Tag Archives: discipleship

Sowing a Nonviolent Country

SJN LogoOn Saturday, September 26, 2015 hundreds of people gathered at Christ Church Cathedral in Louisville, Kentucky. Sponsored by the Sowers of Justice Network, a coalition of churches and individuals working for social justice through nonviolent action, this day (and organization) is a model that many of our communities can learn from.

The purpose of the conference was to invite nonviolence as a way of life, to and with those most affected by gun violence, and to mobilize citizens of the community to action. The provided the information about the scale and scope of gun violence so individuals and organizations can better identify actions steps that any and all of us can take for the future. They connect networks to improve relationships, resolve, and readiness to ACT.

Continue reading Sowing a Nonviolent Country

Formation for Mission in a VUCA World

communityThe below sermon was preached at the 2014 diocesan convention for the Episcopal Church in Vermont on All Saints Day, November 1, 2014. The theme of convention was “Equipped for the Journey: Formation for Mission”

Readings: Revelation 7:9-17, Wendell Berry’s Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front and Matthew 5:1-12

Much of yesterday we were challenged to look at how we join in God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation. We live in changing times, and as Phyllis Tickle shares in her book, The Great Emergence, every five hundred years the Church has a rummage sale; we are again living in such a time of reformation. What do we need to keep? What do we need to get rid of? What do we need to re-imagine?

Continue reading Formation for Mission in a VUCA World

Fire in My Bones

A sermon preached at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Wilton, CT on The Third Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 7, Year A (June 22, 2014)

FireInBonesJeremiah 20:7-13 ~ Psalm 69 ~ Romans 6:1b-11 ~ Matthew 10:24-39

Fire in the bones. Have you ever believed in something so strongly, or have been in a conversation with someone who has a different opinion than you, that you’ve felt the heat rise within in you? Perhaps you’ve held it in, not fully releasing your feelings in fear of spewing out harsh words or creating a breach in the relationship that would be irreparable. Even if you have entered the fray fully, your heart is racing long after the exchange is over.

All of today’s readings remind us of the cost of discipleship. The biblical narrative in the Old and New Testament are filled with stories about the choices we have. Over and over again the people of God – including us – are given choices of life over death. Metaphorically, physically, and spiritually.

In the place of death, the resources for life are mediated to us in ways we rarely understand. Biblical faith is the bet that the narratives we are given, from such sources as Jeremiah, the psalms, and Jesus’ teachings, gives us better futures than the narrative of the powers and principalities that surround us. God’s dream of reconciliation and restoration are visible all around us. We are given an invitation to join in the crusade to follow a new life that is counter-cultural.

Two weeks ago I was privileged to spend several hours with Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament biblical scholar who is a prolific writer and I believe a contemporary prophet for our times. He speaks of two narratives in Holy Scripture – the narrative of Pharaoh, in which God’s people are enslaved to always produce more bricks. Pharaoh is a symbol of greed, wealth, accumulation and always wanting more – bigger and better. The Hebrews slave away to help him build his empire and are forced to make bricks with less – less clay, less straw, less, less, less while still needing to create more, more, more – bigger, bigger pyramids. All for the god of the empire.

Let’s skip several hundred years to the time when these same Hebrew people (who had been freed, but “recaptured”) are living in exile in Babylonia). This time it is Jeremiah who speaks to the “Pharaoh” narrative. The people have again strayed from YHWH, and Jeremiah receives his call from God to speak out. We hear his  voice crying out against war, poverty, hunger, labor, and crime – against King Zedekiah’s enticements and power. Jeremiah’s audience is plagued with self-interest tangled up in issues of justice. Peace is confused with national security. Hearing God’s truth is difficult amidst the clamor of fear and greed. Our psalmist feels this also. Feeling abandoned and alone, we hear a cry for help to the Lord. Psalm 69 is a song of lament, in which the psalmist prays for deliverance from persecution and taunts – even from family members and friends.

For the cost of following YHWH is going against the status quo. Going against the powers that dominate the culture of self-preservation, the accumulation of things that comfort us and protect us from being vulnerable to those who are not like us.

Jesus offers a new narrative. It is a challenging one. Jesus says he came to bring a sword – but certainly he doesn’t mean we should go out there and stir up trouble. This is the same person who later (in Matthew 26:52) tells his disciples to put away their swords. Speaking God’s truth has a tendency to stir things up. Jesus’ words in today’s reading ring more of a readiness in the face of resistance than they do of preemptive strikes against an enemy. It’s a call to put some fire in our belly. Jesus calls us to make a decision – will you really follow me? Will you take up your cross and follow me? Will you be my disciple?

In our Christian tradition we have many examples of those we took up their cross and followed Jesus. There are many early Christian martyrs and stories from missionaries about those who suffered for their faith. A more contemporary example is of a man who was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family. When he fell in love with the daughter of a Methodist minister and became a Christian, his family said “Shiva,” mourned his “death,” and never had contact with him again. Grandparents, cousins, his whole extended family, were lost to this man. That was the price he paid for becoming a Christian. That wasn’t a real death, but for that man, it felt like a death.

As a people baptized, we have signed onto a new narrative. It’s a narrative that is rooted in compassion, God’s reconciling love, and reparation. Brueggemann says that we are given new bread in the wilderness – in the story of the Exodus and in the story of Jesus. Do we want Pharoah’s bread of anxiety, scarcity, violence, and oppression of wanting more, more, more? The bread that God gives us defies the ideology of accumulation and monopoly. He says,

“The bread of Pharaoh never nourishes. Beware the bread of the Pharisees – beware of the junk food.”

If you recall, the bread in the wilderness of the Exodus came in the form of “manna” to the people of God. When the people started to accumulate it because they feared they would not have enough, it went bad. Manna is the bread of life – it is the bread we receive each Sunday as we gather at this table. That little wafer, that little piece of bread – it is enough.

Our Eucharist is a giving of thanks for what is given to us in the wilderness in which we live. It calls us away from Pharaoh, Herod, the Pharisees, and the things that keep us slaves to the powers that be. Jesus’ performance of abundance scared the willies out of the society of scarcity in his time. He was executed because he was the enemy of the totalizing narrative of Pharaoh. Every time we come to the table we are defying the principalities of our society that tells us we need more, we need better, and we need to protect what we have. We don’t need more bread. This is the food for the world in the hope that the world does not need to starve like Pharaoh wants to starve people who do not produce.

Being a Christian means that we believe that only God can claim the kind of power over others that so many – emperors, dictators, the family patriarch “master” who owned his family (wife, children, and slaves) – desire to control us with. And to follow that path of discipleship is costly. It was in Jeremiah’s time, Jesus’ and Paul’s time, and certainly in our own time.

Oscar Romero, the Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador assassinated in 1980 said,

“Those who, in the biblical phrase, would save their lives – that is, those who want to get along, who don’t want commitments, who don’t want to get into problems, who want to stay outside of a situation that demands the involvement of all of us – they will lose their lives. What a terrible thing to have lived quite comfortably, with no suffering, not getting involved in problems, quite tranquil, quite settled, with good connections politically, economically, socially – lacking nothing having everything. To what good? They will lose their lives.”

Jeremiah diagnosed the distribution of wealth as a major contributor to the evils of his society. He accused the politicians of misplaced alliances chosen for short-term prosperity rather than long-term security. It does sound familiar. But not clear.

And we, as inheritors of the new life in Christ, are challenged daily to give up the things of this world that hold us back in order to live the resurrected life. We are assured that we will not be alone in following Jesus. As Matthew states, “God’s loving care for every sparrow that falls will be even greater for each of them.” And God’s love will abide with us beyond this world, if only we turned our back on Pharaoh and followed Jesus.

What will give us the resolve to speak with Jeremiahs’ confidence?

What will it take for us to take up our cross and follow Jesus?

Readiness for this kind of discipleship requires a fair amount of fire in the bones.

Where is your passion?

Where is God calling you?

Where is the fire in your bones?

Intimacy

A homily given at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Wilton, Connecticut on Maundy Thursday  April 17, 2014

Exodus 12:1-14a + 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (27-32) + John 13:1-15

Jesus Washing Peter's Feet Sculpture beside the Prayer Tower, Pittsburg, Texas.   Inscription: Divine Servant Jesus Christ Washing Peter's Feet
Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet
Sculpture beside the Prayer Tower, Pittsburg, Texas.
Inscription: Divine Servant, Jesus Christ Washing Peter’s Feet

Tonight is about intimacy. And for the church (and many of us) intimacy is something we don’t like to talk about, let alone experience with strangers – or at least those we don’t know closely (ah – intimately).

Here we have a semi-naked Jesus, clothed like a slave, performing the task of a slave, for other free men. He is on his knees. His hands are on their feet. He is cleaning them, drying them, touching them. Peter can literally feel the breath of God on his shins, perhaps causing goose bumps on his skin.

Peter is uncomfortable because he can grasp the edges of what Jesus is doing, is saying, is revealing. Does he want to accept it? Will he lean into this intimacy? Is this discomfort worth it to dwell in the light of the promise Jesus gives?

Talk of betrayal. Talk of serving. Talk of body and blood. This is starting to get a little too real.

Many churches outside the Episcopal and Catholic tradition will be talking about and experiencing Holy Communion this evening, something that may not be part of their typical worship services. But no matter our religious tradition, tonight we remember. The word “Eucharist” means, “to give thanks” and that is what we do this evening – give thanks in remembrance of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Many congregations will also talk about loving one another, many through the washing of feet. Some wash hands, like us. Some anoint and bless with holy oil.

Why do we do these things? What makes us comfortable and what makes us uncomfortable? How do we capture the intimacy of what Jesus is doing in this night of remembrance? The narrative we’ve just heard moves seamlessly from the Exodus account of the institution of the Passover into the gospel account of the meal celebrated by Jesus himself at his last Passover, on his last night.

Because tonight is a night in which we remember Jesus’ command to us – his mandatum (where we get the word Maundy) – to love one another. And the actions he shows his disciples are acts of physical care and servitude. Jesus asks us to get intimate with one another. And that makes us uncomfortable.

Lutheran pastor Julia Seymour[1] of Anchorage, Alaska writes of her hospital visitations:

I think of cleaning fecal matter out from under the fingernails of an elderly parishioner in the emergency room, while she was unconscious, gently bathing her hands in one of those ubiquitous pink tubs. I trimmed another parishioner’s whiskers with my Swiss Army knife scissors when he complained of feeling unkempt.
These were intimate acts. Things I would have assumed I would have only done for my family (and maybe not all of them) in any other circumstance. Yet when I was right there, it was the thing to do.
I think of the word conspire. Not in the secret, plotting way we might think of the word, but with its roots. Con +spire (spih-RAY). To breathe with. Intimacy means a kind of breath sharing, a closeness that breeds a movement together, a waiting, and dependency.
This is intense. This is what it felt like around that table. There was a conspiracy afoot, but it was not about crucifixion. It was a joint breathing: a God-breathing human being with other God-breathed beings, gathered together, and brought into a new kind of intimate community. This is what it means to be the community of Christ – to be a group who breathes together in worship, in work, in play, in service.

Things are going to get intimate tonight and tomorrow. The devil has entered the soul of Judas. Jesus’ best friends will abandon him. There will be grief and confusion. The one who we have been following these weeks and years will be stripped of his clothing and nailed to a cross, left to die for all to see. And he will look down upon us as he dies. Hopefully we will look up at him. Eye to eye. You can’t get more intimate than that.

Tonight is an invitation to all of us, not just a token few, to answer the call to discipleship. Jesus interrupted his last meal with his friends to model the way of costly leadership. He wants us to imitate him in our dealings with others. Foot washing (or hand washing) makes us vulnerable. And it is as much about receiving as it is giving.

And so we will soon enter into the opportunity to experience this. Yes, there is potential for spillage and embarrassment. Yes, we will need to touch each other. Feel the callouses, the wrinkles, the smoothness, and the arthritis. It can be messy. Don’t rush. Take your time. It is intimate.

Let us pray. Into your hands, almighty God, we place ourselves: our minds to know you, our hearts to love you, our wills to serve you, for we are yours. Into your hands, incarnate Savior, we place ourselves: receive us and draw us after you, that we may follow your steps; abide in us and enliven us by the power of your indwelling. Amen.[2]

[1] RevGalBlogPals: Beautiful are the Feet

[2] Blessing of Hands Service. Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Weather Forecasting

redsky17th Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 15, Year C

Hebrews 11:29-12:2 and Luke 12:49-56

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.

As a child I remember that saying from my mother and grandmother, whether it was an accurate weather prediction or not. Today we can get up-to-the-minute weather forecasts 24-hours a day, with Doppler radar down to the most local detail. But we know that the Weather Channel is not always accurate. Winds shift, fronts stall, and global warming has thrown all the averages out the window. Al Roker is not infallible. While he may tell us if it will partly sunny or partly cloudy in the five-day forecast, he can’t interpret the effect it will have on our plans or what we will do tomorrow.

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. Continue reading Weather Forecasting