You Are the Light of the World

Sara Warfield

February 5, 2017

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church

 

It’s my practice the week before I preach to read the texts every day and carry them around with me—on BART, through the streets of Oakland and the Tenderloin, into Trader Joe’s and CVS—wherever I go. I trust that in doing so the Spirit will give me her message, in images, in brief little phrases that pop into my head in the shower, in songs that she brings me.

What struck me about this week, though, was that the Spirit rose up most prominently in a feeling, in waves of something unnamable and powerful. I couldn’t quite name it. Was it happiness? Love? Peace?

There were elements of those in the feeling, but eventually I started to realize that the word I was looking for was light. It was the feeling of light. Do you know what I mean? Lightness, maybe. It was a feeling of being unburdened, and of seeing the people around me as unburdened. That we didn’t have to carry it all ourselves. That God was already present in me, in everyone, and was shining through each person I encountered. It felt lofty and bright and lovely.

And of course it was light. Because it’s Epiphany, and the light of the world has come, is here. Because Isaiah says, “then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.” Because Jesus tells us in Matthew, “you are the light of the world.” It’s not subtle. It’s not a secret revelation—it’s there for all of us to see in these readings.

There has been some criticism of the Women’s Marches that took place a few weeks ago that no one knew exactly what they were about. Women’s rights? All minorities’ rights? To oppose the new president and the policies he was bound to put into law—after all, it was only his first day in office. These might be important questions. They might help to clarify the purpose of such actions. Maybe. But to me, that wasn’t the point.

To me, the point was that millions of people around the country decided to put their body in a particular place at a particular moment, to let their own light shine with so many others’. Maybe each of them couldn’t articulate exactly why they were there, why they brought their children, why they were wearing pink hats. But something was calling them.

I went to both the Oakland and San Francisco marches. Estimates are that 84,000 people marched in Oakland and 100,000 in San Francisco. There were lots of signs, some that made me laugh, some that made my heart sink. But it wasn’t the signs or speeches or chants that inspired me most. It was the lifeforce, the bodies that drew together to form a much larger body, standing in solidarity. It was our collective light, each of us bringing our own unique light to shine together.

When I came back to Christ after many years away, it was when dozens of bodies gathered around an altar and passed bread and drink among us. Do this in remembrance of me. My knees collapsed, and I started to sob, as I knew with my whole body that I was loved and that I belonged. I felt my light uncovered. I can’t remember a time before that when it wasn’t partially covered, but now I felt it fully, dancing through my veins, my bones, my heart—irrepressible.

That same feeling rushed through me as I stood among tens of thousands of my neighbors at those marches—where all of us knew we were loved and that we belonged to one another, that all of our light together made a difference.

I think where I am often challenged in my own work in this world is that I tend to align myself according to what I stand against. To be honest, when I first read the readings for this week, I was immediately, impulsively drawn to one tiny bit of Isaiah: “Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.” How much do I love announcing to people their sins? You have no idea how many facebook posts I write rashly to tell people how they’re sinning, only to come to my senses and delete it. My personality tends to go towards confrontation and anger, and while there’s a place for turning over tables, I’m not sure if that serves me well most of the time.

My guess is that this is a temptation for many of us. We want to fight, to argue, to be right. We want to quote scriptures from Isaiah or post that incisive Washington Post article.

But Jesus isn’t as into arguing right and wrong as he’s into light: “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others.”

As most of you know, I have been discerning my call to the priesthood for several years now. It’s a very intentional process, and I’ve learned many things along the way, but I think all of my discernment has pointed me towards this: who is the unique person God has made me to be? What is my particular light, and how do I let it shine?

That is what I ask you today. What is your particular light, and how do you let it shine?

God isn’t interested in what you stand against or what makes you most angry. We know this if we read a little further down in Isaiah than I initially did: “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil…then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.”

God wants nothing more than for you to discover what makes you most joyful, what you are most passionate about, what makes you most you. And God wants nothing more than for you to put your body there, to embody those gifts.

I know there are people in this congregation who joyfully serve: setting up the parish hall for all of us on Sunday mornings, and organizing showers for folks who don’t have easy access to showers, and sharing breakfast with the kids at the YEAH shelter. There are those of us who are gifted listeners, providing steady presence to those who need it. There are those of us who shine through words—the poets and theologians among us. In this church are musicians and programmers and preachers and managers, all manifesting God’s light in different ways. Even you knitters, your gift shined a few weeks ago when every store sold out of pink yarn. You never know when your light, however inconsequential it might seem, will be most needed.

So I ask again, what is your particular light, and how do you let it shine? What makes the Spirit dance in your veins, your bones, your heart? No, really! Think about it. I’ll give you a moment.

That light shines wherever we invest our body—our hands, our voices, our presence. We bring our body to marches, to church, to our child’s room to read a bedtime story. We use our body to create, to write, to organize and administer, to teach, to laugh, to dance. This world needs your light, your gifts. It needs you to do, to embody, what gives you joy—however big or small it might seem. You are the light of the world.

Marianne Williamson wrote:

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

That’s probably the best news I’ve heard lately: that God’s light can be contagious, and not only contagious but ready to eradicate whatever darkness we encounter. I saw it spread at the Women’s March. I saw it taking over our Annual Meeting a few Sundays ago, as the people here stepped into their gifts for this community.

It’s already there. Right now. That unique gift God created in you, ready to shine, ready to inspire others to shine. It’s just a matter of removing the bushel basket.

 

What does it mean to be “blessed”?

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church

Sunday, January 29, 2017

 

Readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearA_RCL/Epiphany/AEpi4_RCL.html

How often do you say (or hear others say) “I am blessed”? What do they mean?

Looking today at the teachings of Jesus, I have to wonder: Do they mean, “My heart is broken and I am blessed because I’m learning to be compassionate, now that I’m awake? I am blessed because I can now imagine what it is like to bear someone else’s burden— my heart is broken, and I can see things I never saw before?”
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God. They shall see God in the midst of this broken world, and they will never be the same again.

Or do they mean, “through this grief I carry, I now have insight to be in deeper relationship with others who suffer great losses–what a great blessing!”
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted—they shall be comforted by the community of those willing to make the journey together, and they shall find healing on the way.

When we hear, “I am so blessed!”, do we think the speaker means: “No one assumes I have ideas to contribute. I would never presume to push my way in, but I am listening, and learning.
I am blessed to carry such depth in my soul.”

Blessed are the meek, for they are building up a deep, deep well of wisdom and goodness, and they shall be the ones to lead the reign of God.

Maybe we hear this: “I am so blessed, I pour out my energies, my hopes, my resources in the struggle for people to be loved and accepted, and to make the world a better, healthier, safer, fairer place. I am blessed because I can see the potential for this so clearly I can almost taste it.

I’m so thirsty for it and I’m grateful for the dryness that draws me on without giving up.”

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they are building the beloved community, which will fill their bodies and souls with goodness.

Do we consider people blessed who are able to offer mercy and loving kindness to others? Blessed in letting go of judgment, in loosing the ties of anger and the need for retribution.
Blessed are the merciful, because they understand the freedom of the soul, and they shall receive it in kind.

Or are the blessed those who don’t let the world besmirch their souls, who still look at each person and see a child of God. Who are not hobbled by wanting what they don’t need. Who are focused on the love of God, and are at peace, calm before God.
Blessed are the pure in heart, because they have the clear space of conscience and spirit to see God in all of life.

Do we think it is a blessing to work for healing of the world? To work tirelessly for something
most people think is a pipe dream?
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are learning to model for the rest of us how God’s children behave.

According to Jesus, prophets and others who get in trouble for standing up for the marginalized are especially blessed. We might think of them as the opposite of blessed. It’s a big mantle to carry.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, who are reviled and against whom evil things are said, for they are in the best company of all the faithful. They are doing the hard work now of living into the reign of God and will be at home with ease when it comes in fullness.

God’s blessings are not like gold stars for work well done. The richest blessings come through living faithfully, courageously, humbly, and with clear intent into the love of God, which necessarily means living and struggling together with other people. We are built to be on this journey as a community.

Why does Jesus single out all these marginalized categories of people for special status as “blessed”? Because living in these states makes one vulnerable enough to welcome the love of God. All of these ways of being that Jesus describes are expressions of vulnerability before our Creator that offer the chance for hearts and lives to be transformed.

If you identify with any of these blessings today—whether you are in a hole of broken- heartedness, or struggling to show mercy and loving-kindness–I invite you to take time to ask God how your heart can grow in this time. How can the love of this community grow stronger,

and your faith deepen in this midst of what you are learning and living through? How will you be different, and more Christ-like, when you turn the page on this chapter?

Brian MacLaren writes:1

Our choice is clear from the start: If we want to be his disciples, we won’t be able to simply coast along and conform to the norms of our society. We must choose a different definition of well-being, a different model of success, a new identity with a new set of values.

Jesus promises we will pay a price for making that choice. But he also promises we will discover many priceless rewards. If we seek the kind of unconventional blessedness he proposes, we will experience the true aliveness of God’s kingdom, the warmth of God’s comfort, the enjoyment of the gift of this Earth, the satisfaction at seeing God’s restorative justice come more fully, the joy of receiving mercy, the direct experience of God’s presence, the honor of association with God and of being in league with the prophets of old. That is the identity he invites us to seek.

The gospel, the good news, of Jesus Christ has never been clearer. To be blessed of God, we must be vulnerable. And we must seek out and stand with those who did not choose their vulnerability: their material poverty, their landlessness, their being passed over for the color of their skin or the place of their birth, their skill at speaking truth to power. This is not an option for the people who follow Jesus, it is the path of faithfulness. We must get out of our own way. We must be open to the transformative love of God. We must turn the world’s view of blessings on its head and open our hearts to the love of God.

God’s blessings are not measured in material wealth or any other benchmark of worldly success.

In the reign of God, the blessed are those who are open to the deep, unbounded love of the Creator of us all. The world around us is calling out for the blessings of justice, mercy and humility, and of courageous proclamation of the Gospel.

To paraphrase St. Paul, “The message about the cross is foolishness to those whose hearts are closed to it, but to those who are vulnerable to being blessed, it is the power of God.”

How blessed are you willing to be?
How much of a blessing will you choose to be?


1 Brian MacLaren, We Make the Road by Walking (New York: Jericho Books, 2014), p.129

Jesus Raises the Bar

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, CA

Sunday, February 12, 2017 (Epiphany 6A)

 

Twenty-eight years ago yesterday, The Rev. Barbara Clementine Harris was consecrated Bishop Suffragan in the Diocese of Massachusetts. She was the first woman elected bishop in the Episcopal Church, and also the first in the Anglican Communion. A woman of African-American decent, Bishop Harris was the recipient of death threats and obscene messages. A breakaway group, the Episcopal Synod of America, formed in opposition to her consecration. An acolyte at the first “irregular” ordination of women to the priesthood in July of 1974, Bishop Harris was by that time already a seasoned fighter for social justice: she was a Freedom Rider, marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama with Dr. King, and spent summer vacations registering voters in Mississippi. Boston police dispatched an entire unit to protect her consecration, and she is noted for having refused to wear the recommended bullet-proof vest. Her remark? “I don’t take it personally.” You could say that she was warned, she was given an explanation, and nevertheless, she persisted.

Bishop Harris was an honored guest, panelist and preacher at a conference for clergy women in Province VIII of the Episcopal Church (the western states), held here in the Bay Area in 2009. It was an incredible gift to meet her, to hear her preaching, and to enjoy her famous and outspoken wit. I clearly remember that after an evening worship service which was lovely, if a little dry, she took to the grand piano and said, “sisters, now let’s have some CHURCH!” and she proceeded to play gospel tunes and lead us in a rollicking time of spirit filled singing.Bishop Harris is a leader whose Yes means Yes, and whose No means No. In her active ministry, she was faithful, courageous and clear.

In his teaching in today’s gospel, Jesus drills deep. He takes teachings already known to his hearers and amplifies them. He calls his followers to an even higher standard than that of the Hebrew Law. Why? Because he does not want people to just follow the rules. He wants those who would be part of his movement to embody the very best of peacemaking within the community.

In Jesus’ time, and still in many cultures today, familial and community honor and cohesiveness are of ultimate importance. The passage we heard this morning has been trotted out into all kinds of interesting interpretations. But let’s step back a bit and look at what’s actually going on: First, Jesus makes reconciliation the highest good. More important than Temple worship is making amends with those who have been wronged or who have done wrong. “Leave your gift before the altar and go; first be reconciled…then come and offer your gift.”

He moves on to other kinds of fissures in community life: To break up a family is to cast dishonor upon and threaten the stability of the community. Scholar Bruce Malina writes that adultery, in this case, means for a man to dishonor another man in his community by having sexual relations with the latter’s wife. In other words, the offender breaks bonds of trust by disregarding the integrity of the family.1 And, because this has happened, there is a debt to be repaid. At some point it was decided that the risk of tearing the whole community apart was too great, and so the penalty was that both the man who offended, and the woman with whom he had relations, were to be killed, stopping the cycle. We know that so-called “honor killings” persist today, and that, in reality, it is women who bear harshest treatment.

But Jesus says, “don’t even commit the disrespect of crossing the boundary in your mind.
Place the value of the healthy community above your lust, your need for power, your need to prove yourself over someone else.” Marriage was both a political and economic bond, bringing two families together for the mutual benefit of both. It was not about romantic love. If marriage was the bringing together of families for a beneficial bond, divorce, was the breaking of this partnership between the two families. Again, if shame is brought, restitution must be paid. It gets messy.

All of this is in a context in which the wellbeing and survival of the community is a very high good. Far higher than the wishes or desires of an individual. The concept of the individual as separate from the community was not something that people in Jesus’ time would have grasped or even considered. There is a lot of beauty in the understanding we have for individual rights and persons, but in many cases, we have also lost a sense of considering the impact of our actions on the community.

Perhaps the idea of having this kind of measure even leaves us wondering how a community could so privilege group needs over individuals, as much as if someone from the First Century were dropped into our time, they would be amazed at our idea that we are somehow separate from one another: that our actions are individual and don’t shape the fabric of the whole community.

In the marketplace, vendors often made great claims to their clients about the goodness of their products—swearing “before heaven” or “by Jerusalem” about their veracity. Which, as is still true today, served primarily to cast doubt upon their claims. Jesus says, “let’s cut to the chase: don’t make God responsible for what you are trying to cover—just be straight with people. Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.”

Taking all of these little windows together, I wonder: in what ways do we, today, try to take the teachings of our faith tradition and make them barriers for people, rather than doors? In what ways might Jesus be calling us to step up to a higher standard? One thing that strikes me in Jesus’ teaching that lays such a heavy emphasis on the health of the community is that we would do well to remember that we are not alone. Our decisions DO impact one another, and, we are part of one another, whether we choose that or not.

Bishop Harris, when asked about the risks she took in the Civil Rights Movement, brushed it aside, saying, “Everyone was in danger.”2 As at her consecration, it wasn’t about her.

I’ve been in a number of small meetings lately where people have been talking about how to act on issues of great concern. Having done peace and justice work since I was a teen, I wonder how long it will take for these groups of enthusiastic people to start pulling at one another’s seams, or, if they, if we, will be able to stay rooted in a common vision and set aside our individual quirks and peeves to keep our eyes on the prize. This is one of the most foundational values of Church: to struggle together as human people called together in the love of God: to offer our best selves to the community, to seek forgiveness from one another when we slip, to value the well- being of the community so much that we are willing to make personal sacrifices to ensure our shared journey to being people of peace and healing for a broken world.

After the sermon she preached in Burlingame on that autumn evening in 2009,
Bishop Harris offered us this blessing, which is reputed to come from the Franciscan tradition:

May God bless you with DISCOMFORT

at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,

so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with ANGER
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with TEARS
to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war,

so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into JOY.

And May God bless you with enough FOOLISHNESS to believe that you can make a difference in this world.

 


1 Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. (Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 1992) Pp. 52-55

2 U.S. News and World Report, June 19, 1989, Lynn Rosellini, “The first of the ‘mitered mamas’.”

Jesus calls us oer the tumult

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, CA Sunday, January 22, 2017 (3rd Sunday after Epiphany)

Gospel reference: Matthew 4:12-23

 

Jesus calls us, o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea;

day by day his voice still calls us

saying, ‘Christian, follow me.’1

What do you hear, over the tumult of your life? Do you hear Jesus calling? What does it mean, “to follow Jesus?”

Yesterday, over lunch in downtown Berkeley after some 3 hours of marching together, a Canadian friend, not a church person, was asking me about Christianity in America. He said, “so, most Christians in America must be like the new president, yes?” When I answered that I think there is a very, very broad array of what Christianity looks like in America, he was surprised. He said, “well, why don’t we ever hear about that?” I didn’t have a good answer for him.

What does it mean to follow Jesus, out loud? There’s an awful lot we don’t hear over the tumult. Even though we know from so many sacred stories of our tradition that it is often in the midst of trial and storm and waves on the sea that God comes with peace, or with thunder, or with the quietest of voices, and calls us, I think we are still surprised when it is indeed in the midst of tumultuous times that Jesus’ call is clearest.

I love this hymn we just sang. Not because it’s the best music (and there are two beautiful versions!) in the hymnal, but because it really reflects a prayer of my heart.

In the midst of the tumult that always seems to be my life, I am reminded that Jesus is right there, right here, calling me to be faithful. Calling me to follow. And calling me to set aside things I love, when I get them in the wrong order:

Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world’s golden store, from each idol that would keep us, saying, ‘Christian, love me more.’ [2]

Love me more—more than ideology, or the illusion of control, or security, or middle class comfort and privilege: more than things that are so much a part of me, I don’t even think how much I love to love them.

[1] Verse 1 of “Jesus calls us, o’er the tumult” as found in The Hymnal 1982. Words by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895).
[2] “Jesus calls us…” Verse 3

 

 

Last week I saw the film “Hidden Figures.” It is the true story of African American women who worked as mathematicians at NASA in the pre-civil-rights era. It’s our history, but history I never learned in any school. The story follows three particular women, brilliant women, (Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson) who were very, very clear that God gave them amazing brains, and that they would answer the call presented by this gift to serve their country.

It was also very clear that they were women of faith. The practice of faith was both implicit and explicit in their following of the call. I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. It reminded me that there are a lot of ways to be faithful—while the Civil Rights movement was unfolding on the streets, they were quietly, consistently and unabashedly opening doors for women and African Americans inside one of the most male, most- white institutions in our country. There are as many ways to follow Jesus as there are children of God. There are a lot of ways to say “yes” to the call.

These women made sacrifices. Their families made sacrifices. When one woman’s supervisor tells his staff to “call your wives and tell them you’ll be working long hours” you see her take a deep breath. She is a widow, getting help from her mother in raising her three daughters. And, there is no phone on her desk.

What would you sacrifice or let go of to follow Jesus? The disciples left their livelihoods. They stepped away from tradition. They gave up known patterns for the unknown. What would we, the church sometimes jokingly referred to as “the frozen chosen” be willing to move to free up space to follow?

As Jesus is calling Andrew, Peter, James and John, he is simultaneously demonstrating to what he is calling them: to be people of healing; and to upheaval in their spiritual lives; to uncertainty, and to trust; to something so powerful, they will give their lives for it.

My friend, I think, was asking why Christianity isn’t messier here. Why, if it’s a broad tent, only some are talking out loud about what their faith says about following Jesus in this time, in this place. Why aren’t we, who welcome all; we, who see all people as God’s beloved ones– why aren’t we making a ruckus about that?

Why aren’t we making sure that in this land that is built on a dream of freedom–why aren’t we talking about the vast and healing freedom of Christ, in ways that can bring healing, and not division; peace that is fueled by mercy and her sister justice, and not passivity, in the face of so much evil in the world.

Instead of lamenting that things are broken, why aren’t we focused on what we bring to repair the world?

Jesus does not call us to be perfect. He calls us to follow.

 

Leonard Cohen’s refrain in his beautiful song, “Anthem,” reminds us to

Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering.
There’s a crack, a crack in everything, That’s how the light gets in.3

It is through our beautiful gifts AND our imperfections, through the cracks in the world around us, that the Christ light shines. We know from the disciples’ attempts that they most certainly were fishermen. They were not always “catcher-men.” In this call today, Jesus is inviting them to a new kind of fishing lessons. People, as we know, are far more slippery than fish!

What would it take to pry open our resistance to the radical call of the Gospel (and we all

have it) and “give our hearts in glad obedience” to be disciples, and followers, out loud,

proclaiming healing, and peace, and justice? To let the light of God shine out joyfully

and exuberantly through the cracks in our lives? To offer the gifts of who we are and

what we bring, not to make ourselves look better, not to line our wallets, but to build the reign of God, here and now?

Over what tumult is Jesus calling you today? Can you hear the call? How will you answer?

Let us pray:
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works. Amen.4

3 “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen. Full text can be found here.
4 Book of Common Prayer. Collect for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany.

 

Excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution”

Excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” Read at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, CA by the Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch, Sunday, January 15, 2017

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born January 15, 1929 – 88 years ago today. On Sunday, March 31, 1968, he gave a sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. Titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,”[1] it was his last Sunday sermon. He was a master among preachers, though. So, rather than talk about him today, I thought I’d go straight to the source. Since we are not Baptists, I am going to read you excerpts, and not the whole thing. Although some of his language is dated, it is shocking how current his analysis remains.

…I would like to use as a subject from which to preach this morning: “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” The text for the morning is found in the book of Revelation. There are two passages there that I would like to quote, in the sixteenth chapter of that book: “Behold I make all things new; former things are passed away.”

I am sure that most of you have read that arresting little story from the pen of Washington Irving entitled “Rip Van Winkle.” The one thing that we usually remember about the story is that Rip Van Winkle slept twenty years. But there is another point in that little story that is almost completely overlooked. It was the sign in the end, from which Rip went up in the mountain for his long sleep.

When Rip Van Winkle went up into the mountain, the sign had a picture of King George the Third of England. When he came down twenty years later the sign had a picture of George Washington, the first president of the United States. When Rip Van Winkle looked up at the picture of George Washington—and looking at the picture he was amazed—he was completely lost. He knew not who he was. And this reveals to us that the most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that Rip slept twenty years, but that he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up in the mountain a revolution was taking place that at points would change the course of history—and Rip knew nothing about it. He was asleep. Yes, he slept through a revolution. And one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.

There can be no gainsaying of the fact that a great revolution is taking place in the world today. In a sense it is a triple revolution: that is, a technological revolution, with the impact of automation and cybernation; then there is a revolution in weaponry, with the emergence of atomic and nuclear weapons of warfare; then there is a human rights revolution, with the freedom explosion that is taking place all over the world. Yes, we do live in a period where changes are taking place. And there is still the voice crying through the vista of time saying, “Behold, I make all things new; former things are passed away.” Now whenever anything new comes into history it brings with it new challenges and new opportunities. And I would like to deal with the challenges that we face today as a result of this triple revolution that is taking place in the world today. First, we are challenged to develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution. The world in which we live is geographically one. The challenge that we face today is to make it one in terms of brotherhood.

Now it is true that the geographical oneness of this age has come into being to a large extent through modern man’s scientific ingenuity. Modern man through his scientific genius has been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. And our jet planes have compressed into minutes distances that once took weeks and even months. All of this tells us that our world is a neighborhood.

Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured. John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms: “No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” And he goes on toward the end to say, “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” We must see this, believe this, and live by it if we are to remain awake through a great revolution.

Secondly, we are challenged to eradicate the last vestiges of racial injustice from our nation. I must say this morning that racial injustice is still the black man’s burden and the white man’s shame. It is an unhappy truth that racism is a way of life for the vast majority of white Americans, spoken and unspoken, acknowledged and denied, subtle and sometimes not so subtle—the disease of racism permeates and poisons a whole body politic. And I can see nothing more urgent than for America to work passionately and unrelentingly—to get rid of the disease of racism. Something positive must be done. Everyone must share in the guilt as individuals and as institutions. The government must certainly share the guilt; individuals must share the guilt; even the church must share the guilt. We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing “In Christ there is no East or West,” we stand in the most segregated hour of America. The hour has come for everybody, for all institutions of the public sector and the private sector to work to get rid of racism. And now if we are to do it we must honestly admit certain things and get rid of certain myths that have constantly been disseminated all over our nation.

One is the myth of time. It is the notion that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. And there are those who often sincerely say to the Negro and his allies in the white community, “Why don’t you slow up? Stop pushing things so fast. Only time can solve the problem. And if you will just be nice and patient and continue to pray, in a hundred or two hundred years the problem will work itself out.” There is an answer to that myth. It is that time is neutral. It can be used wither constructively or destructively. And I am sorry to say this morning that I am absolutely convinced that the forces of ill will in our nation, the extreme rightists of our nation—the people on the wrong side—have used time much more effectively than the forces of goodwill. And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.” Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be coworkers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. So we must help time and realize that the time is always ripe to do right.

Now there is another myth that still gets around: it is a kind of over reliance on the bootstrap philosophy. There are those who still feel that if the Negro is to rise out of poverty, if the Negro is to rise out of the slum conditions, if he is to rise out of discrimination and segregation, he must do it all by himself. And so they say the Negro must lift himself by his own bootstraps. They never stop to realize that no other ethnic group has been a slave on American soil. The people who say this never stop to realize that the nation made the black man’s color a stigma. But beyond this they never stop to realize the debt that they owe a people who were kept in slavery two hundred and forty-four years.

In 1863 the Negro was told that he was free as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation being signed by Abraham Lincoln. But he was not given any land to make that freedom meaningful. It was something like keeping a person in prison for a number of years and suddenly discovering that that person is not guilty of the crime for which he was convicted. And you just go up to him and say, “Now you are free,” but you don’t give him any bus fare to get to town. You don’t give him any money to get some clothes to put on his back or to get on his feet again in life. Every court of jurisprudence would rise up against this, and yet this is the very thing that our nation did to the black man. It simply said, “You’re free,” and it left him there penniless, illiterate, not knowing what to do.

And the irony of it all is that at the same time the nation failed to do anything for the black man, though an act of Congress was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and the Midwest. Which meant that it was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor. But not only did it give the land, it built land-grant colleges to teach them how to farm. Not only that, it provided county agents to further their expertise in farming; not only that, as the years unfolded it provided low interest rates so that they could mechanize their farms. And to this day thousands of these very persons are receiving millions of dollars in federal subsidies every years not to farm. And these are so often the very people who tell Negroes that they must lift themselves by their own bootstraps. It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. We must come to see that the roots of racism are very deep in our country, and there must be something positive and massive in order to get rid of all the effects of racism and the tragedies of racial injustice.

There is another thing closely related to racism that I would like to mention as another challenge. We are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, poverty spreads its nagging, prehensile tentacles into hamlets and villages all over our world. Two-thirds of the people of the world go to bed hungry tonight. They are ill-housed; they are ill-nourished; they are shabbily clad. I’ve seen it in Latin America; I’ve seen it in Africa; I’ve seen this poverty in Asia.

…Not only do we see poverty abroad, I would remind you that in our own nation there are about forty million people who are poverty-stricken. I have seen them here and there. I have seen them in the ghettos of the North; I have seen them in the rural areas of the South; I have seen them in Appalachia. I have just been in the process of touring many areas of our country and I must confess that in some situations I have literally found myself crying.

…Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. America has not met its obligations and its responsibilities to the poor. One day we will have to stand before the God of history and we will talk in terms of things we’ve done. Yes, we will be able to say we built gargantuan bridges to span the seas, we built gigantic buildings to kiss the skies. Yes, we made our submarines to penetrate oceanic depths. We brought into being many other things with our scientific and technological power. It seems that I can hear the God of history saying, “That was not enough! But I was hungry, and ye fed me not. I was naked, and ye clothed me not. I was devoid of a decent sanitary house to live in, and ye provided no shelter for me. And consequently, you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness. If ye do it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye do it unto me.” That’s the question facing America today.

I want to say one other challenge that we face is simply that we must find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Anyone who feels, and there are still a lot of people who feel that way, that war can solve the social problems facing mankind is sleeping through a great revolution. President Kennedy said on one occasion, “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.” The world must hear this. I pray God that America will hear this before it is too late, because today we’re fighting a war.

…It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. And the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a greater suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world, may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation, and our earthly habitat would be transformed into an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not imagine. This is why I felt the need of raising my voice against this war and working wherever I can to arouse the conscience of our nation on it.

… …Let me close by saying that we have difficult days ahead in the struggle for justice and peace, but I will not yield to a politic of despair. …I say to you that our goal is freedom, and I believe we are going to get there because however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be as a people, our destiny is tied up in the destiny of America. Before the Pilgrim fathers landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before Jefferson etched across the pages of history the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence, we were here. Before the beautiful words of the “Star Spangled Banner” were written, we were here. For more than two centuries our fore bearers labored here without wages. They made cotton king, and they built the homes of their masters in the midst of the most humiliating and oppressive conditions. And yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to grow and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery couldn’t stop us, the opposition that we now face will surely fail. We’re going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands. And so, however dark it is, however deep the angry feelings are, and however violent explosions are, I can still sing “We Shall Overcome.”

We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right—”No lie can live forever. “We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right—”Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right—as we were singing earlier today, Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne. Yet that scaffold sways the future. And behind the dim unknown stands God, Within the shadow keeping watch above his own. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair the stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. Thank God for John, who centuries ago out on a lonely, obscure island called Patmos caught vision of a new Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God, who heard a voice saying, “Behold, I make all things new; former things are passed away.” God grant that we will be participants in this newness and this magnificent development. If we will but do it, we will bring about a new day of justice and brotherhood and peace. And that day the morning stars will sing together and the sons [and daughters] of God will shout for joy. God bless you.

[1] I found the text in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., edited by James M. Washington ((Harper One: New York, 1986) pp. 268-278 Online, it’s at: http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_remaining_awake_through_a _great_revolution.1.html

Overwhelmed with Joy

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church 

Feast of the Epiphany (transferred) January 8, 2017

Overwhelmed with joy

Who were those three people who visited the Holy Family? Jesuit scholar Michael Simone writes

In Matthew’s day, the word magi described many different occupations. The word could be used for learned scholars who studied natural phenomena, like the stars. It could also be used for charlatans in the marketplace who dealt in potions and amulets. English takes the word “magic” from the latter description, but Matthew almost certainly meant the former. The magi in today’s Gospel were scholars who believed, as did many in the ancient world, that great events were foretold in the shifting patterns of stars and planets in the sky.[1]

So, if we take Simone’s word, they are three learned scholars. In any case, three people.

We don’t know how they knew one another, how they got word of this baby. But there they were, the three of them. I can’t help notice that this first visitors from afar echo the number of trinity: the community of the Godhead.

Nothing can be unilateral with three. Consensus is harder. But three people know more together than one person, or even two. They have more courage, more insight… Three is the start of a team—three people together can compare notes, link arms, hear different parts of the story, discern together.

I wonder, when they met with Herod, if they all heard the same thing, had the same dream, or if it was one of them in particular who said, “I had the craziest dream last night!” And they fit the pieces together. And maybe they talked about it. Maybe they weighed the options and the possible cost of going home by another way. Because with three there are enough, together, to say no. To sift out dreams and to discern a broader call.

Three foreigners, foreshadowing the offering of the gospel for all people, making a long journey with uncertain destination. Isn’t it interesting that when they went to the religious leaders, those folks knew where to point them, but they sure didn’t seem to care anything about this baby! Herod, the actual king in power over the Jewish tribe, has no information, but he is very, very concerned.

Michael Simone suggests that two things are happening in this story: there are people who want to find Jesus, but don’t know where to look (the magi), and people who know where to look, but are not interested (the clergy and Jewish leaders).

Now, anyone who hears the story of Jesus probably doesn’t have much trouble concluding that not everything about him fits into a “normal” pattern. If he were a “normal” royal child, Jesus would be in a royal household. Right? His first visitors would not be shepherds and farm animals, they would be high priests, people of society. The gifts his parents would receive would probably not include myrrh, used for embalming. Probably not even frankincense, used in the church for centuries to, well, cover the smell of the great unwashed masses, and for scenting the altar where burnt offerings were laid.

In Luke’s gospel, Mary “ponders” these things in her heart. I think that has to be one of the great understatements in the bible! Her family is visited by shepherds, then by these unusual foreigners, the only people recorded as bringing gifts for the baby. The people of their own tribe don’t seem to pay much attention at all.

Where are you this Epiphany – do you want to find Jesus? Are you eager enough for this to go out of your way? Would you change your life’s direction based on your discovery?

Or have you read about Jesus and just want to stay out of the way? He is, after all, not a normal member of the tribe, and people who meet him always seem to end up in trouble with the powers that be.

I know that I go back and forth: some days I really can say, “yes”! While other days, I want to protect my comfort zone. But there is something in the gospel today I just can’t shake, it is just so deeply true that it explains why these first seeds of Jesus people, wandering in from afar off, were never the same again. It’s this: “they were overwhelmed with joy.”

When I dare to be open to the journey, to focus on God’s call to me to follow deeper into the community of Love, I cannot help but fall into that profound space of joy. And when I allow myself to be on the journey with others, to be in community, where we wrestle together about the call, and the meaning, and the direction God call us, hope becomes much more tangible.

Walter Bruggeman, in his beautiful little book, Prayers for a Privileged People, offers this:

Epiphany

On Epiphany day,
we are still the people walking.
We are still people in the dark,
and the darkness looms large around us,
beset as we are by fear,
anxiety,
brutality,
violence,
loss —
a dozen alienations that we cannot manage.

We are — we could be — people of your light.
So we pray for the light of your glorious presence
as we wait for your appearing;
we pray for the light of your wondrous grace
as we exhaust our coping capacity;
we pray for your gift of newness that
will override our weariness;
we pray that we may see and know and hear and trust
in your good rule.

That we may have energy, courage, and freedom to enact
your rule through the demands of this day.
We submit our day to you and to your rule, with deep joy and high hope.[2]

[1] http://www.americamagazine.org/content/the-word/show-way

[2] Walter Bruggeman, “Epiphany” in Prayers for a Privileged People (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008), p. 163.

What did you come here to see?

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church

3rd Sunday in Advent, December 11, 2016

What did you come here to see? (Matthew 11:2-11)

Jesus asks, “What did you come out to see?” By this time, John the Baptist has been imprisoned by Herod the governor (son of King Herod who ruled when Jesus was born) because John’s criticized Herod for taking his own brother’s wife. John’s outspokenness will, literally, cost him his head. Also, hearers would have understood that a reed was a symbol for the house of Herod. And so Jesus asks, “Were you expecting salvation to come from those who rule in the name of Rome? Did you expect the children of King Herod (who, by the way, tried to have me killed at my birth) to blow the trumpet and announce my arrival? Did you think the one who prepared the way for the Son of Man would be dressed in finery and dine in castles?”

Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry, wanders in the wilderness for over a month. He faces down temptation, fasts, and was definitely not dressed in fine robes by the end of that time. John announced Jesus by saying, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.” And so Jesus is reminding people: “signing up with me is not the easy road.”

What did you expect, when you made a decision to cast your lot as a follower of Jesus? Sometimes being on the Way feels safe and protected, but a lot of other times, doing the work of love is heartbreakingly hard. And, life itself, without vowing to try and practice love, forgiveness and healing, is quite hard enough.

Just this week, here in our little parish, three parishioners lost family members: Bill Jackobsen’s wife Brett died in surgery. Blondell Barnes’ mother died far away in Antigua. And Burt Kessler’s younger brother died suddenly of a heart attack. Many of us here knew and loved Albany resident Catherine Sutton, who died Monday, and whose funeral will be held here tomorrow. And of course the week continued to unroll the names of those lost in the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland. Heartbreak. And that’s just death, which is part of life.

But, because we ARE held in love, and we have chosen to journey with Jesus, my eyes were open to see these things here, too:friends gathered to help plan Catherine’s service and console her husband. Music filled our hall (more than once). Children, safe and dry, played and studied in that same hall, all week. Violin lessons were given. Singing was practiced. There were prayers and and times of listening with people who are hurting. The Eucharist was celebrated, and Morning Prayer and Benedictine spiritual practices were shared. Meals were shared. Work happened here toward building an East Bay chapter of a national Episcopal peace organization.

In other words, life on the journey with God is a wild mix of everything—beauty, pain, challenge, hope, almost there, not really there, when will we ever get there?, joyful expectation, caving-in to fear, strength in the face of fear. But here is our anchor. Here, in our worship, is our anchor: Jesus, the Christ. We come here because of the good news, the “gospel”that gets us from stuck to free, from empty to abundance.

John Howard Yoder speaks of rescuing the word “gospel” from all the layers we have put on it today. He encourages us to look past its modern meanings as a type of spiritual county music, or the property of certain Protestant sects. He invites us to look back to it’s original meaning: a message of good news. A secular term—news brought by a messenger of the government. Maybe a battle had been won, or taxes were being lowered. It was, as he puts it,

news that “impinges upon the fate of the community.” “Good news” is the report brought by a runner to a Greek city, that a distant battle has been won, preserving their freedom; or that a son has been born to the king, assuring a generation of political stability. “Gospel” is good news having seriously to do with the people’s welfare.1

It is news with a revolutionary power: freedom, safety, a vision for the future.

The news that Jesus sends back to John in prison is good news taken in a different and powerful direction: liberation for those who are not offended at the healing actions of Jesus. Saving news to those for whom no government messenger would ever have stopped.

The other side is, of course, that there are those who are offended by this kind of good news. Those who thought they could lord it over people they deemed outcasts are afraid.It is exactly the opposite of good news to the powers that be.

Advent is a space we can use to take stock of our own spiritual location. Are the words and work of Jesus good news to us? Or are they threatening to our comfort, our stasis? Those who are utterly comfortable have no need of a savior who comes to bind up wounds, to restore what has been broken.

Advent is a time for us to be spiritually honest. Are we willing to be as vulnerable as John the Baptist—preaching repentance and assuring forgiveness? To be as close to the margins as Mary, asked to bear the incredible challenge of being an unmarried pregnant woman at a time and place where there were grave consequences for such brazenness? To be as patient as Zachariah, father of John the Baptist, silenced by the angel for the nine months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy and whose tongue is loosed only when there is good news to proclaim?

Advent is a beautiful time of preparation, of waiting and watching, but it is also a time that ought to shake us up at least a bit.

Fr. Alfred Delp, a Roman Catholic priest hanged in for opposing Hitler and, wrote an essay about Advent shortly before his death. In it he said,

The world today needs people who have been shaken by ultimate calamities and emerged from them with the knowledge and awareness that those who look to the Lord will still be preserved by him, even if they are hounded from the earth. (85) …[It is the gospel message itself that shakes]—so that in the end the world shall be shaken.2

This IS what we have come out to the wilderness to see. We know what it means to be shaken in this life. And, I hope, we know what it means to have the compassion and strength of God with us on the journey. If Advent does not shake us, then where is the space for wonder in our hearts? Where is the willingness to be healed, or indeed, to even notice or confess that we are wounded? Fr. Delp’s image of the shaking power of the message of Advent echoes today’s opening prayer. By God’s grace, may we be shaken by Holy Love.

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

1 John Howard Yoder, “The Original Revolution”, in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2004) pp. 120-126
2 Fr. Alfred Delp, “The Shaking Power of Advent” in Watch for the Light, p. 83

 

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The Slow Love Revolution

The Slow Love Revolution
(Readings: Jeremiah 23: 1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; luke 23:33-43)

If today is “Christ the King” Sunday, why is the gospel about death and crucifixion? Why is the only mention of a king from those who mocked him?

I don’t know about you, but I usually prefer to look at the world “right side up.” I’m a little averse to heights, and not super keen on being deep under ground. I like a meeting with a clear, logical agenda. I like to be able to plan: travel, my day, menus.

So when Jesus goes all upside down and inside out about what it means to be powerful, to be holy, to be of God, I, a Christian, a priest, get a little uncomfortable. Because if Jesus is the example of what it means to be full of the Spirit of God, to be faithful, and to be my model of how to be in the world, his example means there are costs for me, too.

A lot of the people who hung around with Jesus thought that he was the one to make the people of Israel great again. They thought he came to bring revolution, to make Rome pay for their mistreatment. A good bit of his speech was pretty politically provocative. He told parables that highlighted what people already knew about economic inequities, about abuses of power, about religious authority taken too far. And then he got killed. That’s not how you’re supposed to win a revolution. Not only did he get killed, he did not even resist. What kind of king lets himself be led off to death without even trying to organize an attack?

Well, this kind of king: Someone who, as he is dying a brutal, painful death, mocked by those killing him, is building community with and forgiving those around him.

The King of Love, my shepherd is. That’s what we sang just a bit ago. They were not expecting the King of Love. Most of the time, WE are not expecting the King of Love.

Or if we are, maybe it is a kind of love that has answers. Nice, clear, this is right/that is wrong kind of answers. But the tough love of Jesus is a lot deeper, a lot more complicated than that. The sacrificial love of God, often as not, calls us to vulnerability, to the hard work of forgiveness, to learning to be at peace — not just amid a world of violence, but also within communities and sometimes even within households and relationships where we are hard-pressed to envision relationships that are healed, that are life-giving.

The reign of Jesus could be called a “Slow Love” movement. Revolution is exciting. But the Slow Love Revolution has taken over 2000 years and we’re still working on it. That’s not exactly a thrilling pace. It’s a movement that is about building a community
based on compassion, mutual respect, shared suffering, and mutual rejoicing.

Being part of what Michael Curry, our presiding bishop, calls the Jesus Movement is very often not going to turn out to be what we expected. Following Jesus is not:“safe” – because sooner or later, he calls all of us to lay aside our assumptions, our privileges, and our barriers, in favor of love: untidy and unruly and all set to mess with our plans.

 

It is not easy. Belonging to Jesus is not like belonging to a country club. You don’t just pay your entrance fee and you’re done. It’s not like belonging to a book club—you can’t just read the book and be done with it. Or, if it is like a book club, it’s one that requires we actually apply what we learn from the book, and not just take it as a nice story. And we read it again, and again. And we’re always trying to figure out what the authors meant. While trying to apply what we learned.

It’s not terribly fashionable. Time was, here in the United States, going to church was the fashionable thing. What a blessing that we are now tragically unhip. Now we can get back to the work of actually making the gospel relevant again.

But what I keep learning as a Christian, as one who always longed to be one of the “cool kids” but never quite got there, is that following Jesus always makes us a little outside of so-called normal. And that’s a good thing. Jesus was not a normal kind of messiah. He’s the broken mold. He is love that doesn’t fit the usual boundaries. And so here’s the good news for us who want to follow his lead: Who we are is good enough. All of who we are is held in love. The broken pieces in us are forgiven; they, too, are loved.

Lately, I’ve taken to walking with my dog in the cemetery near my house. I find that it grounds me, gives me a longer view on things. So many generations of people seeking to love and be loved. Our lives may be short, but the love of Jesus is long.

And that is why doing the work of love is so important. Because we are each holders of one piece of it. We are each a piece of the reign of God. And the work of spiritual discipline and growth is to allow God to continually shape us and call us deeper and more fully into God’s heart.

Letting go of what binds us. Setting us free to see and serve the needs of others. Helping us be willing to take the slow road, the one with the bumps and the detours and the danger signs and the wild beasts. Because that is also the one with the heart- stopping views, the support and connectedness of community, and the deep sense of being who and what and where we were created to be.

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints. (Collossians 1:11-12a)

 

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, CA November 20, 2016

For in your welfare I find mine

Jeremiah writes to the exiles in Babylon (modern day Iraq): But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. He has just told them to settle in to the place they have landed, in the place of their conquerors, their captors. He tells them to pray for these “other” people, the enemy. To let their daughters marry in, for their sons to seek wives there. Settle in, he says. Plant your gardens here. (Subtext: you’re going to be here a while…) This is not a recipe for surrender. It is a teaching about radical love and the wisdom of seeking the good of even those considered “enemy.” Why, because, “in their welfare you will find your welfare.”

Yesterday in Oakland, folks gathered at St. Columba Catholic Church to hear about the work of Jubilee USA: the organization to which our parish belongs, and which works on issues of poverty and justice around the world. This year’s focus for Jubilee Sunday is “Love Your Neighbor,” and there are two domestic foci: U.S. student debt, and payday loans. (They are also continuing to work on the national debt situation in Puerto Rico.)

Why? Why should we care if young adults are graduating with college debt in the 5- and 6-figure range? How does it affect us if others in our community take out loans against future paychecks at interest rates so high they may never be paid back?

Debt can be a kind of captivity, and like any other kind of enslavement, everyone it touches is affected. Our welfare is tied together. If young adults graduate with crippling student loan payments, they are heading out into the work world already stressed. Their debt, under current structures, can never be released. It is passed down like an unforgivable sin, visited from one generation upon the next. Payday loans are equally insidious, with interest rates so high it can be close to impossible to pay off the principal.

I was reading last night about the devastating path of Hurricane Matthew. As of the last numbers I saw, almost 900 people have died in Haiti, and many towns in the South of the island nation are close to 90% destroyed. We could look at things in our own communities that perhaps are dire for others, but don’t seem to touch us directly: maybe it’s housing, gun violence, poverty…the list goes on.

Jesus crosses boundaries in today’s gospel when he heals a group of people who are unclean:

10 lepers come pleading for the mercy of healing. Despite his complaining about the 9 who don’t return, I do not think that Jesus healed them so that they would come back with thank you notes. He healed them because he understood that mercy is always the way of God. This mandate from Jeremiah to the captives in Babylon is radical.

I was at the new Berkeley Art Museum this week, and spent some time sitting in a beautiful slightly darkened exhibit room there, full of gorgeous, peaceful images of Buddha from ages past, including one that was probably six feet tall. And that reminded me of a Buddhist prayer for Universal Loving-Kindness.

The prayer, which gets increasingly radical as it continues, goes like this. (I invite you to sit comfortably, and perhaps to close your eyes or at least let your focus relax):

  1. May I be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to me. May no difficulties come to me. May no problems come to me. May I always meet with success. May I also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  2. May my parents be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  3. May my teachers be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  4. May my relatives be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  5. May my friends be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  6. May all indifferent persons be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.
    May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  7. May my enemies be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  8. May all living beings be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.
    May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

May it be so.

What was that like? Sometimes it’s easier to pray for people who are indifferent, or even “enemies” than for those closest to us by blood. But praying for enemies to be well is pretty hard, no? But that is exactly what Jeremiah is asking for. Because God is the God of all people, of all creation.

And, I find, praying in this way does get easier with practice. When I remind myself that unless all beings are well, none of us is truly well, none of us free while some are not free—then it is easier for me to wish good for all. So the people in Haiti, in Iraq, in debt, in stress—our wellbeing is connected to theirs. And, when we are the person in the eye of the storm,

in financial straights, in challenging times, how beautiful are the prayers and the love of others,

known and unknown to us, who wish us well, healed, and joyful!

In the narthex are three information sheets:

one from Episcopal Relief and Development about their hurricane relief fund;

and two fact sheets from Jubilee, about student debt and payday loans.

I encourage you to pick them up on your way out and, at the very least, use them as a prompt for your prayers. Barbara Metcalf was at the workshop yesterday in Oakland, and has said she’d be willing to sit at a table at coffee hour if folks have questions or want to know more.

This idea—showing mercy and loving kindness to others is for OUR good, as much as it is for the good of the “other” —is one of the most radical challenges in the life of faith.

May God so soften our hearts

and strengthen our resolve to be people who love with radical abandon,

that we may ourselves become people of love and mercy. Amen.

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch

Proper 23, Sunday, October 9, 2016

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, Calif.

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