Dear NRA …

Dear NRA:

I know that these last days have been difficult for you as an association, and as one of the most powerful lobbies in this country. I know you do not support the actions of Adam Lanza, and that all of you who work for the NRA, and all of your members, are in mourning for the loss of 20 children, six teachers, Adam Lanza’s mother, and even Adam himself.

But you have not said a thing since Friday last. Not one word. No condemnation. No grieving. No shock. No horror. (Updated: The NRA released a short statement mere minutes ago … read it below. The NRA is promising to offer “meaningful contributions  to help make sure this never happens again.” Details will be released on Friday. Until then, my suggestions stand.)

I get it – anything you say could be misconstrued. Defending the right to own weapons would make you look like cads at best.

And you are under attack right now. Even some of your strongest supporters are saying this gun culture has gone too far.

So staying silent may seem like your only option right now.

But it’s not.

I have another.

I am wondering, and dreaming, and praying, that you – the National Rifle Association – take all of the goodness of your work and apply it to protecting our communities.

I am wondering what it would look like if you – the National Rifle Association, which teaches, I believe, more gun safety classes than any other organization in the country – if you were to take the lead in changing our gun culture.

What if you were the ones who said, “No one needs an automatic weapon. No one needs an extra-large capacity magazine. No one should find it easier to get a gun than it is to get a driver’s license. No one should be able to buy as many guns as they want, when they want”?

What if you were to lead the campaign in this country to get at least some of hundreds of millions of guns off our streets? What if you were the ones to buy back these weapons, and then destroy them?

What if you were the ones to take all your lobbying money and power, and push – really, really hard – to reinstate the ban on assault rifles?

What if you were the ones who called for stricter licensing, for testing, for mandatory waiting periods, for limits on purchases, and for a special tax on ammunition (even if it’s not for all the ammunition, so that hunters in particular would not be taxed)?

What if, instead of standing by silently, apparently in the hopes that no one will think about you right now, you were the ones to lead a campaign entitled something like, “Enough!” or “No more!” – and were to offer to work with police departments to make sure that licensing and testing took place? (You could even be the testers and licensers – talk about privatizing government work!)?

What if you were the ones to put your considerable weight behind measures that guarantee the right to own weapons, but not the right to own anything you damned well want, right now, even if what you want was created solely to kill human beings?

What if you were the ones to step up safety campaigns? Call for more usage of gun locks? Call for the end of sales of cop-killing bullets? Said that weapons like the AR-15, the Bushmaster, which were created for the military, properly belonged only in the hands of the military and law enforcement agencies?

What if you were the ones who stopped saying, “Nothing can be done.” “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” “The Second Amendment guarantees the rights of citizens to bear guns.” “We need more guns in schools … and churches … and stores … so we can protect ourselves.” “We need to arm principals and school-teachers.” etc., etc., and instead were to say, “There is something that can be done, and we, the NRA, are going to put our full power and might behind getting that done.”?

And what if you were the ones who, instead of going after members of Congress for not supporting all your stances, were to support those who want what is best for the safety of our country?

Wouldn’t that all be astonishing? And wouldn’t all of that do more to honor the victims not only of Newtown, CT, but of every place in which gun violence has ripped communities apart?

Heck, if you were to do all that, I would become a member!

And I’d tell all my friends to become members as well.

Because then you would be one very fine organization, demonstrating your concerns for the community ever so much better than you do right now.

Are you listening?

Sincerely,

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley

(A concerned and grieving citizen who so much wants this world to be a better – and safer – place to live.)

• • •

Tuesday afternoon’s statement from the NRA:

“The National Rifle Association of America is made up of four million moms and dads, sons and daughters – and we were shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown.

“Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting.

“The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.

“The NRA is planning to hold a major news conference in the Washington, DC area on Friday, December 21.

“Details will be released to the media at the appropriate time.”

 

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Paxil

Sigh.

For some reason, the bigwigs in Washington Do. Not. Seem. To. Get. It.

They are concerned with scoring points, with making sure “their” side “wins,” with “defeating” the other side.

What they are not concerned about is the American people. You know … us. The folks whom the bigwigs are supposed to serve.

Actually, it's NOT the economy, stupid!

We, it seems, are not part of any equation for solving the financial crisis confronting this country.

Well, “we” as in, those of us who are in the middle class or the lower class, or who, alas, actually live in poverty.

If we were part of the equation, then some of these dingbat ideas under discussion in Washington would never have seen the light of day.

I’m talking about the idea of extending the retirement age – again. Only white, privilege males who receive the best health care in the world would think this is a good idea.

The rest of us? The ones who work in factories or stores, who physically labor, who are the grunts of the work force? Who spend our time outside in all the elements? Who climb up and down ladders, or tote heavy items, or deliver things that have been ordered online?

Please. Our bodies break down a whole heck of lot earlier and easier than do the ones of so-called leaders who work, yes, but do not labor.

Every sane study shows that upper-income white males with marvelous health care indeed can retire later. But the rest of us? Get real. (See Ezra Klein’s column in The Washington Post on Nov. 21. He does a great job of explaining this.)

And this is why I’m sighing right now.

Because those in charge seem to be forgetting that they are in charge for one reason:

To advance the common weal of all the people.

In 1992, Bill Clinton’s campaign used the mantra, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

This year, that mantra needs to be changed.

It needs to say, “It’s the people, stupid!”

As in, PAY ATTENTION TO US!!

The economy can’t get better as long as too many of us are (a) out of work or (b) working in jobs that simply do not pay enough.

And please don’t talk to me about this silly idea that increasing taxes on the rich will hurt the economy. Because that is Not. True.

The richest among us have received extraordinary tax breaks for the last decade … a decade in which they have grown much, much (did I mention much?) richer, while unemployment has grown and wages have fallen.

So … tell me again how giving the rich yet another tax break is going to help the economy?

And if it isn’t going to help the economy, how, pray tell, is it going to help the people of this country?

And if it doesn’t help the people of this country, then, I can assure you, it is not for the common good, and therefore should not be done.

I know that we are headed for a so-called “fiscal cliff” and that I am supposed to be quaking in my boots over this.

Well, I’m not.

You know why?

Because if nothing else, going over that cliff will at least serve as a wake-up call to the folks in charge. Heck, it might even get them to do something about the state of the economy, to help those in need, and to get going on doing the work that needs to be done, for our people and for our country.

I know, I know:

IF we go over that cliff, the middle-class will be hit, immediately, with a tax increase on average of $2,000 per year. In simpler terms, that means an additional $5.50 per day for each of us.

Ouch.

          But it also means that the richest people will have to pay more as well, which means that there will be more money in the budget.

Yes, drastic cuts are supposed to happen as well.

But that’s Congress’ fault, because Congress has failed to act, because Congress has been focused too much on “winning” political games and not enough on doing its actual job.

I also know that what Congress hath wrought, Congress can un-wrought as well.

It was Congress that mandated these stupid, across-the-board cuts.

So Congress can un-mandate those same cuts.

But only if Congress decides to be sane, to quit posturing and to take care of the real business of this country, which is not, as Calvin Coolidge once proclaimed, “business,” but the welfare – the common weal – of the American people.

One more thing:

Those so-called “entitlements”? The ones that conservatives like to attack with abandon, even as they and their family members collect them?

Leave them the hell alone.

No, wait.

Reform them.

In sane ways.

Social Security? It would be solvent for decades if we collected FICA on incomes above $110,000, the current cap for taxation. Really? We only tax up to $110,000? That’s totally insane, you know, from an economic standpoint. It means that the people who pay the most are the ones who can afford it the least, while those who can afford it the most pay the least.

In what economic universe does that even remotely make sense?

Medicare? Stop the insane talk about increasing the retirement age. See the argument above – only upper-class people can afford to do this, and they don’t need Medicare anyway. So they certainly are not the people to be making this decision.

Medicaid? Someone really wants to cut this? Are they, too, insane? Who in their right mind wants to ensure that sick people stay sick? In what economic model does that make sense?

Never mind the nonsense about cutting assistance to those most in need. Those ideas? They need to be named for what they are: Punishment on those who are in need, who are less fortunate, who don’t have a leg up, who can’t get a leg up.

Every sane study out there says that the better we care for our people, the better off we will be as a country.

Bingo! I say we need to catch each other ... that's what community is all about.

And those wacky ideas on closing loopholes and removing tax deductions? Be careful what you ask for, is all I can say. Let’s take just one of those deductions, the one for charitable giving: End that one and boom! Charities are in deep kimchi. I’m sure all those homeless people, and needy people, and any other people receiving help via charities would be fine with having their help cut in order to magically “balance” the budget on their backs.

So you know what I say?

I say, Go ahead. Let’s jump off the danged fiscal cliff. Let’s do so with joy and abandon.

I’m willing to suck it up and pay $5.50 day – if it means that (a) the whole community is being helped, and (b) the people who can afford this a whole lot more than me kick in their fair share as well. (And no, having a rich person pay the same amount as me Does. Not. Count.)

I am not going to like paying $5.50 a day – and frankly, it’s going to be a stretch to do so (I’m not exactly middle class right now). But dang it! If that’s what it will take to ensure that the least among us are cared for, that our government is focused on all the people, that the community will be built up, that the safety nets will be strengthened … well, yeah. I’m in.

Are you?

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Go ahead: Buy. Hope. Prepare. It’s Advent!

OK, here’s the thing:

Come Sunday, we will be in the season of Advent. The season of waiting. The season of preparing. The season of hope.

One of the biggest complaints you hear in the Church is that society in general tends to skip over Advent and move right to Christmas, that Black Friday is more important than anything the Church has to offer, that somehow, we’re taking the “Christ” out of Christmas.

And yeah, in some ways, we probably are.

But I am wondering, right now, if in condemning those who focus on Christmas in Advent, we are missing the point.

If you and your significant other were to be expecting a baby on Christmas Day, wouldn’t you be preparing?

Wouldn’t you be out there, rushing around to get the last-minute supplies?

And go to the baby showers?

And paint the room?

And lay in the food?

And buy, buy, buy, buy?

Wouldn’t you?

So … if it’s OK to do that for your baby, why isn’t it OK to do for God’s baby?

I mean, yeah, some people do miss the meaning of Christmas, and it does become a thing about buying for the sake of buying, and partying for the sake of partying.

But even then, are they really missing the point? Aren’t they focused, at least in some little way, on relationships?

Because isn’t that what all this frenzy is about, in this season of Advent? Aren’t we going nuts because of relationships?

I mean, what if the presents we are buying are the ones that people actually need?

Or what if the presents are the kind that help others – you know, the gift cards that help bring clean water to the thirsty, and food to the hungry, and clothing to the naked?

And what if, in attending those parties, we are celebrating relationships? Community?

And what if, in going to see family for the holidays, we are doing the same thing?

So, here’s the thing:

Be careful what you wish for.

Telling people they can’t celebrate Christmas in Advent means that in reality, we are telling people they can’t prepare.

And last time I checked, that’s what Advent is all about: preparing.

After all, isn’t that what John the Baptist kept crying: Prepare ye the way of the Lord!?

So forgive me if I’ve reached the age when I feel it’s OK to get a bit worked up about Christmas. When I say I’m going to a “Christmas” party, and not an “Advent” party. When I let slip with a “Merry Christmas” on occasion.

And forgive me for getting excited about the fact that there’s a BABY coming!

And forgive me for spending a lot of time thinking about what gift I’m going to get for each of my loved ones. I put a lot of thought into this, and a lot of work as well. Will the gifts I give be the biggest and the bestest? Hardly. But they will be thoughtful, and they will be loving, and I will enjoy giving them, and pray that my loved ones will enjoy receiving them.

So go ahead. Go a little nuts if you must in this season of Advent. Because remember: You are preparing.

If you really want to know what Advent is all about, look at this video, Advent in 2 Minutes.

And then remember: Advent? It’s about preparing. And hope.

So go on … go prepare. And hope some, too.

That’s the spirit.

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A cup of boldness, courtesy of the Trinity

The other day, I went to Starbucks – that was no surprise, because y’all know that I love Starbucks and that I go there because I love their chai lattes. And you know that whenever I come out here on Sundays, I stop at Starbucks multiple times along the way. So my going there the other day normally wouldn’t have been a big deal.

Except for the fact that the other day, I went there not just for my chai, but to take a stand.

You see, there is a group called the National Organization for Marriage, which is so anti-gay marriage that it organized what it called a “DumpStarbucks Day” because this group is upset. Really upset. Why? Because Starbucks has had the audacity to offer health benefits to its employees’ domestic partners.

NOM’s response to this offer?

It wants Starbucks punished.

So it started a Facebook page, “DumpStarbucks Day,” and asked people to boycott Starbucks on Wednesday last week.

Of course, a slew of my friends, who support gay marriage, among other things, were outraged and expressed that outrage on their Facebook pages, which meant it showed up on mine, and finally, after seeing all kinds of references to this, and wondering why my friends would support an attack on Starbucks, I checked out the whole thing and came away thinking, “Really? NOM is outraged that Starbucks treats its employees and their loved ones well? Hmpph! Not gonna let that happen!”

So on Wednesday, I made a point of going to Starbucks, where they know my green cup (if not me) quite well, and after I ordered, I told the barista I was there to support Starbucks against the DumpStarbucks movement.

Of course, she had no idea what I was talking about, so I explained it to her, and reiterated that I was there to show support for her employer.

“Someone has a problem with Starbucks giving us health benefits?”

“Not just you. But domestic partners as well,” I said.

“Huh?”

I had to explain that domestic partners frequently but not always are gay, which is when one of the other customers piped up: “What? Some group is objecting to what?”

So I explained – again – the whole idea, and that I was there to support the company, and that I would be back later in the day, to really show my support, and then the barista asked, in great confusion,

“Why would anyone care who Starbucks gives benefits to? What business is it of theirs?”

“Exactly,” I said.

“It’s nobody’s business but Starbucks and its employees,” the customer said.

And then the barista asked: “Is this group Christian?”

“Yeah, that’s what they claim,” I said.

“See, that’s what I hate about churches,” the barista said. “I hate it when they … they …” She was literally stumbling over her words, trying to figure out how to express what it was that she hated.

“Hijack your faith?” I asked.

“Yeah!” she said. “I hate that.”

“Me either,” I said. “As an Episcopal priest, I can tell you: This is not what Christianity is all about.”

The customer chimed in again: “My dad goes to this church in Fairfax, the Unity church,” he said, “where they welcome everyone, and they relate their faith to what’s happening today, instead of just telling us what was said thousands of years ago.”
“You gotta make the faith relevant to our lives today,” I agreed.

We talked for probably another 10 minutes, ending with me inviting people to The Episcopal Church (alas, I had to tell them the commute to Blue Grass was pretty long), and then I headed on to my appointment.

Afterward, I thought about how, in that short encounter, we – the barista, the other customer and I – had formed a community. Just for a short time, yes, but a community nonetheless.

And isn’t that what we’re talking about when we talk about the Trinity, the feast we celebrate today?

Aren’t we talking about community?

Because isn’t that what the Trinity is all about? Community?

Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

The way we read the Scriptures, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit always work together … in the beginning and from the beginning. You never find two of them off working while one stays behind, drinking a martini. The Trinity is a community, and it is always together.

And remember, my friends, this is the image in which we are made, the image of God, which is one of love and one of community.

Which means that we are created to live in community just like the Trinity.

• • •

I can tell you that there are many, many of my colleagues this morning who claim that you cannot explain the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who say the Trinity is a mystery and we are not made to understand mysteries, who allege that anyone who even tries to explain the Trinity is … well, is a fool. That really, we are all like Nicodemus, confused and wondering what the heck Jesus is talking about in the depths of the night.

To which I reply: Anyone who cannot explain the Trinity isn’t really trying, and that to fob the whole thing of as some sort of inexplicable mystery is … well, let’s just say it’s foolish. Because we are not Nicodemuses! We, my friends, are God’s creation, made in God’s image. And we do not need to stumble around in our faith and say, “Well, I can’t really explain the Trinity because it’s a cosmic mystery”!

Because the Trinity is, in its most basic form, nothing more – and nothing less – than community.

So let’s get the basic explanation of the Trinity out of the way so we can get to the heart of the matter, OK?

See this blue water? This is God the Father, the one who created us not because we are necessary – remember, we are not – but because God loved us into being. (pour water into glass bowl)

See this yellow water? This is God the Son, the one who lived among us as one of us, who laughed and cried, who celebrated and suffered, who died for us. (pour water into bowl, making water turn green)

See this red water? This is God the Holy Spirit, the advocate who comes to us to lead us, guide us, give us the breath to be bold in our faith. (pour water into bowl, making water turn amber)

Now … you tell me … which one is which?

Can you separate God the Father from God the Son from God the Holy Spirit?

No?

That’s because you can’t separate God into pieces. You. Cannot. Separate. The Father. From the Son. From the Holy Spirit.

Three in One. One in Three.

A community.
Because, my friends, that’s the Trinity … an inseparable community that you can’t really tell apart and can’t possibly tear apart, always together, always united, always in love with each other.

And we, who are created in the image of God, are created in that image of community.

Which means that wherever we are, we need to be in community.

But we can’t simply show up and hope community somehow magically “happens.”

We, created in the image of community, have to make community.

We have to work at community.

And just like the community in whose image we are created, we have to be bold at community-making.

Because God the Father certainly was bold in creating us and inviting us  –inviting us! – to love one another and ourselves and God, knowing full-well that we might just turn down that invitation, but boldly taking that chance anyway.

Because God the Son certainly was bold in everything he did, preaching, teaching, healing, giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, voice to the mute and making the lame leap for joy! God the Son was bold in choosing not only to live for us but to die for us!

And God the Holy Spirit? Oh, my gosh, the Holy Spirit is nothing but boldness personified, inspiring us – literally, giving us breath! – guiding us, giving us the right words to speak, helping us choose the right actions to take. Oh, my, the Holy Spirit defines boldness!

This bold image of the Trinity is the image in which we are created! To be bold in our community!

• • •

I read an article yesterday by a church musician named Nicole Keller, who was lamenting the fact that so many Christians seem to give up on their faith.

“… I believe that there is no such thing as a non-extreme Christian,” she wrote on her blog, Under the Cassock.[1] “Christianity,” she says, “is a radical faith, even in its utmost humility. … [T]he core of Christianity includes bringing Christ to those who do not know him by showing them who he is. That doesn’t mean I have to go door to door like our Mormon friends … It could be as basic as helping a random stranger pick up the groceries they (sic) dropped in the parking lot, bringing up your children to be faithful Christians, or feeding the poor at the local soup kitchen – that’s living the Gospel, baby,” she writes. “But along with those actions we must be willing to admit openly, when necessary, that we do them because our faith inspires and requires us to do so with a loving heart.

“Is that really so hard?” she asks. “When someone asks me, ‘Why are you helping me” I can simply say ‘because my faith inspires me to love those around me.’ … It is simply showing them who I am.”[2]

And who we are is a people created in God’s image of community … and not just any community, but a bold community, willing to go out and live our faith and willing to go out and proclaim our faith!

This is what the Trinity is all about …

Boldly living …

Boldly proclaiming …

We are not nice – we do not love one another – just “because.”

We do so because we are created and commanded to do so.

So when you think about the Trinity, here’s what I want you to think about:

Not that the Trinity is some inexplicable mystery about God that will only be fully explained once we reach the Omega of this life so we can get to the Alpha of the rest of our lives.

No!

The Trinity, my friends, is the very essence of our being that empowers us to boldly live and boldly proclaim our faith every moment of our lives, with every person we meet, in every thing that we do.

So the next time you stop for that cup of coffee, make sure you get the bold kind. The kind that builds a community (even for a moment) in the image of God.

Live your faith boldy. And then talk about your faith boldly. Be clear with people: Whatever kindness you are doing, whatever blessing you are bestowing, whatever love you are showing, you are doing so because you are created in the image of God.

Don’t be Nicodemus, showing up in the middle of night, filled with fear and confusion.

Instead, just be who you are.

Bold children of God.

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Feast of the Trinity, Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va., 3 June 2012, Year B.



[1] Nicole Keller, “Saving The Church From Itself,” Under the Cassock blog, 2 June 2012, http://underthecassock.blogspot.com/2012/06/saving-church-from-itself.html.

 

[2] Ibid. All emphases original.

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Sildenafil

John 15:12-17

Ba ism al Ab wa al Ibn wa Roho al Kudus, Allah wahed.

En nom de Dieu unique, Pere, Fils, et Sancte Esprit.

In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

On the morning of Feb. 23, 1992, I was received into The Episcopal Church at St. George’s, Arlington. I had first come to that parish more than a year before, full of fear and trembling, for I was born and bred to the Roman Catholic Church, raised by Dominican nuns, trained by Jesuits priests, and I knew, on that first day I entered St. George’s, that what I was doing was a sin. I was turning my back on my heritage, my ethnicity, my training and my faith as a Catholic to worship – fully and freely – in a Protestant church.

On that morning in 1992, I listened carefully as The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee, the 12th Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia, preached about what it meant to be a Christian.

“To be a good Christian,” he said, “you have to be boundlessly happy, entirely fearless and always in trouble.

To be a good Christian – one who lives fully into the scandalous message of Jesus – you have to be boundlessly happy, entirely fearless and always in trouble.

You are boundlessly happy, my friends, because God loves you, and what more could you possibly want to know, to experience, in your life? Isn’t that what we all want to know: That we are loved, from before time until the ages of ages?

The good news that Jesus brought in his scandalous message is just that: You are loved. I am loved. Each of us is and all of us are loved. Which makes us happy.

You are to be entirely fearless because the worst thing that will happen to you is that you will, one day, wake up and have breakfast with Jesus. And isn’t that what we pray for each time we pray the Nicene Creed? That we will have breakfast with Jesus?

The good news that Jesus brought us in his scandalous message is that because we are loved, we will indeed have breakfast with Jesus. So be fearless!

And you are to be always in trouble because, let’s face it, Jesus was always in trouble. It’s why his message of unconditional love was so scandalous. The sermons he preached – “Today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” – the miracles he performed – raising the dead, curing the sick, restoring lepers and shamed women to full membership in their communities – the parables he told – And who is your neighbor? – the people with whom he spoke and ate – the Samaritan woman at the well, Wee Zaccheus the tax collector – all of that was troubling to the powers-that-be, because the powers-that-be don’t like surprises, they don’t like having the apple cart (OK, it was probably a date cart) upset, they don’t like it when someone comes along and challenges the way things are. Because when the way things are are thrown out of whack, the powers-that-be no longer are in control, and that is very, very scary – for them.

The good news that Jesus brought us in his scandalous message was so troublesome that it cost him his life – and it is going to cost us ours as well, if we listen, if we act.

But not to worry: Because we are loved from before time began to the ages of ages, and because we will have breakfast with Jesus, so ….

Let’s get in some trouble.

Let’s be scandalous!

You know what the most scandalous thing was that Jesus said?

Listen, my friends … listen:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. … You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit …

(Sung)

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?

Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?

Will you let my love be shown?

Will you let my Name be known?

Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?[1]

This is our call in life, my friends: Following Jesus, who is calling us – each of us – by name, asking us to go to places we don’t know – far away or close by – so that God’s love can be shown, so that God’s name can be known, so that God’s life can be grown.

And that, my friends, is scandalous!

Because it means that if we are faithful, we will end up in places we have never been (Samaria? Sudan? Haiti? The poor side of town? The other side of the tracks?) … we will meet people we never thought we would meet (The Samaritan woman at the well? The poor? The sick? The disenfranchised? Those people?) … we will let God’s name be known (as St. Francis is alleged to have said, “Preach the Gospel always … if necessary, use words.”) … and if we do all these things, God’s life, God’s love will be known.

Are you ready to live your life in this way?

Are youeach of you and all of you – ready to be scandalous?

(Sung)

Will you leave your self behind if I but call your name?

Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?

Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?

Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?[2]

If we decide that we are ready to say “Yes!” to Jesus, to answer his call, to live scandalously, upsetting the apple carts and overturning society’s ways – ways that make the rich richer and the poor poorer, ways that deny basic medical care to people, that leaving people starving when our storebins are overflowing – if we’re ready to do all this, then indeed we will live scandalous lives.

Mother Teresa, who knew a thing or two about being scandalous (touching the untouchables, welcoming the unwelcomed, loving the unloved),

Mother Teresa

offers us this advice:

The good you do today (she said) may be forgotten tomorrow.

Do good anyway.

Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable.

Be honest and transparent anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.

Build anyway.

People who really want help may attack you if you help them.

Help anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt.

Give the world your best anyway.

I can assure you: The most radical thing we can do in our lives is to love. The most dangerous action we can take is to love. The most scandalous deed we can perform is to love.

But … radically, dangerously, scandalously loving one another as Jesus loves us is exactly what we are called to do … no matter how hard it is, no matter how many obstacles we encounter, no matter what other people say, because really, in the end, the only thing that matters is love.

Doing this will not be easy. We will try to love, and find our love rejected. Others will heckle us and wonder if we’ve lost our mind and our way. We will be accused of tilting at windmills and called Pollyanas. But we know what Jesus is calling us to do, don’t we? We know that we are the ones who are called …

… to make the blind see, the deaf hear, the mute sing, and the lame leap for joy! And yes, we are called to raise the dead, and to proclaim the year of the Lord not every 50 years but every year, to set the prisoners free!

In this case, with this charge, it really does become all about us, because Jesus is talking to each one of us. This is not a message for the guy next door, the stranger down the street or around the world. This is a message for us.

The Rev. Dr. Peter J. Gomes

Peter Gomes understood that. Listen to what he has to say on this subject, this subject of God calling us:

The question should not be “What would Jesus do?” but rather, more dangerously, “What would Jesus have me do?” The onus is not on Jesus but on us, for Jesus did not come to ask semi-divine human beings to do impossible things. He came to ask human beings to live up to their full humanity; he wants us to live in the full implication of our human gifts, and that is far more demanding.[3]

God is calling us. God is telling us – again and again – that we are not created to live in a world where the people are hungry, either for food or for love. We, my friends, are created in the image of God, which means that we are created to live in love in community.

Being created in the image of God means, first and foremost, that we are created in the image of love. We know this because we know that we are not necessary to God. God is necessary to us, yes, but we cannot possibly be necessary to God, because God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so God does … not … need … us. Therefore, God must have wanted us, God must have desired us, God must have loved us into being.

And being created in the image of God means that we are created in community because we are Christians, and in our understanding of the Scriptures, of the Word of God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit never work apart from each other. Since we are created in God’s image, we are created in the image of community as well.

Which means …

… That we are created in love and community to live in love and community.

Pretty scandalous, eh?

To have our whole lives dictated by the fact that like it or not, we are created to love? That we are created to love in community?

Now we could, if we wanted, be like one of my favorite literary characters and say, “It is hard to be brave,” said Piglet, sniffing slightly, “when you’re only a Very Small Animal.”

Because this is a seemingly overwhelming call that God is issuing to us.

It is hard to be brave …

But … unlike Piglet, we are not very small animals.

We are God’s beloved.

And we have a job to do, a mission to undertake: We are to love one another, not as just we love ourselves (trust me, on those days when I do not love myself, it is terribly easy for me not to love my neighbor!), but to love one another as Jesus loves us!

(Sung)

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?

Will you set the pris-’ner free and never be the same?

Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen?

And admit to what I mean in you and you in me?[4]

Living scandalously, is not, as I said, easy. But it is our call, it is, in fact, the very reason for which we were created, it is our mission in life. This is why God put us on this earth: to live in love and community, which is a very scandalous thing indeed.

I want to leave us tonight with a prayer by Archbishop Oscar Romero, the holy man of El Salvador who put his life on the line – and who lost his life

Archbishop Oscar Romero

– because he dared to live a scandalous life, siding with the poor and downtrodden, challenging the powers-that-were in El Salvador to do the right thing all the time. For his courage, he was killed while celebrating the Eucharist – literally while elevating the wine and saying, “This is my blood” – on March 24, 1980.

Archbishop Romero’s prayer for all of us:

It helps, now and then (he said) to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

Archbishop Romero’s prayer for us is my prayer for you:

Go forth from this place, my friends, and be scandalous.

It is what Jesus wants.

Amen.

A sermon preached during the Preaching Mission: The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, at Grace Episcopal Church, The Plains, Va.,

28 March 2011.

 

[1] Will you come and follow me … (v. 1) Words from the Iona Community © 1989 GIA Publications

Music Mary Alexandra, John L. Hooker, © 1996

[2] Ibid. (v. 2)

[3] Peter J. Gomes, The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, page number uncertain.

[4] Will you come and follow me … (v. 3)

 

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‘Stronger together than apart’

From the Anglican Communion News Service this morning comes a report of a meeting of 19 bishops from around the world who met in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, at the end of February.
The essence of the meeting: “We really need each other. We are stronger together than apart.”
The essence of relationships, of community, of being created in the Image of God: We really do need each other, because we are stronger together than apart.
Any time a group of people gathers, there is the opportunity to build the community for which we were created. Any time those people take the time to listen to each other, to hear each other’s stories, to learn about each other, there is the opportunity to build that same community. As the bishops point out in their statement: “Dialogue is about turning to one another with openness.”
Talking with each other is not always easy. Even when a so-called “common” language is used, there is the opportunity for misunderstanding, willfully or unintentionally. That’s why dialogue – not just the conversation between two or more people, but the “exchange of ideas or opinions … with a view to reaching an amicable agreement or settlement,” as the dictionary defines it – is so important.
When you tell me your story, you express you understanding of that story, you teach me to see the world through your eyes. When you then let me do the same with you, we have created a relationship. We may not see things the same way, we may not agree, but at least we will know how each other thinks, how each other approaches an issue or situation, and that understanding alone can be enough to build community.

A world map showing the Provinces of the Anglican Communion (Blue). Also shown are the Churches in full communion with the Anglican Church: The Nordic Lutheran churches of the Porvoo Communion (Green), and the Old Catholic Churches in the Utrecht Union (Red).

These bishops deserve kudos for their work in building up the beloved community of God.

From the ACNS report:
By ACNS staff

Nineteen bishops of the Anglican Communion this week announced that the Communion was stronger together than apart and that its members needed one another.

In a joint statement issued after a “Consultation of Bishops in Dialogue” meeting held in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania the church leaders said they had shared testimonies about partnership mission work.  Through this a common thread had emerged “our experience of finding ourselves in each other.”

“Across the globe, across the Communion, we actually really need one another,” the bishops’ statement said. “We are stronger in relationship than when we are apart. This, we believe, is a work of engaging in Communion building rather than Communion breaking. In the words of the Toronto Congress of 1963 we are engaged in living in ‘mutual responsibility and interdependence’ (Ephesians 2:13-22)”.

The bishops hailed from Sudan, Botswana, Malawi, Burundi, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Canada, the United States and England. They met at the end of February as a group of partner pairs and triads and discussed a range of issues including human sexuality, slavery and tackling poverty . …

“We have been engaged in a process of patient and holy listening, as Anglicans, coming from a wide diversity of contexts and theological positions, who have chosen to listen to one another (Colossians 3:12-17). …

“We have found that in the wider context of conflicts around sexuality in the Anglican Communion, the conflict has provided us an opportunity to build bridges of mutual understanding to us as we choose to turn face to face with each other. We know that this topic requires the best of us in our dialogue: our mutuality and humility and prayer in listening and in speaking as we seek together for God’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). ….

“We are aware that when we talk, the words we use may not be heard in the same way as we intend and we do not always understand language in the same way. We are engaged in a quest for language that will bring us to common understanding and to better dialogue. That does not mean that we agree or that we seek an agreement on particular issues. …”

To read the ACNS story, with the full text of the statement attached, look here.

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Metformin mechanism of action

Matthew 5:21-37

“You have heard that it was said … but I say to you …”

Welcome to Let’s-Get-Legal Sunday.

At least, that’s what it sounds like, doesn’t it?

Jesus is still preaching his magnificent Sermon on the Mount, that marvelous sermon in which he blesses those who have been labeled outcasts, and challenges the people to be God’s salt and light in the world.

And suddenly, he goes all legal on us and jacks up the intensity of an already detailed, already limiting, already very, very serious Law … that’s “Law” with a capital “L.”

“You have heard that it was said,” Jesus says, discussing murder, adultery and swearing falsely. (And just to let you know, Jesus stays on this legal kick for another week, so don’t think you’ve heard the last of this.) Then, Jesus continues, “but I say to you …” And he lays down a whole new interpretation of the Law-with-a-capital-L, one that is much stricter than anything anyone has ever heard before.

Murder is wrong, he says, quoting the Law. But so is treating people badly, thus elevating being angry at or insulting someone to new heights.

Adultery is wrong, he says. But so is even thinking less-than-pure thoughts about another person, he tells us. And if any part of our body causes us to sin, he adds, tear it out or cut it off (even though if you do that, according to the Law-with-a-capital-L, you can’t get into heaven, because you can’t be deformed!).

Swearing falsely – telling lies in legal situations – is wrong, he says. But now, under this new interpretation of the Law, all swearing – all taking of oaths – is wrong!

What’s going on here? How did Jesus go from been blessing people and healing them and preaching the Good News of Salvation to making most Pharisees and Sadducees, whose lives are wrapped up in fulfilling the law – every jot and tittle of it – look like legal wimps?

This is not the Jesus most of us want. We want the gentle Jesus. We want the healing Jesus. We want the Jesus who raises us from the dead.

We do not want the Jesus who tells us that we who are trying to follow the already difficult Law, are not doing enough, that even our thoughts fall short of God’s laws for us.

• • •

There’s a new TV show on the USA network called “Fairly Legal,” in which a young lawyer becomes a mediator, using her skills at negotiation to solve problems that normally would end up in the courtroom. In one of the teasers for the show, the main character is seen talking on the phone, saying something like, “The law! The law! The law! What is it with you people and the law?!”

And of course, in the course of 42 or so minutes, this young woman manages to negotiate her way to miracles.

The young man, a college student on scholarship, who is going to jail for his involvement in a car crash? She gets him off. (Turns out he didn’t cause the accident after all.)

The two drivers on the edge of a knock-down, drag-out fight in the streets of San Francisco? She gets them to apologize for each other.

The aging but still powerful father who can’t recognize that his son is a good man, ready to take over the family business? She achieves reconciliation and a major reorganization of that family business … all in 42 minutes.

If you watch the show, you think to yourself: Yeah, right. That’s not going to happen. It would take a miracle …!

And yet … isn’t that what Jesus does? Take impossible situations and do miracles?

That’s what Jesus is doing in this morning’s Gospel … he’s taking impossible situations and making miracles out of them.

Jesus is trying to show us that the Law-with-a-capital-L does not exist for itself – but for us.

Meaning: The Law is not about how to live your life within legal constraints.

The Law, Jesus is telling us, is there to help us live together in relationship – with God and with each other. (Can’t you just hear Jesus saying, right about now, “The Law! The Law! The Law! What is it with you people and the Law?!”)

The late Verna Dozier, an incredible lay theologian of the Church, taught that God’s desire, God’s dream for us, is that we become “a good creation of a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky.”[1]

Dozier is using the word “friend” the same way Jesus did in John’s Gospel, when he said, “I no longer call you my slaves but my friends.” “Friend” is a theological term for Dozier.

And the only way we can become that good creation of friendly folk beneath that friendly sky is if we go beyond the Law – to love.

God’s true desire for us is not that we fulfill the Law.

God’s true desire for us is that we love.

For you see, we are created in God’s image, and that image my friends, is first and foremost one of love. We know this to be

true, because we know, without a doubt, that we are not necessary to God. God is necessary to us, we believe, but we are not necessary to God, because God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so God does not need us to exist in God’s very good creation.

Since we are not necessary, God had to have wanted us, God desired us into being, God loved us into being.

Michelangelo's Creation of Man

So we were created – each of us – in love.

And because we are Trinitarians, because we believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We believe in the community of the Trinitarian God.

Which means that we who were created in God’s very image of love were also created in God’s very image of community.

Which means … which means … that we are created in love and in community to live in love and community.

In the end, as it was in the beginning, we are created by love to love.

So when Jesus is upping the ante on the Law – when he’s giving an even harsher interpretation of the Law than anyone had previously heard – he isn’t turning into an über-Pharisee.

He’s reminding us, once again, that the Law was created to help us live as God’s beloved with and for God’s beloved.

He’s asking us, once again, to remember – every moment of our lives – that God loves us, and (and this is hard for some of us to hear some days) God loves everyone else just as much.

Professor David Lose of Luther Seminary in Minnesota tells us that:

Jesus intensifies the Law – not to force us to take it more seriously … but instead to push us to imagine what it would actually be like to live in a world where we honor each other as persons who are truly blessed and beloved of God. It’s not enough, Jesus says, to avoid murder (or adultery or anything else that is against the Law); you also have to treat each other with respect, not letting yourself fly off the handle in anger because that … demeans and diminishes God’s children.[2]

Fulfilling the Law – especially the Law on steroids[3] that Jesus proclaims today – is not about how closely you can toe the legal line for the sake of toeing the legal line.

That’s not enough, in Jesus’ mind. Jesus is calling us, as Professor Lose says, “to envision life in God’s kingdom as constituted not by obeying laws but rather by holding the welfare of our neighbors close to our hearts while trusting that they are doing the same for us.”[4]

Now that’s a tall order, isn’t it? Not only to care for our neighbors’ welfare, but trusting that they are doing the same for us?

When you think about it, that’s an even taller order than fulfilling the Law-on-steroids that we thought we were dealing with when we heard this morning’s Gospel.

Because it means that we have to put others first, and sometimes those others? The ones we are supposed to love? We don’t like them so much. And when we don’t like our neighbors, it’s easy not to love them. When we are afraid of them, it’s easy not to love them. When we don’t know them, it’s easy not to love them, or even care for them. And when we hate our neighbors – then it’s really easy not to love them.

But in God’s very good creation, in God’s friendly creation, whether we like someone, whether we are afraid of someone, whether we know someone, whether we hate someone – it’s not important.

Not in God’s eyes.

Because in God’s eyes, we are all beloved. The truth of the matter is that God loves each of us. God loves you … and you … … and you … … and you … … and you … … and you … … and you …

And because God loves each of you – because God loves each of us – God is asking us to love each other. To remember that the Law is there to help us love each other. That every moment of every day of our lives, we are called, first, last and always, to love.

Jesus is not on some kick this morning to elevate the Law to the point that none of us can achieve it.

Jesus is telling us, that yes, actually, we can fulfill the Law, every jot and tittle of it.

If – and only if – we remember to love.

I want to share with you with a prayer I found this week, the author of whom is unknown, but who nevertheless speaks wise words the echo Jesus’ preaching and that will send us out into the world … in love:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.

Watch your words, for they become actions.

Watch your actions, for they become habits.

Watch your habits, for they become character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

Amen.

————————

A sermon preached on the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany, 13 February 2011, Year A, at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church, Leesburg, Va.

————————-

[1] Verna Dozier, The Dream of God: A Call to Return. (Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 1988), p. 125.

[2] David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, on http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=452 with my addition.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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Seeing and being seen: A lesson in community

Luke 19:1-10

Almost half my lifetime ago, I left my newspaper editor’s job in cold, wintery Bismarck, N.D., to serve overseas as a Peace Corps volunteer. I ended up in Kenya, in Eastern Africa, where Peace Corps, at my request, trained me to become a water technician.

For the first 10 weeks in Kenya, I lived in the central part of the country, attending classes every day, with the greatest focus on cultural and language training. At the end of that time, I was fairly proficient in KiSwahili, the national language. And then Peace Corps, in its wisdom, sent me out to the western part of the country to live and serve among the Luo peoples.

I wasn’t in my village but a few days before I realized that the Swahili I had labored so hard to master wasn’t quite the same Swahili the Luos spoke. I had learned classical KiSwahili; the Luos spoke something I later learned was called “dirty Swahili.” The former is highly technical and intricate; the latter is very simple and ignores all rules of grammar.

Which meant that my training, which had led me to believe that I could live and move and have my being among the Luo, was insufficient at best, a barrier at worst.

Kenya

All this became crystal clear to me within my first week in my village. Wherever I went, whenever I spoke Swahili, people looked at me in confusion. I couldn’t communicate that well, despite my high score on my language exam.

Worst of all, I could not properly greet people.

And greeting people, in Africa as in much of the world, is a very important part of life. Whether you greet them … how you greet them … even if you are just walking down the street (or the dirt path, if you live in much of the developing world) … all of those things place you in society. So if you can’t properly greet people, you really don’t have a place … you don’t know where you belong … or even whether you belong.

One morning, as I was walking down a dirt road, an old woman – and I mean, an old woman, with frizzy little tufts of grey hair on her head and a face filled with wrinkles and dark, dark eyes that peeked out from between those wrinkles – one morning, this woman greeted me on the road.

“I see you,” she said.

I was so startled that she spoke to me in English that I didn’t respond at first. I simply while I thought, I see you? What kind of greeting is that?

So I responded in kind.

“Um, I see you?” I replied, questioningly.

The woman smiled at me and stood there and waited for me to go on.

“Um, how are you?” I asked, not knowing what else to say.

“I am here,” she said.

OK, I thought.

“I am here, too,” I replied, thinking, Isn’t that obvious? We’re standing in the middle of a dirt road, face to face. Of course you’re here. Of course I’m here!

“It is good to be seen,” she said.

And then we began to talk, mixing Swahili, the version I didn’t really know well, and DhuLuo, the tribal language that I really didn’t know yet, and English, which she didn’t know well, and somehow she managed to teach me that in her tribe, as in much of Africa, a proper greeting begins with, “I see you.”

The proper response is, “I am here. I see you.”

The one who began the conversation concludes the greeting with, “I am here. It is good to be seen!”

In much of Africa, this greeting is what gives people life and builds community. You don’t walk down the street and ignore people – you see them. And by seeing them, you do more than acknowledge their presence in the same piece of earth that you occupy. You acknowledge their whole being. You grant them meaning. You name them as part of your community.

As we parted, she in her direction and I in mine, I realized: I had just been introduced to a whole new way of being.

I was seen.

Therefore I belonged.

And I saw.

Therefore the other person belonged as well.

Yes indeed, it is good to be seen!
• • •
Seeing and being seen is what today’s Gospel lesson is all about.

We have Luke’s story of Zacchaeus, the wee little tax collector who was so anxious to see Jesus that he climbed a sycamore tree in order to see over the people in the crowd.

Now most of the time, the focus for this story is on Zaccheus giving away half his fortune and paying back four times what he might owe to people because he had defrauded them. That focus centers on Zaccheus’ conversion and subsequent repentance for the wrongs he had done.

But this story is not so much about repentance as it is about inclusion. Or, more accurately, about God’s wild, radical, inexplicable inclusion of all of God’s beloved children, no matter what the world might think of them or how the world might treat them.

Zaccheus and Jesus

Zaccheus, remember, was the chief tax collector in Jericho; therefore he was:
(a) Rich. Luke says so;
(b) Despised. Tax collectors, as all who witnessed this event knew, were employees of the oppressive Roman government. Any Jew who worked for the Romans was considered a traitor. Any Jew who collected taxes for the Romans, thus keeping the Romans in power, was a double traitor; and
(c) Pretty much an outcast in his own society. See (a) and (b) above.

So when Jesus calls Zaccheus down from the tree – where he really had no business being, since he was both a grownup and a powerful man – Jesus was setting, yet again, another example of God’s incredible love, even for those whom society does not love.

Jesus teaches us, yet again, that God’s love trumps society’s hate. You see, society would have preferred that Jesus ignore that little traitor up in the tree, and society expected the Jesus would never have gone to that little traitor’s house, much less eaten with him.

But Jesus never paid much attention to what society wanted, did he? Instead of letting society dictate to him, Jesus dictates to society. He declares who is good, who is worthy. He determines who belongs, who is part of the community.

So what if society despises this wee little man? Jesus doesn’t.

So what if society has judged this tax collector and found him wanting? Jesus doesn’t.

Instead, Jesus declares that Zaccheus is a son of Abraham – a beloved child of God!

Jesus saw Zaccheus and declared him good.

Take that, society!

Jesus demonstrates to and for us an in-your-face, I-really-don’t-care-what-society-thinks radical hospitality that declares, once and for all, that all of us – that each of us – is a beloved child of God. That all of us and each of us belongs to God. That our community is in and with and through God – because God said so!

How many times have we declared that someone is not welcome in our community, is not one of “us”? We’ve all done it – we decide that because someone is different, looks different, sounds different, smells different, that he or she cannot come in to our community.

And how many times have we been told that we do not belong, that we can’t come in, that we are not welcome in a community? That has happened to all of us as well.

But both stances – saying no and being told no – violate the very image of God in which we are created.

We are created in God’s image of love, because we are not necessary to God (God was before we were and will be after we are, so we can’t possibly be necessary), and God’s image of community (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, always together). Since God created us in God’s image, God gets to decide who’s in and who’s out. And since God never votes anyone off the island, and God never says, “You I love; you … eh …” we are called to do the same. To include people.

To see others – really see them …

… and to be seen.

I see you, Jesus said to Zaccheus

I am here. I see you, Zaccheus replied.

I am here. It is good to be seen! Jesus said.

Zaccheus’ story is a lesson in community – in God’s community, and how God wants us to be in community. It’s a reminder that we don’t get to make the rules; God does.

God sees each and every one of us, welcomes us into the household of God, makes room for us, sits down and eats a meal with us.

And then God asks us to do the same. God asks us to see each other not for what we think they are, but for what God knows they are: God’s beloved children.

It indeed is good to be seen!

Amen.

A sermon preached at Epiphany Episcopal Church, Richmond, Va., on the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, 31 October 2010, Proper 26, Year C.

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Do not lose hope – we shall have new life

Joel 2:23-32

On Friday afternoon, about 4 p.m., Immanuel Chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary burned down. Within minutes, the entire chapel was on fire. Within an hour, it was gone. By nightfall, the walls were all that remained standing – although the fire department warned that they could yet collapse.

The historic Great Commission window in the VTS chapel, before the fire.

Most of the windows, many given by graduating classes, are gone, from the great stained glass depiction behind the altar with the inscription Go Ye Into All the World and Preach the Gospel, which inspired thousands of worshippers and had its Robert E. Lee-look alike St. Peter, to the great Tiffany window of St. Paul testifying in chains. Some windows melted, some exploded. All that is left are jagged openings from which many of us watched water pour as the firefighters fought the two-alarm blaze. On Saturday, we learned that apparently, the six-toed Jesus at the back did survive after all.

The altar rail that was sent from Liberia in the late 1800s is gone, as is the altar table and the organ, which seemed to burn for hours.

Everything in the sacristy was destroyed, from the patens and chalices and old, time-worn prayerbooks to “Anna Baptist,” the baby doll that thousands of us used to learn how to baptize children.

Gone, too, is the pulpit, from which were spoken great soaring sermons meant to inspire us and not-so-great sermons given by preachers who were literally quaking in their boots, and which many of us thought would collapse a few years ago on Martin Luther King Jr. Day when Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina pounded and swayed and called us yet again to realize the dream not of Dr. King but of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Immanuel Chapel, the home in three-year cycles for thousands of seminarians for the past 129 years, the place that nurtured us and then sent us into the world to preach the Gospel, is no more.

This is a time for great mourning among the Seminary community. It is a time of great sadness.

But already, the community is giving thanks.

Thanks that no one was in the chapel at the time and thus no lives were lost. Thanks that none of the dozens of firefighters were injured. Thanks that none of the surrounding buildings were damaged. And yes, thanks that the great cross still towers above the ruins.

And already, it is a time for the community to dream.

To dream of the new chapel that will rise from those ashes. To dream of better access and better bathrooms. To dream of the unknown possibilities that make up those dreams, and that inspire us to new heights, not just of how to glorify God through our worship, but how to glorify God with our lives.

It is as though the prophet Joel were writing this morning just for those of us who loved that Chapel.

“Then afterward,” Joel wrote – meaning after the great calamity which in his day was famine brought on by an invasion, either of real locusts or of the locusts known as Babylonias –  “afterward,” the Lord says, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.”

VTS Chapel after the fire.

In other words, God says to us through the prophet Joel, despite the calamity of your life, do not lose hope.

In other words, God says, do not let the tragedy overcome you. Overcome the tragedy instead, because I the Lord am pouring out my Spirit upon you, because your young are prophesying and seeing visions, and your old are dreaming dreams.

Even in the midst of despair – over an economy that will not get its feet back under itself, over wars that are claiming thousands of lives, over injustice and oppression in Sudan and Congo and Zimbabwe, over enduring desperation and a sudden, deadly outbreak of cholera in Haïti, over hatred in the Middle East and oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, over stubborn unemployment and devastating housing foreclosures – even in the midst of all that can send us plummeting into the pit of despair, we are not to give up. We do not lose hope.

Because God’s spirit is pouring over us, and because we are prophesying and dreaming and seeing visions, and therefore, we shall overcome. We shall have new life. That is where God’s Spirit, which is being poured out abundantly over us, leads us: to new life.

But only if we live into those prophecies, those dreams, those visions.

My friends, let’s be plain here: This is our calling in life. To take the gifts God gives us in the Spirit – the prophecies, the dreams, the visions – and to make them happen.

We – who are the beloved children of God – we – who are created in God’s image of love and community – we – who are created to live in love and in community – we are the ones who are especially called to make God’s dreams for us come true.

This is not someone else’s call … it is not up to someone else to work on God’s behalf.

It is our call.

It is our mission.

It is, in fact, why we were created.

• • •

I need you to know that I am a missionary. For the last five years, I have served as your missionary in both Sudan and Haïti. I have been an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church, which means I represented you and the entire Episcopal Church wherever I went, whomever I served.

And because I am a missionary, mission is important to me. But I tend to define “mission” a bit differently than most people, because for me, mission is not simply about going into the world, it is not merely about doing things.

For me, “mission” is a way of being.

It is how we live our lives as beloved children of God.

“Mission” encompasses every aspect of our lives, every action we take, every word we speak, even the thoughts we think.

Our mission in life is the result of God creating us in God’s image, and declaring us the beloved.

You see, when God created the heavens and the earth and the birds of the air and the fishes of the sea and the animals of the land, God brought forth man and woman in God’s very own image. God did so not because God needed us, but because God wanted us. Remember, we are not necessary to God – and we know that, because God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so we can’t possibly be necessary to God. Which means that God loved us into being. So the image of God is that of love. And because we are Trinitarians, believing in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always together, never apart, God’s image is that of community.

So we are created in love and community to live in love and community.

The dance of the Trinity

All of which means that each of us is and all of us are God’s beloved children. I’m a beloved child of God. You are a beloved child of God. And you. And you. And you. And you. You are the beloved. We are the beloved.

Our mission, therefore, is to love. Not just the people and the things we like. Not just the people and the things we know. But all of God’s creation. As fully, as wildly, as radically, as inexplicably, as eternally as God loves us.

We want to make those prophecies and dreams and visions, the ones that come from God and are God’s gift to us … we want all those things to come true?

We have to start with love. And we have to always act as God’s beloved. And we have to always remember that everyone else also is God’s beloved.

If this is how we live our lives, if we always begin and end in love (no matter how hard that is), when tragedy and calamity hit, we will be fine. Not because we are immune – for we are not. But because we know how to move forward. We know that God loves us, and because God loves us, God gives us the prophecies, the dreams, the visions we need to continue bringing God’s love to the world.

God who loved us into being is pouring out God’s Spirit upon us. As the beloved, we have the prophecies, we are dreaming the dreams, we are seeing the visions.

Our job, our mission, is to bring those prophecies and dreams and visions to life. To make them happen. God doesn’t give us everything we need so that we can ignore it. God gives us everything we need so that God’s dream for us can come true.

That seminary chapel that burned down on Friday? The one where I was formed as a priest, where I learned to baptize (with dear Anna Baptist, that unregenerate baby doll), to celebrate and marry and bury people? It is gone now. But the love that built that place, the love that made it a holy place of God? That love remains. And because the love remains, the community will move forward.

We are God’s beloved.

Don’t ever forget that.

Amen.

A sermon preached on the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 25, 24 October 2010, Year C, at Grace Episcopal Church, Goochland, Va.

 

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