Giving Out of Holy Poverty

Homily for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

November 11, 2018
St. Thomas Episcopal Church (My Sponsoring Parish for Ordination)

Link to Lectionary Texts

I remember the day that a few coins broke my heart open.

I was just a few weeks into my first year of seminary field education, piecing together how my work in the world and my work in the church might fit together into this vocational call I was pursuing.  I was setting up for the Friday Red Door healing prayer service, a service of word and prayer which takes place before our weekly community lunch for people experiencing homelessness and food insecurity.  The campus ministry student who was the greeter that day called me over and said, “there’s a woman who just came in and says she needs an offering plate…what do I tell her?”

Her question caught me off guard; the last thing in the world I wanted to do was to set out an offering plate at a service attended by people whose lives were mired in poverty.  So, I walked over to this tiny, frail-looking older woman to see what she really wanted.  She had on simple, well-worn clothes and spoke to me quickly without making much eye contact.  As a trained social worker, I can tend to quickly assess what I think might be going on…sometimes to a fault.  And on that day, I admittedly presumed there had been some confusion, and perhaps this was a request for financial assistance mistaken as a request for an offering.  But, in seconds, I had to check all those assumptions of wealth and privilege as she repeated her request clearly and directly: “I said I need an offering plate” she said, “I have something that I want to give the church.”

I nodded and ducked into the chapel, picking up one of the carved, wooden offering plates on the back table.  She reached into her quilted purse and pulled out a smaller cloth sack.  As people filed in for the service, she poured the contents of the bag into the plate, until I needed to use both hands to support the weight of the heaping mound of coins she poured into that wooden basin in my outstretched hands.  The tellers would later report it was well over $50 of her collected change.  She didn’t want to be recognized, or to stay for the day’s programs.  But she did tell me that when she was younger, she had two children and not enough food to feed her family.  She would come to this church on Fridays and the volunteers would feed her, and make sure she had extra milk to take home for her children.  That compassion nurtured this woman and her family in body and spirit and now, she had come to give all that she had saved.

“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Our logical minds and human actions want to separate “poverty” and “giving” or at the very least, to think of the latter as a way to alleviate the former.  We hear Jesus drawing these same distinctions in today’s Gospel.  First, he points out the complete hypocrisy that emerges when “demanding” is conflated with “giving.”  The extortion and corruption Jesus knew were taking place in the name of religion were the exact opposite of giving: the unjust system Jesus condemned imposed poverty on a vulnerable sector of society, devouring the security of home for the benefit of an institution.

But, the lesson doesn’t end there.  Jesus breaks down the barrier between “poverty” and “giving” even further by illustrating something new about the realm of God.  Jesus draws our attention away from the elaborate gowns and lofty prayers of the institutional authorities who seemed to have all the power and illustrates instead what was happening through the perspective of a widow who had felt the profound pain of injustice and poverty all of her life.

What does it mean…really mean…to see through the eyes of poverty, instead of the eyes of wealth?  Wealth is our human representation of security, power, comfort, assurance.  When we have wealth, we can feel self-assured and capable of deciding to whom we are willing to give what proportion of the abundance we possess.  We live in a society that values and protects the privilege of wealth.  But seeing through the eyes of poverty forces us to focus on what it means to give with trust, through the vulnerable eyes of scarcity and oppression.  Seeing through the eyes of poverty means we have to leave behind the glittery false promises of security, power, and comfort and rely instead on the providential nature God who loves and care for us.  Giving from our poverty is a true act of faith.  It’s what it truly means to Go Now Into the World and celebrate our participation in that economy of God’s mercy and grace.

Some of us have been at the receiving end of these gifts of mercy quite directly.  Some have felt what it is like to give with total trust and abandon.  But many of us have to pause intentionally in order to see and feel the weight of sacrificial giving others have enacted on our collective behalf.  This is why we have pause on the 11th day of the 11th month for remembering and honoring the selfless and sacrificial actions of our veterans; this is why we are urged to pray and recognize those who have given the gift of life through organ donation on this weekend of the donor sabbath.  We should and do stand in awe and respect of these sacrifices made by others.  But Jesus, in directing our gaze to this easily overlooked widow and her two copper coins reminds us that it isn’t enough just to admire sacrifice from a distance.  We are invited to move closer to this poverty of spirit in order to truly understand what it means to give.

Dorothy Day, founding mother of the Catholic Worker movement, writes about the liberating nature of voluntarily embracing what she describes as the true intention of holy poverty: “To love with understanding and without understanding. To love blindly, and to folly. To see only what is lovable. To think only on these things. To see the best in everyone around, their virtues rather than their faults. To see Christ in them.”

Taking up our Christian Sister Dorothy’s challenge, how do we look through the eyes of holy poverty to see the living Christ in our midst?

I can tell you that I saw Christ that day in the eyes of the woman who poured out all her change not because she was forced to do so, but because she had seen Christ in the giving actions of those who cared for her and her children.  Her gift reflected her voluntary participation in the realm of Christ rather than the realm of this world.  That day, as my heart broke open, I walked into the nave of the church carrying that coin-heaped offering plate, through the rows filling with people gathering from the surrounding streets, up the chancel stairs to the altar where I bowed, and prayed, set her offering to rest there for the remainder of the service.  God is the source of these gifts of holy poverty.  She didn’t want a tax receipt.  She wasn’t asking for anything in return.  She wasn’t engaging in a transaction with the church.  She was pouring out all that she had as an offering to God, a sacrifice of healing for our collective spirit.

Some of you know about one of the projects I’m currently working on, Faith from the Margins to the Web.  Each week, campus and community volunteers across social margins of age, race, wealth, social class and other human differences to engage in holy conversations about our weekly Gospel lessons.  Crossing the social margins of this world, each pair or small group is able to discover God in our midst, as revealed in holy scripture and in each other.

In the group which was discussing today’s Gospel lesson, the question was posed: is this widow a hero, or a victim?  There was a flurry of conversation following that question about how she gave from her heart, how she gave all she had, but also how she had been relegated to that state of poverty by the oppressive system of power in which society and the church participated.  Toward the end of the discussion, it was a woman named Theresa…someone who earlier that day had confided in me her pending homelessness within a few days and had asked me to pray with her for strength…who shared the offering of her heart through the eyes of her experience:

“You know, at the end of the day, I think maybe she isn’t a hero or a victim” said Theresa.  “I think she looked at those two coins and she looked up at God and she thought, ‘if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t even have this.  You made me, and what I have is yours. So go ahead, have this: here it is. I want you to accept this, just like I accept what you give me.”

During this past week, as I have prepared for my ordination, and even more so now that I live into the vows that I have made, Theresa’s words have become prayer.  When it comes right down to it, all we truly have to offer God is the gift of ourselves.  We pour out the coins of our lives into the outstretched hands of God who has already given us all of who we are, and everything that we need.  The robes, the glory, the accolades: these are mere distractions from the trust that comes from knowing that all we have is already held in the hands of a loving God.  Oppressive systems cannot devour divine mercy.  God’s love prevails in our actions of compassion, in the holy poverty of having our hearts broken open so that we can give with open and loving hearts, receiving in return the gift of truly seeing Christ in each other.

“If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t even have this.  You made me, and what I have is yours. So go ahead, have this: here it is. I want you to accept this, just like I accept what you give me”

Amen

 

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Bread of Life

This is a “tale of two sermons” from Proper 14, Year B

Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 4:25-5:2
Gospel Lesson: John 6:35, 41-51

Sermon #1:  Saturday Contemplative Eucharist, St. John’s Episcopal Church

Additional Reading: Coming to God: First Days by Mary Oliver

“Here is the bread, and here is the cup, and I can’t quiet myself.”

In the pace of this world, we relish the things that save us time. There are books on 15 minute dinners, websites filled with time-saving life hacks and instructions on how to accomplish as much as possible without wasting a precious second. I understand this: I’m a multi-tasker myself and nothing makes me roll my eyes more than feeling like my time is being wasted. But if I’m cutting corners on time to fill my life with more busy things, that really isn’t saving time; that is just rearranging my busy.

Pausing a moment to let ourselves inwardly digest the lessons the we just read, I offer to you a few thoughts to feed on when Jesus says, I am the Bread of Life.

Bread is not always a quick thing. The best breads I have ever tasted are slow-rising, yeasty and made patiently and lovingly. Every Christmas I bake a yeast bread that rises overnight, a gift in recipe form from Franziska, an exchange student from Switzerland who stayed with us one year while I was in high school. Or, just this past summer, in the middle of an all-day, every-day class on The Sabbath, my Jewish professor Naomi brought loaves of freshly baked challah with her for our final class together, the taste of which was like being given a beautiful taste of her family’s cultural history to welcome the Sabbath as we closed our time together. The delight of these gifts are not that they are quick and easy; it is that they require time and love. Broken and shared, they fill us with a sense of being valued, cared for, remembered and embraced by love.

Bread, even savory bread, requires something sweet. Yeast actives and lives by the breaking down of sugars, so into almost every kind of bread a little sweet must enter: a pinch of sugar, a bit of honey, the sweetness contained within a particular grain or liquid which sets the action into motion. Even in a savory loaf…right alongside the saltiness…there is still a need for the sweet in order to activate fully. There’s a lesson about sweetness baked into bread which reminds me not just of the Gospel lesson, but the exhortation in Ephesians, too: “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

When we quiet ourselves, we begin to settle in to this imagery of bread that Jesus shares, and perhaps to taste the depth of what it means for Him to be the Bread of Life that comes down from heaven. This bread is patient, kind, filled with loving-kindness. It conveys to us a story of who we are, and where we belong. When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” He extends divine love and grace to feed and nurture us with spiritual food. Like the sweetness added to the yeast, these words activate the life-giving nature of Jesus’ message to expand beyond that fixed point of time and space, reaching out out across time and context to nourish hearers in every age.

In some communities, the invitation to Holy Eucharist uses a paraphrase from St. Augustine, “Behold what you are; become what you receive.” As we pause before this bread and this cup, as we wrestle with our swirling thoughts in an attempt to quiet ourselves, we are called to remember that we aren’t asked to be in perfect, harmonious alignment before receiving this gift. Like Jesus’ love for the whole world, we are simply given it, receiving into ourselves with sweetness the life giving potential that Jesus, the Bread of Life offers to us. As Mary Oliver names us: we are the wanderer who has come home at last, opening to transformation and receiving the gift that Jesus has given for the life of the world.

Wanderers and travellers, we gather here to welcome a time for silence, for prayer, for healing, and for communion. In the love of Christ, we are met just as we are and nourished with this gift of love from the One who wishes to make us one, and to be one with us. The words that I have been holding in my own silence this week are from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, from Mass on the World. I offer them up as a prayer, as we move into this time to be loved, to be fed, to be transformed together:

This bread, our toil, is of itself, I know, but an immense fragmentation; this wine, our pain, is no more, I know, than a draught that dissolves. Yet in the very depths of this formless mass you have implanted —and this I am sure of, for I sense it — a desire, irresistible, hallowing, which makes us cry out, believer and unbeliever alike: ‘Lord, make us one.’

Sermon #2:  Sunday Holy Eucharist, St. John’s Episcopal Church

Link to Audio of Sermon Here

I’ve been thinking a lot about bread this week. Growing up in Buffalo, my favorite winter days were when we baked homemade bread. I loved the way the whole house was permeated by the scent of those freshly baked loaves. I married into the Price family, who are also bread lovers, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that my daughter Cassandra is becoming a pretty expert bread baker herself. Any excuse to bake bread is a good excuse in my mind, not just cold winter days. Suffice it to say, I haven’t been able to stray far from thinking about bread this week, studying the Gospel lesson and preparing to break bread together with this community at St. John’s on this final Sunday serving with you as your summer Mid-Atlantic seminarian.

One of the things that I’ve been pondering is that bread, even the savory kind, requires something sweet. Yeast actives and lives by the breaking down of sugars, so into almost every kind of bread a little sweet must enter: a pinch of sugar, a bit of honey, the sweetness contained within a particular grain or liquid which sets the action into motion. Even in a savory loaf…right alongside the saltiness…there is still a need for the sweet in order to activate fully. There’s a lesson about sweetness baked into bread which reminds me not just of the Gospel lesson, but the exhortation in Ephesians, too: “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

It’s a fitting image for us, the Body of Christ, to inwardly digest.

Today, in John’s Gospel, we hear words and metaphors of the Bread of Life through the ears of those in Jesus’ own cultural, Jewish context. Those who took his words literally were shocked and horrified; we’ll hear more from that group over the next two weeks. But today’s Gospel gives us insight into their confusion and attempts to take in and process this new information. The Jewish people who surrounded Jesus had been fed on the mountain side in miraculous ways, and were seeking to be filled again. They had just experienced the “bread of heaven” as miraculous loaves which had fed 5,000 hungry people from a young peasant’s lunch. Now, they wanted more.

Jesus moved the crowd gathered from meal to metaphor, describing God (the great “I AM” of the tetragrammaton) as the bread of heaven, more life-giving than bread that fills our stomachs and, in fact, even more life giving than manna in the wilderness. To the ears of those devoted Jewish followers, manna was the bread that came down from heaven, one of the primary historic actions of a loving God toward beloved people to sustain them in the wilderness, recounted at every Sabbath observance with the bread that they shared. So, when Jesus says, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” he isn’t making a generic statement or waxing poetic. He is using a metaphor specific to the people hearing him, situated in their shared cultural context, in order to open their eyes and ears and heart to a new understanding about God’s providence, and Jesus’ own divinity. This statement would have been jarring to their ears and their imaginations, opening up an entirely new understanding of Jesus’ ministry.

We all need these moments of being shaken from our expectations to open us to new possibilities, but we don’t always receive that new information well. Continuing the bread baking metaphor, I might even suggest that we get a little salty! So, no surprise that Jesus’ hearers do what we all do when we are overwhelmed by new and challenging information: we fall back to practicalities: wait, isn’t this Joseph and Mary’s son? How could he possibly be the bread that comes down from heaven?

When we read this lesson, though, we should never blame this group of people for doing exactly what we do all the time. All of us, even those who consider ourselves followers of Jesus in this age and context, have a long history of dismissing that which is mystery in favor of something we can more easily wrap our heads around. But that fall-back position may keep us from being broken open to receive a new and vital message.

When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” he extends the metaphor across time and place, aligning not just with his own cultural context and surroundings but with all of us, broadly and uniquely: “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.”

I’ve sometimes heard those words misused in an attempt to limit eternal life to particular groups with certain fixed beliefs. But Jesus isn’t limiting the extent of love and grace; Jesus is being expansive. Like the sweetness added to the yeast, these words activate the life-giving nature of Jesus’ message to expand beyond that fixed point of time and space, reaching out out across time and context to nourish hearers in every age.

Time and again this week, I come back to the thought of how wonderful it is that bread looks and tastes differently from culture to culture and region to region. Even in my own life, I know I’m feasting in Church Hill when I’m tasting the crusty, grainy smokiness of Sub Rosa, or that I’ve landed in San Francisco when serving up avocado toast on a smooth, chewy slice of seeded sourdough. Someone hearing this lesson about the Bread of Life in Mexico might picture a freshly pressed corn tortilla, or a spongy injara in Ethiopia or a pillowy naan in India. Jesus is the Bread of Life whenever and wherever this Gospel is proclaimed. It is a profound reminder to us that the bread of life does not have to look and taste the same in order to nourish and sustain us. Jesus is the bread of life.

We can get so caught up in our own context that we lose sight of how transforming hat message is. We can think that our parish is better, or our denomination, or our race, or our country. But Jesus extends life to all. Jesus invites us to be fed with the Bread of Life so that we can celebrate the ways in which we become that which feeds the world. Our Epistle lesson reminds us we are called to become imitators of God. “Behold what you are; become what you receive” we sometimes say, paraphrasing St. Augustine. Every ingredient is essential; every person a member of the Body of Christ.

The bread we break together is the Bread of Life, which crosses ages and contexts and spaces of worship. We participate together in a sacramental life which doesn’t dissolve our diversity and difference, but which embraces it. Fed by the bread of heaven as we gather here together, our Christ-filled-ness transforms us to break bread with the world. Christ becomes known in the bread we share with friends, and with strangers. Christ the Bread of Life becomes known when we feed those who hunger in body; when we extend the Good News of the Gospel as the spiritual food to those who yearn for love; when we allow ourselves to feed and be fed as one community, one body where differences are welcomed and celebrated. We are one bread, and one body in Christ who gives us life.

“Behold what you are; become what you receive.”

Amen.

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From Scarcity to Abundance

Homily for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12)
St. John’s Episcopal Church
July 29, 2018

Readings:

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Psalm 14
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

Collect for the Day:  O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Listen to the Sermon Here

A few years ago, on a brisk autumn morning, I pulled up to the church I was serving and saw a line at least 30 people deep stretching out onto the sidewalk behind the still-locked food pantry doors.  It wasn’t even time to open yet.  As I slipped in through the back doors off the parking lot, one of the set-up volunteers greeted me with bad news: “the power went out last night, and a lot of our food was spoiled and has to be thrown away.  We aren’t going to be able to feed everyone today.”

A few weeks ago, I was in the media section at General Convention, preparing to listen to some deep theological conversation as the House of Bishops discussed resolutions about expanding the language of our liturgy and affirming marriage rites for all people.  Before they even began to speak, the update came from the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance that there wasn’t any money remaining to be allocated for prayer book revision.  Almost immediately, someone tweeted, “Prayer book revision dies for lack of funding.”

In the Gospel according to John, Jesus looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him and so he asked Philip a rhetorical question, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” But Philip, in his anxiety, replied to a different question entirely: “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”

Yet today in our Collect today, we pray:

with you as our ruler and guide, may we pass through things temporal,
so that we do not lose things eternal

What is it about our temporal, earthly lives that makes us live in want of power and in fear of scarcity?  Our first lesson…even more poignant in the age of #metoo…tells the tale of a powerful ruler, so fearful of losing the woman he seduced and impregnated that he sends her husband off to battle in a precarious position, setting him up to be killed.  I’d love to think society has come a long way, but that could just as easily be a news headline today.

While power craves more of itself, the rest of our lives function on scarcity: it seems that there is never enough money to go around, enough food to feed the hungry, enough jobs for those who yearn to work, enough space in our country for those seeking asylum, enough room in our hearts for those whom the world has cast aside.

The love of power and the economy of scarcity drive so many of our decisions: from business models to public policy and yes…if we aren’t careful…even the way in which we are church together.

When power and scarcity get the best of us, we often buckle down and try to fix things ourselves.  We slice the pie thinner and thinner so that we can preserve what we have and give away only what we must.  We set our own course and sail on until the sea becomes rough and the winds begin to toss us, then we become terrified.  We start rowing as hard as we can against a stormy sea and when we start to panic, only then do we call out, “Where is God?”

In our beleaguered state, we can begin to buy-in to the economy of scarcity and the abuse of power as “just the way things are” in this world in which we live.  But it isn’t the only way, or the permanent way and it certainly isn’t God’s way.  God’s way, as our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is fond of saying, is the Way of Love.

with you as our ruler and guide, may we pass through things temporal,
so that we do not lose things eternal

Today’s lessons are filled with human beings acting on their own power, caught up in the chaos of feeling overwhelmed, feeling the paralysis of need and oppression, giving in to the panic when the storms of life are brewing, forgetting amid all these changes and chances of our human lives the eternal truth that God is Love, and that we are grounded in that love.  These powers and principalities do not need to define us.  We need to be reminded, just as the Church in Ephesus was reminded, of the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.

The Good News is that even today, God is still doing what God does throughout history.  God works through us, in all our human failings and complexities, in ways incomprehensible to human logic.  Through David and Bathsheba is born Solomon the wise, and so it goes for the 28 generations recounted in the Gospel of Matthew which eventually lead to a stable in Bethlehem and the birth of a baby without any hint of human power but overflowing with divine love so abundant that it will redeem the world.  In today’s Gospel, that same incarnate God-made-human in Jesus sees the hunger of the world and knows how to feed the multitudes.  Jesus hears panic on the seas and insures a safe arrival on shore.  Jesus is never working on scarce resources.  Jesus is always living in the abundance of love.

When Jesus holds that ordinary gift of loaves and fishes given from the hands of a child, what is the first thing he does?  He gives thanks.  When Jesus realizes that people have him confused with an earthly king, what does he do? He withdraws to the mountain by himself.  When Jesus hears and sees the fears of his friends on the stormy sea what does he do?  He moves toward them and reminds them, “It is I; do not be afraid!” as he sets their feet on dry land.

Jesus gives thanks; he moves away from the world’s power, he moves into deeper relationship with God and with others.  This isn’t a remote, historic miracle.  This is Jesus’ Way of Love:

with you as our ruler and guide, may we pass through things temporal,
so that we do not lose things eternal

On that chilly November day, we opened the food pantry doors and let people pour into a warm parish hall.  Together we made coffee and put out donated pastries and began to fill the shelves with the food we had.  We paused to pray, and invited God’s abundance into our midst.  I cannot explain how and why it was that the very last cans and boxes from back of the very last shelves were placed in the very last hands of those who were there, but there was enough that day for everyone who needed to be fed.  And before we closed the doors, new bags of donations were already on the doorstep waiting for the next week.

We walked the Way of Love.

In that hushed space in the House of Bishops…just as it happened the previous day in the House of Deputies…everyone paused business, and we prayed.  Eventually people spoke, people listened and new ways forward began to emerge.  We didn’t cave to social media hype.  We created a wider path…a “via comprehensiva”… that invited us to live more fully into prayer, new language, deep inclusion, open conversation and relationship as a whole body.  We turned a corner, moving deeper into possibility and away from blame.

We walked the Way of Love.

On that grassy mountainside, the young boy gave his lunch, and the disciples gave in to trust, and Jesus gave thanks to God.  People sat, and shared, and were fed.  And when they were satisfied, Jesus told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” Meanwhile Jesus, instead of letting that crowd-talk go to his head, went up the mountain to spend holy time in the presence of God, modeling for us how to continually place our lives into the abundant care and keeping of our heavenly Father.

Whenever we share in God’s abundance, we walk in the Way of Love.

How will we open our hearts to abundance this week?  When will we step aside from our fears and stop thinking in terms of scarcity?  Where and with whom will we choose to walk the way of love?  I hope that we will do exactly as Jesus has taught us:  through thanks, through prayer, through relationship. We will pass through things temporal and keep our vision on things eternal, with God’s help.

Now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly more than all we can ask or imagine, be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

FollowMeSaintJohns

Stained Glass Window, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Richmond VA

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Gathered and Enfolded

A homily for Proper 11, Year B prepared for Westminster Canterbury, Richmond VA

Gospel Lesson:  Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

 

“Come ye apart and rest a while.”

stillness

If any of you have ever been to Shrine Mont, you may recall reading those words above a stone seat, formed from the rock that was used in constructing the outdoor stone cathedral that many people in Virginia (especially Episcopalians) have loved for many years.  When my parish retreat would head to Shrine Mont, it was always the children who clamored to sit in that space, even though I think some parents and grand-parents may have appreciated it even more!  But, that image of Shrine Mont comes immediately to mind for me when I hear today’s Gospel: the yearning for a quiet place of rest, set aside, with the gentle words of Jesus reminding us to stop and rest.

We are very good at talking about all the many active things that Jesus does: healing, teaching, preaching, guiding his disciples. It’s rare that our attention is drawn to the other thing that Jesus does with regularity: rest. It’s a pattern in Jesus’ ministry, actually. He deliberately pulls away and finds quiet and solitary places to rest and pray. This is why we find Jesus in deserts, gardens, mountains and the far side of lakes, as well as in the cities and towns where people learn to anticipate his arrival. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is met by an enthusiastic (and probably quite tired) group of disciples who are filled with stories to share about all the good work they have been doing. I can practically hear the chatter among them: how many places have we travelled, how many people have we healed, how we are responding to the needs of the world. I suspect, the disciples being human, that some of this might have even been a thinly veiled way of suggesting to Jesus that maybe, possibly they deserved a break.

Jesus hears their pleas, spoken and unspoken, and anticipates their need. Before they even ask, Jesus offers up to them: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” You’ll notice that the passage does not go on to say, “And the disciples argued back and said, ‘no, please, let us stay here and work harder!” The next thing we know, they are gathered together on a boat, setting sail and, I would imagine, feeling relieved to be sailing toward a well-earned respite.

But, news travels fast. Communication in biblical times might not be as rapid-fire as it is today, but word quickly spread that Jesus and his disciples were headed across the sea of Galilee. By the time they geared up their boat and sailed across that sea, people had already made it to the destination of their arrival on foot. They brought those who were seeking, those in need of healing, those who needed the touch of Jesus. Imagine, if you will, the tired disciples hoping for a calm, quiet stay ahead when instead they saw throngs of people headed to the shore to meet them.

And, it wasn’t just people who were happy to see them, or bringing them food and nourishment for their stay. These were people who were sick, outcast, needy, desperately longing and not at all interested in how tired the disciples were. I imagine the disciples looking toward the shore and seeing all the work that they needed to do coming toward them. One or two might have even headed Jesus’ way to lodge their disappointment and worry out loud, “How can we meet all of these needs?”

I can relate to the disciples when confronted by all the need I see. We are human beings and it can overwhelm us to see the level of need in this world coming toward us and feel our own level of exhaustion, physically and emotionally. But, Jesus is not overwhelmed.  Jesus is moved with compassion. Jesus sees the people and anticipates their needs for healing and hope, “because they were like sheep without a shepherd” and, as the scripture goes on to say, he began to teach them many things. In fact, Jesus engages a rich ministry of healing and teaching throughout the region, anticipating the needs of all those he encounters.

You see, if we read this story again there is an important parallel. Jesus anticipates the needs of the disciples, and anticipates the needs of the crowd. Jesus gathers the disciples on a boat to move away, and gathers the crowds around him. Jesus enfolds the disciples with restful, loving care and enfolds the crowds with healing and hope.

Jesus, our Good Shepherd supplies our needs, whether we are disciples or distant strangers who are drawn by need and rumor toward the healing touch others have experienced. Through Christ, there aren’t just a chosen few who get treated royally while others get to hang around like a star-struck fan club hoping to catch a glimpse. In this world-turned-upside-down, everyone’s needs are anticipated, they are gathered together and enfolded in the loving care of the Good Shepherd.

It has occurred to me this week, reading and reflecting on this Gospel, that there was a holy lesson for the disciples which is also a holy lesson for us.  In our own lives, rest is a sought after destination which we  think of as a place and time set apart. But to Jesus, our human need for rest is the gateway through which ministry is revealed. We come to know rest not through our own actions…or lack thereof…but as enfolded in the loving care of God.  Rest is active.  We are gathered and enfolded in the arms of the Good Shepherd who knows the needs of the whole flock of this world. When we feel overwhelmed by needs of the world, Jesus reminds us that He is the Good Shepherd who enfolds us and gathers us. Our rest is not something that is just “yet to come” but also right here, in our participation in the Body of Christ which responds to the needs of the world.

That stone seat and sign post at Shrine Mont isn’t just about the destination, either. It is a stopping point for reflection on the way to the Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration, the place in which the disciples see Jesus divinely transformed on the mountaintop. Perhaps this Gospel reminds us to participate in another form of transfiguration: to see Jesus as the source of rest and the gateway to healing.  It isn’t the busy pace of our own actions through which we earn rest; it is care and keeping of our divine shepherd who grants to us and to all the flock what we need in the great company of the Body of Christ of which we are a part.  We don’t need to worry. We don’t need to fix all the needs we encounter.  We need to rest in the quiet confidence of that faith and allow healing and transformation to flow freely.

Come ye to a quiet place and rest awhile.  Rest confidently in the knowledge that we are gathered and enfolded in the love of Christ, sheep in the fold of our Good Shepherd.

O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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We See You

Reflections after a trip to Hutto detention center. We all crave to be seen, and perhaps we hold up our signs and live in the hope that others see us and respond.

Center Aisle

Sarah Kye PriceReading time: 4 minutes

By Sarah Kye Price
Staff Writer

I’ve read lots of news stories as I’ve followed from afar the treatment and conditions of women, children and families attempting to cross into the United States seeking asylum and the promise of a new beginning. My blood begins to boil when I think about the people already here, who live in fear of being detained and deported. I’m downright furious, as both a social worker and a seminarian, at the idea that separating young children from their families when all of our psychological, sociological and neuroscience evidence tells us that this is psychologically damaging to both children and families. But even with all of that, I was still gut-punched and heart-wrenched as we pulled up to the Hutto “residential center” yesterday and began to unload our buses, singing songs of prayer and love and protest.

At one point, the…

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Justice, Access, and Theological Education

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Originally posted on Center Aisle:
Reading time: 3 minutes By Sarah Kye Price Staff Writer Whenever two or three seminarians are gathered, just as many stories of call are in our midst. The stories are varied, but often include the…

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Senior Sermon: A Catechism for Living

Senior Sermon Preached at Church Divinity School of the Pacific
Berkeley, California.

Watch Here:   Senior Sermon 6/18/18 – Sarah Price

Commemoration:  Feast of Bernard Mizeki, Catechist and Martyr

Readings

What is the communion of saints? (p. 862)

The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer and praise.

“Those whom we love, and those whom we hurt, bound together by Christ…”

If we stand in a position of solidarity with many of our Anglican brothers and sisters in Southern Africa, we can see much to love about Bernard Mizeki:  In 1861, Bernard was born in what was formerly known as Mozambique and later moved to CapeTown, South Africa when he was around twelve. There, he was taken under the wing of Anglican missionaries, early members of the group we now call the SSJE, where he came to a knowledge and love of Christ and was received into the household of God in Holy Baptism at age 25.  By age 30, Bernard had volunteered himself and was subsequently sent to be schooled as a lay catechist, responding to his desire to share his belief in Jesus Christ and take new converts into his home to help prepare them for baptism. Through his passion for imparting doctrine and modeling practice, he grew the number of local converts and lived into expressions of faith that made sense in local context, setting up a mission next to a sacred grove of trees and using those sacred trees and land to embolden people to know Christ in their own surroundings.  He is known to have carved crosses into the wood of trees, in essence naming Christ among the ancestral spirits.

“Those whom we love, and those whom we hurt, bound together by Christ…”

Not all those who stood in the vicinity of those ancient tree groves and sacred spaces to draw near to the Holy were as keen to see an Anglicized, colonial convert effectively desecrating their spaces of communal worship.  They were, as one might suspect, quite vocal about that hurt. As political and social uprisings increased, Bernard was warned by local leaders to leave his post and move this mission. He disregarded this advice, repeatedly, feeling that his call was to remain with those he was instructing and protect his converts at any cost.   And so, he stayed with them as a representative of Christ’s unwavering love although he sent his family to safety. During the subsequent standoff and in response to his refusal to leave his mission post, he was murdered…speared…by the local leaders. His wife, Mutwa, several miles away at that time, reported seeing a great white light, and hearing a loud noise “like many wings of great birds” filled the air. When she went back to find him, Bernard’s body was not there.

To some southern African Anglicans, Bernard Mizeki is the indigenous martyr to their faith, spreading the love of Christ and deepening the devotion of the faithful.  To others, he is an African-born convert whose insider status was used to colonize and denigrate indigenous culture in favor of Western, European tradition and belief.  Some see a man who was murdered for desecrating sacred spaces of indigenous people and whose body was whisked away for quick disposal; some see a martyr whose earthly body disappeared into the heavens, whisked away by the rush of angel’s wings.  

Sometimes the fine line between love and hurt depends on the social location in which we stand.

Today, as we sit with the Good News as inspired by the life and witness of Bernard Mizeki, I find myself bringing to mind those times where the line between those we love, and those we hurt is a kind of invisible fence we only recognize when running into headlong into it.  When does the passionate fire of our own conviction smoulder contempt in others because we can’t see from the vantage point of their social location? When does our desire to offer the help we think is needed cloud the vision of God for which others are yearning?

“…those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer and praise”

The other day I was working on my sermon in the early hours of the morning.  I looked up and saw it was already about ten minutes after I should have left my off campus apartment.  I grabbed my bookbag, and headed out the door at a faster-than-usual-pace and rounded the corner at Shattuck and Hearst just in time to see a disheveled, wild-haired man charging down the the sidewalk in my direction, dragging a beat-up piece of carry-on luggage with one hand and raising the fist of the other toward heaven, crying out “I am not inferior!  We are all people! You are not superior!!” At the same time, I watched a facilities management van from Cal quickly U-Turn and peel away and I began to envision in my mind’s eye the removal of this man from one of the sacred spaces that those at the margins of this world come to know as home. It may have been a loving action that kept him from jail. It may have been a hurtful act of power.  From my social location, it was impossible to tell. But as this man walked towards me with arms flailing and emotion blazing, he announced again, “We are equals! I am not inferior to you!” and instinctively I met his eyes and I said, “AMEN, brother! You are not inferior.” He kept on walking past me. Then I heard him pause, so I turned to face him. He looked me in the eye and said, “and you are not inferior, either, sister.”  

As we turned and continued on our own paths…me, up the hill to Morning Prayer and him, to find a safer space to stay…I felt the rush of that prophetic and sacramental moment of the street.  I heard the words of the Gospel lesson, ““..do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.”  

We are not inferior.  We are, all of us, beloved children of God, listening for the instruction of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  That day, another beloved child of God saw belovedness in me. It was a life-giving moment in a split-second encounter, seeing God in the face of each other.  

We may not be called like Bernard to defend tribal missions or to put ourselves in harm’s way to protect the proliferation of the Gospel.  But, we are surely called to walk in the belovedness of our communion of saints, the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer and praise.  

So, I invite you today to live into that teaching, deeply.  As we move to surround our Lord’s table together, bring with you those whose lives touch your own: those whom you love, those whom you have hurt.  The table set for us is always bigger than we imagine; those of us who gather are surrounded by those just like us who, across social margins from generation to generation are beloved Children of God.  No one is inferior, my brothers, my sisters, my siblings. So bring your whole selves to this table of Christ’s transforming love.

Come, Holy Spirit, come as wind and stir us; come as light and illumine us; come as fire and ignite us with your love. Transform us to be your people called to serve each other in this world, through the power of your abiding love.

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Holy Time and Holy Space

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
June 3, 2018
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Richmond VA

Lessons Appointed:

1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20)
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Mark 2:23-3:6

 

The first time I set foot on the campus of Church Divinity School of the Pacific, I was greeted by a rather stately and majestic deer, a young buck who often visits campus and that I have since come to call “Amadaus” (which he seems to like!).   Earlier that afternoon, I had wrapped up my work week at VCU, caught a plane to San Francisco and naively rented a car at the airport to drive to campus. Let me point out, that was at 10 p.m. local time when I landed which meant it was 1 a.m. according to my not-quite-adjusted internal clock. Being frugal, I rented a tiny, economy car which I had to drive across the Bay Bridge in breakneck speed traffic and navigate myself in the dark through the East Bay hills to Berkeley. Still white-knuckled from my driving experience, I finally reached campus and stepped my shaky legs out of my car to be greeted by this most ephemeral of surroundings: a lush, floral, palm-tree lined campus mid-way up the Berkeley Hills, bathed in moonlight. At that moment, I was met by this quiet deer, who acknowledged me with a head nod as he sauntered down the road. I had been praying…not just for my safe arrival…but asking for God’s guidance to help me discern whether this program was the right fit for me in my journey toward ordination. In that moment, I instantly knew: this is a thin place. In my anglo-celtic heritage, these thin spaces where it seems that this world and the world beyond touch each other cut through the ordinary to reveal the divine. I knew in that moment that holy space had found me, and my formation there has indeed been a gift not only to my mind, but also to my spirit.

This week, I will return to CDSP for the last of my seminary studies. As I reflected on this week’s lessons while preparing for that return, I began to think about holy time, as well as holy space. For the last four years, in January and June, my low-residency colleagues and I come to campus and devote our every waking hour…and some typical sleeping hours, too…to be present to this process of formation happening within ourselves and with each other. When I am fully living into that holy time in that holy space, it becomes clear that everything I do is in service to call, in service to the God who knows and recognizes us. When I return home, I am living more deeply into an understanding of who I am called to be because of both sacred time, and sacred space.

Young Samuel also learned to recognize the significance of holy time and sacred space: he had been given to God, raised up in the temple of the Lord as a thankful offering from his mother, Hannah, who poured out her soul to God in hopes of a long-awaited child she feared she would never bear. Samuel learned to recognize the voice of the Lord in the silence of the night, breaking through time and space to speak prophetic words to his soul. Encouraged by his mentor, he answered that call: “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” His ears and heart were both open to God’s call.

This morning, we also sang together the words of the ancient Psalm, yearning to understand how almighty God can know us, even in the smallest and most hidden of human forms, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it.” Then, we heard in today’s Epistle that when the finite nature of these clay jars of our human existence meet the radiant possibility of sacred time and sacred space, we become aware of the light of Christ radiating in us and in each other, each of us divinely known and recognized.

So much listening. So much yearning. So much holy time with God.

But this idea of holy time came into the most clarity for me with today’s Gospel lesson. This summer, one of the courses that I’m taking is at the Jewish seminary, one of the campus partners of CDSP that make up the larger Graduate Theological Union. This course, on the Jewish origins and practice of the Sabbath, involves reading a book by mid-century Jewish scholar and Professor of Social Ethics and Mysticism, Abraham Joshua Heschel. In his book The Sabbath, Heschel describes Judaism as a “religion of time, aiming at the sanctification of time” (p. 8). In this book, he presents what he calls the “architecture of time” marked not only by yearly festivals and observances, but also the weekly cadence of meaningful labor, anticipation, and then celebration of the belovedness of the Sabbath. This book has caused me to put aside my own overly basic assumptions of Sabbath as about “not working” and instead, invited me to consider that Sabbath is the gift of God to God’s people, an invitation to an experience of God’s realm meeting our lives, which forms and perfects our souls created in the image and likeness of God. In The Sabbath, Heschel invites us to put away things and doing which serve the material world, and to take up being-in-time as a gift given to us by our Creator. In his own words. “Things created conceal the Creator. It is the dimension of time wherein [we] meet God, wherein [we] become aware that every instant is an act of creation, a Beginning, opening up new roads for ultimate realizations. Time is the presence of God in the world of space, and it is within time that we are able to sense the unity of all beings.” (p. 100)

Now, with this new depth of meaning, perhaps we can revisit this story of Jesus and his disciples on the Sabbath.

Looking only at things and actions, we might simply focus on the harvesting and healing, and think of Jesus as an agent of civil disobedience. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Heschel himself became an interfaith companion to Martin Luther King, Jr. on the march at Selma, realizing that the six days we labor can and should be about working for justice. But this Gospel isn’t a story about work. This is a story about the sacredness of the Sabbath which prepares us to do the work that we are called to do.

Jesus embodies the divine gift of the Sabbath, embracing holy time as a gift to humankind to know our full potential in God, to see the holy and life-giving abundance of nature as a gift to feed our bodies and to view the reclamation of wholeness and healing to the man in the synagogue as an outward manifestation of the divine wholeness Jesus already sees in him. In this Gospel, we are given a glimpse of a thin time: seeing Jesus as wholly of God, wholly participating in the Sabbath as divine time in which the extraordinary potential of the ordinary is revealed: “the Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” Jesus’ frustration lies in seeing the Sabbath only as about human actions, rather than experiencing the Sabbath as the realm of God.

What are the lessons for us, gathered here today? Christians have adopted this language of Sabbath to think about the sacredness and sanctification of our own week, crowned by the weekly celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, the ultimate victory of life in God over death in body. But, do we truly live into God’s gift of the Sabbath? How do we immerse ourselves in this thin time and this thin space where God who made us yearns to know us fully? Are we focused on the doing of “right behaviors” or on the withered hands and clay pot bodies of ourselves or others? Or, can we see instead the glorious potential of falling unabashedly into the Love of God for all of God’s people, including the unfathomable love that God has for each and every one of us. Imagine, if you will, living into the fullness of belovedness. Imagine the holy food and drink for a holy people nourishing us to see that belovedness in every person we encounter. That, my friends, is transformation. That is the gift of the Sabbath.

As we gather these words and hold them in our hearts; we come to this table together for a feast of abundance. As we extend our imperfect, withered human hands we are received into the wholeness of God’s healing love. The holiness of this day isn’t confined to this space of worship, it is a perfection in time where we walk together with Christ who has died, is risen and will come again. We walk this time with the saints of our past and God’s vision for our future all being held in Christ as a gift of sacred time. Listen like Samuel to the voice of God, and invite the Holy to speak. Open yourself to this Sabbath, this holy gift of time which is given to humankind by God for our benefit. Allow it to transform you into seeing as God sees, catching a glimpse of eternity. Or, as Rabbi Heschel concludes his own Sabbath reflection: “Eternity utters a day.” (p. 101).

Speak Lord. Your servants are listening.

deer berkeley

Heschel, Abraham Joshua. The Sabbath. Macmillan, 1995
[Original Publication 1951, Farrar, Straus & Giroux]

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Secure Base

A Homily for Ascension (Easter 7), Year B

Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
May 13, 2018

One of my very close friends is fond of saying that everything that she has ever managed to ‘let go’ of has claw marks on it. For most of us, if we’re being honest, it’s far easier to sink our claws in and cling on tight than it is to lovingly let go. This is true of precious things in our lives: treasured objects, favorite momentos, cherished traditions and perhaps most of all, beloved people. When letting-go moments arrive, whether in the best or worst of circumstances, we find ourselves confronting the anxious and vulnerable nature of our humanity.

Endings and transitions have been constant companions in my own life these past few weeks. I have found myself circling back to today’s Gospel, deeply listening and taking in the words of Jesus praying for his friends and followers. In the lesson we heard, this farewell discourse comes at the end of Jesus’ earthly life, just before Jesus separates himself from his disciples to go and pray in the garden at Gethsemane. We know how that story was about to unfold and, with certainty, so did Jesus. Knowing that time was of the essence, Jesus could have focused on any number of lessons or points he wanted to make. But standing there on the precipice of great uncertainty and risk, Jesus chose to pray. He invited his friends into deep connection with God. And, as followers of Christ, this prayer is for us, too. It is a prayer that has echoed through my life this week in powerful and beautiful ways.

On Friday, I was sitting on stage at our commencement exercises at VCU watching my students walk across the stage with confidence, their families cheering and crying. There is so much hope and possibility that hangs in the air at commencement. Yet, as a faculty mentor, I know their struggles to get to that point and I hold their uncertainties, too. I felt a renewed awareness that their circling through my life is a sort of lived-out prayer of faithfulness for what has yet to emerge…that’s why we call it commencement, the edge of new beginnings. Less than twenty-four hours later, I was with many of the same people at another gathering entirely, remembering and paying tribute to the spouse of my doctoral student who has had to commence an entirely new chapter of her life after walking side by side with him through a brief but fierce battle with cancer. While there was great sorrow at his absence on this earth, the community gathered also experienced a re-awakening of the inspiration they had gained from their friend and brother. I witnessed their active commitments to embody the values they had learned from their relationship with him. In holding space for their grief and their tributes to be shared, I felt like I was living into this scripture, this prayer that Jesus prays: leaving and joining, departing and returning, building up confidence in the sure presence of God as seen in community.

If I have ever had a doubt as to whether I could be both professor and priest, this week has convinced me that the answer is already yes. So, bear with me. I’m going to blend the professorial and the pastoral for a few more minutes with you all today as well.

The way that social workers understand human behavior is through the importance of relationship. As I’m socializing my students into the social work profession, I teach them about mid 20th-century attachment theorists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Bowlby was trained as an old-school psychologist but became frustrated by the dominant psychoanalytic theory of his day which blamed the problems of our adult lives on deeply rooted internal pathologies of the mind. Instead, Bowlby believed that the way that we experience caring, loving relationships early on in life has a direct bearing on how we live out our potential in this world as adults. Bowlby was an intellectual and a theorist; he wrote three really fascinating (or at least, fascinating to me) books, describing how Attachment, Separation, and Loss are dependent upon each other through the duration of our lives. An example appropriate for Mother’s Day: John Bowlby coined the term “separation anxiety” emphasizing that in spite of the tears of toddlers, these separations are developmentally essential because they make us aware of loving attachments and anticipate joyful reunions. Without the anxiety of separation, we don’t experience the joy of reunion; without knowing the joy of reunion, we become overwhelmed by loss.

Bowlby’s protégé, Mary Ainsworth, was more of an experiential learner. She made it her mission to put science and practice around these theories. First, she traveled to Uganda to study mothers and infants in their natural environment, pushing herself outside her own cultural expectations to observe human truths about the way attachments are formed early in life. Later, she tested out her observations by setting up an experiment called the “strange situation” where she observed 12-18 month old infants during a series of events involving separations and reunifications with the parent along with the addition of a “stranger” into the mix who would sometimes align with the parent and sometimes be present on their own. Her contribution was to observe and document how we human beings respond to transitions, changes and separations and explore how these attachments impact our identities and behaviors.

If you crave more social science details, I can walk you through each stage of the experiment sometime! But, what I want to convey is the heart of what we can learn from Bowlby and Ainsworth’s studies of attachment: we are able to be our best selves in this world…exploring, playing, responding to love and affection…when we know where and to whom we belong. The power of attachment can only be fully realized through separation; we are comforted when we know and recognize what Ainsworth called a secure base. Love is like a homing beacon that reminds us who we are.

OK, so perhaps it took a couple thousand years for social science to put words around what Jesus already knew but I think there is an important lesson where today’s scripture and our theories of attachment come together. Jesus knows that we are one body, one community; those who are his disciples on earth are those who will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to become the Church, the Body of Christ, even as Jesus returns to wholeness in God. In Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, our hearts also begin to hear clearly what our logical minds can’t quite grasp: leave-taking may be humanly difficult but it is never the end of the story. In God, we belong to each other and live out the divine relationship in our love and care for each other in this world. Jesus doesn’t prepare his disciples to let go and move on as he ascends heavenward; Jesus reminds the disciples of belonging already right there with them, alive and in their midst. Jesus prays to remind them of their secure base in God and in each other.

Christ’s ascension is our reminder of that lasting divine connection, a parting gift of divine relationship: “…and now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” The Church…the Body of Christ…becomes the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of divine relationship. We…the Church…we are each other’s secure base because God is in our midst.

There’s a lesson for all of us in another letting go moment we’re standing in today, too. After serving as your seminarian for a very enjoyable two years, it could be tempting to cling onto things exactly as they are right now. But the risen Christ doesn’t call us to cling to the way things have been; the risen Christ reminds us to trust in His presence in our midst and to move as the Holy Spirit leads us into the world. No claw marks are necessary for this transition: our identity is with each other in Christ no matter where we go and wherever we move about in this world.

Some might say I’ve spent two years getting to know all of you, but really, what we have done together is invest two years learning how to see and know God in each other. Our understanding of God…the ultimate secure base…has expanded because of our relationship. I’m not the same person I was when I first began my time here, because God has been made known to me in each one of you. We pray together, we worship and we give thanks for our common relationship as the Body of Christ. In the sacrament of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, God’s presence is continually made known to us in each other.

Thank you…every one of you…for helping me see and know God more fully. And please know that Grace and Holy Trinity will always be a “secure base” for me, a place that I will know and cherish as my community. Together, we have seen and known God in our midst.

secure base

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You know us so well…

A Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B
April 15, 2018

Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Richmond VA

In the Price family, Friday night is pizza night. I didn’t invent that tradition. In fact, it was my Mother-in-Law, Marie, parent to 11 grown children who decided that once her flock had gone out on their own it was a pretty good idea to skip fancy Sunday dinners and instead, order pizza and open her house to whatever family could drop by after work or school on Friday evenings. The Price family in St. Louis shared many moments of life together over those slices of sauce, bread and cheese. Case in point: I learned years later that it wasn’t actually my hand-mashed, organic pears that were my daughter’s first food but instead, chunks of pizza crust that her Dad and Aunties would break off and give her to chew on! But, as these kind of traditions take on a life of their own, even after Michael, Cassandra and I moved away from St. Louis to Richmond and even after Marie’s nurturing presence was no longer with us on this earth, Friday night is still Price family pizza night. It’s become one of the ways that we are family together.

I had a bit of a chuckle a few weeks ago when I went to pick up our usual order, at our usual pizza place. I had just opened the door when the manager called back into the kitchen and said, “It’s Friday…Mrs. Price is here for her pizza!” At the same time as I felt a little embarrassed by my own predictability, I also felt all of that rush of family history and tradition washing over me, thinking how my mother-in-law Marie would love to know how this family tradition has carried on. It was a very sweet memory, ushered in by the simple words of a restaurant worker who recognized me, who knew who I was and why I was there, and who anticipated all of that with good humor and unexpected kindness, even though he barely even knows me.

And so our Easter story unfolds today, also in a very ordinary gathering of people who held in common the memory of their beloved friend, Jesus. In these subsequent Sundays after we celebrate the day of Christ’s resurrection, we hear the stories of Christ’s appearing to those he knows, and loves, and cares about. These are personal stories, retold across generations, that reveal to us something about how Jesus and his followers were family together: Mary recognizes Jesus from the way He speaks her name name; Jesus knows Thomas and anticipates his predictable need for physical proof to assuage his human doubts. As today’s Gospel lesson unfolds, two of Jesus’ followers who have had an encounter with the risen Christ on the road between Emmaus and Jerusalem have rushed back to tell the rest of their friends and family about this siting. Just as they are all about to eat some bread and fish together Jesus appears in their midst.

Jesus knows his friends. He knows their state of mind, their grief, their hopes, and their fears. He knows how they are family together. In anticipation, he greets them as known and beloved by saying, “Peace be with you.”

We might think that would be enough for them to immediately recognize and rejoice. But immediately after Jesus extends peace, the Gospel lesson reports that Jesus’ followers were started and frightened. Actually, that second word is a bit stronger than “frightened”; they were ἔμφοβος (emphobos); “filled with fear.” The Greek root is something we have carried over into a psychological: “phobia,” a deep and unsettling fear that cuts across our layers of consciousness and hits us at the core of our being. These friends were not just caught off guard and surprised. Even though they had already heard of the risen Lord; even though they now heard his voice speaking peace to them, they were terrified.

I think this portion of Luke’s gospel may be the most accurate representation in the Holy Scriptures for what most of us experience when Christ’s presence is made known in our lives. In fact, I did a little informal research this week among people I know…seminarians, clergy, lay leaders and others who would acknowledge having heard and responded to a call from the risen Christ. I asked them, “What word or emotion best describes what you felt when you first realized God had called you to new ministry?”

I made this graphic of these responses, which as you can see highlight “scared”; “fear”; “terror”; “disbelief”; “crazy”; “angry”; “anxiety”; “overwhelmed”; “gobsmacked”; “unsettled” and “shocked.”  Others shared with me that what was most vivid was their experience of “clarity”; “peace”; “calm”; and “heightened awareness” after the fact.   Deep peace seemed to emerge within the chaos of our very human emotions.

words of call for blog

I vividly remember my own response to the sudden and unanticipated awareness of the presence of Christ in my life, shocking me through tears into awareness of something new and incomprehensible and emergent that would completely alter how my life was being shaped and formed. I also remember that once I gave voice to that recognition, the priest who saw me off on my journey of discernment said to me: All I know is that you don’t need to be afraid. I’m not entirely sure I believed her in that moment, but those words have become the truth of my journey.

‘Don’t be afraid’ is what Jesus tells his followers, too. Jesus knew them, and Jesus knows us. We still are…and I know I still am…afraid sometimes. Jesus Christ who knows us and loves us anticipates that. “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at me…Touch me…see that it’s me!” These words from their friend and teacher reassure them, and remind them of how they are family together. They break bread together; Jesus eats with his friends, and opens their minds to understand the scriptures and his role in the ancient stories and prophecies that ground them as community. Fear, shock and terror are transformed into peace, understanding, and relationship.

Christ reveals himself to his friends, and his friends eventually come to understand, as subsequent generations of Christian will hear in our Epistle reading, “Beloved, we are God’s children now.” That revealing comes when we step into our human fears and allow ourselves to see, to touch, to be transformed in the ways that each and every one of us are called to be. In the breaking of bread, we are reminded of the ways in which we are family, together. Jesus calls us into communion not just to open our minds to know him, but to open our hearts to who we are together, the family of God.

In this Eastertide, the stories of how Christ is made known to us remind us of the ways that we are family together. Our encounters with the risen Christ prepare us to be called to do the work that we are meant to do, to move us beyond our human fear and anxiety so that we can be witnesses of this love to the world. Whether we serve lunch to people who hunger, polish brass, arrange flowers, travel to other countries and communities to share God’s love, preach the Gospel, teach the children, or sing the songs of worship and praise: we are all God’s children now, and we are called to be family together.

Be known to us, Lord Jesus, in the breaking of the bread.

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