sermon on sabbatical, weeding, and love (also Ephesians)

It’s good to be back here with y’all. 

I feel like I should ask you how your summers have been? 

[really chat this one up] 

And how have you changed since the beginning of summer? 

[answers, probably way fewer]

Interesting how summer isn’t the same season of infinite possibility 

it was when many of us were kids—

it’s got pockets of rest and possibility, 

but for a lot of us summer is the same as not-summer. 

It’s been a bit different for me this year, 

since I’m returning from three months of sabbatical.

A whole bunch of people have asked me what I’ve been up to and what’s different after some time apart. I’ll tell you: rest and recalibration. I also feel like I should lay my cards on the table and say I’m excited for the next years of ministry at UC and with you—I love this job and I’m not leaving any time soon.

This summer, I’ve been weeding. All of the things. I haven’t really focused on my garden for a couple of years so, even though the structure is there and there are a ton of beautiful flowers, the weeds have settled in for the long-haul. You know those ones you try to pull up but only get the top, and you know the root is lurking down there, biding its time and getting even bigger and harder to get out? Those ones. I weeded my back-yard flower beds, re-dug and planted my vegetable garden, removed five overgrown bushes from the front, pulled out piles of poison ivy and English ivy, turned my compost, and was attacked by rose bushes—did you know they’re carnivorous? It’s true! It’s all hot, sweaty work. I imagine there are some of you who think that sounds like torture or the opposite of what a restful season should be. I love it.When the soil is just moist enough that you can pull things up by the roots easily, or that moment when you’ve been struggling with a particularly difficult root and it suddenly releases and you’ve got this massive root in your hands? Makes me feel like I could do anything! I also find weeding to be extraordinarily meditative. It’s just me and the dirt, my thoughts slowing down and lingering. Y’all know I’m an intense and immediate kind of person, so taking the time to breathe and just be out there in Creation is a gift. One of my favorite things to do was just to sit on a bench out there and appreciate the garden for itself, partially weeded, blooming, shady, a work in progress.

You know I’m not just talking about plants here in church, I’m talking about souls. There are plants in my garden that never should have been planted and which, once rooted, are almost impossible to remove. English ivy and xenophobia, wild violets and greed, false indigo and lust—we could all do with a little weeding and pruning.

This summer, I worked in my interior garden, reshaping the edges, pulling out things that take up resources but don’t give back, fertilizing things that bear fruit and flowers. Did you do any of that work this summer? I said back in the spring that sabbatical isn’t just for the one taking it—it’s for the whole community. We all need to rest and look at our lives from a wider angle. Resting from our labors for a season—fallow time farmers call it—is also about discernment. It’s the “so what” moment—this is what our lives look like, this is what the world looks like, so what? What is the next good thing God is calling us to? What are we doing with this one wild and precious life?

Three days in to the sabbatical, Leighton and I were laughing in the kitchen about something and he said to me, “Oh, there she is,” like I’d been living in the shadow of a huge branch that had just been pruned. It wasn’t an accusation from my loving husband, not a finger-wagging judgment, just an awareness. I wondered, “Where haveI been?” Friends, where have youbeen? What branches are shading you from the light of community and connection and God? What’s keeping Good Shepherd as a whole in the shadows?

This reading from the letter to the Ephesians seems to be a laundry list of things to do to make our garden flourish. The writer is intent less on an accusation to the church in Ephesus and more on reminding them that they’re part of the same body, if you want to continue the metaphor, part of the same garden. They won’t be perfect, they and we don’t live up to the standards there—be angry but do not sin, do not grieve the Holy Spirit, forgive one another. I mean, sometimes, yeah. But not always, not as much as we want. Not even in the very moment when we want, sometimes. But it’s not a demand or an ultimatum, it’s a plea, or, maybe more accurately, an invitation. “Walk in love,” the writer says, “as Christ loved us.” Some translate it “live in love,”—it’s about your motivation, your ground of being. For ancient Jews, walking with God meant faithfulness, attention, intention. And not in the “road to hell is paved with them” kind of way, not the surface, “Bless her heart.” Walking in love is a way of being that doesn’t rule out mistakes or hurting each other. Walking in love is about the art of attention and the art of the possible. What is good in your inner garden for building up rather than tearing down? What couldbe?

I came back briefly this summer for Judy Herman’s funeral. I sat up in the corner of the balcony and sang and listened and wept. I had a moment during that service—maybe because I’d come directly from my garden, maybe because I hadn’t seen y’all for a while, maybe because God just knew I needed a little push—when I saw the transcendent. Perhaps it was a vision. It’s something I’ve experienced before, but rarely. I looked around at all the beautiful people there—all the people who’ve come to my classes, who’ve cooked for NOSH, who’ve been grumpy with me for a sermon or with each other for whatever sins we commit, who’ve struggled with addiction or self-righteousness or depression, all of you beautiful people tall or short or dark or light—it was the briefest of moments that felt like deep water, a moment of sudden love and connection for everyone in this room, whether you were in that room or not, if you follow me. And it expanded beyond this room for just the briefest of moments, a span of time I couldn’t really define, to include all of the church—traditional and progressive and evangelical and Pentecostal and American and African and the past and the future—I saw for just a moment the great cloud of witnesses and the created, physical bodies of us, the church, and indeed it was very good. It was unapologetically a “kumbaya” moment.

We will sin against each other again. We will deny our own needs and the needs of others. We will allow our vision to be clouded with partisanship and fears of scarcity. We are not perfect, but we are perfectly-suited to love.

I am aware of the trite endings of things like Harry Potter where the big twist is that love saved the day. Spoilers. It doesn’t always. The absolute love of God protects us from nothing—the bad things still happen to presumably good people. BUT, but. Love is what allows us to live with those things, what encourages us in the middle of them to keep going, what invites us in the face of deplorable situations to look for possibilities. Love, the love that is God and the love that comes from God, is about curiosity, welcome, spaciousness. There is no border for that love. 

The letter to the Ephesians could be read as a checklist of who’s in and who’s out, but that is such a narrow, unChristlike way to read it. Just as the flowers in my garden unfurl themselves towards the sun, opening up to receive, so Ephesians invites us to unfurl our selves, our souls and bodies towards God.

Theologian and mystic Jim Finley writes, “Let’s say you are sitting in prayer and using your breath as the prayer. As you inhale you listen to God saying I love you. When you breathe out you exhale I love you: you give yourself to the love that gives itself to you.”

“This is not saying that you are not in pain, that you are not sad or confused; nor is it saying that you don’t need to deal with these things.” Instead, “we are grounded in the courage that empowers us to touch the hurting places.”

We are part of something bigger than ourselves, bigger than what we can see, whose architecture and purpose is love and connection. We will perpetrate violence of all kinds against each other, and yet we are members of one another, leaning like plants towards the light of the sun. 

I’ll leave you with a poem by Dame Julian of Norwich, a mystic and woman of great wisdom and faith who died in 1416:

“Be a gardener. 
Dig a ditch
toil and sweat, 
and turn the earth upside down
and see the deepness
and water the plants in time. 
Continue this labor
and make sweet floods to run
and noble and abundant fruits to spring. 
Take this food and drink
and carry it to God
as your true worship.”

 

May it be so.

Maundy Thursday sermon about endings and beginnings. But mostly endings.

A very long time ago,

a man and his friends sat down at a table for dinner.

They had been through a lot together, these friends.

They had given up a lot to be together—more than they knew.

They ate together most nights

and because it was the celebration of the Passover,

of course they would meet again

—nothing was out of the ordinary.

Something was coming—they all felt it—

but they didn’t know what.

The men and women around the table talked and joked

with the comfort of brothers and sisters.

They ate slowly,

savoring the plates of lamb, eggs, bitter herbs,

and unleavened bread they passed.

They drank wine and delighted in one another’s company.

 

And at the same time, even longer ago,

the people called the Israelites sat down for dinner.

In Egypt, in slavery.

They had been through a lot together already, these people.

They had given up a lot

—and had had a lot taken from them to be together—

more than they knew.

They ate together most nights, but this night was special.

They ate with their shoes and hats on,

their walking sticks in their hands,

their luggage packed for a journey. 

They ate quickly,

pausing only to pray to God for mercy.

They barely tasted the bread and wine and bitter herbs.

And they ate in both fear and excitement.

 

And at the same time, far in the future,

a group of brothers and sisters sat down at a table for dinner.

They had been through a lot together, these brothers and sisters.

They had given up a lot to be together—more than they knew.

They didn’t eat together very often any more, not as a whole group

at least not in one another’s houses.

But they did meet every week

to pass a plate of bread and a cup of wine.

They loved one another deeply

and yet didn’t quite know what to do about it

in the vast and changed world.

They talked and joked with the intimacy of family

and remembered all the times they’d eaten together,

every meal for 2,000 years.

They knew something was coming,

they knew what it was

—had heard the story, too, for 2,000 years—

yet they didn’t understand it, didn’t really know their part.

They ate, loving one another, loving God,

loving what they thought they knew.

 

*    *    *

 

The man and his friends, a very long time ago,

were about to depart:

the man would depart this life and he grieved to think about it;

his friends would depart from each other and from him,

running away in fear and grief.

Only Judas would have the courage of his convictions

and only the women would return.

    The man knew that this departure, this ending

would also be a beginning

        And he knew that beginning would not make the end less painful

    His friends knew something was ending

        Maybe they thought the rule of the Roman oppressors was ending

        Maybe they thought their poverty and directionlessness were ending

        They didn’t know that this would be their last dinner together

            That this was the last meal of a condemned man

            That this last supper would feed them in the wilderness

 

And at the same time, that people called the Israelites, even longer ago,

    Were about to depart:

        They would depart from Egypt and the slavery they had endured

        They would depart from the life they had known,

oppressive as it had been

and embark on a long journey into the wilderness

        but before they left, they covered their doorposts with blood

marking their homes

so that the angel of death would pass over them

they killed the lamb, and ate it in fear and joy

    grieving the loss of their old life,

ready to leave for a new life

terrified by what was happening outside their doors

    this people had leaders, brothers named Moses and Aaron and their sister Miriam

        they knew that this departure, this ending

            Would also be a beginning

        And they knew they would not survive this new story

They knew this beginning would not make the ending less painful

 

And at the same time, far in the future,

    The brothers and sisters gathered here were about to depart

    They didn’t know it

        They thought their weekly meal was comfort and beauty and joy

            And it was

        But it was also the last supper before the storm

    They would eat hastily, knowing something was coming

        They would pray to God to pass them over

            Marking their foreheads with ash

            And their hearts with regret

    These brothers and sisters are the ekklesia, the church

the gathering of people

the people, literally, “called out” of our normal lives.

We are that beloved community

    we will depart from the empire, from nation

from mammon,

from the way we’ve always done things

we are always on the move, always at an ending and a beginning

        our weekly supper of bread and wine

will be food for the journey

        our love for one another will sustain us in the wilderness

 

*    *    *

 

This [gesture to table] is the end, brothers and sisters.

    We will eat our meal together hastily,

our shoes on our feet and our walking sticks in our hands,

our luggage packed

    For we have been called to witness to the world

    We have been called to an ending

    We will depart from this place like the Apostles—the ones Jesus sent out

    We will leave the expectations of the world like the Israelites left Egypt

        We will travel in circles where our calling is foolish

            Where we will look ridiculous

for insisting on love and compassion and justice

            Where we will be insulted and misunderstood

            Where we will be desperately hungry for more than bread

    Every time we eat this meal together,

        We remember every other time we have eaten together for 4,000 years

        And every time we eat this meal together,

            God is present with us

            Jesus returns

    God is with us on this journey

        We are not alone

 

Yet, for now, it seems God has abandoned us

    We cannot see or feel God

    We feel battered and bruised

        By the Story we enact this week

        By its contradictions and problems

    The light is departing this world

        Jesus, our brother,

            Is betrayed into the hands of us poor sinners.

thoughts about protest and the Westboro Baptist Church

So, Westboro Baptist Church is protesting at my university today. And our administration, at last check, has said nothing to condemn them.

Obviously, Westboro has free speech rights and I will indeed fight for those, though what they say is reprehensible. But why hasn't our new president or other university leadership spoken out against Westboro's message? Wouldn't there be a statement if the KKK decided to rally in front of the African American Cultural Resource Center? Why is it so hard to condemn hate now? What are we afraid of? There is so much false equivalence and fear of taking a stand, that there is no stand taken. Friends, if we get it wrong, we can admit it. But not taking a stand against hate, as many better-spoken people before me have said, is just as bad as speaking the hate itself. UC, speak up.

To be clear, I don't think the speaking up needs to be a loud counter-protest. I know that will happen as it always does with Westboro and others. The problem is that's precisely what they're after. The more loud and violent the reaction, the more they feel they're doing right. The best way to make clear that their message is ridiculous is to let them yell into the void. No one showing up for their shindig, or hundreds staring silently at them. Or even the German response to Nazi marches of turning them into walk-a-thons for various anti-facist charities. Make it clear that their message is not our message, then take the wind out of their sails, don't yell back.

 

I will be on campus today with my campus ministry's red couch (it's on wheels--fun!) to be present to those who want to talk and to direct folks to other activities that are happening elsewhere on campus. Pray for all of us, Westboro Baptist Church included, that we may have our hearts broken open.

retro: a sermon about Thomas, weeping, and resurrection from lil seminarian Alice

Baruch attah adonai elohenu melech ha-olam.

Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of eternity.  Amen.

*   *   *

we will begin on page 491 of the Book of Common Prayer

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to remember the life of our brother Jesus.

Our brother Jesus who once said:

“I am the Resurrection and I am the Life, whoever has faith in me shall have life, even though he die.  And everyone who has life, and has committed himself to me in faith, shall not die forever.

“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.  After my awaking, he will raise me up; and in my body I shall see God.  I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.”

Our brother Jesus     is dead.

 

I talked with brother Thomas yesterday and he said a curious thing to me—he said

“What’s it gonna take for you people to admit we were wrong?  He’s dead!  You’re all blind.”

We’re all grieving, maybe Thomas more than the rest

It’s easy to say that everyone’s got to go sometime—Moses died, Sarah and Rebekah, the Prophets, John the Baptizer, St. Ignatius, Julian of Norwich, Oscar Romero—we know this—but how do we deal with the pain?

We want to shut out what we’ve seen, the horror of Jesus’ execution

We want to fill in the hole that his death has left in our chests

Thomas has been weeping for days, angry, denying, he’s retreated into himself, refusing to eat or associate with us

For our part, our faces are beginning to ache from the false smiles we wear

pretending that everything is going according to plan
that we are not being hunted

that no one is hungry

that women and children are not still beaten by their husbands

and that Jesus absence is only temporary

he’s gone to get reinforcements

chin up…

We are blind—going through the motions of life, our eyes squeezed shut so we can’t see that he’s not here

A part of us is dead, gone—we closed his eyes and buried him

 

 

that day we were baptized—was it only a few weeks ago?—

we went down to the Jordan

the sun was bright, so bright we couldn’t see

But there was a cooling breeze

And we waded into the water to meet this Jesus

Not knowing what we were getting into

and one by one we went under the water

thinking it was a lark

and one by one we arose, our eyes wide and shining with love and tears, our hearts full

 

And where did that get us?

We didn’t know what was coming

Even then we were blind

How could he abandon us like that?

Was it all a dream?

Is Thomas right to ignore us?

Maybe he’s asking the same questions:

The things Jesus said…were they real and as powerful as they felt?  Or were they just clever?

This life he called us to

—this priesthood?—

is this really where we’re supposed to be?

This relationship we had—it was a living thing, greater than either of us         wasn’t it?

Did he ever really love me?

 

(Long pause)

 

Last night…I still don’t know about this…last night       we saw Jesus

I mean, we thought so—It’s all a little foggy, like we were watching through mist—I don’t know, the doors were locked and all—course he always used to surprise us with his comings and goings so…

 

And he blessed us and he looked at us all and he kind of sighed and (I don’t know) I kind of felt better, like some of the hole was gone

I don’t know—it’s crazy

 

But tonight—somehow we got Brother Thomas to stay with us

He wouldn’t listen to us when we told him about before

—and he was sitting in a corner, arms folded, eyes closed, looking like he’d gone to sleep angry

 

And suddenly, Jesus was there

And blessing us and we knew last night wasn’t a dream and he walked over to Thomas and he said

“I am the Resurrection, Thomas, I am the Life”

And Thomas    opened     hiseyes

And they were full of tears and love and so…so wide…

And Jesus said,

“Thomas—here are my wounds, touch them.”

And Thomas arose, shedding the layers of grief and doubt, letting the waters of his baptism flow down his cheeks

—and he remembered all he had seen and done with this Jesus, all the words

 

—and he didn’t touch him (not then anyway)

And he said,

“My Lord   and my God

I know that my redeemer lives

And my eyes behold him

Who is my friend and not a stranger

My Lord    and my God.”

 

Amen.

sermon on Maundy Thursday and leaving

Baruch attah adonai elohenu melech ha-olam. Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of eternity. Amen.
*    *    *
A very long time ago,
a man and his friends sat down at a table for dinner.
They had been through a lot together, these friends.
They had given up a lot to be together—more than they knew.
They ate together most nights
and because it was the celebration of the Passover,
of course they would meet again
—nothing was out of the ordinary.
Something was coming—they all felt it—
but they didn’t know what.
The men and women around the table talked and joked
with the comfort of brothers and sisters.
They ate slowly,
savoring the plates of lamb, eggs, bitter herbs,
and unleavened bread they passed.
They drank wine and delighted in one another’s company.

And at the same time, even longer ago,
the people called the Israelites sat down for dinner.
In Egypt, in slavery.
They had been through a lot together already, these people.
They had given up a lot
—and had had a lot taken from them to be together—
more than they knew.
They ate together most nights, but this night was special.
They ate with their shoes and hats on,
their walking sticks in their hands,
their luggage packed for a journey. 
They ate quickly,
pausing only to pray to God for mercy.
They barely tasted the bread and wine and bitter herbs.
And they ate in both fear and excitement.

And at the same time, far in the future,
a group of brothers and sisters sat down at a table for dinner.
They had been through a lot together, these brothers and sisters.
They had given up a lot to be together—more than they knew.
They didn’t eat together very often any more, not as a whole group
at least not in one another’s houses.
But they did meet every week
to pass a plate of bread and a cup of wine.
They loved one another deeply
and yet didn’t quite know what to do about it
in the vast and changed world.
They talked and joked with the intimacy of family
and remembered all the times they’d eaten together,
every meal for 2,000 years.
They knew something was coming,
they knew what it was
—had heard the story, too, for 2,000 years—
yet they didn’t understand it, didn’t really know their part.
They ate, loving one another, loving God,
loving what they thought they knew.

*    *    *

The man and his friends, a very long time ago,
were about to depart:
the man would depart this life and he grieved to think about it;
his friends would depart from each other and from him,
running away in fear and grief.
Only Judas would have the courage of his convictions
and only the women would return.
    The man knew that this departure, this ending
would also be a beginning
        And he knew that beginning would not make the end less painful
    His friends knew something was ending
        Maybe they thought the rule of the Roman oppressors was ending
        Maybe they thought their poverty and directionlessness were ending
        They didn’t know that this would be their last dinner together
            That this was the last meal of a condemned man
            That this last supper would feed them in the wilderness

And at the same time, that people called the Israelites, even longer ago,
    Were about to depart:
        They would depart from Egypt and the slavery they had endured
        They would depart from the life they had known,
oppressive as it had been
and embark on a long journey into the wilderness
        but before they left, they covered their doorposts with blood
marking their homes
so that the angel of death would pass over them
they killed the lamb, and ate it in fear and joy
    grieving the loss of their old life,
ready to leave for a new life
terrified by what was happening outside their doors
    this people had a leader, a man named Moses
        Moses knew that this departure, this ending
            Would also be a beginning
        And he knew he would not survive this new story
He knew this beginning would not make the ending less painful

And at the same time, far in the future,
    The brothers and sisters gathered here were about to depart
    They didn’t know it
        They thought their weekly meal was comfort and beauty and joy
            And it was
        But it was also the last supper before the storm
    They would eat hastily, knowing something was coming
        They would pray to God to pass them over
            Marking their foreheads with ash
            And their hearts with regret
    These brothers and sisters are the ekklesia, the church
the gathering of people
the people, literally, “called out” of our normal lives.
We are that beloved community
    we will depart from the empire,
from mammon,
from the way we’ve always done things
we are always on the move, always at an ending and a beginning
        our weekly supper of bread and wine
will be food for the journey
        our love for one another will sustain us in the wilderness

*    *    *

This [gesture to table] is the end, brothers and sisters.
    We will eat our meal together hastily,
our shoes on our feet and our walking sticks in our hands,
our luggage packed
    For we have been called to witness to the world
    We have been called to an ending
    We will depart from this place like the Apostles—the ones Jesus sent out
    We will leave the expectations of the world like the Israelites left Egypt
        We will travel in circles where our calling is foolish
            Where we will look ridiculous
for insisting on love and compassion
            Where we will be insulted and misunderstood
            Where we will be desperately hungry for more than bread
    Every time we eat this meal together,
        We remember every other time we have eaten together for 4,000 years
        And every time we eat this meal together,
            God is present with us
            Jesus returns
    God is with us on this journey
        We are not alone

Yet, for now, it seems God has abandoned us
    We cannot see or feel God
    We feel battered and bruised
        By the Story we enact this week
        By its contradictions and problems
    The light is departing this world
        Jesus, our brother,
            Is betrayed into the hands of us poor sinners.

sermon on the slaughter of the innocents--yeah, it's rough



Baruch attah adonai elohenu melech ha-olam. Blessed are you Lord our God, ruler of all possibilities.
*          *          *
[begin with long silence and gaze at congregation]
“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he was infuriated,
and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem
who were two years old or under,”
And Rachel wept, wailed, lamented for her children.
“She refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

I don’t know, guys. I mean, it was Christmas just last week.
It was, you know, fun, and happy, and candlelit and,
I know giving birth in a stable isn’t easy
and it wasn’t as clean and pretty as we like to remember it.
But, good God, it’s so much worse this week.
[rub face]
I don’t really want to preach about this story.
I don’t want to think about it.
But.
So Mary and Joseph and toddler Jesus
and maybe a brother or sister
(yeah, they had other kids—another day we’ll talk about that)
were living in Bethlehem and things were ok.
It’d been a couple years and the magi had come
and given them some embarrassingly expensive gifts
and they’d left only recently, kind of shiftily,
like they knew something was up.
And then Joseph had a dream where an angel told him,
“Dude, it’s bad. You gotta go. Now. NOW.”
So they grabbed what they could and ran.
I imagine they weren’t the only ones.
Maybe they had warning, but once the killing started,
there were families choking the road trying to get away.
They ran and ran and hid and all the while shook with fear,
maybe trying to be strong for the kids.
And what were they running away from?
Their king who was already terrifying,
their king who shifted loyalties to foreign powers to get his way,
who didn’t hesitate to kill off anyone who stood in his way
and who raised taxes to extortion levels
so he could build fancy new cities
and make himself feel immortal.
Their king was so threatened by the idea he heard from the magi
that there could be a new king,
that he had all the little boy babies and toddlers up to age 2
ripped from their mothers and fathers
and murdered in the street.
Or others say Herod knew he himself was dying
and also knew there wouldn’t be anyone mourning his death,
so his slaughter served a dual purpose of
not only keeping the throne to himself
but also creating a ready-made misery when he died.
Their king stopping at nothing to hold on to power,
willing to justify not just murder
but the destruction of the beauty and potential of young lives.
It’s called the Slaughter of the Innocents.
I’m not ready for this, liturgically or emotionally.
Scholars say this didn’t actually happen.
That, even if it did, there were only maybe 1000 people
living in Bethlehem at this point,
so it might only have been 20 children.
As though that makes it better.
Twenty or ten or even five means it’s not horrific.
But most scholars say this is a theological point, not an historical one.
Herod never had these babies killed.
Matthew is the only account,
either in the bible or in historical sources.
He wrote it in himself to make a theological point.
Matthew is big on tying Jesus’ story to the ancient Israelites’ stories—
remember the long genealogy
at the beginning of the gospel of Matthew?
That’s him tying Jesus definitively in to the family of David.
Remember the star that the magi followed?
Related to some passages in the book of Numbers.
The holy family runs off to Egypt? And warnings in dreams?
And massacre of children?
Totally the Exodus story. Jesus is a new Moses,
the one who will change everything
like Moses did but better.
Matthew’s all about bringing in these references
to give legitimacy but also holistic beauty
to the story he’s telling about Jesus.
And it works for him in general. But…but.
We don’t need this story to be factual for that historical time and place.
We don’t need it to have actually happened to tell the story.
We tell the story        because we know the story.
It happens over and over and we don’t know how to stop it.
On Christmas here at Good Shepherd it has become something of a tradition
for the praise team to offer the song “Christmas Eve Sarajevo” by TSO.
It’s fun and exciting and for the first time,
I wondered why it was called that.
I knew it was about the Bosnian War in the nineties—
ethnic cleansing between the Serbs and Croats in the former Yugoslavia.
It was atrocious.
And it looked a lot like the Rwandan conflict and Aleppo,
and so many other conflicts.
For three years they killed each other, both military and civilian.
Families and entire towns were annihilated.
The city Sarajevo took the worst of the damage.
And a cellist sat in the middle of the fighting
and played Christmas carols through the night for days.
The TSO song he inspired is beautiful but it is heartbreaking.
Sarajevo was a massacre
and so many of those massacred were innocent.
This story repeats throughout history.
In the middle ages, the Church sent several crusades
to take back the Holy Land from the infidels.
Leaving aside the seriously problematic nature of that whole cause,
one of them was called the Children’s Crusade.
Because they sent children.
Adults going on crusade often didn’t survive
the long, violent journey to Israel.
And they sent kids?
They didn’t make it. At all.
They all died in the cause of attaining more power
for the rulers, for the adults.
In America, we decided that the native peoples
from whom we’d taken the land needed to be more white.
You think I’m kidding or using modern understandings of racism.
I’m not.
European culture was considered the correct culture
so we took children from their families,
dressed them up like dolls,
refused to let them speak their languages or see their families,
and made them ready for polite society.
Where they wouldn’t be accepted anyway.
How many of them died of suicide or broken hearts?
I’m not being poetic here.
This was a different kind of massacre.
Four years ago a young man took guns into Sandy Hook Elementary
We don’t know why.
He wasn’t King Herod trying to keep power.
He wasn’t trying to reclaim the Holy Land with sacrificial victims.
Yet the result was the same.
Innocents sacrificed for an adult’s dream.
         For years some have thought they could change
a child’s sexual orientation from gay to straight
with prayer and psychology.
It’s called conversion therapy and is increasingly illegal
as scientists show us how damaging it is.
And I’m not talking about “oh, gosh, those kids feel bad
and we need to boost their self-esteem.”
I mean the suicide rates and self-harm rates
and psychological trauma from these programs
are unbelievably high.
I mean these kids have been massacred, in a sense,
for the adults to prove their righteousness.
And this year alone—2016 has a lot to answer for—
this year alone the number of unarmed black men shot by police,
the number of mass shootings in places like
Paris and Orlando and Dallas,
the uptick in gun violence in cities like Chicago,
the length of time Flint, Michigan has gone without drinkable water.
Matthew says Rachel weeps and laments and refuses to be consoled,
because they are no more.
These acts of violence we can’t seem to stop doing
are the slaughter of the innocents over and over.
Maybe we do know how to stop it, but we don’t. It’s too hard.
This is sin: humanity’s propensity to screw things up—
both that we actually can’t stop hurting each other
and that we don’t want to stop, not really.
Jesus the cute baby comes into this world, this sinful, R-rated world.
         And he lives in it, he sees it happening, he doesn’t hide from it,
he walks with us and experiences pain just as we do.
I think it’s important for us, intellectually and emotionally
to juxtapose sweet Christmas with horrible slaughter.
It’s hard but good to hold these different experiences together.
Ugh, but really, experientially?
If God is God, then God should do something.
And, also, shouldn’t we have something more uplifting
here on New Year’s weekend?
We’re always talking about how God is doing a new thing,
how there’s hope, how Jesus changed things.
Where is the good news in the slaughter of the innocents?
All good questions, but all predicated on a rather small God.
God who is entangled by our rules and our physics.
God who is entangled in our expectations of rightness and judgment.
God who isn’t actually as vast as the universe
and as tender and caring as nothing we’ve ever experienced.
God is so much bigger than we know, holding us in massive divine hands,
weaving the fabric of the universe together.
Years ago, I read this amazing and difficult book
Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis.
It’s very odd and heartbreaking, because his premise is
that the Holocaust makes absolutely no sense
unless it’s lived backwards. Do you get that?
There is no sense to be made of the slaughter of the innocents
during World War II as it is.
None. It’s atrocious. Period.
However, if we could live it backwards,
if we could see the smoke in the sky flowing together
into a chimney
and somehow creating bodies which awake and embrace
and are given clothing and handed children
whom they love so much they cry
and then sent on their way to lovely homes…
if we could live it that way,
the massacre of the Holocaust would be beautiful.
Matthew says Jesus is the new Moses
but he also says Jesus is not exempt from horror.
God’s presence doesn’t promise to take away the pain immediately—
         someday it will be gone, next year in Jerusalem, in the Kingdom.
God will wipe away every tear from our eyes
and there will be neither sorrowing nor sighing.
How do we make sense of this,
without being Pollyannaish,
without the science fiction of living it backwards,
without falling into infinite despair?
We don’t make sense of it,
we don’t justify it,
we simply see it, clearly and without argument.
It is a gift to have our eyes opened, to see the world as it is
—beautiful and broken—
and to know we are not alone.
2017 is filled with possibility—possibility of disaster, yes,
AND possibility in the new babies born even now,
possibility for all the generations before and after those new babies
to make different, compassionate choices,
possibility for God to do that new thing.

Happy New Year.

sermon on Reformation, repentance, and Susan Boyle

It’s hilarious you have the Episcopalian preaching on Reformation.

We were there for it, of course,

had our own version of scholars and lay folk saying,

“What the heck, Rome?”

but we went to the king and said,

“You can be in charge and get a divorce if you let us split, cool?”

So, it was less dramatic, theologically, anyway.

Our closest feast day to Reformation Day is the

Feast of the approval of the First Book of Common Prayer (1549)

It was written in English

which was pretty daring and thrilling for the time,

but still no hammer and nails.

It’s funny, as well, because,

much to the chagrin of one of my former Edge House students

and just massive Lutheran Pam Mills,

I don’t much care for “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

Except maybe with a beer stein.

Which, come to think of it, Brother Martin would probably have enjoyed.

But I do really enjoy Reformation Sunday.

And I enjoy how much y’all enjoy it.

It’s like going to a part of town you’re not familiar with

and coming across a birthday party

—you don’t know about the family arguments

or the struggles individuals are having,

you only see the delight.

Everyone’s having so much fun being a part of this partying group,

and you want to join in.

From the outside, the red shirts

and the jokes about Minnesota are charming.

Of course it’s not just a party, it’s as serious as the business end of a .45.

Today is a party that celebrates a massive change

in the way the church did things.

It’s a kind of death and resurrection, really.

Do you remember the movie

Network

?

It’s a brilliant parody as well as foretelling of how the news is made.

In it, the national news anchor gets fed up

with news becoming entertainment

and his and his coworkers’ being expendable.

On a live broadcast he snarls,

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more.”

It becomes a rallying cry.

This is our Brother Martin Luther and his 95 Theses.

The church needed reforming in Martin Luther’s time.

He and others were right to point out the sins of the church and say,

“Friends, no, this is no good. Let’s try again.”

But it wasn’t that easy.

His 95 Theses read as a dry topic sentences for academic discussion.

What he was saying was,

“we are hurting each other the way we’re doing things now.

We’ve lost our way.”

But as the internet tells us in its infinite wisdom,

“When you have power, equality looks like a threat.”

Even though the reformers spoke truth,

those in power felt threatened.

Change the way we operate on a daily basis?

Change our theology about Purgatory and really eternity itself?

Consent to the people hearing scripture in their own languages

and being involved in its interpretation?

This is terrifying. It means we in power lose the power we had.

It means we’re not in control any more.

It’s not like the Pope and the Magisterium

held that power for evil purposes, mostly.

They, like so many others, understood themselves

as helping, as upholding sacred practices

and understandings of God.

It’s not that they were caught out in intentional greed,

but that they understood themselves as righteous,

like the people Jesus was talking to in last week’s gospel.

It says he spoke to

“some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.”

This may be the lasting lesson of the Reformation.

Not the party but the invitation to examine ourselves.

Do we trust in ourselves that we are righteous?

Maybe we’re not selling indulgences any more,

but what do we hold tightly in our fists,

thinking we’re doing good

and in reality hurting each other and the message of love

Jesus came to give us?

The lasting lesson of the Reformation, what we’re celebrating today,

is of repentance.

Repentance,

matanoia

in Greek, is a turning away from the thing.

My dad used to say to us as kids,

“I don’t want your sorrow, I want your repentance.”

He meant, he didn’t just want us to regret the thing we’d done,

because regret isn’t transformative.

It just sits there making us miserable.

Repentance is a change in posture, a change in direction.

Repentance may indeed happen often,

like the process of getting sober

or the way we need reminding to be kind to someone.

Turning away from something hurtful may happen so many times

that it looks like we’re spinning in circles,

but it’s a real change each time.

Maybe a better word for it is a practice,

something we do regularly that shapes us,

something that in trying over and over we get better at.

I practice forgiving and having patience

with one of my husband’s childhood friends

over and over and over.

I think I’m better at it now than I once was.

And I think I have to keep practicing, keep reforming.

Re-forming.

Pastor Larry was all about that version of the word,

do you remember?

He understood it to be about re-shaping ourselves

in a different image,

or, more likely, God re-shaping us into the image of God.

Imago dei

, our original state.

We can’t ever get there by ourselves, not really,

but we can continue to turn towards it.

I did something like this the other week.

I’ve been miserable about how we speak to one another any more.

Maybe it’s not different now then it ever was,

maybe I’m just newly aware of it.

But so much of the conversations online, in speeches,

even between church members,

is so rude and ugly and hateful.

UC, like most college campuses,

has street preachers every few weeks

who carry signs and preach sermons over megaphones

about how we are all of us going straight to hell.

Sometimes they’re decent to talk to,

most times, it’s a mess of judgment.

So I invited some students and colleagues

and took the Edge House’s own megaphone onto campus

to do some positive street preaching.

The others in the group weren’t comfortable speaking yet.

I ended up confessing our sins. Our collective sins.

I didn’t plan anything particular to say and it was really hard,

but I began to confess the ways

that we ourselves need reforming.

How we have treated native peoples over the centuries.

How we have treated Jews and Africans.

How we have treated each other

when our beliefs were deemed heresy.

How we have consistently chosen to see

our brothers and sisters of whatever

orientation or gender or color or status

as less than because it is politically expedient.

Afterwards, because I stumbled over my words and thoughts,

I asked on Facebook “what are the sins of the church

you would like to hear confessed/apologized for?”

I got so, so many responses. Pages and pages of them.

Friends, we are absolutely justified by faith,

we are absolutely saints and saved and living in the Kingdom.

And also we are still sinners, needing to turn back to God.

What needs reforming now?

What is the theme about which we could write 95 theses?

Probably we can think of lots of things out there that need reforming,

but what in here needs reforming?

What is the speck in our own eyes that needs to be removed?

Within the ELCA?

Within Good Shepherd?

Within each of us individually?

We participate in the world, in voting, in civic pride,

but do we put our faith in those systems and leaders?

Do we think that if we put enough money and energy

into the process the country will become Christian again?

As though it was better 50 or 200 years ago?

Perhaps our reformation involves intentionally listening

to the voices of the marginalized

—whether by race, sexuality, youth, status.

Whose voices do we discount?

Or is it simply that we have arrived at this point in history

without meaning to,

doing what we’ve always done because we’ve always done it?

This is what the Reformation is about

—seeing God’s desires for unfettered, active love,

and naming the ways that we block that love.

And we are not about a single Reformation

as much as a call to constant reformation.

Re-forming.

Whether we know it’s happening or not.

Martin Luther didn’t intend to start a new church.

He didn’t want to destroy the church but to call it to account.

He leaned into his challenge to the church because he loved it so much,

because of his respect for the institution

and the people and for Jesus himself.

Whatever we do now to identify the truth of things,

to name our own privilege and to sacrifice power

is because of our love and respect for the church and for people.

We don’t do it because our works will bring the Kingdom here

but because when we repent, when we open our arms in love,

that

is

the Kingdom here.

I'll close with a video from Britain’s Got Talent. At the beginning, look for the judgment. Then look for the moments of turning. As they see what they've done, look for the Kingdom of God on their faces. Look how beautiful, how loving it is to repent.

Watch: Susan Boyle