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Tender Appearance

 

The Rev. Jennifer Adams – April 15, 2018 – Easter 3, Year B: Luke 24:36b-48

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:36b-48)

This is one of those passages that reminds me how very simple and almost tender our faith can be. And in this world, in tthese times that can feel less than simple and rarely tender, we need to be reminded of this.

This is the third resurrection appearance story that we’ve heard this season. Last week we heard the stories from the gospel of John in which the disciples, and then the disciples and Thomas met the resurrected Christ. And today we have an appearance story from the gospel of Luke, one in which all of the disciples were gathered together in one room when the risen Jesus came to them.

Now all three stories reveal the profound mystery that is the resurrection, and there is no denying the doctrinal and theological implications of what’s being proclaimed here. These are the stories that absolutely shattered previous paradigms and doctrines of faith and belief. But before what happened here was ever doctrine, before there was even what one would call “The Christian Faith” or “Belief,” before any of those pieces, there was this was very simple and tender encounter between Christ and his disciples.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus told them which was at that time a relatively common greeting among people of faith, essentially saying, “Hello, I greet you with love. I wish you the wholeness, the Shalom of God.” And so these stories are beautiful from their very beginnings.

Note also that even though a few verses prior to this passage in Luke, the disciples had heard from the two who had encountered Christ on the road to Emmaus… even given that testimony from their friends, the disciples were still “startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost,” when Christ appeared. So it’s good to mention here that it was never only Thomas who needed to “see” for himself, or to experience for himself. Every disciple in these gospels had their very own (even if shared in community,) every disciple had their own resurrection appearance.

And those appearances went like this: They were gathered in a room or walking together on the road, and Christ appeared to them and at first they were afraid. The were always afraid. And then in response to that fear, Jesus simply asked something like, “Why are you afraid?” And then he said something like, “Look at my hands and my feet,” and then tenderly, “Touch me and see…Touch my hands and my side, Thomas and all of you.” “I have flesh and I have bones,” Jesus said in today’s passage. And so maybe the disciples embraced him or maybe since they were still frightened they simply, gently reached out and touched his arm to prove to themselves that it was so. To prove to themselves that He was so. Don’t be afraid. See. Listen. Touch.

And then in this gospel Jesus said a wonderful thing that makes me smile every time: “Do you have anything to eat?” he asked them. Here is this amazing, life-changing, theology-forever-transforming-eventually-doctrine-making-moment, and Jesus very simply asks for something to eat. And maybe that was to show them he was in fact, not a ghost, but maybe it was to say something even more than that. Before faith is anything else, it is peace offered. It is human and divine encounter in rooms and on the roads we travel. It’s a meal.

And so the disciples fed him, which is sort of wonderful too. Given that the Last Supper was days ago now, the first thing that Jesus asked them to do was to feed him. Tables turned. But still a table. And so they did. And then Jesus opened their minds to the Scriptures (nice touch) and sent them forth with a message of repentance, forgiveness and a promise that the Holy Spirit would come.

And so I want us to claim this moment as people of faith. I want us to claim this very moment in the gospels because it contains the makings and re-makings of faith. In this moment before there was belief, catch that, before there was belief the gospel says there was very simply, “joy” in the encounter. “In their joy, they were still disbelieving and wondering,” the gospel says. And Jesus was apparently OK with that. With and for those still disbelieving and wondering disciples, He moved on with the meal.

And so I think that this is a gospel moment that we need to visit, and revisit, and claim. This is the moment that is pre-belief, pre-doctrine, pre-capital ‘F’- Faith. It is simple and it is tender and it is holy encounter with the risen Christ. There are so many examples, too many examples of the Christian faith being used like a wall, or a weight, an argument, or sometimes even a hammer, in an attempt to force, or prove, or separate, or elevate in the name of Christ.

But these resurrection stories contain a different kind of model for how belief comes to be and how the risen Christ is present in our midst. And there are no hammers. There is peace and touch and food. And the Scriptures are opened. They aren’t thrown or inflicted. The minds of the disciples and Scriptures are opened and understanding comes.

And so in many ways these resurrection appearances are essentially the conversion stories of the disciples. These are the ways in which the very first evangelism, “proclamation of good news,” was given by Christ.

And so we are invited into the joy of this moment and we can let it be just that. We might need to let it be just that. This is the moment in which Christ and we as his Body speak and live a message that this world so desperately craves. Because everyone needs a resurrection appearance. We need to see and listen and touch and eat. Before there is belief, or doctrine, or faith, everyone needs, (deserved or not- that didn’t seem to matter in these stories,) everyone needed and got a resurrection appearance.

This moment is about invitation and it’s about conversion, conversion into a way of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. And in all of that there is new life and there is joy. There is disbelief and there is wonder all wound up into an amazing experience of resurrection. And these stories tell us how to receive and offer such grace:   Greet with a message of peace: “I come in love. I wish for you the Shalom, the peace of God.” Then ask about fears and in doing so, you will help relieve them. Offer tender encounters that in their very offering shatter expectations of what is possible in this world and open the Scriptures anew. Ask for food. Share it. And trust that in such moments there will be joy.

Amen.

Learning from the Tomb

LEARNING FROM THE TOMB

The Rev. Jennifer Adams- Easter Morning 2018 – Mark 16:1-8

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  

One of the strangest things about Easter morning for me is that what we are doing in here which is so very beautiful and joy filled – it doesn’t seem to resemble the gospel story hardly at all.  On other Sundays we bear at least some resemblance to what we hear proclaimed from the aisle.  We hear a story about healing, or teaching, or sharing a meal and there is usually something going on in here that very obviously looks like what the gospel story told us.

But this morning is different.  There is actually more happening than usual in our space.  The music is loud (a good loud) and filled with joy.  We’re dressed up a bit.  There are candles and flowers and bells. We’re nearly full, and even coffee hour has a wonderful sort of “festive” about it today.

Which is absolutely wonderful, but also so very different than what that first Easter morning looked like and sounded like and felt like.

Very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, the three women, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. And when they got there, they “looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.” They went expecting to care for their friend who had died. They were quiet.  They were tired.  There were only three of them.  That first Easter morning, the women had essentially gone to the tomb to mourn.

But then as they entered the tomb, which was sort of a brave act really considering the unusual circumstances, “they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be afraid; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth. He has been raised; he is not here…Go and tell his disciples that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

And the women went out and fled from the tomb, “for terror and amazement had seized them;” the gospel said. “And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  And that was it. End of the Easter gospel. On that first Easter morning, according to Mark, there was just an empty tomb.  No flowers. No bells.  There was a man in a white robe (now we have those but I think Mark was probably talking about an angel).  There was fear, terror actually, and amazement! And they were told that Jesus wasn’t in that place – he had been raised and was “out ahead of them.

And so there are a couple of things for us to hear this morning.  First, we have just been reminded about where and how Easter begins and we need to hear that.  There is an invitation in this gospel story for each of us, and it’s an invitation to the tomb.  What the women were doing that morning was a gentle and loving act. They had gotten up before dawn to visit a place in their own life, in their own world that had invited their tears and evoked their desire to “care for.”   That’s all they were doing. But they were doing it.

And the invitation to the tomb is one we often avoid. But like the women that first Easter morning, we need to go to those places – we need to allow our tears and our desire to care for – we need to let those pieces of ourselves guide us.  And if there is anything this world is not lacking it’s situations that are tear and care worthy.  “Don’t be afraid” we hear in this story.  Easter morning invites us to those places in ourselves and in our world where resurrection is happening but isn’t visible, tangible, understandable, explainable.  Yet. Easter morning began in a very hard place because the tomb has something to tell us.  It’s where resurrection begins.

Now what happened was that they found the place to be empty except for an angel, and that’s something for us to hear too.  There are always angels in different shapes and sizes, speaking in different voices, and “Do not be afraid” is a common theme among them. Eventually the tombs themselves empty.

The tomb is an essential stop along the way, but that’s all it is, that’s all it ever is.  In the gospel of Mark, Jesus was “out ahead of them,” we heard.  And it’s true for us too.  Our tears and our compassion will take us to places where resurrection isn’t visible, tangible, understandable or explainable but it is happening.  Resurrection is always happening…for you for me, for this world which God so loves.  The good news is that the way of new life, the way of resurrection is being forged for us before we can see it ourselves.

And so on Easter morning we visit the tomb, eyes and hearts open to grace.  And we offer the best of ourselves in those places that long for our presence, our love, our care.  We hear the words of the angels and we go forward, trusting that Christ is there too, bringing resurrection and new life.  And as we go we make our song, Alleluia! Alleluia!  Alleluia!

Amen.

 

Being Born Again

Rev. Jennifer Adams – Good Friday 2018 – John 18:1-19:42

I’m going to open these Good Friday reflections with a quote from a gentle and wise theologian who became famous for having the gift of speaking to children.  Fred Rogers, whom the world came to know as “Mr Rogers” also had a very genuine passion for and commitment to goodness, which is probably why he could speak to children as easily as he did.

“When I was a boy,” Rogers said in an interview, “and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of disaster,” he said, “I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

And I wonder if that’s a good way to shape our thinking and our praying on this Good Friday.  There is a lot for us to take in today.  There is a lot for us to sort through today. There are the themes of betrayal and denial, truth and salvation.  There are religious leaders whose version of righteousness inflamed fear and hatred among their people.  There are government leaders whose insecurities led to the death of an innocent man. And there is God.  There is God in solidarity with humanity in ways that had never previously been imagined, and that we have trouble believing still.  There was God expressing a love that surpassed all understanding, especially given the absolute disaster that was humanity in this story.  Betrayals. Denials. Hatreds. Injustices and fears.  Sometimes when I hear this story, that all in itself is hard to believe – there was just so much of us at our worst all in one place, all coming together in one tragic moment in time.

And so it’s important for us to acknowledge the Peter in us, the Judas in us, the Pilate and Ciaphas and our own fearful tendencies to lean with the crowd.  Through those characters we come to the forgiveness offered this day.  And we need to hear that.

But it’s also important to remember that there were helpers there too. There were those who were “taking care” and very simply being present to the suffering in their world.  And so maybe it’s a good day to take Mr. Roger’s advice.  I think we should look to the helpers.  Because something was happening there.

“Meanwhile,” the gospel of John said, “standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman here is your son.’  Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

In other words Jesus said, “You are now family.” You at the foot of the cross are mother, son, daughter, sister, father, brother to each other.  And then it was finished.  The final gift given, prior to resurrection was transforming who the people were for each other.

And so among the helpers, God was redefining how to be in this world.  God was transforming us and how to be prior to the resurrection that will claim us all. Which is maybe why we should look to the helpers; we should look to those who are present in ways that offer care and that speak of love because something happens among them.  And they are out there, they are always out there.  Sometimes that they is us.

This day is spoken of as a “means to eternity” which I believe it is.  But from the cross, Christ also again offered us one another. And so this day proclaims God’s presence with humanity in ways that express divine and eternal love; it also invites us to be with one another in ways that express the love we have been invited to share here and now.

“You are now family,” Jesus told them.  And Joseph of Arimathea came and helped them too.  And then Nicodemus arrived.  Remember him? The one who several chapters back was working on being born again?  At this point in the gospel it was Nicodemus who carried the body of the One who, even in death, was rebirthing them all.

And so we look forward to resurrection.  Always.  There is eternal, everlasting hope to be had and proclaimed.  But on Good Friday we also see that in places where the injustice seems to outweigh the goodness, and the betrayals and denials are almost enough to overwhelm, something else is happening too. Look to the helpers this day. A grace-filled transformation is being offered among them.  And in such moments, we can all be born again.

Amen.

Maundy Thursday: Circle Up!

Rev. Jennifer Adams – Maundy Thursday, 2018

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’

 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

 When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

Last Sunday (which was Palm Sunday,) I talked about how much we need the gospel story that goes with that day.  We need it to remind us of that there is a very public dimension that comes with being people of faith. Remember that the gospel on Palm Sunday spoke of a triumphal procession into the very large City of Jerusalem.  We listened in on the shouts and judgements of religious and government leaders and people of faith as they wrestled very openly and loudly with the presence of the Messiah.  We heard the mess of it all, the noise of it all, the fearful voices, the hopeful voices, the prayers of the Christ, and the cries of the people.  On Palm Sunday, the people were out there and they were loud: “This is the salvation and healing we seek!” they cried out.  “In this moment we find hope!” they shouted to all who would hear them.

We need that part of the story to call us out to embody and proclaim out loud God’s vision for what “loving your neighbor” looks like, sounds like, acts like, lives like.

But we need tonight too. To do the very same thing just very differently. Tonight doesn’t look like Palm Sunday nor does it look like any other moment in the Holy Week gospels.  The disciples gathered in a room all by themselves and so tonight, it’s just us here indoors, in the church basement.  While Palm Sunday was so very public, and tomorrow’s story is too, tonight is instead very intimate. It’s relatively small; it’s quiet too.  We aren’t shouting, or waving, or processing at all, except for a short trip upstairs as we prepare at the end of this evening for the next part of the story.

Unlike Palm Sunday, tonight the scene and our actions are very basic and very simple. Tonight we don’t process from here to there, instead, we move in a circle, we move in a familiar circle as we talk, and wash, and break bread and share with each other – you being “an other” that I already know and who knows me too.

And there is something holy about the circles we create and in which we participate tonight.  Our role in the circle is to remind one another of God’s profound love for us all, and to practice what it means to love each other: “I give you this new commandment,” Jesus said.  In the circles of Grace we remember and we practice imperfectly, but in all things we practice what loving one another looks like, sounds like, acts like, lives like so that when we’re out there it is who we are too.  “This is how they will know you are my disciples,” Jesus said.

It’s that simple. And it’s that challenging.  It can ironically be more challenging to allow your friend to wash your foot than it is to shout out a vision in a group of total strangers The skills needed in both places, however, are the same or at least related in their core – in their motivation.  And so we practice in here.  We reach out across the circle to pass something that’s needed just five feet away.  We ask, “How are you?” to the person seated right next to us and we allow for a real answer.  In these circles we offer our brokenness and our strength among people who have promised to love us no matter what. We reach out with our feet and our hands  We wash, we pass peace, we eat, and we pray.  In this circle, we share our stories, our water, our bread, our wine and in this circle we learn through acts of love that forgiveness, redemption and resurrection can be had.

What we do in these circles is holy, Jesus says which is why we need tonight’s story too.  Who and how we are with each other in these circles matters. Christ is here. And so even though the volume has shifted from shouts to gentle conversation our message is the same, “This is the salvation and healing we seek. In this moment we find hope.”

May it be so.  May we as people of Grace find Christ present in the circles we are tonight and always.  And may this too be our way of presence in God’s world.

Amen

 

Palm Sunday

Rev. Jennifer Adams – March 25, 2018 – Palm Sunday – Mark 15:1-47

It’s always something to stand up after the passion narrative is read. It’s hard find words.  After so many words. I have also come to appreciate some of the silences that are woven in to that story.  And so we take a deep breath and we listen. And this Holy Week we invite the story to shape us.

Now like many of you I have also been moved, quite deeply moved over the past few weeks and especially the past twenty-four hours by the words and actions and silences of hundreds of thousands of young people in our nation.  I have listened as they grieve together out loud.  I have listened as they hold one another and silence together.  I have watched as they manage to integrate with each other, to collaborate with each other, to come together across lines in ways that we older folks have not been able to manage enough of. I watched and listened yesterday as young people from all over our country, from Chicago to Parkland to Los Angeles to Newtown to New York to DC and lots of places in-between came together in varieties of sites and places to walk together, to cry out together, to seek ways in which their stories, their presence, their voices, their dreams can help us all make this world a better place.

And so as we processed this morning, I am full of the many ways in which they and we are walking too, praying and hoping for a redemptive new day.

As hard as this liturgical day is, Palm Sunday, with the all too quick and painful transition from “Hosanna” to “Crucify him”, with the confusion and betrayal and denial, with the extravagant anointing, the waving of palms and the dressing in robes, with the disciples, chief priests and elders, government officials and as the story closed, also “the women”…  as hard and full as this day is, I’m also grateful for its timing, because we need it. I think we need it to help interpret us and for us to claim the hope that is here.

The first thing I want to hold up is how every public this whole moment in the gospel story was.  There was a private meal mid-way, but almost the entire rest of the story took place “out there” in large gatherings of the city, large gatherings of religious leaders, government officials, and “the people.”  This initial holy procession of palms was a procession into the very large and central city of Jerusalem which was swelled to about ten times its normal size due to the celebration of Passover. Jerusalem at this point in the gospel was filled with people who had come to the city to celebrate the feast that marked the people’s own experience of liberation.

And it was into that environment that Jesus rode on a colt and entered the city through one of the main gates to LOTS of attention.  He was hailed with cries of “Hosanna in the highest!”  And so this wasn’t a quiet religious moment. In fact it’s fare to say that it was actually quite a political one, meaning that people of faith were out there, engaging the larger body politic- the people – with their stories, their presence, their voices, their dreams. “This is the salvation and healing we seek!” they cried out.  “In this moment we find hope!” they shouted to all who would hear them.

And so we need this story for many reasons, but one of the things it does is reminds us that we as people of faith can’t shy away from the public square as a place of meeting one another, of speaking out, of listening, of engaging.  It is not only in here, but out there that we are called to offer and proclaim our vision for what “love your neighbor” looks like, sounds like, acts like, lives like. The people shared their hopes out loud in this gospel story.  That was how Palm Sunday happened.

And, they also shared their fears. Which is why it was so very complicated.  And it’s probably why the story turned so very quickly from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify him!”  Their means of salvation, meaning Jesus, challenged the very structures on which the religious leaders and people had come to depend, and so Jesus was put on trial by the religious and governmental authorities of his day.  In Christ’s passionate and compassionate caring for the “least of these my brothers and sisters,” he shook the foundations on which these leaders and people had invested their lives and built their faith, most of them I believe with good and even faithful intent.  And so their hopes also stirred up their fears, which I think this side of heaven, is probably how it goes.

But the foundations needed shaking. And they often do. And sometimes that challenge becomes a holy means by which redemption and new days are born. As people of faith our role to help steer it in that redemptive direction, and to steer with all that we have – our lives included.

In this moment that is ours, we will not always agree on the “how” we get there, nor do I want us to.  I think that it is by truly engaging one another that a greater “how,” greater than any of us comes to be.  But this week we come together around the themes of love and mercy and forgiveness, unity and peace, and they are spoken to us in word and in action by the Christ. And so part of what we claim today is that the work of large scale healing and the offering of widespread hope is good and faithful work to which we have all been called.

This Holy Week we hear the call to participate in a way of being that is fueled by mercy and fueled by love.  In this gospel we have been given full permission to care for the least of these of these my brothers and sisters; in fact as people of faith, what we hear is that we need to insist on that being our way. There will be denials and betrayals along the way and sometimes we’ll be the ones who deny or betray.  Sometimes we’ll fall asleep in the garden despite the fact that we need to be as awake as we’ve ever been. There will, however, also be shared meals.  There will be blessings and breakings.  There will people who come forward to help carry the cross, and there will be those whose presence at the cross and even at a slight distance are the means by which love happens now.

And so this week may we listen in here and out there too.  May we be fully present in here and out there too.  May the stories, the voices, the tears, the dreams of those who have something to teach us break through in ways that with God’s help, redeem us and shape us into the people we’ve been called to be.   This week may we engage one another and the gospel in ways that reveal God’s love for us all.

Amen.

Prayin’ Brave

The Rev. Jennifer Adams – March 15, 2018 – Lent 5, Year B: John 12:20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

 ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say -“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Well out of the forty days and forty nights of Lent, we have now walked almost thirty of them. We’re well over half way through the season and from here, (which is the last Sunday before Palm Sunday) and on, it’s a tough but a profoundly beautiful go.

The readings are getting more obviously difficult and challenging.  There is very explicit talk of the cross, and glorification, and death; there is mention of the judgment of this world and a metaphor about a grain of wheat falling into the earth to live again.  We also just heard Jesus say to his disciples that “Now is the time.”

We know where this story is headed.  Next week there will be a trial, shouts of “Crucify him!” and the most mysterious and powerful image of the Messiah we have. There will be a cross that speaks of suffering and glory, grief and hope, death and life.  And in this, we’re invited to be with Christ and with one another, to wonder, to mourn, to reflect, to pray.

And so what I want us to hear in the gospel today is really something that could be a prayer, it’s the request that came from the Greeks, a simple sentence offered at the very beginning of the gospel passage which went like this: “Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.  They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’”  Sir we wish to see Jesus. That was it. “So Phillip went and told Andrew and together they went and told Jesus.”  And that’s when Jesus began talking about the grain of wheat, losing one’s life, and following him.  And he said that the time for all of this was “now.”

And so first I want us to acknowledge as we have through various other passages recently that the time is now, it is always now, when “seeing Jesus” is our request, our hope, our prayer and that prayer is being answered. Whether we are three days into Lent or twenty-eight days into Lent or in another liturgical season entirely, the time to see Jesus is always now.  Part of the good news is that this request will always be answered.

Sometimes that happens when you’re alone uttering this prayer and God hears you and you hear God – and something is given you.  Sometimes, someone else helps it along; you tell a Peter and that Peter tells an Andrew and before you know it, Jesus comes. Somehow, Jesus comes. Sometimes you are gathered in worship and the simple act of communally seeking, leads us together to find and to be found in Christ.  If you wish to see Jesus you will see Jesus. No matter who you are.  Hear that today.

The catch is that it just might surprise us how that happens.  In fact I think it often surprises us how that happens.  Their prayerful request was answered in today’s gospel, but we also heard that perhaps unknowingly, it was one of the bravest requests they could have made.

Because as we heard Jesus speak of grains of wheat, the judgement of this world, and the glory of God – to really “see” means going to some very hard and hurting places with our eyes open, our hearts too.  Really “seeing Jesus” means following him all the way through this story to all of the places he has been and is now.  “Those who serve me must follow me,” he told them.  “Where I am, there you will be too,” he said in a beautiful and challenging promise to all.

From here on out, Jesus will process into Jerusalem; touch untouchables, turn tables, wash feet, wipe tears, and break bread; he will be challenged to speak and be a world-transforming, holy means of compassionate truth; he will die and he will rise.  And so to see him now means to be in those kinds of places and moments, to follow him to where he already is, to seek him with our eyes open and our hearts too. Knowing that with Christ, as Body of Christ, we will be stretched, we will be broken, and we will rise again. “Where I am, there you will be also.”

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “be careful of what you pray for.”  And while there is something to that, I think what we’re being called to today and as we move toward Palm Sunday and Holy Week is to be mindful of what we’re praying for. Not careful but mindful – there’s a a difference.

We can’t possibly know how this prayer will be answered, but we can absolutely trust that it will be. Hear that.  “We wish to see Jesus” is a prayer that will change us.  Because it will open us to where Jesus is.  And we need to be opened to where Jesus is. And to how Jesus is in this world today.  The prayer will take us places we might never have imagined we’d go – to processions, to tables, to trials, to foot washings, to truth-tellings, to bread and Body breakings. This prayer will lead us in and through the holy and transformative process of resurrection.

The invitation today is to pray this prayer, with our hearts and eyes open and to begin to receive and to be the fullness of this gospel story, to embrace and be embraced by the broad and deep reach that is the good news of Christ.  This is the challenge and grace of these holy weeks that are our “now” – to “see Jesus” in the cross and resurrection and the many, many ways in which Christ is present in our lives, in one another, and in our world each and every day.

“We wish to see Jesus.” This is one of the bravest prayers we can pray, but we’ll do it together, trusting that in this prayer there will be redemption and there will be grace.

Amen.

Crossing Myself

The Rev. Jennifer Adams – February 25, 2018 – Lent 2, Year B: Mark 8:31-38

31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

So I realized after looking back over the last few sermons I preached on this text or similar passages is that one of the things I have been working out with you over the last many years (and there are so many I have been working out with you over the last many year) but one of them is a theology of the cross and not only that, but wondering on my cross too.  So first of all, thank you for giving me that space. I came out of seminary able to quote various other people’s, (famous people’s) theologies in this area. Among them I have some favorites – Jon Sobrino, Barbara Brown Taylor, Kate Braestrup, to name a few and there are obviously many that fit within our tradition and belief system as Episcopal Christians.

However, the other thing I realized this week is that no matter how much I read, or live for that matter, I’m still working it out. Or maybe it’s still working on me. The question in today’s gospel is an important one:  What does it mean to pick up your cross?   In fact it’s so important that according to Jesus, we can’t be a disciple without it.

And so I look around the rooms of my life and I wonder – is that my cross?  Or is that my cross?  Maybe it’s that over there in the corner, or maybe it’s still buried, or maybe my cross hasn’t even come to me yet, but then what does it mean to follow Christ? Maybe my cross is that issue I’ve taken on, or that burden I have been given, or that challenge I need to face, or that particular personal pain that can bring me to tears no matter how old it is or I am.  I’ve heard crosses talked about in all of those ways, and I don’t think those ways of talking are wrong, but I still wonder. This symbol that speaks to us of power and salvation in an ultimately mysterious way, this symbol that Jesus says we need to take up, I still wonder what exactly is my cross and where can I find it?

And so I think it might be good to stick to the source here, Jesus himself, (which is really what we should be doing, anyway, right?)  Here’s an approach we can try: given that Jesus took up his cross, let’s ask what that one looked like and what did the cross mean for him?

Well in so many ways, Jesus’ cross was not about him at all, which is interesting.  Given our so very personal approaches to “our crosses,” I think this might be an important point.  Our approach is that I have my cross, you have yours, and never the crosses shall cross.  By this approach, crosses are personal. Which means that the power and salvation to be experienced through them is personal too.

But really Jesus’ cross wasn’t personal per se.  Sure it fit him, and one could say only him, but Jesus’ cross had nothing to do with his own personal salvation.  Jesus didn’t need the cross for himself. He took it up as an act of profound solidarity with others, all others. The cross united Jesus with humanity in a profound and holy act of genuinely sacrificial love.

And so to shift back, what if my cross has very little at all  – initially anyway –  to do with me?  And what if yours works that way too? When we go about this cross search we tend to focus in so very hard on our own salvation (even Episcopalians do this, just more discreetly and perhaps a little differently than others but we still do it) and I think it’s possible that by that approach we miss at least part of what Jesus is getting at in this passage.  I’m looking around my own rooms, but maybe that’s not where the cross I need to pick up is to be found.

If we use Jesus’ cross as a model which is probably not too bad an idea, then my cross is that which draws me into the suffering of someone else or even out into an entire people. Taking this approach, my cross is actually that which draws me out beyond myself and into a deep and abiding solidarity with another through their suffering. The grace being of course, that as I as I pick up that cross, a part of me is saved too.

Maybe that’s the power, the grace Jesus wants us to seek without which, it’s impossible following is nearly impossible. Maybe it’s not around our own rooms that we need to be looking but beyond, out there among.  Out there among – where there is a suffering to which I can respond with a grace-filled part of myself.  And odds are good, that as I do that, my own places of suffering are revealed too.  And who knows, maybe someone else will find something to pick up as that hurt is revealed to them.

If all of this is so, it means that “take up your cross” and “love your neighbor” are actually two ways of saying the same thing. I think it’s possible that’s so.  Two essential dimensions of discipleship.

And so I wonder if that’s what Jesus was helping us to understand.   Maybe, as this theology of the cross works on me and on us, we can wonder on that together.

Amen.

 

Wilderness, We Are Here

The Rev. Jennifer Adams- February 18, 2018

Lent 1, Year B:  Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-10, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15

There are some years when in order to enter the Lenten wilderness, we have to work a bit to discern what wilderness looks like and feels like. These 40 days and 40 nights can require some imagination on our part or some digging to get in to them, as we go about our daily quite civilized and comparably comfortable lives.

But I don’t think that’s the case this year. We as a people are indisputably already in one, a wilderness that is. And I don’t think too many people would argue that.  One dictionary definition describes wilderness as “an inhospitable place devoid of paths or lacking in civilization; a neglected area; or a bewildering situation.”  Sound familiar?  Too familiar?   Parkland. Chicago. Sandy Hook. San Bernadino. Orlando. Las Vegas. Virginia Tech. Sutherland Springs. Charleston – to name, sadly, only a few.

Wilderness, we are here.

And since we’re here, there are some things we should acknowledge about the wilderness.

Directions can be hard to come by out here.  True wilderness doesn’t come with a map. That’s part of why it can be scary.  The wilderness is an easy place in which to get disoriented, lost even, as the GPS we’ve come to depend on, fails us. And so in the wilderness we have to work to find our way, we have to work together to find our way. And that’s hard but not all bad, because even in the wilderness, the way is findable. And we can’t forget that.  According to the gospel angels come to these places.  And the Spirit is here too.  The wilderness itself will teach us, if only we’re willing to learn.  Part of the discipline this season calls us to is a willingness to learn, to repent, and to change.

Now in the wilderness sustenance can be a little tricky too. It’s important to know what to ingest and what not to.  Be aware of your sources while we’re out here searching for food and be discerning about what you take in. Also, trust that manna will come.  And it will come often at surprising, eye opening times.  Watch for it, take it in, and be sure to share it.  Because there will be more.

Another thing about the wilderness is that sometimes you have to shout to help your voice carry here, and other times you have to talk quietly so as not to cause further disruption. The wilderness can be a place of extremes. Either way, being articulate when you are called to be and listening always, are critical wilderness skills. We can work on lessons of voice.

Now in this wilderness, what we hear will make us weep. I’d worry if it doesn’t.  It already has.  What we hear will make us angry, speechless or speech-full.  What we hear, if we really listen, will lead us to lament, to passionately express our sorrow and those painful words and tears are some of we can uncover together as we offer an appropriately thoughtful, prayerful response to the lists of names we hear, and the faces we see, and the longing we feel.

It’s also true that some of what we hear will give us hope, hard-fought, bravely-claimed, gracefully and courageously offered, hope.  There are those voices are out here too and they are sort of the manna of sound. We need them. I heard some this week, maybe you did too.  Individuals.  Groups.  Some mourning.  Some proposing options.  Some educating. Some calling out. I heard students. Law enforcement officers. Parents. Teachers.  “These are my beloveds,” God says.

According to the gospel, angels come to these places.  And the Spirit is here too.

There can be an intense and humbling beauty that comes through an experience of being in the wilderness and this season offers us that, this liturgical season but maybe this season we are in as a people too. It won’t be a shiny beauty that comes of this, but there is potential for a holy and redemptive one.

That beauty comes to be when we approach the wilderness with respect for it, when we work together through it to find our way, when we allow time and tools for lament, when we stand up and resist temptation, when we listen, deeply listen to the voices that cry out and ultimately birth hope for us all.

Now if you look around out here, you’ll see that we’re not alone, nor are we the first to arrive. The wilderness can feel new, if you’ve been privileged with distance from it which most of us, if we’re honest, have been. As we acknowledge the painful reality of blatant and mass violence in our streets, in our schools, and in our lives, there are other truths being spoken out here too. And this just might be a moment in time in which related truths from different corners of the wilderness can guide and sustain each other. This might just be how we find our way.

There are young people out here who aren’t sure where home is because we as a nation have failed to provide them a path to citizenship. They are lost in what I referenced earlier to be an “inhospitable place devoid of paths.” But it doesn’t need to be so. We have home to offer them and it’s not that hard to do.  There are people of color out here reminding us that black lives matter too, and we can say with our words and actions reflective of repentance and change that of course they do! And we are so very sorry it took this long for that proclamation to be lived.

There are women crying out, “Me Too!” And we can listen to those stories, that pain, the brave work of healing, and together, male and female, we can be redeemed.  Out here there is Mothers Against Gun Violence, Bishops Against Gun Violence, Republicans and Democrats against gun violence!  We can beat swords into plowshares.  We can make and distribute fewer swords.  Out here in the wilderness, there are law enforcement officers seeking support and working at reform and with them we can vision and help create a society in which all people are protected and people in need are served.  If “beloved community” is going to happen this side of heaven, maybe this time in the wilderness can help it be so.  Maybe the wilderness is where beloved community comes to be.

According to the gospel, angels come to these places.  And the Spirit is here too.

The wilderness is a hard place to be, but there is holiness to be had here.  We are not alone. Besides angels and the Spirit, the family of God is out here, a broad and gifted and diverse people! A people with whom to gather and with whom listen and to speak; there is a family here with whom to eat and children and elders to be led by.  This wilderness is full of hope and full of a redemptive kind of beauty that God longs for us to embrace and to be embraced by.  Such is our work this season.

On Ash Wednesday we heard from the prophet Isaiah that our light can shine again “breaking forth like the dawn,” the prophet cried. “The healing of the people can spring up quickly!” he proclaimed. In fact he said, “You shall be like a watered garden.” Which not coincidentally is the opposite of a wilderness.  “Your … ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations,” many generations, he said. And so we hold our children, all of God’s differently, lovingly, and well.

“You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in,” said Isaiah.  ‘Tis the season for sure.  The restorer of streets to live in. Of schools to learn in. Of churches to pray in. The restorer of concert venues to sing in. Clubs to dance in. Parks to play in. Neighborhoods to grow old in. Homes to reside in.

Angels come to these places.  The Spirit is here too.  “The kingdom of God has come near,” Jesus said in the gospel today, “Repent, and believe in the good news.”

Amen.

Ash Wednesday

 

The Rev. Jennifer Adams – February 4, 2018

Ash Wednesday: Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 51:1-17, 1 Peter 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

So happy Ash Wednesday everyone.  AND happy Valentine’s Day too.  While I’ve read both sides of the argument this week, I personally don’t think we should fight against this collision of events which hasn’t happened since the 1940’s.

Given what they call this “calendar mash-up” the guys at Forward Movement Press who are the creators of Lent Madness went so far as to offer some suggestions for “how to share the Lenten love.”  Their ideas include things like “Giving someone some fancy chocolates that will be stale by the time they can finally be consumed after 40 days and 40 nights (because you did give up chocolate for Lent this year, right?).”  Or, “writing cards with cute messages like “Roses are red, Violets are blue, I’m a worm and no man, and you are too” or “Be my Valentine but first, let’s say The Great Litany together.”  At which point their suggestions became pretty obnoxious Episcopal nerd humor and I figured it was only a group of liturgically obsessive preachers reading the post that far in. So while I can nerd with the best of’m, I’ll spare you the rest of their list.

But I do like their initial inspiration, “how to share the Lenten love” because I think that for all of that which this season is known for, and how Lent is often practiced, the language of love is ironically and very commonly lost.

One popular approach to this season of Lent is to make it so very, very hard that it doesn’t feel or look like love at all, even tough love.  I’m sure many of you have seen if not experienced this approach where spiritual disciplines are employed for the sake of beating oneself up rather than building oneself and one another up in Christ.  I think the logic behind that goes something like, “when we are beaten up, or denying ourselves we need God and therefore reach out for him more.  And so making this very, very hard will bring us closer to God.”  Now of course that carries some truth – the part of needing God and reaching out for God – but it’s not quite the whole picture and creating those circumstances ourselves probably doesn’t provide us with the best approach to growing in faith.

Challenging oneself is an appropriate dimension of spiritual growth to be sure. Soon in fact we’ll be invited to make this season a time of self-examination, prayer, and repentance, none of which is easy work. The disciplines taken on, however, both personal and communal, need to be of the sort that through them we grow into a greater, deeper awareness and embodiment of God’s love for us and God’s love for this world. That’s the goal here. Words like forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration run through the very heart of this season. And we should do whatever it takes to let them run through us and come alive in our hearts too.  In that regard, Lent is a time of awakening and re-awakening, if we only we let it be.

All of which is what the prophet Isaiah was talking about in the passage we just heard.  There too the faithful had come to believe that the personal pain felt resulting from the practice of spiritual disciplines would draw them closer to God. And when that didn’t work, they let God have it (because that apparently made sense in the moment.) “Why do we fast, but you do not see?” they railed at the heavens! “Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”  The same theme was echoed in the gospel of Matthew where the extremely religious were being extra loud in their praying and looking extra dismal in their fasting and Jesus set out to redirect them entirely.  In both cases, the faithful were indeed working very, very hard to be very, very good.  But in both cases they were neither feeling the love, nor were they getting any better at sharing it.

“Look,” God told them through Isaiah, “Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high,” and then the tough love as he broke it to them even more directly, “you serve your own interest on your fast day, and [still] oppress all your workers. Look, you fast but then you quarrel and fight and strike with a wicked fist.” Not really the effect for which God was looking.  And so the Almighty went on, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

Forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration. That’s how you share the Lenten love, the “always” love to which the season of Lent offers to awaken us all.

“Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,” God said, “Then your healing shall spring up quickly,” and I can hear the people breathe a huge sigh of relief.  If for no other reason than their efforts at being faithful were exhausting them at every turn and God was renewing their hope. “Simply remove the yoke from among you,” God said, “the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. \The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail… you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”

Repairers. Restorers. Reconcilers. Embodiments of God’s love for us and God’s love for this world.  That’s the goal here.

Winnie Varghese who will provide our Lenten read through her book, Church Meets World says it like this:

“…we have the privilege of combining these two movements: the personal and the social.  We seek a personal transformation or reorientation of our lives in light of whom we are made to be in god.  We seek self-understanding and revelation, which relates to our place in the society within which we live … [and] we begin by engaging the lived reality of real people, including ourselves, working to understand the forces around us that impact human suffering and flourishing.”

Repair. Forgive. Restore.  Reconcile.

That’s how to share the Lenten love, a love which created us out of dust and will receive us and offer resurrection when we are dust once again.  That’s how to share the always love that sustains us and promises to redeem us and this world over and over again.

Then shall our light break forth like the dawn.  May the breaking forth begin.

Amen.

 

Long Enough

The Rev. Jennifer Adams – February 11, 2018

The Transfiguration, Year B:  2Kings 2:1-12, Psalm 50:1-6, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9

This morning we hear that Jesus led his disciples, Peter and James and John, up to the mountain top. And up there it was as absolutely clear as it could be…until it wasn’t.  Which is sort of how it goes, isn’t it?  Now I promise to stop short of recommending that we build three dwellings here, but while this “clear” is here among us, we need to visit it, and be present to it.

Because this wasn’t just the kind of clear through which the disciples could see for miles and miles, which would have carried its own beauty. Instead this was the kind of clear that allowed them to see for ages and ages, in either direction.  In this surprise gathering on the mountain top they could see all the way back to Moses and they could also see forward, without detail but with the truly blessed assurance that salvation had indeed come to their people. What had begun as a simple morning hike morphed right before their eyes into this moment of profound revelation.  A moment in which Peter and James and John saw that about which up to this point they had only hoped.

The gospel says this: “Jesus was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.”

Now remember that Moses was long dead, very long having led his people out of slavery in Egypt generations before. And Elijah too, not quite as long, but about a thousand years prior he’d been carried up into heaven on a chariot which we heard about in the first reading.  And Peter and James and John were familiar with those stories and they knew Moses’ and Elijah’s respective roles in the faith. And so what this little mountain top gathering meant to these disciples was that Jesus was in line with the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah) and that Jesus was indeed the Messiah for whom they had been waiting.

As this morning hike morphed into the day of revelation, the view was amazing and the pieces came together in a way that they never had before. The disciples could see all the way back to the liberation of their people and the granting of the law that structured and guided them in their life together.  They could see the promise of the prophets, the justice and mercy called for among the people of God.  And the disciples could see forward too, trusting for the first time ever that salvation had come to their people, that this profound and hoped for grace had come to them in Christ.

And so Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  Now Peter’s often knocked for that line, but I can’t blame him for having that instinct.  In fact I think that we should take a deep breath and sit here for a while.  At least for the morning.

If for no other reason than we have to remember to value moments of this kind of grace, to nurture in us the ability we’ve been given to look back on generations that ground us and teach us, and to look forward with assurance and hope that salvation has come.  We climb up and down mountains pretty quickly these days and so a little time to soak up the view, to breath in the air up here might be just what we need.

So as we end one season and prepare to begin another, sit in this one place long enough, that’s all. Long enough to see, to remember the story of liberation, the guiding of the law, the hope of the prophets who proclaimed justice and peace.  Stay here long enough to look back and remember that God sustained the people, sending manna when manna was needed, sending prophets when hope was needed, granting freedom and speaking forgiveness, offering mercy and peace to those who hungered for such things, and then incarnating this love in Christ.  Stay here long enough to be able to look forward too, trusting that salvation has indeed been granted us and this world. Allow that blessed assurance to seep into your bones and to touch the places that are afraid.  Stay here just long enough to listen as a message of “belovedness” is spoken from the heavens.

These mountain top moments of revelation are gifts, and like the disciples, we need them too.

Because this is the vision that allows us to leave the mountain top differently than we otherwise might. There is strength and courage that comes from what we have seen and what we have heard here. There is hope and there is assurance that comes from what we have seen and what we have heard here.  There might even be a little perspective gained by staying just long enough on the mountain tops that are sent our way.

And while I don’t recommend that we leave quickly, I also know that soon we’ll find ourselves in a valley – walking forty days and forty nights in the wilderness that is Lent, the wilderness that is also this world.  The very good news is that this vision, this grace travels.  It might need a little nurturing, a little tending and rousing along the way, but we should not be afraid.  What the disciples would soon to learn and we will too, is that revelation has no limits, it has no bounds and neither does the Beloved. This amazing grace that is liberation, that is healing, that is hope stretches from the mountains to the valleys to the cross and beyond. There is resurrection to be had.

And so take time to enjoy the view today.  Stay long enough to let it imprint somewhere in your heart and your mind and your soul.  And then as we descend together, keep your eyes and ears open, we will be surprised, transformed by grace again soon enough.

Amen.

Time To Get Your Mark On

The Rev. Jennifer Adams – January 28, 2018

Epiphany 4, Year B: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20, Psalm 111, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28

I have a magnet that’s about the size of a large notecard on my fridge at home (because that’s where you put these kinds of things, right?)  This magnet says, “Sometimes I wrestle with my demons.  Sometimes we just snuggle.”  And I’ve seen that phrase around other places too.  A quick google search this week revealed to me that you can find that phrase on t-shirts, bumper stickers, cute fridge magnets, and tote bags.  Which means that this little phrase speaks some sort of truth to a lot of people.

And so it makes me wonder just what does this gospel story have to say to us?  It’s not a particular “go to” passage for Episcopalians, given the demon language in particular.  We’re a little more scientific, or more “respectful” than that. Demon language is so very harsh, sort of edgy, and well, not very sophisticated. Not to mention that this is a right-out-there-in-front-of- everyone-public-healing-moment with a demon, and we tend to be a private people when it comes to such experiences.

This is, however, a very Marcan style passage and this liturgical year, year B in the lectionary cycle the gospel of Mark is the one speaking good news to us, and so we’ve been invited to adjust our hears to hear him.  In all likelihood, Mark has something to teach us.

Now this is a very Marcan because we are only 21 verses in and Jesus has already been baptized, spent 40 days in the wilderness, called his disciples, hit the road for Capernaum, and begun a series of dramatic and very public healings. To put this in context of the other gospels, twenty-one verses in in Luke, the angel Gabriel is still making his way to a not-quite-but-soon-to-be-pregnant, Mary; and in Matthew, Joseph is being convinced in a dream that even given Mary’s state, it’s OK to take her as his wife;  and in the gospel of John this many verses in, while the author has brought thus far quite poetically, he’s only now introducing John the Baptist.  Mark’s Jesus, however, is already on the move, the Messianic move.  He’s proclaiming the presence of the Kingdom of God.  He’s teaching.  He’s healing. He’s forgiving.  He’s exposing demons. And he’s setting people free. Marks’ Jesus is taking no prisoners, as they say.  Literally.

And so while we smile at the fridge magnet summary of life with demons, the language and pace of Mark’s gospel is a challenge to we who tend to resonate with those who ponder, those who dream, those who make time in the wilderness for holy kinds of thing. Not that there is anything wrong with any of that –but Mark’s focus is a different holy kind of good.

So what if as our first step this season, we got our Mark on a little more than we tend to do?  This being Annual Meeting Sunday, a day on which we do some reflecting on our life as Grace, a day on which we look back and we look forward too… what if we, remaining centered in that which is truly and easily Grace, leaned a little Marcan for awhile?  It’s not like we’ll over do it for heaven’s sakes! We are a rational, thoughtful, and prayerful people.  And so maybe it’s good to let Mark stretch us a bit.  Proclaim the Kingdom of God, people of Grace!  Teach!  Heal! Forgive! Expose demons!  (Mark seems to speak in exclamation points.)  Set people free.

There is no time in Mark for snuggling with that which is harmful or distressful to human beings, which is what demons are.  Demons I think (not being an expert mind you – my demon conversation has thus far been limited to fridge magnets).  Demons are a little different than other kinds of illness, which one could define in similar terms of harm and distress; but demons have a sort of life to them. Jesus will heal lepers in this gospel and others who suffer from purely physical illness and he too will work to clarify the difference between setting people free from sin, setting people free from demons, and healing people of illness all of which we know to have overlaps and grey areas and mystery.  And we know more about those interactions and distinctions today than they did 2000 years ago.  But all of that would take more than one sermon to unpack, and so I just want to flag it and not leave it unacknowledged today.

What we hear this morning is that this ministry we do has an urgency to it, an edge, and that the public nature of the ministry matters too. Mark tells us that as Body of Christ, we have the power to heal.  And I think it’s important that we don’t shy away from that. We need to own it in the best sense of what it means to “own,” which maybe is more like a process of claiming.

Healing is a grace given the Body of Christ, and it’s a responsibility given the Body of Christ.  Authority in this passage means power, a force that can be used for good, holy and meaningful good.  And don’t worry, Episcopalians, it doesn’t always look like it did in today’s story, but the good news is that sometimes it does.

This story tells us that demons are rebuke-able; they are releasable, which is good news especially if you are the person, or the group, or the community, or the institution, that has been occupied, preoccupied or even controlled by them.

And Lord knows (again literally,) that there is that in our world which inhibits the wholeness, the healing of humanity.  There is that which causes harm and distress and we see it every day.  Call it ‘evil.’  Call it ‘demonic.’  Call it ‘that which inhibits the wholeness of humanity.’  I’m not sure that what we call it matters all that much, so don’t get stuck there.  What matters is that we make it our work to lovingly confront those things in ourselves, in one another, and in this world.  And that is hard, but Mark tells us that is also holy work.

I do think it’s interesting and important that in Mark the healings are public, because there is something about the Body gathered that collectively has power. And there is something about demons that allows them to thrive in dark places.  In the gospel of Mark, healings happen in synagogues, in full houses, in crowds and so the public surfacing of “the problems” (nice word for demons) is part of the healing too.  While Jesus didn’t necessarily need others present to work these miracles, people were always there.  It was witness. It was light. It was hope. For many, not just a few.  The public nature of the healings meant that others could begin to believe that healing is possible. And that is certainly a message our world needs to hear.

It’s also true that the healing in today’s gospel passage and the ones that are soon to follow (we’ll hear more next week,) these healings happen on the Sabbath and that’s significant.  This means that Jesus’ work of healing was not only a “making better” of the individual, it was also a powerful and risky public reclaiming of what it meant and means to honor God.  Jesus in these actions was very intentionally and visibly placing forgiveness, love, and wholeness as absolute priorities of his ministry.  And so it’s the urgency, the raw honesty, and the re-prioritizing in Mark that are the biggest challenges of all.

Which leads to a quick heads up; I’m definitely encouraging jumping on the Marcan wagon, but I also want our rational selves to be fair-warned here.  Know that Jesus got in big trouble for this.  “This” being the healing of all kinds, “this” being healing on the Sabbath, “this” being eating with sinners and outcasts and reprioritizing what it meant to live holy lives.

And this getting in trouble happened quickly before the end of chapter two in this gospel, because Mark is like that, but also because the world is often like that too. Along this entire whole journey, we will be given reasons why “snuggling with demons” is such an attractive option; battling with them is not what one would call fun.  But the message is clear, this world and each of us is crying out.  And we as Body of Christ have something to offer in the midst of the struggles and the pains that demons cause.

And so, Grace Church, I say that moving forward, we let a little Mark seep in.  Each of us wrestles with something and in this story there is hope. Hope for us all and for this world too.  And we should embrace that with every ounce of our individual and collective being and we should let it seep through our pores more than we do. The work won’t be easy, but according to Mark, we have been given everything we need to make this journey our own, to claim it as ours, to be claimed by it as God’s.

The Kingdom of God is at hand, people of Grace!  May we teach, heal, forgive, expose a demon or two, and in all things, seek to set one another and the people of this world, free.  Now.

Amen.

How Mercy Works

The Rev. Jennifer Adams – January 21, 2018

Epiphany 3, Year B: Jonah 3:1-5&10, Psalm 62:5-12, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Mark 1:14-21

This morning I’m going to focus in on the passage from Jonah, in part because we only have that option one other time in the entire three-year cycle of the lectionary and I want us to grab this opportunity.  Also, because I think Jonah’s story has something to teach us about how we listen to and live the call to be disciples, followers of Christ which is what the gospel was about today (and most days.)  Now I’m going to tell you the whole story Jonah just in case you happen to miss the next Jonah Sunday which is scheduled to land about two and a half years from now.  Settle in a bit.  Here we go.

You probably all know this prophet if for no other reason than Jonah is a favorite among children for his having ended up in the belly of a whale.  For all of the stories that are left out of children’s curricula there is probably not one program out there that skips over Jonah.  This story lends itself so easily to art, story-telling, and some good giggles (mixed with slight horror) among any group of Sunday School preschoolers.

Now remember that Jonah ended up in the wale’s belly because after he was called by God, Jonah made a run for it, a move not uncommon among prophets.

“The word of the Lord came to Jonah,” this story opens, and God said to Jonah, “Go at once to Nineveh that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.”  And Jonah’s immediate response (who could blame him,) was that he “set out to flee… He went and found a ship, paid his fare, and went on board in order to “get away from the presence of the Lord.”

Which proved to be an ultimately ridiculous thought, an impossibility in fact that “getting away from the presence of the Lord” thing. (lesson one from Jonah)

The Lord “hurled a great wind upon the sea,” the story says, “and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up and the mariners were afraid. Each cried to his god and they threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load and steady the boat.” But the storm was, as we heard, “mighty” and it was relentless (perhaps lesson two from Jonah – when someone is fleeing from the Lord and they know it, don’t help with the fleeing.)

The sailors then had a conversation with Jonah who, upon getting on board had been completely up front about his reasons for getting on the ship. And so Jonah, to his credit, offered to throw himself overboard.  The sailors tried a bit longer before they took him up on his offer, but none of those measures worked, and so they “picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.”  Which was good for the sailors.  And good for the ship.

But what about Jonah?

Well, the Lord provided a large fish to swallow him up; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights (note the timeframe) during which Jonah sang songs of thanks and praise down in the belly of the fish.

Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and the fish spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.  (Which leads to more giggles when someone in Sunday School asks “what does spew mean?  And you explain, “the large fish vomited Jonah up on the land.”)

At which point Jonah set out to Ninevah to do the work that God had originally and was still calling him to do. Which is the point at which we entered the story this morning.

Jonah walked through the entire city of Ninevah which was an “exceedingly large city,” three days wide the story told us and as he walked, Jonah proclaimed, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’”  Jonah shouted about how the ways of the people had become evil and oppressive.  He proclaimed their injustices and how they had separated themselves from the hopes and intentions of God. And while he walked Jonah warned them, “Soon God will act!”

And then the amazing part of the story happened (even given the part about the fish’s belly this next bitis the amazing part of the story): The people listened. They believed it – the part about them having been bad and that their badness would not lead to goodness and the people proclaimed a fast. And “everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth” which was their sign of repentance and the changing of their ways.

Even the king listened! “When the news reached the king of Nineveh,” the story says, “he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.” The King, responding to Jonah’s prophetic words proclaimed that “All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands.”

Notice that this story makes that a very clear option (the leader listening and the violence stopping.)  And then this wonderful line from the King, “Who knows?  God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’” And sure enough when God saw what the people of Ninevah did, how they turned from their evil ways, “God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and God did not do it.”  Whoa!

Now theologically there are discussions to be had here, but first I want us to find Jonah, because I think he’s key to understanding the message here. There is a theology behind all of this and we have something very important to learn from it, but I think we too can do that through Jonah.  So we’ll go to him now.

When “nothing happened” (meaning that God did not destroy Ninevah,) Jonah was furious!  And he let God know that this was why he hadn’t wanted to be a prophet in the first place.  Not because the work of a prophet was hard but because Jonah could not count on God to follow through with retribution.  Jonah explained to the Almighty, “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” And then Jonah poured it on saying to God, “Please take my life from me! For it is better for me to die than to live!”

And God said to Jonah in a way that I believe is meant to unpack the reader, “Is it right for you to be angry?…Really, Jonah, now?”

And Jonah felt like the answer to that question was, “Yes.”  Yes it is right.  And so Jonah built a booth for himself outside the eastern wall of the City and he camped out there, “waiting to see what would become of the city” presumably thinking that via his argument recently offered, he, Jonah, could make God change God’s mind again and that surely the threatened destruction was imminent!  But nothing happened, except that God grew a large bush to give Jonah some shade “to save him from his discomfort.  And Jonah was “very happy about the bush.”

And then to bring the point home, God appointed a worm to attack the bush.  And Jonah got angry about that too.  And God gently (I just love God in this story) said, “Jonah, is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And Jonah insistent on being Jonah (I love him in this story too) replied, “Yes, angry enough to die!” I see him standing up pointing every so righteously into the sky.

Jonah then declared that he was faint and asked that he might die right then and there.

And the story then ends with God’s words.  “You are concerned about the bush for which you did not labor and you did not grow…And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”  And that’s it.   The End.

And you sort of have to smile your whole way through this whole story not only because it ends with the phrase “and also, many animals” but because of the simple truths that are so beautifully told here.

Jonah exposes us, which is what prophets are called to do. It’s not only about Jonah and Ninevah.  It’s about us too.  How often do we think we can flee or even subtly sidestep God’s call, as little or as large as it might be?  How often do we sit and listen to the prophets walking our streets shouting about the injustices we have adopted as acceptable ways of life and we face the choice about whether or not or how to repent?  How often do we do our work and then sit on the hillsides waiting for the “other side” to be destroyed, or at least damaged a little (because we’re still nice, but think they should be hit with something!)  I’m guessing that we too, or many of us at least fall into the temptation of occasionally hoping that God’s retribution steps in when we believe it should.  And there is occasional disappointment when it doesn’t.

We are the people called and the people who flee.  We are the sailors who enable.  We are the people of Ninevah who have much for which to repent.  We are the prophet with much to say and with much to learn.  We are this story – which is maybe why we smile when we hear it.

While we hope and pray for mercy, mercy can be hard to watch when it’s granted those whom we perceive to be undeserving of it.  Perhaps because deep down, we’re not sure we deserve it ourselves.

But that’s how mercy works.  It comes as a prophetic word from beyond ourselves reminding us of God’s hope for our neighbors, the strangers, this world, and us too.  Mercy comes as the quieting of a storm even when we’ve caused it by our stubbornness, or our own righteousness, or our own fear.  Mercy comes as the belly of wale swallowing us up and granting us safety, room to breathe and time to give thanks.  It comes as another chance. Mercy comes as shade trees when we simply need a little time to cool off and work out our own stuff.  Mercy comes and strips us of whatever keeps us from loving and being loved.

Because mercy comes from a God who even when we don’t know our right hand from our left loves us into new life.

 

Amen.