Easter Vigil, Year C, 2016

Fire and water.

Only these two elemental symbols can capture the mystery of the Easter Vigil.

We start with fire, burning a hole in the darkness created by Christ’s death.

From the stars of creation, to the burning bush, to the pillar of fire and smoke that led the Israelites in the wilderness; throughout history God has used fire to point to himself. Fire has a numinous, dangerous quality. It illuminates, but it can destroy. It can warm, or consume. Fire points at God’s power and his mystery.

We defiantly light a new fire on Holy Saturday though Christ lies dead in the tomb. That fire is a symbol of Christ’s eternal light. It hovers on top of the Paschal candle. The candle reminds us that nothing can extinguish Christ’s light, not even death.

Water is a thread through many of our readings tonight. Water covered the Earth at the beginning of Creation. Life was born out of that water. Water contained the potential for everything that is now our world. God used that same life giving water to demolish the human race during the time of Noah. God made a new start with us, and water was what he used to cleanse his canvas. He saved the Israelites from the Egyptians by parting water and then provided thirsty Israelites water from a rock in answer to their unbelief. The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans that through water we are baptized in Christ’s death. Water drowns and cleans us so we can stand before God, ready to participate in Christ’s life.

We will sprinkle Liam delicately tonight, but in the first baptisms, he would have been plunged into a river and then brought out gasping for air. The death of his old life would have been clearer than with our polite ritual. But God is doing the same work in Liam tonight as he has done for all of us baptized. He is putting to death what was old in Liam, and awakening new life in him. Liam will receive a Christ candle, a reminder that Christ’s fire now burns in his heart. A reminder that Liam no longer needs to fear death, no longer needs to fear anything, because the power of God resides within him.

The powers of death and darkness have no hold over us. They have been defeated by Christ’s resurrection. There is nothing that can now separate us from God. His fire is eternally kindled in our hearts.

My final words are taken from John Chrysostom’s famous Easter Vigil sermon:

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

 

Palm Sunday, Year C, 2016

The Passion narrative seems particularly resonant this year, with its scenes of crowds shouting for a sacrifice to ease their anxiety, hoping for blood to appease their anger. We see now that these kinds of crowds are not a historical relic, but part of the human condition. I know many of us are deeply anxious about the current political situation in our country, for good reason, but I do think Jesus has good, if somber news for us today.

Going back to the Palm Sunday reading, you may have noticed a few things. There are no palms for one thing. Jesus’ disciples lay their coats for Jesus, not palm branches. And no one shouts “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Instead they shout,

“Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

Luke is deeply interested in peace, and the particular peace that Jesus brings to a violent and oppressive world. The disciples’ words echo the words of the angels who appear to the shepherds upon Jesus’ birth.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

But, there is one key difference. The disciples do not shout “peace on earth”, they shout “peace in heaven”. Perhaps they are still hoping Jesus will exercise military power, organize the Jewish population to overthrow the Roman military rule. We think of the group of disciples here as being a joyful contrast to the bloodthirsty crowd that calls for Jesus’ death. But even these disciples, who have been following Jesus, may want blood. They are thrilled that Jesus is finally traveling to Jerusalem, that he is finally going to set straight the powers of the day.

But of course, the only blood Jesus intends to shed is his own.

After his betrayal, Jesus meets the violence of the crowds in Jerusalem not with resistance, but with a clear sense of who he is, and a deep trust in God’s providence for him. Jesus does not achieve peace by trying to make everyone happy. Jesus doesn’t hold press conferences and try to appease the Romans, the corrupt powers in Jerusalem and his ordinary followers. No, Jesus remains completely clear about his values—following God means loving God and your neighbor. He knows his Father will be with him, even as he trembles in fear in the Garden.

We don’t get to the resurrection in today’s readings yet, so I’ll leave us here, standing before our crucified Jesus. Standing before our God who was willing to face us at our violent worst, who was willing to love us through our own violence, even when violence is not what he wanted from us.

The good news is that Jesus loves us through our worst, and that he shows us a way of peace in a violent time. Peace does not mean avoiding conflict, but being true to our Christian values even if it becomes costly to us. The final promise we make in baptism is to: Strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. This means respecting the dignity of people of every religion, every race, every nation and every political party.

The Bishops of the Episcopal Church recently met and released the following statement:

We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”

On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the weak and the blameless to protect their own status and power. On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, revealing not only their injustice but also unmasking the lie that might makes right.

In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.

In this moment, we resemble God’s children wandering in the wilderness. We, like they, are struggling to find our way. They turned from following God and worshiped a golden calf constructed from their own wealth. The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege. We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else.

We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.

Our bishops know we are sinners and we are saints. We have the capacity for violence and the capacity for reconciliation. Developing a spirit of reconciliation is hard, hard work. Picking a side and the demonizing every person who disagrees with us is much easier, but we are the light of the world, we are the body of Christ. And like Christ, we are called to be out in the world actually encountering and relating to people who are different from us. Jesus was in conversation with Pharisees and tax collectors, sinners and Romans. Jesus spoke with outsiders and insiders. The early church was a hodgepodge of Jews and Gentiles, poor and rich, those in power and those out of power.

We can be clear about our values while still treating people who think differently than we do with dignity. We can disagree about policy related to immigration or ISIS while agreeing to be friends. But our promise to treat each person with dignity, and Christ’s overwhelming love for all humankind makes it impossible for us to embrace racism, hatred of the refugee, and hatred of Muslims.

Following God is costly. Jesus was willing to lose everything—power, privilege, even his life. Are we willing to follow?

Lent 4, Year C, 2016

When I was in high school and college, teachers loved group projects. Maybe that has always been the case and is still the case, but in the late 90s, the group project reigned. Group projects, I suppose, are designed to help a person learn to play nicely, to function well on a team. But as every tightly wound over functioning person knows, group projects are the WORST. In group projects everyone gets the same grade, whether one person does all the work or whether the work is evenly shared. You can be a member of a group project and do nothing but snap your gum and you can still succeed! Where is the justice?

I hate to break it to you other over-functioning types, but today’s Gospel is not going to make you feel much better. Well, it won’t at first. But hang in there, because this Gospel contains grace for all of us, whether we think we have it all together or whether we don’t.

Today’s Gospel is a family parable. We have a father and two sons. His eldest is a hard working, responsible typical first born. His younger son? Let’s just say he’s still “finding himself”. In a move that must have infuriated his older brother, the younger son asks for his share of his inheritance—while his father is still alive—and then goes and blows it all on fast cars, whiskey and women. Soon he is broke and working a terrible job as a pig feeder. The moment he realizes he would be grateful sharing the pigs’ food he “comes to himself”. He remembers who he is. He wakes up. And he goes home.

He prepares a whole speech, but before he can open his mouth, his father runs to him with open arms. Not only is this young man welcomed home, but his father throws him a huge party. His brother, though, is not happy. While the younger son has been out partying, who has held down the fort? Who has consoled their father? Who has done extra work? The first born. He just cannot understand his father’s forgiveness. His father assures him that “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours,” but we are left not knowing if he ever comes around to accepting his father’s love and letting go of resentment.

Jesus told this story to some Pharisees who were NOT happy with the company Jesus was keeping. They couldn’t understand why Jesus would spend time with tax collectors and sinners when he could be spending time with the rule followers. This prodigal son parable is the third one Jesus tells the Pharisees in response to their grumbling. The other parables are about a lost sheep and a lost coin. To Jesus, this prodigal son is also lost. And Jesus’ job was to find all the lost people and tell them how much God loves them.

And let’s be honest, the prodigal son is not any more lost than the first born son. Because the first born son thinks all his hard work and responsible behavior is what makes him a worthwhile person. He believes that love can be earned.

At the WomanKind conference at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Richmond last weekend, Nadia Bolz-Weber was the keynote speaker. Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor, but if you saw her on the street you would not guess that about her. She is 6’ 1”, has short spiky hair, wears combat boots, and is covered in tattoos. On one arm is a huge Mary Magdalene and on the other is Jesus. Bolz-Weber is a recovering addict, and once made a living as a stand up comic. So, not your typical pastor. She pastors a church in Denver called Sinners and All Saints that was designed for people on the margins, but now attracts a wide variety of followers.

One reason Bolz-Weber has been so popular, besides the fact that she curses like a sailor, is that she seems to truly, deeply understand the concept of grace. She was lost and she was found, and she continues to have a deep understanding of what it means to be found by God.

During her session at WomanKind, she talked about how all of us have an ideal version of ourselves. My ideal self, for example, goes to the gym three times a week and does yoga the other days. She reads poetry for fun and definitely does not snap, “Get your bottom in the car seat!” every single morning. My ideal self has a tidy house, eats quinoa, and drinks green tea. She does not have a problem with sugar.

There is a part of my brain that thinks I’ll get there some day. Like, if I just tried hard enough, I would get my act together. But Bolz-Weber reminded us that this ideal version of ourself? IT DOES NOT EXIST. It is a fictional person. The actual self? The sloppy, chocolate eating, Entertainment Weekly reading self? That is my real self. That is the self that God loves. Bolz-Weber says the Lutherans understand the gap—the gap between the real self and the ideal self as the Law. And the Gospel is the answer to that gap. Jesus came to live in a human body because he loved actual humans and he wanted to redeem the actual human experience. Jesus does not love our ideal selves because our ideal selves do not exist.

Even the most responsible of us have this ideal self. And I think this understanding of the gap between our real self and our ideal self helps us understand God’s grace better. We may not all have spectacular moments of failure like the prodigal son, but that does not mean we do not need grace. Because none of us is perfectly comfortable in our own skin. We all think there is something else we need to be doing to be worthy of full love and acceptance. We all are striving to meet these ideals, to hit some external mark of success. In an interview with Commonweal, Bolz-Weber says,

“Any system where the message is: through your own striving you can become pure in some way, morally, ethically or politically—that’s impossible. That’s what we call being “under the law.” And when you’re under the law there are only two options: pride or despair. You’re either prideful about the way that you’re nailing it, especially if other people aren’t, or you despair that you can’t live up to it. Either way it’s not good news. But we all think the law will save us.[1]

But the law won’t save us. We’ll either be in the position of the prodigal son—who completely fails to live up to expectations and feels deep shame, or we’ll be in the position of the first born son—who is so blinded by pride he cannot allow himself to experience the love of his father.

And I’m not just talking about religious law here. We delude ourselves into living under all kinds of systems of law—if we eat nothing but local food and drive a Prius we’ll be saved, if we make more money than our parents we’ll be saved, if we believe exactly the right conservative or liberal principles we’ll be saved, if our bodies look thin or strong enough we’ll be saved. All these systems lie to us.

Jesus did not come to earth just for the sinners and tax collectors. He came for everyone, Pharisees and Prius owners included. Jesus is the prodigal father, with his arms outstretched, delighted his son has returned. Jesus is the prodigal father, who would be just as delighted to celebrate his first born son.

Jesus chooses to love us, our actual messy imperfect selves. He chooses to love you. Right now. Not because you deserve it, not because you have your act together, but because his Father created you and his Father loves his creations.

You are loved by God whether you are rich or broke, responsible or a “failure”, whether the people in your life are kind to you or if they are awful, whether you complete your checklist every day or never get out of bed.

If you were a coin that went missing, Jesus would turn over every floorboard in this church to find you. If you were a sheep that wandered off, Jesus would hunt you down, throw you over his shoulders and carry you back home. If you were his son and you spit in his face and ran away from home, Jesus would run down the road to meet you on your way back.

So, we can let go. Let go of that ideal self. Get to know your actual self. And get to know the God that loves you.

Amen.

 

[1] https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/we-all-think-law-will-save-us

Lent 2, Year C, 2016

About a year ago in Kirklea, we heard a commotion out the window. I looked out the window and saw two foxes running as fast as they could across the lawn. I ran downstairs to get a better look and Jordan, shouted, “Did you see those dogs?” I scoffed and told him they were definitely foxes. I might have said something snotty about him being a city person. He looked at my quizzically and said, “But they were white and brown!” Sure enough, just then I saw two hound dogs running as fast as they could, clearly on the hunt for those foxes.

That will teach me to judge someone else’s experience!

We are quite fond of our little foxes at Kirklea. I haven’t seen them since that chase, but for a couple of years, we would see the mother walking across the lawn, looking for something to eat. The little kits would peek their heads out of the bamboo that has since been smothered by kudzu, as if they were saying goodbye to us at the end of a long day.

As any of you who own chickens know, though, foxes aren’t actually adorable. Foxes are cunning and tricky and vicious. Foxes will adapt to whatever situation they are living in. Foxes will figure out how to penetrate weak spots in any defense you erect. Foxes are the hunted, but they are also the hunters.

Herod was a fox, or at least Jesus thought so. Herod was tetrarch, he was the man on the throne, but he was also vulnerable. He was not in the line of David, and his behavior was atrocious. John the Baptist had gone after Herod hard for marrying his brother’s wife. John the Baptist had humiliated Herod in front of hundreds of people. So, Herod, like the crafty, threatened fox he was, had John the Baptist imprisoned and killed. But Herod also represents leadership in Jerusalem who had betrayed their people. They are the foxes in the hen houses of God’s people. Instead of looking after God’s people and teaching them about God’s ways, Herod is a leader interested in only his self-interest. He is part of a corrupt system.

If John the Baptist made Herod angry, Jesus made him terrified. Herod must have felt like he was dealing with a holy game of Whack-a-Mole. As soon as he takes care of John, this Jesus pops up in Herod’s place. Jesus has not been going after Herod directly, like John the Baptist did, but he has been going from town to town teaching people about God and doing miracles. Jesus is a huge threat to Herod.  What if Jesus starts a revolution? What if Jesus tries to overthrow Herod?

So, when some Pharisees hear that Herod is coming after Jesus, they warn him. Maybe they are being compassionate. Maybe they just want Jesus to get out of town. But Jesus knows who he is and what he is doing.

Jesus, once again completely cool and collected checks his day planner: “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.”

Jesus is completely unmoved by the threat of the fox. Does Jesus see himself like a bloodhound, able to chase down the threat of a fox? Does he see himself as a hunter, ready to put a knife into the fox?

No, Jesus sees himself as a chicken. A chicken! And not even a brash rooster. He sees himself as a gentle, motherly hen.

Jesus longs to reach out his wings and embrace all the children of Jerusalem. He wants to gather in his people and share God’s love with them. Jesus wants to be the uncorrupted leader they deserve.

Oh, Jerusalem. It is no mistake that in the Gospel of Luke, the whole structure of the book leads up to Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been the hope of the Jewish people since the time of King David. Through Solomon’s time building the temple, through kings good and bad, through exile after exile, through return and rebuilding, Jerusalem has represented the hopes of God’s people. But Jerusalem also holds dangers, especially for prophets. When a prophet speaks God’s truth, he puts himself at risk, especially in a corrupted Jerusalem.

When the Pharisees warn Jesus, Jesus has not yet traveled to Jerusalem. But, he knows Jerusalem is in his future. He hopes it will greet him with “Blessed is the one in the name of the Lord!”, but he also knows that Jerusalem may be too corrupt to hear him. Jesus says, “Your house is left to you.” Jerusalem may no longer be God’s house if its citizens cannot accept Jesus. Jerusalem may lose its status if they align themselves with Herod instead of with Jesus.

The people of Jerusalem are left with a choice. Will they be fox people or hen people? Do they trust in the wily machinations of power or do they trust in the expansive, mothering love of God?

We are given the same choice. There are plenty of people who offer us a God who would be a stranger to Jesus. Whether it is televangelists promising healing in exchange for cash, candidates twisting scripture to use it for their own ends, or clergy using power to abuse God’s people, there are still foxes in God’s hen house.

Choosing the hen’s path can seem foolish. After all, hens are incredibly vulnerable. Hens couldn’t be lower in the evolutionary pecking order.

But there’s a catch—a huge catch—while a hen may seem incredibly vulnerable when in the same cage with a fox, our hen has the power of God behind him. This wily fox Herod is just no match for Jesus. For when Herod finally catches Jesus and does exactly what a fox does with a hen, just when it seems that the foxes of the world always win, God resurrects Jesus and changes all the rules.

We worship a God who creates a way for hen values: compassion, vulnerability, life to overpower fox values: power, greed, death. In our life with God, we will find that he will deepen those hen parts of our personality while he heals us of the fox parts of our personality. He will help us be brave and show our imperfect, vulnerable selves to the world. We will be shocked at how showing our true, open, loving selves will bring real healing in the world. God does not give us the kind of weapons we think we might need to get his work done in the world. He doesn’t give us bludgeons or swords, he gives us patience and hope and joy. These tools seem so impractical! You can’t even put them in a spreadsheet! They can’t be quantified.

But these tools are incredibly powerful. If you are an unrepentant church nerd, you might know that Lent madness started this week—the Episcopal Church’s ridiculous battle of saint versus saint as they “compete” for the Golden Halo. Think March Madness brackets but with St. Joseph, Christina Rossetti, and Absalom Jones instead of Georgetown and UNC. What makes each of these saints, saints was there ability to share their true, vulnerable selves with the world. Joseph put aside his respectability to father Jesus. Christina Rossetti bared her poet’s soul to the world and gave us gifts of words that have inspired generations. Absalom Jones risked hatred and violence to become the first African American Episcopal Priest.

It takes true courage to risk showing your hen self to the world. This Lent, I challenge you to take a risk when you interact with the people in your life and show them your true self. Show God your true self. You won’t regret it.

Epiphany 4, 2016

If I were staging a modern day version of the scene we get in last week and this week’s Gospel lectionary, this is how it would go:

You are in small, dusty town, when all of a sudden you hear a loud base beat. As you look into the distance you see someone driving slowly in a convertible, one hand on the wheel. The car pulls up to the synagogue, Jesus cool as a cucumber, steps out of the car, pulls off his sunglasses, and looks slowly around his hometown. He calmly ascends the synagogue steps, unrolls a scroll of Scripture, reads it and then says those famous words that start, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me. . .” When he finishes, he would drop his mic. Or the scroll, or something. The point is, it would be very cool, you guys. In modern parlance, the Jesus in this scene is very baller.

Jesus is super confident and the crowds love it! They love that this hometown boy, Joseph’s son, has gone on to do such amazing things.

Well, they love what he says until he reports that he will be doing no miracles in his hometown. Now, in the text, they don’t ask him to do miracles. He just announces he won’t do any. And then he announces that no prophet is accepted in his hometown. And then, as if to make that prophecy come true, Jesus starts throwing some serious shade.

One would think that Jesus’ friends and relatives in Nazareth would be at the heart of the gospel message. After all, wouldn’t Jesus want to share the good news and do miracles, for the people he loved the most?

Instead, Jesus tells the crowd two stories. He reminds them that Elijah did not help every person who was suffering from the famine, only a widow in Sidon. And Elisha did not help every leper, only Namaan, the Syrian.

Both the widow and Namaan are outsiders. If she is a poor widow, it means she had no family willing to take her in. And Namaan was a Syrian! He was of a different nationality. He was not part of the in crowd.

Now, this is old news to us. Jesus loves outsiders, we get it. But for those of you who were at Sunday School today, you’ll have learned that just a few hundred years before Jesus, prophets were telling the Jewish people not to marry outside of their faith, and even to expel non-Jews from Jerusalem. The prophets were concerned that non-Jews were introducing false gods and tempting Jews to worship them. They thought being insular might be a good solution. Now, we know this was not true for all of Jewish history. As Professor Adams taught us, Israel and Judah were always porous, always living amongst other nations. But, in the latter part of the New Testament, this exclusion of the other was definitely a part of the culture.

So, the good old citizens of Nazareth are deeply insulted that Jesus would rather spread his gifts around outsiders than his own community! They are so mad, they try to force him off a cliff!

Jesus, cool as ever, just walks through the crowd and on to Capernaum where he teaches and exorcises a demon.

In the Gospel of Luke, the attention and energy of God is always with those on the margins. Jesus seems to always be with the unexpected—the tax collector, the woman with a shady past, lepers, the ill. And of course, after Jesus’ death the early church went through the exciting and painful realization that Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the joy of Christian community was for everyone—including those who were not Jewish.

The Jesus of Luke’s gospel really challenges us who in some ways are in the position of the good people of Nazareth. We are the respectable ones now, with a long tradition of following God. We Episcopalians are so proud of our apostolic tradition, in which we can trace our Bishops all the way back to Peter.

What would it look like for us to keep our eyes open for where God is working in the margins?

Have you heard of the Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards? I have no idea what his religious background is, but he is a environmental engineering professor. A decade ago, he uncovered contaminated water in Washington DC and fought the CDC for years until they acknowledged that yes, the city’s pipes were deteriorating and DC residents were being poisoned by the water. Well, a resident of Flint, Michigan named Leanne Walters read about him, contacted him and mailed him samples of the local water to test. She had previously sent samples to the EPA, which claimed the water was safe. The local government also repeatedly told residents the water was safe to drink. But these residents could observe their children’s hair falling out and knew things were not right. It was professor Edwards’ who discovered that the levels of lead in Flint, Michigan were shockingly high. One glass of the water was enough to poison a child and children had been drinking the water for two years. Now, at this point, professor Edwards, who had already been financially strapped and slandered by many during his years long fight with Washington, DC officials could have let the people of Flint handle the rest of the fight on their own. The Washington Post reports that he shared his findings with the EPA, who ignored him. He then pulled a team at VA Tech together who filed Freedom of Information Act requests to prove that the local governments and EPA knew about the conditions of the water in Flint. He has gone through $150,000 of his research and personal funds to fight for the people of Flint, Michigan.

His courage motivated Dr. Mona Hatta-Attis, a Michigan pediatrician and daughter of Iraqi immigrants, to start testing her patients. The levels of lead she found in her patients had doubled and even tripled since the source of the water had been changed. She continued to press this point, even after local city officials and media accused her of being hysterical. Dr. Edwards had an ally inside the EPA, as well, Miguel Del Toral, who released internal memos a year ago arguing the water of Flint was unsafe. His boss suppressed his findings. Working together, these four people–fought and fought and fought until public attention was brought to the problem.

Dr. Edwards so won the trust of the people of Flint that they insisted he be in charge of restoring their water systems He agreed.

I think Ms. Walters, Dr. Edwards, Dr. Hatta-Attis and Mr. Del Toral are living examples of what it means to be in the world like Jesus was in the world. In their case, the outsiders they cared about were the children of Flint, Michigan.  They stayed calm under pressure and continue to speak their truths even when faced with enormous opposition. They knew that these children, who have no money, no prestige, no power were important enough to protect.

Now, not very many of us are going to ever be in the position to be a hero under these kind of circumstances. But fifty of you, FIFTY, participated in some way in our PACEM ministry to homeless women this week. Fifty of you donated your resources or time or presence to give women a nurturing environment instead of a cold night on the streets.

And each of us has the opportunity in our daily lives to listen to the stories of people who are different than we are. We have the ability to grow in our understanding of what life is like for people beyond Albemarle County, or what life is like in the corners of our county that don’t usually get attention. We have the ability to reach out and make connections with people in our neighborhoods and offices and classrooms. When we follow Jesus, we never know where we will land! May God give us the privilege of joining him on the margins and seeing him at work. Amen.

To donate to the Flint Water Study or for clean water for Flint residents, go here.

 

Advent 1, Year C, 2015

In Madeleine L’Engle’s great novel A Wrinkle in Time, Meg an ordinary daughter of two scientists, is propelled on a hero’s journey. Meg’s father, who has discovered a form of travel through space and time known as a tesseract, has become imprisoned on another planet.

Meg meets a mysterious woman, Mrs. Whatsit, who, with her friends Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, leads her through space and time to various planets before they begin the hard work of rescuing her father. Meg’s little brother, Charles Wallace and a friend, Calvin go along for the ride.

In the fourth chapter of the book they glimpse a shadow covering the planet on which her father is trapped. L’Engle writes

It was a shadow, nothing but a shadow. It was not even as tangible as a cloud. Was it cast by something? Or was it a Thing in itself?…What could there be about a shadow that was so terrible that she knew that there had never been before or ever would be again, anything that would chill her with a fear that was beyond shuddering, beyond crying or screaming, beyond the possibility of comfort?

This terrifying image has stayed with me the last few weeks, as I worry about the violence that has overshadowed our country and the world the last few weeks. But this image also is evoked by the apocalyptic images of Advent found in the Gospels.

The Gospel writer Mark was convinced that the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 was an apocalyptic sign—a revelation that Jesus’ return was imminent. But years have passed and Jesus hasn’t returned, so Luke is recasting the expectation for first-Generation Christians. Yes, Jesus will come back, and there will be signs leading up to his return, but we cannot know when that will be.

We are in the middle of the story, and we don’t know when it will end.

Jesus has died and been resurrected. As the biblical scholar David Lose puts it, “We live, according to Luke, between the two great poles of God’s intervention in the world: the coming of Christ in the flesh and his triumph over death . . . and the coming of Christ in glory at the end of time and his triumph over all the powers of earth and heaven.”[1]

Being in the middle of the story means we still have to face dark clouds. We still have to wait for a time when there will no longer be violence, no longer be suffering, no longer be tears.

So, how should we wait? In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells his followers,

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.

We are to stay alert, but not panic.

That is not so easy, is it?

Over and over again, when Angels bring the good news of Jesus’ birth to human beings they introduce themselves by saying, “Fear not!” We are fearful people. We fear violence. We fear change. We fear the other. We fear not having enough. We fear not being in power. When we are afraid we can lash out, overreact, panic.

The other extreme is to bury our head in the sand. If we just detach from whatever is troubling us, then we can avoid the fear. We play make-believe and only engage with what makes us feel better.

But in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus suggests a third way. Jesus says “Be on guard” and “Be alert”.

Followers of Jesus need not lash out in fear or retreat in denial. Our job is to stand up, be alert and to live out our Christian vocation, those promises we made in our baptism.

To return to A Wrinkle in Time, a point comes where Meg and her friends are given the call to stand up, to be alert and to live out their vocation. We pick up in Chapter 5.

Mrs. Which’s voice reverberated through the cave. “Therre will nno llonggerr bee sso many pplleasanntt thinggss too llookk att iff rressponssible ppeoplle ddo nnott ddoo ssomethingg abboutt thee unnppleasanntt oness.”. .

“Who have our fighters been?” Calvin asked.

“Oh, you must know them, dear,” Mrs. Whatsit said.

Mrs. Who’s spectacles shone out at them triumphantly, “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”

“Jesus!” Charles Wallace said. “Why of course, Jesus!”

“Of course!” Mrs. Whatsit said. “Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They’ve been lights for us to see by.”

“Leonardo da Vinci?” Calvin suggested tentatively. “And Michelangelo?”

“And Shakespeare,” Charles Wallace called out, “and Bach! And Pasteur and Madame Curie and Einstein!”

Now Calvin’s voice rang with confidence. “And Schweitzer and Gandhi and Buddha and Beethoven and Rembrandt and St. Francis!”

L’Engle recognizes the many, many ways human beings can live out their vocations as light-bearers of the world, whether they are Christian or not. L’Engle was famously an Episcopalian, so she would have read our baptismal vows every time there was a baptism at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine where she worshiped in New York City. And she knew that whether you had a vocation to ordained life, or making art, or being a scientist, or any thing else, really, you have the power to spread Christ’s light in the darkness.

I think of the mom in California who is collecting and sending baby carriers to refugee parents in Greece and the volunteers who are traveling to Greece to distribute and fit the carriers. I think of Sarah Staudt, the daughter of a Virginia Theological Seminary professor. She is now a lawyer who represents young people of color in the Chicago courts. I think of my former neighbor Sam Greenlee, who picks up Syrian refugees from the airport in Sacramento and drives them to their new lives. He writes their stories in Facebook posts so that we might be reminded of their humanity. I think of each of you who are teachers and nurses and doctors and social workers and painters and musicians. I think of you who use your wealth to bring beauty and education into the world. I think of each of you who prays for our world, who writes letters to our legislators, who teach your children the way of peace.

The dark cloud can seem so overwhelming, but we are not powerless. The light of Christ empowers each of us to do our part to illuminate the darkness. And so we stay alert, we keep our heads up and we dot he work of Christ while we await his return.

[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=480

All Saints, Year B, 2015

“Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” That’s what the Gospel of John tells us right after Jesus hears the news of Lazarus’ death. This family is special to Jesus. So special that Jesus stays with them in Bethany when he travels to Jerusalem to face his death. If you map out that final week or so of his life, you see him walking back and forth from Bethany to Jerusalem, over and over. They gave Jesus the comfort he needed to face the most difficult time in his life. So, Lazarus, Mary and Martha are not anonymous people that are part of a crowd who follow Jesus. They aren’t even the disciples. Martha, Mary and Lazarus are Jesus’ friends, his tribe. Mary anoints Jesus. She is the only person in his life who seems to truly understand that death is in his future. In the Gospel of Luke we experience Mary and Martha as bickering sisters, but in the Gospel of John we see them both as women of faith, beloved of Jesus.

So, when their brother Lazarus dies, and Jesus does not come right away to heal him, both the sisters are understandably devastated. They have sent word to Jesus, Jesus could have come, but he doesn’t. Jesus has healed hundreds of other people’s brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers, but he won’t come to Bethany to heal one of his closest friends?

One of the most painful experiences after the death of a loved one can be this sense that God has abandoned you and your loved one. That, if God really saw your pain, heard your prayers, loved you, then God would heal the people you love. This pain and sense of loss can even mutate into a belief that God chose death for your loved one, chose suffering for you. We can come to believe that God is capricious and malevolent, or that you are somehow not holy enough to be worth his attention.

One of the great gifts of this story is that Mary and Martha ask our question to Jesus. Because they are two different people, in two different emotional spaces, Jesus answers them individually. When Jesus first arrives on the scene Martha runs up to him and tells him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Martha goes on to say, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus then goes on to have a theological conversation with her. He explains to her that he is the resurrection and life, that he is the Messiah that has power even over death. When she and Jesus get to the house, he encounters Mary, who is still weeping. She also says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But Jesus doesn’t give her a theological lecture. For a moment, he stops being the teacher, and simply weeps alongside of her.

This is our Jesus. He is both the power over death and the one who weeps alongside us.

There was a time when theologians understood God as impassable, so this moment when Jesus weeps alongside Mary was a real puzzler for them. Jesus must have been weeping as some kind of a show, to make a point, because if Jesus was God than Jesus could not be affected by deeper human emotions. But for all those of you who have been following along with us in the Old Testament, you’ll have noticed that God, as expressed by the Hebrew Scriptures, is the opposite of impassable. He is deeply connected to human beings. He loves them and is frustrated by them. And throughout the Gospels we have experienced Jesus as deeply moved by the humans around him and their suffering. He moves toward people, does not keep distance from them. So, Jesus’ tears seem completely in line with the God we are getting to know. A God who made us, but also identifies with us. A God who weeps with us when we face the limitations of our bodies, and makes a way for us beyond our bodies’ finitude.

Our bodies are part of Creation. And creation is by definition finite and imperfect. Only the Creator is eternal and perfect. Every human being dies. Ideally, we would all die peacefully in our sleep when we felt like we have wrung every drop out of the life we have been given. But because our bodies are created and imperfect, we can die young from any number of diseases, accidents, or acts of violence. These deaths are not God’s judgment on us as individuals; they are just what it means to be part of a broken Creation.

God does not always intervene in our illnesses and accidents, but that does not mean God has abandoned us. God has already proclaimed his love for us and our liberation from death through Jesus’s death and resurrection. Jesus is our ally not only in mourning the death of his friend, but in actually experiencing death. He engages with us on the deepest possible level, facing our fears head on and experiencing the very worst our lives can offer.

But his Father, our Creator, does not leave Jesus to face the consequences of death. Instead he pulls Jesus from the depths of death into the fullness of life again. And in that moment he offers all of us the same eternal life. You do not need to wonder if God has abandoned you, because God has already done everything he needs to do to ensure you and God and all the Saints that have come before us and will come after us will have eternal life together.

When Jesus chooses to resurrect Lazarus he is demonstrating the radical power of God over death. He is giving his close friends a front row seat to God’s new plan for humanity. No longer will we be limited by the imperfections of creation. No longer will we be banished for our sin. Jesus is making a way for Mary, Martha and Lazarus to be his friends eternally. Jesus is making a way for all of us to be united with God forever.

Wherever you are in relationship to your own mortality or the death of someone you have loved, know this: Jesus is with you, not against you. Jesus is alongside you as you grieve and Jesus is at work preparing a place for you and the ones you love in his heavenly kingdom.

Jesus loved ordinary saints like Mary, Martha and Lazarus and Jesus loves ordinary saints like us.

On All Saints day we celebrate this reality as we give thanks for all the Saints that have gone before us. We lift up their names in gratitude and in the deep joy that they are now living their resurrected lives alongside Lazarus.

Thanks Be to God.

Amen.

Proper 24, Year B, 2015

The last few weeks the Old Testament readings have given us a taste of Job’s story. The book of Job is a very unusual one. Job is not part of any narrative history, like Moses or David. In fact Israel is not even mentioned. Job is a stand alone mythic tale written about human suffering.

In the story, God is meeting with his heavenly beings, Satan being one of them. God remarks about this righteous man, Job, and Satan challenges him. Satan says, “Of course he is righteous, you’ve made him prosperous and he is surrounded by a loving family. Why wouldn’t he be righteous?” God is convinced Job will remain righteous, so he allows Satan to interfere with Job’s life. Job’s animals are stolen, his children are killed, and he is given a terrible skin disease that makes him anathema to every one around him.

Job is devastated and just wants to die, but he remains faithful to God. Three of his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar come to comfort him. At first they spend a week just silently supporting Job, but then the friends start giving helpful advice. They say things like, “I guess your children died because God needed a few more angels” and “God won’t give you more than you can bear.” and “Everything happens for a reason.”

Okay, so his friends don’t say those things.

But they are sure they have the answers to Job’s problems. Eliphaz suggests that Job should be happy to be experiencing God’s discipline. Bildad suggests Job should just pray harder. Zophar is convinced that Job must be hiding some secret sin and if Job would just be honest about it, God would restore everything that had been taken away from him.

You can just hear Job groaning as he replies to each of his friends, assuring them that he has been praying, that he has remained righteous, but that all of this suffering is happening anyway. He is utterly miserable and just wants God to send him to Sheol so he does not need to suffer any more. Job pleads his case before God, wanting answers, wanting relief.

Once his friends are done talking, a young man who has been listening to the conversation, decides he just has to jump in and give Job his perspective. He tells Job that Job has been dwelling too much on the negative and if he just focused on how great God is, everything will turn around for him.

Poor Job. Everyone wants to weigh in on his problems, and the only One he wants to hear from is God.

Job’s story is universally understood, because everyone has suffered at some point in his or her life. Everyone has been ill, or lost a loved one, or had serious financial problems. We all know the feeling of being completely overwhelmed, unable to help ourselves. We can also relate to the experience of people around us not really knowing how to help. How many of our mothers just can’t help but give us unasked for advice? How many of our friends give us awkward words of comfort? How many of us have had strangers weigh in on our lives? We get Job. We get his grief, his feelings of isolation and his anger. We, too, want to know why God lets terrible things happen to us. If God loves us, shouldn’t he protect us?

Job desperately wants answers from God and for God to help him.

But when God finally answers Job, and appears in a whirlwind, it becomes clear that God is not interested in giving Job the kind of pastoral care for which he was hoping!

Instead God summons Job:

Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

And then a series of questions:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you?

Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may goand say to you, `Here we are’?

Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together?

Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert?

Phew! Is this the heavenly equivalent of God saying, “Because I’m your mother, that’s why!” For the whole story, Job has been the center of the universe. All the action and terrors have been focused on Job. And that’s how it feels when we suffer, right? When we are in pain, all we can see is our own experience.

But here is God, reminding Job that God remains at the center of the universe. He’s not saying this to diminish Job, in fact, he tells Job to “Gird up his loins”. He wants Job to contend with him. But God places himself firmly in the position of the Creator who knows his creation more deeply than any human ever could. God knows the deep order of the universe—and there is a deep order, the sun rising and setting, the tides moving in and out, birth and death—even if our lives feel like chaos. God reminds Job of the beauty of the world.

David Henson, in a beautiful homily titled “What Job and God learn from each other” writes:

Instead, God responds with beauty.

Job cast a vision of a world overshadowed by pain and suffering. God responds by showing him the beauty and hope of the same world.

And here’s the thing. I’m not sure these are competing views. I don’t think the one negates the other. God doesn’t respond with beauty to cancel out or disregard Job’s suffering. I think that’s why God doesn’t exactly answer Job’s question about suffering. Because no answer — even one from God — is ever satisfactory in the midst of our pain and grief. Nothing solves suffering. Nothing answers it. But neither is suffering and grief the whole story of our lives and of the world. There is beauty, and grace, and hope in the world, too, existing simultaneously, in paradox, side-by-side

God’s answer, God’s presence is enough for Job. Job responds in wonder:

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.

God does not provide any easy answers or apologize for the suffering Job has experienced. But being reassured that God has not abandoned him and that the world is filled with order and beauty, even in the midst of Job’s suffering, leaves Job satisfied.

In crisis, sometimes that experience of the presence of God is enough to sustain us. We may not know how to move forward from our crisis, but if we can sense God is with us, that can be enough to keep us going. And remembering there is deep order and beauty to the universe can help us remember our problems are not the end of the story. We have a future.

Job’s story does not end with this holy encounter. Job goes on to have more flocks, more children. He has a new beginning after his tragedy. This new beginning does not replace everything he has lost. New children cannot replace children who have died. His pain and grief still lie underneath this new beginning. But he does not remain paralyzed by his suffering, but is able to move forward, with God’s help.

May God bless you with a deep sense of his presence and a conviction that, no matter what is happening in your life, that even now God is preparing a new beginning for you. Amen.

Proper 17, Year B, 2015

Jesus and his disciples are SO RUDE, you guys.

They are eating lunch without having washed their hands!

The Pharisees are outraged! There is a long standing tradition of ceremonially washing hands before a meal. Jesus is letting his disciples flout that rule. This kind of carelessness and disrespect drives the Pharisees crazy. How can someone who claims to be speaking God’s word be so thoughtless and rude??? The hand washing convention was based on Biblical principles about priests purifying their hands before entering the Temple. And as modern people with an understanding of germ theory, washing hands before eating just makes sense! The Pharisees’ upset is completely logical.

I prefer stories where I see myself clearly on team Jesus. Unfortunately, I know deep in my heart that I have more than a little Pharisee in me.

We, as Episcopalians, get the Pharisees’ point of view. We really, really like our ceremonies! We want things to be done the proper way with respect and decorum. Whenever I visit my husband’s Presbyterian church, Matt always teases me afterward, “Did you even feel like you were in church?” He knows that I love the Episcopal tradition, the liturgy, the vestments, the shiny chalices and patens. Our way of doing things is what feels like church to me.

But then we get to this Sunday, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost and Jesus calls us to account.

He reminds us that none of our ceremonies really matter if what is in our heart is vile.

He uses the Pharisees’ upset to make a larger point. Not only does the hand washing not matter to Jesus, but Jesus also believes that the food we eat cannot defile us, which flew against not only convention, but also Biblical law. Jesus tells the crowd that nothing outside them can defile them. But what comes out from within them can.

For the first thirty seconds of us reading this passage we think this is good news for us! We can eat whatever we want! We don’t have to obsess about Levitical law!

But then Jesus gets really specific about the sort of things that defile us. For awhile we are okay—most of us can avoid murder and theft, and according to the latest polls at least half of us avoid adultery. But, by the time Jesus is done with his list all of us are convicted. Who can spend a life time avoiding envy or pride? All of us are guilty. All of us are defiled.

We can get dressed in perfectly appropriate clothes, arrive to church ten minutes early, pray quietly and yet the moment we look at another parishioner with disdain, we become defiled. Eric and I can do an absolutely perfect liturgy with no misspoken words or clumsy accidents, and yet the moment I covet a pair of shoes one of you is wearing, I am defiled. This idea that we create our own alienation from God is incredibly disheartening. We live in a cycle that we cannot break. Our situation appears hopeless.

Have heart! Jesus is not going to leave us in our pools of self loathing!

Jesus knows exactly how our minds and souls work. Jesus calls us to account, but Jesus also saves us from ourselves.

We start(ed) a year of studying the Bible at 9:30 this morning. In our time together, we’ll be reminded that from the beginning of time God has loved us and done everything in his power to be in relationship with us. He tried direct relationship, starting over with new humans, forming an intentional community, giving us the law, giving us kings and prophets and nothing solved our fundamental, human problem. That we, despite our best efforts, always screw things up. Even the best of us are not perfect.

At the risk of spoiling the outcome of our year of studying the bible together, God finally alights on a solution—and so he becomes a human being, taking on all of our humanity, but none of our sin. He teaches us and heals us, and then he is sacrificed on our behalf.

And he does all this not because he is fed up with us and thinks we are hopeless, but because he loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. He wants to liberate us from the powers of evil and sin that trap us under their weight. He wants to help us do better, to be a more loving, healthy, peaceful community.

We are not cured of sin, of course. I will still covet your shoes, you will still judge what your neighbor is wearing, but now we can ask forgiveness for our small mindedness and ask the Holy Spirit to help us be more generous and content. We don’t have to get mired down in self-loathing because Jesus has already forgiven us and restored our relationship with God. We can shake off our sin and get on with the work God has given us to do—to love him and to love each other.

During our parish picnic today, you will notice quite a few people wearing name tags that say, “Ask Me about (blank)”. If you have been wanting to get more deeply involved in loving God and your neighbor through one of our many ministries, they will be happy to help you figure out how you can serve. There are so many ways to take care of each other and our neighbors in this congregation, formally and informally. I highly recommend this work to you—whether it is international mission, singing in the choir, deepening your understanding of God through a Bible Study, serving in our food pantry, preparing our altar, or caring for our homebound parishioners. This work will deepen your understanding of humanity and of our loving God.

So, please, seek out these volunteers and ask them your questions.

Let’s get to work!

Amen.

Proper 9, Year B, 2015

Almost anyone who has worked for a white collar American company or educational institution has, at some point in their career had to take some kind of strengths inventory. We love to focus on our talents, our natural aptitudes and then strengthen them even further. In the 80s my parents talked a lot about whether people were Abstract Random or Concrete Sequential. Clearly their school had done some kind of training in Anthony Gregorc’s learning styles. (By the way, all of us Kinneys are Concrete Sequential. No question about it. ) By the 90s my parents were talking about Myers-Briggs testing and I made all my high school buddies take the test. When I became involved in churches I learned about Spiritual Gifts inventory and by the time I was a priest the book Living your Strengths was very popular for people discerning their role in the church. Focusing on our strengths makes us feel like we have a place in the world, like we matter.

And we aren’t alone. As you may remember from when we’ve discussed the church in Corinth previously, the Corinthians loved focusing on their strengths. Some Corinthians truly believed they were better than others because of their spiritual experiences, authentic or not. So, in our snippet from 2nd Corinthians today Paul toys with them a little bit.

Paul references a spiritual experience he had. He tells them “someone he knows” was once caught up in the third heaven. Now, there is not a single Biblical commentator that knows that Paul means by that. We know from Acts that Paul had a serious spiritual experience when God confronts him on his way to Damascus. But, I like to think Paul is also messing around with the Corinthians a bit. “Oh, you’ve had spiritual experiences? Well, I’ve been to third heaven.” You can just imagine them going. “Oh, yeah, third heaven? I’ve totally heard of that.”

After Paul earns that credibility with the Corinthians, he turns his whole argument on its head. He tells them that instead of boasting in these profound spiritual experiences, he boasts in his weakness. He tells them he has been given a thorn in his side. We don’t know what that thorn is, either. But whatever the thorn is, it humbles Paul. The thorn limits Paul in some way. And Paul rejoices in those limitations.

Paul is not interested in his own glorification. Paul is interested in God’s glorification. And Paul believes that God uses Paul’s weaknesses to reveal God’s own strength.

This is such great news to us ordinary Christians, who haven’t seen the first heaven, much less the third one! Whether the thorn in our side is a bad hip, a speech impediment, chronic anxiety, God can use those weaknesses as a platform for his own glory.

One of the most striking experiences I’ve ever had as a priest was being with a beloved parishioner while she was experiencing congestive heart failure. I was sure she was dying as she literally clawed the air as if she was drowning. Under the care of her excellent physicians, she did not die and a few weeks after the incident I paid her a visit. When we are in pain, it is so difficult to focus on anything else than relieving our own discomfort. I expected my parishioner to talk about her awful medical experience. But this woman, a faithful Christian of eight decades, wanted to talk about her prayer life. Her own suffering had made her think about all the suffering in the world and she was a little overwhelmed about how to pray for it all.

Talk about strength in weakness. She had been so faithful to God for so long, that when she was at her literal weakest, he used her to pray for the suffering of the world.

When you read great Christian thinkers, there is often a point in their lives where things just completely fall apart. Augustine abandons a lover of more than a decade and their child. Thomas Aquinas is literally kidnapped by his family when they find out he’s joined a Dominican monastery. Martin Luther’s vow to become a monk happens in the middle of a terrifying thunderstorm.

Cranmer loses a fellowship at Jesus College to marry a woman named Joan, and then Joan dies. Our modern thinkers are no different. Buechner’s father commits suicide. Anne LaMotte and Glennon Melton face addiction. There is something about brokenness that God finds helpful to do his work.

When we are broken, we are vulnerable. We are open to change. We are open to re-imagining the world.

And those are the kind of people God needs to do his work. We have a new presiding Bishop-elect, as you might know. His name is Michael Curry and he is the Bishop of North Carolina. He fits into the profile of Christian thinkers who have suffered in that his mother died when he was very young. When he described the work of the church in the press conference after his election, he describes it as making the world “more like God’s dream and less like our nightmare”.

And God’s dream is so different from our nightmare. Bishop Curry describes God’s dream as Christians figuring out how to live as the beloved community, the human family of God.

We are so much more likely to treat each other with compassion if we have known suffering or weakness. We are so much more likely to be honest about our own lives, to let people unlike us into our lives. There is something about suffering that makes us more deeply human. After we suffer, we look at the world differently. We re-evaluate how we spend our time and where we put our energy. We remember that we have a family, and friends, and that work maybe is taking too much of our mental space. We have more compassion for others, realizing that their lives probably contain suffering, too.   We may appear weaker to the world, but suddenly we are open to God showing his strength to us.

I do not wish suffering or weakness on any of you. But I also know that your weaknesses, your wounds are beautiful. Most of those of you I know well have suffered mightily at some point in your life and that suffering is part of what formed you into the people you are now. You are people who are generous with your time and resources, who are quick to listen or bring a meal, who volunteer countless hours to make your community better. Your suffering is not wasted. Your suffering is redeemed by God and transformed into his Dream.

May God continue to shine through our weakness as we seek to become his beloved community.

Amen.