Sunday, August 20, 2017

Choosing to Connect

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28)

In June, I met a guy from Tunisia, the first person I’ve ever met from that country. He picked us up on the Pont Marie in Paris. We were headed to the rental car desk at Charles de Gaulle airport. He spoke a little English, we barely spoke any French and no Arabic. He understood airport, but we were having trouble identifying the exact place at the airport we needed to stop. At CDG there is Terminal 1, Terminal 3, and then Terminals 2A, 2B, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, and 2G, all surrounded by a two-level highway reminiscent of a rollercoaster track.

Fortunately, we were able to speak with his boss by phone, who clarified that our drop off spot should be between Terminals 2E and 2F. That essential piece of business squared away, we settled in for a long ride.

My husband Tom is pretty good when we travel about initiating conversation and engaging with people in their language. He’s the one who actually studies the language ahead of time while I figure I will magically remember it all from my studies in 1971. Tom began to try out his French with the driver while I paged through my phrase book, staying well behind in the conversation. How long had the driver been in Paris, did he have family here, etc. Then it was the driver’s turn to as ask where we are from and how long are we staying?

The United States. Virginia. Not very far from Washington DC. Two weeks. Yes. Oui
The basics covered, we lapsed into silence.

Then the driver asked hopefully, do you have an h’oo-BEAR in Virginia? I frowned. I flipped through my French dictionary. h’OO-Bear. h’Oo-bear. I’m thinking about a quarterback. Tom looks at me and shrugs. Then the driver resorted to charades. “I (point) work (motion of driving car) for h’oo-BEAR. Do you have h’oo-BEAR in Virginia?”

Oh! Uber! He drives for Uber! Yes! Oui! We have Uber in Virginia! Nous avons h’oo-BEAR!

Connection made. We found something in common. We talked nearly nonstop the rest of the way. He showed us pictures of Tunisia on his phone - the seacoast with turquoise water and colorful boats, ancient Roman ruins in Carthage. He taught us how to correctly say some French words and we taught him some English pronunciations. We figured out how to make some little jokes and then laugh at them. 

Tom asked him if he felt more like a Tunisian or a Frenchman after living in France for 9 years. The driver immediately said, "Both. It is like having a mother and a father. Tunisia is like my father. France is like my mother. I love them both. They are both good to me. No need to choose which is better. They are both better."

We were all smiles when we reached our rental car. It had been a real joy to find a way to connect for a little while with someone so different from us, to share not only a ride but ourselves. To learn from and to teach, give and take, finding a commonality in something as small as the use of the same ride-sharing service. We didn't need to talk about Muslim and Christian or about Arab and Anglo or about politics - none of which we were likely to have in common. We talked about how beautiful the Mediterranean Sea is. How bold those “moto" drivers are whizzing past us on two wheels between lanes. How great it is to love both your mother, your mere, and your father, your pere. How great it is to learn how to say Thank you for teaching us to speak your language. We parted with the words Merci, merci, bon voyage! Have a good trip! Merci!

I like that the French word for thank you is “merci.” Of course I think of mercy. Because as I traveled around, bumbling with the language, needing help all the time with practically everything, it felt so right to say to everyone, Merci. For me it was not just “thank you,” but “thank you for having mercy on me. Thank you for your kindness as I struggle. Thank you for being merciful instead of impatient.”

Jesus almost missed his chance to make a connection with the Canaanite woman. He focused on their differences. She never denied there were differences. She just said, have mercy. That’s all I’m asking. Fortunately, when she showed him their connection, he remembered his mercy and forgot his impatience, and they understood each other. Despite their differences, they chose to connect. He was a Jew and she was a Canaanite and it turned out that there was no need to take sides, to choose which is better. They were both better. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


At the High Altar at Chartres Cathedral, France

O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Serious business, weighty words

Yesterday, right here in the church, we received five beautiful children into this household of God, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. One of them was sporting sparkly silver hightop tennis shoes. Another wore an elaborate family heirloom Christening gown - all of them fresh from heaven trailing clouds of glory as Claudia and I poured the waters of baptism over their heads and sealed them with oil to mark them as Christ’s own forever. 

We gathered as a body and heard the story of Jesus being baptized himself, and how God proclaimed at that moment that Jesus is the beloved belongs to God and how there is nothing we can do to earn or lose the love and pleasure God takes in our belovedness. We took or reaffirmed our baptismal vows. We promised to continue to gather together for prayer, for nourishment in the Eucharistic feast, for teaching and learning from our Scriptures. We promised to persevere in resisting evil and whenever we fall into sin to repent and return to the Lord. 

We promised to proclaim through our words and through our actions the Good News of our salvation - that God loves everyone. We promised to seek the face of Christ and serve the person of Christ in all the people of the whole world, to love our neighbors as ourselves. We promised to strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every single human being. We promised to support the children and their families and to nurture them as they grow and live among us through their joys and their trials. 

These promises are our job description as Christians, individually and as a community. We make them in the knowledge that we, too, are God’s beloved.

We heard the story and we made these promises as we gathered around the light of Christ, symbolized by the Paschal candle, its flame steady over our heads, the beacon of the household of God.

Baptisms are joyous occasions. We all love seeing the children and their families, we love the looks of wonder in their faces reflected in the font as they gaze at those gathered around them. We love their outfits.

But this business is still serious business: being marked as Christ’s own forever, of coming through the waters of baptism just as the Israelites did when they were led through the sea, out of bondage - out of their slavery - in Egypt.

These words we speak are weighty and profound: Love; Justice; Peace; Dignity; Evil; Sin; Repent; Prayer. These promises are elemental and could be even dangerous - what does it mean to be the light of Christ in the world around us?

At baptism, we recognize that water is both life-giving and dangerous. In it, we can be cleansed or we can drown. It can support us and it can sink us. The ancient people of the earliest Bible stories knew the fearful power of water, where chaos reigned, where the great Leviathan lived, and they rejoiced (read Psalm 18 for a dramatic account) that their God controlled the thunderbolts and rode black clouds through the storm to swoop down and save them when they were afraid and overwhelmed. They well knew the story of the great flood and how only one family survived the rising waters by being sealed up in a little boat.

Biblical scholars are not all in agreement about whether or not Jesus wants the disciples to stay in the boat or not in our Gospel reading today. Some say that Matthew always stresses community and how it is important to remain united in the community for safety and freedom. They should stay in the boat together, so of course Peter fails because he gets out.

Others declare that since Jesus commands Peter to come to him through the waters of the storm - to get out of the boat - then Jesus is calling us as individuals and as a community to take risks for his sake. Because following Jesus really can be risky. 

But Peter loses faith and fails. Therefore, some focus on the need for keeping one’s eyes on Jesus whatever we do, deepening our faith and piety. 

A case can be made for all of these. There doesn’t have to be one answer.

But honestly, this story is not primarily about Peter or about the boat anyway. As in most Gospel stories, our focus really should be on Jesus. This story is another take on Psalm 18. The Great I AM comes through the chaos where we are floundering helplessly in the wake of whatever is overwhelming us right now - and reaches out for us and pulls us to safety. 

Jesus pulls Peter to safety whether or not getting out of the boat was a good idea, whether or not Peter was in the wrong place at the wrong time, whether or not he messed up by not being faithful enough or by thinking he could walk on water.  Jesus pulls Peter through the storm to safety because Peter is his beloved. Jesus pulls him to safety because that’s what Our Lord does. It’s who Our Lord is. Our savior. 

Storms are going to overwhelm us. We are going to feel afraid. But Our Lord comes to us in our fear and reaches out for us because we are his beloved.

That said, I’ve always been one who believes that following Jesus means I’m going to have to get out of the boat sometimes. I’m going to have to follow him into some chaos, into some place I might be scared to go. I am often tempted to stay in the boat, but sometimes I’ve got to step out. And the only way I can muster up the courage to do that is by believing that Our Lord will reach out and save me if I become overwhelmed. That Our Lord will save me even if I am wrong. Even if I meant well but messed up royally in my efforts. Because I am his beloved. Because that’s the promise in which I have faith.

This morning there is much that feels overwhelming to me. During the week I have sat with the dying and the bereaved. I have felt the shock of sudden death and dire diagnoses. I have worried about the possibility of war. And yesterday I watched with horror the images coming in from Charlottesville, images embedded in the sin of racism, people with distorted hateful faces bearing weapons and gathered around and illuminated by the light of torches carried with the intent of intimidation; crashes and fire and blood; violence; death. Where is the peace that God speaks to his people? Where are the beautiful feet of the one who brings good news?

But take heart, Jesus says, it is I who comes to you in your despair over the fearsome sea. Through the life-giving dangerous waters of baptism all we have come, some with beautiful feet wearing sparkly shoes, our faces illuminated by the light of Christ, the steady flame of the Paschal candle that is the sign and beacon of the household of God. Christ comes to us to save us through any storm when we are losing hope. This is good news, the promise that God is with us. 

And in response, we have promised to be the messengers of good news ourselves - with God’s help. We have promised to uphold one another in love. We have promised to resist evil. We have promised to repent when we fall into sin. We have promised justice, dignity, respect, love for all God’s beloveds.  We have promised prayer. We have promised peace. 

These are weighty words and we may fail miserably trying to live up to them, but following Jesus, living into my baptismal vows, means I’ve got to try. Maybe I try by encouraging others in the boat. Maybe I try to getting out of the boat and taking a risk. Whatever I try, I try with God’s help.

I’m going to take part in a vigil downtown at 3rd Street Bethel AME church this Wednesday evening at 6:30. It is sponsored by the same congregations that joined with us when we showed the movie 13th here at St. Stephen’s. I invite you to join me and other people of faith to stand against bigotry and to repent the sin of racism.

Maybe this will be stepping out of the boat, or maybe this will be steering the boat together toward justice. Either way, this is how I will live out my baptismal vows right now. We will mourn the dead and the injured and we will pray for justice,  respect and dignity. 

May our beacon be the light of Christ shining over against the torches of hate. May we light the way for justice and walk in the way of peace. May we repent the evil we have done and the evil we have failed to challenge. And when we are floundering in our grief and in our paralysis in the face of whatever overwhelms us, may we call upon our Lord to save us in sure and certain knowledge that he will.


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