Sunday, July 8, 2018

7 Pentecost

July 8, 2018

Ezekiel 2.1-5; 2 Corinthians 12.2-10; Mark 6. 1-13

+ As we gather here this morning, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church is meeting in Austin, Texas. And the big debate this year: revision of the Book of Common Prayer.

If you ever want to rile Episcopalians up, just bring up to them the idea of changing the Book of Common Prayer.  In fact, many of you might feel the same way. You might even be upset still over the fact that the 1979 BCP replaced the 1928 BCP.

So, why is the revising of the Book of Common Prayer such a big deal? Well, it’s a big deal because when we change the prayer book, we change our official policy of the Church on the certain issues.

For any of you who took my Episcopal 101 class knows; we as Episcopalians are not big on dogma or doctrine. But we are HUGE on worship. And if you want to know what we believe, worship with us.

We believe what we pray.

That’s what I LOVE about the Episcopal Church.

So, as a result, revising the Prayer Book is HUGE. So, what specific revisions are being weighed at General Convention?  

The two BIG issues about revision are: First) using exclusive/expansive language regarding God in the liturgy. In other words, veering away from male-exclusive language for God in the words of our liturgies.

As you know, I have been pretty passionate about this one for many years. And we have tried hard here at St. Stephen’s to nudge ourselves in that direction. Of course, for 9 years, our Wednesday night Mass uses a liturgy adapted from some of the resources of the Episcopal Church to utilize non-gender language regarding God.

I am a major defender of this revision.

The other issue is of course the even BIGGER issue (an issue that, if passed will directly affect us at St. Stephen’s): the inclusion of a liturgy for same-sex marriage rites.  

Yup, it’s that old battle again. But…if this revision goes through, the battle’s pretty much over. It will now be officially part of the Book of Common Prayer. That’s HUGE.

For most of us, especially here at St. Stephen’s, we are no doubt wonder why there is still so much debate on this issue? We have been doing it here for several years now, and look at how enriched our church is!

Look at how enriched the Church as a whole has been by allowing every one the full rites of the Church. But, by including these rites officially into the BCP and not into some supplemental materials to the BCP, it will now become “official” policy.

And that is where some Episcopalians bristle. “Bristle” might be too tame a word here.  As I read though some of the testimonies regarding this issue this past week, I found myself walking familiar ground.

I’ve said it here before. I guess I’ll be saying it again. The issue’s already been decided. We all know the direction in which we’re headed. It is time for the Episcopal Church to simply step up and do it.  Just revise what needs to be done, make this an official liturgy and let’s be done with it so we can move on and do the work that needs to be done.

If I sound impatient about this…well… I am.  We need to move forward as a Church. Most of us here this morning fought these battles years ago. It’s time to be done.

The people who are opposed to it are going to remain opposed. They will need to make their own decisions in the face of this.

The rest of us just need to do the work that is at hand. As we have been doing here at St. Stephen’s.

We at St. Stephen’s knew that this was the direction in which the Church was heading for decades. We are prepared for these changes. We’ve fought these battles. We’ve been a part of those arguments. We knew this was where we were headed as a Church.

So, I say revise the Prayer Book! I, for one, am excited about the potential of what a new Prayer Book can bring forth! This is what it means to look forward.

To move forward.

To not get stuck in the museum of the Church.

This is what we have been doing here at St. Stephen’s from the beginning. Looking forward. With hope. With expectation.

And for those of us who have, we knew these changes were coming. They were inevitable.

Now, call it prophecy if you will. Actually, no, don’t. Prophecy can be a good thing, and prophecy can be a bad thing. It depends on where you end up on the receiving end of prophecy.

We hear a lot of about prophecy  in scripture of course. And we hear a lot about prophecy in our society.

But we need to be very clear here:  Prophets are not some kind of psychics or fortune tellers.  Yes, they see things and know things we “normal” people don’t see or know.  They are people with vision.  They have knowledge the rest of us don’t.

But, again, prophets aren’t psychics or fortune tellers.  Psychics or fortune tellers tend to be people who believe they have some kind of special power that they were often born with (if we believe in such things)

According to the basis of prophecy we find in our reading today from Ezekiel, prophets aren’t born.  Prophets are picked by God and instilled with God’s Spirit.  The Spirit enters them and sets them on their feet.  And when they are instilled with God’s Spirit, they don’t just tell us our fortunes.

They don’t just do some kind of psychic mumbo jumbo to tell us what our futures are going to be or what kind of wealth we’re going to have or who our true love is.  What they tell us isn’t just about us as individuals.

Rather, the prophet tells us things about all of us we might not want to hear.  They stir us up, they provoke us, they jar us.

Maybe that’s why I find the idea of prophets so uncomfortable.  And that’s what we dislike the most about them.  We don’t like people who make us uncomfortable.  We don’t like people who stir us up, who provoke us, who jar us out of our complacency.  Prophets come into our lives like lightning bolts and when they strike, they explode like electric sparks.  

They shatter our complacency to pieces.

They shove us.

They push us hard outside the safe box in which we live (and worship) and they leave us bewildered.

Prophets, as much as they are like us, are also unlike us as well.  The Spirit of God has transformed these normal people into something else.  And this is what we need from our prophets.  

After all, we are certain about our ideas of God.  We, in our complacency, think we know God—we know what God thinks and wants of us and the world and the Church.  Prophets, touched as they are by the Spirit of God in that unique way, frighten us because what they convey to us about God is sometimes something very different than we thought we knew about God.

The prophet is not afraid to say to us: “You are wrong. You are wrong in what you think about God and about what you think God is saying to you.”

Nothing makes us angrier than someone telling us we’re wrong—especially about our perception of God.  And that is the reason we sometimes refuse to recognize the prophet. That why we resist the prophet, and change and looking forward in hope. We reject prophets because they know how to reach deep down within us, to that one sensitive place inside us and they know how to press just the right button that will cause us to react.

And the worse prophet we can imagine is not the one who comes to us from some other place.  The worse prophet is not the one who comes to us as a stranger.  The worse prophet we can imagine is the one who comes to us from our own neighborhood—from the midst of us.  The worse prophet is the one whom we’ve known.  Who is one of us.

We knew them before the Spirit of God’s prophecy descended upon them.  And now, they have been transformed with this knowledge of God.  They are different.

These people we know, that we saw in their inexperience, are now speaking as a conduit of God’s Voice.  When someone we know begins to say and do things they say God tells them to do, we find ourselves becoming very defensive very quickly.

Certainly, we can understand why people in Jesus’ hometown had such difficulty in accepting him. We would too.  We, rational people that we are, would no doubt try to explain away who he was and what he did.  But probably the hardest aspect of Jesus’ message to us is the simple fact that he, in a very real sense, calls us and empowers us to be prophets as well.

As Christians, we are called to be a bit different than others.  We are transformed in some ways by the Spirit’s presence in our lives.  In a sense, God empowers us with the Spirit to be conduits of that Spirit to others.

If we felt uncomfortable about others being prophets, we’re even more uncomfortable about being prophets ourselves.  Being a prophet, just like hearing the prophet, means we must shed our complacency.  If our neighbor as the prophet frightens us and irritates us, we ourselves being the prophet is even more frightening and irritating.

Empowered by this spirit of prophecy, oftentimes what we say or do seems crazy to others.

Prayer Book revision? Ae you kidding me?

Same sex marriage rites? 15 years ago, few people in the Church thought that would ever be a real possibility.

20 years ago, I certainly didn’t think it would happen.

5 years ago, James and William didn’t think they would be having their marriage blessed in their own church of St. Stephen’s.

The Spirit of prophecy we received from God seems a bit unusual to those people around us.

Loving God?

Loving those who hate us or despise us?

Being peaceful—in spirit and action—in the face of overwhelming violence or anger?

To side with the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized when it is much easier and more personally pleasing to be with the wealthy and powerful?

To welcome all people as equals, who deserve the same rights we have, even if we might not really—deep down—think of them as equals?

To actually see the Kingdom of God breaking through in instances when others only see failure and defeat?

That is what it means to be a prophet. Being a prophet has nothing to do with our own sense of comfort. Being a prophet means seeing and sensing and proclaiming that Kingdom of God—and God’s sense of what is right. 

For us, as Christians, that is what we are to do—we are to strive to see and proclaim the Kingdom.  We are to help bring that Kingdom forth and when it is here, we are to proclaim it in word and in deed.  Because when that Spirit of God comes upon us, we become a community of prophets, and when we do, we become the Kingdom of God present here.  Being a prophet in our days is more than just preaching doom and gloom to people. It’s more than saying to people: “repent, for the kingdom of God is near!”  

Being a prophet in our day means being able to recognize injustice and oppression in our midst and to speak out about them. And, most importantly, CHANGE it.

Being a prophet means we’re going to press people’s buttons.  And when we do, let me tell you by first-hand experience, people are going to react.  We need to be prepared to do that, if we are to be prophets in this day and age.

But we can’t be afraid to do so.  We need to continue to speak out.  We need to do the right thing. We need to heed God’s voice speaking to us, and then follow through.  And we need to keep looking forward. In hope. And trusting in our God who leads the way.  We need to continue to be the prophets who have visions of how incredible it will be when that Kingdom of God breaks through into our midst and transforms us. We need to keep striving to welcome all people, to strive for the equality and equal rights of all people in this church.

So, let us proclaim the Kingdom of God in our midst with the fervor of prophets.  Let us proclaim that Kingdom without fear—without the fear of rejection from those who know us.  Let us look forward and strive forward and move forward in hope.

I don’t know if we can be truly content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, as we heard from St. Paul’s in his second letter to the Corinthians today.  But having endured them, we know that none of these things ultimately defeat us.  And that is the secret of our resilience in the face of anything life may throw at us.

“For the sake of Christ,” let us bear these things.

With dignity.

With honor.

Let us be strong and shoulder what needs to be shouldered.

Because, we know. In that strange paradoxical way we know that, in the way of Christ, whenever it seems that we are weak, it is then that we are truly strong.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

6 Pentecost

July 1, 2018

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24; Mark 5.21-43

+ If you’re anything like me—and I know some of you are on this one—you know how awful being impatient can be. We want certain things—and we want them NOW. Not tomorrow. Not in some vague future. NOW! And it no doubt drives those of around us crazy.

But I am impatient. I want to be doing certain things.  And I have never liked waiting. Waiting is one of the worst things I can imagine.

Many years ago, I studied a famous play by Jean-Paul Sartre called No Exit. I’m
not going to go into the whole plot of the play, but the essence is this. Three damned souls arrive in hell, expecting torture and fire and unending pain. Instead, they’re brought into a plain room.

And they wait.

And wait.

And wait.

There’s more to the play than this, but essentially, it’s about hell is simply a waiting room in which one waits and waits and waits.

To me, that play has always been terrifying. I understand it. I get it. Yes! That’s what hell would be like (if I believed in hell)

Impatient as I am, ultimately I know that waiting and being patient is a good thing sometimes.  I’ll give you an example.

I have been very transparent with all of you about my mourning and grief for my mother following her death. I haven’t hidden that fact from any of you. And you’re probably sick of me bringing it up on occasion.

But, what I haven’t shared with anyone is that, there have been moments—very dark moments—when I simply want to be done with mourning. I want to past this pain, this experience of first things—first holidays, first times at this restaurant that we would eat, or that store in which we shop.  I just want all those difficult things behind me. I want to be done with it all and move on.

I really want to cling hard and fast to our reading from Wisdom this morning:

God did not make death,
And [God] does not delight in the death of the living.

I know that. I realize that death and mourning and grief are all part of our own experience of hell here on earth.

Because, right here, right now, in the midst of it all—it’s not very pleasant. In fact, it’s very much like Sartre’s hell. I want to be done with mourning and sadness and all that goes along with losing someone we love.

The fact is, as much as I want that—it doesn’t work this way. We can’t rush these things. Things happen in their due course.

Not OUR course.

Not MY course!

But the proper course.

God works in God’s own time. And this is probably the most difficult thing for us.  
Impatience is present in our Gospel reading for today, but in a more subtle way. Our reading from the Gospel today also teaches us an important reflection on our own impatience and waiting, and also about how the hell of death is ultimately defeated.

We have two things going on.  First, we have Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, who has lost his twelve-year-old daughter, even though he doesn’t know it yet. The hell of death has drawn close to Jairus. While Jairus is pleading with Jesus to heal his daughter, we encounter this unnamed woman who has been suffering with a hemorrhage for twelve years—twelve years!—the same amount of years as the daughter of Jairus lived—is desperate. She wants healing.

I can tell you in all honesty that as I read and reflected and lived with this Gospel reading this past week,  I could relate.   I can relate to Jairus, who is being touched with the darkness of death in his life.  And when I read of the woman with a hemorrhage grasping at the hem of Jesus’ garment, I could certainly empathize with her impatience and her grasping.

Many of us have known the anguish of Jairus. We have known the anguish and pain of watching someone we love fade away and die.

And many of us know the pain of that woman. We often find ourselves bleeding deeply inside with no possible hope for relief. For us, as we relate, that “bleeding” might not be an actual bleeding, but a bleeding of our spirit, of our hopes and dreams, of a deep emotional or spiritual wound that just won’t heal, or just our grief and sadness, which, let me tell you, can also “bleed” away at us.  And when we’ve been desperate, when we find ourselves so impatient, so in need of a chance, we find ourselves clutching at anything—at any little thing. We clutch even for a fringe of the prayer shawl of the One whom God sends to us in those dark moments. When we do, we find, strangely, God’s healing.

And in this story of Jarius’ daughter, I too felt that moment in which I felt separated from the loved ones in my life—by death, yes, of course. But also when I felt that a distance was caused by estrangement or anger. And when I have begged for healing for them and for myself, it has often come.

But it has come in God’s own time. Not in mine. It is a matter of simply,  sometimes waiting.

For Jairus, he didn’t have to wait long.

For the woman, it took twelve years.
But in both cases, it came.

Still, I admit, I continue to be impatient. I am still impatient in my mourning.  But even now, in the midst of it all, I can hear those words that truly do comfort me:

 “Why do you make a commotion and weep? Your loved one is not dead but only sleeping.”

Resurrection comes in many forms in our lives and if we wait them out these moments will happen.  

And not all impatience is bad. It is all right to be impatient—righteously impatient—for justice, for the right thing to be done. It is all right to be impatient for injustice and lying and deceit to be brought to light and be revealed. And dealt with. It is all right to be impatient for the right thing to be done in this world.
But we cannot let our impatience get in the way of seeing that  miracles continue to happen in our lives and in the lives of those around us. I know, because I have seen it again and again and, not only in my own life, but in the lives of others. We know that in God, we find our greatest consolation.

Our God of justice and compassion and love will provide and will win out ultimately over the forces of darkness that seem, at times, to prevail in our lives.  Knowing that, reminding ourselves of all that we are able to be strengthened and sustained and rejuvenated. We are able to face whatever life may throw at us with hope and, sometimes, even joy.

See, we are not in Sartre’s hell. Trust me. We’re not. At some point, the doors of what seems like that eternal waiting room will be opened. And we will be called forward. And all will be well. That is what scripture and our faith in God tell us again and again. That is how God works in this world and in our lives.

So, let us cling to this hope and find true strength in it. True strength to get us through those impatient moments in our lives when we want darkness and death and injustice and pain behind us.  

Let us be truly patient for our God.  

If we do, those words of Jesus to the woman today will be words directed to us as well:

“your faith has made you well;
go in peace;
be healed.”