Call of Moses and the Burning Bush/On Holy Ground

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

Rev. Peggy Patterson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ: the King of costly grace

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David, Jesse, and fathers at the border

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, CA

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

___

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Refuge    by Tracy K Smith

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Pride Sunday: St. Alban’s style

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch

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

Pride/St. Alban’s/Proper 7

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your faith has made you well”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love is stronger than Empire

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

Gospel: Mark 6: 14-29

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.