Monday, July 27, 2015

Sending forth to Seminary

One of the members of St. Paul's Salt Lake City, Brian Rallison, is leaving for seminary (VTS).

We decided to "send him forth" from St. Paul's:  acknowledging his formation here within this congregation, and publicly stating that this relationship is not ending, but changing.

I looked through every resource I have, and found nothing to liturgically do this.

So naturally, I made something up!  My commentary on the liturgy (right after the Confession and Absolution, but before the Peace) is in red:


Kurt begins, calling up Diane Gooch and Rhonda Dossett along with Rev. Christine

Starts with a few words… (about the changing, not ending, of our relationship to Brian)

Then Kurt invites Christine to say a few words about Brian’s journey and a prayer
(I asked Christine to speak, since I have only been here since February, and missed much of Brian's journey.  She did a wonderful job.)

Christine says her words, and then says:

“This is a collective prayer for all of us, adapted from Thomas Merton’s Thoughts in Solitude”:

God, we have no idea where we are going. We do not see the road ahead of us. We cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do we really know ourselves, and the fact that we think that we are following your will does not mean that we are actually doing so. But we believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And we hope we have that desire in all that we do. We hope that we will never do anything apart from that desire. And we know that if we do this you will lead us by the right road though we may know nothing about it. Therefore we will trust you always though we may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. We will not fear, for you are ever with us, and you will never leave me to face our perils alone.” 
― Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude p. 83

(This Merton prayer has become a favorite, thanks to The Rev. Canon Matthew Stockard who introduced me to it at CREDO.  The plural version is actually used in the book Listening Hearts:  Discerning Call in Community, by Suzanne Farnham, Joseph Gill, Taylor McLean and Susan Ward.)

Then Kurt invites the four of us to place our hands on Brian’s shoulders:

You have arrived to this moment by living fully into what God has created. There is no other path to this moment than the past. Learn and grow from what has transpired. 
The Lord Jesus continues to be your strength: it is through his vulnerable way that you find and seek the Holy. 
And now, as you go forward to seminary, be open to what the Holy Spirit has in store: whether or not it matches your vision of what you believe will come. 
And may God’s blessing be upon you, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, now and forever.  AMEN.

Each person says to Brian:
"God goes with you.”

and then Kurt invites the Peace.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Charleston racial terror shootings

My sermon was not only not written down, but differed greatly from the intimate conversation of our two smaller services, and our large 10:30am service with a guest bishop and a baptism.  I cannot reproduce it here, but I can share with you some of the components:

We started with Mark’s Gospel (4:35-41) and the fear of the disciples, compared with the calm of Jesus:

Jesus can sleep and be at rest during the storm first because he is not the experienced boatsman (the fisherman disciples are):  he trusts that they will do what they can.  Going further and deeper, while Jesus plans to continue his preaching, teaching, and healing, he completely trusts God:  he knows that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and knows that if he should perish, that God’s vision of the world will be carried by others (consider in Mark that Jesus only begins speaking publicly after John the Baptist’s voice is silenced.)

His criticism of the disciples is giving in to their fear, and ceasing their action. 

We remembered the names of those killed in Charleston:

• Cynthia Hurd, 54, a manager with the Charleston County Public Library system.

• Ethel Lance, 70, a retiree who recently worked as a church janitor

• The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, a South Carolina state senator and pastor at the church

• Susie Jackson, 87, a longtime member of the church

• The Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor, 49, former Charleston County community development director

• Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, a church pastor, speech therapist and a high school girls' track coach

• Myra Thompson, 59, a pastor at the church

• The Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr., 74, another pastor at the church

Tywanza Sanders, 26, a 2014 graduate of Allen University

Their pictures were placed on the altar.

Using our voices to not be afraid, to confess and call out sin:

At the smaller services, I talked about my complete rejection of what the killer did (and his racial hatred motivations) and my assumption that those present in church feel this way too.  However, racism is far more prevalent in our lives than we acknowledge.  I admitted that I continue to benefit from being white in America:  from storekeepers looking differently at me, to the reality that I can reasonably count on help from police officers.  I suggested that while the Battle Flag does not represent the views of most South Carolinians, it’s presence gives justification to those who hate and would act on those views:  and that…and things like it…is on us.

At the later service, I used what Peter Enns wrote on Jonathan Stewart’s Daily Show monologue after the murders, calling him a modern day prophet: 

Stewart using his public platform here to call out sin, clearly, without compromise. 
Not simply the sin of individual racism that led to this tragedy. 
But the deeper sin of the collective racism of our country that supports and nurtures killers like Dylann Roof and of the structures in place that can’t quite seem to get up enough steam to move mountains if necessary to do something about it. 
Biblical prophets held Israel’s leaders accountable. They got in their face, like they were prosecuting attorneys bringing out a laundry list of crimes against the people. 
Biblical prophets were voices of moral consciousness and tireless advocates for the marginalized, the vulnerable, the oppressed. 
They were voices of what the Bible calls justice and righteousness…. 
Bringing justice and righteousness to our world is nothing less than what the Bible calls: salvation, deliverance, redemption–words contemporary Christian rhetoric often restricts to spiritual matters. 
Though those words include our spiritual state, the ancient Hebrews understood the body and soul, the individual and corporate, the psychological and sociological to be meshed together as one organism. 
Israel’s rulers had the sacred–I will say it again, sacred–responsibility to insure that justice and righteousness are upheld for the good of the whole. 
And like a prophet, Stewart took a step back and looked at the big picture. He was somber, angry, exasperated, and grieved by injustice. 
Like a prophet, I heard Stewart getting political–laying bare the ugliness all around us and the insanity that allows it to happen–or even excuses it. 
But I also heard a bit of hope, which biblical prophets also give, that it does not need to be this way. We can live differently.

Finally, I used a call to action by Episcopalian Paige Baker: 

"I woke up to the news from Charleston, and this is ringing in my head: How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, "Violence!" but you do not save? 
But this I know: God has no hands but ours. Nothing will change until we stop sitting on them.”

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Adam, Eve and the Serpent (God lets the kids grow up)

The "Adam and Eve" story found in the second and third chapters of Genesis is often referred to as a second Creation story.  This is largely due to the vastly different accounts of the creation of humans.  The "seven days" story reaches this pinnacle in this way:

26 Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’   
27 So God created humankind in his image,   in the image of God he created them;   male and female he created them.

God makes humanity in "our image":  male and female.

Compare and contrast with Genesis 2:

4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. 8And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.  
(and only later...)  
22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said,‘This at last is bone of my bones   and flesh of my flesh;this one shall be called Woman,   for out of Man this one was taken.’ 

Just to recap:  we all know that humans (and all mammals) are born from women.  But it just so happens that the first woman came out of man.  


At the very least, one can see the stories are saying something quite different.  

While there are troubling aspects to be found, there are also lots of places to play with this second story.  I imagine God walking through the garden, enjoying the evening breeze.  Suddenly, it occurs to God that it is AWFULLY quiet in the garden.  This isn't necessarily a good thing:  after all, God has young children.  Every parent knows (as do most children) that a strangely quiet household often holds a hidden reality.  

Sure enough, the kids are in trouble...

One of the most intriguing ideas is what we don't have without the interplay between the humans and the serpent.  Bert Marshall writes in Feasting on the Word:

One might ask what would have become of humanity if the woman had not plucked the fruit from the tree.  Everything hinges on this, and our text today deals with the chaos that ensues from--dare we say it?--her act of courage (or defiance--however you wish to characterize it).  Everything turns on this, because without it, humanity remains docile, numb, obedient, and forever trapped in the garden of sameness and blissful ignorance.  This place, as it turns out, is no paradise.  No differences, no diversity, no rebellion, no need for grace or redemption.  You can see where this path leads.  (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3, editors David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, p. 101)

It leads down a path that at the very least does not reflect the realities of humanity.

I've imagined a different version of the events in order to explore the story more deeply (since I believe these Primeval history chapters of Genesis encourages us to play with the texts). 

Adam, Eve and the Serpent
(God lets the kids grow up)

In the early days of the world, the animals became angry with God.  It wasn’t about creation---it was good after all.  No, what upset the animals was God’s overprotection of a certain part of Creation:  namely, Adam and Eve.  It wasn’t that God favored them:  the animals understood the special relationship God had with these two. Things, however, had gone to far.  Adam and Eve believed that they were the center of the universe.  They had no responsibility for anything, and no concept of a world outside of themselves.  Just the other day, Adam, while running around with Dog, crashed into Fox and severely injured his back. Eve, no better, cut branches that were sheltering Squirrel’s new home:  which then blew away in the recent windstorm.  The animals had complained to God, who brushed it off.  “Oh, they’re just children.”

The animals were clear that there was a bigger problem going on.  It seemed that God was unwilling to expose them to anything dangerous or even challenging.  Because of it, Adam and Eve were running around endangering the balance of the new creation.  Someone needed to talk some sense into these two, and God, the One who should have taken charge, wasn’t up to it.  In desperation, the animals went to Eve’s friend, Serpent, to try and talk some sense into her.

Serpent gets Eve to start to question some of the simplistic things that God has told her to do and not do:  what are these prohibitions really about?  Why do THEY choose to do and not do, and do the results (even the unintended results) matter?    Soon Adam joins in the conversation.

So later that evening, God is walking through the garden, and is shocked when the “pre-teens” give God serious attitude:  questioning God’s authority, and declaring that God is “ruining their life.”  God gets mad, and starting to realize that they could be in real trouble, the pre-teens blame each other and the serpent.  God then gets REALLY mad, but so does Serpent.  She confronts God.  “You are not teaching Adam and Eve how to care for themselves and others.  You are letting them down by over-mothering them, and you have taught them nothing about responsibility.”

“How dare you!” God thundered.  “Most of what I’ve done in this world centers around these two.  It’s my responsibility to protect them, and I would do anything for them!”

The Serpent shakes her head:  “That’s not good enough!  I thought these two were to be made in your image?  But they are nothing like you at all!  They have no concept of power, and no understanding beyond themselves.  They have to grow up some day, and YOU are supposed to be guiding them, not holding them back.”

God considers, then offers Adam and Eve a choice.  "My children, I love you with everything I am.  I would desire that nothing ever harms you:  that I would protect you all of your days so that you never experience anguish or pain.  But Serpent has a point:  my intent was for you to be in my image, and you will never be so unless you learn for yourselves. The choice is yours.  Be my children and stay protected and childlike forever here in this beautiful garden. Or choose to grow up:  go out into the world and become wise with mistakes and successes,  encounter great joys and profound sadness, experience death along with new life."

Adam and Eve were silent for quite some time.  Finally, Eve spoke:  “God, we will always be your children. But we must learn our own way.”

Adam nodded in agreement.  “It is what you created us for:  to fully experience all that life offers.”

And for the first time, God smiled.   “The journey has already begun.”