“Courageous Vulnerability and Quiet Confidence” A Nathan Kirkpatrick Sermon

A sermon offered by The Rev. Nathan Kirkpatrick at The Advocate on June 21, 2015, Year B, Proper 7.
Depayne and Cynthia.
Susie and Ethel.
Clementa and Daniel and Myra.
Tywanza and Sharonda.
A week ago, these nine were unknown to most of us.
These retirees, this librarian; this track coach; these preachers; these dreamers.
These mothers and fathers, sons and daughters — our brothers and sisters. These students of Scripture.
Before Wednesday evening, they were unknown to most of us in this room and to most everyone in this country.
But the Goliath that killed them is sadly too well known to us.
He goes by many names; he wears many faces.
     He is gun violence. He is hate. He is racism.
               He has been fed on power and privilege and prejudice.
                    He is hulking, and he is afraid. But he masks his fear with rage and violence.
                    He stalks our streets, haunts our cities;
                         kills our children, our parents, our neighbors, our friends.
                                 He is gruesome, fearsome, and well-armed.
     His mere appearance can reduce a president to tears.
     And he taunts us to fight back.
But how can we?
We have tried so many ways to defeat this Goliath.
We have wielded the swords of legislation and diversity trainings,
We have carried the spears of passion and even compassion out to meet him.
We have tried to reason with him, educate him, treat him, negotiate with him.
We have protested him, marched against him. We have lit our candles in his presence and in the wake of his devastations. We have held vigil. We have pleaded with heaven.
When all of that has seemed to affect no change,
We have even tried shielding ourselves from him with denial.
          But still he comes. He still breaks through our defenses.
               He taunts and teases and terrifies all at once.
                    And cuts down the innocent.
                         And, when this Goliath shows himself,
                         we tremble and grieve, fearful and uncertain what might come next.
Parker Palmer says that this is the point that people of conscience
find themselves tempted by two options:
     First — we yield to a corrosive cynicism,
          a kind of despair and despondency that says that Goliath will always win,
               that there will always be another nine and another nine beyond that,
                    that our streets and sanctuaries will never know peace,
                    and that the casualties will only continue to mount.
                         That’s a corrosive cynicism that comes from the gradual wearing down of the soul,
                         the erosion that comes from the daily-ness of the headlines and the stories.
                              It’s an abandonment of our call to hope.
The other choice that Palmer identifies is
that we find ourselves becoming irrelevant idealists —
     the kind of people who can only really spout platitudes in the face of suffering,
          the kind of people that hold real hurt at bay just hoping that tomorrow will be a better day.
                    It is a kind of irrelevant idealism that is borne from the walling off of the soul.
                         It is born from building defenses to shield ourselves from other people’s pain —
                              It is an abandonment of our call to love our neighbor.
                                   Because we cannot love our neighbor if we do not see and feel their pain.
And let’s be brutally honest for a moment:
  For most of middle class white America, these are really only options
      — both corrosive cynicism and irrelevant idealism — because we know
           that Goliath hunts in other neighborhoods first.
Which is one reason why we need First Samuel chapter 17,
why we need the story of a shepherd boy who willingly goes out to take on the giant.
     Because the shepherd shows us that there’s another way,
          that we, who might have the luxury to grow caustically cynical or vapidly idealistic,
               might find a way forward when Goliath comes, when another nine fall,
                    or even better yet, might take on the giant before another nine fall.
I had never noticed until this week, in the shadow of Charleston,
that, in the story of David and Goliath, King Saul tries everything
to shield David from the giant’s wrath.
Did you notice?
Saul tries to talk David out of going. “You are just a boy.”
     And when David cannot be persuaded, Saul takes David and clothes him in his own armor — a helmet, a coat of mail, the royal sword.
          But, and this is the critical part — 
          When David is wrapped in all of power’s protections, he is powerless to move.
          When he is all defended, he cannot even walk, let alone win.
               “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.”
It is only when David sheds all that might shield him
that he is able to confront the evil before him. 
So he goes without armor, without a helmet, without the royal sword.
He goes with faith and trust in God
and five stones he picked up from the ground
and walks out to meet the giant.
Now there is a certain sermon that says,
here are the five stones that we must wield to bring the giant down.
     This is not that sermon.
Because the more powerful witness of the shepherd is that, when facing Goliath,
the only real weapons we can bear are our own vulnerability
and our confidence that God is still Emmanuel,
that God is with us, and that what God wants for the world
is not what Goliath wants for it.
And that God’s dream wins.
It is why Paul can later write to the Corinthians, “open wide your hearts,”
because God’s work in their vulnerability can be a witness against a whole empire of Goliaths.
In his eulogy for
Addie Mae, Cynthia, Carole and Carol Denise
— the four young girls killed
in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham —
Martin Luther King, Jr., said that their deaths
“say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution.”
Yes, we must.
It is time to substitute courage for caution.
So let us shed all that might shield us.
Let us meet Goliath with the courage of vulnerability
and the confidence that — to quote King again —
God is still in the habit “of wringing good from evil.”
Amen.

Attentive to the Spirit: A Pentecost Sermon

IMG_5306The Day of Pentecost
May 24, 2015
The Advocate at Pondside
The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck, Vicar
“I still have many things to say to you,
but you cannot bear them now.
When the Spirit of truth comes,
she will guide you into all the truth;

This is one of the most exciting prospects in all of Scripture.

Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you,
but you cannot bear them now.
When the Spirit of truth comes,
she will guide you into all the truth;

I love it.
Because it means that there is more to be known,
more to be revealed,
more to be enacted
about God and God’s ways.
The disciples could only take in so much.
So Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, the Advocate,
to guide and nudge and teach.

And while the Spirit moved St. Paul in many exciting, challenging and life-giving ways,
the Spirit didn’t retire with St. Paul.
And while the Spirit moved the Church Fathers and the medieval women mystics in many exciting, challenging and life-giving ways,
the Spirit didn’t retire in the 12th century either.
And while the Spirit moved the church to reform
over and again in centuries past,
the Spirit still hasn’t retired.
No, the Spirit of truth is moving
revealing things to us that those in ages past could not bear.

Now perhaps it is because I grew up in an era of tv cartoons of a certain ilk,
but I imagine the Spirit moving around,
swirling around, buzzing around,
trying to get into
our world
our thoughts
our industries,
our governments
our churches.

Moving, swirling, buzzing,
wanting to reveal a truth as yet unknown to us.
And over and over and over again
the Spirit bumps into a shield
or a wall,
or a barrier.

The term “Iron Dome” is a good one.
Sounds pretty impenetrable.
And while the State of Israel coined the phrase,
it is apt for the shields we create,
for the shields we create with
our business, or our busy-ness,
with our gadgets, or our habits,
with out traditions and ways we hold so dear,
with our study and analysis without reflection,
with or our focus on anything we can find to focus on
besides God and our fellow human creatures.
An Iron Dome.
And the Spirit moves and swirls and buzzes around,
looking for a point of entry.

The Spirit is persistent.
And despite our best efforts to keep the Spirit at bay,
(usually unintentional efforts, I should emphasize,
patterns and practices to which we are oblivious)
despite our best efforts to keep the Spirit at bay,
still she manages,
every so often,
to find a crack or a gap,
and work her way in.
Or she drills a hole like a carpenter bee in a mailbox post.

She works her way in.
And it is at once settling and unsettling for us;
unsettling because it is different,
settling because it is true.

There are hallmarks, of course.
Ways we can know if something has been inspired by the Spirit, or not.
And some here who were raised in certain branches of the church can probably recite those hallmarks,
the so-called “fruit” of the Spirit.
(Me, I have to google it…)
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians,
he writes that the fruit of the Spirit is:
love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Not a bad list!
And certainly it provides a good way for us to know
if the action taken,
the behavior modified,
the words spoken
are of the Spirit’s touch,
or not.
Love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

I would add another,
revealed in the reading from Acts today.

A fruit of the Spirit is an awareness
of unity in our diversity.
Not a false and forced unity,
but an exciting and energetic unity.

I don’t now about you,
but I have often had an exhilarating sense of the Holy Spirit
when I have been in the thick of a really diverse group of people
relating to one another with love, respect and joy.
Sometimes it is even when I am realizing the diversity of two.
Me and someone else.
An other.

There are times when our awareness of the Spirit and its fruit is frenzied.
That Day of Pentecost we just heard about was pretty wild.
And Spirit-filled music can get downright rowdy.

And there are times our awareness of the Spirit is something very, very calm.
Like a gentle breeze or a sweet, not-humid, stillness.

And here’s the deal.
When we feel it,
We will know it is God.
Or…. We may not.

In fact sometimes I wonder if God is like those people that are so generous of spirit
that they don’t really care if they get credit or acknowledgment for the good deed they have done, or not.
Just as long as the good deed is done.

The Spirit is at work all over the place,
whether we humans realize it or not.
And when the Church and her people steal themselves against her,
why, she finds another way.

Some of you may have heard about the recent efforts of news columnist David Brooks to call our society to a more moral way of life.
He does not speak of the Holy Spirit.
But he shares her language and his writing may very well yield her fruit.
The book is called:
The Road to Character.

My hunch is that because we live in an age when many simply cannot hear the vocabulary of the Church,
the Spirit knows to find another way such as this.

The message will resonate with thousands, or more.
Because when our spirit connects with the Spirit of truth
we human beings feel as though we have come home for the first time.
We were created that way.

Sam Laurent once said,
“Our job as the Church of the Advocate is to respond to God’s graceful, often surprising, presence by paying attention to it.”
That is, perhaps the key.
To pay attention.
Use the prayers, the fellowship, the sacraments.
Develop a practice of silence.
Read what those outside the church are doing
that yields love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
And Unity in diversity.
Pay attention.
And name it for what we know it to be:
The movement of the Spirit.

Now I envision one of those great domed telescopes
high atop a hill.
And when the astronomer is ready to learn and experience the vast expanse of interstellar space more fully,
he flips the switch,
and slowly, steadily,
the hatchway opens.
Heck, I don’t know,
maybe it falters a bit,
but then continues.

“Our job as the Church of the Advocate is to respond to God’s graceful, often surprising, presence by paying attention to it.”
We do well to do whatever helps us
to pay attention,
to take heed,
to listen,
to be intentional,
mindful,
on the lookout.
They all suggest the same thing.

We do well to do whatever helps us
to open the door, the window, the dome,
a bit more.
So that we can receive the Spirit of truth
and let her guide us into the truth.
a truth as yet unknown to us.

That is what this day is about.
Reminding ourselves that the Spirit is alive and well,
looking for a connection,
bidding us to open up.

Holy Spirit come to us.
Kindle in us the fire of your love.
Holy Spirit come to us.
Holy Spirit come to us. Amen.

Chosen for Love: A Sermon by the Vicar

A Sermon offered for Year B, Easter VI, May 10, 2015, @TheAdvocate byt The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck

In the Name of the Creating, Restoring and Transforming God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

You did not choose me but I chose you.
And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.

It took me a while to notice,
but May is a hard month in the life of the Advocate.
People leave.
We wish them well,
we pray them on their way.
And we grieve.
A church with young adults experiences this a lot.
A church that embraces change as one of its descriptors
experiences it even more.

A church that is open to change
attracts people who like change,
not only in their church, but also in their lives.
Off they go.
Some to a first job,
others to another job,
some to be ordained as priests,
others to be closer to extended family.            (see note below*)

The litany of the Advocate diaspora is long:

Miranda Hassett, Phil Hassett and their two kids, now in Wisconsin, where Miranda is a priest at St. Dunstan’s in Madison and Phil is an amazing stay at home dad who still masters our website.

Gabe Lamazares and Terry Milner, now in New York City, where Gabe is a priest at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village and Terry is finishing a Masters in screenwriting at NYU.

Buck Cooper and Elisabeth Malphurs,
called to return to their native Mississippi,
where Buck is applying his UNC PhD in education to teach middle school students science,
and Elisabeth is working as a social worker with the chronically mentally ill.

Joslyn, Brian and Elias Schafer,
who moved to Morehead City so Brian could get a job practicing law.
Now they are in Charlotte,
where Joslyn is a priest and Brian a lawyer.

Hugo Oliaz and John Charles Duffy, now in Ohio,
where John-Charles teaches about Religion in America at Miami of Ohio, and Hugo continues to provide support for gay Mormon youth.

Then there is Sam Laurent,
our own Theologian in Residence,
and his wife, Kim, and daughter, Maddie.
We sent them off to Duke University in January,
so Sam could be the interim Episcopal Campus Minister there.
And he is doing the job so well,
he may very well be given the ongoing position….

This is but a sampling.
There are dozens,
I mean dozens more.

Every May we say farewell.
God grant you many years, good people,
sisters and brothers of the Advocate….
Today we send of Johnny and Nicki and Eli Tuttle to go and live in Georgia.
And we bid David Wantland farewell for a summer at Furman University.
And I just found out that this is the last Sunday that Liz Gilson Aaron will be with us before she hits the road for a month to two years….

Geez, it’s hard.

I was describing this rhythm of our lives to a colleague this week.
“Reminds me of the pelican”, she said.
It is said that when times are hard and food is scarce
the mother pelican will pierce her own flesh with her beak in order to provide food for her children.

The image is strong, whether or not it is true.
Seen in stained glass windows,
tapestries and even tattoos,
the pelican is depicted with drops, or a flow, of blood, coming from her beak and breast,
little chicks eager to receive.

It is, you see, an image of the Christ.

For those of us who have been through a May or two at the Advocate,
the image rings true.

Year after year,
we send our beloved out into the world
and it hurts.
But it is part of our vocation as the Church of the Advocate.

For just as we welcome people into our fold,
firmly believing that there are some who will grow closer to God and to God’s people here at the Advocate in a way that they simply would not or could not elsewhere,
So we believe that we have been called,
as a mission church,
to raise people up for ministry elsewhere in the church,
elsewhere in the world.

Jesus says:
You did not choose me but I chose you.

Now
to a post-Blues Brothers generation,
to say we are on “a mission from God” can sound humorous.
And to claim that we are “chosen” for this work can readily sound vainglorious.

But if we do not at some level believe that we have a particular call,
and that God is with us in this journey,
why then are we here?

———————
The Church of the Advocate was started in a university town in the new old South in 2003
We were started, in part,
to be an alternative expression of the Episcopal Anglican church for a new generation.
It is part of our calling therefore to be rooted in the Anglican tradition,
but not bound by it.
To re-member things old.
And to try things new.

We do this physically week by week,
facing each other in chairs rather than pews
using binders with music from across the centuries and around the world,
in a 19th century carpenter Gothic chapel, no less.

We do it in other ways as well:
how we structure ourselves, for example,
which is to say, minimally.
And how we use technology.
We do it spiritually, too,
especially as we create a culture of honesty and hospitality,
and anchor ourselves, not only in the Eucharist,
but also in contemplative prayer.

Whether or not we are comfortable saying that we have been “chosen” by God for this work,
or saying that we are on “a mission from God”,
it is our calling to be a new old church in 21st century North Carolina.

And part of that calling
is to send people forth from the Advocate
out into the world to bear fruit from the experience they have been given here.
There’s a word for it, you know.
Fructify.
I love that word.
It literally means make something fruitful or productive.
to bear fruit.

The Advocate is called to fructify
by sending our beloved people out into the world beyond this place.

______________________

You did not choose me but I chose you.
And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.

In our Diaspora
the Advocate is a fruitful congregation.
But I pray that today’s Gospel to our ears doesn’t end there.
Rather, my hope is that our experience as a congregation
will inform and influence our experience as individual Christians as well.

For Jesus speaks to us collectively and individually.
And whether we feel the language of being “chosen” sounds vainglorious or not,
truth be told,
each and every one of us here has been chosen by God,
chosen to be loved to the very fibers of our being
to every wisp and element of our soul.

Each and every one of us here
has been chosen by God.
Chosen to be loved and to bear the fruit of that love in the world by our faith.
We may feel shy to claim such language for ourselves.
Me? Chosen?
And/or
We may be afraid of the pain, sacrifice and loss
that will likely ensue if we take that call to heart.
Things will not be exactly as we wished or as we wanted when first we set out.
It will hurt some.
But something lovlier will result.

Remember the mother pelican….

God is calling us,
each and every one,
to bear much fruit in our actions, thoughts and words
Why do we do it?
to reveal God’s love.
It is that simple.
to reveal God’s love.

In case you missed it for the beauty of the weather and everything else going on this week,
on Friday the church throughout the world
celebrated the Feast of Dame Julian of Norwich,
a 14th century woman who understood this revelation of God’s love better than just about anybody before or since.
Because it was revealed to her.

She wrote:
What, do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing?
Know it well, love was his meaning.
Who reveals it to you?

Love.
What did he reveal you?
Love.
Why does he reveal it to you?
For Love….
So I was taught that love is our Lord’s meaning.

Love is the fruit of our actions, thoughts and words.

So whether we have gifts of prayer
or organizing,
or being present to another in need,
whether we have gifts for teaching or for writing,
for tending to those who are ailing or impaired,
or gifts for keeping things fiscally sound or spiritually enlivened,
each of us has been chosen to share that fruit
that we might better reveal God’s love to one another and to the world.

You did not choose me but I chose you.
And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.

Amen.

* For more on the many dimensions of the Season of Departures at the Advocate, see post on Alban.org

The Crazy Story of the Ethiopian Eunuch: A David Wantland Sermon

eunuchiconA sermon offered by David Wantland, Duke Divinity Student, Year B, Easter V, May 3, 2015
@TheAdvocate

 

 

Y’all, today’s Acts reading is crazy.

An angel of the LORD is sending Philip all over the place. A discerning inquirer just happens to be reading Isaiah when Philip walks by. There is conversion, there is baptism. There’s even apparition in which the Spirit “snatches” Philip away. It’s the dream scenario of evangelism. A disciple follows the unlikely leading of the Spirit and eureka, conversion of a foreign dignitary!

It’s a wild story. And, frankly, its hard to believe is true. There are, after all, certain conditions of plausibility that we western moderns believe stories are supposed to meet. When they don’t, we’re quick to gloss them over, patting them patronizingly on the head, saying, “that’s sweet, but we know better.” This story is full of such discrepancies, such incursions from a by-gone era when people believed the fantastic and the mythical. And no, I’m not talking about the angels and the Harry Potter-style apparitions, I’m talking about this eunuch and the preposterous suggestion that he has been given a family.

Today’s reading from Acts tells a story about belonging that we moderns would deny.

Let’s get some basics for this story. The man is a eunuch. For all intents and purposes, that means he has not hope of progeny. No children. Probably no spouse.

The man is a court official– a treasurer– for the Queen of Ethiopia. So he has some power and presumably some loyalty to his country of origin. Yet he is a proselyte, a convert to Judaism, and therefore likely on the periphery of the culture which he serves. His national identity is muddled, at home neither in one nor the other. He is a proselyte, who has gone up to Jerusalem for worship. But a castrated proselyte, who, at least according to Deuteronomic law, is therefore disallowed from participating in the assembly. After all, what good is a seedless man to a family-based people.

Perhaps in his study of Isaiah–that’s the prophet he reads to Philip–, he’d read God’s proclamation: “Do not let the eunuch say, ‘I am just a dry tree.’ 4 For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” Perhaps he made the journey, hoping that moment had come, that he would be permitted into the assembly. There must have been a certain amount of disappointment in his trip to Jerusalem. The hope of finding himself at home, there, at the center of his people’s religious identity, only to be kept out.

It is fitting that Philip meets him on the road in between Jerusalem and Ethiopia, because it is that liminal place that the eunuch inhabits. Neither fully one nor the other. Alone.

The eunuch was a committed student of Torah. As anyone who has tried desperately to prove they belong can attest, being a good student of the subject is crucial. I imagine Isaiah’s words about the suffering servant were not coincidentally quoted here, as if the scroll just happened to be rolled open to that section. Rather, I imagine these were well-worn words for the eunuch. A passage he turned to often in life. For they are words that describe another man, humiliated, from whom justice was denied, without hope of future generations, a man whose life was taken away. No doubt he read something of himself when he read those words.

When Philip comes upon the eunuch, this is the man he meets. A man despairing in his loneliness, for whom the rise to power in Ethiopia has not salved all wounds, a man who fears he will die alone and be forgotten. A man who is savoring in the rare occasion when he finds himself in scripture, but is not comforted by what he reads.

“Starting with this scripture, Philip proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.” Now Luke doesn’t tell us the specifics of this gospel-telling, but we can imagine. From the mouth of a fellow observer of Torah, the eunuch hears a gospel of embrace. He hears that he belongs fully among the people of Jesus. That the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of this Messiah have meant something for him and for the whole world. That the way of Jesus speaks against the ways in which blood and border define people. That anyone who is baptized dies and is risen into new life with Jesus. That rising out of the water, however one’s body is marked and evaluated by our communities of blood and border, creates a new community of belonging.

Whatever Philip said, the eunuch gets it. And he wants to be baptized. So they get down off the chariot, wade into a nearby stream, and the eunuch is baptized.

That is it. THAT is it. Perhaps in the most mundane detail of the whole narrative, Luke makes the ridiculous, mythical claim that a man unable to produce heirs, a man without a family, with a little water now has siblings, spouses, and children. That’s the crazy.

It’s been five weeks since Easter Sunday. Thankfully the alleluias still ring out each week, but I wonder if you, like me, have already forgotten the absurd and bizarre things we proclaimed at the Easter vigil about our baptism.

“Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ? We will.”

“Baptisand, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. Amen.

“We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.”

We said some crazy things. In our vows and in renewing our baptismal covenant, we proclaimed what we believe God in baptism makes of us– siblings, parents, children of humans that our other communities tell us we have no business with. We belong to each other and to all people in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

It’s good, five weeks out from the Vigil, to be reminded what baptism makes of us.

Especially in a time when cultural storytellers are doing there best to criminalize poverty, in a time when cultural storytellers demonize black lives and justify the murders of black Americans, in a time when cultural storytellers denigrate the lives of migrants, we, members of a majority white church, must be reminded that those storytellers are criminalizing our family, our siblings.

Now I know that, after a while, talking about baptismal identity can start to sound like abstract nonsense. But today’s reading from Acts actually gives us something to make it concrete. The eunuch goes home, to Ethiopia. And so must we.

He goes home, but no longer as one who follows the standards set for him in Ethiopia. The rules of respectability, the customs that distinguish class from class, one part of town from another, education level from education level, normative family arrangement from “the other”. He goes home but with a willingness to risk transgression, to cross boundaries of belonging, to find himself where he is not supposed to be– an official of his rank, living in a house in a neighborhood that does not reflect his income. He goes home with abandon, with a willingness to let go of the things that hedge his privilege because he knows they are his, only at the cost of another’s wellbeing. He goes home, but with a willingness to be misunderstood by all, mistrusted by most, and deemed crazy.

In short, he goes home to the same place but unsettles it. He brings the good news he has heard from Philip and establishes a new community, the church in Ethiopia. And lest we romantically or naively think that is an easy task, let us be assured that is an act of resistance. It demands a willingness to sacrifice deep-seated loves just for the sake of showing someone they are welcome. It is inherently difficult. But it is the life and the joy to which the Spirit called the eunuch and equally calls us.

We, the People of the Advocate, are at an interesting place in this church’s storied, but brief, history. We have a year under our “building” belts, the pond is finally filling back up, and there are prospects of new neighbors and (maybe) new people of the advocate. We’re at a time when our home, which has always been elastic and permeable, may stabilize and settle. And that may not be all bad. But it is precisely at this time and in this community that gathers for the grace received at this table, that we remember that returning home doesn’t mean the same thing any more. “Home” has been redefined. It is no longer the place where your government, your classs, your biological family, or your denomination’s historical identity tells you that you belong. Home is the community of resistance in which God makes new families. Here in this place and out in your world, this is what baptism teaches us about home and belonging.

Talk about a crazy story.

Amen.

a Johnny Tuttle Sermon on Doubt

A sermon offered by Duke Divinity School Intern, Johnny Tuttle, for Easter III,  April 19, 2015.

Oh God,

Sometimes we believe you,

And sometimes we don’t.

And sometimes all we can ask

is that you would help us want to want to believe you.

So, we need you to speak to us

and to be known to us in the breaking of the Bread.

Amen.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

At my private, Christian high school,

we were reacquired to take a Bible class every year.

Each year’s curriculum was different,

but the highlight of the Bible curriculum

was the junior year course on “Apologetics”.

 

All of us 16 year old Christians

wanted to be loaded with ammo

in any event our faith would be under “attack” by –

well, let’s face it –

by “the liberals.”

 

We had statistics and proof texts at our disposal,

and we were fed so-called “facts”

so that we could put our money where our mouth was.

One particularly memorable class period

consisted of watching a video

where a popular minister proof-texted the Quran

to demonstrate the inherent violence of Islam.

(Clearly, he had never read Joshua or Judges).

We had to defend our faith.

 

I don’t want to give the wrong impression.

I am extremely grateful for the love and support

I received from my teachers and classmates in high school.

And despite the fact that many of us would disagree

on nearly everything right now,

I sincerely love them.

 

The reason I bring all of this up

is to point out what I now understand

to be an extreme insecurity among many Christians,

such that many of us feel the need

to engage in certain forms of rhetoric

to prove to someone, anyone, maybe ourselves,

that we do not doubt.

 

So, what does it mean for a Christian to doubt?

The first thing you see on our website is this statement:

“At the Episcopal Church of the Advocate,

we welcome people from every kind of household,

at every stage of life and faith and doubt.”

I want to unapologetically (pun intended) affirm this statement.

 

I suspect many of us here

have not necessarily been tempted

toward the evils of Christian apologetics,

though some of you may have had

a similar experience to my own.

So, I understand that my story

is something of an extreme example.

But, I wonder if I don’t sometimes fall

into the same insecurity

by simply giving it a different name.

 

We may even say we are okay with doubt, with disbelief.

But when we say

we “don’t check our brains at the door,”

what do we mean?

If doubt is seen as uncertainty,

as not having it figured out,

I confess that I have tried

to narrate the church into the accepted forms of “intelligence”

in order ward off this very appearance

of ignorance, uncertainty, and doubt.

 

I am uncomfortable with appearing uncertain,

of allowing myself to doubt.

So, I have uncritically adopted certain positions

in order to defend the church and myself

as a Christian against appearing uncertain or ignorant.

 

To be clear, there are many Christians,

past and present, who have struggled to believe

many of the Church’s doctrines.

But does that doubt lead one

to claim some alternative explanation

from an acceptable, supposedly “unbiased” source –

one proven by “research” and “evidence”?

 

I have too often bought into the myth

that there is such a thing as objective, unbiased fact

in the hope of certainty.

 

To use a recent example –

in order to avoid sounding like Ken Hamm,

I sign off on Bill Nye

without realizing that they’re just two sides

to the same intellectual coin.

 

+++

 

“While in their joy

they were disbelieving and still wondering,

he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’

They gave him a piece of broiled fish,

and he took it and ate in their presence.”

 

Given the anxieties I have tried to name,

these verses from the Gospel story stand out.

He has just shown them the marks of his death,

the scars on his hands and his feet.

Joy begins to spring up among them.

Could this really be him? There is no way!

They continue in their disbelief,

wondering if it is indeed the one they had followed,

the one they had abandoned.

 

This is very similar to the version of this story

in the Gospel of John we heard last week.

But of course, last week we heard

about so-called “doubting Thomas”.

It is quite fashionable now

to second-guess this label for Thomas.

 

I think, at least,

the insecurities I attempted to name earlier

are at work when we designate Thomas as the “doubter”.

His disbelief must be fixed

or else he is unfaithful.

 

But we often forget that Thomas receives nothing more or less

than what the other disciples received as evidence.

They too were shown the scars,

and Thomas asked to see nothing more

than what the others had seen.

 

And while “doubting” Thomas has,

at least in my experience,

been a pejorative designation,

I don’t actually see Jesus treating him

as though this is the case.

 

After all, Thomas is the one

who said earlier in John,

“Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

He has been as loyal to Jesus as the others.

 

But I don’t want to take away

from the fact that Thomas doubted.

Indeed, Jesus confronts Thomas’s doubt

by giving him what he asks for –

he shows him his hands, feet, and side.

And he invites Thomas to feel his wounds

so that he will not doubt anymore.

Jesus patiently reveals himself to Thomas once again,

drawing Thomas once again

into his emphatic belief:

“My Lord and my God.”

 

Our story this week does not single out Thomas.

Instead, the disciples are all together

around the risen body of Jesus,

and they do not believe. They doubt.

They are in disbelief. They think he’s a ghost.

They did not immediately believe

the testimony of the two

who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

 

But Jesus does not rebuke them. He asks for some food.

He is going to stay and eat with them.

He is patient, taking the time to remind them

of what he had taught them,

to tell them the stories once again,

and to share a meal as they had

the night before he was arrested and crucified.

 

Like with Thomas in John’s Gospel,

Jesus does not repudiate their doubt.

Instead, he bears with them,

shows them the signs,

tells them the stories again,

and eats with them.

As I mentioned earlier,

Christians earnestly working out their faith

have struggled with many of the doctrines of the church

at one time or another.

What would it mean for us to sit with the doubt,

Waiting – waiting for Jesus to tell us the stories again,

show us the signs, and eat with us?

 

I think we should resist the urge

to defend our insecurities

with ill-formed arguments on the one hand,

or purportedly “objective” facts on the other.

Certainty becomes an idol we chase after,

because, ultimately, those things that give us certainty

are usually made in our own image.

 

If nothing else, I think this story

puts us in good company –

in the company of the disciples –

as we sit with our doubt and wait on Jesus.

We sit with them three weeks after Easter,

after hearing the incredible,

unbelievable news of the resurrection.

And we are met with both joy

and disbelief at the same time.

We wonder if it can be true,

and yet we gather together

in joyful hope that it might be true.

 

This is the crucial point:

Doubt, or disbelief, is neither the enemy to be feared,

Nor is it an intellectual end in itself.

Rather, it is an invitation to rely

ever more deeply on one another,

and to wait on Jesus to reveal himself to us once again.

It is the space to recognize the grace of our limit,

and that our limit is actually a tent of meeting,

a place of communion.

 

What would it look like for the church

to be a place where joy, disbelief, and wonder

could exist in the same space,

in the presence of Jesus?

What would it look like

to invite both disbelief and faith

into the same space?

 

I know there are more than a few people

who have trouble with many or all of the claims

made in the Nicene Creed.

And if I am honest,

there are days when it’s difficult

for me to say the words.

But we say, “We believe…” rather than “I believe…”

because no one can sustain the faith of the church

on his or her own.

We are mutually dependent on one another

as we work out our faith,

and there are days when all I have

is the brother or sister next to me

reciting the words that I cannot say for myself.

 

As this congregation continues to think

about the Advocate’s goals,

particularly the goal

of supporting one another as a community,

we have to recognize that,

just as “our common life depends on each other’s toil,”

so do we each depend on the faith of the community.

 

As we seek to support one another

in the coming year and beyond,

we are called to bear with one another,

to be signs of faith, hope and love to one another,

to tell the stories again together,

and to share meals with one another.

 

What would it look like for the church

to be a place where joy, disbelief, and wonder

could exist in the same space,

in the presence of Jesus?

What would it look like

to invite both disbelief and faith

into the same space?

 

Even though the disciples were with Jesus

throughout his ministry –

heard his stories, saw his signs, and ate with him –

the risen Jesus confronted the limits of their knowledge

and pressed through the boundaries

they thought were most certain.

But Jesus did not condemn them in their doubt,

nor was he exasperated by their disbelief and wonder.

Instead, he told the stories again,

he showed them the signs again,

and he ate with them once again.

 

Though many of us have followed Jesus

for quite a long time –

we’ve shared the stories with one another,

seen the signs of God’s presence

in both the joy and suffering

of our brothers and sisters,

and we have shared the Eucharist together –

we still sometimes come, perhaps in joy,

but also in disbelief and wonder.

But when we come,

We come around this table

where Jesus greets us saying,

Peace be with you.”

 

And we hear the stories,

we see the signs even as we look at one another

gathered together as the body of Christ,

and we share this meal,

waiting for Jesus to reveal himself to us once again,

that we might know him as he is revealed

in Scripture and in the breaking of the Bread.

 

Be present, be present O Jesus,

as you were present with your disciples. Amen.

 

 

It All Began With a Stone — The Vicar’s Easter Sermon

Easter Day
April 5, 2015
The Advocate
Lisa G. Fischbeck

It all began with a stone.

The story of the resurrection didn’t begin with Jesus appearing to five thousand people and all of them believing. Shazzam!
No.
The story of the resurrection unfolded,
it emerged, in fits and starts over time.
It emerges still.

And it began with Mary Magdelene early in the morning,
going to the tomb where Jesus had been placed.
And the first sign she had that something different was going on
that things weren’t as everyone had expected
was that the stone used to seal the tomb to block the entrance,
had been pushed aside.
Some would say, “rolled away”.

She saw that stone,
and without staying to find out more,
to figure out more,
to hear or see more,
Mary took the information she had and ran and shared it with the others.

And the story unfolds from there.
The details are wonderful.

Peter and another disciple, presumably John,
ran to the tomb.
John ran a little faster and got there first.
Bending down, he looked inside,
something Mary Magdelene had not yet done,
and he saw the cloths that had been wraparound Jesus’ body for burial,
and the cloth that had been placed on his head.
But no Jesus.

Peter finally got there, and went straight into the tomb.
He, too, saw the cloths.
Then, perhaps emboldened by Peter’s courage,
John went into the tomb, too.
Scripture says he saw, and believed.
Though just what he believed isn’t made clear.

John and Peter returned home,
but Mary Magdelene lingered by the tomb.
And she wept.
She wept because she still believed that the body of Jesus had been taken away by some who might not care.
Then, she saw, first two angels who asked her why she was weeping,
then Jesus himself, standing there – though she mistook him for a gardener.
Mary did not know it was Jesus until he called her by name.

The resurrection made plain to her, more or less,
Mary Magdelene went and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord”
and the resurrection story continued to unfold.

It continued to unfold in the days and weeks that followed.
The resurrected Christ appeared fist in one place, then another.
Some believed without seeing,
others needed to see for themselves.
It continues to unfold in the centuries ahead,
as Christians understood, and did not understand
the power and mystery of that resurrection event
in their lives and in the life of the world.
It is a story that continues to unfold today,
in the Church,
in the world,
in your heart, if you will let it.

Which brings me back to the stone.
Some would say that when they think of Easer, they think of a bunny rabbit.
Others would point to other fertility symbols and signs of Spring
Symbols of now and beautiful life,
springing forth out of the ordinary and the plain, out of the seemingly dead –
butterflies, flowers, and the like.
Christians might think of the empty cross,
or of a cross with flowers on it.
The instrument of shameful death, transformed into….
something else.

But I want us all, in the midst of all those other things,
to think about the stone.
Not as a symbol of the resurrection itself.
But as a means of reminding us to open ourselves to the journey,
to persevere with the understanding and knowing and embracing
that life-changing, world-shifting, reality-jolting event.

If we want to persist with an Easter bunny,
perhaps in addition to the jelly beans and fertility symbols,
the Easter bunny might start delivering geodes!
Stones that look like one thing, pain enough.
But on closer inspection,
and with a bit of perseverance and some hard knocks,
reveal entire dimensions, more glorious still.

For the stone in the Easter story reminds us
that there is more going on in this resurrection event than any of us first can grasp or understand.
The stone reminds us
that with God there are possibilities beyond our logic,
beyond our wisdom,
beyond our puny known world.
The stone reminds us
that in the midst of death we are in life.

And because that is so non-sense- ical,
or perhaps because it is so very glory-ous.
sometimes, all we can do to carry the story along…..
is dance:
Christ is risen from the dead
trampling down death by death
and upon those in the tombs
bestowing life.

Alleluia!

Given to Story — an Easter Vigil Sermon by Nathan Kirkpatrick

Given to Story
The Episcopal Church of the Advocate
Easter Vigil 2015

Several months ago, we had one of my housemate’s nephews spend the night with us. He’s at a great age. He’s old enough that he can do a lot for himself, but he’s not so grown up that hanging out with his aunt and her friend is a real drag. After a full afternoon at the fun-park and having watched a movie and eaten more pizza than I thought possible for a child, it was time for bed. He climbed into bed, and in that way that some children do, he said to me, “tell me a story.” So, I read him the book he had brought from home. We finished it, and what did he say? “Tell it again.” So, being slightly gullible and not having children of my own, what did I do? I told it again. We finished it a second time, and what did he say?

To my credit, by the third time I had caught on to his little scheme.

There are stories so good that we hear them and we just say, “oh, tell it again.” There are stories so lovely, so true, so needed that all we can say is “tell it again,” and with childlike wonder, we listen every time it’s told and we lose ourselves in the story. “Oh, tell it again.”

A few years ago in the The New York Times Sunday Review, the Swedish writer Henning Mankell wrote that “a truer [name] for our species than Homo sapiens might be Homo narrans, [story-telling creatures].” Mankell’s argument is not that the biologists are wrong or that we are not thinking creatures, that’s what Homo sapiens means of course, but it is that we are also – and maybe even primarily – story-telling creatures (Homo narrans). We make sense of the world and our place in it through story. It is how we create meaning. It is how we interpret reality. It is how we come to know who we are and why we are. It’s who we are: Homo narrans, the story-telling creature. It is why when we hear a story that we know is good and true we say, “oh, tell it again.”

The literature professor John Niles in a book called Homo Narrans says it this way: “it is through storytelling that people possess a past.” But, it works both ways. In storytelling, we possess a past, but that past possesses us, too. It’s through storytelling that we find an identity. This whole liturgy is an embodiment of that. We tell story after story after story to remind us who we are, whose we are and how we have come to be. Each story is a reminder of the identity of God’s people. Each story is a testament to the enduring and faithful love of God. Each story is an invitation to take our place again in the good work of God in the world. “Oh, tell it again.” It’s through story that we possess a past and that a very particular past and the God of that very particular past lays claim to us.

Tonight, in just a few moments, we will celebrate the baptism of a beautiful baby named Emma Frances. Tonight, in a real way, as she is plunged beneath the waters three times (much to her parents’ chagrin), she is immersed not just in water but in story. “The early church fathers [and mothers] compared the waters of baptism to the [waters of creation], the Red Sea waters [through which the Hebrew people were delivered from Egypt], the water from the rock, the water in which Naaman was immersed [and healed], the water of Mary’s womb, the Jordan River [in which Jesus Himself was baptized], the living water promised to the woman at the well in Samaria, the healing pool of Bethsaida, the water from the side of Christ, and the waters of Paradise” (Hatchett, 253). As the love and grace, peace and mercy of God envelop her in those waters, she is made part of the story of what God has done in the world. In the waters of baptism, we tell it again.

My Church History professor was a wondrous Roman Catholic nun, Susan Keefe. Part of why I loved Dr. Keefe was because she was really less interested in our knowing every date of church history and much more interested in our knowing the stories, the people of church history. I’ll never forget how she began her last lecture. Looking at us, with tears on her face, she said, “A lifetime of reunions awaits you.”

That’s what Emma Frances has to look forward to – a lifetime of reunions with the stories that claim her even as she grows to claim them. That’s what we all have to look forward to. A lifetime of encounters with creation, with flood, and with sacrifice, reunions with pharaoh and deliverance through the Sea, with dead, dry bones that grow flesh and live again. She gets to look forward to enduring friendships with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, with Moses and Miriam, with Isaiah and Jeremiah, with Ruth and Naomi, with Peter and Paul, with the saints down through time. A lifetime of encounters with the God that these stories proclaim. Oh, tell it again.

And each time the stories get told, we wrestle with the past, too. We wrestle with the violence of God’s people. We struggle with the sometimes inscrutable ways of God. We try to hear in some of these words words of life, however faint they may sound. But, in the telling of the stories, the past lays claim to us and we lay claim to it. So, tell it again.

And yet, it is not just the past that lays claim, it is not just the ancient work of God that lays claim to Emma Frances or to any of us tonight, because through story – through the particular story of Easter – God’s future lays claim to us, as well.

I doubt I can ruin this evening’s surprise for you. But consider this a preview of coming attractions.

In the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel according to St Mark, early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women arrive at the tomb of Jesus and they find the stone rolled away. They enter the tomb to a find a young man sitting inside. What they do not see is the body of Jesus. And the young man says to them: “Do not be alarmed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you” (v 7).

Did you hear it? Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.

Jesus, the One that the stories have so often getting there first, once again is going on ahead. Jesus, the One who waited on the shore while the boat was still at sea; Jesus, the One who got to the point in parables that still confound His people; Jesus, the One who chided the slow of heart; this same Jesus, now risen, will go on ahead of the women to Galilee.

The resurrected Jesus will go on ahead of us, too, outpacing us, calling us into God’s future. The point of the story of Easter is not to linger at a tomb that is empty. The point is to go, go faithfully forward, to head in the direction that the Risen Christ is leading. Risen from the dead, Jesus is now leading into the future that only God dreams possible. Oh, tell it again.

In that old play by John Masefield, The Trial of Jesus, the centurion who oversaw Jesus’ crucifixion reports back to Pilate. Pilate’s wife, you remember who had dreamed about Jesus the night before his sentencing, asks the centurion to describe the death of Jesus. In the play, after listening to his report, she asks, “Do you think he’s dead?” “No, my lady, I don’t,” says the centurion. “He’s been let loose in the world where neither Roman nor Jew can stop him.” Oh, tell it again.

The story that claims us tells us that the Risen Christ is out ahead of us, let loose in the world, leading us into a future beyond hatred and bloodshed, beyond poverty and prison. Jesus goes ahead of us into a future that cannot be defined by death or grief or loss. Jesus goes before us into a future of peace and love, justice and truth, restoration and reconciliation.

And the story says that He is waiting for us there. Tell it again. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unitive Seeing — The Vicar’s Palm Sunday Sermon

A sermon offered by the Vicar, The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck, Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015, @TheAdvocate 

 

It’s a lot to take in.

And it happens pretty fast.

It’s as if we are being liturgically jerked around.

We start with the glorious re-membrance of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

We become the crowd, you and I.

We take up our palm branches and we sing triumphantly.

“Hosanna Glory, hosanna Glory.

Jesus is coming oh yes I know…”

 

A little awkward perhaps, but certainly fun.

And maybe we connect just a bit

to that happy day,

when the crowds were really excited to see Jesus,

to be near Jesus,

to follow Jesus.

He is loving and kind, on the side of the oppressed, compassionate, wise.

And he heals.

He heals us and makes us whole.

“Hosanna Glory, Hosanna Glory.”

 

But … awkward though it is,

fun though it is,

it doesn’t last.

The liturgy tones down,

a lot,

and we tone down with it.

Crucify him!

And he breaths his last….

 

This is a yo-yo of a liturgy.

Barely do we take our seats

and the triumphal cheers become the sordid jeers.

“Crucify him!”

we shout.

And maybe we connect just a bit

with our very human part in his demise.

 

Time was, the liturgy for Palm Sunday didn’t include the story of Jesus’ death,

what we call the Passion Narrative.

The palm and passion Sundays got blended in the mid-20th century.

But they stay blended even now,

to be sure that folks who miss out on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday still get to hear the story of the crucifixion

before they slide too quickly into Easter and the celebration of the resurrection!

 

But this dual focus, compromised though it is,

can really preach.

Because as we re-member the crowd shouting Hosanna one day

and Crucify Him! a few days later,

it helps us more fully to understand the Way of Jesus.

And the Way we are to walk if we are to follow him.

 

In our lives,

in our world,

We are ever tempted to default into dual thinking –

good – bad

desirable – undesirable

right – wrong

orthodox – heresy.

 

But instead of dualities,

the Christian faith calls us to,

what Cynthia Bourgeault calls

“a non-dual consciousness”,

or unitive seeing.

Bourgeault is speaking of the unity between the mystical and the mundane,

the cosmic and the earthbound.

But unitive seeing can get us beyond a lot of dualities that tempt us,

can help us walk the Way of Jesus the Christ.

 

 

Much of Christian faith and life is lived between two apparently contradictory realities, claims, or practices.

The most blatant, of course,

being our claim that Jesus is as once fully human and fully divine.

But there are many.

Wise and innocent, for example.

You know, “wise as serpents, innocent as doves”.

In time, temporal,

and beyond time, eternal.

The Kingdom of God has come

but it’s not here yet.

On a more present and practical level,

last week some of us talked about the way that good liturgy is highly planned,

but also spontaneous.

 

As Anglican Christians, we walk a peculiar way

between Roman Catholic and Protestant.

A chunk out of each, yet also something new.

 

Christianity in general,

and Anglican Christianity in particular,

is not a faith for those who like things black and white, yes or no, clear and simple.

 

Except for the one unitive claim that is as clear and simple as can be:

God is love,

loving us

and calling us to love one another.

No nuance in that.

Nothing gray about it.

But to walk the Way of love compels us regularly

to walk in creative tension between two apparent opposites or dualities.

Like Jesus today,

like Jesus this week.

Hosanna!

Crucify him!

 

Richard Rohr describes the Way of Jesus this week as a unitive way between flight and fight

saying,

Jesus’ passion and death exemplified in dramatic theater a “third way,” which is neither fight nor flight,

but a little of both.

It is fleeing enough to detach oneself from excessive ego and the emotions that attach to it

and fighting just enough to stand up courageously against evil.

 

….fleeing enough to detach oneself from excessive ego and the emotions that attach to it

This could be called making oneself vulnerable.

 

and fighting just enough to stand up courageously against evil.

This could be called being strong.

 

Fleeing and fighting.

Vulnerable, yet strong,

open, yet determined.

 

We have a lot to emulate here.

I know I do.

Situations and circumstances arise

which tempt us to go or only see one clear way or another,

to assume one behavior or another.

 

But for those who have been baptized into the life, death, and resurrection

of Jesus the Christ,

somewhere between “Hosanna” and “Crucify Him”,

We are called to walk a different way.

And it isn’t always clear

and it isn’t always easy.

 

As Christians, we are called to seek the Way of Jesus,

the Way where the Holy and the human touch.

We are called to live our lives

walking the way of the cross –

which means, among other things,

that we are to be vulnerable, yet strong,

mindful of others, trusting in God.

Some call it resilience,

others perseverance.

 

It is true as we relate one human to another

It is true as we strive to be a community of Christians relating to each other …..as a community of Christians!

And it is true for us each as Christian individuals

or as a Christian community

relating to the wider world.

Vulnerable, yet strong,

mindful of others, trusting in God.

We will be hurt,

but love bids us to keep going,

keep going.

And we do

because Jesus walked that Way before us.

 

This day,

this Holy Week,

Let us walk the Way together

You and I.

In the Name of Jesus the Christ.

AMEN.

John 3:16. A Johnny Tuttle Sermon

A Sermon Offered by Johnny Tuttle, Duke Divinity School Intern
Lent IV
March 15, 2015

Almighty God,
Since the beginning this Holy Lent,
we have remembered that we are dust
and to dust we shall return.
Now, O God, we ask with your faithful Psalmist
that you remember we are dust;

O God,
remember and Love the dust of this world
so that we might love it as well.
Amen.

_______________

You would think that John 3:16
would be a piece of cake for the preacher.
This, my dear friends, is false.
Because it is so well known,
it is incredibly intimidating.
I am charged with speaking about a verse
(or set of verses)
many of you know by memory
and perhaps knew before you stepped foot in church.
So, I face the possibility that one or more of you
might think whatever I might have to say about it
is unnecessary and/or pedantic.

Yet, while I am concerned with this possible reception,
I have some questions about the way we have read
and continue to read these verses,
particularly in light of our Lenten frame of reference.

I wonder whether we are even acquainted
with the dust to which we are so deeply bound.
Do we know what we mean when we say, “love”,
let alone that God “loves”?

Throughout this past year,
it has become more apparent to me
that we are so alienated from the world –
from the earth and one another as God’s creatures –
that we have no idea what it might mean for God to love the world.

Similarly, “belief” has been drained of all its concrete implications.
I fear we have reduced “belief”
to an individual’s opinion or conceptual assent.
And this belief is vaguely related to the nebulous idea of “eternal life”.
In both cases, belief and love become abstract concepts
without any concrete articulation.
And our belief in this love
anticipates some kind of future reward – eternal life –
that we suppose is great
(but we secretly fear will be super boring)
Ultimately, these abstract categories
threaten to render this passage nearly vacuous.

To complicate matters a bit more,
while God indeed loves the world,
we live in a world within a world –
a world of our own construction.
We have alienated ourselves from God’s creation
by constructing synthetic institutions and systems
of alternative mediation.
We work within processes and bureaucracies
that dictate the ways we relate to one another.
They mediate for us.
We who are bound to the dust,
who come from and return to the dust,
have constructed modes of relating
that fundamentally alienate us
from God’s dusty, beloved creation.
I’ll share some examples:

In our globalized economy,
money is the almighty mediator
between the gift of God’s creation
and the work of human hands.
Many of us are well acquainted
with the way those who grow and pick our food
struggle under this unmerciful mediation.

The value of the care and attention given to the plant
is marked by a number driven by market demand
rather than the need of the farmworker.
Similarly, we consume the food
without having to actually know who grew it,
where it came from, or how it was grown.
All we have to know is the dollar amount assigned to it.
Money itself is an alienating mediator.

Or we might consider the tragic events
in Ferguson, Missouri this past week.
Two officers were shot and wounded
in a city that has been the epicenter of the movements
of protest against racial injustice in this country.

We must both lament the violence
suffered by these two police officers
and stand in solidarity with those
who are subject to the racial injustice
created through the system of so-called “law and order”.

Such a system is presented as a given, a necessary mediator.
We assume we need it to maintain the peace.
Moreover, “law and order”, as a system,
exists as something more fundamental
than the people who participate in it.
It is a socially constructed ideal
with underlying biases and prejudices
imposed as a necessary absolute
mediating between officer and protester.
So, it may be the case
that the racial injustice felt by so many of our brothers and sisters,
is built into this system that creates
the alienating space for dehumanization and violence.

And, at the risk of being labeled a fanatic,
I have to mention the so-called criminal justice system once again.
Both victim and perpetrator
Are victimized by the alienating mediation
of the state or federal government.

The victim and perpetrator rarely encounter one another
After the initial incident,
Because the crime is ultimately against the state
Rather than against another person.
The personal and social consequences of an offense
are rarely confronted by the offender
and the victim is left to navigate
the bureaucratic hell that is the Criminal Justice System.

But this way of seeing one another runs back as far as that first garden.
Through the deception of the serpent,
Adam and Eve begin to see one another as obstacle rather than gift.
“That woman you gave me…”, Adam says.
“But the serpent…” says Eve.

No longer speaking to one another.
Only speaking about one another.
God’s creatures speaking of one another in the third person,
Speaking about one another as objects rather than beloved gifts.

How can we who are so alienated from one another,
who have learned to see one another as objects,
who have lost sight of one another as gifts,
who have disdained the dust from which we came, –
how can we begin to love one another as God’s beloved creatures
who believe, trust, and participate in God’s love in Christ?

It may help to reimagine what this famous Gospel text is saying.
How do we understand the “belief” spoken of in these verses –
“so that everyone who believes in him
may not perish but may have eternal life?”
What is this belief? What does this mean?

If you are anything like me,
this has meant a kind of rational assent
to a set of ideas about Jesus or God.
If I just think the right things about Jesus,
if I can just wrap my head around the doctrine of the Atonement,
then I’ll be saved.
This “rationalist approach” terrifies me.
What about those who are cognitively differently abled,
those whose memories are not what they used to be,
or children who rely on the patience and faith of their parents?

Putting stock in a “think your way to Jesus” plan of salvation,
is a far too limited account of God’s love for the world.
So I think, at least at this point in my life,
I really want to resist this understanding of “belief”.
But the modern narrative of “reason” and “rational thought”
has done a number on a lot of us.

We may do well to recover what is lost in translation:
That is, that “belief” and “faith” are translated from the same word.
So, when I hear this famous chunk of the Gospel,
I want to think of it in terms of “fidelity” or “trust” –
something that is time-tested and relational.

An alternative might be:
“This is how God loves the world: God gave God’s only Son,
that those who are faithful or who trust in him
might not perish, but would have life eternal.”

Now, this New International Johnny Tuttle Bible translation
still doesn’t answer all my questions.
Part of being “faithful in Christ”,
if we are to accept my interpretive translation,
is knowing what that fidelity actually looks like.

I had a professor in college put it this way:
“I can tell you and explain to you the concepts of what I believe.
But if you really what to know what I believe, what I trust in,
follow me around for a few days.”

Describing belief in terms of trust and fidelity
puts it on the ground, makes it immanent.
And if it is this belief – or trust – that brings life eternal,
it may mean life eternal is closer
than we may have once thought it to be.
“…Everyone who believes in him may not perish
but may have eternal life.”
When God gives God’s son,
life eternal presses into the world as an immanent reality and free gift.
It does us no good to think of eternal life
as something in the far off, distant future
It is something God has brought to us in Christ
And we are invited to join it, to participate in it now.

But what does this “life eternal” look like?
How do we live in such a way that we participate
in the life eternal God has already given in Christ?
How do we “believe” on the ground?

I think it has something to do with seeing how God loves the world.
And yet “How” God loves the world
is not so much a “how” but a “who?”
That is, God’s love comes to the world
in the person of Jesus Christ.

If we are to be those who are faithful in Christ,

if we are created in Christ for good works,

our fidelity as disciples depends on the perfect fidelity of Christ

to God’s love for the whole world

Here, we can look to First John 3:16.

 

“This is how we know what love is:

Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.

And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

 

The love of God and the faithfulness of Jesus are one and the same.

God’s love looks like Jesus.

To “believe” – to trust and be faithful –

we are called to participate in the love of God

manifest in Christ Jesus through the gift of the Spirit.

 

Similarly, First John chapter 4 says,

“Dear friends, let us love one another,

for love comes from God.

Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

Whoever does not love does not know God,

because God is love.

 

This is how God showed his love among us:

He sent his one and only Son into the world

that we might live through him.

This is love: not that we loved God,

but that he loved us and sent his Son

as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

 

Dear friends, since God so loved us,

we also ought to love one another.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another,

God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

 

If we are to believe, and therefore participate

in the immanent life eternal given in Jesus Christ,

we must participate in the love of God in Christ

poured into our hearts by the Spirit –

the Love with which God loves the world.

 

We look to Jesus to see the love of God for us,

We look to Jesus to see our love as creatures for God

And we look to Jesus to see one another as God’s creatures.

“This is how we know what love is:

Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.

And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

 

So we look to Jesus, who gives his life eternal to us

in this Bread of Life and in this Cup of Salvation

In these simple elements of bread and wine

The Incarnate God comes to us as a dust-bound, dirt-borne gift,

Revealing to us and for us the extent of God’s love for the world.

 

We who come to this table draw near to Jesus,

we draw near to one another to be joined by Christ in the Spirit.

And though the serpent in the garden alienated us from one another,

the Body and Blood of Christ are lifted up

in the elements of bread and wine

just as Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness.

There we behold what we are, and we become what we receive,

that we might behold one another, no longer as alienated strangers

but as beloved creatures and gifts to one another in Christ.

 

And from this table, we are called into the world that God loves.

We are called to one another as people of the Advocate,

to support one another in our various and common ministries

caring for one another as each has need.

We are called to our neighbors in the Rogers Road Community,

developing sincere and vulnerable friendships

that we might see one another as beloved creatures and gifts.

Finally, we are called to love, not by our own strength

But by that very love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit,

The love with which God loves the world

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holiness of Life: The Vicar’s Sermon for Lent III

The following is a sermon offered by the Vicar, The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck, on March 8, 2015. Year B – Lent III. At The Advocate

Jesus is really ticked off.

No meek and mild, milk toast fellow he.

Turning over tables,

thrashing a whip.

More physical expression of anger in this story than most of us have ever had,

or ever will.

Scary, perhaps,

But it’s kind of liberating, isn’t it?

Heck, if Jesus can get that mad, maybe it’s okay for us to get mad, too.

 

Of course,

we do well to ask ourselves just what it is that has him so worked up.

And to ask ourselves what the story has to say to us here in this little temple.

Taking him at his word, the flash point for Jesus’ anger,

seems to be the presence of those who are selling animals in the temple.

Animals, presumably, to be used for ritual sacrifices,

not farming,

(though the story doesn’t say that directly).

Cattle, sheep and doves are being sold in the temple.

“Take these things out of here!” he shouts.

“Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

 

I guess we can take solace in knowing that we aren’t selling cattle, sheep and doves here.

We’re not even selling the bread and wine for our ritual sacrifice.

Or indulgences,

or the best seats in the house.

So, is that the end of the story?

Solace that we aren’t as inducing of Jesus’ anger as those sellers were back then?

 

Of course…. the pairing of this Gospel story with the Exodus reading that gives us the so-called 10 Commandments

may be worth some consideration.

No, we are not selling cattle here.

But what are we doing?

And is it good?

Would Jesus have any admonitions for any of us here?

for all of us?

 

This is Lent, after all.

—————-

Now, I am a believer in the importance of paying attention to confluences

to the ways in which things come our way from a variety of sources

to shape our actions or our thoughts.

When streams or trends or circumstances come together in a certain time or place,

I believe God is calling us to take heed.

 

The Advocate itself was born of such confluence.

Three established churches ready to work together,

a new bishop eager to start new congregations in the Diocese,

a region growing in population.

a priest with a particular set of skills and history,

a particular people feeling called to make a new church together.

Beauty!

 

The past few weeks I’ve experienced a confluence of influence and thought about God and church and people.

And it’s starting to sink in….

 

1) It started with Nathan sending pages of a book by Timothy Sedgwick, a professor at Virginia Theological Seminary. Nathan had to read this book by Sedgwick as part of his training to become an Episcopal priest. It’s called The Christian Moral Life, and it has a wizz bang chapter on “The Anglican Perspective”.

In it, Sedgwick reminds us that for Anglicans, and therefore for those of us Anglicans who are Episcopalians, faith is not so much a matter of right belief. Faith is not a check box form with things you are supposed to believe in order to be a Christian. Rather, faith is something formed in community and in worship.

It is “practical”, (as in practiced), and it is a way of life.

Christian faith is a life lived in the presence of God, directed to God, aware of God.

Christian faith is marked, not by a list or a rulebook,

but instead, by holiness of life.

 

That’s why the Creed is best sung, not said.

Because when it is sung, it is more likely to be experienced as a love song,

a love song sung by the community gathered to worship God together.

Rather than a bold declaration of “our way or the highway”.

 

2) The next element of this season’s confluence

is the way that the society of St. John the Evangelist is using this Season of Lent at a time to call our attention to the gift of time and how we use that gift.

Paul Marvin and Char Sullivan are leading us in conversations here at the Advocate,

based on the SSJE videos week by week.

In those reflections we are reminded, first one way, then another,

that we are given a choice about how we will use our time,

how we will direct our yearnings,

how we will enter into any given experience of life.

Again, this is a call to a holy life,

using our time, or at least some smidgeon of it

to direct our lives to God.

 

Then 3) Bishop Curry came our way on Lent One,

and preached the Gospel according to Jimi Hendrix:

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power

then the world will know peace”.

The Bishop pointed out that this is deeply reminiscent of how Jesus yearns for us to live our lives,

“Love the Lord your God with all you heart, mind and soul,

and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Love the Lord your God more than power,

more than money,

more than rules and societal norms.

 

No wonder Jesus was mad when he saw the temple full of activity that screamed otherwise.

Where’s the love??

 

4) Last week, Nathan, no doubt influenced by the same book by Timothy Sedgwick, Nathan reminded us that the way of faith is to follow Jesus the Christ,

not the rules that have grown up around the faith through the millennia,

but Jesus.

This is not to say that certain rules and disciplines might not help us to focus our attention on God.

But all too swiftly, the rules and disciplines can become ends in themselves,

rather than a holy life lived.

 

5) Last, this week I have been re-reading a book Hilda Bukoski gave me three years ago,

the last time the so-called Ten Commandments came up on the Sunday readings.

It’s called…. The Ten Commandments: Laws of the Heart, and it is written by Joan Chittister.

One of the things that Chittister points out is that the writing on the tablets of stone are only called “commandments” once in scripture – in Exodus 34.

And, she says, they “are not actually statutes, because there is no punishment for disobeying them.”

More accurately, and way more often, the writing on the tablets of Moses are called the “Decalogue”

or Ten Words.

They are words, she says, that describe a holy people,

words that describe those who live a holy life in relationship with God.

We are not so much to be convicted by them

as we are to be transformed by them.

Because God created us for love,

and has delivered us from bondage.

God has freed us up to love God and to love our fellow human beings.

We, when we turn to God,

will be transformed by a life lived in holiness.

a life lived with “singleness of heart”.

Boom!

 

Do you see the confluence?

1) The study of the Anglican perspective,

2) the little SSJE videos,

3) Bishop Curry’s sermon, 4) Nathan’s sermon,

5) Hilda’s book.

They all call us to assume,

that is, to put on,

a garment of mindfulness,

being aware of being in the presence of God.

They call us put on a headscarf of intentionality in thought,

a willingness to be transformed by life lived with God.

 

In times of solitude,

then, too, in the fleshiness of community,

in daily routine,

then, too, in Sunday worship,

we are given the opportunity to see the gift of God

and to receive it,

aware that,

as expressed in the newly released Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,

“there is no present like the time.”

—————————-

Yeah, Jesus was really pissed off when he saw the animals being sold in the Temple and the people buying and selling with oblivion.

Given what we know about anger,

being the 21st century psychologically savvy people that we are,

we know that anger is very often an outgrowth of grief,

or a cover for grief.

So Jesus’ anger makes a whole lot of sense.

Jesus is angry, yes,

because it’s got to grieve his heart when God’s people persistently ignore the simple invitation,

the offer of the gift,

to draw nearer to God,

to be aware of God’s presence in all of life,

to love and be loved by God.

It’s got to grieve Jesus’ heart

when God’s people instead busy themselves with the busyness and false promises of the day.

“Buy this cow and your life will be better!”

“Keep browsing the internet and you will be satisfied!”

“Don’t stop what you’re doing

or you may feel sad,

or lonely,

or inadequate.

So just keep doing it, whatever it is!

Bzzzz, Bzzzzz, Bzzzzz.

 

The call to have no other God but Yahweh,

is not a threat to punish those who don’t believe each phrase of the Creed.

Rather it is an invitation for us to examine whatever it is

that we say and have and do

that gets in the way of our mindfulness,

our intention,

our seriously seeking God.

And Jesus’ anger,  Jesus’ grief,

are not unleashed with narcissistic rage

or exaggerated by manipulative tears,

or controlling cruelty.

No.

They are genuine,

born of a vision, a hope, a deep, deep desire

for us to live life in true joy and peace.

“Come on, you all!” he is saying.

These animals are not what matters!

Even this Temple can be destroyed.

 

God is what matters.

Your life with God… matters.

 

Jesus calls us o’er the tumult.

God bids us to rest … in God.

The Church invites us to be … together,

and discover what it means.