Sermons

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday


Things went downhill fast, didn’t they?  In less than an hour,] we have gone from shouting “hosanna!” waving palms and singing, to shouting “crucify him!”  with the mob. We’ve all been swept along amid an outpouring first of love and then of violence.  
When I was young, I was able to skip over the violence part of the story. We went from palm-waving on Palm Sunday directly to new-clothes wearing on Easter Sunday, adorned with hats and white gloves. We didn’t read the Passion on this day.

I knew the story, of course, I knew there was a day called Good Friday although for the life of me I couldn’t understand why it was good. But most of it happened off stage. I was able to keep my distance. I didn’t have to look at it.

But if I don’t look at it, then I will never be able to sort out what it means, to understand how or what this has to do with God’s love, much less our salvation.

Our challenge during this coming Holy Week, then, is to come closer, to venture into that now silent aftermath after the Centurion’s declaration with our hearts open to whatever healing and forgiveness we are in need of, or need to bestow upon others.  

Indeed, this story IS about salvation. And so our task is to slow things down and go back over what has happened, to go over what keeps happening in our world that has not stopped with the hating and hurting with a new perspective.  
Our task is to hear and remember the command of the Maundy: love one another, do this in remembrance of me.  Our task is to look again at this death and to be able to name our needs, to name our sins, to name those we have wronged and to name those who have wronged us. To name suffering, betrayal and humiliation, breaking and being broken as that in which we are all caught up, in one way or another.

And then to lay it all down on Friday at the feet of the one who suffered, not so that we would never suffer, but so that we would not suffer alone.  

To lay down our penchant for wounding others.  To lay down our bitterness toward those who have hurt us. To lay down those things we do to each other that wound the heart of God.

Crucifixion shows what the world does, not only to God, but to God’s own beloved people not only to Jesus but to you and me.  We are destroyed by mocking and cruelty, all of us, victim and perpetrator alike.  We are all of us destroyed by jealousy and suspicion.  We are all of us destroyed by the unbridled drive for power and by violence.

So let us make this a truly Holy Week, this week that is at the heart of our life of faith. Let us make time to make it Holy, to experience the breadth and depth of it.

Let us gird our loins and dare to come closer this week and be humbled and touched and finally healed by God’s loving embrace again.







Saturday, March 28, 2015

Catching up on Love

I missed the whole week of SSJE reflections. Fortunately, they put together a compilation of the week's videos at the end of the week. So I caught up today.

This week's theme is love. We are asked to think about how we love, why we love, how we are loved, how we experience love, etc. The brothers talked about dogs, grandmothers, Scripture. I get the feeling that some of them are less comfortable with love than the other topics.

The bottom line, of course, is that God is love and that we were created for love; God delights in us and loves us utterly. Therefore, we are to love others, because we are loved. Easier said than done.

The reason why I missed this week was because a big truck arrived at my house on Monday morning with most of the contents of our Atlanta house. It's now all in this house. And it's nearly Holy Week and at work we are preparing for Holy Week and Easter in all new spaces from our usual locations because of renovations going on. In fact, we will have some Easter services at the parish and others across the street at a school. Lots of details to work out.

And so just like that, my Lenten observance was over. I know what I should have done is put my Lenten observance first and let the other stuff fall where it would. It's not like I HAVE to unpack from the move - I already had a functioning home. But instead I tried to juggle all of it. Because the chaos is so unsettling.

Anyway, now it's Caturday again, so here are Bella and Sally enjoying the bed we brought from Atlanta. They are so happy that there are beds in every room for them to sleep on.

















Saturday, March 21, 2015

Play/Create

This week the Brothers at SSJE have been talking about play. I haven't always done play well. I actually think I have a playful nature but I'm fairly inhibited about living it out. My play is more often than not cerebral. Wordplay is the kind of play I do the most.

Today's post asks us to schedule a time for play and tell about it.

So, I did that. I didn't sign up for soccer or a pottery class. I went and had my hair done in a fancy salon. We started out with a comprehensive consultation with a lovely young woman named Emily about how I actually experience my hair and what I really wanted to happen at the salon.  She then spent a great deal of time coloring my hair because, first, we had to undo the bad color job I already head and second, I have a ton of very fine hair. Then she gave me a flattering haircut that we had agreed was what I wanted and what she thought would look great, after giving me a head massage during my shampoo and also a hand massage while my head was wrapped in hot towels to help my conditioner soak in. I also enjoyed a beverage and biscotti while the color processed.

So most of my play was letting myself be pampered. This is not something I do very often. (For one thing, I can't afford to do it very often!) I've never been the fancy salon type. But it was also a 2-way activity. I asked for what I wanted and I received it.

Is that play? Maybe, maybe not. I was not the one being creative here. But I was being something I often am not: relaxed and accepting of a gift.

I don't have a picture to post of my hair and it might not look all that great to you, anyway. And besides, it's "Caturday," so here are pictures of Bella and Sally instead:

















Monday, March 16, 2015

Play/Wholeness

This week, the SSJE brothers are focused on play. This is a good topic for me; I can be play-challenged. The kind of play I often engage in is verbal/mental. Not so much physical. But there are things I like to do that give me joy and I realize that this is play too.

Here's today's video and question: What's your favorite project? Brother Curtis notes that for people who are in the "people" profession, most of our work never ends. And so it's nice to have projects that do end, so that we can have a sense of accomplishment. I like this idea that play includes accomplishment!

So what's my favorite project? Photography!













Saturday, March 14, 2015

Work/Rhythm

Today's essay and question from SSJE is about the rhythm of one's work. Brother James reminds us of how it is with chickens - they have a natural rhythm of egg laying that is based on sunlight. More sun and longer days mean more eggs. So in the winter, it is tempting to give them artificial light so that they will lay more eggs. But is this good?

What about down time and rest? Isn't rest supposed to be part of the overall system of "productivity?"

The question is: how is the pace of your life?


I look serene as I glide along, but underneath, I'm paddling like hell.

The good news is that sometimes I do let myself just float along and enjoy the ride. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Work/Worth

Well, here I am a few days later, trying not to feel as if I have totally failed in my Lenten discipline. Ironically, or probably not ironically now that I think about it, today's essay and question are about work and worth.

I have found these essays and questions to be profoundly on point for me this year, pointing to areas in which I feel I have some real work to do. Today's question, "By what measuring stick do you gauge your worth and the worth of others?" makes me very uncomfortable. I tend to gauge my worth by impossible standards. Perfect or total loser are my main categories. Just right or totally missing the mark. Great or awful. Others do not get this treatment from me, at least not to these extremes. I reserve my worst judgments for myself.

The fact that it is Thursday night and I haven't posted since Monday reinforces this. I have missed the mark. Again. Or maybe I am just continually missing the mark.

These are lies, of course. I am human as we all are and I sometimes miss the mark and sometimes I am great and many times I am just doing the best I can and that's good enough. I am good enough and that is a perfectly fine thing to be.

I know I am not the only person who treats herself this way. Some days I do better than others. I expect we all do.

Anyway, instead of a picture about how measure myself, I thought I'd just treat all of us to a cute baby duck. So here it is:







Monday, March 9, 2015

Work/Work

This week we move on to the category of "Work" in the SSJE essays/videos. Today's question is:

Is replenishing your being a priority in your life?

It's hard to say yes or no in a photograph, not to mention that this is not a simple yes or no answer. It ought to be. The answer ought to simply be yes. But my answer is not simply yes. It's both yes and no.

I know that replenishing my being is absolutely necessary. I find that over the last year or more, I've been running on nearly empty, stopping only to fill up enough to get a little farther along before running out of gas again. There are some reasons for that, although of course I have no one to blame but myself.

So, replenishing my being has not been a priority, based on how I have been behaving.

But I know it should be and am taking steps to behave better. Studies show (don't you love that phrase?) that people who rest and take time off and such are much more productive and happy than people who don't. There's even a great story about some pioneers who split into two groups - one group determined to keep going every day until they reached their destination. The other group stopped to observe the Sabbath. Guess which group got there first? The one that stopped to rest each week.

Here's a picture of something related to replenishing my being:

Sally practices the cat-cow pose.














Sunday, March 8, 2015

Jesus turns things over

In 1965 I was ten years old and the world was in turmoil. The news was laced with stories from around the globe that had bearing on my own world. Boys from my brother’s high school began to disappear into a jungle in Southeast Asia. While we pre-teen girls gathered in our living rooms to watch Hullabaloo, our parents were in the kitchen discussing the latest intelligence in our county’s continuing effort to resist racial integration in our schools. The six-o’clock news showed pictures of people being hit with clubs and shot with tear gas at a bridge in Alabama.

Despite the fact that I lived in a county where the majority of our citizens were black, there was only one black student in my class, a tall, very shy girl named Evelyn. Her family had to apply for her to be accepted as a transfer student at my public school from the other public school in our town. That was they way the system tried to manage integration, by allowing only one black student per grade. The local paper published the names and addresses of the families who were bold enough to make these applications. Some of those families woke up in the middle of the night to the light of a cross burning in their yard.

The one black classmate of my brother was named Jerome. My brother reported that someone flushed Jerome’s textbooks on a regular basis, and sometimes his head, too.

My parents tried to explain: People were afraid that too much change would happen too fast. There was a system, you see, that people felt must be upheld, that was needed to keep things in order.

But things didn’t look like they were in order to me. I saw faces contorted by hate and fear. I saw anguish and blood. I saw fire and smoke and a lot of wounds, both on TV and in my community. Things were definitely not in order.

In fact, the system was being dismantled, led by people who quoted Jesus and the prophets and who sang hymns and spirituals. The tables were being turned over. The system was being called out for what it was, unnecessary for salvation and an impediment to living in right relationship with God. And many people were made free, even some who didn’t realize that they were imprisoned.

I know that the system of racial inequality has not been completely dismantled. It was dealt a serious blow in 1965, but Jesus has to keep turning those tables over again and again. Systems are persistent, and they keep us captive.

The system that imprisons me now is the one we call “crazy busy.” Many of us decry this yet we wear it like a badge of honor, convinced that since crazy busy is just the way life is, we might as well excel at it. It makes me feel special to be so necessary, even if it means I’m distracted from the weightier matters of life.

I have bought into a system that has convinced me that I just don’t have enough time to ponder deep questions and wrestle with my fears and slow down enough to really listen for God to speak to me. What if God wants me to change? If I just keep busy, keep juggling, then I won’t have to grow. How seductive! I won’t have time to change the world. I won’t have to look into my own woundedness. Because I don’t really want to be challenged. It looks dangerous and hard. There might be anguish or smoke, wounds. 

Sometimes the tables have to be turned over and the money tossed out. I know that. Sometimes I’m glad. Sometimes I’m fearful - it depends on which tables we are talking about. But a system won’t save me. A system won’t give me new life. And it won’t change the world. In fact the system likes for things to stay just as they are and for us to stay enthralled. That’s how it keeps its power.

And so my prayer tonight is that Jesus will come again and knock over some stuff in my dis-oriented, mis-aligned world and bring me back to life again, real life, where God is the love that casts out fear and binds up every wound.











Saturday, March 7, 2015

Pray/Present

Today's post at SSJE takes the notion of prayer in a new direction. Brother Jim asks us to consider prayer not so much as a time we are going to God with something but a time when God has something to bring to our attention. Not many of us were taught to think of prayer in this way, although I imagine most people with a contemplative bent have always known this.

Listening for God is not easy in such a busy world as ours. And sometimes I can sit down and listen and really not hear anything. Many times. OK, more times than I would like to admit. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

But just like Owen Meany, we are called to practice over and over these disciplines so that at the right time, at the time God needs us, we will be ready to do what we are to do. And so we practice listening for God even (as both Barbara Brown Taylor and Mother Teresa have pointed out) when God seems mostly silent. Because it is in/through that silence that we will most likely hear what God wants to say to us.

I say all this as if I know something about it. I don't know much. I have struggled to even accept that I have a contemplative side much less deeply explore it. But I am better than I was in this regard. And truly, I found after going on a "silent retreat" that actually I practice silence a lot already and have come to appreciate it (except for first thing in the morning when I can use some stimulation!).

I am taking Brother Jim's words to heart today though. I'm not sure what the answer is (Here is the question: What is God presenting to you in prayer today?) but I know I found some real peace in spending the day so far mostly in silence, being attentive to my surroundings, doing some yoga, brewing a pot of tea, rubbing my kitties' bellies, listening. I know that this is something I need to intentionally practice, that it is a discipline, and that by practicing prayer in this way, I will draw closer to God.












Friday, March 6, 2015

Prayer/Becoming

I've been mulling over the video/essay and question at SSJE today for some time. The part of the essay that strikes me most is this statement: "[W]hat we’re yearning after, what we’re desiring in life will shape who we are. And if wealth is what we desire more than anything – or success, or prestige, or social status, or fame, or popularity, what we desire most deeply – then those desires will shape the kind of person that we become."

Now, I believe this. I've believed it for a long time. 

And then the question: "What desires are shaping who you're becoming right now?"

Now the question is harder to consider. Looking at this from the opposite angle stops me cold. I've felt like a deer in the headlights all day. I hate it when this happens. I feel myself becoming frantic, looking for the "right answer." I am not able to let the true answer rise up from within.

And given the fact that this whole series has shined a light on the fact that I really think I am Not Living Right, I feel that the question is really an urgent one.

Many of us women were raised to be pleasers. (Men, too, of course, although I hear a lot more of this from women.) We are not taught to pay attention to our own desires but to the desires of others. Or perhaps it goes this say: we are taught NOT to pay attention to our own desires but to the desires of others. In my case, I see both at play. But often, the former is stronger. I have (sometimes a lot of) trouble knowing what my own desires are.

I often find myself wishing that someone would just tell me what to do and then I can respond or react. It is often only within the context of someone else's desires that I am able to recognize my own. Striking off on my own feels somewhat dangerous. Or presumptuous. Or self-centered.

In our family lore, we have a great story about my mother in law. We used to ask her what she wanted for Christmas and she always said that she didn't want anything. One year, she broke down and mentioned a sweater. But she very quickly thought better of it and called to say that she didn't really want a sweater; she didn't want anything. My husband told her, "Too bad; we are going to get you a sweater."

Her response was that if he really was going to do that, then he should get her a crummy sweater, and not a nice one. Tom and I still smile over this and sometimes one of us mentions that we want a crummy sweater.

But truly she had trouble saying what she wanted. I didn't always know if she just didn't want to say, didn't feel she deserved, or if she just didn't know. Either way, I'm sure it made her feel bad about herself sometimes. I know it makes me feel bad about myself when I can't even say what I want because I'm staring into this great void inside me and the harder I look, the more elusive the answers are, and the worse I feel.

So how do I answer the question? What desires are shaping who I'm becoming right now?

I will have to keep thinking. But this comes to mind about how I know I often react:



And so I am grateful that the Brothers at SSJE remind me that this question begins and ends in prayer. 







Thursday, March 5, 2015

Prayer/Unity

Today's SSJE video and question ask:

How might being attuned to this around you shape your prayer today?

If I stop and intentionally notice those around me in worship or conversation or other gathering, I begin to sense that some carry burdens from their posture or sighs or tears. And that noticing spurs me on to pray for them and to keep them in my thoughts as I go through my day......


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Lent, Interrupted

I'll bet you think I up and scheduled a nice Sabbath rest, didn't you?

But noooooo. I did the other thing I mentioned, the one you get if you won't stop on your own, the forced rest. I got sick. And ended up with more than a day of rest.

I am definitely on the upswing now, but there went my Lenten discipline.

Sometimes when you're sick, you're able to read and write and rest and while you're uncomfortable, you can still think. Unfortunately, that was not the kind of sick I was. I was the kind of sick that kept all thought and reflection beyond immediate feelings at bay. My thoughts ran more along the line of "Can I move? Do I need to throw up again? If I lie this way, will my head stop pounding and my body stop aching? Why I am I so hot and so cold at the same time? Yep, I need to throw up again."

In the grand scheme of things, of course, this was a blip. People out there are suffering with serious medical conditions. I just had a nasty 24-hour stomach bug coupled with a 48-hour recovery. I'm going to be fine. I'm already pretty much fine. I moved from saltines and jello to mashed potatoes in 48 hours and today plan to eat something even more exciting: an omelet! And maybe a bowl of minestrone.

I had wonderful companions and nurses to care for me. The kitties of course made sure to sleep on me in whatever position I found most comfortable. And my husband, who was scheduled to drive back to Atlanta on Monday turned around after lunch and came back to stay with me an extra day.

But I didn't do a lot of reflection. Just bits and pieces of thoughts popped up from time to time.

I did keep reading the SSJE essays. I just couldn't much respond. I hope to get back to responding soon.

Meanwhile, here's a shot a my nurses hard at work:









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