Monday, February 24, 2014

Ashes to Ashes, Mush to Mush

(This homily is interactive with the congregation of adults and children and teens.  Some of these questions did receive answers! )

Yesterday the President offered the speech known as the State of the Union.  I am sure that its scheduling was an accident; I don’t expect that anyone consulted the church calendar.   Yet, Lent is certainly about the state of our union.  Not the nation, instead our union with God and his people.  What does union mean?  It comes from the same root as the Spanish word for one: uno.  It is the idea of one, but it is a verb-like active one-ness, it is becoming one even though we are also hundreds and hundreds. What are we doing to form a more perfect community of Christian disciples?  What are we doing to love our neighbors, all our neighbors, as much as God loves all of us? The work of the church is to strive for union with God and one another in Christ.  In baptism we are brought into this work…we to commit to being one with Jesus, one with his mission of setting us free from our love of things that do no good at all.

(A young friend is building up a tower of cardboard bricks, and I continue to knock them down…and she starts over again.)

These bricks could be all the things we do and ideas we have and ways we feel that make us one with Christ and one with each other.  However, they keep falling down.  What if these bricks are not our foundation, but instead are the things we put between us and our union with God and his mission for us?  For example: the joy I feel every time I knock these bricks down.  Anyone else think that looked fun?  Anyone else want to do it?  

She is working so hard…and I keep tearing it down.  It is a little bit of being mean,  a little bit of using my power for my own jollies, a little bit of destructiveness.  I am putting my own selfish silly joy ahead of everything else, and that is sin. Maybe this one (holding a brick) is the fact that I can be mean to people in my life, being mean about them.  For the ways I tear them down in my mind, notice all their wrongs without looking at my own.  Maybe these bricks are greed. Maybe these bricks are achieving rather than loving. Maybe they are obsessing rather than caring. Maybe they are a calendar so full that God and Sabbath take a back seat. What are your bricks…what builds up walls that keep you from being one with your neighbors and one with God?

I need the children with paper and pencils to get up and share them.  I also need the teens with pitchers of water to bring them up and pour them in this bowl.  Take a moment and write or draw on these sheets of paper whatever is on your bricks.  What keeps you from union with God and union with his people in Christ? Maybe you can use a brick for a surface to write on.  When you are ready come and place them in this water.  Watch what happens. 

(The paper is dissolving paper…they all turn to mush.)

All of these sins, all of this stuff that wrecks the state of our union with God is ultimately nothing…mush.  They are no good for anything now…except going back to God.  Ashes to ashes, mush to mush.  You see…for even when we resist….ultimately we will have union with God.  So why waste the time we have been given, why waste the life that is lived between dust and dust?  God made us and loves us and calls us to union with him and with his people.  The Holy Trinity works with us when we strive for his way. Give yourself to a holy Lent.  Seek to turn bricks that keep us apart into bricks that make union with Christ and his people.

Jane Alice Gober
Family Ash Wednesday Service, 2013
Cathedral of St. John, ABQ

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Lenten Pin A Day

Lent is approaching.  Late, almost as late as possible, but even though the buds are sprouting from the limbs of the tree out my window...Lent is due to begin.  The church invites you to a Holy Lent.

What makes a holy Lent for you?  What reconsideration, what devotion, what prayer, what project?  Furthermore, how do you invite the young people in your life into this formational practice?  The interwebs are full of interesting ideas and directions and patterns.  There are a multitude of devotionals, free and for a fee...some are available here.

So this is my Lenten project, LENTEN PIN A DAY and I am inviting you to join in the journey with me.  To your left is a list of words, some from hymns, some from prayers, some from the Five Marks of Mission.  What if each day you did something with this word?

  • Respond in poetry or musical composition or Legos or clay or crayon.  
  • Perhaps you like surfing the web and you discover an online image to go with the word.  
  • Bookish?  Then what about a quote with the word. 
  • School age children can be challenged to look up definitions of words..and then to do something with the new knowledge.  
  • Or maybe, just maybe, you can use this word to craft an action statement for yourself and your community.  
The response possibilities are endless. The goal is to lead you into a more creative, imaginative and impactful Lenten devotion.  One that draws you closer to union with God in Christ and closer to his mission for his people.

If you want to join in, save the list.  Save it as your device wall paper.  Print it out and put it in your wallet.  Or constantly visit this blogpage.  :)

I invite you to find some way to gather these on a wall at home, online or within a journal.  If your children join the journey then be sure to save and share their responses.  Save them on your device and post regularly, or share your pin a day journey as one complete series on Holy Saturday (April 19).  If you do pin or tumble or tweet or instagram...let us try the marker of : #lentenpinaday .  I will if you will.

My responses will go on my pinterest page.  

Let us find for ourselves a holy Lent.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

For Good

‘For edification but not doctrine’ is an interesting phrase.  It is precisely the historical and official phrase for how we approach the Apocrypha.  If you pick up the best-selling Bible in the world, you will not find today’s Old Testament lesson.  Sirach’s wisdom is a collection of proverbs that can move us deeply, it can inspire insight, however it isn’t supposed to set rules for Christian living.  It is an interesting standard to apply to a specific segment of scriptures.  Yet apocryphal texts are important because they give us an important picture of the anxieties and interpretations of late ancient near east Jewish society.

These apocryphal texts are from a time when the Diaspora, the people of Israel being spread out across West Asia and the Mediterranean sea, a time when this had become the norm.  It is a time when the texts we know as the Hebrew bible are in collections of scrolls which had evolved into fairly normative shapes and authority: but the it wasn’t a firm set yet.  In some ways the experience of Diaspora motivates this process of deciding what stories form the people, of choosing which stories to tell one's children.  In our texts as they have been handed down to us, in the Biblical story, we know of a world that was began in glory and love, and made to be wholly good and blessed.  Yet in that time and place, in the empire of Alexander the Great and beyond the reign of Caesar Augustus, a beloved and good creation was a very different concept of how the beginning began.

Back then the eastern Mediterranean was a fervent soup of religions and philosophies.  Most of which taught that the creation is at root, rotten, vile and evil.  It is the scrapping of the bottom of the compost bin; that then has been chewed and spit out.  For most of these schemes goodness is the apparition, good is in a battle with evil that it is not assured to win.  In parts of Sirach we find a worldly Jewish sage wrestling with the differences between the story that was taught to him and the story he taught to his children.  He is hearing all these other stories, and wondering, wondering aloud if the world is good, and created good, where and when and why and how does evil begin.  Before us today from Sirach we have a concise summary of the teaching of the Hebrew bible regarding the problem of good and wickedness.  God set the boundaries and they are good.  Created humanity with freedom and creativity, the ability to know how to choose to live for the common good.  We know the boundaries, but we run outside of them, and this is exactly the root of evil.  The rip of darkness and decay is our misuse of good gifts.

But still….our translation hides some of Sirach’s pondering.  Choice isn't quite the right word.   A word like inclination is closer.  We can choose to follow an inclination.  But the leaning, the desire is there.  What is that? "Are people born Wicked? Or do they have Wickedness thrust upon them?" This is the musing of Glinda ‘the good witch’ in the opening scene of the musical Wicked,  which is generously based on a novel of the same name.  And Wicked is an alternate version and a prequel of sorts to the Oz we are offered in the famous movies.  A story where the so called ‘wicked witch of the west’ is a pastors kid of shirked nobility. A woman raised in the shadow of family dysfunction and a time of imperial destruction.  This girl, Elphaba, was born green.  Cabbage like, a case of verdigris.  The book is a dense tale of philosophy and theology and politics and sociology, which I love.  But it isn't for everybody.  The musical takes a lighter tone, focusing on the years when Elphaba and the pampered and popular Glinda were boarding school roommates.

The four stories, the original books, the movies, the new book and the musical do not mesh perfectly, and some are fans of one and not the other story. For me however, the two newer stories mingle powerfully.  (I actually have little interest in the original stories and movies where the Witch is not a misunderstood heroine.)  In the book Elphie is a fierce intellectual, an experimental scientist trying to explore the origins of good and evil.  As much as I am attached to this version of her story, I can also see that this Elphaba, she is stuck in childish thinking and living.  She, like our Corinthian friends gets lost in quarreling and divisiveness.  Cloaked in self-righteousness it is her brilliant childishness that labels her as wicked.  She never learns how to use her gifts and passions for the common good.  The question goes beyond where does evil begin, but was she even wicked at all?

There has been quite the hub-ub over the last few weeks.  Let’s call it a continuing of the attempt to reenact Inherit the Wind.   If you don’t know what I am referring to let me offer the word, Creation museum (look it up if you don't know).  We live in a diverse soup of stories and philosophies and theories about who we are and how we began.   Some of the quarrelsome factions are well intentioned,  worried that there can be no explanation for a good God, for sin, for evil or for morality without one version of our story.  Yet the whole of Corinthians tells us that Christians are called to carefully listen, to not be childish, to hear and discern.  To consider the ‘other’ stories that come into our lives.  Corinth wasn’t that big a town and it had at least 12 different temples for different religions telling different stories about who we are and where we began. 

In our day and age we have our own multiple ‘temples’, and contemporary science tells stories, desires to know where we came from, and it offers theories for questions,  that the ancients never thought to ask.  What sort of a special moment would it have been for a sage to have uttered the words, ‘You see these birds here.  Well… ages ago in the cretaceous era great beasts called brontosaurus’ roamed the earth for millions of years, and then God chose to do something new and now we know them as birds.”  Please.  I presume that such an utterance would be considered less than inspired and generally ignored.  Mental gymnastics to try and duct tape material evidence to some of scripture,   this is contrary to the practice of the church  from its earliest roots. 

The sacred texts show that we have journeyed in our discernment and understanding.  We have been enlightened by the ‘other’ stories of our neighbors who have always been present.  Neighbors and new insights bring lessons we must learn, and we are led to those which help us the most to grow. To grow in knowledge of God, his creation and our responsibility to each other.  Yet rather than celebrate the brilliance of the human mind, some very loud cousins in faith demean the virtues of creativity and imagination, such gifts are slandered as wicked.  And since I am pretty much calling them names, it seems that the contentious, carping and fractious Corinthian church seems to be alive and well in me, and I need to pray on that.  

However this  hub-ub over the last few weeks, and decades,  it frustrates me deeply.  I cannot tell you how many people I have met over the years who say something like: “I was raised in the church, but now I am a scientist so, well, you know.”   Yes and well no.   In my heart of hearts I actually I don't know.  I am truly flabbergasted and I mourn for how we have failed to proclaim good news in this confluence of story.  We are people of both/and,  I stand in the reformation tradition that stuck with Apocryphal texts for ‘edification but not doctrine’ when the continent chose to set them aside. 

Maybe we need to live out loud a little more, because keeping our heads down doesn’t seem to be helping.  Maybe we need to live out loud with the truth that living with diverse stories is ancient and orthodox and not requiring of the suspension of reality.  It is orthodox because the Church has a long tradition of letting a variety of truthful stories mingle, blend and dwell together.  Three Easter stories frequently told as one, two differing offerings on the birth of Christ and two mingled versions of the Great Flood.  We tell these as one story, despite the contradictions, we tell them as one all the time and it is for good.  

The number one problem with Christians trying to deny the possibility of the theory of evolution is that our core experience is Easter.  Our core experience is resurrection.  Every moment of our life as church should proclaim that God makes life out of death and darkness and even makes good out of evil.   God makes possible out of impossible.  God is a God of creativity and re-creativity and recycling (which speaking of green things and recycling, what can this church do to help the situation in Walla Walla?).   And evolution is precisely new life rising out of death, letting old forms that no longer serve, letting them rest and putting the material to new use.

Let us be Easter people who can listen to neighbors and strangers and science and even cousins in faith with whom we disagree. We are about evolution, defying gravity, telling stories, hearing stories, and making friends with those we disagree with.  Lets rise and live, lets live multiple stories a little louder, and let us always embrace that God is always doing something new.  And it is, for good.

Jane Alice Gober
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Year A, RCL