWS cites does. Do we bury our power and privilege, like the third slave did the talents, or are we out there risking ourselves to help co-create the reign of God here and now?

A second is layer that as a parish we are in a place of privilege. We are growing while so many churches are shrinking. We have been able to make budget throughout the economic downturn because this community gets that we are called to live and give from a place of abundance, not scarcity. So what are we doing with the gifts we’ve been given to steward? What are we burying and what are we sending out into the world?

And a final layer might just be that as Christians we are called to speak truth to power – to that 1% that holds so much more – that we proclaim that we will not live in fear, that we will not buy what they are selling, and that we invite them to repent and join us – in making us – 100% together.

All of this together brings me back to the Gospel. It isn’t about money, except when it is. But what it is always about, is how we choose to live our lives, how we live into change and indeed make change. It’s about living our faith fully, however risky that may be. Seven days a week, not just one in seven.

When we live this, we bury nothing. This is our call. This is what we why we respond “Praise to you, O Christ.” This is our voice reflected down through the centuries from the Gospel, into poetry, and maybe even into a movement to Occupy Wall Street.

~ AMEN ~



[1] The Rev. Stephen Hassett

[2] Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 4, Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17 – Reign of Christ), pg. 310.

[3] www.unfoldinglight.net, The Rev. Steve Garnaas-Holmes.

[4] Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 4, Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17 – Reign of Christ), pg. 310.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sermon from March 27, 2011

All Souls, Berkeley

Lent 3/A

Exodus 17:1-7

Romans 5:1-11

John 4:5-42

Gracious God, take our minds and think through them;

take our hands and work through them;

take our hearts and set them on fire.

Amen.


We see things not as they are, but as we are.

This is true for each of us and is a part of how we read and hear scripture. It is evidenced by the stories of Nicodemus last week and the Samaritan woman today, and how they saw Jesus. It is revealed to us by God throughout the telling of the four Gospels, a collection of every sort of stories that reach out to every sort of person, showing us not only who we are, but that we are a part of God’s story.

We see things not as they are, but as we are.

I took a class in seminary called “Changing Racism.” One course participant remarked that it was a funny title and wouldn’t a better one be “Ending Racism?” To which my professor replied, “Ah, but can one really ever root out every bit of prejudice within themselves? No. Instead we must learn to continuously peel back the layers of our heart, like the skin of an onion, so that our vision may change.”

We see things not as they are, but as we are.

This is certainly true of many Biblical commentaries on today’s passage from John. They see not the story of a faithful, intelligent woman who would be a witness, even a disciple. They see instead a sinner, a woman of loose morals, someone who is simply a foil for his discourse on living water.

That is not how I see things. That is not how I read this story.

I see the connections and contrasts between the story about Nicodemus from last week and the Samaritan woman today.

I see a named man, a member of the religious elite, who visited Jesus under the cover of darkest night. I see an unnamed woman, a member of an enemy people, who encountered Jesus at high noon.

I see Jesus using clever words with dual meanings – born again/born from above – running water/life-giving water – and two faithful people struggling to reconcile that with their own preconceived notions of God, and who this Jesus might just be.

I see one story that ends without telling us if the listener was changed, if he believed, feeling unfinished – unless it’s not. I see one story in which the listener is transformed and tells her friends and neighbors about it, bringing them to Jesus.

What I see is right there in black and white print, but it may not be what you see. And I think that’s okay, as long as we keep telling each other what we see and listening to each other faithfully.

But what I see when I read today’s story is formed by mostly equal parts of a heart that is peeling and a head that has read and discussed and prayed about the word of God. And I have a soft spot in both heart and head for stories about women, so know that as I preach it.

In the time of Jesus, Jews and Samaritans were bitter enemies. The source of the enmity between them was a dispute about the correct location of worship (something the Samaritan woman notes to Jesus). During the Assyrian occupation of northern Palestine (circa 721 bce), when the north was cut off from the south, the Samaritans built a shrine on Mt. Gerizim and worshipped there instead of Jerusalem in the south. Fast forward several centuries and Jewish troops destroyed the shrine in 128 bce, leaving a schism between Jews and Samaritans.

Our passage tells us that Jesus had to travel through Samaria on his way to Galilee. But while it may have been a geographical necessity to journey through Samaria, it is interesting that the word used in verse 4 – ‘had to’ – is associated in John’s gospel with God’s plan. And so this passage can be said to be a theological necessity as well, one in which Jesus would expand the circle of God’s grace, extending it to those whom social convention deemed unacceptable. [New Interpreter’s Bible, pg. 565]

And so we find Jesus at a well by himself in the heat of the midday sun when a Samaritan woman comes to draw water.

Give me a drink.

She was Samaritan and she was a woman, and she could see that a Jewish man should not be asking her for water. And yet, he did, opening a dialogue of thirteen exchanges, one of the longest in the entire Gospel.

The setting of this scene evokes many Old Testament images, one in particular that I see as beautiful layer to the story. Jesus’ request for water recalls the story of Elijah and the widow of Sidon. In both stories a man interrupts a woman engaged in household work to request a gesture of hospitality. The parallel suggests that both she and we should see Jesus as a prophet as well.

With the stage thusly set, we hear from this woman for the first time and see her surprise at being addressed by the strange man. She knows her location in the world and his as well – or at least she thinks she does.

How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?

Instead of answering her question, Jesus began the process of inviting her towards revelation.

If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.

Living water. The dual meaning – running water/live-giving water. Just as with Nicodemus Jesus seems to know that she will first attach herself to the literal meaning, running water – and yet, he knows he can draw her into deeper understanding.

And I imagine that the nuance wasn’t lost on this woman. I see not earnest confusion that Jesus has no bucket and the well is deep. She may have answered his question point blank, but in my mind – in my heart, I can see the slight upturn of her lips and the faintest of mocking tones to her voice and she enters into the parry and thrust of the conversation.

In effect she is challenging Jesus to show that he is greater than Jacob, for it was by his well that they sat.

It is only then that Jesus clarifies his meaning and throws open the arms of God’s embrace. He is truly offering her life-giving water, the gift of the Spirit.

But whether she doubts his sincerity, or his ability to bestow such water, or whether she is testing him, her answer is sly, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Not 100% literal, an acceptance of his offer, with a sniff of suspicion thrown in.

Jesus knows that she needs more. Just as he will one day say to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe,” he now turns the conversation in such a way as to bring the Samaritan woman’s belief.

“Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”

Did you notice the exclamation point at the end of Jesus’ statement? As if he were excited to reveal to her that he knows all this? Or the fact that he does not shame or judge her in any way?

There are many possible reasons for the woman’s marital history. Perhaps this woman, like Tamar in Genesis 38, is trapped in a levirate marriage in which the brother of a deceased man is obligated to marry his brother’s widow, only the last male in the line has refused to marry her. We don’t know, and Jesus didn’t say.

I see the point of this part of their dialogue not as a commentary of her morality

I see the point of this conversation is that it serves two purposes. First, it illustrates Jesus’ ability to see and know all things. Second, it is a moment of revelation for the woman, a moment when he is able to see Jesus with new eyes.

“Sir, I see that you are a prophet.”

From surprise, to skepticism, to tentative belief – this woman’s journey to the well has become something more.

Her faith is growing and so it shouldn’t be a surprise that her next comment is the most pressing question between the Samaritans and the Jews – where is the proper place to worship God?

Some argue that this is her attempt to sidestep the conversation about her husbands, or that she, as a woman, wouldn’t have the understanding needed to deepen their discussion further. That is what some see.

What I see is not a woman disengaging from Jesus, but rather her inquiry about worship as an act of deepening engagement with Jesus, because she anticipates at this point that the prophet Jesus will be able to speak an authoritative word on the subject. And his response causes the woman’s faith to grow again as by the end she begins to wonder about the possibility of Jesus being the Messiah.

And his response, “I am.”

As we reach the apex of their encounter, Jesus’ words resonating with the voice of God in Exodus, the disciples arrive on the scene and the woman departs, leaving her jar behind as she returned to town.

The disciples of course wonder what he was doing talking to a Samaritan woman, though they don’t ask, and they offer him food, but then he tells them about bread and harvesting and stuff – but I’m going to skip to what I see as the good stuff at the end.

When the woman left Jesus at the well she went and testified to her friends and neighbors about Jesus, about what he said and how he knew her. The Gospel actually says, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.”

She witnessed to Jesus, one of the primary marks of discipleship in John, joining the ranks of John the Baptist, Andrew and Philip and all the others whose names were remembered.

That is what I see when I read this story.

And I wonder what it is that you see? What is there in this story that you would tell to those near and far? How does the encounter with Jesus here peel at the layers of your heart?

I see a God that is willing to meet people where they are – whether with Nicodemus by night or a Samaritan woman by day. I see a God that sees people as they are and as they can become when they listen with changed hearts and strong minds.

I see a God who is once again journeying with each of us through Lent, meeting us with a warm embrace and puzzling words, and gentling us towards the Mystery of Easter.

~ AMEN ~