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Author Archives: megancastellan

In which Megan indulges in some shameless self-promotion

So, I have written this here blog for a few years now.  (That’s really crazy when you consider that I started it so that I would no longer torture my college students by ranting to them about things in the church over which they had no control.)

I really love this blog!  And when I began it, I had the idea in my head that no one would actually WANT to read it, because what sort of odd human would want to read my scribblings–alternating as they did between dry wit and barely-contained fury?

It would appear that many of you are, in fact, that odd.  You adorable people, you.

And so, I would like to tell you, who might be interested, that I have helped write a book!   Yes, an actual book which is printed on paper, with ink and a cover, and whatnot.  Like we used in the Olden Days of the 1990s.

This book is available here, from Church Publishing.  (You can also get it in Kindle form from Amazon.  I won’t judge you.)

It’s by Bp. Michael Curry, and others.  I’m one of “the others”, a designation I am delighted with, especially since it includes Very Smart People like Bp. Rob Wright, Broderick Greer, Nora Gallagher, Anthony Guillen, and Kellan Day.

I encourage you to check it out.  And stay odd out there, y’all.  The world has need of us.

Revived

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, was in Kansas City over the past few days for a revival.

I realize this sounds highly un-Episcopalian.  As I commented to someone afterwards, I was not raised to worship outside, to sing Jesus songs while clapping, or to raise my hands unless at the altar.  These things were unseemly and altogether too Baptist to be borne.

However, yesterday afternoon found me outside, in a public city square, cheering on a sermon as the head bishop of my church urged us all to get out there and reclaim the word “Christian.”  Will wonders never cease.

I admit to being a cradle Episcopalian with some trepidation–like pandas raised in the wild, we’re increasingly rare, and that’s not a bad thing.  The more the church becomes a refugee camp for those seeking solace from the terrors of the world, then the more it’s doing its job, perhaps.  However, I am a convert to the idea that we actually need to speak openly about our faith in Jesus.  I am a convert to evangelism as being A Thing.

But I have come to realize that we need to attach words to this hope that is in us.  That we need to learn how to explain to others why we care so deeply about faith, because it is, in fact, something they need to hear.  Why is it that my little church devotes so much of its time and energy to an enormous food pantry?  Why did my youngest parishioners show up yesterday morning to eagerly hand silverware to our pantry guests so they could eat a hot meal?  Why do we pray daily for the famine in South Sudan, and write our representatives at the UN, urging them to seek an end to that situation?  Why do we care so much?

For most of my life, I thought it went without saying.  That I did just what anyone would do, if they had time, or thought about it, or slowed down, or something.  Lately, I have realized that this is not true.  I live my life this way–my church acts this way– because I believe this is what Jesus wants of me.  Jesus wants me to feed the hungry.  And to fight for the poor.  And to make sure the sick are cared for.  That’s what Jesus asked of me, and because I love Jesus, I must do that.  Because we follow Jesus, this is what we do.

This isn’t true of everyone.  And by that, I don’t mean that Muslims don’t fight for the poor.  (Boy howdy, do they ever.  I’d like to introduce you to the women who staff KC for Refugees sometime if you’d like to dispute this.) Or that Jewish people don’t worry about the hungry, or that atheists or agnostics don’t worry about the poor.  They all can and frequently do.

What I mean is that there are people who choose to live selfishly.  To live as if their personal lives and wellbeing is the most important thing in the universe, and seek to structure the world around THAT belief, rather than any other.  Let the poor starve; I have enough food.  Let the sick get sicker, my staff and I will have care. And even worse, there are times when these people cloak their selfishness in the name of the Jesus I follow, as if that makes their selfishness more palatable, instead of a grave slander.

What the presiding bishop reminded me (aside from the fact that I really should use this blog for stuff other than sermons) is that we have an important story to tell, we Jesus people.  The world needs to hear that Jesus isn’t a free pass for selfishness and hatred; Jesus wants us to live for others, and to love each other. And that’s just as easy and as hard as it’s always been.

There are times when you need someone to preach to you, so that you remember the truth, and this was one of those times.  So thanks, Bishop Curry.  Let’s go tell our story.

 

On the Road Again

I think Jesus must have been in a super-good mood, after the Resurrection.  He seems to have spent most of his time playing the same joke on his disciples:  sneaking up on them, acting all nonchalant, then BAM.  They’d recognize him, and either have a teary reunion (a la Mary Magdalene) or he’d disappear (Road to Emmaus).  I don’t know exactly what got into him during his Time in the Tomb, but his newfound love of pranks cracks me up every Easter season.

I humbly suggest that, instead of Christmas pageants, or even Passion Week cantatas, we should dedicate a day of the liturigical year to sneaking around in disguise, and trying to suprise other church members with our kind deeds.

(Then leaping out from behind furniture, and yelling, “SURPRISE!” because why should Jesus have all the fun?)

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

April 30, 2017

Easter 3

Luke

You may have noticed that in these post-Resurrection stories we’ve been reading since Easter, Jesus has been a bit different.  He’s not doing his usual, Jesus-y things.  There’s less preaching, healing, and teaching, and more…..apparating?  More disappearing and reappearing?  More walking through walls, cooking fish, and showing off flesh wounds.  

 

This is not your imagination; the Resurrected Christ is, in fact, noticeably different from the pre-resurrection Christ.  And scholars talk about this at length, only they call it “Points of significant discontinuity as well as areas of continuity.”  They do not address whether JK Rowling derived any inspiration for Harry Potter from Jesus’ exploits, however.

 

These changes also seem to befuddle the disciples a bit.  Over and over, they seem to have trouble figuring out what to do.  They don’t know what they’re supposed to do in the aftermath of Christ’s death and resurrection, even when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary(s) give them fairly specific instructions, and when Jesus does show up, they are still confused, and often have trouble recognizing him.  

 

This is mostly not their fault–they’d been through a lot, and times were uncertain, and really, who does expect someone to rise from the dead and appear within a locked room?  After the trauma they’d collectively suffered, I think the disciples can, for once, be given a bit of slack for their general confusion–because the world was just confusing right then.

 

And so, on this particular day, we meet another pair of disciples, trying to make the best of things, and sort of making a hash of it.  

Now, things get weird in this story right away, but you don’t notice it unless you’re looking for it.  The text tells us that the two disciples are Cleopas and….we don’t know.  The other one never gets a name, nor a specified gender.  Western art usually depicts Other Disciple as a male, (assuming that all disciples were male), while Middle Eastern Christians have held that the Other Disciple is Cleopas’ wife, Mary–who has already made an appearance when she tagged along with Mary Magdalene to the cross, then to the empty tomb, so she does seem to be pretty involved.  For ease of preaching, I’m going to go with Middle Eastern Christians on this one.

 

So Mary and Cleopas are out on the road to Emmaus, and they are arguing back and forth about what’s happened in the past week.  While the rest of the disciples are back in Jerusalem, locked in an upper room somewhere, afraid and in hiding, it seems this pair has decided to flee town in the wake of Jesus’ death.  They are arguing about this, apparently, so much that they do not really notice when Jesus appears beside them and asks them what they are arguing about.

They explain the situation to him–there had been this wonderful friend and teacher, Jesus, who did miracles no one had seen before.  They had hoped and believed in him like no one else, but then he had been crucified by Rome.  Now they didn’t know what to do.  So, they were leaving.

 

Jesus, it would seem, absorbs all this, and starts walking with them, as they continue to discuss.  When it grows dark, they invite him to have supper with them–it’s the nice and hospitable thing to do— and when he shares the bread with them, something triggers in their memory, and suddenly they realize who he is.

 

In a flash, Jesus disappears again.  

 

But the disciples race back to Jerusalem, and tell the others what they experienced.  

 

That’s the curious part of this story.  Two people–lost, confused, hopeless, and irritable–encounter Jesus, and now they’re rejuvenated, and empowered.  These are the folks who were literally fleeing from the scene as fast as they could, and once they recognized Jesus, they turned right around and headed back.

 

And let’s be clear–it’s not like Jesus pulled a magic trick (beyond the weird undercover Messiah trick of sneaking up on them then disappearing.)  He didn’t overthrow Rome.  He didn’t dethrone Pilate.  He didn’t make Palestine safe for Christianity, and he didn’t erase the memory of that horrible last week.  All the things that Mary and Cleopas were afraid of are still back in Jerusalem.

 

What Jesus did was change them.  Just by his presence, just by his listening, just by being with them for a while, somehow, he gave them the strength and courage to go back to face what they were most afraid of facing.  

 

Jesus didn’t change the world; he helped Mary and Cleopas change the world.  

 

Perhaps part of why Jesus acts so oddly post-resurrection is that a shift is under way.  Before his death, he was living out the Gospel.  After his resurrection–we are the ones who need to live it out.  Us.  You, me, Mary, Cleopas.  

 

We are the ones who are sent back to Jerusalem, to heal, to teach, to comfort the lonely, to lift up the oppressed, and feed the hungry.  We are the ones sent back to preach good news to the sorrowful and let the captives go free.  We now step into the path Jesus paved for us.

 

And like the disciples on the road discovered, we don’t do this alone.  We have the resurrected Christ walking alongside us, to accompany us, and guide us.  Christ sneaks up during our moments of doubt and confusion, to show us where to go, and remind us of all we have learned and all we have to give.  Christ is with us when we least expect it: in moments of pain and in triumph, so that we are never alone on this journey.

 

The journey we have been taking with Jesus doesn’t stop at the Cross, and doesn’t stop with the empty tomb–it leads on into a wider world, where we are called on to each tiny village that needs our help.  So onwards we go.

 

Amen

Church Super Bowl

I got to preach on Easter this year.

Easter sermons are somewhat treacherous, as like Christmas sermons, they can become a Greatest Hits of everything the preacher would like you to remember, on the chance they won’t see you again until the next big holiday.  Or, you can go to the other extreme: to make the sermon dull and predictable so as not to offend the people who have stumbled, blinking, into your church, in hopes that they will stick around.  (Nothing is so attractive to newcomers after all as bumper sticker theology, amirite?)

So while Easter may seem like an easy gig, it’s really not.  Everyone pretty much knows the story, the expectations are high, the theological landmines abound.  Do you argue for the physical resurrection?  Do you skip over that bit?  Do you go full NT Wright, and talk about the coming fulfillment of all things in the eschaton?  SO MANY OPTIONS.

My job was made much easier this year by the fact that I have a parish who allows the liturgy and music to preach as thoroughly as the sermon.  Even when that liturgy occasionally involves an exploding thurible during the late service.  (Shoutout to the choir, who stomped out the flaming charcoal by rerouting their procession without missing a beat.  That’s professionalism right there.)

Here’s what I ended up saying:

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday

Matthew

 

This story begins in darkness.  A whole bunch of darkness.  The preceding days have been dark and traumatic–Jesus has been put to death, the death of a convicted political criminal.  He has been shamed, made to suffer, humiliated.  His family and friends have been terrified and threatened.  All their hopes for the future, their dreams of where Jesus would lead them, dashed.

 

And on this morning, in darkness, the women head to the tomb.  It’s their job–in that time, it was an important sign of respect to anoint the body of a loved one.  It showed how much they were cared for–also in the days before chemical embalming, it was a sort of hygiene thing.

 

So off they went, in the dark, before the sun came up, to avoid drawing the authorities’ attention, to do one more service for their friend.  

 

And suddenly the darkness breaks, and instead of the gloom of a burial cave, they are met with a shining angel all in white, who tells the women that Jesus is risen, and they are to go and tell the disciples the good news.

 

I imagine this freaked them out pretty good–what with the earthquake and the angel in white.  I imagine they fled back to the disciples and told them what happened, and didn’t have much idea of what to make of it.  I imagine they were scared out of their minds.

 

Coming on the heels of Judas’ betrayal, the trial before Pilate, the crucifixion–suddenly being told that Jesus was alive would have probably seemed altogether too good to understand.  It’s like that feeling after a sudden traumatic event, when you feel like everything is a bad dream you just need to wake up from….only they did.  The world had been one way, and now….it wasn’t anymore.  The world turned upside down.

 

Darkness, see, is not hard to get used to.  Our eyes become accustomed to it fairly quickly.  We learn how to live and move with less light.  It’s not hard, and our expectations adjust accordingly.  

So then, when light comes, it becomes blinding.  Our eyes, so long accustomed to the dim light, burn and tear up.  We shy away from the brightness because it’s not what we’re used to.  Think Plato’s cave allegory.

 

So, too, it’s possible to get used to the dimness of the world.  While we may not like the things around us, while we may complain bitterly about injustice, or sinfulness, or the cruelty we see on display– it becomes very easy after a while to just throw up your hands and say, “well, that’s the way it’s always been.”  And mean, “that’s the way it always will be.” The world will always be broken.  The mighty will always crush the weak, the truth will always go unheeded, the vulnerable will always be expendable– Humans will always hurt each other.  World without end, amen.  

 

It is easy, sometimes, to become used to the gloom.  To become accustomed to functioning without the light we instinctively long for.

 

When we become used to the gloom, we look at the crucifixion and say “Well, what did you expect?  Going around, threatening Caesar.  It was just too good to last, now wasn’t it?”

 

And then Easter surprises us with all its shining glory, and upends what we know of the world.  On Easter, Christ is risen from the dead.  And the darkness and brokenness we had become so accustomed to in the world is swept away.  For once, hate doesn’t win.  For once, the weak is made strong.  For once, death doesn’t have the last word–because God’s love proves stronger than anything else this world can dream up.  

 

Christ’s resurrection is God’s answer to the darkness of the world.  Easter is God’s firm response to the problems that plague us, God’s insistent reminder that no matter how desperate or dire things might seem, darkness does not win in the end.  Hatred does not win in the end.  Evil does not win in God’s creation.  Not in the end.

 

In the end, peace wins.  In the end, life wins.  In the end, truth and justice win.  In the end, Christ rises from the dead, and God promises us that the darkness that seems immovable will break, and light will have the final word.  So we can’t be content with things as they are.  Because they aren’t going to stay this way forever.

 

Easter is when we are invited, blinking, back into the light of this hope.  The hope that no matter what is occurring in our world at the moment, it isn’t final, because we know the cross isn’t final. Pilate’s reign of terror isn’t final.  The tomb isn’t final.  The dark isn’t final.  The blazing light of the Easter sunrise is what greets us at last, in the light of God’s love.  

 

Love is what is final.  And God’s love will ultimately win.  

 

Amen.

 

Everything on One Day

Last year, the parish administrator and I coined a new term: Holy Week-ing.  This describes, as little else does, the phenomenon well known to church staff and clergy–that during times of high liturgical stress, everything and everyone chooses this particular moment to have a crisis.  People get ill, people die, copiers break, organs implode, weird occurances become commonplace, and everything basically goes bananas for a period of a few weeks.

For people new to church work, this is often upsetting, and they wonder if they have done something to provoke this, or if they could have prevented it.  Would better planning have prevented the $250 copier malfunction?  Would more meetings ahead of time?  Would more pastoral attention have averted the 3 parishioners who chose this week to enter hospice?

The answer, dear ones, is no.  No, not a single thing you do (in most cases) can prevent the holy week-ing of those around you.  There are just certain times when the world goes nuts and it is no one’s fault.  Best to see it coming and roll with it.

To that point: this week has been another case of epic holy week-ing.  A sudden, tragic death in the school community, and the (somewhat expected) death of a parish patriarch hit on Monday.  Then came the news that the new “rushing wind” sound of the organ was not a fun new effect, but a symptom of a cracked windbox.  Then, yesterday, the lovely lady cleaning up after the midday Eucharist dashed into my office to inform me that smoke was rapidly filling up the sacristy, and would I like to evacuate?!  I went to check; apparently plumbers were running a smoke test, in which they pump smoke into the pipes to see where it comes out, to diagnose leaks.  They just forgot to warn us.

And then there’s whatever is currently happening in our whirlwind news cycle.

The good news, is that whether or not we actually get our act together, Christ still rises from the dead on Sunday.  Regardless of whether I get the smoke cleared, or whether we can duct tape the organ back together, Christ still defeats death, and all we have to do is show up.   And there’s nothing like holy week-ing to reinforce that lesson.

Anyway, here’s what I said Thursday night.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday

 

Every year, at the Jr High Retreat, we have a workshop where youth can ask anonymous questions of a clergy panel—any question they’ve pondered, or long been troubled by.  Usually, we get the same sorts of things:  do all religions go to heaven, is it acceptable to disagree with my priest, who created God, etc.  Some easy to respond to, some requiring lots of hand gestures and diagrams.  

The one question we almost always get is something about the Eucharist:  what happens to the bread and wine?  

I always get a kick out of this one, and not just because I get to read the part in the 39 Articles that says that “transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of the Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.”

Now, clearly, that’s a thought from centuries ago, and not necessarily something we actually hold to.  (The same article also says we aren’t supposed to reserve the sacrament either….which we do.  Whoops.)

But clearly, this idea has always inspired some passion, shall we say.  What is the Eucharist, this thing we do each week?  This ritual that was established on this night, so long ago?

It’s the organizing ritual of who we are as Episcopalians, this thing we do, and yet, we don’t talk about it all that much.  We just do it, over and over.  We take bread which tastes like nothing, and some really strong wine, and bless them and give them out, week after week.  To the point where it becomes both routine and absolutely necessary.  What even is church, we start to wonder, without this organizing principle, of bread and wine, blessed and shared?

This meal is the foundation of who we are.  

And it is on this night, that we remember how we got here.  That on the night before he died, Jesus did an ordinary thing–ate an ordinary meal with his friends.  Surely, they had done this countless times before, over the years they had been together, shared meals before.  And surely they had even eaten Passover seders together.  Over the three years they had travelled around, preaching and teaching, they had shared a lot together and become a community.

But on this particular night, Jesus did something different.  He took this ordinary meal, and changed it.  He took the ordinary bread, and blessed and broke it, and proclaimed it to be his Body.  He took the ordinary wine–more common then than even water, blessed and shared it, and announced that it was his blood.  “Do this,” he told them, “each time you gather, to remember me.”  

Suddenly, the ordinary was no longer ordinary.  Common bread became, not just food, but a reminder of Jesus–normal wine became not just a way to quench thirst but a memory as well.  Ordinary things made extraordinary.

Perhaps that’s the power of the Eucharist–Christ takes the most common elements of our lives, and makes them into the holiest things imaginable, so that everywhere we looked, we would find God, even in the most mundane and common things.  In the Eucharist, Jesus shows us what his life had been about the whole time–God made tangible for us to hold.  God was no longer far off and inscrutable, up a mountain or behind a flashing cloud–God was here, in this piece of bread.  God was in this sip of wine.  God was in this ordinary guy from your hometown.  

God is right here.  God is real, and accessible, and present, in ordinary, common things.  

So the glory of the Eucharist is both how holy it is, because it is that–it is how common it is.  Because each time we say these prayers and take this bread, it changes us.  Not in a flashy, immediate sort of way, but it does transform us.  Each time we take this bread and drink this cup, we embrace the God who wants so badly to be with us, and allowed himself to be broken and given away.  Each time we share this bread and wine, we grab hold of the God who shared himself with us.  

Now, I don’t know if the bread and wine magically change into literal Jesus particles.  Honestly, I don’t know if that even matters.  The miracle of the Eucharist is less about what happens to the bread and wine, and more what happens to us.  Because as we participate in this sacrament over and over, as we remember how God came among us in ordinary things, as we remember how Christ was willing to be broken for his loved ones…..slowly, we become those holy ordinary things too.  Gradually, we too become the vessels of the divine in the world–what carries God out into all the broken places into the world around us.  We become the consecrated Bread and Wine–common things transformed into the presence of God, so that it may be broken and given out for the life of others.  The more we partake in the Eucharist, the more we become it.  The more we become the Body of Christ.  

In the midst of some of the darkest times in our history, Christ gave us a way to cling to the presence of God in the world.  And more than that, to become, ourselves, that material of God in the world.  So on this night, when we remember this immense gift, we remember also the betrayal, violence, and darkness.  Because these are why it was given.  So that no matter what comes, no matter what we face, God would never be farther away from us than the commonest of things.  

 

 

On telling the truth

The Samaritan Woman at the well is one of my favorite stories.  There’s the foreign woman, who talks to Jesus, and is welcomed, and runs and tells the good news–in one little story, you get a blue print of most of the great gospel stories.

In 2017, however, there’s this one lines that juts out.  “It’s not because of what you say that we believe, but because we have seen for ourselves!”

Ugh.  Come on, villagers.  Is that even necessary?  Must you take away from this lovely moment by taking away any sense of accomplishment or joy the Samaritan woman might have felt?  That line is at once so cutting and so human, and you can’t help but feel echoes of it in our current climate.

The seed of this sermon was a Facebook conversation with two seminarian friends, as we lamented the revelations coming out of the White House, as aide after aide described having to monitor the president’s every mood swing and temper, lest he become bored and tweet something inflammatory.  Meanwhile, an ongoing talking point during the recent campaign had been whether Hillary Clinton was emotionally stable enough for high office.

Part of being inspired is that the Scriptures reflect to us the consistent frailties of what it means to be human–along with apparently the prejudices we still haven’t shaken after 2,000 years.

Here’s what I said.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

March 18, 2017

Lent 3

John 4: 5-42

 

From time to time, there are these social media experiments.  Have you heard of these?  The most recent was last week.  Two coworkers, a man and a woman, who run a small consulting firm, decided to run a test.  The woman had been telling her male colleague for months about the sort of angry emails she was accustomed to receiving, and he didn’t believe her.  So they agreed: they would switch names for a week.  He would sign her name on emails; she would sign his.  And they would see what happened.

The result is in a way predictable:  the man discovered that he became the target of a lot of abuse when he signed a female name.  He discovered, to his shock, that most clients suddenly became unreasonably difficult to work with.  They questioned his competency, his judgment, and the way he did everything, when he signed emails with his coworker’s name.  One asked him if he was single.  When he switched the names back, suddenly the clients were fawning all over him–complimenting his questions, his wisdom, and his job performance.  

Here’s what’s odd to me about this story–not that the emails changed based on who the clients thought was writing them.  What’s odd to me is that the male colleague didn’t believe his female colleague.  Why didn’t he just believe her?  Wouldn’t she know if she was encountering this sort of thing?  Wouldn’t she be the expert in it?  

Why didn’t he just believe her?  Why did he only believe when he saw it for himself?

 

There is, for whatever reason, a disinclination to believe those without power–even when they speak from their experience.  A base assumption that they must not know what they’re talking about, because only the powerful know how the world really works.  We see this crop up in a lot of places–studies show that women who report pain to a doctor are less likely to be taken seriously, and their pain is less likely to be treated.  Likewise, black people who report pain or discomfort in a medical situation encounter a similar problem.  Their pain is discounted or explained away by the medical professionals.  Even though they are the ones experiencing it first hand.

 We ascribe authority to those to whom we are used to having it.  Y’know–experts.  Doctors, professors, learned people.  And quite frankly, people who overwhelmingly tend to be older white men–as for such a long time, doctors, professors, and all learned people just were.  Those are the people we are used to seeing in positions of authority, and so when someone else tries to speak, even when they speak from their own knowledge–we look askance at them.   That’s not the authority we’re used to.

So let’s turn to the woman at the well.

Now, she’s not anyone’s idea of authority.  She’s not anyone’s idea of an expert.  She’s an outcast in her community, for one reason or another.  She’s a Samaritan, so the nice Jewish boys who hung around Jesus really thought she was off.  And also, of course,–she has the girl cooties, which were a bigger deal back then than they are now, if you can believe it.  But there’s something strange that happens when she talks to Jesus.

She meets Jesus at the well, and they strike up this conversation; he asks her for water, and she asks him for the living water he talks about.  Then, they move onto what seem to be more salacious topics–how many husbands she has.  But notice, when Jesus tells her that ‘the one she has now is not her husband’, she replies by declaring him a prophet, and asking him where the proper place to worship is.  That’s not normally how you respond if a stranger is accusing you of having some loose morals.

The Israelite prophets–Isaiah, Hosea, Ezekiel, etc– all used marriage as the metaphor for Israel’s relationship to God.  God was the faithful husband–Israel was the wife who kept wandering around to different partners.  So given the Samaritan woman’s response–they are not actually talking about her own love life–they’re talking about the theology of the Samaritans as a whole.  

Basically, Jesus is hanging out at a well, chatting theology with a foreign woman.  This is a big deal.  

And when they show up again, the disciples realize this, because they apparently freak out, but internally!  All inside!  Meanwhile, the woman runs back to her village, and tells her neighbors all about Jesus.  They don’t believe her–instead they go to investigate.  And when they discover Jesus is as she says, they tell her that it’s not that they believe because of what she said, but because they have seen for themselves.  

Elsewhere in this same gospel, Jesus tells Thomas that the truly blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.  How different would this story be if the villagers had just believed the Samaritan woman’s testimony of her own experience?  Here is a woman savvy enough to discuss comparative religion with Jesus.  She knows what she’s talking about–yet she goes unlistened to.  Only Jesus cares enough to listen to her story, her authority.

Often, in the gospel, the good news rests solely on the authority of the most unlikely person.  The Samaritan Woman telling her village about Jesus is almost a test-run of the women at the tomb, running back to tell the disciples about the risen Christ.  In each case, those seemingly without authority are called on to speak to what they know and what they have seen.  And others decide whether to listen.

Jesus models for us a way of listening to the experiences around us, when he struck up that conversation at the well.  He listened to her story, to her thoughts and her experience, and by doing that, gave her the confidence to tell others what she had found in Jesus.  It was through her voice, that the village came to know something new of God.

We miss so much when we discount the authority around us.  Scripture teaches us that God most often uses those who go unheard to do his loudest speaking.  So it is on us to learn to listen.  Listen to those who speak from what they know.  What they have seen.  The pain and the joy.  The struggle and the triumph.  Because Jesus sends Samaritan women into our midst all the time, telling us some great news.

The question is whether we are prepared to hear her.

 

 

The Wisdom of Moonstruck

I’ve been a fan of the playwright John Patrick Shanley for years now.  He wrote the screenplay for Moonstruck; he also wrote the play Doubt.  His Twitter presence is both strange and profound, in turns.

I like the way he writes, because he manages to find the mystical in ordinary people and circumstances, and then make it approachable and funny.  (I still quote the final breakfast scene from Moonstruck, where the old man bursts into tears because he’s confused.)

Anyway, here’s how I managed to quote Olympia Dukakis in a sermon about Ash Wednesday (and get in a joke about Oscar Accountants.)

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday, Year A

Matthew

 

In the movie Moonstruck, the character Olympia Dukakis plays, named Rose, is really concerned about her husband, Cosmo.  She thinks he’s cheating on her (he is.).  It’s not so much the fact of this that concerns her, as the why of it that bothers her.  So she asks everyone she comes across why he would make such a dumb choice–why do men chase women.  (And the script takes pains to illustrate what a dumb choice it is.)

She doesn’t’ actually listen to the theories of various characters, however. Her own theory she voices early on– “I think,” she intones” that it is because he is afraid of death.”  As if on cue, her erstwhile husband returns home, and Rose, emboldened by her breakthrough, greets him with “Cosmo, I just want you to know; no matter what you do, you’re gonna die, just like everybody else.”  Cosmo, entirely confused, thanks her.

Seems like a very Ash Wednesday type scene to me, because really, death is something we have a hard time with.  In the 21st century, we put a lot of time and energy into staving off death, denying its existence, talking around it, sanitizing it…and yet, it remains.  Fixed and immutable.

To be clear, I don’t encourage death.  Please don’t hear me saying that.  It’s sad when people die.  It’s tragic when we lose loved ones before their time.  Medical progress is good.  Preventing disease, combating physical ailments, all good.  

And yet, for all the magic medical advances, for all the progress we’ve made, behold, death remains.  For each and every one of us.  Death is a constant, whether or not we acknowledge it.

Now, for some, that constant leads us to make really bad decisions.  Either because we want to avoid death at all costs, or we figure that since death is inevitable, then what does it matter?  YOLO, as the youthz say.  Mortality looms like a really giant elephant in the corner of our lives, and if we don’t acknowlege it, then we spend a lot of time dealing with its demands.

But see, we have Ash Wednesday.  One day a year, wherein we come to church, and we smear ashes on our forehead, and we recall that, like Cosmo, no matter what we do, we’re gonna die.  We are dust, and to dust shall we return.

This can sound fairly gruesome, but I think it’s meant to be freeing.  On this day, the Church reminds us that there is nothing we can do to escape mortality….and so we no longer need to work so hard on that project.  

Instead, we are asked a question–given that we are dust, and we are returning to dust–what shall we do with this time in between?  This time we are given, in this mortal life, if we aren’t hoarding it, if we aren’t using it to find loopholes in this game, then how shall we spend this time?  

Isaiah reminds us that we, like those accountants at the Oscars, really only have one job.  We are to love.  We are to love God, to love one another.  We are to spend this life in the work of love.  It is precisely because we have a limited time on this earth that we are called to work so hard for a world of justice, a world of peace, freedom and love for everyone.  Because all of humanity is as fragile, as limited as we are, God asks us to make this short life better. Make this fragile life all it can be.  For them and for us.  As we all face the same limitations.  So be repairers of streets to live in.  Be restorers of the breach.  Spend your time on earth working to make it a better place for the fragile creatures who will come after you.

Because ultimately, what we are assured of is that even though we are going to die, God is right here with us.  We may be mortal, but God does not abandon us, not even to death.  Jesus Christ died too, so that we would know the power of God even in the midst of death.  Even in the midst of the mortality that so shadows our lives. Our mortality doesn’t define us, doesn’t limit us.  God breathes life into our very dust, and helps us to build this world, in the time we have, into the dream of God.

So maybe we are just dust in the wind.  Maybe we are going to die.  But that is not all we are.  And while we are here, for as long as we are here, with God’s help, we have a job.  

 

Amen.