Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Beginning Began: Creation GP Response

 


This is my work, my response, to the lesson.  In both words and pictures.  Mostly photos I took on our property after hearing the lesson.

So we wonder - what is your favorite day?

I love the firmament day.  I love the storytelling wondering of the ancients - that what is above is connected to what is below. We repeat a half truth that everyone in the ancient world thought the world was flat.  Yet the metaphors and wonderings of even the poets and prophets of Judeo-Christian scriptures suggest the fragility of that assertion.  If you get a broad enough perspective, you can see the roundness of the earth.  And the words here - dome - suggest that people saw the roundness of above matching what is below.  And then sky and sea are connected in the cycle of life.  We are a part of that cycle too - water that flows in our tears could be the same as that that washed past Jesus' body.  Lastly I also have a memory - from a day flying between Dallas, Texas, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.  I looked out of the plane and could not tell sky from sea.  Same color, same refraction of light meeting my eyes. It is the same but there is also difference, and rather than dwelling in a planet of swirling gas or liquid, these were brought into their own.


What day is my least favorite - none of them.  Which one am I not so good at: the 7th.  Sabbath.  Resting, holding still.  There was a month or so in early summer where I had developed a much better habit of being still.  Forced by the duty to the well being of all, I learned to do what so often alludes me.  Resting properly, taking my time.  Now that many things are back open and I am less paniced about shopping in a ventilated store with my mask and some hand sanitizer - I am not sitting as still.  I am not very good at the 7th day, and I need to be better.  So my self judgement creates a bit of a cycle of meh about sabbath.  


Where am I in this story?  I marvel at the ways that the sacred storytelling and the science storytelling match, somewhat.  There is a beauty to that - reminding me of our being made in God's image.  That we could even begin to touch the creativity and logic of the One Lord God of the Universe - is stunning.  If you haven't ever seen it, One of my favorite lessons of the Godly Play cousin Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is called something related to the engish word fettuccine.  In the lesson is a long long long ribbon (the noodle part) that is 7 colors and for the first 6 days of creation each grain of ribbon is made to represent millions of years, approximating what we believe we know about the timeline of creation.  The ribbon is supposed to stretch from the altar to the classroom.  In these two stories we have two ways of telling a story about who we are and where we came from, and that it is all in some sort of order, and also chaos, and it is both beyond our imagining and tangible to our understanding.  I hope you have a chance to see that lesson someday.  If you think these two areas are opposed - then please give a listen to this On Being episode with two Jesuit scientists.   And if you are looking for some regular places to intersect the sciency brain with the mysteries of Christian faith then check out the Liturgists podcast (it isn't about worship patterns).


I wonder how you could listen to this lesson and respond - either by art or writing or contemplation or research.  This is my response, a little bit of writing, a little bit of photography.







And some water, not from my yard.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Forgiveness Back to Zero: Darcy, Vader, and Jubilee

from the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a very modern (and awesome) adaptation on youtube.

Over the past 200 years, Pride and Prejudice has never been out of print.  And has sold over 20 million copies around the globe. Early in the classic novel, Mr. Darcy outlines his own character Mr. Darcy who is the “king” of the county where he lives, admits that his temper: 
  • is too little yielding. 
  • that he does not easily forgive others, snd,
  • his good opinion once lost is lost forever. 
Yet by the end of the novel (and I apologize for the spoilers) Mr. Darcy eliminates the debts of the man who has hurt him the most and in so doing - is bound to him, through marriages - forever. I imagine what lays ahead for Mr. Darcy beyond the novel is a lifetime of learning to forgive again and again. 

I recall going to see a more recent blockbuster - Return of the Jedi with my family when I was young and once again, forgive me for the spoiler, but at the end of the movie, Darth Vader has acted for the

light side and against the dark side. an act which cost him his life. Then a few scenes later in the triumphal finale - Anakin - Vaders given name - appears in his glowy ghosty Jedi self the way that all good Jedis appear after death. I was not an attentively religious young person, but I remember thinking something like - really so fast? Why wasn’t there some sort of penitential purgatory? A lifetime of cruelty and enslavement and exploitation and whatever the word would be in the Starwars Universe for dehumanization, Vader’s was a reign of terror and a masterclass in casual murder.. The nearly instant eternal forgiveness, it rubbed my weakly forgiving Darcy like temper the wrong way. 

This chapter of the gospel of Matthew has been focused on how a community of disciples of Jesus lives together in faithfulness, not in an imagined universe but in the harsh, complex, and contradictory reality of this one. Jesus has welcomed back the one sheep who did you wrong. Once was hard enough, so you get up the nerve to ask Jesus the question: Um, there's a limit to how many times I have to do this right? 

Jesus replies with a parable about the reign of God that is so straightforward it might be more accurate to call it a fable. The 'king of the county' goes about forgiving all the debts of slaves. Sometimes I notice it's hard for me to really listen when the word slave is used by Jesus, and it is not as an example of sin. Here in the USA, we have never done the truth and reconciliation work we need to do regarding how much of our long term prosperity is built on the cruel enslavement of black and brown people. So the word slave makes me react more than lean in. 

Yet slavery in the Mediterranean in Jesus's lifetime was a different thing. It was not racially assigned or something that was generation after generation. The parable could have said tenants but it says slaves, and when thinking about forgiveness, it's an important detail. It should remind us of the ancient biblical ideal of Jubilee. where every 49 to 50 years all the debts that have been piled up between peoples are zeroed out, and all slaves are set free. How completely this was truly ever practiced is an open question. But that it is the desire of God for what perfected human life together is to be like: this is clearer.  

Jubilee takes everything back to zero. Jubilee is connected with Jesus's response about how much are we to forgive. In the idiom Jesus's day - that number play - it means infinitesimally. The Divine inaccessibility of absolute zero and absolute Infinity are so beyond us, that they're two sides of the same coin. The directive of Jesus to forgive until everything is back to zero: it is a difficult command because most of the time even wholehearted forgiveness, it doesn't eliminate the wound. The terror of Vader's reign didn't evaporate from the universe at his turning. 

Forgiveness it is a skill of community one that should:
  • preserve truth, 
  • enable balance, 
  • and compel generosity.  
Forgiveness is an unbinding of ourselves from all that weighs us down and keeps us stuck in the past. Reconciliation is freedom for holiness that isn't a fictional novel or otherworldy movie plot. Sacred forgiveness compels generosity through responsible action against all forms of enslavement, against all forms of everything in this world of sin and spin that is against the Jubilee of God. 

So what are the skills of forgiveness: 
  • Trust: sometimes that's easy and sometimes that's hard. 
  • Healing speech. it's not enough to just let it go in our minds. And the last skill of forgiveness is
  • Silence.
The silence in which we can listen. Listen for truth,  listen for healing speech. Which of those skills are you best at - Which ones need practice? 

The Star Wars universe doesn’t pretend to be based in the worldview of Christian discipleship,but the answer Jesus offers to my childhood (and continuing) discomfort with the instant forgiveness for Darth Vader is that the forgiveness is God’s to give - and it is already given. We are promised that the God of steadfast love and mercy is ready and waiting infinitely for when we are ready to make amends. 


Our task as disciples of Jesus, and as humans in life together, is much like my imagined post novel life of Mr. Darcy One that can still trace the scars, yet called to live in peace as people commanded to forgive again and again and again. Forgiveness is the start of a journey wherein at the end, we discover ourselves to have become free enough to receive God's endless reconciliation. How many times do we who walk with Christ put it back to zero - Infinitesimally. 

May the Lord be with me - cause I am sure gonna need it.

Christ Church, Ridley Park
Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania

find us on facebook and Instagram and at our web-page: christchurchridleypark.org 

ps: if you want to see the best modern adaptation of PnP search for the Lizzie Bennet Diaries.  A 100 episode interpretation for this era - it is amazing.  

Memories of How the Church Tells Time


There are so many calendars that overlap in our lives.  We have personal calendars of birthdays and anniversaries and memories.  We have the seasonal calendars that are on paper, and then the seasons as the retail world sees them.  The colors of the stores change - even just at Wawa - in anticipation of upcoming holidays.  And then in this church, we have the liturgical calendar.  The round and round progression through the colors and stories. I love having a liturgical calendar.  Some of you who know me I like to play with liturgical colored clothing - especially tights.  That behavior connects the rhythm of the church to the whole of my life, connects it to my thinking first thing in the day.  

One of the questions of the Godly Play lesson is what is your favorite part.  My favorite color is blue, and so I very much love being in a place where blue is the color for Advent.  The lesson remembers the connection to Mary, Jesus' mother (Theotokos/Blessed Virgin) and that is of course important.  More so I admit I think of interstellar space, of Christ being before and beyond time and then being born in human flesh at Christmas.  I also think of the wisdom of the prophets discerning that God was going to do something new: and in those texts we see Jesus.  I don't know why I think of blue as a wisdom color.  Perhaps because it is my favorite color and I would like to be known as wise.  However, my favorite color/season is the red of Pentecost.  I have loved the focus on energy and movement and comfort and knowledge that we celebrate as attributes of the Holy Spirit: which is our focus on Pentecost.  

There are many memories associated with different seasons.  I wonder what memories you might have connected with seasons.  For me, the memory of Pentecost is now that it is that a Pentecost was my first Sunday as a priest.  And the power of God and human ingenuity that was able to get my ordaining


bishop to the church on time for the service the day before (Alleluia!).  I wonder if in the years ahead I will always connect the start of Lent with the start of this pandemic, and practicing church leadership in such trying and isolated circumstances.  A wilderness time to be sure.

What does it look like to respond as an adult learner to a Godly Play reflection?  The wonderful facet of learning for discipleship is it can work through your best gifts and skills.  If you knit - then knit a response.  If you like decorating - what if you began a way to follow the liturgical calendar color changes in decor?  Can you relearn a piece of music for a particular season?  If you work with wood or gardening or writing - respond that way.  Sometimes adult learners need to learn more about something - could some research about the liturgical calendar enable you to know more and find new ways to connect it to your life? If you do can you write it up and share it with the CCRP October newsletter?  For example, if you ask the question are the colors the same in all churches - the answer might be nope.  

God is inviting us into the circle of how God tells time: kairos (hey look that up).  A mystery of wonder and a knowable returning cycle of redemption.  I hope you take the time to respond, in whatever way you desire, to this lesson.  This is my response.  

Stay safe, Jesus loves you, and be so much more than kind.  

ps..Thank you to Sharon for sharing her gifts of Godly Play storytelling.  Thanks be to God for the hands that made that lesson and the technology to share it with you.  Praise be to Jesus for the discerning work of many years of the Godly Play storytellers.  



Sunday, September 6, 2020

Stray Cats, Lost Sheep: Plugged In Together


I am probably one of the oldest persons you will hear say I grew up around computers. A childhood friend once told me that I was the first person she ever heard say “that the computer was on the phone”. Some of us, we grew up with computers and the internet, and there's this unexamined expectation that it's all grown up and mature. When reality is it is a brand new way to communicate and dwell together in community. 

We've had many thousands of years of verbal communication and a few thousand years of written communication and a few hundred years of widespread literacy that was shared via paper and mass-produced books. Therefore - comparatively our relationship with one another over the world wide web is an infant. In some ways, this is like handing a 1-year-old an encyclopedia and expecting them to know what to do with it. 

I've celebrated more than once in the last 6 months how grateful I am for all of the technology that has made this time safer and not feel quite so isolated that tech already existed. The equipment we film this on the digital waves and hardwires that we share videos on these gifts were not only in existence but installed in my life and in many of your lives. Yet I would have had to have had my head deep in the sand to not realize that we don't know how to live together in peace with these methods of connection and communication. 

Our five lines of the Gospel of Matthew are part of a larger chapter of teachings about community life. When you read the whole chapter you will find it is mostly a Jesus’ greatest hits playlist. Teachings about how we are to live wholeheartedly together in complicated communities. If we go back to the beginning of the chapter Jesus starts off with calling us to become like children and welcoming children. Hold on a second though: remember Jesus's audience hears children and thinks about something like we would imagine stray cats. Germy grubby independent creatures who have their uses and but also love to rumble. 


Right before what we heard today is the parable of the lost sheep. Sheep which are the precious backbone ancient Judea. Yet sheep - are dirty and stubborn and unable to think for themselves: and Jesus' first hearers knew that. Maybe it can be helpful to read these five verses using some of the parabolic imagination that Jesus practiced and imagine these recommendations for community life being for a cartoon for an assembly of stray cats and sheep - and you are one of them. 

The Christian assemblies for which the sacred storyteller of Matthew wrote originally were new-ish. Probably a mix of first and second-generation Jesus followers and in this gospel, mostly people who are Jewish and dwelling closely with synagogue famil, and with people with who they have many differences. Which created uncomfortable tensions - at the least. These dynamics are set in the middle of a time of terror and trauma most likely in the context of the war that destroyed the second temple. There was widespread anguish, painful illuminations of our limitations,wounds of heart, wounds of body, wounds of community. 

Jesus is calling us then and now to grow into mature discipleship in the world one that doesn't triangulate - one that empathizes and one that does not turn away from hard conversations but does tap out Of the unhelpful comments section. In our new community of living together in the digital space, we're rumbling with new ways of figuring out what it means to practice healthy relationships when we can't look the other person in the eye Or feel their feelings in the room with us. All you young cats and precious sheep we've just moved in together online. It's all brand new - even 6 months in - and the troubles are as old as humanity itself. 

In this time of challenging connection and so much to fear but also with so much collaborative possibility, Jesus offers us both an ethic and direction and invites us to listen bravely to speak courageously, snd trust that when we live in his way - online and in-person - he is with us.
 
Christ Church, Ridley Park
Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Lists that Help Us: Abhor Evil and Bring Water to Your Enemy

I like a list. When I am anxious and out of sorts, making a list of what needs to be done, it helps. I have a friend who keeps Excel spreadsheets of everything she owns. It brings her peace. I am glad there are people in the world who keep things in such fine order. I am glad she showed me how to use Excel many years ago, And I like lists, but not that much. Some people see a list and it creates anxiety The very judgment of the list seems to foster a stranglehold of panic. Where do you land regarding making a list? For me a list is A breath of order, a vision of possibility beyond the anxiety. 

Our reading from the letter to the Romans could be made into a list. A full-time job description kind of list for the genuine Christian community - both as solo organisms and as a collective. Let us review some of that list. Abhor wickedness. Pursue Hospitality Feed your enemy. Vanquish evil with good. Be at peace with all. Love with fidelity. Provide Rejoice Endure Devote Weep Listen. Paul is diving deeply into what it means to be people of the Way, exploring the attributes of the movement that clings to Jesus as the Messiah. This Romans lesson is a tremendously helpful list. A working active Christian practice should rely on just such a growth and service mindset. Too often people say I like your Jesus, but I am not so sure about your Christians. And when they say that, it is probably because this list is what we are stumbling at living into. 

My guess is that there are some of these that many of us find to be at least reasonably achievable. Cling to the good sounds like coasting downhill. And each of us has different ones that are hardest. Bless those who troll and trample you? Ignore them sure. Not actually try to cause them grief? Yeah. Bless - pray for their well being- give water to those #$%#! ? Oh oh oh that is hard. Both when it is big impersonal evil and when it is the bully next door. Bless and feed my enemies?  It goes against so much in my personality and enculturation. 

So I am returned to the list - and I wonder what if we were to take this list and focus on one a day. Practice it in your life, and go one step further - take the time to reflect on your life and history and identify the name of one person who exemplifies each Christian duty. Hold them in prayer, wherever they might be. The list also can serve us as a mirror, a confessional prompt. Where have we not met this list? I was recently thinking about a different old friend.  She was certainly much more a friend than an enemy, but in my judginess and by silly issues where I thought we were divided, I had turned her into a frenemy in my mind. Sometimes offering water to an enemy is offering water. Sometimes it is having empathy. I  knew enough about her life to have done so. But back then I was much more on board with the do gooder part than the listen and forgive part of Christian-ness. 

Part of why the struggles of the early Jesus movement speak to us Is that we are still wrestling with what they struggled with. And some of our burdens are not that this way of life is new, but that it has over a thousand years of crud collected on it- what a friend calls the Constintinian hangover. In some ways even for some of us who have always been church people, we are meeting Jesus again for the first time. In the beginning, sometimes it is good to have a list. Pursue Hospitality Feed your enemy. Vanquish evil with good. Listen. Learn. Share. Follow Jesus, the Christ, the one Lord God of the Universe, who loved and served and died and rose again. We strive to live this list, we check it off, and fail to check it off, and we try again. 

This is the way Jesus loves & saves. This very list. What is the job description of those who love God? This very list.

CCRP 
#diopalove

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Not a Feeling Question: Who Do You Say that I Am

In our prayer for the pandemic era - Jesus stills stormy frantic hearts. Many of us connect who Jesus is with feelings - experiences of relief, connection, challenge. I am not sure that the sacred storyteller of Matthew is having Jesus ask us a feeling question. Nor is it a why do you like me question, but the life saving invitation of: who do you say that I am? 

Simon Peter excitedly answers - You are the Messiah, You are the big deal chosen hero who is gonna fix this chaotic storm of death and anxiety. Please do it now. This is Christ Church. Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew and Aramaic word we heard transliterated as Messiah. Saying Christ Jesus is like saying Queen Elizabeth - it is a role and a title, not a surname (or a curse word). Messiah, and therefore Christ, It sort of means oily head - as in one who has been anointed on their forehead by an ancient sacred rite One that marks an individual’s loyalty to God. Usually this is with olive oils steeped in resins and essential oils - what we would think of as chrism. This anointing is something you could see and smell. 

The Hebrew people hardly ever were a safe and sovereign nation. Their biblical history is one of constant threat and entanglement with the cruel grind Of this empire and that. Exploitation, despotic manipulation, humiliation, lies, death and destruction were constant. So too were the various hopes for a fix, a change, a messiah, a superhero to rise up and powerfully save the day. Powers that be don’t like messiahs. It was a dangerous nametag to be marked with. Some imagined a savior who would return everything to self-governing sacred order and conservation. Others dreamed of the One who would push us into a moral reckoning and the establishment of a just society for absolutely everyone. Messianic hopes were as varied and intense as the pandemic ending visions and conspiracy theories and strategies that circulate these days. Even the denials of the pandemic are in their own way a hear no-see- no evil shade of messianic hope. 

There is almost no part of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth that matched any concoction of what his contemporaries were expecting in a messiah. So, of course, there were questions, and we are still wrestling with them. The paradox of Jesus being salvific through less violence, and his requiring our dutiful way of love for all to participate in this rescue - it isn’t the easy bake recipe we were searching for. 'Who do you say that I am?' is an invitation to consider:  how does Jesus change everything? How does he save? Plenty of people have been radical revolutionaries, or sacred healers, or sage prophets, or controversial rabbi’s. But I don’t know any of them by name or in my heart. 

It is the holy self-sacrificial servanthood of Jesus is his messiah-ship. It is the love That holds fast even as it is crushed by the weight of the falsehoods of the powerful and shamed by the bullying terror of the cross. So the question 'Who do you say that I am?' isn’t about memorized answers, it isn’t about our wish list so much as it is a challenging invitation. Do you get that this is not about a superhero swooping in and making everything easy? Jesus is your Christ - your messiah - not because he is yours, but because you are his. 

He gives us not blindfolds or battle plans but his way, truth, and life. I wonder - who do you say that Jesus is? If you haven’t ever been asked that before - give it some time…. But spend some time with the question. Journal or craft or research your response. 

Furthermore, what does it mean that the name of this congregation is Christ - that our name is ‘’Expectations-turned-upsidedown- Healing-feeding-learning-servant-leadership- Marked-by-God Church”? Christ Church, Ridley Park is many things but all of them should be one with Christ Jesus. The best of them should be informed hopeful and lifechanging for the last, least and lost. What does the name of Christ - Messiah Jesus - say about who we are called to be in this pandemic era? 

To hold to Jesus as messiah - the christ means to find ourselves in the company he would keep, the love he lived into, the servanthood he practiced. What if the rescue someone is looking for is the ways of Jesus they encounter in you? Jesus stills the storms, Jesus rocks the boat. Hear him ask your whole life The question once more: Who do you say that I am?

CCRP  #diopalove

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Brought to you by the Number 3: Egypt and Joseph and Holy Mercy

Egypt. Pyramids and the mighty Nile river. Early innovators Of centralized governance and writing and organized religion. The people, the lands, they are a crossroads of humanity with a long tangled history with every tribe and empire to ever set foot in the region. Usually in scripture, Egypt is either the big bad, or the neighboring power offering “help” against mutual enemies, an offer with more than questionable motives.  

Sometimes Egypt is Egypt (1). Sometimes it is metaphor: metaphor for any human power structure, in any age, human power structures that operate contrary to God’s intentions(2). Sometimes Egypt is a kind of euphemism, it might say Cairo, what it is referring to is Babylon or Rome (3). It can be all three in one paragraph of the Bible. Regardless, the reference isn’t usually a delight. When the holy family flee from Judea to Egypt it isn’t something that the knowledgeable hearer understands as a good thing. It is leaping from the fire to the frying pan. 

The story of Joseph is the longest and perhaps most detailed of all the sagas of Genesis. That 2-hour musical barely scratched the surface. The coat of stellar beauty and value stokes his brothers’ jealousy so fiercely that while they are deciding which sin to commit against him, Joseph is abducted and sold into enslavement in Egypt. Most of the story isn’t much of a virtuous example, that is why it made a good musical. God does not speak from a bush or come to anyone in a dream. God is only given a few directly attributed actions in the whole saga. Yet this is sacred scripture, a story given lots of precious parchment. Why? 

Part of the story it is telling is ‘how we became refugees’. Jacob and Leah and Rachel and Joseph and his brothers dwell somewhere in what today we know as Syria and Israel and Palestine. The twelve tribes of Israel - Jacob’s sacred renaming - are from there - so how did the primordial story of faith become their liberation from enslavement in Egypt? What the saga of Joseph tells us is that it is because of a mixture of soul-selling misbehavior topped off with natural disasters of drought and famine.  1. Some of that is a straightforward morality tale. 2. Some of that is metaphor. 3. Some of that is geo-politics;  some of that is all three at the same time. 

Here today in this critical slice of the Joseph saga we have a deeply sacred story about the easy path of wrong choices that lead to disaster, and the long journey of truth and reconciliation: both on earth with each other, and in eternity with God. Has there ever been a moment in your life where you were stunned by a reconciliation as Joseph and his brothers were? How do you notice God leading you and your neighbor towards such mercy? 

This week I hope you find a bible, or a children’s bible and revisit the saga. I hope you notice and reflect on something unusual about Joseph. 1. He is spoken of as Abba -like when Jesus says Abba - that friendly name for fathers and God.  2. He is referred to as lord - one who is in charge of the activities of an area.  3. He is even called a ruler, because he is one. Father, Lord, Ruler: lets say FLR. FLR should remind you a bit of the way scripture describes the one God of the Universe. 

The brother's relationship with this FLR was dismissive and dysfunctional, and at the start, consistently turned away from love and fidelity towards FLR. And here now - this FLR stands in tremendous earthly authority: and forgives. This FLR is overcome with emotion, he cries. Joseph - this FLR - acts toward reconciliation and acts toward feeding and acts directly to welcome his wayward brothers. 

Perhaps this drama-dey saga of Joseph is also a type of sacred contemplation about God and his mercy. In this wondering, God acts with and through everyday means and encounters: dreams opportunities failures droughts and motivations. God keeps working and leading the family of humanity even when our choices are contrary to what God intends. God’s frustration with his people is not without warrant, yet God’s steadfast love for humanity, the tears of mercy and compassion, the delights of reunion and reconciliation those have no end.

August 16, 2020
CCRP

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

On the Lips of Eve: Psalm 139

There isn’t a word on my tongue Lord that you don’t already know completely. 

It can be interesting to imagine Psalm 139 coming from the lips of Moses, or Eve, or Job. It actually sounds very much like Job, This psalm with its harmonic notes and painting in similar hues as the book of Job. What we hear today is the cosmic sweetheart song. The verses that were ‘edited for content’, those verses skipped in the middle are a different key: an even earthier intimacy, and, straight-up vengeful anger. ‘If only, you God, would kill the wicked, These people talk about you, but only for wicked schemes’. Whatever the situation that led to the elaborate artistry of this psalm, it bears a strong suggestion of persecution may be due to such wholehearted devotion to God. Yes, I can imagine the whole psalm on the lips of Job. 

Then there are the other verses we skipped, Earthy, feminine ones that invite me to imagine Psalm 139 on the tongue of Eve. God is certainly so close, right there walking in the garden in that primordial time before time. I can imagine Eve being furious at the forces that oppose God, It only takes a bit of coloring outside the lines, and outside the garden. However, she comes to mind more for phrases such as: God knitting us in our mother’s wombs, and other subtle playful references to the creation stories, both hers, and the seven-day refrain of it was good, it was good. And speaking of coloring outside the lines, there are also in this whole psalm some illusions to creation stories of other ancient religions. 

Yet what really connects Eve with this psalm in my imagination is the repeating of the word know. Seven times in the whole psalm. Know as in the source of the phrase biblical knowledge. It doesn’t always mean that, but it does always convey the kind of relationship you might have if you shared a garden with God. 

Psalms are high art, carefully crafted art - so that even if you have never felt such closeness with God something in the poetry delights you, causes you to lean in, hum that tune for just a moment. This psalm in particular is a decentering poem of big faith, perhaps bigger than you feel sometimes. Could you give voice to this psalm in prayer for someone in your life, someone who needs to know they are not alone, that they are beloved, someone who is so caught in the heap that they cannot even express such feelings? 

Psalms are art, but they are not silly. They are likely rooted in real experience. All the experiences of life: the orientation, disorientation, and reorientation of this continuing COVID-tide moment are known in the Psalms. They are ready to pray words we didn’t know we needed, singing refrains we know by heart but forget to sing. This song, this psalm, was deep knowing truth: true for someone like Eve, and like Job, and for Teresa of Calcutta and Martin Luther King, Jr. and you and me. What makes scripture scripture it has a way of knowing our truths and birthing our imaginations that are already but also not yet. 

There isn’t a word on our tongues that God doesn’t already know.

Christ Church, Ridley Park, PA
Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania
July 14/19, 2020

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Seeds are Never Wasted

Mustard is a seed. At least when we usually encounter it. Most of the mustard plants grown on this planet are not grown for their greens which are edible and medicinal, but for their seeds. Seeds that get ground up and emulsified and some of you put that stuff everywhere. And then, what about sunflower seeds? Potent packages of nutrition and flavor. Ever notice how nobody worries when sunflower seeds get snacked on instead of planted? 

The parable of the sower is the opening of the sequence of parables that Jesus offers about what the reign of God is like. Reign of God is why we don’t just do whatever we want. The kingdom of heaven is what this all means in the end. 

The thing about the metaphorical storytelling of parables is that the outside is simple, the inside is profound. You are not supposed to eat the shell of the sunflower seed: it is a valuable container, but not the point. The prize requires breaking open the shell. When we break open the shells of Jesus' parables about the reign of God we notice four commonalities: 
  • that the reign of God is already present, 
  • it is all over the place, 
  • it is revealed in unexpected simplicity, 
  • and it demands our commitment in the middle of evil opposition. 
If we read this parable from an assumption that the one with the most full granaries wins, then we are perhaps eating the shell and missing the tasty food. Because the one with the most toys wins is not the way God's creation works. A seed is no less valuable because it doesn't become a sprout or plant. The reign of God is as ever-present as seeds - which are everywhere. Sometimes seeds sprout and make huge blossoms.  TBTG. And many seeds make our plates tastier: ever notice how many spices are seeds? And plenty of seeds get eaten by birds: and God seems to like birds! God keeps tinkering with that design endlessly - so seeds that feed something God loves is not a waste. And then, sometimes, seeds go back to dust and God makes use of that potency all over again. Alleluia. 

Mustard growing everywhere
Our reading today isn’t just a simple parable. It is also an interpretation of a parable, An interpretation that seems to be digging into frustration and disappointment. I've been thinking about the seeds of ideas and dreams that Christ Church had been fiddling with back in January. I have been wondering about the sparks of hope that I doodled in February. And how many of those seeds and doodles could have been amazing, and I grieve that we are not able to live into them. But the ideas - those seeds they weren't wasted. The nurture, the spice, the divine initiative, it lives on in new forms that we might not recognize yet.

2020 is not what we expected and certainly not what we wished. We have lost so many lives, 133,000 at this moment. It is wretched and we have much to lament, but I also believe we can act and pray and speak for living the love we are capable of. Jesus is working through our soils and seeds toward the reign of God, Planting in us what is needed for right now, and for what comes next. The reign is already (and also not yet), it is sown everywhere, it is surprising, and it demands our duty.  God is the sower.  We are seeds.

July 7/12, 2020
Christ Church, Ridley Park
Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Children, Wisdom, and the Marketplace

I always imagined a fountain. I imagine these young people playing around a fountain in the middle of this marketplace. What's in my imagination isn't a plaza in Jesus's day but something mid-twentieth century, maybe a little like a scene from Roman Holiday. I guess I imagine a fountain because of the connection with John the baptizer. Or maybe it's a place from my mid-70s West German childhood. The children I imagine playing certainly look like my friends, they sing the songs we would have sung and tell the stories we would tell. We all come to scripture with a lifetime of memories and art that fill in the space between the text.  What do you see and hear?

If you look beyond this imagined fountain in this marketplace, Jesus and some of his companions have come to get some fruit, some bread, whatever. Jesus and his friends run into some of curious opponents who are so intrigued or bothered by Jesus's holiness and teaching. So bugged that they just can't let him be.  In the background, these children could be singing what we would think of as a nursery rhyme, or it could be the equivalent of a pop song. They were not quoting Aristotle or uttering proverbs, however, Jesus raises their presence up to eye level. 

Childhood is a modern ideal. Of course, there have always been children, but the sweet darling vision of innocence that we might assume when we hear of children isn’t what Jesus’ hearers assume. Generally, people loved their children, the gospels themselves witness to such wholehearted familial love. However, the cultural norm, especially in the wider Hellenistic world, considered children in general to be on par with squirrels or stray dogs. Germy and in the way, a drain on resources until they could contribute, unfocused: plenty of the same critiques we might make today when we are quite frustrated with our children.  In this ancient situation the repeated New Testament use of children as a positive analogy for the way of discipleship - it would have gotten your attention because it sounded somewhat insulting. And here where children are raised up as carriers of sacred truth and wisdom, is stepping way outside the status quo. 

In 2012 a boy named Robbie was stuck at home, or maybe he was in the hospital again. When you have a brittle bone disease some times of immobility are just par for the course. So to keep him busy his older brother-in-law started a video project with him. It was a silly little delight intended just for themselves, a video of what a "Kid President" might have to say to anyone who would listen. Things like: if you can’t think of anything nice to say you aren’t thinking hard enough. And: give people high fives for just getting out of bed. Being a person is hard sometimes. It was a playfulness but he managed to same some things that apparently we need to hear.  The internet is our modern marketplace and that child, he uttered pep talks that went viral. 

One of the things that's changed since Jesus's day is sometimes we are more willing to hear the truth from a child than a peer. Especially a child with a muppet-like laugh and a sly smile. I believe a big part of the reason for this change in the embrace of childhood is because of Jesus himself. His very Incarnation, his humble birth to struggling parents in a backwater town: it changed how we see all children and our duty to them. We don’t inherit our world from our parents, we borrow it from our children. How should that truth, in the light of Jesus, shape our choices? What are they saying that we should hear? 

The scene we just witnessed in the marketplace has Jesus responding to his detractors saying, we just can’t win with you, because you are not even listening.  These children get something you don't.  He is also subtly repeating the fragility of his own life, the threat that he was under. The commentary regarding he and John, some of those bad reviews are punishable by death. Jesus whistles a tune of his own fragility in this life for being so transparent to God.

The very image of God's heart, Jesus doesn’t show up to issue report cards or reject the way we are made. He comes alongside our play fountains and our dark valleys. He sings along and welcomes us: the gluttons and challengers and the last and the least and the lost. He comes to love us all so wholeheartedly, to sing along with us so naturally, that our tune falls in line with his. 
Do you hear his song, and won't you sing along?

June 30/July 5, 2020
Christ Church, Ridley Park, PA
Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Take Us By the Hand: God and Robots

Wall-E is the last functioning junk compacting robot on Earth. Perhaps you remember the lead character in the Pixar animated film of the same name. Humanity has trashed the planet, those that survive have flown away on an infinite interstellar cruise. That space pod of humanity has sent a robot back to Earth to search for signs of life. EVE is the slick advanced technology life detective Who arrives on Earth, And clunky, dirty, duct-taped together Wall-E is immediately entranced, even though she is distant, tightly-wound, and frustrated. Wall-E’s fascination with EVE is perhaps an illustration of the way some of us ordinary people feel when we meet someone of significant famousness or attractiveness or polish.

There are many ways in which our lessons today could connect to that film Wall-E, which if you haven't seen it you really should. What truly brought it to mind however is the full meaning of the word that we heard translated as welcome. We heard it seven times in three sentences. It can mean learning, to grant access, to not refuse friendship, and it can also mean to take with the hand. Wall-E has no other instinct than to receive this stranger, to show her his home to offer her his treasures.  And time and time again he tries to take her ‘hand’. She doesn’t understand the gesture, her arms and hands are held tightly, but again and again, Wall-E never gives up on welcoming EVE by taking her hand. 

Many of the Gospel stories that we know the outline of by heart are variances on the command of these few sentences. Most of the times that Jesus is at table are an embodied expression of just such an open invitation. The wonders of the loaves and fishes, the Samaritan woman at the well, the children in the courtyard. Just as Jesus tells us today seven times to accept him, this call to grant full access to his life and death and Resurrection - is repeated and repeated all over the New Testament, like it is God’s favorite movie. He's not just asking us to welcome the smooth and slick or the carbon copies of ourselves, but also the prophets those who speak truth to power, those who cast visions of who we need to embody God's Reign.  Jesus calls us to welcome, receive, to take by the hand the prophets of moral revival. 

We've been through the first three months of learning to extend our hands to one another in less literal ways. In the name of Jesus we've been practicing our discipleship #togetherapart. And for the most part, we will keep doing that. And yet this week for the first time in as many months we have the chance to take with our hands the sacrament of unity with each other, and unity with God in Christ. To take the bread that is a recommitment to our baptismal promises into our very selves. Those of us who gather will be receiving not only for ourselves but for all who for their own well being are choosing not to gather in person. We are together in the mystery of the sacraments, together in the mission of healing and reconciliation, and the commitment to be the concrete shape of Jesus in our neighborhoods in welcoming ways. 

Our Gospel lesson today even though it is prevalent, it has not always been the dominant practice of the whole church. If you have ever felt left behind on a trashed planet, if you've ever been treated like you are grime-y or outdated or too other, I am sorry and on behalf of the church in which I am a priest, I declare that we are sorry, that God loves you, wants to take all of us by the hand, and show us his true way. Jesus shows us over and over that we are to welcome you, just as God made you. 

One of the meanings of the Greek word that is translated today as welcome is learn. Interesting to think of how welcome and learn are connected. What we are learning and welcoming in this era of figuring out what it means that church is more than a building or a club? Church is a people-on-a-mission word. The church is a duty and a responsibility to welcome and learn the best practices for the common good … at the minimum. And in the middle of the curve is to welcome into our lives the life changing vulnerability Of letting Jesus take us by the hand. God is smitten with all of us, and like Wall-E is trying over and over to take us by the hand. 

Stay safe as possible, and at the same time, trust in God's mercy, love, and act on his command to welcome the last and the first, the slick and the clunky, the expected and the revelation. Welcome, learn, embody Jesus, he is trying to take us all by the hand.

June 23 and 28 2020

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Fresh Fruits of the Spirit - 2020

Pentecost is finally here.  The celebration of the Spirit of God, the focus on the third person of the Trinity in whom we might have a stronger sense of living and moving and having our being; or you may also not know what in the world folks are talking about when they say they feel the Spirit move.  This Covidtide has demanded from us some fresh fruits of the Spirit. Here is my list.  What other fresh fruits of the spirit might you include for this time?

If you scroll a long long way you might find last year's fruits.  A few of these have changed, not because they are not fruits of the Spirit (maybe) but because they don't suit the best practices of now, or, take much more of a conversation to agree on. 

Whatever fruits you are seeing, or missing, I pray that the Spirit of God is with you this day, bringing you comfort, energy and courage.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Never Normal Anyways

I haven’t been comfortable with the word normal for a long time, And now I really don’t know what to do with it. I like bumper stickers that say 'normal is boring'. Or posters that say 'weird is a side effect of awesome'. I verbally dance around the word normal, often choosing conventional instead. Even the most conventional of my close friends are not very ‘normal’, and some might consider the adjective an insult. For most of my life the use of the word normal has been on a downward trend in books, but months into this upsetting era of pandemic and red zones, normal seems to be one of the most wished-for ideas, a word used like it is magic. Even some of the most funky folks I know are embracing nostalgia while naming our loneliness and losses and grief in one word: normal.

You might have noticed that I am making choices about our lessons to shorten the time of the service. Some of you may feel like we have all the time in the world, but I trust that there is good experience behind the time segments of the broadcast industry. More importantly, however, is looking ahead to being able to offer a modified and strictly organized and as safe as possible option of in-person communion services: which will need to be quite brief. So early this week I glanced at the readings and I saw the words Noah and baptism, and without really reading and chose 1 Peter (over the Acts of the Apostles lesson with Paul at th Aeropagus). 

It feels like a Great Flood kind of time, but it also doesn’t. Everything is storms of information and loss. We are a zoo’s worth of emotions inside of us and a rainbow of external experiences right now. But outside the world looks, normal. Grass keeps growing and bunnies chase, and there isn’t a disaster like a watery flood at our doors. Except that there is - and isn’t as obvious as a torrent. So the discord between the view outside of boring, and the feelings from our tossed hearts and grieving minds - the incongruence is making our seasick feeling even worse. So we cling to the wishes and balmy magic of the word normal. 

The first letter of Peter. It is a weird text. It is a beautiful Greek, which raises some logical curiosities. It makes arguments and advocates for ideas that are coloring outside the lines of what became normal in Christian doctrine. In our bulletin our lesson today is two paragraphs. The commentary was five pages long in a big book! The Noah connection with baptism is classic and almost unexamined, but the analogy here is odd if you think about it too much. The power isn’t in the details, but in the almost Jungian imagery. The whole letter is trying to work out what it means to be outside of normal, to be a resident alien, to face slander and lies, and not retaliate. How do we keep our whole lives aligned with Jesus’ commands to love as we are loved, when we feel so far from safe? 

1 Peter is pastoring at a distance and despite its detailed complexities and out of stepness, the focus is very potent to us right now: how do we hold fast to Jesus’ promises? How do we practice the common good in this bizarre storm of suffering and confusion and grief and distancing and denial - under sunny skies? Furthermore, this paragraph urges us to not idolize the previous norms. For the original audience, this meant whatever was found in the local idol practices. These previous ways only feed the denial of our deep anxiety and discomfort. The commendation here is that it is Jesus’ servant leadership that is our strength in this chaos. His death and resurrection are the victory over confusion and evil. 

At the top of this lesson is the directive: do what is right - follow the commands of Jesus - especially when it is hard. In this, we will find blessing, not saccrine escapism or numb glee - but Christ's peace, which is connected centered gladness. This promise has held true for a long time, it has been tested before and found to be verifiable. It can meet this era of grief and weirdness. Follow the directions of Jesus. Love. Serve. Adapt. 

We have been baptized into Christ’s life, and death, and resurrection. We are people who have promised to move beyond our comfort zone and brave the strange and the unknown. Jesus is with us in learning unexpected new ways to strive for wholeness and peace. Yes - we feel strange because we are stuck in an ark when the rains have stopped. It isn’t normal. Much of what we thought was normal might lay in our wake: and it will be ultimately alright, if not in the way we had expected. We can lament all that we left behind and lean lovingly into the adaptations of today and tomorrow. The Spirit is with us in this. Advocating for the best of us, and brooding over these and chaotic waters with divine love and energy. 

This time is difficult - and the message of 1 Peter for us today is that our places of pain are the places of grace where we learn anew how fiercely we are held by God.  This is where we learn that we are not finished, we are not alone, that we are still changing, and the church is too. Maybe weird is the new normal. And just maybe, weird has always been normal for disciples of Jesus Christ.

CCRP
DioPA
Broadcast on Facebook Live @christchurchatridleypark

Monday, May 11, 2020

Acts of the Pioneers

In this part of the US (SE Pennsylvania) things get named revolutionary, colonial, patriot, liberty. I lived for many years in Oregon and Washington and out there a lot of the same kind of things get named pioneer (also Lewis and Clark).  There are of course historical reasons for that difference. Today we heard a small slice from the text named Acts of the Apostles. Which is a creative storytelling of the memories of a pioneer movement in a revolutionary time in the life of the world.

Acts of the Apostles is full of action tremendous highs and devastating lows as it explores the revolutionary impact of Jesus's resurrection. It is much more about pioneers than it's about revolution, but then it's probably fair to say that most pioneers a revolutionary. It also wrestles with theodicy: Why is there evil in a good creation? Specifically what happens when the good news of the Jesus movement encounters hard-heartedness, enemies, Evil, and destruction. If this good news changes everything for good, then why are witnesses like Stephen martyred by their kinsman?

You may have noticed, that the primary time we hear from Acts of the Apostles is in Easter season when it displaces our usual Old Testament reading. This is of note with today’s lesson because it is the Christian relationship with the Hebrew scriptures that Stephen is talking about when he gets in trouble. He is one of the first deacons, he was called to take the good news out into the world both in word and in the distribution of food. He is also as far as we know the first Christian martyr. From our brief lesson, You may be left wondering why was Stephen stoned to death? (The lesson doesn't tell.)

Earlier in the Acts of the Apostles, we were told that Stephen is full of the Holy Spirit, and he defends the word of God with wisdom. Stephen is a Greek name and it seems that he was a person who is hereditarily Jewish but born and raised in the diaspora - scattered communities elsewhere in the Mediterranean region. He may have come back to Jerusalem to be closer to its roots, and it is there that he encounters I presume, Jesus himself, and becomes a disciple of this one who he believes is the Messiah. Most Jewish people in that ancient spread out diaspora had learned how to practice their faith far removed from access to the Temple. Stephen's argument is building on this - connecting the pre-temple era with the divine presence of Jesus. 

He celebrating the ways of worship in the wilderness with Moses with the Spirit moving through the tent with flexibility and mobility. He says this tent life with God this is the same as the new creation they have encountered in Jesus the Messiah the Christ. A temple built by human hands isn't necessary he argues. God's activity is not bound by place or by time and God's judgment of humanity is based on are our obedience to God’s commands to safeguard the last the least and the lost. Some prophets have advocated similar things (and may have died for their prophetic speech), this isn’t a new idea, but also not coloring inside the lines. And the response of the authorities and his not-Jesus-following brethren is outrage and fear and panic and anger, so much that it becomes a mob which stones and kills Stephen. 

It is this death which strikes such fear in his community that many of them leave Jerusalem they had to escape to the north and began what becomes the pioneer story of the Jesus movement. This devastating blow moves us into a life-giving, liberating mission to all. Acts of the Apostles is not a victory performance. It's a marathon with celebrations and devastation and loving-kindness and confusion and righteousness and amazing growth. I think the lesson from Acts of the Apostles for us right now at this time is that the grief and the joys will come like waves as we ride through different 'landscapes', or new 'weather systems'. These changes are going to be a part of our life on this journey. This is a pioneer time, it is like a trek all the way across North America, not by plane or train, but by horse and wooden wheels. It will be long and complicated. 

Looking ahead to this truth and way of life is important. The death toll should scare us It should throw our hearts to the ground. It should put our masks on and keep us at home as much as possible. It should call us to be in prayer and study more, to empower us to demonstrate the love of Jesus in the shadows of injustice. This storm of grief is real and we shouldn’t pretend it is sunshine. However, in the same moment, I hope we feel the tender mothering wing of Christ around us. And then never forget to look way back and see how far we have come. We are resilient and we meet the challenges! The millenias of people that came before us have survived incredible difficulty and strangeness with almost none of the advantages we have.. and they figured it out. We have so much to be thankful for and we will create life together beyond this pandemic. Even when parts of what we loved in the past will be no longer. 

Remember - everything we know about God's creation is that it is constantly changing it has always been changing and with tears and in laughter, we can continue to listen and learn together-apart to serve forever with Christ. The witness of the Acts of the Apostles Is that we are called by the Spirit of God To not get stuck, to brave all the days with love and adaptation. This week may we know the wise faith of Saint Stephen, the candid courage of the revolutionaries and patient commitment of the pioneers.

CCRP
DioPA

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Walk to Emmaus as an Examen

Free for anyone reusable masks @ CCRP
Theirs is a crowded loneliness. I call them Max and Cleo. One has a name, Cleopas, the other doesn’t. Some of you know I don’t like nameless characters - so I call the other guy Max. These two, they are getting out of Jerusalem. Followers of Jesus, who days before was put to death as a revolutionary. It was just after the festival, so the road, every road out of Jerusalem would have been crowded. Max and Cleo had every reason to have been scared, but perhaps they were too numb to even feel that. When I see them, I imagine them anxious, confused and bustled on a crowded road. And I find myself with a new reaction to that scene. I shrink back now, try to step aside on their behalf. Trying to care for myself, for my neighbors, There is so much known and unknown A moment of too much and too little. I find myself in the vicinity of Max and Cleo I want to step back, protect them, protect me, and I look around with concern and judginess at the rest of the people and wonder where are your masks?

The location of Emmaus is lost in the sands of time. All the probable locations are at a long foot travel distance which make the told timeline of this tale improbable. Luke is more interested in the meeting the heart than matching the clock. I trust that this episode holds a feeling, an experience a witness of the early days of the risen Jesus. And I know it is the experience of followers in every era who go from huh? to whoa! Emmaus is almost metaphor for whatever space we go to to escape - even if it is in our own mind palace.  Emmaus is that good place we go to get away from all the drama and all the trouble and Jesus meets us there. Where do you go in your heart - where do you desire to go - to get away from the crowded loneliness of now? A space that is verdant but also a blank canvas? Room to find sacred freedom, and to find peace enough to be touched and fed by Jesus? Do you need to carve that out? Even if it is your shower? 

The lesson for the third Sunday, this third Sunday of Easter, It is the outline of how this all fits together - the eternal Christ - born, lived, died, risen, ascended - always present. Do we understand it? No. Do we feel it? Yes. This walk to Emmaus is exploring why Jesus matters in a story format. Max and Cleo on their attempted escape to Emmaus is one of the most central Christian narratives because it tells the complicated drama of what we trust, and how we live, and who Jesus is in our lives. 
The best tool I know of for getting a little bit of “away” so I can focus staying still and getting away to get better at noticing Jesus walking with me is the Ignatian practice of the Examen. And the easiest way to remember it for me is 5 R words. Practiced once a day with these five simple prompts: Relish request review repent resolve. 

Relish is savoring the feelings of the day: what was bitter, sweet, sour, fruitful? Request is the prayer of welcoming God: God who created everything, Jesus who shepherds us, the Spirit that intercedes with sighs to deep for words. Review is considering the agenda of the day with God - what did you do this day? Repent is what do you notice from these savorings and reflection that lead you to confess sin? Resolve is looking forward and setting your intention for a more wholehearted faithfulness tomorrow. 

All 5 of those prompts Relish Request Review Repent Resolve are in the Emmaus story - in another order. Relish - that memory of how their hearts had been burning. Request - inviting Jesus to sit table with them. Review - when they recount the previous days of death and reports of Jesus’ resurrection. Repent - Jesus’ judgement about our foolishness. Resolve - The excitement with which they return to Jerusalem and proclaim what they experienced. That easy examen is a five-word guide to looking prayerfully at the day, which in this time of not knowing what day it is - well, I find it to be priceless. Relish Request Review Repent Resolve. 

We are in the middle of this Corona-tide rumble - it is beyond full of grief and confusion. 50,000 dead from the Covid-19 virus in the US alone. I cannot even wrap my head around the woe of that number. The Spirit sighs too deep for words and Jesus weeps. There is no mistaking that many of us are on a lonely and crowded road - whether we are alone and crowded in by all the news and demands and changes; or if we are dwelling in a crowd and feeling all alone. I see you, I feel you. I am praying with you. 

Easter is here - but the wilderness continues. I am here to encourage you in the name of the risen Jesus - your staying apart, wearing uncomfortable masks, Learning to distance, changing our lists from want to need, the turning over of absolutely everything, for what will be a long while, This is walking with Jesus. It is being the church by taking on his shape, making significant sacrifices for the well being of the last and the least. Our feast with him again will be a while, but that does not distance us from him, does not have to lead us to fail in our sacred duties. 

We are in the middle of this difficult journey - a crowded and lonely rumble with the best and the worst. Max and Cleo, as I call them, were on a similar journey. Today’s lesson is the fullness of the Christian experience, it is the truth of our unique life together-apart right now. For thousands of years this Emmaus journey has been the reality of many followers of Jesus. And in the communion of saints, I trust that they are walking with us too - right now. We are not alone. Christ is with us. The saints are with us. Relish, Request, Review, Repent, Resolve.  

Christ Church, Ridley Park
DioPA
Broadcast on Facebook Live  @christchurchatridleypark 


Monday, April 13, 2020

Easter Like No Other

I make silly poses for the test photos
when I am prepping for a live stream alone.
Before each service these days I worry about my throat giving out. And I remind myself that my favorite singer songwriters stand up on a stage, and sing and chatter for two to three hours. So I repeat at myself: you can do this if they can. But despite current appearances to the contrary, I am not a solo performer. I don’t know how to do this. None of us know how to do this. There is something shadowy and tomb like to stand at an altar with no bread or wine, an ambry with no sacrament, a nave with no hearts or smiles or wiggles.

The disciples and friends of Jesus didn’t know how to do it either. They barely knew what it was to do. The morning light must have been harsh. Were they looking around corners? Hiding their faces? So much they didn’t know. What tumbles in their hearts is probably love and fear and anxiety and trying to ‘just getting on with the living'. That sounds familiar. Suddenly they are interrupted by something like a bold and blazing light, by a startling and world re-doing proclamation: He is not in the tomb. There has never been another Easter like that first one, and there has never been another Easter like this one. Empty church buildings across the world. Not because we quit loving Jesus - but because we love him and follow him. 

He is the heart of this day - and the why of the way that we choose to practice the day of resurrection this year. The center of Easter in Christian practice is not seersucker suits or chocolate rabbits or confetti eggs. The center of Easter is that first utterly world re-creating empty tomb. The blinding light of Easter is the most radical claim of Christian belief and practice - that Jesus who was crucified is not dead but has risen. 

The new creation is glowing and growing, but it also is shedding long shadows. We would be foolish to pretend that anything will ever be normal again. There are vile shadows that are wreaking havoc right now attacking our most vulnerable underbellies and neighbors. The cruel shades of evil won’t be vanquished because someday we will party together again. Such evil needs the masked and gloved disciples of Jesus shining lights of candor and boldly serving for truth. I want to get back to some parts of the life I once knew, I want iced espresso in hip cafes and company. Oh how I want company. Yet at the same time, I feel strangely more connected to you, even at this distance. 

We are called by Jesus in this time on this Easter day to turn, turn from shadows and selfishness rise into courage, pivot into active disciple-d responsibility for ourselves for neighbors, for strangers and for our children’s children. Thank you from the depths of sacred gratitude to everyone on the front lines. Peace be with you who are suffering, suffering the distance, or illness, or because your beloved has died. We are with you, Jesus loves you. We will do our duty because it is how we show that we love God. We are here for you. A new creation comes to life and grows, as Christ’s new body takes on flesh and blood. A universe restored, and all will sing, Alleluia. 

The first thing the believers in the risen Jesus did was not to build church buildings. Church buildings are wonderful and essential and we are quite blessed by this one. Yet the church is a people word. The church is the community of humanity in which Christ Jesus has taken flesh and blood shape. The form of the church isn’t a structure but lifegiving evidence of God in Christ resurrected right now in us. The being of the church is still alive and well and celebrating in different shape and texture. And as long as it aligns with Jesus, as long as it steadfastly practices the promises of baptism, as long as we rise up in empathetic action for strangers, we will never cease to be the church of Jesus Christ. 

Right now we are one with communities of disciples that were the closest in time to the first Easter. We are gathered in homes, proclaiming Christ as Lord, praying, singing, promising, wondering, and serving because God loved us first. We are one together with Jesus Christ because by our distancing, we are acting for all neighbors in concrete ways. This is what we have always meant when we have proclaimed that they will know we are Christians by our love. A new creation is coming to life and growing. 

Resurrection is taking on real flesh and blood in hearts and souls and hands that never thought much about who they are aligned with or what it means to be a practicing Christian. Maybe that is you? If it is, I am glad you are tuning in today. I wonder if Jesus whispering your name beside the empty tomb. We don’t have to know it all, or really know what we are doing, if it is done in the ways of love that are of God. Today we are called to hear Jesus’ voice, chase after God’s commandments, and let the Spirit of the new creation come to life in us together, even while apart. Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia! 

(I am playing a bit with the hymn that was sung just before the gospel).

Corona-tide
Christ Church, Ridley Park
Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Holy Boxes - Transfiguration

Maybe for Peter and James and John it was a memory that they couldn’t ever really put words around. Something they didn’t get at the time. Maybe they never really had the sense that they truly got it. Perhaps it was a moment when all the devils they had made deals with were blown away in the light of grace. Maybe it was a moment like absolutely no other, but also at the same time had a taste of something wonderful they had known their whole lives? I don’t pretend to know what happened on that hillside with Jesus that day. I do see that it was precious to these people, to the early church, and it is strange but important to ages and ages of the faithful. 

Even when we look at it with some distance and modern skepticism, we are not standing in a very different place That Peter and James and John not too sure we get what is going on here either, but we know that the tyranny of the ordinary is troubled - and it feels like the kind of sacred mission to which we respond 'I will with God’s help'. Sometimes I enforce a bit of distance from this Transfiguration by laughing at the story. I think - well - 'Bless their hearts'. Setting up a holy carnival is such a Saturday morning cartoon response to this encounter. Then my humor dissolves as I recall that this Gospel account, it isn’t told in the moment, It is told looking backward in time. And then I remember that there have been moments of peace or belonging or revelation in my life that I do wish I could put in a box and keep safe and sound. There were the Easter vigil baptisms where I tell you the Spirit came rushing through the congregation. A goofy spring day with my classmates playing among bluebonnets in the Texas hill country. Moments that loudly and quietly troubled the tyranny of the ordinary.

Jesus has just told the disciples of the path that lay ahead of him, The hard road to the cross that all who follow him must also walk. Their reaction was as to be expected - anxiety, fear, denial, numbskullness. So much of who Peter and James and John became why we recall them as pillars isn’t their perfections, but their frequently mistaken responses to the challenge of Jesus’ love. These guys are exemplars because of how they continued against adversity. May it be that some of the ability to be wrong and still feel beloved, may it have come from the memory and power of that hillside? A moment of endurance and unknowingness all at once. Our memories seem so frail and misled. So of course, they wish they could go back, to the precious power of that day - and to have it always accessible in a tangible container.

Jesus is both so close and so far and sometimes it can feel like our sense of him as our director pales in the light of all the bold demands of life and society. We think we cannot see him through the crowd, our hands are so full that we drop our grip on his hand. What practice or method do you use to hold on to just a glimmer of memory or moment when we did feel close to God when we felt free in the Spirit when we knew the overwhelming loving presence of the One in Three and Three in One? 

Lent begins on Wednesday this Transfiguration is the prelude. It is a bit of a Mardi Gras, a Shrove Tuesday, a pump up the volume of final meaning and festivity and delight before we turn the taps off and put away the silly to look at our messes and terrors and failures with courage and candor. The Transfiguration is the flickering of the lights before the Lenten story, in a foreshadowing of Easter glory. As you think about what your Lent will look and feel like this year I wonder if you could open yourself to let it be a bit deeper this year. Something from our baptismal promises - Continue more earnestly, return more truly, proclaim more daringly, serve more honestly, strive more dutifully? 

Lent began as a time when the whole Christian community walked alongside people who were preparing for the risk and commitment of Christian baptism. Whatever way you choose as a Lenten commitment - let it be one of realism and bravery and discipleship and possibly, uncomfortable transfiguration. If you have been sitting in the parking lot of the Lenten journey, get out of the car. If you have walked the easier path, consider the longer harder one-up the hilll. If you have overdone it, then perhaps find a way to both be holy and not wear yourself out. 

Whatever mystery of love and trampling of the forces of death that happens at Easter it changes everything. And this moment of our lesson today, this Transfiguration, this sacred revelation on the mountain, it is indistinguishable from that holy and lifegiving mystery of Jesus’ resurrection that we will celebrate in 40 days time. So go forth from Jesus’ brilliance on this hillside today, comfortable in the mystery. 

All the perfect ideas of rational thought will never explain what is going on in the Transfiguration or Easter, but such unknowingness does not eliminate their truthfulness. Whatever mystery of love bursts from the tomb on Easter - it is here in this lesson. The shouting down of death and destruction that rises on Easter morning - it is here today - shining out of our belovedness - and it changes everything.

February 23, 2020
Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania