Jun 232013
 

Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


Our readings today are all about outsiders. The wrong type of people. Challenging people. Unclean people. Fugitives. Scapegoats.

What’s your personal experience of dealing with a person like that? What’s our collective experience of dealing with a person like that?  How do we cope, both individually and as a group, with that kind of person? Our scripture readings today offer us some examples from long ago of the relationship between outsiders and societies.

Jesus met a man like that in the tombs at the edge of the Gerasene town. The man was dangerous. The Gospel reading implies the townspeople considered him a serious challenge to their civic order and their safety. They shackled him, guarded him, and rejected him: pushed him out to the border of their city.

This kind of thing happens a lot. Every society perceives threats to our well-being, even our congregation here. We’re all tempted to push troublesome people away. So, we here at St. Paul’s have some experience of what it’s like to be those Gerasene townspeople. We can sense how hard it is to love all our neighbors all the time, and to live in the realm of the world and the realm of God at the same time.

I wonder what it’s like to be the one who’s pushed out? Elijah’s experience can tell us a bit about that. He had shown Jezebel and Ahab the power of the Lord and over their god. Elijah was dangerous: he had attacked their civic order: the 1 Kings history teaches that Elijah put Ahab and Jezebel’s prophets to the sword. So, they forced him to flee for his life and hide in the desert.

Do you have, like Elijah, any experience of being the outsider? Are YOU that rejected and scapegoated person? How do you and I experience that kind of rejection? Does it cast you out into the wilderness? Does it stir up violent tornados, earthquakes, and fires in your hearts and minds?

Possibly it does. It has done so for me. Listen to Psalm 42, the exile’s song of yearning and anguish

My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God; *
when shall I come to appear before the presence of God
My tears have been my food day and night, *

This is the song of Elijah, on the lam from Jezebel and Ahab, hiding out in the wilderness.  God’s abandoned the singer to weakness, evil and oppression.

I will say to the God of my strength, “Why have you forgotten me? *
and why do I go so heavily while the enemy oppresses me?”
While my bones are being broken, my enemies mock me to my face;
All day long they mock me and say to me, “Where now is your God?”

Has this ever been your song?  Have you ever experienced rejection or humiliation? Maybe you’ve lost a job or a friendship, or been kicked off a team. Maybe you’ve been stereotyped rather than seen for who you really are. Maybe you’ve been accused of doing something wrong and been sent away. Maybe you’ve accused yourself of wrongdoing and sent yourself into the wilderness asking, “where now, self, is your God?”

It’s easy to pick up some demons along that way. They travel with you. They prevent you from going to the places you once went, and enjoying the company of people you once knew. They whisper, “look, everybody’s mocking you to your face!” Maybe your experience wasn’t quite as dramatic as the psalm-writer’s, but maybe it was even more intense.

Many of us just swallow these feelings of pain and loss. We live with them, rather than pouring them out like the psalm-writer did. We invite demons of anger and resentment to move in to our hearts and live there rent free. At night the demons throw wild parties in our souls, and we just clean up and carry on in the morning like nothing happened. There’s nothing wrong with that: it’s our tough-as-nails New-England way of dealing with rejection and loss. I suspect most of us have done that.

Why is our stoic response so common? Why don’t we go with the high drama of our Gospel story and go find Jesus? Wouldn’t it be great if Jesus would drive your sorrows and demons and mine out of our hearts into a herd of livestock, who would then conveniently jump into a lake?

That would be wonderful: like that Gerasene man we would then sit at Jesus’s feet clothed and in our right minds. What a vision of peace and grace!

But we know it’s not as easy as all that. We’re all saints and sinners. It isn’t easy for the man who’s healed. No longer can he use the demons to define himself. No longer can he live in the graveyard, behave strangely, and get away with it. Nor can he simply follow Jesus out of town. He needs to return to town, rebuild his life, and learn a new way to define himself: by his gratitude and joy for being restored to wholeness.

We’re all saints and sinners. You and I may sometimes be the rejected ones, but we’re also the townspeople. Is it possible that we like having a demon-infested man living on the edge of town? Is it possible he has taken some of OUR demons upon himself, as well as his own? I wonder: how do we react when we see our local bogey-man healed? Does it shake us up seeing him cleaned up and sitting peacefully? Does it disrupt our lives?  It certainly did so for the Gerasene townspeople – they were seized with great fear, and they asked Jesus to go away.

We like that demon-infested guy. He’s an easy way for you and I to define ourselves: we’re better than HIM. We’re healthy and sane, unlike HIM. I wonder if it makes us lazy in our walk of faith: after all, it’s not hard to love our neighbors more than HE does.  It’s convenient to have HIM as a scapegoat for our own self-images. And it’s inconvenient, to say the least, when Jesus shows up and heals him. By doing that he calls us all to live honestly without scapegoats. He calls us all to put aside our demons and live our lives with joy.

Lord Christ, at the hour of your crucifixion you took our demons on yourself and put an end to them. By your resurrection you showed us a way of life defined by gratitude and joy, not demons. Grant us by your example the courage and peace to live fully clothed, in our right minds, and without fear, for your glory and the life of the world.  Amen. 

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 Whose Demons? Sermon for June 23, 2013  Posted by on Sun, 23-Jun-13 Sermons Comments Off on Whose Demons? Sermon for June 23, 2013
Jun 232013
 

Our own Ben Blumenscheid, student organist, played our prelude to worship today. He played the Magnificat composed by Marcel Dupré.


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 Prelude by Ben Blumenscheid  Posted by on Sun, 23-Jun-13 Sermons Comments Off on Prelude by Ben Blumenscheid
Jun 172013
 


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 Sermon for Sunday June 16, 2013 – The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Mon, 17-Jun-13 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday June 16, 2013 – The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Jun 102013
 


          This week I read a story that writer Dorothee Soelle tells of a rabbi who asked his students how to recognize the moment when night ends and day begins.

‘Is it when, from a great distance, you can tell a dog from a sheep?’ one student asked.

‘No,’ said the rabbi.

‘Is it when, from a great distance, you can tell a date palm from a fig tree?’ another student asked.

‘No,’ said the rabbi.

‘Then when is it?’ the students asked.

‘It is when you look into the face of any human creature and see your brother or your sister there.  Until then, night is still with us.’”

(From The Strength of the Weak: Toward a Feminist Christian Identity by Dorothee Soelle)

 

In our Gospel reading from Luke this morning Jesus embodies this kind of daylight coming on.  Here he is just fresh from the healing of the centurion’s servant and he comes upon a funeral procession.  There among a large crowd is a grief stricken mother with the dead body of her only son.  We might easily understand if Jesus had felt compassion fatigue in that moment with so many in need constantly seeking his attention.  But he does not show that.  Instead his compassionate heart reaches out to this woman and resurrection takes over.  The son is raised and given back to his mother.

In returning her son to her alive Jesus brings about resurrection for both of them.  The story notes that she is a widow and that the dead man is her only son.  That means that with his death she had lost her only source of livelihood.  Not only does Jesus replace grief with joy, he also saves this woman from a life of abject poverty.

She is a person who is not often noticed.  She along with other widows and orphans were seen as insignificant and on the fringes of society- as good as dead.  But not so to Jesus.  Instead of writing her off as not worth his while, Jesus treats her with esteem and compassion.  As the rabbi said, he looks into her face and sees the face of a sister whom he loves beyond measure.

Writing about this passage for the Christian Century Magazine this week writer E. Louise Williams writes:

The message comes through loud and clear in Luke. The family of God includes outsiders – those there because of accidents of birth like the gentile centurion and his sick servant; those there because of the circumstances of their lives like the bereft widow;  even those there because of choices they have made, like the criminal on the cross next to Jesus.  They all belong to the reign of God that Jesus ushers in.  Compassion doesn’t give up but keeps translating and retranslating the message until all can hear in their own language and know that they belong…

God gives us birth, looks on us with compassion and sees the family resemblance.  God also empowers us to look with the same eyes on one another.”

(From Reflections on the Lectionary, in Christian Century, May 29, 2013, p. 21)

The question is can we remember to keep practicing that kind of vision?  It may not be too difficult with those we love easily or feel we have the most in common with.  But what about those we don’t like too much; those we struggle with;  or who we have the privilege of not even having to think about too often – the orphans and widows or our lives or our communities – those we write off as not worth our time or energy?

This gospel extends us the invitation to practice bringing more daylight into the dark regions of ourselves and our world.  It invites us to take notice of situations in which we have written someone else off, and to take a second look?  In the name of Jesus, think of someone you do not easily feel compassion for and join me in asking, how can we bring healing into the frame with us and that person?  Dare we begin by changing our thoughts about that person?  Instead of thoughts of anger, frustration or any other sort of negativity, can we instead try to picture them in our mind as a child, and appreciate them as their mother or father would have?  Or can we find another way into feeling compassion for them?  Can we find some attribute of theirs that we admire and focus only on that when we think of them?  Can we take this practice of compassion into prayer?  Can we pray for the person we have in mind?  Can we ask God to show us their good attributes?  Can we ask God to give us the compassionate vision of them that we are seeking?

Once we have found a way into some sense of compassion for the person we have in mind, can we begin to relate to them from that place?  Can we look to open up new avenues of interaction with them? Can we pray for the new life of resurrection to grow up between us – that we might not be widowed or orphaned from one another anymore?

A good way to get going on this sort of practice is to begin with someone that you have a reasonable chance of finding some success with.  It does not even have to be someone you know well – it could even be a news reporter on TV whose voice or mannerisms you find irritating.  It is a bit like strength training – you begin with lighter weights and then work your way up.  What we are working on here is an inside job, so choosing someone who is not the most challenging person in your life will help you meet some success early on and that will be a foundation to build on later with the heavier weights in your life.

And know this – whatever success you have in this practice will not just benefit you, or the other person – it will add to the coming dawn, begun in Jesus, which is for the healing and resurrection of all of God’s creation.  For as the rabbi said: ‘The night ends and the day begins when you look into the face of any human creature and see your brother or your sister there. Until then night is still with us’

In Christ’s name and for his sake.  Amen+

 

 

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 Sermon for Sunday June 9, 2013 – The Third Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Mon, 10-Jun-13 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday June 9, 2013 – The Third Sunday after Pentecost
Jun 032013
 

 


If you have not heard it yet this morning, let me be the first to say, I love you!  And I am not just saying that.  I really do love you.  I love you because together we are so much more than we are individually.  I love you because gathered in here we become the mystical body of Christ, fit to serve the world.  God has taken you and me and woven us together to be Christ for the world.  And it is not just you and me here in this congregation, it is this congregation and many others as the Diocese of Massachusetts.  And it is not just the Diomass, it is the Diomass and 79 other diocese in the Episcopal Church USA.  And beyond that it is the ECUSA and all our partners in the Worldwide Anglican Communion.  And still further it’s not just us Anglicans, it’s all Christians everywhere.  And still further, because God is so able to bring grace in all things, it is Christianity in fellowship with all other world religions.  God is so good, loving us all so much!

And I got thinking about all of this when I read the Gospel lesson for this week where Jesus is using his authority over the powers of disease and death, on behalf of the servant of a Roman Centurion.  The amazing thing here – which the original audience would not have missed- is that Roman Centurions were the visible presence of the dominance of Rome over the Jewish nation of Jesus day.  And although it was fellow Jews who brought the Centurion’s request to Jesus, all relationship between Jews and Centurions in that time and place, no matter how corgial, were fraught with complex power dynamics.  This Centurion had built the local synagogue, but he was still a part of a chain of command that required his complete allegiance to his superiors, as he notes in his own words about authority that he sends to Jesus.

But Jesus moves past all that.  He isn’t naïve about the relationship between Jews and Romans, he doesn’t ignore the complex power dynamics, but he moves past them.  Jesus recognizes that the power of God can take root in the midst of even the most dysfunctional systems of power.  And Jesus notes that the power of God breaking into the relationship between Rome and Israel was yielding faith in unlikely places.

In a moment of clear eyed faith the Centurion recognized that though he was one who had authority bestowed upon him by the state, he was powerless to save his servant who as ill.  So he looked to one who had healing authority- he looked to Jesus who he recognized was operating with a much higher authority than his. And Jesus, who was constantly seeking to bring people together across barriers of human difference responded and healing occurred.

This Gospel dynamic prompted me this week to ask myself how we use the authority given to us through our baptism to bring peace and healing to God’s world in our day and age?  And that is when I was overcome by how much I love you all.  One reason I love being in ministry with you is that together we use our baptismal authority to seek equality in the church and in society for people of all sexual orientations.

I will always remember the phone interview I had with St. Paul’s search committee when I was still in Germany.  I remember one of the members saying something like, “we are committed to being a congregation where our gay and lesbian friends in Christ feel safe and are full members.  How do you feel about that and what would you do to continue that if you were to become our Rector?”   What a gift to be asked that question! For centuries the authority of the church was used to oppress gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.  Praise God, that has begun to change in the last several decades.  But there is still so much more ground to cover.  And I hear our Gospel today as a call to reach across boundaries of difference and continue to use the authority that we share in Christ Jesus to bring healing to the wounds created by the historic oppression of our gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters by the church.

I read somewhere this week that there is not greater power than gentleness.  Therefore it follows that to push back against oppression that has wounded so many, we choose the weapon of a parade!  What could be more gentle that an parade where the pervading color scheme is the rainbow.  For a number of years now this parish has had a small contingent in the Gay Pride parade in Boston.  I would love to see our ranks swell this year.  It is this coming Saturday June 9.  Now maybe you are like I was:  thinking about marching in the gay pride parade may make you feel a bit uncomfortable.  You may wonder if you will fit in – can heterosexuals join this parade – is it allowed?  What will your friends and family think of you if you join in- will they wonder if you are gay?  Take it from me – if you push past those discomforts– walking in this parade is a joy!  Everyone is accepted and welcomed with open arms.  The loving spirit that infuses it all is a true inspiration!  And it feels so good to be with so many other people who are taking to the streets to put an end to inequality around sexual orientation!  Come join me this Saturday behind the St. Paul’s Banner in Boston!  Our banner will be behind that of our diocese and our Bishops will be out in front!

One story before I end.  Last year Nicolas and Marcella joined me in the parade.  They had a great time!  On the way home Nicolas asked me why the parade had taken place.  It was then that I recognized that all the talk about it in the weeks beforehand had gone right over his 7 year old head.  So I explained that the parade was a celebration of the truth that love is love and that we believe in the right of each person to fall in love with whomever they fall in love with.  He gave me a bit of a perplexed look, and said “Why do we need a parade for that?”  I explained that not everyone believes that love is love and that all love are good or should be allowed.  The conversation that then ensued between me and my children on our ride home that day made me realize that we have come quite a distance since I was a child. My children now go to school with a good number of kids who have two moms or two dads and that is normal! I remain very hopeful that our children will grow naturally with that new normal and equality for people of all sexual orientations at all levels of church and society will be the norm they live by.  May our gentle, yet powerful show of healing authority in the name of Christ in the parade next Saturday be just one step in our continuing work toward that future.  In Christ’s name and for his sake Amen+

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 Sermon for Sunday June 2, 2013 – The Second Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Mon, 3-Jun-13 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday June 2, 2013 – The Second Sunday after Pentecost