More than business as usual

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26  | Psalm 1 | 1 John 5:9-13 | John 17:6-19

Our religious tradition provides us with much I love–namely stability, form, and structure. We have the framework to understand our roles and responsibilities, at least generally. We have our annual meeting at the local level, our diocesan convention at the diocesan level, and General Convention every triennium so we can account for what we’ve done in the past, work we need to do now, and where we’re going in the future. As with your place of work, there are just some things that have to be done, and hopefully these are daily tasks we get to do rather than a daily grind that wears us down. One might say these are the hallmarks of a “job.”

Our lessons and psalm today reinforce the work we do as Christians. In Acts there’s a vacancy among the apostles, so they dutifully and prayerfully cast lots to fulfill that role. (And I’m rather glad they went with the simple election of Matthias so we don’t have to keep up with which name to use!) They took a chance and trust that it will be good. In psalms, we have a traditional song contrasting the wicked and the righteous, and of course we want the rewards of righteousness; it’s like a reminder why we do what we do. Our epistle, the first letter of John reiterates our belief in the Son of God, our key to eternal life. The whole brief first letter emphasizes the unity among believers and insists upon following the command to love one another, for God is love (1Jn 4:8). Even going about our daily business, there can be discord and differing views; the letter aims to restore alignment and unity.

So, carry on, brothers and sisters! We could move right on to recite the words of our neat and tidy faith in the words of the Nicene Creed . . . , but we’re also given our gospel lesson this day. And God bless the gospel according to John, where often words twist and turn like a circular stage, spiraling through different levels of meaning and challenging us in our understanding.

What is Jesus really trying to say here? How does it affect my life today?

If we return to the place and time of the reading, we’ll remember that John 17 is still part of Jesus’s last meal with the disciples, those whom he loves, and he knew it was his last meal with them from the beginning. This is the meal that begins in Chapter 13, where we’re told they gather before the festival of Passover, and Jesus washes their feet, as we continue to do on Maundy Thursday. In this meal, Jesus foretells his betrayal with a beloved disciple reclining against his chest, Judas betrays him, and Jesus gives a new commandment to love one another. Jesus tells Peter he’ll be denied, and though Jesus again and again says he’ll be leaving them, he promises to send an Advocate, the Holy Spirit. Jesus says he’s the true vine and speaks of the world’s hatred and persecution, and the disciples wrestle with what all this means, Jesus’s words about leaving them. Jesus speaks of being one with the Father and gives the disciples his peace . . . and then he prays for them, as we heard a portion today.

There’s not an “Our Father” in the gospel according to John, but there is this prayer that holds all the context of the meal with the disciples and Jesus’s love for them as he prays. Jesus prays for the disciples and all whom he loves, and it’s terribly hard to imagine the magnitude of this prayer. But we can imagine this: a Christian mother’s prayer for her child/godchild, one who knows her duty and fulfills her mission with faithful obedience.

Imagine this nurturing, life-giving, beloved mother offering her prayer–either silently or aloud–in the presence of her charge. In her prayer, she’s almost reminding God that she has done her work; she’s made God’s name known to the children given to her care. She knows all are from God and the magnitude of her responsibility.

She knows the children have kept the word of God because as it’s been given to and received by her, the children have witnessed the genuineness and authenticity of her belief, her trust, and they receive it for themselves so much that it becomes their own belief and trust.

A mother would rarely wish to be separated from her child, but if circumstances require it, we know that this mother would do all she could to protect and bless those in her care. She will make petition to God, emphasizing again that all that she is has been made possible only through God, and as if to make sure it’s understood, she clearly names the children as truly God’s. What’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is yours. There’s little more precious and beautiful than that.

If she has to be away–even to be united with God–she’s going to ask, nearly beg, for God to protect her children, lest all her work to protect and guide and guard them have been in vain.

She has a sense of the joy and anticipation of being united with God, but the pain of humanity, of attachments and persecutions in the world, are all very real. How many times does a mother pray for protection over her children? Let alone when she’s separated from them?

Ultimately, a mother blesses her children with her love. Her prayer to “sanctify” them is to make them holy and also to set them apart. Sanctify can also mean to purify or redeem. This mother wants only the best for those given to her care. Giving the truth, the Word, is the most loving thing she can do to keep them in the company of the divine, even when she’s not there.

This is how I’ve tried to understand Jesus’ words and prayer: through the person of a mother. But maybe every mother’s prayer is really a taste of Jesus’s prayer for all whom he loves, for everyone and everything that thirsts for love and communion with God?

In all our business–or busy-ness–we mustn’t forget this intimacy and yearning that is at the very foundation of who we are as a church and who we are at the very core of our being as children of God. Maybe the “Our Father” is easier to memorize and pray, but every line of that prayer contains all the glory, love, and tenderness of this prayer for the disciples. On this day, may we also hear it as Jesus’s prayer for us as we return to our work and strive to glorify God.

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Love: Our Inconvenient Truth

Acts 1:6-14 | Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36 | 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11 | John 17:1-11

Over a decade ago, filmmaker Davis Guggenheim followed former presidential candidate Al Gore as he lectured worldwide about the necessity of addressing climate change, specifically global warming. His endeavor led to the 2006 release of the documentary An Inconvenient Truth–“inconvenient” because there’s not really anything convenient about global warming and “truth” because it’s scientifically- and evidentially-based. That the climate is changing is inconvenient to us because it promises to disrupt our routines and demands. If we want to continue living on this planet, let alone driving our cars and eating and shopping like we do, we are going to have to make some significant changes. It’s true that we are part of the solution in preventing a global disaster and that we have the choice to make on whether or not to live into our responsibility to care for our earth. It’s equally true that the endeavor is going to be inconvenient on many levels, not the least of which is figuring out how to handle the recycling when you live in the county. We might reach a point when we ask,

“Is it really worth the trouble?”

This notion of inconvenience stood out to me this past week as the Feast of the Ascension drew nearer. I prepared for our Wednesday morning Eucharist in full knowledge that Thursday was Ascension Day, and I was thinking, “Isn’t the Ascension one of our major feast days?” I tell you this like a confession, because I should know the Principal Feasts forwards and backwards. Thinking about it, I do, because they are integral to our faith and tradition. (Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday are our lunar feasts with their variable dates, and All Saints’, Christmas, and Epiphany are our date-specific feasts.) Obviously needing a refresher, I read more about Ascension Day. It always falls on a Thursday, being 40 days after Easter. Some churches have interesting–though definitely not encouraged–practices to mark the Ascension, like moving the Paschal candle out of sight or not lighting it for the remainder of the Easter season. Quite often, it is not marked by a festal Eucharist on the day, as it is acknowledged in our liturgy the Sunday after, as we heard today. So, through the years, we’ve decided it’s inconvenient to celebrate Ascension Day on Thursday. We’ll give tribute on the Sunday after because that’s just what we do, and besides, it’s what we do for All Saints’ Day, too. We could schedule a special weekday service, but “Is it really worth the trouble?”

When things are going well, this is a question we ask, isn’t it? “Is it worth the trouble?” I enjoy riding my motorcycle or bicycle without a helmet, feeling the wind in my hair. I enjoy float trips without the bulk of a lifejacket. We can live comfortably without a savings account. We’re enjoying the good life. No need to rock the boat. No need to be inconvenienced. Besides, so many people are exploited for sake of fear and what-ifs. I’ll decide what’s good for me and mine, thank you very much, and we’ll make it just fine.

Two friends are on public transit heading somewhere in the Portland area. They are both young women, one in a hijab. Perhaps both women are Muslim. A fellow passenger directs racial and ethnic slurs toward them. While everyone nearby undoubtedly hears, three passengers took particular notice of the aggressive man and attempt to deescalate the situation, only to be met with fatal violence. Who knows what might have happened had the violent man followed the young women with no one to intervene, but we read this summer from our study of Small Great Things how extreme racists truly despise betrayers of “their own kind.” Was it worth the loss of two brave souls to stand up for the young women who may or may not have been in physical danger? Was it worth the trouble?

Nothing about our tradition promises convenience. Nowhere in our catechism is there promise of ease and comfort, accommodation or advantage. Nor does anything about our faith tell us to look the other way when we see a neighbor suffering. Nothing about our Savior says we have permission to sit back and take care of ourselves only. However inconvenient, we’re supposed to go through the trouble, whatever it is, of loving one another.

There are times when we grumble over having to take the high road because we gotta do what’s right and bump up the amount we leave for a tip or fix our tired spouse a nice dinner. But I doubt there was any grumbling coming from Ricky, Taliesin, or Micah as they stood between an angry man and two scared young women. Whether they were Christian or not, it sounds to me like they went into the furnace like Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego–men of great faith, trusting God’s will be done, trusting that love would win.

One of the protector’s (Taliesin, 23 years old) sister “emailed a statement to The Washington Post on behalf of their family, saying her brother lived ‘a joyous and full life’ with an enthusiasm that was infectious.” She said:

“We lost him in a senseless act that brought close to home the insidious rift of prejudice and intolerance that is too familiar, too common. He was resolute in his conduct (and) respect of all people. … In his final act of bravery, he held true to what he believed is the way forward. He will live in our hearts forever as the just, brave, loving, hilarious and beautiful soul he was. We ask that in honor of his memory, we use this tragedy as an opportunity for reflection and change. We choose love.”

From the Epistle today, we heard: “Like a roaring lion our adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour” (1Peter 5:8). I would say our adversary the devil has devoured Jeremy Joseph Christian, the angry man on the train. His last name is Christian. That a “Christian” committed such an act of evil serves as a dramatic wake-up call so that we might find ourselves on the side of the protectors rather than the perpetrator, on the side of love and not evil.

It’s not just the radicals or severely unstable who are at risk. All of us undergo the same kinds of suffering in body, mind, and spirit. And the devil preys upon us, especially our strengths. Take righteous anger and make it hateful. Take talent and use it for deception. Introduce temptations of lust to love, greed to wealth, apathy to intelligence…there are so many ways for evil to occur. In our final weeks of seminary, my peers and I marveled at the variations on a theme of trials and tribulations we were all facing. One friend very plainly, sweetly, and courageously stated that we were all baby priests about to be born and released to the world to do God’s work and that the devil was not happy about it and was trying hard to distract us. I recalled two professors describing the spiritual journey, saying that when we’re on the path of God’s will, there’s no end to hardships we might face, and how when we’re succumbing to temptation or turning our backs toward God, there’s no easier slope to descend. Ultimately, our daily struggles are couched within this larger scope of what is of God and what is not, what we commonly call the battle of Good and Evil. Daily, we have the opportunity to choose love.

God must have thought it was worth everything to show humanity the rewards of being of God. Knowing we couldn’t understand on our own, God gave us Jesus. In ways we scarcely understand, Jesus glorified God the Father in the completion of His work–drawing people to God, delivering a message of love, and showing obedience to God’s will. Jesus lives into his belief in God . . . and his belief in humanity. When I came across this thought in my study, I paused.

Belief in God, I’ve got it. Belief in humanity?  . . . Do we have it in us? Because the headlines would have us believe every other person has hate speech at the ready or a bomb, gun, or knife ready for a kill. My faith in humanity? We don’t have a great track record.

But reflecting on my memories of the things I’ve seen and done, places I’ve been . . . thinking of the people I have the privilege of working with and praying with . . looking out at all of you . . . I understand why Christ believes in us. He gave Himself to us. He gave us the Word. He gave us knowledge of God that we experience when we show love and compassion in tenderness and in bravery. He gave us Light and eternal life because in God, there is only life triumphant, even if the mysteries confound us and we can’t understand how. God gave of God’s self to us through Jesus and continues to give to us when we follow his way of obedience to God’s will and live into a life of true Love.

Is it worth the trouble . . . to obey God: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, strength, and soul, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to bear witness to the ends of the earth of God’s enduring love?

Yes.

Is it inconvenient to follow God’s will? Only if we put ourselves before God. Only if we put our self-interest above all others.

Is following Christ hard and likely to take us into places and situations we would rather not go? Perhaps. Our imaginations can be quite finite and not cover all the potentialities of God’s dream for us.

By following Christ, we participate within the life of God which allows us “to experience here and now something of the splendour, and the majesty, and the joy, and the peace, and the holiness which are characteristic of the life of God.”* We get a taste of the eternal life, and we get a glimpse of what holds us together in God, thanks to Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. What holds us together, what restores us, what builds us up is love. It’s up to us how much we choose to love. It may not be convenient and definitely won’t be easy, but it is true and good and totally worth it.

 

*William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible:The Gospel of John, vol. 2, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, p. 242.

 

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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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