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What Would Jesus See?

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lent 4, Year A: 1 Samuel 16:1-13, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41

I think that one of the most important lines in this whole story is the very first one.  Now I realize that in your listening that was over forty verses ago, and a lot has happened since then but without looking does anyone remember that very first verse?  Before the disciples got in to debating why the man was born blind? Before the actual miracle began to unfold in all its detail with the spit on the ground, the mud on his eyes, the washing in the pool of Siloam? I’m talking way back before the man could see.  Before the people were confused, the parents were involved, the Pharisees were debating about healing on the Sabbath?  Before any of the doubts, the debates, the denial, the fears, the testimonies, and the theological back-and-forthing that took place in this story?  Before any of that, there was a very important opening line.  Here’s what the gospel said:

“As he walked along, Jesus saw a man blind from birth.”  That’s how it all started.  Jesus saw him.  This is a long and quite theologically complicated story about blindness, sinfulness, Sabbath keeping and sight.  And it’s easy to get tangled up pretty quickly. But before it’s complicated, this story begins very simply. It begins with Jesus seeing a blind man. And I think that matters.

Because to begin with, this man probably wasn’t easy to see.  This was someone on the far out margins; he wasn’t a disciple, nor was he one of the religious authorities who was constantly approaching Jesus with questions.  This wasn’t someone whom the disciples would have placed on their list of priority visits, or on any list for that matter.  And nobody brought this man to Jesus, so he was very likely alone.  This was a man who was probably begging by the side of the road that Jesus and the disciples were walking. That’s all he was.  The gospel even tells us that that’s how the people in town knew him – he was “the blind man whom they had seen as a beggar.”

And the story tells us in the very first verse that Jesus saw him.  And Jesus stopped when he saw him.  And I think that’s the first lesson, here.  Before this became a debate about who was wrong and who was right, about who had power and who didn’t. . . . before any of that this was an encounter with a very real human being whom Jesus simply took time to see.

And also tucked in the very first verses – notice what they all saw when they stopped and looked at this man.  This matters too – and it calls us on something that we all do.  When the people of the town saw him at all, they saw “beggar”.   And the story says that what the disciples saw was “sin.”  It’s horrible but true.  The first thing the disciples said to Jesus when they looked at the man was, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”  Not “What’s your name, man?” or “Can we help?”  Or, “Are you hungry?”  Not, “Do you want to come with us?” Not even a Christian disciple-like “Have you heard the good news?”  None of that.

Because the disciples didn’t see him.  They saw beggar. They saw blind.  They saw sin.

And so here’s the important piece – that’s not what Jesus saw.  And that’s why the beginning of this story matters so much.  Jesus saw something else. Jesus SAW something, someone else.  “Neither this man sinned, nor his parents,” Jesus told them.  “In fact this isn’t about sin at all,” he went on.  “It’s about sight – it’s about God – it’s about what God can do in us,” he told them. “It’s about what God can do even through those whom we’ve left by the side of the road. . . .This man is about to reveal to us workings of God,” Jesus said.  They saw beggar.  They saw sin.  Jesus saw someone in whom miracles could happen.  And so I wonder if that’s the kind of sight we’re supposed to have too.

That does seem to be what all of the gospel stories are about this Lent.  Two weeks ago we heard about Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews who came to Jesus under the cover of night.  No matter the darkness – Jesus saw him, but not as a religious authority who had a reputation to fear; Jesus saw Nicodemus as a man who had some questions and who needed as much as anyone did to believe that he could be born again.  Then last week there was the Samaritan woman.  This was the woman who came to the well in the middle of the day so as not to be seen and harassed by others.  Jesus saw her too, but not as an outcast as others saw her.  Jesus saw her as someone for whom and through whom living water could flow, not only for her but for her people too.  And now today we have the blind man, someone whom people walked by every day.  And Jesus saw him.  Not as beggar, not as sinner, but as a potential participant in a miracle.

And so I wonder if that’s the kind of sight we’re supposed to have too.  What if all of our stories started very intentionally and very slowly with that very first verse.  What if we saw each other.  And just stayed there for a while, even just a few minutes. What if we really noticed that person in the third pew.  That person in the back corner.  That acolyte. That choir member. That teacher who is downstairs leading Growing Into Worship?  What if we really noticed that Feeding America guest?  And those people by the sides of the roads we walk every day?  And not only that but what if we saw each other and all of those other people not just as blind, or old, or young, or black, or white, or rich or poor or male or female or Democrat or Republican, not just as Evangelical, Jew or Muslim. . . choose your category. . .  What if when we looked, we saw someone in whom the workings of God were coming to be?

And then sometimes even harder, what if we looked in the mirror and saw ourselves that way too?  Each and every one of us as those in whom God was working miracles.

Now I know that there are forty other verses here. And I understand the importance and value of theological debate. I think the wrestling that takes place in this passage is rich and important too.  I participate in and contribute to conversations like this often.  But sometimes I think those conversations would go more easily, maybe more quickly and be less threatening, maybe they’d be more conversational if we slowed ourselves down and sat with the beginning of the story – if we savored that very first verse for awhile and just saw one another before we debated or considered who was right and who was wrong.  Maybe then the second verse would be more like the first.  Maybe the thirty eighth verses could be more like the first if we disciplined ourselves to settle in to an encounter with another human being and took time to see, to really see God’s presence in that other.  I think if we did that the church and the world would change.  For the better.

And so all season I pray this song that we sing as we gather every Sunday. And I thank you for praying with me.

Behold, behold, I make all things new, beginning with you.  And starting from today.

Behold, behold, I make all things new, my promise is true, for I am Christ the way.

Amen.

 

Nightlights

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams –March 16, 2014 

Lent 2, Year A: Genesis 12:1-4a, Romans 4:1-5, 13-17, John 3:1-17

So, over the years, I’ve had sort of lukewarm relationship with Nicodemus.  He can push my buttons like few other Biblical characters can do.  But he can also open my heart in ways that it needs to be opened, if I let him.  And so I have this inner wrestle that happens whenever we get to this story.  And I’ll get to all of that in a minute.

Because I also need to say that the language in this story can make this gospel passage a little confusing too.  Birth and rebirth?  Water and spirit?  And then at the very end we’re hit with one of the most well known (yet also misused) verses in all of Scripture – having appeared in thousands of football end zones and hundreds of thousands of billions of sermons over time are these words: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. . .”  So, we’ll go there too.

But first Nicodemus and a little bit about him.  And me.

Nicodemus was a leader of the synagogue.  He was a Pharisee which meant that he had a whole lot of authority in his community of faith and in his society too.  He was a ruler, a teacher, an official who probably also had considerable wealth.  He was robed, vested and invested.  Nicodemus was a very public figure who stood in a solid position of leadership and respect; he was was visible, powerful, and likely highly honored and esteemed.

But he came to Jesus by night. In this part of the gospel, Nicodemus was sort of sneaky in his approach and so part of me wonders why he couldn’t just come during the daylight like everyone else?  Why couldn’t Nicodemus stand with the other searchers and seekers and shout out his questions just like all the rest of them?  In reality, Nicodemus was one of the most powerful people in this gospel – unlike the Samaritan woman whom we’ll meet next week and the blind man the week after that (heck, they didn’t even have names in this gospel) unlike them, Nicodemus was one of the most secure in his world. And yet he of all people came by night.  And so he pushes my buttons because I see the risks people were willing to take in order to put themselves in Jesus’ presence, or the risks they took in trying to follow him, and Nicodemus is initially, just sort of sneaky about it all.

But there’s more too.  There’s more to Nicodemus’ story – which is true of everyone we encounter.  And it’s important to remember that.  Nicodemus appears not once but three times in this gospel. There is this first encounter which happens by night, then there’s another moment later in the gospel when Nicodemus is standing in a crowd of Pharisees and at that point, the Pharisees are literally ready to condemn Jesus on the spot.  And it’s Nicodemus who shouts out from the middle of them.  And he shouted out that their religious law required they at least offer Jesus a trial. Right out in the broad daylight Nicodemus did that!  Now it’s not exactly a public witness or testimony, or renunciation or resurrection – but hey, it was a huge step for him. And it probably put his reputation at risk.

And then at the very end of the gospel Nicodemus was present again.  With Joseph of Arimethea Nicodemus cared for Jesus’ body after Jesus died and it’s a very tender moment.  Nicodemus essentially broke with the purity code and defiled himself in order to touch and care for the body of Jesus.

And so while Nicodemus frustrates me, he also fascinates me, and in some ways he even humbles me.

Because Nicodemus reminds me that this journey comes in all different shapes and sizes.  He reminds me that God is working on us all – those who are on the margins and those who are in the very center, or even at “the top.”  God is working on the powerless and the powerful, the fearful and the courageous, those with nothing to lose and those with everything to lose and everyone in between in each of those categories.  And actually, that should come as good news.  Who am I to question Nicodemus’ process?  Now I can question the public stands he takes.  I can question his underlying theology.  But I should have room in my heart for his journey too.  Nicodemus was willing to let the door crack open if even just to let a little nightlight shine through.  And grace sometimes grace looks just like that.

And what made all of that so very grace-filled in this story was how Jesus received him. This is where I have something to learn.  The words Jesus gave to Nicodemus were beautiful.  “You can be born again,” he told him. “Everyone can.  In fact everyone needs to begin again,” Jesus told Nicodemus.  So don’t feel so bad about it.  And then Jesus went on, “Because the Spirit blows where it will,” he said, “and you hear it but you don’t always know – no matter how robed or vested our invested you are – even you, religious leader don’t always know from where the Spirit will come or where it will take you.”

And that response is so much better than judging Nicodemus for needing the cover of night.  That’s so much more loving than comparing Nicodemus to the blind man or the Samaritan woman. Which was part of Jesus’ point, right?  God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, not to condemn the world – not to condemn Nicodemus or the Samaritan woman or the blind man or any of the rest of them – not to condemn the world but so that the world might be saved through him.

And so the good news has lots of layers in this one.  On some level we all need the cover of night for things we bring to the Christ. We just do and Christ is there for us.  And sometimes we are those people in positions of power who need to do our own searching and seeking and being born anew.  And sometimes we need to open doors for those who arrive by night so that they can encounter the Body of Christ in ways that are safe for them.

But then the story continues for all of us and all of them too. Maybe courage comes.  Maybe then they/we find our voices if only for a moment and right there in full day light we’re able to cry out for justice – for ourselves or someone else.  And then at the end of the day, maybe they/we can risk everything we have for the life, the death, the caretaking of the one who came to love us all.

Amen.

Belovedness Matters

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – March 12, 2014 – Lent I, Year A: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11

Well we began Lent a few days ago on Ash Wednesday, but this is the first Sunday of the season – the Great Litany gave it away. You can also see that the church has been stripped down to its very basics – no bright colors – just a deep penitential purple to mark these forty days and forty nights.  The tone and focus are slightly different now. We even tucked away the “Alleluia.” And so it’s obviously a beginning of sorts, but the gospel story we just heard actually began several verses ago and for us here at Grace, this story began last week and well before that.  So rather than see this Sunday as a clean start, I want to blur the seasonal lines a bit, back up a little and remind us where we and Jesus have come from.

If we back up just about five verses in the gospel of Matthew, we hear this: “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. . . And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, alighting on him, and a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”   And if you were here last Sunday or heard about what happened, you know that we baptized Hazel and Sam.  In the spirit of the season that was Epiphany – the season of revelation – we renewed our own baptismal vows and we welcomed two new members in to the household of God.

Now one of the traditional approaches to this season is to approach Lent as a time of preparation for baptism, a time of intensive learning for those who are new to the faith so that they can be baptized during the Easter season which comes next.  There are people among us who are preparing to be baptized and soon there will be a group moving toward confirmation or reception in our church.  And so we are using Lent as a time of learning, of getting ready, of looking forward to new things to come.

BUT in the gospel, Jesus time in the wilderness was preceded by baptism, and I think we want to see all of this through that lens too, because baptism wasn’t something he received at the end of a journey; it was something that gave him strength for the journey.  Jesus was still dripping wet from the blessing when he walked into the wilderness.  That voice that had come from heaven was still echoing in his head when he entered into his forty days and forty nights.  “You are my beloved,” the voice said and my guess is that in the wilderness, that belovedness mattered more than anything else.

Because when you’re beloved and you know it, there is strength there.   When you are beloved of God and you are in a scary place or a can’t-quite-find-your-way place, there can be peace even in the midst of the struggle.   That’s how belovedness works.  It is something that seeps into your heart and into your very being and it comes to matter more than anything else in this world.  Sure there was evil in the wilderness – and there is evil in our wilderness too.  Jesus was tempted with promises of power and privilege and absolute security – and we are too, every day.  But Jesus turned it all down, and I think it was because he knew that there was something that he could only begin to grasp that was already holding him.  He was beloved and that was enough.

On Ash Wednesday I talked about Lent as an opportunity to reclaim the “kinship” given us by God. “Quit hiding from your kin,” Isaiah told God’s people in the passage we heard that day.  Belovedness is related to that concept and practice of kinship. We are all beloved of God – kin to one another, related in our essence – brother and sister in Christ – created in God’s image.  And so if we accomplish only one thing this season, I would hope it would be to let that belovedness sink into our hearts and in to our lives to the extent that it effects every decision we make.

That’s what happened to Jesus in the wilderness.  And it’s true for us too.  Regardless of where we are on the journey, we walk differently when being loved is something that we don’t have question at all. That’s the security we seek and have already been given.  That’s the power we need to tap in order to transform ourselves and our world.  We treat one another differently when we see the other as beloved too. That’s the grace that allows bread to be shared and abundance to be something meant for all.

Belovedness changes things.  It just does – it has strength and vulnerability all wrapped up in a holy sort of gift.   One of the first things we ask of those getting baptized (or their sponsors) is “Do you resist Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God? “and then we ask them, “Do you put your whole trust in Christ’s grace and love?”  Those two questions together contain the work, the gift that is Lent.

And so the story continues:  “You are beloved,” God tells us.  On the mountain top? Beloved. In the wilderness? Beloved.  At the font, at the table, still searching?  Beloved. Tempted, hurting, hungry, sinful, saintly? Beloved. Strong?  Weak? “You are my beloved,” God says.  So soak it up and stand up and resist everything that would have you believe anything other than that.  AND stand up and resist everything that would have you believe that your neighbor is anything less than beloved too. May we hear that voice of God speaking to us, reminding us who we are as we move through the season before us.

Amen.

 

Stop Hiding From Your Own Kin! (Ash Wednesday 2014)

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday: Isaiah 58:1-12, 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

According to the prophet Isaiah we’ve just been granted an amazing opportunity.  Now this won’t sound very Lenten but we’re being given the opportunity to allow our light to break forth like the dawn. To allow the healing for which we long to spring up quickly!  According to Isaiah, this very moment is an opportunity to become like a watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.  Right here and right now – or at least over the next forty days and forty nights – we’re being invited to be known as the repairers of the breach, the restorers of streets to live on.  Sound good?  I think so too.

So here’s what it will take.  We need to share our bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into our homes, and give clothes to the naked.  Well, all-righty then!  I for one find that challenging but relatively good news.  Because everything on that list is really quite doable – and we’re already on to it here.  Certainly here at Grace we could do better, and hopefully we continue to grow in each of these categories of “outreach ministries” – the feeding, the clothing, the housing. . .But we already Feed America, we have two homes in the Partnership, we hold the warmth drive every year, and many of us clear out our closets at least annually, passing on whatever we don’t need to those who do.  Isn’t our light shining yet?  It’s not like we’re all caught up in public prayer like Matthew spoke against, so we must be OK.  It’s not like we’re walking around in sack cloths and ashes beating ourselves up in the name of faith for heaven’s sakes.  Are we the repairers, the restorers we hope to be?

Well at the end of that list of feeding, clothing, and housing, Isaiah added an interesting almost summary phrase:  “You need to stop hiding from your own kin,” he told them.  Which was such a powerful way to put it – feed each other, house each other, clothe each other – but more than that, maybe to heart of all, see each other as family, family of God that is. In other words, the problem isn’t just that that that man doesn’t have a coat, it’s that we don’t see him as brother.  The issue isn’t just that that child is hungry, it’s that we don’t treat her as our own.  The problem isn’t just that that woman is homeless, it’s that she is not sister to us.  And so the work is not simply about distribution of resources – although we need to be ALL ABOUT THAT- but at another level it’s also about transforming how we see one another, in this place, in our neighborhoods, out in God’s world.  Lent is an opportunity to reclaim the kinship given us by God.

And so I wonder how many of us know any of the names of people who come here seeking food?  How many of us know the names of people whose plates we fill at Community Kitchen?  Try it – introduce yourself. Shake hands and talk.  Stop hiding from your own kin!  How many of us pray for the kids in the Grace houses as if they were family to us?  Start by talking to those at Grace who mentor with these families and learn that those houses aren’t only shelters we provide, they are homes to real people with real struggles and real stories.  We need to stop hiding from our own kin!  Even within these walls, what might happen if we began to see each other more fully, more truly as brothers and sisters in Christ?

And so maybe this season we can practice kinship. Eating together.  Walking together.  Praying and singing together.  Talking about real things in real sorts of ways with each other and all those who come through whatever door at whatever time through whatever program they happen to come.  We could learn names. We could talk. . .And there is so much more.  Come up with your own ideas too.

This Lenten season is a holy sort of opportunity opportunity.  What we’ll discover if we’re not too careful is that none of what we do is actually outreach.  The walls fall quickly when that “other” becomes sister or brother.  Keep feeding, keep housing, keep sharing your clothing, keep caring. We’re on to something here.  And our light is soon to shine.

Amen.

The Household – So Much More Than a Mountaintop

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams- March 2, 2014- Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9

I kind of just want to hunker down and stay here today – not in the pulpit – don’t worry.  I’ll come down from here, I promise.  What I mean is that this is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany and instead of moving on, I’d like to stay right here. Personally, I’d like to enjoy these themes for a while longer.  What’s the rush, afterall?  This season has been sort of wonderful – all about revelation and understanding and insight. We’ve talked about seeing Christ, recognizing God in Him and helping to share that good news with the world.  Couldn’t we keep doing that for a while more?

It all started about eight weeks ago when the wise men arrived, then Simeon sang and Anna prophesied when they saw the Christ child; we moved on to Jesus’ baptism when the dove came down from heaven and the voice spoke of his belovedness; then the disciples were called to come “fish for people,” and we’ve been hearing about things like loving our enemies and being salt for the earth and light for the world.  Sure there’s been some challenging stuff running through all of this, but it’s also been so very obviously good this season, as strangers, new disciples, people of the synagogues and towns one after the other have had their eyes opened to the love of God come into this world.

And today, just to keep this revelatory mood flowing through the final days of the season, we’ve got the story of the transfiguration AND we’re celebrating baptism with Hazel and Sam.

In the gospel, Peter, James and John saw Jesus transfigured right before their eyes.  His clothes turned dazzling white and suddenly Moses and Elijah were standing there with him.  You could say that this was one of those big moments when the disciples GOT IT.  Their eyes were opened in ways they hadn’t been before; so many recently jumbled pieces were finally fitting together for them.  Jesus was making connections for them right in front of their faces!  If they’d had any doubts before the trip up the mountain, those doubts went away completely at least for a few moments.  They could see that Jesus WAS the one for whom they had been waiting.  They saw that he stood in company with the giver of the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah.) Which would have given them absolute clarity that Jesus was the Messiah for whom they had longed.

And Peter responded to that experience of that revelation rather reasonably, I would say.  “OK, everyone, let’s just stay right here,” he said to Jesus.  “This is really, really good . . .Let’s build some houses.  For all three of you guys (Jesus, Moses and Elijah.)”  Peter wanted the mountain top to become home.  Which is an honest and common instinct to have in moments of clarity and goodness.

Baptisms do that for me. Maybe that’s a priest thing, but I hope you feel it too. I love these moments of welcome and recognition where children and adults claim a new beginning of sorts and a foundation for themselves and their family. And while they do that they also call us all to reclaim our beliefs and to name the ways in which those beliefs are intimately tied to a faithful way of life.

During baptisms connections are made not only with Hazel and Sam but on this mountaintop we too have the opportunity to see that we’re in the company of a long line of prophets, and sinners, and saints – we’re reminded that we stand with the whole lot of the people of God as we gather by the river and come to the table today.  And the Baptismal covenant then tells us about the way of life to which we’ve been called –  a way of life that invites us into fellowship with one another, that calls us to work for justice and peace among all people, that challenges us to love our neighbors, and to respect the dignity of every human being.  That’s it, right?! This is what we’re all about!  And it’s all so very wonderful.  I love the entirety of the blessing and that moment at the end when we proclaim to the newly baptized, “We welcome you into the household of God.”  And then we feast. Good stuff.

So we could just stay right here. Hunkering down with the household – like was Peter’s inclination.  We could stay right here on the mountaintop with Jesus, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John, Sam and Hazel and all of us.  Up here, it’s all pretty clear and there is something truly comforting and attractive about that.

But here’s the thing, if we stay here then Hazel and Sam won’t know that the church is present in other kinds of places too.  If we stay on the mountain top, then the newly baptized won’t know that we’ll be with them in the valleys when they come.  We have more to show Hazel and Sam.  We have to show them that we not only climb, we walk down.  And sometimes we fall.  And sometimes we fall hard.  But even better then climbing is rising, even better than the mountaintop is the resurrection that finds us, that finds us all.

Which is where the next season takes us and it’s important that we go there, together, all of us.  Things will get fuzzier and more difficult as we walk the wilderness that is the season of Lent. The clarity of revelation that came to us in Epiphany will fade a bit and we’ll ask different sorts of questions; you could say that the stories will shift from one kind of revelation to another.  We’ll go from having our eyes opened to at times wanting to close our eyes to some of the realities in the gospel.  There will be a cross before there is light this season.  And so it will be hard.

But that happens in life too, doesn’t it?  It’s happened to all of us on some level and as much as we’d like to protect them from it, even Hazel and Sam will know some darkness.  Can anyone here claim to have understood the workings of God, the presence of God, the meaning of Christ day in and day out without fail?  Who here hasn’t known darkness, hasn’t known struggle, hasn’t had doubts or times of temptation or searching in the wilderness?

We come down the mountain today because God is in down-the-mountaintop-places too.  And we’ve been called to gather there.  Not because suffering is what God’s wants but because God is there offering healing, sharing love, bringing about the redemption that is revelation, part two.

The beauty and mystery of the gospel is that for the most part it doesn’t take place on mountain tops.  We get to visit those places and we need those seasons of revelation and clarity.  But for the most part, the gospel is lived around ordinary tables, in valleys, on crosses, out on the margins, in the darknesses we know, in our own suffering and the struggles of those who are “other” to us.  We leave the mountain in order to find God in those places, in order to allow God to find us in those places, in order to teach Hazel and Sam and remind all of us that the household of God is everywhere, reaching high and low with the embrace that is light, the love that is forgiveness, and the peace that is amazing grace.

So celebrate today.  Sing alleluias! with all your heart.  Welcome Hazel and Sam and renew your own vows to this holy, mysterious, blessed life.  And then  later this week, we’ll move on together, down from the mountain in order to get found again.

Amen.

Getting Home

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – January 5, 2013 – Christmas II, Year A: Matthew 2:1-12

This morning on the Church calendar is the second Sunday of Christmas and so no matter how far along things are out there, we’re still within the twelve days that officially mark the season in here.  The Advent wreath and candles are all still in the center of our gathering. And the candles are all lit now, signifying that the light of the world has come among us. The greens still surround us.  The music still echoes Christ’s birth.  It’s very obviously still Christmas here!

But if you listen closely you’ll notice that we’re also beginning to transition.  Tonight is Twelfth Night, the Eve of the Epiphany and so we’re moving into a new season that will take us from the celebration of Jesus’s birth into the revelation that Jesus is the Christ. And while it might sound kind of obvious in terms of how all of this flows, it’s a huge step! We’re on the move here – shifting from celebration into new revelations, new understandings.  Which is what Epiphany is all about.

First the wise men arrived from afar signaling that Christ’s birth was a not just a local event but a gift for the whole world.  Next week we’ll hear of Jesus’ baptism which began his formal ministry and then there will be miracles that happened through him. Epiphany which is our celebration of the “manifestation of Christ” tells the stories about how people began to see who Jesus really was, Son of God born into this world.

Now it might be hard to let this season hit us quite the way it hit all of them.  Because we know these stories right? At least the basics.  We have already been told who Jesus is – for some of us our whole lives.  So it’s no surprise really that the angels sang, the shepherds came, the wise men followed the star?  Even that first gospel miracle when the water was changed into wine at the wedding in Cana is something we’ve heard about before.  Now there are creeds that tell us who Jesus is.  There are traditions that carry us through the stories of his life.  There are services and celebrations and rituals that remind us weekly, daily even in word and action who Jesus was and is.  We have all of these things like tradition, liturgy, theology, Christology going for us at this point.  In so many ways, explanations of who Jesus was and is are in front of us all the time.  So, who needs a star?

I do.

We do too.  Which is why Epiphany might be the most humbling season of all.  Here is this amazing gift in our midst, a gift that’s been here for over two thousand years! And we need our eyes opened too. Still.  No matter how many times you’ve heard these stories, no matter how familiar the wise men and the angels and the heavenly hosts have become – we need understanding, we need revelation – we need the miracle too.

And I think that’s because the way home is always changing. Did you hear that part of the story?  It matters a lot.  I don’t want you to miss it so here it is again:  The wise men followed the star from quite far away, all the way to see Jesus.  And they found him. And they gave him their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.  The wise men got to see who Jesus was.

But there was an evil king, Herod, who didn’t want another king, let alone a Messiah to ruin his rule.  And so Herod watched the wise men and he listened to the wise men, so that he could stop the whole thing from unfolding any further, before the news of Jesus birth spread too far.  But the wise men each had a dream, and those dreams saved their lives.

The dreams warned them of King Herod’s plans and in the dreams, God told the wise men to go home by another way.  And they did.  In order to get home again, they couldn’t just back track.  They couldn’t just take the same road to the place, the home that was theirs.  They had to travel differently.  They had to find new ways.  And so they did.

Which is why no matter how much we know about Jesus, we need Epiphany too.  The ways home change.  The ways into faith and the ways of sharing the faith change.  Who is Jesus for you now?  I’m guessing you answer that question differently than you would have twenty years ago, or ten years ago or even five years ago.  How are we to be Body of Christ for the world in 2014?  We do and and we should respond differently then the church of the 50’s did. Given what we know, what we’ve learned, what we’ve experienced, what we’ve seen, given what happened yesterday, and the day before, and three weeks ago, how do we get home again?

According to the dreams of the wise men, we just do it differently.  We go home a different way – whether home is your faith, or family, or a people, or a community or all of the above.  Even when home is that sacred place deep inside each of us – the way to get home changes.  Because there are very bad things that happen and very, very good things that happen.  Because there are angels and there are Herods and there are dreams and they all give us something that means we have to change direction now and then in order to find that place that is ours with others and with God.

The good news is that miracles continue.  There is a way home, there’s always a way.  Dreams from God still come.  Stars that guide us still shine.  Bread and wine are transformed in ways that sustain us and we are transformed into a presence that in a way becomes its own way.  Because God can do all of that.  God is doing all of that still.  Still helping us see Christ among us, in us, and through us, for us and for the world too.

So don’t be afraid if the creeds aren’t all you need to understand who Jesus is. Don’t be intimidated or put off if the words help but don’t give you all of what you seek from God.  Don’t be scared if “the way” shifts now and then or it feels like getting home is more of a challenge then the first part of your journey led you to believe.  All of that just means that you’re listening; it might even mean that you’re alive.

Just stay faithfully open.  Pray for the dreams to come and listen to them when they do.  Watch the sky and notice the stars that continue to shine brightly over that place that is calling to you.  Hang out with a wise person or two – watch and learn from them.  Most importantly, know that Christ is here.  And Christ is there.  And the God who brought the wise men to Bethlehem and back again is guiding us all home every day.

Amen.

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams- December 22, 2013 – Advent IV – Lessons and Carols

There was a wonderful YouTube that video went viral a week or so ago.  Maybe some of you saw it.  It was a video of a kids’ Christmas concert, kindergartners I think who were singing the usual collection of holiday fare.  You can picture the scene: they were arranged on bleachers, packed in tight, dressed festively in reds and greens, and completely unable to contain that kind of energy that five and six year olds seem to ooze this time of year.  The singing was of course a little louder than a fine choral performance might have offered, but the performers were all very five and six-ish and the energy was overflowing. So the expressions and words were more like genuinely joyful shouts.

Now at the center of this video was a little girl and she was singing all the words of the songs right along with all the rest of the kids.  She was blond and pony-tailed and dressed in a cute red and green patterned dress.  But while the other kids were doing the standard hand motions that they had all learned, this little girl was doing something different.  And it was something beautiful.

Because she knew that even the louder shouts combined with the carefully choreographed motions wouldn’t reach her parents ears.  The story behind the video is that both her parents are deaf and so this little girl had been raised with two languages – spoken and sign. And so as she approached this important day – first school concert ever – she made what I would consider a brave decision.  She decided that her parents were going to be able to hear the concert too.  And so through the entire concert this little girl sang right along with the whole lot of them, but she also signed every word so that her parents could “hear.”

And this is why I should never go beyond adorable cat videos, because by the end of it I and at least one other staff member were sitting in front of the computer in tears, wiping our faces at the pure gift of it all.

So I think of this little girl’s gift as a good way for us to think about what we celebrate today.  In some ways that little girl did what God was doing through all the stories and songs we just heard.  Through all of Scripture, God is speaking in ways that allow us to hear – and speaking in new ways, different ways, so that those on the margins can hear too.  First there was creation – when the word spoken made the heavens and the earth and all that is in it.  And then in other stories too – God spoke to Moses through a fire, catching his attention with flame right in the middle of a rocky, barren place.  And in the story of the nativity – the story that is foremost in our minds and hearts this week – right there in the midst of normal sorts of day-to-day events, God spoke to Mary through an angel and to Joseph in a dream, finding ways that could be heard so that a new Word could come into being among us.

And so Mary and Joseph were watching this concert when something miraculous happened, God spoke to them, for them in ways that they could hear.  There was God sending signs, giving them all that they needed to know in order to help them parent Jesus, the Word of God. And then Christ spent his entire life and his death too, singing from within tradition but also signing to those on the margins who had yet to hear the good news of God’s grace.

So, for those who have yet to hear, we can be this kind of gift.  We can be the signs, the voices that help the story live, reaching out to new places, to new people in beautiful, loving ways. And we can be the ones who watch and listen for the surprising ways in which holiness continues to speak – through children, through the deaf, the blind, the lame – through any of us revealing the goodness and mercy of God.

Amen.

Pull Up A Chair

“Pull Up A Chair” 

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – October 27, 2013 – Proper 25C: Luke 18:9-13

So there’s this beer commercial that’s out now (which might be one of the best opening lines to a sermon ever.)  You’re with me right?  THERE’S THIS BEER COMMERCIAL PLAYING NOW and it goes like this:

There’s a group of about eight guys playing full court basketball and (here’s something different) – they’re all in wheelchairs.  They’re sweating, playing hard and for those of you who have never seen a wheelchair basketball game before it’s incredibly intense.  It’s fast and it’s competitive, and it’s very, very physical – the chairs and the guys in them literally ram into other  a lot and sometime there’s tipping over; the chairs themselves are built to take a beating, because that’s part of what happens in these games. Now in the commercial a voice over enters in at some point to frame the experience for the watcher: “Dedication,” the voice says. “Loyalty.  Friendship.”

And at first you think that the choice of wheelchair basketball is the main twist this commercial offers.  It’s unusual enough to catch our attention and make a point in itself.  But then there’s something else that happens.  The guys play on, shots are taken, missed and made – there’s a lot of back and forth – up and down the court and then someone calls it.  And they stop and smile, high five, congratulate each other a bit and say that they’ll be back next week to play again.  And then – twist number two – all of the guys but one gets out their wheelchair and they all hit the locker room.  And it’s sort of an amazing moment when you realize that the dedication and loyalty and friendship wasn’t about the game.  It was about the one friend who could only play from a chair and this group of people who  wanted to be able to all play together.  And so they found a way to do it that was good and fair and (especially for a beer commercial,) loving, and even profound.

Now in today’s parable the Pharisee (the one who prayed, very, very well and prided himself on that) had essentially separated himself from most of humanity.  He was very clear that he was very different from the thieves, the rogues, the tax collectors, the sinners  – not the physically broken necessarily – but he had separated himself from those who weren’t playing the game as well as he was, or exactly like he was.  The Pharisee was the all-star in his world – the one who was chosen first – the one who never sat the bench –  the one who scored the most points in the eyes of his people and who (in his own eyes and heart anyway) was head and shoulders above all the rest.

But as hard as he was playing, and you gotta believe the Pharisee was playing hard – pouring his heart and soul and life into being one of the best – but even given all of that, the Pharisee was missing the point. And that’s what this parable is all about.

Now I realize that metaphors have limits but (hang in there with me non-sports fans) I’m going to take this one step further:  there were people in wheelchairs all around this Pharisee – people who were struggling to find their legs, their mobility, so many who were unable for so many different reasons to stand among their people.  And the Pharisee was sort of off by himself slam dunking it over and over again because he believed that that was what God wanted him to do.

The image itself is ridiculous isn’t it?  Hurting and broken people all around.  People who were doing their own version of “best” but due to mistakes, sins, lack of a good coach, circumstances, bad choices – whatever the cause – they were sinking to the bottom rather than rising to the top.  And really what they needed wasn’t an all-star.  They needed someone to pray with them.  Someone to be with them.  Not someone who was busy showing the world or God how well he could pray, but someone who would pull up a chair and have a seat, so that together they could enter into the merciful presence of something like holiness.

And the beauty of this parable is that that’s probably what the Pharisee needed too.  Lonely at the top?  Sure. Being separated from the rest of humanity doesn’t only hurt humanity, it also hurts the ones like the Pharisee in this parable who thought of himself primarily as a star. He was broken too – he just couldn’t show it to himself, or his people, or his God.  So Jesus was offering even the Pharisee a way to be healed.

Dunking over and over again can get old.  Not that I’ve ever experienced that – but I hear it’s true.  Better to be able to pass it around.  Shoot from different places on the court.  Run into others now and then. Learn some new moves from those who come at the game a little differently than we do.  “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

So, pull up a chair. Pull up a pew.  Let’s play.  Let’s pray.  Together.

Amen.

An Unsettling Peace

An Unsettling Peace

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – August 18, 2013 – Proper 15, Year C: Luke 12:49-56

Oh goodness, here we go again. This gospel passage is so very hard and it echoes back to a couple of others that we’ve heard since summer began and neither of those were much fun either!  The first one was a couple of months ago and a few chapters back in the gospel Luke.  In that passage Jesus was telling people that in order to follow him, they had to be prepared to leave their homes, live with absolutely no worldly security, and he actually replied to a man who wanted to wait awhile in order to take time to bury his father that he should “let the dead bury their own dead.” And to someone else who wanted to say good-bye to his family, remember that Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Then today we heard Jesus tell the disciples that he had come “not to bring peace but to bring division.”  And (spoiler alert – just so you know) a couple of weeks from now Jesus is going to take it one step further and say that whoever comes to him and “does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be a disciple.”  And so as we move through this gospel we hear Jesus sort of upping the ante as he moves from separation, to painful division, to actual hatred of those who (by most appearances anyway) are closest to us.  And no matter how many times I read these passages or preach on these passages, the first reaction I always have is to cringe because the last thing I want Jesus to do is to encourage more brokenness, more division, more hurt, more hate, more unsettledness among people! Frankly, it seems like we have enough of that already.

And a lot of what we do in this place is to try to establish a trajectory that moves in exactly the opposite direction – we put a lot of effort into moving from distance to relationship to unity – not the other way around.  Because one look at our society even a quick glance at our whole world shows us that division is the last thing we need more of!  There are already enough gaps, enough rips in the fabrics that bind us, enough brokenness, enough households and communities that stand divided.  Why would we in the name of Christ contribute more of that? Shouldn’t we be the reconcilers? Isn’t it the peacemakers who are blessed? Shouldn’t we be saying things like “we could use a little more love here,” rather than “in order to be disciples, we need to enhance our ability to hate those closest to us?”  Yet here’s Jesus, the Christ, the “Prince of Peace” saying to his disciples, “Let the dead take care of themselves!” and “I come to bring division!” and “You must hate your parents in order to follow me!”  And so I cringe because when I look at the world and listen to the life struggles of so many, I know that what our hearts need is something different than all of that.

But then there’s another part of me that knows that part of why our hearts do ache so much, part of why our society hurts is because we have a tendency to settle for a peace that is not true peace. And that’s what this gospel is about and so we need to hear it.  We have a tendency to settle for a peace that is not true peace.  We set the bar too low and Jesus is raising it for us – even in the face of tremendous resistance, he’s raising the bar for us.  So, when Christ brings division it’s not because division is the ultimate goal; it’s in order to create a deeper, a more real and abiding presence of peace and unity among us.  Jesus calls us into discomfort in order that we and our world may know true peace, the shalom of God.  And this side of heaven, often, maybe even always that discomfort is the only way forward into the fullness of grace.

I attended a community conversation on race last Tuesday and the whole experience relates to this gospel passage. Pastor Wayne Coleman and the Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony hosted the evening which took place at Imagine Fellowship, and they did it because a few weeks ago a couple of people stood outside of Wayne’s house in the middle of the night and they smashed in the windows of Wayne’s car.  And while they smashed in the windows they shouted horrible racial slurs, racial threats at Wayne’s house and so Wayne and his wife and family – including his kids – woke up to the noise of glass being shattered and people shouting outside and threatening them.  And I honestly almost weep whenever I hear that story. And a similar story happened at someone else’s house that weekend too.  Right here in Holland – just blocks from our Church.  We should weep.  And we should listen.  And we should act.

Now that particular evening involved listening to a panel of three  African American women, one Latina, and an African American man talk about their experiences of living in Holland.  And if you haven’t sat and listened in such a context before, you should. And you haven’t sat and listened in several years, you should again, we all should because the stories are still happening and they are chilling and embarrassing and they shine a light on some of the difficult and often unspoken realities of this community.  One of the women on the panel asked how Holland could have ever made it onto the list of “Happiest Cities” in the United States (a designation that our City received a couple of years ago.)  Now this woman asked the question with humor and irony but it was directed and it was important.

We made it on to that list because not everybody in this city was interviewed. And we made it on to that list because we’ve set the bar too low for what it means to be a community of peace and hospitality and even safety for all who come.

And that’s what this gospel passage is all about.  Jesus presents an opportunity, an opportunity to raise the bar. Sometimes Jesus, as the Christ in one of our neighbors stands up and by sharing their own brokenness and their own pain, breaks us open again.  Their words and their stories wake us up and remind us that: “This kind of peace won’t do!  It’s false.  It’s too shallow.  It’s not real enough to embrace the breadth of God’s children whom we’ve been invited to embrace.”

Like today’s the gospel passage, these are the voices that invite us into the hard work of faith, calling us into the cracks and divisions that already exist among us and risking more as we go, inviting us into those cracks because ultimately it is us, people like us and like them who can bridge those gaps through grace.

But not unless we feel the brokenness first.  Not unless we allow stories like Wayne’s and Ruths, and Maggi’s and Pastor Theak’s and Salita’s and Marvin’s and others to come to the surface.  Martin Luther King put it like this in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail:  [We seek to] foster such a tension that a community . . is forced to confront the issue. [We] seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.  My citing the creation of tension . . .may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word ‘tension.’ I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. . . . so must we see the need . . . to create the kind of tension in society that will help [people] rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”  And I’ll add “sisterhood too”.

And that’s the point of today’s gospel and of the difficult and ongoing work in our community.  The good news is that there is something that God is wanting to give us, something that God is wanting to give all of us that goes far beyond that for which we have settled, something that God is wanting to make real in our world that goes beyond a quickly grasped happy few, calling us into a more Biblical shalom for all. And getting that peace into our world is some of the hardest work of all.

But we have been invited into the project and there is grace to be had as we go and I believe that Jesus is already there, kindling the fire he talked about in the gospel.  May we find the strength to raise the bar with him – to break when we need to break, to let go when we need to let go in order that true shalom may take seed in us, come through us, surround us and reach beyond us now and ever more.

Amen

 

Do This

Do This”

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams-  July 14, 2013 – Proper 10, Year C: Luke 10:25-37

Several years ago a now well known experiment was conducted with seminary students. Researchers gathered a group of seminarians in a classroom and told them that each of them had to do this assignment. Their assignment was relatively simple, pretty basic. They were told to record a talk about the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The catch was that the recordings were going to be done in a building on the other side of the campus, and because of a tight schedule, they needed to hurry in order to get themselves over to that building.

Now while the students didn’t know this, on the path to the other building the researchers had placed someone to play the part of a man in distress; he was slumped over, coughing and very obviously suffering. The seminarians were on their way to make a presentation about the Good Samaritan, right? – So what happened when these students encountered this man in need?  Well, almost all of them rushed past without acknowledgement. One student even stepped over the man’s body as he hurried on to teach others about this parable.

Now none of these were Episcopal seminarians, of course.  I should have ended the story that way – “and then an Episcopalian stopped, took care of the hurting man, carried him to his, got him help, paid for his care and provided him with shelter for the night!”  Ta da!  And then we could let out a loud cheer or something and feel extremely good about ourselves.

But this passage is about us too.  As big as the hearts are in this place, and there are big hearts here, we are just as likely as most to pass by someone like the man in this story who had been beaten and left hurting by the side of the road.  And while there is undoubtedly room for improvement as individuals, as a society we’re becoming ever more notorious for the passing by that we do.

But there are good reasons why we keep moving, right?  At least that’s what we tell ourselves.  For one thing, stopping can be dangerous.  That was certainly true on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho.  And it’s true of many of our roads today.  So helping can truly be risky and we don’t want to make the situation worse by getting hurt ourselves.  Not to mention that maybe it’s the guys own fault he’s over there suffering – maybe he took too many risks, or didn’t try hard enough, or maybe he isn’t trying hard enough right now!  Plus (and this is a big one) we’re busy – and helping takes time.  There is always something to which we’re on our way (just like the seminarians in the experiment.) There is always something very, very important to which we’ve already committed and often it’s something good.  It’s not like we’re on our way to rob a bank and just can’t spare a minute!  Nor are we likely to go over and kick someone in need or anything like that.  So, its’not like we’re busy doing more bad in this world.  It’s just that often when faced with this kind of situation, we have to keep moving – we’re headed to something that is more safe; we’re on to people who are actually expecting us, sticking to our original plan. And if we’re really honest, we need to say that we’re always on our way to do something that in our assessment matters more. . .  Besides, there are other people who will stop. . . Or that hurting person will find his own strength, get up on his own and seek out the help that he needs.

But here’s the thing – we hear over and over again in the gospels that nothing matters more than that person by the side of the road, or those people on that margin, or those folks hugging on to that edge for dear life, or that group that’s been stuck over in the corner for so very, very long.

“What’s the most important thing I can do?” the lawyer asked Jesus.  He even framed it in terms of his own eternity, “What can I do to inherit eternal life?” he wondered.  Now we can question the man’s motives.  We can wonder what kind of trap he was setting for Jesus. We can even argue whether or not eternity is something that has anything to do with “earning”, thereby invalidating the question itself.  Or we can just hear his question and let it be ours.  We can hear the question and let it be our question.  This parable is a parable about many things, but I do think that at its core, it’s a parable about priorities. “What’s the most important thing we can do?”

Now I want to mention Trayvon Martin here, because it’s a story that happened by the side of a road in Florida. Right here in our country.  Right now in our day. And a very difficult verdict in this case came down last night.  If you haven’t already stopped to listen to this story, you need to, we need to. Over the course of the next many days and the next many months we need to listen because it has to do with race and it has to do with young people and it has to do with fear and it has to do with extreme and unnecessary violence.  This story has to do with how dangerous the road can be for some, how afraid of each other we have become, and how often we resort to violence in response to that fear or as an inappropriate expression of power.  I also think that this story is a very real example of how law alone will not teach us or lead us in ways of mercy.  I realize that the Trayvon Martin story is in some ways a very complicated story, but it also very clearly, very painfully in heartbreaking ways exposes our failure to live as neighbors.

What’s the most important thing we can do?

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself,” the man replied after Jesus asked him what the law said about what matters most.  “Well, do that,” Jesus told him, “and you will live.”   Notice that Jesus didn’t say “know that and live,” or “teach that and live;” he didn’t even say, “believe that” and live.  “DO THIS and you will live,” Jesus said.

And the same is true for us.  It’s not as complicated as the lawyer in the parable was trying to make it.  It’s not as complicated as we make it, or our lives make it, or the history of our country, or the structures in our society make it.  It is not even as complicated as our own rationalizations or our fears make it out to be.  We are all neighbors. Period.  We are neighbors with us and neighbors with them.  Neighbors with the people in the middle of the road, by the side of the road, going the other way on the road, with those who travel the road wearing hoodies and those who don’t.  And what matters most is that we love God and them, all of them too.

May we be given the strength to notice and to stop, to mercifully  reach out, and to help.  May we be the neighbors God has called to be.

Amen.

Toughen Up!

Toughen Up!

Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – June 30, 2013 – Proper 8, Year C: Luke 9:51- 62

I read one commentary this week that included a sermon by a preacher who called this gospel the “Cranky Jesus” passage.  And to some extent he’s right.   This isn’t the pastoral-“Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” – Jesus.  It’s not even the -“Blessed are the poor,” – Jesus nor is it quite the one whom we imagine seeking out lost sheep, receiving children with open arms, or feeding all who hunger.  This is something like a “Cut to the chase” Jesus.  He doesn’t leave a lot of room for discernment, or gray area, or mushy sorts of invitations or responses.  To the one who said” I will go wherever you go,” Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  To another’s simple request to bury his father, Jesus gave a curt, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And then to one more person (there weren’t any others after this one – perhaps you can see why) who said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home,”  Jesus responded, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  The end.

What we don’t know is if any of them followed or not.  What we do know is that this isn’t how we tend to think of Jesus and so we tend to use language like “cranky” or “out of character” to explain this.  And even if we’re willing to cut the Son of God a little slack here, we’re still left with sayings that are tough to reconcile with other things Jesus said and did in the gospels.  Just last week he healed a man who wanted to follow him from town to town and Jesus sent him back to be with his family, insisting that the man NOT leave those in his home.  Besides, the healing of relationships seems like a relatively high priority when it comes to faith and here’s Jesus telling people to leave their people.  It doesn’t seem to fit.  But before we simply write the Savior off as “being in a cranky mood that day” I want to look at other options.  And the context in which these conversations happened might help us do that.

Remember we heard a few weeks ago that Jesus had formally begun his ministry in his hometown of Nazareth where he read from the prophet Isaiah:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

It was a grand opening of sorts, a proclamation that you would expect to be followed by a celebratory sort of reception. But right after he said that, literally just a few minutes after he said that, the people were filled with rage and drove him out to the edge of town in order to throw him off a cliff.

On another occasion, Jesus was in a synagogue on the Sabbath and while he was there he healed a man with a withered hand.  And because Jesus did that on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were “filled with fury” and essentially made sure that Jesus moved on quickly to another town.  Along similar lines we heard in the passage last week that after Jesus had healed a man who had been possessed by demons the “people were seized with fear” and they asked Jesus to leave them too.  And finally the passage we heard today began by saying that Jesus and his disciples had passed through a village of Samaritans where “the people did not receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem.”

So there you have it.  The context was this: Jesus had come to offer healing to a broken world, to offer healing to a broken people and while he was batting a thousand in terms of opening eyes, releasing captives, bringing good news, and even raising the dead, the reality was that he had been welcomed almost nowhere. He had a following, sure, but unlike the birds and the foxes he had nowhere to lay his head.  Even Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth had rejected him. Sticking around to bury his father or offering proper “good- byes” and “thank- yous” and “see you laters” to his hometown people?  None of those things were options seeing as how those very people were trying to chase him over a cliff.  The truth was that once he’d begun to plow the fields, Jesus didn’t even have the option of looking back.  And so part of what I wonder about today’s passage is if he was talking to himself as much as he was talking to anyone else.

When you consider how this story was unfolding, when you realize the nearly universal lack of reception – not to mention that by this point in the story Jesus knew that the authorities who were plotting to kill him – you can see that Jesus was speaking his own truth in this passage.  He had nowhere to lay his head and even he was completely separated even from his hometown people.  And so rather than “cranky” I’d use the language of honest.  The road was hard.  And so Jesus was telling himself and those around him that he and they had to keep their focus forward, on the larger goals – on the ultimate healing that would break forth as the story continued in Jerusalem and beyond.

So what does this mean for us?  Well, I think it’s a couple of things.  First our roads can be hard too and we don’t always remind each other enough about that. I actually think other denominations do a better job of “shoring up their people” than Episcopalians do. Maybe we need to toughen up a bit!  Now you can over do it on that end of it – we see that on occasion out there even this community. But every now and then it’s good for us, good for Episcopalians to claim that faith is hard work.  Sometimes being faithful, in the way we interpret faithful sets us apart.  Rejection happens.  Remaining true to the proclamation means taking some risks and so toughening ourselves up a bit can be as important as softening ourselves up a bit.  This passage reminds us that we need to do both – the toughening and the softening in some sort of gospel combination in order to really do love in this world.

Second, and just as important:  We need to name that it wasn’t OK that Jesus had nowhere to lay his head.  That was his reality, but it was a sign that he was not in the kingdom yet; it was not a vision for how things should be.  And so part of what we can do while we work on toughening up is to also be that place where anyone can lay their head when they need to.  We can be home for all those who need it, a place where both hard core followers and life-long seekers can come without fear of being chased over a cliff or run out of town.  We can be that place where healing is expected to happen on the Sabbath and every day.

The good news is that through grace, we can be that place where tough meets soft and loving our neighbors comes to be.    Amen.

Breathing Again

Breathing Again

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – June 9, 2013 – Proper 5, Year C:  Proper 5, Year C: 1 Kings 17:8-24, Luke 7:11-17

This morning I’m going to offer what I’d call a “Gentle Summer Sermon.”  We’ve entered that time of the year when the culture around us invites us to slow down a little or at least shift away a bit from our normal paces and schedules. And I know that many of us have been running hard for several months, looking forward to June.  Now I also know that many jobs run on cycles that have nothing to do with the school year calendar, and with the many varieties of activities we all tend to be involved in, we’re still a busy people.  Nonetheless, all of us are affected to some extent by the shift that our culture takes as we enter the summer months; things lighten up at least for awhile.  An even by the church calendar, we’ve entered the long season that follows Pentecost, which is referred to often as “ordinary time,” a little less intense than other seasons.  So as we gear down a little, I want us to allow our thoughts to drift into the places to which we’ve been invited by the readings this morning.

I Kings and the reading from Luke are about breathing new life into people who no longer had breath which are not bad themes for us to consider this time of year. The story from 1 Kings centered around the prophet Elijah who was given food and care and shelter by a widow to whom God had sent him. One day while Elijah was staying with this widow, her son died.  And while the widow wept, Elijah took the child’s body, stretched himself upon the child and cried out, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.”  And it did.  New life came and the child was able to breathe again.

In the gospel too, is the story of a widow who lost her son.  Remember that in that culture the son would have been the widow’s only chance for survival, her only means of maintaining even a basic foothold in society.  So besides losing her child, she had essentially also lost her entire life.  When Jesus saw the woman he had compassion for her and said, “Do not weep.”  Then like Elijah, Jesus touched the dead body and the bearers who had been processing, understandably stood still.  Then Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you rise.”  And he rose.  And the people were afraid but they also cried out “God has looked favorably upon his people!”  The son was able to breathe again and presumably, the widow was too.

Now I’ve invited us to a gentle place this morning and in some ways these readings are far more dramatic than they are gentle.  The scenes in these passages were filled with shock and wonder and in all likelihood a great deal of confusion.  But on another level, aside from the magnitude of the miracles, these stories contain a simple invitation to breathe. To breathe again. To breathe differently. To allow new life to fill us in ways that renew us and maybe even surprise us all.

 

So the question to consider is: How do you, or how do we need to breathe differently? Or what will help you breathe again?  If you’re “out of breath” all the time, that says something.  If you struggle for room to breathe deeply on a regular basis, that says something too.  As a society we are very good at running fast almost all the time, pushing beyond what might be good limits.  But even in the midst of that often overscheduled approach to life, we talk about summer as an opportunity to “catch our breath.” That’s the language we use to describe these months. And as people of faith we hear the gospel offering miracles by which even those who had ceased living were able to breathe again.  So the good news is that it’s possible.  And while not as dramatic as the stories we heard this morning, given our lifestyle, this kind of healing is something we all need as individuals and communities too.  That breath that is new life comes as a gift, is offered as a gift from God.

So make room to breathe this season, to breathe deeply this season.  Easier said than done, I know that.   But maybe we can hold each other to it, remain accountable in community.  I’ll do things like start every meeting with the invitation to breathe as we open our prayer time.  And we can say things to each other like, “Hey Jen” or “Hey, Chuck,” or “Hey, Jill” are you breathing? should any of us see any other of us running too fast.

Another angle we need to take on this is to name that we can all help the collective breathing by jumping in to the projects and planning that will continue this summer and throughout the next year, so that instead of let’s say three people running out of breath as they work to get something done, there are ten people helping to carry a particular ministry.  Simply increasing the numbers of people involved in certain areas allows for a sort of “breathing as we go” approach that encourages things like conversation to happen along the way and provides for not only the completing of a project but the building a people.

So hear the invitation in today’s gospel.  Rise up, Grace Church!  Rise up in ways that receive and offer new life.  God has looked favorably upon us!  So, breathe.  Breathe deeply.  Breathe of God anew.

Amen.