Sunday, June 7, 2015

Prisoners of Hope: an open-door policy

Easter 3 B        April 19, 2015
Acts 3:12-19 
Psalm 4 
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48

Have you ever seen that bumper sticker: “Had a rough week? We’re open on Sundays.” The disciples, in these early days after the resurrection of Jesus, have had a bad week; a lot of crazy and frightening things have been happening. Like the disciples, we are all capable of being scattered, undone, confused. Come to think of it, who has not had a rough week this week, what with one thing or another: cleaning, cooking, taking care of your family, driving in bad traffic, having so much to do that you do not know which end is up. Had a rough week? We’re open on Sundays.

We do not have to dig down deep in our lives to find places that resonate with what the disciples must have been going through. In what must have seemed like a mission very quickly going out of control, Jesus is arrested and killed, and the disciples lost their beloved friend. He was a wonderful teacher -- he was kind, exciting, charismatic -- it was a thrill to be in his presence. He held people -- physically and spiritually. He knew the right thing to say every time, and he made each one of them feel important. He gave them hope for the future and they knew they were involved in something important enough for them to turn away from what was important in their lives just to be with this person, Jesus. A couple of his disciples were convinced that he would become the King of Israel, unite what had long been separated, and throw out the Roman oppressors.

Then it was over. He was dead. He had talked a lot about suffering; he quoted scripture about it. He said every prophet suffered, and that his time would be fulfilled, but it was just words to them -- until it happened. Then none of it made any sense at all: he wasn't King. He wasn't teaching anymore. He wasn't healing the sick. He could have done so much more if this horrible, confusing thing had not happened. They could have followed him all their lives. They could have grown old together, but now he was dead. Because when death happens, isn’t that all we have ever known?

It took some time – years, even – for the disciples around Jesus to begin to see what had happened, to begin to feel the power, the hope, the possibility, what it meant that God had brought someone back from the dead. That’s why every Easter season we read passages from the Acts of the Apostles: those stories tell us how the disciples incorporated this astounding Good News into their lives some years later. The Gospel accounts tell us what happened in those first few days and weeks. We see the
progression from confusion to clarity, from a scattered disbelief to a confident assurance.

We come to church to hear these stories. When we hear these stories, we see where our story – our confusion, our confidence – fits in with God’s story. We see that we are part of that great stream of the people of God, witnesses to the Good News, prisoners of hope, even during those rough weeks when we are scattered and confused and too tired even to sleep. We’re open on Sundays because that was the day Jesus opened the tomb, and this whole Good News began.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Second chance, even if you missed it the first time

Easter 2-A
April 12, 2015
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 16
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31

Grow up! You’re on your own now! Stand on your own two feet!

How many times have things like that been said to you? Or you have said things like that to others?

We live in a culture that values autonomy, a culture that obsesses with independence, choice, pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps and all that. We don’t really believe, deep down, that the words of the Acts of the Apostles applies to us:

… no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. … There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

We Americans would find that kind of behavior socialist (!); we are much more obsessed with individual autonomy. Some believe the developmental goal of adolescence and young adulthood is to separate the young person from his or her family. It is the time to strike out on one’s own, achieve self-realization and self-actualization and self! Self! Self!

That’s not the way it is in every culture. In some cultures, interdependence is valued more highly that independence. The family unit is more important that the desires of the individual. Immigrants from cultures with tightly knit families move to this country and come smack up against a culture that says, “Be all YOU can be.” Fulfill your fantasies and desires. Be the Army of one. Do what you want to do. The goal of your life is self-actualization.

It’s startling to us self-realizers to imagine that there would be another way of living where I am not at the center of my universe but only one piece in a larger web of relationships and responsibilities, and whose fortune depends on how I contribute to that greater good. Such a way of living would require of us a complete re-orientation of who we think we are, and how we make decisions, and how we act, and what we believe. We would have to admit that there is something bigger than ME out there. We would have to humble ourselves and be forced to admit that God, and maybe other people, know more about what we should do than we do.

Think of Thomas as Mr. Self-Actualization, as the guy who can take care of himself, who makes decisions based on fact and not rumor, who is his own man. If Jesus has come back from the dead, the he has to see it to believe it – or it must not exist. As the center of his own universe, even God has to prove Godself.

One of the things this gospel story is saying, though, that maybe that is not the best way to be. Maybe God is showing us that life is about something other than what we think we can prove and control.
It’s a hard lesson to learn. After all, we’ve been on our own for a very long time. Western culture dates our sense of autonomy to the Fall – to when God threw Adam and Eve out of the garden for acting a little too autonomously. Self-actualize and out you go, God said. The gates of paradise are now closed. You are on your own now.

Today’s gospel alludes to that first creation when describing how the resurrected Jesus first appeared to his disciples: “He breathed on them,” bestowing the Holy Spirit and the power to forgive sins. This is what Genesis says: “then the Lord God formed the human creature from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the creature became a living being.” What the gospel says is that Jesus is bringing about a creation as powerful and new as that first creation, and that whatever went wrong between then and now, well, take a deep breath. You’ve got a second chance, a new spirit, a resurrected life.

What would it mean to believe this story of this new creation, this second chance, this breath-filled spirit? I think it means giving up some of our autonomy. It means realizing that there is more to realize than the SELF. It means regaining a trust in dependency, in inter-dependency. It means leaving behind our self-reliance and risking surprise and loss of control.

We can’t see what Thomas and those disciples saw, those holes and nail marks. We did not go with the women to find the empty tomb. Jesus won’t walk through any more walls to shake our hands. But we can still feel that breath. We can still set sail on that spirit. We can still the newness of this new creation and breathe in the new and renewed reality of God.

Yes to possibility. Yes to love. Yes to abundance. Yes to life.

Acts 10:34-43
Ps. 118
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Mark 16:1-8

From last Sunday to this, we have lived in fear. Oh, perhaps not we in our everyday lives, but in our Gospel lives. When we read the story of the betrayal, trial, passion and death of Jesus , we read about fear: fear about what the “authorities” could do to us, to Jesus; fear for our lives. One by one, the disciples ran away from Jesus in fear. One by one, and then all of them ran. All of them except a small group of women disciples who stayed to watch Jesus die on the cross. And then, when the body was taken down and put into the tomb, even those women left. But death is like that: eventually, the body has to be left by itself, alone in death.

Even with the dawn of the new day, the fear does not end. Things are not right in the graveyard. When the women come to take care of the body, everything is awry. All of them, except one, run away again, frightened and terrified, again.

It is the weeping Mary who first realizes that the terrifying news is good. Mary who sees that it is Jesus standing before her. Mary, who, at the end of the story, leaves Jesus again – but this time as the apostle to the apostles, running, still, no doubt, with some terror, but running with joy to be the first to tell this Good News.

With the resurrection of Jesus, all that is dark and frightful begins to be undone. The last to see Jesus die becomes the first to see him alive. Peter, the disciple turned betrayer, is singled out by Jesus for re-inclusion in the community. Jesus tells them to leave Jerusalem, to return to Galilee, to the place where their movement began – back to their home territory, back to that place far from the center of imperial and Temple power, back to the people who know in their hearts, in their souls and bodies, that this extraordinary Good News begins with them.

One benchmark for evaluating the success of mission – of the church’s mission – is to say, that unless it is Good News for the poor, it is not Good News. And so the Gospel of Mark ends in the place where it began: as Good News for the poor, the marginalized, the outsiders and outcast – as Good News for the people on the fringes of the Empire, Good News for the people not “good enough” for the Temple. Those are the people who get done to them daily what got done to Jesus, and those are the people who understand what it means when one of their brothers, Jesus, gets beaten into that dark and frightening place, and comes out the other side: shining, and clean and whole.

What the brothers and sisters in Galilee now must grapple with – what we have all grappled with over these thousands of years – is to live as though we really believed that resurrection happened. To incorporate that confidence, that grace, that joy, that conviction, into our daily lives. To put all those deaths, great and small, that we encounter, into the context of that great, big resurrection. To remember, even as we slog through a mudfield of “no” after “no”, that what really gives meaning to our lives is a resounding “yes.” Yes, to possibility; yes, to love; yes, to abundance; yes, indeed, today and every day, to life.

Alleluia. Christ is risen.

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Friday, April 3, 2015

... in remembrance of her

Maundy Thursday
April 2, 2015
Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14
Psalm 116
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Mark 14:1-25

This story of the extravagant woman is sandwiched between two nasty bits of anger, vengeance and betrayal. This seemingly insignificant story, often forgotten in the rush of Holy Week, as we make our mad dash from Palm Sunday to Easter, is actually a story the church has preserved carefully over the years. Indeed, along with the scrupulously remembered accounts of the Last Supper and Passion of Jesus it likely formed an important part of the liturgies – the worship services – of early Christians.

The story opens in a house. In the Gospel of Mark, lots of important things happen in people’s houses: “in the house,” or ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ in Greek, was where Jesus healed the sick, forgave sins, ate with sinners – many times. Jesus went “in the house” to teach his disciples, to talk about the coming kingdom, and from which the disciples were sent into the community. In the decades between Jesus’ life and the writing of this Gospel, “in the house” was where Christians gathered for worship. Churches were house churches, small, domestic, private places. When Jesus ate the Passover meal with his friends, the house was also the place from which he was betrayed.

It was probably not uncommon for a men’s-only dinner like this one – not the Passover meal, but the meal where the woman anoints Jesus – for women to come in to “entertain” the guests. But this is far from an ordinary meal. First of all, the house belongs to someone profoundly unclean, and unholy: Simon the leper – a shocking contrast to what we read before and after the story, about the very holy and very clean chief priests and scribes. So our location is already someplace very dicey, very on the edges of proper society. Jesus and the disciples are eating with a leper, in the home of a leper, on evening before the first night of Passover.

And if we take those brackets in further – “the clean” contrasting with “the unclean” – we see at the center of the story the outraged disciples. Who does this woman think she is, wasting all this valuable stuff. They are pious, they are angry, they scold. But on either side of their pique, we see the signs of the kingdom.

The woman’s alabaster jar of nard was indeed very valuable. Nard was apparently passed on from mother to daughter, a family heirloom. The oil is aromatic, beautiful, and used for healing. It is full of blessings. And so this woman takes all she has – the most valuable thing she has – her most precious asset – and pours it out on Jesus’ head. It is the kind of gesture we hear echoed in marriage vows: “with all that I am and all that I have I honor you.” When the early Christians heard this, in their house churches, years after the reality and memory of the resurrection brought them together, they would think of Jesus: God’s most precious gift, poured out completely, emptied entirely on their heads, extravagant, wasteful, overflowing and abundant. This woman’s act, to the ears of the early Christians, was a sign of what God had done for them, and a mark of true discipleship.

Then, in the story, we have the outraged disciples, and then framing them on the other side, we have Jesus’ words about what this woman’s act means. It is an act of sacred charity, of care for the poorest and emptiest person in the room. As the early church understood it years later, it was the woman and the woman alone who knew what Jesus was about to do, and it was the woman who took care of Jesus, who prepared him for the death that was to come. This woman embodied the Good News, the Gospel. The woman, with her love and charity and hope and confidence, is the prime example for the Christian life.

This 14th chapter of Mark goes back and forth between betrayal and love, greed and abundance. But it is the unnamed woman who enters the house of the leper, who leads us into the darkness of the crucifixion, who is our model for what it means to follow Jesus. It is the women, marginalized and insignificant, who stand, unnoticed, at the foot of the cross when the disciples run away. And it is the women, who sneak into the burial garden at dawn, and who are the first ones who run to tell us what they find there.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Sin, suffering and Jesus on the cross: words from Julian of Norwich

Palm Sunday B
March 29, 2015
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Ps. 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Mark 14:1-15:47

The stark image of the dying Jesus on the cross brought comfort to medieval Christians in a way that is hard for us to understand. One faithful Christian, a woman named Julian, who lived and wrote in Norwich, England, in the 14th century, wrote that she desired three things: to recall Christ’s passion, to have a bodily sickness, and to have three wounds.

Now we moderns might long for union with Christ, but we would consider someone who wanted God to wound them and make them sick more than a little crazy. In 14th century Norwich, life could be described as more than a little crazy for everyone. Norwich was England’s second largest city, bustling and commercial, with a powerful bishop who assembled all the knights behind him to wage war against Flanders – and lost disastrously. The plague, over the course of a generation, killed 5,000 of the city’s 7,000 inhabitants. And if you dared to speak up against the aristocracy, or to read the bible in your own native language of English – those two movements were linked – that same disastrous bishop would have you burned for heresy. The ravaged body of Christ on the cross made sense to them.

If you were a 14th century Christian, you would know that God possessed two natures: God was wrathful toward sinners, and loving toward those who faithfully followed the teachings of the church.

Medieval accounts of Judgment Day present it as a time of justice, when God’s anger against sin is manifest. [Books and sermons in England in that time] set out to frighten [people] into virtue by evoking the event in all its terror, … full of warnings about God’s impatience with his corrupted creation.[i]

Given that, how else would anyone interpret the devastation of the plague, as anything except God’s wrath against sinners?

For Julian, who lived much of her life in a small room attached to a church, this question of sin was the primary puzzle of the Christian life:

… it seemed to me that if there had been no sin, we should all have been pure and as like our Lord as he created us. And so … I often wondered why, through the great and prescient wisdom of God, sin was not prevented; for it seemed to be that then all would have been well.[ii]

One powerful and difficult strand in Christian theology – one that is often quoted, and I guess believed, still today -- is that God demanded the bloody sacrifice of Jesus to atone for the sins of humanity. We might have been created pure and without sin, but that only lasted a few days in the Garden of Eden, and we just behaved worse and worse until God sent Jesus to die for our sins. Extreme Catholics might find expression for this in the crucifix, but extreme Protestants relish recounting in bloody detail the physical experiences of Jesus death.

There is not a little contradiction in this theology – and 14th century Julian, writing from a terrifying world where to question authority might send to your death, points it out clearly: why could did not God, great and prescient, prevent sin and then all would be well?

If you lay aside, for a moment, this thorny question of the inevitability of sin, and think about human nature, that disturbing picture of the dying savior softens a bit. Julian saw in vivid detail, and all of us would agree, that human suffering is inevitable. We all fall down and get hurt, we get ill – we don’t have to ask God for these things. They just happen. This world, where bad things happen, is the world where God placed us. But it is not the suffering that defines God; it is the love. Julian had visions, in which she heard Jesus speaking to her from the cross:

Would you know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it to you? For Love.’ … And I saw full surely in this [she continued in her own words], and in all, that before God made us he loved us, which love was never slaked nor never shall be. And in love he has done all his work, and in love he has made all things profitable to us. And in this love our life is everlasting. [iii]

Or as one very thoughtful scholar put it, “God is not now one thing, now another – now loving to the saved, now angry to the damned – but always the same, always love.”[iv]

The death Jesus died was a terrible death, ravaged and beaten, and, as the Gospel of Mark depicts it, pretty much abandoned and alone. But all of God’s creatures die, and all of us have some acquaintance with suffering. If God has created us in love, God loves us to the end, no matter what. No matter what. All will be well, Julian wrote from a time and place much worse than ours. All will be well, she wrote, even though people who questioned the church’s doctrine could be put to death. All will be well, and every manner of thing will be well.

[i] Nicholas Watson, from The Cambridge Companion of Medieval Women’s Writing, ed. by Carolyn Dinshaw and David Wallace (Cambridge University Press, 2008) p. 214
[ii] Julian, Short Text, Ch. 13
[iii] Julian, Long Text, Ch. 86
[iv] Watson, p. 214

Leaving the past behind

Lent 4 B
March 15, 2015
Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

Bread. Light. Life. Grace.

Nicodemus has heard about Jesus, and Nicodemus wants those things. But Nicodemus can’t come out. He can only approach Jesus in the dark, which is the part of this story right before the verses we read this morning.

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. … Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

Bread. Light. Life. Grace.

Nicodemus wanted those things, but he could not get his head around how he could get there. The cost would have been high: he thought he would have to leave behind everything he knew, cherished, believed to be divine. He did not believe Jesus who said, in essence, it’s easy. This is the way. If you take this leap, you will find yourself flying into the arms of God, into the light, into a great big party which never ends.

But Nicodemus could not leave his past behind. He took comfort in the rules he knew, in the experience he had. He saw that Jesus saw the world as it was and turned it into something new and bright and full of grace, but he could not leave what he was used to – he could not walk away from what he knew – he could not take the risk that life in the future would be better than life in the past. He could not understand that Jesus was taking all that was good from that past – their shared past of Moses and the prophets – and taking it into a future of blessing and grace.

We are all Nicodemus. All of us have times when we cannot believe that there will be a future, when we live in the present as though it were still the past – when we think the rules and customs and behaviors of the past, if we do them enough, will get us back there – will take us away from the future we fear. We want to go back to when things were good in our lives – or at least to those times when if they weren’t so good, they were at least predictable.

With several of you, I attend the Thursday Morning Roundtable, where we hear civic leaders talk about our community and ways to make it a better place for all of our citizens to live and thrive. Speaker after speaker, week after week, says the same thing: things have changed. It’s like the ice and snow that fell off our roofs this week: smash, on our heads. All that stuff we know – loss of manufacturing jobs, corporate headquarters, failing schools, crumbling infrastructure, even Shoppingtown is a shadow of its former self! We have choices in this community, the speakers tell us. We can do things the way we have always done them, thinking that will take us back to the way it was before, or we can pay attention to what is happening, and build on that, and find a future in which we can and will thrive. There are facts, there is data, we have experience that shows us we can get out -- indeed we are getting out of despair, darkness, hopelessness and into the light. Even in Syracuse. Even at St. David’s. Unless, of course, we don’t want to.
As Christians, we are all on a continuum, from Nicodemus to Jesus. All of us have times when we sit in the darkness and don’t want to leave, when we want things the way they used to be. All of us hear the call of Jesus to come into the light – or we would not be here. We are Christians, we are people of hope, new life, rebirth. Christians know the future in Jesus, in God, is always better, always full of blessings, always beckoning us forward. Christians know there is life after death.

Imagine what it was like to be Nicodemus. Bread. Light. Life. Grace. The same stuff God has always offered, freely and abundantly, since the beginning of time. Nicodemus wants those things, but he cannot for the life of him figure out how to get out of the customs of his past life -- what he has to change in order to get there. Can you imagine what you have to change in your life, to get there, too?

The LAW as the way to God

Lent 3 B
March 8, 2015
Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

We once had neighbors who were Hasidic Jews, and who lived each Sabbath as if the Messiah had come. Orthodox Jews live in strict observance to the law -- in which, by the way, the Ten Commandments are no more important than any of the other parts of the law. In fact, the “law” is not “law” as we know it. A Rabbi friend of mine once told me that the Hebrew understanding of the “law” is not like the Greek roots of the word “law”, nomos, THE LAW. The Hebrew word, halakah, means path, direction. To follow the law means to follow a way that leads to God.

So the Ten Commandments are no more important that any other part of that path, that way. They are only part of the overall covenant between God and the people Israel. They let the people know what God expects of them as their side of the intimate relationship known as the covenant. If you love God, if you love your neighbor, if you keep the Sabbath, if you honor your parents, and all that, you are living in right relationship to God. If you don’t, well, then, you had better repent, make up for it, atone, say you’re sorry, change your ways. All that. Because the goal of living within the covenant, living in the right relation to God, is the “goal” as it were of the Sabbath: to live as though the Messiah were here, as though the Messianic Age of God’s true reign had come to pass on this earth.

When there was a Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews could atone for their sins by offering burnt sacrifices to God. When Jesus came to the Temple on the day we just read about, the Jews were in the courtyard getting ready to do just that. They did not want to use Roman money to buy animals to sacrifice, so the moneychangers were doing a good, religiously observant thing, by changing secular money for temple money for devout Jews who wanted to repent and atone for their sins by offering sacrifice. It was a public way of saying, “I’m sorry.” Devout Jews had been doing this for centuries.

What happens, then, when Jesus, one rabbi among many, storms into the Temple and throws out people doing their pious religious duty? This is the Jesus who said he came not to replace the law but to fulfill it. This is the Jesus who, in the story just before this one in the Gospel of John, has changed water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana. This is the Jesus who says, Forget about those ordinary days, those ordinary practices, those times when you forget the observance of the law, the relationship with God. Forget about regular water and dirty money. The real Sabbath is now. The true messianic age is about to begin. Leave that old, everyday Temple behind; the true Temple is the temple of my body, destroyed as it may be by sin and death, but raised to life again by the power and glory of God.

Jesus came to the Temple as a faithful Jew, and when he threw things around there, it was part of how he was calling people back to the heart of God, to that intimate relationship with God that following the law – the halakah – the way to God – means. Whatever keeps us from the heart of God, Jesus wants to drive out.

When we gather to celebrate the eucharist, to break bread and share wine in remembrance of Jesus, we act out a dress rehearsal for living in the reign of God. It’s not perfect yet, by any means. I don’t think it will be quite so formal in the kingdom of heaven, nor will the Prayer Book necessarily be used, nor will a set of priests be in charge. I really don’t think so. But we are yearning toward, approximating the heavenly banquet, a feast of generosity and abundance and radical equality. It’s the same idea as the Sabbath, I said to my rabbi friend. “But that’s only a liturgy,” he said. “Only an hour. The Sabbath is a whole day.”

By throwing the money changers out of the Temple, I think Jesus is saying that God wants more than a mere ritual, more even than one day of a Sabbath from us. God wants all of our life to be lived as though the messiah were here, as though the reign of God had begun, as though real justice and real mercy were the rules of the day, as though there were enough of everything to go around, as though all the doors and all the hearts were open and as passionate and full of zeal for God as that of Jesus. None of us are there yet, of course, but that is the light in which we live, the hope to which we aspire, as we prepare during this season of Lent for the grace and glory of Easter. 

What does it mean, to be a follower of Jesus?

The good folks at JD-FM Meals on Wheels serve
all kinds of home-bound neighbors between
here at Tully.
Lent 2-B          March 1, 2015
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38

When do we get to the good parts? To the easy stuff? To the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? It seems like we spend all our time struggling, working through difficult times, keeping our chins up. When do we get a break? When does our ship come in?

Getting to Easter is not, as one preacher I know said, the next stop after our spring tune-up at the spa or wardrobe refresher at Destiny.[i] We are invited instead into this close examination of our relationship with God, and here, in the midst of all that examination, well, we come upon some difficult texts.

It would be nice, wouldn't it, if the Bible were fully of easy stories. How useful would those be during these days, of economic hardship, of people losing their jobs, of services being cut, of homes lost to bad bank loans.

Let’s cut dear old St. Peter some slack: we don’t like hearing the tough news any more than he does. Peter does not want to hear what Jesus tells him, that suffering and death will come, are inevitable. Jesus’ words are not welcome ones; let’s not kid ourselves.

Jamesville-DeWitt students sorting food donated
over the holidays for people in our town
The Bible is not full of easy stories, but it is full of God – of God wanting to be in relationship with us, with us human beings. If God is the center of the universe, the all-important creator, then the Bible is the story of how much this God want us close. The Bible is the story of how God keeps trying, even though we fail, drift away, deny, wander, pay attention to other things.

The story of Abraham and Sarah is the story of God’s third big try in getting us humans into a loving relationship with God. The first – creation. Adam and Eve pulled away from God, and God got angry and threw them out of the garden. The second – the flood and the rainbow. We read this last week. God was angry, so angry, with us human beings that he killed all of us except one family, who floated in a boat, on a destroyed earth, for 40 days. I think that experience terrified God – God repented of that anger-filled destruction, and said no more.

Today, what do we have in the story of Abraham and Sarah? God tries again. Here, God says. We are bound together – me to you, you to me, together. As a sign of this love I hold for you, I promise you this: you will have a future. You will have a child, and that child will give you as many descendants as there are stars in the sky. You who are wandering in the wilderness: you will have a home. You who do not know what to believe in: you will have a God.

We are followers of God – all of us. That is why we are here. At some point in our lives someone assured us that God loves us. Someone told us some version of this Abraham and Sarah story, and for us, it took. We believed it. Now it is up to us: how can we make other people believe this Good News of God on our side, people who may not have heard it before? People who may not think it applies to them? People who are caught up in some very non-God-like things?

Most people in the world have the deck stacked against them. This is not news. Many people in the world don’t get enough to eat, don’t have a decent place to live, don’t have good medical care, don’t have the opportunity to earn a living. What does that have to do with us?

What does it mean, then, to be a follower of Jesus?

God likes to talk about a covenant: I will love you, God says, and because I love you, I want you to do some things for me, and for each other. Love me, love your neighbor as yourself. I will keep my side of the covenant; it is up to you to keep yours. Being a follower of Jesus means keeping our side of the covenant. It means loving our neighbors as our selves.

We have close-in neighbors: our literal next-door neighbors, wherever we live. The neighbors of this
CODFish volunteers help people in DeWitt
get to medical appointments
church. The people who need rides and call up CODFISH. The people we visit through Meals-on-Wheels. The people who depend on the DeWitt Food Pantry to have enough groceries to get through the month. We have slightly further-away neighbors: The people who come to lunch at the Samaritan Center. The people who live around Emmanuel Church, in the village of East Syracuse. The people who live between Nottingham High School and Syracuse University, in St. Alban’s neighborhood. The people who, like Sarah and Abraham, have moved from God knows where, seeking a better life in Syracuse. Being a follower of Jesus means doing what we can to make all of our neighborhoods better places to live.

Deny yourself, Jesus said. Amazingly, the more we give away the more we have.
Take up your cross, Jesus said. Amazingly, it is easier, and lighter, with every step.

[i] Barbara Brown Taylor, “The Late Bloomer”

Friday, March 6, 2015

Satan, beasts and angels

Lent 1B           Feb. 22, 2015
Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-13

Life is bewildering enough without having to be thrown into the wilderness.

“Thrown.” That is actually the meaning of the word in Greek. “Immediately the Spirit threw him out -- ekballei -- into the desert, the wilderness -- erhmon -- the desolate place, the place of hermits. Jesus is thrown from his place of chosenness, where God has named him as Son, beloved, favored one, into a dangerous place, full of wild beasts. Looking up the Greek word for beast in a dictionary, one finds several references to beasts as the animals to which people were thrown for punishment and death. Capital punishment was a genuine, gruesome spectator sport.

On the other hand, perhaps these 40 days were not all bad for Jesus; the text also tells us angels served him. The word is dihkonoun, the root of the word deacon. The angels were the first Christian deacons. This wilderness is also the place where Jesus first found the strength to resist: he resisted the temptations of Satan, a process which apparently steeled him for the rest of his ministry, when he would resist the powers and principalities who were Satan’s human agents in first century Palestine.

Water – the water of baptism in particular – is understood as a vehicle of salvation. Good Noah and his family were, as St. Peter says, “saved through water.” The water of baptism is not a mere cleansing of the body, but “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” Yet water also can be powerful and dangerous, a bringer of death and destruction. God may have allowed Noah and his family to live, but the rest of the human race was destroyed. God saved those eight humans – as well as all the progenitors of the wild beasts which later prowled around the desolate Jesus in the dry wilderness. In the waters of baptism, Jesus experienced near-death by drowning, and came out of the waters raised to new life and new status. He is then thrown into the desert for another encounter with near-death and comes out as a steeled and experienced resistance fighter. The first thing he hears when he comes out of the desert is that John the Baptist has been killed. Jesus, now schooled and hardened in the desert responds, “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Good News.”

Good News?? Is this the way God works?? Is the rainbow, the sign of God’s covenant never again to destroy the people of God, GOOD NEWS?? Has this Good News not come at a terrible price for the human race? A destructive flood, and as the earth dries out, a newly created desert and wilderness? God does work in bewildering ways.

Perhaps this is why these dramatic, short and scary stories appeal to us: our own lives – and certainly the world we live in -- are at times bewildering and frightening. People are forever being left desolate, or drowned. Just when we think we’re sinking never to rise again, a hand pulls us out from the deep, only to throw us into a worse place than we were before.

And then: good news: Satan’s temptations do not win Jesus over. The wild beasts do not eat him, he does not shrivel or starve in the desert heat, and angels take care of him. Even God thinks twice before getting so angry again, so angry as to destroy the human race. Out of what is terrible comes a new way of life: the kingdom of God is at hand.

Lent can be about a personal struggle in the wilderness. Challenges at work, with our families – what
one day is ordinary busy-ness turns the next day into a mountain of stress. During Lent we can think about our private sins and shortcomings. But I also think these stories today play out on a larger stage, a global stage. Sabers rattle, rockets blast destruction, troops are deployed: As talk of war swirls around us, these stories call us to global repentance, to a change of heart from destruction to peace, from floods which drown to waters which cause the deserts to bloom. The wild beasts which prowl menacingly are also the ones we can imagine nurturing and keeping alive 40 days in the ark of our salvation. Who are our wild beasts? With what temptations does Satan come to us, as individuals and as a nation? And who are the angels who will serve us and nurture us into the new way of life which is the reign of God?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

God promises us that things will be better

Epiphany 5-B: February 8, 2015
Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

When I was in seminary, I had a professor who had no arms. He had been born with a birth defect, and over the course of his life had learned to do with his feet many of the things that the rest of us do with our hands. After a while you didn’t notice much different about him, even when he’d sit at the lunch table and pick up his fork with his toes.

I went to seminary in New York City. There was a woman who used to stand on the sidewalk in front of Bloomingdale’s and shout, “Help me. I’ve got cerebral palsy. Help me. I’ve got cerebral palsy,” over and over again. I think she was asking for money, but since I never stopped to ask her what kind of help she wanted, I don’t really know.

Also, when I was in seminary, I went to a service commemorating “disability awareness week” or something like that. It was at the Chapel of the Church Center for All Nations – at the United Nations -- an expansive place, which welcomes all kinds of worshippers. The celebrant was an Episcopal priest who served the deaf community. One young man stands out in my memory – he was the preacher, a disability rights advocate. He was an amputee, I think. I know he refused to wear prosthesis – artificial limbs – because he had no interest in making those of us who were “fully abled” feel more comfortable with his disability. He also refused to use those metal crutches with arm holders that many people use – again on the grounds that they served to make “able-bodied” people feel more comfortable because they could categorize him as “disabled.” He preferred using wooden crutches, like anyone would use.

All these stories, along with today’s Gospel story of the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, raise these questions: what is sickness? What is health? What does it mean to be healed?

Last week, we read of how Jesus cast the demons out of a man possessed by what we today might call mental illness. In the words of the old hymn, Jesus “re-clothed him in his rightful mind.” He restored him to wholeness. He cast out those outside forces which had invaded the man, and gave him back himself. No longer was he possessed by those alien forces; he could return to the rest of society, to his community and his family, as himself, restored, healed.

Whatever fever Simon’s mother-in-law has, it must be serious. The normal remedies must not be working. They way she is isolated and alone, even in the house, makes us think that perhaps they had given her up for dead. When Jesus touches her, healing happens, but not healing like we would think of a doctor making a house call. Jesus doesn’t administer an antibiotic, or apply leeches, or mix a poultice, or shake a magic rattle. Jesus touches her, and yes, she is relieved of the fever, but look what happens then: she is restored to her family. She joins the party. She gets up and helps serve. She regains her place of honor and dignity. She is no longer a patient; she is a person. She is restored, healed.

In those three stories of my seminary days, I think I learned that “healing” is not just about an individual who “gets better.” I don’t think there is a “cure” for cerebral palsy, nor can someone without limbs grow them back. Healing, for those people, challenges our definitions – OUR definitions – of wholeness. Wholeness is not perfection. Wholeness is not some idealized state of no flaws. Wholeness is about being human, fully human, being a full member of the human race. The sick person is isolated; the healed person, no matter what his or her state of disability may be, is restored from that isolation to wholeness, to community, to family and friends. The healed person is a productive and needed and loved member of society. This is what Jesus means by healing: those who were outcast, who were suffering and alone, are brought back inside the fold. Healing is not just “fixing an illness;” it is restoring a person to being, once again, a whole human being who has meaning and value and a place in the community.

Many of us wonder, and I know I have felt this way, when we are sick or in trouble, why me, why I am sick? What have I done to deserve this? Why can’t Jesus help me? Where is the healing in my life?

It is hard to climb out of those pits; no doubt about it, and there certainly are some things about our lives – all of our lives – that we don’t like, and like it or not, that will never change. We can stay there, carrying all those grudges, nursing all those hurts. We can perpetuate our isolation, thinking we are all alone in our troubles, and no, Jesus isn’t going to walk through that door and make everything better – or at least “better” in the way we think “better” ought to be defined.

But listen to this: we have what Jesus had. We have the promise from God that things will be better,
that they are better. “Have you not known,” Isaiah writes. “Has it not been told you from the beginning?” We have the same promise from God that Jesus knew, that God gives power to the faint, and strength to the powerless – that God calls all – all of us – by name, and not one is missing: not the woman with cerebral palsy, shouting outside of Bloomingdale’s, not my professor who ate with his feet, not the disability activist who refused to hide his amputated limbs. Simon’s mother-in-law is there, and the man possessed by demons, and you, and, you and you, and you, and me. Everybody who is home sick today; everybody who is just too tired to get out of bed. We’re all there, called by God, called by hope, pulled out of our isolation and aloneness. This is what God promises us: with wings like eagles, we shall run and not be weary; we shall walk, every one of us, we shall walk and never grow faint.

The saints beckon us to come deeper into the reality of God

All Saints: November 2, 2014
Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10 
Psalm 149
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17
Matthew 5:1-12

There is a danger to All Saints Day. The danger is we look too often and too longingly to the past. “One was a soldier, one was a priest, one was slain by a fierce wild beast,” a pre-Raphaelite past of a romantic, medieval England, or the distant past of late Antiquity, of Christian martyrs slain by lions in the Roman coliseum. Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury through the 1960s and early 1970s put it this way:

One consequence of the mystery of Christ is that Christian people don’t stand, so to say, on the ground of the present moment and view past generations, or their comrades in paradise, as people some distance away from them. No, we see the present moment more clearly and bravely because our stance is within the Communion of Saints. How closely, how lovingly, they are praying with us today.

If the lives of the saints have any meaning for us – indeed, if we believe they are praying for us – then All Saints Day cannot be a celebration of the past. This day is about who we are in the present, and what legacy we are leaving for the future – for those saints who, inevitably, will come after us.

As might be appropriate in this election season – and this day of incessant polling – I remember a book George Gallup published in 1992: The Saints Among Us: How the Spiritually Committed Are Changing Our World. Gallup and his pollsters wanted to find “Americans for whom ‘God is a vibrant reality,’ and for whom ‘Christian commitment makes a difference in how they actually live.’” The pollsters asked probing question over long interviews – I don’t think just those quickie things we get on the phone at this time of year – and they came up with results that will help us, in the words of Michael Ramsey, “to see the present moment more clearly and bravely.” This little book – very American and very modern – tells us something about what for two thousand years we have called “The Communion of Saints.” It is just a glimpse, of course, but there is something to it.

These “saints” Gallup found – and he called them “saints among us” expressed a faith that came from their insides, “a direct experience of God that continued to be a vital part of their daily life.” For these saints, prayer is not a laundry list of concerns, nor is God a being found only in church, or in a crisis, or in relation to their own needs. What these saints can show us is that God is always accessible to us, always close at hand, in the ground beneath their feet and in the air they breathe. These saints pay attention to the reality of the divine in the world around them.

These saints – and Gallup estimated they are about 13 percent of the population – live out a deeper level of commitment to God than do their neighbors, and they do it by how they respond to the needs of the people around them. No surprise there, of course, for have not the saints over the centuries been the ones who have built hospitals and rescued the dying? Have they not been the ones who stood with their communities to make them better places, brought hope and opened the doors for justice and peace?

Gallup found that these saints threw themselves into this work – into God’s work in the world – without prejudice – or rather through the work they did for God, they learned to serve without prejudice. The saints Gallup found are not perfect; he noted that only 84 percent of the saints “would not object to a person of another race moving in next door. … not a ‘perfect score’ [Gallup noted] but [one that] surpasses that of the spiritually uncommitted by 20 points.” I think that reflects that when we actually do something with people in need – when we stand in solidarity with people like those we have never met before, that it changes us, and with the help of God that simple service and solidarity moves us further along toward the lives of the saints.

Surprisingly, part of the benefits of these saintly lives is happiness, abiding joy, joy tested through
difficulty. I think part of that happiness comes from a simplicity of life, a shedding of things that just don’t matter because you have experienced so much more deeply the things that do. These saints that George Gallup encountered were generally not wealthy or powerful, not necessarily highly educated nor accustomed to walking the corridors of power. “They stand close enough to daily needs – at home, at work, in their neighborhoods – to be in touch with the pain that is in their midst.” It is a fact that charitable giving in poor neighborhoods – even giving by those who may not always be so saintly – is much higher, proportionately, than it is in neighborhoods like ours. Saints stand in solidarity with those in need, moving further and further from their own comfort zone as they do so.

All Saints Day, then, is to stand, as Michael Ramsey, says, within the Communion of Saints. They beckon us to come deeper into the reality they live, deeper into their prayers, deeper into their challenges, deeper into their joys.

A "both-and" world

Proper 24-A
October 19, 2014
Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

"Two worlds" can be the rationale for almost anything that you want it to be. We all live and move and have our being in many worlds, many communities, many relationships. In school we know the rules, the way life is lived, who's in charge, who are friends, who are “frenemies”, then we come home to another world where different rules, different players and different expectations are laid on us. Clean up. Feed the dog. Put away your cell phone at the dinner table.

The story read today from the Gospel of Matthew has been used since the Middle Ages to justify a doctrine of two worlds. Martin Luther can be credited with developing the notion based on this passage, that Christians should maintain a total separation between the sacred and secular, between the temporal and spiritual governance of their lives. Although first used to protect the Church against the corrupt interference of "Christian Rulers," it has more often served the purpose of people who might behave well in Church, but would justify cut-throat business dealings or immoral public policy on the grounds that Caesar or the civil authorities must be dealt with on their own dirty territory by their own dirty means. After all a man's got to do what a man's got to do.

Many people, however, think this interpretation is a misreading of what Jesus had in mind. Jesus is in Jerusalem, in the last week of his life. Group after group representing the Jewish authorities threatened by his teachings come to confront him, to trick him into admitting some crime for which they could punish him.

This time a group of Herodians and Pharisees, usually in opposition, join forces to quiz him on loyalty to the foreign civil authority of the Emperor versus the Jewish commandment to worship no other God but Yahweh and to make no graven image. (You remember that all Roman subjects were to worship Caesar as a god; to do otherwise was treason. The Jews were the one exception to this civic religious duty.) The Herodians were like the Vichy French; they collaborated with the occupiers. Herod the Great owed his position to the Emperor, who wanted Herod to keep the Jews quiet. The Pharisees were good, religious folk who wanted no part of the blasphemy of accommodating Rome and their pagan god. On this occasion however, these two joined forces to trap Jesus into political treason or blasphemy against the first commandment.

Jesus refuses to be trapped. "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's, to God what is God's,” he says. Jesus affirms that we live in one world, not two. To the Herodians and others like them who want to compartmentalize their lives in the real world – the world where they compromise with the Roman occupiers -- from their religious obligations – where they want to stay pure -- , Jesus says, no. God demands that we are his people in social as well as religious duties. To the Pharisees who believe religious people should deal only with religion, Jesus again says no! Our God is the God of all history, of all politics, of all nations. God's standards of justice and mercy apply to all times and in all places.

There are no easy answers in this “both-and” world. The social-political world – the world of Caesar,
in Jesus’ terms – is deeply flawed. This is the world of the zero-sum game, where people think that if I gain, you lose. It is a world governed more by fear than grace, more by scarcity than abundance. And it is the world into which God has plopped us, and it is in this world that God expects us to be God’s people. God expects us to take those flaws and imbue them with life. We can pay our taxes, yes, but God expects us to use our resources to do more: to contribute to the common good. To make the world a better place. To feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, comfort the prisoner.

The world will get its due from us – but the world will not get all of us. The lion’s share, God’s share, our whole selves, our souls and bodies, are what we give in the way God would have us give, and, amazingly, the more of THAT we give away, the more and more and more we will always have.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Alien ownership

Epiphany 4b   Feb. 1, 2015
Deut 18:15-20
Psalm 111
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Mark 1: 21-28

Just how comfortable are you, when, during a service of Baptism, I say, “Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?” Asking this questions throws people off. It seems to come from a different time and place – almost from a different religion that polite Episcopalianism.

Satan and the powers of wickedness are just what Jesus comes up against in today’s Gospel. The easy interpretation of this passage is that the man with the unclean spirit is kind of crazy, kind of disruptive. We’ve all known people whose serious mental illness makes them helpless to help themselves. Indeed these exorcisms of Jesus are often lumped in with stories of Jesus healing sick people, or stories of their conversion in the faith, like the author of Amazing Grace: “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” Now, those healing stories are true; people do find grace to get through life’s difficulties. Their hearts are converted and they become followers of Jesus. It’s just that this is not one of those stories.

This is a story where Jesus challenges the status quo, and when he does that, people who have a stake in keeping the status quo status quo get quite angry. Demonic even. They crack up, or at least this one man cracks up. And in that anger, that crack up, he sees what they others in the synagogue do not yet see: that Jesus is the Holy One of God, and that he has come, not just to make people feel better, or to be their friend, but to change the way the world works.
We’re in Capernaum. Here, where Simon and Andrew, James and John live. It is a fairly prosperous fishing village. Mark does not seem to care what Jesus said that shook people up so much, that called out the demons like the cavalry to protect the status quo. Perhaps Jesus said something in this Capernaum synagogue like Luke recorded that he said at his first visit to the synagogue in Nazareth. That was when Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” and then said, “This day this scripture has come true in your hearing.” Think of the “business as usual” powers that that would be upset by words like that. In today’s world, what about those prisons for profit? They would be hurt by setting captives free. There are not a few institutions in society which profit by keeping people sick and poor and blind and dumb, by defining sickness and poorness and blindness and dumbness as conditions which need their help and intervention.

You can hear Jesus saying things like that – quoting scripture about the restoration of God’s justice – and ordinary people in the synagogue -- the business as usual people, the people who have something to lose if it is God’s justice they have to follow and not the usual system of justice -- getting so angry that their demons come out. Jesus is holding the world up to God’s standards of justice and wholeness. The demons, in their uncleanness, recognize that Jesus is holy – whole – clean – and they can’t stand it.

Following Jesus is an ongoing process of remembering who is in charge of our lives, who is in charge of the world. When we read in the Gospel of Mark about “demonic possession,” it is a metaphor for alien ownership. The person who is possessed by the unclean spirit is owned by someone other than God, just as Galilee and Judea were owned by the Roman Empire and not by the people who actually lived there, just as the very earth under the disciples feet and the sea in which they fished were owned by interests which put their profit ahead of people’s lives.

There are many ways to talk about the power of Satan in this world. Some people would say Satan exerts power when we choose war over peace. When we allow people to go hungry when we have plenty of food to go around. When the rich get richer and the rest of us just go along with all the legal changes that encourage money to flow to the top. Satan can take hold of our lives in quiet, sneaky ways, otherwise indistinguishable from “business as usual.”

Thinking about it in this way, we see that the stories in the Gospel of Mark are not just tales from some long ago and far away world. And the hope these stories bring is not long ago and far away, either. These stories affirm that even if we feel out of control, even we feel everybody and everything else is ruling our lives, we belong to God, and there is nothing that any of those Satans out there can do who can change that.

This is the way the world works when God is in charge

Proper 23 A     Oct. 12, 2014
Exodus 32:1-14
Psalm 106
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

We have just read two pretty shocking stories today, one from Exodus and one from the Gospel of Matthew. Are they about God’s wrath? Or God’s judgment? Or is that the same thing?

Many people do believe that God is a punishing God, that God’s judgment means we can never measure up, that we have disobeyed, that God is angry, and that that is the end of us.

The Exodus story is familiar – or is it? We know that Moses is himself pretty angry with this golden calf-fest. He sees this seemingly irreparable division between God and God’s people – between God’s expectations for their living the way God would have them live and the people’s gold-crazed worship of something else – and Moses steps right into that breach. He does the unimaginable. Moses asks God to change his mind, to turn away from that justifiable anger and remember how much God loves these people, however wayward and selfish and whiny and stiff-necked they are. Moses reminds God of the promise GOD made to these very same people – and God changes his mind. There could be no worse sinners than those people who squandered their future, the promise God had given them. They took all their money, their assets, their gold, all that they had, and dumped it into something as foolish as a golden calf. There are no worse sinners than these – but the hand that holds them is the hand of a God who loves them and who keeps his promises. God remembers that love, and God changes God’s mind. The story of the golden calf is a story not of God’s wrath but of God’s grace.

When Jesus tells his very troubling story of the wedding banquet, the illustrations he uses – the kingdom of heaven, the king, the slaves, the guests the wedding, the wedding garment – these are not religious images. Today we think they are religious, because we have read them for 2000. But in Jesus’ day they were illustrations from the secular world. People knew powerful and capricious kings, the kind of ruler who had absolute control over their lives. They would recognize the arrogant ones who refused to show up, the thugs who would follow violent, death-dealing orders without question, the slaves and poor people who would cower in fear, not understanding what was going on and not knowing what would happen next. And so is this a story of God’s wrath? Or of God’s judgment? And is there any difference?

This is a story full of symbols. The kingdom of heaven represents the way the world operates when God is in charge. The wedding banquet represents the abundance of God’s grace. Who gets invited in? Everybody: the good and the bad. Even after the first guests refuse to attend, God does not seek out only the good ones – God still invites everyone in. In the kingdom of heaven there is always enough to go around. Even though all is provided – not only food but wedding clothes as well – and even at that late hour, someone is not ready. Someone does not accept the full invitation. Someone still refuses God’s grace. Someone still doesn’t get it about how God wants us to live.

The people to whom Jesus preached lived in difficult times. They lived lives of insecurity and fear, under the threat of violence and in a land where powerful people called the shots. If you have ever gotten in trouble with the law, if you have ever been accused of something you did not do, you have an inkling of what power those people and the system behind them have over you. The people to whom Jesus is speaking lived with that kind of insecurity and system-induced shame all of their lives.

When Jesus spoke to those people around him about the kingdom of heaven, he didn’t mean something far off, pie in the sky by and by. He used language that described their current reality – a reality of fear and powerlessness and insecurity – and told them that the world did not have to be like that. He told them that God was on their side. That the king would throw the scalawags out, the ones not prepared to accept God’s invitation to live as God would have them live.

Yes, this is a story of God’s judgment, but it is a story of hope. There are things that God will just not put up with, Jesus says. The world as it is – of greed, and homelessness, and violence, and fear – is not the way it has to be.

When I was preparing this sermon, and first read over the lessons, I thought I could not preach on the Philippians lesson. It was just too simplistic, too happy, for our polarized and unsettled times; it put too happy an ending on the other two troubling stories from scripture. But now I think just the opposite. The Philippians passage is what the wedding banquet is all about. The Philippians passage describes the life God invites us to share, for the abundance of the wedding banquet is all around us. Rejoice, God says. Be gentle. The Lord is near. Don’t worry. Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, whatever is excellent, whatever is praiseworthy: think on THESE things. In times like this, those words may pass all understanding, but this truly is the peace of God.