August 23, 2015 Proper 16, Year B “Waging Peace”: Proper 16, Year B
The Rev. Caroline Stacey
(Readings, RCL: Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18; Psalm 34; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69)
Theologian Walter Wink wrote three remarkable books – sometimes called the “Powers Trilogy” - about the principalities and powers that we about in hear today’s reading from Ephesians. Wink looks deeply at what the biblical writers mean by the powers, and today’s passage from Ephesians is central. Wink sees the principalities and powers as the spiritual core of institutions and systems, at work through the people in the systems but greater than the sum of individual parts. The Powers are created good - and for good - but have fallen into idolatrous self-serving rather than serving God and neighbor. For example, law is given for the well-being and order of society, but can be corrupted by other motivations and purposes. At the heart of the fallenness of systems and institutions, Wink believes, is a system of domination, a structure of oppression. This system of domination uses violence of many kinds to maintain control and the status quo. Some of these forms of control include what we name as racism, sexism, ageism. They are legion and include structural poverty. To dismantle systems of domination, Wink says we must pay attention to both the material structures and the spiritual powers behind them. Both aspects are critical.
Wink says: “Violence is the ethos of our times…Violence is the spirituality of the modern world. … Violence is so successful as a myth precisely because it does not seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be what works. The threat of violence, it is believed, is alone able to deter aggressors….We learned to trust the Bomb to grant us peace” (Engaging the Powers). Wink gets very political. But so do the principalities and powers. They are not just spiritual theories. And violence is not just jihad, Ferguson, 9/11. Principalities and powers are the animus behind hate speech. The enemy is not the flesh and blood of men and women, the enemy is the fear that drives the rage that drives the violence. Wink’s point is: we can be surrounded and enveloped in forces that we barely understand that are in us and through us, and like the air we breathe, invisible yet permeating everything. Killing people never kills an idea that motivates them – whether it is a motivation of love or hate - which is one way we know that Ephesians is right. The real struggle is beyond flesh and blood alone. It is with principalities and powers.
Henri Nouwen, a very different kind of spiritual writer to Walter Wink, has suggested (in Creative Ministry) that teaching and the American educational system has become a violent process: that it is competitive, one-dimensional and alienating. And I ask anyone who has worked in corporate America for any length of time whether it is more often than not a violent (ruthless) system that uses people up and spits them out in service to a bottom line of productivity and profit. Some people who work in an intensely competitive environment can thrive in it ….until they don’t. Until their spirit, mind and body are exhausted and their soul says: enough. I cannot do this any more.
When I return to New York City after spending time elsewhere, I am always profoundly struck by the violence, the petty hostilities, of so many of the interactions of daily life. In the stores, in the streets. People are often aggressive, rude and hostile; we feel we have to be on our guard and watching our back. Folks use attack as the surest means of defense in this intensely urban environment, frequently out of fear. Basic civility and mutual respect can go out the window. There can be a real fragility to community life here.
In our relationships at home and work, “violence” is every time we treat another person as an object. Violence is every time we don’t really listen to someone because really, they are just a piece in our personal jigsaw, not a person as complicated and wonderful and multi-faceted as we are. Violence is when we really don’t “see” other people. They are not really real to us. Violence is choosing not to help another person even though in fact we could, right at that moment. A culture of violence and competition fosters isolation. We forget that we are not isolated atoms but part of a community.
The church is the new community Jesus’ creates to practice non-violence as a way of being. The letter to the Ephesians takes the biggest division the ancient Hebrews know – the great divide between Jews and non-Jews – and says the seemingly irrevocable division is bridged and reconciled by Christ’s life, death and Resurrection. The Cross is the foundation of the new community called church. And because of this foundation, violence and competition and exclusion are no longer the governing ethos of relationship.
Ephesians suggests we need help with putting this into practice in real life, and so the writer uses the imagery of spiritual weapons to wage peace. The writer says that we are in a battle to disarm violence. The only weapon of attack in today’s list is in fact the sword of the gospel – the word of God. The rest of the armor is defensive.
If you are like me, on any given day you may have your own little internal committee at work. We have our own internal debate going on about which approaches to use in difficult situations. There are voices of compassion and kindness; and there are voices of survival and voices of fear and what if... For me, it is a daily choice whether to wage peace, as I suspect it may be for you too in your daily life.
Over the past few months, as the most visible representative of St. Luke’s in the neighborhood, I have been on occasion blind-sided by fierce hostility in the street. It makes no difference whether I am in clericals or jeans, grocery shopping, walking the dog, taking out the trash, going to the parish house for a meeting, going to celebrate Mass, or returning home. If someone hates the construction project they lay into St. Luke’s and sometimes lay into me personally. You would think that after a while, I would get used to this. But the truth is, whenever it happens, I arrive at my destination rattled and sometimes with my heart pounding at the sheer force of their anger. And also feeling frustrated because my efforts at reasonable conversation have proven useless with some folks. Take the shield of faith… says Ephesians. This advice has become for me like what I know of the 12-step programs: one day at a time. After an internal tussle, I decide: Today, I will not return evil for evil. Today I will exercise peace-full speech. Today I will take one day at a time and not let my mind run ahead with what ifs and fears of what life will be like if community hostility escalates. Take the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. These folks are not evil. The hate speech comes through them, it has a foothold in their heart because they are afraid and enraged about many things beyond their control. Fear of change, feeling powerless, other things going on in their lives…whatever it may be. And really, haven’t we all felt some version of those things?
Non-violent, non-coercive relationship is Jesus’ vision for the church. Church is a household where no-one throws anyone under the bus. Church is a community where people do not believe the worst about others without evidence. It is a community where people do not say nasty things about others in the community or outside it, and we don’t traffic in gossip. It is a community where even when there is disagreement, the love of people one for another is real and dependable. It is a community where compassion wins over competition, and inclusion is valued over perfection. It is a community where we can ask for help and support, and receive it. It is a community where today we will persevere in prayer. Today we will trust in the ultimate principality and power - which is God’s love - that is stronger than any forces of hate and fear in this world or the next. Today we will wage God’s peace. Today we will choose to act from love rather than fear.
August 9, 2015 The 11th Sunday After Pentecost Proper 14B | "Be What You See And Receive What You Are" by The Rev. Deacon Posey KrakowskyAugust 12, 2015
I want to tell you a story about two men named Carlos and Roby. Perhaps you read about them in the NY Times magazine article by Jon Mooallem on July 23rd. Carlos and Roby have an amazing job - they spend their days helping out newly released prison inmates. Apparently, the first 24 hours after leaving jail are crucial in determining if someone will be able to adjust to life on the outside. Even the smallest incident can shatter their confidence. When you’ve been locked up for 15 or 20 years, the world outside is fast paced and bewildering.
Mooallem writes: “Often, the psychological turbulence of those first days or weeks is so debilitating that recently incarcerated people can’t even navigate public transportation; they’re too frightened of crowds, too intimidated or mystified by the transit cards that have replaced cash and tokens.”
Carlos and Roby know how difficult it is to adjust, because they are ex-cons themselves. They were hired by a non-profit called ARC -- Anti-Recidivism Coalition -- to pick up newly released prisoners and spend the first day with them - helping them to buy clothes, understand cell phones, and order a meal in a restaurant. Their work makes an enormous difference, giving that essential first dose of confidence to the newly freed men. Even something as simple as a car remote is baffling to someone who entered prison in the 1990s. Was it really that recently that we stopped using actual car keys? Apparently, it was.
One of the many things that caught my attention when I was reading this story was the mens’ relationship to food - and to bread in particular. The article begins with Carlos and Roby waiting in a car in the parking lot of the Donovan Correctional Facility at 6 AM, longing for breakfast. Roby is hungry - he says he wants biscuits and gravy. The two men laugh when they catch themselves thinking they can’t have that particular breakfast because “Monday isn’t biscuits and gravy day.” They have to remind themselves that they are free men now — they can choose to eat whatever they want. Even though they have both been out of prison for several years, they still know the weekly prison menu by heart. The routine of life on the inside has ingrained it so deeply in their bodies that they literally cannot forget. Monday is pancake day. If they were still on the inside, biscuits and gravy would have to wait until tomorrow.
The flip side of this particular moment of their day comes several hours later when they take newly released Dale Hammock to a Denny’s for lunch. Hammock orders a Lumberjack Grand Slam - thrilled that he has navigated the incredibly complicated menu. But his confidence melts when the waiter asks him what kind of bread: White, wheat or sourdough?” Wait, there are bread choices too? Hammock has been taken out of his routine; the ingrained habit of meals he knows from prison. He no longer knows how to respond to so much freedom.
The gospel text today speaks of Jesus as the Bread of Life - this is the 3rd of 5 Sundays in which we hear parts of the Bread of Life discourse from John. The story of Carlos and Roby gives us insight into what this Bread of Life means. In their encounters with newly released prisoners, these two men embody many of the messages that John was trying to convey. This bread of life is both literal and spiritual. It is the literal bread that is found in ordinary encounters with others -- in breaking bread with strangers and friends. It is also the literal bread of the eucharist -- that which we see broken at the fraction and we partake of when we gather around the altar. But it is also the spiritual bread we discover when we ARE the Body of Christ, helping and serving one another -- bringing life giving hope to those who need it. When we eat the bread at the eucharist, we are learning with our bodies how to enter into a life of service — how to love one another as God loves us. Just as Carlos and Roby came to know with their very bodies that Monday was pancake day, so too does our practice of the eucharist inform our very bodies of who we are, beloved ones of God.
BE WHAT YOU SEE, AND RECEIVE WHAT YOU ARE.
Those are the words of St. Augustine in the 4th century, preaching about the Eucharist.
BE WHAT YOU SEE: Carlos and Roby practice exactly that. In their compassion and empathy for the newly released, these two men behave like Jesus. They share their knowledge with kindness. They don’t lecture or overload their charges with information. Instead they spend the day with them, giving the gift of their calm presence, time and energy, moving slowly through what are, to most of us, ordinary interactions with the busy world of 21st century life in America. They feed these men. They take them to Target to buy some clothes and basic toiletries. They help them learn to use a cell phone. They talk to them about what skills they might have and how that could translate into work.
Matthew 25:35 -36 says: “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Are Carlos and Roby Christians? The article doesn’t say. But does it even matter?
Our text today says: “And they shall all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” Whatever their religious affiliation, Carlos and Roby are acting as the Body of Christ.
RECEIVE WHAT YOU ARE: Carlos and Roby are also a living embodiment of the Bread of Life. These two men bring ALL OF THEMSELVES to these encounters. They don’t hide who they are - they don’t cover up their own brokenness when they meet the other. Carlos and Roby are ex cons themselves -- indeed, it is their very brokenness that makes them uniquely suited to helping the recently incarcerated. By being their complete, broken and authentic selves, they are saying that who they are has value. And that they value and respect others as well. When we approach the table, we receive what we are, because it is in our imperfection and brokenness that we are beloved by God. When we come to this table, we are participating in the Body of Christ by acknowledging every aspect of our being. And we are learning, every time we celebrate the Mass, to love ourselves and one another as we are loved by God. So that when we leave, we may go forth and share that love, as Jesus has commanded us to do.
August 2, 2015 The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost Proper 13B | "Manna from Heaven" by The Rev. Caroline StaceyAugust 7, 2015
When I was returning home this week from visiting family in the UK, I had one of those archetypal flight experiences that eventually happens to anyone who ever travels by plane. There was a mechanical problem delaying boarding by 2½ hours. Then we got on the plane and were ready for take off and they discovered that the temperature control wasn’t working. So we sat there with our seat belts fastened as the engineers tried everything -- for four and a half more hours. By now, over six hours had passed since our 2pm take off time. And as you can imagine, people started complaining mightily. The captain’s announcements did not help. Well, folks, we’re not having much success here. The plane has blown up two new computer inserts so we are trying to understand why. But please be patient and we will get back to you. That was the announcement that set off alarm bells for some people. I don’t want to stay on a plane that has gone nowhere for 6½ hours. Especially not if it blows up computers. This isn’t safe. You cannot keep me here against my will. Etc etc. You can imagine. The airline staff were the target of passenger frustration.
Finally they cancelled the flight officially. They rebooked all of us on next day flights. And they put us up in a very nice airport hotel and fed us dinner and breakfast. The airline staff were actually wonderful. The hardest thing was, they really didn’t know what would happen. It is hard when outcomes are not predictable. Not having control is one of the hardest things in life, and yet we come up against that all the time in our lives - in ways great and small…from cancelled flights to cancer. It’s all frustrating and it can get very scary.
We hear a story from Exodus today that is about uncertainty and fear, and God. There is a whole nation of refugees fleeing Egypt, and in the desert. Food is scarce. The people are hungry and start to idealize their conditions as slaves. At least there was a predictable food supply and shelter - security about basic needs being met. Now there is not. And so in their unhappiness they target the leadership - Moses and Aaron - because the Israelites cannot see how this situation can possibly be part of their faith journey. Wilderness and God’s provision don’t seem to fit together. How is this suffering and uncertainty part of God’s calling?
And so the Israelites grumble. Loudly. In verses 5-8, which are omitted, Moses predicts that God will feed them and yet still the people don’t recognize it when it happens. What is it?, they say. Manna has no literal translation, the closest is “whatchamacallit”. They haven’t seen anything like that before. Once they figure out it is food, they gather it up to store it – just in case no more is forthcoming. Moses tells them – it won’t keep. This is literally daily bread. (Give us this day our daily bread is at the heart of our Lord’s Prayer, and this is its source). The people don’t believe or trust Moses and they hoard whatchamacallit overnight and it rots. The exception to this prohibition against storing up extra is when God allows them to gather double on the day before the Sabbath so that on the Sabbath, they can rest. God even provides for their Sabbath rest (Ex. 16:22f)!
Later we are told: The house of Israel named in manna, it was like coriander seed, white, and it tasted like wafers in honey (Ex.16:31). So not too nasty a taste, then. Manna becomes their staple for generations – all the time the journey to Canaan. And of course, they get sick of manna all the time. In Numbers 11, they complain: There is nothing but this manna to look at… Oh how we miss the fish and the cucumbers and leeks and the garlic of Egypt. Numbers chapter 11 is an alternative telling of the same story - says that manna tasted like rich cream (Num11:8) and notes various ways to prepare manna in response to the Israelites’ complaints about the limited menu. I suspect that even if God created the manna to taste like something different every day, the Israelites would still find something to complain about! This is all so human. I wonder if we recognize ourselves here? The grass is always greener. The truth is, like the Israelites, we are restless and dissatisfied by nature, and gratitude and acceptance can be a struggle for all of us. We may have times of gratitude where we feel God’s blessing but there are also times of wilderness and comparison when feeling thankful doesn’t seem possible.
The biggest lesson for the Israelites as I read it, is something all of us work on – trust in God. It’s not about the manna, though they need that. It is about learning that God loves them and will care for them. Even in their darkest night, God is with them. There will be enough. Psalm 78 puts it wonderfully: [God] provided for them food enough (Ps. 78:25)
In today’s gospel, Jesus links the miracle he has just performed – the feeding of the 5000 - with the manna in the wilderness. Jesus says it is not about the loaves and fishes. It is not even about the Manna. The real food God gives is the true bread - Jesus. This true bread is what we are given in the Eucharist, but it lives in us long after we have digested the Bread. This spiritual food – this connection to God - stays with us, even when we are in the wilderness.
The food that satisfies is growing in trust through our trials that somehow God will provide. Growing in peace with being human and therefore not always being in control. The spiritual food that sustains us as we go through life’s ups and downs that God is with us through all of it and nothing that we go through is useless or irrelevant in our journey with God.
One of the most counter-cultural messages of the gospel is that there is enough of everything. For all those times and days and places where we think there is not enough, Jesus says - there was, there is and there always will be.
Jesus never promises that we will not ever get sick, or die, or experience pain and suffering; that is not the "enough" God promises. What God promises is that whatever dry deserts we go through, there will always be some kind of food and water. In obvious ways, sometimes that help and sustenance will come through others; sometimes we will be God’s provision for others. But at an even deeper level, God himself provides. As a friend of mine used to say: God doesn’t leave people high and dry. Jesus reminds us in the Eucharist that there will always be food here for us, and that God always makes room for us at this Table, even when we show up unannounced, or unprepared, or empty-handed. Even if this is our first time in church for years, even if we haven't prayed for years, even if we have no intention of doing anything more but taking what is on offer, none of this is a problem with the Lord. God feeds everyone, no questions asked, no pre-conditions set and God rejoices that we are here today.
All God asks is that when we find food that satisfies our souls and living water, we share it with others. We have to share it because it is not ours to hoard and keep to ourselves. In fact, like the manna, if we keep our gifts to ourselves in some sense, they rot. Gifts that we don’t share, in some very real sense go bad on us. And unlike so much of our human experience, divine resources are not part of a zero sum economy. Divine love only increases as we share it, like the loaves and fishes. And as we share what we have received, our own faith multiplies as well.
July 26, 2015 The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost Proper 12B|"Kingdom Mathematics" The Rev. Gabriel LamazaresJuly 28, 2015
The story of the feeding of the five thousand is one of a few that appears, in slightly different forms, in all four Gospels. Its multiple attestation is a testament to its ubiquity and foundational nature as one of the core stories of Jesus’ ministry and the signs he performed. However, this is the only time in the three-year cycle of Sunday readings that we hear the version from the Gospel according to John.
As we look closely at the whole story, they key points of the narrative arc are the ones we’re familiar with. Have you ever seen the story-boards that are sometimes used by animators and screen-writers to lay out their work? It would be easy to story-board this chunk of narrative.
Frame 1: Jesus and the disciples surrounded by thousands of people out in the country. The main thrust of this frame is the sheer magnitude of the crowds. This is no small gathering. There are whole towns and villages, then and now, that don’t have five thousand men, not counting women and children. I know we’re New Yorkers and not easily impressed by numbers of people (sometimes it feels as if there are 5000 people on my subway car), but this was a ton of people. An overwhelming number of people. And they’re hungry and far from town.
Frame 2: Jesus tells the disciples, “We need to feed these people.” The look of the faces of the disciples must be something akin to terror, eyes wide open, mouths open, perhaps with those little “impact lines” you see in comics radiating from their heads. The substance of their protest and disbelief is relatively unimportant. They are reasonable folk and they are seriously starting to wonder if Jesus has lost his senses.
Frame 3: The assessment of resources. The center of this frame is the boy and his five loaves and two little fishes (the Greek form is a diminutive). John adds the detail that these are barley loaves, the food of the poor. Maybe what the boy has in his hands is five dinner rolls and a plate of tapas. The boy is always nameless, but he always has the same meager lunch. As listeners, it is obvious that the gulf between what is on hand and what is needed vast.
Frame 4: Jesus giving thanks for this meager lunch and breaking the loaves to begin distributing them. The Spanish word that always comes to my mind is repartir. If we look at the roots of the word literally, it means to ‘break again.’ In typical use, it means something like ‘distribute,’ but has an unmistakable sense of splitting up and giving away. A related word that is even more appropriate is compartir, to ‘break with,’ which is the best word for ‘share.’ Maybe a caption is appropriate on this frame, from the Psalms: “You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature.”
Frame 5: The twelve baskets of leftovers with the crowds satisfied, like the Israelites were satisfied by manna, or like the hundred people fed by Elisha during a famine. There is obviously much more left over (after everyone eats!) than there was to begin with.
This is the mathematics of the Reign of God. Great need + laughably meager resources + thanksgiving + sharing = satisfaction and surplus “far more than we can ask or imagine,” in the words of Ephesians or what is commonly called a miracle. This math always seems insane as we do ciphers in our heads in the midst of fear and scarcity. But it is a testament to God’s providence how often and in what gracious variety it has worked out in circumstance after circumstance throughout the history of Jesus’s followers doing the same.
This is the mathematics of the Reign of God. I have seen it work in obvious ways, like at Parish Life events or in Outreach efforts. I have seen it happen at potlucks and gatherings and celebrations. I have seen it happen in the kitchens and dining rooms of people with very little.
And I have seen it work in less obvious ways, when people meet in times of sorrow or strife to look over a need or wound that seems endless and bring what they have to the table with gratitude and a willingness to share. It happens in hospital rooms and on the street, in the rooms where Twelve Step groups meet and in schools, at summer camps and in prayer groups.
I admit it sometimes seems like a cruel fairy tale, at least to me. Of course, people go hungry in this world. Of course, there are needs that none of us can adequately address. But this confidence in the workings of God’s providence is one of the places our faith is tested. We are urged again and again to trust in God. The feeding of the five thousand is a grand performance art piece demonstrating what Jesus taught: “Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet our Heavenly Father feeds them.”
Like children in a classroom practicing our multiplication tables, we practice this math over and over again in the Eucharist each week. In the breaking of bread and in the prayers, we enact this mathematics of grace, until it becomes second nature: Great need + laughably meager resources + thanksgiving + sharing = satisfaction and surplus “far more than we can ask or imagine.”
Thanks be to God.
July 19, 2015 The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost Proper 11B|"Where Do We Turn When We're Betwixt And Between?" The Rev. Deacon Posey KrakowskyJuly 22, 2015
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. (224)
Our gospel text today is a frustrating one because it isn't really much of a story. In fact, the stories - the really exciting stuff, are what's left out. We start with 5 verses in the middle of chapter 6, and then jump right away to the last 4 verses of the chapter. In between, if we’d read it straight through, we would have heard about the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on the water. What took place just before our passage was the killing of John the Baptist. All much more juicy stuff. It's as if we got stuck with the heel pieces of a loaf of bread today - a strange mishmash of connective verses that string the more colorful and urgent parts of Mark's gospel together.
Usually the form of a passage wouldn’t be worth so much attention, but in this case, I think the form itself is what points to the message. What can we glean from those heels of bread? What does it mean to be betwixt and between? It’s a question that resonates with our lives just as much as it does with a text. What happens in transition times? How do we approach them? If we think about how our lives actually unfold, there isn’t always a sense of immediacy pulling us forward. Even in this day and age, when smartphones and social media lend a false sense of urgency to our most mundane interactions, there are still many times when we can feel disoriented and aimless, unsure of which way to go next. What do we do when we are in this in-between space?
This question feels particularly relevant right now in the wake of the news from the past several weeks. As Fr. Lamazares said recently - what a month it has been. There are moments in our lives when we feel as if we are literally watching the arc of history, and this has been one of those times. In terms of progress, we’ve witnessed two Supreme Court decisions upholding the Affordable Care Act and Marriage Equality —- followed by the change to the Canons in our own church affirming same sex marriage. Yet, in a sobering counterpoint, the shootings in Charleston have laid bare just how much racism still exists in our country.
I'd like to concentrate on the positive developments today - thinking about what happens next after those two very significant victories for Marriage Equality. Clearly, things will never be the same, mostly for good. But change also implies some kind of loss. Two articles in the NY Times that appeared right after the Marriage Equality decision caught my eye — both expressed regret that a defining sense of outsider status was being lost to the gay community. Take a look at the NY Times front page from June 27th - the one that announces the Supreme Court decision. Literally right under the lead article is another by Jodi Kantor that speaks of a “Twinge of Loss for Gay Culture.” And immediately after, on Sunday the 28th, an editorial appeared in the Times by Timothy Stewart-Winter, a history professor at Rutgers. Stewart-Winter wrote: “Will victory at the Supreme Court blind us to our history of life in the margins?”
Reading those two articles got me thinking: SOMETIMES VICTORY CAN BE JUST AS DISORIENTING AS DEFEAT. Sometimes we work so very hard to achieve a particular goal - and then once it is achieved, we are left confused and overwhelmed by the absence of a clear direction. At those times, we find ourselves asking — What’s next? What now?
This gospel passage shows us the disciples in just such a transition time. They have become teachers and healers themselves. They have had some success in their travels away from Jesus, and they have returned to share their stories with him. But their success has brought about a loss — they are no longer just Jesus and the 12. Instead, the crowds following them are growing. “For many,” Mark says, “were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.”
Jesus recognizes that they need something different now — they need a moment to regroup and re-evaluate. He doesn’t act like a football coach, urging them to “get right back out there.” Instead, “… he says, "come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while." “And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.”
So there’s one possible answer for us - one way to live into transition. Mark tells us to embrace it as a time of inner renewal, a time of spiritual refreshment, a Sabbath period. Instead of giving in to the anxiety of the moment by filling up our time with busy work, lean into the uncertainty and see where the moment takes us. Allow the disorientation and aimlessness to be a source of creativity - a time when we can slow down and listen for the voice of the Spirit leading us in new directions. Directions we might not have considered because we were so caught up in the urgency of our long standing goals.
When we do so, we honor the sense of loss we are feeling instead of avoiding it. When we trust that the Spirit will break through, it makes us more willing to see our bewilderment as valuable in and of itself. It might make us more willing to acknowledge loss as a different but equally necessary state of being — one in which the building blocks of new beginnings can flourish - one in which the seeds of winter are hiding, waiting for spring so they can grow.
But Mark also gives us a second answer – because it is not only the Spirit who comes to us in that wilderness of disorientation. Today’s scripture assures us of this unequivocally. Jesus sees us in our bewilderment and comes to teach us. He teaches the disciples by taking them away with him in the boat. And when they return to shore, he begins to teach the people as well. Mark says: “He saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”
Sheep without a shepherd - a clear metaphor for disorientation and bewilderment. This passage assures us that we need not walk away from those feelings because OUR shepherd has promised to come to us in those times. And when he comes, he brings food and healing and rest and new beginnings. All things we will need in abundance, because a third thing we can take away from this passage is that those transition times never last long. All too soon, we too will be called out to feed the 5000. And we will be able to do so, with God’s help.
In our Gospel reading for this week, we get the gory and graphic morality tale of the beheading of John the Baptist. This gruesome story from Mark’s gospel seems like a mash-up of Game of Thrones and Jerry Springer with a dose of House of Cards thrown in for good measure. Violent, erotic and almost completely devoid of Jesus, this story is an unusual addition to the lectionary cycle. At the heart of the action, we find John the Baptist, beloved wild man and prophetic voice crying out in the wilderness. He is a character we all know and love. Here at St. Luke’s, as a congregation that prides itself on prophetic witness, radical hospitality and challenging the established norms, John is our kind of guy. He even has certain panache for festive outfitting and liturgical drama. We are a community that strives to live prophetically. While we may at times fall short, we are human after all, we are committed to social justice and doing our best to love our neighbor more completely. It is easy for us to like John the Baptist and to see ourselves aspiring to his standard of dedication and witness. But John is not the main character in our reading today. While the passage is labeled the beheading of John the Baptist, it is really the story of Herod, Herodias and her daughter traditional identified as Salome. The question that we are posed with this morning is not when are we like John but rather…when are we like Herod? When are we like Herodias and when are we like Salome?
The scene set before us is a domestic drama of biblical proportions. Herod Antipas has married his brother’s wife. Please note that his brother is not dead. This is a classic case of wife stealing and is a levitical no no. John has publically said some nasty things about the first family. This has enraged Queen Herodias who has sworn revenge.
I would like to spend a moment with Queen Herodias. Of all the characters in this drama, she is depicted as the most despicable by the gospel writer. A cool and calculating woman, she bids her time waiting for the perfect moment to exact her revenge on the prophet. Taking stage mother to a dark place, she sends her daughter out to dance for the birthday banquet. This is a women who has been through a lot, we are not told how she feels about her marriage situation but it must have felt precarious to say the least. We know from historical precedent that life was tough for a biblical queen. It did not take much for you to fall out of favor and be replaced by the next girl. Does anyone remember the story of Ester? Things did not work out so well for Queen Vashti. On top of that, your children were always in danger of being disinherited or worst. So when John started challenging her marriage, that was a direct challenge on her physical person. If Herod had followed John’s advice, who know what would have happened to Herodias. Man of God or not… John was attacking what Heriodias held most dear… her family. Her instruction to her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist, was cruel, calculation and a mama bear instinct. Is she still a villain of the New Testament? Yes. Was she also probably a fierce mother? Yes. Welcome to the moral ambiguity. How far would you go to protect your family from harm?
And what about the other half of this mother/daughter duo, Salome. This highly erotized teenage femme fatal has stirred the imagination for centuries. Whatever kind of dance she did for the king… I am sure it is not polite to talk about it in church. Biblical vilification of female sexuality as a tool for trickery, deceit and sin is the topic of a whole series of sermons. For the sake of this discussion, I will focus on her as a tool of manipulation. She is used by all parties involved and is little more than a puppet. She is the catalysis for the execution. It is also interesting to note the head of the prophet on the platter is delivered directly to her. Poor child. How often in life are less powerful people especially children used as pawns? When have you in your life felt manipulated and exploited?
And then of course, we have Herod. In my opinion, Mark is kind to Herod. He is described sympathetically. He imprisons John but likes to listen to him. He recognizes that John is a holy and righteous man and protects him. In Herod we have direct foreshadowing of Pilate’s interview with Jesus. Herod’s down fall appears to be two fold, his love of women especially young ones and his pride. Herod is so pleased by Salome’s dancing that he offers her anything she could possibly wish for… her answer stuns him. Herod is stuck and proves once again that the powers that be would rather kill the innocent that suffer embarrassment. Herod is infinitely more concerned with keeping his drunken promises given to party guests than with preserving the prophet. How do we, like Herod, allow our reputations or foolish promises to keep us from following God?
These people were not inherently evil or sinful. They were mostly just folks trying to take care of families, communities and reputations. They were trying to avoid embarrassment. This story is steeped in moral ambiguity and reminds us how easily we get derailed. Anyone of us could be a Herod, Herodias or Salome? We encounter situations constantly in our daily life and work where we are presented with a series of personal and spiritual dilemmas. For a harried father of a toddler, there is the question of how best to love and parent a child in the face of a defiant "No!" and a full-fledged temper tantrum in aisle 6 of the grocery store at the end of a long day. A corporate executive wonders how her announcement of a long-awaited pregnancy will affect her employees' perceptions of her as an effective boss. A stressed out couple struggles to tackle the emotional and financial challenges of taking care of aging parents. An employee wrestles with whether or not to report a dishonest boss, if doing so means risking employment. A stay-at-home dad wrestles with the whispers of former colleagues that he just couldn't handle the pressures of work. Teenagers experience the angst of navigating social circles and learning the power and pain of love and attraction. Younger children long for popular toys advertised on television and wonder if the trouble they have learning multiplication tables or reading means they are stupid. Across the lifespan, people question who they are and how they should act as life pushes and pulls them in conflicting directions. And as in the story of Herodias, Salome and Herod, there are lives at stake as they decide which actions they will take.
This is the way of the world, but it is not the whole story. The Good News is that this is not the end. Jesus comes, you see, precisely to show us that there is something more, something beyond the heartache and intrigue and tragedy of Herodias, Salome, Herod and ourselves. Jesus came to help us imagine that there is more to this life than we can perceive. Jesus came to offer us not just more life, but life abundant. Jesus came so that there could be a better ending to our stories and the story of the world than we can possibly imagine. 
 Karen Yust Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary - Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16)
 David Lose, Working Preacher.
It has been a momentous few weeks, so much so that I have sometimes felt overwhelmed by emotion. I don’t think I will ever forget the morning of Friday, June 26, as my husband Terry and I watched alternating live coverage of both the Rev. Clementa Pinckney’s memorial service in Charleston and the Supreme Court decision decreeing marriage equality for same-sex couples in every state and territory of our beloved country. Though there always seems to be bad news lurking, this has been a time of good news. As a church, our triennial General Convention took place, electing our first African-American Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, even as the murder of the Charleston Nine calls us as a nation to reckon once again with the corrosive effects of racism on our society. Among many other resolutions, General Convention also approved marriage equality in the canons and liturgy of the church, providing for the marriage of same-sex couples throughout the Episcopal church. I can hardly believe the days we are living.
I wonder if Jesus’ disciples felt something similar as they began to follow him and saw all that he taught and did, how he taught with new authority, healed the sick, and cast out demons as if they were smoke in a mighty wind. Living under onerous persecution, people who had been cast down were being raised up, things which had grown old were being made new. They must have thought, How can it be that we have been lucky enough to see these days, to see the arrival of one who may very well be God’s anointed, to see the power and mercy of God made manifest in our days.
But it’s clear that they don’t just form a mutual admiration society. They don’t just gather for the miracles as spectators. Jesus begins almost immediately to send them away from himself. They cannot keep the good news to themselves or it will sour and spoil. They have to go off, in pairs, to the surrounding villages to spread the word, to spread the healing, to spread the peace and power of God.
Now, when I was young, I used to imagine the pairs of apostles coming into the villages as kind of like the beginning of Godspell: lots of people hugging and singing and smiling. Who doesn’t want to hear good news? Who doesn’t want to share in healing and redemption?
But, from the beginning, right in the text, there are shadows of conflict and rejection. They are sent out in pairs, perhaps because the work is too demanding to do alone. They are sent out dependent on the goodwill of those who will receive their message for food and shelter, so that they must engage with the people rather than remaining aloof. And they are given instructions on what to do when they are not welcome and people refuse to hear them.
If what they have to share is such good news, such wonderful healing, then why would anyone refuse it? This good news, this healing, will inevitably shake up the way things are, challenging the way things have been, lifting people out of their accustomed places, calling out injustice. It’s like bringing a light into a dark room: yes, it’s cheery and welcome but it also exposes everything that had been going on unseen. And that can mean trouble.
Already, there is backlash and anger and threats from the good news of our common dignity, our equality before the law, our simple God-given worth. But the disciples are told to shake the dust from their feet as a testimony against them. In fact, the passage that follows this one describes how the spreading word of Jesus contributes to the fear of King Herod and the execution of John the Baptist. There will always be bad news. [But to paraphrase the Gospel via the unlikely Taylor Swift, “Players gonna play, haters gonna hate, fakers gonna fake, but I’m just gonna shake it off, shake it off.”]
In every baptism, after the water, we give the godparents or the one who has been baptized a candle lit from the Paschal Candle that represents the Presence of Christ and his glorious triumph over the powers of death and hell in his resurrection. And we say, “Receive the light of Christ.” Each new Christian expands the light of Christ, as a candle lit from another candle without diminishing the flame or the light.
That light is good news, it is healing, it is joy and truth. It is the light to be placed on a lampstand to give light to the whole room. It is the light that has come into the world, and the darkness has not overcome it, even to this day. It is our calling to take that light out to the dim places of the world. It won’t be easy. We’ll have to leave some of our certainties and identities behind, some of our satisfaction with what we have. We’ll need to listen as we never have before, really listen, dare to see what the light reveals.
Our Presiding Bishop-elect said something to the effect that we can no longer wait for people to come to us, holed up in our churches, if we ever could. We are gathered together only to be sent out again. We are called to go out into our communities, into the lives of our neighbors, people who are like us and people who are different from us, and bear that silent brilliance, that light of love and presence and compassion, to carry our good news like the recently fed bringing food to those who are still hungry. We are called to allow ourselves to be changed by what we see and what we hear and what we do in love.
“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
Before I begin, I want to thank Mother Caroline, Father Gabe, the clergy, vestry and parish community of the Church of Saint Luke in the Fields for inviting me to speak with you today, and for the gracious hospitality that I have enjoyed in this place for so many years. For me, Saint Luke’s is always home. Thank you.
Nearly three thousand years ago, King Solomon, the son of King David, wrote this in his book of Proverbs: “where there is no vision, the people perish.’ With these words, King Solomon calls us to fulfil our vocations as prophets, for this is the eighth day of creation, when God will pour out the Spirit – the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Righteousness – on all people, on all flesh. It is the eighth day, when our children will prophesy, our youths shall see visions and our elders will dream dreams. For us, as for prior generations, they are dreams of inclusion, equality, and liberation.
Pride Sunday is always a time for celebration and for looking to the past, in order that we may focus our attention on the present and on future, and this year, the NYC Heritage of Pride committee has designated the theme to be “Restore the Vision,” the vision of full LGBT inclusion, equality, and liberation. And happily, almost as if on cue, the city has designated the Stonewall Inn as a historic site – commemorating that place where our ancestors began the rebellion, where our campaign for equality and justice was born. And this is an “alleluia moment” too, as we celebrate the Supreme Court ruling on marriage quality.
We are called to be the light of the world, and that’s not an easy call. But here we are, all of us, celebrating the light, celebrating in the light, sharing our light and life with one another.
The late beloved Father Tom Hopko, former Dean at St Vladimir’s Seminary in Yonkers, talked a bit about equality and the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself. He pointed out that we do well to understand that we and our neighbor are identical. We are one. We are our neighbor, and so we love the neighbor and in that loving understand that the idea of “the other” is false. Each of us is divinely made in the image and likeness of God, and shares in that divine origin and DNA. Like the holy icons of the Christian East, we are icons of a higher reality. Just as the holy icons are said to be windows into heaven, so are we, and so may we be the reminders of the great reality that God is love, and that all of life is really about the gift of love.
The United Church of Christ has it right, in their signage and advertising, when they say that God is still speaking. And so our call to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth is more than just cool poetry. God is with us, the Holy Spirit is ever present to inform, educate, and inspire the Church, the holy people of God. Revelation did not end when the last apostle entered into eternal life, nor when the Nicene Fathers established the Canon of Scripture. But those scriptures remind us that salvation history is a love story without beginning or end. Our LGBT Christian history, likewise, did not begin with the 2004 consecration of Gene Robinson in New Hampshire, or with the 2010 consecration of Mary Glasspool in LA.
The story of God’s love, the story of our salvation, goes on and on, day by day, in countless homes, offices and churches, and the story continues with the successful marriage equality referendum in Ireland, successful marriage equality policies for the United Protestant Church of France, the approval of ordination of gay folks in the Church of Scotland. Closer to home, in April, Governor Cuomo signed the blueprint for AIDS 2020, by which we commit to end the AIDS Epidemic in the State of New York by 2020 – just five years from now.
Where there is no vision, the people perish.
Like the watercourses of the Negev, the Lord has done great things for us. Look how far we have come, since that day, 46 years ago at the Stonewall. Among those present on the June night, who would have thought we’d see Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars, or Kristin Beck, a retired Navy Seal, running for Congress in Maryland as an openly trans woman. Or Laverne Cox on the cover of Time, or Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair? Or Hilary Clinton running for President? And finally the nationwide establishment and guarantee of marriage equality for all. What a year we have had! Alleluia!
So what about us? Just as Zechariah prophetically declared Jesus to be a light of revelation to the Nations, so Jesus in turn declared his followers to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. And in these last days, God will pour out the Spirit on all flesh. Our children will prophesy. Our youths will see visions, and our elders will dream dreams. The Lord has done great things for us, and the same Lord calls to us to dream, and to speak. To be willing and eager to tell our stories, for our stories testify to the perseverance, strength, and courage of our community. God’s call to us recalls that June night, 46 years ago … it is the call to resistance, relentless advocacy, defiance, and nonviolent confrontation.
Where there is no vision, the people perish.
There was a time when it seemed inevitable that we would fail completely, but we did not. There was a time when it seemed that AIDS would win, but it did not. There was a time when it seemed that the military would never accept lesbian and gay people, but they have. There was a time when it seemed that open service in the military would never be possible for people of trans experience, but there were openly serving trans service members at the Pride celebration at the White House last week. And there was a time when marriage equality seemed impossible, and here we are. Obergefell v. Hodges marks an enormous step forward for all of us, thanks to the Supreme Court of the US, and we are on the right side of history. Oh, and it also looks like the battle flag of the Confederacy is finally being retired to a museum.
Justice Kennedy has that vision. In writing the majority decision, he said:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
The judgement for the court of appeals for the sixth circuit is reversed.
It is so ordered.
How cool is that! A friend of mine posted on Facebook a note from the Washington Post that a double rainbow appeared over the White House last week, perhaps in anticipation of this moment. God is still speaking.
For some of us, of a certain age, Kennedy’s remarks on Friday June 26 may call to mind another Kennedy, 52 years ago, also on June 26, who stood before the people of Berlin to say that we stood with them in their quest for respect, dignity, freedom and peace.
Where there is no vision, the people perish.
Our youths are seeing vision of equality and justice, and our elders are dreaming dreams that have come true. Let the celebrations continue. Let our joy be heard from Alabama to Alaska, from Montana to Maine! It is a new world, a word our ancestors never anticipated.
One of the things we need to address in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling is the considerable number of people who are confused or frightened, because they listened to those who predicted epic disasters and the collapse of civilization were this to happen. Well, here we are getting married and all, and we’re fine. But sometimes the arrival of light in darkness is a frightening thing. Change is difficult. Woody Allen is said to have remarked that he was afraid of the dark but was suspicious of the light.
In the fourteenth century, in the year 1329, the Russian monks Sergei and Herman, with the intention of establishing a monastic community in the wilderness of what we now call Finland, and of spreading the light of Christianity in this frontier land. They are commemorated in the Russian Orthodox calendar today, the 28th of June. When they arrived, the local Karelian people regarded the whole venture with serious suspicion, though, largely because the Swedish government was suspicious, and sought to undermine them. The monastic foundation survived, however, perhaps because they met suspicion and fear with patience, love, and relentless energy. With what we today might call relentless advocacy. Inevitably, light triumphs over darkness, and love wins. Sergei and Herman persisted in the service of God until they entered eternity in 1353. Like Sergei and Herman, we are missionaries, light bearers, God bearers.
So perhaps we might take that as a starting point as we move forward. It may take time and patience, but positive change happens – with God’s help. It’s now 150 years since the end of the civil war, and the battle flag of the Confederacy still flies in some places, but on the other hand, the velocity of change in this century is astounding.
Perhaps of equal importance, though, is the number of unresolved issues that have been on the back burner for a couple of decades.
So very much lies before us. We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and let us ever be aware of the great work that has been entrusted to us. Those Beatitudes in Chapter Five are “bookended” by the teachings in Chapter Twenty-five. You know the ones: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and so on, right?
Well, here we are in the twenty first century, and LGBT people who hunger and thirst for righteousness, not just in Uganda or Nigeria, or Serbia, or Russia, but in more than 70 countries around the world, can be arrested simply because they are queer. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Feed the hungry.
Across this country, just in the last month, two young bisexual kids, Adam Kizer and Alyssa Morgan, ended their lives by suicide. And Jess Shipps, a 32 year old Air Force veteran, a woman of trans experience, an activist, mind you, and advocate for equal rights and open service in our military, ended her life by suicide. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Feed the hungry.
A Facebook friend noted that in 32 states LGBT individuals and families still lack expressed protections. There are a number of states where it is illegal for LGBT couples to adopt children. The overwhelming majority of low income people living with HIV/AIDS do not have access to healthcare or legal services. Surely we can do better than that. Feed the hungry.
Here in New York, people are still dying from lack of decent medical, dental, mental health, and legal care, decent housing, decent employment opportunities. Here in the State of New York, trans and gender nonconforming citizens can still face discrimination in housing, employment, health care, and other areas where nearly everyone else is secure. For a decade, the Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act has passed the State Assembly and failed to be passed by the State Senate. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Feed the hungry. And vote.
Where there is no vision, the people perish.
There is much to celebrate, and there is so much remaining for us to do. What must motivate us in our pursuit of truth, holiness, and justice? One of the saints said that holiness is not gained in opposing evil, though that is in itself good and worthy. Holiness is gained by loving God and loving one’s neighbor.
The message is clear enough, for those with ears to hear and a heart to understand. It was Julian of Norwich, the first woman to write a book in English, when she was thirty years old, toward the end of the fourteenth century, telling of the sixteen visions she received from God. What was God’s meaning or intention, she asked. She wrote
Thus I was taught that love was our Lord's meaning. And I saw quite clearly in this and in all, that before God made us, he loved us, which love was never slaked nor ever shall be. And in this love he has done all his work, and in this love he has made all things profitable to us. And in this love our life is everlasting. In our creation we had a beginning. But the love wherein he made us was in him with no beginning. And all this shall be seen in God without end.
In God without end. Amen.
June 21, 2015 The Fourth Sunday After Pentcost Proper 7B | “Do You Not Care That We Are Perishing?” The Rev. Gabriel LamazaresJune 25, 2015
I spent most of the last few days sick and sad, angry and dismayed. The massacre of nine black citizens, brothers and sisters in Christ gathered for Bible study and prayer, by a 21-year-old steeped in white supremacy with a gun he got for his birthday, according to reports, has knocked the wind out of me. And though some would like to characterize this act of malice as the act of a loner, one crazy kid who should never have gotten hold of a gun, that feels willfully blind to me.
Facing events like those in Charleston, I come closest to the bone-deep conviction that there are forces at work in the world that are much larger than any individual, before whom I feel so small, tossed about like a boat in a storm. What happened in Charleston is another instance of the gaping wound of white racism that this country continues to suffer from and our unwillingness to enact stricter laws on gun ownership. And it is a reminder of the “forces of evil that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God” that we renounce in baptism. On a day like today, those words do not feel like an ancient metaphorical language, but like the hard truth. The powers we face within and without that oppose God’s benevolence are mighty, and it can seem as if we are caught in a great storm, buffeted by forces that dwarf us. What can one tiny person do against the wind and the waves? Who can help but be afraid of what threatens us?
But this day, we gather not to forget or deny, but to remember. In stormy and turbulent times, in homes and catacombs and basilicas, from the soaring grandeur of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, to the historic Emanuel Church in Charleston, we have told and re-told this story.
Jesus and his disciples were in boats on the Sea of Galilee en route from the Jewish side of the lake and the Gentile side when a sudden windstorm came upon them, tossing them like a toy boat, waves crashing in, threatening to swamp them and sink the boats. Jesus was asleep in the stern. (Just imagine how bone-weary you have to be to sleep through a heaving windstorm.)
Afraid for their lives, the disciples woke him, asking, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
What a question! It pierces right to the heart of our relationship with God. “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
I know this question was and is in the mind and heart of those killed in senseless violence and those who love them, of those beaten and whipped and humiliated for the cause of righteousness, of martyrs, apostles and missionaries, of slaves and soldiers, of people dying of AIDS or malaria or tuberculosis or cancer, of men and women in all kinds of danger, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
The question is illuminated with fiery sparks of fear and rage and despair. In another form, it was even on the lips of Jesus on the cross.
But Jesus wakes in the boat and enacts God’s answer.
Jesus raises his hand with the authority of one who was present at the creation of the world, and says to the winds, “Shhh. Settle down.”
And, like unruly children, the mighty winds die down and cease, the waves settle, leaving a calm, the lake casting ripples back and forth, stripped of its threat.
And Jesus says, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
That is the question the Gospel writer wants us to face.
And the message the question implies is repeated throughout the scriptures: Do not be afraid. God is trustworthy. I will be with you always.
And that revelation has the power to change everything.
But I want to caution us against a particular reading of this text. Taken in a particular direction, it would seem to imply that God is a Fixer in the Sky, that Jesus is the great problem-solver, taking care of business, sheltering us from the storms of life, with the implication that if we are assailed by misfortune, we must be at fault for not being faithful enough.
But I don’t buy that. I don’t think we can expect God to make everything easy, or take away all our problems, or save us from the failure and limitations of being human in a very imperfect and dangerous world.
Even St. Paul wasn’t immune! Listen to this litany from the epistle: afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger. The Crucified One who appeared to Paul on the wildly tilting road to Damascus never promised him a rose garden.
What keeps Paul going in the face of so much malice and misfortune? What keeps him from giving up? Faith, trust in God in the face of fear.
Look closely at the climax of the story on the Sea of Galilee, when the disciples shake Jesus awake. What’s happening?
Yes, the boat is tossing and the storm is raging. But there will always be storms in this life. More importantly, the disciples are afraid.
Perhaps the greatest tool of the enemy is fear, burst from its lawful banks and flooding everything in sight.
Fear makes us turn and run from what is hard or scary. Fear breeds rivalry, aggression, and violence. It is the root of many evils. Have you ever seen a barking or snarling dog, menacing? Often, the dog is more afraid than anything else.
Not all fear is bad; it can be helpful in its place. But fear can turn us into monsters we hardly recognize. And it can keep our goodness from going out on a limb, confronting the evil that corrupts and destroys the creatures of God, and daring to act to embody and expand the creative vision of God.
If salvation means anything at all, it must mean, in part, a dawning freedom from crippling fear, grounded in the secure grasp of the One who has loved us and prepared a place for us from the foundations of the world, who can be trusted.
But this faith is not once-and-for-all, at least it isn’t for me. It is a daily and even moment-by-moment remembering when I am tempted to forget, risking when I am tempted to withdraw.
What could happen if we can face the moments of our lives without fear, trusting that, no matter how bad things may look, that God is working in the world, making all things new?
June 14, 2015 | The Third Sunday After Pentecost “Mustard Seed” The Rev. Emily Lloyd
Well friends, you know it is officially summer when the lectionary starts giving you parables. That’s right in the Revised Common Lectionary; we follow Jesus around listening to parables all summer long. It is kind of like a family road trip through the Judean countryside with Jesus and the disciples. In today’s Gospel reading, we have Jesus giving us rapid fire parables. Here it is almost as if Jesus is just throwing every lesson at us at once and hoping that something sticks.
And His subject is a serious one… the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is so important to the writer of Mark that it comes up 17 times in the early chapters alone. Three question instantly come to my mind.
What is the Kingdom of Heaven anyway? What do we have to do to get there? And perhaps more importantly…why are parables so hard?
You have to admit it… Jesus can be a little esoteric. The end of the Gospel reading sums it up.“With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.”
I wish Jesus would explain it all in private to us.
I have to tell you a quick story. So as many of you know one of my great passions in ministry is faith formation with children. Exploring bible stories with children is amazing. They are so clever and so earnest. Parables are a great entry point for children especially young children. At my last parish, I had chapel time for three and four year olds every Wednesday and Thursday morning. We explored the seasons of the church year and basic stories of saints and Old Testament patriarchs and matriarchs and of course parables. Most of the time, they came right along with me through the parable. However, they were not at all convinced by our second parable for today… the parable of the mustard seed.
I brought in a teeny tiny apple seed and explained that it grows into a big tree just like they will grow into adults.They were completely unconvinced. There was no way there was a big tree in that tiny seed. It just didn’t make sense. Impossible… Prove it, Mother Emily. They said fidgeting on their carpet squares.
Trying to save my lesson for the day, I switched gears and asked them about the kingdom of heaven. What is the kingdom of heaven like?
I told them that the kingdom of heaven happens right here at school when they help each other and are good to their friends, brothers, sisters, parents and teachers. They stared at me in silence. One little girl raised her hand and proceeded to tell me that heaven was were the angels lived and there was lots of candy there.
Nursery School: 1 Chaplain: 0
Like I said parables are hard. The kids are right… it is beyond belief that apple trees grow from tiny seed and it is hard to imagine the kingdom of heaven. So, what does the Kingdom of Heaven look like? What is the parable of the mustard seed really about?
If we start to examine it critically, it is really quite a strange story. At first blush, it is a simple tale about a tiny seed growing into a large shrub that provides shelter for the birds. It is a lovely example of great things coming in small packages or is it really?
Funny that Jesus should chose for his example the mustard seed. The history and agricultural practices of the region tell us that the mustard seed was regarded mostly as a garden pest… a weed. A undesirable shrub that had the potential to spread and take over an entire garden. Why would anyone want a weed to grow to giant tree like proportions? Also why would anyone want all those extra birds in your garden or field? Is Jesus just a lousy gardener or perhaps he is hinting at something deeper?
Why would you want the kingdom of heaven to be like a nasty weed? Well, maybe the kingdom of heaven is a place where the least expected are invited, nourished and grow to be a blessing to others. It is a place where the outcasts, the metaphorical weeds of the worlds are valued and cherished. It is a place where all can be nurtured and reach their full potential then in turn help others. It is a place for the ignored, the persecuted and even those too small to care about…
The mustard seed parable reminded me of Brother Lawrence, and his timeless guide to prayer, Practicing of the Presence of God. Brother Lawrence was an unlikely author. Born in 1614 in Lorraine, France Brother Lawrence came of age during the Thirty Years War. From a very poor family, he received only the limited education he could get at home. As soon as he was old enough, he joined the army because they promised to feed him three meals a day. However, no long there after, he was seriously injury on the battlefield. Damage to sciatic nerve left him permanently crippled and unfit for service. Lost and alone, he tried to work as a footman but was soon fired because he was so clumsy. It was not long before, he had no choice but to seek refuge in the local monastery. Too poorly educated to be ordained, he remained a lay member of the community for the remainder of his life.
Brother Lawrence wrote to his superior, the Abbot, that he thought the monastery would be the greatest ordeal of all. He hoped that through pain and suffering Christ would refine his awkward body and soul. Instead, however, to his delight, he found not further pain and suffering but instead intense joy. While scouring the pots and pans in the kitchen, Brother Lawrence found the kingdom of heaven.
He devoted his life to finding God in the ordinary and menial. He found God while he took out the trash and while he repaired sandals. He wrote about his experience with practicing the presence of God to his superior. After Brother Lawrence’s death, the Abbot assembled all of his letters and had them bound and published into this beloved devotional manual that is still treasured today.
Brother Lawrence was a mustard seed. Not only was he a mustard seed, he wrote the handbook on how to be mustard seeds. The kingdom of heaven is there for all of us. It is as close as your own heartbeat. Perhaps, we are all called to be mustard seeds. Not to be the largest trees in the forest but certainly a large shrub. We are loved and cherished because of our ability to love and nurture not because of our horticultural pedigree. Called by God to grow with the humility and fearless tenacity of a weed.