Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sermon from June 28, 2015

The Rev. Kristin Krantz                                                                      Proper 8/B
Memorial Church                                                                                2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
6/28/15                                                                                                2 Corinthians 8:7-15
                                                                                                            Mark 5:21-43
  
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.
  
          Do not fear, only believe.

          That was the short sermon that Jesus preached to Jairus as news reached them on the road that his daughter was dead.

          Do not fear, only believe.

          These are words that the woman who suffered from hemorrhages lived by as she reached out and claimed her healing from Jesus.

          Do not fear, only believe.

          These are words that are meant for us.

          The last few months have been enough to make many of us fear and question and lament – even as we still trust in God’s abiding presence and love.
         
          Where to start?  It’s like picking a place to wade into the water – joining a current that seemingly has no beginning or ending.  So how about here, with this litany?

          Freddie Gray
          The Baltimore Uprising
          One Baltimore – or two?
          Mother Emmanuel AME
          Access to health care across our nation
          Amazing Grace
          Marriage – dignity for all
An African American woman scaling a flagpole and quoting the word of God while a white man stands below to steady and support her
          A new Presiding Bishop-elect for the Episcopal Church – Michael Curry


          How do we push through fear and into trust?  And when we believe, how do we pray through the fear that inevitably creeps up?

          Our Gospel stories today are about healing as much as they are about trust, belief, and fear – and that healing is the key.

          So where is the healing in the litany of our lives?

          John Pilch defines healing as the restoration of meaning to people’s lives no matter what their physical condition might be.[1] 

          And just like with physical healing – there is no magic pill that works for everyone and everything with this restoration healing.

          That’s because healing takes work.

          Yes, we are met by the amazing grace of God – and thank God for that.  And it is also true that is not only the work of individuals – but that healing is also communal.

          But like Jairus, we have to be willing to push through the crowd to seek healing – even if it is desperation, not belief that motivates us.

          And like the woman whose life had been flowing out of her for a dozen years, we have to be willing to reach out for that which we believe will bring healing – even when our belief is based on perhaps hope more than trust.

          The woman was healed of her disease when she touched Jesus’ cloak – but meaning was restored to her life when she answered Jesus’ question as to who had touched him.

          Not the glancing brushes and jostling of the crowd.  We are told that he was immediately aware that power had gone forth from him.  That the healing happened by his power, but through her initiative.  And he knew it.

          But instead of being angry or chastising her, when she revealed herself to him he gave her restoration healing:  Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.

          The disease he points to here was not the hemorrhages, but the social isolation such a condition would have caused.  In the culture of the day, blood and bleeding – especially a woman’s intimate bleeding – rendered them unclean and therefore excluded them much social interaction.

          What does it mean to be brought fully into community?

          Maybe it looks like this:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.[2]


          Healing is the restoration of meaning to people’s lives.

          And what of Jairus and his daughter?  While Jesus healed the woman on the road, we are told that people came from Jairus’ house with news of the death of his daughter – and with it the death of his hope.

          And so it is that Jesus leaned in, and I imagine he put his hands on Jairus’ shoulders to steady him, and looking him in the eye, in a voice just above a whisper, he said, “Do not fear, only believe.”

          They went to the house, and going in, Jesus dispersed the crowd and took the hand of the girl as he called to her to get up – an echo perhaps of the power that would call Lazarus to come out – and she did, and Jesus reminded them to feed her.

          Meaning was undoubtedly restored to Jairus’ life with the healing (resurrection!) of his daughter.

          But what about when death is final – at least for the body.  Can there be restoration of meaning to the lives of those who mourn?

          This budges up against a theological line for me.  I believe we can find and make meaning in all the changes and chances of our lives – including tragedy and even death.

          Where I draw the line is when we ascribe that meaning making to God. 

I don’t believe that God made Freddie Gray die so that the fault lines of race and poverty would be exposed in Baltimore – leading to an uprising of people in both Baltimore’s demanding systemic change.  That is the meaning we are making.
I don’t believe that God willed for Dylan Roof to be so overcome by hatred and the sin of racism that this nation has yet to repent of, that he believed he had to kill nine innocents in their sacred house of worship – so that our nation would with renewed vigor take up the conversation of the symbols and systems of racial oppression, as well as gun violence, that continue to plague our common life.  That is the meaning we are making.

These deaths do not in and of themselves have meaning.

But when we sing Amazing Grace together, when there are those among us that are willing to climb up to bring down that which is used to divide us and hold some in “their place” – when the Spirit moving in this place, at this time leads our Church to discern a new leader, and that that leader is for the first time an African-American – THAT is healing because it is a restoration of meaning to people’s lives no matter what their physical condition might be.


Do not fear, only believe.

What does this mean at Memorial?  What work of healing is Memorial being called into?

This community has a long history of this Gospel work.  And as with all things, they have a life cycle.  The dedicated core that holds together a ministry changes over time, and when we are at our best we have the grace to recognize when it is time to let something go, giving thanks for what has been and opening up space and energy for new possibilities.

One new possibility that some in this community are beginning to explore is a partnership with BUILD – Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development.  BUILD is a faith-based community organizing group that has been on the ground and doing the hard but essential work of community listening followed by engagement with civic leaders.

It is a different model than much of the work Memorial has done in the past.  It is less about charity and service, and more about advocacy and justice.  And, I think this is an important thing to name, it is the work of partnering with others rather and directing it yourselves – it involves the hard work of listening to what people need instead of giving them what you think they do.

More information and conversation about this ministry opportunity will unfold in the coming months, and whether ultimately BUILD is the right fit for Memorial or not – the work of healing will still be needed in this world – God’s mission of justice, compassion, and reconciliation is still before you – in the mean time and always.

So I say to you this morning – Do not fear, only believe – and may your trust bring healing to the litany of our lives.

~ AMEN ~




[2] From the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, opinion delivered by Justice Anthony Kennedy, http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sermon from February 8, 2014

The Rev. Kristin N. Krantz                                                                 Epiphany 5/B
Memorial, Baltimore                                                                           Isaiah 40:21-31
Annual Meeting Sunday                                                                     1 Corinthians 9:16-23
2/8/15                                                                                                  Mark 1:29-39


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.
  
          Episcopal prophet and theologian Verna Dozier once remarked, "With Jesus' baptism, his ministry commenced!"

          In the Gospel of Mark, in which we will spend the majority of our time this year, truer words have never been spoken.  There is no birth narrative or poetic prologue; no Annunciation or Magnificat, no shepherds or magi, no boy Jesus in the Temple.

          It begins simply: 
                   The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

          And it doesn't slow down from there.  In the first chapter of Mark we see John the Baptizer preparing the way and then baptizing Jesus; Jesus being driven into the wilderness and facing temptation; his return from the wilderness and the immediate creation of community in the calling of the disciples; this is followed by the exorcism of a man with an unclean spirit in a synagogue and the healing of woman in her home, before Jesus set out travelling and teaching and preaching; the chapter ends with the cleansing of a leper.

          I believe this one chapter shows us, as clearly as anything else we can turn to, how it is we are to live a life of faith.

          It is rooted in baptism.  It contains time in the wilderness and temptations that would lead us away from God.  It includes community -- always community.  And it tells us the work we are given do:  to serve the world through teaching and healing.

+++
          In today's passage, chapter 1, verses 29-39, the action has moved from the exorcising of a demon in the synagogue directly into the home of the mother-in-law of Simon.  We are told she was in bed with a fever.  What unfolds next shows us the centrality of healing and serving to the life of faith.

          (Jesus) came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.  Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

          There is soooo much going on in these two sentences.
         
          The verb used for "lifting her up" is the same that is used for Jesus' resurrection later in chapter 16.  Think about that.

          Of course here it is in the context of Jesus' understanding of illness.  He rejected the understanding of sickness as God's punishment for sin.  Instead he understood illness as un-wholeness -- and therefore healing as the bringing about of wholeness.

          Just as the unclean spirit left the man in the synagogue, we are told that the fever left this woman.  In touching Simon's mother-in-law, and lifting her up, Jesus restored not only her health to wholeness, but her entire being. 

          And what did she do?  She immediately began to serve them.

          Jesus did not command or ask her to serve.  No, it was this unnamed woman who interpreted the gift she was given to be one of ministry, and so it was that she began serving the Lord and the gathered community. 

          She was the first deacon.  Simon and the other disciples wouldn't fully understand Jesus' service and healing until after Easter.  But she got it, and because of her we recognize service as Gospel work. 

+++
          Now, I want to circle back to the understanding of healing as restoration to wholeness.  What a timely message here in the Diocese of Maryland. 

          In the wake of the accident in which our Suffragan Bishop, Heather Cook, killed cyclist Thomas Palermo, much has been broken.

          First and foremost, a human life was lost.  A family and community was broken open.  The Palermo family remains in my prayers and I hope that as you are able you will join me in donating to the fund set up to assist Mr. Palermo's children.

          But the ripples from that tragic day at the end of December keep on extending.  Trust has been broken.  Laws have been broken.  Anger and bewilderment have mixed together with tendrils of compassion and a recognition of the complexities of addiction.  There is just so much, too much.

          But as events continue to unfold -- the Standing Committee of the Diocese sending Heather a letter calling for her resignation and formal indictments from the Grand Jury this past week, and an updated and detailed timeline of events released by our Diocese -- it is clear to me that the journey to wholeness will be a long one.

          Full healing will be hard to come by while we are still in the midst of it all -- waiting for the outcome of the Title IV disciplinary proceedings within the church, and the anticipated eventual jury selection, trial and sentencing.  Every time another domino falls, as we hear about it on the news and see posts (helpful and not-so-much) on social media, the wound that is trying to heal is re-opened.

          And yet, as some of you have said, all of this cannot keep us from doing the work of ministry.  Worship and prayer must continue.  People continue to need to be fed.  The work of justice beckons us.
         
          And I can't help but wonder if a gift that might come from this tragedy could be that we, the Diocese of Maryland, could take the lead in developing training for leaders both lay and clergy in issues of addiction, recognition of behaviors of enabling, and transforming dysfunctional systems.  Would that not be the healing work of the Gospel?  Could that not bring wholeness to the Church and to the world?

          What I know for certain is that no matter how long the journey, community will be essential to the healing process.  One healer has written:

          God's grace through community involves something far greater than other        people's support and perspective.  The power of grace is nowhere as brilliant        nor as mystical as in communities of faith.  Its power includes not just love that comes from people and through people, but love that pours forth among    people, as if through the very spaces between one person and the next.  Just       to be in such an atmosphere is to be bathed in healing power.[1]

          And so it is that we will continue to come together as a community, lifting each other up, trusting that God is with us in the brokenness, and that the love among us will heal.

          As we gather after this service today for our Annual Meeting to take time to reflect on the year past and to look ahead to what is to come, let us take time to say a prayer of thanksgiving for community and for the life of faith lived together.
         
          May the Spirit of healing embrace us, lift us up, awaken us to wholeness, and send us into the world to do the same.

~ AMEN ~



[1] Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 1, Pastoral Perspective - quote from Dr. Gerald May.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Irony, thy name is privilege



The following was published in the Memorial Episcopal Church eNews on January 22, 2015

On Monday about 20 Memorialites gathered along with folk from St. Mark's on the Hill, Guardian Angel, and neighborhood folk from Corpus Christi and Cathedral of the Incarnation, to march in the Martin Luther King, Jr. parade here in Baltimore City.  All told we were about 40, nearly a dozen being kids.  It was a procession of sorts - with a thurifer swinging incense at the front, followed by one of our Vergers, a cross and torches, and banners.  And all the rest of us, proudly holding signs with quotes from Dr. King, words from scripture, and messages of peace and justice.  Our rallying cry was Black Lives Matter - and as we marched to the beat of a djembe drum played by St. Mark's music director - we chanted and sang.  The crowd's response was great and we had great fun proclaiming the Gospel and celebrating with our neighbors.  Plans are already underway to do it again - and bigger! - next year.

What I want to share with you, in addition, is something that happened to me after the parade, that I am continuing to reflect upon and pray about.  And it illustrates nearly perfectly why we marched for Black Lives Matter.

After the parade some folk from our group decided to walk to Lexington Market to eat and then take transit back to church, while some of us instead decided to just walk back to church.  There were lots of people still out and about--the parade had officially ended and clean up was beginning, but many were still talking with friends, and families were herding excited but tired children as they turned toward home.  I was one such parent coaxing two tired and hungry boys to make the return trip to church.  As we were stopped at a corner waiting to cross the street, a white police officer approached and asked me where we were going.  I told him we were walking back to our church in Bolton Hill.  He then informed me that there was a group of rowdy adolescents between us and there and so we should take it slow so that they could be dispersed.

Now maybe he said this to others as they crossed his path, however I did not witness that.  I saw him walk back over to stand next to his colleague.  In a sea of mostly African-American people, I was the only person I saw him approach.  And I can't help but wonder if he talked to me because I was a White woman.  Or was it because of the clerical garb I wore?  Perhaps it was because I had children with me.  My privilege is wrapped up in all three and more, and I  have to say I wasn't surprised that he warned me.  As a White, middle class person I have been raised to believe that the police are there to protect and serve me - and for the most part my experience has born this out.  But what happened as I walked up Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard was more than an anecdote - it was a concrete example of how the value of my life is worth more in the society we live in.  We may no longer have written into our Constitution that a Black life only counts as three-fifths of all other persons, but that lived experience remains.

And so it is that after carrying a sign over my head in a parade for over a mile that proclaimed BLACK LIVES MATTER, I shake my head at the irony - and I renew my pledge to do the work of God's mission of justice, compassion, and reconciliation in our broken world.


Yours in God's peace, Kristin+

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.