Owning Up. Lent One Sermon by Nathan Kirkpatrick

OWNING UP
A sermon preached at the Episcopal Church of the Advocate | Lent One 2017

 One of the strangest realities about our life together as church
is the way we come together and say the hardest things to each other.
And then, somehow, when we have, we walk away a bit lighter.

It happened on Wednesday.
At noon and at 7, groups of us gathered in this place.
With ashes on our foreheads,
We looked at each other and said,
“remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Lisa put it as bluntly as possible in her sermon, we. Will. die.
And yet, on Wednesday evening, after the service,
I, for one, walked out into the rain and felt vibrantly alive.

It’s one of the strangest realities about church —
We come together and say the hardest things to each other,
And yet, there is in the saying of it some measure of liberation.

It happens here on Sunday mornings, too.
We gather together.
And we, perfectly lovely, perfectly nice people,
Come together and reveal the reality about our lives.
We come together and we pierce all our illusions and facades that we spend so much of the rest of our time constructing or protecting,
to acknowledge who we have become
and how we are and how we live in the world;
what we really hope for and what we really fear;
and whether it’s a simple or sprawling prayer of confession,
we acknowledge the evil we have done
and the evil done on our behalf.
We gather and sit with sin, our own and our own.
We say the hardest things about how our lives have gone.
And then we hear a word of liberation –
That the Lord has put away our sin,
that our transgressions have been forgiven,
that mercy embraces those who trust in God.
It’s one of the strangest realities of our life together as church –
We come together and say the hardest things to each other,
And find, when we do so, there is some measure of freedom.

This telling the truth is the hardest part of Lent.
As a child, I thought that the hardest part of Lent
was the giving up — the no chocolate, no candy, no cookies,
the no peanuts, pretzels or cracker jacks.
The no television, no video games, the no internet
(not that we had the internet when I was a kid,
Al Gore had not invented it yet; but you get the idea).
I thought the hardest part was the giving up.
But, what I’ve come to realize is
that the hardest part of Lent is
not the giving up but the owning up. 

It’s not that the giving up is easy,
but the owning up is so much harder —
it’s hard to tell the truth about ourselves,
not just because telling the truth, in and of itself, is hard,
but because we confront this tension
between who we were created to be and who we so often are.
We confront the truth that it’s easy to forget who we are created to be.

It’s why we begin our readings this morning in a garden,
Soon after the birth of all things.
You remember that, in the beginning of Genesis,
We hear of a God who creates everything that is
Not because God had to
but because God – in God’s own life –
Was overflowing with love.
And God births the universe out of love,
To share love, for the sake of love.
And the clearest way we know that?
Genesis tells us that we are created in the image of God,
as reflections of God in the world, to love –
To care for one another, to care for creation,
To walk humbly and justly before God.
That’s why we’re here.
It’s why we were made in the beginning.
It’s why creation carries on;
Love is why creation carries on.

But, we are told just a few verses in that this love gets sullied.
We heard the story this morning.
Now, I don’t want us to get hung up on the talking snake;
Whether or not there was a loquacious reptile is beside the point,
the story points to something profoundly true about the spiritual life:
the temptation for Eve and for Adam is to forget who they are.
The serpent – the craftiest of creatures –
whispers in the young woman’s ear –
“God knows that if you eat of this tree
your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.”
The problem with this reasoning is
That just a few short verses earlier
We are told that Eve and Adam
already were like God
In every way that mattered.
They were made from God’s love for God’s love to be love.
Their temptation is to forget.

The temptation is always to forget.
In the Gospel reading, we find Jesus, moments after his baptism,
Perhaps still a little damp from the full immersion in the river,
still reflecting on the dove and the voice from heaven,
Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Spirit of God.
(My favorite cartoon of this scene shows Jesus strapped into the passenger seat of a Jeep with a ghost-like driver saying to him, “just two more hours.”)
Not what it means driven.
Jesus is moved, propelled into the wilderness by the Spirit of God.
There, after forty days of fasting and prayer,
Jesus meets the tempter,
The nagging voice, the shadow side, the adversary, Satan,
However you want to narrate it.
But there, in the wilderness, as the voice had whispered in the garden,
The tempter whispers to Jesus – “forget, forget, forget.”
The voice that whispers you are not enough and who do you think you are – what Brene Brown calls the twin tapes of shame. Forget. Forget. Forget.
“If you are the Son of God … turn these stones into bread.”
Forget that the Son of God came not to be served but to serve.
“If you are the Son of God … throw yourself down and let angels catch you.”
Forget that the Son of God came not for signs and wonders, for show and splash.
“If you are the Son of God … worship me and I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth.”
Forget that the Son of God came to announce a new kingdom that exists by God’s priorities and passions and not to lead the old ones.
Forget, forget, forget…

But we notice here the difference between Adam and Eve and Jesus;
It’s the difference Paul is calling our attention to in Romans –
If the temptation is always to forget; then the grace that is found in Jesus
is that he remembered.
He didn’t forget that love is the way, the calling, the reality of our lives.
And so, when the tempter, the nagging voice, the shadow side, the adversary, Satan – however you narrate it – comes and says “forget,”
Jesus says, “remember.”

And so, the hardest part of Lent is to remember, to own up
To who we are,
to who we are made to be,
and why we are here.
To remember that we are made from love,
for love,
to be God’s love in the world.
The hardest part of Lent is to remember that sin isn’t the truth
of who we are, but is what happens when we forget who we are.

And let’s not overlook the fact that some of us
Grew up in homes and with families that help us forget;
The language was of love but the acts were of harm.
Forget…
Some of us – many of us – still live and move in systems and structures
That enable us and encourage us to forget.
We live in systems and structures that
Reward the degrading of creation instead of the care for it,
And when we do, we pillage and pollute our own homes.
Forget…

We live in systems and structures that tell
persons of color and the poor and the prisoner
that they are less than,
and when we believe it or act from it, we are all diminished.
Forget…

We live in systems and structures that
Encourage us to seek our own welfare before the welfare of the city, the common good,
That make apathy an easier choice than love.
Apathy is the great challenge of our day, not hate.
And when we believe it, we lose.
Forget…

It’s a curious thing about our life together —
How we come together and say the hardest things to each another.
We do it so we don’t forget. It’s so we remember.

Reflections for the First Sunday After the Epiphany, January 8, 2017

Reflections on the First Sunday After the Epiphany
January 8, 2017
The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck, Vicar

“Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it, and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you…..” (Isaiah 42)

“I have taken you by the hand and kept you….”

Today marks the first Sunday in the season of Epiphany. Friday evening some gathered in the Chapel to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany itself. And we were reminded of the coming of the wise men, the sages from afar, to the birthplace of Jesus. By that story we are told that Jesus came, not just for a few, but for all. For all of “us” and for all with whom we share this world.

In the words of St. Peter in Acts of the Apostles: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.”

And today, today we hear the story of the baptism of Jesus. (We had a little fast forward of 30 years in 30 hours…) In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus is full grown. A man.

Today’s story is not just the story of John the Baptist and the River Jordan and the cleansing ritual and Jesus.

Importantly, the Gospel story we hear today is also a story of the Holy Spirit, descending upon Jesus, in bodily form like a dove. It’s the story of a voice coming from heaven declaring, “You are my Son, the Beloved.”

That dove and voice bit is essential to the story. Because by it we learn, just as the witnesses of old learned, that somehow in this person Jesus God is made (here’s the good Epiphany word) God is made manifest in Jesus the man.

As the old hymn goes: “God in man made manifest”.

In this person Jesus,
God is.

And because God is in this person Jesus, in this human being born like one of us, in this human being dwelling on earth like one of us, because God is in this person Jesus, we understand that God has chosen to engage with us in an incredible, powerful, awesome and efficient way.

So that now we can hear the word of God in the prophet Isaiah and know it true,
“I have taken you by the hand and kept you.”

Throughout the season of Epiphany ahead we will recognize, embrace, celebrate, that God has taken us by the hand and kept us.
We will celebrate that God has been manifest in Jesus, and, as such, has engaged with us, closely.

In the season of Epiphany, we will hear story after story that reveals that manifestation of God in Christ. We will hear stories of Christ’s miracles, of Christ teaching with authority, of Christ shining with a holy glow like none other – in his transfiguration on the mountainside.

This is all very cool. And exciting. Not only because we are talking about God –
“the God who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it, and spirit to those who walk in it”.

But because we are talking about that God engaging with us. we who are frail and floppy, self-centered and arrogant, fearful and flailing.

Epiphany is not a story of God’s “outreach” — of God reaching out to us and giving us what we need. Epiphany is a story of God’s “engagement”. In Christ, God has engaged with us. And, in Christ, God has called us to engage with one another, and with the world in which we live.

It begins today as we hear the story of the Baptism of Jesus. And we consider again our own baptism. The Holy Spirit was present at both.

If we were in worship together this morning, we would renew once more our baptismal covenant, reminding us of what it means that we are baptized and what we are called to be and do because of it.
I’ve pasted that covenant below.

In Christ, God has engaged with humanity.
In our baptism, we have become engaged with Christ.
So it is that God has chosen to take us by the hand
and keep us close.

That is the stuff of the season.

Amen.

The Baptismal Covenant

Celebrant                  Do you believe in God the Father?
People                                    I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Celebrant                  Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
People                                    I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Celebrant                  Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
People                      I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Celebrant                  Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?

People                      I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant                  Will you persevere in resisting evil, and , whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People                      I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant                  Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?People                       I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant                  Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People                       I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant                  Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People                        I will, with God’s help.

 

 

Prayers, Readings and Reflections for January 8

Good First Sunday after the Epiphany to you!
I hope you are staying warm and safe.
I’m sorry that the cold and ice precludes our safe gathering this morning, I hope we can connect in the Spirit as we offer prayers at 10 AM wherever we may be.
The Collect for this day is:

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

To guide you in your prayers this day, I offer the following links:
Morning Prayer Rite One (with more traditional language) can be found here.
Morning Prayer Rite Two (with more contemporary language) can be found here.

The readings for the day can be found here.

Reflections for the day can be found here..
Please join us if you can, next Sunday, January 15, when we resume our regular schedule of 9 AM and 11 AM Holy Eucharist, with Godly Play and a Teachable Moment in the hour in between.
Peace be with you.
Lisa+

Repent, Remember, Repeat — A Justine Post Sermon for Advent Two

A sermon preached by Justine Post at The Advocate
Year A, Advent Two
December 4, 2016


A few weeks ago the KKK put out word that they would march a victory parade somewhere in North Carolina on December 3. The location was not shared until Friday night, when they announced to local news that they would be up in Caswell County. I felt strange waking up yesterday morning. I kept looking on facebook and twitter, to try and see what was happening. I felt both disgusted and fearful. I didn’t really know what to do with myself. What was bothering me was bothering a lot of people yesterday morning: it was an intentional move by the KKK to be secretive about their victory rally on a location. It was a move to provoke and promote fear and uncertainty in an already uncertain climate. However, for most of the day there were more protesters than there were any sight of the KKK up in Pelham. In fact there were peace rallies all over the state. People all around North Carolina stood up for love and peace, and there was no sight of the hate group. Yet everyone was in anticipation.

All day I had been checking the news, waiting in anticipation to see what would happen. But it was not a hopeful kind of anticipation. It was a waiting for something bad to happen, like watching a horror movie. This is very UNlike that of the kind of anticipation Advent usually brings about. This season of advent we await IN HOPE, knowing that the Christ Child will come soon. Knowing that we are waiting for something to happen, but that thing that’s about to happen is LIGHT coming into the world to dispel the darkness. It’s supposed to feel different than it did for me yesterday.

This past week I had lunch with a friend who pastors a rural church in Wilson Co. We were talking about what it means to preach. She hasn’t really known what to say or how to say it lately, but every Sunday she still goes up to the pulpit. A few weeks ago she had told the congregation, I don’t care who you voted for, now is the time to repent and remember our baptism. And we will repeat as many times as we need to until it sticks. Baptism is something that reminds us of what we do have in common. So they all renewed their baptismal vows. And she told me- I felt like they could all be on board with that- usually everyone appreciates the act of repentance and remembering our call to be Christians. Yet after the service all that one parishioner could say was… “well I see you got a little political there.”

I find that so interesting. What I keep thinking about is our Christian profession. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord. For some reason I feel like it’s hard at times for us to understand that when we proclaim Jesus as Lord, we are making a political statement. In fact, it’s more like a political threat. We are claiming our allegiances to Jesus- we are relying on him to make things right in this world, not anyone else. Our proclamation that JESUS is Lord (not anyone else) should therefore have an effect on how we live and who we love, and the decisions we make.

And who better to learn about proclamation than John the Baptist, who stirs everything up and making us do things like pay attention and repent.  And it’s pretty jolting in Matthew, because John literally just appears. We don’t hear of his birth story or the angel’s word of hope to Elizabeth. He just shows up: preaching in the wilderness of Judea. And he’s begging to be listened to. He shows up wearing strange clothing and eating strange food and asking anyone who has ears to repent and make way for the True God. Some of the first words we read him saying is calling religious leaders a brood of vipers. Here in Matthew we get the John telling people to repent and calling religious leaders out. And we have him preparing people for baptism.

It’s important now more than ever to pay close attention- to remember what Jesus said last Sunday and be watchful. John did not seek to comfort but to challenge. He was one who spoke truth to power. Just think of the climate that John the Baptist was in when we was preaching. The Christ child’s been born but his family is forced to flee from violence. Herod then killed every little boy under two years old living in Bethlehem. It is unimaginable yet we all know this is a part of the Gospel. Violence all around. Herod using power to kill innocent children because he himself feels threatened.

Now in those days John the Baptist came (give or take a few years). In those days of violence, fear, and threats. He came preaching in the wilderness, saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.” Here repentance means so much more than we think. When I hear wilderness and repent in the same sentence, I think of ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’: the iconic river scene, where the escaped convicts go down to get baptized, and Alison Krauss plays in the background. Then they go about their lives, running away and getting into trouble. But the kind of repentance John is talking about is different. It requires a commitment to a new way of life. The word- metanoia- means to change or transform. It goes way beyond saying sorry. It requires work, self-awareness, being in community, and prayer. That’s why John says to bear fruit in keeping with repentance– because it’s an ongoing act that goes beyond confession. We repent, we remember, we repeat.

What’s more, John is calling us to repent so that we may distribute power. We don’t get it in the Matthew text but we get it in Luke. And I know it might be a bit un-anglican of me to do this, but I want to switch Gospels and quote Luke here. The words are just too fitting. There John says that

Every valley shall be filled,

   and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall be made straight,

   and the rough ways made smooth;

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

I told this story once when I was teaching Sunday school years ago. I had a big sand box- all morning me and the children made valleys then built them up. We made mountains and brought them low. We made things smooth and even with the sand. Yet isn’t that what allows for the possibility of peaceful relationships? To recognize power and for those in power to let it go? This is why the text in Isaiah is so beautiful, compelling and delectable to our ears. Because if power really could be distributed equally, than the wolf and the lamb could actually dwell together, and a little child really could lead a herd of cows and lions together. Don’t you just crave that? So much peace and unity within such creatures? And Isaiah says, “they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” This is the kind of world that pure repentance could bring.

John says here in Matthew that he baptizes with water for repentance. These two are and always have been intimately connected. When we remember our baptismal vows, we are (or at the least should be) convicted to repent and turn toward God. We recite the Nicene Creed and we remember that we have renounced evil… so yeah we are reminded that our allegiance to Christ is far more important to our allegiances to anyone on this earth. We remember our baptism together, because baptism makes everyone wet, not just some. Are you ever here for a service when Lisa sprinkles you with Holy water? There’s not a chance you’ve escaped dry from one of those services. So not only does baptism represent repentance and a clinging to the Goodness of God, but it means we are all in it together. So we repent, we remember, and we repeat.

Remembering our baptismal vows is something that can give us hope in a tough world. It reminds us of two important things. One: that we might await in Hope for the Prince of Peace- and that we never await in fear for Christ’s coming . And two: we should feel challenged by our baptismal vows. It holds us accountable, and another, it urges us to hold other baptized believers accountable as well.

As a refresher, here’s what our baptism means. It means we will continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers. It means we will persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, we will repent and return to the Lord. It means that we will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. It means we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself. And it means we will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. (With God’s help, of course). We also remember what we renounce: we renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God. We renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. We renounce all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God. We turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as our Savior. And we put our whole trust in his grace and love? We repent, we remember, and we repeat.

These commitments do in fact impact our daily lives. They impact who we love and the decisions we make. Yesterday in North Carolina I believe a lot people remembered their baptism, as thousands gathered for peaceful protests throughout the state. There were so many protesters that the KKK was pushed out of Pelham, then out of Danville. Unfortunately, around 3pm, 30 some members of the KKK drove over to Roxboro- waving confederate flags and some yelling “white power.” It’s upsetting and troubling, yet they weren’t even willing to get out of their cars. What was supposed to be a prideful parade was brought to a short drive. So we’ve got to pray harder and love more. Because if we take heed of John’s witness, we must speak out against hate and violence and evil. We can’t stand by and be quiet. We repent, we remember, we repeat.

So I say remember your baptism.. Pray about what our baptism means for us in this country, pay attention to the ways others are resisting evil and loving neighbor. Reflect on what proclaiming Jesus as LORD means to you in your life. These are dark times, but they aren’t any darker than they were when Christ was born into this world. Only light can extinguish the darkness. The Light of Christ. So we pray and we pray and we pray that Jesus comes to us, and is nearer to us than our very breath. Amen.

Being more be-y with God. The Vicar’s Sermon for Advent One

advent-photo

It could be our best Advent practice:
simply to be present to God
in a way that is mindful, intentional.
Mindfully and intentionally,
seeing God, hearing God,
everywhere.

On the eve of our Diocesan Convention last Thursday,
the Rev. Dr. Brooks Graebner, Rector of St. Matthew’s Hillsborough
and historiographer of the Diocese,
offered a presentation, an historic retrospective, if you will,
on the changes that took place in our Diocese in the decade between 1959 and 1969.

(side note: Brooks is the guy who first had the idea of us maybe moving the St. Philip’s church in Germanton, NC, so that it would become the Advocate Chapel in Chapel Hill NC. So when he offers a presentation, I attend!
And I was happily surprised to hear in Brooks’ presentation
that a leader of our diocese in that decade of rapid and radical change,
was The Advocate’s own George Esser.
George was a wonderful human, well into his 80s, when he and his wife, Mary, were launching members of the The Advocate mission in 2003.)

Anyway, Brooks’ point was clear.
The change and tumult we are experiencing in our current decade is nothing new.
As a church, and as a society,
we have experienced change and tumult before,
and have come through it all the better.
This is heartening.

In the Q and A after his presentation,
our Bishop ProTem, Anne Hodges-Copple,
took to the microphone.
I remember, she said, in essence,
in my earlier years of attending Diocesan conventions,
the debates on the floor of convention over one resolution or anothe
were feisty.
I wonder, she pondered, challengingly,
why we don’t have such feisty debates any more.
Have we scheduled the convention so tightly that there isn’t room for disagreement?

And as she spoke, I was aware that many of those involved in those feisty debates of earlier years have since left the Episcopal Church.
Our loss.
Though also some relief….

I also felt an honest weariness come over me.
At least for now, this season,
the last thing I want to do is have a “feisty” debate with my fellow Diocese of North Carolina Episcopalians on the floor of convention.
Oh, I could think of some things that could get me riled,
some things that would get others riled.
But no, I don’t really want to do that.
Not this season anyway.
Not this year.
——————–

My initial response to today’s Gospel is similar.
Keep awake?
Keep alert?
Oh, give me the season of Advent
with its stillness and its calm,
the songs with “minor falls” and “major lifts”,
the candles on stand and altar,
the bread and wine made holy.
I don’t know about you,
but I don’t want to wrestle with what I need to know about the end times
or to rally my energies to do a bunch to be more Christian.
I simply want to be.
To be present in the place,
to be present in this luminous space.
to be present to those I know and love.
and to experience God being present with me.
I suspect it may be true of you as well.
I didn’t come here today to receive the stomach punch of Noah’s flood,
the idea of a God who would wipe out humanity,
all but one righteous household,
and the animals,
all but two of each.
I don’t want to think about two women grinding meal together,
when one is taken and the other left.
I don’t want to cast away and take on.
Not this season.
Not this year.

It’s not just the election either,
it’s all kinds of sadness and stress that I know so many are dealing with.

I just want to be.
And to know God be’s with me and with those I love.
Heck, I just want to know that God be’s with me and those I love
and with those I have a hard time loving, too.

And not to justify myself,
or to lower the threshold for us all,
but I wonder if maybe
this just be-ing may the best starting point anyway.
Not to know more or do more,
but to somehow be more be-y,
with God.

Indeed,
It could be our best Advent practice:
simply to be present to God
in a way that is mindful, intentional.
Mindfully and intentionally,
seeing God, hearing God,
everywhere.

It could begin as we come to this place.

We come to this place,
and in this place
with its stillness and its calm,
the songs with “minor falls” and “major lifts”,
the candles on stand and altar,
the bread and wine made holy,
in this place,
when we come to this place,
what we can do here is place ourselves and our weariness
on a landscape of hope.
That’s where we be.
On a landscape of hope.

Here
we can place ourselves in a context that is far greater than the place and people,
as wonderful as place and people are.
Here we can place ourselves in a context, a landscape,
that stretches from before all time to beyond all time,
from before history and beyond history.
Here, in word and song and story,
in prayers that are ancient
and prayers that are uttered spontaneously,
here we can place ourselves on a landscape of hope
hope that God is the beginning and the end,
that God is, what has been called
“both the goad and the goal of history”*
And that all is and shall be,
ultimately,
well.

And just as God nudged and called,
the ancients,
God nudges and calls us.
And just as God walked alongside those who have gone before
God walks alongside us.
And just as God brought light into the darkness
of those who lived with sun, moon, stars and fire
as their only light,
God brings light into the darkness of our lives, too.

Here we can place ourselves on a landscape of hope
and realize
that while God will come in some other unknowable way at the end of time,
God comes already now.
It’s as if we get to put on a pair of glasses that enable us
to see God in the ordinary of our be-ing-ness.
As if we have gotten some special hearing aids that help us to hear God in the voices and words of those around us.

Because among other things
this morning’s Gospel reveals to us that God comes
in the ordinariness of life –
where two guys are working in the field,
where two women are grinding at the mill
where a child puts together Legos on the floor,
where woman shuffles to the kitchen for an afternoon cup of tea,
where a man sits in his car at a red light on 15 501.
And it’s true.

So that
as we go forth from this place,
out there onto pond-side path and city street,
to office space and coffee shop,
to parking lot and cozy chair,
as we mindfully and intentionally
be in the presence of God
in the ordinariness of our lives,
we realize not only
that nothing can separate us from the love of God,
but that God is really present to us.
As we mindfully and intentionally
be in the presence of God
in the ordinariness of our lives,
God be’s present to us,

And when our be-ing in God’s presence,
connects with God’s be-ing in our ordinary,
that weariness within us?
It begins to shift, to transform
to be enfolded into …
what is it?
It’s like a deep purple kind of joy.

The weariness within us is enfolded somehow to a deep purple kind of joy.
Not deep purple like the song from the 40s or the band from the 70s.
But deep purple like the color that seems to carry with it a texture,
a resonance,
an invitation.
A color that seems to welcome and enfold.

And as we allow ourselves to realize that deep purple kind of joy,
we begin to see and know another kind of flood.
A flood, yes,
but not a flood that wipes out the creation save one righteous family
and two of every kind of creature.
But rather a relentless flood
of mercy and of love,
a relentless flood,
with the promises of God flowing out
flowing out to all tribes, all peoples, all nations.

Oh Fischbeck, you might be saying,
you’ve really lost it now.
Have you not seen the CNN, the BBC,
have you not heard the NPR?
And I say to you, yes,
yes I have.

And I know that this landscape, this vision of hope
is not what is seen and heard when we focus our eyes and tune our ears to those realities alone.
And I’m not saying that those sad and violent and sorrowful things aren’t happening.
or that we should close our eyes and ears to them.
Quite the contrary.

And here I turn to our friend William Barber II,
who over the weekend paraphrased Augustine of old,
1600 years of old, as a matter of fact.
Barber paraphrased Augustine of old, saying that our Christian Hope,
that landscape on which we can place ourselves
that Christian hope
has two children:
Anger, which is deep grief at the way things are,
and Courage,
which emboldens us to face those things,
believing change is possible.

Yes, constructive anger and courage,
that’s where our faith and our hope and our deep purple joy will likely lead us.
In time.

But for this day?
this season?
I think we can just practice being present to God
in a way that is mindful, intentional.
Mindfully and intentionally,
be-ing in God’s presence,
seeing God, hearing God,
everywhere.

Amen.

Year A – Advent One
November 27, 2016
The Advocate
The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck

* Bartlett, David L.; Feasting on the Word; Year A, Volume One. p.22.

 

The Sunday After Tuesday. A Nathan Kirkpatrick Sermon @ The Advocate

The Sunday After Tuesday
A sermon preached at the Episcopal Church of the Advocate
Proper XXVIII | November 13, 2016

In some strands of the Christian traditions,
The room that we are now in is called a sanctuary;
It comes from a Latin word that means “a place for holy things.”
Whoever the wordsmith was
who first called this place a sanctuary,
You know what she or he probably had in mind:
that this was a place where we were assured of God’s presence
Where reminders of God’s presence surround us.
This was the place where humble bread and simple wine
become Body and Blood,
Where water could claim and transform lives
through the power of the Spirit,
Where the tradition’s texts could be heard and God could still speak,
Where art and music could carry us
mystically into the presence of God.
This is a place for holy things.

It’s is an ancient idea.
You remember that the Israelites
in their sojourns carried with them a Tabernacle,
A physical place where God could be encountered;
As long as it was there, something was certain in an uncertain world.

When the Israelites settled into the Promised Land,
You remember that King Solomon built the most glorious Temple imaginable.
A physical place where God could be encountered;
As long as it was there, something was certain in an uncertain world.

Years later, when the Babylonians invaded Israel,
They destroyed Solomon’s Temple, destroying
The physical place that was a reminder of God’s abiding presence.
In its absence, things were even less certain in an incredibly uncertain world.

Years later, when the Babylonians were evicted,
the people built again, and in 515 BC, the Second Temple was completed.
A new physical place where God could be encountered;
As long as it was there, something was certain in an uncertain world.
It was a sanctuary – a place for holy things.

 

It’s why it was so disconcerting to hear Jesus talk about the coming collapse of the Temple.
The Temple was a sanctuary – a physical place where, in the midst of Roman occupation,
Jews could remember that God had not abandoned them, that God was with them.
In an uncertain life, you could see its shadow against the sunset and be assured
That you were not forgotten or forsaken.

And yet, Jesus says it’s coming down.
When some of his followers are bragging about how beautiful it is,
Jesus says that
that not one stone will be left standing on another.
That as nation rises against nation, as the world reels and rocks,
the sign and symbol of God’s abiding presence,
the place for holy things, would be no more.

To be sure, it’s one of Jesus’ least comforting sermons.
To the people of his day, this sermon would have been
As improbable as it would have been disorienting.

Without the Temple,
Would they ever feel safe again? Could they ever feel safe again?
Where could they know that God was with them?
Where could they ever feel like they belonged?
That they weren’t forgotten or forsaken?

In an already volatile and uncertain world,
In their already volatile and uncertain lives,
Without the Temple,
could they ever be sure of anything again?

Nothing would feel safe, nothing would feel sacred.
Stone-by-stone, the whole world would collapse.

 

And if you remember your history, that’s the way it happened.
In 70 AD, the Second Temple came down –
Leaving only a single wall, what we know today as the Wailing Wall, standing.
And the Jewish world despaired.

Now if you listen around the edges to his sermon,
it is as if Jesus is saying
that the future will require a different kind of sanctuary,
That the assurance of God’s presence will have to come through different means,
That a reminder of your value and worth as the people of God
would have to come from someplace other than the place where you had always known it.
The future will require a different kind of sanctuary.

Which is why Jesus entrusts us to each other.
It’s why Jesus gives us the Spirit – to knit us together –
As a single body, for one another, with one another.
Temples can collapse,
but the people of God will be sanctuary
for each other forever.

And across the early years of the church,
The people of God sheltered and shielded each other.
Lacking buildings, they hid together in tombs and catacombs.
They gathered around a simple meal and reminded each other that God was with them,
That they were precious in the sight of God.
When the Empire came with its spears and swords,
they surrounded each other with love and affection,
protecting the most vulnerable in their midst
with their own bodies if they had to.

The people of God became to each other a sanctuary,
Not made of stone or by human hands.
But a sanctuary made by the Spirit, the Advocate —
The people of God became a sanctuary of a common purpose,
A sanctuary of common love, a sanctuary of common heart.
The sanctuary – the place for holy things – was the community.

It was part of the way that the Church lived its mission:
To restore all people to unity with God and with each other in Christ.

Over time, as the Church secured structures and built buildings, and
The sanctuary of common heart became again a sanctuary of place.

In England, for more than a millennium, churches were actual sanctuaries for people.
People fearing punishment or retaliation or even earned-justice
All they had to do was cross the threshold
and they were safe and shielded from the world beyond.
They could not be touched as long as they were in a church.

Through history, churches became sanctuaries for immigrants and refugees,
Offering shelter and sustenance, remembering and imitating the welcome
that Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus received in Egypt
when they were fleeing the wrath of Herod at home.

In our own country’s history, more than thirty churches served as waypoints on
The Underground Railroad,
Serving as sanctuaries for people fleeing slavery for their freedom.

One of the problems in the Church, though, is that over time
our sanctuaries of buildings and places
erased our understanding of ourselves as a sanctuary of the Spirit
for one another.
We counted on walls to do our God-given work.

Yet, Jesus’ call remains.
In an uneasy and uncertain world,
We are called to be for one another and with one another,
A sanctuary people.
A sign of God’s presence and peace,
A refuge in an uncertain and volatile world.
A people of safety, a community of love.

This week, I wish Robert Putnam had been wrong.
In his controversial book Bowling Alone, the Harvard political scientist
Cataloged and predicted the decline of community in American life.
He pointed to the simplest of things –
He noted that, in the 20 years before the book came out – so 1980 – 2000,
the number of people who bowled in America had increased steadily
but that the number of people who belonged to bowling leagues
had declined steadily.
And if fewer people were bowling in bowling leagues
That meant that there was less interaction,
Less conversation, less engagement with people
with whom we might disagree
in a context where we can disagree
with fairly low stakes.

It wasn’t just bowling, of course.
He traced declines in membership and volunteering with
Religious groups, including churches and synagogues,
Labor unions, PTAs,
The League of Women Voters,
The Boy Scouts, The Girl Scouts,
The Red Cross,
The Lions, The Elks,
The Junior Chamber, The Junior League,
The Freemasons., The Rotary, and on and on it went.
Fewer members. Fewer volunteers.
Less interaction, less conversation, less engagement.

In the year 2000, Putnam warned that
we were becoming strangers to each another.
And without structures and regular practices of relating to one another,
He wrote that people would suffer,
That organizations and institutions would decline,
That our democracy would be imperiled.
That the very social fabric that had held us together would fray.

In the swirl of emotions that I’ve heard this week in the wake of the election’s results,
From elation and celebration and relief
to confusion and bewilderment,
to sorrow, sadness, anger and protest,
the thing that has become clear is that
as a country, we are strangers to one another.
Republican, Democrat.
Urban, rural. Blue state, red state.
College educated, Not college educated.
Blue collar, white collar. Male, female.
White, Black, Latino. Young, old.
Gay, straight. Trans. Well-to-do, not well-to-do.
Healthy, not healthy. Evangelical. Progressive.
The list goes on.
The priorities of one are perceived as a threat by the other.
The realities of one life are almost unimaginable for another.

This week, we witnessed a relay of fear.
Pundits – there are a few of them left standing –
tell us that millions of those who voted for Mr Trump voted from fear –
Fear of what we have become as a country, fear that we are unrecognizable from what we once were. Fear for self and fear for the world.
And when Mr Trump was announced as the winner, as that part of the country was allaying their fears, the fear was just handed over to so many others –
Fear of what we will become, fear that we will become unrecognizable from what we have been. Fear for self and fear for the world.

And as acts of intimidation and harassment followed, fear has been legitimized.
You have seen the stories:
In high schools and middle schools,
Children have built walls against children and racial epithets have been shouted,
In a college bathroom, a doll with darker “skin” was “lynched” in a shower.
On city streets, gay men have been beaten; women have been sexually assaulted.
Muslim women have been stripped of their hijab.
In our own dear Durham, graffiti-ed messages have demeaned our black and brown neighbors,
In Brier Creek, some twenty miles from here, a woman of Asian descent was told by a complete stranger that she needed to go back to China, that this was not her country (never mind that she is Korean).
You have seen the stories. We are strangers, threats, to one another.

And if that is to change, then we as people of faith must answer Jesus’ call.
Our future will require us to be a different kind of sanctuary.
As important as these walls are, these walls alone will not do our work.
We are called to be sanctuary for one another – with one another.
We are called to be a reminder to the world that God has not abandoned us,
Forsaken or forgotten us.
We are called to proclaim the holiness of all of God’s creations,
And safeguard the most vulnerable among them.
Our work has not changed this week.
The context has changed. Its urgency has changed.
But the work has not.

In March 1861, President Lincoln concluded his first inaugural address this way:
We are not enemies, but friends.
We must not be enemies.
Though passion may have strained
it must not break our bonds of affection.
The mystic chords of memory,
stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave
to every living heart and hearthstone
all over this broad land,
will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

For those better angels to do their work,
For us to nurture our common life,
For us to find community,
We must answer Jesus’ call.
The Temple may come down, for sure.
But we must be God’s sanctuary
In and for our wounded world.

Amen.

The Rev. Nathan Kirkpatrick, Priest Associate
The Episcopal Church of the Advocate

 

By Faith: A Nathan Kirkpatrick sermon

It was 1922
when Harry Emerson Fosdick
the famed New York City preacher
climbed into the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church
and delivered what
would become his most controversial — and most memorable — sermon.
It was called, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”

In the background was a theological and philosophical fight
between a group of people called the Fundamentalists
(these were the original fundamentalists)
and another called the Modernists.

In that age, defined by its “new knowledge” —
by scientific discovery, historical revelation,
by new understandings of other peoples, places, and religions —
the Fundamentalists said that these were threats.
That, if you weren’t careful,
science and history and technology
and anthropology and humanity could dismantle faith.

But for Fosdick — and for the Modernists —
the “new knowledge” of the age —
well, none of that was a threat to faith,
instead, all of that could inform our faith;
There was a way to be a faithful scientist, a faithful interrogator of the universe,
there was a way to be a faithful historian, archaeologist, anthropologist or
just a faithful thinking person,
there was a way that research and reflection
illuminated the great gifts of this Creation.

They were willing to say with that great passage in Acts
That, whatever in this new knowledge was of God, would thrive,
And whatever wasn’t, would pass away.

What Fosdick and his fellow Modernists worried about
was that they saw the church getting insular in its thinking,
that there were those in the church who were starting to say that
there was only one thing to believe and one way to believe it.
That there was THE true faith, practiced in THIS way, and that was it.

And in the wake of the First World War,
when so many had been undone by the violence of the world,
a simple faith wrapped in pretty paper and topped with a beautiful bow
sounded pretty nice.

But, Fosdick knew, though, that simple, tidy faith,
collapses under the slightest weight of life,
a little pressure and simple conviction becomes a disorienting question.

What Fosdick also knew was that the Fundamentalists were forgetting their history —
the story of the people of Israel; the story of the people of the Church.
The story of the people we heard cataloged in the letter to the Hebrews.

What Fosdick knew was that the Fundamentalists of his age
were peddling something that fundamentally wasn’t Christian.

See, faith has always been held in millions of hearts,
spoken by scores of voices and
practiced by countless hands.

There has never been a single simple faith practiced in a single correct way.
We heard it in the letter to the Hebrews.

By faith, Noah built an ark.

By faith, Abraham left home and ventured to a land unknown.

By faith, Sarah had a child.

By faith, Sarah’s baby Isaac blessed his sons Jacob and Esau.

By faith, Isaac’s baby Jacob blessed his son Joseph.

By faith, Joseph saved Egypt from a famine. And when Egypt forgot Joseph,

by faith, Moses endured slavery and led his people to freedom.

By faith, the children of Israel crossed the Sea, and Miriam sang.

By faith, the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.

By faith, Rahab lied to the powers-that-be

and saved a group of spies.

By faith.

In every age, there have been those who have known
that faith transcends the content of any creed
and is about entering a relationship with the One the creed points to.

Faith is about the thing that lies beyond the thing.
Faith is about relationship with the One who exists beyond the liturgy,
The One the Eucharist points to, the One this body represents but does not completely contain.

What does the letter writer say?

I would run out of time if I told you about

Gideon and Barak,

Samson and Jephthah,

David and Samuel, all the prophets. But. By faith.

There has never been a single, simple faith practiced in a single, correct way.
But by faith, the people of God in every age
have carried forward the work of God
for the sake of the world.

I was struck by that phrase in our reading from Jeremiah.
The word of the Lord is “like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.”
Had no idea what that meant
until I started reading what the rabbis said about that phrase.
The ancient rabbis said that
this was a way that the Scriptures acknowledged
the various honest, faithful interpretations of the Scriptures themselves.
The word shatters the rock into a million pieces,
but every piece has been touched by the word.
There is no single, simple faith practiced in a single, correct way.
But by faith, the word of God moves in our midst.

The problem is that there is still
no clear answer to Harry Emerson Fosdick’s question:
Shall fundamentalism win?
(Not Fundamentalism with a capital F but
the fundamentalism that draws the world and faith smaller and smaller.
The kind that says that these are the six criteria, that these are the five practices.)

And that kind of fundamentalism still stalks our landscape.
Again and again, we hear that the world is imperiled by new knowledge in our midst.
We hear that what we have learned about creation is a threat to faith.
We hear that our knowledge about people and places
and other cultures and other religions —
and for that matter, that other cultures and other religions —
threatens your life and your soul.
We hear that, in a world that is full of complexity, that simplicity is blessed and best.

And that a single, simple faith practiced in a single, correct way is the way that God intends things to be.

We could all get amnesia — and forget that this has never been our history.
We could forget that
By faith, Noah built an ark. By faith, Abraham left home.
By faith, Sarah had a kid. By faith, Joseph, Joseph saved Egypt.

In our own day, the question remains: shall a fundamentalism win?
Not while we are here to live the story.

For by faith, you marched in Raleigh for the dignity of all people.

By faith, you walked into your first AA meeting seeking change.

By faith, you packed a bag of food and gave it to the food pantry.

By faith, you held your friend as he cried.

By faith, you went to the courthouse and got your marriage license.

By faith, you picketed the wall that is a shadow of shame standing at the border of nations.

By faith, you adopted a child that had never had a chance.

By faith, you read your Bible. By faith, you prayed.

By faith, you come to church even when you’re not sure what you believe or that you believe.

By faith, we Advocates are the noun. By faith, we Advocates are the verb.

 

So, shall any fundamentalism of our own day win? Not while we are here to carry forward the story.
Beloved, we have nothing to fear, for we live by faith.
We live with hope. Amen.

Joe Sroka: Sermon from August 4, 2016

What is the most memorable story you have ever heard?
A favorite book of mine is The Lord of the Rings. Many of you may recall that fellowship of hobbits, dwarves, wizards, elves, and men seeking to destroy the One Ring in Mordor. And with the Olympic games upon us, the Catholic Worker where I live recently watched Cool Runnings on movie night. It is the story, albeit the Disney version of a true story, of former Jamaican track athletes teaming up to compete in the four-man bobsled. They began in a country without snow, ice, or even winter as poor, black Jamaicans and qualified in a sport dominated by countries with winters and better- funded, white athletes. Both of these stories have a group of people on a journey. Throughout their journeys, they are changed and become something they could not have been on their own.

Another kind of story that was important to me for some time was that of triathlon. It had a community of training partners, learning from each other’s strengths and aware of each other’s weaknesses. And it had a terrific chase. Rarely does a triathlete excel at all three disciplines—swimming, cycling, and running—on race day. There was always motivation to get better.

We also have other stories. Stories of life, careers, and relationships. Even our current political elections have become a dramatic narrative where each side appears to itself to be on the side of justice while it combats evil.

Although these stories shape our lives in some way or another, and some may for the better, these stories ultimately fall short. Should these stories influence us as much as they do? As the Church, we are participating in the story. It is a story first and foremost about God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God chooses us, not of need, but out of his divine desire for genuine relationship. Today, the Psalmist tells us: “Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord! / Happy the people he has chosen to be his own!” Today’s collect reminds us that “that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live.” This is the story of generations of Israel and the Church being sought out by God, culminating in God himself coming to us in the person of Jesus Christ. The Holy Eucharist that we celebrate today calls us to continual remembrance of his life, death, and resurrection. The Eucharist is the way by which the sacrifice of Christ is made present today, and the Eucharist is the way in which Jesus unites us to his one offering of himself. Now, that is some story. In fact, it is the story.

Today’s lessons show us that we know our story—our relationship with God—is founded on faith and gift, and we know what faith and gift are through the Eucharist.

The story of Abraham and the Lord was based on faith and gift. “The word of the Lord came to Abram.” The presence of God, revealed in his Word, is a gift to Abraham. It comes to him. It seeks him out. And this Word still speaks to us today. In response to this Word read aloud in the liturgy, we respond “Thanks be to God” acknowledging the gift.

The Lord says to Abraham, “I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Abraham pleads for the gift. “O Lord God, what will you give me?” And again “You have given me no offspring.” Abraham does not ask for riches as a greedy person. He does not ask for long life as one who fears death. Rather, he asks for an heir worthy of his relationship with the Lord. Abraham desires the gift of offspring who will inherit the faith. He wants descendants who will inherit the story.

Then the Lord takes Abraham outside. And where else could one see the stars but outside? By taking him outside we see Abraham following the Lord. He steps, not only literally outdoors, but, through faith, he steps outside himself, now able to see and hear the Lord. “And he believed the Lord.” Abraham’s faith and the Lord’s gift shape the story.

The Letter to the Hebrews further clarifies the relationship between faith and gift in our story. In fact, it presses an important point that faith and gift are ultimately about God, not us. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It was by faith that Abraham obeyed the Lord and set out for a place, not knowing where he was going. By faith, Abraham and Sarah conceived Isaac although he was too old and she was barren. This was possible because they “considered him faithful who had promised.” Our faith depends on the faithful one. It is God’s faith toward us that makes our faith possible. Therefore, with this faith, God is not ashamed to be called our God.

How, then, do we live faithfully to this story? How do we put our faith into action so to speak? It seems like one thing to claim Abraham as part of our story, but how do we claim the challenging words of the Gospel too? We are shaken by Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel.

“Sell your possessions and give alms.”
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
“Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Although these words appear frightening and we may feel helpless, let us return to the story. Let us turn to the stories of the Church. ‘Sell your possessions and give alms’ is just a necessary part of the Lord’s story—a part that we have witnessed throughout. By faith, Abraham left what he had and set out. By faith, the first disciples left their boats and followed Jesus. And this Wednesday we celebrate the feast of St. Lawrence, a deacon who was martyred in 258. After the death of the pope, the prefect of Rome demanded the treasures of the church. St. Lawrence quickly distributed as much Church property as he could to the poor. When ordered to give up the treasures of the Church, he presented the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the suffering, exclaiming that these were the true treasures of the Church! “Do not be afraid, little flock” for our story already embodies Jesus’ words. Abraham, the disciples, the saints—by faith received the gift and in turn gave of themselves.

When we gather every Sunday for Eucharist, we are reminded of this faith and gift. Through faith, we receive Christ’s gift. The preparation and posture for the Eucharist cannot be missed in today’s gospel.

Jesus says “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.” The priest is most obviously dressed for action. And we did light a couple of candles. But we too are ready for action. This is in fact the liturgy. As we heard at the beginning, the liturgy is the work of the people and it is what it is because each of us contributes to it.

Jesus also says “Be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him.” As the Lord brought Abraham outside, we too anticipate meeting him as we sing praises, read his Word and open the Gospel, and confess our sins. The Lord comes down from the heavenly banquet to meet us, right here. The Eucharist is a big deal. It is the most important story that we tell.

Jesus goes on “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.” And this is where the story climaxes. Having dipped our hand in the waters of baptism and making the sign of the cross over ourselves, we are alert. Then, we offer our gifts at the altar. Gifts of financial treasures, gifts of food resources, but we also return to Christ the gift he gave us – our selves, our souls and bodies. Only through Christ’s gift do we know how or what to give. And only by faith can we “Behold what we are. May we become what we receive.” Amen.

Sam Laurent: Sermon from July 10, 2016

People of the Advocate, my sisters and brothers, we are, on average, roughly 90% chimpanzee and 10% honeybee. At least in terms of evolution. Those are estimates. You may be a slightly different mixture of the two, on any given day. But roughly speaking, mostly chimp. A little bit bee.*

That is to say, according to recent moral psychological research, human nature is a lot like that of the chimpanzee, which is formed by interaction and competition with members of its own group. So human competition for resources, for power, for all of the ways in which we might think that we “win” in society, is a dominant force in shaping human nature. Over the generations, much of our inherited psychological make-up has been determined by this social selection; we are descended from those who managed to thrive in society, at least enough to pass their genes on.

This does not feel like Good News. The part of us which is like the chimp is the part that is ambitious, perhaps ruthless, and competitive. It is prideful and insecure, but it’s not necessarily bad. Like the chimp our competition amongst ourselves has, over time, made us more effective in our world, which is generally good. But it also is a side of us that scares us. Unchecked, it might lead us to rob someone else and discard them, as happened in the beginning of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

But the Good News, or at least the beginning of it, is that we are 10% honeybee. Though we are formed in large part by individual competition, we are also social animals. We have learned, like honeybees, that we can do better when we pool our resources and look out for each other. We might even be willing to do something for someone without it meaning they’ll do something for us, because we think of ourselves as part of a group, as a hive, if you will.

Evolutionary theory tells us that our chimp side and honeybee side both serve us well, but differently. Within a group, the ambitious and competitive individuals tend to win out, so the chimp side is selected. You’d think this would result in us being entirely chimp, but when we look at selection among groups instead of within them, we find that groups that are more altruistic, that take better care of one another, will win out. So being nice isn’t for suckers. It has real evolutionary value. We know this intuitively. It’s why we promote healthy work environments. They work better. The better care we take of one another, the better we all end up doing. So among individuals, the chimp gets selected, but among groups, you need some honeybees around to win out. Not entirely Good News, but a little better, no?

Bearing this in mind, look at the parable of the Good Samaritan. The lawyer speaking with Jesus knows that the law commands him to love his neighbor as himself, but he wants to know who the neighbor is. He wanted a definition, and he got a parable.

The first person to come upon the man who had been robbed and beaten is a priest, a good member of polite society, and he crosses the street to avoid the man. The second is a Levite, a member of one of the tribe of Israel closely associated with the temple. A man well placed among God’s chosen. He too crosses over to avoid the man who has been left for dead. Who knows what their thought process was. Maybe they feared being set upon by the same robbers and incurring personal harm themselves. Maybe they didn’t recognize the man and so assumed he wasn’t part of their group, their hive. Whatever the case, they deemed it advantageous to avoid the situation.

Along comes the Samaritan. Samaritans are decidedly not part of the Jerusalem squad. Rather than worshipping at the temple, they take a mountain as their primary holy site. So in terms of adhering to the law and temple worship, those ways in which the temple Jews marked themselves as part of a group, he’s an outsider. The Samaritan stops, helps the man and pays for his shelter. He gives of his own resources to help him. We never find out if the robbery victim was a Jew or a member of some other group. It’s almost like it doesn’t matter to Jesus.

In telling the story, Jesus is appealing to our honeybee side, but he’s doing it in a way that calls on us to question how we define our group, our community, our tribe, our nation, our hive. And that’s the really Good News. The honeybee side sounds good, but it all depends on how we define our hive. Tribalism, nationalism, sectarianism, racism… these are attempts to delineate a hive, to designate some people as our precious neighbors, and others as outsiders whose lives and welfare matter less. And Jesus constantly challenges that instinct.

The parable of the Good Samaritan appeals to our consciousness, to that part of us that can make choices and examine assumptions, because we are not simply bundles of chimp and honeybee instincts powerless to control ourselves. We are bundles of chimp and honeybee instincts with some free will attached. And in lifting up the Samaritan as the one who truly loved his neighbor, Jesus gives us the tool to define our group in a radical way. Everybody is always in. It matters that the hero is a Samaritan, because he’s the one Jesus implies will receive eternal life. He’s not part of the dominant group, is not, in our terms, white. And he is as fully loved by God as anyone else in the story. This represents a minor scandal in the context of the Gospel. Jesus is knocking down a social construct that, left intact, dehumanizes people and somehow makes their violent death tolerable.

Martin Luther King preached on this parable the night before he was shot. This parable is about a kind of mercy that seems risky to our inner chimp and our inner honeybee. Mercy to the “other.” Mercy across social norms. Everyone is worthy of it, and everyone can extend it to someone else. In a land riven by religious and racial divisions, equality before God is particularly revealed in this story precisely because it assumes not only that a Samaritan life matters, but that it earns eternal life. I don’t think I need to preach the rest of this sermon about #blacklivesmatter for you to get the point.

So I beg your forgiveness as I veer away from the political here, not out of apathy for the tragic loss of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarippa, Brent Thompson, and Lorne Ahrens to dehumanizing violence this week, but out of a need for a spiritual grounding to my outrage. Outrage alone will never lead to mercy. My energy to name and confront dehumanization in the world, somewhat counterintuitively, has to be rooted in a patient hope and joy, or else I slide into the dehumanizing spiral myself. There is a beautiful layer to this parable, a sacred space within it, and that’s where I find the energy to contenance the horrors of the world.

I feel the chimp-like individual drive within myself, and also the honeybee’s desire to ensure the success of my community, but today’s Gospel story cracks those mental structures open and calls me to honor people simply because they are people. This is not super-complicated theology, but rather one of those truths that never loses its cutting edge, and I believe this is the call and the power of the sacred. By displaying power in compassion, or as Paul said, “power made perfect in weakness,” Jesus shows us that risky mercy is the ultimate power. It brings eternal life. Other powers in this world can cause death, but mercy transcends it, and, in the twist that unfortunately never stops sounding radical, everyone deserves mercy.

Here then, is where my energy comes from. It’s very simple. If everyone deserves mercy by virtue of being a person, then I do and you do too. To sit with that truth—you do not need to perform any particular identity to be worthy of ultimate love—is to accept grace. Sitting with that grace, we open our being up wider, from our narrow chimpy self-interest to our helpful- but-faulty honeybee notions of our group, to this grace of being worthy of God’s love simply because we exist. And my awareness of that grace, when I center in it, strips away a lot of the noise and anxiety of the world, quiets my inner chimp and honeybee, and connects me with that joy that energizes me. As an aside, this point of realizing that my ultimate value comes in my creatureliness and not in my social position is also where I can most honestly confront my white privilege.

For me, this recognition of grace is the foundational moment of faith. All the other stuff, like baptism or communion or diocesan conventions, comes way, way later. It is shamelessly kind of selfish, but insecurity will also not lead to mercy. When the work of sharing mercy is connected with the grace of accepting it, we are giving from an abundance. So, even as this parable calls you to relational work, it also opens up a space where you can truly relax in your own skin, because the operating principle, the engine that drives it, is that the grace of God’s mercy overflows every wall this world tries to build. Welcome to church. This is where we start. This is where the energy comes from.

So, mostly chimp, a little bit honeybee, but always also beloved creatures of God. Mercy calls us to participate in a community that paradoxically breaks its own boundaries, that remembers that our “hives” are our ideas, not God’s. That makes this room at this moment a pretty remarkable space, a community that tries to point beyond itself because we exult in the spiritual truth that every single person, here and elsewhere, is loved by God and is worthy of our compassion. Everything comes from there. You are loved simply because you’re here, and that’s all you have to be. That’s all anyone has to be.

Amen.

*The chimpanzee/honeybee metaphor appears in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided By Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. All other insights into evolutionary theory in this sermon are owed to Does Altruism Exist?: Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others by David Sloan Wilson.

The Vicar’s Three-Point Sermon on the Resurrection

A sermons offered by The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck, Vicar, for Year C – Easter II, April 3, 2016, @TheAdvocate

 

 

Last Sunday, Easter Day, we had an unusual sermon time here at the Advocate.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is what we celebrate especially on Easter Day and through the season of Easter, I said.

Then quickly made three points about that resurrection:
1) it beyond our understanding. It’s a mystery, not logical.
2) the meaning of it knows no bounds. The exploration of it is endless
3) Believing it, living it, will surely take us outside our comfort zone.

And so we danced. No more words, no more reasoning, no more illustration. Just dancing.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Christ is risen. 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, etc.

But just because the resurrection is beyond our understanding, knows no bounds,and takes us outside our comfort zone, doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it, reflect on it, ask ourselves questions about it, see if there is indeed something we think and believe about it.

In fact, we should do these things.
We mention it at least twice every Sunday, after all.
Not just in the season of Easter.
It comes up in the Creed

He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
In accordance with the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven….

and in the Eucharistic Prayers:

Christ has died
Christ is Risen
Christ will come again.

or

Dying he destroyed our Death
Rising her restored our life…

So let’s think about it.

I offer 3 categories….

First, there is the event of the resurrection of Jesus in a particular time and a particular place.

Second, there is resurrection of Jesus as the prototype for all the other resurrections that run through the history and experience of Christians and the church.

And third, there is the resurrection of Jesus as the Way that leads to eternal life.

You no doubt would offer others, but for today, let’s look at these three.

First, the event of the resurrection of Jesus in a particular time and a particular place.

Do you believe it really happened?

This is one of those questions that non-believers often ask believers. It is also a question that believers ask of each other a good bit. Right before or after the question: Do you really believe in the virgin birth?

Did Jesus really die and then come back to life in some kind of altered form and appear to his disciples? Did he greet them in the garden, come through locked doors to them, talk to them on the road, cook fish for them by the sea?

I confess that I don’t lose much sleep on this myself.

But when asked, I say, Sure! I mean, I really don’t know how or what. Even if we had video of the day,
it could have been photo-shopped! But I believe. And not just because “the Bible tells me so”, or because it is in the Creed. Though that helps.
Something sure happened to get those early disciples turned around and turned on. They went from hiding out in fear to proclaiming loud and clear. “this Jesus who was crucified, rose… He rose and he appeared among us.”

Why would they make it up? They certainly had nothing to gain from such a tale. And they certainly had a LOT to lose. By proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus and telling the story of what they saw and heard, and even physically experienced, they did not get money or power or popularity. In fact, most of them were gruesomely killed because of it. (though I guess they did get more that 2000 years of notoriety…)

Besides …. if we believe in God who created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, why couldn’t God make the resurrection happen? Why not?

So, sure, I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, some how, some way, in a particular time and place.

You?

Second, there is the resurrection of Jesus as the prototype for all the other resurrections that run through the history and experience of Christians and the church. There is a resurrection pattern to how God relates to human beings and to the world. This is both a matter of belief as well as a mindset. A very helpful, and I believe, truthful mindset.

Out of darkness, God gives light,
out of sorrow, joy.
out of despair, hope.
out of death, life.

“Those who have gone through the desolate valley will find it a pool of springs” says the psalmist.

This is not just a Pollyanna, optimistic view of the world. It is not just about butterflies and rainbows after the storm either. It does not mean that God makes us happy all the time, or that everyone will be cured of cancer.

Rather, belief in the resurrection leads us to see and know that God is at work in the world and in our lives in order that we may have life and have it abundantly. In order that we may flourish.

Death, literal or metaphorical death, is not the end. And sometimes
often
death is a necessary part of discovering life, life we would not otherwise know.

Those who have eyes to see, let them see:

In the frailty of one person, others discover a capacity to love and care, and they witness profound courage.
In the despair of a failure, someone discovers a gift or a skill that they didn’t know they had and they hone it.
An unjust death promotes a movement for justice.

Out of darkness, light,
out of sorrow, joy.
out of despair, hope.
out of death, life.

It is the way of God and of God’s work in the world. The resurrection of Jesus in a particular time and a particular place is only the beginning.

Third, there is the resurrection Jesus as the Way that leads to eternal life. We hear this in our baptismal rite:

We thank you Father for the water of Baptism
in it we are buried with Christ in his death
by it we share in his resurrection…

Somehow, we don’t know how exactly, in the resurrection of Jesus death is conquered once for all. The devil loses. We need no longer to fear death. We can in fact laugh at it. (though I confess I haven’t come close to that yet myself…)

This, frankly, requires another  leap of faith.
Oh, there are stories told of the visions and dreams of those left behind. But nothing convincing enough to start a movement that rocks the world. Nothing that we see or experience in our daily life and work… directly.

I cannot say how or when I made this leap of faith myself. But I know that my faith was formed in life and liturgy. It may have had to do with that Betty Pulkingham song that I found myself singing in lots of church gatherings in my 20s and 30s…

I am the resurrection,
I am the life,
they who believe in me,
even if they die
they shall live for ever.
and I will raise them up….

(That’s in the Bible, by the way).

Or maybe it was the Christ our Passover (Pascha Nostrum) that we sing and exclaim here at the Advocate in Eastertide – I chanted it a lot in church throughout my 20s and 30s.
Formative years…

Alleluia.? Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;? therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,? but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.
Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;? death no longer has dominion over him…..
For since by a man came death, ?by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die,? so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

But I think it was mostly the funerals.
Have you ever been to a funeral in an Episcopal Church? It is powerful. The body, the casket, the box of ashes, is carried into the church. There are the mortal remains of the person you knew the person you loved, the person who challenged you, entertained you, inspired you, maybe even bored you or irritated you. The person you watched slowly shrivel and die. or the person who was snatched up in death way too fast, way too unexpectedly.

The Paschal candle is lit. There is silence.

Then… Footsteps of the clergy and acolytes and pallbearers perhaps, process down the aisle. And the priest proclaims the words of the Gospel of John:

I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord;
whosoever believeth in me, though he were dead,
yet shall he live;
and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.
I know that my Redeemer liveth,
and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth;
and though this body be destroyed,
yet shall I see God;
whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold,
and not as a stranger.? ?

As a member of the congregation, you stand there, listen there, watch there, feel there.

I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord;
whosoever believeth in me, though he were dead,
yet shall he live;?

Your faith is formed.
Death still happens, but it is not the end.
Death does not triumph.
Somehow instead, Jesus, by his death and resurrection has triumphed over death.
The world indeed, is not as it seems.

Christians, it is said, are an Easter people. We live in the light of the resurrection. Whether we believe slam dunk, or still harbor doubts or skepticism about any or all of these three aspects of that resurrection on occasion or at all times, we are a resurrection people.

There is something more….

So wherever we stand as individuals, on the spectrum of life and faith and doubt, we stand collectively in this season of Easter as Church. We stand collectively and we dance and we sing,

Christ is risen from the dead
trampling down death by death
and upon those in the tomb
bestowing life.                                                           

Alleluia!