Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Life is what happens....

Ever feel like your plans for the day keep getting interrupted? One of my mentors in the ministry told me that he didn’t even make plans for his day. He just prayed in the morning – “well Lord, here I am. How do you want to use me today? I’m game for whatever you have in mind!” When he recommended this to me, I found it difficult to imagine – offensive actually. I love my calendar, and planning, in my mind, is a Godly activity.

But the more time I have in the ministry, the more I have come to see the wisdom of this older clergy’s approach. I’m sure, he too, at one time, had loved his calendar. After all, before he was a priest, he was a military officer! But now I think he was experienced enough with our Lord to know this basic truth – when someone is suffering or in need, God rather casually sweeps our plans aside so that we can be instruments of hospitality and healing.

If Jesus is a clear window to God, given what we see Jesus doing throughout his lifetime, it is pretty clear that God is interested in relieving suffering far more than he is in our plans and time lines.

In last week’s gospel, Jesus crossed the sea – it was a stormy crossings – as crossings usually are when you are reaching out to others who are not within your own circle. On the other side of that storm, he healed a man who’d been so destructive and disorderly that his neighbors had chained him up a good long distance from town. When Jesus spoke to him and healed him, he was thrilled, but his neighbors were not. Upset would be a good word for how they took it. “Go away”. They said. “Go back to where you came from. This is too much for us.” So he did.

He crossed the sea again. And suffering met him as soon as he set foot on shore. In that way – the people on both sides of the sea were alike. In this way, all people are alike. In the need to be included, held and healed – it doesn’t matter whether you live in Salinas, California or in Kerala, India, or in Jalalabad, Iraq.

“Come help me. My daughter is dying.”

And if you or I are going to respond to that kind of plea, - whether it is from a neighbor, or a family member, or a community far away, it most likely means that we are going to interrupt some other plans that we might have had. It most likely means that we are going to change the way we spend our money and our time. It might mean that we are going to change the way that people see us.

Jairus’ interrupted his life and laid his reputation and status and future on the line on behalf of his daughter. For us, who will go to any lengths for our children, it is almost impossible for us to grasp how much he risked.

First of all, he was a member of the elite - the same elite who harassed and ridiculed Jesus at virtually every turn. His friends included him in their scorn when he arrived home with Jesus in tow.

Secondly, he acted against common sense. In his time, it was not unusual for a child to die. In many parts of the world, it is still the case that many children die before adulthood. And it is still the case in some parts of the world that a girl child is less valuable than a boy child.

Thirdly, being around an almost dead girl child, would have bordered on unclean and it certainly would have negated his credentials to lead the community.

But Jairus – whose name means Enlightened in Greek - was a father first and foremost.

He was a father who loved his little girl – beyond all measure of what was appropriate or wise or in his own best interest. And so, he interrupted his entire life and future to kneel in the dust at the feet of this itinerant rabbi to plead for her life.

And Jesus was a healer first and foremost. He lived and breathed hospitality and healing and wherever he went, he bent himself towards the relief of suffering. He allowed himself to be continually interrupted in order to respond to someone else’s need. In fact, this happened on his way to the little girl’s bedside.

An older woman, sick for the same length of time that little girl had been alive – 12 years, had been isolated and held at arm’s length for so long that she had forgotten what it was like to have someone protect her or touch her or love her. It required tremendous courage or total desperation or both to reach out and touch this man – even anonymously.

But once she reached out, she didn’t stay anonymous for long. Jesus called out. “Who touched me?” And in that moment her isolation and her illness were completely disrupted. Because when she came away from the crowd, and stood on her own, she had no way of knowing what would happen to her. She had violated all propriety and law. Stoning could easily have been the result.

But in response to her faith, Jesus’ immediately reached out in hospitality and healing to cover her with compassion and to include her in his family. He protected her and he acknowledged her. “Daughter,” he said. “Daughter. You are well.”
My mother and I were at the Salinas Farmer’s Market yesterday morning, and stopped by the Health Awareness booth. My mom was immediately put to work – she sat in a chair and helped prop up a sign for health care reform. I met Santos, who is a nurse at the hospital. He and his wife and his 20 year old daughter had interrupted their normal Saturday routine to talk with people about health care issues and offer blood pressure checks. A young couple came by, obviously pregnant. While the daughter and I chatted about her college, Santos sat with the couple to check in with how she was doing, and to check her blood pressure. Before they left, they had signed up to receive ongoing support.

Like Jesus, Santos and his family were willing to let their lives be interrupted in order to practice hospitality and healing.

And it is a practice.

Because hospitality and healing don’t come naturally. It doesn’t come naturally to practice the hospitality to stop what you’re doing and get down at eye level with your child and give him your full and wholehearted attention – especially when it means interrupting your other plans.

It doesn’t come naturally to make a priority of listening with the ears of your heart – it takes work and it takes practice.

It doesn’t come naturally to deep down understand and agree that your time and your resources and your relationships essentially belong to God – not to you.

But it is the truth. Our lives belong to God. And growing into that takes daily practice. It means living with your calendar held a bit more lightly and praying each and every morning, “Lord, what do you have in mind today? Because here I am, ready to go where you need me.” Amen.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Get in the Boat!

Good morning? Are you ready? Well, get in the boat! Cause we’re going to the other side!

It might be that you’re ready for a rest – it took a lot of work to make this transition – and you did it beautifully! The Transition Team deserves a round of applause. And I personally, want to open my arms wide, and say it loud – you are awesome! I have felt cared for since my first contact with you, and especially since you called me to come be your priest. The Transition team was never intrusive – but always thoughtful, sincerely wanting to know how they could help out. Thank you!

It might be that you’re ready for a rest – it took a lot of work to keep the parish active, up and running, vibrant and alive, without a full time priest. Or, I don’t know, maybe it made it easier! I know Wendy and Cynthia did magnificent work of keeping you spiritually fed throughout this time – I also know that a lot of you stepped mightily up to the plate – and learned to run the ship. And this will stand us all in good stead as we head out into new waters. At my interview, one of the reasons I knew I wanted to come here – was that on the Sunday following the interview, you were going to hold an eco-faith fair. A major undertaking and outreach, all under your own direction! I’m climbing on board with experienced sailors, and I love it!

You might be ready for a rest – the economy is still in the doldrums. Stocks are still bouncing around. Layoffs are happening at an alarming rate - while kids still need shoes and after school lessons, and there are bills and mortgages to pay.

The disciples must have been ready for a rest! Doing crowd control while Jesus taught and healed – they had been on their feet, literally on their feet, outside, day after day - they must have been ready for a rest.

But towards evening, Jesus said, “we’re going to the other side.” So into the boats they went, experienced sailors and tax collectors, who probably weren’t all that much help on the water – off they all went, just as the sun was setting. A flotilla of boats – crossing the sea at dusk.

Why? Why did Jesus get the disciples to cross the sea? Right! To get to the other side.

What was on the other side? Gentiles. People who had not yet heard the Word spoken by God in Jesus.

People who had not yet experienced the full and radical inclusiveness of God’s embrace.

People who had not yet felt the full force of the word of healing and new creation spoken by God through Jesus.

In other words, people that Jesus cared about.

Are you in the boat? Ready to push off and start our own crossing to the other side?

Because the truth is, the Word cannot be contained in a small and cozy space. The Word in us is nurtured here. The Word in us is fed here. The Word is heard here – heard in a way that grows us up, that transforms us, that changes us – and that Word that we hear pushes us to go beyond ourselves.

That Word commands us to expand the reach of our handshake of peace to those who have yet to know peace – and usually precisely at the moment when we think we’re ready for a rest! When we think, “ok the work is done, now we can sit back and rest a bit,” Jesus comes along and invites us to another adventure.

Ah – what adventures Jesus invites. At least some of those disciples no doubt could read the warning signs – storm on the way. But they were also sufficiently in awe of Jesus that if he said go, that’s what they did.

The truth is, the Gospel of Mark was written to a community that was in very troubled waters – storms of violence were raging between the Jewish people and the Romans. The enormous and beautiful Jerusalem temple – the center point of the Jewish religion and culture and state - had just been utterly destroyed because of the war. Relations between temple Jews and these fledgling Jewish Christians had grown rancorous and troubling. There were persecutions. Jesus had not returned, the way they had thought would happen. The tiny ship of the church was in danger of being swamped and overturned and the personal lives of this community to whom Mark writes were in trouble.

"Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing?" The question must have risen often in their minds. And if you’re anything like me, you know that you have uttered that question more than once as well – when the inevitable storms of life just about had you swamped - "Where are you? Don’t you care, Lord?" In our time, we face the potential environmental collapse of very frightening proportions. "Where are you God? We are perishing!"

Jesus slept peacefully on the pillow someone had thoughtfully provided – a first century Transition Team perhaps!??!

Sleep, of course, is another word for death. The dear crucified Lord, asleep in the nave of the ship. You sit in the nave of the church! That’s the architectural and liturgical term for the body of the church - where you are. That’s where Jesus is. In the nave. And this is a resurrection story. Because the crucified Jesus wakes up – rises up – and speaks his powerful word of calm. He rebukes the forces of destruction and death and chaos. He restores their confidence. .

But then the disciples are filled with an even greater fear than before! At least they understood the storm. It might kill them – but it is within their comprehension.

But the power of this man – whom even death cannot hold - This shakes them to their very core. Who is this asleep and then rising in our very midst. Who is this in the nave of our ship, the church? Who is this who rebukes all forces bent on destruction, and they obey. Who is this who can cast out the demons of fear and cowardice and restlessness and restore order and calm and peace and joy and patience and courage under hardship and tribulation and disaster? Who is this quietly asleep on his pillow, in their midst?

It is Jesus, of course. With us this very day.

Jesus heard his terrified friends, got up, reprimanded the wind and said to the waves, “Peace! Be still!” And the Bible tells us the wind died down and peace came. His friends cried to him and he listened, and he moved and spoke to the storm and said, “Be still.”

Can the same thing happen inside of you and me? Like the storm, can our hearts also hear and be calmed, and somehow rest in his peace? I’ve seen it happen. I’ve known men and women in the darkest moments of their lives, whose families were in peril, whose children were being sucked down some dark hole, or folks who experienced devastating financial loss, but who in the middle of the crisis were heard to say, “God is carrying me. I can’t explain it. I know it sounds crazy, but I have peace!”

A friend of mine is now in her second bout of breast cancer. In the midst of painful and debilitating treatments that may or may not stem the tide of this cancer, she radiates beauty and peace. Why? She says it is entirely due to the prayers of the church. She is not a normally non-anxious person, I can verify this! But she testifies that God is present in some new kind of way with her – so that she faces these treatments and her possible death with a kind of peace that she had not thought possible.

Jesus is able to calm the storms in your life. And whether the storms abate or not, he is able to give you peace and courage and confidence in scary times.

Jesus is able to take the helm of the boat of Good Shepherd, and steer it safely to the other side. He is able to inspire us with the words and the actions that relay the message of his peace and power to those who need that peace and power.

As we offer the handshake of peace to each other this morning, let us pray that we, in some small way, this week, can cross over whatever troubled waters someone else might be in – job loss, family troubles, sickness, general malaise - to offer them God’s peace and God’s power.

Let us pray.

Christ sleeps in the deepest selves of all of us, and whatever we do in whatever time we have left, wherever we go, may we in whatever way we can call on him as the fishermen did in their boat to come awake within us and to give us courage, to give us hope, to show us, each one, our way. May he be with us especially when the winds go mad and the waves run wild, as they will for all of us before we're done, so that even in their midst we may find peace...we may find Christ. Amen.

* Prayer from Frederick Buechner

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Story of Pentecost

The Story of Pentecost
Last Sunday at St. Alban's Episcopal Church
May 31, 2009

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.”

It doesn’t matter whether they were a large group or a small one. As it happens they were small. Gathered, waiting, praying, just as Jesus had told them to do, directly before he left them to return to his Father in heaven. Many of them, like Peter, still shamed by the fact that they had deserted their dearest friend at the very moment that he most needed them. In their fear of also being tortured and killed, they had run away, and left him to face death alone. Still, Jesus had risen from the dead, had breathed his peace into them, and had told them to wait and to pray – which is exactly what they were doing

"When suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. (Jack plays flute)

The Hebrew word for Spirit is Ruah – breath. It was the Ruah of God that swept over the primal chaos, over the first waters – the Ruah of God that created life.

That same Ruah creates and sustains you now. Take a deep breath in, and out. Feel the Spirit breathing you. Breathe into this space. This time. This place. Whenever you are troubled or feel like things are falling apart, breathe. Let the Ruah of God, the breath of God fill you and still you, and help you know what to do next.

This Ruah that filled the entire house where they were sitting was like a violent wind – lifting their hearts, lifting their spirits, filling them with enthusiasm and expectation. What was happening? What was God about to do? Send fire!

“Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. (Jack plays drum) All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

Fire. Tongues. Praise.

This is my last Sunday with you. So I can do anything, right? I want you all to stand up and praise God! Share something that you are really and truly thankful for. You can tell your neighbor. You can tell God. You can keep it to yourself if you want. But stand up. God is here and God is good and God is everlastingly faithful and remembers your every need, your every desire – and has your good continually in mind. If this is your first Sunday here, don’t worry. We do not normally do things like this.

So, what are you thankful for? What are you thankful for in the church? In the world? In creation? In your life? “A tongue rested on each of them and they began to speak …..”

“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.”

Pentecost was a Jewish festival – celebrated fifty days after the first barley harvest. That’s why there were Jews from many different nations gathered in Jerusalem. To celebrate the harvest.

“When they heard the sound, a crowd gathered and they were bewildered because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? They were amazed and perplexed. Some of them wondered what it meant. 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.””

What do you do when something happens that you don’t understand? Something that you don’t immediately like? If you’re like me, there are several things you do.

One is, you simply ignore it as not relevant. We screen out all kinds of data that doesn’t fit with our world view. It may cause a blip on our screen – but after that it becomes background and quickly disappears.

OR, You create an explanation for it. You create a story about it, leap to a conclusion. My kids will tell you that I’m especially adept at this. I can see two people on the street in an argument – and I can create the background story and the outcome – all from one little snippet of information. And the truth is, I’m creating it out of whole cloth- it has no correspondence to actual reality.

OR, you can be curious and wonder – with an open and non-judging mind.

“Everyone was amazed and perplexed.” Some of them stayed in their curious mind, open and wondering – I wonder what this means? Others of them leaped immediately to their judging mind – Well, it means that they are drunk.

I don’t know about you – but I aim to stay more and more in my curious, wondering, Godly Play sort of mind - simply observe what’s going on around me and stay open to it, without leaping to conclusions.

I urge you to do this as well – especially during this time when the Search Committee and Vestry are working so hard to call a Rector. When you don’t understand – be curious – and ask wondering questions. When you don’t agree – say so, and enter into respectful conversation. But try to steer clear of sneering and making up stories.

“Peter raised his voice and spoke out loud to the whole wondering, sneering crowd. What happened to the man who ran away? He was transformed into a new man – a leader now. And he spoke on behalf of the whole group -

“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.”

There are a lot of sermons in the book of Acts – and their purpose was not to be intellectually brilliant. It was to have an effect. The apostles preached in order to transform. Their words were intended to be a vehicle for the Spirit of God to reach peoples’ hearts -

“37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.””

These people were not really looking for Jesus. These were people who God called to him. Peter wasn’t telling these people – save yourselves. He was saying – let yourselves be saved. Let God in. Let this new life happen to you. Salvation – or healing – as the root of the word is –is not about earnest striving, about human effort to learn each new meditation technique and yoga pose – good as those are.
This primal healing that Peter is talking about is God’s doing – it comes from outside. It is a gift. And you can ask for it. God wants to heal you. Wants your salvation. Wants you to experience being fully alive.

“What shall we do?”

Repent – leave your small mind and enter into the large mind of God.

And be baptized – learn a new way of living. A way of life that you enter into, that you learn day by day. Not a difficult way with lots of do’s and don’ts. A way of life that brings joy and connection to all creation.

And so they did. “42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.”

The church doesn’t try to resuscitate emotional highs week after week. It doesn’t drift from emotion to emotion. But it devotes itself to teaching what it’s all about. The church experiences fellowship – koinonia. This is far more than warm hearted brotherly and sisterly feeling – it’s a fellowship that produces signs and wonders. It’s a muscular kind of fellowship – things happen because these people have come together. The church breaks bread together. Deep friendships across race and class lines are formed. And the church prays.

The deep friendship of the sacraments, of breaking bread together.
And praying.

These are the essentials of being church together. Everything else is icing.
So, where are you in this Pentecost story? Wherever you find yourself – come to this Table this morning, with a glad and generous heart – praising God for his never failing goodness.