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 Momastery.com.

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?

Glory?

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
Now.
Smell.
Taste.
Feel.
See.
Hear
the Sun rising.
No surprises.
No disappointments.
Be risen.
Now.
       -sara

Enjoy your spring and Easter season.

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