Monday, September 12, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011: Forgiveness

Jesus will share with us his ability to forgive.

Pentecost Thirteen:
Proper 19A RCL : 10th Anniversary of 9/11
Exodus 14:19-31 :Psalm 114: Romans 14:1-12 ;Matthew 18:21-35

Our Gospel is a powerful story about forgiveness. We connect both to the person who is forgiven and to the person who is not. We have all been there. And we connect to the one who forgives and the one who does not forgive. Again, we have all been there. And though I do not think any of us have literally spent time in jail, there are times we have all been metaphorically in prison because we were not forgiven, and I imagine we have jailed many people ourselves because we have not forgiven others.

Let's examine some of the teaching about forgiveness in our tradition.. First, forgiveness is not the same as repentance Forgiveness is when we let go of a wrong and give a person a future.
Repentance is when a person is sorry for a wrong and desire forgiveness. There is no reconciliation between two people without both forgiveness and repentance

We are called to forgive, and we are called to repent. There is no reconciliation, the relationship is not truly whole, until there is reconciliation and the relationship is restored.

However just because someone shows no sign of repentance we are still asked to forgive right away so that it is available as soon as a person might repent. The truth is, if we do not learn to forgive, it will eat us up.

As Christians we are called to be very intentional about both forgiveness and repentance, and both forgiveness and repentance demand the virtue of humility, and the suppression of pride. Love requires us to admit our faults in relationships and seek forgiveness when we need to, and Love requires us to be forgiving, and to desire reconciliation..

Peter is wrestling with this. So when someone offends us how many times will we forgive them... Seven times? Okay, Peter is ready to forgive, but the question is, does it ever run out. Can my patience wear thin? Is there a point where I don't forgive.

Jesus's answer is we forgive seventy times seven times. We forgive as often as it is necessary. St. Augustine of Hippo and the early church theologian Chromotius both see in this parable, in the seventy times seven and in the 10,000 talents a symbol of the sin of the whole world throughout time. If we forgive on this same scale, it means that we forgive just as Jesus forgives, the whole world, without exception, without reservation. If we need to see how costly that forgiveness might be we need look only at the Cross.

Do you feel daunted by such a demand? To forgive all the world? And on this anniversary of 9/11 isn't it hard to forgive those who act in such cold-blood. Yes it is. It is for me. It is practically impossible. The cruelty and wickedness of human beings can drive us beyond anger even into rage, deep hurt and grief.

The ability to forgive in this way is not humanly possible.

That is why we do not try to do it on our own strength. We confess to God that we are unable, and we ask for God to give us the strength to be forgiving in this way. We must look to Jesus on the Cross who is ready to forgive us the sin of the world.

We look to Jesus for our forgiveness, and we look to Jesus for the forgiveness of the world. Perhaps I am not able at this time to forgive, but I turn to Jesus and I opt for him, not for myself. I choose his behavior, his way of life, not mine.
We can look to the wisdom of our teachers in the faith from our tradition for help how we might open ourselves to that power. The tradition recommends, sit down, breath, pause, and be aware of the presence of God.

There is no better course of action when we experience extreme and disturbing events. Pause.. "Be still and know that I am God" the Psalms tell us. The Holy Spirit is here always, and when we pause to remember that, to let it penetrate the deep places in our heart, we connect to the power of Jesus, we can live according to his ways, and not our own.
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote a book, "Writing in the dust" and he said in response to the evil destruction inflicted on the victims of the World Trade Center we must pause, in order to connect to the Spirit of God. And from there respond.

I reviewed so much about September 11, 2011 in preparation for today, and I so want to share a story, but I don't have time now. It is about two people who paused on 9/11 inside the towers themselves. One survived and one did not. Both paused because they were in the process of helping someone else escape. I hope you will ask me about it, because I so want to mediate on these two stories.

As we remember 9/11 today we too will pause. We grieve for those who have died and those who lost loved ones. We grieve for our nation and we attempt to make sense of the events that have transpired since that day. We have anger at those who would take the lives of others, and even do it in the name of God. Today, we will pause and connect to God. We are invited to choose Jesus's way, and to open ourselves up to what that might mean, by being still. In our silence we ask for the love and the wisdom of Jesus.

After the creed we will have a special form of the prayers of the people. We will enjoy a long long silence and during that time all are invited to come and light a votive light. We light these lights as a prayer, and we also light these candles with the prayer that our heart and life may become a candle for the world giving off the light of Christ. In the name

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sunday, September 4, 2011: Proper 18A

Our first reading is about the Passover, the sacred meal the Israelites had on the night before they were let go from Israel. It is an eire passage as the angel of death slips through the city taking the lives of the firstborn. The Israelites were spared because they marked their lintels with blood, a sign that they were trying to follow the instructions of God.
The Egyptians had enslaved the Israelites for 400 years, but do you think the Egyptians were happy? When they had the children of Israel as their slaves?
Maybe they didn't realize they had a problem, but I think on the deep level they could not have been happy.
I say that because of my experience of the South. I saw recently the movie the Help. It describes the life of black housekeepers who care for little white children while someone else is at home taking care of their own.
The white people thought everything was great, but black people were underpaid, overworked, and treated as second class human beings. White people had a master lifestyle on a craftsman salary because black people did the hard work for very little pay.
White people thought they were happy, but that is not the truth. There was a cancer eating away at the very center of their humanity. Christ teaches us that God is love, and to know God we must love our sisters and brothers. However, many white people did not even recognize their brother and sister around them. The true beauty of humanity as God intended it was becoming shriveled up, black and putrid.
They walked in delusions and ir-realities. They are most to be pitied.
So, No, I do not believe the Egyptians were happy. They thought they were happy. Just like someone who lives in a palace but does not understand that the structure of the house is about to collapse on them and ruin them forever.
No they were, crippled versions, of humanity Something had gone wrong so that they preferred cruelty to kindness, oppression to cooperation. And they even held onto those slaves, despite countless plagues. God showered them with frogs, fiery hail, gnats, lice, locusts. God turned their river to blood, covered their body in boils, and sent darkness to cover the earth.
And still they did not relent, not until they lost their firstborn, sadly representing the truth that our refusal to reform leads not only to our own suffering but to that of those whom we love also.
Sadly I think this is the human condition. We can see the cracks forming in our life as we lead it, and yet we will continue living the same way. It takes a situation where we lose practically everything before we will listen to God, and understand that our life depends on God and that the only satisfying way to lead life is to love.
Paul writes in his Epistle today "Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Now love is not a smile and a sweet "Hello". Love is arranging our lives so that it respects and serves our neighbor. We design our lives so that we seek the good of all people. Love recognizes that we are all bound to one another and that our life as we live it impacts the lives of others.
My purchases help support an economic system which depends on cheap labor in the third world. We could begin to make all our own clothing like Ghandi, or we could work hard to promote justice for the people who make our clothes. Love requires some response.
This is why the church has adopted to support the Millennium Development Goals. These goals were developed by a United Nation commission and have won widespread support from the world's religious communities. They are to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, to achieve universal primary education, to promote gender equality and empower women, to reduce childhood mortality rates, improve maternal health, combat diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, to develop a global partnership for development.
Our parish participates in the Carpenter's kids program which is inspired by these goals. We promote people to support Episcopal Relief and Development buy buying gifts from their catalog such as chickens and seeds and mosquito nets for those in need. And this year our Sunday School is going to raise money towards an ER-D project.
This is how we love. We acknowledge that we are all in relationship in this world, and we try to lead lives that are faithful to those relationships. And we know that we need forgiveness for we are slow to change, and sometimes halfhearted in our attempts to love. It is not easy.
Our gospel reading today talks about a process or reconciliation in the community when there is conflict. When a party feels wronged they are invited to talk to the person. This is something that takes great courage. To go to someone whom you feel has wronged you, and to seek reconciliation. I find this daunting. I come from a conflict averse family. We tend to walk away and never talk to such a person, cowering in anger and fear. But as we try to build a church, a restored humanity in Christ, we must make an effort to resolve our conflicts. Otherwise they work against all we try to do. Hard stuff.
I believe the Civil rights movement lead by Martin Luther King, Jr. was such an effort. Black people confronted white people with how they were being treated and demanded redress to their grievances.
I think the Millennium development goals reflect the same process. Representatives from all over the world asked, why should a baby raised in the West never know hunger, and a child born in another part of the world never have enough? Is this love? Is this justice?
The same is true here in our country. To owe someone love, to be reconciled to our neighbor involves us knowing about our community and our world and finding ways to respond to its needs. That is love.
The night that the angel of death passed through the streets the Israelites shared a sacred meal. The next day they left slavery for freedom. We come here each week bringing to Christ our stories of a world which needs so much love, and fed at this table, we are sent out to love that world. As we do this the heart in our breasts is healed slowly. We begin to be less focused on self, and we can begin to turn our eyes towards others and show them love through our actions and our deeds. This is how we too find freedom.
In the name....

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sermon given March 27, 2011: Living Water

PROPERS Exodus 17:1-7; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42; Psalm 95


Mmmmm. Living water welling up in us to everlasting life. That sounds good.

Do you feel any admiration for this Samaritan woman at the well? She answers and engages in conversation as an equal. I detect a little bit of playfulness in the conversation. Do you think I am imagining it? Sir, you have no bucket. How will you draw water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us the well?

The conversation is very mixed. In the course they talk about history.. It was Jacob who gave us this well. Jesus brings up her personal life. They talk about prejudice: You, a Jew, are asking me for a drink. She brings up theology. Jesus teaches that the time is coming when the true worshippers will worship the Father not in a specific time and place but in spirit and in truth. National pedigree, race, gender will not matter. What will matter if a person comes in spirit and in truth. If a person can be really who they are before God. There is self disclosure. "I have not husband." "I am the Messiah."

We often focus on this story being about Jesus' willingness to transgress conventional boundaries in order to include people, and it is that. He goes to Samaria. A no-no. He talks to a woman. A no-no. He drinks from an implement a Samaritan has used, a no-no. Jesus sees all people as his friends.

But this time, I was struck that this story as a moment of encounter and fellowship. It is an informal, every day, normal getting a drink kind of moment. How many times does one drink water in an arid climate? Eight? Twelve? It is like the proverbial water cooler., a place of conversation and community. This exchange where walls between two people were broken down, and where the gracious presence of God became known, happened in a very ordinary conversation at a drinking hole. We should not be confused by the fact it is a holy story. The event is like events we experience every day..

What they did also reminds me of our worship. We come to this table each week to encounter God. To give thanks for our life, for our salvation, to ask assistance both for ourselves and the world. We sit down and we engage in a ritual conversation. We read stories and reflect on our spiritual journey as a people. Then we engage in a meal with God where we give ourselves to God who transforms that gift (us) into the Body of Christ and gives it (us) back to us. In this Eucharist, in the holy conversation and in this holy meal God enters our lives making us into the saints, the people who go out into the world and show and discover his presence all around..

Our worship is a rehearsal for our life. The next thing we do right after this service is also very sacred. We go to coffee hour. There at coffee hour we practice doing in our day to day life the things Jesus and this woman did at the well, the things we do sacramentally in the Eucharist. We care for one another by sharing sustenance. We tell stories. We make friends with people we would not ordinarily associate with. As we grow closer we share the secrets and challenges of our lives. We talk about theology, what is a good and a wholesome and a spiritual life in the midst of a world that seems so crazy? And we discover in each other the face of Christ.

Can you think of a time where you were nourished by a time in fellowship with others? Have you ever felt known or healed from your encounter with others? Did you ever find a spring of water welling up inside you in the love you found in the seemingly ordinary activities of friendship?

We sometimes despair of finding spiritual nourishment, but the truth is it can be found all over. The people in our Old Testament lesson were worried about having enough water, but God told Moses to strike a rock. A rock? okay, dig a well maybe, but hit a rock with your staff? Say what? But when Moses did, the water flowed. God can satisfy our longings in the most surprising places.

Christ is there to be found everywhere we go. We are taught in Matthew chapter twenty-five that whenever we care for those in dire need we do it to Christ. And the Apostles told us that we should show hospitality and kindness to strangers because many have entertained angels, messengers from God, and even Christ himself. Christ comes to us, speaks to us, ministers to us in our lives through other people. Our Christian life is a growing in seeing all of life, all it's interactions with other people, as encounters with God. through listening to people's stories of joy and sorrow, by sharing our bread and drink with them, by imitating Christ's example of care and witness, we see all of life transformed into worship of God and communion in Christ.

We will read soon of the two disciples walking to Emmaus when they encounter a stranger. They begin speaking about all that happened to Jesus of Nazareth and the conversation turns to scripture. When they break bread they recognize Jesus with them and they say to each other, did not our hearts burn within us along the road? I feel like this happens often at our Bible Studies, and our Souper Spiritualities, here at St. John's. Our hearts are warmed and our souls feel nourished. Sometimes I think we cheat ourselves by not talking about God enough because so often when we do we come alive. And I don't mean just the simple things we sometimes say like, "well it is in God's hands" or "God is good." Those are good things to say. But I mean why not find times to wrestle with the deeper questions such as Jesus and this Samaritan woman discussed.

Where can we enjoy pondering on the grace and goodness of God? There are springs of living water waiting for us to chance upon them.

St. Paul writes to us in today's reading that the love of God has been poured into our lives, through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. This love of God, this Holy Spirit is with us always, in all we do, at home, at work, we need only look in order to find.

If there is anything to focus on in Lent, in this time when we examine our lives and repent of those harmful things we do to ourselves or others, as we try to focus on doing those wholesome things that we neglect, it is good to resolve to keep our eyes open for Christ in our encounters with others. To be prepared not only to minister to others, but to recognize when we are being ministered unto. It is good to see that all of Life becomes the Eucharist, a sharing of life giving stories, ours and others, and a sharing of nurturing food and drink. As we say to each other in the Liturgy. The Lord be with you. And also with you. May we notice that he actually is. Every moment of our lives. There is a spring of water welling up in us. Let us open the eyes of our heart and see it, and open the lips of our heart to taste its freshness with great gladness.

(The beautiful photograph is provided by Samurai / Thanks!)