Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Episcopalians active in Holy Week

Thanks to the rise in social media, it is much easier to see what other Episcopal Churches are doing for Holy Week.

What is really exciting to me this year (and hopefully to many others) is that Holy Week for many Episcopal communities is converging on issues of social justice.

Yesterday in Washington DC, Episcopalians led a Stations of the Cross throughout the Capitol in a public call to end gun violence.  Clergy and laypersons  braved the freezing rain to give testimony to the call of non-violence so central to the mission of Jesus.

MSNBC had a wonderful article on the day, also covered by Episcopal News Service.  A picture gallery can be found on The Episcopal Diocese of Washington's website "The Way of the Cross", along with links to the actual service: 

The Way of the Cross was organized by the Bishops of Connecticut following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre as a way to mourn the victims of gun violence and take a stand against violence in the world. 

Here's a picture of our current NH bishop, Rob Hirschfeld, standing alongside our former bishop, Gene Robinson, at Station #8:

Check out Episcopalians Against Gun Violence on Facebook.

Today promises to be another busy day in that the Supreme Court will take up the question of Marriage Equality.  Facebook is already "going red" is support of Marriage Equality, and many Episcopalians promise to be part of the push.

I'll admit my first reaction to the announcement that the arguments had been scheduled for March 26 & 27 was an incredulous "Seriously?" And yet as the clock has ticked down to Holy Week, it has become clear to me that the preparation happening for the work in the halls of justice is just as holy as the preparation happening in the halls of worship. I have come to see a profound synchronicity between a core value I hold as an American -- "liberty and justice for all" -- and a core value I hold as a Christian -- "love your neighbor as yourself." And I have been deeply gratified by the number of people of faith standing up and speaking out for equality -- not in spite of their faith but because of it. 

Holy Week is a call to remember what happened so long ago.  But at the same time, it is meant to inspire us to move beyond our fear, and peacefully confront those who believe that their perceived power (be it physical, monetary, emotional, or spiritual) gives them the right to dominate others. 

Today, I give thanks for those in The Episcopal Church who stand for justice and peace, and its many partners along the way.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Forget "Pope Bono U2": doing just fine with ONE

"The biggest disease of all is not a disease, it's corruption.  But there's a vaccine for that too, it's called transparency....Daylight, you can call it."

From his TED Talk:
By becoming a “factivist,” we can learn what needs to be done to end extreme poverty within the next generation. And the facts are beyond promising. Since 2000: 
  • Eight million AIDS patients have been receiving retroviral drugs
  • Malaria deaths have been cut in some countries by by 75%
  • Child mortality rate of kids under 5 is down by 2.65 million deaths a year
  • Extreme poverty declined from 43% in 1990 to 33% in 2000 to 21% by 2010.
Extreme poverty has been cut in half in the last 20 years, and the facts show that we can get it to virtually zero within a generation — but only if we act.  
“Let’s think about that,” he says. “Have you read anything, anywhere in the last week that is as remotely as important as that number? It’s great news, and it drives me nuts most people don’t know this.”  
“If you live on less than $1.25 a day, this is not just data. This is everything. If you’re a parent who wants the best for your kids, and I am, this rapid transition is a route out of despair and into hope.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Where there's smoke...

Black smoke?

White smoke?

This would truly be the Unforgettable Fire:

Friday, March 8, 2013

Imagine who God is...one week later

 To refresh, here was the church assignment:

“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” ---Luke 13:34 

David Lose asks: “If Jesus can describe himself and God as a mother hen, can we not also employ a variety of images to describe God?” 

We hear that God is:
---as a eagle hovers over its young (Deut 32:10-11)
---like a bear robbed of her cubs (Hosea 13:8)
---as one who will cry out like a woman in labor (Isa 42:14)
---as of a father’s only son (John 1:14)

You are invited throughout Lent to put pictures around the cross that help you imagine who God is drawn, cut out, or photographed. No explanation necessary.

Well...here's what has happened so far!!! 

Monday, March 4, 2013

"All that is mine is yours"

(One of my favorite sermons past:  on Luke 15:1-3, 11-32.  Since Deacon Paul is preaching this week, I’d thought I re-share it now.)

There once were two sons...
It is an ancient storytelling technique: two persons in a similar situation with some important character difference. One is set up as the good example, the other as the poor example. One ends up with good fortune because of her virtuous character or decisions, the other ends up in trouble because of character flaws or poor decision-making.

We have numerous examples of this type of story in the Gospels.

A wise woman builds her house on a firm foundation, where the foolish woman builds her on the sand, and it washes away.

One son says he will go and work but does not, while the other says he won’t go, but later changes his mind and helps.

Martha runs around concerned with work, while Mary chooses to sit and learn.

Sometimes Jesus turns these stories on end. The “rich man and the poor man” turns out differently than expected: with the rich man losing out, and the poor man in heaven. It’s essentially the same type of story with a twist. It’s the surprising example that is lifted up as the one we should follow.

The story of the prodigal son appears to follow this theme of a surprise reversal. The set up is the complaints of the Pharisees and Scribes, grumbling over Jesus’ decision to welcome and eat with sinners.

So Jesus starts the story: “There was a man that had two sons.” The youngest son leaves home with his inherence. He goes off and foolishly squanders what he has. Broke and alone in a distant country, he finds his thoughts returning to home.

He wonders about what could have been, back before he left. We can only guess what really made him leave home to begin with. Perhaps he had his share of arguments with his father. Perhaps he found himself finding his older brother being a tough act to follow. Perhaps he simply dreamed of a different, more exciting life than home offered. But his mistakes had left him with nothing except his job feeding the pigs.

As the young son thinks of home, a thought occurs to him: what would happen if I returned home? It would be a shameful experience: coming home with nothing, poor and broken. His father would say “I told you so,” and his brother would laugh at the mess he had become. They would rightly be angry for him leaving. Perhaps they would not even want him back! But as he thought, he remembered that for the most part, his father was a kind man: he treated his servants well, they always had enough to eat. Yes, he would serve his father, he would earn his keep. He might never deserve the right to be “family” again, but his father’s house offered some refuge.

The trip home is agonizing. The younger son plays the reunion scene over and over, getting more nervous with each step. He rehearses what he wants to say: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” He imagines being accepted in, and he imagines himself being cast out.

Finally, the moment comes. But before he can open his mouth to utter his first words, his father embraces him and kisses him in obvious relief and joy. The son eyes are already red when he starts his speech, his words drenched with real emotion. But his father somehow already understands his remorse, and shows him more grace than ever could have been hoped for: welcoming him in the home and throwing a party of great celebration.

And only now the second son enters the story. He is angry over the turn of events: so much so, that he refuses to join the party. Why has his father thrown a huge party for his brother who doesn’t deserve it? He rages at his father that this is just not fair: he’s “always worked hard and done things right,” but he’s never had a party thrown for him. His brother squandered everything he had: not only doesn’t he deserve a party; he doesn’t even deserve to be welcomed back.

But his father rejects this logic. “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

It is easy to reject the elder son’s words outright. After all, in the context of the Pharisees and scribes’ grumbling at Jesus eating with sinners, one can assume that the elder son represents the scribes and Pharisees, and must be in the wrong. But in the story, it’s completely understandable why the elder son reacts the way he does. He has been witness to the effects of the younger son’s selfish past actions. He has seen his father’s pain. He knows that life has been harder without his brother: there not only has been more work to do without him, but others have suffered without his full presence. When his brother returns home, it is only natural that the elder son wants an example made. He wants to see consequences for his brother’s self-absorption and callous actions.

But the elder son misses what the consequences are. He is unaware of the alienation that the younger brother has gone through: he doesn’t understand the internal shame that his brother has faced, or the courage that was necessary to come home. The elder son misses that reality that the celebration marks the beginning, not the end, of the journey of reconciliation and the rebuilding of the family. There are painful steps to come. Trust has to be rebuilt: the younger son has more people he must encounter and be vulnerable to. There is a long road back to health.

What the scribes and Pharisees confronting Jesus have missed is that the “sinners” who have chosen to eat with Jesus are those who have realized that something was missing from their lives. They are those who are searching to rebuild relationships. They are those who are taking the initial steps to look honestly at their lives and attempt to live more fully. Mistakes have been made in the past, and shame and low self-worth have alienated them: but in a first act of courage that admits that something is amiss, they seek out Jesus to help them rebuild their lives.

Jesus makes no attempt to judge them, and makes no attempt to point out their failings and mistakes. Instead, as the father in the story, he welcomes sinners with open arms. Jesus makes them the focus of the dinner party. The work of reconciliation: the repairing of relationships, the full understanding of how selfish actions have hurt others, and the rebuilding of trust are all still to come. But the generosity of Jesus makes it clear that this incredible grace of forgiveness is open to all, and the beginning of healing is worth celebrating.

We all, at one time or another, walk the road of the young son in this story. We have made mistakes, squandered opportunity, and hurt those we should love. We are all invited to take the difficult steps of rebuilding, and Jesus promises his love and support for this painful journey. The message Jesus is giving the scribes and Pharisees is that everyone is welcome at the table: that everyone is worthy of grace and love, and the occasion should be celebrated.

Now, before I finish, I wish to take you back to the beginning:

There once were two sons...

Remember how I said these stories usually work? One example is lifted up, while the other is shown as the wrong way. That’s the usual formula.

Well, this morning there’s an important change from the usual. There is an additional message for the scribes and Pharisees, (hear: those with power and authority), that is different from the “you’ve got things wrong” message that you often hear from Jesus.

I hear Jesus pleading with the grumblers, as the father did with the elder son, to come back to the party.

Jesus is telling them “All that is mine is yours.” The scribes and the Pharisees, with their vast resources, have the opportunity to use their power and authority to help rebuild lives and to cause great and wonderful change. If they would only stop grumbling about what others get and what others deserve, they would realize that there is more than enough for everyone.

This morning we are they as well: we are both the younger and the elder siblings of the story. We are all on the younger’s path: journeying towards reconciliation, facing our shame, dealing with our past and seeking a love-filled present and future. But at the same time, every one of us is faced with the choice of the elder: blessed with the power and ability to love, to forgive, and to make new.

All that is mine is yours.

It is this phrase that holds such promise: it invites all of us to the party. It makes us the one who is celebrated, and it calls to be the gracious host of others.

All that is mine is yours.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Imagine who God is...

In my sermon preparation for last Sunday, I ran across David Lose's Working Preacher blog.

I loved his idea to "Re-imagine" God:

What if we put up a picture of a cross somewhere visible – sanctuary, narthex, fellowship hall, whatever. The key is that it is surrounded by bulletin board material or poster board or something that folks can put pictures around. And over the next few weeks we invite folks to put pictures around the cross that help them imagine who God is. People might draw pictures, but they might just as easily cut them out from magazines. No explanations are necessary. They just keep putting up pictures until we have a collection of images that together gives witness to how we imagine God at work in our world and lives. These pictures can be traditional – perhaps they’ll put up different pictures of the cross, or painting of the holy family – or untraditional – maybe a harried mom or dad taking care of children. The issue isn’t getting it “right,” it’s trying to articulate how we imagine God at work in our lives. 
Will some of the pictures occasion conversation, even cause a stir? I hope so. Because that’s the point: these pictures aren’t meant to define God – as if we could! – rather they are invitations for us to learn how to articulate our own faith and questions and imagination about God. You see, I think that as valuable as orthodoxy is for keeping the church moving more or less in one direction more or less together, it can also stifle the imagination and leave a lot of people out of the picture. And I’m interested in giving our folks a chance to develop some confidence that they can imagine and give witness to the God they’ve come to know through their life in the church and in the world.

So I took the idea and ran with it, handing out these instructions:
“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” ---Luke 13:34 
David Lose asks: “If Jesus can describe himself and God as a mother hen, can we not also employ a variety of images to describe God?” 
We hear that God is:
---as a eagle hovers over its young (Deut 32:10-11)
---like a bear robbed of her cubs (Hosea 13:8)
---as one who will cry out like a woman in labor (Isa 42:14)
---as of a father’s only son (John 1:14)

You are invited throughout Lent to put pictures around the cross that help you imagine who God is drawn, cut out, or photographed. No explanation necessary.

I finished the display Wednesday afternoon, and put up a couple of images to get things going.  Now it's up to the congregation.

I'll let you know what happens!