Monday, January 18, 2021

"Call" is trickier than it looks

“Call” is a tricky subject. We take the words for granted in the church, but the whole idea is a mine-field of expectation, vision, and self-image that can bring beautiful vision to life, motivate us to do grand things, send us on journeys of faith… or lead us to do incredible evil. To paraphrase religious writer Frederick Buechner, “[Call] is like nitro-glycerin. It can either heal hearts or blow-up bridges.”

If you don’t believe, just wait around this week and watch the news.

This week we commemorate The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and there is no doubt that he was called… called to lead his congregation, his people, his nation, to the civil, economic, social, and spiritual liberation of African-Americans from a 400 year history of enforced servitude and oppression… and that this call cost him his life.

And this week, we’ll inaugurate a new president, whom we hope will bring out our better angels instead of encouraging what we saw eleven days ago, when the countervailing forces of fear and evil were at work when thousands of mostly white men and women turned what seemed like a protest into an attempted insurrection so that they could overturn an election they lost at the behest of a president who came to power on the very resentment fear and anger that these people have harbored since well before The Rev. Dr. King first came on the national scene in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 and 1956.

Now here’s the thing that serious Christians, serious people of faith, must come to terms with: both the civil rights movement and the capital rioters last week used the language of “call”--- of adherence to something higher than themselves—to justify and explain their actions, to motivate their followers, and find energy for their cause. It’s just that one was after a common good and the other perpetrated an evil.

As I said, “call” is a tricky subject.

How do we know if a “call” is from God or is coming from someplace else… someplace contrary to God?

Today we hear a snippet of scripture that sounds wonderful, even whimsical, at first: the call of God to Samuel. Samuel is considered a prophet in Jewish and Christian tradition, but he was the last of the Judges. Before Israel was governed by hereditary kings, they were governed by Judges. These were not people in long robes presiding over courtrooms but were senior religious figures who governed the nation. They not only took on the rabbinical role of settling local disputes, but it was thought that they—being especially attuned to God and particularly holy—could govern the nation.

Samuel was being raised by another Judge, named Eli, but Eli might have been a person of great faith, and even wise in his way, but he was a rotten judge of character especially when it came to his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. Hophni and Phinehas were lazy, drunken, and spoiled. They were sexual predators and thieves. Worse, they thought that because their Dad was a Judge, they could do pretty much as they pleased, and they did not pay Eli any mind when he would mildly rebuke them for their bad behavior. To top it off, these two neer-do-wells assumed that they’d inherit the family business and be the next Judges over Israel.

So, Samuel—who was the only child of Hannah, who had dedicated him to God, and was being raised by Eli the Judge—was trying to get some sleep when he hears a voice calling his name. Samuel assumes it was Eli, and goes to find out what’s up. Eli, shaken awake by his young student sends him back to bed. Three times this happens! Finally Eli, realizes that it is God who is calling Samuel, so he says to his young padawan, “the next time you hear that voice, say ‘Yes, Lord, your servant listens.’” And that’s what happens. Samuel listens and finds that he is called by God to be a Judge and a Prophet.

Sweet, right?

Well, not so fast. The thing that Samuel learns from God is that God has pretty much had it with Eli not being able to discipline Hophni and Phinehas—and worse, putting up with the evil they did in Eli’s name abusing God’s name and authority in the process! And so, Eli is not only going to lose his job as Judge but die in the process. When Eli presses Samuel to tell him what God said to the boy, he learns his fate and says “The Lord must do what is right.” Or, as we might say today, “it is what it is.”

So… you see what I mean, right? Call is a tricky thing.

And, that is before we get to what we talked about before… that sometimes we attribute some pretty horrible ideas to “being called by God.” How many tyrants, opportunists, and even everyday insecure people fall back on the language of “call” to justify their actions?

I mean, going back to the Rev. Dr. King, how many segregationists and white supremacists justified their active evil, or their passive acceptance of an obvious evil, by blaming their actions on the “call” or “will” of God. How many could not distinguish between “the way it’s always been” and the will of God?

In today’s Gospel, I can see why Jesus liked and called Nathaniel. Because he was as faithful as the day is long… and he was nobody’s fool. When Andrew and Philip come running to him about having found the Messiah—his response was “yeah, right.” But his friends persisted, and they invited him to come and see. Nathaniel’s call came through his skepticism and Jesus knew not to shower him with sweetness but instead to bust his chops. Nathaniel could take what he dished out and seeing that Jesus knew him in a different way, followed Jesus’ call to discipleship.

But sometimes “call” takes us beyond ourselves and these very human, very ingrained, ways of thinking.

To hear a call is to take one above and beyond oneself. A sense of call is a heady thing but it can go to your head, so one must be careful. And most calls, truth be told, are not specifically religious or to a religious vocation. The other day, I saw on Facebook, how a young woman who grew up in this parish, Keri Appleman, will start her turn as a student teacher, fulfilling what her mother Shae says is a lifelong dream… to become a teacher in a classroom! To undertake this calling in a time of pandemic will be a daunting task, but Keri is up to the task and we both congratulate and pray for her as she lives out her baptismal vows and her calling.

This weekend, Peg and I have been hosted by the Rev Can himself, Father Dale Grandfield and his husband Brad, as we get ready to move to Florida this week. It was this congregation that raised up Dale and sent him off to Seminary to pursue and test his call to ministry. He was our music director, and any parish would have assumed that this was enough, but Dale knew there was something more, and this community nurtured and encouraged that in him. Hearing and pursuing a call may take us in unexpected places.

This parish undertook a call to share in the feeding and sheltering of the poor, the hungry, and the homeless, and we know this ministry today as the Ark Community Meal. But way before Easton had Safe Harbor, and before the revival of Easton’s downtown, this parish took turns with other churches in sheltering the homeless from the cold. This parish community’s heart for ministry, led by the vision of Fr. Jim Gill, Janet Charney, Fr. Cliff Carr, and so many others, attuned us to listen for God in creative ways that this led not to only Safe Harbor, but also ProJeCt of Easton, Cops’n’Kids, Turning Point, Third Street Alliance and so many other local agencies and ministries that serve the poor, the outcast, women, and children, and the elderly and those with special needs. Listening to a call can draw out from out amazing, holy, creativity.

This parish chose up once and for all to repent of our past ambivalence about whether to welcome LGBTQ persons into our parish, and were so led to embrace the ministry of Sr. Helena Barrett, the first openly gay person to be ordained in the Episcopal Church, and encourage her along with Sr. Alison Joy to form a new Benedictine religious community. After the Pulse night club shooting, we as a parish decided to proudly proclaim that welcome publicly in both word and deed.

This parish hosted a pilot of the Episcopal Church’s “Becoming a Beloved Community,” and worked with Lafayette College and other community agencies to speak out about the sin of racism, held community workshops, and decided through the Vestry, that this parish—as a whole—would be life members of the NAACP through the Easton Branch.

During my time here, we have experimented in many ways responding to the call of God in a variety of ways. Our concerts and artistic endeavors, the founding the Chautauqua of the Two Rivers, our choral scholars—two of whom came to faith and were baptized as young adults in this community—our work with Lafayette. We adopted a school in Kajo-Keji, South Sudan, and made audacious decision to tithe our capital campaign to build that school.

My experience of this community over the past nineteen years that this is a community that strives to listen for the call of God in big and little ways. Even our bike rides, our picnics, and partnerships with other parishes were living responses to the call of God to “discover, share, and live God’s love as friends and apprentices of Jesus Christ.”

Now, the time has come to listen again to the call of God. God is taking you to a hope-filled future. It is a heady thing, this business about call, so be careful not to get ahead of yourselves. Time and again, I have learned the hard way that good intentions become pavers on the road to perdition when we let ourselves think that we know better than God what God wants. So stop, pray, listen, discern, pray some more, and—above all—don’t be bamboozled because the evil one wants our good intentions to lead us someplace else. Meet your calling with integrity, inquiry, and, yes, even humor, and God will honor you with great things and trust you to follow him as friends and apprentices of Jesus Christ.

Listen for God’s call. Respond to God’s voice. Be discomfited by God’s urging. And may God go with you in all you do.

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B, January 17, 2020, at Trinity Episcopal Church, Easton, Pennsylvania. This was my final sermon as 13th Rector of that parish.

Monday, December 07, 2020

Preparing the way

How do you get ready for Christmas?

Well, I don’t know about you but for me, certain things that have to happen: the tree goes up. The box of decorations comes up from the basement. Certain recipes are brought out. And we break out the Christmas music. I love it.

Don’t tell the Advent Police, but I think it’s kind of cool to go into a store and hear some pop singer sing “hear the news the angels bring.” I want to shout “Yay, team!”

Just the same, I must admit that, it is hard for the Good News to rise above all the noise about dancing snowmen and sleigh bells ringing. One of my antidotes to endless arrangements of the same old secular holiday fare is to drag out my CDs and find the Messiah by George Frederick Handel (1685–1759).

Handel composed the oratorio in just three weeks, from August 22 until September 14, 1741. He put the music together with the libretto prepared by Charles Jennens, which is nothing more or less than Old and New Testament passages from the King James Version of the Bible—then only 130 years old. It opens with poetry from Isaiah—the same passage we just heard today:

"Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned" (Isaiah 40:1–2).

This is also where Gospel of Mark begins.

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” are the first words in the Gospel. From there Mark heads straight to the prophet Isaiah, who speaks of one who would come to make straight the paths before the coming of the Lord.

The Good News of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God begins with John, the one who is preparing the way. He brings words of comfort and hope: `Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'"

Words of comfort imply that there are people who need comforting. Words of hope mean that there were people without hope. When John spoke those words, he was speaking to first century Jews and he quoted their own scriptures. He reminds them of something that God has already done.

About five to six hundred years before John the Baptizer and Jesus, in 587 BC, the Jewish people experienced a devastating trauma. The Babylonian Empire came and conquered Israel and razed Jerusalem, including Solomon’s Temple. They sent the Jews into exile hoping to wipe out all memory of this once-great nation.

But 50 years later, along came Cyrus, the ruler of the Persians who conquered the Babylonians. Cyrus allowed the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem and Judea and resume their customs and traditions. This is where we get the words that Mark uses to open his gospel. We hear these words of hope in Handel’s oratorio.

Prepare the way for the Lord! This is the message of John the Baptist brings more than five centuries after Isaiah. John prepares the way for Jesus, who through his incarnation, life, death and resurrection closes the gap and restores all of us to unity with God, each other and creation. But keep in mind: John knew he was preparing for something, he just didn’t know what. He would not live to see what he was preparing for unfold but would only catch a glimpse. John brought a message of forgiveness and hope. And he brought a message of change. He called people to turn away from sin and turn towards God.

A few years ago, I heard an extraordinary story of a person who leveled the way, who showed off the reign of God and the possibility of new life. When I heard it was like music to my ears. Maybe you heard too. It begins with a subway trip in New York City.

Every night, Julio Diaz, a 31-year-old social worker rode the subway to his home in the Bronx. And he always got off one stop early so he can eat at his favorite diner. But one night, his evening took an unexpected turn when Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform. He was confronted a teenage boy who pulled out a knife and demanded money.

Diaz gave him his wallet, but as the teen started to turn and run away, Diaz called out, "Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you're going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm."

The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim strangely and he asked him 'Why are you doing this?'" Diaz told him that "If you're willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me ... hey, you're more than welcome.”

So the teen and Diaz went into the diner and sat in a booth, where, of course, Diaz knows everybody. The manager, the dishwashers, and the waiters all come by to say hi. The teen is perplexed. “You know everybody here,” he asks. “Do you own this place?'" Nah, Diaz says, he just eats there a lot.

“But you're even nice to the dishwasher.'"

Diaz replied, "Well, haven't you been taught you should be nice to everybody?"

"Yeah, but I didn't think people actually behaved that way," the teen said.

As they talked, Diaz asked him what he wanted out of life. The teen was silent, answering only with a sad face.

When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, "Look, I guess you're going to have to pay for this bill 'cause you have my money and I can't pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I'll gladly treat you."

Without hesitation the teen returned the wallet. Diaz paid for dinner and then gave him $20 figuring maybe it'll help him. There was only one thing Dias asked for in return: the teen's knife.

We don’t know what happened to the teen who tried to mug Julio Diaz. But we can see from this moment—from this risky, “kids don’t try this at home,” outside the box, moment—that we all have the power in how we live to cooperate with God and herald the coming of Christ.

To prepare the way, people must change. And if we are going to, with God’s help, fill valleys of imperfection, level mountains of selfishness, and make straight the crooked ways of every one for themselves, anyone who brings a message of hope, anyone who offers a vision of God at work among us, anyone who stops to care for another all heralds of the coming of Christ and his redeeming work. It turns out that we have taken the mantle of John the Baptizer and we are the ones who are leveling the way and making ready for the coming of the Messiah.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

It’s a wilderness out there!

It’s a wilderness out there! It’s wild, crazy, full of contradictions and confusion. If we’re not careful, it could eat us up!

Which is why we are looking for shelter, a way station, for comfort. And that is why we cry out for justice and freedom and safety. This advent, we’ve been hearing both kinds of stories.

This season we’ve been hearing on kind of voices forecasting good news. It had been forecasted by media who sent out word well in advance.  People made their way from their Thanksgiving tables (some at midnight) to the malls and stores and worldwide web. They cried out in the wilderness for deals. The way was cleared and stores made ready, the paths for savings and deals galore were opened so that all could find the perfect gifts for loved ones.

Out of the wilderness commercials, advertisements, and emails proclaimed savings and people from the whole countryside, in fact the whole developed world came out and bought and charged. You should have seen some of the people, in all kinds of clothing, ragged by the days end. They looked and they looked, so the story goes, until at the close of the day Black Friday (the shopping day after Christmas) and Cyber Monday (the online shopping day after the thanksgiving weekend) saw the sale of over 53 billion in merchandise goodness. 

There is a wilderness within our own hearts, a hedge of brambles that too often separates us into opposing camps and allows us to justify casting off and discarding each other. 

It sounds like the two voices are worlds apart. But both the annual shopping frenzy and the recent protests arising out of violence—the cry for justice and the quest for gift –are deeply connected.

They are connected by "human desire." We humans are wired to desire and long for that which is outside of ourselves.

In the long lines and the great deals, there is a part of us seeking to purchase and make real our own image of life and relationships. We longs to somehow fill the emptiness that is inside with something that is outside of us.

And in the present political and social turmoil, in our of world of us vs. them, we cry out, we long for, a justice that both eludes us in the face of force that both defies and protects us.

We are built that way. God has made us people who long for more. Christians understand that human desire is created within us so that we will long for that which is outside of our selves - in particular God in Christ Jesus. We are created to be in relationship with God. We are created to long for God. And, we are created to long for one another.

It’s a problem as old as humanity because it goes with being human. We long for something so big and we fill that longing in all kinds of ways…none of them by themselves can do the job.

So we try to meet that longing by purchasing massive amounts of gifts to show we care. We fill that longing with goods and products that promise beauty and normalcy. We fill that longing with media and fill all the quiet moments with playlists and social media that demands our attention. We know there are empty spaces so we try to fill them with food, or things, or sound, or busy-ness.

Every now and then something happens, something that is just so wrong, just so out of kilter, just so unjust, that we get angry, we get up and we march, we fight, we agitate. We want society and the people who govern and our institutions to act fairly, to reflect compassion, to be just and restrain evil.

Advent is a season for longing, for looking for something better. And all the good ways we do good things—our homes, our gifts, our work, our voices, even our governance and our politics—all point us to the ways in which we long for something more.

The message of Mark's Gospel today really is good news. The message is that God is the one we are longing for and in his incarnation Jesus Christ came into the world to fill all the missing pieces of our own soul for the sake of the relationship God desires to have with us.

Not only do we desire God in all these ways. God longs for us.

Ireneaus, the second century bishop and saint, once described the whole reason for God's creative and saving work is God's own deep longing to walk with us, his creation, in the garden at the eve of the day.

The incarnation of Jesus helps to mend that hole in us, and fulfills God’s longing for us. Jesus’ incarnation, cross and resurrection all happens so that we may find our longings transformed and fulfilled in the community of friends called the church. Our sacramental life, our prayer, our companionship, our compassion, all point to the fulfilling of our deep longing and God’s desire for us.

Which is why in today’s Gospel John the Baptist does not point us to a perfect place, but to "The Way." The Gospel of Mark is “the Gospel of The Way.” And The Way leads to the cross and to resurrection. In the Gospel of Mark, John proclaims, Jesus leads us, and the disciples follow.

Walking the way is how we meet our deep longings every day. Walking the way means continually making room in our lives for the God who chooses to make us companions.

What I love about today’s passages is that on the one hand—in Isaiah—God is the one making the paths straight and the valleys low. On the other hand, in the Gospel of Mark, it is we who are to do the work of clearing the path, filling the valleys, to make room in our lives for God. Think of two crews building the same bridge, but one is one bank and the other crew is on the opposite side and they work their way towards each other. And somewhere in the middle, they meet. And people can cross from one side to the other.

As we in Advent, not unlike the inn keeper in another Gospel, create space in our calendars, at our tables, and in our lives (privately and publicly) for God, know that in Jesus God has made space for us!

It is a wilderness out there! It is our wilderness. We live in the wilds of consumer goods, complex lives, poverty, injustice, and, above all, longing. It is a wilderness and the voice is crying out beyond all the noise and the media and all the news. It is a voice that proclaims, "Stop! Listen! Make room for God! Clear away the obstacles!" The God who longs for us is coming to meet us who long for God.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

So, what's the rush?

We’ve all done it. It is a trait we all share on one level or another. We’ve all found ourselves shifting our weight from one foot to another, folding and unfolding our arms repeatedly checking our watches or phones, sighing deeply and asking ourselves inwardly (or even out loud) “what’s taking so long?” We may teach our children and even our puppies “to wait for it.” But we can’t wait! We peek to see what’s under the gift paper as the presents sit beneath the tree, we peer into the simmering pot before it's ready, we push ourselves to lift that too-heavy box instead of using good body mechanics or asking for help. And why?

Because we can’t wait. We are impatient.

So, what's the rush?

Advent is said to be the season of waiting. But because it is also the season of our society’s Great Winter Festival—you know, from the Macy’s Parade to the Super Bowl—waiting is not an option. We want what we want when we want it. God help us!

This past weekend, I read a post from a mother who put on her Facebook page a picture of the wreck of dirty dishes after Thanksgiving dinner: “eight hours to prepare, twenty minutes to consume, an hour to clean up,” she wrote. 

But if you think she has it bad, look at the farmer that gave us our feast: the one who prepared the ground in the spring, planted the seeds, watered and tended the plants, dealt with bugs, critters, and weather, and then harvested the crop and brought it to market. The farmer teaches us that waiting takes patience—which is not the same thing as twiddling one’s thumbs, but it is the wise use of time, hard work, and resources.

So, what is the rush anyway? Why are we so impatient so much of the time? 

What makes us rush to control and manage things just so we can get what we want-- in our relationships? In our work? In our churches? 

I believe that the rush comes when our deep inner longing meets our deep-seated inability to allow things to unfold.

The culture doesn’t help us one bit in this department! Everything is designed around getting us to want something and then get it as soon as possible. We’ve become so impatient that we can’t even go to the store anymore: we insist that it come to us! We buy our gadgets (and our groceries!) from Amazon in exactly the same way that the Coyote bought his rocket sneakers and bat wings from Acme.

Which brings us to Advent. As waiting seasons go, Advent is really not all that long. Four Sundays…that’s it! And often the season is not even a full four weeks, especially if Christmas lands on a Monday or Tuesday. But we light the candles, measuring either how long we’ve waited or how far we have to go before we can sing Christmas carols.

And you want to know what the really silly part is? After waiting those four Sunday, we rip through Christmas like a whirlwind and move right on to the January sales and New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. This year, the Christmas season covers two Sundays before we get to the Epiphany and the Magi. Already I can hear the sighing on that Second Sunday of Christmas, January 3rd… because two days after New Year’s some well meaning person will say to me, “are we still doing Christmas…?”

Impatience is at the heart of the human condition. Just look at the classic seven deadly sins: they all have in common the impatient desire to give in to our impulses now. Don’t believe me? Take a look:

According to the standard list, the big seven sins are pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth. Pride, in this construct, is not healthy self-esteem or self-worth but what happens when we place ourselves above others, when we overestimate our importance; greed—getting what one wants at any cost; wrath—uncontrolled rage against life’s limits or against another’s dignity; envy—resentment over another’s good fortune; lust—sexual (or other) satiation without vulnerability or relationship; gluttony—devouring and hoarding everything one wants (not just food!); and sloth, which is not mere laziness but living in expectation that that one will receive benefits without any effort at all. Sometimes sloth is called “acedia” which the habitual absence of interest or deep resistance to do one’s own emotional work—the temptation to give up altogether. Personally, I’d like to add impatience as the eighth deadly sin, but I don’t need to-- because all of these classical sins share in one way or another the trait of impatience.

Mahatma Ghandi put it well when wrote about the seven blunders of the world that lead to violence; which, again, share the trait of impatience: 1) Wealth without work; 2) Pleasure without conscience; 3) Knowledge without character; 4) Commerce without morality; 5) Science without humanity; 6) Worship without sacrifice; and 7) Politics without principle. 

Both these lists tell us that there are no short cuts to virtue; and even our deep yearning for justice, and our longing for the coming of God’s reign require waiting, and, yes, patience.

Now, to be clear here, I am not saying that patience is the same as acquiescence. Patience is not the spiritual act of kicking the can down the road or assuming that someone else will do what we don’t want to do. “Patience” is not a synonym for “fear.” Actual patience requires trust, knowledge, effort, humility, and relationship. It requires a calm heart, clear thinking, and a non-anxious stance. Early in my ministry, when I worked with recovering addicts in a residential facility, the hardest lesson in recovery was for the residents to learn patience and with it the managing of one’s impulses.

“Yes, but…!” I hear you cry, “but what about justice?” Isn’t God impatient for justice? I sometimes hear preachers compare the sleeping disciples in today’s gospels to the church, asleep at the switch when it comes to justice. Jesus tells them to “wake up! Stay alert!” Why must we put up with oppressive and unjust systems for any longer than we must? 

To which I reply, who says that patience is “giving in?”

True, there are folks who disguise their discomfort and fear of change behind an argument for patience; just as many mainline clergy (including some then-prominent Episcopalians!) told the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King to “be patient” as he sat in a Birmingham jail, or who tried to stall the full inclusion of women into the Church’s ordained ministry asking for more patience. Personally, my tendency is to agree with Mother Jones, who organized coal miners in 19th century eastern Pennsylvania, when she said “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” On my wall hangs a saying, a kind of prayer, given to me at my ordination. It’s a quote by Elizabeth Cady Stanton who said, “Please don’t let me grow conservative with age.” 

At the same time, while we need to be wary of confusing patience with acedia, we must also be careful to not let one’s impatience doesn’t grow into pridefulness. Remember, how Rosa Parks changed the world with her focused, targeted patience?

So, what is the rush?

In Advent, we repent from our impatience while we wait for God's salvation history to unfold.

We acknowledge our sin that we often assume that we know better than anyone… even God… about how to get things done for God. Look at the Christmas narrative and see the lengths people go to snuff out the Incarnation. In the Passion narrative we see what happens when the impatience of the religious authorities caused them to try to stamp out Jesus’ ministry, and what Judas’ impatience to rush along the coming of the Kingdom does to him—even how his impulsive impatience made him unable to accept forgiveness! The Gospels, and especially the Passion, show us in stark detail the heart of human sin, which includes our inability to wait.

For me, the heart of Advent waiting is being present. Living in the here and now, with a stance that learns from and appreciates the past (all of it… the successes and the tragedies, the sins and the acts of redemption) and looks to the future of with hope (you know, "faith that looks forward"). Advent reminds us of the saying that John Lennon repeated, that life happens while we’re busy making other plans.

It takes faith to allow things to unfold in their time. We so often want to reduce God’s time (Kairos) to our timetable (Chronos). But, like an experienced cook, it takes a mature faith to cooperate with that process, giving it energy where it’s needed and time to simmer when that’s what’s called for. You need the skill and the know-how to prepare the ingredients, the trust and the knowledge to let the cake bake or food cook, and the confidence—the faithful activity—to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right way to get the right result.

As we long for God’s promised future—as we yearn for the establishment of God’s justice, God’s redemption, and for the maturity of faith which comes from grace and for faithful community that comes through the action of the Holy Spirit—allow this Advent time to teach us how to cooperate with God in the unfolding of God’s reign, to do the work God has given us to do, and to teach us the virtues and tools we need to bring Christ’s healing to our broken, confused, and impatient world.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Being Trusted by God for God's Work

So, what the heck is a talent, anyway? I’ll tell you one thing: it won’t win you a spot on America’s Got Talent, or Dancing with the Stars, that’s for sure! You know those giant lottery billboards … the ones that tell you the current jackpot in great big letters? That’s a talent. If you suddenly had in your hand enough money to equal the average annual salary times twenty…. That’s a talent.

So imagine if you hit the jackpot. What would you do?

The trusted servants in Jesus’ story did not hit the jackpot. Instead, they were people their master had come to trust with what amounted to a winning lottery ticket—but there was a catch. They had to make it grow on his behalf!

Imagine if someone gave you a big pile of money and said “I am going away now, you take this big pile of money and make it grow and when I come back I will collect what you’ve made.” What would you do?

This is what happens in the story Jesus told about three servants who were told to grow their masters money. Only two did, but one did not. He trusted them all, he believed them all to be responsible. And he gave them only as much as they could handle. Two of them did something to make their money grow. But not the third.  Remember, the master believed that the third slave had some skills, some gifts, some ability—because even though he was given the smallest amount, it wasn’t chump change! He gave the guy twenty years of average daily wage! That would be about a million dollars by today’s standard. Cha-ching!

But he was afraid of the master and knew he’d be angry if he lost, so he kept it safe…and that’s all.

Thinking about that third slave reminded me of a news story from a few years ago, where a young couple bought a house in California from the estate of an elderly man who had died alone, having outlived his wife and whose grown children lived far away. As the new owners began to renovate their home, they found envelopes full of cash squirreled away in nooks and crannies. Soon these envelopes became a pile and that pile amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The old man didn’t trust the banks. He didn’t invest the money. He kept it a secret so no one would steal it.  He hid them for the day that, no matter how dreary and wet, was never rainy enough. His children said he lived in near poverty his whole life while working every day he could.

Now the new owners had a dilemma. Their lawyers told them  that all that money was theirs to keep. The contract on the sale of the house said so…all the contents of the house were theirs. But the new owner and his wife knew that the man did not save all that money to go to some stranger who happened to buy a house. Sure, they thought, here is a windfall but what kind of lesson shall we teach our children? So, instead of keeping the money, they gave it back to the man’s children for them to use.

Heart-warming story. But what made this man hide all his money in the first place? What made him keep it a secret from even his children? What made him live as a pauper while riches were only an arm’s reach away?

Fear. Fear and a kind of backwards faith that says something bad is always just around the corner.

That’s why today’s Gospel is so very important. Matthew’s church was trying to figure out how to live in that very long time between the resurrection and Jesus’ return. They remembered a teaching of Jesus and applied it to their own church and that lesson was never to bury or hide what we have been given.

Think about it. Here they were, fifty or so years after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and already there has arisen a disturbing tendency for the community to stand pat and let things work themselves out.

They, like us, had to be reminded of the bounty God has showered on his people; and, most of all, on the trust Christ has placed on us to carry out his mission…to be Christ’s people, Christ’s representatives in the world. And so Matthew included this lesson of Jesus into his Gospel… because his church was stuck in a kind of inertia—whether it was out of fear or simply stuck in complacency, we don’t know. But they had to be reminded that God in Christ trusted them with a great gift to do God’s work.

But being trusted can be scary. We don’t want to disappoint. We are afraid of messing up. We don’t want to lose what we’ve been given. And if that fear takes hold…if that worry about what might happen becomes front and center…if thinking about potential disapproval or judgment or concern over what people might think takes hold of our hearts…then we become helpless. If we are overwhelmed by worry then we become helpless. No wonder the third slave buried his treasure and hunkered down!

That is our challenge even today. We live in a strange time of uncertainty, caution to the point of fear, sometimes resulting in irrational defiance. We have just been through a strange, stressful election season, and even still some people cannot let go and trust the process they claim to love enough to accept the outcome. We think we hang on out of conviction, but really we are hanging on to dear life out of fear. In this environment we are tempted to hunker down, get belligerent, hide our gifts, and so become helpless.

I am reminded of the words of blessed Pope John XXIII—who risked it all for the sake of the Gospel in calling together the Vatican II Council in 1963. He said we in the Church are not the curators of a museum; but instead we are the cultivators of a garden. Gardening is hard work and requires planning and preparation and attention, and our hands will get dirty. Because gardens are for growing, not for burying.

Jesus’ parable says that the master gave each slave a gift in proportion to their abilities. I believe we have all been given what we need and the place to act on those gifts.

While we tend to focus on the poor guy in the Gospel who gets thrown in the outer darkness, we forget about the rest of the story: don’t forget the two servants who are complimented for their work, and more than that…they are welcomed into the joy of their master. What they receive is not a promotion with a fat paycheck but something much more important. Their faithfulness means that they enjoy a deeper relationship with God.

The fundamental difference is how they saw their gifts and how they understood their master in the first place. The master trusted all three and that trust was a gift— the ones who saw abundant possibility were the ones who returned that blessing to their master many fold and received blessing in return.

But too often we are like the third servant. We are often tempted to see God first and finally as a hard judge—as someone very scary—and this can blind us from seeing the gift we are entrusted with as an opportunity and calling but as a time-bomb. The third servant led with his fear, and so lost out.

The lesson here for you and me, the average friend and apprentice of Jesus, is this: receive what God has given you with joy, and use it—even it means some risk—in a way that returns that blessing to God. Don’t stand pat—do something big and audacious and risky for God.

We live in an uncertain time. We are asked to wear masks and wash hands and not go into crowded places. This is an important work of love and I commend it to you, not out of fear but out of care. We are tempted to get angry and stubborn and do something stupid. We are tempted to go for the familiar, instead of the imaginative and new. And I am not just talking about money—or even masks! I am talking about our tendency to organize our living around what we are afraid of, and that is when we bury what we’ve been given.

The antidote is to live joyfully in the blessings God has given us in Christ Jesus; to use the abilities and resources God has given us to be God’s hands and feet in the world; and to build on the blessings and assets we have to cultivate our lives in service to God and to the world starting right here, right now. We are being called upon to think of church and community in new, imaginative ways.

In Christ, we have been a given a gift beyond expectation or imagining. Now, how do we use what we have been given?

A Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost (28A), Matthew 25:14-30

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Ordinary people communicating extraordinary grace

Do you think you are good enough to be one God’s saints? Do you think you have what it takes?

What a strange question! Saints are really, really, holy people, right? Only special people, who meet strict criteria get to be called saints, right? You need a committee of really smart people, theologians and church historians, to see if a person qualifies to be a saint… and those applicants have to have answered prayers where their intercession was specifically invoked and where miraculous things happened. We pray to Saints, we name churches for them and sometimes cities, or colleges or hospitals. Even now, as we sit in this church we are surrounded by idealized images of saints in the stained glass that adorn this church. It’s a pretty high bar!

The Episcopal Church has a calendar of saints and here at Trinity Church, we commemorate them on Wednesdays at our Noon Eucharist. Saints like Anselm of Canterbury, the theologian; St Francis and his sister St. Clair of Assisi; and, of course, the apostles like Saints Andrew, Peter, John and all of the rest. More recently, named saints have been added to our calendar like Martin Luther King, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyrs, and Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement.

We commemorate many saints alongside our Roman Catholic siblings, but some are unique to us as Anglicans: like George Herbert, the English priest and poet; Julia Chester Emery, an American Episcopalian who founded the United Thank Offering, and another Episcopal lay-woman, Frances Perkins, a pioneering social worker who, among other things, created Social Security and the Department of Labor.

But in the Christian scriptures, the use of the word “saint” is used much more broadly. The word “saint” appears 62 times in New Testament and the Apostle Paul used the term 44 times-- and not one of these times does he refers to a person for whom a hospital, college, parish, or parochial school might be named. In the New Testament, every follower of Jesus is a Saint, or in Greek "hagios", one of the holy ones. Yes, that’s right. You are one of God's saints. Now how can that be?

According to St. Paul what makes a saint a saint is Baptism. Being a person who believes in Jesus and says so out loud, and who participates in Christian community is a saint. In John’s heavenly vision in Revelation,

“… (he) heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them…’"

We are called “saints” because of God's continuing incarnate presence among his people; it is God who is intimately and fully holy, it is God who came in the flesh, who not only lived and walked among us and still dwells in the midst of His people. That presence permeates the entire community of faith.

Five years ago, the Episcopal Church got a new Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry of North Carolina was installed at the National Cathedral in Washington on the feast of All Saints. Before his election, he said:

God came among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to change the world, to change it from the nightmare it often can be into the dream that God intends. He came to change the world, and we have been baptized into the Triune God and summoned to be disciples and followers of this Jesus and to participate in God’s work, God’s mission of changing and transforming this world. We are the Jesus Movement now….

…We are part of the Jesus Movement, and he has summoned us to make disciples and followers of all nations and transform this world by the power of the Good News, the gospel of Jesus.

What makes God's people holy is His presence with and in us. It’s not our behavior, which is often less than perfect, that makes us saints but our living identity as Jesus’ people that makes us saints.

But let’s be careful here: in recognizing that we have already joined the glorious company of the saints in light by virtue of our faith and baptism, doesn’t mean that God has merely blessed our built-in biases and our life-long habits. As we hear in the Revelation of John today, God's voice thunders from heaven, "See, I am making all things new." We saints are being made new every day!

I recently saw a story that made me re-think and refine an understanding of sainthood that I carried around for years. It is the story of an encounter between a priest and Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, who died in 1980 at 83 years old. She was a champion for the poor and the working person and a bold activist for peace. During the 1970s, some priests were experimenting with the liturgy—trying to make it more accessible to ordinary people. One afternoon, a priest came into the soup kitchen where Dorothy Day was working. He wanted to offer a liturgy for the homeless, so he went into the kitchen and grabbed a mug from the pantry to use for the chalice. 

Day prayed throughout that mass and after the liturgy ended, she quietly got up and started to cleanse the vessels. Then, she walked outside with the mug carrying a shovel. 

A man followed her and asked her what she was doing. It is said she kissed the mug and then buried it. She told him that it was no longer a mug, but a chalice. It was no longer suited for coffee because it had held the Blood of Christ. She didn’t want anyone to mistake it for a mug again because once something holds the Body of Christ, it is no longer what it was. When the mug held the Blood of Christ, it changed its vocation forever. It could no longer hold anything less than Christ again.

Recently, our siblings in the Roman Catholic Church have been moving Dorothy Day through the process to make her a saint in their church. Which is ironic because she very firmly stated that she did not wish to be called a saint, lest she be trivialized. Jesuit priest Fr. James Martin wrote about this strained relationship:

"Dorothy’s own relationship with saints was anything but cynical. Both her daily speech and her writings were filled with references to St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Teresa of Avila. She treasured their stories. For Dorothy these were not idealized super-humans, but her constant companions and daily guides in the imitation of Christ. She relished the human details of their struggles to be faithful, realizing full well that in their own time they were often regarded as eccentrics or dangerous troublemakers."

“We are all called to be saints,” Day wrote. “We might as well get over our bourgeois fear of the name. We might also get used to recognizing the fact that there is some of the saint in all of us. Inasmuch as we are growing, putting off the old man and putting on Christ, there is some of the saint, the holy, the divine right there.” In other words, Dorothy Day regarded sanctity as the ordinary vocation of every Christian—not just the goal of a chosen few.

At a sermon I preached a few years ago I said that we were holy vessels disguised as cracked coffee mugs or jelly jars. Thinking of Dorothy Day’s lesson, I want to amend that. Once, we were common mugs. Simple, functional, practical, and good people. We had a capacity to hold good things. But with our baptisms, when Christ entered our lives, we became much more. We became Chalices. We started to hold divinity Himself within our hearts. Now that we have held the Body of Christ within our bodies, we are no longer common, but rather extraordinary, even as we live in an everyday world.

One of the things I have learned about how to “do” and “be” church in 2020 is that for all the improvisation, re-learning, limitations, and new habits we’ve taken on, we are being taught valuable lessons in everyday sainthood.

We are discovering how we are being changed on the inside and how that changes how we are with each other. So now we don’t just care about our own health or own prerogatives, but when we choose to wear a mask and wash our hands, we are learning to care for our neighbor—even ones we’ve hardly or never met! We’ve learned this year that not being prejudiced is enough to heal the centuries-old wounds of our society, but we are learning to be actively, and practically, anti-racist. We’re discovering (God willing!) that our politics is not just about giving into our fears but how we as a society looks out for each other and brings us together.

I remember a children’s sermon I heard as a kid, and which I’ve repeated a few times in this parish. You and me and all the saints are just like these windows: we are people through whom the light shines. God is making all things new, and we, who have taken on Christ in baptism are now holy vessels—chalices—who communicate Christ every day.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Voting with ethics, compassion, and hope.

People came to Jesus with all kinds of questions. And a question the every person who lived in Palestine struggled with was how to remain a faithful Jew and also a good subject of the Roman Empire-- especially when all the power of the Empire told you every day that you and your people were "less than."  But even today, it's a question we still struggle: how to be a faithful Christian during this tumultuous election season?

People came to Jesus for all kinds of reasons. Some people came to learn and some to challenge. Some wanted to trip Jesus up and make him look silly. So when members of two groups who typically disagreed with each other got together to ask the same question, it was just because out of their mutual suspicion of Jesus but the question was always of people’s minds and hearts.

They asked Jesus about the taxes required by the occupying Roman Empire. This question went deeper than their 1040-EZ, though. They wanted him to pick sides. His answer the lawfulness of paying taxes to the Emperor would tell people which side he was on: with the Herodians (pay the taxes!) or the Pharisees (keep the money…or put it one of the temple charities).

Remember when Jesus chased money-changers from the outer courts of the Temple? The money was already a hot-button issue! Because one could not do Temple business with pagan currency. Because the image of Caesar on the coin was considered idolatry. Bishop Nick Knisely of Rhode Island says in his blog today that the question put to Jesus is one of division and in response Jesus offers comprehension.

When Jesus asks for one of the coins used in paying the tax, he exposes the hypocrisy of the question, because it was obvious that one of his interrogators was carrying around the coin that little pocket idol: a silver Denarius with the image of Caesar on one side, and, on the obverse, the image of a woman named Pax or personified peace. A graven image…right there in their pocket!

Anyone could have answered Jesus question, even without a coin in hand. “Whose icon is this?” “Caesar.” Jesus tells them to give back to Caesar what is already his!

And we, made in the image of God are to “give back to God what belongs to God.”

Now at this point, our inner accountant gets to work. Is that ten percent? A proportionate share? How much do we give back to God? The clue is found with the word “icon” translated in English as “image” and “likeness.”

In Genesis 1:26-27, God says, “ ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,’” and so “God created humankind in his Image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Jesus puts the money question back into proper perspective. He affirmed the tax and made it all but irrelevant at the very same time! Because this really isn’t about money but rather how we live as people created in God’s image. Caesar owns the coin; but we belong to God.

Jesus says that everything we have and everything we are already belongs to God. Too often, we tend to hear this passage as saying that God’s stuff is here and the world’s stuff, or Caesar’s stuff, is there, so everybody should stay in their lane! In fact, everything belongs to God! God is to be the source and the goal and the judge of all human activity.

And so, while the state is not the church, God is over all. Which means that our ethics are not reserved just to the church or to believers, neither are our ethics a private thing. Ethics belongs in the public sphere every bit as much as in our private lives.

So much of both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures are devoted to showing us what ethical and just government looks like. A faithful ruler protects the people, and makes sure that the strong do not abuse or overpower the weak. The prophets castigate kings who forget that and also religious leaders who egg them on. Religion that demands obedience but not compassion is condemned by prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and, yes, even Jesus. Rulers who forget their accountability to God are treated harshly. In the books of First and Second Chronicles and First and Second Kings, rulers are graded by a kind of Michelin rating according to whether they kept the law and cared for the poor, the widow, and the orphan. Some are written off in as little as one sentence: “King so-and-so did not please the Lord…” Next!

When Mary sings the Magnificat after hearing the angel, she sings about casting down the mighty and lifting up the lowly.

As we approach another election, the airwaves are filled with news and analysis of the campaign, often focusing on the “horse-race” of who will win and who will lose. But I think when Jesus held up that coin, he was thinking of his mother’s song, the Magnificat.

Because if Jesus’ lesson of the coin, and the teaching of the Torah and Prophets, is any guide, God is interested in much more than who wins, places, and shows. The ethics, conduct, and example of our leaders is vitally important not only in day to day civic business but in shaping the soul and heart of the nation. 

How power is used—whether to build up the rich and powerful or instead to care for the least among us—is a central concern in Scripture. The prosperity of a nation, in both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures is deeply connected to a nation’s justice and care. Saul, the first king of the united kingdoms of Israel and Judah is both anointed and held accountable by the prophet Samuel. And remember how the Prophet Nathan confronts King David over the Bathsheba affair? The prophetic tradition both blesses the monarchs and takes them to task when they start thinking it’s all about their power instead of their service. God is not interested just in who holds leadership, but in how they exercise their office.

So those Christians who treat themselves as an interest group, or use the language of the

Bible to stoke fear show us that they succumbed to temptation of power and become a kind of court prophet—a job not judged kindly in the Hebrew Scriptures.

The entire prophetic tradition reminds us that while governing is a human activity, it is up to us to be sure than our common life—secular and religious—is one of compassion, humility, and service. The price of power is that the higher you go, the more accountable we are for how the lowliest are treated. The politicians themselves put this choice starkly in front of us: either we choose people who will only look after our own interests or we choose leaders who will guide us into caring for all God’s people and creation.  

And that leads us to the core question: will we vote out of fear or out of hope? As we start to vote either in advance or on election day, remember that the power we hold in the ballot box is also a sign of our power to serve all of God’s people and our baptismal call to demonstrate God’s compassion every single day. Jesus teaches us to render to God what is God’s—because we are all accountable for our stewardship of creation and for the welfare of God’s people in what we render to Caesar.

Sunday, October 04, 2020

In Christ, our liberation is bound up in each other

Today’s Gospel contains a truth that is very hard to accept. How hard will depend on who you identify with in the story.  As long as we think of the bad guys in Jesus’ story as someone else, we can jeer and catcall and relish in the comeuppance they get. But if begin to see that the violent, greedy stewards who kill the messengers as us… well, that’s another story.

In Jesus’ parable in Matthew, a landowner gives over the operations of his vineyards to some tenants. He sends people to the vineyard to retrieve his income and to get an account about how they are caring for the vineyard. In each case, the messengers are beat up or even killed. Eventually the landowner sends his son thinking that they will respect him. But the tenants do to him what they did before: they murder him.

Now, notice what comes next: Jesus doesn’t end the story but asks the ones to whom he is telling it to fill in the blanks. “What do you think the landowner should do?” They say, “Punish these brutes and put them to a miserable end!” Jesus then turns the tables of his critics and says, “the stone which builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”

This parable was remembered by Matthew’s church as an explanation for why the Church was becoming more and more Gentile, while becoming less and less Jewish in their populations and in their traditions. In short, Matthew is saying “you had your chance; now there is a new chosen people in town!”

I always approach this passage with great care, because it has been the vehicle and justification for two millennia of often violent anti-Semitism and Western white supremacy.

So be careful! As soon as we begin to think that the Church or the Gospel, is our personal possession, or that we have the right answer for a “perfect” church, we are setting ourselves up to take the role of the possessive stewards in this story.

If you don’t believe me, look at how the history of the Church is filled of moments when otherwise faithful people have gotten the bit in their teeth and have run rough-shod over the very church they were trying to preserve or reform.

One hundred years ago, an Episcopal bishop named Paul Jones was driven from his office for speaking words of peace during the First World War.

Not ten years later, another Episcopal bishop, William Alexander Guerry, was assassinated in his own office by a priest of his own diocese of South Carolina, because Guerry bucked the Jim Crow segregation that had taken hold of the church when he wanted to not only desegregate the churches but elect a black suffragan bishop.

I love the identity statement of the United Church of Christ and sometimes wish it were our own. It says, “God is still speaking.” But can we discern that voice when it comes to us?  Sometimes we refuse to attend to that voice, and sometimes we interrupt that voice and talk over what God is saying to us. In either case, we essentially kill the heir hoping to receive the inheritance. 

I think of this every January when Martin Luther King’s birthday rolls around. How many of us participate with civic, religious, and business leaders, replay a small portion of his 1963 Lincoln Memorial speech—the “I have a dream” speech—tip our hat to racial equality and for the rest of the year ignore how we both participate in and benefit from a system of racial division that is still present 400 years after Europeans first set foot on this continent? Yet, as soon as someone proposes something concrete about addressing the roots of racism, let alone echoes a mere slogan, how often are we are the first to say “Yeah, but… all lives matter!”

Looking back, we remember with shame the church’s response to prophetic voices concerning racial injustice, the role of women, and the full inclusion of LGBT persons. You don’t have to look far— everyone loves Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the 20th century martyr, until we realize that his critique of “cheap grace” is really talking about our complacent use of the church and her sacraments to maintain the status quo. Everyone loves Pope Francis’ warm inclusiveness until he starts to talk about economic justice and calls on us (and his church’s hierarchy!) to live more simply. Suddenly, the cry is “what does he know?” and “Why can’t he stick to ‘moral’ issues?” as if race, peace, poverty, and economic power are somehow not moral at their core! 

And every year, we come to the Feast of St. Francis and bless our pets, which is a good thing, but we do Francis an injustice if we stop there. If we really look at Francis and his view of animals in comes much more closely to what now call "creation care." And his attitude towards the poor was both radical and deeply compassionate. Some wonder if he did not come home from the Crusades suffering PTSD, which might explain some of his stranger behaviors (like going about naked in public) but also points us to an attitude toward peaceful relationships quite extraordinary for his day--and ours! 

In a famous encounter, St. Francis of Assisi took a risk when he crossed the battlefield between European Crusaders and Arabic Muslim forces near Damietta, Egypt, and met with Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil and preach his faith in Jesus Christ. He did not convert the Sultan but he opened a dialogue that would eventually lead to peace between the warring sides.

So, if we simply domesticate Francis and restrict him serving only as a patron for our pets, we will miss the radical vision for the Church as a vehicle for peace and justice to bring about reconciliation among people and nations. 

The behavior of the landowner in today’s Gospel in confronting the wicked tenants may be hard to accept, but it is familiar! It is the behavior of God! Like the landowner, God sent prophets to teach the scriptures and proclaim the demands of justice, and that message was condemned and rejected. God tries again and again until even his Son Jesus is met with rejection and death. But the voice of their prophecy is never extinguished, for nothing can stop the word of the Lord.

So how does this story of rebellious tenants and the long-suffering landowner end? We are offered two conclusions.

The first comes from those who are gathered around listening to Jesus. In their indignation and horror, they cry out that these rebellious tenants be put to a miserable death – and then be replaced with honest substitutes. They advocate exclusion and violence, an ancient and popular notion… that leads absolutely nowhere!

Jesus has another idea. He quotes the psalms: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes.”

So instead of fighting evil with still more evil, Jesus offers a different way. He says that it is precisely the rejected stone is the foundation something new! The Gospel, of course, is talking about the death and resurrection of Jesus, who was rejected, betrayed, and abused by those around him. Who, in his rising from death, becomes the cornerstone for a new creation rebuilt from the ground up.

There are lots of more recent examples that show how rejected stones become central to what is built.

During the Nazi occupation of Denmark, the Danish king, King Christian the Tenth, rode his horse daily through Copenhagen streets, surrounded by applauding crowds. He told the Germans that he would risk death to keep the swastika from flying over his castle, and they relented from displaying their flag there. These acts of defiance turned the king into the cornerstone of the remarkably successful Danish resistance that featured schoolboys, amateur saboteurs, and underground clergymen who kept the Nazi killing machine off balance for years. The Germans wanted normalcy in Denmark, and the resistance movement worked through strikes and other actions to deny them that. A prominent indication of their success was how a majority of Danish Jews were safely transported to neutral Sweden through the help of their fellow citizens.

Back in 1986, Ferdinand Marcos was reelected as president of the Philippines in an election tainted by widespread electoral fraud. Martial law was imposed, and Marcos made personal loyalty the criterion for military promotions and economic privilege. But the People Power movement led by Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr., and, after his assassination, by his wife Corazon, stood up to the regime. When civilian protesters met military units that refused to fire on their fellow citizens, it was not long before Marcos went into exile.

Remember Nelson Mandela, who for decades was an inmate in a South African jail? He became the first elected president of the new South Africa. When he was sworn in on May 10, 1994, the former prisoner who became president vowed that “never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.” Once rejected, he became the cornerstone.

An Australian aboriginal activist named Lilla Watson said, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” How will you and I put this truth into practice, not simply in what we say, but in how we live?

We might start by recognizing that whomever we call an enemy comes to us bearing a gift, and that we when meet our enemy we are meeting ourselves. Because each enemy comes to us bearing some broken, rejected part of ourselves. By accepting that enemy, we accept back that part of ourselves. By continuing to reject that enemy, we remain in a fragmented state inside. Acceptance of our enemy, welcoming the other, embracing those we would cast out, means we are changed and so is our enemy as we are together propelled toward a new and unexpected creation.

We affirm in our Creed, that when Jesus was crucified, “he descended to the dead.” Before going to resurrection, he went to the place where death reigns and meets us in those places inside us, in our culture, and in our deeply ingrained history that deals death and works against life and wholeness. He meets our rejection and violence with love and transforming power. And in his resurrection, he makes it possible for us to meet our enemies with new, transformed eyes. He leads us (as our Prayer Book says) “from prejudice to truth… [delivers us] from hatred, cruelty, and revenge,” and makes all of us able and ready to stand reconciled before our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone of God’s renewed creation.