Monday, March 20, 2017

Reflections on the Third Sunday in Lent, Year C: Proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ

"Will you proclaim by word and deed the Good News of God in Christ? I will, with God's help." (Book of Common Prayer 1979, p. 305)
This past weekend, we welcomed the Rev. Gerry Skillicorn to St. Peter's to lead us in a workshop on "Holy Conversations." This was an effort to continue a deepening of dialogue and prayer around a concern raised by one of our wardens several weeks ago, as she offered testimony during Sunday services. We live in politically, socially, theologically challenging times when conflict seems to threaten outbreak at a moment's notice. The news, our social media feeds, our personal relationships are all qualified in major ways by the wider, global tensions between being "one" humanity and/or committing to regionalism, isolation and polarization. Breaking that down? It means that it seems that right now the very things God wants us to talk about in regard to living in God's will (politics, money and religious practice) are the very things that right now are dividing communities, households, even the most intimate of relationships.

If we are called to proclaim by word and deed the Good News of God in Christ, how do we do that when divisions drive wedges into the very connections we are called to forge and with the words by which those connections are formed and have their being.

Fr. Skillicorn brought us a moving account of how to approach those opportunities with a refreshed awareness that it is not OUR work to effect the Kingdom of God. Instead, he asked us to join in the Apostles' prayer from the Book of the Acts, Chapter 4: 24-30--

When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant:“Why did the Gentiles rage,   and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand,   and the rulers have gathered together     against the Lord and against his Messiah.” For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’
That, he offered, was the key to our dilemma. Our job as Christ-followers is to proclaim with boldness (a boldness we seek from God) to bear witness to what God is doing in the world around us. Our BIG JOB is to proclaim, and thus to serve as vessels of the Good News itself. We are to bear witness. 

Our charge, though simple, is wide-ranging in impact and trans-formative power. Committing ourselves to being in dialogue, and in the relationships that are the fruit of those moments of dialogue and connection, means becoming open first to God working around us, then to God working in the person opposite us...and ultimately to God working through us. In the fullness of that realization, we begin to see and realize that it is not us alone, but God working fully through us, that healing, justice and light are coming into the world. 

God's full mercy, love and presence are already at work in the world around us. Our discernment is to bear witness to that give it airtime and to work hard to lense EVERYTHING we do to its use.

I spoke to our children as I preached on the Baptismal Covenant promise yesterday. My first question as I finished proclaiming the Gospel to them and began to preach was, "What makes a good person?"

A good person is:
  • kind
  • nice
  • caring
  • patient
  • loving
  • helpful
  • ...etc.
Then, I asked, "What makes a bad person?" A bad person is:
  • mean
  • cruel
  • evil
  • nasty
  • a bully
  • impatient
  • hateful
  • ...etc.
"What do we call people who are neither very good, or very bad at all?" I then asked.


So, if we are asked to proclaim by word and deed the Good News of God in Christ, who is it we are called to proclaim that good news to in the first, and last, place? Who needs that good news?

The people who are good need to hear it, so they can know hope and be reassured. The people who are bad need to hear it because they are broken and need to be invited into healing. The indifferent need to hear it so they can find their way into goodness and away from being not one thing or another.

So, I asked, who are we called on by God to be in relationship with in the name of Christ?

Their eyes, literally, went wide....


Yes. Everyone....

Jesus entered into full communion with a Samaritan woman from Sychar when they met at a well at midday. She heard him give testimony to a living water that, once she experienced it, would mean that she would never thirst again. That living water was the Good News of God. She took it, bore witness to it, and then led her people into relationship with Jesus. There was no moment at all, after the Good News was shared, of recrimination or of holding back. Sychar was one of those "true" moments in the Gospel of John when Jesus' proclamation of the inbreaking Kingdom of God was not only received and celebrated, but was received by people OUTSIDE the fold of Judaism, OUTSIDE the realm of propriety, AGAINST the tides of division and conflict that ruled the region in those days. 

Relationship, understanding and the love of God's work being done made bearing witness (as Jesus did, as the Samaritan woman did and as we are called on to do) the vehicle by which estrangement was overcome and healing and restoration became the experience for ALL.

May God give us boldness to bear witness to the healing of the world being done in our midst TODAY, and may conflict, division and despair fade away as the light of God's love shines around and through us.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Reflections on the Second Sunday in Lent, Year C: Embracing Faith, Expressing Repentance

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect from the Second Sunday in Lent, Book of Common Prayer)
Of all moments in a person's story, I find those moments when one experiences metanoia (the turning of the mind, the center of their person) the most moving and provocative. There is a moment of transformation of perception, of self, that means that the person you were is no longer "there," and the person you are becoming is being born before our very eyes. That moment comes in all shapes and sizes, and I am sure you can find a few of them in your own life. For some people, that moment meant the beginning of their path to sobriety. For others, it meant coming to terms with a harsh diagnosis. For some it is the realization that life is ending, and that what comes next is coming, and right soon. For others, it may come with simply rising to a new day, to a renewal of perspective that makes the air taste a little sweeter, that makes the morning a more welcome companion.

The moment of metanoia can be as gentle as a breeze, or as cataclysmic as the very crack of doom. What it means to the person experiencing it matters more in many ways than its arrival. It means that a person CAN evolve and change. It means that we ARE ABLE to see reality more truly and to love it more fully. It means that we are not as resolute and isolated in ourselves as we assume most of the time. It means that God is still at work in us and around us, using our moment to heal and transform us...and those around us as well. For when one person experiences healing through metanoia, then the whole Body is brought closer to healing in toto. It means, for many if not most who experience true metanoia a sense of being reborn to a new life, a new beginning.

Most folks assume that repentance means being sorry for something, anything, that we choose that is "wrong" and "bad."  We are sure that it requires shame and sorrow, in fitting measure...and that it is the required posture of subjection before restitution, or restoration might be negotiated. Yes? To be repentant means more than just being sorry...because that is just not enough. One has to REALLY feel sorry, to feel shame...and then to labor to have the wronged one come to a place where they MIGHT consider forgiveness. The down side to that calculation of shame? IT is a hole we just can't ever truly dig ourselves out of in the end. The shame always circles back on us. The wrong winds up getting repeated. The inevitable stumble and fall of the person, shamed, means deeper and deeper circles of despair and loss.

If we take on the obverse understanding of that assumption, if we dispell the assumption of "if" we wrong/stumble/wound and instead accept that "when" is the better truth, then another path opens up to us.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? I will, with God's help. (BCP, p. 304)
Repentance is more than just being, or saying, that we are sorry. It is the very conscious practice of that moment of "whenever" in the Baptismal Covenant question noted above. It is a continual and mindful practice of submission to God, rejection of the evil in, alongside and around us that is NOT God, and then a turning of the self back to God.

When the Church and its members commit, and admit, to the Baptismal Covenant call to life lives of repentance, it means that we are willing and open to embrace that we are flawed, broken and stumbling people who allow God to be an agent in and through us to lead us into healing, restoration and centeredness in a grace that is not earned, but conferred in an act of love by a God who creates, redeems and sanctifies us.

When we live our lives with open eyes and hearts, as falling people being raise up in the light of God's forgiveness, we show the world what it's really like to walk in a sacred way, reborn as God's own children of light. When we fall down again and again, and God raises us up again and again we demonstrate God's infinite patience. It means hope, and justice, for the systems we admit are as flawed and broken as we are. It means we know to our core that nothing is truly finished until the last broken and lost person is returned and raised up in the light of God's loving embrace.

Repentance, metanoia, the re-turning of the self to God, to the other in our lives. It is perhaps the single most effective tool God has ever crafted for the benefit of the whole Body of the human race.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Reflections on the First Sunday in Lent, Year C: Facing Tradition and Temptation

Will you keep the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers? I will, with God's help..." (BCP, p. 304)
St. Peter's began a preaching series in Lent, focused on the Baptismal Covenant. Placing that in context with our Lenten readings is a challenge our preachers embrace and by God's grace we will see some interesting and challenging work done from our pulpit and on this blog as the weeks unfold. Taking on the baptismal covenant questions is a central focus for us on two levels: the first is that we are increasingly aware that we are here in the Body of Christ as a people who seek to "walk the talk" of the Good News of the Gospel; and the second is that we (appropriately in Lent) must acknowledge that we have a lot of work to do in reforming ourselves to purpose as the Body of Christ.

A lot of popular culture has sought to inform our faith, and to inform people about our faith, that frankly misses the mark. More on that "missing the mark" stuff next week when we talk about repentance. For now, let's acknowledge a couple of central points that we glean from this past Sunday's readings:

  1. We are not all that, and in fact we are pretty far from where we would like to be in relationship with God; and that goes back a LONG way. In our tradition, sin came into the world through Adam and Eve. The first of us, these were the ones who stepped out of utter accord with God's will. Some call it fallen, others the literal first fruits of creation being given freedom to choose God or not. Our deepest roots affirm that our story is one that begins with a fall and unfolds with a call to repentance, redemption and ultimately salvation in the person of Jesus the Christ.
  2. Being a people who hear the good news of salvation gives us two things to do, immediately: the first is to embrace the change of living that comes with being lifted up and to also invite everybody else into that transformation. Some catches attach, though, and come from what we learn in our tradition--change in another cannot be coerced (see Adam and Eve!) and God is committed to the LONG GAME of restoring ALL things to union and communion with the Creator.
Our daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and lifelong walk with each other and with God is a continual summons to be formed and reformed. We never stop learning and growing in Christ. The greatest cost to becoming confident in that redemptive work means being willing to release the certainty that dangles in front of us like so much low-hanging fruit. It would be so easy to attempt to conform God to our expectations, rather than to seek God's desire for us. Why? Because then we would be able to step away from the challenge to do justice that conforms to God's agenda and not our own. Because then we would be able to define God as abstract, distant, and lacking immediacy, Because Jesus can be cast as an historic, "good" person and not a present figure who presses us to get up, go, proclaim, challenged and transformed.

Keeping the apostles' teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers is not as easy as it looks. It's both essentially and MORE than gathering, learning, eating and praying. It is also an overt and mindful embrace that our lives are not livable/sustainable without being in relationship with God and with each other. Like food and air, without community we are dead things.

With community, though, we are challenged, and stretched. We are confronted with the fact that there is baggage we drag around in life that cannot be packed for our trip into the greater kingdom of God. We have to unpack our prejudices and fears. We have to unpack our apathy. We have to unpack our reactivity and our willingness to embrace division of any kind. We have to unpack our desire to not be touched, stretched, altered and transformed by God's radical love. That's a lot of stuff to let go of as we seek to get our journey underway.

In it's place, and in alignment with the promise we affirm above? Solidarity in community. Embracing the truth that we are all works in progress and are never finished until God calls us home to completeness, we commit to the teaching that we are first servants to God and then proclaimers of the justice, hope and life made available to all in the person of Jesus.

Then, when temptation arises, we are as well-defended as Jesus himself is in the wilderness. We do not live just on bread alone, we repent when we put God to the test and we start to take baby steps toward putting real and true trust in God.

How will we do this?

With God's help.