Again & Again: We are being Reformed

Jeremiah 31:31-34 | Psalm 119:9-16 | Hebrews 5:5-10 | John 12:20-33

In this week’s Lenten devotional from Sanctified Art, our theme is “Again & Again, We Are Reformed.” When I hear the word reformed, I tend to think of Reformed Judaism or the Protestant Reformation. So when I was reading and studying this week, the word transformation kept coming to mind and being used almost interchangeably with reformation. For both of these words, there is change. Transformation gets more air time, and this makes sense because it is the dramatic and thorough change in appearance or form–what we see or notice. When I was doing a search on these words, the usage of transform has increased exponentially since the 1950s:

Interestingly to me, reform has a different history of usage and has dropped out of favor, unlike its counterpart transform.

In the late 1990s, reform was at a peak, but then it went through a decline. I would pose the question: Does this reflect a truth about ourselves that we would rather not face? Because “to reform” means more than “to transform.” I might drastically change my appearance, and that would be a transformation you would all notice and comment upon, but I could fundamentally remain the same person. To be reformed, however, is to make changes to improve something. We don’t generally think of people as reformed but of systems, institutions, policies, government, and the like. During Lent, however, it is a good time to think about how again and again we are being reformed, how we are being improved by our dependence upon God, our relationship with God, and our life in faith. During Lent, at the end (we hope!) of a pandemic, it may also be a good time to think about how we as a church are being reformed.

It could very well be too soon. We are, after all, still in the midst of a pandemic. We wouldn’t be wearing masks together if things were the same as they had been before covid-time. It takes perspective, and usually hindsight, to look back and see all the ways we have been changed and hopefully for the better.

I watched a lecture by Dr. Rodger Nishioka, given at Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina at the end of 2013. He’s a tenured seminary professor and proud Presbyterian, speaking of his church with love and wit like we do of The Episcopal Church. He references Phyllis Tickle’s 2012 book The Great Emergence, where her thesis is that the Church has a rummage sale every 500 years. What do we do at a rummage sale? Get rid of our old stuff, extra baggage. Dr. Nishioka said it’s not like a church rummage sale, where we get together and swap our stuff! In her book and his lecture, you can hit the peaks of the 500 year-marks: 590, the fall of Rome; 1054, the Great Schism of East (Orthodox) and West (Roman Catholic); and 1517, the Protestant Reformation. That brings us to the 2000s, the 21st century. We’re in another “rummage sale period,” Dr. Nishioka and Phyllis Tickle propose.

And in these periods, people are prone to think that the Church is going to die, they wonder if it can survive.

From our perspective we can look back and see how the changes that happened in the past, the reformation that occurred, resulted in a Church that emerged, yes, different, but also stronger, more faithful. Interestingly, it’s not just Christianity that is looking at these patterns. Some folks within Judaism and Islam are also looking at their history and patterns. We share with our Abrahamic siblings the core belief that the Almighty is faithful, through trouble, trial, and tribulation. It’s our responsibility to determine how we are being faithful. We can begin by discerning how God is revealing God’s faithfulness.

Again, it’s easier to look farther into history with our historical lens and evaluate everything from a distance to see how the arc bends toward the benefit of the greater good. I say it’s easier because we already have everything sorted out for us. We have the books with headings and subheadings. We have summaries and statues and epithets pointing us toward who’s who.

In our media barrage of information these days, with 24/7 news headlines, we’re getting daily summaries of what is important, critical, life-threatening. We have “influencers” guiding us toward what will best help us transform our lives into what we think it should be, what everyone else thinks it should be so we can appear to have our stuff together. Five hundred years from now, what do you think the archivists will be preserving? What do you think the historians will be teaching? What do you think the theologians will be discussing?

Will they note the ways we held onto tradition, keeping the vestments and liturgy of our ancestors? Or will the threads that tie us to the past and our tradition be part of the fabric, maybe even the part that holds us together and keeps us strong like interfacing, while the ways we wrestle and challenge and emerge reformed reveal our true colors of the time, the shape we take as we move forward?

In the gospel lesson today, we are told some Greeks wanted to see Jesus. They went to Philip. Philip, I guess, leaves the Greeks and goes to Andrew, sharing with him that even these Gentiles wish to see Jesus. News is spreading! Jesus is here! Even the Greeks have heard about Jesus. And here is Jesus, in Jerusalem after a triumphal entry, of sorts. We’ll get more next week about Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, beginning the week of his Passion. But today we get more expectation, anticipation, and hope. There’s so much going on in their lives, and Jesus is stirring the hearts of all who encounter him in person or in story.

About five hundred years before the fall of Rome, Jesus walked the earth. Goods and power were being monetized and valued over human life. Systems of oppression and domination secured those in power, those who had the power to make changes. Violence was a way of life. Some tables needed to be turned.

Two thousand years later, goods and power are being monetized and valued over human life. Systems of oppression and domination secure those in power, those who have the power to make changes. Violence is a way of life. Some tables need to be turned or at least set out for a great rummage sale so we can get rid of all that binds us.

And it scares us. We’ll make things change and look beautiful on the outside all day long, but reformation means that something we’re clutching for dear life–even if it’s the devil we know–we’ve got to let go. We have to pluck the seed and let it fall to the earth so that it can die, decay, and be born anew.

We haven’t done ourselves a service in trying to make everything beautiful all the time, romanticizing or whitewashing the past (in more ways than one). Life and death go hand in hand. Jesus in all his humanity and divinity knew this, and we, like the disciples and apostles, try to understand. Jesus wasn’t of this world in that his priorities were never aligned with the powers and systems of the world in which he walked. Jesus’s economy of grace defied the emperor’s coin. God’s love for the world–for the orphan, the widow, the stranger, the lost, the sinner–defied all oppression, seeking only liberation, not domination. The Love Jesus embodied, while capable of receiving the pain, torture, and violence of humanity, never inflicted harm on another. Maybe Jesus is talking about his own body when he talks about the grain of wheat, and maybe he’s also talking to us about all the potential we have to embody if we let go of that which we cling to so tightly but inhibits us from experiencing liberation, life, and love more fully.

As God inscribed on the hearts of our ancestors, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people,” (I’m sure it’s in English! LOL!), we have the opportunity to reveal to our future how we live into the reformed lives God makes possible through Christ for us. With the power of the Holy Spirit, think of all that has and is being done in this century. Think of marriage rights for our siblings. Think of how hard folks are advocating for BIPOC lives, immigrant lives, women’s rights, trans rights, human rights . . . how hard folks are working to dismantle White Supremacy. Think on how tightly others are clinging to that which perpetuates objectification, monetization, oppression, and violence. This week we give ear to our Asian American/Pacific Islander folks, after the terrorism in Atlanta. When good work is being done, adversaries in the powers and principalities will surface to cling tight and fast and keep us bound, keep us from everlasting life.

If we can let go of all the barriers that we have built around our hearts, we might actually discover who it is God has created us to be. If we can share our experiences of grace, healing, restoration, and reformation without shame or manipulation, maybe we can help others to see how God is already at work in their lives. If we can look in our circles around us and see where God is calling us here in our communities to make a difference, maybe we will not succumb to temptations of grandeur or comparison. If we continue to encourage one another to discern and put into use our gifts and lean into the wonder, awe, and mystery of God, maybe we can let go of pretense and unrealistic expectations and be together mutually empowered and authentically present.

Our world is changing so fast that we may not need 500 years between cycles going forward. Who knows?! But right now, we can accept responsibility and hold ourselves accountable for being people of God. We can reach out to one another and to others, sharing a loaf of homemade bread and sharing how we are fed by the Bread of Life. This is the Church we are called to be, the people of God we are called to be, and we don’t need future historians to tell us that. It’s already written on our hearts. 

Written on our Hearts by Lauren Wright Pittman, inspired by Jeremiah 31:31-34. @sanctifiedart | #Lent2021

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Again & Again: We are called to Listen

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 | Psalm 22:22-30 | Romans 4:13-25 | Mark 8:31-38

In the OnBeing podcast, Krista Tippett opens her interview asking the interviewee about the spiritual and religious background of their childhood. It takes the interview to a deeper, more meaningful place right away. Each time I hear her ask the question, I wonder what I would say. My background was Baptist, as most of y’all know, and a practicing Baptist at that, thanks to my grandmothers who took my brother and me to church when we’d stay the weekend with them. At home, when we were ready to go and didn’t duck below the windows so the driver wouldn’t see us, we’d take the church bus to Sunday School and service. As soon as I turned 16 and was able to drive myself, gifted as I’d been with my mom’s old car, I chose to attend church nearly every Sunday. And Sunday night. And Wednesday night sometimes, too. There was a pull to be in church, even though I couldn’t name it. I was listening for something I couldn’t quite hear but felt closer to when I was there.

In college, I thought I was just filling a graduation requirement by taking an Intro to Buddhism class. When I heard the word compassion, though, my ears perked up, and a light went on, illuminating Jesus in technicolor for me because that’s what Jesus is all about: compassion.

But the compassionate Jesus isn’t the everybody’s-boyfriend-Jesus. Compassionate Jesus knows our suffering and holds our hand to his chest until we realize that we have the strength, the courage to go on. Whatever sorrow or longing, regret or tragedy, Compassionate Jesus knows it, too. Whether our hands are held to our heart or lifted in prayer, maybe we’ll be in the presence of Christ and experience the triumph of Resurrection. We know the story: Jesus overcomes death and the grave. Easter is coming and has already come. We just kind of forget in the midst of our suffering and have to be reminded. When we do remember, we’re strengthened and ready to get up again and keep going.

We might find ourselves in that place, though, where we’re like the disciples. We think we have something figured out. We have a good thing going. Yet as we listen, we hear the words of Jesus telling us that things are going to change. Things are going to get bad and will get worse before they get better.

My son Avery has a difficult time keeping his room clean. (He’s 17 after all!) After some dire consequences were offered to him, he decided to make an effort. As he was showing me his progress, he said what any of us who have cleaned out a closet, fridge, or junk drawer know: “It gets worse before it gets better.” I told him I knew that and encouraged him to keep going.

But when Peter heard Jesus foretell his suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection, does he look with understanding upon the Messiah? Does he say, “Right on, Jesus. Keep going!” Not at all. We don’t have exactly what Peter says, but he “rebukes” Jesus, likely reminding him that this messaging isn’t consistent with the healing and good news they they’ve been proclaiming. The foreshadowing or teaching wasn’t going to be good for their recruitment.

Jesus rebukes right back in the oft-quoted line: “Get behind me, Satan!” Not exactly how we imagine Compassionate Jesus speaking to us, but if we are listening well, we hear the truth of this line: “you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” The disciples are probably enjoying this new adventure, traveling around, sharing the good news with others, being with Jesus when he heals and performs miracles that affirm God is at work, that liberation is at hand. Jesus is powerful; he’s the Messiah they’ve been looking for. As Jesus tells more of the story, enters the next level of his teaching, Peter speaks for all when he says that this can’t be. We don’t want things to change like that. Let’s just keep doing what we’re doing now. That’s a very human response, isn’t it?

Lessons and truths aren’t always hard to hear. Statistics about poverty, mortality rates, and violence we hear all day long. Drive it a little closer to home, however, and we get a little restless. How and when do the hungry get fed? What considerations do we make when choosing school, zip code, or subdivision/neighborhood to live in? Did we really listen to our cousin/classmate/friend as they question if they’ve been sexually assaulted, or do we blow it off and change the subject because if there is truth in what they say, the next steps are difficult. How we see the world and how the world sees us might change. My life is going to be impacted.

Are we listening to what Compassionate Jesus says to us? Compassionate Jesus can show tough love, too, saying, “You don’t want to to do the hard thing, face the hard truths, or realize your complicity? Get behind me, Satan!” Compassionate Jesus isn’t here to make our lives easy or comfortable. He’s here for divine things. Want to follow Jesus toward God’s glory? We’re told to take up our cross whenever and wherever we find it. Likely it will resonate with us because old scars will tingle, itch, or burn. Maybe we were a child who went hungry outside of school, so we fill the pantry when we can, help fill snack packs at the Samaritan Center, or make meals for others when they’re alone. Maybe we become active in PTO, the POA, or city council to make sure voices of our neighbors who are silenced or ignored get magnified. We do this not by talking about it but by seeking the people themselves, listening intently, learning ravenously, and sharing unpopular opinions–aka “hard truths”–that give us no personal advantage. Maybe we go with someone to a hearing, the unemployment office, or the clinic because they need the presence of someone whom they trust to embody Christ in that moment, to be the Compassionate Jesus they’ve heard about but haven’t experienced, longed for but never encountered.

Growing up Baptist, believing in Jesus, liking church, loving gospel music, there was a time when I would rather not admit any of those things. There are times even now when I know life could be easier if I didn’t follow this calling. (Many priests I’ve spoken with have a daydream of being a barista or a baker!) One day at the hospital during my Clinical Pastoral Education (chaplaincy training), a nurse paged me, the chaplain on duty. A woman in one of the critical care units needed a visit. As I made my way across the hospital, I wondered what she needed, what we would talk and pray about, but when I got there, the nurse told me that the woman didn’t, couldn’t speak. Maybe she saw my wide eyes and noticed my hesitation. She smiled and nodded at me to “go on.” I smiled, took the woman’s outstretched hand, and watched her eyes intently as I introduced myself. She could hear me just fine. I asked simple yes/no questions so she could respond with a nod or a turn of the head, gently. She was a woman of faith, all the more evident in that she began saying things, mouthing the words that she trusted I would and turned out that I could understand. “I know,” she’d mouth when I said God was with her. She raised her hands as she told me she prayed “all the time.” (When we’re not wearing masks, we read lips more often than we realize!) Her family was important. Somehow we got to a point where I learned she loved music from church, and as I sang “Amazing Grace”–a universal language of its own–she sang along, too. A peaceful smile was on her lips and in her eyes as we exchanged goodbyes, and I promised to check in the next day.

My cross that day was my love of Jesus, my love of music that speaks to my heart, mind, and soul. At that moment the cross wasn’t a burden but a gift. We were in the presence of Christ, she and I, and I still draw strength from that experience. It wasn’t about my success or glory. It was about being present, sharing a mutual love, and being vulnerable enough to empathize with another’s pain. It’s also about going through the hard times, the bad times, and not losing hope that Jesus promised. When we follow Jesus, our cross will present itself to us again and again. It may not be the same one, but it’s always the same invitation: are you willing to take up the cross and follow Jesus? If so, our world–your world–will never be the same.

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Our Talent

24th Sunday after Pentecost ~ Year A

Zephaniah 1:7,12-18 | Psalm 90:1-12 | 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 | Matthew 25:14-30

How many times have you marveled at the energy of a young child running circles around you? A few times? Every time? It’s enough to leave us breathless, those of us with many more years of experience, wear, and tear. That’s a different kind of breathlessness than that of holding a newborn child, especially if we’re there in those first moments after birth, holding the bundle of newly emerged energy even while the lifeblood from the mother tries to find a balance. She’s exhausted, and we’re amazed. In that precious moment we are in the presence of a miracle pulsating with life and potential, acutely aware that something nearly magical has happened, that the veil between what was before and what is now has been crossed in a visible and tangible way. Gratitude wells up in our hearts and often our eyes, and a whispered “Thanks be to God” might be all we can say. We are present to something real, something meaningful (even if we don’t exactly know how yet). We mark the day annually, celebrating birthdays for the holy days they are in our lives but especially their meaningfulness in the lives of others.

Other occasions of joy and gratitude, love and meaning, we don’t often celebrate but experience in the moment. We shop and box up food for a family, doing the inconvenient thing especially in this time of covid to shop for others to provide something more than physical nourishment. Our act of giving unconditionally to another in need says we see you, we hear your need, and we give of our abundance to share with you. Again, we offer thanks to God.

We reduce, reuse, and recycle to reduce waste and our footprint on this planet, showing our care for Creation and hope for future generations. We listen intently to the person speaking to us, sharing their story, our phones silenced or forgotten while we abide in a moment together to laugh or cry but to be fully awake and present to one another. These moments and so many others give us the opportunity to recognize the value of life and presence and to glimpse a sense of our purpose, our meaning. Ahhhh. How many of us wonder what our purpose and meaning are in this life?

Especially now when life’s troubles are so great, when death and devastation are so prevalent, do we wonder if who we are and what we do makes a difference?

If we think about the most meaningful moments of our lives, are others present? Do they know how much that moment meant to us? The mother who blesses us with entrance to her birthing room, the mentor who blows our mind by holding a mirror to our brilliance … do they know how much they have enriched our lives? Do you think the people who owned the property behind my childhood home knew how much it meant to me that I could wander in their woods and play by and in the creek and imagine untold stories while perched on the fallen tree by the waterfall? These are sacred moments in time that I barely give credit for; why would I expect someone else to be aware of them?

We’re wrapping up the Season after Pentecost and moving quickly toward Advent (officially, in case we haven’t already started our preparations). I cannot help but feel our lectionary preparing us for our lessons to keep awake and not to lose hope. Our collect commends to us our scriptures–to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, and I have to tell you that I was caught in a moment not necessarily of breathlessness but of love and appreciation and gratitude while studying the Word of God. Yes, I know it’s in my ordinal vows to study Scripture daily, and I share much time with you engaged in the Word through the Daily Office, Bible study, and our Sunday Worship. But those of you who also engage daily in Scripture know what I mean when we truly open our heart and mind to seek understanding and Wisdom from the Word of God. With practice and perseverance, dedication and humility, work and openness, we realize that the disciples who were on the road to Emmaus were speaking truth to their experience when they said their hearts were strangely warmed. When the one whom we know to be the resurrected Jesus opened Scripture to them, the Word that was in their hearts, the Word they knew to be of God, was enkindled in a way that reminded them they had not only ingested the Word, but they embodied it. Jesus Christ reminded them of what they had within them. A few moments later, they would be fully aware of what was with them all along, even if Jesus Christ was no longer physically present to them.

The words we hear today in our lessons invite us to live into our lives of meaning and purpose.

If we look to Zephaniah, we hear a prophet chiding a people who have become complacent, perhaps indifferent. Though they worship on the day of the LORD, they come before God in their comfort, out of habit, maybe proud of themselves for living so faithfully. They lack the awareness of their frailty and vulnerability that Psalm 90 addresses. This psalm appeals to God to “teach us to number our days / that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” If we continued to the end of the psalm, we’d find in verse 17 that the psalmist also asks for God’s graciousness to “be upon us; (to) prosper the work of our hands; / prosper our handiwork.” Unlike the Israelites Zephaniah addresses, the psalmist asks for God’s blessing, guidance. The psalmist plainly attributes God as refuge, as God of indignation and of grace and loving-kindness. The work of our hands as children or servants of God can lead to prosperity, if we receive the graciousness of God, if we apply our hearts to God’s wisdom . . . if we love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

But what of this parable of the talents? Are we to pursue venture capital so we can do amazing and awesome things with all the money we earn? Well, sure, if you can. I’ve got nothing against good fortune for you and give thanks if you can share that with the church. 🙂 But this parable is a gift from Jesus, and as such, it appeals to the wisdom of our hearts, something greater than our materialistic or capitalistic world can comprehend.

A talent, I read, was equal to 15 years’ earnings for a day laborer. In the parable, the master who is about to leave gives one servant the equivalent of a lifetime’s earnings. To another he gives an adult worker’s earnings–retirement secured. To another, he gives 15 year’s worth–he’s invested in the pension. The master leaves for a long time, each person left to do what they could. Informed by the third servant’s judgment of the master, I’ve always thought that the first two played into the game, dealing and swindling like the master, likewise to be commended for earning their gains by whatever means necessary, whether it was right or legal or fair or not.

For today, I have read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested to hear a different perspective. Yes, I read commentaries alongside my Bible and printout of the readings. I don’t do this work alone, and I don’t suggest you engage alone all the time, either. 

The third servant hid his talent out of fear. Did you hear that?

When the master returned, does he count the talents? What does Jesus say the master commends? The trustworthiness. “Well done.” “Good.” Their reward? A promotion? A bonus? “Enter into the joy of your master.” I realize that the slave/master language is difficult. We can reframe it and hear it more clearly, perhaps. Have you ever had a boss thank and reward you and commend you to their joy? But what if we hear this parable from Jesus and see Jesus as the master in the story and his disciples, even ourselves, as the servants? Jesus says, I’m with you now and give you your life, a long time, or a few years. What will you do for the glory of God? What will you do to build up this kin-dom of heaven? Like a Saint you live your life to make more disciples, spreading the Good News to all whom you encounter, so full of life and love as you are. Like another saint, you commit your work to raise the valleys, to the care of the oppressed and the marginalized in whatever way only you can. Well done, good and faithful servant.

How many of us, though, are like the third? We’re given this moment, and we’re afraid. Sounds amazing, Jesus, but I’ve heard stories, and you go messing around where you shouldn’t be. It’ll be easier and safer if I just keep on keepin’ on and find my peace and security in the coins I earn myself. (That’s where the reading from Thessalonians comes in today for me. “Peace and security” was a slogan on Roman coins, reminding the citizens of the source of their peace and security. Paul reminds them that the joke’s on them when Christ returns because the source of peace and security is God alone. So instead of Roman armor and ways of life, better garb up in faith, hope, and love.) In the parable, is says the master had him thrown into darkness, but truly, didn’t he choose to turn toward fear instead of living into the life that was offered to him?

This life that we have, isn’t it easy to be afraid. No matter how many times we’re commended by scripture not to be afraid, we’re crowded by fear and prone to bury our life–our greatest gift and talent, denying the world of the image of God we’re given to share in this world.

But when we give a little space for faith, hope, and love, when we give space to receive grace and mercy, when we allow ourselves to be dependent upon the one who gives us life eternal–from before we were born to the ever after–what happens? What happens when we have God as our first priority, when simply being present in a posture of gratitude, as a beacon of light and love that guides all we meet to God? We have the opportunity to share the presence of God with others, whether we realize it or not. Have you ever done an act of kindness and worried that it meant nothing? Have you ever regretted being present to someone? When we are sick, when we are dying, do we focus on fear? Sometimes. Those who focus on fear are those who are too crowded by darkness and the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those who, even at the last moment, realize that their life was full of moments that give glory to God know what it is to enter into the fullness of joy of Christ. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).There’s no doubt that these are trying times, but I assure you that our lives are meaningful and filled with purpose. Where you see the presence of God, there it is, already with you. It has been with you all along, since you were knit together in your mother’s womb. Others might recognize it before we realize it ourselves. There is joy to be had if we know where to look. We’ll see it wherever we seek God. There is nowhere we are that God is not. Thanks be to God.

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The Lord Is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Acts 5:27-32 | Psalm 118:14-29 | Revelation 1:4-8 | John 20:19-31

When we feel strongly about something, we don’t often keep it to ourselves. Well, we can. This week I was reluctant to share too much about the place where I found respite. It’s wonderful, and if too many people know about it, it will be hard to make reservations. But it is so good that I want it to stay in business. I want others to have this wonderful experience, too, so I wrote a positive review . . . after I made my next reservation, of course. (You can find it on AirBnB, search for “the Nest at Sewanee.”) When we have something good, we can hoard it, or we can share it: we can work from scarcity or abundance.It sounds like economic terminology, but it works across the board.

We have folks here from the Arkansas Poor People’s Campaign: A Call for a Moral Revival. The Poor People’s Campaign (PPC for short) has twelve main objectives, all based around the moral call we hear from our prophetic ancestors to raise the lowly, to make straight the pathway to heaven, to the kingdom of God. The basis is that we have enough; there’s plenty to go around. The problem is that in our industrial complex, we’ve prioritized materialism, particularly capitalism, over every other aspect of life, including our spirituality. Not that we can’t monetize spirituality, either. Think of all the products we can buy to make us feel like we’re better, more pious people because we have all the right stuff. But we know the truth. All the money in the world can’t make you a better Christian, any more than it can solve all medical crises, your family life, your mental stability, or any other aspect of our life. But when we know we have enough and find contentment where we are, know that we have a network of support, our life worth, our true quality of life reaches that priceless point. You know what I’m saying? Contentment. Blessed assurance. True happiness.

Peter and the apostles are confronted by the authorities in our reading from Acts. Readings later in this past Easter week have included the apostles not being able to keep quiet about Jesus. Whereas everyone knew he had been crucified, only a few had been privy to his resurrection appearances. And once they had seen and known, they had good news to share. Not only that, but they were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and were proclaiming the Good News and performing good works in the name of Jesus. They were filled with power and continuing to manifest the presence of Jesus Christ among the poor and marginalized, giving them hope and raising them out of their despair. And they couldn’t keep quiet.

“We’ve told you,” the authorities say, but when you’ve got something to say, when truly you have a message to share, especially when it is aligned with the will of God, woe be it to the authorities to stand in your way; they’re just going to have more work to do! Peter and crew answer, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” We must obey God.

Now, the Feast of St. Mark is normally on April 25th, but it got transferred to Monday due to Easter Week, which takes precedence in the church calendar. In the Gospel according to Mark, we get the Great Commission (16:15).

“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”

The apostles were told to go to the WORLD and PROCLAIM the GOOD NEWS. Alleluia! Christ is risen! Don’t we say that? We just did, at the beginning of service. Do we say that out in the world? Our gospel lesson today focuses on bringing forgiveness and reconciliation to the world. Do we spread that good news in the world, outside the church walls?

Maybe we’re not so sure we believe in the resurrection and all this “power of the Holy Spirit” stuff. It sounds like a bunch of ghost stories, almost. Idle tales, right? Unless we see and touch and know for ourselves, we’re just gonna stay as we are, trying to follow the way of Jesus as he showed us in his lifetime, keeping his memory alive. That’s a good thing to do, right? Many, in fact, believe the historical Jesus was just that, an example. Maybe that’s where Thomas was in his belief–that it was wonderful while it lasted, but now . . . what do we have now that Jesus is dead aside from our deep grief? Thomas doubted the truth of what the disciples had proclaimed to him until he touched the wounded flesh of the risen Christ, proclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” In that moment, he believed and knew for himself that Jesus Christ was all he had foretold, was everything they hoped for, and more than they could have imagined. The risen Christ was real. Thomas knew personally the reality of the risen Lord, like the apostles gathered with him. With every confidence, they would go out into the world and proclaim that Christ lived, died, and rose again, showing the way to eternal life in God, showing the power of God to triumph over sin and death. And if that was possible, there’s no limit to what love can do. Let us go out and proclaim to the world this Good News.

It would be easier to proclaim the Good News if we actually believed for ourselves that the power of the Holy Spirit could work a miracle or two here and now. There are a lot more Thomases in our faith than there are apostles who share the true Good News. We’re living in dark times now if we only read the headlines, and hope flickers dimly if at all for many and for good reasons.

I was listening to OnBeing, and in the interview between Krista Tippett and Joanna Macy, a Buddhist philosopher of ecology who translated Rilke’s poetry, Macy says that she didn’t believe Rilke emphasized hope. In a way, she said, he seemed to foresee the darkness coming in the 20th century, and his poetry often seemed to address God, especially God in Creation, lamenting humanity’s degradation of that which had been so freely and lovingly given. She said that Rilke didn’t emphasize hope because hoping or gauging how much hope we have can be exhausting. Kind of like if Thomas had never touched the risen Christ and was constantly compared to the other apostles who believed without a doubt. Macy also shared a bit of her own story and journey and recalled one of the main things she gleaned from Buddhist teaching: showing up, being present. Being present and showing up is our biggest gift, she says. Even when Thomas didn’t believe as the others, he returned to be with them, right? He was in the room with them another week later. He showed up.

It is in our showing up that we “have the capacity to love,” Macy said, and this capacity to love gives us solidarity, the power to heal the world. Our heart might be breaking every day, but with our hearts wide open, we give God more room to fill us with the power of Holy Spirit. Macy said something to the effect of “What’s a heart for, if not to be broken?” (The title of the interview is “A Wild Love for the World.”)

The healing we experience from our deepest wounds teach us great things; it gives us a learning we know in our bones, so to speak. Maybe our lessons aren’t major, like me being tired and going on retreat. The experience of restoration is wonderful, and I have experience to share with others about the benefits of self-care. But maybe they are significant. If I’m in recovery and making the daily decisions to support life and health, I have my experiences to share and offer support to others, helping them toward a way of life and health. If I’ve been a victim of child abuse, through foster homes, through counselors good and bad, I have invaluable experience to share with others to find their way toward a life of peace, a life restored. If I’ve been living a life in the dark, drowning in sorrow and despair, and found a point of light I could cling to until I surfaced into a life that offered a sense of wholeness and joy I didn’t think was possible, I have good news to share. It’s my personal experiences that make all the difference, that affirm my belief that there is something to this life that speaks to love, and when I lean into that love for myself, and especially toward God and my neighbor, it gets big quickly.

Joanna Macy, in talking about her journey, said that she grew up in a liberal Protestant church, but it wasn’t until she was at church camp when she was about 16 that Jesus and God became personal, alive for her in a way they hadn’t before. In all the resurrection experiences, it’s personal: the risen Lord appears to people who eventually see and believe. What if in my life experiences and the lessons I’ve learned I look for the presence of Christ? What if it’s not the wounded hands and sides we need to touch, but it’s the lives of ourselves and others that we need to be present to, to show up for until we know that we are connected in a way that passes our understanding? Like in the Truth & Poverty tour, we need to see our neighbors, reach out to them, hear their stories, lend a helping hand or bond money or food or advocacy, and be the presence of Christ to them. Even with broken hearts, maybe even helpless, if we show up and allow the presence of Love to be in our midst, doesn’t that speak to our faith?

If we’ve already seen the presence of God in our lives and have a faith that in one way or another has touched the wounds of Christ and known the power of God’s reconciling love, why don’t we share that faith in as many words with others? Why don’t we risk letting our hearts be broken, risk being embarrassed for a minute, risk being rejected, to say outloud that we love Jesus Christ, that we’ve experienced the presence of God in  our lives, and that coming to our church helps us stay strong in that faith if not feel the presence of the Holy Spirit directly. Or do we want to hold that love for ourselves? My loves, our hearts aren’t big enough for the love of God, for all of Creation. Let’s risk being broken hearted for love of the world, for love of God. Let’s tend to our neighbors and this little bit of earth and do our best to say it like we mean it, knowing that the powers and principalities in this world have no hold on the children of God: Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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On Glory

Acts 16:16-34 | Psalm 97 | Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20-21 | John 17:20-26

Wednesday morning chapel is now one of the highlights of my week during the school year. Looking out into the sea of about 60 bright eyed children and the dedicated, nurturing teachers, I hope that what I say in the few moments of my homily will plant a seed of God’s whole and everlasting love in them. I hope they have something to take away with them because I won’t always be there to remind them that they are beloved children of God, and I know that they are growing up in a world of pain and suffering.

Isn’t that typical of a good mother? To want to protect her children?

And there are lots of children to be protected.

The little second-grade boy who, while we were standing in the lunch line, told me his mom was in jail, and the boy behind him who told me he was about to get out of DHS.

The 13-year-old girl who tried to commit suicide.

The 17-year-old transgendered child kicked out of the house.

The 25-year-old busted for meth, though he’s been using since he was 14.

The 35-year-old refugee whose spouse died, leaving him with the toddler and no home.

The 45-year-old single mom who went in for a routine mammogram and ended up with a same-day biopsy.

The 59-year-old who learns about her biological parents and siblings for the first time.

The 64-year-old who hears the confession and remorse of her molester who is dying and thinks she is someone else.

The 80-something-year-old who loses mobility, not just outside the home but within the house, too.

And the 98-year-old who grimaces with pain and fear of the unknown.

These—all of these—are children, precious babies who are in the midst of suffering. Mamas who care want to eliminate the pain.

How many of you have heard or said, “Honey, if I could take away your pain, I would”? How many of you have actually crossed hell and high water to do so, or at least to try?

Glennon Doyle Melton spoke at Trinity Cathedral a couple of weeks ago, wrapping up the Insights lecture series. She’s acclaimed for writing her truth on her blog

In her writing, she shares the truth she knows as a wife, mother, recovering addict, and lover of Jesus, and people have discovered that her speaking matches her writing. The cathedral was literally full of giddy women, excited to hear her in person. She shared her stories and how they intersected with other women’s stories, usually meeting at that important point of vulnerability.

One woman told her what a failure she thought herself as a mother because her son was in the throws of addiction, of pain. Glennon, in the crazy-wise way she has, basically said to the woman, “Oh, honey, I hear you. I heard you say you’re a failure. So what is it that you think a mother does? What’s your job description?”

And the woman says, “Well, to protect my child, to keep him from getting hurt.”

“Mmm-hmmm, and what are your hopes for your child?” Glennon asks.

“That he grows into a strong, resilient, confident man,” the mother says.

“And how do we become strong and resilient?” Glennon asks.

The dawn of realization can be awesomely beautiful and painfully brutal, like life itself, which is why Glennon coined the term brutiful. The brutiful truth, they tearfully acknowledged, is that we go through suffering and emerge stronger than we were before, resilient in an enduring sort of way, and confident of our place in this brutiful life.

Maybe a more realistic job description for mothers is to love and sustain life, life that is given to us. All life originates in God, and we are given the care of life in this world. We just have to make it through the suffering parts. Just.

God knows we need help.

So the Son of God comes and lives among us. Jesus goes to the sick and the suffering or they come to him, and he heals them. Their pain is taken away. It seems miraculous and magical and transactional, but really it’s transformational. When it happens so quickly, it’s hard to distinguish, except that for the healed persons, their life is forever changed in a way only they and God know. They’ve not just been physically healed by God; they’ve been restored to wholeness, their full glory.

Do we even know what that means?


Because it caused me pause.

I had to stop and realize that I didn’t really know what Jesus meant when he said to God that he wanted us to be with him, to see his glory, the glory given to him because God loved him before the foundation of the world. It sounds great. It resonates within me but doesn’t register consciously in my brain.

So I looked at different definitions of “glory” and how we use it in our liturgy (because we use it a lot). We have our doxology: “Glory to God in the highest,” we sing. We partner glory and honor because it can mean high regard and esteem, and we do hold God in the highest regard, so we use glory because it’s the best we can do with our finite language.

But what about this glory that’s given to Jesus by God? The glory restored in those who are healed? Wouldn’t you know that I opened my e-mail Friday morning to the daily message from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, and in the little preview line on my phone, their word for the day in bold was GLORY.

I gasped out loud because I had seriously been wondering about glory. (Y’all, when we seriously wonder in the presence of God, we need to keep our eyes and ears open because we’re going to run smack dab into it.) Brother Curtis told me—because I know he was just speaking to me (let alone the thousands others who read these things)—

“Glory, or to be glorified, is to teem with God’s light and life and love. It’s to draw from the deepest waters of life, how the psalmist prays: ‘For you are the well of life, and in your light we see light.’ The Gospel writers speak of glory as if someone were simply luminous, irradiated with God’s light and life and love.”

That’s the understanding of glory that resonates within me so deeply that it strikes the chord of Truth and sends chills up my spine.

Jesus, Son of God, perfectly shone forth in glory, though he was disguised to those who did not believe. It looks like he healed by flicking a switch, but it was the power of recognition that transformed lives. Letting ourselves see Jesus in full glory and doing the even harder thing of recognizing the glory within us changes things. That glory of light and life and love is already in us, being as we are, created in God’s image, but our glory gets buried under layers upon layers of stuff we accumulate throughout life. To let that light and life and love break through is going to hurt, and often it’s going to hurt badly.

Our God knows this too, and I imagine God saying, “Son, go and show my children—your brothers and sisters—go show them Truth. You go and live out your life revealing our glory, and there are those who will recognize us. You’re going to go through the suffering of them all, for them all, to show them the way back to me. You’re going to die, but you’ll go back to them after three days to show them Life and Love and Light fully revealed. You’re going to be among them in your fullness of Glory, and you’re going to tell them that you will be with them forever. And then you’re going to return to Me, and we will abide and welcome all the children as they come to us.”

Jesus knew this to be true and lives out his brutiful life even through death.

Now we are in the season where Jesus has ascended and is gone again, even though he said he’d be with us always, and it doesn’t seem to make much sense.

But Jesus said those things about being one with the Father and with us. He said that thing about giving us the glory that he had been given. He said that thing about love being most important, and he did that thing about redeeming all suffering.

So what are we left to do?

Maybe instead of thinking about being a perfect mom or dad, friend or relative, husband or wife… Maybe instead we should ask ourselves:

What is my role as a child of God?

What is my responsibility to the One who gives me life and light and love?

Our responsibility might look more like a challenge, for we are to grow into our God-given glory and show God’s glory to the world as best we can. We already have the glory dwelling within us. It’s our work—even through suffering and death—to grow into that glory.

We do this through grace and steadfast faith, hope, and love and whatever other gifts we are given. We study the Scripture and the lives of those in our tradition that teach us how to grow toward God. We spend our entire lives as children reaching toward our beloved parent. If we choose to grow into God’s glory, we can’t help but radiate with glory, revealing it to the world around us. We might even realize that every bit of everything is all One in God.

Recognizing our glory and seeing God’s glory in others, even if they don’t see it themselves, changes us, changes our worldview.

We come closer to seeing ourselves and those around us as I imagine God sees us,

with whole and everlasting love. So when I look out at the sea of faces, be they the children in chapel or yours here today, I know I don’t have to protect you or give any of you what’s not mine to give. My responsibility and privilege is to love you, be with you, and to share in the hope of our wholeness in God in every way I can. God’s already given you the glory, already planted that seed.

I see it in you.

I hope you see it, too.


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Light Revealed

A Sermon preached by Sara Milford at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas, for the Northwest Arkansas Women’s Community Correction Center Baptisms on July 29th, 2012.

The Scripture Texts for the Feast of the Transfiguration:

Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36

 Open our hearts and still our minds, O God, that we might hear you in both word and silence.

We are blessed – those of us here in this place this afternoon.  Together, in a time intentionally set apart, we get to witness transfiguration.

Transfiguration, indeed, is “Christ’s appearance in radiant glory” to Peter, John, and James, as accounted in three of the Gospels.  More generally, it is “a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state,” “an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change.”

Consider those moments when you have seen for yourself a transfiguration in those you love.  Have you beheld a bride and groom in a quiet moment after their marriage ceremony?  Have you seen the face of a mother or father as they gaze at a newly born child?  Think of the child who suddenly realizes they can ride a bike by themselves or a person of any age who realizes they can actually put letters together to make words as they read on their own. What about the women who complete their time at the correction center and walk through the doors to the other side?  Are they the same women who entered only months before?

Can we witness such moments and not be affected?

What is our responsibility, having seen such a gift?

Peter, John, and James just happened to be awake and saw the Transfiguration of Jesus while he was praying, when “his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.”  And then they see Moses and Elijah with him.  Moses, whom we heard earlier, whose face was ever shining, so long as it wasn’t veiled, because he had spoken with God.

God is there.

Peter wants to make dwellings to honor the place. “Not knowing what he said”?  Wasn’t what he saw a good, amazing thing?  Doesn’t Peter want to glorify and exalt the Lord, marking this holy place?

Then the booming voice from the clouds.  “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”  Now Jesus was alone, and they were silent.

They saw Moses and Elijah with a radiant, dazzling Jesus, and they told no one.  Silence.

You women know a thing or two about silence.  I think we all know that even when words aren’t spoken, volumes can be revealed.

It doesn’t say Jesus told his disciples to be quiet.  But hearing the voice of God telling them to listen to Jesus, you bet they did.  They knew what they had seen.  Perhaps the Light of Jesus, the Christ Light, shone brighter for them than ever before, and as they listened to Jesus, it transcended all words.  They listened in silence.

From Second Peter, we’re told “to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

“…be attentive to this…”  “This” meaning, I believe, that Christ is God’s son, God’s beloved, as the Spirit proclaimed upon his baptism.

The Light of Christ, the Love of God is real and true.  Hold onto this until you have it in your own heart . . . until you realize it’s been there all the time.

There’s a quote attributed to St. Ignatius:

A thick and shapeless tree-trunk would never believe

that it could become a statue, admired as a miracle of sculpture,

and would never submit itself to the chisel of the sculptor,

who sees by her genius what she can make of it.

We are all children of God.  In our baptism, we, too, are transfigured.  We take the opportunity to wash away the barriers the block our Light so we can be who God created us to be.  As a prayerbook I have concludes St. Ignatius’ quote, we can “ask for the grace to let (ourselves) be shaped by (our) loving Creator.”  I am God’s beloved child.  You are God’s beloved child.

Witnessing moments of God’s revelation in ourselves and in others, we are affected.  If you’ve ever seen the glory of God in any circumstance, you cannot un-know it.  We can forget.  We can turn away.  We can re-build those barriers.  But it doesn’t change the fact of what is, the evidence of God’s great beauty and love — even in the midst of hatred and fear.
What’s our responsibility?  I asked earlier.  Be awake.  Peter, John, and James only saw Jesus because they were awake, but they were tired.  They could have been asleep, but they weren’t.  What do we miss when we let our minds wander and our attention wane?  Who do we miss?  Where have we missed seeing Jesus in our lives.  Be awake.

And listen.  Obviously they weren’t silent forever, or we wouldn’t have this story.  We need the story, though, because we weren’t there.  As they were listening to the living Christ, we, too, need to listen for the Living Christ, often described as that still, small voice.  Probably a lot like the voice, the pull, the desire, that brings you today to your own transfiguration.

There are very few people

who realize what God would make of them

if they abandoned themselves into his hands,

and let themselves be formed by his grace.

Again, St. Ignatius.

A prayer:  “I ask for the grace to trust myself totally to God’s love.”

And may you know how brilliantly you shine.

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Broadcast Your Soapbox

Last week my Journey to Authenticity class assigned us the homework of planning a prime time television message to Americans.  The budget’s unlimited, and we have an hour of time.  What would we show?  What would we say?

Honestly, I haven’t thought about it until this weekend, and we’re supposed to give it 15 minutes, at least.  It’s no secret what my passions are, what my concerns include.  But how to include everything?  How to present it?

What would you do?

The thing is, if I plan this out, I feel committed to actually producing it.  I am a producer at our local Community Access Television.  My husband is, too.  We might not get prime time America, but we can at least reach a few.  If I do this, we’ll post it to YouTube, and I’ll embed it on this blog.  I’m a sucker for a challenge, especially if it might touch the hearts of others.

Are you up for another challenge?  What do you feel strongly enough about to actually do something, maybe even sacrifice something?

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A Day to Do While Trying to Be

My late posting reflects my busy-ness this morning trying to follow-up on e-mails, making sure I have no loose ends.  The task continues, but I shall not fail to inspire you to do something crafty today, even if my own craftiness may just be decluttering my house, which seems to have a peculiar odor to it.  Hmmm.

This past weekend, we jumped at the opportunity to go hiking with friends.  It rained, but Hemmed-In Hollow Falls makes for a great hike — a bit arduous though the kids managed it all (5 miles), except the youngest, of course, who was carried.  I’m still a bit sore, even though the hubby is the one who carried her most!  (The Wiki-pedia link for Hemmed-In Hollow is here.)

Most crafty of the experience was our visit to Osage Clayworks, which isn’t far from the trail.  We got to visit with Newt in his studio/retail store.  Inspiring and sincere.  The visit was delightful, and most importantly, the kids had a blast making little clay creations which he will share with other kids after they’ve been fired and glazed.  Our kids got to take home little creations from other little hands, and the youngest enjoyed following the cat and dogs around.  We couldn’t help but buy a couple of apple bakers, and we can’t wait to try them.

Last but not least, this start of April signifies the beginning of National Poetry Month.  Let your heart and your art be inspired by the everyday simple beauty around you.

Can you watch
the sunrise without counting the minutes,
naming the colors,
wondering when the sun will peak over the horizon?

Can you be still
long enough to change with the clouds,
dark fade away,
feel the earth turn to show you our sun?

Can you
be still
the Sun rising.
No surprises.
No disappointments.
Be risen.

Enjoy your spring and Easter season.

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