Friends of God

Sermon on the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
26 September 2020 – You can watch the sermon here.

May I speak in the name of God, who is Love. 

I’d like to start out this morning by trying something new. I’m going to ask Brooke to share a piece of art on our screens. I figure if we’re doing church on computers we might as well take advantage of some of the perks and look at something together. 

Brooke just shared part of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. As you look at it, first, pay attention to how you feel you feel. And second, what is standing out to you about this piece of artwork today?

Now I have my phone here so I can see some of the zoom chat so while this won’t work for you if you’re on Facebook or YouTube but if you’re on Zoom and you want to share something you’re noticing I’d invite you to put it into the chat. 

What stands out to me is the active reaching in this painting. It’s such a beautiful piece of art that you can really see the movement of Adam reaching out for God. But in spite of this very active reach there’s still this gap between Adam and God that cannot be crossed. 

This desire to touch God and to know God is a shared human experience – whether we seek God in a religious practice, in nature, or in meditation and yoga practices – there seems to be almost an innate desire to understand the Divine Spirit that sustains us. 

But no matter how hard we strive, there is – like in the painting –  a gap of understanding and knowing God that cannot be overcome as humans. God’s nature remains just beyond us. 

Ecclesiastes 3:11 speaks of this innate yearning and distance, the verse says, “God has placed eternity in the heart of humans, yet we cannot fathom what God is doing from beginning to end.” 

The Jewish tradition acknowledges this inability to fathom the completeness of God in that they never write the name of God, Instead they pen, G_d and, in doing so, they embody the human limitations of understanding God. 

Not even Moses, who walks intimately with God, was able to know God as Moses desired. 

One of my good friends and respected teachers, the Rev. Dr. Charles Hefling once asked, “How do we become friends of God?” I rattled around thoughts in my brain, until he very kindly interjected, sharing with me his understanding of friendship with God. 

He said, “On our own merits, we cannot be friends with God. However, in the incarnation Jesus we can know God in human form and by befriending Jesus we can become friends of God.”

It seems to me that this act of becoming friends with Jesus is central to the life of Christians, those who follow Christ. We, like the disciples, can come to know Jesus by accompanying him through his ministry. Now, of course, we can’t be there in the same way as the disciples but we can know him by listening to stories about stories about him.

When we hear stories of Jesus spending time with the Samaritan woman and having dinner at Nicodemus’s house – we know that he crossed boundaries to build relationships with outsiders. 

We hear stories of how he welcomed children and wept for his friend Lazarus – we know his tender compassion for those he loved. 

When we hear of Jesus’s anger and the Temple of how he turned over the tables of the money changers – we know his anger at exploitation and oppression. 

As we spend time with Jesus in prayer, in scripture, and as we meet him in the sacraments, we come to know Jesus and through Jesus we get glimpses we come to know God. 

Now the good news, for us and for the world, is that Jesus is not inviting us to know him by watching, Jesus is inviting us to join him. 

In the gospel of John, Jesus says, “No longer do I call you servants, for servants do not know what the master is doing. But I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that the father has made known to me. This is what it means to be a friend of God, to abide in my love. I will know that you abide in my love when your life bears the fruit of love.”  

As friends of Jesus we are invited to participate in the work of God, to participate in God’s ongoing movement of love and justice and reconciliation. We do this, not by learning a system of rules, but by drawing near to Jesus, by learning how he lived, by loving the people he loved, and by joining in his way of life. 

Because the truth is, we cannot close this gap between us and God – no matter how hard we reach. Thankfully, Jesus closed the gap for us and as we become his friends, we come to know God, and indeed we become friends of God.

Empty Yourself

Sermon on the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
26 September 2020 – You can watch the sermon here.

Last Friday, I witnessed something that broke my heart. 

Will and I were attending a colleague gathering, and he, you, shared about the pain he has been feeling since learning that there would be no charges filed for Breonna Taylor’s death. 

This was incredibly sad but what broke my heart, was the reaction of the rest of us – an all white colleague group. We said, “I’m so sorry Will.” But then, quickly moved onto the next person who needed to “check-in.” I was at a loss for words, it was so clear to me that the pain Will was experiencing pain, you were experiencing, was so big and so heavy and we really didn’t know how to hold it with you. I’m so sorry for that. 

Later that afternoon, still thinking about Will’s sadness and our response –  the words from today’s epistle came to mind, “So let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus who, being of the same form of God did not consider equality with God something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave being born in human likeness … emptied himself, humbled himself, became human.” 

You know, one of my favorite praise and worship songs, you will soon learn that I love praise and worship and gospel music, sings about this action of Christ, “You did not want Heaven without us, so Jesus you brought Heaven down.” 

Jesus coexisted with God – in a place free from suffering. Yet, Jesus’s longing and love for us motivated him to lay aside this comfort and take on our human experience, making him susceptible to pain all because, in doing so we might more fully know the love of God. 

Christena Cleveland, Black theologian and scholar, posits that this laying aside of privilege continued throughout Jesus’s life. He consistently sided with women, children, lepers, and Samaritans – people cast aside by society. As followers of Jesus, we too, are called to lay aside our own comfort and privilege and share in the pain of those who are oppressed and marginalized by society. 

This is not easy, especially for those of us who have more privilege. Our Gospel for today makes this clear, when  Jesus points out that the  prostitutes and tax collectors will have a much easier time finding the kin(g)dom of heaven than those of us in places of power. Those of us who Will talked about last week, who’ve been working hard all day long and think we’ve earned it. 

Those of us accustomed to prestige and privilege must a consistent and intentional effort to, in Paul’s words, “put other people’s interests ahead of hours” to “regard others more highly than ourselves” 

So why did this passage come to mind on Friday?

It might be helpful for me to start by sharing a little bit about my experience of last week. I remember where I was when I read the news but there would be no charges for Breonna Taylor‘s death. I thought, “Oh my God that’s horrible.” Then shortly thereafter I went back to work,  my day was not disrupted at all. This is hard to acknowledge and I say it vulnerably, but to me, Breonna Taylor was someone who was denied justice, something sad that happened. 

And I’m going to take a risk and guess that for many of you who are white, you’ve had a similar experience – acknowledging the sadness of the moment and then going back to business as usual. 

This is not the experience of my friends who are Black, my friends of color. My former supervisor, the now Reverend Canon Stephanie Spellers shared this on Wednesday, “Oh God oh God this hurts so much more than I expected. The only charges filed were for the bullets that went through the walls of her white neighbors home. There were no charges for the bullets that went through her ceiling into a black neighbors home. No charges for the bullets that went through her body. Her name wasn’t even on the indictment.”

What I’ve witnessed is that for my Black friends, this grief is akin to how I felt when one of my close friends died and my tears were so great that I was unable to stand. Or how I witnessed my mother, the morning of her mom’s funeral, folded over the sink in pain. 

I don’t fully understand it, but what I am learning from my Black friends, is that their experience of community extends deeper and further than the white experience of community. Because many Black Americans have a shared story – of enslavement, of surviving, and of enduring – this common experience of strength and resiliency has developed a beautiful vision of family that extends far beyond blood lines. A version of family that white Americans could learn much from, one in which others are seen as siblings – knit together in a common story. 

All to say, that when Black people hear the news of Breonna Taylor ‘s death and denial of justice – it didn’t just happen to someone – it happened to a sister or a mother or a daughter even to themselves.

To be clear, I’d rather not be preaching on this my second sermon at St. Barnabas. But church, here we are again. So the question is how are we going to respond? Not because this is the latest news story or because we don’t want to be cancelled – but because our Black and brown siblings are in pain. 

Are we going to shirk away because the pain is too heavy? Or are we going to follow Jesus and walk towards pain. 

This commitment to solidarity is at the center of our worship. Every Sunday when we celebrate Eucharist – we remember the story of Jesus – an innocent man was killed at the hands of the state. We partake in his broken body and blood, asking to share in his suffering. 

This is the time to put that commitment into practice, to come to the table “For strength and not only for solace.” It is time to lay aside comfort, to slow down and walk towards the pain, to let it disrupt our lives.” 

This is the time for whitepeople to call your black and brown friends, my colleague the Rev. Karen Coleman said, “Call your black friends. Ask how they’re doing. If they don’t want to tell you, They will let you know.”

While we will never know the pain our Black siblings are experiencing right now, we can call them and ask, How can I share in your pain?

We can ask, in the spirit of Paul, “How can I put you first right now? How can I affirm your worth in a world that’s denying it? How can I love in a way that causes me to empty myself? How can I be of the same mind of Christ?”

May God give us the grace here with the spirit is lead us, and the courage to follow

Embodying God’s Reconciling Love

Sermon preached on 06 September 2020 – St. Barnabas’ Famouth, MA
available on youtube here

May I speak in the name of God who is Love. 

At first glance, our Gospel for today seems to be a framework for conflict resolution. But if we expand beyond the lectionary to include what comes before, I think we get some helpful context about what Jesus is saying to the church in this passage. Immediately preceding the verses about harm and faults, Jesus shares an example of God’s love. He says God‘s love is like a shepherd who having 100 sheep was so distraught at losing one of them that he left the 99 to go, find, and rescue the one lost sheep. 

In Jesus‘s description of the church, he is instructing us to embody this love of God in our relationships with one another. He is saying, I want you to long for one another so much that when harm happens, we don’t just cut one another off or cast one another aside but instead we work to reconcile the relationship. 

The way that I see it, the church embodies this love on three levels – ourselves, with one another, and in the wider community.

In terms of reconciliation with self, I figured that because this is my first Sunday here it’s an appropriate time to share a little bit of my story. Not my whole story, we have three years for that, but to tell you how the church has been a place of reconciliation for me. 

I grew up in the Lutheran church and I absolutely loved it. I loved making the popsicle stick crosses, I love singing the hymns, and I loved most of all, communion – walking down the aisle on Sunday, putting my little hands out getting a wafer and a small cup of wine. I stayed really active in the church in high school and even at the beginning of college until he became more involved in a conservative branch of the church – where it seems like my sadness and my struggles were often viewed as sins that I can get it to fix – At some point, I was tired of hearing how bad I was, so I left the church.

I only returned two years later with my employer Kristen invited me to the baptism of her son at Saint David’s Episcopal Church. Right away, I felt at home immediately – the liturgy reminded me of growing up – especially Eucharist and while I didn’t find a place to make popsicle stick crosses at 22, I found an adult small group that had dinner together regularly. And we talked about our real lives, challenges with depression, marital problems and recovery, this was a place where people could bring their whole selves. And it was there around those tables that I learned at the church was called to embody the truth of God’s love and longing for each one of us, no matter what, and in that please, I knew I was reconciled to God.

This sort of love is not just between me and God it also between me and you between each one of us. 

That’s what our gospel for today focuses on, what reconciliation looks like between two people. Jesus’ instructions are clear, be direct when harm is done to you – don’t be passive aggressive, or go gossip behind the person’s back. Instead go straight to the person and share the harm that has been done. Now this is not to make someone feel bad or to lord it over them. Rather it’s to tell one another how we’ve hurt each other in the hopes that we can change and grow to be more like God. 

If someone tells me how I  hurt them, the idea is that I listen deeply to their pain and out of my longing for them, my love for them, I am willing to change so that we can maintain relationship with one another. And likewise when others know how they have hurt me that they are willing change to change to restore relationship. 

Jesus is very clear that reconciliation requires change, he says that if someone doesn’t listen to you over and over again if they are unwilling to stop doing harm, the relationship you have with them must take on a different form. And that is because the church is called to embody God’s reconciling love, a process of ongoing change, that we might more closely resemble the body of Christ.

Lastly, the church is called to participate in the reconciliation of the wider community – to recognize that God‘s longing and love extends far beyond our walls. 

To recognize that if God is distraught over the one sheep, imagine the level of pain God feels when thousands of immigrant children are lost on the border, ripped from their families. 

That if God is saddened over the loss of one sheep, imagine the depths of God’s sadness for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to COVID, most of those lives in poor communities, Black communities, Indigenous communities, and communities of color. 

And if God is heartbroken over the loss of one sheep, imagine God’s heartbreak over the death of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Gardner, George Floyd, and so many other senseless deaths because of racist violence. 

The church is called to name the harm that is being done in the wider community. Because only when we speak the truth, can we go about the work of building systems that heal and of restoring relationships. This work is more than politics or equity and diversity or even about doing the right things it’s about embodying the longing that God has each One of God’s children.

This is the work of the church to be a place where relationships are restored with God, with one another, and in the wider community.

 It is not easy work, the good news is that we are not doing it alone. The very foundations of the church and other reading today, is that we need one another to do this work. And like it is promised in our gospel, when two or three of us join in this work of reconciliation together, Jesus is with us. Emboldening us, sustaining us, and guiding us on the way. 

So make it God gave us the grace to hear where the spirit is leading and the courage to follow.

Ordination Prayer

Pentecost Fire by Jan Richardson

Over the next two days, I will be ordained into the Sacred Order of Deacons in the Episcopal Church. When I woke up this morning for my daily prayers, writing, and meditation – this is what I prayed. I hope you will join me in offering up this prayer for my ministry.

God, make me worthy of the ministry you have entrusted to me. 

I want to stand in the gap – a reminder of justice, suffering, and pain in the church and a sign of love, endurance, and promise in the world. I want to love the gap. I want to remember that, indeed, church and world are more wrapped up than we ever know.

I want to love the things that are uncomfortable, help me make my home in the questions that aren’t easily answered. Help me to push myself and the people who seek to follow you to be discontent with what feels good enough and to push on towards your way of wholeness.

Help me to remain, to remain steady for those who cannot feel you in the moment. Help me to remember that you show up to all of us in our own ways and in our own time and all I am called to do, is love.

Help me to forgive, over and over and over again, to remember that I get to choose what I hold on to and what I release.

Help me to believe in who you have called me to be. Help me to run your race with all you have given me, please God give me glimpses of you along the way.

Help me to stay grounded in your truth – remind me that I am dependent on your love and without your guidance an your word, the word, as my light and lamp, I will falter. Hold me when I don’t think I’m held.

Keep me humble, aware that I never know the full picture, remind me that you are bigger than any of us can understand, keep my ears open to year ever active truth.

Anger me and embolden me when our world doesn’t look like what you imagined for us – stir up in me a longing for equity, justice, and liberation that cannot be diminished by worldly comforts

May I go to places where I an be among those who know your way, the way of exclusion and suffering, remind me that you lived your life among those the world deemed sick – help me do the same.

May this ministry transform and challenge me. Every. Single. Day.

Most of all, may I always remember that this is not my path to carve out, you have gone ahead, Holy Spirit, Miriam, Mary, Sarah, Hagar, Bathsheba, Mary Magdalene, Sedonia, Phoebe, Elaine, Dorothy, Annette, Sojourner, Rosa, Barbara … the Spirit has gone ahead and I am never ever ever alone on this path.

In Defense of Riots

Luca Giordano – Expulsion of the Moneychangers from the Temple

When thinking about riots there are two primary faith stories that come to mind.

The first is Jesus in the temple, outraged at the exploitation happening at the hands of the religious and governmental authorities. His anger motivates him to turn over tables and turn a rope into a whip.

The second is an older story, that of Samson, who after being unjustly imprisoned tears down the temple killing himself alongside the spectators.

While violence is not necessary a “solution,” our faith traditions teach us that when the systems that are supposed to support and sustain us continue to deny voice, humanity, and any hope of change … those systems must crumble.

As a white woman, I cannot imagine the daily violence and stress this world places on the shoulders of people of color. What I do know is that my tradition teaches me that there is a place for riots. And if I had to guess, Jesus would be on the streets, crying out for change, and turning over tables.

Seeing Beauty: With Gods Help

Although it’s not a secret, I don’t often share about my recovery from disordered eating publicly. I’ve spent the last 16 years (good God) learning to surrender, accept my body as is, speak out against body injustice, and choose food that feels like a good choice in the moment.

On that journey I have met many powerful healers, primarily Isabel Duke but also Geneen Roth, Annie Lamont, Brenee Brown, and Catherine Hummel. On Friday night at Diaconal formation Marilee Comford joined that list.

Marilee led us in this beautiful prayer practice calls the GRACE prayer. After naming an intention for the prayer you walk/move through the five letters.

G – gratitude

R – release

A – acceptance

C – challenge

E – embrace

My intention for my prayer was body, as it had been a more difficult week in the healing department. I asked God to open me to the grace I might receive about my body.

G – I am grateful for the resilience and strength of my body when it’s been through so much.

R – I release the desires of empire that tell me to be a certain size.

… the next letter is A, acceptance, I’ve done a lot of body work so I imagined that I’d say “I accept my body just as it is.” But as I walked over to the A section the Spirit moved. She spoke to me, “What if you accepted yourself as beautiful?” That might seem like a slight reframe to some but the question still feels jarring to me.

A – I accept myself as beautiful.

C – I challenge myself to see beauty. I’ll hold this rock as a reminder.

E – I embrace where this journey might take me and I embrace God’s unending support along the way.

A Time for Hope

Happy Easter and Chag Sameach! May this be a season where we cling more deeply to the sort of Hope described by Rebecca Solnit in her book, Hope in the Darkness.

Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away. And though hope can be an act of defiance, defiance isn’t enough reason to hope. But there are good reasons.

Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes — you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists.

It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act.

Things don’t always change for the better, but they change, and we can play a role in that change if we act. Which is where hope comes in.

Celebrating Easter with Darrell at St John’s Easter Vigil.

Grieving Faithfully: Lenten Reflection (40)

Scripture for Today: Matthew 27: 3-10, 55-66

I wept last night. It wasn’t the kind of crying where one cute teardrop falls down my cheek — I full on cried.

Reading the Isaiah passage for the congregation, I fought back tears as the names of people lost at the hands of senseless violence ran through my head.

Just as there were many who were astonished at him–so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,
Emmett Till, Philando Castile  He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
Andrew Del Pilar, Zakaria Fry, Viccky Gutierrez, 
But it was our transgressions that wounded him, our iniquities that crushed him;
Malcolm X, Sandra Bland 
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth;
Martin Luther King Jr, Standing Rock Sioux
By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people.
Parkland High School, Pulse Nightclub, Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Jessica Leeds, Jill Harth, Mindy McGillivray
He was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Stephon Clark, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin 

29594560_10104756341874551_2244687083193373744_nAs we venerated the cross, I prayed for members as they knelt. I found myself moved deeply by prayers: “May you know how deeply God loves you.” If I knew the parishioners personally I prayed in specifics: “May God break through your loneliness” or “May God’s love find a way through your adolescent aloofness.” I sensed God’s ache for each person.  And I cried.

After the service, I went back into the chapel alone and sat by our cross. My tears flowed more heavily once I was in silence. How, how, how? how do we keep letting this violence happen? Will Easter come?

 

The grief of Holy Saturday, the kind that grips our souls, is typically reserved for individual people we know and love intimately. But today we, just like Judas, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, are invited to a despair that encompasses the pain of all life shed of hope, and to wonder if we will know Love.

I invite you to consider these two accounts of grief: the death of Judas and the waiting at the tomb by the women. They accounts both display the utter pain and dismay of people who loved Jesus. However, the women are able to hold onto God’s love in the midst of their grief and this love motivates them to respond faithfully.

This is the sort of grief to which we are called: to speak truth when lies are uttered, to refuse to perpetuate the lie that “it’s better,” to march, to advocate, to offer ourselves and our service to the Love of God.

Pray:  How long O Lord?

Reflect: On this Holy Saturday how does our abiding faith in God’s love motivate us to grieve death in a way that leads to faithful action?

Art: Lamentation, or the Mourning of Christ by Giotto

Words of Gratitude: Thank you to everyone for walking this Lenten journey with me. There were many days where the writing did not come easily or required me to wake early, and at those times I wished I had not made the promise to write daily. However, hearing the ways these pieces have touched you has been an invaluable gift and I pray God’s presence abounds with you as we await Easter. I am especially grateful to my friend, coach, and editor Jesse Ortiz. Without their support and commitment to this project it would not have happened.

Lost in the Crowd: Lenten Reflection (39)

 

Scripture for Today: Mark 14: 32-72, 15

Today’s post is guest written by Jesse Ortiz, Natalie’s former co-worker and blog editor. Jesse is currently a PhD student in Cultural Studies at U.C. Davis. All opinions and mistakes are their own.

Where do you see yourself on Good Friday?

On March 18, two Sacramento police officers shot 20 bullets — two rounds of ammo — into a twenty-two year old man standing in his own backyard. Stephon Clark wasn’t killed for a crime. The police were told that a black man in a hoodie had been breaking windows in the area. They claim that when they saw Stephon holding his cell phone, they thought he was carrying a weapon and they feared for their own lives. Stephon’s only transgression was blackness.

Who killed Jesus? Was it the executioner who nailed him to the cross? Was it the soldiers who led him through the city? Was it Pilate, the governor who sentenced him to death?

The crowd shouted: “Crucify him!”

The soldiers, the executioners, and Pilate were all following orders. Even the apostles, Jesus’ closes confidants, fell asleep in the garden, failing to assert enough agency to stay awake and accompany their friend. Only the crowd, calling for crucifixion, could demand and receive what they wanted.

The crowd is us. The crowd is you.

According to the chief priests, what what Jesus’ greatest transgression? They claim Jesus said he “will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands” (14:58). As the scripture insists, this is false. In John 2:19, when a group of Jews ask Jesus for a sign of his authority, he says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” In a sense, the people take Jesus too literally. They project their fears of instability and scarcity onto Jesus’ words, imagining that he would single-handedly raise that very same temple — violating their common sense. The people are thinking as fundamentalists, while Jesus is speaking metaphorically. And Jesus’ metaphors offer us so much more.

In the days following Stephon Clark’s execution, people across the country used their voices and feet to confront the injustice of his death. In Sacramento last week, protesters such down Interstate 5 and delayed the Sacramento Kings game to bring attention to Stephon’s death.

I was in that crowd. As the Good Friday story teaches us, a crowd has power. We don’t have to use that power to kill.

Like Easter, Good Friday isn’t just one day. Good Friday is the day a family has to mourn the death of their twenty-two year old son, father, partner, and brother. Good Friday is the day a black trans woman is murdered. Good Friday the day a U.S. military drone destroys human life. Good Friday is any day, and Good Friday is every day.

Every day, we are part of a crowd. Whenever we say “Blue Lives Matter,” we are saying “Crucify them!” Whenever we call the cops on harmless people, or call for more cops in schools, we are saying “Crucify them!” Whenever we celebrate the U.S. military, whenever we stand for the National Anthem, we are saying “Crucify them!”

As Jesus shows us, simply following the rules, taking things literally, is not enough. We must grapple with our actions and beliefs to be in right-relationship with God. As Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Silence, too, is persecution.

When you stand by as the U.S. builds more prisons to lock up more people, you are saying “Crucify them!” When you ignore the U.S. military action that isn’t covered in the mainstream media, you are saying “Crucify them!” When you don’t talk to your kids, your friends, or your siblings about racism, you are saying “Crucify them!” When you refuse to learn about mass incarceration, police brutality, or military violence, you are saying “Crucify them! Crucify them! Crucify them.”

Yes, every day can be Good Friday. But not every day should be. If we believe the Easter story, our world can be another way. On the day that Jesus died, his government, his community, and even his closest companions betrayed him.

Jesus died for us, and now we know so much better. Where will you be on Good Friday?

Pray: Grant me the heart that Jesus died for me to have.

Reflect: Where have you been passive in situations of injustice? What can you do when you recognize yourself as part of an oppressive crowd?

Art: From Jesse’s Instagram, an image from the #BlackLivesMatter protest in Sacramento following Stephon Clark’s death. Man holds rainbow Black Lives Matter sign in front of a gym.

Further Reading: 

 

Unknown, image found on Experimental Theology by Richard Beck http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2013/05/you-shall-not-wash-my-feet.html

As I Loved You: Lenten Reflection (38)

Scripture for Today: John 13:1-17,31-35

Spoiler Alert: I’ll be preaching this as a sermon at St. John’s Hingham tonight at 7:30 pm. If you’re joining us for service (which you all should!) you may want to wait and hear it then. 

When I preach, I typically wear heels. When people ask me why, I tell them it’s important for me to embrace being a femme leader in the church. Now, of course you can be femme in flats, but there’s something about claiming a little extra femme while I preach. It reminds me, and I hope others, that women are also called to lead the Church.

In addition, they make a great safety blanket. Heels elevate me, they give me a feeling of stature and command. When I take them off I instantly feel more approachable and, in being so, more vulnerable. Without the heels, or in the case of our gospel from today, without any shoes, our flaws, scratches, and not so pristine parts are visible. Our humanity is exposed. And, no one likes that.

That’s what made Jesus so different. He embraced rather than avoided humanity. He touched the scabs and sores of lepers, lovingly accepted the flaws of his followers, and showcased his own hunger and frustration.

And, if that wasn’t clear enough, during his final evening with his friends, he demonstrates an experience of love that is undeniably tied to encountering our humanity. What is more human than our feet? Or feet that sink and sweat? Or feet that are callused from the wear of life?

He says: when you share the imperfect parts of you with someone else and see the imperfect in another — then you will know love.

——

When I was writing this sermon I couldn’t stop thinking about a friend of mine who died recently from suicide. We met about two years ago; he was brilliant, beautiful, and utterly agitated by the voices in his head that denied these truths. The societal pressures of what it means to “be a man” combined with the violence experienced by black and brown communities constantly tormented him.

At one point, when I was visiting him in the hospital prior to his passing, his father said to me, “I’m not sure I ever knew my son. He was always so concerned with who he was supposed to be.”

He was always running. When we spent time together I would often ask him to stay a little longer, “just five more minutes,” hoping that if he just sat still long enough he could soak up his goodness. But that didn’t happen. He couldn’t soak up that love because soaking up the love required seeing and accepting his imperfect human parts too. And those parts were too much for him to bear.

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In our Gospel text from today, when Jesus attempts to see the human parts of Peter, he refuses Jesus. And Jesus responds, “Unless I wash your feet, you have no share in me.”  He is so clear: if we are not willing to expose those parts of us, we won’t know his love. Our experience of love, of freedom, of release from pressures of this life, is tied up in our ability to be human.

Perhaps this is one reason our most intimate encounter with Jesus, Holy Eucharist, centers on remembering — literally, to be connected to him — through his most human parts, his body and blood.

“This is my body, broken for you.” 

In Jesus’ body we are remembered to the physical, mental, and emotional suffering he endured. The suffering of betrayal, loneliness, and rejection that we all know.  And, in lifting up his body we are invited to welcome rather than run from these moments of pain.  To know that in our moments of deepest suffering we are not alone. Rather, we can remember that we are inextricably connected to God and one another: to embody the truth of Eucharist, that we who are many are One body, because we share one bread.

—–

This is my blood, shed for you.” 

This is my blood, it was shed for you because of the human epidemic of violence. It was shed because we attack when we feel afraid, it was shed because we are taught that the safest way to stop a “bad man” with a gun is a “good man” with a gun, because we believe that hate can somehow drive out hate.

This is the aspect of humanity with which I struggle most; I can look at my ugly feet, and I can accept my own suffering, but I do not want to remember that I’m part of the perpetuation of the violence that results in oppression, segregation, racism, and innocent deaths of children in our streets and in our schools. But Jesus stands there, on his last night with us, and says: remember, reconnect to the truth that even though you perpetuate this violence, my Love will never leave you.

—-

Although I can’t fully explain it, I know our ability to give and receive love is tied to our willingness to accept our humanity, to expose our flaws, to share our sufferings, and to acknowledge our propensity to cause pain. And, I think that’s what Jesus was trying to leave his disciples with that last night.

He says: I’ve spent my life trying to model Love for you and, just in case you’ve missed it along the way, here are some tangible reminders of what it looks like: wash each other’s feet, share in one another’s pain, and tend to each other’s wounds.

What might change about the way we love one another if we remembered, literally were reconnected, to the truth that we are tied up in one another’s humanity?

How might compassion for ourselves motivate us to let go of unrealistic standards of wealth, beauty or power and embrace humanity? Instead of exhausting ourselves to do and be we could embrace a freedom that allows us to more fully know ourselves and those around us. I imagine that actually being present to the pain of depression, the fear of being ripped from one’s home, or the fragility of living on minimum wage would change our hearts. We’d love as God loved.

And, in doing so, we’d begin to deeply identify with the pain of others. This sort of love compels us to become keenly aware of the ways we benefit from systemic oppression. We are no longer satisfied knowing that our children attend good schools where they are safe. Instead, we use our energy to overturn unjust practices that unfairly distribute resources, perpetuate poverty, and destroy families. And, in doing so, we glimpse the realm of God; we create a world in which all know they are loved.

In these holiest of days we are invited to consider this questions for ourselves: what might happen if we committed our lives to embodying God’s love, through the washing of the feet, the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup?

If we “loved one another as I have loved you.”

Pray: Undo the lies of imperfection and separation we believe.

Reflect: What element of humanity most resonated with you in this reflection? What might that reveal about how the Spirit is moving in your life today?

Art: Unknown, image found on Experimental Theology by Richard Beck