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The Suddenly of the Spirit

The Suddenly of the Spirit

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – May 19, 2013- The Feast of Pentecost

Some sermons are difficult to write ahead of time and not a surprise to many of you, this was one of those for me.  Often we can look several days ahead and project ourselves forward but some weeks actually invite us right into the very moment, requiring us to stay in the now with very little ability to look beyond.  Usually those moments are instances of crisis or major turning points, decision making moments, or celebrations marking a particular occasions.  I can tell you that bishop elections are like that.  And I speak now from experience.  Baptism is like that too – baptism invites us right into the very now of what it happening among us.  And odds are good that that first Pentecost, the day that we consider “The Birthday of the Church” was the kind of day on which the people had very little option but to be present to what the Spirit was doing among them.  They were called to receive from and learn from that day, and to move forward with a new sense of the workings of God.

So, we’ll start with them.  The Book of Acts tells us that they were all together in one place. (And I love that that’s often how these things happen – when “they/we are all together in one place.”)  And then ‘suddenly’ something happened.  Even though they had been told the Spirit would come, even though they were waiting for it and watching for it, it was a SUDDENLY when it actually arrived.  These moments are always like that – as much lead up and anticipation as there tends to be, it’s the actual moment that breaks open some sort of new revelation.  There came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Tongues of fire appeared among them and ALL of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other language, as the Spirit gave them ability.

I find it kind of wonderful that the church’s birth was not as a completely organized, well-functioning mechanism; instead what God gave us was a sort of Spirit led chaos.  The people just started talking in about fifty different directions all at the same time.

And that’s what God did in that moment.  And while it seems like a funny way to be Church, we should imagine it.  It would mean that you would struggle to talk to the person sitting next to you in here, but you could lean out the doors and the windows and there would be people with whom you’d connect out there.  So what this tells us is that the church was born as an entity made to give and speak beyond itself.  And looking forward for the church meant not looking down one straight and absolutely clear path; there actually were possibilities leading in all sorts of directions.

Baptism is like all of that too.  Today we will baptize William Archer and Eliss Marie as we gather around the ‘Suddenly’ that will change their lives forever.  They will be brought into the Household, embraced and loved and cared for in here but we will also break the church open for them and for us too as we renew our own baptismal vows.  We’ll vow to “respect the dignity of every human being,” not just us.  To “work for justice and peace among all people,” speaking in different languages to this people and that people proclaiming the good news of a loving and resurrected Christ!  Baptism is birthday too, and it’s a moment, a suddenly that is led by the Spirit of God.  Baptism is also a re-birthday for all of us as we celebrate church not only for us but as gift to the world.

So one of the most important things I learned in this bishop election process, (and there are about one million learnings for me –  I’ll be soaking this up for awhile,) but one of the most important things I heard over and over again is that Grace Church, Holland is the kind of church that nobody really believes exists!  No kidding!  It made me realize how un-normal our take-it-to-be-normal-is.  You all should know this too.  From interviews, to conversations with people around the diocese, to a couple of points when I and the other candidates were in the formal experiences of the Walkabout I was challenged in good ways to tell them more:  “Really?” they would ask me in the midst of talking about a shrinking church, “You have a lot of young families?”  And then I’d tell them how on one Sunday I counted eight babies out there.  Others wondered aloud to me, “So, your ‘older members’ have stayed through all of the changes in the Church?”  “Yes,” I’d say.  “In fact, some of them have led the way.” “You open your houses to homeless people? . . .Feed the hungry? . . .  Work for issues of justice out there and pray together in there?”  “Yup.” One candidate even acknowledged to the audience at a Walkabout event how unusual it was to hear about a parish that practices open communion rather passionately AND values baptism and celebrates it regularly.  That’s Grace.  And the list went on. One of the valuable things I learned in all of this is that it’s very hard for people to even imagine a church that is inclusive, traditional, old and young, prayerful, active, and growing especially an area in which “Episcopal” is still a word we need to spell out whenever we tell people anything about this place.

While this bishop search and election process has involved me directly, it’s also been about us.  And the fruits of this process are for us to share.  We’ve been given a moment here.  A moment to embrace these gifts of the Spirit that are Grace.  To suddenly see them anew, reclaim them and acknowledge them as the kind of “not-normal” that the world needs, the community needs, and the Church apparently needs to hear more about. The Spirit is here! So crack open the windows!  Prop open the doors!  Welcome William and Eliss and everyone else who come!  The Spirit of God is among us – the possibilities are endless.

Amen.

 

Conversions Within

Conversions Within

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – April 28, 2013 – Easter 5, Year C: Acts 11:1-18, John 13:31-35

Most of you probably know the story about the conversion of St Paul. We heard that story read as one of the lessons just a couple of weeks ago. It’s a story that’s foundational in Christian tradition as an example of how God interrupts life, turns hearts and changes the church as a result of individuals who themselves are changed.  I want us to have that story in mind as we explore today’s readings, so here’s a quick recap of Paul’s experience as told in the book of Acts:

One day, Saul (who would become Paul) was walking on the road to Damascus when a great light from heaven suddenly shone on him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.” The voice said this because Saul had been a violent and very zealous persecutor of Christians, the baddest of the bad as far as the disciples were concerned.  And when Saul asked that voice he asked what he should and the voice replied, “Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.”  Saul was temporarily blinded by that bright light, but with some help he got himself to Damascus.  He was baptized and through that whole experience was transformed from a vicious persecutor of Christians to “Paul, apostle to endless numbers of Christians and their communities of faith.” And his story tends to be one of the models for how we think of conversion.

But today we get a different sort of conversion story, it’s what happened to Peter and while I’ve mentioned it before, it’s not a story that’s told quite as often or held quite as centrally as is the story of Paul.  But I believe it’s the kind of story that needs to be told because this conversion story tells us not about people outside of the faith being converted to those within the faith; instead it tells us about someone within the faith being converted in order to open the doors to those on the outside.   And those kinds of stories matter too.

Peter was as faithful as they come and that’s an important part of who he was.  Actually both he and Paul believed deeply that they were being faithful people before their conversions – which is perhaps good reason for all of us to remain open to what else God might have us learn.  Peter was “The Rock” whom Jesus commanded to, “Tend and feed my sheep.”  (We heard that story a few weeks ago too.) As unpreditictable as Peter had been right up through the crucifixion, we’ve been hearing  from the gospel of Luke and all throughout the Book of Acts, that he didn’t missed a beat post- resurrection.  So unlike Saul who was vicious persecutor and obviously needed a conversion experience, Peter appeared to be the model Christian.  He was the leading disciple who passionately kept to religious law and preached and healed and fed and moved from town to town spreading the good word about resurrection and baptizing people into the faith.  Peter could have been the poster boy for the new movement that was the Church.

But then it happened to him too when nobody, least of all Peter himself, even knew he needed it!  A vision happened to him which tells me that God really needed to change Peter’s heart too.  Now Peter’s vision came to him when he was in Joppa, and we know from last week’s reading that while in Joppa Peter had brought a woman named Tabitha back to life.  And after that miracle, Peter stayed in Joppa a few days and Acts tells us that, “many believed” because of him.

Now you’d think that after having done that kind of work, after having performed that kind of miracle, the vision would have been one that was filled with affirmation or praise, something like a divine, confirming pat on the back that Peter could have then communicated back to the disciples.  It could have been a “proof that God is on our side” sort of vision to proclaim to the growing masses in order to gain their confidence.   But instead, God came to Peter in this vision and told Peter that he needed to change too. It wasn’t just the Saul’s of the world that needed to take a holy turn. In this vision God told Peter who was as faithful as he could possibly be that he needed to open his eyes and open his heart because God wanted to open the Church.

To Gentiles.  And there is no way to possibly communicate to you how big a deal that was. I’ve tried before, but let’s give it another go.  It compares on some levels to what we’re living through today with LGBT folks, and what we have lived through before with women, and what we have lived through before with people of color, and before that with slaves, and unfortunately there have been so many “befores” that I can’t include them all this morning.  And believe it or not, the inclusion of Gentiles may actually have been bigger than any of those movements, because the Gentiles were the “other” of all others. They were Unclean.  Unfaithful.  Un-chosen.  Gentiles were completely un-religious-law- abiding.  They were the “uns” with a capital “U”.

And remember (because it’s important) that while the move to include Gentiles obviously went against tradition, it also challenged the scriptures that were Peter’s holy scriptures and the holy scriptures of the disciples and the scriptures of the most faithful of that day.  Leviticus and other books were around then too. In fact to look at the details of Peter’s vision with the “large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners,” filled with “four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air.” And the voice in the vision saying to Peter, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat and then proclaiming, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’   All of that was a re-interpreting of the priority of the purity code, a major re-defining of what it meant to be holy and faithful.  With this vision, God was doing something huge, and I can’t over-communicate what a big deal it was.  In this vision sent to Peter, God was breaking with tradition and re-interpreting Holy Scripture in order to open the church to those previously deemed unworthy of the faith.

Which should tell us that God does things like that.  There is precedence, Biblical precedence for opening our doors to all those who hunger.  This piece of the Book of Acts tells us conversion is not always about people outside of the faith becoming those within the faith; sometimes it’s those within the faith who need to turn (or be turned) in order to welcome those on the outside.

And we can even take it one step further.  Since this particular story of Peter happened so early in the life of the church, it could be that the process itself, the process of re-interpreting, breaking open and including the “other” might actually be part of what it means to be church.  That process might actually be what they call “an essential part of our DNA.”  We forgive, we love, we heal, we feed, and we’re opened by God to those who begin as stranger, but who through visions or other forms of grace are revealed to us to be sisters and brothers in Christ.

“The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us,” Peter said.  What a simple and beautiful way to put it.  “The Spirit told me,” Peter said, “not to make a distinction between them and us.”  And then he continued, speaking with the wisdom and humility born of visions, “If . . . God gave them the same gift that he gave us . . . who was I that I could hinder God?”

And that’s the question of the day, maybe of every day this side of heaven.  Who are we to hinder God?  Who are we to get in the way of anyone who is thirsty and seeks hope?  Who are we to get in the way of anyone whose gifts and ministries can help build, expand and strengthen the church, the Body of Christ?  In fact, we should be out there looking for them whoever them happens to be, and inviting them over for a visit or a very long stay.

After all, there was God leading the way in the very beginnings, opening the church to those previously deemed unclean, un-holy, unworthy.  There was God, helping those kinds of conversions to happen too, helping us love one another more broadly, more fully, more Christ-like than we ever imagined possible.  And who are we, who is anyone to hinder God?

Amen.

In the Direction of “Forth”

In the Direction of “Forth”

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams –April 21, 2013 – Easter 4: Acts 9:36-43

I’m going to focus in on the story from Acts this morning.  During the season of Easter we hear from the book of Acts on every Sunday because this book takes us beyond the story of what’s in the gospels – Jesus’ life and death and resurrection – and into the disciples response to their experience of the Christ.  Acts is the story of the disciples living into and working out the impact of resurrection; it’s the story of how resurrection dramatically changed their hearts and lives, how they became church and then changed others lives by sharing and living the good news.

And the story we heard in today’ s passage is one of the truly amazing ones. Remember that by the point this story took place, Jesus had not only risen but he’d ascended too.  (We’re not quite there yet on the liturgical calendar, but we are in the Book of Acts). And so at this point the disciples were on their own . . . well, sort of on their own.  Jesus had ascended, but the spirit had already come upon them (that happened in the second chapter of Acts).   With that coming of the Spirit, the disciples had been gifted and sent forth.  They’d been sent to proclaim and to do the good news of Christ.

Now remember that while they’d seen a lot and experienced a lot, technically the disciples had not been given much training.  There hadn’t been a course on praying or preaching or even healing, no geographical analysis on which towns in the surrounding area might be most in need of what they had to offer.  They just went in the direction of “forth” and did their best to trust that they had what they needed in order to do what needed to be done.  And there’s something kind of wonderful about that.

Today we heard that some of the disciples went to Joppa and there they learned that a woman named Tabitha had become ill and she had died.  Now judging by the little that we do know about her, Tabitha was an extremely important person in their community. Not important because she held any sort of office or fame but because, “She was devoted to good works and to charity,” the book of Acts says.  So when Peter arrived on the scene there were many women gathered there caring for the body, weeping and telling stories about their beloved friend.   And so Peter, who knew that healing needed to happen and had actually recently been sent forth to do just that knelt down and prayed.

And that’s important.  Notice first that before Peter did anything, he prayed.  Now we don’t know what he prayed, exactly but maybe it was something like, “Dear God, how do I do this?  Given all the stories these people have heard, their expectations are through the roof.  And I’m new at this.  And I’m scared.”  Or maybe Peter prayed something like, “Remember that time, God, when I tried to walk on water and I sunk?  Well, that memory is making me a little nervous right now.  I’m not sure how to step.  Help me.”   Or maybe Peter prayed something like, “I watched what you did with Lazarus, God and I saw what happened with Jairus’ daughter.  You brought them back. Please do that again, now.”  Or maybe he simply said “Your will be done,” (although knowing what we do know about Peter having that as an initial thought was probably unlikely.)

When it comes right down to it though, it doesn’t really matter what he prayed.  There’s no exact formula to this healing stuff, we just need to know that Peter prayed something and it seems to have mattered.   Earlier this year as a part of our Wednesday night gatherings, we read an Anne Lammot book in which she claims that when it comes right down to it, there really are only three basic prayers, anyway.  The first is “Help”, the second is “Thanks” and the third is “Wow!”  Odds are good that Peter’s prayer that moment when he was kneeling by the dead body of Tabitha was some version of the first.  “Help me, God.”

Then, when Peter was done praying he turned to the body and he spoke to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up,” which was the most courageous moment in this whole story.  At that moment, Peter bet it all on resurrection.  And sure enough, Tabitha opened her eyes. Then seeing Peter, she sat up which is probably when he transitioned to the second prayer of “Thank you.”  Or maybe  he skipped right over that to “Wow!” and circled back to “Thank you” a little later.  Regardless, there was celebration and “many believed in the Lord,” Acts tells us.

And that’s about all it tells us.  Peter stayed in Joppa with a certain Simon, and presumably Tabitha and her friends went back to doing good works and acts of charity.  And they had this amazing story of resurrection to be and to tell.

Now there’s a lot here and we can’t possibly hit it all this morning but I do want to highlight a couple of things.  The first is that Jesus not only told the disciples to go out and heal, he also passed on to them the power to do it.  And I want us to hear that.  To feel that. To believe that!  And it wasn’t only Peter that was given the gift of healing it was all of them, and all of us too.  There are very few things that Jesus commands us to do but healing is one of those things:  Forgive! Feed! Heal! and Love!   And we’ve not only been sent forth to consider those things; we’ve actually been sent forth with the command to do and the power to do all of them.  Doing healing is a significant part of our response to resurrection.

But we know also that healing doesn’t always look like it did in this story. And I think that’s one of the reasons it can feel risky.  I’ve knelt by bedsides and prayed my heart out and I’ve never had a dead person respond by opening their eyes.  And that might only be true of me, but I’m guessing not.  In the midst of this command to heal there is mystery.  In fact there’s mystery at work in of all of Jesus’ commands and while that may seem a little unfair, I think it’s what makes them holy and allows forgiving and feeding and healing and loving to be not just our work, but God’s too.

If we could look at the body of a beloved one who had died, kneel down in prayer and invite them back to us we would.  If we could touch every hurt, and pray and watch the wound immediately go away, we would.  This has been a week in which the news from Boston, West Texas, China and so many other places in the world have reminded us how much hurt and pain there is out there.  And if we could pray it all away right now, raise up the people who died too early, too violently, too unfairly we would do that.

But sometimes, most times, all the times that I’ve been at bedsides or other similar circumstances, those prayers don’t get the kind of response that Peter did.  Often, the help we receive from the “help me” prayer doesn’t look quite how we want it to look, doesn’t look how we think it should look.  But, (and this is a big BUT) I do believe that help comes and I do believe that healing happens. Because for every one Tabitha story there are hundreds and thousands of stories about mysterious sorts of hope and love that get spread even in the midst of death.  Stories and experiences about healings that don’t include “the one who has died sitting up and breathing again” but that do include those who are left on this earth be breathing differently, loving differently, living differently, reconciling in moments that are offered them.

I have a sister in law who was about three tenths of a mile from the finish line in Boston when the bombs when off on Monday and her story is an amazing one too. Although completely surrounded by strangers, within minutes she was offered a cell phone – and the person who offered it to her actually dialed home for her when she realized her fingers were too numb to do it herself-  a jacket, and a cup of water and then a stranger on the sidelines offered to be her local guide back to the bus that would reconnect her with some basic belongings.  Now none of that erased the pain that was caused, but it put something new, something good, something that I would call “holy” into the mix that day.  The often hard but also beautiful truth is that healing is more than simply reversing what the world has done.  And resurrection involves more than a woman who has died sitting up in bed and getting back to good works.

And it’s that “more” that we’ve been invited into and it’s that “more” that forms the foundations of belief and is the kind of healing that we have been commanded to do.   The good news is that God always hears the “help me” prayer and God always responds.  And together we can be the Body of Christ that is present to the need, whatever it happens to be. And no matter what the outcome, in those experiences there will come the opportunity for a loud and strong, “Wow, Thank You, God.” And maybe, just maybe that’s what healing looks like after all.

So go in the direction of forth and do it.

Amen.

The Way Forward

The Way Forward

The Reverend Jennifer L. Adams-  April 7, 2013 – April 2C:John 20:19-31

Just a week ago we were celebrating the culmination of Holy Week and Triduum services.  We gathered last Saturday around a fire in the dusk of the new Sabbath, lit candles, proclaimed ‘The Light of Christ’ and continued  to surround ourselves into the night with sights and sounds of resurrection.  Fire and light, flowers and bells, joy-filled music and alleluias.  Followed by a festive dessert feast.  The next morning was packed and the proclamation, “He is risen!” was said and sung and proclaimed throughout the entire celebration. That’s how we do Easter here at Grace.  It’s the Sunday that makes all other Sundays.

BUT this morning we’re reminded that Holy Week and Easter and the days following weren’t at all like that for the disciples.  There were no big church services for them, no packed pews, no big, beautiful music.  They didn’t have lovely liturgies or long processions or seemingly endless desserts.  They were huddled together behind locked doors because the last couple of weeks had for them been a mess of tragedy, trials and betrayals. They’d lost a friend whom they were beginning to believe might be the Messiah and despite reports from the women they were still grieving and confused and not at all sure what their next steps would be.

Besides the whole experience of trial, death and empty tomb hadn’t exactly brought out the best in any of these guys.  Judas has betrayed the group while they were praying in the garden. Peter, “the rock” and leader of this group, had denied Christ publically three times, thereby also denying his fellow disciples which couldn’t have come easy to any of them.  Thomas was nowhere to be found at the beginning of the passage we just heard, perhaps too busy or too scared or still too angry at it all to be there with them huddled in the house.  And from all appearances, there was no one (except for maybe the beloved disciple) who had risen to the challenges of the last couple of weeks.  So that first Holy Week and Easter weren’t about bells and alleluias for these guys.  It was about loss, fear, confusion, betrayal and experiencing  themselves and the guy across the room at what had to be nearly their absolute worst.

So maybe it’s no wonder that the first thing Jesus did after he entered through the locked doors was to offer them peace.  “Peace be with you,” was the first thing he said and if there was ever a room full of people who needed it, it was these guys. Then Jesus, showed them his wounds, showed them his hand and his side and maybe because he knew they needed it again, said “Peace be with you.”  Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  And then I imagine that the Spirit filled up that locked up, anxiety-ridden, confused place as resurrection met Pentecost in the gospel of John.

Now what happened next was really important too.  Through the Holy Spirit, God gifted the disciples with something to help them make their way in this world and what he chose to give them is revealing.  Given the situation which was already hostile and going to get more so, you’d think God might have armed them with swords or at least armor; or in the interest of non-violence, maybe God could have filled their minds with extremely effective arguments to turn the hearts and minds of the leaders whom they were soon to bump up against.  I’ve said before that invisibility cloaks would have been nice, then they could’ve preached and run with no problem.  Or maybe the ability to turn water into wine would’ve come in most handy. Then the disciples could have offered proof that the stories they were telling were true.

But the Spirit came bearing none of those kinds of things.  Instead what God gave them in order to be able to move forward in faith was himself and the power to forgive. Our Lenten study was right on.   Without forgiveness the disciples would’ve stayed stuck right where they were, one huddled little group of frightened people unable to move forward at all.

Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” So when it came to “arming” these guys for the days to come, the power to forgive was the most important power of all.

Now luckily they could practice on themselves before they took the show on the road.  Philip could forgive James,  Nathaniel could forgive Bartholomew, Matthew could forgive Philip, and Andrew could forgive Simon and Thadeaus. . . or something like that.  They could all forgive Peter who would have to forgive himself too and eventually they’d all have to forgive Judas.  Then when Thomas returned, Jesus would take the lead  in forgiving him.  So from this very early moment, forgiveness wasn’t just a power to use out there, it was something the disciples needed to keep close at heart while working with each other and while learning and growing themselves.  If they were going to continue as a relatively unified people that had a sense of what it takes to be whole, then they had to be able to forgive each other too.  And so the Holy Spirit gave them that gift and Jesus reminded them that it was more important than anything else God could give them.

And that’s true of us too.  And forgiveness is related to resurrection because it essentially presents us with another kind of reality; forgiveness opens up new life in the here and now in ways that nothing else can.  The expected responses of punishment, retribution and exclusion are replaced with mercy and the offering of peace.  Which doesn’t mean that forgiveness is easy. With forgiveness those who offer it are as vulnerable as those who are give it and so there’s work and sometimes risky work involved.  But unlike any other approach, forgiveness gives everyone involved a shot at coming out more whole than they were before.  New life is allowed to break in.

And so if we are to build up anything in ourselves and within our community, it would be this power.  In our recent study we connected forgiveness with the season of Lent, but hear it too as a gift with resurrection at its heart.  Practice receiving and giving it here. Forgive each other and yourselves. Receive the Holy Spirit and know that through its power our lives will be changed and the world around us will be too.

 

Amen.

Resurrection Unfolds

Resurrection Unfolds

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – Easter Sunday 2013 – John 20:1-18

Of the four variations on the story of the resurrection it’s this one from the gospel of John that’s my favorite.  There is something very real about the way it all played out in this story, as “real” as resurrection can sound anyway.  In the other gospels there’s an earthquake or sparkling angels or something hugely dramatic that shines a phenomenal spotlight on this moment.   But in John it’s a little more gentle and I like that that.

At first, there’s just Mary and she had gone to the grave to grieve.  And while it was extremely sad, I imagine that the morning was also peaceful – we all know how important those alone moment of tending to our own grief can be.  But when she got there the stone had been rolled away and the body was gone.  She went and got Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved and both of them ran to the tomb to see if what Mary was saying was true.  Both disciples eventually entered the tomb, saw the linen wrappings that had covered Jesus body lying on the ground and the cloth that had been over his head was wrapped up in a place by itself.  And so having seen the empty tomb for themselves the Peter and the other disciple believed what Mary had told them – notice they did not yet believe that Jesus had been raised “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture that he must rise from the dead,” John says.  All they believed at this point was that Jesus body was gone.   Resurrection had not yet occurred to them.  And so they left the garden.  The gospel says that they actually returned to their homes!  Hear that the first experience of resurrection was to miss that it had actually happened at all.

And so again it was just Mary at the grave.  She was weeping – grieving the loss of her friend – and now confused about the body being taken.  She looked in the tomb again and this time there were two angels sitting there where Jesus’ body had been, one at his head and the other at his feet.  And they asked this beautiful question, “Woman why are you weeping?”  And she told them the story.

But before they could get into it any further, Mary turned around – turned away from the tomb – and there was Jesus, but she didn’t know yet that it was him. Again, recognition of resurrection takes time.  Jesus appeared to be the gardener, the caretaker of the grounds.   And he asked her the same question that the angels did, ‘Woman why are you weeping?” and added “Whom are you looking for?” and after she responded Jesus said her name, “Mary.”  And at that moment, at the calling of her name, she knew that the gardener was the Christ.

I like this version of the story because in some ways it allows resurrection to be both absolutely miraculous and also intimate, almost tender and a surprise that takes some time to understand.  And that’s more like how it tends to play out in our own lives.  When we think of resurrection we tend to think in terms of earthquakes or mountain tops or flashy angels. But often resurrection comes gently, slowly. Rather than an instantaneous ‘Alleluia,’ resurrection unfolds over the course of a whole scene, like it did in today’s gospel.  Sometimes faithful disciples can even miss that it’s happened at all.

So what we need to watch for in our lives, even expect in our lives is this:  Easter often begins not with bells or joyful shouts – often Easter begins in an emptiness and even in a place of tears – because those are the places to which God comes.  And then resurrection begins to unfold.  In the midst of that emptiness there is an unexpected and new presence that wasn’t there before – there are angels who meet us – angels who acknowledge our grief, let us tell our stories and who very simply receive us in the place that had been tomb.  Then there’s a grace of some kind, a grace that turns us away from the tomb and invites us to look out into the world and live again!  Often it’s the voice of Christ spoken through a friend or a co-worker, or a fellow church go-er, or a parent or child, or a neighbor, or even a stranger – that voice who asks us about our tears, calls us by name and listens us into the possibility of new life.   And then resurrection is fulfilled in one or ones who are “gardener” for us.  I love that Jesus chose “gardener”; He came to Mary as one whose job was to nurture, care for and grow living things.

Now I don’t want to lessen the drama of this day.  This first Easter morning was the moment on which everything turned forever.  Death was conquered.  Endings became beginnings.  Heaven was cracked open and humanity was invited into eternity.  Don’t lose that!  But know too that for the people involved in that very moment, Easter didn’t just happen; it unfolded over time and in our day to day lives Easter is likely to happen just like that.  It’s more likely to play out intimately, tenderly and over the course of a scene or two.

And so while we rest in the magnificent eternal promise, we live because angels meet us, voices turn us, gardeners tend to us and resurrection unfolds for us.

And so I wish you these kinds of resurrection experiences.  I pray that angels appear in whatever tomb it is that has your attention; let them hear your story and accept your tears.  I challenge you too to listen for your name as the Christ calls you away from the tomb and out into the world, receiving you and all that you bring.  And I invite you and all of us to notice the gardeners in this world, to together be the gardeners in this world – tending to one another and the new life, the resurrection that is always coming to be.

Amen.

Doing Love

Doing Love

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – Maundy Thursday 2013 – John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Jesus said, “I give you as a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  Which is really what this week is all about.  Floating all around the Last Supper, the Foot Washing, the Crucifixion, the remembrance of the story of salvation and the cries of Alleluia!, tucked inside of so many pieces of this story there are hundreds of theological questions for us to be asking.  There are themes to let settle into our hearts and there are rituals that bring these stories home to us.  But the bottom line is clear and the tone has been set tonight in the words of Jesus to his disciples.  This is about love – all of it is.  Jesus loved us.  And we’re supposed to love one another. We’ve been commanded to love one another.

And not only that but Jesus also said that it’s our loving that will tell the world that we are His disciples.  Catch that?  It’s not that we attend church that will identify us as such, although I’m all for it.  It’s not that we fit into an exact set of beliefs, although believing is part of what we’re about here.   It is simply and fundamentally that here in this place and beyond this place too, they will know that we are disciples by the love that we do.  And so tonight is an opportunity to remind ourselves that that’s what matters most.

And I have good news for you. I see you loving one another all the time.

When you unload 5000lbs of food and distribute it to hungry people; when you welcome hundreds of guests, feed them, offer them resources, read to their kids, give out toilet paper and laundry detergent; when you welcome strangers into a place where grace is the rule – then you are doing love.

When you teach Sunday School, lead youth group or are youth group to each other.  When you acolyte and help us pray.  When you bake bread, set altars and prepare our worship space.  When you visit shut-ins or companion people who need you; when you take communion to nursing homes and hospital rooms, in all of those things you are doing love.

When you encourage one another on muddy paths through a foreign country continually in search of the Pilgrims Way with only three miles left to go all the time, you are doing love!  When you gather in Bible Study or sing us into prayer.  When you mentor families transitioning out of homeless; when you give them shelter, celebrate their successes, comfort them through challenges and then prepare the Grace homes for more families to begin again, you are doing love!

When you sit together in discernment regarding vision or vocation or vestry you are doing love.   When you stand up for the rights of those who need you to stand with them; when you make room here and in the larger community for all kinds of people and families and neighbors; when you care for the infants and toddlers of Grace, you are doing love.

When you baptize into the Household of God, pass the peace, share the bread and cup and become Body for the world, you are doing love.

So the gig is up, you Episcopalians who might squirm at the thought of being a truly obedient people of faith!  You are actually following the commandment of Christ in this place, not perfectly by any means, but faithfully.  Hah!  We are doing love here together as disciples of Jesus.

And maybe that in itself is one of the essential miracles of the Holy Week story.  When we do love, a We is born –  and there is something very holy about that. Through the washing, the serving, and the eating of this holy meal; in our presence at the cross, our witness at the empty tomb, and through our cries of “Alleluia!” a new community comes into being – We are born and reborn over and over again.  And all that we do in this place gains life and strength in that rebirth.

And so I challenge you this Holy Week and the weeks that follow to look around this place and see one another and yourselves as the disciples that you are. Approach what you do here and what you do beyond here, approach your various ministries as acts of love.  These aren’t just jobs to get done.  This is all holy work of a holy people, a people who have been commanded to see love as the only way, the most important truth, and the essence of new life.

Amen.

To Risk a “Hosanna!”

To Risk a “Hosanna!”

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – March 24, 2013- Palm Sunday

One of the challenges of this service is how quickly we move from one story to the next.  We move from shouts of “Hossana!” to shouts of “Crucify him!” in a matter of minutes and I know that by now there are more than a few heads spinning out there, not to mention hearts.  We shifted from a celebration to a trial, and from a parade to an execution in less than one half hour.  And so I want us to slow us down a little; and I want to help us back up a little.  Because I think the story we heard before we even entered the church is important too.  And I don’t want us to lose it.  Now I promise that will preach on the crucifixion this week; we have a whole day and an entire service dedicated to that whole piece of story –  on Friday, so you’ll hear more about that then.

But for now, back to the “Hosanna.”  The reason I think that story is so very important has to do with the hope that was being expressed in the people’s cries.  Think of everything they brought to that day.  They had been witnesses to the breaking in of a kingdom – blind people had been given sight.  Loaves and fish had been multiplied.  Captives of sin and oppression had been set free.  And in this gospel a child had even been raised from the dead.  These people were beginning to put the pieces together and starting to believe that this man, Jesus, was the Messiah, the one for whom their people had longed.  And so they lined the streets leading into Jerusalem.  They spread their cloaks and they waved their palms and they shouted “Hosanna to the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

And that hope is something that I don’t want us to miss out on this morning.  Now we know that they were a little off in the specifics of how this was all going to play out, but that’s OK.  Besides the point of Palm Sunday is not that “there was this group of people whose hopes were ultimately dashed.”  I think that hearing these stories the way we do on Palm Sunday (moving so quickly from the triumphal entry to the cross) potentially conveys that message.  We tend to get a sense that they were excited and then they were devastated.  Period.  And while there’s an element of that trajectory here, that’s not really the point.  Because this isn’t a story about losing hope.  It’s a story about discovering a hope the magnitude of which, and the method of which, nobody had even imagined possible.

This is a story about hope beyond hope where the Palm Sunday people were on to something, based on the teaching they had received and the faith that had been kept alive among them.  They knew what they were looking for – the actions, the qualities, the challenges and the healings that would be the kingdom of God.  And so before there even was a resurrection to lean into, these people helped open that door of hope for themselves and for others – they not only witnessed the good news Jesus, they shared it and they helped others believe that the coming of the Messiah was playing out right before their eyes.   The beauty of the people of Palm Sunday was that they trusted that salvation was coming to them, and because they proclaimed that faith and because they shouted it out and waved their palms, there were a whole lot of people watching just to see what it was that God would do and how God would do it.

And so I want to give them credit today in a way that we don’t always manage to.  These were the people who kept the door of hope open – and given that Jesus life was at risk, theirs was too.  This wasn’t just a holiday parade remember – they were cheering on the one whom the religious authorities were already seeking out to arrest and kill.  And so by publically hoping, they were also publically risking in all kinds of directions. Risking not only their own disappointment but their own arrest and even their lives.

Now keeping that door open is our job too.  And the stakes are almost always lower than that for us – so we have no excuses for not doing it.  And truth be told, we are called on to do it all the time.  Prior to death – either ours or someone we know and love – we are called to witness to something we have not yet seen fully seen, something we have not yet fully grasped, something of God that we believe is at work among us whose details are beyond us.  We are called to do it when we stand up in our church or our community for something we believe is of the Christ.  Feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, protecting the particularly vulnerable in our world.  The pattern is the same – just like the Palms Sunday people, we have seen healing happen, we know that loaves can be multiplied, we believe that something more than what we see is possible and so we wave palms and shout Hossana! and cheer on the Body of Christ as that Body rides on not necessarily in majesty but certainly in hope.

As a people of faith we must always be willing to risk a “Hosanna! or two, or two hundred, or more.  May it be our feet, our hands, our bodies,our stories that prop the door of hope open knowing that ultimately hopes are not dashed through the gospel; they are transformed by a God who rolls away the stone and opens the doors forever.

Amen.

Friending the Messiah

Friending the Messiah

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – March 17, 2013 – Lent 5C : John 12: 1-8

Out of all of the families in the Bible, it’s the one that we heard about in today’s gospel that fascinates me the most.  And there some truly fascinating families in the Bible, let me tell you, so to gain the rank of ‘most fascinating’ is actually saying a lot!  This is Lazarus and Mary and Martha all of whom played key roles in the gospels and were very close friends of Jesus.  Mary and Martha were present in the gospel of Luke.  And in John’s gospel, which we heard from today, we get all three of the siblings, and they were referred to in John as “Jesus’ friends.”

Note that they weren’t called “disciples” although to the extent that these people had obviously listened to Jesus’ teaching, followed him and learned from him, they were certainly disciples in the basic sense of that word.  But these three weren’t “just followers” – we’re actually given the impression that these were Jesus’ closest people, practically family. He visited them somewhat regularly, stayed in touch with them while he traveled to other towns – they sent him notice when Lazarus was near death – and Jesus even “wept” with Mary and Martha in their shared grief over Lazarus’ death.  So these were the people who really walked with Jesus, or maybe better put is that Jesus walked with them  – as friends.  And what fascinates me, and is most relevant to us is how they did it, how these three walked their walk.

But first a few snapshots from their family album in a gospel mash-up of sorts.

There was that time in the gospel of Luke when Jesus visited Martha and Mary. At one point during that visit, Mary was sitting, listening to Jesus and taking in his teaching and then Martha (in typical sibling fashion) came out from the kitchen to complain that Mary wasn’t helping her fix supper.  Jesus replied that what Mary was doing was important too and he told Martha that her doing could actually be a distraction if she wasn’t careful. Jesus’ message to his friends that day was to remind Martha that she could stop every now and then to listen and to learn and very simply, be present.  And in that message he allowed Mary to value the listening she did, a listening and learning that society at that time didn’t generally afford to women.

Then there was the time in John’s gospel just before the story we heard today when Jesus got word when he was out on the road that his friend Lazarus was ill.  And after hearing of his friend’s illness, Jesus changed course, and headed to Bethany where his friends lived.  But before he arrived, Lazarus died and when they got that news Jesus indicated to his disciples that that was OK, the story wasn’t over yet – and so they kept walking.  And as Jesus was approaching the town, Martha saw him and ran out to meet him and by the end of their conversation she had proclaimed him the Messiah.  Mary came out shortly thereafter and they all wept, the only time it’s reported that Jesus actually cried in a shared sort of deep grief.  Then Jesus went with them to Lazarus grave and even though Lazarus had been dead for four days, Jesus told the people to roll away the stone, and he shouted to Lazarus to come out. To the astonishment of everyone present (everyone but Jesus – and I think Mary and Martha were on to it too), Lazarus did come out and they unbound him. Lazarus, previously completely dead, was alive and free again.  And that story of the raising of Lazarus became the turning point in John because after that moment, the religious authorities sought to bring Jesus to trial, and ultimately to his own death.

Which makes today’s story a last supper of sorts because Jesus and his friends knew that he was soon to be arrested.  John described the scene this way, “Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served [of course] and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

Judas then complained that Mary had “wasted the perfume” and Jesus responded that the whole action was Mary’s loving acknowledgement that he was to die. Her pouring of the perfume was also more than that; anointing Jesus was symbolically (as Martha had done in the story before,) proclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah.  And that meaning would have been lost on no one who saw it happen.  Shortly after this visit, Jesus was arrested.  (Come back next week to hear more about all of that.)

So this family had many amazing stories to tell and each member had a particular way in which they friended Jesus. And how they did that friending was remarkably consistent in all of these stories – even though they crossed over gospels. Martha was “The Do-er,” preparing, cooking, greeting, serving, proclaiming.  Lazarus for his part was “The Resurrected,” the one who was willing to leave the tomb, get unbound, and who was from that day of new life on was a celebrity of sorts.  He would for the rest of his new life be known as “that guy whom Jesus raised from the dead.” And the gospel indicates that Lazarus was in constant risk because of the power that his life represented.  And then there was Mary who was the “Gentle Prophet” whose role was to listen, to learn, to weep, and eventually to pour out in abundant, fragrant fashion a prophetic proclamation of who Jesus was for the world.

And so now you know why they fascinate me.  They were the friends, and they friended in beautiful and important ways. And so they’re not only a fascination, they also represent the kind of people I want us to be. We talk a lot around here in terms of “church family” and while there are pros and some cons to using that language to describe us, I think that we should hold up this family as one of the models for us as Church. We need to be doers like Martha.  We need to prepare, to feed, and to serve.  Like Martha, we need to learn better when to be still and also be willing to run out to the road when the Christ is approaching us in order to greet and welcome and embrace.  And we need to be those people “whom Jesus raised from the dead;” like Lazarus, we need to risk our own getting unbound and stepping away from the tomb and returning to life speaking in our very presence the power of resurrection!  And finally we need to embrace the kinds of learning and the types of tears that lead us, like Mary to prophetic, abundant proclamations that the Kingdom of God has come near.

So, you Marthas, Lazaruses, and Marys of Grace – you the family that is Grace Church – the Christ is here at our table today.  You already baked the bread – so nobody run to the kitchen.  The wine is here, so settle in.  Tell your stories. Unbind.  Embrace the new life being given you and let God bless it all.  And then in abundant thanks may we anoint with the gifts given us, the Body given for the world God so loved.      Amen.

What God Does

What God Does

The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – March 3, 2013 –  Lent 3C: Luke 13:1-9

 This morning’s sermon is all about God, who God is, what God does.  It’s important for us to always be asking what we should be doing in response to God, but I think that, ironically, sometimes we can actually forget about God by getting overly immersed in our own doing, our own responses to the holy.  Even in our talks about forgiveness this Lent we’ve occasionally fallen into the trap of actually overemphasizing our own role in that process; we need to allow at least some room for God’s doing in the holy project that is redemption. So here are a few minutes in which our doing is certainly invited in, but can take a back seat. Let’s make room for God and focus in on the one who creates, redeems, and sanctifies.

First is the story from Exodus.  Moses was going about his everyday work tending the flock of his Father in Law, Jethro and he had taken the flock beyond the wilderness, to Mt Horeb.  Now this was already a holy place for Moses’ people, but on that particular day it was a little holier than usual. An angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush and then God spoke to Moses out of the flame. And the first thing God did, once Moses had taken off his shoes and established the presence of holy ground, the first thing God did was to introduce and identify himself, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. I am the one to whom you and your people pray,” God told Moses, “The One who created you and has been with you since the very beginning.”  And then God told Moses why He has was there and why He was there then.  God was there on that mountain, at that particular moment out of divine compassion and mercy, and those were God’s only reasons.  “I have observed the misery of my people” God told Moses, “I have heard their cries. . .Indeed I know their sufferings and I have come to deliver them.”  So here we get a wonderful glimpse of what God actually does:  First, God listens.  “I have heard their cries,” God told Moses.  And then God responds to the people with compassion and mercy in order to deliver them.  And notice how God then proceeds:  God doesn’t respond by picking up the people and plunking them down right that moment in the land of milk and honey.  God’s response is intimately bound up with the work of the people.

In this story, and really in just about every story in Scripture, God invites the people into their redemptive process; it’s always grace sure enough but it’s often participatory grace and so our response to the holy matters, it just can’t take over.  With the Israelites, God planted a new vision and made room for the people to step out into the wilderness with Moses.  And then God held up his end of the deal the whole way, providing signs, parting the waters, setting the desert tables with manna every morning. . . So, God listened. God responded with compassion and mercy, God invited participation and over the course of God’s time, with God’s help, a new reality came into being.

In the Psalm, we hear of God beautifully as the one who helps and upholds.  The psalmist proclaims, “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you;  Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. . . for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”  There’s that divine compassion and mercy stuff again.  And this psalm gives us a glimpse of God on a more intimate level – helping and upholding not an entire people but one person, through one person’s prayer.  But notice that while micro instead of macro in scale, God’s process is absolutely consistent with that in Exodus:  God listens, then God responds, then God helps and a new reality (in this case for each person) is allowed to come in to being.

Now the people that Jesus was addressing in the gospel were sure that there must be a formula behind this divine mercy. They figured that there must be some connection between the presence of human suffering and the mercy which seemed to be God’s response to it.  We know that formula too.  No matter how theologically mature we are, it probably lurks somewhere inside of each of us and it goes like this:  “Bad people experience bad things. Good people get good things.”  Or this, “Good people deserve forgiveness and get it.  Bad people don’t deserve it and shouldn’t get it.” Well, today’s gospel story turns that theology on its head as Jesus does a little clarifying regarding the workings of God.

The people to whom Jesus was speaking were sure that suffering of any kind was the direct result of individual sin, “That’s why the bad things happened to those particular Galileans,” they told Jesus. “And that’s why the tower of Siloam fell on those particular people.  It was all because they were worse sinners than any else.”  And while that might make logical sense, if we hear anything in Scripture it’s that human logic is not the basis for the workings of God.  “Any of those tragedies could happen to any of you,” he told them. “What you’ve been given is a choice about how to live in the midst of it all.”

Notice similarly that in the story from Exodus, deliverance from slavery had nothing to do with the sinfulness or sinlessness of the people; the bad guys who were slaves and the good-guys who were slaves were all offered the same opportunity for a new life.  There was no exam prior to the parting of the waters to see whether or not the people “deserved” deliverance or not.  They had a choice granted them by God, a choice about whether or not to drop the chains, pick up their sandals and hike across the waters.  Or to remain in slavery. God had responded with mercy and compassion to their cries, not to their purity or their goodness.  And in the psalm that basis for response is there too: mercy was assumed as something God would grant whoever placed their trust in Him – there was no prerequisite to that promise: presumably, the rich, the poor, the slave, the free, the good guy, the jerk, were and are all offered this gift of God’s help and God’s peace.  And that’s what Jesus was telling the people in the parable we heard today.

In so many ways it makes way more sense to cut down trees that aren’t producing fruit or even worse, whose fruit has gone bad.  But the Gardner in that parable, the God in that parable, took an entirely different approach.  “Let’s dig around it,” the Gardner said, “Let’s open it up and air out the roots a little bit.  Let’s help it breathe, feed it, care for it and see what happens.”  And if you’ve been listening that rings bell.  “Let’s dig out the people and set them free.”  “Let’s ask them to bear new fruit and walk into a whole new place.” “Let’s help and uphold rather than strike down.”  It might all sound completely illogical, even a little crazy, but apparently holiness is.

And so if you are the one who longs for more freedom in this world, waiting for the waters to part, know that they will; we’ve all been invited to stand up, to move to a new place where there is freedom for all.  Or maybe you’re out in the wilderness hungry for milk and honey. Know that God will provide and we’ve all been called to prepare and participate in that feast. If you’re like the psalmist and you’re praying a private prayer for help, know that it has been granted you. Help is on the way; it might even already be there.  Or if you are that tree whose fruit seems non-existent or a little stale, there are shovels here and God has taught us how to use them.  We can help provide the air and even the manure (kind of fun to have that in the story), and somehow because God is God, we be be led to new life.

So today we thank God for being God.  For listening.  For responding with mercy and compassion.  For delivering and upholding.  And for inviting us into new ways of being that ultimately reveal a holy and resurrection-like sense of peace.

Amen.

What If?

What If?

Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – February 18, 2013- Lent 1C: Luke 6:27-38

I am just back from a couple of days in Baltimore working with the National Church Task Force on Restructuring the Church.  Now I realize that for some people conversations about structure, governance, and administration (let alone the church’s version of those things) might sound like a wilderness of sorts, a dangerous, dry desert perhaps even filled with wild beasts lurking at every turn. But my days were nothing like that. They were actually very rich – filled with incredibly good people, very creative thinking and faithful prayer.  More like a garden than a desert actually.  But my thoughts upon leaving that meeting and transitioning back to Lent I were about this passage – just not in terms of having been in the wilderness.  Instead, I’ve been considering how much easier these challenges facing our church would be, how much easier life would be if Jesus had done what Satan had tempted him to do.

What if Jesus had said, “Yes,” instead of “No” to everything that Satan offered him? Let’s go there for a few minutes and see how that might have played out. . .

You know the scene.  Jesus was just baptized and was driven by the Spirit out into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights.  And while he was the there, the devil tempted Him three times: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread,” the devil said to Jesus.  So what if instead of ‘One does not live by bread alone,’ Jesus had said something like, “OK, great! And while I am at it, I’ll take it upon myself to make sure that there is enough bread for everyone, always.” Sounds great – doesn’t it? If Jesus had taken that opportunity maybe there’d be no more distance between the haves and have nots in this world – everyone would have all the bread they need and we could take questions of how best to distribute our resources completely off the table.

Or how about this, to Satan’s offer of all of the kingdoms of the world in exchange for Jesus worshiping him. . .what if instead of ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him,’ Jesus had said something like, “Sure, Satan, I’ll take’m. I’ll rule over all of it, worshiping you and ruling with authority, power, clarity.” In some ways that wouldn’t be all bad – No more wrestling with questions about how best to govern and organize ourselves – all of that would be completely taken care of. No more human error at the helm. No more human at the helm at all – at least no “merely and only human.”  Not all bad!

And finally what if Jesus had taken the leap off the pinnacle of the temple and been caught by the angels, thereby employing the heavenly beings in the constant business of making sure no physical harm could be done?  Again, that’s attractive in some ways – No more hurts to tend to, no more lives dashed against the stones of this world –  Because Jesus (as ruler of the kingdoms of the world and provider of bread and other things for all people) would have also put the angels to the work of protecting us all from getting dashed in any way.  And so instead of a cross as our primary symbol, maybe there would be something up there like a pair of wings.


But as tempting as all of that was and as it still is, Jesus resisted all of those offers – he resisted the temptation to depend on magic as a response to human need; he turned down the offer to wield worldy power as a means to holy rule, and he turned down the temptation of his own personal protection and assurance against death.  And by doing so, he set another sort of vision in motion for humanity.  And that vision is what this season is all about.

It’s the vision of a God who instead of going for a quick fix entered into the realm of human pain and suffering and offered us all a different way to be in this world.  And by this way, God is not the sole provider of bread – or at least the sole distributor of bread – we’re in that business too – our hearts and hands are needed in the work of getting it to all who hunger.  And by this way, God has not fully instituted rule over all of the kingdoms of the world; the vision involves us participating in the building of that kingdom, the ordering of this world in ways that are fair and just and embracing of all children of God.  And finally this way that Jesus opened up is not one that relies on self-protection, instead it’s one that calls for self-sacrifice in the best sense of what that means – and so ultimately, in this story, our understanding of salvation revolves not around wings but around the image of a cross and through God’s grace, an empty tomb.

In some ways what Jesus did in the wilderness over those forty days and forty nights was that he left the world exactly as it stood.  Given the option of supply on demand, complete and utter rule, and immortality Jesus let the stones be stones, left the kingdoms of the world to the people of the world, and worked his way toward his own death.   And I think that’s because Jesus didn’t come into the world to take it over.  Jesus came into the world very simply and unconditionally to love the world.  He came not to fix, but to transform through the most powerful means God could employ.

And so this season, listen to how Jesus loves us.  Sounds like a song, right?  This season notice the “how” of Jesus going about his work in this world because that “how” is for us to adopt too.  It’s how we live into the vision, the way that Jesus offered us.  The governance of the church let alone the world won’t completely change this season, we will still struggle to get bread into the hands of all people, and we will encounter hurt as we do the self-giving, sacrificial things we have been called to do.  But notice that in all of it, love can break through, offering a new way that involves forgiveness, redemption, a cross, and resurrection.

May we give thanks as we walk through this season, that Jesus resisted and showed us another way.

Amen.

 

Re-Becoming God’s People

Re-Becoming God’s People

Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – January 27, 2013 – Epiphany 3C- Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 1; Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21

 Well in terms of readings, we hit the jackpot for Annual Meeting Sunday.  A preacher couldn’t ask for better texts to be proclaimed among the people on the day in which we will reflect on what the people have been doing, look forward to where the people are headed, discuss how those people (we) might get there, and discern from among us about who will lead us in this next year of life together as Grace Church.  The readings remind us of many things, all of which should be running through our hearts and minds today: they hold up for us the power of Story itself, the love of God that invites us to make it ours, the Spirit of God who is present with prophets and assemblies and was profoundly present with the Christ, and there is even reference to the Body which we become in order to share that power, that love and serve the world in Christ’s name.  It’s all here!  And I personally am very grateful.  So let’s dive into it all together.

First from Nehemiah. Ezra the priest stood on a wooden platform with a whole bunch of other scribes surrounding him in the midst of a very large crowd.  He opened the book in the sight of all the people, and the whole crowd stood too.  They knew that something holy was happening, something that carried a certain authority and that was vital to their faith was unfolding among them.  “The ears of all the people were attentive,” the book says. So there was energy and a certain kind of hunger among them.  And when Ezra read from the law of God, and the people and the other scribes and priests began to interpret it together (notice that – they interpreted it together) – something amazing happened.  They were no longer just a crowd in the plaza.  They cried, and they rejoiced, and Ezra and Nehemiah (who was the governor) said to the people that they should go and feast: “Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and remember to give some to those who have nothing, for this day is holy!” he cried out.

The day was holy because the people were again, profoundly aware of being God’s people – each and every one of them, re-united, re-formed (small “r”), newly re-present to the Story that had been given them. And so the Story itself was more than “just” words – it was salvation – and it  was announcing that liberation, and forgiveness and was hope coming to life again in and among these people of God.

What we have in this first reading is actually a powerful vision of liturgy (the language we use for worship) – this was literally “the work of the people” in the presence of the Spirit and a reminder of the power and grace that can happen when all of that comes together.

Sound familiar?  It should.  It should be very familiar. Because before Grace can reflect on where we’ve been, before we can vision about where we’re headed, before we are a vital, growing community of ministers and ministries, before we are anything we are this:

We are a crowd.

We are a crowd that becomes a people.

We are a crowd that becomes a people in the presence of the Word, through the power of the Spirit.

We are a crowd that become a people in the presence of the Word, through the power of the Spirit and the celebration of the feast.

And then we share those gifts with the world beyond ourselves.

That’s who we are.  So thanks, Nehemiah, for that reminder.

Now it’s not a very big leap from that passage to the gospel. There is liturgy again in Luke, but in this passage it was Jesus who read in the synagogue to remind the people of the power present among them.   This took place in Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown at the very beginning of his ministry.  Now Jesus (being Jesus,) took the whole proclamation thing a step beyond what Ezra was able to do.  Jesus read the passage and it sounded like this – you heard it just a few minutes ago:

“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.”

And then Jesus, rather than sending the scribes forth for further conversation and reflection like Ezra did, instead Jesus followed that reading with the shortest, yet most powerful sermon ever, and he was already sitting down when he gave it. ‘This Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Period.  Or more appropriately, “Amen.”  And there followed a momentary and very deep silence – and next week you’ll hear how that all played out. But for now, we simply need to be aware of what all of that meant because Jesus was doing and saying something incredibly huge.

The passage that Jesus read would have been familiar to everyone in the synagogue because its message contained a central tenet of their faith.  “The year of the Lord’s favor” referred to the year of jubilee which according to religious law happened every fifty years; and in that year, as some describe it, “the playing fields were leveled,” the oppressed were set free, all debts were forgiven, and in essence many of the barriers and artificial stratifications that existed among the people of God were removed.  Every fifty years jubilee provided a “start over” sort of moment, a cleaning of the slates in order for the community, the society to be able to begin again in a more unified, more faithful sort of place.  And so jubilee was obviously an experience which was anticipated even longed for among most of the people.  And the law was very clear that it was to happen once every fifty years.

And so what Jesus said in the synagogue that day shook the very foundations not only of religious belief but also of the workings of that society. He announced that jubilee was no longer a year for which the people had to wait. Jubilee was here now in his presence!  Forgiveness and healing and basic human equalities were no longer about a “day to come,” Jesus told them. “Salvation is here,” he said, “the Scripture has been fulfilled!” And Jesus’ entire ministry would be about making all of those jubilee-like things happen every day, sometimes in surprising, miraculous sorts of ways.

And so this is us too.   While we reflect and elect and strategize and minister and pray. . . as we do all of these things as Grace, it’s critical that we do them always as a people of jubilee. This Scripture is to be fulfilled in our hearing and in our doing all the time.  Not as a vision that lives in the future but as a now that lives in here and out there as much as we can possibly make it be so.  The gospel tells us today that as Body of Christ we are to be a people among whom welcome is offered, equality is practiced, forgiveness is granted, food is shared, and healing is realized now.

So, as we gather for our Annual Meeting today, as we reflect and look forward and stand faithfully where we are, the foundation has been laid and the tone has been set:

May we be that crowd that desires to be formed into the people of God over and over again.  May we be that people of God among whom fulfillment of God’s dreams happens.  May we be the Body of Christ who in our very presence shocks the world proclaiming the kinds of possibilities that the Spirit makes into realities!  May we be that people who offer release to the captives, sight to those who cannot see, and hope for us all.  Every day.

Amen.

Christmas Eve, 2012

God Among

The Rev. Jennifer Adams- Christmas Eve 2012

The mountains and valleys,

the darkness and light,

the wilderness, the cities,

the oceans and the land.

This is the world into which God was born.

 

The young and the old.

The black and the white.

The Christian.  The Muslim. The Atheist.  The Jew.

This is the world into which God was born.

 

The hunger and abundance.

The music and silence.

The children.

The future.

The past. The now.

This is the world into which God was born.

 

The census.  The shepherds.

The inn with no room.

This is the world into which God was born.

 

The inexplicable acts of violence.

The unexpected acts of love.

The unjust systems and justifiable rebellions.

The divisions. The resistance. The freedoms.

This is the world into which God was born.

 

Your family and mine.  Us and them.

Schools. Politics. Nations.

Collective memory.

Particular stories.

Meals. Playgrounds. Worksites. Dreams.

This is the world into which God was born.

 

Into hurt.

Into hope.

Into emptiness and excess.

Into Mary’s arms and people’s lives.

This is the world into which God was born.

And God came into the world because we needed God here  –  we needed God’s presence in the midst of all of it.   I actually think it’s that simple; that first Christmas happened because we needed God present among –  to forgive, to invite, to heal, and to redeem.  We needed God here and so heard our cries and God came to be among us as us.

We heard it proclaimed as gospel just a few minutes ago: “While they were in Bethlehem, Mary gavw birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger.”

He came among us to live as us.

With eyes to see, hands to touch

and a heart to feel the complicated mess that we are.

And to experience the incredible, beautiful miracle that we are.

 

God came among us to witness and to challenge

the incomprehensible disparities among us

and to inspire the reconciliations possible between us.

 

God came among us

to heal those who were broken, to raise up the broken hearted.

To turn things upside down and to show us a new way.

 

A new way in which the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, and all those who mourn would be blessed.

God came to live among us because apparently in the mind of the divine

that was the best way to show us how to love one another,

and to forever bind us with an eternity that promises to love us all.

And so tonight is about remembering that and it’s about beginning again.

 

Beginning again to see the world as the place into which God has come and to see ourselves as forgiven, loved and free.  It’s a night to begin again to engage the healing, the raising up, the turning upside down and the blessing that was and is God’s dream for us all.

 

Tonight we celebrate Christ’s birth into this blessed, broken, beautiful world.  May we do love in his name here.  May we be peace as his Body here.

 

May Christ be born among us as we begin again this holy night.

Amen.