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/)

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:

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.¹

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

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.