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Dis-Comfort Ye My People

Dis-comfort Ye My People

The Rev.Jennifer Adams- December 9, 2012 – Advent 2, Year C: Luke 3:1-6

It’s a time of the year when the readings are as probably about as familiar as they get.  These are characters from Scripture that no matter what our faith background happens to be we’ve probably at least heard of and maybe even sung about or read about them. For two weeks now we’ll hear from John the Baptist and then we’ll get Mary and Elizabeth and –  so we are honing in on the people who were closest to Jesus as he was born and then as he began his public ministry.  These are the people who very intimately prepared the way for Christ to come into this world. So beginning this week we’ll be hearing a little more about what that preparation looked like and again we begin with John.

He was out in the wilderness shouting to the world ‘Prepare the Way of the Lord!’ and giving them a vision for what was going to happen: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked paths shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God!’” said John.  And in his proclamation he was echoing the words of the prophets before him. This morning we heard similar words from the prophet Baruch but they were said by other prophetic voices too:  “God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low, and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.”  Now maybe you hear Handel’s Messiah playing through your mind as you hear all of this – the tenor’s voice expressing the exaltation of the valleys.  Or maybe you’re more the Godspell type and “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord!” and that music and vision of the Baptist flashes through you when we get to the Advent words of John and the prophets.  Whatever the case, the words and images are powerful and hopeful words and images that speak and sing to us about the coming of our God, about the work that God is doing and that we are to do in terms of preparation.

Now according to these passages, preparing involves some leveling of the ground so these are no small tasks.  The vision itself is significant.  Valleys should actually be filled in. Mountains should be made low.  Rough places made smooth.  And all for the simple reason of making it possible for everyone to travel “safely in the glory of God.”  Neither the earth nor we should make it hard for people to get to where they need to get be in order to see God, to know God, to experience the grace of God.  Part of the point of these passages is that the traveling should be safe and easy and relatively uneventful.

And so I want to share with you an experience I had yesterday because on a very small scale it spoke to me of this process and the possibilities we have to help this kind of leveling happen.  Now this experience wasn’t about the salvation of God, but it was about soccer and while I’d never ever compare the two, an awareness of God and a love of soccer are two things that have lived in my heart nearly my whole life.

Yesterday I watched the women’s national team play against China at Ford Stadium in Detroit.  The U.S. won (which isn’t the point of the story but I did get to watch two fabulous goals scored.)  They filled the stadium in sections with the upper tiers closed off – this wasn’t professional football afterall.  But towards the end of the game they announced that this was actually the largest attendance ever recorded  at a soccer game in Michigan.  Again – amazing if you’re me but still not quite the point of this story.  So here comes the point – to look around was to see a crowd composed in a very large part of little girls, teenagers and young women.  And they were dressed in jerseys whose backs said “Hamm” (Mia), or “Wambach” (Abby), or Morgan (Alex) – which was a loud and clear tribute to something like the communion of saints among soccer players.  And these girls were waving posters and they had their faces painted and they were shouting about players they admired and a game that they loved.  A game that they get to play all the time with no doubts about whether or not the game is for them.

And the amazing thing to me was how much things had changed.  Way back when I was a kid (I get to say that every now and then) for awhile I was the only girl in our city’s league, and there had been girls who were just three years older than I who hadn’t been allowed to play when they were my age – because girls weren’t allowed to play yet.  And while I didn’t have to struggle for the right to play, others before did and the residuals of that struggle were still hanging pretty thickly in the air when I was a kid.  So I was deeply aware yesterday of how the whole scene that is women’s sports had been a battleground more than a playing field – BUT NOW here was a stadium filled with thousands of little girls who would never have to question whether or not the game was for them.

And because it’s a game I loved – I was filled a joy that’s hard to explain.  For those little girls, soccer is undoubtedly theirs too and it’s theirs too because at some point along the way, valleys were filled and rough places were made smooth and it became safe for them to experience the glory of (at least) this game.

And the prophets told us to constantly wonder what it would be like if things in this world could become more like that.  We can give lots of historical examples of those kinds of changes that have happened, but there are still valleys that need filling, still so many hills that need to be made low in order for the all of the people of God to walk safely in this world.

Now I realize that the prophets vision was about something much larger than any of this, (even larger even than women’s soccer,) bigger in fact than anything we experience here because the prophets were talking about salvation – a kingdom yet to come.  BUT (this is part of the point of this season) we’ve been called into that vision not only as a comfort but also as our work –  and this vision can be both of those things.

In this vision we have been invited to find peace and trust that God is coming and will make things well.  But this is also a vision in which we should discover the kind of dis-comfort that leads us to apply all that we have to helping something new come into being.  And in the here and now that involves helping our world to more closely resemble the Kingdom that we pray is coming into being.   And so our waiting this season of Advent and always is to be a participatory, active sort of waiting in which we get out a shovel or two in our little corner of the world and we do what we can to level the ground.  And the flip side too-  we need to repent of the ways in which we benefit from the valleys and mountains existing as they do today.

So dream a little with me and the prophets this Advent:  What if the world was filled with children who not only got to play whatever game they wanted to play but what if the world was filled with children who never had to wonder if food was for them or safe streets or education or faith was for them?  What if the mountains that stood between children and clean water were brought low?    What if the valleys that got in the way of children and all people knowing peace were filled in?

These are the questions of the season, the promise and hope of the season that is Advent.  May the vision bring us comfort and dis-comfort all at the same time as we await the coming of our God.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

Leaning In

Leaning In

The Rev. Jennifer Adams – December 2, 2012 – Advent 1, Year C: Luke 21:25-36

I’m guessing that many of you have at some point in your lives visited the shores of Lake Michigan just before or during a big storm.  Stormy lake days have the ability to tweak our curiosity and even tug a little bit at our sense of adventure so most of us have found ourselves down there as the clouds begin to roll in.  It seems like the pull of the Lake on those days can be almost as strong as it is on hot, sunny days.  So, if you have had this experience of being there while a storm broke in over the horizon, remember that experience with me now; if you haven’t had such an experience, simply listen in to an amazingly beautiful thing that nature does.

The first thing I always notice when I arrive at the beach on those kinds of days is the wind. It can actually be hard to open your car door if your car is angled just so.  The power of the wind on those days is such that it can very literally throw off your balance and even tip you over if you’re not careful.  But here’s what I love: because of that incredible power, the wind is also strong enough to hold you up if you lean into it just right.  You can picture this can’t you?  If you lean in one direction you lose your balance completely.  But if you’re patient and lean just right, slightly into the wind and actually forward into the oncoming storm, you get held.  On a stormy day at the Lake, you can discover that sort of tentative yet hopeful “leaning into” that allows the wind in all of its overwhelming yet settling power to hold you in place.

Now with the wind often comes rain, sometimes snow, and always at the very least, blowing sand. So this day at the beach isn’t just a day at the beach.  This whole “let’s go to the Lake on a stormy day” thing is not a passive sort of experience – stormy beach days require a certain sort of awareness and attentiveness that isn’t always the case on other sorts of days.  On stormy days, you have to be particularly attentive to your eyes, how you are watching and where you are looking matter a lot.  And if you look up you notice that even the sky is in motion – often moving faster than it usually does.  And to look towards the Lake is to know that the waves are amazing – they remind you not only of the beauty of these days but also about the power of the water itself.  The waves can be huge- they’re almost unbelievable for a body of water that isn’t the ocean.  On stormy days the Lake displays an incredible amount of power for a body that is right here in the midst of where we live every day– the waves on these days are absolutely stunning and terrifying, dangerous and beautiful all at the same time.

And the sounds too drown out just about everything else you can hear, but because you can’t hear anything else they’re also strangely peaceful.  The magnitude of the sounds means that their presence is all that can matter that moment.  While our attentions are usually pulled in several directions at one time, during stormy days at the Lake, it’s nearly impossible to pay attention to anything but the stormy day at the lake.

And all of that is some of what those days are like – you can lean into the wind which will shake your every step, but if you lean just right can also almost miraculously hold you in a place that is very still.   You can feel the elements whipping up all around you and so the storm demands your absolute and undivided attention.  And on those kinds of days there is so much to watch, even the sky is in motion, so much to hear, so much that it all has the ability to remind everyone who is present that we stand in the midst of something powerful and beautiful and so very much larger than ourselves.

And Advent is like all of that.  We stand this morning at the beginning of a new Church year; there are four Sundays between us and Christmas and according to the gospel, the elements are shifting all around us. There’s a great wind blowing through here that will challenge our sense of balance even while that very same wind invites us to lean in and be held and learn to trust the stillness that we find in its arms.  The sounds are different too as this seasonal upheaval blows through – next week we’ll hear the roaring of a prophet in the wilderness; John the Baptist will demand our attention in ways that open our eyes and turn our hearts and we won’t have much of an option other than to listen to his words.  And as the season moves along we’ll hear the gently roaring sound of the Magnificat as Mary sings of “the greatness of the Lord” – the Lord who like the mystery of the waves will show the strength of his arm, scatter the proud in their conceit and cast down the mighty from their thrones, even while mercy is shown and the lowly are lifted and the hungry filled.

And so this morning, Advent I, a storm has blown in off the Lake; the Body that is so very close to our every day is demanding that we stand up, raise our heads, watch, and stay alert!  If we adjust a bit and lean in just right, we too can discover a holy sort of stillness in the arms of a miraculous gift.  Because this season we stand on the shores of something much greater than ourselves.

So pay attention, everyone!  Don’t miss the power. Don’t miss the beauty. Our redemption is drawing near.

Amen.

 

No Dismissals Allowed

No Dismissals Allowed

REV. JENNIFER ADAMS – October 7, 2012 – Proper 22, Year B: Mark 10:2-16

One of the wonderful things about Scripture is that each text has approximately one million ways in which you can approach it.  This is wonderful for preachers anyway, maybe not so wonderful if you’re trying to agree with someone on one particular interpretation of a passage. But the reality that several different themes tend to be tucked into every passage is why the lectionary we go by (our three year cycle of readings) is never limiting. People ask me every now and then how I can preach on the same text, over and over again whenever it comes up. But it never feels like that because the passages speak to me in different ways every time.

Except for the gospel text we just heard – where I think there is only one angle to take in preaching which is directly at it, and right on the theme of divorce. This isn’t the kind of text that I can proclaim from the aisle and then not touch in terms of preaching – because you need to know how I and our church approach divorce even if you hear only a slight variation on the theme every three years that it comes around. This passage raises a subject that’s close to almost all of our hearts and so it’s a pastoral concern for all of us as individuals and as a community of faith. We need to hit it directly every time because whether we’ve been divorced ourselves, or lived through our own parents divorcing, or watched a child of our own or a close friend get divorced, or even if it’s simply because we’ve done all that we can not to get divorced and by the grace of God have maintained a marriage … whatever the reason, this subject touches us all and so it’s good that every three years Mark speaks to us on this subject and we get a chance to go at it directly while gathered here through the gospel.

So first I need you let you know (or for some of you, remind you) where I have come from. My story includes having lived through divorce as a child. My parents were good church-going people (who are still good, church-going people by the way) and they did everything they could at the time to save their marriage, but that healing didn’t happen for them then. Which doesn’t mean that my family didn’t heal — each of us did heal over time and now while we know family differently we also know that love and redemption come in many different shapes and sizes. I also know of divorce from walking with friends through their own painful experience and as a priest and pastor for families who have experienced or are experiencing divorce. And one thing we can probably agree on from whatever experiences we’ve had that divorce is brokenness. I don’t think that anyone here would argue that point. Divorce hurts and upsets and disrupts and confuses pretty much everyone involved – at least for awhile. And since brokenness is not what God wants for any of us, divorce is not God’s hope for us; divorce is not God’s will in the big picture of who God wants us to be. And that’s part of what this Scripture tells us.

But (and this is an important but because it expands how we approach the text and our own lives as well) we need to also acknowledge that life is complex and people are too.  Sometimes for some people being in a particular marriage is brokenness, and that brokenness is not what God hopes or wants for any of us either. And so this text takes us to a very challenging, uncomfortable place that is impossible to completely resolve. While some divorces should never happen, some divorces really need to happen, and between those extremes are the many that fall in-between the extremes.

Nobody I’ve ever met has entered into their marriage hoping that it breaks beyond repair. And nobody ever celebrates that a marriage has gotten to that point. So while part of our calling as church is celebrating, strengthening and doing whatever we can to nurture marriage, caring for those in our midst who are experiencing or healing from divorce is also all part of what it means to be a loving community of faith.

It’s also important for us to remember the culture in which this gospel was written, because there are some important differences between then and now. In the culture in which Jesus lived, only a husband could seek a divorce. You heard that in the passage today. The Pharisees asked Jesus if it was OK if a man could divorce his wife because in those days, upon marriage, a woman became the property of the man. So while it undoubtedly often included a great deal of love, marriage was a societal contract, and in the making of that contract, the woman’s home shifted from that of her parents to that of her husband and her entire identity did too.

And that arrangement could only be broken by the male who could initiate a “certificate of dismissal”. At the point of dismissal, he no longer had responsibility for the woman. And after divorce, the woman was not only no longer “wife,” she lost it all – she was no longer daughter, sister or mother either – the only roles that were available to her – after divorce, the woman had no place in society at all. And that’s some of what Jesus was speaking to in this passage. When the contract was dismissed, the woman’s place in the family was gone and she was literally cast out to fend for herself. To be divorced in that culture was literally to be dismissed, to be cast out from family, from any community at all, and to be utterly alone.

And so when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees if that was OK, he said, “No. That’s not what we do.” And frankly that answer makes good gospel sense. That’s not how the kingdom of God works. Dismissal is sort of anti-good news. And it’s especially not what we do as those who have been called to live as one. And so this passage is actually about much more than marriage and divorce. It’s about caring for one another and holding fast and hard to the bottom line of the covenant we have made – the covenant that Jesus established which says that in the family of God, no one is ever dismissed. No matter what. It’s not what we do. Period.

Which is why when the disciples tried to turn away the children who were coming to him, Jesus reacted immediately. You think it’s a change of subject until we broaden our approach a bit — “Let the little children come to me,” he said, “don’t stop them.”  In other words, “Don’t dismiss them.”  And right there in front of everyone, in the midst of this intense theological and legal conversation, Jesus scooped the children up in his arms. He hugged them and blessed them and said that in all of this the kingdom of God was made manifest.

And so this whole passage is sort of a weird combination of things until you see that it’s not.  It actually does make good gospel sense that these pieces are together.  “Divorce is not like the kingdom,” Jesus told them.  “But embracing the children is.”

And so maybe the best way to hear this passage is as the little ones that we all truly are.  Children of God each of us:  Still growing.  Still learning.  Imperfect. We are made to love and be loved.  But we are also prone to make mistakes, sometimes big ones, and this side of heaven, we are bound to break in whatever ways are our particular ways of getting broken.  But because of how God works, we are still and forever one, continually invited into the holy, wide-scooping embrace and blessing of God.  Never to be dismissed any of us.

And so one of our gifts to this world is our proclamation that we are in this together whether it be as husband and wife, or more fundamentally as those who have been baptized into one-ness, as the Body of Christ.  The good news in this place is that even when brokenness happens, rather than dismissal, we offer invitation and we offer embrace . . both of which contain the power to heal and show us something important about the Kingdom of God.

Amen.

 

A Bunch of Confused Animals

A Bunch of Confused Animals

REV. JENNIFER ADAMS – May 15, 2011 – Easter 4, Year A: John 10:1-10

“The sheep follow me because they know my voice,” Jesus said in the gospel passage we just heard. The sheep hear the Good Shepherd form the moment he opens the gate and they follow. And that’s just how it goes. Which all sounds kind of simple really and somewhat comforting and attractive. Later on in this Chapter Ten of John’s gospel, Jesus goes further. Apparently sheep from other folds will follow too because they also will recognize his voice and listen to what he says. And the result of all of this listening and following is that “there will be one flock, one Shepherd.” Which is a beautiful and hopeful image to hold onto and there are days when I long for an experience of that peaceful and unified life in the pasture.

But it also makes me want to know why … if this is true that all we need to do is simply listen to the voice, then why is it that “followers of Christ” seem to be moving in so many different directions all the time? Denominations are all over the map on just about everything and if there is one voice to listen to, then why aren’t we all just following all together now? Are some of us listening and some of us not? Are some of us very bad listeners?

Are we fooling ourselves a lot of the time or are THOSE SHEEP fooling THEMSELVES just about all of the time and one of and one of us is NOT following the voice? Should we even take any steps at all down the road of asking who are the good at listening sheep and who are the bad at listening sheep, because if we do, we also have to decide on who gets to decide and then it could get ugly fast. Since I’m a firm believer in avoiding the ugly sermon whenever possible, I’m going to shift gears and try another approach. Instead of pursuing this line of thinking any further, I’m going to tell you a story.

When I was on vacation one year with family, we had a somewhat large and unfortunately public meltdown. There were eight of us and we’d arrived at the beach mid-morning. We had managed to get out the door of where we were staying, drive to our destination, park two cars and find each other again (all of which were small miracles in themselves), and before we knew it (or were totally prepared for it) we were unpacked from the cars and straggling down the beach. And whoa, were we a sight. We were arguing about where we should plant ourselves – all talking at the same time. We had coolers over our shoulders, varieties of floaty things draped around our necks or dragging behind us. There were towels strewn on the path that we had made in the sand, sunglasses slipping down our faces or balanced on a finger or two, and one child already sitting cross legged, head in his hands, frustrated and now refusing to move about twenty yards behind the rest of us. Get the picture?

We were completely unable to agree on just about anything but then smack in the middle of this family disaster a nephew (who was about seven at the time) stopped us all, raised his hands up in the air, shook his head and shouted, “We look like a bunch of confused animals!”

And he was right. And we laughed at ourselves and we settled down and then suddenly as if a curtain had been raised, we noticed that there was a beautiful ocean in front of us and endless grains of sand under our feet and a sunshine so amazing that we were warmed to our core. And as we settled in, we listened to the sound of the waves and we remembered that that was why we were there. And for a few minutes anyway, (until family meltdown number three hundred eighty seven came around,) we were one. And there was a sweet and genuine holiness to it all.

And so I think about that story when I think about the many, many of us sheep out there who struggle to be one, who can’t seem to manage to get anywhere all together, who are walking our faith journeys with varieties of floaty devices hanging around our necks, coolers full of feasts strung over our arms and the occasional child (of any age) sitting twenty yards back legs crossed, frustrated and refusing to move forward. I think about us, the many, many sheep who can’t even agree on where to plant ourselves and who can get so focused on our disagreement that we miss the beauty of Creation (among other things) – and I wonder like that day on the beach – are we just a bunch of confused animals?

And I think that yes, we probably are. And I don’t only mean that the “Them” who follow The Voice a little differently than I do are confused – – the “Usses” I’m a part of are confused too. Because it’s so easy for any of us sheep to lose sight of the ocean. It’s so easy to forget the warmth of the sun. It’s so easy to forget that there are grains of sand too numerous for us to count under our feet all the time, and the Creator has made each and every one of them. And we get so stuck arguing about who is planted where on the beach that we lose sight of the fact that it doesn’t really matter that much – it doesn’t matter because the ocean touches it all.

And so then I wonder if the voice we are trying to listen to this morning is more like the voice of the ocean than it is like the voice of one single human being. Because I bet that God could pull that off – coming to us in Christ, yet speaking to us with the voice of an ocean – vast and wide and steady and deep touching beaches all the way up and down a very, very long and varied coast.

I even bet that every family of God goes through what my family did that day and maybe on a very, very large scale that’s what the human family experiences just about all the time. We look like a bunch of confused animals, trying to find our way on the beach. But even in our confusion there is a togetherness of sorts, a figuring it out of sorts; even in our confusion there is (if there is nothing else) a desire for more good sun, more experiences of the water, more peace on the beach.

So maybe if we allow ourselves to listen out of that place of desire we’ll know that the voice is there and it’s always there, and it’s there for all people. The voice is calling so many names all at one time, like waves. Like waves, the voice is there — calling us to peace, calling us to love, calling us into God.

Amen.

Easter Sermon

Easter Sermon

REV. JENNIFER ADAMS – May 8, 2011 – Sermon Easter 3A.11

I have often thought that if we had to pick one gospel lesson to hear on every week and to preach on every week, I would vote for this story, the disciples on the road to Emmaus. And it would get my vote for a couple of reasons: first, this is a story that’s got everything; there’s a summary of the death and resurrection, there’s Moses, the prophets, and the metaphor of “journey” which I love; this story’s got a stranger, confusion, hidden Jesus, revealed Jesus, surprise, sadness, burning hearts, understanding, eyes opening and a shared meal. And I’m sure that in all of those bits there would be at least 52 sermons. But I don’t only love it because it’s full, I also appreciate how it flows and it’s that flow that I want to hit on this morning. It flows how we flow every Sunday morning. In other words, this story is as an Episcopal a story as we’ll find. Here’s what I mean.

The disciples were walking the road to Emmaus and boy had they had a week. Remember this story takes place that first Easter morning so Jesus had just died, and he’d died at the hands of their chief priests and elders. So the disciples were afraid and curious; they were mourning, overwhelmed by it all and extremely disappointed – because they had thought Jesus was the one who would redeem Israel. And besides that they had heard rumors, testimony actually from the women who earlier that very day had encountered angels at Jesus’ tomb telling them that Jesus had risen. So at the point that we find these guys on the road they probably weren’t sure whether they should be mourning or rejoicing or perhaps they wondered if they should have stayed in bed that morning – they were reflective, confused, and trying to put pieces together that no matter how hard they tried didn’t quite seem to fit.

And if we’re honest most of our gatherings are like that too. Every Sunday we’re one big collection of pieces that don’t fit, inner curiosities, life-disappointments, heart-felt and hopeful possibilities, testimonies that we don’t quite know how to handle. And whenever we gather, especially on Sunday mornings it’s to allow all of those things to be present as we walk somewhere together, and as we walk we do a little sorting, ask some questions, we wonder, we remember and we pray. And when we walk in this place, as was the case with the discioples we are joined by people we don’t know, people with experiences and understandings different than our own. And in the end we are better for it.

Now at first on their walk, it seemed like the man who met them on the road was completely out of it. “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what’s happened here over the last few days?” they asked him? Slight irony. So they filled the stranger in — told him the story, about Jesus death, talked about what the women had seen and about all of the experiences of the last week. The first thing they did was to bring the stranger in to their journey – a lovely welcoming act – a

They told the story of why they were there together, so they could all be on equal footing. Like us, the disciples came together, moved together and offered a truly beautiful act of hospitality.

Which proved to be a good move, not only because hospitality is a good faithful thing, but because it turned out, that the stranger knew a whole lot and had something to give to them. When it was his turn to contribute to the conversation, “the stranger” went back not only a few days but all the way back to Moses and then through the prophets and interpreted the meaning of all it for them. (The stranger gave them something they desperately needed, even though they didn’t think the stranger had it in him.) And that happens here all the time too right here in this place; other people are Christ for us – truth is we never know who will be Christ for us here – but someone will be- interpreting, reflecting, receiving, giving, opening the gospel up for us in ways that we desperately need. In our liturgy our faith gains new life through the presence of the other.

And so the disciples invited the stranger to stay with them. And pretty soon he was breaking bread and their eyes were opened. And then they knew for sure that this was not just a stranger, this was Jesus risen to feed them and in that feeding to be seen and that being seen to be sending them forth with proclamations of good and life-giving news.

And through all of that they knew more than they knew when they started on the road and the flow was familiar – which is why I want to hold up this story and say that’s why we do what we do and how we do what we do every Sunday.

There is the coming together to walk together for a little while, about seven miles worth of time if you want to get literal about it. And on this road we lay out our pieces, our experiences, our prayers, our hopes, our confusions. We welcome strangers. We hear all the way back to Moses and the prophets and hopefully some of that gets opened up in ways that make our hearts burn (in good ways), in ways that grow us. On this road we pass the peace, we invite one another to come and stay as we offer the holy hospitality that allows us to be welcome and in the presence of the other to become more whole. And then we break bread and we eat it and in all of those actions Christ is among us – and we are invited to see, to notice in ways we haven’t noticed before. And from here we are sent to go into the world with new and hope-filled good news that resurrection comes. Like the disciples, in these common actions and familiar yet holy rituals we are invited to believe and proclaim that against all odds, against all sense, among shattered pieces. Resurrection comes. Into disillusioned, disappointed hearts. To the hopeful, the faithful, the wandering, the lost and the found, resurrection comes.

And so we walk … together. And we welcome the stranger. And we peace each other. And we stay and we break bread and in all of that we celebrate and become the presence of the risen Christ.

Amen.

Easter Vigil Sermon (and Kids version)

Easter Vigil Sermon

REV. JENNIFER ADAMS – April 24, 2011 – Sermon Easter Vigil

A couple of weeks ago, our Diocesan Convention speaker, Mark Bazoutti-Jones told those of us in attendance that the phrase ‘Do not be afraid’ or a sentiment of similar meaning appears in the Bible over 300 times. Now I need to contact a Biblical scholar or two and get their takes on what that means about where that phrase falls in the rankings of “most common phrases in all of Scripture,” but you gotta bet that numbering over 300, puts “do not be afraid” near the very top. So “Do not fear” is one of the most common phrase running throughout the story of salvation history. In fact, in the mere eleven verses we just heard from the gospel of Matthew “Do not be afraid” is in there twice.

Which is funny really, because I expect “be not afraid” to precede the kinds of things we’ve faced throughout the season of Lent when we took on things like the wilderness, various forms of loss, our own need for healing, foot washing (scary for some), trial, betrayal, denial, crucifixion, death and darkness. Those are very obviously scary sorts of things and so we head into Lent with an appropriate bit of fear and trepidation. But it doesn’t usually occur to me to tell people to “not be afraid” before Easter. Because Easter is about good things, right? – those kinds of things we say that we want, those kinds of things we pray and hope will come our way. Easter is about resurrection, new life! But according to this gospel passage, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we’d have to admit there’s something scary about those kinds of things too.

And interestingly enough the “be not afraids” of Scripture often appear before something very, very good happens. As if the very, very unimaginable types of amazingly wonderful things need that sort of intro too: “Do not be afraid,” God said to Abraham as he took him out and showed him the stars and told him that he would father a people. “Do not be afraid,” Moses told his people (after God had said it to him) “Stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today.” “Do not fear, for I am with you,” God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, “I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” And remember towards the very beginning of the gospel story the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary and said, “Be not afraid for you have found favor with God.” And then the angels told the shepherds not to fear. Then Jesus told the disciples the very same thing before he gave them the power to heal and proclaim the gospel and here’s the angel at the tomb telling Mary not to be afraid at this point either. ‘Do not be afraid,” he says. “Christ is risen.” — so it seems like whenever something very, very good was about to happen in this salvific story of God’s people, God had to tell the people not to fear it.

Because when it comes right down to it new life is by its nature unfamiliar. By definition it is “new,” unpredictable; it upsets the order of things as we know it and so there is something a little scary about holy, divine re-orientations. There was nothing familiar about the day and the night and the sea and the land and fish and the winged creatures when they first came to be. There was nothing predictable about liberation for a people for whom generations had only known life as slaves. Envisioning a new heaven and a new earth was not your everyday challenge to a people whose every day was well, everyday.

Birthing the Son of God, as salvifically as it was presented wasn’t exactly what the teenage Mary had in her plans. And resurrection? Not at all what the grieving Mary had expected to find when they came to the tomb that first Easter morning. Resurrection isn’t the natural order of things as we expect it – and even re-creation and liberation cause significant upset. But today and apparently for the last thousands and thousands of years we’ve been told not to fear it. That this is how God works – creating us, re-shaping us, coming among us, and raising us to new life.

And so while Lent may not be for wimps, apparently Easter isn’t for the feint of heart either, maybe more so. This kind of “new” demands something of us – it calls forth a sense of hope, an ever widening openness to a new day, and a genuine willingness to be caught by surprise in good, life renewing sorts of ways. And so our work this season is to let go of whatever it is that keeps us from new life, to break down the barriers we establish that keep us from being re-created, to release the ways in which we hide from own freedom or over-protect ourselves from the profound presence of incarnate love in Christ. The work of Easter is to let resurrection flow, knowing full well that that flow will likely scare us at first, upsetting our order. But trusting that resurrection will reshape us in holy sorts of ways, sending us forth like Mary as we turn from the empty tomb and live.

Amen.
[hr]

Easter Sermon for the Kids

At the beginning of the season of Lent which lasted for the last forty days and forty nights, we tucked away a word. A beautiful word that we put in a box. Do any of you remember that? What was the word? Alleluia. You can come with me. We’ll get the box. First what does the word mean? PRAISE GOD!! It’s the biggest sort of THANK YOU we can sing or say! And do you remember why we tucked it away. Because it has joy in it and we needed to spend some time with other sorts of things. And I’ve seen the bumper sticker that says Don’t Postpone Joy but every now and then we need to let other things enter our hearts. Things that lead us to other prayers. Things like hurt and sadness and we pray things like Help me God. Be with me here, God. This morning things have turned. Jesus died. Then he rose. And we need to say that Baptism, through death into resurrection life. Alleluia life.

Good Friday Sermon

Good Friday Sermon

REV. JENNIFER ADAMS – April 22, 2011 – Sermon Good Friday

After I read this gospel on Good Friday, I feel almost like silence is the only possible response. Not because there aren’t deep theological questions to ask today, not because there aren’t deep emotions involved or reactions to be had.

But silence because of the mystery, because of the power and complexity woven throughout everything we just heard. Silence because it has the power to hold more than words can. And silence because, in this story, the silence actually held a great deal. Just listen … When asked “What is truth,” Jesus didn’t reply with words. He allowed silence to fill the space and for Pilate that space had to seem like an eternity, maybe it was. Jesus simply stood there looking back at Pilate while lingering in the air was the question on which the whole world seemed to turn. But Jesus simply stood there quiet, himself, his presence, an answer. In the silence in this story, there was the presence of truth.

And then they struck him, clothed him in a purple robe, crowned his head with a crown of thorns and while he spoke to Pilate about a kingdom not of this world, he carried the cross in silence. And that silence might have lasted for hours or miles or maybe it was only a few minutes and a few hundred yards but no matter. In the silence, in this story, there was an unusual, merciful, strength.

And then at the foot of the cross, Jesus mother and Jesus’ friend were given to each other by Jesus; he made them into family. “Woman here is your Son,” he said to his mother and to the beloved disciple he said, “Here is your Mother.” And there were no words from them in response. Maybe an embrace. Maybe tears. Maybe shared grief or gratitude or relief-filled surprise or simply the gentle holding of each other’s hands. In the silence, in this story, there was a profound and re- defining love.

And then was the silence of care. Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus who always seemed to appear in the night in this gospel came to care for Jesus’ body after his death and they had carried with them one hundred pounds of a mix of myrrh and aloes. They wrapped his body in spice- soaked linens, with what you can imagine was a tender, prayerful sort of care. In the silence after Jesus’ death there was gentle, brave, compassionate care offered by Joseph a secret disciple and Nicodemus a synagogue leader who had been told earlier in the gospel about the need to be born again. And maybe, that night, he was.

In so in the silence in this story there was darkness, crucifixion, death, and questions too big for our minds to grasp, but there were also the beginnings of something so very, very new and something of eternal beauty happening there. Creation was re-beginning out of the silent places that day – places where truth, forgiveness, strength, compassionate care, and love were coming to be among us.

There’s hymn about Eucharist that begins with a line about silence and I think it fits us well today. It fits the story we heard today. It’s a hymn about Christ’s presence among us in life, in death, in rebirth. And I’ll close with its words, “Now the silence,” it begins . . .
Now the silence. Now the peace. Now the empty hands uplifted.

Now the kneeling. Now the plea, Now the Father’s arms in welcome.

Now the hearing. Now the power. Now the vessel brimmed for pouring. Now the Body.
Now the blood…

Now the heart forgiven, leaping. Now the Spirit’s visitation. Now the Son’s epiphany. Now the Father’s Blessing.
Now. Now. Now.

Amen.

Maunday Thursday Sermon

Maundy Thursday Sermon

REV. JENNIFER ADAMS – April 21, 2011 – Sermon Maunday Thursday

If I had to title my sermons (which preachers in other denominations have to do or get to do depending on your perspective,) … well if Episcopalians had sermon titles, I would call this one “Of Food and Feet,” because that’s what we’ve got going on here tonight and I want to draw your attention immediately to those two things.

The liturgical actions and readings wind us in and around those themes in several different ways. Did you catch them all? There was the Passover supper in the book of Exodus, the walking in the wilderness and the manna remembered in the psalm, the institution of the last supper in Corinthians and John, and the washing of feet in the gospel. We hear in these readings of feet ritually clothed with sandals and feet made bare in order to be cleansed. We hear of feet carrying people for forty years worth of their prayerful, faithful moving toward the promised land. We know of disciples traveling from town to town on their feet and Jesus then washing those very feet in order to demonstrate the humble service that he’s inviting them and us to share. We hear of lamb and manna, milk and honey, bread and wine and body and blood. There were food and/or feet in every story we heard and not only were they there but they were playing critical roles. And so tonight, we too are about those things.

And the first thing I want to say is that while these things we do tonight are symbolic they are also participatory. This isn’t only about something that happened then – this isn’t a quaint sort of remembering that we do tonight. The kind of remembering we do tonight is also about becoming. And so we not only hear about these food and feet things, we also do these things, because Jesus said that’s how it should go. He didn’t just ask them to watch him. Within each of Jesus’ teachings and actions that we just heard about there were also commands. “Love one another!” He told them. “Do this!” he said. “Watch what I do and then you do it too.”

So, notice there aren’t a symbolic few people having their feet washed tonight any more than there are a symbolic few people receiving Eucharist. Everyone is invited, encouraged to participate in all of this and so my expectations are high tonight in terms of the community stepping into these actions. Very few of us are proud of our feet. Very few of us would offer them to our neighbor the way we offer a hand to or a smile to greet. But neither of those things are what tonight is about. These actions aren’t about pride or initial acquaintance.

This is about a new community happening right here in our midst, service taking place and food and feet helping it all come to be. You’d be amazed what can happen when we simply shed a sock, reveal our imperfect feet (speaking for myself here,) and allow our fellow parishioner to dry our toes. And something happens not only because feet are kind of strange but because these are the feet have carried us through forty years, or twice forty years, or one quarter of forty years, or at least through the last forty days and nights of our own wanderings.

Our feet know our stories and have carried us through them. I heard once about a person in EFM who told their spiritual journey by showing different shoes representing different phases of their life. I like that. Out of all the things we do tonight, the foot washing might stretch you the most, but that’s OK. It’s worth the stretch. Because I think that if we can take the risk of caring for one another’s feet which is a little awkward to begin with … if we can do feet, we can care for each other, and be cared for by each other in other ways too. And so tonight even if you are a little squirly at first, I strongly encourage you to be a washee – and if you’d like, tap one of the washers and take over that role too.

The food is easier for us. We eat together all the time here. And we feed others too. Our Feeding America work is not just an outreach ministry, it’s a manifestation of the stories and actions of tonight, a way in which we live this memory beyond ourselves. Holy Chow blooms out of tonight, home Eucharists are inspired here, youth group meals, Stephens shared suppers, brunches, newcomer welcomes all have their foundation, their model in this meal.

In Eucharist and therefore in all the meals we share there is strength, there is welcome, there is forgiveness, abundance and love to be had. And so tonight, in remembrance we’ll pass the bread and wine around the circle that is us and because this remembering has power we will become Christ’s Body for the world, broken yet one.

And all of this is the stretch that is Holy Week. The challenge this week is not only about Christ’s death; the challenge is also about stretching ourselves to live well, faithfully well, to become what we hear Jesus telling us to be. Essentially a people of food and feet, caring for those parts of ourselves that carry us on the journey, and feasting on Christ’s presence among us while offering that abundant life to all. The miracle being that as we do those things we become better able to stand together through whatever tomorrow brings, even if tomorrow happens to bring us the cross.

Palm Sunday Sermon

Palm Sunday Sermon

REV. JENNIFER ADAMS – April 17, 2011 – Sermon Palm Sunday

I used to think of the transition we make in this service as one which happens way too fast. Maybe you’ve felt that way too. One minute we’re singing “Hosanna!” and the future looks bright and hopeful, but then before an hour has passed we’re shouting “Crucify Him!” and the story is suddenly dark and painful. And I have always found it a little hard to keep up. One minute we’re cheering and then just a few minutes later, we’re weeping. We enter full of images of triumphal entry but before we know it we’re faced with details surrounding death on a cross. And I used to think that it happened too fast; like maybe we were making a grave liturgical mistake as we attempted to fit just a little too much into an hour or so’s worth of time.

I used to think that way but this year I’m not so sure. Throughout this Lent our many conversations about healing and the many stories and prayers we’ve shared, not to mention the very hard experiences of death and loss that we’ve experienced as a community – all of those pieces have effected how I think about this week. And so with all we’ve taken in this Lent, I wonder if having the story told the way we do it this morning – moving so quickly from one phase to the the next – does actually fit us very well.

Because according to the stories we’ve shared from our own lives, whenever we move from celebration to mourning it seems like it happens too fast. We always want to slow things down when they begin to move in the direction darkness – and usually we can’t effect the pace and so we’re left feeling like we do this morning struggling to keep up. Even if there was a gradual decline or a warning of sorts, there are marked moments when each of our stories have shifted into darker sorts of places and those moments almost always feels like they come too fast.

Think about the speakers we’ve heard this Lent: Rhoda Janzen Burton whose life changed dramatically in what seemed to her like the blink of an eye. Or David Blauw whose daughter’s accident changed her and her family’s life forever. They each talked about how hard it was for them to catch up with the new reality of their own lives because it “had all happened so quickly.” For them and for us our stories shift just like the gospel did this morning. Almost all of us have moved from Hosanna! to painful and whenever that happens there is usually just a particular moment that marks the turn and quickly, so very quickly the mood of the story is changed.

And so I let go of my liturgical worries this year – and I figure now that perhaps the pace of this service isn’t a mistake after all – and then I wonder about time and I wonder about healing and I know that even though I have a Masters degree in divinity this is beyond my
understanding and so then my wondering about all of it turns to prayer. And that prayer allows me to let God be God and know that the best I can do is be me and invite you to be yourselves and to enter into the kind of prayer that is more like presence than it is request. And while presence is hard when things are moving quickly and it’s hard going, the letting go that brings you into the moment is the beginning of what it means to heal.

Because in that prayer we can gather with the shouts that are celebration and hope and we can gather in the tears that are loss and confusion and together, because this kind of “together” is holy, we can come to know and to trust that all of this is in the hands of our God. Which doesn’t mean that I think God makes all of this happen. There are deaths and darknesses that just are and I’d be very hard pressed to say that they are of God’s doing. But I do believe that even when our stories shift to darkness, maybe especially when our stories shift dramatically to dark places, God is there planting redemptive sorts of seeds, helping new life come to be, making it possible eventually for our tears to turn to laughter, our weeping to songs of joy. And I believe that that’s what this gospel story, what this week that is Holy is all about.

Because the other thing I’ve noticed is that Easter comes just as fast as the cross does, and Rhoda and David and all of us talked about that too. Resurrection comes as every bit of a surprise as Good Friday. (And so I need to give a Spoiler alert before I go any further – if you don’t want to know how this story ends – or better how it re-begins, plug your ears for a minute or two.)

Next Sunday, the women go to the tomb expecting death and instead they find angels proclaiming new life and the story turns again and it happens quickly. They go expecting a firmly established, un-moveable boulder and instead the stone has been rolled away and they are given good news, good news to share with their people. So in the blink of a tear- filled eye, the cries of Crucify Him! become cries of Alleluia! and the emptiness of the tomb touches the emptiness of their hearts and life begins again. And it is new.

And that’s how God is God. Profoundly present as our lives shift and change. Present in the darkness. Present as the light. Present in our Hossanas! And God being God even on the cross. I don’t understand it all, and the timing through most of it certainly isn’t mine but I do believe that because God is God, together we who are we can always come again to make our song, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

Amen.

Blind Man

Blind Man

REV. JENNIFER ADAMS – April 3, 2011 – Lent 4A
I do appreciate Year A in the lectionary cycle because we hear these consecutive, meaty and beautiful stories from the gospel of John. Last week it was the Samaritan woman whom Jesus met down at the well. This week’s it’s the man “who had been blind from birth.” And in both stories we get a lengthy and deep theological discourse that opens up not only the people involved, but the theological issues that were swirling all around them.

And part of why I appreciate these stories is because there is very genuine complexity to the theological wrestling that’s happening here and it’s all completely transparent: throughout this story the Pharisees are wrestling with their own beliefs, and Jesus’ practices; they aren’t sure what to do with the man who was born blind, with his parents, or with the rules as spelled out by the law. Things that had fit pretty well into their pre-established molds were suddenly seeping out over the edges, coming to life outside of the theological boxes that had contained them and the Pharisees and others who were watching that happen didn’t quite know what to think. Was this man being given sight a miracle or Levitical disaster?

There seemed to be such a fine line between those two options. Sure he could see, but it happened on the Sabbath and the healer had done something on the Sabbath to open the man’s eyes. And once one question was asked there were so many more. Jesus had presented them with a bit of theologically slippery slope: Had this man sinned or had his parents and if none of them had sinned, then why was he blind? There must be an explanation. What exactly were the relationships among sin and forgiveness, suffering and healing? And while they were at it who actually had the power to forgive? Or to heal. And should any of that be allowed to happen on the Sabbath?

And so the Pharisees were wrestling with big questions, and as we talk about healing this Lent, I know that we live with many of those questions too. Bad things happen to us and those we love and we almost always ask why and whose fault it must be. We watch good people suffer and bad people make it and there are days when some clear explanations about why that is so would be nice. We too occasionally witness religious law used as a roadblock rather than a means to wholeness and wish that it weren’t so. And so there is something very real, something that hits close to home about this story of the man born blind and I have to appreciate the slipperiness of the experience, I would almost say the mystery of the experience. The Pharisees and others can’t quite fully grasp, can’t quite wrap their heads around how all of this could possibly fit together; and maybe I like that because that seems to be how life is a lot of the time. So many pieces and not sure how they fit, if they fit, why they are even introduced as parts of the same picture. Notice though in this story, that it’s Jesus who blows the cover off the theological box. Apparently, if the box wasn’t big enough to handle the mystery and untimliness of healing, then it wasn’t big enough to handle their conversations, their beliefs about God. And wound up in that is some deep, underlying, current around the question of what it means to see, to really see in the kinds of ways that matter.

Theological questions circle through our stories all the time – I think there is something very real about that and part of what Jesus does is stir us to those kinds of wrestlings and wonderings.

But the other thing that happens here, is that woven through the questions that fill this story there is also this very simple thread running through it too, perhaps even holding it all together. And it’s provided by the man who had been born blind. While the issues swirled and the authorities twirled, the blind man was getting one question after another fired in his direction. And he responded very simply and directly each time: When asked about his experience, he said, “I was blind and now I see.” Period. And when he was asked for a little more detail he told it as a story, “The man called Jesus made mud, put it on my eyes, sent me to Siloam to wash, and now I see.” When he was challenged about Jesus being a sinful man, the man replied, “I don’t know about any of that. But I can see now and I couldn’t before!” And when they pushed him even a little more he just continued to come back to that very simple place. “He gave me something nobody else could … I was blind and now I see … And that’s enough for me,” said the man who had formerly been blind.

And the last words he said in the whole story were these, “Lord, I believe.”

So what I think is in this for us is something like a model. The theological cracking open that happened here was important and Jesus made it happen. He allowed faith to come alive again; it stirred up questions among the people that allowed for the possibility of new kinds of healing, that led to new understandings, that opened up new means of achieving forgiveness and hope. And that kind of living faith is critical for us too – allowing questions to stir is actually a sign of faith, a sign of trust that among us new wisdoms are always coming to be through the presence and grace of the Spirit of God.

But it’s also true too, that the simple threads running through us and among us matter. We not only have questions to guide us, we have simple truths to ground us. While we seek and search and wonder there is a thread or two that keeps us from completely floating away or crumbling down if we remember to acknowledge that it’s there. Striking a holy, communal balance between those two dimensions of faith is part of what we are called to do here. You can probably come up with a quick list of questions about God, healing, relationships, forgiveness, heaven, hell, universal salvation, suffering, sin and so much more. But part of what this story reminds us is that our simple responses matter too; they might eventually lead us into more mystery, but ultimately they begin to form a core that can’t be shaken by much. Here’s some simple threads to try on as you go this week. Maybe one of them fits an experience you’ve had.

It was dark, and then light shone. I was outside and they let me in. I was trapped, then I was free. He died. He rose.

I don’t get it, but I’m loved. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. I was lost and then got found. I surrendered and then was strong. They fed me. I belonged.

“I was blind and now I see.” You have one or two those threads I’m sure so, spend some time this week and name them. They matter too. For the questions that guide us and the simple things that ground us, today we give our thanks.

The Samaritan Woman

The Samaritan Woman

Rev. Jennifer Adams – Sunday, March 27, 2011 – Lent 3A

Well, given the week we’ve had here at Grace, I’m glad we get to spend a little time with Jesus and the Samaritan woman down at the well this morning. We get this story once every three years in the lectionary cycle, and so once every three years you hear me say “this is my favorite story in the whole Bible.” And today is no different, so I’ll simply update you, “this is still my favorite story in the whole Bible.” I float away from it every now and then, and at least a few times over the course of three years worth of readings, some other passage will pose a challenge to this number one’s position, but it still sits on top and I think it’s because what I believe this story is about.

I believe this is a story about someone being made more whole simply by being received. And then that one person, newly empowered, was able to proclaim the news of this healing to her people. Then through that proclamation others came to believe for themselves and they invited Christ to be present among them. And in the end, they received healing too. Perhaps it’s obvious why I love this story, but I hang onto it because I believe this is a story of how it can be, how we can be as church.

So let’s start at the beginning because I think the beginning contains something like a miracle. This isn’t a healing story in that the woman was blind or lame or suffering from leprosy or some other sort of disease. It’s a healing story in that she was alone and she was struggling to make it in this world and then one day she was by herself down at the well and she met the Christ and he told her it was he. Now she was the only other person there because it was mid-day and all of the “respectable women” had been at the well early in the morning. Being at the well was generally a communal activity during which the women would catch up with each other, offer support and insight, gab. But this woman was on the outside of all of that. She had been married several times and was living with someone who wasn’t her husband. She was sort of a walking scandal and so other women steered clear of her, did not want to be associated with her, essentially exiled her and she knew better than to try to appear to be “one of them.”

But then one day, mid-day she went down to the well by herself and Jesus was there. And she wasn’t alone anymore. And that not alone was the first part of the healing. He sat with her and while they were at the well, Jesus spoke to her which was incredible not only because she was a woman, but because she was also a Samaritan and “Jews [did] not share things in Common with Samaritans,” we heard the gospel say. Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies; as far as the purists were concerned, Jesus should have steered clear of this entire town. But instead, he talked to her, asked questions, received her and her story, and quenched a thirst that ran deeper than probably even she was aware of.

And so the healing Jesus did that day broke down a ton of barriers – barriers that had isolated this human being from her community and barriers that had been established around the entire people of Samaria. And I think that all of that is a miracle of healing.
And Jesus didn’t do that much really, he just sat with her and listened and let her know that she had been heard; he confirmed her story back to her, watered her and in doing
those simple things offered new life to one person, and it took off from there. Notice what he didn’t do: He didn’t hear her story and try to fix it. He didn’t hear her story and thereby conclude that she did not qualify for this living water. He didn’t even say “go and make things better and then we’ll talk about whether or not you get to have some of this to drink.” He just received her, gave her story back to her, and since he knew that she was thirsty, he gave her something to drink that would last.

As we talk about healing this Lent, there’s a big lesson in this for us, probably several of them. Healing is often equated with “fixing” or “curing” and we can all probably relate to that desire to immediately “make things better”, as a community we’re living through one of situations now, but none of that happened in this story. Jesus didn’t change this woman’s life-situation at all, he simply sat with her, received her, and she was more whole because of that. She was more whole because she was no longer alone with herself. And she was empowered by that which I think is another lesson for us. The receiving we do is also a strengthening and a hope-giving. The scandalous outsider who had just been received and watered, went back to her people and did an amazing and forgiving sort of thing; she claimed them as her people. Instead of walking alone, or walking away, she stood among them, she stood as them (which she hadn’t been able to do a mere few hours before) and while there she told them what had happened. Then they went to see for themselves, then they came to believe for themselves and they invited Jesus to be among them and he did and he stayed in their town for a couple of days. And so there was healing, healing like “a spring of gushing water” all around and it started with one little ripple.

Now I like to think that the next day she went down to the well early in the morning and she talked with the women there and they received each other and told the stories they carried in their hearts, because they all had them – we all have them. I like to think that the healing continued to move through these people. I like to think that the waters of new life, of reconciliation and love flowed more freely than they ever have before for a very, very long time.

We’ll never know exactly how it played out for the people of that town in the weeks that followed that encounter. But we can affect how the story plays out here. “The fields are ripe,” Jesus told his disciples that day. They’re ripe here too – field upon field in need of healing, in need of restorative, life-giving sorts of presence. We can directly affect healing in this place among these people and beyond these doors. Who is it that you will receive, whose story will you hold, down at the well of your life this week? Go, ripple away.

Amen.

Jesus Was Framed

Jesus Was Framed

Rev. Jennifer Adams – March 13, 2011 – Lent 1A

So we are on the first Sunday of Lent, the season which began on Ash Wednesday and is the forty days and forty nights leading us to Easter. And on the first Sunday of Lent we always hear the story of Jesus in the wilderness, his “Temptation” the story is called; and this being year A in the lectionary cycle we hear the story from the gospel of Matthew. And it’s familiar – Jesus is tempted three times by the devil. First the devil tempted him to change stones into bread in order never to be hungry again; then he tempted Jesus to throw himself down and experience what it was like to not be harmed; finally the devil tempted Jesus to worship him and inherit all the kingdoms of the world. Now I have to admit that each was somewhat attractive in its own way, (hence the title Temptation, I suppose); each of devil’s offers involved something that perhaps we have all craved at one time or another: to feel deeply, forever satisfied; to feel completely and utterly safe: we might even claim to recognize the occasional desire to want to rule over more than we do.

But of course Jesus turned the devil down, he resisted at every turn – “One does not live by bread alone!” he responded. “Do not put your Lord to the test,” he shouted back. And then the final blow of “Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him!” wrapped it all up and sent Satan on his way. End of familiar story.

Now it’s not a surprise anymore that Jesus resisted and that resistance to temptation is one of the themes of Lent – and repenting for those moments in which we did succumb to temptation is another theme of the season. But I have to admit, since I’m here among friends, that knowing what Jesus did isn’t always enough for me; perhaps it should be enough, but in the spirit of true Lenten confessions, I’m telling you that it isn’t always. You see, I want to know how Jesus did it not only what Jesus did. Because maybe he was loaded with special powers or secret teachings that gave him a leg up our there. He was the Son of God for heaven’s sakes, so maybe his divinity was in full force out there and therefore, we of mere human status don’t really stand a chance. What was Jesus given that made such strong resistance possible?

Now I think that in order to get that sense of “how” Jesus did it we have to look not only at the core of the story of the Temptation, we have to look at how it was framed. What preceded this challenge in the desert? What followed it? So let’s shift away from a focus on the temptations and look into the framework for a minute or two … Immediately preceding this story is the story of Jesus baptism. That’s actually the opening line of the gospel we just heard and we heard that whole story on the first Sunday in Epiphany.

Remember it? At Jesus baptism in the River Jordan, a voice came from heaven and said, “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit was present.“You are my Beloved,” the voice said. And then presumably still dripping wet, Jesus was led into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. So, as far as we know anyway, Jesus wasn’t given special powers or divine strengths or even tips about facing down the challenges of the desert. He wasn’t warned or armed or advised in any mystical sort of way. He was simply and basically told who he was, “Beloved of God” and then the Spirit moved him along into the desert and he was Tempted. “Beloved” as framework part one.

And then after the temptation (Framework Part II) a beautiful thing happened. Angels came and cared for him, the gospel said. And while what that looked like is left to our imaginations, most important for us to hear is that out there in the wilderness, the Son of God received care, allowed others to serve him, love him, feed him perhaps, and be in company with him. Framework Part II – “Being cared for.”

And so maybe “beloved-ness” and “being cared for” were the keys to that wilderness thing for Jesus, the reasons why the temptations didn’t get him. And perhaps they are keys for us too. Jesus was framed all right, but it wasn’t the devil who did it. God did. A good dose of belovedness a gentle touch of care and Jesus was good to go. And the good news is that that same framework is there for us too. We are God’s beloved proclaimed throughout the gospels; and the care of others is something that is offered at every turn if we are open to receiving it. Just look around and you’ll know that none of us needs to be in the desert alone.

And actually that piece of the story is just as hard as any of it, if you are as independently minded as most of us tend to be. Sara Miles puts it like this in her book Jesus Freak, which is our parish read this Lent, “I still was terrible at asking for help … I was good at dismissing other people’s hesitations, the endless cycle of excuses I heard all the time: I don’t want to bother you. Nobody would understand. Other people have real troubles. . .And my own excuses were equally [off]. But they were so embedded in my self-image as a capable grown-up that I almost always chose to keep my problems to myself. It was easy to ask [someone] to reach up and light the oil lamps when we were setting up for the service, or someone else to move the altar with me when were cleaning up after the pantry. But asking for attention, comfort, time, care, listening, prayer, that made my skin crawl … And yet, when I could force myself to do it, I saw how getting to the point of asking was an essential part of my healing.

And according to this story it was for Jesus too. Even Jesus received help, let himself be cared for and comforted by the angels.

And so perhaps the Story of the Temptation isn’t primarily about the temptation after all; it’s about God’s wrapping us up in all we need in order to be able to weather any wilderness we face.

To weather any wilderness knowing that instant gratification, surface securities, and power over others might be quick fixes, but they are not the Shalom to which we are being led. So hang in there for approximately 36 more days and nights. We’ve been framed too, by belovedness and by care and there is even more of that goodness to come.

Amen.