Monday, April 10, 2017

Reflection on Palm Sunday: Folding Palm Crosses and Laryngitis


This past Sunday marks the onset of Holy Week in my traditions. This means that we take on, in real time, the remembrance and commemoration of Jesus' last days leading up to his death on a Cross and his resurrection. Each day of Holy Week embodies another chapter in this sad story, but it also affirms and confirms the why of our being the Body of Christ. When Jesus tells us, after breaking bread for the blessing on the night before he dies, to remember him when we do the same, we sign up not just for a portion of the experience. We are on for the whole ride. That means being not only willing to be a witness to His Passion, death and resurrection. We are also become participants, members.

I "get" this understanding, and preach it every year. Don't just show up for Holy Week, let it work its way into your being. Let it become your life. Strike the uneasy balance between the chronological demands of life and the invitation to be alongside Christ as he walks the way of sorrows, the Way of the Cross. I get it, but that doesn't mean I am able to pick and choose the moment when time breaks open for me and I am forced to let go of my own expectations of my time, over and against God's intention for me to join Christ on God's time!

That happened early this year, due to two factors. One was out of my control, the other was firmly in my power to have forged a more efficient outcome. Both apparent failures gave me the boost I needed to get out of myself and into Holy Week.

The first was that on Friday, I got sick. A simple Spring cold, but enough of a virus to deplete me of energy and to deprive me of most of my voice. Imagine that: a priest who cannot preach for long, and who cannot chant or sing much at all at the onset of a week in which there is a service demanding the same every day of the week! Sometimes, two or three times in a day!

The second was that our annual preparation for Palm Sunday entailed folding palm crosses for folks. That activity means that every person receives blessed palms for the procession liturgy; and at the end of the service they are given a palm frond folded into a cross to take home as a memento of Christ's Passion. It's a lovely tradition, and one that has been fostered by a parishioner who remembers HOW to fold them every year...until this year. This year, she is living in Pennsylvania. She is not here to teach us.

I knew that, and decided to "lend a hand" by setting up a video of a palm folding. That way, people could see, learn and do! Great idea! Until that is, the video wouldn't play because the computer I wanted to use wouldn't connect to the network in the Parish Hall. Thank God for my wife who remembered she had one of Robin's crosses in our car. She went out and took it apart and we were able to reassemble the knowledge we needed...again.

But not until after I had wasted a half hour of people's time.

Humbling.

Here is how to make that simple cross...by the way:




So, yesterday...my reflection on Palm Sunday and the Passion of our Lord centered on those two experiences that will continue to color my Holy Week (and impact my folks). I am utterly reliant on the good grace of God for what little voice I can recover for the week...and once again awed and humbled by the truth that I cannot do this by myself. Holy Week is not something that happens because I and our worship leaders are able and adept at delivering excellent liturgies. It happens because we are all willing to draw near, participate and be together while remembering what it really means to be the Body of Christ...when the body of Christ faces its greatest trials.

A blessed Holy Week to all. See you in the resurrection!

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Reflections on the Fifth Sunday in Lent: A Box of Peeps, Peace and Justice


Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will, with God's help. (BCP, p. 305)
This past Sunday, we concluded our Lenten sermon series on the Baptismal Covenant while taking on what I see now as one of the most challenging promises we make to each other and to God. We commit to taking all the work we have done so far as people of faith and put it to work. No longer is our faith practice to be one of self-care and development. No longer are we able to continue under the illusion that our immediate environs and those we know (enough) to avoid anxiety-producing contact are enough of a mission field. It flips and raises the term "NIMBY" (not in my back yard) in some alarming ways.

Our faith, we find in affirming this promise, is not just a local phenomenon. It is a global action plan. I am called on, not just to clean my own life up and get right with God, we are also called on to act in the world to promote justice and peace. We are called to confront injustice and the noisome conflicts that disrupt the abiding justice and peace of the kingdom of God. Along the way, we are also promising to respect the dignity of EVERY human being.

I got that lesson offered to me on Sunday morning through the provision of a box of Peeps. Our youngest class of Sunday Schoolers had the "Paper Bag Sermon" choice for the 10 AM sermon, and chose to give me a dozen of those fluffy, sugar-coated candies. They were classic Peeps, in the shape of the little chicks, like those above. I had the challenge to link them topically into the sermon, preaching on the above Baptismal Covenant question and in context with the Gospel story of Lazarus being raised from the dead.

How would you approach that conundrum, or rather that packet of conundrums, wrapped in cellophane and squishy sweet?

Well, through a simple question: How do you like to eat your Peeps? If you think there is only one way, then check this site out! So, as I asked the kids (and the congregation) the question, two things became clear: 1) if people liked Peeps, they had a favorite way of eating them, and 2) not everyone likes Peeps! 

Some folks like just one Peep, others think of a box of them as a single serving. Some like them all the time, and miss them out of season. Others are glad when they disappear from the store (because they have gorged on them, or because they despise them). Some like them stale, and others cannot tolerate even a little dryness. Some only like the bunnies. Some only like the chicks. Some prefer the traditional flavors, others the exotics. Some can't imagine them any way than out of the box, and others can't wait to experiment.

Some have never heard of Peeps. Some haven't given them any thought at all.

It became clear to the congregation that there were MANY opinions about the RIGHT way to eat Peeps, just in the confines of our community. Realizing this as a group, I asked, then what does that mean about respecting the dignity of EVERY human being?

One little boy raised his hand, "It means that we have to respect everybody, even when we don't like them or if they are mean to us."

Yes.

And what does it mean to respect someone's dignity?

"It means," said another little girl, "that no matter what the issue we have to look for peace, and not for a fight."

Yes.

Now, why does a story about a man who died, whom Jesus brought back from the dead, relate to Peeps and our Baptismal Covenant question for today?

A pause...

"Because every thing Jesus does in this story is about fixing hurts between people."

...Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." (John 12: 43b-44)

When we respect the dignity of every human being, what other course is there bu to strive for justice and peace? If we are to live with integrity the other promises of the Baptismal Covenant, then we are perforce taken to this point...we can hold nothing back as we seek to love and serve our God, in Christ...in community.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Reflections on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A: Laetare, while seeking and serving Christ in all...


Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? I will, with God's help. (BCP, p. 305)
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges we face in this life, among so many, is that we are effectively sealed up inside ourselves. We live, feel, think, experience, perceive and know from a particular point of view. That view is unique to each one of us. We might be able to share things, but in order to do so we must either communicate them-or transmit-them somehow. So, for us to be able to function, and let the world know what is going on inside us, we have to be willing and able to transmit. As well, we have to rely on others' ability and will to transmit to us. All of that is necessary for us to be in relationship with each other...and indeed reality itself. Daunting? Yes. But wait, there is more! Turns out, according to neurologists, that we, in our brains are also living on a sort of "tape delay" of several small fractions of a second. in other words, our reactions to what is going on around us is not only filtered, but delayed. It takes time for stimuli to reach our brains, to process them and then to form responses.

In light of all that, you might now be realizing that perception-our senses-are things we have to rely on in order to function in the world and with the people and things in the world. It is no mistake that the largest organ in our body, our skin, is alive with nerve receptors that continually transmit the experience of being in the world to our brains. We have two eyes and ear with which to hear and to see. We have scent receptors and taste buds that let us know that something is good or bad to breathe or eat. We are processing information at this very moment at a remarkable pace. Small wonder as well that when one sense is dulled or even lost (or never develops) that others should become enhanced as the body seeks to preserve itself in life and health.

So, two things are assured here.. We need to be in relationship to the world around us and all the people living in it. Otherwise is simply not an option. And, we need to be able to process the sensuous experiences that those relationship offer. If we cannot, then we are cut off from each other, as fast as the East is from the West...or Up from Down.

So, small wonder that at the top of the agenda of the Christ is to build up the things in us that bridge the gulf of perception that is, perforce, fixed between us. When Jesus heals the body of a person, particularly when someone who is blind is given sight (as in Sunday's Gospel) then a relationship is restored. At least, the potential for the restoration of relationship is posited and offered up. Now, the one who is blind-and in this case is one who has NEVER seen-can now see. He can participate, fully, in the life of community with his fellow human beings. He can see for the first time the faces of his parents, of those whom he has known by touch or voice.

If only that were enough, the restoration of sight to the blind. But Jesus himself opens up a new avenue of work for us to do as he offers the man, blind from birth and now sighted, to us as neighbor in this world.

Are we ready to receive him, as he now is? Are we willing to embrace what God is doing through him in his life; and to admit God into our lives as our perceptions change with his healing?

You see (both literally and figuratively now), that when we admit that God is actually at work in the world about us, in us and around us, we are challenged to step past concrete certainty that what we see, is; that what we know, must be; that how we judge others, is how and who they are. God is challenging that certainty in us, that judgment and is calling it out. If we are willing to embrace how God might be at work in the world about us, then not only are we renewed in our ability to see and perceive God at work in the world about us; we are also given the opportunity to see Christ present in the others around us.

Imagine a personal practice of seeing Christ in others! Knowing Christ is at work in them and in their lives, can we do any less than to wonder how we might be active partners in their expression/perception of Christ, active? Where the community fell down around the man who received his sight was being certain that NO work, good or otherwise, should be done on the Sabbath. Yet Jesus, in healing the man born blind, performs a mitzvah that is arguably a righteous (and thus justified) act.

Blindness is not just an organic state, when that refusal or inability to see infects our ability to perceive God in Christ at work in the world and people around us. Embracing this practice of seeking and serving Christ in all persons really does lead to loving our neighbors as ourselves....for if we have sight as God gives it...how are we able to ever turn away from seeing everything and everyone connected and formed by and ultimately to God's redemptive love for creation?