Sunday, December 9, 2012

Communion with Nick and Lucy

Traditions have to start somewhere.  A tradition is a habit that you cannot remember living without.  It may have begun last year, but now, it is a tradition.  You won’t find a Celebration of Nick and Lucy anywhere else. Traditions have to start somewhere! Today we celebrate and welcome Nicholas of Myra and Lucia of Syracuse: Nick and Lucy.  (For readers who were not in attendance: we had our guest ‘celebrities’ in the liturgy.  Nick in miter (even though that is inaccurate, historically) and Lucy in a crown of electric candles.  Thanks to Shannon and Stephen for their willingness to play along!) Nick and Lucy lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries, both along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. He in modern day Turkey and she on the island you and I know as Sicily. As far as we know they never met; at least not on this side of eternal rest. Nick and Lucy sounds like the title of a children’s book. Two unlikely friends and their holy adventures in late antiquity!  Rescue sailors, aid the poor! Defy common sense by wearing lit candles on top of your head!

A Celebration of Nick and Lucy is my own innovation, no wait, tradition. And I must admit that it began in the middle of one of my ‘bah humbug’ phases. Not a ‘bah humbug’ out of Scrooge like coldness, or because of personal loss.  No, it was a bout of that December fundamentalism that strikes some of us from time to time.  Where I want to divide and conquer, where I am so appalled by some of the habits of the modern holiday season, that I that I want to take the season back. As if a season was the claim of any particular group.  Truth is that winter solstice celebrations are nearly universal across cultures and time. It is cold and dark.  Let’s get together and have a party; ‘because if you really hold me tight, all the way home I will be warm.’

So it was for our ancestors in faith who saw the parallels between the Good News and the passage of this island home around the sun. They started a tradition, they bonded the anticipation of the birth of Christ to the winter solstice. It is striking, and pragmatic.  In my ‘bah humbug’ moments I have to be reminded that divide and conquer is not the example to borrow.  We have two gifts in these overlapping festivals.  First an opportunity to proclaim Good News while hearts are warm to the radical notion of God born in human flesh, in poverty, to a young mother under the thumb of empire.  Second, is a chance to face unafraid the injustice we have made.  Advent is a bumper sticker that says ‘Jesus is coming.  Be Busy.’  The Lord is approaching, and we are supposed to be listening for God’s way to make a new path before it is too late.

So a few years ago I introduced Nick and Lucy, made them friends. I invited them to dinner, filled it with music and frivolity and all the winter wonderland the Advent police will allow.  We invite friends and strangers into a memory. We offer all ages an encounter with two saints in linen, two saints who were ordinary people, who heard Jesus say to heal the sick, and feed the hungry, and they did it.  With Nick and Lucy we re-member the life, death and resurrection of God-with-us, we re-imagine it through hospitality and table fellowship in a community of believers. It is a communion of saints in thought, word and deed.
The historical record for Lucia is thin, and rather contradictory. The historical record for Nicholas is much thicker, he was after all, a bishop.  However, his legend is also contradictory, and if you include the latter day appearances attributed to him, well his story is rather mystifying.  By the way, our guests transported via Tardis time machine know nothing beyond their 4th century lives, and much less do they know of any rumors of Nordic immigrations.

Why do I, and therefore we, offer this fresh tradition of Nick and Lucy? Why bring together two esteemed saints who each have their own days of remembrance? To begin they share so much, both Nicholas and Lucy are remembered for going above and beyond the call of Christian duty.  I will admit that it offers a wonderful gender and ministry balance: male and female, lay and ordained.  However, here is the best reason why.  It is because Lucy’s simple story shines light on the life and ministry of Nicholas.  Her story gives back to him his flesh, his heart, his bones.  She gives to Nick his true self, his ordinary, Christ-like humility.  He was after all a servant who did prepare in the desert a highway for the reign of God.

And it is his grand presence - both earned and embellished – Nick’s larger than life persona can raise Lucy up, bring her witness into our sights, it can raise the volume of her gentle service with sleigh bells in the snow.  Bringing them together, and bringing them here, we remind all ages that the communion of saints isn’t a once a year remembrance.  The communion of saint’s means that Lucia and Nicholas and hundreds and thousands more walk with us when we seek to do Jesus’ will.    
I am not going to tell you their story, Nick and Lucy are here from out of time to do that themselves at the celebration that follows.  What I will tell you is that they are gospel in a nutshell, they are the good news made plain in life and blood.  Our friends Nick and Lucy are embodiments of what the author of the gospel of Luke does so well: to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in word and action; and to do so clearly and simply, again and again. Salvation, alignment with peace and justice and the blessing of the creator of the universe: this gift is for all.  It is made real by following Christ out into the world.  Our Lucan gospel today assumes that you know that this is what is meant by paths made straight and lofty hills made low. Chapter by chapter Luke shows us again and again what the good news is and our role in it.  Because what if this was the only chapter you heard?  What if the only gospel you ever encountered was in the life of Christ’s followers? 

We are ordinary men and women.  Most of us, like our friends Nick and Lucy, are blessed with a multitude of privileges.  And like Nick and Lucy we are ordinary people who are drawn into Christ’s presence, who have chosen to follow him for reasons we may not be able to name.  I invite you to find yourself in their story, fill in the gaps with your own passions, fill your heart with their courage, believe that your faithfulness to Christ need not restrained by anything, not even gravity or common sense. Be Nick.  Be Lucy.  Go out into the world and make the rough places smooth and the crooked roads straight.  I offer you a simple phrase, for all from 1 to 102.  It has been said many times, and in many ways. Be Lucy.  Be Nick.  Let the tradition begin with you.

December 9, 2012                  Cathedral of St. John, ABQ
Advent 2B + Lessons borrowed from Nicholas and Lucia Feast Days

To learn more about my Celebration of Nick and Lucy send me a note!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Listen: Revelation in Translation

Miss Jane. She said it with all the scandal a five-year-old can muster. Miss Jane. We don't say that word here. They say that word at my grandma’s church. They say that word at grandma’s church a lot. But we don’t say that word here. Maybe you can guess which word she was referring to.

Revelation. Do we read that here? Yes we read Revelation, 10 tiny sections over the course of the whole three year lectionary cycle. In honor of the feast day of St. Michael and All Angels yesterday, today you are given one more. We have before us one part of an otherworldly battle in heaven, which in the surrounding chapters involve our patron of the day Michael, and his Angels, and a great dragon who is also a serpent, and also the devil otherwise known as, well, you know his name. Satan. It helps if you say it out loud, in front of a lot of people. Satan. Demon is easier to say, it’s a common school mascot. People dress small children up as devils, and we think it is cute. In the original Hebrew the term,satan, is a verb which becomes a noun, The Hebrew verb means to “obstruct or oppose.” So the name of one of the angelic host becomes Oppose-r.

In the era just before and after the birth of Jesus there were folktales about these angelic beings in the heavenly courts and the one who challenges God's sovereignty. This angel is THE oppose-r. The first angels we encounter in the Bible are nameless humanoid messengers. Over time angels become many eyed and winged choirs, some had names, such as Michael and Gabriel, and they were all fearsome creatures who MUST greet us with 'be not afraid', because we would be.

We have flipped the channel to a show we have never seen, maybe sci-fi or anime...a show produced in foreign culture, with a voice over by a non-native English speaker...and we are confused, befuddled and lost in translation. The vision of angels ascending and rising and seals and white robes, what does all that mean? This is not a comic book or folktale. Our text may be beyond time and reason, yet it is still true. It is what happens if you think that 'life is hell' and then you pull the truth out of the metaphor, and you give it muscle, sight and speech. It is our inner battle with good and evil given form and voice.

Yet Why? Why is there a catch in my throat, why does my heart race when I say that name? Satan. There is this twinge of fear that I am summoning Beetlejuice. As if he will know where I am if i say it. Like Voldemort. I want to skip over it. Speak of accusers, evil, the dark side of the force, dark magic. Anything but S-a-t-a-n. That little girl was right; I don’t say it much, and I don’t say it easily. Part of my stumbling block is the misinformation that roams around about evil and so on, and the loud but inaccurate interpretations about what happens when all will be all in all. If you had to guess how many times the word rapture is in the book of Revelation how many would you guess? I will give you a hint, it is less than ten. Let’s see your guesses. Anyone with fingers up is, well, wrong. The word is not there. It is not in any reputable translation of the Bible. Zero. None. Nada. Surprised? Relieved? The monster at the end of the book is not what you thought it might be.

Revelation means to unveil, to reveal. The Revelation of Jesus Christ to John is really three genres’s woven together: an Apocalypse, a Prophecy and a Letter. Apocalypse, prophecy and a letter that is about one thing...faithful discipleship as the body of the living Christ in the face of unrelenting evil. Lets unpack those three parts a, p, l. A: Apocalypse - is a specifically late antique Jewish genre. An apocalypse it is not a one time kind of thing. It is opening a gift, breaking an egg, looking over the cliff, The Word became flesh and dwelt among us...the incarnation is an apocalypse. It is a radical unveiling. The purpose of apocalyptic writing is to sustain the people of God in times of crisis. It creates hope by offering a pointed and vivid critique of sin and oppression. Oppressors as unmanageable as empire, and as intimate as sin.

Revelation was 3-d before there was 3-d. It is art, written to be experienced more than analyzed, it is high def audio, it is not Morse code. Perhaps we should experience these Apocalypses like a political cartoon. A dramatic medium where everything is exaggerated to make an impression. Perhaps we could liken it to Stephen Colbert, going way over the top to demand our attention and to vividly pull back the curtains and furthermore, to direct our attention to a particular point view.

A, and now P: prophecy. Prophecy is not history written in advance. It is not something that is deciphered with decoder rings. This prophecy is built out of prophecies, gathering together hundreds of threads of the Hebrew Bible weaving them together into a stunning portrait of the challenges that the agents of God’s reign will face in every age. All these things have happened before, and all these things will happen again, until all is all in all.

A, P, L: Letter. Revelation is not so much a book as it is a letter. It is written to friends and loved ones at a distance. A circular letter written and shared in an age where reading and writing was a privileged vocation. This letter is intended to be read aloud in community, read aloud so that all who listen might continue through the tribulations of Christian discipleship. Our contemporary literate and enumerated minds may get in the way of our being able to experience this letter . We get so easily distracted, we grab on to what we think we know. Like numbers. However, the ancient relationship with numbers is not our relationship with numbers. 666 is not an MI-5 clue to the identity of a modern agent of evil. John exiled on Patmos doesn't care about the mechanizations of history in 1412 or 2012. He is solely concerned with the discipleship of the church in every age.

So what are we to do with Revelation? What we should do is listen. Listen to how the imagery sings to the imagination of our hearts. How it burns into our hearts the ways in which we are so easily led away from serving God and into idolatry. Idolatry is the primary concern of this letter of revelation. Idolatry is about what we give our heart to, what we love, what we serve. It is the opposite of proclaiming blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God. Idolatry is taking all those ideas and directing them away from God. Giving honor and praise to our stuff, our priorities, our power. Idolatry is what we stand accused of, so many goodies to choose from, so many millstones to wear.

Our experience of revelation should be a revelation. The sun rising and behold, our lives are thrown open wide. My silence, my stumbling through naming the evil that exists is refusing to take up my cross and follow the Lamb. It is cutting out my eyes and dismembering my hands. It is choosing to remain in the dark rather than standing firm in the light of Christ. Jesus' suggestion of maiming yourself is hyperbole. He provokes with vivid exaggeration to make our failures plain. Apocalyptic. If you are not using your lips, and eyes, and hands to breathe, and speak, and work as an agent of God then you might as well go for a hike. Hear no evil, see no evil….. is not gospel. It is deaf and dark, it is building up hell on earth. The topsy turvy bundling of images and experiences of Revelation, they should unsettle us. They confront us with startling angels with a message in many wings and eyes, be not afraid, the Lord is with you, you are chosen to bear Christ. Listen. Listen to Revelation. Hear that the description of the drama in heaven isn’t telling us about what is going on somewhere else. It is declaring what is going on right here, right now.

The conflict between the forces of good and forces of darkness is not fantasy. Sin, Evil, Satan, Revelation, Apocalypse. Hear it. Say it with a loud voice. Acknowledge our burden. Come before the throne of God here on earth, serve him day and night within his temple, which is the entire earth and cosmos. Step out on Christ’s word to give thanks and praise and honor and blessing, even in the face of unrelenting darkness. You and I and Michael and Gabriel and all the angels of God we are his servants, champions of light, we are called to oppose the oppose-rs, with our lips, ears, eyes and hands…however many we have. Listen for Christ’s revelation, step out to the edge with him, look into the empty tomb and be amazed. For then God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Alleluia. Amen.

BCP 21 B and St. Michael and All Angels
September 30, 2012
Cathedral of St. John
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Butterfly Garden

I used to sell upscale toys and games at a packed shop; $100 dollar tricycles, and Brio Trains. One of the activity kits we sold was called the Butterfly Garden.  An Ant Farm; but with butterflies.   You buy the kit and send off a postcard; one spring we tried it.  A few days later, a small brown paper box came in the mail.  It had air holes and a ‘live critters’ warning label.  Inside were four or five caterpillars.  We set up the box with clear plastic windows, and inside placed a fresh branch with green leaves and the caterpillars.  They crawled right onto the branch and started to cocoon. 

For three weeks, nothing happened.  Then all at once they began to break out.  The inside of the box was plain white cardboard, all around each cocoon the box was splattered with a thin red fluid.  It looked bloody.  It looked like a minor massacre.  Customers would stop to look in at the new butterflies.  Each time they were shocked, and amazed.  ‘Its so bloody’, they all exclaimed.

When I was 14 an MD told me there was ‘no such thing as growing pains.’  I told him, ‘that he had never been me.’  I have told that anecdote hundreds of times and almost every teen says ‘was he nuts?’ Maybe they are not verifiable, but growing pains are real.  The bones that burn with tension, the muscles that tingle with new life. Growing pains, physical and emotional, are real.  They are real for children and for their parents.  One day you have a child, the next a person you have never met.  Their first birthday is fresh in your mind, and here she stands going on a first date.  Angels announce a blessed birth and the next day your boy is in the Temple, debating with the elders.   It hurts to love like this; to love so much that the tension burns and the stretches tingle. With an average lifespan of less than 40 in late antiquity,  Jesus’ ministry from age 30 to 33 was a retirement career.  In his time the responsibilities of adulthood began soon after the body came of age at 13 or 14.  At twelve Jesus is experimenting with being a self-sufficient adult: why were you looking for me?  

We have placed a large box around the time from physical womanhood and manhood until social adulthood.   Sociologists say that the average age for the social markers of adulthood in our culture is twenty-seven.  Thirteen is the halfway mark.  For a multitude of economic and social and reasons we have fully grown men and women with virtually no responsibilities of adulthood.  Our bodies were created to do this: to become adult men and women.   It happens in its own time and rhythm, it is a gift from God and not earn-able.  Adulthood is about social and emotional maturity; Adulthood is taking responsibility for ones own life and the lives of others.  How we manage the creative power of young men and women between physical maturity and social maturity is one of the most troubling and amazing quandaries of our day.

In the liturgy that follows we seek to name that quandary, to name the growing pains for children, parents and the community.  In this Rite 13 we enter into this phase of great love and great anxiety with blessing.  We remember that we are not alone, loving fully formed creatures into fully loving adulthood.  We need this; nearly every culture has a rite of passage around the age of 13.  We need to name the change;  we need to remember that these young people are brimming with creative power.  We need to speak of the love and anxiety that this change brings to the surface.  And we need to pray that all creative power will be used wisely for the common good. 

The red fluid wasn’t blood.  Butterflies don’t have red blood.  It was the amniotic fluid of the new birth.  It took a couple of days for butterfly’s wings to stretch, dry and harden; then we were supposed to set the fully formed adults free.  The winds were strong and stiff.  There were airport delays for several days in a row.  We didn’t want to release these new butterflies into a whirlwind.   The winds made us anxious; it just seemed cruel.  We found a branch of freshly bloomed azaleas and even made up a little cup of butterfly sugar water food.  However,we knew we were pushing our luck, and the winds kept on roaring.  

Finally we had to set them free, or they would die in that box.  So we took the box to a protected garden at the hospital across the street.  We sat the box down next to a blooming bush, and we opened the lid.  Nothing happened.  The butterflies just sat there.  Then one flew out, and the others followed.  Straight up, and around, and out into the whirlwind.  They were beautifully and wonderfully made by God to do just this.  We watched, and we were amazed. 

February 12, 2006   Rite-13 Liturgy; 8:45am        Luke 2:41-52

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas                        

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Learning To Love Differently

Lovely Book...Country Bunny & the Golden Shoes
Her pink sweatshirt said love in bold pink letters covered in tiny rhinestones.  It seems so undemanding.  Four letters, one syllable, two phonemes.  L – O – V – E. We throw the word around as if it were easy. Maybe you remember the Valentine exchange at school. Everyone exchanging cards and candy hearts emblazoned with sentiments charming, sappy and bold.  I love your pants.  You’re cool.  Be mine.  Yet, at a tender age we begin to understand that love can take all that you have and then ask for more.  Love can propel you up the highest mountain, and it can send you tumbling down. It tugs at your ankles and leads you to do outrageous, miraculous and ill-advised things.  ‘Jesus loves me, yes I know,’ ‘I am his beloved and he is mine.’  What does that really mean?  Does it mean that you send him a valentine?  Friend him on Facebook?  Can you explain your life without him? Do you love him more than your cousin, but less than Darcy loves Elizabeth, or Romeo loves Juliet? 

Passion, challenge, comfort, fear, tenderness, attachment, these are all very different things, yet they are all synonyms for love.  These days some folks might use an emoticon instead of writing the word love: I heart New York, I heart Wookies.  Love is the root of all comedy, all tragedy and all drama.  Love drives the Psalms, keeps Job on his path. Love compels woebegone weaklings to step out on his word, to leave our nets and follow him. We are lovesick fools.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. How about you?

The gospel of Mark is not a gospel of pink rhinestone or candy heart love.  Some folks think of it as the CliffNotes gospel. For generations, Mark was considered to be a rough outline of Matthew and Luke.  However, contemporary scholars generally agree that it is the oldest of the Gospels and a carefully constructed one as well.  There is no shiny happy Jesus, no darling birth narrative and, in its oldest known version, no glowing resurrection encounters. Jesus is baptized. He journeys through Palestine teaching and healing.  He does such astonishing things and says such lovely things that people follow him. He is condemned by the authorities, dies on the cross and the Temple curtain rips in two. Done. From beginning to end, the gospel of Mark is a tightly-woven and, sometimes, harsh narrative of how God acts to break down the barriers that we have installed between heaven and earth.  The Gospel of Mark is without a doubt focused on two things: Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah; and the challenging reality of Christian discipleship.   

Today’s lesson is just past the summit, the still-beating heart and continental divide of the narrative. From this point forward in Mark, the sacrifice of loving God’s kingdom becomes unmistakable. Jesus shows us again and again that we who claim him as Lord should not be able to define our lives without his life, which is both sacrifice and delight. From this midpoint onward, we will encounter fewer acts of power and more about the cross and its demands.  

When I am in charge of the universe I will decree that no lectionary lesson can begin with the word ‘then’— at least not without a ‘previously on.’ Even if you were here last week you still might not know what happened right before today’s ‘then.’   So…previously on the Gospel of Mark, Jesus and the disciples and possibly a crowd are on the road again. Jesus asked the disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ ‘John the Baptist said one, and others say Elijah; or one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah.’ Jesus follows this pop quiz with the reward that he must suffer, die and rise again. Jesus defines Messiah for them in words they can barely comprehend. 

We love you.  We love God. We love you so much that we have given up everything to follow you. We follow you because we believe that you are the answer to our prayers; that you will deliver us from our oppressors, that you will usher in a new era of holy peace in Palestine.  What do you mean that you will suffer, die and, goodness gracious, rise again? And what do you mean that to be your disciple is to embrace the same pain and trial? Jesus is the Christ, Christ which is Greek for Messiah.  Being Jesus the Christ is being a servant leader who becomes the holy sacrifice.  He has the victory not through violent power but through loving humility. It is this definition of discipleship, and therefore Christ’s Lordship, that Peter cannot bear to hear. Think of him as saying with immense love, "Lord, don't even go there."  

Jesus defines his messiah-ness by how much he loves us, and how far he is willing to go so that we feel it.  Furthermore, he defines our union with him by how much his life defines our life.  Lose your life to save it, save your life by leaving earthly concerns behind. If that brings you up short, then you are right there with Peter, trying to push earthly ways onto heavenly ways instead of the other way around.  CS Lewis offers us this reiteration.

Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day
and the death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of  your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours.  Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find him, and with him everything else is thrown in.

All our activities proclaim certain ideas about what matters.  Every human life is a defining act about what is worthy of love and sacrifice. The challenge to lose your life is to let go of all the ways and means that clutter your heart and leave no room for Christ. It is to learn that our loving of life as we know it may be the closed heart from which we need to be healed. In the stories following the passion predictions in Mark 9 and 10, we see that the disciples, like us are unable to let go of their preconceptions of power and leadership.  They have opened up enough to name Jesus correctly, but they haven’t quite grasped his truth, that he comes to serve and share rather than dominate.

The very next occasion in Mark is the transfiguration.  The disciples get so excited that they say, ‘Hey, let’s build tents, carnival booths, display cases. Then we can all stay right here and be awesome and safe and no one ever has to get hurt.’ It is what we do with the things we love.  We try to make them stand still, remain as we think they should be. The disciples cannot leave behind their own understanding of what is worthy of our love, and what God wants us do with what we love. We are trapped in the cages of our own making, an invisible prison of loving the wrong things for the wrong reasons.  Our love for now gets in the way of being loved forever.  The original disciples want their love for God and their hope for a brave new world to lead to safer, predictable, and more comfortable answers.  Maybe you do, too.  Theologian Stanley Hauwerwas has this response to our love of a candy-coated faith:

You cannot know who Jesus is after the resurrection unless you have learned to follow Jesus during his life.   His life and crucifixion are necessary to purge us of false notions about what kind of kingdom Jesus brings.  In the same way his disciples and adversaries also had to be purged.  Only by learning to follow him to Jerusalem, where he becomes subject to the powers of this world, do we learn what the kingdom entails, as well as what kind of messiah this Jesus is. 

We begin each and every Lent with the reminder that our entire lives belong to God.  All this stuff, all these bodies, all of it belongs to God.  My question is: do you know what God wants you to do with God’s stuff? And are you willing to do it? God created the world and shouted, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you!’  He created us in a world of abundance, and there is more than enough food, water and shelter to go around.

What does God want us to do with our lives and our life together? And are we doing it?  Lose your life to save it.  It isn’t your life, anyway.  From Rite One, we are reminded that we present ourselves, our souls and bodies as a living sacrifice.  Everything that we are… this is our offering to God.  Through this we become Eucharistic people who break open our lives as he broke open his.

I want to share with you a segment of a poem by Marge Piercy called ‘to have without holding.’

Learning to love differently is hard, love with the hands wide open, love with the doors banging on their hinges, the cupboard unlocked, the wind roaring and whimpering in the rooms rustling the sheets and snapping the blinds that thwack like rubber bands in an open palm.

It hurts to love wide open, stretching the muscles that feel as if they are made of wet plaster, then of blunt knives, then of sharp knives.

It hurts to thwart the reflexes of grab, of clutch;
to love and let go again and again.
           It pesters to love consciously,             conscientiously, concretely, constructively.

Christianity can only be practiced in a community of imperfect people of imperfect loving. We are all learning to love differently, to love wide open.  It stretches our muscles; it hurts to stifle the instincts of grab and clutch.  Christian faithfulness is all about love, both when it floats like a butterfly and, more critically, when it is stings like a bee. Our desire for God and our promise to love others in Christ’s name should shape a community defined by bearing God’s self-giving love. Love gives the Christian church its cruciform shape and meaning.  

The early Church didn’t thrive because its music was pretty and its cookies were sweet. The early Church thrived because of how they loved. They stepped out into the night with food for the hungry and care for the infirm when everyone else left the sick alone to die. They stepped into the everyday realities of fear, hate and decay with arms wide open. The early church took on the burdens of the world in his name, they took up whatever cross they were given and asked for more. They loved contrary to every self-centered cultural norm of their age. They learned to love differently. An embodied love so deep and broad, that friend and foe knew exactly what they were up to.

The early church loved so loud that it was a secret that could not be kept quiet. They followed Jesus’ life and teachings so concretely, so constructively that the Empire that crucified our Lord could not stand in the face of his proclamation.  No rhinestones or clever marketing schemes, just living as he lived and loving who he loved. So…how about us?  If we were in their shoes—and we are—would we thrive? Let us uncross our arms and unclench our fists. Let us step out of our norms, utter fools rich with love for God and his creation. Love the boy with the pierced tongue and the girl with the colorful spiked hair. Celebrate the squirmy children and crabby seniors. Let us leave behind all the notions that keep us feeling safe, comfortable and caged. Do you want to keep this church you love? Do you want to offer it to generations undreamed of? Then we had better love larger and louder than this blessed organ, and serve more sacrificially than anything the Duke City has ever seen.  Decide to let go of the things that you think will save you, because nothing but true love of God’s beloved ever will. Have the courage to share this church which you love with your life. Let’s learn to love this time and place and neighborhood differently, passionately, loudly.  Dare to love the world as much as Christ loves us. Let us stretch our weakest muscles and walk with Christ so that all may rest in peace.

We said we would follow him as Lord and savior.  And he is watching. We said that we would seek human dignity in every dark corner of this broken world. And he is waiting. Let’s take on the muck of the human race and, together, you and me and whole darn mess will be transformed by his love. Present yourselves, your souls, hearts, minds and bodies. Present your whole lives as a holy living sacrifice.  Give back to God what is his anyway.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Learning to love differently is hard. He will take all that we have and ask for more. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Lent 2 B BCP              Cathedral of St. John, Albuquerque                     March 4, 2012