This past Sunday I officially graduated from the School for Deacons in Berkeley, CA. I am only now starting to realize, several days later, just what this means for me.
For the last three years of School I have focused on trying to complete assignments for the next School weekend, while also balancing work and family life. I found it necessary to keep my focus on the work that needed to be done three weeks at a time. Otherwise, to look up and see how far it was to go could be discouraging.
Suddenly, I find myself at the end, a person transformed by the process of study, work, prayer, and community. I've gone from a Doubting Thomas to a committed disciple.
Many people feel a sense of accomplishment after graduation, but I feel, instead, a sense of gratitude for all the times I thought I would stumble and the Spirit kept picking me up. It is in fire that metal is tested and hardened, and it is in this experience that I too have strengthened my faith.
With School complete my journey now turns back to completing the final Steps to Ordination. Examinations, exams, interviews, and endorsements still lie ahead, but for me the best part is turning inward again to focusing on my own spirituality and prayer life in my continuing discussion with God. Time again for family and rest, but also time for faith.
On my last School for Deacons Weekend I preached at Morning Prayer on Sunday May 6th. For me it was an opportunity to speak of my experience while hopefully inspiring others who are on this same journey of faith. Here is that sermon:
The Sixth Sunday after Easter
In our reading from Acts this morning our God of Surprises again acts in a surprising way. Without the reception of any sacraments, and with just a short sermon from Peter, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word”, and Peter’s followers “heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God .” (Acts 10:44) Wow, imagine that kind of response to one of our sermons!
What strikes me in this scene is what has been left out by the Lectionary. Peter and his followers from Joppa traveled to Caesarea to visit a Roman Centurion named Cornelius. Cornelius “was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.” (Acts 10:2)
One afternoon Cornelius is suddenly accosted by an “angel from God” who calls him by name. Acts records that Cornelius “stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?”” and was told “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.” (Acts 10:3-4) The angel goes on to tell Cornelius to summon Peter, a man he doesn’t know.
How many of us have heard God call us by name and reacted with that same feeling of terror, or disbelief? I feel at times like that old Alfred E. Newman cartoon from “Mad Magazine” saying “What? Who, me?”
It makes me wonder how surprised Moses must have been when he heard his name called from within the Burning Bush (Exodus 3). I can only guess at the terror Elijah felt when God passed him by on that mountain, not in the form of wind, earthquake, or fire, but in the sound of sheer silence (1 Kings 19).
Peter, James, and John were absolutely befuddled when they went up the mountain with Jesus to meet Moses and Elijah, and then hear the voice of God (Matthew 17). Think about it! They were going to set up a tent for a ghost!
As pilgrims on this journey of faith we yearn to find God, but become terrified when God suddenly finds us and calls us by name. Like Peter, we are some of the least likely people to become a “Rock”, and then we realize that it is not through our efforts that anything is accomplished, but in God working through us that brings God’s Light into the world.
Rather than sitting back in his lofty perch surrounded by fiery chariots and hosts of angels, (while dropping in occasionally to scare humans half to death), our God of Surprises comes to meet us in human form through Jesus.
If being God Incarnate is not surprising enough, Jesus tells us “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” A God who wants to be friends with each one of us! Really? God is my friend, and your friend? The creator of the universe yearns to reach out and embrace each of us? With this realization, can there be any deeper joy?
Jesus speaks to each one of us when he says “You did not choose me but I chose you” (John 15:16) and sends us out into the world to “bear fruit” by following his command to “love one another.” It’s such a simple command to bring God’s love out to a broken world that seems so lost in darkness.
Like Peter, James, and John we too have found ourselves befuddled at times as we climbed this mountain called “Holy Hill”. Three years ago, looking up, it seemed like we would never make it, and now, looking back, I still don’t know how we did it. At times it seems like a dream—because it is a dream! Like Martin Luther King Jr. and many others before, we have come to the mountain top and can see the Promised Land, a Land that fills your mind with dreams of a new way of living.
· I dream of a world where every person is viewed as a valued member of society, regardless of who they are, or where they came from, or who they love.
· I dream of a place where every child is wanted and loved, has a home to live in and enough food to eat, can get medical care whenever needed, and has access to an education that will help them find their own dream.
· I dream of a time when every worker, regardless of their occupation, returns home safe every night, earns enough to support their family, and is able to afford the roses as well as the bread.
· I dream of a day when the Earth is not viewed by humans as a resource to be exploited, but is seen and cared for as part of God’s precious Garden.
These may sound like crazy dreams, but this is the Dream of God that I’ve come to know here. This is the Kingdom of God brought to Earth by Jesus. The cross of Jesus didn’t just open up a one-way street to the next world—The Cross has opened a doorway that also brings God’s Dream for us into this world.
· Can you see that open doorway?
· Can you imagine the Dream of God?
· Can you feel the Kingdom of God drawing near?
Jesus is calling each one of us: “Come follow me.”
· Come, follow me out into the world.
· Come, make what is old new again.
· Come, heal the broken.
· Come, find the lost.
· Come, love one another as I have loved you.
May the Spirit of God so fill our hearts with the vision of God’s Dream that we become beacons of hope and love in this bruised and broken world.
Reflections on the Journey
In the midst of serving at my Parish Field Assignment from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday, and everything in between, I found myself reflecting on where I've been on this journey through formation.
It was five years ago on Maundy Thursday that I first attended a service at an Episcopal Church. Growing up Roman Catholic, it was not an easy thing to leave, but I could no longer accept the practice of excluding people from full inclusion. The Jesus I know from the New Testament welcomed all people to his table, even his betrayer Judas.
I was never divorced, I wasn't a woman wanting to be ordained, I'm not gay wanting to be accepted or married, but the exclusion of all of these groups of people troubled my heart and soul. I could no longer stay in a Church that included me, but excluded others. Jesus opened the Kingdom of God to everyone, tearing down walls formed by man-made religious rules that separated people from each other.
I start thinking that I am somehow the subject of a joke by God, but I just haven't heard the punchline yet. It is times like these my mind jumps to the character Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. My Tevye prayer would be "OK God! I don't get it yet! Are you going to tell me, or do I have to wait?"
Now in my last semester at School for Deacons, I have completed (34) School Weekends, with (2) weekends left to go. I have no idea how I've made it this far except by the grace of God. Thirty-four three-week cycles of homework, all in the midst of work and family crises, and challenged along the way with doubts and fears.
How have I done it? Perseverance is one piece of it, learning to live in one 3-week homework cycle at a time; Fellowship with my fellow seminarian, a woman who has as much stubbornness and drive as me--perhaps more!; The greatest asset of all, however, has been clinging onto faith and trusting that God is leading me on this path and is walking with each of us.
For the last couple weeks I have been re-reading "Many Servants: An Introduction to Deacons" by Ormonde Plater. I read this book at the beginning of this journey trying to understand deacons. Now, after 3 years of intensive training I read it again with a new perspective, and new understanding.
Where am I going? I don't know. What is my 'calling'?" I haven't a clue! What will I do? I haven't the foggiest notion. Perhaps in walking this part of the path for the last three years, trusting in God over a long period, I have come to the point of not spending so much time worrying about the future, and instead living in this day--this present--this gift of 'now'. This is one of the hallmarks of the Kingdom of God: trusting that God will lead us to the future, heal us from the past, and walk with us in the present.
I believe that Jesus' message of love is filled with joy! If you're not laughing with God at least some of the time, you're missing something in life! I am so blessed to have found the "Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement". Peace and love!!
Note: Painting by Henry O Tanner
Good Friday calls us!
I preached at the Good Friday service this year at my Parish Field Assignment at St. John's in Lodi, CA. Too many people want to jump over the pain of the cross and go straight to Easter Sunday and the Resurrection, but so much is missed by turning away from the pain of reality. It's not about guilt, it is about unbounded love. We are called!
Here is the sermon:
In a man’s world, women and children don’t count—they are insignificant! I would like to believe this is no longer true, but when you hear how women are treated in the workplace, or how children are afraid of going to school, I have to wonder… The fact remains, however, that in Jesus’ time women and children didn’t count.
Back then the status of most women was not much better than that of a slave—as wives they were treated as house servants, and could be divorced and left homeless for any reason. More than half of the children died before the age of 10, and a third of women died in childbirth. Even in the story of the miracle of the fishes and loaves (John 6:10), a crowd follows Jesus, but only the men are counted.
It is this insignificant status of women and children that is a key point in understanding the truth of today’s reading, and the Gospel of John itself.
All of the other followers of Jesus have run away and are in hiding, fearful they will be arrested and added to crosses along the road to Jerusalem.
Our Creator is not a god who sits back and watches from a distance—God doesn’t meet us halfway—the Alpha and Omega was born into our world to share in our joys, sorrows, and pain—to find the lost, the broken, and the blind--and lead to us to new life!
Here we stand at the foot of the cross, at what must seem to the people around Jesus, the end of that life. The Light of the World is being extinguished by the forces of darkness.
John recalls that Jesus was crucified on the day before Passover, at the same time the lambs were being prepared for the Passover meal. When Jesus says from the cross “I am thirsty” [19:28] John remembers a sponge was dipped in cheap wine and given to him on a reed of hyssop It was a hyssop reed that was dipped in the blood of the Passover lambs to mark the wooden doors and lintels in Egypt, protecting the Israelites from the angel of death.
Here John is telling us that the blood of the Lamb of God spread on the wood of the cross in Jerusalem will open the door to eternal life. This one man, Jesus, gives his life out of love for God and each one of us.
John records that the legs of the men crucified with Jesus were broken to hasten their death, but that since Jesus was already dead they drove a spear into him and “…at once blood and water came out.” [19:34] It is only in modern times that scientists have come to understand that breaking the legs of crucifixion victims caused immediate death by asphyxiation--and that stabbing a live person causes blood to flow out, but blood and water-like fluids flow out of a dead one.
John’s Gospel is not based on hearsay, or an oral tradition, but is an eye-witness account of real events by a follower of Jesus who was personally familiar with Judea and Jerusalem. If you were there, could you have ever forgotten what you saw in Jesus’ life or his death?
The Gospel of John records the unintended testimony made about Jesus by his worst adversaries: the Temple authorities. They don’t deny that Jesus healed the man born blind [9:1-12], but call Jesus a sinner for healing someone on the Sabbath. Their trial proves this man has been healed, but they throw the man out of the synagogue because they are blind to the Truth, and refuse to hear the man’s testimony of Jesus.
In hearing that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead in front of a crowd of witnesses, the response of the Temple authorities is not doubt that it happened, but “This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him…” causing Caiaphas to prophetically respond “…It is better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” [11:45-50] Salvation from one man, predicted by the high priest.
Finally, it is Pilate himself who declares Jesus “King of the Jews”. Messiah means Anointed One, or King. Little does Pilate know that Jesus is so much more than King of the Jews.
Writing his Gospel late in life, John carefully crafts his story not just to testify to the events he witnessed, but to answer the most basic question: What does it mean for us to become followers of Jesus? What should I do? How should I live?
In the first chapter the un-named disciple who searches out Jesus asks “Rabbi, where are you staying?” [1:38], expressing a curiosity--an openness to hear this Good News. He is baptized and goes on to participate in Eucharistic-like feasts, like the feeding of the 5,000 [6:1-15], growing in his faith.
At the Last Supper It is the un-named Beloved Disciple reclining next to Jesus. [13:24-25] It is the un-named disciple who slips Peter into the courtyard of the high priest during Jesus’ trial [18:15-16].
Finally, in the reading we just heard, it is the Beloved Disciple standing at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother, her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. A teenage boy with the simple faith of a child, and several women with the love of a mother.
Even in his final moments Jesus is using his last breath to minister to others. He asks the Beloved Disciple to care for his mother whom he is leaving behind.
Ask yourself “Why doesn’t John name himself in all of these places? Why doesn’t John say “I was there” or “I did this” rather than speaking of himself in the third person?” The answer can be rather jolting: John is inviting each of us to become the Beloved Disciple.
John’s Gospel is an invitation to each one of us to become committed disciples of Christ—to become Jesus’ hands and feet and voices in the world—to care for those whom Jesus loves: the sick and the dying, the marginalized and the outcasts, the poor and the afflicted; humanity AND creation itself.
John tells us Jesus said “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Becoming the Beloved Disciple means turning away from being centered on the self, leaving behind all of those selfish things that separate us from God and each other. Becoming the Beloved Disciple means living a life centered on God and caring for others; of living in love and hope, and not in fear; of living life with opened eyes and opened hearts listening for the call of the Spirit.
On this solemn day of Good Friday, and into the morrow of Holy Saturday, the world waits in this thinness between life and death, just as it did back then. Think of how empty the world becomes without Jesus in it!
· Let us accept John’s invitation to become Beloved Disciples.
· Let us remember the love and healing Jesus brought into this world.
· Let us feel for a brief instant the grief these disciples felt in losing their Teacher.
Discipleship calls us to perseverance.
Faith dares us to hope.
Love brings us to new life.
Ref: “The Past from God’s Perspective” by Rev. Dr. Scott Gambrill Sinclair
With only three more School for Deacons' Weekends to go I wanted to take time to look back to where I've been. In some ways it's like riding on a train or in an aircraft in a rear-facing seat--It's difficult to see where you are going, but the view looking back is amazing.
The amount of work that is behind me is substantial: 30 courses all together, plus numerous retreats, and three weeks in Panama. It's hard to believe I've completed all of it looking back. I fully recognize, though, that I didn't do this on my own, but only with the help of the Spirit.
Persevering in your efforts; hanging onto "Just one more thing": having the encouragement of a fellow classmate: All of these things contribute to the forward movement. When it comes down to it, however, the most important piece of all is grasping onto the the belief that God is calling you to this ministry, and her Spirit will help carry you along the way when times are toughest.
At some point in this journey you realize that you also are there to reach out to the people in the process behind you and encourage them in following this path.
May God reach out to your heart and give you the courage to take up this call.
At the midpoint of this semester I preached the following at Evening Prayer on March 3rd:
In listening to our two seemingly unrelated readings this evening I was suddenly struck with the realization that they both share an almost invisible theme of The Unexpected Turn in a way I hadn’t seen before.
In our view of Joseph this evening we see a man who has reached his peak in power and influence in the Kingdom of Egypt. Joseph is not a mere steward of Pharaoh, distributing grain and amassing wealth for Pharaoh’s treasury. When Joseph had interpreted Pharaoh’s dream of seven fat years with seven lean years Pharaoh had recognized the Truth of God within Joseph and made him a Priest of Heliopolis, the center of worship for the Sun-god Atum, later known as Ra, by decreeing the marriage of Joseph to Asenath, daughter of the Chief Priest of Atum. Joseph, then, is a priest who delivers bread to the people of the kingdom.
Through no fault of his own, young Joseph became the envy of his brothers, being deemed by Jacob as his favorite. While his older brothers were sent out to the fields to care for the flocks, Joseph was kept at home, the joy of his father’s eye. Poor Joseph was so naïve, that he didn’t even realize his brothers’ envy of his position. I wonder how long it took Joseph after he was thrown into the well to realize something was amiss. Did he sit in that well thinking it was some kind of brotherly joke? Was it several days after being chained to a caravan before his eyes were opened?
In spite of the physical duress he was under as a slave, as many of us know it’s the emotional pain that hurts the worst. I can hear Joseph saying “My brothers, my closest friends, did this to me? Was my father in on this, too?” The heartbreak must have been unimaginable. How awful and deep it is when we are hurt by the ones we love.
Rather than fall into despair, Joseph lived with the faith of Jacob and decided to serve well
This way of righteous living didn’t always endear Joseph to people. For refusing Potiphar’s wife’s advances Joseph was falsely accused of assault and thrown into prison.
Even in Pharaoh’s dungeon Joseph continued on his righteous way of living, caring for the other prisoners. How often did Joseph question God’s faithfulness through all of his travails? After all, Joseph lived in slavery or prison for almost 20 years before Pharaoh finally took notice of him. Twenty years of darkness and misery, but clinging to one’s faith in God. Imagine how challenging that would be!!
Finally, after being released and marrying Asenath, who bore him Manasseh and Ephraim, Joseph is reported to have said “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” [Gen 41:51]
In today’s reading it’s almost 10 years later that Joseph’s brothers show up asking for food for their people. The real humanity of Joseph shows through, however! Joseph is not some kind of hagiographic saint who has fully forgiven and forgotten—after all, he throws his brothers into prison for 3 days on false charges of being spies. He keeps Simeon incarcerated while demanding the other brothers bring back Benjamin. He arranges to falsely accuse Benjamin of theft, and making him a slave, before he finally reveals his true loving self to his kinfolk. I can easily imagine the inner struggles Joseph suffered through—the temptation he wrestled with to use his absolute power to wreak fully-justified revenge.
It is this very real, human inner conflict in Joseph involving the choice between the intertwined emotions of heartbreak, revenge and power, on one hand, versus living righteously and lovingly before God, on the other. Each one of us suffer through this same kind of inner conflict today, don’t we? What an Unexpected Turn of understanding!
In our scene this evening from Mark we meet one of the most famous unnamed persons of the Gospel—the demoniac afflicted by Legion. This poor man had become so out of control that not even chains could hold him, so he lived among the dead of that area—a lost soul dead to the world, but not even buried in peace.
How long had he lived with this affliction? The Gospels don’t tell us. What did he eat? Insects? Plants? Dead animals? Food scraps left on occasion? He had been constantly tormented by these demons inside, beating himself with stones—caused by the demons? Or an attempt by himself to end his torment? Perhaps both!
He immediately rushes to Jesus and addresses him as “Son of the Most High God”, an appellation of Greek origin, not surprising since this area is called the Decapolis—the ten Greek cities. While in other stories Jesus seems hesitant to heal non-Jews, Jesus immediately works to cure this poor creature, out of empathy for the plight of this most cast-out person. Can you be any more of an outcast from society when you are living among the dead?
From this community’s perspective this man is dead to the world, but Jesus restores him to life by driving out the demons, and in their place leaving God’s peace. Imagine how relieved this man is—how quiet his inner self has become—how free he feels after all this time of confinement in an inner prison!
Is it any wonder, then, that this man now wants to follow Jesus and become one of his disciples! The surprising thing is Jesus sends him away!! What an Unexpected Turn!
How could someone who has only listened to Jesus a short time become a bearer of the Good News? By rushing down to the seashore to plead with Jesus to heal him, this poor, afflicted human demonstrated his own helplessness against evil. Even in the midst of his suffering he yearned to live a righteous life in God. While Jesus tells others “Let the dead bury the dead”, Jesus tells this former graveyard inhabitant to go out and “…Tell them how much the Lord has done for you…” This first preacher to the Gentiles proceeds to tell everyone what Jesus has done for him!
With little understanding of Jewish scripture or law, or expectation of a coming Messiah, this former demoniac equates Jesus with the “Most High God”. The only other person in Mark’s Gospel who makes this instantaneous declaration is another Gentile, the Roman Centurion who witnessed Jesus’ death on the cross.
The story of these two people, Joseph and the former demoniac, speak to us today of persevering in our faith while we overcome the many demons and hardships of our lives.
· It is through simple and persistent faith that we find our way to the promise of God’s kingdom.
· It is in recognition of our own human frailties that we find strength through the Spirit who lifts us up.
· It is through our willingness to serve others, and bring them the Gospel of Hope, that we are healed of our own afflictions, too.
As we reach this halfway point of this semester let us reach out for God’s peace, which surely resides here among us, to renew our strength to continue on our journeys to a new beginning. Amen.
Fabian, Bishop & Martyr
2 Esdras 2:42-48
1 Corinthians 15:31-36, 44b-49
In Jesus’ day there were at least four groups vying for control of the hearts and minds of the people while hoping to bring the restoration of the kingdom of Israel: The Sadducees who believed they could accomplish this through meticulous Temple worship; The Pharisees who believed that people should live perfectly according to the Law of Moses; The Essenes who believed that people should live according to the Law AND be physically separated from outsiders; and the Sicarii who believed the kingdom would be restored by driving out the Gentiles through terror and assassination.
Each of these groups had their own method of determining who was part of the in-crowd and who was out—who was pure and who was impure—who were “real” Israelites and who weren’t.
Along comes our Rabbi from Galilee who preaches that the Kingdom of God includes everyone, especially those who are lost and broken. The task of those with faith, and money, and power is to go out and find the lost ones to bring them back into the fold, too.
This new way of envisioning the Kingdom of God unsettles those who are quite comfortable with the status quo. “What kind of message is this? How will we know our place in the world? How will we maintain order? How can blind people, beggars, and lepers ever be clean? This Rabbi is some kind of revolutionary, or mad man!! We need to silence him!!”
This radical message Jesus carried was of reconciliation and love—between each other, and between us and God. Jesus wasn’t mystically predicting the future destruction of Jerusalem—as any good prophet he was speaking truth to power and pointing out that the seeds of any society’s destruction were planted in the fertile ground of division and hate. I wonder what that says to us today.
Our commemoration today is for another follower of Jesus who preached this message of reconciliation and love: Fabian, Bishop of Rome, who served from 236 – 250, almost a century before the Church was subsumed by the Roman Empire. According to the historian Eusebius an assembly was held in Rome in 236 to elect a new bishop when a dove flew in and landed on this stranger’s head, so the people took it as a sign and elected this layperson, Fabian, as Bishop.
Surprising everyone, Fabian’s tenure as Bishop of Rome lasts 14 years! What was his secret? History tells us some surprising things. Fabian cultivated amicable relations with the imperial government of Rome! Of course, it may have helped that Maximinus was killed trying to put down a Senatorial revolt two years after Fabian was elected—“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” still has value today!
Bishop Fabian also worked to heal the divisions between Christians by arranging the return of the remains of Bishop Pontian and the anti-pope Hippolytus from the salt mines of Sardinia. Hippolytus had criticized Pontian and Church leaders for being too lenient in granting absolution to Christians, causing opposing groups to form up within the Church—Again, arguing over “Who is in, and who is out?”
In the midst of a persecution of Christians, Pontian and Hippolytus were arrested and died in the salt mines at hard labor. By working to return the remains of both Church leaders Fabian helped heal the divisions that had long been simmering.
Bishop Fabian is also credited with re-organizing the Church in Rome, designating seven districts within the diocese, supervised by seven deacons! Clearly Fabian was concerned for the outcasts and downtrodden.
By keeping his focus on God’s love for everyone, and Jesus’ call to seek out the lost and heal divisions, Bishop Fabian restored the unity of the Church in Rome and focused the people on spreading the Gospel message. What does that say to us today?
Two weeks ago we attended the Annual School for Deacons Retreat at the Bishops Ranch. I had been finding it difficult to find my inner calm—my inner center—as I progressed through the Advent and Christmas seasons, so this time of prayer and meditation was a much-needed reprieve from the world.
Like many people I had come to wonder if humanity has completely lost its collective mind. We have leaders who argue about whose button is bigger--whose hand is bigger—whose bomb is bigger. We have people in this country who want to designate who is American, and who isn’t—who is entitled, and who is worthless—who gets healthcare and who doesn’t.
In the midst of this madness one starts feeling like the sane part of humanity is diminishing, while hope for the future is being snuffed out.
As I focused on prayer and meditation at the Retreat I came to realize that the 24/7 Bad News cycle had overtaken the immortal Good News message within me. Worries of the future of our country, and the future of the world, had drowned out the message of God’s love and reconciliation that we are meant to carry within us. The gift from God of this beautiful day, here, right now, was being lost in a forest of fear and hopelessness.
I had lost sight of our Creator God who dances in joy with the works of her creation, but also weeps with us in our sorrows, and embraces us in our fears. I had lost my grasp on the message that the angel told Ezra in our first reading: “Go, tell my people how great and how many are the wonders of the Lord God that you have seen.”
As I came to this realization and re-focused my mind on Jesus’ message of God’s love and reconciliation, my inner peace returned, and I gained a new insight into this role as a deacon.
Deacons are called to “interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world”, but we are also called to “make Christ and his redemptive love known…to those among whom you live, and work, and worship. [BCP p.543] Our role is to be at the door of the Church, with one foot in the outside world, and one foot in the Church.
This doesn’t mean that on Sunday the deacon is inside the Church doing their “spiritual thing”, and on Monday the deacon is out doing their “social justice thing”. We are not called to be “either/or”—we are called to be “both/and”.
A deacon who is out in the world focused on all the ills of society, while isolated from the Church, would be no more fruitful than a deacon who is focused on liturgical practice, isolated from the outside world.
This role of being “both/and” is a challenging place to be. While we are mindful of the broken world around us, we are called to be the bearers of Jesus’ message of love and redemption. We are called to be the calm in the eye of the storm, and the heralds of God’s Kingdom.
As we gather this evening at this Table of Eucharist let us lay our fear and worries down. Let us be mindful of this evening—this hour—this minute as we worship together Emanuel: God with us. Let us feel God’s loving embrace and let her love and hope flow through our hearts and out into the world. And let us carry that love and hope every day as we reflect God’s kingdom to the world around us. Amen.
Retreat and Recharge
Five semesters are now complete at the School for Deacons in Berkeley, CA. Looking back it seems impossible and incredible that I managed to get all the work done! Some might take pride in this accomplishment, but I recognize that while I worked hard while enjoying every course, there have been numerous seemingly insurmountable problems and obstacles along the way that were only overcome with the help of God who walks with each of us in this journey of faith.
For me this Retreat was sorely needed, like a cool drink of water after a long walk in the desert. The feeling one gets as you let go of the outside world and focus on your relationship with God and your neighbors is incredibly refreshing.
There are times early on in this process when you doubt you're following the right path. It was comforting for me to find that this time of Withdrawal/Retreat reaffirmed that I've been following the right path.
Headline news can make people feel overwhelmed with hopelessness and helplessness, and that includes me! There is so much broken in the world--wherever will we start? Can my insignificant efforts in the face of such troubling times really make a difference?
In my meditations and prayers this weekend I realized that God, too, our Creator who dances with joy over her creatures and creation, weeps with us in witnessing the carelessness too many people walk through life with. God weeps not just with us, but for those who are too blind to see the brokenness around them, and the brokenness within them.
In the depths of our fears, however, God is embracing each one of us, wrapping her comforting arms around us and sharing in our grief. Somehow when you grasp that all-embracing Creator caring for each one of us you realize that you do have the strength to stand up and make a difference.
None of us can change this broken world, but we can change the broken world around us--the world within our grasp--the neighbors we see each day.
Amidst the Christmas cards I received this season there was one that stood out for me.
"When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release prisoners,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart."
May you find your path in the coming year!
A Message of Love
As you go through this transformation of becoming a Deacon you find yourself doing things you never imagined you could do--like preaching a sermon.
As much as I'd like to say "Boy, am I skilled at this!", the fact is the process you learn at the School for Deacons (sfd.edu) is equal parts of research and prayer. Each time I start working on a homily I suffer doubts of having anything to say, but somewhere along the process the message comes.
I preached the following at the Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist Church in Lodi, CA on Sunday, October 29th, 2017:
Leviticus 19: 1-2, 15-18
1 Thessalonians 2: 1-8
Matthew 22: 34-46
In 3rd Grade my teacher, a nun in full black habit, started preparing us for our First Confession. Now what an 8 year old would have to confess is still beyond my comprehension! She handed out a list of sins, and explained that if you die with certain ones staining your soul you go straight to the bad place, but with others you stand in the hot waiting room until the spin cycle is done (OK, that last part is my interpretation!). It sounded like you were doing your laundry before you went on a long trip!
Now, handing out this list of sins is like banning a book: If you want to increase your book sales, try having someone ban it! The 8-year old me was sitting there trying to figure out what fun there might be in the lesser offenses, when a thought occurred to me:
“Sister! If I’m on my way to Confession and get hit by a bus, is it good enough that I was on my way there?” “No, you would still have sins staining your soul” she answered.
I raised my hand again “Sister! If the bus hits me after going to Confession, then would I be OK?” “Oh yes,” she replied, “your soul would be all white!”
I should have stopped there, but even back then I didn’t know better! “Sister! If God loves us, then why would he let the bus run me over while I was on my way to Confession?”
That did it! Out of the class I went.
Little did I know that another Roman Catholic, a priest and scholar no less, had a similar idea long before. Martin Luther had been studying this Jewish revolutionary named Paul of Tarsus, and drafted a list of 95 propositions to be the basis for an academic debate concerning the forgiveness of sins and the selling of indulgences. On October 31, 1517 (500 years ago this Tuesday) Luther mailed his 95 Theses to Albert of Brandenburg, the Archbishop of Mainz, and over the next several weeks posted copies on churches in Wittenberg as an invitation to scholars for a debate.
The operator of a new technology called the printing press copied Luther’s 95 Theses and they began circulating like a wild fire all over Europe, sparking what became known as the Protestant Reformation. Luther would go on to develop the idea that we are saved through God’s grace and faith alone, and not by our works or deeds—a radical idea for a Church that believed in centralizing authority!
The people of 1st Century Judea lived under a Roman controlled theocracy. Local synagogues were dominated by the Pharisees, the Sadducees controlled Temple worship, and the Chief Priest was appointed by the Roman Prefect. In a land where most people couldn’t read, the scribes could read Scripture and record legal documents.
Over time these religious leaders had replaced the idea of faithfulness to God with scrupulous adherence to the 613 commandments in the Torah. How could illiterate people know which law to follow, or which one they violated, or how to make amends? Of course the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes were happy to help them find right relationship (righteousness) with God.
Then along comes this Rabbi from Galilee, Jesus, who stirs up the people with this talk of the coming Kingdom of God. Crowds start following him around the countryside, disturbing those in power.
The scribes and Pharisees hope to trap Jesus in a debate when they ask “Which commandment is the greatest?” Jesus answers them in a way they can’t argue with, and goes on to stymie them by asking them to explain how the expected Messiah could be David’s son when David calls him “Lord”.
The followers of Jesus who are listening to this exchange are suddenly filled with joy! “’Love God with your whole heart, and love your neighbor as yourself?’ That’s the whole law? Hey! I can live that way without having to memorize 613 commandments of the Torah, or asking the Pharisees!“
The people burst out laughing in joy, and also at the “dear-in-the-headlight” expression on the faces of the scribes and Pharisees, who become angry and murderous for being embarrassed in public by this upstart Rabbi.
For some reason I see Jesus trying to contain his smile throughout this whole event. Was he being intentionally funny, or did the scribes and Pharisees walk right into it? I’m not sure, but for me this idea of the fully human Jesus is what I most easily connect with in my faith.
It is difficult to envision God our Creator who is both within us and without, and not part of this space-time continuum, but somehow involved in it.
We have the Holy Spirit of God that reaches out into the world to inspire people to do crazy things—like becoming a deacon, or a priest!
We have an image of Jesus sitting on a thrown waiting to return to Earth to put all things in order, like we have pictured in our beautiful window above us.
While acknowledging the full divinity of Jesus, I also envision the fully human Jesus—the brother I can relate to—the friend I can cling to.
This is also the Jesus, though, who enjoyed a good meal with friends and strangers (Mt 11:19); loved to tell good stories with meaning; changed water into wine at a wedding feast because his mother told him to (John 2: 1-12); and yes, he laughed and had a sense of humor, just like all of us. This is the Jesus I can relate to! This is the part of God I can have a conversation with!
Before I started at the School for Deacons I spent a year in discerning this call. I was really reluctant to follow this path.
I prayed, “You can’t really mean me, God! This clay pot you formed (Isaiah 64:8) was smashed into pieces early on against the hard, granite wall called reality and I’ve been trying to glue it all back together ever since.”
God said to me, “I am the glue.”
I prayed, “But I don’t even know if the pieces are put together right. I must look like a complete mess.”
God said, “Have you ever heard of Picasso?”
I said “Yes…”
God said, “He is one of my favorite artists. You look great to me!”
I said, “You think everyone is your favorite artist!”
God said “Yes, that’s right!”
I prayed again, “But Lord, this clay pot is full of holes and cracks, and if you pour anything into it it’s just going to make a mess all over the place.”
God said to me, “That’s right, now you’re getting the idea. I’m going to pour my love into your heart. You’re not supposed to keep it contained—you’re supposed to spread it all over the place—let it leak out!”
You see, once you realize that God loves every one of us, that each of us is the most important person to God, your heart can’t help but to erupt in a joyful shout of praise! I am important to God! Every single one of you—every single human, even the ones out there--are important to God! All of creation is important to God!
How can we respond to God’s love for us? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
We are called as followers of Jesus to love every single person we encounter in this life, and find ways to reach out to them. I am answering that call in this path I am walking—in this way I am living—in this commitment I am making.
How will each of you respond to God’s call?
Country artist Hillary Scott has a song called “Beautiful Messes” that makes me smile whenever I hear it. It goes:
We ain’t perfect, no
We ain’t even close
We got holes in our hearts
We got scars we don’t show
But all that baggage we keep on dragging around
Ain’t it time we start laying it down?
Lay it down at the foot of the cross
Give it to the one who can carry it all
Even at our worst, to him, we ain’t lost causes
Just beautiful messes.
Not my efforts, but yours, Lord!
Working full time and going to the School for Deacons is challenging in its own right. Inevitably family and life issues are thrown into the mix and you have days when you wonder if you'll make it to the next Weekend, never mind the end of the semester.
Depending on where I worked that day, I use the drive time home by listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Pray As You Go, a Jesuit Ministries program that uses a combination of music and scripture reading. Taking a bit of your day for prayer and meditation is essential to shifting gears to School and Church modes.
It was during one of these challenging times that the Spirit helped me with the following homily for Evening Prayer at the School for Deacons on Saturday October 21, 2017:
2 Kings 25: 8-12, 22-26
Psalm 110: 1-5; 116; 117
Matthew 11: 7-15
Expectations! I’ve come to wonder recently if expectations should be the 8th deadly sin—you know, after pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. Or could it be it’s some kind of compound substance of the seven?
People seem to have this expectation that if they’re late for a meeting or appointment, everyone else should get out of their way, and become angry when they don’t!
You plan a party or dinner for a group of friends or family and expect that everyone will be happy to come, until you start getting the questions about “What’s being served?”, or “Are you inviting this one?” causing you pull your hair out in frustration.
We elect politicians to represent us and actually expect them to act in our best interests, and—Well, we can all see what happens with that!
In Jeremiah’s time the people of Judea expected that God would vanquish their opponents. After all, Jerusalem and the Temple had been standing for over 400 years since the time of Solomon! Their mighty God would come forth from the Temple and smite all those heathen out there, right?
Most of them ignored the warnings of Jeremiah. They had consolidated land, wealth, and power into the hands of the privileged few, ignored the plight of the lower end the of the social and economic spectrum, and had turned the worship of Yahweh into a good luck charm, while forcing Jeremiah and Baruch into hiding for daring to speak God’s truth.
After the formerly privileged few had been carried off to Babylon, the walls of Jerusalem torn down, and the temple and other buildings had been razed and burned, one of the people who had listened to Jeremiah, Gedaliah, expected that the Jews who remained could now see that Jeremiah had been right. Gedaliah agrees to meet with Ishmael to talk some sense into him. Ishmael promptly assassinates him, and then in terror runs off to Egypt, with the hapless Jeremiah in tow—Jeremiah, the prophet who spoke of the emptiness of expectations and instead preached the unwelcomed truth of God!
By Jesus’ time the Jews had come to build their own expectation of what the Messiah will be. Even John the Baptist, the one who said “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” (Mt 3:2) has been caught up in this expectation of an earthly, militaristic Messiah who will free them from Roman oppression. John sends messengers from his prison cell asking “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Rather than answer directly, Jesus sends them back with the admonition to tell John what they have seen and heard: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good new brought to them”. There is nothing earthly, or political, in this pronouncement!
Jesus asks the crowd who is with him “What did you go out to the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind?” At that time, King Herod’s emblem on coins was a Galilean reed waving in the wind. Can you imagine our President going out to live in the wilderness dressed in camel’s hair and a leather belt, eating a diet of locusts and wild honey? Yes, the reaction from Jesus’ crowd would have been the same.
Jesus goes on to explain that John is the greatest of the prophets, but that even the least of those who believe in this new Kingdom of God are greater than John. The poor and outcasts are greater than all of Israel’s prophets?? What joy must have filled their hearts to hear this! What a complete re-write of expectations!!
Rather than a Messiah that will conquer the Romans and restore power to the Jewish people, Jesus talks of the violence done against the Kingdom of God by people who demand that God should be subject to their wishes, and not that they be subject to God’s way of living. In the hearts of these people Jesus plants new hope, and new life, but also a new expectation of persecution and rejection.
I ask myself “What are our misguided expectations of God today?” What quickly comes to mind is the end times pronouncements supposedly based on the Book of Revelation: that any day now the faithful will be Parousia’d up into the sky and God will smite all those disbelievers and abominations that are out there—all those people that have been declared cast-out, un-clean, not-Christian!
We wander through a society that teaches greed is good, that the purpose of life is to collect more toys. That those who have money are blessed by God, and those who have nothing are cursed and meant to be that way—that there’s no reason to clean up the mess we’ve made on this Earth since God is going to take all of the ”saved” Christians up into the sky. Does any of this sound like the Kingdom of God preached by Jesus?
In our course on Christian Ethics we read a reflection, out of The Green Bible, by Bishop N. T. Wright, a prominent Bible scholar. Contrary to end-time signs of “The End is near!” or “Heaven or Hell: It’s your choice!” Wright’s reflection is entitled “Jesus is coming—Plant a tree!”
Wright points out that Paul writes in Romans Chapter 8 “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God,…” (8:19) and also writes “We know that the whole creation had been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption…” (8:23-24)
Does this sound like a creation that is going to be utterly destroyed? Would creation be waiting “with eager longing” to be wiped out? This sounds more like creation is yearning to be restored to new life! Just as we hope to be saved through the gift of grace by God, creation, too, hopes to be restored by the coming of God’s Kingdom.
God’s Kingdom is already leaking into the world through the hearts of her followers. The people of the Jesus movement are called to be the advocates for God’s justice and restorers of God’s creation.
As future deacons we are called to expose the emptiness of expectations of greed and destruction, and call people to a vision of new hope in the restoration of God’s creation and a new age of humanity as the beloved caretakers of God’s Creation.
In spite of our brokenness God calls us as heralds for his Kingdom, prophets of his Truth, and caretakers of all of his creation. Like all of God’s people before us we may face rejection and violence, and yet we give thanks for all that God has done for us.
In this journey to become deacons the words of Psalm 116 speak directly to us:
“How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the Name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.”
Transformation through School--and prayer!
Having just finished the 2nd Weekend of my 3rd year at the School for Deacons I have that strange feeling that I just started this process a few months ago, and at the same time forever and a day ago. The School for Deacons (sfd.edu) does more than educate the future deacon--it is a formative process that results in the building of a unique community of people.
When I started the process of discernment I had so many self-doubts. How would I get the work done? How would I have the time? How could I ever be "good enough" to be a Deacon? I've come to realize that I have been transformed by this process at School and in my Diocese.
Preach a homily? Me??? Yet now I find myself doing just that, thanks to a combination of training, praying, and inspiration from the Spirit.
Here is my latest homily given at the School for Deacons on September 10th, 2017:
Proper 18, Year A
Exodus 12: 1-14
Romans 13: 8-14
Matthew 18: 15-20
The Book of Exodus begins, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Ex. 1: 8). This brief passage, almost a footnote, speaks volumes to us this morning. Even though it doesn’t appear in today’s reading, it is the event that leads to the confrontation between Pharaoh and Moses—between secular ruler and Heavenly Ruler.
Joseph, his family, and the Israelites were welcomed into Egypt centuries earlier when Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and predicted seven years of bounty and then seven years of famine. Joseph is appointed Pharaoh’s steward, and his project to store grain and food is such an overwhelming success that the people of Egypt continue to prosper under Pharaoh’s leadership while selling surplus grain to the kingdoms around them.
From a strategic standpoint Joseph’s plan to survive seven years of famine didn’t just maintain the status quo in Egypt. Seven years of a famine would have drained the resources of every kingdom surrounding Egypt. To feed their people, kingdoms would have sent money and goods to Egypt in exchange for food for their people. One year of this would be hard enough—seven years would have cleaned out the treasury of any kingdom. By the end of the famine, kingdoms who hadn’t already pledged loyalty to Pharaoh would have quickly folded in the face of any Egyptian offensive.
By welcoming these strange people of Joseph’s, and apportioning land in his kingdom for them, Joseph’s Pharaoh made a brilliant strategic move that magnified the strength of the Egyptian empire for generations to come.
So what happened? How did these people who gave Egypt a competitive edge over its neighbors end up as slaves 430 years later (Ex. 12: 40)? In my Union career I noticed that you could negotiate the best contract for a group of people that included raises, job security, better medical benefits, and improved pensions, and a week or so later be asked by the members “So, what have you done for me today??!!” Gratitude seems to last as long as short term memory!
These people of Joseph’s not only looked different than Egyptians—they acted differently, too. They worshiped a different God—“Heck, they don’t even know his name! They mutilate themselves as part of some agreement with their God! They smell bad—look at how many of them herd sheep! Just how many sheep does one need?” (I can see them complaining about this as they’re eating a leg of lamb for dinner. Think of who picks our crops in the Central Valley.)
Eventually Egyptians become envious of these “Joseph people”. “Why should they have all that land? What are they doing for us? “Let’s give Egypt back to the Egyptians!!!” In the meantime successive Pharaohs start discounting the value these people have brought to Egypt as they convince themselves that really it was Pharaoh God-King who made Egypt an Empire. Over time the imposition of laws and edicts reduce the descendants of Israel to slave status.
We aren’t told how many generations the Israelites lived as slaves for Egypt, but the only ones who knew freedom were Moses and Aaron. By the time of this morning’s reading, the specifications for the Passover remembrance, the Egyptians and Israelites had already witnessed nine miracles of these brothers from Midian.
While Moses claimed the mantle of speaking directly with God, Aaron was his spokesperson and performed many of the rubrics himself—almost a pseudo-Deacon! In this Passover event, however, it is God who performs the last act of freedom while Moses and Aaron are left waiting.
For the Israelites the miracles continued on: God led them with a “pillar of cloud by day” and a “pillar of fire by night” (Ex. 13: 21). The waters of the sea were parted, Pharaoh’s army was destroyed, and manna rained down from heaven. Moses is not gone long up Mount Sinai, however, when the Israelites fall back to making idols. “What have you done for me lately?” comes to mind.
Keep in mind, though, these people had lived a lifetime in fear while slaves in Egypt:
· fear of the whip,
· fear of the overseers,
· fear for their next meal,
· fear for their children,
· fear of being singled out when the safest play was to blend into the herd.
In other words, Herd Mentality—Mob Rule. When people live with a herd mentality, self-preservation takes precedence over care for others. Individuality becomes the victim of survival.
“Blend in! Agree with the group! Find a scapegoat! I’m afraid—let’s find an idol!” Fear transforms relationships into an ugly evil of Mob Rule.
Looking at it through this lens, the remembrance of Passover takes on new meaning. The lamb is divided proportionally based on who is at the table. There is order and equality to this meal of community, quite different from a herd mentality of “take what you can get”.
The “Law of Moses” becomes a “Guideline for a Loving Community”. The 40 years of “Wandering in the desert” is really a “Journey of Faith” that transforms these slaves into a community of people who trust that God cares for each of them individually, as they also come to recognize the value of each individual: “These are my brothers and sisters because God cares for them, too!”
Where are we on this Journey of Faith today? This country, that has as its motto “E pluribus unum” (out of many, one), finds its citizens marching around with torches dressed in uniforms of white shirts and brown khakis, or black masks in black clothes, demanding uniformity in belief or race.
People who have contributed greatly to this country, thanks to their diversity and work ethic, are victimized by people who have been left behind in this age of globalization and free trade, by a culture that worships the gold-plated idol of greed. Love is replaced by fear, and debate is replaced by violence. Is this the way of Jesus?
By the time of Jesus, the teachings of Moses, meant to bring people together in loving community, had been distorted by an aristocracy that used the “Law of Moses” to keep its people subjugated and oppressed.
· Don’t rock the boat!
· People who are different are excluded.
· Fear is the motivator; uniformity is the requirement.
Any prophet that comes along to say otherwise is eliminated—John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul—all are executed!
Paul’s message in today’s reading is “’Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the Law.” This is a dangerous message, because when fear is replaced by Love, miracles happen, and miracles free the oppressed and depose the oppressors.
Our Gospel reading this morning reflects the importance Jesus places on individuals. There is no demand that everyone must conform to the same standard. People who are different are not excluded or thrown out. In this reading Jesus stresses the importance of individuals in the community. We see here an encouragement to work out our differences—to talk to one another, both alone AND in community.
We are not expected to be uniform in our beliefs! We are only expected to love each other and be open to each other’s differences.
It is easy for people to give up on Love and fall back into fear and herd mentality—to forget the heights we have achieved thru “e pluribus unum”. Somehow it was easy for Aaron, our pseudo-Deacon, the man who witnessed the miracles that freed the Israelites, to give in to the herd mentality and fashion the golden idol while his brother conversed with God on Mount Sinai!
As Servant/Leaders of the God of Love we are called to be prophets for the God of Love to dispel the darkness, expose the fear, and call God’s people to wrap themselves in the Love of God and Love of neighbor.
I pray that God will give each of us the courage and wisdom to call our brothers and sisters into loving community. Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
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