Saturday, August 31, 2019

Prayer 2405: Prayer as the Story Approaches

Hurricane Dorian is a Cat 5 over the Bahamas right now.

Most Merciful God, 
may our prayers rise on the scent of jasmine 
as we praise and bless your love in our lives. 

The curtain of the night parts 
and you spread a new day before us: 
Lord, hear our prayer. 

In beholding afresh the wonders of creation, 
let us see with new eyes and hearts, O Christ. 
In taking up the work you have given us, 
let us be guided to do your will, O Christ. 
In turning from sin and self-centeredness, 
let us atone for our wrongs, and reconcile, O Christ. 

When tumults rage and threaten to swamp us, 
let us remember that you do not bring them, O God: 
Your hand holds us fast, 
and commands the waves to cease- 
may we never forget You are with us within the storm. 

Merciful One, make your face shine upon us this day, 
and upon those whom we now name.

Amen.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Prayer 2404


Holy Redeemer, 
we lift our voices in praise 
of your sheltering canopy of love 
 that you spread above us 
as deep and broad as the night sky. 

You have carried us through the darkness 
to deliver us upon the shore of hope and faith. 
Set us firmly upon your path of holiness and justice; 
make your way broad and clear before our eyes 
 that we may not stray from You. 
Renew our souls, that we be truly one 
in your Spirit of wisdom and truth. 

Bend near, O Holy One; 
for while there is breath 
we will sing out our thanksgivings 
for your mercy and loving-kindness. 
Hold us within the palm of your hand, O Love Eternal; 
especially those we now name.

Amen.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Prayer 2403


In peace we awaken to draw near to our God: 
deliver us, O Lord, 
and place us within the lee of your embrace. 
Set us safely upon the higher ground 
and drive back the rising waters of fear and anxiety. 
Place your protection over all who are in danger:
O God of All Comfort, be our refuge and our stronghold. 
For we know You are with us always, 
in joy as well as trouble, 
and we turn to You in assurance, O Holy One. 
Grant us the gift of the Holy Spirit 
to lift us up and heal our hurts, 
and the mind of Christ to do right. 

With one heart, 
we place before You all our concerns, O Lord, 
and ask your mercy to rest upon them.

Amen.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Prayer 2402: On retreat


We rise from our rest to sing your praise, 
joining the world You have made holy 
through your hands, O God. 

The coyotes are back in their dens, 
after antagonizing the farm dogs all night; 
the barred owls have paused their conversation 
under the lacy veil of heaven at sun rise; 
katydid, tree frog, and cricket have raised their song 
and filled the night with the throb of their praise: 
now it is time for us to lift our hearts
and join in the love song of the Earth for our Maker. 

Almighty One, this moment is your gift to us, too: 
let us use it to center ourselves in your grace. 
Let us in our prayer give thanks 
for all your blessings to us,
especially this fragile earth: 
may we seek to mend and heal 
the frayed chords that bind us to all creation, 
and see with new eyes the beauty and completeness 
in a drop of rain or sparkle of dew. 

The earth beneath our feet 
is your gift to all that lives, 
to animal, tree, and stream: all creation is holy. 
May we care for each other with tenderness and unity,
walking in the healing path that Jesus invites us to follow. 
Tune our hearts to always hear 
the echo of our Savior's laughter and empathy 
through the air that still carries the imprint of his breath and blessing. 

Spirit of the Living God, 
spread your wings over us 
that we may be strengthened to joyfully greet this day, a
nd grant your peace to all for whom we pray.

Amen.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Seen, Loved, Freed: Sermon for Proper 16 C, the 11th Sunday after Pentecost



The question of keeping a Sabbath can seem quaint and old-fashioned and even ludicrous to many of us. Our culture prizes busy-ness so much that even our days away from work aren’t often really away from work, thanks to cell phones and email. And even on weekends, our lives are jam-packed with activities—taking the kids to lessons and practice for sports teams, doing laundry and fixing up our homes. Even our leisure activities are all too often a whirl of activity. Sometimes our culture can even make volunteering not so much voluntary but part of our competition with each other. 


But when I was a kid, there were still these things called “Blue laws.” Does anyone remember them? These were state and local laws that actually shut down businesses on Sundays. By the time I was a kid, it was only until noon on Sunday, because after church we Okies had to buy our beer and our snacks so we could watch football after church, but still. And just like in our gospel today, these laws had unintended consequences. 

And that’s the problem illustrated by the reaction of the synagogue leader in our story who protests Jesus’s healing of this poor woman on the Sabbath. He privileges his interpretation of the law over the intent of the law regarding the Sabbath. He privileges a moral system over the moral imperative to compassion. 

That, and the fact that, for the third time in five weeks, we see someone triangulating again. Because I hope you pay attention that the synagogue leader doesn’t approach Jesus to question or complain. Oh no-- instead he complains to the crowd, not Jesus, about what Jesus has done that he thinks is a violation. 


Once again: trying to score cheap points off of someone publicly when you disagree with them rather than talking to them directly is absolutely dirty pool, people. When people engage in triangulating behavior like this, it almost always is about their own threatened sense of power or personal issues, rather than really trying to work with someone else. The synagogue leader sees that the crowd is enthralled by Jesus’s power to heal—and it threatens his position as an authority. So he sets out to prove his competence—and Jesus’s lack of authority. 

The synagogue leader does not see what a miracle this healing is for this woman--all the leader can see is that, in his mind, the timing isn’t right. And Jesus is having none of that. As we see over and over again in the gospels, when you privilege human-made interpretation of rules over real human suffering, you always come down on the wrong side of God’s kingdom. And that’s exactly what Jesus then points out, to the crowd the synagogue leader has attempted to manipulate. 


Jesus makes it clear that the purpose of the Sabbath is not to place another set of burdens on people. No—just the opposite: the purpose of the Sabbath is freedom. Freedom from work. Freedom to worship and center ourselves in God. Freedom to be with those we love. Freedom from anxiety. Note that when he heals the woman, he frames it within the context of freedom, the kind of freedom that doesn’t oppress others, but the kind that immediately enables her to give praise to God and stand upright and joyful before the altar of God. Jesus speaks of freedom because it is praise that is the highest expression of our freedom to worship, then and now. 

In the New Testament, religious authorities are constantly confronting Jesus regarding his violations, in their opinion, of cleanliness and Sabbath regulations. In these stories, the religious leaders are always watching to see what Jesus will do—and also to be able to testify as to his apostasy for violating the Sabbath. Jesus confronts the leaders and questions whether it can even be unlawful ever to heal on the Sabbath. They never seem to actually SEE what Jesus is doing, however, perhaps because they are blind, from a compassionate point of view. 

Here’s the thing: this goes back to the lawyer’s question of Jesus as to what the greatest commandment is. Do you remember Jesus’s answer? I hope so, because at the 8:00 service we have the ultimate cheat sheet, since we say it every Sunday. 

Because the controversy we have before us is based on pitting both halves of the Great Commandment against each other: the synagogue leader promotes rigorously observing the Sabbath as the fulfillment of “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, and mind.” Jesus performs miracles of mercy and healing, which certainly is the fulfillment of loving your neighbor as yourself. 

However, Jesus refuses to concede that this should ever be an either/or proposition. It is obvious that Jesus believes that these two acts are complementary, that healing the suffering IS showing faith in and love for God, ESPECIALLY on the Sabbath. 


Indeed, as Jesus himself notes, does not healing actually hallow the holy day? Is not this daughter of Abraham worthy of as much consideration as even one’s livestock? His blunt comparison probably provided a much-needed shock to his critics—and to us today, as well. Think of the people who get outraged at animal cruelty and yet don’t blink at the prospect of children in cages without adequate hygiene, rest, or health care. Is it because they refuse to see them as if they are our own children? I don’t know. 

Our gospel story is a story of incredible generosity. The woman who is bent over is not depicted as approaching Jesus—instead, Jesus sees her and approaches her. 

And let’s just stop right there and really hear that. What an amazing thing—Jesus really sees her, not as disabled, but as a beloved child of God. He sees her, even bent over, which makes her even smaller than the tiny space women were usually begrudged in the public arena then and often still now. That limited female space was even more constricted in a place like a synagogue, where 10 MALES were required to be able to meet, even if there were 400 women present. Yet Jesus sees her as a “daughter of Abraham”—subtly using the feminine form of a common label for Jewish men. He sees her as a beloved child of God deserving of as much consideration as anyone. He sees her—even as those around her have ignored her and her plight, shrugging it off with “Nothing can be done.” 

The attitude of the synagogue leader is clear: She’s already been this way for 18 years, so what’s one more day in order to preserve the Sabbath as HE sees fit to interpret that. 

Jesus turns that on its head: the time already spent bent double is too much; what is the point of waiting one more day when the means for not just healing but freedom stands right in front of her? To make her wait would be an act of injustice—and certainly of needless suffering. 

Jesus offers her freedom from her affliction NOW. And that promise and that healing extends to us, today, right now, as well. Because I am convinced that too many of us have our backs bent double, too, just like that woman in the synagogue. And we can’t tell just by looking who that applies to, but it’s safe to assume that EVERYONE carries some burden we don’t know. Our backs can be bent double by neglect, through the wounds and scars many of us bear from our childhoods, from traumatic experiences we may have encountered throughout our lives, accidental or not. 

We, too, long to hear Jesus pronounce our freedom and help us stand upright. And the loving gaze of Jesus sees each and every one of us just like he truly saw that woman. The good news is that Jesus offers us—all of us!-- that freedom, offering it to us in the name of a love that sees us exactly as we are, that loves us no matter what, but then doesn’t just leave us there. That amazing love that Jesus offers each of us is like that balm in Gilead, that makes the wounded whole. 

But while we’re accepting that love and that freedom that pours over us like a balm, we are also called to ourselves embody the generosity and empathy that Jesus does. That’s the privilege and essence of discipleship. Our healing NEVER stops with us. Our healing empowers us to be agents of healing in the name of Jesus for the sake of the entire world—no exceptions. 

Because, beloveds, there is no doubt that one of the greatest plagues of our modern time is refusing to really see each other- to see each other, to honor the divine spark in each other without questioning who is worthy and who is not. Just like that lawyer a few weeks ago, we want to know what the limits of the people we have to acknowledge as our neighbors are. But what this world needs is radical acceptance and radical empathy. We are called to lend our strong backs to those bent over from bearing pain or hatred. 


Too many of us—and it seems to be growing!-- are far too comfortable with failing to honor each and every person as fellow human beings. Too many of us are far too inured to each other’s pain and suffering—as the continuing crisis on our southern border, and all over the world, demonstrates. We inoculate ourselves against caring in a variety of ways: by telling ourselves that those who are suffering deserve it; or that we’re sorry, but they have to wait for freedom in the midst of their suffering in the name of rules far more capricious than the Sabbath-day work injunction. 

Some even take pleasure in the suffering of others, especially those different from them, and see that suffering as justice, and I am not just talking about the criminal justice system. 
We have criminalized poverty in this country especially in the 170 years since the Industrial Revolution, and we are told over and over that poverty and hunger are the results of character flaws or stupidity rather than a travesty of systemic oppression and institutional structures that siphon wealth away from the poor and middle class, redistributing wealth upward into an ever-tinier circle of people who cannot possibly spend all that they have in a hundred lifetimes. 

Our society has grown too comfortable with the phrase “the working poor” even while pretending that poor people don’t work—because too many refuse to truly see the poor and all the groups who have been “othered” like that woman as full human beings. 

Refusing to see and acknowledge the essential humanity of others was also the basis for the system of racially-based chattel slavery imposed on African captives and their descendants for over two hundred years, and that was first imposed on indigenous peoples throughout the Americas and the Caribbean almost from the landing of Christopher Columbus in 1492. 
Slavery can only exist when we refuse to acknowledge those who are enslaved as human beings. It is indeed important that we contemplate the echoes of that blindness this week, as we remember the 400th anniversary of the selling of the first 20 African captives to English colonists in Virginia—what some African American historians call the beginning of African American history. 

 This history is still permeated with the refusal by too many people in our country to truly see people of color as being just as deserving of freedom and liberty to move around in public spaces like our neighborhoods and schools and shops—a casual freedom just to “be” in a public space that too many of us take for granted for ourselves.
Permit Patty called the police on a family BBQ in a park
When the first assumption made when seeing a person of color or a young person is not that they are a citizen entitled to sit in a coffee shop or park like anyone else but are presumed to be a potential criminal or interloper who is out of their “proper place,” none of us are truly free. 


Perhaps we could see a connection here between this woman, bent double and minimized by those around her, and those who bear burdens that make them invisible or objects of scorn and rejection in society today. Because here’s a truth: there are many ways for one’s back to be bent double. There are entire groups of people who call out to us to be seen and freed of their added burdens. And one of the most prevalent ways we add to this problem today is by blinding ourselves to the systematic burdens of injustice, oppression, contempt, poverty, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia that we see rising up again in our world. 

Jesus insists that healing on the Sabbath honors the original intent of God that the Sabbath be a day dedicated to God and godly things. The argument here is over just what practices make a day holy—and Jesus’s answer is, “Miracles and healing!” 

Too often we set the law and compassion at odds against each other—and that kind of thinking always leads to undermining the very purpose and spirit of the law in the first place. Laws began when people began to live in community, in relationship with each other. Laws should not be invented just to trip people up. They should exist to maximize the happiness and security of everyone. Laws that provide freedom at the expense of someone else being placed in danger are neither just nor do they make society stronger. Laws only exist in community because the purpose of law should be the flourishing and security of everyone. 

Embedded within this story is a call to action to us—to examine our own minimization of others. To examine our failure to truly see each other—especially those who are far outside our familiar circles. And even more, to examine our silence in the face of others being minimized and bent double by the weight of that erasure. To examine our excuse for inaction in claiming that we are powerless to challenge and fight against the denigration of others based on who they are or where they come from. 

Jesus insists that one of the highest forms of honoring God is by honoring the image of God that resides in EVERYONE, no matter what. And once we are willing to truly see that, we realize that the most sacred use of our freedom is to work for the freedom of others. From being bound double by fear and suspicion, freedom lies in letting love heal us and bind us to each other.

The love of Jesus sets us free from all that keeps us bent over in pain—may we lend our strong backs to those bent over from pain or hatred. We have been seen, loved, and freed by the grace of Jesus our Savior. Let us now go forth and do likewise. 

 Amen.

Readings
Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Preached at the 505 on August 24 and at the 8:00 and 10:15 services on August 15, 2019, at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, MO.


Friday, August 23, 2019

Prayer, day 2397


We rise to pray to You
and give You thanks and worship,
Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer:
hear our prayers and praises. 

For the beauty of the Earth,
we give thanks, O Creator;
for the wisdom to cherish and tend it, we pray. 

For the light of Christ,
our Model, Redeemer, and Healer,
we give thanks, O God;
for the will to follow in his path of peace, we pray. 

For the grace and mercy
by which we are reconciled,
we give thanks, O Merciful One;
for the forgiveness of our sins, we pray. 

For saints among us
embodying hope and healing,
we give thanks, O Holy Spirit;
for the strength to do likewise, we pray. 

Lord Jesus, gather us within your embrace,
and place your blessing upon those we now name.

Amen.
(1303)

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Prayer 2396


Holy One, we praise You
and bless your Holy Name:
receive our prayers.

We live within a cloud of blessing,
and are sustained by your tender care and mercy:
guide us into sharing that love today
with the oppressed and the outcast among us,
standing alongside them in faith
against the forces of cruelty and contempt.

Inspire us to be like Jesus
that we may be agents on reconciliation,
helping hands of healing and comfort,
and bearers of God's love into the darkness.

By the power of the Holy Spirit
bless and sanctify us to your service, O God,
and pour out your comfort on those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Prayer, day 2395


We praise You and bless You, O God,
Ruler of our hearts,
who has brought us safely to this new day. 

May our prayers ascend like incense

and our hopes rise to heaven
as birds on the wing.
Make us more prone to wonder than to wander,
for your way, O God, is the Way of Truth.
May we remember your mercy and loving-kindness
even in troubled times. 

You have been with us through the night,

and brought joy in the morning.
You pour out the balm of your love upon the troubled water:
You bid the winds of destruction to cease.
You call us to new light and life in our Savior,
and give us comfort and peace. 

Almighty One,

Father of All Mercies, Mother of All Compassion:
hear our prayers as we lift them to You.

Amen.

576

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Prayer, day 2394


Holy One, we bless and thank You
for guarding us through the night:
let us draw near, and be guided by your Love.

Forgive us our sins:
help us restore fellowship with those we have hurt.
You have borne us in your arms
through trials and joys:
send us forth as living testaments to your wisdom and truth.

Open our eyes to see your glory in all the world,
that we may care for the earth
You have placed us within.

Comfort those in pain or mourning,
and guide the hands of all
who tend to the sick and the dying.

Lord Christ, lead us in your paths of peace,
and press your blessing upon those we now name.

Amen.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Prayer 2393


In stillness,
let us open our hearts to the Infinite One,
whose love is the foundation of all that is
from particle and wave
to humpbacks and aspen groves
to galaxies whose dance through space
sings out glory and wonder.

May we center ourselves
in the hope of shalom for all:
peace, contentment, plenty, well-being, wholeness,
and may we work to make that a reality
in word and in deed. 

May we remember
that you have called us to be a priestly people,
embodying the way of Jesus in the world,
loving, reconciling, mending,
living in loving integrity and hope.

Merciful God, in your tender compassion
bend near and hear 
the whispered sighs and thankful songs
of your beloveds
as we lay bare the depths of our souls before you.

Amen.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Prayer 2392: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost


In deep gratitude,
let our hearts approach the Lord,
humble and in peace,
to breathe our prayers to the Almighty.

Let the wondrous blessings of God
be always upon our lips,
and let us give full voice to our praise!

Holy One, You are our strength and shield: 
let all this within us sing forth your praise. 
May we embody the gospel of Christ in all our ways, 
and be joined together as the Body of Christ with joy. 

Blessed Savior, heal us of all that separates us 
from the love of God and love of neighbor,
we humbly pray. 

Shepherd and carry us within your Incarnate Love, Lord Christ,
and place your hand upon those we now name.

Amen.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Prayer 2391


Come, let us rise up
and offer thanks and praise to God,
who is making the heavens and the earth! 

 Loving Savior, take our all we offer to You, 
for in your mercy you have redeemed us 
to live in love and in peace. 
 Your love, O God, is sweeter than honey: 
inscribe our hearts with your compassion, 
that we may always walk in your light. 

May we turn our hands 
to work that glorifies your Name, O Lord, 
and turn our hearts to living in love and faithfulness. 

Inspire us to witness in thought, word, and deed 
to a seeking world, 
testifying to your goodness and love. 

Look with favor on all your people, 
O Holy One,
and bless and keep within your embrace 
all those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Faith in the Weeds: Sermon for Proper 14C, Ninth Sunday After Pentecost


When we moved into our house, the previous owners had gone out and bought some very expensive trees to pretty up the backyard before putting it up for sale, and it showed. Almost all of the trees were about six to eight feet tall, which is a sure tip-off that they are fresh from the nursery. 

 There was a redbud in the backyard, and I come from redbud country, so we knew that tree was probably about 25 years old, because it was big enough to put as swing in for Lauren after she was born. But then there were the others. There was a dramatic white dogwood. There were two white pines. And they were all the same size. When we bought the house in February, they looked okay. But once winter snapped one last time, apparently, they started to get peaky. And by the time we moved in at the end of March, both the dogwood and one of the pines were as dry and crusty as the rim of a margarita glass.

When we pulled up the dogwood right after we bought the house, its roots were still in the burlap sack from the nursery, and when we dug up the pine, we saw that it had been planted right over a midden of construction garbage that included old tiles, broken bricks, and about 400 cigarette butts. Now, supposedly the pines had a warranty on them, so we replaced one. But when the other one died, too, we just ignored it, because by that time we had had our first baby, and what with everything we were too busy to deal with tree problems.



It apparently bothered my mother, how naked the backyard looked. So one time when she drove up, she brought a whole bunch of Rose of Sharon seedlings, mere sticks, really, and we plopped them in various trouble spot along our east fence. These most certainly were NOT fancy nursery- bred plants, but tough, twisty, squat little Okie trees, with colors of blooms my mother takes great pride in—pure white with deep red centers, pink, and purple—she had yarn tied on each little stick for the color of blooms it had so that we would get the whole assortment. Later my dad sent up a tiny redbud stick he got as a giveaway, of similarly humble origin.


Not like these relatives.
These were not trees that needed pampering. These were trees that said soothingly, just like old relatives who arrive unannounced, “Y’all just go about your business, we’re fine here, don’t mind us. Just turn on the Beverly Hillbillies on TV Land and give us an ashtray and a Coors Light and we’ll be fine.”

And then all those humble Okie trees proceeded to seed themselves all over creation.

So as they’ve grown and spread canopies wide like an umbrella, I constantly have to pull up all their sprouting little children all over the garden. and the backyard, and the front yard. But they remind me of home, and momma, and my dad, gone these 13 years, and so it doesn’t bother me too much. 

But Bill is not so charmed. He refers to them as weeds. And I get that. He does not treasure them as I do because his practical side sees their weird shape and rotting blossoms sliming up the yard if it rains real hard and he just thinks they’re homely. And if you perceive them from not having grown up around them, I guess they can be kind of unimpressive.

Yet I am convinced it is always the “weeds” of this world who provide the most refuge without asking anything in return.

Those trees are a vortex of activity. In five minutes of sitting on the back deck yesterday morning, working on this sermon and thinking, I watched six hummingbirds zoom around the blossoms as they jockeyed for a chance at the waning late-summer blooms. I watched cardinals and Carolina wrens fight over the ripening grape clusters from the vine that is supported by not one but two trees along our fence— trees that also give us privacy in our yard. I watched butterflies— humble little skippers, but also hairstreaks, fritillaries, swallowtails, and oh my God, even a monarch, once so ubiquitous but now almost as surprising to see as a Bengal tiger. Even on my deck I could hear the thrum of probably thirty bumble bees hovering like tugboats from blossom to bloom, staying aloft only God knows how. 

We owe our lives to the “weeds” of this world, to their humble welcome and hospitality. The least we can do is call them beautiful. 

I was thinking about the way those trees stubbornly grow and do so much even when everything seems to work against their flourishing, and then I thought about what was going on when the letter to the Hebrews was written. The audience for this letter, too, were worried about the survival of their faith community. The first generation of Christians are passing away at the time the letter to the Hebrews is written, and the second generation seems to be faltering, given that the Messiah has NOT returned as they believed. Early Christians expected Jesus to return within their lifetimes, and yet that expectation was being confounded.

Persecution was tempting them to give up the faith, or turning on the Gentile converts who would not follow Judaic Law. The Church was in danger of foundering and shrinking back into a local mystery cult instead of continuing to spread and flourish. Those early Christians feared that their community would soon wither and perish just like those first trees in our yard.

The author of Hebrews has a word of hope to prescribe for them. That word is “Faith.” And it’s a word, then and now, that is often misunderstood and denigrated, sneered at in our secular, post-religious era as what people fall back on when they don’t have knowledge or reason.

The first verse stands alone as a wonderful summary of the significance of faith as the lynchpin of our search for God. Faith is the junction of the finite, material world which can be derived through the senses with the eternal world.

Faith links us to the eternal and enables us to trust in God’s promises. It is what enables us to know God in response to God’s knowledge of us. Faith depends upon trust. Further, faith is what animates and motivates us to respond to God. Abram demonstrated faith enough to leave the only home he had known in Ur without even knowing what the land he was being given looked like—merely on God’s say-so.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for,” the author of Hebrews states. Yet the flavor of that statement in the original Greek is even stronger: faith is the “very being” of God’s promises to us--- those things that we hope for but barely allow ourselves to believe. Yet faith is not just a state of mind. It calls us as Christians to action as disciples, as we live into our heritage as children of God.

In the words of one commentator, Thomas Long, on this passage, faith 
“is more than the inner confidence that the powers of the world that pressed down and destroy human life will eventually yield and that God’s promises will be fulfilled some day; it is the reality of those promises moving as an advanced force and operating behind enemy lines. Christians, then, have faith as an inward assurance, but they also in body faith is an outward manifestation in the old world of the revolutionary presence of the world to come. Faith as an inward reality sings “We Shall Overcome.” Faith as an outward reality marches at Selma. Faith as an inward reality trusts God’s promise that “mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Rev. 21:4). Faith as an outward reality prays boldly for those who mourn, serves tenderly those who are weak, works tirelessly to ease the pain of those who are wounded. Inwardly, faith moves hearts; outwardly, faith moves mountains.”(1)

And let’s face it, it’s a hard time for faith as we face the tragedies of the world right now. The events of last weekend’s mass shootings have undoubtedly left many of us reeling. Thirty-one people dead, three children orphaned, dozens of others are wounded and traumatized. Once again, we will hear empty promises of “thoughts and prayers” from too many of our leaders, followed by shrugging inaction. 

Two hundred and fifty-one mass shootings in 220 days of 2019. We need faith that this can change. We need action. Faith is that which gives us the courage and the strength the persevere and to dare. Faith is the thing that gives us wings to carry us over the times of distress in our lives. Most of us don’t have the heaping mounds of faith that Abram has in this passage. But the good news is: just a little is often enough. Just a little can get us through the anxiety and uncertainties of these times. 


Now, that doesn’t let us off the hook. Abraham had faith, but then he had to act on the basis of that faith. He had to dare. He had to trust in this unlikely promise that God offered to him, and he had to be willing to countenance great losses in the name of that faith. He had to take that first step and then keep going, one step at a time, for 600 miles.

 This is a time to remember where our priorities are: with stripping away all the distractions and self-centeredness that separates us from God and each other—in other words, sin and idolatry of self, the two great challenges of our lives together in this modern, angry, fear-fueled age. It’s also a time to relax into the promise—yes, in faith!– that God gives all of us as our tender, loving mother, seeking to draw us back to our true natures as beings made for love, made to be a blessing for others just like Abram was promised.

In other words, as we face the woundedness of this world, we are called to act, based upon God’s call to us, like Abraham, to be people of faith in deed as well as word– to live more deeply into the life we are all drawn toward in our very natures: a life rooted in the Most Merciful One, who created us for love and community. That means we are called to renounce all that separates us from God and each other, and probably high up on that list is silence in the face of hatred and violence that has our country by the throat.

All it takes is having the strength to take the first step. In courage. In love. In faith.

Amen.

Preached at the 505 on August 10, and at the 8:00 and 10:15 am Eucharists at St. <artin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, MO.

Readings:
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Citations:
(1) Thomas G. Long, Hebrews: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, location 2303/3051, kindle edition.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Weeds


The Hubster dislikes
our Rose of Sharon trees—
he likens them to weeds.

Yet I am convinced
that it is always the “weeds”
who provide the most refuge
without asking anything in return.

In five minutes,
I watched six hummingbirds
zoom around the blossoms
as they jockeyed for a chance
at the waning late-summer blooms.

I watched cardinals
and Carolina wrens fight
over the ripening grape clusters
from the vine
that is supported by not one but two trees
along our fence—
trees that also give us privacy in our yard.

I watched butterflies—
humble little skippers,
but also hairstreaks, fritillaries,
swallowtails,
and oh my God, even a monarch,
once so ubiquitous
but now almost as surprising to see
as a Bengal tiger. 

Even on my deck I could hear
the thrum of probably thirty bumble bees
hovering like tugboats from blossom to bloom,
staying aloft
only God knows how.

We owe our lives
to the “weeds” of this world,
to their humble welcome
and hospitality.

The least we can do is call them beautiful.




Photo taken this morning of a bumblebee on a Rose of Sharon and then using the Angel filter on Prisma.