Reflection – Chanthip Phongkhamsavath

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 20, 2020

Good morning. After last week and the beginning of this week spent mostly indoors, I will say it has been a blessing to be able to open up some windows and take a deep breath. A much-needed deep breath it felt…to clear my mind…and to find something different which I hadn’t pieced together before in today’s readings.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard the passage from Exodus or of the laborers and the landowner, however I struggled with it a little more then I feel like I have in the past. Maybe because it hasn’t been so long ago that we woke up to a red and orange sky – a day filled with eerie darkness. A day that seems like it could be a journey in a different type of wilderness, although I was blessed to spend it inside there were many laborers who were not. I cannot seem to get the image of the farmworkers harvesting outdoors set against the orange sky out of my head. And I wonder if they complained to the landowners for having them work that day.

My natural inclination in the readings was to see the complaining.  In Exodus, “Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you  out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining against the LORD. For what are we, that you complain against us?”

And in Matthew’s Gospel, the laborers grumbled against the landowner.

It seems fair on both accounts given the immediate situation at hand.  However, in both readings there was something else that was present, yet was a little harder to initially grasp, because it was not for me the easiest to relate to right away – and that’s the generosity. When the people complained to Moses, the Lord responded with a bit of a test through providing food. However, it is a generous test, one that gives nourishment first not requiring the Israelites to past their test before being rewarded.

And the Landowner’s response to the grumbling laborers who have worked a full day, “‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’”

I think the very human response of wanting fairness created my resistance to the portion of that reading that is also accurate – as I imagine the laborers and the different hours that were worked I am envious – initially envious of what seems like those who only had to work shorter hours – yet what I began to realize was I am more envious of the generosity.

I know that I am capable of generosity, however I wonder if I am capable of the type of generosity that is in the readings today. After bringing the Israelites out of Egypt, it seems the Lord has to continue to show them through the bread how blessed they continue to be.  And in the reading from Matthew, Jesus through the parable notes the generosity of the landowner – God’s generosity.

And that is where in our current day, it is sometimes hard to believe in that type of generosity. Someone willing to give a day’s wage for anyone they come upon willing to work. It makes it harder considering, just a week ago, the headlines of a Time’s article read, “The Top 1% of Americans Have Taken $50 Trillion From the Bottom 90%—And That’s Made the U.S. Less Secure.” That was just one article, there were numerous others that highlighted how COVID-19 has further exacerbated the wealth gap across the country. It amazes me to think of how wide of a gap that is in the world, the U.S. and even in just the Bay Area alone.

It makes me want to take from the top one percent and redistribute it – it makes me want to complain about how unfair things are. Except what would I do if I were in that top one percent – what would you do?  Would you be willing to be generous with what you have?  Would you be willing to give someone you hired the same amount for working just one hour versus someone who worked all day? Especially if you also had family and others you cared about and wanted to ensure were taken care of?

Except this is a parable and in the Kingdom of Heaven I don’t think its wages that are being given out. It can be very easy for me to be stuck in the literal, in hours worked and comparisons of hours in a day. That is the limitation that I feel like I need to be reminded to push past, to get out of thinking about how I would feel as the complainer – and remember instead what is being offered.  And it is being offered to all who are willing to receive it and there is no limit.

An opportunity for the work that I and we put in to be part of a greater whole, to benefit from God’s generosity. The generosity does not make any of us worst off, it only makes us all better off. Because for each of the laborers, if I imagine what happens next, each one is able to take that wage and go home – to hopefully purchase dinner for themselves and their families. And because of the generosity of the landowner more are nourished, and in a literal sense are not starving. So why would I not want the landowner to continue to seek others willing to put in as much work as they can when they are found, for in the end the more who are willing to work, I would hope the work lessens – maybe just a little.

Work though, even if there are many to help in finishing a task, is still work.  And even though it is Sunday, it is a different type of work that we do together. The work that tries to understand the extent of the struggle in not being perfect, in not being envious of our neighbors, of wanting more than maybe what we have – and recognizing the salvation and grace offered to us.  It is a generous offer, despite our imperfections or because of it and our work to follow Jesus’ teachings, that we are given God’s love.

There is a portion in the second reading from Philippians which I think encapsulates it, “And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well– since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”  I would say it is not suffering but rather the work that we are asked to do, in order to recognize and receive the generosity of God’s love and to practice it with others. The most rewarding things often come when there has been some hard work and struggle put in, so let us do this work together and appreciate the generosity of our Lord and Savior.

Amen.

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Reflection for September 13, 2020

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Genesis 50:15-21, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35

Lawrence DiCostanzo

The readings today from Genesis and Matthew are about forgiveness.  I will tell you:  This has been the hardest scripture for me to tangle with.  I think that the reason is that the land of forgiveness shares a very long border with the land of sin.  And I do not like to think about sin.  Amazingly, tangling with the topic has brought me right back again to the Sermon on the Mount.

So . . .  forgiveness.

Let’s say I live in a lovely house.  It has trees on the lawn and pretty shutters.  The kitchen is beautiful and sparkling.  There is a great room for reading and TV and a nice, clean, neat work shop.  Even my junk in the basement is neatly stored in boxes or covered with plastic sheets.  It’s satisfying.  Then, like a good householder, I wonder about checking the foundation.  So, I dig a little to assure myself that the house is nicely built on rock. This is called denial.  What I find is plenty of wet sand, centipedes, and little rock.  That is my house.  I have to do something about this foundation.

I have to build a new foundation or engage in the unending process of rebuilding the old one.  That means excavating my dark side.  This process of excavating and building requires forgiveness.  Forgiveness is part of the machinery of rebuilding.  Forgiving others, forgiving ourselves, and one of the hardest things — working out forgiveness when the person we’ve hurt is not available any more.  Sometimes we just need to ask for the grace of being forgiven.

There is always another person besides myself that I need to consider.  Just as wrongdoing is relational, so is forgiveness.  Therefore, maybe a better word is reconciliation.  We mutually forgive and are forgiven.  If love has subspecies, forgiveness is one of them.  So, forgiveness is love.

But it is dreadful and scary to look at what’s under the basement.  There is unease and dread and sorrow.  I have done something wrong to a human or an animal or an aspect of creation.  I may have left someone to grieve even in a small way.  Denial is my protection. It is just too hard to take on the burden of dread or sorrow. .

God is with us in those moments of sorrow and dread.  This just has to be the case.  For one thing, St. Paul says says sorrow precedes repentance.  (2 Corinthians 7:10)  I mean, who’s to argue with him?  But for another, Jesus scolds us about forgiveness.. Think of his warnings in the Sermon on the Mount.  Do not let the sun go down on your anger!  Reconcile with your brother before you make that offering at the temple!  You’ll burn just for calling your brother a fool!  Settle with your neighbor before you get to court and feel the pangs of judgment!  This is his way of saying: your heart does suffer when you do wrong.  Your heart suffers when you don’t forgive.

Let’s look at some very great wrongs and see how it goes.

You will recall that there was an awful genocide in Rwanda in 1994 when 800,000 people were slaughtered in 100 days.  A lot of them were slaughtered by hand, one-on-one.  A few years ago, the New York Times ran a stunning photo essay on a selection of perpetrators and victims.  In the photos, individual victims and survivors posed with the individual perpetrators who had committed the atrocities that personally affected them.  I burned down her house!  He killed my children! They were neighbors and fellow townsmen.  Just like in South Africa at the instance of the blessed Desmond Tutu, Rwanda initiated a coming together.  After the suffering and dread and shame, the perpetrator actually comes to the victim’s house and kneels and asks.  It takes courage on both sides, a putting away of dread and shame and rancor.  They now testify (I am paraphrasing):  Forgiveness is mercy; I used to be a dry stick; I found peace in my heart.

In Genesis, Joseph suffered a terrible wrong.  His brothers had always been violent men.  Now, they stripped Joseph and threw him into a pit out of jealousy and hatred.  They were going to kill him., but, instead, they made money off him and sold him into slavery.  Then, they lied to their father Jacob and kept their lie hidden for years.  In the meantime, before his rise to the heights in Egypt, Joseph was first a slave in Egypt, suffered an injustice and then spent years in prison.

After all the great revelations were made and after Jacob had died, the brothers asked Joseph for forgiveness.  They were motivated by fear that Joseph would hurt them.  They perhaps made up another lie about how Jacob told them to ask Joseph for forgiveness.  Whatever was the case, when Joseph responded with tears, they truly did ask for forgiveness.  They wept and fell down before him.  Of course, Joseph took the high road, saying that God had planned it all anyway.  But I doubt that Joseph had forgotten the injury done him and still carried its weight.  Nonetheless, the tears are witness to the reconciliation.  As high and mighty as he was, the inner boy Joseph needed to be recognized.  He was entitled to forgive.  The brothers were now entitled to forgiveness.  This is what was on offer in Rwanda.

In today’s really difficult Gospel passage, Jesus, though a parable, tells a story about us.  In the first part of the parable, the king forgives an incredible debt.  This is ten thousand talents!  An amount out of the Arabian Nights.  He does it because the debtor begs for more time to repay.  The king, of course, knows that the man will never be able to repay.  Nonetheless, the king forgives completely. He is moved by pity.

It is my default when I read this passage to think that the king is God who forgives always the ways in which we do not measure up.  Always – seventy times seven!  This is, in my opinion, a limited view the parable.  The king is also us.  Why?  Because Jesus is answering Peter’s question about how often he should forgive his brother.   Jesus’ reply is:  Be like the king!  Just for the sake of the story, Jesus pumps us up to high status and unlimited generosity.  His exaggeration gives us an aspiration.  In his challenging way, he is saying:  Be like God!

In the second part of the parable, Jesus tells the parallel story, the story of non-forgiveness. I think the parallel story is needed to give the story of the king better perspective.  The forgiven man does not do as was done to him.  He refuses to forgive a paltry debt.  Note how this man is owed, but is not a victim – not like Joseph or a Rwandan victim.  He is simply called to forgive or extinguish a debt.  He is being called to love.  But his issue is simply that he does not love the debtor.  When we think how the king was moved by pity, we see that the wrongdoing is a failure of love.

I started by saying that preparing this reflection eventually led me to the Sermon on the Mount.  In the Sermon, Jesus says a lot about reconciliation.  Do not let the sun go down on your anger!  Reconcile with your brother before you make that offering at the temple!  You’ll burn just for calling your brother a fool!  Settle with your neighbor before you get to court and feel the pangs of judgment!   Jesus is smart and he knows that we have a dark side and he knows that we suffer because of it.  But he knows more than that.  He wants us to step up to a lot more.  He wants us to be Joseph and the king.  He wants us to love and not be like the unforgiving man who failed at love.

Jesus’ advice about reconciling with your brother and so forth almost immediately precede the Sermon on the Mount’s unique, far-reaching, summary of the highest law.

. . .  I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous . . .  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

This passage seems to me to apply both to perpetrators and to victims.  It says what forgiveness really is.  This passage helps in the continuous project of building my house on rock and not on the sand.  Of taking my dark side into the light.  It’s not that I’m perfect like my heavenly father – I mean, who could!  But I can be a work in progress towards being a house on rock, a better citizen of the Kingdom.  I can at least be aware of God’s example.

Gathered in my Name

The Rev. Dani Gabriel

Sermon, September 6th, 2020

Readings: https://lectionarypage.net/YearA_RCL/Pentecost/AProp18_RCL.html

Gathered in my Name

I love Sundays. My old habit was to wake up early and walk to church in the morning chill. I’d get to St. Alban’s at least an hour before the service. I’d let myself in and I could hear Fred in the Parish Hall getting ready for coffee hour but otherwise nobody else was in the building. Usually the hallway would be dark. I’d open the sacristy and get a chill, it’s always colder in there for some reason. I’d place my sermon on the lectern, corners folded, and check the Gospel book and the altar book. I’d make sure the bulletins were out and I’d often mess with something the Altar Guild would prefer that I didn’t. I’d go back and put on my alb and listen to people arrive in the sanctuary. One by one, each voice I knew, settling into the pews. And then Richard would begin to play and whoever was serving would join me in the sacristy. We would pray together, and that always marked the real start of the service for me.

This passage is all about the collective nature of our lives as Christians. It refers to the church, one of only 2 times the word appears in the Gospels, the body that has changed greatly over time but seeks still, in ways the disciples couldn’t have imagined, to follow Christ. This passage is about how we are to manage those relationships with great care, and at the heart of it it’s also about how relationship is significant to God. Relationships are how we know God, and relationships are where God meets us.

We quote this passage all the time, but what does “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” mean right now?

I can’t listen to you all arrive, or get an early cup of coffee from Fred. There’s no altar party to pray with. The peace at St. Alban’s was legendary, it was one of the highlights of church for me. I’ve never seen anything like it. Every single person shaking hands with or hugging every other person, the news of the week being shared, and such boisterous joy. I remember having to shout to regain everyone’s attention. But no more. We can’t congregate in the sanctuary, and a handshake or a hug would be a total impossibility if we could. Our lives have changed. Our life as a church has changed. It’s been six long months. I don’t know how it feels to you, but to me it feels like years.

My new routine is different. I’m still up early but there’s nowhere to go. I bring my coffee with me to church. I’m still always early, to check in with Becky before the service starts. There’s often some issue with Zoom. Then one by one names and faces appear until the screen is full. I still find Zoom overwhelming, I can’t always focus. But I do hear those familiar voices, and then seemingly from a million miles and a million years away, Richard plays the prelude.

It is both a radical departure, and the same St. Alban’s that has been a comfort and a joy to our community for so many years.

At the beginning of the pandemic I questioned whether we could even be gathered over the internet. Like, would it count? Would Jesus show up? It sounds a little silly but I honestly wasn’t sure. I was nervous that we would cease to be the Body of Christ if we couldn’t physically gather as a body. I am embarrassed now that my idea of the Holy was so small that I doubted.

We have had our share of mishaps. Some Sundays the hymns won’t play right, the wrong person speaks at the wrong time, someone neglects to mute themselves. But the Gospel is always the Gospel. It always carries Good News for the poor and the oppressed, which has only become more relevant in recent weeks. And that is what brings us together and makes us who we are as Christians, this message of hope for the hopeless, in all times and places, even this one.

If I were a little more clever I would create a Zoom account for Jesus, so we could see Him arrive in our midst, maybe I’d even add a picture. But He is surely here where we are gathered, just as if he had his own little rectangle on the screen. He’s here in our commitment to keep showing up, to keep being church, to keep being active in our church community and our community at large as voices and labor for justice and for service.

Let’s continue to care for our relationships, to notice who’s not here, and to build the beloved community in new ways. None of us thought we’d be here a year ago. There’s no telling where we’ll be a year from now. But I believe we will still continue to gather in some format, and that Christ will be present wherever and however that is, and that it will be nothing short of miraculous.

 

 

Call of Moses and the Burning Bush/On Holy Ground

Year A  Proper 17    August 30 2020  St. Alban’s
Exodus 3:1-15   Call of Moses and the Burning Bush/On Holy Ground

Rev. Peggy Patterson

Yahweh begins this morning’s Hebrew Scripture with the familiar conversation between Moses and the Burning Bush in the Wilderness of Mount Horeb.

Moses turns to the Burning Bush and hears the Angel of Yahweh call to him:
“Moses, Moses.”
“Here I am” Moses replies.
“Come no closer. Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is HOLY GROUND.”

God says: “The PLACE ON WHICH YOU ARE STANDING is HOLY GROUND.”
What does it mean to be on HOLY GROUND?
What makes it HOLY?
Have you ever felt as if you were standing on HOLY GROUND?

Before we dive into Moses’ whole conversation with Yahweh,
I invite you to take a moment to think about what makes a place HOLY GROUND for you?
… is it an intimate experience of God?
A Sacred Shrine?
A sense of CALL from GOD?
It certainly does not have to be in a church, …in fact, we call our Study Circles on Anti-Racism “SACRED GROUND”.

Before we accompany Moses to the Burning Bush this morning,
Before we join him in his HOLY GROUND experience of God’s CALL…
I invite you to spend a minute… 60 seconds in silence,
recalling, conjuring up the most SACRED, MOST HOLY ENCOUNTER
you have had with God.

“Take off your SANDELS,” at least figuratively, for one minute, and acknowledge the way you feel when have an intense experience of GOD’s PRESENCE, maybe even hear God’s VOICE within you.
Can you remember a time when you knew you were standing on HOLY GROUND?
(ONE MINUTE, 60 seconds, of silence…) Hold onto your image.

I pondered my own experience of Holy Ground this last weekend.
I began to think how differently my mornings would unfold if every single day I stepped out of my bed and into my day remembering that EVERY MORNING I do stand on God’s Creation, on HOLY GROUND.

This morning, we walk with Moses up to the Burning Bush in the Wilderness of Midian.
Moses almost didn’t live to tell the tale!
You remember last week, when Larry beautifully reminded us of Moses’ birth story…how he was hidden during the first three months of his life so he would not be killed by the Pharaoh who was jealous of the Hebrew children.

Three courageous women saved Moses:
Moses’ Mother created his safe passage in the basket, and gave him milk from her body to nourish him,
Moses Sister spoke up at just the right moment to assure that Moses would be brought up as a baby in his own Hebrew home with his own mother,
And Pharaoh’s daughter had compassion on this immigrant baby, and took him into her own home, raising him as a royal child.
In fact, Pharaoh’s daughter gave Moses’ a NAME with TWO meanings to help keep him safe.
The Hebrew NAME “MOSES” meant “taken up out of the water” which was surely Moses’ fate…but in EGYPTIAN, MOSES meant “SON OF KING TUT, the Pharaoh’s SON”…
CLEVER PRINCESS: what better way to assure that a Hebrew baby boy would be safe as he grew up in the palace!

And GROW UP MOSES DID…
Today we meet Moses all grown up.
The narrative has fast forwarded past Moses’ upbringing in Pharaoh’s PALACE. Now he is a full-grown man, aware of his dual immigrant heritage and now increasingly uncomfortable with the plight of his Hebrew brothers and sisters.

One day, his temper got the best of him as he watched an abusive foreman treat a fellow Hebrew slave unconscionably/He flew into a RAGE and KILLED the OVERSEER.

Moses almost escaped without anyone’s finding out, but eventually in another heated argument over treatment of the Hebrews, an Egyptian Overseer taunted MOSES by saying: “Oh, you are the one who killed the foreman.”

That was enough to make MOSES flee to the Wilderness…away from the big city of RAMESES and off to distant relatives in the land of MIDIAN.

In true biblical fashion, MOSES met his future wife at the well of his future father-in- law.  She was watering the Priest Jethro’s flocks… Happily,
Moses was welcomed into the family by his new father-in -law who was glad to add a man to a family with seven daughters!

Moses and Zipporah lived a long life in the wilderness of Midian. In fact, Moses was 80 years old when he received his call from Yahweh in the BURING BUSH.

On the day in question, MOSES was minding his father-in-law’s FLOCKS and took them to a new pasture beyond the wilderness, near Mt. HOREB,
the Mountain of God.
Moses was standing in the clearing in the field when he saw the BURNING BUSH full of fire, but strangely, it was not consumed.
Moses was curious…and when Yahweh saw Moses walking over to the BUSH, he CALLED OUT TO HIM:
“MOSES, MOSES”
“Here I AM” he said.
“Come no closer, PUT OFF YOUR SANDALS, for the ground on which you are standing is HOLY GROUND.”
Moses knew this was real…and he was afraid!
He hid his face so he would not see Yahweh, for fear he would die!

In one of the tenderest passages of scripture, Yahweh poured out his heart to MOSES: confessing his LOVE for ISRAEL and his COMPASSION for His PEOPLE.
“I am the God of your Fathers,
I am the God of Abraham,
the God of ISAAC,
and the GOD of JACOB.
I have seen the affliction of MY PEOPLE who are in Egypt. I have heard their cries. I know their suffering.
And I have come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians, to bring them up out of that land to a GOOD and BROAD LAND,
A Land FLOWING with MILK and HONEY.
I have heard the cries of my People ISRAEL!

Then, Yahweh looked directly at MOSES and said:
“COME, I will send YOU to Pharaoh that YOU may bring forth my people, the people of ISRAEL out of Egypt.”

With that, Moses looked up in disbelief:
“ Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of ISRAEL out of Egypt?”

Moses Protested!
You know how this conversation went: Moses thought of FIVE reasons he should not accept Yahweh’s CALL.
1.    First, Moses protests that he is unworthy…and God says, “Don’t worry. I WILL BE WITH YOU.”
2.    Second, Moses insists that the people will not believe Yahweh has sent him. He insists that he wants to know GOD’s NAME… After all Egypt has many gods. So, God provides his NAME:
“I AM who I AM.”
3.    Third, Moses does not think the people of Israel will listen to him…So God surprises Moses with a magic staff with a serpent’s head…and even demonstrates its healing powers.
4.    Then, Moses says he is afraid that he will not be heard or understood because of his speech impediment…so GOD says,
“I made your mouth and I will provide you with words for PHAROAH”
5.    Finally, Moses admits that he is afraid to go to Pharaoh ALONE, so he asks God to send someone along with him.
God says, perhaps a little frustrated:
“After all, I WILL BE WITH YOU”…but I WILL ALSO SEND AARON TO BE YOUR MOUTH PIECE and your STRENGTH.

If you think about it, Moses is amazing! Even standing on HOLY GROUND, MOSES is not afraid to have a genuine conversation with GOD.

Maybe the boldest thing MOSES asks of God is his NAME:
Of course, Usually, Yahweh’s NAME not even spoken by the Hebrews:
“MY NAME IS: “I AM WHO I AM.” Tell the people that I AM  has sent you.
Some scholars say that a better translation of God’s Name might be:
“I WILL BE WHO I will be…or I will be who I AM”

In other words, Yahweh is PROMISING, and REASSURING MOSES and US that God will always be GOD for you.
Yahweh says: “I will be FAITHFUL and I will always be YOUR GOD.”

Think back on your HOLY PLACE, your HOLY GROUND. What was it like to remember that time/place/voice?

Interestingly, Moses did not have to go to a HOLY PLACE far away to find that Holy Ground. He heard God in the midst of his everyday life,
tending the flocks of his Father-in-law JETHRO.

Granted, he did have to look up from what he was doing, (thank goodness he didn’t have an iPhone!) Moses did have to “look ASIDE” AT THE BURNING BUSH (WHICH WAS NOT CONSUMED), but he saw it in the midst of his ordinary life.

PERHAPS, this week, we may look for the messages from God.
Remember they may appear in unexpectedly places and times in our lives… You never know when you may find a BURNING BUSH at our feet, calling you to a new journey…
You never know when you may be called to set others FREE in our own day, to listen yourselves to a voice from A Burning Bush or from the Ground of the Holy One.

In the HOLY PLACES of our lives we are asked to listen, to respond and to act  to the people crying out today in our streets, in our detention centers, in our families so that more people in our country and in our world may live and taste the Land of MILK and HONEY which God has provided for us all.

“TAKE OFF YOUR SANDALS this week,
The LAND ON WHICH YOU ARE STANDING IS HOLY GROUND!”

THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church ● Albany, California ● April 26, 2020
Sermon by Steve Hitchcock
GOSPEL: LUKE 24: 13-35
During the eight weeks of Easter, those who designed the lectionary decided to make the “Old Testament Lesson” a reading from the Acts of the Apostles. It’s not true that their decision was based on the fact that Acts is Becky Osborne-Coolidge’s favorite book of the Bible. But I could be wrong.

I think the reason they chose Acts is because it illustrates how the apostles carried out those final instructions of Jesus that end Matthew’s Gospel. On the mountain top, the Risen Christ says two things: (1) I will be with always whenever you are together in my name and (2) go out, baptize, and make disciples of all nations.

This is the Third Sunday of Easter, and our Gospel reading takes us back to Easter day – rather than a week later as was case with Thomas and the disciples in the locked room. Today, we have the happy conjunction of the penultimate story in Luke’s Gospel and an early chapter of Acts. You’ll recall that Luke and Acts were a two-volume narrative, written by the same author.

Thus, many have noted that the road to Emmaus is similar to a story in Acts. In chapter 8, Phillip is on a road and catches up to a chariot with an Ethiopian eunuch who is perplexed as he reads the prophet Isaiah. Phillip opens the Ethiopian’s eyes to see how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, the embodiment of God’s promises.

In our Gospel for today, though, the two disciples are more than perplexed. They are disappointed and full of sorrow. Their hopes for the future are dashed. As is often the case in these situations, they ended up in a heated argument. “Discussing” is a weak translation of a verb that implies at least “vigorous debate.”

These days, we too are engaged in heated debate – sometimes only with our isolated selves. As individuals, we uncertain about what to do next. As a society, we our engaged in mass anxiety about the future. We, too, might wish that could escape Jerusalem and head for Emmaus.

But another story in Luke – an echo of today’s reading – suggests how we might find joy in our present circumstances and hope for the future.

All the way back at the end of chapter 2 in Luke, we have the account of the boy Jesus in the temple. This young whipper snapper is explaining the true meaning of the Scriptures to the elders, the religious scholars of the day.

Now in chapter 24, we are invited to walk along with the two disciples. The journey to Emmaus provides narrative space to review “all the things of Jesus of Nazareth” – from those early days in the Temple onward through Luke’s Gospel. And, what we hear is a review of all of history as Luke’s genealogy starts with Adam.
As Phillip later does with the Ethiopian dignitary, Jesus provides the interpretative key to the Scriptures. The key is Jesus himself as the pivot point in Luke-Acts: everything before is the old era and everything after is the new era.

And what makes that new era possible is Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was God’s plan (that’s what “necessary” means in the Gospels) that Jesus suffer rejection and death at the hands of the religious leaders.

That Jesus was rejected by some – and put to death yet raised to life – made it possible for all people to be saved. In the words of Simeon in the temple, which we know as the Nunc Dimittis: “My eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel.”

This is Luke’s Gospel, so salvation and revelation involve a meal. Without much encouragement, Jesus joins the two disciples as they recline to eat.

To be sure, this meal represents the Eucharist, the breaking of bread in which the Risen Christ is present. But this three-person meal also prompts a review all the other meals in Luke and Acts – meals that bring together people from all walks of lives, rich and poor, sinner and saint, the upstanding and the criminal.

In the account immediately following today’s Gospel, the Risen Christ appears to all the disciples and repeats the same interpretation of the Scriptures he gave to the two disciples. And, once again, it’s not until Jesus eats something that the disciples’ eyes are opened. Significantly, this meal involves both fish and bread.

Thus, the meals at Emmaus and at the end of Luke’s Gospel remind us of that really big meal – when Jesus takes two fish, breaks five loaves, and feeds the 5,000.

The good news for us today is that life is a joyous banquet of abundance. We can’t help but trust that there’s enough for everyone – and that there no work or eligibility requirements for these benefits. We all get new wedding dresses and tuxes.

No wonder, then, from its earliest days as we hear in Acts, the church appointed deacons to see that those in need were fed. We, too, at St. Alban’s continue to feed those in need, despite the extra effort it takes now to distribute the food.

And all over the country, Christians and others are pressing their members of Congress to expand SNAP – and suspend those mean-spirited restrictions. Our representatives in Congress are also working to pass legislation to make sure children receive school meals all summer long.

Last week in John’s account about Thomas, we heard the good news that – even while isolated – reading the written words about Jesus connects us with each other as God’s family. Today, we hear the promise that every meal during these anxious days is a meal we share with others. Even in our isolation, we have lots opportunities to break bread – and to experience and give thanks for God’s gracious abundance. Amen.

Christ: the King of costly grace

 

Readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp29_RCL.html#ot1

The end WWI saw the fall of many royal families across Europe, and a rising number of nationalist movements. In 1925, Pope Pius XI, responding to this newly-shaped world published the encyclical Quas Primas,[1] (Latin: in the first) in which he created the feast of Christ the King Sunday, which we mark today. The Pope had a number of things on his mind when he published this letter to the Roman Catholic bishops. What has carried down to us today, as this feast has been adopted in many mainline Protestant churches, is this reminder that, as Christians, our first and primary allegiance must be to Christ. This call precedes any national identity, and necessarily reconfigures our priorities.

If we claim Christ “the King,” we are choosing to follow one who disregarded long-standing tribal identities, who sought healing for those on the farthest margins, and who questioned even the rules of his faith tradition, when they got in the way of healing, feeding, and worshipping.

I wish it was called something that reminds us a bit more of the irony of the title, maybe “the feast of Christ, the Lord of the upside-down kingdom,” lest we get confused about what kind of royalty we’re talking about here.

Pilate, asking Jesus political questions, is looking for political answers that fit his frameworks for power and authority. They are having a kind of parallel conversation: Jesus is not looking for what Pilate understands as a “kingdom” – his revolution is built on pretty much the opposite of everything that shaped the Roman empire. Jesus’ building blocks, his strategic plans, his roadmaps, and his foot soldiers (so to speak) are all rooted in something very different: they are built of the power of love– the power of love: from which flows justice, wrapped in mercy; strength, knit of compassion; and boldness, empowered by understanding that God, and not Caesar, is the ultimate arbiter of our lives.

With this kind of ultimate authority comes a freedom unknown in any earthly realm: no one needs to fear the healing, merciful, unshackling power of God’s love. God does not seek to overthrow our self-centeredness or lack of love with might, but instead to turn us around to grace, with breath-taking experiences of abundance where we least expect it; of overwhelming gratitude when we get those glimpses of what the gift of life really means; and of mercy—in our everyday interactions with others, and when we risk love and sometimes more to stand up for Gospel values.

When Pope Pius wrote his encyclical, one of his concerns was that ALL people should call on Christ as king and Lord. This had, as it turns out, political implications for him as the head of the Papal States. Now, I have no aspirations for any kind of religious office that involves a funny hat, but I can tell you that I’m a lot less concerned with the whole world becoming Christian, and a lot more convinced that it’s past due time for Christians to simply act as though Jesus is the Christ, and thus the model after whom we ought to pattern our lives.

This, too, has political implications: it means that before we are Americans, or Brits, or Nigerians or Germans or Russians or Italians or Mexicans or any human-constructed political entity, we are first citizens of God’s reign. And this places responsibilities of allegiance on our hearts. It ought to shape decisions that mark our lives, every day: how do we treat the earth? how is our food raised? How do we know, treat, and love our neighbors? How do we see those labeled “other”? Especially those from other places, other racial groups, or those with views or practices we find challenging?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who famously went to his death for plotting the assassination of Adolf Hitler, wrote, taught and died for his belief that Christians have a higher allegiance than nationality, and that his fealty to God meant acting to stop tremendous evil. Meanwhile, here in this country, today, people are being housed like little more than cattle, families are being stripped apart for being foreigners and those who have come here from countries deemed something by our president that I won’t dignify with repeating are persecuted largely for the color of their skin.

In Durham, NC, this week, a man who has been living in his church until he can receive a fair immigration hearing went as required to report to immigration officials. Entering the court building, he was tackled by plain-clothes officers, handcuffed, and taken to jail. He was reporting in to fulfill requirements leading to the hearing for his appeal.[2]

We’ve been down this road before: we have imprisoned entire racial and ethnic groups, kidnapped and enslaved the offspring of many nations, with their surviving generations continuing to be abused and killed for the color of their skin, and we build political capital off the backs of the oppressed. Multitudes have lived and continue to live well off the proceeds of these transactions.

But, through the lens of God’s love, all are diminished by the reducing of some as “other,” as “not worthy.” Through the lens of God’s love, the first questions to measure a community, a state, a nation, ought to be, “how does love direct us to love and serve all?” How does mercy tend her children here? Does justice offer a fair hearing for everyone?Or, as Bonhoeffer reminds us, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, following Jesus Christ means opting for costly grace, and saying no to the cheap goods:

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like [a huckster’s] wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?…

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “[you] were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.[3]

Costly grace is Emmanuel – God with us, the Prince of Peace, Christ the King. Our allegiance to this King costs us everything, and gives us back life in the fullest.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quas_primas

[2] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/samuel-oliver-bruno-immigrant-arrested-by-ice-durham-north-carolina-church/

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, first published in German as Nachfolge in 1937, is widely available in an array of publication formats. 

David, Jesse, and fathers at the border

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, CA

Proper 6B, Sunday, June 16, 2018 (Father’s Day)

Today’s readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp6_RCL.html#ot1 

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34

 

Jesse must have been confused, to say the least, when the baby of the family was chosen by the priest to be the second king of Israel. The longer story in 1 Samuel jumps around in time and is conflicted about David’s age at the time of his selection. But what is clear is that no one expected the kid who was out keeping the sheep head off to lead the nation. David had a huge and complicated role ahead of him, and while there’s no way of knowing, it’s very unlikely that he would have had any idea of the complicated responsibilities he’d have to embrace.

One portion of the story in Samuel shows several of his brothers engaged in Saul’s army, fighting the Philistines – and then David shows up to slay Goliath. They deride him for thinking that one they see as a child can accomplish what the army could not. And, he walked into a situation with a king then-rejected by God for arrogance and disobedience. David’s job, according to another portion of the story, was to play music to sooth Saul’s tangled and angry mind.  Saul makes David his armor-bearer, which indicates that David was not some little waif, but had the build of a warrior. In his own way, clouded with rages and the knowledge that the end of his rule is near, Saul loves David, and David shares a true bond of love and friendship with Saul’s son Jonathan.

We don’t hear a lot more from Jesse, though he comes up in genealogies of Jesus, in Isaiah’s beautiful poetry, and even in Advent stories with the tradition of the Jesse tree. He is the root that makes the tree of David grow and flourish.  I wonder: Did he see much of his famous son in the years that follow? Did he ever get to sit down at the dinner table and dare to give advice to his now all-powerful son? Those parts don’t make it into the story.

I wonder what it was like in those days for Jesse, the father of King David.

___

It’s Father’s Day, a day to celebrate the many and wide-ranging blessings of fatherhood, to pray for fathers everywhere, and to give thanks for the blessings implanted in us from our fathers. For many, it is also a day of confusion, of exploring wounds that are yet unhealed, or mourning what might have been. And, for immigrant fathers seeking a better life for their children at the southern border of the United States, today, like too many of the days previous, will be a day of terror and unimaginable loss.

Their children – babies, toddlers, youngsters, teens – will be torn from their arms in a system of intimidation and abuse intended to keep people fleeing horror in their home countries from wanting to enter our nation of immigrants.

Violence visited upon families by drug cartels in Central American countries is raging and, parents, still believing that even the now officially immigrant-hostile United States will be better than the horror in which they are struggling to survive, are lining up at the border to seek asylum. Others are crossing wherever they can.

It is now the stated policy of our nation to remove children from their parents and house them in prison-like facilities, often states away. Parents are not informed of the whereabouts of their children. This is our national response to people, like us, whose forbearers came here – fleeing wars, economic stress and seeking the opportunity to begin anew. The Los Angeles Times, in a piece fact-checking questions about this policy, confirmed reports that in some instances, parents were told their children were being taken to be bathed, and instead were sent to separate detention facilities.[1] According to The Washington Post, as of this past Thursday, 11,432 children are in the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, up from 9,000 in early May.[2] The Post article features a prominent pediatrician visiting a detention center for immigrant children under the age of 12 on the Texas border. Dr. Colleen Kraft, the doctor making the visit, spoke of the harm to developing children’s brains caused by the traumatic separation from their care givers. The workers at the shelter are not allowed to touch the children. Not allowed to touch children, including toddlers. Imagine: no mom, no dad to hold a screaming toddler who doesn’t understand why her parents have left her. You don’t have to be a parent to feel that pain.

What is happening at our borders is wrong. It is immoral, and it has far-reaching impacts for society – ours and others. Where will these children finally land? Will they ever see their fathers and mothers again? Our country has significantly contributed to many social disasters in Central America already – policies of earlier decades led to the flourishing of gangs like the infamous Mar Salvatrucha 13, or MS13. We have overrun democratically elected governments, supported corrupt dictators, meddled in elections, created trade agreements that hurt both US and Latin American workers, but this separating of daughters and sons from their fathers and mothers is a new and morally unconscionable low.

If people of faith do not speak out now, we are morally responsible for what I fear is just the first step into a field of greater horror. I urge you to educate yourself about what is happening, financed by our tax dollars, and continuing under the watch of those we have elected to office.

Then, I urge you to act. This is not a political issue: it is a moral one.

Jesus teaches in today’s gospel that the kingdom of heaven is like tiny mustard seeds, which, like the young David, appear insignificant, but can grow to house a community or lead a nation. We are those seeds. Will we allow ourselves to touch the ground and bloom? We can be the seeds of love that grow and cover the ground with insistence for justice. For the love of all fathers everywhere, may we find the courage to act on the love we proclaim.

U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K Smith,[3] an African-American woman who grew up nearby here in Fairfield, offers us this poem, “Refuge.”

Refuge    by Tracy K Smith

Until I can understand why you
Fled, why you are willing to bleed,
Why you deserve what I must be
Willing to cede, let me imagine
You are my mother in Montgomery,
Alabama, walking to campus
Rather than riding the bus. I know
What they call you, what they
Try to convince you you lack.
I know your ankles, the sudden
Thunder of your laugh. Until
I want to give you what I myself deserve,
Let me love you by loving her.

Your sister in a camp in Turkey,
Sixteen, deserving of everything:
Let her be my daughter, who has
Curled her neat hands into fists,
Insisting nothing is fair and I
Have never loved her. Naomi,
Lips set in a scowl, young heart
Ransacking its cell. Let me lend
Her passion to your sister, and
Love her for her living rage, her
Need for more, and now, and all.
Let me leap from sleep if her voice
Sounds out, afraid, from down the hall.

I have seen men like your father
Walking up Harrison Street
Now that the days are getting longer.
Let me love them as I love my own
Father, whom I phoned once
From a valley in my life
To say what I feared I’d never
Adequately said, voice choked,
Stalled, hearing the silence spread
Around us like weather. What
Would it cost me to say it now,
To a stranger’s father, walking home
To our separate lives together?[4]

 

 

[1]  Molly Hennesy-Fiske, “Was a breastfeeding infant really taken from an immigrant mother? The answer to this and other questions about families separated at the border” Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2018 http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-immigration-families-border-wall-20180616-htmlstory.html

[2] Kristine Phillips, “‘America is better than this’: What a doctor saw in a Texas shelter for migrant children,” Washington Post, June 16, 2018 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2018/06/16/america-is-better-than-this-what-a-doctor-saw-in-a-texas-shelter-for-migrant-children/?utm_term=.afba09ad5706

[3] For a brief biography of Ms. Smith, see Poets.org bio Tracy K Smith

[4] “Refuge” published in Wade in the Water, by Tracy K Smith (Minneapolis, Graywolf Press, 2018)

Pride Sunday: St. Alban’s style

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch

Sunday, June 24, 2018, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, CA

Pride/St. Alban’s/Proper 7

Readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp7_RCL.html#ot3

 

In the midst of a world that feels overflowing with fear, distrust and dissembling, there’s a lot of love in the air today. Saul and David’s relationship was not exactly the inspiration for the psalm we sang together. But David and Jonathon were another story.

It’s unclear how much time passed from this initial promise of love until Jonathon’s death in battle, but it was a vow of faithfulness renewed multiple times, and Jonathan risked his life for love of David more than once. As the Pride festival continues in San Francisco and elsewhere this weekend, it is so beautiful to have our readings rooted in such a story of love. Love looks different in each setting, of course, but it always has these things in common: concern for the other, willingness to risk, and a sum greater than its parts.

The first recorded British martyr was a soldier in the Roman army who took in a priest fleeing persecution and, in return for lodgings, received the gift of faith. Many of the details about our Alban’s life remain unknown. For instance, scholars have long said the year of his death was in the early 300s, but more recent studies point to the early 200s. Was he a Roman citizen? Or forcibly enlisted into the Roman army? We don’t know. And, I don’t think it really matters. What remains and is the singular focus of our patron saint’s story is a conversion to self-giving love. Alban not only took in the man, he took in his teaching: learning about Jesus and God’s limitless love. He may have been baptized by the priest—again, we don’t know. And then, when his fellow soldiers came looking, he switched places and gave his life in place of his guest’s. Having heard the teaching to lay down his life for another, he took it seriously and put his love of God and neighbor into action.

We often sing together a hymn that proclaims, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea” And we believe that. There is a high value on love and mercy here–I believe it is part of the very DNA of this congregation. We aren’t flashy about it, we just live our love. It may take us to far-flung places, but mostly it is here, praying, making sandwiches and early morning breakfasts and writing letters and passing the peace and showing up for one another.

It struck me when I first interviewed here: how no one seemed scandalized at my marital status (divorced) or seemed concerned about a single mom being your rector (Maybe I was just so happy that I missed it, but I don’t think so…)

But one thing that has consistently struck me, and I don’t know if those of you who are regulars here have noticed it, or if it’s just such a part of our natural welcome

that it didn’t even bear noting, but excepting a small number of folks who’ve assisted short-term, every single clergy person who has been deacon or assisting priest at the altar here with me has been gay or lesbian.

I was welcomed here by The Rev. Barbara Hill, our beloved deacon, who died in 2015. I learned so much from Barbara about sacrificial love. I know her spirit remains with us.

One beautiful morning just a few months much later, the Rev. Michelle Meech, then a transitional deacon working at the seminary, came to church and, in her self-effacing way, asked if she might “hang out” here for a while, and her ordination to the priesthood took place in our sanctuary.

When I heard that my sometime spiritual advisor the Rev. Duane Sisson was retiring, I went out to Moraga to plead my case that he and Burt land here. I’m grateful they did!

It came time for Deacon Barbara to retire, and, fortunately for us, her wife, the Venerable Kathleen Van Sickle, brought her own beautiful charism as our deacon.

We raised up the Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield to be a priest in the Church, and we are blessed that while she seeks what’s next, she’s often here at our pulpit and altar.And, worth noting: her wife, the Rev. Rachel Cosca-Warfield, is a pastor in the United Church of Christ.

The Rev. Will Scott and I have known each other for many years, and it’s a gift to us that he asked to make St. Alban’s his home base, too.

We’ve just been blessed for the past year by the loving ministry of Anna Rossi, soon, I hope, to become a candidate for ordination. The Rev. Reagan Humber, now serving as pastor of a congregation in Denver, worshipped and ministered here in the year or so leading up to his ordination. And the Rev. Jason Lucas, now a rector in Minnesota, served here while a transitional deacon.

Had the Church not (at long last) affirmed that when we proclaim that all are children of God, and meant ALL, including LGBTQ clergy and laity, imagine all the loving acts that would not have been welcomed, here, in this place: the visits to people at home and in the hospital, the beautiful sermons we would have missed, the works of feeding, the service of acolytes, altar guild members, vestry members and fiscal managers, lectors, ushers, flower-arrangers, Eucharistic ministers – there is literally no corner of ministry in this parish (lay or ordained) that has not been served by people who have otherwise been marginalized by both church and society for their sexual orientation.

In today’s gospel, the disciples are out in the boat. The wind whips up and they are paralyzed with fear. These days don’t feel too different in our society from what I imagine those men in the boat must have felt in their bodies. Jesus reminds them – and us – that love is stronger than fear, and has the power to work miracles. When we open wide the door to love, we follow in the footsteps of the self-giving love of Jonathan and David, of Alban, whose courage and faith imbue this place, and of so many who, whether in blessed memory or daily life make love tangible with courage, prophetic action, and service.

It’s going to take a lot of this love to heal our world. So let’s keep the door open wide, and not neglect the admonition from St. Paul: Now is the acceptable time. Now is the acceptable time for love made flesh in our words and deeds.

May the Holy Spirit, source of love and life, root us always in courageous love, and grow us ever more into a people of loving action.

“Your faith has made you well”

The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, CA
Sunday, July 1, 2018
Maybe I’m optimistic, but I tend to believe that rules are usually created with good intentions. They protect. They make sure people don’t cheat or get cheated. They help us to honor each other’s well-being. Rules give us structure, and structure helps us to feel safe. What would driving be like without rules like “drive on the right side of the road” or “red means stop”? I tend to think that that rules are there for a reason.

 

I thought about what rules mean when I spent time this week with the hemorrhaging woman we heard about in the Gospel. This presumably Jewish woman. This presumably Jewish woman who, according to purity rules of her day, was unclean. While a woman bled during her menstrual cycle—or during an illness that prolonged that cycle—according to the Levitical laws, she was not supposed to touch others or be touched, or those she touched would also be unclean. Other people couldn’t even touch where she sat. Now this sounds harsh and a little misogynistic, and maybe it was, but like I said, I tend to believe rules are there for a reason. So I dug. I wanted to know the context of these laws. And I found a compelling reason. Blood, obviously, transmits diseases. It’s the same reason, maybe, that athletes are required to leave games when they take a hit, get a cut, and are bleeding. They can’t get back in the game until the trainer can wipe up the blood and put a bandage on the wound. For those moments they are unclean, not allowed to be in contact with anyone else.

I tend to believe that rules are created with good intentions. But what happens when the enforcement of the rule becomes more important than the intentions of the rule? What happens when we honor the letter of the rule more than how it is actually serving people?

What happens when a society is more concerned about an unclean woman touching them than they are about the fact that she’s been bleeding for twelve straight years? Or the fact that she’s spent every last cent she has on finding a cure and is now destitute and desperate?

What happens when a society is more concerned about enforcing their border laws than they are about the young children who are separated from their parents because of how those laws are enforced?

What happens when a society is more concerned about whether or not Antwon Rose should have ran from the police than the fact that a 17 year-old is dead from shots in the back?

Our society has created our own versions of unclean people under the cover of “rules are rules.” Their stories not worth hearing, their dignity not worth preserving, their lives not worth protecting because rules are rules.

It’s easy to paint this as an us/them situation. Us the rule-followers against them the rule-breakers. Or us the oppressors and them the victims. Or us the victims and them the oppressors. But the truth is, we’ve all played each of those roles at some point. And we have all have been deemed unclean in the eyes of someone at some point. I can’t even guess at the ways each of you has suffered because you broke a rule—maybe a rule about what it means to be a “proper” woman or a “real” man or a good parent. Maybe a rule about who you’re supposed to love—or not love.

When you live so long by a rule that does not make room for your truth, it eats away at you. Not only had the hemorrhaging woman spent twelve years not knowing what it

meant to be healthy, she spent twelve years not being touched, cast to the margins because her body did not work like other bodies. I can’t imagine how desperate she must have felt. So she wandered into the crowd, heedless of the rules, and she reached out.

What would you do? What do you do? Where do you reach for when you don’t know what else to do? When you’re scared because you’re not sure if the situation will ever change?

Are you one of those people who, like me, reach for the quick but shallow safety of rules? Maybe obnoxiously correct people’s grammar or get irrationally angry when someone is double parked because the rules feel like the only control that’s left.

Do you reach out for whatever might numb you? A drink or hours of television or late nights on Facebook.

Do you distract yourself to exhaustion? Go out every night, see friends, go to events, keep yourself busy. Not to get support, but just to pretend like everything is fine.

These are ways to cope, yes, but I wouldn’t say that they are ways to reach out like the woman reached out. Because reaching out requires trust. Reaching out requires that we recognize that we can’t do it alone, that healing only happens through love, and love only happens in relationship. Reaching out is an act of faith. And faith is a ridiculous risk.

“If I but touch Jesus’ clothes, I will be made well.” What a ridiculous, faith-filled idea.

But here’s the thing about Jesus. He is the literal embodiment of relationship. God with us. The form that love took when God entered into this world to be in relationship with God’s people. And we know that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

It suddenly doesn’t seem like such a stretch that even the smallest act of connection with Jesus would heal. And she was healed. Before anyone knew what happened. Even Jesus. And that smallest act of faith shook him. Even in the middle of that thick crowd, where people were pressing in on him, he felt that tiny reaching out. Before Jesus could even understand what happened, she was healed.

Then he turned around, wondering who touched him. Despite her fear that presumably she made Jesus unclean by touching him, she revealed herself and told him what had happened. Did this Jewish teacher chastise her for breaking the rules? Did he punish her for doing so on purpose despite knowing better?

No. Jesus recognized her need fulfilled. He engaged her, deepened the relationship, called her daughter. And then he went even further: Jesus made this woman the agent of her own healing. “Your faith has made you well,” he said.

You were suffering and desperate. You didn’t know what to do. But you trusted in me, and reached out, and your faith has made you well.

Love is stronger than Empire

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, CA Sunday, July 15, 2018, Proper 10B

Gospel: Mark 6: 14-29

 

There are a lot of words in that story, especially for the Gospel of Mark. So let’s be clear about what happened: King Herod, who is something of a puppet ruler for the Romans, has a very broken relationship with his brother, Philip. As the king, Herod only answers to Rome, a power that doesn’t seem to care much about his morality. So he takes Philip’s wife for his own. John, the truth-teller, speaks out against the king’s lack of moral fiber, and is thrown in prison. Herod sees that John has power and a following. But Herod is also curious about John and his teachings. Then one night Herod gets drunk, is enthralled by his step-daughter’s dancing, and promises here whatever she wants. Salome is smart – she knows Herod is powerful, so she asks her mom what she should do. The Greek used indicates that she is a girl—not yet a teen.

Herodias, maybe to test Herod, wants revenge on John for publicly shaming them.
And of course Herod doesn’t want to appear weak, so he agrees. It’s an old, old story, one that plays out in various shapes time and again, and one that is also stunningly contemporary.

It reminds us of the cruelty and randomness of violence in the Roman Empire, and of the end which generally awaits prophets. In case we are tempted to think that the state murder of Jesus, in whose name we gather, was a singular event, John’s death shows us that even a dinner party can be deadly if the powers that be decide you are a threat.

Corrupt leaders are not a new thing in the 21st Century, and anyone who is a puppet for an occupying force keeps an eye out for potential trouble-makers. So that’s how John’s head ended up on a serving platter (literally). And then Herod hears of Jesus, John’s cousin, and he starts getting VERY nervous. It’s starting to look like this might be a bigger movement than just one guy with some followers.

You might wonder: we proclaim this as gospel—as good news. Where is the good news here? This story has another, critically important layer, because it shows us the power of prophecy, of speaking the truth in public, of being part of a movement based in God’s love.

John, who may have been languishing in prison for over a year, represents a threat to a corrupt regime. But he is not alone. Mark points out that at John’s death, Jesus and his followers are right there, coming up in the next flank. It is a portrait of non-violent resistance, of refusing to be cowed, of claiming the power of something stronger than fear. Herod stands in for the power of Empire. Empire does what is expedient, often motivated by fear. The love of God demands something else, calling us to go deeper, broader, higher, to live in gratitude for what Ephesians describes as “the riches of grace lavished upon us.” Love is always stronger: stronger than fear, than greed, than grasping for power.

For years now, people have been gathering the first Saturday of every month at the ICE detention center at Pt. Pinole, demanding and end to policies separating immigrant families and imprisoning tax-paying residents whose only crime is trying to live here and support their families. On Tuesday, the mayor of Contra Costa County announced that he would not be renewing his contract with ICE. He credited public outcry for a large part of the reason he is willingly giving up this $3 million dollar contract.
Speaking the truth to power makes a difference.

 

I had the great privilege of hearing the Rev. Dr. William Barber speak Thursday night at First UCC Church in Berkeley. Barber, who is just a year older than I am, is a modern day John the Baptist, and a true prophet. I so wished Anne Langston was there with me,
and I suppose she was. The authorities no doubt keep their eyes on Barber, because he has already shown that he can mobilize communities for change, for healing, and to live out the power of Gospel love.

He is the leader of the Moral Mondays movement which began in 2013 in North Carolina, when, over the course of 40 weeks, growing from a handful to thousands, people gathered at the statehouse to protest regressive legislation. Their voices made a difference, and their method has spread to other states. More recently, he has revived the Poor People’s Campaign, a grassroots movement begun by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., focused broadly on social issues and rooted in a call for resuscitating the moral fiber of our country.

At the packed 1st UCC church, speaking to a mostly non-religious crowd and receiving multiple standing ovations, Barber repeatedly turned to his bible to talk about what God demands, the call of the prophets, and the power of love, when we are willing to let go of our narrow self- interests, and let them be bound together with the needs of others.

The movement he calls people to join does not focus on one issue, but looks broadly at voting rights, economic justice, labor rights, education, healthcare, environmental justice, immigrant rights, criminal justice, LGBTQ rights and militarism, arguing that we cannot win progress if we stay in our particular issue silos, but look toward a new moral movement that calls for a renewed heart of our nation.

One of the most humbling moments for me was when he acknowledged that this is an exhausting time to be alive and speaking truth to power. And then Dr. Barber, a former high school football player, who stands 6’2” and still has a formidable build, asked the largely white audience, “Are you tired of fighting for justice?”
And went on with a litany…

Do you think Japanese Americans interned in WWII were tired? Do you think enslaved Africans were tired? Do you think Rosa Parks was tired?
Do you think the workers in the fields picking our vegetables are tired?

So, do you think John the Baptist was tired? We know Jesus and his followers got tired. But we must not grow weary of speaking the truth, of calling, in love, for justice, for mercy. Love is not the easy route. Love demands our best, our highest. And love is more powerful than Empire.

You can whip up a crowd with fear, with hatred. But to build a movement that will endure, and heal, and welcome and rejoice that takes the Love of God which nothing on earth can break, and against which not even death can prevail.

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them. Amen.

(For more information about The Poor People’s Campaign, see https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/; Rev. Dr. Barber’s organization is here: https://www.breachrepairers.org/poorpeoplescampaign/)